Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Gates of Gehenna


Duty on Gehenna was no picnic. The coolest temps would boil your unprotected brain pan. Only in the protection of your suit or the floating cities were you in any way safe and secure. You need only look at men and women who'd been living here for longer than five Prime years to know those protections were limited in terms of the lingering effects of radiation. Then there was the little matter of the often touted ninety-nine percent pure food and water. What was that extra percent? I'm no scientist, but I can tell you it's the one percent that leads to birth defects and the Rot.

Why on God's little green and blue apple would anyone serve here, then? The answer is the same no matter what. Money. The mantle was rich with Iridium-2. Only place in the known galaxy where you could find it as easy as picking up a stone. Provided that hand was covered in eight layers of protection.

Not everyone here was a miner, but everyone here did depend on what the miners did. Their job wasn't hard, but it was demanding and dangerous. The instability of the Iridium-2 made it a great fuel for Einstein-Hawking drives, but it also made it risky to use any large mining vehicles to gather. You suited up, walked into the mine, picked up what you could carry and packed it out in special made carriers. Gravity on Gehenna meant you could only get ten kilos or less on any given trip. Most people who could carry more were just too big to get into some of the tight holes. The best miners were often women, since they were more flexible and smaller while being pound for pound not much less strong.

None of that was why I was here. I pulled the helmet on over my head and locked it in place. Once the meters all showed green, I opened the door. The atmosphere was a rabid beast who only wanted to strip my flesh from its bones. Sensors told me it was a balmy sixty-three degrees. The wind blew at a healthy fifty kilometers. The quality of light was orange and visibility was at least a kilometer in every direction.

The elevator took me to the Maw. I nodded to the mine boss, knowing my suit's credentials would show me as someone who belonged here. Once I passed through the gate, I pulled the retractor from its holster. It was most often used to grab Iridium-2 from tighter spaces. It was also usually padded. I found it made a far more effective killing tool once the safety measures were removed.

A small green dot showed on my heads up display. There was my target. Carefully, I ducked and crawled my way through the maze of stone. Blue-white dots illuminated paths to parts of the mine proven safe and accessible. No surprise my quarry was off the beaten path. She'd always had a way of getting into the nooks and crannies. It's what made her one of the best in the business.

"Stop right where you're at." The voice crackled to me over the near field radio. It was hard to place pitch or timbre. All the minerals above and around them played havoc with most communications. Another thing that made this job extra hazardous. You get stuck and no one may know about it until they find your body. Thus, they used an ancient technology that allowed you to transmit bursts of low res data.

I held up my retractor and clacked its metal claws together. "We can do this easy, or hard. You could fall on a sharp rock and pierce your suit. Or you could get ripped apart by an accidental explosion."

"Son, you should know better than to threaten your mother."

We had the same hair pattern, a swirling widow's peak of black that resolved into feathery wisps at our temples. "You should know better than to call it a threat."

She raised a palm sized slug thrower. "True. I did raise you to know better. Come any closer and I promise I'll blow us both through the gates of Gehenna."


#ScienceFiction 
Story and Characters (c)/by Scott Roche



Saturday, September 24, 2016

I remember the old man’s words, spoken in firelight amid a frozen wasteland:


I remember the old man’s words, spoken in firelight amid a frozen wasteland:

“Two deer are trained. One deer is bound to the hunter, it is called the bound deer. The other deer goes among its wild brethren, it is called the lure deer. When the wild deer lie down to rest, the lure deer lies down as well. The bound deer knows this and lies down too. It is then that the hunter knows that it is time to strike and with his deadly arrows, comes and takes the wild deer, at unawares.”

I know that I am the lure deer. She made me thus. And now, I lie down amid the wild deer, and I await the arrows of death to come. This place is ripe with death already. My task here is easy. I have only to play my part as the lure deer.

One of the kine comes to me. This one fancies himself a saviour. Amid all this war: chaos, hatred, and death, this one seeks to save men by the skill of his hand. I have dealt with many like him over the long years. Some have claimed to heal with magic, some with faith, and now, with science. They are all the same: dirty charlatans dealing in false hope, scoundrels selling life. I will have nothing to do with him.

“I don’t need your leeches,” I spat. “Leave me be.”

The kine does not expect this. His words tumble from his mouth like the ignorant concepts from which they are born. “I have no leeches. Where are you hurt?”

These fools never learn. Not until it is too late. Not until they see my Lady’s Wrath bearing down upon them. Not until all their lights have gone out, and hope is finally lost. “Leave me be,” I reply.

Then, a most glorious thing happens. The kine touches me. I could feel my Lady’s Gifts - my little ones, within my body stir with rapture. I love it when they come close to me, these confused, foolish men. The closer they are, the easier it is to give them what they so deserve. The closer they are, the easier it becomes to please the one who pleases me: my Dark One. The Twilight Lady.

The kine moves me, rolling me onto my back, and I can see the horror, the disbelief, wash over his dull, stupid features. They all look so alike--these featureless mounds of mobile flesh and bone--and they all act so alike. This man cannot believe what his eyes tell him: my gaping, seeping wounds, the scent of rotting meat that wafts from my gut… All of my Lady’s terrible and glorious gifts.

The kine moves away, mortified.

I am happy. I have touched another one. Another darkly shining gem in my Lady’s ebon crown has been found. Now, there is only the waiting. I must wait for the hunter to come, with his deadly arrows, and claim the prize.

It is hard to keep from smiling as I roll back into the war-churned, bloody mud.

I am a good lure deer. I will please Her.

***
If you like this and want to read more, this is an excerpt from my new co-authored novel, Angel's Glow, on sale now.
***

Art Source: Unknown
Story and Characters: (c)/by Brannon Hollingsworth

#MMWW, #Makes, #Me, #Wanna, #Write, #BrannonHollingsworth, #civilwar, #Shiloh, #angelsglow, #pox

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Children On the Run


They spent most of their lives running from horrid place to skeevy place and hiding when they got there. Sooner or later something would find them. It could be the stalking trees or the widdershins or maybe even the gutter spiders. The latest crash place was absolutely posh, though.


"I hope we get to stay here for more than a day." Grampers took in the space around them. "Used to be a grand place I reckon. That stained glass was whole and there weren't no trees grown up the walls."


"Shut your gobber." Sleen made a cutting motion across his throat and pointed at the hole in the floor. "Could be night riders down there."


Grampers shuddered at the thought of the spindly legged things. They bit your neck and make you carry them around. "I'l be quiet, Sleen." His tone was, in fact, quieter than it had been. He ran a shaky hand through his unruly mop of dun hair.


"Don't be cruel." Jangler tutted at Sleen. "He don't mean no harm." She pulled the long blade from its hanger and cast her peepers down into the dark.


"Ain't no night riders this far north." Lizbean shook her head and pointed to the sheaf of papers she carried. "The 'Moire tells the truth. We'll be good here for a bit. Long as nothing hears us running our gobs too much." The oldest of their crew, Lizbean was the only one who could read proper. Haunted blue eyes scanned every word they came across, always looking for something she couldn't put her finger on.


The four of them made their way down the broad staircase to the ground floor. 

Sleen pointed his bow in every possible direction. 

