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Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Beauty and the Beast, Chapter 3, Part 1


Written 2006

Revised July 09, 2010

 
 

THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, CHAPTER 3, Part 1

A story of Necromantra

By Aladdin

Edited by Christopher Leeson

 


King Q’zon grasped my hair and threw me against a granite wall.

“Deceitful witch!” he growled. He was holding his fist bunched for a killing blow.  Maybe it was only an afterthought that induced him to merely give me the hardest face-slap I ever felt. In the aftermath, he stood back, enjoying the sight of me sprawling at his feet. I got up as soon as I was able, not sorry that I had been only been moderately punished by Darkuran standards. He was physically and psychologically prepared to tear me limb from limb. I thought that my magic would be a match for him, but if I fought back I would be giving the Tradesmen an excuse to carry out their threat against Airelle.

“I beg your pardon, Majesty,” I feigned to plead, “my magic is mighty but my body is not.  If I am beaten to death, I cannot serve you!”

He flared his large nostrils. “You’ve been serving poorly enough, human cow!  And now you are caught intriguing behind my back!”

“It wasn’t to challenge or defy you!  I went seeking news of my daughter, the Princess Arielle!”

“No excuse is tolerable. You have no life, you have no family. Your only duty is to excel in your slavery.”

“I did not act against you” I said.  “When they told me what I wished to know, I withdrew!”

“Vigon came seeking alliance,” the king said. “Now he seeks to have me send you back to Ulik to become Viscount Armand’s puppet.  So be it. These humans’ petty scheming fits into my greater plan.  Ulik, rotten with internal dissension, is a ripe plum to fall into my fist.  It would make a strategic vassal, and you may be the perfect cat’s-paw in subjugating it.”

“I live to obey,” I told him.

He grabbed my hair again. “The day you cease to obey is the day you die,” he reminded me unnecessarily.  “Now, get out. Your bleeding is befouling my rug. Be prepared to attend the next council held with our human “allies.”

“As my lord wills,” I muttered.  In the way of dismissal, he shoved me out the door, skinning my shoulder against a fluted pilaster. The scrape did not much concern me, since, overall, I felt encouraged. I had put into Vigon’s mind into a new mode of thinking, one to benefit me. Now I had nudged Q’zon’s convoluted scheming onto the right track also. All in all, matters were going very well.

#

Later that day, I was summoned into a conference room occupied by King Q’zon, his aides, and most of the human emissaries from Ulik.  The Darkurans ignored me, but the humans rose and bowed, as if to a queen.  I knew, of course, that they saw me as nothing more than a valuable tool. I wondered if any of them were the least concerned about me living under continual threat from a monster. I doubted it. And why should they care? After all, I had not ruled Ulik with a light touch.

“Marinna,” rumbled Q’zon in way of a greeting. This was the most gallant address was he had ever used. Usually, “whore,” “slut,” “slave,” or “bitch” much more easily off his thick tongue.  “These are my commands.  You will accompany the emissaries back to the war camp of Viscount Armand. He will announce that your are his intended bride.  With the former queen together with the viscount, Erhan’s faction might weaken and collapse.  If not, Armand’s hand will even so be strengthened. You will apply your magic howsoever Armand commands you to.”

His general plan, I guessed, was be to back Armand until he removed Erhan. Then he would use Ulik traitors to push Armand aside or kill him. No doubt he had a some pliant human puppet waiting offstage to ascend the throne of Ulik. I doubt that he wanted to outright annex the kingdom. That would antagonize his Aerwan enemies, who had their own interests in the kingdom.  Q’zon, by his caution, was demonstrating his weak hand – namely, he was not prepared for a general war.

“Say something!” the king told me. “If you have no use for your tongue, you may be deprived of it!” This was what passed for a joke in Darkur and, to be fair, it was about the funniest that I ever heard a member of his race utter.

“I am content and ready to serve,” I said with lowered head.

#

In a month’s time, Viscount Armand had deployed in full force against Erhan’s stronghold. The latter was the city-fortress of Roch, a stronghold more defensible than had been the former seat of High Lord Tavon.  
    
The viscount’s was being widely supported by the landed magnates, while Erhran was the choice of the courtly party. These groups were two kingdom factions that were always at odds. When High Lord Tavon’s daughter fell into his hands, Erhan had thrown caution to the wind and announced his intention to marry her, which would allow him to rule in her name. Because of this powerful move, Armand had been compelled to make overtures to an outside power, the Darkur.  

As intended, my public betrothal to the viscount was serving as a check against Erhan's intentions. In fact, spies reported that some of Erhan’s adherents had shown signs of faltering as soon as I had been put forward as a playing piece. Also, personages who had stood aloof previously had increased their flow of gifts and engaged in more serious negotiations with Armand. The lesser fry, the minor claimants to power, were falling away. The struggle for the throne was becoming more and more a two-man match. The final test of strength was fast approacing.

The Darkur contingency, by the way, was encamped several miles Roch, waiting for Armand to call upon their magical power and their force of arms. Because the Darkur were so feared and disliked all through Ulik, Armand little wanted to flaunt the fact of his alliance with them. While chess pieces were being moved and available forces were jockeyed, I was left to my own devices.

Fortunately, I had not been ordered to kill anyone lately; my role was still diplomatic. I used my downtime to watch and learn. My eventual course of action depended on what was going on around me. I wanted to make contract with Arielle, but I was waiting for the right moment, lest I put her into danger.

My main function at this stage was to receive delegations, both from the enemy and from nonaligned nobles. I was under orders to be lavish in my support for the statesmanship and integrity of my “betrothed.” The more hostile of the delegates sought to prove me an impostor, since Erhan’s propaganda was maintaining that I was dead. Those less blatantly partisan generally accepted that I was Queen Marinna returned.  I met each new delegation with the hope that Princess Arielle was in it, but that hadn’t happened.  On one hand, I wanted her to stay safe. On the other, I wanted to assure her that I was not a willing participant in this civil war.

But I had so far seen little room for maneuver, mainly because I was alone, without allies. The scoundrels in the main factions were happy enough with either Erhan or Amand. What I represented was a third force, but so far I was not seen as such. I was still keeping watch for the kind of person who didn't like either usurper, someone who cared about his country. But, thus far, no real altruist had shown up. No one, that is, until a young captain unexpectedly came calling at my pavilion.

#


One morning, my aides – jailers, really – put me on notice that another delegation was calling on me. “Let them in,” I said blandly. It wasn’t that I cared to meet even more petty intriguers, but I had a role to play to everyone’s satisfaction.

The new visiting party having been admitted, I beheld up front a fair-eyed youth amid the graybeards and senior warriors. He didn’t fit in that company and I wondered if he were here due to some sort of high rank. As the youth’s eyes met mine, I froze.  This was no princely boy! It was my own teenage stepdaughter. What shocked me to the quick was that she had seemingly grown into young womanhood after the passage of only a few months.

What was going on here?


“Arielle!” I said bemusedly.

TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 3, part 2

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The Beauty and the Beast, Chapter 2, Part 2


Written 2006

Revised June 09, 2021

 
 

THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, CHAPTER 2, Part 2

A story of Necromantra

By Aladdin

Edited by Christopher Leeson



Q’zon had given me a bed so hard that no one but a thick-skinned Darkur could have found it comfortable. Sleeping in that atrocity usually brought on nightmares.

There was one particular nightmare that haunted me nightly.

I would discover myself amid the carnage of a bloody battlefield. I am never able to recall my own role in that battle, or why so many others had died instead of me. But while I’m standing there, I remember that I am not Thanasi, but Necromantra. This ugly fact makes me realize that this great host of men lay dead only because I had betrayed them.

It is then that a winged, horned beast rears up from a crater in the earth. Blue-green of hue and without legs, its body below its waist is naught but a glowing miasma. It glares at me, but does not attack. Its attention is fixated on someone nearby, not a soldier, but a passing observer. I gasp to recognize that my daughter Arielle is watching us.

Something informs me that that if the demon strikes Arielle dead, it will be striking an indirect death-blow against my own person. In some strange way the teenage girl is my beating heart and the creature knows that I will cease to exist if my symbiotic heart is stopped. I need to defend her – not only for her sake, but also for my own. I never assail the blue beast in the dream, however, because I awaken, sweat-soaked, every time.

But though the dream is over, the battle is not. Rolling from my bed, I crawl to a spot on the floor where I have a chalked-down a diagram. It is a scheme of mystic runes. My body being fortified by those white lines, I invoke the wizards' spell taught to me by the Tradesmen’s conjurers. I chant incantations crafted to keep the beast at bay. But defense is not enough. I have to go on the attack. I have been told that if the beast dies, I will be free. If I die, I will be Necromantra.

And this is a fate very much worse than death.

