“Warrior Jayashree and the Young”

This was my submission to “Swords v. Cthulhu,” and I’m told it was a finalist, but was ultimately not selected.  I’ve elected to post it here rather than submit it elsewhere.  

The room reeked of rice beer and coconut wine, the odor wafting out even before he brushed open the thick woolen curtain that marked the bedroom’s threshold. The servant listened carefully, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness inside before speaking. The room was sparsely furnished, containing a large bed, a chair, and a couple of small tables, one of which had been knocked over. Clothing was scattered everywhere, along with other items that perhaps ought not to be stored on the floor or haphazardly tossed into corners.

Hm. Too much clothing. He squinted, looking more carefully at the bed. Someone shifted, a beam of light from the courtyard getting past the curtain and landing on a patch of wheat-colored skin.

He raised an eyebrow. The mistress is not alone. Well, it couldn’t be helped. He cleared his throat.

There was a groan, and more shifting from within the room.

“You are needed, mistress. It is important.”

Someone threw a pillow, which glanced off the curtain. Another groan. He pulled the curtain aside entirely, flooding the room with light. There was a squeal, and the mistress’ guest tumbled off the bed onto the floor, pulling a sheet over herself.

“I should take your manhood for that, Mitesh,” the mistress growled. Her voice was deeper than usual, almost sounding congested.

“As you wish, mistress,” Mitesh responded evenly. This threat was issued at last a few times a week and as of yet she had not followed through.

The mistress rolled out of bed, one hand held firmly against the side of her head. She glared at Mitesh, making no move to cover herself.

“And who has arrived to need me at this hour of the day?”

“It is past noon, mistress.”

“There are knives in here somewhere, Mitesh. Do not make me find them.”

“You are about to step on one, mistress.” Her urumi was at her feet, unwound. It was not a weapon one would be pleased to place bare feet upon. The mistress cast her eyes downward and collected the urumi, winding the flexible blades around her waist and clipping the handle to them. It was a most dangerous belt, with no cloth underneath to protect her from the edges.

“No more remarks, Mitesh. Tell me who is here and why.”

“She said to give you this, mistress,” he said, holding out a small wooden box. He took a few steps into the room and nearly tripped over yet another prone figure, this one a man. He had burrowed into a pile of clothing during the night. The man did not react to being kicked.

Mitesh looked more closely. “Is this one dead?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Although I expect he’ll wish he was when he wakes up. Can’t hold his liquor.” The mistress took the box, her mouth curled in scorn, and opened it. Mitesh watched as much of the influence of the rice beer drained from her face, replaced with deep alarm and concern. And, unbelievably, something that looked very much like fear.

She closed the box again, handing it back to Mitesh, and glanced over at her other bedmate, who was still curled on the floor by the bed. Mitesh thought it entirely possible that the girl had fallen back to sleep.

“Wh–” She stopped, clearing her throat.

“Who precisely is our guest, Mitesh?”

“The scholar Ansuya, mistress.”

The mistress nodded.

“Feed … ah … feed them both, and get her home somehow,” she said. “Let him worry about himself.” She shook her head, wincing, trying to clear the cobwebs of the night’s revelry from her head and not quite succeeding. “Tell our guest I will meet with her presently.” She turned away from Mitesh, he and her night’s partners all but forgotten, searching for the rest of her clothing among the riot of discarded laundry on the floor.

Then she paused, and stood up, a quizzical look on her face. “There may be a third. Somewhere. See if either of them remembers. You’ll know what to do, right? You always do.”

Mitesh nodded, and when his mistress went back to searching for her clothes he looked inside the box. It contained the hand of a small child, roughly torn off at the wrist, set carefully atop a bed of bloodstained white cotton. The nails on four of the fingers were cut evenly and carefully painted. The fifth finger was missing.



The scholar stood, nodding at her host, who bowed deeply. They had met in a sitting room adjoining the courtyard on the house’s second floor. The room had several windows, and a pleasant breeze did its best to dispel the afternoon heat and humidity.

