Blood Eagle (part six)


Circomangkus photograph by Aleck Woad
Circomangkus photograph by Aleck Woad

(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)

…Apraxos stood motionless, his mask facing directly at Aleck. “Herald of evil, you will never leave here alive!”

Deep, heavy laughter emanated from the huge man on the couch, who also stared at Aleck from his frozen posture.

“Get the stuff!” shouted Akaz from below.

Aleck stood, weak-kneed. His body felt fragile. The Token must be taking its toll upon me. If he spat it out now, though, he would be killed — or worse. He wondered how it would feel to have his soul eaten.

Apraxos stood immobile, hunched and tensed as though ready to pounce. The Circomangkus, an intricate golden sphere, hung from a long chain around his neck. Spears from all directions floated towards Aleck on the air. Taking a deep breath, he ducked around them and ran directly up to Apraxos. He grabbed ahold of the amulet and whipped the chain, trying to flick it over Apraxos’s head. It caught under his hood. The pale mask smirked at him. The uniformed giant laughed on.

“You will never leave here alive!” boomed the amplified voice of Apraxos. With one hand he began gradually reaching towards Aleck, and with the other, for the amulet’s chain. Aleck tugged hard, and Apraxos toppled forward. Aleck jumped aside and let him drop. Apraxos shrieked behind his mask as his body rattled to a stop, rigidly perched on toes and fingertips. The sound echoed throughout the Circus, but as Aleck extracted the chain from the hood, Apraxos’s voice abruptly fell to normal volume. “Before I am finished, you will beg me for the release of death!” he screeched, face-down in his frozen posture, awkwardly propped on arms slowly collapsing.

Shivering with terror and weakness, Aleck hurriedly patted the sorceror’s robes. He felt nothing but heavy clothing and skeletal body. “Akaz, I can’t find the Skull!” he shouted.

Apraxos cackled. “I have sent it down to the House of the Watcher, whence you will never retrieve it!”

A rumbling voice came from the man attired in black. “Why don’t you kill us, boy, now that you have the chance?” He sat on the edge of his divan, smiling at Aleck.

“Don’t!” shouted Akaz. “Shut up, Goromath! Aleck, if you do anything more to them, it’s bound to backfire! Just get the rafts and get us out of here!”

“How can you all speak to me, when you can’t even move?” shouted Aleck, drooling around the Token. He felt like his knees would soon start to buckle.

General Goromath laughed. Holding the amulet, Aleck closed his eyes and visualized the rafts flying to him. He opened his eyes to see the rafts speeding towards the balcony: like the Herax he had kicked in the face, and like Apraxos when he fell, the rafts moved as fast as Aleck could. Warriors were flung off, to tumble slowly, like falling leaves; Nubiles were dragged through the air by their neck-chains. Blood Eagle stood his ground, leaning forward into the wind.

“No!” shouted Aleck.

Akaz and Goromath both laughed.

“What?” asked Apraxos, unable to see. He slowly began to turn over. “What are you laughing at?”

“No,” Aleck whined through clenched teeth, as he watched the warriors gradually descend.

“That bit of slapstick I must confess I did not expect,” laughed Goromath.

“There goes your tournament,” shouted Akaz from below.

Goromath laughed. “I had no attachment to any specific outcome,” he said, “beyond the general category of ‘entertaining bloodshed.’“

“I reckon you win, then,” said Akaz.

“Indeed,” replied Goromath.

“You’re still a piece o’ shit,” said Akaz.

“And you, an insolent cur,” replied Goromath.

“Whoop-dee-fuckin’-doo,” said Akaz.

“What is happening?” shouted Apraxos. “What has happened?”

“It looks like Blood Eagle is escaping,” said Goromath.

“Fool!” shrieked Apraxos. “You must kill him!”

“I shall do my best,” chuckled Goromath, making his first motions towards standing up. “But I fear I am at somewhat of a disadvantage, under the circumstances.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Aleck. He stopped the rafts in midair and sent them back, easily sweeping up all the warriors out of the air, lowering them to the stands, and tipping them gently off into the aisles. He kept Blood Eagle and the Nubiles.

“Such compassion!” laughed Goromath. “Boy, you are a questionable asset to your prophet’s military venture. I am now even less frightened of you than I was. Though I am well amused, and offer no complaint. Despite the lessening of the aforementioned bloodshed.”

Aleck stomped over to where Goromath reclined, stood craning over him, and drooled copiously onto his face.

“Faugh!” roared Goromath.

Aleck put his face up to Goromath’s and screamed as best he could around the Token without spitting it out, “Fuck you, you faffist fucking fuck!” He sprayed some.


That took the last of Aleck’s strength. Shaking with weakness and anxiety, he brought the rafts up to the edge of the balcony and climbed onto an empty one. Looking over the edge, he lowered his raft and scooped Akaz roughly onto it, the frozen wolf tumbling like a toy.

