The air, water and soil gave us life, gave us the long long life, but it took everything else. I arrived in Fa Lon on a holiday, just when trials were beginning. The children ran around in their jump suits, cheering the executions that will take place when the second Sun rises high enough.
I used time to buy me a mug of mead and look at the gallows from afar. The sandstorm settled yesterday, so air was safe to breath. I shifted my hood back and called the droid behind the bar.
“Who are they going to hang?” My raspy growl haven’t frightened the bot like it feared the bandits I slayed yesterday.
“Apparently some old man who lived on the hill. He was indicted for heresy, sir.” The bot replied in sparking electronic voice, and that was enough of the talk I could handle on an empty stomach, so I gulped down the rest of the liquid and started walking.
I saw farmers firing up their cart and rusty old plating that won’t protect them from the blades of roaming bandits, but that’s why there were guards near them. They are coming along, so I can’t ask the farmers to be their escort.
The Kingdom was well organized than my scrolls said. It must be that Fa Lon grew bigger over the years.
I leaned over a wooden beam and grasped my sword when the shouting crowd pulled out an old man in dirty rags and tied a rope over his throat. He groaned and cursed at the hairy people that put him there.
“You bastards! You traded democracy for kratocracy! You forgot of why we are here! You’ll never change! Animals! You retards!” The man cried, his white beard dancing with anger, but the lot only laughed and frowned at him.
“You are convicted of heresy old man. You and your glasses and tubes are not a religious stuff. You should’ve let the army take it when they came to your… your… How does he call that shed he lived in?” The younger guard pointed fingers and looked at his men for answer, but nobody knew what he was saying.
“It is a telescope you idiot! I lived in the observatory. That place is older than a lot of you. You don’t even know what is it for, you morons! My work is important, but you smashed all of the computers I had there. I didn’t killed your guards, they killed themselves when they stuck their weapons in the generator!” The prisoner screamed, yet nobody could understand such odd words like computer or what the damn thing did there.
“Witchcraft! Heresy! They were burned, their hands broken and black marks on their bodies. A witchcraft!” The guards gnashed and gave the signal to the executioner who kicked the box and the man started swinging, twitching for breath, the last one he took.
The night came, and I decided I’ve lingered in Fa Lon enough. The lanterns burned, illuminating the corners of the street from where I could hear the cheerful crowd in the tavern. I waited for the guards to shift the watch, and the Moon to hide behind the Orbiter, the one of many constructions that looked at the town from the Great Beyond. I tipped my hood and kept moving for the gate. Pity, it won’t protect them from the tide of Heretic force that was growing behind the mountains.
I saw a shadow lurking in the street and I knew he must be a spy. I dragged my feet, looking if he had a helper, but he was alone. The tree gave me a place to hide when he stepped out from the dark and swung his head. His blade flashed on the lantern light, and his cautious steps brought him closer to me.
“You must be having a desire to die.” I whispered from aside, and he dashed his eyes towards me, watched me as I came out to face him.
“Nah, that isn’t what am I looking for, brother.” He said throwing his eyes over the shoulder. “Have the Command sent you here to evaluate the town? Is our army near?” He asked coming closer.
“Maybe. How did you know I am not a sell sword?” I looked for guards, but they were not on the walls.
“Ha, that was a hard puzzle, but I knew you were not one of those who get payed to butcher. Only a Heretic is silent enough to dodge the curious gaze of the soldiers and other kind of men.” He grinned, when I stuck my knife in his guts. “What? What are you doing?”
“Getting rid of the evidences. Sorry for ruining your tidy life and putting a hole in your clothes, brother.” I growled and threw him in the dust.
“You. A deserter. The Command will have your head!” He tried to rise.
“That’s why I am running. They will never forgive me for killing my whole unit.” I wiped my knife from his robe, when he pulled my hood down and saw a pentagram medallion shining on the lantern light.
“You are a Commander?” He squeezed the words, when I pressed on his mouth, grabbed his neck and twisted it with a cracking sound.
