Short Story Friday: Prodigal Daughter

KatrinaThere are times when I am conceptualizing work for later writing when I have an idea I feel is worth preserving.  It might be a simple setting, a specific interaction between characters or even a major plot point.  Unlike some better organized people who take notes or keep a journal, I put these ideas down in story.  It’s like committing it to memory but a little better because at least a hint of my thought process and emotion remains in the story.

Also, it has the added benefit of being re-read later when I have the opportunity to purge any awful ideas I might have been working with.

This Friday’s story is something of a postscript to Master of the House/House of Cards.  It follows Katrina into the start of a new life and sets the stage for either the fourth or fifth book in this series (haven’t decided the order yet…)

As this story is more of a vignette than I typically put up here, it may be worth clicking the links as you go for additional information on the characters and places.  Enjoy.

MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.  READ ONLY IF THAT DOESN’T BOTHER YOU OR YOU HAVE FINISHED HOUSE OF CARDS.

Prodigal Daughter

Alexander coughed into a handkerchief and went through the painful motions as his body wretched with spasms. This was nothing new for the young man. His body had been afflicted with a terrible condition since his youth that had left him frail. Unlike others who were afflicted with the “Consumption”, Alexander had lived a surprisingly long life. Despite this, he would never go so far as to call himself fortunate.

Though his body bent to appease the cough, his eyes kept forward. This particular coughing spell was a simple lie, a distraction.

Something was happening in the Abby and the opportunity to find out precisely what it was would only require being in the right place at the right time.

The Council of Bishops was in an uproar. Things were happening and they were happening quickly in response to an issue that he had not been informed of.

Most unusual, he thought to himself.

With his father, the renown Warrior Priest Alexander the 1st sitting at the head of the Council of Bishops, the son had become accustom to having every bit of his father’s information in his hands before it was public knowledge. Despite his considerable frailty, the junior Alexander was a devastatingly clever statesman and though he could not wear the sword and shield himself, he was a brilliant tactician.

These things gave him great favor in his father’s court and to now be left out of whatever events were transpiring told the younger Alexander that something serious was afoot. He could see the Paladin taking notice of his coughing spell and then motion for several more elite Paladin troops to move towards the building’s roof.

It was more than being left out of what was going on.

He was being shut out.

There was no clearer sign to him that this matter needed his attention.

**********

 

The ground below their flying vessel had revealed little to them aside from a lush green tree canopy for some time now. Seeing that it was beginning to break up, for clearings to be visible outside her window, Katrina knew that they were close to their destination. They would be arriving in the Great City State of New Raj shortly.

Katrina looked to where Kimberly sat opposite of her in the ‘Copter. Tin’s younger siblings, Verity and David were curled up against Kimberly. For her own part, Kimberly was trying not to fall asleep too.

Katrina smiled at this. It was as though Kimberly was meant to have children around her, something Katrina never really saw in her own future.

To her right, Alex sat with her kneels pulled up against her chest. She was focused intently on sharpening the various blades that were kept on her person. This girl had grown up in the wild parts of Britannia. Despite her age, she had known nothing other than civil war and strife. The short time she had been allowed to live freely in Seaside prior to its burning was probably the most normal her life had ever been.

Now Katrina was going to deliver her to The Order. That hard upbringing would be put to good use. She would grow up strong and secure for it. Nothing in Alex’s future would be easy going forward but she was used to that. The hardships that would be put to her now would mold her and teach her.  It would be for the best.

Katrina nearly smiled; perhaps she was more motherly than she was willing to admit.  She looked out the ‘Copter window to see the approaching sight of New Raj.

The Shining City.

Her home.

It was the source of all her strength, her training, and ultimately her doubts.

She left in shame and would now return as a herald of ill omen. Just the same, this omen was something that New Raj had been preparing for. They had been given a thousand years to steel themselves against it and no great city state was as well prepared for the words she was bringing to bear.

Words of death, of calamity, of a dark past come calling for its due.

These words would be the very thing that would open their arms to her once again. Hearing her speak and seeing the knife Dori gave her…it would be enough to reclaim her place among them…she hoped.

She had to hope; at this point it was all she could do. Feeling helpless in front of these people was something that she swore would never befall her again. Her resolve would need to be unshakable in this endeavor.

Returning home seemed so simple when she made the decision in Seaside. Now faced with the realities of her choices and the lives now in her care, the weight of her choices pressed down on Katrina and gave rise to fear unlike any she had ever known.

It was not fear of combat. For her, that did not exist. It was not fear of the unknown, for that was pointless and needless in times like these. It was something that she had not ever truly encountered, even when faced with her exile. That had been a matter of self-loathing.

This was doubt. Pure, unadulterated self-doubt. For a Paladin, this should not exist.

Alex poked her in the arm. While getting lost in thought, Katrina had failed to notice that the girl went towards the window and was now paying great attention to the City State looming in the distance.

“It’s pretty.” Alex said earnestly. “Britannia looks like a real shit-hole by comparison.”

Katrina smirked and then a wicked grin came to her face.

“They will not let you speak as such within the Order.”

“I bet I know swear words that they don’t even know are swear words though. I’ll be fine.”

Katrina realized that she had no doubts about that. Perhaps her other doubts were misplaced as well.

As the ‘Copter began its decent into New Raj, Katrina’s self-doubt was replaced with a sense of righteousness. It was not vanity or pride that stirred these emotions. She knew in her heart that she alone had taken the hardest path to bear and was now returning to face her past, her demons, and her mistakes. This was everything her faith had stressed as its core teachings. Righteousness was hers to claim because for Katrina, she could do so without delusion.

The ‘copter blades began to slow. The vessel began its descent.

Where there had been doubt, there was now only duty.

They would know her authority by the strength of her word.

**********

Alexander saw the approaching ‘Copter and followed the Paladins to the roof in secret to discover what was garnering so much attention. It was true that flights were not routinely permitted to land in Capitol Square but it was not uncommon. At the very least, it was not an event worthy of such a large scale response.

A contingent of twenty Paladins awaited the flight as the rickety machine touched down. The downward force of the wind from its blades pressed heavily on Alexander and his frailty was openly shown to him yet again. The Paladins stood resolved with stone cold faces awaiting the passengers of the flight. Another time and place might have left him cursing his condition, instead he found himself asking a simple question.

Who could be drawing this much attention?

To Alexander’s surprise, it was not an elder statesman nor was it a group of visiting dignitaries. The person who exited the ‘Copter did not wear the symbol of Britannia’s Governor. To his great surprise, it was one of their own. A female Paladin emerged.

Her armor was old and perhaps less polished than he was accustom to seeing but there was a battle-weariness to her that Alexander rarely saw in those who currently served. Her hair was cut short in contrast to the Paladin maidens who kept their hair long as a point of pride in their order.

Something was amiss. Without understanding why, Alexander spoke an old phrase in the Origin Language to himself.

“Vou volver da guerra, o pelo rapado e cicatrices da batalla será gravado nos meus ollos.”

In a city built on faith, Alexander had treated his studies academically rather than as a matter of spiritual growth. Memorization, historical accounts, dates and names all worked together to build his understanding of his city’s soul. Something about this day and this arrival gnawed at him. He repeated the old phrase, this time in Common, hoping that he might better hear the meaning.

“I will return from war, my hair shorn and the scars of battle shall be etched into my eyes.”

It was the tale of the fallen warrior, who left a people and returned with their salvation. Alexander knew now that his event was as important as it seemed. Why he should be excluded from it or why his father was not here now, these questions distracted him long enough for events to take their own reigns.

The Paladin in charge of the gathering spoke to the woman. Alexander knew him as Robert but as for his exact title, Alexander always had difficulty remembering those damnably long claims.

“You are no longer welcome here. Return from whence you came and you shall see no trouble today. Refuse and we will be forced to act as members of the Holy Order.”

The female Paladin seemed to ignore the words of threat. Instead, she turned back into the ‘copter and helped a younger girl disembark. Patiently, the female Paladin instructed the younger woman to hand over her sword and shield. It was as though she were training a squire as she spoke, patiently correcting the way in which the younger woman held the weaponry and then in how she offered them over.

The Paladins of the Order did not take kindly to being ignored. Alexander could not help but snigger quietly to himself at the scene. Robert took a step forward before beginning to repeat himself.

The female Paladin cut him off with a resounding response.

“I heard you the first time. You will address me as Lady Katrina. Now, be silent while I attend to our guests.”

Her voice carried weight and power to it. Those who stood opposed to her were physically taken back by the stern nature of her answer.

Robert could not and would not attempt to hide his disgust.

“You have no title. You have no claim…”

Katrina spun on her heel and confronted the man with a glare that invited reprisal. She was outnumbered here but still managing to act as though it were those around her who were in danger.

“Title? Claim? I am a Glorious Paladin of the Shining Rajian Order in Service of the One True God. You have not the will to stand in my way. The guiding stars have fallen beyond the horizon and I come bearing word from the south. I will not be…dismissed no matter what previous transgressions I am guilty of.”

She paused, allowing those words in particular to have their intended effect on those standing around her.

“The time of trial is at hand. The land is about to break. All your titles and all of your claims will be called into question should you not heed my words of warning.”

Several of the more faithful Paladins who were well versed in the old texts began to look about nervously. They were beginning to come to similar lines of thought that Alexander had arrived at. This was more than they had been led to believe it was. The man who spoke for them, the Paladin known as Robert, stayed true to his duties. He would not be deceived.

“You have been cast out and down from our Order. You have not the authority to speak of such things.”

“Oh, but I have.” Alexander called out from his hiding place, now certain that he would need to take direction involvement in this matter.  Alexander would not allow this moment to pass without hearing the woman’s story. Stepping out of the shadows, he walked through the ranks of the Paladins to stand next to the one now confronting Lady Katrina.

“I do not know why or by whose authority I was left out of these matters, but I would hear these words.”

Alexander moved between the conflicting forces and spoke with an ease that belied his frail form. When addressing people in public, his bouts of coughing were rare. It was as though being in front of people gave him a clarity of mind and body that triumphed over even his fundamental frailties.

“Clearly this is a matter of some importance else I would not be left out of it and you my friends would not have been asked to so forcefully remove someone who’s grand crimes amounted to…fraternization.”

