Artwork for
Vincent Daemon's Vietnam short story
OF CADENCE AND WEATHERED STATUES
by Kara Koma and Shaun Lawton


Saturday, January 30, 2010

JAN ISSUE


Proudly Presents

THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE
by David Agranoff
© by david agranoff
click pic to begin reading Part 0



SEA? TV!
by Paul Stuart
© by paul stuart




A NOTION CONCEIVED
by Vincent Daemon
© by vincent daemon




MAU BAST
by Rain Graves
© by rain graves




THE HOMELESS MUTANTS
by Johnny Strike
© by johnny strike







The JAN 2010 issue would not be possible without the contributions of its featured writers and artists. I want to thank Paul Stuart for his wonderfully wry (yet not dry) short story SEA? TV!, as well as Shasta Fletcher for having the foresight and vision to have created the artwork beforehand. It captures the story's zany vision as well as referencing one of the underlying, recurring motifs in the Freezine.

Thanks to Vince Daemon for his subtle and powerful short story A NOTION CONCEIVED, and Jesse Stevens for his illustration which expands on the story's themes, and locks them into the Freezine's inherently coded construct. (The nanofleet's objectives have been seamlessly incorporated into the subtext, here.)

The microthreads which weave through our narrative lead me to Rain Graves and her short, sharp, shock of a tale MAU BAST. A million thanks go out to her for taking a chance with an online zine just rolling into its second year. I also want to give a shout-out to VeryScaryCarnival, the mysterious benefactor of the enigmatic artwork which accompanies Rain's story. I've known VeryScaryCarnival for many years, longer than most of you, and felt deep inside that her artwork would be the perfect match for Rain's dark style. It turns out, yet again, after an unlimited series of perfect matches in the Freezine's history of story/art synchronizations, that VeryScaryCarnival indeed had painted something that fit MAU BAST to a T. (It is but one detail of the only surviving digital image of a larger painting, sold long ago. Its small size fits nicely with Rain's microstory, itself a fragment of a larger picture.)

I am grateful to Johnny Strike for having the courage to return to the Freezine with another story, THE HOMELESS MUTANTS. This story is very meaningful and special to me. Every time I read it, I get closer to Lester, until I find myself living in his skin. There is a simple directness to the events which unfold in this story, yet by the time the ending comes and "the credits roll" so to speak, I am filled with an almost unbearable sense of sympathy for our recently-homeless protagonist. With it's provocative final line, the story has stolen its way into my heart, and lives there permanently. Thanks to Richard Sala for giving me permission to reproduce his original black and white illustration which first accompanied this story when it appeared in Johnny's first collection of short stories, A Loud Humming Sound Came From Above, still available from Rudos and Rubes Publishing. Thank you Shasta for being diverse and prolific enough in your artistic endeavors, that finding the perfect fit for the cover art was easy as a breeze. (The Peebles thank you, too.)

I want to extend a hand out to my fellow in arms, David Agranoff, first off, for having the idea of serializing a prequel to his forthcoming first novel HUNTING THE MOON TRIBE (due out this spring from Afterbirth Books), secondly, for submitting it to the Freezine, and thirdly, for having the willpower and constitution to see it through. I need to acknowledge and thank the NYPL Digital Gallery for providing access to the images used in The Fallen Guardian's Mandate. These authentic examples of 16th century Chinese art helped convey the tone of our serialized novella, and for that I remain grateful the New York Public Library has granted permission to reproduce these images for non-commercial purposes. And last but not least, thanks go to G. Alden Davis for providing us with the gorgeous "Cover Image" (found above) for The Fallen Guardian's Mandate, created with 3D imaging software.

This issue will remain posted throughout February for your reading and viewing pleasure. Please "invite friends" through your various online accounts. Spread the word about the Freezine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. There are more surprises in store, for future issues. Stay tuned for the next scheduled MARCH ISSUE, featuring more brand new, never-before-published stories from already established Freezine authors. They are sure to surprise, delight, and inform every devoted reader herein. Until then, I bid you all a most satisfying intermission.


freezinefantasysciencefiction@gmail.com

Submit your short story to be considered for a FRIDAY.
Submit longer works for daily serialization. Thank you.








Friday, January 29, 2010

THE HOMELESS MUTANTS

by johnny strike
illustration by Richard Sala






How had Lester become homeless? It seemed that one day he just was. But, of course, it wasn’t like that at all. There were significant incidents that led up to it. First, there was the loss of his job. Second, the end of his five-year relationship with Bobby. Depression followed and then the gradual draining of his bank account. Finally, the loss of his apartment. He stayed with friends for a while, then got a room with some money that came in from the sale of his deceased mother’s small diamond ring. But one day soon thereafter, he awoke to find that his options had all run out. He spent a rough week at a shelter, then was turned away even from there. He was told he could return in three days but he’d vowed that he would not. It had been a nightmare of disgusting smells, the ever-present possibility of being attacked while asleep, and an uncomfortable cot in a room filled with other men farting, coughing, screaming––and worse.

He was too embarrassed to ask friends for the use of their showers and couches anymore and his appearance was deteriorating to the point where he didn’t even want them to see him. There had already been some incidents when he’d spotted people he knew and turned away. He felt he’d never really known desolation and loneliness until now and the streets, the city, and everything about it were frightening. But strangely, he felt more aware of himself, and his senses, although raw, were roused to a higher state now that his basic survival was at stake.

Lester was a budding underground comic artist, and his dream was to create a comic book on his own and sell it to a publisher. Six months before, he’d begun the comic, which ironically he’d called: The Homeless Mutants. “HOMELESS PEOPLE TURNING INTO MUTANTS,” a piece in the Weekly World News, had sparked his imagination and he’d decided to use it as a jumping-off point. He still carried the clipping in his wallet. The extravagantly lurid subtitle of the Weekly read: “MILLIONS OF STREET DWELLERS MORPHING INTO CREATURES WITH HUGE EYES--AND CLAWS!” Lester had completed only a few panels of preliminary sketches and then couldn’t seem to find the time to get back to it. But he hadn’t forgotten it, either, and now, at this low point, he began thinking about the comic book again.

The article described the mutants as having developed humped backs from dumpster diving, a dog’s acute sense of hearing, tough reptilian skin, and highly-developed immunity to viruses and germs. It had been fun drawing the mutants from the descriptions. He’d had a pack of them slinking through back alleys. Then he’d worked on the startled expressions of pedestrians as they caught a glimpse of them. Of course, Lester had seen no mutants since he’d been on the street, although he did see some frightening human specimens.

There were some choice characters amongst his new acquaintances who had chosen to hang around the same part of town. Willy, for one, was a man who wore pants to fit a man twice his size and sneakers so large that he looked like a filthy clown bum.

Lee, a Chinese fellow with bushy, black hair, pushed his shopping cart around the block in an endless circle, only resting for a few hours in the morning while leaning on his cart. Lee carried stacks of notebooks that he filled with figures and symbols that only he could decipher. They looked as though they might have had some connection to a lost, ancient language or maybe an extraterrestrial origin, Lester mused. He worked on them while he slowly pushed and steered the cart with his body. He always seemed to be working on some monumental problem. Then again, Lee counted on his fingers, so could he really be working on a level that was all that advanced?

Mr. Dicker, another character, was blind and today Lester spotted him sitting on an abandoned red and white couch on the sidewalk, eating some slop off a paper plate, as content as if he would be sitting in his own home. The couch was horribly stained and missing cushions, but its pattern of huge red flowers imbued a festive mood around Mr. Dicker, who was unshaven and chewing a mouthful of mush thoughtfully. A new neighbor, nameless thus far, was a boy with long hair who was wrapped in a blanket, Indian pow wow style, holding out a plastic cup for money.

Today, Lester found an entire box of exceptionally good paper thrown out in an alley. He’d come by some nice pens and pencils the same way at a recent dumpster feast where he’d also scored a pillow and some toothpaste. Now, when the sun came up, he’d go back to “his” spot behind an abandoned building where he would climb up to the landing and draw. Though he could begin the same comic from memory, he now added his daily observations and experiences.

He was fast at work, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette and sipping from a canteen, when he heard a woman’s voice.

“Excuse me, young man.”

Lester looked down to see a middle-aged woman wearing a thermal parka and a fur-lined hat. She held a clipboard in front of her. That parka would be nice for this weather, Lester was thinking.

“Yeah?”

“Would you like to come tonight and have a big bowl of curry and rice? Even a salad and warm corn bread and real butter.”

The words alone made Lester’s mouth water and his stomach growl and grumble as he felt it awaken and demand to be fed. Lester put his drawing aside and came down the few steps to meet this brave humanitarian. She was a tiny woman. She handed him a coupon and had him spell out his last name, which she added to a list on the clipboard.

“Do you know this address?” she asked, pointing to his coupon with her pen.

“Sure do, ma’am. I’ll be there at six. Thank you kindly.” He had never used “ma’am” before and, to his recollection, had never said “thank you kindly” either. She said goodbye and walked off in search of another soul. Again, he was impressed with her fearlessness, wandering these back alleys of skid row.

At six o’clock, Lester arrived at the “Bowl O' Curry Vigil” at the address on the coupon. On the door of the old hall was an orange and white banner: “Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week.”

Inside, Lester was soon nearly swooning over his bowl of curry and rice and chunk of cornbread. The hall was almost filled with other street people sitting at wooden tables and scarfing down the food. In the back were various agencies’ booths that offered help and services to the homeless. On a stage, a thin man in suspenders and dark glasses was speaking into a microphone.

"People have an image of what a homeless person should be. I didn't fit any of the descriptions. I came from a wealthy family in Kankakee, Illinois. I attended university in Decatur. But there I discovered alcohol. One day I got a notice that said I had thirty days to move."

The man stopped for a sip of water. "I was forced to live between motels and friends' homes––and being codependent for my alcoholic girlfriend. I didn't want to live in my car, but that’s where I was heading. Then I was approached by some people here, and now I have a job and a room.”

Some gathered in the eating party grumbled and others snorted and coughed.

“Scott Henderson,” who looked like a construction worker, spoke next. He had grown up in a poor family and had ended up homeless. "I used to be depressed,” he said. “And I thought of suicide. Over the years, I’ve been in and out of homelessness, but now I’m a staff worker at a shelter.” Henderson stopped to survey his audience.

"So many people don't worry about the future,” he scolded. “And there are many people you’d never expect to be homeless who arrive at the shelter."

Yeah, alright already, so what, Lester thought, finishing off his salad.

“One of the common misconceptions about the homeless is that they’re too lazy to work,” Henderson said. “People need to take into account the possibility that these men and women could have mental or physical disorders that prevent them from obtaining available jobs.”

Henderson told the story of a man at the shelter who had “Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy,” which caused muscle deterioration. “Because this disease had not been researched in depth, he wasn’t eligible for any disability checks and had to find other ways to pay for treatment. When he couldn’t afford the pills, a pharmacist offered him a container with fewer pills for a reduced price, but each pill would cost more.” Henderson made a grimace of disgust. "Price gouging is just unacceptable,” he said.