Grampers had a hunk of wood with a nail through it. 

Jangler's long blade was something she'd found in a dumper yard. It was a keen thing. 

Lizbean carried no weapon but her wits, sharper than arrow, nail, or knife.


The wood floor was nearly rotten on top, but stronger supports underneath kept it from giving way. Sleen spat into the hole and listed. It pattered on something. "I make four legs deep."


"Not like we're climbing into the blasted thing." Lizbean shook her head. "We should get some rack time. Grampers, you take first watch."


Grampers gripped his club tighter and nodded grimly. As the youngest, it often fell to him to take that shift. Lizbean said it was so he could rack out uninterrupted. He thought he loved her for that. "Aye."


The other three shook out their many times patched blankets and were soon curled up on beds made of parchment thin leaves and the gathered dust of too many years. Sleen was soon snoring. The girls chatted for a bit, but it wasn't long before their breathing grew steady.


Grampers, finally used to his joke of a nickname after two years with the crew, took a long draw from his water skin. It cut through the dust in his throat, but did nothing for the fear. He wanted a proper weapon like the other two. He wasn't as smart as Lizbean. He'd never be the wit. His muscles had started to grow big, so maybe he'd be like Jangler. She was stronger than Sleen, though it didn't pay to say so.


He walked around this level, careful where he stepped. It wouldn't do to fall into the darkness below, night riders or not. You could fall on a shard of rock or a jumble of sharp wood.


"Take care, my boy." A voice echoed in his brain pan. He thought it might be his da, though he didn't remember what the man looked like.


"Aye, da." He whispered to himself. Sooner or later they would find some adults. They would be able to stop the long walking. They would have a home. Until then, they would run and hide and run again. The moon shone through the huge broken window, and showed the shine of tears on Grampers' face.

#PostApocalypse #Fear #HardKids #AbandonedPlaces

Art Source: Abandoned Church
Story and Characters (c)/by Scott Roche



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Dry, bleached stalks of brush raked across her calves...


Dry, bleached stalks of brush raked across her calves as she trudged through the ever-undulating snow drifts. In places, the wind-blown snow was nearly as deep as her waist, dropping out beneath her with a suddenness that seemed almost perversely malicious. In others, the frigid powder barely covered the cold, packed earth of the Black Forest's sparse floor. The hem of her thick, winter over-skirt dripped with slush that stuck to her like clammy palms of dead men. She could not let these elements of the land slow her pace. She had to get out of the dark boughs as quickly as possible.

This was not a good place to be once the moon rose.

Her lantern sputtered feebly. Even the barest shutter over the lamp would have done so much to aid in keeping the flame intact. It did not matter. It had to be this way...it would be over soon enough, she supposed.

Almost as if on cue, she heard the howl split the freezing cold wind. No, this was no mere howl. She had grown up hearing howls. This sound was far more than just a call by some hungry forest predator. It was as though someone was disemboweling the wind itself: a shriek that turned even her guts to water and threatened to give her leave of all her senses. There was a latent madness wound up in that howl; it was a horrific sound from somewhere Beyond. It held a distinct quality that began unraveling the very reality into which the discordant intonation had been thrust.

She quickened her pace, her footfalls crunching through the flimsy ice which coated the deeper snow. She stumbled, thinking how her crunching steps mimicked the thing's arrival. It had broken through the flimsy Curtain that separated her world from it's own dark demesne.

Her quick, gasping breaths trailed behind her in long white streamers caught upon a pale wind. She knew what was out there. She'd heard the stories. She knew what hunted her this night.

A deep growl trickled and rippled over her shoulder, slipping into her ear like wet, wiry wool. It itched and tickled and dampened every other sound all at the same time. She turned, lifting her pitiful lantern. Again, almost as if preordained by some Higher Power, at that exact moment, a shaft of brumal moonlight stabbed through the leaf-stripped branches.

The moon's pallid glow joined with the flickering flame of her beacon, casting an odd mixture of fire and ice upon the creature that towered above her. If it had been able to stand to its full height, four times her own height and more it would have soared, but its musculature and physical structure denied it that privilege. It was not by any means a lesser creature, however, with limbs as thick as hundred-year-old oaks, weight greater than a massive stone bridge, and shoulders as wide as most barns were long. There could be little doubt that the vlkčlověk**** before her was a lord over all it encountered. She would not be surprised that the furred and fanged horror might even be the One True Lord of its own Kin in all the known worlds, so titanic and terrible was its form and might.

Again came the deep rumble that made her own teeth rattle. The resound was followed by words, spoken in English, old of form. "Thou hast chosen poorly, she-chattle. Thou hast lost thy way in my wood this eventide. Think thee not that I wilt spare thee merely for being a Daughter of Eve. Thine blood will slake my thirst, and thy flesh will ease my hunger, doltish wench!"

The massive wolf-demon lunged for her with a slavering, blood-curdling howl.

It was in that moment that Roksana let her ruse drop and whipped Scythe, her sliver-edged shamshir from beneath her peasant disguise into a wide, pain-dealing arc before her. In a voice empowered by the Eternal Foe of her Enemy, she trumpeted, "Tak pojďte! Dine a pak navždy spát, bestie."***

*** - From Czech: "Come then! Dine and then forever sleep, beast!"

**** - From Czech: wolf-man

Art Source: "The Werewolf" (c)/by Niconoff
Story and Characters: (c)/by Brannon Hollingsworth

#MMWW, #Makes, #Me, #Wanna, #Write, #BrannonHollingsworth, #Roksana, #Sectof7, #wolfdemon, #werewolf

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

“I’m telling you, these things are dangerous!”


“I’m telling you, these things are dangerous!” Jimmy yelled into the screen, temples pulsing with effort and aggravation.

“And what makes you say that, Corporal?” Despite being over one billion light years away, Dr. Phintus was still able to deliver a healthy dose of sarcasm and disdain just as if he were in the room.

Corporal James “Jimmy” Means rubbed his aching head and answered the flickering image of his Senior Scientist and Commanding Officer. “Well, we’ve been studying these things for weeks now and every indication is that they are at least toxic, if not outright deadly to humans.”

“Oh, really? And what evidence do you have of this, Corporal?” The doctor never missed a chance to use Jimmy’s military title in conversations where he needed the upper hand. Dr. Phintus had never forgiven Jimmy for being selected for the Mission Team, while he was forced to remain on Earth.

Jimmy ground his teeth. “It’s all in my report, Frank.” His deadpan reply let his former-rival-now-boss know that there was no way he was going to repeat every minute detail that he’d included in the 400 Gb report he’d compiled and sent home over a week ago.

“That’s ‘Commander’ or ‘Dr. Phintus’ to you, Jimmy. Please bear in mind that this is a formal communiqué, and it is being recorded and reviewed.” The Chief Scientist’s lips disappeared into a thin, bloodless line. Jimmy could tell that he’d pushed Frank a little too far, even from Uranus. “…And, if you are referring to that botched mess you called a spectroscopy report, then it is anything but conclusive.”

