Thursday, May 1, 2008

"The Theft of Heaven" -- Act 2

Allow me to present Act II of the three-act story "The Theft of Heaven". You can read Act I here. Act III will be posted next Friday, May 9.

"The Theft of Heaven"

(C) 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author(s) and/or artist(s).






When next the misty hands of The Cosmos returned to the Mountain That Lived in the Sky, Taliesin had changed. Its great orchards had slowed in blossoming. Apple trees refused to bear fruit but once a year. The cherry blossom branches had grown long, bending, drooping with the weight of loss towards the land far below, becoming weeping cherries. The wild grasses of the fields would grow dark, fading in color and wilting before rising again. Without a caretaker for Taliesin, the plants that did grow did so with incredible zeal. Taliesin became shaggy, overgrown and unwanted.

The hand of The Cosmos swirled about Taliesin for three days and three nights until the Mountain That Lived in the Sky overflowed with moisture, creating three massive waterfalls and thirteen smaller ones, causing immense rains and the first great flood of the world below. Since then, as storms rage in the world below it is at the command of The Cosmos to remind all creatures as lightning strikes and kills, so too Momoki fell from Taliesin and died.

The small patch of mist lowered over Taliesin, breaking into three smaller clouds. So concentrated was the effort of The Cosmos to correct what had happened the small clouds shaped, taking form as three birds. The first became Etain, The Swan of White. She gracefully floated, flapping her wings lightly and landing upon the waters of Twila’s Pond, the pond Twila the Turtle had made with her sorrowful tears when Momoki the Marmoset had fallen from Taliesin.

The second cloud stayed under Taliesin, shaping into Kalavata, The Black Swan of Darkness, his feathers stained by the shadowy underbelly. Kalavata would fly under Taliesin daily, but would always come to visit Etain in Twila’s Pond.

The third cloud, the smallest of the three, became a mourning dove nestled on the tallest peak of Taliesin. Her name was Aglina and her call reminded all of the new sadness brought into the world by Momoki’s fall, a sadness unlike Xiao-tep’s or Twila’s, which was sadness of loss. Rather, it was the sadness of disappointment and duties left unfulfilled.

Each day Kalavata would feel the sadness as he would fly under Taliesin. He spoke of it to Etain. “Why is it I feel so sad? At times it would make me ill?”

“You are representative of the Darkness of life and desire,” Etain explained. “Desire can pull one from the path The Cosmos has set before them.”

“But why can I not find and fulfill my own path?”

“That is the task of all creatures: to find and fulfill their path. The Cosmos merely set them before all of us.”

It was all too much for Kalatava. He shook his head in disagreement. “It is not right.”

Etain pushed forwards through Twila’s Pond with her feet, drawing nearer to Kalavata. “That is the Darkness in you speaking and it is your path to speak of it,” she accepted. She lowered her head, gently nuzzling his neck until he was calmed.

“Thank you,” Kalavata said.

On went this exchange for days until it became routine. Kalavata would question. Etain would soothe. They became good friends and would watch the sun together, as Momoki and Gogi had once, chatting and laughing the time away while, high above them, Aglina would call out her song of sadness.

As Kalavata flew beneath Taliesin one day he heard an odd howling sound. Looking for its source he saw the ants and termites that lived on the bottom of Taliesin, unafraid of falling. The termites were busily chewing through a root of a great tree that grew on the topside of the floating mountain. As the wind passed over the holes the termites had made in the root, it made the howling sound.

“What a beautiful sound!” Kalavata cheered. “Termites, may I have this root when you have hollowed it out?” It was agreed to, the little insects even finishing the root with intricate designs of swans, granting the root to Kalavata as a gifted didgeridoo.

Kalavata returned to Twila’s Pond with the instrument and played it for Etain. So beautiful was the music that, as Kalavata played it, butterflies came to life from its end and fluttered, scattering all over Taliesin and the world below. Etain was overjoyed, laughing with delight. Kalavata then gave the didgeridoo to Etain. “Thank you,” said Etain.