“I have seen three homeless deaths in the past year,” said “Jake,” a wizened old codger. “One of my homeless friends was found frozen behind a dumpster. He crawled between the dumpster and a concrete wall to stay warm. It was twenty below zero that night. He went back there thinking that hot grease from the restaurant was going to be dumped and the heat from the grease would get him warm. But there was no grease that night. They had to scrape his frozen body from the concrete.

"The other death was in the heat of summer,” Jake continued. “The man was quite old, and had become homeless after the death of his wife. He carried a bag for his body waste. He used to tell me that he couldn’t wait for death, so that he wouldn’t be homeless anymore. They found him dead on the steps of a church. He is no longer homeless.

“Another man, one of my best friends, used to sleep on a pad near me. He was a heavy drinker. He said he could get the warmth he needed from the bottle. He would get so drunk that nothing else mattered. He stole to eat, at times. And he got caught for it. But jail was only a place to stay for a night or two. He began sleeping in a homemade tent that he hid near the railroad tracks. Well, one night, he never made it back to the tent. He got run over by a train. So I ask you, when will people really help to stop the madness?” Jake had run over his time and was escorted off the stage by one of the staff.

Another staff member, a fat hippie wearing a Nirvana T-shirt, now spoke to the captive and apathetic crowd in the old hall that smelled of stale clothes and curry. It all started to sound like babble to Lester, who was feeling downright drowsy after the meal, but he pretended to listen attentively.

“Homeless here are being banned from places that have been used as camps in the past,” the hippie stated. “Granted, there are health concerns, but we’re not being given any viable options. The shelters are maxed out. There used to be a car camp every winter that had staff from local services onsite and a liaison officer from the police department. Bathrooms and shower facilities were provided. Not anymore. Every night, large buildings all over town with bathroom and kitchen facilities go empty. Community resources are overloaded. And huge churches are empty most of the time, but won't open facilities to the homeless because of insurance, lack of volunteers, expense, liability, etc. There are many large commercial as well as government-owned buildings that are empty, too. It’s the season of tragedy, and this winter is looking particularly grim. It feels like we're waiting for a slaughter. It's unimaginable and we’re here to try and stop that.”

Although it was warm inside, the talk was starting to bore Lester and give him a slight headache so he got up to leave. He was stopped at the door by different workers wanting him to sign petitions and fill out questionnaires. He told them he was just stepping out for a cigarette and that he’d be right back. Outside, he quickly crossed the street and turned a corner. He leaned at a stoop and lit up a hand-rolled cigarette. The meal had been a godsend. The only other food he’d had all day was an Egg McMuffin, a coffee, and a stolen apple that was too sour for his taste––though he'd eaten it anyhow. Now he would go back to his landing, in the hope that someone else hadn’t tried to stake a claim. It was a nice spot that got the daytime sun and was partially sheltered from the wind and rain. As he smoked, he noticed a group of men coming down the street toward him. As they approached, he saw that they were Chinese youths wearing oversized rapper or gang–type clothes––Lester had no idea which. They were swaggering and Lester looked away, wanting to avoid any eye contact.

“The fuck you lookin’ at, bitch?” one of them taunted, apparently trying to sound gangsta.

Lester still looked away but with escalating dread, knowing that they had stopped.

“Don’t fuckin’ ignore me, scumbag.”

They were all laughing now like sick hyenas. Lester turned to find the four moving from side to side in a menacing dance. Lester looked around frantically: Where was anybody? The street he’d picked to stop on was completely deserted.

“Please leave me alone,” Lester pleaded.

But the four, one by one, flicked open knives that glittered under the light of the street lamps. Lester saw the oft–described life–flash, saw his death, and then saw something else: climbing down a wall across the dim street were three figures with hunched backs––three deformed ninjas.

“I-I was looking at them,” Lester said, staring beyond the thugs at the approaching mutants. Yes, that’s what they were: mutants. Their eyes were wide and gave off a pinkish light. Their hands were oversized claws and they were coming for the gang. When the thugs saw them, their expressions of idiot hatred and stupidity turned to confusion, then terror. They began to scream, but their screams were cut short as the mutants were on them slicing and hacking like manic butchers in a sped–up film. The claws were multifunctional: razors, scissors and cleavers. In moments, they’d begun to feast on the dead flesh. The leader turned to Lester and gestured that he should go.

Lester walked off as fast as he could, his legs and body still shaking. As he was making his way back to the landing, he spotted Lee coming toward him with his overpacked shopping cart. Lee stopped and stared at Lester, wide–eyed. He pointed to his notebook and then at Lester and started yelling in Chinese. Lester hurried away. Once he made it to his landing, he bundled up and got the cardboard arranged around himself.

Then he heard a shriek and looked out to see the mutant leader crouching near him and smiling. He was holding Lester’s sketchbook and nodding appreciatively. Lester found the creature’s eyes oddly compelling now. His skin, close up, was like smooth, fine leather.

“Come Lester,” he said gently. “You can be like us. No need to sleep out here like an animal.

“Come, I’ll take you Underneath.”






JAN ISSUE
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Thursday, January 28, 2010

THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE:15

by David Agranoff


Chapter 15

Epilogue





Venara's massive legs creaked and snapped as its huge body swayed. Xu looked around and realized they were directly in the giant's path. Xu grabbed Shun by his arm and pulled. Tian and Kui ran just as wraiths scattered in the sky. Like a four thousand year old tree with a base the size of a mountain, Venara was coming down.

Xu and his gang ran to get out of the way, but ended up hitting a beach. Xu pointed at the river. “In the water.”

The water raged high and fast, still strong from months of winter storms. Tian hesitated. Xu looked at her. Above he could see Venara falling towards them.

“We'll lose each other.”

Xu was surprised that she cared. He held her hand tight.

“Never again!”

Xu squeezed her hand and pulled her into the freezing water. Shun and Kui jumped in behind them. The water came down from the mountain ice cold. When they hit its freezing surface, both Xu and Tian screamed out. They were sped down the river quicker than Xu expected. He held his breath as they went under water. The third time his head poked up and Xu gasped for air, he spotted Kui speeding down the river, but not Shun.

The earth shook. Even the raging river rattled as its banks absorbed the weight of Venara. A wave blew down the river. Xu felt Tian's grip tighten as the wave rushed toward them. Tian's head was above the waterline; Xu saw the moonlight reflecting in her beautiful eyes and almost forgot where they were.

“I'm not letting go,” Xu said and took a deep breath just before the wave hit. The water hit him like a punch, and for moment the only thing he felt was Tian's hand. The water flowed over him, he closed his eyes, and held his breath. He knew they were speeding down the river. Beyond that, he gave himself up to the current.

*



“Xu!”

A hand slapped his face. That is how this all started-–a slap on the face from his former master. When Xu opened his eyes, he felt relief. It wasn't his master, it was Tian. She smiled at him. That's when he felt her hand still in his.

“You're awake.”

Xu stood and heaved more water from his lungs. He felt the sand under him, and heard the raging river behind them. Kui was on his knees, hacking up water from his lungs. Shun was already laying out his scrolls, trying to get them dry. Xu laughed. It would take Shun all day. The sky was fading from black to blue, behind Tian's face.

Xu looked around and saw a road, heading into a city with giant plumes of smoke rising from it. The city was not far away. Xu looked at Tian.

“I need to see what is going on. Take care of Kui.”

Kui waved his hands. “I'm fine...just need a minute,” he said. Kui coughed and then stepped into the forest.

*



Xu climbed up the nearest tree he could find, jumping from limb to limb until he was almost a hundred feet over the river. He looked back down the river, at the fallen body of Venara. In the east, the sun became visible in the sky over the horizon.

Venara, weak and dying, turned its head toward the light. Even at this distance, Xu could see the fear in the giant's face. The sun beamed down on the giant, and its body began to sizzle like tofu in a wok.

“Vampire...” Xu whispered, and watched with bizarre fascination as Venara burned away before his eyes. Behind him, Xu heard a horn and the sound of horses and marching boots. Xu jumped to another limb and spun around till he was facing the south, from the tree's highest point. Over the tree top he could clearly see the smoke issuing from the city.

A dozen or more homes burned. It was similar to the village they had seen the other day, but on a much larger scale. Bodies were being piled in the streets. South of the city, the army responsible marched on. The Manchus had a larger army than he imagined.

He couldn't look anymore.

*



Kui bent over in the woods and prepared to lose what little food he had in his stomach. Nausea flooded over him, but the vomit never came. He felt a hand on his back. Kui turned and saw a person wrapped head to toe in black fabric. Kui reached for his sword, and the stranger stepped back and held up a sword. Even his eyes were covered.

“I can smell your blood. I don't need to see to defeat you.”

Kui recognized the voice. Hosakai. Kui lowered his sword.

“I took a great risk coming out in the sun, to speak to you.”

Kui looked around, and back at the cloth-covered face.

“Xu is very close. You shouldn't have come.”

“He was lucky that Venara should have fallen so easily.”

Kui rolled his eyes. “Speak your mind and leave.”

Kui watched the cloth over Hosakai's face, and wished he could see the man's expressions.

“Horatius escaped.”

Kui sighed.

Hosakai put a finger up. “The capital will be under siege within the week.”

Hosakai put up a second finger. “And more importantly, for you personally: Su-Yee?”

Kui closed his eyes and cursed himself. He had forgotten about her.

“She is alive,” Hosakai put down his hand.

“How do you know?”

“I just do,” Hosakai replied, and began to walk away. “I also know she is in love with you.”

Kui followed him. Hosakai's sword spun out and poked Kui in the neck. Kui stepped back. “Ouch...”

“Know this. Stay with the monk on this mission, and you'll never find her.”

Hosakai threw something at the ground. A cloud of smoke exploded, and when it cleared, Kui was alone.

*



Shun packed up the last of his scrolls as Tian practiced her sword stances. Xu and Kui came out of the forest at almost the same time. Xu signaled for them all to come together. He leaned over and used his sword to write a symbol in the sand. It was a symbol for choice.

“The Manchu army is marching. They are getting help. My plan is to travel the length of China, if I have to, to find the agents of evil helping them.”

Shun nodded. Tian saluted, and Kui looked at the ground. He kicked the dirt.

“I'm with you.”

Xu spun his sword around, put it back in its sheath, and walked the path.

“I've got a feeling things get weirder from here,” said Tian, and followed Xu down the path.

Who knew what adventures lay ahead?


~ ~ ~






~ ~ ~





TOMORROW's FRIDAY FICTION FEATURE:





THE RETURN OF JOHNNY STRIKE


That's right,
johnny strike,
punk gentleman,
denizen of Interzone,
axe-wielding frontman
for the legendary band CRIME,
returns to the Freezine of
Fantasy and Science Fiction
with his short story
THE HOMELESS MUTANTS
coming this Friday,
JAN 29, 2010.
Don't Miss Out!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE:14

by David Agranoff


Chapter 14

City Gone a Walkin'





“Don't you have a scroll that tells us what to do?” Kui almost begged.

