Friday, December 3, 2010

Flint Holiday Festival

I attended the Flint Holiday Festival this week. The mayor, Angie Hendershot and Bill Harris were on hand. I got some video. Here it is!

Friday, November 26, 2010

New Games

There's quite a few games due out next year or are currently out that I'll be living for. Here are the videos of such games.

Fallout New Vegas


Deus Ex Human Revolution

Friday, November 19, 2010

Punk Rock Rummage Sale 3-D!

I was going to take this last week off. As it turns out, I got the opportunity to take part in the Punk Rock Rummage Sale 3-D!

So I spent the last week making stuffs for this arts & crafts & punk show. I'll be selling the following digs (and more):


Hand painted patch


Atomic Swan Films Liberty Spike Beanie

Come out and do some of your XMas shopping!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

I'm posting early this week in honor of Veteran's Day here in the United States.


~ Charles

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Haven't Blogged in a While

I haven't blogged in a while. October was rough, though good. Last June I founded Atomic Swan Films, a movie company "making movies in Michigan, about Michigan and for the good people of Michigan" here in Flint. We shot our first short starting September 29th and ending October 24th. Besides filming, I also made an appearance at the Flint Zombie Walk, of which I was a sponsor through If EZine and Atomic Swan Films. I also made appearances at the Night of the Living Dead Screening and the Skelebration of Scares as Iffy.

The end result: this 'lil boy is uber tired. No matter how much I sleep, I can't get enough rest. I've been napping like crazy, too. If I wasn't convinced Hollywood would've killed me before, I am now. The hours and demand are too much.

But doing things my way and on my own terms here in Flint should allow me some room to work with.

The next project for Atomic Swan Films will be a film about the Michigan Dog Man. I'm also likely to want to write a little more on The Children of Gods. But that'll be all for next year.

Until then, I'm going to try to rest and catch up on other writing.

~ Charles

Friday, October 29, 2010


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Skelebration of Scares

Iffy the Ifreet, horror host for If EZine, will be making an appearance this year at the Skelebration of Scares. He'll be telling stories along with other area writers. Photo booth and more will be featured!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Flint Zombie Walk 2010 is tomorrow!

Come out to the Flint Zombie Walk tomorrow! Our grand marshal is none other than Kyra Schon herself (the little girl from the original Night of the Living Dead). Check out ABC's coverage of LAST YEAR'S zombie walk!

For more information:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dracula Has Risen From The Grave

I have searched FOREVER to find the name of this movie. I simply remembered the premise from watching it as a child. Thanks to Tyler Zickfoose who found it for me!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Scene 7 Improv from Among Thieves short film

Here's some outtakes from the short film I'm shooting. Enjoy. ;)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Flint Zombie Walk 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Zombie Hunter

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Attacks Happening in Flint

I was so caught up with the movie yesterday that I forgot to blog!

So I'm lifting something from local events. Strange attacks have been going on in Flint, Michigan, where I live. Viewer beware: Some of this is a little gruesome.

Find out more here.


Friday, September 10, 2010

If EZine Issue #16 is Here

The Annual Halloween Issue of my webzine, IF EZine, is now available! Check it out FOR FREE at:

Friday, September 3, 2010

Special Effects Tests

Homemade squib-testing for my movie, Among Thieves!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Flint Zombie Walk 2010

Both If EZine and my movie company Atomic Swan Films will be sponsoring the Flint Zombie Walk this year. And Iffy the Ifreet will be making his first public appearance at the event!

Check it out October 23rd! It's a fun event for a good cause!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ultramarines Movie

A little video about the Ultramarines movie. I found this video by way of Dan Abnett on Facebook. Thanks Dan!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Behind the Scenes with the "Chain Gang Bitches"

Behind the Scenes of John A. Benjamin's and Anarchy Productions' "Chain Gang Bitches" trailer to be featured in Project Swan! PLEASE NOTE: Adult language and situations are present... viewer discretion advised.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Iffy is Nigh

I missed posting last week due to the fact I was tending to some personal family issues. But I'm back this week, and with a new video/slideshow.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Blood Red Moonlight Sonata

Friday, July 16, 2010


The future is now.


Friday, July 9, 2010

If EZine vs the World

I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off yesterday trying to figure out what to blog today. My good friend and partner in crime J. Ho suggested I make up a few church signs using the sign generators so prevalent on the internet these days (here's the one I used). He even gave me a few ideas to get me started. About an hour and a half later, I had 15 of these little suckers. I'll be posting them all on the If EZine Facebook profile as well as the If EZine MySpace profile.


Any take a look at J. Ho's SketchBlog. It's nifty.

And be sure to visit, home to If EZine, the Free Online Magazine of Thrilling Speculative Fiction!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Prey Trailer

I've been making some friends through filmmaking, one such new friend is John A. Benjamin, owner of Anarchy Productions. He makes exploitation films here in Burton, MI. And I love 'em. Here's the Prey trailer.

Friday, June 25, 2010

RIP Dennis Hopper

I'm going through some pretty heavy shit with my family right now. I'm actually holding up well, but I'm tired. And I've had my movie on my mind the whole time.

Since I cite Easy Rider as inspiration for my movie, I thought I'd post a clip. And while we're at it, RIP Dennis Hopper.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Playlist for "Among Thieves"

I'm just about 7 weeks out from beginning to film. I'm trying not to freak out and doing an okay job being cool so far. I'll learn some things this weekend about key people to be involved with the film and I'll know by then whether or not to freak out Haha

The big point is that all my time from hereon in will be dedicated to the film, so I won't be writing much here on the blog. That's a sad scenario for some, I assume, but a good one as I'll still be working creatively, just in other capacities.

So for today's post I thought I'd share with you the playlist of songs I've been listening to fairly consistently while developing the script and generally working on the film.

My film, "Among Thieves", is based heavily upon 1970s indie movies, like Trip with the Teacher; Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry; Easy Rider; and Pink Angels. It follows three men on a crime spree across Michigan.

Here's the playlist. Enjoy.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup begins today. Here's the official theme for South Africa by K'Naan.

I'll be watching USA, of course (American Outlaws and Sam's Army, anyone?). But I'm also keeping an eye on Ivory Coast, New Zealand and Germany.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Michigan Dog Man

I damn near forgot to blog today. I've been taking an entrepreneurial class as of late and I've been spending most of my time split between that and the movie. As such, my time for writing here on the blog has been greatly lessened.

Here now is a video I came across whilst researching ideas for future movie projects.

Enjoy the legend of the Michigan Dog Man.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Project Swan Update

An update about the movie I'm working on.

Friday, May 21, 2010

New If Ezine Product!

That's right, my site and webzine will soon feature merchandise! Specifically, this ringer tee. It will go for approx. $20 (plus S&H). Be on the look-out for it at!

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Seven Jade Doors" -- Act VI

"Seven Jade Doors" is copyright 2010 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.



DEATH RIDES INTO LIU-WAL: Wherein Añuli is Born and Placed Amongst the Stars; The Trap is Sprung by Ketsueki Sato; Many Die in Liu-wal; The World Weeps


Part 1

Once there was a powerful sorceress named Rea Mani-citali. She traveled far and wide and had taken residence within the Many Hells to learn from the demons there the arts of sorcery, of manipulating the world with thoughts. And though she consorted with demons she could not be spoken of in terms of grand adventure. Oft she would meet demons, ask of them questions and have questions asked of her, then her training was complete. Her life was one of studiousness and the only matter of note is that she was on more than one occasion chased from a town or village as a witch though she rarely performed her sorcery and she had never become a Blessed One incapable of dying through natural causes. Indeed, she remained quite mortal.

Then came a time when she met Kawacatoose, a beggar and con man that traveled the world scheming monies from people. A genuine romance blossomed between the two and when people heard of this many hoped their love would change their ways. If anything, however, the couple became proficient at bending the minds of others to their own needs and stole from innocents daily.

Soon came the time, however, when Kawacatoose lay with Rea Mani-citali in the desert in an embrace of passion. Upon witnessing this, and feeling sorrow for the corruption the couple brought into the world, the sun goddess Amaterasu visited Rea Mani-citali's womb without her knowledge as Kawacatoose loved her and there blessed the couple with a shining son that would bring good into the world.

When the child was born the couple was at first quite happy. They named this daughter Añuli for they last had gained immortality through child. But soon they realized their daughter was different, perhaps cursed - though in reality Añuli had been blessed by Amaterasu. The child grew swiftly, was far more beautiful than either of her parents and glowed softly as night as though lit by a candle from within.

Rea Mani-citali accepted her daughter nonetheless and with Kawacatoose raised her whilst traveling the world. They taught their daughter the ways of treachery and betrayal, the games of cards and dice and the skills of selling dreams to take monies. But when Añuli came of age at thirteen, she began twisting the deceptions. The first, she used a game of cards and when her parents - both posing as strangers to one another and destitute gamblers - placed all their monies in a game to entice others to do the same, Añuli switched the cards, thus causing her parents to lose all money they had. Añuli found this to be great fun though her parents scolded and beat her for it.

On grew young Añuli into full adulthood. She continued to play her tricks, though rarely on her parents. She grew less interested in scheming money from others, as well.

On a moonlit night she sat by the shore of a great ocean and wondered at the stars. Soon she was able to decipher the shape of a man in them. Upon feeling his presence discovered, the man took the full form of a living mortal and descended the night sky as mist. He sat in the sand beside Añuli, looking into her eyes with wonder. Said he, "Long have I waited for one to find me hiding within the jewels of Zingtai. Long have I pondered the identity of my discoverer. Thought I the person to find me would be some aged sage or blood-covered warrior announcing his victories to the night. Yet here you are, a beautiful young lady. I must confess as I sit here, though I yet know not your name, that I love you."

Warmth swelled within Añuli chest and body. She nearly shook with anticipation and conversation. She said, "I am Añuli."

"I am Caelestis of the Night," said the man.

"I did not know the stars could shape themselves into the shape of a man," said Añuli.

"Many mortals can be found reflected in the stars," explained Caelestis.

Each night, no matter where she roamed with her parents, Añuli would sit and find Caelestis within the stars and he would come to her side and they would talk into the night. A love blossomed between the two.

Añuli told her parents of Caelestis and they demanded to meet this man. It was done and they both loved their daughter's suitor. On a night when Añuli stepped away to be with Caelestis, Rea Mani-ciali and Kawacatoose spoke.

