Friday, May 29, 2009

"Broken Sorrows" -- Act IV

I present to you today the final act of "Broken Sorrows". I'll be back in two weeks with the all new tale, "Broken Steel"!

Enjoy Act IV

"Broken Sorrows" copyright 2009 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.

COMES THE DEMON: Wherein Zom Loa Discovers Miyahi While Traveling; Zom Loa Returns to His Homeland; Ketsueki Sato is Reborn; A Great Evil Union is Planned


Politely had Zom Loa declined an offer to return to King Aniabas' side as his kingdom's storyteller. He instead to carry on his life of wandering the world, meeting people and collecting tales. Some ran from him in fear, a few made true friends of themselves and offered him shelter and food in his wayfaring.

Zom Loa came into an old country filled with rolling hills and ancient purple mountains. He wondered if the Misty Hands of the Cosmos had first visited here when shaping the world. The hilly, rocky terrain made the going difficult, but when he came to a slightly beaten path along the face of a mountain adorned with carved wooden statues, he ignored the difficulties as he was much intrigued by the maker of the statuary.

When he rounded a massive stone, Zom Loa came to stand before a shallow cave in which an elderly man sat with a pudgy round face, squinting small eyes and an amiable smile. The old man sat before a large piece of ailanthus. He sat with carving tools in his hands and on either side of the cave's entrance was a lone, beautifully trimmed and kept Serissa.

"Excuse me," Zom Loa bowed politely. "I did not know this was your home."

The old man's smile grew wider.

"Come, come," said the old man. "Come and be welcomed here. I get visitors more often than you'd think, though not as often as I'd always like. Come sit with me, I shall make us some tea and biscuits."

Zom Loa sat upon a finely crafted, well oiled and surprisingly comfortable seat carved from the trunk of an ash. He watched as the old made mixed some old flour and oats with water and a few other things, pounded the dough into flat round bits of bread and cooked them on the inside wall of an iron stove. He then placed a kettle of tea atop the stove to simmer and warm.

"How did you ever get that stove up here?" asked Zom Loa.

"Oh!" said the old man with glee, "I brought it when I came here nearly two decades ago or so. I much much stronger then as I had as yet to retire from my old life."

The old man, smiling, approached Zom Loa and introduced himself. "I am Miyahi the Carver."

Zom Loa could not help but think the old man as anything but adorable. He bowed slightly from his seated position and said, "I am Zom Loa..." at this he hesitated. He did not wish to spread the name that had been given to him by so many others, by those that feared him for his darkened, immortal form. He did not want to say that he was Black Tentacle. Instead, he finished by saying, "Zome Loa the Storyteller."

Miyahi nodded. "I am happy you are here, Zom Loa."

"I am, too. I needed the rest."

"Did you come to have me carve some idol for you? Or do you pass by my cave by coincidence?"

"Coincidence has brought me here."

"Ah! But is there such a thing as coincidence? In my years I've learned many things and one such thing is that when you arrive somewhere, often it is as though you've been placed there by the Misty Hands of the Cosmos for some purpose. At least, those are the ramblings and babblings that go on in my head as I meditate over my carvings."

Zom Loa repeated an oft spoken curse, "How wicked the ways of the Cosmos."

"Things are not always as wicked as they appear," said Miyahi. He grabbed from the stove two helpings of the flat bread he had made. He handed Zom Loa one and Zom Loa found it to be much too hot to hold. He placed it on his knee and soon wished he hadn't.

Miyahi then poured for them two cups of tea.

They spoke as they ate their bread and drank their tea.

Zom Loa found Miyahi eying his tentacles. They recoiled as he tried to hide the, though he knew he could not.

"Do not fear me," said Miyahi. "We all have our darker halves to contend with. It is not how dark our hearts can grow, but how we contend with ourselves when we make ourselves our enemy that must be judged."

Zom Loa replied, "But often we are judged not by our actions, but our dark selves."

Miyahi lost his smile for a moment, but only for a moment, and he said, "You're quite wise for one that appears so young. Are you a Blessed Immortal?"

Zom Loa nodded. "Though I did not begin life that way."

Feeling the conversation drawing stale, Miyahi said, "You're a storyteller then?"

Zom Loa's spirits perked up. "Yes, I am. I've told the greatest tales to kings and serfs alike. I travel now collecting more."

"Good! I love a good tale well told!" exclaimed Miyahi.

"Don't we all?" asked Zom Loa with a smile. "And you're a carver of woods? Your statuary is keen, finely detailed and of the utmost beauty. I've not seen such fine carving in all my life."

At this Miyahi frowned, but only for a moment. He smiled again and said, "I did not gain my name by carving wood, rather I began carving wood due to my name."

He saw Zom Loa look at him with questioning eyes. He explained, "My name comes from an older age, an age when I was younger, an age that saw me a far angrier person. You see, I was a fighter before I came here to make statues. And a good! I fought with swords, all kinds of swords. I fought in duels, in battles, atop castle precipices, in the darkest nights before the stars were restored to the Heavens above. And in all those fights, not once did your friend Miyahi ever loose."

"That's quite an accomplishment," said Zom Loa.

"Not one to necessarily be prideful of," warned Miyahi. "In all my fights, I killed nearly a full two-thirds of all those I fought. And after I struck that final blow, always would I carve my name into their flesh with my blade's tip.

"Hence, I am the Carver."

Zom Loa nodded and watched the old man closely. He now saw the rippling muscles beneath his clothing, betraying a younger, finer, athletic man. A man that had been a refined killer.

Feeling the swift edge of guilt oft accompanying defeat, Zom Loa said, "I've not been entirely honest with you, Miyahi. I am not so much known as Zom Loa the Storyteller, but rather as Zom Loa the Black Tentacle. I've come by this name for obvious reasons. But I've come by the tentacles through, perhaps, not the most righteous of ways. They were a gift, of sorts, from a demon called the Devourer. Now everywhere I roam, for every kind soul I meet such as yourself, I am met by a hundred more that fear and hate me.

"What's more, this one called Devourer foretold a prophecy of me. He told me he could see all ages, all times at once and that one day I would unleashed a mighty evil upon this world in the form of a furious demon. I thought, perhaps, when I had lost a certain thing and by chance it had made a demon-dog the prophecy had been fulfilled. But the demon-dog was not a true demon and as vile and wretched as it was, it was not truly inwardly evil.

"Now I spend sleepless nights pondering my fate. I fear the day to come. I hesitate..." at this Zom Loa's eyes grew wet as his voice trailed off. He blicked away the tears fighting to be set free, looked at Miyahi and said with great honesty, "I've thought of ending my life to avoid this day, but I fought so hard to become Immortal, too hard to throw it all away. And yet... I am uncertain. Perhaps I fret for no reason. This prophet was, after all, not necessarily a creature to be trusted easily."

Miyahi considered Zom Loa for a long time. At last he said, "Then we understand one another."

"But now you're here," said Zom Loa with some discomfort. "And it would appear as though you live a happy life."

Miyahi smiled greatly. "Now I am here. Now I am a new kind of carver and I've a new way of life. I've set my blades to another use."

"This gives me hope," Zom Loa confessed.

Miyahi said, "You must spend the night, I insist. Restore some of your strength you've lost on your travels. I could use the company."

Zom Loa politely accepted. He spent two days and nights with Miyahi. In return for his kindness and warmth, Zom Loa aided the old man in retrieving wood from the mountainside, wood with which he would use to carve more statues.

And on the third day, as Zom Loa prepared to leave, packing some bread Miyahi had made him for his travels, the old man came to him and asked him to witness something with him.

Zom Loa agreed to do as Miyahi asked.

The old man dug under a bench he had carved himself upon which he stored tools. From out of the dirt ground there he pulled three long wood boxed finely adorned with gold and carvings from an older age. One by one, Miyah placed the three boxes upon the bench and opened them, revealing the contents within.

Zom Loa stared in wonder.

Within the first box were two of the best-made cruciform short swords he had ever seen, far superior than those he had seen used in the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration. They glimmered and glowed with life of their own.

Within the other two boxes rested a sword each. The first was a short barong, thick in blade and heavy with scabbard. The last was a dao, broad in the blade with a red bit of cloth descending from the handle.

Miyahi looked to Zom Loa. He said, "I want you to have them."

Zom Loa shook his head. "I couldn't. These are fine weapons and you have such a rich history with them."

"That is the very reason I want them gone," explained Miyahi. "You won't be required to keep them. Give them away or bury them, do as you wish with them."

"I couldn't," Zom Loa replied.

"Please," Miyahi begged. "Do for me that which I've not been able to do for myself. Rid me of these swords!"

So desperate had Miyahi's plea been, Zom Loa could not refuse. He took up the swords within their scabbards. He placed the dao and barong at his back. The two short sword he tied to his waist.

Leaving the sword boxes behind, Zom Loa trekked across the mountains, making an old man happier than he had ever been.



Zom Loa the Black Tentacle moved slowly across the face of the mountain until he finally came to its foot and left it behind for good. The country on the other side was a country he knew well. It had been the country of his childhood.

He found his old home. It was decrepit and fallen as it had caved it and been blown or washed away by harsh rains and hard winds. The remaining crumbled walls were painted reddish brown and wind blasted with dirt and dust. He touched a wall, feeling the warmth of an age long ago when a fire burned beyond a stone hearth within a fireplace his father had built himself. A gust came to the land, blowing his robes about his form and he closed his eyes, feeling with the wind his brother's laughter as they ran and played in neighboring fields. Gilden sunlight danced upon the caked and cracked, drought-ridden land here. Zom Loa was dark shades of blue and black with yellowed walrus skull against a red landscape.

His eyes opened and he looked around. Once all this land, he could remember, had been as green as the emerald he had once stolen from Zingtai's wing. Now, without care, everything was dead.

Zom Loa stood amidst death and wondered at it.

His black tentacles whipped out, one after another, pulling him along as he explored the land, calling forth memories as a sorcerer call upon the elements.

He came at last to a spot he remember with some haunting sorrow. He could not quite remember his reason for being sad here right off, but eventually ferreted out a memory of his brother condemning him for playing with a wooden statue and idolizing great tales of Blessed Ones.

Zom Loa looked about and when he thought he had found a spot, he pulled free from its scabbard the barong and used its blade to dig in the hard ground. He dug with great fervor, as though propelled by something beyond memory. He dug until he recovered from the land his beloved carved wooden statue of a many-horned demon. It stared at him, an old familiar friend left unseen for nearly a full generation. Its mouth gaped at him, as though wanting to speak but unable to move. So many moments of his young life had been lost studying this small idol, wondering at it.

Zom Loa was an idolater. He loved artifacts with character and history. He loved tales of the weird, the bold, the heroic and had had the chance to live his own such tales. And now he was reunited with his first idol.

It made him think of his latest idols, namely the swords. But then his mind went to another thing, a small thing he had obtained upon the Plain of Adoration.

He reached into his travel bag and pulled from it a much smaller bag and from that he pulled a small bit of cloth bond tightly with twine. He untied the cloth and opened it, revealing within the tiny, oddly living Ruby Bug.

He looked at his old demon idol.

He looked to the Ruby Bug, almost introducing them to one another.

He again looked at the carved demon, at its gaping mouth. He wondered.

He took the Ruby Bug and placed it within the demon's mouth. It fit perfectly, though tightly, as though they had been made for one another.

The many-horned demon and the Ruby Bug came together and to Zom Loa's astonishment, the demon began to grow. The statue's horns flicked out as wicked thorns, stabbing at his palm so he dropped the thing.

