Friday, December 19, 2008

"The Theft of Heaven" -- Act III

Today is my birthday!

Continuing my year-end wrap-up, I present to you a tale I first posted here on my blog on May 9 of this year under the title "The Theft of Heaven".

This is the story of Zom Loa the Black Tentacle, a a storyteller seeking immortality. He travels to far distant lands, following tales of immortality and deism. He finds help in the form of The Devourer, a Cthulu-like demon living within the realm of the Aurora Borealis. As we begin, Zom Loa is at the peak of Taliesin, The Mountain That Lives In The Sky, and is about to steal one of the Jewels of Zingtai the Nighttime Butterfly (Zingtai's jewels make up the stars at night) for he has been told by The Devourer that one such jewel could grant him immortality.

Act III is the catalyst for the entire novel "The Theft of Heaven".



"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).






Zom Loa, now also known as Black Tentacle by The Devourer who had made him into an oddity with long, black tentacles where once his legs and feet had been, stood at the peak of Taliesin for three passes of Kalavata and Etain. With each pass, Zom Loa watched Zingtai, judging her speed and height from him. Though he stood at the highest possible point, the butterfly seemed to him awfully out of reach overhead.

Aglina nested near by, watching the stranger cautiously, silently. She ruffled her feathers.

Zom Loa looked to her. "I am not here to harm you," he assured her. "Once I have what I've come for, I shall leave and you may never see or hear from me again."

Aglina shifted in her nest, afraid. She let out a long, slow, mournful call of dissatisfaction.

Zom Loa smiled and looked up once more. Etain's tail came into view and, right behind it, was the forever chasing Kalavata. Zom Loa rocked a bit in apprehension. Day turned to night. Zingtain appeared, happily chatting away at Kalavata, her wings spread across the world in wondrous, twinkling beauty.

A ball of nerves and uncertainty, Zom Loa tested his timing in his mind. His body contracted, his mass of tentacles first pulled in, then stretched out in a grand push against the rocky peak of Taliesin. Zom Loa leapt, his eyes a constant stare upon the one jewel he had chosen. It was an emerald as big as his own chest yet the smallest one he had hope was within his reach. Eight tentacles lashed out. Six caught hold, one slipping away. The mass and speed of Zingtai started to pull him away from the mountain's side, a matter Zom Loa had not considered. Quickly, fiercely, his free tentacles lashed backwards to grab hold of a boulder embedded in the side of Taliesin. Aglina flew away to a safe distance down the mountain and helplessly watched.

Zingtai's wing jerked, Zom Loa's body stretched, the night sky over the world shifted.

Zom Loa cried out, pulling with all his might towards the mountain.

Zingtai cried out, pain burning her wing and agony setting fire to her heart as she watched Kalavata slowly slip away. She wondered at what could keep her from her flight. Looking back, she saw Zom Loa attached to the mountain and to one of her jewels. She cried out with anger, "Let go of me!"

For a brief moment, Zom Loa considered letting go, but memory of death in his family and fear of his own mortality spurred a certain determination within him that likened unto rage. He screamed out nonsensically in simple fury.

Zingtai pulled her wing, afraid.

Zom Loa pulled at her wing, afraid.

The jewel came free, tearing a bot of Zingtai's wing.

"No!" Zingtai cried out. Aglina cried out with her.

Zom Loa fell to the side of the mountain, pulling the enormous emerald close to him. He crashed to the rocky surface as thunder. His tentacles released their hold from both jewel and boulder, the emerald now in Zom Loa's arms. He rolled down the hill before slamming into a rock, ceasing his descent. For a while he lay there crying, happy to finally have the one thing that could end his suffering and bring to him immortality.

Zingtai's flight became erratic, the hole in her wing where the missing emerald had been causing her instability in her flight. She fell from the sky.

The people in the world below watched, wondering as a thousand times a thousand stars fell from the heavens, disappearing from the night sky.

"It is an omen!" many cried.

"Zingtai is dead!" cried others.

