The Wrath of Urique

Reads: 899  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 1  | Comments: 4

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
It's never a good thing to get on the wrong side of your God. Especially, when you belong to a cult of assassins...
The Wrath of Urique is a fantasy story set in the prehistoric past on the lost continent of Mu.
It is dedicated with thanks to the memory of the late Colin Wilson, 1931 – 2013, author, scholar, philosopher. Colin’s writings were one of the great influences on my life.
This story was inspired by Wilson’s 1969 novel, The Philosopher’s Stone. The story shares the same setting as part of that novel, and both feature the character K’tholo. The Philosopher’s Stone was one of Wilson’s recastings of H P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.
Editorial assistance by Melissa Cloake, with thanks.

Submitted: November 18, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 18, 2015

A A A

A A A


There was no warning. In the space of a heartbeat, the stars were swept away in a flood of light.  The Moon had risen.  Four times the width of the Sun, though less than half as bright, it bathed the land in a nacreous lustre.  It was the middle hour of night.

Atop the rounded knoll of Dol Grodoor, a circle of misshapen monoliths stood in soft silhouette against the pale half disc.

Within the circle, men danced in grotesque gyrations that denied the limits of their bodies.  A frenzied chaotic dance of ecstasy.  They danced with swords, slashing with a speed and accuracy that should have severed limbs.  Instead, their blows drew just enough blood to leave fine red lines along the length of the cuts.  Row after row the lines formed patterns, arcs that steadily edged their way along each arm from shoulder to wrist in parallel lines.  While dark red V’s worked their way down the men’s backs.

They danced around a low altar in the centre of the circle.  On the altar stood an idol; a malformed creature that combined in its crafting the worst features of everything men find most abhorrent.  Slug, spider, worm and leech with a vague hint of something human lurking beneath.  All covered by a slimy green growth that glistened malevolently in the moonlight.

A man clad in garments the same vile colour as the stone stood before the idol.  His hands were gloved, his head hooded.  His gown reached to the ground, leaving no flesh visible.  A foot taller than any of the naked dancers, he faced the rising Moon.  His glance took in the initiates outside the perimeter who awaited admittance to the service of the god.  Then, from behind the altar, he drew forth a golden gong that he struck three times.

Instantly, the dancers stopped.  Slowly, one measured pace at a time, they approached to form a five foot diameter ring around the altar.  At the easternmost point was a small gap.  Through here the initiates would pass.

“Who stands before me?” the priest intoned.

“We, the Drowners, the Children of Darkness, the Servants of Urique, God of Terror.  We stand before you,” the dancers responded with a single voice.

“What is your purpose?”

“Fear.  Suspicion.  Dread.  To spread terror and sudden death throughout the lands of Mu.  For the service of our Lord.”

They waited while the priest gestured a benediction.

“Who stands without?”

From outside the circle a babble of voices arose.

“We who seek…
“We who seek to serve…
“… to serve the Dark Lord…
“We stand without.”

“Stand forth!” cried the celebrant, ignoring the jumbled words in his certainty of their intent.

One after another the supplicants came forward, each led by an acolyte.  Those that faltered in the ritual, or erred in any way, the acolyte struck down and dragged aside for later sacrifice.  Only those without flaw were admitted to the cult.  Finally, the last man stood before the priest.

“Who stands before me?”

“Kadlo, son of Drogo.”

“What do you seek?”

“To serve the Dark Lord.”

“Who is the Dark Lord?”

“Urique, God of Terror.”

Throughout the interrogation Kadlo stared straight in front of him, his eyes unfocused, unseeing.  By sheer effort of will he honed his consciousness down to a single point, and that point was the ritual.  The ritual was all, and his responses came automatically.  Somewhere in the depths of his mind, a dread nagged at him.  He suppressed it.  On the periphery of his vision, vague shapes weaved menacingly.  He ignored them.  Behind the dim shroud of perception he allowed himself, Kadlo knew without knowing that he could not dare let himself become aware of what was going on around him.  In this an unremembered memory guided him in his unchoice – a caution that cultists would dance around him during the ritual, slashing closer and closer with their swords as a test.  Kadlo’s mind remained closed.  The ritual responses continued to roll from his lips in a dull monotone.

