September 30, 2013
Authors Note: The following story takes place between The Chronicles of Jack Primus book I and book II. Jack is still living in Boston, spending most of his time studying the ways of the Stalwart with the ‘Man in Brown,’ Phillip Brownhurst.
Even though almost three months had passed since Jack moved into the storage room in the back of Phillip Brownhurst’s tavern, it was still hard for him to get used to having a bar be his home. Phillip had his own place not too far away and although the Dionysus follower spent much of his time with Jack, on most mornings Primus found himself wandering through the chairs and tables alone.
He bellied up to the bar and focused on downing a half-dozen cold chicken wings and getting some caffeine into his system. He had just opened his second can of soda when he heard a cry coming from the alley behind the bar.
Slowing only long enough to grab a baseball bat, he was half way into the alley when he remembered that perhaps he should have called Phillip first. Too late now, he thought as his boots took him into the early morning mists.
Gray still owned the morning and made him wonder if the Glooms could somehow be involved with whatever occurred behind the tavern. Phillip had warned him that Stalwarts often see Xemmoni everywhere when there was plenty of mundane evil to go around without any help from supernatural masters.
The strange thing was he couldn’t see anything. Then he looked down and spotted small circles of darkness on the cracked pavement. It didn’t take him long to recognize it as blood. It looked like a trail, but did it head left or right. He might only have seconds…
He enacted his Detect Darken spell. His Ki sent it moving through the clinging mists. He wouldn’t help him detect a decent person or maybe even an evil uncorrupted man, but if a Xemmoni was involved it would alert him at once.
At first he thought that he had stumbled into a more normal conflict, but then his spell reached something moving to his right. Like a thorn on malign energy, a sick purple aura stabbed through his awareness. Violet, the color of decaying flesh, disturbed and distorted the very reality it passed through.
“A Hyades,” he whispered. “The silent stalkers.”
Whatever it was, it appeared big and powerful. Crap, Jack thought. Maybe I should have called Phillip first or grabbed a better weapon. But then the scream sounded again, maybe a hundred feet away and certainly female. Screw that, he chided himself. I never had help before and I’ve been through worse with less.
A second later he was running west. A second after that a strange banging could be heard echoing through the lonely alley.
Whatever chased the woman was between Jack and the screams. Something tall, wide, and loud loomed up out of the fog. Jack slowed his sprint. The figure had to be almost seven feet tall, but even from the distance, it looked odd. Everything about it seemed square. Like a child had created a giant out of building blocks. Legs and chest were rectangle in shape as was its head.
As Jack drew closer, he saw the cause. Whatever this thing might be, it appeared to have made a suit of armor for itself. But this was nothing like medieval armor that matched a person’s form. This armor appeared bulky, like some guy used a blow torch in his basement and welded thick sheet of metal into squares, which covered most of his frame.
Just past the Xemmoni, Jack could make out a woman dragging herself along the pavement. One of her legs appeared useless and she released a third scream as the steel giant moved in for the kill.
“Hey, Tin Woodsman,” Jack called out. “Care to see what it’s like taking on someone who isn’t helpless or are you too chickenshit for that? Maybe you should just stay at home and pull the wings off of flies you poor man’s Iron…”
But Jack’s bravado faded with his voice as the thing turned toward him. Glowing violet eyes cut through the fog and for a moment, Jack wondered if maybe the creature could be a machine of some kind, but then the booming metal feet started to come toward him. The armor squeaked and rattled, but looked thick and sturdy. Along each of the Xemmoni’s steel legs, as well as its forearms, large knives nearly the size of machetes appeared to be built into the armor itself. The space on its left arm was empty for a two foot, back hued blade already rested in its right hand.
Jack didn’t wait to be attacked. He yelled for the woman to flee and then went in low and tried to smash the mountain of metal on the knee. He might as well swung at a lamppost. His fingers throbbed from the impact, but it didn’t slow the man down for a second. It swung its blade in a wide arc and Jack was just able to move back in time to keep from sprouting a second mouth.
Jack swung again, but the Xemmoni just held up its armored left arm. And there was another bone rattling blow to his hands. This time, with surprising speed, he hacked down at Jack. The Stalwart cried out when the blade cut him from his right collar bone to the bottom of his ribcage. If he had been a couple of inches closer his bowls would have spilled over the pavement.
As it was, Jack almost lost his footing as he back pedaled away from the Hyades and healed himself. The wound was bad and he felt a sliver of fear when he realized he’d already burned through half his KI.
But the creature proved relentless and rushed at him swinging again. This time Jack blocked it with his bat, but at the price of losing a foot off the tip of his weapon. He lunched what was left at the Xemmoni’s face. It hit the stark helmet there, but the unexpected blow caused the man of metal to take a step back. During this pause, Jack rushed away. But he remained weaponless and hadn’t even hurt the thing yet.
Sirens cut through the cold morning air. The Xemmoni stared at Jack. Their eyes met and Jack felt his blood run cold against his spine. Yet, instead of attacking him, the killer drew an object off its back. It proved to be a crowbar and with no great hurry it moved to the nearest manhole, pulled the top off, and then climbed in. The top was replaced and Jack was alone in the alley.
Alone in the alley… with cops coming. Some luck remained with him for he was still only a few hundred feet shy of the tavern and he was just able to make it through the back door when three squad cars tore into the alley.
“Son of a bitch,” he panted. “Phillip isn’t going to believe this one.”