“I was a Commander. Now I am a fugitive.” I said, closed his eyes, pulled the hood over my head and rode away.
The flash woke me up in the middle of the night. My head was about to explode from the images of fire, a woman’s face covered in sweat, digits running down on a threads of light, red wash of the metal corridor. That must be one of the Orbiters that fall down from the sky and crash into the ground. We use them for metal harvesting, and Kingdoms race to get to them first.
“What do you want from me?!” I almost scared my horse with the cry, but he remained on the ground. “Why do you haunt me, bitch?!” I added, stumbling like drunk and then another flash burned my head, showing me a symbol that woman and I had on the shoulder. “God, does this ever stop?” I fell and spat on the ground before I finally got up and grabbed my baggage.
Flashes. Why do I have them? It is all making me confused. When I told to my mentor, he said not to worry. I thought it must be the smoke from the temple that played with me, but it wasn’t it. Someone else would’ve complained about them too, but everyone I told what bothered me, watched me like I was crazy.
Even the raid wasn’t just a normal raid. My men tried to get rid of me. One mentioned my Mentor. He gave the order. He told them to kill me.
I saddled my horse and mounted up. I swung my head back and saw the Moon shining above Fa Lao, a city now dozen kilometers far from me. A whiff of my breath made haze, so I stuck my horse and moved. I was followed with a clanging armor I had to conceal, because I might get noticed. Maybe it is of some worth, so I can sell it in the market town, Soyuz 9.
Still, my mind wandered off to beyond the mountains where our camp was settled. Why would my Mentor want me dead? I was his protege, a man to replace him and lead the Heretic Army against the whole continent. It didn’t made sense, even less than the flashes I had. The answers to my questions must be out there. I must keep searching for them.
Riding on an open road brings undesired contact with nosy peasants, therefore, I chose to ride in the shade of the forest trees I saw in the distance. Here my horse can feed on berries and I can suffer thirst better under the green bubble.
Clank of my armor I hid in the baggage reminded me of who I am, a former Commander of Wraiths in the Order of Pentagram, and that was a sorrow thing to swallow.
I was about to hunt down my lunch, when the wind blew a cry in my ear. I slowed down and looked through the bushes of a cliff that slopped down to the plain carved in half by a road. I looked, and there was a tumbled cart in the middle of it, guard’s armor glancing in the grass, woman’s veil flapping on the breeze.
I pulled my bow, elevated the aim and loosened an arrow that passed the rider’s head. He turned, yet the shade gave me cover. He called his friends and they formed a line, staring at the treeline.
“What was that? Must be a boy hunting for rabbits.” The one with a scar grunted and took the broad knife, then he approached the woman and cut off her clothes, but when he took the knee to lunge himself at the damsel, an arrow stuck him dead.
“Who’s attacking us?!” The rider galloped through, when an arrow pierced his thigh and he screamed riding away where the second projectile knocked him off the horse. “Help me, you bastards!” He called for the men, but third, fourth and fifth arrow ended in his head one following the other in a blink of an eye.
Just when they turned to see the darkness of the forest, they saw a horse stepping out, the reigns, the garment under the horse’s neck, the black boots, shields and armor, then the brall horns on a helm came out and their bones froze.
“Heretic!” The chubby bandit shouted and started running down the road.
“You bastards kidnapped my son!” The tallest one slithered the words bubbling with hate. “Come face me, may you burn forever!” He tempted me with that pounding of his chest, head rose high, calling me out, when I stuck my horse and ran down to fulfill his wish.
Swift death followed after I drew my sword and swung it around. I steered my horse and chased the chubby bandit, ran him down with the hoofs until his head was turned to a mush.
There I stood, watching the chart and the ladies helping a damsel to stand up. No, I will not approach them, they will cut their throats before letting me do it, I’ve seen it happen before when riding in a raid, attacking the caravans, looting them for precious metal.
I stood there, letting them see all of my armor, the horse and the blade dripping with blood. I stood a minute longer, and then I slowly turned my horse and started going away. The news about a Heretic being spotted will race with me wherever I go and that was a signal for me to get rid of the past myself.
