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1  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: Fringe (aka LX is back, alive and kickin') on: December 18, 2007, 08:04:27 pm
Chapter III finished! Cheesy

LX
2  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: Warhammer 40k Space Marine Story on: December 17, 2007, 07:36:37 pm
Sounds like the Marines are in for an even heavier fight! Cheesy  Nice to read some 40k fluff after all this time. It has been over two years since I played...

LX
3  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: Fringe (aka LX is back, alive and kickin') on: December 11, 2007, 11:54:18 pm
While I admit that Luke's prosthetic had entered my mind at that point, I can assure you that the Tantive IV had not! Cheesy  Ah well, those situations might ring such bells, but I'll make sure that it will NOT be  a rip-off, believe me.

Hope you like Chapter II!

LX
4  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: Fringe (aka LX is back, alive and kickin') on: December 11, 2007, 02:27:25 pm
You ask, we serve! Cheesy

Chapter II is ready for your enjoyment, see above. Means also I made it through another week without having to pay for our alcoholic fuel o' inspiration. Tongue  I have to say, this kind of competitive writing sure cranks up literary production in a man!

LX

P.S. extra kudos for the one who gets the little references I put in with the names of the doctor and his project. Wink
5  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: Fringe (aka LX is back, alive and kickin') on: December 09, 2007, 05:24:18 pm
Ey, Bakerman, good to see you! My amphorae are doing well; I've got a meeting with my professor doctor in two days... Shocked

Rest assured I will do the utmost to keep this work from being mistaken for a SW rip-off. Although part of that feel will remain, the story will surely have its own universe and flavor. And with that I mean our own universe. No 'far, far, away'. Wink  Expect a couple of original and/or revisited race concepts, space conflicts ranging from border skirmishes to epic battles (my current inspiration stems from Weber's Honorverse and the game Sword of the Stars: Born in Blood), a plausable extrapolation of Earth history and thorough character development. One can hope. Cheesy

P.S. I consider myself quite lectured in Star Wars affairs, but the 'tangible present'-reference escapes me fully. Care to enlighten me? Tongue

Stay tuned for new stuff, coming Tuesday has Chapter II on deadline!

Cheers,
Harry
6  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: Fringe (aka LX is back, alive and kickin') on: December 05, 2007, 04:57:19 pm
He didn't have much of a choice... that you'll come to know later, just like who/what Kathy is. Wink

I'm also pleased to announce that my mate failed his deadline and will be responsible for this week's beer. Grin

Please mind that I did some more reworking on the prologue and the rest of Chapter I as well!

LX
7  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: Fringe (aka LX is back, alive and kickin') on: December 04, 2007, 01:42:26 am
Hi there Worlock, it is good to be back. Smiley

As for the story...My intention was to have the childhood episode a flashback of Joshua's when he finds himself captive in the second part. I now see that the transition is indeed a little abrupt, thx! I feel that adding one or two sentences to the start of part two will suffice. I'll work on that tomorrow. As for the efforts Joshua put into proving worthy for the ship, don't forget that a child has a very powerful will and will pursue a set goal quite doggedly, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. Joshua was one such kid. A bright young man, tutored by his father and raised in comparable safety, with all the time in the world when he was young. That is the first distinction between him and Han Solo, who was abandoned by his parents on Corellia and started out as a youthful member in a street gang. For indeed, as you've already mentioned, the story has a Solo-feel to it. While perhaps not entirely fresh and imaginative, the premise of a resourceful smuggler and self-made man has always appealed to me, and Han is the benchmark of course. But like I said, there are crucial differences between Joshua and Han, which will become clearer as the story progresses. Rest assured that I'll do my very best to make Selmac just as original a concept as Solo. Wink

LX

EDIT: finished prologue and Chapter I! Cheesy
8  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Fringe (aka LX is back, alive and kickin') on: December 02, 2007, 11:53:48 pm
Dear all,

It has been quite a while since I last posted here. My thesis has taken up more time than anticipated, and I hadn't written even a word of fiction up until last week. Last Tuesday my best friend and I decided to cut the BS and finally start some literary production. A little motivation was in order, as we both have had great ideas in the past with zero result to show for. So from last week on we will now convene every Tuesday and set a deadline for a piece of fiction for the next week. The one that doesn't come through in a given week buys a sixpack of Heineken (half litres of course). Not what you'd call a refined penalty, but sufficient nonetheless. Grin

Tomorrow is our first deadline; two scenes of movie script for my mate and the prologue of a new sci-fi for me. I did a little digging in my virtual archive and found the groundwork for the following chapters. The prologue is just finished. You can read it below, along with the beginning of Chapter I.

C&C encouraged as always!

P.S. I'm not sure yet if another chapter I've completed will be included in the complete story, as I kinda feel it unnecessarily complicates it. It was the prologue of the old story, with a lot of history in it. It might be that I pin myself in place when using that piece instead of doing something fresh.

LX




Prologue

From the immaterial past…

They say that eyes are the mirrors of the soul. If that is true, surely the eyes of a child reflect nothing but curiosity and love of life. For these were the things little Joshua Selmac felt whenever he gazed upon the Errant Star. The nearly thirty-meter-long freighter dominated the hangar of Selmac Express Shipping, as was befitting for Selmac Sr.’s personal transport. Being a Mule-class small freighter it certainly wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing ship plying the space lanes, but its utilitarian lines and distinct hammerhead bow certainly gave the design a rugged charm. Regardless of its looks, Joshua loved the old workhorse anyway.
   For the twelve-year-old Selmac Jr. the Errant Star was a dream given form. It was like that super cool toy in the shop display you walked by every day to see, but could never hope to buy because it was too darn expensive. Joshua’s father had told him the ship would be his one day, but that he had to grow up and learn a lot more about the universe first. Which of course resulted in the bright youngster devouring every bit of knowledge of the stars he could find from the moment he could read, as well as dutifully noting every day how many millimeters he had grown overnight. And squeezing himself out of his study routine each day to take a peak at the Errant Star from behind one of the cargo containers in the hangar.
   “Don’t you have homework to do, son?”
   Joshua wheeled around, his cheeks flushed by a sudden feeling of getting caught, and looked in the gray-blue eyes of his father. Jonathan Selmac smiled as he saw the awkward expression on his boy’s red face.
   “I, uh, I’m already finished, Dad,” Joshua stammered at first, but then regained his composure. “I translated the Ayani text you gave me an hour ago.” You don’t remember the history exam, you don’t--
   “And what about your exam about the Reconstruction League and the First Encounter War?”
   Aw, crap, he remembered.
   “You did remember to study for tomorrow, right? You know how important that piece of history is,” his father reprimanded the youngster.
   Joshua looked down and closed his eyes. “Yes, Dad, you told me,” he answered softly. “I’ll go back to my room right now.”
   “That you will indeed, but first you’re coming with me.”
   Joshua looked up to his father and blinked in surprise. “Whereto?”
   “Why, to a customer of course. I’ve got an errant to run with the Star to Denari’s,” Jonathan said, his right eyebrow slightly raised in amusement.
   “With the Star? To Denari’s?” Joshua’s eyes got larger. ‘Uncle’ Denari owned a prospering casino next to their home system’s jumpgate. Moreover he was a friend of the family, and Joshua always liked it when Denari came over. “Are you saying I can come with you?”
   As Jonathan Selmac watched Joshua’s right eyebrow raise a bit in a subconscious imitation of his father, he couldn’t help grinning. “Yeah, Josh, you’re coming along for the ride. But only if you promise to give your history exam tomorrow everything you’ve got. Deal?”
   “Deal!” Joshua exclaimed as he threw his hands around his Dad’s waist.
   “Alright, alright,” Jonathan laughed, laying one hand on his son’s head and then patting him on the back. “Come on, kid, we’ve got a job to do.”
   Joshua grabbed his father’s other hand and practically dragged him to the Star’s boarding ramp. As they entered the ship, Jonathan gave his enthusiastic son a final warning: “Now don’t you dare breaking something on this here ship, Junior, or it’ll cost you a couple of weeks allowance.”
   His son nodded vigorously, barely registering the remark as he stepped into a world he would never truly leave.