Thus far, I have never won this battle. But I have not lost either. The beast and I carry out a mystical combat until it withdraws to lick its wounds. My body exhausted, I stagger back to my absurd travesty of a bed and sleep. And the sleep of the battle-weary is mercifully dreamless.

***

Because I do not praise them nor grovel, the Darkur lords trust me but little and I am not in their confidence. Being their weapon, they simply take me to some target that they want me to destroy and I destroy it. Even so, despite their paranoid secrecy, I have often garnered information they have sought to keep from me. I seek out the resentful and the greedy around the stronghold and bribe them, seeking to learn what others are trying to keep from me. The favors that can be granted by great power serves as my medium of exchange.

Then came the day came when I learned that a delegation of humans had arrived at the stronghold of Krad-Rog. These humans were not captives, but emissaries from another land. What most aroused my interest was that they had come from my former city of Ulik.

I sought for follow-up information and I learned that the visitors were Ulikan rebels seeking an alliance with the mighty Darkur. I thought the idea madly reckless. If they admitted the wildly ambitious Darkur into their country, how on earth did they expect to get rid of them?

If the inhuman horde destroyed or enslaved Ulik, Arielle would be in very great peril. I hadn’t brought my daughter back from death only to see her destroyed a few months later.

I needed to know more.

***

After learning where the Ulikans were lodged, I went to them, winding through complex passageways built into the stonework of Krad-Rog. The Darkur are sensitive to the proximity of magic, so I avoided using sorcery as I made made my way.

I exited the tunnels via a hatch near that was near to the guest suites. There were guards posted, but I eluded them until I saw an official of Ulik whom I knew, one Baron Vigon. He had been a senior aide to an important grandee, Viscount Armand. Whatever scheme was in the works, I needed to speak to these people, and discretion mandated that I do so demurely. Determined to get the meeting started, I simply stepped out into the open and said, “Hello, my lords.”

They turned my way, surprised to hear a woman’s voice. I had left behind my magical armor and worn a human gown given to me by Q'zon. I looked very much like the same person they had known in Ulik. The dress had originally come amid the loot from a human city. The fabric showed a mended slit under the left breast, by the way, one such as a stiletto might have made. I took it for granted that the owner had died by violence.  

"My lord Baron Vigon," I said, keeping my voice near to a whisper.

Vigon greeted me uneasily.

"You recognize me, I see, my lord."

"You are unforgettable, my lady,” the man said. “Forgive my reaction; but you appear to us as suddenly as a ghost.”

"I am flesh and blood, lord," I assured him. Though I have not often been called upon to play a damsel in distress, I am a decent actor. Serving Archimage required his knights to wear many different bodies and act in diverse roles.

“We are very pleased to find you safe, my lady. Many believe that Lord Pumpkin carried you away, until word came from King Q’zon that you were here. How has this come to be?”

"The Pumpkin would have killed me, but he fell victim to another of his many enemies,” I explained. “I fled, but fell into the hands of the Tradesmen."

“The Tradesmen?!”

“They sold me to the Darkur. Tell me, sire, did my daughter Arielle arrive safely at Ulik?"

“I am astonished,” Vigon said, “for Arielle told us that she was taken by the Tradesmen, also.”

I could not help but wonder if coming here had placed me among enemies. If Arielle had told the men of her court that I was a regicide, they would see me as a traitor fit to be killed on sight.

It didn’t suit me to confront that touchy topic. “Does Arielle now rule in Ulik, as is her right?” I asked.

"Alas, Arielle is no better than a captive in the power of Viscount Erhard. He has put forward a claim upon the throne of Urlik and intends to marry the princess, so that he can rule in her name. To make matters worse, several of the court factions have been drawn into his treasonous conspiracy. My master Viscount Armand opposes Erhard’s pretensions. He is marshaling his forces to set affairs right. It is his aim to return Arielle to her rightful dignity before the usurper's power becomes unassailable."

So, Armand and Erhard were quarreling for power in Ulik. I had no reason to favor either of the two rogues over the other. Armand I had met only fleetingly appeared at one of my court function, but Duke Erhan had seved Lord Tavon as warden of the armory. I had sized him up as that sort of man who was either the one’s feet or at one’s throat.

"About this marriage,” I said. “Is Arielle satisfied with Erhard’s proposition?” I rated it as a match made in Hell. She was fresh and young, an idealist. She loved life. Erhard was a cynical middle-aged schemer who loved power.

"Our information tells us that she her opinions are being ignored,” said Vigon. “Armand seeks to restore the princess’s rights as Tavon’s legitimate heir."

No doubt he simply intends to force himself on Arielle in place of Erhard, I was thinking. But to Vigon I said, "Here, in my captivity, is there anything that I may do to help my daughter?"

I awaited his reply, having placed my chip into the power game. I could not help but wonder if it was by coincidence that Vigon had come to Krad-Rog, the seat of my captivity. I doubted that. Others had apparently decided that I should be a player in the game, whether I liked it or not. I was motivated to learn what Armand’s entire plan was. For an opening move, I would seek to insinuate myself into Armand’s faction, doing my best to appear as useful tool.

"You can help, my lady! " the baron said. "You have many admirers and sympathizers in Ulik. If you publicly set yourself against Erhard, some of his power-backers might fall away.”

Was this true? Did I still have support in Ulik? To my mind, the whole kingdom should have hated and despised me. What this told me was that Arielle had not informed her people about all the damning things that she knew about me.

“I made many mistakes as Queen-Regent,” I said. “I tried to oppose violence by using even greater violence. It only made matters worse.”

“Many people saw you as a solid rock and a true leader. If you threw your support behind the Viscount, very many royal subjects outside of the capital would support him – and, of course, support you. Erhan would be largely restricted to his adherents within the city and palace."

“You do realize that using the princess as a pawn will place her life in great danger?” I said.

“As matters stand, she is already in danger as Erhard’s hostage. But in memory of her great father, she has broad support among the people, even within the city of Ulik. That is why Erhard tries to hard to pose as her champion. If the people can be brought to see that she is the usurper’s unwilling prisoner, it may cause division amongst those who surround him.”

“I suppose it would,” I said with a nod. Yes, indeed, being baited with the prize of power, the wheels of intrigue were grinding.

Unfortunately, the wheels of intrigue always grind exceeding fine.

From now on I had to make my every move with the utmost care, lest Arielle herself become one of those that the wheels would overrun and grind down.


CONTINUED IN Chapter 3 Part 1

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Beauty and the Beast, Chapter 2, Part 1


Written 2006

Revised May 11, 2021

Revised June 09, 2021

 
 

THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, CHAPTER 2, Part 1

A story of Necromantra

By Aladdin

Edited by Christopher Leeson


I was sold slave to King Q’zon. His stronghold was called Krad-Rog and his people were called the Darkur. These beings were engaged in an interminable war against another dominant race, one called the Aerwa. The Darkur were violent and brutish to the extreme, while their foes were less repulsive both in nature and appearance. Of course, the latter’s shape was decidedly more pleasing to the human eye – they looked rather elfin, in fact -- but there seemed to be a rapacious violence, or the threat of violence, behind everything that the Darkur engaged in. Both tribes were able to evoke magical powers, but the Darkur had lately been getting the worse of the conflict, both in sorcerous and physical warfare.   

Apparently, Q’zon must have purchased me to use as a super weapon. They hoped to tap me for mystical and even military insights and thereby turn the battle their way. My problem was that I hated the Darkur whom I served worse than the Aerwa I opposed. My attitude wasn’t personal; just to know the Darkur was enough to make any sane person hate them.

Acting the role of a compliant slave, I did as told. I nonetheless avoided volunteering anything that might help them with their scheming.  This was passive resistance performed in a society where any resistance at all might get a slave killed. But I did my best not to be too obvious about my attitude. They consequently sized me up as dim-witted, which was fine with me.

In truth, however, there was plenty that I knew about waging war. I had specialized in military matters, both overt and covert, for over a very long time. I had learned the use of hundreds of different weapons between the last days of Rome and the start of the Twenty-First Century. If I wanted to, I could have slain thousands of the Aerwan foe, not merely the hundreds that I actually did kill in compliance with Q’zon’s orders. Fortunately, his tribe was a bigotted one, assuming that human intelligence was very low, and so the king made fewer demands than he might have done otherwise. I did my best to follow explicit commands while trying to do only the minimum.

Physically, the Darkurans resembled big-framed humans with exaggerated muscles. They had brutal faces, pointed ears, and came in divers colors. The latter was clearly not indicative of different subspecies or races. A single family could display as many different colors as a bowl of Easter eggs. As far as I could see, the Darkurans considered pigmentation unimportant. Something far more significant about their race was the fact that they had shape-shifting skills.  It allowed them to morph into more combat-effective forms, most of which looked like the denizens of feverish nightmares.
 

