Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Early Mourning: Book and Soundtrack Excerpt

Submitted for your consideration is a (very) long excerpt from Tim Kress' novel, Early Mourning. At a certain point in the story, the protagonist reads a book written by a new friend. This is that book.

But first, a video for a song from the soundtrack to the novel, by us, Diads. This song goes with the chapter the excerpt comes from, and is called, The Weeping Song.

Early Mourning, and its soundtrack, Early Mourning, a soundtrack to the novel by the same name will be released on the same day, which happens to be the only—controllable—unknown thing about the project at this point.

Check back here for news on the soundtrack, and look to for news on the novel.

My Time In The Weeping Lands

by Dudo-uh Stoneking

Around the middle of the fourth century, C.E., the High Priest of all the Mayan people issued a proclamation stating that any commoners caught using magic would be sent to their underworld, Xibalba, via the most gruesome form of sacrifice. Generally this wasn't a problem, as the use of magicwas a closely guarded secret, but there was an entire secluded city of Mayan people who had not only figured it out for themselves, but become master suit-casters. Rather than wage war upon these fearsome magic users, the High Priest banished them to a group of islands off the coast, between the ancient cities of Lamanai and Min Li Punit (near modern-day Belize).

This group of rogue magic-users called themselves, Boox Chuwen, after a species of monkey they worshiped. Their legends stated that one of these monkeys came down from the clouds to give them the knowledge of the use of magic.

We know this much because our ancestor Udohiyu traded with them. It is my theory that it was from the Boox Chuwen that we first learned Ha Asegi Udelida, and not from a mysterious falcon-god.

The Boox Chuwen went to their island peacefully. It was then that they vanished from our ancestor's knowledge.

It is said that some seven hundred years before we came to the Gadah, a mysterious calamity occurred far to the south of our lands. According to Udohiyu legend, the glow of a massive conflagration, bright enough to turn the darkest part of night into a false day, could be seen in the distant south. This was followed by a shaking of the ground that lasted many hours, and a warm, salty gust of wind that blew from the same direction of the light.

In 1831, the Udohiyu escaped the persecution of our people by coming to Ha Echae Gadah. As my readers know, when we came to the Gadah, our ancestors found three mysterious portals leading to a dark and dangerous place we named the Weeping Lands. The Weepers who came through those portals were fierce and far more dangerous than the land they came from. The Udohiyu made it their first order of business to make a long war upon the Weepers in the Gadah. Only after suffering the loss of more than one hundred of their warriors, were the Udohiyu able to finally triumph over the Weepers. They sealed all three of the portals with a powerful suit, and maintain a guard on them to this day.

After much study, I put all of this evidence together, and in the spring of 1982, I published the essay, “Boox Chuwen, be they the Weepers?” in the University's scholarly periodical. As the title implies, I posited that the Weepers were none other than the fabled Boox Chuwen. I promptly became the laughingstock of the world of historical research and scholarship.

Shortly after, the ridicule in my department became so utterly unbearable that I was left with no choice but to end my tenure at the University. My research partner, Japhai Snakeroot, and I decided we would travel to the Weeping Lands, to find evidence that would prove my assertions.

The following is an account of my travels.

* * *

If my assertions about the nature of the Weeping Lands, and those that live there, were true, then the island the Boox Chuwen were exiled to would possibly contain another portal to the Weeping Lands. Since the sealed portals on the Gadah were off limits, Japhai Snakeroot and I would have to travel to the island the Boox Chuwen were originally banished to, and find out for ourselves.

Japhai Snakeroot and I spent the majority of our adult lives studying the Weepers and the Boox Chuwen legends, so much that we were more than a little lax in our study of Ha Asegi Udelida. This became a problem when we decided that we would need to disguise ourselves when we got to the Weeping Lands. The problem became further compounded by the fact that we weren't positive what we'd find when we got there. I decided to visit my little brother, Daniel Stoneking, who many have called the foremost Shaman of our time, to see if he could offer help with this conundrum.