Most watched, mouths agape, silently stunned and unsure. One such creature was the mystic fish Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows and Beauty. He was a butterfly koi born of Hapi the god of the Nile River and of Lei-zi the goddess of thunder. He stood watching the stars falling overhead, his long fins flowing in a gentle summer night breeze. The ankh he had been born with upon his forehead shimmered with the passing of the stars. In one fin he carried an elaborate, four-bladed spear. About his waist was tied a willow branch.

"Not one or a few stars fall," Xiao-tep said to man nearby, "but all of them."

The man nodded. "Something foul is at hand, but who would steal the heavens? And to what end?"

"I cannot say," answered Xiao-tep. "But this does not bode well."

Zingtai grew smaller, as small as she had been when first she was born from Kalavata's didgeridoo. The stars disappeared with her. She fluttered, floating, struggling to land on Taliesin. She at last came to rest near Aglina. The mourning dove stepped forward, calling to her saddened coos.

Zingtai gasped, afraid. She looked up to see Kalavata flying away without notice to her absence. She cried. Aglina joined in her weeping.

Zom Loa stood, aching. The jewel remained in his arms. He held it there, staring at it.

With the jewel in his arms he stole down Taliesin towards The Devourer's flower. He stepped inside, excepting its embrace. Once more Zom Loa slipped through the flower's bottom and confronted The Devourer face to face.

The Devourer gurgled with laughter. "You have it! You stole a Jewel of Zingtai."

"So I have," smiled Zom Loa.

"Now you must ingest it to be granted immortality."

Zom Loa looked at him curiously, "How do I ingest something half the size of my body?"

"Perhaps a small bit, a chunk would do," said The Devourer. He thought a moment before continuing. "Were I smarter, I would devour you now," confessed the cephalopodic creature, "and keep the jewel for myself."

Zom Loa reeled in horror.

"I won't. As I've said, you're destiny is before you. You will have the chance to summon forth a demon unlike any other and it will cause great catastrophe for The Cosmos and all things. I would gladly give away the chance to own a Jewel of Zingtai to aid such a future."

Zom Loa found little comfort in this.

"Swallow the thing," instructed The Devourer.

Zom Loa was suddenly inside the flower once more as it opened up onto the frozen tundra of the northern lands. As he stepped from the flower, the jewel still in his arms, a small shape in the ice caught his attention. He knelt near it, dug some of it out and found it to be the skull of a walrus. "My dear friend, Tarn," Zom Loa spoke softly. "How long have you waited for me? How long was I gone?"

The winds blew strong and it was then Zom Loa noticed that, while he felt the bitter chill of the land, he was not affected by it as he had once before. He knew then the Devourer had granted him more than a new form.

He remained kneeling and examining the skull a long time, feeling the loss of a friend, wanting to have him back once more. "This is why I did it," said Zom Loa. "To end the suffering of death. Unfair are The Cosmos. Justice does not exist as long as death reigns. Wish that I could have stolen a jewel for you, old friend."

Wanting to remain close to his friend Tarn, wanting to signify his defiance of death and The Cosmos, Zom Loa donned the walrus skull like a hat. The long tusks hung down past his chin. He breathed deep.

He dug through the ice some more and found another bone. With it he hammered upon the Jewel of Zingtai. He hammered again and again with little effect. The bone merely slid off the jewel hit after hit.

Angry and frustrated, Zom Loa slammed the bone into the jewel on last time. The bone broke, splintering into a sharp point. Looking, contemplating, he decided to use the bone one last time. He thrust it downward towards the jewel as a spear. At last a tiny fleck of the jewel broke loose and landed atop the snow and ice. Zom Loa dropped the broken bone and reached for the shard, examining it. He ingested it, swallowing it dry.

He felt a small tingle and nothing more. He wondered if the small bit was enough. Out of options, Zom Loa picked the jewel up in his arms. One by one his black tentacles whipped out, pulling him south.

