LP: Remain in Light by the Talking Heads
1980 Sire SRK 6095
Favorite Track: Crosseyed and Painless
I have a writing deadline this month and I am struggling with the story that I am writing. And the reason I am struggling is very stupid. An anthology is looking for Swords versus Cthulhu Mythos stories, something right up my alley. The last year I have been experimenting more with writing supernatural and Weird tales as evidenced by some of the entries in this blog, see entries 7, 10, and 16–I can’t get the links to work properly right now. I play Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness all the time, read Weird fiction voraciously, and enjoy the creepy and occult. I love them so much that every time I write a sentence I am disgusted with myself for sullying pulp fiction stories that aren’t known for the literary craft so much as their haunting implications. And I know that of course the first draft is going to read like crap-that is why editing was invented.
So why am I freezing on this assignment?
I am just thinking about it too much. So now I have to torture you poor readers of my blog. I need this entry to practice writing segments of this story so I can find the language of the tale-those Clark Ashton Smith-like sentences full of Satanists casting bizarre spells and mummies. Enjoy whatever happens below:
Crowley finished his mug, froth wetting the red hairs that swathed his ruddy cheeks and claimed he saw Jador the mad sorceress talking to the shadowy figures in the forest whose visages were never seen even under the full luminosity of the moon. The apothecary had told him she had been very inquisitive over the more esoteric of roots, especially vellagonna, a perennial herb from the Southern Hinterlands once used as face paint by the barbarian tribes, and, further more, Jador’s squalid hut by the river Tyn reeked of sulfur. Nefarious witchcraft warned the apothecary, his one remaining eye blood-red in the shrunken socket of his thin face. Fen sat silently sipping at her drink, listening dismissively toward Crowley’s conjectures.
“She had followed the Tyn to the bend by the merchant docks, crossed over like a wraith gliding over its grave, I swear her feet never touched the water,” Crowley roared a forced laugh and grabbed another mug from the passing bar wench. The wench, a stocky girl of broad shoulders and fiery curls spilling down over her soft chestnut skin, flashed him a smile that held all the portents of a lascivious night ahead for the young sentry. “She was wearing that hideous and mud-stained white robe. The one with that six-sided star inside two concentric circles. When she got to the edge of the forest, she took it off.”
Jarl, Fen’s husband, sat up with a start, a bead of mead falling from the bushy grey beard onto his lap. His face was on the edge of nodding off but now it reared of joviality and masculine enthusiasm. Fen rolled her eyes and punched his shoulder. Jarl sheepishly shrugged and turned back to Crowley, “She was…naked?”
“Like Rafferty was when we found him with half of his sister’s bridesmaids,” the men laughed and clinked their mugs together spilling more mead over themselves and Fen, who had already decided which spell she would use tonight to create some peace and quiet for herself. “Nude, hairless, supple, and strong. Jador may be short and mad behind the eyes, but I wouldn’t want to get on the bad side of her. There must be Azzisian blood in her veins.”
“I heard she was part Rudge,” Jarl said.
“She’s Zalamian. Really, Jarl, you have food on your mind.”
“And what makes you so sure she’s Zala-mammalian or whatever you said.”
Fen blinked her oval eyes for a second, the blue irises seemed to turn yellow when they reappeared. “Unlike you fools who sit here believing all this drunken talk with all the other carousers of the Winged Frog, I have taken special interest in this mad sorceress. Have you ever seen her mutter those cursed syllables and cast a spell as black as a lich’s soulless skeleton? Have you seen her open the forbidden and fungi-ridden spine of the Apocryphal Book of the Damned? Have you seen her transform into a hairy bat three feet tall and fly off into the night with her actual face bearing fangs and an upturned nose? I have. Jador must have belonged to the Zalamians, the ancient wizard tribe destroyed by that gang of giants that live north of here. If you can recall the song Arywn the troubadour sang last year at the Rain Festival…”
“Come off it Fen,” Jarl punched her shoulder now, “Arywn sings fables and love songs for doe-eyed and vulnerable. He made that up to impress Beryl’s daughter.”
“Or wife,” roared Crowley who upon seeing Fen’s furious face, bit his tongue, “I was just…”
“Just being the childish ass that you always are,” Fen spat, “You really believe those shadowy figures are human? You Jarl? What do you know about the life behind the clouded veil? There are…monsters is the closest descriptor I can give them…that live all around us. And if you were to meet with any of them, you would swallow your own tongue and wish your eyes were blind.”
Fen stormed off with a great swing of the wooden doors. Jarl sat in silence for a moment before finishing her cup and grabbing two more for himself and Crowley. The wench lingered at the table, her broken and glassy fingernails caressing Crowley’s callused hands. When she left, Crowley spoke in a whisper, “Fen may be right. I was disquieted the very moment Jador dropped her robes. I had the distinct impression that my vision was being played with…that I saw her naked human form…but something was being…covered up.”