Though the manufacture of magically embedded artifacts was, and is, a crime punishable by banishment, Daniel sold us each a boar's-tooth amulet, hung on a necklace. There was a tiny hole drilled through the tip of the tooth, and when we blew through it, all but our shadows became invisible. Invisible to everyone, and everything, but, as Daniel explained, since the boar's teeth came from the same beast, we would be able to see each other.

Just thinking about the intricacy of the suit Daniel used to create those amulets makes me so proud of my brother that I come close to becoming, if you'll excuse the pun, a weeper.

Daniel wanted to come with us, begged me in fact, but I wouldn't allow it. I couldn't be responsible for his well-being and do my research at the same time.

From the Gadah, Japhai and I traveled to America. Between America and our destination, we had many little adventures that don't bare repeating here. Suffice it to say that after two months spent in a Mexican jail we finally made it to Belize City. There we hired a guide and boat to take us to the archipelago that held the unnamed island the Boox Chuwen were exiled to, though we weren't precisely sure which island was the one we were looking for.

When our guide and the crew of the dilapidated fishing-boat refused to come too close to an island in the westernmost edge of the archipelago, we guessed it was the home of the Boox Chuwen. They were afraid of that island because local legend held it to be the most haunted place in the Caribbean. They insisted vile demons called the island home, man-shaped monsters that were rumored to venture out to the surrounding islands, and even the mainland, to steal away their children, and and the occasional lone adult.

We assured the crew that we could make it back to the mainland by some other means, and they reluctantly loaned us a small inflatable dinghy. Japhai and I loaded our supplies upon the boat, and were on our way.

In the distant past, the island had been an active volcano. As such, it was fertile with flora the likes of which I had never witnessed before. Prominent among said plant-life were flowers the size, and shape, of my forearm and hand. They were a violent fuchsia color at the tips of the petals, merging into a reverberant blue nearer the center of the flower. The fragrance of the petals was almost physically intoxicating. My interest in flowers has never gone further than the appreciation of their beauty, but Japhai's father was an amateur botanist, and had passed his fascination of all things in the kingdom Plantae to his son.

Japhai told me, “These flowers are unlike anything I've ever seen. If I were a betting man, I'd wager that they're of alien origin.” He then went on to explain that the complete lack of nectary, stigma, ovary, or any visible sign of a terrestrial flower's reproductive system backed his theory up. He then lifted one of the giant petals, and saw that the underside contained a multitude of spores, something he said only fungi, mosses and ferns use to propagate. He said, “It makes absolutely no sense that a flowering plant would have spores.”

The strange flower seemed to confirm that we were on the right island.

Beside that flower, the rest of the flora was beautiful, but Japhai assured me it all had Earthly origins.

As our study of the alien flower took entirely way too much time, we found we were rapidly losing daylight. We decided to set up our base-camp, and call it a night.

The next morning, we began our assent to the middle of the island, high above sea level. There were no paths through the dense underbrush of the island-wide jungle, so we were forced to make our own, which greatly slowed our progress. By midday, we encountered little of note, other than the nearly hummingbird-sized mosquitoes that seemed too timid to do much more than send the occasional raiding party our way. But as the grade of the hill we were climbing increased, we began to notice deep crevasses that zigzagged in a most treacherous way. They were evidence that a great catastrophe befell this island sometime in the far-flung past.

Shortly after discovering these fissures, we came upon the solitary corpse of a recently dead Weeper. His supine, broken posture suggested that a fall from a great distance had been his undoing. He was naked, except for a blindfold of coarse material that had been sewn to his skin in broad, sloppy stitches. Japhai and I agreed that this appeared to be the result of some archaic punishment.

After I recovered from the shock of the sight of this horror, Japhai suggested we use the talisman my brother made for us. I was in agreement.

The remainder of our assent was without incident. I expected the portal to be at in the middle of the mountain's summit, but I was wrong. Indeed, there was not much of a summit, as such. The top of the mountain was a plateau roughly one hundred square-meters in size. It seemed to be almost perfectly level, something that nature does not normally do.

