Chapter One Hundred: Epilogue

James was behind Irian to catch him when he fell.  Thor limped up carrying Hariel, who still breathed.  Thor didn’t look too good, though.  Ssanyu helped him lay Hariel on the ground beside Irian.  Irian was still conscious, though.  From the smoke cloud, Ouray and Musashi hobbled into the makeshift circle.  Musashi leaned on a stick he had found.  Ouray gazed out from under a nasty cut on the forehead.  His left eye was swelling shut. 

As the dust settled, a few people filtered back to the small group there on the battlefield.  No more than twenty total walked into that circle-less than ten percent of their landing force.  Most were in rather rough shape.  Irian was already struggling to sit up by the time the last made it into the ring.  He tried to prop himself up on his arms, but the joint on his left wrist gave out and the hand fell off.  He toppled back to the ground laughing.  James supported his shoulders, and he finally made it to sitting.  He picked up his broken hand and stared at it for a moment.

“Are you OK, Irian?  Edward was always a rough customer, but I have no idea what he’s done to himself.  We have real worries.”

Irian nodded.  His mouth felt like it was full of dust.  He couldn’t speak.

“Are you alright, Irian?  You could say something…”  James was already checking Hariel’s vitals with his arm readouts.  He was injured but stable.  Thor worried him, but he knew a few tricks…

“I think I may have messed up my hand.”

The little group laughed.  On a day like today, they needed a reason to.

“So what now?”

Irian straightened up.  “I’m off to Lomond, to see my bonnie wife and most likely by then my babies.  You can come with me if you want.  I’m not on the water, James, before you tell me what to do.  If you want to come, let’s go.  I have the feeling it’ll take me a while.”

Irian staggered to his feet  and started trudging.  He walked very slowly, as if his whole body were in pain.  Ouray shouted after him.

“Are you going to just walk?”

“I don’t see any vehicles around here.  I took care of them.”

“I thought that was Musashi-“

“I thought it was you.”

“Follow me if you want.  We’ve got a good few hours before dark.”

Somewhere else, Namid was awakened by kicking in her belly.  She scooped up Cairbre and hugged him tight.

“I hope Irian’s not done something stupid.  And I hope I see him soon.”

“Brawk!”

 

Here ends Fatal Optimization, whose story has grown so much it cannot be contained in one novel.  I promise you, I will be back soon-I’ve already got some great ideas.  Also, I still owe a lot of explanations.  I can handle one of those right now.  As you can tell, this is alternative history.  If something seems familiar, well, across the multiverse a lot of strange things are said, and who knows where some of the people that entertain us got their ideas from.  A lot of geography may seem compressed, or it may sound like national borders got blurred.  They did.  Some of it is the learning I did over the time that I’ve been writing, but a lot of it has to do with ideas of what would have happened without the shadow of British imperialism.  I’m telling the story here.  But at the end of the day, it’s just that, and if you don’t like it then find something you do enjoy, but please read.  Something besides the comics. 

To the steadfast readers, thank you.  I’m preparing to gather up these chapters, edit and expand them, and make an attempt to publish them in a format handy for swatting spiders.  They were all published as soon as they were written, and while the sense of time is intentionally skewed, I think a few things need to be fixed.  Sit tight, I’m not done yet.

If you’re still reading, go find some ice cream or something, it’ll be a bit before book two, Athenry begins.  I may have a short story or two for everyone as well. 

Goodnight everybody.  I hope you enjoy reading half as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

 

Published in: on October 21, 2012 at 1:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Ninety-Nine: A Fistful of Dust

Edward was poised to deliver a blow that Irian was pretty sure would cause his skull pretty serious damage when an idea hit him.  His left hand was on a piece of gravel.  No, sandstone, his hand’s sensors said.  He closed his hand on the piece of stone.

“You know what red blood and green blood make?  Brown!  You know what else is brown, Irian?  Do you?”

Irian’s left hand flashed in front of Edward’s eyes.  Sand flew into both of them-Edward had no time to react, and no reason to think that this attack was coming.  He screamed in rage.  His vision was completely blurred by the sand.

“Yes, sand is brown.  I thought you needed a better look at some of our world.”  Irian punched him in the throat.  There was no chance of Edward blocking, his windpipe simply collapsed momentarily under the force of the attack.  He started coughing.

“I’m betting that’s not enough to kill you, though.  Probably have a reinforcer in there or something.  You seem very hard to kill.”

Edward was laughing in amongst the coughing.  He couldn’t clear his eyes-Irian had flung too much sand into them.  Irian sidestepped him, and backhanded him to the ground.  He followed him down with one knee, the impact cracking a rib or two from the sound of it.  His opponent hadn’t stopped laughing.  Edward rolled to his side and got back up.  “Look at you, fighting like a monkey!  I’ll bet your wife still swings from-“

Irian’s metallic left foot made contact with Edward’s crotch at full extension.  He remembered to snap the foot, for maximum transference of force.  Apparently that move still worked.  Irian stomped his left knee.  Blood stained the cobbles-apparently he hadn’t spent enough on upgrades, he thought wryly.  He drew a sword.  Suddenly, Edward threw a punch from nowhere.  With little time to react, Irian blocked with his own metallic fist.  There was an ominous popping sound from each combatant’s wrists, though neither were flesh and blood.

“Stupid monkey!  Don’t you know enough to not try to breach a reactor?  You’ll kill all of us!”

“Good way to get you.”

“Hah, I’d possibly survive.  You, not so much.  Now I’ve got to fix that hand.  I like that hand!”

“What, yours won’t fix itself?”

“Of course it won’t-what?  Do you mean to tell me yours will?  You mean a monkey made self-healing limbs?”

“Apparently I have got you beat.  How about you cut this out, and I kill you like a normal opponent?”