On grew the demon, its form cracking and popping as dry wood bent and stretched, growing taller until it was twice the size of a man. It became fully animated, fully living, breathing, aware and cried out as if in agony and pain.

So afraid was Zom Loa that he forgot his wounded palm and picked up his unsheathed sword. He need not assume the creature before him was harmful and wicked, for he knew the Ruby Bug had once before made another vile beast.

Zom Loa's black tentacles whipped out swiftly, pulling him to the creature as it kneeled in pain. He plunged the sword into the creature's left side.

The demon of wood cried out, wincing, unseeing. His flesh was so hard and dry the tip of the short sword snapped off within its side.

Shocked by this, Zom Loa dropped the broken sword. Fearful, so much afraid was Zom Loa, he fled the countryside. As he fled, he wondered if this had been the demon within the Devourer's prophecy. He wondered at the creature he left behind. He wondered at what horrors it could and would commit. He also wondered at his own value, his own life, wondered if he too was a horrible creature that should be exorcised from the world.

The wood demon's cries died as it grew used to its form. Yet, one other heard him and decided to answer the cries.



Bound to the roots of Yggdrasil, chained with boulders about his form and poison dripping to his face, Loki squirmed in the agony his fellow gods had cursed him to. He winced, pain striking deep into his form. Eternally he waited for his day to break free the chains and kill his tormentors.

But that day was yet to come.

And so on writhed Loki until, hearing a distant cry, another one's pain and knowing instantly with Heavenly Wisdom the name of the creature and his connection to all things, Loki at last ignored his own toils to listen. As he listened, he heard the sounds of a demon reborn.

Loki closed his eyes and soon was projected into the world of mortals as a stag crossing the wastelands of a red, hardened, forgotten country.

In the distance the wood demon's eyes broke free from rooted lids, flaunting eyes of solid ruby red that churned as bloody red tides. Within the fiend's form the Ruby Bug flooded, becoming liquid blood as it had once been, flowing through veiny grain to give life, true life, to this wooden creature.

The demon hungered for blood, far more than the small Ruby Bug could give. It spied a lone jackrabbit poking its head from out of a nearby hole in the ground. The demon grew long wooden tentacles, much like roots. One such root flung itself outwardly with wicked speed to stab at the jackrabbit. The root pierced the animal's neck and soon the root coiled close to the demon, where it ate the rabbit and drank of its blood.

As the animal's blood filled the demon's form, the wood softened with wetness and limbered.

Wanting more blood, more nourishment, the demon hunted. It soon spied a great stag coming on the horizon. It lay in wait behind a tree and when the stag drew near, its many tentacles whipped out to grasp the stag.

But the stag cried out in a language the demon could understand. Before its very eyes, the stag transmuted into a small, man-sized form of Loki.

"Please, do not kill me!" Loki begged. "I am no animal to be hunted! I am a god, a Blessed One such as you! I've come to help you!"

Uncertain, the demon did not kill the man, though he did not let him go. In a raspy, dusty voice it said, "Explain yourself, sorcerer."

Loki fought with the root at his neck. "I am Loki, son of Farbauti and Laufey. I've come for I know who and what you truly are. And I can help you in your presently confused state."

The demon thought a moment and memories came flooding upon his wooden mind as the Ruby Bug flowed through him. He looked to Loki with his churning red eyes and said, "Once I was a demon. A true demon. The master of the Cottonwood Chamber. Now..."

The demon's voice trailed off as he let go of Loki and eyed his new form.

He asked of Loki, "What am I now? What have I become?"

Loki rubbed his throat soothingly. He said, "Something new, yet very much the same."

The demon understood at once. He introduced himself, "I am Ketsueki Sato, former master of the Cottonwood Chamber. Now I am the same Ketsueki Sato, but reborn in a new form. I also remember vaguely being a dog, perhaps a Hound of the Many Hells. I am uncertain. How did I come to be this way?"

Like sighed. He asked, "What do you remember of your former life? Do you remember how you were ended?"

Ketsueki Sato searched his mind. "Yes, I remember. I remember my former life in every detail. Only the Hell Hound comes to me as a dream. I was destroyed by a fish-god and his companions, a frog demi-goddess and a fox god."

"You meant to use them to usurp the Yama Kings of the Many Hells," reminded Loki.

"I did indeed. But I was betrayed and bested by my servants."

Ketsueki Sato growled with furious anger.

At this Loki grinned. He said, "Could I assume you would like your vengeance?"

Again the demon growled. "I would eat the fish-god, the damnable Xiao-tep that struck the final killing blow against me, and I would drink the blood of his friends."

"Then do so. They remain very much alive and in this world."

Ketsueki Sato clenched his fists. "They remain living as I have died?"

Loki nodded. Hoping to play on the demon's jealousy, he said, "They did indeed. And each has had a most wonderful life."

Ketsueki Sato cried out in anger once more. "I'll kill them! All three of them! And any family or friends they have made!"

Loki, somewhat afraid of the demon's rage, tried to calm him. "Soothe yourself, demon. And do not go off seeking vengeance in this new form."

Loki drew closer and rapped a knuckle on Ketsueki's forearm. It thudded as hollow wood.

Ketsueki backed away, looking disgusted at Loki for having touched him.

"I would suspect your new form has its limitations and weaknesses. Surely a decent campfire would consume you. No, I'm afraid your brute force of your former life is gone."

"I'll muster enough strength to kill them all," defied Ketsueki.

"Perhaps," said Loki. "But perhaps not. Perhaps another approach is needed."

Ketsueki cocked his head sideways curiously. "What do you propose?"

"To defeat Xiao-tep and his friends, you must now be far smarter. Out maneuver them with your superior demonic intellect. The fox god Comet Fox is a trickster, but that does not mean that he, too, cannot be fooled. Lay traps for them. Think ahead of them. And when they are at their weakest, strike them down each."

Ketsueki Sato considered this. He definitely retained his intelligence and memory from his former life. It was only his body that was new. He thought, perhaps, Loki spoke with some wisdom.

He asked, "Where can I find Xiao-tep?"

"Oh, he's the caretaker of Taleisin now, but worry not about him yet. There may be others will to aid your quest."


Loki nodded. "Know you, as we speak, that the Eternal Empress hunts her daughter and her companion Comet Fox? Know you that Xiao-tep's father wished to devour him upon his birth and to this day plots his son's fall? Know you that many men from here to the Peony Tea House, where Wu Chan Chu currently resides, would be attracted to a demon's power and promises of wealth? All one would have to do is make the promises, even if the intent to make good on the promises was never genuine."

Loki pointed at the demon to make his point, "Form alliances, grow an army, fill the land with spies, hunt down and trick even the trickster. That is your path to success. Brute strength will only get you killed once more."

Ketsueki Sato thought matters over. At last he nodded to Loki's wisdom.

Loki returned to his stag form and ran off.

Ketsueki Sato hunted a few more small animals and drank their blood. His new form grew more supple. He found the broken barong and took it for his own. He looked at the tip of teh blade lodged in his side. Before he was fully awake someone had already attempted to take his life. He grew angrier and knew then he truly had to be more cautious.

When he was feeling better, not so stiff, he climbed the nearest foothill and looked out across the dying land, seeking the horizon.

To the world he spoke, "I come for you, Comet Fox. I hunt you, Wu Chan Chu. I'll get my vengeance, Xiao-tep. And I will slaughter any and all that cross my path and refuse to take up arms with me against you. I will lay this world to waste. I will defy the Cosmos themselves. I will have the blood of all three of you and drink it deeply from your bodies until you are dead.

"I am risen, and I will destroy."

The world shook with great quakes of fear for the Many-Horned Demon Ketsueki Sato was reborn.


Hope you enjoyed "Broken Sorrows"! Check back in two weeks for Act I of "Broken Steel"!

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Remembering the Dead"

"Remembering the Dead"

(c) 2009 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


Rains fell harshly upon the swamp world Dakkaran. Weather alerts were issued as a heatwave caved in under a cold front, bringing rain and wicked storms.

All operations for the Sarge and his squad had been called off. Thoughts riddled his head. He was wanting to see action, yet was stuck at the base with little to do but play cards with Pickles, Spooks and Diego. He tired of it quickly.

As he left their barracks, Diego asked, "Where ya goin', Sarge?"

"To Supplies. I need more cigars."

Wearing his deep blue longcoat, standard issue for sergeants, he stepped into the rain. So hard did it come down that it annoyed him. He lifted the hood of the coat over his head and steered himself for the Supplies Building. There he got a pack of a half dozen cigars, cheap ones that wouldn't taste good and would be difficult to keep lit, but he would enjoy the smell and the feel of thick smoke rolling out of his mouth.

Back outside he didn't want to return to the barracks with his men. He instead wandered the base for a bit. At last he found himself entering the Hall of Heroes, a part of the Hall of Records off the Basecamp Headquarters. The Hall of Heroes was a single large room with bare white marble walls. Speaking here was strictly prohibited to whispering. The Sarge had never heard of anyone being reprimanded severely for speaking loudly here, though he had heard guards ask others to remain quiet. On record, however, he knew speaking loudly in a Hall of Heroes could get a soldier court martialed, if not beaten and genuinely quartered.

This was no mere house of records; the Hall of Heroes was a tomb. But not a true tomb. No bodies of the dead lay here. No services were ever held here. Honor Guard simply placed small plaques with names of fallen soldiers on the plain white walls.

As he entered, one such guard nodded to him. The Sarge nodded back. The Honor Guard said in a whisper, "Welcome, Sergeant. Please keep all noise to a minimum."

This was the guard's duty.

The Sarge nodded again. He followed the line of plaques stretching deeply into the long room. He read the names at eye level as they went by his face. He checked for dates. The plaques were placed in chronological order according to the time of death. He at last drew near a date he remembered and found the names of his old squad, those that had died trying to save a strange girl wandering aimlessly in the swamps of Dakkaran, those that fought their own in the form of Death Dealers, those that had died in service and by violence.

Finely handcrafted wooden benches had been placed in the center of the room. The Sarge sat on one near the plaques of his fallen squadmates. He thought of them, smiled, frowned and, ultimately, missed them. They had been good soldiers. They had served well.

Now only he and Diego remained of the original squad.

He stood and walked a ways further, found another date. He did not find the name of a woman that had also served in his squad. She had turned traitor. He was not certain he could blame her. Somehow, he felt she was doing only what she felt was right.

The Sarge sighed, not fully understanding. But he knew he didn't have to understand. He simply had to go on the bounce when he was commanded to. And that he would do without any hesitation. He loved being a soldier, no matter how difficult the life and culture of a service man was at times.

He sat down once more, remembering all the recruits he had come through boot camp with. A lot of them had fallen away as they were weeded out leaving only the best to serve. A few had died, including one to cancer and another to an accident during live-fire training. A grenade had blown the recruit into three big pieces and thousands of tiny pieces. The Sarge was there to witness the accident. The recruit had been a very young kid and amiable, the eldest from a family of farmers. The economy on their world had grown so as to make family farms insufficiently viable. Their farm had swiftly become worth less than the dirt that made up the land. The kid was poor in every way. He had had two siblings, the Sarge couldn't remember if they were brothers or sisters but he could remember there had been two. They both died from some illness. They simply hadn't the money required to treat them. The recruit survived the illness, however, and when it came time for him to work and help the family with income, he couldn't find a job. Military service had been his only option.

The Sarge wondered if any war was virtuous, if any recruit had ever come into service out of philosophies. Perhaps. History said so. The Sarge liked to think he had, but knew that wasn't entirely true.

