31 days of halloween 2012

31 Days of Halloween #31

The conclusion... The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 16

Text and illustration below.

“Hello, Sister,” said the other pig.

“This is a trick!” said Pyg, but deep within her, she knew the Master was Dawnsong, the brother taken in her stead on the night of their birth. But how did he know her?

“This is a trick!” she repeated as if to convince herself. “My mother said Dawnsong was dead!”

“Dawnsong? Is that what I was to be named?” said the Master. “I am named Strangeborn, but no one calls me that anymore. Your mother - that is, our mother - never took the trouble to find out what became of me. For that I can’t blame her. Who is a pig against the wolves?”

The Master’s voice dripped with sarcasm. Who, indeed, was a pig amongst the wolves? Why, himself. The leader of the worst of them.

“Our mother wouldn’t have become a murderer to make peace with other murderers,” Pyg spat.

The Master ignored this remark.

“I was taken, along with so many other newborn babes that night, by the persecuted,” he explained. “Our deaths were to be revenge for the wolves’ ill-treatment at the paws of the so-called ‘good folk of the world.’ Many of the young did, in fact, die, but a few of us were shown mercy. I was raised by such a merciful wolf - the only mother I have ever known. I grew up faster than most pigs my age, I think, because of this."

“And then you grew up to become the Shadow Bringer!” Pyg interrupted. One of the Legion growled in warning, but Pyg hardly cared. Brother or not, this swine was responsible for the deaths of everyone she loved. He should be able to withstand an insult.

But the Master looked wounded by this charge.

“You think I am the Shadow Bringer?” he said. “No, no, Sister. That can’t be. You see, I was raised upon the words of the Goosemother Scroll. I was raised to believe the Shadow Bringer was the source of all my wolf family’s pain. I despise the Shadow Bringer. I’ve made it my young life’s work to seek him out and destroy him! To stop him from ever becoming! Him or her.”

“But don’t you see?” Pyg gasped. “In all you have done, you’ve made the prophecy come true yourself! It’s your shadow that covers the world. It’s you who’ve brought hunger and death and betrayal!”

The Master shook his head.

“What are the Three Laws?” he asked her.

“No beast chooses himself above his herd,” Pyg recited. “No beast shall take more than he must to survive. No beast eats of his own kind. You’ve already broken the first two. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve broken the last. And here you stand on Mount Historious, using it for evil. That makes you the Profaner.”

“Ah,” said the Master, “but you are wrong. All I have done before, I have done to better the world for future beasts. As to the Third Law, I eat no meat and never have. But there is something you have not considered.”

He gestured to his guards, who seized Pyg’s companions and led them silently away. All, that is, except for the Priestess.

“Where are you taking them?” Pyg asked.

“To a safe place for now,” said the Master, smiling. Safe for them or for you? Pyg wondered, but she was hardly in any position to fight for them now. She also wondered about the Priestess of Gol. Why had she not been taken with the others? Her question would soon be answered.

“My thanks, Estruthia, for bringing her to me,” the Master addressed the ostrich. The priestess bowed her long neck low and then turned to Pyg.

“Your arrival to this place was shown to me in a dream,” she explained. “I regret that I could not stop the tragedy you have seen along the way, but it was necessary to lead you here.”

Pyg’s blood rushed to her ears. “You LIAR!” she screamed. Had she not been held by a Wolfguard, she would have attacked the Priestess. But a voice whispered inside her head.

Quiet now, swine child! said the voice. I am still your friend! But he must not know! Not yet.

Pyg’s head swam with confusion. Who was whom and who had been betrayed? She wished the earth would swallow all of them up and be done with this whole nightmare for good.

“Sister,” the Master said. The word made Pyg feel ill. “Have you never wondered why it was me who was taken?”

“Of course I have,” said Pyg.

“Because I was meant to end the blight that is the Shadow Bringer. I was the small one and The End Will Be Small,” said the Master. “But you, Sister. Your path has been so very different from mine. I had not imagined this twist of fate until you arrived in the Elephant Lands and survived against all odds.”

“What are you saying?” asked Pyg.

“I have seen your past in my dreams, swine child,” said the Priestess.

“The first law: you broke it when you let our brothers die for your safety,” said the Master.

“That’s not true!” Pyg cried.

“What did you do to defend them from the wolves? Nothing!” said the Master.

“They were your wolves!” Pyg insisted.

“And I regret that,” said the Master, but he went on. “The second law! You broke it when you took those soldiers with you. You did not need them in order to survive, and you knew they might die along the way!”

“This isn’t fair! This isn’t fair!” Pyg sobbed.

“The third law,” said the Master.

“I have not eaten my own kind! Never!” Pyg gasped.

“Not so,” said the Priestess. “When you traveled with the rhinoceros king, you ate as he did. The meat of his enemies. There was a boar...”