"Dear love," said Kawacatoose, "this man is a god. He lives on within the stars. Surely he must have great powers. What should be done is to convince him to marry our daughter to inherit his wealth and heavenly powers. Once this is done, we can then rid ourselves of Caelestis and our daughter shall rule the nighttime sky and we would benefit as her parents."

"Yes, this plan is good," agreed Rea Mani-citali, "but how do we rid ourselves of a god?"

"You are a sorceress, do you not know how to destroy a god?"

Rea shook her head, "Not entirely. That is beyond my means or I would have razed the Many Heavens and taken up residence there long ago. I know, at best, how to bind a god to a specific place so he can never move from there."

"Then this shall be done. If Caelestis is bound to the ground, he cannot rule the nighttime sky and our daughter will have to take his place."

"It is agreed, then," said Rea, "we will do this thing."

And so Añuli's parents extended an invitation to Caelestis to join their family for a meal. Caelestis accepted this invitation and Rea and Añuli set about preparing a fine meal in the open over a campfire. Añuli was happy to have her family accepting her newfound love in Caelestis.

Matters were discussed in a general sense as the food was prepared. Kawacatoose asked of rather bluntly of Caelestis, "What do you plan with my daughter? Would you marry her?"

"Oh, how I would love to, Kawacatoose. If, that is, you would only give us your blessings."

"I would," answered Kawacatoose.

Caelestis and Añuli smiled upon hearing this.

"But how would you care for my daughter?" asked Kawacatoose.

"I would give her everything I could," answered Caelestis.

"Would you give her all your powers within the nightly heavens? Could she become a star maiden as you, too, reside in the stars?"

"I would. Yes, I would," answered Caelestis. "So in love am I with your daughter, I will gladly give all my powers to her now if only to be with her forever. I need not be married to her to give up everything."

Upon hearing this proclamation, Rea and Kawacatoose smiled.

The food was set out and Rea called for a prayer.

"But you have never prayed before this," said a suspicious Añuli.

"We have never had a god to pray to before," said Rea.

As the prayer was begun by Rea Mani-citali, her words soon changed from worship to demonic tongues. Añuli, recognizing a curse being spoken, cried out in horror and grabbed at her mother. Kawacatoose gathered up his daughter and pinned her to the ground so she would not interfere with her mother's casting of the curse.

As Reaa Mani-citali spoke, Caelestis found himself being bound to a nearby boulder, large and immovable. He felt as though his entire body was growing roots and taking hold of the land. He soon was propelled into the stone and there bound forevermore.

Añuli cried out in terror and, when her father let go of her, she ran to the stone, fell upon it and wept.

"Do not fret," said her mother. "You heard Caelestis' proclamation as well as anyone and I'm certain the Many Heavens heard it, as well. He said he grants you all his powers, even without your marriage. Since he is now bound to the lands, you must take his place and with your new position as a star maiden you will be more powerful than ever."

Añuli wiped tears from her eyes. She demanded, "Why have you done this? How could you gain anything from this?"

Rea Mani-citali smiled and said, "Why, you are our daughter. Whatever is yours to inherit shall become ours. We are now rich in ways money cannot compare."

"You are rich only if I share it with you," said Añuli. "And share it I will not."

Feeling the power and the pull of the stars traveling across the nighttime sky, Añuli floated as mist into the sky overhead where she shifted in form to that of a collection of stars outlining her shape. She looked down upon her lover, Caelestis, now bound to a boulder and she wept. And where her eye would be, where the tears would fall, the brightest star shone.

In the days following, Añuli used all her newfound powers to sway the course of a gang of robbers to her parents. This gang of robbers held Rea Mani-citali and Kawacatoose for ransom, but when they discovered no one would pay for the safety of the treacherous couple, the robbers murdered them both and left their bodies to rot beside a lake.

So Añuli came to be known as Añuli the Star Maiden, Protector of All Against the Treacherous. Whenever a person felt they might be the victim of betrayal, or when new business dealings were entered into, or when gamblers needed a new run of luck, Añuli was prayed to. And of all the gods and goddesses, Añuli knew best how to fend of treachery and deceit for she had once been a trickster herself. But now she spent every night watching over the innocent with one eye and with the other weeping for her lover, Caelestis, who now stood silent within a giant stone.


Part 2

Tiger Chiang stood at the borders of the city of Liu-wal. He moved from hence to place himself downwind. He sniffed at the air and his great lips curled, baring his teeth. He said to Mabo, who was sitting upon his shoulder beneath Tiger Chiang's straw hat, "The demon is here. I have winded the foul stench of his wickedness."

Mabo shuddered to think they were so close to the demon and the hunter that had killed his people. He asked, "What shall we do from here? I had not thought what to do when we caught up with them."

"I have," Tiger Chiang growled lowly. He reached into his sack and pulled forht a steamed bun. He tore from it a small piece and offered it to Mabo, but Mabo could not eat. The small hare shook his head and asked, "What shall we do, then?"

"A town of this size is likely to have a tavern or inn of some sort that serves food and liquor. You will go there and order for me a saké and keep watchful eye over it until I come to drink it," instructed Tiger Chiang.

Mabo sniffed at Tiger Chiang. He asked, "And what would you do?"

"I will put down this demon and his men." Tiger Chaind swallowed the last of the steamed bun and offered a hand to Mabo. The hare allowed his friend to prick him from his shoulder and to be placed on the ground. "Now go," said Tiger Chaing.

"But," Mabo stammered. "This is my fight. I should be present."

"Know you how to fight?"

Mabo lowered his head, ashamed he did not know how to fight yet he had come looking for a fight.

"Keep safe within the tavern," instructed Tiger Chiang.

Knowing not what else to do, Mabo followed his friend's instructions. He scurried into the town, looking for the tavern. At last he came to the place he was to go, but as he neared the door familiar voices filled his long ears. Memories leapt into his mind; memories of the night his family was slaughtered; memories of overjoyed voices and desperate squeals. He looked around the corner and there found the Eternal Empress' shoulder, now clothed differently. He did not recornize them all, but two struck hard as a hammer against the anvil of memory. He scurried away, finding a spot beneath the tavern as the building was raised on small stilts. The hare's heart beat rapidly. The tuft of fur upon his neck rose and prickled. He listened to the voices overhead. He heard them talking about nothing of grave importance until one said, "I wish those damn creatures would soon show themselves. I thirst for more blood."

"Quiet," scolded another. "The demon's plan is immaculate and if it is to remain so we must charade as merchant and not speak of such things. Quiet your tongue lest the plan turn sour."

Mabo heard this and thought they spoke of himself and Tiger Chiang. "It's a trap!" Mabo whispered to himself. His little lips stammered in incontrollable fashion, wondering what he should do. He thought he should run to find Tiger Chiang, to warn him the demon was lying in wait for them. He peered out from under the tavern in time to bear witness to Tiger Chiang's coming. A few passersby spied him, but carried on without further notice. Mabo bolted from under the tavern, yelling, "Friend Tiger Chiang! It's a trap! It's a trap! The demon lies in wait!"


Part 3

Stavros and the others came into Liu-wal. They had traveled hard all morning and were tired. They left Gullnir, freeing him outside of town and thanked him for his efforts. They feared his likeness might give away their presence since a horse was more difficult to hide. Stavros eyed the town then his friends. He said, “We must discover the geography of this place, first. Then we’ll find a place to rest and discuss our plans.”

A thought struck Snow Fox and he asked, “What would we do should Ketsueki Sato already be in Liu-Wal?”

Stavros looked at the town. He said, “I doubt that. Look, there are peaceful matters and people going about their business. Should Ketsueki already be here, he would be busily burning everything to the ground.”

Snow Fox agreed with this and was relieved. The small group traveled together through the town, seeking out hiding spots and determining a place to rest. Elkhorn spied them and avoided their line of sight, circling the market as they walked through its center, circling them, hungry for the fight to come.

They came at last to the center of town, nearby the tavern. Exploding Sword pointed to the tavern and suggested, “We could rest there. We haven’t much money, but we could find drink and some rice there.”

All immediately agreed and as they moved closer, convinced Ketsueki was not near except Stavros who kept a watchful eye for any sign. He watched a lady come near to them, watched her pass and dig at her sash to produce a small coin to be placed in a beggar’s cup. She fumbled with the coin and it dropped clumsily from her hand, but the beggar reached out swiftly and grabbed the coin before it hit the ground, far swifter than Stavros thought one with an illness should be able to react. The beggar’s hand was wrapped in cloth, he noticed. He watched as the beggar said something to the woman. He could not hear the voice, but assumed he gave his thanks as he placed the coin in the cup. The woman hurried away now without saying anything in return, as though afraid – as though afraid of what she had heard.

Stavros spoke. He did not yell, nor did he speak softly. He spoke with all normalcy and control in his voice, “They’re here.”

Hearing this, his friends turned with a waking horror, many placing their hands upon their weapons. They searched to find what Stavros looked at and saw only the beggar.

“Do you fear a beggar?” teased Exploding Sword.

“He is no beggar,” Stavros said as his hand grasped the hilt of his sword.

Then came to them another voice, a small voice, though its urgency and strain made it sound large and full and fearful. “Friend Tiger Chiang!” screamed the voice. “It's a trap! It's a trap! The demon lies in wait!”

The gathered group turned to see a small hare running from beneath the tavern.

They turned again to see Tiger Chiang coming, eying the hare. The tiger took a defensive stance, bared his claws and sniffed the air, his nose leading his head to turn until he looked at the beggar. Tiger Chiang growled ferociously.

The people nearby drew closer and immediately quite.

Stavros grabbed at the drinking gourds and other items tied to his waist and let them fall free, drawing his sword until it came before him in both hands.

A cackle of genuine amusement came from the beggar and silenced the whole rest of the town as it grew in volume and breadth. The beggar rose, though not struggling to stand but instead as though floating. Wicked vines appeared beneath the tattered robes. Came a voice from the beggar, “Heh-heh-heh… At long last you have come to me. At long last I shall seep the blood of Blessed Ones. Welcome to Liu-wal, the place where you all shall die!”

The robes and rags were flung from Ketsueki’s form.

Exploding Sword clenched his fists.

Yele Prin Prin readied her talons.

Balin Pop and Jasmyn clenched one another.

Snow Fox whimpered with excitement, spinning his throwing knives in his hands.

Eloqua turned towards the tavern only to be backed away by the appearance of the Eternal Empress’ soldiers, dressed as merchants, wielding knives.

Elkhorn stepped from the market, his bow in his hands, an arrow knocked and aimed for Yele Prin Prin. Though he, since she appeared the only one that could fly, must first be killed.