Alexander looked sternly at Katrina, “Yes, I know of you even though we have not met previously. There is little of the Order that I do not know hence my current curiosity.”

He turned back to face the gathered Paladins, “Now, if her claims are true and we fail to hear her warnings…then you, I, and all those who serve would be remiss in our duty. Would you not agree Master Paladin?”

The Paladin in command, Robert looked as though he were about to apologize. Alexander’s status as a prominent statesman had immediately stolen command of the situation. The waiting Paladins were now clearly under his authority and were sheathing their blades in compliance with his wishes.

Their commander gritted his teeth and cast a glance downward before apologizing.

“I..am sorry Sire. However, my orders still stand.”

To the surprise of everyone and especially Alexander, the man charged Katrina. His blade posed for death, he had sacrificed his honor at this very moment to see through an order. Katrina could hardly fault him for it.

She could however fault him for his catastrophically clumsy attack and the poor manner in which he charged her with a lazy guard. Katrina slipped by his blade and drove her elbow up into his shoulder joint making any further movement of his sword nearly impossible. She then spun with a savage fury and struck the man’s face with her gauntlet, driving him to the ground in a heap.

It had been far easier to dispatch this Paladin than…

At once Katrina realized that the Paladin who attacked her did so out of duty but at the same time, he had purposely thrown the fight to allow her the opportunity to speak in front of Alexander. The man could not be dishonored for doing his duty and failing in the face of superior skill. It was quite clever really.

The young woman accompanying Katrina rushed over and kicked the felled Paladin on the ground before drawing her knife.

“That’s what you get stupid!”  Alex roared in anger at the insult this man had brought to Katrina.  She kicked him again before Katrina called her back.

She was loyal and that was more important for now than her inability to see through the situation. For now, she would have to be called down.

“Alex, back away. See to Kimberly and the children. Tell them that things are alright and not to worry.”

Alex looked at Katrina’s felled opponent and kicked him once more for good measure.

“Idiot. Don’t ever draw a blade against her again.”

She backed up from the Paladin before doing as she was told.

Katrina stepped toward her fallen opponent and offered him a hand up. The Paladin hesitated only briefly before accepting and then stepping back. He left his sword where it had fallen on the ground and Katrina’s eyes fixed to him until he was far enough away from it for her liking.

It was then that Katrina drew a long knife. She appeared to weigh it in her hands for a moment before offering it to her defeated opponent. Robert took the blade after Katrina pushed it again in his direction.

“Black steel, forged ages ago to fight against an evil that you have known all your lives. Those of you that follow the passing of the stars at night know that something is changing. I have seen this threat first hand. Even now it festers in Seaside, readying itself for a war too long delayed. Envy, Queen of Jealousy, Breaker of the Word, Scourge of Life…she amasses an army in Seaside. The actions…the very lives of people I love have been given to hinder her in this endeavor. It falls to New Raj to ready the armies of man in response to this threat. This blade is proof of my claim.”

Robert looked the blade over; its steely finish seemed to crawl with shadows beneath the surface. Memories that were not his own offered to seep into his blood. The anguish and rage of one particular foe called out with a hate that the Paladin had never before understood.

“Elven in origin and infused with powerful magics, the Herald will seek this blade out. It had wounded Envy once. All your priests must do is examine it and there will be no doubt…”

Katrina’s defeated opponent, his face once framed only with duty began to feel the oppressive weight of the burden in his hands. He turned to Alexander with eyes watering, the shame of his words and actions were overcoming his better senses.

Alexander watched the curious event. The Paladins of New Raj has been trained with their duty to the City State and to their fellow citizens as the framework for their entire lives. There was only one thing that could move them beyond that. Wisely inserted into their training since the founding of the Order, simple faith was the cornerstone of their lives. Pluck at that string, shift that stone, and the whole house rocks at its foundation.

Robert took a knee before Katrina and offered the blade back to her.

“By your order, Sidar.”

The other Paladins began to sink to their knees before Katrina as well. She did not refuse them and she did not shirk back in embarrassment. Alexander knew there was honor to be had here but he could see that this was yet another burden the woman was taking on.

What was impressed upon Alexander at this very moment was the peculiar title the Paladin had addressed Katrina with.

Sidar.

In the old language, it was a title that meant “Defender of the Faith”. The Britannians used it all too casually to refer to their head Templar. This title was bestowed once a generation in New Raj…if that. Alexander pondered the scene a moment longer. Robert, despite his rank, had no authority to grant such a title. As Sidar, Katrina could rightfully take command of the entire Order. If she so chose, New Raj would bend to her will.

There was no doubt that if this elite group of loyal Paladins could find favor in this fallen warrior, then others would surely seek her banner out as well. At once it was clear as to why she was to be denied entrance into the city.

Alexander watched at a distance as Lady Katrina approached the other Paladins one by one and beckoned them to stand up. He saw inspired devotion beginning to form on their faces. He saw an easy leadership in this supposed Sidar. He saw no reason to deny her either.

That created the real problem in his mind. Alexander saw and believed the words and warnings brought about by this woman. There was no doubt in his mind that this accidental coup would harden the hearts of his father and anyone else who stood to lose privilege and status as a result of her arrival.

His father was an honorable man after all but the jealousy that such an event might inspire in a man of privilege…

All at once, Alexander understood. It was all so crystal clear. If her story had any ring of truth to it…then it was not so difficult to think that Envy might have…

Alexander approached the group.

“Lady Katrina…Lord Robert…I would start by suggesting caution. This incident here was clearly staged in one form or another. Even if Lady Katrina is presented as the genuine article before the Order, the politics of the thing will ensure that she is never heard.”

Katrina eyed him with a hint of a smile forming, “What do you suggest?”

“Subtlety. This Herald of yours is coming soon, yes?”

Katrina nodded.

“If that is what is important, then there can be no more of this Sidar business for now. You will require an alliance with my father to be heard by the Council of Bishops. Claiming that title will only put you at odds with him.”

Alexander expected the other Paladins to refute him but they turned to Katrina.

This would be difficult.

Katrina only grinned.  “You’re clever. You remind me of a friend I left behind in Seaside. Alexander was it?”

He nodded.

Katrina knelt before him.

“Then I return to New Raj Lord Alexander, seeking absolution and to reclaim my place among your order.”

Alexander grasped her by the collar and pulled her up from the ground.

“Rise up prodigal daughter and reclaim your birthright. We have much to discuss…Sidar.”

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Short Story Friday – History Lesson

This is a fragment of a story that I have wanted to write for a long time.  In sequence, it’s out of order from any of the materials I have put together or intend to publish in the near future.  That presented a challenge in how to write this, put it out there to be read, and yet still avoid giving too much away or spoiling it.

I took the perspective of an outside storyteller here who tells things from their perspective with a bit of motivated self interest involved.  So, the narrative details will later be different but it’s interesting to know some of the characters presented and to see where it all moves to.

Without any further wordiness, I present:  History Lesson

Dell sat out on the porch overlooking the farmland. It stretched out further than his old eyes could see and beyond that point the sun was setting off on the horizon. He held a wrinkled hand out as if to push the heavenly body down further but the burning mark of the sky disobeyed him yet again.

Dell’s wife approached him and placed a hand on his shoulder. Even after all this time she still caught him off-guard. He wondered if she still practiced her soft footfalls or if it was so ingrained that it was merely habit now.

“The grandchildren were asking when we would leave for the parade. You promised them Dell.”

“I know. I know… I wouldn’t miss it. Fifty years, can you believe it Jacki? She has reigned for fifty years and tomorrow is the end of it. We were there. You remember don’t you?”

She smiled but Dell did not see it. “I remember.”

“And the way you used to dress! Those days… It’s hard to imagine…” he looked back over his shoulder to see Jacki’s smile turn crooked with embarrassment.

From inside the house a powerful gust of wind threw open the door and a child blew out of the entryway, laughing all the while. The gust of wind literally lifted the boy up and out of the building. It was quite graceful the way in which the boy bent with the blast of air up until the child met with his landing. He fell unceremoniously to the porch and rolled off the short series of stairs to the ground below. Behind him, two young girls gave chase on foot.

The first one reached out and touched the other on the arm. A burst of energy was shared between the two and then at once the older girl leaped a distance of ten feet or more to finally grasp the boy and retake a doll that had been stolen in jest.

Dell looked on with amusement. His wife, their grandmother, was far less tolerant.

“How many times have I told you that you will NOT use your powers in my house or on my porch?”

The children stopped their game of chase at once and shared a collective look of guilt.

“We are sorry Grandmother.” the older girl began.

“Just passing some time until we go out to the parade. It’s so quiet here in the countryside…”

The boy plead his case.

Dell looked to Jacki with a knowing smile, “Do you remember the time when there was no one who would complain of such a thing.”

His wife laughed, “They are young and…it’s been a long time since the wall was taken down.”

Dell nodded at this. He asked the children, “Do you know why they are celebrating the Governess and her fifty years of rule?”

“Because she’s not dead?” the boy hopefully responded.

“That’s… not a bad answer.” Jacki grinned at Dell.

Dell chuckled and began a story, “There was a time when people who lived in Britania did not have the luxury to live in the countryside you know. There was a time when all of our people lived behind a massive wall that protected us from the outside world. The Governess was one of the heroes who helped to cast Envy out of this world.”

When he said those words, the children made a motion over their hearts as if to ward off the evil that had been mentioned.

“We know all that Grandad…they teach it in school.”

The girls shook their heads in agreement and the little one added, “It’s booorinnngg…”

Dell laughed out loud and even Jacki could not help but to reveal a smile at this.

“Do you know the story about when Britania went dark? Do you know about the Long Night?”

Again the children shook their heads.

“It’s something that they won’t tell you about in school until you are much older. Even then they may not tell you what really happened the night that Governess Wellington took over the whole City State.”

Jacki nodded her agreement, “There aren’t even many who remember much less know the whole story. There may be a handful of us still alive…”

“What…what happened?” It was the younger smaller girl who finally asked.

Dell picked his youngest granddaughter up onto his lap, “Well, when your grandad was a boy, they used to require special little children like you to join up with the Elemental Guild.”

