Friday, August 29, 2008

Song of Momoki - Act II

Here's Act 2 of "Song of Momoki". It's a long one! Enjoy!


“Song of Momoki”
© 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


ACT II: Momoki the Marmoset in Hell

THUS SANG THE GRASSHOPPER: Wherein Many Gather at the Peony Tea House; Gogi the Grasshopper Speaks with the Ghost of Momoki; Wu Chan Chu Curses All Demons; Rdiant Gui Enlists the Aide of Momoki



With veritable swiftness did a plague of rumors, of words and knowledge spread across every country in every land; whispers so feared they passed over lips softly, faintly only after Kalavata had come nigh and night had swept over the land; knowledge so chilling adults swore never to speak it in the presence of innocence; so horrid were these that they rivaled the tales coming from the Plain of Adoration about the demon-dog Yaska Selith.

Some claimed the one they spoke of was a demon, others demanding him a mere mortal, a man possessed. Few denied, however, that he was a man of insanity, a man of no morals. And though his legacy, as it came to be, in every land he came to he was never noticed until it was far too late. This lead to fevered debates about his mortality, about his purpose, about whether or not he could bend night around him so as to slip in to any village or town or tiny hamlet all across the world to take his next victim.

His victims were the only trace he ever left. And he never left them whole. He left, instead, only their skinned bodies. A creature that could conduct such a matter as skin another was surely a monster and it was the passion for a monster that allowed Renorio – the true monster, the young man with little affectation to his person, the young man that mingled with crowds of men at any hour, the young man whose only discernable difference from all others was, perhaps, on the moment of rare occasions when he would grow quiet and watching as if waiting for something.

Renorio came into any land he pleased. He clumsily made friends, but made friends nonetheless and his stammering ways were often seen as some small shyness that was, for those that met him, charming. He would sleep in the beds of others, eating their food and living the life of a beggar of alms. Then, inevitably, he would grow very quiet. He would stand and stare as night swept over the land. Soon thereafter he would find an opportune moment – either when his host or hosts were sleeping or had their trusting backs turned to him with work – that he would take their life. he preferred sneaking up on his prey. He did not enjoy a good struggle. Rather, he enjoyed his victim to be supple and yielding under his knife.

He would skin them all immediately. On one occasion, while staying with a country farmer who had been widowed and childless and welcomed Renorio’s company, as he skinned the man with increasing skill his mind wandered and his stomach growled with hunger and Renorio found himself eating the flesh of the dead farmer.

With each new kill he tanned some of the skin and added it with awkward stitches to that of his brother’s. He soon found himself in possession of a long, tanned, malleable cloak with attached cowl that lifted over his head hung before his face to a point just below his nose and with crude eyeholes. As soon as his killing was complete he would go forth under this murder-cloak in heavy rains or deep in the country and far from others. He would never allow himself to be seen with it by others.

At last, whether by design from the Cosmos or by chance, Renorio found himself standing before the vast and elaborately decorated Peony Tea House. In his pack was his stitched skin. He stood and wondered at the teahouse’s features and at the creatures that passed through its doors. Of all the places he had ever been, this place more than any other he felt he could melt into and never be noticed.

He watched as some Gifted Ones passed around him to enter the teahouse. Renorio secretly hated these creatures, fearing them and his inability to command them. He wondered if a mortal like himself could ever kill and skin a Gifted One, but knew that could never be. Only another Gifted One or a god could kill a Gifted One, so he had been told all his life.

He suddenly wanted to leave, but the desire to peek within the walls before him was too great.

Renorio entered the Peony Tea House.



Wu Chan Chu pivoted her shoulders, swinging her arm wide and delivering a backhanded blow to Comet Fox, sending him crashing into a wall of the Peony Tea House.

“Where is it?” demanded Wu Chan Chu.

Standing nearby was Sal Igo, the owner of the Peony, and three of his servants. Sal Igo watched intently.

Comet Fox, fur ruffled and jaw sore from the blow, picked himself from off the floor and stared at his frog companion. “I had nothing to do with the theft,” said he.

“Liar!” again Wu Chan Chu struck Comet Fox with such a blow that the fox god stumbled backwards and fell to the floor. “You are the only trickster god here!”

Once more Comet Fox lifted himself from the floor, this time furious. He raged, “The Peony attracts sordid folk and breeds treachery! Gambling and prostitution reign here and you accuse only me?”

“This is my home!” cried Wu Chan Chu. “This is my livelihood and you foul it with your filthy, filching paws!”

“I did nothing!” defended Comet Fox.

One of the servants bent Sal Igo’s ear, saying, “Master, the time nears for our champion to prove her worth again.”

Sal Igo nodded. “Come, my champion. You’ve fights to fight.”

Wu Chan Chu started towards the main portion of the teahouse, glowering at Comet Fox. “We’ll deal later.”

Comet Fox retorted, cursing, “To the Hells with you, old friend.”

He lifted into the air and streaked like as a glittering comet through the interior of the teahouse, leaving it at once.

“I am happy he is gone,” said Sal Igo as he led Wu Chan Chu to the fighting floor.

Wu Chan Chu only grunted.

Challenger after challenger stepped forth from the crowd in hopes of proving themselves against the frog demi-goddess who was quickly growing her legacy within the teahouse. Challenger after challenger was put down by Wu Chan Chu. Her strong, long legs and powerful elbows crushed her opponents. In the end, no one stood before her and she was once more claimed Peony Champion and given the right to room at the teahouse and take a portion of all bets in her favor.

As Sal Igo called for the end of the fights for the night, one more challenger stepped from the crowd. Unlike most others, he was a Gifted One. He was a man and bird at once with long, colorful wings and a kestrel head with a cracked beak. About his arms ropes had been wrapped and tied. He was Motharus, son of Stork and the mortal and now dead Drae and vassal to the demon Adonai Ku-jal.

“I would fight your champion,” said Motharus.

“No,” Sal Igo shook his head vehemently. “Our champion is tired. She must rest.”

Intrigued by this new challenger, Wu Chan Chu said, “Stand aside. I’ll let him try my Muay Thai.”

Demi-goddess and demi-god squared off. The crowd, sensing the energy of the fight, gathered around the wooden floor, betting and braying in loud tones. As bets were placed and attentions turned to the two fighters, the people began to chant, “Ku-mi-te! Ku-mi-te! Ku-mi-te!”

Wu Chan Chu and Motharus circled one another, passing around the outer edge of the wooden floor. The fight was begun.

Fresh incense filled the air as Motharus struck first, lunging forward, wings stretching to glide him across the floor at Wu Chan Chu. The odd flying charge was a feign and Wu Chan Chu read it well. Motharus had plunged forward, his fists out but with little force behind them. Wu Chan Chu sidestepped the attack, lifting a knee towards her opponent’s chest.

Motharus planted his feet and grabbed the knee with one arm while delivering an elbow to her chest.

Wu Chan Chu stumbled backwards. She righted herself and jumped, her knees outstretched and targeting.

Motharus flapped his wings and lifted himself above the assault. He flew up to the second level of the teahouse. People scattered in ever direction, making room for him. He quickly eyed the god Hanuman who sat in a plush chair nearby, watching the fight as he was fed fresh fruits from a polished oak bowl.

Wu Chan Chu, with a strong leap, joined Motharus on the second floor.

Some on the first floor, people who had pushed and shoved their way to stand at the edge of the fighting floor, protested this shift in the fight. All others, however, cheered this new development.

“Don’t try to escape me,” Wu Chan Chu warned.

“I don’t run from you,” said Motharus as he gestured towards Hanuman, “I merely bring the show closer to our honored guest.”

Wu Chan Chu attacked with a hard punch aimed for Motharus’ head.

Motharus parried the punch and sent forth a short jab of his own.

Wu Chan Chu parried this jab, stepped towards Motharus, grabbed an arm and brought a knee up and into his gut.

Motharus gasped loudly before bending all the way forward and using his cracked beak to peck rather painfully at Wu Chan Chu’s chest.

Wu Chan Chu let go the kestrel demi-god and placed a hand on her wounded breast. He hand came away speckled with blood. She grunted and clenched her fist.

Motharus pressed the fight with a pair of punches.

Wu Chan Chu blocked both, but found the second punch buckling as Motharus bent his arm and sent his elbow around her blocking hand into her shoulder, knocking her backwards into several members of the crowd who pushed her towards Motharus.

Wu Chan Chu let them and while Motharus was ready with another punch, he was not ready for Wu Chan Chu to duck low under his fist and tackle him, her shoulder slamming into his waist. Afraid she might push her opponent all the way into the seated god Hanuman, she instead pulled up. She reached up Motharus’ shoulder, her arm wrapped around his torso, twisted her shoulders and throwing Motharus through the wood railing. Motharus crashed through the wood, splinters digging into his back. So fast was his descent he couldn’t flap hard enough to keep himself from falling to the wood floor far below.

The crowd cried out wildly as Wu Chan Chu leapt once more, her legs folded so her knees stuck out beneath her, driving down to the first floor, but Motharus rolled sideways and out of the way. Wu Chan Chu’s knees dug into the floor, cracking the planks. Splinters ate their way into her knees.

She struggled to get up, her knees weak with wounds, and fell on her butt.

Motharus was the first to stand. He turned on his prey. With two quick steps he lifted a knee into the seated Wu Chan Chu’s temple. Her head snapped sideways, blood spraying from her mouth and nose. Motharus did not give up the pursuit. He stepped into her and punched downward into the back of her head. Blood sprayed from her nose and her eyes rolled up. One last time he kicked her, bringing his foot up under her chin, making her lower jaw snap loudly against her upper jaw. Blood flooded from Wu Chan Chu’s mouth. She toppled.

Sal Igo ran over, waving his hands frantically. “It’s over!” he cried. “The kestrel-headed man is our new champion!”

The crowd roared. Many, those who had been great fans of Wu Chan Chu and placed bets in her favor, sent up cries of dissent.

Wu Chan Chu blinked. The crowd was drowned out by a high-pitched ringing in her head. She placed her hands under herself and lifted her head and body off the wood floor. She glared, weary-eyed, at the teahouse’s new champion. She wanted to continue the fight, but her blurry vision told her she had been defeated.



The heat of day had surprised the grasshopper. The evenings had been going through a cooling trend. Gogi hated the humidity, but knew he had to work nonetheless.

Szu Ri had asked him not to work this day, instead suggesting they spend the hours lounging in the cool mound of mud they called a home. Gogi had said he would not do this. “There is work to do,” said he and with a timid smile added, “and I’ve a home to feed.”

Szu Ri could only smile in return. She could not bring herself to taking away her love’s work and worth.

So as Gogi worked, throwing out the line he used to capture bugs and wrangle them in off the water or to catch minnows from out the creak, Szu Ri sat in the shade of a nearby tuffet, weaving together a new bowl with a lid in which she planned on preserve and saving some manner of food.

Gogi had retrieved his thatched grass hat from the muddy banks of the creak and brushed it off, but had not completely cleaned it. As such the mud had dried and stained its brim here and there. He liked it thus, thinking it made him look a bit dashing and work-laden.

As Gogi and Szu RI worked, fighting the heat with their will more than anything, Gogi hummed.

Soon, though, he began to sing aloud:

“‘Tis a rough, tough life
We mortal ones always know
Yet each day we work
On and on we must go

But we won’t shed a tear
An’ we’ll stay our fears
For ‘tis the only life we need
An’ we’ll plant our seeds
An’ we’ll smoke our leaves
S’long as we’ve friends like Momoki”

Gogi looked at Szu Ri, somewhat timidly and from the corner of his eye.

Szu Ri smiled. She said, “I think he’d like that.”

Gogi smiled a big, bright smile and said, “It’s not great, but I think it would make him laugh.”

He threw his line out into the water.



The sun was setting when Shabar returned home. He was greeted by his family full of smiles. His son jumped about at his feet and Shabar handed him a small handcrafted wooden toy elephant. His wife kissed him and held him. She asked, “How did it go?”

Shabar pulled forth a leather pouch full of coins and handed it to her with a smile.

She took the pouch and peered into it. She set it on a table and said, “That’s a good sum, but we’ve little use for money here.”

“I can return and buy more supplies for us. Winter approaches and our children could use new blankets.”

