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"!

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