Friday, 10 February 2012

The Collapse of the City of Shurom

The stalk cracked loudly as thousands attempted to flee the city within the mushroom's cap. The microbial people of Shurom City screamed as their home was ravaged by some unknown force. One or two heroic types stayed until last, ushering as many as possible out of the city before fleeing on membranous wings themselves.
    On the ground, nearly every refugee of the once-proud city of Shurom looked back in terror and anguish as the city finally fell. Tears flowed freely as the diminutive people began searching for somewhere safe to hide, knowing that nobody in the wide world would ever know of their plight.

This piece of "flash fiction" was inspired by Madison Woods, a link to the inspiration can be found here, if you copy-and-paste it into your browser:

Friday, 29 July 2011

Chapter One: Lambs to the Slaughter

After years of building ideas and tearing them down, starting again and so on, the first draft of my opening chapter is finally ready. I hope you enjoy the beginning of Niiko's journey as I have, as this is the start of my own journey - one that will hopefully end in a published novel... 

Her bare feet pounded the soil and grass as she burst from the forest and into the brightness of the clearing, the sun casting an eerie golden glow on the greenery ahead.
    At the far end of the clearing lay the ruins of an old keep, the grey stone turned dazzling white in the eyes of the sun's glare. Man-sized blocks of stone lay strewn around the area, some entire walls lay intact on the ground whereas others still stood, proudly erect like a reminder of the strength of past residents.
    Niiko shot across the clearing toward the ruins, her fierce red hair turning to fire in the brightness of the sun, her mud-splattered dress billowing wildly about her as she sped toward the nearest standing structure.
    The stone archway exploded before her, showering her with masonry and enshrouding her in a cloud of dust. Small cuts and scrapes covered the exposed skin on her arms, legs and face, the fabric of her dress torn in places by more flying debris and drawing blood underneath.
    She was hurt, but instinct had taken over and she had managed to cover her face before turning quickly to move to the next hiding place.
    Her back suddenly burned as something struck her, knocking her to the floor and driving the air from her lungs.
    Niiko rolled onto her side, coughing and spluttering as she tried to regain her breath amidst the fading cloud of dust surrounding the ruins. Looking back the way she came, she saw her attacker - a man-shaped smudge of dark grey in the lighter grey plume of smoke billowing across the field.
    Two more dark smudges appeared on either side of the first.

    “Three on one, eh?” The old ranger sat watching from the trees at the edge of the clearing, whispering to himself as his grip tightened around the hilt of Shadowfell, the blade of the Great Huntress.

    The fog of dust parted quickly as the figures approached, three men clad in black. Masks of black cloth covered their faces, only the whites of their eyes glowed menacingly through slits in the fabric.
    The central figure's cloak bore a symbol that Niiko could not make out, a blurred circle of red markings on the clasp at his collar. His hood came down over his mask, ending in a sharp point between his eyes.
    His gaze fell on Niiko.
    “Who are you?” she wheezed, her breath still ragged.
    “Your judge,” bellowed the larger one on the left, his voice sounding distant from behind the mask. He stood a clear foot taller than the others.
    “Your jury,” whispered the one on the right, a thin, wiry man with a slight limp in his step.
    “Your executioners.” The finality of the central figure's tone sent shivers up Niiko's spine. The man raised a hand before his face and it erupted in flame.
    Niiko had heard the stories, that magic had faded from Silentil long ago, only small glimpses of it remaining. Those glimpses were said to be very rare, few have seen magic and lived to tell of it.
This thought did not comfort her.

    The girl's screams echoed across the plain, cries of pain and torment that dug into the ranger's ears and tore at his conscience.
    His grip on Shadowfell grew ever tighter, the skin on his palm burning red as the leather threatened to tear the skin from his fingers. The blade almost growled its need to taste blood.
    “Blood you will have,” the ranger rasped to himself.

    Blow after blow of painful magic bolts hit Niiko's flesh, a fire raging on her skin and waves of agony racking her bones.
    The big assassin moved in close, his punches and kicks sent Niiko sprawling across the floor, tears streaming down her anguished face.

    Leaping from tree to tree, moving ever closer to the poor girl, the forest ranger could see the extent of the damage these black-clad fiends were doing.
    The red head wept openly, tears mingling with the blood that poured down her swollen face, itself all manner of reds and purples and blacks. Her continuous attempts to curl into the foetal position thwarted every time by a fresh attack, both physical and magical.
    The girl let out a blood curdling shriek of horror when the thin man's blade dragged itself down the side of her face, passing over the swollen ruin of her left eye.
    Then came another shriek, an unholy sound beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. Even the assassins ceased their attack, backing off for a moment as everything turned to silence.

    “Yeeeeessssssss,” her voice rasped.
    No, not her voice, it sounded twisted and broken as if she had swallowed thorns.
    “Finally, this mortal shell has cracked.” Niiko could do nothing as her body began to rise of its own accord, the piercing voice breaking from her lips of its own volition.
    Blood flowed freely from wounds she could no longer feel, bones creaked and cracked without even a hint of pain. She stood tall and proud before the three masked men, whose eyes were wide in disbelief.
    “An execution, eh?” the demonic voice whispered mockingly.
    Not a hint of movement from the assassins, frozen in disbelief as the voice continued.
    “Sounds like fun.”

    The old ranger had seen many things in his long years, from giants to ghouls, dragons to sea serpents. He had even seen a man throw himself from the highest tower in Leynas, proclaiming himself to be one of the old gods. That one didn't end well.
    He had never seen this before.
    The girl had risen from near death, taunted her would-be killers in a voice that drew the breath from a man's lungs, then leapt headlong at the biggest of the three men.
    Before the brute had chance to react, the waifish girl drove her fist into his ribs with such ferocity that the ranger heard quite a few of them snapping from his perch among the ruins. Using her momentum, she quickly spun and drove her elbow into the man's throat.
    The sickening crunch told of his death even before the red head launched into the air, driving both feet into the giant's chest and sending him hurtling into the ground at the feet of the distant magus.
    At least twenty feet away.

