Friday, May 30, 2008

"The Ruby Bug" - Act I

After a two week hiatus, the Xiao-tep universe is back with this week's post, "The Ruby Bug". This story picks up where "The Theft of Heaven" left off. I hope you enjoy.


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


ACT I: The Ruby Bug Begins Its Journey

FALLING FROM GRACE: Wherein Neboshazzar is Born; The Ruby Bug is Brought to the Imps of the Bogs; Prince Kleos Challenges Iperitus to a Duel



As night swept over the world, a single feather slipped from Kalavata's wing, unnoticed by the Night Swan, gliding gently, twist-twirling away to the world far below. It floated in a dark part of the land where volcanoes belched ash into the air and lava erased and reformed the landscape, coming to rest neatly in a pool of molten quicksilver eternally bubbling with ferocity and heat. Rusalka, the spirit of the lake, found pleasure in her feathery find. She pulled the dark feather deep within the quicksilver, bending, shaping, molding it into an ugly form of man and bird. A torso and head was made like a muscular man's with deep, dark skin that glowed with a sheen. Legs were made like that of a bird of prey, rough of skin at the knee and below with feathered thighs. Quicksilver was cooled and placed upon the creature's feet as long, sharp talons. Smaller spikes of cooled quicksilver were formed and thrust deeply into his gums until they bled profusely before healing over and accepting the silvery, shining dagger-teeth. Where arms would be on a man grew out two massive, black be-feathered wings. The creature's form was hairless, including the head, and its eyes were as tiny pools of molten mercury between eyelids, constantly churning with hidden tides.

Rusalka released her son, for that is what she called him, from her thick viscous womb and named him Neboshazzar. As he took to the air he screamed out as an animal whose den was beset by fire. He looked briefly at the lake shuddering beneath him.

"Go," Rasulka said to her son, "and ruin the world."

Neboshazzar twisted mid-air and flew from his birthplace filled with the fury of consuming fire, with the anger of rumbling quakes.

He flew across the world and first came upon a a group of mortals in a small field conducting a union ceremony. The crowd, observed Neboshazzar, was filled with calm happiness which disturbed him greatly. While watching as a woman's hands were bound to a man's he reasoned the woman was the source of all their happiness and he must destroy her.

He dived swiftly, folding his long black wings into his body. his talons reached out, glinting with noonday sun. He lifted her from the ground, almost ripping her right from her dress and chased by feeble cries of the mortals cursing and feinting at the ugly beast carrying off the bride. He flew far away with her, pleased with the shouts of anger that had been flung at him. He felt powerful.

At last the wicked Neboshazzar neared a mountain and rested his prize along a sharp cliff. He watched her as she screamed, scrambling to get away. She screamed at his form, his actions, and most of all at his rolling, silvery, beastly, hungry eyes. He turned her on her back with his talons, placed a heavy foot upon each of her knees, bent low and spoiled her womanhood. The woman screamed until her voice was lost. She at last found solace in feinting unconsciousness.

When Neboshazzar was finished with her, he watched her silently lying on the cliff's edge. He hated her for her inactivity, for her sudden calmness. he thrust his head down, bending low, working his carnivorous teeth into her form, eating out her heart and stomach for that is where her love for the people she had been surrounded by came from. When he had finished engorging himself, he grabbed her leg with his long talons and pulled her effortlessly, almost flicking her over the side of the mountain where she she for many minutes until her dead body came to rest atop a tall boulder.

The ugly, dark creature looked out at the world, his body shivering, covered with chicken skin, his feathers rustling with nervous energy and adrenaline. He breathed deep. He screamed his high-pitched, almost feminine animal cry in primeval victory.

The world shuddered, knowing the wicked Neboshazzar the Ruiner had been born and blooded.



King Kleos and his people returned to their bogland soon after their escape from the Cottonwood Chamber. Their return was greeted with awe and Kleos was accepted once more as the King of Imps.

Time passed and King Kleos grew prematurely old with illness. His features wrinkled, his stomach thin despite his wealth. His people loved him and grew wary of his coming demise. An ad hoc committee was formed by Iperitus the Seneschal. The committee consisted of Iperitus himself, Apostolos the Wise, Kyriakos the Elder, Anargyros the Laborer, Innocente the Fair, Iason the Just and Lionidas the Brave. They put it to the people as a vote to make the new political body permanent. The people, fearful they would be left to the rule of King Kleos the Second, then small of age and yet still in training as a soldier, agreed nearly uniformly to make this committee their First Council, not replacing their king but wresting some power from him.

Fearful of defying his own people and weak with the illness, King Kleos conceded.
Iperitus went to Apostolos the Wise and said, “O friend, may I lay a burden of confession at your feet?”

“Please do,” said Apostolos.

“My heart is heavy for our poor king. I fear for our people, our common laborers and women. Our children must grow under the safety of a strong arm, but our king’s arm grows weaker each day. I fear we are left unprotected.”

Apostolos considered this. “It is wise you think of such things though they are disturbing. It is wise. We must do something.”

Iperitus nodded and smiled. “Indeed. But what to do? I am the king’s seneschal and though it appears I am a politician, I am more a friend and an unclogged ear for our king. I am stupid in such ways.”

Iperitus waited, watching thoughts boil within the cauldron of Apostolos’ head. “Perhaps,” said he, “the First Council should form a strong army?”

Iperitus, knowing he had planted the seed well, smiled as a farmer smiles at his blossoming harvest. “Are you saying,” he acted as though he did not know otherwise, as though he were surprised by Apostolos’ suggestion, “the first true act of the First Council should concern security of our boglands lest we be invaded once more by demons or men?”

Apostolos thought a moment. He began to slowly nod. “Yes, I suppose that is what I said.”

“And here you call me ‘wise’ while you are the one rich in thought. Perhaps you should suggest this to the full council, at least to consider. I would second your motion.”

“Thank you,” Apostolos said appreciatively. “But this new army, surely it should grow larger than it is now we would need new generals?”

Iperitus knew then he had Apostolos in his course. “That is true. Or, at least, one in power over the whole of the army. A strong man. One we all trust and call friend.” Iperitus leaned closer, straightening his back to appear larger.

“You are correct. We should nominate Kleos the Second for this new role.”
Agast, Iperitus stammered. “B-but… he is so young! And not yet finished with his apprenticeship! No, he would never do. What we need is someone who has acted in war already; someone who has helped, say, in the course of our escape to from the Cottonwood Chamber.”

Apostolos shook his head. “Kleos the Second is the best choice. He not only would be the future king, but he is a soldier. He has the name the people trust and soon he will have the skills. His apprenticeship will soon be done. He is the best choice.”
Felling defeated, frustrated, Iperitus said, “I doubt anyone would nominate him.”
“I would, of course.”