Stavros did not know this tiger, nor did he yet trust him. It appeared as though the tiger and the hare were enemies against Ketsueki, but appearances had been deceiving this day. He decided instead to strike at the heart of their enemies.

“Come to me, Ketsueki!” challenged Stavros. “Let my sword drink your blood this day!”

The soldiers yelled and charged.

Ketsueki turned his head towards Stavros and smiled his ugly smile.

Tiger Chiang’s muscles contracted, ready to pounce.

Snow Fox readied his knives.

Wounds would soon be opened. Blood would soon be spilled.


Part 4

Tiger Chiang leapt forward at the demon Ketsueki, his claws slicing the air with a fury only the gods may speak of. His claws came downward upon Ketsueki, tearing his wooded hide and stripping from him some bark. Ketsueki looked at the scars upon his chest, unfettered by the attack. He looked at Tiger Chiang and grew larger than the tiger’s size, looked down upon him and smiled. A burst of laughter came from Ketsueki as his tendrils busied themselves at grasping for the tiger. Tiger Chiang’s world filled with flipping, flitting vines. He fought them off and otherwise was made to ignore the demon altogether.

Came Stavros next, his sword held aloft, his focus upon the demon’s waist. He swung his steel, drawing the metal blade across the demon below the mid-section. A scar appeared, but the wood of Ketsueki’s form did not allow the blade to bite too deeply. It gave instead until the blade left only the thin scar.

Ketsueki looked down upon Stavros. He grabbed him up with his vines, wrapping themselves about Stavros’ throat and immediately began choking the rat.

“Far too tangled is he!” cried Tiger Chiang.

The people of Liu-wal ran from the center of their town, running in terror at the Blessed Ones and the demon fighting. Screams lifted into the air as children were not gently but hurriedly pricked from their homes as their parents took them to safety.

Eloqua pulled forth the branch she had been using as a weapon for practice and wielded it clumsily at the soldiers. The soldiers looked at the woman, gazed upon the servant and her puny makeshift implement, looked to one another and in unison laughed.

“Laugh at me?” cried out a nervous Eloqua, “I’ve enough knowledge of the fight in me to kill at least one of you. Which of you will it be? I’ll allow you to decide.”

Again the soldiers looked at one another and laughed. One of them waved his hands to the side, indicating the rest to circle Eloqua and her companions Yele Prin Prin, Exploding Sword, Balin Pop and Jasmyn. His fellows did this and he said, “Foolish woman! Once you were the servant of the Eternal Empress. You, of all those gathered here, should know her soldiers have never known fear. Fear is a friend we refuse to make.”

“Come!” cried Eloqua in desperation, “Come and meet with your god!”

Another soldier stepped towards her, his knives flashing in the mid-day sun. He said, “It is you who will die! For your treachery against the Eternal Empress!”

He lunged at her.

Eloqua listened to Stavros’ voice yet in her memory. She raised the sharpened branch, thrust forward, using its advantage of reach and the soldier’s own charge against him. Thrusting and falling, the two forces met as the branch’s tip met with the soldier’s ribs. It pierced him through, though not deeply.

Exploding Sword grabbed Eloqua’s hands, now shaking as they held the branch. He pushed with all his might, dragging Eloqua with him until the branch pierced the back of the soldier and he gasped with throes of death upon the wooded weapon.

“You must make certain to do it this way. If you are to kill a man,” said Exploding Sword, “you must kill him completely or you will not kill him at all.”

The soldier fell to the dirty road before the tavern.

The branch twisted from Eloqua’s hands and she gave a small yelp.

The other soldiers fell upon Exploding Sword and Yele Prin Prin.

Eloqua, feeling the urgency of the fight, grabbed the branch once more. She tried to remove it from the soldier’s body but it would not go. At last, seeing a soldier come for her, she bent low to pick up the fallen soldier’s paired knives and stood up with them. She made her final peace with death in the small moment before the new soldier was upon her. She gripped the knives taught and she began to fight.

Eloqua struck out first. Her knives bit the air. She was clumsy with her moves, slow. The soldier allowed her to fight the air around them, tiring herself. He knew that soon she would grow so weak from her own fight, he could easily split open her stomach and seek the vengeance needed for his fallen comrade. When at last she was showing with wear, the soldier came at her and stuck both blades into her ribs. He lifted up with them, lifting the woman off the ground with only the hilts of his knives and his own strength. Eloqua groaned and blood ran from her left nostril and mouth. The soldier lowered her and pulled free his knives. She threatened to fall, but he reached out to grab her by the clothes and sank one knife into her breast again and again, seventeen times in all until her chest was covered with blood. He then let her fall and focused his attentions on Yele Prin Prin.

Yele, seeing the fallen Eloqua, noticed the woman’s mouth moving, but could not hear her words as she spoke softly and the fighting was waged loudly.

“Tell my liege,” said Eloqua through bloodstained teeth, “I have died as I had lived: in service only to Alecto.”

Eloqua drew her last breath. Her chest stopped its slow rise and fall. Her eyes remained open and staring at something beyond the fight. Her body lay motionless.

Balin Pop grabbed up the knives from Eloqua and handed one to his wife. They jittered nervously before a soldier. Balin Pop struck out blindly and the soldier easily knocked his efforts away. The soldier then grabbed Jasmyn by the wrist and brought his own short sword down on her forearm, severing it there. He allowed her hand and portion of her arm to fall to the road.

Balin Pop roared with anger at this. He swung wildly at the soldier, only to be stabbed in the thigh for his efforts.

Exploding sword came to their aid. He grabbed the arm of the soldier with the short sword, pulled him close and punched him in the side of the head. The soldier’s skull cracked and he fell dead.

Jasmyn looked upon her arm in horror as her husband picked up the short sword. Her husband then cut a bit of his clothing free and wrapped her wound to stop the bleeding.

Yele Prin Prin’s claws struck the edge of a soldier’s incoming knife and together they sparked with fight. She reached out to claw across the soldier’s chest, but the wounds were small and bled only in a small way.

Elkhorn groaned as he saw the soldiers descend upon Yele Prin Prin and the others. He had wanted to kill the one capable of flight first, but now, if he shot, he risked killing one of his own men. The lives or deaths of the soldiers mattered little to him and, with his newfound love of Ketsueki Sato, he lowered his bow and wondered at the strength of his loyalties for the Eternal Empress. He had decided her pleasure was not as valuable as that of demon’s when a small knife struck him in the left shoulder. Shocked, he looked at the weapon with a wide mouth. He looked to find where the weapon had come from only to see Snow Fox running at him.

Elkhorn grimaced. He ignored the knife stuck in his shoulder and raised his bow. He let loose an arrow only to watch it skip across the ground where Snow Fox had once been. Snow Fox, seeing the arrow, used his swiftness to roll sideways and come behind a crate of pomelo fruits. He peered around the corner and threw another blade wildly. Elkhorn easily ducked Snow Fox’s weapon and overturned a merchant’s tables to create a wall with which to hide behind. He knelt low, watching the now ruddy-colored fox. He watched as the fox peeked around the corner of the crate and threw a knife. Elkhorn jumped as the knife struck the table just below his face. He looked once more to see Snow Fox had left a foot sideways out from behind the crate. Elkhorn knocked an arrow, he drew the length of his bow and fired it. The arrow struck Snow Fox in the foot, causing him to cry out in pain as it pinned him to the ground. He tried to pull his foot free, but to no avail. Snow Fox attempted to run away, hoping the full weight of his body would pull the arrow free, but it was useless. He flopped helplessly on the ground, making every effort to free himself.

Seeing this, Elkhorn stood from his hiding place and readied another arrow. He stepped from behind the tables and drew near to Snow Fox.

Mabo, afraid and watching his friend fighting the entanglement of the demon, ran to bite at the vines.

“No!” cried Tiger Chaing when he saw this. “Run from here! Hide yourself as we had planned. If you remain here you die!”

Mabo, now angry that his efforts were unwanted, cried out, “This is my fight as much as anyone’s!”

“Hide yourself, you damned fool rodent!” growled Tiger Chiang.

Mabo scurried in fear at the growl. He turned to watch as Tiger Chiang made his way through the tangling vines to reach out and claw at the vines strangling Stavros. A few broke free from the demon’s body and the rat was set free. He landed on his feet and bent over to gasp for air.

“Keep fighting!” growled Tiger Chaing.

Stavros raised himself and nodded. He swung his sword at the countless offending vines.

“He allows a stranger to fight, but not his friend!” Mabo argued with no one. “If Tiger Chiang will not allow me to aid him, then I will help another!”

Mabo looked about. He watched Exploding Sword punch one of the soldier’s knives, causing it to exploding along with the bones in the hand that held the weapon. He felt he could not help there. Then he peered into the market where Elkhorn now stalked the wounded Snow Fox. Hatred bred within Mabo for the murderer of his people. Without much thought, Mabo ran towards the market, screaming, “I come for you, murderer! I know not how, but I will topple you this day!”

Hearing the coming small voice, Elkhorn turned his attentions away from Snow Fox.

Snow Fox, also hearing the hare’s coming, looked to see how closely Elkhorn had come. He grabbed another knife from his belt and threw it, striking Elkhorn in the neck. Blood spurt from the wound and around the metal blade. Elkhorn stepped sideways and cried out.

Mabo ceased his approach, afraid of the scene before him. Seeing Elkhorn too busy to mind him, Mabo thought it best to help the trapped fox so that they might fight together. He ran to Snow Fox’s side, grabbed at the arrow with his teeth and pulled upwards.

“Who are you?” demanded Snow Fox.

Mabo said something, but with the arrow in his mouth, the words were indecipherable.

“What?” asked Snow Fox.

Mabo removed his mouth from the arrow and said, “A friend.” He once more returned to trying to remove the arrow from the fox’s foot.

Seeing the hare trying to help him, Snow Fox said, “I don’t think that either one of us will get it alone. Here, allow he to grasp it with both hands and you with your mouth and we’ll pull together.”

They did this and soon the arrow was free from the ground though still lodged in Snow Fox’s foot.

Snow Fox then said, “Watch out! He comes again!”

Mabo turned to see Elkhorn had regained his composure though the knife remained in the side of Elkhorn’s neck. Mabo ran forward and bit at the man’s shins, but Elkhorn pulled back a foot and so hard did he kick that the hare flew across the market to land hard, his back hitting a crate of vegetables and chasing the air from his lungs. Mabo lay on the ground, panting, uncertain of what had just happened to him yet certain he was near death.