One of the butterflies created by the didgeridoo, a Birdwing called Zingtai, made her home by the pond’s edge where she watched Etain and Kalavata each day. When first she saw Kalavata, she said to herself, “My! Why a wonderful creature! His beauty is unsurpassed! He has the crisp darks of a butterfly, without any color to interrupt it!” Zingtai’s own wings were black with sparkling emerald greens dominating sparse blues and reds along the edge of each of her wings.

The three became fast friends. Zingtai and Etain would often visit one another throughout the day as Kalavata flew below Taliesin. When he returned the three would picnic at the pond’s edge.

Once, while Kalavata was flying below Taliesin, Zingtai confessed to Etain, “I am in love with Kalavata.”

“That is most precious! Does he know?”

Zingtai shook her head. “No. I am unsure how to tell him. I would think I should tell him when we are alone, but we are never alone.”

Etain nodded. “Perhaps tonight I will excuse myself and swim to the other side of the pond, or fly off to visit Aglina atop the mountain.”

“Would you, please?” Zingtai asked excitedly.

“I would,” Etain smiled.

Kalavata returned and was soothed by Etain. Kalavata then looked up and said, “Etain, I love you.”

Etain was shocked more by the timing of the expression than the expression itself. Zingtai stood nearby and heard his words.

“No, no!” Etain cried out. Unknowing what to do, she denied his love, “You do not truly love me!”

“What? You do not have to love me in return, but to question my love is dastardly.” Kalavata’s feelings were so strong that the Darkness within him stirred into anger. He became immediately displeased with Etain, though he loved her.

“Why do you refuse my love?” Kalavata demanded.

“I fear it is not true love,” Etain explained, looking to Zingtai who was now flying away, her face staining with tears.

“But it is!” he raged. He became so angry that Etain backed away. “Why do you seek to get away from me?”

Etain took flight, saying, “You are scaring me!”

Kalavata took flight after her.

Etain grew larger and larger in the hope she could fly faster and farther than Kalavata, hoping to escape his anger and lust. Her wingspan grew from one horizon to another. But Kalavata did the same. He grew larger than the world itself and chased after Etain. Forever they chased, causing the world to grow at first bright, then dark, and creating the cycle of day and night. Mortal sages below began telling of how the cycle was a reminder from The Cosmos that Darkness flows everywhere, even within creatures.

Zingtai cried for eight cycles of the two swans’ flight. Then she decided, “It is not the fault of Etain or Kalavata that he loves her and not me. It is also not my fault that I love him and he does not love me. I wish only happiness. I will remain friends with them.” Zingtai decided then she should remain nearest to Kalavata.

Zingtai took flight, flying after the two swans. She too grew to incredible size in the hope of keeping up with them. She flew under Kalavata, speaking with him as he chased Etain, content with enjoying his company. Her great silky blacks matched those of Kalavata's feathers so that all that could be seen of her were the colors at the tips of her wings, which had became enormous jewels sparkling brightly in the night sky, becoming the stars.



In a small province in a small country in a small region of the world was born a boy. His family, of meager means, was happy all the while he was in his mother’s belly and they eagerly awaited his birth. He was born dark-skinned, like his people. He came into the world earlier than expected. His breathing was heavy, rasping, and ceased after his first few minutes of life. The family cried in agony, but soon the child was breathing once more and the family filled with joy. He was named Zom Loa, the Returner.

His tale of death and resurrection caused his family grief as rumors of possible evil sorcery grew. Life became all too difficult for them. They feared for Zom Loa’s life.

As Kalavata passed overhead, under cover of his Darkness, Zom Loa’s mother and grandmother bundled the child in cloth, set him in a basket with a piece of papyrus upon which the child’s name was written and set the basket adrift in a river spilling into the sea.

