The Strange Exodus of Tlalesh (Part I)

Here's the first part of a two-part serial by yours truly. The idea came to me today as I was listening to Terence McKenna on my way back from Syracuse.

The ruins of Tlalesh are not far from the shining towers of Jindelil. If one heads north following the cracked riverbed of the Nenuru -- a waterway that was winding and senescent when Man first crawled forth from his primordial Forest Cradle -- one will eventually come to a sandy area littered with cracked marble flagstones and scattered bits of fallen masonry. This is the site of old Tlalesh, and it is best not to linger there. Or so say the wild men who wander the region in search of game and tidbits to sell at market. They describe strange lights in the sky over fallen Tlalesh. They speak of chittering shadows and the touch of cold, unseen hands. Most townsfolk dismiss these tales as the colorful inventions of goat-wiving crackpots, but the learned erudytes of Jindelil know better.

It is said that when Melhusk the Stunted appeared before Tanai-Suboch, King of Tlalesh, he came bearing an unusual gift. Melhusk was the monarch of the Seventh Decrepitude, an ancient ally of the river-kingdom that had grown too prosperous for the jealous lord of Tlalesh to tolerate. And so the king and his diplomat-cohorts in the Seventh staged a successful coup that enriched Tlalesh's coffers and harems alike. Several of Melhusk's most loyal supporters and family members were killed out of necessity, but by-and-large the conflict was bloodless and the conversion to Tlaleshian rule an uncommonly peaceful process. And so Melhusk, a dwarf now dwarfed twice over by his defeat, was brought before the smiling King of Tlalesh to pronounce words of love and affection for his new master.

"Greetings, Melhusk. We hope all is well with you and that our men-at-arms have not treated you over-rough," said Tanai-Suboch with mock-concern. "We see that you come carrying a basket. Is this a gift for your master? Not an adder, we hope." He motioned to Melhusk's escort and the crude, reed-woven basket was snatched from the dwarf's hands and brought to the foot of the king's dais so that he might view its contents from a safe distance. To his surprise it was filled with little more than river-loam. A few sickly looking white mushrooms sprouted here and there like half-buried finger-bones.

"Good day to you, my lord," said Melhusk in the slow, deliberate tone that was his custom. "As a sign that there is no ill-will between us, I bring you the fruits of my labors in the Seventh. It is common knowledge that mine is a family of potioners and apothecaries first and monarchs second. These fungi you see before you were procured by my own hand from a marsh that lies many days travel to the south. I can use them to make a brew that will allow the drinker passage to the Transubstantial Plane, where it is said many strange things may be seen and known."

Tanai-Suboch shifted uncomfortably in his throne. The audience had quickly taken an unforeseen turn, with no groveling or begging on the horizon -- at least not of the spontaneous variety. This, in stark defiance of his reasoned expectations. "That is most interesting. We will have our magickers examine these weird fruits. In the meantime, we have arranged accommodations for you in the Tower of Barallu." He motioned impatiently for the escort to take Melhusk away. Several courtiers noticed the odd smile on the dwarf's lips as he was ushered out of the throne room.

In reality Tanai-Suboch was absolutely uninterested in Melhusk's gift. The matter fell into the hands of an incompetent court wizard named Forhain, the least of such specialists currently under the king's employ. Forhain was nearing his fortieth year. He lived alone with his son not far from the palace walls, his wife having six years before succumbed to an unknown affliction which took her mind and later her life in the Sanctuary at Yartha. By all accounts Forhain was a fraud. His knowledge of the magical arts was superficial, and his installment at the palace a testament to his pleasant-sounding voice and convincing nature. The other magickers were well aware of Forhain's shortcomings. Behind his back they whispered and sniggered, but none mocked him openly. Such was the power of Forhain's personality that his superiors were somewhat intimidated by him and his ability to capture the ear and mind of the king.

The mushrooms presented something of a predicament to Forhain. Despite his king's lack of interest in the matter, the wizard would still be required to make an official report following his investigation of the deposed monarch's fungi. The question was whether he dare fabricate such a report and risk the chance that the matter might progress in some unknown direction. Perhaps the king might wish him to brew up some of Melhusk's potion and have Forhain himself drink it! The alternative would be to seek the counsel of one of his fellow wizards -- a prospect that irked him considerably. For weeks he mulled over the problem, but no clear solution presented itself. In the meantime the mushrooms sat under his workbench in the cellar, nurtured by the shadows and the damp, cool air.

One evening, as they sat at a dinner of roasted fowl and beets, Forhain noted that his son -- a boy of seven years named Ghon with an appetite nearly on par with his father's gluttony -- was staring absently at his bowl. In fact he had eaten and drank nothing at all, Forhain realized, as he polished off his third bird-leg and considered the crispy scales along the creature's spine.

"Ghon, my darling boy, you look positively pale," cooed Forhain.

"It is nothing father," said the boy, his eyes yet fixed on his bowl.

