Monday, May 5, 2008



Thunder boiled up through Flavius' arm, threatening to tear muscle from bone and split his skin. It roared through his shoulder and into his head.

His head! His head! His head! Lightning flashed behind his eyes, blinding bursts of fire that swelled within his skull as the terrible pressure built up. Were all the killer waves racing ahead of a storm to ram themselves into a teacup, it’d still be a faint whisper of the torrent pouring into him.

His fingers melted into the hilt of the sword--the evil, cursed sword thrust upon him by that devil serpent. Flavius tried to cast it away. His arm wouldn't obey. His fingers burned white as they held it fiercely with the grip of the dead.

Flavius struggled, but the flood tossed aside every effort to close his mind. Images flashed over him, scenes and lives, scents and sounds and thoughts-- Each fleeting glimpse had a familiarity about it, like a long-forgotten memory recalled years after the fact. Pain blinded him again, and Flavius’ resolve crumbled. Unable to resist, the torrent carried his mind away with it...

A memory unfolded around him, cold and glossy.

Flavius crouched behind the singularity generator, hardly daring to breathe. Carefully he eased his claymore’s tip out past the corner, intent on the reflection in its mirror-polished surface.

Parric floated in the center of the broad research chamber. Coils of light wrapped and thrashed around him, holding him helpless in a knotted ball. Three gleaming steel-and-brass dromomachs--twelve-leggers at that--surrounded Parric, guarding the Whistard Holdchau's prize. Their skeletal heads rotated atop their bodies, eye beams scanning the chamber, ready to obliterate any threat with an instantaneous stream of positrons.

Flavius pulled his sword back before the beam passed over it. He glanced over to Blysta, crouched behind the--what did she call it?--“Reality sink.” Good old one-armed Blysta. She'd lost her other to a nine-legger almost two weeks back, but Holdchau’d dampened her negator bands then. She swore by the negator bands, and Holdchau was still busy with the mess in Sanderfar.

The dromomachs wouldn't know what hit them.

The memory shifted, changing to something that’d happened earlier. Or later. The sequence wasn’t clear.

Flavius lay on the muddy bank of a river, stinging rain pelting him in the eye. He didn’t have the strength left to blink. His gut hung open, his entrails tangled in the brush above him, tangling him like a puppet. He'd ceased to hurt. He didn't feel anything, anymore.

But a green serpent took his hand, placing a claymore hilt into his bloody grip. The sword sent thunder up his arm, a cyclone into his mind. Flavius gasped, helpless to scream or fight against it. As the storm subsided, he gazed at the sword in relief. “Ah, Memory, yer a bonny lass.”

Then he lifted his head, looking at Parric with recognition.

“What’re ya waitin’ for?” Flavius managed. “Are ya gonna fix me, or what?”

Parric made his magic, and Flavius' spilled innards found their way back in.

Another change...

The ships turned and banked as one, like a fleet of iridescent whales flying high above the clouds. In the distance, beyond the terminus of day and night, a dazzling ring sparkled like a river of jewels encircling the planet. Stars shone fiercely in the black sky beyond.

Flavius watched from the observation deck in amazement, even though Parric gave only a cursory look, apparently unimpressed. Yoona and Joofee, the squat, blue-skinned symbiotic union, watched with undisguised pride as the bows of various craft splayed open in turn and spinners of light plunged downward into the rosy clouds. Gradually, a funnel of siphoned gas climbed up the spinner-lined way to be harvested by the ship.

“And yer sure every one of them out there’s got people on it, just like this one?” Flavius asked softly, disbelieving even his question.

“No, this is only a scout cruiser, with a crew of barely three dozen unions,” Joofee said. “The largest colony ark holds more than thirty-thousand unions.”

Flavius avoided looking directly at Joofee as it spoke. The merger where their folded second and third arms fused together still unnerved him no matter how much he’d grown to like them personally.

“You’ll understand when we depart tomorrow. The observations are complete,” Yoona said reassuringly. It pointed to the sky opposite the rings to an orangish star glowing brightly. “That’s where we go. With luck, we’ll find two consumable planets waiting--”

The memory slipped away, replaced by another.

"I dinnae feel anything," Flavius said, testing the feel of the claymore in his hand. "’Tis a wee bit lighter than I was expecting. Are ya sure he used real steel in it?"

"You're not supposing to feeling anything," Parric said, that familiar tone of exasperation and embarrassment tingeing his voice as always.

