Assur of Babylonia
voyages to an alien world in...

Swords Across the Void
A 10-Chapter Planetary Romance!

by Kirk Straughen
About the author

What Has Gone Before: Amon-Nur sends Assur to the Moon to steal a magic amulet from about the neck of a stone idol...The sorcerer summons a demon elemental to carry Assur there but, even as Assur approaches the Moon, he is attacked...

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Episode 3:
The Dark Idol


AS ASSUR TUMBLED IN WILD DESCENT to certain death, he composed himself for the end as best he could: A brief prayer to the gods in thankfulness that his passing would be mourned by neither parents nor lover, and a certain perverse satisfaction in knowing that Amnon-Nur would never have his amulet.

“It won’t be long now,” he thought, surprised at his own calmness as the surface of the sea swelled beneath him.

Unexpectedly, something coiled about his ankles, its iron grip slowing his headlong fall. He gasped in agony as the force of deceleration wracked his body, plunging him into dark unconsciousness.

Looking up upon recovery, he saw the elemental, two tentacles entwining his legs, the other four pointing down rigidly, flaming with a white radiance that arrested his rapid descent. Never did Assur think he’d be so glad to feel its clammy embrace.

A few moments later the corpse of the creature that had assailed them fell past, a flaming ruin. It struck the surface of the strange sea, and vanished in a fountain of ebon spray.

Slowly their speed and altitude diminished until they were skimming across the surface of an alien sea whose waters were a fluid of liquid darkness that stained the looming shore with sable foam.

Upon arriving at the sandy beach, the elemental gently lowered Assur to its pristine whiteness that was fringed by a jungle of tall fern-like trees; their trunks, dark purple in color, were crowned by leaves of silver-green. He sat down heavily, knees trembling in delayed reaction to his ordeal.

“Indeed,” he thought. “Some things can be more frightening than death itself.”

Rays of thought, cast by the being, impinged strongly upon his consciousness, interrupting his musings. It seemed there was an avenue of stone carvings leading from the beach through jungle and to the temple. The temple itself radiated an emanation the elemental indicated it could not approach. Lifting a tentacle, it pointed in the direction he was to take, and sent him upon his way.

***

The dark, humid jungle closed in upon Assur. Strange pungent scents assailed his nostrils, and unfamiliar cries his ears. Riotous growths smothered the carvings – huge cubes of gray stone covered in an unknown script – making them difficult to see.

Drawing his sword, he began to hack a path through the silver-green underbrush, following the dimly discerned line of monuments. Even with the sword’s incredibly keen blade it was hard work, and he was soon soaked with sweat.

All about the Babylonian loomed overgrown mounds, the jungle choked ruins of some long forgotten race. Fortunately, Assur’s mind and body possessed the resilience of healthful youth -- despite the dangers and ordeals, he now felt exhilarated at being the first man of Earth to tread upon this unknown land. Doggedly, he forged ahead, forcing a path through the tangled verdure.

Pausing to rest, he wiped the sweat from his brow, enjoying an unexpected cool breeze that brought welcome relief from the stifling heat. Suddenly, the breeze increased to a strong wind that lashed the jungle. Darkness, like a black cloth, wrapped itself about the world.

Assur looked up in disbelief. The sky, one moment bright sunshine, was now transformed as if by magic into a boiling mass of black clouds that blotted out all light.

Black rain began to fall in driving sheets that struck him with stinging force, and in the heavens rings of crimson fire – the weird lightning of this world – exploded into being and plunged downwards, drawn moonward like iron to a loadstone.

One touched a tree nearby, blasting its crown to matchwood. Splinters from the jungle giant, as deadly as arrows, flew in all directions.

“I’ve got to find shelter, and fast,” thought Assur, as an arm length fragment of wood speared into the earth a short distance from his prone body.

He spied a huge hollow log illuminated by the flare of ring lightning. Sword drawn, he hurriedly crawled within, only to find it was the abode of some nameless terror. The creature, a formless membrane of tough rubbery flesh, enveloped him in its horrid embrace.

He tried to strike with his sword, but found it was pinned to his body by the constricting flesh. Hampered by the confines of the creature’s membrane and blinded by the darkness, he fought by touch alone. Raw panic threatened to consume him as he thrashed madly about, and it was only by employing his iron will that he reined in his fear.

The thing was smothering him in its fleshy folds, and he knew he had only moments to live. With all his strength he thrust the sword through the slug-like thing, and ripped the blade downward, freeing himself. Blood sprayed everywhere, its stench like that of burning sulfur.

Gasping for air, and backing out hurriedly, Assur emerged into the gently falling rain. He stood shivering, and not just from the cold liquid that sluiced away the sickly green blood in which he was covered. The storm had passed, but he felt his ordeals had just begun.

The passing of another half hour found him gazing upon a growth-smothered ruin. It was a pyramid of gray cyclopean blocks carved in the form of leering skulls. There was a presence about the place that touched him like the finger of a giant, oppressing him with its very massiveness and brutality.

Cautiously, he approached the gaping portal, cutting away several thick vines that oozed a resinous sap, and peered within. Here and there shafts of sunlight pierced the gloom, disclosing a vast open space surprisingly clean, as if the very jungle feared to enter this abode of unknown deities.

Gripping his sword firmly, Assur stepped within. In the shadows loomed the image of a god wrought in ebon metal, a blacker mass that stood apart from the surrounding darkness. As he advanced the image resolved itself into a hideous idol that squatted upon a dais encrusted with precious gems.

To the Babylonian’s eyes the body resembled that of an ape, but covered with scales instead of hair. A thick spiral horn protruded from between the shoulders where a head and neck should have been, and in the middle of its chest was a single eye of amber crystal that seemed to glare at Assur with malignant sight. He shuddered involuntarily, and wondered who or what would worship such a being.

Around its horn hung the amulet – a bronze disc the size of a man’s palm, with a clear jewel set in its center.

“That can wait,” thought Assur as he stooped and, using the tip of his sword began levering out gems from the jewel-encrusted dais, transferring them to a pouch at his belt.

The sudden sound of metal grating on metal made him look up. To his horror he beheld the idol coming to life, its huge claw-like hands, large as millstones, reaching out to seize him in a crushing grasp.



On to Episode 4 :Treachery Unmasked

Back to Episode 2 :Voyage to the Moon



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Swords Across the Void and the character of Assur are copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)