    “Next!” The voice seemed distant to Niiko, echoing like she was trapped in a nightmare and unable to wake.
    Somehow she knew this was no nightmare.
    Somehow she knew that whatever was controlling her, whatever this thing was, it was smiling.
    The two remaining assassins finally came to their senses and had moved together, readying themselves to attack in unison.
    The thin one's blade glowed with ethereal fire, diving into flesh before the thunderbolt shot from the leader's hand, throwing her to the floor.

    “Fighters? That was unexpected, I haven't encounter your like for centuries.” An inhuman cackle set forth from the girl's lips as she rose from the floor, making the old ranger shiver in the grip of fear. Whatever this thing was, it was powerful. The girl clearly had no control over whatever possessed her, the anguished screams had given way to infernal laughter and fiendish taunts.
    His conscience weighed heavily upon him, he did not know what to do. This devil could not be allowed to walk freely in Silentil but clearly there was a troubled young woman at the heart of the beast.
    A young woman that reminded him of the wife he had lost.

    Somehow, Niiko could feel the power fading slightly as the pain barrier began to lift ever so slightly. That combined attack must have weakened whatever possessed her for just a brief moment.
    The moment passed.
    “Now,” the demon spat, “my turn.”
    In a blur of immense speed, Niiko's body had rounded on the wiry knife-wielder. His eyes widened in surprise as her terrible, ruined face grinned evilly mere inches from the assassin's mask.
    His expression turned quickly from surprise to pure terror, grimacing as Niiko's hand closed around his throat and lifted him choking into the air.
    The blade dropped from the gaunt assassin's hand as his strength waned and, in a flash of movement, Niiko's hand swiped the knife as it fell, before plunging it repeatedly into the attacker's midriff and discarding him like a child's old plaything.
    Niiko's body lurched forward suddenly, a flow of agony welling up inside her as a voice inside began to hiss no over and over. A bright light began to swell in the distance.
    The third assassin was preparing to finish her.

    Something was wrong.
    The girl had won her battle with whatever demon had controlled her, but the timing could not have been worse as the final killer readied a spell to put the flame-haired girl down for good.
    The masked fiend turned too late to see Shadowfell plunge into his body, skewering him viciously and pinning him to the floor at an awkward, twisted angle. His wide eyes were forever locked on the hilt of the sword as it swayed with the force of impact, his mouth opened in a silent scream that would never be heard.

    The figure's dark cloak danced around his body as he leapt from the ruined wall to reclaim his sword, the same sword that he had thrown with deadly accuracy into the unsuspecting masked villain.
    Heaving the blade from the ground must have taken some effort, thought Niiko as she watched the grizzled old ranger push his foot into the chest of the assassin and force the sword from both floor and man with a sickening squelch, a light mist of blood spraying across the grass.
    Niiko noticed the beauty of the blade in a fleeting moment of clarity, the fine detail of the ancient Athrinian runes etched into one edge, the dim blue glow of the circular crest above the hilt and how the sword's softly-curving blade resembled a desert snake's body.
    An intense pain racked her body, shattering the peaceful clarity before quickly dissipating, leaving her numb once more.
    The demon would not release her without a fight.

    The cloaked ranger heard the familiar hum of Shadowfell, its thirst for blood finally sated. Using the black cape of the downed assassin, he wiped the excess gore from the blade's edges and turned toward the girl.
    The slender fist broke his nose, blood spraying as his head snapped back and he thundered into the dirt.
    “Fool,” the voice hissed unnaturally from the girl's lips, “you think I would fall so easily?”
    The demon was arrogant. Even as its grip on the girl loosened, it could not accept its weakened state inside the human shell. The greying hunter knew he could use this to his advantage.
    “Then kill me, demon,” the hunter pressed as he rose to his feet, “if you can.”
    With a roar of indignant rage, the possessed girl leapt wildly at the old ranger and he deftly showed his back to her with a spin, sending her sprawling undignified onto the grass.
    “You do fall easily, it seems.” A smile found the lips of the ranger, deep within the shadows of his cowl.
    Another shrieking roar erupted from the girl's throat as she leapt once more at thin air where the woodsman had once been, landing heavily on the hard soil.

    Niiko felt that last fall as it hammered the breath from her bruised lungs, feeling the agony of cracking ribs and the breaking of bones in her shoulder from the awkward landing. The demon was losing the battle once more, this time the voice in her head made no protest.
    A forceful shudder sent her into violent coughs and splutters, the coppery taste of blood filled her mouth and she drooled uncontrollably, the realisation of the broken jaw hitting her with an almighty wave of suffering.
    A shadow descended upon her as the grizzled old ranger stood over her, the tiniest shaft of light slithering through a small tear in his cloak. She tried to apologise to him, she tried to grovel at his feet for forgiveness and even thank him for saving her shattered existence, but all that passed her lips was whimpering and bloody drool.
    “I'm sorry,” the deep, gravelly voice whispered as he brought the hilt of his sword crashing into Niiko's skull.
    A blissful coma of darkness took her.