Invisible, we went to the center of the plateau, but found nothing. Then we walked the perimeter and shortly heard the gibberish of a stream. Our water supplies were running low, so we went back down the slope to replenish them. The stream was situated a few hundred meters from the top of the mountain, on the opposite side from which we made our assent. Its source was underground. It bubbled up from between two, or three, large boulders, and wound its way down the mountain in a circuitous route.

We sat at the edge of the stream to eat a meal. Halfway through the meal, Japhai stood suddenly, and cried out, “Oh my, look at that!” He was pointing along the path of the stream. I stood, and looked where he was pointing, but couldn't make out what he was on about. He picked up his pack, and went down the mountain. I followed.

I do not know how the schism in the aether that sheared off the top of the volcano moved down the mountain, and became as small as it was. I can only hypothesize that in the millennium that has nearly passed since the mysterious events that caused the schism took place, the island has shifted on its tectonic plate. My only other guess is that the Boox Chuwen, or Weepers, somehow moved the portal at some point during those years.

We found the portal another thirty meters down the mountain. The stream fed directly into the portal, and something about the nature of the portal caused a fog or steam to lift, to partially obscure it. The portal itself was about six meters in height, and two meters wide. The edges of it were ragged, like the rough, jagged appearance of hastily torn fabric. There were thin filaments of the converging realities hanging from the edges of the portal, lazily dancing in the calm breeze that traveled up the mountain off the Caribbean Sea and through the very portal itself.

Before entering the portal, Japhai Snakeroot implored me to take part in a short ritual. The point of the ritual was to give obeisance to a certain sky-god that held a special place in Japhai's heart. I gratefully obliged, as a powerful fear had sneaked up on me the moment I saw the portal.

Now, just the appearance of the Weeper on the mountain can be said to have proved my theory, but I wanted definitive, verifiable evidence that I could flaunt in the faces of my detractors. Also, in spite of my fear, I was powerfully curious. And, as ever, Japhai's fearlessness gave me strength.

The moment we passed through the portal, our breathing became labored, as if we were standing on the top of a high mountain. It wasn't unbearable, but it was definitely unpleasant. That unpleasantness was but a small taste of things to come.

The world we found ourselves on was approximately one-third the size of Earth's moon. I could see the curvature of it from wherever I stood, which was jarring to the senses. The atmosphere was thick with a heavy fog-like substance, which later became unexplainable, as the only source of water we ever saw in the Weeping Lands (as I was now sure this place was) was the stream that came through the portal. The Weepers had dug a deep trench that carried those waters to some large cone-shaped geographical feature we could only just see in the distance. Where the fog parted, the sky could be viewed; it was a deep crimson. At night, what few stars we could see through the fog were faint, the constellations unrecognizable. Along the deep trench, the uniformly hardscrabble landscape yielded purple grass with a single trapezoidal shoot, various specimens of the spored flower we'd found on the island, and shrubby bushes burdened with fist-sized, purple fruit covered in two-inch, multi-barbed thorns. The landscape became totally barren no more than two meters from either side of the trench. The earth was the color of ash and soot. There were mountain-high dunes everywhere one looked, but they must have been ancient, as there was little wind to speak of. Japhai theorized that when the Boox Chuwen caused their land to be transported here, a catastrophic, planet-wide change was visited upon the Weeping Lands.

The trench served us dual purposes: it would lead us to what passed for civilization in the Weeping Lands, and it would provide us with an infallible escape route.

We set out along the trench. The walk was mostly monotonous and uneventful. We saw nothing that we hadn't seen in the first ten minutes of arriving here, until we'd been walking for more than two hours. By this time, the dim light was gone from the sky, leading us to believe the planet had turned its back on its star. A lot of the fog lifted, too. It was because of these happenings that we were able to see, floating on thermals, very high in the sky, colossal birds. I call them birds for lack of a better term, but they were without definable wings, tails, or even heads. They were the diamond shape of the simplest kind of kite. Without anything to compare their size to, it was hard to judge just how large they were, but I would hazard a guess that they were larger than any passenger jet Earth has yet built.

After we'd studied them for a time, I noticed something. “Japhai,” I said, “I can see the stars through them.”