“I didn’t know!” Pyg protested.

“And you didn’t ask,” said the Master. “How many have died trying to save you? How many have even known you and not suffered some terrible fate? And for what end? You have no noble mission. To think your dear friend, the wolfling, sold his soul to control the dead for you! Do you know what else he did? They say the Shadow Bringer rules the Ghosts of Men. That’s a power I don’t have. But when your friend barred the dead from any claim upon you, he unknowingly bound them to your command. You may not know what you are, but it is what you are, nonetheless. The Shadow Bringer. My own lost sister! And now that I have brought you close to me at last, I must perform my duty. Then you will never grow to darken the world. None will suffer on your account ever again!”

The guard who held Pyg drew his sword. In panic, Pyg looked to the ostrich priestess whose voice filled her head in rapid whispers.

Call them! Call the dead! The Master spoke truly, they are in your command. Call them and free yourself!

“Leap! Help me!” Pyg cried without even thinking, and the mountain began to rumble. A white mist arose from the rocky earth. It seemed as if it happened very slowly, but it happened within a few short breaths. The dead took their form and, led by a ragged wraith wolf, slew the guard, the Master, and all who served him.

Pyg felt a chill across her heart as she heard the howling of a thousand anguished wolves. But she felt no remorse. For the first time she could remember, she was in control of something. Her enemies would all be gone soon. Those who were left, and all they loved - she would seek them out and crush them. And after that, she would destroy all the small things that might get any ideas about ending her new dominion.

When the Master’s forces were destroyed at last, Pyg turned to the Priestess.

“There are those of us who serve you, my dark lady,” said the ostrich. “Who have always served you from the dark places of the earth. We have waited, your majesty, and we will help you take your rightful place. You have only to look to the shadows, and there you will find your servants.”

“I will find them, and I’ll make the world what it ought to be,” Pyg said softly, “but you I can never trust again.”

As the priestess’ lifeforce faded away, her final words entered Pyg’s thoughts.

I knew you would come... I knew you would come... I knew you would come...

Pyg smiled strangely. She knew now why she had never been given a name by her mother. Her name had already been written in the Goosemother Scroll eons before she was born.

The End

31 Days of Halloween #30

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 15 Text below.

The Unspeakable Oath. When the living make a deal with the dead. All who commit such dealings are doomed to serve the Ghosts of Men for a thousand years. For the dead men can claim the bodies of the living, but never their souls... without permission. Such permission Leap granted the spirits when he spoke in the ancient tongue aboard the black ship. In exchange, he asked for safe passage into the Elephant Lands and for the life of his friend. All this Estruthia had seen in the young wolf’s eyes, but it was far too late for the priestess’ magic to save him. Now the dead had claimed their prize and left a wound in Pyg’s heart among so many others, each now scarred and hardened.

Back at the encampment, the tears of the grieving filled up the cracks of the parched earth. The elephant queen was dead, many of her fighters, too. And while the elephants fought and fled the dead men, an envoy had brought a message to the rhinoceros king. His city lay under siege, and all within would starve to death if its sovereign did not return to accept the Master’s terms. Perhaps it was true. Perhaps not. But the spirit of the great horned king was broken now.

“I thought you were prepared to die,” Pyg reminded him. “Your soldiers were. Many of them have. The elephant queen and her soldiers, too.”

“Careful, hoglet. You speak to a king,” the great rhinoceros warned her. But there was little threat in his voice now. “May the Shadow Bringer slay me with his own sword, and his buzzards feast upon my carcass if that will save beastkind. But I cannot subject my followers to such a cruel death when there is another way. When you wear a crown as heavy as mine, you will understand.”

Pyg did not understand, and she did not care to. She had but one purpose left, and that was to slay this vile Master, this tyrant who cloaked the world in the shadow of death.

“If you won’t march on the mountain, then at least free me so that I can try,” said Pyg. Determination blazed in her eyes with a ferocity that almost frightened the much larger beast she challenged.

“I free you,” said the king, “but you will die on this mission of yours. I urge you to travel with us back to my land where there is at least some chance you’ll be spared. Better chance than you’ll have out here.”

But he could see the piglet would not be swayed. And, after all, who was he to dash her hope for vengeance when only duty prevented him from seeking it, himself?

Yes, Pyg was released. And, with her, the ostrich priestess and a handful of soldiers who thirsted for the Master’s blood just as much. All would perish in vain, the king thought sadly, but at least they would die as free beasts.

As Pyg and her meager band of fighters journeyed, a smile grew upon her face.

This is what the scroll meant, she thought. We may be small, but we will bring the end to this blight.

Astonishingly, the road to the Mother’s Mountain lay free of obstacles. No one attacked Pyg and her soldiers. No ghosts arose to cut her throat. Nary a creature apart from themselves made any appearance at all.