Alia looked at her husband. She had hoped his trip to the city of the Bizo would quash his desires, to temper his guilt for his part in the Elephant Crusade. But with his mention of returning, with the way he seemed afraid to look at her, she knew his trip did no good. It perhaps strengthened his desires.

“I had hoped you’d come home ready to be a father,” she said.

Shabar rubber her belly and bent low to kiss her there, to kiss the child that grew within her. “But I am ready to be a father again.”

He stood and finally looked her in the eyes.

“How was it?” she asked.

Shabar, hesitant, said, “Worse than ever.”

They stood staring at one another moment.

“The things they do,” said Shabar. “The things they do to those beasts, they are ugly things.”

Alia shook her head. “No. You can’t. Whatever you’re thinking, you can’t.”

Shabar sighed. “I can’t help but think it started with me.”

“No, it didn’t. It started with the Empress. If anyone is to blame it’s her.”

“But I could have done something.”

“But you can’t now. Now you are a father and your place is here by the side of your wife to be a father to your children. If anyone is to do something about what is happening, let someone else do it.”

Again they were quiet. Shabar’s head was lowered with thought.

Alia asked, “What about our dear friend Albert?”

“What we heard was true. The Empress herself greeted me into her palace and I asked her of the matter. She said Albert had turned traitor and the matter ended with him spitting upon her and her aid – the fish creature known as Fei Li Mi – ending Albert’s life in her defense.”

Alia squinted. “That doesn’t sound like Albert.”

“I know, but I asked a few others and no one contested her tale.”

“What in the Heavens would possess Albert to spit upon the Empress?”

Shabar shook his head. “Whatever it may be, we can be assured his actions were just. He was a good man, a decent man.”

Alia nodded in agreement.

“And once more,” added Shabar, “I learned one of the elephants I herded – a young one named Balori – was made into a Gifted One by Albert. This elephant confronted the Empress about the atrocities against his kind and she sent him on a quest. If he succeeds, she will release all the elephants.”

Alia shook her headed first slowly, then fiercely. “No. No no no no no. No! You can’t!”

She plunged herself into his arms. “You can’t! I won’t let you leave me. you can’t join him. I won’t let you. I won’t let you.”

Alia sobbed deeply into her husband’s chest.

They stood in an embrace, their son playing at their feet, as the sun speared rays through their house and across their forms before finally dipping beyond the horizon.

Kalavata overtook the world.



Though dark of night flew over the land, their forms could be spotted upon the edge of the horizon. Negkendra, Akadia Dorn and Macia Thrace were riding hourseback while Balori sat atop his mystic cloud floating nearby and some small distance ahead. Their journey had been long and the three men showed signs of having lost some weight. They each were sore with riding and tired with the days’ recent heat. They had decided to ride early in the morning and only after dusk, saving the rest of the day for sleep.

Balori had been silent for two days. It was Akadia who approached him now.

“Balori,” said he, “you’ve gone quiet. Your eyes look to things far beyond the horizon and you barely eat when we stop to do so. Know I how your mind must roil with pain for your kind–”

“You know nothing,” Balori interrupted. Balori huffed, “We proceed far too slowly. I could have flown the length of the many countries by now and made my first imprints upon the Plain of Adoration. And we do not truly know if the gem we chase, the gem you saw, was the very Jewel of Zingtai. And with each day that passes over us more of my people perish. The futility of it all weighs on me.”

Akadia nodded. “Why not go on ahead of us?” he suggested. “We will ride onward and meet up with you there.”

Again Balori huffed. “I fear then the gem we seek is genuine, that it is the Jewel of Zingtai after all and I would have troubles taking it alone. As much as I hate you three by my side now, I admit the logic of our union. Though,” Balori finally took his eyes from the horizon to peer at Negkendra, “I trust not that mahout.”

Akadia also looked to Negkendra, who was still behind them and did not hear any of their conversation. He said, “He is here with good reason. It was he that sent me to see the atrocities of the Elephant Crusade. It was he that first left it. I merely followed his footsteps. His heart, like mine, could not house enough shame for our previous actions so now he and I follow you to right the wrongs we had a hand in creating.”

Balori harrumphed. “Bah! Shame. What know you of shame? Shame is watching your mother die while you stand near unable to save her.”

Akadia nodded. “Shame is also the hand that killed your mother. And though not my hand committed the murder, my hands are as stained with blood.”

Again Balori harrumphed, though he saw Akadia’s point. He flapped his star-filled ears in irritation, making it appear as though a galaxy swirled about his head.

That night they stopped to sleep under an huge oak tree. Their sleep was broken by restlessness. Early the next morning odd, drunken singing came to them and peeled away any last bit of sleep that was in them.

As they rose they saw Comet Fox, filled with fruit wines and rice wines and every other kind of wine that had found its way into his paws. He staggered, almost falling with every step. An empty clay jug, each once filled with corn whiskey, filled each of his hands.

“It’s a Gifted One,” said Macia upon seeing Comet Fox, “just like you.”

Balori harrumped at this. “He’s nothing like me. I can control myself.”

Comet Fox stumbled toward them. He was sick and barely conscious. His words slurred and his song was an old drinking shanty. His blurred vision cleared long enough to notice the three men and the gigantic Balori he had almost run into.

“G’day, gents,” said Comet Fox before he fell on the ground.

“By the gods,” professed Akadia, “he’s more drunk than anyone I’ve ever seen!”

Negkendra, without thought, went to Comet Fox’s side and lifted him to a seated position.

Comet Fox laughed and winked at him. The clay jars dropped from his hands. He patted Negkendra on one shoulder and said, “Thassa grassaa boo… haha, what I mean to say is year good boy.”

“He smells worse than a distillery,” Negkendra said as he backed away.

“What could cause a Gifted One to get like this?” asked Macia.

Akadia answered, “His heart must be heavy. I doubt any of us have lived without at least a week of drunkenness due to an unrequited love or some other such matter.”

The men nodded.

Balori shook his head in disgust. He said, “Let’s get our things together and head out.”

“What about breakfast?” asked Akadia. “We’ll need our first meal to strengthen us against this morning’s ride.”

Balori sighed. “Very well. But let’s make it a quick meal. I wish to spend as little time on our laurels as possible.”

So breakfast was fixed and Negkendra attempted to feed the drunk Comet Fox as he slipped in and out of consciousness.

“Don’t feed him,” Balori warned.

“He’ll need to eat to stave off the alcohol,” said Negkendra, ignoring Balori and feeding Comet Fox a small bit of oats.

Comet Fox shook his head at the taste, making gagging sounds.

“He doesn’t like it. Leave him be,” said Balori and this time Negkendra followed his instructions.

Comet Fox sobered enough to speak with them a little as the men gathered their provisions.

“We go to find the Jewel of Zingtai,” explained Negkendra.

Comet Fox nodded, accepting some hot tea from the man and sipping it slowly. “Oh? A quest! Adventurers on a quest!”

“Yes, I suppose we are.” Negkendra smiled. He then added in a lower tone so no one else could hear. “Though I confess I fear this quest in a small way.”

“Oh! A quest!” Comet Fox sipped again. He whispered, “Why fear? Fear is ugly. Don’t let fear into you.”

Negkendra confessed, “From the rumors we follow, we seek a demon. I am a mere mortal, not a Gifted One like you. If I did not feel so strongly in the matter, if I were not so invested, I would not go.”

“Oh-ho! Demon! Haha! Hoo-hoo! I once fought a demon,” said Comet Fox. “It was wary times for me. But I made good friends. Good, good friends.” Comet Fox sobbed.

Balori approached. “We must go now. Come.”

Negkendra asked, “What about the fox? Surely we cannot leave him.”

“He’ll be fine,” said Balori. He blew the cloud from his nose and mounted it.

“He may die if we leave him here,” said Negkendra.

“A Gifted One? Die from whiskey? I doubt it. And if he does, that is a matter for the Cosmos. Our matter is the stars. Come.”

Wondering if a Gifted One could die from alcohol. He doubted it. He mounted his horse along with the others. Balori and the three men rode away.

Comet Fox, having been gifted a warm cup of tea, drank from it deeply before he rolled from his seated position sideways to lying on the ground. The remainder of his tea spilled out, soaking into the dirt near one of the oak’s massive roots. As sleep overcame him, he mumbled, “I’m sorry… but I didn’t… no… no, no, no… made good, good friends…”



Every privacy booth was full except one and Renorio took it. Someone came to him and took his order of tea. He wasn’t sure what else to order. It seemed only right to him to order tea in a teahouse. The tea was brought to him and he paid with the few coins he had taken from his last victim. The tea was hot with flowery taste of jasmine. He let it cool some before enjoying it.

He could not believe the bustle of the teahouse. He knew right off tea was not the only matter important in the Peony. As he wondered what other dealings went on within the Peony, the floor was cleared in its center. People crushed in near his booth. He could barely see the fighters, but could hear them and saw bets being placed and he understood perfectly.

He did not like the people crowding near his booth, but of course said nothing of it.

Then one man turned, cursed about not being able to see the fighter nor push his way through the crowd, then asked Renorio if he could stand on the seat across the table from him so he could see the fight.

Renorio did not like this idea, but allowed it because he feared angering the man and causing a scene. Renorio enjoyed more than anything his ability to blend into the crowd and to be relatively invisible.

The man thanked Renorio and stood on the seat, watching the fight. He watched many fights from there. So many fights did he watch, in fact, that Renorio thought to leave the booth to the man and find another small hovel within which to hide and relax. But the crowd around the booth was so thick he knew he would not be able to move through it.

The man stood, watching. Unlike the rest of the crowd, this man did not cheer or hoot or make other such noise to or for the fight or the fighters. He instead watched intently, as if studying.

A final fight was fought. The crowd roared – half with glee, half with sorrow – and Renorio could make out from the nearby conversations the house champion had been defeated. The crowd thinned, backing away from his booth. At last Renorio was once more at ease.

The man jumped down from the seat. He sat across from Renorio and looked at him. “Thank, kind sir. I needed to watch those fights. Let me buy you more tea as a sign of my gratitude.”

Renorio said that was not necessary, but the man ordered more tea anyway.

“My name is Sinverguenza,” said the man. “What is yours?”

“I am Renorio,” the skin-eater timidly said.

“Well met, Renorio. The is quite the establishment, is it not?”

Renorio, head down and unwilling to make eye contact, merely nodded.

New tea was brought to them and set upon the table.

“It’s been a long time since I last was here,” said Sinverguenza. “I’ve come here looking for fighters. It would seem I was correct to come here. At first I thought to hire that frog. So powerful and indomitable she seemed. Then that kestrel-headed one really gave her a fight! I think I should speak with him.”

Renorio poured himself tea and said, “I did not watch the fights. I sat here with my tea.”

Sinverguenza chuckled. “It’s a bloody business, fighting, but sometimes I would think it’s the only business to be involved with.”

Renorio only nodded in agreement. He wasn’t certain he truly agreed, but wanted to appear agreeable.

“You wouldn’t be a fighter, would you?” asked Siinverguenza.

“Me? Oh, no no no. I am but a farmer’s son.”

They chuckled together.

“I suppose you’ve not killed much more than chicken, eh?”

Renorio lifted his head and looked at Sinverguenza. He smiled a friendly, plain smile. He nodded. “Yes, not much more than chickens.” His mind went to the skins, the cloak he had made now hidden within his pack lying on the seat beside him.

Renorio thought a moment, wanting to switch the subject from off himself. “Why do you seek fighters?”

“For my master. He’s a powerful thing. He needs more fighters for his army.”

“An army? Is he a king?”

Sinverguenza smiled. “More powerful than a king.”

Renorio thought more on the matter. He thought of all the tales he had heard about the horrors of war, the blood spilled by warriors of armies. For a moment he wanted to ask if he could join, if he could lend his particular skills to whatever cause this Sinverguenza’s master sought. Then he thought of soldiers fighting against soldiers. He didn’t like the idea of others fighting against him. He said nothing of his thoughts.

Sinverguenza said, “Should you ever want to be more than a farmer’s son lopping off the heads of chickens, I’d say try your hand at the fights.”

Renorio shook his head. “Oh, no. I don’t much like it when they fight.”

Sinverguenza laughed. “Then you are certainly in the wrong place.”

Renorio looked around and said, “I suppose I am. I just came in for a bit of tea.”

