Friday, June 13, 2008

"The Ruby Bug" -- Act III

Here is the final, closing act of my original short story "The Ruby Bug". Act III picks up where Act II leaves off.

Next week I will be posting an essay of notations about "The Ruby Bug" as I have previously done for "The Children of Gods", "At the Peony Teahouse" and "The Theft of Heaven". Be sure to look for it.

I hope you enjoy today's offering.

Read Acts 1 and 2 here.


"The Ruby Bug"
(c) 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


ACT III: Stavros of the Ruska Roma

A WICKED KNOT IS FORMED: Wherein the Brothers Jackal Are Born; A Gathering of Evil; Garu Becomes Stavros of the Ruska Roma; Yaska Selith and the Bone Warriors Settle Upon the Plain of Adoration



Deep within a multi-chambered ziggurat the thieves stole, leaving behind them a trail of blood and bowels of guardian soldiers. They entered the antechamber leading into the ziggurat’s center-most chamber and there were confronted by two soldiers bedecked with gold cowls, aprons and silver spears.

“Halt!” cried one of the antechamber guardians. “You’re not allowed access here!” He eyed the seven intruders clad in black, their eyes gleaming white in the antechamber’s torchlight. They crawled the walls unnaturally and one clung to the ceiling. They were as living shadows, shades of mortal men. “Find your treasures elsewhere!” the guardian told them.

“We have come not,” said one of the blackened intruders in a low, nearly inaudible hiss, “to take away from your precious palace of death. We have come instead to place something within. Whether it leaves, it would be of its own accord and not ours.”

The guardians raised their spears, advancing. “You will be allowed no farther. Turn and run or we will kill you,” spoke one.

“Too long has the new religion thumbed the ways of our ancestors,” said one of the dark figures. “Join us now or perish at the hands of the old gods.”

The guardians stood their ground.

The seven intruders jumped in unison, as if in one mind. They kicked and scratched with clawed fingers. The guardians stabbed and twirled their spears within the dank antechamber. In the end, two of the blackened intruders lay dying and the two guardians were dead, blood spilling from cuts at their throats and temples.

Fearing their dying comrades would be found and made to speak, the remaining five finished the lives of their two fallen comrades. The two dying gave no fight in this.

They entered the center chamber, taking torches to light their way. Within the chamber’s center stood a massive sarcophagus. Its surface glinted gold in the torchlight. The intruders struggled to push off the top, opening it and releasing ancient dust into the dank air. Lying inside were the mummified remains of an old deity.

The torches were placed in crevices in the walls, abstract items and bones produced, talismans and scrolls. As the torches flickered from some unseen breeze, the five began to chant in a long-forgotten language. As they chanted, the mummy moved. It awoke. And before they could finish the ritual it burst forth from the sarcophagus, flying through the hard stone of the ziggurat, flying straight and high. The stones ripped at the mummy’s wrappings, removing them, revealing a man beneath, emaciated and leather with a jackal’s dark head.

The old god exploded from the top of the ziggurat and flew away into the dark night sky. He hungered for flesh, for contact. Most of all, he lusted for companionship. He flew until he came to a mountain and, spying down, found an old woman there with iridescent wings like an insect. A witch. He did not know her to be a witch, he did not recognize the twisted ugliness of her face, nor did he care. He tackled her and raped her repeatedly. She screamed out into the night, using her powers to release herself from his grasp, but she was too weak to battle against his ancient strength. His vitality shot into her, some of it dribbling down her leg. He paused to rest, to look at the world and the starless night.

The Mountain Witch crawled away. He turned and saw her trying to make her escaped and attacked her once more, salivating, slather her with his tongue. He howled as he satisfied himself. She screamed. As he flew away into the night

Six days later the old Mountain Witch gave birth to two jackals, twins, that howled into the night. They tried to eat her, but they were yet too weak for effective attacks. She captured them together in a bag of hemp and took them to a nearby river that washed down the mountain and out into the sea and threw them into it. They drifted and she was happy knowing they would soon be battered and drowned.