Shun looked through his bag of scrolls. The city took a giant step, and everything shook. Shun lost his grip on his bag as it slid across the wall, now turned on its side. Tian's eyes got wider as she watched it slip toward an open window. Xu jumped and reached out to grab the bag; Tian had to clutch onto his ankle. Xu stared out the open window at the ground hundreds of feet below. He swung the bag around, and Shun caught it.

Shun reached in and pulled out the scroll he wanted. “Maybe...”

Tian pulled on Xu, who used his sword to prop himself up.

“I was in the hill country--Min Yueh--when I heard this tale of...”

Shun unrolled the scroll. It kept unrolling until it hit the floor.

Kui's eye's got wide, and Shun shook his head. “This might take a minute.”

The building shook again, a roar echoing across the night. Venara, whether it was a god, a monster, or just a city come to life, was marching across China, covering a mile with each stride. They could hear the bamboo forests crunching underneath its giant feet. Shun continued to read his scroll, scanning it quickly.

“Shun! We don't have a minute!”

“There's ancient folk tales of a giant that carried a city on his back.”

Tian slammed her sword against the wall, desperate but unable to act.

“How did they defeat it?”

Shun lifted his eyeball from the scroll to scan the faces of his friends.

“They didn't.”

The city moved again, everything shook and then there was a burst of wraiths: hundreds of them took off from the inverted surface of the giant walking city. The black cloud of wraiths blocked the moon for a moment, before heading south. Venara the great city stopped, and arms made of stone buildings swung through the sky at the scattering creatures. A dozen more wraiths remained in the palace. Xu listened carefully as they screamed out their anger.

The city reacted with another stronger swing and knocked several of the creatures out of the air.

“Shun!” Xu pointed at the scroll. “According to legend, what happened to the people who fought it?”

Shun used his eyeball to scan the page.

“They disappeared. Several entered the city and tried to make peace.”

“And what happened to them?”

“They never returned.”

The wraiths called out, singing several high pitched notes. Instantly another group of wraiths under them took off into the air.

“Horatius said Venara was a vampire that didn't feed off blood.” Xu smiled.

Kui shrugged his shoulders. Tian nodded.

“He said it would feed off our pleasure.”

“Pleasure, excitement. I imagine it feeds off our anger and fear.”

The building shook again as the giant city swung at the escaping wraiths. Xu crouched ready to jump out the window. Tian tried to grab his shoulder.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“As long as we are in the city it feeds.”

Xu sung an off-pitch version of the wraith song he just heard. Like clockwork, the wraiths took to the air under him. The sky below filled with the winged creatures. Xu leapt out, he watched them speed underneath him. He was glad he could not see the ground under the them--only the speeding wraiths. Xu dropped like a rock, when he hit a wraith their bodies collided with a thud. The wraith screamed, and a second wraith slammed into them. Xu rolled off the back of the first wraith and grabbed on to the neck of the second one.

The wraith beat its wings, and Xu felt the wind on his bald head as they flew through the air. Xu looked back, and the city looked enormous standing straight up like a person. Its face had broken the stone foundation of the mayor's palace.

“Get off my back!” The wraith screamed in broken Mandarin. It banked left and then right. Xu held on and squeezed tighter at the wraith's fur.

“Stop it--we have to talk!”

The wraith spun around, and Xu's stomach did a flip when he saw how far down the ground was.

“Truce! Venara is going to kill us both.”

One of the city's giant arms came at them.

*



Shun pulled his eyeball back in.

“He is riding a wraith.”

“What?” Tian shook her head in disbelief. “He is insane.”

Tian squeezed the grip of her sword and looked over Shun's shoulder. The wraiths were flying in circle patterns while Venara swung its huge arms out at them. Wraiths screamed, but kept away from being hit. Tian laughed as one of the wraiths flew just over them, with Xu on its back, his sword held up in the air. Kui looked at her and smiled.

“He doesn't expect us to...follow him?”

Xu couldn't contain his joy, the feeling of the rushing wind, the speed by which the wraith swooped through the air.

“Closer,” Xu commanded.

They flew along the city's massive body and saw people waving their hands, others screaming.

“We're here to take, you have to leave the city.”

Xu squeezed the wraith tight as it floated closer to a part of the city that had been a street. A dozen wraiths landed, and people steadied themselves before jumping onto their backs. Xu gave a signal, and the wraiths took off towards the ground. One man jumped and missed his wraith. Xu closed his eyes but could still hear the man's scream getting further away.

“Be careful!”

The wraith twisted his head back and shot Xu an angry look.

“We are risking our lives for you humans.”

Venara let out a growl.

“Stop!” The city yelled in a voice that echoed off the mountains.

Xu slapped the wraith's back.

“Come on it's working,” Xu pointed up. “Next up...my friends.”

*



Tian looked out for a minute, and the height was enough to make her gasp. The moon was bright enough to light the forest below. It was too far for her to jump to. Venara had stopped moving. As the wraiths flew away, they took with it the giant's fuel. Each person that escaped took with them another source of psychic energy, that Venara had fed on for thousands of years.

“Where is Xu?” Kui asked nervously.

“He's coming,” Tian said, but she wasn't sure she believed it.

It took a few nerve-wracking moments, but Xu finally appeared on the back of the wraith. Behind him were four more wraiths.

“Get ready to jump,” Tian said--but she was already in the air. Her heart stopped and she held her breath as she zoomed towards a free wraith. The wraith snarled as she hit it and grabbed ahold of its flesh. She couldn't see him--but she heard Shun yell for help. The old man bounced off the back of a wraith. He began to fall. Xu and his wraith swooped in and the winged beast hugged Shun around his waist and sped towards the ground. Tian looked up and saw Kui leap--his wraith caught him in an instant.

As they all swooped down, they passed Venara's face. It was pale and white, the color of the floor under the throne. But now, for the first time, Tian saw its face. The massive eye seemed to have broken out of the stones of the palace walls. Those eyes burned with fury. It was too late--they had escaped.

*



Venara had hidden for almost three hundred years, coming out only at night. Like fruit attracting insects, he had pulled in the souls of thousands who stayed feeding him with their varied emotions. If they over-stayed their welcome, or he grew tired of the party, then he would eat them outright. Now, the only emotion-energy feeding him was Horatius, struggling to crawl his way out of his stomach. Delicious anger certainly, but not enough.

Venara felt the strength drain with each person that escaped. He should have believed the warning his master had said about this Demon slayer Xu. He was cunning indeed.

*



Xu dusted himself off, and waved to the departing wraiths. Now that he was on the ground, Venara looked tall enough to grab and strangle the moon.

Shun held an eyeball out. “What am I looking for?”

“Tell me if he is dying.”

Venara had stopped moving. The giant turned its massive head up to look at the moon. The stones that made up its body began breaking apart and crumbling into pieces. “Noooo!” Venara shouted at the sky as its huge legs finally buckled.

“Xu, he is dying.”

“Great!”

“Except one thing...”

Xu looked up and didn't need to be told. Venara was coming down towards them.




~ ~ ~


Click Here For Chapter 15 -- Epilogue





Tuesday, January 26, 2010

THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE:13

by David Agranoff


Chapter 13

Gotta Run



Xu covered his ears as the giant mouth that split across the floor in front of him continued to open wider and wider. Kui pointed at it while Xu grabbed onto his arm.

“I know!”

The mouth began sucking the air out of the room, drawing in a deep breath. Shun felt himself pulled toward it, when Kui grabbed him. The three pulled each other along and walked toward the hall at the far end of the room. A group of monks with their eyes sewn shut blocked their exit. Each one held a sword and were fighting to keep their balance as the air surrounding them was drawn into the giant mouth.

The lead monk stepped forward and put up his hand. “You are to be consumed by the great god Venara.”

Xu shook his head. “Your god is getting ready to scream so loud our heads are gonna explode.”

The monks could not see each other through their stitched eyes, but they turned their heads to listen. Xu couldn't wait. He grabbed the sword handle, and kicked a monk back. Xu drew the sword up high, ready to block an attack. The other monks moved to attack, but the giant mouth growled so loud that they all dropped to the ground and covered their ears. Shun's super-sensitive hearing took it the worst. Kui grabbed his arm, and kept him moving along. They followed Xu out into the hall.

“Why is there a god in the floor?” Kui asked as they ran down the hall.

“It's not a god, you idiot.” Xu ran into the darkness, having no idea what they would find.

“Then what is it?”

Xu stopped and looked back. “I think it's a monster.”

Shun, who was still fighting to get his breath back, said, “It's a good thing we have experts like you on this mission. It's a big, angry monster.”

Xu laughed. He had never heard Shun be sarcastic before.

Shun shook his head. “There is nothing funny about this.”

Xu was seconds from disagreeing, when they heard a scream--Tian's scream. Xu took off in its direction.

*



Tian screamed out in pain as Horatius hit her with a third ball of the blue flame. Tian rolled onto the floor in an attempt to put it out. The wraiths behind her laughed and flapped their wings in joy at her pain. The ground shook under them as an even louder scream emerged. Tian felt the glass shake against her face as she laid in the center of the star on the throne room floor. She could hear Horatius stepping slowly toward her. Tian could not gather the strength to stand. She just looked at the glass floor, and wished for a second wind.

“You are a brave woman. I could use a warrior like you. You see, we have armies to crush, and when that is done, the real struggle begins.”

Horatius leaned over her. Through the glass, she could see the floor clearly. She saw the giant mouth licking its lips. Tian thought she imagined it, then the giant mouth opened and let out a horrendous growl. She felt cracks breaking out in the glass against her face.

“After the dynasties fall, we will have to travel the world, finding the last warriors and rebels. Crushing them one at a time.”

Horatius flipped her over. He smiled down at her. She could tell from the look on his face that he believed his offer was irresistable. Tian felt the glass continue cracking under her.

“My dear, have you ever heard the word vampire?”

“No.” Tian knew the word, but played dumb.

Horatius opened his mouth. “Do you want to live forever?” Four canines were visible.

“It's tempting,” Tian smiled back. She wanted him to let his guard down. She ran a finger through his hair. “Would we be together?”

Horatius took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He meant to savor the feeling of her hand on his skin.

Tian reached behind his head and pulled him down. He puckered his lips for a kiss, but Tian rolled and shoved his face into the glass, instead. The glass around the star shattered, spider-webbing out across the room in an instant. Horatius screamed, but he was still recovering from the shock when he fell through toward the giant mouth.

Tian kicked at Horatius's back, and raced across the room. The wraiths behind her fell for an instant, then continued beating their wings. Horatius crashed down onto the mouth floor with a shower of broken glass. Tian landed safely on the throne stage, and turned to see Horatius swallowed.

Xu led Kui and Shun into the throne room. They almost fell into the gaping hole, but Xu stopped at the last second. The wraiths hissed as they floated over the room. Xu swung his sword, and the closest wraith backed off.

