Another Great Review for “The Flesh Sutra” PLUS “ERIC BLOODAXE” by DQD Comedy Theatre, 1994

28 06 2014

Another reader is absorbed by “The Flesh Sutra”. See what the editor of Pseudopod called “a beautiful, precision timepiece of unease.”



and here is another comedy sketch from My Long Ago,


written by Steve Mamlin, I co-star with James Dempsey, who went on to become James and The Breakpoints.


25 06 2014

Standing beside his seat in the back of the classroom, Fazgood continued the recitation. “Sagacious, expository, infusive, crystalline, asexual and sexual. Those are the six forms of reproduction found within the Kingdom, Citizen Customary.”

Kitpoktik’s eyes were narrow, grim slits. His jaw clenched. “Did you recite all six, Pehzpersist? Yes, you did recite all six.”

The Earl sat back down, and received the puzzled amazement of his fellow aspirants with a gentle smile. Kitpoktik whirled to the blackboard and returned to the review of biologies.

Fazgood thought, [Your biology studies have given you great advantage, squire.]

[Thank you, my liege.]

Calzjha glanced over, her look of haughty Foofaloof affirmation, followed by an annoyed, knowing Calzjha frown. The Earl suppressed a smile.

[This is the third time the customary has called upon me this morning. Has our customary decided to find reason to have me evicted?]

[Perhaps if you hadn’t dozed through all the classes, my liege.]

[I doubt I’ll be sleeping this morning. Kitpoktik was never this interesting before.]


“Yes, customary?” he blinked innocently.

The customary’s face pinched from concentration. The Earl knew Kitpoktik was looking for any sign of note-glancing or Foofaloof-prompting.

“What,” said the customary, “ is the school leaving age of the eight races?”

Fazgood kept his gaze even and unblinking, straight into the eyes of the inquisitor.

[Have at it! I can handle any customary’s task.]

The Earl rose to his feet, [Do not get full of yourself, Warren. Keep your mind on the subject.]

[Yes, my liege. For Exult fledglings, it is twelve years. For Adactoid offspring, it is after the answering of their Second Question. For Booloob squeaks: the successful recitation of the Plasticising Warble.]

“Customary, for Exult fledglings, it is… (he made to grasp for the answer)…twelve years. For Adactoid offspring: after the answering of their Third Question. For Booloob squeaks: it –”

Kitpoktik pounced!

“Is it the Third Question for Adactoid offspring? It is not! Such an Adactoid should have graduated from guild apprenticeship! Who can answer this question? Khuoro can answer this question!”

Fazgood bowed his head and sat. He did note that his classmates looked upon him with curt nods, satisfied and impressed with his efforts.

[But I knew that!] sulked the weasel.

[If we look too clever, we stand out. We must allow the occasional mistake so to save the esteem of the other students, and avoid the customary’s curiosity.]

[The octopus’s lament, my liege.]

[Indeed,] thought the Earl, not knowing entirely what was meant.

The basket rustled, [To be clever enough to hide so well, yet not have anyone know of the cleverness. From the old Adanikarese poem.]

[Ah! But I knew that.]

[I am sure you did, my liege.]

Fazgood glared at the basket and kept his thought to himself:

One of these days, I really ought to study books.

Then with a snort: But “school leaving age”? Those are not useful questions! How do you pick members of a rival Birqmuir clan from a crowd? What is the best bribe for an Adanikarese petty noble? What salutation will keep any assassin from killing you? What the average citizen learns is a bucket of mud!

After the class was dismissed, the aspirants gathered on the still, sun-bright porch for lunch of cold barley and fish sauce. They squeezed into the shadows along the purple brick wall as best they could and chatted.

Khuro dipped a corner of roots into river water. “Did you see the Cumulid decked for jezr-ji? What fun it was!”

Interjected the husband, “We ran up the Arterial to catch it!”

Both Calzjha and Fazgood’s breath stopped.

Khuoro said, “Last night, we watched it sweep over the Amusatorium. We ran to catch up with it, but it had drifted north and along the canals.”

Others chimed in:

“We saw people playing in the streamers, like they were under a great flower!”

“Do you think it will come out again tonight?”

“We were sad that you were not with us!”

Both Calzjha and Fazgood shrugged off and made half-promises to join them that evening. In the chatter, the Earl started mumbling many imprecations and pleadings to very many gods.


*         *         *


As Fazgood had been answering questions at the customary, at that same time, Obdurate was watching the army lotcaster assemble the sympatile. As she did so, Obdurate remembered what the Earl had told him last night, between smacking lips from the bitter tziembroask:

“The General has confirmed all he can through his lotcaster, without raising suspicion. But he cannot dare ask the lotcaster how much we know. The General has no immediate means of communicating other than through the army.

“It is your responsibility that the General know what we want him to, and no more.”

The symaptile was assembled. Obdurate noted that the leaves in the trees appeared to glow in the sun. He had not noted this the day before, nor how loud the sparrows seemed. He sat upon the chair, his chest tight, and rapped the red wood frame. He moved the hoop to spell his name.

The response: “Greatsergeant. Where is my wife?”

“I have told her you must speak with her. She will not.”

“What did she say?”

Last night, Obdurate had imagined the response to this question from the General. Fazgood thought the response splendid, and Respiration tweaked the words to her style:

“She said, ‘Surely he has greater concerns, or soon will, when the curse is lifted.’”

The hoop thrashed. “What does she mean? Tell!”

“I do not know.”

“You are lying! I can tell you are lying!”

“She said those exact words.”

Which was the truth; Fazgood was very helpful in explaining how a conscience works. Did she speak that actual phrase? Yes, she did. Therefore, it was not a lie.

Obdurate swallowed, his mouth sticky.

But the General would not allow that easy glibness. “You know more than you tell.”

“I do not. I have told all.”

A pause, then: “You do not have to protect her. She is my wife. I love her, and disregard her mistakes.”

“I do not know what you mean.”

“What she has risked, I will ignore.”

“I do not know what you mean.”

Another pause. Heat seemed to pour from the board. The letters seemed like cinders, so much that he expected scorching to spread and set the wood alight.

Obdurate grasped the hoop. “Are you still there?”

The hoop jumped. It slid precisely. “Yes.”

The wind stirred, brushing tiny things past his eyelashes. Was the air above the board wavering with the heat?

The hoop moved in sweeps to land upon each letter, then adjusted upon it infinitesimally:

“I have work to attend to. Let them do what they may. I will be in negotiations tomorrow with the Ijakallans.”

The red frame rapped so hard it shook. The General had ended the conversation.

Obdurate rapped lightly. He looked up from the sympatile. The sunlit courtyard was already warm. Across, along the wall, bramblerose trees stood in the shadows.

The adjutant tried to distract himself, Back home, the diaphenes would be blooming now. Such a touching transluscent purple, one would think that spirits would weep such things.

The lotcaster got up from her seat and unsnapped the sympatile partition with smooth, practiced movements. She glanced at Obdurate, then quickly back to her work. Obdurate realized that though she did not know the dialogue that had taken place, his expression must be very unsettled.

He thought of saying something casual to dispel that impression, but he knew that his effort would make him seem even more nervous.

Certainly, if it weren’t for Respiration, and yes Calzjha, I would be quaking with fear.


*         *         *


Walking into the headquarters of the Scout Brigades, the Earl’s stomach grumbled and seared, as it usually did lately. It was best for many reasons to eat light when he had a plan in play. It was also best to avoid tea, syrups, powdered condiments, any cooked legume, any herbal remedies, inhaled substances of any kind, the wearing of colognes, dangling jewelry, blue eyeglasses, snug-fitting suits, passing any glass without checking reflections, and cursing the many gods who took an interest in him.

Fazgood trotted up the stairs, following Tlezjoy, whose expression was sullen and seething.

“Is your mood well?” asked the Earl.

Tlezjoy said nothing.

“Did you have a quarrel with the Inspector?”

The deputy spat. “Shut up.”

The Earl smiled to himself as he was shown down the hallway of draped alcoves. They walked to a different niche, the one at the end of the hallway. The Inspector waited, alone, his rubbing fingertips revealing his anticipation. He dismissed the deputy with a glare.

“Did you enjoy yesterday’s walk?” the Inspector asked Fazgood.