He let his words have a hint of playful mirth to them despite the serious nature of what he was telling the child.

“Special children with special talents had to do their part and serve the State.”

“I wouldn’t like that…” the girl admitted.

Dell had to look to his wife and smile at that.

“There were some people back then who did not like it either. People who could hear the dance of the elements, who could see the magic in the world around us…were very rare in those days. They were so rare that the State got to pluck you right out of your home so that you would be helpful to everyone else…even if you did not want to be helpful to everyone else. Families that did not do their duty, they were put in a place called Southwall and kept away from everyone else.”

The other two children sat down and began to listen.

“Back then there was a boy who had control over wind, much like you do boy. He taught the people in Southwall who would listen and prepared them for a time when they might be free to live as you do now. That boy was named Vavian. It was he and the would-be Governess who brought freedom to everyone in Britania by showing how far the Guild had fallen and how corrupt the Elemental Master of Fire had become…”

**********

50 Years Ago…

“That confirms it. We have to act now. Tonight.”

Vavian looked at the young mage who was tied down to the table with regret. He knew this boy. The child was named Joshua. He was a water mage of reasonably potent abilities. Vavian had helped the boy awaken to and control his powers. Now the child was writhing in agony and shouting as though possessed. The Guild had captured him in a recent raid and awakened something inside him that drove his powers to the brink of insanity.

The twins, a boy and his sister approached both Vavian and the captured boy. It was the male twin who voiced his concern first.

“What does this mean for us Vavian? It was bad enough that the Guild was rounding us up, that they had actually brought the Templars into Southwall…but this? What the hell is this?”

Vavian had no answer for him. He turned back to see the gathered mass of people who had sided with he and Sarai in Southwall. There were the free-wielding magi, they were in the most danger if this boy was an example of things to come. There were Jacki and Sarai’s Black Cats, they were in this out of loyalty. There was probably more to it than simply that. Jacki was clever. She and Sarai had probably come to realize that if the Guild was hunting down free-wielding magi, they were probably at risk too.

He did not have to answer to the question. Sarai knew what needed to be said.

“Vavian’s right. We move tonight. We take the State House by force. Our girls will provide the chaos that will allow enough of Vavian’s free-wielders to escape into the streets. We move to the State House and remove that filthy Master of Fire from office by throwing him into the street…from the fourth floor window.”

The girl twin objected immediately, “And just whom will be left in charge when you’ve gone and done this thing hrm? You? Will it be you Governor’s daughter? I would not fear leaving Vavian in charge of the Guild but that’s not what you’re planning is it?”

Sarai frowned. The wind mage was too smart for her own damn good.

“Yes, I plan to take my father’s place as the executive of the city. Removing Richter is only a single step on this path. Despite his villainy, there are many on the Senate who agree with what he has been doing. In their eyes, Southwall is a problem to be fixed, not a people to be saved…”

Vavian moved to quickly smooth over tensions. He could see some of Sarai’s girls moving around to the girl’s back-side in the event this turned into a forceful argument.

“Whoa. Whoa. Hold on Sarai, you’re scaring them.”

Vavian turned to the collection of young magi who hung on his every word. He closed his eyes and tried to center himself.

“There are things transpiring that are even worse than the conditions we find ourselves in here. The fact that the Guild is now actively hunting our kind down is no coincidence. We only need to look at Joshua here to know what kind of future awaits us.”

All eyes moved towards Joshua who was raging at something or someone and struggling against the bindings that kept him from injuring himself. Vavian nodded towards one of the twins who cautiously approached the boy and used his powers to tune Joshua out of his elemental powers. The effort nearly exhausted the young water mage but the effect of being separated from his power actually seemed to help Joshua.

Vavian continued despite the distraction, “Many of you have come to know Sarai. I know there are some of you who have families so injured by the State and the Guild that you will never trust those in positions of power. The choice we all face now is clear. We move together tonight, with the promise of a better future when Sarai takes her father’s place in the State House or we surely face death tomorrow when the Templars come back. Every confrontation with them means that more of our kind end up like Joshua there. You know well that life and its choices are never easy. Everyone here has the power to create change. I’m asking you to have faith in me one more time.”

A quiet murmur ran through the collected young magi. The girl stepped back and stood next to her brother. She had relented. If Vavian’s words could reach her, there was hope for the rest too. After a few moments where no one spoke or made a move to leave, one of the twins spoke.

“Then what would you have us do? How will you take the State House?”

Vavian’s faith in his own words was restored as his friends rallied around him now.

“We attack the power grid.”

That got their attention. The pride of Britania was the complex integration of magic into its city buildings. All throughout the City-State a complex series of delivery systems were set up to provide magical current that brought light to the citizen. It was a living testament to Guild power and influence. Where Britania hailed itself as the light of the civilized world, there was literal truth to that claim.

Even Sarai blinked her eyes at this proposal, “You’re serious aren’t you Vavian? How?”

Vavian nodded, “One free-wielder per sector. They find the Guild Station in the area and tune-out the elemental power reserves. They’ve all trained in it. It should be simple actually. The difficulty is in getting them out into public to do it. That’s where you come in Jacki.”

The young girl, clad in black with the bored expression on her face finally found something to be interested in.

“Let’s hear the plan Mr. Magic Man.”

The other Black Cats began to giggle. Mischief was soon to be in their hands. The gravity of the situation no longer mattered. It would be fun.

Vavian returned their enthusiasm.

“I think it’s been far too long since your girls were sent out into the city-proper to play. I’d like you all to go out and have a good time. The only rule is that everyone needs to come home when you’re done. That means working in pairs and keeping an eye out for one another.”

Going out to play meant that Jacki and the Black Cats would be let loose on Britania to vandalize, steal, and generally cause havoc. The girls often used play time as a means to distract the authorities while a select number of them went about acquiring food and supplies. The order and prosperity that Vavian and Sarai had helped bring to Southwall had all but put an end to the need for such activities. The girls grinned with anticipation to finally cut loose once again.

“Make a show of it ladies. Stir up the bee’s nest. That’s the only way that the free-wielders will make it to their targets unhindered.”

“Oh, it’ll be a show alright daddy…”

Jackie winked and pointed at Vavian. He was glad it was dark enough in the building to hide his embarrassment.

It was the male twin, the one with control over water came to understand something that the others had not put together yet.

“Vavian…how will you and Sarai gain entry into the State House? Some chaos in the streets will only go so far. The House Guards aren’t going to leave their posts and I know that you can both fight but…”

“I was hoping that you and your sister would come with actually. Some borrowed skills would be most useful. I hesitate to bring anyone with fire based abilities…I think somehow Richter can affect them.”

The twins looked at one another as though they knew somehow that the conversation would end up this way.

“We’re with you but…the four of us still isn’t what I would consider a threat to a Guild Master.”

Sarai stepped forward, leaving behind what little shadow was obscuring her features. She moved towards the magi and the Black Cats all at once ceased their idle chatter.

“I’ve got that covered Actually.”

Sarai snapped her fingers and from the shadows she left behind a slender vision of death and darkness slipped down from the ceiling above. It was a woman, clad entirely in black with a pair of swords strapped to her back, and a wild look about her. Her hair was unkempt and somewhat dirty but that only served to make her appearance even more threatening.

Sarai smiled, “This is LeKitaoli. I call her Kit. Her job is to protect me…no matter what.”

LeKitaoli took a knee next to Sarai and as she did, every one of the Black Cats with the exception of Jacki did the same.

“By your will Mistress.”

“Kit, we’re going to storm the State House. A man is waiting for us there who intends to hurt my friends and kill me if given the opportunity.”

Kit pulled her hair back behind her head into a single strand and pinned it into place on her head with a small sheathed dagger.

“This man will never lay a hand on you.”

The others could now see that Kit was not human. Her elven features were revealed to everyone, even the Black Cats who had suspected but never confirmed this were in awe.

Sarai approached the twins and offered them her hand.

“I promise. With the help of you and the others, we will change this place. The Curtain Wall will come down and your families will be free to live as they like. I can make no other promises to you other than the chance to fight for your own future.”

Vavian nodded at her words. Whether Sarai knew it or not, a chance at something better was all these young people had ever wanted.

**********

Vavian and Sarai followed Kit up the steps to the grand State House. Vavian knew what Kit was, he knew what she was capable of. The two younger magi that followed in their wake found that they were unprepared for the brutal savagery that the dark elf engaged combat with.

Sarai had been explicitly clear with Kit. Unless our lives are a breath away from death, you will under no circumstances kill these men and women who are merely doing their job.

Kill, she did not.

With the need for death removed, Kit let all of her effort fall into other forms of victory. She shattered swords, hamstrung those slower than her, and delivered injuries that made continued combat nearly impossible.

As Vavian and Sarai approached the grand door to the State House, they found themselves standing next to a blood drenched and wordless Kit. At her feet were two unconscious Templars and just beyond them were another two, still conscious but crippled never the less.

One of the more dedicated Templars attempted a last ditch attempt at preventing these intruders from gaining entry into the building. His reward was a prompt kick to the chest that stole the breath from his lungs.

Sarai looked concerned but did not utter a word of complaint over the way Kit was handling things. There would be time for apologies and recompense later. Too many people were making sacrifices now for her resolve to weaken at the sight of pain. These men were alive and that would be good enough.

The twins did not object to seeing Templars finally get rewarded for the brutal way in which they had persecuted those in Southwall however, they were still essentially children at this point in their lives and the bloody truth of combat did nothing to relieve the sickened sensation in their stomachs.

Vavian had a better vantage point at the top of the entryway to evaluate how things were progressing out in the open city. He opened up his connection with wind and allowed the sounds of the city to come to him. Chaos was indeed being strewn through out. The streets were beginning to take on widespread panic. Forces had been dispatched to deal with the civil unrest that Sarai’s Black Cats were creating. Everything was moving according to plan.

“I need you.” He waved the water mage to come forward. “Lend me your strength.”

“You got it Vavian.”

The water mage reached out and grasped the hand Vavian offered to him. A flash of light came forth and both men staggered back slightly.

“What is this?” Kit quietly asked of Sarai.

