Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Night Run



I dream, of wants and desires… and I desire her over all things, although, deep set, in some corner of my mind, a voice tells me no, urging me to wake…

I’m running, my senses alive; hearing, touch, smell and sight. I hear my breath, rasping, as my lungs strain within the cage of my ribs, pulling in lungful’s of cold frosty air.

I feel the frost coated grass against my feet and legs, feel the cold of the night gathered around me, but I burn hot and fierce. My heart pumping, my blood coursing, my muscles strong; I can run for miles.

The cold night air is filled with scents; the earth musty in the late autumn cold as tendrils of fungi worm in the leaf littered mulch. I smell the spoor of fox as it stalks the hedgerows, stood stock still as it fearfully observes my passing.


I catch her perfume as it hangs heavy in the air, exotic and powerful; expensive no doubt. It enhances the smell of her, alluring and sweet. It masks her sweat as she runs before me in my dreams. I follow its trail and catch sight of her.

She is beautiful, her skin ivory beneath her dress, lit by the sweet, silver glow of the fullest of moons. Her blonde hair tumbles white behind her as she sprints before me. She catches a glimpse of me over her shoulder, she runs faster but I will not be denied.

As an animal I am, driven by raw instinct, I want her so badly; need her with a maddening lust. I catch her and we tumble to the ground. Her breasts rise and fall as she lies beneath me, her mouth opens , perhaps to call my name, but my eager mouth closes over hers as my desires overcome all.

I wake from the sweetest of dreams.

The sun breaks the horizon in golden glory. I shiver as I stir, pulling away from the still form of my love, my naked skin goose bumped in the cold morning light. She’s looks at me accussingly, her mouth still open and her eyes wide. I wake fully, with a start, and as a man.

We are in a field, the place where I forgot myself. I weep as the moon mockingly sets, yielding the sky to the sun casting its light over my sins, revealing my terrible crime.  Her body is torn and disembowelled, her head set apart from the rest of her. My mouth has an iron rich tang. My hands and arms are red to the elbows.

Yet as I sob in heaves of regret, deep set in some dark corner of my mind the accursed wolf howls; for tonight the moon rises full once more…

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Sun Shard - Prologue


 
 Early Winter…
 
Dayvin Claypit, Gesith of the Gewichas, shivered under his bearskin cloak, his aging bones feeling the cold as a light flurry of snowflakes fluttered in the air like fine, downy feathers. The horse’s hooves clattered on the stones of the Great North Road. He looked northwest, his eyes cast over the undulating hills towards the distant Hailthorn mountains; their summits hidden under the thickening, snow heavy clouds. He hoped his summons with the Earl wouldn’t take too long as he didn’t relish returning home in the teeth of a snow storm. Winter was fast approaching, yet spring would be lacking in its usual feelings of hope and renewal. He returned to looking straight ahead; before him stood the fortified town of Oakenbridge, capital of the Gewichas.

The town straddled the deep chasm cut by the Tusk River cascading from the Hailthorns. It took its name from the wondrous, living bridge formed by four massive and ancient oaks, two each end; their branches arched and intertwined, strengthened with hoops of bronze and steel. Around each end of the bridge, behind a tall palisade were the houses and shops of the inhabitants of Oakenbridge.

Dayvin was greeted by guards at the eastern gate, who let him through without question. Gesith Claypit had served in the Earl’s service for longer years than he cared to remember. He took the familiar road through the town to the Earl’s residence. Under the Eastern tree, joined to appear as it almost grown from it, was the great hall and palace of Earl Stormhelm. It was part of the ancient tree; the entrance went through an enormous barbican formed from a hollowed root. It was adjoined by rooms of brick and timber. Each year another course of bricks were added as the tree grew ever bigger. The difference in size was noted by Dayvin, as he swung out of the saddle.

Out of the gateway a figure stalked through the slush and mud to greet him, with an almost catlike grace. “Greetings Dayvin, it is good to see you.”

Dayvin turned and smiled upon hearing the voice of his old comrade, the Earl’s sword master. “Clessor, my friend, it has been too long.” Both men grabbed each other’s forearms in greeting, before giving each other a bear hug.

Clessor drew back and regarded his old comrade. “You look well. How long has it been since you left the hearth troop?”

“It’s been around five years since I swapped the sword for the plough and left the O‘bridge.”
“Has it really been that long? And the family; are they all well?”

Dayvin’s face dropped, his ready smile gone. “They are well, Clessor, but…”

The Sword Master nodded in understanding. “Your eldest son, Jonas has been drawn for next year’s muster, hasn’t he? I heard it was the case. What of your daughter, Tamzine? I remember her as a tomboy, insisting on learning sword play from me!”

“Jonas and many other sons of the Gewichas,” Dayvin answered sagely, “Tamzine is well, she still trades some sword strokes with me, now and again. What is the Earl’s summons about Clessor, do you know?”

Clessor patted his friend on the back. “He will tell you soon enough. Come, let’s go see him. He has a warm fire and mulled cider. Another year gone and another winter comes, eh?” He said, squinting up at the swirling snow.

The two friends walked through the gateway into the great hollow wood passage, the gates shut behind them against the winter’s onset. Inside the living passage all was warm. Sacred symbols were drawn on the inside. Lanterns were lit but placed on the floor so as not to scorch the sacred wood. Steps were cut up into the hollow trunk to living quarters high above the arch formed by the two eastern trees. Clessor led his friend through a guarded gateway to the right. Here was the great hall part tree part building. A great fire burned in the central fire pit, over which pots of bubbling stew were being tended. Dayvin saw the figure of the Earl warming his hands, staring into the fire, his great grey wolf cloak around his shoulders.

“Gesith Claypit is here, my Lord.” Clessor announced as the two friends drew near.

The Earl turned, his face looked more drawn, lined and world weary than Dayvin remembered; his once blonde hair was now almost as white as snow.

“My Lord.” Dayvin said, kneeling before his Earl.

Earl Stormhelm reached down and took Dayvin’s shoulders, drawing him back up in a standing position. “Welcome back to Oakenbridge, Gesith Claypit… you look older than I remember; I don’t want you hurting those aged knees!” The Earl’s face began to crack a smile and he drew Dayvin into an embrace. “It is good to see you loyal friend. What has kept you from Oakenbridge?”

