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Mature content
Monster Art :iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 1 0
Mature content
The Servant of Set :iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 2 0
Literature
Embrace, Screenplay Form
FADE IN:
CITY STREETS – EVENING
CAMERA PAN FOLLOWING JIM
Jim, recently separated from his girlfriend for his drinking habit, is making his way down the street in a cold drizzle.  The neon signs of various establishments shine like bright obnoxious stars, the only color in the gray environment.  The wind picks up and Jim zips his coat up tighter and licks his lips.  He is looking a bar, in the hopes of drowning his recent sorrows.  
CUT TO CLOSE UP ON JIM’S FACE IN PROFILE
GIRLFRIEND
(in Jim’s head)
Me or the bottle Jim.  Which is it?
JIM
Fuck.
Jim shakes his head to dispel the memory.  He pauses in his walk and looks up.
CUT TO NEON BAR SIGN
The bar sign glows brightly against the dull gray background.
CUT TO JIM FROM THE FRONT
Jim smiles in relief and anticipation and resumes walking.
CUT BACK TO ORIGINAL CAMERA PAN
Jim is about to pass an alleyway when he hears a scream.  He pauses again.  An instant later a man rushed out of
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Literature
Embrace, Short Story Form
Embrace
The streetlights shine like bright obnoxious stars as I make my way through a light drizzle.  A chilly wind blows and I zip my coat up a little tighter.  I lick my lips, feeling very much in need of a stiff drink tonight.  
Me or the bottle Jim.  Which is it?
“Fuck.”  I snarl, shaking my head to dislodge the memory.  Makes my throat dry just thinking about it.
The bar’s only a few blocks away, its neon sign looking like a beacon of hope.  Then someone screams and a man runs out of the alley in front of me.  He runs past me, knocking me against the wall as he does so.
“Ass!”  I yell after him.
I pick myself up and am about to move on when the sound of sobbing reaches my ears.  I peer into the alleyway and see a woman huddled against the wall in a torn dress.
“You all right?”
I walk over and offer her my coat.  That dress certainly isn’t up to performing its intended function to
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Literature
The Bloody Altar
He crouched amid the bones and filth of his lair, because that was what he did when the Feeder wasn’t bringing him food.  He scratched absently at the wall, making random patterns in the dirt with his long nails.  He hoped the Feeder would come soon.  It was always good when the Feeder came.  Back in the old days, when he was very small the Feeder had come himself with food.  Sweet food from the trees.  Then as he had had gotten older, and bigger the Feeder had brought him meat.  It had been dead meat first.  Small things.  Little birds.  A cavid rodent or two.  Then the Feeder had moved on to bigger things.  Live things, though they were always tied up or asleep so that he would not be harmed when he fed.  
He stopped scratching the wall and looked towards the brightness outside.  When would the Feeder come?  How long had it been since his last meal?  He had no idea.  He looked at his hands.
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Literature
The Snow Woman
The Snow Woman
I know she’s there.  I know she is waiting.  I know that I must not sleep.
The wind howls.  The trees rattle with ice.  My legs sink up to the calves in the thick drifts.  I can barely feel my feet.  I can barely feel my hands.  But I still feel the ache of cold in my body, and I can still hear my own voice.  And that means that I am still alive.
“I’m going to live. ;I’m going to live.  I’m going to live.  I’m going to live.”
I repeat that phrase over and over.  It keeps my mind on putting one foot in front of the other.  It keeps me moving forward.  Farther down the mountain.  Farther away from her.  The land is a white blur before my eyes, only the jagged black spindles of trees standing out against the whiteness.  When my mind isn't focused on moving forward it wanders to back to the cabin.  Back to how it came to this.
“No good.  G
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Literature
The American Otaku Song
I am the very model of an Otaku American
I’ve trawled the demographic scale, seinan to josei and shounen
My generation was suckled on the action block Toonami
But then my tastes expanded out and lead to Studio Ghibli
Folks say 2D is just for kids I say get a lobotomy
Don’t they all see that animation’s endless possibility?
It is an artful medium where laws of physics don’t apply
And it is never overused like that newfangled CGI
At recognizing archetypes my eyesight always does the job
I know tsundere, emo bitch and that annoying moe blob
I’ve trawled the demographic scale, seinan to josei and shounen
I am the very model of an Otaku American
The lines are chopped in half just so
Now I can show off what I know
That Cowboy Bebop’s number one
And Gurren Lagann’s stupid fun
While Fate/Zero beats out the first
Damn Garzey’s Wing’s the very worst
Durara has a headless chick
And Redline is one crazy flick
It all began when Disney films insp
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Literature
Black Shield Excerpt
I've tried writing novels before but this is the first time I've made so much progress.  Since I haven't submitted in a while here's a excerpt from Black Shield.  If you're confused by some of the terms read my journal articles on the story
Here's the set-up.  The Osthan (t'chue) tribes have begun raiding the border in retaliation for the humiliation of their leaders by the Salaschan (also t'chue) governor Nerroi iri As'kla.  She has been summoned to the capital Shagur by Queen Aneshak to answer for provoking a war.
From Ha’chor to Shagur and back the journey was at least twelve days days.  To Khashan Nerroi’s surprise, a reply came in ten.  She had expected to see her successor, (perhaps wearing a smugly satisfied ‘smile’), bearing an order to commit suicide.  That was standard practice.  Instead she received orders to come to Shagur as quickly as possible.  Confused, but impelled to obey by the royal seal upon the l
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Literature
Katana Matsuri: New Tricks
Mariko drew Yawarakai-Te and waited, avoiding the temptation to look towards Tanemune as the other Muramasa advanced on him.  Jinshu backed away from the duelists, there was nothing he could do here.  
The light of the risen moon reflected off of Kurotori’s blade with an almost painful intensity.  The scarecrow frame remained entirely motionless, as immobile as the features of the wooden mask.
In contrast Tanemune was constantly shifting position as the other Muramasa attempted to get around him, taking advantage of his wounded leg.  He had settled into a low stance, one hand gripping Taikōhaku’s hilt, the sword was still in it’s sheath.
Finally, goaded either by frustration or fear, the Muramasa charged, sword raised for a downward stroke meant to cleave his victim in twain.  Tanemune drew and struck in one fluid motion and sparks flew as both swords connected.  Recovering quickly, the Muramasa disengaged and swung mightily at Tanem
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Literature
Katana Matsuri: Winds over Nantai
Darkness.  Darkness.  There was darkness all around him.  A thousand colliding thoughts and emotions seemed to overwhelm him like a sudden rainstorm.  A voice.  His voice, yet oddly distorted, whispering words that seemed to drip like venom.  A bright crescent of light.  A sudden flash.  Bright lancing pain.
With a gasp, Taro Gorouda sat up, his body slick with cold sweat.  A gentle hand held him firmly in place.   An elderly man in the robes of a Buddhist monk was kneeling beside him.  
“Eat.”  The monk said gently, holding forth a bowl of kayu (rice porridge).  At the sight of warm steam rising from the bowl, Taro’s stomach made its presence felt and he barely paused to thank the monk before seizing the bowl and eating ravenously.  It was then that he noticed the twinging pain in his right hand and the bandages around the limb and about his torso.  Again dark memories bubbled beneath the surf
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Literature
Foot Soldiers Diary-Antiquity
Foot Soldiers Diary-Antiquity Story Arcs
"It is an inescapable fact that war has dominated and influenced humanity more than anything else in history.  At once it repulses and inspires.  It fills us with horror and wonder.  It has given birth to mighty states and cast them down.  We may not remember all of the events, but there are the names: Agincourt, Gettysburg, Stalingrad, Thermopylae, Sekigahara, Constantinople.  Now, see the dark side of the human story as never before, through the eyes of the ordinary men and the minds of those who led them.  This is the story of humanity, in all it's bloody horror and epic glory.  This is the Foot Soldiers Diary."
"From Bronze to Iron.  From barbaric tribes, to mighty empires and back again.  This is Antiquity, the era of legendary heroes.  A time when the first civilizations began carving out a place for themselves in a world of savage violence.  From the dusty plains of the Middle East to
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Literature
Katana Matsuri: Kamaitachi
Katana Matsuri ch 1
Sekigahara, Omi Province (Shiga Prefecture), 1600 (5th year of Keicho)
The sun set in crimson splendor over the plains, highlighting the tattered remains of banners and reflecting bright fire from the blades of swords and spears.  Tokugawa Ieyasu, Lord of Kanto and now the most powerful man in Japan, sat on his camp stool, as his hatamoto (vassals) and supporters came forward with their reports of the casualties, the route of the Western Army and the heads each group had taken.   Ieyasu noted with grim amusement that his Naomasa, his closest retainer would have several new scars to add to his, already extensive, collection.  At the back of the group he could see the leaders who had defected from the Western Army to his side, thus turning the tide of the battle.  Ieyasu made a mental note to speak with them later, already he was calculating the lands and fiefdoms that he would have to distribute and reorganize among these men who had followed him
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Mature content
Years of Darkness Ch 1 :iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 0 3
Literature
A Boy and his Dog CH 1.1
My name is Kenji Taylor, and my peaceful life ended on a Saturday.  I’m half Japanese, so my hair is more dark brown than black and my eyes are rounder, but I still resemble my mother more.  She was fourth generation Japanese and she died when I was five.  I didn’t understand what had happened at the time, I didn’t know what death was back then. My memories of her are faint at best, but I do remember the day she died.  Me, my dad, my grandparents and several of Mom’s friends from town, were all gathered around her hospital bed.  I remember holding her hand and I remember her speaking to me in a soft, gentle voice, repeating over and over, “Don’t worry Kenji, he will keep you safe.  He will keep you safe.  He will keep you safe.”  She must have been talking about Dad because I remember that he kept saying to Mom that he would.  I remember Mom’s hand going limp and thinking that she had fallen as
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Literature
A Boy and his Dog CH 1
My name is Kenji Taylor, and my peaceful life ended on a Saturday.  I’m half Japanese, so my hair is more dark brown than black and my eyes are rounder, but I still resemble my mother more.  She was fourth generation Japanese and she died when I was five.  I didn’t understand what had happened at the time, I didn’t know what death was back then.  Even after the funeral I kept asking my dad and grandparents where Mom was and when she’d be coming back.  My memories of her are faint at best, but I do remember the day she died.  Me, my dad, my grandparents and several of Mom’s friends from town, were all gathered around her hospital bed.  I remember holding her hand and I remember her speaking to me in a soft, gentle voice, repeating over and over, “Don’t worry Kenji, he will keep you safe.  He will keep you safe.  He will keep you safe.”  She must have been talking about Dad because I remembe
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Literature
Godling written chapter 1-Revamped
One thousand years ago, the age of advanced human civilization came to an end.  Some say that it was the work of The Maker.  Still others say that man’s greed caused his downfall.  Whatever the reason, the period known as the Ancient Times ended, the secrets of their magic and technology lost.  In their wake, the Ancients left behind an altered planet.  If any had lived to see this new land they would have likened it to the long ago past.  The world had returned to a forgotten age.  An age of gods. . . . and monsters.  
                                          Godling
                                 Ch. 1: Dos Hombres
                  Western Sonora, 1034 pc (Post Collapse)
The rumbling was faint at first.  It was barely perceptible on the edge of human hearing.  However, the noise grew louder and louder as it’s source drew closer.  The small desert lizard was more co
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Literature
Model of a Social Justice Warrior
I am the very model of a social justice warrior
I want to ban free speech from each and every college corridor
I know I'm a progressive, and I think that I'm above reproach
And on the rights of others I've no shame at all when I encroach;
I'm very well acquainted too with all matters grammatical
I understand which words are fine and which are problematical,
About the gender theories I'm teeming with a lot of lies ---
With innacurate claims about the behavior of college guys.  
I'm very good at victimhood and blaming the establishment,
I know how to protest to bring about a change in management;
In short, I want to ban free speech in every college corridor
I am the very model of a social justice warrior!
I know our trumped up narratives, Anita's and Brianna Wu's,
I'm always full of nonsense, such as that of Arthur "bomber" Chu's,
I quote in many soundbytes all the crimes of the patriarchate,
Especially those which have something to do with that GamerGate.
I can tell easily mansplai
:iconAristodes:Aristodes
:iconaristodes:Aristodes 29 20
Graylag Geese Drawing :iconesthervanhulsen:EsthervanHulsen 473 113 Mad Max - War Beasts :iconsandara:sandara 8,300 440 Sweet Dreams :iconesthervanhulsen:EsthervanHulsen 398 83 Cowboy Bebop: Crew Wallpaper. Realism. :icondjamilaknopf:DjamilaKnopf 1,502 107 FRENCH REV: Leaders :iconfrozen-lightning:frozen-lightning 64 33 megas xlr :iconorangehexagon:orangehexagon 136 37 Red :iconraipun:Raipun 1,488 213 2012_06_24_019530 :iconlandsverk:landsverk 814 103 Fair Stranger :iconsnailords:SnaiLords 3,602 523 All Aboard :iconclockwork7:Clockwork7 83 12
Literature
Ode To The Tsundere
He loves me not, he says with blushing cheek.
He'd rather die a fiery death than kiss
A girl with zero sex appeal, a geek
(he says it twice for extra emphasis).
So why the constant stares? I ask. He lies.
He hates the sight of me, he quickly shouts –
Without the scorn his panicked oath implies.
The dissonance contributes to my doubts.
Alone one day, he smiles at me; I gasp.
A joke? A lapse of judgment? Or perhaps
A glimpse of truth at last within my grasp!
I kiss his cheek and watch his walls collapse.
A victory for me, like striking gold.
For him, a death by kisses hot and cold.
:iconAcaciathorn:Acaciathorn
:iconacaciathorn:Acaciathorn 533 195
Night Sky :iconaeveternal:Aeveternal 32 6 Prodigy - Family Poster :iconjuunilee:JuuniLee 26 26 Mossy :iconmr--jack:Mr--Jack 4,196 203 Anansi boys book cover :iconanitakolsen:AnitaKOlsen 2 4