“Pah, as if I can be beaten by a mere monkey.  You’ll hear from me again.”  A smoke bomb he had concealed somewhere went off, and when the smoke cleared, Edward was nowhere to be found.

“Don’t forget, Irian, I’ll see you at Loch Lomond!  It’ll be such a beautiful reunion, all the monkey family will be there!  His last words hung in the air, stinging Irian.  Edward was strong, very strong.  And apparently he knew something that he shouldn’t know.  How did he know?  Irian had to make it there first.

Published in: on October 21, 2012 at 1:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Ninety-Eight: Undone

The slender man had almost made the edge of battle when a blue beam streaked by either side of him.

“Your aim is poor, James.  Arms poorly calibrated?”

“I thought they were doing rather well.  Just swapped to them.”

“I’ve no plans to fight with you, doctor.  I have something worth looking at, and that’s what I’m out to do.  Also, I think I’m going on a sightseeing trip.”

“You never were one for sights, Edward.”

“No, not generally.  I feel like a tour of the British Isles.  Beautiful country, you know.”

“Yes, when you’re not dropping rods onto it from low earth orbit.  What do you want?”

“Plenty of things.  Murder, mayhem, pillaging, and the destruction of these weak people so we can live like we were intended.  Also, I’ve a bit of curiosity.”

“About what?”

“What’s so important about Loch Lomond.”

“None of your business.”  The words came from a figure that had placed itself in the path of Edward while he had turned to talk to James.  Edward stepped back and looked him over.

“Oh, it’s you!  I must tell you, your other arm says hi!  So interesting, your genetics.  Interesting enough I need more samples.  Lots more, I think.  I’d love to see what makes you tick.”

“You’re not smart enough to figure it out.”  Irian smiled coldly at him.  “Come on, I developed my own version of your tech without you.  I think it’s completely beyond you.”

Edward’s face darkened.  “Stupid monkey.  What I know would split your head like a melon.”

“Also, that’s my friend’s sword.”

“Then take it back, you base ape!”  He swung the blade at Irian’s face.  Irian moved aside as if it weren’t there.  He swung again.  A blade flashed out to block, its flat expertly parrying the blade.  Irian yawned.

“Do you think I’m joking?”

“Yes, actually.  You’re slow, and you seem to be a little daft.  Also, you’re using a weapon that you’re unfamiliar with.  If you’ve got something to say, say it.  If you want to fight, put that down and actually fight.  Otherwise, I’m going to ram these blades through your chest and go find something to eat.”

“Eat?  You mean there’s no reactor in there?  This is rich…”

He unzipped a cuff around the armpit of each sleeve on his coat, and his sleeves fell off.  Along his arms, small ports opened up, and a burst of bright particles vented.  “Your tech is already antiquated.”

‘Why don’t you pick up a weapon-”  Irian’s sentence was cut off by a fist to the face.  Whatever he had done, he had gotten a lot faster.  Blood flowed freely from his mouth and nose.  Where Edward’s flowed blue, and Namid’s flowed red, his flowed green-a fact that surprised and amused Edward.

“You monkeys are so full of surprises.  Wait till I get your children into my lab-I wonder what color blood they’ll have!”

Irian’s eyes focused on Edward.  He put his blades back in their sheaths.  Edward threw another punch, but Irian grabbed his fist with his right hand.  It held fast against Edward pulling on it.  He threw another punch, and Irian caught it.  Edward pushed.  Irian didn’t budge.  He pushed harder.  Irian still gave no ground.  The vents on his arms flared, and he broke Irian’s grip.  “No reactors.  So pitiful.”

Irian stepped back a pace.  Remebering his training, he widened his stance.  Edward noticed.

“Now who’s using a weapon they’re not familiar with?”  Edward dropped into a boxer’s stance and aimed a fist at his solar plexus.  It impacted, but the effect was not what he had hoped for.  Irian’s left elbow came down on his shoulder, and he landed in the dirt.

“I grew up among a people who I had nothing in common with.  They didn’t speak my language, know my stories of care about my gods.  You think I didn’t get used to a fistfight?”  Irian threw a right cross of his own.  It impacted Edward’s jaw, and his lip split.  Blue blood dripped from his smiling mouth.  “I don’t think you have a full understanding of what you’re getting into.”  A right uppercut dropped his opponent to his knees.  He got back up quickly though-it was evident that this man had seen more than one hard fight.  Irian found himself off guard from the attack that Edward launched as soon as he reached a crouch from the ground.  Whatever his fists were (and he didn’t think that they were flesh and blood) they hurt.  Very, very badly.  Irian tried to maneuver his left arm into taking the shots as best he could, but Edward was good.  Too good.  Eerily good.  Over and over, his forearms landed against Irian’s blocks, beating him down to his knees.

Published in: on October 21, 2012 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Ninety-Seven: I Can’t Read This

In the small shuttlecraft, Namid was trying every button combination she knew (which wasn’t many, admittedly) to try and make the datapane display in something she could read.  She was getting impatient with the piece of tech.  Just before she dashed it against the floor, Elanor saw what she was trying to do and reached over and tapped a button she didn’t even know was there.

“What language do you require?”

“I don’t even know what this is!”

“Language detected.  Performing translation to English.”

“What’s English?”

“Same as Englic, or close enough.  Surprised us too, when we came back.”

“What do you mean, when we came back?”

“When we traveled wherever we did to end up here.  The Harvest are sure that they traveled through time to simply take over their past.  Some of our scientists think that we simply changed to a new universe instead.  At least one says that time travel is impossible.  I’m starting to believe them.  Nothing is right.”

“What do you mean, nothing is right?”

“No dates line up, there are odd plants and animals, there’s a dragon, for Christ’s sake-“

“Who is this ‘Christ’ I keep hearing about?  Some important figure in your history?”

“You could say that.  That’s on the list too.  Many consider him to be the most important person in history, but nobody here has heard of him.”