…to the tangible present…

As the droning of his ship’s alarms finally died away, so did Joshua’s moment of childhood recollection.
   I wonder what Dad would say if he could see his ship now, the now thirty-year-old Joshua thought as the Errant Star drifted through space. The freighter’s souped-up engines were all but destroyed and atmosphere was leaking out through multiple impact holes in the hull, causing the ship to slowly spin around. The aimless motion did not last for long, as a sudden shudder reverberating through the freighter indicated it had been caught in a tractor beam. The Errant Star stabilized and Joshua ventured a look though his cockpit window. The larger part of his view was taken up by the Nemessar superdreadnought that had taken hold of his beloved ship.
   The freighter slowly but steadily drew nearer to the massive enemy warship, and Joshua thought he could already glimpse one of its cavernous docking bays opening its doors. He waited briefly for Kathy to miraculously come back online, but he knew that was in vain. The initial EMP had fried nearly every circuit on the Star, and Kathy’s had gone down with them. Joshua prayed to Terminus that her core was still intact or he would never forgive himself, especially not after what they had just been through.
   Joshua Selmac, owner of a once more thriving shipping company, renowned smuggler from the Fringe and decorated veteran of the Terran Covenant Navy at the same time, nodded his head in quiet resignation and let himself drop back in the pilot’s seat.
   Joshua Selmac, owner of a once more thriving shipping company, renowned smuggler from the Fringe and decorated veteran of the Terran Covenant Navy at the same time, nodded his head in quiet resignation and let himself drop back in the pilot’s seat. Even if the Errant Star’s engines had still functioned, it would have been suicide to try and break loose of the tractor beam’s grip as the resulting gravitational shear would have ripped the aged freighter to pieces. There was nothing he could do about his capture. Not for now at least, as Joshua refused to give up without selling his life dearly.
   Joshua flexed the wrist of his bionic right arm and for a moment, as if it were a phantom limb, he physically relived the moment of searing pain he’d felt when his arm was hacked off just above the elbow. He thought about the one who had did that, and who was no doubt onboard the very vessel that was pulling him in. Yes, he would put up one hell of a fight alright. Again. And Joshua was going to make damn sure he would go down with him this time. Once and for all.
   And on the way to that final confrontation with his nemesis, Joshua wondered how it could have come this far.




Chapter I

Three years earlier…

“Aren’t you guys overdoing this a little bit?” Joshua Selmac asked the five security troopers that were pointing their pulse rifles at his head. He looked from one gun muzzle to another, his right eyebrow slightly raised. The troopers’ facial expressions remained hidden behind their reflecting visors, but Joshua could easily imagine their smug grins. Wisely he kept his hands up in the air.
   “Well, well, what do we have here,” a voice said. Joshua looked to his right and saw a contently smiling official walking up to him, accompanied by what seemed to be the troopers’ sergeant. The official was a tall, skinny man with pallid skin and just a hint of malevolence in his eyes, subtly masked by his jovial appearance.
   “Eban Roloff, I presume? My name is Iri Oburr, docking rights administrator for Alaris Spaceport. I believe we have some matters to discuss.” Oburr’s smile was as insincere as could be expected from what was in all likelihood the most corrupt bureaucrat of this spaceport.
   At least the fake ID I gave them seems to hold, Joshua thought.
   “I am Eban Roloff, yes. What matters would you like to have discussed then, administrator?” He glanced momentarily at the sergeant next to Oburr. The man didn’t return the look.
   “Well, Eban,” Oburr began, “it’s like this. I can call you Eban, right?”
   “Sure…”
   “Eban, rumor has it that you might have procured some, let me say, questionable substances here on Alaris, and that you are intent on taking it off-world on your, eh, fine ship.”
   Everyone looked at Joshua’s small freighter, whose hull appeared haphazardly welded together to try and prevent it from abruptly collapsing into a pile of scrap metal. The ship had been registered at Alaris Spaceport about eighteen hours ago as the Starlight Invader. To call it ramshackle would have been considered a euphemism by most.
   “And what questionable substances might those be, administrator?” Joshua asked after the seemingly pathetic state of his transport had been firmly imprinted in Oburr’s mind.
   “Liquor, my dear Eban,” the man in front of him stated. “Sixteen caskets of Alarissian whisky, to be exact. Quite the precious commodity.”
   “I can’t recall buying more to drink on your planet than a couple of pints in the spaceport cantina,” Joshua responded, “but you are of course more than welcome to search my ship, dear administrator.”
   Oburr’s façade wavered for a moment and the malevolent look in his eyes showed briefly, together with a hint of anger. “I will most certainly do so. Sergeant Bakra!”
   The man that had come with him, rugged-looking and readily exhuming the discipline of a trained soldier, took a step forward.
   “Yes, sir?”
   “Take your men and scan the interior of Mr. Roloff’s transport,” Oburr ordered the sergeant while he kept his eyes fixed on Joshua. “Look for anything suspicious and report back to me when you’ve found those caskets of whisky. Don’t come back without them.”
   “Yes, sir. Understood.” Bakra saluted and turned towards his troopers. “Men, lower your weapons. Irrial, take point and use the multi-spectrum scanner. The rest of you follow him and keep your eyes open. Move!”
   The squad headed over to the Starlight Invader, walked up the boarding ramp and disappeared inside the ship.
   “Now we will see if your story adds up, Mr. Roloff,” Oburr said. “I hope you’re already prepared for a nice stay in one of our holding pens.”
   Joshua smiled casually at the man.
   About ten minutes later sergeant Bakra and his troopers re-emerged from the decrepit-looking freighter. Empty-handed of course.
   “I thought I told you not to return without those caskets,” Oburr stated coldly.
   “I’m truly sorry, sir,” Bakra responded, “but there is just no contraband onboard that ship. We did several multi-spectrum scans to find hidden goods and the results were all negative.”
   Oburr growled and turned towards Joshua, who found it somewhat difficult not to gloat. “I don’t know how you did it and where you have hidden those caskets, Roloff, but although I would have loved to see you behind bars it seems I can’t hold you here.”
   The last words of the administrator came out through clenched teeth, and Joshua could clearly spot the anger and disappointment in the man’s voice. The laws on Alaris were very strict and although hidden corruption was a definite factor on the planet, Oburr would know he couldn’t risk it. By now he had surely realized that he would not be able to tell his superiors how he had single-handedly apprehended a devious smuggler, and retrieved fifteen caskets of Alarissian whiskey. Same went for the sixteenth casket that he would have undoubtedly reported lost and claimed for himself.
   “Then I guess I’ll be on my way, administrator,” Joshua said. “I have places to go and people to visit. Business, you know.”
   Oburr’s eyes shot fire. “Get out of my sight, Roloff. I never want to see you or your crummy ship on this planet again. If the Starlight Invader ever shows up in my registry again I’ll have you arrested and that piece of junk impounded, even if it gets me fired afterwards.”
   “I’ll save you the trouble, administrator. I won’t be coming back to Alaris anytime soon,” Joshua answered. “I got what I came for,” he couldn’t help adding.
   “Get out!” Oburr roared.
   Joshua mockingly saluted the administrator and the squad of security troopers. He turned around and walked towards his ship’s boarding ramp. When he was almost inside he looked down towards Oburr one more time and shouted: “You should get a drink at the cantina, administrator, it will help you relax. I’ve heard Alarissian whiskey is one of the best.”
   That was all the infuriated Iri Oburr could take. He bellowed in rage, snatched a pulse rifle from the hands of a security trooper and fired at the man he knew as Eban Roloff. Joshua nimbly dodged the energy pulses and jumped in his ship, out of Oburr’s line of sight. As the boarding ramp closed behind him more pulses hit the freighter, causing pieces of hull to break off spontaneously and fall to the ground.
   Several moments later the ship’s grav-generators were activated. As the Starlight Invader lifted itself skywards, Oburr and the attendant squad were thrown to the ground by the gravity vectored away from the hull. As its altitude increased, bits and pieces continued to fall down from Joshua’s freighter, creating a veritable trail of debris through the atmosphere of Alaris. As soon as the Invader had cleared the exosphere of the planet, Joshua disengaged the grav-emitters and let the ship carry onward using its own momentum. When he finally deemed the distance between him and the optical planetary sensors great enough, Joshua sighed.
   “Kathy, would you be so kind as to ditch our cover and get us the hell out of here?”
   “My, you are in a lazy mood today, Joshua. Can’t you do it yourself?” a soprano voice over the ship’s intercom system teased.
   Joshua glowered at the nearest photoreceptor. “Stuff it, Kath, this is no time for jokes. Somebody on the other end of this deal screwed up. As soon as we’ve delivered this shipment we’re getting as far away from this system as possible. I haven’t been this close to imprisonment in a long while.”
   An electronic chuckle resounded through the cockpit. “You are obviously forgetting our little run-in with that Syndicate hunting pack last week.”
   “They were not trying to capture me, but to kill me. There’s a difference, Kath. Now, about our departure?”
   “Alright, alright, if only to keep you from being cranky all day,” Kathy sighed quasi-reluctant. “Demagnetizing hull and firing engines in 3, 2, 1, mark.”
   The remaining extra hull plates clinging to the ship came free, exposing the familiar lines underneath, and the Errant Star shot forward under the inaudible roar of its dual fusion engines. Twin beams of fierce light and energy shot out from the Mule-class freighter and started to thrust it towards Alaris’ small asteroid belt, situated at the planet’s L5 Lagrange point.
   “Well,” Kathy started. “Now that is all of our backs, literally—“
   “Funny.”
   “—we should rendezvous with our buyer in approximately seventeen minutes,” she continued without paying attention to Joshua.
   “Swell. Let’s pretend he’s already waiting for us when we get there. The sooner we’re out of this system, the better.”

