Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Trial of Dr. Z

Just something I wrote for Blizzard's annual story contest.  I didn't win... but I'm glad I even got something submitted!

The Trial of Doctor Z
By Thunderstep Splinterhoof (aka Erik A. Sanstad)
“Zhanjin of da Darkspear tribe…” The voice whispering was faint but unmistakably powerful and resonant.

“I can feel ya mon.  I can feel your juju leakin’ into da ether.  I be callin’ to ya spirit mon.”

Zhanjin lifted his head.  It hurt, and stabs of pain rocketed up and down his body.  Moving was a symphony of agony.  Silently he wondered how bad it would be when he opened his eyes.  Coughing he lurched forward, and could feel blood well up in his throat before he vomited the bile and the taste of dried blood out.  He could feel it splatter on his feet, and in doing so he fell onto his hands.

“You be hurt bad mon.  So bad I can feel ya.  So bad I can reach out and touch ya.  ‘Ere, drink dis mon, and rinse the death from your mouth.”

Zhanjin could feel rough gloved hands lifting him up and a bottle was forced into his mouth.  The liquid was as cold as ice, but burned his throat like seven kinds of hellfire.  The taste reminded him of old woods and graves, of autumn leaves and ghosts.  He swallowed greedily and could feel the tension of his body begin to leave him.

“What in the nine hells happened?” Zhanjin finally asked after the last drops of the liquid fell onto his tongue.

“You best be openin’ your eyes mon, and look for yourself.”

The expected stabbing pain of light did not happen.  It was dark and cool but a dull red-orange light dimly lit the horizon.  There was a body on the ground, laying in a pool of blood and ichors.  The armor was shredded, weapons were broken, one tusk shorn off, and thousands of cuts seeping blood were open on the corpse.  Looking up at the sky Zhanjin did not see the sun, but a mass of swirling black clouds.  The body lay in a crater almost ten feet deep and thirty feet wide.  Scorch marks lined the edges and molten glass seemed to drip off the sides.

“Am I… Dead?”

“Not quite mon, not quite.”  The voice was much closer now, and Zhanjin turned to face it.  There stood the tallest damn troll he had ever seen.  The figure wore a dark tattered coat over his bare muscular chest which was lined with ritual scars.  His pants were pinstriped tattered affairs and from the pockets hung watches, small tiki heads, a collection of shrunken elf ears, and a belt chain made of bone.  White fingerless gloves covered the hands, which held a cigar that smelled of burned bodies, and brown glass bottle.

“Oh no… no no no…”  Zhanjin whispered.

“Oh yes mon.  You be knowing who I be.”  The face grinned and leered at Zhanjin, a face of a handsome troll painted over with a grinning skull.  The eyes of the man burned red, even as he swept into a false bow revealing a mop of black hair after removing a battered black top hat emblazoned with a skull and crossbones.

“Baron… Samedi.”  Zhanjin whispered.

“Ya mon…  Dat be me.  You ain’t thought of me in a long time have you mon?”

“Then I am dead…” Zhanjin stated and then looked at the body in the crater.  It was a lot more familiar now, even though he did not want to admit it.  Pausing, Zhanjin looked at the Baron.

“Wait a second…  I’ve come back from worse than this!  The spirits of the earth, wind, water, and fire let me flow back into my body!  Even when they can not help Lumi, Acath, Branni, Dargo, or a host of other priests or paladins can help guide me back!  How in the nine hells am I dead!”

“Like I said mon, you ain’t.”  The baron took a drag off his cigar and blew the smoke into the face of Zhanjin.  “You best be cleanin’ your ears mon and use dat brain you have.  You is MOSTLY dead, and I stopped dis little chunk of time sos you an me can have little chat.”  The Baron grinned wickedly.  “We be needin’ to have dis chat for a long time commin’ mon an you knows it.”

Zhanjin finally looked down at his own body and saw he was clothed in only his loincloth.  He turned fierce eyes towards the Baron.  “Look… Loa Samedi.  I’m not one of your little boy toys, or some frightened jungle troll.  I ain’t gonna lie with you to get back to my body, or let you carry me off to da other side without a fight.”

