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2nd Grand Malazan Writing Contest Official Submission Thread

#1 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 10:15 PM

Please post comments on works on the corresponding threads in the Writing forum and the Inn. This thread is for submissions ONLY. Thank you!
You’ve never heard of the Silanda? … It’s the ship that made the Warren of Telas run in less than 12 parsecs.
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#2 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 10:19 PM

Submission Number One
Author: Bauchelain the Evil
------------------------------------------------------------------
The Longest Night


‘Longest night I’ve ever seen. It’s not natural, it isn’t.’

Derryk sighed. His first mission outside the base consisted in dull escort routine, protecting someone who could defend himself, and now the old man was pestering everyone with this constant drone. So he wasn’t surprised when he answered more brusquely than needed: ‘It’s winter, Corporal. Nights are longer’.

However Corporal Strifes simply shook his head. ‘Never like this, lad, never like this. Ain’t I right, Karl?’

The last soldier of the quartet, his back propped on a rock to shield himself from the terrible cold of the Lagath desert, was just as old as Strifes. Yet, while the Corporal was well past his prime, Karl Tavern was still a formidable swordsman, or so they said at the base. Now his usually placid eyes seemed tired and, as he spoke to the comrade of many battles, his voice was annoyed: ‘The chap is right, Matt. Just drop it.’

But the Corporal went on, seemingly oblivious: ‘And you, sir? What do you think?’

All three soldiers turned to watch the man they had to protect. Maximilian Flare, alchemist of Skal, wasn’t a lively man. On the contrary, seeing him dressed constantly in black clothes that merged with the dark sky, was rather disheartening. However a smile spread on what remained of his face: a mess of raw, red, bloody skin from which a single blue eye emerged.

‘I think, Corporal, that you’re afraid of the dark.’

Strifes spat, his voice suddenly belligerent.: ‘I’m afraid only of magic’. He paused, then added: ‘And alchemy’.

Derryk almost gasped. What was the old fool playing at? Tavern gave the Corporal a warning look which he ignored.

The smile on the alchemist’s misshapen face widened.

‘You see, Corporal, I’m a man of science and as such I don’t believe in magic. As for alchemy, you don’t need to fear it. Look..’

He got up with a rustling of chain and the clink of a sword, hidden under his clothes, then threw a powder he had taken from a pocket. There was no wood or fuel whatsoever on the ground, just sand, yet flames burst to life.

The Corporal jumped, then crawled away from the fire, despite the freezing temperature. ‘I don’t want anything to do with that cursed thing’ he hissed.

Even Derryk was stunned. Only Karl Tavern, the hardened veteran, didn’t manifest any surprise but spoke quietly: ‘An useful substance, alchemist. It would be wonderful to have it I the Army.’

‘Are you mad Karl! That fire is cursed, unholy!’ Strifes spat again, warding himself against evil.

Exhilarated by what he had seen, permeated by curiosity, Derryk blurted the question he had always wanted to ask: ‘ Was it fire that took your face, sir?’

An impossible silence fell upon the camp, making it possible to hear the crackling of fire. The back-robed man slowly turned in hi s direction and the young recruit quelled under that terrible one-eyed stare, wondering if he had just made a big mistake. Then Flare spoke: ‘ Oh no, lad, it was something far worse. Far worse.’

‘Demons’ muttered Strifes.

‘Pardon?’ inquired Flare, who didn’t seem to have understood the Corporal.

‘They say you’ve made a pact with demons.’ The old man waved a hand, gesturing towards the other’s scarred visage. ‘Obviously it went wrong.’

The alchemist sighed, as if even him couldn’t stand the Corporal’s ridiculous superstitions. ‘As I’ve already said before I don’t believe in magic nor in dem-.’

He was interrupted by sudden howls.

All of them jumped to their feet, exchanging alarmed glances.. It couldn’t be wolves. No animal came anywhere near the Lagath desert. It struck Derryk that he had never wondered why.

Then they arrived, so abruptly they could have emerged from the sand. They were incredibly tall, their inhumanly long arms touching the ground, their tangled hair, as white as their bodies, running wild. A dozen pair of eyes watched them hungrily, as a hunter would with a prey.

‘What are they?’ the recruit asked, struggling to unsheathe his sword.

Nobody answered.

The creatures tensed, then attacked. Five of them went for the easy kill and Strifes could only watch with wide eyes as they launched upon him. Soon he was submerged, his terrorized screams muffled by the mass of pale bodies. His frail limbs twitched twice, then nothing.

Three others passed the alchemist as if he didn’t exist. Two converged towards Tavern, the last one went for Derryk.. The young soldier managed somehow to attack, his sword swinging in a brutal arch that should have cleaved the monster in half. But the creature avoided easily, revealing that he possessed incredible speed, and then hit him. His long arm merely touched Derryk, yet he felt his ribs snapping like twigs. Winded, he fell, one cheek slamming hard against the ground, sand crawling inside his clothes.

From that prospective he could see Karl Tavern lean in a spearing trust, in a desperate attempt to kill at least one of those beings. Even this creature sidestepped with ease and reachedto grasp the warrior’s throat with his claw-like fingers. However, Tavern managed somehow to twist his body and his sword severed the white limb before plummeting in his chest.

Even as life left those cold, red, eyes, the second monster prepared to attack. The fallen soldier tried to shout a warning, but his voice failed him. Then, impossibly, Maximilian Flare was there, arms raised above his head, sword high before falling down...on Tavern’s back.

As he saw this with growing horror, the recruit understood everything. He betrayed us! This was all a trap! This was Derryk Lenning’s last thought.

The last thing he saw, instead, was a smiling mouth filled with inhumanly pointy teeth.



Once again the alchemist was the sole human still breathing. Once again he had fulfilled his promise.

‘We thank you, human , as always’ rasped the leader of the creatures with his hissing voice: ‘At next month’

Then, as abruptly as they had appeared, they vanished.

One month before meeting those abominations again. He will treasure that time.

Flare scanned the three bodies, all of which presented bite-marks on their necks, until he found the Corporal’s. He went near it and kicked it viciously. A pact that went wrong, you said. But it didn’t old fool, it didn’t!

Even now, in fact, he could feel new strength and life seeping inside his body. A body way older than Strifes’s or Tavern’s.

But was it worth it?

Sighing the alchemist raised head. In the east the sun was finally rising.

***

Captain Rove was watching the man coming nearer with obvious curiosity. Not every day someone managed to travel through the Lagath desert alone.

At first he only been able to see the traveller’s black clothes but now he noticed that his face was hideously scarred. Rove shuddered. Something terrible had happened to that traveller.

The black-robed man spoke: ‘Are you the ranking officer of this hold?’

The Captain nodded absentmindedly. He was feeling a churning sensation in his stomach and this was troubling him. In all these years Rove had learned to thrust his guts and right now they were telling him that there was something wrong with this scarred traveller.

The man spoke again: ‘ I’m Maximilian Flare, alchemist of Skal, and I need an escort.’
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#3 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 05:09 AM

Submission Number Two
Author: Sixty

Tyndag

Salt-licked sea air drifted and caressed, heady and humid. The unmistakable scent permeated her senses, and closer investigation revealed more: myriad subtle smells, ranging from ambiguous to unmistakable. Dung ranked among the unmistakable, but a selective mind ignored the odor.
Freed of the irritating stench, Vannora Dahtt allowed a thin smile to stretch and lifted her gaze across the sea. A lifetime by the ocean could not inure her fascination, her awe. Rolling waters stretched past the horizon, broken only by a sporadic caravel. A life rested in the sea, a subsistence that lingered, resisting human interference. She pivoted from her perch to face Tyndag, swept her gaze down rows of crowded shacks and garbage-ridden alleyways. There, a haze seemed to hang, a choking miasma. She had been glad for her departure, but return compelled old memories, and with them old emotions.
Vannora turned back, then to the vegetation underfoot. She plucked a dandelion from its roots and lifted it toward the sky. Petals, translucent in the sun’s glare, were whisked away by the breeze. They floated, briefly, then faded from sight.
Motion from behind compelled her to turn. Temelan stepped to her side and crouched on the bluff. He flashed a smile and said, “Haven’t seen you around for a while.”
“It’s been some time, Temelan.” Years, in fact. Long, lonely years, a fact none likely noticed—that was part of her absence, after all. Perpetual dissembling had become as simple as breathing. Instinctive.
Her brother took a breath, clearly unsure of what to say—unsurprising, given the circumstances. A long, awkward moment passed, then he sighed. “I suppose you’ll say nothing? Nothing to explain…how long has it been? Six, seven years?”
She stared at the horizon’s unbroken streak, where orange trails began to fade. It lay hundreds of leagues away, beneath stories of stone, beneath mountains and centuries of loathing. But none could know. None would even believe. “I’m afraid not,” she said, frowning. What else can I say? Her voice faltered, but she recovered and doubted her brother had noticed. “I’d rather just savor the moment.”
“The moment? It’s not much of a moment if I’m left wondering about your absence, is it?”
“Fair enough.”
Temelan searched the horizon, eyes briefly resting on churning waters. “Not a word? You’ve changed, Vannora.” He heaved a sigh and stood. “What happened?”
Vannora said not a word, her gaze unwavering. She sensed her brother’s departure, his deliberate walk downhill. A minute later, clops echoed then faded.
What can I do? What can I do, now, but let them go?
Life in Tremilk and Tyndag had dissipated for her years before. Seeking its revival was a hopeless waste of time and effort. Nothing could change her birth’s edicts: a condemnation to self-imposed exile, or sentencing to death. Neither were pleasant, but the latter was permanent. A minuscule beacon had flashed at the prior’s end, but it shrunk with each passing moment.
Accordingly, Vannora Dahtt resigned herself to her fate.
She crouched upon her perch, frothy waters a hundred-span drop below, and watched. Her eyes scrutinized the sea and the countless port towns littering the jagged coastline. She examined each entering craft a brief moment, recognized no signs, and moved on to the next. It was an arduous task; a formidable armada passed through Tyndag’s ports each day. Scores of ships drifted past, massive galleons and dingy fishing craft alike. Any could have held her quarry. And thus, slave to circumstance as she was, her lookout remained keen and steady.
A distant speck lurched into view in the distance. Squinting, Vannora sought details in the hull, a symbol or identifying insignia. She watched the cog roll through the current, its black and white flag billowing in the wind. A coil of wind snapped the pennant taut and revealed its crest: House Paellin’s mask. Sign number one.
She unfurled the Raat—her birthright and condemnation alike—and quested toward the small craft. Condensing senses, ignoring distractions, she leafed through the inhabitants like pages in a book. A buffoon swept the decks, idly whistling a ribald tune. An orphan huddled beneath the deck, hidden among crates, nibbling at a chunk of dropped stale bread. An exorbitant merchant relaxed in his chamber—
A barrier pounded her, stunning her mind for a panicked heartbeat. She regained her composure and brushed threads against the barricade like a placating knock.
A presence filled her, vindictive, vicious. Its sadism flooded and tainted, lurching bile into the back of her throat. She gulped and ventured, Sir?
Aye, he snarled. Vannora could almost feel putrid breath clouding in her face. He continued, You’re ready to get started? I didn’t wait in this shithole of a ship to wait in your shithole of a town to get started.
Vannora blinked, paused for a moment, then frowned. I’m afraid, sir, that I’ve yet to be informed about the details of my mission. The Alath refused to disclose anything more than the destination.
Something approaching a smile was communicated, conjuring images of tapered canines and yellowed enamel. Then you’re in for a treat, lass. We have a seat to usurp. Tyndag.
She considered the notion, paused to ensure she had understood properly, and considered again. Tyndag? My uncle? We’re coming here to kill my uncle?
Your uncle? He sniggered. My, my, this just gets better and better. But yes, we’re here to supplant your uncle. The Aahb’s orders—you’re moving up in the ranks, lass.
Vannora rubbed at her temples and staggered to her feet. Her gaze swept down the hillside, identifying a shrinking figure half a mile away. Usurping a lord’s seat was a bold decision, but it necessitated other precautions. Silencing, elimination of evidence. Which is where she likely came in.
“The bastard,” she muttered. Her brother now rode into Tyndag, ignorant of looming threats. Death’s envoys crept into the centuries-old city, weapons and poisons bared. They waited for a signal—the lord’s removal—and would proceed to annihilate them all.
How could her family not number among the victims?
Vannora found herself dreading the disaster, found herself dearly, desperately averse to suffering its consequences. She had sought escape for a new chance, a new life. An opportunity to escape her post-adolescence ultimatum. But that’s not worth more than Temelan. Not in the least.
Mind reeling, she hobbled to her saddled horse and climbed on. She kicked it into a canter and rumbled down the hillside, then onto the road a minute later.
But what could she do? The Archinquisit did not brook insubordination—a single whisper reaching his ears would spell harsh retribution. Any failed attempts would only expose her plot, damning her brother without a doubt.
Any attempts, regardless of method, necessitated absolute perfection. A single flaw, a single mistake, a single slip—and it would all collapse. Tyndag’s government, her family, her brother, her own life. All tottering in the balance, a slightest nudge from ruin.
A contingent of guards allowed her into the city via its so-called noble’s gate. It passed into the estate district, where vegetation bloomed with a jungle’s diversity, conveniently culled of the vicious, the poisonous, and the ugly. Regular guards patrolled along its streets, gauntlet-clad hands set on assorted weaponry. Axes and blades adorned holsters and scabbards, barbed and serrated for visual effect. Consequently, little crime lurked in the district’s streets.
But the city’s darker, more notorious alleyways housed a different breed of man. The sort of man political enemies sought in search of peculiar services. Such services often littered a trail of evidence, and the constable would be loath to forego the opportunity for heroism, however counterfeit…
She strolled past, hood drawn high, gaze averted low. She could not afford recognition. Not yet, not before the reaping. A plan’s fragments mingled in the back of her mind, and she could not resist her growing smile.
Maybe, just maybe, it might be possible.

Hours later, night had settled in a concealing shroud. Clouds masked moon- and starlight, abandoning only darkness. It muffled and compressed, compounded by the persistent humidity that arrived with the sea’s proximity. Faint cheering and singing were audible from a tavern several blocks down. Footsteps, the soft squish of thick-soled leather boots against flagstones, tapped and shortly faded into the distance.
Vannora emerged from her momentary perch, nestled between her inn room’s windowsill and the adjacent building’s wall, and vaulted onto the rooftop above. She glided across tiles, the only noise her measured breathing. Crouched in the valley between two angled rooftops, no perceptive guard would notice the silk-shrouded Cahshim above Tyndag’s streets. She would continue with stealth bestowed by the Koltar—ironic, in a way. And its acrimony drove her forward.
She paused at the space between two rooftops. The chasm, six spans across, plunged another dozen into the streets below. The opposite rooftop was flat, offering no concealment. She frowned and searched the area for detours.
There was nothing.
She shrugged. Oh well.
Surging forward, she leapt and dove into a roll upon impact, somersaulting over her right shoulder. A rustle followed her collision with stones atop the building, then silence. Huddled in a crouch, she sent tendrils of Raat searching and found no one alerted. She smiled.
Vannora continued another four blocks along the barren rooftops until she approached the estate district’s southern wall. She scaled the stone-and-mortar structure and sidled down its opposite side with a pair of serrated daggers for handholds.
Minutes later, her passage was a mere memory in the air, her musky scent lingering a moment longer. When it faded, she crouched atop another rooftop at the district’s northeastern corner. She dropped to a windowsill, picked the lock, and sidled inside.
Moccasin-bound feet tapped against ornate carpeting underfoot. Vannora rolled behind the four-poster bed at the room’s center. She searched the soundscape for noise, identifying an errant mouse and insect. Eyes peered over and surveyed the room. They scanned past desks and drawers, polished trophies and scattered accouterments. Possibilities whirled, identifying scores of potential locations.
Vannora produced her first piece of evidence, a glass vial. She swirled its deep scarlet contents, removed then refastened the stopper, and pressed it into her palm. The most incriminating of her repertoire, but where?
She frowned and reconsidered her plot. Is this the best I can devise? It’ll involve more than a bit of maneuvering to convince them not to kill him outright. And that maneuvering will expose myself to the Aahb, him and the Archinquisit. Assuming they even care.
If her superiors would not object, why not evict Temelan herself? A simple nudge was all she needed, after all. The slightest whispered suggestion with Raat would send him scurrying to the furthest corners of the world.
Then again, a backup plan never hurt.
She wiped down the vial and dropped it into a leather bag with an accompanying half-crumpled note. Tightening the drawstrings, she slipped the bag beneath a stack of parchment inside a desk drawer.
Vannora produced another half-crumpled sheet and smiled at her handiwork. A fairly accurate imitation of her brother’s barely legible scrawl drove the final nail. It even provided a convenient identification of the ventrac powder nestled in his desk.
The note, along with a purse of several silver eagles, found a home in the same drawer. Vannora shut it and wiped down the handles, then stepped to the accompanying chair. She swiveled the high-necked mahogany furniture to face the door and sat, half-masked by shadow.
Vannora reclined and waited.
Hours later, she remained alone and thoroughly bored. I suppose I never was much good at the dramatic entrance. Maybe it’s about time I started using Raat for this…might save myself more than a few hours of my life.
Vannora loosened her rein on the Raat, letting its power rush through. She searched for her brother’s mind and found him instantly. Bonds, both of blood and mind, expedited the search.
She held the power at the threshold of his mind, suddenly unwilling to delve inside. Could I do this? Going through his mind, scouring it of all its secrets, its hopes and dreams. Every thought, exposed to my scrutiny. She scowled. This could be why half the world hates us out of fear, and the other half hates us out of principle.
The mere suggestion of enslavement now appalled. She could not—would not—do it. Not with the Raat.
But, perhaps, her words could suffice.
Vannora injected the slightest hint, a peculiar urge to return home. A lesser crime, at the least—far inferior to those almost committed. Far inferior to those she already had.
Temelan emerged into his room half an hour later. His eyes registered the lithe, shadowed figure against one corner. His mind followed a moment later, and he gaped. “Vannora?” he sputtered. “W-what are you doing here?”
She glanced up, brows arched, and gave a theatrical shrug. Without speaking a word, she glanced downward and studied her fingernails.
“Damn it, Vannora, I’m through with your games! Do you want to talk or not? Because I’m getting the impression that you’ve disappeared for a third of my life only to come back and—”
“I’d be more circumspect,” she hissed. “Or do you want to call in every bloody idiot patrolling the estate?”
Temelan stared for a long moment, a ponderous expression encroaching upon his forced scowl. Trembling slowly faded, but teeth continued to gnash. He took a breath and sighed. “What do you want?”
“What do I want? Quite a few things, I’m afraid—I’m always apt to enjoy new clothing, for example. Or did you want something more specific? More immediate, more urgent?”
The scowl returned. “I’m done with games, Vannora,” he growled.
“Then shall I keep things simple for you?”
“Concise.”
“Ah, yes—brevity’s the key. Very well. I’m here to advise—no, demand—that you evacuate Tyndag immediately. All of Tremilk, in fact. To the mainland.”
Temelan’s eyes narrowed. “Away from Tyndag, or to the mainland?”
“Aren’t they the same?”
“Not where you’re concerned, especially since I don’t know who you follow these days. You know as well as I do that the lines were drawn years ago, Vannora. Well before you disappeared to Lord knows where. Which means everything you say could be leaving the lips of my enemy.”
Vannora frowned, searching for meaning in his words. Oh, it’s the fucking succession. Still engrossed in petty politics, but that’s only natural. It’s Tyndag, after all.
She said, “To the mainland. Your services are required.”
Hooded eyes probed her own, pupils shrinking into slits. A snake’s eyes, a comparison once reserved for Jarrik Caellor himself. A dangerous comparison to be made of a dangerous man. Temelan slowly bared his teeth. “You’re lying.”
“What? I’m telling you, Temelan, this is the absolute—”
“You taught me how to identify a liar. I don’t need to recite the litany for you since it’s likely tumbling through your head as we speak.” He sighed, shaking his head. “I won’t assume you’ve betrayed me, Vannora. I’m sure your new friends have a loftier term assigned.”
“That’s not it! I’m trying to save you!” she blurted.
Bushy brows rose. “Save me? From who?”
Vannora froze, ensnared by her own machinations. This can’t be good. I tell him the truth, and the Archinquisit will have me dead by sunrise. I lie, and I’m exposed. She glanced down at her hands and sighed.
“Go on,” he snarled. “What’s this terrible, menacing threat so major you feel the need to sneak into my room in the dead of the night to steal me away? Quite a bloody hero, aren’t you?” He folded his arms and sneered.
Speechless, she shook her head. It was a monumental effort to steer her gaze from the desk drawer. Instead, she stood and backed from the chair, eyes locked.
“What is it?” he repeated. “Where’s your urgent danger?”
Her voice was hollow, stricken. “I’m your sister, Temelan. You should have trusted me, but…”
Vannora unclasped the window, swung it open, and flipped over the edge. She rappelled down the estate’s wall, unfastened the rope from the windowsill, and stole away.
She did not wish to see his face again, and he sought the same poignant emancipation.
But fate, the miserly bastard, rarely granted wishes.

Dawn crept upon Tyndag, launching orange and golden bands across the sky. Activity in the city escalated, rumbling into a veritable monster in minutes. Hawkers and peddlers lined the streets, wheedling and hollering. Enterprising merchants and traders gathered to do business, and budding traffic flowed through the city’s gates. Wagons rolled to and from warehouses, creaking with stacked merchandise.
A constable, wrinkled and haggard like a shriveled plum, opened his door and yawned. Activity inundated, and another day awaited. Another day that would be thoroughly wasted.
His career, his life withered away, bereft of glory he had once dreamt of. He should have listened to his parents and found work atop an affluent trader’s skiff or with the city watch. Even becoming a prostitute in the city’s most destitute corners, it seemed, would have produced more success, more seductive renown. The most diseased male whore in Tyndag was more famous than the most worthless constable, after all.
His life could have amounted to more. Would have, should have. But, as fate seemed to ensure, never would.
Color at his feet caught the constable’s eye, and he bent to retrieve the yellowed parchment. He flattened the sheet and squinted to read the inked words. The printing was smooth, elegant. Almost like a noble’s, if not for the occasional shake in the script—everyone knew their lords were impeccable, utterly inscrutable.
A grin, burgeoning with anticipation and giddy exultation, slowly split his tired countenance. He read aloud, “One does not reveal information’s provenance, only its content: Temelan Dahtt intends to assassinate the Lord Dahtt. His implements of murder lay in his desk. Reveal this to no one. This is your discovery and yours alone; your glory and yours alone.”
The constable spun around, waving the note like his army’s banner. He giggled like a mad, drunken idiot, as if he relived the previous evening’s affairs. He dashed about his home in search of his fat whore of a wife to reveal the good news.
He could replace her, perhaps with a real, professional escort. Permanently—what did they call those? Ah, yes: a concubine. His father would be proud.

A world-weary, partially senile constable’s fortuitous discovery did not rock the world’s foundations. Tyndag itself did not notice his profound discovery. Business continued as per usual, and the hours slowly waxed toward noon. The typical wealthy academy student strolled past with his typical gang of fawning admirers. Nobles and traders rode through the streets, hidden by veils and carriages. Guards, some still recovering from the night’s events, staggered and hobbled by as if all was the same.
And, as far as they were concerned, it was. Only one difference nagged and caught attention. A perceptive few noticed, offered a peculiar glance. Some attempted to discern the shadowed figure propped against the Dahtt estate’s southern wall. A futile moment later, they shrugged and departed, encouraged by a sudden call of nature.
Vannora glanced up at the midday sun, tapping her feet impatiently. It may have been a mistake to select the city’s worst constable; she may have discovered someone too incompetent to discover evidence intended to be found. But he has the perfect motivation—I’d expect much better, especially from some idiot who dreamed of being a bloody war hero.
She scowled, wiped beading perspiration from her forehead, and swept her gaze down the street’s length. Where the hell is this idiot? She was tempted to compel him via Raat, but the risk of exposure daunted. Luck had allowed her to continue undetected, but luck was a capricious bitch. Temelan remained within, and only his departure would ruin her plot.
Unless the constable was stupid enough to not take advantage of the information. In that case, she needed a tertiary plan—one she did not possess.
Rolling a coin along her knuckles, Vannora pondered her options. If Raat remained out of the question, so did force. The Archinquisit would know; the Koltar’s fingers dug deep in the criminal underworld. A Cahshim smuggling a body, live or not, would reach his ears. Without her brother’s cooperation, he was condemned to murder—possibly by her own hands.
Temelan would not be convinced by any lies; acquaintance and familiarity unmasked falsehoods. But the truth would kill them both. Her brother was not an idiot, would not incite a riot. Would not betray her.
The Archinquisit was another story altogether.
Vannora stopped herself. Aren’t I getting a bit ahead of myself here? Who knows—maybe this idiot will get moving in the next couple hours. She frowned, knowing how unlikely the possibility was.
I suppose checking where he’s gone wouldn’t hurt. She flung Raat outward, allowing it to cling to the constable’s mind. A moment’s presence was all she needed. Information flooded in and elicited a begrudging smile.
The constable now strutted through the district’s southern gate, a score of city watch at his heels. A sheet of parchment in his grasp was hoisted like a battle standard. Not her note, but an edict, issued by Lord Dahtt himself. A convicting edict calling for the arrest.
Not so much of an idiot, then. Vannora slipped around the building’s corner and out of their sight. Commotion preceded the constable’s party. Pedestrians turned to watch their passage, and the plague of curiosity rippled outward. When their destination became evident—in short order, given the constable’s loud proclamations—several joined their ranks.
The bustling crowd approached. Suspicious, apprehensive whispers rebounded. Noble’s children exchanged hushed wagers beneath excited giggles. Stoic guards followed the procession, hands on weapons. Less vigilant counterparts joined, occasionally stumbling and cursing.
The constable stepped to the gate and motioned for silence. His idiotic grin continued to broaden, revealing more than a few missing teeth. “My friends,” he announced, “I…hmm. Who the hell are you people?” He scowled, then brightened. “Well, it doesn’t matter! We’re here to capture this bastard for what he’s about to do, but remember! It was me! I caught him! Got it?”
A hushed silence followed. Then, a deluge of sarcastic reassurances. No, they would not claim the reward for themselves. No, they would not deny his mastery and deft handling of the situation. Yes, they would record tales of heroism for all posterity.
The constable cackled. “Of course! Move out!” He kicked at the locked gate and watched it deny him passage.
Idiot. Vannora began to consider her options again.
“Never mind!” he shouted. Fumbling through pockets, he produced a key and unlocked the gate. The procession continued forward, blustering and shouting. Wagers grew louder and larger; grim stares and headaches grew darker.
Vannora shrugged and glided toward the nearest alcove. All was set in motion, and her brother would be swept away by the current. Barring total, absolute idiocy I wouldn’t expect from a half-wit, that is.
Unwilling to whittle away her own intelligence following the constable’s crusade, she disappeared around the nearest corner.
At the estate’s entrance, the constable rapped his rusted sword’s pommel against the door.
An annoyed doorman peered at the small mob, scowling. “What the hell are you doing here? This isn’t your sister’s brothel—it’s the lord’s estate, damn it! Get—”
The constable flapped the edict in the doorman’s face, cutting short a scathing stream of curses. “We’re here to apprehend Temelan Dahtt.”
The doorman snatched the document and squinted at its contents. A minute later, he stepped to the side. “Go ahead. Then get the fuck out of here.”
Offering a magnanimous, assuredly obedient smile, the constable stepped past. “Of course.”
By then, Vannora Dahtt was halfway to the gate.