“Warrior Jayashree. I trust you have recovered from your … sudden illness?”

Jayashree winced. Mitesh had been instructed many times to keep visitors away from her, and preferably out of the house altogether, when she was in her cups. That instruction had not been meant to apply to the scholar for any number of reasons, but the man had done his best anyway.

“I am well enough, scholar. What has happened?”

“The hand was carried into the village by a dog. Several girls are missing. That is all we have found of any of them.”

Jayashree raised an eyebrow. “A matter for the authorities, not for a scholar. You are leaving something out.”

“Did you remove the hand from the box?”

“I did not.” She looked around, suddenly wondering what she’d done with it. Wordlessly, Mitesh appeared next to her and silently gave her the box. She opened it again, with far more care this time, and looked at the hand again.

“Look at the palm,” Ansuya said.

Jayashree carefully took the hand from the box and turned it over. There was a symbol carefully carved into the palm. Parts of the hand had been flayed to add detail to the image.

“What is that?” she said. The symbol itself made her uneasy, somehow, even without considering its macabre source.

“Rotate the hand. Point the fingers toward you.”

She turned the hand, and the nature of the shape became clear.

The skull of a goat.

Jayashree’s eyes widened and her nostrils flared.

“Tell me what this is,” she said.

“The work of a cult,” the scholar said. “This was no animal. Do you understand, now, why they came to me, and why I came to you?”

“Let Mitesh know where the dog was found,” Jayashree said. “I will be there within the hour.”

There were preparations to be made.


The day’s heat was already brutal, yet Jayashree felt a chill despite her armor. Mitesh had directed her to the central square of a nearby village, and Ansuya stood there to greet her, surrounded by a small mob of stone-faced villagers. Jayashree surveyed them. The crowd appeared to be made up almost entirely of children and the elderly. Not a man or woman among them had the look of a laborer, much less a warrior.

They are elsewhere, then. Ansuya will have news. She began to dismount her horse, a motion Ansuya halted with a quick gesture. Jayashree directed a raised eyebrow toward the scholar.

“News both good and bad,” Ansuya said. “The good news is that they have located where the girls were taken already. The bad? We have lost another. Come. We must hurry.” The old woman gestured, and a young boy brought her a second horse. She mounted fluidly, an impressively graceful movement from someone of her age, and kicked the horse in the flanks. Jayashree twitched the reins and squeezed her knees together, and her horse followed.

“How well do you know this country?” Ansuya asked as Jayashree’s horse pulled alongside her.

“Well enough,” Jayashree said. Or, at least, she’d have known it well enough if she were fully sober yet. The horse had done most of the navigating. Mitesh had made her his elixir again but it hadn’t fully kicked in yet.

“There is a ravine not far from here,” Ansuya said. “The girl who was taken today has a younger brother. He followed the kidnappers. He says they disappeared into a stone wall.”

“That seems … unlikely,” Jayashree replied. “But the boy was likely terrified. Perhaps he misunderstood what he was seeing.”

“Perhaps,” Ansuya answered.

“What was that symbol, scholar? Who would do that to a little girl?”

“I have heard of this before,” Ansuya said. “But not in a long while, and only from scattered references in song, or from the oldest of my codices. They are called the Young, and their gods are ancient and cruel. Long has human sacrifice been among their rituals.”

“That hand was from no clean sacrifice,” Jayashree responded. “That child was torn apart.”

“We do not yet know what their sacrifice was to,” Ansuya said, “Or what happened afterward.”

Jayashree did not respond, goading her horse into greater speed instead.


A small crowd of people surrounded an outcropping in the ravine wall. For the second time, Jayashree appraised the crowd. This was clearly nearly all of the able-bodied in the village. Farmers and workers, all of them, strong of arm and back but armed with little more than spears and scythes, with naught a protective garment or steel blade among them. A man detached himself from the crowd and spoke with Ansuya, his voice too low for Jayashree to hear. The group regarded her with a mixture of fear and hope, a few tightening their grips on their weapons as she approached. This was not a crowd accustomed to battle, but they would fight for her if she allowed them.