Little Zom Loa floated in the basket for days, out into the great sea, without nourishment of the body or soul. He faced death for the second time in his brief life. It was another child, a boy, that found Zom Loa’s basket caught among the reeds and of a bank along the brackish waters of an estuary. The boy, Little Epito, ran to tell his mother and father of what he had found and together they retrieved and cared for Zom Loa.

“He is a gift from the gods,” Little Epito’s father would explain, “he needed a home and we were able to take care of him.”

Little Epito and Zom Loa grew together as brothers. Zom Loa’s origins were never hidden from him. “You came from the sea,” he would be told, “steered by the hands of the gods.”

From a young age Zom Loa had an interest in the gods and a touch of curiosity for dark mysteries. He read every text that every traveler would loan him about the gods. As a gift for his ninth birthday, his aunt gave him a small wooden statue of a horned god, its mouth open wide. “I know not which god this is,” she said, “but the man who sold it to me said he was once quite powerful and would watch over the one that keeps this statue.”

Zom Loa would spend every night, as his brother Little Epito would prepare himself for the evening’s rest, staring at the statue with wonder.

“Does it ever speak to you?” Little Epito would ask.

Zom Loa would shake his head. “No. I wish he would.”

Zom Loa would imagine grand adventures for the god statue. He determined that the horned god must have been a devourer of some kind, perhaps an eater of souls, thus explaining his mouth agape. He felt a connection with the horned god for, though he did not know, he had once briefly died and his soul had almost been devoured.

As the boys grew, their parents passed. On the occasion of their passing, Zom Loa bent before the horned statue, wondering if the god was at that moment eating the souls of his adoptive parents.

Little Epito, now not so little, challenged him. “Why do you sit at this moment staring at that ugly thing? Our parents have died.”

Zom Loa shook his head. “I do not know. I do not know why I sit watching this statue. He is as a friend and in times of sadness it would seem proper to seek out friendship.”

“It is not a statue. It is no god. It never was,” said Little Epito. “It is some trinket our aunt paid too much for. She made up the tales she told about it to intrigue a stupid boy. It is a child’s toy!”

This enraged Zom Loa at first, but then he felt some truth in Little Epito’s words. “You are right,” he said. “I am now a man, not a child. My parents have passed. It is time to rid myself of this toy.” Zom Loa picked up the statue, carried it to a field and buried it there. Little Epito followed and watched him. They stood together after the horned god had been buried and watched as the sky turned deep red, dark purple, blue and at last black as Kalavata flew overhead. One by one the starry colors of Zingtai’s wings washed over them, twinkling, winking down at them. The sky flowed with wondrous movement as they stared, contemplating their mortality and loss.

“Why do we die?” Zom Loa asked.

Little Epito shook his head, unknowing. “I wish we did not have to.”

Little Epito left his homeland, as did Zom Loa. They parted peacefully with a brothers’ embrace.



Years passed and word came to Zom Loa that his brother had been killed by a foreign disease. Zom Loa wept as he had wept for his parents. He thought of his toy buried in the field he had once worshiped as an idol. He wondered again at the mortality of some creatures.

Though Zom Loa had left his toy and childhood behind, he could not shrug off the thirst for knowledge of the gods. He soon became well acquainted with many tales and found a position as Court Storyteller for a king. Zom Loa would entertain the king, or tuck in the king’s children, or perform for grand audiences with his tales of the gods while quietly seeking tales of immortality.

Zom Loa grew old, wise and content in his position. His mustache grew long at the corners of his mouth, hanging down almost to his chest. His voice took on the creak of a door’s hinge never greased. His hair turned from black to peppery gray. People came from all over to speak with him and watch the spectacle of his tales as much as they came to visit with the king.

A prince from a far off land came for an extended visit. Zom Loa prepared himself for an exceptional tale. He laid out his best silk robe. It appeared black at first, but as he moved and when the light caught the robe just right, the robe glistened deep blues. He wore a headdress like a fez with a fan partially closed on top, all black with the exception of a silver buckle in the shape of a swirling snake at the front. He wore black shoes. In his mind he prepared his favorite tale, a tale he reserved for the most special occasions.