This power had its limitations, though; as far as I knew, they could not use it to impersonate other beings, not even other Darkurans. I think the skill must have been magical in origin, for it allowed them to more than double their size and, for all I could tell, their mass. Their best fighters were able to create weapons out of their own body – strangling tentacles, organic spears, or jets of acid.  Their own bodies were consequently their favorite weapons, thought they used hand-held energy weapons, also -- most often energy-shooting small arms that I would call “blasters.” They hardly employed war machines or mechanical artillery.

Being sold to the Darkur was like being thrown into into a cage of hungry lions, something which I really have experienced, by the way. Their sports were bloody battle games; the whole society seemed to get off on killing and destroying.  I don’t know how they managed to hold together as a society. The Nazis would have come off as courtly gentlemen by comparison. One of the most disconcerting quirks of their nature was that they liked to feast on the flesh of their enemies, craving especially the meat of the Aerwa race.  

Be that as it may, I would have preferred to be eaten by a Darkur rather than be taken to bed by one – or by a hundred of them, which was would be more in their nature. Fortunately, the Darkur found having sex with other races as odious as humans do about mating with farm animals. Oh, there are perverts in both races, of course, but I never had to square off with any of these. They all knew how lethal I was. I never met a Darkur who had a good nature, but – within limits -- they could be made to respect someone who was proficient at killing them.

So this mad exile had become my way of life and here I had to stay, if I intended to keep Arielle safe from Tradesmen reprisals.

They had let me speak to her after restoring her to life. I had paused at her door, ashamed to show my face to her, considering our last meeting. But I wanted to make sure that the Tradesmen were not pulling a fast one on me. They said that they had recalled her from the dead, and I wanted to be sure that this version of Arielle was the real person and not an impostor.  

She had passed muster on that score; this Arielle could still remembered dying at the hands of the Beast within me. She seemed to be kindly disposed to me, something I was sorry for.  In our last meeting, I told her the brutal truth by about the demon that clung to me, and about the bargain that I’d made to save her.  

I deliberately avoided mentioning that I would miss her, but urged her to go home and forget about me. I also kept it to myself that casting her off felt like casting away a vital organ from my own body. I also tried to conceal any trace of kindness or sympathy I felt toward her; I didn’t want kindness and sympathy in return. And any kindness she gave to me would surely come back to hurt her later, just like it had done following our original meeting.

“Marinna, you shouldn’t have agreed to do such a thing for my sake!” she had exclaimed. “I would not have agreed. You have your own life and shouldn’t be throwing it away for me.”

“You must not forget that it was I who murdered you. I owe you.”

“But wasn’t it the beast inside you that was acting by its own will?”

“Regardless, the devil might come back. I don’t want you anywhere near by if it does.”

She shook her head. “My father is dead. My living relatives that I are strangers far away, except for one cousin. In such days of crisis, I don’t think the aristocracy will allow me to rule in my own right. If I return home, I’ll be treated as a political pawn, expected to marry the strongest warlord available. I’d be better off staying with you. Maybe I can give you the strength you need to keep the monster at bay.”

“It’s just not possible. The beast is determined to kill everyone I love the most.”

She perked up. “So you’re admitting you love me! Let’s work with that. I’m not afraid to believe in you one more time.”

“No, I won’t allow it. It’s safer if you hate and avoid me. You already know so much about what I did wrong, but you still don’t know the half of it. I could tell you things that would make you despise me.”

“Like what?”

“Don’t force it. It will hurt the both of us,” I told her.

“No, tell me. It may not be so terrible as you think. I will try to forgive you.”

“Stop forgiving. Never forgive a wrong! Never look for the best in a person. It’s sometimes not there. If you trust evil, you give evil the advantage it needs to harm you.”

“There is bad in all of us,” she said, “but look at all you’re doing to save me. With your mighty sorceries, you must be able to get away from the Tradesmen. But you’re giving in to them because you have a good heart.”

I shook my head in pity – pity for myself, mostly. Somewhere along the way I had lost the privilege to hear words like that.  “You can’t come with me. I have nowhere to go, except into the darkness.”

“That may change in time,” she said.

“You have to grow up. It’s time to stop loving and trusting.”

She grimaced. “If I did, I would lose any wish I have to stay alive.”

“You will change,” I told her. The brutalities of life will eventually teach you to put your own survival above everything else. The sooner you change, the better your prospects for a long life.”

“Why is it so important to live for very long if it means becoming everything that I most despise?”

“Living amounts to one long series of betrayals. I will tell you this much. I knew all along who killed your father, Lord Tavon.  It was not the horned beast, it was not Lord Pumpkin, and it was not the Tradesmen.”

“You knew?” she asked with astonishment.  “Why didn’t you say something?”

“I had good reasons not to. Selfish reasons,” I said. “There is nothing in me that is not selfish.”

She was now looking at me with incredulity.  Maybe it crossed her mind that I was the last person to see her father alive. Arielle was not a stupid child.   

“Don’t say any more,” she told me.

“Whatever you’re thinking right now,” I said, “it’s probably right.”

I’d never seen her face be so pale. Well, it was for her own good. To save her life I had to slay her illusions. A future queen needs to be hard and cruel. Ruling means  giving up all regard for lives or decency. Knowledge brings pain, but what fails to kill us makes us stronger.

I left her apartment then, anticipating the day when she would hear about my death and it would put a smile on her lips. What parent would not welcome anything that made his child happy?

#

Leaving Arielle’s world put me into my descent into the world of the Darkur.

I had clung to life for some 1570 years. Now I had to ask myself, why? I think I had lost my original love for life shortly after meeting Archimage. It wasn’t my love for life that made me cling to it; it was because I hated death, I despised and I feared it. Who can honestly love life without respecting it? Hundreds of men had been sacrificed to keep me above the ground. That was what I had become. The wizard Archimage had made a whole new man of me.

And for that I will forever curse his memory.

I think most of us knights had lived as if our unnatural existence was something that could go on forever. It ended abruptly. Archimage himself died, and also ten of his twelve knights. Even Boneyard, his enemy, enjoyed his triumph only for a year beyond that, before fate took him out, too. The two wizards had warred for some 1600 years. Had all that carnage made the world a better place?

Most men are indifferent to dying because they believe that death means oblivion. If only that were true. My spirit has visited the Soul Walk hundreds of times, and that place was all the proof I needed to know about the immortality of the soul.  It is a terrible thing to find out that life doesn’t end with death. If the soul is real, who can deny that God is real? If He is the Honest Judge of the Scriptures, it leaves me in the dock as an accessory to hundreds of murders. What possible defense can I offer? A spider clinging to a man’s finger over a crackling fire had better prospects than I did.

I was damned even before the demon took hold of me.

I think I know when and how that happened. Boneyard had captured me.  I had been languishing in Boneyard’s prison for some days, and then I suddenly found myself awake on the Soul Walk. Archimage rescued me, as he always had, by placing my soul into yet another strong, fit human body.

But I was not the same man who Archimage had known before. I made up a story of escaping from Boneyard’s prison by suicide, beating my brain against the stone wall of my prison cell. But that was a lie. In truth., I had accepted a deal from Boneyard, a deal I’d made after I was already possessed. For the first time in my life I had become a traitor. And I was a traitor all the way, with no inner struggle at all. I cared for no one and for nothing. I didn’t even care about Boneyard, except that I was bound to do a job for him in exchange for a reward. A year later, when I finally heard that the dark wizard was himself dead, my heart sang.

I believe that when Boneyard had been unable to corrupt me in any straightforward way, he had bound some monstrous allied spirit to my own. This possessing demon obviously had the ability to follow me from body to body as I was killed and reincarnated time and time again. The thing was, as the Tradesmen’s wizards had said, a “soul-rider.”

The Tradesmen’s wizards had informed me that the Beast was still there, barely holding on to me, but not gone. They told me that they could not entirely dislodge it. That battle was for me and no one else could fight it for me. I would have to choose the ground and fight the fight myself. I ultimately failed, I would become the Necromantra that had I had been before.

I remember her thinking thoughts in my mind and they disgusted me. I didn’t know whether my death without resurrection could separate me from that tormenting spirit, but as a last resort I was willing to give that a try, too.

For the present, though, I still needed to fight just as hard as ever to live. This time I would not fighting for my own life, but for the life of another.

TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 2, PART 2

 


Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Beauty and the Beast, Chapter 1, Part 2

Written 2006

Revised May 11, 2021

 
 

THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, CHAPTER 1, Part 2

A story of Necromantra

By Aladdin

Edited by Christopher Leeson



“Do you wish to die?” the Tradesman asked. I wondered why they never betrayed a hint of emotion. Did they consider it a disgrace to show emotion to an “inferior” race? Did they have no emotion to show?

I had been brought before three Tradesmen. All were of the same build and dressed alike. Was their whole race radically conformist, or were these Tradesmen of similar rank and wearing the uniform of that rank?

