Thursday, March 30, 2017

Nile High: Baku In A Haystack

Okay gang, it's here at last!  This is the first story of the new Nile High.  For those who don't know, it a little something I've been working on about mythological gods and goddesses attending boarding school, and having adventures, in a deliciously anachronistic ancient world. What started life on Fictionpress all those years ago is now finally gaining a fresh new life on my blog.  I've wanted to share this world, and these characters, for a long time.  Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments.  Oh, and if you can thing of a good title, don't be shy about making suggestions.  Alright, enough with the intro, let's get on with the story!      



Thoth was used to seeing the halls to the Nile High Academy of Gods and Goddesses bustling with students going to and from class.  Walking the halls during class, went they were almost completely deserted, was almost like stepping into a totally alien world.  Thoth had asked to be excused his world philosophy class to use the restroom, but in actuality he just felt like strolling around for a bit.  Besides, he'd pretty much had the entire world philosophy book memorized, so it wasn't like he'd be missing much.  It was shaping up to be a day of smooth sailing, but fate had other plans for Thoth.

Thoth noticed move out of the corner of his eye.  At first, he just brushed it off, but then he noticed that the blur was getting closer to him.  Thoth looked again and saw his best friend Anubis poking his head out of a trash can.  Anubis darted his eyes around nervously and motioned for Thoth to came over to him.  This could only mean one thing: Anubis had gotten himself into some sort of mess, again.  Thoth sighed and walked over to where Anubis was hiding.

"I really blew it this time, Thoth!  Okay, admittedly I use that line on you a lot, but I really, really mean it this time!  You gotta help me!  If Tsukuyomi finds out what I did, he'll have my head on a spike for sure."

"And what exactly did you do to put yourself in this predicament?" Thoth inquired.

Anubis took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "So you know the other day how you said I needed more responsibility in my life?  Well, Amaterasu was looking for someone to watch her pet cat-tiger-tapir-elephant...thing."

"Ah, her pet baku.  His name is Haku, if I recall correctly."

"Yeah, that's the one!  So anyway, there's a pretty nice reward attached to the job and I decided to take it.  Amaterasu and her bro Tsukiyomi gave me the usual rules spiel, handed me some instruction papers and sent me on my way."

"I see, and what did you do with those instructions?"

"Oh, dude!  I went hang out with Thor and we made these awesome paper airplanes.  You should have seen them go!  I never knew paper airplanes could fly that high.  We also made some paper balls and played fetch with Haku.  It was kind of cute."

"Hey, that might be something.  Did the papers say what to do if...you didn't even glance at those papers, did you?"

"Nope, not a single word, but I did manage to make a paper airplane do, like, seven loop-de-loops in a row."

Thoth sighed and massaged the bridge of his beak. "Okay, so where was the last place you saw Haku?"

"Well, after playing catch I took Haku to the library so we could take a nap.  We found one of those sections nobody ever uses, fluffed up our pillow, curled up on the floor and and had the best nap ever.  Then when I woke up Haku was gone, I freaked out, and now we're all caught up.  Come on buddy, help a pal out?  Tsukuyomi ain't gonna let this slide if he finds out."

Anubis certainly had a point there.  Thoth could well recall an occasion when he'd accompanied Thor to Japanese dorm on official business of the student council.  The Norse thunder god, completely ignorant of proper Japanese etiquette, had made numerous faux pas through the meeting.  Tsukuyomi had tried his best to be indulgent, but he'd slowly become increasingly unhinged as the meeting dragged on.  Eventually, things came to a head when Thor belched without excusing himself.  After that Tsukuyomi judo flipped Thor at least twelve times before literally kicking him out of the dorm.

Thoth certainly wanted Anubis to learn from his mistakes, but leaving him to Tsukuyomi's wrath would be complete overkill.  The library seemed the most likely place to start the search; given that it was where Anubis had last seen Haku.  Thoth did briefly worry about walking out on his world philosophy class, but he quickly dismissed the concerns.  Mr. Tenjin tended to be fairly understanding whenever Thoth needed his fellow students on short notice.

#

The library was one of Thoth's favorite parts of school.  Whenever he was having a bad day he could instantly perk himself up with the wonderful smell of books and scrolls that greeted him whenever he first walked into the library.  The library spanned multiple levels; in fact, some of the shelves stretched all the way from floor to ceiling.  Thoth had spent many a happy afternoon getting lost among the forest of shelves and alcoves.  Even if he didn't find specifically what he was looking for, rare as that was, he was sure to find something of interest and have a good time.

Of course, scouring the library for a lost baku was quite a different matter.  Anubis had lost Haku a section hardly anyone used, but where could that be?  Perhaps they could narrow it down by going through some of the more esoteric subjects.  History of sweet potatoes in Japan?  No, that wasn't obscure in the slightest.  Survey of underwater basket weaving technics?  Underwater basket weaving was one of the most popular classes, so that was a no.  Comparative methods of alchemy?  Well, that was practically a trend these days.

After a while Thoth and Anubis decided to take a break at one of the work tables.  Thoth wondered to himself if he was looking at the problem from the wrong angle.  Haku was a moving target, and that meant he could be anywhere in the library.  A bit more troublingly, it also meant he could potentially be anywhere in the school.  Maybe they needed to focus less on find Haku, and more on getting Haku to come to them. 

As Thoth pondered these thoughts he felt a tapping on his shoulder.  He looked up to see a Greek goddess with long blue hair, and who was wearing an olive-green chiton with bronze battle armor, standing next to him.  Before he'd gotten tied up with Anubis, Thoth had agreed to meet Athena in the library.  Every Tuesday they got together to discuss the craziness going on in their dorms, a subject they had yet to exhaust, and make a plan of action for when, inevitably, things really went off the rails.