Dayvin smiled back. “The usual, my Lord. Raising crops and children”

Lord Stormhelm smiled sadly. “Ah yes children, they make us don’t they? It wasn’t so long ago that your daughter and mine played together in the branches of this very tree.” As he spoke he filled a mug of hot, spiced cider and passed it to Dayvin.

“I remember it well, my Lord.” Dayvin said, nodding his thanks.

“Our children were free of care, Dayvin. Alas that is not the fate of their fathers,” the Earl said, filling two more mugs and passing one to Clessor, “Come sit with me ,both of you, that we may talk.”

The Earl led the way to a small alcove and parked himself upon a stool, bidding the other two to do likewise. The Earl took a long draught of his cider before wiping his hand across his mouth.

“Well my friends, next year the Empire comes to take its muster, all lots have been drawn. Your son is to be called to the banners, I hear Dayvin.”

“Jonas, yes his name has been drawn. His mother and I worry greatly. All the talk is of Acaross again. Does Taleel plan another campaign on southern shores?”

The Earl nodded. “When I answered the Dominar’s summons in spring, to be given his demands, it was the talk on the streets of Northport. But be hopeful Dayvin; you and Clessor served under the banners ten years ago and you both came home.”

Dayvin gave a knowing sideways glance to Clessor. “We were fortunate my Lord; both Dayvin and I, being seasoned warriors, served as marines in the fleet. In the panic of the evacuation from Tahlinjin many auxiliaries were sacrificed to make space for the Imperial regulars on whatever ships were still available after the disaster.”

Clessor saw the Earl’s face drop and quickly interjected. “The Empire of Taleel is nothing but stubbornly thorough; if they plan to attack Acaross once more they will have learnt from their mistakes at the Straits of Tahlinjin. We Summerlanders, now Imperial subjects in their Northern Holdings, know this all too well.”

The Earl nodded but had a faraway look in his eyes. “That we do, that we do…” His meditation ended, his eyes looked deep into those of his companions. “I can tell you friends that the demands I received from this Dominar Sligo appalled me. The tributes in foodstuffs we have to yield next year are bad enough to cause real hardship next winter and their hunger for young men for their army is insatiable… and not just young men.”

Dayvin looked over his mug. “What do you mean, Lord?”

The Earl’s hands tightened around the handle of his mug and his voice trembled slightly with anger. “This… Sligo requires a tribute of young women too, and not just the flowers of the Gewichas, but also of the Turanesci, the Fraisons, the Irminsulus and others; all to serve in his household.”

“Serve? In his household?” Dayvin said, realising the implication, “The loathsome Taleeli dog!”

“Indeed, Dayvin, all the Summerlander delegations protested vehemently. We were told in no uncertain terms that defiance would lead to our destruction. The Empire has a large force gathering at Northport with which to impose its will and gather tribute and levies. As an instigator of the protest I was singled out and must part with my most precious possession; my daughter is to be held by the Dominar as a hostage…”

Dayvin looked dumbfounded. “Keeli?  He is demanding Keeli, but what of the treaties between your house and Taleel?”

The Earl sighed. “I was assured that Keeli’s honour as an Earl’s daughter would be respected, but…” He looked up again with a fierce look in his eyes. “I know this manner of man that is called Sligo, he is a lecherous whoremonger: I trust him not. The thought of this toad of a man pawing our womenfolk, and my Keeli, is too much to bear.”

Dayvin laid his hand on his sword hilt. “My lord, I am your loyal Gesith, my sword is forever yours to command. If you plan a revolt, our destruction matters not. I will sacrifice my life and all I have for the honour of the Gewichas.”

The Earl smiled at Dayvin in appreciation and pride but he had tears in his eyes. “I will not cause the destruction of my people if I can help it, but the request I have for you is a terrible thing, especially as your son has been selected for the muster. I am ashamed to ask it of you.”

“My Lord?” Dayvin looked confused, unused to seeing the Earl looking so humbled. He felt Clessor rest his hand on his arm and turned towards his old friend.

Clessor spoke barely above a whisper. “What we ask of you Dayvin is this, that Tamzine accompany her old friend Keeli to Northport to act in secret as a guardian for our Lord’s daughter.”

“Guardian?” Dayvin looked at the floor. He raised his mug with trembling hands and drank deeply as he contemplated the Earl’s request.

Clessor continued. “As I said when you arrived I remember Tamzine having no small skill with a sword. I take it she still does?”

“Indeed,” Dayvin nodded, “She will best me, one of these days.”

“If agreed, I will train her myself,” Clessor said, “In all manner of weapons and also unarmed combat. She will best you, and me, when I am done with her. She will be our eyes in the Dominar’s household and an agent of the Earl’s vengeance if required.”

The Earl reached over to his Gesith. “Please Dayvin, consider this. I will be in your family’s debt, a debt I can never hope to repay.”

Dayvin had tears in his eyes seeing his Lord’s humility. “Please my Lord, there will never be a debt, you are my liege. All that I, and my family, have is because of you. My wife will shed tears afresh but the decision is Tamzine’s to make.”

“Will she say yes do you think?”

Dayvin smiled sadly. “I’ve long known Tamzine is more shieldmaiden than wife and mother; the local boys who have tried their luck bear blackeyes from her tender touch. She yearns for adventure, more so than Jonas if the truth be told. Going to Northport with her old friend Keeli? I can’t see her saying no…”

“Thank you Dayvin,” the Earl said solemnly, “You don’t want my debt but you will have it anyway, I will sleep easier knowing Keeli will have a friend beside her.”

Dayvin turned to Clessor. “You will train her well?”

“You may count on it,” the Sword master smiled fiercely; “When I am done she will be lethal.”





** This is a prologue I've just written for The Sun Shard, currently available  at Amazon. Oh and keep your eyes out for Book 2 - The Dead Gods - coming soon. ***

Friday, 17 October 2014

Lost Cosmonauts




“Commissar Berevzin, Soyuz 2 is approaching the object.” The technician said, not looking up from the grainy screen in front of him.

