The publisher set down the half-read manuscript on his desk. “Incredible,” he murmured to himself. As expected of Zhongsun! “That man is going to make me rich!”
He heard the sound of distant screams. He turned and his jaw dropped at the sight of a gaping, flaming maw in the middle of his study. Three figures slowly arose from within it, clad in darkness, unlit by the flames. It wasn’t until the portal vanished in a burst of smoke that he was able to see them clearly.
“Liangqiu,” spoke the center figure, covered in tattered rags, raising its arm and pointing a skeletal finger accusingly as the publisher. The skull of a tiger with obscenely large fangs was its head, massive, weathered antlers sprouting from either side. A black flame burned from within, bathing the room in an impossible, black glow.
“Wh-what are you?” asked Liangqiu. “Why are you here?” He glanced left.
A tall, buxom woman stood there silently in a daxiushan. Had she been anyone else, his attention would have focused on her plump breasts threatening to spill out of her loosely-tied, scarlet robe. But it was the monstrously, grotesque spider emerging from the top of her head that grabbed his focus, its eight, black eyes just above her forehead, and two large fangs emerging from where her ears should have been. The tips of its legs rested on her neck and cheeks, and its bulbous abdomen hung over her jet-black hair. Tiny spiders crawled across her face, emerging from her cavernous, empty eye sockets, which held naught but teeming masses of grey arachnids.
“We are here to save your life, Liangqiu.” The skull-headed figure leaned forward. “Destroy the manuscript you have received today. Burn it and put it out of your mind forever. Should Zhongsun ask about it, treat it as though it were worthless garbage not even fit to be properly rejected. Ignore his entreaties and close your house to him.”
“B-but his work is-”
The flames within the skull burst into conflagrations, scorching the ceiling of the room. “Destroy the manuscript, Liangqiu. No excuses, no qualifications, no delays. Destroy the manuscript, or we shall destroy you.”
The publisher glanced right at the last of the trio. Nothing could be discerned of its appearance beneath his dark robes and unpainted, primitive, wooden mask. But the dimensions of its frame, short and stooped, with its head beneath its shoulders, made it clear that whatever it was beneath its accoutrements, it wasn’t human.
From another room came a cry, urgent and plaintive. The skull turned and tilted towards the noise. “Ah ... is that your son?”
“I’ll destroy it,” Liangqiu said hurriedly. “I promise.” Anything to get these monsters to leave.
“See that you do. If we have to return, we won’t be patient. We’ll be hungry.”
With a thunderous boom, the creatures vanished in a flash of heat and light. When the publisher opened his eyes, the only evidence they had been there was the burnt ceiling. His son still cried. He ran to his son’s room and held him, sobbing, until they fell asleep together on the floor.
The next week, Zhongsun swept his papers and books off of his desk. “I can’t understand it! The work is brilliant! It’s as well-written as anything else I’ve ever done! Why is there no interest in it?! I can’t even get a response from half of the publishers I’ve sent it to, and the other half have rejected it outright!”