Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
 
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The Happy Specter

by Matt Spencer



One big firework rapes the stars above the obsidian quarry, like these idiots are about to rape this outland territory. What do they even need me for? Aren't those creepyass drums enough to psych 'em up? Who's beating drums, anyway? I didn't see a band anywhere. Maybe the sound's in my head, just 'cause all this naked jagged rock demands it to complete the ambiance. While the guards escorting me aren't looking, I mumble a little spell. If these jokers don't hear drums, they will now! I'll give my little talk to that rhythm. That'll psych 'em up nice, though not like the powers that be hope.

So I'm escorted out onto the tall wooden stage they've set up with torches on each corner. The firework explodes in a red and gold shower, falling slow enough to bathe me in an inspiring glow all through the performance. I look out over their faces. They're all mercenaries, because the Gorlomongs kept eating the real soldiers the empire sent, because the empire can't figure out how to wage war on this turf. That doesn't stop these guys from standing stiff and mean-eyed with grim pride that looks like constipation.

My maniacal chuckle almost makes the guards shit their pants. They might be mercenaries, maybe official military. They even had me wear my sword for this, like that's supposed to be inspiring. I stride out, declaring the stage mine. The crowd looks confused. Maybe they expected one of their own for an entertainer. And here's l'il ol' me, a scraggly unshaved thirty-year-old kid in rags. Funny enough, my medallion and armlets are Gorlomong jewelry. I bought 'em from a merchant last time I visited my home stretch. They looked cool. There's a fart-sound in my head, like some god already signaling this event a dud. I mumble another spell so they'll all smell that juicy god-fart. Then I open my mouth, but the words catch as I think, how the fuck did I get here again?

Let's see... Just another kid who started dabbling in spell work even though magic's illegal to non-Imperial affiliates. While I got good at that, I got damn good with a sword, too. Little boys where I come from don't reach manhood if they can't handle a blade. I never got caught at any of the havoc I caused with either. You can make a lot of money with magic and a sword, and I did, so I needed cover. Good thing I made a name for myself as a travelling comedian, so I could tell folks I made a killing on a few sweet gigs. I seldom mention how literally I mean that. Then I got silly, wandering by the gates of the capital one night after a gig, and I sent in a sleeper spell. Just a harmless prank, I swear! The next time the priests and the Prime Minister held a ritual in a central temple, it brought a demonic infestation instead of the oracle spirits they consult for warfare. One of the demons fucked the Prime Minister's dog. I hear the pups are due any day now. The Prime Minister's dog is male, by the way.

Somehow they traced it to me, but my cousin's a high-ranking officer in one of the real Imperial armies somewhere else, and he pulled a few strings. So now I have to do a routine for the mercenaries about to clean out a patch of outland Gorlomong territory. Part of my community service. I have no idea how they decided this was a good idea. At least the chaplain had the sense to try to bind me. I let him think it worked. It sort of tickled, like a drunk first-year student at one of the big magic citadels trying to feel up a girl.

So the mercenaries stare in morbid anticipation of a show by the one and only Cassias Morningstar, between getting creeped out by nonexistent drums and wondering who next to them has developed a toxic intestinal condition of godlike proportions. I open up an' let 'em have it.

"Hey, all you second-string leatherdadies! Don't look so surprised. We're all full-blooded white-meat humans here. Ain't that how you like it? Ain't this a fight to keep it that way? Oh yeah! And so all your little brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews back home who dress just like me -- except even more like the Gorlomongs you're about to go kill -- will have a brand new stretch of overcrowded tenements to live in. Not to mention a whole new set of marketplaces where they can buy useless crap, like the jewelry and pottery you'll scavenge from the dead. It'll be a tough fight on tough turf, but cheer up! Your bosses -- the Imperial scientists and sorcerers -- probably plan to juice you with something so you'll fight better. You know that's where Gorlomongs originally came from, right? Yeah, the critters you're about to slaughter are descended from soldiers just like you! Makes you feel like everyone's so close and together, huh? Bet they don't even teach that stuff in schools anymore. But fear not! The next stage of my community service is to go give talks to elementary school children. I think I'll start with the first school that kicked me out. Don't believe what you've heard... That really hot teacher tried to molest me first. I molested her back in self-defense, I swear! I'll make sure the kids understand that, maybe give 'em a few pointers. Then I'll explain everything their parents have been reading in the news about me." I slip into a little-girl falsetto: "Mr. Morningstar, what did your demons do to the Prime Minister's doggy?" Back to my real voice, only soft and doting: "Well you see, little Jenny, when a demon and a doggy love each other very, very much..."

