Update N’at

Posted: March 22, 2013 in Fiction, Miscellany
Tags: , , ,

So, this last week has been a busy one for me: the wife was sick over the weekend, I had errands early in the week that needed getting-done, I was down for the count with something on Wednesday, and yesterday I spent most of the day pounding out the typed-words. Those who follow this lil’ blog will probably note that I didn’t do any kind of Flash Fiction Challenge this past week, primarily because of things listed above, but also because I really wasn’t inspired by the writing prompt.

*shrug* Shit happens.

But, I can proudly say that I finished the first draft of the first “Raiment of Stars” story that I mentioned previously. Clocking in at ~27k words, I’m really happy with the way it’s turned out thus far, and can’t wait for my beta-readers to get back to me with their feedback. In lieu of a Flash Fiction piece from last week’s challenge, though, I figured I would post an except from the first story (working title is “The Hero”, that will change once I come up with something a little snappier). Hopefully, y’all will enjoy. : )

    They grabbed some cooking knives and some rough wooden staves before venturing out into the street. Though he knew it was empty, Rigash couldn’t help but feel his heart hammering in his chest, the hairs on his neck standing up as his eyes flitted over open windows and doorways. They occasionally saw a frightened face peek out as they made their way up the desolate streets of Akhem, but most of those retreated back into darkness as soon as they appeared. As they approached the Square of Qat, the center of the city where the temple-palace of the priest-king was located, the number of the walking dead increased, forcing Rigash and his father to scale the low, clay buildings and travel rooftop to rooftop.

    The Square of Qat was filled with the dead.

    They filled the Square from edge to edge, some barely more than dried skin and bones, some who looked fully alive aside from a few bites or gashes. At the center of the Square, where the priest-king’s stone stage sat underneath the gaze of a bronze statue of Qat, stealer of the Wine of Inspiration and patron of Akhem, upon the dark-stained stone altar sat a robed individual, their face obscured by a deep hood. Rigash and Tuvash got up to the edge of the Square, leaning on the low wall of a rooftop garden, as they surveyed the legion of the dead that filled it, each suppressing a shudder at the constant, echoing groan that rumbled against the walls of the surrounding buildings.

    Suddenly, from the direction of the temple-palace, there was the sound of horns and a few moments later the gates to the complex slid open to reveal a column of soldiers, each one girded in bronze breastplates and greaves, each one carrying a large circular shield emblazoned with the sigil of Akehm: a horn of wine surmounting two crossed spears. Each soldier also carried a bronze-tipped spear and had a zirab, a bronze sickle-sword, hanging from their belts. The column pushed out into the sea of the walking dead, spears and shields pushing the corpses back while zirabs beheaded and cut-down others. Rigash and his father watched with interest, their focus only disturbed when they began to notice figures appearing on the rooftops ringing the Square of Qat – others like themselves who had followed the retreating dead here.

    Curiously, the dead gave little resistance to the soldiers of the priest-king until finally a smaller coterie of the Za’haim – the priest-king’s own guard and named after the war-eagle of Qat, dressed in bronze helms shaped like an eagle’s head and cloaks of eagle feathers over the normal armor of bronze – appeared at the tail of the column. In their midst was the priest-king himself, his war-headdress of eagle feathers and his ornate spear of gleaming bronze bringing the eye immediately to him. At the sight of the Za’haim, the robed figure made a gesture and the dead closest to the column of soldiers on all sides pressed in, forcing the soldiers to close ranks and halt their progress into the Square.

    “Greetings.”

    The word itself was neutral in tone, but it was uttered simultaneously by hundreds of dead mouths, each one turning to face the priest-king and his soldiers. Down upon the stage, Rigash could see the robed figure slide from the altar and stride to the edge of the stage closest to the soldiers.

    “I am Shuum,” the dead voices called out and it became obvious that they were simply the medium through which the robed figure was addressing the priest-king and his men.

    Effective, Rigash thought. A good portion of himself was itching to flee from the Square and not look back, but he was resolved, through curiosity and pride, to find out what was going on in Akhem.

    “I am Shuum, master of the dead, and I wish to speak with you, O King Jarriq. Please, come closer with your guard, I swear upon the Hand of Qat” – the robed figure gestured with a flourished hand upward at the statue looming above him – “that you will not be harmed this day.”

    There was a moment’s hesitation from the Za’haim as the priest-king considered this invitation, but finally the group moved forward through the column of soldiers until they stood nearer to the stage but still surrounded by their comrades. Jarriq spoke, shouting up at the stage, and the Square was so deathly silent that even Rigash and Tuvash could make out the priest-king’s words.

    “What do you want from us, defiler of the dead?!”

    “Watch your words, O King,” the dead thundered back. “I will not harm you this day, but that may not be true on another. You should be careful not to anger me too much, as I might seek personal satisfaction on that day.”

    Silence hung over the Square of Qat as Shuum let the threat sink in for a moment, before he continued speaking through the massed dead. “You ask what I want. That is answered simply, as I only want two things. First, I want your eldest daughter as my wife. Second, I want Akhem as my own.”

    Rigash gaped at this. This necromancer wanted to rule Akhem? A shudder passed down the young man’s spine as that thought settled upon him. He imagined that only horrors could be reaped from that situation: such a man could become a despot the likes of which none had ever seen, wielding tyrannical power over both the living and the dead of the city. His mind also leaped to the priest-king’s eldest daughter, Ki’iri. He had seen her once during a festival parade through the city: curvaceous with dark hair that was long and curly, her eyes bright blue like sapphires. For such a beautiful young woman to have to be wedded to such a man as this Shuum was almost blasphemous.

    The priest-king shouted back angrily, that much could be seen, but his exact words were lost across the distance.

    “Is that so?” The dead intoned back at Jarriq. “I would not act impulsively, O King. After all, you have the welfare of an entire city to consider. I will give you one turning of the moons to make your decision. When that time has run its course, I will return to Akhem: should you be wise, you shall give your daughter’s hand and your throne to me. Should you be foolish, I shall set upon Akhem with legions of the dead…” The myriad voices of Shuum trailed off for a moment, before ending thus: “Your decision, Jarriq, will determine whether I rule a city of the living or of the dead. But, either way, a city I shall rule.”

    The priest-king began shouting something else at the necromancer, but the voices of the dead drowned him out. “One turning of the moons, O King. Not one day more.”

    And with that, the robed figure of Shuum walked back across the stone slabs of the stage, dropped down to the paving stones of the Square, and disappeared among the masses of the dead. The dead stood there, motionless, staring blankly at the soldiers of Akhem for nearly an hour before they slowly began to file out of the Square through the city’s streets. Rigash and Tuvash followed along the rooftops after King Jarriq led his men back through the gates into the temple-palace, watching the hordes of the walking dead shamble out through the city gates and into the Yeviji’in countryside beyond. Where the masses would go, neither Rigash nor his father could guess. But when their curiosity was satisfied, they returned to their home.

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