The image of the young recruit being blown up remained with him. Often, as he served a mission here or there, he would quietly dedicate his success to that blown away recruit that never got to serve yet paid the same price as so many others. He wondered if that recruit had been placed in a Hall of Heroes.

Finally, the Sarge thought of conversations had, his place in the military complex, his duties and the merits of character and duty.

And once more he wondered if a lowly grunt could truly ever become a mighty ruler.

The Sarge sighed again. He grew bored with sitting in the Hall of Heroes. He left.

He wandered the base a little while more but found the rain aggravating. He at last returned to his barracks.

His squadmates were stilling playing cards.

"That took you a long time," said Diego.

The Sarge grunted. He shoved off his longcoat and hung it up before he sat down at the table to join in the game. He pulled out the package of cigars, lit one up and started smoking.

"Where'd you go?" Diego asked. "Was there a line at Supplies?"

The Sarge shook his head.

"Nope," he said. "I ran into some old friends and decided to visit with them a bit."

Diego nodded.

The Sarge was dealt a hand of cards. A new game started.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Broken Sorrows" -- Act III

Here continues the latest The Children of Gods tale, "Broken Sorrows". Act II is presented here. Acts I and II are here:

Act I

Act II

Enjoy Act III.


© 2009 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


THE DUEL: Wherein Fei Li Mi, Obsessed with Memories and Filled with Desire for Answers, Seeks Out Xiao-tep on Taleisin; Fei Li Mi and Xiao-tep Shake the Heavens Once More; Xiao-tep Removes from His Waist the Willow Branch and Breaks the Spear of Sorrows


After the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration, Fei Li Mi flew swiftly through the sky to a country unknown to him, found the largest lake to be found in the coutryside, and delved into its depths until he found a large muddy cavern in which he could reside. There he remained for many days, his guan-dao rusting until its blade was of no use. He let the weapon fall to the floor of the lake. He hid and remained in hiding until, consumed by curiosity, he could hide no more.

He picked up his guan-dao as he lifted from the lake, spraying water in every which direction, frightening a boat full of fishermen nearby. He eyed the fishermen. He scowled.

"Have you come hunting for me?" Fei Li Mi demanded.

The men, terrorized, shook their heads though many had heard the tales of a giant catfish lurking the deepest parts of the lake.

Fei Li Mi paid their pleadings no heed. He did not trust them as they cried out in mortal terror, promising they had not come for him. The catfish heard no reason. He instead heard, and reveled in, their cries of agony as he descended upon the boat. He wrapped his arm-fins about necks, cracked skulls with an anchor, netted and stabbed men with their own fillet knives. He tried to stab and gouge with the guan-dao, but it did not cleave as well as it once had. The rusty blade instead tore at flesh, leaving jagged ugliness in its wake. Fei Li Mi did not cease until, at last, the fishermen were dead one and all.

He used the guan-dao to punch a hole in the boat's hull.

As he flew from the lake, he left behind a bloody mess upon the deck as the boat slowly sank into the lake.

It had been years since the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration and Fei Li Mi's legacy of cruelty began once more.

He flew aimlessly, wondering if he was yet being chased by Balori and Xiao-tep. He doubted this.

The catfish came to a lonely old miller at the edge of a wide river. He entered the miller's wheel house and killed the old man. He then raised the mill stone out of its works, tore wood from the building and built for himself a turning wheel. Upon this wheel, as Fei Li Mi worked it and it spun, he placed the blade of the guan-dao. Sparks and rust flew from the steel. He worked the blade over and over again, tempering it with focused hatred, until it was at last as good as new. The blade shone brightly in the dimmest candlelight.

Fei Li Mi smiled at his blade, his old friend.

Yet his hatred subsided as he thought of the Eternal Empress' children. He had once the task of their care and he did so with great pride. He had loved the children once and as yet still did. He left the miller's home by the side of the wide river to look up at the nighttime sky, to take in the splendor of the stars above.

Had he not allowed jealousy to pull at the reigns of his heart, he knew, he would not have left the land of Bizo. He would not have competed with and failed against Balori Shongoyo in returning the stars and pleasing the Empress. Hatred left him momentarily and in its place welled great fatigue. He knew then hatred and jealousy wore on one's mind and body and only fostering further growth of hatred and jealousy could one maintain energy enough to carry on. Or, he wondered, if one could abandon ill emotions all together and find a new source of passion, of purpose.

Fei Li Mi sighed at the stars. He missed the children he once cared for. He thought they might be fully grown by now, or at least Alecto would be.

He determined to return to Bizo and pay the children a visit.


In the brightest hour on the brightest day in summer, Fei Li Mi returned to Bizo. He flew high overhead at first, spying the people and lands far below. He then descended into the heart of the city and floated gracefully down streets, around corners, heading for the palace of the Eternal Empress.

A few citizens recognized him and welcomed him home, offering foods and wine to the great catfish. Though he wished to partake in their generosity, he decided not to. Instead, he asked for forgiveness and explained he had business at the palace.

He came to the palace. He requested entrance and was allowed in.

After being escorted to the Empress' side in her massive garden where she lounged across velvet covered furniture, he was allowed to be alone with her.

Said Fei Li Mi, "I thank you for permitting me an audience, Empress."

The Empress did not eye Fei Li Mi. She instead ate from a vine of grapes as she spoke, "It has been some time since we last saw you, Fei Li Mi."

"Indeed, Empress," Fei Li Mi nodded. He then ventured a question. "How are the children?"

This time the Empress looked to him. "Have you not heard? They are dead."

"Dead!" exclaiemd Fei Li Mi. "Both? How?"

The Empress sighed. "Not both. My son was slain as a traitor to my throne and Alecto is currently on the run from my soldiers. She threatens my livelihood and my throne."

Fei Li Mi shook his head in disbelief. "This cannot be! I know the children and they are not in the way to be so treacherous or threatening."

"You say this yet you've not seen them in an age. You've not seen little Alecto grow into a wretched power-hungry woman that wishes to wrest my throne from me." Then, with great venom, the Empress added, "If you had remained here, if you had not been traipsing off to whatever land you fled to, if you had not failed in your task to me the fate of my children would have not been so bitter. Yet, here we are. You have failed. You abandoned them. And now their fates are as bitter as these grapes."

The Empress spit out a chewed grape onto the ground before Fei Li Mi.

He watched the grape fall. His mind worked. He could not understand what the Empress was telling him.

"Of course," said the Empress, "you could aid my throne once more and redeem yourself."

Fei Li Mi scowled at her. He asked, "What would you propose?"

"Find my daughter and return her to me."

"And what would you do with her once she is again in this palace? Would you murder her for treason, as well?"

"What I do in my palace is my own concern," said the Empress.

Fei Li Mi was not so unwise that he did not feel himself being played by the Eternal Empress. He trusted Alecto was alive. He trusted the Empress feared that. He could not aid in harming the child.

"I'll not serve you any longer," he explained at last. "Your throne corrupts you and has been doing so for many long years. I would follow your orders should they lead me into the Many Hells, but I would not bring harm to that child. She is as my own."

The Empress was quiet a long while as she considered her former servant.

"Then you've no purpose here," she said at last.

"I suppose not."

Fei Li Mi was allowed to leave the palace unhindered.

The Empress then called to her guards. She instructed, "I fear our old servant Fei Li Mi has also turned traitor. It would be safe to assume he would move against us in our pursuit of my daughter. Follow him the best you can and then tonight, as the owl hunts, sneak to his side and kill him."

The guards dedicated their hearts to this task. They watched Fei Li Mi leave the palace, followed him from a safe distance, and spied on him making arrangements at a local inn in town for the night.

That night, the guards slipped into the inn, demanded a key from the innkeeper in the name of the Empress, and slid as shadows into Fei Li Mi's room where he lay slumbering upon a bed stuffed with hay, his guan-dao lying beside him.

The first guard struck. His sword bit and slipped into the catfish, parting flesh and scales.

Fei Li Mi awoke. He cried out in pain as his hands went to his weapon. He raised himself to the ceiling of the bedchamber and lashed out at every moving shadow. So long had he lived in the murky depths of a lake that seeing in darkness had become a skill to him, giving him great advantage over his assailants. He stabbed and sliced, lopping off limbs and heads and piercing hearts until six guards lay dead and bleeding on the wood floor of the inn.

Fei Li Mi opened the wooden shutters of a window in the room, wriggled through and flew from the city. He flew a long time, a hand to his belly where the guard's sword had slipped through. He wondered where next to go. he had hoped answers and consolation would be found in Bizo. They were not. He then realized it was not Bizo or even the beloved children that he sought, that had grown curiosity inside of him until he left the depths of the lake. It was curiosity for his lighter half, a creature similar to himself. What he was looking for was Xiao-tep.

Fei Li Mi found a small farmer's house and entered. The family inside shook with fear as they were awakened by his entrance.

The catfish asked for help covering the wound. A salve was quickly mixed and applied that instantly soothed the burning pain in Fei Li Mi's belly.

He then asked for information about Xiao-tep.

"The Ankh-fish?" asked the farmer and patriarch of the family.

"You know of him then?" asked Fei Li Mi.

"Indeed, his tales are widely known in this region. I would suspect he is known the world over."

"Where can I find him?" asked Fei Li Mi.

"Why," said the farmer, "on the Mountain That Lives in the Sky."

Fei Li Mi thanked the family for their aid. He then flew from their lands, flying straight up into the night sky, rolling sideways and flying north towards Taleisin.


It was in the darkest hour of night when Fei Li Mi arrived at Taleisin. A cold breeze followed with him. All the mountain instantly knew of his presence.

Fei Li Mi found first Otti the Firefly.

"Little firefly," called Fei Li Mi. "Come to me."

Otti did as he was told, flying closer to the strange catfish.

"Is this Taleisin?"

"Of course," answered Otti.

"Does a fish-god called Xiao-tep live here?"

Otti nodded. "He is the caretaker here."

"Then go to him. Go tell him an old acquaintance has come to pay him a visit."

Otti said, "I am certain he knows you've come. We all do."

"Go!" demanded Fei Li Mi. "Do not waste my time with your exhaled breath! Do as I say and nothing more!"

Shaking with fear, little Otti flew up the side of the mountain to where Xiao-tep was picnicking with Aglina and chatting with a few geese that had stopped for a rest overnight.

"Xiao-tep! Xiao-tep!" Otti called as he approached.

"What is it, friend Otti?" Xiao-tep asked.

"A creature has come to Taleisin. He sends me to retrieve you. He appears quite the brutal kind and I do not like him here on our Mountain That Lives in the Sky."

"Did he give a name?"

Otti shook his head. "No, but he is a rather large catfish, oddly reminiscent of you."

Xiao-tep knew instantly the identity of the stranger. "He is Fei Li Mi. I met with him once before."

"He is a friend then?" asked Otti.

"Not as much," said Xiao-tep. "I would have met with him if I had not been entertaining our geese friends here. Otti, will you take my place? If our friends will excuse me, I will go meet with Fei Li Mi."

Otti nodded.

The geese excused Xiao-tep and took no offense to his leavetaking.

Xiao-tep flew down the side of the mountaina nd came to Fei Li Mi's side.

He bowed deeply at the waist, respectfully, and introduced himself. "I am Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish. Welcome to Taleisin. I am gardener and caretaker here."

Fei Li Mi did not bow, but he introduced himself just the same. "I am Fei Li Mi the Catfish, once the Guardian of the Eternal Empress' children. We last met on the Plain of Adoration."