“It was very educational.”

“Good. See that you learn.”

The Inspector’s voice was sharp, and Fazgood found himself twitching to avoid an anticipated slap.

“I think,” said Mehzadapt, “ that we ought to discuss General Greatsergeant.”

“Indeed,” said the Earl.

“Tell me about how he swindled the Army.”

“He did not swindle the Army. He promised undue influence to a group of Ijkallan magicians.”

“Then tell me.”

Fazgood told the Adanikarese’s favorite method of subverting a new trade partner, but inserted “The General.” He placed General Greatsergeant in the role of the subversive, and invented the Ijkallan government as a contemplative republic (“a bunch of slow-moving dupes”).

“Secret gifts of gold and silver jewelry were made to the General. Well-made stuff. Good value. We, the Foofaloof and I, had the precious metals sold and deposited in an account for the General, who told his wife. But the adjutant found the account, and wanted in.”

The Inspector crossed his arms: “Greatsergeant could have took the money and told the magicians to scram, then had them arrested. The General would have gotten around easier if he had told the Scout Brigades. We would have protected him from magicians for the right price.”

Looking to his shoes, the Earl replied, “He…ah…he has low opinion of the brigades. He is one of those who feel you should be disbanded.”

“Then the General has spent too many years away and has lost his traditions. Let him spend more.”

“He is a paragon.”

Mehzadapt sneered. “Born into such influence! Trusted with a mission to expand the kingdom! He could become Marshall of the Army! Prime Minister!”

“His family,” said the Earl, “is such a sad tale.”

“Who knows what that is about? A melancholy in his blood. His rewards more than compensate for sad sap.”

“But further prying will enrage him more. He’s a general! And a paragon! You shouldn’t treat him so lightly!”

“He has such a low opinion of my kind, perhaps we should get acquainted.”

The Earl puffed. “You would write a letter to him? Speak with him? That would be such a mistake.”

“Are you always so nervous? My deputies tell me that you were a spymaster in the Three Cities.”

“The Xhnar family press-ganged me! I was almost murdered, more than a few times! I got out at the first opportunity.”

“The book tells that you found the Satirist’s spy network and captured his assassins.”

“Ha!” Fazgood leaned close. “Grandfar Xhnar would have you think that. He surrounded me with excellent people, then waved me aloft in public for the assassins to slay. Whoever wrote that book took Grandfar’s word.”

Mehzadapt looked at the Earl in disbelief. The Earl focused his gaze just above the Inspector’s eyes, to give the impression of directly gazed sincerity. Both men knew that the Print Guild did not publish lies. The Print Guilds received carefully-vetted approval for every book offered, from the Public Works and the Royal Family. But the Royal Family were also inscrutable, and made allowances that made no sense until years, even decades later.

The Inspector shrugged and looked Fazgood over. “Leave home and Compact, and that’s what sort of rule you get.”

Fazgood bit his tongue and waited for his words to work on the Inspector.

Mehzadapt asked questions to trip the Earl up, and so locate a lie. But having accepted the premise of the General’s corruption, and being greedy for it to be true, the Inspector had stopped examining the foundation of the tale. The Earl purposefully made mistakes in re-telling the tale, so to make the Inspector feel valuable; the inconsistencies were explained away with other lies that the Inspector found more acceptable. By the end, the Inspector was fuming and distracted.

“Would he let crime run loose?” Mehzadapt muttered. “Would he let generations of our ancestors be devoted, then say ‘Get off our doorstep. You mean nothing to us.’ Ingrate.”

Warned the Earl, “If he was ever to return and assume a role in civil society, he could –”

“If that were to happen, expect the scout brigades to be more organized, with greater respect for tradition.”


“You have shown use today. Go back to your den of traitors and wait for instructions. Return tomorrow and tell me all that you hear or see. Continue checking in with whichever deputy is posted every six hours.”

Fazgood made quick scuttle from the alcove and out of the somber headquarters, lest the inspector add to his new hardship.

“Tell me all that you hear or see.”

Merhiazadapt is changing the phrasing of his instructions to catch me in a lie. Looks like I will be sleeping early tonight. I cannot go upstairs tonight, nor can I discuss plans with the others.

His heart dipped that he would not see Respiration in the dark. In her dim-lit chamber, against the white nightdress, her skin shone like polished onyx. But, then again, Fazgood found it increasingly wearisome to leave the chamber to that young dolt soldier (a well-intending fellow, yes, but all dolts mean well).

How doltish could he be? That method of gathering numbers from the achievements of one’s life, and determining from that information…that is so simple it is gifted. Knowing that could come in very useful; it could be used to bargain with the Cacaphoness or the Xhnar, or even the Emperor, if I needed to buy my way from under a rump.

Fazgood remembered from a few nights ago, from Warren’s perspective, the quick glance of the soldier with both Respiration and Calzjha. The Earl snorted ruefully.

Something for the soldier to remember when he is ignoring his grandchildren.

No. It was no lustful tryst. Calzjha’s race didn’t countenance rampant rutting. All physical touch was meant to be soothing, harmonious and enlightening; Khuoro’s studies were still focused and confident, thanks to the ingestion of Calzjha’s blood and sweat and seed that first night.

Calzjha’s skin is always flawless. Not voluptuous either, but always of kind proportion and this is *why* I always have Calzjha stay male. I do not need that distraction!

It has been so long since I have rutted, I really do not miss it. Not that I did it well when married.

He entered Lanthornmount Square, and decided to find a beannut vendor. He made to sip at a fountain, looked around at the people and the sky, then turned his mind back to the problem at hand:

Mehzadapt has five days until the Magnateship vote. He must win that vote or he will be ruined. What can I give him? I have to tell him everything I hear or see. There needs to be a conspiracy discussed for me to see.

Then the Earl was struck with an idea.

“Gods,” laughed the Earl softly. “That solves a problem. This calls for beannuts and some soup.”

He hastened to vendors and bought lunch.

At the vendor, he noted the scout on duty that day was the one who had deftly picked the toolbag at the Malabar Flats Ferry. The Earl took great joy in forgiving the man, inviting him to chat, and challenging his fortitude to a taste of relish. After a few questions about the Inspector, the man bade the Earl well and went back to his post across the square, his mood much more hateful toward Mehzadapt.

The Earl sat at a bench and brought out his bottle of relish. It was still half-full. He tapped a drop into the soup and stirred, and quickly ate. The heat stabbed his stomach, yet filled him with resolve. The pain also made him angry, which heightened his resolve further. He contacted his familiar.

[Warren,] thought the Earl, [I am under obligation. Note me very carefully, for I must report all I hear or see to the Inspector.]

That worthy’s pity was palpable. [You poor man. What now?]

Fazgood used his pinky fingernail to pick a beannut seed from between his teeth, [I will be at the keep soon. Please tell all not to speak about the conspiracy; I cannot even risk overhearing whispers. I will help Calzjha with the afternoon speech to the contemplators.]

Warren thought, [I will draw Calzjha’s attention at once and convey your messages. Obdurate took a moment and told me of his sympatile with the general this morning. According to the captain, it went very well.]

[Was the captain telling the truth?]

[He truly believes he did well, and concealed nothing. He is nervous, though.]

The Earl chuckled, [It is good for him. Squire, do you still like playwriting?]

[Why…I suppose. We have been rather busy.]

[Sir, I need for you to imagine a scenario with dialogue.]

The Earl provided the particulars of the desired scene and released Warren until late that evening so to craft his wordwork.

Fazgood returned the soupbowl to the vendor and strolled across the square to Greatsergeant Keep. The first of the contemplators had arrived and, as usual, chatted in a noisy knot around the Foofaloof, each looking for an opportunity to step into conversation. No one noted Fazgood’s entrance into the room.

He approached Respiration. “I would like to set the Brumpf up in our room. And I would need paper, water and an inkstone.”

All were provided, and the grateful playwright was set next to the window on a flat trunk. The weasel immediately set his paw into the dish of water, flicked the excess, daubed a finger in the inkstone and set to scratching in tiny print.

Fazgood noted Warren’s thoughts, [Ah! If she says…. No! Then he would say, yes!]

From in front of the closed door, Respiration shook her head. “Such a talented retinue. What does he write?”

