Welcome to the 50th issue of WGP. This is the final issue for me, and I decided that I wanted to feature as many stories as possible. The easiest way to do that is to feature as many libraries as possible, so today, I went through the Fan-Fic forum, and grabbed links to every library I could find. So this month, it's time to...
Below, you will find all the links I found. Check out these libraries, enjoy some great stories, and leave comments:
If there was more than one library for the same thing, I went with the most recent. If the library was empty or had been edited to be empty, I didn't include it (except for one which indicated it was being overhauled). If I missed your library, I apologize. As you can imagine, scrolling through 181 forum pages can make you a little bleary-eyed, and I was bound to miss something. Bump your library to the front page, or message me, and I'll add it here. I'll also be adding new libraries as I see them appear in the forum.
Thanks for staying with me the last eight months, and hopefully, someone will take this over! Contact @dngn4774 for permission, if your interested- he started it, so he should get the say on who continues it.
As always, thanks for stopping in, and thanks for reading. -cb
Once a Nosvonamatar enters military bondage, as all do at their last molt, they win or they die. If they die, they rot. If they win, they wallow in it- literally- and they never wash again, lest they lose the spoils of their victories. And they do spoil- putridly so. It’s a boast of their prowess: yes, you can smell them approaching, they know it, and they advance on you anyway, assured of their victory. It’s not often an idle boast.
The Nosvonamatar fight as fiercely with fang, claw and tails as they do with raw, unrestrained science. They have infested the galaxy for ages. They are creatures of many means, numerous victories, and absolute stench. Nowhere is this malodorous atmosphere more nauseatingly inescapable than in the War Hall of the Cogular- ruler by right of the most victories won- which means his spoils have been spoiling the longest. To slog in the bile of his war trench is considered a great honor.
As he approaches the War Hall breathing as shallowly as possible, the Chamberlain tries to remind himself of this fact. Entering the hall with a steady face, the thick gargle of what passes for laughter is replaced by the hiss of females interrupted. Then quick splashes as they slither and dive below the murky surface, leaving barely a ripple in their wakes- a talent that makes them most deadly. “Slipshod! What is it now?” barked the Cogular. He reclined in a shallow portion of the trench, elbows propped on the side, knees protruding above the surface of the hard won muck. His tails twitched in opposite directions, but were mostly submerged.
The Chamberlain inclined his head to one side in deferment to the greeting, and answered, “My lord. Am I disturbing you?”
The ruler grunted, “Hardly.” A serpentine form broke the surface just before him, knotting and writhing in its own coils. The Cogular snarled to reveal a broken fang as his tails curled to slowly push the body back into the briny slop. As it submerged once again, the female’s tail gave a final flick, which threw a little slime onto the Chamberlain’s long toes. His foot betrayed him, twitching backwards involuntarily. The Cogular’s eyes turned to slits and back again. “Do my conquests offend you, Chamberlain?”
The Chamberlain put one claw out placatingly, bowing slightly as he began to back away. “No! Please, my lord…”
“‘Please’ WHAT, Slipshod?!” His great tails erupted from the water, drenching the Chamberlain’s multicolored robes, splashing him in the face, and throwing the female above the surface once again, straight towards him. She wrapped her arms around Slipshod’s neck, coiled her body around his, and then tipped back into the trench, dragging him with her, below the surface. There was no struggle as her coils slowly tightened. The Cogular, now on his feet, plunged his claws below the surface and yanked the female and the Chamberlain together from below. “Do you not recognize the great honor that is afforded to you daily, to merely stand in my presence? Much less to wade in my victories?”
Weakly, the Chamberlain answered, “Of…course…brother...Forgive…my…lord.”
The Cogular’s eyes narrowed at the familial falter, but he nodded at the female. “Enough, Kakaluta.” She frowned as she slackened her coils, but leaned towards the Chamberlain and hissed lightly, tongue flicking in his ear before she slunk back into the trench. The ruler leaned into his brother’s face and showed a broad grin of fearsome teeth. He observed, “I think she likes you, Slipshod,” before dropping him into the mire.
“Impossible. I’m not worthy, my Cogular.”
“See that you remember that, Chamberlain. To show offense to my victories is to challenge my right to them, and my right to rule.”
“I would never…” the Chamberlain started.
“You could never,” corrected the Cogular, turning his back. “Now get up, and tell me of our progress with the humans. How fare the Manowarriors?”
Slipshod stood uncertainly, and began cautiously, “Against the humans? They exceed our expectations. It’s…uh…everything else…”
The Cogular turned back to face him, and with a hint of menace, said, “Explain.”
“If you’ll permit me, my lord, I thought it would be easier to show you.” With that, a holographic display hummed to life between them, and the magnificent Manowarriors sharpened into focus.
Their gargantuan gelatinous hoods billowed on the air currents as they descended from the sky, drawing looks of wonder, confusion, and terror from the primitive humans below. Their rosy tentacles flowed with the passing air, splaying in every direction and causing them to spin slowly as they fell earthward. It might have been beautiful, if not for the massive, fleshy, pink trunk of the creature, that ended in a giant claw, which ringed rows and rows of teeth. Slender blue filaments whipped about from the hood itself, glowing with energy, and causing the awesome creatures to hum.
Despite their seeming gentle descent, they landed with thunderous weight, their claws sinking into the ground, giving them firm purchase. No longer filled with air from their falls, the hoods slapped downwards with a wet, blubbery sound, undulating throughout while the tentacles slammed the ground like felled trees. The filaments dangled but briefly, and then the hoods snapped open with a loud crack, suddenly releasing dozens each of Manowarrior young.
They fell like small bubbles from a larger one, complete with tentacles, filaments and tooth filled trunks. Drifting towards the fleeing humans, the tentacles would ensnare them, the filaments would deliver stings to immobilize them, the claws of the trunks would dig into the base of their spines, and the hoods would drape over the humans’ heads, making the attachment complete. Then there was no more resistance. Every bonded “Humanowarrior” turned towards the towering parent beasts, and stood stock still.
“Excellent,” approved the Cogular. “Efficient use of the Colony Consciousness.”
The Chamberlain’s mouth twitched into something not quite a grin, and glumly said, “Keep watching, my lord.”
The larger Manowarriors then came alive again. The hoods undulated firmly, and the tentacles lanced outwards, rooting into caves, reaching behind boulders and trees, dragging humans from their hiding places. Others were lashed by the filaments- weak connections simply immobilizing with a shock, but firm strikes rendering screaming targets to piles of ash and bone fragments.
Suddenly, there was a large shadow from above, a piercing screech, and a wet SPLORTCH as the top half of the large hood was ripped away by the claws of a diving pteranodon. What remained undulated unsteadily, causing the trunk to wobble, then topple limply into a heap. The Colony Consciousness was stunned by the sudden death of its main brain, and before anything else could be done, other carnivorous dinosaurs stalked in from all directions, smelling the fresh kill of the Manowarrior. What followed was a feeding frenzy, while more pteranodons circled above, waiting to swoop in on the remains of any carcasses.
“What. Is. This?” seethed the Cogular. Even though he was angry, he could not keep the bewilderment from his voice.
“There were more of those, all over the planet,” commented the Chamberlain. As he said this, the hologram showed several Manowarriors descending over the ocean, only to have a pod of humpback whales leap out of the water and bring them down. What the whales didn’t eat, sharks and sardines did. The Cogular made an exasperated noise. His brother pinched the bridge of his nose between two claws, and continued, “It gets worse.”
In a mountainous region, a Manowarrior rooted itself on a snowcapped peak, and froze to death. In another, a volcano erupted, the blast disintegrating a beast that was directly overhead, and the burning ash cloud causing dozens of others to boil in midair and fall from the sky. In a region of the Northern Hemisphere, enormous hailstones pelted the floating creatures, bruising and rupturing them. In a plains area, they were torn apart by tornadoes. In yet another area, the magnificent monsters descended through stormclouds, only to be struck by cloud-to-cloud arcs of lightning, causing them to explode in balls of wet goo and blue energy.