These outfits looked utilitarian, canvas-colored and provided with many pockets. The creatures’ legs were strangely jointed – reminiscent of bovine beasts. Though bipedal and upright, they only superficially resembled men in general outline. Their helmets had large glass eye-slots that concealed their faces. Was it more than a mask, I wondered; was it also a kind of breathing device? If this were so, their problem with the atmosphere of this part of the Godwheel could represent a possibly exploitable weakness. That was something to think about.

As their name suggests, Trade was their business. Though they showed no emotion, was their overriding drive greed and acquisitiveness? I knew that they exchanged precious commodities, and that these commodities were not always material. At this time and this place, I was one such commodity. By reputation, the Tradesmen were scrupulous in fulfilling their contract. Similarly, they demanded that all those that they dealt with should honor their commitments in scrupulous detail. Also by reputation, what the Tradesmen demanded, they usually got.

It was also said that they were either telepathically linked to those around them, that each individual was an element in a hive mind. If an outsider met one Tradesman, he was, in a sense, meeting with many Tradesmen at the same time – possibly with every other Tradesman in existence. Pretty clearly, that would rule out playing one Tradesman against another.

I couldn’t help looking about, though there was very little to see in the nearly featureless room. One chair for each Tradesman and little more. Ill at east, I didn’t want to be here, but I hadn’t been given any choice. I could expect no sympathy from them, for I had killed a Tradesman. This was an almost unprecedented offense and they had every right to kill me in retaliation. Oddly, though, I didn’t feel like cringing. Instead, I felt strangely detached. Why should I worry? After all, being executed would spare me the tedium of working myself up into a suicidal mindset.

To make any sense of this situation, I had to see it through the mindset of the Tradesmen themselves. Under their contractual law, I had been born their slave. My mother had promised to give them her next child in exchange for a desperate favor that she had needed to receive immediately. Yes, my mother is very strange, but that is a long story to tell. They had asked in exchange her next-born child. That was me. But how did they know that she would ever have a child? She absolutely had not wanted one. Did their race have prophetic powers? Or had they manipulated my mother after their meeting to see to it that my conception occurred? I had to stay on guard. Whenever these aliens wanted something, it didn’t take them long to get it. Bully for them. But the rules I was subjected to didn’t leave me in a very good situation.

I couldn’t help but smile. I knew that if my mother had known the circumstances she had put me in, she would have been amused. She would probably be hoping for my death. I didn’t think that anyone in the universe hated me than my mother did. I couldn’t blame her.

“You do not answer me,” said the Tradesman.

I blinked myself alert, having been lost in thought. The voices of these aliens, by the way, had a filtered quality, as if the sounds they projected were digitally created. “I have forgotten the question,” I murmured.

He repeated his interrogative. “Do you wish to die?”

“Yes, sir, I do wish to die,” I told him – her – it.

That reply didn’t seem to faze him. “So often human beings appear to value their lives casually,” he said. “Why is this so?”

I didn’t mind telling him. “Not every human likes living. I, for one, am not very good at it.”

“Understood. We know that you are afflicted by an evil spirit that has been possessing you. Our analysis tells us that you would rather die than have it again usurp the guidance of your life. Still, you will not have to face that eventuality, so long as you maintain an attitude of strict obedience. We have a purpose for you, but realizing that purpose calls for your fealty to the agreement we are about to offer you.”

“The demon you mention has kept me its slave for two years. What do you offer me, except a change of masters?” I asked him.

“Under our law, you are property – a slave, as your people would say. Despite your race’s zeal for enslaving one another, your majority considers slavery debasing. But humans also say that anything has its price. So, consider, what do you desire so much that you would willingly yield up your body and soul?”

He could have hardly been more blunt about the nature of the Satanic bargain he had in mind. “Nothing,” I said. “I would not choose to be another’s property for any price.”

“We believe that statement to be fallacious,” the Tradesman replied. “We have calculated that we are able to make an offer with a very high probability of being acceptable by you.”

“You are miscalculating,” I said.

“We shall see. Come.”

The three Tradesmen rose as a group. I guessed that they expected me to follow them. I was led into a chamber that resembled the magic room where I had been kept in since my abduction to the Godwheel. While there, human wizards had worked on me. I didn’t know why the Tradesmen employed humans for sorcery, unless their kind were unable to work magic themselves, or else regarded sorcery to be demeaning work. After all, any medieval prince would have bridled at the thought of supporting himself by selling turnips.

This particular chamber seemed to be centered around what looked like a glass coffin. The Tradesmen pointed at this artifact, directing me to peer through its transparent lid. I did, and what I saw therein made my limbs quake. I turned away.

“You bastards!” I shouted.

“This is the one you killed,” said one of the Tradesmen. “Has it occurred to you that she could be brought back to life?”

“Back to life?” I muttered.

“The young female may be revived if we strike a bargain. If not, death will become her permanent condition.”

I looked at him accusingly. “Revived? She’s dead because I sucked the life-force from her body. How can she be revived?”

“You already know that such things are possible. Did not your foe Boneyard know the art of resurrecting his own slain minions and did so many times. He did this by use of a rare spell. Have you never wondered where the necromancer acquired a spell so mighty?”

Yes, all of us knights had wondered. Now that I was being asked a leading question, I made a guess. “From – the Tradesmen?”

“He paid a very high price,” the being informed me, “but he never regretted the bargain. Your master, Archimage, on the contrary, refused our price. Now he and all his works have perished.”

“Yes, but Boneyard survived his brother by only a few months,” I reminded him.

The Tradesman made no reply. Instead, he said,

“We have preserved her in a preservation capsule,” said the Tradesman. “We brought her body to this place because it so clearly gave us a negotiation advantage. We know that some humans will unselfishly surrender what is most precious to them in order to save a loved one. Are you a human of that stamp?”

No, I was not.

I was, in fact, the worse of humans! Even before I had been demon-possessed, I had lived – existed – only because I was absolutely selfish.

“I am the wrong person to be offered such a proposition,” I told the alien. “

“Our analysis disagrees. We shall ask again. Will you accept bondage in body and spirit in exchange for the restoration of Princess Arielle to life? We restored, she will be permitted to return in safety to her own people.”

I shook my head, not in negation but in amazement. I had not believed that these aliens had anything in their bag of tricks to move me. But now, and with apparent ease, they had backed me into a corner. I searched my mind for a reason to refuse.

First, I asked myself, would it not be kinder to leave Arielle where she was? All her pains and troubles had been met and left behind. If she were to return to life, would she not have to resume a life of trouble and sorrow? Would she not have to undergo the trauma of death all over again?

But, in all the universe, if there was only one mistake that I would do almost anything to reverse, it would have been this mistake.

“What must I surrender?” I heard myself asking.

“Swear fealty. Submit to total obedience. And swear, too, to become the dedicated servant of any other party who becomes your purchaser. You will pledge to live your life to doing as you are told, and will do nothing else. Do so and no doubt Arielle’s people will rejoice at having their heiress restored. She will not be stigmatized. No one needs to know that she had ever died at all. After all, there was no witness to that death except yourself.”

“The monster called Lord Pumpkin seized power in Ulik,” I protested. “He will simply kill her again, and with pleasure.”

“This is inaccurate,” said the negotiator. “The pitiless one has vanished. Other ambitious men are now contesting for control of Ulik. Blood flows freely.”

I could see my reflection in the goggles of the alien’s mask when I asked, “Why would you trust me to keep such a bargain?”

“We knew that the Soul-Rider who was guiding you would never keep its bargains,” the Tradesman replied. “We enhanced your value a thousand-fold by removing it. We are now addressing the knight Thanasi. Documentation tells us that he was ever a man of his word.”

I might have laughed at such a complement, if I felt like laughing at all. I had let a thousand men die to keep myself alive. Before this moment, I would have considered myself utterly shameless.

But if my debasement was so complete, why was it that I could not take my eyes away from Arielle’s face, the teenage girl who was still sleeping the sleep of death.

For me, this was a Poesque moment. I was being offered the chance to reduce the check list of my crimes. The temptation was almost irresistible. I had loved Arielle, but she was so much more than my legal step-daughter. If she had never lived, I would not be alive at this moment. She had chanced upon me in the wild, a stranger in need of help, and she had given me that help.

That I had paid her back so badly made the debt owed to her a thousand times heavier to bear.

Her mistake had allowed me to continue my life of crime. Except for the error she made in rescuing me, I could not have murdered her father, could not have thrown away the lives of so many of her countrymen. Looked at in that way, it was her compassion that had brought on every evil thing that had happened since then.

“Will you make the trade?” the masked being again asked.

Outwardly, it would seem as though I was being given a choice.

But it was no choice at all.

The Tradesmen knew the game of life so much better than I did. The aliens had won the match even before the first piece on the board had been moved.

It had never been a contest that involved my winning or losing. My challenge had always been to deal with my eventual loss.