“Perhaps the Goosemother has blessed us,” said a lemur named Babako, but no one really believed that.

“The wind has changed,” the priestess said ominously. “I feel it in my feathers.”

Pyg had not noticed any change in the wind’s direction, but then she noticed little that was not directly in her path to crushing the throat of the Profaner with her bare hooves.

Within three days, the humble host reached the foot of Mount Historious. Two bitterly cold days after, they neared the end of a smooth trail hewn into the mountainside. At the end of that trail they found the Master’s Fortress. And never once did they meet a soul to block their way. Not even until they passed through the unbarred gates did they meet a stranger.

The stranger was a wolf as white as the mountain snow, wearing the same gray cloak the abbey brothers were known to wear below. Pyg’s soldiers drew their swords and extended claws, those who had them, but the wolf merely shook his head and held up a paw.

“No need for that, friends,” he said. “You are welcome as the Master’s Guests. He has been waiting most anxiously for your arrival.”

“Maybe we don’t want to be his guests,” Pyg seethed.

“Either you are a guest or you are a trespasser,” said the wolf, still smiling, “and the latter are not welcomed so warmly, I assure you.”

Behind Pyg, the massive wooden gates closed with a groan, and thirty soldiers in the armor of the Legion formed a line around her lot.

“Come,” said the wolf monk. “The Master awaits, and--”

“And the Master has grown tired of waiting,” said a new voice. The Master himself, Pyg was sure of it, but she couldn’t see him! Then the wolf stepped aside and bowed quite low.

“A thousand pardons, your Majesty,” said the wolf, whose genuflection allowed Pyg to see, at last, the form of the beast she hated above all others.

But when she saw him, she was unable to speak. This Master, this Profaner, the Shadow Bringer of legend, was but a pig much like herself. He could have been the ghost of her brother Strongheart, or perhaps of Meekfoot, so much did he resemble them, only he was smaller. Much smaller. Undoubtedly the runt of his litter.

31 Days of Halloween #28

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 14 Text below.

All was quiet in the elephant graveyard. Here, the bones of the ancients lay scattered, huge and broken, like ruins of a once great city.

“Is it really all right for us to be here?” Pyg whispered to the ostrich priestess.

“It is an honor,” the priestess answered. “An elephant’s invitation to a graveyard is their way of introducing you to their ancestors as a friend. Her majesty is not only paying homage to the ancients but asking them to protect us.”

Pyg nodded and watched as the queen and her soldiers wandered wordlessly among the bones, picking them up, curling their trunks around them. Weeks ago, Pyg would have thought it a peculiar custom. But weeks ago, she would have read about it in a book before a fire while her mother knitted and her brothers teased one another or bickered about something trivial. Everything she had known to be familiar and safe had been taken from her since then, and so she took comfort in what was meaningful in another land.

But something was not right.

“I think we are not alone here,” the priestess whispered, narrowing her eyes.

A thin fog that lurked among the bones had rapidly grown quite thick. Pyg thought she heard faint whispers, but when she looked for Leap to ask him if he’d heard them, he looked so strange that she forgot her question. His ears were back, and he was shivering terribly.

“Leap? Are you all right?” asked Pyg.

He didn’t say anything, but the priestess glared at him as if he had. Leap shrank back when the ostrich approached him, but soon he was transfixed by the glow of her eyes.

“What are you doing to him?” asked Pyg. “Leave him alone!”

But the priestess continued her fearsome gaze until she suddenly gasped.

“No!” she cried. “Wolfing, you do not know what you have done!”

“What’s going on?” Pyg demanded.

“I had to,” said Leap in a voice barely above a whisper. “It was the only way to make it across the sea. But I hoped I’d be alone when they came for me.”

“When who came for you?” Pyg asked. “What do you mean? Leap, answer me right now!”

Meanwhile, the priestess was running and shouting, shouting to the elephant queen and her army to leave this cursed place at once.

“The dead are rising!” she shouted. “We must turn back! The ghosts of men are among us!”

“What does she mean?” Pyg pleaded of her friend. “You... you said you told the ghosts you were the servant of the Master! You said they helped us because they must obey him!”

“I didn’t want you to know the truth,” Leap said, his head hung low.

“What truth?” Pyg cried. “Leap! What truth?”

But the Ghosts of Men were coming up from the earth now, and through the vapor of their rising shapes, the elephants ran. They could not run fast enough. The dead took form. Not simply men, but dogs and lions and other spirits, too. All of the beast ghosts walked upon fours, and the men were their masters. One of the men sat high upon a spectral horse, and he commanded the horse with unseen reins though he, himself, had but a stump upon his shoulders in place of a head.

“Come on, Leap! We have to go!” shouted Pyg, but the wolf would not move.

Suddenly the priestess was beside her.