The visiting prince, a teller of tales in his own regard, applauded loudly as Zom Loa’s tale of an immortal koi fish and his friends came to an end. “An incredible performance!” cried the prince. “Your wealth,” he told his host, “reflects in the court that you keep.”

The king thanked the prince for the kindly compliment.

After the night’s reverie, the prince approached Zom Loa and spent the rest of the night outside and under the stars regaling Zom Loa with tales of his own from his land. Zom Loa listened attentively, perfecting in his mind how he would repeat and perform the tales later on other occasions for other people.

A break came in their conversation. They sat quietly reflecting upon the stars and the last tale told. “It would seem,” said the prince, “Zingtai’s colors grow brighter and more beautiful each night.”

Zom Loa nodded, “She is a most beautiful creature.”

“Then you know of Zingtai’s love for Kalavata?”

“There are not many who do not know the tale of Etain, Kalavata and Zingtai.”

The prince stared. “They say a single jewel from Zingtai’s wings can be larger than a man.”

“I can imagine,” said Zom Loa.

“And that if anyone should ever possess one of those jewels, they would become one of the elite Gifted Ones. The would become immortal.”

This jarred Zom Loa. “Indeed?”

“So goes the tale.”

“Where did you hear this tale?” Zom Loa asked.

The prince thought a moment. “Far, far to the north. I believe in the province Angmapour, which has not existed in four or more years since the people overthrew their king. I know not the lay of the land there any more. I’ve not been there since the revolution.”

Zom Loa considered this.

The visiting prince left. Life went on for Zom Loa as usual as the Court Storyteller, but every chance he got he would ask every visitor if they had heard of the Jewels of Zingtai. Too few, however, had ventured north to learn the customs and tales of the people there. Zom Loa grew restless and at last requested of the king to have a year or more to himself to travel and collect more tales, to head north and discover the truth, if any, and origin of this tale.

The king, so pleased with the prestige Zom Loa brought to his court, graciously granted the requested and suggested he pay for Zom Loa’s travels with the kingdom’s coffers.

Zom Loa was set about his way to discover more tales.

As he had suspected, it took a year or more to come to the northern lands. Once there, he was dazzled by the people, their customs and their land. So cold was it there that they forever wore furs and pelts. It snowed nearly every day. Whole communities lived in long huts wherein meetings were held, babies born, and elders spoke of the early days of the world’s creation when few but the select Gifted Ones existed. Zom Loa hired a translator, learned the language himself and listened carefully to all their tales. Most of all, he would don his own furs, which had been gifted as a welcoming present by the benevolent people, and step out into the bitter cold air to watch the great colors dance as ribbons in the night sky as it did no other place in the world.

“I once heard,” he spoke with an elder as they watched the shifting colors above, “that if a mortal were to possess a jewel from Zingtai’s wings he would become an Immortal.”

“Oh, yes,” confirmed the elder. “But you must first get to Zingtai and free it from her wing. No one has ever done it for no mortal could reach so high and no Gifted One would need such a jewel.”

Zom Loa lowered his head. “Have you a tale explaining the reason why mortals die?”

The elder searched his memory. He shook his head. “No, we do not.”

Zom Loa sighed.

Time passed and Zom Loa felt, though he had learned nearly twice the tales he had once known, his trip was unsuccessful. Then while watching the streaking lights again night he thought to ask the elders, “What is farther north? It seems there are more lands.”

The elders grew nervous. One explained, “There are more lands to the north, indeed, but no one ventures there. We are the last people, farthest north. We do not even hunt there.”

“Why not?” asked Zom Loa.

The elder shook his head, “It is much too dangerous. Not only is the weather and land more dangerous, but there are tales of a demon that lives to the north that devours mortals. Perhaps three of the many that have ventured north have returned and yet those three were in agony for the last days of their lives, which were short once they returned.”