“Tian, we came back to save you!”

Tian rolled her eyes. “Perfect timing. As you can see, I killed Horatius without your help.”

“He is not dead!” The four hovering wraiths spoke in unison.

Tian pointed at the giant mouth that was still spitting out piece after piece of broken glass.

“He can only we killed one way,” one of the wraiths said as it flew by Tian. “A wooden stake to the heart,” added a wraith who flew over Xu. He swatted at it with his sword.

“Geungsi!”

A wraith landed on the throne stage in front of Tian.

“Not just any stake, but one taken from the underforest.”

Tian kicked the wraith off the edge, and it flapped its wings until it hung in the air over her.

“He'll return, and he'll kill you.”

The ground shook, the mouth opened.

“The game is over,” the giant mouth said.

The wraiths whimpered and flew away quickly. Tian and Xu both stared down at the mouth from opposite sides. Shun shook his head and pulled at Xu's arm.

“No longer will I hide.”

The building shook. The earth shook.

Xu reached up and grabbed one of the wraiths by its ankle, and swung it onto the ground. He then pointed his sword inches from the creature's neck.

“What is that thing down there? And don't tell me it's a god.”

The wraith laughed as its voicebox was stung at the end of Xu's blade.

“It's a Geungsi too, but Venara doesn't drink blood.”

Xu looked at Shun and silently expressed disbelief.

“Venara has been here thousands of years and no one has ever left.”

“That is why I have no scrolls about it.” Shun smiled that he'd at least solved one mystery.

The ground shook again, as Venara opened its mouth, and another growl set off an earth-rattling quake. Xu looked wide-eyed across the open gap in the floor.

“Go that way! We'll meet you out front! We're getting out of here.”

“Try monk, you'll die here. Venara will forever feed off our pleasure.”

Xu ran the best he could, considering how hard the building shook. The guards ran for exits, and ignored them. They knew something was wrong. Kui and Shun followed, but they all fell and tumbled like they were in a basket going over a waterfall. Venara seemed to spin. Outside they could hear the screams of thousands out in the streets.

A chorus of wraiths screamed and broke through the madness of other sounds.

“Retreat!”

Xu ran to the balcony that was over the front gate to the palace. Venara was turned on its side. Thousands fell out into a black hole under the city. Xu held on to the wall, and looked around. Some were holding on to buildings, others still lost their grip, sliding off of the city like fleas off a shaking dog.

“Well, they're escaping, but I'm not sure that is the way to go. Shun, give me one of your eyes!”

Shun struggled to get close enough to hand the eyeball to Xu without losing his hold of Kui, who held on to a bannister. Shun put the eye in Xu's hand and Xu was surprised by how wet and squishy it was. Xu held it out around the corner.

“Be careful Xu, that is my best eye.”

“What do you see?” Xu asked

“Oh shit!”

Shun could tell the city was turned on its side, he could see the bamboo forest that led up to the city far below them.

“We're high above the ground.”

There was silence and stillness. Xu scanned the scene outside with the eyeball. Suddenly the building shook again. A huge crash followed by another, in a rhythm. Shun could see that they were moving.

“We're moving. The whole city, I mean.”

That is when Shun saw the legs. The left one looked like the front street of the city emptied and turned on it's side. The giant right leg looked like the parallel street that was behind it. Shun reached up for Xu's arm.

“Give me my eye back before you drop it.”

Tian ran up the hallway.

“What the hell is happening?”

Xu rolled away from the open window, and handed Shun his eyeball.

“Yeah Shun, what is happening?”

“You were right. Venara is not city...it's a monster!”

They all shook as the city monster took another step, and the earth trembled in angry response.

“...and it's on the run.”

Click Here For Chapter 14

Monday, January 25, 2010

THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE:12

by David Agranoff



Chapter 12


Face To Face




Xu jumped forward as the sword tip went into his skin. A tongue slid out of the giant mouth in the ground in front of him. It slithered across the floor toward his legs.

“Keep walking, monk.”

“That thing is going to eat us,” Kui whined.

The tongue stopped, and turned toward Kui first. Kui wanted desperately to step back, but the sword at his back held him in place.

“What is this thing?” Xu yelled to the whole room.

“The great god Venara,” The monk with the sewn-shut eyes said, and saluted. “Venara is the city. Venara is the god.”

The tongue stretched quickly out and grabbed Kui's ankle. Kui hit the ground, and suddenly Xu had a clear path to the sword that had been held against Kui's back. Xu flipped to the right and felt the rush of a sword slice through the spot where he'd just stood. He grabbed the guard that had been behind Kui by his wrist, and squeezed. His sword dropped into Xu's hand. Xu threw the guard over Kui, where he landed on the surface of the giant tongue.

The tongue was slick with saliva and the immortal reached out desperately, but slipped quickly into the mouth. Xu swung his newly acquired sword. Shun dropped as he heard movement from the guard behind him. He ducked down just in time. As the blade sped over his head, Shun grabbed the immortal's arm, and flung him into the mouth.

The last immortal stood with his shaking blade pointed at Xu. The tongue began pulling Kui towards its waiting mouth. Kui grabbed at the passing, fleshy ground, but couldn't keep a good grip.

Xu pointed his sword at the mouth. “I can't think of a worse place to be immortal.”

The immortal lifted his sword and ran at Xu. Their swords met time after time, with sparks and loud clangs. Shun ran to Kui's side and grabbed his hand, trying to hold on, but the tongue continued to pull Kui closer.

“My leg!” The saliva contained some corrosive agent that burned through Kui's robe. “Xu--help me!”

Xu wanted to, but this swordsman was better than he expected.

*



Horatius laughed, it would only be a matter of time before the monks and the eyeless wonder were digested below the city. He knew the beautiful woman warrior was watching him from the third floor balcony. Let her, he thought. Let her see the power she has chosen to confront.

“Master--the stones of the underworld are ready.”

Horatius smiled, and waved his servants forward. They placed red glowing stones at each point of the glass star in front of his throne. The glow of the stones pulsed together, and after a few seconds, a faint image, like that of a ghost, stood eight feet tall before him. It looked like a man in the robes of an ancient dynasty. After hundreds of years, the master vampire would speak to him.

“At last, Master,” Horatius got down on his knees and bowed his forehead to the warm glass star on his floor. “I have waited so long to speak to you.”

“I wish I could enjoy your palace and all it's pleasures personally, Horatius.”

“Soon my master, soon.”

“The Lords of the North and South Sea thought this prison of night would hold me forever.”

“You defy them, master. Your agents have escaped and brought terror to the world when it tries to sleep.”

“A soul here, a soul there. I was once ruler of this chaos called Earth.”

“Sir, the armies of civilization are gathered in the north and south for a great battle. Already the Manchus are marching.”

“That does me no good if the dragon gate stands.”

Horatius held out his hand with a scroll.

“It won't bring down the gate, but this scroll offers a key. You and your minions will be able to travel to and from the underforest, at will.”

“At night!”

Horatius flinched. “It doesn't break the curse, I'm afraid.”

“Bring it to me, and let's end this conflict.” The ghostly Master laughed as his image faded away.

Tian listened to every word with growing dread, but it was the laugh, as the ghost faded, that slapped her in the face. She knew that laugh. Tian heard that same laugh shake the foundations at her home, when she was a child. She was not sure, but it stood to reason that the Master of darkness she sought was not Horatius.

“So little girl, who is it you intend to kill?”

Horatius's voice echoed through the three floors. Tian knew he was talking to her. She squeezed the grip on her sword and walked into view at the edge of the balcony. “Well, after I kill you, I suppose I'll have to find that underforest.”

Horatius laughed. Archers on each side of the throne stretched their bows and aimed at Tian. “I doubt that. You'll have to survive this night first.”

The bows snapped. Tian barely flinched and knocked the arrows from her face with one swipe of her sword. Tian flipped, and jumped towards Horatius.

*



The breath coming out of the hungry mouth on the floor filled the large room with an unbearable odor. It made Xu light-headed. The immortal didn't slow any, his sword came down over and over at him. Shun screamed in pain, as his arm felt as if it was being pulled from its socket. Shun found a grip on the flesh floor with one hand, and Kui's free hand with the other. The tongue tightened around Kui's ankle. Kui screamed.

Xu got a kick in to the immortal's midsection, and knocked him back. Xu caught his breath for a second. “It's pretty unique how you guys keep going after your heads are cut off.”

The immortal lifted his sword over his head.

Kui screamed again. Shun called out, “Xu--damnit!”

“Shun, listen for the sword.”

Xu swung the sword hard at the immortal. He blocked, and the swords clanged loudly. The sword continued to shake in Xu's hand, making a faint sound. Xu flipped the sword through the air towards Shun. The immortal pointed his sword at Xu, who avoided the blade by standing on his tip toes. Xu grabbed the immortal's arm and lifted his knee, it didn't break as quickly as a human, but Xu felt the unnatural twist on his leg.

The sword flipped in the air. Shun had been blind almost every year of his seventy years on earth. He had survived in part by learning how to follow the sound of swords as they flew through the air. He heard the sword come toward him and let go of the flesh floor. Kui screamed and slid toward the giant mouth.

The sword spun in the air toward Shun; if he didn't get it, Kui would be gone. Shun closed his hand and felt the blade slice across his fingers. Shun screamed in pain as the sword went past him. Kui reached for the sword, but the grip on his ankle was too tight. The sword disappeared into the mouth.

The giant mouth yelped in pain, and the whole ground shook. Shun took out an eyeball and held it over the mouth. The sword was jutting out of the gums, inside the giant mouth. The tongue suddenly let go of Kui, who rolled away instantly.

“Shun--move.”

Shun spun away from the mouth just in time to see the immortal with the broken arm disappear into it. The mouth screamed again as the sword pushed deeper into the giant throat.

Shun held his eye up and looked at both Xu and Kui dusting themselves off. The ground started shaking underneath them. The mouth roared a deep, gutteral war cry. The walls in the entire city shook, and the three men, so close to the mouth, had to cover their ears.

“We angered it,” Shun said.

“Angered what?” Xu yelled over the rumbling chaos.

“The great god Venara!”

*



Tian landed on the floor of the throne room at a run. Horatius outstretched his arms, and opened his palms. Tian gasped as she watched blue fireballs form in his hands. It was too late--she was committed. Horatius threw the fireballs. Tian swung her sword and knocked the first one out of the air, but the second struck her in the chest. Tian fell back and slid across the floor. When she finally stopped, she heard a chorus of wraiths at Horatius's side laughing at her.

Tian looked up at the Roman standing in front of his throne. Her whole body ached from the damage his energy attack had done. The worst part-–she dropped her sword. Two wraiths landed just in front of it, and she heard two land behind her.

A blood curdling scream shook the walls, coming from below the throne room.

Horatius looked suddenly desperate. “Venara...?”