That gets their blood racing nice. Some of them start dancing to my vocal rhythm. They know they shouldn't, but they can't stop now, just dance harder and harder 'til they bump into the ones next to them, get mad and pound the snot out of each other. Plenty of them keep listening and laugh their asses off. How long will they take to figure out how I'm calling 'em a bunch of jackbooted boneheads?

Something flies by and scratches my ear. I guess not long.

Was that an arrow? Must've been, 'cause all the troops who aren't busy stomping each other are loading their crossbows and aiming at me.

"Goodnight, everybody!" I shout cheerfully before bolting for the back of the stage.

Down the steps, the guards are ready to grab me. They try to look like it'll be for my protection, so they can escort me back to my cell, where they'll toss in some dudes from the brig they've paid off to cornhole me.

When I take a flying leap from the stage, the night air feels great to glide through, even though there are arrows zipping past me from behind, armed guards in front. My blade licks out and slashes the first guard's throat before my feet hit the ground. I twist on my heels as the other guard draws. The firework embers are still falling, painting a rainbow glare on our blades before they clash and spark. His black leather uniform looks good an' scary, but it doesn't let him move with a sword like it should.

And they wondered why I declined the honor of wearing a uniform for my act! You'd think I planned this...

The night air tastes clean and good, filling me with pep. I've never felt more alive, and it's the perfect night to die fighting. But I don't want to die quite yet, and I hear the troops thundering around the stage. The nonexistent drums still pound strong, and it sounds like the warriors move to its beat... except now it's psyching their brainwaves for a fight with me. So I cut the fight short, along with the guard's sword arm. He drops to his knees, squealing like a little bitch and clutching his spouting stump. I turn and bolt to get out of the quarry, rapping out a fresh little spell as I go.

Overhead, all the slowly falling firework sparks go out... all except four, the ones that burst into heavy fireballs that crash right on the torches. A few guys scream as they're pelted with a molten shower, then everything goes dark. I hear my pursuers halt sharp and smack together like spooked cattle trampling each other, crushed like meat in a grinder. I don't slow down, though. I've never run this fast in my life, and I don't think it's in me to run faster. Good thing my boots are made for this terrain. Wear the wrong footwear in an area like this, and the flesh is gone from the bones of your feet before you know it.

I don't find the trail out of the quarry, instead sheath my sword and climb the steep rock face, almost as fast as I've been running. My hands get scraped to hell, so it's a good thing the tattoo on the palm of my sword hand is etched deep. When I grip my sword, the tattoo lines up perfectly with the lines cut in the handle. I carved both matching patterns myself, a circle full of intricate linework like a monastic labyrinth viewed from the sky, unifying the nerve endings so the muscle memories in my arm are a hundred times sharper.

Think that's a cop-out? Come over some weekend. I'll walk you through the process. I'll even throw in the marks on your favorite sword for free! Make sure you practice with that sword for at least three straight hours first, and I'd recommend about a day of nonstop meditation between that and the tattooing. Once you start etching your hand, you have to keep the single motion going 'til it's finished, never once glancing away. It helps if you don't blink. If you fuck up, your arm goes into something like a localized seizure and explodes like an overheated hotdog. It took me half a day to apply my mine.

And yeah, you fuck, I know you're reading this, off in some other world, some other reality... or is it? Either way, how you think I know to put it in words you'll understand? I read your mind while you read the page. I know all about you. You make me laugh my ass off.

I pull myself into a grotto that leads into a narrow mountain trail. There's some scant plant life. Good thing it's not the kind that'll eat me. Soon enough I'll be down among animals that'll want to do that, if I get that far. In the distance behind me, grappling hooks whoosh up and chip the stone as they catch. The path widens, and my hand brushes a window ledge carved in the rock. These dwellings carved in the mountains once housed the extinct indigenous people the Gorlomongs were created to wipe out. After the Gorlomongs did their work, the government magically fenced certain borders and left them there, like a wildlife preserve for the creatures 'til they were needed again. That was over two hundred years ago, when the country was still young, before true Imperial aspirations were a tickle in the government's panties. While that government pushed out over half the globe, the descendants of their discarded pawns ruled the lowly patches of the home nation, evolving or degenerating -- depending on how you look at it -- into something the government couldn't control. Took 'em long enough to come back to check. Now the border spells are weakening, and the monsters have been declared an internal threat. Imagine that.

The Gorlomongs haven't taken these rock houses as dwellings 'cause most of 'em can't fit inside. I can, though, and that's good, because the soldiers are close. They're good at treading quietly while synchronizing their footsteps, even while running over this terrain, so it's hard to tell how many there are. I still count three. The others will be finding their way out of the quarry, trying to find where to head me off at the pass if I get that far.