Sinvergunza smiled. He drank down two cupfuls of tea, saying, “I’ve business to attend to. Thank you for the seat. May you fare well, Renorio.”

Renorio said, “Thank you.” He thought to wish Sinverguenza luck in his business, but Sinverguenza was already gone.

Renorio sat in his small booth, quietly finishing his tea. No one noticed him.

Sinverguenza left him. He walked through the teahouse, determined and searching. He found Motharus, but the kestrel-headed man was being swept away by Sal Igo, the teahouse’s owner, and his many servants. He watched as Sal Igo gave instructions to redecorate what he called the “Champion’s Room” for their new house champion. Many people tried to crush In on them to get near Motharus, to make friends with the new champion.

Sinverguenza thought to wait out the bustle around the new champion. He sat around, watching and waiting. All that time, so concentrated an effort had he made to spy out Motharus he did not realize he himself was being watched by Renorio.

At last, later that night, Motharus emerged from his new room to stretch his muscles. Sinverguenza approached.

“That was a good fight,” said he.

Motharus eyed him. “Thanks,” was all he gave.

“You know, my master looks for new fighters. I would have liked to offer a position in my master’s army to that frog demi-goddess, but then he fought you. Why not, thought I, recruit the one that defeated the master fighter Wu Chan Chu?”

Motharus’ eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”

“I am Sinverguenza, trusted servant to Yaska Selith. I have to ask you to join the ranks of his Bone Warrior army.”

Within Motharus’ head came the demonic voice of Adonai Ku-jal. “Yes, take this opportunity.”

“Will he lead me into greatness?” thought Motharus, this conversation going on within his head without anyone’s knowledge.

“Yaska Selith is powerful. His very existence defies the Cosmos. You must aide the one upon the Plain of Adoration. Do this.” And Adonai Ku-jal was gone.

Motharus studied Sinverguenza. At last he said, “I will join the ranks of your master.”

Sinverguenza smiled.

Sal Igo approached, saying, “Come, my champion. We must ready you for your first title defense.”

“I am no longer your champion,” said Motharus.

“How’s that?” asked Sal Igo.

“I’ve other matters elsewhere to tend to. I am through with your teahouse fights.”

“No! But you can’t! We need a champion!” Sal Igo protested.

“Find another. I’ve got other things to do.” Motharus nodded to Sinverguenza. “Lead the way.”

Sal Igo grabbed Sinverguenza by the arm. “What do you do with my champion?”

“I merely offer him greatness. I cannot help that my master’s offerings are superior to your free room and board.” Sinverguenza laughed and led Mothaurs toward the door of the Peony.

“No! No! We need a champion!” cried Sal Igo.

As Sinverguenza and Motharus neared the door, Sinverguenza felt a light finger tap upon his shoulder. He turned, thinking it to be Sal Igo again, but there found Renorio.

Sinverguenza squinted, looked at Renorio curiously.

“Yes?” he asked.

Renorio stammered a bit before he said, “I would like to join you.”

Sinverguenza considered denying Renorio’s request. He knew his master’s army needed more than farmer’s sons. But then he thought better of it, thinking the army of Bone Warriors could use some padding, some bolstered numbers. He smiled, saying, “Sure, my friend. Come with us. I’m certain my master will gladly take you.”



The day had dragged on and on. Kalavata was flying slowly, so slowly that Gogi wondered if he was tiring of his chase.

Gogi sat atop a large stone near the creak’s edge. He had dipped his hat in the water and put it on. It was now drying atop his head, cooling him. He looked at his calloused hands. He smiled.

Night at last came to him. The moon rose high. its light bounced off the creak’s surface and projected a glittering, glassy image in the distance.

“Momoki!” cried out Gogi.

He jumped from the stone and ran along the creak, chasing the spectral image. When at last he drew near, Gogi said, “Momoki? Is that you?”

The silvery, shining image of Momoki turned briefly too look at Gogi. It shook its head and mouthed the word “No” before disappearing.

The air grew cold around Gogi. He shook with nerves and chill. He walked quickly home.

Inside his mound-home, where Szu Ri was busily preparing their evening’s meal, Gogi sat in a small chair by the fire.

Seeing something had disturbed Gogi, Szu Ri asked, “What is it, Gogi?”

Gogi shook his head. “I thought I saw him again tonight.”

“Oh, Gogi,” she hugged him. “You can’t let your grief pester you. We’ve a new life. it’s one thing to sing praises about your old friend, but to imagine him nearby when he’s not will only hurt you. Please, Gogi, don’t do this to yourself.”

Gogi sighed. He hugged Szu Ri back.

They ate dinner together and went to bed together.

As they were falling asleep, Gogi felt the immensity of the world around him. He said to Szu Ri, “It’s a difficult thing to be a small creature in the enormous world.”

Szu Ri kissed him and said, “But we can still make our way.”

The next day, after all his work was once again done, Gogi lighted upon the very stone he had been sitting on the night before. Szu Ri came out of their mound-home to sit with him, worried for him. They held hands as they watched the night overtake the world and the moon’s glow dance on the surface of the creak. Once more the silvery image of their lost friend Momoki came to them. Szu Ri gave a gasp, “Oh!”

Gogi gave chase with Szu Ri flying after. As he neared the image, Momoki turned to him.

“Momoki! Please! Speak with me!” cried Gogi.

Momoki sighed.

Szu Ri landed at Gogi’s side.

“Please, Momoki! Say something!” Gogi beseeched.

Momoki nodded and said, “Hello, old friend.” As he spoke, his voice was as an echoing form of his old voice, as though he were standing deep within a cavern.

Timidly Gogi asked, “A-are you… dead?”

Momoki nodded.

“A-are you… a ghost?” Gogi winced at this, afraid of the answer.

Momoki said, “Something like a ghost.”

Szu Ri, whose voice wavered with fear, asked, “Have you come to haunt us?”

Momoki shook his head, “No.”

“Why are you here?” she asked.

“I wanted to see if you two were well. And I miss you both very much.”

“I have a garden!” blurted Gogi, wanting desperately to please his old friend. He was not disappointed as Momoki smiled.

“That’s good, Gogi. Have you planted your seeds well? Are they deep enough? If you don’t plant them deep enough they’ll wash away in the first rain.”

“He been doing well with the garden,” Szu Ri exclaimed proudly. Then she asked, “Are you well, Momoki?”

Gogi nodded at this, wanting to know.

Momoki’s shoulders lifted then descended again with a sigh. “We are well enough.”

“We?” asked Szu Ri. “Is Twila with you?”


“Can she visit, too?”

“I don’t know. I can’t entirely explain how I’m here. I’m not really here, you see. What you see is a misty form much like my old body. I have… a new skin within which I dwell. Each night after, well, after each day I curl up next to Twila and think of you two. Then I find myself here. It’s as if I ride my desires to your new home.”

This confused Gogi. He felt very foolish not knowing about important things such as death. At least he felt death was important since it seemed to affect everyone, even Gifted Ones and Gods. And it seemed far too final not to be important. But he mused whether or not death was truly final since, after all, he was looking upon the ghostly visage of his friend now.

At last Gogi said, “I-I miss you, Momoki. We both miss you. And Twila.”

“We miss you, too,” said Momoki.

“I-I wish there was a way we could remain together. Is there a way, Momoki? Is there a way?”

Momoki shook his head. “That I do not know. Perhaps. But the only knowledge I have is in death.” At this Momoki stammered, he feared his words may affect and influence Gogi. “But, but death is not the answer, either. I was sent to, well, where I was sent I because I am being punished by the Cosmos for the desires I had that conflicted with my purpose.”

“Punishment?” Szu Ri asked. She feared her next question. “Are you and Twila in Hell?”

Momoki took his time to answer. He did not want to tell them the truth, but he did not wish to lie to his friends. He told them the truth, “Yes, I’m afraid we are.”

“No!” cried Gogi.

Szu Ri began to cry. She hated the thought her old friend Twila may be suffering at the hands of some demon.

Gogi then asked a question he could not believe he had the courage to ask, but he so desperately wanted to know, to see his friend was truly well. “M-may we visit you?”

“No!” Momoki’s eyes were wide with horror. “No no no! You cannot! I won’t allow it!”

Gogi apologized.

The three were silent a moment.

Momoki said, “I should go.”

Szu Ri wiped her eyes and said, “Will you come again? Tomorrow? And will you bring Twila?”

Momoki thought a moment. He said only, “Perhaps.” He then disappeared.

Gogi and Szu Ri both shivered as the air about them grew cold.

On the third night Gogi and Szu Ri once more sat upon the stone. Momoki appeared before them. At his side, in glittering silvery whites, appeared the departed Twila. Old friends cried, pined to be able to hug one another, and generally held a great reunion. Old friends talked. Twila followed Szu Ri on a tour of their mound-home. when they finally settled, ghostly Momoki and ghostly Twila sat by the creak’s edge with their friends Gogi and Szu Ri.

They spoke.

“I wish there was a way we could again live together,” said Gogi.

“We are here and we are together,” reminded Momoki. “We can always visit.”

“We miss our old friends,” said Szu Ri.

“You know where we are. You know we are in Hell. There is no reason for you to want to live there. We certainly do not wish to be there.”

They were silent a moment.

It was Gogi who gave voice to reason, though he was uncertain of his words for his thoughts seemed so much larger than he. He spoke slowly, “Momoki, old friend. My dearest and oldest friend, I-I do not know the workings of the world. In my little life I have learned, however, that some appear to have paths set before them that will lead them unto greatness, while others are destined to be their friends.”

Again the four were silent a moment.

Gogi said, “We are friends, Momoki. We belong together.”

Twila crawled to Momoki’s side. She said, “Momoki, I do not know what I did to suffer in Hell. I don’t know that I agree with the reasons you are there. But as I said when we first were reunited: as long as I am with you, I can never truly suffer. Hell has no power over me. Perhaps it is the same for our dear friends.”

Momoki sighed. “Dear Twila, you are not in Hell to suffer. You are in Hell so that I may suffer all the more with the knowledge I have brought you there with me. It is no life to live. There is no place in Hell for the living. I fear our friends’ safety and well-being”

Gogi again spoke the words that welled in his heart. He repeated, “Some have paths set before them that will lead them unto greatness, while others are destined to be their friends.”

Momoki’s face drew downward, looking long and forlorn.

“Is there no way?” asked Twila.

“At least for a visit?” added Szu Ri.

Momoki thought. He said, “Perhaps there is a way, though it is not easy.”

And so it was agreed Gogi and Szu Ri would follow Momoki’s instructions. Well past midnight they set out from their home, diving deep into the dark forests nearby. Owls and nocturnal predators hooted and howled at the two small creatures. They ducked and weaved between blades of grass, under twigs and through mushy, leafy bedding.

At last they came to a part of the forest so dark they could bare see one another as they stood side-by-side. As per Momoki’s instructions, they closed their eyes. Momoki had said, “No matter what, no matter if you think you hear my voice calling out your name, do not open your eyes and look upon what is around you. Open your eyes only when I touch you upon the shoulders. You will know it is me for I alone will be able to touch you. Whatever is there cannot touch you or harm you unless you gaze upon their forms. This is most important, do not open your eyes. Do you understand me?”

Szu Ri and Gogi had said they understood.

As a final act before their first steps forward, Szu Ri and Gogi reached out to one another and clasped hands. They stepped forward.

Cries and screams, laughter and sobbing filled their ears. Voices ancient and new, alien and familiar called out to them. Szu Ri wanted desperately to say something to Gogi but was afraid he may get confused at the sound of her voice and answer another. She remained silent, content with merely squeezing his hand.

Gogi called out, “I love you, Szu Ri!” but his voice was lost amongst the screams and howls and whipping winds. The air shifted from freezing cold to oppressively hot.

On they walked.

Gogi thought he could hear sharp, angry teeth chattering beside his head. He winced, his eyes remaining closed, and his steps quickened. He then feared outrunning Szu Ri, but felt the tension in their arms slacken and he knew then she was keeping up with him.

Lapping, ugly sounds abounded. The ground beneath them shook. Gogi and Szu Ri stumbled about, so afraid. So very afraid were they that they nearly froze in their places, but a surge of desperation pushed them forward.