The Baron laughed, a deep echoing laugh that shook the ground.  “Look at you little shaman.  Standin’ up to da big bad Loa of Death.  You gots a pair mon, dat I will give ya.  But if I was after ya body I’d have it.”  The Baron licked his lips seductively and then grinned a grin worse than any wolf. “And if I was after your soul I’d have dat too.  We ain’t in any place you can call de spirits of da mortal world, or haven’t you gotten dat yet? No no mon…  I jus wanna talk to you.”

“I don’t feel inclined to talk standing here in my skivvies.”  Zhanjin replied coldly.

“Fine fine…  ‘ere.”  The Baron snapped his fingers and a fine silk shirt and pants of Pandaren style appeared.  They were black and gold and fitted him to a T.  “I believe dat… elf… friend of yours made dese for you.  De magicy one named Saigan.”

“Yeah… She did.  How did you…”

“Dey was in your backpack mon.  No hard ting to come by.  Now we gonna talk or what?”

“Can I at least find out what happened?  I don’t remember much.”

“Yah mon, getting hit point blank wit a fireball de size of a small moon will do dat to ya.  Add in you was carryin’ some kinda experimental fuel… and BOOM!  Biggest damn explosion I have seen in a while.  You hurt real bad mon…  Dis was de only way I could get to you witout yous bein on your way to da other side.”

“Fireball?  Fuel?  I don’t…”

“Look mon, we can deal wit dese little tings later.  Right now, yous commin’ wit me sos we can have our talk. “

Zhanjin rubbed his head and sighed.  “Why the hell should I talk to you?  I don’t believe in Loa anymore!  I don’t follow the call of the old Gods.  Why the hell should I believe in something that can die?  I’ve seen our people summon and kill off their Gods, or fight off things calling themselves Gods…  I don’t BELIEVE.”

“Ya mon… Problem is, WE believe in YOU, and a lot of Loa are right pissed.  You an me are gonna have a talk, and remember why you walked away from us, cause right about now mon…  I’m de only friend you got.”

The ground shifted and swam before Zhanjin’s eyes.  Sky and earth blended and burned for a moment, and in that ash that formed between them the wind howled and blew a black road reaching endlessly to the horizon.  Off in the far distance, where sky kissed earth, a band of orange-red light dimly shone, only to be illuminated further by dark lightning from the black clouds above. 

Zhanjin and the Baron walked onto this path of ashes, and came swiftly to a crossroads in the middle of a bleak and blasted landscape, bereft of anything but dirt, ash, sky, and earth.  Only a lone, ancient, and dead tree stood in the upper right corner of the crossroads giving sign of life, and even this was marred by the hangman’s noose dangling from one of its bleached white skeletal branches.

“We talkin’ now mon…  Here at de crossroads.  No one ‘ere but da ghosts on dere way to de other side.   Your trial begins ‘ere an now, Zhanjin of da Darkspear…    Pray to whatever you Believe in now dat you impress me sos I can help ya.  Otherwise… you WILL be mine truly.”  The Baron grinned again.  “An don’t for a minute tink dat I would not like dat outcome either…  Youse sipped through my fingers one too many times mon…  Either I help ya find yer lost way… or you find MY way…  So lets start talkin’ mon… we’s got all de time in da world now.”
They sat under the old hangman’s tree.  The baron sipping from his bottle and Zhanjin staring off into the dark horizon.  Neither of them spoke as the wind blew the noose on the tree causing it to creak and groan against the dead bark.

“Shouldn’t…   There’s…”

“Out wit it mon.” The Baron stated irritably.  “You remember de old ways better dan you let on to other folk.  What be missin’ ‘ere?”

Zhanjin sighed “Papa Legba is missing.  He’s…”

The Baron nudged Zhanjin’s arm and pointed down the road.  “Dere be da old fart now.  Walkin’ ‘is dog as usual.”

The figure trundling down the road was bent with age and used a carved tiki staff to support his steps.  A wide brimmed straw hat covered his head, but the ears typical of the trolls stuck out from the sides and were burned red and flaking from years in the sun.  The Baron stood and waved, and the old man responded, dropping the leash he held and releasing his “dog.”

