The role of god is a maddening twenty four hour experience complete with overtime and few rewards. A job where there is no clocking out, no in house psychiatric care and no chance of early retirement. When the thing in the big chair loses the plot, whose job is it to save the world?
afford to empathise, not when they’re at war.
The tale Hara’s pen delivered took hold of her imagination, eliciting
her lips and tongue to dance its magic, a growing magic, a story-spell of
Gaia’s words, each and every syllable tumbling out, growing bold. To the
examining therapist, the old woman had merely retreated to a safe place. “It’s
not every day that someone you trust scuppers your rehabilitation with a flask
of alcohol, but the police have been informed.
We will protect you, O.K?” No one could see Gaia’s arcane
language break and grind the walls of her residency into nothingness.
Up and down the halls she shuffled,
paper clutched in hand, mumbling through a strange narrative, the setting
stranger still, a telling populated by a warrior and lowly street conjurer.
A scaly monster the size of a jet plane threatening the both of
them. She came to rest in her room, legs
needing rest whilst her mouth garbled on. The croaky tones of Hara
Carroll ‘Earth Shaman’ reverberated throughout the solitude of her chamber,
filling it with sounds understood by hidden vermin, but no one else.
Inside the inner sanctum of her brain, images of Mother Nature’s story burst to
life, a report intended for her runaway idol:
With an almighty slash, Ungumpo sent his axe through the great lizard’s
head, cleaving its flesh and skull.
“Po!” The warrior roared, before
wind-milling his weapon, flicking reptile blood at walls, painting the
treasure-strewn ground in sickly yellow sludge. The monster was finally
dead; Ungumpo could leave the cave.
He had spent too long in that musty
place – surely the bleakest in all of the Oma – and with strength renewed, he
marched his way out of the rocky belly of the world. The village chief
had journeyed underground days ago, taking only his battle axe and his wits
into the earth. Now, he held a new treasure in his grasp: an egg the size
of a tribesman’s head. He cradled his reward with great care, for he had
not trudged all this way to have his prize smashed, leaving Po’s villagers with
nothing to eat once more.
The flatlands of Un and the violet
Mirror Mountains that stood beyond Ungumpo were awash with cobalt light, a
light so dazzling that it stung his eyes. He was topside again,
reacquainted with the splendour of a remote and ceaseless landscape, his snout
drawing in clean air. Subterranean mouldiness all but forgotten. He
caught himself immediately, and chastised his foolish daydreaming. There
is no time for this! Ungumpo increased the width of his step and budged
his focus away from the tranquillity and quiet majesty of his dominion.
And that was when he noticed it. Had he been so tired that his instincts
had not alerted him to the nonsense? Sure, the cerulean rays beamed down and
the odd feathery Earth Sprite would cross his route, as always. The
occasional eye of a divinity unlocked in the heavens, spying down with jealous
hungry thoughts, but the wind? Where had she gone? The warmth of the valley was
present, but there was no gale to shift it.He wiped his brow as his ears pricked up.
He listened intently for the gusts of Un. Not a blow. Not a
whistle. No slight breeze at all.
“Bow to us and you will live forever.”
The familiar calling from the North, vanished without trace. Ungumpo
scanned around the horizon, battle ready. Magic and its makers
were about. He became hushed inside, breathing deeply.
Controlled. A warrior must beware of the inconsistencies in
Despite the strangeness of the land,
the chieftain’s trek home was not at all treacherous. There were many
distractions – beasts and enemies to be slain for sport – but nothing compared
to his recent quest. Sprites – not the most intelligent game – would
scamper a distance before a turn to observe their predator, to see if they were
still being shadowed. This morbid curiosity proved to be their downfall.
Sprites might taste like rotten egg, but to a fighter Dilf such as
Ungumpo, food was merely fuel for the next aggressive encounter.
Unarguably it was the fourth tenet of Po, “Live for the hunt, eat for
the battle”, that knocked him off course and into the tall grass of
the wild. There, deep within the dried undergrowth, Ungumpo netted and
ate no less than eight Sprites. The orange feathers of these icy
fleshy treats entwined within his coarse beard. Now, with his hunger sated,
he snuffled his snout, tracking the weather lashed scent of his cart. He
waded in its direction, splashing his way back, heaving himself through
marshland, trying vainly to recollect the last time the choral winds of Un
betrayed their relation to the grasses.
Every reed so still. Unnatural. When he was but a few paces
from his wagon, he froze. There stood an old man. Grey
in garments, his skin pallid and pock-marked. An
unremarkable, colourless imp, thought Ungumpo. In his right hand
the old man held a dark fire cane. A magician, then.
“Hello Ungumpo.” The old man stretched
out his free hand as he spoke. Ungumpo released his axe from his
“Away!” Ungumpo growled, baring his
fangs and stroking his deadly cleaver, still speckled with flaking
viscera. Dilfs advertise their kills.Weapons are never swabbed!
“I mean you no harm. My main
trade is farming, but I’ve come by a tarn. Would you care to look
“Are you deaf?” His paws tightened
round the hilt.
“No need for violence, Ungumpo! No
need! Look, see – my tarn, it’s just over there.” The pauper pointed with his
fire cane, the free-flowing flames dancing in the direction of a clearing.
There was a small pool of water there. It shimmered. Its
“I have no interest in your
The man in grey tried to mask an
expression of hurt. “Just one look? What you find beneath its waters will charm
you. Sights to make you happy.”
“I am happy!” Ungumpo roared. Without
thinking, and with his eyes firmly fixed on the dancing light of the magician’s
tarn, Ungumpo broke the shell of his egg with one enormous paw. Some of
the gooey yoke spilt onto his chest. This egg was supposed to
last for the entire winter. He stared down at his shame-matted
“One can always be happier.