The elder’s words stirred the embers of Zom Loa’s mind. The mention of a devouring demon reminded him of his childhood toy. “I must see this northern country,” he said.

The good people denied him, stating they would not show him the way. “It is simply north,” Zom Loa said. “I will go. You have been most hospitable, but I am a visitor and a guest, I am not bound by your laws. I can and will go.”

Zom Loa attempted to hire a guide, but no one would show him the way. He set out alone and on foot, heading north. Days passed, a blizzard came to the lands. The food in his pack did not last. He grew thin with hunger. Yet, through snowy winds and arctic hail he pressed until he came to the side of a small mound of ice. He sat low next to it, using the hill to block some of the wind. There he stayed a long time, wondering if the storm would ever let up. He moved sideways next to the hill and stepped on something soft. A grunting roar of pain cried out. Zom Loa jumped sideways, back the way he came and strained to look more closely. White against white, snow against blubbery flesh he saw a collection of walruses lying snug against the hill, piled next to and on top one another for warmth and protection. One glared at him in pain. Zom Loa knew then he had stepped on the creatures’ flipper. He gave the creature his apologies.

The blizzard weighed on them heavily. Zom Loa looked to the walruses, wondering if any of them, himself or the animals, would survive.

The walrus he had stepped on looked at Zom Loa, waving his flipper as if to tell him to come closer. Zom Loa did so hesitantly, slowly. He crouched lower, closing in on the walrus. The walrus snorted before he lay his head down. Zom Loa curled close to him, their bodies sharing warmth, and covered his face completely with his fur overcoat and hands.

The storm raged. The walrus wiggled closer. Zom Loa bundled up tighter still. He wondered at the strength of will and courage the northern people for living in such harsh lands. His heart raced with thoughts of death. He feared he had come to the northern country seeking immortality only to die. At last, worry and anguish draining him of mettle and the warmth of his blubbery companion soothing him, Zom Loa fell asleep.

The grunt of walruses woke him some time later. Looking up, Zom Loa found the skies still filled with snow, but the storm largely subsided. He looked to the walrus next to him who, in turn, looked at Zom Loa. Their whiskers, both man and creature, were iced over. Their breath came out as steam from their noses. The crisp, cold air hurt Zom Loa’s lungs.

“I will not last here,” he told the walrus.

The walrus turned, waddling away. Zom Loa watched him go some way before the creature stopped with the other walruses.

Curious, Zom Loa got up, his pack empty of supplies but still on his back, and walked in pain towards the group. As he approached them he saw they were inspecting a spot on the ground. Zom Loa bent, looking. There he could see a thin patch of ice. “It must have been open water here before the blizzard. You are seeking a way through the ice?” Zom Loa asked the walrus he had slept near. The walrus stared at him, blinking.

Zom Loa removed his pack, dug through it and produced a small pointed knife. Using it as a pick, he quickly dug a hole through the ice. The walruses grunted and groaned and bellowed their pleasure. As soon as the hole was wide enough the walruses started diving through the hole, one by one. Zom Loa’s walrus was the last to go. He looked at Zom Loa some time before diving in.

Zom Loa stared at the hole for a bit. He looked to the sky. Everything was white. He tried to remember which way was north, but was uncertain of any direction.

The walrus came splashing back through the hole with a mouthful of mollusks. He spit them out at Zom Loa’s feet before diving back into the water.

Zom Loa had helped the walruses. His walrus, in turn, was helping him. He knelt and, using his knife, pried open the mollusks and ate them raw. The walrus returned, gulping down his own fish. Zom Loa looked at him.

“I am Zom Loa. I seek the way north.”

“I am Tarn," spoke the walrus, "I will show you the way, but why do you wish to go north?”

“I seek the demon that devours mortals.”

“Are you ready for your demise?” asked Tarn. “For that creature ushers souls into the lights high above each night.”

Zom Loa shook his head. “I may have known him once, long ago when I was a child.”