Scores gathered in the eye of Tyndag’s furious, daily swarm of activity. Nobles and guards witnessed from atop mounts, craning necks for superior vantage points. The commoners beneath them jostled for position in the crowd. Small children watched from atop their fathers’ shoulders. Academy students shoved to the crowd’s head, rag-bound orphans and miserly acolytes alike at their sides. Perfumed scents mingled with lingering human excrement. Voices jumbled into a disconcerted rumble.
The court’s promise surpassed all barriers and lured all. Whether it was savage hunger for punishment or lust for justice, none would voluntarily miss the event. Regardless of motive, the crowd bubbled and frothed in keen anticipation.
Beneath it all, slipping between an obese banker and his wife of questionable maturity, Vannora watched. Her amber eyes refused to leave the court’s guarded entrance. Her eavesdropping Raat refused to waver in its vigilance. And her hammering heart, her desperate trepidation, refused to calm.
Probing Raat offered little serenity. Forced to remain discreet, little could be discerned—emotions, mostly. But rage dominated and seized attention, obscuring all others.
Consequently, Vannora was as blind as the rest of the gathered crowd.
Preemptive action should have guaranteed her tranquility. She had done all within her ability to ensure her uncle would not kill Temelan. Far more than necessary, in fact.
Then why worry?
But what else am I going to do? Celebrate? She scowled. I don’t see any cause for revelry, even if everything was fucking perfect. Because this whole damn situation is far from perfect. Disastrous, in fact. And only liable to worsen.
Nonetheless, her thoughts involuntarily drifted to her assignment. The Aahb sought to overthrow the Tremilken regime, to plant his own ruler at its head. Her assignment was to facilitate the transference of power. In reality, a polite term for assassination, cold-blooded murder, of the seat’s occupants.
Leaving her in the crushing predicament. Leaving her waiting outside Tyndag’s highest court for her brother’s judgment. At least…at least if he’s sentenced to death, I won’t be the one to kill him. She scowled. Small comfort there.
Tremulous screams emitted from within. They continued unabated for a murmur-silencing minute, then halted.
Vannora’s heart quickened. A scream, but no Raat signal. A death would have been obvious, clear and unmistakable. But she had recognized nothing.
The courthouse’s doors flung open. Two burly guards marched out. Temelan, arms shackled, followed in their wake. His hair was mussed, scattered. Sunlight glistened off sweat and grease. Blackening cuts and purple bruises dappled his face and exposed arms. He staggered forward, favoring his left leg, his feral gaze sweeping from side to side.
They locked on Vannora’s, calming. A heartbeat to cogitate, then they began to smolder and seethe. He bared teeth, his throat emanating a low, guttural growl. But the guards at his side refused to allow him to speak.
One announced, “Temelan Dahtt…accused and condemned of conspiracy to assassinate the Lord Dahtt. Punishment…”
The audience held a collective breath. A silence settled, a silence transcending mere absence of sound. It seemed as if each mind froze in bated anticipation. It seemed that, in their hunger for judgment’s hammer, all other distractions and considerations were discarded.
“Banishment.”
The collective breath released, and pressure faded from Vannora’s chest. Banishment. All according to plan! Perfectly!
Surrounding onlookers drooped chins in disappointment. An occasional, exultant cheer sounded from spectators a few coins richer. A smug smile cracked from one of execution’s rare opponents. A breath of desperate relief liberated a Cahshim, a heathen, abomination Cahshim assassin. But the others? The others cursed and moaned as the crowd dispersed. They trudged home, to bemoan their misfortune to spouses and siblings.
Their misfortune to miss a commonplace yet scarce opportunity in Tyndag. An execution, as occurred daily in one of the city’s sixteen plazas. An execution of a noble—something to remember and retell. The city’s haughty, condescending masters brought to their knees and decapitated. The very idea made some of the spectators salivate. But they departed, disappointed.
As Temelan was led away, only Vannora remained, grinning triumphantly at the sky. Then she looked down, at her departing brother, into his bestial, rancorous eyes.
They did not leave hers. They did not forget.

Salt-licked sea air hung like a clammy miasma. Wind had shunned Tyndag’s waters for the hour, fleeing with the clouds. The sweltering sun beat down like a merciless, livid slave driver. Scents wafted, but only salt and sweat could be smelled. Dung’s reek persisted beneath, and a selective mind failed to ignore the odor.
Vannora slumped at her perch, legs dangling over the crashing seaside. Her eyes scanned the undulating waters for a single craft, a single sloop, departing Tyndag. Its sail was singular, black—House Dahtt’s colors, inverted to scarlet on black. Its passenger was gone forever, never to be seen again. Not in Tyndag, not by Vannora Dahtt.
The Archinquisit had relayed the orders mere minutes before. The Debellan Emperor’s decree was made: the nobility’s rule discarded, supplanted by appointed governors. The Koltar agent masquerading as the governor would arrive in a day. The Cahshim’s task? To guard his rise to power.
She attempted to scowl but could not muster the anger; tears were far from conducive. She bent, retrieved a dandelion, and held it to the sky. Breaths sent petals, translucent beneath sunlight, drifting through stagnant air. She reached a hand outward and grasped at them as they floated away, but they slipped between her fingers…
Petals, gliding through the sky, forever lost.















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post edited at authors request to accurately display italics etc.

This post has been edited by Shinrei: 02 August 2009 - 12:42 PM

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#4 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 02:11 PM

Submission #3
Author: Fist Gamet



Blood begets Blood

There is no thing that eludes man so much as truth. It is a matter of perspective, some say; a thing written in the sand, elusive and coveted. Men will kill to protect it, to hide it and to pursue it. Some say there are many truths, but wise men know of one above all others: the truth of blood.
Night came early to the jewelled city of Lyca. The dark, baleful clouds that had drifted in from the Vatar Sea during the hot afternoon now stretched to every horizon: south and west where the sea blended with the sky in a greying smudge, north and east where they lit the black, rugged silhouettes of the Crescent Mountains in flashes of silent lightning. The slight cooling breezes of the Vatar Sea had died in the heat and but a vestige of their passing remained, leaving the air sticky, wearisome and heavy with purpose.
The doors and windows of crowded, sweating Inns were jammed open in a futile attempt to cool the tempers and passions of their patrons. Cantankerous mercenary soldiers of a dozen nations, having returned from or heading off on slaving raids through the Dead Way, beyond Amunahban and into the Bronze Sea and its promised riches; hard-bitten sailors that crewed the massive merchant cogs that traded Marcosian and Lycian wines and silks and grain for the gold and cattle and iron and wood of Aravon and Dalaseena.
Painted doxies draped themselves over knees and laps, fuelling tempers and soothing them in turn. They dressed in flimsy, stained silks that clung to them, damp with sweat and wine and tight against their tired flesh as a second skin. For men such as those who sweated now in the dockside taverns, for whom life was never easy and rarely fair, these were the women they took their comforts in. The whores of Lyca, it had been said in part-jest, were amongst the least prejudiced of all people, tolerant and welcoming of all races, cultures and religions...just so long as you had the coin to smooth the way. Just another truth.

Lyca was a city of design: in the upper districts, broad avenues lined with fragrant Lime and Cyprus trees led its denizens from one bright plaza to the next, dotted with marble statues of naked heroic men and servile, adoring women; mythical beasts like the three-horned Caraphlicus, and real ones like the giant, vicious Ghoranigen of the Vakhurian and Ayssian Plains. Blue-robed orators addressed the fickle crowds, espousing new philosophies even as masked performers staged impromptu plays in the open-air Crescent Arenas from Lyca’s famed writers. Recruiters from the amphitheatres marched through the streets in loud, bright gangs of armoured warriors and adoring women: “Riches! Fame! All that awaits you in the ring! You there, what do you desire? Gold? Women? You’ve the look of a warrior, son, ever fought in the ring? Broad shoulders and strong arms are all you need! By the Gods, you have the look of a champion! Have you the nerve to face the Ghoranigen on the golden sands, boy?”

High whitewashed walls, patrolled by vigilant, dark-skinned guards, divided the districts neatly and held back the fierce summer heat. City-folk paused on white-stone benches to be cooled by the spray of the dolphin-statue fountains. From there they watched the orators and street-performers, laughed casually as another bright-eyed young man was swept up by the recruiters. Doubtless they would see his bright dreams crushed in the terrible jaws of the Ghoranigen on the morrow. In Lyca, it is said, gold and silver flow as wine, and are spilled as carelessly. In Lyca, it is said, wine is worth more than blood. On a dusty stretch of coast, nestled in the protective arms of the Crescent Mountains, this city of immense wealth had grown.

Stretching in a great, lazy half-circle around the Jiradan Bay – so named in honour of the Moon Goddess – Lyca was perhaps the greatest deep-water port in the known world. The eastern peninsula was the highest point of the surrounding land with its rocky cliffs making it inaccessible from the sea. It was here, centuries ago, that Ogradeni the Great’s pillaging legions were finally stopped; here, a hundred years gone, where Aelonus The Most Blessed was declared First Holy Emperor of Lycia. Here, where twenty-five years ago Hergusian San Epiaston built the villa that told the world he had arrived.

* * *

Large villas, with clean, white walls and bright, red-tiled roofs nestled in the cooling shade of giant Sanbanna Whitewood trees. Tiny black lizards rested on the red tiles – their very own sun-decks, and untold numbers of speck-sized blue ants trailed back and forth regardless of all of man’s creations. Swarms of tiny translucent flies bumbled in silent, lazy circles, glinting in the light of the dipping sun. Small waterfalls bubbled icy water over rock gardens and filled the streams that meandered through impossibly green gardens. An army of silent slaves passed mostly unseen in their toils to keep the gardens so. Elegant women, olive skinned and draped in light, albescent silks and fine gold and ivory jewellery (from far-distant Cadan if they were truly wealthy) strolled in pairs down pink-pebbled paths, giggling and sipping on chilled wines. Oiled and pampered slaves and attendant bodyguards followed at discreet distances. The Plaza de Aetolea was the centre of the social hive for the rich Merchants, Senators and land-owners – and of course, their adulterous wives and scheming daughters.

Two brothers strolled the Plaza this day, enjoying the pleasant weather and gentle gardens. Degoras San Epiaston was the elder of the sons of Hergusian, City Senator of the Inner Court and one of Lyca’s more affluent aristocrats. Degoras wandered the Plaza de Aetolea on this late afternoon, content in the knowledge that he was considered the most eligible bachelor in Lyca. The excitement of the crowd trailing him owed to his imminent promotion to the Imperial Court in Caligus to take a Senatorial Seat; the Emperor, he had been told, had heard of him. Only his brother, Ilnaulro, seemed unfazed, and had, in fact, if anything, become even more nonchalant towards him.
Degoras knew he was considered handsome, and he was but twenty-five. He had four bastards that he knew of but no woman had been able to snare him under the law. Long, black hair was tied back to reveal a strong jaw and prominent nose, and his thin moustaches were oiled and curled in the understated fashion of the day. His loose, white shirt was of the finest Marcosian silk, as were his ocean-blue pantaloons and scarlet sash. A gaggle of young men trailed behind the San Epiaston brothers, followed again by a few servants and a couple of thick-armed bodyguards. Degoras found the display of slaves in public somewhat crude, and never brought any of his out with him. Anyone can own a slave, his mother often said, but you need money to have properly educated servants.
It wasn’t just about money though.
The fawning men took it in turns to walk beside him, but he rarely met their eyes or answered a direct question. He nodded with practised, thin-lipped smiles, or ignored them or merely raised a hand for them to stop and leave him – which they always did without fuss – for he had eyes only for the myriad women present. He caught their sly glances, their open invitations of forbidden pleasures before he would be distracted by a flash of smooth, sun-darkened flesh from another, and then another. Fucking vultures, that one there crossed a path to avoid me a year ago.
His attention was finally snared by an unusual sight. On a half-moon stone bench, three women of exquisite beauty watched him, each similarly attired in flimsy, flowing silk gowns of ivory and pale pinks, peach and soft blues. Degoras recognised the black-skinned girl, Lavinia, but could not quite place her.
“Lady Vercilia’s girls.”
Degoras turned his head, eyed his brother’s smile flatly, “Hmm?”
Ilnaulro indicated the three women Degoras was watching, smiled politely at them and turned back to his brother. There was a definite twinkle in his eyes.
“They work for the Lady Vercilia. I am sure you must remember her.”
He remembered now, fixing a smile to hide his true feeling, “Of course, but if you are referring to the accident, I find to hard to imagine she still holds a grudge.”
Ilnaulro’s brows rose sharply as he laughed, “By the Gods, brother, you really don’t understand women at all, do you?”
“Not everyone is as dramatic as you, Illy.”
“Dramatic? Vena’s favour, you killed her son.”
Degoras scowled and sighed, “The boy was warned, as you well know, but stupid enough to force the duel. I even gave him the chance to back out and save face.”
“Yes, I remember just fine. Lucky for you his pistol misfired, Favurus smiled in your direction that day.”
Degoras studied his brother’s face for the sarcasm he was certain was there, but found none.
“Living is risky business.”
He resumed his walk, kept his thoughts to himself. In fact, Degoras recalled that cool, spring sunrise only too well and the foolish boy seething with wounded pride and naïve notions of honour and fair play. Winning was all that mattered.

Lavinia was tall and slender, an ex-slave it was rumoured but Degoras fancied that she was well versed in the art of pleasure and her sleek, black legs, bared almost to the waist, drew his lingering eye.
He did not think that he had ever seen the other two women with her before. The girl on the left had hair like the fire of sunset, crowned in a chain of silver and pearls, and she was pale-skinned. A northern girl, probably Aravonian. He had yet to find one with a passion to match Lycian or Marcosian women but he was always willing to give them one more try.
The last of the three was more of a mystery for her dusky skin was not naturally so but rather a product of years in a hot climate and her hair was a golden-white. Degoras found the serene, almost disinterested look on her face oddly arousing. She is a fighter, that one; a challenge.
He had noticed the three woman immediately because they did not giggle, or smile seductively or even talk to one another. They simply watched him. The fantasy of bedding all three together was as sudden as it was powerful. Desire stirred in Degoras’ loins. He smiled and nodded in their direction. Ebony-skinned Lavinia arched one amused eyebrow, the Aravonian girl’s lips quirked in what might have been a smile, and the mysterious dusky woman’s cool expression of indifference did not change. Degoras suppressed a scowl and turned away, seemingly disinterested. Perhaps there was some lingering animosity after all. There was far easier game at hand for the young patrician.

“I do wish you would let me take your place, Eilidh. I would enjoy that one.”
Eilidh laid a hand on Lavinia’s soft, dark thigh and she returned the gesture by playfully coiling one long lock of Eilidh’s red hair around her finger.
“I am sure”, whispered Eilidh, “We are more than capable of finding a way for all three of us to participate.”
Eilidh’s green eyes flicked past Lavinia, “What do you think, Cleomenas?”
Lavinia turned also, regarding her sultry companion coolly.
Cleomenas’ smile was wicked as she touched one finger to Lavinia’s full, dark lips, “I do not think that Mistress will object if we accompany our sister to this little gathering. We do work better as a team, and I’ve a few moves I am just dying to try out.”
“As long as we remain focused, and I run point.” Lavinia reminded her.
Cleomenas trailed her finger lightly across Lavinia’s lips, parting them slightly and brushing the tip against her tongue. Lavinia closed her lips around her finger.
“And me with nothing to wear.”

* * *

Degoras had chosen for the evening’s sport, a trip to the centre of Lyca and the Plaza de Melaglias for although it was the home of Scholars and Tailors, Jewellers and Judiciary, its Pleasure Houses were of middling repute and open to all. There were some things, Degoras knew, that you could get away with here that would not be tolerated in the Heights, and a little violence always induced an intensity of sexual pleasure unmatched by even the most exclusive whores. Odd, he thought, that once the most expensive things in life were within your reach they suddenly lost their lustre.
The City Guard watched every corner, strolling the paved avenues with six-foot pikes and heavy cudgels at hips. They sweltered beneath coats of boiled leather over their white robes, and round, steel skullcaps, spiked and sporting a green ribbon to mark them easily. Black-iron braziers atop iron poles lined the streets of this district, bringing their unsteady, fluttering light to the most of it. There were no sprawling gardens or elaborate fountains here. The evening wind was a warm breath, the whisper of salt borne upon it and it bothered the braziers little. Inevitably, where some fire grew dim, deep shadows would cloak an alley or doorway, hinting momentarily at something waiting beyond the light. It was as they passed such a recess, swaggering from one Inn to the next in high spirits, that a rasping cough startled Degoras and his companions.
“The future I can see, riches and women for thee?”
Degoras narrowed his eyes in an attempt to pierce the darkness when an awful stench of bodily wastes preceded a low, ragged form as it scratched into the faint light.
“Pelium’s balls!” Cried one of the companions as they all recoiled, “Has this thing rolled in shit?”
A mass of filthy, scrawny hair surrounded the face like a wild nimbus, and living things crawled within.
Degoras stepped away from the ragged beggar, “Get back you stinking wretch, go on, back into the shadows lest honest folk see you. Gods, what is this place coming to? Fetch the fucking guards.”
The guards, waiting quietly at the rear, moved quickly forwards but Degoras’ brother Ilnaulro raised his arm to halt them as they neared, “Hold, dear brother, this may be fine sport indeed! What do you see, beggar? Are you a Player of Capture?” He laughed.
Another of the young aristocrats, Depelles, laughed with Ilnaulro, “A blind seer”, he declared sarcastically, “you don’t see that every day!”
All the men laughed at that. Degoras ground his teeth as Ilnaulro tossed the vagabond a coin, “Better speak quickly, old one, before my brother loses patience.”
“A silver mark, Ilnaulro!” Cried Depelles in mock dismay, “This better be good for that money,”
“He must have seen you coming!” Roared another.
The silver coin vanished beneath the seer’s filthy robes. Painful, black-scarred sockets regarded Degoras.
“The hidden truths in life lie in plain sight”, he grated, “As the farmer sows his field, so does the mother raise her son to love her. A man might horde his wealth in perfect misery, or give it freely and be joyous and poor. A road, once taken, is not so easily left. Of what do mortals dream? Of what do the sons of Hergusian dream? One of freedom, one of chains. Dreams are born between the legs of women, and nightmares too…”
Everyone laughed – except Degoras, “Cropus take your filthy hide for your gibberish, I’ll waste no more time on…” He turned to leave and the seer’s hand had his own in a vice-like grip.
“…Blood begets blood, Degoras, son of Hergusian! All crimes are answered!”
“Release me, you god-forsaken bastard!” He pulled as hard as he could, almost ripping his arm out of its socket for the seer might have been made of stone for all he moved.
“There is blood on these hands! Kinslayer!”
“By the Gods!” Degoras reached for his dagger but before he could draw it, his bodyguard had strode forwards. One downward stroke of his scimitar cut clean through the seer’s wrist. Degoras rocked backwards at the sudden release to be caught in the arms of his brother who chuckled and help him upright.
Degoras frantically shook off the still-attached hand and kicked it away when it hit the ground.
Degoras was fuming, “You thick-skulled idiot!” He screamed at the bodyguard, indicating his blood-spattered arms, stomach and thighs, “You got his disease-ridden blood all over me.”
The guard, expressionless, bowed lightly and stepped back, the bloody blade hanging limp in his hand.
Ilnaulro laughed softly, wiped the blood on his own hands upon his tunic. “Oh, grow a spine, Degoras, it’s just blood. And what’s this about ‘kinslayer’? Mean you to kill me?”
The rest of the men had eased away from the brothers, afraid as they always were, of Degoras’ rage. Ilnaulro, as always, merely smiled and shrugged.
Degoras scowled at his brother, “No, not just yet.”
An awkward hump of rags and dirty robes were all that remained of the blind seer, his body hidden beneath. A pool of blood grew slowly beneath the corpse, shining darkly in the faint glow of the street lanterns. A scruffy, three-legged dog hobbled out of the darkness of the alley, slowly approached the corpse of its master, head lowered and ears pinned. It sniffed at the heap, nudged him softly then lay down, whining quietly.
Degoras spat at it.
“Well, bugger me”, Ilnaulro sighed, looking at his brother “He was actually right.”
Degoras rounded on his brother, “What?”
“The seer”, Ilnaulro shrugged with a quirky smile and glanced down, “You do have blood on your hands.”

* * *

Night fell slowly in the sweltering city of Lyca. High-walled compounds surrounded the Plaza De Aetolea, and they were well-guarded this night. Towering Whitewoods lined the cobbled avenues that meandered through the Princip District in the Heights, granting dappled shade against the fierce heat of day, and a distinct, faintly luminous glow through the early part of the evening. They shone now with a soft, spectral light.
“Supposedly, they hold the spirit of Heeku after He passes into the underworld.”
Lavinia looked up, met Eilidh’s soft look and smiled, “Hmm?”
“The Whitewoods. They retain the light and heat of the day for many turns of the glass. It is said amongst those who follow the Elder Spirits that the trees hold Heeku’s spirit after He passes, a bargain, to ensure His return. It’s quite fascinating. My father once purchased a half a Whitewood at enormous expense, intended it as a mainmast for a private vessel he had been commissioned to build.”
“That is the first time I have ever heard you speak of your father”, said Cleomanas, “was he a ship-builder, then?”
“Yes. He betrayed me soon after that.”
Lavinia looked wistful, “Fathers will do that, won’t they?”
Eilidh tilted her head, sighed, “So it seems. I did not realise until much later that he had beggared his business for the Whitewood but the buyer reneged and his world fell apart. He sold my mother first. Ah, look, we are here.”
Cleomanas exchanged a glance with Lavinia then let it pass. The carriage slowed then turned to pass through an elegant arch of pale stone, slowly picking up a little more pace as it entered the private grounds of the San Epiaston family.
Eilidh leaned out of her seat and poked her head out the carriage door window. Lush gardens stretched away in the blue evening shadows, where figures strolled in pairs along paths that meandered across a carpet of cool grass, lit by knee-high lanterns.
“A dozen guards at the main gate, none visible in the gardens.”
“But plenty of places for them to be stationed discreetly,” said Lavinia behind her.
Little islands of trees sprung from the groomed lawn, their long, drooping branches thick with leaves to give shade from the fierce heat of the Lycian summer. At night, as now, they threw only dark, shifting shadows. In all, the gardens gave the impression of hidden depths and secret corners and Eilidh supposed if sprites and hobs and scalawags were to be found anywhere in Lyca it would be in places like this: the very private and expensively maintained retreats of the privileged few. Something about that seemed vaguely unfair to Eilidh.
“Nice house.”
Cleomanas had slid over beside Eilidh and squeezed her head through the window as well. Eilidh raised an amused eyebrow and followed her companion’s gaze. The road ahead led directly to a set of broad, stone steps framed by low, curving walls of pale stone that swept up to the towering double-doors – thrown wide open now – of the main entrance. The building was an immense, two-storey structure of pale stone, broad pillars and marble arches. Eilidh could not see all that much of it but had the impression that most of it remained hidden from view. Lanterns lined the perimeter where guards patrolled, cast pools of yellow light on the lawn.
“The guards move in pairs, each pair always visible to at least one other pair. Pattern seems to be regular. Lightly armoured, pikes, pistols, knives, cutlasses. Wait, yes, I see a couple on the roof, looks like they have flintlock rifles.”
“Not just for show, then?” Lavinia asked.
“No.”
Dark strands of ivy curled around the pillars and trailed patterns up the villa’s walls. A small army of neatly presented guards and sombre, attentive slaves greeted each carriage as they arrived, disembarked the guests, checked their invites discreetly and ushered them smoothly up and into the villa. There was one carriage in front of theirs, and, glancing back, Eilidh could see two others following behind. The home of the San Epiaston family was impressive by any standard and it promised to be a memorable evening.