But they did not drown. They grew quickly, chewing free of the burlap sack and found they could speak and stand as men. One had golden fur with three black stripes down its back, one large in the center of his spine and two smaller, thinner, on either side of the larger. The fur of the other was red. Where his brother had a thick black stripe down his back, so did this one, but on either side of the stripe he was speckled with black spots. They took names, the golden one Trebizond and the red one Tavaras, and set about to feed themselves.

Together they terrorized one countryside after another. They came to be known as The Brothers Jackal, as evil spirits and omen of greater doom.

While hunting mortal men in a village one day, Tavaras bit a villager but the villager escaped. By the time he found the villager, the mortal was about to die. Tavaras drew near to feast upon his kill, but the mortal convulsed three time consecutively, then, as the body was lying still, it began to grow a thin coat of fur much like Tavaras'. Soon the mortal was alive again, covered in fur, his face extending out into a canine muzzle. The mortal now looked more like Tavaras than anything else.

This new creature spoke, “Father, I am at your command, but I am hungry. Can I feed?”

Tavaras called over his brother and explained what had happened, showing the new creature off as though he were Tavaras' son.

“It would seem,” said Trebizond, “that we can make children with a single bite.”

On they went terrorizing mortals, eating them and occasionally turning them into one of their own for entertainment.



The demon-dog traveled some ways across the world, the dark harpy Neboshazzar always at his side or on his shoulder. Together they ruined settlements and towns, corrupting many to their roving and pillaging ways. Soon the demon-dog had a small following always at his heels comprised of thieves, pirates, murderers, misfits and scoundrels, outlaws and outcasts. They named the demon-dog Yaska Selith, The Barghest of Howling Madness and Murder. They loved him for, unlike many other Gifted Ones who kept to themselves, rarely consorting with mortals, Yaska Selith lived and roamed upon the lands of the mortal world. He made sure they were fat, happy and loyal. In the presence of such a demon many mortals felt incredible power and whatever they had ever lusted for they could have if only they would ask. If a murderer wanted to kill off an entire town’s population, the barghest would stand guard, his other companions creating a perimeter so escape was impossible while the murderer quenched his bloodlust. If a rapist wanted every woman in a brothel, the barghest would raise the building filled with woman in his clawed paw, allow the rapist to enter and send the women screaming while Yaska Selith peaked through the doors and watched.

The demon-dog was power to his mortal companions, a power such that it chased away fear of retribution.

Yet Yaska Selith, the demon that once was a fisherman’s Pup, was still forming into his demonic self. After a night’s pillaging, as his followers slept, Yaska Seltih awoke in great, agonizing pain. A small hole appear on his forehead. He cried out, howling. His followers awoke in time to see the hole appear, bleed a little, grow a small eyelid and close. A few of those that had heard the howl were given over to madness and ran off to pleasure and defecate themselves, to drool, losing knowledge of feeding themselves until, at last, they starved to death. So small was the hole that, if they had not seen it forming, they most likely would have missed it the next morning against Yaska Selith’s immensity. The demon-dog stood taller than twenty men while the hole was a mere crater, no more than a finger-width’s wide.

Yaska Selith grunted, panting. He placed two clawed fingers upon his forehead and drew away small dabs of blood. He felt again and found the small, new eye. Concentrating, he opened the small eyelid of the third eye and out shot a great beam of red light, setting all things aflame in its path – including two of his followers. Gravely laughter fell from the demon-dog, saying, “It would seem I have grown a new weapon.” The third eye closed. His followers cheered.

Yaska Selith did not comprehend this new eye, nor did he care to. It destroyed worldly things when he opened it and that was enough knowledge for him. He cared not how it worked, or why, nor did he care to know that buried deep behind the eye, close to the skull, his flesh had captured and mounted the tiny ruby bug, the source of the destructive beam.



Garu found a small village of tradesmen and farmers and there he entered, not knowing the local superstitions of Gifted Ones or even that he himself was a Gifted One. Everything was new to the rat-man that was once a simple rat foraging for food with his friend that fed him. When Doko was alive and his friend, Garu had a favored life. Never had he the need to hunt then for Doko had provided all. But now, with Doko dead, Garu on his own and in his new form with the power of speech and upright mobility, in a new country, he felt an alien in strange worlds.