“Nonsense,” he said. He stopped walking and gazed up at one that was describing ponderous, wide circles directly over the spot we stood. “By all the gods' hairy palms, you are right.”

“Let's be grateful they don't see us,” I said, as we resumed walking. “I don't feel much like ending up inside one of those things.”

Shortly after this conversation, that large cone-shaped formation we saw when first coming to the Weeping Lands began to come into focus. It was clearly where the trench led. Again, the cryptic nature of the physics that came into play when the Boox Chuwen came to this world amazed me when Japhai pointed out the that it was the top of the island. I assumed that the Weepers used their arcane magics to move the portal or their mountain, but the true explanation is most likely lost to history.

The top of the volcano was perhaps four kilometers from the ground to the edge of the crater at its center. When we came to perhaps three kilometers from the base of the dead volcano top, a road veered away from the trench. We followed it. The gravel of the road crunched beneath our feet, and in the moonless night, I absently bent down to scoop up a handful of it. I promptly threw it back down, disgusted, when I noticed that I had a large handful of human teeth. The entire three meter wide road was made of a thick layer of them, many of which were the heartbreakingly tiny teeth of infants.

I freely admit that I then had to be calmed and reassured by my dear, loving Japhai. Had it not been for his infectious, resolute courage, I doubt I could have found it within myself to continue. That he reminded me of the naysayers at the University certainly didn't hurt either.

Eventually we came to the spot where mountain and road converged. There was a wide tunnel through the side of the mountain, lit by widely-spaced torches. The torches were burning a fat that smelled suspiciously like long-pork. The tunnel was empty, and we were invisible, so we didn't hesitate to enter. Some distance in, the tunnel floor began a steep incline, eventually becoming a stairway. The stone steps were deeply bowed from centuries of use. Farther still, it took several severe turns, suggesting that we were climbing the inside of the mountain.

This was confirmed when the tunnel ended, and we were afforded with a spectacular view. The volcano crater housed an ancient Mayan city of modest size. At the center was a steep, many stepped pyramid of Mayan design. Each of the four sides had a stairway leading to the rectangular building at its top. Even from the distance we saw it from, we could tell there was a key difference to the pyramid from its Earthly counterparts, but couldn't make out just what that was.

Surrounding the pyramid were many stone flat-roofed buildings of varying sizes.

All in all, the city looked clean and well organized, and when we took the winding stair down to the crater floor, we came to understand why, and how, that was. The Weepers maintained a small army of domestic slaves, which explained the fear our guide and the ship's crew had of the island. The slaves had their own separate colony at the edges of the city, in thatched huts. In the coming days that Japhai and I observed the Weepers, and their slaves, we saw that the slaves did everything; they ran the irrigation that kept the trees and plant-life original to the mountain alive; they kept the buildings in good repair; they raised the young Weepers; and they provided the Weepers with any pleasure they could dream up.

As a result of the horrendous treatment the slaves were subjected to, groups of Weepers went out on daily raiding parties in Belize and Mexico to replenish their slave stock.

When Japhai and I went to the pyramid, we found out what had seemed off about the place. Every square inch of the building that was not the central stairways was covered in severed human, and Weeper, heads. They were in varying states of putrefaction, many still had most of their skin, most their hair, but none had their eyeballs.

As we were making our study of that pyramid, the Weepers came out to play. I say play, because that is all Weepers seem to do. And over the course of the next several days, we saw more than we ever could have wanted to see of this play.

The male Weepers are so similar in appearance as to be almost indistinguishable. They are well over six foot tall, gaunt, and hairless. Their faces bear only a slight resemblance to their Mayan ancestors; they look as if they've been stretched out, and flattened. They have high cheekbones, wide noses, and many have decorative scarification upon their cheeks, noses, and foreheads.

The female Weepers tower over their male counterparts. Where the men are all alike, the women enjoy a modicum of individuality. Generally, they have heavy, pendulous breasts, bloated stomachs, bulging muscles, and are so large they have trouble walking without help from the males. The women are covered in short, bristly black hair. Their teeth would be better described as tusks. Their fingers end in curved, razor-sharp talons.

