The Dead Held Hands
The Temple of the Exploding Head
Starfarers and explorers, the League settled on Kana thousands of years ago. They found it to be a paradise, a perfect, virtually uninhabited planet waiting just for them in the cradle of space.
Lovely Kana … it was too good to be true …
But, all was not as it seemed. Simmering beneath the ground was a demented god who had soaked Kana in blood for untold ages, luring in victims, lying to them, and rejoicing in their suffering as they died at the hands of his dark angels.
And there will be blood again … From his Temple in the ground, the Horned God stirs.
When Lord Kabyl of Blanchefort, a young man troubled by the weight of the world, dares give his heart to a girl from a mysterious ancient household, one that pre-dates the League itself, he comes to know the shadows of the past that hover over her.
He comes to know of the Horned God, and for love he is destined to face him. All roads lead to the Temple of the Exploding Head, a place of evil and death, rooted in the ancient past, but also tied to the distant future.
“We were evil once,” she said, “and the gods are still punishing us…”
Lost in the Fog, Part 1
The Ripcar fell through the heights in a mad half-roll. The pilot surely was either dead at the controls or suicidal. As the ground approached, the Ripcar leveled out, spun once or twice and set down on the flatlands, gentle as a baby.
Lady Hathaline adjusted the controls and the Ripcar’s motor revved a bit before settling into a more sedate, idle condition. After all that wind and commotion, Hath’s red hair, a molten river, seemed hardly out of place.
Kay’s hair, on the other hand, was a mess. He ran a hand through it to salvage a bit of order and popped his hat on. He jumped out.
Four days since Sam had disappeared. Kay could not handle it anymore. He needed answers.
“Thanks for the ride, sis,” he said. “I appreciate it.” He reached into the back and got his CARG, which he saddled into place at his hip.
Typically a quiet kid, Hath simply smiled back at him. Her blue Ripcar coughed a little in the warm air. Her name ‘HATH’ was spelled out in glittery letters across the hood.
Kay looked around at the lonely landscape. “I shouldn’t be too long, but I’m told that it’s best to do this alone. The city of Blue Pierce isn’t far to the north. Why don’t you get some lunch and then come back for me later.” Kay checked his timepiece. “It’s ten bells; can you come back for me at twelve bells? I should be done by then. That ok with you?”
Hath nodded and held out her hand.
“Oh,” Kay said. He reached into his coat and pulled out a small moneybag. “Here, use what you need.”
Hath took the money and pointed at Kay’s timepiece. She asked a question.
“No, thank you, I don’t want anything. Go on, have some fun, but don’t forget about me, right? Twelve bells.”
She then grabbed the controls and hauled the rumbling Ripcar into the sky, tearing off to the north, its shiny blue panels looking like a bluebottle fly as it climbed skyward.
Wow, she could pilot a ship. Sixteen years old and look what she was doing. Kay was a bit envious.
With Hath now miles away, Kay took stock of his situation. He was standing alone on a warm flatland, grassy and somewhat forlorn. Far away to his left was the long green line of the Great Armenelos Forest, stretching back for thousands of miles. Every so often, a high-flying vessel came down into the forest, no doubt heading for the Zenon city of Armenelos, which was at the tangled heart of the forest.
To his right were the rolling, bubbly scallops of Remnath with its gentle hills.
Dead ahead was a towering wall of churning fog like a great bag of cotton perpetually draped over the landscape. The fog rose sharply from ground level, up into the heights where it flattened out like an anvil several thousand feet up.
Occasional flashes of lightning back-lit the fog in strokes of cherry red. At the very center of this morass was Lake Monama, the largest lake on Kana, going southward for a thousand miles until it ran into the southern Sea of Elder.
Somewhere on the shores of this imposing lake was Castle Astralon, Sam’s home—a place he had never been to or seen. He was going to plunge into the fog, find the castle and talk to Sam. He needed answers.
He started walking south, into the fog. It wasn’t like any fog he’d ever seen before. It had a definite boundary between clear, warm air and dank impossible murk.
The billowing clouds within the boundary rotated in a slow counter-clockwise movement.
He reached the edge, took a deep breath and entered.
Immediately, day changed to a shapeless darkness. He was instantly lost.
What was he thinking? How far was it to the lakeshore? He knew Sam’s home was foggy, but he hadn’t expected this. What had Sam told him once, that bright light hurt her eyes? That she could see much better in muted light? Those black eyes of hers were, no doubt, able to see perfectly in this soup.