Ansuya nodded, patting the man on his back with one hand and turning to Jayashree.

“Come, look at this,” she said. Jayashree dismounted and followed the scholar, who was walking around to the blind side of the outcropping.

The stone protrusion concealed a cave entrance. A cold breeze blew from the entrance, carrying with it an unsettling scent of rot and blood.

“They went in through here,” she said.

“And has no one followed them?” Jayashree replied, shocked at their cowardice. “How many could possibly be hidden inside? The child could have been killed while they waited!”

“They sent five,” Ansuya said. “Their strongest, and the most eager to fight. None have returned. Some claim that they heard screams.”

Jayashree listened carefully. She heard nothing. Not so much as the sound of a bird, or the skittering of a rodent from inside the cave. The pounding of her own blood in her temples was the loudest thing anywhere near her.

“Find me torches, and someone to carry them,” she said. “My hands will be full.” She returned to her horse.

She had brought more equipment than she needed, unsure of the challenges that she would be facing. Her bamboo longbow was left with the horse, unstrung. A bow would be nearly useless inside of a cave. She kept her khanda and a dagger with her. The khanda was a two-edged blade, a shade over three feet in length, that widened from the hilt out to a blunted point at the other end. A wicked spike beneath the hilt served as a short-range weapon or a secondary grip to use the sword two-handed. She strapped a buckler shield to her left forearm, leaving her hand free, and placed her helmet upon her head.

She laid a hand on the grip of her urumi, still coiled around her waist, considering. The urumi was a weapon that demanded a lot of room to be used effectively, and with others fighting alongside her it could be just as dangerous to her friends as to her enemies. But it was a mark of her achievement as a warrior. The weapon was considered so dangerous to the wielder that only the most accomplished of fighters dared to learn its use. She still had several scars from inattentive moments during her training.

She left the weapon at her waist, adjusting it for easier access, and smoothed out the plates of her armor, which were sandwiched between layers of silk. Its weight was oppressive in the heat, but the cool of the cave would soon leave her comfortable enough.

“Enough,” she murmured to herself. She was prepared or she was not.  Further delay was pointless.

Four men and two women waited at the entrance of the cave. Three of them bore torches. The others carried their weapons only. Half of them were armed with nothing more dangerous than simple clubs.  The others bore spears and a hand scythe.

“If there is negotiation to be done, I do it,” she said. “If there is to be bloodshed, I strike the first blow. These are the only rules. If you do not plan to follow them, let me know now.” She made eye contact with each of the six, who returned her gaze, if perhaps a bit nervously. Seven of them, then. A good number. Surely their numbers could not be overmatched inside the cave.

Jayashree turned without another word, striding into the cave and assuming her soldiers would follow her.


It took only a moment for her eyes to adjust to the torchlit darkness of the cave. The entrance was perfectly mundane, as the narrow entryway broadened to perhaps ten feet in width, with enough head room for the tallest man among them to walk comfortably. A quick examination of the space revealed some signs of use: a few discarded animal nests and some signs that people had camped there from time to time as well.

“There’s no way out,” one of the men with her said.

“Patience,” Jayashree replied, an edge in her voice. “They were seen entering. They were not seen exiting. You did not even know this cave was here. Surely another exit could elude us for a moment.”

“Here,” called one of the torchbearers, a woman. She pointed to a wide beam of wood, incongruously embedded in a flat part of the wall. Her torch flickered madly; the odor was stronger here, and a wind blew from somewhere.

“A lintel,” Jayashree murmured. “Good. There must be a way to open it.” She ran her hands over the lintel and the wall below it, seeking some sort of catch or release and finding nothing.

She pushed, experimentally, and felt the wall give.

“Here,” she said, waving the others over. Three of them threw their weight against the wall, and the heavy stone gave way, swinging on a hidden pivot and allowing enough room to enter further into the cave. Behind it was a tunnel, barely wide enough for two to walk next to each other, the walls and ceiling heavily reinforced with more wooden beams. The work looked hurried, and dust drifted down from over their heads, disturbed by the motion of the door.