Click Here For Chapter 13

Friday, January 22, 2010

MAU BAST

by Rain Graves






Cat Cemetery. Ancient. She crouched low, barely breathing. Slinking shadow in inky air, black like the womb. Like decay. Pausing, ears forward and back only once - Something calling her name. Lift nose; that's the way to smell souls. Test tongue through fuzzy lips, twitching whiskers for static. That's how to taste fire and power.

Singing...low, monotonous, symbolic. She listens, starts padding softly in that direction. It's ok, she knows the song. No words out of place, nothing strange in the lilt of the voice. Pretty soon there will be questions. Must get closer to hear them, to answer.

It's faster on paws than feet, she thinks, moving from her city Bubastis, like fierce wind towards a village. Greenwich? So far...almost too far. The call is strong enough to help pull her.

All stop. She listens cautiously, circling Greenwich Village--foreign place, city populated with crime. Ignorance. No place for a cat, or a cat goddess. Tinkling vibrations touch her golden hoop earring. There are two voices now... One is meek and small. Desperate. Learning Bast through a wall that is sacred. Small Voice is trapped. Must prowl... Must find!

As she reaches the room, it is thick with pain. Power-words like water, cascading through oils, prayer, fire, and wax. A woman lay heaped next to the altar, one arm clinging to the stone, the other clinging to her belly. She wants to scream, Bast can feel it. She is bleeding...everywhere.

She crouches, must make herself small, light, and greasy. Closing her eyes, she sees the entrance. Must get inside, drag it out. Left-right-left in rapid hind-leg motion.

Pounce! Run fast--into the Mother's nine centimeters. She chews a bigger way, so she can fit in and drag Small Voice out. Mother screams, it hurts. Small Voice is very faint now... Almost stopped singing. Bast must fix somehow.

"I am stuck," says Small Voice.

"I am a cat," says Bast.

"Can you help me?" says Small Voice.

"I can drag. Keep singing." says Bast.

Small Voice sang, gentle determination in its voice. Gentle frustration. Gentle need. These things made Bast strong as she worked, chewing and untangling the umbilical chord from around Small Voice's neck. Must get it out, thought the goddess, as she heard Mother moaning. Stay awake! Stay awake to help Bast! She felt contractions threatening to choke her.

Push... Push... Chew, push, chew...

The eye opened wide, and Small Voice could see it. Went towards it. Still hooked on something though, and Small Voice panicked. Flailing, kicking--hurting Bast, hurting Mother. Squeezing past, Bast took the baby by the neck and dragged... Through the eye, into the world.

Mother lay at the foot of the altar in a pool of nature's juice, exhausted. Better for her to sleep, thought Bast, as she licked the mucous and slime from the newborn.

"Ouch, your tongue is harsh!" Said Small Voice.

"The world is harsh." Said Bast.

"May I come to you for guidance?" Said Small Voice.

"Yes, sometimes..." Said Bast, purring the child to sleep.






~



Tune In Next Monday as
THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE
by David Agranoff
continues with Chapter 12:
Face To Face

Thursday, January 21, 2010

THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE:11

by David Agranoff




Chapter 11

Turning the Demon Wheel





...Tian listened to the sound of her father screaming. She was well hidden under the house. She hugged the Demon Wheel manual. All these years she had asked her father about it, and the techniques that were described in it. She never once believed that he would let her look at the book, let alone be entrusted to protect it. Nonetheless, he was dying inside the house, and she held it now. He screamed again, this time calling out her mother's name.

Were they torturing her in front of him? Tian considered the possibilities. She couldn't do anything. Whatever was up there, it didn't seem to know she was hidden under the house.

“Hide, Tian. Avenge your family when the time is right.”

Now she heard her brother scream. Father begged, and he screamed again. The bastards.

As morning approached, the screaming continued. It had developed a certain rhythm. She heard booming laughter that shook the stone and boards above her. The screams stopped. The monsters were doing something else. Father was silent. It wasn't long before a gentle light shined into the hidden basement. Tian crawled to a small gap in the wood, and peered out. Their stables were on fire. The horses neighed with growing panic. Tian turned away from the crack in the wall. The fire illuminated the scene just enough.

Tian opened the Demon Wheel Manual. The book's spine creaked, and it's pages smelled of her father's musty hiding spot. The first page had a crude drawing her father had sketched, of her mother in a sword stance. The calligraphy at the top of the page read "The Immortal Destroying Blade." Tian turned the page.

Another drawing, this time of her mother in a fighting stance without a weapon. "The Demon Crushing Fist." Suddenly her father screamed again, longer and with less control than before. The monsters weren't playing anymore. He would be dead soon. Tian made the fist she saw on the page, and began her practice...


*



The wraith landed in front of her and bared its teeth. Tian flipped her sword to her left hand, and made a fist. She aimed for the spot on its chest. Underneath its leathery skin, a black heart pumped a foul liquid. Her fist hit the wraith square in the chest, and the heart ruptured immediately. The creature fell before her, its wings collapsing over it like a dome. There was no time to celebrate. Two of Horatius's immortal guards ran toward her.

Tian gripped her sword tight and ran at them. Steel met steel with sparks. Tian spun low and into the guard's body. She flipped him over her, and snatched his sword. While he staggered in recovery, she spun with her two swords held out. She spun with such speed, the guard's neck hardly offered resistance--his head tumbled. She turned back to face his partner, but the other immortal ran away.

Tian laughed, and heard a snort behind her, like a horse. She turned, then stepped back. There was nothing in the Demon Wheel Manual about this. Almost ten feet tall at the spine on its back, the six-legged beast looked something like a lizard. Its body was almost the width of the enormous hallway. Its teeth looked as large and sharp as carving knives. It stomped its three left feet, ready to charge. Tian assumed a fighting stance. What ever it was, she hoped it could sense the river of blood and bodies that stretched out behind her.

Tian tried to ignore the sounds of alarm across the palace, and focused on the monster. It spit some kind of poisonous spray as it hissed and lurched towards her. The building shook under the pounding of six running feet. Tian closed her eyes. She thought about the first time she'd read the page of the Demon Wheel Manual marked "Limitless Occult Kungfu". Imagine the ladder that is always before you...

Tian jumped into the air. The high ceiling gave her just enough room to twist in the air above the beast. It tried to spin around, and instead hit the wall. Stone crumbled under its weight. The third floor underneath gave way, and the large creature broke through. It shrieked, and fell down like a stone to a level below. It sounded as if it somehow crashed into the street, just outside the palace.

Tian squeezed her sword and walked to the opening on the central courtyard of the palace. Gongs and bells rang over and over. She walked along a third floor balcony. Tian looked down and saw Horatius, as he walked to his throne. Two wraiths guarded him, but he sat upon his throne, unconcerned.

*



Xu led them back into the palace. He knew they should have cut their losses and left, but he didn't want to abandon Tian. He had Chi Zhen's blood drying on his robe to remind him what was at stake. Kui led them to a stairwell that twisted all the way down through four levels. They ran down the spiralling steps and into an empty hallway, barely lit by dull lanterns.

“Underground...?” asked Xu.

“According to Chi Zhen's map, this leads to a ladder that goes directly to his throne.”

Shun touched the wall. It looked like dirt but it pulsed. Shun took out his eyeball and stared at the floor as the walked.

“How does that help us?” Xu kept one foot on the steps going back up.

“Excuse me master, but you said Tian intended to kill Horatius.” Shun stopped as he felt the ground moving, like a giant heart beating under the floor.

“Doesn't mean she will.”

Xu and Kui kept walking through the hallway. Shun snapped his fingers and they stopped. “Wait, do you feel the ground moving?”

Xu shifted his feet; he felt it slightly, but the ground moved. Xu took his stolen sword and stabbed the ground. Down the hall, a deep moan echoed in the distance.

“A reaction?” Xu whispered to himself.

Kui overheard, and decided to answer his question. Kui pulled out his sword and spun it, before stabbing the ground. The moan echoed in reaction a second time.

Xu raised his right eyebrow, and shook his head.

“What does that mean?”

The three men walked down the hall toward the moans, this time with their swords raised. Five quiet minutes passed. Each second seemed to drag longer, as each of them feared to make a sound. They eased into a large room. The ceiling was clearly the stone floor they had seen in Horatius's throne room: it had a clear glass star in the middle that was home to his throne.

Xu pushed them back so they could hide and look. There was no activity in the large room. The floor was the color of pale flesh. A thin red line was centered under the throne above. A group of people were lined at the far hallway. They waited with eyes closed, and hands together in a salute.

“What are they doing?” Kui whispered. Xu waved his question away and they waited. Two minutes passed and the gongs and bells stopped ringing above. A man stepped forward into the room, wearing a hooded black robe. He lowered the hood. His eyes were sewn shut.

“Great God Venara, my Master Horatius is aware of your injuries.”

The ground and walls shook as the moan they heard earlier emerged from deep underneath them.

“To aid with your healing, the Great Horatius offers these slaves for your consumption.”

One of the slaves who waited at the far hallway stepped forward and walked towards the center of the room. Xu, Kui and Shun's eyeball all peered over the edge and watched. The slave stopped a few steps from the red line in the center of the room and lowered his hood. His eyes were also sewn shut. The slave could see the red line split into an open mouth with teeth the size of dwarfs and a foul breath that polluted the air.

Kui gasped as the slave bowed. A giant tongue shot out and pulled the slave into the mouth. The slave reached for the edge of the giant lips and begged for mercy as the trance he had been in was ended by pure fright. The giant floor mouth belched and moaned again.

“He's still hungry,” Xu said. “We need to get out of here.”

Shun wanted to agree, but he felt a sharp prick in his back. Xu felt a swordtip between his own shoulder blades.

“Damnit,” Xu said as he dropped his sword. Four immortal guards had taken advantage of their distraction.

“Walk!” One of the guards demanded.

Xu stepped out into the mouth room. It felt like walking on a sponge. The monk with his eyes sewn shut bowed to Xu and his friends.

“Great God Venara, my Master Horatius is aware of your hunger. For this, he offers you a meal rich with powerful warriors.”



Return Next Monday for Chapter 12
as THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE
goes into its final week.




Tomorrow: Friday, JAN 22
The Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction Presents:



Bram Stoker Award winning author
Rain Graves debuts her flash fiction story
MAU BAST


art by VeryScaryCarnival


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE:10

by David Agranoff




Chapter 10


Together





Dressed like a monk, Kui stood out. So, Chi Zhen gave him a clean shirt and pants to wear. He felt odd wearing anything but his robes. Su-Yee smiled at him, and that went a long way to erase the bad feelings he had for the new clothes. The three of them walked toward the mayor's palace on the east side of the city, and tried to act natural.

Kui had kept his hand close to his sword. He had given Su-Yee one, but she didn't know how to use it. Chi Zhen had three interlocking steel nunchakus hidden in his sleeve. The night life in Venara started almost the minute the sun went down, and the city rose into the open air. Kui had never been so relieved to see the night sky. He had tried to rest during the day, but couldn't while the walls seemed to be creeping in on him.