His lackadaisical attitude toward planning this trip was clear. Sarah would have carefully scouted out such a mission and would have been fully prepared.
He turned to go back the way he came.
More fog. More murk. After just a few steps, he was hopelessly lost. Kay unsaddled his CARG and shined it about. Its silvery light was pinned in by the fog, creating little more than a fitful halo around its shaft. He fought the urge to panic, to lose all sense of decorum and dignity and start screaming for help.
He had to relax. This was Sam’s home. She was here somewhere. Revel in her goodness.
Yes, but Sam had told him outsiders weren’t welcome. She had never let him come down to the lake, had never invited him. Though this was Sam’s home, it was an utterly hostile place.
He paused and knelt to the ground to collect his thoughts. He couldn’t be far from the edge. It had to be near.
Calm. Be calm.
Slowly getting hold of himself, he heard the faint but steady flow of voices moving along the ground. It was Monamas talking to each other in Anuie and in another tongue that he didn’t know. Just like Sam could speak to him in the chapel, here they used their abilities in place of technology.
He listened intently, and a pair of voices became clearer and clearer though the chatter. It was definitely Anuie.
You forgot to pack my lunch again, bitch!
Call me that again, and I’ll slice you in two right here and now! I’m in no mood.
Come on, hurry up! I want to be in the Elder city by late day! We’ve no money to feed our children or ourselves, or have you forgotten?
I’m pulling as fast as I can! You need to get these wheels fixed. They stick.
We don’t have the money to fix the wheels, dumbass! You know I should have sold you to the arena on Hoban years ago!
Yes, and the first person I would have fought and killed there would have been you, slor-mouth! Now make yourself useful and get out here and help me pull!
I don’t pull the cart, remember? You pull the cart! That’s what you do, you pull the cart! Now put your back into it before I pull my finger and unleash a fart!
The voices began laughing. They seemed to be coming from somewhere just ahead. Kay stood and moved in that direction.
Something massive appeared in the fog as a great, darker patch, conical and rumbling along the ground. It was a transport of some kind, about three stories tall and sixty feet long, craggy and hissing with steam issuing from geared engines strapped at the top. As it approached, lights mounted to its side blinked. Squinting, Kay could make out faded, once gaudy writing on the side of the transport:
The Amazing Clatera & Wife—Fortune-teller Extraordinaire: Fates Thwarted, Mysteries De-Mystified and Pleasures Explored.
The transport had eight spindly wheels, each at least twelve feet in diameter, spinning on delicate axels. Harnessed at the front of the transport by a single heavy chain, dwarfed by its mass, was a barefoot Monama woman. She was leaning in the harness, bending over, apparently pulling the massive transport all by herself across the ground. She dug in and set herself with each step.
Kay watched the odd procession go by; then, he called, “Hello!” with his hand cupped against his mouth.
What was that?
Who’s out there?
The woman stopped pulling and stepped out of the chain where it fell to the ground with a heavy clink. She went to the transport and drew out a massive, spiked club from a sheath, wielding it with one hand. She sniffed the air and instantly locked on to Kay.
It’s a bloody Elder! she said.
What’s an Elder doing in here? Sniff again! Your nose is as wrong and used up as your twat!
She took a deep breath. Smells like an Elder to me. Smells like a rich one, too. It’s a male, he’s recently bathed, and he’s wearing scented oils of some sort. Huzzah!
I smell silver on him!
He’s bathed? He’s got Silver? He can’t be a damn Calvert then; they rarely bathe, and they never have money. Maybe he’s from Zenon or Remnath. Maybe we’ve lucked onto our first customer of the day! What in the name of the gods are you doing?
Get yourself prettied up in case he wants to screw! I’m coming down!
The woman sighed. I’m too tired to screw! I’ve been pulling this cart for hours!
You pull the cart. You screw the customers, while I bring you the customers, got it? She put her club back in its place and disappeared around the back of the transport.
About the Author
Ren Garcia is a Science Fiction/Fantasy author and Texas native who grew up in western Ohio. He has been writing since before he could write, often scribbling alien lingo on any available wall or floor with assorted crayons. He attended The Ohio State University and majored in English Literature. Ren has been an avid lover of anything surreal since childhood, he also has a passion for caving, urban archeology and architecture.