Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 9

In this episode of “Secrets in Sulsut”, an unexpected ally comes to Malric’s aid in his darkest hour.

Happy Reading!

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Malric thrashed within the net like a fish pulled from the sea. He couldn’t believe he was going to die in the belly of a deity lost to his kind; alone, anonymously, his bones hidden in the darkness of a cavern beneath the sea.

Still, the calculating part of Malric’s mind, the part that had guided him safely through the countless pilferings and assassinations in Sulsut, insisted that there was a way out of this. Ledges jutted out of the sides of the cavern every few feet. Once free, it would be little work climbing back up into the chamber. But then what?

Suddenly a clamor rose from above. Malric craned his neck against the heavy rope and spied a shape flying over the edge of the cavern and down towards him. Knives and tridents clattered against the sides of the pit as they tried to bring down the creature.

Malric could not determine what it was, but it clutched something shiny in its talons.

Vibrations trembled down the rope that held Malric. He frantically searched the nearer side of the cavern. He noticed a ledge down and to the left. Bracing his boots against the wall, he shoved out and to the right. He swung outward, then over the ledge he was aiming for, and then back to his original position. He shoved off once again. The rope snapped on his return.

Malric impacted the ledge with his shoulder and cried out in pain. For an indescribable moment he teetered on the edge of the ledge. Sinuous arms broke the water’s surface to grasp him. Then he rolled back against the wall in a tangle of netting.

Hearing the fluttering of wings very close, Malric turned his head and spied Sol’s owl above him, holding Sliver in its talons and running its blade back and forth against the netting.

It is me, old friend, boomed the weary voice of Sol in his head, I guide the owl. Make haste; even as we speak my strength wavers. Malric noticed that the owl was struggling to stay airborne, and that blood flowed down one of its wings.

Soon Malric was free of the netting and felt the exhilaration of a lover’s reunion as he removed Sliver from the owl’s talons.

The water below was feverishly crashing against the sides of the cavern, a manifestation of the distress of the ancient god below.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 8

In this episode, Malric learns of Galron’s alliance with the Scavengers.

Enjoy!

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A sea breeze from a large opening in the center of the room fed the sparse torchlight in the natural cavern. Two Scavengers stood by the entrance to a passage on the far side of the chamber, their tridents crossed over the portal. A large oaken table rested in the center of the room, and Malric was dismayed to see several members of the Thieves’ Guild seated there beside the Scavengers.

The rider with the emerald cloak stood before Malric. The hood of the cloak was thrown back, and his dark, bearded face was immediately recognizable to Malric.

“Malric, Malric, Malric! I’m so ashamed to have ever called you brother! Did you really think we would’ve overlooked that messy job you performed on the sentry? Hardly a job worthy of such a subtle craft such as ours, Malric.”

“I see you have discovered a taste for fish, Galron.”

Malric was struck hard across the face. Galron looked as if he would strike him again. Then he lowered his fist and began to pace.

“We knew you would never understand, Malric. You who always spoke of Sulsut as if you were a court poet instead of a lowly thief. You would never have betrayed your beloved city. You would steal there, and even kill there if necessary. But betray? No. You would never accept an alliance with the Scavengers.”

“I should expect this much from you, Galron. I savor the day when the Scavengers turn on you.” Several Scavengers raised their tridents at this statement but were restrained by a wave of Galron’s hand.

“Thulos lives, Malric. We have seen, and only a fool denies what he has seen and refuses to believe it. Sulsut will soon be a Scavenger city.”

Malric spat at Galron. The spittle struck Galron’s cheek and ran down it like a worm.

Latching maniacally onto Malric’s shoulders, Galron pulled him close.

“You will be a believer, Malric,” Galron hissed through clenched teeth, “It will be the last thing you believe!” Then he pushed Malric away. Scavengers surged forward and covered Malric in a net. A rope was tied to the net and they lifted Malric towards the lip of the opening and placed him down on his side.

Galron strode over to the lip of the pit and stared down at Malric.

“Cheer up, Malric,” he said slyly, “you’ve become food for a god!” Galron’s booming laughter filled Malric’s head as he was kicked over the edge.

Malric fell into space for a terrifying moment before the rope caught him. Far below something waited for him at the bottom of the cavern, dimly outlined by the luminous sea plants at the bottom. It stirred the water with its long, serpentine limbs.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 7

In this episode, Malric is ambushed and captured by the Scavengers.

Enjoy!