“What is the fate of those who fail the God, or break his taboos?” intoned the celebrant.

“Death.”

“Do you stand ready to make your pledge?”

“I do.”

“Then do so, and bind it with your blood.”

At once Kadlo drew a knife from his belt and plunged it deep into the front of his left thigh.

“I, Kadlo, son of Drogo, pledge my life to the Dark Lord, our God,” he cried, no hint of pain in his voice.  “If ever I fail in my service, if ever I break his taboos, may the flesh be torn from my limbs, and may I be cast upon the flames for my shame.  This do I pledge.”

Then he plucked the dagger from his leg.  The wound bled just enough to mark the thrust with a thin red line.  Like the dancers’ cuts.

“Welcome, Brother,” cried the priest.  The acolyte stepped aside and a great roar erupted from the crowd as the dancers clashed their blades together in approval.  As he came back to himself, Kadlo dimly sensed his father standing nearby, beaming with pride, the acolyte’s dagger still in his hand.

In the distance one of the small volcanoes that studded the landscape, spat forth a small shower of dull red lava.

 

He was contemplating the intricacies of the rings of Saturn when the alarm sounded.  He wished he could ignore it, but he knew too well what it meant.  More and more over the past few centuries, he had come to see the heavens as his soul’s true home.  He felt no desire to return to the mortal confines of Earth.  But the yoke of Duty was something he could not shirk.  Reluctantly, he withdrew, let the vision fade and began the process of reincorporation.  Slowly his awareness slipped back into his body.  Once more, he became K’tholo, High Priest, Lord of Mu and all its colonies.

He waited, stifling his impatience, as the minutes passed while his mind readjusted itself to his physical limits.  His attention turned to the problem at hand.  A taboo had been broken.  In most cases, such an infringement would not have required his personal attention, but here the cult involved was the Drowners, one of his own creations.  That alone justified his intervention.  They were one of his safety valves.  One of the more extreme weapons he used in his battle against the debilitating public complacency that constantly sapped vitality from his empire.  Again, his fault – the price of being too successful a ruler.  Under his early stewardship, his people had lost all their needs, all their fears.  They wanted for nothing, and they wanted nothing.  The drive had gone out of them, leaving their culture stagnant and impotent.

The solution he found was to bring back the taste of fear, the prospect of danger; to re-introduce an element of risk.  The cults of Urique were the most subtle tool in his arsenal.  Because of them, no one felt totally safe, no matter how secure their environment appeared to be.  That was what K’tholo wanted and needed.  To maintain that subtlety required strict controls.

By now, the matching of mind to body was complete.  Rising, he strode across to the ebony drapes that hemmed his chambers, and drew them apart to reveal a stepped circular pyramid three times the height of the surrounding buildings.  A wide granite path separated the sanctuary from K’tholo’s chambers and the rest of the rooms that made up the bulk of the temple.  The High Priest crossed the path and made his way up to the top of the pyramid – the inner sanctum at the heart of the Temple of the Sun.

At the summit lay a level platform, circled by a ring of fluted pillars fully four times the height of the tallest Muvian man.  In the middle of the platform, the altar stood open to the sky, and on top of that altar stood Atama – the ‘Eye of K’tholo’, his priests called it – a solid cylinder of pure metallic crystal with a shallow basin carved into the top.  In the depths of that basin, feathered crystals of blue and green glowed in the piercing rays of the Sun.