Night was upon me, or could it be the shade of the tree crowns that blackened the sky, I wasn’t sure. The Orbiters illuminated the road, the path so narrow that four horses couldn’t cross it without one moving out of the way. Soyuz 9 guards made it this way, so it is easily defensible.
There was no other way to run, but head back if under attack. On my right, there was a thick vegetation, old roots to trump your run, thin branches to poke your eyes, spiderweb stretched all over the ancient trunks. On my left, a lake, still water and monsters hiding underneath the glass like surface. That was it, the whole strategic analysis of the road I traveled on for days.
I tied my horse for the tree, took off my clothes and chopped the pieces of meat I smoked earlier. I came to the rocky shore and threw the bate in the water. Not long after that, the floating chunks moved so I had a clear entrance.
My birthmark started glowing. It always happened in the evening, but I used to cover it with robes. I also had the pentagrams on my body, memories of how I earned them. Two on the chest, two more on the shoulder blades and another two on my shoulders made a chain, a signal of a rank I had, all of them carved with the acid that powered my armor. Newcomers had one on the chest, the second must be earned with loyalty and blood. Only spies had theirs on a foot, a place rarely shown to anyone, a mark and its position known only by another Heretic.
I had dagger in my hand, just in case if bate fails. I scrubbed the dirt off and washed my hair. Bate was floating further and further, when I cut off my hair, shaved the sides and removed my beard. This will serve me good in the place I was headed.
The Orbiter looked at me, bits of it spinning around it, glancing in the lake. There were eyes watching me as I stood still. A ferocious creature on four legs, long tail, long muzzle where fangs like swords were hidden, claws unsheathed – ready for a clash. She was so big, her size could’ve devour a bear without a problem.
My horse became restless when she gnashed, walked on the other shore and stopped to drink water. Her radiant yellow eyes stared at my pentagrams like another creature its equal before she left into the dark.
Something took the bate, so I went backwards and stopped to dry out. Just in case, I climbed the tree to sleep and heard her howling in the distance. She was the last thing I wanted to encounter, not here, not now when I am close to Soyuz 9.
My horse disapproved being left on the ground, but if one of us had to be a supper for the she-wolf, the choice was clear. Maybe she will climb the tree and eat me too if she is with cubs. I had the Orbiter sing me a lullaby with its lights piercing the rustling tree tops and tomorrow I will enter the town.
Dawn wasn’t the one who woke me up covered in cold sweat. It was that girl again, the one who come and go in dreams, every time showing me more and more. I saw those marks running down the light, but now I felt I understood them. I saw a mark on her shoulder that I also had, but now I realized it was a shape of an Orbiter, something indistinct to me.
Having no desire to stick around when she-wolf roamed the forest, I hit the road. It wasn’t long, and there was an army approaching. I stopped and moved aside to let them pass when a galloping rider ran up to me.
“Greetings traveler. On the road for Soyuz 9? It isn’t far. Just a turn away and a few more kilometers down the road.” The guard smiled battling the reigns of a steed that wanted to run.
“Aye. Gratitude. Is the Protectorate under attack?” I asked leaned over the saddle and he swung his head over the shoulder.
“No. Such attack would provoke the war of Kingdoms. I see you are not introduced with the local legends and rules. Soyuz 9 is a trading town that bows to no crown. All Kingdoms are following the code of Protectorate cities. We are a safe port for all who flee. We haven’t been conquered, ruled or manipulated by anyone. If one would attack us, he would summon the wrath of all the Realms and suffer grave losses.” The man kept smiling, gasped and scratched little hair he had peaking from his brass helmet. “We are a hunting party. We had words from the surrounding villages that a wraven is being spotted nearby. It killed some of the sheep, so Master of Soyuz ordered it tracked and killed.” He added as the cart with five horses passed us, a cart so big, it was clear that such size was meant for the she-wolf I saw last night.
