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BABYLONIAN TALES #2 (cont?d)

01 March 2008



(This is a continuation from the previous rant, click on the back button to read it first if you haven't already)

As the sand around them boiled and bubbled like a vast cauldron's surface, hero-god Marduk and his cute little niece Janah rose from their campfire spot. Janah succumbed to the tremors and fell to her knees, trying not to sob in the face of her courageous and famous uncle. Marduk had only eyes for the wind devils swooping up the sand. The beast was definitely here.

'Janah, stay where you are.' He called out to her.

The way he knew she was safe was by following the trajectory of the small maelstroms of sand swirling in and out of existence around them. As the desert quaked, Marduk's hawk-like gaze followed them around, noticing their increase in largesse and ferocity.

'I'm scared, uncle Marduk!' Janah cried, covering her head with her tiny arms.

'No need to be.' Marduk reassured. 'This is only a minor beast. Well, medium, really.'

'Medium-to-large.' He added.

Then, the ground exploded under them. Following a veritable tidal wave of sand blasting into the heavens, a great segmented insect burst out from under the campfire. The flames scattered into the ether and its gleaming black body was illuminated by burning embers glowing hot with desire. As they scattered onto the melting sand below, the creature raised its pitchblack head and shrieked annoyingly. It had many scythe-esque pincers along its frame and giant scorpion claws as main extremities. Its head was undiscernibly hidden in the vast darkness of its body; only features of sharp teeth and glowing, anthracite eyes could be made out. Marduk stared back at it real good. Janah was whimpering softly and crawled backwards away from the slithering mass of scales and carapace.

'You're Azuqqan, aren't you? And this is your favourite hunting spot.' Chattered our hero-god politely. 'And I bet you just didn't think of the ramifications when you ate the high priest's son a month ago. You thought you might get away with it, and you were probably hungry, and that caravan was long with juicy camels. And well, who am I to judge? I've been hungry before. I know how it is. And maybe you even considered that the circle of life was something everyone just blindly accepted. Eat and be eaten. And why not? But you just didn't think it through properly. You didn't consider human tenacity.'

Azuqqan released another indignant cry. Marduk's beard was displaced a centimetre by the gust of breath.

'Now me, I'm a simple man.' He continued. 'I appreciate a half-demon's need to feed. And believe you me, if it weren't for the high priest and his incessant complaining about your conduct and my body of counsellors -I can't believe I'm bringing them up again- coercing me into taking up this cup... I wouldn't be here tonight. But the fact of the matter is; I have obligations. I don't know why, but they seem to come with having fantastic muscles. It sure as hell isn't my fashion sense. They've been trying to get me de-bearded for decades. You wouldn't believe the stunts they pull. But I digress. All I'm trying to say is... you crossed the line -and sometimes the line lets you leave unharmed, and sometimes it's not so forgiving. Time to own up to your feeding habit.'

Marduk put a foot in the sand, as was often his first move in combat, and jumped at the nightmare. A scythe waved wildly at the air he occupied moments before and then retreated instantly to deal with the menace that had now attaching itself to its torso. Marduk had grappled himself onto the scale covering Azuqqan's chest. He clambering on top of the thing and considered his options. All around him were flailing knives trying to slice him up. The only way was up, to a gaping black mouth full of ebony slivers glimmering in the night. But he had studied the creature's physique on the old scrolls in the library of Umnabulapna and had considered this battle carefully. His tactic was bold yet elegant, and highly dangerous. Possibly stupid. Just how Marduk liked it. Too much refinement made his head spin. Everything that couldn't be done reasonably in the spur of the moment he left to those Renaissance men avant la lettre in the North-West.

So the hero-god of Babylon avoided two whirring blades, slid a story down and swung to the back of the monstrosity. He took hold of the upper edge of a backplate there and pulled with all his might. His giant muscles rippled and Azuqqan hissed and screamed as his designer carapace was torn asunder. The fleshy substance underneath tried desperately to hold on to the shield, but its quivering tendrils snapped and a meaty treasure was uncovered. The naked wall of skinless blubber was exactly what Marduk wanted to see. He dropped to the desert floor and waited for his opponent to turn around.

'I know you're upset with me,' He said. 'But if you'll look behind you, there's a snack you're incapable of resisting.'

Azuqqan twisted his worm body once more and peered down with undisguised menace and lust at Janah, who had managed to crawl only a few instances away before getting trapped in a small pocket of non-sand. So it is true, Marduk thought, he does like the little ones. Good thing I brought Janah. Sis is going to be pretty mad, but I'll handle that then and there.

The insect demon descended upon the girl with greedy arms and a chattering laugh. Marduk estimated he had about five seconds before his niece would be swallowed whole and chopped up with a thousand little scythes placed along the inside of Azuqqan's extended throat. But he didn't actually think. He was in the hunter's zone. With the demon's unshielded back exposed to him now, the hero-god produced a kris conceiled in his dusty sandals and cast the wavy dagger into the sky. At the single last moment before Azuqqan's feeding frenzy it landed into the latter's back's soft bits. The throw has been precise and fast, and such was the demeanor of the spinal column when it cracked open and sent little impulses to the brain carrying a message in insect tongue: Help us! We're dying! We're dyyyyyyyinggggg...!

In his death throes, Azuqqan tried to slide back into the sand he came from with great violence and seeming gusto. The earth quaked once more and then the life was drained from his cluster of dusky eyes. Dead beyond a doubt, he was stuck halfway between the world of the desert and that of the sky, sticking out from the grains like a bent pillar adorning some abandoned ziggurat. His skin growing pale and unreflective, he stood as a warning against demonic gluttony.

Marduk patted the back of his favourite niece. Janah looked upwards with great eyes pooling with tears.

'There, there.' Uncle said. 'It's dead now. And you were of great help to me.'

'That...' She began, sniffing. 'That... was incredible! Promise me you'll take me again, uncle Marduk!'

Her sudden enthusiasm was a bit of a surprise to him, but then, it did run in the family.

'If I survive your mother... perhaps.' He said earnestly.

Janah smiled.

'Next time I cook.'

Roderick.