 

TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 2, PART 1

Friday, March 12, 2021

THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Chapter 1, Part 1

 

 Posted 3-12-21

Updated 5-11-21


 AUTHOR'S NOTE: The back story of Necromantra, a supporting character in MANTRA Magazine (Malibu Comics), is rich and complex. Most Ultraverse fans will already be familiar with Necromantra's exploits as the Ultraverse’s most powerful and evil femme fatale and for this reason we have limited the expository material presented herein. The character’s career summary is appended as an appendix at the end of this story segment for the benefit of those new to the Malibu universe. Chronologically, The Beauty and the Beast continues and concludes (as part five) the four‑part Necromantra miniseries published in 1995.

Necromantra, the Arielles, the Tradesmen, the Darkur, the Aerwa, and some of the major characters featured in this story are original creations of Malibu Comics and are copyrighted by Marvel Comics, Inc.


THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

A story of Necromantra

By Aladdin

Edited by Christopher Leeson



Part 1 of Chapter 1

The road wound before me like a serpent’s trail. I could see nothing to the right or left except a cornfield shrouded by night. Where was I bound to? Did I have to be somewhere? I couldn’t recall. I thought of taking my bearing from the stars, but couldnt recognize any of the constellations. In fact, the whole countryside had an eerie and unreal cast to it, though it baffled me to explain what was wrong. I kept asking myself, where was I and how had I come here?

But I had another question even more important than these.

What was my name?

I had no personal memories whatsoever. Who was I? Looking down at myself, I beheld a cloaked body that might as well have belonged to stranger.

Perplexed, I again glanced skyward. I couldn’t remember what a proper moon should look like, but this moon somehow looked odd. But at least it was giving off a little welcome light. I held my up hands, hoping that their appearance might evoke some of my missing memories. I was surprised to see that they looked so  youthful. Was I young? While I had been walking, I had assumed that I was old. But why should I think such a thing? It was not as though I carried with me any memories of a long life. Nor was I feeling the bodily aches that so often remind a person of advanced years. So why had I been supposing that I was old?  

But there was something else that surprised me even more than my apparent youth. The hands I was holding up looked like a woman’s.

Was I woman?

Just as I had been seeing myself as old, I had also assumed that I was a man.

Feeling beneath my cloak, I touched a contoured body, firm but slender. Its smooth skin felt as warm silk to my touch. The feel of my breasts should have been enough to convince me of my sex, but being female seemed so wrong that I continued checking, thereby confirming
absolutely my womanhood. What was wrong with me? How could I have forgotten something as basic as my own sex?

There was a hoarse call from overhead and I recognized it for a crow's cry. How strange it was that I knew what a crow sounded like while being unable to remember so much as my own name. The flap of  the bird’s wings had arcked over my head and so I looked back. The creature of Nature had settle to earth almost camouflaged amid a crisscross of moon-shadows. The tightening of my lips told me that I possessed the power to smile. I said, "Aren’t you supposed to be a day-bird, Master Crow? Why are you out so late?" The timbre of my own voice sounded soft and high-pitched, absolutely unfamiliar to me.

My fair-feathered visitor, I could see, was pecking at something and I presumed that he had found some corn. Just then, behind the bird, I noticed a table set up by the side of the lane. I stepped toward it, causing the crow to walk out of my path. The table was cluttered with cups, dishes and platters; there were enough stools for several eaters. Had there been a picnic? Why had the diners abandoned everything upon leaving? Or had they fled from the roadside in sudden fear?

I frowned thoughtfully. What had caused me to think so readily about fear and flight? Did I have a reason to be afraid myself? Might there have been some forgotten danger that had put me onto this rustic road?  I did sense something like fear lurking at the back of my mind. Or had the feeling been aroused by nothing more than this location's darkness, loneliness, quietude, and emptiness?  

Standing beside the table, I made out a child's teddy bear seated on one of the stools. A toy should be cared for by a child, I thought. A toy without a child seemed sad somehow. Would the child return, or would the bear have to sit where it was alone, until a strong gust toppled it to the soil? It would languish there, I knew, dank and dirty, unwanted, unneeded, forgotten. In the end, its cloth would be rotten, its seams broken, its every fiber would go away with the birds for building nests. But, alas, wasn’t that the cruel way of Nature? Hadn't the detritus of death always provided the wherewithal to support the new life that will not arrive until tomorrow?

As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I saw something that made me even sadder ‑‑ an executed man suspended from a cross. As I stared at him, I was set to wondering what his crime had been and who had punished him.

My feet wanted to move toward the corpse. A few steps along, I gave a sigh of relief. This was no tragedy after all. I was seeing not a corpse but a scarecrow, a very crude homunculus tied to a wooden frame. But what a poor excuse for a scarecrow! A crow searched for grubs and worms only a few yards away, entirely undaunted.

It was then that I heard something moving among the shadows of the growing corn. My eyes searched out the night-prowler almost at once.  It was no night‑stalking beast, after all, but a wandering girl‑child.

She should have been able to see me, but the waif never glanced my way.

The small wayfarer, here at this ungodly hour, caused me wonder if she were a living tyke or a haunting spirit. The night-child made for the disorderly table and took an empty stool from its side. This she toted up to the feet of the scarecrow. The girl did not hesitate to climb up upon it then. Standing on her tiptoes, she reaching aloft to touch the head of the pathetic effigy.

I heard myself speaking aloud: "Girl, why are you out here at  night? Do you have a home and parents?"

She still disdained to look my way, but chose to get down from the stool just then and walk away into the brake-like expanse of corn. She made no sound during in her departure, moving as quietly as a field mouse.

When I could no longer see the girl, I again contemplated whether it had been a young person or a ghostly manifestation. The stool was still there and I wanted to know if it was real or something phantasmagorical. Therefore I walked to it and put a hand upon its seat. It surely felt like solid wood.  If the stool was real, had the girl standing upon it been real also?  It didn’t seem logical that a ghost should require a material stool to stand upon.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a red spark. Turning, I drifted toward the spot where the glint had been. It turned out that I was walking directly toward the avian, who now scurried away. It deigned to retire only a few yards before stopping and staring back at me with – I supposed – indignation.

There was another carmine glint from the ground and I advanced to stand above it. Seeing nothing at my feet, I sank to one knee and groped through the earth-chunks and grass. My fingers touched something anomalous and picked it up. The moonlight illuminated something like a ruby fixed in a metal setting. It had a chain attached in the form of a pendant. I dangled it in front of my eyes and its scintillation filled my mind with flashes of a blonde girl’s face. I paused, fascinated. If this was a memory, I surely needed to take it seriously. I was sure that the face looked familiar and this person seemed to be important to me.  Contemplating that face gave me a sense of loneliness and loss.

For some reason I found myself wishing myself to be not where I was, but with that girl, whoever she was.

"Go back," someone behind me said.

Startled, I turned but saw nothing beyond the moon-illuminated stalks of corn. No matter what I had supposedly heard, I was still alone. Dismally alone. Who had spoken? Had I heard a ghost? Had it been the crow? I somehow recalled that crows could be trained to pronounce words.

For no reason, a child's rhyme came to mind:  `Birdie with the yellow bill hopped upon my window sill, cocked its shining eye and said....'

What did it say?

"Go back."

I looked again at the crow, trying to make out if it had truly been the speaker.

“Go back.”

Yes, it was the crow. I smiled ruefully. So that was what the birdie with the yellow bill had said!

*****

The next thing I knew, I was elsewhere and hearing a woman screaming.

I felt I should help a being in trouble if I could, until I realized that I was myself the screaming person.

My first impulse was to sit up, but found that I could move neither my arms nor legs. Is this sleep paralysis? I asked myself. But my clearing senses made it all too clear that this was not the case. My immobility was the intended effect of cords having been fastened around my wrists and ankles. I was tied to a rack or a similar frame. Was I someone’s captive? I heard voices. I could not understand their language but, even so, listened carefully to them. The speech gradually became comprehensible, but yet my ears still only heard gibberish. It was as though the conversant beings were projecting thoughts from their minds directly into mine. As they spoke, they seemed not to know that I was listening in.

"Have you succeeded, wizard?" one asked. I did not like his voice; it was hard and somehow inhuman.

"I believe so, Tradesman," replied the one called wizard. "It is a pernicious devil, this Soul‑Rider, one that cannot easily be cast out. Our spells have weakened its grip, but if the witch is to avoid a new possession, she must use her own great power frequently to rebuff and banish it. I think that if her heart is set upon being free, she will succeed."  

"As long as the slave has the potential for relapsing, her value will be lessened," stated the one called Tradesman. “Are her powers diminished by being partially possessed?"

"I doubt it, Great One. Hopefully, she will be more cooperative that she was before, when fully dominated by the demon."

"Any acquisition that will not accept commands must be destroyed," stated Tradesman.

As I lay there, my thoughts seemed to be forming up into some kind of order.

I gasped as I began to see snatches from my past. I had thought that I wanted to remember who and what I was. But now that the process had begun, I did not like the memories that I was getting!