Parties startied, vendors began cooking, and the city came alive around them. A huge mass of people, monsters and unnameable creatures poured out of the various buildings. Chi Zhen pushed Su-Yee and Kui to the side of the street, so the crowd could pass them.

“I can't believe I never heard of this city,” Su-Yee said, looking around the city unshackled for the first time.

“It's strange that so little is spoken of this city. The curse must be real,” said Kui.

The crowd rumbled past them. Only two guards remained at the entrance of the palace, down the street from them. Chi Zhen shook his head.

“I don't believe in the curse. The secret is kept another way.”

The guards stood at attention at the end of the street. Chi Zhen looked at them while he continued to talk to Kui.

“No one leaves the city.”

“No one?” asked Su-Yee.

Chi Zhen shook his head.

“Until tonight,” Kui tried to sound brave. Su-Yee smiled.

“Oh please,” said Chi Zhen.

“There are only two of them.” Said Kui “Lets go.”

“They are immortals.” Chi Zhen smiled. “Take their heads.”

Chi Zhen jumped, lifting into the air with ease. He glided with his lightness kungfu onto the roof of the small building that was across from the palace gates. Chi Zhen signaled Kui to move forward.

“Wait here,” Kui smiled at Su-Yee.

“Kui, if you survive this, you'll have to teach me to fight.”

Kui saluted and walked down the alley towards the palace. One of the guards walked towards him and they met face to face. The guard was large, muscles bulged under his black uniform.

“State your purpose!”

“Gladly,” Kui smiled and kicked the man in the stomach. He bent over just enough, and Kui swung his sword down and into his neck. The blade stopped halfway through the nape. Kui's arm shook; he didn't have the strength to push the sword straight through in one blow. Over the guard's shoulder, he saw the second guard running toward him. Despite the pain and the swordblade in his neck, the first guard tried to pull his own sword out of its sheath.

Chi Zhen dropped out of the sky and landed behind the second guard. He tried to react in time, but Chi Zhen wrapped his nunchakus around his neck and brought him to the ground. Chi Zhen reached down and pulled out the guard's sword. Kui couldn't see it but he heard a sword strike--then watched as the second guard's head tumbled to the ground.

He stared into the pained eyes of the guard, and gave the sword a final push. The guard's head sliced off, and the body fell to the ground.

“Kui!”

Chi Zhen and Su-Yee both called out as archers appeared on the second level. Chi Zhen was protected under the balcony. The arrows snapped off their bowstrings, it took split seconds, but years of Shaolin training came alive inside Kui. He slowed the moment down and watched the arrows inch toward him; he lifted his sword without taking his gaze off the arrows. One at a time, he knocked the arrows out of the air.

Su-Yee covered her eyes, but in a matter of seconds she heard Kui knock four arrows out of the air, in rapid succession. She opened her eyes in time to see the archers launch a second round, and Kui move quicker than lightning, knocking them down. Chi Zhen jumped straight up to the second floor balcony and swung his sword at the archers. Two went down immediately, and the last two turned their bows on him. Chi Zhen swung out and sliced their bows in half. The archers were defenseless without their weapons. They turned to run.

Chi Zhen jumped and kicked one of them on the back of the head, knocking him into his friend. Chi Zhen walked up to them, kneeled down, and applied pressure points to keep them asleep. He leaned over the balcony just in time to see Kui run inside.

Inside: now they just had to find Xu.

*



Shun held his eyeball around the corner. Down the end of the next hall there were two tigers who sat by the doors to the outer chamber. Shun pulled his eye back. Xu waited just behind him.

“Two guards, there is just one thing.”

“Oh yeah, what is that?”

“They are tigers.”

“Tigers? As in big cat...tigers.”

Shun nodded. They both knew they had to go past the tigers. That was the quickest way out. At least that seemed the most logical. Shun would have turned around and looked for Tian if Xu agreed to it. He wanted to go back and find her, even if it meant encountering her in an impossible battle. Xu almost jumped out of his skin when he noticed Shun's eyeball within inches of his face.

“I can see it on your face, master Xu,” Shun whispered.

Xu put up his finger to silence him.

Shun didn't stop. “You want to help her.”

“I want to complete our mission.”

Xu tipped his head around the corner. The tiger closest to him was licking his paw. It stopped, and the tiger began to purr with a deep rumble. Xu pulled his head back. Too late, they heard the tiger coming down the hall. Xu squeezed the grip on his stolen sword and turned the corner. The tiger was already in the air. Xu dropped to the floor and it flew over him. Orange and black striped wings beat fast, and the tiger spun in the hallway.

“Magical beast!” Shun yelled as he searched his bag. The other tiger flew down the hall at Xu. The flying tigers had no interest in Shun. They both swatted at Xu as he twisted and turned on the ground, swinging the sword when he could. Shun kept searching his bag.

“What are you doing? Help me!”

*



Kui heard fighting on the other side the the heavy wooden doors he and Chi Zhen stood in front of. Their eyes got wide when they heard Xu yelling.

What are you doing? Help me!

Kui kicked open the door and his eyes grew wide at the sight. Two winged tigers were flying up and down the hallway. They took swipes at Xu who laid on the floor, swinging his sword upward. One of the tigers turned toward them. Its wings beat fast as it prepared to come at them. The large cat roared. Chi Zhen looked at Kui.

“Get Master Xu out of the city!”

Chi Zhen ran three steps, and jumped into the air. The tiger flew towards him. With only one tiger to worry about, Xu pushed himself into the air, towards the magical beast. Chi Zhen pointed his sword, and was surprised by the tiger's speed. His swordpoint penetrated the tiger's chest before they collided in mid air. He felt extended claws rip at his skin. Chi Zhen screamed out in pain. They rolled on the ground and Chi Zhen felt the beast change. The set of claws that ripped at his skin became nothing more than a hand. When they finished rolling on the ground, Chi Zhen's sword was skewered through a very human looking body. The shape-shifter had died.

Xu dropped his sword, and grabbed the two front paws of the flying tiger. He slammed the tiger against the stone wall and heard hollow bones in one of its wings crack. They both dropped to the ground. Xu felt the strength of the tiger swell.

“Stolen beast, be gone!” Shun urged while he held a bamboo scroll up near the tiger. The tiger did not so much roar, as let out a feminine scream.

Xu felt his arms weaken. He could not hold back the claws for much longer. “Put the scroll on her head!” he screamed.

Shun put the scroll on the tigers head. Still it struggled with Xu.

“Say the words!”

“Stolen beast, be gone!”

Another human scream...and then the tiger spoke.

“No!” The hair on the tiger's arms retreated, the vast muscles shrunk. The wings turned to ash and sprinkled down on them in a drizzle of dust. When the hair in her face fell away, Xu had to shake his head to see her. He now held a young, naked woman by the wrists.

“No!” She screamed again, in sorrow.

Xu dropped her to the floor. She no longer had interest in guarding the next passage of the palace. Instead, she curled up in a fetal position and cried over being human again. Xu shook out his sore arms and looked down the hall at Kui. He was surprised the young man had made it this far. Closer down the hall, Chi Zhen lay with an expanding pool of blood under him. Xu ran to his side.

Chi Zhen coughed up blood and smiled at his old friend. “There is a greater evil here, I can feel it.”

Xu squeezed his hand. Chi Zhen was losing strength in his grip every second. Kui walked behind Xu and chanted a mantra with his beads. Shun tried to comfort the tiger-woman, but she continued to sob.

“We learned some things. Don't you worry Chi Zhen, we're going to warn the emperor.”

Chi Zhen smiled at his old friend again.

“Find Buddha,” Chi Zhen said and then coughed a mouthful of blood. His eyes went glassy. Xu closed them, and then shut his own. he squeezed Chi Zhen's hand, and felt it grow cold.

Shun rubbed his old hands on the tiger-woman's sweaty, short black hair. She pulled away and covered her breasts with her hands.

“Don't touch me.”

Kui looked away embarrassed. Xu just stared at his dead friend. Shun held his hands up. The tiger-woman stared at his empty eye sockets and promised herself never to forget this old man. He was some kind of wizard who cursed her back to her human body.

“Who are you?” she screamed.

“Shun--the story-teller,” Shun bowed.

“Bastard!” She tried to stand, but she was not too familiar with her human legs anymore. She fell and broke out in a fresh wave of tears.

“I'll get you some day. I will get you. I swear.”

“I'm sorry...I didn't mean to...”

Xu appeared behind Shun, and tugged on his shoulder.

“Of course you did. She would have killed us.”

“But...” Shun couldn't find the words.

“But nothing. Forget about her.”

Shun stood up and followed as Kui and Xu walked toward the front gates of the palace.

“I can't believe we escaped. This will make an amazing scroll.”

Suddenly, alarms went off. Gongs, bells, then shouts could be heard from deep inside the palace. Xu took a deep breath, and cursed.

“Well, it's not us...the alarms are from deep in the palace.”

“Not us,” Xu agreed.

“Tian...” Shun said, and covered his mouth.



Click Here For Chapter 11

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE: 9

by David Agranoff



Chapter Nine


Jail Break





Xu held on to the bars and looked out the window. At this point, he couldn't see anything but dirt. The ground far below them, deep in the earth, rumbled. The prisoner in the next cell rarely came out from under his blanket, he just poked his head out from time to time, to give them various warnings. The prisoner sat up and shook out long white hair. He stroked the long strands of hair hanging from his chin.

“Hold on. Going up is worse.”

Tian held on to the bars, Shun fell forward unable to reach them, and grabbed Tian's legs. The floor shook, the walls kicked off decades-old dust everywhere. Xu put his feet against the wall, and tugged at the bars as hard as he could. The prisoner in the next cell laughed at Xu.

The pagoda roof poked out of the ground first. Another violent round of disruption shook Xu onto the floor. He jumped back up and held on to the bars.

They were above ground and rising slowly. Shorter homes and buildings were last to come bursting through. In the distance, he could see the horizon, just a sliver of orange as it disappeared slowly. Xu concentrated his Chi energy on the bar. He imagined it breaking, he hoped the shaking of the building would help.

Xu made his fist and punched the bar. His hand spasmed in pain, and he fell back onto the floor.

The other prisoner laughed as the rumbling stopped. Tian let go of the bars, and the prisoner laughed again. Xu dusted himself off, and the prisoner laughed harder. Xu looked to the next cell and the old man stroked his long white goatee, still laughing!

Xu kicked at the bars between their cells. He just wanted the man to stop laughing. The old man stopped, and stood up. He looked Xu up and down. The room became silent, for moment. The prisoner laughed again so hard, he dropped to the floor. He then covered himself in his blanket, and finally stopped laughing.

Xu looked at the the lump under the blanket and pointed.

“I know you. You were a monk. Jioa Yayi.”

Shun looked through his bag of scrolls and stopped at that name.

“Ahhh, Deadly Knuckles. The North Fist of Strength. I have heard tales of furious punches.”