“It must be tough.  I remember when I came over to this country, I didn’t know anyone except for the people I traveled with.  I barely spoke the language.  I hated it.  I spent my time wandering as far as I could, but nobody knew the stories of my people, nobody followed our ways.  I was so utterly alone.”

“So did Irian?”

Namid snorted.  “Irian would still be speaking Cymru if left to his own devices.  No, he didn’t but he wasn’t of the country either.  I could at least talk to someone that somewhat understood, or so I thought.  He didn’t talk much.  Not that I blame him, it must have hurt forever when he got that slash across his face.  my bowstring slapped me and just left a bruise and I didn’t talk for a week.”

“That scar is so unfortunate.  He must have been good looking at one point.”

“I’ll remind you who he is to me, thank you.  He’s just as handsome for it.  But when I met him, it was still healing.  It looked so much worse, and they were still afraid that he wouldn’t see again from that eye.  I teased him mercilessly.”

“That was mean.”

“I didn’t know how to deal with him.  I was trying to do anything I could to make myself feel better.”

“I’ve been there.”

“Is that why you kissed him?”

“No, that was something much less… what’s the word.  I don’t know a good one.  I just have to tell it from the beginning.  Don’t worry, I’m not planning any of it any more.  You’ll see why when I tell it.  I need to get it off my chest anyway.”

So Elanor told Namid about what her father was really like, whereupon Namid started to understand a lot of what had transpired. 

“Does my brother even know this?”

“No.  When he said he wanted to atone, everyone took him at his word.  His crimes were a world away, anyway.  Some of us just knew better than to trust him.  I wasn’t going to let him get such a powerful weapon.”

“Well, your man put paid to that, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he did.  Now you know why I don’t hate him-he saved all of us.  In the forest we found love, and now I have a personal stake in the matters of this world.  I have no interest in harming anyone again.”

“All the same, I’m glad your first plan failed.”

“So am I.”

The two women laughed, the first time they had so freely in a long time.

Published in: on October 21, 2012 at 12:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Ninety-Six: In All Worlds

A row of explosions rocked the right flank of the Harvest.  Ssanyu looked askance at James.

“That pair of old codgers is up to something.  I didn’t know they’d stolen that pillar though.  I have to watch them closer.”

She laughed, and turned her blade back to the task.  Every one that fell was one step closer to victory.

Hariel and Thor were still fighting.  They had thought about keeping count, but they couldn’t stop telling jokes.  Even as thin cuts criscrossed their faces and the telltale bruising of muscle damage started to bloom on their skin, they laughed as they struck down their foes.  Hariel was halfway about one about a drunken washer-woman when a stone the size of a large cat struck him in the back.

“Let’s see if you bleed sap, or blood.  I always wondered what it would be when I made you.”

The tosser of the stone was dressed in the black leathers of a high-ranking Harvest, his enhancements invisible as he stood in the early morning light, daring Hariel and Thor to do something about the thrown stone.

“Made?  My parents made me.  You have, however, made me angry.  I take it you’re responsible for this?”

“Pah.  This is a trifle.  We wanted the ores from their mines and the fish from their nets.  They didn’t want to give them to us.  We decided to express our displeasure.  You’re simply seeing its aftereffects.”  He spoke true, for a long metallic rod jutted from the earth behind him.  It looked more like a tree trunk than a simple rod, though-its surfaced was baked with reentry heat, and even from their distant vantage point it was still hot.  “Be glad we weren’t angry.”

Hariel scuffed the toe of his boot.  “You talk a lot.  You should stop talking.”

“I don’t see anyone here strong enough to make me.  All I see is a pair of kids who need a bath, and a slap on the rear.”

Thor grunted.  “Kids, huh?  First time I’ve been called that in a long time.”  He slung his hammer at the man.  “Let’s play then, old man.”  The weapon struck his outstretched hand and stopped.  None of Thor’s force could avail him against the man’s outstretched hand.  He snatched the weapon from Thor.  With the back of his hand, he slapped Thor to the ground. 

Thor sensed that this man was as far beyond him as Irian, at least.  He steeled himself for the final blow, but it never came.  He looked up at the slender stranger.

“Come back in a few years.  However, I’d get better toys.  This one is all messed up.”  He buried the head in the street.  As he pushed, the head cracked and spilled its poisonous contents on Thor.  He scrambled to get away, but he had already received a dose of mercury.  He made for the treeline, where he disappeared.

“If you ever learn how to get that out of your system, come back and see me.  Maybe you’ll have gotten strong in the meantime.”  He unbuttoned a flap on each shoulder of his combat attire, and a working pair of gills could be seen, trying to purge his body of the poisonous metal.  “Some of us have more elegant ways of handling such setbacks.  Such a ferocious little boy.  Let’s see how he likes that.”

Hariel unslung his sword.  The mystery assailant studied it for a moment.  “I like that.  I want it.”  He reached to snatch the sword from Hariel.  Hariel rebuffed him.  “Stronger than your friend, I see.  Think you can stop me from taking it?”

Hariel looked at him for a moment.  Then he grabbed the man by his wrist and tossed him over his shoulder.  The man rolled and popped back up, laughing.  “In all the worlds we’ll ever steal, I think you’re the most fun I’ll ever have.  But you’re going to give me that sword.”

“Over my dead body.”

“Most likely, yes.  But at least you can take solace in the fact that you’re worth the killing.”

The slender man reached for the hilt of the sword, and Hariel swung it back over his shoulder.  He kicked him in his face and knocked him sliding across the cobblestones.

“Didn’t your mother ever teach you to say please?”

“All right then, please.  Now give me that weapon.”

“All right…”  Hariel hit the man as though he were swinging at a melon on a stump.  He caught the edge of the blade and was hurled a good twenty feet by the impact.  He rolled to his feet and popped his neck.  A thin line of blue blood ran from the front of his uniform.  A mean look crossed his face.  “If you don’t mean to give it to me, I will take it.”