He had found the village when he crested a large hill and looked down its steep rolling sides. The village sat along a thin river, a tributary of some larger river, and on either side of the river grew fields of wheat and whey that bent in the wind like small, soft roiling waves on the sea. "Surely," thought Garu, "A place with people so rich with grain could spare a meal in exchange for this jewel."

In his arms he still carried with him the massive Jewel of Zingtai, the emerald that had been stolen from the heavens, from the wing of Zingtai the Butterfly, the Nighttime Birdwing.

Garu descended the hill and entered the small village. When the people there saw him, they challenged him. "Leave!" they cried. "Leave us alone! Vermin bring disease and eat our crops!"

"I just want a meal!" Garu called back in fear, desperate with hunger and a desire to be understood. "Please! I'll trade you this stone for a meal!"

"Go!" they shouted. The people picked up their tools - hammers, scythes, forks and hoes - and brandished them at what they thought was an invading demon.

Garu turned to escape, to run away, but found he was surrounded. "How can I leave if you've surrounded me?" he asked. He realized then they meant to harm him, to kill him and not simply chase him away.

A villager charged, his pitchfork lurching out before him like a spear. Garu had to drop to the ground, losing hold of the jewel in the process, to dodge the oncoming farmer's makeshift weapon. When the farmer came to stand over him, adjusting the fork so he could stab downward at the prone rat-man, Garu remembered his fights in the hull of the ship when he and Doko had crossed to this new land. He turned on his back, reached up, grabbed hold of the farmer and pulled him down while kicking up with his hind legs.

The farmer tumbled away, blood spraying from his mouth as his chest caved and exploded within as bloody wounds.

Garu stood. The villagers eyed him warily. Their desire to fight had shrunk at seeing one of their own dying. Geru picked up the jewel and precariously stepped forward. The villagers backed away, their tools pointed at him. When he was sure they would let him, Garu ran and fled the village.

He struggled back up the nearby hill and looked back, spying it to discover if he was being followed. The village bustled with activity, some sort of ritual to spirit away evil was being performed and the wounded man was being tended to, but no one was coming after him.

"It would seem," said he to himself as he stood panting, gasping for air, "my new form is no more befriended than my old. Need I to take care." His stomach growled. "Need I some food!"

With the Jewel of Zingtai in his arms, he descended the other side of the hill, circled the village far from their sight, and carried on his quest for food.

The next time Garu spied a collection of people was at the Grand Bazaar of Tenhar, an open market the length of a massive city. He watched from a good, safe distance for a long time. Not only did he witness people like his old friend Doko entering and exiting the bazaar with ease, he was certain several animal creatures like himself had come and gone, as well. "This is like the places Doko would go," he thought aloud, "but far greater in size and number of people. It would seem safe, though, if not, it must end in my demise. I escaped that village because there were so few people and they were so full of fear. Here, however, there would likely be someone not quite so afraid and many willing to end me quickly."

He pondered entering the bazaar for a while. He could see all variety of people wandering through openly. Colorful tapestries filled the aisles of the bazaar. So colorful were they that Garu desired to see them up close. The sweet smells of fresh foods being cooked, of curry on the air, came to him. At long last, his growling stomach made the decision for him. He picked up his green rock and started cautiously towards the bazaar's entrance.

The bazaar stretched the entire length of the city. It was colorful with tapestries and silks and cloths and smelled of fine foods that made Garu’s stomach rumble. Curry and incense mixed on the air. Garu was in awe of the many merchant booths. “It would seem” said he to himself, “that one could buy anything here.”

And he was correct in this. Livestock and monkeys, pets and plants, jewelry and spices, foods and games and gambling and companionship and hookahs and pipes, slaves and wives, workmen and the finest things from all over the world could be purchased at the Grand Bazaar of Tenhar. As he walked down the middle of the bazaar he noticed few people stared at him, but those that did seemed more to train their eyes upon the giant jewel he carried.

“Friend!” called a nearby merchant. “How much are you asking for that jewel?”

“A meal, a good meal and nothing more,” Garu answered.

“A meal? A mere meal?” the merchant asked, realizing too late he had perhaps given away the value of the jewel. “I will give you a meal from our food court, anything you wish, in trade for that jewel you carry.”