“Run, swine child!” she told Pyg. “Your friend is beyond saving. He has made the Unspeakable Oath!”

Behind them, a terrible scene took place. Some of the elephants were strangled by the ghosts. Some were devoured whole until only their bones remained. Still others fled in crazed terror until they fell upon the ancient bones and impaled themselves. The queen herself was dragged below the earth until her roars of pain and fear were silenced forever.

Someone living dragged Pyg away. She would never remember who. But she remembered Leap’s last words to her.

“They can’t hurt you!” he called after her. “That was my price!”

Then the headless horseman descended upon Leap and snatched from him what the dead had bought in the young wolf’s abominable bargain.

31 Days of Halloween #26

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 13 Text below.

The soldiers had prepared for an attack from the skies, but they had not prepared for so many foes. Foes who were better armed and organized than they. Foes who were certainly better fed. In the end, it was the rhinoceros king and elephant queen who won, but not without terrible loss.

Pyg could not feel sad for all the death around her now. She could only feel anger.

“It just keeps happening!” she said to Leap. “No matter what we do or where we go, trouble is always close behind!”

“You can’t look at it like that,” Leap told her. “You’ve lived through all of it so far, haven’t you? You were meant for something important, Pyg. Like Father Longtail said.”

“We’ve both lived through all of it,” Pyg added. “So, maybe we’re both meant for something important. I just wish we’d hurry up and find out what it was so we could go home.”

Leap didn’t say anything to that.

The next day, there was plenty to eat for all. It was bitter meat - the meat of their fallen enemies - but it was more than the soldiers had seen for quite some time. Leap ate a little, but not much. Pyg found it difficult despite her hunger.

“Eat, little wanderer,” the elephant queen urged her. “It will serve no one for you to faint from weakness.”

“Have your kind always eaten your enemies?” Pyg asked.

“In hunger, all beastkind are the same, and the hungry have always eaten whatever they could,” answered the queen.

Pyg felt embarrassed by her high-mindedness and from that moment on, she graciously ate whatever she was given.

And there were more battles fought in the coming days. More of the dead to scavenge. The Master had built his armies from all nature of beastkind. Sometimes Pyg wondered if his fighters had ever been given a choice. Or were they just like her? Bound into service in order to survive? Suppose she was the enemy now? It was a thought she did not like to think. But when she did think it, she would remember that neither she nor Leap had ever been allowed to fight. They were always kept behind. Pyg had killed no one. She could not be an enemy.

The journey went on. The fighting continued. Then there were days of solemn peace. At long last, the tall, jagged form of Mount Historious broke the endless horizon.

“Whatever peace we have known is soon to be our last,” the rhinoceros king said before all his soldiers. “The Master holds the Mother’s Mountain fast in his grip. He will no doubt defend it with the greatest of force. If you are not prepared to die... then I am sorry for you.”

The elephant queen spoke next.

“Given that we are soon to fight the battle of the ages, I would like to take one last day for prayer and solitude,” she said. “There is a graveyard for my kind not far from here. I wish to take my soldiers there to touch the bones of our ancestors.”

The rhinoceros king agreed to this request and even permitted Pyg and Leap to accompany the queen, along with the ostrich priestess.

Would that he had not. For no one, not even the queen, knew what had awoken in that elephant graveyard. And no one, not even the Priestess of Gol, expected what so cruelly expected them.

But one among them would not be surprised. He had been waiting for this moment all along.

31 Days of Halloween #24

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 12 Music performed by J.F. Archer. Text below. Read to the end for the Elephant Queen's song.

And so it was war.

And though it was war, Pyg felt safer than she had since leaving her mother’s home with her poor, unfortunate brothers. The rhinoceros king’s army was twenty thousand strong with beasts of every fur, scale, and feather. Soon, they were joined by the elephant queen and her forces whose shortage of soldiers was made up for in the sheer size of those tusked fighters.

Pyg liked the elephant queen. She was as fierce as the horned king but to Pyg and Leap she was as gentle as Pyg’s own mother.

“My daughter would have been your age, I think, had she not been taken from this world by evildoers,” the queen told her.

Often, Pyg’s thoughts returned to her mother, and she would feel very sad. She wondered if Mother knew that Strongheart and Meekfoot were dead. Was Mother even alive anymore? Had the Master’s Legion destroyed her homeland?

I can’t think about those things now, Pyg told herself. There’s no going back. It never does any good to worry about places you can’t go back to.

But worrying about the future was just as painful. Who was this Master? Was he truly the Shadow Bringer? If the words of the Goosemother Scroll were true, could he even be defeated? “If there be an end to this blight,” went the verse. If! And if the Shadow Bringer could be defeated, the end, so said the scroll, would be small. Pyg did not know what that meant, but she was certain of one thing. There was nothing small about a war.