Critiques


Vision-Presentation and execution, especially the use of contrasting light and dark elements are flawless, 'nuff said Originality-There...


Vision-Overall this was well planned and well executed though I think the dark edges effect detracts a little, albeit not significantly...


Vision-Very well executed. The scenery is impressive but I must admit the red deer thing is the real attention grabber for me. I also a...


Vision-I know only a little about the series but the elements tell something of the story as any good tankobon cover should. The MC, an...

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“Thomas Seward?”

“The same.”

“Inspector Blair.  I’m here to review your file before your trial.”

“Of course.”

“You’ve already pleaded guilty I understand.”

“Of course, why would I wish to deny my own accomplishments?”

“Case 12004.  November 13, 1998.  Bridget Morehead, aged 35.”

“Oh, yes, my very first canvas.  It took me a while before I finally found the opportunity to begin.”

“You said in your testimony that your goal is to recreate art through human flesh.”

“Indeed.  With her I was inspired by the ‘Cult Statue of Artemis at Ephesus’.  You see there how I’ve recreated the multiples globular shapes attached to the chest?”

“With pieces of her own skin.  Which you filled with air and stapled to the corpse.”

“Exactly!  She was very thin so as you can imagine there was little material for me to work with.”

“Case 12844.  February 4, 1999.  Dwayne Wright, aged 23.  Anastasia Pulaski, aged 19.”

“Oh yes he was difficult, he already had all those tattoos.  But then I was looking for a challenge with him.  I meant to recreate ‘The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun.’  You can clearly see which is which.”

“The. . . wings?”

“Oh yes, had to remove almost all of her skin beneath the dress and the bones from his arms after I cut them off. Had to tan the skin carefully so I could stretch it without tearing.  The best part was, I had just enough left for the horns and-.”

“No further details are necessary.  Case 13141.  June 15, 1999.  Wendy Fincher, aged 46.”

“Picasso’s, The Weeping Woman.  I love recreating his work particularly.”

“Case 13984.  July 30, 1999.  Melissa Wu, aged 24.  William Bedford, aged 33.  Silas Miller, aged 58.”

“The Rape of the Sabine Women.  I had to stick steel rods into them to maintain the postures and-“

“Case 14266.  October 13, 1999.  Robert Richmond, aged 47.”

“The Death of Marat.  Child’s play.”

“Finally, Case 14798.  January 24, 2000.  The Santos family.  Jorge, aged 47.  Maria, aged 45.  Nick, aged 18.  Juan, aged 17.  Leon, aged 14.  Phillip, aged 11.”

“Guernica, by Picasso.  I got the horse as well, but the cow got away from me.”

“Which is how the police finally apprehended you.  When did this begin?”

“What do you mean?”

“This. . . obsession of yours.”

“Obsession?  I am an artist, Inspector.  Why shouldn’t I devote myself to my craft?  But if you must know it began with fish when I was thirteen.”

“Fish?”

There was a lake not far from home and my father used to take me with him.  While he fished for trout I would catch minnows and nail them together by the tails.  I would arrange them into little wiggling flowers with silver scaly petals.  I took art classes in school, but flat lifeless pictures and lumps of wood and rock stirred nothing in me.  But in biology class, we dissected frogs, rats and pigeons.  Even though they too were dead things, when I rearranged their innards and limbs it. . . it woke something in myself.  The thought of flesh molded like clay.  The one medium that no one has ever used to create art.”

“Surely you understand the reason why.”

“Sadly yes.  Most people simply lack the vision.  They are bound by restrictive conventions.  That’s how Impressionists like Monet came about.  It was rebellion against the strictures of the classics.”

“And you think you’re some kind of revolutionary?”

