Month: September 2015

Minstrels and Lies

He fashioned her a coat using the skin of the Mountain Goat he killed yesterday. Since he didn’t have to sleep it was done by morning. He sat like a board as she tried it on, the warmth alone kept her from complaining. The tundra was devastating.

“Its not that bad.” His voice was raspy and sent ice down her spine.

“Yes, thanks. I guess.”

“No. I mean about your family. It’s not that bad.”

“What are we, three hundred miles from Juilt, almost a thousand from the crown. It doesn’t matter how many times you say it. It is that bad Rediro!” She turned from him and strode out of the abandoned hut they found last night. “For all I know they’ve been assassinated. I’ve been trapesing through the snow for Luera-Knows-What with a myth for so long that I’ve lost count of the days.”

He appeared in front of her tattered bandages flapping in the wind. He bowed. “You know my queen, you disrespect me. If I weren’t bound to your family I’d slaughter you in your sleep.”
“Stop materializing from thin air already! You’re going to give me a heart attack.”

“Would you prefer that I walk through the snow and make breathing noises to make you comfortable? Perhaps I could share your bed to stay warm when we sleep tonight would that please the Queen?”

“No.”

“ Do you think I chose to be the Minstrel for your family. They say it’s an honor but I’ll have you know its nothing but.” He got his bearings by looking up at the early morning stars and started walking towards the east.

“You’re a great warrior, blah blah blah. Come on Rediro, that was centuries ago.”

“Time does not heal all wounds.”

Realizing she hit a tender spot she followed in silence.

That night they stopped in the shadow of cliff and Rediro procured fire from nowhere for her to stay warm. He sat out on the edge of her camp watching. She traced her fingers in the warm dirt surrounding the fire. Drawing her family and the palace they lived in. Why didn’t the people realize that they were the good guys, her father was the good guy. The Hurens were nothing but traitors to the crown and yet everyone believed them. Images of the aforementioned palace burning to the ground stopped her introspection in its tracks. She didn’t let herself cry.

They marched on for another week. Rediro the Minstrel of House Leavien provided for its only known heir, protecting the family as he had for six centuries. But Rediro grew tired of the games of mortals, and he would have his way sooner rather than later.”

“Why are you just quiet all the time? You know minstrels are supposed to sing or play music or tell stories, something entertaining.”

“Why do you complain all the time? We are but a short journey to the stones.”

“And tell me again, these stones will allow me to scry for my families well-being?”

“No. A powerful woman dwells within them. She will help us both.”

The child Queen of Juilt was no fool. She had her suspicions. Rediro had always been reluctant to help. Stepping in only when his pact would be violated until now.

“You think I’m stupid Minstrel, why have you suddenly become so caring?

“I live to serve and protect House Leavien.” He repeated the age old oath.

“The last heir of Leavien demands that you tell her more about the woman in the stones.”

“As you wish.” He slowed his pace to match hers. The world faded as his cold hand encompassed hers. “As you know, Minstrels are slain by their masters on the battlefields of reality. After which a meditative sojourn into the void binds them to the family that took their life. Your I-don’t-even-know-how-many-greats grandfather sliced me open on the hills in front of what used to be the crown. I watched my lifeforce bleed out on the sands before being sucked into the voids embrace where I met my ancestors and the great warriors of the past.”

The peaked a tall hill and he pointed at valley ahead. “There. That’s where she lives, the void stone goddess, the walker of all realms.”

“But how are you here then?”

“After cutting me down in front of my men he wanted revenge. The shamans prepared the sojourn tea and sent him on his way to consult the goddess and bargain for my soul as his Minstrel. She granted him his wish and here I stand.”

“Yeah, but I mean, something else had to have happened. It can’t be that simple.”

“Oh, nothing ever is my Queen. Come let us summon she walks all realms.”

She cowered in the background and held her hand out to his blade when prompted. Her blood filled the grooves on the stone plinth and the sun set instantly.

“W-w-w-wait. I don’t think we should be here.”

Rediro held his arms out and stared into the sky above her, he had to yell over the wind whipping snow and debris around them. A swirling dark maw opened in the sky and the figure that came out of it was pure nightmare. It was feminine, but it hurt the young queens eyes to look at it, limbs unnaturally long with claw like appendages. It was at the same time her mother and a demon. It was her sister and best friend it was the Huren’s who burned down her palace and murdered her family. The goddess of the stones was everything.