“Tricks of the night. Those forest leaves have a way of making every sound and creature more ominous than during the day time.”
“But it was the shadowy figures that set a scream lost in my throat. I alluded to not being able to see their faces even though the great orange light of the moon shown down directly upon them. That is not all,” Jarl eyed the tavern to make sure nobody else overhear what he said next, “They had eyes. Six of them. But they were not on their faces. I doubt that they had faces at all. They had six white eyes with pupils that seem to spit sparks along a giant oblong belly like udders on a goat. Below them sagged a mouth full of needle-like teeth, each the size of my massive forearm.”
Jarl dropped his mug on the table with a heavy clatter, “And what of Jador? What did she do?”
Crowley pulled at his chin anxiously, “She spread her legs.”
Fen cast a glance in both directions before stepping onto the wooden planks of the bridge that spanned the river Tyn. There were no sentries nearby, most like Crowley were too busy drinking and chasing the bar wenches. She listened, however, for a slight fluttering sound and, when she heard it, she followed the sound into the dark forest. The tree trunks were narrow and closely packed together, long leafy branches pointed in all directions above her head. A couple of feet under the canopy and it was too dark to see. Fen reached into a small purse dangling from her belt and pulled out a pinch of white vellagonna powder.
“Illumi,” she said, the powder sparked and a small ball of fire hovered above her hand. Fen waited to adjust her eyes and then carefully picked her trail through the thickening underbrush until she found the glade where two large boulders formed a shallow cave. Thorny vines hung over the mouth like some slimy curtain, the golden petals opening and closing around purple stamen. Fen brushed them aside and held the magical flame in front of her.
“Iä! Iä! Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of a Thousand Young. And we are One of the Thousand.” A second voice had added to her own, a low purring voice fuzzy with drowsiness.
Fen continued looking down along the floor of the cave but saw nobody there. It wasn’t until the voice spoke again that she realized it was above her where a rotund bat hung from the ceiling. At the end of the furry body projected an oval face with exaggerated round ears, small eyes with brown irises, and a hooked nose with flaring nostrils. The bat screeched like a human, its terrible cry resounding back and forth between the damp rocks. Fen heard her own cry echo in her ears as her eyes watched the bat enlarge. Shoulders grew out of the wing sockets, the wings melting into the curved musculature of the arms. Hair fell away from the waist as stubby legs pushed away from the perch and the transforming creature executed a forward flip to land agilely. Raven hair fell down along her square chin line.
“The years have made you look unobtrusive and domesticated. If the High Priestess saw you now, you would be next on the cutting block.”
“And you are imprudent as ever, Jador. I always questioned why the High Priestess initiated you into the cult. It is not enlightenment you seek, it is revenge.”
“Fen, your conception of the universe is as small as your heart. You are being used by the High Priestess just like all the other girls.”
“Blasphemer! The Goat of a Thousand Young will have your soul!”
Jador hefted her jeweled scabbard and tied its to her waist. She could not shake off the thought that her mother once yielded it. The memory sent a slight tremor unobserved by Fen.
“I came here, Jador,” Fen continued, “to save you. We saved you once before. Do not be so adamant to go to your death. You cannot defeat them.”
Jador withdrew the sword, inspecting the blade for nicks. “I was a little girl then. My whole tribe laid before me bloodstains in the tall grass. My parents both died under the same blow, the same stone axe the size of one of these boulders we stand under, swung by that colossal brute. I am not a little girl anymore and his face is all I can see.”
Fen recovered herself, “The High Priestess frightened them with cantrips. Otherwise you would be a puddle like the rest of the Zalamians. What makes you so sure you can win this time?”
Jador flashed a smile with too many teeth. For the second time, Fen started.
“You’ve…you’ve made…saw them and made the pact.”
“Giants are the least of my problems now,” Jador smiled again, teeth behind teeth. “Now my sword is hungry.”
Fen gurgled as blood filled her throat, the spell she was about to cast slit in half like her larynx. She fell to her knees, still alive as Jador began to eat her starting with her fingers. Demons love fingers.
Giants became as still as mountains themselves when they slept and the careless adventurer could easily find themselves pitching tent right next to a navel filled with brackish water. But when the cold weather started in, giants built their massive fire that could be seen for miles, orange-red hellfire crackling and popping like a summer heat storm. Jador slept in a swaddle made of yak and kept her fire to mere embers, shivering slightly throughout the nights of reconnaissance. Giants did not seem to possess good eyesight or maybe their staggering twenty feet heights blurred details to blobs of color and shapes. Yet their sense of smell seemed godly as if with each inhalation, they could identify each individual scent in a six mile radius. Which made Jador’s choice of yak a bad one save for the use of bat guano which acted as a deterrent possibly reminding giants of their fear of enclosed spaces.