Angrily, Iperitus glared at Apostolos.

Apostolos smiled back. “Good Iperitus, Kleos is the best choice. You will see that,” he said, “and when you do you will take your first step towards becoming a good politician like I.”

Apostolos laughed as Iperitus walked away.

Iperitus had wanted the position of general of the whole army, of course. Unknowing what to do next, he thought a long time on the matter before finally settling on confronting Kleos the Second with Apostolos’ intentions for, he knew, though the young Kleos was a strong warrior, he was fearful of marring his father’s good name and unsure of his abilities.

Iperitus visited him that same night in the small mud hit barracks. He found the young Kleos quietly praying to some god. “You speak to the Gifted Ones often?” Iperitus interrupted.

Kleos faked a small jump of fright, making it seem he did not have the great ability to sense the presence of others, something he had learned from his training so as to guess enemies’ moves before they were taken. He smiled at the former seneschal, a man he had grown up around, a man he considered as an uncle. “As often as I can.”

“Do they answer?

“In some ways,” he said.

Iperitus cocked his head. “Are you certain? How would they communicate with you? They always seem so busy with whatever it is they do.”
Kleos smiled and invited Iperitus to sit with him upon his bed. “They show me signs. Omens. Wonderful things sometimes.”

Iperitus considered him.

“You think me mad?”

“No,” Iperitus smiled. “If the Gifted Ones talk to creatures so small as we, I think they are the mad ones.”

They shared a laugh at this.

“Young Kleos,” said Iperitus, “I must speak with you. Our friend Apostolos plots to nominate you in a new role governing all the imp army. He will most likely have his way.”

“What? No! I am not even finished with my apprenticeship!”

“Neither have you ever seen any true combat,” Iperitus added.

“Why would he want me?”

“I fear he has designs to wrest the final part of power from your family and the throne.”

“But how? Why?”

Iperitus watched him, the young imp’s hands beginning to shake visibly with nervousness. “One of the great fears the people had about the First Council as it was forming was that their king would be ousted completely from his throne, that the traditions of our people would be ignored. Their fears were not unfounded. There are those, so goes the rumor, desiring new government. We have one already, to some degree. I agreed to be part of it only because I have been concerned with your father’s interests for so long. If a new body was to be formed, said I to myself, then the king’s will must be represented. I joined the near blasphemous body so to become the body’s hands. And now, I fear, I have become the eyes instead staring at the hands coming nearer the throat to choke out the air from our dear king, your father. They seek new power, untrusting of your family’s lineage, fearful of your father’s weak condition, hateful of your future power.”

“That’s atrocious!’” cried the young Kleos.

“Indeed,” agreed Iperitus.

“Why would they place me into such a powerful position if they do not trust me?”
“To see you fail and, in turn, for all of impdom to watch you taint your father’s legacy, thereby fouling any trust in you they may have.”

“What if I did not fail?”

Iperitus breathed deep. “They would make sure of it. They would sabotage you.”

“What am I to do? What would you suggest?”

Iperitus paused, forging thought falsely. “Perhaps if you deny the nomination and make a suggestion of your own. If they people still trust you and our good liege they would pressure the First Council to follow.”

“Yes, a denial of the nomination is best. But who would I suggest?”

“I would say someone you could trust. A friend. A member of the family, perhaps… or someone close. Someone concerned with your interests as much as I have been with your father’s.”

“What about you?” Kleos asked.

Iperitus smiled. “That is much too kind.”

“But you were there for the battle in the Cottonwood Chamber. You have been blooded and proven. You are trustworthy and like an uncle. Please, Iperitus, please take the nomination when I make the suggestion. I would, of course, have to consult with the gods before I could make such a suggestion.”

Iperitus frowned. He did not wish his future to be molded by chance. Immediately his mind worked with ways to manipulate Prince Kleos’ feelings on the matter. He said, “If that is your wish, young Prince Kleos.” He faked a smile.

With that they left the barracks together, standing under the night sky. The stars shone brightly overhead. They gazed upon them for some time. Then the stars shifted, streaking, tearing from the sky like so many scratches against dark velvet. They felt sick, unbalanced by the sudden movement of the heavens. The stars stretched and were pulled from the sky, falling out of sight.

The entire bog, indeed the world, stood in awe and fear.

Iperitus thought fortune had graced him. He said, “There is your sign. I suppose the gods favor me.”

Kleos the Second shook his head. “No, this is ill fortune. This is an omen.”
Iperitus frowned. “I should check on your father.” He parted from Kleos’ company but did not tend to his liege, instead visiting Iason to persuade him to put forth the prince’s coming suggestion as motion.

Some of Prince Kleos’ comrades gathered round him. They trusted him as he was not only a member of royalty, but one of their own and was well-grounded in their eyes. He was a fine soldier and leader, though he was yet to finish his apprenticeship. He may have yet to blood himself, but he had proven himself to them in training and dedication and camaraderie. He was a soldier and they were devoutly loyal to him for it. They knew, also, that he consulted the gods and studied all things beyond the mortal realm. In that, he was deemed wise.

“What is it?” they asked. “What does it mean?”

He breathed deep. “It means there is a great imbalance in the universe. The world will soon change, moreso than it has already with the loss of the stars.” He was careful to choose his next words. “There will be much blood spilled before things are made right.”

The next day Prince Kleos, after the day’s training and work, visited his mother and sickly father. King Kleos lay in a soft bed of loam, his face pale and sunken, his mouth open to breathe. He slept soundly.

“Don’t wake him,” said Kleos the Second.

His mother, a beautiful, full-bodied imp with flowing red hair, said, “He would be pleased to see you.”

Kleos nodded. “I would like to speak with him… but not now. Many matters weigh heavily upon me.”

“Is it your training? Or is it this new foolish council?”

“Iperitus came to see me last night.”

“About what?” his mother daubed her husband’s forehead with a cold, moist cloth, feeling the heat from a fever there.

“There are plots within the council. I doubt they serve the imps as they say. Iperitus says Apostolos will call for me to be made general of all the army. I do not know I want such a position. I want nothing to do with this new council.”

“What did he say when you told him you did not wish to be general?”

“He said I should decline and he would be willing to accept the nomination should I suggest him in my place.”

His mother scoffed. “Of course he would. He has wanted your father’s throne since Kleos first took the throne. Did you know he attempted to usurp your father during the Battle in the Cottonwood Chamber? He came close to succeeding, if it were not for the love the people have for your people winning out Iperitus would now be king.”