“Human elemental magic can be shared, offered to another. It confers onto the one who receives the power enhanced abilities according to the element. Water for strength, Fire for precision, Air for reflexes.”

“Strength then?”

“Strength.” Sarai nodded knowingly.

Vavian approached the grand door and placed his hands into the seam of the two great wooden panels. With a considered effort and after a few seconds of prying, Vavian threw the doors off their hinges. The sound of cracking wood and tearing metal made an awful sound that caused the others to clutch at their ears.

Vavian fell to a knee panting. He had used up the entire boost of power in one tremendous effort. The twins quickly moved to his aid and lifted Vavian up to continue on.

The interior of the State House was luxurious and fully lit with numerous lumen devices integrated into the room. It was somewhere that Sarai was all too familiar with. Vavian had been here once before and the return now felt far more ominous than his first daring adventure into the seat of Britania’s power. The twins never imagined they would be in such a place. Seeing the splendor and wealth that was revealed in every corner was almost too much for young people who grew up in squalor and filth.

Sarai held up a hand to stop the group from moving forward.

“Guardian, ready yourself.”

The dark elf drew her second sword and moved several bloody strands of hair from her face. The room slowly found itself populated by Templars and guards who quietly and efficiently surrounded the group. They entered from any and every available door and another group stood ready at the top of the stairs that would deliver them to the second of the four flights they would need to ascend.

The Templar at the top of the stair spoke for the rest.

“Sarai? You? We did not believe Richter when he assured us that you were somehow behind these attacks. We had…faith in you my lady. I am saddened that it has come to this. I am Sidar Malachi. I am sorry to say it, but you will go no further Ms. Wellington.”

“Things are about to change Templar. You are not the true Sidar. You do not bear the ring and you do not…well… Enough of that. Stand down. Escort me to my father and to Richter. It is time for a reckoning.”

Malachi shook his head reluctantly, “I am sorry for this my lady. Guards, arrest the young governess. You may dispatch of the others as necessary.”

“Wrong move.”

Sarai looked to the twins and asked the wind mage, “The lights if you’d please.”

From her pockets, Sarai produced two handfuls of small rocks and pebbles. She threw them up into the air and as she did, the girl immediately understood what she was getting at.

Centering her powers, the girl twin grasped the element of air and created multiple currents of wind to separate the stones before flinging them about the room. The tiny clouds of projectiles danced on her gusts of wind and shattered the lumen containers. Darkness began to spread through the chamber. Like a conductor before a symphony, she waved her hands about and the stones swam through the currents, shattering the remaining sources of light as they went. Only the lights that lit Sarai’s path remained in place.

Sarai began walking forward, unconcerned about the armed Templars waiting for her. All around them the room began to fill with the anguished cries of injured men. The water mage caught glimpses of Kit moving with superhuman speed through the shadows, winning fights against men who had neither the training or capacity to fight within the darkness as the Elf of Deep Shadow had.

The Templars still standing beside Malachi recoiled slightly. It was the first time Malachi could ever remember seeing his men move in fear of something. He began to consider that Sarai was correct in her assertion that he had made a mistake. Moving now before him with a deadly purpose, the cries of his men ringing out amidst the darkness, and this girl walked forward still. Unconcerned with the possibility of injury or death, her determined eyes locked onto his while her followers made embarrassingly short work of his trained soldiers.

With only several yards separating Sarai and her companions from Malachi and his men, the young woman stopped. The darkly clad warrior appeared before her as if she had melted out of the shadows surround them.

Malachi did not understand why he was hesitating to engage them now except for the nagging suspicion in the back of his mind that any attempt to do so would be futile at this point. He watched as the dark woman knelt before Sarai and quietly spoke.

“Your way is clear. Shall I remove the others?”

Sarai shook her head, “No. They must bear witness.”

Looking past her servant, Sarai calmly and evenly addressed the Templar who claimed to be Britania’s Sidar.

“You can’t stop what will happen here. Take me to Richter. I have instructed my Guardian to spare the lives of your men. They are…injured but they will live. In return, do as I ask now and take me to the Master of Fire. That bastard has to answer for his crimes. And if you still feel the need to fight us, you can then do so with his support. I think that’s a fair compropmise when the only other option I offer you is defeat.”

As if in response to Sarai’s words, the dark servant turned and growled at the Templar.

It would be as Sarai demanded. Malachi relented, regrouped his men, and began to lead them to where the Master of Fire held council with Britania’s Senate.

**********

The door to the fourth floor meeting chambers of the Senate was kicked in and as it slammed open against the old stone walls of the State House, every one of Britania’s nine Senators recoiled at the site they saw before them.

Kit held the Master of Fire aloft by what remained of his robes. Richter hung without moving in her grasp. She threw the powerful mage on to the table where the Senators had gathered to discuss the civil unrest that was brewing like a storm outside their window in the city below.

Kit’s flesh was bruised and cut. Her hair had been singed such that most of it was gone now. The stench of burning hair was pungent in the otherwise clean and sterile room.

Sarai stepped out in front of her Guardian. Vavian accompanied her and his two magi followed behind with great trepidation. In the hallway behind them, Malachi and his Templars stood waiting. The memory of what they had seen only moments before had burned a loyalty into their blood that reminded them of the true meaning of duty and honor. They watched the scene play out with pride.

One of the Senators rose up from his seat to protest the brash intrusion. He had not moved half way out of his seat when Vavian stepped forward and commanded him to sit back down.

“No. There is not going to be any discussion this time. You’ve kept generations of families in a pen of your own design. Silenced their voices and crushed their dreams. You’ve done this all while shaking a finger of rebuke at them, shaming them for refusing to give up their children to State interests…to the Guild.”

Vavian moved forward and stood up on the table where Richter’s body lay unmoving.

“You accepted the rule of a mad man out of fear. You joined with him to persecute a people who have never even raised a hand in their own defense. You never even knew what it was you sided with…”

Vavian reached down and tore off the rest of the cloak and mask that hid Richter’s face. To the shock and horror of the Senators present, they found that the mage had been dead for some time. His skin had rotted and hardened against his bone. A great wound could be seen on his neck where a blade had severed his head at some point in his previous life. What Britania had feared they encountered when LeLayhilani had entered their realm, had been welcomed with open arms in the form of Richter.

The Senators sat silently disappointed in their own failing. Vavian was not done rebuking them yet though.

“In your blind greed and lust for power, you saw fit to remove the one man from office who actually had some inclination that things were not right. Siding with Richter you arrested Governor Wellington and locked him away in the very dungeon where his daughter had been held just months before. Right now, each and every one of you is trying to figure out a way in which you walk out of this room alive. Well, do not fear. Though you are stupid and clumsy, the lady Sarai has no intention of either killing you or removing you from office. Oh no…you are going to bear witness to what is to come. Just like the Templars waiting in the hall, you will understand by the end of this night…”

Vavian was a frighteningly effective public speaker in spite of his youth. Seeing him face the Senate now without fear or regret made the twins proud that they had followed him all this time.

Sarai gently took Kit’s hand into her own.

“Thank you. You have gone beyond what your duties require of you. It is time for me to go beyond my own.”

Kit nodded her understanding and watched as the child she knew to be a hero of legend took Britania into her own hands.

“The Guild is dead.” she proclaimed.

Taking Richter’s body from the table, Sarai cleaved its head off and threw the bloody stump out of the window overlooking Britania. She heaved the remainder of his body out with it seconds later. Glass and thick corrupted blood outlined the shattered glass.

“What ever experiment was planned for Southwall, it ends tonight. Join me in observing how our path forward will be lit not out of fear but out of hope for our own greatness.”

She beckoned them to stand and watch, then requested Vavian to send out the first signal.

Vavian approached the window but not before bringing the twins along with him to bear witness.

“You have just as much right as anyone you know…”

They smiled and took one another’s hand.

Vavian stepped out onto the balcony and lifted his hands to the sky. A single but expansive burst of heat lightning appeared over the Capitol Building. Seconds later, as if in response to the flash of light, Britania began to go dark. Its man-made lights, powered by Guild magic, fueled by fear and tradition…all began to go dark. Within a moment, the city was almost completely without the magical power that was the central pride of its existence.

“This is the darkness you have left your own kind in for hundreds of years. Bask in the fear and terror that comes with it just as those families have done for generations.”

Vavian’s condemnation of Britania’s social structure was damning.

One of the Senators turned to Vavian and laughed.

“This…this is your grand justice? You would condemn us all to the same fate as those unfortunate souls in Southwall? You would destroy everything we have built to ease your sense of social justice? Boy you are no better than the creature you threw before us tonight. And as for you Ms. Sarai Wellington, you are not fit to stand in your father’s house…”

“I will decide who is welcome in my home and who is not.”

The resounding voice of Virgil Wellington caught them all by surprise. He was escorted and slightly supported by one of Malachi’s Templars. The man was in poor physcial shape but still carried himself with as much dignity as his injuries could afford.

“Father?!?” Sarai pushed her way through to see the man.

He shook his head, “Finish what you started girl. You promised me that you would prove your worth. So show them.”

Sarai nodded.

“Vavian…please.”

Vavian smiled, “Of course.”

Lifting his hands yet again to the night sky, he let loose another volley of heat lightning into the air. It was a signal yet again.

This time the signal was to those still residing in South Wall. All at once the quarter of the city became alive with light and magic. Free-wielding magi from all corners of the slum worked to illuminate their homes, light their furnaces, and cast fire into the night sky. It was a spectacular display.

“Each one of them, a human in control of his gifts. Every one of them a point of light in the city. All of them offer hope for a future that may be frightening but also holding the gift of potential in all of us.”

Sarai’s voice softened.

“They hold no malice. This is not a victory. There are no sides. There is only us…US. A people united for once in our miserable existence. There is worse yet coming than what we saw in Richter. My Guardian warns me that an army is being raised in secret in the south. We must be ready. We must be whole and it must begin now.”

To her amazement, a few of the Senators took to a knee before her. The one who protested so openly to her but a moment before was the first. As his old knees sank uncomfortably to the floor, the man looked to Virgil.

“You were right my old friend…you were right.”

