942 Downloads! Be The First To Review!

10 10 2018

The launch of “Fishtown Blood Bath” couldn’t have gone better, y’all!

As of this morning, 942 of you have downloaded the free Kindle book and are racing to be the cool kid with the first review.

At 36,000 words, it’s a quick, rowdy read. See weird vampires, guns, magic, and very nearly the end of the world.

It’ll be an afternoon well spent. Download a free copy now. Offer ends Saturday.


We Are Fashion Meat: A Disquieting Pause

27 07 2016

You Could Cover Your Butt With Your Own Butt! Chuck Tingle Take Note!


In his famous song, not even David Bowie could forsee the newest trend in high-end coverings: Using somebody else!

A fashion student plans to culture skin cells donated by designer Alexander McQueen and sell it as couture.

The artist made this announcement to generate buzz for her vat-grown leather biology patents. At most, she would want to create her Original McQueen for art exhibits a la Body Worlds or the Mutter Museum. This discounts its horrid potential. What is fashion but a challenge to the status quo?

F. Paul Wilson presents a woman who rises to that challenge in his short story “Foet”. Fashionistas create underground couture handbags made from the skin of aborted fetuses. The implication: If aborted fetuses truly aren’t people, then why not treat them as product? The woman overcomes her squeamish morals when presented with the butter-smooth avant garde. Problem: Body Worlds is already making art with volunteer human exhibits. Volunteer fashion wear by Body Worlds should take about twenty years, I think.

In the movie “Antiviral” by Brandon Cronenberg, it becomes fashion to cultivate viruses caught from pop culture performers. When a virus reproduces, it uses the DNA of its host to make new copies of itself. If you catch a flu from Alex Trebek, part of the Jeopardy host is made a permanent part of your dna. Used kleenexes from singers and actors become hot commodities for fans who are the ultimate wannabes. The wealthy and insane will want to spread some love too.

The first vaccines for this affluenza will be for the first outbreak of Kardashian Flu. Sorry, the vaccines will be issued by the CDC, not Starfleet.
“Antiviral” also posits restaurants specializing in food products vat grown from leading pop culture icons. Not only could you eat, drink, savor your fave superstar’s biological flavors, you can choose from different ages. At age 50, Is Bruce Willis tougher than at 20? Can you taste adrenaline in Rihanna before she divorced Chris Brown?
If you bois want to sex up Miley Cyrus, you can! Pleather sex toys embossed with Miley’s DNA arrive in just a few years. I’ll be ordering from the Sasha Grey collection, myself. Grrls can enjoy intimacy of devices with authentic moves thanks to motion capture programming in the devices a.i.. First male celeb with these dna embossed toys: an NBA All-Star, but the genes will be pirated. Or will they? 😉

Patent your genomes now, because the laws are gray and shady regarding who owns development rights to your sequence. Is it you? The doctor who got you to sign something? The company who cultured you into a multi-billion dollar industry a la Henrietta Lacks? Or if someone just happens to find your dandruff, do they get Rights-of-Salvage if those flakes are unclaimed?

Uplifted, uploaded, post-human, trans-human, all flesh is on display, up for grabs, and ready to sell. Be sure to cover your ass or someone will sell it out from under you!

Make Yourself A Whole New You Then Unleash It On The World: A Disquieting Pause

17 07 2016
Your New Self Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

Your New Self Is So Immense It Could Not Fit Onto Your Screen.


As a passionate advocate of growth, I’m always looking for ways to self-improve. Here are some of my best tips which may help your personal journey. Some of them are simple steps which you can engage in immediately. Some steps are more ambitous, yet more rewarding.

1. Read A Book Every Day.

It’s good for your mind and expands your world.

2. Swab The Inside Of Your Mouth For DNA.

Oral hygnene is key to good health.

3. Learn A New Language.

New languages give you fresh perspectives.

4. Clone Your Flesh.

For the highest quality organs, skin grafts, and for posterity.

5. Learn Computational Bioengineering.

To open up  your potential in a growing job market.

6. Optimize Your Genomes.

Use CRISPR to remove genes getting of the way of your higher self.

7. Build Your Bio-Synthoid Army.

You know how your thoughts affect your behavior, which affects others and their behavior?  Be more proactive. Have your thoughts affect the behavior of your own mutant army of Daleks. Watch how the army affects your world’s behavior and eventually what the world thinks of you.

Writing A Light Comedy For My Old Friends Randy and David

6 07 2016

I got back in touch with two brothers I knew in high school, Randy and David. They’ve been living rich, full lives with careers and families and I’ve been Chasing My Muse Lar De Dar.
Back in high school, my nickname was “Exidore” after the character from “Mork and Mindy”. The nickname was quite apt. I was a very wacky kid. I constantly spouted Monty Python, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, George Carlin, Mel Brooks, and all the other comedians from this time the late ‘70s, which was the friggin’ heyday of comedy. I also rattled off character voices, riffed on anything mentioned, and had quite the fast wit. That was the guy they remembered.
So here they were looking up what I had been writing, and I sent them the link to “The Flesh Sutra” which is a study of a dysfunctional relationship in psycho-sexual body horror. To be frank, High-School-Me would have had a morbid fascination with the novel. But I was not one for being into gruesome stuff and had never talked about sex at all.
“Maybe you could write some comedy” messaged Randy, seconded by David.
“You know,” I thought, “I ought to. I should try to get back in touch with that part of myself.” I missed that zany guy I was. That guy was way funny. Surely I can write something in that voice.
I’d burned out my Brit-wit nerve some years ago, no Pratchett or Douglas Adams for me anymore, but I had lots of old Dungeon and Dragons ideas still to work with. So I started writing.
I’d had an idea that the next time I ran in a D&D game I’d try to feed poison to some evil characters and have a dragon eat them. Pretty urgh thing to do, granted, but antiheroes flourish in comedy as long as the people dying are bigger bastards, it would work.
Hmmm. Good antiheroes. Ah! Harry Flashman of the Flashman series! He did some dastardly things and still amused. He’s self-centered and cowardly. Maybe the poisoning is accidental? Nope. Poisoning the adventurers by accident to accidentally poison the dragon is too convenient.
And Kugel from Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth”! Bastardly guy would probably…team up with the dragon. Say, that’s good!
How could he gain the trust of others? Flashman was a sporty and hale looking guy, okay use that. Maybe he’s real young and everyone underestimates him too. He’s an apprentice to a wizard. Not a wizard he kills, that would take away the suspense of being caught by an authority.
The dragon would have to be young, too. Otherwise someone would have killed it already. Okay.
So young wizard makes what…potions? Young potioner, then, and like Blackadder he hates his job and his boss because he’s smarter and more ambitious. So he’s a teen?
Like Beavis from “Beavis and Butthead”? How would he smart enough to make potions? Clueless cruelty like O’Reilly in “A Confederacy of Dunces”? The dragon uses the dope to lure adventurers? Why would the dope keep feeding the adventurers bad potions of fire resistance or whatever. Can’t see that working. The kid and the dragon have to become conspirators.
So he’s callow enough to be maybe sociopathic. By accident, because accidental criminal plots are funny.
OK. The dragon has to be found by accident the first time, otherwise, again, the dragon would have gotten killed way before the story starts. So who’d be dumb enough to wander into a old mine looking for things?
A bunch of aspiring kid adventurers. Why are these kids aspiring adventurers? Because all of society admires adventuring. These kids are the garage band in a culture that reveres adventurers like media stars. The potioner kid wants to be an adventurer too.
The culture is contemporary-ish and the kid is obnoxious. The kid’s name is now “Dagnoxy”.
After the first adventurers are killed, Dagnoxy has to want to kill the dragon. Raise Stakes Number One.
Comes back and feeds group number two the wrong potions. Dragon confronts Dagnoxy. Raise Stakes Number Two.
Negotiates with dragon to bring in groups and split the spoils. Why would the dragon do this?
Because the dragon ate guys who drank a love potion. The dragon is now in love with Dagnoxy.
And so on…
By the end of the draft, Dagnoxy’s killed off maybe a few dozen callow and rude adventurers. Gotten into a tumultuous relationship with the dragon Jilliatrax (I like that name) which yes, had off-screen sex. She is slain by Dagnoxy’s heroes, who turn out to be friends of his neglectful mentor. Facing an odd emptiness from losing the one being who gave a damn about him (and turned out THE LOVE POTION HAD LONG WORN OFF), he sabotages her corpse so her mentor couldn’t sell it for spell components.
By using Vampire Blood. Which turns Jilliatrax into a vampire dragon. She resurrects, promising to reunite later with her lover at an undetermined date.
Mentor is happy to have Dagnox away (lost the “y” to clarify the character is male) and Dagnox pines for the return of his FWB. END.
My writers’ groups beta read and comment. “Is he a bastard or stupid?” “Needs more magic.” My publisher Barbara noted “Show us the pony scene you referenced – I didn’t see it when I read the story.” She is not talking about horses.
I started out wanting to write Blackadder or Ignatius O’Reilly in under a marketable 4K words. I ended up with a 8500 word story about The Talented Mister Ripley murdering a few dozen people and yearning to bump uglies with a new god of darkness.
The market for this story is quite limited. It’s too daffy for the grimdarks, too dragon for the lit-crowd, too murdery for the dragon crowd at “Shimmer” magazine, and not innovative enough for “F&SF” or even “Drabblecast”.
So David and Randy and the kid I once was, have I failed? Dunno. I like the story and frankly have long given up worrying about the state of my muse.
This stuff just happens, man.