Kleos the Second nodded. “I have heard the tales. What has that to do with Iperitus and this new role as a general?”

“I suspect he plots to take control, for once and for all, with military might should he become this new general. His entire life has been a crime against the throne. I’ll never know why your father ever kept that dastardly imp at his side.”

“What should I do, mother?” asked the young prince.

Considering it, she put the damp cloth down on the bed and looked at her son. “Say that you will do as he says, then accept the nomination when it is offered.”

“But me? As a general?”

“If Iperitus is certain he can win the throne with the generalship, then so can you.”

Prince Kleos kissed his father upon his heated forehead, hugged his mother and returned to his barracks to pray to the gods and ask for their guidance.



Iperitus set about finding a way to falsify a good omen for the young Kleos. He called to his side Demetrios the Younger, a stealthy imp of great many skills in being unseen. He said, “Demetrios, once I knew your father. You follow in his footsteps in many ways. Now I ask you to do so for my sake.”

“How may I aid you, seneschal?” Demetrios the Younger asked.

“First, I am no more the seneschal, though I may still carry out my duties as such. I am now a member of the First Council.

“Second, I need to plant an omen for our good prince so that he may grow wise as a politician and further some of the Council’s wishes.

“I do, of course, have your complete privacy on these matters?”

“What passes between us,” said Demetrios the Younger in his slow, drawn out scrawling voice, a voice that seemed as though wickedness were given a voice to whisper, “passes between us and no one else.”

“Good. Now I fear I need some manner of omen.”

“You speak of sorcery. I have many abilities, but omens are not one of them.”

“Sorcery… that’s a good idea. Perhaps not sorcery itself, but the appearance thereof. But the last time our boglands saw any sorcery was from that alchemist that turned into the demon Ketsueki Sato and ensnared our good people.

Iperitus considered this for a moment, then with a slow dawning realization he said, “Perhaps there is some small artifact, some modicum of witchery left within the Cottonwood Chamber.

“Go forth you to the Cottonwood Chamber and search for such an item, anything at all will do as long as it out of the ordinary and looks mystical, though it need not necessarily be.”

“And what shall my payment in return for this service be?” asked Demetrios.

“Some of the king’s own prime land to call your own and my favor on all matters. A single mound will be yours.”

Demetrius the Younger did as he was told and returned with a tiny bug.

“’Tis a ruby that lives!” cried Iperitus upon seeing it. “You have done quite well, Demetrius. Now go plant this ruby bug within the barracks of our dear, fair prince.”

Again Demetrius did as he was asked, but this time he was caught by the ever watchful eye of Kleos the Second who, even though he slept, heard and felt every presence near. Kleos awoke, grabbed his sword, a straight-edge and long thing, and challenged intruder, waking the other soldiers in the barracks.

Afraid and with many weapons pointed at him, Demetrius froze. Never before had he been caught and he knew nothing of escape.

“Demetrius the Younger, son of Demetrius the Quiet,” Kleos said as he recognized him. “What would such an outlaw be doing sneaking around our barracks at night?”

“I am no outlaw,” claimed Demetrius.

“You are in the barracks without permission. You are a criminal. Why are you here?”

Demetrius fumbled with the truth. It came flushing forth like water from a broken damn. “Iperitus sent me. He sent me to find a ruby bug within the Cottonwood Chamber and plant it here within your barracks so as to falsify an omen so you may do the bidding of the First Council.”

“Treason!” cried one of the soldiers.

Kleos waved him to be quiet as he considered Demetrius. “How much has he paid you?”

“Some of your father’s land.”

“And how could the former seneschal, not of royal blood, promise you royal land?”

“I assumed he plots an overthrow. I am not involved in that. I am a mere servant.”

“Shut your foul mouth!” Kleos’ voice took on a deep command few of his own fellow soldiers had heard. They were excited by its power and willing to serve such an imp with such a tone. They closed in on Demetrius as Kleos drew nearer to him.

“I, however, have rights to all the lands all over the bogs.”

Demetrius nodded at this, feeling it only proper to be agreeable with his captors.

“How were you to subject me to this false omen?”

Demetrius produced a small leather pouch and opened it, tipping it over so the ruby bug within fell out into his free palm. He showed it to the prince who stared in awe.

“And what is this?”

“A ruby bug I found within the chamber. I know nothing of it, if it is bewitched or an ordinary creature exotic to my knowledge, but it appeared omen-worthy. Iperitus felt the same.”

“He has seen it then?”

Demetrisu nodded. “I took it to him first for his approval.”

Kleos smiled, “Then we should not disappoint him. Go to him and declare that you have successfully done as you were told. Tell him nothing of being discovered. If you do so, I will give you twice what he has promised.”

Demetrius’ eyes lit up with delight and greed, knowing well that he would be the richest commoner amongst the imps with such a promise. “Anything for you, my liege.”

“And when you have finished reporting to Iperitus, return to me and let me know how pleased his face appeared.”

“That I will do.” And Demetrius did.

He returned that same night, before dawn, to the barracks. All the soldiers were still awake and waiting for him. They greeted him well. Kleos sat on the edge of his bed, his sword now sheathed and lying next to him.

“How was Iperitus?” asked Kleos.

“Delighted, sire. He graced me with many compliments. He suspects nothing.”

Kleos nodded. He drew his sword with such sudden swiftness and deftness he barely appeared strained, barely moving. The blade’s point depressed the skin at the base of Demetrius’ neck.

“Wha-What are you doing?” asked Demetrius, frightened and throwing up his hands unconsciously as though to say he was unarmed.

“I find you guilty in the name of our liege, King Kleos. The crime: conspiracy against the throne. The punishment: immediate execution.”

With a quick swipe of the blade Demetrius was beheaded, his body falling, slumping to the floor of the barracks.

Some of the other soldiers were shocked, one gasped, but all felt a stronger loyalty to their comrade and future king. He had shown he was a man of action and they appreciated him for it.

Prince Kleos ordered, “Remove the body and clean the barracks. Dump the remains in the bog so that no one will soon find it.”

His orders were followed without question.

After the mess had been cleaned, Prince Kleos found a small amber-colored ball with a hollow center that opened up and he put the ruby bug inside. He stood outside the barracks at sunrise, watching the rising light glint off the ball and the bug within. He thought of the disappearing stars. He gave no thought to the beheading. He planned his lies carefully for Iperitus.

Later that day he ran to the former seneschal’s side, simulating excitement combined with exultations of joy over the omen of the ruby bug. He agreed he would suggest Iperitus in his place as general over the army.