At last a voice came to Gogi’s head. It was calm and said matter-of-factly, “We have your love. We have Szu Ri. She opened her eyes and we took her from you. Her hand slipped away and we replaced it with a slug. We are busily raping her now.” At this terrible shrieks lifted onto the air.

“Hear that?” said the voice. “We’ve torn her wings from her body. Now we will eat her.”

Gogi cried out, “Szu Ri!” but no answer came. He wanted to open his eyes to see, to look at the love of his life and make sure she was still there. But Momoki’s warnings returned to him. “I don’t believe you!” he yelled at the voice.

The same voice came to Szu Ri. It said, “Death is upon you. Gogi has opened his eyes. We have slipped his hand from yours and replaced it with a snake. Open you eyes and join your lover. open your eyes as he has.”

“No!” cried out Szu Ri.

“Open your eyes. Gogi opened his eyes because he is so weak. Now he is dead.”

At this Szu Ri knew the voice was a liar for she knew Gogi was far from weak. She smiled contentedly and squeezed Gogi’s hand.

Gogi panted. His breath was escaping him with gasping fear.

At last the winds died. The voices grew silent. The ground stopped shaking.

A soft finger, a light touch fell upon Gogi’s shoulder. Another fell on Szu Ri’s shoulder.

They opened their eyes.

Before them stood Momoki is his ghastly, black, smoky form with crimson eyes and hat. Despite his horrendous form, Gogi and Szu Ri recognized him and were filled with cheer.

“D-did we do it? Did we really do it?” asked Gogi.

Momoki smiled an unseen smile. He nodded, “You did it, Gogi.”

They stood before the massive doors of the Chamber of Despair. Momoki leaned against them and they swung wide.

Together they walked into the courtyard to find Twila waiting for them.

Old friends rejoiced in their reunion.



Wu Chan Chu was given a chance to gather what few items she could call her own before she was officially removed from her room. Not knowing what else to do, she sidled up to the lone bar in the Peony and ordered rice wine for herself. She drank it quickly and deeply. A few of the Peony regulars bought her a few more drinks, sad to see her finally lose her title as champion of the teahouse. She accepted these gratefully.

At the far end of the bar, a wicked send up of elation was going on. She spied the member of a small group of people as being the benevolent host of the party. She wondered at him. She knew him as a regular and as a poor thief and a coward. She wondered why he was suddenly buying everyone around him, mostly women, when he was usually poor.

Wu Chan Chu approached him.

“Hey! Wu Chan Chu! The froggy fighter! Ha-ha!” cried Roku. His words were slurred with his drunkenness.

“How are you, Roku?”

“Oh! I’m great! Let me buy you a drink!”

“Thank you.” She ordered another rice wine and drank it down. “Tell me, Roku, was is it that a no-good thief like yourself is suddenly buying everyone drinks?”

“Ha-ha! ‘cuz I bet, I bet… Ha-Ha! I bet on you in yer last fight!” Roku lied.

“Oh?” asked Wu Chan Chu. “That strikes me as very odd seeing as I lost my last fight?”

“Ha-Ha!” said Roku. “Wait, what?” Roku’s eyes blinked stupidly.

“I said I lost my last fight. I am no longer the champion of the Peony Tea House.”

“Oh?” Roku grew suddenly nervous. “Wait, what?”

Wu Chan Chu, frustrated and angry, grabbed Roku by the neck and lifted him off his seat at the bar. He brought Roku’s face close to her own. “Where did you get the money, Roku?”

Roku blinked. He knew he was found out. He almost broke into tears as he said, “It wasn’t me! I swear! I was made to do it! I was tricked! You know me, I’m stupid! I don’t know how to read, write or do math. That’s why I’m such a horrible thief. I’m as shocked as you are that I was able to steal the coffers, but Sal Igo made it so damned easy. All I had to do was disguise myself as one of the guards. I don’t even know how I was able to do that much! I don’t like one of those hulks. I’m tiny! I’m an idiot!”

“Where’s the money?”

“The other guy took most of it. He threatened to kill me if I didn’t let him have it all. I’m such a coward I didn’t know if I could fight a Gifted One.”

“Gifted One?”

Roku nodded as best he could as he was being held by the neck. “He’s as a man, but with black tentacles where his feet should be. In fact, that was his name! Black Tentacle!”

Wu Chan Chu set Roku down. She mocked him by brushing him off, as if she cared about his well-being. She lifted his chin up, then brought her hand before his face and clenched it into a fist. Her knuckles popped as she did this.

She said, “Where is he?”

Shaking with fear, Roku said, “He owed some king, I think someone named Aniabas, a great deal of money. He was going to use the money to get Aniabas off his trail. I can only he guess he went to that kingdom.”

Wu Chan Chu smiled. She grabbed Roku by the shoulder and led him to Sal Igo.

Said Wu Chan Chu, “Here’s your real thief. I go to find his partner.”



Zom Loa raced across the country with a stolen mule and a cart he purchased with the money from the stolen coffers. He did not pause for night nor heat of day. He barely paused to eat. He rode on and on until, at last, he came across a band of soldiers formerly dispatched by King Aniabas.

He dared approach them. “I’ve come with the monies your king claims against me,” said Zom Loa.

The four soldiers peered at him curiously. Their captain said, “Have you not heard? Our king has been deposed.”


“Yes, by a Gifted One called the Weasel King. He is the charge of a demon that has settled upon the Plain of Adoration north of our former kingdom.”

“Then my debt?” asked Zom Loa.

“For all purposes your debt is no longer owed,” answered the captain.

“But what of the new rumors?” asked one of the other soldiers of his captain.

Curious, Zom Loa asked, “What new rumors?”

“We have heard our king is once more seated upon his throne,” answered the captain.

“Then we’ll go to him and give him the monies,” said Zom Loa.

The captain shook his head. “When we received word he had been dethroned, we essentially became mercenaries. We did not remain loyal. I doubt he’ll have us, if he truly is once more the king.”

“I need to make sure I am free from his demands,” said Zom Loa.

The captain smiled. “That’s much too bad. We’re afraid you won’t succeed in that.”

“Why not?” asked Zom Loa.

The captain and his men drew their weapons against Zom Loa.

“Wha-what is this?” Zom Loa exclaimed.

“Don’t fight, Gifted One, or we’ll find a way to kill you.”

And so Zom Loa the Black Tentacle was captured. A cage of bamboo was lifted onto the very cart Zom Loa had purchased and he was placed within. The soldiers took turns guarding him and spending the money within the coffers in nearby towns.

One night, when three soldiers were asleep after filling themselves with hardy ales, Zom Loa caught the captain within his tentacles as he passed too near the cage. The black tentacles tightened quickly about the neck of the captain. Air escaped his throat. He could not breath. He could not shout for help. Zom Loa held him fast and high against the cage, a nearby campfire silhouetting their forms as shadows cast upon the ground. The captain’s face turned purple, then blue. At last it turned pale gray.

Zom Loa released the captain. His tentacles searched the dead body and found keys to the lock and chain that had been placed upon the door. As he stepped out, one of the soldiers awoke, needing to pee. He saw Zom Loa and raised an alarm.

The other soldiers jumped from their slumber and armed themselves.

Zom Loa seethed at them. He said through clenched teeth, “I am prepared to kill you, all three. I doubt I can make my escape with the coffers, but should I leave them I can hope you’ll accept them as payment for my freedom. If not, I will follow the path to the demon that now pesters your king and command him to bring Hell’s fury down upon you.

“Now, let me pass.”

The three soldiers let Zom Loa pass. He escaped into the night.

Wu Chan Chu chased rumor after rumor. She found it easy to follow the black-tentacled Zom Loa as all who saw him took note of him. At last she came upon the soldiers and their small encampment. She recognized immediately the coffers they guarded.

“Those are the coffers of the Peony Tea House. I’ve come for them.”

The soldiers armed themselves. “We’ll not let you have them,” said one.

Wu Chan Chu deftly caught the man who had spoken thus and pulled him close. She lifted a knee and slammed it into his face, cracking his skull. He fell dead in a spray of blood and gore.

The other two soldiers dropped their weapons, saying, “Take the coffers! They’re yours!”

“Good,” said Wu Chan Chu, “now tell me this: where has the thief gotten to?”

The soldiers shook their heads. “We stole these from someone, but you can take them. Please, don’t kill us.”

Wu Chan Chu drew close to them. “Tell me where the one called Balck Tentacle has gone and you may yet live.”

The soldiers looked at each other in confusion. One said, “We stole these from a Gifted One who did indeed have black tentacles instead of feet, but we never learned his name. It must be the same one you seek, though.”

Wu Chan Chu was losing her patience. She spoke slowly as she cracked her knuckles. “Where is he?”

“He left! He said he may seek out a demon rumored to be living upon the Plain of Adoration. That is all we know. Please, spare our worthless lives!”

At this the two soldiers prostrated themselves before Wu Chan Chu.

“A demon, eh?” asked Wu Chan Chu.

“Yes,” said one of the soldiers, his face shoved into the dirt beneath him, “that is all we know.”

Wu Chan Chu thought of her battle with the demon Ketsueki Sato. She thought of this new demon the soldiers spoke of. She cursed, “I should like to raid every layer of Hell and murder each demon with my own bare hands.”

Wu Chan Chu said no more. She knocked the cage from the cart and loaded the cart with the coffers before grabbing the reigns of the mule and leading him away, heading back towards the Peony Tea House.



Wu Chan Chu’s cursed lifted onto the air and was spread across the world. It soon filled every ear of every demon in every land. It caused a great stir among some demons. At last, it woke the very Yama Kings from their slumber. They whispered softly within the head of every demon, “We must not allow this. The creature known as Yaska Selith stirs embers of a fire that could leave us reeling. He must be dealt with.”

This left many thinking. At last, only one demon could think of a solution.

The horse-demon Radiant Gui closed his eyes. He grunted, opened his eyes and peered at the Midnight Sun blazing red high overhead. His baboons cackled nervously near him.

“Shut up!” he shouted them down. The baboons grew silent.

Radiant Gui sighed. “How wicked the Cosmos’ love for irony.”

He arched his back and cursed the Cosmos. He then turned and walked toward the doors of the Chamber of Despair. He kicked them open.

Momoki jumped, scrambling about. He shouted, “Hide! Hide! Hide!”

Gogi, Szu Ri and Twila, afraid, did not know what to do. They headed for the hut in the center of the courtyard.

Radiant Gui caught sight of the new creatures. He roared with anger, “What is this? Who are these?”

Momoki ran toward Radiant Gui, placing himself between the horse-demon and his friends. He fell to his knees, lowered his head and extended his hands clasped together in front of him.

“Please!” cried Momoki. “Spare them!”

“You defy the Hells by bringing living things into our realm?” Radiant Gui’s voice shook the ground.

Twila, Szu Ri and Gogi hid. They could not believe the horrid nature of the horse-demon. They found him quite ugly, especially as he belched fire while speaking.

“I’ll kill them! I’ll destroy you all!” Radiant Gui stepped towards the hut.

Momoki ran again and placed himself between the demon and his friends. Again Momoki bowed to the master of the Land of the Midnight Sun.

“Please!” Momoki yelled. “Do not harm them! I will do whatever you say!”

At this Radiant Gui remembered why he entered the Chamber of Despair. He glowered at Momoki, eyed the three cowering friends, and looked at Momoki again.

The baboons howled wickedly at the door, salivating from the fear the smelled on the air.

Radiant Gui bent low. He said, “I will not harm your friends on one condition.”

“Anything,” said Momoki. “Please name it. I will not fail you.”

Radiant Gui sighed. He sat on his laurels. He spoke, “There is a demon in the world. He not truly a demon, however. He is a pseudo-demon.”

Momoki looked up at him. “Pseudo-demon?”

Radiant Gui nodded. “He is a dog that has eaten a mystic bug. He is no real demon at all. Yet his presence in the world threatens all demons. He must be destroyed.”

“I will do it,” said Momoki. He feared the fate of his friends. He quietly cursed himself for allowing them to come here, to see these things that was now his new life, his afterlife. “I will do this for the safety of my friends. Simply tell me what I must do.”

Radiant Gui said, “You will gather together a band of warriors and ride with them against this Yaska Selith.”

Momoki thought of something. He was confused. He said, “I thought training warriors was not to be my purpose?”