About a quarter of an hour later, the Errant Star entered Alaris’ asteroid belt. Joshua cut off the main drives and used the ion maneuvering thrusters to decelerate and finally park his ship near one of the bigger ‘roids of the belt.
   “And now we wait,” Joshua said.
   They didn’t have to wait long, for not more then two minutes had passed when another ship carefully entered the belt. Joshua watched the ship on his optical sensors and his eyes grew large.
   It was a law enforcement pinnace.
   “Kathy, get ready to open fire on my mark. We’re too close to avoid detection, so—“
   “Selmac, is that you? My sensors show you’ve armed your weapons. Why?” a man suddenly asked in a secured transmission coming from the pinnace.
   Joshua recognized the voice immediately; it was his buyer. He growled and reached for the com: “Yes, of course it’s me. Who else would be skulking about in this pile of stones? You scared me half to death by showing up in a patrol boat, you nut!”
   “Terribly sorry, but it was the only craft I could get out with on such short notice. Also, it’ll help with the cover story.” The buyer’s voice sounded apologetic, but Joshua knew he had a point. Which didn’t excuse him from the tirade he would kick off as soon as the man was onboard.
   “Oh, alright. Just dock already, will you? I’ve got your stuff waiting in my hold.”
   “Affirmative,” the man said in crisp military fashion. “Preparing to dock.”

“What in Terminus’ name happened down there?” Joshua opened up with as soon as his buyer had stepped out of the airlock. “I almost got shot by that damn bureaucrat! What was he doing there anyway? You were supposed to be alone!”
   Sergeant Bakra looked at him and grinned, evidently having regained his composure. “One of his informants must have tipped him; he insisted on coming with me and bring an entire team. And you just ticked him off. That was your own doing, Selmac, and you know it. People like Oburr don’t take to insulting behavior with calm rationale.”
   “So I noticed,” Joshua commented dryly. His anger had already subsided, for he knew that Bakra’s career and indeed life were also on the line here, as well as those of his men. If Oburr figured out that the sergeant and his ‘scanning team’ had deliberately ignored the caskets of liquor in the freighter’s hold —they’d actually walked past them while some appreciatively noted the age and cask strength labels on the containers’ oak exterior— it would be their badges, freedom and perhaps heads. But seeing as how only certified law enforcement personnel and the military were allowed to enter the sovereign interior of a starship without the owner’s permission under the sixth Mercantile Law, Oburr had had no choice but to send in the security troopers instead of checking the ship for contraband himself. If they all sticked to the story, it was waterproof.
   “Here’s your money,” Bakra said while handing Joshua a credit chip. “Five thousand a casket, just like we agreed upon.”
   “Thanks,” Joshua responded while slipping the chip into the back pocket of his jumpsuit. “I’m sure the Mirenn will be overjoyed with this much medicine.”
   Bakra nodded and extended his hand. “They will be. You’re a life-saver, Selmac. Thank you.”
   “Don’t rub it in, I know I’m getting soft,” Joshua muttered while shaking the sergeant’s hand. He could have sworn he heard an electronic chuckle just then.
   “Well, I”ll be on my way then,” Bakra said. “I’d better find a way to get this stuff to the nearest Mirenn camp without raising too much suspicion.”
   “You could always do an unscheduled multi-spectrum scan of the premises,” Joshua suggested and they both laughed. “Let’s go, I’ll help loading these things in your ship.”

Ten minutes later Bakra’s pinnace took off and headed back for the surface of Alaris. Joshua watched his fusion trail disappear in the distance and then planted himself firmly in the Star’s pilot seat. “Now that’s all settled, let’s get out of here shall we?”
   “Agreed,” Kathy replied through the intercom as she maneuvered the ship away from the asteroids and engaged the fusion drives once more. “I must say you’ve been quite generous. Those caskets would have sold on the Viridian market for nearly double the price.”
     “I know, I know. But a black market dealer would have only appreciated the whisky’s ‘intoxicating nature’. Who would have thought that the suppressed ethnic minority on Alaris can actually ingest the stuff to speed up their natural regenerative process? No, I’d rather give the Mirenn those caskets and get paid handsomely enough in the process. Besides,” Joshua grinned and folded his hands behind his head, “it’s not like I didn’t take care of myself.” He reached under his chair and held up a lone bottle of Alarissian whisky to the nearest photoreceptor.
   Kathy let go a soprano sigh of simulated weariness. “You’re incorrigible.”
   Joshua grinned. “True. Don’t you just love me?”