Iperitus found no struggle in convincing Iason to his side as they were old friends. The time came when the First Council gathered. As it was such a matter of import to the community, it seemed nearly every imp for mounds all around came to hear history made. They were instructed to remain pleasant and quiet as the council members had many greats tasks at hand to discuss. Few felt the need for catcalls or disorderly behavior. The First Council then called forth Prince Kleos to attend. The prince arrived with a small squadron of loyal soldiers in tow. “They are friends and comrades,” he explained their presence at the meeting, “and, perhaps moreso, they are citizens represented by this council. They will remain silent as you wish.” Few disagreed with such a military presence, at least not formally or audibly.

The meeting was begin and through its course Apostolos did as he had promised Iperitus and, given the floor, gave forth the following speech:

“Dear Imps of the Boglands, I stand before you your humble servant, elected by general open vote to represent your voice fully in times of dire stress. And these, I fear, are such times. Our beloved king is spoiled with illness. We all fear the future. Surely his son, Kleos the Second who graciously honors us with his presence, is training to become a strong and smart warrior. There is no doubt in my mind and, as such, the minds of the people since my mind is theirs that our good prince will one day make a fine liege. we will all most assuredly love him as we love his father, if we do not as yet. But this fine young imp is yet to finish his apprenticeship. With respect to King Kleos and his family, his son is unblooded, untried, lacking wisdom in politics. It is true youth is no sin, but should the lives of the people be placed within one – again with respects – his young lord – untested?”

At this Kleos the Second made no attempt to hide his ugly grimace, his horrid stare with which he followed Apostolos.

“The people cried out for stability,” Apostolos turned to address the citizen-imps, “and stability came in the form of the First Council. Unlike the king’s seat upon the throne, when I and my colleagues have long passed, the First Council will remain. Should our dear king pass on soon – and let us hope he is with us for many more years – his will shall perish with him and then we are subjected to new and unknown wills. The First Council, however, will forever remain as the will of all the imps of all the bogs.

“Now we are formed, united. We wish not to wrest control of the throne from our king, but rather to maintain that stability of society, of the will of the common imp. And the will of our people says we must first protect ourselves. The first, most important matter is our might. We must first concentrate on strengthen the arm of the kingdom, to increase and masterfully organize our army. It is true our army is united as I stand before you now,” at this he strolled towards Prince Kleos and his men and gestured to them with a flourish of the hand, “and none could argue these fine men are greatly skilled warriors. But without a stronger head the arms cannot but wield their weapons feebly.

Ladies and gentleimps, we must issue forth a new ruler of the army; we must flex our arms; we must appoint a general to wisely organize and increase our security so that we may never be invaded by wicked outsiders again, so that we may never fall under the spell of others again, so that we as a kingdom remains united!”

At this many of the imps cautiously clapped, wanting to applaud Apostolos’ oration but afraid to interrupt as they had been instructed to remain silent.

“Dear fellow council members,” Apostolos added, “I move to appoint a new general of the army and, if I may at the same time suggest one for the appointment, I suggest none other than our dear Prince Kleos the Second. We have all heard he is a strong soldier and that we do not doubt despite our feelings for him as our future king. But in the capacity of the general of our army we have nothing short of full confidence.”

Again a few imps applauded as Apostolos gave away the floor to the council.

Innocente seconded the motion.

Prince Kleos asked for the floor and he was given it.

“Dear council and fellow imps,” he began. “I am honored to be asked to go from apprentice to general immediately though some of you – it would seem – would not trust your politics with me. But–” at this he turned to glance at Iperitus who smiled a small smile at him, “I do not know if that is wise.”

Iperitus’ smile grew wider.

“However, if it is the will of my fellows to first prove myself, then I will do as they ask. I most humbly accept the nomination for General of the Imp Army.”

Iperitus almost stood in horror.

A general round of applause was given as young Prince Kleos returned the floor to the council.

The motion and the nomination were both seconded. Further discussion or general disagreement was called for. Iason asked for the floor at this.

“Good citizens, surely our young prince is well loved and honored. He is a fine young imp in every respect, but his lack of experience screams at me from across the room and, should I not be allowed to speak my peace here and now, would wake me in the night with dreaming horrors.

“I love our fair prince as anyone, but we need a commander blooded, tried and true. I nominate Iperitus, a man once trusted with the safety of our people best-loved king.”

Iperitus smiled and nodded his thanks to Iason. He asked for the floor. “If it is the wish of the people, I will fill the position.” He glowered at Prince Kleos.

“Iperitus is a poor choice,” said Kyrakos. “He cannot possibly bear the weight of both council member and general.”

“I would vacate my seat on the council and someone would be elected to replace me,” Iperitus said.

The nomination for Iperitus as general was seconded.

“All fine and well,” Prince Kleos interrupted, “but this man, this former seneschal and aid to my father…” he addressed Iperitus, “did you not once attempt a coup against my father, our king? A failed overthrow within the Cottonwood Chamber?”

Soft voices rumbled with whispers as many of the assembled imps confirmed with one another this accusation.

“He has no desire to fulfill the wishes of the people!” challenged Kleos. “He has only ever desired the throne!”

Order was called and Kleos kindly reprimanded for speaking out of order.

“As you can see,” Iperitus was allowed to respond, “our fair prince, though respected, shows his youth in his hostility and outburst. He shows himself as a nothing more than a whelp, unworthy of trust and unready for command.”

Again the gathered imps rumbled with soft talk.

Order was called again.

“I move,” said Apostolos, “that a general election be held, the command of the army put to the people through vote.”

“No!” cried Kleos.

“Prince Kleos, you speak out of order.”

“Then give me the floor.”

“The council recognizes the honored Prince Kleos.”

Kleos stepped forward, slowly approaching Iperitus in dramatic fashion. “The trust of a warrior is not shown throw a vote. Votes are for politicians and citizens. Soldiers gain the trust of the people by proving their skills at soldiery. I propose such a test.

“I put to this council that the two nominated for general of our army – being myself and the treacherous Iperitus – prove our skills through battle. I propose a duel.”

The collected people rumbled again.

Prince Kleos raised a finger to command silence from the crowd. They did as he quietly asked. He stared deep into the eyes of Iperitus but addressed the audience, his finger still raised to emphasize the importance of the next words he spoke. “And this duel must end as any warrior’s fight, with one of us being blooded. And not blooded by draing first blood, but blooded properly with the death of his enemy.”

A single, loud gasp echoed from the entire collected audience.

“That is ludicrous,” Iperitus said.

“Why is that?” asked Kleos. “Because you fear an apprentice soldier yet to finish his training? A boy? A whelp, did you call me? Do you fear my untrained blade?”

