Wednesday, May 18, 2011

King of Shades

And the last one of the day. This is a longer establishing piece of the King of Shades, and of his role in the living world. It's only the first part, but the second part is on the burner, waiting to be written.

            The bustling tavern went deathly quiet as the man in the corner spoke up, "I saw Him in the graveyard. He was sitting on top of the mausoleum just looking out over the stone garden and watching some. . . things digging up bodies."
            A dark-haired man at a nearby table piped in, asking, "What, exactly did you see old man?"
            The gray haired man in the corner glared at the speaker, thinking, you should know what I'm talking about, you live here too, but he answered without irritation in his voice. "I saw the King of Shades in the cemetery taking His harvest."
            A woman, an outlander by her voice, whispered, "Who is this King of Shades? Why is he so special? What is this 'harvest'?"
            "He's the patron guardian of our town, miss. We don't need sheriffs here at all because of him. All he asks is control of the cemetery. He takes the bodies away after we bury them. We're not sure why but no one's seen him eat them or anything like that. They just disappear."
            The crowd shivered. It was a reflex for the natives of Abashan, even if they knew their God was a benevolent one.
            "At least, most do. Most of the people in that area of town swear they've seen corpses walking."
            "Tell them what you do, Harry." The dark-haired man spoke again.
            "I'm the caretaker of the cemetery. I live near there myself, and I can confirm, the dead do walk around from time to time. Today was my first time seeing the one causing it."
            The dark-haired man leaned over. "What was he like?"
            Harry closed his eyes and laid his head back against the wall, remembering. "Maybe I had better start at the beginning."
            The crowd kept their eyes on Harry, their ears and minds intent on the story he was about to tell. Harry looked at his enrapt audience, and smiled, before beginning. "I woke up before sunrise this morning with a chill feeling in the air. After my usual preparatory routine, I went out to do my day's work. The sun was barely waking up itself, so the walk was in the dark. I like walking in the dark, it lets my mind wander."
            "As I was reaching the cemetery gate, the sun was just coming up over the hills, and I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. They're not great for focused vision, but these old eyes can still catch things out of their corners if the light's not in them. I looked over and saw someone walking around. I could tell he wasn't right, so after unlocking the gate I walked closer to him."
            "His gait was stiff, and I could smell embalming fluid. Just another hint that the King doesn't eat the dead, I suppose. I can't imagine He'd allow us to embalm the corpses if he was going to ingest them. Now, where was I? Right, he smelled of embalming fluid. So, knowing that magic was about, I just let the man be. He wasn't hurting anything, just walking about. He even noticed me, and just waved. So, I got on the path and walked on. If there was magic about I wasn't going to disturb anything. I'd never gotten a bad feeling being around such people, either, so I figured staying in the cemetery wasn't dangerous. I stayed, and I watched."
            An outlander looked about to say something right then, but the intensity of the crowd and his own interest silenced him. Harry picked up on the unasked question anyway. "How can I be comfortable around the undead? I work in a cemetery, and it's been five years since the King took power. After the first year of it happening you tend to calm down as long as nothing feels sinister. The King's work feels far safer than anything men ever do, I can tell you that."
            "Now, I walked toward the mausoleum, and just stood there, frozen, when the building came into sight. I saw a youth, couldn't be more than 20, sitting on the roof. His hair was the same black as Dickson over here," Harry's dark-haired interrogator waved, "and his skin was pale. I didn't recognize him, but he felt like he had something to do with all of this."
            "As I watched the boy waved, and I regained movement. I was just shocked at seeing someone else about during an undead sighting, especially on the roof of a house of the dead. I walked closer, and he didn't react. I heard a loud rustling, and looked over to see another corpse bent over with a shovel, digging up a grave. Taking my eyes off of it, I realized the mausoleum door was open. The bodies had been pulled from there, and there were more walking out."
            At this someone did speak. "Were you frightened?"
            Harry chuckled, "Even if he is benevolent, you don't go completely untouched by fear when the King is around." A quiet murmur of agreement ran through the natives in the room, before things went silent again.
            "My attention was suddenly drawn up to the boy. This time I knew it was magic, I simply felt compelled to look up. He got to his feet, and stood taller than most men in town. From atop that mausoleum, he looked down at me and smiled, before opening his mouth. A smooth, black stone dropped from it into his hand, and he clapped both hands tight on that rock."
            "His hands slid apart, and a flute as dark as the night sky, no, darker than the night sky, formed between them. He put the flute to his lips and began to play. The music was. . . enchanting. Magically and melodically, it just . . . was. All the dead looked at each other and men and women paired off. They began dancing, like something out of the old religious texts from before the war. I couldn't help but watch."
            "As the couples danced others kept working, digging up graves. Whenever a new body was uncovered streams of red clouds, red like blood, flowed from the flute. Bodies would be filled by the clouds and just sit up, in their graves, before getting up, stretching, and joining the dance. All the while my foot began tapping, and I couldn't help clapping and dancing a bit like the rest of them. It was incredible."
            "I will die a happy man knowing this ritual took place in my very own cemetery. Nay, I'll die a happy man knowing it awaits me. This went on for maybe five minutes, but it felt like hours, it was so much fun I didn't want it to end. I can tell you, this is not a Godless land, no matter what others might say."
            "After the dance he kept his eyes on me, and I knew, knew right then, that this was the King of Shades, in person. No intermediary, no corpse, the King Himself. And as I watched he opened his mouth and formed words. No, he didn't speak, he simply mouthed the words, and I heard them in my head. He said, 'it is not your time, My boy, but now you know what it'll be like.' I was filled with an inner peace that hasn't left me yet. "
            Harry shrugged. "That's all there is to tell. I watched the King and the undead vanish into thin air, and worked today. Now I am here, telling all of you what I saw."