Tarn did not understand, but he felt he should help this man who had helped him and his people. “Follow me.”

Together they traveled northward for many days and nights as the snow ceased its torrent.



When at last they came to a cliff Tarn said, “Can you see the small color against the white snow and ice at the bottom of this cliff?”

Zom Loa looked, “Yes, I do.”

“That is your Devourer. Get on my back, I can travel faster down to that point than you can walking.”

Zom Loa threw his leg over Tarn. The walrus pushed with his flippers, shifting his weight and sliding down the great cliff’s face. Zom Loa, at first frightened by the speed and height, cheered and laughed all the way down. When they reached the bottom, he dismounted Tarn and said, “I did not know danger could be fun.”

Tarn groaned with laughter.

They walked some small way further and came to the patch of color, a giant purple flower growing out of the ice with long vines lying across the land like serpentine tentacles.

“What an odd place for a weed to grow,” remarked Zom Loa.

“It is no weed,” corrected Tarn. “This is your Devourer.”

“This is the demon?”

“I know not if it is a demon, though I understand how some would call it such. It is the only Devourer, however, anywhere here in the north.”

Zom Loa nodded. He cautiously approached the flower, examining it, stepping over its massive vines atop the ice and roots protruding from under the snow. The flower was purple all over except the edges which were pure gold. The flower was closed and stood twice the height of Zom Loa. As he drew closer, the flower opened as though blossoming.

Zom Loa jumped, looked back at Tarn, then approached closer still. “I am Zom Loa,” he said. “Are you the Devouring Flower?”

The flower said nothing. Zom Loa stepped closer and closer, examining the interior of the flower. One of the vines moved, grabbing him about the waist and pulling him into the its center. Zom Loa screamed as the flower closed around him.

Tarn stood and watched, wondering if Zom Loa had met the fate he had desired. He waited.

Inside the flower, the vine letting go and receding back outside, Zom Loa fought to find an opening. The golden pollen within filled his lungs. He gasped for air. He punched and kicked to find a way out. He produced his knife once more and punctured holes in the flower, sending the plant shivering with pain and rage. The holes Zom Loa punched, however, immediately healed over.

“I do not wish death!” cried out Zom Loa.

“If you did not wish death,” spoke the flower from within, “why did you come to me?”

From outside, Tarn heard and saw nothing, though inside a man fought for his life.

“I came because I thought, perhaps, I once knew you. As a child I had a toy, an idol I thought, of a horned creature with a gaping mouth. I felt certain his place in the universe was to devour something, perhaps souls. When I heard the tale of your existence here in the north, I came to discover you and see for myself if you were the same creature.”

The flower was silent for a moment, unmoving. “I am not the creature you seek, though I am the Devourer of Life. I am but one of the many incarnations of Death, however. I do eat souls, as I will eat yours and send you to my belly to glow in the heavens above.”

“I did not come here to die!” Zom Loa screamed.

“Then why did you come to these lands?”

Zom Loa sighed. “I came seeking immortality. I had heard tales I could find it here in the northern country.”

“You hear many tales, mortal.”

“I am a teller of tales. I collect them and, perhaps foolishly, pursue them.”

Again the Devourer was silent a moment. Zom Loa felt tiny, invisible vines picking at his mind. “Stop it!” cried Zom Loa, grabbing at his temples.

“You are quite wise,” said the Devourer. “Your tales are numerous. Your time is yet to come, though that would usually not stop me from my duty of your demise. You seek one of the stars of the night sky, one of the Jewels of Zingtai. You have heard they can bring immortality.” The Devourer then confirmed, “And immortality they can bring.”

Zom Loa was shocked to hear the truth. “Are you certain?”


“The elders of the nearest village, however, said no mortal could reach such heights so as to gain possession of one of the jewels.”

“Mostly that is true,” said The Devourer, “However, a mortal in favor of a Gifted One may meet with success.”