"Hey, guys...what's with all the scrolls about baku?"

"In a nutshell?  We need to find a missing baku or Tsukuyomi will kick Anubis' ass into next Thursday."

"Yeah, that's about what I figured.  Any progress so far?"

"None so far, but I did have an idea.  Dreams, practically bad ones, are a baku's favor food source.  So, what if we were to lure it out by sleeping?"

Athena nodded in agreement. "It does have a high probability of success.  We'll need somewhere secluded to pull it off.  Perhaps the sociology section?  Hardly anyone ever goes there."

"Ooh, that's a big no-can-do on that one.  Hermes told me that he and Freya were gonna have...a study session!  Yeah, they're having a very important study session and they don't want anyone to disturb them," said Anubis.

"And what exactly are they studying?" inquired Athena.

"Uh...anatomy and biology."

"Pre-modernist critical intersectional dance therapy section it is then!"

Anubis was quick to volunteer himself as the one to take a nap.  He quickly pulled several books off the shelves and assembled them into a bed.  Next, Anubis unfurled a particularly large scroll and laid it on top of the books like a blanket.  Satisfied with his work, Anubis plopped down on the bed of books and covered himself with the scroll.  He nestled into a comfortable position, closed his eyes and immediately reopened them.  Anubis tried to shift into a more comfortable sleeping position, but nothing he seemed to do worked.

"Hmm, that's weird.  This is one of my favorite places to nap.  You know, now that I think about, I might have some honey cakes stashed around here.  Yeah, maybe that'll help."

"Just purely out of curiosity, why do you like to nap in the library?  You do know that's what the dorms are for, right?" asked Thoth.

"Thoth, please.  There ain't no sleeping in Egyptian Dorm!  There's always something fun happening; it's like a big party!  Of course, sometimes I need to just get away from it all, so I come here."

"Oh please, you guys have nothing on Greek Dorm.  Just the other night, Dionysus flooded the entire dorm with wine, and then he let at least thirty wild leopards into the dorm.  Why did he do this?  He's Dionysus, that's why.  Oh, but that was just the beginning.  After that, Hephaestus' automatons began to malfunction..."

"Gah!  Oh man, that is an epic story of awesomeness!  I'll never get to sleep at this rate!"

Thoth snapped his fingers. "I just remembered, I forgot to fill you in on that math class you missed.  So, we start by factoring a really big number..."

And just like that Anubis was out like a light.  Now it was just a matter of patiently waiting for Haku to take the bait.  Fortunately, it wasn't long before there was a rustling from a nearby bookshelf.  The little baku trotted over to Anubis and wiggled under his arm like a stuffed animal.  Anubis smiled happily and stroked Haku in his sleep.  Everything was going exactly as planned, but then Thoth caught movement out of the corner of his eye. 

Thoth had to look again to make sure he wasn't seeing things.  He glanced over at Athena and confirmed that she'd seen it as well.  A few months ago, some of the Egyptian students had thought that it would be funny to bring some of the library books to life.  Most of the books had been captured and rendered inanimate, but a few remained free.  Normally, the flying books were harmless, so long as it wasn't their nesting season.  The books turned especially territorial and aggressive during nesting season. 

Thoth and Athena did their best the avoid any sudden movements; lest they spook the books.  The books were beginning to circle around the trio of deities, and a few had perched themselves on the tops of nearby shelves.  Thoth extended his spell staff to its full length and Athena unsheathed her sword.  At first everything was still and there was nothing but a tense silence, then the books made their attack.

Most of the books attacked by dive-bombing, but a few had more specialized attacks.  A book about weather shot bolts of lightning, while a book about volcanos emitted a stream of fire.  Thoth cast a few basic shielding spells in hopes of getting the books to back off.  Unfortunately, this only seemed to irritate the books further as they began to swarm even faster than before.  Athena unsheathed a second sword and proceeded to tear through the books like the tornado.  Tattered pages scattered everywhere as papyrus and parchment met bronze blades.  Athena managed to do quite a number on the books, but it still wasn't enough.

Thoth considered his options; he needed something that would be quick, but also kept collateral damage to a minimum.  A fire or water spell could easily get out of hand in a confined space such as the library, and wind spells could prove tricky as well.  He considered using a speed spell to make it appear that time was froze, but those spells drained a lot of energy.  Hmm, freezing, perhaps that could be something?  Thoth pulled out his curved ivory wand and drew a snowflake hieroglyph in the air.  Each stroke of the wand produced a glowing line, and when it was finished the hieroglyph burst into a shower of blue sparks. 

The air grew noticeably colder and frost began to form along the covers of the flying books.  Before long they began to look more like ice sculptures than books.  The books gave one last flap of their pages before they completely froze solid, dropped to the floor, and shattered into millions of pieces.  The few flying books that had managed to survive quickly darted away for parts unknown.  Athena nudged the pile of frozen book bits with one of her swords and gave Thoth a quizzical look.

"Hmm, flash freezing spell?  That's a new one."

"It's, uh, just a little something I've been working in my spare time.  The snowflake hieroglyph is, admittedly, a bit of an improvisation, but it certainly gets the job done."

Just then, Anubis woke up and affectionately scratched Haku's head. "Now that's a good nap.  So anyway, what did I miss?"

Athena arched her eyebrow in suspicion. "You seriously didn't hear any of that?"

Anubis shrugged.  "Well, I had help from this adorable little fuzzball."