Exhausted by these thoughts of things she could not change, Pyg looked to her traveling companion. Leap had been very quiet since they first reached the rhinoceros king. He ate little. He stared sadly into the distance. He was not the cheerful pup from the abbey anymore.

“What’s the matter, Leap?” she asked him once.

“Nothing,” he had said. “I just miss my family sometimes.”

Pyg left it at that. She knew something of pain and of wishing to be left alone with it.

They traveled for days, stopping only for sleep and to replenish their food and water when they could, though sometimes there was none to be found. When they did stop, Pyg would listen to the songs and stories of the soldiers. Many of them, too, had lost loved ones the tragic night that Pyg was born.

Even the Elephant Queen had a song, and it was the saddest of them all.

It was one such night of song and story when the moon suddenly turned black with winged bodies. With this darkness came the screeches of a hundred thousand bats and owls, each of whom wore armor that bore a familiar sigil: black claws with a gray shadow.

The battle had begun much sooner than planned.

The Elephant Queen’s song:

Cry no more, my daughter, Cry no tears for me. For when the Mother comes She will fold me in her wings. “How will the Mother come When her wings are stone from grief?” I do not know, my daughter, Will you ask her when you meet?

31 Days of Halloween #22

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 11 Text below.

“If your majesty will permit me, I believe I can divine the message of the parchment,” said a silken voice.

The voice belonged to an ostrich with intricate designs painted upon her beak. A headdress of gold links and jewels crowned her head, her feathers were dusted with a greenish pigment, and Pyg could have sworn her eyes glowed a faint emerald color. As Pyg stared into those eyes, she suddenly found herself with the knowledge that the ostrich lady was Estruthia, the Priestess of Gol. How she knew this, Pyg couldn’t have said.

The king nodded curtly, and the ibex handed the message to the priestess. Estruthia then waved a wing over the sodden page and muttered some words in a language Pyg had never heard until a light began to emanate from the shapeless stains that had once been words.

“Little Hog’s words are true, your majesty,” said Estruthia. “This message comes from the eldermouse Longtail, who bid both hog and wolf to bring it to you. The eldermice implore you to send your army, for they believe the Sh--”

Here the priestess faltered and shuddered. She quickly recovered, however, and continued. “The Shadow Bringer,” she said, “has all but taken over the Green Lands.”

The light died as quickly as it had appeared, and the message was but a sopping sheet again. The rhinoceros king, however, laughed once. A bitter laugh. It made Pyg afraid.

“Longtail is too late,” he said. “If the Master is the Shadow Bringer, he has already covered us in his darkness. Those wretches you saw on the shore. All betrayed their kings for him. And their kings betrayed each other, and now I am one of the few left to watch over the poor beasts they abandoned in evil’s name.”

“Why aren’t you fighting him? Why are you just sitting still?” Pyg asked. She quickly lowered her eyes, afraid she might provoke the massive king. But the rhinoceros instead laughed raucously, his giant belly shaking as he did.

“What do you think we’re doing?” he asked. “Do you think I live in a tent? We march to Historious, Little Hog. The Mountain at the Top of the World. The profaner has taken it for himself and holds the eldermice prisoner below it. And make no mistake, Hoglet. We will crush him.”

The king sat upon his cushions again and, to Pyg’s relief, ordered that she and Leap be untied.

“Forgive my severity,” he said. The first kind words he’d said since they met. To Leap, he offered a stiff apology. “The wolves murdered my wife and only child some years ago, and the children of many of my friends. Your kind are no friend to me. But I will not punish you for what you did not do. I cannot say that we will be like brothers, but you will be treated as a guest so long as you are on the business of the eldermice.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” Leap replied quietly.

“Servants! Bring these two some food and water,” the king ordered. “Set up a tent for them and see that they are as comfortable as it is possible to be in this wilderness.”

After a simple meal of dried fruit and nuts that tasted to the two beleaguered travelers like a sumptuous feast, Pyg braved another question of the horned king.

“Now that our message is delivered, your highness, we had hoped,” Pyg said anxiously, “well, we had hoped you would help us return home. If you can spare a ship.”

“Return home?” the king sneered. “I think not. Even if you could survive another sea journey, I have no intention of releasing you now.”

“But your majesty,” Pyg began.

“I will hear no more of this!” the king shouted. “Let you go so that you can be snatched  by the evildoer and turned against me? Let you go so that you can lead him to me? You must think me a fool. No, Little Hog. You and the wolfling are my guests. And you will remain my guests until I do release you. And I will not release you until we have won Mount Historious back from the shadows.”

31 Days of Halloween #20

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 10 Text below.

Their captors were beasts neither Pyg nor Leap had seen before. They looked like huge dogs but with peculiar rounded ears. They had blunt snouts and sharp teeth, and they punctuated their speech with eerie cackles that made them seem mad. Pyg had read about beasts like these before, but in writing, hyenas sounded so strange that she’d thought they were imagined. But once she had thought the Ghosts of Men were imagined, too, and she had now seen them for herself.