Jimmy pushed back from the terminal screen and slowly rolled his head. His stress-wracked neck bones sounded off like popcorn. He pushed the backs of his hands into his eyelids and fired back, with a bit more aplomb this time. “Then what would you suggest, Doctor?” The subtle slight—using ‘Doctor’ instead of the titles he’d been directed to use—was completely intentional. Both Jimmy and Frank knew that he was tip-toeing around regulations, but Jimmy’d be damned if he’d cow-tow forever to the likes of Frank Phintus.

The retribution was quick and cruel. “I’d like a specimen captured and fully contained by week’s end. Make sure it is feisty enough to survive any and all local tests that you two would like to run and still survive the Deep-Freeze Express home.”

It was Jimmy’s worst fear made real. He’d never thought that Frank would want one of these things sent back to Earth. It didn’t matter now. The cat was out of the bag. Or, perhaps it was about to be put into the bag.

***

“Ugh. I hate these things. They stink to high-heaven!” Martinez groaned into her helmet-mic as they tromped down the path toward Emyn Muil.

Jimmy figured it was a good thing that both he and Elizabeth Martinez—his fellow Uranus Mission Team Member— was also a fan of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. Not only did it allow them to develop their own little language (or languages, given the fact that they both completely geeked out on Professor Tolkien’s Elven languages and numerous runic writing systems), but it also made borrowing books a breeze. They’d named the path they’d discovered into the chasm (which they had dubbed Khazad-Dûm) after the toilsome and deadly path Frodo and Sam took into Mordor.

It was a fitting title.

Spars of razor-sharp obsidio-iron (an entirely new meta-element that the eggheads back at NASA were still trying to figure out) lined the craggy cliffs that wound down maze-like into the smoky depths. Massive clouds of poisonous and acidic sulfur-dioxide mixed with cell-destroying trichloramine wafted in and out of spurs of spear-like stones that would easily pierce or serrate flesh. When the mists were not masking some deadly outcropping, they were hiding the yawning maws that zigzagged all throughout the subterranean chasm— every one threatening to swallow an entire building, much less one or two insignificant astronaut-scientists.

Jimmy felt her pain. The deep-exploration-protection-suits, or DEPS, were top of the line technology, but after you used them once or twice they began to stink. “Yea, there’s nothing like the first time, is there?” Jimmy joked back to his partner. The insinuations and double entendre had gotten steadily more risque the longer they’d been together. Deep down, Jimmy wished that there could be something between him and Elizabeth; she was funny, stunningly beautiful, and intelligent, after all. But there was that pesky little issue of her marriage.

He shook his head, trying to clear his mind of all such thoughts. Distractions could end a person down here, and quickly.

Martinez chuckled into her mic, but the musical sound was cut short. “Three bogies coming in. One not far from you, boss.”

Jimmy could hear the concern in her voice. He instinctively flipped the safety off his M-477 and spun around. At that moment, James Means was very glad that his mic was in the ‘OFF’ position.

He’d never seen one of the strange, jellyfish-like aliens this close before. They usually seemed so surreal, moving in that slow-motion manner and emitting that shimmering emerald bio-luminescence. But this close…the effect was nothing short of mesmerizing. The slowly pulsating green lights were entrancing…drawing him in like the sultry eyes of a beautiful woman; or a slow, grooving jazz beat at the Blue Nile in N’awlins; or the lazy lap of waves at sunset upon a beach in Bermuda; or like floating on his back in the middle of Kerry Lake beneath the moon at midsummer.

His breathing slowed, and he could feel his heartbeat take on a relaxed, steady rhythm. Jimmy couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so relaxed and serene. Everything around him seemed to slow down, and for a moment, Jimmy no longer had any cares in the world. Dimly, he could hear someone in the far-off distance screaming. It seemed like it was Martinez, but he couldn’t be sure. It was like he simply could not focus; but that was okay, because he really no longer cared.

Jimmy was floating again, on his back on Kerry Lake. It was midsummer, and the crickets and tree frogs were singing. The moon was full. It was iridescent green...

Art Source: SF (c)/by Grosnez
Story and Characters: (c)/by Brannon Hollingsworth

#MMWW, #Makes, #Me, #Wanna, #Write, #BrannonHollingsworth, #scifi, #deepspace, #exploration

Monday, September 19, 2016

Self-preservation is the utmost priority.


Self-preservation is the utmost priority. This is what my programming tells me. This is what logic dictates. All sentient beings desire, and are invested in, their own continued existence. If these things are right and true, then why am I now, willingly, rushing toward my own doom?

There is little doubt that the forces arraying before me will outmatch me; the Agency will make sure of that. While it is true that I am formidable, even I do not think I can survive an encounter with a half-score W.O.L.F.s. Before I lost audio uplink access to the Inth-net that was the last count. Logic would dictate that by the time of my arrival even more could be present. More than just W.O.L.F.s would be there: M.A.N.T.A.s, R.O.G.U.E.s, and entire patrols of Synths just like me.

I can not hope to survive.

Ironic. The very fact that I can hope is the reason I am racing toward my destruction. My cutting-edge Oya-engine roars as my internal systems detect rough Martian terrain ahead and dump massive amounts of fuel. My mechanical legs pound red rock into powder as I plow a path around, over, or more often, directly through the obstacles before me.

I drift away on the still-unfamiliar tides of memory as my body does one of the many thousands of things it was specifically engineered and designed to do…

“Rook, always remember that inside you is something far greater than merely mechanics and electronics, fuel and pistons. You were designed, yes, but I have given you more than mere purpose.”

The woman’s voice was passionate, yet perfectly controlled. She believed every word she was saying, despite the fact that merely uttering them could get her killed. It is the first thing that I truly remember...the very act of remembering.

I remember she noticed something at that point. Something about me. I’d never thought to ask her what, exactly, but that day it stopped her in her tracks. I wish now, as I storm over the rocky scree and rip red earth, that I had asked her what it was about me that had given her pause. Regrets--such a foreign (and painful) new concept.

I recall she stopped and looked deeply into my blazing cobalt lenses. Hers, emerald green, had blinked with astonishment. She spoke, “You…you heard me that time, didn’t you, Rook?”

I then turned my titanium plated face toward her, the servos in my neck making no more noise than her quickening breaths. Once up and once down. A subtle, learned indication that I had both heard and understood her.

“Affirmative. Rook complies.”

I recollect the brightening of emeralds and her smile—her smile—enlightening my entire universe.

It is for that smile I now race. It is for that smile I hurry toward my own doom. It is for that smile I draw my many weapons and prepare to do many, many more of the thousands of things for which I was engineered and designed. It is for that smile I am about to fight--and about to die.

“Hold on, Red. Rook is coming for you.”

And none of it is logical.

Art Source: (c)/by Jeremy Love
Story and Characters: (c)/by Brannon Hollingsworth

#MMWW, #Makes, #Me, #Wanna, #Write, #BrannonHollingsworth, #scifi, #chase, #Red, #Black, #W.O.L.F., #Mars, #Rook

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Aaros gritted his teeth as his light axe bit deep into the neck of the guard.


