The fallen god’s messenger

With his chair rocked back on two legs and his booted feet propped up on the table, Malcolm Eady looked like any one of the other dozen men in the department’s morning meeting. The captain, a smugly serious man, glared at the withered arm dangling at Malcolm’s side while he handed out morning assignments. Like every other morning, Malcolm Eady just grinned his devilish grin at the captain.

“Eady,” a voice from behind whispered into his ear.

The raven-haired god dropped his chair to the floor and let his feet slam hard against the cold tile. He turned as another officer, a desk-jockey, hand him a scrawled message. Malcolm nodded his thanks, dismissing the junior officer from his presence and his mind.

The note was short, hastily scrawled and unsigned, but it told the god everything he needed to know. Malcolm Eady rose to his feet, ignoring the startled stare his captain shot at his back. Then he sauntered out of the meeting room and out of the station.

The god-man stopped at a street vendor for breakfast, steamed sausages floating in fragrant cheeses and topped with a pile of sliced tubers. He slipped a chilled bottle of fresh spring water into his pocket, along with a wooden spoon, then he hurried on his way out of the district.

At the edge of his precinct, he slowed his pace, glancing around to make sure he wasn’t noticed. Sensing no prying eyes, Malcolm Eady slipped between two buildings, into an alley barely wide enough to allow his bulk.

In the morning shadows, the fairy girl’s platinum hair stood stark and shining. Her sapphire eyes landed on the food the god-man held. Malcolm Eady grinned, then shoved the food at the girl’s outstretched hands.

“You’ve done well,” the dark-haired man said. “You see, when you provide results, I provide for you.”

The frail girl wolfed down the food, nearly choking herself in the process. She nodded, never looking directly at Malcolm. When she was finished with the biodegradable carton, she tossed it carelessly to the ground.

“Pick it up!”

Malcolm Eady’s voice was sharp, low, and menacing. Startled, the girl snatched the refuse from the ground, hugging it to herself. Her teary eyes turned to his.

“This,” he snarled, anger getting the better of him, “isn’t your slum. This is my district.”

The fairy’s tattered wings wrapped around her body, a futile attempt to guard against his ire. Her body trembled and her eyes dripped tears, but Malcolm could tell neither was from fright but righteous indignation.

He chuckled, his anger flying from him. He beckoned the child with his good arm, pulling her to him by his force of will.

“Now, my pet,” he purred, “tell me all about your gathering of my army.”

The god’s proposal

The scream twisted in the night, shuddering from a high-pitched terrified shriek to an undulating, moaning complaint of extinguishing life.

Malcolm Eady heard the scream, but he ignored it. None of his business. Not tonight, anyway. Tonight, the raven-haired god was on his own time, not the department’s.  He intended to find some fun, well away from the suffocating restrictions of his civilized district.

In the bowels of the old city, laws ceased to have meaning. Here, with warlords battling over ever-changing territorial boundaries, law and order were only words to be cast aside. Deep in the heart of Valora, even a god could find the sweet release of death, if he wasn’t careful enough.

Malcolm crossed the broken pavement of the nearly deserted street, careful to avoid the shining pools of light cast by the regularly placed gaslights. His finely carved face broke into a devilish grin when he saw a scantily clad woman ahead. She held her fingers in a gesture at her side, showing those in the know that she had more than just her body to sell.

The beauty of the god that approached was not lost on the tired-looking woman. She straightened her stringy hair and slipped her many-times-broken toes back into the torturous spiked heels she kept nearby. Her smile revealed surgically implanted squared teeth. She was careful to keep her identifying canines hidden behind the taut skin of her lips.

“Evenin’,” she cooed. “I got everything you need, god-man.”

Malcolm Eady stopped short, keeping his muscular frame from entering the lighted area where the consort stood. He beckoned to her with his strong right arm, letting his withered left arm dangle at his side.

The woman laughed, low and silky, then moved to stand with her supposed-client. The eyes she turned to him, once they were out of the glare of light, were drug-blank. Malcolm smiled to himself then shook his head. He slipped a pair of gold coins into the woman’s hand then moved on, leaving the consort to wonder at his back. His fun wasn’t to be found in a drugged-up whore.

Malcolm Eady’s meandering path took him deeper into the ruins of the city. He crisscrossed territory lines without thought. The rare tender he encountered ignored the god’s progress. Even bearing a lame limb, Malcolm Eady was no push-over.

Nearing dawn, the deity found his fun. In an alley between two warlords’ boundaries, in a no-man’s land, a slim platinum-haired child slumbered under a pile of ragged blankets. Malcolm Eady sank to his knees beside the girl. His right arm lifted the blankets, revealing the tattered wings folded protectively around the frail body.

When his roving eyes finally focused on her face, he found startled sapphire eyes staring at him. His roguish grin brought no returning smile from the girl.

“I have a proposition for you, fairy-ling,” Malcolm Eady purred.

The Tarred Goat’s takeover

(This story is a brief episode in the history of Tiat, a quarter-goblin thief, who is the main character in a book series I am currently writing.)