* * *

“You are uncharacteristically subdued, brother.”
Degoras lifted his eyes to regard Ilnaulro, seated across from him in the carriage. “Subdued? No, merely thoughtful, conserving myself.”
Ilnaulro smiled, “Ah, a wise policy, brother. It is your big night, after all.”
“Yes it is, so don’t embarrass me.”
“Ha! You’ve no need to worry on that count, Senator.”
Degoras sighed loudly, “Fine, get it out of your system now, just don’t forget our father’s words this morning.”
Ilnaulro waved a hand idly, “Gods below, you’re turning into him. You know, you used to have a sense of humour, Degoras, do you remember?”
“We are not children anymore, Illy, there is too much at stake tonight, for all the family. This isn’t just about my Senatorial seat. This is power and influence for the family. All of us – you too.”
“Be wary of ambition, dear brother, it has a way of distorting one’s perspective.”
“Wary? That’s precisely why I will be appointed to the Senate this night, and you will never leave Lyca. Don’t roll your eyes at me, Ilnaulro, ambition is a virtue and you’ve never had the stomach to do what is necessary.”
“There is more to life than power and influence...this is a tired, old argument.”
“Indeed, but it takes power and influence to gain the most of life.”
Ilnaulro closed his eyes and shook his head, “Bah, it’s an illusion, Degoras, a beautiful, seductive trap. I am telling you as your brother, if you over-extend your reach you become unbalanced. Power feeds the hunger for more power, and it’s a hunger not easily sated.”
“Oh, what would you know? You would remain here to manage the family estates and fortunes and seek to leave them as you found them.”
“Brother, you say that as though it were a terrible thing. At least here I can retain some freedom. I could take ship with one of our merchantmen and pass through the Dead Way, spend a year visiting the ports of the Bronze and Silver Seas. Degoras, think on it, you and I together sampling the wine and women of Stivanti, Inos, and Onaeli and The Free Cities! Now that would be a worthy ambition!”
“You were always the dreamer, Ilnaulro”, the carriage crunched to a halt at the foot of the steps, “Enough of this, now, we are here, just…just be mindful, Illy, please.”
A wide grin split Ilnaulro’s face as he dipped his head in an elegant bow, “Most certainly, dear brother, I will be the very epitome of charm and warmth.”
Degoras rubbed at his eyes and sighed. He felt a pressure that had been building all day, leaving him tense and tired. The sun had set but the sea-breeze had died with it, promising another hot and sluggish night. He eyed Ilnaulro wearily, muttering, “Fuck, you make it so hard sometimes.”

* * *

At least the silent slaves waving the giant palm fronds over their heads made it marginally cooler inside the villa but Captain Reach still had no real idea why he had been invited to this gathering. That it had been as simple as Ilnaulro had said just seemed odd, though perfectly plausible; he was unusually friendly for an aristocrat, strangely normal, even. Reach was one of perhaps two dozen ship Captains and owners at the San Epiaston villa but he only knew a handful of them, and they all owned small fleets; Reach had but one ship, and a fairly middling-sized one at that. Reach had run an annual contract for the San Epiastons the past four years now and had only ever met the younger brother, Ilnaulro once each year, to sign the papers. Smalltalk had dragged on for a couple of turns of the glass, and the splendour of the grand villa with its vaulted ceilings, thick rugs, brilliant marble statues and rich, lustful women quickly faded when it became clear there was no way to get any of those sweet-smelling, silk-skinned women alone. He was a rugged, low-class fantasy for them, but one just to be teased for the evening. Reach lost interest swiftly, to deny them the pleasure. Only seemed fair.
No, the only notable conversation he had was with Ilnaulro San Epiaston, who, he discovered, had been the one to invite him. Strange that he would remember Reach, who must, he supposed, simply be one of many scores of privateers, merchants and traders he would meet in any given year – and Reach had said so.
“It was puzzling me, sir, how you remembered me, until I guessed that your record-keeping must be immaculate. Or at least, I had thought that until I arrived.”
Ilnaulro smiled, nodding, “Ah, yes, but even this grand old villa would not suffice were I to invite every captain who worked for my family at one time or another.”
Reach scratched at his chin, missed his beard. “There is that.”
“So why you?”
Ilnaulro had done an odd thing then, its significance lost on Reach until much later: He put his hand to Reach’s elbow, guided him a few steps, still smiling and nodding as though at some polite story, until suddenly they were both on the balcony, cupping their bowls of wine in the cool night air, no-one close by to overhear them.
“It’s not complicated, or even sinister, as I imagine a self-made man such as you might think the lives of the rich and powerful to be. It’s fine, Reach, I’m not toying with you like those women do – and yes, I have to endure that kind of torture daily. You might not remember but the first time we met you didn’t know who I was and I drank with you and a few others for half the night before we talked business. I never forgot the stories you told of your journeys, of the places you had been, people you had met and fought, storms you had survived and friends you had lost. In this world, my world, everyone is playing an angle. When your family is rich and influential, nobody ever becomes your friend because they like you. In my world, people like you don’t exist. I would be your friend, if you’d have me, and all I ask is that you send word when you are in port, name the Inn and I will come down – probably even stand a few rounds myself.”
Reach had laughed, found himself liking the man immensely. That had pretty much been the end of the conversation as a slave had arrived with a summons for Ilnaulro.
“I must go, my friend. Tonight my brother is to receive his long-awaited rewards.”
Then he had left, but not before letting Reach know he could leave whenever he had had enough. He had, and so he did – straight to the honest whores in the docks.

* * *

Lavinia’s languid gaze swept the room as she strolled through the crowds, arm-in-arm with Commander Perilus of the Imperial Guard. She smiled often, laughed softly at his jokes and showed just enough conspiratorial delight at the whispered insults he delivered to any of a dozen other guests. Perilus had a genuine cruel streak and enjoyed his power no end. The Imperial Guard were a privileged unit, hand-picked and elite, answerable only to the Emperor and favoured by the wealthy as one of many means of remaining in His good graces. Perilus knew it only too well, and he revelled in his relative immunity. Still, he underestimated just how far some of the powerful nobles of Lyca could be pushed though it thrilled him to walk that particular tightrope. Lavinia filed the information away for the future, but for now, he was ideal cover for her true purpose.
Eilidh was on the other side of the central reception hall, chilled wine untouched in her delicate hands, a practised hint of disinterest moulding her fine features. She was an exceptional beauty, Lavinia had to agree, and was swiftly proving her worth to their business; even now, her many suitors were ebbing away, falling from her like autumn leaves, despite her beauty, as her attention drifted, her initial warmth fading with the sunset. Before long the last of her attentive men would leave, shunned by her cool disinterest, and she would make her move. Yes, she was learning fast.

Lavinia searched the other side of the room, picked out Cleomanas’s bright, blonde hair in the murmuring, shifting crowd, and smiled. Cleo was in the small group gathered around Degoras San Epiaston, smiling sweetly, head held high and confident. Every time she met Degoras’s eyes she lit up momentarily and Lavinia could see the effect it had on the man from across the room. Cleo caught Lavinia’s look, understood perfectly, and within moments she was expertly manoeuvring Degoras away from the crowd, her arm in his. Lavinia watched them closely, felt nervous for the first time that night. Cleo directed Degoras’s attention to Eilidh just as the last of her suitors moved away awkwardly. She whispered something to him. She saw Eilidh turn, catch his eye, hold it for a lustful heartbeat, then glance away. Cleo said something else, her eyes narrowing wickedly before she slid her arm from his and walked over to Eilidh. That was it. Cheese laid – it would either work or it wouldn’t.
Within moments, Eilidh and Cleo were strolling up the marble stairs at the far end of the room, glancing back in unison. Degoras, surrounded now by a new crowd, watched them. Lavinia smiled at Commander Perilus, this time, in genuine delight. The day men started thinking with their brains would be the end of their careers.

* * *

Degoras and Ilnaulro sat patiently on opposite couches in the waiting-room of their father’s personal apartments. The hubbub of the crowd in the central rooms of the floor below was a faint sound.
“Why do you suppose he is doing this?” Ilnaulro asked.
“How the fuck should I know? I’ve got two sweet whores waiting for me right, goddam now, ready to help me celebrate in style. Right now that old bastard should be announcing me…”
The door at the far end swung open and Hergusian San Epiaston strode into the chamber, his dark, satin robes flowing around him, sweat beading his brow. The permanent frown that darkened the man’s face was still there, the old scar on his chin well-hidden by the neatly cropped beard of silver. Ilnaulro noted keenly how their father’s ailing physical strength had been accompanied these past years with a growing malevolence. It saddened him for Hergusian was the man Degoras would one day become. He loved them both but were they not bound by blood he believed he would hate them fiercely.
Their father crossed to the massive table of dark, polished oak that dominated his study, stood behind it and poured himself a bowl of wine from the bronze pitcher on the table. He paused a moment as he held the bowl to his lips, frowned at it oddly then downed it before pouring another.
Degoras was, by now, seething, “Father, what the…”
His father’s hand came up swiftly, silenced Degoras better than a slap. He spoke, but did not look up.
“Degoras”, he began, his voice rough and deep, “Ilnaulro, I’ve always taught you two the value of loyalty, and the importance of family, have I not.”
They both knew it was a rhetorical question and remained silent.
“Hmm. All I ever asked was your loyalty and respect for your father, yes? As you too shall one day demand of your own sons.”
Degoras narrowed his eyes, “And you have always had it, father, but this is not the time.”
Ilnaulro nodded, “Indeed, we’ve a house full of some rather important people waiting for us, waiting for you, rather.”
Their father finally lifted his face, met their eyes, “Degoras, you are young still. I have seen forty-three summers pass, all of them in Lyca. This opportunity, the seat in the Senate, has been the fruit of twenty years of my labour.”
Degoras leaned forwards, “You think I am unaware? I know of the sacrifices this family has made to make this happen, and I too have worked as hard as I could, when I could.”
“I have no intention of seeing next summer in Lyca, Degoras.”
After a moment, Degoras stood, smiled, “Then you wish to come with me? I would welcome it, father.”
“No, Degoras, I will go instead of you. I have decided to take the seat myself.”
Silence fell upon the room, thickened the warm, heavy air. Ilnaulro found he was holding his breath. He glanced up at Degoras, actually felt the rage pulsing from his brother’s still form.
Degoras’s voice was low, the words being very carefully chosen and ground out with immense effort, “I think I either misheard you or misunderstood, father, it sounded like you said…”
“You must not be upset by this, Degoras, I intend to sit only one term, to secure the seat for the family.”
Colour flooded Degoras’s face, his brow drawn down, eyes darkening, “What! Not upset! Are you mad? Have you lost your fucking mind?”
Ilnaulro reached out, grabbed his brother’s wrist, “Degoras! Get a hold of yourself!”
Degoras tore his arm way, hands balled into tight fists, and kept his furious glare locked on his father. Hergusian puffed his chest out, a suddenly pathetic gesture to a boy who had once been terrified of his bullish father.
“Sit down, Degoras!”
“Fuck you! You fucking, bitter old bastard! One term! Five goddamn years! You think I am going to wait five fucking years! That seat is mine!”
Hergusian was shaking now, one fist raised at his son, “How dare you! You damned, spoiled little shit! It’s not yours, it’s mine! It’s my life’s work and I won’t waste it on you! I tried to spare your precious feelings, your fucking mother made me promise, but you deserve the truth of it!”
Degoras strode over, faced his father across the big table, leaning forwards on his fists, “Truth? And what might that be, father?”
There was spittle on Hergusian’s lips, “You, boy, are not fit to take that seat! You would ruin it, piss it away for women and gold, and I will not watch you tear down all I have worked to achieve! I would rather die than see you destroy this family!”
Ilnaulro remained in his seat, utterly transfixed in horror as his brother surged around the table, a tide of terrible fury, rising to tower over the retreating, dwindling figure of their father. Time seemed to stop for Ilnaulro as the next few moments passed without his knowledge or comprehension. Just as suddenly, awareness flooded in, crashed over him with a relentless, surging, pounding…several moments, sped up, blurred into one…he saw the silver flash of the blade, and the spray of blood. His brother’s arm rising and falling, rising and falling, following the body of his father as it collapsed to the floor. Brother and father now hidden behind the desk, his father’s strangled screams were cut brutally short, his thrashing ended. The only thing Ilnaulro could see was Degoras’s bloody fist rise one more time, the blood streaming off the blade as he held it there. Silence, now, the blade lowering slowly.

“No!”
Ilnaulro was on his feet, winebowl clattering to the floor as he dashed across the chamber, grabbed his brother, dragging him to his feet and propelling him back across the room. Ilnaulro fell to his knees at his father’s side, slid in the thick blood pooling around them.
“Dear Gods, no…father, father!”
Hergusian’s body was lifeless, blood leaking from his mouth, spattered on his neck, face and hair, oozing sluggishly from a half-a-dozen fatal wounds on his chest. Ilnaulro tried to staunch the wounds, stop the blood flowing out in a futile gesture. He bent over, weeping, tried to cradle his father’s head but something deep within him, something primal, untouchable, repulsed him.
“You goddam, fucking…why? Why!”
“Why? You heard him, Illy, you heard. He got what he deserved.”
He did not turn, could not turn to face Degoras. He looked upon their father’s face, pale, clammy, almost skeletal. “Damn you, Degoras, what the fuck have you done?”

Degoras opened the doors and left the room. Standing in the hall, drenched in blood, he felt nothing. The rage had gone, taken with it the pure hatred he had for his father. That the wicked old bastard had tried to steal his future, his right, was staggering. That he had thought to get away with, as if somehow Degoras would raise a bowl, toast him and congratulate him was simply beyond comprehension. He stared at the floor, muttering, “What did you expect me to do, father?”
Pounding feet, clanking, shouting. A half-dozen of the guards, led by the Imperial Magistrate, raced up the corridor towards him. Degoras lifted his face, held one hand out to stop them.
“Gods above”, the Magistrate breathed as he looked over Degoras, “What has happened? We heard the shouting.”
Degoras knew there was only one thing he could do.
Winning was everything.
“Magistrate, my brother has killed our father. It seems he wanted the Senate seat for himself and was thrown into a rage when it was given to me.”
The Magistrate hesitated, swallowed hard. Degoras’s eyes met his, harder than steel, cold as hell.
“Magistrate”, he said, very quietly, “recall what you owe me, what I know of your sordid little life. My brother has slain my father and has gone mad with grief and fury – he must be killed on sight, do you understand.”
The Magistrate’s pale face nodded and he motioned the guards to go into the room. “Ilnaulro San Epiaston is guilty of the murder of his father, kill him at once.”
The guards now hesitated, cast glances to one another. Degoras growled.
“Any man who fails his duty will die as a conspirator, crucified, and he will find his wife and children nailed right fucking next to them!”

* * *

Ilnaulro rose slowly, placed the knife down on the table and stepped back from the corpse of his father. Tears streaked his face, confusion and grief writ plain, etched deep. He turned as the Magistrate and six guards entered the room.
“Where is my brother?”
“He has told us of your crime, Ilnaulro, and by the Gods, you will die for it.”
He had but a heartbeat to register the Magistrate’s words before the guards rushed him. Pure, blind instinct saved him as he dashed for the window, kicking over chairs behind him, hampering his pursuers just long enough to gain a yard. He jumped, smashing through the window, yelling as he thumped into the stone balustrade on the balcony outside. Rising, groaning, he heaved himself over the side, clambered down until he hung from the lip of the balcony. Guards stumbled out onto the balcony above. He let go, fell to the lawn, crumpling to absorb the blow. A moment later and he was dashing over the manicured lawns, hunched, clutching bruised ribs, slipping between cool, dark shadows in the gardens he had grown up in. Behind him, the entire house-guard was raised in alarm.

* * *

Degoras half-stumbled along the hall. The last few minutes were still something of a blur to him, and he bore a sense of detachment, as though they had not truly happened and his father was still alive and well.
“My, you do look troubled.”
Startled, he lifted his gaze. The blonde girl, what was her…Cleo, yes, she stood in a doorway before him, leaning against the frame, arms crossed. She stepped forwards, placed a hand on his arm and ushered him slowly into the room.
“Come, we shall need to get you out of those bloody clothes and bathe you. You cannot meet your guests in that state.”
The door closed behind him.
He was standing now, stripped to the waist in front of a marble basin and water fountain, the cold, clean water trickling from the mouth of a stone fairy. His hands were under the water, washing off the blood of his father.
“Come to us, now.”
He turned to see the blonde girl and her red-haired companion lounging on a large bed, dressed in loose silks. A soft hand patted the bed between them invitingly.
“Let us soothe your troubles. Let us help you forget.”
“It’s the least you deserve.”
Yes…forget…the seat is mine, I deserve it…it’s mine…
Lying between them he closed his eyes, “I had no choice,” he mumbled wearily.
Soft hand caressed his face and neck, “We know how that feels.”
“Relax, Degoras, it will all be over soon.”
“The Lady Vercillia has a message for you, Degoras, she said to tell you ‘Blood begets blood’.”
“Hmm?”
A finger touched his lips as the blade slid into his heart.

* * *

Night was rarely quiet in the docks of Lyca. Hot, sticky nights would usually find any of a dozen ship crews loading or unloading by lantern light, saving time and energy. Setting Sun was preparing to leave at first light, her crew making final preparations for the long journey south to Onaeli, her home port.
Captain Reach was below deck when the First Mate shouted for him to come up.
“What’s the problem, Arann?”
The First Mate pointed a thumb over towards the wide, stone jetty and wandered off. Reach leaned over the rail, regarded the lone figure standing there. It took a moment to recognise him in the dim light.
“Permission to come aboard?”
Even in this light, Reach could see Ilnaulro’s skin and clothes were torn and splashed in blood.
“Um, not a good time, Master San Epiaston, we’re busy and can’t spare the time.”
Ilnaulro nodded, scratched his head, “Well, truth be told it’s not a formal visit, Captain. I actually need passage out of Lyca, and my need is, well, immediate.”
“Will you be a paying passenger?”
“Actually, I am in a spot of trouble and it might be a little difficult to access my funds.”
“Really? Unfortunate that. I don’t suppose you know how to sail?”
“No. However, I would be willing to work for my passage in any capacity.”
“That so? Bo’sun!”
After a moment, a voice answered from somewhere below deck.
“Captain?”
“Did that new cook ever turn up?”
“What? Of course not, I’d have bloody well told you if he had, wouldn’t I! Think I’d let some damned stranger aboard your girl without…”
Reach grinned at the Bo’sun’s fading rant, looked at Ilnaulro, who smiled and dipped his head.
“Ilnaulro, ship’s cook, sir. Permission to come aboard.”
“Granted, and...you’re docked a day’s wage for being late.”

This post has been edited by Shinrei: 02 August 2009 - 12:43 PM

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#5 User is offline   waydoug 

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 11:44 AM

Submission #4:
Author: Waydoug

A Lesser Evil – Malison; Chapter 1

The young girl couldn't tell which sounded louder to her ears, her footsteps as she crept across the floor of the shack she shared with her father, or the pounding of her frightened heart. The one thing she knew for sure, she was not going back in that room.
The light from a nearly full moon fell across the floor from the cracks in the wall, and a cool spring breeze sent shivers down her back. The bruises from her fathers' fists, while no longer visible, could still be felt. She knew for a fact that she would be dead if he caught her this time.
The door, only another six steps away, her last bastion of freedom, still seemed unreachable. Every step she took, she balanced, slowly testing the floor for squeaks and cracks.
Left foot, carefully balance; please don’t wake up, She thought, please.
The rough hands, groping her, pinching, touching her... She shuddered, though this time not from the breeze. He had sold her; her own father had sold her to anyone that… Stop, she screamed inwardly, escape first than think about it.
Right foot, carefully balance.
An owl screeched, somewhere in the trees nearby, the girl almost screamed along with it, but her breath got caught in her throat. Minutes passed by with her feet frozen to the floor, tears welling up in her eyes. Please, she begged, please don’t wake up.
Left foot, carefully balance, slowly shift your weight from one foot to the other.
Blinking back the tears, she looked again at the door, the last three steps, so close. Out of the corner of her eye a bit of moonlight glinted off steel. Her fathers hunting knife, fallen from its peg on the wall, discarded on the floor. She stopped moving, could she grab the knife and still reach the door before he woke up? Should she take the knife with her?
She looked back at the door; I can almost reach my hand out and touch it.
The knife, an extra three steps, grab it and then run for the door. I could be free of him forever.
Back at the door, I can almost reach it.
Her fists where clenched so tight, her fingernails dug into her palms. What should I do? She looked at the knife. Her mind was made up. She stepped for the door.
“Malison!” her fathers’ voice screamed at her from the bedroom. “What the hell are you doing? Where are you?”
She almost fainted in fear. I can’t move my legs. She started to cry openly now. I can’t even run away from him.
Suddenly he burst out of the room, almost shattering the door from its hinges with his weight. “What do you think you are doing?” His voice low and dangerous, his teeth clenched together, he stood staring at his daughter.
Malison’s knees started shaking, run her inner voice screamed, you’re this close to the door. She turned and faced her father.
“This is it you little bitch” he hissed“I’ve told you before I’d kill you if you ever tried running away again.”
Remembered pain flared up, the beatings she had endured; her fathers’ fists were like clubs smashing through stone. “Get away from that door!” The tone in of his voice meant one thing; obey.
Malison’s heart was pounding in her chest, the light of the moon, reaching its long fingers through the walls and across the floor, made the room look like a prison of light and dark.
Still she didn’t move
An evil smirk appeared at the corner of his mouth, his voice seemed to revert from seething hatred to hauntingly calm. “Not only am I going to kill you Malison, but your last breath will be as I bury you in that swamp.”
Malison looked up, fear lanced through to her soul, he had promised her before that no one would ever find her body, now she knew why; there were things out there.
Seconds seemed to pass like hours. Again the moonlight shone into the cabin, glinting off steel. Malison’s quick glance saw that the handle was pointing toward her. Had she only taken the knife moments before, she wouldn’t be defenseless now.
“Now what would you do with that?” his voice taunted, somehow seeing her glance in the moonlight, “unless that’s for me?”
Malison through herself at the knife, wrapping her fist around the handle, just as his big, meaty fingers grabbed a handful of her hair. Snapping her upright with a strength born of hatred, her father slammed her full force into the wall. Splinters pierced her neck and shoulder’s as boards broke around her.
Once more he pulled her hair, twisting her neck in a pain filled haze. This time she was thrown across the room, his hand mercifully letting go of her hair. Sliding across the floor and landing in a heap, somehow she held onto the knife.
Again with unbelievable speed he was crashing towards her, aiming to kick her in the chest, smashing her ribs and anything else in the process. Aron, father to Malison, and the Duke to all the paying customers, suddenly felt the knife Malison still held, cut through his foot, nearly severing his large toe.
Gasping in pain, the Duke, now unable to stop, slammed face first into the wall. There was a sick popping sound as his nose shattered from the force. Blood sprayed across the wall and covered his face as he unceremoniously collapsed to the floor.
Malison staggered to her feet, staring at the knife, red with her father’s blood. The door, once more across the room, now seemed in no urgent need to be opened. She had some unfinished business with this whimpering blob on the floor.
“You bastard!” she screamed. The first time she had ever spoken back to her father. “I hate you.” The knife slashed across his right bicep, cutting a deep path through the muscle in his arm. He screamed again in his high pitched, pain filled voice. Reaching up with his left hand he tried to stop the bleeding, now in three spots on his body.
Somewhere in the forest, a lone wolf answered in a long mournful cry. “I was only six years old!” she screamed again. Blinded by her tears she missed cutting him a third time.
“Malison,” he gasped, he was covered in blood. His right hand trying to hold his toes together, his left hand slowing the bleeding on his arm, “how could you? After everything I’ve done for you.”
Malison kicked his foot; the puddle of blood grew a lot bigger as the Duke screamed in pain.
Finally, speaking through the agonizing pain he hissed, “What will you do, murder me like you murdered my wife, and my son!”
“It wasn’t my fault! I was only six years old!”
“You killed them”, he screamed, rolling over he managed to put his knee under him. “You didn’t deserve to live.” He began balancing on his good foot and the wall until he stood, towering over his daughter, his imposing size more than a match for the knife she pointed at him. “I’ve given you more than you deserved, if it wasn’t for me, no one would ever have touched you. You’re just an ugly little bitch that needs me to tell you what to do.”
Blood rolled freely down his arm, dripping of his hand. The puddle on the floor continued to grow bigger and bigger, spreading out around him. Malison began to wonder how long it would take him to bleed to death. Slowly he curled his left hand into a fist, able to balance only on one foot; the Duke had a slight tilt to his usually straight stance.
In a voice filled with pain and rage he ordered “Drop the knife Malison.”
She stood staring at the growing puddle. So much blood had already drained out of him, and as he stood there, more was running down his arm. His toe was cocked off at an angle, blood oozing out of what looked like a mouth.
“Drop the knife Malison!”
How long? How much longer could he stand there? How much more blood could he lose before he died?
Malison began to doubt he would ever die. She began to realize how worthless her feeble attempt at escape was. Escape? Where would she go? She didn’t know anyone, and anyone she did meet would know her father and take her back to him.
“Drop he knife now.”
Her grasp on the knife started slipping, this wasn’t her life; it was his, to do with as he pleased. He told her that everyday. She was to do as she was told, without question, without hesitation, or else there was pain.
The beatings, the strappings and of course…
The hands, gripping her, tearing at her clothes, touching her, pulling her down…
“Drop the knife you little bitch!” His scream nearly made Malison jump out of her skin.
Her fingers gripped the handle. Never again, she had told herself, would he ever have power over her. Never again would anyone have power over her.
Somewhere deep inside, Malison reached down for her inner strength, down past the pain of the last nine years of her life. Down past the beatings and the torture. Down past all the times she was raped.
She began to lock away bits and pieces of her life. The painful memories, the humiliation of what had been done to her. She began pushing it all aside where she could deal with it later.
Using all of her anger, from all of the memories of what her father had done, and had allowed done, to his daughter, she slowly brought the knife back up. Her grip on the handle tightened even more.
“No.”
The light in her father’s eyes seemed to disappear, as if a candle was suddenly blown out from behind them. “Last chance,” his voice a dangerous whisper. His face was a confused ball of emotions, seeming to slowly shift from hated to fear.
“No!”
Somehow with a terrifying lunge, the Duke was hurtling towards her. Blood from the deep gash on his arm hung suspended in the air for a few seconds, as if realizing there was nothing holding it up anymore. His large toe made a sickening, sucking sound as it was torn from the floor to dangle at an obscene angle. He swung for her head, huge fist clenched tight, with enough force to snap her neck.
The calm euphoria that Malison was feeling took over all her reflexes. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. Her father’s movements were sluggish; she could see what she had to do to kill him.
She bent down and stepped to the side, spinning quickly she slashed at his head. The knife sliced from back to front, a large crop of dirty, greasy hair fell away. The top half of his ear was sent spinning across the room. His cheek was opened up, exposing blackened, rotted teeth.
Again he screamed, his voice beginning to go hoarse from the pain. The gash in his cheek opened up wider, making it look as if there were two mouths’s yelling in unison.
Suddenly she was behind him, stabbing again and again, through his back and shoulders.
The momentum from his punch carried him back across the room, towards the door, where he stumbled and finally fell. As if a great tree had fallen in the forest, the entire cabin shook with the impact. The floorboards seemed to jump from the foundation.
Malison jumped on top of him, stabbing his head, his neck, his shoulders and back. Again and again the knife plunged.
Up down.
Up down.
Blood sprayed all over her face, her hands and her arms. Slowly, recognition began to dawn on her. Somewhere in the forest she could hear the howling of the wolves, many this time. Outside in the tree, a crow cawed triumphantly over and over again, the sound lessoning as it flew away. Looking at the knife nearly black with the amount of blood and tissue, she forced herself to stop. Holding the blade in front of her, she sat for awhile, staring at it.
He was dead. Her father was dead.
She had finally done what she had wanted for all these years; she had killed her father. She had killed her tormentor. She had killed her jailer.
She looked down, what was left of his body was riddled with holes. The clothes he had slept in had darkened from his life blood.
Time passed slowly. The cabin seemed to be brighter, as if the moon was shining straight through the boards. Looking around, Malison could tell the sun was beginning to climb above the trees. How long had she sat here? How long had it taken to kill him?
Pushing away from the body, she stood on shaking legs. She had to get moving; she had to get as far away from here as she could.
Her father had kept most of his, or was it hers? Money well hidden, but she thought she knew where some of it was. Going back into his large room, her search was unsuccessful, nowhere she looked could she find it; under his bed, in his clothes trunk or on any of his shelves or tables. Beginning to get discouraged she sat heavily on his bed, a sharp clink rewarded her ears. Feeling around the edges of his mattress she found a long incision, reaching in she pulled out three good size bags of coins and the black leather book.
The book, she knew, contained all the names of all the customers that frequented the cabin. Malison knew all the faces of every man that had paid for her and she would kill every one of them. This book would justify their deaths.
Turning she began to fill the wash basin from the jug of rain water, it turned almost instantly red when she started to clean herself off; her hair, her face, her hands. Blood had completely saturated the thin night shirt, making it stick to her as she removed it, and the already stained water left more streaks than it cleaned. The lone coarse bar of soap in the cabin belonged to her father, any other time she wasn’t allowed to touch it, it cost too much to waste on you, now she lathered herself up.
Feeling fully clean for the first time in years, Malison found one of her fathers robes; a long white hooded gown which she kept from dragging on the floor by tying it off at the waist with the knife strap. Stuffing the bags of coins and the book into the deep pockets of the robe, she wiped the knife clean on a pile of his dirty clothes. Reaching for her sandals, she suddenly heard movement coming from the other room.
Her father was still alive! Oh my god, he’s still alive!
Peeking around the corner of the door she could see her fathers’ feet and legs still stretched out on the floor. The pool of blood still spread out around him. She could hear some type of grunting noises, but she couldn’t decipher what they were or who was making them.
His leg twitched. His foot moved a tiny bit in the blood. So small a movement, Malison had to blink to make sure she had seen anything.
The grunting became fiercer, more guttural. It began to sound like growling. His leg twitched again and again, the foot sliding through the blood, leaving a tail about an inch long.
Malison grabbed the knife again, why couldn’t he be dead? Why couldn’t he just stay dead? Why? Why…
She had to kill him again. She had to get out there before he could get to his feet. She had to finish the job once and for all. Screaming in rage, she ran around the corner, planning on stabbing him over and over again.
The vicious little swamp rat looked up and hissed at her before scampering back out through the hole in the wall. Malison dropped down heavily on her knees and began laughing, a clean innocent sound she hadn’t done in years.
Flies were now beginning to settle on his body, drawn to the scent of his blood. He was dead. He would stay dead. But before she had another scare like that, she was leaving.
Let the animals eat him, let the bugs eat him; let him rot for all she cared. He was dead, she was free.
For the last time in her life, Malison passed through the outside door. Never again would she come back here. Someday someone would come looking for business, let them find whatever would be left of his body. Let them care about what happened. She was going south to the Capital.
Sarsipnia was a city she could get lost in and still claim her vengeance. Her revenge would be sweet.

