Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
"Wanted: Mordecai" - Mythic Tales of the City of the Gods
Hey Fiction Writers,
Welcome to the Reader's new Writer Space! Starting with this inaugural edition, we're using the dormant FictionWriter blog.
You, too, can see your own short stories in this blog! 5,000 word max, with the usual Reader TOS terms and conditions. Any genre is fine. Stand-alone stories please, no "chapters" of a larger/longer work.
So what's in it for aspiring wordsmiths, other than the chance to elicit feedback from your fellow Reader readers? Well, for ONE SHORT STORY POST PER MONTH, that writer will get the paper's own hairy cartoon poo-bah, yers truly JAS, ILLUSTRATING YOUR STORY!
For whatever that's worth by way of "uh, okay." But I promise that, for any story I choose to draw for, I'll do at least a couple of illos, inspired by your own words or ideas. No saying what medium I'll use; all 'pends how your words whack me. It might look akin to Overheard in San Diego (bigfoot cartoon) or Famous Former Neighbors ("reality" comix), or perhaps be done in pencil, color, collage, or whatever. Note that most all my work is done on digital tablets and the like, so there's no "hard copy" artwork.
If a lot of great stories start showing up here, I may start providing illos more frequently! Go ahead and inspire me! I dare ya! You get to keep the rights to your story ('natch) AND whatever art I provide, if you ever want to use elsewhere. Hey, I usually get paid at least a half-off pizza coupon for that stuff! AND you get to put on your credit sheet that you've collaborated with famed Rock 'N' Roll Comics honcho Jay Allen Sanford (yeah, I know, whoop-dee-firkin-doo).
Oh, and of course feel free to provide your OWN art and/or photos to accompany your short stories (play nice, and no swiping without giving proper credits). I'd rather see NEW stories, or at least fiction not already sprinkled all over the 'net, and it's the "exclusive" fiction posts that I'll probably want to illustrate.
Stories with some kind of local-centric San Diego angle will go right to the head of the line for illos.
Besides providing occasional artwork, I'll promote the best short stories posted here (with or without illos) via my own and the Reader's Twitter/Facebook/website networks.
For this debut post, my own short story "Wanted: Mordecai" is accompanied by two illustrations I created by combining various elements of several different classical paintings into "new" compositions featuring the characters in scenes from the story. There are also a few illos of characters taken from the City of the Gods (COTG) books themselves, created in a similar fashion by comic book honcho Steve S. Crompton, art director for ALL the COTG products and productions.
ABOUT the story: It comes from the new short story anthology Mythic Tales, the second book in the the fantasy novel/comic book/RPG game/trading card phenom City of the Gods. The new anthology Mythic Tales includes around a dozen stories, most of them based on and inspired by the first book in the series, City of the Gods: Forgotten.
Here's a brief summary from http://www.cityofthegods.com:
Trapped in a timeless city governed by all the old gods of Earth, D'Molay is a tracker who works for the Gods. He makes a fateful choice to assist a hapless amnesiac girl early in the story. He then begins to suspect she has some kind of connection to a huge beast ravaging the Olympian realm. D'Molay is torn between his duty to the eternal world and the leading of his heart. His compulsion to protect her pits the wits of a man against the guile of the gods, rekindling a faith he had long ago forgotten.
City of the Gods: Forgotten is an illustrated fantasy novel by former San Diegan M. Scott Verne and writing partner Wynn Mercere, in the same vein as Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series and Phillip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go. The trade paperback edition has over 80 illustrations, many by notable classical artists such as Gustave Doré, Lord Frederick Leighton, Léon François Commerre, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Arthur Hughes, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Ingres, Diego Velázquez, William Bouguereau, Botticelli, John William Waterhouse, and others of the 16th through 18th centuries.
Besides my own "Wanted: Mordecai," Mythic Tales includes fiction by Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Wynn Mercere, M. Scott Verne, Anita Martinez, and many more. Illustrations are created by Steven S. Crompton, along with several ink illustrations created specially for the book by fan fave Liz Danforth.