"I remember," spoke Xiao-tep as he eyed Fei Li Mi's guan-dao. Xiao-tep no longer carried his Spear of Sorrows. It rested instead, embedded in the ground with vines growing about its shaft, in the side of the mountain.

"Come," said Xiao-tep. "Won't you follow me to the base of the mountain? I'll build a fire and we can have tea. I've picked the leaves myself just this morning."

Fei Li Mi followed Xiao-tep. He watched as the ankh-fish deftly made a warm fire and placed above it a kettle of water to boil for tea.

"It will take some time for the water to boil," explained Xiao-tep. "Why not tell me your reason for visiting Taleisin while we wait?"

Fei Li Mi looked at Xiao-tep across the fire, shadows and light dancing across their faces, locked in battle to control the night.

Fei Li Mi thought a moment. He was not entirely certain why he had come to Taleisin, why he had come to see Xiao-tep. At last he decided to be honest as he admitted, "Since we first met, I've been intrigued by your existence. You once told me I was the first Blessed One that was a fish you knew of besides yourself. I've wanted to know since that time what your life was like. Do you suffer the same shortcomings as I? Do you feel the same pangs and pull of jealousy? If we are so alike, could this make us somehow family? Thinking I may not be alone in this world rekindles a brightness within me, sparks a new fire for life. I've long looked for my place. Mayhaps spending time with you, I can find it."

Fei Li Mi's words hung heavily between them. There were a lot of thoughts for Xiao-tep to take in. At last he said, "Whether we are family I cannot say. Family is a matter of birth and parentage and to my knowledge we do not share in those matters."

Xiao-tep saw Fei Li Mi frown at this, then quickly added, "But we are brothers in our immortality and likeness. And, perhaps more importantly, we are kin in our quest for our place in the world."

Fei Li Mi smiled at this.

The water boiled. Xiao-tep removed the kettle with a long stick so as not to burn himself. Fei Li Mi, seeing how cumbersome the kettle could be, set down his guan-dao, picked up two tea cups Xiao-tep had brought forth for them and held them steady as Xiao-tep poured water over tea.

"Thank you," said Xiao-tep.

"Thank you," responded Fei Li Mi.

They sat, sipping tea and telling tales of their early years under a star-filled sky.


Fei Li Mi slept the night on the side of the mountain. His sleep was deep, restfull and he felt he could claim the Taleisin the reason for his rest. When he awoke, the many shades of green that lived on the mountain struck him first. How colorful and beautiful was Taleisin! He was in awe with the mountain and instantly loved all that grew here.

He went searching for Xiao-tep and found him below the Spear of Sorrows, practicing slow forms of fighting motions, his eyes closed, his breathing slow and controlled, his mind opening to the world. Though Xiao-tep was lost deep within himself, he knew Fei Li Mi was nearby and he said, "Good morning, brother."

The catfish smiled. "Good morning. What is that you do?"

Xiao-tep straightened himself, opening his eyes to look at Fei Li Mi. "I simply practice my forms. It keeps my body limber. Most other work I do here on Taleisin keeps up my strength but can cause pains in my back and other areas. This helps."

Fei Li Mi nodded as this sounded logical.

Xiao-tep came to his side. Together they looked down the mountain at all of Taleisin. Dozens upon dozens of colors filled their vision. A light breeze that was not too cool blew across their faces. The two fish were instantly relaxed.

"Could I interest you in some food?" asked Xiao-tep. "I'll pick something fresh from the gardens."

"I'll help you," offered Fei Li Mi.

Together they harvested a small early morning meal for themselves. They ate together, chatting about Taleisin. Xiao-tep told Fei Li Mi of Momoki the Marmoset -- Taleisin's first caretaker.

"Was he not at the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration as well?" asked the catfish.

Xiao-tep nodded. "Indeed, but in a new form. He no longer lives as you and I."

Life beyond life perturbed Fei Li Mi. He was immortal, but he would most likely never be giving a chance at a new life should he die in this one. He frowned as jealousy entered his heart.

Seeing this, Xiao-tep asked, "What is it?"

Fei Li Mi shook his head. "It's nothing," then distracted by saying, "this is a good meal. You are a good gardener."

"Thank you," said Xiao-tep.

That day, as Xiao-tep tended his duties upon Taleisin, Fei Li Mi wandered the mountain to meet its different inhabitants. With every new greeting, he grew more jealous. Such beauty had never been reserved for him and this bred within him a fury greater than he had ever known.

That night he was quiet as he and Xiao-tep enjoyed tea under the stars.

Long after Xiao-tep had descended the mountain to sleep in a field of soft grass, Fei Li Mi picked up his guan-dao once more and moved towards the sleeping ankh-fish.


Fei Li Mi remained near the sleeping Xiao-tep a long time, considering his actions, plotting out his course, determining how best to kill Xiao-tep and take Taleisin as his own. Anger welled within him until, at last, Fei Li Mi struck Xiao-tep with the blunt end of the guan-dao, waking him.

"Wake yourself, you damned fool!" Fei Li Mi cried.

Xiao-tep awoke, wondering what had caused the sharp pain at his side. He raised himself from the soft grassy plain to look at the catfish.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"You're quite the ignorant creature, aren't you, Xiao-tep?" spat Fei Li Mi. "Think you that I came here to nurture a friendship between us? Bah!"

Xiao-tep leveled his eyes on Fei Li Mi. "I had suspected your intentions from teh first, but was willing to give you a chance for reprieve."

Fei Li Mi laughed at this. "Think you that I should be allowed reprieve? The Cosmos would never have it! They'll not grant me any good thing. They're bent on my sorrow."

Xiao-tep shook his head. "The Cosmos care not should you suffer or triumph. They merely create the world and all that's in it and continue to create. They neither care nor dislike."

"Speak not to me of The Cosmos! Your views of them would be most askew as you are their pet. They pleasure you in every way."

"The Cosmos have given me nothing," defended Xiao-tep. "And I am a pet to no entity."

"Not a pet, eh?" taunted Fei Li Mi. "Then tell me: why do you sleep in the softest of loam while I've muddled in murky depths of a muddy lake? How are you surrounded by friends when I have traveled this life alone?

"No," Fei Li Mi scowled, "you are quite the favorite pet. You are blessed in every way. And here I am, your equal in every way, yet suffer in every way."

"Whatever sorrows you may have lived or imagined are not my doing."

Fei Li Mi smiled. "Upon that we must agree. You have been nothing but kind to me, perhaps because your life has taught you kindness unlike mine. Whatever the reason, you are not truly my enemy. The true enemy are the Cosmos themselves. yet, how to strike at an enemy that cannot be destroyed such as The Cosmos? Eh? How would you strike at them?"

Xiao-tep gave no reply.

Fei Li Mi gave him the answer, "You stab at their heart by striking down their pet, their favorite. You may have not done any act upon me to worsen my woes, Xiao-tep, but you must die just the same. You must die in the name of vengeance and justice."

"What you seek is not vengeance nor justice," said Xiao-tep. "What you seek is violence born of jealousy. What you seek is most wicked."

Fei Li Mi lowered his guan-dao.

"I'll not fight with you," said Xiao-tep. "I've no reason to fight with you."

"Then don't fight," replied Fei Li Mi. "Lie your worthless form down on the grass once more and receive my blade. I'll promise to make it quick, though perhaps not painless."

Xiao-tep shook his head. "I'll not lie down for you either."

"You cannot have it both ways, Xiao-tep. You either fight or you die at my blade."

Xiao-tep spoke no more.

Fei Li Mi lurched forward, twisting and slicing with his guan-dao.

Xiao-tep flew sideways out of the path of the oncoming blade. He was not quite swift enough as the sharp blade sliced free a half dozen scales from his side.

Fei Li Mi pressed the attack.

Xiao-tep backed up the mountain until he came to the side of the Spear of Sorrows. He looked to it.

"Take it," said Fei Li Mi. "I'll wait and not strike you down as you free it from its resting place. Take it and fight me!"

Xiao-tep, uncertain Fei Li Mi would be true to his word, reached out to the spear and to free it from the mountain.

Fei Li Mi struck as Xiao-tep was distracted with his spear. The guan-dao blade sank into his left side, nearly slicing free a hunk of his form.

Xiao-tep cried out in pain. He broke free the spear and backed away, taking a defensive stance against and moving with speed to remove from the shaft the willow branch that he tied to his waist.

To the east, Etain's head rose up over the horizon. her massive wings soon followed. The light of dawn fell upon Taleisin as the two fish continued to fight.

Fei Li Mi pressed the attack. Xiao-tep ascended the mountain backwards until they were both at its highest peak. There they remained a moment, considering one another, considering their next move.

At last, Fei Li Mi lunged, stretching out at full length to fly at Xiao-tep. So swiftly did he fly that the ankh-fish barely had time to parry the oncoming spear-like attack. Fei Li Mi straightened and swung his guan-dao wide. Xiao-tep Raised the Spear of Sorrows to his side and blocked the assault.

Aglina, who makes her home so high in the mountain, took to the air and flew the length of the mountain down to the grassy plains below. The visiting geese also flew away, leaving the mountain and the fighting fish far behind.

The fish danced in parody, always with Fei Li Mi on the attack and Xiao-tep on the defense and backing away until they came to the plains of Taleisin.

Fei Li Mi swung his guan-dao.

Xiao-tep backed away. He demanded, "Stop this foolishness now!"

"Lay down your spear and end your life!" responded the catfish.

Fei Li Mi swung again.

Xiao-tep ducked and flew sideways, dodging the offending blade. Having missed Xiao-tep, the blade instead bit into the trunk of a fully blooming pomegranate tree. bark was flung from the tree and moisture seeped from the wound.

This so angered Xiao-tep, who was charged with the care of all things on Taleisin, he scowled at Fei Li Mi and warned, "End your foray now or suffer the consequences!"

Fei Li Mi laughed at this. He swung the guan-dao again, hacking at the pomegranate tree. This time, he struck so hard several ripened fruits fell from the branches to the ground, bruising and becoming inedible.

"Stop it!" cried out Xiao-tep. "That tree has done nothing to you!"

"I attack you to stab at The Cosmos! And now I stab at this tree to attack you because you will not fight!"

Fei Li Mi reeled back and plunged the blade of his guan-dao deep into the side of the tree. The tree shook with force and fear, creaking in pain.

"Stop it!" cried Xiao-tep once more as he flew at Fei Li Mi. He tackled the catfish away from his weapon, forcing him to the ground. The guan-dao remained stuck in the side of the tree.

Fei Li Mi laughed at the pain in Xiao-tep's face. So hysterical did he find harming the ankh-fish that it was some time before his laughter ceased and he rose from the ground.

As he did, Xiao-tep looked upon him disapprovingly and said, "Leave Taleisin. You are no longer welcome here."

Fei Li Mi smiled at this. He moved slowly towards the pomegranate tree and deftly removed the guan-dao that was stuck there.

Said he to Xiao-tep, "I was never welcome here. Not by The Cosmos. You may have offered me tea, but this can never be my home. I can never know such beauty."

"Of course you can."

Fei Li Mi shook his head. He lowered the blade of the guan-dao so the blade pointed at Xiao-tep.

Xiao-tep said nothing further, for he knew there could be no reasoning with the jealous catfish.

Fei Li Mi struck.

Xiao-tep parried and, for the first time, struck back. The tip of his spear bit off two scales from the catfish.