Human Gene Cheese: Unsettling Questions

4 01 2015

Read this article! Here it be!


1) What DNA source was used? Yes. I am talking about that.

2) Is this cannibalism, or cannibalism’s newborn cousin “can-nosh-alism”?

3) How the hell is something made from people called “vegan friendly”? Answer: The DNA is from a friendly vegan!

4) Is it cannibalism if the donor is still whole, unharmed, and a volunteer?

5) Imagine its creamy texture? On your tongue warm and rich? In your Four Cheese Macaroni? Have you achieved “eww” yet?

6) If a more highly advanced civilization came and bought the rights to manufacture this, what would the logo look like?

7) Would a generation starship use this as an option?

8) What do you think the “food replicators” have been using in Star Trek? Why do you never see anyone who works in the cafeteria of the Enterprise?

9) If a civilization is uplifted, or goes through The Singularity, that civilization would be “post-food”. Eating would be merely a sensory experience. If nothing is food, then couldn’t anything be considered “a gourmet flavor experience”?

10) Would those people without benefit of Ultimate Technology be considered food for the gods? How long before condos are built in the stockyards?

11) Are there experience-based economies in the universe? How many quadloos to savor a human?

12) Would a person with an especially savory gene sequence have to litigate to retain rights to his recipe?

13) Would the departed by cultivated in tubs to be savored wistfully on a rainy day?

14) What would the bagels be made from?



Reading Ghost Stories As Research

15 10 2014

To prepare for a ghost novel I plan to write, I have read three contemporary ghost stories. “The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters is the most classically gothic, set in a post-WWII English estate. “The Green Man” by Kingsley Amis takes the classical ghost story and updates it to swinging ‘60s England. Grady Hendrix brings the story to post-industrial Ohio to comment on our working world in “Horrorstor”.

“The Green Man” follows a traditionally alcoholic and rakish Amis protagonist as he runs a bed-and-breakfast in developing rural England. The character tolerates his family, drinks huge amounts of scotch, and works to connive ménage a trois with another man’s wife. He is turned into an anti-hero by his biting observations and the unsettling death of his father.
The B&B setting is haunted by a 17th century sorcerer. The protagonist’s obsession with the apparition drives the story to an end that’s more contemplative and less chilling. It’s an examination of death rather than the dead.
The book itself is only worth examination. The sorcerer is intriguing but Amis gives no thought as to what powers his work. Plot threads dangle and sway in the wind.
I found this useful only in how well Amis works with realistic characters.

I read “Horrorstor” all the way through in one sitting. I’ve enjoyed Grady Hendrix through Pseudopod.org’s readings of “Tales of the White Lodge Street Society”, farces in which a Carnaki-like adventurer spins tales of ghosts, booze, money, and racism. Hendrix also writes a very funny weekly takedown of CBS’ “The Dome” for Tor.com.
He brings his mix of morbid humor and social commentary to “Horrorstor”, a ghost story set in a furniture store styled like Ikea. As a ghost story, it owes more to Stephen King than M.R. James, with awesome effects over suspense.
I work in a Big Box store and sympathized with the young protagonist Amy in her retail job, dealing with customers, the cost of living, and corporate culture. In its own way, this book was its own cutthroat retail operation.
To keep the plot moving, Hendrix cut character development to the bone. For the plot to be plausible, he eliminated resources like custodial contractors, Asset Protection, and lighting to assist surveillance. To serve both humor and horror, the story effectively had two endings in which the villain is defeated but the innocent still suffer.
I’d like to be funny, chilling, and socially aware when I write. I like this book. It had some laughs and a few chills.

I learned that I want a conclusive ending and to keep as close to “real” as I can get. “Conclusive” can be tricky in the Gothic tradition, where hauntings could be ghosts, or hallucinations, or psychic projections onto reality. “The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters uses artistic sleight-of-hand on the reader through limited and sometimes unreliable POV. A young man come of age in the shadow of an English estate, studies to be a doctor, and becomes physician and confidant to the estate family. The war has shattered the soul of the heir. The matron mourns a child long deceased. The independent daughter feels stifled by tradition. The house is falling into ruin. Who is setting the fires? Who is scribbling childish phrases in the most unlikely places?
Sarah Waters researches the hell out of her subjects. Her descriptions feel lush and full without slowing the plot. The suspense alone was enough to get me through the 500+ word novel, the first one of such length I had read in years.
From this book, I learned a couple of neat phrasings, and reinforced the idea of “adverbs should be placed after the modified verb, if they must be used at all.”

Overall, I think I gained only some focus through reading these novels. I discovered I want a conclusive, objective force powering the supernatural events. I gained a better sense of how to balance description and action. I still want to experiment with anomie versus physical isolation, and see if I can pull off the trick of “things walking in broad daylight”. I’ll be reading Peter Straub next, I think, and see what I can find.


8 10 2014

“Write your own magic system.”

That’s what Darryl Schweitzer told me years ago, after I had submitted a pretty egregious Lovecraft pastiche.

“If you do not get the details right, someone will make note. That adds an additional burden to your tale.”

That last part was a paraphrase, but I believe I captured the spirit. Maybe I even invented that part because I have learned that to be true: with a pastiche, the best you can hope for is building something impressive in someone else’s sandbox.

I’m young enough and egocentric enough to think I can do a good job on my own world building.

Mind you, when a writer is starting out, a writer MUST study and model the style of their favorite writers. But there is a difference between (to use a music reference) Brian Wilson studying The Lettermen and making their style into a new sound, and Noel Gallagher doing the same to John Lennon and making 2nd rate John Lennon.

A style comes with talent, practice, and aspiration. No writer can control innate talent. Writers can put in lots more practice and get plenty of rest and study other works to improve.