“We will destroy you!” shrieked Apraxos.

“Indeed,” growled Goromath.

“Fuckin’ kill you,” whined Aleck.

“To the river,” whispered Akaz….

table of contents

Blood Eagle (part five)


Token of Time Dilation photograph by Aleck Woad
Token of Time Dilation photograph by Aleck Woad

(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)

…On the raft stood a warrior in furs with a hatchet in each hand. Beside him knelt one of the Nubiles. She greeted Blood Eagle with a sultry, amplified “Hello” that resonated through the arena, provoking scattered laughter from the stands.

The warrior bashed her in the face with the butt of a hatchet, knocking her down. “Hey!” Aleck shouted, again wishing for a gun. She sat up, unharmed and chuckling. “Ick,” said Aleck. The crowd laughed again. “Ick.” Enraged, the warrior hurled one of his hatchets at Blood Eagle, who snatched it out of the air and flung it back. The warrior stumbled overboard, hatchet in his face. The raft swung towards Aleck and Akaz on its lazy arc.

“Fuck,” said Aleck.

“Do it now!” said Akaz, suddenly.

“What?” said Aleck. “Do what?”

“The thing, do the thing! The Token!”

“What?” said Aleck, then remembered the Token of Time Dilation. “Why don’t you do it?”

“Because of his Sovereign Shield!” snapped Akaz.

“Doesn’t that affect me, too?” asked Aleck.

“Nowhere near as bad as if I do it, shitforbrains!” Akaz snarled. “Now!”

Aleck frowned. He put the enchanted shell into his mouth and tasted the slow ocean. The world around him suddenly froze and fell silent. Dizziness overcame him, and he nearly spat out the Token to make it stop; but the Nymph’s warning returned to him: this was his one chance. He breathed deeply. The people around him, whom he had taken for motionless, moved almost imperceptibly with smooth, exquisite motion. Low humming surrounded him in the air, but no sound that he could properly identify.

“How do you feel?” asked Akaz.

“Hmmh?” asked Aleck, again almost forgetting not to spit out the Token. Akaz sat beside him, unmoving, his jaws hanging slightly open. His eyes of fire flickered quickly, like normal fire.

“I said, how do you feel?” came Akaz’s voice from his unmoving mouth.

Aleck shifted the Token into his cheek. “How can you talk to me?” he asked.

“I’m a magic dog,” said Akaz in a patronizing tone, motionless but for his eyes. “You don’t want to use that thing for too long. Go fetch the Circomangkus and get us out of here before you wear yourself out.”

“Fetch the what?” asked Aleck.

“The Circomangkus. That amulet Apraxos is wearing. It controls the magic of the Circus — the rafts, most importantly. Grab that thing and you can fly us out of here. And grab the damn Skull of Kaios while you’re at it!”

Aleck’s dizziness had passed. He found he kinda liked the taste of the Token after all. He ran up the stair alongside the balcony, past unmoving Herax guards, and hauled himself up onto the wall. A dozen Herax spearmen stood like statues around the perimeter of the balcony. Apraxos leaned out at the wall, fist raised. Aleck saw two broad divans, one of them occupied by an enormous man in a sharp black uniform. Aleck waited on the wall, hands in his pockets. Watching them all slowly turn to look at him, he realized the extent of the power of the Token.

The guard nearest him swung the butt of his spear towards Aleck’s legs. Aleck casually stepped over it. He debated with himself for a moment, then punted the Herax in the face. The guard toppled over swiftly, at Aleck’s rate of motion, landing with a thump in his spear-swinging pose; then, very slowly, he flattened out upon the floor.

Aleck watched the rest of the guards shift languidly into fighting stances. A heavy spear glided towards him, point-first, aimed expertly at the center of his chest. “Akaz!” he snapped, drooling a little as he spoke around the Token.

“What,” said Akaz from below.

Aleck wiped his mouth. “This pig is trying to kill me!” he said. “All I’m doing is standing on the wall, and he thinks it’s okay to just kill me!”

“He’s just doing his job,” said Akaz. “You’re trespassing.”

That hit a nerve. The Trespassers’ Club had almost been caught at times, but never impaled. “What the hell is wrong with this place?” said Aleck.

“It’s no different from Earth,” said Akaz.

That only made Aleck madder. Clenching his teeth, he stepped aside, lifted the spear out of the air, and turned it end for end. The Herax stood with his arm outstretched, still following through from his throw, lips parted in a fanged snarl. Livid, Aleck hopped down from the parapet. He nocked the tip of the spear between the soldier’s teeth.

“Fuck you, pig!” he shouted, and shoved on the haft with all his might. The Herax fell over backward, the wide spear-point emerging where neck met skull.