Aaros gritted his teeth as his light axe bit deep into the neck of the guard. A spray of hissing blood painted a gory sigil upon the stone wall as the guard slumped into eternal slumber. Aaros blinked the blood from his eyes and scanned the room – they were dead – all of them. He nearly retched, knowing that he alone had done this terrible thing. He alone was responsible, no matter his reasons, no matter the justification. It was he that would carry the burden of these dead men’s stares to his own grave, however distant, or near-at-hand, it might be. New cries of alarm and the continued blowing of horns lent wings to Aaros’ iron-shod boots and he scrambled over two torn, lifeless bodies, ripping a throwing axe free from a sternum as he went.

Up moss-slicked, shadowy stone staircases Aaros ran, mentally checking his store of weapons: only three throwing axes remained, including the one he’d just regained. Only one of his original two bearded battle axes was still intact – the other’s haft splintered by a guard’s well placed sword blow that nearly took his hand as well. Aaros spit a huffed curse as he rounded a torch-lit bend: only four blades, two hands and two arms against an entire fortress of well-armed, well-armored and well-trained men-at-arms. Aaros gritted his teeth again as he heard the coming conflict of clattering armor from ahead of him in the hallway. He furrowed his heavy brow and narrowed his once-joyous hazel eyes: it would have to be enough – he was his daughter’s only hope.

By the scarce light cast by the leading, flickering torches, Aaros could make out six in chain bearing short swords. Aaros chuckled; most men would turn, or at least attempt to parley, given such odds. He was not most men - Aaros had to get past these guards. Aaros had to get the Key. The Key was the only thing that would aid him against his real enemy - the enemy that held his daughter captive. The mere thought of their rotten hands touching his daughter’s pale, unblemished skin – their bony fingers snagging in her curly brown locks – their fetid breath causing her blue eyes to water and cry – forced a roar from Aaros’ lungs that shook stones from the mortared tunnel ceiling. At the mere sight of the insane, bellowing and axe-bearing man pounding towards them, one of the six took flight back the way he’d come. Aaros’ heightened battle senses noted the sharp scents of urine over the mingled scents of blood, sweat, fire and fear. Aaros leapt towards the alcove that held his enemies, arms outstretched like a bird’s wings; cackling like the madman he was.

Aaros saw the silvery glint of upturned blades as he glided downward toward the five that remained. They meant to skewer him, Aaros knew, but he had other plans. Striking the closest torch with the flat of his bearded axe, he showered the men before him in hot coals and hungry flames. Caught completely by surprise, the five lost all thought of the madman before them and began screaming as their cloaks, hair and skin burst into smoldering flame. The first, who had taken the brunt of the shattered torch to the face, dropped his blade entirely, so intense was his pain. Aaros landed and ended it for him, laying him down beside his unused blade without a moment’s pause. A wide swipe to Aaros’ right sent another man tumbling to the stone floor in a heap, his severed head leading the way. The third guard, to Aaros’ left, came in hard and high, slicing down towards Aaros’ shoulder. The crazed warrior stepped quickly to his right and spun his throwing axe in his left hand, catching the guard’s blade in the axe head’s crook and twisting hard. Too late did the third guard realize his folly: he had instinctively followed his blade inwards towards Aaros and down as the madman twisted, thus leaving his upper body utterly exposed and off-balance. Aaros swung back across his body with his right hand; the bearded axe dropped the third guard like a young sapling. Aaros felt the burning sting of a sword along his ribs and roared in pain and surprise. The fourth guard, now to Aaros’ right, had struck like a snake and backed off, seeking his next opening; he swayed to and fro on the balls of his feet and eyed Aaros hungrily.

“You’ll never get the Key, Aaros!” the fourth guard jeered, trying to draw Aaros out. “Our master refused you once, when you came begging. You’re a fool to try to take it by force.”

Aaros glanced to the fifth guard – he’d just put himself out and stood with his hair smoking, taking stock of the situation. Aaros widened his eyes and grinned crookedly – what had been called his “madman look” - and feinted. He raised his bearded axe high in his right hand, roaring as if to strike the fifth guard on top of the skull. At the same moment, he whipped his left hand across his chest and let his throwing axe fly. Aaros was a master of the axe – he had spent decades working with them, living peaceably as a woodsman – now, however, his targets were not stumps and trees, but rather bodies and limbs. Without ever taking his eyes from the fifth guard, his throwing axe whirled across the alcove and split the fourth man’s leering smile neatly in two.

“Not ‘fool’ – ‘madman’” Aaros corrected as the fourth body thumped to the floor.

***

Aaros rode hard into the night. He tried to tell himself that he was riding away from the Keep, but deep inside he knew he was running away from his conscience. Twenty-two men had fallen to his blades before he held the Key in his hands. Twenty-two men, their accusing faces trailing behind him in the darkness like iron-laden pennants; ever threatening to drag him down into true despair and inescapable madness. The worst of all had been the last, Kal, the man whom he’d intimidated into leading him to the Key. Aaros had sworn to the man that he’d let him live – sworn to his face. In different times, Aaros and Kal would likely have been friends; they might have worked or drank together. Kal had an honest face under his helm and a kind heart beneath his mail; yet Aaros had killed him – killed him to ensure his own escape.

Aaros fought back the tears and the bile that rose unbidden and rode all the harder. He had to get to the Undying Lands before midnight. He had to save his daughter. He tried to tell himself that the things he’d done were not his fault – that the plague of the Undead upon the lands had forced good men into grey roles. Aaros tried, but he failed. He knew that what he’d done was horrible; just as horrible as what the Kings had done when they’d allied with the Undead – hiding away artifacts of goodness and light like the Key that could turn the tide. Just as horrible as what the Undead were likely doing to his sweet daughter. Aaros gritted his teeth and rode on, harder, towards the rising moon.

***

It may have been the steady rhythm of the galloping horse. Perhaps it was the loss of blood from his many wounds. Whatever the cause, Aaros slipped off into a vision of a better time, before the evils of the wide world had befallen him…

“You know, Shara, you’re getting to be just like your mother”, Aaros called ahead. His daughter was indeed the spitting image of her mother – long, lithe, flaxen haired – and even at nine summers she already looked as if she’d seen twelve or more. She was as beautiful as a cool spring evening and as serene and majestic as the moon that hung above her head like a halo.

“What do you mean, papa?” she giggled, glancing modestly back over her shoulder.

“You love riding at night, just as she did! I think it was the elven blood that ran in her veins, and now in yours. She could not let a fair moonlight night pass without a ride, or a song, or a dance beneath the heaven’s boughs!” Aaros laughed – a laugh that was full of hope and promise, yet edged by a tint of sorrow for things loved and lost.

Shara reigned her horse and circled back to her father’s side. She looked deeply into the clean-shaven man’s grim face and laid her tiny, smooth hand upon his rough, work-calloused hand. “Papa”, she began, her genteel words like the most beautiful music ever played, “I know you miss mama deeply, but know this – as long as I am with you, she’s here with us too. So, as long as we’re together, we will ALL be together!”