My teeth clenched and my womanly hands fisted. I was being told by the voice of guilty recollections that I had committed murder, and I had murdered the person whom I had loved most in the world.

Afraid that this indictment was true, I no longer wanted to remember.
I didn’t want to become all over again the person whom I remembered. It would be better for me to go back to that lonely road and become a ghost again, a ghost blessed by forgetfulness and with no company at all except for other ghosts.

If only such a thing were possible! 


TO BE CONTINUED, Chapter 1, Part 2.



APPENDIX TO THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
A Story of Thanasi

By Aladdin and
Edited by Christopher Leeson

 In the mid-Fifth Century, Archimage the wizard came to Earth as an exile from his homeland on the Godwheel and began to recruit fighting men for an elite force. His intention was to wage war against his necromancer brother, Boneyard, who had attacked and stolen kingdom. Two of those whom he recruited were the knights Lukasz and Thanasi, fighting men who had already proven their prowess during the last days of the Roman Empire.  Boneyard would occasionally venture to Earth himself to take reprisals against the knights and their loved ones, slaying Lukasz’s wife Marinna. Thanasi, already the former’s friend, stood by him in his bitter grief.
 

From that time until the 1990’s, the two men remained comrades, fighting many battles against Boneyard and his agents. The wizard’s men stood by him for more than a thousand years because he could place their souls into new bodies in the event of their death or incapacity. Over this long period of time, neither Archimage nor Lukasz were given any reason to doubt the nobility of Thanasi’s character or his loyalty.

 Then came a day when Archimage realized that one of his band had betrayed him. Aided by some internal enemy, Boneyard struck decisively. The knights were slaughtered to a man, while Boneyard took Archimage captive.

 But Archimage had prepared a defense. In his last moment of freedom, he triggered a pre-prepared spell. Its purpose was to put the soul of Lukasz, his best knight into the body of a young divorced mother named Eden Blake. Archimage had already chosen her to be the vessel for his champion because he had learned that Eden was an undiscovered magical ultra of great power. Though Lukasz was shocked by his new shape, he rapidly adjusted to learning and using sorcery. Determined to regain a male shape, he made it his mission to rescue the only person who could help him, his imprisoned master Archimage.
 

Lukasz, in the guise of a sorceress ultra called Mantra, soon learned that the knights’ betrayer was his own best friend Thanasi.  The latter’s reward had been to receive a form of immortality, the ability to steal bodies at will. But when he next met Thanasi, he seemed to be suffering from mental illness. He was obsessed to destroy the only person whom he still feared, the sorceress Mantra, his former friend Lukasz. Thanasi was convinced that he would never be safe as long as Lukasz lived.

 As the feud became more savage, Lukasz recognized that one or the other of them would have to die. Indeed, Thanasi was behaving in a way that was completely different from the man he had known.  Thanasi was a threat not only to Mantra’s life, but to the friends and family that he had acquired while living Eden Blake’s life.

Lukasz, meanwhile, learned that the spirit of Eden Blake was still attached to her former body and the two were able to communicate telepathically.  The knight-turned-sorceress continued to seek for a way to return his soul to a male body, but he also wanted to restore Eden to her own.  At last, with the help of the ultra Pinnacle, Lukasz managed to transfer his soul into the empty shell of a male clone, intending to leave Mantra’s body to Eden.  But when he exited Eden’s body, Thanasi immediately entered it and kept Eden’s spirit suppressed.

 A minute later, both Lukasz, now male, and Thanasi, in Eden’s body, were whisked off by the will of a god to the artificial mega-world of the Godwheel.  While Lukasz had resisted falling into the mental and emotional patterns of a woman, Thanasi’s reaction was very different. He reveled in the sensations afforded by his new life. He continued to be cruel, paranoid, bloodthirsty, and treacherous, but had become a vicious, feline, and mock-seductive witch.  While in Eden’s body, Thanasi christened himself Necromantra.” 

When defeated in battle, Thanasi’s spirit retreated into limbo, but continued to haunt close to Eden Blake.  When Lukasz and Eden returned home to Earth, they made love for the first time and this romance resulted in a magical pregnancy. Thanasi at once entered the body of the fetus and under his influence Eden came to term with unnatural speed.  When born, the new parents named the girl-child Marinna, after Lukasz’s late wife. But this infant matured into a young woman very swiftly and attacked both her parents, even kidnapping Eden and her daughter Evie.

 Lukasz, aided by Pinnacle, traced Necromantra to her lair and they fought her. Eden, Thanasi’s prisoner, also joined the fight, but was struck down.  With her dying breath, she urged Lukasz to take back her body and use its powers to save both himself and Evie.  This Lukasz did, and the magic released healed Eden’s wounds, allowing Mantra to fight and defeat Necromantra. Mantra cast her into a dimensional rift that the witch had herself opened.  The villainess’s ultimate fate could not be known at the time, but Lukasz hoped that she was finally dead.

 Nonetheless, Necromantra had survived, having been cast out of the portal into a medieval-style human kingdom on the Godwheel.  Weakened by her ordeal, she was rescued from the attack of a giant snake through the intervention of a nobly-born maiden named Arielle, assisted by her father’s hunting party.
 

The father, a king named Tavon, took a fancy to the mystery woman and Necromancer accepted his advances, but for self-serving ends.  She sought out a wizard for advice on how to regain full power and did so by means of a ritual of sacrifice, one that fatally victimized both the wizard and her husband. Afterwards, the witch assumed the authority of a queen-regent serving during Arielle’s minority.  The grieving Arielle did not know who had murdered her father and so continued her friendship with Necromantra, even after learning she was a powerful and ruthless sorceress. Necromantra’s politics were reckless and warlike. During a battle with a neighboring power, she was hard-pressed. She saved herself by calling up a horned demon of mysterious origin.
 

But there was a worse danger arising for Necromantra. Her mother/father Mantra had earlier traded the life of her “next-born child” to the alien tribe of the Tradesmen in exchange for a favor.  The birth of Marinna to Eden Blake had fulfilled the terms of that bargain and now the Tradesmen knew that Necromantra was was Mantra’s child. Under the agreement, she was their slave.  They sent an agent to seize her, but the horned demon appeared again to slay the Tradesman.

The Tradesman were furious but undaunted. They brought in a new ally, an artificial being called Lord Pumpkin to attack and overcome the sorceress-queen.  When his first attempts failed, the Tradesman enhanced Lord Pumpkin’s power with a magical red jewel. With this, he attacked again and fought her to exhaustion.  Only Arielle stood by her at that deadly hour, but in the moment of crisis the demon reemerged and took the girl as a sacrifice, thereby increasing Necromantra’s power for the fight.  

 Even so, the Tradesmen overcame and captured her. They proceeded to teleport Necromantra away, along with the dead body of Arielle.  Lord Pumpkin, incidentally, was fated to be vanquished a short while later, by the intervention of a god whom he had tried to cheat.

 The story ends strangely, with Necromantra being seen walking through a benighted country lane. This scene is enigmatic. Had Necromantra somehow escaped from the Tradesmen so soon? Or was this closing tableau merely meant to represent a metaphor, or even a dream….

 Necromantra would reappear again in three of the last Mantra stories, published in the world of “Black September,” but they do not explain her escape from the Tradesmen. Black September was a far-ranging revision revision of the Ultraverse universe, in which even history was changed. But the fans didn’t like the changes brought about by Black September and many thousands of them gave up on the comic line.

What was still unusual in 1995 has become very common in today’s entertainment world. The popular GAME OF THRONES was wrapped up catastrophically in Season 8, making much of its fandom feel cheated. The 50-year old tradition of DOCTOR WHO was ruined by terrible scripting starting in 2017. The same fate befell CBS’s revival of STAR TREK (Star Trek Discovery) and also Disney’s Star Wars’ THE LAST JEDI, both of these in 2017. Heavy-handed revision seemed to be going on everywhere at the same time. GHOST BUSTERS did something strange in 2018 and TERMINATOR went into left field in 2019. Basically, all these efforts changed much and improved nothing. Some of these story franchises may in fact be killed by this unwise policy. That certainly happened to one of the earliest victims of the process, Malibu Comics. A wise independent critic has said, “Without respect, we reject.” Good advice.

 When addressing plot of THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, we were interested in explaining how Thanasi could have convincingly changed from a noble knight into a vicious witch.  We are guessing that the key lies in the existence of the mysterious demon that appears in the 4-issue miniseries. Without going into detail in this place, we hope that readers find our story to be an entertaining experience.

NOTE: Necromantra also appears in my novel THE WOUNDED WORLD, but that story features the Necromantra who is part of the Black September world. Our intention in THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is to imagine one possible fate for Necromantra that could have happened in the original Ultraverse universe. After all, it was well established in the course of the Ultraverse series that the Ultraverse existed in as many different alternate worlds.