“Bah!” scoffed a nearby merchant. “Food from the court here? Surely the chefs here are the finest, but nothing substitutes a home-cooked meal. Friend,” he said this to Garu, “I invite you into my home for such a meal, two days’ meals, in fact. My wife is a fine cook and, should you wish, I’ll even give you my wife during your stay. I ask in return only for that jewel.”

Garu was confused by this. He wanted a simple, single meal. The worth of the jewel slowly came to him. “This must be worth quite a bit for you to offer your woman,” said he to the second merchant.

A third merchant, from a booth behind Garu, called out, “His wife is ugly! I’ll let you have your way with any woman you wish at one of our fine brothels, two or three if you would like, plus meals in the courts here for three days. In exchange I ask for the jewel.”

On went the bidding until, frustrated with the attention more than anything, Garu made a deal with the fifth merchant to have joined in the bargaining. In trade for the jewel Garu received a week’s worth of pleasures at a nearby brothel, five days worth of meals free, plus a small purse filled with coins of the local region.

Garu ate and was pleasured by the women. He drank and found he liked alcohol, especially fruity wines. In five short days that seemed to go by quickly for the rat-man, he grew fat and tired of sex. He slept on the ground outside the bazaar if he did not fall asleep in the arms of a whore. After that it took him a mere two days to spend all his coins on food and women and wine. He returned the the merchant he had sold the jewel to and asked, “I am out of coins. How may I get more?”

The merchant looked at him, “Ah, the rat-man! You’ll be happy to know I sold your jewel already and I was actually able to make a small profit of it.” Little did Garu understand the merchant had made a sizeable profit on the jewel, nearly enough to retire on. “What’s this you say of coin? You need more? Well, I have a way for you to earn some. If you carry a package to me in the neighboring country I will in return give you more coins.”

Garu agreed to this, and so became a merchant’s delivery man and errand servant.



Yaska Selith and his band grew to be known far and wide. Many of his followers took up the practice of wearing their victim’s bones around their necks, through their ears or noses, on their heads or stitched to clothing on their shoulders, arms and legs and, as such, came to be known as the demon-dog’s Bone Warriors. They became legendary in their ability to be merciless. A few were skilled, trained warriors and they taught the others, but none could quite claim to be the best warriors in the world. Yaska Selith thought on this. “We must recruit fine fighters, strong fighters,” he consulted with Neboshazzar, which he often did despite Neboshazzar’s inability to respond. But Neboshazzar always listened. “We will recruit some excellent fighters to fill our ranks, to become captains of our army, to train all the rest to improve their skills. We will become unstoppable.”

One of Yaska Selith’s followers, a man named Sinvergüenza, overheard this and said, “Dear master, my demonic lord to whom I am most loyal, if you are serious about what you speak, no finer fighters can be found than at the Peony Teahouse. The world’s best gather there to prove and improve their skills. It is one of the few spots where Gifted Ones and mortals congregate mutually.”

“How know you this?” asked Yaska Selith.

“I have been there, master.”

“As a fighter?”

“No, I am much too inefficient a fighter to take my chances in the arena of the Peony. In my previous affairs before joining your ranks I was quite the gambler and betting upon the fights is encouraged there, as well as other forms of games.”

Yaska Selith considered this. “Know you your way to this teahouse?”

Sinvergüenza nodded. “That I do.”

“Then take three men and go, find me the greatest fighters in the world.”

The four men were sent to seek fighters at the Peony Teahouse while Yaska Selith and the rest of his followers continued their onslaught against the world, town after town.

Once they came into a small town that had already been ravaged, the people sent screaming into the hills. As he and his followers looked about, they discovered the Brothers Jackal, now with eight children and followers of their own, feasting upon the flesh of the dead and unlucky enough not to escape. Neboshazzar eyed them as they ate, salivating from his silvery teeth.

“Ho!” called Yaska Selith. “You there! The dogs! Who are you?”

The Brothers Jackal peered at one another, blood dripping from their muzzles, their fur matted with sweat and gore. Suspicion and excitement filled them at the sight of such an immense canine creature. “Tre,” said Tavaras, who had taking to calling his brother Trebizond ‘Tre’, “he is one of us, this creature, though far larger. He must be made our friend.”