Radiant Gui bellow incoherently with rage. He backhanded Momoki and sent him rolling across the full length of the courtyard. He then spat molten saliva at the marmoset.

The molten saliva struck Momoki, burning away part of his flesh. He cried out in pain.

Gogi started towards his friend, but Szu Ri caught him and forbade him to go.

Momoki wept as his black flesh grew back.

Radiant Gui left the Chamber of Despair, cursing the Cosmos once more as he went.



Comet Fox, drunk, followed rumors across the world until he at last came to Taliesin, the Mountain That Lived in the Sky.

He fell into one of the many vast fields.

Word spread through Taliesin about this newcomer. Bugs and birds and bees passed by Xiao-tep, who was picnicking with Aglina and Zingtain, telling him of a fox that flew into the land and now lay unconscious. Xiao-tep knew immediately the identity of this creature.

Xiao-tep flew to Comet Fox’s side. He lifted him out of the full grass. Comet Fox came awake a moment. His words were slurred as he spoke, “Heya, Shoh-tep. Shao-tip. Teppy, tippy, tap. Haha!”

“What has gotten into you, Comet Fox?” asked Xiao-tep. He lifted the drunk fox upon his shoulder and carried him towards a small cave.

“Me? Haha! I, uh, I thaw, um…” again Comet Fox fell unconscious.

Xiao-tep sighed. “I thought you’d given up drinking.”

Comet Fox remained unconscious.

Xiao-tep rested him against a cool stone made soft by green, fresh moss. He tended to his old friend.


That's it! I hope you enjoyed Act 2! Be sure to check back Friday, September 5th to read the third and final act of "Song of Momoki!"

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Song of Momoki" - Act I


“Song of Momoki”
© 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


ACT I: Momoki the Marmoset in Hell

UNDER AN INDIFFERENT EYE: Wherein Momoki the Marmoset is Tortured for His Sins; A Deception is Revealed; Gogi and Szu Ri Begin a New Life; Shabar Leaves for the Land of the Bizo


On the bank of a creak so small it had no name came the grasshopper Gogi and his faithful love Szu Ri the Silk Moth. There they settled. Gogi went to work right off hollowing out a mound of mud. He cleared it of all grass, letting the sun’s face touch upon the mound and bake it until it hardened as clay. He dug out a two small holes in the mound’s side. In the smallest he placed a thin crystal Szu Ri had found just below the surface of the waters of the flowing creak. In the other hole he place bamboo that Szu Ri had thatched with a stick on one end. The stick served as a hinge and the thatched bamboo a door. Together the smallest creatures in all the world built for themselves a one-room home from the gifts of the land.

Gogi then set about clearing the land near their new home using skills he had once learned from a friend, a friend now departed and far gone yet far from forgotten. In this small patch of land he placed seeds he had harvested from plants growing wild nearby.

Day after day he tended to his land, humming in his garden, growing for himself and his Szu Ri food to be stored and eaten all throughout the year. Day after day, as the sun was setting on the far horizon, Gogi would come into his home, hug Szu Ri and complaining of the sun’s unrelenting stare.

Szu Ri set about making two things: one a thick blanket of silk to warm them in the cold months to come; the other a hat for Gogi made of thatched, dried grass to help block out the sun.

As the garden grew and the work lessened, Gogi began collecting pebbles to bring into the home and build a fireplace, all the while humming. It took him many months, but at the end of his work he had made a wonderful stone hearth with a chimney extending out a third small hole he had burrowed to let the smoke escape. It was a fine piece of craftsmanship and Szu Ri was quite proud of him.

The hat Szu Ri had made was finished in time for the garden to be harvested. She presented it to Gogi and he smiled.

“It’s beautiful,” said Gogi. “Thank you, Szu Ri.” And he grabbed her and held her in his arms.

Gogi wore the hat with pride the next day as he harvested from his garden, the white brim of the airy thatched had shading his face and eyes.

Soon the garden was bare and, wanting to be certain they would have food enough for the cold months, asked Szu Ri for a small strand of her silk. She gladly granted him this wish.

Gogi then made a hook from a dead, dried vine and lashed it to the end of the silk thread. As the shadows of the sun grew long and a chill entered the air, Gogi would spend his days by the creak fishing with the thread and hook. He spent his days happily fishing, humming lightly, smiling.

Szu Ri stored foods and constructed a bed and a few chairs she placed around the hearth.

One night, long after Gogi came in carrying two bugs he had caught using the hook and silk, as the two sat around a warming fire, drinking freshly brewed tea, Gogi once more began to hum as he smiled with contentment.

“Gogi,” asked Szu Ri, “what is that you hum?”

“Hmm?” For the first time he realized he was indeed humming. For a moment he feared appearing as a fool, but looked at Szu Ri and knew she could not think such things of him. “I-I guess I never realized I was ever humming. Now I know.”

“What song is that you hum?”

Gogi thought a moment, again never having thought on the matter before. “I suppose it’s a song of my own. I-I even have some words to go with it.”


Gogi shook his head. “I-I’d feel so very foolish.”

“Please, Gogi. Please share your song with me?” asked Szu Ri.

Gogi sighed. “N-not now Szu Ri, please. It’s a foolish thing.”

Szu Ri allowed the conversation to shift onto other matters and Gogi’s humming was all but forgotten.

As they lay in bed together that night, Gogi with his back to Szu Ri while she held him from behind, she said softly, gently, “Gogi, dear Gogi, making songs is not foolish. It is life in words.”
Gogi sighed.

“Has your song words?” she asked.

Gogi’s eyes opened. “Yes. But… it’s about… ” Gogi sighed again. Szu Ri could feel a great shock of nerves and fear go through his body as he said, “I-it’s about Momoki.”

Szu Ri’s heart welled with sadness for the loss of Momoki, especially for Gogi who had made such good friends with the marmoset. She said, “That’s a beautiful thing, Gogi, to honor him with a song.”

They lay together a long time in the silent, dark home they had built together. Before sleep drifted into them Gogi said, “I miss him, Szu Ri.”

Szu Ri kissed his cheek gently and they cuddled closer. Soon they were asleep.


Momoki screamed in terror and pain. Radiant Gui pressed forward with one long claw as the three baboons held the marmoset upside down. The claw sank into Momoki’s skin, slicing it finely as a butcher’s blade from the navel to the neck. Excruciating pain turned fire as the horse-demon slowly, intently peeled the skin from off Momoki’s form. Flesh and fur came free from bloody muscle. Momoki’s voice cracked with strain. He wanted desperately to close his eyes, to shut out the pain, but found no relief as his red eyes remained wide and glowing red.

High above, behind and over the shoulder of Radiant Gui, the Midnight Sun glowed back in crimson indifference. It watched. Momoki stared at it, wishing it would blink, wishing it would cringe at the sight of his agony. It remained staring. It remained unmoving. It stared on and Momoki found hatred in heart heart, welling up from his belly, gushing from his throat. For the first time Momoki could remember, he felt the power of anger, the lust of hatred. His eyes shifted to the semi-hidden face of Radiant Gui.

The horse-demon sniffed at the freshly peeled skin, looked at Momoki and belched whinny laughter. He tossed the flesh aside, saying, “Feast!”

The baboons let go of Momoki and he fell to the charcoal ground. They fought and tore at each other, struggling for a bite, a bit of the flesh. They ate it voraciously, fur and all, howling with banshee desire.

Momoki could not move. He remained lying on the ground, skinless. The charcoal of the ground clung to his moist, slick, bloody muscles. He remained staring at the horse-demon, seething.

“Good,” Radiant Gui said with laughter. “Hate me. That makes my task all the more enticing.”

The horse-demon laughed.

The baboons smacked their bloody lips. The flesh was gone, devoured completely and resting in their gold, silver and amethyst bellies.

Soon the soothing feeling of flesh returning to Momoki’s form came to him. He was able to move. He struggled to lift himself. His form was once more that of black, billowing smoke. Only the red glow of his eyes and hat stood out as features. He did not understand how a creature dead as he was could be stripped of flesh he did not have, but decided that the tortures of Hell could create its own possibilities.

He sighed with relief as his flesh form swelled complete.

The three baboons approached.

Momoki knew what was coming. He had experienced it perhaps a dozens time already. He wondered if he was meant to experience it for eternity.

The baboons pounced.

Momoki, under the guide of instinct, tried to escape though he knew he could not, would never be able to. But for a moment, just before the baboons had attained a firm hold, he felt the touch of hope before it fled in the face of terror as their paws held him.

The baboons turned Momoki upside down and held him up towards Radiant Gui.

The horse-demon’s claw pierced the darkness of the land. His face came near Momoki. Hot breath smelling of burning sulfur roiled out his nose and blasted Momoki’s form. The claw sank into him, under his skin, and sliced it like a butcher’s knife.

Momoki wished he could close his eyes. He stared at the Midnight Sun staring back, distant, indifferent.

Like the many times before, the horse-demon tore the mystic flesh from Momoki’s form and fed it to the howling baboons.

Again the flesh returned and soothed Momoki.

Again the baboons pounced.

Again, as he was suspended upside down before Radiant Gui, he stared at the Midnight Sun.

But now Radiant Gui stopped. He had heard something, a small voice. He leaned in to listen. He asked, “Marmoset, what is that you say?”

Momoki’s eyes shifted onto the horse-demon. Between pants he said, “At least… this is… for something…”

“What mean you by that?” asked Radiant Gui.

“My… new path… at least… I’ve that…”

Radiant Gui smirked, smiled, then burst forth with incredible laughter. The baboons, upset their feeding was interrupted, squeezed at Momoki though they joined their master by sending up howls of joy.

“You are but a fool,” Radiant Gui said. “A damned fool. A fool damned to Hell for his foolishness.”

Momoki said, “I do not understand.”

Radiant Gui laughed, saying, “No one is so blessed as to have a second chance and a second path! You have no purpose here beyond my plaything! You fool! You believed me? I’m a demon! I lie! Oh! How I love my purpose!”

The horse-demon and baboons laughed at the joke they had played upon the fool marmoset.

The betrayal well further hatred within Momoki. He cried out, “You bastard! I’ll kill you!”

The horse-demon and his baboons laughed louder, taking joy from Momoki’s anguish.

Radiant Gui said, “Good, marmoset. Hate me. Let the desire to murder me percolate, bubbling forth. Hatred is the strongest of all things.”

Momoki felt suddenly hollow. Only the hatred and anger remained. He stared at the Midnight Sun as Radiant Gui continued in his task of torturing him and feeding the baboons.


Zom Loa came into the legendary Peony Tea House. He watched as the house champion – some frog demi-goddess – fought twice and won both matches, including a fight against a Gifted One that was a fox.

The tea house bustled with activity. Zom Loa had heard the god Hanuman was present to watch the fights. Sweat and ales and wines and teas and incense hung on the air. It was hot in the tea house, but not many seemed to care. Not many took notice of his appearance. It appeared to Zom Loa that the Peony Tea House was a congregating place for many different peoples – including Gifted Ones and Gods.

He then huddled in a private booth at the back of the tea house, asking a passerby or two if they knew of anyone interested in making money as a hired guardian.

One such passerby sat down to listen to Zom Loa’s tale, of how he escaped from the mad King Aniabas, how he later heard rumors that the king had been dethroned, and how he was uncertain of the rumor’s truth.

“I am no fighter,” said the young man that sat across from him. He was barely out of his teen years and his face struggled to grow hair on his chin. His hair was sandy-blonde; his eyes wide, wild and green; he wore a light tunic of green and brown leather chaps. At his waist were crossed two daggers. Zom Loa wondered if the young man knew how to properly use the blades or – due to their prominence on his person – perhaps they were simple trappings of one that desired a rough life but had yet to live it.

“But,” said the young man, “you said this king demanded of you the tributes his father had placed in your hands to journey to the north, am I correct?”

Zom Loa nodded.

“Then perhaps paying him back would be the best matter,” said the young man.

Just then three large men, guards heavily laden with weapons and armor and each with a large chest in their arms, passed by their booth before disappearing behind a door at the back of the tea house. The young man watched. Zom Loa watched him, curious.

When he turned back round, Zom Loa asked, “What have you in mind?”

“This tea house makes much money. Most of it is stolen. The fights and games within this tea house are rigged.”

“How know you this?”

“Every place that hosts gambling is crooked, that is well-known,” explained the young man.