I will not even dare to speculate on what moral, incestuous, or magical depravity led to this evolutionary separation from the rest of humanity, and between the sexes.

The Weepers' society follows the design of a beehive. The men outnumber the women by, more or less, sixty-to-one. The women are the queen-bees, the men the everything-else-bees. The women are also the priestesses, and there is one particularly large, vile specimen they revere as their High Priestess. Each woman has a hive of men that she lords over like a vile tyrant. The High Priestess, naturally, has the biggest hive.

The total Weeper population numbers around one hundred thousand.

The Weepers' national pastimes are a kind of brutal, semi-consensual rape, social and ritualistic cannibalism, and spontaneous murder—in that order. The gorgon women are constantly pregnant, else their population would be quickly decimated.

Through some form of their twisted magic, they snare the kites, which are their main source of sustenance. They also make a concoction from a melon-sized gland found in the base of what appeared to be the kite's brain, mixed with the spores of those odd indigenous flowers. They mash the spores into a pulp, mix in the secretions of the kite-gland, and let the mixture ferment for days. I had the distinct displeasure of happening upon a vat of the mixture when the fermentation was at its most volatile stage. It smelled exactly like that of a bloated, rotten corpse. The concoction is primarily used in the Weeper's nightly ceremonies. The observable physical effects of the brew were to make the epidermal layer of those who partook glow with an intensity that was hard to look directly at. They shined like stars. What the internal effects of the concoction were remains a mystery to me. Ever the adventurous sort, Japhai wished to experiment with the brew, but after much debate, I was able to beg him off the idea.

What communication the Weepers require happens mostly in their minds, offset by expressive grunts and vulgar sign language. On only one occasion, I dared to look into the mind of one of them, and it was like visiting a carnival fun house designed by a serial killer with absolutely no sense of humor and has overdosed on the most very potent psychotropic drugs.

The inhabitants of the Weeping Lands somehow manage to tango upon a tightrope loosely strung between chaos and order.

Japhai Snakeroot and I invisibly observed the Weeping Lands, the Weepers, and their slaves for close to three weeks. Out of necessity, we became thieves. We watched which of the roots, berries and vegetables the slaves ate, so we wouldn't inadvertently poison ourselves. Every morning we went outside of the city, through the tunnel, to refill our water supply. It was prudent that we did that, because as soon as the water reached the Weeper's city, it was polluted by things best left outside of our bodies. The climate of the Weeping Lands, though ever damp with fog, was pleasant enough for us to sleep under the stars.

On what was to be our last full night in the Weeping Lands, Japhai and I made the dangerous climb to the crater's high edge, so that we might allow ourselves a brief respite from the atrocities of the Weepers' city. We found a flat outcrop of rock big enough that we would not roll over and fall to our deaths while sleeping.

We lay upon our backs, gazing up at the impenetrable fog. Though I was weary from the ascent, I wasn't able to sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I was revisited by memories of the horrors I'd been witness to. In particular, the nightly ceremony replayed in my mind, over and over. And though I saw the ceremony almost every night we were there, the first remained the most vivid.

Every night, like clockwork, the Weepers converged on the central pyramid. Looking eerily like a funeral procession, teams of eight men would bear their women upon elaborately decorated palanquins. I know not what the main structural make-up of the palanquins was, but they were embellished with bones and offal.

The palanquin of the High Priestess was the most striking of all, and required a team of twelve. At each of its four corners, a freshly dead corpse stood upright, lashed to poles. Flame red jewels the size of a child's fist were shoved into their eye sockets. For some unknown reason, each of the corpse's lower jaws had been torn from their heads, and spiked to their left hands with bone shards. The one time I dared to get close enough to scrutinize them, I saw that they also had delicately sophisticated, maze-like designs cut into every inch of their skin.

Once all of the Weepers were at the base of the pyramid, the High Priestess, still in her palanquin, was awkwardly carried up the steep stair to the rectangular building atop the pyramid. Once there, they set her palanquin on a raised stone dais, so that she could be clearly seen by all her acolytes at the base of the pyramid.