I slip through the first door I find, making just enough noise to put the first man on guard. Cautiously they slow down. Now there's no noise but the whispering breeze and their softly grinding boots. My sword slides out as the first man edges towards the door. His blade's already out, and these guys probably have night vision spells cast on their eyes, by the same chaplain who tried to bind me. The chaplain wasn't nice enough to cast a night vision spell on me, but I don't need it. I wait 'til I sense the first man scanning the door, breathing tense. When I make noise, he bolts over the threshold, sword ready. All my blade has to do is lick across his path like a tripwire. He falls forward from the waist up, backwards from the waist down. My blade's thin and narrow, but it's forged from the hardest tempered metal anywhere, sharper than a razor. I get exactly half a second while the two guys behind him gawk in shock at the result. That's enough to spin around the corner and close the distance. Their blades go up. I bat those blades aside, making two clean clanging echoes in this close hard space. Then I stab one guy in the throat, the other in the solar plexus. I'm running again before their dicks hit the dirt.

It's not long 'til the rocks give way to the jungle. I scan the outcroppings on either side and call up what I know of this turf. It'll take hours for the soldiers to find their way around, and they won't be ready for the jungle. My performance was scheduled to wrap exactly half an hour before launching the attack. The growth lets through just enough moonlight to show the way.

On the off chance I survive, my cousin will give me holy hell. But the more I piece together, I figure he expected something like this. These mercenaries are all loose cannons who've made things astronomically worse for real soldiers trying to do good where they're sent, despite the empire's motives for sending them. I can't ponder it too deep, though, 'cause my senses have to stay peeled. And let me tell you, when you've thrown yourself this deep into the shitpit at the center of life, the last thing you give a flying fuck about is what anyone thinks or feels about your choices. Everyone should try it this way, at least once. Most of you wouldn't live through it, but you'll never truly know yourself otherwise. If you make it out, it's way too easy to forget what you've learned. That's probably why I keep throwing myself back in. It only gets crazier every time. That's what I love about it.

Ahead's the light of a campfire. I crouch lower and go slower, parting the brush more gingerly. That'll be a Gorlomong campsite. I don't expect there to be any humans crazy enough to go strolling through this area at night, other than me. Oh yeah, and that guy I just almost stepped in. Probably some idealistic zoologist who did so many drugs he had a flashback every time he sneezed. There's enough light to see the tooth marks on the vine-wrapped bones, the frozen death contortions, so I can tell how he went. The Gorlomong started on his junk, and he was still alive when it reached his throat. For all I know, I'm about to meet the guy who ate him. Maybe I'm next.

I part the last branches. It's not a campsite, but a large wicker hut with candlelight glowing through the doorway. And it's rockin' like one of the wagon-houses back home when you don't come a-knockin'. I wouldn't knock, even if there were a door. Instead I creep closer, sword sliding free. I'm hungry and thirsty, and it's a good bet whatever's making that commotion can double as a food source. Over the threshold hangs a weave of dried multicolored leaves and furs that signify one of the local Gorlomong clans. It's that new clan, the one the zoologists don't have a name for. It hasn't even spread beyond this jungle, yet it's one of the things prompted the siege, because these Gorlomongs show evolutionary signs that make the empire nervous. Their flickers of culture have already spread through the clans they war with, in battle trophies like the bits of jewelry I wear. Zoologists studying those other clans think those Gorlomongs are learning to interpret the symbols on the jewelry, or at least making up their own interpretations, which is just as scary. No one knows what's sparking the shift.

Out of the hut come harsh greenish flashes, along with the unmistakable croaking howls of Gorlomongs. I count two, and I expect the hut to go up in flames any second. Instead comes the crunchy packing smacks of someone getting the shit slapped out of them. I'm nearly to the hut before the two Gorlomongs shove out past each other. It's a miracle they don't knock the place over on their way out. They're both over seven feet tall, would be taller if they knew how to stand up straight, but they'd probably feel insecure if they didn't feel the jagged claws of their meaty hands scraping the earth. Solid muscle wrapped tight in slick blue flesh, almost translucent, smooth where it's not covered in warts. Elongated jaws sport jagged fangs that are all the uglier because you can almost tell they're descended from human mouths. Two sets of bugged-out, veiny yellow eyes -- each mismatched in size -- fall on me and bulge hatefully. There's a captive nearly crushed between them, almost limp. It's a woman in a shredded animal-skin dress, covered in bites and scratches and bruises. My eyes go back to the Gorlomongs', returning their hatred. They drop her and slouch forward, growling and drooling. I almost shit myself and wish I'd played this somehow more 'round about.