This post has been edited by RodeoRanch: 11 July 2009 - 04:39 PM

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#6 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 12 July 2009 - 11:36 PM

Submission #5
Author: Grimhilde


As the Moon Tumbled from its Perch and Broke our Dreams


Dusk crept forward on naked feet, bringing with her a cooler, crisper air. She would soon be overtaken, and forgotten, by her elder sister, Night, and the air would go from cool to cold. On the wind a hint of salt from the sea, which the sun now slowly drowned in. To die every night and be reborn every morning seemed like a horrible life. Yet, not dying at all seemed all the much worse. This day, it seemed worse.

The soft susurration of the waves could be heard faintly over the din of voices. It was calm now, quiet. But that could easily change. She had lost her father to that fickle bitch.
But that had happened a long time ago. In another life, in another world. And now, a ghost from the time Before had come back to haunt her. It wasn’t the first time.

He was standing across the street. The wind did not touch him. She turned her back on him and did her best to disappear in the crowd of people. Her flamboyantly red hair made that virtually impossible, but it didn’t matter. She had been blonde the last time, and four inches shorter. He would not know her, not from that distance.

Turning a corner she exhaled and lowered her shoulders. They had been up around her ears in dread anticipation of that burning feeling between her shoulder blades, which told her the ghost had seen her. She stopped walking as a thought struck her; the ghost could have followed her for awhile. How long had he been there? How much did he know?

If he knew anything, he would’ve approached me by now, she thought and continued walking. She picked up the pace and was soon trotting through the alley. Her home was not far. She had to get there before the ghost caught a whiff of her trail. She hoped the teeming masses of the city would confuse his senses. At least long enough for her to disappear. Only one thing was on her mind as she ran home; Roland.

Dusk was already dying when she finally reached her door. She pushed the door open and stepped inside, a faint scent of old dirt met her. Perhaps time for a spring cleaning? She thought before noticing that the lights were on. “Roland, honey, are you there?” She said while pulling two bags out of the hallway closet. Pulling out the drawers in the dresser she started stuffing clothes into one of the bags.

“Leaving already? But I just got here…” A man’s voice sounded from the living room doorway.

She spun around; fists in front of her like a pugilist. Roland smiled at her and shook his head, his eyes, startlingly blue under a mass of dark hair, harbouring that familiar mischievous twinkle. She relaxed and smiled back.

“What have I told you about sneaking up on me like that?”

He stepped forward to embrace her and she could smell the old dust and dirt on him. A smell of stuffiness and decay. Her smile turned into a sneer. She tried to back up, but the bags and dresser got in the way.

"Why don't we sit down and have a little chat, shall we?" The man who was not Roland said, and lead her by the arm into the living room.

He placed her firmly on the couch and took the chair on the other side of the table for himself. He leaned back and put his hands behind his head. He studied her without saying anything, a smug smile on the face he had stolen. She rewarded him with a glower. Leaning forward he raised one brow and cocked his head like a dog. Not Roland's blue eyes seemed to harbour genuine curiosity.

"How did you know?" He said.

"Know what?" She replied, wishing she could pull that son of a bitch right out of Roland's body.

"How did you know I wasn't him?"

She shrugged. "The same way you knew who I were. It's the smell. You and your people smell like the inside of a tomb."

"I see," he said, "Interesting."

"You know this time will be different, right?" He continued, his eyes suddenly darkening, in his voice a hint of menace.

She could feel the fine hairs on her arms and neck lift, pulling gently on her skin. She felt deathly cold, yet beads of sweat pushed through her skin. The way the human body reacted still managed to amaze her.

"How so?” She asked, reluctantly, focusing her eyes on a point just above his head.

"This time it will end," he replied, sounding certain.

"What will end?" She asked, stalling.

The question was unnecessary, she knew what he meant. Yet the answer did still surprise her.

"That," he said, "is entirely up to you."

He smiled now, and she felt like someone had hit her in the gut with an iron fist. This man, this ghost, was not like the others. She felt sure that his assumption would prove to be correct. This night, something would end.

"I won't go back!" She blurted out, angry now. Scared now.

The man shrugged Roland's broad shoulders and gazed upon her with Roland's blue eyes, and the cruel streak she could spot in them chilled her like Arctic sleet pelting the vulnerable skin of her face.
She stared deep into his eyes, searching for a sign of him, searching for the slightest hint of the man she loved.

“He is…asleep. If he wakes up again he’ll remember naught of this. I promise,” the man said coldly, still smiling that vulpine smile.

If he wakes up..?

“You son of a bitch! If you harm him I will tear you limb from limb!” Roared she and launched herself across the table.

His hand closed around her throat and slammed her down on the table. Impossibly strong, impossibly fast. He loomed over her, his face suddenly flushed with anger, and behind Roland’s blue eyes was an all-consuming darkness barely contained. This man had nothing to lose.

“That wouldn’t be very wise,” he hissed, “seeing as I’m borrowing your dear Roland’s body.” He released her and returned the chair, sitting down with a satisfied sigh.

“Now, we both know you won’t do anything as long as I’m in here,” he said, tapping Roland’s temple. “So just stop with the empty threats, OK?”

She did not reply, her mind racing to find a solution she could live with. So far; nothing.

“Let me just explain the How’s and Why’s of things. Let’s start with why. It is your duty and responsibility towards your people. This has been going on long enough and it’s time to come back. You’ve lived your life, had your fun. Stop acting like a spoiled little brat and start doing what you’re supposed to. We are tired of waiting!”

She raised an eyebrow at his tone, “That’s hardly the way to address your god.”

“Right now, you’re just a child throwing a tantrum, and we’ve had enough. It’s been centuries since we last felt the warmth of the sun, breathed fresh air. How can you be so selfish as to deny us this?”

She abruptly leaned forward and spoke through clenched teeth, “Selfish?! What are mere centuries of freedom compared to eons trapped in my own body, sharing my dreams with you? You with your wars and feuds and unspeakable cruelty! You do not deserve that gift!”

Leaning back she closed her eyes, memories of a distant past flashing before them. The children in piles before the pyres, bombs falling from the sky like hail, the flashes that turned the night into day. The smell of charred flesh. The screams. They had been given so many chances. And ruined every single one.

“No,” she said, “forget it. I won’t go back.”

Roland’s eyes blazed with the black fire of a man whose god had denied him. His face turned a dark red, a swollen vein meandering across his forehead pulsating in time with the beats of his angered heart.

“I see,” he said. “Those who came before me probably begged and groveled at this point, maybe even cried a little. To no avail. Not this time. This time is different. I am our last resort.”

He got up and walked out in the hallway. When he returned he held a gun in his hand. He pointed it at her.

“Now, let me tell you how we’re gonna do this. You will come with me, or Roland gets his brains splattered across the walls here. Would you like me to make a little Roland painting on the wall for you?” he asked, one eyebrow raised. Mocking her.

Fear flooded her system then. Bright red, screaming fear. A hundred crazed horses stampeding through her veins. Beneath it; a smouldering rage. Panic descended like an iron curtain on her mind. Her thoughts scurried like rats, but all exits were blocked.

“You wouldn’t,” she whispered, wide-eyed.

“Wouldn’t I?” he said, still smiling. “You seem to forget that I have nothing to lose. Nothing at all. You, on the other hand, have everything to lose.”
He scratched his head absentmindedly with the gun and she followed his every move, desperate for an opportunity to do…What exactly? Save us. Save him.

“You know, this man really loves you. He would die for you…given the chance,” Not-Roland said

Yes, he would. If I let him. Could I? No, I would rather die. I really would, for him. If I could.

She looked down on her hands. Her veins were like blue rivers beneath the pale skin, meandering down her forearm. She stroked the inside of her wrist with her thumb, it felt smooth like a water-worn pebble, but she knew it was anything but. Am I to give up all this?For them?

She looked up again and met the impostor’s dark gaze. “Tell me,” she said, “have you known love?”

Not-Roland hesitated, his brows knitting, trying to figure out her angle. He couldn’t find one and shrugged.

“I have a wife. And two sons.”

"Then I must ask you; have you known freedom?" she said.

The man shrugged. "I was once a slave. Now I'm not."

This man's like me, has felt like I have. Does this change anything?

"So you've felt the sweetness of both. And now you're asking me to choose between the two. How can you bring yourself to do that, knowing that I feel and live like you feel and live?"

"At least I've given you a choice. You took it all away from us without a thought. But, I would sacrifice one of the two for the greater good," the man said, peering down at her from his high horse.

"And so you have. My good is greater than yours," she replied.

Not-Roland's fist made a dent in the coffee table, splinters flying everywhere.
"You fucking, selfish, arrogant bitch! We want our lives back!"
He pointed the gun at Roland's temple again and cocked it. His index finger hovering precariously above the trigger.

Her heart sank and her breath caught as she realized her gambit had failed. He had not reacted as she had expected, as she had desperately wanted him to. And now Roland would die because of her, and her heart would die with him. She turned her head a fraction, looked out the window. The moon was up. A silvery crescent hanging placidly in a cloudless sky, surrounded by brightly glowing stars. It was all so beautiful, but without Roland it would mean nothing.

She took a deep breath and let it out, slowly, through her teeth. The moon had been full, a giant yellow orb, the first time he had told her he loved her. She had been studying the moon, like now, it had been so close she could see every crater, every bump, every sea, when he had gently cupped her face with his hands, looked deep into her eyes and said those four words, his voice strong and unfaltering: “I love you, Calliope.” It was a good memory, one that could last an eternity. We end tonight, but you won’t. She stood up.

“Give me just this lifetime with him, it’s all I ask,” she said, trying one last time to find a way to stay, find a way to get through to him.

He simply shook his head and started squeezing the trigger, ever so gently. She nodded her head, tears stinging in her eyes and said:

“I choose love.”

“I’ll come with you under two conditions: Roland will not be harmed, and no reboots this time,” she said looking down on her hands. Her palms were flush with colour.

“Fine,” he said and shrugged, on his face a puzzled look. But she could see that impatience had won over curiosity and smiled inside. “Let’s go.”

Roland’s head lolled back as the body thief left him and she could now see his ghostly form again. It was not the one from the street. The ghost reached out its hand and looked impatiently at her. She hesitated for a second, a half-formed thought, an indescribable feeling nagging her. For Roland, she thought and shrugged it off. She grabbed the apparition’s hand.
~
He drew breath for the first time in several hundred years. He sucked the air in, gulped it down like a man near-drowned, terrified it would be taken away from him again. But its sweetness was short-lived. A fit of coughing hit him like a sledgehammer to the ribs and he finally opened his eyes. All he saw was grey. The sky looked unnatural with swirling clouds of black, grey and red. The landscape that stretched out before him was barren, dotted here and there with clusters of charred trees, their lifeless fingers reaching towards the sky. It was as if they were beseeching a higher power for mercy. He realized that what he was breathing was ash.
Covering his mouth with his hands he looked around in horror. Nothing could have survived this conflagration. Myrna? Adam and Aidan? He took a few tottering steps forward, his feet shuffling through a deep layer of ash. The devastation that had been wrought seemed absolute.
“Myrna!”
“Adam, Aidan!”
His voice rang out into the void and made the wasteland seem a hundred times lonelier. No one answered his calls. He turned his head skyward and roared.
“Calliope!”
“Calliope, you bitch, answer me!”
The whole world seemed to pause. Not even a breath of wind stirred the ashes, then out of the sky forked lightning struck, tearing up the ground in cascades of ash and dirt, toppling the dead and charred trees. Thunder rolled across the sky and the earth answered it.
“I hope you have awakened me to thank me,” said a voice coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.
“You know I haven’t,” sneered he. “What have you done?”
“That’s just it, I haven’t done anything. It was part of the deal; no reboots, remember?”The melodious, yet monotone voice replied.
“No reboots? I don’t even know what that means!” He shouted, starting to believe he had made a terrible mistake.
“Yet you agreed to it. So hasty, you mortals. You never learn. No reboots simply means that I won’t start over again this time,” the voice said, its tone hinting of boredom.
“Start over again? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You believe you have only lived once? No, you have lived many times, seen many ages, done many things. See, mankind has always had a need for progress, nothing can ever just stay the same with you lot. This is what makes you unique, but it’s also your biggest flaw. You always progress too much, go too far with your desires,” the voice said and paused for what seemed an eternity.
“And when you realized what you’ve done, when you see that progress has only given you weapons and war, you turn to me begging for salvation, begging for another chance. The prayers become increasingly more insistent as the bombs start falling, killing everything, destroying my flesh and I cave in. You always promise to do better this time, but you never do. I guess it’s just in your nature to be…stupid, ignorant, cruel.”
“And this time you didn’t start over, you didn’t reboot?” He asked, his voice barely a whisper. His mouth was dry and his eyes burned. The ash had become a greasy layer on his skin and hair.
“No. I let nature take its course this time. It seems the world has moved on without you, my friend,” replied the voice.
“What about my wife, my children?”
“If it is meant to be, you’ll see them again. But you better hurry up and look for them, this has become a very harsh world since last you breathed its air,” the voice said.
He felt empty inside at the thought of a life without his Myrna, and the children. “Why?” he simply whispered.
“Why? All I asked for was a lifetime, sixty more years with Roland, and you wouldn’t give me that. So I took something from you; a lifetime with your loved ones. You’ve made of me a vengeful god. Tell me, how does it feel to look upon your creation in horror? How does it feel to know that the shit you now find yourself in is your own doing?” The voice, bitter now, asked.
“Shut up,” he whispered. “Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!” His voice was steadily rising in volume.
“I will. First I will say this: Those men you see on the horizon, moving towards you, are not your friends. This is a crueler world now and they are hungry. I suggest you run,” said the voice.
He turned around and shaded his eyes with his hand. There, on the horizon, he could see three specks moving slowly in his direction. He was relieved to see people; it meant there was hope for Myrna and the kids. But not much, if the voice spoke the truth. He turned his head skywards once more.
“If I never hear your voice again, it’s too soon. You were ill-named, Calliope.”
“It seems so were you, Benedict,” the voice said, and he thought he could hear her smile.


The End

This post has been edited by Shinrei: 07 August 2009 - 03:19 PM

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#7 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 07 August 2009 - 03:07 PM

Submission #6
Author: jitsukerr


= Thrice Bitten =

No one really controls the Underside, that dark heart that beats at the centre of all cities. Some may lay claim to it. Some of those claims may even be hundreds of years old, passed from one generation of bottom-feeding scum to the next. By such inheritance, the scum may even feel some sense of entitlement – legitimacy among bastards, if you will. But no underside ever admits ownership. Eventually, as all dynasties must, one family is replaced by another, assured in their temporary immortality.

London’s underside is a peculiarly apropos example. Home to denizens that shy away from the cold light of England’s summer sun, lest their variously bestial, uncanny, or sepulchral natures be betrayed, it has been controlled since almost the city’s rise by a cabal of self-interested powers calling itself the Family. Self-interest is a pre-requisite for survival among these people, and the Family has perfected it, nay raised it to an art-form.

There is still room for the casual operator, though. Yours truly, Vincent Farinelli, numbers himself among those. I don’t call myself a private dick: humour, such as it is in London’s underbelly, is coarse enough without the need for straight lines like that. No, a private investigator is always in demand, and I have worked for the Family on occasion. Always ensuring I know which faction’s ends I am serving by so doing. I’ve lived long enough now to see how they operate, and am torn between admiration for their longevity, and disgust and scorn at their naked need for it.

But today, I am as content as any two-hundred-year-old nightwalker could be. A glance in the mirror (not, you understand, a simple thing of silver-backed glass) reveals me in my true form. I was turned as a mere babe of thirty, back in the decadent days of Empire. Popular with both men and women even then. These days, among the superficial battle of the sexes – hah! – I stand out, glinting in my superiority like a diamond carved out of the stump of a rotten swamp oak. Carelessly setting myself above such tawdry competition, I draw them to me. It provides some measure of pleasure, until darker appetites are uncovered.

And I find myself alone once more.

So here I am, in a desultorily decorated office, bare of personality, screaming its barrenness. Aching to be filled with life of some sort. And my clients, they are thus moved to reveal more than they might, filling that void they can only dimly perceive.

Doesn’t help when they call, of course. The phone rings, and I allow myself to enjoy the antique sound. The pearl and ivory handle judders slightly against the gold forks with each brassy chime. I pick up, say nothing. They always speak first.

‘Farinelli.’ The voice is one well-known to me, and I grimace. My good mood, destroyed so easily. Who knew it could be so transient?

‘This is he,’ I respond. ‘It’s been some time, Marcel.’

‘Not long enough,’ came the snarled reply, but there was no real feeling behind it. I knew what was coming. Marcel was just the voice of the Family. And no voice thinks for itself.

‘What is it this time?’ I asked. Might as well try to keep it polite. To help, I imagined Marcel dying horribly. Staked through the wrists and ankles to a railway track, perhaps. Or some bizarre Heath Robinson device incorporating a guillotine (which my imagination always included in any Heath Robinson drawing, leading to some rather unappetising juxtapositions when regarding the originals).

‘The Family requires your services once more,’ drawled the Frenchman. Though I was sure his accent was a fake, it was of such perfect antiquity that it served as the real thing. ‘Your talent is needed.’ I hadn’t been aware that the word ‘talent’ was an epithet.

‘I am, of course, at your...service,’ I said smoothly, my tone liquid unctuousness. ‘What am I to find this time? A missing chambermaid? A currycomb? Are you missing yours?’

I could hear teeth grinding through the antique earpiece -- a marvel of Victorian engineering. But, shockingly, Marcel controlled his instincts. ‘You will receive the details shortly. Usual fee.’ He hung up abruptly.

I replaced the receiver in its cradle, and sat back thoughtfully. I welcomed the work, such as it was. No challenge, though not really my primary gift. Finding things, people -- even people-things, also known as corpses -- was something I had always been able to do, even before my death. And now, as an member of the Unquiet, my senses has only sharpened. Among other benefits.

A knock at the door, and a thick envelope slipped through the grate. This would be the assignment, then. I rose, padded over to it, and picked it up. Embossed paper, the faint scent of mint overpowering that of decay and old skin. Yes, definitely from the Family. I returned to the desk, and opened the letter using my shark’s-tooth blade. The envelope split easily, and I turned its contents out onto the desk.

A letter, detailing the assignment. I set it aside. A lock of hair. A simple necklace of gold chain, with a pendant in the shape of a twisted web. At the web’s centre, a small, faceted ruby, oval, deeply red in the dim light from the desk’s lamp. A photo, much-handled, with a date on the reverse. June 1964, Piazza del’la Fortuna, Rome. On the front, a smiling woman looking over her shoulder at the camera, her teeth flashing in the Mediterranean sunshine. Her hair a match for the lock on my desk, lightened by the sun to a tawny blonde. She wore a white summer dress, simple yet graceful, defining yet concealing elegant curves. Well, well.

I read the letter cursorily, trying to find a name. Missing...three weeks...no reason...hostage? No ransom. Finally, a name -- Isobel de Mare.

I sat back in my chair, my hands tensing on the red leather armrests. I knew the name, of course. The de Mares were high in the Family, though not founding members. Luigi de Mare and his wife Isadora were often seen at society functions, mixing with the great and the-- the great. But I had never heard of a daughter -- odd, given that we moved in many of the same circles.

Still, it had to be genuine. Tying these articles together with my gift, any falsehood would render them all useless. My gift required a singular direction.

Well, I had nothing else planned, and so might as well begin straight away. I collected the photo, necklace, and lock of hair, and crossed over to my work table. Laying the items carefully on the white cloth, not yet touching, I cleansed my hands with purified water. The ritual motions accompanied my mental routine, as I sought the discipline I needed to call forth my gift.

It had always been with me, as long as I could remember. Untrained, of course, it had been nothing more than a flash of insight, a hunch of which I was utterly convinced. Finding keys, finding lost pets, coins -- all could be coincidence. It was when I read of a killer in the paper, and realised that I felt the same hunch about his undiscovered victims -- and then found the first one, and tipped the police anonymously -- that I realised it was something deeper. Over the years, I sought out teachers, furtively strengthening my skill. Until that day when the body I found turned out not to be as dead as anyone had thought.

Shaking off the reverie, I turned my attention back to the items in front of me. Fixing each in my mind, I joined them with links of white fire, moving my hand over each in turn. And as I passed my hand over each one, I whispered the name of its owner. ‘Isobel de Mare.’ The name was the key, the link that bound all the essences together, the label by which we identify ourselves to the world. Without identity, there would be nothing.

The lines of fire flared and fused, rising up to a point -- and then shot off out of the office, to the west of the city. But there was a hesitancy I had never seen before, a reluctance in the identification that I had not felt before.

Still, it had worked, and I had a location. I could feel the tug, and I collected my cane and greatcoat before leaving the office. Locking the door behind me, I left the building, heading west.

*

Ruislip was not an area of the city I knew well. Commuter belt, residential, suburbia -- all names for the same hell that is other people in London. The tug of my gift had drawn me to this house, no different, no more or less sinister in its perfectly appalling ordinariness to any of its neighbours. Isobel was inside, I was certain. Triangulating the pull from my gift, even with that annoyingly uncertain hesitancy, it was clear that she was within.

I walked up the lane to the door, secure in my strength. Sometimes a frontal approach was the best option, and my senses were not alarmed. I knocked once, twice, and waited. Movement from inside, the sound of a spyhole being uncovered, and then bolts being drawn. The door opened, and there she was. She looked like her picture, disconcertingly vivid. The flush of summer’s health had vanished, and she looked pale, yet lively.

‘Isobel de Mare?’ I asked.

She cocked her head to one side, and closed her eyes. After a moment, her response came. ‘If I must. I suppose I have been expecting you, or someone like you.’ She stepped gracefully to one side, and I noted the movement. It was trained, ballet certainly. And she moved with the grace of a woman half her years, if the date on the photo was accurate. She motioned me inside.

Preceding me down the hallway, she led me to a small receiving room. Two comfortable-looking chairs adjoined a low coffee table, all in a polished walnut finish. She gestured to one, and I sat. She took the other, sitting straight-backed and rigid, her ankles crossed and tucked underneath her.

I relaxed into the chair, hoping she might follow my example. I had no idea why she would be uncomfortable.

‘So...’ I began, not really knowing how to continue.

‘They sent you, didn’t they?’ she said, and the bitterness in her voice was hard to miss. ‘They can’t just leave it alone.’ She shot a fierce, accusing glare at me. ‘What did they offer you? Money? I can match it, you know. Double it.’ She looked away. ‘Why can’t they just let me alone?’