Aleck stood there, startled, watching in horror as the soldier’s blood flowed slow as honey across the tiled floor. A wave of anxiety swept through him, and suddenly he felt very weak. He looked around in a daze.

“Come on,” said Akaz. “Get the amulet. Get the Skull.”

“Anarchist!” thundered the voice of Apraxos, echoing throughout the arena.

Aleck jumped, nearly spitting out the Token. “What, you too?”

table of contents


Blood Eagle (part four)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)

Minister Apraxos digital sketch by Mike Bennewitz
Minister Apraxos digital sketch by Mike Bennewitz

“…The Givers preach heresies and raise up false prophets!” screamed Minister Apraxos. The crowd roared like a windstorm. “And who is the falsest of their prophets?”

The crowd chanted. Aleck couldn’t make out the phrase they were repeating.

“Yes, Blood Eagle!” said Apraxos. “Blood Eagle, who tried to unify the Givers of Fire and Flame, and failed!” The crowd cheered in agreement. “Blood Eagle, who perverted our sacred prophecy of the Cannibal-King, predicting a false savior that will never arrive! And who has led his forces against us, to no avail: behold!”

A flash and a puff of smoke, and alone on the sandy floor of the arena stood a huge, muscular, hairless man, covered in jagged patterns of red welts. He carried no weapons. A heavy muzzle of black leather hid the bottom half of his face.

The crowd went berserk with shouting and drums, chanting Blood Eagle! Blood Eagle! The warriors on the rafts danced with excitement. Aleck saw one of them knocked overboard; he tumbled down through the air and landed on a spectator. Both lay unmoving.

“Holy smokes,” said Akaz, “It really is Blood Eagle.”

“You know that guy?” asked Aleck.

“Sure,” said Akaz. “That’s auspicious. I told ya you had Weird Luck, kid.”

“How do you mean?” asked Aleck.

“What’s the chances of us just bumping into the Second Herald?” asked Akaz. “Poor guy. It looks like they cut out his brandings.”

“They what?” asked Aleck.

“Check him out,” said Akaz. “He used to have magical patterns branded all over his body.”

“Branded?” exclaimed Aleck, looking down at Blood Eagle.

“Yeah,” said Akaz. “Givers like fire. Branding gives them holy powers. Looks like Apraxos cut out his scars to rid him of his magic.”

Dumbfounded, Aleck looked back and forth in horror between Akaz and Blood Eagle.

“I bet it didn’t work,” Akaz laughed to himself.

Apraxos shouted again in his giant voice. “What shall we do with him?”

Aleck stared up at Apraxos, wishing he had somehow brought a gun with him from Earth. Not that he knew how to shoot.

The crowd chanted an unintelligible word over and over.

“What shall we do with him?” repeated Apraxos.

The crowd chanted, and Aleck realized they were shouting Troll, troll, troll.

A huge humanoid figure lumbered onto the arena floor. A giant cleaver and long knife hung from its belt; overlapping scales of rusty metal armor jangled with its bow-legged stride. Its gnarled arms swung low, scraping massive fists across the sandy ground. Towering over Blood Eagle, the troll brandished the cleaver over its head and opened its tusked jaws in a trumpeting roar.

“Dude,” said Aleck.

“Watch,” said Akaz.

Blood Eagle dove in close beside the troll, taking the knife from its belt as he ran past. He spun and chopped open the back of the troll’s leg. The troll screamed in surprise and turned around, staggering, falling heavily to one knee. Blood Eagle sliced the troll’s wrist, and the cleaver fell from its hand. It roared again. Blood Eagle shoved the knife in its eye to the hilt.

Aleck stared, awestruck. The crowd fell silent. The troll knelt in place, swaying slightly. Blood Eagle pulled the knife from its eye-socket and used it to cut the muzzle away from his own face. Then, tossing the knife aside, he hefted the massive cleaver and laid it deep into the troll’s throat. The troll toppled over backwards. Blood Eagle hauled the cleaver out of its neck and buried his face in the gaping wound. Silence hung over the Circus. Aleck blinked.

Blood Eagle looked up, gore streaming down his face and over his chest. The angry red wounds covering his body had suddenly healed to pale scars. He snarled, showing rows of pointed teeth.

The crowd burst into a thunderous mix of cheering and booing. Blood Eagle sprinted to the nearest wall of the arena.

“Here we go,” said Akaz, leaning forward.

Blood Eagle heaved himself up at the feet of a Herax soldier; as the Herax raised his spear to strike, Blood Eagle dodged in close and head-butted him in the face. Taking the dazed soldier’s spear, he stabbed him under the chin, pitching him down onto the arena floor like a shovelful of dirt. Aleck cheered along with the roar mixed of cheers and outrage from the crowd. Blood Eagle ran through the stands, knocking spectators aside with the spear. He came up under one of the flying rafts and used the spear to vault himself up….

table of contents

Blood Eagle (part three)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)

badluckring 2…They walked on. Aleck saw more crows. Halfway to the Circus, crude busts and statues appeared, crowning the columns running down the middle of the street. Every sculpture depicted a glowering warrior; some Herax, some Normal. As they proceeded, the sculptures increased in quality and, judging by their weathering, in age as well.

