Tatter: Chapter 34

Previous chapter

The lab-lights coruscated from the dustless ceiling as Ryard Vancing held his bleeding side. Teeth clenched. Eyes narrowing upon the tawny, ferine woman who circled him, jaw set, fists clenched as Tatter watched the scene with keen concern from the diagnostic pod where she remained firmly bound.

Ryard briefly caught her gaze and forced a smile.

After a terse silence, the gray-streaked woman lunged with considerable ferocity, gouging at the man’s eyes, seeking to drive her thumbs into his sockets. He caught her about the wrists, using her momentum to thrust his knee hard into her gut. The motion tore his wound as it doubled the woman over; screams of pain caught in two throats. The woman staggered back, heaving, and pulled a silver scalpel free of Grazen’s instrument rack upon the nearby table, desperately slicing at her foe with the dreadful hissing of a serpent cornered. Ryard raised his arms, blocking the shallow cuts. Soon his arms ran red and his movements slowed. He could feel the life draining out of him and knew if he didn’t finish her swiftly, all would be lost. He dodged back behind the arc of her blade and kicked at her left knee, catching her shin, unbalancing her and dropping her face first to the ground. The woman caught herself and bounded from the floor, rushed forward with hateful gait and drove the blade of the scalpel into Ryard’s shoulder. Instead of throwing his foe free, Ryard grabbed the woman’s hands, forcing the blade yet deeper. The terrorist’s eyes bulged with confusion as she attempted to escape, finding herself bound to the bleeding CAV-keep. He thrust his crown into the middle of her face, then again and again until he felt her nose break. She slackened and fell to the floor, holding her ruined face, groaning and gurgling blood. Freeing the blade from his chest, Ryard lumbered over to the woman, falling to his knees before he reached her, the pain subsiding to numbness, the fury waning to somnolence.

“Why would you risk your life for that filthy abomination?” The woman spat with rekindled wrath, rolling to her side as she clawed toward the bloody bone fragment, which lay upon the floor between her and her foe.

Ryard said nothing and walked on hands and knees to the jagged ivory artifact and hefted it from the cold, bloodstained floor. She threw herself at him, wildly, despairingly, madly, attempting to tear out his throat with her bare hands. Ryard shoved the scalpel into her gut, yet still the insane creature did not relent. With the last failing vestiges of his strength, he drove the jagged length of bone through her left orbital socket with a wet snick. The woman howled and fell upon her back, twitching erratically, a tangle of unintelligible syllables, pouring from her frothing maw. The woman’s chaotic spasms swiftly subsided and she lay still upon the white polished floor, soaked in blood. Her chest, no longer rising and falling to vitality’s ancient hymn.

Then, only silence reigned.

Ryard observed the corpse of his foe and then rose unsteadily and freed Tatter from her shackles, collapsing thereafter against the exterior of the diagnostic pod under the encroachments of a leaden slumber.

“Help him!” Tatter exclaimed suddenly. “He’s dying.”

As his consciousness faded, he followed Tatter’s gaze and beheld the form of a woman standing in the doorway of the hidden lab. He recalled her face.

Vera Straker. Director of Kryos Corp.

She moved cautiously into the room and observed the corpse and then rushed to Ryard’s side as Tatter gathered the man in her arms, dichromatic eyes searching a blood-spattered face.

“Your plan worked, Ryard.”

“Yeah,” he whispered triumphantly.

He closed his eyes, feeling Tatter’s frigid caress give way to Straker’s commands.

Then the world fell away and all was warmth and darkness.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 30

Previous chapter

Ryard glanced to his wrist-bound affin module, the screen displayed a intricately detailed map of the city; the signal for his tracker, bequeathed to Tatter, glowed bright blue against the crisp white outline of the tertiary diagram. His brows knitted with concern as the vehicle sped across the expressway, the pedestrian lanes, shimmering busy and loud below. He synched the vehicle to his module, selected the destination, leaned back and let the automated system take over.

The drive was a short one, taking him from the northern edge of the central sector to the southeast. He parked in the Aecer Memorial Cemetery shiftyard, exited Holleran’s lev-han and moved through the gate of the necropolis with astute alacrity. The burial site stretched 624 acres, distinguished from the surrounding water treatment and storage facilities by a lack of verticality and the abundance of caretaker drones, who quietly and tirelessly scurried across the lawn, watering the grass and clearing the wind-worn graves of detritus: dead leaves, food wrappers and bird droppings.

As Ryard surveyed the scene, a man came striding from behind a large monument, fit, tall and suspicious of eye, dressed in Vekt Corp uniform. The man’s hair was short and he was missing part of his left lower ear.

“Excuse me, sir.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m gonna have to ask you to leave this area.”

Ryard stiffened and tilted his head inquisitively.

“Why? This is public property.”

The man shrugged dismissively, throwing his arms briefly wide with entreaty.

“Orders, I’m afraid. From the top. You know how it is.”

Ryard looked to his module map once more. Tatter’s tracker-sigil displayed atop his present coordinates.

“Sir, I’m sorry, but, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.”

Ryard eyed the man opaquely, gripping the multiratchet from his utility belt surreptitiously as he noticed another figure in the distance, a woman, observing the scene with obvious interest.

“I’d like to talk to your superior about this.”

“They’re presently preoccupied.”

“Who is?”

“Sir?”

“Who is your superior? Their name? You work for Vekt Corp, right? Nothing personal, but I’m gonna file a complaint.”

The man frowned, his expression darkening.

“Sara.”

“Just Sara?”

“Sara… Atbee.”

Without another word, Ryard brought up his module and began typing in the name ‘Sara Atbee.’ After two seconds of Ryard’s manipulation’s, the Vekt-garbed man drew a stun-gun from underneath his shirt and lunged. Ryard back-stepped the assault and brought his ratchet down upon the assailant’s skull with full force, prompting a sickening thud. The sentry slackened and crumbled to the ground; as he did, the woman in the distance bolted towards Ryard. The CAV-keep snatched the stun-gun from the ground and ran behind a massive obelisk as the second sentry fired into the well-worn marble facade. A near miss. He looked to the weapon in his hands; munition consisted of four charged adhesive packets, each capable of incapacitating a grown man.

“Come out now and I won’t hurt you.”

Ryard could hear her footsteps encroaching and something else, clattering dully at his periphery. He cast his gaze swiftly over his shoulder and beheld a caretaker drone, moving toward him, likely to clean the monument behind which he hid. He grinned slyly and kicked the drone from the shadow of the obelisk, causing the machine to land upon its back, its four metal-plastic legs writhing spastically into the air as the female sentry unloaded a stun-packet into it. The moment Ryard heard the weapon discharge he ducked out of cover, took aim at the woman’s midsection and squeezed the trigger. The woman flailed wildly and collapsed upon the ground, unconscious.

Ryard exhaled, lowered his weapon and looked to the drone, which now sputtered static, its legs moving erratically, sensor stalk writhing uncontrollably. He moved past the downed machine, stripped the weapon from the immobile woman and cautiously looked about the graveyard.