“Thank you Isahev, this is a glorious day for the motherland.” The commissar said smoothing his greased hair back. He turned to his aide. “Strakhov, pour some shots of vodka, so we can toast our heroes of the Soviet Union.”  He lit a cigarette and hovered over the technician’s shoulder looking at the screen blowing clouds of acrid smoke over it, adding discomfort to the technician’s nervous unease.

A voice boomed from behind the Commissar. “Berevzin, this is a military establishment and those are my men up there in the cold vacuum. We will have no drinking here.”

Berevzin turned impatiently as General  Gagarin entered, leaving his two guards standing by the door. He noticed, in irritation, how all the technicians seemed to suddenly have stiffer backs when their heard the General’s voice, even these civilian scientists effected a military like manner in his presence; despite this being a party mission, one that Berevzin had ultimate authority for. The General always looked the part, his uniform immaculate and creased, the decorations won in the Great Patriotic War on his jacket.

“Oh hello General,” the Commissar sneered, “I didn’t think you would join us, as you look down upon this enterprise.”

“I might look down on this enterprise Berevzin, but I look up to my men up there, risking their lives on your behalf.”

“They are not your men General,” the Commissar snapped back,” They are men of the motherland, loyal servants of the party and what they are doing will shift the balance of power in space firmly in our favour, perhaps on earth as well.”

“You think so? Why are we chasing Tesla’s phantom when we should be racing for the moon like the Americans?” the General asked amused at the Commissar’s obvious fraying temper.

Some of the technicians struggled to keep straight faces at the General’s question. The Commissar bristled with annoyance.

“Don’t say that Croat dog’s name in my presence General.” The Commissar’s face seemed almost purple with rage. “That capitalist dog may have first recorded the signal every 25 seconds from the Chernyy Bogatyr*, back in 1899, but it has nothing to do with him. Are you scared General? The hero of Kursk is a frightened little girl?” The Commissar blew his acrid smoke in the General’s face, wishing to provoke him.

The General didn’t flinch or cough but held the Commissar in a steely gaze. “I fought at Kursk, it is true. I was terrified throughout the experience. This thing we are investigating has been overlooking us for thousands of years, if you are not scared at what we doing then you are a fool. We have no idea what we are facing here.”

“Like I said, you are a frightened little girl.” The Commissar said, “I will make sure you are not mentioned in the history books. This will be my investigation then, my place in the annals of the glorious Soviet Republics. Strakhov, pour the vodka.”

“Your place in history, Commissar? Your place alone?” The General walked past the Commissar and stood behind the technician. Noticing how the man shook he placed his hand reassuringly on the Technician’s shoulder. He looked at the grainy image on the monitor that the technician was fixated by and a sense of foreboding took him. “What is that thing? Open the channel to Commander Bondarenich.”

The monitor was in monochrome from the spacecraft’s camera, but as Soyuz 2 approached, the size was all too apparent. It seemed an odd shape, almost like a monolith set adrift in space and yet it maintained a constant polar orbit around the earth. The Technician gasped. “It must be around 20 tonnes.” He whispered.
 
 

“Hello Baikorur. We are reading you, over.” The voice of Commander Bondarenich crackled over the speaker.

“Hello Vladimir, we read you loud and clear.” The General replied.

“Greetings General Gagarin, are you seeing these images?” the disembodied voice asked.

“Yes Vladimir, what can you make out of it?”

“It seems completely black and smooth, there appears to be no port or hatch. It doesn’t look like anything the Americans could have made. General I have to admit I am scared of this thing, it looks.. unearthly…”

The General swallowed and continued “Try and go around it and take as many photos as you can Vladimir, but make no threatening moves towards it. Take what readings you can but…”

“Belay that order, Commander Bondarenich.” The Commissar interrupted. “You are to claim that thing for the USSR, Commander.  Do you understand? You are to find a way in. Conduct a space walk and investigate it thoroughly.” The Commissar signalled for the Technician to turn off the microphone. He faced the General. “We are going to claim this alien technology for ourselves. Let the Americans go to the moon, this will propel us light years ahead of them.”

“But Commissar, we don’t know what we are…”

“Quiet, I will have no frightened little girls threaten this mission.”

“Baikorur, do you read? Do you read?” the voice crackled through the speakers.

The General instantly flicked the microphone switch himself and leant into it. “What is it Vladimir?”

“The object has increased velocity.”

On the monitor the object could be seen pulling away.

“Then increase speed, catch up with it Commander!” The Commissar ordered.

The Technician looked at the up. “But Commissar that will use their reserve fuel supplies…”

“Silence! Commander, you have your orders.”

“Understood,” the disembodied voice said, “Maximum burn.”

They watched the monochrome image as the strangely shaped object began fill the monitor once more, but something was changing, the object seemed to turning its other face to the Soyuz.

“Baikorur, we have used all main engine fuel, we will have to use retros for re-entry navigation. Are you seeing , Oh god no…” The speakers filled with the screams of the Soyuz crew which faded into the white noise of static.

“What is happening?Commander!” The Commissar was stopped suddenly as a bright flash lit the monitor screen and the speakers hissed a static scream.

“General, the Soyuz has gone.” The Technician said, his voice almost cracking.

“What do you mean gone?” The Commissar demanded.

“It is no longer on radar, Commissar. All readings are dead.  Soyuz 2 has gone.”

The Commissar looked wildly around. “I don’t understand, what happened?”

“What happened? Officially?” the General said signalling to the two soldiers to come forward. “Brave Cosmonaut Vladimir Bondarenich and his crew died during the launch due to the mismanagement of this mission by Commissar Berevzin. It was suspected that the Commissar was secretly an alcoholic. He and his aide were shot resisting arrest”

The Commissar turned white. “You can’t…”

Two shots rang out.

 


*Black Knight

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Last Entry

From: Rob's Ramblings
Sent: 31 October 2014 23:59
To:
Subject: Warning

The shadows are gathering...
I haven’t much time.  There is a scratching in the walls, the shrill blast of trumpets. I hear the discordant music, a slithering ear worm in my mind. It is on the edge of my hearing but drawing ever nearer.