The crowd thickened and grew more excited as they got closer to the Circus. The noise of the bell-ringers thinned, gradually replaced by a new racket of small drums clattering in cacophonous rhythms. Hundreds upon hundreds of Normals and Shallow Ones strode towards a wide archway framed with garlands of black chains, while further hundreds of Diggers and Deep Ones squeezed into smaller gates at either side. Nearly everyone, it seemed, was tapping vigorously upon small, annoyingly loud hand-drums. Just outside the Circus, amid food and drink stands, Aleck saw two buildings facing one another across the street. One bore a huge sign reading GIVER DRUMS; the other, REAL GIVER DRUMS.

“How do we get in?” asked Aleck.

“Just sneak past the box office,” said Akaz.

“What about you? They allow giant dogs in the stands?”

“Nobody sees me if I don’t wanna be seen,” scoffed Akaz.



Bas-reliefs covered the outer wall of the Circus, depicting musicians, athletes, and figures that Aleck thought must be actors. He now saw that the chains draped around the main gates, partly obscuring the words CIRCVS OF BRIGHT SKILLS, were threaded with hundreds of charred skulls. Shuddering, he snuck past the box office. These motherfuckers gotta die, he thought.

The torch-lit hallway echoed with the clamor of a hundred aggressive little drums. Aleck kept his fingers tangled in the fur of Akaz’s neck, allowing himself to be led through the branching crowd. They went down tunnels, up stairways, and emerged into sunlight, halfway up one side of the arena. The drone of drums and cheering rose and fell like curtains of rain passing across a roof. Four Herax boats circled high overhead, while numerous small, rectangular rafts flew slowly around, swooping low over the stands. Several rafts carried small crowds of warriors: muscular Normal men garbed in all manner of clothing and armor, wielding a variety of weaponry. Many of them roared and waved their weapons around, clamoring for attention; others studied the uneven terrain of the arena floor. Displayed on the other rafts, each accompanied by a proud and preening fighter, were the Nubiles, smiling and waving, chained by the neck.

“Why the hell are the Nubiles smiling?” asked Aleck.

“They feed on other people’s pleasure,” said Akaz, “whatever form that pleasure takes, just like Apraxos feeds on any kind of suffering. I don’t know why they were crying when the Herax took them, since I’m sure the Herax were enjoying themselves. Maybe it took them a while to get used to it. Looks like they’ve acclimated now.”

The thought made Aleck sick.

“Gentlemen and underlings!” shrieked an enormous voice, startling Aleck. It seemed to come from everywhere at once. The crowd surged in response. “Now that we have our first five champions, let us pause before we watch them ravish their Nymphs. For behold: Today we strike a mighty blow against the Givers!”

Aleck recognized the magically amplified voice: Apraxos. He looked around. “Where is he?”

“Behind you,” said Akaz.

Aleck jumped, a pang of adrenaline coursing into his fingers. He turned and saw gaunt Apraxos standing on an elevated balcony, surrounded by Herax guards….

table of contents

Blood Eagle (part two)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)

Ifrit by Micaela Petersen
Ifrit by Micaela Petersen

…They crossed a cobblestone street. Clusters of plain, square booths sprawled at the foot of the Senate: the New Market of the Normal merchants. A clamor assaulted Aleck’s ears. Bell-ringers shouted over one another to attract customers, some of them wearing signs, swinging bells in both hands, or dancing with bells tied to wrists and ankles. A small crowd surrounded two men, arguing, both in long coats hung with a hundred little bells.

Aleck saw short, wiry Digger slaves, heavily laden, jostling one another to stay clear of browsing Normal shoppers. Merchants displayed racks of clothing, cases of jewelry, jars of spices. Walking past a table laden with fruit, Aleck shoplifted a black apple. Bell-ringers everywhere announced the Nubiles on display at the Circus.

“Come on,” barked Akaz over the din. He led Aleck through the crowds and into a huge gate in the Senate building. Aleck looked around for the Cook but couldn’t spot any crows. An enormous hall took up the entire bottom floor, sunlight streaming in through many tall, wide archways. In here was louder and even more crowded, and Aleck realized the booths outside were merely overflow. Several booths the size of small buildings had large church-bells continuously ringing atop them.

“This is hell!” shouted Aleck.

“What?” asked Akaz.

“Never mind,” shouted Aleck.

“What?” asked Akaz.

Aleck remembered a one-panel comic he had seen with a guy talking to a dog, saying: “Top of a house?”

To which the dog replies, “What?”