Anubis tucked Haku into his satchel and the three gods made their way out of the library.  The baku hunt had taken so long that it was just about time for alchemy, a class all three of them had in common.  The halls had once again returned to life with the hustle and bustle of students going to and from class.  Thoth, Athena and Anubis were about to round the corner when they found their path blocked by an imposing figure.  He was tall and intimidating, but his most notable feature was, without a doubt, his eyes.  He had at least 100 eyes scattered all across his body.  He was Argus Panoptes, Vice Principle of Nile High. 

Mr. Argus was not particularly fond of Athena, and they frequently butted-heads with each other.  This wasn't because he held any particular ill will towards Athena.  However, Mrs. Hera despised Athena with every fiber of her being, and Argus took an immediate dislike to anything Mrs. Hera hated.  He had served as her bodyguard for many years, and he still tried his best to win her favor whenever possible. 

"I spy, with my hundred eyes, three students who appear to be up to no good."

"Oh, hello Argus," remarked Athena as she nonchalantly studied her fingernails.

"That's Mister Argus to you, girl.  So watch your mouth."

"Are we really about to go through all of this again?  Is the kiss-assing business really that slow today?"

"Do not speak ill of Lady Hera!  She is the Queen of Olympus, and I my duty bound to defend her honor!"

"But I didn't even..."

"Don't try to deny it!  I can see what your intentions were!  Remember, I am watching you, Pallas Athena!  I am always watching you, and when you slip up, I will be there!  Now, away with the three of you!  I have important matters to attend to."

With that, Argus marched into his office and slammed the door behind him.  Thoth breathed a silent sigh of relief.  Argus and Athena's mutual vendetta could get rather heated at times.  If they managed to get through an encounter with causing any collateral damage, well, it was a certainly small blessing.  Thoth's relief soon evaporated when he glanced over at Anubis.  The jackal-headed god was staring in disbelief at the gaping hole in his satchel.  Thoth stared at the Anubis, then at the hole in the satchel, and back to Anubis once again.  The baku hunt was back to square one.

"I don't understand; how could Haku have chewed though the satchel so quickly?"

Anubis placed his hand behind his head and smiled sheepishly.  "Hypothetically speaking, I may possibly have forgotten to get my satchel patched up."

"Well, 'hypothetically speaking', I'm about three seconds away from slapping you!" snapped Athena.

"Okay, okay, let's all take a step back and think before we do anything rash," said Thoth as he stepped between Anubis and Athena.  "What we need right now a way to determine probability.  What's the most likely place Haku could have gotten to?"

Athena pulled out a stylus and clay tablet and quickly began to jot down mathematical equations.  In a way, mathematics was a kind of magic in its own right.  Anything that could be proved mathematically it could be proved in the real world.  Thoth had the upmost most respect for Athena and her mathematical formulas; though they did have a bit of friendly rivalry over whether science or magic sliver a given problem better. 

Athena frowned as she examined her work.  She ran the equations few more times, but the results were the same no matter what she did.  It didn't take much deduction for Thoth and Anubis to know that the answer wasn't going to be good.

"The math checks out.  I can say with eighty-eight percent certainty that Haku is in...Argus' office."

"Well, on the bright side, at least Tsukuyomi doesn't know," remarked Thoth.

Immediately after Thoth uttered these words the trio of gods saw the one deity they least wanted to see.  It really goes without saying that this deity was, in fact, Tsukuyomi himself.  Anubis stared in bug-eyed horror at the Japanese moon god, but he quickly composed himself and casually leaned against the wall.  If Tsukuyomi suspected that anything was off, he made no sign of it.

"Hello, Anubis.  Fancy meeting you here.  Is everything going well with Haku?"

"Haku?  Yeah, that little rascal's having a blast.  Things couldn't possibly be any better.  You know I got this, man!"

"Why that's just dandy.  Say, where is the little fellow?"

"Where is he?  Um, uh, er, well you see, Haku is...under Athena's helmet!  Yeah, that's where he is!  He got a little sleepy, and baku like to sleep on people heads so...there you go."

"Really?  Looks like there wouldn't be that much room, but if you say so.  At any rate, I'm glad I ran into you.  Just wanted to check in and make sure everything's okay.  That baku means the world to my sister.  If anything were to happen to him, well, I'd do anything for my dear Amaterasu."

With that Tsukuyomi bowed to Anubis and went on this way.  Anubis let out a sigh of relief, knowing that he'd just dodged a major bullet.  Of course, there was still the issue of getting Haku out of Argus' office.  Mr. Argus' hundred eyes could see almost the entire electromagnetic spectrum; a basic invisibility spell simply wasn't going to cut it.  Thoth snapped his fingers as if he was summoning something, but nothing seemed to appear.  He then bent down, as though he was picking something up, and then Thoth's right hand completely vanished. 

"I figured this old thing might come in handy someday."

"The invisibility ring we made for the school magic fair!  Every time we fixed one problem another one popped up.  It still amazes me that we got first place," said Athena. 

"Okay, so if it's an invisibility ring then how do you see anything?  Like, wouldn't your eyes be invisible too?" asked Anubis.

"That is...actually, that's a really insightful question.  Normally I would have just used a sight charm, but Athena insisted we challenge ourselves.  It has to do with the fractal foldings within the..."

"Okay, I'm bored now.  What's that plan?"

Athena rolled her eyes. "I'll use the ring to look for Haku, you guys run interference and keep Argus distracted."

Thoth's relation with Mr. Argus was, at most, fairly indifferent.  Thoth was a model student, and certain did his best to stay out of mischief.  However, whenever Argus and Athena got into a particularly heated argument he almost always sided with Athena.  Thoth wasn't sure what to expect when he knocked on Argus' door.  The door swung open and Argus...just stared at Thoth and Anubis, as if he wasn't sure what to make of them, or what to do.  After a few minutes of drawn out, and considerably awkward, silence Argus cleared his throat.