Zom Loa wondered at this. E said in a low voice, “Do you suggest we steal money from this tea house?”

The young man smiled, nodding.

Zom Loa looked to the back of the tea house at the door through which the three armed men had gone. He then looked at the young man. “What is your name?”

The young man smiled. “I am Roku and I am a Procurer of Things.”

Zom Loa wondered if the name was real, but Roku’s idea of paying the debt Aniabas claimed was strong. He said, “Roku, I am Zom Loa the Storyteller, but I have also been called Black Tentacle. Let us discuss our future together.”


In a land unmarked by history’s pen, in a land unscathed by woes of men, a land of farmers and free men was born a boy named Renorio. His life, like the land he was born into, was quite unremarkable. He had a mother. He had a father. He had two brothers – both older and wiser.

Renorio learned to crawl then walk as most children do, then learned to talk at a proper age. He had bright blonde hair and green eyes, as all of his people did. He loved the changes of the seasons, he loved to learn, he worked his father’s field when he was old enough. He was in every way a boy of the land and in no way stood out from the other children of the area.

So plain was he that nothing of note could be discerned other than, perhaps, on rare occasions he would grow quiet and watching as if waiting for something. This happened most often when the Summer became Fall or when a particularly strong storm approached or, as one of his brothers noticed on the occasion of their grandmother’s passing, at the hour of death. A few wispy gossiping murmurs were floated about that he could sense death, but was the rumor wasn’t strong and soon faded.

One day, while playing by an old oak – his brothers swimming in the nearby river and he wanting simply to lounge in the shade – Renorio found the carcass of a small bird beneath a wide branch extended parallel to the ground high above. He closed in on the dead bird, examining it. The small bird had not only fallen, but had fallen sharply upon the edge of a jagged stone and its breast had been broken wide with some of its flesh hanging loosely.

Renorio, filled with curiosity, picked up the carcass and began peeling the feathers and flesh from the bone. He wanted desperately to know what was inside – if anything.

His brothers, finished with their swim, came upon him and reprimanded him for playing with the dead bird.

Once home, his parents reprimanded Renorio, as well.

Rumors began again about the boy and his sense of death. He was not ostracized, though many an eye looked at him from out of its corner thereafter.

The boy grew into a young man. The incident was all but forgotten.

Then Renorio’s father died. He and his brothers were left to farm the land and tend to their mother.

More time passed and the mother died.

The brothers began to argue over the operation of the farm. The arguments escalated and regularly became fisticuffs. During once such fight, Renorio brought forth and brandished a knife, stabbing and killing one of his brothers.

The other brother fled and was never heard from again.

Renorio – as he had the day he had found the bird – obsessed over his brother’s dead body. Slowly he peeled the skin free from the carcass. Unknowing what else to do, the next day he treated, stretched and tanned his brother’s skin. He wove its pieces together and stored it in a small knapsack hidden within the log box outside his house.

He buried his brother and carried on with the farm, but soon word spread and fear finally ostracized him from the people of the region. Not knowing what else to do, he packed a sack of provisions in readiness to leave the farm behind. As he left, he turned to look at the only home he had ever known one last time. He stood, staring, until his eyes came to rest upon the log box. He went to it. Digging to the bottom he found the knapsack with his brother’s tanned skin. With it in his hand, he left his homelands forever.


Radiant Gui’s long claw pierced the form of Momoki, digging into it and causing him excruciating pain. The horse-demon peel back the flesh and tossed it to the side. The baboons dropped Momoki and ran to feast.

Radiant Gui sighed as the flesh began to reappear on Momoki. The horse-demon said, “I tire of this.”

He picked up Momoki with two claws and walked away. A set of double doors, crimson as the Midnight Sun and taller than the demon, appeared. Radiant Gui threw Momoki down before the doors. “There’s you chamber.”

Momoki picked himself up. “Is this where I live?”

Radiant Gui laughed. “You don’t live. But yes, it’s a chamber of your own. It’s the Chamber of Despair. That part of the lie was very true. I’ll return when I want to torture you some more.” Radiant Gui hesitated, then said, “And you won’t be alone.” He said this as though he regretted it, as though he had no choice over the matter and detested it.

Radiant Gui walked away.

Momoki pressed his black paws against the two red doors. They opened with some difficulty as they were so immense over his demure size. He stepped into the chamber and the doors closed behind him.

The chamber was bright and appeared as a courtyard. The ground was light tan like sand and three large weeping cherries were growing strongly. In the center was a wooden hut raised on stilts. The hut was open and airy and a cool breeze blew through it at all hours. In its center was a small tatami mat.

Momoki, eyeing the chamber, headed towards the mat. He then saw some creature, black as night with small bits of roiling smoke – akin to his own form – crawling across the courtyard. It was the form of a turtle and it was black with bright red, glowing streaks at the sides of its head.

“Twila?” Momoki asked.

Twila turned her head, searching, finding, crying out, “Momoki!”

Momoki ran to her side. He lay beside her, holding her close. They lay together in the center of the courtyard, cherry blossoms falling all about them, enjoying their closeness.

“Momoki, where have you been? Some demonic creature said you’d come, but when you didn’t I suspected he had lied.”

“I’m here, Twila. I’m here. And I wont ever leave your side again.”

She smiled and it went unseen through her new dark form.

Momoki held her.

“Is this Hell, Momoki?”

Momoki answered sadly, “Yes.”

Twila sighed. “I’ve waited here a long time for you.”

“I’m sorry, Twila, but I’m here now.”

“Where were you?”

Momoki thought of his tortures, of his purpose in Hell. He knew he could not tell her of his pain. “Please, Twila… please don’t ask.”

Twila nuzzled her head under Momoki’s chin. He kissed her lightly upon the head and she, had she been able, would have blushed as her head receded a small ways into her shell before it came back out and nuzzled his chin once more.

A horrifying thought came to Momoki. He asked, “Are Gogi and Szu Ri here?”

Twila shook her head. “No. I can only hope they are still alive and living a good life.”

Momoki sighed with relief. “I hope a good life for them as well, though I wish I could see Gogi once more. He was such a good friend. I miss him.”

As he lay with Twila, he felt his anger and hatred lift from his heart. He swelled with worth. He felt healed. He felt strong. He smiled an unseen smile and said, “Radiant Gui was wrong. Love is stronger.”

As they lay in the courtyard, Momoki could almost imagine himself in a beautiful field chasing after and playing with his old friend.


It was late in the day. Kalavata’s head came over the horizon as Gogi finished fishing. As darkness over came the world, the moon’s light dancing off the water as Gogi pulled in his line, he caught a glimpse of a glimmering shape down the creak’s bank some ways. Gogi turned to look and gasped.

There, in the thin light of night, Gogi could see a shimmering, silvery visage that appeared much like Momoki.

“Momoki!” cried Gogi. He ran excitedly down the bank, dropping his line. His hat flew from his head and landed on the muddy bank.

Szu Ri heard Gogi cry out. She came out of the house looking for him, but she could not find him. She heard him, however, crying out into the night. She lifted onto the air, wings flapping, searching for Gogi. She found him by the banks of the creak. She flew to his side.

“Gogi! What’s wrong?” Szu Ri asked.

Gogi, in hysterics, looked around. “Szu Ri! He was here! He was here!”

“Who was here?” she asked as she grabbed his trembling hand.

He held her. “Momoki! I saw Momoki! Though, he was as silver, thin and… like a mist.”

Szu Ri looked at Gogi with concern. “But Gogi, Momoki has died.”

Gogi began to tremble more, but now with fright as dreadful thoughts entered his head. “D-do you think I-I saw a g-ghost?”

Szu Ri held Gogi close. “Let’s get back to the house, Gogi.” She patted his hand.

As they walked back, Szu Ri’s concern grew. She knew Gogi was not one with a wild imagination, but she wondered if his heartbreak for his lost friend had driven him to seeing mirages.


Shabar placed his pack of provisions on the back of his mule. He had already outfitted the mule with a small carriage and placed some of his harvest on it.

He turned to Alia and she handed him a flask.

“I’ll be back in a few days, after I’ve sold our extra crops and traded for a few things.”

Alia sighed. “I know why you go, Shabar. Do not insult me with lies.”

Shabar sighed. “I have to know what happened to Albert, what’s happening with the Elephant Crusade.”

Alia nodded. “I’d like to know, as well, but I do not wish to lose you. I’m hoping this little trading trip will quell your desires. But come back to me.” At this she pointed a finger at him, adding emphasis on her words.

“I’ll come back,” he kissed her on the cheek. He then bent and hugged his son and kissed her belly where his second son was growing.

Before he left he told her, “Old Man Arnas knows I’m going. If you need help, go to him just beyond the hills in the next fields.”

Alia nodded.

Shabar pulled forth a crop and started his mule walking.

Alia watched him until Kalavata’s darkness overcame the land.


Sal Igo ran through the great, decorated halls of the Peony Tea House. He had been owner of the tea house for three decades and not once had there been such a large affront against him. People chased after him as he yelled, commanding them to aide him in discovering the whereabouts of the lost coffers. “Whoever did this,” he cried, “must be a master thief!”

The great commotion of he and his followers caused Wu Chan Chu to flick forth her tongue and pull back the door to her room. She stood and approached Sal Igo.

"What is it? What's the problem?" she asked.

"Oh, my champion!" he cried. "The coffers! The Peony's coffers have gone missing! We are broke! Someone has stolen all our money!"

Wu Chan Chu grunted, sighed, then looked at Comet Fox.

Comet Fox was aghast at the accusatory glare Wu Chan Chu gave him. He demanded, "What? Why are you looking at me?"


I hope you enjoyed Act I. Be sure to check back next Friday, the 28th, for Act II!

Friday, August 15, 2008

"A Child of Wonder"

“A Child of Wonder” - A Preview of the Editorial from Issue #12 of If - E - Zine(tm)

It is difficult for me to believe I’ve been publishing If – E – Zine™ for five years now. In those five years I’ve moved three times (including once across the country), watched two Olympics (just witnessed Michael Phelps win his seventh gold and heard he had already won his eighth), watched nearly every game of a World Cup, been best man in two weddings, congratulated three friends on becoming fathers, watched my country re-elect an idiot, went from paying $2 to nearly $5 for a gallon of gas, read more books and watched more movies than I care to admit, got glasses, caught the biggest bass of my life (17-½”; 6.5 lbs.), written a novel, been to two Wrestlemanias, tasted alcohol for the first time, enjoyed several fine cigars, went through treatment for Hepatitis C, hunted for the first time in my life, grew my first tomatoes, attended every event of a local Golden Gloves championship, mowed my first lawn, watched with the world as New Orleans was flooded, went to New Orleans, went to Disneyworld, reconnected with old friends I’ve not seen in a decade or more, watched Sri Lanka nearly get washed away into the sea, said farewell to Arthur C. Clark and Kurt Vonnegut, watched the Giants upset the Pats (and cheered!), watched my Angels win the World Series without me, been rejected by countless publishers and magazines, went from lower-middle class to steeped in poverty and surrounded by neighborhood violence, made new friends, been scared to say what I really thought lest my country invade my home, rowed a boat, practiced yoga, watched Los Angeles burn (some more), learned to crochet, blogged, and ate and slept and done horribly boring domestic things since I published that first issue in August, 2003.

It sounds like I’ve done a lot in five years. I guess I have. But in many ways my life has been quite pedestrian. Through it all has been my little ezine.

If – E – Zine was started so I could practice my writing, to cut my teeth in hopes of making jagged edges into finely pointed fangs.

If – E – Zine was started so I could promote myself without the aide of an agent or PR specialist.

If – E – Zine was started so I could have fun working on it between larger projects, to break up the heaviness elsewhere in life. I think the idea of having fun, of fulfilling my inner geek, of celebrating the things I love speaks to any success the ezine has had these first five years. At the core of If – E – Zine is a fan of science fiction, of horror and of Halloween. A fan that loves the material and history of zines as well as all things speculative, all things filling the world outside human boundaries and the science that pushes at those boundaries; a fan of all things creepy and brimming with wonder.

Wait a minute… creepy? Science fiction? Indeed! For what greater horror-maker is there but science? Perhaps religion? Exorcists and mad scientists abound in horror stories because they bring with them the authority of their respective fields, fields that fill our lives to give us purpose and reason… and a horrifying tale backed by purpose and reason is far more plausible, far more horrifying.