Virgil looked down. Being right did not change the fact that the truth was more frightening than any of them truly knew yet. As the fifth Senator took a knee to acknowledge Sarai’s ascendance to the executive office of the city, it was confirmed. Sarai would lead the great City-State of Britania. There was much to explain and far more to do but a revolution had ended here without true bloodshed and the city would unite as one.

Sarai looked about and wondered where it would all go next. She caught sight of Vavian, and the twins taking a knee before her as well.

It was sudden anger that made her words sound fearsome in this company. She pointed at the twins and commanded them.

“Never! You will never kneel before me.”

She grasped Vavian and pulled him up, firmly holding his hand in hers.

“You especially. We…I, owe you all a debt that will never and can never be repaid. You and anyone else who has shown me kindness over the past two years will never be anything other than equals in this house.”

Years of her training in politic and governance were shining through now, polished by experience and colored by love, Sarai made no attempt to hide her emotions. They looked out together at the changing scene of night in Britania.

“It is just as you said once…a thousand points of light, a thousand chances for a future.”

**********

Present Time…

Dell had become so wrapped up in telling the story that he had failed to notice how late it was getting. They would have to hurry now to make it into the city in time for the celebration.

If his grandchildren noticed they were in risk of missing out on the parade, they made no sign of it. To his surprise, they were full of questions about the two magi who accompanied Vavian and Sarai into the State House that night.

Dell could not help but smile at this. It was something that went without discussion in his family. There would be time to tell them later.

Jacki had gone into the house and come out again with a glass of water. She knew Dell would be parched from the long story but in her own sly way she was giving him an opportunity to reveal the truth to the children. Dell just sipped the water and returned the sly glance to Jacki.

With the story concluded, the children rose up, began their back and forth fussing at one another again, and ran towards the house to gather their things.

Dell pulled Jacki close to him. The story brought back a lot of memories for them both.

“You spared them the worse of it.” Jacki said quietly.

“That’s because the victor gets to decide how competent the opposition was in hindsight.”

“You left me out entirely.” she chided him.

“It would not do well for our grandchildren to hear how their grandmother went about slitting throats and using foul language.”

“Oh…I don’t know about that. The girls could use a role model.”

They laughed but Jacki’s hand instinctively moved to her side where the Guild Master’s fire had left a permanent reminder of that night.

Dell saw it and straightened her hair to move her attention away from the wound.

Their embrace was interrupted when they heard one of their grandchildren running back through the house and again bursting out of the door. It was controlled this time. The boy stopped in front of his grandfather and pointed a finger at him.

“It was you! You were the water mage!”

Dell grinned and flung what remained of his glass of water at his grandchild.

The little boy shrieked in surprise but when the liquid stopped mid flight and returned into the glass as the old man righted it in his hand, the shriek turned to laughter.

The little boy turned and ran back to his sisters bragging that he was right.

Jacki gave Dell a smirk, “If you get to show off to them, I should be allowed to swear around them.”

Dell laughed and together they prepared to join the celebration of a revolution that history would not remember their parts in.

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Short Story Friday: The Trial of Rearden Black Part 2

Today’s short story is a direct continuation of last week’s story.  All of this takes place in a city called Lux and will begin to lay the groundwork for what I intend to be the third story overall in the Legacy of Shadow series.

The Trial of Rearden Black Part 2

The magi who accompanied Jayden moved into their places. Thomas Frasier took the spot of the water mage, his wife Jennifer took the spot of the fire mage, and the yet unnamed apprentice took the place of the wind mage. As was the custom, the position of an earth mage remained vacant. Instead, a vessel containing the cleanest soil and salt possible was in its place.

Rearden took a hard gaze at Jayden but did not voice any objections to the continued contest. Something interesting was at play here and curiosity was overriding his desire for an assured victory. Just as the council president prepared to stop Jayden from attempting activation of the now lifeless automation, Rearden held up a hand to pause him.

“If I am to win, I will win outright. There will be no question of it. Allow Mr. Dagny the time he needs. I do not want any lingering questions if I am to be Headmaster of this honored organization.”

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Short Story Friday: The Trial of Rearden Black Part 1

Today’s short story takes place in Lux.  It is actually an extension of a previous Short Story Friday reading titled Absinthe Fueled Genius.  If you’re just checking in now, take a look at that one first for a little more context, though not really necessary.

This story is about the rise of one genius and the fall of another.  It sets up the central conflict for my third book.  Lux is a place where magic and science have blended into one fantastic and dangerous combination.  What this means for its citizens and for what this world defines as life will have further reaching implications as the story moves forward.

Thanks for reading and as always, comments, criticism, and compliments are always welcome but not necessarily in that order.  ^_^

The Trial of Rearden Black Part 1

Rearden Black was furious.

The stately gentleman and lynchpin of industry in Lux was shaking. His cane rattled against the old wooden floor of the sitting room. He and his magi had been summoned to the council chambers of the Society of New Engineers only one day prior to his ascension to Headmaster of the entire organization.

When the courier arrived at his estate this morning, Rearden had greeted the man warmly in expectation that further good news was at hand. When the young man from the Society sullenly shook his head that the implications of his summons were far more serious, Rearden Black’s countenance darkened. He was being recalled and his newly acquired position was being called into question.

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Short Story Friday – Shooting the Messenger

This is a fun thing for me to post because it means I’ve finished drafting my next book, tentatively titled “The New Potential”.  So, today’s story is simply Chapter 1 of the book.  It was a shorter but much more difficult process to put this work together for me.  The reasons for that I can’t even really begin to understand.  The end product however is something that I’m really enjoying.  The project has taken shape nicely and as I begin to edit the thing, may of my fears have been assuaged.

Less talk, more rock.  Presenting The New Potential – Chapter 1: Shooting the Messenger

Chapter 1: Shooting the Messenger

Bad news will always find a way to deliver itself. One can hardly be blamed for shooting first in times like these.

-Twitch

Past

The Governor of Keldj and his sons trudged out to the border of their known territory so that the edge of the great forest was in sight. Core prepared a campfire to ward them against the frigid temperatures. There was no telling how long they would actually be out here.

Governor Stiven went about rousing the woman while Lucius stood over her with his scatter-gun pointed menacingly in her direction.

The girl arose with a violent start, her eyes darting back and forth. Her clothing was different from the men that surrounded her. Dark cloth interlaced with leather covered the woman. Where the others were draped in multiple layers of fur and heavy materials, the woman only had a heavy cloak to shield her against the cold.

“Where am I? Why is it so cold? Who…who are you?” She focused her gaze on Core and then Lucius. “You…and you…Old Kin!” She staggered to her feet, losing her footing in the snow but still rising to face her captures. Core was the largest of the three men, taller than the other two by a foot or more and nearly twice as wide. He stepped in front of the woman and gruffly shoved her back to the ground. “This is not a discussion that will happen on equal footing young lady.”

She fell back to the ground undeterred, none of the fight had left her eyes. Stiven put his hands behind his back and paced around the campfire before he addressed her, “You claimed my children are in danger. What are they in danger of?”

The girl’s eyes took on a wild look to them. Core noticed subtle signs that foretold of rash action. He loomed over her threateningly in response.

The girl scuttled like a crab away from him, moving as fast on all four limbs as most men do on two feet. She pointed at Stiven and began to shout. “YOU! Even now she conspires to turn you against them! She will take EVERYTHING from you. She will corrupt everything, steal everything you love…and you, YOU will help her!” Her cries were desperate and somewhat pathetic. She raged against a darkness and a conspiracy that all others were oblivious to. Core and Lucius moved to protect their father while the girl staggered backwards, her footing uncertain in the unpacked snow.

Stiven looked to his sons with uncertainty.

She screamed again, “Why can I not remember? No, no no! I have to remember. I have to stop you. I have to protect them. I…can’t remember anything else!” She was panting, having screamed the very breath out of her body. She composed herself slightly and continued, “Core Stiven, Lucius Stiven, heroes against the darkness, that old sin moves to take her vengeance now. When a fallen knight and his followers arrive with word from the south, you must heed them. You will know them by the authority they wield and by the strength of their conviction…”

The girl staggered some more before collapsing into the snow.

Lucius lowered his scatter-gun, “Father, your taste in woman is wretched.” Her frantic antics gave Lucius the impression that she was more loud than dangerous.

“She is an elf Lucius. I do not know how or why an elf has made its way into our lands. I never thought in my lifetime I would encounter one. You will indulge my curiosity.” Stiven replied with the authority of a father.

Core moved towards the girl, “She’s mad. That much is obvious. Could it be that an elf has survived for all these years alone out there? I think that might make anyone mad.”

Lucius interjected, “What if she isn’t alone? If there’s one, there’s many.”

“I’m not sure old axioms about undead apply to living elves.” Core replied. “We best do what we originally claimed we were going to do. She should be imprisoned.”

Stiven shook his head. “If there are others, they may come looking for her and if the legends are true, having elves about is not something I want in my lands.”

“Then what of her claims?” Lucius spoke while looking down at the darkly clad elf, “How exactly do you plan to destroy us father?”

Core grunted, “That much concerns me as well. Something she said, something about “that old sin”, I’ve read or heard that before somewhere.”

Lucius spat as he responded, “The Oracle.”

Stiven looked down and quietly said to himself, “Yes, that’s it. That damned Oracle. If there’s even a hint of truth to it… I’ve made a decision. The girl is to be released to the forest. If she is tied to old prophecy, then she will survive. If not, then it is on her to find her own way. She will not be executed nor will she be imprisoned.”

He turned with a solemn glance to his two children. “Tomorrow morning, I pass on leadership of Keldj to you Core. Sparring the life of this elf is the last action I take as Governor. By midday tomorrow, I will retire to the great forge in the mountain.”

“I am far from ready Father. This land needs you, not me.” Core dreaded the idea of taking the mantle of leadership while his father still lived.

Stiven replied, “You would do well to respect the decisions of your elders, particularly when they involve you.”

Lucius took what few supplies he had on him and tossed them at the woman. He returned her sword to her and left an empty pistol and a few rounds next to her. Kneeling down, he spoke quietly to the elf, “Run. Run now. If you ever come before me again and pose a threat to my family, I will kill you.”