    The ageing woodsman removed his cloak, hanging it on a crude hook by the fireplace in his old wooden house. His shoulders sagged as the extent of his burden took shape, the weight of bringing this young woman back from the precipice of darkness would test him in ways he could not fathom.
    A task he would not fail twice.
    He had promised, after the death of his wife from some unknown fever, that never again would a woman perish whilst in the care of Kross Fellmoore.
    He looked back at the small bed in the corner of the dark room, flames in the fireplace sending shadows dancing around and casting a dull red glow about the bed. The house itself was made up of only this one room, a small pot of water hung over the fireplace set in one wall beside the bed, a stone chimney built up around it and exited through the old wooden roof.
    On the other side of the house, a series of collected pelts hung down over a large window overlooking the forest below, the world stretched off into the horizon beyond, its countless forests, rivers, cities and plains drifted as far as the eye could see.
    Kross approached the bed and stood over the fiery girl from the ruins, wondering how exactly he planned to save her from whatever demon resided within her. Looking down, he saw just how pale she looked as she whimpered in her feverish coma.
    “It wasn't your fault,” his wife stood beside him, a perfect apparition of her beauty. Her long, golden hair flowed down to her bottom, her pale green eyes shining in the firelight. She wore a simple floral dress of hand stitched silk, the lightest of blues in colour, and stood barefoot on the wolf-pelt rug beside the bed.
    “You died in my care,” Kross whispered, a look of defeat etched across his bearded features, made even more apparent by his bloodied nose.
    “It was my time,” the spirit said, reaching out to touch the old ranger's face, “nothing could have prevented my passing. I'm at peace now, you will be too when this girl is well.”
    Kross knew the truth in her words. He had craved a chance to redeem himself all these years, yet could not bring himself to leave the safety of his life in the woods among the Kimr mountains.
    With one last look of longing at his wife's spirit, she smiled and faded before him.
    “Peace,” he whispered to her as she disappeared.
    After a moment, he let out a long breath and went to fetch the heated water from above the fireplace. He lifted the warm bowl and threw a clean wash cloth into the water, before turning back toward the bed.
    Kneeling beside the girl as she gently squirmed under the bearskin blanket, Kross set the bowl of water on the floor next to him. He wrung out the cloth as he lifted it from the bowl, then set to rubbing the dirt and blood from her face as best he could.
    “Peace,” he whispered again.

    It was remarkable how quickly the girl's wounds calmed, though her coma persisted. In just under two months, the swollen eye had gone right down leaving only a ragged scar running down over it, another small scar ran across her forehead, though the knife wound in her midriff had healed completely. The demon must have some power over her healing but, Kross hoped, it did not seem to have complete control as the scars on her face suggested.
    Her fever had subsided, she no longer squirmed and whimpered during the tormented sleep she fought to awake from. The healing potions and incense he had brought from Kimr Valley, the town that resided within a treacherously deep valley at the base of the mountain, was working wonders for easing the red-headed young woman's restless dreams.

    Niiko could feel the nightmare's hold over her was fading, the dark town she stood at the edge of felt like the end of her journey.
    An array of traditional, stone country houses lined the circular cul-de-sac at the end of the foggy road she had followed into town, having passed yet more traditional wooden huts of businesses, unlit as it was past closing time.
    She felt a familiarity here, something tugging at the edges of her memory. The nightmare had been leading her here, to this very point at which she stood, yet she could not determine a reason.
    As if in response to her struggle, the fog began to close in around her. It engulfed the street behind her, began swallowing the trees and rockery behind the stone houses-
    One of the houses was lit up. Somebody was home!
    Niiko felt something brush her shoulder and she spun in alarm. Misty grey hands were reaching from the fog that had enshrouded the entire town. She turned quickly back to the lit house, the light seemingly holding back the fog as it covered everything but the path to that one stone archway and the deep crimson of its wooden door.
    She sprinted toward the doorway with all the speed she could muster, stopping sharply at the threshold as a crack of light revealed the door to be slightly ajar.
    “H-hello?” Niiko stuttered as she entered the oddly shadowy house, belying the light shining through the windows.
    No answer came.
    She cast about her like a startled deer, cautiously stepping into the centre of the room and peering at every dancing shadow and jumping at every creak of old floorboards and every whistle of the wind blowing through the cracks in the crumbling masonry.
    The door slammed shut behind her.

    Kross awoke to the rumbling of the quaking earth, the gentle squealing of the water pot swaying on its hinges over the dying embers of the fireplace, a sound like great wings flapping denoting the billowing pelts hanging over the window-
    “By the gods.” Kross' mouth was agape.
    A great shaft of dim light stretched across the entire valley below, the treetops standing as shadows before the background of such intense, burning light.
    He pulled his old cloak from the hook by the door and headed out on to the plateau, staring over the tree line and down into the valley below.
    “By the gods,” he repeated.

    Inside the dark stone house, Niiko should have been afraid. The constant rapping of misty grey hands on the flimsy windows should have scared the wits from her, the roaring bangs of something much larger slamming into the front door should have her frozen with fear and yet she felt like she knew this place.
    “I do know this place,” she said to herself, “this is my home!”
    She remembered being cast out by her parents, literally thrown on to the cobbled street as those outside spat and screamed at her.
    Shouts coming from everyone gathered outside her home. They had accused her of killing that young man, whoever he had been.
    Had she killed him?
    “Yes,” came the soft female voice from the darkness, “you did kill him... in a manner of speaking.”
    Niiko turned sharply, jumping at the sound of this new voice in the darkness. She could only see a vague silhouette of a young woman and nothing more.
    “Your body killed him, but your actions were not your own.”
    She began to understand what the voice was saying, whatever lay inside her had killed this man in her home town. She still had no idea how or why, but the details no longer mattered.
    “What am I?” Niiko fell to her knees before the shadowy girl, not knowing who she was any more.
    “You are still Niiko Valdis,” the voice began, sounding ever more familiar to Niiko's ears, “you are still my sister.”
    In that moment, the shadows fell away and the young, raven haired girl was revealed in all her beauty. Niiko recognised the dark chocolate eyes, the smooth skin of purest milk, but the sight of her brown leather chest piece and the skirts of green leather armour were totally unfamiliar, her sister had never taken to battle. She was too young.
    The door behind Niiko splintered and exploded.