Then the ceremony began in earnest.

Five ragged slaves were brought out of the rectangular building, and made to kneel in front of the High Priestess. Each of the slaves wore the same dazed, calm look on their faces, as some suit was surely used to placate them. They looked as if they'd been lobotomized, and for all I know, that could well have been the case.

At once, the entire assemblage of Weepers began to sway slowly from side to side, and to telepathically chant. It was so loud that Japhai and I could not block it out. The chant wasn't one of language, but of carnal desire and depraved lunacy.

The High Priestess surveyed the group of slaves, finally stopping on a boy about twelve years old. She lazily pointed her taloned index finger at the slave's head. In a blur of motion, the boy shot up in the air, coming to a stop some three meters above the giantess's head. He jerked back and forth, looking for all the world like a puppet controlled by a violent child. The High Priestess made a few lazy movements with her fingers, and the slave-boy's limbs were torn from his body. It looked like what I imagine being drawn and quartered looked like, but much faster. Then came his head. All six parts of the now dead slave boy, head, arms, legs and torso, were still afloat in midair, rotating in irregular circles, splattering blood on the rest of the slaves. The boy's head came then to the High Priestess, coming to a stop half a meter from her own. She raised her hand up, index and little fingers out, and speared each of the slave-boy's eyes on her talons. She plucked them from his head, and popped them into her mouth. When she bit into the eyes with her blunt, tusk-like teeth, the eyeballs made an audible popping sound. Blood, mixed with the gelatinous vitreous humor spurted between her teeth, dribbled down her grizzled, dimpled chin.

The High Priestess's vanguard of male attendants came forward, and, using the same levitating suit, caused the other four slaves to fly high into the sky. When the slaves reached a height of about a kilometer above the top of the crowd of Weepers, the suit was released. Gravity brought them crashing into the crowd, which started a riot as the Weepers fought to get whatever piece of the slaves they could.

Though I've been explicit in my account of what I saw in the Weeping Lands, I will not recount the detail of the bloody orgy of rape and violence and cannibalism that followed. I will just say that it lasted well into the daylight of the next day.

Laying next to Japhai on the edge of that crater, I opened my eyes.

“I can't sleep,” I said.

“The first night again?” He almost always knew what I was thinking, not by the use of magic, but because we knew each other so well.


Japhai sat up, wrapped his blanket tightly around his shoulders, and said, “I want to free those slaves.”

I turned my head, so I could look him in the eye. I knew the look he wore: unflappable resolution. I was in agreement with him, but, at the same time, I knew that if just the two of us went up against the Weepers, we'd be torn to shreds, perhaps in their next ceremony.

I told him these thoughts, then I said, “What if we went back to the Gadah first, to try to muster a force to come back here?”

“I'm not leaving here without those slaves.”

I sighed. There really was no arguing with him. And he was right. We could not leave those poor souls behind. I asked, “Do you have a plan?”

“Not much of one,” he said. “I think we go back down there tomorrow morning, and reveal ourselves to the slaves. As we give the rumor of us some time to spread, we work on breaking the seal on the door to the Gadah that's behind the slave settlement.” We'd found two of the three sealed portals, one inside the building atop the pyramid, the other in a small cave in the mountain, directly behind the slave settlement.

As plans go, it was certainly flawed. But to try to take the slaves all the way along the ditch back to their Earth was an impossibility. The Weepers would destroy all of us. With the cave portal, we could hope to get them out of the Weeping Lands in secrecy, as long as it was done in an orderly, quiet fashion. We discussed possible diversions, in the chance a Weeper caught on to our plans, but ultimately we decided to try for secrecy.

I lobbied that we break the seal first, before we revealed ourselves to the slaves, but Japhai pointed out that that could alert the Weepers before we got even one slave safely to the Gadah.

We stayed up for three more hours that night, beating all the details of the plan to death, damming as many of the viewable tributaries of chance that we could.

Then, as if by magic, the fog parted more than it had ever done the entire time we'd been there, and we were gifted with a sight of such beauty neither of us spoke for nearly an hour. At the same moment, a telepathic cry of collective fear reached us from the distant Weeper city. I looked down, and saw the Weepers leaving the ceremony in haste, scurrying to their homes.