"Is your stomach not well? Perhaps a disagreement among the acid-sacs? Tell me. If you are ill we must call upon the physic." A note of anxiety touched the wizard's voice. Few thoughts troubled him more than the possibility of losing his son and finding himself alone and with nothing to love in the world but himself.

"I will tell you what ails me, father, but you must not be angry with me after I have told," mumbled Ghon.

"Tell it. You have my word as a wizard," said Forhain, and he brandished a bird-leg for emphasis.

A spasm danced across the boy's face as he explained that while snooping around the cellar he had discovered a basket under his father's workbench. The large, tube-shaped mushrooms growing inside it looked too enticing for him to resist, and it had been nearly an hour since lunch, so what was he to do but take one for a snack to quell the grumbling in his belly? It had tasted off, but only slightly. But now since eating the thing a pain had announced itself in his innards. At first just a pin-prick, the feeling had blossomed into a churning pot of indigestion. "May I be excused, father?" the boy asked finally, not comprehending his father's slack-jawed expression.

The physic was summoned in short order. Despite the man's ample supply of purgatives, he could not entice Ghon to vomit up the masticated mushroom. After an hour of observation, he left the home of Forhain with an expression of defeat. The wizard paced outside his son's bedroom, unable to contain his anxiety. "This will not do. This will not do," he repeated over and over on into the night. By moonrise Ghon had fallen into a shallow-breathed slumber. Several times Forhain held his hand to the boy's mouth to check for breath, so death-like was his sleep. Finally, exhausted, the wizard collapsed at the end of his son's bed and gave himself to phantom-haunted dreams.

He could not be certain of the hour when he awoke. Little light filtered through the bedroom's window. He rubbed his eyes, uncertain for a moment just where he was.

"You will do this thing," said a hollow voice.

The wizard started. A shiver ran up his back. His hands groped for a lamp.

"Who is there? Answer me," quailed Forhain. The hollow sound of the voice, like wind passing over leaves in late autumn, had shaken him considerably.

"You will do this thing," the ghostly voice stated again.

Forhain's seeking hands finally met with the lamp that sat next to him on the floor. He quickly spoke the charm to ignite it. This was one among a dearth of magical oddments actually known to him. The wick sizzled into flame at an unnatural rate, swiftly revealing the room and its contents. To Forhain's surprise, none but he and his son occupied it.

"You will do this thing," said the voice a third time, and Forhain could see that the sound emerged from the boy, though it was so unlike the fine voice he normally possessed. Now other words began to creep their way out from between Ghon's teeth. The voice exhorted the wizard to accomplish a certain task. He would need to construct something, something that required a whole litany of bizarre materials. Forhain reached for paper as the voice droned on, scribbling the instructions in shorthand. This went on for nearly an hour, and then just as suddenly stopped. Ghon's breaths became deeper, and he lapsed back into a sleep that resembled healthy slumber.

Though later he was uncertain as to why he felt so compelled to carry out the ghost-voice's bidding, Forhain spent the next six weeks completely absorbed in the task. He was heartened to see that his son suffered no more weird fits and that his appetite resumed its regular voracity. The project consumed most of his attentions, however. He would have completed it without hesitation, but, as it happened, one afternoon he found himself interrupted by a messenger from the king. It came at a most inconvenient time, for he was in negotiations with a vendor from Kthoa who claimed he could obtain a certain crystal type considered sacred by the cult of Chuugu of the Seventeen Faces. Reluctantly Forhain followed the messenger back to the palace and awaited audience with Tanai-Suboch.

"What of those mushrooms we gave you?" purred the king as one of his virginal servants washed his feet in an ivory bowl. "We have grown curious. A strange dream visited us last night, and it concerned both you and Melhusk's unsavory gift." A shadow creased Tanai-Suboch's brow. He kicked the girl in the face, and she fell to the foot of the dais where she gathered herself up without so much as a whimper.

"The matter has taken some unusual turns, my lord," stated Forhain. "I find myself enlabyrinthed in its complexities at present."

"Oh? And what form do these 'complexities' assume, wizard? We are intrigued," said the king.

"A frame -- or perhaps a doorway -- made of uncommon materials," said the wizard reluctantly, though he was not certain why he felt so.

"We would very much like to see this frame. When the thing is complete, notify my messenger. Carry on, Forhain. We grow bored with the sight of you." Tanai-Suboch waved the wizard on, who went gladly, being all too ready to leave the king's presence.


Part II


  1. Forhain is a great character. Hope to read more!

  2. This is quite good. I'm looking forward to the next part.

  3. Very good stuff. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!?!

  4. Eminently enjoyable! I too am looking forward to the next installment. Your names are highly evocative a rich environment.

  5. Very nice. I'm looking forward to the next installment. I knew the influence of McKenna presaged some mycoid shennanigans. ;)

  6. By the way - I went to the same small-town high school as Terence McKenna (and Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart). Something curious in the dust out there... in the desert...

  7. Thanks, y'all!

    @Cyclo: Zappa, Beefheart, McKenna, Cyclopeatron. It all makes sense now...