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The interior of the temple was moist and smelled of rotting fish. There were no torches and the floor sloped steeply downwards. Running his hands along the stone walls of the corridor, Malric discovered that the passageway was covered with carvings. Malric shuddered, thinking of the tentacled god called Thulos and the amphibious Scavengers who dwelled below.

As he continued, the decline grew more exaggerated, and he lost his footing several times before he was forced to a crawl. A sticky liquid covered the floor and long eel-like worms moved within the substance. The stench of decay was almost unbearable.

Malric was near vomiting when a draft blew through the corridor. The salty tang it carried steadied Malric’s stomach and allowed him to continue. Up ahead dim torchlight spilled forth from a natural chamber. Without warning the floor fell away beneath him. He was in mid-air for several seconds and then landed roughly on the stone floor below. Instinctively he scrambled to his feet and drew his weapon.

Just as quickly he was knocked back down by a blow to the back of the head. He fell to his knees. Soon figures rushed in around him, their strong arms lashing out from the darkness and disarming him. He was efficiently bound with taut rope and led up a short flight of stairs to a torchlit chamber. He was unable to get a good look at his captors, but by the unnatural way some of them moved he knew that not all were men.

As they entered the chamber, torchlight illuminated the alien features of those around him. They had long, stretched-out faces, yellowish skin with flecks of green peppering their shoulders and backs. They were the source of the reek that pervaded the whole atmosphere of the shrine, that smell of crustaceans dredged up from the sea to die in the sun.

Their breathing was heavy and the air that ran through their slitted nostrils hissed as it passed. Their huge, bulbous eyes were expressionless pools of obsidian. Malric was thrown into the chamber before he could observe them more closely.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 6

In this episode, Malric launches a bold assault on the temple of Thulos.

Happy Reading!

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Malric bit his tongue to shut out the memory. It terrified him and filled him with rage because the Guild had refused to believe his story, refused to believe because they had planned his death from the start of that job.

Malric’s thoughts of vengeance were disturbed by approaching horsemen. He quickly disengaged himself from the thicket, silent and dark like a piece of the night itself. He lowered himself into the tall grass and waited.

The rider was wrapped in an emerald cloak that seemed to swallow his gaunt frame. He bridled his powerful gray warhorse to a post near the southern portal. Malric crawled forward to make sure he was within earshot. A sentry stepped out of the darkened alcove of the southern portal and confronted the rider. The rider held his arms towards the sky in supplication and cried, “He will rise again!”

“Aye, and make his servants Lords and Keepers of the Land!” replied the sentry.

The two figures then disappeared into the darkness of the temple. Malric crawled back to the thicket on his belly. His mare snorted at his approach.

Malric rose and put his palm against the mare’s head until she was silent. Malric removed his tools and two throwing daggers from the saddlebag. He ran a hand along the outside of his right boot and felt the reassuring shape of Sliver within.

What he was about to do went against all of the rules of engagement he had learned as a thief. He was slightly nervous, and he accidentally let the buckles of the saddlebag fall against one another. It was a subtle noise, but Malric removed a dagger from his waist all the same. Finally, after several moments of utter stillness, he sheathed the blade.

Malric shook off his doubts and mounted his steed. He moved off at a slow canter towards the town, careful to stay within the thicket’s perimeter. As soon as the shrine had disappeared into the velveteen background of the night he moved out of the thicket and once more rode towards the Temple of Thulos.

Striking the mare with his boots, he slid low into the saddle as it broke into a full gallop. He gripped a throwing dagger in one tense, sweaty palm and gritted his teeth as he struggled to stay horsed. The temple was just ahead.

Hearing the sentry unsheathe his blade, Malric pulled back hard on the reins, causing the mare to neigh and flail its forehooves. Malric shifted in the saddle and his dagger missed the sentry. Placing both hands on the hilt of his broadsword, the sentry prepared to strike. Malric watched in horror and struggled to fight the horse back.

A moment later a hoof crushed the sentry’s face, sending him crashing to the earth in a shower of armor. His hands trembling, Malric leapt from the saddle and finished the job by slitting the sentry’s throat.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 5

In this episode, Malric travels into the wilderness beyond Sulsut to investigate the mysterious sect of Thulos.

Happy Reading!

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Malric rode hard towards the sea. The hood of his cloak was off and his black hair flowed behind him in the slipstream like a mane. He was in love with the desolation beyond the city limits. Out here there was no need for secrecy. Even a renegade from the Thieves’ Guild was welcome to the rocky cliffs and wheeling gulls.

