Today I welcome fellow MuseItUp Author Bryan Fields and Ingrim Thain, villain of The Land Beyond All Dreams, sequel to Life with a Fire-Breathing Girlfriend. Bryan is giving away a copy of the book in the winner’s choice of Kindle, epub, or .PDF format, and a bookmark (see photo below) . Comment and share to enter the drawing.And now, here's Bryan!
Thank you, Mary, and thank you for joining us today, Ingrim.
Em hotep nefer, khenmasi. Have great peace, my friend. To those who consume these words, Ankh! Udja! Seneb! Life! Strength! Health!
Ah, um, thank you. To begin with, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
How I became the monster I am, you mean.
Well, I wouldn’t put it that way…
I know what the living have called me. Every person who died at my hand, or who fell to my armies, who saw the corpses of their loved ones rise and obey my will, all of them died cursing me. Every vile name you can think of, every horrible fate you can imagine, I have had leveled at me, ten thousand times over. No matter how grand or vile their words, in the end, they were all calling me a monster.
They’re right, of course. I am an uncaring, inhuman, merciless monster. Legions have appealed to me, without success. The pure, the debauched, the upright, the craven, the wise, the foolish, and the wanton, all have begged, and bartered, and threatened, and betrayed all they held dear, seeking to sway my heart. They all failed. They failed, they died, and they rose again in my service. So, tell me: have I done evil enough to become a monster in your sight?
All right, I’d say you qualify. Why, though? Did you just wake up one morning, have breakfast, and decide to slaughter everyone on the planet?
Nothing like that at all. I was—well, you’d call it a Cardinal, except that we did have power to command those below us. Our faith…was demanding. In your Book of Coming Forth by Day, you can see the trials the deceased must overcome to enter the Field of Reeds and live forever. We beseeched the same gods, and faced the same trials. I don’t know how many of your people passed the trials, but, of my people, many, many failed, and the Eater of Filth devoured them.
Paradise was never meant for everyone. The trials winnowed away the chaff, allowing only the elite to attain bliss. After all, would you want eternal life in a paradise full of illiterate, uneducated commoners? Of course not! In hindsight, the revolution was inevitable.
You’re saying only the rich got into paradise, because they could buy the scrolls with all the spells and answers to get them past the trials.
The poor could learn to pass the trials as well as the rich; we taught all equally, and at no charge. Further, only the head of the household needed to pass the trials for the rest of the immediate family to attain paradise as well. This was intended as a compassionate measure, but the unworthy sought to use this mercy to cheat their way to paradise.
To carry out the cheat, two families combined their wealth to buy a copy of the scrolls. Then, they combined themselves. The elder husband divorced his wife, who then married the younger husband. The older husband then adopted the younger as his son and only living relative. Now head of both households, the eldest husband took ownership of the scrolls, and walked on a snake. It takes four days to pass to the Field of Reeds. At the fifth dawn, both households drank hemlock and entered paradise.
Like all priests, I knew about this…loophole. We referred to it as ‘sheep-shit becoming honeycomb’. Normally, we would see an occurrence every two or three years. It was acceptable, because perceiving the loophole required knowledge and wisdom, thus proving the worth of the individual.
Then it came to pass that a scribe wrote an account of how the cheat was done, and it sold in mass numbers. Commoners forsook their duties and put all their efforts into carrying out the loophole directions.
You see the problem, of course. Not only was the entire workforce dying in vast numbers, the Field of Reeds was being overrun! To save society, I proposed that the bodies of all who died in such a state should be animated and forced into endless labor as punishment. It was done. We called them shabti, after the clay figures one is buried with. They labor for you in the Field of Reeds, so you do not have to. These shabti were flesh, and labored in this world. But, the heresy spread, and I commanded the shabti became soldiers in a holy war to exterminate the heretics. All who died became shabti. The war went on, until all the faithful were dead, and only heretics still lived. I, the last priest, used the most sacred of rites to live on after death, forsaking the Field of Reeds forever. I finished the war, but by then, all the world was dead.
So, you won.
I won an empty world. In time I found another, and embarked on the journey that led me here, to your world.
Why attack our world? Your gods aren’t worshipped anymore, and you’ve made no attempt to rebuild their faith. What is it that you want?
That makes your world one full of heretics; should it not be purged? Honestly, though, why bother? I’ve grown tired of killing heretics. What caught my attention here was your obsession with fighting the undead. It’s not a recent obsession, either. The living dead have occupied your people since before you learned to make fire. It seemed a great irony for the gods of this world to allow your people to dream of such creatures, but deny you the magic required to create them. I have that power; I needed only to find a means of implementing it. The idea of distributing the spell using a weight-loss drug appealed to me. After all, the pounds do tend to just fall away after death.
I had no reason not to destroy this world with the greatest force and speed, but, frankly, I was bored. I decided to give your world the war it craved. It was my hope that such a war would produce what I craved: a challenger. When David Fraser stepped forward to assume that role, I was delighted.
What makes him the challenger you were looking for?