Angered by the wound, Fei Li Mi raged at Xiao-tep, screaming as he swung his weapon once and again, striking at the ankh-fish at every possible angle.

On the two fish fought. So mighty was their war that it rumbled in the heavens, sticking to the clouds, shaking the ground of the world below. Once, the two blades of their weapons met and sparks flew from them as lightning to the ground below, setting fire to a small countryside.

Fei Li Mi lunged.

Xiao-tep Backed away. He swung his spear upwards, then down. The blades swept through the grass, picking up a small stone in route.

Fei Li Mi blocked the upward swinging Spear of Sorrows with his guan-dao, but did not see the stone until the last possible moment -- much too late to defend against it.

The stone was flung at Fei Li Mi, hitting him in the head. It did no true damage, but so surprising was its sudden presence that Fei Li Mi reeled backwards.

Xiao-tep pressed the attack, swinging out with the Spear of Sorrows. Fei Li Mi was able to compose himself in time to block the attack, but could no longer take advantage of the situation so as to attack. He could only defend against Xiao-tep's swiftly coming assaults.

The spear bit the air about Fei Li Mi's body and head. He twirled his guan-dao in his hands first one way, then the next so as to block all attacks.

The Spear of Sorrows broke through his defenses twice, once to bite a small wound in his side at the ribs and another to cut at the top of his head.

Xiao-tep could find no attack strong enough or swift enough to cause much damage to Fei Li Mi. At last, he had a thought to trick Fei Li Mi once more.

Once again Xiao-tep swept his spear down through the grassy plain.

Afraid another stone was coming, Fei Li Mi winced and backed away.

But no stone came. Instead, Fei Li Mi was concentrating so on a stone that did not exist, he left all other areas of his defense weak. He had backed away enough so there was a small distance between him and Xiao-tep.

Xiao-tep brought up the Spear of Sorrows. Arching his arm, swiveling his shoulders, he launched the spear into the air as a projectile.

Fei Li Mi, wondering where the stone had gone, removed his arms from in front of his face to see the Spear of Sorrows flying at him. He looked up, ready to fly high and out of the weapon's path, but too swift was the spear. Fei Li Mi could not defend.

The Spear of Sorrows struck the catfish below the mouth, piercing through flesh and bone, biting at skin, eating a path through the brain to come out the other side.

Fei Li Mi fell instantly dead to the grassy plains of Taleisin, the Spear of Sorrows sticking out from under his mouth, the four blades protruding from the top of his skull. The catfish's muscles contracted once in a convulsion of death and when his fingers opened, the guan-dao rolled from his hand and into the grass.

Xiao-tep flew slowly towards the unmoving body of Fei Li Mi. He considered the gore. he reached to free the Spear of Sorrows and instantly felt the pangs of death as they were transferred into him through the spear, yet instantly lost those feelings as they were instantly transferred into the willow branch tied at his waist. The willow branch began to weep, tears rolling from its leaves slapping against the blades of grass below.

The ankh-fish felt this was not proper. This was Fei Li Mi, a creature turned wicked by his own jealousy and choosing to be certain, yet this was a life that had had some small connection with his own. Here his brother of form, his dark mirror, lay dead and no one felt the loss.

Thinking it only right he feel the loss of Fei Li Mi, Xiao-tep removed the willow branch and let it fall.

Sorrow and pain struck him instantly. So intense was the feeling of loss that Xiao-tep could do nothing but cripple over and collapse into the grass beside his dark brother. Tears flowed from his eyes as he cried out in agony.

On Xiao-tep wept for 3 days and nights. So horrible was his weeping and cries of pain that not a single creature on Taleisin dared approach him, not even Otti and Aglina who counted themselves his closest friends.

So Xiao-tep lay in the grass on Taleisin beside the dead Fei Li Mi. On the third night his sorrow turned to anger. He grabbed up the Spear of Sorrows, plucking it from Fei Li Mi's head, lifted himself from the ground and flew to strike the side of a tree, the very cherry blossom that Szu Ri had fallen from to meet little Gogi the Grasshopper, with the shaft of the spear. With such fury did Xiao-tep strike the tree the Spear of Sorrows, a spear made from unbreakable dwarven craftmanship, shattered into thirteen pieces and the four blades split in two.

As this was done, Aelis, the bean nighe that had been bound to the weapon, was freed. She hovered in ghastly form a moment.

She spoke to Xiao-tep, "I was bound to this world by sorrow, by the loss of a son. Once more I was bound to the spear. Now the spear is broken and not only am I allowed to rest, though you meant it not as an act of kindness, this one gesture frees me from all sorrows, from all bondage. I may now rest in no small part due to you. Thank you."

With a glimmer, fading from sight, Aelis was at finally at rest.

Xiao-tep wept a while more before returning to Fei Li Mi's side. He picked up his dark brother and carried him to the same cherry blossom. There he dug for him a grave and buried the catfish.

As morning came on the fourth day, Xiao-tep was leaning against the cherry blossom and meditating. It's blossoms gently fell around him. Silk worms sang down to him. Where he had buried Fei Li Mi grew new grass and fresh dandelions.

At last Otti the Firefly and Aglina came to Xiao-tep's side.

"Xiao-tep?" ventured little Otti. "Are you well?"

Xiao-tep did not look at his friend. He continued looking out onto the world below as he shook his head.

"Well, will you be well once more?" asked Otti.

Xiao-tep sighed. He finally looked at the firefly and said, "I believe so."

Aglina came to Xiao-tep's side. He gently caressed her soft feathers.

Otti flew closer still. He spied the shattered bits of the Spear of Sorrows.

"Your spear is broken," said Otti. "I've not ever known you to not have your spear. What will you do now?"

Xiao-tep looked back onto the world. He said, "Let it remain broken. I've grown tired of fighting. There is no longer anything in it for me. Let the Spear of Sorrows be broken for I am tired of taking lives."

"Your fight was quite an atrocious thing to witness," admittedly little Otti.

"I fear all fighting is that way, Otti."

"And yet you've done so much of it."

"Which is why I grow tired of it," Xiao-tep again sighed. He added, "I promise you, my friends, I will never fight again. Let the Spear of Sorrows remain broken. Let the willow branch fall to the world below. Let it be known no temptation could ever persuade me to fight again. I simply cannot fight any more. The price is much too heavy."

Otti nodded. He sat on a dandelion near Xiao-tep.

News spread of what was soon called Xiao-tep's Promise. Migrating birds carried the news from Taleisin to all parts of the world.

And in a far corner of the world where news of Xiao-tep's Promise had not yet reached, Zom Loa entered his childhood homelands. Soon he would bring into the world the greatest temptation Xiao-tep would ever know.


Friday, May 15, 2009

"Broken Sorrows" -- Act II

Last week saw the return of The Children of Gods in Act I of "Broken Sorrows". Here now is Act II.



© 2009 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


FROM WINTRY LANDS COMES A FOX: Wherein Coyote Falls in Love for the Daughter of a Frost-Giant; Snow Fox is Born; Comet Fox Comes to Usk; Alecto Comes to Usk


Long had Coyote traveled the world, chasing first one desire then another. He tasted the bitter smooth fermented wines of Lycaernum, danced with the girls of Zilwaliae, ate with the warriors of The Dark Vast and at last came to the northern lands to witness the Everlasting Snows of the Rowhad Mountains. As he slept lazily under the shelter of a large and ancient ash that had gone gray with age and wintry climes he heard the crunch of packing snow. He awoke to the beauty of a nude woman with skin so white were it not for her gold tinged hair he may not have seen her at all against the snowy landscape.

But he did see her and the gates to his heart opened, flooding out with love for the beautiful woman.

Seeing the strange animal god resting beneath the tree, the woman blush, turned and ran.

Coyote, gripped with the thought of having her, chased after.

On they ran through pristine snow, over the course of mountains older than perhaps Taliesin itself, until, at last, Coyote caught the woman and flung her to the snow.

"Please!" she begged. "Do not harm me!"

Coyote cocked his head first one way, then the other. He said, "I'll not harm you, sweet maiden, if only you'd gift me your name."

Hesitant, the woman said, "I am Nyavatalii, daughter to the Rowhad Mountains, and my death would surely bring upon you great pains."

"My intentions were never born from an ill mind. Though you are beautiful beyond compare, perhaps far more pretty than the Eternal Empress herself, I could not spoil such art of the Cosmos, for that is what you truly are: an incredibly beautiful work of art."

Nyavatalii blushed at this.

Coyote reached out his hand. She grabbed for it and he lifted her from the snows.

"My father is a giant here," said Nyavatalii, "as was his father before he. And my grandfather was none other than Hophilo -- one of these great mountains."

"I am Coyote," he introduced himself. "And I am madly in love with you."

"Come," she said. "Meet my father."

He followed her through the mountains to a large cave that opened into a small hamlet carved inside one of the mountains and housing a race of white-skinned giants. There he met Stothorn, Nyavatalii's father.

Stothorn, clad in heavy furs and carrying a small ash fitted with a boulder of obsidian fashioned into a pick-axe, scowled at Coyote. Said he, "What do you intend with my daughter?"

Coyote explained himself. "Mighty Stothorn, I intend nothing but what my heart wells with. I intend nothing more than to love your daughter and make her a happy giantess."

Again Stothron scowled. "You be a god?"

Coyote nodded. "Indead I am."

Stothron shook his head. "Even a god is not good enough for my fair daughter. Be off with ye."

Coyote, disheartened and confused for he had never needed pleading to make a woman his own, did what first came to mind. He flung himself to Stothorn's feet and begged, "Please, allow me to love your daughter and care for her. I would dedicate my life to her!"

"I said be gone!" Stothorn raged. And so thunderous and echoing was his voice that Coyote was afraid and he fled from the hamlet inside the mountain, though he did not run far.

He perched atop a nearby mountain, waiting in the Everlasting Snows, until Nyavatalii appeared. So heartbroken was she from her father's command she remain a virgin that she fled from the cave late the next night to dream of her lover alone in the snow. She did not know Coyote watched her from nearby.

But when She came to the ash where she first met Coyote and sat beneath it dreaming of him, he leaped from the mountain, coming to her side.

Seeing tears in her eyes, Coyote said, "Cry not, my love. Old Coyote does not give in so easily. I am an old and wise god, after all."

Seeing Coyote once more made her so happy she flung her at him.

Slowly they kissed. Slowly the lay together in the snow beneath the ash. And when she asked for him to do so, he obliged by taking her virginity.

The snows thinned, yet did not stop as they made love. Through the Everlasting Snows the moon struggled to peer down on them. When they were finished, they lay together, side-by-side, smiling until they both fell asleep.

They were awakened the next day by Stothorn who had gone forth from teh mountain to find his daughter.

"How dare you lie and commit treachery against me!" he raged. He grabbed up his daughter by her golden hair and flung her aside.

Coyote awoke, his heart beating furiously with fear.

Stothorn swung his large pick-axe.

Coyote jumped over it. So afraid was he of the loud and terrible giant that he fled. This time when he fled, Coyote fled for good. He did not perch atop another mountain. He did not wait to see Nyavatalii once more. He did not, in fact, intend to return to the Rowhad Mountains again. Yet no matter how far he traveled and how many lives he lived, he never forgot the frost-giantess he so dearly loved.

Nor would Nyavatalii forget her lover Coyote for, without Coyote's knowledge, she soon gave birth to his son.