The little beast charged, both heads flaming and dripping molten lava burning into the ash road.  Before Zhanjin could stop it, the pup leaped onto his lap and with both heads began licking his face furiously.

“Well now… I be damned.”  The cracked and wizened voice of the elder troll stated as he reached the tree.  “I’s expected de little one to gnaw your ‘ead off, but ‘e likes ya!”

Zhanjin was able to calm the pup barely, but now it sat in his lap like a heavy boulder and looked up at him with its great golden eyes.  Its tail wagged furiously even as molten drool fell from the corners of his mouth.

“You’s gonna ask why the drool…”

“I’m in the spirit realm.  I know that much.  I also know as the Baron is with me, death can’t call for me.”

“Told ya ‘e’d remember old one.”  The Baron stated.  The old troll snorted and sat down to stuff a long handled pipe full of a foul smelling weed.

“’E damn well forgot about everytin’ else.”  Papa Legba stated while lighting his pipe.

“I did NOT forget.”  Zhanjin suddenly shouted.  “I remembered to call you before the Baron and I spoke didn’t I?  I know enough to not show fear here, or worry about my physical form.  I remember… I just don’t…”

“Believe?  Ha…  Kinda ‘ard to deny what you be seein’ right now den.” Papa Legba replied before blowing a smoke square. “Damn… never could get dat right.”

“Oh I know you exist.  Lots of spirits exist.  I just don’t think I need to pray, bow, or scrape to a buncha party, sex, and alcohol crazed psychos.  I mean technically you ain’t even Gods.  Just messengers to the creators.  Even THAT’S in question…  After what I’ve seen…”

“Hrumph…”  Papa Legba grabbed the leash of his dog and picked the wiggling puppy up from Zhanjin’s lap.  It whined, being separated from its new friend but relaxed as Papa Legba stroked its flaming hindquarters.  “Well dis meetin’ started now truly.  I’s gots other places to be.  Ifin youse remember or BELIEVE…”  Papa Legba stared at Zhanjin hard and spat the last word like a dart. “Den when dis is all over call me back an we close it out.”

“You’re not staying?”  Zhanjin suddenly asked.  Papa Legba raised an eyebrow and shook his head. 

“See Baron, I’s told you dis one forgot…  Be nice to ‘is soul when you done ‘ere.  De dog likes ‘im at least.”  With that Papa Legba stood shakily up and began to walk down the road again.  Zhanjin was left wondering as the Baron, leaning against the tree shook his head.  “De ol fart begins and ends meetin’s at de crossroads.  He does not take part in dem… I’m surprised yous forgot dat.”

“I…” Zhanjin whispered as he watched the back of the old man before he vanished in the distance.

“You usta remember a lot more little shaman…  Whatsa matter den?  De rocks and wind speakin’ too loud for you lately for you to remember your roots… Boy?”

“Boy?!?” Zhanjin suddenly wheeled around and stood looking at not the Baron, but an old troll in the traditional garb of witchdoctors of the darkspear tribe.   “What the…” he muttered before…

 “I am no boy Master Zanzil!  I can be a great Witchdoctor!”  A small boy stood in only a loincloth and a necklace of murloc teeth with his hands on his hips.  The child’s hair was shockingly red, and even now at this tender age his tusks were getting impressive.

Zhanjin fell back and tripped over the prone form of the Baron who laughed mightily.  He lounged idily on the floor and pulled Zhanjin to sit down next to him.  “Little shaman, youse gotta be more careful about where you step.  Now hush, an watch.  You remember dis don’tcha?”

Zhanjin nodded mutely and stared in open mouthed wonder as his memories played out before him.

“You is a boy untills I says you is not!”  Master Zanzill brought his walking staff down upon the red headed boy’s skull with a resonant thunk.

The adult Zhanjin winced which made the baron laugh.  

“The old bastard always hit the same spot every time… I can still feel the knots.” Zhanjin rubbed his head watched as the argument from his past continued.

“You is no witchdoctor boy!  Yous head is in da clouds.  I seen yous layin’ down and listenin’ to da dirt too!  Yous needs ta be listenin’ to da loa boy!  Your patron loa he be commin’ to you tonight, don’t make ‘im mad!”