“I like to think so.  I knew that society wouldn’t understand if I simply did my own work at first.  That’s why I began with recreations.  I show the world the same great, classic images, but in a new art form.  After Guernica, I intended to start on some original works.  It’s a pity really.  Now there will be no one to take up the torch once I’m gone.”

“. . .That will be all, Mr. Seward.”

“You despise me don’t you?  You hide it behind that stern experience of yours, but it’s still there.”

“Despise is too weak a word for you, but it doesn’t matter in the end.  You’ll be gone before the year is out.  Good day Mr. Seward.”

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Bek’s breath tore in his throat as he and his three fellow escapees thrashed through the Nile marshes.  They’d left the boat behind in the reeds but that was no guarantee than their pursuers wouldn’t pick up the trail.  The Hyksos were as persistent as hunting dogs and twice as brutal.  

The going was difficult.  Shafra kept cradling a broken arm.  Bek himself was hampered by a blinded left eye.  Neb-seni was relatively whole but whatever the Hyksos torturers had done to him left him with haunted eyes and plagued by severe spasms that often caused him to fall, thrashing into the murky water.  Bek was at a lost as to how they were ever going to reach Upper Egypt, and the lands still ruled by Pharaoh.  

So far there was no sign of pursuit.  The only signs of life were the lanterns and fires of villages.  They avoided these.  Even if a local didn’t betray them to the invader, the Hyksos would find out where they’d been and the communities would suffer.  As they passed by one of these Bek noticed a prominent statue standing near the town gates, the visage of a god.  He ground his teeth at the sight.  

Egyptians enslaved in their own land, and all because one of our own gods betrayed us.

Hours passed as they made their way through the marshes as the sky grudgingly paled towards early morning.  Their place kept on slowing because the spasms that assailed Neb-seni began to come more frequently.  At last, almost drained of energy, Shafra and Bek found shelter beneath a riverbank overhang left over from the last flood.  They laid Neb-seni to rest, the other’s frame twitching and jerking for a space.  At last the latest fit passed and he went limp, breathing as if he’d run all the way to Nubia and back.

“Leave me.”  He grated, voice tight with pain.

Bek shook his head.  “Our chances are better is we stay together.”

In the shade of the overhang, Neb-seni’s features were hard to read.  Outside the sky had changed from inky black to dark gray.  Dawn was approaching.  Bek sat back on his haunches, fingering a pointed rock that he held in one hand.  His hands were still raw from the long patient hours he had spent, first levering our a section of broken floor stone from his cell, then grinding the edges as quietly as he could.  Back in Avaris, the Hyksos capital, there were several guards lying dead with their skulls cracked open.  Their bronze daggers now rested in the waistbands of the fugitives.  

“What did they do to you?”  Shafra asked, still holding his broken arm.  Their had been no time for splints in the haste of their escape.
 
At first Neb-seni lay so still that Bek thought he had fallen asleep.  But then he spoke in a ragged voice.

“They took me to the Red Lord’s Temple.”

At those words Bek felt the anger boil in his blood once again.  

“I was blind folded when I was brought inside so I don’t know what exactly was happening.  I heard voices chanting.  I smelt incense being burned.  There was so much smoke I nearly gagged.”

“What were they chanting?”  Bek asked.  Like his fellow spies, he was fluent in the Hyksos tongue.

“Something. . . something about welcoming a new servant into the god’s service.  I thought that they meant to sacrifice me as some bloody initiation rite.  Then they forced something into my mouth.  I don’t know what it was, but it was like a hunk of raw meat, covered in sand.”

Bek scowled.  “That’s all?”

Neb-seni shook his head weakly.   “They forced me to swallow it and my mind went dark.  I saw strange, vivid dreams, images that I could make no sense of.  When I finally awoke I was back in my cell, my stomach cramping with pain.

“It must be some kind of poison or curse.”  Shafra mumbled.  “Meant to inflict pain without killing.”

Bek waved dismissive hand.  “The priests back in Upper Egypt can see to that.  Hyksos magic is paltry compared to ours.”

Neb-seni suddenly hissed in pain and curled into a ball as another spasm came over him.  Instinctively Bek looked out from under the overhang.  The sky was still dark gray.  The reeds swayed in the current.  Still no sign of Hyksos pursuit.  Behind him he heard Shafra shuffle over to Neb-seni, trying futilely to ease his pain.  Neb-seni’s breath came in short gasps that seemed to grow louder, harsher.

Something struck Bek in the back so ahrd that he was propelled out of the shallow cave and into the shallows.  Spitting water he leapt to his feet, dagger drawn.  Moments later there was a sharp cracking noise and Shafra’ was likewise flung out into the water.  The other man groaned and staggered up, the broken arm hanging limply.  Neb-seni staggered out into the gray light and fell thrashing into the water again.  Bek swore.  

We’ll have to leave him after all.  At this rate we’ll never make it back.

Again the fit passed and the other two hesitantly approached their comrade.  Bek scanned the horizon for anyone who might have spotted them while Shafra knelt beside Neb-seni.  

“Come on, friend.  Lean on me.”

Neb-seni’s voice was faint and plaintive.  “When will the sun rise?”

A pause.

“The sun is rising.”  Indeed the first pink hues were beginning to striate the gray sky.

“I can’t see it.  I can’t see anything.”

Bek looked down at the other man and felt his blood turn to ice.  Neb-seni’s eyes were normally black, but now the iris and pupil were disappearing before his eyes.  They faded into the white as if an artist was painting over them.  Then the eyelids closed and the skin fused together like clay.  His brown skin, already ashen from his pain, was turning gray and reddish streaks began to appear in his hair.

“I can’t see.  I can’t-“

Another spasm overcame him and he fell back into the water.  Shafra bent down to help him.  Before Bek could open his mouth to warn the other there was a blur of motion, a cracking sound, and Shafra fell back into the water, his neck twisted at an obscene angle.

Bek ran.  He scrambled out onto the bank and ran.  He no longer cared about being spotted by the Hyksos.  More than mortal fear drove him as he ran, the breath tearing at his throat.  The pursuit was swift.  He could hear it drawing ever nearer behind him.  At last Bek turned at bay, the dagger raised for one last desperate strike.

Before him crouched a figure of nightmare.  A long, forked tail waved behind clawed back legs not unlike those of a dog.  Great hunched arms and shoulders ended in equally vicious clawed hands.  Its skin was a dull gray, against which a mane of red hair stood out in sharp relief.  Its face was also canine, but with abnormally elongated jaws that disclosed dripping fangs.  Two great rabbit-like ears extended from the skull, constantly shifting in different directions.  It had no eyes.  

Osiris receive me kindly.  Anubis judge me fairly.  

His soul commended to the gods, Bek attacked.  The monster reared on it’s hind legs, arms raised.  Bek ducked in beneath the claws and struck at the exposed belly.  The bronze blade crumpled against the gray flesh like fresh papyrus.  Bek had only an instant of stupefaction before the great, clawed hands came down.

. . .

When Neb-seni came back to himself he saw that he stood in the midst of bloody shambles.  He tried to walk and his foot tangled in something.  He looked down.  A fleshy rope, blue-white and laced with red, wrapped around one ankle.  Dazedly he reached down to pull it off.  Then he saw the severed head.  It lay only a few faces away, next to a dismembered arm.  The features were frozen in a mask of terror.  Neb-seni blinked at it stupidly for a moment.  Then his mind cleared and the horrific realization struck him.  With a howl of agony he fell to bloody earth, clawing at himself as if to rip out whatever demon that had possessed him.  His nails scored deep red lines in his own flesh.  His blood speckled the ground.

“Now.  Now.  No more of that.”

At the voice Neb-seni stopped and rose onto one knee.  Before him stood a man.  He wore the robes of an Egyptian lord, but his skin was the same olive hue as the Hyksos.  Unlike the Hyksos however, his hair, framing a cruel angular face, was as red as the desert sands of his dominion.

“WHY?”  Neb-seni cried out, tears flowing down his face.  “We always honored you!  Why did you do this?  Why did you betray your own land?”

The red-haired man shook his head.  “Even if I explained myself, you would not understand.”

He made a gesture and Neb-seni flopped to the earth, unconscious.  Set, Lord of the Red Land, Master of Storms, God of Chaos, Patron of Foreigners, turned his gaze south along the great trunk of the Nile.

“Well, Horus?  What will you send against me this time?”
The Servant of Set
This was partly inspired by that God Awful movie, Gods of Egypt.  I only read the wikipedia file and I thought "I could do better than these jokers."
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FADE IN:

CITY STREETS – EVENING

CAMERA PAN FOLLOWING JIM

Jim, recently separated from his girlfriend for his drinking habit, is making his way down the street in a cold drizzle.  The neon signs of various establishments shine like bright obnoxious stars, the only color in the gray environment.  The wind picks up and Jim zips his coat up tighter and licks his lips.  He is looking a bar, in the hopes of drowning his recent sorrows.  

CUT TO CLOSE UP ON JIM’S FACE IN PROFILE

GIRLFRIEND
(in Jim’s head)
Me or the bottle Jim.  Which is it?