In a few hours when she was sure the giants had fallen asleep, she would have her revenge. She held her mother’s sword before her in the typical stance of the Zalamian. She slowed her breathing as images of the past filled her head. As a snap of the giant’s fire reverberated throughout the mountains, Jador once again felt the ground shaking beneath her feet nine years ago when she was a child helping her mother with the sharpening of swords. Wars had forced the nomadic Zalamians to the mountains of the north, a land unfamiliar to them and harsh. The soil produced sour berries and a bland fruit with a tough carapace that was hardly worth the effort to skin. Water sources were few and far between. The caves were as damp as sleeping out in the rain. But the Zalamians wanted no part between the eternal struggle between the two great empires of the Southern Hinterlands: the Asmetiks and the Mesermizirs.
Unfamiliar to the race of giants, the Zalamians fell right into their trap. One moment all was tranquil between the mountains; the next the mountains themselves were rising. The giants were ugly brutes to Jador–giant slabs of meat covered in coarse ropey hair, their facial features exaggerated in their rather large heads, their mouths opening up like a miniature sky framed by stalagmites and stalactites. Their common weapons were stone axes crudely fashioned or a club made from a trunk of the numerous tall pine trees. Or they simply kicked with their feet sending the Zalamian flying fifty feet through the air. Half of her tribe were crushed before they even knew what had struck.
Her parents were the first to draw blood against the giants, using their poor vision to sneak up close and attempt climbing up their bodies. The average Zalamian were three feet tall, but Jador and her mother were smaller than average, Jador an inch taller than Jadorella. Tnem, her father, managed to crawl onto the giant’s chest stabbing his spear and pulling himself further up. Jadorella was just a few feet behind him. From the flap of their makeshift teepee, Jador watched as another giant smashed his stone axe right into the chest of his comrade, killing him and Tnem and Jadorella in one fell swoop. The world seemed to flip upside down as the corpse slammed into the earth, a wall of dust blinding Jador as the teepee fell down around her and pinned her legs to the ground. Furiously wiping her eyes of gritty stone pebbles and tears, she looked up into the face of the four remaining giants. All around her were the red smears of her people. The tallest giant held the stone axe that slew her parents and on its face a great ragged scar cut like a canyon across the surface of his face. A trail of snot ran from his nostril like a semi-solid waterfall. Jador accepted death: it would be better to be with her parents then survive.
And then came the forbidden and awful moans that scared the giants away. Then the women in the white robes found her in the wreckage and rudely debated if her life was worth saving in front of her. It was the High Priestess who looked into Jador’s watery brown eyes and spared her a sacrifice to Shub-Niggurath, a name at the time Jador hardly understood. Instead she became a member and taught the ways of witchcraft at a terrible price. Jador had never slept soundly since the initiation when they opened her third eye with a cup of noxious tea.
The snore rattled Jador from her reverie. The moon was already starting to come down from the sky, a tinge of tangerine in the distance. Jador swore and took off at a run to the base of Skull Mountain. The slope was difficult and Jador found herself winded by the time she reached the top. In the valley below her slept three giants in a rough semi-circle around the bonfire. One was missing. The heat from the fire was intense and she had to shield her eyes. She had one chance to finish them before they woke up. She had made the pack with the Black Goat in the Woods. She hadn’t fully understood its terms; it spoke in the language of nightmares. Jador began to trace the scabby symbol carved into her stomach as she had been instructed. Her mind grew fuzzy and her vision doubled as she concentrated on the abhorrent fricatives and implosives of the dreaded nightmare language. Her stomached knotted like in a vice and she hurled before she could steady herself.
Then, all at once, her body burned with racked pain and a curative water seemed to be squeezed out of her. Before her an ominous black cloud surged with pink astral lightning amid a swirl of stars from a different galaxy. Three of the stars appeared to be getting closer until three penumbras pushed against the dark curve of the cloud like three white-hot corneas. The cloud disintegrated with an audible renting of released pressure and three–things–escaped loose into the air, hurling themselves at the sleeping giants. Jador vomited again, her vision turning grey as she fought for breath. The heat of the fire began to diminish. Jador pulled herself up with the help of a nearby tree to witness the destruction below.
The subdued fire still cast a wide circle of light from its dying embers, the ashen logs covered in some slick interstellar mucus that glowed like permafrost. There was no trace of the three astral beings she had summoned. Of the giants, little remained but hunks of fetid muscle and gnawed bones. The giants’ eyes were like deflated balloons.
Jador stumbled her way down Skull Mountain and into the enemy’s lair. In the far end of the valley, a mountainside was punctured and mined to form a closet for the giants to store the few tools they used. To the left, another steeping slope was divided into shelves by large stone slabs cut into the rock.
I am going to take a break. Look for this post to be added to either later tonight or tomorrow. Please make comments and suggestions about what you liked and don’t like. Better names will help.