Fiction Friday - 31 October 2014

I've written some fiction stuff that might still be worth reading, but I don't consider it finished because not many people have read it at all. So I might as well keep up my post schedule and devote Fridays to publishing poems, excerpts, or serializations that I've written. Comments and critiques are welcome, or just ignore me on Fridays.

The Black Sorcerer of Doom's Barrow, pt. 2

The door, for all its massive size and stony bulk, slid aside easily at Tyr's sinewy insistence. The sepulcher's antechamber yawned ahead of him, devouring all the light from outside. Heeding the sparrow's advice, Tyr wrapped a bundle of reeds and lit them with flint and steel, and carried the improvised torch into the gloom. The graven sarcophagi of long-dead men lined the walls in their square slots, dreaming of some forgotten era of bone-garnished warlords and green stone idols to strange gods. In some places the granite coffins lay smashed on the floor, the bones in a jumbled heap; victims of ancient tomb-robbers. The chamber seemed to stretch on forever, always sloping gently downward into the barrow. The darkness pressed in on all sides, until Tyr could only see the torch in front of his face. He heard the sparrow tell him about the darkness being a magical thing, enhanced by some spell to blot out all light.

But I can see a light ahead, Tyr replied; and indeed, a white light glimmered ahead. The sparrow chirped something that faded to silence as the light grew brighter. It grew brighter and drowned out even the torch and Tyr's hand that held it. He threw up his other hand to shield his eyes from the blinding radiance...

Tyr awoke to a mottled, odious face. He tried to shout, but his mouth was gagged; he tried to move, but his limbs were shackled. He cursed himself silently, for not thinking to look for traps in the crypt. It had not been any spell or arcane device that had overcome him, but simple low cunning: a spring-activated puff of some noxious gas that rendered him unconscious in the clutching hands of this thing that now peered through filmy eyes at him. As creature turned and shuffled away, and Tyr saw that its body was mostly hidden beneath a frayed sackcloth cloak. Nevertheless, certain lumpy protrusions and odd geometries suggested a wholly inhuman form, and the hero's mind recoiled at the sinister implications. His stomach, meanwhile, recoiled at the musky odor, damp rotting wood and sulfurous ash, that permeated the room.

Now the creature reached towards a rusty iron cage, which held the motionless form of the sparrow that had been Tyr's guide. He had no time to wonder whether the sparrow was alive or dead before the creature, with quick, stilted movements, snatched the bird from the cage and stuffed it into its puckering, toothless mouth. As Tyr looked on in horror, the creature made horrific sucking sounds and, at length, vomited forth the sparrow's mucous-covered skeleton, scoured clean of meat and sinew as if it had been dipped in acid.

It was at that moment, a moment nearly unlike any other in his life, that Tyr Haefest felt a needle of fear stab his heart.

But then he heard stone scrape on stone, and a portion of the far wall slid aside to reveal a black-robed and hooded figure. Tyr's heart jumped in his chest; this must be the Black Sorcerer himself! The squamous creature dropped the sparrow's bones and loped off into the revealed hallway. The Sorcerer, meanwhile, shuffled forward, the folds of his cloak obscuring any sight of skin, until he was face to face with Tyr. A noxious breath exuded from the cavernous hood, but still Tyr could not make out face nor even eyes in that void.

-what is your name-

The voice whispered through his mind, as surely as if the Sorcerer had spoken; only he hadn't.

-what is your name-
Again, the voice, but nothing under the hood had moved; not a mouth, nor a tongue.

-what is your name-

The voice, for a third time; Tyr could think of nothing else but to send his thoughts back at it. I'm Tyr Haefest of the Empyrean Highlands, he thought; Are you the Black Sorcerer who inspires such fear in the local villagers, and despoils the earth, and pollutes the sky with your foul communions?

-and if i am-

It was not a question so much as a challenge. Tyr thought nothing for a moment, then gathered his courage. I will defeat you, he thought; I have come to rid these lands of your plague.


The laughter thundered in Tyr's head; he thrashed in pain, strained against the shackles, but could not escape that immediate, agonizing mirth that clawed at his consciousness.

-you cannot defeat me for my god has made me strong-

The voice had dropped back to a whisper, but now it carried a venomous edge to it, a gloating tone that hinted at far darker realities than Tyr cared to dream of. Still, he refused to relinquish all hope to this monstrous magician, this speaker to nameless gibbering entities.

There is no god of Light or Shadow who would grant you even the slightest boon, he thought. Pious fury welled deep within his soul.