She heard a sound from ahead of them.

“Torchbearers to the back,” she whispered. She pointed at the two who carried spears. “The two of you, behind me. Give me ten feet in front of you. And be silent.” The spearholders nodded, their fear and resolve both clear on their faces.

She unsheathed her khanda and tightened her shield to her forearm, then crept ahead, grateful that she had left her noisy mail armor at home. The torches behind her provided just enough light to maneuver by, and soon enough the sounds ahead her resolved into voices.

Far too many voices.

She held out a hand, palm back, gesturing for those behind her to halt, and belly-crawled forward, peering around a corner into a room that seemed transported underground from a stone building. The floor was tiled, broad marbled pavers that filled the circular floor wall-to-wall. The walls were covered with draperies and, of all things, mirrors, the illumination in the room being provided by a single brazier. Standing next to the brazier was a single figure, cloaked in a black garment voluminous enough to make determining even its gender impossible, a shining golden medallion around its neck. Perhaps a dozen more cloaked individuals knelt on the floor in front of the high priest.

Against the wall to his left lay the shattered bodies of the five people that had been sent in before them.

The girl. Where was the girl?

Nowhere to be seen. Perhaps on the floor in front of the priest, but she couldn’t see past the ones that were kneeling. The figures continued praying. She was close enough to pick out the words, but much of what they were saying made little sense to her.

“So from the wells of night to the gulfs of space, and from the gulfs of space to the wells of night, ever the praises of Great Cthulhu, of Tsathoggua, and of Him Who is not to be Named. Ever Their praises, and abundance to the Black Goat of the Jungles. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!”

A wave of feeling washed over her, as the last trace of the coconut wine lost its hold, replaced by a nameless dread so deep it turned her bones to ice. For the briefest moment the veil of the world tore away, and what was exposed behind it was naught but madness and terror. Her panic was primal, beyond thought and reason and care and hope. Only one thing could protect her, only one thing could save her from the palpable madness beyond the veil.

“Iä…” she murmured to herself, beginning to let go. With the greatest of effort, she shook her head, pushing the veil away, trying to return to herself.

Two behind her were not so lucky.

“Iä! Iä! The Goat! The Black Goat of the Jungle, Radiant She of the Thousand Young! Iä! Iä! Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Jungle with a Thousand Young!”

She rolled out of the way just as the spear struck the ground where she lay. Had she still been there, it would have split her spine. Behind her, she could hear combat. Ahead of her, the cultists had become aware of their presence. The man who had tried to kill her stood over her, froth and blood dripping from his lips, unfathomable madness in his eyes, veins bulging in his face and arms. She kicked his legs out from under him and rolled toward him, smashing the edge of her buckler into his larynx as he hit the ground. He choked and died. She leapt to her feet, her khanda in her hand. The others looked at her, the other villager lost to madness dead at their feet.

“That was the signal,” she said. “Defend yourselves.” She spun, meeting the brunt of the cultists’ charge. She split one from crotch to chin with her khanda, then slammed a second out of her way with her shield. She thought of her urumi, still belted to her waist. The weapon was superb for crowd control. Too bad she hadn’t the room to use it.

She was fortunate in one way: the cultists were only armed with daggers, and not very long ones at that. She had the advantage. She felt the spearbearers coming behind her and forced her way into the ritual chamber, nearly skidding in a pool of blood on the way in. She deflected a wild swing with her shield, then took the cultist’s head from his shoulders with a backswing. Another jumped on her back, his dagger already lost, and she threw herself backwards and bashed him into the wall, slamming her khanda’s spike into his ribcage when he lost his grip. She glanced at the spearbearers. They were holding their own, and the club-and-scythe contingent was beating a cultist on the ground. Two of her people were injured, but not badly.

She looked around for the girl. There was a hole in the floor in front of the high priest, who had not joined the melee. The priest dipped a torch into the brazier and lowered it into the hole. Jayashree could see him chanting as he did so, the words coming from him sounding like no human speech she had ever encountered. The chanting grew louder, drowning out even the sounds of the fight.

