Webcomics and Stories
Heroic & Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction Character created by Kevin L. O'Brien
Word count: 1,999
This historical fantasy / Celtic fantasy short story was originally published in issue 16 of Nightscapes, an Internet magazine devoted to the Cthulhu Mythos. Though technically not out of print — the site is still active — it has been over two and half years since it first came out, and a more recent issue has supplanted it. Also, it has been modified from the original version; the modified version is presented here. Finally, this short story is being expanded to novella length. It takes place in Iron Age Ireland, while Medb is queen of the province of Connacht.
Ambition is like hunger; it obeys no law but its appetite. — Josh Billings
Two chariots emerged from the forest into the clearing. One was occupied by two men, the other by one woman. One of the men was a veritable giant, tall and massive. He wore his long, brown hair tied into a tail, with a huge, bushy mustache decorating his face. His companion was of normal height and build, with black, short-cropped hair and beard. The woman was big, not as large as the giant, but taller than the normal man, muscular, and statuesque. Her long, gold-tinted, bronze hair fell loose, except for two braids that hung down her front to her waist. The giant and the woman wore the clothing of the Iron Age Irish Celts, but the normal man's clothes were different: trousers, a short padded leather jacket, and a soft cap.
The clearing was small and dominated by a low hill. Around its top stood a haphazard circle of sickly, gray-green, rough-hewn stones. Ropes had been strung around and between the stones, giving them the appearance of being draped in cobwebs.
The woman addressed the normal man. "Are you all prepared?"
John Robinson answered with a curt nod. "If your men did as they were instructed, Medb, yes."
The giant scowled. "Show the proper respect, outcast."
"Enough, Ferghus," Medb chided, in a gentle yet firm tone. "I am not offended by his familiarity. I can assure you that my retainers followed your instructions to the last detail."
Robinson nodded, then stepped back off the chariot. He walked up to Medb, adding, "Then we should have no problem," before he headed off towards the monument.
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Once he had passed out of earshot, Ferghus rumbled, "I like this not, My Lady."
"I share your misgivings," she replied, "but if he can accomplish what he promised, we will finally be rid of this menace."
The giant eyed the rope webbing. "A dozen of my best men were killed trying to slay that thing," he said in a skeptical tone; "how can this outcast expect to catch it?"
"And I have lost ten times that number over the years; yet this man is different. Strange as he is, I believe he can succeed where we have failed."
"Aye, a madman may very well succeed where sane men have not, and he must be mad indeed to claim he comes from the future."
Medb only shrugged, and the two of them fell silent as they watched Robinson cross the meadow. When he reached the hill, he took a moment to examine the trap. At several locations, ropes stretched away from the stones to stakes set in the ground, and he tested their tautness and how securely they had been tied. Finally satisfied, he retreated to a tiny hut that sat nearby. Leaves and branches had been woven into the thatch until it looked like a squat, oddly-shaped shrub. Going around to the side opposite the ring, Robinson disappeared inside the blind.
After some minutes, the low-cast clouds above the ring began to darken, then swirl. When they became pitch black, they were spinning so fast they looked like a single, twisted mass. Lightning flashed through the clouds, accompanied by peals of vengeful thunder. Then the bottom of the clouds formed a funnel that slowly descended. Though it roared like a gigantic bull, there was no wind; the clearing was deathly still, almost oppressive.
The mouth of the funnel eventually reached the tops of the stones, then stopped. What looked like thick charcoal smoke came pouring out, yet it did not rise as smoke should, but instead fell into the center of the ring like thick mud. It hit the ground and began to spread out, but not so fast that it did not also pile up onto itself. It rose faster than it spread, and began to solidify. When it stopped flowing, it had assumed the shape of a quivering, jelly-like column only slightly taller than the stones. As Medb and Ferghus watched in growing dread, the column took on a grotesque shape. It looked like a gargantuan toad, though one born of nightmares rather than nature. More than that, neither Medb nor Ferghus could say; it was as if their brains could not comprehend it, and so refused to see it in whole. As the last part of it took shape, it crouched were it stood, its eyes tightly shut, as if it were waking from a sound sleep.
Its eyes snapped open, and it beheld the two humans at the edge of the forest. It grinned then, its lips parting to reveal needle-sharp teeth. It rose up, as if to stride forward to catch the toothsome meal, but instead it encountered the web of robes. It strained against them, trying to break through, but they would not yield and the monster toad became irritated. It attacked the ropes, but they would not break. Enraged, it lashed out in a ferocious manner, but all it succeeded in doing was to become entangled.
At that instant, Robinson dashed out of the blind and up to the nearest support rope. Yanking it free, he then pulled on it with all his strength. A section of the webbing came loose and wrapped itself around the monster. As it renewed its struggles, he ran for a rope on the opposite side of the ring; when he pulled on it, another section of the web collapsed and tightened on the toad thing. He continued in this manner until there was only one rope remaining; this he held as the creature, now enmeshed, fought frantically to free itself. The ropes, however, were anchored to the stones, and they seemed unbreakable, so the monster was firmly confined.
