by Susan Anwin
So there I was chillin' in my favorite hammock, fiddling with this
pretty crystal gadget when all these high-priests came barging into the
library. Now, one agitated high-priest is bad news, but a score of
them... I hid the trinket in my pocket and hoped it was not something
I've done and tried to remember whether I did something lately that
might upset a flock of high-priests. Nothing came to mind, but that
meant nothing. Me and people of this plane of existence have different
ideas of what might constitute 'upsetting' is one of the things I
They settled around the black glass table, a motley assortment of
vohieks, whispering excitedly and all of a sudden one of them turns to
me. Uh-oh, here we go. It's Tim, the Saqueroy prince. He owns this
place. Up until now I neglected to ask his permission to abide in his
villa; perhaps the time has come for him to address this little
"Jack, I hate to say this, but we'll need your help."
I sit up, dignified as much as possible in the wobbling hammock. "I'm
here to help, bruh."
They look doubtful. I find their mistrust rather offensive, if not
Tim shrugs and decides to cut to the chase. "So, here's the thing; the
North Star has gone missing. Now I don't know if you realize the
gravity of the situation; it is crucial in navigation and the fact that
it can just go missing like that is somewhat concerning. As you can
guess the Dark Lady, whose most prized possession it is is rather
distraught; hence our gathering here today."
Hence, gravity, concerning, the way this priest talks! From all
the finicky words I can tell he's real 'distraught' himself. I nod and
hum gravely. "She is?"
He huffs impatiently. "Why are you asking me? She's your mother, for crying out loud!"
"Uh, we haven't talked in a while..."
"Yeah, no surprise there. Anyway, all the worlds need the North Star;
us for navigation and the order of the seasonal feasts, she for the
Loom of the Dead. She weaves the shroud of the world on it from the
souls of the dead. Without it all those souls are trapped here."
I did notice the unusual density of dead people around lately. "Always wondered why she needed the Star for that."
He pinched the bridge of his nose as was his wont when he was pissed off. "Mydzi Möjz, Jack, that's not
our main concern right now. We have to find it and get it back to her
as soon as possible. The very fabric of reality might unravel if we
fail to do so."
"So what do you suggest we do?"
"We'll have to go look for it, obviously."
I stuffed my pipe, thinking. "Where do you look for a star?"
"Exactly. And that's where you come into the picture. Hoped you could help out in that regard."
The pipe pulled a trail of smoke as I spread my hands. "Derr, sorry
guys, to be honest I'm not too private to mom's job; there weren't many
'bring your kids to work' days where I come from."
They looked at me with a mixture of astonishment and irritation. "Maybe
we should try Hamed...?" one of them, a fella with a head that kinda
looks like a jellyfish (he got two yellow spots for eyes and an
approximate of a face but the rest is kinda wibbly-wobbly) suggests.
"You can always try, but he has even less of a clue. He only stayed alive as none of my parents took notice of him, not really. And because he posed no threat to me, I don't add. There's this one thing you can try; invoke her with ghost-candles and ask her what she knows about the matter."
They look at me as if I completely lost my mind. "Invoke an enraged goddess; you seriously think that's a good idea?"
"You got a better one?"
They look at each other. "We can try," Jellyhead suggests, "with extreme precaution."
"We need you to be there as well," Tim turns to me, his three pupils narrowed to pinpoints. "For safekeeping."
"What? Me? I don't see why that's necessary." I suddenly regret giving them the idea.
"Jack, we can't do this without you."
So there we stand, all twelve of the high-priests, plus me and Hamed,
my twin. We are in the observatory of their chief temple, with the
movable roof open to the night sky poignantly void of the North Star.
The altar is ornate with elaborate drawings, with four ghost-candles
set up in its four corners, transparent like icicles, their flames
invisible apart from the rippling air. They make all those dead people
visible to them as well. Quite a crowd of them here today.
The priests are standing in a circle around the table. Hamed is
watching intently, looking for the opportunity to be of use, eager, a
bit like a puppy if I want to be honest. He embarrasses me sometimes.
Me, I'm just sort of dicking around in the background.