“You will know soon enough. Do you have the reports on the Ijkallas?”

“They are beside the bed. Still unopened.”

She sounded as annoyed as he was at Calzjha’s lack of initiative.

“Fret not, I shall help with the presentation today. How fares your morning?”

“Better now that your schedule has opened up. Contemplation is like swimming in deep-water lately.”

“Shall we?”

The Earl tucked the folio of reports under his arm. They walked to contemplations.

After a brief introduction and a chorus to show appreciation, the Foofaloof and Pehzpersist presented themselves before the crowd. Pehzpersist stepped forward and spoke:

“With your indulgence, I grant that I will speak on the economy of the Ijkallas. This subject is more to my knowledge, as the Foofaloof is educated more in matters of the spirit. He had not said as much before, because he is a kind man and did not wish to disappoint his new friends.”

The Earl opened the folio of reports and set them upon a table. He looked directly at the frowning Mezzo-Barritone of the Royal Judiciary and smiled. “I would like to elaborate on this splendid documentation.”


*         *         *


That evening, after the most relaxed dinner since their arrival, the Earl retired early, after the anthem. He brought a small dish of legume stew up to the bedroom for Warren, and mixed some of the favored sauce that came with the box from Adanikar. He entered to find the weasel surrounded by inky papers, and staring intently out the window, oblivious to his liege’s entrance. Fazgood kept quiet, and set the plate beside Warren quietly to avoid disturbing his work. The Earl lay upon the bed and slept.

Later, Calzjha entered. At the appointed time, they roused the Earl, then Calzjha and Warren sneaked upstairs with a sheaf of papers writ upon by Warren. The Earl waited a count of two hundred, then proceeded upstairs.

He opened the door and slipped into Respiration’s bedroom. Around the room, in the conspirators sat in their usual locations, Respiration at the desk, Obdurate on the bed, Calzjha beside him, Warren near the door jamb.

Respiration spoke, as if repeating words from a voice only she could hear, “There…there you are, you wretch.”

‘Yes!” said Obdurate stiffly, staring at the weasel. “We have much undue suspicion direct upon us already. Where do you go in the afternoons?”

The Earl waited for his prompt from Warren, who was playwright, director and stage manager for the production.

[“I was wandering past abodes and a-worksplaces, as is my wont. For I learn more through a-watching than do all the sages through consterned studies thereby.”]

The Earl was then reminded the degree of Warren’s love of language. He suppressed an annoyed mutter and spoke his line.

The other three conspirators looked upon him, stunned by the florid statement. Respiration sucked in her cheeks to avoid laughing.

Said Obdurate, “’I suspect vile treachery!’”

“’I think that as well,’” said Calzjha, primly yet with tense annoyance, “’for I am silly and easily swayed.’”

Respiration took a breath, which shuddered with clenched laughter. “’Out with your truth, you lousy fence. Are you to determine us to the police as your patsies? That’s a magic you will regret and regret hard.’”

“’I’m a soldier. His blood will sluice over my blade with ease.’”

Prompted Warren, [Your threats bore me, as my blade would bore through you.]

Fazgood spoke his line, and actually thought it had a good turn.

“Enough of the prattling,” said the goodwife. “Where do you go? We hired a tail, and he saw you skulking into the scout headquarters!”

The Earl followed the prompts: “I owe grevious indebtedness from fell gambling, as I have told you before. I forestall their action with assurances and small payments. Money would propel us from your society.”

Respiration glanced at Obdurate. “’What of that? Where lies his payoff?’”

From the door jamb, Warren rustled through his ink-scratched papers.

Obdurate translated the thoughts Warren projected. “’Wait…wrong pa –‘“

The soldier smartly bit his tongue to keep from speaking words which would spoil the illusion being created for the Inspector. The performers waited in the dark; Obdurate and Calzjha looked restless and concerned, but the Earl gave them a tiny wave to encourage patience. The goodwife choked down another fit of giggles.

Obdurate looked to Warren and said finally. “’Ah! Let me kill him. Who is going to miss him?’”

“’I would not,’” said Calzjha. “’For I lack any…any depth of character?! Beyond my sensual studies?!’”

The last was added with exasperation.

Respiration took another shuddering breath. “’Shut both your noise-holes! The time has past for any saline-spilling. Where is their payoff?’”

The captain said. “’The banker is giving me grief. He will not give the amount in specie.’”

“’A lowly banker? I will see to him,’” said the goodwife. “’I will crush that little weed for crossing me.’”

The Earl said, “’So I must await another evening? This is not an inconvenience. Your board and larder is more than adequate. But another day in our clutches is another day where all may be discovered, determined, or deduced.’”

Respiration mustered an authentic sneer. “’Go scuff some flagstones, thief. We have business to discuss.’”

“’Why can’t I stay?’”

“’Start scuffing, I said.’”

The Earl gathered Warren and, leaving his rustling documents for Obdurate to dispose of when he departed later, slipped out the door.

In the hallway, the weasel looked up with black marble eyes filled with hope.

[Did it satisfy, my liege?]

[It filled the requirements splendidly, squire. I can go to the Inspector and tell him all I heard and saw, and he will have to believe.]

Wareen nodded happily. [I tried to make Respiration more the boss of the conspiracy, as you instructed before I wrote.]

[Noted and noticed, squire.]

[Ah! Good! I tried to capture the essence of the other characters otherwise. I didn’t have much time.]

[It was splendid. I believe Goodwife Greatsergeant enjoyed her role.]

The Earl peered down the stairs. He began skulking down.

Warren thought, [I thought I saw Calzjha making faces.]


“MAN OF PEACE” by DQD Comedy Theatre, 1994

21 06 2014


written and directed by Michael Goodwin, who went on to write the New York Times bestseller “Economix”.

Another Convert To “The Flesh Sutra”

20 06 2014

On Amazon, Steve Wilson said, ”
The Flesh Sutra carries the reader through very colorful places (not all of them pleasant) and introduces him to some intriguing characters. Although Burke’s style is a bit slow for my taste he creates powerful and arresting scenes that can ensnare his audience. Mixing horror and the erotic is a tricky business and requires finesse to balance the genres, and Burke walks that line carefully so as not to give the reader more shrieks of fear than gasps of pleasure.”
The funny thing is that I feel awkward writing sex. All of the sex is more implied than described. But if people enjoy it, then I’m glad to have done a service.
Have a look and download a sample:



18 06 2014

[The Inspector is having you what?] thought Warren.

From a rickshaw, the Earl watched the bustling Meridian Bulwark Route pass.

[I have to walk the ten miles of the Secure by twenty-hour tonight. I am riding down to the Enthus Gate now to begin. Inform all that I am safe, but that I shall eat dinner as I walk.]

[I am glad of your safety, my liege. The walk will be inconvenient for this afternoon.]


[The contemplators are pressing Calzjha for details of the Ijkallas.]

The Earl grimaced. [You would think that he – she! — she would take just a moment from rubbing people to read a god-poxied army report!]


[Tell her that I will try to communicate some various hints to her as needed. Remind her to stay on what is already known about the islands. Tell her that the Ijkallans are excited about joining the Kingdom, and try to turn it into a conversation about the Kingdom.]

Before the trotting rickshaw driver, the dark brown Enthus Gate loomed. The Earl gritted his teeth and sighed.

[And tell Calzjha to read the god-poxied army reports!]

[Yes, my liege.]

The rickshaw pulled out of the wheelgrooves and onto the sidewalk. The Earl paid the man, who eyed Fazgood’s gritty, blotched hands with distaste and took the coins delicately. Ignoring the contempt, Fazgood looked to his right at Eximus Quayfort, a keep shaped like a mushroom rising from a jetty in the Quand. Before him was Enthus Gate, and to his left, with another sigh, he confronted Meridian Bulwark Route, the direction from which he came. The Route was a paved upward slope the width of four rickshaws. The entire of it was busy with carts, rickshaws and pedestrians, but would soon it would be thick with people.

The Earl trotted to the corner where the Secure ended and the entrance to the Quayfort began. He tapped it and began his walk at his usual brisk pace.

