Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Tremors ran through the marble with each strike of the immense bell. The garishly-dressed man made a show of discomfort for his audience; doubled over, clutching at his ears. A clever trick, but the Duke had been misinformed; the clang of the bell truly had little bearing on the Troubadour. Rather, his heart cried in harmony with the metallic tone. It surged through him, resonant vibrations echoing through him. His spirit filled the room with an uproarious hymn of judgment. The others were oblivious: the Duke, and his guardsmen; eight of them throughout the chamber, two flanking the Troubadour, four staggered along the approach to the dais, and one more on either side of the Duke himself. They eyed him warily, silent. The Duke shook, a convulsion of fear, though a smirk played at his bulging lips. His excess girth spilled over every side of the raised cushion on which he sat.
The Duke's fear was appropriate, for he had been found in discord with the swelling rhapsody of souls – the music of life – and as such, the Chorus had willed the Troubadour sing him one last song; a solemn, inexorable dirge. It was a mark of arrogance that the Duke had received the Troubadour at all – either he expected the favor of the Chorus, or otherwise thought himself capable of besting death.
Vleiklass sang as well, though the bell's monody had finally ceased. They had disarmed him at the door to the hall, and then the fool had followed the Troubadour into the room. There he stood, staring vacantly at the sheathed blade that rested across his palms, as though hearkening to its melodic, deathly intention.
The Troubadour waited patiently for his host to speak; it was rude to slay a man in his own hall without first being addressed. Echoing the voice of the bell, a chime hanging at his ear whispered soothing verses. Each was essential to the Troubadour; the bells and chimes spread across his person and woven throughout his motley garb. That one in particular, dangling from his ear lobe by a length of silver thread, sharpened the Troubadour's awareness: he heard the guard shuffling behind him, but felt it first; a disturbance in the very air surrounding him.
It seemed he would not be welcomed after all.
With preternatural agility, buoyed by the sonorous rhythm of resolve, he moved. Before the enrapt guard could react, the Troubadour had pulled Vleiklass free; the Tuning Blade trilled, her parallel, serpentine blades humming the ecstasy of their freedom. He dashed away, singing blade held low, bells jingling subtly; the guardsman merely continued to stare dumbfounded at the scabbard resting in his hands, even as they fell away from his body to stain red the white runner that split the hall. The guard that had betrayed the ambush was a bit quicker; he managed at least to rattle the blade in its sheath before the Troubadour was upon him – no mercy for the discordant; no mercy for their protectors – Vleiklass, rising, flashed through his throat.
He spun toward the rest; toward the Duke, and saw him being gathered up by his nearest attendants. The two of them struggled to lift his tremendous frame, the Duke himself providing none of the energy, but insisting upon haste all the while. Crossbows thrumming lethal notes pierced the din; the battle ballad that pulsed through him. Behind heraldic tapestries lining the long walls, ten instruments of death keened critical cacophony. No time to evade: the Troubadour shifted; bringing his bells instantly to symphonic life. Vleiklass gleamed, smiling; a shimmer appeared around him; cascading sound and rushing air. The bolts fell harmlessly to the ground.
As the crossbowmen took a moment – borrowed time; a moment the Duke did not have – to crank their weapons in preparation for a second salvo, the Troubadour advanced. The four flanking the runner stepped forth to meet him, taking up stance in a loose wall of plate, shields, and spears. What they lacked in numbers for their phalanx, they made up for in swiftness of motion; shifting easily to thwart his advances along the flanks of the hall, they corralled him, attempting to pin the Troubadour in to a corner. He lunged at the human barrier, twisting nimbly mid-stride to avoid the four points that meant his disembowelment.
Vleiklass whistled; rebounded smoothly off the wall of shields with a dissatisfied quiver, before finally crooning her ebullient concordance. A bark of laughter was cut short when pain reached them; carried along the Tuning Blade. She severed plate, shield, and flesh alike, and a half-dozen strokes later the shield-wall crumbled in bloody heaps. The truest danger of the blade was not in her careful honing; though filed to a razor's edge, but in her adaptive harmony – constantly changing; negligent of every obstacle.
Ceasing in their attempts to move the Duke – they had gained but a few steps from the dais – and leaving him floundering, sprawled on the marble, the last two guardsmen rushed at the Troubadour, blades held high. They came at him from his flanks, but discipline and a mind for battle went only so far when considering such disparate strengths. Vleiklass sang, once more, and their blooded forms fell amidst clouds of scarlet mist.
Lamely, the Duke gripped at the marble, his fingers sliding across the floor ineffectually; his atrophied arms could not budge the sizable frame to which they were attached. The cranking was coming to an end; the second salvo of bolts imminent. He knelt, the Troubadour, by the prodigious form tottering helplessly on the floor, and brought his lips close to the Duke's ear. The noble shook and struggled no longer, caught in the stillness of consummate terror; the inevitability of death.
“'No mercy for the discordant. Reward tyranny with death.' Thusly, the Chorus has spoken,” the Troubadour whispered, his speech cracked and hollow; disused.
Vleiklass hummed eagerly, her own voice beautiful and well-practiced.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Many Happy Returns