The hyenas bound Pyg and Leap and pushed them down a narrow, winding trail for at least three miles before they came to a clearing. In the clearing was a great tent of purple cloth, richly adorned with gold tassels and medallions. Two armored guards, one a cheetah and the other an ibex with enormous horns, flanked the entrance to the tent. Each carried bright yellow banners emblazoned with the same rhinoceros seal Pyg had seen in the traitors’ graveyard. Could it be? Had she been delivered to the rhinoceros king himself? She wanted to be happy, but all she could think of now were the ropes cutting into her flesh, and she’d have given up this whole mission for a crust of bread and some water.

“Halt!” said the ibex. “Who have you brought before the Horned King?”

One of the hyenas stepped forward and bowed.

“We bring trespassers, sir!” she said. (Pyg had not realized until now that the hyena was female.) “We heard the Shrieks and found them near the shore. They are strangers to our land.”

The other hyena spoke next, though he kept a tight hold on his prisoners. “We would have killed them,” he said, “but we thought His Majesty might take interest in them for it has been some time since anyone was able to sail the Wide Sea and live.”

The ibex looked to the cheetah who considered this for a moment and then nodded.

“We will take them,” said the ibex. He tossed a few coins to the hyenas, who cackled to each other, dropped to all fours, and scampered gracelessly away.

The rhinoceros king was the biggest animal Pyg had ever seen. He made a fierce sight indeed despite the delicate gold rings upon his forehorn and the many plush pillows upon which he reclined. He glowered at Pyg and Leap when they entered and said nothing for a time. Pyg wondered if he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open until he swatted away a servant antelope who’d come to offer him water.

At last he spoke. “Why,” he said in a very deep voice, “have you brought a wolf into my den?”

“The bounty hunters said they came from the sea,” answered the ibex.

“Did they now?” said the king with a short laugh. He narrowed his eyes and addressed the prisoners directly. “Who are you, then, that the Ghosts of Men would allow you passage?”

Leap started to answer, but the cheetah struck him. “If the wolf speaks again, he loses his tongue,” said the cheetah as if he had said it a thousand times before.

“Don’t you dare hurt him!” Pyg cried out. She almost received a matching blow, but the horned king held up a hoof, and the cheetah drew back.

“The Ghosts spare your life, and now you defend the wolf,” said the king. “Your resemblance to my enemies grows stronger with every word, Little Hog. Your next words had better convince me that you should live.”

“We were sent by Father Longtail of the Southtunnel Abbey to bring you a message,” Pyg answered boldly. “That wolf has saved my life twice, and his name is Leap.”

The rhinoceros king stood abruptly, his huge nostrils flaring.

“All who quote the eldermice with lying tongues are soon without tongues at all,” he boomed. “Prove your allegiance or you will have no tongue with which to plead for the wolf’s life.”

“In my cloak!” Pyg said hurriedly. “I have a parchment inside my cloak!”

The ibex reached inside her cloak and extracted a soggy roll of paper. But Pyg’s heart fell when the guard unrolled it.

“It says nothing,” said the ibex. “If ever it said anything, the sea has long washed it away.”

“Well, well,” said the rhinoceros king. “What an unlucky day for little hogs and their pets.”

31 Days of Halloween #18

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 9 Text below.

Pyg and Leap found themselves standing upon the shore of the elephant coast, Pyg watching the ghost ship vanish behind them, Leap shivering as he stared at the carnage before them.

“I wonder if he knew,” said Pyg.

“Who? And, er, what?” asked Leap, who was transfixed by the sight of a rotting zebra.

"Father Longtail about the Ghosts of Men,” answered Pyg. Her voice trembled. “About whatever happened here. Maybe we weren’t expected to come back. Maybe that’s why we were given such a useless excuse for a boat!”

She bent down, picked up a rock and threw it at the sun-dried carcass of a gazelle. The rock hit its target, disturbing a cluster of flies who cursed her as they scattered.

“Oh, no! Don’t say that!” said Leap. “Father Longtail is good and kind! If he said we’d be safe, I believe he really thought so. And-and-and besides! The Rhinoceros King will help us. I heard he has dozens of ships. He’ll get us home! I’m sure of it.”

“I’m not so sure about a king who would allow all this to happen. If he’s even a king anymore,” Pyg grumbled, gesturing to the death all around them. “Suppose he’s tied to a pole like one of these somewhere, too?”

Leap spied something nearer to the trees and cautiously made his way toward it.

“Pyg! Come look at this!” Leap called. Pyg caught up with him and saw a bleached wooden sign posted in the sand. It said: We you see are the dead of traitors. Take heed all who walk upon this soil. If you be treacherous, you will die. Beside this declaration was a brownish-red stamp in the shape of a rhinoceros head.