They charge in no particular formation, just snapping and flailing. When you're that big and quick with that much raw power, you don't need a hell of a lot of finesse. I do, though, so I dive and role between them. When one of those tree trunk arms swings over my head, the rushing air feels almost as powerful as a glancing blow. If it had been, I wouldn't be conscious to smart from it. My sword hacks sideways as I roll, cutting tendons and scraping bone. I twist and strut low in the kicked-up dust, my back to the hut's wall, in time to see the sliced Gorlomong go sprawling. Blood from his ruined legs spatters his buddy, who hops back shrieking. The latter barely lands from that hop before he jumps again, this time at me. I always forget how fast these bastards are, not to mention how high and far they jump. I bolt upright, sucking air through clenched teeth, flicking my blade up into the Gorlomong's face. The bottom jaw drops and hangs lopsided, half severed. The bigger eye pops like a grape and flecks hot ooze on my face. The monster hops away before I can bring my point back down to its throat. The crippled one's already closing in, dragging itself forward on one arm, zipping like a snake, swiping with its other set of claws. Dead or deadly, there's no in-between with Gorlomongs.

I jerk backwards, but the claws rake my chest so my teeth clench against the four lines of flaring pain. My arm shoots out, my wrist twists, and my edge cuts bone. Putrid red jets the forearm and the clawed hand away from each other, before the claws leave my skin. I bury my sword in the creature's forehead before it can scream.

The other Gorlomong charges roaring. My blade's still stuck in its buddy's skull. But before you can say bye-bye Cassias, something hits the monster in the head. Glass shatters and there's another of those green flashes between us. Steaming glowing liquid runs over his skin, and he bolts to his full height, howling. OK, so they can stand up straight. Finally my blade wrenches loose. I have to jump high to slash the neck. The head drops back, the neck yawns and spouts, and I jump again so the critter doesn't squash me when it crashes facedown.

Still panting and shaking, I look my kill over. Not my best work. I meant to chop the whole head off. I see what the smoking liquid from the shattered bottle is doing, and wonder if there'll be a head when the corrosive work is done. I look around for where it came from, and see the woman. She's panting and snarling worse than me, barely holding herself up in the doorway of her hut. The light from within makes the front of her murky, but she's shaped well enough. More importantly, she holds it well... really well. Just my luck, I'm too roughed up and worn out to think about sex.

"Thanks," I rasp.

She croaks and chortles something. Did she just answer me in Gorlomong?

"Huh? Please tell me you speak Imperial."

She huffs, irritated. "I said Thank You, jackass. Before I didn't have a chance to whisper the right incantations over that liquid. Now come in here so we can get bandaged up."

"Shouldn't we get out of here? More of 'em might come back."

She huffs again, eyes narrowing on me, though I can't tell in the gloom what color they are. I can see that her gleaming teeth are unusually small and pointy. "They won't come back, no enemy ones anyhow. I don't even know how those guys got past the borders."

We're within Gorlomong borders, I almost point out, but she obviously knows. When I glance at the leaves and furs hanging over the threshold, I'm more confused. "You mean..."

"Yeah. This is my hut."

I shrug. By now she could start singing and dancing like we were actors in a stage show, and it would seem normal.

She pauses and peers around. "You hear that?"

My sword tenses and I sniff. "What?"

"Nothing. Weirdest thing... For a second, I could've sworn the wind and rustling branches... It sounded like they were making music... like this one chorus line dance number I remember from when I was a little girl."

Relaxing, I sheath my sword. Sometimes when I get punchy, my mystic reflexes do things on their own. "Oh. Sorry. That was me."

"You'd better get in here." She pulls me by the hand into her hut.

Now I have my first well-lit look at her. Yeah, she's hot, but I feel pretty damn weird thinking so. Her shape's completely human, but her eyes are bigger and yellower, her hair's blacker and stiffer, and her nose is pointier than any human woman's nose. And her skin shimmers blue. At least there are no warts I can see. And her eyes are at least of equal size, and don't bulge like a frog's. But there's no mistaking the other traits... OK, now shit's gotten weird! Finally my legs give out and I drop to my hands and knees. All around are shelves lined in potion bottles and pots full of native herbs. The latter smell makes my brain even sillier. Much of the place is wrecked of course, but the shelves are untouched, like even those Gorlomongs knew to recognize holy space.

In the corner, my hostess is busy clearing a thin narrow mattress. "Here. Crawl over and pass out on this."

I peel off my ruined shirt as I slog to the mattress. Red droplets from my chest hit the dirt floor. Then I roll onto my back.