"Oh, uh, hello there.  Might I inquire about your business here?"

"Hello, Mr. Argus.  As I understand it, part of your role as vice principal is being there for students when they have problems and concerns.  That is to say, Anubis and I really would appreciate it if you took a few minutes to speak with us."

"I, er, alright then.  Come on in and have a seat."

Thoth lingered at the door in order to assure that Athena slipped in.  Argus briefly eyed Thoth suspiciously, but he soon went back to looking confused and awkward.  Thoth hadn't really had any time to prepare a cover story; he was going to have to improvise and hope that Anubis could keep up. 

"Have you ever felt...well, suppose that you like someone, but they don't know that you like them.  Almost like, well, almost as though you were totally invisible and they didn't even know you were there.  Do you know what that's like, Mr. Argus?"

Thoth immediately felt a sharp pain in his leg, as though he'd just been kicked.   He could practically see Athena giving him a look and, okay, admittedly he been a bit on the beak just then.  Argus gazed longingly at photo of Mrs. Hera that was on his desk.

"Yes, I suppose I do know what that's like."

"It's like your chasing after that one thing that will solve all of your problems.  You're constantly running around, but then it turns out that what you're really looking for is much closer than you think.  Maybe it's not where you want it to be, certainly not where you'd have preferred it to be, but when you find it..."

"What my buddy Thoth means to say is, don't you think Mrs. Hera is the best teacher this school had ever had?"

This definitely got Argus' attention.  A significant portion of the office appeared to have been turned into a miniature museum dedicated to Mrs. Hera.  Overseeing the assembled collection of assorted knickknacks and paraphernalia was an imposing portrait of Mrs. Hera.  Argus walked over to the portrait reverently and motioned for Thoth and Anubis to join him.

"Quite a sight, isn't it?  Easy the most expensive item in the collect, but it was worth every drachma.  I took out four different insurance policies just to be on the safe side.  Not that I think I'd need them, but you never know, especially at this school.  Now then, let's start the tour.  You'll notice the scent of pomegranates in the air; they are Lady Hera sacred fruit, and I always keep a few scented candles burning.  Over to your right you will see a tea set that Lady Hera once touched for exactly thirty seconds.  Wouldn't it have been something to have been there when it happened?"

Just then Thoth and Anubis noticed something poking out of the tea pot.  It was a tiny trunk and that could only mean one thing: they'd finally found Haku!  Their elation was short-lived once they realized that they'd have to snatch Haku from beneath the all-seeing eyes of Argus.  Thoth ran through multiple scenarios in his mind.  His thoughts were moving faster than the speed of light; a magnitude of possibilities stretched before him.  He had his answer in less than the time it took to blink an eye. 

"Mr. Argus, that teapot is looking a bit dull.  However, if you'll allow me to borrow it for a minute, I think I have just the spell to resort its shine good as new."

Argus narrowed his eyes. "Well alright, but I've got my eyes on you."

"The spell will cause the teapot to disappear, but don't worry, that's perfectly normal.  Rest assured, it will return to you momentary.  And now, I shall begin the spell."

Thoth held out the tea pot in his hand, and recited some random gibberish to act as a cue for Athena.  The seconds seemed to drag on for an eternity as Thoth waited for Athena.  Then, without any fanfare, the teapot turned invisible.  The whole office fell to dead silence; the only sounds came from the ticking of clocks on the walls.  Thoth hand felt like it was on fire as soon as the tea pot returned to visibility.  The invisibility ring granted whoever wore it, and anything they held, total immunity to the electromagnetic spectrum.  As a consequence, this meant that anyone, or anything, under the rings power was completely immune to thermal radiation. 

The teapot was so burningly cold Thoth felt as though he was holding a piece of molten magma.  He instinctually let go of the teapot, but not before whispering a quick fortification charm so that the teapot didn't shatter into a million pieces.  Argus dove across the room and caught the teapot just before it touched the ground.  The vice principal held his hands, and their eyes, as close to the teapot as possible.  There was a steely look in all 100 of Argus eyes as he searched for even the tiniest imperfection.  Argus gave a nod of approval after inspecting to his satisfaction.

"Admittedly, a bit unorthodox, but I can't argue with results.  Though I would work on that dexterity if I were you."

Thoth was about to respond when he felt something small and furry rubbing against his leg.  He didn't even have to look down to know that it was Haku.  The little baku must have wiggled out of Athena's grasp.  Thoth tried to hid Haku behind his leg, but this inadvertently drew Argus' attention.

"Say, what have you got there?"

"Nothing!  Nothing, it's just a...a leg exercise that I do sometimes."

"You've got something alright, let's see it."

"Ooh, are those toffees?  I love toffees!  Can we have some toffees?" asked Anubis in a desperate attempt to distract Argus.

"Those toffees are strictly for..."

Suddenly, Argus hunched over as if he'd just had the wind knock out of him.  Before long the hundred-eyed giant of a man had collapsed to the ground and was groaning pain.  Athena faded into visibility and surveyed her work with a satisfied grin.

"Crotch shot, works every time."

Anubis winced. "Girl, that is low!"

Athena shrugged. "It gets the job done.  Now let's grab Haku and get out of here."

Thoth paused to examine the scented candles.  He had to admit, they were certainly good quality candles, and such reasonable prices as well.  Unfortunately, Thoth failed to notice that Haku was darting towards him, with Anubis in hot pursuit.  Anubis slammed into Thoth before he had time to react, and the candle went flying.  The candle soared so high it nearly touched the ceiling; then it arced back down and slammed into the portrait of Mrs. Hera.  Before long the portrait was completely consumed by flames.  Anubis tried to dowse the inferno using water from a nearby flower pot but, owing to the chemical composition of the oils in the paint, this only made the fire stronger.  