Elkhorn removed another arrow from his quiver and readied it on his bow. He raised the weapon. Snow Fox, seeing this, pulled another knife and threw it. The blade struck Elkhorn in his left hand, the hand that held the bow itself, cutting free his middle and ring fingers while the blade lodged in the bow.

Elkhorn cried out again and dropped the bow. He stumbled, afraid now. Long had he fought with a bow, now his hand was rendered useless to a bow. He made his way out of town, away from the fight.

Snow Fox did not waste this opportunity. He quickly shoved the arrow through his foot, screamed in pain, then got to his feet and made his way towards the fallen Mabo.

As the battle raged within Liu-wal, Comet Fox came upon the town. He flew overhead and peered down from the clouds. “We’re here,” said Comet Fox to Alecto.

Alecto looked down upon the town and witnessed the rising of dust, the scuffling of peoples and Blessed Ones and animals alike. She said, “Something happens there now.”

Comet Fox, the trickster god and one so loving towards jokes and drink and song and goodness, frowned. He said, “The fight has already begun.”

“What shall we do?” asked Alecto.

“I’ll land outside the town and together we’ll run to find you a hiding place. Then we will join the fight.”

Comet Fox circled the town, looking for safety. He then spied the wicked Neboshazzar and remembered the creature from the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration. And with him was a large bug looking much like their former companion Sarut. Alecto, too, saw these creatures and said, “What are they?”

Comet Fox thought on this and said, “Ketsueki must have them hidden for another attack yet to come. He’s trying to trap our friends by making for them a bed of death.”

It was then Neboshazzar spied Comet Fox and his long tail. The vile creature cried out so all could hear.

In Liu-wal, Ketsueki silently called to Neboshazzar and Sarut. Neboshazzar’s cry had been meant to alert them to some change in the course of the fight and Ketsueki dare not allow his two reserved friends remain hidden any longer. He called to them and they heeded that call.

“We cannot waste time,” said Comet Fox, “We must find for you a place to hide.”

Comet Fox swiftly descended into the town. Everyone paused in their fighting a moment to take notice as the fox-god flew behind the tavern.

Comet Fox immediately saw the tavern was a raised building. He said found a small path underneath and forced Alecto under there. He said, “Stay hidden beneath this building and do not come out until I return for you.”

Tears had begun to appear on Alecto’s face as the weight of the fight came to her. She nodded and crawled beneath the tavern. Her world filled with darkness and four far-off horizons. She looked out towards the front of the tavern where the fight was taking place, but all she could see was a layer of dust and kicked-up dirt. She cried, hated her mother, hated Stavros for having stayed her hand. The Little Empress remained hidden beneath the tavern, weeping.

Fearing the enemy might discover Alecto through his coming, Comet Fox circled around the town first, then came within its borders near the market. He saw first his brother Snow Fox tended to a hare. He ran to Snow Fox’s side and said, “Brother, I’m here to help.”

“Thank the many gods,” answered Snow Fox. He smiled at his brother and his tail flicked with happiness. “We could use your fighting skills. Is Alecto safe?”

“She is, for now. Who is this?” Comet Fox asked about the hare.

Snow Fox said simply, “A friend.”

“He’s injured. He may yet live, however. You need to get him to some place safe. Might I suggest the small space beneath the tavern? But beware, do not allow others to watch you go there. Once there, take care of our friend there.”

“Friend?” asked Snow Fox.

“There is another friend already hiding there,” said Snow Fox, “There’s no time for further explanation.”

Snow Fox nodded. He asked Mabo, “Are you able to walk?”

Mabo blinked, thinking now he might yet live, and said, “I believe so.”

“Go swiftly as you can,” instructed Comet Fox, “and let no one see you.”

Snow Fox and Mabo did just this and when they came beneatht he tavern they found the weeping Alecto there. She jumped at their presence, but upon seeing Snow Fox she smiled and said, “Have you come for me? Is the fight over?”

Snow Fox shook his head, “I fear it may be entering its final, bloodiest hour. But now that Comet Fox is here, we will be made safe. Why are you not with the frog Wu Chan Chu?”

“She was not at the Peony and Comet Fox thought it a waste to try to search for her,” explained Alecto.

“I see,” said Snow Fox.

“Who is this?” Alecto asked about the hare, now busily cleaning himself and yet panting heavy.

The hare looked at them and said, “I am Mabo.”

“He helped me in the fight,” said Snow Fox.

Neboshazzar flew overhead, spying the battle below. He glided low over the center of town and cried out happily as he passed the demon and his master Ketsueki Sato. Ketsuei smiled back in return and said to him, “’Tis a good day for death!”

Neboshazzar called back. He circled the town and descended upon the soldiers fighting Yele Prin Prin and Exploding Sword. The soldiers backed away, one of them saying, “Allow Neboshazzar his fun.”

Neboshazzar flew close and his talons struck at Exploding Sword, causing a large cut across his back. Yele Prin Prin lifted into the air to chase the creature, but thought she would better serve herself and Faryad’s to remain near his side. When Neboshazzar circled and came near again, Faryad the Exploding Sword said, “I’ll grab at the creature and, while I’ve bound it, you strike at its heart.”

Yele Prin Prin said nothing, knowing only her lover would know she understood his plan.

Neboshazzar flicked its talons at them again. Exploding Sword sidestepped the attack and grabbed the creature by the legs, pulling it to the ground, but Yele Prin Prin was behind the creature and could not strike at its heart. She instead clawed at the feathers upon Neboshazzar’s left wing, clipping them and making him incapable of flight whil Balin Pop and Jasmyn eyed the soldiers, watching for them to move in on them. But the soldiers remained resting.

Neboshazzar struggled free of Exploding Sword’s grip, but fell to the ground. He tried to fly, but found his cut feathers incapable of lifting him. He cried out in anger.

Exploding Sword grabbed the creature’s right wing and pulled it wide, exposing it. He then punched at the creature’s wing, at the bone supporting the flesh and feathers, breaking it in three places. He let go the wing and it fell limply by the creature’s side.

Seeing Neoshazzar wounded, the soldiers attacked once more, drawing Yele Prin Prin’s and Exploding Sword’s attention away so that Neboshazzar limped away easily. Once more Yele Prin Prin, Exploding Sword, Balin Pop and Jasmyn found themselves amidst battle.

Then came Sarut to Liu-wal. He neared Ketsueki Sato and the demon commanded, “Burn everything!”

Sarut understood and began spitting his flame at every building, at every merchant’s stand, at every bush and tuft of grass.

Comet Fox wished it and his ulus appeared in his hands. He stepped up behind the fighting soldiers and slipped in weapons into the backs of two of them. They tightened with fear as they felt the wounds opened. Comet Fox placed his head between theirs and said, “Despite being a god of trickery, I am not a god of treachery. Normally, I would not stab someone thusly and without warning, but your allegiance with the demon Ketsueki Sato proves you have no honor, no integrity. So, you must die.”

Comet Fox twisted his blades, slipped them upward and cut the soldiers along the lengths of the spine until their backbones fell exposed. He then removed his ulus and the soldiers collapsed to the dirt road, dead.

“Comet Fox!” Exploding Sword said with some joy.

Yele Prin prin, too, smiled at the fox-god.

The fox-god eyed Balin Pop and Jasmyn, both severely wounded. He said to Balin, “Perhaps you should seek a safer place.”

Balin Pop refused this.

Comet Fox drew nearer his ear and whispered, “Hide beneath the tavern, but make your way about it so as no one sees. There you will find other friends resting and perhaps in need of your help.”

Balin Pop eyed Comet Fox. He nodded with understanding and lead his wife away. They made their way silently and unseen to hide beneath the tavern with the others. Together, those gathered slowly, quietly made their way towards the front on the tavern to peer out from beneath it, to watch the fight. With less people fighting, the kicked-up dust and dirt settled some and they could see better, though not yet clearly. For the most part, however, they were able to make out the events unfolding before them.

Comet Fox lowered his eyes on Ketsueki yet fighting Stavros and Tiger Chaing. “Who is the tiger?” asked Comet Fox.

Exploding Sword looked, then said, “An enemy of Ketsueki, it would appear.”

Comet Fox accepted this and said, “Let us rid the world of this demon.”

He lead Yele Prin Prin and Exploding Sword towards Ketsueki Sato.


Part 5

Elkhorn removed the knives from his neck and shoulder. Desperate and gathering his thoughts, he realized he yet might be able to hold his bow. He returned to find his bow yet lying in the market. He first tore a bit of cloth free from a merchant’s table and wrapped it about his neck to stop the bleeding. He then removed the knife from his bow and raised it, testing his grip and though it was weak, he felt he could yet shoot arrows. He tried this once by shooting into a table at the far end of the market and found his accuracy somewhat off, but he was happy he could still prove his worth to his newfound demonic lord. He made his way to Ketsueki Sato’s side.

“Ketsueki!” cried Comet Fox as he neared. “Remember me? Do you remember the god you once made your drunken pet?”

Ketsueki turned to look. He smiled at Comet Fox as though greeting an old friend. He said, “Welcome, Comet Fox, to Liu-wal. It is certainly nice to see you once again.”

Stavros backed away from fighting the demon’s vines. He came to the side of Comet Fox said, “Your face is a welcomed sight, old friend.”

“What he says is true,” agreed Ketsueki in a mocking way, “your face is a welcomed sight.”

Tiger Chaing also made his way away from the demon. He joined the others by their side.

Sarut busily burned the town all around them.

Elkhown came to Ketsueki’s side.

“Where are your men?” asked Ketsueki.

“All dead,” anwered Elkhorn, “or run off like cowards.”

Ketsueki chuckled at this.

The town burned around them.

Comet Fox eyed this, watched as Sarut belched flame and set a home ablaze. He said to Yele Prin Prin and Exploding Sword, “You should tend to or old friend. The one setting the fires, I believe, is none other than Sarut himself.”

“This is true,” confirmed Ketsueki. “He came to me so very hurt. Whatever did you do to him? He was so angry with the likes of you all.”

Exploding Sword sighed at this. Yele Prin Prin took his hand and said, “Come.” Together they set out towards the oversized Sarut.

Comet Fox, Stavros and Tiger Chiang stood now against Ketsueki and Elkhorn.

“Let’s end this, Ketsueki,” called Comet Fox.

“Yes,” nodded Ketsueki in agreement, “let’s end this before I grow bored of it.”