JIM
Fuck.

Jim shakes his head to dispel the memory.  He pauses in his walk and looks up.

CUT TO NEON BAR SIGN

The bar sign glows brightly against the dull gray background.

CUT TO JIM FROM THE FRONT

Jim smiles in relief and anticipation and resumes walking.

CUT BACK TO ORIGINAL CAMERA PAN

Jim is about to pass an alleyway when he hears a scream.  He pauses again.  An instant later a man rushed out of the alley.  He pushes past Jim, knocking him against the wall of the building as he does so.

CUT TO FLEEING MAN FROM BEHIND

Jim turns and yells after the man as he fades into the gray evening.  

JIM
Ass!

CUT BACK TO JIM IN PROFILE

Jim picks himself up.  The sound of a woman sobbing is heard.  Jim peers around the corner into the alley.

CUT TO HANNAH AGAINST THE ALLEY WALL

Hannah, huddles against the side of the wall, clutching the torn bodice of her dress to her.  Her head is between her knees and her shoulders are shaking.

CUT TO ALLEY LOOKING OUT ON THE STREET

Jim walks into the alley over to Hannah.  He takes off his coat and offers it to her.

JIM
You all right?

CUT TO HANNAH

Hannah looks up at him, then at the coat.  After a moment’s hesitation, she takes it and puts it on.

HANNAH
Thank you.

JIM

JIM
How bad did that guy hurt you?

HANNAH

Hannah wipes her face.

HANNAH
Not nearly as bad as he wanted too.  He must have thought someone would come when I screamed and he panicked.

JIM
Just as well, right?

HANNAH
Right.  And you are?

JIM

JIM
Jim.

Jim extends a hand to Hannah.  Hannah takes it and lets him help her to her feet.

HANNAH
Hannah.

JIM

So how did you end up with a creep like that?

HANNAH

Hannah sighs and brushes some hair from her face.

HANNAH
Let’s just say I was feeling a little desperate for companionship.

JIM

JIM
Really?  I’d have figured someone like you wouldn’t have to worry about making friends.

HANNAH

Hanna smiles a little wanly.

HANNAH

I thought the mantra these days was looks aren’t everything?

JIM

Jim nods a little self-consciously.  

JIM
Point.  You not a people person?

HANNAH
Usually I’m not.  Tonight wasn’t usually.

JIM
Ah.

For a moment the pair just stands awkwardly, each avoiding the other’s eyes.

JIM
Uh, you want me to take you to the police?  Or maybe back to your place?

HANNAH

HANNAH
No, thank you.

Hannah looks up at the sky.

JIM

Jim, puzzled, looks up at the sky as well.

CUT TO VIEW OF THE SKY

Rain falls softly as gray clouds move slowly.  The sky seems hemmed in by the buildings to either side of the alley.

HANNAH
You ever wonder why most people are sad when it rains?

JIM
Not really.

HANNAH
I like to think it’s because we’re all connected to the world.  When we are sad, so is the Earth.

JIM
(awkwardly)
I wouldn’t know anything about that.  Does the sky just take the majority view?  What about the few sad folks when everyone else is happy?

HANNAH

Hannah smiles at Jim.

HANNAH
We call her Mother Earth don’t we?  Her moods are just more complex.

JIM
Which makes me a dull caveman then?

HANNAH

Hannah flushes and looks away from Jim.

HANNAH
No.  I wouldn’t call you that.

JIM

JIM
What a relief.

HANNAH

Hannah laughs.

JIM

JIM
You want to get a drink?  There’s a place a few blocks down.

HANNAH

Hannah smiles wryly at Jim.

HANNAH
That’s what the last one said.

JIM

Jim raises his hands defensively.

JIM
Hay, I don’t hit women.

HANNAH

Tears start flowing down Hannah’s cheeks.  With a sob of fear and relief she buries her face in Jim’s chest and hugs him tightly to her.  After an awkward moment, Jim reciprocates.

HANNAH
(sobbing)
He . . . he . . . he almost. . . .

JIM

JIM
It’s ok.  He can’t hurt you now.

The rain starts to fall harder.  Hannah’s embrace tightens.  Jim strokes her hair comfortingly.

JIM
You know, drinking away your sorrow isn’t recommended by the doctor, but I think it works wonders for the spirit.  Why don’t you let me take you down to the bar?  My treat.

HANNAH

Hannah shakes her head against Jim’s chest.

HANNAH
(sobbing(
Just a little longer

JIM

JIM
All right.  But could you loosen up a little?  You’re stronger than you look.

HANNAH

Hannah does not respond to his words and her embrace tightens still further.

JIM

Jim begins to pull at Hannah’s arms in attempt to loosen her grip.  Gently at first, but as time goes by and her embrace continues to tighten, Jim began pulling more strongly at Hannah’s arms to no avail.  He blinks the rain from his eyes and stares at Hannah’s arms.

CLOSE UP OF HANNAH’S ARMS

Hannah’s skin begins to darken and take on a scaly quality.  

JIM

JIM
(urgently)
Hey!  Come on!  You’re crushing me, let go!

HANNAH
But that’s the point.

LOOKING DOWN AT HANNAH FROM OVER JIM’S SOULDER.

Hannah looks up at Jim, showing that her eyes have altered to resemble the slit pupils of a serpent.  

JIM

Jim stare’s down at Hannah in disbelief.  

OVER JIM’S SHOULDER, PANNING UP

Hannah’s neck elongates, raising her head above Jim’s until she is looking down on him.  As this happens, her hair fades away and her mouth elongates.

CLOSE UP OF HANNAH’S ARMS AROUND JIM’S TORSO

Hannah’s scaly arms fuse together into a single length that coils around Jim until almost his entire torso in engulfed in shimmering ebon scales.  The coils tighten still further, eliciting hoarse, incoherent noises from Jim.  

CUT TO CLOSE UP OF JIM AND HANNAH’S FACES IN PROFILE

Hannah opens her mouth wide and begins lowering it to engulf Jim.

HANNAH
You were a sweet man.

CLOSE UP OF JIM’S FACE

Jim stares in wide-eyed fear and disbelief.  There is the sound of ribs cracking under the pressure of the serpent’s coils, but he barely seems to notice them.

CUT TO HANNAH’S MOUTH LOWERING TOWARDS JIM

HANNAH
I really am lucky I found a man like you.

Hannah’s mouth fills the screen, a dark hole, engulfing everything in sight.

FADE TO BLACK
Embrace, Screenplay Form
Sorry for the wait, internet troubles.  
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Embrace

The streetlights shine like bright obnoxious stars as I make my way through a light drizzle.  A chilly wind blows and I zip my coat up a little tighter.  I lick my lips, feeling very much in need of a stiff drink tonight.  

Me or the bottle Jim.  Which is it?

“Fuck.”  I snarl, shaking my head to dislodge the memory.  Makes my throat dry just thinking about it.

The bar’s only a few blocks away, its neon sign looking like a beacon of hope.  Then someone screams and a man runs out of the alley in front of me.  He runs past me, knocking me against the wall as he does so.

“Ass!”  I yell after him.

I pick myself up and am about to move on when the sound of sobbing reaches my ears.  I peer into the alleyway and see a woman huddled against the wall in a torn dress.

“You all right?”

I walk over and offer her my coat.  That dress certainly isn’t up to performing its intended function tonight.

“Thank you.”  She says, hugging to coat closed to cover herself.  She has no make up on and has a swollen lip courtesy of that bastard from earlier.  But lustrous black hair, emerald green eyes and otherwise flawless skin?  A man would have to blind not to call her a beauty.

“How bad did that guy hurt you?”

She wipes at her eyes and stands.  “Not nearly as bad as he wanted too.  He must have thought someone would come when I screamed and he panicked.”

“Just as well, right?”

“Right.  And you are?”

“Jim.”  I extend a hand to her.  She takes it.  Her hand feels icy cold.

“Hannah.”

I help her to her feet.  “So how did you end up with a creep like that?”

She sighs, adjusting an errant strand of hair.  “Let’s just say I was feeling a little desperate for companionship.”

“Really?  I’d have figured someone like you wouldn’t have to worry about making friends.”

She smiles at me, a little wanly.  “I thought the mantra these days was looks aren’t everything?”

“Point.  You not a people person?"

“Usually.  Tonight wasn’t usually.”

“Ah.”  

For a moment we just stand there awkwardly.  I try not to stare where I shouldn’t.  Even wearing my coat there’s quite a bit on display.

“Uh. You want me to take you to police?  Or maybe back to your place?”

“No, thank you.”  Hannah pauses then looks up at the sky.  “You ever wonder why most people are sad when it rains?”

I look up, and only get some cold drops in my face for my trouble.  There’s nothing to see but a darkening gray sky.

“Not really.”

“I like to think it’s because we’re all connected to the world.  When we are sad, so is the world.”

Damn.  I’m no good at this philosophical stuff.  “I wouldn’t know anything about that.  Does the sky just take the majority view?  What about the few sad folks when everyone else is happy?”