“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!” roared the Cogular.
An unfamiliar voice answered, “Who are you to question the will of your creator, Nosvonamatar?”
The being was fierce and imposing, with a fiery wingspan and features that glowed like lightning. Slipshod gasped and immediately dropped to his knees before him, but was told, “Don’t do it! Stand and attend your master, Chamberlain! For he will give account of his actions this day!” The Cogular could not answer. “Speak up, O king! Why do you attack a planet that every race has been plainly told to avoid? Answer now and be clear!”
“My lord,” offered the Chamberlain. “My Cogular sought to eradicate the humans, as he does all his enemies. He thought if we could eliminate the race which the Creator made for his pleasure, then perhaps the Creator would then find his pleasure in us instead. Forgive us our folly.”
“So you presume to know the mind of God, Nosvonamatar? Then know it now! The Lord takes pleasure in all of his creation, but disobedience is a stench worse than your victories! You will be removed as Cogular, and replaced with another!” Then the angel was gone.
The Cogular was dumbstruck, his eyes wide with fear. “W-wh…what…does this mean?”
The Chamberlain considered for a moment and then answered, “It means…I had my last molt today.” His tails swung around quickly, the bony ends gutting The Cogular where he stood. He watched his brother sway and fall into the muck. Then he wallowed in it.
Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cb
Two Rivers rocked a bit, his hands raised palms up before him. He then clasped his hands together, shook them slightly, and plopped them in his lap as he looked to the sky through the top of the wigwam. The stone left his face as he searched for the right words, but finally just said, “Graycloud was a great help in fighting Coyote, this time.” For once, it was Two Rivers that didn’t meet Johnny’s gaze.
“My horse?” asked Johnny. “He saved me back at the cabin, but he was injured. How did he help you here?”
The shaman raised his eyebrows as he stared out the opening of the teepee, and he said, “Graycloud has much changed since he was a colt.”
Johnny had never seen Two Rivers be evasive before. It would have been funny, if it weren’t so frustrating. “Two Rivers! What happened to my horse?”
“You will see…in time,” answered the shaman. Then clearly changing the subject, he held up the broken necklace from the wolf man that was slain by Coyote. “Do you know what this is?”
“I was hoping someone could tell me,” Johnny answered honestly. “All of them wore one, including this Coyote.” He looked at it laid over Two Rivers’ hands, and noticed its crescent design in the middle, curving downwards with the curve of the beads.
“It is the eye of the wolf,” answered Two Rivers.
“It looks like the moon,” said Johnny.
“Are they not the same?” asked the shaman.
Johnny furrowed his brow, but answered, “Sure, I guess.” He was actually a little aggravated with the wise man bit at the moment, but he figured that was because he hadn’t eaten a decent meal in a month, so he tried not to let it show further. Realizing how hungry he was, he decided to change the subject himself, and he asked, “What’s the possibility of getting some grub?” Two Rivers smiled.
A couple of weeks later, Johnny was up and around, moving easily. He had been practicing at throwing Coyote’s knife, and was getting pretty good. He’d shown a remarkable talent for the javelin as well, but almost none for the bow and arrow, but that was probably because he was so much weaker than usual from having lain around for a month. Or maybe it just wasn’t his weapon.
He put the knife back in its sheath, and for the first time, it occurred to him to wonder where the sheath had come from. He hadn’t gotten a good look at it that night, but he was fairly certain this was the same one worn by the Indian wolf man. He looked at it closely. It did carry Coyote’s crescent moon mark. He strode purposefully to the center of the village where Two Rivers sat on a log. A couple of braves had followed closely behind when they saw Johnny heading for the shaman with a knife, but they were waved off by Two Rivers. He pulled the knife from the sheath and jammed the blade into the dirt before him. Holding out the sheath, he demanded, “How did I get this, and where are my guns?”
Two Rivers only glanced at the sheath, but nodded to the braves behind Johnny, one of whom ran off. The old man pulled a pistol from under his blanket, and handed it to him butt first. The butt had a crescent moon carved in it. “We were not able to simply turn him away while you slept. The knife was not ours to return, so we told him that he must return for it when you awaken. But Coyote is the trickster, so he does not trust easily. He asked for something in return, in case you did not wish to give it back. We gave him your guns.” Just then, the brave returned with a gunbelt.
Johnny took it, looked it over briefly, and said, “And my belt and holsters?”
“And he gave you the sheath for his knife, and his belt and holster” answered Two Rivers, “in good faith. He is a trickster, but often fair in his dealings.”
“FAIR?” shouted Johnny. “He took my family, Two Rivers!”
Two Rivers shook his head lightly. “You took his first.”
Johnny was stunned. He stared at the shaman in disbelief.
“Running Rivers was promised to Coyote by her grandfather, my father,” continued Two Rivers. He raised his eyebrows and shrugged, “What do you think Running Rivers was running from? All rivers run from something and to something else.” He fixed Johnny with a look, and said, “Coyote is often fair.”
Johnny hung his head low and whispered, “Of course. That’s why she was willing to change her name. She was hiding.” Johnny was silent for a minute, and the village waited for his silence to be over. Finally, he breathed deeply, jammed the pistol into its holster, and strapped on the gun. He picked up the knife, sheathed it, and placed it on his other hip.
“You will return that to Coyote?” asked Two Rivers.
“If he wants it, he can come and get it,” answered Johnny, and he turned to leave. A squaw met him with Graycloud, and he took the reins and began walking out of the village.
Two Rivers called after him, “Take heed, Johnny Smokers! You must return that blade and gun to Coyote! As long as you carry them, death and smoke will follow.”
Johnny looked back to the shaman and answered, “They can follow. They just need to stay out of my way.” Then he turned again to leave. The village watched him go.
With his tribe standing around him, Two Rivers watched also. He muttered the soft prayers of a shaman, then spoke quietly, “The Great Spirit run alongside you, Johnny Smokers.”
Next Issue: ?
Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cb
He woke with a start in the teepee, but a hand, old but firm, rested on his good shoulder before he could attempt to sit up. Johnny looked at the hand and followed the arm up to the face of its owner, the shaman Two Rivers- so called because his people say two rivers run through him: his own spirit, and the Great Spirit. Right or wrong, he was one of the wisest men Johnny knew. Right now though, he had a stony look of pain, calm, and angry contemplation that only Indians seem able to master. The old man pressed Johnny’s shoulder one more time, silently telling him to lie still, then said, “It has been many moons, Johnny Smokers.”
Johnny winced, then smiled lightly. His last name was Smuckers, but the old Indian had always said it “Smokers,” and Johnny loved the man’s daughter too much to insult him by correcting him. He could barely look at him now, sure that Maria’s brothers had told him how she died. Johnny expected death, and had no doubt that this man could deliver it. Eyes closed, he started carefully, “Two Rivers…I…”
“I told you that death would find my daughter Running Rivers if you took her as your wife, and here we are,” the shaman said in a voice that rasped like dry leaves. “I gave her up to the Great Spirit when she accepted you as her husband despite my warnings,” he continued. “My anger over her death was spent many winters ago. You need not fear for your life here, Johnny Smokers,” he said knowingly. “For how can I kill you when all that is left of Running Rivers now runs in you alone?” Pressing two fingers over Johnny’s heart, Two Rivers said, “Bound together by the Great Spirit, the river of her spirit now runs in you.”
Now it was Johnny’s turn to look pained. He squeezed his eyes shut tight, and placed his right hand over Two Rivers’. The old man did not flinch from his touch, and after a minute, Johnny said, “Thank you, Two Rivers.”
The old shaman smiled, and stood to leave. “You are welcome, Johnny Smokers.”
Then another thought came to Johnny. “Two Rivers?”
The old shaman stopped at the entrance to the wigwam, his hand resting on the hide wall.