Deadly Knuckles just lifted the blanket long enough to be heard.

“All true.”

“What happened to you?”

Shun pulled Xu back against the far wall and whispered.

“The stories tell of madness. Age has made this warrior senile.”

“Huh,” Xu looked over Shun's shoulder at the lump under the blanket. “Time is an enemy that is hard to defeat.”

Xu looked out the window. The stars shined down on the city. Merchants swept dirt off the streets. It would not be long before the city was in full swing. Xu shook the bar and looked at his hand. He made a fist. Xu walked back to the bars to the next cell.

“Yayi?”

Deadly Knuckles moved the blankets just enough to look at Xu with one eye.

“I don't answer to that name anymore.”

“Is it true? That you have created a manual with eighty-two power punches?”

“No,” Deadly knuckles lifted the blanket up. “It's eighty-three.”

Xu could hardly hear his mumbles through the thick blanket. Xu looked at Tian. She was impatient. She had paced the cell for a good portion of the day. She wanted nothing more than to get out there, and fight. Xu held his finger up, urging her to wait. Tian crossed her arms and waited.

“Well good sir, are any of those eighty-three punches strong enough to break steel?”

Xu rattled the cage.

The old man flipped the blanket off, and glided through the air to the bars.

“Perhaps several of them do.”

“Lies,” Tian shook her head.

Deadly Knuckles moved quicker than Xu could follow him. He reached through and punched at Tian's face. He stopped less than an inch from her nose. He didn't touch her but the power of the punch pushed air between his fist and Tian's head. Her head rocked back. Deadly Knuckles flipped back on to the floor and in one motion pulled the blanket over his head.

“I think you could escape, and that is why you laughed at me,” Xu said.

Xu watched, but nothing stirred under the blankets.

“I guess the stories I have heard are true.”

The blanket came down.

“What stories?”

“Of madness...that you are delusional.”

Deadly Knuckles stood up and flipped his blanket around until it was folded. He stepped slowly towards Xu.

“I wish it were only madness. I could sleep better at night if it were just simple madness.”

“You sleep fine,” Tian said.

Deadly Knuckles pointed at her. He looked back at Xu.

“You are better off in here.”

“Why? What is out there?”

Deadly Knuckles took a deep breath and squeezed the bars.

“A great evil. Horatius is nothing. A pawn: he has a Master, a Dark Lord that existed before the seas, cursed to live only under the moon. He is using the Manchu. He will bring down dynasties.”

Xu looked into his eyes. Deadly Knuckles didn't seem so crazy right now.

“My name is Xu, I am Shaolin Temple's greatest demon slayer, from a secret sect created to combat those monsters. Shun, show him the scroll.”

Shun bowed and unrolled the imperial scroll. Deadly Knuckles smiled.

“If I get you out of here, then you'll warn the emperor.”

Xu saluted.

Deadly Knuckles looked at Tian, and then back to Xu.

“I will need a minute to direct my chi.”

Deadly Knuckles sat down and crossed his legs. Shun pulled Xu back.

“We must return to the capital immediately.”

“Agreed.”

Xu ignored the chanting and muttering coming from Deadly Knuckles. He leaned down and smiled at Tian. She was beautiful. She was not even gone, but the thought of going separate ways didn't please him. Xu felt a great loss just considering it.

“You are a great warrior. You should come with us.”

Tian shook her head.

“My family died at the hands of a great Master of Darkness. I ran because my family wanted me to return and avenge my family. I must complete my mission”

“And you think Horatius is your master of darkness?”

Tian shook her head. “Not sure, but if there is even a chance...”

“You heard Knuckles over there. He's just a pawn.”

“Horatius doesn't think so.”

“They all think they're the most important creature alive, it's just how they think. We can come back for him. You're needed.”

“By you? Or the emperor?”

Xu would have told her that he needed her. He had every intention to tell her. Deadly Knuckles stood up and sucked in a deep breath. He threw the punch. In Xu's mind, he watched it come in slow. Deadly Knuckle's palm was open. When it struck the bar that connected the two cells, everything around them shook. The bar bent in the center before it made a squealing sound and snapped into four pieces. The two in the middle flew out, and embedded themselves into the stone wall.

Deadly Knuckles shook out his hand, and twisted back to the floor. He then shook out his blanket, until it covered him. Xu snapped his fingers, and Shun was the first out of the cell. Two guards ran down the hall towards them. They only carried a sword apiece. Tian signaled Xu, and ran down the hall towards them. They screamed like warriors, and lifted their swords. Tian ran towards them, and in the last five feet, dropped and slid down the hall. Their swords swept through the air above her head and clanged against each other. Tian kicked each of their ankles. They fell over her, and she quickly knocked them back with lightning-fast punches.

Both guards hit the floor without their swords, as Tian took them out of their hands. She spun the swords, and stabbed them into their guts. Each of the swordsmen grabbed the blades and screamed in pain as blood poured out of them and onto the floor.

Shun held out an eyeball and whistled. Xu nodded his head in approval. Deadly Knuckles grunted under the blanket.

“They're not human!”

The two guards turned up their heads. They were still in pain, and they looked up at Tian with burning rage. Tian jumped back, pulling the swords free. Xu reached down, and pulled the blanket off the angry Deadly Knuckles.

“What kills them?”

The guards jumped up and flew through the air towards Tian as she spun the swords wildly.

“I don't know!” Knuckles grabbed his blanket.

Xu jumped into the hall and spun past Tian, grabbing one of the swords. In one motion he swept the sword across the first guard's neck, and bent over. Tian followed his lead and jumped on to his back. She swung down and hit the second guard's neck. The guard's head dropped off, draining blood onto Xu's back.

Xu stood up to shake the blood off, and felt something grab his leg.

“Xu!” Shun yelled from back in the cell.

Xu looked down, and jumped back. One of the headless bodies had reached out and grabbed onto his ankle. Xu pulled his leg free, and scanned the area. The body of the other headless guard reached around desperately, trying to find its own head. Tian stepped forward, and punted the head down the hall. Xu stabbed the second one with his sword. It had no vocal cords, as pieces of it were strewn around the hall, so its mouth opened in a silent scream. Xu walked over to a barred window and scraped the head off so it would fall into the courtyard.

“That is something else...have you ever seen...”

Xu turned around and Tian was gone. He barely saw her as she rounded a corner.

“Wait-!”

Shun ran up and jumped over the headless body as it reached for him. Shun stopped at Xu.

“Where is she going?”

“To kill Horatius,” Xu said, and kicked the wall in frustration. Shun started after her. Xu grabbed his arm, stopping him in place.

“No. We need to escape...and warn the emperor.”





Click Here For Chapter 10

Monday, January 18, 2010

THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE: 8

by David Agranoff



Chapter Eight


Hidden In Darkness




Shun held his eyeball out between the bars on the window and scanned the area. Xu mumbled as he tried to wake up. Tian looked over Shun's shoulder.

“What's happening?”

The Sun lit the horizon. Xu sat up and looked around. His body was sore in a dozen places from the battle he survived. They were in a stone room with a hay and straw floor, he would have thought it was a barn, if not for the steel that made up the fourth wall. He rubbed his sore head and looked out the bars that let in the fresh air.

“We're on an upper level,” said Shun.

Xu pushed him out of the way and held on to the bars. Out in the courtyard, the people and monsters of Venara ran in every direction. They shouted hysterically, looking like roaches running under lantern light. Doors slammed, the gates to the city were tied shut. It wasn't long before the last of them went inside and emptied the streets. In a very short order, it looked like a ghost town.

“What now?”

The sun shined across the courtyards and stages of Venara.

“Dawn...hold on to something.” A weary prisoner in the next cell spoke in a throaty, destroyed voice.

Everything began to rumble. The earth, the buildings, the walls. Shun put his eye away and covered his head. Tian tipped a cot and hid under it. Xu held on to the bars and watched. The city shook violently...and then it moved. It was like the whole city was a bucket going down a well; the dirt and earth rose beside the buildings. It didn't take long before the sun was gone, and the city of Venara was buried.

“Fascinating,” Xu said before he laid down on a cot. Shun reached out and felt the dirt that had sealed up around the outside of the building. He stepped back expecting the dirt to come in and suffocate them. He didn't know what held it back, but he was thankful it did. Tian looked at the window.

“It's a huge coffin, and we're buried alive.”

“Don't be so dramatic. When the sun goes down, we'll escape.”

Xu closed his eyes. Tian sighed. Xu opened one eye, and saw her staring.

“Who the hell are you anyways?” Xu asked, and closed his eyes again.

“I said my name is Tian.”

“Ok, how do you know Occult style kungfu?”

“It's Wudong style, from the Demon Wheel Manual.”

Xu sat up.

“Ha! Zhou Lai was the only student alive of the Demon Wheel, and he died five years ago.”

Tian's rage bubbled under the surface. The mention of the once great Wudong master was affecting her. Xu watched as she lost her inner struggle. Signs of her sorrow and frustration slowly broke out across her face.

Xu once fought a demon alongside Zhou Lai. They tracked him over a month. Zhou had taught him many of the skills that had made him a famous demon slayer. Zhou Lai was like the father he had always wanted, and when the mission was over, Zhou returned home to his family. It had been Xu's first time away from the temple, alone. A lot of the things he learned about the world, he learned from Zhou.

Tian was too young be his wife.

“Was he your father?”

It had been five years, and it still hurt Tian to think about him. Five years since her father, mother and brother were taken from their home. The monsters had waited until the Wudong kungfu master was ill. Perhaps they had poisoned him. They took them, one by one. Zhou Lai was made to suffer, to listen, as he lay helpless in a bed, to the screams of his dying wife. Tian had held his father's hand through it all. He told her to leave, told her where his kungfu and Demon Wheel manuals were hidden.

“Return after the sun is in the sky. Take the manual and finish your studies.”

“But father, I am not strong enough.”

“You must find the scroll of Spirit Disposal, take these skills to the master of darkness, and avenge your family.”

Tian looked away from Xu. She walked to the bars and shook them violently.

“Huh...” Xu shook his head. “Zhou Tian.”

“I need to get out of here.”

“Well, that is not going to help. Why don't you rest?”

Tian turned over a cot and laid down.

“Get some sleep, and we'll talk about your father later.”

*



Kui looked out from the back room at the Ill-Begotten. Creatures that looked almost human, some that barely had shape or form, and a few normal looking people continued to drink unaffected while the earth rumbled. Su-Yee put her hands over her ears. She looked ready to scream. Chi Zhen had walked into the bar, and was already out of sight.

Kui wanted to hold Su-Yee and comfort her, but he knew that was not appropriate. Instead, he rubbed his prayer beads and chanted Buddha's name. The rumbling stopped. Kui looked around, and thought it best to continue chanting.

Su-Yee sat down on the floor next to him. He should have told her it was inappropriate. He shouldn't be thinking anything but his mantra. Chi Zhen walked back into the room. Kui jumped up and Chi Zhen waved his hands.