“See?” said Leap. “Those, um, those, well... they’re just warnings! Maybe it’s not so bad after all!”

Pyg was about to speak when there was a strange sound like leather twisting and turning. A feeling in her very bones told her not to look up, but look she did. And when she did, her blood ran cold.

“Leap?” she whimpered.

All of the wretched traitorous bodies had somehow turned their dead heads toward Leap and Pyg as if looking down at them. Then, very suddenly, they wrenched open their putrid jaws and shrieked. Oh, the horror of that sound! One hundred soulless voices screaming all at once!

Leap grabbed Pyg’s hoof, and together they fled into the trees. But no matter how hard they ran, they could not escape that horrible screeching. They stopped just once for breath, but it was once too long. Scarcely had they paused when they were seized from behind.

31 Days of Halloween #16

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 8 Text below.

Leap lifted his head to the moon and howled. It curdled Pyg’s blood to hear it, and yet there was something almost regal about the sound. It was the sound of ages past. The sound of mystery. And, most certainly, of death.

Pyg saw the ghosts, blood-hungry even in their dead forms, pause at Leap’s voice. Then, all at once, they made horrible faces of rage and ravenousness, and they rushed for the young wolf. Pyg couldn’t watch anymore. This is the end, she thought, weeping into her hooves. And it’s all been for nothing!

She heard Leap yelp, then heard his claws scrape the deck as he ran back from the advancing specters. He howled again, louder and longer. This time was different.

Pyg peeked through her hooves, and was astonished to see the ghosts hovering in place, still, almost contemplative. Then they turned away and faded into the mist, leaving the wolf unharmed. Soon after, the ship began to turn, though there was no one at the helm.

It can’t be, thought Pyg, but the ship’s compass would confirm what she already knew. The vessel had changed course for the Elephant Lands.

“It’s all right now,” said Leap in an old wolf’s voice. Then he laughed and said, “That was a close one!”

He grinned, finally returning to his usual self, but Pyg could see he was troubled.

“I don’t understand anything,” she said.

“Father Longtail says the dead men are servants of the Shadow Bringer,” Leap explained. “If the Master is the Shadow Bringer, and he has a bunch of wolfkind serving him, then that must mean the man ghosts will listen to wolves, too. I hoped it did, anyway. So, I used the old tongue. All wolves know it. It’s how we speak to each other when we don’t want others to understand.”

“What did you say to them?” asked Pyg.

At this, Leap’s ears fell back. “I... I said I was the servant of the Master, and you were my prisoner,” he answered shyly. He walked over to her and whispered. “I didn’t want to, but it was the only way. I told them not to harm us and to take us to the Elephant Lands.”

“I can’t believe it was that easy,” Pyg replied. She wondered if it truly was so simple. After all, it was the wolves of the Master’s Legion who murdered her brothers, and even they were afraid of the Ghosts.

“Yeah! Pretty lucky, huh?” Leap laughed a little too loudly. Pyg suspected there was more he wasn’t telling her, but after the past few days, she didn’t care to ask. She just wanted to reach their destination alive. The eldermouse had said the Elephant Lands were safe, and the Rhinoceros King was a friend. She dreamed of them when at last she gave in to sleep. Her dreams were simple and happy.

But safety was not the picture that greeted her when the sun rose the next morning to reveal the elephant coast ahead. Instead she saw an imposing carpet of tall, dark trees. Before the trees was a narrow sandy beach. And on the beach stood rows upon rows of tall wooden poles bearing the bodies of a hundred dead beasts.

31 Days of Halloween #14

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 7 Text below!

The dark ship drove hard and fast, driven by hellwinds to crush the little sailboat into flotsam.

“What will we do?” Pyg despaired. There was no hope of maneuvering out of the way, and Pyg had never learned to swim.

“We have to jump!” Leap answered. “Climb onto my back, and I’ll carry you!”

There was no time think beyond those precious seconds. The pair dove into the inky black sea with naught but a prayer as the demon vessel obliterated their pitiful craft. But where would they go now? They could not swim forever, both of them knew. Their food was gone, and without a boat, they were destined to drown.

By miracle or design, Pyg noticed a rope trailing in the water from the side of the ship. Without another thought, she grabbed it as it passed and hoisted herself up.

“What are you doing?” Leap shouted. “Don’t you know what’s up there?”

“Maybe we’ll die if we go up there,” Pyg called back, “but we definitely will if we don’t! Come on!”

Up they climbed, brutalized by sudden winds, the freezing sea spray lashing their faces. At long last, they reached the top, threw themselves over the side of the ship and fell, exhausted, onto the sodden deck.