“I saw her last night. Be cautious, she might have cubs. It can turn vicious if cornered. Mind the forest. She could be followed by a pack. Luckily, males are much smaller than she-bitches.” I grunted, when the guard tipped his helmet and rode off with the others.
Just as he said, I came to a turn and headed downwards where a plain opened before me. There was a sparkly crests of what was Soyuz 9, the shiny metal beams curbed like ribs of a carcasses left in the desert, sticking out from the buildings and houses, clamor of men reverberating in the distance from the dome of the arena. Smoke of the blacksmiths traveled the air, mixing with the sweet scent of black tulips that grew around me.
I paused and recalled the stories of old, the battle and death of the Heretic Army that once plowed through these lands before my time. For a month the battle lasted with no clear victor, for month the arrows flew, the metal clanked, the roar of men boomed, and when both armies were destroyed, the black tulips blossomed.
It was luck for the Kingdoms skewed the power of Heretics and bought themselves some time, but the new army is assembling behind the icy tops of the Fraghtar Mountains. They are oblivious to what evil lurks behind it, for what is boiling in the pits and what hate is sizzling deep in the caves.
Death will come for them in huge metal suits. There is no big enough field to plant the tulips on when Heretic Army breaks out from the Fraghtar, spill into the continent and washes the life away from it.
I entered through the gates and the smell of cooking splashed over my nose. The noise of bickering merchants under tents was unavoidable just like traffic of people that ran around, offering me fruit, meat, spare parts and refreshments, but I was out of coins.
Hiding under hood, people saw little of me, but clank of my armor drew the bandit eyes on the baggage. Even so, my occasional turns kept them at their chairs and leaned over tables to whisper.
Two streets down, I followed the sound of hammers hitting anvils and descended through the Arc of what was an Orbiter once and entered the Iron Street. I heard the crowd in the arena grow in cheer and gasps when someone missed their shot.
There was a small workshop in the end of the ally, a dead end with junk laying on the corners. I entered the shop and found a drunk man sleeping in his chair. No point waking him up, so I took my baggage, pulled out the acid core and wiring and threw the rest in the forge. By the time he wakes up, my armor will be melted and gone.
I’ve found an old armor hanging on the wall and took it down. The power core perfectly fitted the cavity.
The coins he had in the drawer were all I needed to get me a hot meal, and maybe a stay over night. I stormed out and got back on my horse where I saw a kid in ripped shirt – waiting outside. The collar on his neck told me he was a slave.
“You there. Do you have a scholar in this town?” I grunted at the boy, who covered his eyes from the light in order to look at me.
“No mister. The last one was banished from the town for being too fond of Master’s daughter. You may find some passing by in the taverns. I usually see some there, laying under the bar or in a whore house.” The boy replied.
A drunken lot bumped into my horse and continued to the Arena where music sounded the end of the round. I went through the tiny bag of coins, looked towards the glass dome, and pulled the reins towards the ringing bell that called for new contestants.
I was thrown in the shade by a Klevian goons, a race so disfigured, it was hard to look at. Two of his friends, the lesser pedigree of him stood at his side and mad watched at the other contestants while the teller took their names and gave them blaster charges.
“This isn’t your first clash, I see.” A man behind me said looking straight at the Arena.
I haven’t replied, nor turned to give him attention, but he cleared his throat and added.
“Just stay out of my way and you will be fine.”
“Next!” The teller shouted as I was the next in line. “Name!” He gave me a mean look.
“Erthorn.” I grunted and he tossed me the blaster and three charges of acid solution so the wounds would burn, but not kill.
I proceeded to the entrance where music melted with the clamor and light bounced from the glass walls. In the middle of the dusty place laid the broken satellite. Strange, this is the first time I used the foreign word and I knew its meaning.
The walls around me were the solar panels, a mirrors of sorts that made the barrier around us. The dome rose high with metal construction, some people sitting on it and curiously looking at the match that was about to start.