They've been chanting for quite a while, but nothing happens. A sudden
gush of air and all the candles go out, regular and ghost. I guess she
doesn't want to talk to us.
There's silence in the suddenly dark room. "Doesn't want to talk to us, apparently," I remark needlessly.
"Well, what if you asked her?" Tim snaps.
"Uh, not a good idea."
"Why? You're her son, after all."
"Yeah, but... she's not the cuddly type of mom, nomsayin'? Me being her
son and all wouldn't stop her from snuffing me out like one of them
candles in a heartbeat."
"Just why would she do that?" Jellyhead asks.
I don't like being talked to in that tone of voice, especially not by a
jellyfish. I accidentally set fire to a stack of documents nearby. Always
this shit, when I feel uncomfortable. At least now we had light. "Uh,
she is capricious like that and stuff. You never know, she might or
might not do it."
Tim moves to douse the flames with a weary sigh. "Well, we'll have to go look for that star then, I guess."
"Where do you suggest we start?"
We were back in the Debil-klub, them seated around the table long faced
and sober like they just came from a funeral, me sprawled in the
hammock. "Where do you look for a star? Up in the sky, methinks."
Again that nose pinching. "Mydzi Möjz, Jack... sometimes I get
the feeling you deliberately want to piss us off further. It's not
there. That's what causes all our problems in the first place."
"Maybe you didn't look in the right place."
"Please enlighten us then, oh wise firelord."
I stuff my pipe and inhale the fragrant smoke. "Uh, haven't gotten much farther than that. We still got Ru’Haini
to navigate by, so what if we try and see what we find thataways?" It
was nearing midsummer which was lucky as Ru’Haini is visible only then,
and then only for a couple of weeks, looming big and red above the
horizon in 45 degrees.
The priests look at each other. "Do you have a better idea?" Tim turns
to Hamed. I can tell it pains my bro to admit he doesn't. "He might
have pulled the idea out of his ass, nonetheless it's the only one we
have," he says, his face pinched as if he bit into a lemon.
So that's how me, Hamed, Tim, Martin, Peter, Mike, the usual crew plus
2 extra priests (one of them my pal Jellyhead) set out following
We been traveling for fuck knows how long, but we haven't gotten closer
to finding the rogue star or finding out what's happened in the first
place. We were pretty much off the map, wandering on unchartered lands.
We were in low spirits as we fought our way through a swamp, them
swatting at mosquitoes, covered in mud from head to toe, me trying to
avoid all that goddamn water.
I don't know when exactly we wandered from the real (albeit
dead-people-riddled) world to Nightmareland, but all kind of crazy shit
started to go down. We lost Ru’Haini ages ago and it seemed we lost
ourselves in the process as well. The stars and constellations just
seemed to move about randomly, not staying in one place from one night
to the next and sometimes from one hour to the next. Reality was
slipping a bit, things seemed to wobble somehow as if we were tripping
on acid or something.
We were sitting around a fire one night (they'd be screwed trying to
build a fire from all those wet logs without my help. Ha!).
I sat thinking, munching on a rabbit. "If you can't find it on the macro level, look for it on the micro."
Tim stuffed a log among the embers, sending a shower of sparks toward
the starless sky in constellations you don't want to contemplate too
long. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Finishing the bunnyrabbit I took out my favorite shiny globe to play
with. It was real pretty the way it caught and distorted the firelight
as I turned it between my claws, with all these inclusions in its
depth, a zillion glitters, like a starburst in its heart. I danced
flames at the tip of my fingers, all of them a different hue to paint
our camp all the colors of the rainbow. "Like, quantum level?"
"Look for a star? In the quantum level? Jack, this is not the time to be a jackass."
"What, I'm just trying to be useful."
"It's not working." He looked up at the leap of a purple flash. "What's that?"
I ignored his question. "Or we can build a starship and go look for it in the actual Space."
It seemed I just managed to piss them off even more, as per usual.
Martin tried to say something, but Tim cut him off. "Jack, I feel like
you don't grasp the severity of the situation, or worse, you make light
of it on purpose. Quantum level? Starships? Seriously?"
Uh-oh, gotta watch it, here comes Timbo with the fancy-talk.