I’m sorry, truly sorry. It all started as a bit of fun. In truth I didn’t take it seriously. Like backward masking on heavy metal albums to find a hidden message, or flash imagery in television adverts to subvert the weak willed; it was nonsense, childish nonsense. Yet the more I discredited it, the deeper I delved. I should have stopped digging sooner…

If you are reading this, if you have got past my encryptions, then you too will be aware of the Tractus de Daemonum. How I wish I had never been aware of its existence. To live in blissful ignorance such as most mortals do, unaware of the thrall in which they are held. But you and I, dear reader, we know better don’t we? But are our lives enriched by our arcane knowledge of this hateful Grimoire? Our souls are manifested in the here and now of this age of Mammon. All around us are traps and snares. Chains are hooked into our souls the day we are born; numbered, even before we are named, we stumble through life while dark powers, clothed in the mores of society, ridicule us for any attempt to emancipate ourselves.

The scales fell from my eyes as I trod the borders of this world’s reality. Some would call it the edge of madness, but they are the mad ones in an insanely artificial world, content in their ignorance; consuming a reality of talent shows and propaganda dressed as news. The bestower of our ignorance sits as a household deity in the corner of our rooms. It babbles inanely, shaping our minds, although we are unaware of it. We are programmed from a young age, as the colours and sounds shape our perception.

The shadows are deepening. I can hear them all around me now as the walls of my perception are opening up. This is not what I wanted, I merely wanted to understand. Like Adam and Eve eating of the apple, a price must be paid. I didn’t know what it would invoke…

I must not think the name, it strengthens it, and the invocation of its name is a word of praise in itself. It was a god once. It walked the earth, a giant, a Nephilim; its jaws red with the blood of humanity. Its hungry still...

The opening of the Grimoire, the Tractus de Daemonum, it required sacrifice. I shed my own blood; the beaten leather cover and vellum pages drank of me. It read me, as I read it, dooming me to flee forever from the terrible retribution. But I have nowhere else to go now. It followed, it stalked. I should have known; it has the world in its clawed hand… it always has…

It hurt me as I studied it. Each reading stole years from me. As my knowledge grew, my allotted hours on this world shrank. I cheated it though, using the technology with which it traps us. I scanned it and read it using computers and tablets. Not reading the book directly saved my life, but the devil will have his due. It was a temporary victory.

It’s coming through the walls now. I’m being deafened by a cacophonic fanfare from hell, a maddening ear worm of damnation. It’s the one that torments you, every waking moment.  So this is it!

I was wrong, so wrong. The Tractus de Daemonum should never have been opened; I should not have shared of its knowledge. I'm writing this as a final warning to you, I beg you heed it. It knows this entire world; it absorbs all technology and the machinations of man. We create tools yet we are but machines of flesh and blood to it. I beg you stop reading this, stop reading this now. It can get to you through computers or smartphones. Turn the device off. It knows, it always knows! It’s behind you, its watching you now and weighing your soul’s burdens. It hears your thoughts, it hears your thoughts! Even as you read this.

God forgive me, my mind is twisting upon itself! Its manifesting before me! What the hell is it? I know what it is, I know its name, and its madness manifested. Such things have no right to exist, no, no, please, no.…

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Temple Fields




The dusk was settling over the Temple Fields. Along the hedgerows owls silently flew in the dimpsy light, hunting for rodents in the long grass. The set sun was a vague glow of memory on the western horizon, while above, their reign of the heavens approaching, the stars’ light grew in intensity.

In the centre of a field, its spill of light shielded by the walls of the collapsed burial mound and a stand of twisted trees, the vague glow of the lantern could be vaguely discerned in the gathering gloom. By the dim radiance of the lantern, around which large dark moths fluttered, the man dug as quickly as he could. By his side his metal detector, with its headphones lay. The signal had been extremely strong, almost deafening. In his mind he pictured a treasure trove of coins, perhaps even a crown of a long forgotten king of these lands?

He had suspected this was going to be a promising site. He had studied, in detail, the ordinance survey maps of this area and had perused the local libraries for archived descriptions of these ancient mounds, with the fallen ring of stones. The site was now mainly buried and overgrown by a grove of small, twisted oaks. To his surprise these tumuli appeared to have been untouched; not even the collapsed henge had been robbed for building materials. He had known that the name, Temple Fields, must signify something. He had searched online and found the owner of these fields, a farmer called Seth Magus. Further delving revealed that his family had farmed this area since the Enclosure Act of 1777 at least. Strangely much of the nearby lands had been grabbed by the main landowner in this locality, as had been the result of the infamous act across most of the country.

A month ago he had visited the ex-directory Mr Magus at his home at Druid Farm, in order to gain permission to investigate the Temple Fields. He had left the tarmacked road and taken his car up a potholed track, its centre overgrown with weeds and grasses. He had prayed that the undergrowth didn’t conceal a hidden rock to rob his car of its sump. At the end of the track was a five bar gate secured with a heavy padlocked chain, between large blue stones.

Druid Farm looked dark and foreboding. The barns looked medieval and seemed to lean drunkenly against each other. The farmyard was full of old machinery; some of it would have looked more at home in a museum. Behind the barns he could see smoke rising from an old chimney of brick and stone. The chimney itself stood over an old roof of ancient shingled slates that seemed to merge into one another. The ridge rose and fell, as if it had partly collapsed in places, making the roof look like it had grown instead of being built.

He had attempted to climb over the secured gate but three huge lurcher dogs had bounded over the farmyard growling fiercely. They had barked at him, their lips drawn tight revealing sharp teeth, as drool and foam poured from their mouths. They had snapped at his hands on the gate, causing him to hastily beat a retreat to his car and drive as fast as he dared back to the road. With no permission granted he had driven back a week later, parking out of sight and walking over the fields to the site as the dusk began to fall.