Chapter II

Onboard a Terran Covenant science vessel, location undisclosed…

“Isn’t she beautiful?” doctor Grayson whispered. His hands were folded behind his back while his gaze was transfixed upon the humanoid shape on the other end of the polycarbonate window pane.
   “What makes you so sure it even has a gender?” a well-trained man standing next to him snorted.
   Grayson shot the officer a contemptuous look, then looked back. “Seeing as there’s no way of knowing, I might just as well regard it as feminine. Unless you’ve got a problem with that, lieutenant?”
   “I wouldn’t even care if you took the damn thing from behind every night, doc. As long as the general gets his results, you can regard it any way you want.”
   “The general will get results equal to the amount of money the military invests in my research,” Grayson retorted.
   Now it was the lieutenant’s turn to give the other a derisive look. “The general’s patience is limited, doctor Grayson. I suggest you don’t try it too much. This research of yours has already cost us more credits than the budget initially allowed for, and you’ve acknowledged yourself that you’re not even halfway there yet!”
   Grayson’s eyes flamed and he came very close to smacking this upstart lieutenant. Remembering the funding he so desperately needed to complete this project to satisfaction, he refrained from such an impulsive action. Instead he glowered at the officer, intent on making his point: “Project Hamilton is the chance of a lifetime, lieutenant. We’re looking at incredibly advanced alien technology here, yet it is contained within an anthropomorphic body. That in itself is a beautiful paradox. After all, alien life wasn’t supposed to look like us; every hard sci-fi fan and xenobiologist can tell you that. Life evolving on any given world adapts to its environment, and thus comes in all shapes and sizes. Consider the Ayani; a highly sentient race of long-lived, hexaped crustaceans with prehensile front limbs, akin in shape to Earth’s praying mantis. Both their form and adaptive camouflage have evolved in perfect conjunction with the changing conditions on their homeworld. Ephemerals on the other hand are transitory beings of pure energy. Their numbers wax and wane by grace of the solar activity in their spawn sites, reflected in their nihilistic ‘this too shall pass’ philosophy. Contrary to what Christians believe, us bipedal and hairless weaklings are hardly the image of the Creator. If such a being would even exist, I can assure you He would have come up with something far better to mirror His likeness. But then again, an omnipotent entity like that would not be bothered with such a trivial notion, now would He? So it is really a moot point.”
   “I take it you’re not a religious man, doc,” the lieutenant stated.
   “Most certainly not. Institutionalized religions like Christianity and Islam and the inevitable wars of faith associated with them are accountable for more dead than the three World Wars on Earth together. And for what? The will to dominate minds and nations through fear and promotion of intolerance, by teaching and enforcing ancient rules that have no bearing whatsoever on the modern world and thus breeds moral deficiency. Every educated person with a little sense of history and human psychology knows this. No creature in the known universe we’ve encountered so far is as self-destructive and narrow-minded as a human partaking in organized, dogmatic religion. But I digress.”
   The lieutenant smiled faintly. The doctor was on a bit of a rant, but sadly history had proven him right.
   “The point is,” Grayson continued in less ardent fashion, “that this project can give mankind an unbelievable technological injection, if we learn to understand what our xeno is and what makes him tick. That’s what Project Hamilton intends to do. If we can get acquainted enough with this xeno’s intricacies, we should be able to do some decent amount of reverse engineering. Here, let me give you an example.”
   The lieutenant followed Grayson to the security door. In turn they both passed the iris scan and went inside. There the xeno stood, suspended in a tractor beam assembly, its sleek metallic body resembling an advanced suit of armor. Its head was a near-featureless mask. For some reason the lieutenant felt extremely uneasy looking at it, like it could come alive and grab him any moment. Meanwhile the doctor had picked up a small handgun from a table.
   “Watch this,” Grayson announced as he fired at the xeno. The shot bounced right off its chest with a small spark. “An old .45 ACP round. Our friend is completely impervious to subsonic small arms fire.”
   “So it has nifty armor,” the officer snorted. “Nice, but not exactly mind-blowing. You’ll have to do better than that, doc.”
   “As you wish, lieutenant. Allow me.” Grayson reached for the table again and picked up a standard-issue M22 rail rifle.
   “Ehm, doc, you might want to be careful with that thing.” The officer was obviously no proponent of military hardware in civilian hands.
   “Not to worry, lieutenant,” Grayson smiled. “I’ve fired a rail rifle before. One does not survive in the Fringe by being a pacifist.” He took a few steps back, aimed for the xeno’s right leg and pulled the trigger. The hypersonic slug punched clear through the lower leg, leaving only a gaping hole.
   “Nothing special,” the lieutenant said. “Those things will penetrate anything.”
   Grayson rolled his eyes. “Have a little patience, man! My word, I hope you’re not as trigger happy as you’re prone to jump to conclusions. Ah, it’s already beginning. Watch closely now.”
   And behold, before their eyes the damaged leg knitted itself back together from the inside out until the shot wound was a mere memory. The lieutenant’s eyes became larger.
   “You’re beginning to become a believer, I see.” Grayson remarked with a satisfied grin. “Now let’s have some fun, shall we?” He fired the rail rifle again, six consecutive shots this time. Each slug ventilated the xeno’s body a little more. Then, after a few moments pause, the reconstruction process started anew: scant seconds later the xeno’s form was fully restored.
   “Unbelievable,” the lieutenant whispered.
  “It is, isn’t it? Self-repairing armor, made possible by a dedicated host of nanite assemblers. Advanced nanotech at its finest.” Admiration for the technological prowess behind the xeno clearly spoke from Grayson’s tone. “The only downside to the system is that it takes between five and seven seconds for the nanites to begin reconstruction. To me this implies that they are situated in a central location somewhere during nominal operation and need to move around the body to patch in case of a wound.”
   “You keep referring to damage as ‘wounds’, doc,” the lieutenant remarked. “I thought you didn’t find any life form inside that thing?”
   “True, I did not encounter organic tissue in my preliminary autopsy,” Grayson concurred. “But as you can imagine I can’t be sure at all, seeing as any prolonged physical cutting of any sort in the body is nullified by the nanites.”
   “In other words,” the lieutenant nodded in understanding, “damage done during a section is almost immediately repaired.”
   “Indeed. As a matter of fact the nanites absorbed the tip of my vibroscalpel during the first cut, using it to speed up the reconstruction process,” Grayson answered somewhat amused. “I’ve used a micro cutting laser as well, but the nanites still managed to catch up with the incision fast enough to prevent a good look. Moreover, something is jamming all my attempts to get a clear image of the interior. Both CT and MRI scans returned nothing but static. I have of course tried to make a cut and insert an endoscope, but again the nanites ate up the tip before I could see anything insightful.”
   “Isn’t there anything you can do to fool the nanites?” the officer proposed.
   “Very good, lieutenant, you’re thinking with me now,” Grayson replied contently. “As a matter of fact I’ve been considering damaging the body in multiple locations, spaced from each other as much as possible, to try and force the nanites to spread themselves thin. That way reconstruction should theoretically take longer with each additional wound, allowing for a longer look with the endoscope through one of them. Unfortunately there is no way yet to determine the speed, effectiveness and quantity of the nanites themselves. It might be well possible that their performance increases when confronted with multiple wounds, as in the test we just performed the six gunshot wounds also got repaired as fast as a single impact. Nonetheless, I will try.”
   The lieutenant grinned. “You’ll just have to get one of your assistants to insert the scope while you blast away at our xeno with a rail rifle, right?”
   “Right.” Grayson returned the grin. “Do you want to volunteer?”
   “No thanks, doc. I’ll have the opportunity to get shot at anytime when on a mission. No need to extend that into a non-hostile environment.”
   “As you wish,” Grayson shrugged, then looked at the officer intently. “I hope you will do us all a favor and make it clear to the general that continued funding for Project Hamilton is imperative?”
   “I’ll do my best, doc,” the lieutenant answered. He glanced at the sleek metallic body caught in that invisible web of gravity, that body without a scratch. He winced involuntarily. “I’ll do my very best.”
   “Thank you, lieutenant,” Grayson said with a faint smirk as the officer walked to the exit.
   “By the way, doc,” the other man said as he turned around before leaving, “have you also considered that our friend here might not even be alive? Perhaps it’s a robot?”
   “Don’t be silly, lieutenant,” Grayson chuckled. “There’s no such thing as self aware AI.”
   The officer thought about it for a minute, then shrugged and left Grayson alone with his alien test subject.




Chapter III

A quiet cantina on Boreias V, a comfortable fifteen light-years away from Alaris…