    Kross visited the plateau overlooking the plains of Athrine every night, between tending to the young woman's health.
    The red head had become more restless again lately, muttering wordless sounds as she writhed beneath the pelts covering her. Kross realised that something was keeping her in this dream state, something supernatural.
    Outside, his mind toiled hard trying to work out what was going on. Inside the house, the young stranger suffered a torturous sleep from which she may never wake, while outside, beyond the trees at the base of the mountain, the world was being ravaged by creatures from the fiery depths of the Underworld.
    He had ventured to the edge of the Kimr Valley a few nights back, watching as twisted beings poured forth from the glowing cracks in the earth like a swarm of insects, eyes glowing blue like thousands of tiny candles against the darkness.
    Kross Fellmoore had lived through much, but this could be the end of all things.

    The demon had shattered the door with its massive arm. A great mass of muscle and sinew bulged beneath scale as the clawed hand swiped wildly at the air, shrieks of frustration coming from outside as the colossal beast could not find its target.
    “There's no time, Kyra,” Niiko began, “ we need to leave this place!”
    Kyra gave her sister a look of loving resignation. “I can't leave, this isn't my dream. You have the power here, Niiko. Use it!”
    Kyra's words were a revelation, sparking a realisation within Niiko that she needed to control her dream in order to wake in the real world.
    “I control this dream?” She looked into Kyra's dark eyes.
    The tone of Kyra's voice invited no argument. The power was Niiko's to control, she only needed to find out how to use it to her advantage. The demon had ceased its wild frenzy and was now leaning down, its bright crimson eyes staring at its prey through the small archway where the door had been.
    The realisation hit Niiko like a hammer, forging the will to do what had to be done. She turned to face the demon, taking a deep breath to calm herself.
    She pounced into the demon, screaming furiously.

    The girl screamed, startling Kross as he sat by the window looking out over the trees.
    The red head leapt from the bed, baring her teeth and snarling wildly at Kross. She was obviously afraid after waking in a strange new place, seeing a total stranger watching her from across the room.
    “Calm yourself, child.” Kross raised his hands before him, palms facing outward as a sign of peace.
    “Where am I?” she hissed, looking all about her in a desperate attempt to recognise something of her environment.
    Kross noticed that her eyes were different colours. The scarred eye must have lost its pigmentation in the attack, its colour now a pale icy blue next to the contrasting dark red of the other eye.
    “You're in my home, above the forest at the base of the Kimr mountains. I brought you here after you were attacked by those assassins.”
    “Wait...” The girl's stance softened as she adopted a less threatening posture, a look of deep thought etched on her pale face. “I know you,” she continued at length.
    Her expression turned suddenly to one of horror, the angry red scars standing out like cracks in her delicate features as a horrible realisation seemed to grasp her.
    “I attacked you,” the young woman gasped. She looked away shamefully, a long moment of silence passing before she finally met his eyes again.
    “You weren't yourself, you can't be held responsible for your actions.” Kross stood now, doing his level best to keep his survival instincts from kicking in, forcing himself not to go for Shadowfell. This girl deserved his pity and his charity, something told Kross that she was special.
    “Thank you,” the girl whispered.
    “Now to answer your original question,” Kross began, a smile playing across his lips, “name's Kross.”
    “Kross? That's an odd name.”
    “I'm an odd fellow, some might say.”
    The flame haired girl laughed softly. Both of them relaxed as they shared this moment of peace.
    “Nice to meet you, Kross.” The girl smiled lopsidedly, a slight notch in her top lip from a scar running down her cheek. “My name is Niiko. Niiko Valdis.”
    “Another odd name, Niiko Valdis.” Kross returned the smile with his own.

    Kross had given the girl a few articles of clothing, some of the few belonging to his late wife that he had kept. A greying vest and a simple pair of riding breeches the colour of tree bark, overlaid by skirts of armour that Kross had fashioned from the hide of a mountain bear. Those bastards were tough, their flesh as strong as leather.
    Niiko had pulled on a pair fur-trimmed hunting boots, lacing up the sides before looking up at the old ranger as he told his tale of the undead rising and the cataclysm that followed.
    “Half of Athrine was wrenched open by vortexes of cobalt blue as the twisted wretches rose from the depths, ruining the landscape in its wake and destroying the world as you knew it.” Kross had a look of sadness as he spoke, his eyes not often leaving the floor.
    “Luckily,” he continued, “the strength of the people prevailed and have kept the hordes at bay for the past six months, some have even begun to rebuild homes where the Blighted have been defeated.”
    “How do you know all this?” A lock of fiery red hair fell over Niiko's eye, she brushed it behind her ear. “Haven't you been tending to me all this time?”
    “Rangers and hunters stick together, Niiko. When one cannot return to the wilds, others relay information to him without the need to ask.”
    “But isn't it too dangerous to travel, with the dead walking again?” Niiko shuddered involuntarily at the thought of rotting corpses walking the roads.
    “The Great Huntress watches over us and protects us from harm. Her great wisdom has taught us to become as shadows in the night.” Kross' eyes were ablaze at the mention of the Great Huntress, a great pride swelling within his chest.
    “We have seen empires rise and fall,” he continued, “we have been present for the birth and death of great heroes, we've slain villains and been forced to watch tyrants prosper but we have endured.”
    “Can you teach me to survive as you have?” Niiko had a look of renewed vigour, the dream had obviously strengthened her resolve somehow.
    Kross scratched at the short grey beard that had grown over the last few months, ignoring the matted hair that clung to his face as he rolled his head around, stretching his neck muscles.
    “I can do more than that,” he said, “I can help you to control that devil inside you.”