And here he was, digging this site as quickly as possible with his trenching tool. There was a clang of metal against stone as his spade struck a stone. In the distance he heard a single bark from the direction of the farm. He froze momentarily, remembering the savagery of the dogs that had  shocked and frightened him.  He set to his digging like a man possessed, scraping the earth from what appeared to be a large capping stone. He found the edge and followed it down. He reached in his pocket for his small torch and shone it down. He saw a gap between the capping stone and a large piece of slate that acted as a door. In the dark distance more barking could be heard but he wasn't going to be denied now.  He dug down around the large piece of slate noticing a collection of deep scratches on the slate. He recognised them as ogham symbols, but he didn't have the time to trace them, and he daren't use the flash of his camera. The slate was loose and could be moved. Sweating now with effort and excitement, he pulled  it back with a low grinding noise and crawled into the  space, his small torch in his hand.

He gasped in astonishment; it was much deeper than  he would have guessed it would be. It was a sizeable room with an altar of sorts in the centre. Around in each corner that were crystal flecked stones supporting the roof with human faces carved in them. At the foot of the altar stone another stone stood, with a niche cut into it at head height. Inside the niche the light of his torch caught the glitter of gold. He almost shouted with delight and triumph. He quickly dropped down to the floor and took off his haversack he had slung on his back. His hands sought the gold and with an effort brought it out of the niche. It was a mask of a man's face, exquisitely wrought of precious metals and enamels, showing fine details of facial hair and cheekbones. He quickly put it in his haversack. As he did so he felt a dull tremor under his feet, causing dust to fall from the roof of the chamber. Through the barrier of stone and earth he could hear muffled barking. The dogs! He had to go!

He turned to go and his torch alighted on the altar stone. On the stone was a body of a man. He shivered as he saw it, a cold dread clutching his heart. A large knife protruded from the corpse's chest, held by its handle by the deceased man's skeletal hands. His imagination drew terrible pictures as he envisaged the sacrificial ritual that had been done here.



But something didn't seem right about the body, and then it struck him. It should be thousands of years old and yet the clothes looked out of time. The body wore a frock coat and an ancient yellowed shirt; the clothes of a well to do gentleman from the C18th!The shoes were still on the man's feet, the buckles now rusty and discoloured. The skull's jaws were wide open as if in the midst of a silent scream.

The knife caught his eye. He put his torch in his mouth and prized the hands off the handle of the blade and pulled the knife from the dead one's chest. Again he heard barking in the distance. He'd tarried too long! With his prizes he crawled back out of the chamber and into the night.

Out in the open air he could hear the baying and growling of hounds getting closer. His presence was known! He slung his haversack over his back, grabbed his spade and metal detector and raced across the fields towards the road. All the time he could hear the snarling and barking getting ever closer. Reaching a gate he  vaulted it and got to his car. He scrambled for his car key fob. The indicators flashed and the interior light came on, revealing his position. All too close, he heard shouting and curses being hurled his way. He opened the back door and threw in his detector, spade and haversack. He jumped into the driver's seat, panting in fear and exertion. It took two attempts until the engine fired into life. As he took off down the road he saw the fierce lurchers in the rear view mirror; they were now in the road bounding towards him. He sped away, recklessly hurling his car around the  bends in the country roads. He only slowed as he neared town and began laughing as he approached his driveway. He climbed out of the car, breathing deeply, trying to slow his heart rate down. He suddenly started, he could almost hear the baying of dogs on the periphery of his hearing. It was his imagination and the adrenaline, he was miles away from Druid Farm and its fearsome denizens.

Leaving his detector in the car he grabbed his loot and hurried inside his house. He leaned against the door, letting out a long breath. He'd done it! He went into his kitchen and grabbed a beer, ripping the ring pull off and drinking deeply. He belched in satisfaction and, kicking off his shoes, went into his lounge with the haversack. Now to look at  his treasure. With a gasp he marvelled at the mask of gold and inlaid enamel, the workmanship was incredibly detailed. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. He would search online tomorrow to see if anything similar had ever been found. He knew collectors that would pay a small fortune for such an artefact, but he would need to be careful, this would be classed as stolen treasure trove. He set it on the table in front of him, counting the monies he'd get for it in his mind. He then reached in his haversack and brought out the knife. The steel was cold and pitted with rust and blood from god-alone-knew how many sacrifices. He shivered again as he looked at it. Then he remembered the body in the tomb. Why was it C18th? Why did it look like the man had plunged the blade into his own heart? These were questions for tomorrow. His eyes grew heavy as, still clutching the knife, he fell into a troubled sleep.







His dreams were strange, full of dogs prowling around his house, scratching at the doors and windows, their eyes red and full of the fires of revenge, and all the time the mask seemed to murmur curses at him, accusingly. You stole from me. You stole from me. The dogs gathered outside and howled mournfully. He awoke with the echo of their howl in his mind...


***


His room looked unfamiliar as he blinked his eyes in the grey light of early morning. It shone from a gap in one of the side walls. He wasn't on his sofa, he was on a cold flat stone. He tried to pull himself upright but he couldn't move. His eyes flashed this way and that, looking around the room. He recognised the crystal flecked stones at each corner of the altar, the carved faces looking down at him. He felt his hands and arms move of their own accord. They clasped the knife raising it up above his chest. He then saw the mask set back in its niche looking down at him angrily, the cold lustre was cruel, the inset enamels shone evilly. Outside he heard the howling of dogs all around, and a grinding of stones as unseen hands  replaced the slate in the wall, plunging him into darkness. He screamed as he sensed his arms thrust the wicked blade down into his chest...


Monday, 6 October 2014

The King in the Mist



He arose in the grey morning light, as he had each day. He had lost the measure of years in this timeless place. He cast his cloak about him and stepped forth to view the lands of heath covered hill and wooded deep combe around him; his lands. The view was stifled. The air was thick with an impenetrable mist; it gathered in his hair and beard and clung to his rich fur lined cloak. His views over the valleys and beyond to the sea were curtailed and yet he felt whole in this half-light, felt manifestly strong, a shade of his former self no more.

A king he was clad in his finery; a guardian of his people, his broad, bronze spear by his side. He ate of bread, nuts and cheese and drank deeply from the jug of beer.  He stood before his hall; his grey eyes probed the blanket of fog, as the muffled sound of voices could be heard. They spoke in a tongue he didn’t recognise, he was barely able to pick out any words although the dialect rolled in a way he recognised.