End


Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Falling Star: Chapter 7, Part 2

 
Posted 04-07-18

Revised 02-07-21






An Angel from Hell story

By Christopher Leeson


Chapter 7, Part 2


Exiting the hotel by way of the stair, Jezebel filled Holly in.

“If those two aren't for real” said the ex-waitress, “it means that the bad guys must have planted that Holiday Inn message inside the Bible. That's not possible,
is it? We didn't even know ourselves where we'd end up that night. And why would they get sneaky now? Those tough guys who came for us were using muscle, not tricks. It doesn't add up.”

“There's one more thing that doesn't add up,” admitted Jezebel. “The girl with the reverend had a familiar face.”

“You knew her?”

“No. I just kn
ow the face. She's a dead ringer for...someone."

"Who?"

Jezebel took a breath. "A younger version of Princess Diana.”

The Princess Diana?”

The angel nodded.

Holly shook her head. “But she's dead. It has to be another impostor.”

“If it's an impostor, how could the Cabal think that it would be a good idea to shove her into my way?
I shoot that kind of person on sight!”

“That's super weird, all right. But you said the girl was young. The real Di would have to be in her fifties by now.”

Jezebel sighed. “Holly, you’
re going to have to toss your idea of science out the window. Scientists work for money, and the big money is always with the Cabalists. What scientists tell the people doesn't have to be true; it just has to serve Cabalist ends. Like global warming and evolution. A lot of scientists know about people like the princess, but they keep quiet. Hell, a lot of scientists are her sort. She's Nephilim.”

“What's that?”

“It means that she's descended from fallen angels who mixed with humans -- human or other creatures.”

The singer looked amazed. “There really are fallen angels? Are you saying that those old paintings of angels making out with hot girls come straight out of history?”

Jezebel grimaced uneasily. “Ah, yes. The Nephilim are half immortal. That lets them live about five hundred years. A lot of them shape-shift. They pretend to age. Then they stage phony death scenes and funerals. While they're supposed to be dead, they're really just lying low for a while. Later on, they set up a new identity and go back into the world. The British queen of today used to be Queen Victoria.”

“That's creepy. Are these Nephilim always bad people?”

“Most serial killers and career criminals are Nephilim. Most terrorists and radicals, too. Wherever there's money or power, Nephilim act like pigs at a trough. Watch out for anyone who just shows up with a lot of inherited money. They're probably Nephilim.”

“I guess a person wouldn't want to run into that kind.”

“You've already met hundreds or thousands. The music industry is full of them.”

Holly blinked. “No wonder show people seem so crazy! But it's unbelievable.”

“It's real. I could tell you plenty more, but why keep you awake at night?”

“If all that's possible, what should we do?”

“Normally I'd say we should get out of town, but something tells me that we should hear them out.”

“That's scary, especially if one of them isn't human.”

“I wish I could say that it'd be perfectly safe, but I can't,” said Jezebel.

Holly nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, Jill. If these Neph-guys are all over the place, meeting one more shouldn't be the end of the world.”

“Not yet anyway. We should go in separately. I'll enter the restaurant first, and you should follow a couple minutes later. I don't want you to be left alone for very long.”

The Watcher took a few bills from her wallet. “Buy something to eat or drink. You're an actress. Try to act like an ordinary customer. Don't look around too much. I'll be be
close by, watching out for Nephilim thugs. If things don't look suspicious, I'll go sit down with the couple. I don't know how long this will take. If I take off my coat, that will be your signal to come over and join us. But if I leave Culver's without taking it off, follow me outside a minute or two later.”

“Then what?”

“Beats me. If the Cabal knows we're in Omaha, we have to leave." Jezebel hoped it wouldn't come to that. To pay for food, lodgings, and gas she would probably need to steal. Committing crimes could make them fugitives from the law as well as from the Cabal.

“Do you mind if I pray for guidance and protection?” Holly asked.

Jezebel shrugged. “Yeah, sure, go for it. But make it snappy. The more time the enemy has, the more dangerous things they'll be able to do. They might have heavy backup. I only wish I could go in wearing a good disguise.”

“We still have that little red dress in the car,” Holly suggested.

“Forget it!”

 Jezebel stepped into the restaurant, still thinking about Frances. A righteous Nephilim? That idea was a tough sell. She knew that most Nephilim were born violent, and rarely possessed any sense of right and wrong. Not only Nephilim, but most Satanist children, were routinely brutalized, especially emotionally, to turn them into what humans called psychopaths. 

They had taken over the world before the Flood. Drowning was a good way to kill them, so the Father had  used a flood. But even though Noah, his wife, and his boys were of pure human stock, the Scriptures were silent about the sons' wives. Had the Father waited so long to act that no truly human women had remained alive? It had to mean something that so many of Noah's grandchildren had been Nephilim.

But, also, there had been water-breathing Nephilim, and sea creatures had not been killed by the flood. Many ocean beasts had been chosen by fallen angels for mixing. That fact hadn't bothered Jezebel before, but now she no longer thought that it had been such a good idea. These angel-mortal offspring were the strangest-looking of all the Nephilim. There had been land giants and sea giants. The latter were the basis of most legends about sea monsters. But she also knew that some of the sea-born Nephilim could shape-shift, like the selkies and kelpies. By mating with humans, strains of ocean-spawned Nephilim had been able to return to the land. 

 
Jezebel gritted her teeth. I
f she misunderstood the situation and made a mistake, she'd probably be held responsible for the consequences. To avoid blame, she intended to leave the final decision as to what to do with Holly up to Holly.
 

The Creator was always testing men and angels. Was this another test? Was the Father creating a situation so confusing that Jezebel would have to humble herself and ask for discernment? Well, that wouldn't happen. Only the weak asked for help. If she couldn't respect the weak herself, how could the Father?

 
                                                                            #

Decorated mostly blue and white, Culver's large windows made
the interior feel airy. The noonday crowd hadn't descended as yet, so empty sections still remained. None of the staff or customers seemed to be glowing violet, and that was reassuring. Just then, she saw Holly enter. The girl took a quick glance around and went to the serving counter.

Jezebel turned toward the nearby window and peered outside. Not seeing any Nephilim, she checked her watch. It had been twenty minutes since she'd left apartment 432. The angel wondered whether the couple was going to be punctual.

They were.

The Watcher let the pair pass while she kept out of sight. For a moment, Jezebel stood on watch, but observed no
characters with bad auras following Orson and Frances. Game to take a risk, she joined the waiting line behind the enigmatic couple.

Orson looked back over his shoulder. “Oh, there you are,” he whispered. The blonde nodded in silence.

The three advanced through the queue and placed their orders. Jezebel had eaten at the apartment and so asked for no more than fries and a soft drink. Garland and his false sister made selections from the breakfast menu. When the food came up, the pair carried their portions into an unoccupied area. The angel looked around again for threats and then joined them.

Frances had taken the chair that Jezebel wanted. “Go to the other side, queeny,” the angel said. “I want to see who comes in through the door.” Frances complied with a look of annoyance and Jezebel appropriated her seat.

The pair just sat there, apparently waiting for her to say something.

Jezebel took a deep breath and asked, “So, if I were the girl you that came here to help, where would we go from here?”

Orson appeared to be brimming with that annoying earnestness of his. “Until you feel able to make plans of your own, Frances has agreed to share her apartment in Jasper.”

“Jasper?”

“It's a town in the Ozarks. My church is there.”

“It sounds dull.”

The man gave a smile. “Dull can be another word for peaceful, I like to say.”

“Well, it sure does sound peaceful. What's its other charms?”

“We have 466 citizens at last census, and it's the courthouse for Newton County. You needn't live there long-term, but it might be a good idea to close in for a while. Frances and I will be on hand to help you get oriented and settled down.”

“Okay, say I settle into this thriving town of Jasper. What then?”

“You'll probably want to find work. There aren't many jobs nearby, but there's usually openings in Branson. That's across the line into Missouri, about fifty miles away. A lot of Jasper people work over there, so we'll be able to find you a commuter to ride with. That should be good until you get a car of your own.”

While Reverend Garland was speaking, Jezebel had been studying Frances. “Do you work in Branson, too?”

“No,” she said. “I teach at Kingston School. Elementary.”

“Then I hope you're a vegetarian.” She unsubtlely eyed the sausage on the woman's plastic plate. “Oh, I guess not.”

The young woman's glance became a glare.

Jezebel's was deliberately riling her. If she could make the hybrid mad enough, the girl might give something away, something that didn't jive with their cover story."

"Are you always so rude?" Frances asked.

"Usually."

The Watcher considered the nearness of Jasper to Branson. Being close to a teeming tourist-trap could pose a risk. Branson was a show-business town and Holly – Pelosia – might be tempted to repeat old habits. The entertainment industry drew Cabalists in like dung flies. The girl needed to shun the public eye.