To be continued next Monday
September 9, 2013
Jack’s body still contorted in agony as the Carnie’s spell completed its horrid transformation. He could no longer speak and could barely do more than writhe in pain as his limbs fused together.
The carnie lowered himself and whispered into Jack’s ear. “I left you your hearing, but little else, ignorant Stalwart. Since I am now your master, you should know my name is Mr. Horrendous. But you can just call me God.”
But Jack’s mind moved elsewhere. Driving through the pain, he focused the remainder of his Ki on a transformation of his own. Calling on Yig’s own gift of shape shifting, Jack struggled to become a King Cobra. He couldn’t be sure if his spell would override Mr. Horrendous’ but he had to attempt it. Giving it every fragment of his will, he pushed aside the foul binding of the Xemmoni Bestow and let the green light of the All-Father snake enter his bones and blood.
The evil spell fought back, clinging to him as the carnie’s putrid words continued to mock him. But Jack didn’t listen. He fought, but not in the way he had become accustomed to. This was a psychic battle of will and although his will was strong, for him Magick was little more than a tool for keeping him alive long enough for his hands to do the work.
He battled on anyway, every fiber of his being screaming to be free, crying out for the right to remain himself and not be befouled by evil.
He wanted to scream, but had no mouth.
But then he felt his body struggling to change. It started slowly at first, but his body knitted together in the manner he had felt a dozen times. Instead of a horrid monstrosity he had become, he stretched into a streamlined creature of the Earth. A very angry one.
Mr. Horrendous was still insulting him when Jack turned and bit down on the man’s calf with his three inch fangs. Mr. Horrendous cried out and backed away, but Jack drew himself up to his full serpentine height and struck at the carnie again, this time striking him in the face. The carnie screamed in terror and continued to back away right into the remaining freaks that had just begun to pour into the room.
Sensing weakness, they fell upon their former master. Years of horror and abuse flowed through them and they began to tear Mr. Horrendous apart. Due to the strength of his Xemmoni nature, it took a very long time. Jack could still hear the man’s screams long after the long slide had returned him to the ground.
No one opposed him when the lit the ride on fire. Since all the other carnies had fled from his wraith, their rides went up too. The sun was just beginning to stain the eastern horizon a violent purple when he finished burning the last of the carnival.
It proved a simple matter to siphon off a bit of gasoline from one of the carnie’s few remaining vehicles and without a look over his shoulder Jack headed west into an approaching storm.
A New Adventure Starts next Monday.
September 2, 2013
Jack could still hear the undulating horde of distorted circus freaks following him as he forced his battered body to press on. “As long as I get to kill that damn carnie, I could die happy,” he grumbled under his breath as drops of his blood rained onto the floor with each passing step.
“Oh, is that true?” A voice echoed through the darkness. “So you won’t mind if I hunt down and torture your mother for weeks because of the pain you caused me or if our master Vile Darken devours your whole planet, not that you could have done anything to stop him even if I healed you completely and sent you off with a bag full of sandwiches.”
Jack clutched his dagger tighter. “The only thing I want from you is your head.”
“Well then come and get it,” the top hat of the carnie bobbed on the other side of a long room, just under a dim source of light.
Jack hurried forward and grunted when his face collided with a transparent pane of glass. Beyond this, a myriad of mirrors elongated and twisted his reflection into bizarre parodies.
“A hall of mirrors, I should have expected another cliché, you foul puke pile.” He growled. “I don’t have time for this.”
Then he noticed that the mirror’s frames where made of wood. He smiled inwardly and touched the top of the glass he had just collided with. From behind, the noises of the pursuing freaks grew louder.
Focusing some of the last few drops of his precious KI, Jack called on his patron Yig, the allfather snake and the lord of nature. The power of the forest pulsed through him and like a striking serpent, lashed out through the maze of wooden frames.
The brown frames swelled and grew. The sounds of mirrors cracking began slowly at first, but then drowned out all other noise as the glass exploded in loud bursts. A rain of jagged shards pelted the floor. Jack cracked a grin as the last of the glass fell and his path became clear.
He hurried over the mess and his boots crunched through the piles of glass as he rushed toward where he had last seen the evil carnie.
He had just passed through the destroyed maze of mirrors when he came upon a large red slide that descended down into the darkness. He wondered if this once might have been a normal ride, before the Xemmoni moved in and this was the method when the patrons had returned to the ground. But such thought didn’t linger long when he saw the Carnie appear out of the shadows and gaze at him with eyes full of malice.
“I hope you are proud of the destruction you have brought down upon my humble existence. You have cast me greatly, Stalwart, but in the end, I will cost you more.”
“We’ll see,” Jack said through clenched teeth as he continued to march toward the Xemmoni.
“Oh yes, we shall,” the man hissed as he brought his hands up and mumbled an incantation.
Jack braced himself, but there was no way he could have anticipated the horror that crashed into him. At once his body twisted and broke, pulled and stretched. He screamed in agonizing pain as he flesh bubbled and burst. Bones bowed and Jack plummeted to the floor unable to move as fits of burning pain tore through him.
“Since you have killed some many of my freaks, it seems only fitting that you help me replace them. Some fine tuning may be needed, but I think I might have found myself a new creation. Half man-half snake. Perhaps I can call you the Serpent man… yes that has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
As growing scales sealed his mouth closed, Jack became unable to scream.
To be continued next Monday