The flower opened beneath Zom Loa. He slipped from the purple plant into a field of darkness and quickly moving stars. It seemed to Zom Loa as if he were standing in the night sky. Out of the darkness moved a shadowy creature. It was almost human and two men tall, its head a black skinned cephalopod with webbed tentacles where chin and mouth would be. Its two eyes glowed iridescent red tinged about the edges with purple. Its body was a dull gray mottled about the shoulders with black spots. Its belly was enormous, fat. Its arms were long extending into three long black tentacles. The creature was mobile by a vast number of black tentacles where legs and feet would be on a man.

Zom Loa stepped back in fear as the creature approached. “What are you? A demon?”

“Not a demon,” said the Devourer in a deep gurgling voice, its mouth tentacles moving as it spoke, “but something different entirely. My history extends farther than that of demons, my family older perhaps than the world itself. I am The Devourer of Souls. This is my realm.”

Zom Loa looked around at the starry field he stood in. “Where is this realm?”

“You are in the realm called Latvica where the dead dance and fight forever, never to rest, glowing as ribbons in the night sky.” The Devourer breathed deep. “I can grant you powers beyond your enlightened imagination. But I must ask you: will you give your will over to me? This means I may call upon you at some point in the future and you must obey my command.”

“If in the end I gain the immortality that I seek, I do indeed,” spoke Zom Loa though he feared betrayal. “Why is it you would help a mere mortal?”

The Devourer’s fat belly swelled and relaxed. “Your path is set before you by The Cosmos. If I were to conduct my usual duty and eat your soul now, the world would go on without notice of your existence. Your name would be lost in the history of your feeble people.” The creature gurgled a bit with laughter, “But if I were to help you, you could fulfill your destiny of unleashing a great demon into the world. Your name will never be forgotten and the demon will cause severe balance shifts within all things as it defies the will of The Cosmos. That, dear mortal, would please me and my kin.”

“But my immortality would be assured?”

“I can provide you the opportunity to gain immortality,” said The Devourer. “Whether you succeed is your own doing.”

“Then I will give myself over to you willingly,” answered Zom Loa. “I will not fail by my own regard.”

The Devourer gurgled with deep laughter. “Good, good.”

Zom Loa once more felt invisible tentacles, this time all about his body, inside and out. He looked at himself in horror as his furs were ripped from him until he stood nude. His favorite robe, the silk that showed blue, appeared about his form but now also showed a field of moving stars much like the field of stars he now stood in, giving him the appearance of being a portal onto the night sky. Great black tentacles grew where once his feet and legs were and they smoked as smoldering embers in a campfire. He felt healthier than he had in years.

Zom Loa looked at The Devourer. “Am I immortal?”

The Devourer gurgled out laughter. “So focused is your mind. No, you must steal a Jewel of Zingtai for your immortality, but with your new form your chances of doing so are far greater. Go now, fulfill your role and release the demon. Become the Immortal Black Tentacle! Return when you have the Jewel of Zingtai!”

Zom Loa was inside the purple flower once more, the starry sky and the Devourer gone from his vision. The flower opened not in a plain of ice, but on a field of wild grass. His tentacles lurched out, pulling him away from the flower. The flower closed behind him. He looked all about. Before him stood an incredible, imposing mountain. Behind him was a cliff and, looking down, he discovered the world far below him. Zom Loa was on the Mountain That Lived in the Sky. Zom Loa had been sent by The Devourer to Taliesin.

He turned to look at the mountain once more. Over its peak flew Etain and behind her came Kalavata and the darkness of night. Below Kalavata flew the butterfly Zingtai with her wings twinkling brightly. “If I could climb that peak,” said Zom Loa to himself, “I could perhaps get close enough to grab one of those jewels. I could steal away and become, at last, immortal!”

Zom Loa’s black tentacles whipped out, one after another, stretching and pulling his form toward the mountain.


Be sure to check back next Friday for the conclusion of "The Theft of Heaven"!

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