The Route’s course took it along the base of the Secure for most of its length. Every two hundred paces, a food vendor would be positioned to selling to crowds; pickleballs or shimmercake for humans and Exult, or a page of sonnets for the hungry Adactoid. The colors of the city were of the sort found in nature, or at least a very muddy nature found along a river; the people wore duns or browns or yellows or dark blue. The police wore the same maroon as maple trees in autumn. The wall itself was a glittering, granular copper.

Hrikinik had bored Fazgood with details regarding the stone which comprised the Secure . The Adanikarese were greatly jealous of the unique stone. The stone withstood strikes from catapult and Booloob screams without so much as a scratch. Yet if one managed to chip a piece, it felt light in your hand like pumice. It would stay like that for years, decades. But if one attempted to deduce the qualities of that piece through experiment or magic, even closely examining that piece, that chipped stone would collapse into dust. Examinations through proxy, such as having pathetics test and describe that sample, left them with dust.

The Adanikarese were vexed by what they considered a divine practical joke; they called the stone “God-clot.”

That brought Fazgood’s mind to his conversation with Hrikinik, and to the Temporary God seeking the Earl.

He swore to himself in several languages.

The Secure terminated at the Citadel, and beside that was the Terhane Residences. Inside the Residences was the game of jezr-ji, the soul of the Temporary God, and every poxied lotcaster in the province.

Keep alert for those banners, he thought.

The keeps along the Secure were spaced one at every quarter ri. The Earl’s knee started aching again. An ambulatory rumbled and whined past, which made the Earl scowl with jealousy at the gentility, the smartness of such travel.

[My liege, I hate to disturb you at your labor.]

[What does Calzjha want?]

[Calzjha is about to give her presentation. She is quite nervous.]

That is quite satisfying! But no, no, I have to help her! But why? It was being distracted by her testicles that got me – Blast I should have worked alone!

The Earl edged along the sidewalk around a sonorous crowd at a sonnet-stand, [Did she read?]

[She did, but she preferred that I contact you, and convey promptings.]

He bumped into a burping, reciting Adactoid and apologized. Jingling metal rang from somewhere.

[So she didn’t read very much,] Fazgood thought.

[I would doubt it, my liege. Still, I consider her caution to be sensible.]

[Very well. Tell her she should make begin with a recitation and speak slowly. Fluxion! I have to dodge!]


Along the wall, directly toward the Earl, came a throng of clamoring brown jezr-ji players. The red and yellow streamers fluttered in the breeze, caressing all around the banners as they passed.

The Earl noted the good cheer that the players instilled and, with a smile, picked his way across the rickshaw lanes to the other sidewalk. The players passed safely by.

[My liege! She has taken a question!]

The Earl choked, then gritted his teeth and walked faster. [What was her god-poxied reason for doing that?]

[Calzjha is too ready to please others: the question is “Tell us about courtship and marriage in your land.”]

[Tell her to use her own traditions as an answer. Leave out the sex changing!]

Fazgood bumped into an Exult, who squawked a protest.

“Humblest apologies!” the Earl said, and received a ruffled flap in reply.

[She is answering well,] reported Warren.

[Tell her to ask about Rahsic traditions! Then get back on her talk!]

[Yes, my liege.]

Another keep passed. Other ambulatories prompted more scowls. The Earl’s stomach growled. He considered calling out to a distant vendor and passing money and food as he walked by, but all the vendors were crowded. In his blazer pocket was his bottle of relish; he knew from experience that a little Lava-God’s-Revenge would give more life to his step and make him forget his pains.

A crowd knotted in a side courtyard. Unseen, a declaimer’s cadence rose above the crowd. A woman with steely voice cried:


“From the parapet of his besieged manse,

surrounded by the Imperial Army,

surrounded tighter by the Earl’s treacherous subjects,

so shouted the Earl:

‘Do you think you have me? Go slap yourselves!

‘’Twas your treachery brought the army to besiege!

I committed felonies within my Emperor’s tolerance!

You stole without regard!

No jail…”


Voices in the crowd joined the declaimers:

“‘…was built for me, especially not the jail meant for you!’”

The voices cheered and laughed at the Earl’s hubris.

Of course I was clever! Damn it all! I was broke and betrayed! I lost my home! What did I have left except to curse them!

More people stepped from the tight buildings onto the sidewalk, making the Earl stop suddenly and jar his knee. The sidewalk was now bustling.

Fazgood muttered, “She must be getting along well. I haven’t heard from War –“

Then he clenched his mouth shut. Zhazh will notice —

[My liege!]

Fazgood suppressed a curse to that wretched god. [Tell me.]

[“What is the history of your government?” It’s from the Mezzo-Barritone!]

[Monarchy! People understand monarchy!]

[The reports say the Ijkallas are a sort of republic!]

[Fluxion! Convey this to Calzhja! She is to say. “Enlightened thinkers set up laws to live by.”]

[Done! Next!]

The crowd was quickening, and Fazgood limped to keep pace. [“In a time beyond reckoning…”]


[“…the thinkers looked to create a society of peace and understanding. But they knew that dream…”]

The Earl struggled, his pace slowing to tiny steps. [“…required the continued striving of the populace to become closer to the perfection of the all-knowing gods.”]


[“Our Ijkallas grew in peace and plenty, and did not need the desperate intervention of our gods. Our gods have seen fit to guide you to our shores to aid us in this quest for enlightenment.”]

Fazgood waved a hand in declamation, which drew agitated glances from the maids beside him.

[All are very pleased, my liege.]

[Now! Tell Calzjha to suggest that she dance!]

[They accept the invitation!]

The Earl nodded in satisfaction, imagining the murmurings of a contented crowd. Gods, I miss politics!

The crisis in the keep passed. Calzjha performed “The Wooing of The Doe Princess”, which was always pleased an audience. Fazgood found that dance sweet and sopping and too long to finish; he was glad to avoid its performance.

He considered glumly, It is the gummy toast of Calzjha’s dances! How can persons of any accomplishment enjoy it?

Despite his knee, he reflected upon his comparison and enjoyed it.

The Earl passed keep number nineteen-or-twenty, which began the third tier of Harmonium. The route crested and flattened, and his legs were thankful. He began his walk to the Plaza of the Superb.

His stomach tweaked from hunger. The Earl made arrangements with Warren to have some beannuts and bread ready to seize when he passed by Greatsergeant Keep; the nuts would be good to eat while walking, and the bread he had plans for.

He walked past guildhouses and memoriums, noting the guildhall of the masons, whose brick latticed walls resembled a river from one angle, then as one walked, the brickpattern resembled faces of resilient and noble anonymous citizens. He sighted the keep, the twenty-fourth-or-fifth along the Secure.

Outside the keep stood Obdurate. The Earl slowed his pace enough for the adjutant to give a bag of beannuts and a large chunk of dark bread.

Obdurate confirmed that Calzjha’s performance was splendid.

“Would you permit me to walk with you?” the captain asked.

“I would enjoy the company,” said the Earl, “but it is best we were not seen chatting as friends. The lies we’ve told depend upon your public hostility towards me. We will talk tonight.”

Obdurate nodded and bade the Earl an affected, gruff farewell. The timing of such curtness was well. Fazgood spied across the square a short, vulpine deputy, the one who mocked him after being Obligated, watching the soldier’s departure with interest.

The Earl remembered the Inspector’s instructions to register with whichever deputy was observing the square. He proceeded at a diagonal path through the crowd toward the brigade scout. Fazgood waved to the deputy.

The deputy turned his back to Fazgood, as if noting a detail in a demon’s face within Lanthornmount mosaic. Suspecting some mischief, the Earl rummaged in the bag and found a good, flat beannut the size of his thumb-knuckle.

Called the Earl, “Scout Deputy! Hello!”

The deputy was very plainly ignoring him. The Earl rolled the beannut around in his right palm. Fazgood had to keep walking or violate his obligation to Merhiazadapt, and decay even more. He edged one foot ahead of the other, taking the tiniest steps.

“Deputy…Tlezjoy! Is that not your name?”

The deputy turned and walked away to the east wall of the Square, from where Fazgood had come. Fazgood could not reverse direction without breaking his obligation; the deputy doubtless knew this, for he had mocked the Earl as those commands had been made.

The Earl snarled at the cruelty. He sought an opening in the crowd. His hand whipped. The beannut flew through the crowd and struck Tlezjoy on the base of his neck.