Snow Fox was born on one of the harshest wintry days of the Rowhad Mountains. And though his grandfather did not approve of his father, when Stothorn gazed upon the small brown fox he could not help but love the creature. And when Snow Fox began adventuring outside into the snow and his fur began to grow stark white until he could sit and not be seen on the mountain, Stothorn loved him all the more. He helped Nyavatalii raise him, teaching him how to use the axe. And though Snow Fox could swing an axe well, his small size -- especially in comparison to his giant family -- made the wielding of an axe cumbersome. Oft would he swing an axe and have to step once or twice to remain balanced. He instead learned a great passion for smaller blades, knives and daggers in particular.

Once, while showing some of his dagger skills to the giants by balancing the tips of the blades on his fingered paws without slicing free a single tuft of fur, a friendly challenge was made to him to try throwing the blades. The stump of a tree was brought forth and turned on its edge for use as a target.

Snow Fox threw his blades and failed the challenge miserably. And though he was not mocked as the blades slapped harshly against the stump and fell to the floor of the cave, he did not take losing the challenge well. He soon found himself training daily until he could deftly throw all kinds of blades and strike a target with great precision. As the giants watched his skill grow, they cheered him on and he reveled in their attention.

On a night when Snow Fox awoke to find his mother missing, he went searching for her and found her once more sitting under the ancient ash.

"Why do you sit here alone, mother?" he asked.

She wiped a tear from her eye and smiled at her son. "I was merely thinking of the past."

"Was the past so horrible it makes you cry? If so, then I would never remember my past."

She held his hand and had him sit in the snow beside him.

"The past was not so horrible," she said. "In fact, I was thinking of a most wonderful night; the very night you were conceived. I was remembering your father."

Snow Fox knew little of his father. He asked, "Is he a good man?"

"He is a god named Coyote."

"A god? Then am I a god, too?"

Nyavatalii thought it over. "You are part god and part Immortal. I am unsure what that would make you. But you are Immortal nonetheless."

Snow Fox nodded.

"I should like to meet my father," he said.

"I doubt he'll ever return here," Nyavatalii lamented.

Snow Fox resigned himself to the task as he said, "Then I shall seek him out."

"What? But you cannot! You cannot leave me. Please, I love you too much to let you leave these mountains as your father once did."

Snow Fox sighed. He did not wish to hurt his mother. He considered his dilemma.

They returned to the hamlet and the next day, as Stothorn sat across from Snow Fox for breakfast, he noticed his grandson was far quieter than usual. He asked, "What plagues my grandson?"

Snow Fox shrugged, unable to form the words to explain himself to his grandfather.

Nyavatalii explained for him, "He wishes to seek out his fatehr. He wishes to meet him."

Stothron frowned. He nodded, then said, "I believe he should."

Snow Fox pricked up his ears. His tail movement in a small way with happiness.

"What? Father!" excalimed Nyavatalii. "How could you say such a thing? Especially how matters played out before?"

"Before there was not a child to be concerned with. He deserves to know his father," explained Stothorn.

Nyavatalii, unable to understand her father, ran from their side.

Stothorn leaned over the table towards his grandson. "You are not such a child any more. You have grown quite a bit, though not in size, but in heart and intelligence. You deserve to know your father. Your mother cannot understand this currently, but she will. She fears losing you. She fears you may never return."

"Why would she fear that?" asked Snow Fox. He then added, "Of course I would return!"

"Answer me this: Have you ever seen your father?"

Snow Fox shook his head.

"There is your answer. She has held out hope to see Coyore once more, yet he has never returned. Now she fears the same from you."

"But I would return," Snow Fox said emphatically.

"I do not doubt you." Stothorn eyed his grandson. "If you would like, after we have eaten, I'll help you gather a few supplies and escort you down the mountain."

Snow Fox moved his tail and smiled. "I should like that."

He then thought of his mother. "But what of mother?"

"I will care for her and explain matters to her. Worry not about us. You've a great task set before you."

Snow Fox nodded. he finished his breakfast hurriedly. He and his grandfather packed a small leather satchel with provisions. When Stothorn saw Snow Fox trying to stuff the satchel full with various daggers, a dozen in all, he stopped him.

"Wait," he said. "Let me help you."

Stothorn grabbed up a long strap of leather and cut it down to size and in several pieces. He then braided them together, festooned the two ends together with a small bit of obsidian he chipped from his pick-axe. he had fashioned a belt for his grandson complete with loops through which he could place and carry a dozen daggers.

But the belt will still large, too large to fit about Snow Fox's waist.

"Give it here," said Stothorn. "I'll cut it down again."

"No," said Snow Fox. He adjusted the belt to rest across his chest and over his left shoulder. "Now it fits perfectly."

Stothorn smiled.

Together they descended the Rowhad Mountains. At the base Stothorn said, "Good luck, my son. Take good care of yourself. And please return when you can."

Snow Fox nodded and promised that he would come home as soon as he had met his father.

Stothorn watched his grandson descend the foothills where the Everlasting Snows ended. He watched until he could see Snow Fox no more. He then ascended the mountains, returning to his daughter's side to love and care for her.

As Snow Fox wandered into the rest of the world he met many people, made a few friends, listened to rumors and gossip of his father. It seemed to him everyone knew of his father. And moreso they knew of his son -- his other son -- one called Comet Fox.

Snow Fox determined he must find and meet this brother, this Comet Fox, as well.



Comet Fox long traveled the world, flitting about from one region to the next, from one town to the next, from one mischievous adventure to the next. He gambled with the regulars at Peony Tea House until he could call them friends. He set sail on a fishing vessel with old men to aide them in their task. He fought with generals, besting them each through treachery and teaching teaching their soldiers how better to fight.

Yet none of this is such great concern as the time Comet Fox met the fair Kumiko and had his heart stolen by her.

He came to farming hamlet of Yeoh, wandering half drunk with wine, to pass out at the doorstep of a family with four living generations.

"What is he?" asked Father Ko.

"It is a demon!" cried Mother Mika.

"No!" corrected Great Grandmother. She could not peer through her ancient eyes upon Comet Fox, instead having her great grandchild, Kumiko, describe the creature. "He is one of the Blessed Immortals. There are many tales of a fox traveling the world and none of them indicate an evil spirit, though perhaps a trickster. His presence here is an omen, a sign. We must take him in and care for him until he is healthy. It is the will of the Cosmos."

"I would not bring a strange creature into our home," argued Father Ko.

"He is only a stranger," said Great Grandmother, "because we've yet to be properly introduced to him. Take him in, nurse him back to health and then we will discover his friendliness."

Despite Father Ko's objections, the family took Comet Fox in. Kumiko and one of her three brothers carried him into their meager home to lay him in a bed. As they carried him, Kumiko wondered at the soft fur of Comet Fox, how beautiful the color was, how soothing to the touch.

They fed Comet Fox, sobered him and when he was well enough to do so, Comet Fox repaid their kindness by helping them with their farming. He grew to love the large family, but he loved most of all to sit under the family's Acacia tree with Kumiko as they watched the Jewels of Zingtai glimmer at night. He would often tell Kumiko of his grand adventures, occasionally embellishing to make himself appear more heroic to her. He told how he helped Xiao-tep destroy the demon of the Cottonwood Chamber. He enthralled her with tales of his wanderings. He told how he had helped Gogi the Grasshopper end the demon-dog Yaska Selith.

Though Kumiko may have learned the truth to some of his embellishments, she would not care. She loved their times together. She loved Comet Fox's voice. She caressed his soothing fur. And when prompted, she would tell her secret thoughts to him concerning the world, her place in her family, and once even confessed her love to the fox-god.

Comet Fox, had he not had a face covered with fur, would have been seen blushing by her for he too was fostering the seed of love within him.

Night after night they enjoyed each others' company until, one night, they lay together expressing their love.

Yet soon the time came when Comet Fox found himself restless and wanting to wander once more.

"Come with me," he said to Kumiko.

Kumiko shook her head. "I cannot. I've barely started my womanhood and though my family is large they need every hand they can get on this farm."

Comet Fox sighed. He had fought many great battles and on the rare occasion lost one here and there, but never before had he felt so defeated as when Kumiko refused to travel the world with him.

He felt himself selfish for having to leave the family behind. He sighed, saying, "I am but a wandering spirit. It has been set before me by the Misty Hands of the Cosmos to wander the world, perhaps to help good people like you. I am truly sorry Kumiko, for I must follow my heart."

Kumiko nodded with understanding. With wisdom beyond her years she said, "We each must be whatever we feel we must be. Go, Comet Fox. And though I may shed a tear at your leave-taking, I wish you farewell. Promise me, however, that you'll return one day to see my family again. Return to see me again, won't you?"

Comet Fox smiled and nodded.

"I should like to," he said.

Kumiko fell asleep late that night. When she and her family awoke the next morning, Comet Fox was gone.

"Our guest has left us," said Great Grandmother, "but not without helping us here. He was a good creature. He will be missed."

Father Ko nodded. "I was mistaken to suspect him. Please understand I did so so as to protect my family. But without his help we would not have planted this year's crop so quickly."

They were all saddened, for Comet Fox had been such a good friend to them. He had left them with a fully planted farm, with glorious memories they would not soon forget and, as yet without anyone's knowledge, he had also left them with a child growing in Kumiko's belly.

On wandered Comet Fox. He did not rest or pause in his travels until, at last, he came to a raucous fishing town along the ocean called Usk. There were many merchants and travelers in Usk. There was much gambling and drinking to be had. And on occasion there was also a fight.

Comet Fox liked Usk. He determined to stay there a while.



On ran Gullnir. He did not fail nor did he falter in his flight. He carried Alecto and her hand-maiden Eloqua long after other horses would have collapsed in exhaustion. Eloqua feared pushing Gullnir too hard, but she feared the blades of the Eternal Empress' loyal guards far more. So she urged Gullnir on. And on he ran.

In the distance, some ways behind them, following rumor and tracks came a band of loyal guards. Some fifty men rode together as swift agents of doom, their weapons sharp, their armor strong and inlaid with gold, capes black as night before Balori had restored the stars, their mouths slavering with hunger to please their Empress and their pursuit hot. On they raced after Alecto, daughter to Empress Sulia, the daughter they had been ordered to kill.

Gullnir ran tirelessly, charged with his duty to protect Alecto. He knew not why Alecto was to be killed should she be caught, but he understood the task set before him was one born of righteousness, so on he ran tirelessly. He ran until he could run no more.

And when, at last, the rhythm of his legs slowed, Eloqua's heart jumped with fear but the fear was immediately replaced with sorrow and gratitude for Gullnir.

"We'll need to stop soon," she told Alecto. "Gullnir grows tired."

Hearing this, Gullnir ran harder, but found his legs would not quite work they way they had. He knew then he must rest lest he die from exhaustion.

On the far horizon, as night bloomed, Eloqua spied the soft glow of a town. She allowed Gullnir to slow some, steering him towards the lights and soon they came into the town of Usk.

ELoqua slowed Gullnir.

Alecto pet his mane and whispered soft thanks to him.

"We should be safe here for a short time," said Eloqua. She was uncertain of any truth to her words, but she hoped they would be safe.

They found a public stable and paid a hand to groom, water, feed and let Gullnir rest with money Eloqua had taken when they fled the palace. The two women then found a tavern and inn, entered and paid for a room for the night. They went straight to their room without speaking to anyone besides the innkeeper. She requested a meal be brought to their room first thing in the morning and paid for it in advance. The innkeeper agreed, happy to oblige the two women.

That night, Alecto slept in a bed stuffed with old straw. She slept deeply, though not soundly. In her dreams she was still atop the fleeing Gullnir.