I want to pass out, but my brain's still too tangled and my strained, battered muscles won't quit screaming at me. As I lay there, my eyes go in and out of focus on her. She doesn't seem worn out at all, even though she's pretty banged and scratched up herself. In fact she's gone perfectly calm and alert. Maybe she thinks I've passed out, because she peels off what's left of the dress and cleans her wounds with a wet cloth. Nope, no warts on this one, and she's molded fine as I thought, in the rugged good shape of the wilderness, but still smooth with some meat on her. Except she's part Gorlomong. How the fuck does that happen? And the government thought a male dog getting pregnant by demons was wrong!

She slips on a red silk robe. I don't wanna know how she gets silk out here. My eyes are still blurry, but I think it's embroidered with the same symbols on my jewelry. She floats over and kneels, lifts my arms with the armlets, prods the medallion on my chest. "Hmmm..."

Her touch is soothing, and she gives off a scent that's part Gorlomong, part earthy fragrant human girl smell. The blend tingles my nerves. I'm past being freaked that the Gorlomong scent can be sexy. She unbuckles my belt. Now we're talkin'! But she's just removing my sword, setting it aside.

Now she's sprinkling herbs into a pair of clay bowls. She sets one on either side of her and puts a lit candle to both. The greenish yellow smoke smells flowery and pleasantly musky. All around, the hut floats and wavers like a mirage, as though it's dissolving in the smoke. As she cleans my wounds with a hot damp rag, my breathing grows normal. Where there are no wounds, she wipes away the dust and grime. As she cleanses my abraded hands, she pauses to examine the tattoo on my palm. Then she moves on, like it's not an immediate concern. She pulls off my boots to clean my feet. I've been in those boots so many weeks that my stockings have turned into shrunken crackly black shells. She brushes and picks off those shells, and I don't envy her, getting her face that close to that smell. When she's done, she straightens her back, closes her eyes, and moves her palms up and down, just an inch from touching me, one starting over my forehead, the other over my stinky feet. The energies in my body move in response, like she's got magnets in her fingertips pulling everything back into place. My brain loosens and unknots so my thoughts flow like the fragrant smoke.

And like that, I figure out who she is. Years ago, as a kid, I read about her in the news. In one of the outlying human villages, on the cusp of the border spells, a woman was raped during a Gorlomong raid. The resulting child was the town's horror, but the mother protected the kid, and her husband loved it like his own. Then came another Gorlomong raid, and the child was snatched and carried off. She'd gone too far out from the village, because she'd gotten hold of some magic books and wanted to study them without getting caught. When this came out, the mother and her husband were put to death. The empire never does much to shield such lowly communities from indigenous dangers, but it sure gets their attention when such laws are broken. So I guess the Gorlomongs took to their prodigal spawn, enough that she hasn't done so bad.

I want to bolt upright, but my body's gotten too relaxed. I lie still 'til she's done, then I groan and flex and run a hand back through my damp hair.

"Keep resting," she whispers.

"I should go carve up those corpses while the meat's still good."

"What?"

"I'm hungry as fuck!" Now I've blown it, I guess. Even though those were enemy Gorlomongs, she's still half Gorlomong. So she probably finds it offensive that I consider them a food source in a pinch. Most full humans think I'm a sick bastard for it, the liberals 'cause they remember the things are descended from humans, the conservatives 'cause they find the monsters too nasty to be worthy of human consumption, and must taste disgusting on top of it. The truth is, there's nothing better than Gorlomong meat fresh off the bone -- especially with good steak sauce, though I doubt she has any. And the magic that reshaped their ancestors is still in their veins... It'll heighten your attunement if you know how to draw on it, so you can teach yourself things the grand masters at the citadels wouldn't teach their students, even if they could pretend to know.

"Uh... let me get you some of my food instead." She routes through the sunken dregs of an upset cooking pot -- I guess she was fixing dinner when her uninvited guests showed up -- and serves me a steaming bowl of stew, along with a clay cup of syrupy green wine.

After a few bites and swigs, the weariness and soreness goes right away so I stand up.

She starts straightening the place up again. "So what brings the Happy Specter to this jungle? You decide to hunt my people for fun while there's an army about to swarm in for a big ol' fashioned genocidal sweep?"

After a glance at my sword next to the mattress, I stare at her. "What'd you just call me?"

She floats towards me. "That's how you're known. You don't approve?"

"That was my nickname in high school. Fuckin' high school! Damnit, who'd I leave alive who knows that? Gotta go on a hunt when I get back..."

"You expect to leave this jungle alive?"