Invaders! Unbidden intruders upon the peace he craved.  He swept forward through the low gorse and whortleberry bushes, over the tumbled, autumn browned swathes of bracken; across silvered sweeps of cobwebs that trawled the air, as the weak sun climbed invisibly behind the cold grey fog.

 

                                                                     *******

“Got a light mate?” Tony said as he put his clumsily hand rolled cigarette in his mouth,  patting his pockets for a lighter without success.  It was cold up here on the hills and the sun had barely risen. It would take hours to burn off this low cloud anyway.

“Sure man.”  Andy said, shaking off his glove and reaching into his jacket pocket to produce a disposable clipper. He cupped his hands as he drew the wheel over the flint. He had to strike a few times in this moist atmosphere before the sparks eventually produced a flame. Tony drew deeply as he got his cigarette alight.

“When you two wasters have quite finished?” Steve asked as he looked at the duplicated map in his hand. He wiped the side of the van to try and dry it and held the map up against it. “Can I carry on?”

Tony laughed and coughed at the same time. “Sure Steve, you carry on with your Supervisor thing.”

“Look,” Steve said in irritation, “This may be just a work programme to you two twats to ensure you can still draw your dole, but some of us want to make a go of this and get a job at the end of it.” He swept his hand indicating the other three members of the work gang; their faces miserable in the cold.
"Well thats not very nice, like you'll walk into a job at the end of this! You're no better than us." Andy said laughing, "Come on then, what are we doing on the cheap, in the pissing cold this morning for our dole money?"
Steve shook his head and ignored the jibes. Those two will keep."We are meant to cut the heather and gorse down in this area to encourage new growth; just from this bridal way heading north west toward King's Barrow. In the van we have white painted poles so we will mark it out, roughly one hundred paces by one hundred. We'll then cut the brush down within the rectangle."
"We'll mark it out!" Tony said, winking at his mate Andy.


Steve sighed. A chance to skive off, out of sight in the mist no doubt; but at least they wouldn't disrupt the rest of the gang. "Okay,you two, grab some white poles each. Tony goes fifty paces to the right of the van,  Andy fifty paces to the left." Steve drew  the outline on the map with his finger. Then head north west putting a stick in the ground every twenty paces."


Tony drew deeply on his cigarette. "Just a question though Steve, how do we know which way is North West?"


Steve put his face in his palm. "Just walk in a straight line from the bridal way, okay? It doesn't have to be exact."


"Ha ha, see ya later then suckers." Andy said as he put  an armful of white poles from the van over his shoulder, giving half of them to Tony.


"Yeah, don't sweat too much cutting all the scrub!" Tony said to the rest of the work gang as he and Andy set off in opposite directions.


"Ignore those idiots," Steve said to the remainder of the gang, "Has everyone got a billhook?"


Tony counted fifty paces  and looked behind him, the van had disappeared as the breeze swirled banks of fog around. He drew his hood over his head, his hair was wet and his cigarette was wet from his fingers and bumsucked in his mouth. He threw the useless stub away. Placing  a stick in the soft earth, he headed in a straight line from the path. He counted out twenty paces as he set off across the heather. He felt the bottom of his jeans getting sodden as he stomped through the wet undergrowth. He looked behind himself squinting to see the first stick; it was barely visible. He plunged the pole into the peaty soil and, estimating a straight line, marched on; the dampness spreading up his jeans. Twice more he plunged poles into the ground.


He looked up, the fog seemed thicker. Looking behind himself, none of the poles were visible, but neither were his workmates or his supervisor. He  put his hand in his pocket and felt the distinctive shape of his Zippo lighter. He'd missed that before. With a grunt of triumph he rubbed his hands dry on his jumper under his coat and quickly rolled another cigarette. He snapped his lighter on, smelling the aroma of the burning lighter fluid. He gratefully puffed his cigarette to life when he saw the shape up ahead. That bloody Steve was ahead of him waiting for him to finish! He angrily snapped the lighter shut and blew out a lungful of smoke.


"You don't need to check up on me Steve, you twat!" He shouted, setting off towards where his supervisor stood, counting the remaining paces. The air was cold and his jeans sodden and clinging to his legs.


He came to a halt. "Well say something then!" He shouted at the figure. The figure stood still just watching him silently, a vague, dark figure in the mist. "Yeah? Well fuck you Steve! You better move now!" Ton grunted as hey hurled the pole like a spear at the figure. He saw the white pole arc towards his supervisor. Why didn't he move? Why didn't he move? He must see the javelin racing towards him, surely?


But the figure didn't flinch and to Tony's horror the pole struck the figure full in the chest, passing clean through him.


"Shit!" Tony screamed in panic, running towards the figure. What had he done? And yet the figure didn't fall but still stood there, unmoving. As Tony got closer something did't look right; the billowing cloak, the large staff the figure had, the bearded, deathly pale face, the grin of teeth between tightly drawn lips. It wasn't Steve.

The cigarette fell from Tony's hand as he stopped running and slowly backed away from the figure, stood atop the overgrown tumulus. The figure  moved its staff, Tony saw it was a spear, a broad blade of greenish metal that was pointed towards him. Tony shook his head, not believing what he saw. There was a flash of white as the pole he had launched at the figure shot back towards him, to plunge into the earth between his legs, barely missing him. Tony turned and ran, coughing  and wheezing, desperate to get away.


                                                                           *******


The King smiled to himself; he was the guardian of his people and lord of all he surveyed. Above  his head the sun grew stronger and the mist thinned and dissolved under its warmth. He looked far again with old grey eyes over familiar sights in a timeless landscape that grew from the melting fog. And all that could be seen by mortal eyes was an ancient burial mound, covered in collapsed heaps of dead bracken and low bushes of gorse and whortleberry.

 


Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Bread of Sacrement


By the bright light of the second full moon of Enten, the men and women gathered atop the sacred hill. Long they had laboured, to cover this place with earth and rock. The great roof beams of cedar had been lifted and taken away; too precious not to reuse now the once thick forests had grown scarcer, remnants of the lost world that once was.