Forgetting himself, the deputy wheeled around. His hand fished within his collar. It found the beannut and he looked around in rage.

He saw the Earl through the crowd, thirty paces away.

Fazgood put on an affable smile and waved the bag of beannuts. “I register!”

The deputy pressed through the genteel crowd with apologies muttered through his teeth. He stood in the Earl’s path. Fazgood made his steps even smaller.

“I register,” The Earl slumped into Pehzpersist’s meekness again. “Would you like a beannut?”

The deputy made to smack the bag from Fazgood’s hand. Fazgood snatched it out of his reach. Fazgood continued tiny steps to within Tlezjoy’s breath. They stood, Fazgood’s nose to Tlezjoy’s chin. Fazgood stopped walking.

Said the Earl, “To impede someone who is obligated from fulfilling that obligation is considered unregulated torture. For a scout, that is low treason. Will you call the policeman on the corner, or will I?”

“You have that wrong, aspirant. I do what I may.”

“Ah! I believe you have that wrong, deputy. Please step aside.”

“You would call the policeman? I know enough of your situation that you would want to stay out of the light, bunglerpox.”

“Know enough”. The Inspector keeps his deputies ignorant. Of course he does.

Said the Earl, “I believe your boss would become very upset about any attention drawn to me.”

They stood button against button. Fazgood looked past Tlezjoy’s shoulder. Both of them saw a policeman waving through pedestrians some twenty paces away. The Earl opened his mouth and took a breath. The deputy knew a forthcoming cry of distress when he saw it, and stepped aside.

“It is well!” Tlezjoy grinned. “I meant only to joke!”

Such as it is with bullies. But if there were no crowd, he would have tried to thrash me.

Said the Earl, “One would not think you as a man of humor. You are dead of expression, and I must confess, intimidating. If you will excuse me, I must continue.”

Fazgood proceeded to walk slowly, chin held high, at a slow pace. The deputy joined his walk.

“Did you throw that beannut?”


Tlezjoy looked back to where he had stood when the nut had struck him. “That was a sharp throw. Through that crowd!”


He waited for a gap, then whipped a nut. It arced through the pedestrians and struck the policeman’s hat.

The policeman turned around. With practiced chicanery, both the Earl and the deputy began walking and feigning a conversation. Seeing nobody through the crowd, and not seeing the projectile on the ground, the policeman continued on his way.

Tlezjoy’s eyes narrowed to a brute jealousy. “How can you throw so well?”

“A knack from when I was little. I spent my youth in the wilderness.”

“Ah,” said the deputy. He became thoughtful, as if reminded of something.

“It is in the wrist,” Fazgood showed how his wrist whipped. “Like this. It is not difficult.”

The deputy looked at the hand, but did not emulate. The Earl knew the deputy would try later, when there was no one to see his mistakes.

“Would you walk?” the Earl asked.

“No. I stay here. Off with you, bunglerpox.”

“Then hold to the wall, good deputy. I was about to spread some relish on some bread. But if you’ve no interest in it, that is well.”

“That ghastly stuff!” the deputy walked alongside. “It’s still in my nose from last night!”

The Earl was struck with an idea.

Back in Adanikar, Hrikinik used soul distillations as a party trick. The distillations from maniacs would be slipped into the food of those attending sophisticates, and those who ate would be inflamed with passions or rages. Hrikinik’s parties sometimes ended with the marble floors covered with bodies; whether those bodies were rutting or bleeding made no difference to that eternally bored and callous Prince.

The Earl tucked the bag under his arm, and broke the bread. He gave half to the deputy, then brought out the bottle. He tapped a tiny amount of the viscid yellow stuff on each of their pieces.

Fazgood gestured to a nearby fountain, which they approached. “Note this: the trick is to let your mouth and throat dry through deep breaths, then let it slide down quick.”

The Earl chewed and swallowed. The scorching and scalding scraped down to his stomach. He felt a flush of heat, and the pain in his knee ebbed. He puffed and panted, and the heat ebbed.

The deputy hesitated. “I am not eating that.”

Do I remember how Hrikinik prompted? Yes!

“Your Inspector did so. He said he was the only scout tough enough to do so.”

“How did he do?”

“Gasped and choked, but he took it.”

Tlezjoy grunted at that challenge. He took the proffered bread, took some breaths, then popped it into his mouth. His eyes bulged. He ducked to the fountain.

“Do not drink! You will make it worse! Just let it ebb!”

The deputy choked. “Ugh! But…I…believe it…not as bad…as expecte-e-ed.”

This last came out as such a strangled squeak, the Earl almost laughed.

The man began sniffing, as his nose had started running freely. Sweat popped upon his brow. He grasped his stomach as the bread struck it, but made that he was adjusting the waist of his pants.

Now what would Hrikinik say? “You learn well!”

The Earl slapped the man’s shoulder. “The Inspector underestimated you! But there must be so few times that he is so rude.”

The deputy started, and his face reddened. Fazgood knew what stirred him: the man was under the influence of Fazgood’s hatred of Mehzadapt. At Fazgood’s mentioning the Inspector, the slights Mehzadapt had inflicted upon Tlezjoy from months gone by were now racing through the deputy’s mind.

But his effect would only stay for a few days, with a dose so small. Only I would be permanently affected by a small dose.

The deputy’s eyes narrowed. “People in charge sneer. That is how things are.”

“Does he sneer?”

“He yowls and glares like a wet cat! ‘Keep your council.’ ‘Mind your behavior.’ He gives you a favor and never lets you forget.”

Fazgood nodded with sympathy. “I am sorry I mentioned the tyrant. But do tell him I send my regards.”

Deputy Tlezjoy snapped. “ Send him your own regards! He is in the Headquarters back in the plaza!”

“I am sorry,” said the Earl meekly. “May all be well.”

Fazgood walked away. The deputy stood with grim face and clenched knuckles, casting glowers back to the east, where the Inspector stayed at headquarters.

Ah. It would seem I owe Hrikinik for more than just the ability to smuggle myself.

He quickly considered what had transpired with the deputy:

Did he see the captain waiting with the refreshments? That would not do. The timing was too perfect, and no messenger went into the keep to tell the captain of my impending arrival in the square. The deputies strike me as cruel wretches, but not as fools.

If Mehzadapt asks, I hired a messenger to meet the captain at the keep. That may satisfy.

He walked from the square along the Route, the fire in his stomach causing the pain in his thighs to withdraw. He walked over the breambridges, bridges of infinite sturdiness yet balanced that a single tug on a chain would withdraw them, and he contemplated the pools beneath as he passed over. The shadows drew long across the open lawns. The traffic dwindled to few pedestrians and rickshaws. His thighs and knee began aching again, his aches causing a slow recitation of profanity, but in all he was proud he could still walk such a distance with little warning. The Earl finished the beannuts and licked coarse sea-salt from sweaty fingers.

Ahead was the rose-colored wall of the Terhane Residences.

Should I drop by the Birqmuir embassy and present myself? 

He chuckled at that. He had not rejected the nobility, the touch of godliness, that the Emperor had bestowed upon him. However, a nobleman who a decade ago had tried to start criminal organizations, almost helped start a civil war, then run off without appointing a steward would probably not be welcome.

He walked to where the brown wall joined the rose-colored wall and without flourish touched that corner. He walked back to the route and looked around for a rickshaw.

[Warren,] thought the Earl, [I am done and it is early still. I come home to nap.]

[My liege, find a rickshaw. I imagine you could not walk another step.]

[I would if I have to, squire. Thankfully, I do not.]

Metal jangled. He looked up.

The Royal Cumulid loomed overhead, half-as-large as a keep, casting a deep shadow over the wall. From the huge, fluffy body cascaded long streamers. Shadows of men spiked the top of the great, floating citizen; all of the men jangled metal bells. Around the gliding mass, the Cumulid’s attendant breezes squirmed and flitted, lofting a flock of cackling, flapping Exults.

The streamers writhed down in a path as wide as Lanthornmount Square. They slowly bore down the Route toward him.


He swore viciously all the way back down the Route, the Cumulid drifting happily behind.

Then came the thunder for the sixteenth-hour rain.