I stepped on something, and that was the charges that fell from the Klevian Rangers. The tallest one had four arms, but his human form was so ripped with muscles it almost made him an alien. His two friends were somewhat smaller and full of odd lumps on their back, like some experiment went wrong with them.
The match was three on three, and Klevians didn’t wanted to mix with the other people they deemed as less worthy. My companions stood behind me, waiting for the bell to ring. With the music stopping and a short buzz of a bell, the match begun.
I zoned out with the flashes burning into my brain, images of the satellite crash, flames engulfing the monstrosity made of metal, the smoke gushing from its top. The woman of my dreams still screaming in the red light of an Orbiter that was gravitating towards the planet, the horror in her eyes.
“You fool! You wanted to kill me?!” Two of my companions fought behind me and the taller one was strangling the weaker contestant who fired at him.
In the corner of my eye, I saw the Klevians charging at us, taking positions around us while the huge four armed one waited in the back, ordering his followers to take cover.
I sobered up when the knight in heavy suit rose up with a gasp, observing the man he just killed. He turned to aim at me when a Klevian raider shot him dead, the wound fuming with acid burn that made a hole in his chest.
By reaction I threw myself behind the thin solar panel and ducked my head at the incoming shot that bounced from the frame. The knight’s body was catching flames, the ghastly smoke of the burnt wiring and plastic that made me frown at it.
Now I knew why they dropped their charges at the entrance. They had their own ammunition, the fully charged vials of power acid. These Klevians were interested in winnings, not a fair fight and the crowd went wild with excitement.
I broke cover, fired at the left raider while making the run for another cover. The shots broke the panels, shards of it striking my armor, breaking upon contact and slicing my hand.
“Ha, dirty players. Heretics are much worse.” I said it to myself and dashed for the next section.
Their blasters followed me as I hid behind the next panel, jumped over it while firing, wounded the raider and ran up to him. The kick knocked him out and I proceeded to do the same with the other one, leaving the last Klevian standing in the middle.
“Face me human scum! Common, here I am! Come meet your end!” His voice boomed like a thunder.
He fired at the panel and broke it in half. I grabbed the damn thing by the construction and used it as a shield every time the Klevian shot at me. Whenever I saw he will squeeze the trigger, I slid in the dust making the steep angle and bouncing the acid shot aside. I ran towards him, and his eyes became fixed on the mirror reflection of himself.
“Come, die!” He growled, yet this only made me grin at the stupid southern soldier.
I used a steady panel to lunch myself in the air, the chipped glass shield raised over my head, its cusp aimed at the monster Klevian who swung at me .
The sharp thin glass pierced his chest, penetrating deep and breaking over the thick bones. He managed to push me away in the dust, where I picked up a piece of glass and ran up to him. Cut left and right, I made him bleed, fall to the knees and struggle to pull out the mirror out of his chest.
I jerked his head back and slid my blade across his throat, ending the fight. The stadium exploded with rustling cheer, lights flashing everywhere and music salting from above. The last man standing in the arena slowly went for the door to pick his price.
I did enjoyed the fight. Now to fulfill my next task and find a scollar to help me – and I know just the place to look for him.
Roaming around, ducking the Klevian marauders who want to loot me for killing their leader made me swift on the toes. It took me a while to get away from them and blend in with the crowd. Whore house took care for my change of garbs, taken from the riders and drunkards who slept in the hallway.
With a mask on my face, nobody suspected at me. Constant bickering, shouting and applause brought me closer to the platform where life pods waited to be sold. Life pods, funny name for a crate made of steel.
Those who sleep in them are used as slaves, usually older than the whole town put together, but strikingly young by looks.
Inspecting the icy capsules, I tried to see if they are bent, damaged or messed with. There was the time when everybody needed metal, and Orbiters were ravaged by the bandits who stuck their blades deep into the glass, broke the chamber and took the crate, leaving the body to rot in dust. Years passed, and thousands were killed because of it. It is a different time now.
People inside these chambers are fit for work in the mines, building castles, weapons, or heal the peasants so they can fight wars.