Hariel shrugged.  He swung the blade in an overhand arc as he closed the distance to the man.  Just as it looked like the man was going to be split in two, he reached out and caught the blade.  A simple twist of the hand broke it free of Hariel’s grasp.

Hariel’s mouth was agape.  He had never seen strength like this-not even from Irian. 

“Close your mouth, you’ll draw flies.  Or butterflies.  Or bees.  I’m not sure what exactly you’ll draw, but it doesn’t matter.  I hate insects.”

Hariel made a move to recover his blade.  The slender man slapped him down to the cobbles with the flat of the sword.  He didn’t move afterward.

“Sleep it off.  If you ever get up, come see if you can take this from me.  Just be glad I didn’t plant you.  In all worlds, I’ve never seen a plant-human hybrid.  Aether is truly strange.  Wonder what will happen the next time I try the experiment…”

He walked calmly toward the edges of the battle.  By his judgement, he’d have to walk for a few days to catch the next regiment.

Published in: on October 20, 2012 at 11:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Ninety-Five: Broadside

The shoreline was hurtling upon them, the burned track of the cannon a dark scar upon the sand.  The ship was piloting itself, all nonessential crew had gone with Namid, and those who fought were arrayed on the deck, ready for the impact.  Irian was fully armed for combat-a mirror image of his teacher, though his left arm was exposed, not his right.  The wings he had inherited from the Prince were folded behind him, ready for action, and he wore a pair of thin swords thrust through his obi, though nobody knew where they came from.  Hariel was stripped to the waist, his rapidly greening features taking in sunlight to power his body.  His greatsword was slung over his right shoulder, and his hair bloomed white in response to the sunlight.  In contrast, though Thor was clad from tip to toe in mail, its flashing links making a soft tinkle as he stretched his arms.  His mercury-filled aether hammer was in his hands, waiting.

“I think we left Hariel back there.  All I see is this tree.”

The warriors laughed, a joke to try to calm prefight nerves.  Irian, who had been so busy working on the preparations for when they would have to fight again that he hadn’t properly called on Hariel and Elanor, turned to him and asked, “so what did you name your new daughter?  Beautiful as her mother, she is.  Be proud of her, Hariel, she looks nothing like you!”  Once again, the deck roared with laughter. 

“We named her Olwen.”

“Ah, she of the White-Track, then!  Quite a lofty name for a child.  May she grow in power even as her namesake.”

“And may my daughter grow up in a world without this war.”  Hariel turned his churning face to the task at hand.  “We grew up with it.  None of us is unaffected.  I’m tired of nipping at their heels, taking this chunk of land for ourselves and trying to raise a family before they decide they want it too.  I’m tired of seeing our cities destroyed.  I’m sick for all the loved ones we’ve lost.  And I’ve had it.  No more will we give ground.  Today we fight-and so shall we until this is all over.  Today we take back our world.”

As if on cue, the sound of sand under the keel and a jarring vibration ran through the ship.  The ship reversed thrust so as not to throw them from the bow of the ship.  Fighters poured from the ship, appearing many times their size-each of the members of Iscariot carried a generator to make it appear as if there were more of them than were really there.  They were the first ones off the ship, a smokescreen so that all the others could make land.  As each mounted the side, they called to the others “run, run!”  As soon as the last man had scrambled over the side, smoke began to pour from the hull.

“She’s going to buy us some time!  Clear, afore you’re killed by the blast!”

Within moments, a curious fwoomph echoes across the beach, and the ship is obliterated, the sand beneath it fused into glass.  For the men and women who fight today, there is only one option.  Forward.

Forward they go, their blades shining free, their guns firing.  The shock troops of the Harvest, a genetically engineered feline known as the cait sith to those of this time, are mowed down in the hail of fire and the forest of blades.  In an hour, none are left, and the assembled troop begins looking for the ones who dropped the pillar.  Cheers go up from some of the fighters, but the experienced caution them.  They know how these things happen-in an instant, a victory becomes a rout.

And so it does-the Harvest themselves burst from behind walls, topple trees, and tear up cobblestones leaving the places of their hiding.  The first to come out grab two men and swinging them like pillows dash them against each other.  Their severed limbs fly in all directions.  Some are unmanned by this display, and they seek to flee.  Those die first, at the bare hands of the enemy.  The members of Iscariot appear then, their like speed to the aggressors keeping them at a mostly level playing field.  Those struck by their daggers sprout fanciful crystal growths from their bodies, the poison on their blades assuring that the Harvest that fall to them will not rise again.  Even so, they break the ranks of Iscariot, numbers doing what speed cannot.  Blue blood pools everywhere, mixing with the red of the city.  Everywhere it does, it hisses and foams.

As the ranks break on each other like the wake of a boat, the Harvest push to the sea, to drown their foe.  Just as it seems that Iscariot will fall, a tree crosses the battlefield at speed, bowling over many of the aggressors.  Hariel follows it, and where he passes, none can withstand him.  Even the men who came with him shrink from him, and many run screaming, claiming the Green Man has come to end them.  It may as well be for the Harvest-he is a force of nature, each strengthening ray of sunlight giving him more power.  At first he uses his giant sword, but as the fighting gets ever closer, he slings it over his back on favor of his hands and stings.  Even bare-handed, he is more than a match for them.  Just as they make to overwhelm them, a keening cry is heard across the battlefield.  Thor, his hammer held above his head, is already in the air traveling toward him.  He bears down three, his hammer felling one as he falls.  The hammer makes contact with the cold cobbles beneath his enemy.  Each swing is a crushed face, a collapsed chest, a broken back.  He fights as an animal-a wolf of the icy north, come to despoil what he will.