Master Zanzill grabbed the young troll by his head and stared deep into the boys eyes.

“De loa crave respect boy, and yous gots to learn how to give it.”

The vision faded to black and the Baron stared at Zhanjin.  “You be tinkin’ dat was not true even back den.”
Zhanjin sighed and sat down looking at the Loa of death.

“I didn’t know what to believe.  I knew the loa existed, but I also saw what happened to the other tribes.”
The baron shook his head and sighed.  “We didna ‘ave anytin’ to do with dat bad mojo.  De Amani brought it on demselves, as did dose who brought Hakkar into dis world.”

“I thought Hakkar was a Loa.”

Zhanjin didn’t even see the punch coming, but next he knew, he was face down on the ground with a swelling welt forming over one eye.

“Don’t you ever call dat blood worm one of us boy!  You hear me?!?  We may demand sacrifice but never like dat!”

Zhanjin looked hard at the baron and saw the fires lit in the loa’s eyes.  His face was no longer painted like a skull, but it was a skull leering angrily down at him.

“Hakkar is no loa…  I spit on his bones.”

“So what… the loa are angry at me for getting confused about them.  Hell half the time I think all the witchdoctors are as well.  No one can remember which loa does what, and so many of your realms overlap it drives one insane!  No wonder tribes lost you or wound up worshiping spirits of the forest and beasts of the woods!”  Zhanjin stood now and spat on the ground.  

“You did not always feel dat way.”  The Baron grinned then and waved his hand.  Another vision formed.  This one however forced Zhanjin to his knees.

“Oh you bastard…”  He whispered, and the Loa laughed.

The elf struggled on the altar.  She thrashed about with the bindings cutting deeply into her skin.  An older version of Zhanjin stood behind the altar placing the instruments he needed in place.  His hair was long and barely tamed, but he wore the robes of a full witchdoctor then.  A necklace of tiger fangs adorned his neck.
“Oh little elfy… you just had to come in and start shootin’ at our people.  We saw your boat get wrecked, we saw you tryin’ to get food and shelter, and we left you alone… you just had to push it didn’t you.”

Hatred glared in the female elf’s eyes.  She fumed and spittle flew from the gag stuck in her mouth.

“I give this spirit to the Baron for his whims.  I give this woman’s flesh to my people so they might live, and I give her blood to the soil so our brothers will never be forgotten.”

The knife moved so fast that if the adult Zhanjin wanted to turn away he had no time.  It flashed up and down four times before the young witchdoctor put it aside and picked up tools designed by him to open the ribcage easier.  There was a sickening crack and spray of the reddest blood before the doctor plunged his hands into the open cavity and began cutting out the heart.

Behind this image of gore stood the Baron, his hand on the young Zhanjin’s shoulder while he smiled and pulled the female elf’s spirit from the body.  The ghostly image looked about to scream before the Baron kissed her firmly and with enough passion to ignite a bonfire.

The adult Zhanjin watched all this, and gagged as his younger self pulled the heart free and took a huge bite.
“Dat elf was fun… but I showed her de way home for her kind… eventually.  Damn girl almost wore me out.”
“What kind of being… asks someone to do that?”  Zhanjin growled as the vision faded.

“Did I ever ask for da girl to be killed?  No, your tribe did when she attacked without asking.  Did I ever indicate for you to cut out her heart and have a taste?”

“Could you have told me otherwise?”  Zhanjin stared hard at his hands.

“No, dat kind of decision was always up to you.  As it is with every witchdoctor to call my name.”

“You want our respect, and yet you do nothing for us?  Just wait to collect what we give you?”

“Say what you mean.”  The baron was grinning now. “Just say it, dere are no Gods here, or Loa, just you and me.  Say it.”

“Where were you when our people needed you?!?”  Zhanjin roared.  “Our tribe constantly attacked by murlocs, fed to that demon naga witch, beaten into near submission.  Where were you!”