Aspiration is a whole ‘nother thing.

How distinct do you want your work to be?

How much of your own voice, that secret and heard only by yourself voice, is in your work?

Does your idea remind you of someone else’s idea? What new twist can you bring to that idea? A twist that gives you a thrill and makes you say “cool!” and “I’m not sure anyone else will like this.”

Does a character you write remind you of something you’ve read or that distinct person you know personally?

By writing your own world in your own voice, I believe you add to the dialogue of civilization. Your work can be both enjoyable to write and also challenging to yourself and to your reader. Editors tend to like stories that are different and provoking.

For the record: read and write whatever you want. Also, there are far better and more accomplished writers than me who write pastiches. One of my favorite stories is “A Colder War” by Charles Stross, a Lovecraft political parody.

But when one of the foremost Lovecraft scholars told me to swing for the fences, I’m inclined to listen. As a result, my writing experience has been more rewarding for me, has better impressed editors, and has gotten enthusiastic response from readers.

I Have A Goal & It’s Boss & Challenging!

26 09 2014

It is said among the writers that one could make a living if one has ten novels in print.
I’ve done research and found writers who have made that work.
Why them and not me?
I will write six novels in the next three years. Each novel will be from 50K – 80K words. So, a half million words in the next three years.
I am outlining three novels right now. I’ll let you know how they are going.

Novel 1: Haunted House Big Box Store
The alienation found in haunted house stories like “The Haunting of Hill House” can also be generated through anomie, or being lost in a crowd. I already have jokes in here. I will be using experiences gained through my part-time job at the Big Box store.

Novel 2: Real Politik Black Satire Fantasy Fiction
Set in the world of “The Mad Earl’s Homecoming”. The main character is an anti-hero who is part Elric and part Blackadder.

Novel 3: “Sour Crude Dead”
A new take on post-apocalypse zombies. The first chapter is done and I hope to sell it as a short story.


27 08 2014

The rickshaw driver set his harness down with a clatter of wood and came around behind his vehicle; he was a large grim man, shoulders surprisingly round for his job. He held up his hand to block his sight.

He said, “I do not want to know a blessed thing of this. Not one blessed…”

That voice!

The Earl felt Calzjha startle as well.

It was the ward captain that Fazgood’s sister had prevailed upon.

And behind the ward captain’s rickshaw, there waited two other rickshaws. Both had drivers were grim, and unusually well-dressed for their task.

The rickshaw’s drape pulled aside, and in simple housewife dress sat Fazcelestial.

She hissed. “Put him in, dolts! Stand close with that other dolt and keep gawkers away! Keep the blanket on his head! Fazgood, this is just like your mess in the Three Cities! Could you not destroy a place where I live, just this once?”

Fazgood was lowered into the seat beside his sibling. He could see her hands unrolling a fresh cloth bandage. The Earl felt a scrabbling in the floor by his right foot. Poked under by his feet were black eyes wide with alarm and glistening with tears.

[Oh! My liege! Your legs! Oh!]

“Never mind me. The Dropsy is dead, and the Inspector is dead, and ruined as well. But the General is rampant.”

“Be out of the way, weasel!”

[I am sorry, Goodwife! The General is not captured? Surely he would be long away from here!]

“He is not –“

Calzjha whispered from outside the drape. “Fazgood, you did not say that you had contacted your sister.”

[The Earl did not want that known, in case there were problems.]

Salve slathered on his legs; even as the touch stung, the burns cooled.

Again Calzjha: “Goodwife, how did you know to bring medicine?”

She began wrapping the Earl’s right thigh and hissed loud. “I tell you, doxy, that I have tended to my family’s headlong flights since I was a girl. Stay with my brother and you will stitch an army.”

Came a cautious whisper from the left side of the rickshaw. “Will he live?”

“Is there anything we can do?”

It was Obdurate and Respiration.

Fazgood slapped the bandage in frustration then held back a shriek. “Does no one pay heed to any plan I make!”

He pulled the blanket from his head and saw Respiration’s head not a hand’s width away. “We could not stand to leave without knowing your fate!”

“Our fate,” grimaced the Earl at more salving, “is still uncertain until we step off the boat onto a new shore! As for now –”

Over the calls of the crowd came:

“I knew you!” the voice resounded.


Fazgood flung the blanket from his head and tore away the drapes. Between Obdurate and Respiration, he could see the tall form of the General advancing through the parting crowd. His stance, his voice were all nearly like the man who so moved the crowd in Greatsergeant Square. But his shoulders heaved with desperation. His eyes showed wide with frenzy.

The General mocked. “Captain! Adjutant! I realized you were to be conspiring! Yet, captain! You were the one with my wife! Think you could keep this from me?”

Respiration called, he still several steps away and outnumbered. “Say nothing, Allotropic! Why cause anymore harm?”

“You betrayed me for a number-mop! You would have ruled with me, and you gave it up for a clerk! How the ages will remember this moment, wife! How I will relish your misery!”

Obdurate had enough, and the blood of the fight within the keep was still roaring in his veins. He stepped in front of Greatsergeant: “Traitor! You would murder the city! One word to the Royal Family would have stopped this destruction!”

Greatsergeant sneered. “It belongs to me! To me! My family died keeping that secret for me! So that I could rule!”

“They kept it,” called the Earl, “so that they would not lose their position, you puppet-show!”

He pointed at Fazgood, bandaged and immobile in the rickshaw. “Do you think to sweep me away, broom? Oh no! I will sweep all gone!”

Fazcelestial spat. “A general! Can you never anger someone simple!”

“I would not have caused this!” Greatsergeant continued. “It is my wife who brought this upon this city! I would have ruled all whole and flourishing! Now, what is left for me but to tell all the truth? You have destroyed all! Let that be upon your souls! And wife, I want to watch your face as I tell all and destroy the Compact!”

The Earl tried to rise, but his legs gave out.

“Make way,” he hissed. “I need a straight aim at him! Sister, have you a knife!”

Greatsergeant looked to the curious crowd creeping down the street toward them. He turned and thrust a finger at the keep.

He said to them. “Oh! How I will tell you good people about that man, my grandfather!”

Obdurate looked back to the Earl, and saw the man tearing apart the rickshaw to find sharpness anywhere.

“Listen, all!” Allotropic cried to the crowd, the trees, the sky, the spirits. “What my grandfather accepted for his victory at Lanthornmount –“

A fist cracked against his jaw!

Obdurate punched again! The General fell to the bricks! Obdurate fell upon him, his hands around Greatsergeant’s throat! Surprised by those two blows, Greatsergeant fought back. The men wrestled and struck.

People dashed forward and seized the captain.

“No!” cried Respiration to the people. But no attention was paid to her; the captain’s hands were pried from the traitor’s throat and he was dragged from the fight.

Calzjha and Respiration pressed into the crowd. Fazgood could not see and struck the rickshaw in frustration.

Where are you, you damned Royal busybodies?

Hands held back Respiration. Calzjha pushed and pressed, but made no headway through the well-meaning civilians.

Allotropic Greatsergeant rose and pushed assistance away. “I will tell! My grandfather! My grandfather –“

Spoke a voice fluid and melodious, “You spoke of ownership for something distressing. As you are such a good friend to the nation, I fetched from far Alpia for you!”

Beside the General stepped a figure in a brown robe. A small, glittering blue hand seized his. The hood pulled back to show a tall, slender youth.

His hair was thick black waves, and his eyes shone black and piercing as if only through great concentration he could see before him. He looked like a Human boy, but his skin was the lightest blue.

Who did not recognize from their shrines their quarter-divine Prince Thousand-Eyed Storm? All in the square who saw him fell to their knees.