Heaven and Hell

These are little establishing stories I did as a sort of introduction to my work. It may confuse some people--my first reader loved them to death but I can't say everyone will--but hang in there and everything will make itself clear over time and updates. So, without further ado, here's the probable reason you came here.

1. The Almighty settled heavily into his throne, looking out over his dais and the new realm he had finished creating only minutes before. The Catalyst, the man who had brought him into being, was lying face down on the ground, a bare shadow of the defiant soul he had been. The gall . . . wait, no, audacity, he had held, conquering Hell and Heaven to make humanity one with God. What had he been thinking?
    The man before began to move, and uneasily shifted from the ground to his hands and knees. He looked up, muzzily blinking back unconsiousness as he looked around. He'd been out of himself while this entire place was forming. He looked up at the Godlike being on the throne, and full awareness came to him, contorting his face to rage.
    In ragged growls he roared out, "That should be ME up there."
    Unphased by the outburst, the Almighty simply gazed on his would be opponent. "You're impatience gains you nothing. You tried, you failed. Be happy I view you as a father figure and didn't cast you out for your insolence. It's not like anyone else ever got so far."
    His "father" gave him one last glare, then stared away, his face turning melancholy. The Almighty couldn't read him, exactly, but it looked like shame. The words snuck up on him.
    "Why does everything look so hollow?"

2.     Peace is hard bought, and harder kept. The periodic bout of yelling only subsided to tears and worries. Fear. What had he done wrong, to lose the prize when the war was over? Had not Satan been locked in chains, ready to be absorbed back into the ether? Had not God watched, defenseless and worried, as he looked up and spread his arms. "God, come unto me! Let us both do our job!"
    The memory tore him apart.

3.     Looking out over the Earth, the big blue ball before him, the Almighty could not help smiling. Mother Earth, his grandmother in spirit, sat atop it. Her hair the black silk of peat bogs, her eyes the sapphire blue of the oceans deep, he caught her smiling back. With a wrench of his hand, and a blow of his lips he sent her a gift, floating through the space between.
    A rainbow pendant on a chain of platinum. The emblem of his creation. A motion unseen, the emblem in her hand. A flick of her hand, a strand of hair pulled. A blow of her lips sent back her reply: a lotus blossom, gems studding its center. The symbol of everything she offered him.