Copyright © G. Bailey 2011

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Death's Shadow

He sat on the edge of his bed, running a hand over the empty sheets before sitting forward and leaning his elbows on his knees. He took in the walls festooned with lasergraphs of him shaking hands with the galaxy's various leaders – the tentacled face of Jaskar Hegren of the Sygar system, Ilir-the-Grand, self-proclaimed king of the Eresgan system, the beautiful face of Uthra Suli, duchess of Tranqua, amongst others – the blank vidscreen on the wall showed his own ageing, stubbled and scarred face staring gloomily back at him.
      He noticed the gleam of the medal in his hand and looked down at it. “Hero of the Pokkren System”, it said. His eyes burned into the mocking golden circle, his face turning into a scowl as he tossed the meaningless metal at the nearest wall, cracking one of the lasergraphs in the process.
      A hero? he thought, and what is that worth? Your friends are either dead or have left you, your family don't talk to you any more and the only reason you continue to fight is because there's nothing else left to do.
      All the medals in the hundreds of worlds. All the undeserved gratitude from kings and the like. Everything. He would give up absolutely everything to go back to his simple life with Faith and the kids.
      But they wouldn't even recognise the shell of a man, the monster, that he had become.
      To his face, his crew merely called him 'captain' as they saluted hollowly. But behind his back, mistakenly believing he wouldn't have eyes and ears everywhere on his own vessel, that same crew believed the shadow of the Reaper followed him everywhere he went.
      Some even believed that Death was somehow looking out for him.
      He had lost friends. Good men and women. He had survived the uprising on Advent One, which some had unofficially named “the second Vietnam” as it was brutal and bloody, no side had won. It was a pointless war that spilled more blood than Old Earth's four World Wars combined, all over such trivial matters as political agendas.
     Politicians were the reason that Kowalski, Janos, Chris and Ulrich were dead. Politicians were the reason that his soul had died on that godforsaken rock, cradling poor Skylar in his arms as she bled out from a pointless gunshot wound in that pointless fucking war.
      He snapped back to the present, making himself breathe deeply to calm his shaking body. Every fibre of his being wanted to reach for a fix of the painkillers, numb the headache he was feeling in his temples and send him gliding on a wave of euphoria – no matter how fake.
      Maybe it was time to pack in this life, hand in his resignation to the Council and retire to that old cabin in Canada. Old Earth was almost inhospitable now, one giant frozen ball after the biggest scientific blunder in history – a plan to reverse global warming that backfired in the most epic way, leaving humanity's only option to leave the planet and settle elsewhere. But he could still settle back on Old Earth, his cabin was still standing in the deeps snows and raging blizzards.
      Just like he was still standing, despite all the gunfire and explosions that should have killed him like it had his friends.
      He sat forward on his bed, rubbing at the stubble before cradling his face in his hands and exhaling loudly into his palms. He knew retiring wasn't an option. He was too far gone for that now.
      He stood as the 'mission go' alarms wailed through the ship's corridors. He stepped into the dark, Mark IV combat suit, all augmented Kevlar weaves and Titanium-coated plating, and checked the magazine in his modified Kalashnikov ZK 47 – not an official Kalashnikov, but made to resemble the old AK 47 made so popular at the end of the twentieth.
      “Let's see if Death has the balls to claim me this time,” he breathed as the door slid shut behind him.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

After a long absence, a new chapter emerges...

Greetings! It's been a long time since I updated this blog and, after a lot of changes, the new story direction may finally be forming. I do hope you'll stick around to see this story grow into something more complete, but for now we pick up a few chapters in as Niiko is beginning her journey into a new and dangerous world...
The Titan

“Bring it down!”
    The voice drifted across the fields as Niiko crested the hill, the scene ahead unfolding before her eyes.
    A small city, walled all the way around by a crude barrier of masonry and debris, most likely the remains of the destroyed city limits that surrounded what was left, stood by the sea. Outside its walls lay an army of undead warriors, bearing down on the defenders – a hundred men or so, dressed in mismatched armour standing in an arc around the main gates – and the back seat generals shouted angrily from atop their solid wall.
    “By the gods, bring that fucking thing down!” One of the generals was pointing to a large mass wading through the undead ranks.
    The massive creature was pouring itself through the horde of undead warriors, kicking the unfortunate ones out of its way in its merciless quest to reach the city gates. It was a three-metre-tall bulk of rotting scales, huge legs of torn flesh and exposed muscle carried it inexorably forward, its titanic arms covered by rusted plate armour and almost dragged through the mud.
    The titan threw back the long snout of its reptilian head and let out a blood curdling shriek, showing the enormity of its gaping maw and the rows of sharp, jagged yellow teeth that lay inside.
    But that shriek. Niiko could still feel it rattling around inside her skull and she brought her hands uselessly up to the sides of her head, a futile gesture that offered no help in warding off the pain.
    “Not now,” she whispered into the wind.
    Yes, now, the horribly familiar voice rasped from within.

     “It's charging! The goddamn thing is charging!
    The voice seemed to be in another world as Niiko's vision began to fade into an orangey-red filter, her eyes fading from the combination of one dark red and one ice blue, to unified black eyeballs with the irises pigmented white.
    She knew this day would come but would her training finally pay off? Would she be able to control the inner demon or be lost to its wrath?
    She would have to find a way to control it soon, as the demon had already catapulted her from the hilltop perch into the path of the undead titan.