“Baseball’s greatest hitter?”

“What?” repeats the dog.

“Top of a house?” says the guy again.



Aleck musta learned the original “do ya think I shoulda said DiMaggio?” vaudeville gag from T.V. He chafed at the urge to recite the joke to Akaz — he felt sure he would already know it, but it’s always a goodie when told well, except of course to Billy who’s sick of it, but that doesn’t count — and then to describe the comic, which Akaz surely did not know. But such was impossible. Dammit. Fuck crowds. Fuck those goddamn bells.

Aleck followed Akaz around the less-crowded perimeter. They passed outside through one of the arches, exiting onto a wide, crowded street. A row of stone columns ran down the middle, supporting nothing. At the far end of the street, many blocks away, squatted the Circus of Burnt Skulls. Over it circled several Herax longboats; beyond, Aleck saw part of the wall marking the Zone of the Herax. Crowds poured down the street towards the Circus, urged on by more criers: announcing the Tournament for the Nubiles, or proclaiming the addition of something called Blood Eagle to the day’s festivities.

As they walked along the row of empty columns, Aleck noticed something strange over the Circus, distinct from the Herax boats: a small shimmer in the air, as from heat or smoke. He knelt down beside Akaz again, and petted him. “Good boy,” he said. “Good boy.”

“What the hell do you want now,” growled Akaz.

“What’s that thing hovering over the Circus?” he muttered, pointing with his chin.

Akaz looked up. “Boats, you idiot.”

“No, that shimmering.”

“Like a big candle flame?”


“Barely visible in the sunlight?”


“That’s an Ifrit,” said Akaz. “It’s not over the Circus, it’s behind the Circus. Floating above one of the guard-towers in the Herax wall. Look and you’ll see more of them.”

Aleck stood up. He thought he saw the Cook perched on the corner of a nearby building, but then he saw another oversized crow, and another. Our guy could be any of them. He frowned and looked into the distance. Running his gaze down the Herax wall, he saw something shimmering over every tower. He knelt again.

“What are Ifrits?” he asked.

“Fire spirits,” said Akaz. “Minor gods of the Givers. Apraxos captured them all a long time ago and trapped them in spheres of unmelting ice. Now they float over the towers in the Herax wall.”

“Unmelting ice?”

“Yes,” said Akaz.

“Why doesn’t it melt?” asked Aleck.

“It’s magic, goofus,” said Akaz. “It doesn’t melt.”

“What if it did?” asked Aleck.

“Then those Ifrits would go free and burn down the towers,” said Akaz. “And burn any Herax they could get their hands on.”

“So how do we do that?” asked Aleck.

“You wish,” said Akaz, with a fiery dog-smile. “C’mon.”

“Hell yeah I do,” said Aleck….

table of contents

Blood Eagle (part one)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)

Watcher, beware
The First Herald:
Running faster than wind,
He steals your nymphs.
He frees the Second Herald
From you even as you watch.

Watcher, beware
The Second Herald,
Destined to serve the King.
Fast as fire,
He feeds upon your children
In your own home.

— ­from “The Song of the Heralds”
by Kaios the Summoner

Aleck and Akaz walked along the river, through the market of the Shallow Ones. The carved wooden booths grew more ornate as they progressed, though the food and objects for sale still looked much the same to Aleck. With the Nymph gone, the Cook stayed near, hopping from one booth’s roof to another. In the distance, Aleck saw the Senate with its tall spires.

“There’s one thing I don’t get,” said Aleck.

General Goromath sketch by Andrew M. Reichart

“Make it quick,” muttered Akaz. “That robe may make you innocuous, but a talking dog draws attention.”

“Isn’t it risky for me to do this?” Aleck asked. “What you said about endangering my future self….”

“Old Aleck told me this is how it happened when he was your age,” said Akaz. “When he was you. So long as we stick to the script, we know it works out. Also, a little audacity should bring out your luck.”

“What?” asked Aleck.

“Fortune favors the bold,’“ said Akaz, “as Kaios used to say.”

“But what if I slip on a banana peel and break my neck, like you said? At the Circus?”

“Well duh, you still gotta watch where the hell you step,” said Akaz.

“What?” asked Aleck.

“Don’t take Lady Luck for granted, not for a second, I’m telling you,” growled Akaz.

“But that doesn’t make any sense!” said Aleck. “You’re telling me to be reckless and careful at the same time!”

“No,” hissed Akaz. “Think. It’s two different things. Even if you have a destiny, your fate is still of your own making. Now shut up.”

Aleck walked along in silence through the crowd, confused and fuming, continuing the argument in his head. Goddamn asshole shit-for-brains gibberish-talkin’ dog. Akaz stayed close, his nose occasionally to the ground or sniffing the air. The market crowd thickened, but no one took particular notice of them. Again and again Aleck observed Shallow Ones harassing Deep Ones, then turning to pander to their Normal customers, illustrating the power dynamic Akaz and the Nymph had described.