At last!

And of what the Prince said? Alpia was over a week’s journey away. The Royal Family could move through the spirit world as one walks through doors. From over a thousand miles away, the Prince had heard the General’s boast and stepped as easily as if from across the street.

General Greatsergeant puffed with amazement and defiance. He wrenched at the seeming fragile grip, but was held fast as if by iron. “I will tell! They will know!”

The Prince’s voice was like a small child speaking from under windchimes. “I do not know what it is you would tell, but as one of your sovereign, I should have first privilege to hear. Let us go to privacy, for however long that should take.”

The General’s anger drained into pale desperation. He knew the Royal family did not reckon time as mortals did, and that his time among mortals was now over.

He yelped to the crowd: “That demon! That mask –“

“Be at ease!” and the Prince whispered a strangely resonant coo. Greatsergeant’s voice stopped in his chest and choked his throat.

Prince Thousand-Eyed Storm brought Greatsergeant’s hand down and pulled to lead him. The General took faltering, hesitating steps forward, but he followed. He looked to his wife, but her eyes were averted and tearing with pity and rage. Fazgood glimpsed him before the Earl too dropped his gaze; the General’s eyes were saucers of horror.

Despite his loathing, the Earl felt a chill at the sight: Wherever the General could possibly be sent, he would be without army or aid, without status or command, perhaps even without physical form, for who knew what happened to those quarantined by the Royal Family? Any future that Allotropic Greatsergeant had was now cold, quiet, and obediant. He would be nothing, yet brought lower still for his memory of his insane aspirations. He was being led to his special Hell.

The crowd parted for the Prince and his horrid charge. The demi-god and the pariah walked until they were lost to sight.

So passed the mortal existence of Allotropic, last of the Greatsergeants, paragon family of the Kingdom.

The fire in the keep still flickered, but smoked in thick black plumes; the water was dampening its fuel.

Fazgood went back to the bandage, and tucked away the remainder at his toes, [Where do we go, squire?]

Stunned, Warren gave the instructions.

Fazgood nudged his dazed sister: “Bandage me, you!”

Fazcelestial gawped at his efficiency even in the extremity of the incident mere strides from them. “How… how can you be so fixed…I do not want to know. Get out of my city.”

Hands trembling, she resumed bandaging.

[Did you know] Warren wondered, [that the General was going to confront his wife here? That the Prince would come in time?]

“The General was to have been silenced in the square by Public Works, but he fled. The secret route of escape is the first place he would think to go. He knew I had no intention of dying. Do you see why I plan? Does anyone see why I plan? Then why do they not listen to my plans?”

“Shut up,” said his sister.

Obdurate struggled up from the still-cowering and bowing throng. He held his hand under his armpit.

Said the Earl. “At least that was well-punched, captain.”

“I think I broke my hand,” said the officer.

Said his love, close behind. “You saved a kingdom; do not expect pity and praise.”

Hearing his craft mentioned, Yet-More-Muscular twitched into the circle. “How is it – I do not mean to interrupt, but…how did you know I –“

Fazgood gathered Warren to his side and waved the rickshaw driver to his place. “Who else knows those details, but not the important stuff? And can write in Rahsic? And has trust and influence enough to be given leave by the guild?”

“Im – important stuff?” the brother-in-law’s eyes widened.

“Do not even think of asking me a question.”

“No. I will not.”

“Away with us!” said the Earl. “To your rides! We need distance and water under our feet.”

The others scrambled to the other near rickshaws, pulled by other guildsmen who Fazcelestial must have had mighty leverage upon.

“Go!” that goodwife snapped to the hapless driver, the ward captain.

He was quite energetic for a large and older human.

When comfortably underway, Warren wriggled under the Earl’s arm, [If I may, my liege, it makes me very happy. I have always thought of the Earldom as home.]

“Indeed. I know you missed it. Some pretender has claimed my land? Let us hope they have plenty to drink in the cellar, because when I arrive it is all mine.”

The rickshaws passed along streets bustling with pedestrians. Snatches of chatter sprang though the whirr of the grooved wheels:

“Such a tragedy!” “All in the keep were lost!” “None was left of the Inspector but a hollow Harmonite shell!” “General Greatsergeant was led off by the Prince, what of that?”

Almost at their peak above the bowl of the citadel, golden Rezhalla had almost caught little red Minque, it seemed; however, even children knew that only happened once-in-more-than-a-lifetime, and this was no such celebrated night, and so Minque would elude yet again.

The richshaws traveled far round to the north side of Harmonium, and over the bridges of canals. They disembarked from the sullen, leveraged rickshaws and stepped into others drawn by men who did not bother to see their passengers, who only took the money from Yet-More-Muscular’s hand and took the passengers to the Customs Houses.

At the docks of the Customs Houses, they found the Blue Swords: a fenced compound whose gate allowed them entrance. The rickshaws clattered inside the fence and the gate secured. A young embassy underling extended the ambassador’s regrets at not being there in person, which Fazgood saw fit to snort at despite his pain. The passengers disembarked. The Earl rose to greet his sister for their traditional farewells:

“Stay away from my city, brother,” she said.

But this time, he replied. “This time, sister, I promise I shall.”

Fazgood put arms around Fazcelestial, who sighed with annoyance and gave a perfunctory pat.

He gave his brother-in-law a vexed half-wave and was carried by Obdurate and Calzjha to the waiting merchant bark. The silent crew of tall, red Birqmuirish untied the ship. A river whale towed the craft until the wind caught the sails. Once at sea, the sailors spoke in whispers, but demanded no lights be lit.

They also claimed no tzeimprhoazk was on board, but the Earl beseeched as a man injured in battle against lout scout brigades, that the Imperial Blue Book did state that all men wounded by evil should be given charity. A few choice reminisces of beautiful nights in the fjords of Meilentach and of heroic families, and tzeimprhoazk was brought out and shared.

Calzjha never left the Earl’s side. Her slim form was never more than an arm’s reach, helping him stand, steadying him, taking the bottle when the pull went too long.

“Such dedication demands reward,” slurred the Earl.

“Does it,” Calzjha licked her fingers and wetted her eyelids to stay awake.

“You are promoted from the rank of ‘bodyguard.’”

She leaned close, and the most profound skepticism broadened her brow. “What is my…new title?”

“You are now ‘Chief Warden of the Earl’s Wellbeing.’”

Calzjha blinked. “What does that mean?”

“It means that when we gain more bodyguards, you will be in command of them.”

“It is an awesome responsibility. Castles tend to burn down around you. Look! I believe you can see the glow of the last one.”

Fazgood looked to the bow of the boat. Obdurate was trying to place his maroon soldier’s coat around Respiration’s shoulders.

“How that smells!” she said and she pushed it away, and pressed instead into Obdurate’s arms.

“How we both stink!” and she wiped a tear from her eye, and Obdurate wiped one from his. The sweaty, smoke-ruined pair clung to each other, their past irretrievable, their future disconcerting.

They will become accustomed to it, he thought, then spat and circled his face to ward away Zhazh.

On the rail, Warren looked to shore, alert and keen.

Home is where you are least likely to be killed in your sleep, thought the Earl and grunted in approval.

Beside him, Calzjha sat forward watching Obdurate and Respiration, rapt.

All she did was slow me down and complicate things. If I hadn’t brought her, would the Dropsy had still gotten me? Saved me from her own blunder is all. I have enough to worry about. And half the time she unnerves with her beliefs and testicles —

The pain and the alcohol and his thoughts alloyed into a bleakness, a sword-edged bleakness that he had not felt in years.