Comet Fox took to the air and flew as swiftly as he could, his arms extended out with his ulus before him, his long comet-like tail trailing behind him. The ulues cut at the vines grabbing at him as he made it close to the demon, plunging his weapons into the woody chest of Ketsueki and knocking him backwards so that his vines had to reach out in every direction to grab ahold of stones, trees, everything he could to remain standing.

Stavros and Tiger Chiang wasted no moment. They both charged at the demon, Stavros hacking with his sword and Tiger Chiang slashing with his claws, cutting the many vines of Ketsueki Sato.

Comet Fox pulled free his ulus and struck out, but the demon knock away his efforts. Comet Fox floated before him and they exchanged an endless series of blows, of punches and cuts.

Exploding Sword first sent Yele Prin Prin flying, then he came to Sarut’s side. He called the ladybug’s name softly, but the bug did not hear it over his own destructive joy and the crackling fires. Exploding Sword then cried out louder, “Sarut!”

Sarut now heard this and turned to look upon his enemy. The ladybug groaned with happiness and anger. He said, “You’ve come to die, have you?”

“No, friend,” said Exploding Sword, “I’ve come to convince you to stop. Know you that I can explain your anger, though I cannot know your pain. I know why you do this thing now. I know why you take such joy in destruction. I caused that pain and that joy. But this is not the way to console it. This is a path leading only towards further destruction.”

“Shut your mouth and quiet your lies!” Sarut said. “For far too long I have allowed you to live! Now you must die!”

“Sarut, please, I beg of you. Give up this path of destruction,” pleaded Exploding Sword.

“No,” refused Sarut, “it is far too much fun.”

Exploding Sword frowned. He said, “Then I will have to put you down.” He clenched his fists.

Sarut breathed deep.

Exploding Sword looked to the sky.

Yele Prin Prin saw this and came flying down at Sarut, claws out, cutting along the length of his back.

Sarut cried out.

Exploding Sword charged forward. At the final moment he said, “I’m so very sorry for causing your pain.” Exploding Sword’s fists, both of them, came down upon Sarut’s head, causing it to flail around like an empty sack in high winds. Sarut collapsed, his legs weak now, but was not yet dead. With tears in his eyes, Exploding Sword broke off one of Sarut’s own ugly mandible claws and plunged it into the ladybug’s head.

Sarut the Ladybug lie dead amidst the crackling fires of Liu-wal.

Exploding Sword fell to his knees, sobbing heavily.

Yele Prin Prin landed near her love and put her arms around him. Together they fell to the ground, Exploding Sword crying uncontrollably and Yele Prin Prin holding him lovingly.

Ketsueki flung out a vine and it struck Tiger Chiang in the shin, piercing the skin and sinking there, though not deeply. Feeling this, Ketsueki drank. At long last he drank of the blood of a Blessed One and it sent him into such ecstasy that he forgot Comet Fox a moment, smiling, closing his ruby eyes in pleasure. As the few droplets of blood entered him, his teeth grew longer, his smile wider and more wicked, more gnarled.

Tiger Chiang cried out in pain as his blood was stolen from him. He dropped to a knee. He flexed his pawed hands and cut at the vine. He pulled the bit of vine from his leg and stood once more.

The blood letting stopped, Ketsueki opened his eyes once more to see Comet Fox’s hand swing near his face as one of his ulus cut at the demon’s neck. Ketsueki smiled at this, thinking how wicked the fox-god was made to become, made to slit the throat of another and he reveled with joy at this. But more than that, he looked upon Comet Fox as a source of power. More than anything, Ketsueki Sato was overcome by the desire to feed upon Comet Fox and, to this end, he became more focused.

Ketsueki heard the arrow being knocked. He waited for it, planned for it. He heard the small twang of the bow’s string as the arrow was launched into the air by Elkhorn and it found its mark in Comet Fox’s side. Comet Fox floated sideways. He pulled the arrow free, made certain there was no blood and threw the arrow down. Ketsueki, waiting for this moment, attacked. He struck at Comet Fox with a furious blow, sending the fox-god flying backwards and landing before the tavern. His vines then picked up Stavros and Tiger Chiang and flung them together to one side. His path now made clear, Ketsueki moved closer to the fallen fox-god. He raised one long, thick vine overhead.

Comet Fox propped himself off the ground. Seeing the demon drawing near, he floated, ready to fly away in any direction. He grabbed at his ulus lying on the ground. He then tried to fly off, but by then it was too late. The many vines of Ketsueki Sato had grabbed the fox-god first by the tail, then the legs and not by the waist. Comet Fox twisted, trying to claw at the ground to pull himself free. He looked for anything he could grab onto, but found only small faces peering out at him from beneath the tavern, all of them too far to reach. He felt small vine after vine sink into him as the one larger vine wavered high overhead. He looked back at Ketsueki to discover his fate. He turned once more to look upon the gathered, hidden faces. He did not speak, he made no sound. In his final effort, Comet Fox mouthed a single soundless word, “Run.”

Alecto, Balin Pop, Jasmyn, Mabo and his brother Snow Fox looked on in horror as the large vine slipped into Comet Fox’s back, grabbing hold of him therein. They watched as the demon Ketsueki Sato tore him asunder, drinking and bathing in his blood, growing to nearly three times the height of any building in Liu-wal, cackling with delight for having killed a god.


Part 6

Those collected under the tavern were frozen in fear until, at last, Mabo spoke. Said the hare, “We must run as he has said.”

They crawled then stumbled out the back of the tavern. They made their way through the burning town to where Stavros and Tiger Chiang were now picking themselves off the ground, eying the dastardly deed Ketsueki had committed. They called to them and they came to their side.

“Comet Fox said to continue to run,” said Mabo.

Stavros eyed the destruction.

Tiger Chiang did not want to leave the fight.

Yele Prin Prin and Exploding Sword came running nearby and Mabo called to them.

Stavros considered the others. He said, “None of you can further fight. Not this day. Not after what has happened.”

“No!” cried Snow Fox. “We must fight! He murdered my brother!”

“Comet Fox is dead?” asked Yele Prin Prin.

Stavros merely nodded. He then added, “No one here is in any condition to further the fight.”

Tiger Chiang growled lowly at this, but eyed Mabo and knew this to be true. He felt the best thing for Mabo, at least, was to get far from the town and have some time to let matters pass.

Stavros said to Yele Prin Prin, “Come. Take Alecto. Faryad, take Snow Fox. We must run. Let us hope we can get free of this town.”

Exploding Sword picked Snow Fox up, though the small fox struggled against this.

“But Ketsueki will come after us,” said Balin Pop.

“Most likely,” said Stavros. “So we will need to run now.” Stavros lead the group to the edge of the burning town and, as they crested a hill, Balin Pop stopped them. He said, “We are wounded, Ketsueki will only catch up with us if we run now. We must cause a diversion.”

“What would you suggest?” asked Stavros.

Balin Pop sighed. He said, “Let my wife and I do this thing.”

“What thing? What will you do?” demanded Stavros.

“I, as yet, do not know. But of all of us, we are the least capable of fighting and the slowest, especially now that my thigh has been wounded. Allow us to create a diversion.”

“Then what will you do?” asked Stavros.

“We will run once more, perhaps in another direction, perhaps to find you again one day.”

“We can’t waste any more time,” said Yele Prin Prin, now holding a crying Alecto.

Stavros nodded at Balin Pop and said, “May the many gods watch over you.”

“And you,” said Balin Pop. He and his wife watched as Stavros and the others descended the far side of the hill and ran as fast as they could to the west.

“Where do we go?” asked Tiger Chiang of Stavros.

Stavros thought on this a moment and wished he had his drinking gourds with him. He wished he had some liquor to drink so he could get drunk with Comet Fox this night. He fought back tears at this thought and said, “Where was Wu Chan Chu?”

Alecto could not answer for she was in shock and running.

“She was not at the Peony,” Snow Fox said through tears. He wiped his eyes and stopped struggling against Exploding Sword’s grasp.

Stavros considered this and said, “Then our only option is to seek out Balori in Ife.”

On ran the group, on towards the west, on towards Balori in Ife.

Balin Pop and Jasmyn watched them go. When they could no longer be seen, Jasmyn said, “We go to our deaths at this hour, don’t we?”

Balin Pop said, “Perhaps. We ran from our own village. We cannot run from this town. We haven’t any family but one another. If we are to take a stand in the name of Caerraul let it be here, let it be now. We should have done this before, but we have been given a second chance.”

Jasmyn agreed to this. She grabbed up her knife as Balin Pop grabbed up his short sword. They descended the hill leading into the town. They made their way through the fires, seeking out the demon.

Ketsueki and Elkhorn was surveying the damage. Neboshazzar could not be found and Sarut was dead.

Soon Balin Pop and Jasmyn came upon them.

“What’s this?” asked Elkhorn. “Has Alecto’s cowardly followers been sent to fling themselves at our feet?”

“Perhaps they wish to join us,” chuckled the towering Ketsueki. “Is that what you wish?”

Balin Pop shook his head and raised his short sword.

Ketsueki sighed. He flicked a vine near Elkhorn towards Balin Pop. Elkhorn understood and readied an arrow. He shot it, striking Balin Pop in the forehead and killing him instantly.

“No!” cried Jasmyn. She fell to her knees, holding her husband’s dead body.

Ketsueki laughed at this. “So futile are the lives of mortals, yet so precious you make yourselves. You’re not of any value, you stupid whore!”

Jasmyn stood. She picked the short sword from the ground.

Ketsueki laughed at this, too. He said, “Elkhorn, make this one fun for me, won’t you?”

Elkhorn smiled. He shot another arrow, this one at Jasmyn’s remaining hand now holding the sword. His aim was not entirely true, striking her in the arm instead, causing her to drop the sword. He shot another arrow at her, this one into her right foot and pinning her to the ground as he had done with Snow Fox. But as Jasmyn fell to the ground, sitting up, the force of her fall caused the arrow to snap in half.

“You whore!” called Elkhorn. “How dare you break one of my arrows?”

He shot her a third time, this time hitting her right thigh.

Ketsueki continued to laugh at her pain and with every arrow strike.

Elkhorn again shot Jasmyn, this time in the left knee. He shot her a fifth time in the left shoulder. This caused her to fall back in pain. He shot her a sixth time, this time in the stomach, then added two more there.

“Those three are so that you may never birth another whore like yourself!” Elkhorn cried out for his demonic lord’s pleasure.

Ketsueki doubled over with laughter.

Elkhorn shot Jasmyn six more times. He then said to Ketsueki, “My lord, I’ve only one more arrow left.”

