The Strange Exodus of Tlalesh (Part II)

Did I say two parts? Make that three. If you're just arriving to Gorgonmilk, make sure to check out Part I.

The frame was situated in Forhain's cellar in a small, earth-walled room normally reserved for the cultivation of roots. When it was finished, Forhain sat on the floor before it and stared as if he was seeing it clearly for the first time. The frame was a bizarre confabulation of blue spike crystals, southern nockwood, malpha stone and the petrified brains of certain prehistoric sea creatures, all etched with those unfamiliar, delicate symbols so perfectly described by the ghost-voice. It was beautiful and terrible. Like a forest fire viewed from a naked hilltop.

"There is one final element," said a voice.

Forhain leapt to his feet and whirled, staring back into the torch-lit main room of the cellar. The voice was not unlike the hollow sound he had heard many weeks before in his son's bedroom. His eyes scanned the room, but there was no one there. Just his workbench and the locked cabinet where he kept his phony elixirs.

"The basket," offered the voice. "Dig me out."

Though all of his rational faculties pleaded with him to ignore the voice's imperative, he found that he simply could not prevent his legs from moving inexorably toward the reed-woven basket. He could see the tube-shaped mushrooms shuddering inside it. Their whiteness was obscene against the cellar's shadowy backdrop. Forhain fell to his knees and began scooping out handfuls of loam. He could see now that the projections which he had mistaken for individual fungi were actually parts of a larger growth beneath the loam's surface. A soft, slick gray body was lodged in the basket by four thick roots. These were unlike any plant material he had seen before. They resembled human limbs in most particulars. Indeed, as the wizard freed these from the loam, the uppermost pair of appendages took hold of his hands. Their touch was repellent, like the caress of a dead octopus rotting on the beach in winter. Forhain permitted it long enough to extract the body from the basket and plop the thing on the cellar floor.

Lolling its featureless head about uncertainly, the fungus-child turned its blind face to the wizard. "Blood is the key that opens the doorway. Virginal blood. Bring us the boy," it commanded. Forhain felt his muscles move involuntarily. He began lurching toward the stairwell.

"Wait!" he screamed. "Not the boy. Not my son. Please." He resembled a man in a fit of epilepsy, so resistive was he to the alien force that gripped him and was now pushing him up the stairs. He looked as if he might fall at any moment.

"It is for the sake of convenience," said the fungus.

"I understand and yet still I beg you to reconsider," spat the wizard through gritted teeth. His arms were currently embroiled in some sort of dispute with one another.

"What alternative do you offer?" Though the thing had no face, Forhain could not help but think that it was smiling at him mockingly.

"The king," hissed Forhain, "has many girl-slaves in his palace. Perhaps..."

"You are past your prime. Your glands produce fumes that young females find noxious," observed the fungus. "How do you propose to lure one of these nubile slaves to this cellar? You have no wealth -- for all was spent in the procurement of the materials the doorway required. What could you offer them?"

"Allow me to handle that," replied the wizard. "Please release me from your domination."

Forhain fell backward at that instant. The force of the fungus' will which had compelled him to the top of the stairs had completely withdrawn. He fell awkwardly, landing prostrate before his weird houseguest. "I will attend to the matter immediately," he groaned.


The gardens that once occupied the western palace grounds were a lavish display of the king's whimsical aesthetics. Only the servants and courtesans of Tlalesh were permitted here, and never at night. For that time was when the king was most wont to wander among the exotic fronds and elegantly manicured trees. During these forays he required absolute privacy.

Even so, some chose to ignore this rule. One such was the court minstrel Hadoon, who had taken to conducting his trysts with the palace girls in the garden's leafy confines. He found that the possibility of discovery did wonders for his libido, and many of the girls were obliged to agree. On the night following Forhain's discussion with the fungal visitor in his basement, the garden was again occupied by Hadoon and the latest object of his desire.

"Volessa," whispered the minstrel. "Why do you spurn me so? Are your loins not as wet with anticipation as my rod is eager to traverse them?"

"Oh, Hadoon," the girl-slave sighed. Her amber eyes glinted frostily in the moonlight. "Have you not used such lines before? Janima and Tefreen have spoken much of your rod. Am I to be just another territory for it to wander? I know lust, just as you, but I fear what the morrow will bring."

"Ahem," said a voice.