“What the hell are those?”
   Joshua looked up from a bowl filled with what looked like small, green fruit. A powerfully-built man stood in front of the table, hazel-brown eyes looking at him with a combination of curiosity and disgust. “Manzanilla olives,” Joshua replied with a grin. “They’re filled with anchovies.”
   “With fish? That’s just gross, man. And you’re not even drinking beer with them.”
   Joshua sighed and held the glass of red wine up to his company. “I like beer as much as the next guy, Art, but a little variation never hurt anyone. Sit down.”
   Arthur T. Spencer pulled back a chair and seated himself opposite his long-time friend. He’d known Josh since kindergarten in Reef City on Calder Prime, their shared unassuming birthplace in an uncaring universe, and was with his forty-three years half a decade Joshua’s senior. While Joshua had had the benefit of a more then decent upbringing by his father after his mother had passed away when he was six, Arthur had not been so lucky. Both of little Spencer Jr.’s folks had run out on him on his twelfth birthday. While the Selmacs had taken the boy in without reservations and treated him like one of there own, something for which he was eternally grateful, Arthur had always felt deserted by those that should have taken care of him in the first place. His troubled childhood had resulted in a fiercely independent man whose only loyalties were to himself and the Selmac family.
   “How’s the mining business, Art?” Joshua asked. “Found any valuable stuff lately?”
   “Quite good actually,” Arthur replied with a satisfied smile. “I’ve managed to refine two cargo holds full of iridium from the Psylo Beta asteroid belt these last two weeks. Can you imagine? A full month of prospecting useless rock, and now this! That iridium is worth a fortune to the right buyer.” Spencer’s smile widened. “And it so happens that I’ve found a guy who wants the entire lot.”
   Joshua nodded in appreciation. “Sounds great. But I thought that most Terran worlds are supplied with iridium by big mining corporations like MaxYield Inc.?”
   “They are,” Arthur acknowledged. “But Ayani worlds aren’t.”
   Joshua raised his right eyebrow slightly. “You want to supply iridium to the Ayani?”
   “Why not? They use it just as much as we do for standard applications, like electrical contacts and heat-resistant materials.”
   “That’s not why the Covenant Customs Office has placed such a high import duty on iridium, and you know it,” Joshua admonished his friend. “Iridium is also used in supercolliders. And supercolliders can be used to produce antimatter.”
   “You sound just like one of those belittling custom officers,” Arthur commented wryly. “Mankind in its infinite wisdom has decreed antimatter should not fall into the ‘wrong hands’, which basically excludes every xeno race we’ve come into contact with, and sets about to mine iridium-rich ‘roids at breakneck speed itself to enforce that decision. Don’t you agree that’s childish, Josh? Telling other people what or what not to do while patting your own shoulder? I thought we were past that United States-like behavior.”
   Joshua smiled faintly at the mention of that superpower during the 21st century, the last Earthbound ‘empire’ to fall for the same reasons of that of the Romans almost two millennia before it: strategic overextension, delusions of superiority, material decadence and an arrogant collective ego bent on policing the rest of the world as long as it was in protecting its own interests. Many feared the Terran Covenant might share the same fate if its current leader, president Garret Bosh, maintained that xenophobic course of his. Tensions with the Ayani, the very first sentient xeno race contacted by humanity and its opponent in the ensuing First Encounter War, had reached an all-time high. Even export of the most basic commodities to Ayani worlds suffered from the embargo, let alone that of goods as politically sensitive as iridium. “I didn’t say I approve of the government’s actions of late, just that there is an obvious risk in hauling two ships worth of iridium to an Ayani planet.”
   Arthur sighed. “I know, I know, you’re just looking after me like you’ve always done. Did it ever occurred to you that I might have grown older and wiser than you?”
   “Only older,” Joshua grinned.
   His friend returned the grin and the tension faded visibly from his face. “Tell you what, how ‘bout you come with me to my buyer? I mean, I’ve got more cargo than I can fly in one trip anyway. You could stow what doesn’t fit in the Phocaea and function as escort in the Errant Star at the same time. We’d be watching each others back like in the old days.”
   “Ye good old days of yonder,” Joshua remarked dryly. “Being chased by both sides of the law in turn and hoping that your employer didn’t just set you up in the first place.”
   “You’ve always done well as a transporter, Josh. Doing it the proper Fringe way comes natural to you. The last few years have netted you a lot of credits, more then I could ever hope of making in the independent mining business, even though I love the job. That much I know.”
   “Then you also know what I want to do with that money.” Joshua’s expression tightened. “Selmac Express Shipping is but a shadow of its former self and I will see it restored in my lifetime, even if I have to break heaps of subjective laws and **** off a lot of people in the process. I owe it to Dad.”
   Arthur nodded. “I understand. And I’ll continue to help you get the guys that are responsible. But do me a favor: don’t live Jonathan’s life for him. You have your own destiny to fulfill. Take it as the advice of someone who knows what it’s like to have lost control over one’s own life. It’s for your own good, Josh, trust me.”
   Joshua stared at his friend for nearly a full minute. Then his lips curled in the beginning of a smile. “Perhaps you’ve become wiser after all, Art,” he said softly.
   At that moment a tall waitress came over to their table and delivered Joshua’s diner. “Here you go, Josh,” she said with a melodious voice. “One calzone speciale, with extra anchovies.”
   “God, more of that accursed fish,” Arthur said in disgust.
   Joshua laughed and nodded to the waitress. “Thanks, Sambra. Could you also bring this cultural barbarian an X-Rex Burger and a beer?”
   “Sure thing, Josh,” the young woman responded happily, and headed back to place the order.
   “She definitely likes you,” Arthur said as he watched Sambra’s curvy outline enter the kitchen. “You obviously still have that effect on women. Buggered if I knew how you do it.”
   Joshua gave him a wicked smile. “Being younger has its advantages, Art.”
   “What, those five years? I think you’re overestimating yourself there, my friend. It’s not like she’s asked you to come over when she gets off.”
   Joshua shrugged and took a sip of his wine. He let the ruby-red liquid roll around in his mouth for a moment as he assessed his situation and considered the available options. As Sambra returned with Arthur’s meal and drink, Selmac Jr. nodded to himself in agreement.
   “Ah, that’s more like it.” Arthur rubbed his hands in anticipation as he marveled at the multi-storied burger. Joshua saw it and shook his head in resignation.
   
After they had finished diner and caught up with each others escapades in the last two months, Joshua motioned for Sambra to bring the check. He looked at the paper slip and tried to suppress a grin. “Here’s your tip, gorgeous,” he said to the waitress as he gave her the credits owed with a little extra.
   “Thanks, Josh,” Sambra said as his wink caused just the faintest noticeable blush on her dark complexion. She hurriedly walked away, making Arthur’s eyes narrow in suspicion.
   “What did I miss?” the miner asked warily.
   Joshua held up the check, which had an address and com number written in the lower left corner, and smirked.
   “Unbelievable,” Arthur muttered, shaking his head in amazement.
   Joshua laughed heartily. “I’m sorry, Art. Must be my rugged looks and razor’s edge lifestyle.”
   “Sure,” his friend snorted.
   “Ah well, look at it this way; I can’t go out and woo any hot chicks when I’m busy covering your ass in space, right?”
   “Are you saying…?” Arthur began with a hopeful gleam in his eyes.
   “Yeah, I’m coming with you,” Joshua confirmed. “I’ll probably regret it later on, but right now it seems like a good idea. Who knows, a change of scenery might actually do me some good. And it has been a while since I last saw a decent Ayani ceremonial duel. You’ve got to love those.”
   “True enough! I’m sure there will be plenty of time to do some sightseeing. Anyway, I’m leaving first thing in the morning, around six. The Phocaea is docked at the spaceport in Pit 83. Want to meet there or in orbit?”
   “I’m docked in Pit 76 myself, so I’ll drop by you first about half an hour before lift-off to help you stow your goods. After that we can fill up my hold and be on our way.”
   Arthur nodded. “Good idea. The iridium is all stored in pallet containers, so I’ll arrange a couple of forklifts to spare us some trouble.”
   “Agreed, I’ll see you in the morning then.” Joshua prepared to stand up. “Now if you would excuse me, I still have an appointment to attend to.” His smirk returned in full force just as Arthur leaned forward to slap him.
9  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: The Demonology Book (worktile) - WIP growing from scratch here on: July 23, 2007, 04:34:15 pm
Dear all,

I have returned from my work in Italy and am now writing my research master thesis. Smiley  While I was away I've taken your advice and went to redo the prologue. A flashback to a millennium earlier is almost done, and Tau Worlock's idea of describing the village will certainly be done as well! In the meantime I also reworked Chapter I and came up with neat ideas for more pro- and antagonists. Wink

LX
10  Off Topic / The Lounge / Re: Lord Xalys away for a month... to Italy! on: June 30, 2007, 05:58:27 pm
I do not work with rocks... I study Roman amphorae (which transported booze among others, lol)! Tongue  Thanks for the encouragement guys, now if you would be so kinf as to keep replying to Demonology while I am gone? I am still writing here and am taking all advice as it comes.

Grtz,

LX
11  Off Topic / The Lounge / Lord Xalys away for a month... to Italy! on: June 14, 2007, 08:44:51 pm
Dear all,

I'll be in Italy (Nettuno, Lazio) for the next four weeks (leaving tomorrow morning), to do a large part of my thesis research on Roman amphorae (I'm a 5th yrs student Classical Archaeology here in The Netherlands, doing my Research Master). I'll be also working on the Demonology Book there. If I find an opportunity I might chime in here from an internetcafe or such, but in any other case you'll see me back on track after July 13th!

Oh, and please continue commenting on the Demonology Book! Cheesy

Have a great vacation all!!

LX
12  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: H2O (what would have become my second book - major WIP) on: June 14, 2007, 08:38:04 pm
My dear Bakerman, that is one thorough rundown on chapter 1! I'll hold on with changing my stuff until you've got it all done (and give some explanations), for which you should take as long as you need. Thanks a million!