I'll include a brief overview at page bottom showing the individual painting elements from my title illo below, and how they were isolated, combined, and then embellished (with help from Sir Crompton) to fit the story.
At the very bottom of the blog is your key to the FictionWriter blog; the passcode. This blog belongs to YOU, Reader Writers! Feel free to use your own name or a pen name, alongside your story title. I look forward to reading your stories! When I find one I'd like to illustrate, we can re-launch the story with the artwork added (if you put up a fiction blog you DON'T want adorned with my scribbles, jes' say so - who could blame you??) ---
Best in all endeavors,
Jay Allen Sanford
The bat-creature known as Mordecai is one of the less savory citizens of the City of the Gods...
Somehow, Mordecai always suspected that his would be an ignoble end.
Feeling frightened and pathetic -- and fatally exposed -- he crouched trembling atop the open gazebo framework, attempting to use his too-small leathery gray wings to hide himself from the chaos and cacophony exploding all around him.
By air, he was embattled by militarized cherubs and screeching harpies; from below and from adjacent structures, bloodthirsty citizens hurled stones and spears at him, some already sharpening their knives in anticipation of his fall.
Worse -- or rather worst -- he was in the bullseye crosshairs of no less a god than Apollo himself, enraged and firing arrows up at him from the sidewalk, half-again the size of the nearby humans, having puffed himself up several feet in order to increase the firing range and accuracy of his death-tipped arrows.
Oh, and now yon approached several armor-bound City Guardians on winged horses, each bearing their flame-throwing spears at the ready to strike him down, apparently the likeminded aim of nearly every living being in the City of the Gods.
“Should not have left my cave this day, no I should not” he whimpered quietly to himself. “None to help me, none to save me. All hate me.”
This was not entirely a revelation to the bat-like creature, known and disliked by most everyone but his dual masters (and perhaps even by them) as a lowly kidnapper, notorious for his (perfectly legal) role in local slave acquisition.
But the bat had never been attacked like this, not in the City, where he was usually allowed unfettered entry and exit, at least around the Slave District, thanks to being vouchsafed by the goddess he served, Lamasthu.
Modecai’s new (and perhaps only) friend Kaman knew the bat would be brought down any moment, and that he held the creature’s only hope of survival. But what about the risk of exposure? “If only,” he moaned, “it weren’t for that damnable song!”
Few could have guessed that Mordecai’s dank, hidden cave, on the far side of the great lake within the Mayan realm, was actually home to the most breathtaking, haunting, and beautiful music never heard by any other living being.
When not “acquiring” and making dusk deliveries of unbonded slaves to Namtar at the Slaver’s Temple, Mordecai dedicated his endeavors to recreating the sounds, beats, and rhythms that he still recalled from his long-ago lifetime in Babylon. As a human priest whose musicianship was once as inspirational as it was devotional, music had been Mordecai’s blessing, his skill, his benediction, and (at least until the events of later that day), his salvation.
What’s more, he owned (or at least had acquired) more than enough tools to bring that music to life once again, here in this far-flung land so improbably occupied by all manner of gods, monsters, and men.
The number of stolen instruments littering the huge open cavern had become nearly uncountable: lyres, harps, pipes, drums, reeds, flutes, bells, rattles, sistrums, and all manner of stringed instruments, some fashioned many worlds away from this one. And Mordecai had played them all. Though his fingers were nearly stubby as a gargoyle’s paw, the bat’s claws were actually quite lithe, filed down and smoothed each day with his teeth and utilized like precisely attenuated finger-picks.
Being ambidextrous as well (an apparent boon courtesy of the goddess who’d transformed him into her service), the wretched looking thing was actually an accomplished musician of utterly unguessed (and unheard) virtuosity! One whose custom-groomed fingers (with nails so durable as to crush stone!) could play nearly any instrument ever conceived.