Zom Loa came to northern people he had stayed with before seeking out The Devourer's flower. They were aghast at the sight of him, horrified by his tentacles and hollow-looking body. Worst of all was the skull of a walrus. There was no sign of the escorts he had come with.

The people screamed, chasing him, shouting hatred and fear. One threw a long fishing spear, launching it into Zom Loa's back. It pierced all the way through and out his chest. Blood trickled from him. He felt the intruder in his chest, but very little pain associated with it. He did not falter nor did he fall. Zom Loa turned back to the people he had been running from, smiled, let the jewel fall to the ground and with great effort removed the spear from his chest. The wound healed over.

He dropped the spear, picked up the jewel and left the northern country without further incident.

Before returning to the kingdom he had started from, Zom Loa buried the jewel, wanting not to share his secrets and treasure with others, even his king. He entered his old kingdom to find his liege dead of a cough. His son Aniabas, one of the children Zom Loa had once told tales to before tucking them away for a night's rest, had taken his father's place as king and was now military trained. Though the people there were as shocked and terrified by Zom Loa's new appearance as the northerns had been, they were not as outwardly repulsed. They recognized him and from that recognition spawned curiosity.

"You have been gone a long time," said the new, young king. "We expected you gone only two years. It has been nearly eight. Why is that?"

Zom Loa told his tale of adventure, but left out the telling of the jewel.

"And how did you come to this new... visage?" asked the king.

Zom Loa explained the tale of The Devourer, but told he had tricked the demon into freeing him instead of eating him. "To do so, I had to convince him I would be his servant, which I never intended. As such," Zom Loa lied, "he granted me new powers and with it this new visage."

The king considered this. "My father did not send you with our kingdom's riches to consort with devilry!" he lashed.

Zom Loa was taken aback.

"The way I see matters, you owe this kingdom a great apology and reperations for falsely representing us by dealing with a demon!"

"But, but... My intentions were always in the interests of your father and his kingdom," Zom Loa lied again.

"It is my kingdom now and I do not appreciate your ilk. You must repay the kingdom the wealth you stole or be sentenced to death!" Armored guards stepped forward at this.

"But I haven't the money!"

"Then you will burn as a witch!" cried the king. He commended his men to capture Zom Loa.

But Zom Loa was quick to react. He ran, slithering swiftly out of the castle. Guards could not catch him and arrows, though they pierced his body, could not slow him. Zom Loa ran to the stables and mounted, side-saddle and bareback, a warhorse there and charged upon it out of the kingdom.

The king gave orders, sending half his armed men after Zom Loa. "Bring him back. Whether he breathes, I care not, but this creature... this Black Tentacle must not be allowed escape from making restitution! His devilry cannot be tolerated!"

Zom Loa rode the horse day and night until it tired and died under him. He left the horse to rot in the sun, wondering how he could return to regain his Jewel of Zingtai.

"I need a warrior of my own," he said to himself as his tentacles kept pulling him further and further from King Aniabas and his pursuing army. "I need a bodyguard. A good one, at that." He wracked his brain for tales of soldiers and warriors. One place came to his mind time and again, a place where the greatest fighters from all over would go to test and challenge their skills. Zom Loa fled for his life, determined to hire a bodyguard for himself at the Peony Teahouse.



It was a long time before little Gogi the Grasshopper pulled himself from his hiding spot beneath a rock. He wandered the mountain Taliesin for a long while, alone and thinking. Fear filled him. He did not like seeing The Mountain That Lived in the Sky in such tatters, unattended and uncared for, overgrown.

He traveled to its highest peak, to where the tobacco grew wildly, and sat reminiscing about his lost friend Momoki and the talks they had shared on the side of the mountain. He watched the bright sun dip and disappear, night chasing day. It was all new and wild and at last lonely. He missed Momoki so that he cried while surrounded by the tobacco.

He spoke with a few of his other friends on Taliesin. A sense of the forlorn seemed to rule the once happy, glowing mountain.

Curiosity ruled the world below. Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish was awash with questions as he flew through the sky looking for signs and reasons why the stars had fallen. He flew all through the heavens, meeting people from every part of the world, discussing the matter with everyone he met. No one could give him reason beyond speculation.