“If the river of her spirit runs through me, does that mean that the river of her mother’s spirit runs through you?”
He looked over his shoulder with that mix of pain and calm, but no anger, gave the briefest hint of a smile and a slow nod.
Johnny smiled back, “Then with the Great Spirit, shouldn’t that make you Three Rivers?”
The old man smiled more definitely now as he turned around fully. Bringing his index fingers together as he walked back to Johnny, he said, “When Mourning Mist and I were joined, our rivers ran together.” He moved the joined fingers in front of him in a wavy fashion, indicating the movements of water. “Once two rivers run together, how do you tell which river the water came from?” Holding the two fingers up together, he twisted his right hand closed, and rolled the left over backwards, now holding the index finger and middle finger up together. “So those two rivers,” he said, folding the middle finger down and turning the index finger back forwards to Johnny, “now become one.” He smiled. “So with the river of the Great Spirit,” he said holding up the other index finger again, “Two Rivers,” he finished.
Johnny nodded slowly, but looked confused. “Then…shouldn’t the Great Spirit run together with you too? Shouldn’t you be One River?”
Two Rivers looked at Johnny with a smile and said, “One does not join with the Great Spirit until they pass from this world, Johnny Smokers. The best we can hope for until then is to run alongside, and drink from his waters.” Leaning towards Johnny with a gleam in his eyes, he held up two fingers again and said, “So Two Rivers,” and laughed lightly, Johnny laughing weakly with him. Patting the man on the shoulder lightly, he decided to sit next to him again and said, “Now rest. We shall talk more when you wake.”
“Tomorrow then,” replied Johnny.
“I did not say tomorrow,” answered Two Rivers.
Johnny worried at that, but soon closed his eyes to sleep. He dreamed terrible dreams of wolves that stood like men, his wife screaming, and a river in which he found peace and safety, because the wolves could not cross it.
When Johnny woke, his shoulder felt better, but he was stiff as a board, and his mouth was dry. Two Rivers still sat beside him. The shaman held a small bowl of water to his lips, he drank, and once the pain from swallowing subsided, he asked, “How long was I sleeping?”
“The fever from your wound took you, and you slept a sleep like death for a moon.”
Johnny thought for a second, repeating, “A moon,” then started with shock as he said, “A month? I’ve been asleep for a month?” He tried to sit up, but Two Rivers put a hand to his shoulder, just as he had done a month ago, and he laid back.
“Yes, and while you slept, Coyote came looking for his knife,” answered Two Rivers. He held the gleaming blade up for Johnny to see and smiled. “We did not let him have it.”
Johnny studied the blade and asked, “Why does that and the arrows of Maria’s bro…” He caught Two Rivers’ scowl and corrected himself, “Running Rivers’ brothers killed a wolf man with arrows, but I emptied my guns into them, and they just got back up.”
Two Rivers turned the blade over in his palm, and holding it up again, he said, “Silver can kill them. I do not know why, but we found much of it in the cave at the foot of the mountain, and we use it to make our arrowheads, our knives, and to tip our javelins. We ran Coyote off with them, as we have done many times.” The shaman studied the knife for a moment before placing it on the ground before him. Johnny could tell that something else was coming, so he waited.
Johnny looked to his left and saw the first wolf he had tackled, bleeding from the head, hoisting itself back up onto the porch. He heard two more growls from his right, and the two near Maria were climbing back up also, one holding its shoulder, the other holding it’s gut. They all wore the same beadwork around their necks. He snapped the half loaded barrel back into the pistol and pointed a gun in each direction. The wolves growled a little louder and suddenly a voice from the yard yelled, “NO!”
Spinning quickly, Johnny swung his guns towards the voice as it said, “He’s mine.” The voice walked calmly through the dust storm, and took the form of a man as it got closer. An Indian actually, with long black hair, a duster, a knife sheathed on one hip, and a gun holstered near his ankle. He was smoking a cigarette, and he wore the same necklace as these creatures around him. The dust storm died abruptly.
Just then, Johnny heard a growl at his back, and felt hot breath on his ear. The wolf from the cabin, still standing? He forgot the man in the yard as he turned slowly towards the creature, its teeth only inches from his face. He instinctively shuffled one foot to attempt to back away, and the beast lashed out, slamming a backhand into Johnny’s chest that sent him flying out into the yard. He landed on his back, his head at the stranger’s feet, looking up into his face. When he realized he had not let go of his guns, he pointed them up at the man.
The Indian did not look impressed. “Do you know why I carry this knife on my hip instead of the gun, stranger?”
‘Stranger?’ thought Johnny. They did all of this, and they don’t even know who I am? Johnny breathed hard and shook with rage. Through gritted teeth, he responded, “Deathwish?”
The man bent down so his face was inches from the barrels, smiled, and said, “To make it a fair challenge.” Johnny went to pull a trigger, but the Indian moved faster, snatching the guns from his hands and tossing them aside.
Then one of the wolves leapt from the porch. The Indian reacted instantly. He whipped the gleaming blade from its sheath, caught the wolf in the belly as it came down, and then slammed him into the ground. Straddling the creature, the Indian ripped the knife from his belly, held the bloody blade to the wolf’s throat and yelled, “I told you: he is mine!” He then slashed the wolf’s throat, tearing the necklace from its neck in the process. The wolf died instantly. The other wolves howled as the Indian wiped the blade in the beast’s fur. He stood, returned the blade to the sheath on his hip, turned towards the other wolves on the porch and roared, “HE’S MINE!” The wolves all stooped and whined, ears laid back on their heads as they backed up and tried to hide behind each other. The Indian’s eyes narrowed, and then he pointed at Maria and said, “But I don’t want her.”
The wolves perked back up at that, and Johnny screamed as they fell upon her. The Indian watched the wolves impassively as Johnny rolled back-and-forth on the ground, sobbing for his wife. The Indian looked on the white man with disgust as he lay face down in the dirt, crying over his woman. He strode over, grabbed Johnny by the hair and jerked his head upwards as he said, “Time to die, boy.”
Johnny came up with his guns in his hands, which he had rolled over on while the Indian wasn’t looking. “I don’t think so,” he raged, as he jammed a gun into the Indian’s face.
The Indian smiled. “Why? Because you have a gun? I’ve already shown you I can take it before you pull the trigger.”
Johnny backed away a step, gun still pointing at the Indian, and he said, “No, not because I have a gun. Because you want me for something.” He backed away out of arm’s reach, but still didn’t feel safe, despite the guns.
The Indian smiled like he could sense Johnny’s fear. “Yes I do,” he stated, as he took a step forward. “I want you for sport,” and then he turned into a wolf and advanced on Johnny who was now backing up rapidly. Johnny was in a full backwards run when the wolf leapt at him, and he was surprised when he heard a loud neigh and Graycloud slammed into the wolf at a full run.
The wolf snarled and slashed at the horse’s neck as he fell to the ground. Graycloud reared up and came down on the wolf with his front hooves, causing him to howl in pain. He reared up again, and Johnny shot the wolf a few times, which caused the horse to turn away. Johnny wondered why he hadn’t shot before, but wasted no time running to his horse and swinging into the saddle. “Go, Graycloud!” The Appaloosa chafed at the rein brushing the claw marks on its neck, but it took off at a run.
Behind them, Johnny heard, “You’re mine! You’rrre miiine! YOU’RE MIIINNNNEE!” and then he felt a hot pain in his left shoulder as the Indian’s knife found its mark, and he tumbled roughly from the saddle, digging the blade in further as he rolled.
The Indian wolf smiled, but before he could advance, an arrow pierced his leg, and he howled. More arrows zipped through the air and the other wolves howled too, as the arrows found back, shoulder, and heart. The one hit in the heart fell dead. More arrows hit the porch columns, the cabin, and the Indian wolf, now just an Indian again, took another in the arm. He snarled when he was hit, and it still sounded like a wolf. He looked at the two remaining wolves, and they all bolted for the woods on the far side of the field.
Johnny watched all of this from where he lay in the road as he faded to unconsciousness. Just before passing out, he saw more Indians advancing on him, and he felt no relief. Maria’s brothers, he thought, and then everything went black.
The Appaloosa meandered slowly along the trail, its rider sitting straight in the saddle. He had his hat pulled low over his eyes to shade from the setting sun, and was slowly rolling a cigarette for the end of a long day. The last few nights, something had been tearing the cattle apart, eight or nine heads at a time. They’d heard wolves from that general direction, but the animals were gone by the time they got there, and the tracks they found were nothing they could explain.
His men had quit on him earlier in the week over bogus pay disputes, so each night he had moved the small herd closer and closer to the ranch. His wife’s brothers had been helping him out, but they went home just before sundown. Or they went, anyway. They were good men, but he had never really been sure of their ways.
He tamped the cigarette on the saddle horn a few times, then lit up and took a long drag. He held it for a moment, savoring the taste, then exhaled slowly. The smoke hung heavy with the lack of wind, hugging the curve of his face to the back of his head, then sinking along the line of his duster until it seemed to blend with the gray-and-white coat of his horse, seeping around the black, leopard-like spots like water around rocks. He reached down and rubbed the horse’s neck lightly. “Almost home, Graycloud.”
The horse tossed its head and snorted lightly. Then it stopped dead still and pricked its ears up. “What is it, boy?” The horse snorted again and pawed the ground uneasily. The rider said, “Ho, Graycloud, calm down.” He reached to pat the horse again, but then a scream rang out. Horse and rider both tensed, and the rider said, “Maria?” He heard the snarl of wolves and then another scream. “Maria!” he shouted, and Graycloud was running before he could get spurs into the horse’s sides.
The wind kicked up as they rode, and by the time they covered the short distance to the ranch, it was pushing a full blown dust storm ahead of them, making it hard to see the house from the road in. He could just make out the porch ahead of them, the silhouette of his wife struggling with someone much bigger than her, and…were there more? Was that a man walking towards the house, from across the field? Where were the children? He wasn’t sure, for the storm. Then Maria screamed again, and he didn’t have time to worry about it.
Graycloud charged the house, ran alongside the porch, and the rider leapt from the saddle, losing his hat and hooking Maria’s attacker around the neck, throwing both of them to the porch floor. The rider hit the porch on his back, taking the brunt of the fall, but the attacker snarled and rolled with the fall, rolling off the end of the porch. “Johnny!” Maria shouted, terror in her voice. Johnny looked up at his wife, then his eyes got wide, and he drew a pistol and fired just beyond her, catching an attacker in the shoulder at the other end of the porch, spinning it backwards, out into the dust storm.
“What the hell is that thing?” he shouted, drawing his other pistol. Maria didn’t have time to answer before another crashed through the roof of the porch, landing between them. It looked down on Johnny, who was still on his back, and all Johnny could do was stare. This creature stood like a man, but its body was covered in fur, its hands and feet ended in claws, it had the head of a wolf, and something hung from its neck that looked like Indian beadwork. It breathed heavily as it growled, and when it took a step towards Johnny, Maria screamed. The creature moved swiftly, swinging backwards without looking, knocking Maria away. She bounced off of the cabin wall and fell forward, landing hard on the porch, her long black hair falling over her face.
“Maria!” shouted Johnny, and he unloaded several shots into the gut of the creature, knocking it backwards until it stumbled over Maria and fell backwards off of the porch, one leg still propped on the porch. Johnny moved then, starting to scramble towards Maria, when something snarled and grabbed his ankle. He was startled, but he twisted quickly and put two bullets in the head of the wolf that had rolled off his end of the porch, knocking it into the obscurity of the dust storm again. He got to his feet, and took two steps before the front door exploded outwards, and he found himself just a few feet from another creature. It was snarling, fangs and fur dripping with blood, and then he saw something that chilled his blood. It was holding… Johnny sobbed involuntarily, frozen in place by the horror of it.
He didn’t move when the wolf gripped the doorframe and began to crouch. His breath caught in his chest as he stared at the growling beast, blood running from its chin. They locked eyes for a long moment, until the beast’s ears laid back on its head. When it’s lips curled, Johnny snapped back to himself with a scream and he shot the beast again and again, backing it into the house with each shot, until he was standing in the doorway, pulling the triggers on empty chambers, still screaming as much in anger as in horror. Once his breath ran out, his scream died.
Slowly, he lowered his guns, focusing only on the fallen wolf, because he was afraid to look into the cabin. He trembled as he took a step backwards, back out onto the porch, and then another. He reached to his belt for a bullet, and began reloading. He had one reloaded and three in the chambers of the second gun when he heard a low growl.
“Halt! Secret Service!” yelled Crystal, and punctuated it with a shot at the feet of the intruder.
As the bullet ricocheted off the floor, the samurai turned his attention toward Crystal, and threw three shuriken at once, moving incredibly fast. She shot one out of the air, one knicked the top of her left ear, and the other lodged in the armor plating of her vest, biting into her chest. She doubled over from the hit, and tried to pull the shuriken from the wound.
The samurai was still running towards Salt when he let another three shuriken fly towards Heironymous. The tip of one bent a little against his chest, but snagged in his coat. The agent smacked one out of the air, caught the other between two fingers, and wasted no time hurling it back at the samurai.
The samurai reached Crystal’s position, knocked her out with an upkick to the face, then deflected the shuriken with his sword. Turning to face his attacker, he froze. “You!...The Escort!...Heironymous!”
Heironymous was walking towards him, and said, “And you…you can hide your face behind that mask, but you can’t hide your smell, boy. Since when do ninjas disguise themselves as samurai?”
“Since I’m sick of ninjas!” he spat. “They pride themselves on adapting to any situation, but they never adapt to the times. I decided I needed an edge if I was to have vengeance for my family. So I found one,” he said, sweeping a hand from head-to-toe to indicate he meant the armor.
“We’ll see about that!” Heironymous growled as he closed the distance between them. He swung a fist towards the ninja-samurai, but was blocked by an armored arm. The agent immediately swept a leg around, kicking his opponent’s feet out from under him, but the ninja caught himself and did a couple of back handsprings before landing upright.
“You will have to do better than that!” declared the ninja, leaping forward and swinging the sword.
Heironymous threw up an arm to block the sword, only to have it cut deeply into his forearm, and slice across his chest. “Yaarrggh!” he cried out, not expecting to be wounded by a manmade weapon. He looked at his arm and chest in shock for a moment.
The ninja looked equally as shocked that it had worked. He gave a breathy laugh as he realized new value in his weapon. Looking at the now angry agent, he said, “The old fool was telling the truth!” He only had a couple of seconds to marvel further before Heironymous attacked again.
They traded punches, kicks, and chops in rapid succession, and Heironymous took more cuts from the sword. The agent started to realize that the armor did give the ninja an edge; it increased his speed, so his reflexes and reaction time were faster. It also made him stronger- he was feeling some of the ninja’s punches. He needed to end this soon, or the kid might get lucky with the sword. Finally, the right combination of feint and punch allowed Heironymous to get the ninja in a hold from behind- left hand under the left arm and around the back of his neck, and the right hand locked onto his wrist, holding him from swinging the sword. For a few seconds, all that could be heard was the sound of both of them breathing hard. Heironymous was ticked, but the ninja was still smiling.
The ninja finally broke the silence to say, “It’s true! It can kill a dragon!” The thought made him laugh breathlessly.
Heironymous tightened his grip a little and said, “Your sword isn’t Japanese, so it’s not the Kusanagi. I’m guessing it didn’t come with the armor. Where’d you get it?”
The ninja laughed again, his breath finally settling. “What does it matter? I will use it to avenge my family!”
Heironymous squeezed tighter, and leaning to the ninja’s ear, said through gritted teeth, “Son, on this entire planet, there are only a handful of weapons that can hurt a dragon, and it’s best that most of them stay where they are.” Giving a stiff shake of the ninja’s sword arm, he demanded, “Where did you get this?”
The ninja fumed, but relented. “In my search for something that could aid me in avenging my family, I met a man in Libya who claimed to know of a sword that could kill a dragon.”
Heironymous scowled at the mention of Libya. He said nothing.
The ninja continued, “This man had a very interesting take on historical and mythical accounts, but his story eventually pointed me to a village in Essex, called Wormingford--”
“--No.” said Heironymous, a hint of fear actually in his voice.
“There, I found the home of a real collector of dragon and dragon-fighting memorabilia. Really amazing place. Best of all was this sword, though,” said the ninja, admiring the blade.
“You fool,” Heironymous said with real dread.
“I took my name from this sword--”
“You stupid boy,” said Heironymous, the strength leaving him.
The ninja took that moment to break free from Heironymous’ grip, and spun to face him, sword extended in front of him. “Now, the dragon who killed my family will know--”
“You didn’t--” the agent said angrily.
“--the wrath of Ascalon!” shouted the ninja.
“No! Noo! Nooo!” shouted Heironymous. “You stupid fool! Tell me you didn’t steal the sword of Saint George!” He roared angrily, and spewed fire at the ninja, driving Ascalon backwards towards the foundry.
When his breath was expended, Ascalon lifted his sword to strike, but a thunderous crash just behind him caused him to spin and find himself staring in the face of the copper-scaled dragon. The dragon roared in his face, and the ninja swung his sword.
Heironymous bellowed, “NO!” which caused the dragon to rear its head back in surprise; just enough for only the tip of the sword to catch its neck. The dragon instinctively drew back several paces, but Ascalon moved forward with him. Drawing the sword back for another swing, he suddenly found his wrist in the vice-like grip of Heironymous again, and he was jerked backwards before he could react.
Heironymous stepped between them as the dragon drew its head back to strike, and shouted, “No!”
The dragon stopped but roared, and Ascalon took the opportunity to strike while Heironymous was distracted. Thrusting forward, he stabbed the agent through his left shoulder. Roaring in pain, Heironymous wrenched backwards, pulling the sword out of Ascalon’s hand, throwing the ninja off balance. With the sword still through his shoulder, and with a savage growl, he broke the ninja’s arm and elbowed him in the face, shattering the mask and knocking him flat on his back. With great pain, he pulled the sword from his body, as Ascalon looked at him in disbelief.
“You should be dead! It should have killed you! Why aren’t you dead?” he shouted hysterically.
“Because I’m bald, not Balder, and this isn’t mistletoe!” Heironymous shouted back, shaking the sword at him. Ascalon looked at him blankly. Heironymous realized the ninja didn’t understand, and his shoulders slumped a little. Tiredly he said, “Ascaloncan pierce a dragon, son, but you still have to hit something vital for it to kill.” The ninja suddenly looked defeated. Heironymous scowled. “You don’t even know what you’ve done, do you?”
“I have failed once again to avenge my family,” Ascalon said quietly.
“This goes much deeper than your personal vengeance,” said Heironymous. “You damned near started a war. This sword is bound by treaty, between Saint George and the Dragons, to never be used to kill a dragon again. Had you killed the Prince of Dragons with this sword, you’d have unleashed hell in retribution against humanity. As it is, if the Saint thinks we stole the sword from him, there may yet be war anyway. He will want this BARRGHHHH!”
Heironymous went down from an armored foot to his groin, and then was kicked in the face, throwing him on his back. Ascalon jumped to his feet, grabbed the sword with his good hand, and ran for an exit with his bad arm folded close to his body. As Heironymous concentrated on his pain, he heard, “Humanity can rot with my family! I will have my vengeance!”
The foundry was quiet again for a minute. Then the trolls began to come out of hiding, and the Prince of Dragons walked up and nudged Heironymous with his nose. The agent rolled painfully to his side, and winced. “I suppose the universe owed me that,” he said weakly. As he picked himself up off of the floor, he told the dragon, “I’ve got to catch him. Saint George is going to want his sword back, and his first stop in his search is going to be us.”
The dragon breathed smoke and growled. Heironymous looked at him sternly and said, “Our time here is up. Scorched earth. Nobody can know we were here. Nobody survives. Except her,” he said, pointing at Crystal. “Deal’s off- I’ll make it up to you. You protect her with your life, or you will answer to your father.” The dragon lowered his head in submission, and Heironymous ran for the door.
As he got to his car, he heard the dragon roar, followed by a troll screaming, “Treacherrryyyyyyyy!” followed by only screams. He knew the Prince would walk away from the site in human form when he was done. They didn’t complete what they came to do, but they gave Indigo a head start. Now though, recovering Ascalon was the priority.
Next Issue: ?
Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cb
The Iron Circle- an industrial roundabout near one of Indigo City’s crash sites from The Great Impact:
“Tell me again why we’re here, Special Agent Heironymous,” said Crystal Salt.
Looking at the work going on in the foundry, Heironymous answered, “We’re not here, Special Agent Salt.”
Looking up at her new partner, Crystal raised an eyebrow and asked, “We were sent here by our commanding officers, weren't we?”
Still looking at the foundry, Heironymous cocked his head to one side and replied, “Of course...but that doesn’t mean that we’re here.” He turned his head slightly, looked at Crystal from the corner of his eye, and winked.
“Ha. I see. So a dragon smelting iron, and trolls working the metal have what to do with the U.S. Treasury, or protecting the President?”
Heironymous looked down at her fully this time. The question not being entirely unexpected, he replied dryly, “I’m sorry?”
“Trolls and a dragon,” she said, pointing at the foundry. “This must have something to do with POTUS or the Treasury. Otherwise, why send in the Secret Service?”
The bald agent looked back out toward the dragon, and sighed like he was tired. “Damn whoever came up with ‘need to know.’ Is that allyou think we do, Agent Salt?”
“It’s all I was trained for,” she said. “It’s all that’s on the agency’s website,” she added.
Heironymous sounded only slightly annoyed when he said, “Great. A greenhorn.”
“Excuse me?” Salt challenged, plainly offended.
“What does it say?” he asked, watching the copper-scaled dragon breathe fire into the great smelting pot of metal ore.
“The website,” he said, turning his attention to the young agent. “What does it say?”
Salt ticked off the items on her fingers as she listed, “We safeguard the integrity of the economy, protect national leaders, visiting dignitaries, certain sites and events.”
“It says all that, does it?” asked Heironymous, his handlebar mustache twitching as he talked.
“Yeah,” said Crystal.
“I see,” he said, pursing his lips. “And who has access to this website?”
“Everyone,” she answered, plainly bothered by the obviousness of the question. “It’s the World Wide Web.”
“Uh-huh.” Leaning towards her slightly, he asked, “And what part of that says Secret Service to you?”
Crystal considered for a moment, and said, “So we handle other things that aren’t made known to the public.” Heironymous nodded. “So back to my original question: why are we here, watchdogging trolls and a dragon, for weeks on end?” The great smelting pot tipped into the molds at that point, and the trolls began working the molten metal.
Heironymous looked at her curiously. “That’s it? No shock and disbelief? No umbrage over disinformation? No surprise that those are real trolls and a real dragon down there?”
“Special Agent Heironymous, my father was lost in some sort of portal accident, my sister is part of an elite military unit that I gather encounters weird and unexplained on a regular basis, and during my time in the Navy, I’ve seen things at sea that defy conventional explanation,” she lectured, again ticking her list off on her fingers. “Trolls and a dragon are just more of the same,” she added.
They looked at each other for a long few moments. Heironymous broke the silence with, “Hmph. Not a greenhorn after all then.” Crystal nodded her appreciation before he added, “Just ignorant.”
“Hey--!” she started, before he put a hand up to stop her.
“We- that is the Secret Service- are here,” offered Heironymous, “because our government has a vested interest in Indigo City recovering from the trials brought on by The Great Impact. The foundry hasn’t returned to fully operational status yet, so their smelting equipment isn't working. So we asked a dragon--”
“--That we just happen to know--” interjected Crystal.
“--to smelt the metals needed to aid in rebuilding, in exchange for a favor that’s beyond your paygrade.”
“But not yours,” she stated.
“We asked the trolls to work the metal, because there are no better metalworkers on Earth--”
“--Or beneath it,” she pointed out.
“--and ordinary citizens can’t be allowed to know that such creatures of lore still exist.”
“Because…” she shrugged.
“Will you please quit doing that?” Heironymous said gruffly. Crystal gestured with both hands for him to continue, then clasped her hands in front of her. “We, specifically, are here, because dragons are my purview. If this goes sideways, we are to protect the dragon, and see that he gets out of here safely.”
“And if it’s the dragon that sends us sideways?” she asked. There was an audible hiss as the metal castings were cooled in the foundry.
Heironymous looked at her quizzically, almost offended. “Dragons are honorable, above all else. Once they agree to do something, they will not waver from it.”
“And if the dragon has an ulterior motive for being here?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
Gritting his teeth slightly, Heironymous said, “Then it was probably covered in the deal he made for his services. Or he decided that doing this service wouldn’t conflict with his own agenda.”
Salt gave a knowing look as she turned back toward the foundry. She clasped her hands behind her, rocked back-and-forth on her heels a couple of times, and said, “Uhh-huh.” The trolls removed the iron girders from the molds, and began resetting the equipment to repeat the process.
Heironymous scowled and said, “Do you have something to say, Agent Salt?”
Crystal looked at him like she had been waiting for this moment all day, and said, “What’s your motive for being here, Agent Heironymous?” He just looked at her. “What deal did you make for your services?” Still nothing. “What favor are you getting in return?”
“That’s definitely above your paygrade,” Heironymous said flatly. Crystal did not look amused. “You read my file.”
“I read your file,” she confirmed with a nod. “You’re a dragon too.”
“And? It’s in my file, because it’s not a secret.”
“Nooo,” she said, still working her way up to her point, “but some people think you’re making that up. There’s plenty of people in the world who are super strong, invulnerable, and breathe fire. Still others don’t believe you because they don’t believe in creatures of lore.”
“I don’t give a damn what people believe,” Heironymous said calmly, “but as you can see, we do exist. Which is why,” he said pointedly, “we have hidden this creature of lore in a foundry, and only have other creatures of lore working with him. Less to explain.”
“Then why am I here?” asked Salt. “I’m just human.”
“If you keep it up? To be a snack,” groused Heironymous.
“Ha!” Crystal put one hand to her chest in mock offense, and said, “Why, Agent Heironymous! Are you saying you want to eat me?” Heironymous looked uncomfortable with the implication she gave his words, and she laughed heartily.
Heironymous’ mustache twitched a few times as he regarded the woman before him. Finally, he said, “Young lady, you have quite a mouth on you.”
Crystal smiled wryly and said, “You have no idea. I was a sailor y--”
An explosion rocked the foundry, and a wall fell away at the entrance. It was followed by the screams of several trolls as they turned to stone, having been caught in the sunlight flooding in through the hole. The other trolls scattered to dark corners of the foundry. The dragon swiveled its head toward the hole and roared.
What appeared to be a blue-clad samurai in high tech armor stepped through the damaged wall, sword in hand. Heironymous was already headed towards the hole, followed by Crystal. Gun drawn and aimed at the intruder, Salt fell in step next to her partner, and asked, “Carrier?”
Still walking, Heironymous snarled, “He’s not a carrier.”
“How do you know?” asked Salt. “Friend of yours?”
A faint hint of smoke came from Heironymous’ nostrils as he answered, “No, but it is someone I know.” Crystal looked at him questioningly, but he only said, “Follow protocol. Protect the dragon.”
“Invulnerable and breathes flame?” she said sarcastically.
“Not to everything! Protect the dragon!” he barked. “At all costs!” Crystal nodded, but he was already moving faster toward the samurai, who was moving toward the dragon.
Thanks so much to writer and friend Miko Montgomery for letting me play with his characters. -cb
“Xandra, what am I looking at?” asked Raven.
Xandra’s eyes never left the screen, her brow furrowed deeply with concern. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were looking at your own handiwork, but you’ve never been to the area this happened in. Just look though. This woman was strangled with the yellow scarf you see around her neck, and sliced open with a khukuri.” She pointed to a small blade on the floor, at the bottom of the screen and added, “We know that was the weapon used because the killer lost his Karda in the struggle.” Xandra bit her lip briefly. “Raven, this could be a Gurkha.”
“No,” Raven answered. “Gurkhas would never be so sloppy. They’re stealthy like leopards, and agile like mountain goats.” Xandra looked at her strangely. “What? You’ve never read the Nepalese Khukuri House website? Point is, they’d have left with all their weapons. And besides, they don’t bother with strangulation.”
“My impulse would be Thug, but this is something else,” said Raven. “This is someone trying to get my attention.”
“What? Why would you say that?” Xandra asked in surprise.
“The Thugee used scarves called ‘Rumal,’ which means roughly ‘yellow scarf.’ The real color was closer to cream or khaki, but I chose actual yellow because it stands out more. It doesn’t match anything the victim is wearing. So whoever left this yellow scarf around her neck was leaving a message for me. Who is this?” she asked, pointing at the picture.
“That’s Anita Child,” Raven’s friend answered. “She deals in human trafficking, but has never been caught until now. Her specialty is…was kids.”
Raven smiled. “So good riddance.”
“The world’s a better place,” agreed Xandra, “but there’s a problem. We were already in the process of tracking her down, because she was suspected to have two missing children with her. A girl and a boy- Wanda Auf and Willie Cumbach. When we found the body, the kids weren’t with her.”
“Now this guy has my attention. He’s not going to enjoy it though.” Raven smiled diabolically.
“Yeah. I figured that’s what you’d say. You’re going to need some help though. Someone from outside.”
“Who?” asked Raven, and as if in answer, there was a small explosion at the end of the room and a thick puff of black smoke. Raven immediately unsheathed a knife and threw it across the room.
“WHOA!” shouted a voice from the smoke. As it dissipated, there stood revealed an African-American man in a black trenchcoat and tophat, leaning a bit backwards, and still holding Raven’s knife where he caught it in midair. He looked at the women with a raised eyebrow and with slight exasperation in his voice said, “I come in peace.”
Xandra put a hand on Raven’s shoulder. “Raven, this…”
“Oh please,” interjected the man as he crossed the room. “Allow me to introduce myself.” Holding Raven’s knife by the tip and resting the hilt across his other wrist, he offered her knife back to her. Once she took it, he continued, “I am the cat in the hat. I am the technodelic jazz magician. I am the Shaman of the Vegas Vibe. I am…”
“…Completely full of yourself?” finished Raven.
The man drew his head back a bit and put his hand to his chest in mock umbrage. His thumb and forefinger stroked the silver skull hung around his neck, then he continued, “To quote the late great Nicol Williamson in Excalibur, I am ‘a dream to some…’” then he threw his hands in the air and declared, “‘…a nightmare to others!’” His voice reverberated through the room like thunder, taking even Raven by surprise. He then took a bow, swept the hat from his head to reveal a salt and pepper afro, and standing, added, “I…am Miko the Magnificent.” Nodding to Xandra, he said, “My close friends call me High Hat. You,” he said, looking pointedly at Raven, “can call me Mister Magnificent.”
“Never going to happen,” countered Raven. “Nice trick though,” she conceded.
“Trick?!” Miko gasped, the umbrage real this time. With pursed lips, he pulled the tophat back down over his hair, flicked an eye up and down Raven’s form, snapped the lapels of his coat sharply to settle it back onto his frame properly, and silently turned to the monitor with the picture of the dead abductor.
Over Miko’s shoulder, Xandra looked at Raven with wide eyes and shook her head slightly. Raven shrugged apologetically in return, then put her hands up in front of her, telling Xandra both to be calm and that she would behave. Xandra said, "Miko helped us with the Milwaukee Torso Killer awhile back." She then turned to the monitor and asked, “What can you tell us about this, High Hat?”
His voice all business now, Miko said, “I can tell you that nobody will mourn the departure of this blight on humanity.” Raven smiled at that. “But what’s festered up in her place might make them reconsider.”
Raven’s smile disappeared. “What do you mean,” she asked.
Miko’s eyes flicked to his peripheral for a second, but he didn’t turn to look at her. He answered, “You see that half circle just above the edge of the scarf? Xandra, did your people take any other pictures?”
“Yes,” she answered. Three pictures came up on the screen, revealing the full mark below the scarf. “But we haven’t made heads or tails of them yet.”
“Appropriate phrasing,” offered Miko as he touched the screen to enlarge one of the pictures, “because this…” he spread his fingers from the center of the mark, enlarging that portion of the picture, “is from a coin. Or more accurately, a medallion.” The picture showed the profile of a man, with words to either side, following the edges of the medallion, and a date at the bottom: 1757-1822.
“Medallion?” asked Xandra.
Continuing to stare at the picture, Miko answered, “Yes, the Canova Medallion.”
“The Canova Medallion?” asked Raven.
Miko looked at her this time. “What do you know of it?”
“The Thuggee were rumored to be worshippers of Kali, so I’ve done some reading,” she offered. Miko nodded slightly and waved a hand towards the screen, telling Raven to continue. As she did, he brought up other pictures on the screen, showing what she was telling.
Raven continued, “The Thuggee were killers, and perhaps the earliest version of ‘organized crime.’ A group would disperse along trade routes, sometimes for hundreds of miles, and join bands of travellers a little at a time, until they outnumbered their victims. Once they reached a spot along the route of their own choosing, they’d kill their victims, often by strangulation, hide the bodies, and plunder the spoils. The captured Thug Behram was one of the most notorious, claiming to have been present at nine hundred thirty-one killings. He was quite proficient with his Rumal. He could throw it so that a medallion sewn in its lining would land over the victim’s adams apple, making it easier to strangle them. That medallion was the Canova Medallion. It had the face of the artist – Antonio Canova – on one side, and an image of his statue, The Three Graces, on the other.” She looked at the image on the screen. “This is the side with Canova’s image. Someone wanted us to be sure this was from the Canova Medallion. But is it the original or a copy?”
The magician answered, “It’s impossible to tell, but you’re right. This mark was burned into the flesh. So someone heated the medallion and branded the victim with it. That had to be done after she was killed. So he moved the scarf, branded her, and then put the scarf back in place. Someone wants to point you in a specific direction, but where?”
“I think I have the answer to that,” cut in Xandra. She was working the screen at an adjoining station, and as she tapped keys and images, she said, “The real Canova Medallion is in the collection of a private museum, bought from the family of Thug Behram.”
“So this is a copy then,” concluded Raven. “It could have come from anywhere then.”
“Maybe not,” countered Xandra. “The real medallion has done some travelling, and is currently in a touring exhibit of famous serial killers.”
“And that exhibit is here, in Vegas,” guessed Raven.
“Bingo,” said Xandra, “and no bets on where,” she said as she tapped the screen again. Miko and Raven joined her at the console.
Raven shook her head, “Damn. Sanctum Tartarus. Why is it always Simon Janus?” she complained.
“It might be more than that,” answered Miko.
“More?” Raven looked puzzled.
“I’ll meet you at the exhibit. You take my hat,” he said as he tossed the tophat on her head. He disappeared in another black puff of smoke, and his voice echoed through the room, “Enjoy the ride.”
“Ride?” asked Raven, and then she felt the hat shift on her head. She raised her eyes towards the brim, and before she could say anything else, the hat got wider and bigger, and fell over her head, resting on her shoulders. She grabbed the rim, but it got wider and bigger again, causing her to lose her grip, and it fell to her waist. It shifted once again, got wider and bigger, and fell to the floor.
Xandra hollered, “Raven!” Her eyes got bigger as the hat shrunk down to normal size, then seemed to fold in on itself and disappear. “Raven!” shouted Xandra.
Inside the hat, Raven tumbled over backwards into a dimension of strange images and sounds. Lights flashed, music played, and she felt herself slipping, no longer knowing which direction was which, which way she fell, or if she was even falling at all. A shadow that might have been a man passed close by to her, and she heard a whisper. “Still think it’s just a ‘trick?’”
She was about to scream when a bright light shined through a seeming tear in reality itself, and she landed in a sprawl on the exhibit floor. She took a second to catch her breath, braced her hands on the floor as much to make sure it was real as to push herself up, and then saw a pair of black boots in front of her face. She followed the boots upward to the black jacket, and all the way up to the face of the magician. He reached down with one hand to claim his hat from her head, then offered his other hand to Raven, which she took, and helped her up.
They looked at each other for several moments, before Raven said, “M-Mister Magnificent.”
Miko nodded appreciatively at her, leaned towards her and said, “You can call me High Hat,” before placing the tophat back on his head.
Raven gave an appreciative nod back. “Raven, then. You said something about this being more than Simon Janus?”
“Yes. It’s the owner of the Medallion- the one who normally holds it in a private museum. His name is Ali Indigo.”
“Why does that sound familiar?” asked Raven.
“Probably from your reading,” offered Miko. “The British used the son of Behram to pressure him into becoming a King’s Approver against the Thuggee. The son’s name was Ali, and the East India Company ‘gifted’ him the position of running an Indigo factory, hoping they could pressure him into disclosing the locations of his father’s hidden hordes of plundered treasures.”
“So you think that Ali Indigo has something to do with… High Hat!” Raven was interrupted by a yellow scarf being slung around the magician’s neck. Miko barely had time to throw one hand up in front of the Medallion sewn inside, keeping it from putting the full pressure on his throat.
From behind him, he heard, “Thug Behram, at your service!” The killer pulled tighter on the Rumal, determined to strangle Miko. Raven unsheathed her kukhuri, but Behram warned, “Don’t try it, girl! I will kill him!”
Raven backed off, but Miko reached backwards suddenly and poked his attacker in the eye. The thug screamed and grabbed for his eye, enabling High Hat to get free. The magician immediately ducked, grabbed the edge of his jacket, and swooped it in an arc towards Behram, like a cape. The killer was swallowed completely by the coat just before it dropped back into place. Miko looked pissed. He seemed to stare into nothing as he pulled the scarf from his neck and shoved it in his pocket. Then he spun, flaring the jacket again, and as the coat snapped forward, Behram was ejected from its folds and thrown across the room into a display.
Raven Diablo looked at the magician fearfully. The things she could learn from this man. She then crossed the distance between her and the killer swiftly, putting her kukhuri to his neck and demanding, “Who are you? And don’t say ‘Behram,’ because that’s not possible! You would be…”
“Almost two hundred fifty years old,” answered the Thug. Raven looked shocked. “Yes, it’s true. If you can’t believe who I say I am though, you may simply call me Phansigar. I took a vow of silence when British justice betrayed me, but not before I made a deal with a devil I knew from Persia.” His eyes narrowed cruelly as he looked into Raven’s eyes. “Sholeh Kaviani sends her regards.”
Raven wasn’t expecting to hear that name, but she was startled enough that she jerked backwards from the Thug a few steps. He did not miss the opportunity. Although he had been resting on his elbows, from his fallen position, his powerful arms pushed off of the ground, and he lunged forward, a kick to Raven’s gut sending her sprawling backwards. Jumping to his feet, he laughed. “She was right! This is a thrill!”
High Hat took a step towards the killer, but stopped when he saw what the killer took from his pocket. It was his Rumal. It was Miko’s turn to be startled. How had he gotten that from his pocket, while he was in the coat?
“Don’t look so bewildered, mage! I told you I made a deal with a devil! And she has powerful magicks of her own! Besides, I am Thug! As much thief as murderer! Pickpocketing is easy for one such as I- even from one such as you. Bah-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaa!” With that, he unfurled his Rumal, spun it around his head and let it fall around him. As it did so, he disappeared completely, just in time to avoid Raven’s khukuri, which embedded in the display case behind where he had been standing. Only the echo of his laughter remained, and the fading words of a warning. “You will hear from Phansigar again, Raven Diablo!”
Raven looked at the pile of debris that was the ruined display case, and exhaled sharply. “This…is not good,” she said finally.
“You’re telling me,” said High Hat. “I hope he didn’t get anything else from my pockets!” Raven looked at him quizzically. Miko just said, “That…would not be good. Tell Xandra I’ll be in touch.”
“Wait!” called Raven, but Miko had already flared his jacket, spun, and disappeared in a cloud of black smoke.
A voice echoed, “It was good meeting you, Raven,” and then faded from the room.
Raven smiled at nothing, but answered, “You too, High Hat.” She took one more look around, and headed for the exit. She needed to go see Sholeh Kaviani about two children.
Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cb
Manjaro the Manslayer stood a head-and-a-half higher than most men- even Finnrick the Fine. So with his broad shoulders, strong voice, and the studded mace he carried as his weapon, what he said carried weight with those around him. Especially when he was angry. His temper, backed by his mace, is what gained him the name Manslayer. So when Manjaro was angry, men were wary. When the person he was angry with stood their ground, they said a prayer to the gods for the fool’s soul. When the fool seemed unconcerned, those watching trembled with adrenaline, knowing they were about to witness a brutal death.
Such was the case aboard the karve, currently making its way across rough seas to a patch of swirling water. All men held tightly to their oars as they watched Manjaro yell into the face of their passenger- a man they called Draco. They called him this because of a necklace of teeth hanging across his bare chest, which he claimed came from a dragon. He had no hair on his head, a long, thick mustache that curved around his mouth and drooped down past his chin, was only a head shorter than Manjaro, and he was seemingly as unaffected by the cold as he was by Manjaro’s anger. He was the lone escort of a queen who had commissioned them for the trip, who currently rode in the hold with the livestock. An arrangement which was not to the men’s liking, and which Manjaro finally decided to speak up about.
“It’s bad luck for a woman to be aboard! We’ve lost five men to the raiding party, just out of port! Two to the waves! Three to the cold!” The men grunted their support with each count, and continued to do so as he listed the casualties so far. “Two disappeared in that damned thick fog we had a couple of nights ago! We lost one in the attack of the giant devilfish! And one went into the hold for supplies and never came back out again!”
Draco stood casually, with his fists on his hips, waiting for Manjaro to finish. Then he said, “I killed the man who entered the hold.” Everyone went silent at that, including Manjaro.
From his position overlooking the men at their oars, Finnrick spoke up. Not bothering to hide the anger in his voice, he challenged, “What did you just say?”
Draco looked at him with no more concern than he had for Manjaro. “I told you I would bring out whatever supplies were required by the crew. The terms of your commission included that no one may enter the hold. None may lay eyes upon the queen. He did both. So I killed him.”
The crew remained silent. Manjaro still stood, seething, chest heaving with his anger. So he smiled when Finnrick said, “Manjaro, kill him and throw him overboard. Then guard the hold for the remainder of the voyage.”
The massive Viking closed what little space there was between himself and Draco, and through gritted teeth, he said, “Now, Draco, you find out why they call me Manjaro the Manslayer.” Then he heaved the mace into the air, and brought it down with an angry roar.
Draco caught the head of the mace in his hand, stopping it’s swing. Manjaro gaped. The escort, still unconcerned, said, “That would be impressive, boy, if I were a man.” He then hit Manjaro in the chest with the flat of his palm, shoving him several paces backwards, where he fell over the first row of oar benches. “And I’m tired of telling you: my name…is Heironymous.”
Manjaro started to get up when Finnrick called out, “We’re here!”
The men looked out at the swirling water. “What do you expect to find here?” asked Finnrick.
As if in answer, a giant beast rose out of the water, it’s long, gray neck towering over the ship. Heironymous answered, “That- Leviathan.” Looking to the mage, Ulrich the Unnatural, he asked, “Do you have the item I entrusted you with?”
Ulrich produced a small glowing spike and answered, “It is here.”
Heironymous took the spike, looked at Leviathan, and said, “Wait for me to return.” He then ran for the stern of the ship, jumped to the rail, and bounded off at the beast. Both roared hellishly, drowning out the sound of the wind and waves.
“What the hell is he?” Manjaro whispered, clearly in awe.
“He’s a dragon,” answered Ulrich. “Now watch.”
“Row, men!” commanded Finnrick. “Get back from this beast!” Manjaro and Ulrich took a place at the benches, and all leaned into their oars, happy to put distance between them and the battle.
Heironymous was clinging to the base of the beast’s long neck, and did not go unnoticed. Leviathan swung it’s massive head downwards, trying to catch Heironymous in his jaws. Undeterred, Heironymous swung his fist in a backhand, knocking the sea dragon backwards, if only slightly. Leviathan roared in anger, and Heironymous fell into the surf. Leviathan lost no time in diving after him.
The crew watched the water anxiously, the area still frothing and swirling, and now angrily bubbling with the activity underneath the surface. Then the water broke suddenly, and Leviathan came towering out of the water again, and now grappling with a second beast, this one a deep, dark purple. The men gasped, and then Manjaro shouted, “Look! The new one holds the glowing spike!”
Finnrick, his blond locks dancing in the high wind, looked wild eyed on Ulrich. “What in the name of the gods is happening here, mage?”
“That’s Heironymous!” declared Ulrich. “This is his true form, Finnrick!”
Finnrick didn’t speak for a second. He just looked out at the battle. Then he looked back again and said, “Then the queen…”
“…Is also a dragon,” concluded Manjaro. “That explains the livestock, and why their lowing grows less and less as the voyage goes on.”
They turned their attention back to the battle, the dragons still grappling with each other, long necks alternately intertwined in struggle and then swinging away at each other’s bodies. Powerful jaws clamped down again and again on their adversaries. Fearsome roars raged over the storm, and bursts of flame lit the sky. The crew of the karve looked on anxiously, hoping for Heironymous’ victory, but only because he was at least the beast that they knew.
Finally, Heironymous swung the talon gripping the spike backwards, and then plunged it into the heart of the beast. Leviathan roared in pain- its loudest yet- and bit down once more on Heironymous’ body, before finally succumbing. His coils slackened and he fell beneath the waves. The crew saw what appeared to be several glowing items falling into the water with him. Heironymous dove after him.
Long minutes passed, and the water continued to churn and swirl. Then it began to calm, and still, Heironymous did not reappear. They waited silently, peering out into the now dark night that hung over the sea.
Finnrick was about to order the men to turn back towards port, when they heard something bump the side of the ship. Then Leviathan’s head swung over the rail, and thudded onto the deck. His mouth fell open, and several glowing spikes tumbled out, of various colors. Heironymous, back in human form, pulled himself up over the rail, and found himself looking at the Manslayer. Manjaro gripped his hand firmly, and helped him onto the deck of the karve.
Looking at Finnrick, Heironymous said, “This is what we came for. Let’s head back.” With that, he gathered the spikes back into Leviathan’s mouth and dragged the head into the hold. Ulrich pulled the hold door shut behind him, careful not to look inside.
The crew was silent for a minute, and then Finnrick called out, “Heave to the oars, men! We’ll raise the sail when the storm dies down! Row!” The men pulled to the oars, and started the journey home.