Btw, the apostrophes I put for plural is a Dutch thing... really have to get that out of my system. Wink

LX
13  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: The Demonology Book (worktile) - WIP growing from scratch here on: June 14, 2007, 06:36:32 pm
Not a bad idea. I was already planning on describing the village they're headed for first, just before Lyra arrives there. But it wouldn't be aterribly elaborate piece then, only a short intro. Perhaps it can be done differently, yes. I'll see about that.

LX
14  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: The Demonology Book (worktile) - WIP growing from scratch here on: June 14, 2007, 02:52:27 pm
Thx, de grammar issues have been fixed. If anyone else sees some, please tell me!

I know it's a bit cliche, but cliches are exactly that of course because they work. Wink  I just wanted and needed it to be this way, and you can rest assured that this will not be an ordinary sacrifice of a random victim. More to come...

As for having this later in the book, what do you suggest? Perhaps a (also cliche, lol) flashback of a great battle 1k years ago, ending with the banishment of Koroth? That could work. And then I'll re-insert the prologue and chapter 1 after that. Come to think of it, the prologue does say "Our story begins now in earnest..." as if the prologue has been preceded by something else. I'd like to think of it in a movie script-style: ancient battle, title and tune, prologue, chapter 1. Smiley

LX
15  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: The Demonology Book (worktile) - WIP growing from scratch here on: June 13, 2007, 12:04:14 am
@ pink monkey bird: I have changed the first sentence you mentioned, but felt the second one should not be changed (archaic as it might be, it makes the point I wanted). Thanks for your suggestions. Smiley

OK people, here it is! I have slaved, slaved I tell you on the first chapter of my 'Demonology Book' that you are about to read. I'm extremely fond of it, and would like you to make every effort to refine it to the max. This is the start of a book that I want to publish for REAL. I'm counting on you guys to help me through it. I know you're all with me. Cheesy

PS: from next Friday (June 15th) onward I'll be on a four-week fieldwork campaign for my study (Classical Archaeology), doing research on Roman amphorae for my thesis. I hope to check in here from the internetcafe of Nettuno (Lazio, Italia) a couple of times. Y'all have a good vacation, and may inspiration be with you. Smiley

LX



Chapter I: The Summoning

   Sir William Blythe awoke in a world of hurt. His head felt as if it had received a direct hit from a kicking mule, and he had severe problems focusing his slowly opening eyes. When after a few minutes he could see clearly again, Sir Blythe wished he had stayed unconscious. By looking around him he deduced being in the woods somewhere, in a small clearing overshadowed by ominous oaks. Night had not yet fallen completely, as a lilac twilight sky was still sparsely visible through the forest canopy.
   As he regained some measure of control over his maltreated body, the nobleman found out he was firmly tied to a stone pillar of some kind. A number of strong ropes held him against the monolith, and he found he could only barely move his likewise bound arms and legs. Whoever had captured him and left him here, had done so in a most thorough manner as to prevent unaided escape entirely. Come to think of it, what had actually happened in the first place? How did he end up here, seemingly far from his city, in these dark woods?
   The last scene Sir Blythe could remember before his awakening here was in his own home, where one of his servants had announced a trio of visitors bringing dire news about a relative of his. Concerned as always about the wellbeing of his family, he had ordered the three men in. They had been cloaked, probably because of the torrents that had plagued the city for days on end now. When he had turned around to pour his guests a drink, all had turned black. Now he was here, alone.
   Taking in his surroundings, a shock of awareness suddenly came over the nobleman as he observed the latter sentiment was far from true: a circle of nine cloaked and hooded figures surrounded him, each of them standing in front of an even bigger monolith as the one he had been tied to. Their garments allowed the figures to blend in with the encroaching darkness, making it difficult to discern them against the shadowed trees. They neither moved nor spoke, instead standing as motionless as the pillars behind them. Sir Blythe eyed them with rising trepidation, his throat getting dry as a sense of impending doom began to take hold of him.

   In the meantime, a pair of calculating emerald green eyes took in the disturbing vista unfolding on the forest floor. With expert judgement, derived from years of travel to all corners of the known World, the hunter ascertained the telling placement of the stones in the outer circle. Seen from above they formed a perfect enneagram; a nine-pointed star with the larger central monolith as a focal point. Knowing that this geometrical figure was related to ancient druidic tradition, and sensing an almost palpable aura of power radiating from the stones, the hunter was sure of the fact that this site possessed singular importance.
   The mark was hardly distinguishable from the other robed cultists, but after tracking him for so many weeks from the concealment of the forest the hunter had come to know his physical characteristics quite well. The tall, slightly stooped posture was a dead give-away, as were the broad shoulders. While the average layman would not have been able to pick him out in the dusk, especially amidst the others in this darkening forest, the hunter was everything but an amateur.
   The green eyes narrowed. The shot could easily be taken right here and now, from this ideally concealed perch. The hunter momentarily flexed both wrists, just enough to feel the pull of the weapons’ mechanic without triggering a release. No, not just yet. The assignment had been clear: track the mark to whatever his destination might be, absorb as much impressions as possible and then go for the kill. Judging from the sight below a ritual was about to be performed, in which the hunter’s employer surely would take great interest.
   With a professional sense of emotional detachment formed through the years, the hunter’s gaze shifted to the man bound against the central pillar. Although cultists had been known to let themselves be voluntarily possessed by demons in similar circumstances, the victim present did not seem to be a willing participant in all of this. His clothing looked expensive, his manners refined; he had to be a nobleman of some stature. The hunter wondered for a moment how this particular captive had ended up here; by accident or by personal act?
   The hunter did not muse about this for long, as the nine cultists suddenly started to chant. The eerie dissonance seemed to be an affront against natural order itself, a cacophony of malice. While the chanting rose in volume the mark stepped out of the circle, walking straight towards the bound nobleman. Standing still just in front of the victim, the man pulled back his hood. The chanting abruptly stopped and the hunter’s ears tuned as the tall cultist began to speak:
   “Ra’al ira pah’luhr. Ra’al ira sci’tuhr. Ra’al adam’tahr!”
   The other eight responded, voices strong and clear:
   “ Ra’al adam’tahr! Ra’al adam’tahr!”
   The hunter cringed at the hearing of these words. They were spoken in ancient Tardor, a language deemed utterly blasphemous in nearly all civilized Lands. Translated the cultist leader had said “The Lord watches over us. The Lord gives us strength. The Lord will rise again!” after which the eight others had echoed the last sentence. This strengthened the hunter in the belief that these cultists were surely worshippers of the demonic, but it could not be said as of yet which of those creatures they deemed their Lord.
   The hunter watched as the cultist leader now bent towards the bound nobleman, speaking to him in a hushed tone as not to be heard by anyone else.

   “Do you know why you are here?”
   Sir William Blythe looked at the imposing robed man in astonishment as he asked him that question. The nobleman shook his head in disbelief.
   “No… no, of course not! How am I supposed to know?!” Sir Blythe answered with as much outrage as he could still muster in his voice, which was hoarse from the ordeal that had led him here. “Untie me at once! What is the meaning of all this?!”
   “You will know soon enough.” The cultist’s lips spread in a malign grin, one that predicted the worst was yet to come.
   Sir Blythe eyed his captor intently as he took a few steps back, vainly searching for a reason behind this madness. The cultist reached back and drew back his hood, exposing a bald head and a weathered face. The most disconcerting feature of him was not his pair of icy blue eyes, but a symbol apparently inked on his right cheek: a combination of three pointed lens-shapes arranged in a triangle with a circle in the centre.
   The nobleman swore that he had seen that symbol before, but surely in a benevolent context. Where? And why did it look as if the man had tried to scrape off the symbol?

   The hunter’s expression went grim as the symbol on the cultist’s head became visible. It was a triquetra. It was a symbol used by druidic orders in all the Lands as a symbol of identification. This one was spoiled however, as the ink was obscured by scar tissue on several places. The cultist had undoubtedly tried to cut it away with a knife, this stigma of his erstwhile order. By trying to remove it, the cultist surely wanted to show his allegiance lay elsewhere now.
   So, a corrupted druid? The hunter was displeased. The information concerning the mark had obviously been lacking. This had certainly not been anticipated! What powers could this man still have? Unknown variables; there was nothing the hunter disliked more. This would not be a simple kill after all.

   “Bring the sword,” the cultist leader said while beckoning towards the brush on the other side of the stone circle. In response, a man stepped into the clearing. Sir Blythe saw that it was a peasant, a normal villager. The man walked slowly towards the cultist leader, making sure that his eyes were averted to the ground at all times.
   As he came closer, Sir Blythe saw that the villager held in his hands a sturdy-looking broadsword. While its brass hilt was undecorated, the shining metal blade had a row of intricate markings inscribed into it. For some reason, the nobleman felt bile rising in his throat as he looked at the outlandish carvings.
   The peasant now stood in front of the cultist leader, and handed him the sword. A sigh of relief escaped him as he relinquished the weapon. Then he looked up, his gaze meeting that of Sir Blythe. True fear was mirrored in those eyes, and for only a moment the nobleman thought he could see a look of shame and sincere pity on the villager’s face.
   Then the peasant turned around, hasting away as fast as he could into the brush just without breaking into a run. When he had disappeared, the cultist leader grinned at Sir Blythe while brandishing the peculiar sword.
   “You are about to witness something immense,” he spoke to the nobleman. “Our Lord reborn… by your blood. Ra’al adam’tahr!”

   The hunter kept watching the drama progress below, as the eight other cultists drew back their hoods in unison at the leader’s call. The emerald green eyes widened: every face now exposed bore a spoiled triquetra on the right cheek. All of them had been druids! The chance to take out the mark without arousing too much attention now seemed slim at best. If all of them had some degree of tainted mastery over nature, it would be even somewhat of a feat to get out of here unscathed!
   The hunter’s gaze went across the people on the forest floor. All cultists were middle-aged men, except for one: a young raven-haired woman with amethystine purple eyes staring transfixed at the cultist leader and the sword he was now holding. The look on the beautiful girl’s face made the hunter wonder even more what was so remarkable about the weapon.
   The sword did not seem unique; the hunter had seen countless broadswords like this one. But those inscriptions gave it something ominous, and the hunter felt nauseous just by glancing at them. This had to be the ritual weapon, meant to slay the victim with. But something in the back of the hunter’s mind hinted that this was more about the weapon than the man tied to that pillar.
   The hunter shifted balance slightly to get a better vantage point. Abruptly, the young woman’s head turned towards the tree from where the ritual was observed. The hunter immediately froze, then very slowly moved back towards the trunk. The female cultist seemed extraordinarily aware. Interesting.
   In the meantime, the seven other cultists had begun to chant once more, exclaiming “Ra’al adam’tahr!” over and over again until the syllables had become a tangible droning, a background noise that reverberated in the hunter’s body. The cultist leader extended his hands to the heavens and spoke his own words of power, inaudible because of the chanting of the others.
   The hunter’s eyes narrowed: a shimmering was now forming inside the stone circle, like that seen on hot summer days on the roads in the countryside. As the haze grew in size and intensity, the hunter keenly felt something major was about to take place. It was as if the shimmering was laying bare the mortal world for otherworldly eyes to see. And there was something else: a faint whispering of something ancient, a malign sentience.
   The hunter suddenly felt being watched, if only momentarily. Such a profound sensation would not be imagined, and the hunter realized an unspeakable evil was lurking just beyond a weakening threshold. Something had to be done! No, too many unknown variables. Acting now would mean certain death. Best to wait until the deed had been done. Or would it be too late then? So many unknown variables…

   Sir Blythe now clearly felt he would not get away from here alive. These people meant to end him, and it was with the inscribed sword that it would be done. He could hardly see anything through the shimmering air that had filled up the space between the stones. An unreasoning fear washed over him as he realized his life was truly forfeit. He could no longer keep his countenance and started to plead desperately:
   “Please, I beg of you, don’t kill me! There must be some way to settle this?” He had to raise his voice to avoid it being drowned out by the chanting.
   The cultist leader was silent for a moment and his expression went blank. He looked first at Sir Blythe, then at the sword in his hand as if listening to something. A few seconds later the grin returned on his face, and his eyes burned with fervour.
   “There is only one way to settle this: with your sacrifice!”
   And with that final outcry, the cultist thrust the sword downward straight into Sir William Blythe’s heart.

   While still pondering the right course of action, the hunter’s fast breathing stalled for a moment as the blade plunged into the nobleman’s chest. For some reason the brutality of the act was wholly unanticipated, as if the sacrifice demanded exceptional violence. The victim let go an unearthly scream, and sympathetic pain threatened to overtook the hunter’s sanity for a moment.
   The shimmering haze around the stone pillar seemed to contract rapidly now, as if it were sucked into the victim. The cultist leader was now uttering new blasphemies, which sounded even older and more hideous than the Tardor he spoke beforehand. Then the nobleman fell silent, his head falling forward. But if he was now indeed dead, why were his eyes still moving so rapidly behind their closed lids?

   Sir William Blythe was not dead. Not in the strictest sense of the word at least. He did feel disconnected from his body now, but somehow he could not let the reigns of his life go just yet.
   [No, you belong to me now. You are not going anywhere unless I say so.]
   The disembodied voice filled Sir Blythe’s soul with preternatural horror, as if a long lost memory preserved deep in his being all his life had just resurfaced with lethal intent.
   [You know. Do you not?]
   The voice sounded amused, seemingly pleased to have its presence confirmed.
   [Yes, I can taste your lineage, William Blythe. It has been linked to me since the dawn of this millennium. Your ancestor banished me all those centuries ago, powerful as he was. How ironic to be reborn in the mortal world through the spilling of his offspring’s blood!]
   Sir Blythe’s soul now reeled with terror, trying frantically to escape to the Veil, to safety. But the entity would not let him go. Memories from his childhood flooded Blythe’s persona, tales of old that he had hidden in the recesses of his mind. He had hidden them, pretending that he had nothing to do with it. He had forbidden his only son to heed the insidious calling of his blood, as his own father had forbidden him in turn. Generations of Blythe had managed to live without the curse. Until now.
   [Indeed, your blood is weak and your line’s strength has waned. How pitiful! I guess you will have to do though, if only for sentimental value. Look at it from the bright side, William; at least you will not have to answer to your ancestors at the Source. For there will be nothing left of your soul to go there.]
   With that mordant verdict, the entity gripped Blythe’s persona in its spectral clutches and utterly crushed its existence. Absorbing both the remaining life force and soul of the human, combined with the ancient arcane words of power the cultist leader had spoken, the demon gained the strength necessary to break the tenebrous shackles that had bound him in the Void for almost a thousand years.
   It permeated the now empty husk of late Sir William Blythe, joining with the blood that flowed freely over the blade that had ended the nobleman’s mortal life. The blood seeped into the arcane sigils carved in the enchanted metal, and the demonic essence entered the sword.

   The nobleman’s body had finally stopped its violent twitching. Stunned, the hunter now beheld the wondrous transmutation of the sword. The blade itself, before gleaming silver, now slowly darkened from the tip downwards to the hilt as if something transferred from the dead body into the weapon. When the blade’s colour finally was a pervasive jet black, the metal itself warped and a row of three downward arcing hooks formed on either edge just above the guard. Then the hilt itself changed, its brass turning slate grey and the round pommel elongating into a teardrop shape with a wickedly sharp point.
   When the sword had at last finished adapting to its new demonic inhabitant, Sir William Blythe’s head suddenly jerked upward. His eyes opened to reveal the white of a dead man’s stare, and in a mockery of life a semblance of human speech came forth from his mouth:
   “I am Koroth, erstwhile Lord of Tardor. You have summoned me here, freeing me from the place I have been trapped for so very long. It is time for one of you to claim your prize: draw the sword from this body.”
   The hunter’s mind could scarcely comprehend at first the revealed nature of this infamous creature, but the name Koroth brought back legends and dire warnings from childhood. Koroth, First among the Bloodthirsters, the great Instigator of the continuous war that had plagued the Land for nearly a millennium now. The hunter had thought the demon to be a myth, as had many a mortal living in these times of visceral suffering and tangible threats.
   The emerald green eyes kept watching, their owner realizing it was already too late to stop this abomination dead in its tracks. Better now to keep quiet and gather as much information as possible, and to find a moment afterwards to eliminate the mark and get rid of the accursed weapon. For would the cultist leader not surely claim the sword?