No one.

Only two guards… they’re small in number. Otherwise there would be more sentries. She’s directly below me. They didn’t bury her. Obviously. A false grave? Seems improbable… There’s an underground chamber, or system of chambers… Catacombs…

He looked to the closest building. Caretaker storage.

The basement.

He rushed to the storage building and scented fresh-churned earth. He paused, turning to the source of the aroma and beheld over fifty graves, freshly dug. Burrows for those who had died during the grid attack, CAV-way passengers and reactor workers. The man read several of the shiny memorial plaques and moved to the door of the storage house. There was no handle. He plucked a caretaker drone up off the ground, removed its back-console panel and returned to the door and used the drone-bound passcode to open it, then set the drone down beside the door and passed into the storage facility. Inside the small building were several inert security drones lit by low, flickering yellow lights. Spare parts rested in bins in the next room and a stair that led down to the basement.

Ryard withdrew the woman’s stun-gun, loaded a packet from the other weapon into it and cautiously peered over the railing of the stair. The concrete well was empty and descended into utter darkness. He paused and surveyed the inert maintenance automatons, each of which bore a sleek Vilar Corp logo, his fingers gently brushing against the standardized power cores arrayed about his belt.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 29

Previous chapter

The room in which Tatter awoke was brightly lit and devoid of sound save for the gentle tapping of busy fingers on the keys of a computer pad and the gentle hum of a portable generator. The walls were barren, composed of aged, yet finely burnished metal. Numerous pieces of medical equipment lined a desk to the left and to the right, several crates of varying sizes were stacked one upon the other. Two figures were half-visible from the open-faced diagnostic pod upon which she lay, a man, at the desk, typing, and a woman, staring observantly at the occupant of the medical calyx. Tatter tried to move but found her body secured at the throat, chest, arms, legs and ankles by tight flexile straps. Significant motion was impossible.

“What do you want with me?” Tatter asked the moment her voice returned.

The woman, cruel-faced with a long, gray streak in her short-clipped hair, bent over the pod.

“I thought you gave it a sedative?”

“I did. A potent one.” The man replied with surprise. “It must be due the… peculiarity of her neuronal system. Soriya told me she was unique, but she failed to impress upon me the extent of that uniqueness. No matter. Its all the same for the procedure.”

“I trust you’re not becoming distracted.”

The man sighed with exasperation.

“I’m prepping the sample now. It will be ready for injection soon.”

“What are you doing to me?” Tatter queried emphatically.

The source of the male voice, a balding, clean shaven man wearing a light suit, stepped into view. He had a broad shrunken face and walked with a marked limp and leaned a little towards her, his mouth formed a gentle smile but his eyes were cold.

“Running some tests. You’ll be able to go home very soon.”

The man looked up toward the anxious, gray-haired woman with severity.

“Isn’t that right, Moreno?”

The woman forced a brittle smile.

“That’s right.”

Tatter stared at the woman a long moment and attempted to withdraw as the gray-streaked creature leaned down toward her.

Before the woman could respond another voice intruded upon the scene. One low, gruff, male and unfamiliar to Tatter.

“Route is secure.” the man declared matter-of-factly, strolling into the room, hands swaying loosely at his sides, hard, dark eyes roving over the medical equipment hastily arrayed about the spacious, antiseptic chamber. The newcomer was short, stocky and clean-shaven with a bandaged arm. Tatter recognized him as one of Vangr’s men.

“Good.” Grazen declared. “And the Director?”

“Holding on to her. Least until we’re clear of the city. Bartering chip, n’case we get boxed in.”

Grazen nodded approvingly and gingerly hefted a small tube of liquid from a thawing chamber and swirled it in the light. The bandaged man waited for the Grazen to respond and, finally exasperated, took a step forward and spoke emphatically.

“Grazen.”

“Hm?”

“He’s expecting you to keep your end of the bargain.”

“Of course.”

Moreno turned to the bandaged man challengingly.

“His daughter will be released. As promised. Though, we should let her rot given your utter incompe-.”

The bandaged man did not even turn toward the woman as he spoke, “Wasn’t talking to you.”

Rage starkly colored the woman’s face, her jaw clenching, brow quivering, fingers flexing. For a brief moment Tatter thought the woman would rush the man and tear at him with her bare hands.

“Tell him I will make the call shortly.” Grazen declared flatly, his attention fixed upon the large console before him.

The bandaged man nodded briskly.

“Do you not understand the gravity of what we are doing here? Moreno inquired, whirling to the bandaged man with sudden agitation, “Take a moment to consider the coming change. One you helped to foster.”

“That’s none of my concern.”

The bandaged man turned slowly and left off. Moreno watched the man depart and spoke softly.

“Ignorant, greedy fool.”

Grazen ignored the woman and deftly manipulated the pod’s control-panel and shortly a mechanical arm descended upon its occupant, producing a long syringe and sinking it deep into the prisoner’s exposed arm.

“Comfortable?”

“No.”

“That’s good. We are never more aware of what is important to us than when we are in pain.”

Tatter: Chapter 28

Previous chapter

Bioluminescent plankton basked the cloistered bar in dim azure glow from wall-bound tubes which ribboned the length of the square, low-ceilinged chamber. Blue-lit patrons sat around the semi-circular retractable table as drinks were ferried by server drones, payments automatically deducted from affin modules upon reception. Aecer Digest played across the numerous, wide wall-screens, information relayed to the onlookers by a prim woman in a suit.

Holleran Meris listened to the feed despondently, his eyes fixed upon his glass.

“Breaking news: Members of Aestival, the terror group responsible for the destruction of Starglaive One, have been detected within city limits. The Consortium, after considerable deliberation, has voted on a complete shut down until the criminals have been apprehended. If you see any suspicious activity, we encourage you to report to your local Consortium authorities as soon as possible.”

A young man with short, unkempt hair, and a complexion incongruent, sipped his half-empty glass and shook his head.

“Wish Aestival had blown up the Reiks Hall instead of the reactor, not that I mind them taking out that ugly hunk of junk.”

Men surrounding the speaker laughed derisively. Meris leaned towards the younger man with severity.

“That ‘hunk of junk’ powered the entire sector.”

“Seems we’re getting on just fine without it.” The man gestured flippantly to the chamber lights.

“Same people that built the reactor built this place.”

The man shrugged.

“You shrug.”

“Yeah.”

“The reactor isn’t running. There will be outages. Outages mean death for those on life support.”

“What’s your problem?”

“My problem? You’re sitting there celebrating terrorism and you ask me what my problem is.”

“Terrorism is a matter of perspective. If anyone’s the terrorists, its the Consortium. Detaining people without a trial. You know they locked up kids?”

“They detained the monsters that destroyed the reactor and everyone suspected of supporting them.”

“So? I say fuck um all. Consortium, and the damned reactor.”

“Many of my friends died in that explosion.” The old man stated with rising emotion, his visage pocked with wrath and despair, knuckles white about his jittering glass.

“And how many people have died because of the Consortium? Because of Kryos?”

“You tell me. How many?” The young man fell silent, brows knitting. “You’ve no idea, do you?”

“Whatever.”

“How about every mother and father, daughter and son slaughtered in the blast? You think they deserved to die? Or does it not matter to you either way?”

“Take it easy.”

“Easy…” The old man slammed his cup upon the table. “I should take it easy while a Souther celebrates the murder of my friends?”

“You got a problem with Southers?”

“No. Just Southers like you. Consortium gives you all the handouts you demand and what do you people do? Spit in their face. In our face.”

“You’re starting to piss me off.”

“You people are parasites.”

The young man rose from his seat and grabbed the old man by the collar and threw him from his seat as the other patrons watched warily, the closest jumping from their perches and backing cautiously away from the scuffle. As the young man drew his arm back to strike the old man, a hand caught his forearm.

“That’s your elder, not your sirloin.”

Meris looked up from the ground to behold a middle aged man, battered and bruised, with a sling about his right arm and messy hair that spun up from his head in short, slick whorls. The face was familiar.

“This is none of your concern, CAV-keep,” the souther snarled, observing the monochrome Vilar Corp jacket and pulling his arm free of the interloper’s grasp.

Ryard Vancing surveyed the man calmly, stolidly.

“That man is my friend. I’ve business with him.”

“You didn’t hear what he said.”

“You can return to bashing each other’s brains in after I’m done talking to him,” Ryard plucked a glass of alcohol off a oblivious, nearby server drone and handed it to the man with a smile as the payment was deducted from his module. “In the meantime, drinks are on me.”

Reluctantly, the souther took the glass and, with a final glare at the old man, turned and strode back to his seat as his companions eyed the scene furtively, muttering amongst themselves. After the attacker departed, the CAV-keep pulled his friend from the ground.

“You trying to get yourself killed, Holleran? He’d have taken your head off if I hadn’t come in when I did.”

“Probably. And… I appreciate it. Just… had a lot on my mind lately,” the old man sighed and ran a hand through his unkempt hair, matting it back from his prominent brow, “Thinking about Hal and Carol and… well, that souther son-of-a-bitch was praising them.”

“Who?”

“The terrorists.”

Ryard’s eyes narrowed and a dark expression passed across his face and was gone just as swiftly.

“What happened to you anyways?”

“I don’t have time to explain. Do you still have your priority lane pass?”

“Everything’s been hectic after the attack. Don’t know what deal the company is gonna work out with the staff, higher ups probably don’t know yet either. Whatever they’re doing or decide, I still have full CAV-way privileges – but so do you, why do you-.”

“I don’t have my lev-han.”

“Let me guess – you wanna borrow mine?”

“Yes. Its urgent.”

“What is?”

“There’s no time.”

“If whatever you’ve gotten yourself into is that bad,  you had better go to the Security Commission.”

“They’ll pull me in for questioning and…” he lowered his uneven voice to evade the prying ears of the bar patrons, “Lives are at stake.”

The old man surveyed Vancing for a long moment, his critical eyes roaming over the battered, yet wholly determined face.

“Alright. I trust you. And Vancing.”

“Yeah?”

“Would be nice if my han returned in better condition than you arrived.”

Ryard smiled.

“Will do, sir.”

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 27

Previous chapter

Ermin Gild stared at the numerous screens set up in his spacious office, news feeds playing on every one. His hands tightly clasped together, chin upon his knuckles. Dark bags under eyes that darted to every blur of motion.

Mounting migrant asylum demands. Rising concerns over terrorist violence and potential lockdowns. Discussions of KSRU raids. Disturbances at the northern agricenter. A missing CAV-keep.

After a few minutes of attentive screen-gazing, a woman wearing a long skirt, frilly top, and thin, pale violet scarf entered the room. She knocked gently on the doorjam and waited.

“What is it, Theresa?”

“The Board has come to a conclusion.” Gild straightened in his chair and looked towards the woman intently. “They’ve decided against Kryos’ recommendation. The Chancellor ordered a city-wide lockdown, effective immediately.”

Gild closed his eyes, sighing with mild frustration.

“Of course they did. Old fools. He played them like cards.”

“What do you mean?”

Gild rose and began pacing slowly about his office, hands in his pockets.

“As you know, trade with the Eastern Federation has proven highly profitable and has allowed our company to circumvent reliance on Kryos’ Industries for manufacturing.”

“Yes.”

“Given this, and the partisan’s recent interferences, he’s been rather hawkish on border issues. Wants it shut. Tightly.”

“I see.”

“The Board fears the public has begun to view Kryos as an autocrat, and them, ineffectual beaurocrats. They needed to muster a display of power against Kryos, or at least convince the public that they had done as much. And I, as you also know, have, for several months, been urging them to do just that. Aided by Ponos’ fanaticism and Raka’s reaction of Kryos’ rather… extreme handling of the insurgents. Kryos was aware of this, of course, which is why his vote was seemingly uncharacteristic. He was counting on being contested.”

“He voted to keep the city open to ensure it would be closed.”

Gild nodded, amused and annoyed. After several moments he withdrew his left hand from his pocket and glanced at the clock on his affin module and languidly turned to the woman with a look of concern.

“Has anyone found Professor Grazen yet?”

She shook her head. He nodded dourly.

“I’m heading out for an early lunch. I plan on drowning my troubles in copious quantities of alcohol. Care to join me?”

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 25

Previous chapter

The men and women of Aestival moved as a pack, eight in number, through the labyrinthian alleyways of the city as rain pelted all from the roiling red-gray welkin. Their muscles taunt; eyes sharp; hearts pounding; weapons primed.

Upon entering the HEZ, they paused to recover and take in their surroundings, checking the meticulously detailed map displayed on their wrist-bound receivers, then surveying the sidewalkless expanse of high-stacked thoroughfares and magnetic rail lines. A screaming mineral lattice to encase the sky.

“Are you sure we can trust Vangr’s information?” Gerard inquired suddenly, pausing as they approached the Northwing Detention Facility, shoes kicking dust that lay heavy upon the ground, composed of years of accumulated rail-shavings and cargo-spills.

“All of the information he’s provided us so far has been sound. Why would he start lying now? It gains him nothing.” Carduus replied as she peeked around the corner of a large industrial warehouse, out of which moved numerous cargo drones, bearing resined crates on insectal arms.

“For profit. Credits. Status. Same as most anyone else.”

“Vangr isn’t interested in credits or status.”

“He isn’t interested in our cause either.”

“Not the time. Nor the place. You losing your nerve?”

“No.”

“Then shut your mouth.”

Gerard resentfully resigned himself to silence as the party waited for the automated cargo-carriers to pass down the street, whereupon they crept from their hiding place and swarmed across the dusty, ground-level thoroughfare, ragged cloaks flapping in the wind. Everywhere the scent of steel and chalk and drying cement.

As they reached the detention facility block they spied a cluster of aerial surveillers flitting through the misted heights. Carduus dropped to her stomach, throwing her pale gray hood up and spreading her cloak about her body.

“Get down.”

The rest of the pack quickly emulated the woman’s motions, positioning themselves flat and still upon the cool and faint-dusted concrete. There they lay until all trace of the surveillers had passed, then they rose and jogged steadily to the back entrance of the wardenless prison. At the portal into the complex’s shiftyard, Carduus halted and turned to her inferiors, feeling the harsh concrete wall before her with one hand.

“This is a grab job. In and out. No deviation. The target is our only priority.” Carduus turned to Aune, who nervously scanned the sky for the silvery sheen of more surveillance drones, “Anyone gets in our way gets taken out; anyone who falls behind gets left behind.”

All nodded save Aune.

Carduus struck the wall lightly and withdrew her weapon.

“Form up. Lets catch ourselves a monster.”

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 24

Previous chapter

Weber closed the door to his apartment in the central sector with a sigh and stretched.

“I’m home. Stopped by the store. Picked up some of that chocolate fudge mix you like.”

He walked to the kitchen and placed a parcel of instacake on the counter, furrowing his brows as silence returned his greeting.

The subtle sound of sobs mutedly reverberated from the adjacent chamber. Low and muted and female.

“Honey?”

He turned, peering into the living room where his wife sat upon the couch, shoulders slumped and dejected.

“Cynthia?”

Weber dashed into the room and froze as he spied a figure sitting silently on a chair in the left corner, obscured by shadow. The man was of average height and build, distinguished by stark white plate, inlaid with glistening vermeil and wore a full-helm tactical mask that completely hid his face, characteristic of Kryos’ special reconissance operators.

Weber drew his cutter and aimed the weapon at the intruder’s head and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The trigger wouldn’t budge. He tried pulling the trigger once more. The back-panel flashed the words ‘Invalid target.’ The masked man looked towards the weapon and then to Weber’s face and spoke, his voice hissing and crackling with distortion, as from a distant loudspeaker.

“Civilization is an act of trust. Where the latter is sufficiently absent, so to shall be the former. Your wife realized this. I wonder, Mr. Weber, do you?”

Weber lowered his weapon and looked to the woman, whose eyes were streaked with tears.

“Is it true?”

Weber looked over his shoulder and discovered a man in white armor standing at the threshold of the kitchen. He turned to the stair directly across the room that let up to the half-finished nursery and beheld a third man, silent and still as statuary, upon the landing.

The officer sat slowly down upon the couch beside his wife and set the cutter upon the table and looked up at the masked man before him.

“What do you want?”

“Its useless to question when you already know the answer.”

Weber was silent a long moment, his face wracked with indecision until he beheld his wife’s pleading expression.

“Grazen. Professor Eric Grazen.”

“He worked with Soriya Haldeck. I induce this is how he came to be aware of the DS project?”

“Yes. She told him everything. He’s the one who offered up the hide-out for Haldeck and Vangr. When they botched the job he put the word out to me and a few others.”

He looked to his wife’s tear-stained face. She only shook her head and looked away.

“I require the names of these ‘others.'”

The masked man fixed Weber in the onyx sheen of his lenses, as he did, the officer sagged his head and began to weep.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter Six

Previous chapter

There was no sound within the dim-lit azure room, save the labored breaths of the captives. A man and a women knelt upon the ground, recovering from stupor, nude and bound at the neck, hands and ankles by scandium restraints, beside a great pool that stretched nearly the entire length of the room, in which sleek forms darted and writhed, dim-lit from below such that its rays, glistening like sliver, splayed the slated walls and low ceiling above.

Before the prisoners, dozens of hovering drones, argent and barely visible, cut wide, silent arcs through the air above the reservoir. Some dipping slowly in and out of the pool.

A placeless voice echoed. Gentle, yet resolute.

“I could square the circle, were there chalk enough. Yet your nails scrape the board.”

From the waters, dark shapes stirred and made way for the slowly surfacing form of a pale man garbed in a sleek, scaled obsidian vestment. He wore tight gloves and padded shoes of similar material. His hair, short and swept back by the liquid. Unblinking electrum eyes, effulgent in the gloam. Flashing like calcite in a mineshaft.

“Aestival’s faithful. Here. Now. Disrobed. In body. As in spirit.”

The words sounded from all directions.

The bound man looked into the murky reach and spoke with trepidation and disdain.

“You’re killing this world.”

“I am reforging it. You are killing. Noble blood has been shed because of you and your compatriot’s actions, Mr. Kallen. Had you and Ms. Elleway not organized the attack on the grid, many would still be alive and we would not be having this conversation. It is useless to argue. Time is an arrow. And we are not yet the archers. The bow is missing. The quiver, empty.”

Raymon Kallen, shackled and despondent, looked to the woman, five feet to his left. Fear stark upon her face. Kallen grimaced.

Eidos moved towards the pair without looking directly at either, stepping from the pool by way of a wide stair that ended even with the landing; the drones dutifully following in his wake, like a great, metallic cloak.

“What do you want?” The woman screeched suddenly.

Kryos bent slightly to the woman and took her face gingerly in his left hand, raising her chin. He paused a moment, observing her visage and then spoke evenly.

“To see your soul. Clear as your flesh.”

“Leave her alone!” Kallen thundered. Kryos ignored the injunction and stared fixedly down at the young woman before him, who shivered fearfully under his touch.

“A fertile specimen. The seed, yet to be planted.”

Tears streamed from the corners of her large brown eyes as Kryos caressed her cheek. “Beautiful. Yet barren. Like a desert plain.”

“Take your hands off of her, you sick sonofabitch.”

Kryos gently wiped a tear from the woman’s eye and straightened, looking towards the small droplet of water upon his finger. He smudged it between thumb and index with a look of fascination.

“When you murdered your fellows, did you weep for them?”

Elleway moaned and bent over her knees, forehead to the floor.

“Leave her alone!” Kallen screamed, pulling against the metallic restraints which bound him to the floor.

Eidos straightened, gazing out across the pool, where the strange shapes coiled beneath the surface.

“Bloody lovers. Unfruitful in their union. Steadfast in stagnation. Had you children, what would they say?”

The drones pressed close to the quivering woman’s body as she raised her head and looked toward Kryos.

“Please,” the woman begged, gripping the man’s legs, “Forgive me.”

“Elle. Don’t.” Kallen warned.

“I’ll do anything. Anything.”

“Stop.”

“Anything?” Kryos mused opaquely, still looking out across the placid waters.

“Yes. Anything. Don’t hurt me. Please.”

Kryos removed a whale-bone dagger from beneath the folds of his synthetic scaled overcoat and handed it to the woman, gesturing towards Kallen.

“Fair exchange for fair value. Life spared. If taken.”

“What assurance do I have?”

“Elle!”

“The choice is yours—alone. Decide. Now.”

Kallen shook his head as the woman reluctantly took the blade.

“Elle, what are you doing?”

Kryos gestured at the restraints, causing them, as if by some gealdory, to fall from the woman’s body and clatter about the shimmering, marbled floor.

The woman rose hesitantly, for a moment, unable to look toward her comrade.

“You can’t trust him. You think he’ll let you go? Are you out of your mind?”

She walked towards Kallen as if under the auspices of a leaden cloak, tearful but resolved, as the drones followed attentively, curious of the scene’s portents.

“Elle. I love you. You’d throw it all away? You’d throw it all away?”

The woman shook her head and tightened her grip on the blade and drew back her hand to strike.

“Elle!”

The dagger fell.

Kallen gasped, closing his eyes, waiting for the pain and eternity’s embrace.

After two beats of his heart, he opened his eyes and looked down to behold the dagger’s blade.

A hologram. Flickering.

Elle moaned and stabbed him again with the false brand, shoving the fuzzing projection at his chest til the flat, ineffectual hilt met skin with a muffled thump.

Weeping, she straightened and dropped the bladeless dagger. Body quaking. Her eyes, wide, fearful and ashamed.

Eidos gestured towards the woman, holding Kallen’s terror-struck gaze as the drones began to hum with increasing volume.

“The soul. Naked as the flesh. Vainly does it abjure the hollow contrition of its crux. ”

The drones shrieked and tore the woman in half, throwing her rent and leaking corpse into the pool where it was swarmed by the dark shapes within. Monstrous eels; electric blue eyes widening with feral bloodlust. Distended jaws, rheum-smattered and unsated. Amethyst beneath the frothing waves.

Kallen watched with horror. No words availed themselves to his trembling lips.

He hung his head and wept as Eidos stalked slowly towards him. The sounds of the ichorous beasts’ feast filling the cavernous expanse.

“We fought for freedom.” Kallen cried suddenly, eyes bugging from his sockets, body convulsing with hysterical emotion.

“To hold freedom as an ultimate end is not to be free, but to be bound by desire for it. Acceptance of subjugation is necessary for liberation from abject constraint. Your misapprehension of freedom, of desire, has cost you both.”

Kryos ran his hands through Kallen’s hair tenderly.

“When the square is drawn. When the last, scraping finger is severed. We will stand athwart the carcass of the cosmos, and hang a new dawn upon an artificial sky.”

Next chapter

The Dauntless Rook (§.15)

Continued from §.14

Luned gasped as she spied Oeric Adair through the keyhole of her flat. The comitem walked patiently, yet eagerly, behind the corpulent, key-jangling landlord, Hoston Sprill. Both men advanced slowly, but steadily, down the corridor; scant minutes from the door.

“Damn that conniving wind-tossed scoundrel. This is all his fault.” She muttered, backing past the divan and the sofa, swiftly towards the tiny apartment’s only window. When she turned full round, she nearly screamed.

Casually lounging upon the sill was Drake Dren, shorn of his recently riven coat, smiling like a jackal.

“How goes it?”

“How many times must I tell ya not to do that, damn thee. Where in blazes have ya been?”

Luned straightened as the sound of Hoston’s fist resounded upon the door of the cramped and peeling flat. Then a pause and a voice following.

“Ms. Luned? Mr. Dren? Anyone home? Its Hoston. Hello? I’ve a gentleman whose most desirous to meet ye.”

“What say you? Shall we stay and chat with Hoston and his friend?”

“Of course not – its Adair. Thou hath said-”

“Of that later. Come.”

Without hesitation, Drake took the woman’s left arm and guided her through the open window to a ladder he’d laid against the side of the tenement to reach the sill. Where he acquired the ladder, Luned had no idea. The man threw his legs out, grabbed the sides of the ladder and slid down a little, smiling at his own successful display of agility, as Luned gasped and redoubled her grasp.

“Curb thy trepidation. Manful make thy heart.” He whispered up to the woman with a grin before sliding all the way down to the bottom of the contraption.

“Mettlesome blighter.” She huffed hotly before beginning her descent.

When the woman made it to the bottom of the ladder, Drake withdrew the device from the side of the tenement and, to Luned’s very great surprize, began folding it up as one might a newspaper, speaking in tones of feigned offense all the while.

“To reproach me for thy own proclivities is to reproach thyself. Or didst thee forget how came our divan and sofa? A simple ‘thank ye’ would be sufficient.”

When the portable ladder was folded to the size of a large suitcase, Drake stuffed it in a heavy and battered leather pack that lay in the alley adjacent their sill and surveyed the alley.

“Where on earth did ya get that?” Luned inquired, gesturing to the pack.

He shushed the woman and drew up his hood, turning away from the woman, and moving into the shadows as a grim figure ambled into view at the leftern end of the alley.

“Who’s that?”

“A man best avoided,” he whispered without pausing, heading to the right exitway.

“Its him isn’t it – the assassin?”

“Aye. He knows me not in my present state and thou art wholly foreign to his experience. Quell thy tongue and shift away.”

She nodded and moved up to his side. Together they passed swiftly to the far right side of the alley, whereupon a considerable throng had gathered in the great thoroughfare beyond. The avenue, however, was obstructed by two large men who stood shoulder to shoulder, clad in heavy haurberks of the paramount.

“Excuse me, sirs, may we pass?”

“Sorry miss,” the smaller of the two guards replied courteously, “Baron Avarr has recently arrived at the outskirts, enroute to Tor. Consequently, the Lord Paramount has commanded the main thoroughfare sealed, to make way for his lauded guest’s procession. Considerable is the host, even now, and word has yet to fully spread; when it does, there will doubtless be all manner of disorder, which our dispensation shall, our lord hopes, in some measure abate.”

The sound of cheers, trumpets and drums flared in the distance.

“I’ve heard he contributed considerably to the war-effort.”

“Aye. Victoriously he returnth.”

The larger guard gesturing flippantly towards the opposite end of the lane, “We’ve answered ya query. Begone. Both of ye.”

Luned and Dren exchanged looks whereupon Dren drew forth, cleared his throat and pulled from his shoulder-slung pack Adair’s plumed cap, revealing the tag to the guards.

The guards furrowed their brows, perplexed.

“Recognize ye the crest?” the thief intoned in his best Adair impression.

The smaller guard’s eyes widened.

“The crest of House Adair! My comitem… please accept my apologies. I recognized thee not.”

“That is precisely as I had intended it – for thou art doubtless primed of the dire circumstance which previously dogged me.”

“Aye milord. And so the cloak.”

“Indeed.”

“A wise precaution. We are pleased to see thee safe.”

The guards then parted and Dren, assuming an air of amiable regality, extended his arm to Luned who took it with a grin.

Arm in arm, the designing pair passed beyond the lane to the great and crowded thoroughfare as a cacophony of ringing steel foretokened the baron’s arrival.

 

*

 

continued in part 16 (forthcoming)

Elevens (2001)

(Excerpt from the novel Fiona’s Guardians by Dan Klefstad)

 

“You count the money. I’ll count the blood.” Daniel pushes the open case of dollars toward Jesús who in turn opens a large cooler releasing a cloud of mist. The cooler is tied to a dolly. Daniel’s gloves lift blocks of dry ice, revealing pint bags labeled O negative, A negative, A positive, B positive, etc. All will be consumed during a single meeting of Fiona’s extended family. The O negative is for her.

“All good.” Daniel replaces the ice and shuts the lid. “Let’s do this again sometime.”

“You got it.” Jesús shakes hands and nods toward the twin-engine plane fronting a skyline of red rock formations. “Baron, huh? What’s it cruise, 200 knots?”

“I’m not a pilot.” Daniel grins. “I just hire them.” He tilts the dolly back while Jesús opens the door. “I need a steady source for O negative. What can you get me every other week?”

Jesús shrugs. “80 or 90 pints. Maybe 100.”

“Get me 100 and I’ll pay 200 bucks a bag.” Daniel pushes his cargo into the morning sun. “See you in two weeks?”

“You got it. I’ll have 100 for you.”

Outside, today’s pilot – Bud — opens the baggage door. When Daniel unstraps the cooler, each grabs a handle and lifts. Bud groans. “This feels heavier than what we agreed.”

“131.5 pounds, like I told you.” Daniel grunts through his teeth.

Bud puts his end into the cabin. “Same as my daughter who flew with me yesterday. Course, she’s at the age where she’d kill me for telling. You got kids?”

“None that I weighed recently.” Daniel looks at his watch. “It’s after six. Let’s go.”

Bud starts the engines. “Sedona traffic, this is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha taking off runway Two-One, left turnout.”

That you, Elevens? It’s Boxcar on your six. Where you headed?

“Goin’ to Chicago with all that money I won last night.” He turns onto the taxiway.

Me too.”

“Uh, I recall you leavin’ more than you came with.”

“I meant Chicago. And I was doin’ all right until you dropped triple Jacks. I’m staying at the downtown Hilton. Sure would love a chance to get my five hundred dollars back.”

“Game on!” A smile creeps across Bud’s face. “Of course, we could bet that five hundred on a race to Chi-Town.”

“Hmm. Where you stopping for fuel?”

“Garden City, Kansas.” Bud enters the runway. “Wanna make it double or nothin’?”

“That’a Texas-sized 10-4.”

Bud opens the throttle and the engines roar in stereo. Seconds later they’re airborne, white wings disappearing into a cerulean panorama. He looks in the mirror at Boxcar’s Mooney lifting off. “So, Mr. Strange, what’re we haulin’ today?”

Daniel is so entranced by the Mars-red surface he almost forgets his “business” name, Robert Strange. “Uh, lab samples. Tissue. Can’t say much beyond that.”

“Long as it ain’t stem cells – or clonin’.” Bud shakes his head. “So sick of people playin’ God when they should be worshipping Him. You a church-goer?”

“It’s been a while. I might come back.”

“Don’t wait too long. Never know when Judgement Day will arrive.”

“So why do they call you Elevens?”

“My lucky number. Born November 11. On my eleventh birthday I went to church for the first time and got moved by the Holy Spirit. At twenty-two, I became a father for the first time. And at the age of thirty-three, after wandering in the desert so to speak, I came back to Jesus. Yessir, born again.” He pauses. “Of course, you heard about my last winning hand.”

“Three Jacks.”

“Which was the eleventh hand of the game.” His right hand goes up. “God as my witness, I kid you not.”

Daniel wrinkles his forehead. “I’m trying to remember the significance of eleven in the Bible. All I remember are twelves.”

“Right, the number of apostles, and the age Jesus was when he questioned scholars in the temple. Plus, twelve sons of Jacob who formed the twelve tribes of Israel. Yep, the good book likes an even dozen. But eleven is connected to the main event for people in my church – hold on.” Bud listens to frequency traffic for several seconds. “Chatter on the east coast. Reports of a plane crashing into a skyscraper.” He shakes his head. “Where were we?”

“Eleven in the Bible.”

“Right. Eleven appears less often in scripture but when it does, it usually signifies judgement. Take the Book of Genesis. In Chapter 11, mind you, mankind rebels against God and builds the tower of Babel. God responds by confusing their language – literally, they start babbling, and the result is chaos.” He pauses to listen again. “The apostle John had eleven visions in connection with the final judgement. And the Gospel of John tells of eleven promises God makes to mankind, beginning with everlasting life if you believe in Christ and ending with a call to obey Jesus. My takeaway: Eleven is a sign to get right with the Lord before Judgement Day.” Listening again. “For the sake of completeness, I’ll note that our savior was 33 when he was crucified.” He presses a headphone tight against his left ear. “Another plane hit the World Trade Center – South Tower this time – and now they’re saying both were airliners. Looks like an attack of some sort.”

“Let me hear.”

Bud switches to an AM channel and they listen silently for several minutes. The news gets worse as reports come in about another airliner crashing into the Pentagon. Even the distance of two time zones can’t deaden the reality that the nation is under attack. There’s confusion about a fourth plane which, at first, was headed for the White House but now lies burning on the ground in Pennsylvania. Aboard each plane, the hijackers shouted “Allāhu akbar” – 11 letters spelling “God is greatest” — as they used boxcutters to slit crewmembers’ throats. Now the media is sharing voice messages from those trapped in the burning towers. Daniel keeps swallowing to quell the emotions rising in his throat. Bud just lets his moans, groans, and tears flow unchecked. He improvises a prayer:

“Dear Lord, it’s Elevens here, your perennial sinner. I know we haven’t spoken directly about my little gamblin’ problem, but I’d like to make sure we’re square. If this is your Final Judgement, please have some mercy and take this flawed but well-meaning servant to sit by your side. If, however, this is a trial you’ve set for us, I’m ready to show my devotion by givin’ up cards. Just, please, give me a sign. Show me the way.” He turns to Daniel. “If you need help prayin’ – maybe you forgot some of the words – I can help.”

“I’m sure my fate has already been decided.”

Bud looks forward. “And Lord, let’s not forget our quiet friend here, Mr. Strange. He may be a mystery, but I’m guessin’ his intentions are just as noble as mine. That, I believe, makes him worthy of your protection. Amen.”

Albuquerque Center to all aircraft: All flights are to immediately land at the nearest facility. This is a nationwide order from the FAA. Repeat: Land immediately.

“Ask for a sign, receive one.” Bud clears his throat. “Albuquerque Center, this is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha. Message received. Over.” He spreads a chart across the control wheel. “No long runways in front of us, so we’ll have to turn around.”

“No.” Daniel holds a pistol in his right hand. “Keep going.”

“You out of your mind? I’ll lose my license – and my livelihood.” Bud’s eyes land briefly on the gun. “Careful with that trigger. We’ll both die if you pull it.”

“I’m not pulling anything so long as you keep flying.”

Bud sighs. “Mr. Strange, you’re makin’ a big mistake. And it’s a hell of a thing to do, dragging me into whatever scheme you got going on.” He glances back. “I’m guessin’ that’s not lab samples, is it? What are you into, drugs?”

“The less you know, the safer we both are.”

“Sounds like you’re in deep.” Bud softens his voice. “Look, man, it’s not too late. I’ll testify in your favor if you just give me the gun and let me follow orders.”

“We’re all obeying someone, Bud. Just get us to Garden City.”

“And then what? You can’t take off. All flights are grounded!”

“Let me worry about that.”

Barron One-One Two-Two Alpha, Albuquerque Center. Turn around now and land at Sedona. That is an order.

Daniel pushes the gun closer. “Don’t acknowledge.”

Bud exhales and puts both hands on the wheel. After several seconds, he shakes his head. “The Lord is testing me today. With signs I do not like.”

“When we land,” Daniel adjusts his tone, “I’ll pay your second installment early, and we’ll part ways. The world has no time right now for this little problem between us.”

“Problem? You hijack my plane and call it a ‘little problem’? That is a breach of trust, my friend, and comes at a time when my very identity is shaken to its core.”

“Identity?”

“Eleven has always been my number — whether it’s cards, horses, or life events. Then this morning happened. I woke up and said, ‘It’s the 11th of September, gonna be a good day.’ But clearly, it’s not. It’s a shitty day for everyone – possibly the worst in our nation’s history. That’s one sign.” He points at the gun. “Next, I’m held up by a Colt M1911. And now,” he punches his door, “111 miles from Sedona, we get intercepted.”

“What?”

“LOOK OUT YOUR GODDAMN WINDOW.”

Daniel’s jaw drops when he sees an F-16 with its flaps open and gear down, slowing into formation. Its pilot raises a hand, finger pointed down.

Barron One-One Two-Two Alpha, this is Captain “Spike” Ripley of the United States Air Force. I’m in visual contact and will shoot you down if you fail to comply with the following order: Land immediately. Repeat: Land immediately.

“There’s nowhere.” Bud is sweating. “NOWHERE TO FUCKING LAND!”

Daniel snatches the chart. “There’s a private strip on a mesa up ahead.”

“What’s the heading?”

“25 miles straight ahead.”

“Length?”

“What the mesa?”

“RUNWAY.”

“2,900 feet.”

Bud snatches it back. “Shit, that mesa looks half the size of Sedona. It’ll be like landing on an aircraft carrier – which I’ve never done before.”

Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha, this is your final warning. Land immediately.

Bud’s voice cracks. “Don’t shoot, Captain! Gimme two seconds.” He switches on the landing lights, decelerates, and snaps his fingers at Daniel. “Airport elevation.”

“What?”

“FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL.”

“4,700.”

Bud clears his throat. “This is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha, descending. God bless you, sir, and God bless the United States of America.” He glances over. “I’m assuming there’s no tower at this little outpost we’re shootin’ for.”

“Correct.”

“Well, brace yourself, because crosswinds are gonna be a problem.” He scowls when he notices the gun again. “Put that away.”

“Are you calm now?”

“Fuck you.”

Daniel complies and settles into his seat as the runway comes into view, sitting atop a block of crimson stone. The approach is fairly calm until a quarter mile out, when a gust knocks them off target. Bud’s knuckles are white as he raises the nose and straightens out against the crosswind. Back on track, he finally lowers the wheels, adjusting for the extra resistance which now appears to come from everywhere. At 500 yards, the plane shakes violently while Bud struggles to stay on target. At 200 yards, he pulls back on the wheel, keeping the nose up, while gunning the engine to stay above the rim. At 50 yards, a giant gust pushes the plane below the runway. Bud yanks back again and accelerates sharply as the rocky face grows bigger. Nearly above the rim, Daniel sees another plane above them.

“Shit, that you Elevens? I’m on top of you.”

“THE FUCK, BOXCAR. ABORT LANDING.”

“Pulling up.”

Too late. The Baron’s wheels catch the rim and collapse, causing them to skid diagonally across the runway. They knock aside a parked helicopter, then hit another plane before smacking into a hangar. As he slowly regains consciousness, Daniel hears a gurgling sound. Turning his head, he sees Bud’s eyes staring down at a long piece of metal in his throat. The gurgling slows to intermittent choking before Bud finally goes silent. Next, Daniel turns to the right and sees his arm hanging out the window, bent the wrong way. A piece of bone sticks out through his bicep.

***

“Daniel.” A familiar voice, but not the one he hoped for. His eyes open to see Søren Fillenius leaning over him, eyes piercing the narcotic haze. He snaps his fingers and waves his hand in front of Daniel’s face.

“Stop it.”

“There he is.” The hand withdraws. “That must be powerful stuff they gave you.”

Daniel looks at the tubes hooked up to his left arm. “Where’s Fiona?”

“Really? I come to your rescue, and she’s all you think about?” He shakes his head. “She’s not coming.”

“Rescue? Bullshit. You’re here for the cargo.”

“I did salvage some A positive. The rest will go to waste because the elders canceled the meeting. I suppose you’ll blame the pilot for our having to reschedule.”

“Waste? Take the O negative to Fiona.”

Søren looks indignant. “I’m not your mule – or hers.”

“You piece of shit. I nearly killed myself to deliver that.”

“Well well, the truth comes out.” Søren’s face comes closer. “I’ve got some truth of my own to share.” Two icy hands grab Daniel’s face and turn it to the right. “Look at what’s left of you and tell me you’re still useful.”

Daniel’s breathing accelerates when he sees the stump wrapped in bandages. “That’s up to Fiona…”

“She and I have already spoken.” Canines appear as Søren’s voice changes to a snarl. “I’m to estimate your value and decide whether you stay employed or remain here. Permanently.”

“I have a new source.” Daniel struggles to speak. “100 bags of O negative every two weeks. That, plus Atlanta and Cleveland, and Fiona is set.”

“Where is this new source?”

“Sedona. All we have to do is hire a new pilot.”

“All the planes are grounded.”

“For just a few days. The economy would collapse.”

“100 bags of O neg, huh?” Søren regards him carefully. “Add 100 of A positive to each flight and I’ll let you live.”

Daniel’s vision fades as the drugs take hold again. A warm, fuzzy feeling spreads throughout his body, and the pain that was rallying begins to recede. At this point, he could care less if Søren brought him home or drained him dry. He wonders if heaven feels this good, and kind of wishes he could slip away forever. Would Elevens be there? His prayer for protection should carry weight, right? With St. Peter or whoever guards the gates? If, however, he must stay here it better be with a steady supply of this shit. The label on the drip bag was hazy but it might’ve said Dilaudid. Maybe Jesús could add a few bags of this, too. Get rid of the bad dreams. Allow him to forget everything.