She smiles at that and by God does it make that swollen lip look fetching.

“We call her Mother Earth don’t we?  Her moods are just more complex.”

“Which makes me a dull caveman then?”

She actually flushes at that and looks away.  “No.  I wouldn’t call you that.”

“What a relief.”

She actually laughs.  This night is just getting batter and better.  Then my dry throat reasserts itself.

“You want to get a drink?  There’s a place a few blocks down.”

She smiles wryly at me.  “That’s what the last one said.”

I raise my hands defensively.  “Hey I don’t hit women.”

Not that I haven’t been tempted lately.

At this tears begin forming in her eyes and suddenly she buries her face in my chest.  At first I’m too shocked to do anything.  Then, awkwardly I put my arms around her.  She returns the embrace, sobbing and further soaking the front of my shirt.  

“He. . .he . . .he almost. . .”

“It’s ok.  He can’t hurt you now.”  What else can I say?  What do you say to someone whose avoided that kind of experience?  The rain starts to fall harder.  

Her embrace tightens and her shoulders shake even harder.  I stroke her hair, feeling like I’m comforting a little girl, rather than a grown woman.  Then again I can hardly blame her.  

She could ease up a little though.

“You know.”  I shift awkwardly as her grip tightens further.  “Drinking away your sorrow isn’t recommended by the doctor, but I think it works wonders for the spirit.  Why don’t you let me take you down to the bar.  My treat.”

She shakes her head.  “Just a little longer.”  She sniffles around my shirtfront.

“All right.  But could you loosen up a little?  You’re stronger than you look.”

She says nothing but her embrace tightens even more.  Now my ribs are starting to feel sore and it’s getting hard to breathe.  I tug at her arms, gently as first, but then more insistently.  I blink the rain out of my eyes.  Is it me or is her skin growing darker.  Beneath my fingers her shoulders suddenly feel harder than skin should be.  

“Hey!”  Come on!  You’re crushing me, let go!”

“But that’s the point.”

At last she looks up at me.  Her eyes are still emerald green, but the pupils are now slitted, like a cats.

This has to be a dream.

Hannah doesn’t let go but her head rises until it’s well above my own.  Her mouth elongates into reptilian jaws.  Her hair fades out and her head is now covered in jet black scales.  Instead on twining arms it feels like a solid band is wrapped around my chest, crushing the breath from me.

This can’t be real.  I’ve just had too much to drink today.  Any moment I’ll wake up.

The snake, it’s coils as thick around as a man’s thigh hovers over me as black spots begin to fill in the edges of my vision.  Those glowing green eyes remain locked on mine.  I try to say something, anything, but only a hoarse wheezing sound emerges.

Just a dream.  Just another crazy liquor dream.

The snake’s mouth opens wide.  It looks like a great dark pit opening before my fading vision.  

I’ll wake up any moment now.

Distantly I hear something breaking.  Pain flares through my body but I’ve no breath to cry out.  Already the pain is fading, just like everything.  

Just a dream fading away.  

“You were a sweet man.”  Says the snake.  Her mouth doesn’t move.  I hear the words like they’re in my own head.  Just more proof that this is a dream.  The dark maw lowers ever closer, swallowing the sky, the rain and the neon lights.

“I really am lucky, to have found a man like you.”

Copyright 2016 Robert Webb
He crouched amid the bones and filth of his lair, because that was what he did when the Feeder wasn’t bringing him food.  He scratched absently at the wall, making random patterns in the dirt with his long nails.  He hoped the Feeder would come soon.  It was always good when the Feeder came.  Back in the old days, when he was very small the Feeder had come himself with food.  Sweet food from the trees.  Then as he had had gotten older, and bigger the Feeder had brought him meat.  It had been dead meat first.  Small things.  Little birds.  A cavid rodent or two.  Then the Feeder had moved on to bigger things.  Live things, though they were always tied up or asleep so that he would not be harmed when he fed.  
He stopped scratching the wall and looked towards the brightness outside.  When would the Feeder come?  How long had it been since his last meal?  He had no idea.  He looked at his hands.  One.  He lifted a single finger.  But he did not know what came next and gave up.  He sat in here and he ate what the Feeder gave him.  That was all he did.  All he needed to do.  Sometimes the Feeder brought him things he could play with before he ate them.  His stomach rumbled with hunger.

. . .

“As you can see Bhattar, you should stick to fighting and strategy and leave negotiations and business to me.”

Enki Shul heard his leader release an exasperated sigh.

“Just as you say Master Elan.”

Enki marveled Amon’s patience.  In his place he probably would have throttled the smug merchant by now.  For weeks he and the rest of the mercenaries had had to endure listening to the heated arguments between their leader and their patron.  Amon had warned over and over of the inadvisability of trying to establish trade with the Chaaltecs.  They were savage barbarians, he had said, and they possessed a long-held contempt of outlanders.  Elan had remained stubborn, convinced that his own powers of persuasion, and gold bribes, would be more than a match for old hatreds.  So far at least, he had proved right.
 
Enki shifted on his seat and looked around at the courtyard, at the feast that had been laid out in their honor, and the fine gold ornaments that most of the Chaaltec nobles in attendance were wearing, courtesy of Elan Kazak.  He actually noticed several pairs of men comparing armbands and collars, each admiring the others enviously.  Even more envious glances were directed at him and the other mercenaries, or rather, at their steel weapons and armor.  The Chaaltec city lord had actually tried to strike a deal for them.  Good iron was rare this far south.  

“He says he will give twice the agreed amount of pelts.”

“Tell him we are not inclined.”  Amon had said flatly.

The merchant had been surprised.  “You are aware that this bargain will mean double shares for all?  That’s twice the payment I agreed to pay you.”

“I can count merchant.”  The other had said flatly.  “And for what you’re paying, my men and I agreed to fight who you tell us to fight and kill who you tell us to kill.  Nowhere in the bargain did we agree to surrender our weapons to any man.  Gold is a fine thing, but worthless if a man lacks the steel to hold it.”  

He had said this in a tone that brooked no argument, and for once, Elan dropped the issue.  

Enki chewed thoughtfully on a mouthful of some tender fowl as he recalled the discussion, one hand instinctively gripping the haft of his war axe.  Many of his comrades had already sampled the potent native liquors offered by slender serving girls, but he chose to remain sober.  He preferred having his wits about him in a foreign place.  Besides, sobriety allowed him a better appreciation of the girls themselves.  It had been some months since his last encounter with a woman.  He was in fact exchanging smiles a particularly handsome specimen, when there was a sudden commotion at the other end of the courtyard.  

A warrior in bloodied leather armor staggered onto the scene, escorted by two of the lord’s guardsmen.  Blood caked upon his left arm, which hung limply by his side.  The Chaaltec lord shouted impatiently and the warrior was brought before him.  The man was clearly weak from loss of blood and exertion but he managed the strength to deliver his message.

“What is he saying?”  Enki heard Amon ask their client.

Elan pursed his lips.  “From what I can gather, this man was an escort for some important personage.  From his wound there must have been an attack, and whomever he was charged to protect was taken by those who waylaid them.”

The warrior continued to speak, and the Chaaltec lord’s face grew dark with passion.  At last the former finished and slumped onto his knees, steadying himself with his good hand.  The lord barked an order and one of his attendants gave into his hands an ornately carved war club.  The lord sprang to his feet and brained the unfortunate messenger with a savage blow.  The man crumpled to the ground in a crimson heap.

Before anyone could react to this outburst, the lord turned to Elan and spoke to him harshly and rapidly.  Enki noted that the man made several gestures at himself, Amon and the other Samarian mercenaries.  Elan went pale at the words.

“Well?”  Asked Amon.

Elan paused to moisten his lips before translating.  “His lordship, Macuhuape, demands the return of his daughter before any further negotiations.”

“Daughter?”  Amon asked.  

Elan conversed with the lord some more before replying.  “It seems that the lord’s daughter was being escorted to the capital to be wed to a Chaaltec prince.  Her escort was waylaid a day's march from this city and she was carried off by the attackers.”

“That gives them over two day’s lead on us.  Even if she’s still alive now we’d never be able to find her in time.”

“His lordship will provide you with a tracker so that you may pursue them.  If she is in fact dead, he will be satisfied with the heads of her murderers.”

“In that case I want a pay raise.  Half again our original agreement.”

“You-!”

“Were hired to ensure your safety and that of your caravan.  This goes beyond that contract.”

Elan’s thin lips writhed briefly in anger, then he sighed.

“Only if you succeed in bringing her back alive.”

“Agreed.  Tell his lordship we leave at dawn.”

. . .

He picked the last scraps of meat from the deer the Feeder had brought him and chewed slowly.  Deer was good, but often stringy and tough.  He much preferred the meat of the Feeder’s own kind.  That was soft and tender.  Usually.  He wondered if the Feeder would taste as good as the others that were given to him to eat.  But if he ate the Feeder, did that mean no more food would come?  He tried to think about that, but it was too difficult.