The Temple of Thulos was far out on the point, close to the lighthouse. Malric knew little about the sect, only that Thulos was the supposed deity of the Scavengers, a race of amphibious half-men who often attacked ships coming out of Sulsut Harbor. According to Sol, the temple itself was designed as a single vertical shaft that delved deep into the cliffs by the sea. The thought of meeting other members of the Guild in such a place weighed heavily on Malric, but the weight of the pouch of gold on his belt was heavier than the weight of his fear.

Dusk soon fell to night, and the wind off the sea sent a chill through Malric, and he wrapped his cloak about him as he neared the Thulos temple. It was a short, dome-shaped structure with portals at each of the compass[1]points. Above each portal was the signet of Thulos—six sinuous limbs connected to a dark circle. Malric had been told that only one of the portals led down into the heart of the shrine.

Malric led his mare over to a group of pines some fifty yards distant from the temple. He was close to the cliffs now, and the wind sliced through the trees like a scythe, invading every exposed pore of his skin. He bridled his steed in the center of a thicket and rested his back against a nearby pine. He pulled the coarse fabric of his hood over his head and let his gaze wander out to the stars. There was no sound except for the occasional shuffling of the mare’s hooves against the earth.

The stars brought back memories of Malric’s boyhood, of lying on rooftops and watching the stars moving in their calm timeless paths above the din of Sulsut’s night life. He remembered the excitement of his early pilferings — shinnying down bowers into windows then escaping into the night by rooftop. As a bastard child in Sulsut his occupation in thievery was more or less preordained.

As Malric grew more relaxed, the memories spilled out of his mind more rapidly, progressing into his manhood; a whirlwind of sensation and emotion. One kept recurring. It was the memory of Galron’s face as he peered over the edge of the pit down at Malric. It was a wicked mask of hate made more hideous because it was worn by a man Malric had once called blood brother. The images that followed were worse. They depicted something sliding through the bones and other debris that littered the floor of the pit, something with a long, twisting body, hungry eyes, and blade-like mandibles . . .

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 4

In this episode of Secrets in Sulsut, Malric recovers from his injuries while Sol studies the mysterious ring of Thulos.

Enjoy!

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Malric and Sol sat by the fire. The storm had once again worked itself up into a downpour, and it struck the thatched roof like muffled laughter. Malric and Sol were talking excitedly over a small golden object.

“See this signet, Malric? It is the signet of Thulos, the ancient one of the sea, the leader of the sea dogs.”

“I’m sure Dirk stole it,” said Malric dryly. “Perhaps . . . but what if not? What if members of the Guild have joined the Thulos sect?”

“Really, old man, I think that owl of yours flew away with your senses.”

“There is no need for debate. I will read the object’s past. Finish your mead.”

Sol retired to an adjacent room. Malric continued to drink, feeling warm and content for the first time in weeks. He studied the cozy room, the frightful array of books, skulls, and vials that lined the shelves and walls. Sol’s owl studied him from its perch on the mantle over the fireplace.

An hour later Sol returned, his face drawn and grave. He placed a bag of gold down on the table in front of Malric.

“Dirk was a member of the Thulos sect. I have also discovered that others from the Guild have joined. Something has happened. The city of Sulsut is in grave danger. I want you to investigate the Thulos sect.” All of the cheer had left Sol’s manner, as if the storm outside had swept through his being and left everything gray.

Malric was oblivious to Sol’s distress. He was warm and dry by the fire. He had just been given a pouch of gold and flowing cups of honey[1]mead. Malric was more than content, he was downright drunk. There was only one thing missing from this moment—the singing of steel and the last gasping breaths of his enemies.

And this too he would know soon.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 3

In this episode, Malric escapes the temple and is healed by the wizard Sol.

Enjoy!

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Malric shinnied out of the window of a squat, black temple. He did not even try to break his fall to the ground. He was barely cognizant of the sensation of falling at all, or the fact that he was lying face down in the dirt.

After several minutes of difficult breathing, Malric unsteadily rose, still living a vivid dream of battle with phantom ships and luminous skeletal warriors.

Waving his imaginary saber and issuing meek battle cries, Malric staggered into the gardens behind the boulevard known as Tin-Ka Tah.

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The last thing Malric remembered was stumbling out of the Temple of Tin-Ka Tah, the venom of a giant centipede coursing through his veins and the bitter taste of Galron’s betrayal on his lips . . .