Mordecai had in fact been building his own unique, magnificent instrument, fashioning it from the cave itself. The construction, which he called a stalactapipe organ, had transformed the hanging stalactites into a sort of large-scale piano-like lithophone. Sounds were achieved by mechanisms that tapped rows of ancient stalactites of varying sizes, using solenoid-actuated leather-bound mallets in order to produce the rumbling tones.
Years had been spent using his claws and diamond-hard fangs to shave down appropriate stalactites to produce specific notes. He then rope-cabled a mallet to each stalactite, activating the strike-pads with a keyboard consisting of gutstrings that he pulled, stroked, and plucked, much like a harp or a lyre.
With the action powered by pumps and pistons operated by his nearly tireless feet, the sublime-sounding result was essentially a gargantuan string-controlled organ, carved out from the very womb of his desolate mountain home.
On this morning, Mordecai’s musical cave rang and rumbled to a song he’d heard in his head for so long that he couldn’t remember its name or composer. He just knew that, every time he played the tune, the sound pleased his oversized furry ears which, while acutely pained by loud noises, were conversely refined, even sophisticated, when it came to music.
Sitting comfortably on sand-filled seats along the street curb adjacent to the Jolly Rajah, across from an open plaza, was a band of street minstrels, all of them human. Calling themselves the Outways, their impromptu ensemble was usually comprised of anywhere from two to five musicians, playing pipes, lute, lyre, and various other popular instruments deemed most likely to result in their donation trays being filled with currency.
The bandleader Kaman looked barely out of his teens, with longish blonde hair flowing wildly about sharply chiseled features. Small, lithe, and muscular, evident even beneath the voluminous robe he usually wore for street performing, he played many instruments, but favored a stringed gourd quite similar to the guitars he’d once mastered on his own homeworld, a place and time known to very few who dwelled within the City.
Kaman (if he had a last name, none seemed to know it) was a Freeman, one who made it a point to always carry the medallion emblem saying so, given to him by the City Council shortly after his arrival in the City of the Gods. He’d been granted the favored status of someone undeclared to any deity or master, in return for his assistance in forever closing the unstable entrance portal that last year had delivered him -- and several more troublesome travelers -- to the City.
Even the most all-knowing of gods would probably be surprised to learn of just which Earth era had hosted the staging ground of Kaman’s contentious youth. Mainly because the general consensus was that there WERE no men native to that apocalyptic epoch of ruined cities and sentient animals. Let alone a solitary boy.
The Chinese, Egyptian, African, Babylonian, Indian, Norse, Christian, Mayan, and Greco-Roman gods and goddesses all had -- or rather would have -- ample cause to abandon that time and place. The humans had manufactured their OWN god, only to be destroyed by its uncontrollable power. Of what use were deities of old in such a hopeless, desiccated place?
Other musicians would come and go, including the occasional non-human pipe-playing satyr, each of them receiving an equal percentage of the income derived from passing the collection bowl among sidewalk watchers and passersby. On this day, the band consisted Kaman, a frequent string-playing collaborator (accompanied, as always, by his two beloved canines), a red-draped visitor whose large stringed instrument required him to hold his hand high in the air to reach its frets, and a preternaturally accomplished whistle player who was already preparing to pack up his seat and instrument to return home.
Kaman found their proceeds were greatest when they performed under the arched entranceway adjacent to the Jolly Rajah, essentially the hub of this neighborhood of ill repute teeming with competing musicians, snake charmers, jesters, jugglers, consorts of questionable gender, and any number of other beggars, all vying for the coin of anyone bold, curious, or foolish enough to approach.
At around sunset, the band was playing its final number (nighttime tended to skew the neighborhood’s disposition rapidly from mildly disreputable to decidedly felonious). Flying adjacent to the large open concourse near the tavern and a nearby abandoned temple, Mordecai heard something that he at first mistook for his “secret sound,” a singsong voice (not his own) that he often heard in his head
He soon realized that, no, this (quite magnificent) sound came from outside his substantial ears; this was the sound of music.
Intrigued by what he heard, Mordecai deviated from his normal City Guardian-approved route, to swoop down the alleyways in pursuit of the music as it grew louder and closer. On sighting the Outways, he came abruptly to a landing directly in front of Kaman and his compatriots, just as they were blowing out and putting away their instruments.