Wouldn’t you agree?” The elderly fellow patted his stomach.
Ungumpo didn’t know how to answer. He silently looked down at his
paw, examining the sticky mess there. This thief-mage was naught but a
pauper, a beggar, seeking to trick him with cheap conjuring tricks. He
may have halted the winds briefly, but this temporary feat would come to
“All right,” announced Ungumpo, “I’ll
attend your puddle. But first, food! Conjure us a banquet! Refuse me and
I shall devour you whole, and without the cooking!”
“All as you say. Let’s travel to my
cottage. It isn’t far.”
“I’m not stupid little man,” Ungumpo
stroked his axe. “Me? Follow a magic man to his home? I think not! Use your craft
to summon me eggs. Use it now or I’ll tear, I’ll rip. I’ll drain
your body of all its blood!”
“As you insist.” The old man produced a
small lizard totem from his tatty folds. He placed it on the ground and
the both of them stood waiting.
They waited a good long while.
The silence of the land unnerved
Ungumpo as they waited and waited and waited, still. Seemingly, they
would wait forever. An eternity of a pause for them … until … tired of
the delay, the mighty Dilf warrior raised his weapon just as the man in grey
announced, “It begins!”Lightning struck the ground a great
distance away, and the creatures in the sky flocked out of it. The
Martletts, the Spows, the Griffins; all winged life flapping for welfare in the
tall grass of the marshland. The old man’s dark fire cane began to smoke,
and the guff was vivid yellow, the colour of lizard blood. The fume
spread up into the atmosphere, and Ungumpo watched the buttery miasma smoulder
and swirl. It morphed, reshaping itself into a greener form, a fiend the
village chief thought he’d sent to the underworld. The monster’s one
terrible eye, flashed ruby red, fixated on him. Ungumpo released a paw
from his axe reaching for the spice pouch on his belt. He rubbed the
pungency under his schnozzle, inhaled slowly, and clamped the hilt with both
paws once again. Down dived the creature, an imposing bulk, angling for
the spot where Ungumpo stood. The Great Lizard wailed the music of
furious anger and irreconcilable vengeance that only beasts and children
understand. She scorched the ground around the warrior’s legs with her
sulphuric volcano breath.
The battle was short.
His hooves barely moved out of
The hawks soared chirping, wild
Griffins flapped skyward, shrieking passionately. The flying insects,
they too returned to their air-bound haven, for the blue firmament was safe
“You should thank me,” began the old
magician, stooping low to collect the lizard totem from the ground. “There is
no glory in a bloodless harvest. A great battle for Ungumpo!”
Ungumpo bellowed with joy and swung his
axe above his head. He yelled the name of his village – “Po!” – and
sneered down at his accomplice.
“Thank you trickster, but I’ve spent
the better part of my life hunting and studying all cold-blooded kind.
Their manoeuvres hold no surprise for me.”
“Ungumpo: animal-killer, this is your
name. A name to challenge the steadfastness of Mount Ekul, the Unmovable,
the majesty of the mirror mountains and the fiery bolt of the High-Father
himself!” Ungumpo flexed his body, devoid of any cuts or swipes – a true
exhibition of a lifetime of precise and infallible battle-play. He
launched himself on to the upturned belly of his deceased opponent.
“Protect your hooter little wizard, the
innards of these devils smell worse than they taste, and they taste as bad as
hog dung.” He freed a horde of eggs beneath the beast’s scaly hide.
“Why in all of Oma would you taste hog
“Hmph, men. You know nothing of
the land. Its medicines, its secrets. These eggs are savoury, but
the season of dragon flight is only a quarter period long. Hog’s? They
crap all year long. Weigh up pleasures of the taste with the wait between
seasons, and you’d feast on the dung of swine too. Hmph.”
“You really are the champion of Po,
aren’t you? Not some proud pretender – and there are many I’ve met today that
have claimed your name. Oh yes, many, many pretenders.” Ungumpo raised
his axe aloft in response.
“Then please, oh Mighty One, there is
an evil warlock. He is my big brother, and he threatens all of Un.
He is foolish enough to move against Village Po. My skills pale
against his, but together, we can stop him. Will you help me slay him?”
“Po this and Po that – there is no
Village Po. The High-Father razed its
people long before you and I were born.”
“Ungumpo, I know all about your god
tricking his brethren into believing Po desolate, no longer a threat. Unfortunately, so does Aronson. Let us defeat him, together?” Ungumpo became
still, like the bush in a quiet windless plain.
And then …
“Bah! More battle? Ungumpo must rest.
But first, let us look into your tarn, shall we?” The man nodded,
clapping with childlike abandon. Ungumpo felt a reluctant affection
for this new ally, who reminded the warrior of his absent chaos god, for the
conjurer’s smile was wide and just as warm.
Hara collapsed into the corner wall of
the room, overly fatigued, in need of proper relaxation. Her weakness
prevented her from comprehending the deeper meaning of the words, let alone
read them off the page she’d inked them to. She would torture herself
with the recounting of a story meant for her god, but not now. Now there
would only be sleep, and the echo of cadences between her ears.
Ungumpo felt a reluctant affection for this
new ally, who reminded the warrior of his absent chaos god, for the conjurer’s
smile was wide and just as warm.
N E X T T I M E I N
S P I D E R F I N G E R S
If he were a superhero, if the side street he fought in were a scene cut
from a graphic novel, surely he would find some non-lethal way to stop the
creature, this animal that used the body of an innocent woman to strangle
him. But as his attackers’ vice-like grip threatened to crush the life
out of him, the very idea of him out of existence, well, the
heroes’ choice - if it was ever available - it was surely gone now.