He had no memory beyond the Feeder finding him abandoned in the forest.  The Feeder had always been there.  Always bringing him food.  Always protecting him from others until he grew big.  Then the others had stopped trying to hurt him and the Feeder.  Then it was the others who had feared him.  If not for the Feeder. . .   To hard again.  He gave up.  He hoped the Feeder would bring him something soon.  

. . .

“Enki saddle your horse, I want you with us.”

Enki blinked up at his leader in the early morning light.  “Sir?”

“Don’t lay there like a dead ox lad, go to.”

This time Enki hid his surprise and obeyed.  If Amon wanted his youngest and newest subordinate to accompany him on a dangerous assignment, it was none of his business.  Of the four-dozen men in Amon’s company, half their number would stay behind to guard Elan and the other merchants.  The rest would go with him to try and rescue the Chaaltec girl.  Enki had to smile at that.  It was as if they were a company of knights riding forth in an old wives tale.  

Before mounting his horse, Enki reached into his tunic and removed a small wooden amulet, carved into the image of a bull-headed man.

“Aldeboth, patron of Hammaras, guardian of my home, lend your protection to a son who has always honored you.  Preserve me in this foreign land and I will offer two lambs in your name.”

So saying, Enki kissed the amulet, placed it back inside his tunic and mounted.  He noticed that many of the others were doing the same, whether they honored Aldeboth, as he did, the winged goddess Tan-lil of Shupra, or any of the other guardian gods; each one, the protector of a Samarian city-state.  Looking at the impenetrable jungle waiting to receive them, Enki hoped at least one of them was listening.  

. . .

He awoke when the drums began.  The low rumble from outside his lair was soon joined by the rumbling of his stomach.  Hunger assailed him fiercely and his tongue moved out to lick his lips.  The drums meant that the Feeder had brought him his favorite food.  For some reason the Feeder did not bring the food to him whenever this happened.  He always had to go outside to eat, where the Feeder and others could see him.  He moved to the entrance of his lair and waited.  The Feeder would let him know when he could come out and eat.  
A thicket stood between the entrance of his lair and the feeding place, but moving a little ways through the trees he could make it out clearly.  He saw the Feeder, the stone and what lay upon it.  The rumbling in his stomach briefly quieted as he felt a stirring in his loins.   The Feeder was being especially good today.

. . .

With the guide on one of their spare horses, Amon’s band left the settlement at speed.   The marriage party had been traveling on foot, horses being very uncommon this far south.  This offered some hope that they might be able to find the girl and save her.  They actually smelled the rotting corpses long before they managed to find the remains.  The sweltering heat had already begun its work on the bodies.  Before sundown the guide managed to pick up the trail of the raiders, leading west.   After that followed days of stifling heat and tortuous insects along a twisting route that was little more than a deer trail.  Then, on the fourth day, they heard the drums.

The guide raised his hand in a gesture enjoining silence and the mercenaries’ swift pace now slowed to a crawl.  As they advanced Enki felt a new trickle of nervousness run through him.  Samaria was a land of open plains and wide valleys where danger was easy to see.  Here, every bush, every shadow could hide a lurking enemy.  As they moved closer the pounding of drums drowned out even the buzzing whine of the insects.  Then small shafts of light pierced the leafy gloom and the noise grew even louder.  It had to be.  

Advancing carefully, weapons at the ready, the Samarians and their guide soon looked upon a scene of barbaric festivity.  Several dozen half naked figures danced in an open grassy space formed by the fall of a forest giant.  In the center stood a roughly pyramidal pile of crumbly moss-covered stone surmounted by what was obviously an altar.  Enki gripped the haft of his axe and looked to his leader for instructions.  Amon caught his eye and shook his head slightly.  

Enki made no response but simply turned back in time to see one of the figures in the clearing mount the ruins of the altar, carrying a limp form in his arms.  It was a woman, mahogany skinned and with raven hair falling loosely about her bare shoulders.  On Amon’s other side, the Chaaltec guide stiffened at the sight and almost rose, only to be restrained by the mercenary’s hand.  Enki felt his own hands grip the axe haft again as all about him a new tension ran through the two-dozen men hidden in the undergrowth.

The man carrying the girl laid her upon the altar, a great roughhewn slab of gray rock covered in dark stains.  The girl herself was unbound, yet she did not resist.   Her head lolled in a way that suggested drugging by her captors.  The man turned away from the crowd and raised his arms.  In color, and feature, he and his followers was not unlike the Chaaltecs, but his face was painted with white and yellow streaks and his only garment was a multi-colored cloak of feathers, cunningly woven together.  

“Xictecs.”  Enki heard the guide mutter to Amon, and there was no mistaking the contemptuous hatred in his voice.  The Chaaltecs were but one of many tribes inhabiting the jungles of the Green Belt.  They were the strongest though, and their dominion over the others was maintained by the presence of their armies and fortified towns.  This rule was bitterly resented by the other peoples, which provided some possible motivation for the kidnapping.  

The drums and chanting fell silent and the Xictec leader began to speak in a loud, sonorous voice that echoed oddly in the relative silence of the clearing.  Enki saw the guide’s face grow pale as the words rang out.  

“What is he saying?”  Amon whispered.

Enki did not hear what the guide said in response.  No sooner had the Xictec leader finished speaking that there was the sound of cracking branches.  The Xictecs immediately prostrated themselves before the altar.  Hidden in the undergrowth Enki felt the sweat on his brow turning cold.  From the noises something big was approaching; something that didn’t take care, or had no need, to employ stealth.  

The vegetation on the other side of the altar waved violently and a massive shape emerged into the light.  

“Gods and devils!”  Enki swore under his breath.

“Shh!”  Amon hissed, cutting off a stream of whispered oaths from the others.  Fortunately neither the Xictecs nor the apparition seemed to hear.  It looked human in shape and aspect, but would have stood head and shoulders above the tallest man.  Then the being thrust its head, dog-like, towards the unconscious victim and Enki felt bile in his throat.  He saw the malformed head, the flat, reptilian nostrils and the jutting prognathous jaw.  From what dark madness had such a thing been spawned?  The Xictecs were utterly still, not even daring to look up at the being they worshipped.

“Bows.”  Amon whispered.

Half of the mercenaries put down their hand weapons and silently nocked arrows to strings.  Enki crouched low, waiting for the signal.  The monstrosity seemed to regard the sacrifice before it with an odd curiosity.  Then it reached out a hand towards its victim.  That hand was as monstrous as its face, with long curving nails that could have been talons.  

“NOW!”  

The bows twanged and the arrows flew across the clearing, over the heads of the prostrate Xictecs.  Four went wide, one struck the creature’s arm, and the rest feathered themselves in its torso.  A single distorted cry, and the monster fell backwards to the earth.  

At the same moment Enki and the rest charged out and began laying into the prostrate Xictecs.  A few managed to snatch up clubs and spears to defend themselves but steel and chainmail prevailed against naked flesh and wood.  Enki hacked through the shoulder of a Xictec woman and leapt towards the leader, axe raised.  Fast as he was however, the Chaaltec guide was faster.  Driven by fury and hate, the guide fell upon his victim and stabbed his spear repeatedly into the enemy’s body.  The Xictec bawled with agonized terror as he flailed about in a futile attempt to defend himself.  The guide’s triumph was short-lived however.  He was still grinning vindictively as one of the Xictecs caved in his skull with a war club.  Enki beheaded the slayer with a swing of his axe.  Then he kicked another charging Xictec in the stomach, knocking him to the ground where he was finished off by another blow.  Enki looked around for fresh victims, only to find that there were none left.

The massacre had been brief.  With their leader and their god dead, the few Xictecs able to break away, fled into the undergrowth.  They left behind a scene of bloody shambles.  Some of the mercenaries had been wounded but they would live.  The Chaaltec guide had been their only casualty.  In contrast, nearly three quarters of the Xictecs had met their end in that clearing.  Enki, the blood still thrumming in his ears felt disoriented as he looked upon the scene of slaughter.  Was it really possible for there to be so many dead in such a short space of time?

“Aruk!  Kahl-men!  Get the girl.  I want us gone long before those savages recover their nerve.  Enki!  Make sure that thing is dead.  I don’t want any demon spawn chasing after us.”

Amon’s words had a way of penetrating even the thickest of fogs.  Enki felt himself straighten instinctively.  While the other two lifted the girl carefully from the dark altar, he walked around to stare at the monster’s corpse.  Enki noted the blood that had ceased trickling from around the arrow wounds and the clouding of the dead eyes, and felt a wave relief.  So hideous and unnatural was the being’s aspect that he had been surprised when mortal steel had actually succeeded in felling the monster.  Still, best not to take chances.  One carefully aimed swing of his axe split the misshapen skull.  Blood and brains oozed out to soak into the forest floor.  Enki wiped the blade on his tunic and walked away without another thought.  