"Something must be wrong with Zingtai," said an elder at last. "If she is ill or wounded or troubled, she may fall herself and with her would follow the stars."

"Thank you for your wisdom," he had told the old man. "But where might she have gone?"

The elder considered this. "Perhaps, the closest place to heaven: Taliesin."

Xiao-tep thanked him again and flew off towards The Mountain That Lived in the Sky. He found it horribly overgrown and ugly. He flew beneath the mountain and asked the ants there, "Do you know of Zingtai?"

"Oh, yes!" said one as it scurried off to work. Another took his place, "She is the butterfly with the beautiful wings!" It too disappeared into a small hole as yet another replaced it, "She lives topside now, near Aglina the Mourning Dove."

"Where topside?" he asked.

Another ant answered. "Topside! Topside! Somewhere topside!"

"Thank you," said Xiao-tep and he flew to survey the mountain from above. He dove down when he saw a weeping cherry filled with silkworms and silkmoths. "Have you any knowledge of the whereabouts of Aglina the Mourning Dove?"

The silkworms and silkmoths each shook their heads. One spoke, her voice chiming, "We know of her, of course, but rarely do we go visiting. We stay here and spin our silk unless some great event directly affects us."

Xiao-tep thanked them. He flew high and surveyed the mountain once more. He spied a lone grasshopper journeying an open field alone. He flew down, frightening the little creature with his approach.

Gogi the Grasshopper scurried away from the flying mystic fish with the long and rather dangerous-looking spear.

“I apologize,” called Xiao-tep. “I seek the butterfly Zingtai. Do you know of her?”

Gogi peered at the stranger from behind a single blade of tall grass. He nodded nervously, “She is the b-butterfly that once was the stars.”

Xiao-tep lowered himself closer to Gogi, “I am Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish. I mean you no harm, little one. I have come to understand why the stars have fallen from the sky.”

Gogi, fearing he was being rude by hiding, came around the grass and presented himself before the strange fish. “I-I am Gogi the Grasshopper. I could not tell you the reasons for I do not know myself. The whole world has changed it would seem.”

“So it would seem,” he confirmed. “I was told she was with one named Aglina. How may I find them?”

“O-oh, Aglina! She is the mourning dove that came to perch atop the mountain after…” his small voice trailed off as tears pooled below his eyes. He fought back the sadness and said, “You may find Aglina nesting at the highest peak.”

“Thank you, Gogi,” Xiao-tep said and his voice was so filled with gratitude Gogi almost felt him as a friend. The mystic fish flew high into the air and Gogi watched in awe and wonder.

Xiao-tep flew around the highest peak of Taliesin and finally saw the mourning dove Aglina resting comfortably there. He flew down to her side. "Are you Aglina the Mourning Dove?"

Aglina nodded.

"I am told the butterfly Zingtai may be here with you. Is that true?"

Again Aglina nodded. She lifted her wing to show Xiao-tep a wounded birdsong butterfly sleeping there.

Xiao-tep drew nearer. "Is she well?"

Aglina shook her head.

He decided to allow Zingtai her rest. "Would you mind if I stayed until she awoke?"

Aglina cooed softly, welcoming him, though still suspicious of him and his spear and protective of her friend Zingtai.

He floated nearby, looking down onto the world far below Taliesin. He then had his first good look at Taliesin itself. Though the mountain appeared grotesque at the moment, Xiao-tep could see the beauty hidden under its shaggy surface. He wondered why the mountain was not better cared for. It seemed peaceful here, simply unkempt. "Something great and terrible happened here," he realized.

Aglina cooed sadly, nodding.

Etain's tail feathers ruffled by overhead. Xiao-tep looked up in time to witness Kalavata's head chase by and night wash over them. The swans seemed so close to where Xiao-tep now sat.