Trebizond nodded, turning to answer the giant demon-dog. “We are Trebizond and Tavaras, the Brothers Jackal, and these are our minions and children. Who might you be?”

Yaska Selith’s followers scoffed at the familiar way Trebizond spoke to their master. “He is Yaska Selith, Barghest of Howling Madness and Murder!” cried one. “He is one of the Gifted Ones and master of the world over. We are his happy servants, the Bone Warriors.”

The Brothers Jackal looked over the collected followers of the demon-dog, eyed each other, and Tavaras said, “Well met, Yaska Selith and his Bone Warriors. We’ve not enough to share our feast with you as yet, but given time we could hunt more and we would be happy to share.”

Yaska Selith ignored the offer. “Tell me, Brothers Jackal, how is it that your small group of canine warriors came to raze this town? It is small, true, but you seem so few.”

“We may be few,” answered Tavaras, “but we are superior hunters and strong fighters. This is how we survive. If we do not succeed in assaulting towns, we would starve and die.”

Yaska Selith considered this. Growling laughter filled his gullet, streaming out his throat and shook the ground beneath them. “I say you, how many are there of you? Ten?”

Unsure if they should be insulted by the demon-dog's laughter, Trezibond answered, “There are indeed ten of us,” he then eyed the Bone Warriors, realizing they were outnumbered three-to-one, and added angrily, “but we can easily make more.”

“Make more?” asked the demon-dog.

Trebizond nodded, looking up at the tall Yaska Selith. “Indeed. Our bite, if not carried through to the killing blow, changes a mortal person into one of our children.”

The Bone Warriors shuffled nervously, murmuring among each other. Seeing this made the Brothers Jackal smile for they knew they could intimidate these soldiers.

“How many more could you make?” asked Yaska Selith.

“As many as needed,” answered Tavaras.

Yaska Selith nodded. “Good. I’ve a thought: we, being already cousins in the very least if not brothers canid, should join together. If you do, I will provide you with all the adventure, slaughters, rampagings and engorgements you desire. In return I ask only that you swell the ranks of my Bone Warriors with your kind, using your bite. And, of course, for your loyalty.”

Trebizond and Tavaras eyed one another. They need not speak for they often thought the same things. They merely judged each others’ facial expressions, reactions to gauge an answer. Together they agreed silently, together they smiled and turned their heads up to look at the towering demon-dog, together they spoke, “We would join you.”



Garu despised the work he did for the merchant. At last, when once he was given a satchel of coins to be delivered to another merchant in a nearby countryside for the purchase of some goods, Garu simply made off with the coins and disappeared into far lands.

Chased from town to town, always on the verge of hunger, Garu ran from one country to the next. At last, near death and so starved was he, when he came upon a band of nomads he made no effort to hide his presence. He followed their nighttime firelight and fell unconscious in their midst. These people – gypsies and musicians, fortunetellers and thieves – gasped and readied their weapons against the rat intruder.

One of their men, a man named Mihai, approached, pressing a wary foot against the fallen Garu. “What is this creature?” he asked.

“A beast! A demon sent to devour us!” someone cried.

“No! He is a Gifted One sent from the Heavens to bless us or charge us with a quest!”

Garu moaned, waking briefly.

The gathered gypsies scuttled backward, eying him.

Garu rose, fell.

“We must kill it!” called Mihai.

“No!” came the answer. From out of their numbers came an old woman, her eyes white with blindness, her skin golden brown and speaking of her past beauty. She wore on her head three silk scarves of gold, red and violet. Hanging from each were coins from different countries she had traveled through. At her waist was a massive, flowing sash of crimson edged with glittering gold. Her dress was blue, light, layered and flitted on the night wind. She was called Ioana and she was the elder of these people and their greatest seer of things to come. “Let me see him.”

Two men stepped forward, placing their arms under the rat-man and lifting him. Garu’s eyes opened a small ways to fall on her old face as she placed hands on his muzzle and head, feeling his features.

“What is your name?” she asked Garu.