The girl gathered up the sword and food but left the pistol, “We are all family Lucius. It is all we have.” She trudged away through the snow, faltering at first before breaking into an impressive running stride. The familiarity of the elf spoke to them with disturbed Lucius greatly.

Present

Will looked out from Britania’s western wall. He could see the lush green landscape beyond the city walls and wondered what it must be like to freely walk out into the wilderness. His duties as a rifleman for the great City State of Britania kept him high above the massive city he was sworn to protect. It separated him from people but it allowed him to look out upon the natural world that nearly all citizens were forbidden from stepping into.

Of course no one had any desire to step out from behind Britania’s massive walls. Beyond the great walls was a pristine natural world, unblemished by the hand of man yet completely filled with unyielding horror. Humanity had long been relegated to holding up in their massive cities, of which only five existed. The world outside the safety of the walls was populated by an ancient race of slain elves, remnants from a forgotten war that left the losing side doomed to walk the land as undead monstrosities.

At some point in the past, beyond the memories of those living today, an entire people had been slaughtered. Their bodies were risen up and used as a terrible undead army to assault humanity. Only through the sinister machinations of The Tyrant King had humanity united under a plan that might ensure its own survival. Despite that plan and the emergence of the great walled cities, humanity remained on the verge of extinction since that time.

As a rifleman, Will was part of the first line of defense in Britania. The undead were almost manageable when in small numbers. One, two, even five were a trifle, no threat to the city at all. However, when they began to gather, when several of them were within close proximity to one another, the undead monsters became something cunning…something dangerous. As they gathered in larger numbers the undead would become faster and smarter. They would begin to remember aspects of their old lives. They would formulate strategies and use weapons. Worst of all, on occasion, they would employ magic.

The riflemen were there to cull the heard. They were there to head off danger before it became a threat. Though Britania kept trained warriors and could ready an army in short order, open conflict against the horde was never an option. The curse responsible for the presence of the undead hordes never left the world it was set upon and it never diminished. Open conflict against the horde was not an option because any man, woman, or child who died for any reason in this world also found themselves rising up against their fellow man.

Life within the great City-States was an exercise in living under constant siege.

Will considered these things as he had every morning he spent atop the wall. “This is hell.” he muttered to himself.

“Talking to yourself old man?” the voice called out mockingly to him. “Pressure getting to ya? How about letting me put this here bit of tin to use for the first time?” It was one of the new recruits. Recently the Central Government had gone to great lengths to increase their numbers. There was no end to the number of people who would jump at an opportunity like this. The pay was amazing, you got to legally carry a firearm, and there were many unofficial perks as well. The standards for entry had been quite high until recently.

Will sneered under his mask, “I tell ya what kid, you plug the first one we spot today with your first shot and I’ll pay our tab tonight at the tavern.

The new recruit turned back to the others on the wall, “Looks like we’ve got a wager gents! So what do you want if I, and I know it’s unlikely, but what do you want if I should miss?”

“Nothing. Call it a welcoming gift to your new job.” Will tried his best to smile. Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement below. “Looks like there is one approaching now. Lucky for us, isn’t it? No time like the present to show off those skills Ace.”

The kid looked down the wall, “Yea, you’re right.” He lifted up his rifle still new and shiny. There were no powder burns, the butt of the gun was still polished, and the kid’s bandoleer had a full compliment of ammunition. He took his time, lined up the shot. His finger edged the trigger. Right as he was about to make the precise nerve twitch that would destroy the unholy creation below, there came a massive crack of fire from slightly to the right and behind him. This caused the new recruit to jerk and fire wildly off into the forest. He knew at once what, or rather, whom had caused it.

“You bastard!” He could see Will leaning casually against the adjacent wall, his rifle resting on his shoulder and a column of smoke brewing up from it.

“You missed. Hunh. Who’d have thought. You’re really going to have to work on those nerves Ace.” The newbies might be good on a range without distractions but the wall was a different world. They would learn in time.

The other riflemen were laughing. They had seen this play out more times than they could count. The new recruits that kept their nerves could count on a bright future with the Central Government. Word always got around. For those that could not keep a steady hand, they would at least ear steady pay. The kid realized at once what happened to him and knew enough to not make it worse by making a scene.

“Will, you want this thing downed or what?” one of the other riflemen called out.

“Take it out.”

A series of 3 shots rang out. The situation should have been settled.

“WILLIAM!” Something was wrong. “Will, it dodged…It dodged the shots!” the man called out in alarm. “Send for the Templars! We’ve got LEGION!!!”

The word made Will sick to his stomach. ‘Legion’ They were the “living” undead, able to call and gather the roaming shamblers to their side. They were unholy contradiction. Legion were those of sound mind and soul, slaughtered in rage and anger, who even in death managed to keep their cognitive abilities. They could act alone, think alone, and cause great destruction through dark magics. Worst of all, with Legion, where there was one, there would soon be many.

The alarms sounded and the Templars were on the streets before the citizenry even knew that they should no longer be in the same place.

Then the unthinkable happened. The Legion of one stopped in front of the massive ancient gate to Britania, lifted its hand and the gate gave way.

The world, was about to end.

 

 

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Short Story Friday: Absinthe Fueled Genius

It’s been a while since I’ve had time for a proper post or a short story update but to make up for it, this one is entirely new content.
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This story revisits Julian and Dori from Master of the House and will draw a connection to the ending of Children of the New Potential.  Enjoy and leave comments if you made it through.
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Absinthe Fueled Genius
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“What are we doing here?”  Julian looked down through his goggles towards Dori.  Since they had arrived in Lux their days had been spent lost in lazy sightseeing and expensive meals.  After everything that happened in Seaside, the respite was more than welcome.  It had taken some time to adjust, after all, their lives were not in constant danger and for the first time in a year, no one knew Julian’s name (fake or otherwise).  So when Dori began to take on that far away look in her eyes that told Julian she knew more than she was saying, he once again began to worry.

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Short Story Friday: Motivation

As I promised yesterday, today’s story piece is a portion of the current book I’m working on.  It’s the real introduction to the character Dempsey who is based both on an old friend and a hefty bit of the character he played in the game that brought much of this about.

Here we go…

Motivation

Vavian led them to the building that Dempsey and he had lived in for the past several months. From the outside of the building Eric and Laylani could see the large flying device known as a ‘Copter that sat perched on the roof. They made their way around to the rear entrance of the building and Vavian knocked on the door in a specific way, two heavy knocks, one lighter, and then three more heavy raps on the door.

The man that met them at the door was carrying a candle in one hand and a pipe in the other. He looked at the trio, heated his pipe on the candle, and shrugged his shoulders saying, “Oh well, what the hell…” before stepping aside and welcoming the group in.

Dempsey watched as Vavian walked past and then turned a curious eye to Eric, however it was Laylani that gave him real pause. “Vav…she’s a good deal older than I was expecting…and…not human. Vavian, why isn’t she human?” Despite his aloof nature, Dempsey had a very good eye for detail and the brief glance under her cloak had revealed Laylani’s elven heritage.

“Plans have changed Dempsey…I can’t even begin to explain it all right now but what you need to know is that we need to get to Keldj and we need to be out of Britania before first light.” Vavian just came out with their predicament rather than skirt the issue.

“That is…a much colder choice than the other pleasant options you proposed to me when we discussed this matter. Also Vavian, not to put too fine a point on it, but you have brought one of Britania’s esteemed Templars into our humble little hide out where we usually eschew the presence of the authorities.” Even while Dempsey was voicing his concerns on the matter, he was absent mindedly tapping his pipe against his hand. “And you have not exactly explained your pointy eared friend here either.”

Laylani pushed her hood back, finding no need to hide her appearance. “I am an Elf of Deep Shadow and I am tasked with summoning the twelve decedents of the fallen heroes from the War of Sin.”

Dempsey’s eyes widened at the claim and he merely nodded. “Fine. Fine. War of Sin, all well and good, I can believe that. Now, a Templar helping you Vavian? Coming aboard my ‘Copter? …and not turning us in to the State Authorities? That stuff the woman says requires a leap of faith, his story?” Dempsey point at Eric. “Well…”

Vavian quickly cut him off, “This Templar helped us to leave the State Prison in one piece and put a Guild Master flat on his ass to keep us from getting burned alive.”

Dempsey raised an eyebrow and replied, “No shit?” He took a long puff of his pipe, “That bastard Richter? You put him out?” He began to laugh a little. “Keldj it is my boy, Keldj it is. Now, you all ain’t never been up north…”

Laylani interrupted him, “I have.”

Dempsey waited to see if Laylani would say anything else before continuing, “I have some cold weather gear I got in trade last season. Should do us right for the snow and slush.”

“Ok…ok, good. We don’t have much time Dempsey. Even now they’re out looking for us.” Vavian was rushing. He was still on edge from what he had seen earlier in the night.

Dempsey was never in a hurry. He could be infuriatingly slow for Vavian’s taste at times and this was one of them. “Never did get your name Templar or you Miss…Terious.” He laughed at his own joke.

“There will be time for all of this once we are on our way Dempsey! Don’t make a game of this!” Vavian was actually getting angry now.

Eric could see a certain need to play along with their pilot. “I am Eric Sturgg…former Hero of Britania.” He frowned and offered his hand.

Dempsey chuckled slightly at this and shook his hand, “Former Hero? That’s the kind of title that makes for good story telling over strong drink. I like you already Templar.”

Laylani leered at Dempsey and then resigned herself to an introduction. “Do not call me Miss Terious ever again. Eric has given me the name Laylani and you may use that name for me when in his company.”

“That’s…a strange way of putting it, but alright.” Dempsey motioned for them to follow. He led them to his storage room where a variety of various goods were kept. Opening one of the chests up he confirmed the winter coats and various armaments against the cold they would encounter. “So…why are we going to Keldj?”

His question lingered in the air until it became obvious that not one of them had a specific answer to give him. Eric and Vavian resorted to looking towards Laylani for answers. The idea of explaining herself was foreign to her.

“There…there are three warriors there. It is my duty to awaken them to their responsibilities.” she said it angrily as if the others should have understood implicitly.