‘Miss de Mare--’

‘Miss?’ she asked witheringly. ‘Who did they tell you I was?’ A light dawned in her eyes. ‘Oh, no. Don’t tell me they used the daughter thing again.’ She pointed at me with her right hand. ‘And you fell for it! Don’t you know anything about the Family?’

‘I know enough not to refuse a job from them,’ I said quietly.

She subsided, and looked briefly guilty. ‘Ah.’ Her lips quirked in what I took for a moue of apology. ‘Then you had as little choice as I.’

I started again. ‘Miss-- Isobel. I know little more than that they wanted me to find you, and you have been missing for three weeks.’ I paused delicately. ‘Perhaps you could elighten me?’

She looked disbelievingly at me. ‘That’s all? But surely in the course of finding me you’ve discovered more?’

I shrugged. ‘I have a gift. I can find people, things. You weren’t protected. It was a matter of an hour, no more.’ I hadn’t missed the way her eyes lit up when I mentioned my gift. There was something else here, something under the surface.

‘How useful for you.’ The mask was back, as strong as ever. But there was more than a hint of interest now. ‘But, tell me. Was there nothing unusual when you used your gift? I was given to understand that you would require personal items to perform any divination like that.’

I frowned. There had been that feeling of attenuation. But how could she know?

‘Nothing I couldn’t overcome,’ I said dismissively.

‘But there was something,’ she insisted. It seemed important to her, and her posture had changed. She was leaning towards me, her chin tilted forward. No colour in her cheeks, though. Why not play along?

‘It felt as though...as though the connection wasn’t terribly strong,’ I said finally, thinking back on the feeling I had had. ‘Something was missing, not quite right.’

‘Well,’ she said, affecting a casualness that was belied by the triumph in her stance, ‘I am hardly the same person I was.’

‘That doesn’t normally make a difference,’ I said, shaking my head. ‘People don’t change much, and not quickly.’

‘Maybe I have changed,’ she said, with a sly smile.

The door to the room opened, and a man strode in, his eyes fixed on me.

‘But obviously not enough, my dear,’ he said, his voice booming. He was large, both tall and broad, wearing a classy suit. Something about him screamed threat to me, and it took me a while to recognise it. Not only a threat, but a rival. He, too, was a nightwalker.

*

The tableau remained fixed for a moment, as I looked from Isobel to the newcomer, trying to gauge their relationship. Though I had a sickly feeling I already knew.

‘It seems we must move again, my love,’ said Isobel.

I frowned. ‘You know I can find you, wherever you are. I can’t simply turn around and say my gift has suddenly stopped working -- the Family know me.’

‘I think we can solve that,’ the man said ominously.

‘Oh, Henry, no, please!’ said Isobel. ‘Can’t we solve this without violence, for once?’ She turned to me. ‘Will my son not simply accept my decision?’

My shock must have shown on my face. ‘Your son?’ I managed.

Her laugh was brittle. ‘Yes, son. I am older than I look, sir.’ She looked at me thoughtfully. ‘Nearly as old as you, I would think.’

‘You can sense that?’ I blurted, shocked.

‘There are a few signs -- you hide well, mostly.’ She smiled wanly. ‘We are of the same generation, after all.’

I shook my head. ‘But to answer your question: I cannot imagine Luigi would give you up so easily.’

‘There is a simple solution,’ Isobel said, looking at Henry. ‘I need only make myself...unfindable.’

I started to shake my head, but she held up a hand, and said, ‘Hear me out, sir. You have even suggested the means yourself.’

Henry crossed the room, and sat beside her, taking her hands in his. The touch was gentle, not possessive. There was something I was missing here. I sat back, eyeing them both. Isobel was pale, but what colour remained to her had sparked her cheeks with a wan flame. She looked across me, tilting her head as she did so, and exposing a delicate expanse of pale throat. Henry’s gaze was fixed, and his eyes flared with hunger.

As did mine.

‘Do it, my love,’ Isobel whispered, ‘take me further, beyond their reach.’ Her eyes trapped mine, staring me down. ‘This is my deliverance, you understand,’ she said to me, almost conversationally, as he bent his head forward. I mimicked the movement almost unconsciously, my lips parting. I heard the subtle tearing of flesh as his fangs parted her skin and he began to feed. Her eyes fluttered and rolled back. Her breath came more heavily, panting with desire -- that urgency that keeps our prey wanting more, ever more. Oh yes, I understood.

‘This is how you hope to escape.’ I spoke stiffly, restraining myself. My own desires raged darkly, and I looked away. But my other senses were all on fire. ‘This is why my gift found you only with difficulty --- you are not yourself.’

She gasped as Henry withdrew, his lips flecked with crimson. She shuddered, her hand clenching tightly in his hair before releasing him. The look she turned on me then was rampantly triumphant.

‘No, I am not. And so, how will they ever find me?’

‘You have addicted yourself willingly,’ I said flatly. ‘Damaged your very psyche, to escape them.’ I shook my head. ‘It is not necessary, there are other ways---’

‘Do I look like I want another way?’ she interrupted. ‘This is who I am now. My choice! Every time I grow further away from who I was, leaving them behind. This is what I want!’

‘You are not yourself!’ I shouted. ‘How can you know what you want?’

‘Oh, mister Farinelli,’ she sighed. ‘Whoever I was, that person is gone. Every day, we change, we grow. I do not regret my choices. The woman who had regrets is no more. There is only me. Always me.’ She looked at Henry, and back at me. ‘And I, here and now, am content.’

Henry clasped her tightly, and and gestured towards the door. ‘I think you should leave.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘Should you return here, we will be gone. And,’ he continued, his glance flicking down to the woman he held, ‘I do not think you will find her again.’

‘And what of you?’

‘Seek me, and you may find me,’ he replied. The unspoken threat was an ugly one, and I found no heart to continue. The woman I had sought was lost. What I found here was but a shadow of her, and even that would soon be gone. I could only hope that the Family would accept that.

It would take some time before I would accept it.

*** END ***
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#8 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 07:15 AM

Submission #7
Author: Yellow

Removed at authors request.


- Venge

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#9 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 02:10 PM

Submission #8
Author: Tapper

The Greek Gunslinger
10:23, 27th of March 2010.
Kasuga Shrine, Nara, Japan
A man walked the pathway navigating away from the main shrine of Nara, hands on his back, a pack of wafers clutched in them. Pinstripe beige suit, blue shirt, aviator glasses rimmed in gold, sitting on a hawk nose above a thin black moustache. High brow, slicked back black hair, not what one would call the typical tourist. He was followed by a deer calf, patiently waiting until the wafers were unwrapped to be shared out amongst the holy animals.
The analogy of a holy creature being transformed into a vulture, feeding off the sentimentality and marketing that crept up on what had once been honest faith did not go unnoticed by the man, even though he seemed to pay no attention at all to his four legged companion. Then again, he mused, through the ages, religion and riches had always been a fruitful combination, always culminating in a show of political superiority: the Akropolis, the Borobudur, the Kremlin, the Kubat-al-Sahr; the list was and is virtually endless. It was therefore not unexpected that the Fujiwara family, once residing near the ancient capitol Heijo-kyo and deriving their importance from the court exclusively, spent their fortune on the shrine, and he could appreciate the effort and the inherent irony a whole lot more than most can.
He paused next to a stone lantern, reached into it, then drew out a cell phone. He punched in a number, let it ring three times, then lowered it again. The phone rang once in answer, then gave a high pitched beep as a text message arrived. He didn’t look, just picked it up again, and punched in an instructed series of keys. Apparently, it meant something in Japanese, but to the man, it was all gibberish.
“You missed a key there,” a female voice said from somewhere behind him, clear and asexual, like water dripping onto a rock, her English near perfect. Damned ninja
“Don’t be a critic, Kamiko. Next time you’re near Didim, I’ll have you identify yourself to me in Turkish. Let’s see how well you do at that.” His voice was deep, polished, reassuring by its tone alone. The voice of someone used to command or soothe.
“The Japanese way is the way of perfection,” she chimed, unperturbed. He heard a soft footfall, just off to his right. He didn’t turn his head, no need to rub in that she was now no longer hidden. For all he knew, she planned it. He felt her halt next to him, half a foot away, both of them looking down at the deer calf that had halted in front of him, and now looked up at him, brown eyes moist and pitifully begging for the wafers.
“Do you have what I need?”
She shook her head. “Not yet, but they will be ready soon. You, however, have what she needs,” she replied, making a vague motion towards the deer calf.
“Then I’ll make her happy, and maybe you as well.”
“My happiness will have to wait until after lunch,” she responded. “There is a reasonably good tempura house nearby.”
“I’m more than willing to satisfy your needs, darling, whatever they may be,” he answered, and could almost hear her think macho pig in response. She glided past him, picking up the cell phone from the lantern in the process, all the while not sparing him a single glance. A blue summer dress, wave patterns on the hem, worn over a tight black strapless top. Long legs bared, blue sneakers on her tiny feet. Long black hair falling past her shoulders, a huge pair of designer shades balanced on top of her narrow nose, which was raised just a bit too high to not convey her opinion of the company.
He sighed, unwrapped the wafers, and, holding them out behind him, followed her, the deer nibbling from his hands. At the least there’s one woman here who is happy with what I can provide, and happy to follow my lead as long as I do provide.
Lunch was excellent, and by silent agreement, neither of them talked business until it was finished.
“So, Dios, why were you the one they sent?”
He heard the silent complaint: you are hardly compatible with our collective, gunman, unlike Pantomime or Lucille. She was, of course, too polite to voice the thought. He took a deep breath, spinning the porcelain tea cup in a dazzlingly quick pattern back and forth with three of the fingers on his left hand, the other two steady on the table, without spilling a single drop or touching the liquid with his fingers.
“Lucille is likely to cause a turf war. It cannot have escaped you that she is, technically speaking, not mortal but more or less a predator on chi. I’m confident that there is a fancy folklorist name for vampire in Japanese, but we both know that even that term does not cover her exactly, seeing how she’s at no time dependant on blood.
“Anyway, as you know, the undead community has a pecking order that is more vicious than that of a pack of baboons, and she’s likely to upset that particular order from the top down to the bottom. I’m sure you’ve seen her do that before… wasn’t there an incident in Osaka a few years back? Anyway, allow me to spell it out for you.”
He reached for a napkin, dabbed at his lips unnecessarily, smiling behind the paper as the expression of the woman across from him soured just a tiny bit before it was covered by the blank stare again. Oh, how he enjoyed infuriating those he worked with. He once had a reputation for speaking in half truths and cryptic riddles, but that was the past.
“So, let me see. Lucille. Well, let’s just say that if I were to predict that a frenzy of diplomacy and killing will start the moment she sets foot on Japanese soil, I’d probably be right. If I were to add that any and all malcontents out there will be trying to upset the established order during the ensuing chaos, I’d still expect to be right. I am not oracle, of course.” He smiled. “Anyway, as you know, and likely a whole lot better than I do, Japan has a supernatural community that has largely been intact since the start of the Tokugawa shogunate, so there are plenty of hoary old bats with grudges around. Since this mission is apparently going to be violent, seeing how I am sent, I fear she would simply cause too many shockwaves if she were allowed to wield that flashy sword of hers here in Japan once more.
“As for Pantomime, now really, how do you think a blob of light blue goo in a humanly shaped membrane with a face painted onto the head to give him some minor human resemblance is going to go through customs?”
He snatched the cup out of the pattern with thumb and index finger on his right hand, and finished his tea in a single motion as if it was a shot of tequila instead of boiling hot green tea. “You will have to make do with me, Kamiko. And while I know that my skills are too flashy to properly blend into your little stealth reliant operations, maybe they’ll turn out to be complimentary anyway. So, darling, lets start this briefing before that little rosebud mouth of yours is so puckered up with distaste that it will be mistaken for a particularly red pimple. Do you agree?”
“Very well, Dios Wasilis, you have made your point most succinctly.” Nothing was to be read in the smooth mask that was her face, not even a tightening around the eyes. She paused, sipped from her tea, put the cup down, and started talking.
“Tomorrow, in Tokyo, there is going to be an exchange between a zaibatsu and the Ziang triad of Hong Kong. As you may know,” - her tone indicating that she didn’t expect him to –“the zaibatsu that still exist are usually extensions of the Yakuza, mostly oyabun controlling businesses bound to them in personal unions. In this particular case, elements of the Inagawa-kai Yakuza to be exact. The article being transferred is a formula and several samples of the most recent of the Inagawa-kai state-of-the-art mods. The Yakuza, as you may have heard, have an active interest in accelerating human development, mostly for martial or sexual purposes, the water trade, as they call it.”
“We cannot allow that, of course,” he replied, so mild that the irony was unmistakeable. “It is not for mere mortals to blindly grope for the privileges of the gods, especially not when there is a very august body of the wise to supervise these efforts and offer guidance to those with the Daedelian curiosity, if only they would listen and submit to said guidance.”
She continued as if he had said nothing. “The Inagawa-kai are usually harmless, and we are content to let them conduct their research. However, this mod is believed to be putting a genetic emphasis on several traits, and allowing these to prevail in a Darwinian nature, allowing the injected to pronounce their better traits in their reproduction. It is therefore considered to have Icarian status.”
“So, that means lots of little supermen, but only in eight generations or so, or, even less harmful, a few born-and-bred prostitutes with enhanced agility and more flexible sphincters,” he replied, “and only once this knowledge becomes widespread. I cannot see the danger, especially not now that the Cardinal is babysitting Project Innocence. Judgment Day will have gone by before the truly interesting developments begin.”
“There seems little danger, for now. The problem is not in its nature either –advances like this one have been made already by several armed forces, including several Southern American cartels, and their results are already out of prototype status. The danger lies in its price. Unlike any of the products currently on the market, the Inagawa-kai have managed to create the gene in such a way that, after some modifications, it will be easy to reproduce and will also tie in with other genetic enhancements, allowing them to become hereditary as well, even the recessive ones. The yakuza haven’t discovered these modifications yet. We have, however, and we will not be the only one once the gene becomes widespread. With that in mind, we must act, as the triads operate on a global scale and will thus allow the gene to spread.”
She paused. Her next sentence was said with distaste. “The last thing we want is a combination of this kind of genetics with other Daedalian discoveries. The Council has therefore dispatched Ogedei Khan to Hong Kong.” Her lips pursed when she mentioned the mongol warlord. Dios did not share her resentment.
No worries for the Hong Kong side of this operation, then, apart from where to find enough cleaners to cover up the carnage.
“Here in Japan, it is up to us. My teams can do most of the wetworks, but my units cannot be relied upon to successfully take out all the 526s that will undoubtedly be sent in to secure the triad’s interests. They tend to acquit themselves very well when put to the test, and the Ziang will likely send a heavy delegation to accompany their dai lo. We need a strongman for that purpose – either Pantomime or Lucille would have fit into our operations easily, but for you, we need to redraw our plans and risk a direct confrontation. It will be you and me, and maybe a trusted lieutenant, if the night leaves me one able to fight.”
He nodded. How nice to know that once again, almost everything depends on me. “That should be sufficient. You have my guns?”
“As I said, they are still being produced. The specifics are… daunting. You shall receive them tonight.” She gave him a card. “It’s a strip club in Kabukicho. I thought that would be mixing pleasure and business for you.” Her mouth wrinkled.
“I suppose I should thank you for allowing me to experience the full extent of Japanese hospitality. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a shinkansen to catch to be on time for my guns.”
He left her with the bill.
~~

Park Hyatt Hotel, Shinjuku, Tokyo
The Park Room King room, as it was known in typical Engrish, was luxuriously furnished, but his interest at this moment was only for food. Unfortunately, unlike in Didim, Athens or on Delos, it wasn’t readily available.
He slid open the window, put a small silver bowl on the bed. A silver cup was put down next to it. He turned on the television. The adult channel beckoned, and like a thirteen year old surfing the internet, he gave in. Amidst purple and pink kanji denoting names and phone numbers, Maria Ozawa’s beautiful face stared into the camera, eyebrows lifted and mouth opened, front teeth visible in an expression of both rapture and despair. Squeals invaded the room. The camera zoomed out, showing how she writhed on a chair, bound with far too much rope to be functional, an old geezer wearing nothing but his glasses and an oversized yellow rubber glove standing next to her. His eyebrows rose, and he switched to the next channel.
The girl was replaced by the vague pumping motions of pixelated primary sex organs on what seemed to be a security camera in a parking garage. Zap. Channel 1 showed the weather, which was hot and humid and no change expected, maybe a storm the next day. Zap. Channel 2 had a newsfeed somewhere else in Japan, damned if he knew where. Too quiet for his tastes. He switched through several channels until he came across a game show where two stereotypical office clerks had to slide over a soaped-in studio floor like human bowling balls. It involved a lot of screaming and pain, apparently, and the screams were easily matched by the loud exclamations from other contestants and the hilarity among the public on the stands. The presenter, a slim androgynous young man with bright red hair cut in what could only be described as an imitation of a manga hairdo, was trying to outdo them all. This might do.
He turned up the volume until the show might as well be taking place in the hotel room itself, then stripped and entered the shower, turning the hot water tap, a fancy dial, to its maximum. Bracing himself against the glass pane of the door, he started retching until blood splattered the white tiles. Tempura did not agree with him, just like any other human food. He stayed in there for an hour, most of the time on his knees, lost in thought. Finally, he rose, smoothed the hair out of his eyes, and exited the shower without bothering to dry himself.
By then, both bowl and cup were filled to the brim, and a panicky white dove tried to smash its way through the glass pane of the window. Stupid birds. He caught it deftly by the feet, and threw it out of the open side, barely a foot to the right of where it had flattened itself repeatedly against the glass, and watched it drop like a stone for the better of two stories before reminding itself it could fly. Hopefully, the sounds of the show on TV had drowned the doves screeches of terror, not to mention his own retching in the bathroom. He sat down on the bed, flicked a dead butterfly of the remote control, then turned off the TV, emptied both cup and bowl, got dressed and shut the door behind him. He went searching for the nearest metro station, all the while wondering how to find one particular strip club amidst the dozens of neon advertisements each building in Kabukicho sported. Kamiko’s petty payback for his insolence? If so, he could break through her porcelain façade a whole lot faster than he had expected. So much for samurai calm, he concluded, not entirely succeeding to suppress a smug smirk.

~~
22.14, 27th of march 2010
Club Virgin Kiss, Kabukicho, Tokyo
All in all, the club had been fairly easy to find. Like everywhere, gaudily dressed and overly beautiful hostesses tried to catch the attention of salarymen and business partners, leaving the gaijin largely alone, thus giving him plenty of time to read the signs, and like everywhere, neon adverts and billboards with English texts were all the rage to shout their names and specialties to the world. Virgin Kiss catered to those looking for the ‘young and innocent supermodel-next-door’. At the least, that was his interpretation of the hostesses in silk dresses with slits up to the thigh, draped décolletés, backs displayed nearly to the bum, and piled up hairdos, apart from a single hostess who had died her hair a classy honey blond and sported a bob cut which framed her slender, ivory face. She was glued to the lap of a man three times her age, holding his whiskey glass, teasingly raising it higher and higher, innocent smile plastered on her face, forcing him to stretch his neck to the utmost to get a sip, his rather pronounced adam’s apple bobbing in a revolting way as he gulped down air and whiskey in equal amounts. An exquisite form of torture, he had to admit. Sisyphus himself might refuse switching places with the soon to be highly flatulent businessman.
The fifteen or so other girls flitted between clients and the bar, and while he wasn’t here for company and was aware of the fact that Kabukicho clubs mostly didn’t cater to westerners, he still was somewhat stung by the fact that even his smooth looks never once attracted their attention, apart from the giggles that invariably erupted behind his back whenever he went up to order a new Ki-Rin, while fat little businessmen had no trouble securing a high heeled, long legged beauty to laugh at their jokes and empty their wallets to the last yen.
He downed the last of his beer, considering whether or not to get another brew while he admired the smooth curves of the stripper on the stage as she went through the intricate motions of shedding her latest outfit in an artful dance. Unlike what he had come to expect from European clubs, it wasn’t undress-then-show-and-go, but careful disrobing of a piece at a time, then going back and changing into a new outfit, revealing a bit more skin and changing again. This was the girls fourth turn on the stage, and after baring her chest in the last round, she was now wearing only a red gauze, which she got rid of rather enthusiastically compared to the slow snakelike dance on flutes she had performed the first three times, an audience of businessmen in black suits watching her every move intently. Probably co-workers on a teambuilding trip, he concluded somewhat sourly. They sat in rigid ranks, not a single chair empty between them, and the man in the middle of row one had the looks of a senior, which was emphasized by the two younger men on his left and right side, who competed to imitate his every gesture.
Applause arose as the girl made a hand stand, back to the crowd, then slowly spread her legs to form a perfect T. She artfully lowered herself, sat down in a split. More applause. A planche. A single cheer from the third row amidst the clapping, silenced by an irritated glance backwards from the front row manager, followed by frantic whispering from one of his cronies. Arabian dive roll, followed by more splits, with a flurry of legs. Finally, she draped the gauze around her hips and rose. More applause. He rose, then sat back as a new glass of Ki-Rin had magically appeared in front of him, attached to the hand of a native in a grey suit that failed to conceal the tattoos starting at the wrist. It seemed the clerks weren’t the only ones hypnotized into happy oblivion by the stripper, but if he was entirely honest with himself, in his minds eye, she had long been replaced by Anna’s generous curves and blond curly mane. she was probably asleep now, arm stretched out over his pillow, full lips slightly opened, unaware of the sword of Damocles that was his love hanging over her head, like every single lover he had taken since that day, way back when. Anna, whose hair smelled of hyacinths like a foreboding. He should call her, tell her he would be with her again in slightly more than a day, and imagined how she would ask “Oh, is that so?”, pulling up an eyebrow as if she didn’t care. He shook himself out of the daydream into the present.
“Mister Dyo-su Wasiri?” the man asked in broken English, mangling the unfamiliar L in the same way the stewardesses on the plain had offered him Engrish tea.
“That’s me,” he replied.
“I have package for you.”
“No need to identify myself?”
“I was sent for Clarku Gaberu by oyabun. You look him. Casabanca. Good movie.” He raised a thumb to add oomph to his appreciation.
Oh great. Being identified by a fucking yak as a movie star from the forties, and without the fucking ability to even pronounce his name right. Naturally, there were few Turkish or Greek businessmen in town, and even fewer of them would visit Kabukicho, but setting up a meeting like this was fucking amateur night. ‘The Japanese way is the way of perfection’ he mimicked Kamiko in his mind. Fucking bitch, he railed, sending a lackwit yak errand boy like this toss rag could have been a complete fuck-up in the making, and no fucking doubt about it.
“Can I examine them?” he asked while raising his glass to disguise his displeasure. Focus on the yak, he thought, perfect excuse for your own failure to keep yourself from being distracted by the first pair of tits pointing your way. From half a city block away.
Blank stare.
“Can I look?”
The gangster put a suitcase on the table, then opened it, turning the lid so that it obstructed the view of anyone but the two of them. Two heavy Desert Eagles and three Remington derringers, all five bearing scenes engraved in the stock and curling over the barrels, all made exclusively out of silver. He suppressed a smile and picked up one of the Eagles, detaching the clip. Empty, but the balance was perfect nonetheless.
“Smith says it not fire bullets. You want bullets?”
“Hmm?” Truth be told, he hadn’t paid attention to anything but the scene on the gun in his hand.
“You want bullets?”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ve got plenty of bullets,” he whispered, tracing the inscription with a nail. Perfect. Maybe the Japanese way wasn’t all that bad after all. They just trust complete retards with these artifacts, on which the success of a Council mission almost entirely relies, that is all.
“I go now?” the man asked, turning his statement into a question.
“Sure,” he said, caught up in his examination of the killing power in front of him.
“Kamiko-sama said tell you: dawn. Ask at dawn.”
“Okay.” The gangster started to leave, and he held out a hand, grasping the man by the cuff of his suit. He felt the muscles on the arm strain, and thought he might have pushed his luck a tiny bit too far. The guy knew that the guns didn’t hold bullets, after all. He spoke up quickly.
“Say, man, do me a pleasure? Buy me something for my girlfriend. Souvenir. She likes perfume – get her Issey Miyake or something. Hyatt Park Hotel, room 783, if you please. Forward the bill to Kamiko, she won’t mind.”
The gangster nodded, then tore himself loose. Dios returned his attention to the Eagle, not bothering with the attention he attracted.
~~

6.07, march 28 2010
Hyatt Park Hotel Lobby

He exited the elevator, derringers strapped to wrist and shin, the third stuck behind his back under his belt, Eagles holstered under his jacket. In three quick steps, he had crossed the way to the reception desk, grasping the chin of the girl behind it in an iron grip before she could do so much as open her mouth, forcing her backward until her toes left the floor. “Where?” he demanded, “Where will destiny take me?”
Her pupils turned white, her tongue struggling on the foreign words as she spat out the answer.

Where the nets are emptied,
Where the taken draw their last breath,
Where food turns into gold,
There the storm gathers,
There Ikaros’ stepfathers seek their retreat.


“The fucking fish market?” he asked, adept at reading the prophecies. Not that this one took a lot of interpreting. The girl-turned-oracle didn’t reply. “Fuck.” He released the girl, and was out of the lobby before the back of her head hit the ground, finger prints already turning black on her jaw, as if scorched by fire.

~~

6.58, march 28 2010
Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

He could hardly have made a less dramatic entry: ice water pooling around 300 dollar shoes, creeping up through the legs of his Brioni suit and chilling him to the bone, the first shreds of his shadow cast murkily over polystyrene containers. He walked amidst workmen busying themselves with cutting up tuna fish with automated saws and middlemen sampling the wares, prodding with their fingers at the big fish, sniffing at the octopi on display, one lifting what looked like dark red liver into the air – whale meat. He walked amidst the stalls, feeling out of place. He sure got a lot of dirty looks: tourists were not welcome here unless guided, but the suit was enough of a deterrent to not see him removed from the site by a couple of burly tuna fishers.