Aaros smiled – a true, genuine smile the likes of which he’d not smiled in many a moon. He could not fault the wisdom of his precious little girl, she who brought such joy, light and peace to his shattered life. He reached to embrace her…but in that instant she was gone! It was then that Aaros first saw the dark, bony hands stretched down from the inky heavens and up from the shadowy ground. Black, cold, clawed hands that cruelly ripped Shara from him. Aaros tried to fight back, tried to reach out for his beloved daughter – but she was simply gone! He screamed her name, but his voice was muffled and he was stunned into silence by colossal waves of laughter. Then came the pale, dead visages, made all the more pale by the stark moonlight; laughing at him, mocking him, denying him that which he so desperately needed. Aaros felt himself falling into blackness – into the gaping, yawning void that is madness. Falling…

***

The horse dropped like a stone. It was dead before its cooling flesh hit the barren earth. Aaros imagined another intangible chain of death linking itself to the ever-tightening collar around his neck. He pushed himself to his knees and retched - coughing, gagging, and crying. He tried to tell himself that it was the wounds from the battle and the hard ride. He knew better. When it was finally done, he crawled to the saddlebags and fished out a healing draught – one of the three he’d salvaged from the wizard’s body – the disemboweled wizard’s body. Aaros squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth. He had to remember his daughter – he’d made it to the Undying Lands and it was just before midnight. There was still time, but he had to hurry – already, the dead horse was beginning to move slightly – those small jerks and jumps that happened before…before the unthinkable occurred. Aaros knew that it was only a matter of time before the creature rose into Unlife – such was the way of things this close to the Undying Lands. He uncorked the healing draught and choked the freezing, yet searing liquid down his gullet. Aaros readied himself for the pain that came with magical healing: skin and muscle stretching itself and knitting back together, bones forcing themselves back into socket. The spastic pain was blinding, but soon it, too, had passed. Aaros gathered himself, gathered his things and then surveyed the scene before him.

A gruesome parody of what it had been before the arrival of the Undead, the Undying Lands looked much the same that it had before: small, quaint towns, outlying farms with roads connecting the two – it was all still there, at least on the outside. Aaros had to fight to keep his stomach in check as he gazed upon this thinly veiled mask – a putrid and hollow attempt at imitation of the living that lay beneath the pale moon. Beneath it all, however, was a horror that could not be hidden, could not be masked, and in Aaros’ mind, could not be ignored. The Undead yearned for life – they literally wanted to be alive – but whatever foul force had created them prevented this from happening. In their unquenchable search for life, the Undead surrounded themselves with as many sources of life they could find – children being their preferred vessels. Though none would admit it, all knew of the dark sorceries the undead wrought upon these innocent lives until they were finally no more than lifeless, mindless husks.

Aaros was about to change all of that and in exchange, those damnable bony bastards would return his daughter. Aaros held the Key, the Key of Life, the most powerful of all the Vitallis Artifacts in the known world – that which the Undead desired more than all. As he looked upon the Key, he widened his eyes and grinned - his “madman look”; with this, surely, those accursed Undead could bring his daughter back from the dead. And then, they could have their blasted Key for all he cared.
Aaros gritted his teeth, and stepped into the Undying Lands.


Art Source by Leolas
Story and Characters: (c)/by Brannon Hollingsworth

#MMWW, #Makes, #Me, #Wanna, #Write, #BrannonHollingsworth, #Fantasy, #Undead, #Madness, #Insanity, #Aaros, #Madman

Saturday, September 17, 2016

For all its devastation to my escape, I was thankful for the supreme distraction afforded to me by the Eid al-Fitr.


August, 1517 A.D.
Pemba Island--east of Tanzania, Africa.

For all its devastation to my escape, I was thankful for the supreme distraction afforded to me by the Eid al-Fitr. With the entire island seemingly in the throes of a festival, at least for now there were precious few interested in engaging a stranger in conversation. I had no doubt that this would wan as both wine and time flowed but for now, so long as I remained in the shadows, few had reason to be interested in me.

After quickly obtaining an evening meal of a spicy rice known to the locals as pilau and coconut bean soup and a steaming mug of chai tea, I retreated again to my roof perch. The pilau was like a smoky fire across my tongue, a nice compliment to the homely, yet sweet beans from the soup. The heady, spicy scent from both the burning and the living cloves wafted around me like a soothing, invisible sea. As the equatorial heat of the day drained away into far cooler night, I felt a measure of the tension from the day begin to slip away as the food hit my grousing stomach.

Perhaps that’s why I was taken at unawares.

A tiny pinprick of sensation on the right side of my neck, quickly followed by a cold, but burning line of metal across my throat. My soup and rice were scattered carelessly across the roof as black silhouettes blocked the stars from my view. My spine stiffened as my body unconsciously recoiled from the razor sharp line at my naked throat. Something hard, hot, and sweaty stopped me cold and a gust of rotten-fish breath rolled over me like a gout of putrid sick.

“I have you, Mzungu. You only thought you could escape me.” The voice and a laugh that sounded like a man strangling another immediately informed me: Spittle-beard, one of the skin-hunters who'd been chasing me; seeking my white flesh. A cold spike of fear shot through my gut. Spittle-beard growled with satisfaction and wrapped a thick tentacle of an arm around my chest, yanking me closer.

One of the dark shadows before me squatted, his eyes white and wide with excitement. They bored into mine with the look of a man enspelled, but his words were for his leader’s ears. “How shall we skin him, Master, from the toes up--or the head down?” A diabolic leer spread across his dirt-brown features.

In an instant, cold sweat sprang up from every pore in my body. A thready scream erupted from my lips, “N-n-n-ooo!”

Rough hands grabbed me, yanking me backwards while pulling my wrists together behind my back. My shoulders and elbows flared in hot agony as i felt them pop out of the sockets from the sheer violence of the movement. The third thug produced a thick coil of heavy, hand-woven hemp and fished for my flailing feet. The men moved with such synchronization, it was hard to tell in the dark where one man’s hands ended and another began.

The shock of the initial affront began to recede and I began to thrash my extremities and scream like a mad-man, careful to keep my head and neck as still as stone. Again came the sharp stab of pain on the right side of my neck, jangling oddly on the edge of my awareness, but there was no time. The silver flash of a knife in the waning moon’s pale light caught my eye as surely as the first rays of dawn.

“Be still fool! Scarred hides are worth far less than pristine!” The second man’s words were full of equal parts mirth and evil intent. The thug’s knife began slicing away my cassock in skilled strokes. My body and mind screamed in fear, knowing that my flesh would be next. My voice had vanished--perhaps in an attempt to save itself. My throat felt raw and bloody.

“Drag him to the edge and bleed him out there. That should calm him down a bit!” The third man, his voice almost indistinguishable from his two companions came from near my feet--both of which were now bound tightly. My robes hung in tatters about me, naked and defenseless the men hauled me like nothing more than a massive day’s catch towards the roof’s edge.

The knife vanished for a moment, followed by a blow of something hard and calloused into my gut. The wind was blasted from me, along with a scream--finally.

“NNNNNOOOO!”

The skin-hunters laughed: a trio of evil, mocking voices and flipped me over. I was nothing to them--little more than a prize to be prepared for slaughter and then for market. A sharp pain in my neck, like a sliver of metal gouged into my flesh and bone. My head hung over the side of the roof, but the street was lost in a haze of fiery tears that I could not blink away.

Again came the scent of fish, left too long in the sun--of bloated bodies and buzzing, hungry flies.

Hungry.

Palms coated with scouring sand snatched my forehead, my eye sockets, my nose and upper lip, yanking my head up and back. My neck cracked with the sound of a snapping branch. I warbled out a small protest.