   The leader of the cultists, who had gone through a great deal of trouble to reclaim the unholy passages from the Sylaean temple used to bind Koroth in the Void so many centuries ago, stepped forward and reached for the weapon. He had waited so long for this, to finally use the infernal power of Koroth against the wayward city folk and further assert his leadership over his druidic splinter party. He was still loath of calling himself a druid, as that would imply that he was the same as those snivelling cowards tending orchards and shunning the bloodshed needed to restrain the populace in those filthy cities of theirs.
   With a grin of thinking about the retribution to come, the cultist leader reached for and closed his right hand around the sword’s pommel. Almost immediately a powerful blast of hot air lifted him clear off the ground and hurled him several metres away from the sword, leaving the weapon embedded in the slain nobleman’s chest.
   Dazed and hurt, the cultist leader looked up to the black sword. What was the meaning of this? Certainly he was to be rewarded for all he had done to free the demon?
   As if Koroth had heard his thoughts, Sir Blythe’s vacant eyes stared back and the monstrous voice spoke again:
   “You are not the one I have chosen to wield me. Let another one of you step forward”
   One after the other, the attendant cultists tried to free the sword from Sir Blythe’s body, only to be blown back with nothing in hand like a leaf in a squall. Then the young woman stepped up to the central pillar.
   With no more exertion than one would need to pull a knife from a piece of soft cheese, the demonic sword came free from the body with an audible sound of suction. The girl looked intently at the jet black blade, slick with the nobleman’s blood, brandished it in her left hand and cocked her head slightly as if listening. Then she smiled. Smiled and nodded.
   “NO! This is an outrage!” the cultist leader exclaimed suddenly, his eyes burning with hatred and jealousy. “A mere child, a woman even, could never hope to be worthy of Koroth’s favour! Lyra, give me that sword!”
   The young woman turned towards him and merely smiled again. “I would not think it is for you to decide to whom my Master wishes to grant His power. But do not be afraid, you will be the last to die. That much He feels He owes you.”
   Lyra gripped the sword with both hands and lunged forward, thrusting the blade straight through the chest of the cultist that had tried to remove the sword just before her. Where the spray of blood came into contact with the black blade the engravings seemed to absorb the fluid, while the cultist’s soul was spun loose and hungrily devoured by the demon inside.
   A second cultist roared in anger and unleashed an elemental bolt of energy at Lyra, which she expertly deflected with the sword. The bolt bounced back in the direction of its origin, burning a hole into its sender. Lyra then sidestepped a clumsy slash with a quarterstaff and swung the sword backwards, lopping of the head of the third cultist. After that the fourth cultist screamed in terror as the sword came down upon him, cleaving his body in twain from neck to groin.
   All the while Koroth absorbed the souls of the former druids one at the time, regaining lost strength with every devouring. The last three cultists were taken care of with similar ease. Lyra had no remorse in killing them and dooming their souls to oblivion, as these condescending former ‘colleagues’ merely stood in her way. Her eyes now found the cultist leader.  Lyra nodded and smiled.

   The hunter marvelled at the completely unexpected turn of events. The treachery by the female cultist apparently called Lyra could perhaps have been seen coming, but the swiftness and ease with which she dispatched the other cultists was remarkable. No doubt the sword was very potent itself as well, even in the demon’s severely weakened state, but the girl must have been an expert swordfighter already. A challenging foe to say the least!
   The hunter’s eyes kept focused on the enigmatic girl and her black blade, as the scene below was coming to its bloody end.

   The cultist leader, now completely alone, had meanwhile crawled against one of the nine monoliths in the circle. Lyra drew closer, her hauntingly beautiful face accentuated by smears of blood. The sparkle in her purple eyes threatened to overpower the leader’s senses. He once would have given everything to have this woman, but she had proven to be all but responsive to his promises of power as his right-hand. Now all he could feel for this woman and her accursed weapon was an irrepressible fear, fraying the last strands of reason he could cling to.
   Lyra now stood before him and put the sword’s tip to his throat. The blade scratched his skin a little and exposed an artery, letting a trickle of blood touch the black surface. The cultist leader felt himself weakening a little, as if his life force was being drained with his blood entering the sword.
   “My Master thanks you for finding the enchantment needed to set Him free,” Lyra spoke. “But He and I agreed long ago that your petty desires are not in His best interest. I am afraid that you are no longer of any use to Him. Safe for sustenance, of course.”
   Having spoken this death sentence Lyra slowly pushed the demonic blade through the leader’s throat, savouring the resulting gurgling sound. The cultist leader’s face turned pale and his eyes turned upward into the white. Then after a last spasmodic movement and makeshift shriek, Koroth tore the man’s soul from his body and feasted on it.
   The druidic power manifested in the eight cultists had revitalized the demon greatly, but it was nowhere near its old strength and arcane aptitude. He needed more food, and fast. Lyra knew this, but where should she go first?
   Koroth spoke a name to her. The suggestion somewhat disturbed the girl for a moment, but not for long. She nodded and responded the ancient demon in kind without words. Then her Master said a final thing while she turned around and headed into the forest, making her smile once more and remembering where she did it all for:
   “I will show you things… Wonderful, terrible things.”

   After the girl had disappeared into the woods with the sword, the hunter finally descended from the tree. Leather boots trudged swift sure through mud and caked blood, while eyes scanned the surroundings for unwanted surprises. All was clear; Lyra and Koroth were gone.
   The hunter felt powerless for an instant as she stared at the lifeless and still bound body of Sir William Blythe. She pulled down her hood, freeing her auburn hair to the wind that had picked up in the last few minutes. Her emerald green eyes saw everything and nothing at once, making her infinitely sad for a fraction of time. And Ava cried.
   Her tears fell upon the still body, the cooling cheeks. A terrible sense of failure rushed over the hunter, even while knowing she could not have prevented it with something other than the cost of her life. But she knew instinctively that her life was still precious and needed. This revelation made her feel more alive then ever. So many unknown variables…
   Then Ava spotted the ring on the nobleman’s fourth finger. It was a golden ring, itself devoid of frills, but with an exquisite aquamarine set into it. A sudden flash of imagination made her mind’s eye gaze upon the endless ocean, its awesome power and protection revealed only for her to see. Driven by an urge greater than her willpower, the hunter carefully removed the ring from the cold finger and hid it in one of her belt pockets.
   She then brought her hand to the dead man’s right temple and touched it lightly, nodding her head. After that token of respect Ava pulled back the hood over her head and made her way through the undergrowth, following the trail of a woman that might hold the fate of the entire World in her hands.
16  Original Writings / Announcements / Re: Welcome! on: June 12, 2007, 11:12:43 pm
You are all utterly insane...

Therefore, I love you all!

LX
17  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: The Demonology Book (worktile) - WIP growing from scratch here on: June 03, 2007, 10:44:06 am
Lol, I idd had Yoda in mind when writing those two lines. Tongue  I mostly did it like this to put the emphasis on "based on truth" and "instrumental locations", by putting them in front. So are you sure that it's to odd-looking in this piece? For if it breaks the flow too much I'll have to change it!

As for the relationship between this book and the article; the latter was meant to be the first in a series of background articles by Garindan's hand. The article(s) help to understand the book better, as well as providing you guise with what I'd like to call an 'ambience introduction". Smiley

EDIT: I'm currently working on chapter I at home. Expect it to be finished in the course of the coming week!

LX
18  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: H2O (what would have become my second book - major WIP) on: June 03, 2007, 10:37:20 am
In that case be my guest and share your wisdom with the rest of the asylum. Wink

LX
19  Creative Writing / Critiques Corner / Re: Out of boredom... on: June 01, 2007, 12:36:55 am
Lol, now that had an outcome I didn't expect at first! Cheesy  Nice one!

LX
20  Off Topic / The Lounge / Re: Happy Birthday Akriel/Kentai on: May 30, 2007, 06:10:14 pm
Happy birthday! Afro

LX
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