    “Who the-” the general began, the shock cutting him off and rendering him speechless.
    The flame-haired girl had seemingly flown into the fray, creating a small crater that erupted in showers of mud and water between the valiant defenders of Leynas and the incoming torrent of the undead.
    The massive creature had also been taken aback, skidding to a halt before this new threat – or at least what the general hoped to be a new threat – as a wave of muddy rubble leapt up from the ground before its massive, taloned feet.
    Everything seemed to slow down, time itself forming an odd frozen image in the rainy evening as both sides tried to make sense of this new development.

    Niiko felt herself reaching for her weapons, the familiar weight of the curved scimitar in her left hand, counterbalanced by the short hand axe in her right.
    That was a good sign. She knew it meant the demon's control was slipping, that her strength was returning and she could begin to use the power for her own ends.
    In unison, both sides of the battle let go cries of wrath and the behemoth shrieked again. At the same time, Niiko's own scream of fury sounded in the hissing rain as the mismatched blades swirled around her.
    She glared at the oncoming mass of torn scale and muscle, its feet now pounding at the soil as it resumed its charge.
    By the gods, she was scared.
    But by the gods, she was not going to show it.

    General Alvaro watched from the battlements, his mouth agape as this young woman leapt at the colossal reptile charging toward her.
    Her axe buried itself in the creature's face, the girl clinging to it and swung herself around, wrapping her legs around its long neck for purchase as she dug the curved blade of her sword into the reptile's side.
    The titan ground to a halt, a piercing howl ringing out as the red-head's attack continued, the clawed hands now swinging uselessly upward as it tried to strike down this new opponent.

    Niiko grunted as she fought to avoid the swinging claws, all the while still trying to jab the sword into various areas of the torso in an attempt to find the titan's heart and bring it down for good.
    It was a common misconception that the undead could be killed merely by removing the head, Kross had taught her, but the reality was that the heart would regenerate any lost body part – including regrowing an entire head!
    This thing's heart was buried somewhere very deep within the torso, its massive bulk possibly proving too big for her relatively short blade.
    She may require assistance.

    The undead had begun to swarm around the hulking beast and headed toward the waiting defence force, straight at the vulnerable gates of Leynas. Rotting, pale green flesh hung limply from grinning skulls, the angry red of exposed muscle and sinew stood out on arms, legs and chests, barely covered by pieces of shredded cloth or rusted armour plates – all speaking of past lives now forever lost to the Great Void.
    Jin was terrified that he would never see his family again, but that only prompted him to realise that if he did not make it, chances were that his family would not last much longer once the hordes burst through into the city proper.
    This spurred him on, renewing the fury inside. The fiery stranger now attacking the titan rejuvenated his courage and he charged, screaming as loud as his lungs allowed.
    Blades cut screaming arcs through rotting flesh, hissing faces of dead things rose and fell around him as dark blood sprayed across his dull armour. Steel rang against steel as some of the fiends brought weapons into the battle, human screams of pain and death were drowned out by the roars of those that fought on.
    Another scream of agony ripped into the rainy night as another of the girl's stabs hit home, causing the undead ranks to buckle in confusion as their leader – or at least their beacon of strength – began to falter.

    That last stab had caught something, the power surging through her offered her a glimpse into the “vision” of her weapons, a connection that allowed her to feel an enemy's weakness more keenly.
    The scimitar's tip had punctured the titan's heart slightly, causing it to buck and twist in fear and pain, loosening the axe's grip in the scaly neck.
    Suddenly it gave completely and Niiko was thrown to the floor, landing awkwardly on her back and knocking the air from her lungs, her head filling with brightness as her head snapped back and hit the floor.
    The titan let go a furious shriek and raised a foot in order to squash Niiko. Her vision returned in a blur, seeing just enough to realise this shadow above her was ready to crush the life from her.
    She rolled quickly onto her front as the clawed foot shook the muddy ground where she had just lay. Roaring in frustration, the beast readied a clawed fist but Niiko was ready and whipped the axe through the air, sending it thudding into the reptile's jaw. It whimpered as it reeled from this fresh pain and Niiko seized the opportunity this opening had afforded her.
    Climbing quickly to her feet, she screamed in boundless fury and leapt at the exposed chest of the titan, both hands wrapped around the hilt of the scimitar as she drove it into the heart of the beast.
    It fell backward almost instantly, landing dead on its back as Niiko stood, breathing heavily, on the scaled chest.

    Jin felt the force of the monster's fall, a small shockwave sending up chunks of dirt and fallen stone from the ruins surrounding Leynas.
    The effect was staggering. The undead footsoldiers instantly reacted to the giant's demise, some fleeing instantly into the Dead Forest to the east while some simply stood and stared in disbelief at the corpse.
    They did not stand for long.
    Jin ran the last one through with his dagger after splitting its head with his halberd, then turned to survey the battlefield.
    The more unaffected men scoured the field for surviving undead, plunging spears or swords through their hearts to keep them from rising to kill again. Some battle-weary soldiers tended to the wounded humans, pulling them to the safety of the keep now that the doors were being opened, heavily armoured guards of General Alvaro had been sent down to defend against any desperate attacks.
    Jin found himself drawn to the young woman stood by the corpse of the titan.
    “Thank you,” he said softly, before driving the tip of his halberd through an undead survivor by his feet.

    “General Alvaro,” the young soldier stood to attention before his commanding officer, clearly wincing as he did so.
    General Alvaro was a tall, sturdy man of sixty years. His rapidly-greying hair swept back gracefully over his head, leaving his face to be framed only by his black and grey beard, notched slightly on one cheek by an almighty scar that reached up just below his eye.
    “You're injured, son,” Alvaro replied as he moved to aid the young man.
    “I'm okay sir, I came to report our victory at the gates.” The young soldier tried to wave away Alvaro's aid but he would not hear of it.
    “Good job...” Alvaro tilted his head slightly, pausing.
    “Ralma, sir,” came the reply after a brief, awkward silence.
    “Good job Ralma,” Alvaro threw his arm under Ralma's armpit to keep him upright. “Now let's get you to a medic."