4.     The new amulet around Her neck, She landed at the foot of His stairs. Only that climb stood between Them. Air around Her coalesced, the shape of a man formed. One of power, no doubt, but not Her Beloved. With a quirk of Her lips a smile formed, as She greeted her new friend.
    "Who might you be?"
    "My friends call me shadow." The new form disappeared, but his voice lingered.
    "Those" his voice called.
    "Those" his voice echoed.
    "Those . . ." his voice rebounded from the floor to surround her.
    He reformed in front of Her, his nose nearly touching Hers. ". . . few I have." He smiled, backing up. "But you, my Lady" on one knee "may call me whatever you wish." He stood at once, straightening like a marionette suddenly pulled up.
    An eyebrow raised. "Shadow will do. What do you do. dear Shadow?"
    He vanished, reappearing beside Her, his voice a mere whisper in Her ear. "I am the fangs and claws of the Wolf." Another vanishing, another reappearance, by Her other ear. "I am the talons of the Eagle." this time forming behind Her, a heretofore unknown assailant appearing before Her. "I am" Shadow catches the knife blow aimed at Mother, "the assassin's knife." Shadow turns the blade, piercing the assassin's heart. Another disappearance, reforming before Her. "And I am the breath of the Zombie."
    At the word zombie, Mother Earth stiffened. "Nature can't make them, you know." The soldier before Her opened his mouth, an obsidian stone dropping to his palm. "But I can." He laughed, disappearing. His voice rang out one last time. "All are equal before death."

5.     Resolve regained, only a moment lost to shock, She takes the stairs. One step at a time, Her strength increases. The new knowledge gained, of Shadow himself, drove Her forward. Would the new God harness such a creature? For good or ill, She willed Herself to Him.
    With every step certainty grew, positives and negatives swirling around Her. Surely He would use that one, and only neutrality would hold them together. Close to the top, She stopped. She could hear voices, three of them.
    A plea heard is a plea considered.

6.     Shadow materialized upon the Almighty's dais. Before him stood his brother: his commander during the war for the Afterworld, and hoped-for God in victory. Shadow went to hug him, and fell through the man. He looked from the Commander to the Almighty. A scowl formed. "Why aren't you on your throne, and why can't I touch you?"
    A whispered reply. "I am not God. I am nothing."
    A sorrowful frown replaced the scowl. "Are you okay?"
    The Commander sighed, exasperated. "When I look at him I feel anger. When I look away, nothing matters."
    Shadow looked up to the Almighty, and fell on his knees. "Why? Why did You do this to him?"
    The Almighty looked expressionlessly down on His subject. "I did nothing to him."
    Shadow looked back at his fallen comrade, frustration written in the edges of his face. He looked back up at the Almighty. "My life for his. Take me instead. Give him back his strength."
    The Almighty shook His head, no.
    "Then I'll do it for You." Shadow drew a knfe from his hip, and placed the tip against his uniform over his heart. "He shouldn't have to suffer alone for a sin we all took part in."
    "No, don't." He felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up into his Commander's eyes. Thunder boomed on the dais.
    Both men looked up, realizing their God was clapping. Shadow spoke, "how can you touch me?"
    "The act of killing yourself would not accomplish half of what the offer did."
    The Almighty spoke. "I did nothing to your leader. He was not strong enough to contain both Satan and God. I am."
    Shadow repeated, "How can he touch me?"
    "I cannot give him back his body, it is part of Me now. He can, though, share yours. Your offer to stand beside him in a Hell of your own making linked you two forever."
    Shadow looked at his commander. The Commander nodded, and Shadow stood, embracing his comrade. Two souls to one, they melded seamlessly. The Almighty spoke, His voice filling the dual man with joy. "From now til the end, you are the King of Shades. Light and Dark, you will walk both."

Tidy Beginnings

Welcome to my blog. Considering this is the first post ever on here, I'm talking as much to myself as to anyone who visits. What shall we ever put up here? The name involves Tales, so of course there will be those. Plenty of those. Surely my first followers will be mostly my friends, but to the occasional stranger I say, well met and how do you do? I welcome all positive messages, and will tolerate some negative ones if there's a point to them. Criticism, if done right, will be seen as positive, so when you read my stories, if you have suggestions, feel free to leave them. Story ideas may be considered, but unless you're paying me to write them--something I'm not set up for yet--the best suggestion I can give you is to learn to write well and use your ideas yourself. There's nothing worse than putting your ideas in another's hands and watching them abused. Well, okay, there are plenty of things that are worse, objectively, but unless they happen around you, subjectively this is the worst thing that will happen.

To any who do eventually hire me, I will keep you strongly in the loop about what happens to your ideas, so you have enough say not see your ideas trashed.