“Very good you are,” the bat practically hissed, long unaccustomed to the niceties of civil introductions and social interaction. “Want to hear more. Now.”
Kaman looked the man-sized creature up and down with distrustful eyes. “I know you, don’t I? Aren’t you that slavemonger everyone hates, the one who abducts and delivers innocent wanderers to the Temple?”
“True, yes, Hated, perhaps. Do not know innocent.”
“Why, you’re one of the most despised creatures in all the realms! The only being I’ve ever heard held in less esteem is that quarrelsome fellow Merlin, the one banished for his treacherous conjurations.”
Even as Kaman spoke, Mordecai picked up a lyre and began lightly plucking on it. Out came the same lilting tune the bat had been practicing from his distant memory that morning, on the stalactapipe organ in his cave. The other players had already moved on (had fled, actually; the bat had that effect on people), leaving only Kaman to witness the impromptu and unlikely guest performance.
Kaman was astonished by the bat’s skill and tone. He noticed the creature strumming and picking notes on the lyre with surprisingly nimble fingers, using its thin and durable-looking whittled claws in a way that reminded him of the guitar picks he once owned aplenty (pity such outland ephemera was so scarce here in the City).
“You’re very accomplished,” Kaman marveled, his voice now tinged with both wonder and respect (two things Mordecai encountered so rarely that he did not recognize them as such). “Tell me; were you once a man, bat?”
“Yesss,” whispered Mordecai, still not taking his eyes of the lyre as he played. “Now, I bat man.”
The tune sparked within Kaman a budding recollection that only increased his curiosity about the musical creature. “I think I know that song. In my world, it’s an ancient standard of sorts. I remember my folks left me their record collection, and I played them on an old wind-up machine I found in the rubble of a shop. That song was on one of the albums.”
“Albums?” asked Mordecai, glancing back again at Kaman before picking up a set of pipes. Kaman was even further astonished when the bat put it to his leathery lips, commencing to produce some the most mellifluous, divine music the Freeman had ever been graced to hear.
Suddenly, just down the cobblestone sidewalk, the duo noticed the valkyrie Geirronul, a City Guardian well-known to both Mordecai and Kaman as a particularly just and honest constable. She was walking abreast of her golden winged horse and moving in the opposite direction, affixing a set of printed posters along the pathway and handing copies to passersby, all of whom seemed intrigued by its contents.
Kaman could see that each sheet featured a (quite accurate) rendering of Mordecai, accompanied by the announcement “Wanted: Dead, Alive, or Enchanted. By order of Apollo, For Egregious Crimes Against Existence.”
Beneath the illustration appeared a larger and even more ominous inscription (if such were possible): “Reward 3,000 Gold.”
None of this was missed by Mordecai, whose first thought was of the goddess Lamasthu. Who knows what punishment she’d mete out for having been so ignobled by her servant’s oh-so-public shame and notoriety?
Between frightened whimpers, the bat looked to Kaman with pleading eyes. “What is?! Why? Apollo has not authority to command my death, does he? Why would he so do?”
“I don’t know,” returned Kaman thoughtfully, “but he’s an elemental force to be reckoned with, even back where I come from. When my own ancestors finally succeeded in their longstanding mission, to ascend the heavenly realms, they did so in Apollo’s name, in his tribute and service.”
“Apollo mission,” worried Mordecai, glancing back at Geirronul and the lengthening row of Wanted posters now lining the boulevard. “Mission to kill Mordecai.”
In approximately that same instant, all who walked along the boulevard were turning their heads to stare at the bat, then at the reward poster, and then the bat again.
At the same moment, several bow-bearing cherubs were descending from the sky.
And then Apollo’s own unmistakably thunderous voice could be heard immediately behind them, shouting.
Mordecai’s attempted flight only carried him as far as the roof of a concourse gazebo, before being inundated on all sides by creatures and objects that flew at him with unmistakably deadly intent.