With the roof removed the temple had slowly been filled with earth; painstaking and backbreaking, basket after basket. Tear ridden yet relentless they had been, filling in the divine house built with the sweat of their ancestors, carved from the limestone with axes of flint.

As they had poured earth over the polished flagstones they had risen higher alongside the carved stones and pillars. Their hands had lovingly caressed the sacred images of beasts, some long since departed from these lands. Never again would these images be seen by people, as long as the moon waxed and waned and the winds shook the grasses of this sacred place. It had been a labour of love, a long goodbye, a requiem to a world now gone.

Lahamu of the Anunnaki, the last Priestess to serve this place, was now reciting the records learned by word of mouth. Her lineage spoke of an unbroken line of first born women, each generation entrusted with the sacred duty to this temple and land. She spoke of the old times, when the people had followed herds, gathering what fruits and seeds that they could. Life had been a struggle to survive against wild animals and the constant threat of starvation. Yet here, on this high plateau, all had changed.

For amid the wild grass had grown a wheat, unlike those known before. Knowledge of wheat had long been known; its seed could be ground, mixed with water and made into a paste and cooked on hot stones to make bread. But its harvest had always been laborious, as the seed fell all too readily from the stem. That was until here, at this special place, had been found a wheat whose ears stayed attached to the plant. It could be gathered without waste. Across the plateau the seed had been cast and the plants tended.

The story of generations moved on as Lahamu spoke further, how the stars had aligned in their favour and the Anunnaki had been blessed. The earth grew warmer, the rains were plentiful, the wheat grew in abundance and the people were freed from the tyranny of once ever present famine. Their numbers swelled as did the grain. Bread became a nourishing staple.

In thanks this place was built. A womblike bowl carved into the soft limestone. Pillars were raised, adorned with pictographs of bird, beast and insect; all those that once had abounded here. The people grew in number and others came and traded with them. The knowledge of the wheat that never fell with the wind was spread. A gift of the earth to her children and freely shared. Always they gave thanks here, this secret place; surely chosen by the gods were the Anunnaki.

Yet amid the roots of the prettiest flower can dwell the most poisonous scorpion, for creation was flawed, even here in this blessed place.

As the earth warmed, the rains, once abundant grew scarcer. The plateau began to dry; its ancient fertility beginning to fail. And at this time, beyond the eastern horizon a fear took hold and invaders arrived, the Utukku. As beast men they were. With sharp flint spears in their hands, the Utukku moved swiftly, born on the backs of horses. They took lives without guilt and ate what they stole. Not content to break the earth themselves. They would steal women and children and enslave them to be borne far away. Every few years they would return, greedy and warlike, demanding ever more while the harvests grew smaller.

Tribute of food and labour they required. They demanded all secrets passed down from generation to generation. The knowledge of this place they had an inkling of, a fabled treasure house. They wanted its treasures, of polished stones and glazed earthenware for themselves, to turn this temple into a stable for their horses.

So Lahamu recited, and so her words slowed, for to her time she had come. As if in recognition her own womb had failed, for from her alone of her line a son was first born. The unbroken line of priestesses was no more. A sign it was of changing times; now was the time of the warrior. Her son, Anshar, was now keeper of the oral tradition. Long time spent listening; he now stepped forward to stand behind his mother. She fell to her knees, her voice now as cracked and dry as the earth. Her head bowed.

He spoke now of how the earth changed, how the stars wheeled above. He it would be who would lead the first, chosen, people to new lands to the south between the great rivers. They would find another fertile land to till, they would take, they would conquer, for a lesson they had been taught by the beast men to the east. Those around shook their spears attempting to overcome their shame, for blood would now fall like rain.

Above the temple one space was left to be filled, a last act of sacrifice and thanks to be given to the earth mother. Anshar raised the black obsidian blade. He wept as he drew the glass across his mother's throat. His younger sister Kishar began the keening as their mother pitched forward into her grave, grateful to remain in this secret place. Her body was covered with earth but marked not with stones. The only sign of this place was a scattering of wild wheat seed, cast that Lahamu may have bread in the afterlife and the broken ground be obscured. And the earth turned and the stars wheeled above.


                                                                ******


"What do you think you have discovered here at Potbelly Hill, Dr Schmidt?"


"I cannot stress the importance of this place in human history, enough," the Professor replied, "I believe this is where Neolithic man first began the cultivation of grain. This site is 12,000 years old, at the end of the last ice age, which means humanity was capable of monumental constructions whilst still in hunter gatherer societies. And yet just here they began  to become farmers, far earlier than we previously had thought had occurred in the so called fertile crescent. It is here that our ancestors began to puposely grow grain yielding, harvestable grasses which would become modern varieties of wheat; where bread became the staff of life. Bread is an efficient and reliable form of nuttition. Is it any wonder why bread is culturally significant in our everday language, history and even modern religious ritual? First came the temple, then the city; all built on bread. "




"What do the carvings and pictographs signify?"


"They show all the different animals that once were denizens of this area," Dr Schmidt replied, "Interestingly there are no hunting scenes, despite there being the remains of butchered game scattered around. Its almost like the Garden of Eden, but what they signify we can only guess."


"But why was it purposely filled, so it has been forgotten these 12,000 years?"


Dr Schmidt sighed. "Climate change is a constant in history, that is clear. The world was emerging from the Ice Age and maybe a changing climate, over cultivation and other factors had a hand to play.It is a mystery, as if this place was meant to be kept a secret. It still had some sacred, forgotten significance: there are graves from both the Byzantine era and relatively recent Islamic burials. But why it was abandoned with such finality, we can only guess. Perhaps this is where humanity lost its innocence, where society changed to the modern one of the haves and have nots. Bread freed us from the constant need to gather food and allowed us to think beyond the immediate, but it also required a set system of labour. No longer were we as carefree as the birds and beasts but we were tied to particular areas, chained to an embryonic work ethic. Maybe this temple's abandonment was symbolic of our expulsion from this Garden of Eden?"


"So Potbelly Hill should be as significant as Stonehenge?"