Across the battlefield, a pair cleave a path through the throng, a silent duo that none can touch.  Ouray leads the charge, firing arrow after arrow, each one drawn unerringly to its target.  If he’s ever missed, none would know it now.  Any that stands after his barrage is summarily cut down by the ghost of a figure in white.  No sound does he make as he cuts down everything in his path.  His blades splinter and chip, but the steel holds strong.  Sheer will forces the blunt metal through the bodies of his enemies again and again.  Ouray’s quiver runs dry, and even his gleaned arrows break.  The two men stand back to back, striking down whoever comes near.  Ouray nods at Musashi.  A pillar of light erupts from their position, incinerating their adversaries.  No trace of the two men survives the blast, though.  There’s no way to tell if they survived or not.  But they didn’t get old being slow.

A quick burst of blue beams draws the eye.  From the rear of the battle, James levels a pair of guns at the advancing Harvest.  Blue fire arcs from the barrel, burning the Harvest, leaving friend untouched.  His men clear his path-they know that the aether in their blood is enough to catalyze as well, and they would fall as surely as the Harvest.  A thin figure leaps out of his shadow, a short spear in hand.  Its reach is small, but its blade is wicked sharp.  She defends the gunner, her blade dispatching any who avoid the beams.  James fires and fires again, the jacket he wears burning away at the arms to reveal a new set of arms purpose made for fighting.  After the pillar of light, there is significantly less of the foe, but they’re not defeated.  Not yet.

The Harvest surges forward.  Almost all of the crew that was of this timeline have fallen.  While the beasts were no match, none were prepared for the strength of their masters.  Each one is a nightmare of flesh and steel, their bodies bearing silent testimony to their efforts to win at any cost.  Their faces are grim with determination-they will take this planet from its owners, no matter how many must fall to do it. 

Published in: on October 20, 2012 at 10:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Ninety-Four: Loch Lomond

“Wait, you want me to do what?”

“Leave before this starts.  There’s more than one boat available to take you, and once you’re free of the fighting, you can follow this to get you there.”  Irian handed her a datapane with a large amount of statistical data on it.  It was evident that he had been thinking about this for a while.  There was information about stores of food, materials, directions and a list of crew who were to go with her.  The names caused a stare of incredulity.

“What do you mean by this?”

“You’ve got the future of this world in you right now.  Elanor carries it in her arms.  All we do is for nothing if that fails.  You understand that.  I know you do.  But if I don’t fight, it could all be over now.  I’m not willing to let that happen.  Hariel, Thor, they know the cost.  For that matter, you and Elanor did too.  But the situation is different, is it not, cariad?

She nodded.  He was right, though it didn’t soothe her heart.  “Why did you do this?”

“I think you know that I loved you from the moment I set eyes on you, though you did nothing but scorn me for so long. ‘Trio’r wythnos yn flwyddyn, troi’r flwyddyn yn dair Rwy’n ffaelu troi ‘nghariad i siarad un gair’ and all that.  I’m not going to let you go after finally catching you.”

“That’s sweet and all, but could you translate that for me?”

Irian laughed.  “Turn the week to a year, turn the year into three I can’t turn my true love to speak to me.”

“Your people have a thing for songs of unrequited love, don’t they?”

“Assuredly.  Do you know how the song ends?”

“No.  But I’d like to know.”

“As long as the sea is salty still, I will love you.  And it’s true.  But I think you already knew that.”

She nodded.  “Your face is not as bad as I told you it was.”

Irian laughed.  For a moment, the world fell away and they could simply think of each other.  But the real world can’t ever be put away for long.  There were still more instructions to give.  “When you reach the shores of the loch, take all of you in one craft.  What you carry with you will keep you safe, but I don’t want to think of what would happen to some of you alone.  Every true son and daughter of Cymru has nothing to fear of the lake, and that will extend to you.  But for anyone else, Lomond will be the death of them.  You’ll be safe until I can come to you.  The loch can do nothing to me, so I can come and go as I please.  The Harvest can’t step a toe into that water, though.”

“What do you know, Irian?”

“The afanc has been in our family for generations.  It knows us by our blood, which it apparently can simply smell.  It will let you and those you keep pass, but it will attempt to devour any that come without proper license.  We’ve trusted to their technology too long-this I know works.  If all hope seems lost, and the afanc is somehow overcome, the Twyleg Teg will guard you and yours until I come.”

“How do you know?”

“They will always stand forth to see that Cymraeg does not fall.  They are from a different world as well, though which one I cannot tell.  Their realm is magic, not technology, as far as we ever knew of them.  None who visit them in their kingdom under the hill have returned to tell, so I cannot say.”

“You seem very sure of these protections.”

“Well, I should hope so, for me to speak of them.  There’s a reason that the Harvest never knew of Y Ddraig Goch.  They couldn’t get close enough.”

“When am I supposed to go?”

“Now.  they’re waiting for you.  In the ship’s manifest you will find a box.  The pane will tell you which one.  When you arrive at Inchtavannach, take the box yourself, follow the directions and place it where it specifies.  Do it as soon as you arrive, so that it will have time to complete itself.  After that, you are the mistress of the loch, and you may do as you see fit.  And know I will come to you as soon as I may.  Now go!  We’re going to hit that shore any moment now!”

They shared a final kiss, brief but fierce, and she made her way to the hold where the launch was waiting.  All of her crew were Cymru, though the ones they protected were not.  Not yet, anyway.

When he had watched the launch disappear, he turned his face to the shore.  Thor and Hariel joined him, and Ouray and Kensei Musashi were already waiting.  Ouray asked if it was done.  Irian simply nodded.  Dawn broke behind them.

“It’s a good day to die.”

 

Published in: on October 20, 2012 at 9:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Ninety-Three: Shantyman, The Screamer

James addressed his crew.

“Who of you did I bring with me?  Who followed me through the space between worlds?”

A handful of men and women cheered.  The rest of the crew clapped them on the back. 

James handed off the wheel to the helmsman.  His arms were beginning to smoke.  A fell look crossed his face.

“We ask of thee, whit art thou!”

We are Iscariot, the Zealot Judas!

“In that case, Iscariot, we ask o’ thee: Whit dost thou hold in thy right hand?”

Daggers and poisons!

“In that case, Iscariot, we ask o’ thee: Whit dost thou hold in thy left hand?”

Thirty silver pieces, and a rope!

The cords stood out on James’ neck.  His voice was cracking.  His right arm flashed sparks, and then a fire caught on his sleeve.  He didn’t notice.

“In that case, Iscariot, whit art thou!

As apostles, but not as apostles!

As adherents, but not as adherents!

As believers, but not as believers!

As traitors, but not as traitors!

We are disciples of death, the Death Disciple Group!”

The silence that had spread over the decks was deafening.  James’ left sleeve caught fire as well.  He cast his jacket off.  His bare chest was smeared in the blood of his crew and the blood from his stumps.  His back was criscrossed with cuts from the straps from his arms, and abrasions from the loop holding them taut.  He tightened his fists until his hands smoked and added his broken scream to those of his crew.

Only bowing and praying the forgiveness of our Lord,

Only bowing and defeating the enemies of our Lord;

Wielding our dagger in the night and poisoning the evening meal,

We are assassins, the Assassin Judas.

When the time comes, we will cast our thirty pieces of silver at the altar-

The bands holding James’ arms snapped and popped, straining to hold his arms as every muscle in his chest was pulled taut.

And hang thy head from our rope.

Thereby we will fall to Hell in cabal.”  Every one of James’ original crew held a medal on a chain aloft, made in the image of a silver temple coin on one side, and a dagger and noose on the other.  The chain was wrapped around the hilt of a short dagger.  The red light from the fires burning on the shore reflected from the upraised blades.  James produced an identical one and held it aloft.

Lined up in square formation, we seek to do battle with the seven million, four hundred and five thousand, nine hundred and twenty-six demons of Hell.

All of the crew breathed in as one.  The sea went dark.

APOCALYPSE NOW!”  James’ arms exploded, tearing the straps from his back and sending shrapnel into his face.  The guns gathered energy and fired, hard enough to push the ship backwards in the sea.  The guns carved out a channel to land the ship in the defenses of the shore, scouring clean to the bedrock for more than a mile inland. 

“Run the ship aground!  Iscariot, send them to the final judgement!  God sends His sun to light your work!”

The crew poured over the sides, their enhanced bodies absorbing the shock.  The planks fell on either side of the ship.  Fires still burned in the path of the beams.

Behind them, dawn broke above a red sky.

*Those with a deep knowledge of horror manga may notice the litany of Vatican Section XIII in this chapter.  It is used as no words I could come up with could better set the tone for what is to come.  Kohta Hirano’s dialogue is used verbatim, emphasis (and narration) mine.  Should he ever see this, his writing has influenced me more than I can properly express, and I hope he will see my work for how I intend it-a reference made in the greatest respect for his talents in writing and art.  I recognize those who came before, and thank them for what they taught me.*

Published in: on October 1, 2012 at 2:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Ninety-Two: Master Eire

“Captain on deck!”

James ascended to the wheel.  Slowly, stiff from overwork, servos grinding and popping.  He slowly took the helm for Irian.

“You have the helm, Captain.  What are your orders?”

“All hands prepare for war!  Make ready for landfall!  We go to a source of power enough to fight the Harvest toe to toe.  A red night!  A sword night!  Take from them everything!  Give them nothing for it!”

A cheer rose from the deck.  The crew hooted cheered and crowed.  They all, to the last, wanted a chance to exact revenge.

“Raise our standard!  Show those sails, sailor!  Cover those cannons!  Let them see the colors!”  James turned to Irian.  “Make ready yourself.  What you will face you’ve never seen the like of.  Give your wife a kiss for me.  Tell her Ilya wants her for targeting.”

“Yes, Captain!”

A hush drew over the deck.  The crowd split, as if pushed.  At the opposite end of the deck stood four figures-Ouray, Musashi, Elanor and Namid.  A small bundle in Elanor’s arms squirmed.

Ouray and Musashi stepped forward.

“We report for duty, Captain.”

Ouray carried a recurve bow, its white wood shot through with the telltale crystals of natural aether.  His black mail was completely silent as he walked-rubberized rings, which would not reflect light or make sound.  His arrows were of carbon, the tips the same black glass Irian’s sword was made from once.  Each head was scribed to shatter on impact.  His long black hair was bound behind him.  Even his footsteps were silenced-he was hunting for men this night, and he would not be denied his quarry.  He supported Elanor, her wounds bandaged, her child for the moment becalmed.  Her back was ramrod-straight, though it obviously pained her.  She was still dressed in the clothes of the infirmary, but her face was defiant.

Musashi presented a stark contrast to Ouray’s somber attire.  His habako and kimono were shrugged off his right shoulder and hung to the deck.  His chest was leathery with scars.  His hakama nearly obscured his geta, but they made no sound as he walked.  Even the saya thrust through his obi did not click as he walked.  He wore no armor, but his clothing from head to toe was white as fresh snow.  His long white hair was bound with a white strip of cloth.  Only his black laquered geta and the blades that he carried broke up the expanse of white.  He was attired in mourning for the fallen of the ship.  He supported Namid, still experiencing dizziness from the force of the attack.  Dried blood still crusted her nose and ears.  She clutched her stomach with one hand and supported herself on Musashi with the other.

“We report for duty, Captain.”

“Elanor, Namid, take positions in targeting.  Elanor, headset for comm.”

The women took up their positions with help from the masters.  After seating them, the two old men stood before James, barely able to contain their mirth.

“Care to let me in on the joke?”

“Two old men dressed up like kids, out on another adventure.  Nothing more.”