*         *        *


From the doorway of Greatsergeant Keep, the conspirators watched the Cumulid drift overhead. In the sheets of rain, the waving streamers waved beneath like a moving copse of young ablewood trees, filling an eighth of the square. Children dashed in and out of the rain and cloth, cheering the lotcasters high above who were huddled under parasols on the Cumulid’s back.

In the foyer on the stairs, Fazgood sat drenched and gasping for breath. Beside him sat Calzjha, who cooed with sympathy over the Earl’s horrid durance. Such was Fazgood’s exhaustion that he had could only wheeze angrily and thrash a wet hand at that show of pity.

“Let me adjust your knee,” said the helpful associate.

“That would sting,” the Earl panted.

“What is that on your cheek?” asked Calzjha.

“Nothing! You would distract me so you can wrench my knee!”

Obdurate turned to them, mindful of the servants. “They are quite determined to have everyone in jezr-ji. The longer they go without finding someone who knows answers, the more demanding they will be.”

Staring out the door, Respiration said, “Soon they would want organized events, where all will be required. They may well just have the city line up and touch the ribbons and interrogate that way.”

A maid watched from the top of the stairs. Fazgood looked to her, and saw tight anger and suspicion. Calzjha wrenched the knee with a loud crack! The Earl yowled.

Calzjha said, “Does it not feel better?”

“But for the sharp pain, it would!”

“Get out of that wet blazer!”

Past the figure of Respiration in the doorway, the cascade was lit by the purpling dusk. She was still and silent. Obdurate walked to her side. Their postures were stiff and straight, like those of the condemned on the dock awaiting the pyre.

The Earl said to them, “Another day has ended just as it should end. All one can do is feed and rest and prepare for the next.”

None seemed consoled by the obvious, though.

“I would clean up and go upstairs to rest.”

With a groan, the Earl rose and trudged upstairs. He passed the grim maid, and went to his room for fresh clothing. Warren snored on the bundle of cloth he had come to use as a bed. Fazgood stepped lightly around his dozing compatriot and gathered his goods. He walked back down the stairs. The maid had left to prepare the public room for the next morning. The Earl shuffled to the washroom and past the desultory group.

She followed the Earl.

“How fare your legs?” she asked tersely.

“A bit achy, but still attached.”

“Your complexion clears, I think.”

“Does it?” He looked at his hands. “Splendid!”

She whispered close. “You would have more to tell us, I think.”

“No, you think wrong,” said he.

“That inspector knew you at the door day-before-yesterday. And you said last night that he had been a smug ape as a child. You say his name as if it scalds your tongue.”

“How much camle-zre did you drink?”

“It is good that I drank as much as I did,” she growled, “otherwise I would think you had foul history with him.”

“I swear that I do not know what you speak of. Tired, tainted ears hear wrong.”

“There is nothing wrong with my ears,” Respiration declared.

Fazgood looked into her eyes, and saw she would not be dissuaded. He looked around the dark hallway, behind her to the bedchamber. “How did you of all people end in this situation?”

“Men with bottles of spirits just seem to complete an evening.”

“No. How did you end in this situation? With the Greatsergeants.”

“I thought I could save a man from his family’s fate. Imagine my surprise. How did you? There was the whole world from which to choose. How did you end here?”

He shrugged. “Fled the city, went upon a quest, helped kill an Abomination, tried to start criminal brotherhoods, was duped into a civil war, tricked a family of wizards into ransoming their castle, angered some gods –“

“I’ll read the book,” Respiration interrupted. “Your shrug is performed as well as a citizen. But I assume you refer to gods in grace with Enthus?”

“Indeed. My customarian would allow me no other.”

“That is good. I have enough risk of profaning my ears by speaking with you.”

The Earl swallowed a laugh. “Perhaps I should carry myself away then.”

“You should. You are gritty, and need a good wash.”

“Good lady,” the Earl smiled. “You have described my essence.”

Down the stairs, laughter echoed against the stone. It separated and trailed into Calzjha’s musical notes and a guffaw barely recognizable as Obdurate. Both Fazgood and Respiration turned to the sound with curiosity.

Fazgood noted the good lady’s expression. “Has Calzjha’s…assistance gone well?”

She was distracted. “Yes. Your associate is so disarming and…candid. It puts one at ease. But you must know that intimately.”

“No. Truly.”

“That is surprising. In your associate’s current…guise, it is supposed men would adore someone so exotic.”

“My associate knows very little of the world, and has very little sense.”

Said Respiration, “Most men would find that appealing as well.”

“What of your captain? He is enthusiastic.”

She noted that change of subject, then her expression warmed. “Yes. He is.”

The Earl laughed.

Respiration’s mouth opened in amused shock. She struck Fazgood’s arm. “He is enthusiastic in all things. He is curious about the world, and loves much.”

“He seems awkward.”

“The army does not tolerate awkwardness. He simply is curious about the world and cannot wait –“

More laughter. Both Fazgood and Respiration turned, their expressions pinched.

“I shall speak with you later,” Respiration walked to the stairs.

“Yes,” Fazgood stepped to follow, then seeing the situation would be well modulated by the good lady’s presence, he turned back to his room. He did take a glance back to watch Respiration’s back as she descended the stairs. She was strong and handsome.

It was much later that evening, when all had gone to bed and risen again, and all had set aside their deceptions of the day, that they whispered freely in the hot, close dark of Respiration’s bedroom. All events of the day were shared, except Fazgood’s conversation with the deputy. Calzjha was congratulated for her deft performance, though all suspected the Mezzo-Barritone seemed dissatisfied with the answer he received. Fazgood swore to Calzjha his aid in developing more convincing lies for the next contemplation.

No one needed to speak of the jezr-ji. It would need only a few of the contemplators, or a few of the customary class to be touched by those streamers, and the Temporary God would know of two strangers with a animal of unusually conscious demeanor.

All sipped their drinks. They found that a sip of caml-zre made a following sip of tziembroask more palatable.

“I do wonder,” said Calzjha, “what the general is thinking.”

Said the Earl, “It does not matter what he thinks. It only matters what options we leave him. For example: tomorrow’s sympatile.”

Respiration sighed with dread. “Yes.”

“You will not go.”

All were surprised.

The Earl elaborated, “Obdurate will tell the General that Respiration refuses the General’s request.”

The adjutant laughed with disbelief. “No one says ‘no’ to General Greatsergeant.”

“I must have powerful confidence to disabuse him so,” the goodwife said.

The Earl smiled at her deduction and nodded. “The adjutant will have overheard the Foofaloof saying that the lifting of the curse is at hand.”

Even Warren at the door turned at that raising of the stakes.

Calzjha gaped. “What would he do?”

Obdurate put his arm around Respiration. The weight of that dusk’s jezr-ji bore upon them more.

Fazgood found cold in the pit of his stomach and swallowed the remainder of his tziembroask. “Are we certain that the General has no means of communicating secretly to another in the city?”

Obdurate shook his head. “There is no means of communicating other than through official dispatch, and those take days to be carried by instructed breeze. Weeks by ship.”

“He has no other sympatile at hand? No spirits at his call?”

Respiration looked to the Earl closely. “If he had such means, he would have boasted to me long ago.”

“Then we begin. Remember: you will be free, Respiration. Obdurate, you will have your lady. The kingdom will be safe.”

The referenced lady thought aloud. “We must all improvise as Calzjha had.”

“Before a greater audience,” said the adjutant. “but for how long?”

Not much longer, thought the Earl.

I Wrote A Novella That Has A Penis Monster & A Living Ball Gown

17 06 2014

And it sold!
Thanks to Raechel Henderson at Eggplant Literary!

A Great Amazon Review For “The Flesh Sutra”

16 06 2014

From Cynthia: “Two days flew by as I was pulled into a new world.”

Read the erotic horror that Jason V. Brock and the editors of Pseudopod have called “genius”.


Sunday Video Flashback: “The Drawing Room” with DQD Comedy Theatre

15 06 2014

with Steve Mamlin and Candace Karch


11 06 2014

In the morning at the barracks, Obdurate awoke early in a wonderful languor. His exercise in the yard was sharp yet relaxed. The adjutant charged to work. His first task was to thrust a note to a messenger and commanded it go to the Terhane Residences.