His heart, what else? And I do mean his heart. During our first confrontation, I summoned the Feather of Ma’at and weighed his heart against it, just as is done during the trials of the deceased. David Fraser passed, proving his worth. Who could be a better challenger than a righteous, noble soul?
I don’t suppose you’d consider moving on? Finding a different world to attack?
Kill someone else’s family and friends, you mean. Have you read the works of your Marcus Aurelius? I was quite impressed by his thoughts. One statement I particularly liked was, “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” It applies so well to every aspect of your society. I’m offering all of you a chance to embrace life, to know what it is to seize every moment, to rip the marrow from each day and devour it as though it were the very food of the gods themselves! Such a gift, and you would reject it.
But what if we don’t see this war as a gift? Even if it makes life more meaningful, or makes us value it all the more, fighting every day just to stay alive doesn’t sound like fun.
Have you ever tried it?
Of course not, and I have no desire to.
Then you should pray and make sacrifice for David Fraser to find a way to stop me. He doesn’t have much of a chance, though. I have the universe on my side. There is another passage by Marcus Aurelius you should know, and take to heart: “Despise not death, but welcome it, for nature wills it like all else.” Even if Mr. Fraser should find some means of defeating me, it will mean nothing. All will die in time, and I will still win.
“Despise not death, but welcome it, for nature wills it like all else.”
In this sequel to Life With a Fire-Breathing Girlfriend, David Fraser has a world of trouble on his hands. Well, more like three worlds of trouble…
His mother is dying of lung cancer. His employer’s experimental weight-loss drug is turning people into flesh-eating psychopaths. And Ingrim Thain, an undead necromancer, has murdered the program’s research director and taken over his body. If all that weren’t enough, a cat with working thumbs just moved into David’s house.
Thain doesn’t even want to be enemies—he offers David wealth and power beyond anything he’s ever known. He even offers to cure David’s mother and spare those he loves from the coming war. All Thain wants is for David to stay quiet about the drug’s side effects.
Do the right thing and his mother dies. Do the wrong thing, and his mother lives while billions of others die.
For David, the solution is simple. Thain’s appetite for conquest endangers not only Earth, but Rose’s world and every other world Thain learns about. Thain must be stopped.
But how do you kill someone whose will has already proven stronger than death itself?
I turned the wounded cop over to the EMTs as soon as they arrived, and collected a warm blanket in trade. Wrapped in the blanket, I stood where the OIC pointed and waited to give my statement. The marauders were all in custody, and a good sized crowd was gathering. I started to relax, until I saw the guy walking across the grass toward me.
He was bare-chested, wearing a white linen kilt, gold bracelets, a beaded gold necklace, and a full-head mask of Anubis. His skin was patchy and dry, his clothes decrepit and threadbare. Some bits of him were missing entirely. It had to be Thain.
He looked over the area, ending with the cluster of handcuffed attackers sitting on the ground. Some were still struggling against the cuffs and trying to lunge at anyone who came close to them, but most were sitting still and not moving at all.
Thain waved his hand, and all semblance of them being living human beings vanished. They were partially-decayed corpses—some more animate than others. Thain used his finger to write hieroglyphic symbols in lines of fire on the air in front of him. When he finished, the letters blazed for a moment before vanishing. All the handcuffed corpses fell to the ground and crumbled to powder.
Thain wasn’t finished with the magic show. He held his fist out toward me, and a shining ostrich feather struck me in the chest. It passed through skin and bone, settling into my heart. Falling to my knees seemed to take forever. I heard each beat as my heart slowed and stopped. I raised my head enough to stare into the eyes of the Anubis mask. All I saw there was shadow.
Something moved in the grass at his feet. A crocodile raised its head, grinning as it waddled toward me. The crocodile was wearing a gold headband, and it had the front claws and chest of a lion. The back half of it looked mostly hippopotamus, stomping along on legs that seemed far too short for such speed. The scary part was that I recognized it. It was the goddess Ammut, the Devourer of Souls.
Which meant the feather was the feather of Ma’at, and it was weighing my heart to see if I was a good person. If I failed, Ammut would consume me. No rebirth, no reincarnation, no Summerland. Sometimes I hate being well educated in all manner of weird shit.
Ammut crossed the street in easy bounds, slowing to a stop in front of me. She snapped at me, but didn’t get any closer. She just shifted from paw to paw, watching, jaw hanging open in a feral grin.
I stared back at her, trying to think of what I needed to say. I have not committed sin. I have not slain innocents. I have not lain with my neighbor, nor his wife. I have not spoken against the gods. I have not defiled the temple. I have not farted in elevators. I— I have not—
The roaring in my ears drowned out any other thoughts. Dark red blotches filled my vision, blocking out everything but Ammut’s slavering jaws.
Thunder sounded. Again. And twice more. I opened my mouth and drew sweet, sweet air into my lungs. The thunder diminished into regular heartbeats and the red miasma retreated from the edges of my vision. I got to my feet. For a brief moment, an ankh burned over my heart, glowing like molten gold. It vanished, taking Ammut with it. It left me bursting with energy and ready to take on the world.
I glared at Thain and spit on the ground in front of him. “You hit like a bitch.” I summoned Kindness to my hands and charged.
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