Fazgood looked over his shoulder to make sure no one saw, then touched Calzjha’s black hair, lightly so she did not feel it.

His hand felt like lead and his heart pounded.

As she was sitting and watching the lovers, and he leaned forward and pressed his nose to the locks and smelled smoke, the sea, and of her smell like the tropic forests she called home.





20 08 2014

The second bullet strike swallowed the cries of the fight. It was a buzzing that shook the floor beneath Fazgood’s shoes.

The buzzing! If I recall the Three Cities, that bullet will reduce its target into its granular essence. The General will shoot that near the door, so he can enter easier.

But it was in the middle of a wall, near the floor, where the stone had become yellow and glistening, and trickled. A hysterical whine pierced the shouting.

Fluxion! Were any touching that wall when it struck?

Varalam and Calzhja fought with deputies charging up the stairs. One who staggered up was a small, sharp man, who wailed at the white, flaking sculptures at the ends of his arms, mashed together in disbelief.

No more casual bashing for Tlezjoy, recognized the Earl, though he will have no worries about how to salt his soup.

Fazgood looked again at that trickling span on the wall where the bullet struck.

Sand will not hold the weight of the stone above!

There was a wink of billowing spray before blocks scraped together and tumbled into the anteroom. That wall collapsed and deputies sprang away.

Greatsergeant is barely bothering with the pretense of rescue. He will order this keep brought to rubble, kill us all, secure the mask, and endure the outcome.

I thought I would have to set the place on fire myself, but if the General wants to help, let him. Seems I had those combustibles cast about for no reason.

On the landing, Obdurate searched for an opening; a knife plucked from the floor gleamed in his hand, his eyes gleaming wet with fear and passion. He slashed at a human deputy, who slashed back with a sharp length of ablewood. The soldier buried the knife in the deputy’s thick chest and with a sick grimace pushed the deputy back down the stairs.

The Earl cast his mind to Warren: [Has the Dropsy come through the passage yet, squire?]

[I have smelt its sulfur since before the activated bullet, my liege!]

[Do not worry about this assault. The brigades will need some new deputies, but the keep may hold for hours yet.]

[Do you see? The Dropsy comes!]

Through Warren’s eyes, from Warren’s hiding spot beside the bedstead, the Earl saw the still-opened lacquered door lit from the flickering varicolored lights within the secret room. A darkness swelled from the gap. It probed the air, swaying back and forth like a whisker-stubbled tongue.

Fazgood felt a shove, and his concentration was broken. The Inspector’s hot breath was in his face.

“What is at you?” said the man. “This is no time for shock!”

The Earl looked into those panicked eyes and laughed. “’Shock!’ Show me something to be shocked about.”

He bent to the bottom of the wall and snatched up — one-two-three — three paring knives. To his right was the balcony rail overlooking the anteroom. Before him was Varalam snarling in front of the steps leading up.

At the side of the landing beside the rail, Calzhja struggled with two deputies. Calzhja ducked a skullwarmer swung by tall Bookwright, and thrust Hand Position Three into the man’s armpit. The deputy yelped and collapsed.

A flapping! A Exult with plughat and magnate’s colors lit on the rail!

The Earl swore and shoved the Inspector before the Exult’s face! Hissing, the tottering deputy tried to claw around his superior. Mehzadapt screamed and squirmed, talons and toothy beak flailing past his cheeks and ears. The Earl seized the hair on the back of the Inspector’s head and butted the Exult. It pinwheeled back into the anteroom.

The Earl pulled and tripped the Inspector to the floor. “Stay down, you!”

Fazgood looked and saw the captain was beside the gate latch and winch, as he had been earlier instructed. The Earl strode to the top of the stairs.

Varalam carried a squirming junior deputy by the back of his coat and flung him down the stairs. The Earl crouched down below the rail.

“Pull now, Respiration!” yelled the Earl in Adanikarese. “All should please cringe!”

Calzhja and Obdurate ducked to the floor. Respiration pulled down the release latch.

Oiled gears and chains rattled. The metal gate swung crashing down upon the stone parapet. It caught Varalam at the back of the head and sent him sprawling down the steps. A grate slid down and struck the stone floor with a deafening clang!

On the stone floor Mehzadapt lay, scuffed and bewildered.

An odd thought struck the Fazgood: To think if I stayed with the scouts, or if the circles had succeeded, I could have ended up like him! A pathetic!

He cast the thought aside and contacted Warren, [Squire, I pray you are not eaten!]

[Ha! Yes! You would know if I had been, but this creature is unsettling and revolting and it is creeping across the ceiling in a most unsettling and revolting way and I –]

[Has it seen or smelled you?]

[It does not behave as such because it just icks along very revoltingly to the door and I do hope you will be arriving soon though please be careful and –]

[It is as confused as the rest of the deputies. More so!]

The Earl looked to the landing. The air tingled. His hair bristled.

He announced in a sing-song cheer: “Lightning!”

The bolt can only strike the walls, and make a lot of noise.

He covered his ears and stepped away from the metal gates.

A blue flash from under the keep door. All sound seemed sucked away.

Thunder slapped the ears and slammed the air.

He peered through the bars and saw the deputies reeling. Now the cries were broad and lowing, as the deputies could not hear themselves or each other. Somewhere, someone made nerve-shriveling shrieks.

That goes well. And I should put that screaming fellow on the payroll.

Obdurate and Respiration clung to each other exhausted and shaking.

Calzhja picked herself up from the floor laughing, eyes glittering. “ The citizens… told me…this is a peaceful city!”

Fazgood shouted. “I thought Greatsergeant would have evacuated the square before firing or using lightning! My apologies!”

Calzhja leaned upon the Earl. “You are apologizing? What a unique evening!”

Heart thumping at the weight and smell of her, despite himself, the Earl brushed at a bruise under her eye. Her gaze followed his hand.

[My liege!]

“Yes!” called the Earl and he dropped Calzhja , who landed upon her hip.

[It seems to know the intention of the assault! It has icked its way out into the hallway. I can still smell it, so the all-disgusting is just outside the door!]

[Follow it!]


Ignoring Calzhja’s glare and feeling a profound sense of relief, he looked over the railing. In the anteroom, the bottom of the keep door was twisted and blackened. Still, it held.

From that gap came Greatsergeant’s call: “Surrender, scouts! Surrender, Earl Fazgood!”

Another bullet thundered! A roar of a rushing river filled with banging porcelain.


A cloud of dust billowed through the windows. Three paces worth of the wall facing the Square shattered into white, tinkling, brittle shards! The ceiling nearest the wall dropped bricks, and overhead a beam snapped.

Mehzadapt reached for the rail and pulled himself up, gasping.

Fazgood went to the lovers on the stairs and said. “Go to the common room. Listen close. If the keep door is opened, call upstairs. Wait for Warren to arrive or my call to go upstairs. Stay away from the windows! Greatsergeant wants to kill us all!”

Respiration trembled. “Can we not leave now? Why can we not leave now?”

“There is a creature in your room. I must draw it out.”

Obdurate swallowed. “It is that thing when, when –“

“The creature we encountered when we found you is upstairs. I will draw it out. Either Warren or I will come to get you.”

Calzhja hissed. “I will not let you risk yourself –“

“You will not argue! It has to be led away! No one else can do it!”

“But I am your bodyguard.”

“Ah! Today you are my bodyguard! Today I need no guard. Respiration and Obdurate do. Keep a fire handy near your door. The creature will respect that.”

He led the three to the common room. Beside the door, he stooped and picked up a jug shaped as a rosebush by its neck and shook it. Fazgood listened to the comfortable deep slosh.