"Well, I'm awaiting eagerly for yalls' ideas, but I don't see none forthcomin'."
They were sitting there in silence for a while, all grumpy and grumbly,
me only having fun, sending colorful darts of light in my bro's eyes.
"Jack, what is that?" he squinted miffed.
I hid the ball in one of my numerous pockets. "Nothin'. Founds it." Am instantly on the defensive; it's a force of habit.
"Found it? Where?" I don't like the accusatory tone in his voice, but
can't say I'm surprised. See, I was right to get all defensive. These
people always assuming the worst. Outraging.
"At the finding place."
"Guys, I think someone is following us." Martin used the ensuing
silence to speak. The light danced on his glasses as he turned to
glance nervously into the darkness outside the ring of fire. Someone
did for real for the past couple days, but as it was mostly harmless I
found it unnecessary to mention it to the others.
"Oh, it's just Yuriy." Yuriy was a 4 meter tall statue of Augustus, but
he preferred to be called Yuriy for whatever reason. The fact that he
managed to track us so inconspicuously despite his size I found
noteworthy, if somewhat unnerving. "Don't mind him, he's just an
innocent goof." I hope, I didn't add.
We left Yuriy some time later, I guess he found some other distraction.
A couple nights later this chick wandered into our camp. Except it was
"Oh hello there," the others greeted her, enlivened by the pretty female company. Obviously they weren't seeing what I saw.
"Do you need help?" Martin offered.
"Martin, don't!" Tim warned. Him with his Talent at least heard something was off with her.
"What? It's just a damsel perhaps looking for the warmth of the fire." He moved to make space for her. "Are you lost?"
She'd almost reached the fireside by then, black smoke covering her
from head to toe, billowing from her mouth, her eyes glistening like
oil filled holes. If but a wisp of that smoke touched any of the guys,
it'd cause all sorts of nasty maladies in a short while. Might be it
was radioactive or something.
"You don't want to make a move on that one." Tongues of flame
condensed, hosts of sparks swirled around my hands, around my weaving
fingers as I spoke. "It's a Főrbargi Bőrfeller."
They laughed in disbelief. "What? The Főrbargi is a myth, a bedtime story... "
There was no way to convince them. I sent a beam of fire her way and
she dissolved without a sound. The beam passed between Martin and
Peter, inches away from them. They sat in stunned silence, discreetly
"I just saved your asses from all manners of horrible death. You're welcome."
We were climbing up this godforsaken Mountain of Madness, steep as
anything, with just the narrowest little path leading up, and even that
was constantly narrowing, widening, sort of pulsating so we had to be
super careful to watch our step. Halfway up the hill we came across
this opening, more a tunnel so huge no man could have built it. It was
the only constant thing in this surreal place; it didn't change size or
shape. That's how I knew something was off with it. That, and the Dark
Lady siguls all over it told me to get the fuck out asap. Except I
couldn't. Her presence was all over; it had me trapped. Now I'm not the
panicky type, but this gave me all sorts of bad feels. Soon things were
bound to randomly catch fire. "I'm not sure this is a good idea."
On the other side of the path there was just the bottomless abyss, with
a scattering of clouds a couple hundred meters below us. Just then the
path narrowed to practically nothing so we had to jump into the
opening. Inside was a veritable maze of wide and tall corridors and we
got duly lost in short order.
We didn't see anyone, but I could feel we were being watched. The
corridors weren't perfectly abandoned either; at one point we came
across these things, amorphous blobs stuck on the walls and the
"Are those alive?" Peter breathed.
I contemplated the vague shapes of the creatures stuck in the flesh
colored goo, their faces distorted into an eternal scream under layers
of slime. "Think so, yeah. Told yalls not to come in here."
"Not like we had a choice. Can you burn them?" Tim asked.
I tried, but for the first time in my life, I couldn't use my skills.
Can't say as I liked the experience, not one bit. "Nope. Ma'am is
dampening my Fire somehow."
"We can always go back?" Martin suggested. But when we looked back,
there were three of them sticking to the walls like huge spits, two
pouring down the walls and one puddling on the floor. They weren’t
exactly moving, but they weren’t there a minute before.