Rediro laughed. “I’m back and I brought the Leavien spawn.”

“Killian Rediro the Hunter, you’ve been away from the void for many years.”

“I was bound. But I brought her as my tribute, let me come home. She willingly offered blood after coming here on her own accord.”
“Is this true darling?” Her claws caressed the Queens face leaving razor thin lines of blood down her cheek.

“He-he-he He Lied! He told me you would help!”

“The world is lies my love. Don’t worry deaths embrace is sweet. This not your fault but that of your grandfathers grandfathers. Time does not heal all wounds. Come to me my son.” She motioned to Rediro and he approached.

Every step brought life back into his body, he bandages fell away revealing muscles growing back the next step brought skin and then hair followed by black steel armor plates with spiked pauldrons and a grisly longbow. The goddess embraced him and he vanished.

“Now. I do hate this part. But we need to address you.”

“I don’t want to die..”

The goddess’s peal of laughter left the Queens ears ringing. “Oh you won’t be dying anytime soon.”

With a sweep of her clawed hand the queen was no more. Her essence fell through the realm into the void where her family waited. All of them they were happy to see her. They rejoiced, cried and apologized. Before she could speak the nirvana of the afterlife was torn away and she found herself standing outside the wreckage of her families palace staring at their heads on pikes. She looked down at her hands, they were bandaged. Peeling a bandage back she saw only bone and fell to her knees crying.

“Come along my Minstrel.” Potilius Huren motioned and she found herself standing. “I think you’ll find that time heals all wounds.”

“I live to protect and serve House Huren.” The words flowed from her mouth before she could close her lips.

“Well I wouldn’t call it living. We’ve work do to Minstrel please go ahead and burn this city.”

With tears in her eyes she willed the flames out of the void and watched as they licked up the walls and gates of her childhood. She followed in Potilius’s wake, head bowed and hands clasped. She vowed to kill the goddess of the stones one day.

 

The Horst Twins

The hab blocks were built close to one another, military grade, reinforced. Each one a simulated environment providing relative safety along with optimal temperature and air composition for its inhabitants. The poor bastards, have no idea what life is really like, in the creases of civilization. In the airspace between sector A1 and A3 Mikal and his brother Reinr vaulted upwards wearing heavily modified RMVs. The repair maintenance vessels were normally used to build and connect new habs, it wasn’t legal to modify them but nobody arbitrated the dead space between units. Nobody until today.
Mikal hauled himself over an exhaust venting pure CO2 out from A3. He stooped to catch his breath, while the suit did most of the work he had still just climbed damn near one hundred feet in a minute.

*Reinr, get your ass up here. Don’t mess with them*

They communicated via telepathic link. Another customization that Reinr was all too proud of, especially if he had one too many at one of the seedy trading posts. “New business is all around us” he would say.

*They’re messing with us man. I’m just making sure they understand this is our home.*

*Those are sanctioned arbitrators, they’ve probably tagged us already. We need to get these suits to Lex for scrubbing and obfuscation ASAP.*

*Don’t ‘ASAP’ me Mikal, we ain’t military you’ll always be my kid brother. Also, I sent Lex a message already. He sent a cruiser to meet us.*

*You could of started with that, asshole.*

The RMV was silent when moving if the user wanted it be. Mikal didn’t see the roundhouse kick coming until it was too late.

*Kid brother, or not. Nobody calls me an asshole.*

*Jelia, Reia, Kondi pretty sure their general consensus was, that you’re an asshole and I’m better looking. My bald spot is smaller you see, size does matter*

They grappled at the edge of A3 causing some poor tech weeks of repair requests. Crunching pipes at the rolled and denting that which ought not to be dented. The suits were close to seven hundred pounds each. Servo motors in the joints acted as ‘super-tendons’ responding to the users urges in nano seconds.

“Stop! This is your last warning, we will submit your signatures for lethal force request.” The four man squad of arbitrators was slowly ascending the walls beneath them. Forced to take the ladders and service routes rather than jump and climb it would be a few minutes before they were anything more than an annoyance.