Apollo led the aerial assault of his minion cherubs from the ground, having enlarged his physical size well above the mortal throng. This rapid-growth “trick,” while perhaps tiring and unimpressive to peers who knew him well, nonetheless tended to impress (and frighten!) both tourists and libidinous witnesses at ground level who thrilled to peer up Apollo’s scanty tunic, at the otherwise undraped (and uncut) progenitor of a thousand pregnancies.
As often happens when gods and men commingle, mere mortals are dwarfed by the epic action and capricious disdain of the eternal beings in whose realm they dwell.
Even more disconcerting for Mordecai were the harpies flinging their stringy bodies at him, gnashing razorlined teeth at his exposed flesh. Like Lamasthu, Mordecai always had an affinity and fondness for the winged beasties, and had never run afoul of one. Truth to tell, he once attempted to mate with a harpy, seeing the similarly-built creatures as his most likely procreation partners in this world of myth and legend. It would have been an improvement over solitary nights spent playing whack-a-bat with his own swollen, spiky genitals.
Even a damned thing can want for companionship. His unrefined attempt at harpy courtship had failed, however, mainly due to physical incompatibilities. And now, the only thing THESE harpies wanted of him was a large enough chunk of his corpse to drop at the feet of Apollo, to collect the lavish reward.
With all this going on, Kaman found himself a mere bystander to the tumult, looking up at the epically one-sided battle with a mixture of relief (that he wasn’t targeted) and concern for a creature he’d long thought loathsome, but who had challenged his perception with such musical sensitivity and mastery.
Just down the winding boulevard, Kaman spotted the City Guardian Geirronul, who seemed fully aware of the nearby melee but was still posting the “wanted” posters.
“May I trouble you with a query?”
“Trouble is my duty,” the valkyrie replied with an authoritative tone.
“What Crime Against Existence has the bat creature committed?
“You haven’t heard?!,” Geirronul replied, genuinely surprised. “Apollo’s flying soldiers heard the bat at his cave while patrolling the great lake earlier today, using some unknown device to either reproduce or perform the most forbidden song on this side of existence! To so much as hum this terrible tune is to invite the pain of torture and death.”
“A song?!” Kaman asked, astonished. “But I understand Apollo is a deity entirely devoted to music, paid tribute by countless paeans of the Greeks and Romans! He’s a master musician himself, and has proved so in countless musical contests, using the magical lyre made for him by Hermes, has he not?”
“It was just such a battle of the bandolas that caused the song to be outlawed,” Geirronul said gravely. “Apollo once competed with one of his own sons, Cinyras. He badgered the youth for months, demanding he prove his prowess and display at least an apprentice mastership of that which has long ruled Apollo’s own life. Music.”
“Ah so,” recalled Kaman. “The son lost that contest, correct?”
“Yes, and in humiliation and resentment, the boy took his own life. The song was subsequently declared forbidden by the grieving god. Rather than look inward and bear the blame he deserved to shoulder, he instead cast the rhythmic composition as the true instigator of his son’s death.”
With this understanding came an unshakable inner resolution within Kaman, to HELP the poor besieged man-bat. He couldn’t help but feel that any creature with such a transcendent affinity for music couldn’t possibly be all hideous and evil.
Kaman withdrew from his travel kit a small oblong box, about the size of a shoe, holding it firmly with one hand while he waved the other in front of what looked like a hexagonal jewel embedded on its face.
It had been some time since he last wielded the device within the city limits. Only he knew the full power and capabilities of the technologically advanced relic from another world, and its secret was worth his very life. Kaman had learned quickly on his arrival that, in a land of magic and omnipotence, high technology was considered a tainted occult deviation not to be trusted.
As for anyone who blatantly wielded such technology in or near the City of the Gods, well, few deities would ever suffer such a powerful ungodly rival to live.
But this was an emergency; damn the risk of exposure. And with that resolve, still holding the box, Kaman was no longer standing on the boulevard sidewalk.