He let fate drag him to a nearly empty corner of the hall, protected from prying eyes by several tons of tuna, not to mention the weary-eyed Chinese gangsters in gaudy shirts eyeballing equally suspicious yakuza with their tattoos proudly on display. A door was swung open in the back, guarded by a yak and a Triade, the sky behind them slowly clearing to blue, the wind gathering strength and speed and chilling the hall. In the middle of the small space, four figures stood, facing one another – two who could only be enforcers or bodyguards, heavily muscled, supremely confident and intense in their scrutiny of their surroundings, and their masters: a short, bent over man in a traditionally cut suit of dark silk, goatee and wispy moustache under a pair of copper rimmed glasses. The man across from him was his complete opposite: designer suit, strong jaw and flattened nose, expensive cream coloured shirt and matching tie, macho shades in the greying hair, jacket held away from the waist to show he wasn’t armed.

The four included, Dios counted fourteen figures, eight of them in relatively close proximity, fifteen to twenty five paces, the two by the door forty meters away at maximum. He made no effort to conceal his approach, and continued walking when one of the Triades shouted something at him in Cantonese, bringing up a submachine gun of likely dubious quality. He whipped out the first Eagle, contemptuously pulling the trigger three times before the sub was even at hip height. Holes the size of a fist were punched through the chest of the hapless Triade, exit wounds five times as large, spraying shards of ribs and spine over the tuna behind him. In death, he clearly proved to have been human.

The engraving on the gun, depicting the outburst of plague in the Greek siege camp at Troy in revenge for the taking of Khryseis, flared up in gold as the mans remains shrivelled into grey ash and a pool of putrescent green ooze. Loimos barked twice more, throwing back the closest of the Yakuza before he could bring a switchblade to bear, but this one, even though brown coloured blood, already rich with decay, sprayed from the wounds and their ragged edges turned sickly green, straightened again, face masklike in its lack of passion, eyes flaring red, teeth elongating into fangs. A man fused with a minor bakemono. Damn. He had expected the yakuza enforcers to be scientifically modified, not to have made a pact with whatever hell they believed in. He swung the gun around, killing another Triade, while loosening the strap holding ‘Daphne against his wrist, the legend engraved in it depicting Daphne’s flight and her subsequent transformation into a laurel tree.

He waited for a split second until the bakemono was close, manoeuvring to keep a tuna between himself and the four in the middle, hoping the massive fish would hold for a short while before being ripped to shreds by gunfire. Already his enemies were recovering. Neither the Japanese nor the Chinese showed any inclination of running. Instead, they eyed one another and him for signs of intent. Then, the goblin was upon him. He punched Daphne into its mouth, pulled the trigger, and saw its brains blown out through the back of its skull, the smell of laurel unmistakable as the guns magic was unleashed. The vapours would flatten anything caught in it of lesser status than a powerful spirit, killing them if the bullet could not. He spun the barrel, fired once more, and dropped the Chinese enforcer at the exit. In death, there was no way to know whether or not he had wasted the shot on a mortal or had killed a 526. Then, dropping the derringer, he somersaulted towards the remaining five guards of the outside perimeter, Loimos painfully jabbing the closest of them in the groin when he landed on his knees in front of the man. He pulled the trigger twice, watching as the yakuza enforcer doubled over, eyes bulging, falling past him, then smashed the barrel onto the skull of the hapless creature, which was still trying to change into its monster shape. Gore splattered all over his right side, the acidic blood burning where it touched skin.

Distracted by the close contact, he barely managed to evade a powerful jab from a monstrous white crossover between a shark and a lion, recognizing it as a Nian, a Chinese sea monster, crossover between a lion and a shark. He fired Loimos once again, but did no more than scratch it, even from point blank distance. It was a perfect weapon against humans, guaranteed to kill in both the short and the long term, but was hardly useful against anything with more strength than an ancestor spirit – and judging from the form even this simple perimeter guard could take, he was going up against something infinitely more powerful. Wishing he had preserved Daphne, he reached behind his back for Kassandra with his left hand, bringing it round until its cool metal rested against his right side. The muzzle flashed once, a tiny hole appearing just above the Nian’s right eye. Bullseye, he thought, as the monster began thrashing in a panic, images of doom and its fears overcoming any shred of intelligence, until nothing more remained than blind fear, and a deep sense of forbearance that could only be alleviated by turning upon anyone but the one who laid this curse upon it. The Nian spun, colliding with the remaining three yakuza, now entirely through their shape changing, shredding through their flesh and feeding wildly and blindly, while the one other Triade capable of transforming turned upon its brother, trying to restrain the mad creature. He put Kassandra’s second bullet into its back, and the two shapes rolled away from the gunfight, snarling and tearing at one another, and at everything that came close. They would cause a carnage amongst Tsukiji’s workers, unless they killed one another first.

He took cover behind a wooden crate, quickly glanced past it, to see what remained of the opposition. Just five of them now – the yakuza by the door, who had shrugged out of his shirt and now watched him hungrily, gang tattoos swirling with colour, a tigers head emerging from them and enlargening itself until it fit completely between his nipples. His hands curled claw like, fingers stretched in mimicry of talons. The other yakuza enforcer had not changed at all. He stood there, a gun in one hand, a chain wrapped around his middle in the other, a wicked scythe blade on its end resting on the ground. Kusari-gama – ninja weaponry. To be trusted as main bodyguard over a mystically tattooed inkyo fighting monk spoke volumes of his skill. His master floated a few inches above the ground, an aura of power gathering around him, in what Lucille would describe as a malevolent essence. She’d be licking her lips now out of thirst and greed, were she here.

It was the pair of Chinese that worried him most, however. The master had straightened from his bent stance, eyes glowing yellow, ghosts swirling around him, and he was gathering the souls of the recently fallen around him rather than raise them, which spoke of singular will in the necromancer. It was far easier to raise the deceased than it was to separate their body and spirit. If he would send them out to occupy living hosts, there would be no end to the bloodshed, even if he was taken down. Alternatively, he could drain what remained of their sense of identity to bolster his own power.
The bodyguard was the more immediate of his concerns. A towering hulk, he displayed the scars of machete cuts all over his body – using his own last ten breaths after undergoing ling chi, the torture of the thousand cuts, to lure in a demon, then conquer it through will alone – trapping it in a dying body, usurping its strength to heal oneself. A demon, subdued by will, rather than a man making a pact with evil, having to observe the clauses of the contract forever or lose power over the demon. Its capabilities were yet unknown, but it could probably take all the punishment he could inflict, were he wielding normal guns, and then some. As it was, he’d probably need to fight a running battle against this particular foe. He deliberated over his strategy, only to be rudely awakened from his musings when the kusari-gama shattered the crate, the blade punching through the sleeve of his jacket, narrowly missing his elbow. As he rolled away, all cover gone, he repeatedly pulled Liomos’ trigger as a deterrent, then slammed it back into the holster, drawing out Hyakinthos, the final derringer, the only one with a death scene on it. As he came up, he shot, twice. The first bullet hit the Triad bodyguard square in the stomach, but failed to make a dent. He cursed himself for aiming at the centre of chi, the place where the spirit, or in this case, the demon, would reside according to the Tao te Ching. The second had more success: it shattered the beings shoulder, tearing the arm up and warping the bone. Not so much as a frown on the mans face. He pulled out his last weapon. It felt dead in his hands, none of its power there. The sun, he reflected, was still too weak. He stood up, not sure if he would come away victoriously, now that it was five against one and his trump card had turned against him. He had defeated dragons, titans and gods, but always in full capacity of its powers. Then again, once, he had used Liomos to bring the armies of the Greeks to their knees, including heroes the likes of which the world had seldom seen. Five amateurs dabbling with the dark arts should still be no match for a god, even if he was away from his native soil, his temples at Delphi, Delos and Didyma in ruins, worshipped only by the most obscure of cults.

Only then, he noticed how the wind had become a howling storm, heavy with sea water, and as comprehension dawned, he smiled.

“It seems that you have found more problems than you can handle, godling,” the Yakuza leader said, slowly spiralling around, a cruel light in his eyes.

“I got ninety nine problems, but a bitch ain’t one,” he replied, just before hell was unleashed. Sometimes, it pays to be a patron god of music. You always have a one-liner at hand.

One moment, the door was still there. The next, there was a huge rent in the wall, the door guard nothing but a stain on the floor, head flying through the air, body sliced into ribbons. She had arrived, in all her holy wrath. The little goddess he had met at Nara was gentle no longer. Kamiko had given in to her aspect, had assumed her mantle of Japans supernatural guardian to enemies from the Asian mainland, the Divine Wind, the kamikaze. No wonder she hates the Khans. They have unfinished business. She was barely visible as she cut and spun, dancing around the Chinese demon lord, her bluish green kimono edged with sea foam, a green tachi in her hands, her hair black and wild like a storm cloud, face and hands insubstantial. And through the rent that split the wall from roof to ground, the sun appeared, and Helios came to life in his hand.

The first shot, its muzzle flash reaching out to the Chinese sorcerer, scattered the spirits he had gathered. The second cracked the defensive shield the old fuck mustered barely in time. The third smashed into his stomach, destroying what energy the necromancer had left. Then, the ninja was upon him, and he barely turned away the scythe as it came for his head, blocking the steel moon with the soft silver of Pestilences barrel. The gun chimed like a clock, and the sickle blade spun away as if thrown, only to be reversed by a quick tug on the chain by its wielder, flying over Dios’ shoulder, then being yanked back. He turned, Helios thrown out, aiming at the chain, Pestilence raised behind him, running along the ninja’s arm, then firing and taking off the arm at the elbow, throwing it away a full seven metres, fist still grasping the weapon just above the counterweight. He fired Helios, and the gunfire shattered the chain, the blades course unaltered. Spinning aside, he felt the blade barely whip past him, burying itself in the ninja’s chest. He fired once more at the Chinese sorcerer, and dropped the old fart like a brick, fire lancing through the mans chest. To his left, Kamiko finished the bodyguard, after having made him submit to a battering that must have put the death of a thousand cuts to shame.

All that remained now was the yakuza oyabun, still spinning slowly in the air, lazily, his skin taking on a decidedly red hue. A third eye opened itself on his forehead. The jacket, a tailored Takeo Kikuchi, split along every seam.

“Oni”, Kamiko hissed. She launched herself at the crime lord, and soon, they became a blur, blood liberally spurting, staining walls, floor and ceiling, crashing through a wall, then emerging ten feet further again, through a newly torn rent.

He frowned, focusing on the fight, the sights of Helios set squarely on the head of the oni, who had lost all resemblance to a human, and now lashed at the storm goddess with three slavering tongues and the talons of two arms. The goddess kept getting in the way of a clean shot, however. He winced as the claws raked her chest, even though her sword spun through one tongue and buried itself deep in the demon lords shoulder. A second blow tore her cheek, barely missing her eye. She cut at the arm, severing the wrist, but it appeared to have been a deliberate gambit, as one of the remaining tongues tore the tachi from her grasp and then spun her away, throwing her with a bone shattering crunch against the wall. She didn’t move. Flames erupted around the tsuba, and the demon hurriedly let go of the sword, letting it clatter to the ground.

“You and me now,” Dios said.

“Do you really want to test your strength against me, this far from your base of power?” the demon asked in reply. “After I defeated a goddess still being revered, on the ground she has sworn to protect?” Its head swayed closer, maw gaping wide, tongues creeping just above the ground, the one remaining claw raised menacingly. He backed away, Helios held high.

“Not exactly like you would let me walk, now would you? One thing you learn on the Olympus, and its that no-one ever fails to collect.”

“Ex-“ the demon lunged in midword. “-ACTLY!”

He fell on his back, firing Helios at the demon’s eye, avoiding the snapping jaws narrowly. The blast went straight through the demons head, but it never stopped the motion, nor the nasty intelligence he could read in the other eye. He fired Loimos, the bullet harmlessly speeding between the demons legs, ricocheting against the ground with a metallic sound.

“You missed,” the demon said, pausing above him, tongues dancing, confident in its victory. “Highly unusual for a god of marksmanship.”

“I didn’t miss,” he said. “I merely facilitated victory in a way no single shot could.”

The demon spun, to see the tachi he had discarded leap into the air, twisted as it had been by the bullet, into the hands of the kamikaze, who was already tensed for the blow. It screamed, tongues darting, but Helios barked twice and the whiplike appendages were abruptly cut off, spinning away in lazy circles. The demon raised its claw, tried to spear the storm spirit, but it came too late, and the sword cut through skull and neck, coming to a stop on the collar bone.

The massive body dropped to the ground, missing him by inches, leaving the goddess standing. Barely. He raised an eyebrow, but she shook her head a fraction. “And there I was looking forward to carry you to my place while you were weak and in need of a shoulder to lean on,” he said.

She let the comment pass, and instead hobbled over to where a suitcase was lying, torn apart and swept upside down by the fight, its contents scattered and smeared all over the floor. To him, it seemed that the McGuffin was successfully prevented from ever changing hands.

“Dios,” she said.

“Yes, peach?”

“You’re done here. Knowing you, there’s some hapless girl waiting for you, so go home.”

He froze, filled with dread then, experiencing fear far worse than anything he had during the fight, once more going through that horrifying moment where he looked up from between Anna’s thighs, only to see her sit up, pupils gone, white like the eyeball itself.
“Darling, you’re killing me,” he heard her say, then, in that adorable eastern European accent, as the colour returned to her eyes, the indication that the prophecy had ended: “but in a good way.”
Daphne, Kassandra, Hyakinthos. Loves long lost to Θεοϛ Βασιλευϛ, the god king of Delos, holy Phoebos Apollo. How long before he would carry a fourth derringer, this one called Anna, if he went back to Delos?

“I’d rather not,” he said. “But if Greek tragedy taught the world one thing, it is that destiny cannot be outrun.”


Short Word list:
Zaibatsu: Japanese business conglomerate incorporating many businesses of a diverse nature. The Zaibatsu were historically disbanded by the Americans after WW 2.

Daedalos; Greek mythological inventor, who built the labyrinth of Knossos, and was then imprisoned by King Minos. He escaped by building wings out of wood, wax and feathers for himself and his son Ikaros. The Daedelian curse mentioned in the story is humankinds march of progress to ascend to supernatural status.

Ikaros: mythological figure; imprisoned with his father Daedalos by king Minos of Crete. Escaped with his father, but Ikaros flew too high, and the sun melted the wax, making him fall from the sky into the sea. Projects given Ikarian status by the Council of Illuminated are considered to be dangerous to the supernatural.

526: many of the Triads denote their members and their roles within the triad with numbers. 426 is the common number for a regular enforcer. 526 stands for genetically or supernaturally enhanced enforcer class triad members.

Ogedei Khan: descendant of Kublai Khan, would-be conqueror of Japan.

Kabukicho: Tokyo’s biggest entertainment and red light district, almost exclusively aimed at Japanese clientele.

Loimos: Greek word for plague/pestilence.
1

#10 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 28 August 2009 - 03:47 AM

Submission #9
Author: Councilor

It was a night of silence and shadows.
Benedict leaned against a wall some distance from his target and watched his team approach in short running bursts, their footsteps muffled by the newly fallen snow. All six of them were dressed in nondescript shades of grey, pistols and armour blackened so there would be no reflection of light at the worst moments. The sword by their sides looked like it belonged there, instead of some extraneous third arm.
Benedict nodded in satisfaction. At last they sent him inquisitors worthy of the name. Perhaps the gravity of this case had finally permeated the thick skulls of the politicians at HQ. He growled in frustration at unfortunate memories. Ten years he had been chasing this coven, methodically hunting down heretics and magicians. Ten years he had commanded nothing but dross, psychopaths and zealous fanatics who wanted to spill more blood than cared about what they did.
Benedict shook his head and stood straight as the inquisitors approached. Tonight they would move in on leader of this coven. He took a closer look at them - Four men and two women, hard bitten, blooded veterans from assorted division.
“The Getterian division?” Benedict peered at the insignia on one woman’s uniform in surprise. “I thought you were all deployed to ASX 670 three days ago against the Gavrehellians.”
The woman nodded in acknowledgement. “I missed the deployment sir. I was in the hospice. Injured in combat against a necromancer cell.”
Benedict nodded. He had heard about that. They hadn’t been amateurs or the curious dabbling in necromancy. They were full chaplains of death and had managed to secretly construct three necropolises within resonance range of each other, encompassing an entire city and voiding all technology above and including the industrial era. Unwilling to detroy the entire district and the ilion people within, Getterian and Dankre divisions had no choice but to engage the walking dead on ground level using silver swords. The casualty rate had been horrendous.
“It’s not going to be as bad as that.” he said in answer to the unasked questions. “We’re dealing with a coven of magicians. But do not underestimate them. I have reason to believe they are from Malethicor or in contact with Malethicorians. We’re going to go in quiet and take them out.”
“Davis, Lucille and Bren, you three stay with me.” He turned his head towards the remaining three. “You follow us and disable the circle of influence, if there is one.” He paused. “ok. Silence from now on.”
The seven of them silently crept towards the building were their target was located. Benedict pressed a few keys and sent detailed planned and preliminary reconnaissance details to the other inquisitors via his external neural implants. The size of ear buds, they stuck out like sore thumbs in public, where everyone else had access to direct neural implants from birth. His had been removed when he joined. Like all inquisitors, he had trained and lived for ten years without the added sensory capacities the implants provided as well as other hardware upgrades provided at birth.
Benedict nearly chuckled at the memory. He had been outraged that anyone could be forced to live without their birthright and trained in archaic weapons like the sword. Railing against the academy brought him nothing but more punishment, but as far as he had been concerned nothing was worse than the deadened sense he now possessed. It wasn’t until his first deployment that he lost his long held resentment. Long story short, his familiarity to moving without upgrades was the only thing that saved his life when the magician knocked out all electronic based technology.
Silently, they neared the building. Benedict overlayed the detailed construction plans over his sight. The most likely location the coven was located in would be underground basement. He signalled and silently, all the inquisitors disappeared, activating their camouflage cloaks. Davis checked for electronic surveillance and disabled the alarm system while the others guarded all direction. Quickly, they entered building.
Benedict heard the buzzing of static and the flickering in the vision first. Recognising the signs of a foreign influence in play, he quickly yanked the implants out of his ear before it fizzed and stopped functioning. At the same time, his camouflage cloak stopped functioning. The others didn’t move fast enough and there were gasps and cries of pain as neural implants suddenly stopped functioning and the feedback surged into their brains. He winced. It’s not a pleasant experience, even in memory.
His checked the plasma rifle and laser cutter and cursed. Both were out. The automatic pistol still functioned properly, the silenced shot ricocheting off the walls. That meant a first level interference circle in effect. He made a series of gestures to his team and they nodded. Three figures peeled off into the darkness to find and disable the circle at its source.
Pistols at the ready, they advanced in the gloom. No sound except for their breathing and barely imperceptible sounds of boots clicking on tiles. Benedict moved slowly with deliberation. He had spent the last ten years chasing down this magician mastermind, and well understood his almost perverse love of traps, magical or otherwise.
“Hold.” Something didn’t feel right about the corridor ahead. He paused and studied the walls in the near darkness. There was the hint of something. He took out a glow stick and snapped it, the chemicals within reacting to let off enough blue light to see clearly the markings drawn on the wall and on the ground.
Benedict grinned, his pleasure in having outwitted his opponent obvious. The other inquisitors exchanged looks of concern, but their leader had already forgotten about them. Ten years. In that time, Benedict had come to respect this coven leader much more than any of his so called superiors at the inquisition, and the more fanatical of his comrades.
He threw the glow stick forward. It landed with a clatter in the middle of the corridor. Seconds later, there was a rush of something intangible and the corridor lit up in red. The glow stick was promptly shredded into pieces and a phantom figure hovered above the ruined plastic.
“Inquisitor Benedict,” the phantom spoke with more than a hint amusement in his voice. “It’s nice to see you again.” It looked down at the trap. “I see you’re managed to avoid my little joke.”
“Really funny, xen’ish’trea.” The last word was said with emphasis, hoping to surprise.
Indeed, the phantoms eyes widened for a second before bursting in laughter. “If think that is my name, then you’re very much mistaken.” He shook his head in disappointment. “That is a mere title, if you will.”
“Title or not, you’re mine.”
“I await your coming with dread.” The phantom vanished with another laugh, followed by a loud crack that came from above them.
“Everybody down!” suddenly roared Davis as he hurled to the ground. They followed instinctively, just before an explosion shook the ground and showered them with debris. That was followed by a crackling laugh that turned guttural and into a growl.
“Shit. That sounds like a shifter.”
“That’s all we need now. Chaos to get involved.” Benedict cursed.
There was another roar, this time a lot closer.
“Do we withdraw?” Davis asked. “The appearance of chaos makes this more dangerous than we anticipated.”
Benedict held a finger to his lips, indicating the need for silence. They listened intently. Aside from the drip of water, there was a barely audible rumbling that he couldn’t quite pinpoint.
“It’s close.” Benedict said, quickly reloading his gun, this time with silver bullets. In a civilisation where nanotechnology and the manipulation of matter had become almost mundane, metals such as silver had long since ceased to possess any value other than the aesthetic. That is, until chaos was encountered. It was discovered that the molecular nature of gold caused no small amount of damage to those of a chaotic nature.
The other three did the same and peered into the darkness, constantly moving and careful not to stray too close to the walls. A wise decision, as the shifter suddenly burst throw the concrete and titanium like it was paper. All four inquisitors spun towards the roaring, barely illuminated mass and fired off two or three shots each before it fell upon Davis.
They kept firing nonetheless it even as what seemed like claws gripped Davis around the neck and lifted him off the ground and slammed him against the wall, raining a shower of dust on them all. Even as the shifter flinched in pain every time a bullet hit it, it took a moment to examine Davis carefully. Enough time for the veteran to draw his silver dagger and plunge it into the shifter’s chest.
Davis died screaming. Even the shifter’s roar of pain could not muffle the inquisitor’s dying scream or the wet sucking sound as the shifter quite literally tore him apart. A spray of something warm splattered them all and stained the walls.
Benedict emptied his chamber and reloaded with a speed borne of practice, his face grim. In his years as an inquisitor general, he seen and done a lot worse at the command of his superiors. It was always for the greater good, at he kept telling himself. The shifter turned to them and he could see that it was badly injured, but not enough for them to take it on. Not yet.
“Run,” he screamed the order at the others. They ran past him while he tossed a small vial onto the ground behind them. A small puddle spread where the vial smashed, a patch of wet that covered the ground between them. He saw the shifter beginning towards him and ran for it, grinning to himself when a cry of agony caught up to them.
“Sulphuric acid,” he said to the other two by way of explanation.
Benedict lead the through the building, turned left, right, left again and skidded to a halt when he held up an arm in warning. Benedict studied the air before them carefully. He was almost certain that i was safe when the air shimmered slightly. The air seemed to distort before settling down again.
Back. He gestured the inquisitors and they slowly backed away from that dangerous hallway.
“Soul trap,” Benedict whispered to the others before they were far away enough. They looked at him in surprise. “It’s this magician’s favourite trap.”
Behind them the sound of crumbling concrete and snapping titanium could be heard, followed by a roar as the shifter announced that it had found them. The sound echoed around them.
“Move!”
The three of them took off at a run.
“We need to find some sort of open space to fight the shifter, or we’re screwed.” Bren gasped as he ran beside them.
“Dining hall,” Benedict answered.
They burst into the dining hall to find half a dozen cowled figures standing around a mystic circle etched on the ground – members of the coven, preparing some sort of major spell by the looks of runes on the ground.
While both were equally surprised, the inquisitors were did not hesitate to attack. Bren put two bullets through into one robe, before leaping over the tables and swiftly cutting another one down. Lucille threw her dagger at one figure, which staggered back and tripped on his robe. The second dagger disappeared into his eye.
Benedict took on out with his pistol flinging himself to one side, narrowly avoiding the bolt of lightning that truck where he had been standing.
He climbed to his feet just as the shifter burst into the dining hall. In the light, they could see that it had fangs as long as human finger and scaled like a lizard, massive claws on each limb and though it was leaning forward, nearly twice their height.
Benedict was surprised to discover that the coven had not been aware of the shifter.
“What’s a chaos shifter doing here?” a high pitched voice cried in terror. “You said nothing could go wrong!”
“Shut up.” Another woman yelled back. “We need to get out of here. Let the inquisitors fight it.”
The third didn’t speak, just waved his hands and flung another bolt of fire, one that bounced off the shifters scales and left a gaping hole in the roof.
The shifter roared again as the claws thinned and split into tentacles. The shifting morphing flesh churned furiously around where Davis’ knife still stuck in its chest, as if trying to repair the damage.
Glowing red orbs locked onto Benedict. The head cocked slightly, as if examining him. It lasted but a second and then the shifter flowed. It suddenly became seething mass of whips and vines that surged towards away from Benedict and towards the fleeing magicians.
They tried to fight, but shaking hands and minds numbed with terror fizzled their spells. Death fell upon them with a thousand limbs. All three inquisitors, hardened veterans, turned their heads to avoid the sight, so clear under the lights.
The mass of vines pulsed for second before streaking towards where Bren and Lucille stood.
Damn this, Benedict swore, drawing his sword and charging to their assistance. He had let his pride get the better of him. He should have given the command to retreat as soon as the shifter made its presence known. Now he doubted whether any of them would be able to make it out of this building alive. The other three had probably already fallen, having been sent to their death by him.
The least he could do now was to try and save these two.
Too late. Bren died trying to fight off the mass of tentacles that snaked around him, strangled by one that sneaked past his defences, creeping slowly along the floor and suddenly shooting upwards. His body slumped with the back against the wall, head twisted at an unnatural angel, facing the ceiling with the same expression of surprised horror he died with.
“How is this even possible?” Lucille cried as she ducked and weaved, parrying with the sword in one hand, pistol in the other, trying desperately to survive. “How is it capable of higher level shifting like this in a Malethicorian circle of influence?”
“I don’t know,” Benedict yelled back above the sound of bullets and the whipping sound as tentacles . It should be impossible, no matter how you look at it – another one of many reasons Benedict was so desperate capture this Xen. Or at least that’s what he tried to tell himself.
He saw an opening in through the tentacle to what he assumed to be the main body. In that split second, he weighed up the risks and potential gains and dashed forward.
He ducked, weaved and dodged through that forest of death, his sword a blur as he parried and deflected everything that came at him, complemented by the gun that fired with unerring accuracy. Step by step, inching closer and closer to the core. Had there been a witness, they would have stood in disbelief at the sheer skill on display.
But it could not last.
Something lashed at Benedict, striking from a blind spot. He barely managed to block it, but the force of the blow flung him back, slammed him against the wall. Breath exploded from his lungs. He neared blacked out when his head hit the wall, but managed to cling to consciousness.
His vision swam and he could not breath for a second, still stunned by the impact. He opened his eyes, expecting death; he found that the shifter had entirely ignored him.
Left me for dead, Benedict thought groggily. That was a mistake.
Suddenly Lucille disappeared. Benedict stared in shock, before shaking his head to clear his mind, trying to see what happened to her. Behind him, the energy rifled beeped.
“The field’s been disabled,” Benedict croaked triumphantly in realisation; as quickly as he can swinging the rifle off his shoulders. The rifle lit up as it recognised his DNA. He ignored the pain in his back and shoulder, holding the weapon steady for a good shot.
Lets’ see what you bastards from chaos can do against real technology; Benedict thought as he lined up the perfect shot and pulled the trigger.
Click.
At that moment, the gun died again. Lucille reappeared as her camouflage cloak died once more, disabled as the malethecorian field of influence somehow sprang to life once more.
“What? No.” Benedict cried in disbelief as the rifle suddenly stopped functioning. “No, no, no, no, Dammit.” He smacked the rifle in frustration.
There was a sharp cry; Benedict looked up to see Lucille bleeding to death, impaled by half a dozen spikes. They retracted as the shifter began to revert back to its original human form, bearing down on him. The dead inquisitor behind it ignored.
Once again, the rifle beeped. Wasting no time to aim, Benedict pointed it in the direction of the approaching shifter and fired, again and again, trying get in as many shots in as he can.
His aim was good. Most of those shots hit their target. Clumps of flesh fell from the consolidating form of the shifter, seared from its body by the energy rifle. Nonetheless, it kept staggering forward despite the heavy damage being dealt to it, until it stopped just before Benedict, who had run out of ammunition.
He looked up into the ghastly, bleeding face of the shifter, half its skull burnt away, swaying dangerously upon legs that were nothing more than ligaments. It looked at him and tried to smile.
“Keep going. The other six are dead,” The words were odd breathless ones, spoken without lungs, for they too had been burnt away, “but you will not to be harmed.”
They were its last words before the entire form seemed to collapse in on itself and simply vanished.
Benedict stared. Breathing heavily and gritting his teeth against the pain, he climbed to his feet, using the depleted rifle as a crutch. There was nothing else he could do now but go forward. His team was dead because of him. He ignored the guilt and the confusion at the shifters last words. No matter what happens, it would end tonight.
Benedict retrieved his sword and Bren’s weapons. At least the circle was down, he thought bitterly, reloaded both pistol and rifle and continued deeper into the darkness.