Eloqua hardly slept that night. She kept waking to listen to strange sounds.

The next morning, the innkeeper brought them a meal. They ate quietly. Their meal finished, Alecto said, "My birthday was yesterday."

"Oh dear," said Eloqua. "I had forgotten. I'm so sorry, dear child. Or should I say, dear woman?"

Alecto's smile was brief.

"I do not understand the things happening to us," confessed Alecto.

Eloqua remained silent. She did not wish to share with Alecto her understanding of things. She did not want the young empress-to-be to learn of the ugliness of some, of the darkness that grows within jealous hearts.

She instead told Alecto, "I will go to see Gullnir later today. I fear we must give him another day's rest. I do not wish to stay here longer than we must, but he will need his rest."

Alecto nodded.

Eloqua went to Gullnir's side. The horse looked in better health than he had the night before, but showed signs of needing more rest. Eloqua nodded at him, patted his long face and said, "One more night, dear one. We will give you one more night. Then we must move on."

Gullnir snorted a thanks.

Eloqua returned to the rented room to find Alecto napping. As Alecto slept, Eloqua got on her knees and prayed.

"Dear gods, I know not what comes to us except death. Death rides atop fury after dear Alecto and our horse Gullnir cannot outlast this chase. Please, help us. Please."

Tears fell from her closed eyes onto her cheeks. She felt every bit of her age and moreso.

Day passed into night. And with the night came the Empress' Guards.



A riot awoke Eloqua. She ran to the tavern of the inn and asked the innkeeper what was the matter.

"Soldiers," he said. "They ransack the town looking for two women."

He eyed her suspiciously.

Eloqua swallowed hard.

As the tavern emptied, as the patrons fled in fear, the innkeeper asked, "Who do they seek?"

Eloqua said, "I do not know, but you would be most incorrect to insinuate us."

Without waiting for an answer, Eloqua ran to the room. She grabbed Alecto by the hand and lead her through the tavern, into the town's streets, heading for the stables in hopes of retrieving Gullnir to continue their flight.

They ran through a mad crowd. The Guards grabbed people up behind them, questioning the whereabouts of an Empress' daughter, striking men and women alike with the backs of their hands when no satisfactory answer was given.

As the Guards neared, Eloqua feared being caught. She pushed Alecto towards a small staircase on the outside of a home. They hid beneath and behind the stairs along with a few townspeople.

People ran, crazed. Men stood against the Guards only to be struck down if not by one, then by many. Fifty Guards clad in royal armor terrorized Usk.

"We must get to Gullnir before they do," whispered Eloqua to Alecto. "Surely they'll recognize the Empress' prized horse and know we are here."

"How?" asked Alecto. "How do we get through the crowd without notice?"

Eloqua did not answer, for she had no answer to give. She wished only her prayers to be answered.

And they were.

Comet Fox ran through the fleeing crowd. He ran behind buildings, spying the Guards from afar. He ran until he came to a building with a small staircase set outside. He ran beneath it and came up against the steps, peering out at the riot in the town, kneeling near Eloqua and Alecto.

He squinted, counting the number of the Guards.

The people hiding with them mumbled, asking questions about Comet Fox, about the Guards.

Comet Fox looked to Eloqua. "Know you who they are?"

Eloqua's heart beat harshly. She did not know of this creature, but she felt she could trust no other.

Comet Fox eyed her and young Alecto.

Eloqua's mouth worked. She decided to trust this fox-god. She looked to Alecto, then to Comet Fox and said simply, "If they find her, they will kill her."

Comet Fox considered them. He looked out at the bullying Guards. He could not understand how such a young woman could warrant such a response from armed soldiers, but decided one of so few years, one who had just reached her womanhood, could not have lived long enough to conduct great evil. No, thought Comet Fox, it was not the girl that was evil. As he watched a Guard slip a blade into an old man's chest, he decided theses Guards were evil. He wanted to fight them, but fifty men was far too many for even a skilled veteran of combat like himself. Their numbers too great, his tricks too few, Comet Fox decided flight was the answer.

He looked to Eloqua and nodded. "Follow me. No matter what happens, keep running."

Eloqua grabbed his arm. "We've a horse at the stables."

"Then we go there first."

Comet Fox lead the two women through the town, sneaking behind buildings, slipping through shadows, until they came to the stable. They had no time to ready Gullnir. Comet Fox helped the women onto the horse's bare back. He then looked into Gullnir's face and instructed him the way he had instructed the two women.

"No matter what happens," he said, "keep running."

Gullnir snorted with understanding.

Together the four fled the town of Usk. So fast was Gullnir that Comet Fox could not keep up while running, but he feared giving himself away should he fly as he would created a long comet-like tail behind him that the Guards would most likely see. He compromised then, flying but doing so low to the ground, too low to be seen from the town of Usk fading slowly behind them.

"Thank you, Blessed One," Eloqua called down to Comet Fox.

Looking back, feeling it safe to fly a little higher so as to be face-to-face with the women, Comet Fox raised himself up and came along side them.

He said, "Where do you go?"

"We're looking for help," said Eloqua.

Alecto, who had been eying Comet Fox a long time, said, "We were hoping to find Balori."

"Balori Shongoyo?" asked Comet Fox. "The Towering Elephant?"

"Yes!" cried Alecto. "You know of him?"

"I fought at his side in the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration," explained Comet Fox. He then introduced himself, "I am Comet Fox."

"I am Eloqua and this is my charge Alecto. She is daughter to the Eternal Empress. Those men that hunt her are the Empress' Guards."

"Why would a mother want her daughter dead?"

"As long as Alecto lives, she'll undermine the Empress' rule. She's just come of age and is ready to take the throne, but the Empress refuses to give up power."

Comet Fox considered this. He also considered helping the women reach Balori's side. He shook his head, "Seeking out Balori is out of the question. I had heard he returned to his homeland of Ife. He is much too far. We must find help that is closer."

"We do not know anyone else," explained Eloqua.

"I do," said Comet Fox. "As soon as I get you someplace safe, I'll fly to Taleisin. I'll return to your side with my friend Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish. He'll know how best to help. His wisdom is great and he is quite trustworthy."

"No!" cried Alecto. She reached out and grasped Comet Fox's pawed hand. She held it firmly as she said, "Since we fled the palace, the only home I've ever known, despair has filled me. I doubted our flight, our purpose. But now, laying eyes upon you, with you at our side, I feel safe. Finally, I feel safe. I do not wish you to leave us so soon."

Comet Fox worked his hand so he held Alecto's fingers gently. He eyed her, cocking his head first to one side then the next. He said, "As you wish, Little Empress. I'll not leave your side."

"Do you promise?" she asked.

He nodded, nuzzling her knuckles with his nose. He said, "I promise. I will serve you as my own Empress until my services are no longer needed or until I can no longer serve you."

Alecto smiled. "Oh, Comet Fox. Thank you."

Comet Fox smiled.

"Then where do we find help?" asked Eloqua.

Comet Fox sighed. He looked to the far horizon. Thoughts filled his head.

Gullnir ran.

Comet Fox kept up in flight.

The women grew tired.

At last Comet Fox said, "I know of another that will help us, one that lives not too far from here."

"Another Blessed One?" asked Alecto.

Comet Fox nodded. "And a friend."

"Who is this friend?" asked Eloqua.

"I've not seen him in a few years. I wandered with him for some time after the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration. He is known by many names, but you may know him best as Stavros the Red."

"And he will help us?"

Comet Fox nodded once more. He said, "Like no other."

On they went, four desperate figures racing through the night, chasing after hope, chasing after rumors of an old friend.


I hope you enjoyed Act II of "Broken Sorrows". Be sure to cehck back next Friday for Act III!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Very sick

With apologies: as you may or may not know, I've heart problems. Yesterday I was feeling quite ill & have as yet to publish Issue 14 of my ezine. I hope to publish it some time today. Sorry for the delay publication.

Friday, May 8, 2009

"Broken Sorrows" -- Act I

Herein we revisit the world of The Children of Gods. These are wuxia tales of fantasy and martial arts, of gods and mortals. It is the 3rd installment of stories to be written for this universe, is the 2nd novel in the universe and is the last tale to feature Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows and Beauty as a major character.

"Broken Sorrows" picks up years after we last visited this world. Enough time has passed for characters to grow older and for some to grow up.

I do hope you'll enjoy.

~ Charles


© 2009 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


IN THE LAND OF BIZO: Wherein Alecto and Adad Grow into Maturity; Jealousy and Suspicion Infects a Dark Heart; Familial Blood is Spilled


Far to the east, to the farthest stretches where stone kisses sea, in the Land of the Bizo did live none other than Sulia Laree, the Eternal Empress. Time had come and gone since the Towering Elephant Balori Shangoyo had last paid this region a visit. Summers had come and gone, winters had frozen and melted, generations of flowers had bloomed and died and now Alecto stood at the precipice of womanhood.

‘Twas mere weeks before the anniversary of her sixteenth year. Her maiden season had come to her. Her body had grown and was filling. She was swiftly becoming the most beautiful woman in Bizo and, some poised, perhaps the most beautiful woman in all the world. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find another to argue against such a statement.

Her brother came to her side that night and together they sat watching the stars.

“It’s been many years since we first saw them,” said Adad.

“And each night I come to this window, look out and up at the stars and thank Balori for his good deed. It seems so impossible now,” she said, “an elephant placing fire in the night sky.”

“Yet he did,” smiled her brother.

“Yet he did,” she confirmed. With some trepidation she said, “If you look, there, in the southern night sky each Spring you can see him.”


“Find the line of three stars. Can you see? Now imagine them connected, making a solid line. It’s as though they shaped Balori’s trunk.”

“And the ears to either side!” exclaimed Adad.

“Yes! Yes, how happy I am you can imagine it, too. I’ve felt so foolish for so long for imagining it there. Especially now, especially on the eve of my full womanhood.”

Her brother shook his head. “It’s not foolish. He gave us such a gift, we should honor him and what better way than to find a home for him amongst the very stars he returned to the world.”

Adad looked from the stars to his sister and found her hanging her head low in thought.

“What is it, dear sister?” he asked.

Alecto sighed. “I’ll miss my childhood. I’ll miss our times together by the water.”

“We’ll still have time together,” Adad assured.

“I’m certain we will,” said Alecto, “but not as we used to. On the morrow I will become a woman in full and will have greater duties in this land and to our people. It is the way of our family.”

“Perhaps,” Adad lamented. He then assured, “But we’ll always make time to come here and remember our elephant hero.”

Alecto smiled. She said, “Perhaps.”



The sky moved and the children aged. Preparations were made for a large celebration in honor of Alecto’s coming-of-age. Word was sent forth the celebration would be made a national affair. And so the people of Bizo gathered foods, costuming and incense to burn in honor of their little daughter.

Long had it been since the children had last seen Fei Li Mi, once their protector. Now presiding over their advancement towards maturity was Eloqua – a middle-aged woman, barren and unable to show her love for children except as a guardian – and Bratis, the Eternal Empress’ new Chief Guard. Eloqua’s and Bratis’ love for the children was great and matched only by the adoration of the people hoping one day to be rule by them, by the people of Bizo.

One night, as the children watched the stars from Alecto’s room, Eloqua and Bratis came to them.

“Our little girl will be made a woman on the morrow,” said Eloqua.

“Tomorrow, our little girl will be made the new Empress,” Bratis smiled with pride.

“Me? The new Empress?” Alecto asked. “But how? How could I take the seat of power from my mother? I had assumed, considering her immortal state and eternal beauty, I would never take from her the position of ruler of Bizo.”