Instead, he was perched upon the selfsame gazebo roof on which Mordecai was pleading to all who’d listen (that is, nobody) to spare his life.
“How come you here?!”
“The box,” answered Kaman. “It comes from another place long ago, or rather far ahead. It can relocate anyone who touches it and thinks of a destination, transporting them bodily to any known place desired.”
“Talk not more!” Mordecai fairly shouted, grabbing the exposed side of the box just as an arrow grazed his head, painfully nicking a small piece of his ear clean off. “Use box NOW! We escape!”
“From your lips to the ears of a sympathetic god,” said Kaman.
Back at Mordecai’s stone cavern hideaway, the bat eventually calmed down enough to grant his rare (in fact, first) visitor a tour of his massive musical repository, including a demonstration of the majestic stalactapipe organ that left Kaman speechless and near to tears.
Finally regaining his voice, Kaman advised “Now that you know the music can be heard by fliers nearby, you’d best not play that forbidden song any more!”
“Yesss, but they not find cave. Hidden, it is, and the whole mountain sings.”
“Indeed, the hills are alive.” After sharing a hastily cobbled meal of blind cave fish and edible roots and berries from Kaman’s satchel, the two began to talk. Mordecai was still obsessing over the realization that, now, it was he who would be hunted.
At least until some appeasement or offering is made to convince Apollo to rescind the bounty. Being a fugitive from divine justice would make him all but useless to both Lamasthu and Namtar the slave trader.
“Oh, this bad. Very very bad.”
Kaman regretted having no worthy advice for his unlikely new friend. Late that evening, via the box, he returned to his rented flat in the bohemian district of the City of the Gods. He could only hope that nobody had recognized him during his brief appearance on the gazebo with Mordecai.
He’d been sincere in his promises to return to the Mayan Realm for more visits to Mordecai’s cave, and future musical jams with the bat’s breathtaking collection. But his assurances were ineffective in assuaging the bat’s immediate distress, nor could Kaman think of a way to further assist.
Many would (and do) say that a merciless kidnapper such as Mordecai fully deserved to be suffering the worst day of his entirely wretched life.
However, unfortunately for Mordecai, this was only the first of many predestined to be far, far worse.
Here's a peek at how the COTG illos are created, beginning with a breakdown provided by series artist Steve Crompton:
For my own Wanted: Mordecai illo, I took a large classical painting (ostensibly featuring Jesus, but finding him in there is like Where's Waldo) and isolated a small portion showing an open exterior with lots of sky, for the opening scene of the man-bat being attacked.
I airbrushed out some of the people to instead drop in Apollo from a different painting (carrying a lute provided by SS Crompton), some militant cherubs from another painting, and my own rendering of Mordecai based on some old stone gargoyle statures.
SS Crompton added some badass harpies, Atlas carrying a small moon (shrug), and buildings in the background from his own illos of the temples, statues, and pavillions that comprise the City of the Gods.
The artwork of Kaman and his minstrel band (built up around a small portion of the same Where's Waldo Christ painting) was compiled in the same manner, with SS Crompton then adding a new face for Kaman and Mordecia jamming.
There's a FREE full-color 32 page chapbook preview of the first novel you can download at http://www.drivethrufiction.com, and a downloadable PDF version of the entire book is available on the same site. Just search for City of the Gods Chapbook once you get there. The novel has gotten a lot of great reviews at Amazon.
Published by Raven Press, City of the Gods: Forgotten is available as a 310 page trade paperback or as an Amazon Kindle book. The Kindle version includes twenty full-page illustrations, and it's earned a lot of great reviews at Amazon.com.
Amazon page for Mythic Tales: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0983692912?ie=UTF8&seller=AMFDV8UO0N7A&sn=carnalcomics
Mythic Tales website with another sample chapter: http://www.mythictales.com
HOW TO POST YOUR OWN SHORT STORY AND/OR ART ON THE FICTIONWRITER BLOG:
User name: FictionChannel
(For now, contact me by clicking "FictionWriter" at page top, and I'll get you the rest of the log-in info)