As they neared the Senate, Aleck realized it stood far larger than he initially thought, straddling the entire river on immense stone pilings. Wide streets ran into it through huge, gaping archways. Although its massiveness impressed him, its design seemed unremarkable, even bland: stark gray walls rose smoothly into tapering towers. After a moment he realized there were no windows anywhere.

He knelt and petted Akaz as though he were his own dog. “The Senate building is huge,” he said.

“That’s where the Normal and Shallow One merchants divide their spoils,” muttered Akaz.

“It looks like a prison,” said Aleck. “What about the Herax?” asked Aleck. “Do they meet there, too?”

“Goromath has a seat in the great hall,” said Akaz, “but as far as I know, he rarely goes there. When he does he usually sleeps.”

“But how does he make sure they’re doing what he wants them to?”

“The Senate is happy with the status quo,” said Akaz. “That’s what’s making them rich. Now and then someone with different priorities tries to oppose Goromath, but not for long.”

“How do you mean?” asked Aleck.

“Sometimes he’ll straight-up kill them on the Senate floor,” said Akaz. “That’s always exciting. He did it a few times when he took over. That kept them in line for a few hundred years, but lately there’s been some dissent, and he’s doing it again.”

“Whoa,” said Aleck.

“Yeah, a few douchebags think they can use my rep for some cheap P.R., and attach my brand to some toothless reformist bullshit as their medium of self-aggrandizement. Fuck ‘em. Fucker’s saving me the trouble of killing them myself.”

“Didn’t understand a word of that,” said Aleck.

“Point is that I hate every last motherfucker in the building,” said Akaz. “I shed no tears when Goromath shakes one by the neck like a dog with a rag-doll.”

“Still,” said Aleck. “Harsh.”

“Come on,” said Akaz….

table of contents

The Nymph of the Shrine (part twelve)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)

Shallow One sketch by Mike Bennewitz
Shallow One sketch by Mike Bennewitz


…The Shallow Ones looked, to Aleck, identical to the Deep, except for their attire and the missing gill-fronds; their skin varied along the same spectrum of blues and greens. Many wore lavish garments resembling tangles of loose silk ribbon, which Aleck could envision flowing beautifully underwater; others wore ornamented robes and jackets. The Shallow merchants of Riverside Market had much more elaborate booths than the Deep Ones of the bay side, including many permanent structures of carved wood. Aleck thought he saw the very same ornaments and seafood for sale, however. Paying twice as much for the same shit, I’m sure, thought Aleck, just ‘cause it’s on a shelf instead of a blanket, and the clerk has a Sambo outfit.

Most of the shoppers here were Normals. “The Normals look like Earthlings,” said Aleck. “Even more than the people at Corpsewater.”

“Aye,” said Akaz. “Except they’re all fat.”

The Nymph shot Akaz a dirty look, but Aleck noticed that most of the Normals did indeed look a little chubby. “Why is that?”

“Diggers and Deep Ones do all the work,” said Akaz. “Normals just eat and gossip and buy things they don’t need.”

Aleck considered this. “Why aren’t the Shallow Ones fat, too?”

“They have more dignity,” said Akaz.

“Bigoted cur,” grumbled the Nymph.

As Aleck looked around, he noticed fat Shallows and skinny Normals, but he didn’t feel like arguing.

A stone bridge crossed the mouth of the river, with a freestanding archway marking the entrance to it. The Nymph stopped and stared at the sculpted arch. Aleck saw bas-reliefs of creatures resembling squid and octopi, interwoven with images of women with tentacles for arms and legs.

“I can go no further,” said the Nymph. “Whether you are able to free them or not, meet me in Billycutter’s Tunnel, as soon as you can.”

“Huh?” asked Aleck. “I thought we were sneaking into the Circus!”

“I cannot go with you. I cannot long survive, so far from home as that.”

“What?” asked Aleck. “Wait, no, that sucks.”

The Nymph took a talisman from a pocket in her robe and handed it to Aleck: a seashell with a tiny hole drilled through it and faint, indecipherable carvings upon its inner surface. “Kaios called this his Token of Time Dilation,” she said. “He fashioned it when he was young. If you hold it in your mouth, you will move a hundred times more swiftly than the world around you.”

“I was wondering what happened to that,” growled Akaz.

“Whoa,” said Aleck. “Are you serious? With this and a robe, I could steal anything from anywhere.” He motioned to put it in his mouth.

“Stop!” said the Nymph. “You must only use it once; only once ever, and for no longer than a few moments.”

“How come?” asked Aleck, crestfallen.

“The Token is dangerous,” she said. “Your mortal body cannot long withstand its power. Overuse will age and wither you.” She plucked a blue-green hair from her head and threaded the Token onto it.