""More so," smiled Dr Schmidt, "This is where our modern world began, predating the Bronze Age, Sumeria and other Mesopotamian societies. But please, don't use the clumsy English translation of this place; I prefer the Turkisk, Göbekli Tepe."



Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Playing GOD


 
 
“Look at them all, such diversity, it never ceases to amaze me what is possible on these Class M worlds.”

“Indeed, this one is particularly fecund. It’s really moved on since we seeded it and moved things on a pace from that Reptoid evolutionary dead end it had got stuck on.”

“Ha, yes, although it was quite interesting; how those creatures tore into each other, such violence! Eating each other alive! This DNA strain on this world is amazingly tenacious. How long has it been since we altered the genus destiny?”

“Oh I think that was approximately 65 million orbits around this star now. I shudder to think what would have happened if we had allowed them to achieve sentience. Some of them were starting to advance to that stage and were showing promise; however, I believe we were correct in not letting them achieve technological level 2.”

“Really? You mean some had got to Technical level 1? I didn’t realise that was happening.  I thought, as you said, it was at an evolutionary dead end?”

“We’ve called it so in the history books of course, but one species in the western hemisphere (the Sauranoids) had reached a rudimentary level of city state in their nesting sites.  They were beginning to evolve increased cranial capacity and using tools to augment their environment. They looked uncomfortably similar to Draconians. We ensured that the catastrophic extinction event had its epicentre on their range. You can see the crater just east of that peninsular there. It looks just like a stellar accident, like those suffered previously, no one would ever know, they had even existed. “
 


“Yes, I see it. But what of the Draconians of the Drago system? If they should ever learn that we had purposely stifled their genetic contribution to the Genesis mission, their response doesn’t bear thinking about.”

“Well, quite. I endeavoured to be thorough, in case some archaeologist ever pokes around there; the comet destroyed all traces of settlement and their species fossil record. They have been completely deleted from history. Its was a shame but we both know what the Draconians can be like and we have to think of the greater galactic peace. It's a constant struggle for the ambassadorial caste to keep them from their warlike tendencies. They would have claimed this system for their empire if the Sauranoids had evolved further, of that I’m sure. I blame it on their carnivorous impulses; the forward looking eyes and teeth. Despite our long peace with Drago, and their current sophistry, they are unable to deny their evolutionary heritage… and we would do well not to forget it or trust them completely.”

“Or them us, it would seem!”

“Ha ha, all I do, I do for the greater good of the universe in general and that of Epsilon Bootes in particular.”

“Why did we require the input of Drago DNA anyway?”

“It’s one of those bizarre things that happens this far out from the galactic core. Only carnivorous organisms, with forward looking optical organs seem to develop the cranial capacity required for rapid evolutionary advancement. It’s an arms race in tooth and claw. So to give it some impetus the Drago strain was required. “

“And yet you snuffed it out with a comet strike?”

“Not entirely, another branch had shot in a different direction becoming smaller and endothermic. They were ideal candidates to survive the nuclear winter caused by the particulate fallout from the catastrophic extinction event. The end result, freed from their Reptoid cousins’ shadow, you now see before you.”

“It is amazing. Look at the megafauna that evolved from such tiny beginnings.  It all looks so green and innocent too… Hang on though, why are we here, we could easily have observed from our own system without having to get Genetic Override Dispensation?”

“I brought you here because I’ve now made my final species selection and I’ve chosen you to have overall control of the experiment from now on.”

“Me? I’m honoured, but why are you giving up the Genesis programme yourself?”

“I’ve developed a general ennui about this experiment these past few eons and this experiment deserves better, especially as it is now reaching the stage when our selection could be capable of reaching for the stars. Besides, Black Hole mechanics has always been my forte and a vacancy in the Quantum Continuum has arisen; I had to grab it with all twelve tentacles of light. Besides I feel I can trust you with this work.”

“Well you’ll be sorely missed; your contribution has been outstanding. I can assure you that you can trust me, our discussion regarding Drago will never be known.”

“Excellent, I knew I was correct in choosing you, indeed it also made my final selection for the next stage that much easier. You see, as luck would have it, they are actually made in your image. Here I’ll show you, there’s a group of them just down there.”

“Where, I can’t see… Oh, those Simians chasing that large, hairy, horned ungulate? They look nothing like me!”

 

“Ha ha, don’t you think? True they’re a tad rough around the edges, but in general shape you look similar. They’ve lost their tails so I’ve started calling them Hominids, myself.”

“I see they’re using fire and working as a team?”

“Yes, their cranial capacity shows promise, almost as good as the Cetaceans, but crucially these Simians, or Hominids, have developed dexterous skills and have opposing thumbs.”

“They not very big and impressive though, are they? I’m amazed they can cope with all these enormous predators around. “

“Size isn’t everything, besides that’s why I’ve managed to obtain the Genetic Override Dispensation. I’m going to alter the climatic conditions to cause a few mass extinctions again, just to give your Simians a little hand up, as it were. We’ve been working with a few branches of Hominids; I’ll leave the final decision to you, as to which one will flourish.”

“Can’t I keep them all?”

“Alas no. They will hunt other creatures and each other with ruthless ferocity and identify any differences amongst themselves as a legitimate target.  As much as we try to suppress it, that old Drago DNA strain will always show itself. I did have an idea as to control their inbuilt bloodlust however…”

“Go on, I’m listening.”

“It’s genius really. We want them to look upward and reach for the stars, right? So I thought we could also give them a sense of spirituality and self-consciousness. Make them aware of their limited life span and give them a sense of the eternal oneness and peace of the Universe. That gaining control of their more base instincts could actually give them access to it.”

“Ah! Hence the Genetic Override Dispensation!”

“Exactly, we play with the GOD, and as you are light shaped, in a similar form to them; who else but you could take this programme further?”

“Oh that’s brilliant. Of course I accept this task. I will walk among them and teach them spirituality. I’ll influence them just enough for them to form religions, without interfering too much of course.”

“I knew I could rely on you. Good luck with the rest of the Genesis programme but I doubt that you’ll need it. After all, once they discover their spirituality and develop religions, they won’t have any excuse to kill each other…”