At first, there was no sign of anything living or dead. For a moment, Pyg and Leap held hope that their eyes had deceived them in the mist. Here, the weather was calm. Dark, yes, but quiet. The ship’s bell clanged solemnly with the motion of the sea. Its wasted sails idly flapped. Taut ropes groaned. Wet wood creaked. And Pyg thought, this is the sound of aloneness.

And then the fog rolled in again. Between every wispy tendril of mist, shapes formed and faded and formed anew. Shapes like the creatures Pyg had once seen in a dream. The hairless creatures. The true masters of this ship. No longer could Pyg doubt the existence of the Ghosts of Men. They stood before her, looking at her without eyes, threatening without tongues. And there were hundreds of them.

“I think I made a mistake,” Pyg whispered.

“Probably not as bad as the one I’m about to make,” said Leap.

Then he stood up, and after a moment’s hesitation, walked directly to the dead men.

“Leap!” Pyg cried. “No!”

31 Days of Halloween #12

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 6 Text below for the readers.

A wolf. Here in this so-called safehaven. A wolf walking through the curtain at that very moment! And no one screamed or ran. Father Longtail was saying something to Pyg, but she couldn’t make sense of his words at first. All she could think was run. She must have been a frightening sight to behold, for the wolf’s ears fell back, and his tail ducked between his legs.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I’ll...  I’ll come back another time.”

Somehow Pyg got her legs working again, and she scrambled to the only place she could think to. Under the bed.

“Oh my,” said Father Longtail. “Perhaps you’re right, my boy. Let us give her a bit more time.”

It was only when Father Longtail returned hours later, promising her the wolf was gone, that Pyg came out to curl up wearily in the chair.

“I am sorry for the shock,” said the eldermouse. “Leap has been with us for long enough that I sometimes forget he is wolfkind at all.”

“You mean, he lives here?” Pyg asked in horror.

Father Longtail smiled. “Not every wolf is bad, my dear,” he said. “Some are, yes, but just as many are not. You lost much of your family to the very bad ones, I know. You may be surprised to learn that Leap did as well.”

Pyg remained silent, but she was listening.

“In fact,” Longtail continued, “he was brought to us near death in much the same way you were. Terrified. Alone. Having watched his parents die by the tooth and claw of the Legion. And like you, he is still a child! Even so, he has recovered remarkably well! He is too young to become a brother, but he helps us track the Legion and find survivors in their wake. That is how we came by you, my dear.”

Pyg felt very ashamed and agreed, after being assured of no ill feelings, to meet the young wolf again.

“It’s all right,” Leap assured her, tail ever so slightly wagging. “I’m sorry for scaring you. I just heard that you wanted to go home, and I thought... Well, I thought maybe I could help! I can run pretty fast and Brother Jackalbeard says my teeth are as strong as any he’s ever seen. He’s seen all kinds of teeth!”

He grinned, showing ferocious fangs. Pyg gulped and smiled nervously in return.

“That is very kind of you, Leap,” said Father Longtail, “but I’m afraid no good will be served by sending either of you back that treacherous way. I certainly cannot stop you, but if you must leave the abbey at all, I would much rather you go another way. It will not take you to your mother, little pigling, but you will be much more helpful to her and to all beastkind if you will hear what I have to say.”

The eldermouse invited the wolf and pig to sit, and when they did, he began to explain. The Shadow Bringer’s forces grew greater by the day, he told them. His soldiers left a trail of blood wherever they went, and soon the world would drown in it. A few kings had tried to rise against him, but they had been defeated, and now many had given up their authority to join with him. But far across the Wide Sea lay the Elephant Lands where the mightiest of beastkind lived. It seemed they had not yet been touched by the evil of the Master. Longtail and the other elders wondered if they knew of the strife in their lands at all.

“The Rhinoceros King has always been a friend to the order,” said Longtail. “If we could only reach him, his army and those of his allies might stand a chance against the evildoer. But we cannot trust the gulls to carry our messages anymore. Too many of them have betrayed us.”

Pyg swallowed hard. “You want us to deliver a message,” she said.

Longtail shrugged. “We need someone to. Only... no one has been brave enough.”

Pyg looked to Leap. “If it would mean the end of the killing...” she said.

“I’ll protect you no matter which way you choose to go,” offered Leap.

And that was how wolf and piglet came to find themselves together on a tiny sailboat in the dark of night. With only a lantern, some fresh water, and some turnips to live on, they sailed alone for the Elephant Lands. They knew not what they would find, but hope for what lay ahead was far better than the dread of what lay behind.

Until a dark, hulking figure appeared through the mists on the moonlit horizon. It was massive. A behemoth of rotten wood and rags. Despite a gaping wound in her starboard side, she raced, tall and threatening, toward them. Ragged sails hung lifeless from skeletal masts, but the ship was alive. Alive with the Ghosts of Men.