Ketsueki ceased his laughter and said, “Then finish her.”

Elkhorn sent his final arrow to pierce the forehead of Jasmyn.

Ketsueki eyed the dead woman a while.

“Shall we keep after them?” asked Elkhorn.

Ketsueki considered this. He said, “Perhaps not. What I desire is Xiao-tep. Now that his dear friend is dead, he will certainly come to face me in battle. I’ve not reason to pursue the others any further.”

“What of the Eternal Empress and her daughter?” asked Elkhhorn.

“To the Many Hells with the Eternal Empress!” cried Ketsueki.

Elkhorn laughed at this. He asked, “Then what shall we do?”

“Do you intend to remain by my side, peon?” asked Ketsueki.

“I had thought I might,” said Elkhorn.

This made the demon smile. He said, “The gods will be most displeased with us. We must gather more to our side. We must therefore raise an army.”

"Agreed, Lord Ketsueki," said Elkhorn.


Part 7

As Ketsueki and Elkhorn left Liu-wal, news spread quickly of the battle within the city and, most of all, of Comet Fox’s death. People the world over heard the news and knew sorrow.

The day Comet Fox was slain by the demon Ketsueki Sato, a new student came into the Temple of the Frosted Moon. A new uniform was needed for this new student and Ada was sent to claim it a day later. When she returned with the new uniform, she also returned with news of Comet Fox’s death. Said she, “There was a great battle in the town of Liu-wal.”

“Who all was involved?” asked White Lotus.

“Many were involved, specifically the demon Ketsueki Sato and Comet Fox.”

“What was the result of this fight?” asked White Lotus.

Ada hesitated. She said, “The town was burned to the ground and… Comet Fox was killed by the demon.”

This shook Zom Loa, for it had been his own hands that had resurrected Ketsueki. He now felt responsible for the death of a god. He remained silent for the next two days. He even missed a day’s meditation as he struggled with his own thoughts and feelins. At last he entered the meditation chamber one day, late to the appointed hour, and took his place kneeling upon a mat. He hesitated, but then said, “Master, I apologize for interrupting everyone’s meditations, but I cannot wait any longer to speak with you.”

White Lotus gazed upon Zom Loa and asked, “What is it you must speak of?”

His fellow students looked to his as Zom Loa said, “I feel I must leave the temple, Master White Lotus.”

“Why is this?” asked White Lotus. “What purpose do you have in leaving your studies behind?”

“I must seek out and destroy the demon Ketsueki,” explained Zom Loa.

“You are not responsible for Comet Fox’s death,” White Lotus’ words shocked Zom Loa, for he had not guessed White Lotus might already understand what he had been thinking. Said White Lotus, “You may have set free Ketsueki Sato once more, but the actions he’s taken since then have been his own and have no reflection upon you.”

Zom Loa considered this and said, “I bow to your wisdom, Master, but I cannot shake this. I must leave.”

White Lotus was silent a moment, then asked, “Butik, what agreement have we each about the leaving the Temple of the Frosted Moon?”

“No one may leave the temple,” said Butik. “And should anyone ever leave the temple, they shall never be welcomed here again.”

“Thank you, Butik. It is an oath we have all give, Zom Loa, including myself. Do you wish to break your oath?”

Zom Loa frowned. He said, “I do not wish to break my oath, but I must.”

White Lotus nodded. He said, “Leave your uniform.”

Zom Loa stood and bowed deeply at everyone. He returned to the sleeping chambers where he removed his temple uniform and placed his old robes back on himself. He worked quickly so as to leave as soon as possible. He gathered his old items. The only new items he took were his three takaras. Lastly, eying the skull of Tarn, he rubbed it before placing it upon his head. He spoke to the skull, “We’ve yet another place to go, old Tarn; another place to be.”

He left his uniform folded on his sleeping mat.

He left the temple. No one noticed him leave as they were all still in the meditation chamber. He closed the massive doors of the temple by himself. He turned to look out upon the world before descending the mountain.


Part 8

Xiao-tep was inspecting the new chamber being built specifically for him when news of Comet Fox’s death came to the Many Heavens. It was Makemake who brought word of the fight with Ketsueki.

“This cannot be,” lamented Xiao-tep. Then anger overwhelmed him and he screamed, “This cannot be!”

At this anger, the skies all over the world crackled with thunder and Ketsueki, traveling, knew the gods were displeased with him. He smiled up at the Many Heavens.

Lei-zi made an attempt to soothe her son, but she could not help. Xiao-tep said, “I must return to Taleisin.” And so he did where he lay in the soft grass and cried for his friend until, the night Comet Fox died, he traveled to the world to visit a village honoring Comet Fox. The fish-god watched as bon fires were built for the fallen god and he joined in the prayers that were held and listened as Comet Fox’s tales were told. Long had everyone known of the god called Comet Fox the Trickster. Yet, for all his guile and wits, he had also been known as a fair-minded god; a caring god that, on occasion, aided the mortals he would befriend. Comet Fox had been, above all else, adored.

Amidst this adoration, amidst the death of Comet Fox, the world wept.

As the many prayers from people all across the world were lifted into the Many Heavens, Añuli the Star Maiden, Protector of All Against the Treacherous, fell in love with Comet Fox as one friend might love another friend. On the following night, when the last of the fires were put out in Liu-wal, Añuli made her way from the nighttime sky and, with Zingtai’s blessings as well as those of the people of Liu-wal, she took what little remains of Comet Fox there were and returned to the sky that evening. Before the night was finished and Etain had peeked over the far horizon, Añuli had properly placed Comet Fox’s remains as jewels amongst the stars and had done so in his shape so that, in the bright and sunny months, he could be seen all over the world.

Also, for generations to come, Añuli commanded the stars to streak across the sky whenever treachery was afoot or, when treachery had been learned of, as an omen of good things to come despite the treachery.

Thus Comet Fox would always be remembered, would always be loved and would forever be placed in a position to watch over the people and the lands he so loved.


This is the final act of "Seven Jade Doors" folks. I'll get back to posting this continuing novel in two weeks, right here on Atomic Swan Serials Blog.

Friday, April 30, 2010

"Seven Jade Doors" -- Act V

"Seven Jade Doors" is copyright 2010 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.



THE SCURRYING ANIMALS: Wherein Zom Loa Receives Training at the Temple of the Frosted Moon; Zom Loa is Trained with His New Weapons; Sarut's Anger Leads to a Betrayal; Ketsueki Sato Lays a Trap Within the Town of Liu-wal


Part 1

Zom Loa stayed within the Temple of the Frosted Moon a few days. He watched as the students meditated, practiced their martial skills and as White Lotus acted as orator, speaking of Xiao-tep's tales. He admired the uniforms of the students, their snow white cloth made in the village below with orange and gold lapels and an orange belt. Only Butik wore a bright gold belt and Zom Loa recognized it as an signifier of some higher order above theother students, yet below Master White Lotus.

One day, whilst speaking of the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration, White Lotus said, "As Fei Li Mi and Xiao-tep fought, the battle below took notice."

Zom Loa had to interrupt. He said, "That is not entirely true. Many took notice, truthfully, but not all. Some were so steeped in the acts of battle they knew only the enemy before them."

"I suppose the one that caused the falling of the stars should know the tale of the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration best," White Lotus scolded Zom Loa for the interruption. "Come," he said, "tell us what you saw."

Afraid to deny the Master his wishes in his own temple, Zom Loa told of what he saw, what he witnessed, what he did to aid in the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration. And, as he was sitting in a temple dedicated to Xiao-tep, he made certain to speak of the fish-god often.

"I've a question, if I may ask it," said Butik.

White Lotus nodded to his student.

"Why is it that Xiao-tep then fought. I would assume he fought because it was the proper course of action to take against Yaska Selith. He has also fought and previously defeated the demon Ketsueki Sato. Now Ketsueki reigns with new terrors in the world. Why does Xiao-tep refuse to fight at this hour?"

"As he felt it was the proper course of action previously, he feels it is not the proper course of action now," answered White Lotus. "We must respect his wisdom in this."

"But he's defeated the demon before," argued Butik. "Surely he could once more. And once he has rid the world of Ketsueki again, then he could follow the path of peace."

"We must trust in his wisdom," said White Lotus again.

"But so many die and suffer as we speak!" Butik became angered. "He could end this suffering!"

White Lotus said, "We must trust in his wisdom."

Butik bit his lipless mouth in fury, bringing himself to silence.

"If I may," said Zom Loa, "I might be able to speculate on the matter."

"Speak your mind," allowed White Lotus.

"Xiao-tep is definitely wise. I doubt I could find many that would argue this point. But I've had the opportunity to meet with him, though minimally. He struck me as wise in a way that wisdom comes through compassion. He fought at the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration to end suffering, this is true. And as a collector of tales, I know he fought Ketsueki Sato once before, but to free himself from the Cottonwood Chamber. But know you Xiao-tep fought at least once before this? He fought and did slay the troll Been Eter.

"If we are to examine his purpose, if we examine the calls he answered to the specific fights, we learn much about Xiao-tep. He fought and killed Been Eter as a matter of survival, this is true. Been Eter came upon him to eat him as Xiao-tep's father had wanted to eat him upon his birth. Therefore, in a sense, Xiao-tep was fighting his father. He was fighting with furious passion and anger and, dare I speculate, with incredible hatred and contempt. And when he struck down the troll, Xiao-tep laid himself in the snow to weep for the loss. This fight was steeped with emotion in every respect.

"Then came his fight with Ketsueki Sato within the Cottonwood Chamber. It could be argued Xiao-tep fought merely to free himself; he was indeed fighting for his freedom and his life. He fought for no other certain purpose. We could argue he fought for the freedom of the imps and his sister Wu Chan Chu and friend Comet Fox, but he did not yet know his sister nor was he yet friends with Comet Fox. They merely happened to be fighting each for their freedom against a common enemy. It could be said, then, Xiao-tep's purpose then was selfish."

At this the students stirred and accused Zom Loa of contempt for their chosen god.

White Lotus raised a hand to quiet his students and when he received silence, he said to Zom Loa, "Carry on with your thoughts, but be careful how you express them."

Zom Loa swallowed hard, nervous, but he continued to speak. "If we then examine the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration, Xiao-tep was called to action because a great evil had entered the world in the form of Yaska Selith the Demon-dog. This, it could be said, was the first time he fought selflessly. It may be true he wished to know more of Fei Li Mi; it may be true he wanted to help his sister Wu Chan Chu whom he had grown to love and help his friend Comet Fox whom he had grown to respect, but I think the strongest argument lies with his selflessness. He foguth at the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration because he felt it the right course of action despite the ramifications, good or bad, that would come unto himself.