The shadows gather again. Søren’s voice sounds like it’s coming from an old phonograph. Soon, all Daniel can hear is his own shallow breathing. Sure ain’t hell, that’s for certain…

###

The Dauntless Rook (§.13)

Continued from §.12.

Volfsige could not believe his eyes, for standing before him, in the litter-strewn alley that let out to the smokestacked north, was, against all reason, Oeric Adair, who only minutes prior, had stood in the market square, surrounded by gambesoned mercenaries. Adair had exchanged the stately clothes and short-brimmed cap for the broad-brimmed hat and peculiar crow-feathered coat that Volfsige well-remembered from the mishap at Rasten Yard.

“How on earth could he possibly have transposed himself with such haste? How is it possible for him to appear ahead of me when I had scarcely left him? Some secret passage or… no, there’s no point asking. When I have the man at his last, then to query all.”

Without further thought, Volfsige shifted down the ally, hand upon his dagger, instinctually padding towards his quarry as the man in the crow-feathered coat increased his pace, turning left towards a series of crumbling, labyrinthian tenements, vanishing therein.

The assassin steeled his nerves, slipped through a pack of itinerant bards and work-worn canvassers and entered the rain-pecked stair that let up to the chipped and crumbling housing complex. Moments after he’d started up the staircase he heard a curious creaking. The sound of old metal shearing. Then a light thump, as if a rucksack had fallen from the second story window.

Volfsige, brows raised and muscle’s taunt, dashed to the bottom of the stairs, rounded the corner to the left and discovered Adair running north along the sidewalk with tremendous speed. Volfsige cursed and bolted after the man. He was surprised by Adair’s stamina and agility, which bespoke a seasoned wayfarer or sportsman more than the pampered noble he knew the man to be.

“Forgetful I am. For the comitem evaded my knife when I was primed and he unaware; yet his singularity astonishes me still…”

The crow-coated man flashed his pursuer a wide, crooked smile and increased his pace, making for an alleyway some fifty feet before him, unaware in his turning of a old fruit merchant briskly pushing a cart of Torian melons directly towards him. The quarry gave a startled cry, half of fright, half of amusement, and oer’leapt the cart, abducting one of the berries as he passed. The fruit vendor stood a moment in wide-eyed perplexity, then turned, fast as his stiff and sun-battered body was able and shouted in protestation of the theft, shaking his wrinkled and calloused hands into the air, as if weaving a galdr to vex the gods.

Volfsige upturned the hefty cart and shoved the vendor aside, much to the horror of nearby crowd of market-goers heading towards the great bazaar. Volfsige wasn’t concerned by the throng. He was not known to the city and consequently had no public record of crime. Even if, by aventure, he was arrested, he could be charged for not but disorderly conduct, unbecoming of a guest of Ersentwyer. The worst that could befall him was the confiscation of his hospitality papers. The thought was as a feather upon his mind in comparison to the incursion of his employer’s displeasure.

Volfsige pressed into the alley in which his prey had vanished, only to find the corridor thick with vagabonds, who roused jangling foreign instruments and spun before a makeshift encampment of wagons and cloth as their less frenzied kindred haggled over scraps of cloth and metal. The mangy assortment hailed the assassin with smiles and strummed their instruments and stomped their feet as a medicant appraised a crow-feathered coat, proffered to him by a pale passerby. The medicant nodded approvingly and passed the pallid transient a trampish and high-collared cloak. The smiling seller removed his plumed cap, donned the garment, drew up the hood, slipped from the architectural artery and melted into the passing crowd.

*


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The Dauntless Rook (§.12)

Continued from §.11.

Serlo poured himself a tumbler of scotch as his father ambled into the drawing room of Wealdmar Estate, mahogany cane clacking violently off the decorative and newly-swept marble floor.

“How is our dear Cerelia?” Grædig Wealdmaer inquired with scant concealed venom, taking a seat upon the leather armchair opposite his son, who slouched dejectedly over the worn coffee table, eyes to the grain. Serlo could not be certain, but was confident his father’s severe gray eyes were upon him, and did not wish to meet the old man’s gaze.

“She’s fine father.”

“Fine? How could she be fine when she’s still set to be wedded to an Adair?”

Serlo sighed.

“She loves him, father.”

“Love? How swiftly that word is deployed as universal justification.”

“I tried to talk her out of it. Thou knowth the affair sits ill with me, yet, on the matter, her mind is as flint.”

“Thou should more forcefully ply thyself.”

“Have I not done all that may become my name? What else could I have done? Already she has eschewed her inheritance.”

“Thou could, if more rightly blooded, act the man thou pretends, rebuke her ill-fitting suitor, with tongue and arm alike.”

“This avys, father? Again? I can not.”

Serlo rose swiftly, vexed and shaking his head.

“I can not.” He repeated more emphatically, pacing back and forth with nervous excitation.

“Sit thee down, boy. Warm blooded and womanly, thou art.”

“He has not grieved me.”

“That he is Adair is grievance enough.”

“For thee!”

“And so, for thee.”

“Nay. Nay! What hath I not given thee but blood? Still, thou hath the temerity to chastise me?”

“Temerity thou couldst use. Curse thy pacing. Sit, damn ye!”

Yetta Wealdmear frowned as she moved into the drawing room, elegantly gowned, pausing in the entrance to better observe the debacle.

“Whatever is the matter?”

“Hear thy mother not? Go on, boy. Flap thy gums since thine bawdryk evades thy callow exercise.”

Serlo opened his mouth to rebuke the old man, thought better of it and spoke to his mother instead without meeting her gaze. He did not wish to see her disapproval anymore than his father’s.

“Father wants me to present a writ of grievance to Adair.”

“He’s still on about it? Why so excited my dear boy? Surely thou art not afraid?”

“Have ye not see the papers?”

“No, I eschew those wretched things.”

“He was attacked.”

“Oeric?”

“Aye.”

“Who by?”

“No one knows. Whoever it was, they wanted him dead.”

“Thou should be thanking them, not mincing thy words and wringing thy limp and lotioned hands.”

“Father!”

Grædig Wealdmaer slammed his ciser upon the table and rose, ambling stiffly towards his son, cane at his side, face twisting with disdain.

“Had I the alauntz of my youth, I should have long-since thrashed the welp across the grand thoroughfare, were he man enough to face me. But thee, nobly born, who are so able in thy faculties, shake as a gale-blown leaf. Thou art a coward.”

“Grædig!” Yetta cried in dismay.

“Why must thee treat me so wretchedly?”

The old man looked his son up and down and once more rapt his cane.

“Allye thou art, that worsens the humiliation of this betrayal of bachilrie.”

He sighed and turned away.

“Perhaps, for this, I bear some blame.”

“By noon assent, Father. I am sorry to dissapoint thee so. I shall not do so again; this, I promise thee.”

Thereafter, Serlo, red-faced and despondent, spun on his heel and left the room.

 

*

 

Continued in §. 13 (forthcoming)