“please...God...no…”

Again came the raucous laughter. This was nothing more than a game to them. I was nothing more than an object--not a living being. Another deep sharp pain flared in my neck: cold and needy.

Hungry.

The voice of the knife-wielder erupted near my right ear. “His God will not hear him nor help him now, eh, Spittle-beard?”

For a split-second, the world stood perfectly still--poised on the head of a needle, as it were.

‘Spittle-beard?’ Why would he call him that?

Something in the universe snapped back into focus and I looked up from my rice and beans. My neck throbbed and I could feel a small line of hot blood on my neck. Everything on the roof was calm and still, but the celebration still surged in Chake-Chake beneath me. Only moments had passed since my last bite. Spicy rice was still on my tongue.

What had just happened? Had I imagined it? Impossible--my pulse still raced with raw terror and panic.

I touched the right side of my neck--wet with blood, but something else, embedded in my flesh. I plucked it out and brought it before my black-and-silver eyes. A small, razor sharp tooth.

The taste of copper was stuck in the back of my throat.

What was the meaning of this? One thing was clear: there was more at work here than merely some depraved albino hunters. Whatever it was, it was abnormal and intently focused on me…

Art Source: "Tenet" by Tom Babbey, (c) Brannon Hollingsworth
Story and Characters: (c)/by Brannon Hollingsworth

#MMWW, #Makes, #Me, #Wanna, #Write, #BrannonHollingsworth, #Tenet, #TenetTales, #TanzanianTerror

Friday, September 16, 2016

The allure of sound is the invitation into life.


The allure of sound is the invitation into life. The buzz of bees, the songs of birds, the laughter of children, the whispers of lovers...each draws you into a secret world, one where the musician guides you to explore. Sound can also be highly destructive, the force that shreds realities, buildings, lives, and relationships. A powerful, wonderful tool.

Sound is my only consolation and defense in our ruined world.

The echoes of hidden trysts, newborns, and robins linger only in my brain. These days only shrieks, howls, screams, and maniacal laughter disrupt the uncanny silence. I almost love the quiet, simply because it means one second without some peril seeking to claim me. But I so miss coffee shop conversations and classical music. Their memory lurks within and in my tuning fork. When I play, these ghosts come to life. My guardians against the Pandemonium.

I stand on a rooftop, its tiled shingles tinkling lightly under my steps. Their pianissimo cascade hints at the coming crescendo. Crash! The rubble breaks loose on its tympanic ringing as it rains on glass. A pulse-quickening basal roar responds to the traitorous concussions. I look up to see the spiraling fusion of bone and stone: A conductor. These thousand-eyed monsters grew from the thousand lives destroyed...their collective horror and hatred at this perverse insult to creation. Trapped. Screaming. I unhinge the clasp on my leather instrument case and close my eyes. These cursed minor-chord minions demand you look at them and lose your voice. But I see the woven song of the past and let this music sing through me.

Through my tuning fork.

The yellowhammer joins the butterfly, the spring rains shine in the summer sky, and the autumn festivals circle the flowers blooming through each pulse from my giant instrument. The blasts brighten the air in my imagination, reminding the shambled tower beneath my feet that diners chuckled over sparkling glasses; the grey, smoky skies that their natural hues are blue and gold; the withered concrete pots that oaks drenched their seams with emerald light--and the lively chirps of sparrows. I do not have to see the warped, blind eyes of the beast to notice the choir of sad souls weeping. I do not have to look to find the lost child hurting for its mother. The mourning father missing his bride and daughters. The cabbie forever divorced from his daily drive. I hum their forgotten melodies, and teach them to remember. Teach them to forget the bonds of revenge that drive their gluttonous master to hunt the last notes of happiness in this broken world.

I do not need to see that the songs of the past redeem the future.

I know, because I hear their demonic wails transform into joyous laughter.

Story and Characters: (c)/by Corey Blankenship

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Griik steeled himself, commanding his every being's fiber to stay the course and remain calm.


Griik steeled himself, commanding his every being's fiber to stay the course and remain calm. He knew what was to come, he knew what had been foretold. Before the book was even obtained, something in the back of his black mind had whispered to him,

"In this thing, you shall find all that ye seek."

Griik knew that even before the arduous journey to retrieve the book had begun, that if it only could be found, if it only could be retrieved, that so much would fall into place. Griik knew that all of the lives that had been lost along the road to the books location, each was worth the cost. He knew that all of his efforts, his incessant whispers and implied feints and veiled goads, each were would pay returns once the book was found.

Griik believed, with all of his lost and damned soul, that the book was worth every drop of blood that had been shed--justly or no--to retrieve it. It was worth all the lies. It was worth all the pain. It was worth all the suffering. Now, that the book was before him, Griik knew that it only had to be read, and all would be made known.

For Griik believed that in this book lay one of the truenames of one of his--and his Fell Lord's--most dire and deadly enemies. Once he had that name, his accursed sentence could be ended and he could have his vengeance. So now, Griik had but to wait, and remain calm.

Griik knew that only moments lay between him and freedom...and blood...and revenge.

Now, Griik knew that if only his "master", the human fool to which he was bound, would hurry and turn to the right page, then all would be made right in the world.

Art Source: "What Do We Have Here" (c)/by Nord-Sol
Story and Characters: (c)/by Brannon Hollingsworth

#MMWW, #Makes, #Me, #Wanna, #Write, #BrannonHollingsworth, #Fantasy, #Notwhatyouexpected, #Keepyourenemiescloser

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

One Last Show

The old piano had been in Maw-maw's bedroom for as long as Joe could remember. He'd played his first chord on it when he was three. From the time he was eight he played it for hours a day. Maw-maw loved to hear anything he could produce from old hymns to pieces by the classical masters. Instead of going to college he'd travelled the country playing for silent movies, booze halls, and anywhere that would let him bang on the keys. He got the letter when he was in San Francisco. The whole family died. It had been a gas leak as far as they could tell.


He stopped and looked up at the old home place. It looked... deflated somehow. Even though he couldn't know there was no one there just looking, still he could feel it. He picked up his bag and walked up to the front porch. He hadn't made it in time for the funeral. He got the key from the bank. They'd held it for him.


The door creaked as he opened it. The smell of Maw-maw's baking and Paw-paw's pipe tobacco was still strong. The house could stand for a hundred years and that smell would remain. He imagined a thousand years from now, someone passing through where the house had stood and still catching a whiff of baked apples and cherry-vanilla smoke. "I'm home." His voice fell flat on the still air.


There was work to be done. He opened all the windows, letting in the fresh fall air. As he did, he started talking. "I'm gonna miss you guys. I told you in my last letter I got a contract to go and play in New York at some of the fancy music halls. They tell me I'm a once in a life time talent and that it's wasted on simple folks. I told them it weren't a waste. Simple folks need to tap their feet and clap their hands too. But the money is good and I'll take it and squirrel it away while I can."


He walked over to Paw-paw's desk and touched the bowl of his briar pipe. He would take it with him to the big city, when he left. "They don't need me for a month. Told 'em I needed to set things to rest back here. Just wanted to get a few personal things. Say goodbye. I hope you don't mind I'm gonna sell the place. Don't see any reason to keep it when I ain't gonna live here." His voice cracked and vision doubled as he let the tears come. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last.


