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.
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.
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.