“The next item is taken from the Senshi 45!” The salesman proclaimed. “This specimen is a crate full of mystery and it is marked with a red symbol, so the beginning price is fifty chips!” The salesman added and waved his baton at the hands that rose sporadically, but spacious.
Huh, even scammers didn’t rose hands.
What they didn’t know is, that the red mark warned about low battery that kept the vitals. Red was the color of the sick and the color of the healers and shamans, the medics. I still ponder on how did I know the origin of the cross that was a symbol of a shaman.
“I offer 55 chips!” I raised my hand and the salesman happily pointed at me.
“Sold to the sick man in the back! I wish you a money well spent, sir. May he serve you in health.” He said and showed his workers to pull the crate down and mount it on a chart.
I packed my baggage around the crate, when the boy brought me my horse where I tied the cart for the horse and hit the road.
When I was a few kilometers out, I turned to see the beeping light on the life pod and saw the numbers. I paused to press the numbers in the box with digits, making the crate doors hiss and steam with cold. Inside the crate, two eyes looked at me, my slave has been woken up.
The man it the crate yawned, stretched his arms, and filled his mouth before he vomited over the side. I stood above him, gasping at the poor guy who showed signs of illness. Somehow, I guessed his crate was held in an environment a crate like this shouldn’t be in, and that resulted with long hair, thin form and long bushy hair.
“Fuuuck.” He exhaled the word and rose his head at the blue sky where he saw the mass of Orbiters spinning without course and debris around them – twinkling at us. “Oh, my fucking God. Where am I? What happened?! What year is this?!” He jumped, while I observed him.
“Calm down slave, or I will drag you over the road.” I scoffed and he threw his eyes at me.
“Thanks God, you speak English.” He said.
“English? What a stupid language.” I added, and took the reins and whipped the horse.
This foreign tongue was somehow understandable, even I heard it for the first time. Strangely, I knew how to speak it, the meaning of the words this creature spoke.
I focused on the road, leaving my passenger to gaze at the landscape, get dubious about the Soyuz 9, and the clamor that reverberated from there.
“Who are you?” He asked after a long pause.
“I am a man who bought you in the Slave market in the Soyuz 9.” I replied without looking back at him.
“Soyuz 9? That’s the Russian cargo ship. It carried the elements for building the base for the colony. What happened with the colony? How many years have passed?” He was shooting the question inexorably and the words made me tired to listen to them.
“The first Orbiter fell 3 000 years ago, if that’s what are you asking me. I know nothing about your colony, Slave! Stop asking me so damn much and be quiet. We are not out of the woods yet. There are Klevians around looking for me. You haven’s seen those monsters yet, and pray to your Gods you don’t. Those Eggborn folk will disembowel you like a brall and feast on your corpse. Be grateful you are not a woman, or you will be used to breed them an army to fight the Heretics! Ugh, the mistake they’ll make if they march against them.” I spoke more for myself than to the man who carefully listened to my dialect.
“Klevians, Eggborn, what the hell are you blabbering about? What happened on this planet? Is this Gliza 453C?! Tell me, damn you! What happened?!”
“Shut up, or I will plant a sword inside of your skull and fuck it bloody.” I gnashed and the horse disobeyed the sudden jerk on the reins. “I bought you to answer me the same questions. Your kind is blessed with the knowledge of old, that’s why I shared my coins on you, dumb fuck! I want to know too! War happened! Is that the answer to your question?! War happened! And war will happen again if we don’t find the answers. Heretics will burn everything with their metal soldiers, and nobody knows they are coming. See these black tulips?” I pointed at the meadow. “That’s a monument of great defeat over the Heretic army, but Kingdoms failed to cut the stem from which the Heretics grow. Their base is hidden behind the mountains and it grows stronger than before. The end is near.”
He became silent for the hefty amount of the travel, enough for my ears to adjust to this new language. Maybe I released him prematurely, or the colonization happened prematurely. What ever it was, the time has changed and everything got turned into the dust, dust of Gliza.