"As I explained before, it is not metal. Pure metallics interfere with the ceramic memory retrieval interface," the mondrite said, its odd reverberating voice both simultaneously soothing and unnerving. Flavius still wasn't certain where the voice came from--its yellow-orange head was featureless other than a series of deep grooves carved down the length of its clay-like body. It gestured to the sword. "The molecular composite mimics a crude metal blade, but is sharper, lighter and stronger."

"I dinnae want it breaking on me at an inopportune time, mind you," Flavius said, eyeing it dubiously.

"Physical force will not harm the supplemental memory unit," the mondrite said. "It must be affected at the molecular level if it is to be disassembled."

"Can ya talk in a language other than gibberish?"

"His meaning is the sword will outlasting you," Parric said, then turned to the mondrite. "The working is acceptable. Many thankings to you."

"Hold on just a moment," Flavius said, considering the hilt. "It's a bonny sword, then, there's no denying that even if I cannae see the sense it in remembering things for me. But it's a bit plain, dinnae ya ken? Here’s an idea I had me. See, since you're the sorcerer--"

"The mondrite is not a sorcering."

Flavius ignored him. "--the sorcerer with all the magic whatsis and all... well, what d’ya ken of whortleberries?"

Another memory intruded.

Flavius stared at his hands in horror. Blood course through his veins, over and around bones as meaty red muscles contracted and relaxed.

"Don't you blaming me," Parric said. "I giving many warnings to you not to drinking."

"Ya dinnae goddamn tell me it'd make my skin transparent!"

Another change...

Flavius swung his claymore and the charging Lidozrout, shattering one spear and gutting a swine-headed Lidozrout through its armor.

Eight more took the fallen one’s place. Their spiral horns rattled on the corridor walls. The corridor was too narrow for the Lidozrout to spread out and attack Flavius from all sides, but it also kept him from swinging Memory to full effect. A spear jabbed past his sword, ripping into his belly.

Flavius staggered back against the wall. "Goddamn. Same place Tommy Lobster got me at Culloden," he muttered, trying to hold his stomach together with his free hand. His legs slid out from under him and he dropped to the floor.

Suddenly, Ctibor appeared in front of him, tattered overcoat flapping, swinging his krukh--an insane weapon sporting two curved blades that nearly formed a circle. He was shouting something at Flavius, blood streaming down his face from the gash above his brow, but Flavius couldn't understand the words.

“I thought ya was already dead,” Flavius finally managed with effort.

Flavius glanced down at his blood-slick sword, at the comforting whortleberries decorating the cross piece. He'd known all along he and Ctibor alone couldn't stop the Lidozrout, but that didn't make dying any easier...

The memory ended, a confused mingling of pain, fear and distance. Then the quiet oblivion was shattered with dazzling beauty.

The Empress smiled at him, her silver hair gleaming in the moonlight streaming through the open windows. Flavius, rather than stare, closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Her scent was sharp, spicy and intoxicating, like a cinnamon liqueur. The little whiffs he’d caught at court had not prepared him for her full effect.

“Is your species so uncivilized that you dare not look upon your betters?” the Empress said with a voice that sounded like glass bells.

Flavius opened his eyes.

“That’s better.” With a delicate hand, she deftly untied the Triple Knot of Faith and the golden cord fell away from her waist. Freed of the cord, the first layer of her ephemeral gown rose from her shoulders, evaporating in the night air. The second layer followed suit. Then the third. When the seventh layer joined its brethren as vapor, she stood before Flavius naked and proud. She stood six inches taller than him, lithe and agile. Her joints weren't quite where he'd expect them to be, but the effect was more intriguing than grotesque given her lank frame. The Empress' skin glistened reddish-copper with natural luster, and her six pert breasts offered ample enticement.

"It's considered a gross breach of etiquette," she said with the hint of a smile, "to refuse an invitation from the Empress."

Grinning broadly, Flavius fumbled with the buckle of his double-looped sword belt before getting it open and dropping--

The final memory ended abruptly. Flavius sat up with a start, rubbing his aching head. He glanced up at the violet sky, the over to Parric.

“I remember ya,” Flavius said, considering the claymore and stroking it reverently. “I remember this bonny great sword I call Memory. And I remember dying. Three times now, that makes it.”

Parric opened his beak but Flavius cut him off with a wave of his hand.

"Dinnae say it. Dinnae ya dare say it. My poor head's in no mood for another one of yer lectures," Flavius said. He sat silently, staring out over the mountains while massaging the craps out of his swordhand with thumb and forefinger. "Just tell me, Parric-- did I at least finish with the Empress before they killed me?"


1 comment:

Dave Hardy said...

I've been enjoying this. I'm looking forward to seeing what Flavius is mixed up in. Very strange!