No matter where I go, no matter what I do with my life I will always be that boy growing up in Long Beach, California; watching classic movies on the Family Film Festival hosted by Tom Hatten on KTLA; venturing into books with Gumby; entering the Land of Frooze; enjoying a slice of chocolate cream pie at Millie’s on Redondo; playing in the schoolyard of Horace Mann Elementary.

As I sit here writing this on a yellow legal pad while watching some horror movie on TV just the way I wrote my first story on a yellow legal pad at age eight while watching the annual Twilight Zone marathon, I know I am still that little boy.

If – E – Zine and I are children of wonder.

Thank you for five wonder-filled years.

I’ll get to work on the next five years as soon as I can.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Gettin' Iffy

Contrary to what I had promised last Friday, I will not be posting notes on "The Elephant Crusade" this week. I have steadily working on issue 12 of If - E - Zine: The Free Online Magazine of Thrilling Speculative Fiction! This August If - E - Zine celebrates its fifth birthday. It amazes me I've been working on the ezine for five full years. If you like science fiction, speculative fiction, slipstream fiction, horror, sword & sorcery and all that good, nerdy stuff, you'll probably like If - E - Zine.

So this week, in lieu of notes about "The Elephant Crusade", I instead present to you a video celebrating the first five years of If - E - Zine and some new pictures of Iffy the Ifreet, the new mascot for If - E - Zine.

Fear not dear reader! I will return next with with an all new story continuing the saga where "The Elephant Crusade" left off! Check back next week for Act 1 of "Song of Momoki"!

LINKS: (home to If - E - Zine)
If - E - Zine on MySpace

Friday, August 1, 2008

"The Elephant Crusade" -- Act V


"The Elephant Crusade"
(c) 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


ACT V: Balori Begins His Army

UNEASY BROTHERHOOD: Wherein Akadia Dorn Resigns as Head of the Elephant Crusade; Balori Visits the Grand Bazaar of Tenhar Intent on Murder; An Uneasy Brotherhood in Formed; Sinvergüenza Arrives at the Peony Tea House



Akadia Dorn returned to the Grand Bazaar of Tenhar and his large center from which he managed the Elephant Crusade. His workers greeted him with questions about the Eternal Empress, asking if their work was serving a glorious cause. Akadia could say nothing on the matter. Indeed, he seemed quite reserved to many of his people, but they soon decided their employer was tired from the long trip and therefore in no mood to converse on business.

That night he had dinner with his old friend Macia Thrace. They ate a fine meal of breads and couscous with lamb. Macia brought with him as a gift a bottle of fine palm wine.

Macia had missed his friend Akadia and said so. "It would seem we rarely have time to carouse together," said the former-mercenary-turned-river-pilot. "I am always on my boat ferrying people about and you are off on grand adventures across foreign countries and command teams of elephants. We should have dinner like this more often."

Akadia simply stroked his braided beard. He ate only lightly. He drank heavily. When the meal was finished the two friends found themselves drunk and lounging in Akadia's plush living quarters within the center - a room filled with extravagant silk pillows of bright colors - and talking.

"Tell me, friend, how is the Eternal Empress?" Macia asked. "Is she as beautiful as the traveling merchants would have us believe?"

"More so," Akadia admitted.

"Did she treat you well?" Macia asked.

"Better than I could have expected," Akadia said, then added with some sadness in his voice, "Better than I deserve."

Macia squinted, considering his friend. "If all went so well, why do you return as the forlorn hero?"

Akadia sighed. He looked at his friend. He said, "What we do here is wrong."

Macia took time away from his boat to be with his friend. Together the two spent the next three days together. Akadia used his time to get drunk and tell Macia of what he had witnessed in the land of the Bizo. Macia spent his time tending to his Akadia.



Balori the Towering Elephant, knowing not where else to go, came into the Grand Bazaar of Tenhar to find the land of his people. Torn was he for his desire to fulfill his quest for the Eternal Empress, but after some thinking decided his time would be best spent killing those that commanded the Elephant Crusade.

He wandered the shops and souks of the bazaar. Not many turned their heads to eye the elephant, but a few did - in part due to his size and in part in desire to capture this creature and sell him to the Elephant Crusade. Few, however, had the courage to even speak of the matter and none could will themselves to attack such a large creature.

After asking a few merchants and getting directions, Balori found the large and elaborately carved center for the Elephant Crusade and entered, smashing his way through the doors and shoving workers aside.

"I demand to see the one in charge here!" Balori bellowed.

The workers scattered, afraid of this giant elephant that spoke as a man and was so tall his ear brushed the rafters of the tall ceiling of the foyer.

"Bring the man in charge before me!" Balori cried out again. "I am Balori Shongoyo of the Elephants of Ife! It is my people you capture and enslave! I come to free them from your tyranny! I've come to kill those in charge!"

When no one came forward, Balori produced his three weapons from his belt. With his battle axe he began chopping at the pillars that had been hand-carved with scenes of the Elephant Crusade. With two strikes, his axe was already halfway through the first pillar. A third and final blow sent the elephant ear blade through the pillar.

"If no one comes forward, I will kill you all!" The center shook with Balori's rumbling voice.

Hearing the commotion and fearing for his friend's life, Macia Thrace left Akadia Dorn - who had passed out - and presented himself before the angry elephant.

"I am Macia Thrace," said he. "And I am the one in charge here."

Rage welled within Balori's heart. He thought of Tafari's suicide, of his mother's murder and he cried out, "I will squash you under my foot! You deserve no less than death for what you have done to my people!"

So great was Balori's fury, it shook Akadia from his drunken stupor and he also came forward.

"Do not fight me," Balori told Akadia. "I will kill your master and you would not stop me."

"He is not my master," Akadia said, rubbing his head and cringing at the noise. "I am the master of the Elephant Crusade. Macia is merely a friend who did not wish to see me harmed."

Macia found all his old mercenary ways return as he took a defensive stance against Balori, knowing he could not kill this large creature but readying himself to leap away or push Akadia out of the way.

Balori shook his head. His ears flapped with agitation and confusion. At last he made a decision and spoke, "Do not confuse me. Your ruse will nto work. I will kill you both."

"Go ahead," Akadia said, sighing deeply and looking up at the elephant. "I deserve no less. But let my friend go. He has no part in this. He is a sailor come to pay a visit."

Akadia admission of guilt confused Balori. "You know what you do to my people, yet you carry on with it?"

Akadia said, "No. I knew not the outcome of the Elephant Crusade. I've just come from a visit to the Bizo and saw the atrocities there. I knew nothing of what went on under the Eternal Empress' rule. The things I saw disgusted me. I've returned and I will resign from my position. If you come from Ife, you truly have a right to kill me. I will not fight you. I will lie down and allow your vengeance to come. It is what I deserve."

Balori excitedly said, "At last! My people will be free!"

Akadia shook his head. "No they won't."

"How's that?" Balori asked. "If you are head of the Elephant Crusade and I kill you, then the Elephant Crusade topples."

"No it won't," defended Akadia. "The Empress will find someone to take my place. Killing me for vengeance is right and just. Killing me to end the Elephant Crusade is foolish. It would not end with me."

Fearing Akadia's words true, Balori lowered his weapons, returning them to his belt. He sighed. He nearly wept. He said, "I've been sent by the Eternal Empress to rediscover the stars. She said she would release my people, set them free if I were to return the stars to the Heavens. But how can one do such a thing? I am no god, I am a mere elephant. Thought I my best chance to end the suffering of my people was to kill you, but now I see the truth in your words. Your death will accomplish nothing but to quench my own bloodlust." At this Balori looked at Akadia and said, "Which is not a matter that is yet out of the question."

Akadia nodded. "Again, do as you wish with me. I deserve it."

Macia, unable to remain silent, said, "How can you say such things?"

"I told you of the horrors I saw in Bizo," said Akadia. "I am at the heart of it, no matter how ignorant I was of the matter. My hands are just as bloody as the Empress'."

Disgusted with the ongoing talking, needing to think things through a bit more, Balori harrumphed and turned to leave the center.

"Elephant!" Akadia called out. "Where do you go? I'm here! Kill me! Please, I beg of you! I deserve it!"

"Bah!" Balori spat. "The greatest punishment I could deliver would be to let you live so that you may feel your pain and despair."

"Do you go to find the stars then?" Akadia asked.

Balori sighed. "I suppose I've no other choice."

"And where will you start?" Akadia approahced.

Balori shook his head. "I was told a black tentacled man stole away with one of the jewels of Zingtai. Would you know him?"

Akadia shook his head. "No... but... tell me of this jewel."

"It's large and green like an emerald," said Balori.

Akadia and Macia immediately recognized the description. "We have seen it!" claimed Akadia.

Balori's eyes widened. "Where?"

"Here, in the bazaar. It was sold to a man who sent it to his master some place called the Plain of Adoration!"

Balori approached the tow men. Macia backed away a little as the elephant drew near.

"When did this transpire?" Balori demanded.

"Not long ago," Akadia answered. "Perhaps two weeks or more."

"Could this be the jewel I seek?" Balori asked.

"I doubt there can be many giant emeralds," Akadia said.

Balori nodded. He turned to leave once more, saying, "I suppose then I go to retrieve the Jewel of Zingtai from this master of the Plain of Adoration."

"Elephant!" Akadia called once again, running out the smashed doors to yell after Balori. "If you do not wish to kill me and if you return to your quest to search for the stars, though I may not deserve it, I ask for a chance at redemption. Let me join you. Once I was a pirate and a soldier for hire. Perhaps my skills would be useful to you."

Balori looked back, harrumphed and walked off in anger.



Balori returned to the center the next day. Again the employees scattered. Again Akadia presented himself to the elephant.

Balori, nervous, ears twitching and hands fidgeting, said, "I've received martial training for this task I've been sent to do. Both of my masters thought spilling blood would be a necessary thing, or at least an unavoidable thing."

Balori sighed and fidgeted as he spoke with Akadia in the foyer of the center, shifting his weight from one leg to the next. "Sometimes I wonder if I'll need a small army. Returning the stars to the Heavens seems an enormous task, even for one enormous as I am."

Akadia listened attentively, set to not interrupt.

"I... I was wondering," said Balori. "If you would like to join me. Your skills may prove useful."

Akadia smiled, "I am at your side."

Balori nodded. "Good, but if we are to work together, we must do so as brothers. I cannot afford fighting an enemy only to discover a friend is also an enemy. Any disloyalty will be punished swiftly and with agonizing death."

"I would not betray you," replied Akadia. "I could not bring harm to another elephant again. If I displease you for any reason, you've still the right to take my life and I would not fight it."

Akadia sent word to the Eternal Empress he had resigned, instructing his messenger to state, "Akadia Dorn resigns because of the crimes you commit against nature, against the Cosmos, and against elephants. He will never harm another elephant again."

Akadia left the center behind, never looking back and idly chatting with his new friend Balori.

As the two gathered a few supplies, as Akadia had insisted, Akadia also suggested, "We should seek more aide."

"From whom? Know you trustworthy persons?" asked Balori.

Akadia nodded. "At least one, perhaps two."

That night a tremendous thunderstorm rolled over the bazaar and indeed all of Tenhar. Akadia left Balori's side, who was camped outside the bazaar in a makeshift shelter he had made himself with palm fronds and mud. He came to the dock where Macia Thrace's boat was tied, where Macia himself lived on the boat.

Akadia boarded the boat to find Macia lounging and drinking palm wine.

"Some storm, eh?" Macia asked. "It'll kill my business tomorrow, but the farmers will be happy."

Akadia, not wanting to chat, said, "I've resigned from the Elephant Crusade. I'm going with Balori to restore the stars and free his people."

"What foolishness is this?" Macia demanded as he stood.

"It is no foolishness and I am no fool. Restoring the stars will be no easy task. Balori needs help, our help."

Macia grimaced. "Are you asking me to throw in with the two of you?"


"Bah!" Macia scoffed. "I'll have none of it!"

"But we'll need people like you, people of your skill. Balori thinks he may need an army."

"Then let him hire one. I am no longer a mercenary and neither are you!"

Akadia sighed. "Whatever is behind the disappearance of the stars, it cannot be anything but wicked."