"Now," said Zom Loa in a low tone, more thoughtful than before, "Now an old enemy rears its head once more. Ketsueki Sato has been brought forth once more. And I am ashamed to confess to you now, but I feel I must confess this sin against the world, that it was I who raised Ketsueki from his grave this time. As I was once foolish and stole the jewel of Zingtai, so now I was foolish and placed the Ruby Bug that brought life to Yaska Selith within the maw of a wooden idol and gave life to the demon once more. Woe be the shame I feel. Woe be the heart that sinks, beating with difficutly, within my breast. I am sorry, Master White Lotus. And as I sit before you I apologize to the world for this."

White Lotus watched Zom Loa come nearly to tears and felt the sorrow of the Immortal. Hoping to distract Zom Loa from himself he said, "Have you reason for Xiao-tep's choices now?"

Zom Loa wiped tears from his eyes and nodded. "That I have. Xiao-tep is a most beautiful god and wish that I could have grown as he has. Now he refuses the fight, I suspect, because, it must be remembered, he is the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows. I can only suspect he refuses the fight because he has recognized that he cannot persuade sorrow from the world if he cannot first chase it from his own heart. How might a blacksmith make a shoe for a horse if first he cannot know to fire and bend steel? He does not give up the fight against indignity and injustice, nor does he abandon the people that have come to love him. Rather, he fights a battle now none of us can see. He seeks the opposite of sorrow. He seeks the root of love, of healing, of compassion. For if he can find this root within himself, he can return to the world with this root and teach us each to plant it in our own garden. Though he may appear selfish refusing the fight, what he does now is his most selfless act. To fight to save the lives of his loved ones would be the truly selfish course of action for him to take at this moment."

White Lotus and his students considered this. Master White Lotus commanded his student to meditate upon this and then, late in the night, called Zom Loa to his side into privacy in the commissary.

Together White Lotus and Zom Loa sat in the dark, only a small fire made for their warmth.

Said White Lotus, "Zom Loa, you are our guest here. You are welcome here for as long as you need, but I must ask, where will you go from here?"

"Demons haunt me, Master White Lotus," said Zom Loa. "I fear my next destination. If I lie in the wrong bed, I fear they may grip me a final time and drag me to the depths of the Many Hells."

White Lotus said, "You have shown great wisdom and understanding of gods, demons and important tales. Would you accept a permanent place here as a student at the Temple of the Frost Moon?"

"Me? A worshipper of Xiao-tep?" asked Zom Loa, shocked and honored at once.

White Lotus nodded.

"I must confess I've felt safer here than any previous place since my resurrecting Ketsueki," said Zom Loa.

"If you accept," warned White Lotus, "you must give up your garments. You must rid yourself of the grisly skull you wear upon your head. You must take on the uniform of a student. I will have one made to fit your form. And you must give up all matters outside this temple. You cannot fight, much as Xiao-tep now refuses to fight. When one becomes a student at the Temple of the Frosted Moon, it is a dedication for life. You can never leave. And should you leave, you may never return. It is an oath each of us has made in turn, including myself."

Zom Loa considered this. He was uncertain he could make such a dedication for he had never been presented with such an opportunity. He asked, "May I have time to consider this matter?"

"You may," said White Lotus.

That night, while Zom Loa lie on his small mat in the bedchamber with the others students, everyone sleeping but himself, he thought over White Lotus' offer to join the temple. He slept little, but when he arose the next morning, he went straight away to White Lotus and asked to see him.

Zom Loa bowed deeply before White Lotus as he had seen the other students conduct themselves. he said, "I should like to accept your offer, Master White Lotus. I should like to find peace within the Temple of the Frosted Moon. I should like to become your student."

White Lotus smiled and agreed to Zom Loa's acceptance. A message was sent to have a new uniform made for Zom Loa and when it came later that day, Zom Loa packed away all his other articles and donned the new uniform.

And so Zom Loa joined the Temple of the Frosted Moon.


Part 2

Zom Loa was placed as an aide to Ada in the task of cleaning the commissary. He went to this work at first with great enthusiasm, using his tentacles to benefit himself and speed up the process. The duty of caring for the statues of Xiao-tep within the courtyard was then added to his list of duties. He was not allowed into the hall for White Lotus' orations. He soon tired of the work, his body growing stiff and his mind numb with the repetition. Yet he did not complain. When night came to the mountains he would lie awake, rubbing away the pain from his knuckles. Soon, though, he wondered why White Lotus would disallow his presence during the orations. He grew cantankerous, even argumentative with his fellow students. He rarely spoke to White Lotus as doubts of his own worth plagued him.

At last, whilst having lunch with the other students and White Lotus, the Master of the temple asked of Zom Loa for more curry powder. Zom Loa, irritated by own his thoughts, said wickedly, "Does the Master find himself without feet? Does he no longer have hands? Can he, this sage-child, not fend for himself?"

The commissary grew silent with the accusation. Said White Lotus, "It was a simple request, Zom Loa. If you do not wish to show me respect enough to merely bring forth a pinch of curry powder for my noodles, how then should I expect you to respect me in a class?"

"How can I respect a child that uses me to keep his temple clean?"

Ada leaned in towards Zom Loa and whispered in his ear, "Zom Loa, your words are offensive. Do not think to chastise the Master."

"Rise, Zom Loa," White Lotus commanded.

Zom Loa did this.

White Lotus rose and gripped his hands in the shape of a mantis'.

"What is this?" asked Zom Loa. "You wish to fight me?"

"No," answered White Lotus. "You wish to fight me."

White Lotus leaped across the length of a long table and came crashing down on Zom Loa's head with a quick, hard jab to his forehead.

Zom Loa backed away in horror, grimaced with contempt, then raised his own fists against his master.

The other students scattered to the far walls of the commissary. Butik called for Zom Loa to cease his aggression. Ada called upon White Lotus to have mercy.

Zom Loa moved swiftly, bringing his dark tentacles up under White Lotus to grab at him.

Once more White Lotus leaped at Zom Loa, dodging the grasping tentacles and smashing his palm into Zom Loa's nose, breaking it and causing blood to spurt from his nostrils. His fellow students cried in horror at this.

Shock absorbed Zom Loa and he backed away.

White Lotus leaped a third time, yet now Zom Loa caught his master mid-leap and squeezed at him. White Lotus struck downward with pointed fingers to jab intense pain into Zom Loa's tentacles, causing him to cry out and release White Lotus from his grasp.

Zom Loa stumbled backward into a wall. White Lotus ran at him a final time, making his way between the tangle of black tentacles and jumping at the last possible moment, raising his knee to strike Zom Loa under his chin and knock the Blessed One's head into the wall. Zom Loa's field of vision fell into darkness then erupted with thousands of exploding stars. He fell to the floor of the commissary incapable of fighting any further. He gasped for air, blinking to see. Bllod ran over his new white uniform.

White Lotus knelt near him, bending low to bring his mouth to Zom Loa's ear. He spoke so all could hear. Said Master White Lotus, "I do not condone fighting any more than Xiao-tep, but your experiences are far beyond my own, Zom Loa. With your history of demonic dealings, of battles, of tales both told and lived, how could you respect a child such as I? I knew the moment I thought to invite you to join this temple I would have to command respect from you in ways I otherwise would not allow myself with other students. You needed a demonstration of my skills. I apologize to you, your fellow students and to all that shall ever gather within this temple for spilling blood within these walls. But now that you have been allowed this demonstration of my skills, you may join us for the orations and take in my wisdom."

With this White Lotus took his leave from the commissary. He went into the meditation room and prayed to Xiao-tep to forgive him his transgression, to forgive him his violent act. There he remained until late into the night.

Zom Loa was helped by his fellow students. Though Zom Loa had been the receiver of the brutal beating, all felt the might of White Lotus' skill and they each respected him moreso for his abilities.

Zom Loa cleaned himself up and set his nose. That night, as his fellow students slept, he found himself unable to sleep. He rose from his sleeping mat and went into the meditation room where he found White Lotus meditating before a single candle and three sticks of burning incense. Zom Loa, seeing his master, came to kneel at his side before the candle and incense. He spoke, "Master, I am truly sorry for my selfish ways. But the wrath you delivered unto me was needed. I am humbled in your presence and, in truth, in the presence of the all things. Long did I desire to be immortal. I achieved this. Yet I continue to search for things outside of myself. Perhaps I should be more like Xiao-tep. Perhaps I should look inward for my answers instead of choosing to take offense to real or imagined transgressions. I apologize, Master. Please forgive me."

White Lotus breathed deep. He said, "The path of the teacher is to learn and then teach, then learn again. I suspect we've both learned something this day."

Zom Loa said, "I have, Master. I've learned I only wish to know my place in the course of matters and I should not place value upon sole desire."

White Lotus nodded. "Good. Tomorrow you will begin your lessons."

So began Zom Loa's training with White Lotus. His fighting skills increased. His knowledge and understanding of all matter opened up. White Lotus even began to create a curriculum specific to Zom Loa's form, teaching him to strike out with all his tentacles at once, to entangle as a the vines of a climbing rose might. Zom Loa meditated. He cleaned the commissary and took great care of the statues, often speaking with them as though they were Xiao-tep himself. He them began to carry stones and wood with which to make repairs to the temple and snow in buckets to be melted for water. White Lotus began training his students to ignore pain by having them spar and, on occasion, throwing fiery coals at them to either catch, knock away or be pelted with. Indeed, the Master of the Temple of the Frosted Moon even had his students spar atop a bed of hot coals.

Soon all the students, Zom Loa included, found their bodies changing with the efforts of their lessons. Their backs grew strong, their arms wide with muscles. And as each student progressed, White Lotus chose for them a weapon with which to train. He chose a weapon specific to each student's abilities. For Butik, for instance, White Lotus chose for him a five-clawed bagh-nakh. Combined with Butik's strength and slowness to counterattack, White Lotus felt the five-clawed weapon would do the most damage according to Butik's personal style.

For Zom Loa, White Lotus chose the katara and with it he learned to stab, to slash and to strike down in a killing blow. So in love was Zom Loa with his katara that he took on a job in the village below late at night. He slept little as he worked all day at the temple then worked cleaning a public stable for traveling merchants at night. He saved his money, made a few donations to the temple and eventually was able to commission the village smith to make for him two more of the weapons so that he had three in all. He did not fight with the kataras in his hands. Rather, he left his hands free and wielded the three blades with his tentacles.

