Geekery. Gratuitous character cameos. Explosions. Gunplay. Horseplay. Swordplay. Wordplay -- and foreplay. Bad puns. Steampunk fashions. Worse puns. Hawaiian shirts. AND THE DEATH OF THE NINJAVAN! Not even AAA can find this intersection... Balance of Power: Eden Gate
The old man was dying. He had lain in his bed for a week, or perhaps a month. His age-dimmed eyes barely noted the change from day to night, now that his life was near its ending. His mind had wandered, sometimes walking the paths of his youth, other times going stranger places. But his thoughts were clear now. He knew from the coolness of the air and the smell of the stone temple walls that it was hours before a dawn he would not greet. He murmured a prayer to the god he had served all his life, then raised his voice.
“Benu, tchema ke.” He called in the temple tongue, the language of his ancient people. Warrior-Son, attend.
There was a rustling from the next room, and the padding of bare feet on a well-swept floor. The old man heard the younger approach, then kneel at his bedside. “Yulshen, ke teru.” Warrior-Father, here I am.
The old man reached, and found a solid shoulder. The boy had grown to manhood, now, his body strong and flexible, his mind disciplined and devoted.
“It's time,” the old man said in a voice gone reedy in the dryness of age.
“Time? Father, I--”
“Hush and attend, my student.” The old man patted the shoulder, feeling the warm life pulsing steadily within his student as it no longer did in himself. “Go to the shelf. Do you see the cedar-wood box?”
“Bring it to me.” The old man waited, and ran his fingertips over the smooth wood his student put in his hands before he opened it. “Look, Warrior-Son. Here are the signs. I saw them before the planting-season.”
“I see only a beetle's dry body and a dried flower, Father.” There was confusion in the younger man's voice.
“You will see, when the sun rises. It's time, Son. Time for us both to go.” The old man heard another voice, more clearly than that of the man he had trained from boyhood. It was indeed time, and he welcomed it with a soft sigh.
Beside the old warrior-priest's bed, the young one put his face in the blankets and wept.
The creature lay amid the curls of mist. Harsh breath lifted slick sides, respiration interrupted by the glide beneath its skin -- worms that swam briefly under the greyish hide before burrowing into flesh once more.
The massive head slid on the spongy surface, the ridged cheek digging a groove as it blinked tiny eyes at the murky white surroundings. Heavy lips pulling back from dark gums, it bared small teeth as a jolt of pain surged through its body.
"Wait!- I can’t get a clear shot- Keep back!-NO!" Voices it knew, voices it didn't, skittered in whispers, tickled like thousands of spider legs running over its flesh. Pain and memory scorching past in a torrent that burned patterns in its brain. It was aware of itself, that it was not what it had been. It reached, fell short. Instinct drove it, made it writhe and strain as the sensations merged and wove confusion about it. Children giggled beyond its vision, the ripples of their mirth trembling through its gleaming sides. Dissatisfaction -- it rose and nearly became volition, then sank again under the weight twisting was and is and might be.
But it sensed one certainty, without comprehending it. It drove itself to what might have been feet. Or maybe it slithered on its belly. Perhaps it was doing both --t he tides of madness carried it onward, uncaring. What mattered was that it moved.
It was time. Its senses cleared, enough for a world to coalesce in its mind. Time to go.
Shifting one muscled haunch, it curled blunt toes for purchase -- paused when its arms couldn't push its torso upright. It thrashed, staggered to misshapen feet, and lurched forward.
Cold dragged its attention back to the non-world around it; a forced, humping lurch finally putting the odd ground beneath its broad feet. A sound like a bleat rose from its throat.
Wind was building. Abruptly, a hard snap, a whip of electrical fire wound around its form--
--a burst of sulfur burning through its nostrils. Hatred. It hated, and its mind re-formed around that hatred.
The surface was torn away.
The wind rose to a gale, and despite its weight the creature was hurled backward. Twin doors materialized at its back, then a slender crack groaned as the heavy doors swung open.
Fear replaced hatred for a moment, and the creature fought uselessly, spinning as it tumbled towards the event horizon. No force could have stopped its fall.
It was time.
It was time. There was nothing else to do, nothing else to pack. The woman pulled the door to the house closed, leaving the key in the lock. Around her, the village was beginning to stir. The sun was still low on the horizon, and she had a long way to go.
Rose checked the load in the cart, making sure nothing would shift and fall onto her drowsing son. The boy slept even as his mother positioned herself behind the draw bar and leaned her weight on it to get the wheels moving over the cobblestones. She kept her eyes focused straight ahead, trying to hurry, but the voices followed her anyway.
“Good riddance.” Mrs. Murphy, the baker's wife.
“Curse go with you and your witch-brat.” Cern, the rag-man. He'd been the one who turned the villagers' uncertainty into outright hostility, and Rose's back stiffened at his hiss.
Other eyes watched her going, leaving behind her house and most of its furnishings. She'd spent five years sewing and mending, doing her best to make ordinary cotton and wool look like the fashionable linens, silks, and cashmeres pictured in the ladies' fashion magazines. Five years of saving scraps and haggling over every mouthful of food for herself and her growing child.
Five years trying to forget the twisted path that had brought her here.
Now she was again a refugee. The town where she had grown up wouldn't have her, reminder of Cornello that she was. Nor would she be safe in the cities, where two-legged predators prowled and no one knew or cared about neighbors. She had considered it, weighed her options, then bought herself sturdy walking boots and the cart.
There was only one place left to go.
On the third morning, the fierce sun came up and threw red light across the grave. The young man kneeling at its head waited, the cedar box open in his hand and a polished sickle-sword laid on the sandy ground in front of his knees, until the glowing ball rose above the horizon, then closed the box and tucked it into the knapsack he'd prepared. He murmured in the temple tongue, his voice pitched for the teacher he had buried. May your journey be swift and the path straight, Warrior-Father.
It was time. The young priest gathered up his pure-white hair, and tied it back in a ponytail that just brushed the nape of his neck. Then he picked up the sword and folded the end of his sash around the blade, drawing it through the fabric to clean away the dust. He sheathed the weapon, then picked up his knapsack and settled it across his shoulders. Finally, he hefted a light rifle, checking the safety lever before slinging the modern thing over his shoulder.
He strode off toward the sun through a field of sapphire-blue flowers.