As the trapped deputies howled and cursed, the Earl walked back to the Inspector leaning upon the iron bars.

Mehzadapt called down to his injured followers. “You will hold the wall! You will make your ancestors proud! I will gain the evidence and the general will be prosecuted!”

“Open that portcullis, inspector!” called Varalam. “We have no chance against those weapons! We can guard as well behind that gate!”

“You will hold the wall!”

The others wailed. “That Cumulid holds above us! They ready another bullet! Please, Inspector!”

Through the smoke and fear, said the Earl with enthusiasm. “Deputies! Citizens! Please! This is not the first time your Inspector has been trapped by the army. He got out just fine. I am certain he will guide you well.”

Mehzadapt gasped at the more overt accusation and looked to the Earl. Downstairs, the cries turned to silent puzzling.

“What does he mean, Inspector? When was this?” called a deputy.

The Earl seized the Inspector’s arm, the jug in his other hand. “Follow, Inspector. We go to your evidence.”

“Yes!” stammered Mehzadapt. “Note, scouts, I go to the evidence! The General will pay for your injuries! He will pay!”

“We do not have much time. Hurry!”

Fazgood glanced back at the floor, and how the Inspector laid his blazer out, arms out and neck towards their destination, so that the Dropsy may know their location.

He led the Inspector to the guest room.

More shouts from downstairs: arguments; Varalam calling for the Inspector; and the one useful deputy shrieked in a most demoralizing way.

What a feeble lot! Back at the Earldom, my lot did not start shrieking until after the frontal assault!

The guest room had been emptied. The rolls of rich cloth had been placed downstairs. The bottles of perfumes and unguents had been poured out in the anteroom. The bottle of relish was in Fazgood’s blazer pocket.

Around the bed rest the three black wooden secretaries.

Fazgood went to the window. He could not see the mural from this side, but the police had pushed the crowd to shelter along the far buildings.

[Warren, are you following the Dropsy?]

[Yes. It makes a sick, sticky sound as it crawls along.]

The Earl perceived what Warren sensed. The Dropsy flowed along the ceiling around the corner and down the stairs. Its stench was like close rot, and its movements crackled like the sound of a bloody fist opening.

[When it approaches the guest room, get Calzhja and the others from the common room and take them upstairs.]

[But my liege, what of you?]

[I will be ready for –]

“What do you see?” the Inspector pressed.

People in the crowd pointed at their window. Soldiers scuttled across the square and peered.

Bellowed the Earl. “General Greatsergeant! General Greatsergeant!”

Mehzadapt started at the thunderous volume of the small man’s voice. In the square, in a knot of soldiers, a tall man with a high forehead directed the other soldiers’ attention.

“General Greatsergeant! Allow your wife and captain safe leave! Have compassion!”

The megaphone raised: “You seize them and call me for compassion!”

Hands trembling, Mehzadapt pulled the Earl away. “Stop! Stop! They will fire again! Where is the evidence?”

The bottle sloshed in the Earl’s hand as he pointed. “In one of those secretaries. I do not know which. Greatsergeant! You are foulness and we have your secret!”

A cry escaped Mehzadapt’s lips. He fumbled at a secretary and opened it.

Within was a bundled swatch of diaphene cloth, radiant like crumpled mother-of-pearl. The Inspector clawed at it. Within its folds, nothing.

Mehzadapt threw the box aside and clambered to seize another. He tore open the folds. Empty.

A stink of rotten eggs rose in the room.

Fazgood set the bottle beside the bed. His fingers tightened on the last box.

Now you decide not to shoot, Greatsergeant, you dawdling wretch!

Scrabbling fingers unfolded. Nothing.

A faint crackling permeated the room.

The Inspector saw what the Earl held close. “Give me that box!”

“Just take it,” Fazgood said slyly.

Eyes squinting, Merhizadapt sensed betrayal. “No! You! You open it!”

The Earl made himself brighten. “Very well!”

“No!” snarled the Inspector. “Give it to me!”

The Earl opened. Within the mask laid, copper-flecks sparkling. The Earl seized it by its edges and picked it up.

“This is the device. Do you want it?”

“Give it to me!”

The Earl flung the mask to the wall facing the Square.

Mehzadapt scrambled after it. The Earl sprang across to the door.

“How does it work?” asked the Inspector.

“You just put it on. Wait!”

“A sap then, and a sap still,” sneered the Inspector as he put the mask on his face. “Cornpudding, kill him.”

Something dark and stinking squirted from the top of the doorframe.

The Earl ducked.

From the window came the call. “Surrender, scouts! Surrender, Earl Fazgood!”

The demon-disease struck the wall by the window.

So shoot, you ill-met!

The writhing blotch sprang.

A honking like that of an immense goose. Dust flew from the window.


The wall turned alabaster. A choking billow of white dust, and the wall thundered and separated from the floor.

The wall was ruined. From corner to corner was bright green-night and the crowd across the square. There was no sign of the Dropsy.

I will not, Fazgood blinked, even think of, or consider, or question, or name that turn of event.

From behind him came a voice, saying:

“This is…singular.”

“Now comes the difficult part,” Fazgood whispered.

He turned around. In the green-night, surrounded by ruin, the swirls of choking white dust glowed, making Fazgood think of dawn would be like in the Hell of the Olivine Demon.

Mehzadapt stood in the doorway, stopped in mid-step, as if arrested by a realization. His fingers had stopped halfway from placing the mask on his face.

The copper gleam of that peaked mask cut through the green gloom, and spread. Mehzadapt’s human flesh took the metallic sheen of Harmonite. His blue blazer and colored cravat remained; a seeming mockery of what he had been. Mehzadapt’s eyes – sharp, watery – remained.

The Earl stood, waiting.

And all I have is an almost-empty bottle of condiment in my pocket, and a mostly-full bottle of tzeimprhoazk.

It was the calmest he had felt in months. His smile was so wide, it made his cheeks hurt.

The floor trembled again; somewhere another part of the keep crumbled further. Outside, across the square voices cried commands, pleas to stop, brash commands and counter-commands. Wind whipped the dust away.

A voice rang from the Inspector like a gong, his voice but not his:

“Where…is…my body?”

The crowd heard this unnatural intonation, and silenced.

The mask has a sympathetic attachment to the Triumph.

The creature looked at Fazgood. The Earl considered options.

He pointed to the opening. “Out there.”

It asked again. “Where…”

The demon that Mehzadapt had become stepped with locked-knees, like an awkward toddler, across the bed.

The citizens saw what stood in the destroyed room.    Across, members of the military, and the police, and the Public Works gathered. Only a minute before, the Earl supposed, they were debating who controlled the situation while the General ordered activated bullets into the keep, daring all to stop his august person. Behind them, even Booloobs hovered, their awesome wrath awaiting a mandate from an authority.

Then citizens screamed. “Demon! Demon!”

For who could not recognize a creature devoted to the Satirist! It was on the very mural behind them, the mural where they had seen Greatsergeant’s grandfather smite day after day.

From the knot of soldiers cried a voice: “No!”

Screamed a voice that used to be sonorous, but now cracked like that of a despairing child. “No! You are mine! You are to be mine!”

Without the mask, any claim the General could make would be mere controversy.

“I will! I will…”

Then Allotropic Greatsergeant looked around him to the Public Works masters and the constable captains, who had all heard him.

The creature looked right to glimpse the Triumph.

This demon said, its voice ringing. “There! I see it.”

It raised its right arm.

The ground shook.

To the right, the great Secure trembled. The center of it seemed to bend and flex, as it was a great neck.

The demon mask stretched and engulfed Mehzadapt’s body, becoming a giant face of the Inspector.