“I fear nothing,” answered Iperitus.

“The council will not allow this,” said Apostolos.

“Back down, seneschal,” growled Kleos. “Show your cowardice to the people and prove your ineptitude for the position as general of our army.”

“Prince Kleos, please. Concede the floor.”

“Prove your worth now, Iperitus, or be hounded the rest of your days with rumor and suspicion.”

Iperitus considered the prince. He had played his hand well. He was a better politician than Iperitus had suspected. He did not fear his skill. “I accept the challenge.”

“No!” cried Apostolos. “The council will not sanction this!”

“This will be done with or without the council’s will,” said Kleos. “In the end, the nomination for general will be decided with the elimination of one of those nominated.”

“The council will not have this!” Apostolos cried again.

“What will you do?” Iperitus asked. “Imprison the prince or a fellow council member? Is there yet such a law to grant you this power?”

Apostolos looked from Prince Kleos to Iperitus in cold silence as the gathered imps whispered wildly around him.



Torchlight danced on the soft loam growing slowly over the mound. It was night and stars were still absent from the sky. The sweet smells of water and night mixed. Imps gathered from all over the bog to watch, to bear witness to the future of their body politic decided in a fight. Rumors spread wildly, excitement stirred but the finality of what was to occur kept them hushed.

The members of the First Council were placed at the front in the small half circle that formed before the kingdom’s small keep where, inside, their king rested comfortably, unconscious, oblivious to the state of his people.

Prince Kleos appeared in the entrance to the keep, his straight sword in hand. He wore a dark suit of armor that illumined in the torchlight, flowing in dark, iridescent blues as though he wore a suit of oil. He was greeted by his loyal fellow soldiers. They stood nearby, dressed in similar military finery. Prince Kleos did a routine with his sword, stretching his muscles and awing the crowd into stunned silence at his skill as he flipped, dived, spun and brandishing the sword with exacting swiftness.

Iperitus climbed the mound. He was enveloped in a massive golden cape that sparkled as the stars had once done in the night sky. He came to stand across from Kleos who had stopped his routine to welcome his adversary in silence. They stood watching one another, their eyes locked, and all the imps quietly swore they appeared as actors entering a grand stage upon which a great tragedy confessing the spirit of all creatures everyone would play. With some flair, Iperitus flung the golden cape from his form and it fell slowly, fluttering to the mound. An imp nearby had the presence of mind to gather it up and fold it. Iperitus stood, his eyes still on Kleos’, in thick armor of deep yellow gold with incredibly intricate carved frill. The shoulders swooped high as fins. His helmet was pointed. A plume exploded out of the point with great black mule hair. From his scabbard he drew a beautiful gladius with gold inlay.
The fight was begun. Though none could see it. None but the players on the stage.
They stood, eyeing each other still. Neither one moved. They waited.

Prince Kleos stepped forward.

Iperitus stepped back.

The crowd held their breath.

Prince Kleos stepped backwards once.

Iperitus hesitated, then charged. His blade bit the air, aiming for Kleos’ heart.
Kleos brought up his sword and parried the offending blade aside. He flicked the tip of his own sword towards Iperitus who dodged low, bending back , pushing off with his left foot and sliding across the soft loam on his right, putting distance between himself and Kleos. He shifted his weight, his left foot slanting back behind him and planted it to stop his retreat. He charged again.

They exchanged sword blow against sword blow, their blades skidding off one another and sparking with life. Those gathered, watching, gasped in awe.
Iperitus struck again, aiming at a small opening in Kleos’ armor below the breastplate. Again Kleos raised his sword for a block, but this time Iperitus moved his wrist, shifted his arm’s weight and momentum back towards its goal. Kleos lifted his free hand and slapped the back of his sword hand, applying greater pressure and force and pushed the blade of Iperitus away.

With Kleos’ concentration on the swords, Iperitus brought up his own free hand in a palm attack, pressing the air from Kleos’ lungs.

Kleos stumbled backwards and heaved.

Iperitus gave him no leave. He pressed the fight and once more their swords danced against one another. Kleos this time shifted his wrist and used the flat part of his blade to slap the wrist of Iperitus.

Iperitus backed away, his sword vibrating.

Kleos watched this. “Your sword trembles.”

“The greatest sword is not only strong, but supple,” retorted Iperitus.

“It is not your sword’s make that causes its quiver, but its wielder. You cannot hold it still. Your martial skills are no good. I will defeat you.”

“And I will laugh when my gladius parts your flesh to drink your blood.”

“Bring your mosquito to me,” challenged Kleos.

Iperitus gave a strong warcry and charged. They two imps spun and flipped, striking again and again, exchanging attacks and parries.

On went the fight for the rest of the night and into the next dawning day. They rested twice throughout the day, taking time for a drink and to cleanse wounds. When Kalavata next soared overhead both imps had been bludgeoned and sliced. Prince Kleos had received thirteen cuts and three stab wounds, including one to the hamstring that impaired his ground attacks. Iperitus had taken seventeen cuts and four stabs, including a long bit of carving on his face that went from his temple to his cheek just at the corner of the nose. The wound had been quickly dressed, but it still occasionally bled.

The pace of the fight had slowed, but the spectacle of it had not subsided. The imps of the bogs, exhausted and capturing short, quick naps, remained near and watchful.
Kleos jumped with his good foot, his body spinning, building momentum in the air as his sword came crashing down on Iperitus’ blade. Iperitus fell beneath the force , his foot reaching up and kicking the wounded leg of Kleos.

Kleos cried out in pain and stumbled backwards in pain.

Iperitus kicked up, his armor seemingly of no weight. He pressed the fight and spun wildly. Kleos, yet recovering from the pained leg, rolled sideways, splitting apart his legs in acrobatic tumbles to escape the advances of Iperitus.

Iperitus swund his gladius over his head and down at Kleos. Kleos bent backwards, falling to the ground below the small sword. He kicked Iperitus’ knee, shifting his weight and causing him to fall on one knee. With another kick, this time to the face, Kleos was back on his feet and pressing the fight his way.

They skidded and tore at the loam growing on the mound. The fight increased in speed, desperation and anger.

Iperitus lunged.

Kleos kicked off the mound and flew high, above the oncoming sword. His own sword slapped down on Iperitus’ head with its flat side. Kleos, as he returned to the ground, kicked at the arm of Iperitus, knocking it aside so as to land before him unimpeded.

With a swift, exacting flex of his muscles, Kleos’ sword found its target below Iperitus’ armor in the one small spot left exposed. Iperitus’ intestines struggled forth from under the armor and spilled onto the soft loam that soaked the blood as a sponge.