The note:

    A confidential message must be sent to General Greatsergeant immediately. I am sole entrusted with its conveyance. Also, are lotcasters now allowed to leave the residences for job-related tasks? I would not ask, but I have from a reliable source that the Scout Brigade lotcaster was seen last night in the Foreign Due.


He knew response would be swift. Obdurate knew his reputation: Even-tempered, so serious Army Adjutant-Captain Obdurate Childteacher never asked for help and never turned away someone in need. A pleasant, quiet, serious sort with his head always over his desk, but always forgiving of honest error. The army representatives in the College would believe him without question, and scramble to inquire.

The answer returned by the same messenger child; the girl told him an appointment time for a sympatile session at mid-day, and a polite statement that the lotcasters were still restricted.

He stepped from his office and caught a rickshaw to the Plaza. The jingle of a jezr-ji banner caused him to peer, but the lotcaster ran on the far side of the street in the opposite direction, red ribbons streaming far away. Obdurate’s mind wandered to the night before. His newly-tuned nerves kept doubt far from his heart.

At a quarter-hour before the session, he arrived at the courtyard in front of the Terhane Residences. The first scattering of tiny leaves gusted across the small, rose-quartz plaza. Over the wall to his left the bowl of the great Royal Citadel, to his right the simple, rippled roofs of the quarters housing foreign ambassadors; Birqmuir’s ambassador resided in the large ivy-covered one in the center. Beyond those, fat in the striated sky, the cumuloid glode, pearly fins open and sphincter-funnels barely visible in the billows of cloud-like disguise.

Within the courtyard, the army lotcaster stood waiting, her eyes distant and breathing deep, already preparing the trance to facilitate communication. The thin, lacquered case of a portable sympatile table slung over her right shoulder. Obdurate and the lotcaster nodded to each other, and they waited until the proper moment, when the lotcaster felt moved to begin.

In smooth, sharp movements, the sides of the case detached lengthwise and legs dropped into place to create seats. The middle of the case was turned sideways, and legs dropped to form a central table.

A frame as for a puppet theater was folded up at mid-table and snapped into dovetailed slots. One side of the partitioned table-top slid away to reveal the layer of white inscribed in black with letters of the Rahsic Unified alphabet and simple words; this was common to all sympatile. This table had a sympathetic twin; the same tree supplied the wood for both, the same vein of copper supplied the metal, the shape and arrangement of the letters and words was unique to the two sets. The twin table accompanied the General wherever he shipped, and behind which the General sat at that moment.

The table cover slipped upright into the mid-table frame to form a partition, leaving a thin gap at its bottom. Obdurate sat at the side with the white tiles. The lotcaster sat at the opposite side, her gaze hidden from the messages to be conveyed in the tray of tiles.

The two sat. She pushed a thin copper rod under the partition. The rod was tipped with a hoop of red glass. The hoop stopped in the blank space at the center of the words and letters. Obdurate heard the lotcaster humming a deep and sonorous tune, the tone descending lower and lower, until her voice began to croak.

Obdurate’s seat tingled, as if someone else was infringing upon him to move over.

The lotcaster rapped the tray.

Obdurate drew his finger upon the hoop and guided it to the letters to spell. The tiny hexagons and triangles flipped along his finger’s path, leaving a trail of red. He knew at that moment, weeks away by sail, the General sat at the twin of this sympatile device, and watched as letters traced across the twin’s face.

Obdurate spelled “Childteacher.” He tapped the frame to signify his completion.

The hoop slid across and spelled in bold, strong strokes. “Greatsergeant.”

The adjutant gritted his teeth. A chill drifted up his veins. He wrote:

“Wife cuckolds.”

He waited.

The hoop shifted, and within the slow, steady red hoop. “Impossible.”

His heart pounded. “It is certain.”

The conversation proceeded:


“Man says to be from Ijkalla. Heard man say he is magician.”

Cold panic sluice through Obdurate’s stomach.

“Perhaps I am wrong,” the adjutant wrote, aware of his weakening, wanting all of this to be over, to be in his office coordinating numbers, wiser and wiling to live a life of routine lunches and shrugs.

The hoop remained still. The General’s presence burned in the air, as if he stood over Obdurate’s shoulder. When Obdurate blinked, he saw Greatsergeant’s thick-browed and piercing eyes, his engraved smile. The adjutant felt the slamming of the General’s shoulder claps. These impressions were part of working with the sympatile; some eight weeks voyage away, approximately south-by-southwest, the General could sense Obdurate’s presence.

In slow and deliberate letters, came this: “There is more. Tell.”

What am I to do? What did the Earl say to do?

“Admit truth to hide a lie.” How?

He remembered the night before, watching naked, newly-breasted Calzjha kneading Respiration’s feet.

The lie seized him, and Obdurate wrote. “Man is not from Ijkalla. Mysterious. Claims to be magician. There is affection.”

Oddly, relief spilled over him. Respiration and Calzjha were fond of each other, even when a man Calzjha chatted with Respiration as if they were fellow students of a esoteric science. And he did know that Calzjha was as not from Ijkalla, to say nothing of having ri of exotica within.

“Who of all thinks as you?” wrote the General.

“All admire your wife. I could tell none.”

“Sensible boy.”

Anger flashed at the familiar contempt. His finger jabbed the hoop:

“More. Heard stranger tell wife he will break curse on keep.”

As soon as he wrote the words, he felt sweat prickle like hot needles on his brow and limbs.

Steady sliding: “What does he mean?”

Throw ignorance and questions.

“I do not know.”

The heat became a boiling. Obdurate suspected, strangely, that the heat was not his own.

Is the General…afraid?

The adjutant felt a shift in the General; a withdrawing into contemplation. Obdurate resisted a rising hope.

A lighter touch to the hoop now: “Tell her of my regard. Bring her tomorrow so that we may speak. The same time. Done.”

It took all of Obdurate’s will to keep his fear at bay. “I will. Done.”

Obdurate made arrangement with the lotcaster for another session the next day. He bade good-to-all and departed, heavy with worry.

How am I to have Respiration subjected to this? What are we going to do?

What spying could the General receive to determine my lies? Messages by ship would take weeks to be received. A magician or Cumuloid could compel a breeze to take a message, but that would take days to get to the Ijkallas. Would the General trust a magician to send a risky message through the spirits?

At the end of the hall, before the sunlit glass of the door, he paused and took a breath. He walked through the courtyard, still bent with thought.

Obdurate considered. No. I do not think the General would delegate the most vital task of his life. Nor would he risk exposure by entrusting himself under the scrutiny of a lotcaster or magician. They could uncover the deeper secret, and he knows that.

He looks to worm the truth from his wife! Find inconsistencies in our stories!

He walked out the rosebrick and quartz gate and down the latticed brickwork walk to the Aortid Boulevard.

A thought! The General could send a dispatch from the Ijkallas for public consumption, in seeming innocence, that would put to a lie all of the Earl’s fancies of Ijkalla (the Foofaloof? What sort of name is that?).

But…an exposed and imprisoned Foofaloof might tell of the Greatsergeant curse to any who would listen.

The General is stalemated.

This realization gave cause for a moment’s relief. At least the next few days were safe. His insides still felt like ice.

Is this how the Mad Earl spends his life? Delays and respites? The constant spinning of confusions? A few days’ safety per effort? The book says as much.

He felt a fool for even thinking it, but he had to: The book said nothing about being nauseous.


*         *         *


The thick velvet drape pulled back and Deputy Tlezjoy leaned his head into the alcove. “Inspector, someone managed to drag their gritty skin in to see you.”

The Inspector looked up from his dictation, and glared at the familiarity. “Bring him.”

Mehzadapt waved the clerk out of the alcove. The man scurried out as Fazgood slipped in, holding his hat and shoulders hunched. The Earl’s neck and cheeks had the slightest gray dinge; the beginning of Bungler Pox, the physical ruin resulting from disobeying an Obligation.

“Sit,” said the Inspector. “Let’s see your hands.”

Fazgood put his hat on the table and held out his hands palm down. Red blemishes spidered under his skin, two on the back of his right hand, one on the back of his left.

Mehzadapt slapped Fazgood across the face.

The Earl cried out and held his cheek.

A being who is struck shows many things; dismay, then whatever rage or fear is in his heart. The Inspector saw surprise, then a white-hot rage, which was quickly – expertly – caught. The Earl’s eyes showed a whipped dog biding his time, the lesser in life’s circumstance, waiting for a back to turn.