True to the shifters’ words, there were no more traps, but Benedict moved slowly. Part of it was his injury, but more was the fact he did not trust anything they said.
Eventually, he came to the basement and held his breath, trying to listen for any sounds from within.
Nothing.
He pulled a small explosive from his pocket and tossed it into the room, counting under his breath.
One, two, three, four – the explosion shook the ground and set his ears ringing. Above those came a familiar voice.
“Benedict. It’s about time you arrived.”
Benedict entered the room; rifle trained at the only figure in the room and quickly scanned the room. There was no one else, but he didn’t relax his guard, peering into the shadows before resting his eyes on the magician before him.
“Put those hands up,” he ordered warily. “If I so much as see your fingers twitch, I’m shooting.”
“Oh, is this really necessary?” the magician asked, raising his arms, the expression of amusement never left his face. “This is hardly the way to greet someone who just wants to talk.”
“Shut up,” Benedict growled. “I would execute you here and now but HQ wants’ you for questioning.”
The magician sighed in regret. “No need to be so aggressive.” He brightened. “How would you like a job?”
“What?” Benedict asked, slightly thrown off balance. He shook his head. “No, i won’t be distracted. You’re coming with me either way.”
“It’s the same either way.” The magician stood up and shrugged. Suddenly he moved, his hands swept out and something flew through the air towards Benedict, who rolled to one side, aimed and shot on reflex. Instead being incinerated, whatever it had been flew apart with a crystal tinkling sound. Agony spiked in his mind and the inquisitor collapsed, darkness swamping his vision. His last sight was the look of regret on the magician’s face.


Benedict woke to find himself seated on a chair. No, bound to a chair. He couldn’t move his arms or legs, but could turn his head this way and that.
“Awake?” the magician asked from behind.
Benedict said nothing.
“It’s such a pity.” The magician said to him, sitting down opposite him. “A man of your calibre should be offered work more fitting his abilities.”
“What are you talking about?” Benedict asked, still slightly groggy.
“I’m talking about this inquisition business,” he waved his hands expansively. “A man with your abilities and flexible morality should be doing something more with your life.”
“That’s not true,” Benedict snapped, struggling against his invisible bonds. His weapons were on that table beside him. If only he could get loose.
“Spare me the denials.” A wave of one hand and a sheath of paper appeared. “You’re done all sort of dirty work for the inquisition. That’s why you’re allowed so much leeway by the council, yet they still send you on these assignments. A waste of your talents. So I’m offering you different sort of position.”
“I refuse to work for you.”
“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice in the matter. This is a mere formality really, a chance have a little chat before...well, I won’t worry you with the details.”
There was the sound of a door opening and a man and woman entered his view, expression of detached curiosity on their faces. The man pointed to Benedict, said something in a strange language and the magician nodded.
He struggled as hard as he could as the woman put a hand on his head and everything faded.


“That went well,” Malcom said to the magician as the unconscious Benedict was hauled gently through a silver gate that opened in the basement. “You think he’ll be up to it?”
“You saw how well he did today, especially against the shifter.”
“I have my doubts,” Malcom replied, looking at where Benedict had disappeared. “But he certainly fits the criteria.”
Morgias shrugged. “He was the best i could find these last ten years.”
“He’s so like Ivan it’s scary.” Malcom shivered slightly.
“Speaking of Ivan, he’s going to be royally pissed when he finds out about this.” Morgias said.
“True. Better get this done before he does. What’s the next world?”
“Heljokas.”
“Let’s get moving then.”
The two stepped through that gate and vanished along with the gate.
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#11 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 28 August 2009 - 03:48 AM

Submission #10
Author: Chaos

Ginsletuck





Harriet danced along the curb, her arms spiralling wildly in an attempt to keep her balance. The spring breeze pirouetted around her with delight, tugging on her flowery dress as it begged for her attention. Laughing she began to spin, round and round, getting faster and faster. Her vision blurred and in that instant she felt her red shoes trip off the edge of the curb.

She hit the floor with a surprisingly gentle impact, her palms splayed onto the tarmac, keeping her face inches away from the pavement. And the cat.

Its fur was matted with oil, the sunlight bouncing off of its slick surface, proudly showing off every colour in its children’s paint set. The head lay at a funny angle against the curb; the neck broken. Two of its legs, one from the front and one from the back, lay bent like chewed lollipop sticks. Harriet’s eyes wandered from its vertical feline pupils, their focus lost in the infinity of the blue ocean above, before finding themselves resting on the small disk nestled around its neck. Her raw red fingertips rubbed the brass circle, smearing away some of the oil to reveal the single word hidden beneath.

Ginsletuck

Ginsletuck stood up, shaking some of the oil from its fur in a shower of dark droplets that splattered the pavement in a pattern of liquorice pennies. Its neck lolled back obscenely for a moment, feline eyes looking back up at its own fractured spine, before righting itself to regard Harriet with a curious expression.

“I thought you were dead Ginsletuck?” Harriet got to her feet, looking down at the wobbly legged cat before her. He tottered for a moment, shocked by her suggestion, before regarding her with an expression reserved for a foolish child. His broken back leg folded in on itself unannounced and the bewildered cat found itself sitting on the warm tarmac. “I think you’ve broken your leg Ginsletuck. Does it hurt?”

In answer the cat pushed itself carefully to its furry booted feet and set off down the path; daintily stepping through the ink blots that were slowly spreading out under the curious gaze of the evening light. When it reached the corner it paused; its head sagging backwards once more to regard her.

“You want me to come as well?” Harriet called to the cat. Ginsletuck's upside down head bobbed precariously. Harriet ran towards the cat where it waited patiently, watching the young girl who ran along the ceiling of the world; splashing through the thin black clouds that hung to the grey sky. She shrieked as smudges of rain fell down around her, smudging her cheerfully red shoes. Then, without warning, she suddenly flew up out of sight as Ginsletuck felt his back leg go again.

“There, that might help a little.” Harriet gently tested the worn shoelaces that held her fountain pen tight against bedraggled cat's back leg. It regarded the binding for a moment, sniffing the lid, before deciding that it was a good thing. A rattling purr crept up from inside and stroked itself against her leg, leaving contented oily brushstrokes across her dirty shins. Harriet laughed and tickled behind his pointy ears. Her fingers brushed against their uneven edges as she pulled away, standing up.

“What happened to your ears Ginsletuck?”

Ginsletuck shrugged, as well as he was able to, and pushed his way through a dwarven hole in the side of a building that perched nosily on the corner of the street. His rattling purr popped its head back out of the hole a moment later, checking that she was still following, and then retreated back inside to make room for her.

The inside of the building was deserted apart from the occasional faint echo that scurried through the rooms in the distance. Elderly beams of light stubbornly pushed their way through the gaps in the boarded up windows before leaning tiredly against the unadorned walls, much to the lament of the fading floral wallpaper that drooped resignedly under the weight.

Harriet carefully followed the small footprints that pranced through the thick sherbet dust that had been scattered over the floor. They lead her to a large wooden staircase, where Ginsletuck sat smiling on the first landing.

“Where are we going?”

Ginsletuck headed up.




Harriet was breathing hard as she struggled with the awkward door at the top of the stairs. The sherbet footprints had led her to the cat flap and then disappeared, leaving her own sprinkled shoes suddenly lost. Face turning as red as her now not-so-cheerful shoes, she finally managed to open the door wide enough to squeeze through. The door slowly closed behind her, with a small apologetic squeak from the lock as it slid back into place.

The breeze rushed to meet her, dancing through the white plastic bags and paper that were scattered across the rooftop, overjoyed to be reunited with its friend. It tugged at her, whispering through the loose strands of hair that whipped around her ear, pulling her towards the corner of the roof. To where Ginsletuck sat, feline eyes on the darkening town sprawled out before him.

Harriet sat down on the edge of the crumbling rooftop, her red shoes screaming in delighted terror every time the wind would run by, tugging at them and letting go just before they would fall. She looked down to her left, at the bedraggled cat that now regarded her with a sly expression.

“Why are we here Ginsletuck?”

In answer the cat leant against her, that rattling purr gentling vibrating against her from where it lay sleeping, deep inside the broken cat. Harriet smiled, ignoring the screams of her dangling shoes and the cooling touch of the tiring breeze, and wrapped an arm over the soft slick fur. She looked out at the dark waffle squares of the town below, which had shrunken in awe at the two friends who sat watching them from the clouds so high above them.

Small orange lights twinkled into existence on the edges of town. Harriet gasped and the subdued breeze that sat next to them gasped with her. Wind rushed backwards with their joint intake of breath, and on that tide of air the candles surged forward, brought to ignition by their amazement as the sea of candles below flickered into life.

“Ginsletuck, it's beautiful!”

The cat opened one sleepy eye, regarding her delighted face with a fond fraternal bloodshot eyeball, before falling back into contented sleep.
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#12 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 30 August 2009 - 03:14 AM

Submission #11
Author: AlanH

Grove Hill, Clarke County, Alabama. 1989.

Grove Hill is a small town. With fewer than two thousand residents it barely deserved the label of “town”. I moved here after the Second World War with the hope of living a quiet life. It is the sort of town where all the white people know the white people, and all the black people the black people. These days everyone is supposed to be equal, but in Alabama there is enough old blood still around that people stay apart to avoid the trouble which would undoubtedly be caused. People probably consider me old blood, and they are probably right. Having got my stamp-less letter on my twenty-second birthday in 1941, I’m what the bible would call three score ten.

Today is a Monday. This, of course, isn’t that important to me. Days no longer hold any significance when you stop working. It’s relatively warm today, about ninety-five in the shade; humidity as high as always. Anyone who isn’t from the Confederate states of America probably can’t understand how people can live in this dust cauldron. To me it’s natural. And when you’ve spent too many of your years in a war, you simply appreciate peace, no matter where it is.

Today is one of those rare occasions when I leave my armchair and head into “town”. I am beginning to appreciate these occasions more than I used to. I’m dying you see. I can feel it. It seems to be taking me apart from the inside, peace by little peace. If my wife was still alive she would have told me to see the doctor, but my life has been long, and I have no wish to prolong it. I have done too many bad things. The memories are starting to get that bit too heavy. My wife’s death five months ago was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I believe I will soon join her in that patch of ground we bought behind the church. I’m not that religious, but she was. It is times like this that make me wish I were though. If only for the comfort the thought of meeting her in heaven would bring.

I cross the road to the grocery store. Most people no longer shopped here, they go the miles to the big commercial shop. I don’t have the drive to go there. This small shop sufficed. I wander in, past the empty till, up to the back of the shop. I pick up some bread; some milk; some butter; some beer. Not the new crap, some old brand that nobody has even heard of nowadays.

I move back down to the till. Still empty. I ring the bell. Patience never had been my greatest of qualities. A young black man comes from the cupboard, the bright red “New Employee” badge a stark contrast.

“Morning mate,” he greets.
“Sir...” I muttered in response.
“What?”
“Morning... Sir,” I said with more heart.
“OK old guy, calm yourself. We’re all equals now pops,” He says with a smile.

I put twenty dollars and leave. About three times the cost of the food, but I just want to get out of there. That man had stirred up some of those weighty memories. Some of the ones I most wanted to forget...

A field about 1 mile outside of Grove Hill. 1930.

I was filled with adrenaline. The sort a child gets when they are filled with the belief that what they are doing is “right” and “just”. Those are the words my father and his friends used. I didn’t like his friends. They seemed too mean, but if my father liked them then they couldn’t be all that bad.

We were out away from the town. Only me, my dad, and four of his friends. We’d been out trying to find a man. According to my dad, the man had stole two dollars from the local grocery store. According to my dad, the man had to be punished. He had to be made an “example”. My dad was a good Christian man, and he’d taught me that stealing was wrong, and so I was delighted when my dad wanted me to come and see the man be punished. The punishment was “just” after all. The man had stole. And stealing is wrong.

The “man” we’d found was not that much older than me. Maybe twelve or thirteen. He was black. This seemed to make my dad and his friends hate him. My dad and his friends were like the kids from the town; they were calling the “man” names, and yelling nasty things:

“We’re going to put you back in the tree where you belong nigger!” One of my dad’s friends spat at the boy. The word “nigger” meant nothing to me. I’d never heard it before, but I could tell it was a bad word. That it meant a bad thing.

My dad, a good Christian man, grabbed the “man” by the hair. He dragged him towards a tree; all the while three of my dad’s friends were kicking the “man”. The other was tying a rope to one of the stronger branches. I thought about helping him. I knew knots. I liked tying them. I knew many different ones.

My dad had reached the tree. He put the rope his friend had tied to the tree round the “man’s” neck. He held the “man” in a hug – the sort he’d give me before tucking me in at night – while his friends pulled the other end of the rope. My dad let go of the “man” when his feet were a couple of feet from the ground.

The “man” thrashed around, all the time making odd faces and noises. I struggled to keep my dinner inside of me. I was horrified, yet couldn’t look away. In my childish brain, some part of this was bizarrely fascinating. Hours later, it seemed, the “man” stopped moving. He must have been dead. All the time my father and his friends had been laughing as if it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen, yelling about how there was now “one less nigger in the world!”

After another few minutes, me and my dad headed home.

“We did good tonight son,” he said, still smiling. He wouldn’t stop smiling for days.

I only nodded. I didn’t trust my voice at that moment in time.

“You know what was we did tonight was right son? We couldn’t let that nigger get away with it,” he said with such enthusiasm. Again I nodded. He said it was good that I understood.

Me and my father rarely spoke to each other after that. I avoided him as much as possible. Nobody should be able to kill that easily; certainly not a Christian man.

Grove Hill, Clark County, Alabama. 1991.

I’ve lasted longer than I thought I would. It was time though. My body is no longer responding to my commands. I wake up some mornings having wet the bet. How pathetic is that? An ex-soldier, wetting the bed. A man who had served in two of the largest wars in history, a man who had killed more people than he cares to remember, is wetting the bed.

Today is a Sunday. In a sense it is rather fitting. What had been the most important day of the week for the first eight years of my life was now the most important day of the week once again. Yesterday I’d driven out to the new big grocery store. I spent the last of my monthly soldier’s pension on some whiskey and a new shirt and tie.

I am wearing that shirt and tie now, as well as my good trousers. Dressed up like everyone else in Grove Hill. I’m not dressed for church though.

I finish the last of the whiskey in my glass, and pick up my old soldiers revolver. I hold it in my right hand, resting against the arm of the chair. Two deep breaths. I lift the revolver, pushing the muzzle into my mouth. I can taste the steel. I pull the trigger. I feel my head go flying backwards with the momentum.

I can feel my life blood draining away. My last thought was of my wife in heaven. Right now I hope heaven doesn’t exist; I don’t think I could stand being turned away.

This post has been edited by Shinrei: 30 August 2009 - 12:22 PM

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#13 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 02 September 2009 - 06:54 PM

Submission #12

Author: Bent

-------------------------------

Fear.



Rain pours down around horse and man, as they flee the pursuing shadows. Trees flash by in the darkness; the rider lays low on the animals’ neck, avoiding limbs and arrows alike. He risks a glance behind him, knowing full well that he cannot outrun the terrible foes behind. His horse was bred for hauling carts; not sprinting and leaping about, any minute and the poor beast could break a leg or roll with him. A bend lies up ahead, the man cannot afford to slow down, and the steep curve will be muddy. A quick prayer to the gods, a tight tug on the reigns and…
The horse slides, nearly tossing its rider to the ground, with a grunt the dun manages to hold on, shod hooves finding purchase deep in the muck, strong legs pushing and driving forward, the horse straightens and leaps forward, blowing fiercely out of its nose, it feels elation as it surges forward. Its rider’s legs tighten around its ribs and it struggles to force more air into its lungs, faster and faster, it knows it cannot lose the race; it only cares about staying in front. Neck straining forward the horse presses on, ignoring the pain in its side and the lather of sweat and some blood, streaming out of its nose.

Gods! That was amazing, the rider’s heart pounding, he never would have believed this old beast had it in him. Alas, even as he glances back again he sees several of the lead horses chasing him stumble around the same bend. Others slow first, and then come around, losing some seconds, but knowing full well they have the advantage in a distance run. “Bloody Knights of the Round!” he mumbles to himself.

The rider squeezes down on the horses mane, begging for more speed. He knows that there is at least a small chance of survival ahead. The winding road comes to the end of the forest, and a clearing that is less than a mile wide will lead him to the ancient ruins. He may find a place to hide in those ruins. The strum of a bowstring being released, and the subsequent sound of the arrow driving into a nearby tree, lets the rider know how futile his flight is. Once in the clearing, there will be no way to avoid the deadly missiles from behind. The other horses are gaining ground; he can hear their hooves pounding the ground behind him. Lightning forks out of the sky lighting the track behind him.

Fifty yards back, the mass of shapes, dark as night continue to gain ground. The weary rider counts seven horses, with seven riders still in pursuit. Lightning flashes again and he can make out, for an instant, the silver armor and black capes that the Knights wear. Another quick prayer to the gods and the man faces forward. The forests edge just ahead. His head lies on the strong neck of the horse, and he whispers softly, “Well done, old friend, you can rest soon.” The horse hears none of this, of course, as the wind rushes past its ears.



Lightning flashes again and again, the rain pounding and pooling around the ancient metal buildings. Hundreds of years had passed, and the metal buildings had rusted. Fallen. Vines and trees replaced what had once been glass towers and concrete parking lots. Soil had covered level upon level of machines. Wild animals roamed what had once been hallways. Crackling thunder sounds from above, laughter of a forgotten god.

Zula had been known as a myth in the times of these ancient constructs. Before that he had been worshipped and feared. Slaves had been sacrificed in his name. Wars started to defend his honor. But now he was nothing more than a whisper of a memory. He felt a stirring as a small creature called on him. The taste of an eternity on his lips. One small insect, a human man, called on his forgotten name, asking for help. Zula was weak, and tired. He could ignore the plea, and continue his slumber. Or he could answer the prayer of this tiny speck. He could rise once more to his place of glory and scorn. There was pain in this choice, as to be worshipped is to be loved, but to be forgotten again, that is a bloodless wound. Zula decides to grant this human a chance. To answer his prayer. And to, possibly, reign once more over the heavens and the earth.

Deep below the ancient city, was a construct of such immense power that the ancient ones had destroyed themselves by unleashing it upon each other. Its container was hundreds of feet long and wide. But the power itself was miniscule. A bolt of lightning flashed down and slammed into the container. Again and again, Zula stabbed his hand into the container, until finally the container erupted with a fury unseen by any who lived to tell.

Outside, the rain continued to fall, the man screaming in outrage that his pursuers are gaining ground. So close, he thinks, mere miles to the city. His poor horse has given its all, a death rattle is sounding in its throat, and it struggles to labor on, knowing the desperation in its rider’s voice as he yells and slaps the horse’s rump. Unfortunately, the poor horse must rest, and he slows to a near stop.

The ground around them raises a foot into the air. The horse rears, as the sound of the explosion reaches them. Ahead a column of fire hundreds of feet into the air bursts higher and higher. It slowly spreads in all directions, mushrooming and turning black. The force of the blast throws the rider from the horse, hanging on to the reigns in desperation, the man saws the horses head back and the beast topples onto the man, pinning him to the ground, bones breaking and pain flashing in currents throughout his body. All around him the sound of chaos, his own voice screaming in terror cannot be heard, even by his own ears.

A thick dust begins to settle on him. Everywhere the dust touches, fire singes his skin. He inhales, more of a gasp, than a breath. The dust chokes him, causing his throat to blister and bleed. He coughs, trying to get air into his singed lungs, but to no avail. He can’t move, he can’t scream, he can’t see and all he can hear is a roaring scream coming from the center of the blast. His body goes numb as his eyes close and his heart stills. After minutes pass, the chaos stops, and all is silent.

Zula himself is shocked by the sheer ferocity he had unleashed. Trees forced out of the ground, everything around the blast destroyed. Small towns, torn to shreds, the people in them, burned horrifically. He is saddened, but knows that the sacrifice was needed in order to bring him back to glory. Below, far, far below, a human man lies dead beneath a horse. Zula once again reaches out his hand, this time, not to destroy, but to create. For everyone knows, you cannot win a war, without the proper weapon.

Again lightning speeds towards the earth. Again the hand of a forgotten god reaches out with his powers. Slamming into the figure below, the force so powerful, the horse on the body of the man is sent flying away from the blackened corpse. Again and again, the fires from heaven slam into the body, sending shockwave after shockwave into the heart silent form. With each bolt, the body is cleansed. First inside, the organs are remade, cleansed, and once again blood pumps through the veins and arteries. Next, the skin peals and breaks apart, falling off, and shedding, showing a darkened tan skin, new and unblemished. The singed hair loses its color, and becomes a bright white, also unblemished and pure.
The man moves, first his fingers, tiny bolts of electricity sliding back and forth between them. He rolls to his side, and takes a deep breath. Cool, clean air flows into his lungs. He pulls himself to his knees, swaying slightly as he tries to stand. He has to push himself up with his hands and finally he manages to stand erect. He looks around and his eyes widen. He sees outlines of things, but not the things themselves. Auras of color dance in his vision, hot colors of red and orange nearby, small fires blazing white. In the distance to colors fade to a dark blue, and black shade. He can see for miles, destruction in every direction.

He looks at his own hands and sees the blood beneath his skin, flowing and red. The outlines of his skin a cool orange glow. He falls once again to his knees. He tries to cry out, but only a strangled gasp comes from his lips. He looks to his left and notices a long dark shape. He grasps it in his hands. Wood, a staff of some sort. He grasps it tightly, feeling the smooth grains, nearly glass like. In his head, deep within the dark corners, he feels a voice, giving him direction. He points the staff at a large boulder, ahead and to his left. The voice utters a command; he repeats it, Vistera Om Firas!

Fire flashes from the tip of the staff; the boulder explodes and shatters into tiny particles. Amazed the man aims again and, repeating the words, destroys a larger boulder. Elation passes through him, but the voice whispers again, and dread crosses his face. He has been given a gift, the voice says, and a curse. He must use the gift given to him, in the name of a god, to find the one who can once again bring the god the followers he seeks. He must find the boy, which will become the man that will resurrect a god. He, Merlin, must find the boy that will become a legend.

Hundreds of miles away, the rain falls on the city of Avalon. Water runs in tiny rapids through the streets, and into the gutter drains. One of theses drains is pushed open, a small boy pulling his way out of the sewers. His body is frail and malnourished. He hasn’t eaten in days. His clothes are ragged and dingy, nothing more than a thread-bare tunic covers his skinny legs. He prays to Zula, the forgotten, because that’s what his parents would have wanted. They had been hanged by the King’s guard, for poaching rabbit, on the Kings land. Arthur was very alone.
He found a niche, in the cold damp sewers, and managed to survive on the scraps that washed into the drains. But with the rain coming down so very hard, he couldn’t catch the scraps, as the rushing water flowed by his small home. He hadn’t eaten in 3 days, and was forced to come out into the open. Quietly, he pulls his nine year old body out into the darkness, keeping a careful eye out, for real and imagined dangers.
His parents had told him that one day; Zula would once again rule the heavens. He would overthrow the tyrannical Richard, and then everyone would have food and a real bed, and even get to ride horses! Arthur loved horses. He saw them ride by, from his sewer grate, and imagined riding the massive steeds, like the ones the Knights rode. But it was a fleeting fancy; he knew that he might not live to see tomorrow. His stomach growls as he searches for any scrap of food that might have been dropped.

A lightning bolt flashes down, directly in front of him. For a moment he cannot see, spots dancing in front of his eyes. When he blinks them clear, he sees a rat lying on its back, still smoking from the bolt. Quickly, he scurries over to the dead creature. Being careful not to burn himself, he grabs the rat by the tail and around the neck, exposing the soft underbelly. He sinks his teeth into the rat, feeling hot blood rush into his mouth. He nearly gags, but swallows it down, along with the meat. Blood runs from his mouth and down along the street, but he doesn’t mind. This is the first warm meal he’s had, since his parents died.