“Have you used it?” asked Aleck.

“Yes,” said the Nymph. “Twice. And even though I am immortal, the second time so weakened me that Apraxos was able, then, to trap me in the Bay.” She tied the Token around Aleck’s neck and kissed him on the mouth, then slipped off her robe and handed it to him. The Nymph pointed her finger in Akaz’s face. “No killing,” she said.

Akaz laughed. “I promise no such thing.”

The Nymph scowled at him, then looked at Aleck. “Please,” she said. “No killing, not even a Herax.” She turned and dove into the river.

Aleck realized after a few moments that he had been staring after her. He glanced to see if Akaz had noticed.

Akaz stared at the river….


table of contents

The Nymph of the Shrine (part eleven)


Deep one sketch by Mike Bennewitz
Deep one sketch by Mike Bennewitz

(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)


…As they got closer, Aleck realized the men’s green beards were actually elaborate fronds dangling from their gill-like noses. The Deep Ones had long, webbed fingers and toes, and wore nothing but shell jewelry and fish-skin harnesses hung with bone tools. Aleck felt uncomfortably scrutinized by their huge eyes.

“That’s a good-looking dog,” said one of them, in a languid accent.

“Uh, thanks,” said Aleck, trying to hurry past without seeming rude.

“Nice scars,” said the Deep One. “You get them in a fight?”

“No, car crash,” said Aleck. “Uh, I gotta go, man, later.”

“You should walk slow,” called the Deep One after them. “Hurrying in the morning is bad luck, little Drownder.”

They walked past knots of Deep Ones chatting around displays of miscellaneous objects. Aleck saw tools, jewelry, and ornaments carved from bone and shell, arranged upon blankets or bare ground. Soon they approached the first of the booths. A wide, open-sided tent of blue silk billowed in the wind from the bay; beneath it, low wicker tables lay heaped with bizarre fish and seafood. Aleck saw fully-dressed Deep Ones paying in metal coin and staggering away under the weight of large baskets. More booths clustered beyond.

“Who are the guys with pants on?” asked Aleck.

“Servants of the Normals,” said Akaz.

“Are any of these Shallow Ones?” asked Aleck.

“These are all Deep Ones,” said Akaz.

“Shallows lack the gill-fronds,” said the Nymph.

“They’re a different species?” asked Aleck.

“No,” said Akaz. “They hack them off.”

Aleck winced. “Can they still breathe water?”

“A bit,” said Akaz.

“Just ‘a bit’? Why the hell do they do it, then?” asked Aleck. “Does it hurt?”

“They prefer to more closely resemble the Drownder tribe of the Normals,” said the Nymph. “They believe doing so will make them happy.”

“Sounds insane,” said Aleck.

“No shit,” said Akaz. “Look, enough amphibian anthropology. We’ve got Nubiles to find.” The crowd around them thickened. They heard criers ringing bells in the distance. “How did they take them?” asked Akaz.

“With nets,” said the Nymph.

“What?” asked Akaz. “Why didn’t they just turn to water and flow through the mesh?”

“Apraxos carried the Skull of Kaios,” said the Nymph. “He tamed them into solid form. Did you know the Skull has been broken in halves?” she asked.

“Yeah,” muttered Akaz. “I hope we can still use it. If we can even retrieve it.”

“Use it for what?” asked Aleck.

“I hope you neither obtain nor use it,” murmured the Nymph.

Akaz ignored her. “Old Aleck and I need it for our project,” he said to Aleck.

“Why don’t we just go get it now,” said Aleck, “while we’re saving the Nubiles?”

“We’ll see,” said Akaz. “I hope we can. But it’s not going to be that easy. They’re probably in the Herax Zone by now.”

“So?” said Aleck. “What about the robes?”

“The robes make the wearer innocuous, not invisible,” said the Nymph.

“We could get into the Herax Zone by way of the tunnels under the city,” said Akaz, “but even with robes, I don’t know how you’d get out. Keepers don’t just wander freely around the Herax Zone, climbing in and out of tunnels.”

An approaching bell-ringer called: “Nymphs of the Shrine at the Circus today! Nymphs of the Shrine on display!”

“Well, there ya go,” said Aleck. “Weirdlucky, no?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Akaz.

The Nymph stood weeping with her face in her hands.

“He means that stadium you showed me this morning?” asked Aleck.

“The Circus of Burnt Skulls,” said Akaz. “A lot easier to get into than the Zone of the Herax, but again, I don’t know how we’d get back out. It’ll be full of Herax, and we’ll be dragging a herd of giggling Nubiles.”

“Nymphs of the Shrine,” cried the bell-ringer, “Nymphs on display! Come to the Circus today!”

“Where is it?” asked Aleck.