Directly above us, a planet filled all of the heavens. It was gigantic. Streaked with varying shades of brown, orange and red, it looked vaguely familiar. After an hour of silent study, our orbit came into sight of the massive red eye of a swirling storm cloud.

“We're on a moon of Jupiter,” I said.

The marvelous beauty, combined with the fear the Weepers felt by the sight of it, gave us hope. We saw it as a good omen.

Reluctantly, we had to work a suit so that we could get some sleep.

The next morning, we found the slaves to be broken, but not without hope. They accepted our presence almost in stride, as if they'd been expecting saviors to show up any day. The rumor of us spread through the slaves with an efficiency, and speed, that outpaced our hopes, and the plan. They were ready to go before we could break open the seal.

By midday, Japhai was so anxious that he convinced me to go with him into the dwellings of the Weepers. He wanted to search for a relic, filled with powerful Weeper magic, that we could use to break open the seal. It was a plan of desperation, but one that was viable, too. The slaves told us that the Weepers made talismans of all sorts, but the most powerful of them were their weapons. The slaves said occasionally brief, brutal wars would break out among the various hives, usually started by the women to gain more men for their respective hives.

For the last time, Japhai and I blew through our boar's-tooth amulets, becoming invisible.

The first house we went into was the one closest to the slave settlement. Like the rest, it was rectangular, and had a flat roof. There were few windows, and only one door. We expected the inhabitants to be sleeping. We were wrong.

The house consisted of a single, open room with a low ceiling. Most of the dirt floor was taken up by relaxing Weepers. The woman of this particular hive was in the far corner of the room, still sitting upon her palanquin. Her lower face and neck were covered with congealed blood, her tusks likewise stained. She was smiling, a fearsome sight indeed. Her mirth was directed at a show some of her men were putting on for her. They had formed a circle around a young Weeper boy, and were taking turns committing unspeakable sexual acts on him. The young boy was clearly in agony.

The moment Japhai understood the nature of what we saw, he grabbed my upper arm. Without words, he let me know that he meant to rescue the boy. I tried to tell him not to, but before I could, he was already in motion.

Japhai ran to the center of the circle, and wrestled the boy from the grips of half a dozen Weepers. The confusion that followed worked to our advantage. We were able to get the boy outside of the house, and halfway to the slave settlement, before the Weepers reacted. All but their woman came out of the house, and ran after us. I'm sure they couldn't see us, but the boy was still in plain sight. At the same time they were coming after us, the Weepers evidently put out a silent call to all the others in the town, because when I looked back, I saw them pouring out of all of the houses.

Still running, Japhai pushed the half-conscious, bleeding boy at me. He said, “You take him. Try to get him, and as many of the slaves as you can, out of here.”

I said, “What about you?!”

“I'm going to create a diversion.”

“But we still can't break the seal, how am I supposed to get through it.”

The Weepers were getting closer to us. Japhai said, “You'll have to try to get them to the portal we came through. Go!”

But the boy put his sweaty hand on my forehead, and, using the same form of communication Japhai had only moments before, let me know that he could break open the seal. I told Japhai this, but he was still set on creating a diversion.

Again, he yelled, “Go, damn you!” He shoved me in the direction of the settlement, and with tears blurring my vision, I took the boy in that direction.

When I got to the edge of the settlement, I couldn't help but to turn around to see if Japhai was alright. At first, he was able to confuse the Weepers, to make them stop their pursuit of the boy. He had a long, bone-handled hunting knife, handed down from his mother, and he was stabbing the Weepers. But too soon they overwhelmed him, and though they couldn't see him, they pinned him down. I witnessed them rip the boar's-tooth amulet from his neck, making him visible. Then I saw a Weeper sit on Japhai's chest. The Weeper put his face to Japhai's, and, with his teeth, he pulled a large chunk of Japhai's cheek off. I had to turn then, I couldn't bare the sight of my greatest friend being torn apart by these monsters, but neither could I go to his aide.