The gathered imps gasped in horror as Iperitus dropped his gladius, staring at himself spilling onto the mound. He fell to his knees.

Prince Kleos, ignoring Iperitus, approached Apostolos.

Apostolos faked a smile, but his stunned fear showed through. “Congratulations,” he said, “it would seem you have one.”

With another quick jerk of the wrist, Kleos brought his sword across and through Apostolos’ neck, his head falling away to make a small thudding sound in the loam at his feet.

The imps screamed in horror, uncertain of what was occurring.

Prince Kleos then approached the nearby Iason who pulled his arms up, his hands clasped, pleading for mercy. The young prince brought his sword down upon Iason’s left shoulder and sliced him clean through to the bottom of his right ribcage. The top half of the council member fell away from his lower half, a look of terror frozen upon his dead face.

The crowd screamed. Many of the imps turned to run, but most were too stunned to moved. They were forced by their own fear to watch the tragic play carry on before them.

The remaining members turned to run but were caught by the soldiers loyal to the prince. Once by one he quickly murdered them.

Prince Kleos then returned to stand before Iperitus who was yet alive. He had seen it all, too far gone in shock to react, to even scream. He spoke, “I find you guilty in the name of our liege, King Kleos. The crime: conspiracy against the throne. The punishment: immediate execution.”
Prince Kleos lopped off his head.

The prince then turned to address the remaining imps. “I and I alone am the will of the people. My father will soon be dead. I am your new king. Though I am open to criticism, I will not tolerate actions against me. To do so you will end in your death.”

He turned to his loyal soldiers. “Impale the bodies and heads separately. Stick the impaling stakes into the ground and at their base light fires to burn away the filth. Let the imps of all our boglands smell the taint of conspiracy.”

A shrill shriek filled the air, almost inaudible with distance. Soon after the ground beneath the imps trembled. Kleos eyed the dark night sky. The tremor broke the spell for the imps and they ran in fear back to their homes.

Later that night, still covered in the blood of his enemies, King Kleos the Second sat on his throne in the keep. The amber-colored sphere rolled in his hands as he considered the trapped bug within. “The Gifted Ones have many powers over this world, but I alone brought about these ends, not you,” he told the ruby bug. He stared at it curiously before smashing the globe against the ground. The ruby bug slid on its back across the floor. It struggled to right itself. When it did, it scurried away through the doors of the keep and faded from sight.

As Kleos watched it go, he wondered after it. He wondered at the darkened night sky. He wondered at the shriek and tremor. He spoke softly to himself, “There will be much blood spilled before things are made right.”


I hope you enjoyed Act I of "The Ruby Bug". Check back next Friday for Act II!

Friday, May 23, 2008

If - E - Zine

I was going to post the story "The Ruby Bug" today, but with publishing Issue 11 of If - E - Zine(tm) on my website on Wednesday, I found myself a bit short both on time and energy to complete today's scheduled post. In lieu of "The Ruby Bug", I've decided to post a teaser photo of an up-coming mascot for the ezine.

Coming Friday, June 13th!

This is inspired by the classic cover art from Sticky Fingers, perhaps the greatest album put out by the legendary Rolling Stones rock group. The original cover was conceived by none other than Andy Warhol.

Be sure to check out If - E - Zine(tm) here:
If - E - Zine on MySpace

Friday, May 16, 2008

“Breathing Life into a World, Stealing Away with its Stars”

“Breathing Life into a World, Stealing Away with its Stars”

Being Appendices Concerning the Two Tales Entitled “At the Peony Teahouse” and “The Theft of Heaven” with Notes, Thoughts, Inspirations and Origins.

© 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.



I finished posting the last act of the three-act story “The Theft of Heaven” last Friday, May 9th on my blog. In January of this year I posted the two-act tale “At the Peony Teahouse”. Both stories are spawned, continuations from the original story that I wrote and posted May through July of 2007 on the same blog. That story’s title was “The Children of Gods” and featured the heroic efforts of Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows and Beauty, his half-sister and demi-goddess frog Wu Chan Chu, and the trickster god Comet Fox as they took on evil forces seeking to gain control over hell.

I finished “The Children of Gods” with an appendix/afterword entitled “Drawing Down the Sun, Uplifting the Stars” detailing inspirations for the story and origins of ideas.

“Giving Birth to a World, Stealing Away with its Stars” is a similar appendix concerned with the inspirations of the two stories “At the Peony Teahouse” and “The Theft of Heaven”.

I actually wrote “At the Peony Teahouse” Act I last year, about a week after the final posting of “The Children of Gods”. That would place its initial writing sometime in July of 2007. I didn’t post the story in 2007 because “The Children of Gods” was such an intensive writing experience within a short five week period that by the time I was beginning “At the Peony Teahouse” I was simply burnt out on the characters and their stories. Act I remained as a saved draft in my blog until I published it in January of 2008.

I published Act I (on the post it was called Part 1, but I have since restructured it and called it Act I) in January because, having looked over the previous year’s blog entries filled with lots of science fiction, horror and nerdy goodness about up-coming movies or new technology or random news articles concerning robots, there was relatively little original material on my blog. I wanted to start the new year with new stories to draw in more readers and promote my own work.

Truth be told, I was yet feeling in the mood to post “At the Peony Teahouse”. But I posted Act I on January 4th nonetheless, making it the very first post of the new year. In the following week I wrote and posted Act II (posted as Part 2). I was yet feeling in the mood to write these tales, so I quit. Hence the rather abrupt ending of “At the Peony Teahouse”.

But the stories remained with me, stewing in my head for a good few months until, at last, I decided this fantasy world needed to be fleshed out with more original characters on more adventures. I felt the need for detailing the world, how it came to be, and then some. At last I was in the mood to write in this world once more and on April 25th I posted Act I of “The Theft of Heaven”.

In that time between “At the Peony Teahouse” and “The Theft of Heaven” I kept returning to a story I had conceived at the same time that I initially started writing “At the Peony Teahouse” last year. The story, entitled “Warriors of the Midnight Sun”, was initially designed to bring more of a mortal touch to the otherwise deity-dominant “The Children of Gods”. I wanted to bring the stories down to ground level, so to speak. As such, I was highly concerned with the world itself and its people. I think this served as further inspiration for “The Theft of Heaven” which, in many degrees, is the Creation Epic of the world.

I also want to inform everyone that “At the Peony Teahouse”, “The Theft of Heaven”, the forthcoming story “The Ruby Bug” and a few others will all play a part in setting up the story that is sure to be an epic in itself: “Warriors of the Midnight Sun”. So, although “At the Peony Teahouse” and “The Theft of Heaven” both may seem to have finished abruptly or with a few loose ends, fear not. These stories are in actuality one part of a much larger story!