The pair swiftly broke their embrace. Hadoon peered into the shadowy bowers around them as his girl-companion retied her silken coverings about her small breasts. "Who is there?" he called quietly, the fear manifest in his tone.

"One who would caution you," replied Forhain as he emerged from behind a bush of jale-colored orchids.

"Forhain!" hissed the minstrel. "What brings you here? Why do you hide behind that bush? Do you pleasure yourself at our love-talk?"  He advanced threateningly toward the wizard.

"If only it were so," mused Forhain. "In fact I am on patrol for the king. He asked me to walk the grounds of his garden these last two nights and report of any trespassers I should find here." He produced a bit of paper from the folds of his robes and began scribbling furiously.

The minstrel and the girl turned to each other aghast. "Please, wizard," whimpered the girl. "If you bring this news to the king he will surely send us to the Tower of Barallu. We will be killed..."

"Worse," sighed the wizard. "It is a shame. Though in light of my affection for you, bold minstrel, and you, fair girl, I think I will not pass this information onto the king. Though if I should find you here again..."

"Never," smiled the minstrel. And he clapped Forhain on the back with a familiarity the wizard found unbecoming.

"It is late, and I am thirsty from my walk," said Forhain. "I wonder if the two of you would like to join me for a drink at my residence. I do so like to bask in the presence of beauty." He nodded to the girl who looked away uncomfortably. "Perhaps some plum wine, friend Hadoon?"

"That would be delightful. Lead the way," said the minstrel, and he motioned for the girl to follow. Though her expression was skeptical she rose and clutched Hadoon's arm. "What interesting circumstances the cosmos fabricates," he smiled.

"Indeed," agreed the wizard.


It was a simple matter to drug the obnoxious music-maker's wine. After his second cup, Hadoon slumped back into Forhain's settee and lapsed into a dark and dreamless sleep. The girl required no such medicines -- the plum wine itself was enough to stupefy her. The wizard congratulated himself in his mind as he cajoled her toward the cellar stairs.

"What have you in store for me, old wizard?" laughed Volessa drunkenly. "Is my form pleasing to your eye?" She shook her arse as they stood near the top of the stairwell.

Forhain had to admit that it was. It was a shame to end such a fine flower of femininity, especially before it had reached full bloom. But it was unavoidable. He steeled himself to the reality of the situation, to the events which would transpire before the night was over. In his pocket he carried an ornamented dagger.

"Place her before the doorway and slit her throat," instructed the fungus from some dark recess.

"Who spoke?" asked the girl, wide-eyed. The mirth drained from her face. She looked to the wizard. A new fear, as yet unshaped, accumulated behind her lovely amber eyes.

"Keep moving," ordered the wizard. She turned toward the cellar, then quickly twirled in an effort to get around Forhain. They began to struggle and he grabbed her wrists. Like an animal trapped she began to thrash wildly. Unable to free her arms, she sunk her teeth into the wizard's left hand. He shouted as the blood began to well up. From somewhere above he heard Ghon's voice.

"Is everything alright, father?" called the boy.

"Everything is just fine. Return to bed, my son. And may your dreams be happy ones," cooed Forhain, and he cuffed the girl until she released her bite.

Now he dragged her by her hair with his right hand while his bloody left cupped her mouth. She continued to struggle, but sobs shook her lithe body and sapped her strength. Slowly he made his way to the small room where the frame loomed like a troubling hallucination. With a hard jerk he pulled her from the main room and dropped her to the floor. She looked up at him in perfect, unclouded terror. Tears muddied the decorative grease beneath her eyes. Her mouth was smeared with blood.

From his pocket he withdrew the dagger and, with a single motion, let it dance across her neck. Blood began to flow in thick rivulets. Her eyes rolled wildly in their sockets for a minute, perhaps longer. And then they were still, regarding him with all the unspeakable wisdom of the dead.

"Smear the blood across the threshold," said the fungus. He was nearer now. Somewhere just behind the wizard, standing on his knobby legs. Forhain did as it instructed.

"It is done," he muttered. A numbness had taken hold of him. It was as if the world had become a distant light at the mouth of a cavern, and he looked back on it from some uncertain, subterranean depth.

"You will go now. Fetch the king," said the fungus as it crept past him to peer at the unnatural colors forming within the frame.

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