Dempsey only nodded as if it all made perfect sense. “Three warriors. Understood. Well, the Keldjian people are none too friendly. Asking questions is only going to get us in a heap of trouble. If you don’t know who these people are…we may be better off dealing with the authorities here rather than angry Keldjian Marauders.

“I will know them when I see them!” Laylani insisted.

Eric and Vavian looked at one another uncomfortably.

Dempsey laughed, “I thought as much. Don’t get your pointy ears bent out of shape. We just need to get the right kind of bribes. Why, with the right bribes, you can go just about anywhere. That there is a life lesson, try not to forget it.” Dempsey looked around and started pulling various crates out from their store places on the wall. “A little bit of planning goes a long way towards a happy voyage. What we have here are the right things to open doors of opportunity.”

Once he had three crates chosen, Dempsey asked Eric and Laylani to take them up to the roof in preparation for their flight. Laylani thought nothing of it and went about doing her part to speed them along the way. Eric understood that this was an opportunity to allow Vavian and Dempsey to talk alone. It put him on edge to know that their cooperation might already be at an end but there was little he could do beyond allowing it to play out. Reluctantly, he left the two alone and went about his task.

Once they were gone, Vavian turned immediately to Dempsey, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry…I should have taken them somewhere else. I should have given up on this whole thing. It was originally going to be Sarai. You hear me Dempsey? I was supposed to have the Governor’s daughter with me. We were going to go to Seaside and find that rogue water mage to fix the water sickness in South Wall.” He was falling over his words out of guilt. Dempsey sat watching him with a slightly bemused look on his face.

“Will you shut up? Seriously now Vav…you have no poker face. Are…are they what they say they are?” Dempsey seemed oddly interested now.

“What…do you mean? I am…I’m pretty sure they are. I’ve seen things tonight that I never, ever could have imagined and the vision that elf showed to the Templar…”

Dempsey clapped his hands, “She really is an elf! Hot damn, hot damn.” He was grinning like an idiot.

“You…you’re liking this?” Vavian asked with outright shock in his voice.

“You’re damn skippy I am! Vav…I fly a dangerous contraption powered by magic I do not even understand. I run illegal shipments of goods this way and that. I agreed to allow one of the most wanted criminals in all of Britania to live in my basement so that I don’t have to pay for official fuel sources for my otherwise illegal operations…”

Vavian had not even considered for a moment that like everything else in life, Dempsey would see this as a game to be played, a risk to be taken for the sheer thrill of it all. Vavian was now sure, without a doubt in his mind that Dempsey was insane.

“So, you bring me the opportunity of a lifetime, to see the kind of stuff they only tell you about in pillow fiction and religious sermons, up close and personal? I’m all in.” He shook his pipe again trying to remove the used product to no effect, “Plus, you’re the only friend I’ve got.” He pointed his pipe at Vavian, “Remember that. Now, we’ve got a flight to take.”

Once they were on the roof, Dempsey let them into the strange looking flying machine.

‘Copters were a bit of technology with an illustrious history. While Lux is the City State widely known for its steam technology and automated advances, it was the Britanian Guild that designed the first flying vehicles. These contraptions became a necessity for travel between cities as over-land travel was an exercise in suicide and waterways through the landscape were limited.

As he prepared the machine, Dempsey explained a bit of the technology. It was all second hand information though. Dempsey himself understood vary little of the lift concepts that kept the craft aloft or how the various gear ratios controlled speed and direction. He explained to them how the very first ‘Copters used a terribly inefficient means of creating steam to power the vehicle, but when the Guild perfected their vacuum containers that all changed. The ‘Copters could be pre-loaded with ready-to-go energy that could be used to power the system.

“Of course…the Guild’s price for this service is so prohibitively expensive that flight to one place or another is only for the wealthy or by State sponsorship. Since Britania sits right about in the place every city needs to set down to refuel, they have what you might call a monopoly on inter-city travel. Unless of course, you have a friend who makes fuel with almost zero effort.” Dempsey motioned towards Vavian who was using his powers to charge the fuel canisters.

Dempsey hopped up into the small cockpit and engaged the gears. The heavy blades sitting atop the ‘Copter began to move. “Climb on in. Next stop, barren frozen wasteland!” He grinned as Vavian threw himself confidently into the cabin and prepared himself for the trying voyage by ‘Copter. Eric entered more cautiously and looked about uncomfortably. The machine looked as though it might fall apart at any minute. Laylani took her time boarding. Out of the group, the experience was certainly the most foreign to her.

“This is why…” Laylani stated quietly.

“Why what?” Eric asked pensively.

As the ‘Copter began to lift itself up from the roof and move them northward towards the frozen tundra of Keldj, Laylani was lost in amazement staring down from the ‘Copter and seeing the moonlight illuminate the passing landscape.

“This is why she hates your kind so very much. Unlimited potential. My people have existed since the beginning and we have never mastered the world in such ways.”

 

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Short Story Friday: Of Things to Come

Today’s short story is from my current work.  There’s a few concepts that are introduced prior to this that are just thrown at you here.  I’ve linked to them where I can if you’re interested in furthering your reading on the setting of this world.

Of Things to Come

He was trying to let it go. After all, it did not matter to him who he was married to. Any of the possibilities he might be faced with were pretty much the same. Spoiled girls with bad attitudes wrapped up in expensive dresses and pretentiousness…it was best not to think on it for too long.

His intended sat with him in the parlor and talked non-stop about herself. He was uncertain if she was trying very hard to convince him that she was worthy of his affections or if it was simply a matter of poor upbringing. He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. “My dearest Katherine…I’m afraid I must return to my duties. The evening has gotten late before either of us took notice of it.”

That was a lie. The minutes had been dragging on for him since he entered the room.

The girl’s eyes flashed, “Oh my, of course. How embarrassing would it be for me to delay a Templar from his duties? We could not have your soon to be wife tarnishing such a promising career.” She appeared concerned that she had erred.

Eric knew the concern was only for his standing and position within the Central Government. Katherine’s family had fallen on hard times recently and her betrothal to a promising young Templar would go a long way to returning her family to prominence.

“Certainly not. It has never the less been an…enlightening evening.” He forced a smile and bowed slightly to the young woman. She replied with an exaggerated smile then blew a kiss in his direction. From the parlor door her parents appeared almost immediately. Eric was certain they were eavesdropping the entire time. As he made his way towards the exit, her parents joined him and lavished the Templar with undue praise.

Eric did his best to be courteous but the entire ordeal was trying beyond belief for him. Only once he had made his way back out into the streets of Britania did he feel alive again. The entire experience left him feeling as though a terrible weight were pressing against his chest. The thought of a lifetime with those people made him short of breath.

He felt disappointed for resorting to a lie in order to take his leave of them, but that feeling soon passed as the sounds and chaos of the streets flooded his senses. Eric was a calm, collected, and thoughtful man. He saw people, places, and events in a unique way that allowed him to quickly understand whatever he was dealing with. He did not even have to try, it was a skill that came to him effortlessly. So long as he kept his composure and sorted out the obstacles in front of him, there was almost nothing he was unequipped to deal with.

This insight into people and the world around him was the reason he had been able to achieve the rank of Templar so early in life. He was even-tempered. He was thoughtful. Eric was a natural.

Most young men who enter into the service of Britania’s Templars carry an ego with them so large that it takes years for the training to break them down and rebuild them into something respectable. Where Eric was concerned, ego was never an issue. He absorbed the training, took his failures in stride, and encouraged his peers. In return, he was hated by those peers at every step of his training.

He had come this far in life by setting his sights on the next goal. Always looking ahead allowed him to shrug off much of the ugliness and petty behavior of those around him. Recently though, it was becoming more and more difficult to see the point in anything he did. Only the lively sounds of the streets and the people going about their lives helped to shake him out of the melancholy that increasingly dogged him.

He resolved to have a cup of strong tea to get his mind off of things. It would help to settle his nerves and to get the awful taste of whatever it was Katherine’s parents had served them out of his mouth. He found his way to the small tea house that he favored and stepped inside. At least the owners were always pleasant and genuine with him…

The drunken voice of a slightly belligerent woman greeted him, “How long was I supposed to wait for you here? You finally show up and I’m already drunk!” The small woman slammed her flask onto the table and pointed at Eric defiantly. Next to her was a thin man wearing a strange pair of glasses. He smiled at the woman’s behavior and idly shuffled a deck of cards.

Eric looked around confused. He pointed to himself wondering if perhaps the woman was yelling at someone else. “Of course you! Come over here Mr. Templar. Come over here!”

He shook his head in confusion but never the less approached the pair. “They do not even serve alcohol here. What in the world is wrong with you?” Eric was curious now. Something was different about this woman.

The man next to her kicked a chair forward for Eric to sit down in. “Care to play a game of cards?” the strange man asked.

“No thank you.” Eric sat down with them, his curiosity getting the better of him. “I can’t say I have a fondness for gambling anyway.”

The man lifted an eyebrow. “He’s the one alright.”

The woman shook her head in agreement. “He’s the one. Doesn’t look like much, that’s for sure.”

“You clearly have mistaken me for someone else.” Eric was still uncertain about this unexpected meeting but he could not sense anything remotely dangerous or threatening about the pair. Instead there was something familiar about them, at least as far as the woman was concern. It was then that the woman asked him a question under her breath that cut him deeper than any wound he had ever endured during training.

“How long Eric? How long will you go on pretending?” Any hint of intoxication fled from the woman and she leaned in closer to him at the table. Something powerful and frightening was in the air.

Uncertainty filled his voice and finally Eric asked, “W…who are you? What the hell are you talking about “pretending”?  Further more, how do you know my name?”

The man answered first, “Her name is Dori. Mine is Julian. She thinks you’re something special. Some business about the stars being aligned right when you were born or some such nonsense.”

“It isn’t nonsense Julian. You know better.” Dori scolded him.

“As strange as this has been… Let me reassure you in case you didn’t happen to think this was odd, it was. But me? I am nothing special. Another one in a long line of Templars who are here to do a job and nothing more.” Whatever frustration had built up in Eric’s heart over the years was coming out in full force now.

“But you’re better than the others, are you not? I’m not asking you as a matter of pride. I want to know your professional opinion…is there a better warrior among Britania’s Templars?” The woman’s eyes were lit up with a mischievous gleam to them that told Eric that the question itself was a trap.