The Children of Gods Act I
The Children of Gods Act II
The Children of Gods Act III
The Children of Gods Act IV
The Children of Gods Act V

At the peony Teahouse Act I
At the Peony Teahouse Act II

The Theft of Heaven Act I
The Theft of Heaven Act II
The Theft of Heaven Act III


“At the Peony Teahouse”

Still impressed with Tony Jaa’s movie Ong-Bak and having always been a fan of fighting bloodsports, I wanted to incorporate the element of a kumite-style fighting culture into the universe. I was also, for reasons I cannot remember, taken with the peony flower. Together the two formed the teahouse arena of the Peony Teahouse. As we pick up with the story, Xiao-tep’s half-sister Wu Chan Chu, the frog demi-goddess, is the current champion at the Peony.

In the last part of “The Children of Gods” Comet Fox had mentioned he wanted to learn a new fighting form, one that allowed sobriety unlike his previous drunken style which literally required him to be drunk in order to fight better.

As Comet Fox and Wu Chan Chu square off inside the Peony, Comet Fox takes on a new fighting stance, one that makes him look as though he’s dancing. This is capoeira (see a capoeira demonstration here), a combat style originating from Brazil that incorporates dancing and play and lots of aerial leg techniques. I felt capoeira was only appropriate for the flying trickery of Comet Fox.

I created the fictitious Island of Black Soil and Oranges, where Comet Fox was trained, as a symbol for tropical climes, hinting at Rio de Janeiro and other areas in South America where capoeira enjoys popularity.

While on The Island of Black Soil and Oranges, Comet Fox is made to work against his desires. This was my attempt to bring a certain amount of humility to Comet Fox. Fear not, however: he will always remain a trickster god!

Comet Fox makes friends with Risueña Cara. Her name translates from Spanish as “Smiling Face”.

Comet Fox’s new master is called Akan Bakongo, a hint at capoeira’s origins with both South American Indian slaves as well as African slaves. Akan are a people from West Africa who revere Anansi, a trickster god. Bakongo is another name for the Kongo people. Kongo means “hunter”.

The ball game Comet Fox is taught by Akan Bakongo is similar to football (soccer).


“The Theft of Heaven” – Act I

I had wanted to make a creator for the world that was largely unemotional, unattached and not quite a god with human personality, but rather something abstract. I had made mention of The Cosmos previously, but here I outline The Cosmos as the creator of essentially all things. In this way I felt The Cosmos were more like a mysterious element rather than an identifiable entity that could be addressed or reasoned with. In a way, The Cosmos are like the essence of nature and not a god.

The Mountain That Lived in the Sky, Taliesin, is named for the Welsh poet most famous for his Book of Taliesin, the earliest poetic work known that was written entirely in the Welsh language.

Momoki’s name has no origin other than being alliterative with the word ‘marmoset’. In part this is due to the fact I was thinking out his character, including name, away from a computer or books or other reference materials. It is simply a made-up name.

I wanted to give Momoki some sense of archaic tastes, grace and old charm. As a result, I made him a lover of the smoking pipe, which also often denotes wisdom and contemplation. I imagined the pipe similar to the kiseru.

Gogi the Grasshopper’s name also has no real origin. It is entirely original and was chosen for its ‘cute’ sound and alliteration with the word ‘grasshopper’. He was somewhat modeled after Piglet of Winnie the Pooh fame in his outward timidity yet with a certain amount of daring within and in being cognizant of his small size. I also connect grasshoppers with Tom Sawyer and summer adventures, so you may find hints of such thing in him as well. His story about the goose is somewhat inspired by the fascinating migratory geese that fly over my house every fall and spring here in Michigan.

Gogi is one of the first major characters introduced in this world that is mortal.

The headdress given to Momoki by Gogi is modeled after Hindi headdress I recently saw on a wrestling program on television. I wish I had more descriptions or references, but I caught a mere glimpse of the headdress.

The story of how Szu Ri and Gogi meet was inspired by the story of how Leizu, a Chinese empress, discovered silk from silkworms. One story goes that a silkworm fell on her hand and wrapped her finger in silk. Hence we have Szu Ri falling on Gogi and leaving small bits of silk on his hands.

Szu Ri roughly translates from Chinese as “Sun Silk”.

The story of Motharus has several origins. One is that of Stilzel, a boy who was found in a stork’s nest in the Sumava/Böhmerwald forest between Bohemia and Bavaria. Motharus, being an anthropomorphic demi-god, also finds roots in the Egyptian god Horus who had a the body of a man and a falcon’s head. His name started as a contraction of the names Hathor, the Celestial Cow goddess, and Horus. It was then changed to make it sound a tad better.

Motharus is described as having a kestrel head. Kestrels are of the falcon genus.

Drae’s name is completely original.

Motharus’ desire to fly to the sun is inspired by the Greek tale of Icarus.

Srang Bo’s name is original, though I may have been subconsciously drawn to the word ‘srang’ as I’ve always liked its sound.

I introduced Srang Bo as Motharus’ first teacher because I wanted his martial education to be a bit different from the other characters in this world who were so far strictly skilled fighters. I wanted Motharus to have an element of supernatural control to his character, the ability to wield magic. I also knew that Momoki would have to defeat him in combat in the near future and an untrained fighter (in this case Momoki) rarely stands a chance against a trained fighter. Srang Bo became Motharus’ master in mystic arts. This idea was somewhat inspired by Marvel ComicsDr. Strange who has modicum martial training, the majority of his skills being his mystic abilities. I wanted more wizards and mystics in this world, so I made Motharus one.

At one point, Motharus stands in a cylindrical cavern with flaming light and odd shadows dancing on the wall. This cylinder is called the Black Chamber. I’ve had such a dream, but it was more a classic cave than a cylinder. The voice that came to Motharus was not in my dream.

I wanted magic within this world to be dark and threatening like that of typical sword and sorcery tales. That is not to say all sorcery within this world will be evil, nor the sorcerers all evil, but the mystic arts here will come with certain heaviness and consequences.

Adonai Ku-jal’s name comes from two sources. First, ‘adonai’ in Hebrew means “My Lord”. I wanted to use this addressing word as part of the name to hint at the subservience Motharus must make to the demon. Ku-jal is a contraction of a few different things as well as largely being original. It was inspired by the word ‘djinn’, also written as ‘jinn’ and has since been translated and extrapolated to ‘jinni’ or ‘genie’ within common modern English language (though it is a French spelling). A genie, of course, is the legendary supernatural being trapped in an oil lamp until Aladdin freed it. The genie is not, however, a single character but a type of being. Many genies make their appearances throughout The Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

Tanas was named for the Tana River in Norway. He teaches Motharus a breaking-style martial art similar to the Muay Thai (see Tony Jaa demonstrate Muay Thai here) of Wu Chan Chu. Could a face-off be in their future? Hmmm… I wonder.