White Lotus looked upon Zom Loa and, though he worried over his student's love of the weapons as a possible sign for a lust for fighting, he was proud.


Part 3

Ketsueki Sato, Elkhorn and the Eternal Empress' soldiers came to rest outside the city Liu-wal, a grand port city specializing in fishing and shipping. It overlooked the southern oceans and bristled with life at all hours except in the earliest morning when ghosts and uglies are said to roam the land. The soldiers set up camp and prepared an evening meal of rice and the meat of a pig they had previously stolen from a farmer. They threw raw pork to Neboshazzar and offered the same to Ketsueki Sato. As they ate, Elkhorn broke the silence of the night by asking, "Ketsueki Sato - your fury is unmatched. Why is it then you do not return to the Many Hells but instead remain here in the realm of mortals?"

Ketsueki scowled at this as he ate the pork, his portion raw and unprepared in any way. He said, "You know the reason by now more than any."

"I do, but I cannot understand it. You aide the Eternal Empress in her quest, which may be beneficial to your own desires. But as a demon you need not do this. Why, then, do you carry on with us at your side?"

Ketsueki Sato put aside his raw pork and said, "I do not appreciate your questions, Elkhorn. You are a foul, useless man like so many others. But I will entertain your question as a matter of my own grace. And," he added, seeing a wonderment and awe in Elkhorn's eyes for him, "your knowing may be beneficial to me.

"I have returned to this world with the intention of destroying the fish-god Xiao-tep and, if I feel the need, his friends. But that end will come soon enough, perhaps too soon, and then I will no longer have purpose in this or any other world. Think you that I might be allowed to return to the Many Hells? Not after my disgraceful defeat within the Cottonwood Chamber, not after I foretold of my desires to usurp the Yama Kings. I would not be allowed even to stand at the entrance to the Many Hells. Therefore, once my task is complete and Xiao-tep is dead, I will have no place to go. But if I make a friend in the Eternal Empress, then one day perhaps I can rule here where the mortals are weak and the pains they feel are deep. I would never die of hunger of torment whilst living with and ruling over mortals."

"Then you position yourself to take power here," Elkhorn wondered.

"I do," answered the demon Ketsueki. "And when I do, I shall need a general for my armies. I must admit, I've thought of you for that position. Your ways are both wicked and effective. You would do well at my side."

Elkhorn felt greed and love for the demon grow within his heart. He felt within himself a shift of loyalty to the now distant Eternal Empress Sulia Laree and the far nearer and more gruesome demon Ketsueki Sato. "I would follow you," said Elkhorn to Ketsueki Sato.

Ketsueki nodded his pleasure at this. He picked up his raw meat once more and suckled at the remaining droplets of blood there. He said, "Until the hour of our reign comes nigh, Elkhorn, we shall have some fun. We shall hunt gods and the Empress' daughter and leave a wake of destruction and pain wherever our forms flow over the land."

After their meal, a caravan of merchants came upon their campsite. The merchants had heard of the demon Ketsueki and his band of villains, but dared press on to Liu-wal despite the rumors. When they came upon the campsite of wickedness, they were set upon by the demon and his followers. The merchants were slain and the blood offered to Ketsueki Sato who drank deeply. Their goods were plundered and their carts smashed for firewood. But this was not to be the final visit upon the evil encampment. At the next day's dawning same a second visitor.

With incredible anger, with a hatred so foul it left bitterness within his mouth, Sarut the Ladybug flew aimlessly away from his former companions. He wished he was larger so that he could have, in the past, fought Faryad the Exploding Sword when he killed Sarut's family. He wished he was far larger so that he may do grave acts of destruction upon the world. Tiring, he stopped a moment upon a branch of a wild cherry tree and there allowed his anger to force him to tear apart a leaf.

Thought Sarut, "If only I could harm Exploding Sword and his friends. If only I could kill his lovely Yele Prin Prin, I could cause him the anguish I have felt as a result of his terrible fists." Sarut thought on this, thought of ways he could cause damage unto the world. He said to himself, "Perhaps I could make a friend in one willing to cause such destruction."

And then a vile idea did come into his mind. He thought on his former companions' destinations and desires. He turned south, took off from the tree and flew as swiftly as he could.

He came to Ketsueki's encampment as they were readying to leave for the city of Liu-wal. He spied the wooden demon from afar at first, afraid of his horrible form. But his hatred overpowered his fear and soon he lighted upon one of Ketsueki's long tentacle0like vines. The demon swatted him away, missing Sarut entirely. Sarut called out, "Demon! I have come for you! I have brought to you news of a shared enemy."

This small voice intrigued Ketsueki Sato. He raised a vine before his face and said, "Come to me, little one."

Sarut once more landed upon the demon's vine and looked upon him. He shook with fear and hatred. He said, "Know you that at this hour the warriors Stavros and Exploding Sword and Yele Prin Prin seek you out? They come for the city of Liu-wal where they plan to lay in waiting before they spring a trap upon you, your destruction on their minds."

Ketsueki squinted at the small bug. He felt a kinship with the tiny creature and said, "Who are you? What are you called?"

"I am Sarut and once I was friend to Faryad the Exploding Sword. The warriors come for you as we speak!"

Elkhorn said, "What he speaks may be lies."

"I speak no lies!" argued Sarut. "As I have said, once I was friends with Exploding Sword, but our friendship was folly for he was the murderer of my family. I come to you to tell you of their plans so that I may bear witness to their destruction!

"And what of the trickster, Comet Fox? Would you call him a friend, also? If so, perhaps you are here as part of his treachery and guile!" Elkorn accused as he drew nearer.

"I care nothing for the fox-god!" yelled Sarut as loudly as he could. "Besides, he flies north to the Peony Teahouse to find some other friend. He has taken with him the Eternal Empress' daughter."

"The gods be damned!" cursed the demon upon hearing this.

"I must admit," said Elkhorn, "he knows too much to not be in some way connected with our current ventures."

Ketsueki said to Elkhorn, "If what he speaks be true, then it is not a matter to us. We want the girl and the fox-god only. What care should we have for these others?"

Ketsueki said, "True, these others are not our desired fight, but it is a fight just the same. We must revel in their destruction for it shall cause Comet Fox and Xiao-tep all the more agony. We will fight these audacious warriors."

"Then we must first lay our own trap within Liu-wal before these others arrive," suggested Elkhorn. "We've little time. yet, how shall we do this thing?"

Ketsueki considered the wreckage of the merchant caravan and said, "You will dispose of your trappings as soldiers and men of the Eternal Empress. You will don the clothing of the dead merchants and enter the city in their stead, making no more noise than one innocently passing through the town."

Elkhorn found wisdom in this and said, "You are quite wise, my new Lord and Master Ketsueki Sato."

To hear such esteem from Elkhorn pleased Ketsueki and he smiled as he had not smiled in half his lifetime.

"But," added Elkhorn, "what of you, Master? How would you gain entrance into the town? You will be recognized immediately as a demon."

Ketsueki once more thought. He then said, "I will come into the town swathed in the robes and rags of the ill. I shall pose as a leper so that none shall wish to touch or draw near me. If asked why I am in Liu-wal, I shall say I seek an alchemist. And should no alchemist be present within Liu-wal, I shall say I am passing through in search of one."

Both Sarut and Elkhorn smiled wickedly at this plan.

Ketsueki Sato looked upon Sarut and smiled. He said, "Sarut the Ladybug, what a beautifully small creature you are. Yet your true beauty comes from within. I can feel the ill-will within you. I hunger for it yet feel a kinship with it. I could not allow such anger to remain in such beauty. That is the place of the Eternal Empress. If you speak lies to me, it matters not, for I've a remedy for such a thing." At this Ketsueki twisted a bit of another of his vines and bit it. From the vine came forth the tiniest droplet of blood. He presented this to Sarut and said, "Drink, little one. Drink of a demon's blood and discover the power within. Learn why we demons rule all the Many Hells and increase your love for pain. Become anew. be born anew. And with this drop of blood, you shall be made horrible and mighty."

Sarut did this thing. He approached and drank of the blood until the entire droplet was gone. He soon cringed in pain and fell from Ketsueki's vine as he grew. He grew and grew to incredible size until his back arched over the head of Elkhorn. His face distorted and broke free with two wicked mandible claws capable of severing limbs from mortals, Gods and Blessed Ones alike. He was made immortal himself, a creature of demonic origins and powers. And he found that when he belched, he spewed forth a stream of flames like liquid fire. He felt the demon's blood flowing within himself and knew at once he was bound to Ketsueki's demands, but cared not. He growled in his new voice, "Thank you, Master Ketsueki! I shall be able to destroy all who oppose me!"

"He could not possibly join us in Liu-wal," said Elkhorn. "And neither could Neboshazzar."

"No, they cannot," agreed Ketsueki. "But they both feel the pull of my command. Sarut and Neboshazzar, you two shall wait here in hiding amidst the woods and behind the hills, far from this merchant's path. When the hour comes for our battle with Comet Fox's friends, I shall urge you to my side and you shall feel my command within your hearts. Come then and destroy all who stand against us."

Sarut and Neboshazzar both nodded and happily made their way into the nearby woods to hide.

Before they set out, Ketsueki said this to the men, "When the fight begins, kill all who draw near. Show no mercy. Let not a single limb remain attached to our enemies. Do not pull your weapons from out their breast until their breathing has stopped completely. Kill everyone and everything and continue to kill until I command you to stop." This was agreed upon by all.

The soldiers dressed as merchants, stripping themselves of any large weapons and keeping on them only easily hidden daggers. Ketsueki wrapped himself in rags and two robes until he looked like a proper beggar and leper.

The soldiers were allowed first to enter Liu-wal. Some time later came Elkhorn on his own. Lastly came Ketsueki Sato and, upon seeing him, the people in the town avoided him, refusing eye contact and did not see his true form or identity.

The soldiers dressed as merchants went carousing within the nearest tavern, but remained near the door to keep a watchful eye upon the town.

Elkhorn entered the market to browse the goods there and sell a few things he had stolen from the merchants they had killed.

Ketsueki Sato sat in the center of town, near the road, a bowl he had taken from the merchants set before him in askance of alms.

The trap was set. Only the scurrying animals need now come by.


The sixth and final act is nigh! Come back next week for Act VI of "Seven Jade Doors"!