“The righteous act,” proclaimed Bratis, “would be for your mother to step down from the position, relinquishing it to you.”

This startled Alecto. She had assumed she would take on minor roles within Bizo, perhaps traveling to foreign lands as an ambassador for her mother. Not once had she ever considered taking the reigns of all of Bizo from her mother.

“I hadn’t thought it was possible,” she said.

“Your mother is kind,” spoke Eloqua. “At least to you.”

The hint of lamentation in Eloqua’s voice did not escape Adad. Unsure of her tone, he chose to say nothing, to ask no questions.

That very evening, the Eternal Empress paced in her bedchambers. She called forth for Bratis and Eloqua and other servants to come to her side.

“On the morrow we will celebrate my daughter’s birth. Tomorrow marks her sixteenth year. And this flusters me greatly.”

Bratis stepped forward. He asked, “My Empress, why would such a grand and glorious day fluster you? A child’s birth is a thing to celebrate, especially for a mother and especially if that child is the young and beautiful Alecto.”

The Eternal Empress, in all her unnatural youth and fully natural beauty, glowered at Bratis.

“Young and beautiful?” she demanded. “Young and beautiful? You dare fawn over my daughter before me? How dare you! You vile pervert!”

“That is not what I meant, Empress,” Bratis quickly kow-towed to the Eternal Empress. “I meant no offense.”

Sulia Laree approached her personal guard. “Rise you. Rise and be the commander of my guard. Rise and display yourself a man, not a coward, not even before me.”

Bratis stood.

“You’ve been in my service a long time,” said the Empress. “I remember spying you amongst new recruits long ago. I also remember I called you to my bed that very night.”

Sweat began to roll down Bratis’ face. “Empress, no one knows this.”

“No one knew,” replied the Empress. “Until now. Today I stand on the threshold of losing my throne to my daughter. I would keep the throne, however. I’ll not abdicate any minute detail to anyone. Not even to my own blood.”

Bratis stood, shaking nervously. He looked about at the gathered servants who peered back at him and the Empress with wonder.

“Tell them now what you and I know. Tell them the truth,” commanded the Empress.

Uncertain of the repercussions, uncertain of the Empress’ true wishes, Bratis did as he was commanded.

“Alecto is my daughter and not the dead emperor’s, may he rest in peace. You called me to your bed and I was with you while your husband was elsewhere with his political duties. Soon after you were with child.”

The servants listened I horror of the Empress’ betrayal.

Sulia smiled. “And I was not with my husband nor with any other man thereafter.”

Bratis looked around at the gathered servants.

Sulia sat at her vanity, brushing her long, beautiful hair. “Alecto is not my dead husband’s daughter. She is not of pure stock. She is not full royalty. Therefore, I find her unfit to take the throne over the land of Bizo from me. We will celebrate her birth tomorrow, but she will not take hold of any power. Nor will she ever. This I command.”

The servants nodded with understanding, though shocked.

Eloqua stepped forward, “Then what place has she in this land?”

Sulia looked at her. “She has no place, except as my daughter. She will live here until her dying days and I will continue to rule long after.”

Eloqua, finding the Empress’ manner grotesque, worked her mouth but no words came forth.

“Chew your cud elsewhere, cow. Remove yourself from my sight.”

“But to live here for all her days without purpose,” Eloqua protested, “would mean only her imprisonment.”

The Empress nodded. “As it will mean for my son when he comes of age, too.”

“The people love her,” said Eloqua, hoping to reason with the Empress. “As long as she lives she will undermine your authority. The people will call for her ruling.”

The Empress paused her brushing, thinking over this matter. At last she said, “What you say holds truth within it. As long as Alecto lives, she will undermine my authority. Therefore, I must not allow her to continue her life.”

The Empress turned deftly towards Bratis. “Kill her. And do so tonight, before the hour of her birth. Remove her form from my palace so I may continue to reign for all eternity.”

Bratis gasped. He stammered as he spoke, “B-but I can’t! It is my sworn duty to protect her!”

The Empress stood and approached Bratis once more.

“It is your sworn duty to do as I command.”

Again Bratis stammered, “B-but to do so is to… you ask me to kill my own daughter!”

Sulia Laree smiled wickedly. “Do so. Provide me with the evidence I require concerning your loyalty. Express to me your love as you once did behind closed doors. Sacrifice your daughter to me.”

Bratis shook his head. “I simply cannot.”

The Empress frowned. “Then you will die at her side.”

She called for her guards and commended them attack and kill Bratis.

The servants scattered, running from the Empress’ bedchambers, seeking refuge.

Eloqua also escaped, running not for her own quarters, but for the bedchambers of Alecto.

Guards filled the Empress’ bedchambers.

Bratis looked to Aiden, his second in command. He spoke, “Hear me now and know what I speak is truth: Our Empress has gone mad!”

The guards looked to their Empress.

“It’s true,” spoke the Empress. “I’m mad with an illness and that illness is our former Chief Guard Bratis.”

“She wants Alecto killed!” he informed. “And I’ll not do it!”

The guards looked to their Empress for orders.

She leveled her eyes. She commanded, “Kill him.”

The guards approached Bratis.

Bratis, frustrated, pleaded, “At least allow me a weapon. At least allow me to leave this world fighting.”

Empress Sulia nodded.

A spear was lowered to the ground and kicked to Bratis.

The former Chief Guard picked up the weapon. He felt its weight in his hands. He eyed those formerly under his command. He positioned himself into an offensive stance.

“This is nonsense,” spoken Aiden. He walked to Bratis’ side. “I’ll not follow a mad woman.”

The Empress frowned. “Will there be more traitors?”

No more guards turned traitor.

“Remember what I’ve taught you,” he told the guards. “Remember what I’ve said: To fight is to live. Whether you fight for justice or for your life, whether you fight to release anger or as a way to discipline yourself, fighting is living. To sit idly is to be a demon of lethargy.”

The guards looked at him, uncertain.

Bratis eyed them. He commanded, “Now fight me!”

The guards rushed on.

Aiden unsheathed his sword.

Bratis raised his spear.

Three guards challenged Bratis. He knocked down the first with a sweep of the spear and stabbed another. The third lunged forward, sinking his short sword into Bratis’ gut.

Bratis grabbed the guard’s wrist and pulled the sword free from his form. He kneed the guard in the stomach, twisted his wrist until the sword came free. Bratis used the sword against the guard, plunging it into his chest.

Aiden fought valiantly, swimming through the ocean of weapons and guards until he found himself near the bedchamber’s entrance. When he had the chance, he slipped free from the room, guards chasing after him.



Eloqua burst into Alecto’s bedchamber. Alecto was alone, scared by her handmaiden’s sudden intrusion.

“Eloqua! What is it?”

Eloqua grabbed from under the bed a satchel. She opened a chest and pulled from it clothing and began shoving the clothing into the satchel.

“Eloqua? Eloqua, tell me what’s wrong!”

“It’s your mother,” Eloqua turned to look at her, tears welling in her eyes. “She sends guards for you this moment. We must leave.”

“What? For what purpose?” Alecto became frantic. “Why would my mother send guards for me?”

“She fears you. She fears the threat you represent to her rule. She won’t give up the throne.”

Alecto shook her head. “Then I’ll not take it. Why the guards?”

Eloqua paused in her packing. “They come to kill you.”

Alecto shook her head once more. She could not comprehend what Eloqua told her. She said, “No.”

Aiden ran into the room. Blood dripped from a wound at his head and another in his good arm. He held his sword loosely in his off-hand.

“Young miss,” Aiden panted. “We must flee.”

His eyes lolled about in their sockets until they righted themselves and he looked at Alecto once more.

Panic filled Alecto as tears spilled from her eyes. The visage of Aiden in his horrible bloodied form was evidence enough for her.

Eloqua grabbed Alecto by the arm and pulled at her. Alecto followed and Aiden followed them both as they ran towards Adad’s room. They came to the hall in time to bear witness to two guards striking down the young man.

“Adad!” Alecto cried out.

The guards, hearing the unbridled, bloodcurdling scream, turned to see Alecto and her escorts. Aiden stepped forward, his sword leveled.

The two guards rushed at him and with two terrible, swift blows Aiden struck them both down, blood pouring from the wounds at their necks as flesh peeled from muscle to show viscous gore.

“Keep running,” Aiden commanded. He steered them through and then out of the palace, bringing them to the Empress’ stables.

Kalavata flew high overhead and Zingtai followed below. The night sky glittered with brilliant stars, yet none of them saw this.

Aiden roused a stable hand. Together, they prepared Gullnir, the Empress’ prized horse and often touted the fastest horse in all of Bizo, for Eloqua and Alecto. Once mounted, Alecto in the saddle before Eloqua, Aiden looked at the two women and said, “Ride. Ride until you can ride no more. Ride until the horse is dead. Never come back. Ride and live well.”

Alecto cried.

Eloqua looked at Aiden. “What of you?”

Aiden shook a little, his wounds draining him of strength. He closed his eyes, then opened them and looked to Eloqua.

“When first I joined the guard, I took an oath to protect the Empress and her family. I swore to defend them with my life. Now the Empress is not in harm’s way, but her family is. And I intend to live by my oath.”

Tears welled and ran down Eloqua’s face. She said, “May the gods bless you.”

He nodded and escorted the horse out of the stables. He watched them go. And when the mass of guards descended upon him, he fought well once more. Alas, a far swifter blade then his fell him.

The guards found the stable missing a single horse, the Empress’ prize steed missing, killed the stable hand.

When the Eternal Empress heard of the theft of Gullnir, she commanded riders be readied and chase after her daughter.

“Ride,” she told her guards. “Ride and strike down that foul creature from my womb!”

Eloqua took the reigns and rode the horse hard out of the lands of Bizo. They rode through the night, the moonlit sky shimmering on heather-filled plains under the starry sky. Dew collected on their cheeks and on Gullnir's body. They rode until long after midnight, a silhouette of desperation on the far horizon.

At last, Alecto asked, “What do we do now?”

Eloqua replied, “I’ve been thinking of what to do. We must find help. We must find friends that will help us, friends that will keep us safe.”

“Balori!” Alecto said.

“His lands are too far off. We must find friends closer.”

“Oh,” Alecto lowered her head. “Then what shall we do? For whom do we search? Where should we find help?”

Eloqua shook her head. “Pray, dear one. Pray to the gods. Ask that they oversee us in our trials. Pray. Perhaps one of them will hear.”

Alecto lowered her head, her tears falling into the thick mane of Slepnir. She prayed.

And the gods of the world heard.



On the Mountain that Lived in the Sky, in the beautiful land of Taliesin, Xiao-tep was relaxing at the side of Aglina when he thought he heard a small, distant voice come to him. He excused himself and flew down the mountain, flying by the Spear of Sorrows planted firmly in the ground with ivy growing all about it. He flew until he came to the edge of the mountain so that he could look down onto the world below.

Otti the Firefly, having seen Xiao-tep fly by, came to his side.

“What is it?” asked little Otti.

Without looking at his friend, Xiao-tep said, “Someone is in need of help.”

“How do you know?”

Xiao-tep looked for an answer within himself. “I am uncertain. It is as though I have wisdom without the knowledge of its origins. And I fear this is the beginning of a course of events. I fear a great wickedness will soon come to the world, a wickedness old and familiar.”

Otti shuddered at Xiao-tep’s grave prophecy.


I hope you enjoyed Act I of "Broken Sorrows". Check back next week for Act II.