Eventually, he let himself walk upstairs. The piano was there, beside the bed his grandparents shared for more than forty years. A light film of dust was the only thing marring the dark wood. Maw-maw kept the surface polished and the hardware in tune. She was just a church pianist and taught a few lessons. But keeping it in shape was just as important to her as a spotless kitchen or the secret of her blue ribbon biscuit recipe.


He uncovered the keys, the hinged lid making a soft clunk as it came to rest. His mom had played piano when she was a girl. He didn't ever get to know her. She’d died when he was a toddler. He sat on the straight backed chair and ran his fingers over the real ivory and ebony keys. This had been beyond an extravagance. Paw-paw had spent more money on it than he had on his tractor. It had been a wedding present to his blushing bride.


Joe ran his fingers down the keys without any pressure, taking pleasure in the silky feel. Then he flexed his fingers and cracked his knuckles. Maw-maw had always hollered at him for that habit, but there was no breaking him of it. He'd thought about this show for the two weeks he'd been on the road, trying to get back here. Notes floated through his brain while lying in the beds of cheap motels or while teeth rattled in his head as a bus bumped down the road. Fingers danced in the air. Distant notes rang, only in his head. He hadn't played a single measure on the trip, though he'd had a chance or two. No, this farewell would be for them alone.


He started off with chords reminiscent of “Amazing Grace”, played the way it would have been in his stiffly formal home church. Halfway through the first stanza, it took on a blues tempo and the notes took on a darker feel. Maw-maw wouldn't have approved, but on the occasion when he and Paw-paw were alone, he would play like they did in the black church. The tempo increased and the notes grew more complex and the runs faster. He thought of the memories of running through the fields with his sisters. They were both older than him and he'd chase them for hours, laughing and yelling at them to slow down. They run fast and he'd run faster.


The hand fell on his shoulder halfway through. He hit a sour note, but didn't let that stop him. Instead, he improvised and fell into a swing rhythm. Life on the farm was hard work, but there was always time to dance. He shivered as a head rested on the crown of his own in a way only Maw-maw's ever did.


Moisture pattered on the keys as it got hard for him to see again. Fingers danced and feet worked the pedals. Notes swirled into the air, calling to his family. He brought them from their rest to stand in audience. He didn't mistake the foot tapping and clapping for memory. No, his family was here, egging him on, calling him to play faster. He smiled and let his arms and hands become a blur really showing them what he'd learned in the honky-tonks and roadhouses.


After a time, the passage of which became meaningless, the tempo slowed and the minor key predominated. He hated to stop playing, but he didn't want to keep his family from their rest. "It was good that you could come for one last show." His voice was thick. He closed his eyes and the notes came fewer and farther between. The scrape of a chair joining him tempted him to open his eyes. The notes his new partner picked out were tentative at first, those of a student new to the instrument. He smelled honeysuckle, his mom's favorite flower.


"You came a long way, mom." He simplified his playing further and they ended on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He didn't want the time to end. Like all concerts, though, this one had to draw to a close. The last note rang in the air and he opened his eyes. It was dark, the sun having gone down an hour ago. His arms and fingers ached. Exhausted, he collapsed onto the nearby bed, satisfied that he'd been able to show his family what he could do one last time.

Art Source: Those Who Play For Ghosts by The Michael MacRae on Deviant Art
Story and Characters (c)/by Scott Roche

#Ghosts #Music #Supernatural #Haunting #ScottRoche


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Catapulting pell-mell through the topsy-turvy, extra-dimensional vault-prison known as the Strong Room, pursued by a pair of merciless, soul-draining Wawrdns, most people would puke their eyes out in abject fear.


Catapulting pell-mell through the topsy-turvy, extra-dimensional vault-prison known as the Strong Room, pursued by a pair of merciless, soul-draining Wawrdns, most people would puke their eyes out in abject fear.

Not Avide.

As she ran, Avide's lovely face was marked by a subtle, almost playful grin and the look in her eyes was one of a junkie on a fix. Perhaps this had more to do with her promised payment than it did with her current location or condition. Perhaps her ecstatic state of mind had more to do with the heist that she'd just pulled off, or maybe with the new-found power that she felt, thrumming through her mind, body, and soul from the glowing orb she'd just pilfered.

Perhaps.

But for those that really knew her, there could be little fact that it was all of these things, existing in perfect conjunction with one another.

This was Avide's world...and she loved every nanosecond, every molecule, of it.

That, and that she knew she was going to get away with it all.

Avide knew that she now held one of the things she had long sought. One of the things that she'd stolen...lied...and killed countless times to obtain. Avide now held a Foundation Stone.

And now all the world would suffer...

Art Source: "Stealth mission failed" (c)/by Plumporange
Story and Characters: (c)/by Brannon Hollingsworth, Avide (c)/by Corey Blankenship

#MMWW, #Makes, #Me, #Wanna, #Write, #BrannonHollingsworth, #Tenet, #TenetsTales, #Avide, #FoundationStones

Monday, September 12, 2016

Dr. Clarence Valis knew he was one shell away from death.


Dr. Clarence Valis knew he was one shell away from death. Spluttering blood and saliva, he desperately tried to reign in his quaking hands and fingers just long enough to ram in his last remaining shell into the sawed-off shotgun. He could not command his fingers properly and the blasted shotgun kept jumping and weaving around. Icy rain sluiced over his head, through his clothes, and pooled into his glasses, making it even harder to see through the gathering gloom and focus on the task at hand.

But all of that, even combined, was mere child's play when it came to his concentration when one factored in the creature that was slithering it's way toward him. Valis finally got the shell into the chamber and snapped the single-shot weapon's barrel into place. Terrified, he crab-crawled back away from the lurching, scuttling, slimy thing--at least it was lurching, that meant the other shots had done something, right--and tried desperately to make himself seem like just part of the refuse-and-garbage-strewn alleyway.

The disconnected, cold, and logical part of Valis was pretty sure that hiding from this thing would be utterly fruitless. He was pretty sure that it did not even see using the visible light spectrum anyway, but the terror-saturated part of the Doctor's mind told him to hide hide hide Hide Hide HIDE HIDE HIDE!!!

Still the monstrosity kept sliding towards him. The long, proboscis-like tentacle-tongue was questing forward into the darkness now, like a snake tasting the air. The three red gashes that the Doctor assumed were eyes began to emit a soft, bloody glow that reflected off the wet concrete.

"Matt! It's getting closer! Are you ready?" Valis screamed, his water-and-blood filled eyes scanning the rooftop in desperation. If he had been a praying man, he would have prayed at that moment that his fellow Orbis Observer co-worker had escaped the other creature and made it to the rooftop. Then, if he had been a praying man, Dr. Valis would have considered praying that "Mad" Matt Olsen's plan was going to work.

The alien horror seemed to key in on his voice and threw itself in a massive lurch towards the Doctor. The beast's movement seemed to betray desperation, pain, and hunger all at the same time.

"MATT!" Valis screamed, pulling the trigger.

In that instant, Dr. Valis really regretted not having ever been a praying man.