He came to. His eyes swam dizzily for several moments, lost in the golden brilliance of Sol’s robes, and finally came into focus.

“Sol?” Malric cried. “But how—”

“I could sense that you were close to death, Malric. Our destinies are closer than you think. I sent out R. David Fulcher 256 Attis, my best owl, to be my eyes in the city. He led me to you.”

“How long have I slept?” inquired Malric.

“It has been a week since I discovered you in the gardens. You should really consider becoming a mage, Malric. It could really improve your quality of living,” said Sol in his old granite voice.

“Even your ill humor suits me well tonight, Sol. I thought I’d never swallow poison again after leaving the Thieves’ Guild.”

Suddenly Malric began to cough, and his temple grew warm. “One moment,” Sol stated, getting up slowly to retrieve a wooden bowl full of amber liquid. “Drink this,” he commanded.

“What is it?” asked Malric.

“Drink it.” Malric looked uncertainly at Sol, and then at the contents of the bowl. Steam rose gently off of the liquid’s surface, which was like a thick syrup. It smelled faintly of wildflowers.

Malric sighed and drank the warm fluid deeply. His eyelids grew heavy. “Thank you, Sol. I owe you much,” he whispered.

“Rest now,” Sol replied, but Malric was already asleep.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 2

In this episode, Marlic learns of Galron’s treachery, and encounters a new horror in the black temple of the Dharin Ki.

Enjoy!

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“Watch the center tile,” Malric warned. Malric withdrew his blade, Sliver, from its sheath, expecting danger ahead.

The two thieves crept up a narrow spiraling staircase, into a corridor lined with heavy wooden doors and paved with eastern furs and weaves.  They were still several levels beneath the ground.

Malric stepped forward into nothingness. For an agonizing moment he swayed on the lip of the pit, watching the carpet that had covered it fall into the darkness below.

Then he was pushed from behind. Plunging headfirst, Malric attempted to roll his body so that he would land on his hands, but he did not complete the revolution and struck the hard stone with his back.

Through the haze of his pain, Malric could see the square of light above him, and Galron’s bearded, scornful face peering over the side.

Malric could not study the bitter picture for long. Slithering through the bones and old blades that covered the floor of the pit came a much older servant of the temple, a long segmented body with countless legs that clicked over the debris as it advanced. Its hungry red eyes and slick mandibles were visible in the near darkness.

Malric sat up and fished among the garbage for Sliver, which had been knocked from his hand upon impact. The beast was almost upon him.

“By Erahorn, Galron shall pay for this,” Malric promised the dead around him. He removed a rusty short sword from the pile.

The centipede reared up its forebody to strike. Malric dodged its mandibles and thrust at the creature. The hard plates that covered the creature’s underbelly deflected the blow.

The creature whipped its long body around Malric’s legs and toppled him as he was rising.

There was an immense pain in Malric’s ankle, and he shrieked. One of the centipede’s hook-like mandibles had found purchase, and the other was greedily trying to take hold.

Malric’s arm was shaking as he raised the blade. Using both hands, he guided the tip into a groove between the creature’s head and the segment before it. He then threw all of his weight forward and down, and there was a sickening crunch as the centipede’s head tore free from the rest of the body and the sword pierced the soft mush of its brain.

Finally the heavy animal chain around Malric’s legs was still, and Malric heaved the carcass from him. Reaching down, he placed a hand on either side of the creature’s dismembered head and worked the mandible out of his ankle, tossing the eggshell skull against the wall.

The stench of the creature’s body was suffocating. Malric looked up with fire in his eyes, but Galron was gone. Malric removed climbing spikes from his belt and steadied himself against the wall before beginning his ascent. He felt faint, and he vomited into the rubbish as he dug for Sliver. He finally found the dagger and wasted no time in mounting the wall. The creature’s venom was already making his head swim.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 1

I’ve decided to try the S&S (“Sword & Sorcery”) Fantasy genre for this month’s series. 

“Secrets in Sulsut” was one of my rare attempts at this genre, and I hope it echoes some of the great S&S tales from Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. 

The protagonist is a thief named Malric living in the medieval harbor city of Sulsut.

I hope you enjoy this brief diversion into S&S!

SECRETS IN SULSUT

THE FIRST SECRET:A SECRET VENGEANCE

North of the run-down slums that lined the street known as the Beggars’ Handshake, there is a boulevard of temples and shrines known as Tin-Ka Tah, or “Walk to Stars” in the ancient tongue.