It was as the flames surged in strength that Argus regained consciousness.  All 100 of his eyes stared in horror at the burning portrait.  Thoth cast a spell that stripped the air around the portrait of its oxygen, thus extinguishing the flames.  However, there was nothing left of the portrait except for a pile of ashes.  Argus rushed over to his desk phone and swiftly dialed the number for his insurance agent.

"Hello, insurance agent?  A tragedy has occurred and need you to give me money!  Yes, that is correct, my portrait of the Lady Hera.  It was completely destroyed in a fire...how did it happen, you ask?  Well, it would appear that three deeply disturbed miscreant hoodlum students of mine...what do you mean you're denying my claim?!  Fire damage is clearly covered under...why yes, I am vice principal at Nile High, what of it?  Acts of the Gods?  Not covered under my policy?  Look, I know there were three gods involved, so I suppose that could be interpreted as an Act of the Gods.  What I don't know, however, is why you're taking so long to give me my money!  Hello?  Hello?  They hung up."

"Sir, I know it looks bad, but I have just the spell to..."

"I think you've done quite enough as it is.  But don’t worry, I'm sure we can work something out when I see you and your girlfriend in detention for the next five months!"

"Detention!  You can't do that us, we're heads of dorm!  Heads of dorm don't get detention!" exclaimed Athena.

"I can and I will.  Oh, you can be assured of that.  It's one of the benefits of being vice principal."

"Wait," said Anubis. "Thoth and Athena wouldn't have been here if it wasn't for me.  Let them go free; I'm the one who deserves to be punished."

"Don't worry, you'll get your punishment in due time, but the fact remains that...wait, what are you doing?  Put that tea set down right now, or so help me..."

A mighty and thunderous roar fill the room, and made everyone freeze in their tracks.  Thoth, Athena and Anubis turned to see where the roar had originated from.  A wise and ancient dragon stood in the doorway.  He looked like neither the dragons of Europe nor the dragons of East Asia, but both of these at once.  His eyes bore many years of knowledge, but they also radiated warmth and happiness.  He could be gentle and and easy going, but he would fight tooth and claw to defend his students from harm.  He was Mungu Joka, Principal of Nile High.

Principal Joka was the god of a people living somewhere in East Africa; though nobody could ever remember where specifically.  As soon as Principal Joka walked into the office he made a beeline for the dish of toffees Argus kept on his desk.  He selected his toffee with the upmost of care, gently unwrapped it and plopped the candy in his mouth.  As Principal Joka savored his sweet he quizzically titled his head at Argus and the students.

"Well, don't you want a toffee?  I bet that you do."

"Mr. Principal, with all due respect, this is a very serious..." before Argus had a chance to finish he found himself with a mouthful of toffee courtesy of Principal Joka.

"Oh, I agree, this is very serious indeed.  Seriously good, that is!  Don't be shy, there's plenty for everyone.  Some of Athena, some for Thoth and some for Anubis!  Okay, everyone have their toffees?  Good!  Now let's chew our toffees together!  So much fun, our lips are moving up and down, up and down.  Well, Thoth has a beak, but it is moving up and down, up and down.  We savoring the flavor, the toffees are being mashed into a pulp and isn't it glorious?  And we are still chewing, but soon it over and time to...swallow!  Okay, has everybody eaten their toffees?"

Everyone noded their heads in agreement.  Principal Joka stroked his beard thoughtfully.

"Really, are you sure?  Come on, open up and let's have a look.  Hmm, hmm, indeed!  You have all successfully eaten your toffees!  Wasn't that fun?  There's never a wrong time for something sweet.  Now then, why were the four of you arguing so passionately when I got here?"

"They burned my prized portrait of the Lady Hera!  Principal Joka, I strongly urge you to take theses vandals to your office and have them expelled!"

"Hey, we're not Vandals!  I'm Egyptian, Thoth's Egyptian and Athena's a Greek!"

"Not those kind of Vandals," whispered Thoth.

"Well maybe if you weren't such a thick-head jerk I wouldn't have had to sneak in and..."
                                         
Principal Joka tapped his claw against the toffee dish to get everyone's attention. "So you snuck into Argus' office.  Now why would you do something like that?"

"We were trying to catch the baku that Anubis was supposed to be petsitting for Amaterasu.  Anubis and Thoth were the diversion while I caught Haku."

"I see, and did you ask Argus for his help?"

"But he wouldn't have..."

"Athena, did you ask Argus for help?"

Athena sighed. "No, I figured he would have just said no."

"Well, if it's any consolation, you guessed correctly.  Also, I would have killed that little rat thing if I'd found it," Argus remarked.

"It seems to me that you two still don't see eye-to-eye.  There will be a day when this is not so.  Oh yes, there will be, but not today I think.  Now then, I think this portrait can be fixed with a simple mending spell.  Isn't that correct, Thoth?"

"I'm on it, sir!"

Thoth drew the hieroglyphics for mending in the air in front of the portrait's ashes.  Like a video being played in reverse, the ashes rose from the floor and assembled themselves back together.  Soon their vibrant colors began to return and before long the portrait was just as it had been before.  Argus stared at the portrait like an art critic at a painting content.  After five minutes, he gave a nod and smiled with approval.

"My darling!  I'd thought I'd lost you forever!  Now that we are back together nothing can ever part...um, right, are we done here?  I need to go have a word with my insurance agent."

"Hmm, I don't know Argus.  Are we truly done here?" Everyone stared in confusion at the wise old dragon god.  Principal Joka smiled and let out a hearty laugh.  "I'm just messing with you!  Children, you try your best to stay out of mischief.  And you, Mr. Eye-Guy, you gotta learn to be more compassionate to the students.  You're all free to go!"