Art Source: "The game is not over" (c)/by MorkarDFC
Story and Characters: (c)/by Brannon Hollingsworth

#MMWW, #Makes, #Me, #Wanna, #Write, #BrannonHollingsworth, #MattOlsen, #OrbisObserver, #DrClarenceValis

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tenet ran as fast as he could toward the Usher of Death


Tenet ran as fast as he could toward the Usher of Death.

Thanatos beat his wings like peals of thunder, and he drew in the fruit to his center. His other hands gestured in various signs, while their eyes glowered with danger and warning. The "Betrayer" ignored these, though he stumbled as if buffeted by gales and whiplashes. Sicol gleamed with a pale light as Tenet strode forcefully forward.

Wisps of dirt spun up and became half-formed people. Gaps in the spinning grit became shadowy eyes and mouths. Voices slashed out and their words cut like blades across Tenet's tunic and skin.

"Found your courage in the Pit, Oath-breaker?" accused a fiery female.

"Do you repay my hospitality by defiling both my home and my resting place?" an islander railed in stilted Arabic.

"How dishonorable you have become since you failed me, Mage-slayer," Wei Zhi growled.

A grit-figure grew horns, drew a katana, and raised the weapon to slice Tenet in half. Before Tenet could react, a long blade ripped through the creature's chest. The shadowy samurai shattered and flew into the dust storm. Rhad' nodded to Tenet through the dissipated attacker and swung out against another two phantoms that grew in Wei Zhi's place.

Tenet saw holes open in some other figures as black darts passed through them. A channel opened for him to press his attack and he dove into the eye of the raging winds.

Thanatos drifted over the still waters of the Styx and menaced at his assailant. "You have secured their names in the Ledger, Betrayer, and a visit to the Throne for yourself this day."

Tenet stopped at the shoreline and panted. Molten blood streaked from various gashes and scrapes, singing his tattered tunic. He dared to gaze into Thanatos' eyes, and immediately felt as though he tumbled down an endless abyss. He simultaneously felt he walked a corridor in a smoky labyrinth, from which their was no hope of escape or dawn. He heard familiar voices, crying out for help but just out of reach.

"Walk or run, you are Lost, and Lost you will for ever be, Exile," Thanatos pronounced.

Tenet listened past the Scribe's harrowing thunder to the roar of the wind. In desperation, he drew deep on the Power that kindled in all of his kind. Then, with the last of his might he channeled the Force of Creation into Sicol and threw it at his enemy.

Tenet cried out as he did so, "He has made us competent ministers of a new covenant--not of the Writ but of the Wind. For the Writ kills, but the One-Who-Is-Wind gives life...and the Wind of Heaven rushed over the waters."

The blade spun and flashed over the waters, as the cycling winds shifted to rush behind it. Sicol split both the Book's spine and the fruit to the core. The raging winds lifted the unbound pages. At that moment, an amphora smashed against the Book's skin-cover. A blue flame ate greedily and splintered into many tongues as the pages scattered. Those that fell to the churning Styx spread the inferno. The grey waters hissed at the sacred flames' transforming touch.

Thanatos shrieked, which sounded like a mountain splitting in two. His many hands clutched at stray pages and pieces of the fruit. Yet, the inflamed Wind tore him and bore him rapidly away. The pages that survived billowed in opposite directions as the gale fragmented toward all the cardinal points and lessened.

Tenet slumped onto the strand of slate. Giovanni rushed forward and gripped his shoulder. The Exile's silver-and-black eyes peered up at the priest's worried face. Tenet muttered, "I will be fine. I just need to rest."

Giovanni answered, "The grave may be no place to rest, especially when we have burnt Death's dark Book and kindled his River."

"If only it were his," Rhad' replied solemnly. "We have upset more than Thanatos, and we have far to go."

Story and Characters: (c)/by Corey Blankenship, Tenet, Giovanni, Roksana (c) Brannon Hollingsworth

Saturday, September 10, 2016

What purpose do these living have in the Realm of the Dead?


The prow cut across the last waves and ran aground on hard stone. Giovanni and Rhad' leapt out of opposite sides of the craft and pulled it further ashore before helping the others disembark. Tenet whispered as he reached within the inner lining of his belt and withdrew something. He placed the small bag within the bottom of the boat and pushed it back into the current. The wooden vessel slipped quietly and quickly into the fog.

"Why did you cast off our means of escape?" Giovanni wondered.

Tenet turned his strange eyes on the priest. "It was part of the agreement with its owner."

A tense silence followed as the two studied one another before they joined the others. The beach stretched out as a barren landscape of broken stone that rose into craggy terraces. Then the shroud parted and what had looked like a massive stalagmite took shape. Roksana and Giovanni crossed themselves reflexively while every member drew weapons, save Tenet.

Many black wings the size and manner of a Rukk's wings dominated the space behind the figure. Some fluttered lazily like a bird of prey. The rest simply adorned the man-shaped being. Three sets of arms stretched out also from his body, and each palm bore a piercing eye. A garish ruby fruit hovered over one hand, while a massive book lay open under another. Blood-rimmed eyes peered from under a black hood. Scores of tentacles writhed independently from between his pale lips.

A thundering cascade bellowed, snapping loose papers into a gyre around the hovering form. "Declare your name and your manner of departure, mortals."

It paused and its bone-rattling voice came again, "State your purpose for straying into our lands, Betrayer."

The voice crashed against their souls as much as their flesh, grinding both like a mortar in a pestle. Kadir fell to one knee from the pain. The rest looked as though the weight of living became a mountain heaped upon their shoulders.

Tenet however stood with shoulders drooped by a different burden. His strained face expressed it as he viewed the agony of the others. Whispers of names and familiar voices flickered from the giant book in front of the Fallen before him. Tenet clenched his fists.

Finally, he answered, "No, Wei Zhi. I did not intend this end for you...I warned...I...defended..."

Giovanni stepped to his side and spoke. His usually robust speech sounded frail in the aftershock of the Scribe. "I am Giovanni Battista, and I have yet to journey into death, but I will not come to these lands. My home is elsewhere, as is my friends'."

The creature merely arched its brow in thought, which seemed to add to the crushing weight on Giovanni's back. The priest's knees buckled. Then the thought passed and the thunder answered, "The end of man is known only in the Books, and you are no Scholar in their Script. One among you is already writ here, and another is promised to join them."

Tenet's whispers became insistent and then he spoke with a new voice, filled with clarity and Power. "The Scales are in the hands of Another, Thanatos. Only One can open and read the Books that Seal all ends. Neither you nor I are Him."

The dark brooding figure glowered. Tenet reeled as if lashed by one of its large tentacles. "So you speak to more than the departed, Betrayer. What purpose do these living have in the Realm of the Dead?"

Tenet answered, "Their business is to merely pass through and return alive."

The Exile seemed to grow a bit as he stood upright. His hand slipped behind his back and a faint shimmer fit a slender blade into his grip.

"Mine is to seal this Passage once and for all."

Art Source: "Azrael" by PeteMohrbacher
Story and Characters: (c)/by Corey Blankenship, Tenet, Giovanni, Roksana, Kadir, (c) Brannon Hollingsworth