Gogi, so filled with curiosity, as was his nature, climbed the side of the mountain while Xiao-tep waited and met him there. Aglina and Xiao-tep both welcomed him. They chatted idly. At last Xiao-tep asked, “What happened here, Gogi?”

Gogi, fighting tears, told Xiao-tep of Momoki’s fall. “he was my greatest friend,” he said as the rush of tears finally broke free.

“I am sorry for your loss,” Xiao-tep consoled.

When Zingtai awoke, she told Xiao-tep of the theft of one of her jewels.

"W-what has brought you here, Xiao-tep?" Gogi blurted with the question, a question he feared asking.

"It would seem I am drawn to sorrow," answered Xiao-tep.

"It would seem, at times, we all are," replied Zingtai.

Xiao-tep told his tale of how he was born, of his fight with his father and of his friendship with Wu Chan Chu and Comet Fox. The three listened in awe.

“How adventurous your life must have been thus far,” Gogi said in awe.

Xiao-tep chuckled. “I suppose so, but in many ways each life is adventurous.”

“No, no!” cried Gogi. “P-please do not curse me with such a statement. I've had all the adventure I can handle in my lifetime.”

Satisfied with knowing who this mystic fish was, Gogi at last parted their company. He wandered Taliesin again until he found himself at the base of the cherry blossom, now a weeping cherry, where the silkworm Szu Ri lived. He slowly climbed the tree. He did not find her there. Instead he found a small white braided cocoon. Not knowing what else to do, he hesitantly knocked at its side. "H-hello? Szu Ri?"

No answer came to him. He sat, watching the sunset and remembering a time when he was not so alone, when the sun never set, when the sky glowed golden at all hours.

Three cycles of Etain and Kalavata's chase passed when the cocoon finally moved not from breeze or Gogi's own frittering. The movement instead came from within.

Slowly, slowly a beautiful white silkmoth crawled out of the cocoon, twinkling as though constantly dusted with a thin layer of glitter.

Gogi backed away. "Szu Ri?" he asked. "I-is that you?"

A voice came from the moth as chimes tinkling on the wind. "It is me, Gogi."

Though he marveled at her beauty, he could not help but say, "Even you have changed."

Szu Ri frowned and drew near him. They stared at one another for a long while. "I-I'm sorry," he said, ashamed of his comment. “You are more beautiful than before.”

Szu Ri blushed. She grabbed his tiny hands. "I'm sorry for your loss," she chimed.

They hugged, the smallest creatures in all creation for a brief moment as one, held together by loss and love.

Gogi stammered, his feet kicking at loose bark on the branch. "Szu Ri, I want to leave Taliesin. It's different now. It's all too different."

She nodded in understanding.

"I do not know how to get back to the world below, though. I nearly killed myself getting here. I fear I may succeed in killing myself trying to get back."

Szu Ri said, "I cold take you."

He looked at her, at her new wings shimmering with their own light. "Would you?"

She nodded.

Szu Ri held little Gogi close as she flew, flitting and fluttering across Taliesin. At first Gogi was filled with fright, as it was his nature to be afraid, but soon his curiosity forced his eyes open to watch the wild grass whipping by in excited rushing motions. He found joy in it and laughed. Szu Ri looked down at him and was pleased, laughing with him.

They neared the edge of Taliesin. Szu Ri breathed deep. Gogi did not look back but quietly called, "Goodbye, Taliesin."

The Mountain That Lived in the Sky fell away from beneath them. It took all of Szu Ri's strength to maintain a steady flight. The ground of the world far below approached quickly. Once more Gogi was afraid and covered his eyes. He felt the moist air of clouds rush by him, bedewing his body. Without looking he cried out, "Szu Ri! Are you well?"

"I'm fine!" she called back, lying, for she was growing tired. But her love for little Gogi gave her strength to carry on.

They came, at last, to a fluttering halt and landed safely, softly in a patch of grass on the world far below Taliesin.

"You can open your eyes now, Gogi," said Szu Ri as she let go of him and landed nearby.

Gogi looked. He was in the world he had been born to and he was safe thanks to Szu Ri. He looked at her. "Thank you."