Thoth, Athena and Anubis walked out of the office with their heads held high.  Despite the numerous mishaps they’d finally caught Haku.  The little baku was curled up in a pet carrier Athena had snagged while she was invisible.  They were on top of the world and nothing could bring them down.  As they made their way down the hall Thoth put his arm around Anubis.

"I want you to know that I'm proud of you for what you did back there."

"Hey man, it was nothing.  You guys would have done the same for me.  Say, what time is it?"

"There's a water clock right over there," said Athena.

Anubis' eyes bulged out of their sockets when he saw the clock. "Oh, shit!  We gotta get to Japanese Dorm right now!"

#

Tsukuyomi closed the shoji screen doors while Amaterasu poured green tea.  A large stack of tea cakes in the middle of the table.  It took all of Anubis' willpower to resist grabbing one.  Thoth and Athena had given him a crash course in Japanese etiquette on the way to Japanese Dorm.  Tsukuyomi took his seat and gave everyone a nod of encouragement.  Anubis gently lifted his teacup and took a few tentative sips.  He wasn't the biggest tea drinker in the world, but he had to admit the green tea wasn't half-bad.  It tasted earthy with just a hint of either lemon or mint. 

Haku was curled up in Amaterasu's lap.  The Japanese sun goddess gently stroked the little baku's fur.  "Thank you so much, Anubis.  I hope looking after Haku wasn't too boring."

"Boring?  Nah, I found ways to stay entertained," Anubis laughed as he glanced over at Thoth and Athena.

"Well, you've certainly proved yourself to be a god of honor and good character.  Such gods are most dreadfully hard to come by.  I should think that a job well done merits a reward," said Tsukuyomi.

Tsukuyomi clapped his hands and a large barrel was carried into the room by a team of pure white foxes.  The foxes bowed in deference to Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi and the other assembled gods.  Amaterasu gave a nod of encouragement and the foxes sacked themselves to form a tower leading up the barrel's lid.  The lead fox climbed atop its companions and loosened the barrel's lid.  Anubis peered into the barrel and gazed upon his reward: a barrel's worth of rice.

"I can't find it.  Is the reward buried under all of that rice?"

"Your reward is that rice.  It's the finest rice in all of Japan.  It comes directly from the private rice paddies of our rice deity Inari," said Amaterasu.

Anubis scooped some rice in his hand and poured it into his mouth.  He did his best to smile, but that proved somewhat difficult while simultaneously eating the uncooked rice.  He took a swig of tea in hopes that it would soften the rice, but to no avail.  By now Anubis was more than aware of just how much noise his rice crunching was making.  He glanced over at Tsukuyomi and noticed that the moon god was twitching his hand.  With a bit of effort, Anubis swallowed the rice and bowed the way Thoth had shown him.

"Perhaps, next time, it would be better to cook the rice first?" asked Tsukuyomi.

"Oh, you're supposed to cook it before...but then how do you...nevermind.  Well, uh, at least everything worked out in the end."

Amaterasu smiled. "That's a really good outlook.  Now all we have to do is finalize the paperwork and..."

Tsukuyomi emitted a bloodcurdling scream as he gazed out at the Japanese Dorm common room.  Everyone immediately rushed over to see what had distressed him.  There didn't seem to be anything obviously wrong, save for a bit of mud on the floor.  Of course, to a god as OCD as Tsukuyomi, a bit of mud was worthy of sounding the alarm.  Anubis felt sorry for the unfortunate deity who had ruined the floor; then he looked over at the shoe locker. A sinking feeling of dread grew within Anubis' stomach as he realized that he was the one who'd muddied the floor.

"My floors!  My beautiful clean floors have been defiled!  Who?  Who would do such a terrible, terrible thing?!  Why would they have...you!"

Anubis backed up nervously. "Now Tsuki, let's not do anything crazy here."

A silver light extended from Tsukuyomi's hand until it formed the shape of a bow and arrow.  Tsukuyomi aimed the arrow directly at Anubis.  "Oh, I agree.  For instance, it would be absolutely insane if I were to let you go without proper punishment."

Twang!  Anubis dove out of the way just barely in time to avoid getting hit by the shimmering arrow.  A new arrow began to form along the bow and Tsukuyomi realigned his aim.  Anubis darted past a series of vases in hopes that Tsukuyomi wouldn't risk harming the priceless works of art.  Unfortunately, almost all of the vases were destroyed by a volley of arrow, which only served to make Tsukuyomi's anger burn even brighter.  Before long Anubis was making a mad dash for the dorm’s front door with Tsukuyomi in hot pursuit. 

"Get back here!  I really want to hurt you!"

"Brother, come back!  Oh, why can't you just let it go?" Amaterasu called as she chased after them.

"You know, our lives would probably be a lot less chaotic if we just let Anubis clean up his own messes," remarked Athena as she and Thoth joined the chase.

"True, but we wouldn't have nearly as many fun stories to tell."


"We there is that, I suppose."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Kaiser's Assassin: A Twilight Histories Map

I've got another classic map for you.  It's another Twilight Histories map based on the episode The Kaiser's Assassin.  So without furthur ado, let's get on with it.


Germany won World War I, or the Imperial War as it is known in this world. The war lasted from 1914-1915 just as many had hoped it would in our world. After the war Germany allowed the conquered nations to keep their own autonomous governments. In practice, however, these were mostly puppet governments with the real power residing with the Kaiser. Berlin and London are the financial and cultural hearts of the world. The many scientists, artists, musicians and architects who would have died in World War I have transformed German cities. Berlin has numerous Neo-Gothic and Romantic skyscrapers that are taller than those in New York.