Mehzadapt pointed. “That is going to bruise more than a little, because you decided to have will.”

“What was I to do?” the Earl muttered. “The paragon was there! Am I to refuse a paragon in the middle of the Malibar Ferry?”

“You would sneak from the keep, and stay to my demand, Fazgood.”

Then the Inspector took out a handkerchief and made a show of wiping his hand. “You have dissembled from the Ijkallas to Harmonium. According to some book, you steal entire castles or some such. Yet your nerves go cold on that dock. Perhaps I should just throw you to the police.”

“You said we had struck a deal!”

“Deal? I can cancel the terms anytime I see fit.”

“That would repay you poorly. At this moment, all the paragon and the captain thinks is that I went whoring. If I have deputies around me, Goodwife Greatsergeant will know something is happening. They may do something hasty. That is why I went with them.”

“Now you answer that you look after my interests!” Mehzadapt sneered. “Where could the goodwife and captain hide?”

Fazgood leaned close. “They could themselves go to the police and hope for mercy. That would leave me and that fool I am teamed with on the Royal Road.”

And me with nothing, and ill-will for not turning them in last night. No magnateship, and an investigation from the inspectors.

He put away his handkerchief, his brow tight with contemplation. “So where lay their natures?”

“I spent half the night soothing them, so that they did not think you were on to them.”

“So you did not tell them anything of our meeting.”

“I told the Goodwife that scouts do not like citizen aspirants to gamble in the Foreign Due. She knows I am hard up for money, so she believed me. It was all I could do to assure her. She and the adjutant are gathering money to send us on our way.”

“Did you say anything of the deputies you saw in the Bellflowers? Did you describe any of them to the paragon?”

The Earl looked confused. “I told her that your deputies cornered me and you much abused me. Was I wrong?”

The Inspector’s brow tightened again, He probably let slip about Reedtickle.

“How much money?”

Fazgood told him a figure.

“That is cheap.”

“If you make it too dear, they go looking for help.”

Mehzadapt shook his head. “You have such leverage on them. Why not tell Goodwife Greatsergeant ‘shut up’ and ‘I’m for whores?’”

“I’m going to stand on a public dock and refuse a paragon? She hosts contemplations, and I have to go to customary. I can’t run about doing anything I like. I have to play it out within my role.”

“Yes, your role. What of your ‘foofaloof’?”

“The Foofaloof is enjoying being in charge. I do not trust the Foofaloof.”

The Inspector chuckled. “You always did follow heedlessly as a child. Do you remember?”

The Earl stilled, and became watchful.

“I remember faces,” Fazgood said. “Some names and streets. Beyond that, I lived a life.”

“What a life you have lived that you forget how your mentors died, Earl Fazgood.”

“I remember this city killed them over some quarrel. I remember that I am forever an exile… That is memory enough.”

Mehzadapt examined the bitterness in Fazgood’s voice, and how the Earl caught himself before he became too talkative. Better change the subject.

The Inspector clapped his meaty hands together. “You met our lotcaster. The Booloob who gave your lungs fits? I had a long session with Reedtickle last night. Not one aspect of your tale could be confirmed by lotcasting.”

Tlezjoy parted the drape. Fazgood became wary, the Inspector noted.

Mehzadapt said, “Tell Inspector Akekek that I have our visitor.”

After Tlezjoy departed, Mehzadapt instructed the Earl: “You will relate to Inspector Akekek everything you have told me. You will not tell any scout the names of your conspirators.”

The Inspector spoke the few words necessary to seal the commands and bind them to Fazgood’s fate.

Tlezjoy pushed aside the drape to allow Inspector Akekek her entrance. No introductions were made.

Akekek kept her plughat on her sleek brown crest. “Inform me.”

Mehzadapt set aside her deliberate rudeness. “I referred to an investigation last night. This investigation is delicate. The subject of the investigation concerns embezzlement in the military. Its conspiracy reaches to the highest ranks. I will not discuss the details until all parties are leveraged, and this man is obligated to me not to reveal details. When the conspirators are under control of the Brigades, you will know all.”

Fazgood related the tale told of the previous evening, omitting names, keeping details vague. He omitted Calzjha completely.

Akekek clucked deep in her throat. “The military, you say?”

“Yes, Inspector,” said Fazgood.

Mehzadapt flicked a finger. “Wait down the hall at the corner.”

Fazgood stepped backward out of the alcove and dropped the velvet back into place.

Akekek looked to Mehzadapt. Her hackles rose.

“What is this theater?” she sneered. “I saw his skin: this man is grit and spots. He will say anything you demand.”

Mehzadapt shrugged. “Believe him or do not believe him. All I ask is the full ten days. I will honor all who supported my investigation.”

“The ten days are now six days, Mehzadapt.”

“Six days, yes. Stop any hasty vote that Inspector Mikdoktik demands, and I will insure that you share in the bounty of this haul.”

“What would you with this ‘haul’? It is high treason to extort the army exchequer for a percentage of their embezzlement.”

“I would leverage any minor conspirators for favor in the future; I would insure they were kept from being revealed. The more impressive conspirators I would give the courts.”

The Exult nodded. “How impressive would those ones be?”

“Inspector, your fledglings have heard of them.”

Akekek assessed Mehzadapt’s confident demeanor.

She giggled. “I agree. I invest six days’ patience into this ‘haul’ of yours.”

“There is a haul. It will be had.”

The Exult took her leave. Deputy Tlezjoy peeked in and Merhizadapt crooked a finger to have Fazgood sent in.

The Earl entered and sat. The cramped alcove forced him close to Mehzadapt; there was a tension in Fazgood’s seating as he expected another slap. The purpling bruise was rising on his cheek in front of his left ear. The Inspector slapped his arm around the Earl’s shoulders.

Mehzadapt growled. “There is some discord in Greatsergeant Keep. Last night, the lotcaster discerned that much. And that you and the goodwife and the soldier are conspiring. You have something very important over the General. But no money has changed hands.

“And you have never, ever stepped foot on the Ijkallas. You should explain why the lotcaster found this to be so.”

The Earl’s countenance became grim. He wiped a hand before his face, and gazed at the gray flakes.

He said, “The General leveraged his Army magician to conceal my partner and I from discernment. You know they conceal the movements of whole fleets from magical discernment. To conceal two people is nothing.”

“Ah,” said the Inspector. “But why?”

“We are on the run from the Adanikarese. As long as we stayed by the General, the Adanikarese couldn’t find us.”

The Inspector raised an eyebrow. “So you are aiding high treason, for leveraging the magician.”

“Yes-s-s-s,” Fazgood stared at the table.

Mehzadapt sneered. “You are no longer required to stay with the deputies. Check in with me every six hours. At night, do so by reporting to whoever of my deputies is in Lanthornmount Square.

“Two more items,” said the Inspector. “First: walk the length of the Triumph. Complete the task before tonight’s twentieth hour. Do so without interruption or pause for rest. Do so without aid from any person or device. When your legs ache, remember I can have you do worse. Go.”

He drove home the point by speaking the enchantment into the Earl’s ear. Fazgood gritted his teeth, but said nothing.

The Inspector shoved. “Get out of here. You smell like ashes.”

Tlezjoy had heard, and parted the drape with a vulpine smile. “There is not enough water to wash the Bungler away. Off with you.”

The Earl rose, so angry that he panted. “The second item. What is the second item?”

“You would do best to avoid those fellows charging around with those red and yellow banners. Tell your co-conspirators the same.”

“What?” Fazgood’s eyes seemed to search for reason. “Why?”

“Just do so. That is an order, and you are obligated.”

The Inspector spoke the few words necessary to seal the commands upon Fazgood.

Under his Obligation, Fazgood stalked away.

The deputy jibed. “Rattle those bones quick! You’ll be pink again by sun-up!”

The Inspector shook his head. The Fiery Comet! The Mad Earl! Could he be truly this pathetic? If he falls so easily to me, why should I need Reedtickle!


Sunday Video Flashback: “Brain-Damaged Frank’s Used Cars” by DQD Comedy Theatre

8 06 2014

with Ron Foligno in 1993, I think.