When Medb saw this, she snapped her reins and raced towards the ring, with Ferghus keeping pace behind her. When she reached the hill, she veered to one side, grabbed a spear, and jumped off the back end, confident Ferghus would catch up to her mounts. She hit the ground running, and made her way around to face the trapped beast. It had by this time ceased its struggles, but it glared with menace at her as she skidded to a stop. She brandished her spear and shouted curses at it. Enraged, it opened its mouth and shot an impossibly long tongue at her. It moved faster than the eye could follow, yet she dodged it with ease. Bellowing, the monster thrice more struck at her, but each time she either dodged the tongue or deflected it with her spear. When it tried to attack for a fourth time, she threw her spear just as it opened its mouth. The weapon struck inside, at the base of the tongue. In pain, the monster snapped is jaws and shook its head, trying to dislodge the missile, but when it failed it finally collapsed onto it haunches and just stared at the woman. Medb looked back, waiting for it to make the next move.
What do you want of me?
The "voice" did not emerge from the toad-thing's throat, but from the air around its head. Amazed, Medb watched as the cheek and throat sacks swelled and vibrated.
Speak, puny human; name your demand.
Medb approached up the hill closer to the beast. "Why do you invade my land this time each year?"
I do as my Master bids, no more.
"Why does your master bid it? Tell me your history!"
Millennia ago, when the Fomóraigh enslaved the people of Nemed, he called upon my Master for aid, and I was sent to do his bidding. He turned me loose against the Fomóraigh, and I slew them by the thousands. I pursued them even unto their island fortress, where I battled with their High King and destroyed him utterly. But his brother used the words of power and banished me into the void beyond this sphere. Since that day, I have returned each solar cycle on the anniversary of my summons.
"Why do you do this?"
I have no choice. I cannot return to the realm of my Master until released from my obligation. Whenever the gates align I slip through, but when the alignment passes I am forced back into the void. I have returned for millennia, yet so far I have found no one who can send me back.
By this time Robinson had secured the rope he had held and came to Medb's side. "Quickly," he demanded, "before the gates close, get the secret of ultimate power!"
But Medb ignored him, asking instead, "Why do you spend your brief time killing and destroying?"
I do that which I was commanded to do: to slay all who are not the children of Nemed.
Medb nodded. "I understand. The task to which you were set was fulfilled by others long ago; the Fomóraigh are no more, and you no longer need come to this sphere."
Aghast, Robinson cried, "What are you doing?"
Alas, though what you say may be true, I cannot leave of my own free will.
"Fear not," Medb replied, "for I have the knowledge to send you back."
"No!" Robinson roared, and he grabbed the woman by the arm. "You can't do that. We had a deal. You promised me that if I helped you, you would force it to grant me power over destiny and chance. I've worked too long for you to ruin it now. I won't let you rob me of my reward!"
Medb turned on Robinson and grabbed him by the throat. "Fool! I agreed to your mad plan so that I might save my people from a scourge that has plagued them for generations. I have no desire for the power you seek, or I would claim it for myself; I would never allow a worm like you to have it. Now, do not interfere!" And she threw him to the ground.
"Damn you!" he cried, and pulled a revolver out of his jacket. Pointing it at her, he added, "I will not be denied!"
Even as Medb saw the weapon and recognized the danger, the tongue of the toad-thing shot out and wrapped itself around Robinson's chest. In almost the same instant it pulled him screaming into the monster's mouth. Medb watched as his dangling legs kicked in a futile manner, and she heard several loud explosions go off inside the creature's head. Then it gulped, and the time traveler disappeared forever.
The monster sat for a moment with its eyes closed, savoring its treat. Then it opened them and looked at the woman.
Honor your word and send me back.
Medb was not easily frightened, but the events of the last few moments had unnerved her. Wasting no time, she spoke the words and made the gestures. The swirling cloud vortex inverted itself and the monster dissolved into a foul-smelling, oily green smoke, which was drawn up into the funnel. When every last trace had disappeared, the vortex collapsed and the clouds dissipated.
Medb was surprised to find herself shaking. She managed to get control of herself before Ferghus reached her.
"So, it is done," he said.
"Yes," she replied in a weary voice.
"You risked much," he added in a pointed manner.
Medb gave him a level stare. "As any ruler would for her people."
But Ferghus would not let it go. "The outcast would have killed you had not the monster protected you. Why did it do so?"
"The dark powers are not evil as we understand it, and they know the danger their knowledge poses to our world. If it is not to their advantage, they no more wish us to share it than we do." Then she shrugged. "Besides, all it wanted was to go home."
Ferghus grunted, but said no more.
Medb laid her hand on his arm and said, "Come, it is a long way back to our home, and we should get started." And with that, they started down the hill to where Ferghus left their chariots.
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