Oh, no. No.

Cold blue flame erupted from the pit, and Jayashree could no longer tell whose screams she heard: those of the dying men and women around her, her own, or those of the child who, she now hoped, had been dead long before the rescuers ever made it into the room.  Jayashree prayed that she had died of anything other than that obscene otherwordly fire.

A sphere appeared in the air above the fire. Darkness poured from the sphere as light from a lantern, and the mirrored walls now no longer kept the room as brightly lit as it had been. The brazier still burned, but not as strongly, and her warriors had dropped most of their torches. A cold wind blew, and Jayashree realized that the bad air, still stinking of rot and blood and burning flesh and hair, was being swept from the chamber by something far fouler.

The cultists reacted as one, disengaging from the fight and turning their faces to the hole in the air, their eyes wild, fixed on nothing, chanting in the same inhuman black speech as the priest. She had three fighters left, two men and a woman. They cut down the remaining cultists as they howled their prayers.

Jayashree leapt for the priest, her khanda flashing. The priest met her with his own dagger, and sparks burst from their weapons as they met. She kicked him in the chest, tossing him across the room, and lifted her blade above her head, screaming a wordless battle cry. The priest laughed, a repellent gurgling sound more animal than human, and crawled to his feet, barely evading another wild blow from Jayashree’s weapon. He reversed his grip on his dagger and stabbed at her again. She blocked the blow with her shield, then pinned his arm against her side. The next swing from her sword took the arm off at the shoulder, a gout of black blood spraying from the wound. The third attack split his ribcage, embedding the shattered pieces of his medallion into his heart. The priest collapsed to the ground, dead.

His hood fell back from his face as he died. The sight caused Jayashree to step back in shock. Two goat’s horns protruded from the forehead of a face that had forgotten how to be human some time ago, a putrid combination of features from man and goat that called to mind something born dead and quietly buried in the night.

“The Young,” Jayashree whispered to herself. “They’re not even people.”

A keening sound filled the room, and the blue fire died down. She turned. The sphere was still there, the death of the mad priest of the Young having no effect on it. It shimmered, and she realized that she could see something inside it.

“It’s a portal,” she said.

“What do we do?” one of the surviving men asked.

She looked closer, fear gripping her entrails with an icy hand. The sphere looked out into a great city, far in the distance, but a city such as none on Earth had ever seen. Buildings of impossible geometry scraped the clouds, and a black sun somehow shone in the sky. Beyond the city, mountains, their summits knife-sharp. Before the city, a field, as broad and plain and flat as could be imagined, and in that field was an army. An army of the Young, their misshapen faces uncloaked, their weapons long and sharp and steaming with unholy poisons.

The army roared, a sound that shook the rock around them, and advanced toward the portal.

“Go,” Jayashree told the men, a strange calm falling over her. “Use your clubs. Take them from the dead if you need to. Bring down the tunnel behind us. I want a million tons of rock between the world and … that.”

“We won’t have time,” one of them said.

“I will gain you your time,” she said, and hurled herself into the portal.

A cold knife lacerated her skin, the world flashed away, and yet she somehow landed on her feet.

She looked around. The portal hung in the air behind her, larger on this side than on hers, and she watched as the warriors on the other side scavenged clubs and fled for the safety of the tunnel. She turned to face the army, and for the first time saw what was at their center: a two-hundred-foot monstrosity of tentacle and horn and scale and tooth and claw, many-mouthed, gibbering incoherently and roaring at the sky. She felt its gravidity, and knew that the horrors around her were its true offspring.

Somewhere, a flute was playing.

Jayashree smiled. She would die today, and soon.

But there was finally room to use her urumi.

Published by

Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

5 thoughts on ““Warrior Jayashree and the Young”

  1. Loved it, the beginning and the end especially. I didn’t really mean to read the whole thing when I started, but then suddenly I was at the end lol. I can see why you were a finalist.

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