But my curiosity got the better of me, and I turned to look, one more time. I saw one of the other Weepers put on Japhai's amulet, which was as good as me not even wearing mine, since if one could see me, he could relay that information to the rest using the instantaneous method of thought they used to communicate.

Instead of the group of Weepers coming after me, like I thought they would, they stopped and looked at me. I didn't like their silent scrutiny, so I took off in the direction of the cave with the sealed portal, half carrying, half dragging the wounded Weeper boy.

The slaves had queued up at the cave's mouth. I jumped to the head of the line, and risked yet another glance behind me. It was then that I understood the reason the group of malicious Weepers had stopped before entering the slave settlement.

Above the slaves' thatched huts, there stood a thick column of, what I can only describe as, black flames. At first, the flames came at us slowly, but with every passing second, they picked up pace, and fury. Wherever they touched the ramshackle slave abodes, an explosion, much too large for the size of the huts, rocked the very earth. The debris from the explosions came crashing to our feet, which finally spurred me to action.

I took the Weeper boy into the shallow cave, to the sealed portal. The portal looked like a vertical pool of mercury. Every time the Weeper's black fire caused an explosion, a violent shock-wave ran through the surface of portal.

I implored the Weeper boy to break the seal. I didn't think he understood me, because he merely stood in front of it, his blood, and shit, stained legs barely holding him up. But then he put his hands, wrist deep, into the liquid surface of the portal, causing much more violent ripples than even the explosions. He clamped shut his eyes, and pushed. The muscles on his narrow back bulged with the effort. I was just beginning to doubt his assertion that he could break open the seal, when suddenly his arms plunged into the fluid portal all the way to his elbows. It happened just in time.

I looked towards the mouth of the cave, and saw that the towering inferno of pitch-flames had gained so much velocity that, in the short time it took the boy to open the portal, it was now almost upon us. It had consumed all but a handful of slaves; those who managed to escape the hunger of that fire were running towards me. I tore the boar's-tooth amulet from my neck, pulled the Weeper boy out of the way, and ushered the slaves through the portal. When they were through, I grabbed the boy by the wrist, and pulled him through to the Gadah with me.

The four Udohiyu guards on duty that day were very confused when, first a small group of refugee slaves, followed by the young Weeper and me, burst through the normally inactive portal. It was lucky for us all that one of the guards was a distant cousin of mine, or the guards may have went ahead with the protocol regarding interlopers, which was an order to kill on sight.

I begged them to replace the seal on the door, lest the all-consuming Weeper-fire come through. It took all four of them to work the suit, but they did it. Then two of them took all that had recently come through the door to the nearest constabulary.

After a lengthy process of explanation, the slaves were given a choice to either be returned to their home, or stay in the Gadah. Many of them stayed. Those who wished to go home had their memories of the Gadah, and their time in the Weeping Lands, gently removed.

Firm words were aimed at me, for going to the Weeping Lands. But as there is no law strictly prohibiting travel to the Weeping Lands, the firm words were my only punishment. I was also asked not to return to the Weeping Lands, a request I readily agreed to.

It took much convincing, and begging, to keep the boy Weeper alive. It was my dear Japhai Snakeroot's dying wish to save this boy, and I was firm in my resolve to honor that wish. After much debate, the Council of tribal Elders made me responsible for him. I have spent the years since working to help that boy become a man, to help him adjust to our society. With love, and untold patience, he has become totally unlike his people.

My argument with the fellows at the University was patched up in an afternoon of testimony from myself, and the former slaves that chose to stay in the Gadah. One of the former slaves, a gentlemen from Belize, recited a legend among his people that corroborated my theories. Adding the fact that I entered the Weeping Lands from the island near Belize, and came through one of the sealed portals in Ha Echae Gadah was enough to receive a formal apology from my esteemed colleagues that included an invitation to resume my tenure at the University.

The Weeper boy, like the rest of his former people, was without a name. After he learned language, he took the first name Japhai, in honor of Japhai Snakeroot. For his last name, he chose, for reasons known only to him, Fingers.