“At least one of you is older than me, and I’m betting both.  You two will do as you will, and we’ll all be amazed when you come dragging back in looking for something to eat, right?”

The two men simply laughed, then nodded.  For all the dichotomy in their looks, it was clear the two were old friends, their bond forged in the crucible of eternal war, closer than brothers.  “We do as we see fit.  You’re not old enough to tell us what to do.  However, we agree with you.”

“Irian, go get properly dressed, and turn out your pockets.  We know you’re hiding something.”

Irian hit the deck in a bow before his teacher.  “Kensei Musashi, you are too valuable to the Yagyu to fight!  Let me go in your place-you hold the entire history of the Yagyu-ryu!”

“You speak more truth than you know, Irian.  These blades predate even the Harvest.  But yet, we must all fight.  Master yourself, then, and let’s go.  Master Eire, I should say-or Caledfwch, should I say?”

“If Master Eire I be, Master of the Blessed Isles, then so should you be Master Asia-the undefeated Sword Saint of the East.”

“Undefeated of the East, huh.  Get up, Irian.  We have to get ready.”

“Master, look.”  Irian pointed toward the shoreline, the target they were aiming for.
Musashi knew what his student had to say.

“Look, the East is burning red!”

“Get ready, Irian.  Ilya, bring my pistols.”

Published in: on October 1, 2012 at 12:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Ninety-One: A Pound Of My Flesh

Ilyana knew that he had seen.  There was simply no time, and he had accepted her actions as the correct ones, but what to say?

James was belowdecks, tearing apart the infirmary for more supplies.  Servos ground and popped in his arms, he was bleeding beneath the pressure pads, and his fingers were sparking.  He knew these signs, but he pressed on anyway.  He had felt the massive guns fire over and again, their target obviously the Sword above.  A dark realization crossed him, and he sent Ssanyu as fast as she could move to Ilyana to make sure the satellite at reentry wouldn’t strike either the damaged ship or the men it was readying to deploy-there was simply too much material in the satellite for a single salvo to break up.

He continued to search the cabinets.  Pockets were filling, his bag was overflowing.  A second bag hung by the first, bandages poking out of the top.  When he could carry no more, he returned to his task, while a familiar sound filtered down to him-a song of his own time, but his crew of men and women of this time knew it-with a few changes, to be sure, but that referenced something that never happened here, didn’t it?  He filed it for later, and continued on.  His wrists were going to give first, it seemed, but he didn’t alter a motion.  Another crewmember tightened the rope holding his arms in place.  He didn’t even see them do it, but he thanked them the best way he knew how-continuing his mission of mercy.

A memory assaulted him, come unbidden from the depths of his worst memories to taunt him.  The Prince, Ilya and others he dimly remembered were gathered around a viewtable, discussing the import of what they were seeing.

“So you mean to tell me you designed this monstrosity?”

“Yes.  What would you have me do, give them nuclear capability?  At least this can be countered.  Shall I hand them medium payload fission ordnance and say ‘careful, you’ll put your eye out?'”

“I thought you were trying to save lives, not take them!  What the everloving hell were you thinking?”

“That if they didn’t nuke everything we saw, our people would at least be able to move in and help.  I don’t see you taking any moves to cripple them.”

“I’m a doctor.  A healer.  I swear an oath not to take lives, remember?”

“I don’t have that handicap.”

“Brother, don’t be that way.  James has a point.  A real one.  I thought you joined to derail their plans, not help them kill more.  I don’t understand, either.  How is this slowing them down?”

“Because their solution was to paint the area in low-yield nukes and install scrubbers on us.”

“And this is any better?”

“At least we have a better chance of surviving.”

“But this wasn’t about us, was it?  I thought we were here to protect them, not us.  We had our chance-we screwed it up, and haven’t we paid enough?  We were supposed to prevent this from happening to our past, not keep trying to escape our fate.”

The Prince narrowed his eyes at James.  His tone was enough to drop the temperature of the meeting a full twenty degrees.  “I did this for a chance at survival.  Some of us don’t see ourselves as the next great extinction event.”  He turned to leave.  “Your plan isn’t good enough.  I decided on a better one.”

“And if you don’t abandon it, I can tell you one of my own.  I’ll strike you down right here.”

“But you’re a doctor.  You’re not supposed to take lives, remember?  What would my sister think?”

Ilyana turned to her brother, and reached for him.  “Brother, what were you thinking?  This may not be their plan, but it isn’t ours either.  We were supposed to protect lives, not invent new ways to take them.  James wasn’t wrong.  Instead of sabotaging transport mechanisms, you give the world one of the worst weapons it’s ever seen.  You’re not helping, you’ve chosen a different way to destroy it.  And that creature, the Basilisk-why?  That creature must be in horrible torment, why would you do that to it?  What have you become?”

“What is necessary.  Survival of the fittest, and I plan to be the fittest.”

“Then I can’t stand by your side.  You’ll do it without me.”

The Prince waved off her comment.  “You’ll come to see it my way.  At least we can start over when we go through.  Imagine what wonders we could create!”

“Wonders like this artificial blood in our veins?  The machines that keep us safe from the monsters we’ve made?  The horror you helped create?”

“Horror nothing.  We are the masters of creation-it’s high time we acted like it.  Maybe we can get it right this time…”  He stopped himself.  He straightened his collar, gathered up his slates and turned to go.  “It isn’t like there’s anything you can do to stop me.”

“I guess you’re right.”  James stood, a resigned expression on his face.  “We can’t change your mind, and with the brains of the group gone, we don’t stand much of a chance.”

“Precisely.  Damocles is already completed and loaded.  There was never anything you could do.”  The Prince started for the door.  When he reached it, a shower of sparks stopped him.

“I may not can stop Damocles, but I can stop you.  And I will.  I made a mistake involving you, and I’ll put it right.  Your death will at least prevent you from making any more monstrosities.”