Zhanjin turned around and clenched his fists.  “We called and called, and you and the other loa never came to our aid.  I offered up more murloc spirits than I can remember and you never once answered.  No it was a shaman who set us free.  It was a shaman who spoke with our tribe’s father and laid him to rest.  It was a caller of the earth, air, fire, and water who led us home…”

Zhanjin turned and looked at the loa.  Tears and fury were in his eyes.  “And now you dare to ask me why I left you?  Why I walked away to follow another path?  Tell me Baron, what use are Gods who never answer you?  What use are Gods who never help you?  I call the earth and it answers.  The wind speaks to me every time I am outside.  Fire runs through my body and water fills my spirit.  I call to them and they answer… tell me Baron, when have you?”

The Baron nodded and took a deep swig from his bottle.

“You’se sayin’ little shaman, dat I let your people down then?  You be tinkin’ dat I abandoned you?  If dat be so, then why am I ‘ere?”

“To torment a shaman for giving up on being a witchdoctor?  I don’t know…”  Zhanjin sat down once again, clutching his head in his hands. 

“Faith be a funny ting mon.”  The Baron replied while lighting a new cigar.  “You ask why I did not answer den, but ask why now…  You ever think about what those lost tribes as you know dem asked when dey called up damnation upon themselves?  De Atali demanded a God and got one…  De Drakkari demanded power from their gods, and when told to be patient… dey took de power by killin’ their gods…  Neither group did de one thing I’s hopin’ for all my worshipers to do…”

“Yeah?  What?”

“Do for their own selves and stop relyin’ on me.”  The statement caught Zhanjin off guard and he looked up at the Baron openmouthed.  

“I’s told you de loa was pissed, I didn’t tells ya why.  You Zhanjin of de Darkspear found your own way when so many other trolls use de loa like a damn crutch.  You found your power, and you still be growin’ into it.  De other loa is pissed because they be jealous of me… cause you ‘ave been, and will be my witchdoctor…  A doctor dat don’t ask of me a damn thing, because ‘e don’t need to!”

“What?  I don’t…”

“You has brains little shaman… use them.  I don’t want mindless servants, or witchdoctors dat rely on me for everyting and not themselves.  You grew up… and I am damned proud of dat.  But you forgot as well… and I can’t be havin’ dat either.”

Zhanjin looked hard at the Baron and could see the admiration in the Loa’s eyes, but he was still confused.  The Baron held out his hand and pulled Zhanjin to his feet. 
“So if you want me to keep questioning… and doing what I am doing… what do you want me to do for you?”

“Simple… You learned your path from Thrall, as did many others.  You bow to no God and dat’s fine by me… but you should remember me, cause I’s still waitin’ ‘ere on de other side for ya.  Remember us, and how we did help when you were young.  You is grown now… teach others de way, and never forget dat we are still ‘ere…”

Before Zhanjin could reply a necklace was dropped about his neck.  It was a simple chord with some tiger teeth and a faded image of the Baron.   He looked down at it and then back up at the Baron.

“So… de boy passes your trial den you old pervert?”  The voice came from up the road and Zhanjin could see Papa Legba walking slowly, trying to keep his puppy in check.

“Yes ‘e did old man…  if he can remember what I told him.”  Baron Samedi looked down at Zhanjin with serious eyes and then winked.  Zhanjin had to laugh, and then was bowled over by Papa Legba’s puppy.

“I’ll remember you.”  Zhanjin nodded solemnly to the Baron.  “I think…  I think I needed to hear this.  Thank you Baron.”    

“Well den dis meetin’ is closed…  an’ do me a favor boy… beat soma dis sense you got from da Baron into some of de other trolls.”  Papa Legba grinned and the Baron nodded.  Then the world went white…

“Never forget, you is my witchdoctor, even when you don’t need me.”

Zhanjin sat up in a sick bed with his close friend Luminala looking at him in shock.  The blood elf priestess practically fell out of her chair when Zhanjin began to look around.

“Zhanjin?  Are… are you all right?  I’ve never seen you so beat up… I did my best but you’ve been out of it for days.”

Zhanjin felt his chest and looked about the room before meeting his friend’s eyes.  “Call me Doctor Z Lumi.  I think I owe that to an old friend.”

No comments:

Post a Comment