Fazgood seized the bottle of relish from his pocket, then picked up a broken brick. He stepped around the left of the demon and smashed the bottle upon its forehead. Searing relish trickled into its eyes.

It yowled. The trembling ceased.

Fazgood stepped behind, put his foot to the fiend’s rump and pushed. It flipped onto the pile of rubble one floor below.

Beyond, stunned soldiers and officials dropped their gaze to follow the creature down.

The Earl stepped carefully to the edge and looked over. On the stones and shards, the translated Inspector scoured at its eyes and squealed in pain. The neck of the Secure thrashed.

A graybeard in brown robes pointed to the demon, who had just staggered upright:

“See, all! Its eyes are flesh! Aim well!”

Five soldiers carrying a long device swept around to face the new foe. A row of rippling bubbles advanced from the citizenry, their trembles becoming tighter and more acute. The Cumulid flashed in its wispy depths.

Above even the Cumulid, the Earl saw a great sweeping in the mist, as if that of a great hand, the hand of the Temporary God revealed to him by Hrikinik. The sweep gathered into a great poking finger.

What used to be Mehzadapt heard and gave small shrieks.

The Earl leapt back and away into the hall. “Piss-flicking…!”

He turned back inside and sprang across the ruined bed.

“Almost lost you!”

He snatched up the rosebush-shaped bottle and dashed.

Behind, the doorway erupted. Lightning flashed and exploded. Activated energies sang and screamed and transformed. Piercing and interjecting, the most focused Booloob screams swept matter itself into an odorless, gagging wind. From the spirit realm, the Temporary God mashed with coruscating ectoplasm, obliterating even the demon’s soul.

To behold such a fright, and have it so disabled so quickly, this thunderstruck even the screaming populace. Silence dropped upon the thousands.

Came the cry of a citizen:

“Hurray for the Mad Earl!”

The crowd roared its relief and approval! Fazgood crept back to the doorway, now opening onto a pile of rubble facing the square.

The populace of the Kingdom cheered Fazgood. Textured Fabri, feathered Exult, rippling Booloob, Adactoid of all shapes and sizes, humans Theirhe and Rahsic; when all realized who had dispatched the grotesque, all cheered their acclaim.

Fazgood waved, Today it is ‘Hurray for the Mad Earl!’ Tomorrow it will be go-risk-your-life-fetching-my-cat-out-of-the-Pit-of-the-Unnamed.

Then the Earl looked to the General.

The General stood surrounded by officials darkened by dismay and disgust. All had heard Allotropic Greatsergeant’s suspicious exclamation of ownership for that vileness just slain.

Fazgood turned. At the top of the stairs, Varalam and two scouts had lifted and secured the gate. But now they stood in shock.

The Exult said. “I know my eyes. It was the Inspector I saw through the crack in the wall. The Inspector was…changed!”

The scouts shook their heads and protested.

“Believe, deputies!” said the Earl. “You heard them outside! I just pushed him from the room just down the hall, and I tell you! Your boss was a demon!”

They roused enough to be appalled.

Coughed a young, scratched Therihe. “But how could he have been? He has been in service for years!”

“Obviously, he had the ability confound sophisticated determinations! And he out wiled all deductions!”

Another bruised smart-his-betters looked to his peers. “But surely someone would have noticed something foul! Did anyone?”

Fluxion, you give some a path to an excuse, and still they expect you to draw a map!

The Earl thrust his finger through the bars at the churls. “Listen, you! The Inspector led you here!”

He thumped the iron bars of the portcullis. “Into a charge of high treason on false pretenses! He obviously had the power to muddle minds! Unless…you committed high treason while thinking clearly?”

They looked to each other in astonishment. “A demon!” “It explains so much about him!” “Muddled, I was! Muddled!”

“Then scour your memories! I am sure there were many times you suspected he was foul! When Public Works questions you, present even your suspicions with confidence! It is that way that you help your nation! Now speak among yourselves to get your details straight!”

So passed Mehzadapt, and his reputation.

The deputies staggered back down the stairs.

Said the Earl. “Get you gone, citizens!”

“They may still try to shoot us or –“

“If there were a fire, would you flee?”

All whining louts looked around the dark room. “Are we on fire?”

Muck up my plans, will you!

Tucking the precious bottle under his arm, the Earl growled and walked back to the ruined common room. He found a lantern still lit, dusted the rubble from it, and still growling walked back to the top of the stairs. He cranked at the pulleys and raised the gate. Whereupon, he raised the lantern and threw it down in the farthest, still-oil-soaked corner.

Orange flame burst as tall as a man!

Said the Earl. “Indeed! There is a fire! Get you gone, citizens!”

“He is mad!” they cried as one. “The portcullis is raised! He may be at us again!”

The deputies scurried to the front walls. The pickpocket Bookwright was dragged by a stretcher made from blazers and shards of wood; his legs were startlingly askew, showing the end to his bump-and-theft career.

Flickering orange shining upon their backs, they gathered at the chinks of green-night and crawled away:

“We surrender! Have mercy! Do not shoot us!”

Last to leave was Varalam, who pulled bricks and rocks from the top to widen the hole enough to crawl out. Before he made to crawl, he turned back, the scars on his face loose from perplexion. He looked back to the Earl, looked to ask a question.

“Deputy,” Fazgood said while dusting off the bottle. “never let questions get in the way of living a happy life.”

The Adactoid took note of those words, and the scars tightened again. He tucked his hat upon his brow and clambered out.

The flames spread across the floor as if to follow the deputy. Black smoke added to the dust and tingling ozone and heady fumes from the assault. The Earl walked upstairs. He pulled the wax stopper from the Birqmuir spirit and took a breath.

How would a dusk thicket tale write such an end?

He muttered to himself: “She is gone! My love! My Respiration! No. No. She is dead! My love! My Respiration! Greatsergeant, you have killed her…yes. That will do. Wait! What of the captain? Crushed! Yes, that works well.”

Fazgood flung himself to the doorway and cried to the square: “She is dead! My love! My Respiration! Greatsergeant, you have killed her!”

The populace, who had been chastising the deputies with words and thrown objects, looked to the window and pointed and gasped!

Wrist to his eyes, the Earl called. “The captain is crushed! Vile pride has caused such a tragedy!”

People never look so honest as when they are in dismay.

So were the countenances in this throng. They pointed and clung to each other in compassion and dissolution over the Earl’s declaration. Fazgood did not see the General; indeed other soldiers looked about then in confusion.

Fluxion! He got ahead of me again! I have to end the play quick!

“Our love was never meant to be! How cruel to learn this lesson! On the bier of my life, on this pyre of my love, I declare to you, citizens!”

I must be quicker!


It struck the Earl at that moment that up until a few days ago, he did begrudge this city depriving him of those very virtues. Now he felt the most gratifying sneer building. He summed up:


He had almost lost the crowd through the smoke pouring from the second floor, but he could hear their dismay and…Was that weeping?

The sobbing built. “Long stay the Concord!”

Not a bad death speech this time, he took a drink, I’m getting better at them.

That satisfaction did him in.

It just slipped from his lips.

He put the wax stopper back in the bottle, turned back to the secret door and declared this:

“Everything is sorted out.”

His hand was on the door. He groaned and grimaced and spat and wiped to ward off Zhazh, but he knew it was too late. He looked back at the window, at the thickening smoke and the hallway brightening with orange. He sucked his lip, head down and nodded.

He huffed. “Ah just go ahead!”

A dark shape like a wet, prickling blanket swung from the ceiling. It slapped him back to the window. Tucking and rolling, Fazgood protected the green bottle in his grip. He recovered to his feet. The Dropsy arched onto the floor between the Earl and the secret door.