It would be a long march back to the fort town, especially with the guide dead, but armored soldiers are as good at leaving a trail as they are poor at finding one.  All they had to do was retrace their steps.  The girl was still breathing which meant they were guaranteed the pay raise Elan had promised.  Already some of the others were talking about what they would do with the extra money.  Enki’s mind however, was occupied by thoughts of that serving girl from the banquet.  The memory brought a smile to his lips.  She had seemed friendly enough to a mere soldier of fortune.  If she were like most women he’d met, she would be even more amenable to the company of a hero.


Copyright 2016 Robert L. Webb
The Bloody Altar
Finally have the time to give out little tidbit shorts like this. . . . . enjoy.
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Straight-Lace
Robert Webb
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
United States
Just your average guy who likes to write in his free time. Like discussing philosophy and politics. Other than that I can appreciate the work of others on the sight as opposed to the 'art' I sometimes see in the real world.
Interests
I spent last year writing my first book, only for my computer to crash in December and lose everything.  Fortunately after my initial bout of rage and despondency I was able to whip something up in a month and a half.  Several family members and Shingu have graciously agreed to review it and I hope it will help me improve the story.  Here's an excerpt that I hope will interest you.  The setting is an oriental style fantasy with action, intrigue, all that good stuff.  There is a succession dispute after the death of the previous emperor and Yun Lao Caorong, the Prime Minister has been invited to meet with one of the imperial princes vying for the throne.

           

Bargains

    Yun Lao Caorong, stretched his aching back and sighed as his felt the tightening and relaxing of muscles.  Spending the whole day bent over documents, legislation and letters from the various branches of the government had never agreed with him.  He would have preferred to lie down on a couch or cushions as he did his work.  But that would highly inappropriate behavior in a Prime Minister. 

    A tentative cough sounded behind him.  Lao turned to see his steward at the doorway to his study, looking extremely nervous. 

    “Yes?”

    “Lord Prime Minister, this unworthy servant has just received a message from the palace.”

    “Oh?  Who is it from?”

    “The Lady Lao Lin, Master.”

     Lao blinked in surprise, as far as he knew the overindulged favorite of the late emperor had never shown even the slightest interest in anyone other than the emperor and her son.

    Lao held out his hand and the steward handed it to him.  Lao dismissed the man and steward bowed and exited.

    The paper was of good quality, you could that from the smooth texture, it was also scented, doubtless a perfume had been applied.  The calligraphy was flawless, neat and demure, an expression of the person who wrote it.  Lao could have believed that Lao Lin had written it herself; if he had not already known that the woman didn’t even know how to read.  Her father had been a fisherman from a tiny coastal village.  Her story was almost like something out of a cheap, romantic shadow puppet play, a story of a poor girl blessed with incredible beauty and purity of spirit who catches the eye of a cold and cruel emperor and by her gentle looks and manner, softens the monarch’s heart.  Almost. 

    The message was a request for the esteemed Lord Prime Minister, the Honorable Yun Lao Caorong, to attend upon the lady and her royal son at the middle of the hour of the rooster in her personal apartments in the Palace of Eternal Summer.

    Lao considered.  He had an hour or so to prepare and the fact that Zu Song himself would be present was an even greater incentive than the invitation by late emperor’s favorite.  All he knew about the third prince were rumors.  It would interesting to see what he was really like.  It probably would not change Lao’s decision to support his eldest brother but, well, one could never know enough under Heaven.

    So it was that, at the precise time he was expected, Prime Minister Yun Lao Caorong strode through the halls of the Hougong, the building that housed the women of the Imperial Harem and entered the apartments that, during Emperor Weizong’s life, had garnered the name, The Chamber of Spring Torrents. 

    He was ushered in by a eunuch in maroon robes and as always Lao had to suppress a shudder of disgust as he walked past the man.  Eunuchs had been a part of court life since the Chu Dynasty and in some periods they had been entrusted with great power.  After all what reason could a man who could not sire children have to try and supplant the emperor?  Even so, Lao knew the history of his people well and could easily recall the fact that the Huo Dynasty had fallen, in part, because men like this one had gradually turned the Huo emperors into indolent puppets feeding them glib fantasies of prosperity and peace while they wallowed in excess and civil unrest had swept the countryside.

    “Prime Minster Yun Lao Caorong!”  The eunuch announced as he entered the chamber.  It was quite spacious, at least as large as four or five of the other concubine’s quarters combined.  The walls were dripping with silk in warm pastel colors.  A small marble table, with precious inlays and three cushioned chairs, two of them already occupied, were set up in the center.  A small, discreet doorway in one corner led to the actual bedchamber.  Another doorway led to the quarters of the servants, all women or eunuchs, whose sole duty was to attend upon the woman who lived here.

    “Ahhhh!  Prime Minister Caorong, welcome!”  The woman in question now called cheerfully from the cushions that nearly swallowed her petite frame.

    Lao bowed low, twice, hand in fist to both of them.  As always his courtesy was impeccable. 

    “This humble one is honored beyond his worth that the Gracious Lady Lao Lin should be so welcoming.”

    “Please be seated, Prime Minister.”  Said the prince. 

    Lao sat, a eunuch placed a cup of aromatic tea before him and there were several small plates of delicacies within easy reach.  He sipped from the cup and sighed appreciatively.

    “From Yenling province, truly the finest in the empire.  I have not had tea of such quality in months.”

    “Whatever do you mean?”  Lao Lin said, her painted face frowning prettily.  “My servants prepare this for me every day.”

    Lao stopped himself from sighing at her ignorance.  “Yenling tea is rare and expensive Gracious Lady.  It is difficult to acquire, even for those of us in the civil service who labor unworthily for the Son of Heaven.  I am sure that the late emperor, may his spirit know everlasting joy, would have done all in his power to provide only the best for his favorites.”

    “Yes.”  Lao Lin said wistfully.  “He used to tell me how he would move mountains for me if I asked him.  I knew he was only being silly but it was still so sweet of him.”

    Lao regarded her.  Age was assailing her looks with some degree of success, despite her make up, her elaborately jeweled headdress, but even in her early forties, she was a striking woman.  He could only imagine what she must have looked like in the full flower of her youth.  It was no wonder the emperor had favored her above all the others of his harem. 

    Before he could reply Zu Song chuckled softly.  “Please Dear Mother, you did not invite the Prime Minster here, simply to reminisce.  I am sure he has important work to do.”

    Ah.  So that’s how it is.  Lao thought.  This meeting was the prince’s idea.  I guess I should not be too surprised.

    “It is no trouble at all, Lord Prince.”  He protested calmly.  “It is always a great honor to attend upon such esteemed personages as yourselves.”

            Zu Song smiled.  He had a charming smile, he had probably gotten that from both his parents, but try as he might, he could not make that smile reach his eyes.

            “If I may Prime Minister Caorong, I would like to know if anything has been done concerning the investigation into my mishap a few weeks past.”

            You mean concerning the baseless poisoning rumor you planted?

            “It is shameful to admit,” Lao said, the very picture of contriteness.  “but thus far our inquiries have been unable to find anything.  With respect, might it be possible that your indisposition was merely a minor illness?”

            “I am sure your men have been most thorough in their work.”  The prince said smoothly.  “But considering the present situation I am somewhat reluctant to discredit the idea of an attempt on my life entirely.” 

            Lao Lin’s features crinkled in an expression of petulance and worry.  “It was no illness!  My precious son was bedridden three whole days!  It must have been a poisoning attempt.  You must order your investigators to work harder Prime Minister!”
            Lao bowed in his seat.  “It shall be as you command, Gracious Lady.”  He said humbly. 

            “That reminds me.”  She continued.  “Why has there been no word regarding the search for the sword?  It had been over two weeks since you told us about the artifact.”

            “I cannot say Gracious Lady.  All that is known is that it was rumored to be in the possession of a monk in Zhenshan province.  Perhaps the searchers are having difficulty acquiring it from him.

            More probably they’re still fruitlessly searching for the thing like myth that it is.

            “But why would be difficult?  Who would dare oppose my son’s right to rule?”  Lao Lin asked.  She seemed genuinely bemused by the very idea.

            This was risky ground, but Lao had come expecting something of the sort.  He noticed that Zu Song seemed more interested in the conversation now. 

            “Who can say my Lady?  Great men have always attracted their shares of obstacles, but many have overcome them in the end.”

            Lao Lin looked unsatisfied with this answer.  “It’s probably those hideous half-brothers of yours my dear.”  She said, placing a comforting hand on Zu Song’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry, I am sure that you will be the one to receive the sword, but I do wish your father had named you his heir before going to his ancestors.  I am sure he would have had he recovered.”  She preened as she said this, obviously still confident in her powers of persuasion, despite her fading looks.

            The prince smiled at her.  “It’s all right Honored Mother.  But recall, that my Illustrious Father was very ill when he died.  Shi and Wei would seized any opportunity to discredit any proclamation he would have made, claiming that in his final moments he was no longer in his right mind.”