All of Russia west of the Urals came under German occupation, but everything east remained nominally independent. The Czar still rules the puppet government of German occupied Russia. Free Russia, or the Republic of Siberia as some call it, briefly dabbled in communism, but a few failed crops later and the revolutionary government was replaced by a democracy.

The German Empire's runaway success took everyone by surprise, but especially the United States. Many Americans had hoped their nation would establish colonies to compete with the other Imperial powers. Germany's post-war success motivated the desire the spread a little bit of America throughout the world. Eventually, war was declared on Mexico, albeit on some very suspect reasons. The United States also invaded several nations in the Caribbean and Central America, but in those cases claimed they did so out of a desire to protect those nations from Britain and Germany.

The Austria-Hungary has successfully become more federated and is now known as the United States of Austria and Hungry. Austria-Hungry bought Italy's former colonies from Germany following the war. The colonies were supposed to be a stepping stone towards a greater overseas empire, but managing colonies turned out to be more difficult than Austria-Hungry had originally considered.

The Ottomans have also reformed themselves and have spent the last couple decades reversing their sick man status. The empire has embraced its multicultural nature thanks to the calls for reform and is far more diverse than in our world. As a result the empire protects the rights of all minorities within its borders.

China has once again become an empire under the Zhang Dynasty following a coup against the republican government by opportunistic politicians. The resorted Chinese Empire has also spent the last few decades reversing its decline and has quickly become something of a regional power.

Japan is also a rising power. Following the war Germany sold them Indochina and several islands of Indonesia. They have further expanded their empire by invading Thailand. Japan has recently been inching closer to war with the United States over disputed claims to Borneo and the Philippines. Foreign policy experts concur America could reasonably form an alliance with China, while Japan might be able to convince Germany or Britain to come to their aid. Either a cold war is forming or else this may become another flash point for a future war.

Although Britain stayed out of the Imperial War, several French resistance/terrorist groups were funded by members of the British government hoping to regain the economic benefits of an independent France. Ironically, when the Kaiser was killed at the Imperial Musical Gala it was by members of his own government eager for a war with Britain. The two nations went to war, but fortunately it didn't last any longer than the Imperial War had. There were still loses and those killed in the Anglo-Germanic War included JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Ernest Hemingway.

Culturally, the world is somewhat more conservative than our world. Without the horrors of the First World War the Romantic era never really ended in Europe. Jazz is very popular in America, but has only recently found an audience across the Atlantic. Jews are still viewed rather unfavorably and face discrimination, but nowhere near what they would have under the Nazis.


Speaking of which, Hitler is currently working at a coat hanger factory after having flunked out of art school. Meanwhile, Joseph Jugashvili is a priest of the Georgian Orthodox Church.


Roma Islamica: A Twilight Histories Map

At long last a classic map has made it's way to the blog.  This was the first map I ever map that was inspired by The Twilight Histories.  This one was based on the episode Roma Islamica.  I got a lot of help from the episode's companion book.  And the rest, as they say, is alternate history.  Well, let's get on with it, shall we?


The Byzantine Empire fell in the 8th century rather than the 15th century. Without a powerful Christian buffer state to oppose it, Islam quickly spread throughout Eastern Europe. Constantinople became both the capital of the Umayyads and a major pilgrimage site that rivaled even Mecca and Medina.

The Abbasids, feeling the Umayyads had grown too decadent and forgetful of the teachings of Islam (and angered over how much money Mecca and Medina were losing to Constantinople) would go on to overthrow the Umayyads as they did in our world.

The Frankish emperor Charlemagne converted to Islam, both due to having several Muslim tutors in his youth and seeing that Islam would most likely become the next major religion. Charlemagne went on to declare Jihad against the Umayyads and anyone he perceived to be an enemy of Islam. After helping establish Abbasid power in the Middle East he went on to conquer the Italian Peninsula.

The Abbasids, realizing they'd inadvertently created a monster, had Charlemagne poisoned. The noble families of Rome, lacking a clear leader, established something similar to the senate of their ancestors. This led to the establishment of an Islamic Roman Empire stretching from the Pillars of Hercules to the River Ganges. Several Romans unwilling to convert to Islam, including the Pope, and several Umayyads, fled to Ireland. The Umayyads converted to Christianity and became the new ruling class of the island nation.

The Mongol Empire managed to last considerably longer than in our world due to the greater emphasis on central government. Although Tengrism is still the dominate religion, Buddhism is winning more coverts by the day. Missionaries from Ireland have ensured that Christians are also a small but growing presence in the empire.

The Mongols were able to successfully conquer Japan. Several Japanese fled prior to the invasion in hopes of establish a new Japanese homeland free of Mongol rule. They arrived in Mexico and quickly conquered several native peoples and establish a new empire combining Japanese and native culture and traditions.

Northern Europe (the parts not under Roman rule) is still pagan. The no alcohol aspect of Islam is somewhat hard to sell. This has prompted many Imans within the empire to reinterpret the rule that "no Muslim shall drink alcohol" to be "no Muslim shall drink alcohol to excess" to encourage the conversion of those territories. This has created considerable controversy within the empire.

Russia was established by Viking princes as in our world, and has served as a (somewhat redundant) buffer state between the Romans and Mongols after many years of passing back and forth between the two empires.

Britain has been balkanized (the in-universe term is "anglicized") between Rome, Ireland, Scotland and the Danish. The Midlands is more of less neutral territory and is the site of much cultural blending. Scotland is a mixture of Christians and pagans due to the work of Irish missionaries.