"Is it your mother setting up this whole place, putting these things
here, forcing us into this trap?" Mike asked, his dark face pale with
outrage. "You are one fucked up family."
I said nothing. Couldn't really argue.
There was just the tiniest gap left near the wall where we could pass,
crouching low under the things, hoping they stay as sluggish as they
"Hope these were the only such things we’ll meet in here," Martin said once we were at a safe distance from them.
"Wouldn't bet on that."
"Oh, shut up, Jack!"
I was right though. A couple corridors later there it was, a living,
gurgling fence blocking the path altogether. There was a section where
we might be able to jump over it, if
we gained enough momentum. Well, might as well get over it. I began
with a trot, speeding up gradually, barely missing the thing as I
hurled over it, arriving in a tangle of limbs on the other side. "Ow!
Damit!" I'm way too bony for this shit. I watched as the others arrived
one after the other. They are shorter than me, so they needed a little
extra magical help from the priests to make it. I guessed the stifling
of skills was reserved for me only. Outstanding.
We went on, hoping to leave all these cave boogers behind. Turned out we didn't.
“Jack!” Hamed snapped.
I nearly walked into the fucker. It was hanging down off the ceiling,
stretching down like a slug. The thing occupied the corridor in a way
that we had to pass under it.
“Stick to the wall,” Tim ordered, never taking his eyes off it.
We were almost through when it attacked, darted downwards with a
surprising speed. We bolted and ran, turning randomly left and right,
stopping only when the guys couldn't run anymore for lack of air. They
leaned against the wall panting.
"Jack!" Tim pointed.
Some of the stuff was stuck in my hair, quickly advancing towards my head.
"Fuck off!" I used my claws to cut off that part of my hair and hurled
it away. It glowed at the base of the wall like a handful of embers.
"Might want to tie up your hair next time," my smartass of a brother suggested.
Looking around we saw that we ended up at a wider opening, crowded with
people. Their faces were veiled in black light. There was a lady
standing on top of a stone altar. I knew she was bad news from the way
the black light of my maw condensed around her. I tried to turn
invisible as much as possible, which was no easy feat with my features
and height. Thought of blazing a way back through all these people,
then remembered that my fire was momentarily snuffed out. Damn!
The priestess turned towards us, towards me to be precise, and spoke with a surprisingly thundering voice, considering her slight built and tender age.
"There is the thief," she boomed. She was pointing straight at me, I'm afraid.
"Jack? What is she talking about?" Tim asked, suspicion obvious in his voice.
"Yeah, that's what I'm wondering about, too." I got all fidgety from
all the attention, but for once nothing burst into flames much to my
pity, as the faceless crowd of devotees was closing in on us.
The faceless people close in on around us.
"Jaxi, what have you done again?" Hamed hissed through clenched teeth.
"Again? Y'all are accusing me without basis... "
The Lady's presence filled the cave, engulfing us in her black smoke,
wrapping us in her veils of darkness and her wrath was terrible.
Ok I might have gone a lil too far this time. But I liked that
lil shiny sparkly trinket so much, I just couldn't help myself, OK? I
just can't say no to swag, so bite me.
You have something of mine. Her voice is the voice of black holes, of the void between the stars, filled with Madness.
"Now now, Mother. No need to work yourself up." I take the crystal ball
from my pocket. "See? It's fine, no need to get all upset..."
Too late, she is already upset. Her darkness engulfs and blots out the
stars. I throw the North Star up in the sky where it takes it's
rightful place. I make my hasty exit while the others are distracted.
© 2018 Susan Anwin
Bio: Susan was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, Her
flash-fiction Talk of Armadale trees was featured in the anthology My
Favourite Place, published by the Scottish Book Trust in 2012, and her
short stories Fog-People, Eddie's lousy Saturday, You'll die as fish,
People of the Green Cloud, Dragonfly-man, Daddy is Driving the Car,
Soul for Sale, Dark Sister and The Man Who Broke Time were published by
Aphelion in 2016 and 2017. She's been featured on the cover of Aphelion
in March and July 2017.
Website: Susan Anwin
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