They spent time together, resting and talking, looking at the world. Gogi wanted to look up, but he knew he would not be able to see Taliesin from here. He looked to Szu Ri instead and found her staring at him. "I-I guess we should say our goodbyes," he told her.

She shook her head. "Oh, little Gogi. I'm not leaving you. I said my goodbyes to Taliesin with you."

"B-but, Szu Ri!"

"Shhh," she hushed him. "Where do we head from here?"

Gogi was nervously wringing his hands together. "It's been a long time, but I think we could make our way in this world." He stared at her. "Are you certain?"

She nodded. "Gogi, I love you."

Gogi blushed.

They stepped away from the patch of grass, hand in hand.



Xiao-tep decided to remain on Taleisin. He tended to the wild grass and took care of the mountain's gardens. In time Taleisin grew to its former beauty, though the plants and trees remained barren at certain times throughout the year. Xiao-tep made friends with Aglina and Zingtai. They would smile and laugh together, lounging atop the mountain after Xiao-tep's work had been done. Sometimes they would picnic together there. When Etain would fly overhead they would wave. Xiao-tep and Aglina would also wave as Kalavata flew by. Zingtai, however, did not.

"Does it bother you we wave to him?" Xiao-tep took care in asking. "I have heard from the insects of your love for him."

"No," answered Zingtai. "It does not offend me. I do not wave not because I am hurt by unrequited love. I love him and he does not love me, that is all and I hold no sorrows over that. Nor do I refuse to wave to be rude."

"If I may ask, what reason then have you not to wave?"

Zingtai burst into tears.

"Zingtai, I apologize for asking!" Xiao-tep tried to console her as Aglina glared at him.

"No, it is not you or the question or Kalavata that pains me, Xiao-tep," Zingtai told him. "It is the coming of night that pains me, for with it once came my purpose, my station in the universe. I was the stars for the world below. Now I can no longer be.

"The greatest pain of all," she explained, "is not the loss of a loved one or the mortality of some, though those may be incredible pains. The greatest pain of all is to know your place in the world, to feel its comfort, then to be unable to fulfill it."

Zingtai wept.

Xiao-tep considered this and consoled her. Aglina rested her wing over the wounded butterfly.

Time passed and Xiao-tep became content with his new life as caretaker of Taliesin. He thought back on the time Zingtai spoke of her place in the world. Looking out over the trimmed, cared-for exquisite beauty of Taleisin he thought perhaps he finally knew what she meant.

Within the angled fields, atop the craggy stones and through the apple orchards did Xiao-tep play. He ate the delicious golden and green apples as he would bask in the sun’s warm rays. He slept in the wide, open fields and tended to the gardens. Each day for Xiao-tep was filled with work, play and contentment.



The Cottonwood Chamber sat empty. Thieves had long ago looted its treasures, leaving it barren of all things but the cottonwood puff spriggans and their trees. The palace was in ruins. The dust of battle had long since settled.

In a far corner sat a pool of blood, a remnant of a demon’s demise. So small was the pool that it could barely be called a pool, not even a puddle. Over time it congealed, concentrated and formed into a tiny, living ruby bug.

A small red and purple imp stole into the chamber. He was Demetrios the Younger, illegitimate son of Demetrios the Quiet, and he came into the chamber by order of Senator Ipiretis. He searched high and low for any form of treasure to be had, especially one of an unnatural state. He found no such trinket.

After a grand and incredibly thorough search, Demetrios at last spotted the ruby bug crawling between the roots of a cottonwood tree. He spied it for a moment, making sure his eyes were not faltering. “It is truly a living ruby!” he proclaimed to himself.

Demetrios the Younger snatched up the small bug, dropped it into a leather pouch and sealed it. He ran from the chamber, delighted at his find and pleased to fulfill the desires of the senator.


Look for a sample of my most recent novel, "Silent Nights", next Friday. It'll be the first time any part of it is presented publicly.

Happy Holidays,

~ Charles

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