“A friend,” his voice was weak with hunger, “An old friend once called me Garu, though lately I have also been called ‘vermin’ and ‘wretched’.”

She shook her head, feeling at his right ear. Her fingers outlined the odd white ‘x’ marking his fur made. “I know not what your name means.”

Garu further awoke. “Neither do I. I was but a stupid rat before he died. Then I swallowed a bit of green stone and now I am as a man, or closer to a man than I had ever been.”

Ioana listened carefully. She considered his tale.

Garu stood under his own strength, weak as he was, but did not fight to pull his arms away from the men as he knew he would not have been able to pull away.

Ioana breathed deep. “What is your purpose here?” she asked.

“Food,” Garu answered.

Many of the gypsies gasped at this, afraid he was sent to eat them.

“Do you mean to eat us?” asked Ioana.

Garu shook his head. “No. Never have I eaten the flesh of an intelligent being. Never will I. I am hungry and unable to eat. Though my old friend was kind to have fed me, my dependence upon him has made me stupid of the world and how to survive.”

She felt his form, imagining his looks. “You are a Gifted One.”

“I know nothing of that,” he admitted. “I am but a rat that now can walk and speak as a man.”

Ioana nodded. She addressed the gypsies. “He is not a demon sent to feast on us!” she assured. “He is rather a spirit, a domovoi, sent here to be our guardian.”

“Guardian from what?” asked Mihai.

Ioana shook her head. “We will know in due course,” was her answer. “Until then, Garu the Wretched will no longer be your name. It has no meaning here and a name without meaning lends no meaning to its bearer. Your name with us will be Brat Stavroslavakovich.” She felt the white mark on his ear again. “Our Brother of the Glorious Cross, Protector of the Ruska Roma.”

Garu squinted. “Protector? Ruska Roma?”

The old woman nodded. “That is what we call ourselves. We will call you Stavros.”

And so Garu became Stavros. Mihai trained him in ways of the sword to protect himself from bandits, in the ways of the bow so that he may hunt, in the ways of curing and preserving venison and rabbit. He introduced him to finer alcohols and Stavros found a love for sweet berry wines and brawny whiskeys. Ioana taught him to read palms while a beautiful woman named Livia taught him to play the kobza, the violin, and his favored musical instrument: the accordion. He learned to sing, though his voice was raspy but not without character. And he enjoyed, usually when he had several calabashes full of wine and whiskey, to dance the Sârba. He took to wearing a red silk tunic trimmed with gold, lacey filigree stitching. He wore upon his head a silk scarf as a bandana made of the same material. He wore short pants the length of his calves where they hung raggedly. Each of his ears was pierced thirteen times and he wore thirteen gold hoop earrings of varying sizes in each ear.

In a small town he purchased from a blacksmith there - using money he had earned with the gypsies while entertaining – a large, thick, fat bladed scimitar adorned with gold hoops on the blunt side of the blade matching the gold hoops he wore in his ears. He became wild, filled with the lust of life and good things and gave himself over completely to the nomads that had kindly adopted him.

Though many of the gypsies at first feared him, they all came to love him.

On a moonless night, after traveling the day through a hilly area of the world, the gypsies were attacked by a Baba Yaga, an ancient witch desiring the flesh of their young.

Stavros challenged the witch. He jumped into the air as she flew by on her mortar, knocking her to the ground. Once grounded, the two fought all night, the Baba Yaga scarring Stavros with claws and teeth. Stavros did his best to retreat, jumping backwards when he could so as not to succumb to her assaults. At last he spun, whipping his tail into the face of the ancient witch. She screamed in terror, more frightened by the odd attack than harmed, and her shock was enough to give Stavros the opportunity for the kill blow. He jumped, his tail twisting in the air as he brought his scimitar out and across, lopping off her head. He was hailed the hero of the Ruska Romas. He had lived up to his name as protector and his people loved him. Stavros thanked Mihai for training him the use of swords.

Many nights later, after a long day’s entertaining for coin in a large city, while resting about a fire with Mihai, Ioana and Livia and playing a soft tune on his accordian, Stavros said, “Never have I felt complete. Never have I felt accepted. But now, here with you good people, I have a place. I feel right. I feel whole.”