The enormously obese proprietor of the Tarred Goat, Garren, stalked across the small room. His cruelly twisted smile sent shivers of fear and disgust down the woman’s spine. She struggled to sit up on the bed, but the shackles binding her to the wall hindered her movement.

Garren chuckled as he watched the gnome struggle. His massive bulk shook with mirth. He delighted in watching his captive writhe and squirm. He paused with every step, prolonging her misery.

From the common room came the sounds of bawdy songs, the bard encouraging participation from the drunken travelers and villagers who crowded the bar. The silvery-haired gnome cried out in desperation, hoping against hope that tonight, finally, someone would come to her aid.

The woman’s small body was barely covered by the shredded remnants of her once-fine clothes. Her eyes, reddened by tears, stared wildly at the grotesque man stalking toward her. She begged, blubbering and crying, for her dignity. When that failed, as it always did, she turned to cursing his name, his family, his ability to perform. Her ire only drew more laughter from the beastly man.

Just as Garren reached the bed, the door of the room flew open. As swiftly as it was opened, it was closed. But not before an elegant elf in midnight clothing stepped through the portal, followed by a similarly clad bald woman.

The elf flashed a smile, twice as cruel as Garren’s own, the pearly teeth stark against his flawless lavender skin. The tall man bowed sardonically toward the obese innkeeper, then swept a more courtly bow to the cowering gnome on the bed.

The elf’s companion also grinned at the portly human. Her hands slid from inside her vest to reveal twin daggers that glinted viciously in the light of the room. She turned her vibrant yellow-green eyes to the gnome.

“You’s be ready, Dreysil,” the goblin asked the smaller woman, with a nod toward the confused innkeeper. When the gnome nodded, the bald gobliness threw both daggers, striking the obese human in each shoulder, severing the tendons that allowed his arms movement. The man dropped to his knees, his screams of pain lost in the raucous noise of the oblivious drunkards carousing in the common room.

“Interesting choice, little Tempest,” the elf drawled. “Perhaps you should assist our new-found friend, while I complete the task you’ve left for me? I should so hate to see our host collapse in pain before he realizes the extent of his dilemma.”

The goblin growled, hating the name he called her, but she hastened to finish her part of the rescue. She slipped across the now-bloody floor to the gnome, where she rapidly released the locked shackles.

Then together, the two women fled from the room, leaving Garren’s further torment to Dueros.

Upstairs, in the elf’s room, the gnome cleaned herself of weeks of torture and pain, while the goblin kept watch for her bondsmaster. When the blademaster finally returned to his room, he grinned evilly at his companion and their new friend.

“The matter is handled, Dreysil,” Dueros smirked. Then he turned to the bald woman, saying, “Perhaps a warm meal would be appropriate, Tiat? Our gnome friend most assuredly needs nourishment and warmth. See to it.”

Tiat scurried from the room, but stopped short on the other side of the door. Dimly, she heard the low murmur of the elf’s voice, then a muffled reply from the gnome. Gnashing her teeth together at being left out of Dueros’ deal, the goblin thief hurried to the kitchen for food.

 

The village was abuzz the next morning. News of a takeover of the village’s largest inn set Tiat’s goblin ears burning. But when she tried to ask Dueros, the crafty elf only chuckled and continued walking, his path leading the pair far from Kalentown.

The tyrant’s ball

The musicians played beautifully, their practiced pieces bouncing through the halls of the palace. Men in their velvet brocades and starchy linen blouses paraded through, guiding their ball-gowned women in the intricate steps of traditional dances. The full silk and taffeta skirts swished and swayed, sweeping lightly across the smooth-as-glass-floor.

The royals, a high prince and his lady, sat upon a dais, high above the crowd. They observed the festivities through jewel-encrusted binoculars, held to their eyes by servants in black crushed velvet. Murmured conversation passed between the two, decisions of life and death, the balance of the kingdom in question.

Flickering light wavered through the crowd of dancers, yellows and reds twisting and cavorting in time to the music. Painted, feathered, and jeweled mask-covered faces turned to the dais as the revelers passed, a quick bow or nod to acknowledge the royals sitting in judgement.

Beneath the plexiglass floors, four stories down, battles raged and fires burned. Cries of anguish and terror drifted into the silence of distance. Charred velvets and stinking silks drifted along in a heat-fueled vortex of air, ash flung far and wide.

With a nod, a wink, or wave of a hand, the high prince decided who lived and who flew. Soldiers moved, untouched in the crowds, to escort the lucky few. Men and women, unfit for the new order, pushed to join the battle, fodder for the usurper’s war.

In velvets and silks, cotton and taffeta, the unwilling soldiers in a tyrant’s crusade, died by the hundreds, their blood cementing his resolve, building his walls.

Birth of evil

When darkness fell, he welcomed it, his arms spread wide. His smile, cruel and selfish, was a long, thin slash across his pale face. His eyes stared blindly into the abyss, his heart thundered wildly.