“Quiet! Calm down!”

“What just happened?”

“This city is crawling with creatures,” Chi Zhen whispered. “Wraiths,demons, Jiangshi...”

“Ahh,” Su-Yee grabbed Kui's arm. “Jiangshi-–the hopping corpse.”

“They don't hop. They are deadly. In darkness, the city is open to all. The creatures of this city are powerful. In the light, they have no power.”

Kui nodded. Chi Zhen pulled out beads and sat on the floor, across from Kui.

“You're a Buddhist?”

Chi Zhen smiled at the young monk.

“Don't judge my life by the building I call home. I am not attached to this world.”

Kui bowed and they began to softly chant. Su-Yee stood up and looked out into the tavern. She gasped when she saw a giant snake with a human torso at the bar. She stepped back.

“And who are you?”

Su-Yee looked down at Chi Zhen.

“I don't think that matters.”

“She is with me,” said Kui.

Chi Zhen looked at Kui.

“Who is she?”

Kui looked at her and back at Chi Zhen. Kui had nothing to say. Su-Yee sat down across from Chi Zhen.

“I am not warrior, I have no kungfu, but I want to help in some way.”

The two monks looked at each other.

“Alright, I'll tell you.” Su-Yee pushed hair behind her ear exposing more of her face. Kui felt an uncomfortable yearning to touch the skin on her neck.

“When my father decided I was old enough to marry, he sold me to a farmer in Zhejiang. I was to marry his son...

*



…I walked into the house and bowed. The farmer was fat. His face was unshaven in splotches. His shirt was stained with dung from the field, and spilled food from meals. He looked at me like I was a meal. I kept my head low, and didn't look at him or his wife. She sat silent in the corner. She didn't look at me.

“I am very honored to be here. When do I meet your son?”

The farmer laughed. He told me to wait and grabbed his wife by the arm. He pulled her out through a back door. Then I hear a scream. She begged, screaming “No! No!” I couldn't wait there, bowing. I walked to the window and peeked.

The farmer raised chickens and pigs for slaughter. The man pulled his wife by her hair towards the barn. I knew then he had no son. And very soon I was going to be his wife. So I ran…


*



“...Before I could get home I was caught by a Venara slaver. Now I'm here.”

“When the city rises again, you should go home.” said Chi Zhen.

“To what? My father sold me, he'll send me back to that farmer, he won't believe my story.”

Chi Zhen stood up. He looked around the corner into the bar.

“I'm going to serve some drinks and get some information. Get some rest.”

Chi Zhen left, and Kui breathed a sigh of relief. He wanted to be alone with Su-Yee. No wonder she was so distrustful of men. They always tried to take and control her.

“I'm cold,” Su-yee wrapped her arms together tight. Kui took off his orange robe and wrapped it around her. She smiled back at him. “Won't you be cold?”

“Buddha keeps me warm.”

Su-Yee laughed, and smiled at him. He had not been making a joke, but she seemed to think he had. Best of all, she liked it. Kui smiled, and therefore took credit for the joke. How could he rest, with her looking at him that way? Kui turned away and looked at the prayer beads hung from his neck.

“Buddha be praised...Buddha be praised...” Kui chanted, and tried to get her out of his mind.

*



Jiang, the governor's daughter, laid on the bed next to Xu. He looked over and saw her young, beautiful face. She whispered, “Save me Master Xu.” He wanted to tell her that he would, but he knew she was lost long ago. He felt her blood soaking the bed under him, he wanted to jump up and run, but the blood thickened like hot wax and held him fast.

“Let me go!”

Xu's eyes snapped open. He leapt up off the cot, and swung his arm. Tian blocked the punch. In the distance, elsewhere in the palace--a gong rang.

“The Hour of the Rooster is at hand,” the otherwise silent prisoner in the next cell said.

Xu looked at Shun, who sat watching the window. The earth began to rumble.

“Time to escape...”


Click Here For Chapter 9

Archive of Stories
and Authors

Edward Morris's
MERCY STREET


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CRYPTID'S LAIR


Adam Bolivar's
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OUTER DARKNESS


Adam Bolivar's
THE DEVIL & SIR
FRANCIS DRAKE



Adam Bolivar's
THE TIME-EATER


Adam Bolivar is an expatriate Bostonian
who has lived in New Orleans and Berkeley,
and currently resides in Portland, Oregon
with his beloved wife and fluffy gray cat
Dahlia. Adam wears round, antique glasses
and has a fondness for hats. His greatest
inspirations include H.P. Lovecraft,
Jack tales and coffee.


John Claude Smith's
BLOOD ECHO SYMPHONIES


John Claude Smith's
NOT BREATHING



John Claude Smith writes weird fiction,
something between Horror and Magic
Realism, most of it psychologically driven.
He's had over 40 tales and over 1100 music
reviews, interviews, and profiles published.
He is currently shopping two novels and
a collection to agents and publishers, all
while starting the third novel. Gotta keep
on keepin' on! Looking forward to Rome
in the not too distant future, but for now,
just looking for the next short story to
be written.


David Agranoff's
A PLANET OF YOUR OWN


David Agranoff's
THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE


David Agranoff is the author of the
short story collection Screams From
A Dying World, just published by
Afterbirth Books. David is a hardcore
vegan and tireless environmentalist.
His contributions to the punk horror
scene and the planet in general have
already established him as a bright
new writer and activist to watch out
for. The Freezine of Fantasy and
Science Fiction welcomes him and
his defiant vision open-heartedly.

David is a busy man, usually at work
on several different novels or projects
at once. He is sure to leave his mark on
a world teetering over the edge of
ecological imbalance. David's latest
books include the Wuxia -Pan
(martial arts fantasy) horror
novel called Hunting The Moon Tribe,
already out from Afterbirth Books.;
The Vegan Revolution...with Zombies,
[Deadite Press, 2010]; and
[Deadite Press, 2014]

Daniel José Older's
GRAVEYARD WALTZ


Daniel José Older's
THE COLLECTOR


Daniel José Older's spiritually driven,
urban storytelling takes root at the
crossroads of myth and history.
With sardonic, uplifting and often
hilarious prose, Older draws from
his work as an overnight 911 paramedic,
a teaching artist & an antiracist/antisexist
organizer to weave fast-moving, emotionally
engaging plots that speak whispers and
shouts about power and privilege in
modern day New York City. His work
has appeared in the Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction, The ShadowCast
the collection Sunshine/Noir, and is
featured in Sheree Renee Thomas'
Black Pot Mojo Reading Series in Harlem.

When he's not writing, teaching or
riding around in an ambulance,
Daniel can be found performing with
his Brooklyn-based soul quartet
Ghost Star. His blog about the
ridiculous and disturbing world
of EMS can be found HERE.


Johnny Strike's
AS YOU WISH


Johnny Strike's
NIGHT FLAMERS


Johnny Strike's
THE HOMELESS MUTANTS


Johnny Strike will beat you with his guitar
and leave you lying in the gutter wishing you
had never dared enter his under ground world
of fake passports, lucky amulets, rain soaked
hotels, and occult mystique. If you don't leave
nice comments under his story, he's sure to sic
his band CRIME on you. He also wrote the novel
Ports Of Hell (Headpress), recommended by
William S. Burroughs. You don't receive kudos
from William Lee himself unless you are the
epitome of cool. Besides, have you listened to
CRIME's album Exalted Masters? It was
released in 2007 on the Crime Music label,
on vinyl only, featuring a slew of their old
rare hits. Its real punk music from seasoned
veterans. Now go track yourself down a copy
before its out of print. The Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction is proud to host the story
that contains the line which titles his first
From Above (Rudos and Rubes).


Paul Stuart's
SEA?TV!


Paul Stuart is the author of numerous
biographical blurbs written in the third
person. His previously published fiction
appears in The Vault of Punk Horror and
His non-fiction financial pieces can be found
in a shiny, west-coast magazine that features
pictures of expensive homes, as well as images
of women in casual poses and their accessories.
Consider writing him at paul@twilightlane.com,
if you'd like some thing from his garage. In fall
2010, look for Grade 12 Trigonometry and
Pre-Calculus -With Zombies.


Rain Grave's
MAU BAST


Rain Graves is an award winning
author of horror, science fiction and
poetry. She is best known for the 2002
Poetry Collection, The Gossamer Eye
(along with Mark McLaughlin and
David Niall Wilson). Her most
recent book, Barfodder: Poetry
Written in Dark Bars and Questionable
Cafes, has been hailed by Publisher's
Weekly as "Bukowski meets Lovecraft..."
in January of 2009. She lives and
writes in San Francisco, performing
spoken word at events around the
country. 877-DRK-POEM -



Icy Sedgwick's
THE PORCELAIN WOMAN


Icy Sedgwick is part writer and part
trainee supervillain. She lives in the UK
but dreams of the Old West. Her current
works include a ghost story about a Cavalier
and a Western tale of retribution. Find her
ebooks, free weekly fiction and other
shenanigans at Icy’s Cabinet of Curiosities.


Blag Dahlia's
armed to the teeth
with LIPSTICK



BLAG DAHLIA is a Rock Legend.
Singer, Songwriter, producer &
founder of the notorious DWARVES.
He has written two novels, ‘NINA’ and
‘ARMED to the TEETH with LIPSTICK’.


G. Alden Davis's
THE FOLD


G. Alden Davis wrote his first short story
in high school, and received a creative
writing scholarship for the effort. Soon
afterward he discovered that words were
not enough, and left for art school. He was
awarded the Emeritus Fellowship along
with his BFA from Memphis College of Art
in '94, and entered the videogame industry
as a team leader and 3D artist. He has over
25 published games to his credit. Mr. Davis
is a Burningman participant of 14 years,
and he swings a mean sword in the SCA.


Shae Sveniker's
A NEW METAPHYSICAL STUDY
REGARDING THE BEHAVIOR
OF PLANT LIFE


Shae is a poet/artist/student and former
resident of the Salt Pit, UT, currently living
in Simi Valley, CA. His short stories are on
Blogger and his poetry is hosted on Livejournal.



Nigel Strange's
PLASTIC CHILDREN


Nigel Strange lives with his wife and
daughter, cats, and tiny dog-like thing
in their home in California where he
occasionally experiments recreationally
with lucidity. PLASTIC CHILDREN
is his first publication.


J.R. Torina's
THE HOUSE IN THE PORT


J.R. Torina was DJ for Sonic Slaughter-
house ('90-'97), runs Sutekh Productions
(an industrial-ambient music label) and
Slaughterhouse Records (metal record
label), and was proprietor of The Abyss
(a metal-gothic-industrial c.d. shop in
SLC, now closed). He is the dark force
behind Scapegoat (an ambient-tribal-
noise-experimental unit). THE HOUSE
IN THE PORT is his first publication.


K.B. Updike, Jr's
THE GOLDEN THIRD EYE


K.B. Updike, Jr. is a young virgin
Virginia writer. KB's life work,
published 100% for free: