Section Four

“Can a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of a planet eventually lead to a typhoon on the other?”  

Questions such as these are often thrown out by armchair-philosophers when they cannot think of logical responses to reasonable questions.  Still…is it not true that very small, miniscule causes often, in time, produce astronomical effects?

No better example of this can be found than the union of two very tiny cells that join to create a new life.  From one fertilized egg no bigger than the head of a pin have come all the great orators, poets, and leaders known to our universes.  In their turn, the worlds of men have been changed for better or worse.

On a warm summer evening, while balmy breezes drifted in from the sea and the gentle glow of the waxing moon filtered down through the tamarisk trees, a young maiden offered her love to her strong, handsome beau.  Their passionate embrace was not unlike that shared by countless other lovers throughout the lives of men, and with similar results.

Above the clouds and beyond the sky, watchful eyes waited to see if their many centuries of effort and labor were soon to be rewarded.  For thousands of years they had played in the genome pool of this race to create the perfect warrior priestess, one who would share a throne to rule a universe.

For generations, fingers had busied themselves weaving the web of life in the bellies of countless mothers by gathering the desired threads from countless fathers until satisfied with the finished blend.  Faces smiled with pleasure at the results accomplished. But other faces took no delight in the little child.

Given a name belonging to the gods by her father and mentored in the new religion of her uncle, the forces of darkness swore revenge for such disrespect.  They skulked in the ‘other world’ waiting the day when their enemies wearied of protecting the girl.  At last, such a time arrived.

I start this account back in that day and hour when, for but a moment, the demon forces thought the battle was theirs.  In an age of empires and gods, of gladiators and prophets, the flap of tiny wings against the tempest of madmen began a storm that would one day bring down Satan’s entire house, beginning with Legion, his chief lieutenant.

No one person can start a firestorm of the proportions witnessed at the end of the last age.  Yet, the collective spirit of persons like this child proved to become an unstoppable force, eventually crushing a superior enemy before he could cover the universe in eternal gloom and destruction.  The history of Heaven’s War does not, then, belong to one hero.  As you will see, all who fought in it are heroes.

It was the beating of countless wings through death and sacrifice that has delivered us to this Fourth Age, the age of rebirth.

*    *    *

“Isn’t she a pretty one!   I’d like to fancy whoring w’th the likes o’ her for a n’ght!”

“You best leave that lovely alone, Perk!” Protested the grimy, balding man known as ‘Tanner’.  He was standing next to Perk, also peering into the cell.  “She’s saved for the party tomorrow and if you ‘ert her, me and you will be dog food ‘fore the next nightfall.”

Perk glowered at Tanner.  “Stop your whining, ya’ ol’ bastard, or I’l rip yor own guts aut an feed ‘em ta the dogs, meself!  No one’s goin’ ta hurt the pretty, but if opportunity should just happen to come ta ‘ave some fun – well… we’s just’l ‘ave ta watch an sees – won’t we?”

Tanner backed away from Perk and shut his mouth.  He had worked with him in the prison for many years and didn’t doubt a word said by him.  He was afraid of Treston, captain over the governor’s personal guard, including the prison, but Perk terrified him. Perk was not only a senior prison custodian; he loved his job.  He took pleasure in his work, and the pain he could inflict on others he called his ‘bonus pay.’  As he eyed the child huddled in the corner of the stinking cell, his nostrils flared and a greasy drool dribbled off his jowls.

Perk reached his arm out and put it around Tanner’s shoulder.  Then he drew the older man up close to him so that their noses almost touched.  With a semi-toothless grin, he hissed in a hushed whisper, “I don’t knows about you, but I ain’t never seen nothin’ like what’s in there in here ‘afore.  In my whole life’s dreams, there hain’t niver come to me somthin’ as sweet as that thing in there.  If hell come tomorrer for me, it ‘uld be worth it.  I’m achin’ already for it, an’ that pretty can make the achin’ go away.”

Then lowering his voice even more, his eyes glowing with lust, Perk continued, “Now Tanner, my bosom fr’nd, we has worked heres a lon’ time.  I has always shared with you.  I’l save you some.  Why I’l even guard the doors while you fun w’th her.”  He paused in thought, his eyes staring at the ceiling.  “I can make it wurth yor while – wurth our while.  Now goes about yor w’rk, and keep that flapper a yors buttoned up.”

Tanner’s eyes showed his fear.  Perk knew he would keep quiet.  Tanner turned away from Perk and went about feeding the prisoners.  Perk opened the cell door and entered.  On the floor, a dirty dish sat in maggot-infested filth.  He threw down some moldy bread, then, with a cup, reached into a greasy pot, took out some lukewarm slop and poured it into the dish.  He cast a longing look at the girl in the corner and broke into a hideous grin, hissing, “Eat up, darlin’, best the feast is what yu g’t fer yer last sup.  An’ try ta rest som, fer a l’ng night’s comin’.”

He turned, exited the chamber and slammed the door shut.  Stopping, Perk swung around and pushed his nearly toothless, grinning face up to the bars and blew a little kiss.  “Sweet dr’ms, pretty.”  He walked away down the hall, his whistling growing fainter until it could not be heard.

*    *    *

Her hands were not shaking as badly now, her breathing more relaxed and less shallow.  The night prayers had a calming effect on her.  In the least, they took her mind off the burning agony gripping her belly, but tonight they seemed to be soothing to flesh and soul.  The terror of earlier hours, when Perk had returned, was decreasing, and she was starting to feel the dull pain of the beatings.  Drying blood, mixed with the human filth left over from previous inhabitants, covered her naked body and caked her hair.  The airless chamber had already been chokingly thick with the rank smell of these things, but now the stench of sweat and sexual exhaustion emulsified with the other stink to produce a stomach-wrenching odor.  She heaved up some more bile, but there was nothing else left.

Perk had waited until Treston had retired for the night.  Then he had quietly slipped out the side door of the prison chamber.  At Perk’s departure, Tanner lit a small lamp and paced back and forth in front of the cell door until he returned.  When he came back, four other men accompanied him.  All were filthy and unkempt.  Obviously, these men worked or slaved down in some other part of this hole of a prison.

Perk threw open the door of the girl’s cell and stepped in.  He held the lantern high to look over his prize catch for the night.   “My, my, whut a dainty we ‘av ‘ere.  The gods ‘av luk’d on us t’nite.”  He then cooed, “I ‘ear yu got a nam, an’ quite a fan-see on, too.”  Turning his head back over his shoulder, he grinned.  “Ish-tar.  Can yu baleeve it?  We g’t us a goddess right ‘ere in ar li’le ‘ome.  Ya ev’r see a goddess ‘afore?”

He clumsily reached for her clothes. The child threw up her hands to stop him.  Perk lunged forward and drove his fist into the side of her head, sending her spinning into the far wall.  Before she could fall, Perk’s giant paws were around her throat, squeezing the breath out of her.

Tanner wailed. “Stop it Perk! Or yu’l get us all kild!”

“Shut your friggin mouth you!” Perk growled.

Tanner’s cries did have their effect, though.  Perk caught his breath and calmed down.  Easing his iron grip he pulled the girl close, and opening his mouth in a sinister grin, he cautioned, “Well goddess, yu win fer now.  I dn’t want ta spoil th’ goods.  Now be nice, or next time, I’l rip that sluttin’ ‘ed of yur’s right off.”

“Let’s ‘av a see at what a goddess looks like.”  Perk reached down and ripped Ishtar’s tunic off, the force flinging her across the room.

She caught hold of a post in the wall just before falling.  Tanner lifted the lamp high to get a better look at the naked girl.  A hushed gasp rose in chorus from the men looking on.  They stared, transfixed, looking at the most strikingly beautiful form they had ever seen.

Not only did this woman have an astonishingly attractive face, her other features were of equal grandeur.  Ishtar’s hair was a brilliant orange-red.  In the lantern light, it radiated red, then gold, copper, and back to red.  Her ‘perfect’ figure was enhanced by a silky-smooth, light olive-colored skin, while the dancing shadows made the girl’s generous curves and firm breasts appear as those of a goddess come to earth.

Perk was aghast. “Well I …well ain’t that …sooo.”  He dropped his eyes pondering his good fortune.  Drooling like a hungry beast, he grinned.  “I bet you ain’t never had it ‘afore neither, ‘av ya?”

Hooting, Perk turned to the others and asked,  “What’s she worth now, gentermen?  Clean as the driv’n snow.  What will yu pay to be the first driv’r?  A goddess, no less.”

The things that happened after that were blurry. Aside from the explosive pain rending through her head, and the burning agony in her belly, she could remember little detail except for Perk. 

He was brutal.  His animalistic abuse was beyond description.  The more she cried out, the more intense the pain he would inflict.  When she resisted, he would beat her until she would nearly pass out.  After he had finished, she lay on the floor, her eyes rolled back in her battered head, oozing blood from her nose, and ears.

Tanner was petrified with fear.  He believed the child was going to die from Perk’s abuse.  Perk shouted for him to shut up and went after the child again.

After thoroughly exhausting himself, he forced Tanner to perform the final insult to her.  When he declined, Perk angrily threatened.  “You’d better get it up, or I’l cut it off!”  Taking Tanner by the shirt, he pulled him into the cell, flinging him at the crumpled body on the floor.  He then mocked him.  “You’ll kill her!  You’ll kill her!”

Tanner timidly obeyed, finishing his deed as quickly as possible.  The girl quietly moaned but offered no resistance.  When finished, he jumped up, and while still fastening his clothes, scurried away.

Laughing, Perk shouted after him, “If the lit’le bitch dies now, you’ll ‘ang for it, too!”

The other men had long since retreated to their own hiding places.  If the girl was going to die, they wanted to be a far way from the scene.  They were well aware how much value Treston placed on her appearance in front of the emperor’s magistrate the coming day.

Perk lingered a while, staring at the body sprawled in the corner.  He slowly turned to go, stopping in the door for another look.  Ishtar opened her eyes only to meet his.  They were now filled with malice and rage.

He kicked the filth from the floor in her direction, cursing.  “And damned be your god, too!”  He stormed away, down the passageway, taking the lantern with him.  Soon the shroud of the darkness enveloped her.

Ishtar struggled to her knees only to be caught in nauseous convulsions.  Driven by uncontrolled heaves, hot liquid forced its way up her throat and out her mouth.  As the child gasped for air, a shooting pain racked her body, racing up her back and exploding into a million stabbing spears at the base of the girl’s skull.  In a muffled scream, she pitched forward, falling face down into the filth and dirt.

*    *    *

“There ain’t been anyone out here in hours.  It’s cold and damp, and my feet are tired.  What’s all this big deal ‘bout us being here, anyhow?”  The guard shivered, rubbing his arms with his hands.

The second guard continued his searching vigil of the deserted street while chastising the first guard.  “The cuckoo bird’s got in your head.  We got some big prize locked up and the sergeant ain’t wantin’ no problems.  If he got loose, all of us would be feedin’ lions tomorrow.”

The first guard nodded.  “I don’t doubt what you’re sayin’, being a big prize and all that, but…” He glanced around to see if others were near, then whispered, “All them followers of his aren’t gonna bother here.  They’er all them kindly, peaceful people.  They don’t hurt nobody.”

“Watch your mouth!”  Snapped the second guard, glaring at the first.  “Those kinda words could get us both killed.  Just shatup and watch for somthin’.  That’s our job.”  He returned to scrutinizing the darkness.

The first guard sniffed the air, wrinkling his nose in disgust.  “Why in hell’s name don’t someone clean that hog pen?!”

The other agreed, staring into the empty animal pens across the street.  He suddenly jerked his head up and froze. Wide eyed, he excitedly whispered, pointing, “Somethin's mov’n there!”

The second guard reached for his spear while squinting into the blackness.  A cackling echoed from off the surrounding buildings.  It was shrill and disjointed, but somewhat musical.  It was quickly followed by equally shrill musical words.

“By night it walks to hunger still,
To find sweet meat, its belly fill.
It smells the blood, so warm with heat.
It’ll drink it down, and saves the meat!”

A cry rose from the darkness, followed by a painful whining.  “No!  No!  I won’t hurt them!  Agguuh!  I won’t hurt them!  I promise!  I promise!  I am your child… your little servant child.  Please! No more!  No more!”  It grew quiet for a moment, and then the voice sputtered, “Not hungry!  Not hungry now!”

“By the gods!”  The first guard wailed, jabbing his spear toward the hog pens.

A black shape slowly emerged out of the darkness, as if rising out of the very filth of the ground.  It wobbled straight for the two guards.

Hobbling and weaving from side to side, a hunched-backed, two-legged ‘beast from the underworld’ made straight for the pen’s gate, all the time cackling and cursing its complaints for need of food and then declaring it ‘wasn’t hungry’.  The foul creature was forced to stop at the gate, it being tied shut.  It let out vile curses and oaths, damning the worlds of the living and the dead, finally muttering, “Sees if I shares my feasts with them again.” And then it became silent.

A hand almost as black as the creature’s ragged robe poked out of a fold and, reaching up, untied the rope.  As the gate slowly creaked opened, a mouth hidden by a faceless hood cooed with a hissing cackle, “He said they would be pretty… he did say… he did.”  The creature laughed.  “They are pretty… they are… they are.  He said they would be fresh and juicy… he did…”

The creature then fussed in disgust, “But I don’t like fresh!  I don’t like fresh!  I like ripe… sweet… soft… and ripe.”  It made a smacking sound and started toward the two guards.

“Stop there!  Stop there!”  The guards yelled, shaking so badly they had trouble holding their spears.

The putrid creature hidden in stinking rags halted.  Lifting its head as if to examine them, it indignantly threatened, “Master said you would be nice boys… yes… he said it.  He said you would be good to me…” adding with a bitter hiss, “not like the others.  They were bad, bad little boys...”

The creature cautiously looked around, making sure they were alone.  When it was comfortable that ‘whatever’ wasn’t there, it lowered its voice and laughed, “but they was tasty… soft and tasty.”  More smacking sounds filled the chilly air.

“Get back, you devil!  Get back!  I’ll stick you!  I will! I will!”  The second guard’s spear was shaking so violently it nearly fell from his hands.

The creature hissed back, “Yes… yes… you know me?  That’s good!  My lord said you would… yes… yes he did.”  The voice changed to that of a waffie on the take.  “He said you like money.  I have money, good money.  Not to hurt the pretty boys, he said…  I have money.”

A hand poked out of a fold in the ragged robes, this time with a little leather pouch.  Another hand reached out, its fingers rummaging into it.  Two coins presently appeared, the silver glinting in the cold starlight.  They were thrown on the ground near the guards, who jumped back in fright.

The creature became silent, patiently waiting for the guards to respond.  They cautiously eyed the smelly creature, occasionally glancing at the two shiny objects near their feet.  “Get a light!” The second guard ordered.

The first guard backed away, opened the prison door and reached in, taking a half-burning torch from the wall.  Holding it at arm’s length, he looked toward the creature, but could see only shadows under the hood.  He then stared at the two stater coins tossed on the muddy bricks - nearly a week’s pay for each man.

The creature laughed, slowly rocking from side to side with glee.  “My master says there’s more, yes more, but I must do Master’s will first.”

Holding his spear high, just in case, the second guard reached down and picked up the coins.  After studying them in the torchlight, he exclaimed, “They’re real!  Look!”  He handed one to the other guard.

Hefting the coin and then rubbing it between his finger and thumb, he thought for a minute.  Eyeing the creature with caution, the second guard finally asked, “What do you want?”

Shuffling closer, until threatened again, the creature leaned forward and just above a whisper, hissed, “You have a man in there.  He makes fun of the gods… he makes fun of Master.  Master is unhappy. Sends me to talk to foolish man.”

“And what is his name?”  The second guard asked suspiciously.

The creature laughed.  “We call him ‘Talker’, because he does not know how to shut up.  But others call him, sh… sh…” It nervously held its hand up to the faceless opening and, first letting go with more curses and oaths, whispered as if in pain, “Cee...phasss..”

“Who?!”  The guards howled, pointing their spears as they did.

The second guard stepped forward, shouting, “Be off with you, you…whatever you are!  Take your money and go away!”  He threw his coin at the creature.

The creature howled in anger and turned to leave.  It had only taken a step when it cried in pain and fell back.  It began wailing, “No, please, not my fault!  Not my fault!”

Ranting on, failing its arms and postulating, it cursed the guards.  Suddenly, as if warding off a blow, it raised its hands and cried, begging for mercy.  “I tried!  You said they were nice boys.  You said they like money, money!”  It angrily howled, “They are not nice little boys, they do not like good money!”

With the same suddenness, the creature quieted and stretched forward.  “What?  Yes, yes they would.”  It giggled as it turned back toward the guards, asking, “But how?”  Then it cocked its head as though being whispered a reply.  There was a burst of laughter and, “Worms?  Yes, yes, worms.  It makes them tender, nice and tender.”

The guards listened, terror slowly growing within them, as the creature argued over what was to be done with them.  There were sounds of laughter, followed by, “Yes… yes… that is good.”

With disgust, the creature jumped back and fumed, “No!  Don’t burn them.  It tastes better cold and soft.”  There was a smacking sound again.  “Better for my mouth.”

The terrified guards cowered, pressing their bodies against the prison wall.

The creature moaned, bending low, like a dog seeking mercy from its master.  It whimpered, “Not good boys.  Don’t like money.  You said they would like money.”

It perked up and laughed, asking, “Leprosy?  Give them leprosy?”

Slowly, it turned its head toward the guards and let out with a laughing hiss.  “Yes, yes, worms, but first leprosy.  Bad little boys...”  It started to raise its arms and begin some kind of a chant.

An invisible hand reached out and grabbed the creature, snapping its head back and swinging it around.  Half-sobbing, it cackled,  “You said I could, you did, you did!”  Again it became quiet, as though listening to someone.

The creature began to argue.  “What?  More money?  But they don’t like it…!  What? Gold?  Gold money?  You will give bad boys gold?  Let’s eat them instead.  Eat them!”

Again the creature whimpered like a whipped dog, but soon quieted.  After what seemed ages to the guards, it shrugged, “All right.”

It turned and shuffled in their direction, stopping just outside spear-thrust range.  It cackled, “Master will give you gold money, good money… to good little boys.”  The creature rubbed its hands together, rolling one over the other.  “Yes he will, he said.  He promised.”

“How much money?”  The second guard asked, barely controlling his panic. “How much money do you give us?”

The creature laughed as it slowly bobbed up and down and from side to side.  It turned its head away from the guards.  “Good boys, good little boys.  You said they would like the pretty money.  Yes, yes you did.”  It turned back and started to shuffle forward.

“Stop there!”  Both men yelled, dropping their spear points in front of the open hood.

The creature halted, whining, “You asked!  You asked me!  How much money?  How much pretty, shiny, money?”

“Tell us!  Tell us how much.”  The second guard shouted, his voice belying his fear.

Excitement grew in the creature’s shrill voice.  “I will show you! …  Good boys.  He said you are nice little boys…  Not to hurt good little boys.  He said to be nice.”  It pleaded its sincerity.  “Master says to be nice to little boys…  I will, I will…  Please, see my money.  Master says see it.”

As the creature silently swayed from side to side, the guards could see clouds of steam escape from under the hood.  Finally, the second guard told the first to move closer to see the money.

“Why me!?”  Cried the first, clutching his spear tighter  “It may attack me!”

The second reassured him.  “I’l hold the point of my spear in its face and keep the torch high.  If it tries somthin’…  I’l… stick it.”  Then turning to the creature, he bravely demanded, “No tricks!”

The creature cowered, lifting its arms for protection, the leather pouch swinging in its hand.  “Don’t hurt me.  Master said be good.  Little child is being good, very good.”  It shook its head. “Not hungry now, not now.  Promised I would be good, be good.”

The first guard hesitantly inched forward, stopping about arm’s length from the creature’s hood.  The stinky thing appeared so small at this distance.  How dangerous could it really be?  Courage started to build in the guard’s heart…

“Put your hand out!”  The creature hissed.

The guard jumped back, startled, his bravado dying before it could show itself.

“The hand! I say!  Put out your hand for the money, the pretty money.”

He wanted to bolt, but the second guard chided him for being a coward.  Very slowly, the man extended his hand, palm up, fearing giant fangs might rip it from his arm.  The little creature croaked with delight, lifted the bag, and emptied its contents into the guard’s opened palm.

He jumped back quickly, staring at the coins in his hand.  The creature cackled with laughter.  “Good money.  Master said it is good money, pretty, shiny money.”

Wide-eyed, the two guards examined the coins.  There were eleven more silver stater coins, making a total of thirteen.

A frown grew on the second guard’s face.  He glowered, shaking his spear at the creature.  “Wait here!  You said there was gold money.  This ain’t gold.”

“Gold!  Yes gold!”  The creature chirped, bobbing up and down.  “Pretty gold money… later.”  It then lowered its voice to a menacing hiss,  “When done with Master’s will.  When done with my job.”

“Give it to us now!”  The second guard demanded.  “Now… or we’ll stick ya!”

The creature raised its arms and angrily hissed, “I’ll give you!  I’ll give you…” Its voice was cut off as the creature pitched back, nearly falling to the pavement.

The guards shrunk back against the wall, throwing their hands up over their faces.  The creature gaggled and coughed and then started to whimper as though being beaten by some invisible hand.

Finally, it cried out, “No more!  No more!  Little child will be good!  Good little child!  Please!  Please!”  It fell to the street as though being released.

Painfully standing, rubbing its side, the creature faced the guards and whined, “Gold, yes gold money.  Will make you rich.”  It then threatened, “Master is tired of playing…  First must talk to foolish man, must talk!”

The guards argued over what to do, fearful of the demon and its master, but equally fearful of the prison’s commandant.  Finally, the second said,  “You stay here and I’l see the head man.”  The first started to complain, but was cut off by the sharp retort.  “Shat’ap fool!  Yu’l be alright.  Just keep your spear pointed at it.”

Without waiting for a response, the second guard turned and hurried through the prison door.

His returning seemed to take ages.  All the while, the little stinky creature continued to slowly rock from side to side, humming some tune just under its breath.  The wary guard stared at it and then down at the coins in his hand.  As the time passed, he looked more at the coins than at the creature.  He moved his fingers, making the coins slide from one side of his hand to the other, and then back again.  What wealth!  What wealth!  More money than he had seen at one time in his entire life.  He began to dream of the good times he could have with such wealth - the women, wine, and power the money could bring.  Hurried footsteps jarred him back to reality.

The commandant of the prison burst from the door.  “All right, what’s the… Whew!  What is that god-awful stink?”  He looked at the black shape rocking to and fro in the torchlight, and let out his breath.  “Have the souls of the slain risen to offend us?”

Laughing erupted from under the creature’s hood.  “Yes! In a way, yes.”  It smacked its lips then grumped, “Not hungry now.”

The commandant was taken aback, falling over the second guard, nearly toppling the both of them.  Quickly regaining his balance, and attempting to do the same with his dignity, he demanded, “What do you want?!  Tell me now, or be off!”

The creature raised one bony hand and pointed it directly at the commandant.  It hissed contemptuously, “You took my money, you did, you did.  Now give up your end to me, to me.  Now!…”  It laughed.  “Or be forever cursed!”

The stunned commandant’s face reddened in anger.  He was about to order his guards to attack the ‘beast’ when the torch light flashed off the two coins given him by the second guard.  He blankly stared at them.  His anger was now turned toward his guards.  “How many did it give you?”  When no answer came he shouted,  “How many?”

The first guard started fidgeting with his fingers, while his face twisted up with consternation.  At long last he stuttered, “ ’Leven, yea, ‘leven.” Then pointed toward the commandant’s hand  “Plus those two.”

“That’s thirteen!  You stupid fool!  Thirteen!”  The commandant glared at the creature, “What curse do you bring tonight?  Why the devil’s wage?”

The creature raised its hands in dispute, shaking its head.  “No curse, no curse…  Good little boys… pretty little boys.  Not hurt pretty boys…  Master said to give more money, more money.  Will remove the curse…” The creature lowered its voice and shook its finger.  “If little boys are good…  yes… Master will remove it.”

“Give me a lamp!”  The commandant demanded.  “Now! Get it now!”

The second guard hurried through the door, soon to come back with a flaming, oil-wick lamp.  Taking it, and motioning for the creature to come closer, the commandant bent down, shining the light so he could peer inside the hood.  He let out a short gasp, but lingered to have a good look.

Coal black eyes stared out from a death-white, pockmarked face with caked chunks of mealy skin hanging from it.  The creature’s mouth was a gaping black hole of a laughing smile, out of which some kind of juice drooled.  The commandant could also see strange marks and runes carved in the creature’s flesh.

The commandant stood up, waving his hand while making a face.  “God, it stinks… like something dead.”  He backed away, keeping an eye on the creature which patiently remained there, swaying side to side.

Nearing the guards, he whispered, “It’s a witch of the devil himself all right… or worse… maybe a demon.”  He nodded his head while attempting to reassure the others.  “If it had wanted to kill us, we’d all be dead by now.  I really do believe its business is not with us tonight, else you’d not have received the money.”

He asked the creature, “Who are you?  What do you want here?”

It hissed in anger at the question.  “I have spoken to the little boys… Not nice boys…. They were supposed to tell.”

The commandant was stern with his reply.  “I want you to tell me!”

After muttering more curses and fussing that it had already told the others, the creature grudgingly obeyed.  “My lord has business with a bad man.  His business, not yours.”  It then softly cooed, “I am his little child.  Good child… nice to pretty boys.”  It extended its hand, slowly pawing the air.  There was a sharp cry and the hand vanished under the creature’s ragged garment.  It unleashed some more curses and then… “Not hungry, not hungry now.”

The commandant spoke up bravely, but his voice could not hide the trepidation.  “We won’t let you hurt Cephas.”

The creature jumped and thrashed it arms about. “Don’t say its name, its name!”  The creature cried in pain.  “Call it ‘Talker’, ‘Talker’!”  It began to utter oaths and call out incantations, apparently warding off some sort of evil because the man’s name had been spoken aloud.

It soon calmed, satisfied that any possible danger was now passed.  The creature shook its head.  “Not hurt bad man.  Not hurt him.  You can do that, do that tomorrow.”  It giggled.  “Yes, yes, that’s for you.  Must talk to bad man tonight!  While he still lives.”

The creature again fumed with disgust.  “He insults the gods!”  It then reassured them.  “Just talk, yes, talk business, my master’s business.”

The creature turned and motioned with its hands.  “Be Patient!  Patient… I say.  Don’t hurt them… I promised you wouldn’t hurt them.”  Turning back to the men, it clasped its hands and waited.

Although fearful, the commandant remembered the coins.  “The money, what of the money… the thirteen coins that brings a curse?  And what of the gold you promised?”

Laughter filled the cold night air.  “Yes… gold… gold money for the good boys… and more silver.”  It held up its bony fingers.  “Three more silver coins… Three!  Bring good luck to little boys.”

The creature’s voice suddenly became threatening.  “But first business.  Must do Master’s business.  Now!  Or Master will not be kind to little boys.”

The three men huddled in deep discussion over what they should do.  If they received no more money, then a curse would surely befall them, but if the prisoner were hurt, the governor would throw them to the lions, or even worse.  They also reasoned if they didn’t allow the creature in, it might put a spell on Cephas, possibly killing him.  Then they would be thrown to the lions anyway.  After several minutes of arguing, it was concluded they best chance the witch.  At least there was a possibility the creature would hold up its end of the bargain.

 The commandant finally motioned the creature forward.  When it got close, he asked, “You promise no funny stuff… not to hurt him?  You promise us more money, too?”

“Yes!  Yes!”  It sputtered impatiently.  “And more money for good little boys, too.  But first business!  Master’s business!”

The commandant gave orders to the first guard.  “You stay here and watch.” while he told the other to come with him.

The first guard complained about being left alone.  The commandant silenced him with a few expletives and threats, after which he ordered, “Now keep a good watch and don’t fall asleep!”

*    *    *

“Remember, my Dear, there is a reward beyond this life for those who remain loyal to Yehowah.  You must be willing to sacrifice all things for it.”

Ishtar could hear her uncle’s words echo in her head over and over again.  Each time they did, her pain would ease, freeing her mind to think.

“Yes, Uncle, I know. But I need no reward.  I love my God.  I will serve him without reward.”  How many times had that statement crossed her lips?  Was that really so, or had she only said it to impress others?

There was a sudden rustling near her.  Ishtar’s eyes popped open in fright.  The dim, golden glow from a light filled the cell.  Who was there?  Was Perk returned to ravish her again?  The girl’s heart pounded from her rising panic.  She squeezed her eyes shut, afraid of seeing Perk’s garish grin.  Nothing…  No foul voice or brutish hands mauling her flesh…  Nothing.  All remained silent.

Eventually, the girl’s curiosity overcame her fears.  She needed to know what was happening.  Her heart needed to know what fate was to befall it, should it explode within her chest.  Cautiously and ever so slowly she pushed up and back onto her knees.  Still nothing.  Gathering her courage, she opened her eyes.  Nothing.  No shadows or sounds… just a comforting, golden glow filling the room.

‘Strange...’  Ishtar could see no lamp or torch.  In fact, the light source seemed to be everywhere and nowhere.  She rubbed her eyes, thinking herself dreaming.  The light remained, still illuminating the room.  But where was it coming from?  Seeing no sign of its source only made the girl more determined to find what was making the light.  Ishtar struggled to stand, moaning as she did.

The golden light shone out from her cell into the darkness of the prison, but from where?  Ignoring her pain, the girl began to explore for the source of the light, searching the nooks and crannies everywhere in the little cell.  She was stooped down in a far corner when the sound of a gentle footfall echoed in her ear.  Sucking in her breath and then crying aloud in fright, Ishtar spun around, terrified of who she might see.  Words cannot describe the shock she felt.

A young woman appearing no older than her stood just outside the prison cell.  A smiling, gentle face crowned with dark hair was pressed to the bars.  The light revealed her ivory-colored silky-smooth skin wrapped in a white satin sleeveless gown, pinned at the shoulders by two silver brooches. Twinkling, emerald-green eyes of almost hypnotic brilliance were peering at her.

Ishtar stared in disbelief and surprise.  The woman did not move, nor did she speak.  Who was this person?  Was this only a vision or a dream?  Was the girl dead and gone to her promised glory?  Was this her soul looking back at her as it prepared to leave for other worlds?  The girl began to drift toward the haunting enchantress, extending her hand as if it were leading her along.

Slowly she drew near until her face nearly touched the woman’s.  Ishtar knew not whether it was seconds or an eternity that the two remained there, eye to eye, frozen in time.  A spell held the girl in its grip, refusing to give her release.  All the while she could feel some kind of energy flowing into her beaten body, soothing her heart and mind.

The woman finally broke the spell.  In a musical voice and talking just above a whisper, she spoke to the girl.  “ Ishtar, I must have a word with you.”

Startled, Ishtar stepped back.  The woman quietly opened the cell door and stepped in.  Ishtar marveled with awe at watching this person.  The grace and beauty of the woman entering was beyond description.  The fluidity of her movements could not be described as walking, but more like a drifting swan on a summer breeze.  And her beauty was so great the girl’s heart started to burn with such a passion she feared it might burst.  She stood transfixed, unable to remove hers eyes from this magnificent goddess.

The woman reached out a hand, touching Ishtar’s shoulder and, with two fingers, let it drift down to the girl’s elbow.  A raging fire and a freezing cold raced through Ishtar, starting at her shoulder and spreading like a tidal wave across the girl’s flesh.  The woman’s fingers continued down the girl’s arm, stopping at her open palm.  She then reached out with her other hand and cupped the girl’s between hers.

An ecstasy of emotion erupted in Ishtar’s head, and her heart filled with joyous passion the likes of which the girl had never experienced.  Was this feeling the same as a woman enraptured in the arms of her lover?  It was but a fleeting thought as Ishtar was swept along in this surge of intoxicating joy.  The rush of emotion crested with the girl’s cry of delight and then slowly ebbed, leaving her feeling satisfied and refreshed.

Gone were the earlier terrors of the night, having drifted away like some nearly forgotten dream.  Perk’s evil was little more than a memory, horrid and chilling… but still only a memory.  She felt clean.  ‘The peace that excels all thought...’ - those were the only words she could think of – ‘The peace that excels all thought.’  She then glanced down and received another shock.  The child was clean, cleaner than if she had bathed.

The woman held up a gown, similar to hers.  “Here, my lovely one, take this.  Put it on and come with me.”

With the woman’s assistance, Ishtar managed to dress.  The gown’s fabric was iridescent and shimmered with rich hues of blue, green and gold. It also had two silver brooches that glittered in the golden light.  The woman then drew out two golden sandals like her own and slipped them over Ishtar’s feet.

She grinned with delight. “There!  You’re now ready for our stroll.”  She gently pulled Ishtar from the cell.

As she walked along the passages, Ishtar noticed how quiet it was.  Everyone, even the guard, was fast asleep.  But what was even more spectacular was that the golden light remained in their company, illuminating the rooms and hallways they passed.  No person barred their path. Even the heavy iron door was swung fully open.  The two gingerly stepped over one of the sleeping guards as they exited onto the foggy street.

The woman glanced around, lifting her head up as if smelling the breeze.  Her voice filled with urgency.  “Come along… quickly!  This fleeting hour will soon pass.  Much there is to do and so little time to do it.”  She pulled Ishtar along, and both disappeared into the fog.

The fog was so thick, Ishtar could not tell how far they had traveled, nor did she know how long a time they walked until coming out of it.  When it broke, she saw they were standing on a little hill overlooking a broad, moonlit valley, filled with the smells and delights of a warm spring evening.

The woman permitted the girl little time to luxuriate in the tapestries of the delights surrounding them.  She squeezed her hand. “Ishtar, my sweet one, we must talk.”  Ishtar was so caught up in the moment, the woman had to repeat herself twice more before getting the girl’s attention.

Reluctantly, Ishtar pulled herself away from this enchanting dream world.  “I’m sorry, but I have never seen such…”  She was stunned into silence.  The light that was accompanying them was now emanating from the woman.  Her skin and clothing radiated with a golden glow, lighting the area around them.  “Wha…  Wha…  Your…  Who ar…”  Ishtar stared into the woman’s emerald green eyes, reedy pools of green so deep.  She felt another universe must be hidden within those eyes.

Ishtar was becoming aware that she was standing in the presence of a creature not of her kind.  As the realization filled her mind, she grew fearful for her life.  Should this person truly be a messenger of God, how could she survive?  She fell to her knees, clasping her hands together and raising them high, crying, “My Lord, forgive me for my insolence.  Forgive me… please… for looking upon the face of God!”

“Ishtar, stand up.”  A gentle, but firm voice responded.  “I am not God, just an ordinary servant of His house.  Now, please, my Sister, there is much to be done.  I have no time for this.  Please, stand.”

She pulled Ishtar up.  “Child… I am not from your world, that is true… but I am still your sister.  Are we not all children of God?”

Ishtar was nearly beside herself with anxiety.  The woman wiped the tears from the girl’s eyes and held her shaking hands.  “My child, blessed you are among women.  Had you not been found delightful to God, he would not have bothered with you.  You have nothing to fear from me… but there is reason to fear.”  (Linked is Background music, from Decision / Piano music by Papuna.) 

That statement caught the girl’s attention.  The woman smiled.  “My Child, I have been sent to offer you a choice.”  She swept her left hand in the direction of the hills.  “Look please, to see your future. There are two roads being offered to you.  Each contains a blessing and a price, but one may be greater.  You choose.”

The woman opened her hand, revealing a tooled leather pouch.  Ishtar gazed down at its opening.  The purse was filled with silver and gold monies, a king’s ransom.

“Here...”  The woman placed the purse in Ishtar’s hand.

The girl gasped.  A person could live a lifetime and never acquire such wealth.  “What is this all about?”  She asked, not able to take her eyes off the money.

The answer came quickly.  “You may take this money and go.  Travel north, then east, continuing on until the roaring sea faces you.  There you will find peace for the rest of your many days in this realm.  A husband of valor and kindness will be waiting for you at the end of your journey.  He will fall in love with you and refuse to leave your side.  Never will cruelty and suffering befall you again.  Your womb will become fat with children, and your breasts will swell with the sweet milk of life.  No enemy will enter your gate, nor will famine or thirst find you.  That is the gift of the first road.”

A sweet smile crept across the girl’s face.  She imagined what her life would be like, her husband of valor, the many fat and happy children she would nurse.  And then the smiled faded as she considered the cost.  She slowly closed her hand around the money as if fondling a dream.  The girl frowned.  “What is the price?  What is the price of that road?  What does it cost me?”

The woman closed her hands around the girl’s, hiding the money from view.  “For you…?”  She looked away.  “Being a good wife and mother will not always be easy.”

Ishtar was not satisfied with the woman’s answer.  She could see her skirting the question. Once more she asked, “What is the price of that road, and what of the other?  You do not tell me yet what the second road is.  How shall I choose wisely if you do not tell me?”

The woman was surprised.  “Is the first road not good enough for you?  Why must I tell you of the other?  Enjoy your gifts.  You have earned them.  They are a reward for all your sacrifice.”

Ishtar was becoming impatient.  “What is the second road from which I may choose, and what is the price demanded for taking it?”

Slowly shaking her head, the woman sighed, “So much like your uncle you are…  Little knowledge is a dangerous tool.”

Ishtar pressed her for an answer.

The woman surrendered to Ishtar’s will.  “All right, I will tell you…  Your Lord said that some of his servants would speak before kings and governors.  They would stand in front of crowds in defense of his God.  They would prove his enemy a liar.  That is the blessing of your second road.”

The woman grasped Ishtar by the arms and stared into her eyes.  Great sadness grew on her face and a tear rolled down her cheek.  “Take the monies and go.  Unsung is the hero who succeeds in secret, but a hero that person is nonetheless.  Yet to fail while attempting the sublime will only bring one shame and humiliation.   You have run your race to the full.  Enjoy your reward.”

Ishtar was quick with her reply, and her tongue sharp and scolding.  “You offered me two roads.  It is my choosing as to which one I take, not yours.  Now, please, it is your turn to confess to me what the fate of the second road is.  It is my right to know.”

“Yes…  Yes, I did.” The woman softly replied.  She could not look the child in the face.  “The tiller man is not kind when the tempest descends upon the sea.  He exacts a high wage to deliver one to safe harbor.  There is no safe harbor to be found on this second path.  Only the black abyss of death awaits the sojourner…  There is no escape from that destiny.”  She looked up into the girl’s eyes.  “So why trouble the spirits with such a fatal choice?  Enjoy the blessings already offered you.”

Ishtar was not swagged.  “I have a right to know!  I choose my own fate, not you!  You offered me two roads.  Must I barter with you… or is mine a free choice?”

A warning filled with indignation crossed the woman’s lips.  “Shall a child rebuke its father and not be chastised?  Dare you show God’s servant such disrespect and not fear retribution?!”

The reproof was not wasted on the child.  She humbly begged forgiveness, apologizing for her flagrant disrespect.  Still, she pressed the issue, pointing out that she had been offered a choice.

 “Yes, my little one, you have been offered a choice.”  The woman thought a moment, adding,  “It is sometimes better to not know the price until it has to be delivered up.  Would you be able to see it through if you did know?”

Ishtar was more respectful, but still firm in her resolve.  “The tiller man cannot exact a thief’s price if his charge knows the journey’s route.  I will not travel the road blindly when knowledge can light up the dangers I must face.”

The woman shrugged, resigning herself to telling Ishtar everything.  “All right…  The price that is to be paid is not yours alone.  It will be demanded from both you and your uncle… and it is high.  He will be tested to betray his love for his God, to preserve your life.  If he remains loyal, you…”  She shook her head.  “You will die a most horrible death in the arena… torn apart by beasts.  Should he fail in his test, your death by wild beasts will be delayed but for a day… so that vile men may have their way with you.”

Ishtar groaned in dismay.  “So that is my test…?  The price I must pay to take the second road?”

“No…” the woman answered.  “You, for your part, will have no control regarding the outcome in this coming test.  It is your uncle’s to decide.  Your test will come sooner.  The finality will be the same, should you fail or succeed, but it will either be death in victory…or defeat.”

Ishtar silently pondered the matter, finally asking, “What of my test, then?  If I am to die, do I not deserve to know what it will be?”

“You ask a question I cannot answer.”  The woman softly replied.  “It is great, because your enemy will continue to offer you a way out.  If your heart is not complete toward your God, you will not succeed.  Easy it is to fool the heart when a door of escape is opened for you.  And gentle speech may well hide a deceitful tongue.”

She closed Ishtar’s finger around the purse.  “Here.  Take the money I give and leave.  Enjoy your blessing to the full.”

Ishtar watched the woman turn away and then mutter as if to herself,  “This war is not hers to fight.  How can you ask this of the child?”

The girl reached into the pouch and played with a few coins.  Her mind could not conjure up visions of the treasures this money offered.  The coins suddenly felt dirty, unclean.  She dropped the money back into the purse.  Indeed, everything about the first road felt wrong, like delicious food that turns sour in one’s belly.

As Ishtar reasoned over the things she had been told, her mind filled with suspicion.  She felt compelled to ask, “You did not come from above the stars to wish a child well and give her a gift of gifts.  I do know for a fact that God does not work in such ways.  So tell me, please, should I take the monies and depart, upon whose head does the duty fall?”

The woman did not answer.  She continued to look toward the east, tears trickling down her face.  She pleaded with Ishtar,  “Take the monies.  We will work things out.”

Ishtar grabbed hold of the woman’s arm.  “I can make no commitment without understanding!  Now tell me!  Who pays the bill for my happiness?”

Covering her eyes with her hands, the woman sobbed.  “My Lord and my God pays the price!  For your uncle is needed elsewhere in this realm.  It is not his day to die.  If you leave, they will destroy him.”

Ishtar lowered her head, thinking aloud.  “So, my soul in place of his...”

The woman turned to the girl, distraught.  “No one deserves to be asked what has been of you, but there is no other way.  My soul instead of yours I would gladly offer, yet it is not to be.  Only you have the power to save your uncle on this morrow.  He must prove his worth.  His destiny demands it of him.”

Ishtar released her hold of the woman.  “Here, take back your money.  How can a man enjoy a warm bed and a full belly when his family starves in the cold?  I am not that wicked.”  She pushed the purse into the woman’s hand.  “Now!  Return me to the ‘nether world’ and the ‘demons’ who await me.”  A shudder ran through her as a sickness grew in her stomach. “I will wait there for my time to come.”

There was no stopping the woman’s tears.  She kissed the child, promising,  “The spirit of my God will stay with you, and I… yes, I swear, as I am alive and do live… I will remain by your side to comfort my cherished sister in her distress.”  She embraced the girl and gave her another kiss.  “Until the day when we will share the wine and the good times...”

The woman began to fade into a rising mist.  Ishtar cried, “Who are you?!  What is your name?!  I need to know!  What is it?!”

The woman was little more than a fleeting shadow now. She sadly called from the mist, “To many I am only ‘the Troubling One’... to others I am known as the ‘Child of Pain’.”

The fog swept in upon Ishtar.  She reached out for the woman, but could not find her.  The air swirled around the child like a cyclone, its sound being like thousands of birds taking flight.  Up into the whirlwind the girl rose, spinning around faster and faster until her head became dizzy and faint.  Eventually the windstorm subsided, gently dropping the girl down in a pile of soft straw.

The surrounding sounds and smells told Ishtar that she was again in the prison.  She began to wonder if she had ever left.  Maybe it was but a dream caused by the blows Perk had delivered to her head.  Still… it was a beautiful dream.  Could it have been a magic dream?  A vision?  Her uncle had told her of visions.  But visions were something special… reserved for men of great renown…not her.  The girl shrugged.  ‘Not the matter’.  Whatever it was, she felt refreshed by it.

There was no light for the child to see with, no window to let in the moon and no lamps, even in the distant rooms, to permit any sight.  The sound of heavy sleeping was all that disturbed the silence.  Even the rats had apparently decided to take a holiday.

Ishtar leaned back on the straw.  Strange.  It smelled fresh… and her pains from the night’s beatings were gone.  The girl began recalling the details of her wonderful dream, not wanting to forget a thing about it.  She pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them as she did.  Her heart jumped excitement.  Even in the blackness, she could tell the feel of satin… the smooth silky satin of her beautiful dream gown.  

                                                        *   *   *

The dark of WacxGonn trees, with their low-hanging evergreen bows, gave Darla little solace.  She darted along the path, flitting in and out of their protective shadows.  The gown, so effective in dazzling Ishtar, acted like a beacon every time the woman stepped into the moonlit night.

Searching eyes could be anywhere now.  There had been no time for Darla to gather her flight suit and weapons.  She was sure they, along with all the ‘vision’ gadgets, were long since discovered.  Legion would not be pleased with someone ‘messing’ with his special ‘toy’.  The woman was beginning to regret not waiting for the remainder of the mission team, but what else could she have done?  If they had failed to make contact with the child this night, the entire mission would be in jeopardy.

Darla pulled the communicator from a hidden pocket in her dress.  A series of tiny blue lights flashed to life in rapid succession, only to fade, one after the other.  Again they would flash, searching for an incoming signal…  Still nothing.  ‘They should at least be here by now.  What’s taking them…?’

There was good reason for Darla to worry.  This was a strange and curious world she found herself wandering alone in.  Long years before, Euroaquilo, her mentor and intimate companion had journeyed with the woman into this place.  His warnings, recalled, did not bring comfort.  “This is a world that defies all known laws.  It’s quirky, doing as it pleases, and biding no ‘intruder’s’ commands.  You would do well not to wander here alone.”

Euroaquilo had informed Darla of some of the known and imagined history of this place… most still a dark mystery to even the oldest and wisest of her kind.  It had been said that time and space matter little here.  Sojourners navigated it by linking up complex mathematical coordinates with existing star system charts, adding in galactic rotational calculations, and then, as Euroaquilo said, ‘mix in a little gut feeling’, and there was their destination.

Her successful and timely arrival had been no small miracle.  She managed the rendezvous at Eden’s Gate after losing two bandits intent on her interception.  After waiting several hours for her contacts, she had ventured through the jump portal, trusting to her own ability in finding the ‘one’ portal stream out of millions that would deliver her to this one location.

She arrived in time by chance, she thought, to make the two league’s distance from the ship to the city and then still have time to change into the gown and set up the vision gadgets.  Although never actually leaving this Middle Realm and transferring into the ‘land of humans’, often called by her people the ‘Second’ or ‘Lower Realm’, by using the vision machines and her ‘very limited’ mental abilities, the girl successfully completed the mission.  ‘Maybe not as good as Gabrielle, but damn good, anyway!’

4-097, Middle Kingdom night
The crisp snap of a twig alerted Darla to possible danger.  She slunk back further away from the trail, under the trees.  It could have been one of many things causing that disturbance.  Her heart raced with fearful anticipation.

Attempting to calm her jitters, she contemplated the possibilities.  After all, there was a menagerie of huge beasts in this land.  One might very well be tracking her… more out of curiosity than ill intent.

Then there were the ‘People of the Mist’, one of the names given the mysterious race of ancients who existed long before her kind were born.

The story of these people was both mythical and intriguing.  Many names had been given to them, ‘Spirit Walkers’, ‘Guardians’, ‘Cherubs’, ‘Blazing Wings’, to name a few.  Darla had always liked the term ‘HootinSmokers’, a name given them by some of the most ancient of her race who claimed to have actually seen them.  The wild antics of those storytellers had caused her, as a little girl, to roll in laughter as their stories were acted out.

Legend’s tales said that when Darla’s kind began growing in number, the ‘People of the Mist’ withdrew into the hidden lands of this Middle Realm, becoming little more than ghostly shadows on moonlit nights.  It was said that they slept in silence until their Master would wake them to glory in the last trumpet call.  Well, that was one of the stories she had been told when a little child.  The woman hoped the intruder might well be either of these two things.

A shudder ran down her spine, as she thought of Euroaquilo’s warning given her so long ago.  'It is also a very dangerous place since the Rebellion.  Every debased, vile creature frequents these haunts, making it necessary to never travel here alone.'

After the Rebellion, war had broken out in the Middle Realm.  Although its expanse appeared limitless and much of it was still unexplored, key locations had been fought over for many centuries.  In fact, this was where the major part of the wars had been fought up to this night.

Darla was no stranger to these wars.  She was a hardened veteran, having fought in all three ‘Megiddo Wars’, the ‘Persian Debacle’, the ‘MedoGrecian Crusade’, and the ‘Maccabean Decade’.  But she had been one in a crowd of countless thousands then…  Tonight she was alone and naked, bereft of weapon or comrade.

Listening to the continuing night noises and detecting no other unusual sounds, Darla decided to chance a run for her ship.  Considering the gown to be a hindrance, she kneeled down and unlaced her sandals, quietly removing them.  With a grunt, she stood and began pulling the dress over her head.


Darla spun around and dropped into a crouch, her arms and head still wrapped up in the gown.  She was preparing to be assailed by hands intent on her capture.  Legion would be most pleased with such a prize and could be counted on to give a rich reward to the person delivering her.

‘Cr-a-ack!’  Whoever wielded the club had no intention of taking his trophy alive.  The blow caught Darla just below her right eye, lifting her off her feet and sending her sprawling, face down, onto the pathway.

A rough hand yanked Darla over onto her back.  She groaned in pain.  Another person pulled off the gown and exclaimed, “She ain’t dead, Yulackk!  You must be losin’ your touch.”

Yulackk bent close to examine the damage his attack had done.  Darla’s eye was little more than bloody  pulp, her upper jaw crushed and her nose split, but she was still very much alive.

Yulackk glanced at Darla’s upper arm and noticed its awkward angle.  “The bitch’s arm got in the way… ain’t my fault!”  He laughed, “Did a number on it, though...”

The second man stepped closer.  “Get outta the way, Yulackk, I want to get a look at who we have.”

“She’s just a bitch, Gihon, some worthless little nobody.” Yulackk grinned.  “I was right when I said we’d get the same for her dead or alive.”

“Outta the way, you!”  Gihon demanded.  “I’ll decide if it’s a ‘nobody bitch’ or not.”

Yulackk grumbled, wanting to ‘finish her off’ so he could get back to ‘more important matters’.

Gihon motioned him away, saying to wait.  He knelt down on one knee, straddling one of Darla’s legs, and leaned in close to her face to get a better look in the dim light.

Giggles and laughter filled the night air.  Two women came jogging up the trail.  When they got near, one of them called out asking if the men had found the intruder.

Gihon ignored the woman’s question.  He scrutinized Darla’s face, but could not identify it with anyone he knew.  Just as he was about to reveal his findings, a hand flew up to his ear.  Gihon screamed in pain as Darla dug her nails in and began tearing it off while driving her knee hard into his groin.

Yulackk jumped forward shouting, kicking Darla in the side of her head.  Knocked senseless by the blow, the woman’s body went limp.  Gihon rolled on to his side, groaning in pain.

“Has our lord Gihon’s tool been broken?” One of the women teased.

The second woman derogatorily accused,  “How does a chieftain in Legion’s house explain his being bested by a man without balls?”   Both of them erupted in chiding laughter.

They went on with the insults until Gihon, still clutching his groin rolled onto his knees and, swearing and cursing, ordered them to shut up.  He finally sat back on his haunches and lifted his kilt, glaring at the women.  “You watch and see what my tool can do… and wish you hadn’t.  For when I’m done with ‘this’,” He pointed at Darla.  “I’m going to do the same with you two!”

With that, Gihon began to work up his manhood by brutalizing Darla with his hands, after which he started to violently rape her.  “How do you like it now, you miserable piece of dog shit?!  You could have made it easy on yourself and died quickly, but no, you wanted to make me the fool.  I’ll show you who’s the fool!  You’ll soon wish you were already dead!”  He dug his nails into Darla’s breasts, angrily tearing at them.

Darla cried out in agony.  It only made Gihon more sadistic.  He bit and chewed at the woman’s face.

He tore off her earlobe, chomped it into tiny pieces and spit it into her face.  “Pray to Mother… you ugly shit worm… maybe she’ll let you die!”

Darla turned her head to the side and coughed out blood and broken teeth.  She could make no reply.

Gihon laughed.  “See!  The Mother of Harlots cares not for her children…”  He released his passion in one heaving outburst and then fell on Darla’s chest.  As he panted, he ridiculed her, snidely whispering in her ear, “Or is it just you… you worthless dung meat!”

After catching his breath, Gihon sat back on his knees, viewing with pleasure the results of his labors.

He rested his bloodied hands on Darla’s legs, nodding his head.  “You’re a delight to behold, nearly as beautiful as that tramp, Michael, was that day outside the palace.  My artwork is nearly complete.”

With that, he motioned to Yulackk.  “Smash in its skull!”

Nodding, Yulackk grinned.  “I won’t hav’ta do it twice.”  He swung his cudgel high over his head in one graceful move that transferred his body’s power into the weapon.

Gihon stared at Darla’s broken face, waiting to see Yulackk smash it to nothing.  “Do it good, you!  I want a big splatter!”

Sh…ur…rr flu…unk!’

Yulackk yipped like a startled dog as the club fell from his hands.

“What the…?!”  Gihon looked in time to see Yulackk grab his face and stumble backward, a glistening black, jillson bolt sticking from his face just below his nose.

Sh…ur…rr flu…unk!’  A second arrow slammed into Yulackk’s mouth, punching its way up through his skull and protruding out the back of his head until its waxy tail feathers disappeared into the man’s face.  Yulackk let out a gasp as he spun around and fell, face down, in the dirt.

Beetle dung!”  A woman in a silver-metallic flight suit came running out from the shadow of the trees, drawing forth a long double-edge battle sword as she advanced, its green, ghostly flame identifying it as a fearsome derker blade.

“Gabrielle!”  Gihon quailed.  He threw his hands up over his face.

Gabrielle halted beside Darla’s bleeding body.  She lifted her sword high, shouting, “Master’s whore maiden!… Be off into damnation!”

With a grunt, Gabrielle swung the weapon down and across, cleaving Gihon’s head and hands from his body.  Blood squirted into the air as the lifeless corpse slowly keeled over, falling to the ground.

A woman screeched, “NasiSair! NasiSair!” (When translated means: Prince of the Warlocks).  She and the other woman ran off, screaming, into the night. .

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