And so Stavros became fiercely loyal to his people and they, in turn, loved him for it and were just as loyal in return. To celebrate they filled the night air with enchanting songs of love, heroism, faith, family, songs that told tales of the gods. Their joy echoed under the starless sky.



On went Yaska Selith, Neboshazzar, Trebizond and Tavara and the Bone Warriors defiling the world. Neboshazzar engorged himself on the flesh of innocents. Trebizond and Tavara feasted at his side, occasionally turning a victim into one of their children and swelling the ranks of Yaska Selith’s following.

Dodona, the oak that Yaska Selith claimed as his club, wailed every time she was swung in an act of destruction. She wanted no part of the demon-dog’s dealings, but had no choice in the matter.

They moved from town to town, raping every living creature and eating others. They would set fire to stables and watched, laughing as the horses ran madly inside, seeking escape before finally dying from smoke, fire or falling timbers. The Bone Warriors became cannibals and shared mortal flesh with Yaska Selith, finding it an honor.

The wicked knot roamed did maraud from land to land, growing. They sought first villages, then towns and at last, when their size was large enough, cities. They ravaged everything as they went. Rarely did they encounter other nomads, until one day. One hot, humid day, a day filled with murderous heat, they came upon the Ruska Romas.

Yaska Slith and his followers attacked immediately. The Ruska Romas tried to defend, but most were overwhelmed.

While many of his people were in awe of the immense demon-dog, Stavros charged into the fray of the enemy. He swung his sword, cutting down two Bone Warriors at a time. He spilled the blood of many. The ground drank up their blood with the pleasure of seeing the end of their evil. He worked his way slowly towards the demon-dog.

As he drew near, Stavros cried out, “Demon-dog! Challenge me! I know not why you attack my people, but I will end your bloodlust here and now lest I quench it! Come! Challenge me!”

Yaska Selith laughed. He growled, “You are so puny, Gifted One. Think you could fell me? I laugh at your size alone, your strength and skill could not possibly match that of a demon’s. Run now, rat-man, lest you perish and be raped as the rest of these people.”

“No!” Stavros called up, craning his neck to look at the demon-dog. “Fight me! Fight me, demon! Fight me and die!”

Stavros ran, his scimitar held out like a spear, and he stabbed its tip into the foot of Yaska Selith who cried out in pain. His followers halted, unsure. They did not think their demonic master could be harmed, but this rat, this vermin they all now noticed in their midst had achieved such a task and had harmed their liege.

“Dogmen!” Yaska Selith called to Trebizond and Tavaras. “Kill him!”

Stavros backed away from Yaska Selith as the Brotehr Jackal approached. He squared himself against the two, bringing his scimitar up in a defensive posture. He spit on the ground. “Where I have spit,” spoke Stavros, “is where I shall bury the two of you.”

The jackals laughed wildly and attacked.

Trebizond jumped, spinning in a flying roundhouse kick. Stavros had to back away to reduce some of the oncoming force. He sidestepped as the jackal’s foot drew close and punched Trebizond in the stomach. Trebizond heaved, sucking in air as he landed next to Stavros. The Tavaras joined them.

Stavros spun his sword and his free hand in control circles, parrying the attacks that came at him from either side. He punched Tavara with his free handm knocking him back a bit and giving him a chance to turn enough to deliver a kick to Trebizond’s stomach. Trebizond wheeled backwards and fell to one knee.

Tavara attacked, a wild haymaker punch spinning in at Stavros who blocked it with his forearm, bringing his sword up between them in a slicing motion that Tavaras barely escaped from by jumping away.

Trebizond pounced Stavros from behind, latching his two clawed hands onto the Stavros’ shoulders and kicking the small of his back with both feet. As Stavros stumbled forward, Trebizond let go and fell backwards, pushing mightily with his legs.

Stavros stumbled towards Tavara who brought a keen elbow up into his sternum, pushing the air out of the rat. Stavros heaved, aching, gasping for air.

Tavara punched him on the side of his muzzle.

Weak, Stavros was turned by the force of the punch and saw Trebizond approaching for another attack. He fell to the ground to escape the incoming assault. Trebizond almst hit his own brother.