From beneath the altar he drew a decanter of spring water that his acolytes refreshed every day.  Gently, he filled the bowl.  When the water settled, he peered into its depths.  For a time, he saw only the glowing crystals, and the half-image of his own reflection.  Then the crystals began to flash and swim before his gaze.  The image before him gradually condensed into a single glowing eye that stared up at him from a sea of darkness.  Instinctively, he blinked.  When his eyes opened, the temple was gone, replaced by a new landscape.

He stood beside a lake.  Next to the lake, a man was walking with a distinct tension in his stride.  It confirmed the growing awareness in the High Priest’s mind that here was the man he sought.

Gently, he tapped the man’s memory.

 

Kadlo had been with the Drowners now for three years.  During that time he had gained considerable renown within the group, for the remarkable efficiency with which he despatched each assignment.  And today, in recognition of his achievements, he had been accorded a special honour.  He had been chosen to give an instructional display of the techniques of the cult to a class of new recruits.

The lesson was a simple demonstration.  The killing was to take place at a lake popular as a summer swimming resort, not too far from the cult’s secret temple.  Kadlo would perform a classic cult assassination while the novices and their priest watched from their hiding place beneath a clump of trees near one of the beaches.  Their task was to see if they could detect any sign of Kadlo’s presence either before or after the attack.

Kadlo completed his preparations beneath a nearby willow.  For five minutes he offered prayers, dedicating himself to the task ahead.  From the edge of the bank he picked up the string bag full of stones he had left there.  Then he stripped naked and slipped into the lake under the shroud of the overhanging branches.

The chill of the water was electric.  It beckoned him to indulge in a slow, luxurious escape from the uncomfortable heat of the day, but he resisted.  He could not afford to lose focus, even for a moment.  The task ahead of him was too difficult, too demanding.

To maintain perfect concealment, Kadlo needed to swim most of the distance underwater, a task he was well trained for.  Breathing deeply, he dove beneath the surface and swam with practised ease.  The weight of the bag of stones looped around his waist helped him stay submerged while still allowing him to swim back to the surface for breath whenever he had to.  Then he would roll over, adjusting the stones as he did, to raise just his nostrils above the surface.

Three times he did this, confident that he remained on course for his target.  As he swam he peered ahead through the murky water, trying to discern the shapes of any swimmers.  Suddenly they were there all around him.  With a shock, he realised he’d swum too far.

He surfaced, trod water, and surveyed the scene.  He found the lake awash with noisy people escaping the heat – swimming, playing, or just floating about.  No one noticed him.  He was just one man among many.  He offered a prayer of thanks for his luck.

The man he sought was just a little way off to his left, playing a game of “catch” with some friends.  There were six of them; all treading water in a circle as they tossed a large ball randomly to one another.  Each man held his place as best he could, all eyes fixed on the hurtling ball.  That was going to make Kadlo’s task much easier.

He struck out, casually swimming along a line that would take him a few feet to the right of his target.  Almost as soon as he passed the man, the Drowner took a very deep breath and dove beneath the surface.  As he did he spun around to face his victim.  With bulging cheeks, he watched the rhythmic paddling of the man’s feet, calculating the moment to strike.  The rules of the Drowners were strict.  In an assassination, he had to grab his victim by the right foot.  The left was taboo.  To even touch it was to bring down the curse of the God.  An offence punishable by death.  Kadlo waited.  At the right moment, he made his move.

As he did a ball came careening towards his unwitting target.  In an effort to catch the ball, the swimmer suddenly kicked out just as Kadlo’s hands closed around his foot.  His left foot.

Such is the way of Fate.

At first Kadlo did not grasp his mistake.  His reactions were instinctive.  He jerked the man below the surface.  There was a sudden rush of water through the man’s nostrils, rendering him instantly senseless.  At once, Kadlo wrapped the bag of stones around the man’s neck.  Only then did he realise he had grabbed the wrong foot.  The taboo foot!  Horrified, he struggled to think what he should do.  Nothing.  There was nothing to do but go on as planned.  He released his grip and backed away.  The still body quickly sank out of sight.