“I’m just an ordinary man. Templars are not measured against one anther but against the threats we face down for your protection Miss. Now if you’ll excuse me.” Eric stood up, turned his back on the pair and walked off.

Julian looked at Dori knowingly. Dori stood up from the table and shouted so that everyone in the tea house could hear her. “The time is coming when ‘ordinary’ will not be good enough! When that time comes, you will remember this day! You can not hide from fate!”

The Templar was gone.

Dori flopped back into her seat and looked to Julian, “Do you think it will help?”

“Hard to say. I’ve seen what hopelessly lost looks like…it just sat down with us.”

“He doesn’t have a choice in the matter. He’s the only one who can match her…”

 

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Short Story Friday: Delusion

I wrote this bit a few years ago as a means to kind of hold some ideas and concepts in my head for later use.  This cast of characters is to be the central group for the book I am working on now.  Much of what happens here is far, far later in the plotting of this story.

If you read last week’s story, this one will give you some insight into exactly how far Envy is able to corrupt normal people.

Delusion

The street was calm. The skies were clear that day. In the three story bordello at the end of the avenue, hidden by bland walls and rumors of the extravagant activities within its doors, a storm based in terrible rage and jealousy was building…

Layhilani, Eric, Vavian, and Dempsy stood barely a city block away from the building. They had been to this place just the other day. It did not seem nearly as ominous to them then.

Vavian was the first to speak. “Something is really, really wrong here. I…I’m not the only one sensing this, right?”

Layhilani and Eric looked apprehensively at each other

Dempsy shook his shoulders, “Ain’t nothing “right” about this whole thing since we started.”

Vavian continued, “I…know. But, this time, something is… I just feel sick even thinking about it.”

Layhilani lifted her head up as if trying to hear some far away sound “She’s been here…”

Eric nodded in consent. “We work in tandem, understand?”

The group muttered quiet agreement.

Continuing Eric directed the plan, “If we have to use force, we’re going to be in confined quarters. Vavian, Dempsy, find and create fall back points. Layli, I need you to take the fight to this guy. Retreat as needed and let the boys cover you. I will charge through and secure Lillian. Do not worry about me or my safety, only the girl counts.”

“This may all be overkill. Then again, it may simply be a boy with too much money and time on his hands…” Eric paused, “Not one of you believes that eh? I…”

Eric was cut off by the sound of a shrieking woman falling from the second story window of the brothel. The cries she made as her body hit the street and shattered, fate unkindly having spared her life, were tragic.

“GO!” Eric directed.

And they ran.

People were fleeing the bordello at an alarming rate. Most of them found their way out through the doors. Several unfortunate women found their way out of the building via the windows, much in the way that the first one had.

Seconds later the group reached the main entryway to the building. The difficult little man who sat there previously was nowhere to be found. No one was surprised. Dempsy went to work gathering the men and women who were attempting to hide or hold their ground. Their initial reactions to him were in resistance. “Things are about to get quite bad here, for your own safety you should really consider running away.” His calm almost detached voice and manner likely did not help convince anyone of his position on the matter.

The unholy screech from upstairs on the other hand, did a great deal to convince the reluctant patrons to flee.

As Eric and his allies barged their way into and up the stairs, Lillian and her unwelcome guest were beginning a wicked decent into the gaping maw of madness.

Lillian scampered away from her attacker. He seemed so huge, his arms and his eyes dangerously long like a spider. He was screaming something at her, but she could not understand him anymore. Each word was being twisted into animal-like noises.

“Lorenzo? Is that…Is that you?” she managed to ask despite her fear.

“you rememberme after all” His speech was coming forth in a strange cadence that seemed almost delayed from his mouth after he made the words with his lips. “how couldyou? who washe thatyou would choosehim overme?”

A flood of unwelcome memories returned to Lillian. She could feel her will to live entirely slip away. It was comforting. Finally giving up was comforting.

It was short lived comfort, whatever powers were twisting Lorenzo were also pressing his memories into Lillian’s mind. She saw for the first time, though his eyes.

The boy had been to her services many many times. Lillian had dismissed him as another pervert but then saw something that shocked and wounded her as she watched his memories play out in his head. The fantasy that the boy indulged in with her was one where she simply loved and was kind to him. It was not perverse, it was not selfish, it was simple and honest. Lillian long ago stopped caring about whatever fantasy her customers were looking to fulfill. They were almost always sexual romps of the most embarrassing kind. It was easier to allow them their unabashed fantasy and be done. After all, she never had to participate, only allow them to act out their desires on the stage that her powers of illusion provided.

She felt ashamed. She felt evil. Worst of all, she felt responsible for the monster now stalking her bedroom. Lorenzo had somehow gained knowledge of Cassius and that he was the only person she could possibly love. Lillian cowered in a corner, tears falling from her eyes.

“stop crying! why doyou makeme yell atyou!” Lillian covered her ears and shook her head like a child. “amI too loud forYOU!” Lillian screamed. Sheer terror escaped her and her heart exploded inside her chest over and over.

Lorenzo, took steps closer to her, “you don’t wantme…FINE! cruel man would takemy place? noNOno! these walls this roof this gold…MINE!”

His voice was piercing and other worldly. Lillian tried to run towards the door. She tripped and crashed to the floor just mere feet away from the exit of her room. Looking back she could see him stalking ever closer.

“how couldyou lovehim? allow inour bed!” His body was changing, it was warping into something twisted. “look atME!”

Lillian did look, much to her own regret. The sound of breaking bones and limbs stretching to unnatural lengths and dimensions was her reward. Lorenzo became a creature, a monster constructed of hate and fury right before her eyes. He was close to the ceiling in height when his body stopped contorting. His arms nearly dragged on the floor and his face was twisted in a permanent scream. He was unnaturally thin now as if he were stretched out on the rack for weeks, never allowed to die.

Lillian got up off the floor to flee into the hallway.

The monster that had been Lorenzo continued to pursue her, “you can not run away fromme! it’s justus!”

Lillian screamed again, her voice finally giving out and her cry sputtering into a rasp of pain. Lorenzo’s long mangled arm reached into the hallway and his twisted snake-like fingers wrapped around Lillian’s waist. He slipped out the door into the hallway. “yes yell, cry, see how no one cares foryou except me.”

The monster was caught entirely off guard by the appearance of Eric, Layhilani, and the rest as they exited the stairwell and entered the hallway. “I wouldn’t go that far.” Eric replied in the most proper and mocking tone he could muster. Lorenzo lunged at Eric with his long clawed arm. Those claws seemed to grow as they cut through the air. “Lilli….!” Eric made the command as the fight started.

In an instant the warriors coordinated a brutally effective series of maneuvers. Layhilani, taking a foot boost from Vavian jumped over the others and rebounded off the side wall. She cut only once, but her strike removed the creature’s arm that was grasping Lillian. The monster howled in pain and was about to turn towards Layhilani when it saw Eric draw his broad sword. It turned to attack Eric with a lunge which Eric deftly sidestepped.

Instead of finding Eric in his claws, Lorenzo was instead faced with the business end of Dempsy’s pistol. “Love hurts eh kid?” The gunshot pierced the monster’s claw and went straight into his chest. Dempsy then dodged around a corner while Vavian gathered up a charge of electrical current.

Layhilani had to work to un-pry the detached hand from around Lillian’s small and fragile body. By the time she had done so, Eric was with them. His sword in his right arm, he took Lillian up in the other. “I’ll get her to safety. Destroy this abomination.” Layhilani nodded.

Eric began to run from Lorenzo who was now re-growing his arms and claws back at a frightening pace. Lorenzo swiped at Eric, his claws ripping into the Templar slowing his run. A second blow from the monster was aimed at the unconscious Lillian and Eric deflected enough of the strike to protect her but suffered further injury as a result. The third strike was interrupted.

Vavian stepped out into the hallway again and warned the others, “Eyes!” They had seen this trick before and all closed their eyes. Vavian let forth a brilliant flash of electricity into the air that blinded Lorenzo.

The monster staggered about for a moment then regained his sight to see Layhilani standing as his only obstacle before him. Everyone else had scattered.

“She did this to you…” Layhilani said to him.

“indeedshe did…i will makeher suffer to the last” the monster replied.

“Lillian is not to blame. Envy found her way into your heart and that is why you suffer.”

The monster howled again and rampaged towards her. Layhilani cut and hacked his arms and claws as he moved forward in the narrow hallway all the while keeping her eyes toward his neck. She was surprised as Lorenzo was when a gun shot suddenly sounded behind them.

“Don’t mind me. I’m just in a really foul mood.” Dempsy walked forward firing his pistol repeatedly at the monster. “Didn’t think I’d let you do this by yourself did you?” Dempsy was a terrible shot. He had only managed to distract Lorenzo. That was enough of an opening for Layhilani though.

She ran straight towards the monster that had only a short time ago been Lorenzo. Ignoring the slashing hands that grasped for her, she delivered a brutal kick to the beast’s chest before spinning in place and severing one its arms near the shoulder joint.

Dempsy stepped back. The sight of the Shadow Elf fighting unrestrained was often disturbing.

The creature reflexively reached for where its arm had been and in doing so, opened its guard up. Layhilani wasted no time exploiting this. She spun with her sword and split the creature’s belly. It bore down with pain and rage for the spot she struck from. Claws slammed into the floor but missed Layhilani as she melded with the creature’s shadow on the floor and appeared behind it.

Her blade plunged through the creature’s back up to its hilt. Layhilani braced herself by kicking the creature just below where the sword had found its way and then pushed forward. The creature fell to the floor face first.

Layhilani’s sword slid out as the creature’s body fell. She jumped forward and whipped the cutting edge around, cleaving Lorenzo’s head off.

Dempsy had seen her fight like this before, even more because Layhilani often took pleasure in dangerous contests. This time however, she was merely ruthless and cold. Something about this fight was different for her.

“We have what we came for. It is time to leave.” Layhilani turned to leave without another word.

Dempsy looked at the shattered mess on the floor that used to be a person, “Tough break kid. Looks like your luck with women is worse than mine.”

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