    “Who are you?” The blood-spattered guardsman had asked after thanking her.
    She found herself staring at the floor, not knowing what to say.
    What do you say to somebody after you have just waded into a war zone, as a complete stranger, and taken down an undead titan without blinking an eye?
     What can you say?
    “Are you injured?” the soldier pressed, somehow not willing to accept her silence as an answer.
    “No,” Niiko whispered at length, still not taking her eyes away from the floor.
    “How did you do that?” he nodded toward the giant corpse at her feet.
    Another silent reply. She at least looked him in the eye now.
    He took a step back. “What happened to your eyes?”
    For a moment she took in his features, the faint blonde stubble speckled with dark blood, the strong jaw strangely at odds with his thin face, his narrow eyes suggesting he was native to this area even before the scourge of the undead Blighted had ravaged the land.
    She found herself beginning to smile, her vision returning to the darkness of the night as the rain began to fall away.
    “Name's Jin,” the bloodied man offered as he extended his hand.
    “I... I need to lie down,” Niiko's words began to slur, her legs wobbling beneath her as the surge of power left her body.
    The last thing she remembered was Jin's arm reaching out as she fell to the floor.

Copyright © G. Bailey 2010

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Angel in the Smoke: Part One

This is the first part of a short story that I decided to write. It has no relevance to the world of my main story, it is just a new story with some familiar faces to those who know them.

The Angel in the Smoke:
Part One

Rain poured from the heavens, umbrellas moved this way and that while those without ran for cover. The sharp hills of the city turned to rivers, reflecting the street lights and police search vehicles overhead.
      Kross ducked into a doorway as a police vehicle hovered over, instinctively pulling his hood further over his face as he tried to look inconspicuous.
      For Kross, inconspicuous was almost impossible.
      Water sprayed lightly in a large circle on the floor below the police cruiser as it lowered closer to the ground, the murky street pulsed red and blue as the cruiser's lights lit up the nearby area.
      As he watched the cruiser's descent, the door behind Kross opened suddenly and, before he had time to react, he was dragged inside by the collar of his overcoat.

      “Incoming!” his fellow marine was yelling, the whistle of shells being fired resounding in the distance.
      The entire squad running for cover, the first blast wave knocked them off balance, causing some to charge shoulder-first into the wall as they missed doorways or were pushed forward by the force of the explosion behind.
      The second shell hit closer to home. The blast sheered a nearby building in half, the walls shattering and raining down on the marine unit as they were trying to regain balance.
      Kross was looking back over his shoulder when the third blast hit. Three of his men were vaporised before his eyes and then his head filled with light.
      A nearby voice shouted something he could not hear, he was struggling to blink away the pain and put his hand to the top of his head to feel a moist patch there. Bringing his now crimson hand down, his blurry vision struggling to make sense of the moving shapes before him, he heard more muffled shouting above the ringing in his ears.
      Even with the ringing sounds, his ears could not mistake the sound of the fourth explosion but he had no time to react as he was thrown backwards like a rag doll toward the building he was heading into for cover.
      Everything turned to black.

      Most people stared at Kross these days, there was no getting around the horror of his new appearance. The two girls before him were no different.
      The one stood closest to him had dark, blue-tinted hair. She was small but her athletic physique spoke volumes of her combat ability, on display in a purple vest top that showed off a slender-yet-toned midriff. Even the basic pair of dark jeans could not hide the toned shape of her legs.
      “Even I could tell you're the one they're looking for and I only took a quick look out the window,” the young Japanese woman stated, with a faint look of disappointment in her sharp eyes.
      “It isn't as simple as you think.” Kross' pride stung at this stranger's scolding.
      “Lose the sunglasses, they're a dead give-away when it's dark out.”
      “Listen, I appreciate you concern but you don't understand what's going on here.”
      “Does it look like we're going anywhere?” the second girl chimed in, lounging on a sofa by the back wall, her tousled pink locks draped over her face. Kross could not help but stare momentarily, since she was wearing only a neon t-shirt and a pair of simple grey panties.
      The dark-haired woman turned. “Angel, don't you think you should cover up for our guest?”

      “He's waking up,” an unfamiliar voice was echoing through his head.
Sitting up, Kross groaned his disapproval before throwing up over the side of the bed he was on.
      “Where the fuck-”
      “Are you?” the voice echoed again, cutting him off. “That's need to know, marine,” a slight pause hung in the air, “and you don't.”

      “Name's Kross.” His voice sounded hoarse even to him.
      “Angel,” the pink-haired girl offered as she returned to the room, a pair of regular track bottoms now covering her lower half, “though I'm sure you guessed that already.”
      Kross smiled, something he had not done for quite some time. He wondered if even that looked alien now.
      “Domino,” said the dark haired, Japanese girl. Her voice seemed far softer than he expected, not fitting the almost businesslike demeanour his marine senses had picked up previously.
      “So... you ever gonna take off those glasses?” Angel grinned.
      “I'm not sure I should.”
      “I can see the augmentation. The glasses can't really hide glowing eyes, no matter how dark the lenses.” Domino's honesty threw Kross off.
      He slowly drew back his hood and pulled off his glasses, sliding them into his breast pocket. Angel gasped, but not in horror, it almost seemed like she was impressed.
      His pale white pate held scars from too many surgeries to count, a faint blue line ran from the top of each eye all the way to the base of his skull. His eyes had been replaced with a sophisticated bio-optic augmentation: two glowing blue spheres that connected directly to his now part-synthetic brain, directly feeding unfathomable amounts of data in order for the rest of his augmentations to perform at capacities way beyond the normal human level.
     “When you said you weren't going anywhere,” Kross began, “I hope you meant it.”