In a daze he surfaced and began to head back the way he had come.  He was dangerously near the crowd, but it no longer mattered.  Woodenly, he clambered ashore beneath the willows and picked up his clothes.  Once dressed, he began to make his way around the coast towards his companions.  At that moment the Eye of K’tholo fell upon him.

In that instant, Kadlo knew he was being watched.  A sentence of death hung upon him.  Terror shredded his mind and shrivelled it to dust.  Unseeing, he began to run.  Someone was calling him, telling him to stop.  He heard nothing.  Consumed by fear he saw the world only as an expanse of mottled greens, blues and browns streaming past him.  He did not feel the thorns that tore at his flesh; the stones that stabbed his feet.  He just ran.

His companions saw him coming, and watched, bewildered, as he ran past.  They couldn’t find it in themselves to follow him.  Then Kadlo screamed.  The torture in that scream froze their blood.  And broke the trance.  Urged on by the priest, they began as one to chase after Kadlo.

It was no easy task.  The fear that drove him endowed Kadlo’s limbs with extraordinary strength and stamina.  The cultists had no hope of catching him.  One by one, his pursuers fell away until only the priest and three students remained.  They alone ran on, their sole intent to be there at the finish – to bear witness – certain they were seeing nothing less than the righteous wrath of their God.

 

K’tholo broke with the vision and shook his head.  A breach of taboo was serious, but there were rites of exculpation.  If only Kadlo had given it more thought.  If he had removed the weights and released the victim, the man’s friends might have found him.  They might have been able to revive him.  Even had he died, it would then have just been an unfortunate accident.

But by leaving the stones in place, Kadlo had condemned his victim to death.  And he had done so as a deliberate act, with full knowledge that he was in breach of the taboo.  By that act the death of his victim had ceased to be an assassination and had become simple murder.

Such an act could not go unpunished.  Judgement had been made, and sentence passed.  The culprit knew the verdict.  There remained only the matter of execution of sentence.

On the floor of the temple was a mosaic map of the continent.  Here K’tholo sought inspiration.  The execution had to bear the indelible stamp of the deity whom these people thought they served.  For breaking the taboo, the guilty one had to be flayed alive and then burnt.

The lake where the crime had been committed lay in the centre of a large plateau and was the source of several rivers.  To reach the lowlands, these had to wend their way through an undulating terrain of knolls and small volcanoes.  At one point, on the north of the lake, the course of one river was lost in a large area of marshland.  These marshes, K’tholo remembered, were home to an interesting variety of insect, a giant biting midge the locals called Ziggurs.

They were as large as a man’s hand, yet capable of flight.  Usually, they flew in swarms of about a hundred strong, feeding on the small animals and reptiles with which they shared the swamp.

These creatures would be his tools of execution.  Returning to the crystal, K’tholo drove his will down, forcing several Ziggur swarms to rise above the swamp and coalesce.  Then, watching through their eyes, he turned the giant swarm towards its quarry.  Across the lake it flew, over the low ridges, a living cloud hungry for prey.

 

The four running men heard a thunderous rumble and faltered in their stride as darkness overtook them.  Ahead, Kadlo gained the crest of a ridge and passed out of sight.  The cloud followed.  The men ran on.

Suddenly, a second scream tore the air, even more wretched than the first.  As they reached the brow of the ridge, the cloud rose up, a strangely elongated shape.  Then the insects turned towards the exhausted runners to display their prey.

The dripping, squirming figure no longer looked human.  The skin had been stripped away.  Bare muscles, guts and fat sagged from the bones.  Two lidless eyes gaped at them.  Kadlo’s mouth dropped open in a final silent scream.  Over and past the men the cloud flew until it reached the closest volcano.  Above the ruddy crater mouth, it paused.  Then K’tholo withdrew his influence.  The cloud broke apart.  A body dropped into the waiting inferno.


© Copyright 2019 KathyT54. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

More Fantasy Short Stories