"The mercenaries won't be coming tonight. I clusterfucked 'em pretty good."

"What makes you think it's the mercenaries you have to worry about? You're Cassias Morningstar, the Happy Specter." She bats her eyelashes, which look longer and sharper than her teeth. "Some call you Cannibal Specter. You know you're a famous Gorlomong killer?"

You'd think I'd be a famous equal-opportunity killer, but oh well. What gave me away? I run through the list. My tattoos? Check. My etched palm? Check. Talk of eating Gorlomong meat? Check. What else does this witch know about me?

"...And as queen of this jungle's ruling clan, now that you're here in my hut, I couldn't let you go around killing my people."

The queen of the Gorlomongs... I remember those zoologists. Duh. I look back and forth from her eyes to my sword, but her power's already enveloped the room. I try to throw something at her, but the spell locks in my throat. She wasn't ready for those two Gorlomongs. She's ready for me. The chaplain couldn't bind me. She's been weaving her binding since she led me in. I don't flinch, just stare her down, even though it won't do a squirt of piss worth of good and she knows it. Why is this taking so long?

"Are you gonna kill me or not?" I snap, bored and irritated.

"Who said anything about killing you?" She paces thoughtfully. "Since realizing who you are, I've been thinking: I've got Cassias Morningstar here, so what can I do with him?"

Enough of the tension's settled so I feel randy again. "I can think of a few things."

She laughs. "You think I need you for that?"

"I guess not, if you're used to Gorlomong cock."

"Oh Gods no! They bring me captured soldiers for that. The soldiers don't usually take to the idea, realizing what I am and all... at least 'til I feed 'em the right drugs. But you've been -- how's it go -- ‘checking me out' since you saw me. That alone makes me... curious."

Teeth bared, I poise to spring. "Actually I'd put it writing a catalogue in my head of dirty, dirty, dirty things to do to you. I've already got enough material for weeks, by the way."

Teasingly she touches my chest, her long nails pricking my scabbing slices. "Don't get ahead of yourself, boy, or I'll see in a split instant that none of you is up or ready for anything. And I'll send for some of my boys and tell them things to do to you. Your eyes will be put out and your nose cut off before they start, so you'll just feel it and hear me laughing."

Her threats just turn me on more, sucking my patience dry. "So cut to the chase! What's the other option?"

"You say the soldiers won't be attacking now... all thanks to you, just a roving little barbarian mage." She sighs it out like a googly-eyed groupie, like I'm some ultimate badass who killed all those troops with one bare hand while I wanked off with the other. I don't bother correcting her. "That jewelry you're wearing, the engravings tell the story of my rise to power, by the way. You could learn to read and write it, and you could carve the tale of your own rise, at my side, as my king... Think about it: Cassias Morningstar, Warlord of the Gorlomongs."

Y'know, much as I don't like Gorlomongs, that has a cool sound to it. "Me? Your king?"

She strokes my chest, nicer now. "I've had my eye out for a proper king for a while. The gods work in weird ways, huh? We could unite the clans, overthrow the empire, rule both the humans and the Gorlomongs."

"OK, sure!"

She draws back. "Huh?"

"Sounds like a plan."

"OK, just... that easy?"

"Why not? I've been down too many roads to be picky about what's next." Without bitterness I add, "You can't say we don't deserve each other, darlin'."

"True," she purrs.

Like I said, why not? It's saner than serving the empire, just because fewer have tried it. A definition of insanity is expecting the same ol' bullshit to work, no matter how often you've seen it clusterfuck everything... assuming a clusterfuck isn't your idea of a good time. Honestly I don't think this has a shot in hell, but no need to mention that. I'll die causing a whole new level of lovely mayhem, pissing off everybody like I've always been best at. She's forgotten to tend the binding, and my excitement burns the last of it away. Now if I wanted to, I could beat her down easy, physically or magically. But right now her idea sounds more fun.

"If I'm gonna be your king, I have to make sure of something first..."

"What's that?"

In answer, I yank her into a hard kiss. She tastes different than any other woman... not the absolute best, but still wonderful. I run my hands up and down her body, loving the feel of her skin through the silk. She breaks the kiss and bites me hard on the neck. Her teeth are even sharper than they look. Blood trickles hot over my chest and shoulder, smearing on her pointy chin while it digs at me. If she wasn't into this, she could jerk back and take out my jugular like nothing. I don't feel like pointing out that my carotid would taste fresher and sweeter. Either way, she shoves me down and bites me all over the face, neck, and torso. Nice as it is, I'm not so eager for a blowjob from a mouth that sharp. So I roll and pin her. I pull open the silk robe, wriggle out of my flimsy pants before my dick punches through them. Damn, I hope I last long enough to satisfy her! Soon, though, the sex gets really twisted...