      Opening his eyes, Kross realised he was in a laboratory of some kind. He sat on a hospital style bed in the middle of a bare room of chrome and glass, small video screens displaying vitals and other indecipherable medical information were set into the wall near the door.
      Through the large glass screen overlooking the room on one wall, he made out vague silhouettes moving this way and that. One stood in the centre of the window and although there were no eyes visible through the dark glass, Kross knew the figure was staring at him.
      Straining to make out more detail in the figure above, Kross' head responded with an immediate pulsing headache behind his eyes. Instinctively, he put his hand to his head in a futile attempt to dull the pain.
      His hand froze before his eyes.
      “What the fuck?”

      “It hurt. Every moment of it.” Kross continued telling his story to these young women, somehow forming a trust in them without knowing a thing about them.
      It made less sense than what had happened to him.
      “How long were you out there?” Angel asked with more than a little excitement in her eyes.
      Kross hesitated, as if answering would make the whole thing real. He caught sight of his cybernetic arm, its inner workings pumping away as he lifted it in front of his face, examining it and almost losing himself in a memory.
      “Six years,” he finally admitted, looking at his arm the entire time as he realised the futility of denying what was blindingly obvious.
      “Shit,” Domino knew something of how the man felt, though she would never speak of that again. Angel's reassuring hand rested on her shoulder, as if she knew exactly what Domino was remembering.
      “They did more than augment your eyes in that time.” Angel's inquisitive gaze roamed over Kross' body, returning his earlier favour.
      “A lot more.” Domino voiced her realisation.
      Angel shifted on the sofa next to Domino, an eagerness in her expression gave away her next words.
      “Can I see?”

      His arm was completely cybernetic. Looking like something from a science fiction movie, the muscles simulated by armoured shells, thick wiring replacing tendons and there was a faint blue glow coming from between the layers of dark metal.
      Raising his other arm, Kross noticed the exact same thing had been done. Both arms had been replaced with cybernetics.
      But why?
      A flash of memory showed him a blood-stained hand.
      Another flash and he saw a bright light, felt a flying sensation and his body jolted at the memory of slamming into something.
      That was the last memory he had.
      He pushed himself from the bed and stumbled forward, putting a palm to the floor to steady himself and stop his fall.
      After a moment, Kross stood and wandered to the glass wall ahead. There were countless machines of varying size and shape, some resembling medical equipment such as CT and full-body scanners and others looking more like torture devices.
      He blocked out the machinery and let his eyes focus on his reflection, the sight causing a ripple of shock through his body as he recoiled in horror.
      Blue-lit “veins” ran from each arm, disappearing deeper into the body close to his heart. A vicious looking scar ran down the centre of his chest and, just beneath the surface of his pale, almost blue skin, traces of metal could be seen coating his ribs.
      An inconsolable anger bubbled within him.
      Who were these people?
      What had they done to him?
      He gritted his teeth and let out a seething breath, an anger unlike any he had ever experienced seized him.
      He turned and took hold of the bed, a heavy metal thing bolted to the floor. In his anger he wanted to just flip it over and release the tension before it consumed him.
      The bed flipped over, bolts and metal shards flying everywhere.

      “Whoa,” Angel responded at the sight before her, a look of wonderment filling her eyes.
      “That was my reaction too,” Kross paused for a second, “though there was considerably more swearing on my part.”
      “May I?” Angel's hand was already on Kross' chest before he could answer, rendering the question redundant.
      “I think you already are,” he laughed.
      Angel pulled away as she realised her faux pas, her face growing redder by the second.
      “Don't worry,” Kross reacted quickly to help the girl avoid further embarrassment, “it's not as invasive as what's already happened to me.”
      His attempt at humour only darkened the mood, forgetting that the sight of his body and the tale of his past hardly leaned toward a humorous outlook.
      Luckily, Domino sensed the levity present in Kross' tone and offered a token snort of amusement.
      “First you lounge about half naked, then you start touching the guy,” Domino could not hide a mischievous smirk when she added, “he's gonna get ideas.”
      “Yuki-chan!” The pink-haired girl let out an embarrassed squeal and playfully slapped her friend, having caught sight of her smile.

      The tables had turned in favour of Kross now, the realisation of his new strength giving him a power he never knew existed as he wheeled around to face the glass wall of his cell.
      He looked up and thought he could see the look of terror on the faces of the silhouettes now gathering at the window above.
      They knew his next move.
      He knew his next move.

      The six-inch-thick glass erupted into the laboratory beyond, chunks of the heavy material leaving trails of devastation in their wake as they hurtled through various vials, beakers and other instruments that had adorned the tables and shelves.
      Red lights blazed and piercing shrieks filled the air as alarms screamed into life as Kross took one last look at the mayhem ensuing in the window above before taking the first steps toward his freedom.

      Kross watched the faint splash as the coffee hit the bottom of the cup, swilling around wildly as it quickly filled to the top. Domino lifted the coffee pot away and quickly poured another cup each for herself and Angel.
      “No guards at all?” Angel was astounded.
      “They were either too arrogant in thinking their own creation would never turn on them,” Domino cut in, “or they were intelligent enough to realise that no guards could actually stop you if you escaped.”

      The blinding light seemed to scorch his eyes as he emerged from the underground laboratory, the entrance a ruin of mangled steel after Kross brushed it aside with ease.
      Shielding his eyes with his cybernetic arm, he managed to make out some kind of desert surrounding him. Through the haze emanating from the burning sands, he could just make out a city of some kind only a few miles away.

Copyright © G. Bailey 2010