*Mikal* Reinr said holding back the punch he was about to throw. *I think we should stop, they’re going to ‘submit lethal force requests’* His laugh caused feedback in their internal mics.

*Where is Lex meeting us?*

*Always keeping your head in the game.*

Reinr held a broken piece of the piping over the edge, tracking the criss-crossing motions of the arbitrators far below. He dropped the piece and looked over the edge.

*Aww the arbi’ saw it coming.*

*Dude, focus. Lex is meeting us. Where?*

*The corner of E6 and D6. He’s going to be a minute, we might as well have fun.*

Mikal was already vaulting over the massive O2 tanks towards D line. Yeah they were only arbitrators but they probably had resources on call to assist.

*When I was doing that sabotage job with Minx she mentioned Sanctioners raiding her camp.*

*Mikal, she doesn’t like you, stop bringing her up.*

*I’m serious, she said they called MkIV sanctioners in on them*

*I’d love to have a go at a MkIV, you know our tech is better.* Reinr was catching up, ever competitive.

*MkIV man! They fought the rebellion with those. Each has enough firepower to penetrate a hab.*

Reinr somersaulted ahead of him and spread his arms out like a sky diver plummeting down the dead space between B3 and C3.

*They’d have to catch us first.*

Mikal dived down after him. He was right. They were at home here in the deadspace, no sanctioner or arbitrator could navigate these spaces as well as they could. The downtrodden, the idealists, the criminals of the habs made their life here. No laws restricted bio-mods and everything was legal if nobody was looking. They landed hard on the surface, it was hard to believe the surface was ever alive. Covered in cabling and electrical panels several centuries before their time people lived on it some say they even had an environment regulated by the Earth itself. They ran beneath C3. No arbitrators in sight.

*See, no need to worry.* Reinr joked.

*Worry is what has kept our species alive.*

As if to punctuate Mikal’s anxieties a large service port opened in the bottom of C3 and a MkIV Sanctioner hopped out. Its gargantuan frame cracked the surface where it landed. Heavy plate armor readjusted and the mini cannon on its right arm began humming the tune of an early grave. It hunkered down beneath C3 like a dog under the table, ready to pounce if somebody dropped a scrap of food.

*Shit, shit, shit.* Reinr began ascending the deadspace between D3 and C3.

*My thoughts exactly, I’ve never even seen one.* Mikal pulled up the screen captures he took as they ran by. *looks like it could crush us in one glove.*

*The rebellion came to the deadspace because they have trouble maneuvering here. As long as we keep changing elevations we’re good.*

They reached the top of D3 and took a right turn sprinting for D6.

*Lex, this is Reinr. We’ve got an ETA of 1 minute. Well I do, Mikal will be a few seconds late as always.*

*Shut it! Lex, we’ve got a MkIV on our tail is that cruiser of yours armed by chance?*

*You guys brought a MkIV to me, a fucking MkIV! They fought the rebellion with those they have enough firepower to-*

*We know!* the brothers interjected together.

*Look I know it raises the risk factor.*

*Mikal, the risk factor? You know they operate in squads, you’re dead. I’m not waiting. If you guys aren’t at the extraction point when I arrive you best keep running*

*Anyone ever tell you that you’ve got a knack for motivational speaking Lex? Its like I’m running faster just to punch you in the jaw sooner rather than later. We’ll fucking be there.*

A bright beam of mini gun fire ricocheted and traced a pattern in the floor leading up to them.
“Jump!” Mikal screamed.  As they cleared the gap between D4 and D5. *We’re almost there.*

*Okay, I could take one MkIV, but two? Nah, I’m ready to be anxious and run away. If I don’t survive tell Kondi I loved her and tell Reia she’s a cu-* Reinr cried out in pain and hit the floor leaving a groove in the metal where his heavy RMV gouged up the metal.

*Reinr! Get up.* Mikal turned to help, the right side of Reinr’s RMV was a fiery mess as he crawled forward.

*Ejecting.. Don’t let me die here* The back plate of the wrecked RMV popped open and Reinr’s bald head peered around the edge. Wearing only his rebreather and the dark grey pilot’s fatigues he ran towards his brother.

Mikal picked him up like a child with the suit, careful not to squeeze the life out of him he pushed his suit to the limit.

*Lex, Reinr’s RMV ate shit. I’m on D6 where are you?*

A realease valve burst open as a third MkIV rocketed out of it guns ablaze. “You can run, but we’re onto your little enclave out here in the deadspace, it won’t be long before you’re bloodstains and wreckage just like your grandparents puny rebellion. The Sanctioners have approved lethal force Mikalin and Reinrilov Horst. We won’t rest until you feel our wrath!”

*Hey, Mikal.*

*What.*

*Want to run any faster?*

Mikal tightened his grip on his brother. Reinr gasped. *Okay.. Fu.. you’re breaking me*

Lex’s voice came over the telepathic link. *ETA 4 seconds, jump the hatch is open.*

Mikal didn’t pause for a moment and launched them out into the deadspace. A staccato blast from the MkIV’s fun followed suit.

The sleek black cruiser slowed down beneath them as Lex tried to line up with their descent. Makil’s RMV hit the metal decking of the Cruiser, it gave way leaving massive foot prints in it.

*Drinks are on you.* Reinr stammered. *Pretty sure you just crushed at least three ribs and my femur.*

The cruiser top shut tight and Lex hit all the boosters sending it careening almost too fast to control away from the MkIVs in pursuit.

*Lex.* Mikal said. *Send a warning out to everyone on the telepath network. They know we’re descendants of the rebellion and it won’t be long until they know everything else.*

Seeing Things as They Are

This story was inspired by the third image in Michael MacRae’s gallery. Enjoy.

The right hook didn’t feel great. But his face was numbed after the first few minutes. Now each blow was mostly just a burst of light and disorientation.

“Tell us what you did with her!”

The next left broke a tooth and Grays spit it out with a mouthful of blood.

“I tol’ yoo, I dinn see no’in”

“If you keep beating on him we won’t be able to understand him.” A voice from behind accompanied a tight grip on the collar of his dirty shirt.

“She’s my daughter! You wouldn’t understand Reci.”

“Well now, I don’t think you’re in a position to tell me what I do and don’t understand. Now listen to me Heath, I let you beat the piss out of him. I didn’t have to do that, I gave you a chance but it seems like ol’ Grays here has developed some resolve since we run him out of town. Or he’s been telling ya the truth. Now get out of the way and let us do our job.”

Grays looked up through swollen eyes, he hadn’t seen Pastor Reci in almost two years. His chin trembled, like that of a child about to bear it all.

“Grays, you know we don’t give two shits about ya. Heath here is about to pound you into oblivion and ain’t nobody back home going to know.”

“Dad.”

A backhand sent him to the forest floor, the dew covered leaves were cool on his face, he did his best not to cry. That always made the beatings worse.

“Sorry bud, but our family ties were cut the day you murdered Mrs. Juniper and did Cerberus-knows-what to her daughter. You know we still haven’t found her remains. I’ll give you that, at least your good at sinnin’. Now sit on up and tell us what you were about to before Heath lost his temper.”

Grays pushed himself off the floor and held one hand tight over the right side of his face. He swallowed hard. There were about fifteen of them, most of them young boys he didn’t know. But Judge Reci was there, and Lamont too. He couldn’t make out anyone else through the pain and dim light.

He stammered “I, well. I, uh. I saw her, you know. Coming up the trail from the city.  I watched her from a tree until she passed under me.”

“You bastard! Why’d you hurt my little girl!” Reci screamed, Lamont and another hooded figure reached out to restrain him, but Grays still flinched.

“I saw her, she seemed to know the woods. I followed, or tried to at least.”

“To kill her? Rape her? Eat her?, how fucking crazy are you Grays. I always told your mother not to spoil you so much.”

Grays continued. “She started weaving in and out of the trees and damn near sprinting.”

“She probably saw you chasing her, you fiend. How can you not understand that?”

“She didn’ see me, nobody sees me.”

Reci chimed in. “Then how come we found ya here weeping in the open, finally feeling guilty for what you’ve done?!”

“I didn’t do anything!” His scream was hoarse from the crying earlier. “They came again, I’m serious they came. The forest lit up like day!”

“Damnit Grays, don’t start with the whole creatures from the sky shit. I may have to take a page out of Reci’s book and beat some sense into ya like the old days. Heath cracked the knuckles on his right hand and took of his Pastoral signet ring.”