Twila’s name has no distinct origin other than alliteration with ‘turtle’.

Momoki and Twila’s love as well as Gogi and Szu Ri’s love are the first love stories found within this world.

I had The Cosmos, an element that normally does not react or interact with the world directly, respond to the deaths of Momoki and Twila to portray the severity of the loss.


“The Theft of Heaven” – Act II

Weeping cherry trees are new to me. I found one recently at a nearby store and fell in love with it. I wish I had the money and space for one on my property. They’re beautiful.

Etain is named for Étaín, an Irish goddess of the sun.

Kalavata’s name is derived from Kalevala, the national epic poem of Finland. The poem details a swan that lives along a river in the underworld.

The mourning dove is Michigan’s state bird of peace. Since a child, I’ve always loved yet been saddened by the low “whoo, whoo whoo” cry of the mourning dove. The mourning dove in this story was inspired by a mourning dove that live in my neighbor's tree. I have seen or heard it almost every day since winter. Aglina’s name is a contraction of Virginia and Carolina as the birds are cherished and abundant in these states. Mourning doves, in fact, are also known as Carolina Pigeons or Carolina Turtledoves.

The traditional way didgeridoos are made is with the use of termites that hollow out the wood.

I made Zingtai a birdwing as they are traditionally incredibly large butterflies. Though the males are the brightly colored birdwings, I made Zingtai colorful so she could become the stars. Zingtai is an original name.

The growth of the two swans and Zingtai the butterfly was inspired by Chaung Tzu’s Book of Chuang Tzu. He was an influential Chinese philosopher that lived circa 4th century BCE. He is widely considered one of the founders, besides Lao Tzu, of Taoism. In the first tales within Book of Chuang Tzu he details a flitting butterfly and a giant bird whose wings stretch from horizon to horizon.

Zom Loa’s name is taken from two sources within the Vodou (often pronounced and written ‘voodoo’) religion. Zom comes from the ‘zombi’ or, as is the modern way of writing it, ‘zombie’ which is, of course, an animated corpse made so popular in our culture by filmmaker George A. Romero and his film Night of the Living Dead. Loa is the name of divine entities within Vodou that concern themselves with humanity and often personify elements within nature. Zom Loa would become, ultimately, the second sorcerer chronicled within these stories (Motharus being the first). And why is it every time I write about Zom Loa the song “Duel of Fates” by John Williams (of Star Wars Episode 1 fame) plays on my computer? Perhaps it has something to do with Zom Loa trying to defy The Cosmos? Haha.

Little Epito’s name is original.

The shifting colors in the sky are, of course, the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. Latvian folklore holds that the aurora borealis are the spirits of dead warriors fighting in the sky and are an ill omen of dangerous times to come, usually bringing war or famine. Many northern people also believe that the souls of people that died violently cause the lights as they play with a walrus head.

Tarn’s name is original. I chose to use the walrus because of the above mentioned tale of the dead playing with a walrus head. It also inspired Zom Loa’s taking Tarn’s skull and placing it on his head as a helmet.

The Devourer’s Flower was inspired by the flowers from the Baten Kaitos series of video games. When one nears the man-sized flowers in the game, the flowers open up as if blossoming. When a character stands inside the flower the player is prompted to either save their game or, should it be a blue flower, to “accept the flower’s embrace” which transports them to the inside of a massive cathedral where they can level up their characters.

The Devourer was inspired by the Cthulhi, a small race of horrible creatures associated with H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu. They are also called the ‘star-spawned’, thus furthering the symbolism within “The Theft of Heaven”. If I may point out, The Devourer even states when asked by Zom Loa if he is 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.” I wrote this to indicate the Devourer’s connection with the Great Old Ones, the evil gods that Lovecraft is so famous for and that include Cthulu.

Latvica, The Devourer’s realm, is a clue to the Latvian influence of the aurora borealis in this story.

I made both Adonai Ku-jal (the demon that dealt with Motharus) and the Devourer make a pointed effort to ask Motharus and Zom Loa if they truly desired their help. This was to make clear that both Motharus and Zom Loa knew well they were consorting with demonic or evil beings and were not mere victims being tricked. I did not want villainy within these stories to have a victim status. Motharus and Zom Loa had choices and they both chose their paths willingly. In my eyes that makes them more villainous and potentially more dangerous. I wanted no victims here, just out-right villains.


“The Theft of Heaven” – Act III

I made Zingtai incapable of flight without her one jewel so that the world would lose its nighttime stars, showing that the actions of an individual (in this case Zom Loa aka Black Tentacle) can affect the whole world.

The reasons I brought Xiao-tep to Taliesin are threefold: one being that I wanted a character otherwise with a bit of haunting sadness to him to finally experience some beauty in his life; Taliesin needed a new caretaker; and at last the cast of the original story “The Children of Gods” needed to be introduced into this current story so as to build upon the eventual climax within the future story “Warriors of the Midnight Sun”.


I hope you enjoy this weeks notes on "The Theft of Heaven"!

Two quick reminders:

I will be publishing Issue 11 of my free ezine If - E - Zine(tm) on my website next Wednesday, May 21st. It will contain four free short stories within it ranging from military science fiction to tokusatsu fiction. Be sure to check it out and read it!

Also, next Friday, May 23rd these fantasy tales will continue on this blog with "The Ruby Bug". Be sure to check back and read the exciting adventures!


~ Charles

Friday, May 9, 2008

"The Theft of Heaven" -- Act 3

Here is the third and final act of my original story "The Theft of Heaven". Act I is posted here and Act II is posted here.

As I post this I think I will be taking a brief respite from posting these tales next Friday, May 16th and may instead post some other thing. Perhaps I will post a sort of appendix, a collection of notes, about “The Theft of Heaven”.

But, fear not dear readers! On Friday May 23rd the tales will continue with the first posting of “The Ruby Bug”! That story will pick up where “The Theft of Heaven” leaves off, so remember to keep checking back to read these thrilling new adventures!

And now I present to you the conclusion of "The Theft of Heaven".


~ Charles


"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.


I hope you all enjoyed "The Theft of Heaven". Remember to look for the continuation of the story in two weeks in the story "The Ruby Bug".

Until then,

~ Charles

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"!