            Lao Lin gasped softly at the very thought of such scandalous perfidy.

            “But also recall that Father had begun the search for the sword before his death.  I am sure that he intended this to show that it was only his will but that of Heaven that I succeed him.”

            Ha!  You weave a cloth of fiction Zu Song.  I see in your eyes that you don’t even believe your own words.  The Son of Heaven wanted the sword because he believed it would prove his worthiness to the gods so they would see fit to fulfill his desire for immortality when the alchemist’s potions failed him.  He never had any intention of passing on his throne, least of all to you and your brothers.  I wonder what expression you would make if I told you that in his dying moments the emperor compared the three of you to wolves fighting over a scrap of meat? 

            “Of course!”  Lao Lin said happily.  “What a clever man your father was Song!  How clever you are to understand him so well!  Once you take the throne I am sure you will be just like him.”

            Once again Lao’s training and experience prevented his contempt for the woman’s stupidity from showing on his face.  She was like a vase, as beautiful to look at and just as empty.  She had entered the harem at fourteen; after her father had scraped what little money he had to secure her a position as a servant to the women there.  It had taken less than a year for her beauty to elevate her beyond that lowly status.  The favor and gifts that the late emperor had lavished upon her because of her looks had gone to her head and reduced her to a shallow, vapid, simple-minded excuse of a woman.  It occurred to Lao, though it was too dangerous to speak out loud as it was critical of Weizong, that she might have been better off living out her days in that squalid little home of hers on the coast. 

            “Thank you, dearest Mother.”  Zu Song said, but Lao caught the flicker of disgust in the young man’s eyes that, unlike the Prime Minister, he could not hide entirely.

            What a pitiful woman, to be despised by her own son and not even realize it.

            “Mother that reminds me.  There was a trinket from the Wa Islands to the east that you showed me yesterday.  I thought it was most intriguing.  Perhaps the Prime Minister would like to see it as well.”

            His eyes briefly held Lao’s gaze, then flicked back to his mother.

            “Certainly.”  Lao said equably.  “I would be delighted.”

            The woman whom the emperor had favored above all others, rose demurely, and entered through the small door into the bedchamber.  Lao reached out a pudgy hand and took another sip of tea.  This time he did not savor the taste.

            Zu Song leaned forward, resting both his elbows on the table in a manner that reminded the Prime Minister of his father. 

            “You’ve been very careful haven’t you Caorong?”

            “What do you mean, my Lord Prince?”

            “Oh, simply the frequent meetings at your estate with your civil service cronies, the fact that you met with the Grandmaster of the Establishment Sect a few days ago and all the other little maneuvers you’ve been making in preparation to take sides when the time comes.”
            Lao was surprised, and then impressed; he had thought he had concealed his movements well enough to avoid attracting attention while everyone else at Court was focused on the sword hunt.  But it seemed the prince did not know everything.  He remained unaware the Lao had already resolved to support his eldest brother.  He made a small, self-deprecating laugh.

            “I’ve been found out so easily.  Either you have excellent spies under your command or I must be getting old at last.”

            “Hmmmm.”  Zu Song pursed his lips in mock concentration.  “If I were to judge I’d say the latter.  It truly is a shame for you to have such difficulties Caorong.” 

            Lao smiled thinly.  “If you accept that you must also accept that youth can be as great a disadvantage as age, third prince.”

            A flame of anger briefly showed in Zu Song’s eyes, but it was quickly snuffed out.  “You know that I already have the Secretariat and the Ministry of Appointments on my side.  Zu Shi only has a few of the military governors and Zu Wei is so mistrustful he barely has anyone in the court on his side.  It should be obvious to you which of us is stronger.”

            “Currently you are, but if you were really so confident in your own maneuvering you wouldn’t have invited one so old and inconsequential as myself to form an alliance with.”

            “You seem to have done well enough, considering your father was a lowly merchant.”

            “Indeed and like my late and lamented father I never had much patience for the formalities, so let us get to the heart of the matter.  Since you are so well informed as my faction’s activities you know full well that at the moment I may have enough support to tip the balance any way I choose.  I assume, correctly, that you invited me here to persuade me to take your side, in the event that the search for the San Chi Jian fails, or” He paused deliberately.  “even if it succeeds, and someone else acquires it.”

            Zu Song’s face remained impassive.  “What is your point Caorong?”

            “Nothing really.”  The Prime Minister said casually.  “I’m simply waiting to her you give your reasons for why I should support you over your brothers.”

            “I’ve already given-“
            “You just said that, without me, your support is currently the strongest.  I’m going to need more than that before I decide to throw my weight behind you.”

            Yun Lao watched as the young man’s face seemed to go blank for a moment.  Then he seemed to recover and Lao could practically see his mind going through his available options.  What could he offer to make the Prime Minister support him?  Material bribes would not work, neither would offers of position, he was already the second most powerful man in the empire with easy access to wealth and privilege.  It would be useless to appeal to an old and experienced politician with sentimentality, even more so to convince him through debate or reasoning.  Lao, after all, had climbed his way to the top on a battlefield where every word was a sword thrust or parry.

            Lao should not have done it.  He would not have permitted such a slip in his youth.  Perhaps he was getting old after all.  He watched as it slowly dawned upon Zu Song, that he had nothing, neither tool, nor weapon of persuasion that he could use to bring the Prime Minister over to his side if the man did not want too.  As they had established earlier, Lao had the influence and power to effectively decide who the next emperor of the Hong Dynasty.  The odds were not all in Lao’s favor, but they were high enough.  It was in that moment that the Prime Minister saw another realization flare in Zu Song’s eyes, the realization that he had absolutely no control in this at all.  Whether he ascended to the throne or not, depended entirely on the decisions of another.  In that moment the prince realized it and he hated it, and Yun Lao Caorong’s lip twitched for a brief moment, into a smile. 

    Zu Song saw it.

    Quivering with rage, the third born son of Emperor Weizong stared at Lao as if trying to erase him from the earth by force of will.

    “You dare to mock me?”  His voice was soft, and under rigid control.  “You will live to regret that insolence Caorong.  There are other ways to the throne and when it is mine, I promise you, that you and every last member of your family will-“

    Lao coughed loudly, causing Zu Song to stop.  He was suddenly tired of this. 

    “You do realize that I’ve heard countless threats like this in my life?  I have spent half of my mortal life in a world filled with men who would love nothing more than to kill me in slow, painful ways.  Surely you know that I have crushed many enemies in my time.  They were all great men of power and influence.  Men, whose action or merest word could end the lives of hundreds, or even thousands.  Your father faced enemies who were even greater, both in the Court and on the battlefield.  As far as I know the only opponents you have overcome are hapless servants who had the misfortune of irritating you.  Do you not think,” Lao leaned forward, hands clasped together.  “that progressing from your usual victims directly to making an enemy of me is moving far too quickly for someone of your experience, my Lord Prince?”

    The two men stared at one another for several long seconds, long enough for Lao to see terror shining in the prince’s eyes, no longer hidden by anger or arrogance.  The Prime Minister had no way of knowing it, but to Zu Song, the short, plump, innocuous man sitting across from him, had suddenly seemed to loom over him like one if the Judges of the underworld. 

     

    I really shouldn’t have done that.  Lao reproached himself as he was carried back to his estate. 

    The Lady Lao Lin never did find that artifact the prince had asked her retrieve and show the Prime Minister.  Lao had engaged her in a few brief snatches of idle conversation when she returned from her fruitless search, before finally taking his leave of her and her uncharacteristically silent son.

    Overall I’d say I’ve just succeeded in irreparably alienating the Secretariat and the Ministry of Appointment. 

    Was he really so childish, to actually engage Zu Song in his posturing?  As if the two of them were a pair of fighting cocks in some squalid gamblers den?

    I am the last dragon of this empire.  It will be a time of wolves now.

    Lao sighed and firmly thrust the words out of his mind. 

    This dynasty is nowhere near finished yet.

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:iconbenji-blacksky:
Benji-Blacksky Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2016
Hello. I hear you're a writer too. :iconshinguamito: showed me the cover for your story on Atalanta.
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:iconstraight-lace:
Straight-Lace Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Yes.  Why do you ask?
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:iconbenji-blacksky:
Benji-Blacksky Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2016
He told me I should probably check out your work. I'm a recently published author, myself.
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:iconsegaman4:
segaman4 Featured By Owner Edited Feb 3, 2016
hey how ya been. you think you can help me edit my work?
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:iconstraight-lace:
Straight-Lace Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Have we met?  And what exactly do you want me to edit?
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:iconsegaman4:
segaman4 Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2016
You commented on one of my chapters and one of my chapters needs editing
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:iconstraight-lace:
Straight-Lace Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
which one?
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(1 Reply)
:iconfaydendane:
FaydenDane Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much for your critique! I value the insight and perspective :)
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:iconstraight-lace:
Straight-Lace Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
*shrug* I do what I can
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TheHika Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Hey! How are you, Stranger?
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