Of course I feel myself getting longer and harder in her, but I know I'm not naturally this long or hard. I must be imagining that I'm all the way up in the network of her guts, that those guts have turned into one bottomless vagina, heating and uncoiling for me. Her back arches in a way that tells me it's not my imagination. It startles me so I jerk back, but I can't pull out. My abdomen churns and contracts, my balls burning hotter than I thought they could without coming, and somehow I know that half my innards are gone. She's rearranged my matter to give me the equipment she needs. She's going wild, squealing and bucking and clawing like I usually can only fantasize about a woman doing, and I'm no slouch at the real thing.

I've heard guys describe popping a boner for a hot girl as their dick turning into a tree. Guys, trust me, unless you've fucked a half-Gorlomong witch, you don't know what you're talking about. Because I feel myself sprouting off in all directions, growing branches to fill her out completely. And yeah, I've got enough nerve endings for every branch. All I can do is go wild as her, because the only way I could get out of this would be to grab my sword and castrate myself. But why do that? Freaky as this is, it's amazing. I just hope my dick goes back to normal when we're done. Other than that, I don't exactly have enough blood left in my brain to think much. She arches and flexes, spreading her arms so I half expect to feel myself pulled out through them. No way am I kissing her now. Don't want to end up blowing myself.

We come together and shake like we're sharing an epileptic fit, then settle panting on the sweat-soaked mattress. I slip out, roll onto my back, look down and see my normal sticky wilting dick. Did I come from all those branches? If so, what does her body do with all of it? I pat my belly to make sure I have all my guts back.

You know how you can feel so limber and lightheaded, after great sex after way too long without, so you feel like a silly little kid who wants to hop around? Multiply that times ten, and you have an idea how goofy I feel. Must be the same for her, 'cause she giggles at every loopy thing I babble. Then she gets up and puts her robe back on, all slinky business again.

"Well then... Yeah, you'll make a fine king."

"Is it gonna be like that every time?"

She lets out a soft silver laugh. "Hell no! You couldn't walk after a week..." Those razor-sharp eyelashes bat at me girlishly. "...Let alone work through that dirty, dirty catalogue you mentioned. Follow me."

"Aaaawww... Where we goin'?"

"To your coronation."

"Wasn't that my coronation?"

"Not exactly." The sly private irony in her voice almost spooks me.

I hunt for my clothes, but she touches my shoulder. "No, love... Come earn your crown, wearing only your sword, and the jewelry of your new people."

My medallion and armlets are the only articles still on, I notice. I reach for the sword, but she lifts it first, slides the sheath from the belt, and finds a new belt that slings over my shoulder. I put it on and try the motion of drawing.

"No. Don't think to draw your sword. You're done fighting for tonight."

So I'm led naked out into the night. As we pass, I look the two dead Gorlomongs over. "What clan were they from? I don't see any -- "

"Who knows? One of the lower ones, with no identity worth showing in their garb. They came to drag me back to their clan, so I could elevate them as I have my own. They had no idea what they were doing, or how to receive what I could offer. You and I will change all that." She leads me on a smooth broad trail through the jungle.

"If you're the queen, shouldn't you be livin', y'know, less isolated? As in, surrounded by bodyguards an' shit?"

She scowls. "When I'm not tending them, I prefer the isolation. The expanse around my hut is mine, sacrosanct. Guards patrol the parameters."

"Y'know, we're gonna have to talk that over, once I'm properly crowned."

"Once it's discovered where those two slipped by, those who failed will be put to death. For now it doesn't matter. Tonight will be a celebration, the birth of a new age."

The birth of a new age... with me at the center. More and more I'm drunk on the sound of it. Then a small Gorlomong village comes in sight. The monsters mill and growl through their nightly business, whatever that is. And no, trust me, that ain't a bunch of nobly savage tribal accord. From what I can see, it's mostly them swatting each other out of the way, sometimes breaking into fights, as they drag slaughtered food back to their huts, not far enough from a rotted civilization to start the upward climb. But they're further along than most Gorlomongs.

One of them bounds towards us, just a pup, and already up to my shoulder! Its eyes blaze with protective murder on behalf of its queen... then it sees us holding hands. The pup skids to a stop and squats before her, awaiting instructions. She croaks and gurgles those nasty Gorlomong noises -- that'll take some getting used to -- and the pup's eyes light up.

When she finishes talking, the pup takes off howling through the village, stirring everyone up. As they gather, he clears the other end of the village and scampers down the trail.

"Where's he headed?"