“Did you not hear, you earless snot? Your boss is dead!”

Its oozing was slow, careful, crafty. It feinted to the left.

Fazgood realized: “Ah! You want to brag to all the other phlegm that you ate the Mad Earl!”

It hopped forward, looking to press the Earl into the far corner. Fazgood’s eyes stung from the thickening smoke. He crouched low to breath clearer.

“You snot-bubble! I have dodged assassins of more shapes than you can imagine!”

He hid his hands as he wrested the stopper from the bottle. It gurgled.

I’d just pour the tzeimprhoazk on myself and tackle the Dropsy! But if I miss, it would just slip out the window and into the city!

It feinted to the right.

Fazgood shook the bottle’s neck at the Dropsy. A glistening stream sprayed. The formless thing cowered. Fazgood sprang after the stream to flank the Dropsy away from the window.

He shook again! Again! He backed the Dropsy away from the window and against the bed!

Choking from the thickening smoke, the Earl wiped the sweat from his eyes.

The cunning germ leapt between the shakes. It swung from the right. It knocked the Earl onto his back beside the bed. The Dropsy collapsed upon his legs.

His flesh seared.

It eats!

Fazgood screamed and flung the bottle at the ceiling above them, intending to break it and have the liquor shower upon the monster.

As it arced, drops sparkled from the bottle, but not many.

The bottle made a sharp thump against the ceiling! Then it fell upon the bed, intact, far from his reach.

The creature writhed and shuddered as the few drops fell on it. But it crushed Fazgood in its digestive grip.

All this, he thought, just to be brought down by flu!

A sharp cry! The crack of wood! The heap of Dropsy rose from his legs and swung around backward. The pain in his legs dimmed.

He opened his eyes.

Calzhja stood over him. She wore simple workman’s clothes, and held a shattered piece of furnishing, her face lit by a lantern she held. “What do I do?”

“Kill the god-poxied thing!”

She sprang into the room out of Fazgood’s view. The Dropsy hurled itself against the secret door, and bounded in pursuit.

Fazgood seized the mattress and pulled himself up. In the center of the room, Calzhja had gotten close to the Dropsy and bashed it with the lantern. Its fuel trickled out upon it. The disease swung around again.

“What kills it? I thought alcohol! It is a disease!”

The Earl gasped in pain. “Does that…look like ordinary flu? Get the god-poxied bottle of tzeimprhoazk! It’s from holy springs!”

The demon-germ struck Calzhja in the hip and flung her away from the bed.

She crumbled against the wall. “Where is the bottle? Where?”

“It is on the bed!”

Again! I have to draw maps!

He pulled himself onto the bed and saw the bottle. Its contents surged from the neck. The sheets were wet with the liquor.

His left thigh found the puddle. Every nerve and muscle scorched with pain.

He screamed, grabbed the bottle and rolled off the bed toward the fight.

The Earl struck the floor and found the pain paralyzed him.

The Dropsy lunged. Calzhja sprang out of the way to the door. She caught a gout of smoke in her lungs and fell to her knees choking.

The demonic disease rose to engulf her.

Fazgood cried out. His legs gathered under him and he stumbled forward.

Calzjha staggered forward and seized the wet bedsheet. The Dropsy sprang. She spun and pulled the sheet. The Dropsy lunged into the cloth.

Wrapped in the cloth soaked with blessed alcohol, the Dropsy cringed and wrestled away across the room. The creature’s back melted. Stinking slime sprayed the room.

Its insides spilled; objects tumbled. A shriveled and broken bone, a pitted and slimed metal scabbard for a dagger, the eroded bowl of a human skull; anything that was too large for Cornpudding to cough or eliminate from years of victims.

Laying beside the bed, Fazgood looked at his legs.

The cloth of his pants was eaten away under his thighs, and his shoes were smoking tatters. His flesh was raw, wet and bleeding. He tried to sit up, and skin on his right thigh sloughed away. His face grew cold.

I cannot go into shock!

Fazgood cursed and took a breath, so that he would not pass out.

Calzhja crawled to his side.

The Earl gritted his teeth in pain. “I accept your petition for employment.”

She shook her head and wiped tears from her eyes. Her voice was hoarse: “Up!”

She tore the shoes away and eased him to his feet.

The Earl clenched his jaw and screamed. “I paid good money for those shoes!”

“I will buy you another pair!”

“With my money!”

They staggered into the secret room, past the disjoint vault, dark and dead.

“Close the door! To delay the smoke!”

Calzhja wrestled to do so while carrying the Earl, but did so, and pitched the room into darkness.

Calzjha climbed down first, with the Earl’s feet upon her shoulders. Fazgood supported his weight in the handholds.

He cast his mind, [Squire! Is our escape ready?]

[It is, my Earl! They have been waiting! Calzhja insisted on going to get you! Did she get the way again?]

The Earl’s grip slipped on the ladrail. Pain shot up his legs. Calzhja’s shoulders kept him steady.

[She is actually proving quite useful.]

[Are you well?]

His grip tightened within the next limbhold, [I have seen better health.]

[I will have all prepared.]

Calzhja reached the bottom of the ladrail. With a warning to the Earl, she dropped to the sewer floor. The Earl mustered all of his strength to lower himself by his hands and drop. Calzhja and another set of hands caught him. The water splashed his feet and seared as if it was boiling. He gasped and cried out again.

Beside them sat a mass of skin, trembling, eyes rolling in consciousness. Only the ascot and moustache told that it was Cornpudding. The entire of Cornpudding’s insides comprised the Dropsy and now the deputy was dying.

Hands grabbed Fazgood.

Helping him to his feet was a dark, frail Rahsic. He was bald, with a sharp nose and a thin, greying goatee.

Growled the Earl. “Greetings, brother-in-law. What a story will this make in your book.”

Fazgood’s brother-in-law, Yet-More-Muscular whimpered, but held his grip on the Earl’s arm. “I did not want to cause you a bother! Did I cause you a bother? I am sorry!”

“Take me along, wretch. Obviously your wife got my note.”

Calzjha lifted Fazgood’s other arm. She and the brother-in-law carried the Earl.

“What do you mean ‘what a story?’” she asked.

The Earl grunted. “You look upon Fazcelestial’s ink-stained husband, … the god-poxied writer of ‘The Nimblest Man’.”

The man cringed and nodded. “Yet-More Muscular Claimant. I believe you have met my wife. But I presume! Or perhaps you did not meet her and that was someone else who did.”

“Oh! That was me!”

The Earl cried. “Hurry, you two! We do not have time for introductions!”

They struggled up the side of the canal. Greatsergeant Keep was engulfed.

The smoke was dark slate above, swirling with flames. Fire jetted from its murderholes and windows, like hellish vents in the Black Cliffs. As in the square, arcs of water sprang and twinkled into the flames, raising gouts of steam.

They carried the Earl through the backyards.

In Cliffside-Bastles, the residents crowded the street.

The brother-in-law produced a towel, which was placed over the Earl’s head. The street was thick with gawkers.

Said Yet-More-Muscular. “Ple – please! St- stand aside! Please!”

The Earl bellowed. “Burned man, damn you! Burned man needing access, you heartless louts! Stand aside! Aside or I’ll punch your souls!”

People sprang away. Fazgood peeked enough to glimpse brown robed figures around a corner fountain, beseeching and wrestling a column of water from within to fly at the keep. Yet-More-Muscular led them down a street away from the crowd and to a covered rickshaw.

Calzhja whispered. “Was this your plan?”

“It is close enough,” the Earl said. “There lays one last step. Keep alert.”



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