As the stone was rolled across the top of his prison, he laughed. The sound echoed in the deep pit, shrill and sharp. Above, his captors shivered in their cloaks, but it wasn’t the chill of the winter air that gave them pause.

In the ebon stillness, the imprisoned man whispered, soft and sibilant words, calling forth the creatures lying dormant in the frozen earth. He coaxed the smallest, he cajoled the largest, he cooed to them all.

In the darkness, they came. Fully alive or depressingly dead, they harkened to his call. The tiniest of insects yearning for succor, the deadliest of skeletal warriors clamoring for revenge, each and every one followed his song.

The cries of surprise and clanging of pitched battle dimly pricked the prisoner’s ears. He threw back his head and cackled, picturing the scene in his mind’s eye. He lounged, leaning against the hard frigidness of earthen prison, waiting for his release.

The darkness of his prison soothed him, blanketed him in comfort. His bony fingers twitched, calling his beasts of battle to him. With terse instructions, the mad wizard directed his minions to roll away his prison door.

Rattling bones and chittering feet worked together to allow his escape. He paused, at the apex of his rise, to call to the battered soulless bodies remaining on the bloody battlefield. Up, they rose, to heed his demands.

Upon lifeless shoulders they carried their master, through the deepest hours of night, to the edge of the city, splayed out below.

The wizard called once again, ripping bones from earth. His call delved deep, below the world, to call the horrors to his side. Mingling on the hilltop, the melange waited for his signal. When it came, the horde swept down, covering the streets with bleak twilight even in the brightening dawn.

When darkness fell once more, the city of his birth was no more and his army was swollen to massive heights.

The necromancer was born.

Love’s flight

The beast spread its wings wide, using the feathered appendages to balance on the edge of the rocky cliff. The beautiful plumage gleamed in the afternoon sun, ebon to sable, the colors twined and mingled in magnificent display. The bird’s great snowy head leaned forward and down, allowing a woman in flowing robes to stroke its deadly beak.

The woman, unafraid, cooed at the massive eagle, her hands lovingly caressing the curved golden beak. Her robes, snowy as the bird’s top feathers, were embroidered in royal purple to show her high rank. Her slippers, too delicate for the rocky cliff, slipped on the dangerously loose moss on the the craggy face of the mountain.

The eagle, joined to the woman by love and empathy, swiftly lifted a massive clawed foot to steady her. Her breath shortened by the near-fall, the woman leaned against the solid bulk of her friend, feeling the bird’s own agitation against her skin.

Hearing her name called from the valley behind, the woman straightened herself. She smoothed the feathers on the giant eagle’s chest, then leaned forward to plant a motherly kiss on the beast’s beak.

“Go,” she whispered, “before they come. They would never understand. To them, you’re merely a beast to be used.”

The eagle, seeing the pain and love in the woman’s eyes, dipped its head, acknowledging her words. With a great surge, the enormous bird pushed itself off the mountain’s edge, dropping precariously low before pumping its wings in powerful flight.

Turning, the woman glided away from the eagle’s perch, drawing the attention of her husband, the king, and his men. As the men followed, she dared look one last time, over her shoulder, to see her love’s lingering flight.

Worlds collide

The object lying in the clearing was made of some sort of metal, though only close observation told Selene that. The plush, springy moss that covered the thing was inches deep in spots. Obviously it had been lying here, undisturbed for decades, at least.

The slender, nearly limbless trees towered above the priestess. She moved quietly through the green-filtered sunlight. Her slippered feet were noiseless and her thin cotton robes only swished pleasantly with her steps.

The synthetic familiar bequeathed to all higher-ranking priestesses floated behind her, at head height. Its glowing red eye roamed over the forest and its peculiar relic. Never more than two steps behind its master, it recorded everything she found and everything she did.

Circling the enormous object, Selene gasped when she saw what looked like eyes peering at her from the opposite side. They were large and round, much like the glowing red socket on her familiar. She moved closer, running her roughened hands along the edges of the eyes.

Moving her hands further out, she found a nose. Inside the nostrils, her fingers probed a fine mesh of metallic strands. In wonderment, she paused.

Selene cocked her head to the side, her mind going back over the history of the world. Her order knew much of the lore from the world, more than most, but even they were lacking in some areas. Nothing in her memory would explain this disembodied head.

She turned away from the thing, moving further into the forest, looking for more parts of the artificial being.

As she passed through the first ring of trees beyond the clearing, the eyes of the monstrous metallic head lit up, glowing a deep orange. The sensory devices implanted deep inside the head calculated Selene’s most probable path, her height and weight, her species, and innumerable other things about her, the forest, and her familiar.

All the information was projected in an invisible beam to a hovering ship, high above the atmosphere. The calculations were entered into a database, providing the keepers with more knowledge of their charges.

Selene, unaware of the machinations of the alien beings, moved further away from the head. She began speaking to her companion.

“Basch, it appears that another strange apparatus has appeared in the forest. Make sure the children are kept close. Alert the high priestess. It may be time for another cleansing.”