"To inform my chief warriors of your approach. They'll await us at the place of your coronation. They'll crown you once they see your worth."

"You're sure they will, just like that."

"You're the great Happy Specter. How could they not?"

Before I can chew on that, the whole village has lumbered out, snarling and drooling excitedly, stinky enough that I want to puke. They part and kneel, then four bull Gorlomongs, twice as massive and ugly as the two I killed earlier, bring out our chariot. It's a weave of tough vines stretched between two big logs, with crude thrones at the center. I stride up, leading her by the hand, and we take our seats. Next thing I know, we're hoisted into the air on powerful shoulders. The four bulls charge down the trail as though into battle. It's a smoother ride than you'd think, and I start to relax. This time I don't need to conjure drums, because the parade behind us beats out a thundering march of menacing delight, telling every critter around to make way for the King and Queen! Her hand's still in mine, soft and warm and good. I throw my head back, daydreaming about my life for the foreseeable future...

That Cassias Morningstar... What ever happened to him? He caused so much trouble, and people who saw his shows said he was really funny. Except he went a little too far off the edge of good taste, at least for sheltered pussies like us. Now there are whispers that he's taken to the jungles and gone mad in the wilderness, where the beasts gather and worship him as a god! They say he's covered in even freakier tattoos now, and he's got a big bushy beard that goes down to his toes. When not wielding his mighty sword and thundering his bone-chilling battle cry, he sits on his thrown with his queen, leaning on his rune-decked scepter, mumbling his mad visions, so his worshippers creep close as they dare, hoping to hear and learn his vast cosmic wisdom! They say he's taught the beasts the most obscene songs from his homeland. By night you can hear them howl those songs to the moon, as to make the gods squirm!

Thoughts like this make me cackle at the top of my lungs so it echoes through the jungle. If any of the mercenaries have made it through, they'll hear it and creep away, hearts full of terror. I sprout a massive boner -- thankfully with no branches -- and don't care that anyone who sees will probably find it pretty puny compared to male Gorlomongs.

Yeah, that's right, guys, -- yeah, you out there in Book Land -- point and giggle. I've got more to giggle at than you. Yes, I mean you, Mr. Skim-While-You-Browse in the bookstore! You better buy this book if you crease the spine, or I'll come cut your head off!

Still, I'll have to project the ol' stage presence like crazy. In a broad clearing, the bulls carry our chariot to the center. There my queen's chief warriors await, gathered in a semicircle, eight of the biggest, gnarliest Gorlomongs I've ever seen. They're not wearing loincloths, and yeah, they make me look kind of pathetic. And, well, they're ready for love, you might say. As the chariot lowers, they stare and drool. The villagers gather behind us. Their queen stands and turns to face them, growling and gurgling.

"What's with those horny bastards? What kind of twisted coronation is this? I thought you said you weren't into Gorlomong cock!"

"I'm not. They have to make sure you're worthy of their queen."

"What, do I have to fight 'em off you or somethin'?"

She answers with that creepy smile. "They're not hard for me."

And she's not the one they're staring and drooling at. Oh. Shit.

"It's our way," she continues. "You have to be able to take what you dish out, you know. If you survive all eight of them, they'll accept you as my mate and their leader."

Looking from her to the chosen eight, it's hard to say who looks happier about this. My own happiness wilts and tries to crawl up inside me. My eyes scan past the warriors to the trees at the other end of the clearing. If I get past them, it'll be a clear shot. I don't think to draw my sword and make a fight of it, don't even bother with one last bittersweet look at my jilted queen.

Y'know how I said I couldn't run faster than I did back in the quarry? I lied. I run twice as fast now, naked as a monkey except for my sword. I swat off the jewelry to lighten my load and run straight on 'til morning, clear to the other end of the Gorlomong outlands.

THE END


© 2012 Matt Spencer

Bio: Matt Spencer is the author of the well-selling novel THE DRIFTING SOUL, illustrated by award-winning artist Stephen R. Bissette. His short fiction has appeared in Aphelion (most recently Sweet Strings and the 2:55 A.M. Train, February, 2009), Back Roads, Demon Minds, Gallery of Snuff, InfinityPlus, Lilith's Lair, Hardluck Storis, and NVF Print, as well as the anthology FRIGHT FLASHES, and the upcoming anthologies CRIMSON SCREAMS and NEW VOICES OF HORROR Vol. 2. Mr. Spencer has worked as a film critic, film script editor, adult film star, factory worker, and professional chef. He now lives in Kansas, where he functions as the caring voice of reason and council - and occasionally "enforcer" - for family and friends.

E-mail: Matt Spencer

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