“I don’t think you can do it, James.  Maybe with that pistol, with my back turned, but could you strike me down looking me in the eyes?  I think you’re too weak, and I’m not going to give you the opportunity to shoot me in the back.  You should have made your first shot count.”

James’ next shot never went off.  The front half of his pistol fell to the floor, cut through with a blade hard as diamond and sharp to the molecule.  His second pistol whipped free, its underside equipped with a blade the same as the one that just destroyed his sidearm.  The Prince had the advantage of reach, his preferred weapon being a naginata, but James had the advantage of unfamiliar weaponry and superior speed. 

“James, I never knew you had it in you!  This is splendid, let’s settle all our disagreements this way!  It’s so much more… final.”

His naginata danced in and out of view, as he warded the area he stood.  James readied a charge, whirled, and fired from the pistol he bore.  His feint worked, tearing a track across the Prince’s shoulder and neck.  Water-clear blood flew, turning bright azure as it fell.  It struck in an arc as the Prince closed anyway.

“Still better than you.  If you expect to stop me, stop holding back.”

“I’m not holding back.  A doctor can’t fix that wound.  Give it a good look, since you flood your system with painkillers.  You’ve got that damage forever.  These bullets were made for this purpose-killing us.”

His words were true.  Across the track of the bullet, blue aether crystals were forming, tearing into the flesh, puckering and ballooning.  Even the blood on the floor was crystallizing.  There was no way to treat the wound unless he could stop the process, and he’d have to figure it out first-meaning he was going to have to get away to find an antidote.  Or whatever this was going to take to stop.  He recognized that this was a real problem, and that he had miscalculated.  But he was going to make sure that he paid for this.

“This is quite a toy you’ve come up with.  I wonder how long it took you?  It looks quite complex.  I could do so much with this!”

“Yes, you can.  You can die.”  His pistol went off again, tearing a hole through the top of the Prince’s knee.  “Can’t replace this with a machine.  You need to be able to work with the nerves-and this will kill them as surely as burning them would.  Have fun figuring it out.  Assuming I don’t decide to stop crippling and kill you.”

His next shot would have been a kill, had the Prince not been so quick to plot the trajectory and preemptively dodge.  Not far enough though, as the bullet tore through the muscle of his cheek, ripping a track along the skull to tear out through his scalp.  Aether was already solidifying in the wound, his flattened left eye pushed from the ruin of its socket by the jagged crystals.  They grew through the skin of his face, distorting his face into a ruined mess.  The loss of his eye was too much, and his curiosity was replaced by fury.

“I hope your accounts are paid up, because whatever god you serve is going to see you very, very soon.  Momentarily, in fact.”

“Do so, then.  You’re already branded a traitor, kill me and let that chemical turn you into a pillar of rock salt.”

“I have other plans.  Unfortunately, they mean I need you.  But I need some way of keeping you in line.”  He lunged for Ilyana.  “Dear sister, I’m sure you will tell him that he needs to cooperate.  Don’t you have something to tell him?  Something important?”  He braided his fingers into her hair.  “Would you like to see what happens to her with this wondrous toy you’ve created?  Or how about your child?  But I see she hadn’t told you yet!  I did this for that child, you fool-to buy you a world where that child can grow up free.  Don’t you see this is our future?  We have no chance here, we have to take somewhere new-why not our own past, changing the way it all goes?  We could make a new golden age, where man’s limitless power saves him instead of condemns him.  Why don’t you want that?”  He was shaking Ilyana’s head so hard her hair was tearing up from her scalp, and a thin line of blood trickled down from her forehead.  James lunged for her, his weapon temporarily forgotten.  The Prince’s naginata sliced through both his arms at the elbow.  James hit his knees.  Two thrusts of the blade took them off further, to the shoulder, the heat of the blade searing the flesh shut as the blade passed. 

“Physician, heal thyself.”  The Prince’s laughter echoed through the room.  He was still swinging Ilyana wildly, her attempts to escape futile against his enhanced grip.  The blood flowed freely from her scalp.  “So will you talk?  What is this you’ve put in me?  Or do they have to share it first?”

“Lot’s wife, don’t you know.  Think, you’re so smart.  I told you what you need to know.  Let her go.”

“And what destroys the nerves?”

“I synthesized clove oil.  Simple, effective, and all but forgotten.  A healer’s hands know just as well how to kill, as you can feel.  Well, until the oil is all used up.  That’ll stop soon.  The other process will only accelerate.  If you want to survive this, you need to let her go and go find something to stop it.  Besides, what can I do further to you?”

“True enough.  Salts, then.  A solution of seed crystals and clove oil?  Ingenious.  I didn’t know you had it in you.  It’s too bad it took this to bring it out.”

“Oh, but it didn’t.  These are loaded in racks, going through right now.  Ready to deal with your friends.  Against the more modified, it should be almost instantly lethal.  You already have enough problems.  She would have minor scarring.  The child would be unharmed.  I plan.”

The Prince pushed his sister toward James.  “I told you, I did this for you.  Too bad you weren’t worthy.”  His foot snaked out, tripping her.  He took a lurching step forward.  “There’s no room for another coward like the two of you.”  Ilyana knew what he was thinking.  She mouthed a silent plea.  It wouldn’t have mattered if she had spoken.  His foot came up.  He looked at her for the last time he would in life.

“Those who can do what is necessary must do it for those who cannot.”

His foot slammed into her solar plexus, her clenched muscles offering no real resistance to the force of his fury.  It fell again and again, finally stopping when she lay in a widening pool of blood, barely conscious.

He tapped a window on one of his slates.  “There’s been an accident.  Send a few teams.  Laboratory level, correct.  I’ll be in my quarters, I want a team there as well.  Full hazard gear.  If you skimp, every man you send will die.  I’ve found something extremely interesting.”

 

Published in: on September 30, 2012 at 9:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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