“Jasper may be workable,” she said offhandedly. “But what made the pair of start hiding fugitives? I've told you that the Cabal is involved, and that make it dangerous.”

Reverend Garland met her challenging glance. “When the Lord asks something of a person, He always has a good reason.”

“Do you hide a lot of people on the run?”

“No, Frances was my first.”

Jezebel shifted toward the blonde. “How you fit into all this, Highness? Are you really Princess Di?”

The woman scowled. “Don't speak that name. I'm Frances Dillon.” She was using her Arkansas accent again.

“What in hell is British royalty doing in Arkansas? Are you hiding, too?”

Frances' expression changed. “Yes. I'm hiding from my own family,
especially. They murdered my uncle, because he became too outspoken about Agenda 21."

“Agenda 21? I've heard about it,” said Jezebel. It was the code name for the Cabalist plan to kill seven billion people and enslave the survivors. It was all over the internet.

Frances was still speaking. “At the very least, I'd be kept under house arrest for years, until I managed to make them trust me again. I can't let that happen. They can twist a person's mind in a hundred different ways.

 
“The Cabal went through a lot of work to make the world think that the Princess of Wales was dead,” the angel reminded Frances. “Who was in that car wreck anyway?”

The British girl seemed to struggle with herself before she answered. “A look-alike. I had more than one. This lady didn't happen to be a clone. She had a soul. She was working
to earn an MBA. We talked sometimes. When she took my place that day, she didn't know...what was planned. But I did and I didn't warn her. That's who I was. I was even willing to let friends die.” She stopped for a moment, then forced herself to finish. “It made me realize that I’d let my handlers get into my mind. That wasn't the kind of person that I wanted to be, but if I didn't do what I was told, what happened to Uncle James could happen to me.” She glanced away.

“So you're claiming to be from a high-ranking Cabalist family?” Jezebel asked.

Frances shook her head. “I've said too much.”

She looked fiercely at Orson. “Who is this person? Why should we trust her with our secrets?”

The clergyman seemed unsure.

The Watcher spoke up. “My license says I'm Jill – and you don't need to know my last name. I was sent by God. That's all you need to know, isn't it?”

Frances scowled. “Who really sent you? You have killer eyes. I know what killer eyes look like.”

Jezebel showed a bitter grin. “How you talk. I haven't offed anyone since early Friday. And they were only a pair of ghuls.” Then she shrugged. “Well, maybe killed a security guard, too. I just left him lying and didn't bother to check.”

Orson looked amazed. “I trust you're joking, Miss...Jill.”

She pointed at his chest. “Hey, do you think that the guy upstairs likes Cabalist flunkies?”

The clergyman turned his gaze skyward. After a moment of contemplation, he said, “The Lord tells me that you mean exactly what you say, and He also affirms that you are, indeed, serving Him.”

“That should make you feel better,” said Jezebel. “Did he mention whether I'm doing a good job?”

When words failed Orson, the angel gave sudden vent. “Why is it that the Father – or the Son – talks to you so easily, but never to me?”

“I can't say,” the reverend replied.

Next to him, Frances was shaking her head. “This might be a bad idea, Orson. We should go.”

The minister seemed less certain. “The Lord gave me a name. He spoke the name Sampson as if it should reassure me. Does that name mean anything to you...Jill?”

She shrugged. “Never met the gentleman. I heard plenty about him, though.”

Orson regarded Frances. “Sampson killed thousands, but only those who had earned God's wrath.” To Jezebel he said, “Is it also your mission to protect the righteous, Miss Jill?”

Jezebel's eyes narrowed. “Lately. I've been told that if I don't happen to like a person's aura I can I can do what comes naturally. That part of my job suits me.”

“I'm not sure this person is safe to be around,” the British princess counseled her companion.

“Believe me, lady, I'm not.”

Jezebel decided to up the ante. “Listen. I'm not the person who needs protection. That's someone else, but I'm not going to turn her over to just anyone. Orson, here, is pretty convincing," she said to Frances. "But you don't fit in. Nephilim are nothing but trouble. I'd rather bet on an inside straight than buy into the idea that you've found God. The
Sorwins are Reptilian Nephilim, and royal reptilians only marry other Reptilians. Your species considers human flesh a delicacy, especially children's flesh. I'm not running a meat wagon to deliver your next lunch.”

Frances flushed. “I'm not a Reptilian. I despise every wesen species, but I hate that kind most of all!”

Jezebel studied her hard expression, and then grinned lopsidedly. “Nice attitude. But maybe you're just shamming. I ought to slap you around and see if I can't make you morph. Are you betting that I can't?”

Frances, red-faced, looked askance at the reverend. The latter looked troubled, but remained calm.

“Dear one,” said Garland, “the Lord is telling me that you should tell your story honestly. It might make a difference.”

Frances seemed unsure. After a moment, she said, “I-I don't know where to begin.”

Taking a sip of orange soda, the angel leaned back in her chair and waited. She put a French fry between her lips. Nice flavor.

Frances slowly drew in closer and whispered, “The Reptilians have made themselves powerful, both socially and politically, but they are still only wesen. People call them a royal family, but my bloodline represents true Royalty. We have no animal genetics. I descend from fallen angels and the daughters of men. Jacob Rottweiler is my father, and he is the real king of this world, for now. My mother was selected from the purest Nephilim lines to be one of his mistresses. My father chose to raise me as a Royal princess.”

Jezebel knew that Jacob Rottweiler was a British baron, but also knew the wealth and power he represented. He had trillions of dollars in personal wealth, and controlled underlings who commanded hundreds of trillions. Next to him, a mere queen of Great Britain was no more than an unlovely handmaiden, a servant in the truest sense.

“I was taken from my real mother young, and had no regular contact with my father. At his behest, I was inserted into a Cabalist family called the Spinsters, one of the few great British houses that isn't Reptilian. That was the end of my happy upbringing. I missed my mother badly, but she wasn't allowed to come near me, and I couldn't visit her, either.

“Years before, Countess Spinster had faked a pregnancy overseas and returned with a daughter. The girl was in reality a kidnapped infant. They treated her like a beloved child until she was ready to go to school. Then the Cabal took her away suddenly and I was brought in to assume her identity. I shudder to think what must have become of the poor child. The Cabal worships Baal, and he demands the sacrifice of children. Every year, almost fifty million babies are sacrificed to him.

“But though I grew up in that house, I never really became a Spinster, and they didn't want me to. They were more like servants than parents,
especially since they had no parenting skills. Their real children are very troubled people and I always tried to stay away from them. The earl divorced the countess when I was eight, but kept me with him.

"He and his people reminded me every day that I was special, that I was a Rottweiler. I was told that I was being prepared for something very important. They kept me out in society, all the while making useful contacts for me. My tutors drilled me on how to be charming and persuasive, how to be at ease in public. I never felt I had a real family; I was an actress in training and my home was only a stage.

“It wasn't until my early teens that I was told what was expected of me. I had been selected from infancy to become the Princess of Wales. I was horrified. I'd been introduced to the
Sorwins before and they were frightening, loathsome. Prince Philip was the worst. He came from a Nazi family of Reptilians with SS ties, and seemed even less human than the queen.”

The angel frowned. “If this was some kind of drawn-out plot to make you queen, why were you allowed to divorce?”

Frances dried her eyes with a Culver's napkin. “The divorce was planned years in advance. Before the marriage, even. That was the day I had been dreaming of, my beautiful, wonderful divorce. It couldn't have come too soon. There was nothing between Charles and me. He wanted Camilla and only Camilla. She was a lizard like he was.”

Jezebel wasn't sure that she should believe any of this, but was willing to play along. “So what was the deception all about?”

“For centuries, the Rottweilers had been against mixing their Royal blood with that of what they considered mongrel beasts. But the
Sorwins had been successfully acquiring wealth and power, mostly through drug-running and human trafficking. My father couldn't look at money without wanting to control it himself, even if it meant sacrificing a daughter. For their part, the Sorwins wanted to introduce true royalty into their sham of a bloodline.

Half my job was accomplished once I'd given those monsters an heir and a spare. That part was absolutely degrading, but I'm even more sorry for what they made me do afterwards. I can't believe that God can ever forgive me."

She choked. This confession was either hard for her, or else she was doing a good job of making it appear so. After all, she had already confessed to having been trained from childhood to be an actress.

Orson Garland touched her hand. “Dear Frances, I have told you so many times: Your repentance is true; I know it is, and you know it, too. You have been long since forgiven
by the only One who matters. There will be no damnation for you, no Lake of Fire. Have faith.”

The girl nodded, trying to make herself believe.

“What was this other half of your job?” the Watcher asked.

Frances took a deep breath. “My – My task was to destroy Great Britain.”

Eyes shut, she clenched her fists upon the table and rested her forehead upon them. “And I did it,” she whispered.

TO BE CONTINUED Chapter 8, Part 1