-but why pray to light or shadow-

-why send witless hopes at witless children of a noise in the dark-

-when i have communed with powers you cannot even fathom-

-powers who have slumbered but stir towards awakening once more-

-against whom your gods are not more than irritations-

-parasitic annoyances like ticks or lice-

-needle points against the flesh of the dragon-

-and i who have launched my mind my consciousness across the vast stellar bleakness-

-that stellar wasteland-

-the ultimate void beyond infinity-

-i have contacted those sleeping giants-

-the titans of chaos-

-yes the crawling chaos whose names even your pestilential gods fear to speak aloud-

-the consumers of creation-

-and the destroyers of order-

-the subsumers of form and substance who exist beyond the coil of time space and causality-

-they have granted me powers-

-beyond the ken of mortals or contrived immortals-

-and the immortality that only the outer dark can provide-

-i will consume your body and your soul until nothing remains-

-no metaphysical detritus for your scavenger gods to squabble over in their petty disputes-

The words, though nothing had been spoken, pattered against Tyr's mind like heavy rainfall, an offbeat staccato pulse that telegraphed nothing short of madness; that purest form of insanity that only the Outer Dark could provide. Against such a foe, weaponless...

Except that his sword was still in its sheath, and the sheath was still attached to his belt. The Sorcerer, in his madness and hubris, had not disarmed him! Tyr felt relief flood through him, a rising tide of calm that drowned out the cacophonous sibilance of the Sorcerer's gibbering thoughts. But he dared not think of any way to escape and defeat the Sorcerer while the black-robed magician still faced him. Tyr didn't know how this peculiar mind-to-mind communication worked, but he guessed it passed through the eyes somehow, or at least the attention; maybe it was like the sign language known to the tribesmen of the Southlands?

Now the Sorcerer turned away, evidently having run out of meaningless (or all too meaningful) ramblings to project onto Tyr's psyche, and busied himself with a strange machine that squatted in the room's far corner. With the connection broken, Tyr pushed his mind to work faster and faster on a plan of escape, and with any luck, the defeat of the Sorcerer himself.

Perhaps the fiend's hubris and madness could be turned against him. Tyr had heard terrible stories, nothing more than furtive whispers really, about the consequences of offering one's soul to the roiling black energy of the Outer Dark. Its powers were truly great, it was said, but greater still was the price on the mage's soul, whose vaulting ambition exceeded all caution. For the things that lurked within that chaos never ceased in their hungering; their entropic cravings had no bounds. All too easily could one of the nameless spawn of that legion of blasphemous unintelligences infiltrate the soul, and fester like an antithetical cancer until finally the star-fiend burst forth and rampaged until its anarchic essence burned through the fleeting form it had carved from its host's viscera and spirit.

If Tyr could play the devil's advocate, and entice the Sorcerer to such self-destructive folly... but he had no time to consider an alternative, for the Sorcerer had turned back towards him, and held his gaze from beneath that inscrutable hood. In his hands, which Tyr saw were skeletal, leprous, and scabbed, the mad magician clutched a bizarre and dreadful instrument, whose hellish purpose Tyr could only guess at.

-i will consume your body and your soul until nothing remains-

-no metaphysical detritus for your scavenger gods-

But why use a mundane implement, Tyr thought, trying hard not to let a trace of fear or doubt creep into his mind; Why resort to the forms of this world when you can call upon the Outer Dark itself?

-do not presume-

-do not presume-

-do not presume-

-my powers indeed reach beyond this dismal husk of a world-

-and now i will consume your body and your soul until nothing remains-

But why limit yourself? Tyr thought; Are your powers limited to just extracting my soul and destroying my flesh?

-do not presume-

-do not presume-

-do not presume-

-allow me to show you what my god has given me-

There was a darkling in the room, a sense of dimming, yet no lights had gone out. Tyr realized he felt... thin; stretched, as though the very walls of reality were wearing away. He struggled against his iron bonds, struggled to breath, but a weight (that was yet weightless) had settled inside his breast. The Sorcerer had cupped his cankerous tapering fingers together, and was channeling that most forbidden of magic, the tainted effluence of the Gods Who Were Before The Gods, the mind-shattering entities of the Outer Dark. But to what end, Tyr did not know, and that lack of knowledge was a howling vortex, driving a hurricane of panic inside his head.