“Up the river,” said Akaz, gesturing with his snout….


table of contents

The Nymph of the Shrine (part ten)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)

What Aleck thinks of when he hears the words "Reality Patrol.”
What Aleck thinks of when he hears the words “Reality Patrol.”

“…There’s more to it,” said Akaz.

“So spill the beans!” said Aleck.

“I didn’t want you to know,” grumbled Akaz, “because if you meet them, there’ll be trouble. Something could happen to you and change their past. And, on top of that, the Reality Patrol might notice such a paradox, and you definitely don’t want them to show up.”

“‘Reality Patrol,’“ said Aleck.

“They bust people,” said Akaz, “who do things like try to meet their future selves.”

“There’s a ‘Reality Patrol’?” asked Aleck.

“Worst case scenario, you could even trigger a pan-dimensional Train Wreck.”

“‘Train wreck,’“ whispered Aleck.

“That’s what happens when you stretch the membrane between the worlds to the breaking point. Crossing or looping too many lines of Fate — like meeting a goddamn version of yourself from another time, for example, or from a parallel dimension.”

“What’s the ‘train wreck’ part?” asked Aleck.

“A big frickin’ mess is what,” said Akaz. “Gates popping open like holes in Swiss cheese, all sorts of motherfucking things jumping in and out of them. I’ve been in a Train Wreck, and I don’t aim to repeat it.”

“Whoa,” said Aleck. “Okay, okay.”

“Come along!” said the Nymph, turning and continuing down the strand towards the markets. Aleck and Akaz followed.

“The way it is now,” said Akaz, “we know you grow up into Old Aleck and come back here. If something changes the course of your life, you might not come back. We can’t have that. We need him.”

“What for?” asked Aleck. “What’s he doing here?”

“That’s what I’m telling you!” said Akaz. “I can’t tell you or it’ll skew things! Deviate from your destiny, you slip on a banana peel and break your neck, and he disappears like was never here — because he wasn’t. And I need him.”

“That could happen whether I run into him or not, though,” said Aleck. “I could die a year from now, back in New Jersey, in my bathtub.”

“But you don’t,” said Akaz. “We know that. Your future self is here.”

“So what do we do?” asked Aleck.

“My first choice was, ‘Don’t tell the kid,’“ said Akaz, glowering at the Nymph. “Because who knows how that knowledge is going to affect you now. I bet this very moment you’re thinking you can meet them anyway, and it won’t turn into a disaster.”

“No I’m not!” said Aleck, too hastily. He paused. “Where are they?” he asked.

“See?” sneered Akaz. “He’s off somewhere quiet, finishing his book, and wherever he is, you’re not going.”

“He’s writing a book? I mean, I’m gonna write a book?”

“Yeah,” said Akaz. “A guidebook to the city. That’s what he came back in time for.”

“Why?” asked Aleck.

“Look, how about you focus on making sure you don’t run into him,” said Akaz as they caught up to the Nymph.

“He should have a Keeper robe,” said the Nymph.

“What’s that?” asked Aleck.

“The Keepers of the Archive,” said the Nymph, indicating her nondescript gray clothes, “enspell their garments with a charm of innocuousness.”

“The who what’s their what with a what?” asked Aleck.

The Nymph pulled her hood up and walked to the edge of the water. Aleck stared at her.

“Wait, tip of my tongue,” he said. He turned to Akaz. “What was I about to say—?”

“Beats me,” said Akaz, laughing.

“What’s so funny?” asked Aleck. He looked up and down the beach. “Hey, wasn’t your friend here?”

“Who?” said Akaz.

“I forget…” said Aleck.

“Then how the hell am I supposed to know who you’re talking about?” laughed Akaz.

“Your underwater friend!” snapped Aleck. “She was just here! Wait, who’s that?” He pointed at the Nymph.

“That’s just one of them Keepers,” said Akaz. “They’re harmless, everyone knows that.”

“Who are they?” asked Aleck.

“Monks,” said Akaz. “Scholars.”

“Oh,” said Aleck. He stared at the Nymph. She turned around, pulled back her hood, and started walking back to them. “Hey!” said Aleck. “There you are!” He made a face. “Wait, what the hell just happened?”

Akaz laughed.

“The robe is magic, as I described,” said the Nymph. “It makes its wearer innocuous.”

“Holy smokes,” said Aleck. “You could shoplift watermelons with that thing.”

“Speaking of which,” said Akaz, “here’s the market.”

Up ahead, Aleck saw a walkway of weatherbeaten old boards. A handful of green-bearded men with blue-green skin sat there talking.

“Watch out for spies,” said Akaz, shrinking to the size of a german shepherd. “And watch out for Old Aleck. You see him, you just walk the other way. I’m serious.”

The Nymph put up her hood. Now that he knew, Aleck could keep track of her, with effort; but the magic of the robe continuously tried to omit her from his awareness….


table of contents