"Get off my boat!" Macia demanded.

Akadia did as he was told. He stood on the dock in the heavy rain. He looked at his friend still standing on the boat. He said, "He needs our help."

"For what?" Macia asked. "To purge the world of evil? The world is evil. It has always been filled with evil, as have the hearts of men. Whatever we do with our lives will never change that. Restoring the stars to the Heavens will not cleanse the world. Helping the changed beast will not cleanse your hands."

"Perhaps not, but to stand by and let the evil reign is to be as evil," Akadia attacked.

Macia stood a long time looking at his friend getting soaked in the downpour. The truth of his heart came forth as he spoke, "Saw I once before a jewel take the life of a friend. I'll not see it again. Go."

Akadia stared at his friend a long time. Thunder shook the Heavens as he said, "We have to do something." He then turned and left the dock.

Macia was alone on the boat. He watched as his friend walked from the river's shore. Rage welled within him. He picked up a crate and threw it across the boat, crying out in anger as it smash against the deck.

Lightning strike after lightning strike hit the ground nearby.

Macia breathed heavily, almost panting with anger. He went to the front of the boat, kneeling to a trap door in the deck. He lifted the door. Hidden within was a large and heavy war hammer. It was old and long unused. Macia pulled the hammer out, placed it to his forehead, his eyes closed. He whispered, "Never did I want to use you again."

He stood suddenly, left the boat, left the dock, following and finally catching up to his friend Akadia Dorn.



"I have one more thing to do," Akadia said the next morning as he left the camp where Macia and Balori were busily packing up supplies.

Akadia entered the streets of the bazaar and wandered, asking questions of souk owners and regulars, trying to find one particular man. When Akadia finally found his man, he was sweeping mud and water out of the souk where he worked as assistant. Akadia approached him

"Negkendra," Akadia said.

Negkendra looked up to see Akadia. Unsure of what the head of the Elephant Crusade wanted, afraid he may be in trouble, Negkendra decided the courtesy given to a customer was his best approach. "How can my master help you today, sir?"

Akadia placed his hands on Negkendra's shoulders. With some effort he said, "I went to see the Bizo. I saw what you told me to see. I've resigned as head of the Elephant Crusade."

Yet uncertain as to Akadia motives, Negkendra said, "I'm sorry."

"No. Don't be," replied Akadia. "I've come for you."

Negkendra backed away, breaking Akadia's hands from his shoulders.

Understanding the former mahout's fears, Akadia said, "No, no! Not to harm you. I've come because we have joined with an elephant called Balori-"

"Balori?" Negkendra recognized the name.

"Yes! He quests to return the stars to the Heavens. If he does, the Eternal Empress will free the elephants. I've come to ask you to join us."

Negkendra wondered at Akadia's words. He then let the broom in his hand fall. He left with Akadia.

"Where do you go? Come back here! There is much work to be done!" cried the souk's owner.

"I quit!" Negkendra called back.

The former mahout followed Akadia as he bought for him a horse and a few supplies, listening to the tale of Balori and the Jewel of Zingtai. Then the two men returned to the camp. When Negkendra saw Balori, he was in awe.

"This is the other man you spoke of?" anger entered Balori's voice.

"Yes," confirmed Akadia.

"He was a mahout!" Balori raged.

"At one time, yes," Akadia said. "He was the First Mahout, but he gave it up."

Balori thought of Negkendra standing up to Ghalib, of telling him to quit beating on the already dead Tafari. The elephant recognized some good in the mahout-turned-sweeper, but the idea of traveling again with a mahout did not settle well with him. He said nothing of it, however, vowing that he would have to perhaps kill all three men one day should they betray him or do anything wrong against him or his people or hinder his quest.

Balori spat out his cloud and mounted it. Akadia Dorn, Macia Thrace and Negkendra mounted their horses. They began their journey together.

As they rode, Negkendra asked Akadia, "Is this the way to the Plain of Adoration?"

Akadia shrugged. "We don't know. We will follow rumors and the words of locals until we find the way."

"The jewel that you saw, was it really the Jewel of Zingtai? Will be at the Plain of Adoration?" Negkendra asked.

Again Akadia shrugged. "We don't know."

"If we know so little, why do we set out?"

Akadia looked the former mahout, but before he could speak, Macia gave the answer, "Because we have to do something."

Negkendra silently nodded in agreement.

When Negkendra got the chance, he rode alongside Balori who found their progress slow. He could fly faster than the horses could run, but had determined not to go to the Plain of Adoration alone. The elephant battled with himself for patience. More than that, he knew he was very close to the homeland of his people, close to Ife. he wanted desperately to see the country, but his desire to free his people and this new word of a jewel that may be the jewel he sought pushed him onward and away from Ife. balori was a battlefield of emotions at the start of the journey.

"It is good to see you again, Balori," Negkendra said. "How did you come to be like this?"

Balori harrumphed, then said, "The alchemist Albert made me this way."

Negkendra nodded. "I always knew him to be a good man."



Long had it been since Shabar received word from the city. When a traveling merchant passed his form one day, Shabar stopped her. "Dear lady, where do you go?" he asked.

"I go to sell my wares in the city of the Eternal Empress. Would you be interested?" said the merchant.

Shabar shook his head. "No, but I would be interested in ending word with you to a friend named Albert. He is well known within the city and should be easy to find. I would pay you a small coin now and, if you return this way with word from him, I would pay you with more."

The merchant agreed and she set about her way.

For four days Shabar worked his fields and saw no sign of the returning merchant. He wondered if she had made off with his coin, never to return this way, but did not feel bad as he had paid her only a small amount.

On the morning of the fifth day, as Shabar was working his field, the merchant returned and hailed to him from the road. Shabar came to her side and said with a smile, "I must admit, I thought you may not return."

"Business went well," said the merchant. "I stayed on a while longer than I had intended."

"What news have you for me?" Shabar asked of her.

"This friend Albert, was he an alchemsit?"

"Yes! He is the very one," Shabar confirmed. "Is he well?"

The merchant's face grew grim, knowing this farmer had not heard the news. "I fear I must tell you your friend is dead."

"What?" Shabar was shocked, but reasoned that the alchemist was quite old.

"I could not confirm the tale one way or another, but rumors say he was murdered by some fish called Fei Li Mi within the Empress' palace," said the merchant.

Shabar's mouth worked, but no words came to him. So strongly had he felt the news that he stepped backwards once, as if he had received a blow in a fight.

"These are only rumors," the merchant tried to soothe, "but they were persistent. And there was no other Albert I could find."

Shabar thanked the merchant, paid her a small pouch of coins and watched her go. He did not move, standing at staring after her until she could no longer be seen. He then entered his home, sat at a table and asked his wife for some water.

Alia did as he asked, then sat at his side. She was once more pregnant. Their son played on the floor nearby. She asked him, "Dear Shabar, what bothers you so early in the morning?"

Shabar looked at her and said, "Albert was murdered by a servant of the Eternal Empress."

Alia cried for the old alchemist. She had loved him so. At last, she asked, "Why has she done this?"

"That I do not know," admitted Shabar, adding, "though I wish I could go discover the truth of the matter on my own."

"No!" Alia cried out. "You have a son here and another child on the way. They need you. I need you. Do not ever speak of leaving us again, even for a small respite."

Shabar consoled his weeping wife, taking her into his arms. "Quiet yourself, dear Alia. I would not leave you," he promised.



On went Sinvergüenza across many countries. When he had amassed a collection of fifty or more men and women who would be warriors in Yaska Selith's army, he would send them heading for the Plain of Adoration. But a last time he let the warriors collect and follow until there were nearly two hundred at his side.

Then he came at last to the Peony Tea House. Long did he stand before its painted green lacquered walls with fine details and pink trim so light one might consider it white if not glared upon with some small intensity. Men, women, gods and Gifted Ones flowed easily through its door. It's was an immense structure, especially for a tea house, but Sinvergüenza knew this was hardly a tea house at all. Wondered he if the same old bookies and gamblers, drunks and fighters resided within.

He turned to his chosen second, a woman named Laskmana, and said, "Go to the Plain of Adoration. Find Yaska Selith and tell him I have made it to the Peony Tea House. Tell him I will return soon with fine warriors to fill his ranks, the best warriors the Heavens and the world below it have to offer. Tell him I hope to please him."

Laskmana nodded and lead the hired soldiers away.

Sinvergüenza stood alone before the Peony Tea House. It had been a long time since he had been here. He had been a young boy, barely out of childhood, when he had first come here.

A man, poor and in rags, passed by Sinvergüenza, looking at him and then inspecting the tea house as Sinvergüenza was. "Quite a beautiful thing, isn't it?" the man in rags asked. "You'd never suspect what goes on inside by the looks of it out here."

Sinvergüenza nodded.

The man in rags entered the tea house.

Sinvergüenza followed.



Dark was the Land of the Midnight Sun. So dark was the land it seemed the captive of eternal night. Black was the land. Black was the sky. No horizon made itself visible. Its only feature was the large, oppressively glaring, blood-red sun that shone high-noon at all times.

It was this land that Momoki the Marmoset came into. He awoke in new form. His eyes were now blazing red as the Midnight Sun and flicked occasionally with solar flares. His silk hat, too, that Szu Ri had made and Gogi had given him long ago glowed with a fury of red. The rest of his body was as thick black smoke as though he smoldered, as if a shadow of his former self. Momoki looked at his new form in wonder and fear.

A demon appeared before him, gurgling with ugly laughter. The demon appeared as a giant shadow. Only its eyes and a pair of horns were not black, instead were brilliant red as the Midnight Sun and the eyes and hat of Momoki.

The sight of this demon made Momoki cringe in fear, backing away.

"Fear you me?" the demon lowered its head and asked of Momoki. The demon's voice was low and caused the air to rumble with thunder.

Momoki gave no reply. He did not know this land. He feared it, he feared the demon.

"Good!" bellowed the demon, laughing maniacally. "I am Radiant Gui. Welcome to your new home, Momoki. Welcome to the Land of the Midnight Sun!" Again the demon bellowed with laughter, causing Momoki to scurry away.

Radiant Gui followed him. "There is no escape," said the demon.

Momoki found the courage to ask, "Will you eat me?"

Once more Radiant Gui laughed, but now so loudly the black ground shook beneath Momoki. "How I wish!" cried Radiant Gui. The demon bent low and said, "But the Cosmos have greater plans for you than I. How sad it is that even I, overseer to the Land of the Midnight Sun, one of the very layers of Hell, should have to answer to the Cosmos, but I do."

Radiant Gui brought his face down to almost touching Momoki's form. Momoki shook with fright. He could now see the demon's face was that of a mangled horse with jagged teeth inside a salivating mouth. "Know you what you have become, little Momoki?"

Momoki said nothing, staring in fear and wanting desperately for his eyes to go shut to block out this nightmare world, but he found he could not close his eyes. Indeed, his glowing red eyes were now lidless and eternally staring.

Radiant Gui squatted near Momoki. "You have become the First Regret. The Cosmos charged you with the care of Taliesin, but your desires lead you elsewhere. You fell. You strayed from your purpose. But instead of killing you outright, the Cosmos wish you to be trained, to become Master of the Chamber of Despair and every now and again, whenever the Cosmos wish, you will gather soldiers together who have died prematurely or without their lessons learned and lead them on one final, great battle.

"You are lucky, Momoki. Not all creatures can find a new path. They either fulfill their destiny or die horribly following another. You have been given a second chance and a second destiny, a second path." Radiant Gui did not say this without some jealousy. He added, "Do not fail the Cosmos a second time."

As he spoke this, three baboons appeared behind him, slowly coming to rest beside the demon. Each baboon was of solid substance - one of silver, one of gold and one of amethyst. Their teeth were wicked and long and they salivated as the demon. They made small grunting sounds that further frightened Momoki.

Radiant Gui laughed. "How I love my charge in life," he said. He used a single finger to pet each baboon who, in turn, screeched pleasure and excitement for the tortures to come.

Momoki screamed in horror as the demon reached out and closed a clawed hand around him. His small smoky form shivered within the colossal hand as he filled with anguish, despair, sorrow and regret.


That's it, folks! Thanks for reading "The Elephant Crusade". Be sure to check back in a week or two when I will begin posting the next story, "Song of Momoki"!