Stavros, both jackals above him, reached up with his sword as he sucked in air, slicing the air and trying to get his blade to bite the jackals. Sweeping the sword sideways, he opened a diagonal wound along Trebizond’s chest. Blood sprayed from it, spattering across Tavara’s chest and down onto Stavros’ face.

The Brothers Jackal descended upon Stavros with punches in unison, but were met with a foot each to the muzzle. They stumbled a bit. Stavros got to his feet, gulped a bit more air, and readied himself for attack.

The jackals pounced together, each grabbing an elbow of the rat. Struggling to get away, Stavros heard the odd, terrifying scream of Dodona. He turned his head, his back to Yaska Selith, in time to see the demon-dog bringing his makeshift club down. The massive oak smashed into the back of Stavros and flung him, ripping him free of the jackals’ grip, his scimitar falling from his hand and falling away to the ground before he landed far into the hills where Stavros crashed onto the ground.

Stavros lifted his head, looking out from the hill he had landed on. Snapping lights like nighttime fireflies buzzed in his vision, but not so much he could not make out the carnage taking place, the ungodly acts being carried out upon his people. Stavros struggled to get up, but found he could not move for his back had been broken in two by the wallop from Dodona that Yaska Selith had delivered unto him. He found all he could do was lie there, watching in horror. He tried to cry out in rage, but his voice was choked. His eyes filled with tears. He had been dubbed Protector of the Ruska Roma. Now he lay within sight of their demise, unable to protect them.

Before his vision slipped from him, before consciousness escaped him, he cried softly, almost inaudibly, “Jackal-men and demon-dog, I care not where you go. I care not where you settle. I will hunt you, rip your bowels from your belly and bathe myself in your blood.”



North of the kingdom now ruled by Aniabas, the young king that had claimed Zom Loa a thief and currently hunting him, was the massive, beautiful, flowing plain. Since the stars fell from the skies, Aniabas found his people suffering as their crops would not grow nor would their cattle be milked. He declared sacrifices to the gods be made and his declaration was carried out in the plain. Soon after the milk flowed and the crops grew in abundance. The plain was named the Plain of Adoration and the blood sacrifices continued.

The Plain of Adoration was bordered on the south by Castle Aniabas, to the west by the Black Mountains, to the east by an expansive sea and to the north by a hilly country carved twain by an incredible gorge with a small river at its bottom. The only passage from the north through the hilly country and into the Plain of Adoration was over Owl Bridge, so named for the many owls that live within this wooded hills surrounding it. It is said, on the right night, one could stand on Owl Bridge and look down into the misty hands of The Cosmos and receive all knowledge at once, but at all other times to look down one would see only the high descending cliffs disappearing into soft marine layer far below, the bottom of the gulch completely too far from sight.

Over the Black Mountains came Yaska Selith and his band of Bone Warriors. Over the Black Mountains followed the Brothers Jackal and their dog-men. Over the Black Mountains came the wickedness of demons walking upon the world of mortals. It when Yaska Selith and his followers looked around, tired of having roamed nearly every land across the world, they found the beauty of the Plain of Adoration inviting and, after small deliberation, settled there.

More people came over the mountains to join the demon-dog’s band. More came to participate in the nightly orgies of sex and blood. They took fish from the sea to eat and boars and goats to roast. They danced and played music at all hours.

It did not take King Aniabas long to notice the intrusion. “I now cannot make sacrifices within the Plain of Adoration,” said he considering things, “without consorting with a demon. I refuse to do such a thing, but without the sacrifices my people will grow hungry once more as their crops fail and their cattle dry.”

“What will we do?” asked Vitor, his younger brother and general of the army. “All we can do is, perhaps, take them to war.”

King Aniabas nodded slowly. “I fear that may be our only option. But how can our mortal army defeat a gang of bandits lead by a demon?”

“It must be done, brother,” urged Vitor.

Aniabas shook his head. “It cannot be done,” he answered, “lest we join with some other force.”


Thanks to everyone whose been reading along. Next week I'll be posting some notes about "The Ruby Bug" and then, the week after that, I'll return with an all new story picking up right where "The Ruby Bug" left off!

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