A flash of light in the distance draws his eye. A column of fire rises into the heavens. Lightning flairs, again and again. For many minutes, Arthur watches the fire, notices that the bright clouds are slowly dying. He finishes the rat, before the fire blinks out completely. When it does, he knows, deep down, that Zula is coming back. “‘Bout bloody time” he mumbles, as he pulls himself back into the sewer. He must rise early in the morning. The castle is hiring servants tomorrow, and he is going to try to get a job.

This post has been edited by Shinrei: 03 September 2009 - 01:15 PM

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#14 User is offline   Shinrei 

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Posted 03 September 2009 - 01:20 PM

Submission #13
Author: drinksinbars

Family Troubles

The taste of mud and bark filled my nostrils, while the smell of wood and dung burnt the back of my throat and nose. His hand was suffocating across my mouth, biting away the breath I had been in the middle of drawing. Darkness, more complete and absolute than even the deep night had provided eased over me with the bittersweet aroma of sweat and soap. The cold, which had been slipping slowly through my clothes and deeper into my bones, was suddenly lost in a rush of manly heat that emanated from him in waves. His other hand, massive and calloused, easily gripped my side and silently pulled me deeper into his embrace.
My breath came quick and sharp, wheezing through my nose in short sudden gasps that whistled noisily. I went limp in his arms, surrendering as I had been taught by what little experience I had to follow his instructions without complaint. Youth offered no excuse to this man, his will was absolute when we were together and any question of that rule was met with swift violence or a harsh glare. Personally I preferred the violence, for my fathers eyes held a sadness I couldn’t fathom let alone bear. To have his attention focused on you, made any man turn away, and I was but a young boy, not much taller than his hip and weighing less than one of his legs.
Covered by his heavy coat, he gently lifted my head up enough to see out from beneath its thick woollen collar. In the distance, there was nothing but pitch black as far as I could see. The field we had been crossing was empty to my eyes, though I could just make out vague shapes a few feet in front of my face. The heavy rain had ceased hours past, but the clouds still held themselves before the moon, and the nights secrets were its own.
After a moment I saw what he had seen.
Light flickered in the distance, darkness robbing me of any reference to judge how far it truly was. It was close enough though to make my Dad stop, and so I felt an onrush of fear prickling my belly and setting it to flutter. Only a fool walks across an empty field, and the old man was no fool. We were but a few yards from the thick hedges that border the field, and without apparent effort I was lifted and carried toward the hedge. The collar of the coat lifted up once more, hiding the world from me, and embarrassed as I was I felt less fear protected behind its thick material in his arms.
Try as I might I could never emulate the silence which my father possessed. He moved like a ghost in the darkness. He knew every field for ten miles in any direction from our house and could find his way in utter darkness without a misstep. I barely felt myself being moved, but my stomach told me when he went over the hedge, and there was a slight increase in the heavy thump of his heart against the back of my head. I turned slightly, his hand leaving my mouth, and set my ear against his chest.
The coat came back down, and I was slightly shocked by the sudden bite of cold air against my face. Sweat had prickled my skin where his hand had rested and now the cold made me burrow down until only my eyes peered out of his coat. We were inside the hedge on the other side of a lane I didn’t even know had been there, my father’s broad back shielding me from the thick branches and sharp briars around us.
I felt a wriggling around my belly and the sharpness of tiny claws scrapping against my side. I squirmed to try and pull myself out of reach of the ferret, but it was distressed by the pressing of the bushes against my father’s side and was desperate to get out. I tried to hold it in, but I let out a silent yelp when its teeth suddenly gnawed at my side. In its fear it had bitten straight through the deep pockets of my father’s great coat and it was now struggling against me, tiny claws scoring lines along my side, and then my hand as it tried in vain to grasp its head in my right hand.
“What was that?” came a voice, gruff and deep with a coarseness that froze me in my movements.
The light flashed on, the white piercing through the hedge where we had been moments before. It flared back and forth; bobbing up and down like a great eye I read about in one of my brothers books. I was momentarily mesmerised by the sight of it, forgetting about the ferret digging into my side. My father didn’t though, his hand moved across my chest, closing at once about the ferrets head. While my hand had been barely big enough to close around it, my fathers dwarfed the ferret, swallowing its head in a meaty chunk of fist.
The light switched off again, plunging the night into an even deeper darkness now that my eyes had grown accustomed to its glare. I could hear his steps, lacking the finesse and familiarity my father possessed. Despite my fear I smiled to myself, secure in the knowledge that this man was some fool farmer, and no match for the cunning and guile of my old man. There came the sound of heavy feet thumping into the earth, and I knew the man and come over the hedge.
“Turn the light on for heavens sake,” said a voice from the darkness.
“And let them know where we are?” replied the gruff man.
I stiffened in my fathers grasp, I hadn’t known there were two men and the knowledge frightened me, for only peelers travelled the fields in pairs at night, and unlike a farmer they couldn’t be reasoned with or run from. They had guns and weren’t afraid to use them. From what our neighbours said the actually enjoyed beating and shooting people, especially our kind and someone like my Da they might shoot just for the sight of him.
“If there is anyone here they would have seen the light ages past, now turn the damned thing on, I think I stepped in something.”
The light came on, revealing to me two policemen in their deep blue uniforms, stained darker in places by mud and grime. They had scowls on their faces, made worse by the weak torch light casting their features into deep pitted shadows. Both looked like they had stepped in something, but I was more worried by the thick cudgels tied to their belts and the heavy revolvers held in black holsters on their hips. My eyes were constantly drawn to the guns, my father didn’t carry a gun for hunting rabbits, his shotgun was back in the roof space of our house wrapped in an oilskin and hidden where even I couldn’t find it.
We sat in utter silence, watching the two men bickering about their job, and waiting patiently for them to move on. At first I had been frightened by the light shining back and forth across our position, but my fathers coat was dark, and his cap was pulled low over his face so that if I looked up even I couldn’t see his eyes so deep were the shadows it cast. They cast their light about like amateur fisherman might cast a net, this way and that with no method or even enthusiasm to perform the job properly.
I began to realise that they didn’t want to find anything, out here in the cold dark night they were merely keeping up appearances and passing time until their shift ended. Now that they had found a lane where the mud was lessened considerably they were content to plod back and forth across the road shining their light and talking at volumes that would allow anyone within a country mile to hear their words clear as if they shared a room.
I don’t know how, but I slowly drifted off to sleep. The rhythm of my father’s deep breathing; his chest lifting me up and down; was hypnotic. Without realising what I was doing I matched my breathing to his. The deep breaths calmed me, and the heat of his body holding me there in that hedge was just like being in my bed beside my brother except warmer and somehow more comfortable. My head began to droop, and I fought it for a long time, watching the light moving in the distance, or switching on and off and on again as the policemen moved around with obvious reluctance. But I was only a boy, and the darkness and the heat carried my mind away to dream.
I awoke to the sound of thunder in the far off distance. It seemed somehow too frequent though. There were a cacophony of claps, rumbling in from down toward the bay. I looked out from our shelter, wondering at the lack of rain or even lightning, still too close to sleep to have the fog of my mind fully lifted. It was only later, much later, that I found out that what I had heard was the sound of a man dying, brought down by gunfire not far from where we lived. My father had known though, I could feel a change in him even then.

I loved my mother.
Our relationship was so different from the one I had with my father. Of course I wouldn’t have called it a relationship then, being so young at the time I never really appreciated or understood the role my parents played in my life, but being that age they were just my parents and I didn’t have a relationship with them as they were just there, seemingly always and forever. To acknowledge that it was a relationship would define it in such a way as to make it finite. For a child such a thing is incomprehensible, yet as I grew old I recognised it for what it was, and indeed see it with my own children now, though I hope they don’t see it that way yet.
It takes a loss to recognise a relationship for what it is and what it was.

We waited for a good hour after the two policemen had gone before my father lifted me out of our hiding place. I had spent that time sleeping, or waiting glumly for a rainstorm that never came. Dawn had been and past, and the dark of night had been replaced by a budding grey light filling the world to a red sky that bleed across the horizon as far as I could see. I knew as well as my father that we were very late, and due to the interference of the two peelers, we hadn’t caught any rabbits.
I risked a glance at my old man’s face, but as ever only his eyes showed any sort of emotion, and what they held I couldn’t understand. I brushed leaves and branches out of my coat, knowing my mother wouldn’t take too kindly to me dragging a bush into her house and I noticed my father still holding the ferret by its head, though its body didn’t move. For a moment I feared he had killed it, but even in the faded light of morning I could see its chest rising and falling.
He opened his hand, his expression not changing when he saw the ferret’s teeth plunged into his palm. Of course he had known it had bitten him, his hands were scarred by bite marks from ferrets and dogs, but even so I had always found injuries where made more painful by the sight of them. I once fell of my cousin’s bike and skinned my knee really badly, but it hadn’t hurt until I pulled up my trouser leg and saw the blood. My dad just closed his other hand around the ferret’s lower jaw and pulled it off. Thick blobs of blood welled to the surface around a row of puncture marks, but he just dropped the ferret into a different pocket and started walking back toward home.
Breakfast was over when we got back. My mother had placed ours under the grill and although she shouted at me to take my shoes off before I came in the door, she never spoke a word to my father. He took his seat at the head of the table as she went to work reheating him some food and pouring out two mugs of tea. Usually I was only allowed a cup, but it was only me and dad drinking, so my mother let me use her big mug as she filled it right to the top and added two heaped spoons of sugar. The smell of fresh bread still filled the small kitchen at the back of our house, and I was treated to a nice thick slice with my breakfast.
I was half way through my story of the two policemen, relating the tale with a sort of embarrassment I felt appropriate and our failure to capture any rabbits. Part of me knew it should have been an exciting tale, for it had seemed exciting to me at the time, and I knew when it came to the next time I was at school and telling the story it would be full of drama and danger. Yet sitting there in the kitchen with just the three of us, my fathers flat impassive face seated across from me, I couldn’t find the enthusiasm for the tale that I would usually have, and part of me wished I had waited until later to tell the story when I could tell it to my mother alone without that look of my fathers that made my voice less sure.
My mother could tell easily enough what held my tongue, the same thing affected most people when Dad was in a room with them. He was an oppressive force in our small kitchen, too big and too ready for such a space. Out in the darkness and the open space he was barely contained, here he was like a silent monster, dwarfing us with his deep sadness and bottomless anger. Sometimes, on those rare occasions when he was down at the pub with his old friends with their smoking and whiskey and their terrible stories, my mother would let us see pictures of them from their youth. His face, so open and honest was always a surprise. It could have been a photo of my big brother, the resemblance was so striking. There were glimpses of that boy in the man I knew as my father, but they were such rare gifts that I couldn’t remember the last time it had happened.
My sister Siobhan had a job in a sweet shop down in the town, and even though I felt exhausted by the night out hunting with my Father, I was young and restless and fancied a walk. With theses troubles stopping buses and disrupting my already poor attendance record in school I had a day to myself, spared from chores by warrant of heading out with me Dad the night past. The house sounded empty too, so my other siblings were either in bed or out and about. I grabbed my next older brother’s summery coat from a peg behind the door and skipped out.
We had a Springer Spaniel called Jess, and she would spend most days with my Father, doing whatever it was he did during the day, but he never took her out at night and my mother had put her out the front. I was undecided if I should take her with me, Dad might have looked for her while I was gone, but I didn’t think he would mind too much. Added to that was the fact she looked so miserable stuck in our pokey little front garden while other dogs had the run of the streets. I grabbed her lead in a small act of rebellion and headed down the road.
It was still early, but there weren’t that many cars on the road anyway, so instead of taking the foot path down past the little loch, I went down the main road that ran parallel to our estate. Jess didn’t like cars, but I have yet to see a dog that does, unless they are inside and have a window to poke their heads through. After a few minutes I got worried by the lack of people on the streets, or cars passing by me. It was very quiet for a Thursday morning, more so than I ever remembered. The only break to the monotony was the occasional housewife glaring through their open doorways at me and Jess as we passed by. I wasn’t fazed by their looks, they disliked anyone my age. When I was out with my friends playing football in the streets they would shout us off and complain to my mother about the noise.
The main road curved wickedly as it neared the town. We lived on a big sweeping hill that was great for cycling down, but the corner at the bottom had caught me out a few times, and I had some nasty memories of cuts and scraps from potters wall that ran along its left hand edge. Now though as I came around the bend I could see people lining the streets, talking in small groups and casting nervous glances about. The road was closed, a big yellow tape stretched from one side right the way across it, and a few peelers stood menacingly behind it, watching the crowds of people with fierce expressions on their faces.
I stood open mouthed for a while, Jess dragging on her lead as she wanted to run and bark at people nearby. I pulled back on her lead, but the hill was so steep she managed to pull me a few steps before I could really get her under control.
“If Dad sees you brought Jess down here, he will tan your hide,” said Siobhan as she walked over. She had been standing with a small crowd of girls around her own age, dressed in their winter coats and hats though the day was warming up. A few of them obviously had hippy parents from the outrageous coats they wore, and one, a pretty girl with red hair even had peace symbols for her earrings which made me smile.
“He won’t notice for a while, he was eating his breakfast still when I left. Sure didn’t we go out over the fields last night, he will be snoring in his armchair for hours,” I said with a little more passion than I should have.
“Stop trying to impress my friends you rascal, if he heard you talking like that you wouldn’t sit down for a month.”
“What’s happening?” I asked, blushing when her friends laughed at my expense. I tried to see past them, but they had formed a teenage wall of girls that was impenetrable before me. Pretending to look past them gave me a good excuse to stare at them though, and I used it to my fullest. They all turned as one, like some strange synchronised team in the Olympics, and looked back to the town centre.
“I heard that someone killed the green grocer, shot him in his bed. They think it was the RA.” Siobhan’s voice was very quiet, and I knew she was a little frightened by what had happened. We had grown up with the stories, but it was only recently that all this stuff had really started.
Yet for myself I didn’t actually understand just what she meant, it seemed so unreal that someone could get shot in my home town. All the talk on the radio had seemed so far removed from my life that even when Dad and Seamus argued and talked about the Troubles, I had felt removed from them. Now they had come to where I lived, and I felt excited and frightened in equal measure.
I wondered if we were on the news, and immediately felt guilty for thinking it.
“Why would the RA kill the green grocer?” I asked a little too loudly. People nearby turned their heads toward his with venomous looks and Siobhan near clipped me round the ear. After a moment of stern looks though she dragged me back the way I had come and expecting an earful, she was so much like my Da sometimes it hurt.
“Stop asking stupid questions. McCann would hire anyone and you know how people talk in this town,” I didn’t, but I nodded to imply I did. “He had been warned a few times and that burglary last year would have been worse if he hadn’t have been away at the time.”
“Seems a silly thing to kill someone about,” I muttered darkly. I hadn’t any experience with the dead having never been to a funeral, and didn’t understand the gravity of such a thing as death. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask about his family, or to consider how his friends felt. My thoughts were on things like the news, the troubles and whether the road would be closed long. Any grief I displayed was down to my natural attempts at emulating those around me and little to do with my own feelings.
I could scowl or frown like my Da, but up until that day I had never understood or questioned why he felt the need to be so angry.
“It’s always a silly thing,” she said sadly. “Now fuck off home and tell the folks, they will want to call round to the family.”
“You can’t say that!” I exclaimed, shocked and impressed by Siobhan’s use of one of those words.
“I just did,” she said walking off.
Jess barked and I dragged her up the hill toward home.
“Fuck!” I said to myself with a giggle and a conspiratorial look around me. The street was still very quiet and no one was paying me or Jess any attention, so I said it again, louder this time, “Fuck!” It was almost a shout and it felt very good, like for the briefest of moment I was an adult. “Fuck!” I did shout for one last time before picking up my pace and running up the road.
I was still grinning as I came round the last bend at speed, but slowed down when I saw Seamus’ friend Peter’s Ford Cortina parked just up from our house. Peter’s small hatchet face was leering out from the driver side window, his face a pale grey beneath a mop of mousey hair. I never liked Peter as he had bullied all of us when we were kids after Seamus’ example, and while my brother would smile and laugh while doing it, there was a look of satisfaction on Peter’s face that always left me uneasy. Siobhan had slapped him once in front of our mother after he whispered something in her ear and now when he visited he stayed outside in his car.
“Right little man,” he called, his face looking like a drowned rat.
“Fuck off!” I said as loudly as I dared.
His mouth dropped into a silent ‘O’ before he suddenly burst in raucous laughter and hooting the horn. My face lit crimson fire and I rushed passed his car before he could say another word, his mirth mocking my heels the entire way. I didn’t even remove Jess’ colour, but instead just closed the gate behind me and ran into the darkness of our hall. Seamus, emerging from the kitchen as he wiped his hands on his trousers gave me an odd look, which given the gloom in our hallway spoke volumes about the shade of my face.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
“Someone killed the grocer!” I lied, though it wasn’t a lie it wasn’t the reason for my face being so red, that was simple embarrassment. Seamus’ face looked odd for a moment before darkening the way my Da’s does when he is angry.
Ignoring my oddball older brother I went through to the kitchen as I was now anxious to see how others would react to my news. My parents looked startled by my entrance, darkly brooding faces turning toward me with a combined force that stopped me in my tracks. I stammered something that even I couldn’t translate into English, feeling very young for an unknown reason.
“He said someone killed the grocer,” said Seamus who had followed me into the kitchen. I turned around, confused by the intense look my brother directed at the old man. Glancing back and forth between the two I could see that something passed between them, but it was broken by a sudden shattering.
“We heard,” rumbled the old man. “I was going to head into town to see what news there was, but the dog was gone and your brother turned up.”
I tried to back up, for although he hadn’t raised his voice, I could feel the tone lashing at me. Seamus set his hand against my back though and thrust me, un-gently, into the seat across from my Da. They all watched me, waiting for some news that I didn’t really have, and though I had, on the way up the round, imagined some Hollywood gun fight and a part I would have played if I had been there and armed like in some wild western movie this wasn’t the crowd for one of my stories. I had yet to find anyone interested in them, anywhere.
“That’s all I heard, I came back as soon as I found out,” I said to break the silence.
“I should call around to see Agnes,” said my mother in a sad and deflated tone, the kind she used when speaking about my father sometimes when he had too many whiskeys in him.
“She’ll have no time for visitors now,” said my Da, closing the matter. “Seamus can call up and ask when the wake is.”
“Why would I do that?” asked Seamus with a startled croak.
My father stared at his eldest son with an expression so fixed and dark that I felt an invisible tension crackling in the air. The hairs on my neck stood up and I was sure sparks where about to fly. Sensing the growing storm my mother piped in, her voice soft and reassuring.
“You went to school with his boy and spent your childhood in and out of that store making mischief with that poor boy and now his father has been murdered. The least you could do is to call in to ask after him. I will need to get baking, your father is right,” she said, her eyes much more serious than I ever remembered them being.
Seamus couldn’t argue with my mother, despite her tone, if pushed she was easily a match for my father and that quiet tone she used held a steel that could silence anyone. She patted my hand, perhaps as Seamus was too far away, or perhaps she just sensed my sensitivity to the growing tension and meant to reassure me. Either way I appreciated the gesture with a released breath I didn’t realising I had been holding.
“What’s that racket?” said my father suddenly. He pushed back from the table and stared out the window for a moment before turning back at us. His face held a look I couldn’t recognise, but there was something calculated in his eyes that ran contrary to the obvious disappointment in how he held himself so slumped all of a sudden. His shoulders seemed to have dropped, while his face faded to grey.
“Didn’t you have to go to Newry today?” he asked me.
“Newry?” I said quietly.
“I was there last night,” said my brother, his tone puzzled.
“Maybe you should go back, and take that fucking toe rag outside with you.”
No one spoke.
My father never cursed. It was so unprecedented that I had to stop a small squeak of a laugh from escaping by putting my hand over my mouth.
Seamus turned and left. The door slamming behind me was followed by his heavy footsteps tracing back along the hall until they disappeared through the front door. My mother watched the door. My father watched the floor. I suddenly felt like crying. I couldn’t tell why but something had changed so swiftly in that moment that grief finally stammered into me in one giant wave. I got up and was out through the backdoor before either of my parents could stop me.
Our garden was strangely elongated, with a grassy area followed by a small vegetable patch and then a thin and grubby looking green house. We have a thin rusted green gate between thick bushes at the back, but running along the sides is only a simple wire mesh fence so we can see pretty much the length of our street along its back almost anywhere in garden. I always enjoyed the sense of space in our backyard, so different than the cramped hallways of the house, or the narrow roads and concrete pavements out the front. We could pitch a tent for three in that patch of grass, while my mother grew a decent sized batch of vegetables in her row of tilled earth, and some tomatoes in the small green house at the end.
My neighbour, Missus Fitzpatrick was kneeling in her vegetable garden, her elderly husband standing over here with a grave expression on his face. Beyond them others were watching as well and it took me a moment to realise that the racket my father had been talking about was Charlie Malloy three over who kept repeating to anyone who seemed to be listening that “they are on their way.” The Malloy’s had a phone, outside their house, a big bright red phone box that they seemed to lay claim to even though it was for public use. I didn’t know why the thought of that phone suddenly popped into my head.
I took a single step toward the mesh fence. My palms had broken out in sweat as I conjured up images of what was in that excavated hole. Another step, slower and more ponderous than the last I found it a struggle to move closer. I was three steps from the fence, looking into a rough scratch in the ground but still seeing nothing. I looked at my neighbours face, shocked to see tears in the corner of her eyes.
One more step. I could just make out the slightest hint of burlap and the end of an open zip. I staggered the last few steps, feeling like I was climbing a mountain in each movement. I closed my eyes as I covered the distance, hands held before me to grab the mesh fence. It rang with the familiar and tinny sound I knew so well. I opened my eyes and felt my world crumble.
I was so glad of the fence that I gripped it until I was sure I was bleeding. I could feel the moist blood dripping from punctures into my palms, but it was the only thing keeping me standing as my legs had gone weak and my vision was turning sepia. Balance was a distant memory as my mind told me I was swaying rapidly in every direction at once, while my stomach felt like I had just plunged off of a cliff and it was staying at the top for one last look at the view.
The moment passed.
I stumbled back toward the kitchen, my only thought of the seat I had left behind a few moments ago when I was still a child. I didn’t know what I had become yet, but I no longer felt youthful or young. A great black weight was driving down my shoulders, and stealing away my vitality in a persistent crushing embrace. I pushed my way in through our back door, not even caring that it looked as if my father was holding my mother up.
“Well?” he demanded.
“It’s your gun. It’s your shotgun in that hole.”
He didn’t look surprised.
My mother started to cry.

The door started shaking to the repeated pounding of a heavy fist. After my father’s talk earlier, I had been expecting it but it was still a shock when it suddenly began soon after my discovery in the back garden. I had been forbidden from going downstairs for fear of what I might say, while my mother had been taken to her bed, pale and exhausted. The sight of her so weakened had shocked and frightened my siblings, coupled with my outbursts of rage they had fled the house.
The old man would be in his chair waiting for them, alone.
They had been out the back talking in loud voices and taking pictures; a milling mass of dark blue blazers and bobby hats digging in the ground like pigs. Sometime in the last hour I had found hatred and anger, not the childish short lived white hot anger, but a deep and growing all encompassing hatred that seemed to make everything in sight a target for my rage. I had smashed my fists into red bloody masses against the walls of my room and cried inconsolably afterward.
My family was doomed, and it was my brother’s hand that had torn it to pieces.
I heard the door open and the mumbled angry voices through the floor. I tried as hard as I could to stay where I was. I held onto the end of my bunk bed, looking out through the little ladder like it was the bars of a cell, but this bird had to fly. I could not resist it despite the fear and the anger, or maybe because of them obedience was not an option.
I moved with as much stealth as I could muster with my shoes off and my thick socks muffling the sound of my feet. I opened the door one creak at a time, already the sound of voices made easier to understand though I caught mostly just the tone, which was heated and angry. There came a loud crash, and then another.
I reached the top of the stairs.
The front door had been smashed in, pieces of wood strewn across the hallway floor. My mother’s favourite mirror lay in a thousand pieces in the corner, the outline of Aphrodite’s sad eyes staring back at me. A copper walked in, he was dressed in plain clothes, but he had that thick moustache of a man used to beating people for his job. A thick cigarette burned in one hand, trailing ash across the wreckage. His face held a look that was both serious and yet amused as he stared up at me for a moment from the threshold of our living room. All sound ceased at his arrival.
“You fucking people get stupider every time I meet you. You get one chance to tell me who helped you murder Mr McCann here and now and we will just take you away without any trouble. If you don’t, I promise you I will make your life a misery until you do tell us,” said the Detective.
“They tried that before, it didn’t work then, it wont now,” said my father.
Half way down the stairs now I was watching through the gaps in the banister and I could see when the detective threw his cigarette to the floor and stub it out with his foot. My Da had stopped looking at him though and was watching me. I swallowed hard, my throat bobbing for an apple in my throat and coming up with a bucketful. The detective turned around and gave me a quizzical look.
“Hard time under your belt,” said the cop nodding to him self as he moved up to my father so their faces where so close his breath must have been hot on my old mans face. “You must be a big man to shoot a man in his bed.”
My father’s face twitched and I was just about to shout out “He was with me!” when I caught my fathers eye and knew I wouldn’t speak. I could feel his hand on my mouth once again, a man protecting his boy then and doing the same thing now. I held my tongue, slumped down upon my seat on the chair and started to cry. There were no tears coming from my eyes, but my face squeezed up tight and I felt heat rising to my face and the wetness as my eyes strained to hold back this emotion I didn’t recognise.
“Take him away,” said the Detective. To his credit the old man shrugged off their grasping hands and walked himself out the door. I didn’t even bother to look up. Instead I buried my head in my hands and let thick sobs shake my shoulders.
A hand was laid gently upon my shoulder, “something you want to tell me son?”
I looked into the detectives face, a small boy witness to the end of his small world and knew if I told him I could keep my father but doom my brother. I looked into his uncaring eyes, and told him to “fuck off!”
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