Several nations have experienced Industrial Revolutions including Rome, the Mongols, Mali and India. Srivijaya and Ireland are currently in the process of industrializing. Mali has remained strong and continues to expand. Though Rome initially wanted to conquer Mali they are now more than happy to have a fellow Islamic empire as an ally.

Srivijaya has become a major power in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Their empire has expanded and their trading fleets are found in ports in all corners of the world. The fact that they are primarily Hindu and Buddhist has caused some issues when trading with Rome and has lead to their alliance with Hindu India. They are also the primary trading partner (besides Japan-in-exile) with the Inca Empire.


Several powers are beginning to colonize the New World. The Vikings are expanding there colonies along the northeast coast of what would be North America. The Irish established a colony just in case Rome ever conquers them and to spread Christianity to the natives. They originally intended to settle around Massachusetts, but after discovering the Vikings were already there moved to Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay. Rome has also established a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi with its capital at New Alexandria (roughly where New Orleans in OTL). 


Friday, March 10, 2017

Flag of the Russian Philippines

Okay, I've got another classic flag of mine that is home on my blog at long last.  It first appeared on Alternate History Weekly Update, so without further ado, here is it:

This is the flag of the Petrines, also known as the Russian Philippines. It comes from a world where Russia built up their navy early on. This meant Russia could devote more effort and focus on their colonies in the Americas. Besides further colonizing Alaska, they also colonized what would have been British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California, though not without objections from the Spanish.

Eventually, after a chance discovery of gold, the Russians and Spanish went to war over California. It was ultimately decided that Russia would pull out of California, but in exchange would take some other Spanish land; with the Spanish offering the Philippines. As a result the Russian Philippines was born.

The Russians encouraged people from many different nations to help settle their new colony both to provide labor and to prevent the former Spanish colonists (such as they were) from taking over. This would, over the years, lead to a blending of native cultures, colonial settlers and slaves from Russia's African outposts have the archipelago a unique culture like nothing before it. However, they never forgot that it was Mother Russia to whom they all, even if indirectly, were linked.




Flag of British Korea

This is an old flag of mine that I collaborated with an internet friend to make.  It previously appear over on Alternate History Weekly Update, and now it's here on my personal blog.  So without further ado, here it is:

This is the flag of British Korea. It's from a world where it was Britain, rather than America, which convinced Japan to come out of isolation. The British had intended to add Japan to their empire, but it soon became clear this wouldn't be feasible. The British, however, had been poking around Korea, which presented a much easier target, and thus British Korea was born. Side effects of this included a Spanish-Japanese war in which Japan took the Philippines, Guam and the Marianas Islands; as well as Japanese participation in the Scramble for Africa.

British Korea was occupied by the Japanese during World War II, but the British regained it after the war. The Soviets demanded control of Northern Korea, but the British wished it to stay unified. As a compromise, British Korea remained unified while Japan was split into a Communist North and a Democratic South. Korea officially gained independence from the British in the 1970s.

Also, since I know someone will say it, British Korea is Best Korea.



Friday, March 3, 2017

Flash Fiction: Paleontology Lecture

I'm still working one the first installment of the new Nile High, but while we wait I have a special treat for you.  I have an original flash fiction story of mine entitled Paleontology Lecture.  This actually isn't the first time this story appeared.  This was my entry in Escape Pod's flash fiction contest from about a year ago.  Overall, reception was reasonably positive, but not enough to advance me beyond Round 1.  Nevertheless, I'm glad I got to participate and see some of my favorite Escape Artists members critiquing something I wrote.  

I've shopped this story around, but I think it's best home will be right here on my blog.  There's no much more to add, I'll let the story speak for it's self.  Be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments.  And now, I'm very proud to present, "Paleontology Lecture":




Hello, and thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to come to this paleontology conference.  Now, I'm perfectly aware that is quite the lovely day, and I apologize in advance for keeping you all cooped up in here.  I'd like to draw your attention to the fossil that is next to me.  This is just one example of a series discoveries very much like it.  It dates back to sixty-five million years ago, and is one of the oldest such specimens that has yet been discovered.

The first thing you’ll notice is of course skeletal structure.  Though a bit odd to our eyes it was quite common among creatures of the era.  The small size of the head has often been assumed to be an indication of low intelligence.  However, recent studies have concluded that these creatures may in fact have established some sort of society.  Ah, I see some of you rolling your eye-stalks already.  Do understand that I don't mean to suggest anything on the scale of our own civilization.  Rather, they could have at least built the rudimentary aspects of a civilization before they became extinct.

It is certainly humbling to think that these ancient organisms may have been starting civilization while our ancestors were still swimming in the oceans.  Now then, let's examine some of the other physical features.  You will notice the large eye sockets and reduced brow ridge.  Based on surviving members of this animal's class we have determined that mostly likely they were primarily nocturnal.  Their teeth are rather flat, which seems to indicate a primarily vegetation based diet. You will also notice the pronounced backbone; again, quite common among chordates.

There are several competing theories as to why these creatures were ultimately driven to extinction.  The presence of shocked quartz within the strata these fossils are found in does seem to suggest that an asteroid impact played some role.  The only other known source of shocked quartz is a nuclear explosion, and I think we can most certainly rule that out as an explanation.  Granted, the higher that average presence of radioactive particles within the strata does raise some question.  However, we really shouldn't throw our skepticism out of the window in favor of such conspiratorial ramblings.

As many of you are aware, these creatures are thus far the only known example of their genus that we have discovered.  This would suggest that they simply died out due to not being adapted to a changing environment.  Whatever the reason I am fully confident that we will find the answer in time.  If you'd like to see the answer faster may I suggest donating to my university?

Okay, bit of shameless self-promotion there.  I will now turn things over to the Q&A section.  Please raise your tentacles in the air if you would like to participate.

THE END.