Grays used to run when he saw that happen growing up. He took the scene in and looked for an escape. They never listened and one day they would come and take everybody away. Someday they would believe him. He tensed his legs and shoulders, fingers sinking into the cool earth beneath him.

“I told you a hundred times, they took Mrs. Junipers daughter and she died trying to hold Lisa down!”

“How dare you speak her name, we don’t have time for games-“

As good a queue as any, Grays pounced forward past his Father and slammed hard into Reci sending him the ground. With a few strides, albeit painful ones, he was out of the clearing and looking for a way to get up in the canopy. The canopy was safe, he lived here, he knew.

When they banished him from the city he camped on the ground the first night. But the second one, the second one was a different story. The sun had hardly set and a groaning deep noise rolled through the forest sending flocks of birds up in the night sky and dead leaves drifting to the floor. The boom rattled his ribcage and sent him sprawling up the tree as a bright light approached. He clasped to the elm tree, and shivered, fearing what was coming.

Two silhouettes strode out of the undergrowth, bathed in light that seemed to bleed from them like fire from a phoenix. Their foot prints left scorched earth behind. The beings were radiant and beautiful, dove like wings unaffected by the blazing aura folded tightly behind them. Each wielded a halberd ten feet long like it weighed nothing. His Dad had always mention angels, but this light, that noise. The same thing happened when Mrs.Juniper died. He didn’t want to watch anymore but he felt drawn to them. Unable to shut his eyes. The one on the left looked up at where he hide. An unnaturally wide smile filled with pin-coushin teeth greeted him and Grays stared into the abyss of the beings stygian eyes for the second time in his life. He passed out and when he came to they were gone. Since then he’s stayed in the trees, away from their reach, operating on the it worked once philosophy.

He heard the noises and saw the lights several times in the last three months but he would climb as far as he could and pull his hood over his eyes to wait for day. He never wanted to see them again. They probably took Reci’s girl. The only seem interested in the women.

“Grays! You shouldn’t show your face, you Father wants you dead and we won’t hold back!” Lamont and three others were picking their way through the undergrowth.

He was about to yell back at them. But a childs voice called back in a sing song lilt. “Oh they don’t want Grays. He’s broken. But they want me. I don’t know how they feel about you though.”

“Mary? Mary! Its me, its daddy. I’m here baby come to my voice.”

“No, daddy. You come to mine.” She laughed.

“This isn’t funny, we’ve been very-“

The low boom shook the tree around them and haze of unnatural light moved towards them from the east. Mary stumbled towards the group and her Reci reached out to embrace her. His out stretched arms missed entirely as she shot into the air and hovered spinning fifteen feet above them.

Two of the men took that as their sign to run away and did so swiftly. Lamont and Reci drew their swords and were bathed in light as the two slender beings came into view.

“Leave her.” A voice so deep it trees cracked and rumbled in the vicinity.

“Show yourselves!” Reci ran towards them.”

With impossible speed the one that spoke vanished and appeared holding Reci by the throat. His feet dangled helplessly and his hands clasped at the effeminate arm holding him aloft.

“Look now, look at your daughter she’s ours.” Reci’s neck snapped and he was flung to the side. Lamont froze and fell to his knees bowing before the two. They rose in the air, wings unfurled they embraced Mary and circled faster and faster before rocketing upwards leaving Lamont and Grays deafened and disoriented.

Together they staggered into town, shaken and pale. The people surrounded them, noticing Grays was there they called for the Pastor. He would surely die for this.

Lamont held out his hand and spoke in a timid voice. “They came. They did, Grays was telling the truth! We aren’t safe here, the forest isn’t safe. The angels Pastor Heath tells about they’re real but they, but they..”

“They don’t come to fools, like you.” Heath finished the sentence. “Gag them and tie them to the stake. We’ll burn them after worship tomorrow. This what blasphemy does, these are the faces of traitors and murders!”

“Nooo, wait. I swear they came I saw them, they killed Reci and took Mary!”

“I told you.” Grays said. “I told you nobody is ready to listen, deception lies over them like a blanket.”

With his childhood friend Grays was tied to the stake. They would be dead by sunrise. He looked at his people, his family, his persecutors. Some of their smiles slightly too wide, their eyes were they all black? He couldn’t get a second look as the blindfold slid over his eyes.