-do you feel it-


-tyr haefest of empyrea-

-do you feel the power of my god-

-do you feel the power of my god-

-do you feel it now-

-do you feel it now-

-do you-

-do you-


There was no purpose, Tyr realized, as the blind energies reached a fatal crescendo, and the weight had begun to pulse an insidious ostinato in counterpoint against his heartbeat. The Sorcerer had called his bluff all too well, and was simply trying to channel as much power as possible. The plan was going to work; but how would Tyr know—

Then the Sorcerer's arms flew apart and locked rigid at an angle away from his sides, palms towards Tyr. His head jerked back and the hood sloughed off to reveal, not the wrinkled and puckered face of an elderly sage of forbidden arts, but the pockmarked and scarred face of a young girl—

Then Tyr realized that the Sorcerer didn't “kill” the village elder's daughter, but she had been seduced by the agents of Chaos and turned her back on kin and community—

Then something exploded out of the Sorcerer's chest.

There was a sickening wet crunch; chunks of viscera and what might have been flecks of bone splattered against Tyr's face, arms, and chest. He blinked, and then there was something that pushed and pulled and writhed and squirmed with gaping-mouthed tentacles out of the Sorcerer's robes. Its face(?) was a mass of hourglass-pupil eyes and chitinous mandibles, extending in obscene geometries out into that wriggling mass of tentacles. It roared then, an all-too-human scream erupting from an all-too-inhuman maw. Threads of spittle dampened Tyr's skin and burned like fire; but the caustic mucous ate away at his shackles, too, and Tyr twisted his upper body free just in time to avoid a swipe of the thing's tentacles. He ripped out his gag and tried to unclasp his leg shackles, but he wasn't going to be fast enough.

The thing seems blind, for all its eyes
, Tyr thought feverishly; But sooner or later one of those tentacles is going to dissolve my head or something...

Just then the Sorcerer's servant-creature shuffled in, apparently in response to the commotion. As soon as it saw its master's rigid, twitching body, and what protruded from it, the servant croaked in fear and adulation.

“Apotheosis, master!” The servant's voice was thick and wet, as though its mouth were full of swamp water. “You have achieved apotheo—”

Apparently the servant's voice was enough to provoke the chaos-spawned thing away from its blind swipes at Tyr, because it lurched backward, into the Sorcerer's chest, and erupted out the other side, flying across the room and latching onto the servant-creature's face. As Tyr tried to watch while simultaneously trying to free himself from his leg shackles, both the Sorcerer and her servant collapsed, the latter under the tentacled mass which had gouged the body cavity of the former. More sick crunching and slurping sounds echoed through the room as the servant's head — and, in quick succession, the rest of its body — was cracked open, dissolved, and devoured.

Tyr realized that his sword would probably do a fine job of shattering the rusted and acid-softened iron chain that connected the shackles to the wall; the iron crumbled under the force of his blow. And none too soon, for the aberration had finished sucking down the soupified remains of the servant and turned its ithyphallic face towards him with a ravenous look in its milky hourglass eyes. It lunged — although Tyr still couldn't fathom how such a thing propelled itself, and so fast! — and the hero met it squarely in the middle of its leap with a well timed sword swing. The thing was rent in two as the blade sheared through its gelatinous flesh, even as its acidic bile-blood corroded the metal itself. Within seconds, Tyr stood empty-handed in the middle of the barrow's moldy stone chamber, his pitted and smoking sword clanging to the floor where he had dropped it, the hideous spawn of Chaos twitching obscenely where it had landed piecemeal, and the Black Sorcerer's stiff corpse lying where she had fallen some minutes ago. Even as he stood there, Tyr could feel the black magic begin to ebb, and the foulness that had permeated the land for too long leached away. He emerged onto the downs to see the now-bright sun cutting through the fading mist, and he found his way back to the village with little trouble.

The villagers were all celebrating the end of the Sorcerer's curse when Tyr walked into the village's town hall; all except for the village elder. Only he saw the hero enter; only he met Tyr's eyes nodded once. Tyr turned around and left without speaking. He knew what the elder meant: It is done. Though Tyr's name would be remembered in this village for generations to come, the hero felt no joy in this. He could only think, as he strapped his supplies to his horse and rode off into the sunset, of the face of that girl, who by some stroke of madness gave herself over to the darkest powers imaginable. What would drive her to such lengths, he wondered, and what feelings now clouded the heart of the village elder — her father? What kind burden weighed down on a man who was forced to make the hardest choice of all: the sacrifice of his own daughter, or the sacrifice of all who had entrusted their safety in him?

And as Tyr Haefest rode away from the village of Drummond's Fen; even as new growth was visible in the cracked soil; even as the oily clouds fled the strengthening light of the sun; still a brooding darkness settled on his mind, and it felt like it would never be removed.

Author's Note: And that's the end of this little story-within-a-story. I hope it was sufficiently pulpy without being too purple-y.