On this boulevard there is a squat, black temple of the Dharin Ki, an elusive sect who walk the streets of Sulsut in grim crimson cloaks, never revealing their features to the light. Their bodies move strangely beneath the folds of their clothing, and their steps are unusually long. In Sulsut, these worshippers and their temple are avoided and disliked by the human residents of the city.

And in this temple, under the composite shades of darkness, stalks a thief named Malric.

Guild-brother Dirk was dying. His body twitched and rocked violently in the flickering torchlight, sick with poison.

Malric and Guild-brother Galron worked feverishly at Dirk’s belt, cutting loose the small pouches of gems that had been pried from the ornaments of the Dharin Ki temple. The murderer lay beside its victim, the black exoskeleton in the region of its thorax crushed and oozing green blood. Its fly-like, multi-faceted eyes stared into an apocalypse it would never witness.

Finally the worshipper’s venom ran its course, and Dirk was still.

Malric wished that the combat had never taken place. He wished that Dirk was still alive. He wished that he was roaming the streets of Sulsut, thieving freely as opposed to being trapped in this black shrine.

Most of all, he wished that the worshipper had not thrown off its cloak before attacking Dirk. The six, many jointed appendages and the weeping antennae of the creature were the product of strong sorcery indeed.

After removing the items from Dirk’s belt, Malric removed a ring with an odd signet from Dirk’s hand.

Galron watched him curiously as he did this.

“I find this signet interesting,” Malric said.

“A minor pilfering of Dirk’s, nothing more,” Galron replied in a disinterested tone.

“Perhaps,” Malric replied, stowing the object into his pouch.

“I think that it is best that we leave this accursed place,” hissed Galron, his beady green eyes madly searching the passageway.

“Aye, brother.”

Their pace was cautious. It was as if the two of them moved within a cloud of silence, so accomplished were they at their craft. Tapestries hung over the doorways of the chambers that were adjacent to the corridor, undulating with the incense-laden draft, each hiding a potential adversary. Jade idols with ruby eyes stared back at them from niches in the wall. They did not stop to pry the gems loose.

Malric stepped forward and froze. The floor beneath his left foot sank just slightly with his weight, and now attempted to push the foot upwards with spring tension. Malric placed his other foot on the tile to hold it down. He motioned for Galron to step back, and then he sprang forward onto his stomach. He felt a rush of air pass by his head, and watched as a huge blade rolled overhead and disappeared into a slot in the wall.

“By the gods of Erahorn, brother, that was close!” whispered Malric.

To be continued…

Fear Thy Neighbor – Epilogue

In the closing of the story, the hedge and the man next door have been destroyed, and things in the neighborhood slowly return to normal.  Unlike the unhallowed ground of Stephen King’s Pet Sematery, it was important to me to have the house and land next door restored to health once the malevolent forces had been banished. 

The young couple embodies this theme of renewal, as what better symbolizes Spring and rebirth than the love shared between two people?

I hope you enjoyed this episodic adventure and stay tuned for future episodes of other stories soon.

Happy Reading!

George and Charles knew they didn’t have much time. The fire department would soon arrive, and they would ask questions.

They forced their way inside the house next door with a crowbar. It was filled with a heady vegetable stench. They found the remains of the old man in the cellar, hard and blackened as if he were mummified. They wrapped the carcass up in a blanket from one of the upstairs bedrooms and carried it out the back door and left it behind a pile of bricks in the Thomas’ back yard.

The various authorities arrived and asked about the fire and the disappearance of the old man, but the Thomas’ and Middletons’ played dumb. Late that night George and Charles heaved the hard, woody thing into the back of George’s van. They drove to a deserted road in some nearby woods. There they burned the corpse and watched as its scent of wood rot and hickory drifted through the trees. They watched until there was nothing left but ashes. Those they scattered.

The authorities came again and again, and for a short while the old man’s mysterious disappearance was a hot media topic. The woods surrounding Sun Terrace were searched extensively with no results. Finally the story lost its fifteen minutes of fame and things began to cool down in Sun Terrace.

A year later a new couple decided to move into the house next door. The woman had an interest in gardening, and discovered that the strip of land between the two houses was especially fertile.

One night in the early spring Billy was awakened by sounds beneath his window, crooning sounds of delight or relief. Looking down from his window, he saw the two lovers embracing on a blanket under the moon. He realized that his parents had been right all along.

Sometimes folks needed their privacy.

THE END