This story was written in response to #1 of the prompts set forth HERE by Chuck Wendig.  Enjoy!

Many Happy Returns

Having secured the exclusive patronage of the same familiar gaoler, the removal of her mental bonds was a relatively simple process, though lengthier than she had anticipated. 
There are stepping stones to all the great Powers of posthumanity; in reaching Mind Control, one treads the unsteady path of Suggestion; navigates the labyrinthine caves of Emotion, Empathy, and Sympathy. Prisoner A1 – that's Alpha-1, so-named based on tenor, not tenure – is no exception to that rule, even in spite of the awe-inspiring ease and grace with which she mastered her Powers; at the tender age of fifteen, no less. Despite her prowess in the manifestation and mastery of her Empowerment, A1 didn't just start wandering in to peoples' heads, traipsing through thought and mucking with memories. Those were dangerous places to be, whether the invaded were Empowered or not; even the run-of-the-mill human mind has countermeasures against being read and controlled: particularly of the 'taste your own medicine' variety; often a surrender of one's own control. Sometimes worse: total shutdown, the psychic equivalent of a weaponized EMP burst. 
No, A1 learned the subtleties first. The power of repetition; the means of indoctrination, so that when the time comes to go traipsing; mucking, the invaded mind doesn't know the difference between its own thoughts and those of the outsider, digging for secrets.
So it's no surprise to her when the guard leans over in the Mess, amidst rows of docile, restrained Empowereds, and (with hands that have beaten Alpha, and several Alphas before her, to bruised, bloody, sobbing heaps; hands that have 'processed' and 'searched' her, invading every orifice) turns the key in her headgear, lifting it off ever-so-gingerly. With that gentle motion, it's as if he is lifting Lucifer, welling the wings of the Fallen; to reascend, and cast God from His seat. Alpha isn't shocked in the least, but the guard is, when, upon looking down for an instant – less than that, a milli-instant – at the object in his hands, the realization hits... 
...a second too late; a moment before the burst of psychic energy; origin: Alpha's freed mind, exploding throughout his anti-crowd armor, makes ivory smithereens of every augmented bone in his body, as he crumples to the floor with the breathless exhalation of death. 
Nonchalantly, she stands from the stainless bench and – with her first thought – disengages the locking mechanisms along the route to her destination, while – with the second – rewiring the brains of the panicked officers and Repressed inmates in her immediate vicinity, affecting a change into what 'the experts' dubbed a 'Berserker' state: homage to some no-doubt lovely group from human history. 
A1 called it her Red Flag: she wagged a mental finger, and the rage-filled cattle went charging. The throng of newly enraged fighters surges upwards, and outwards, consequence of Alpha's mental insistence that they stay away: spit, blood, and teeth; the brawler's trifecta spills in every direction as fists and trays swing within the brutal melee. She walks serenely toward the exit of the Mess, a halo of psychic force encircling her; the crowd ebbing with her every step, their rage undiminished, perhaps galvanized, by the canisters of noxious vapor exploding around them. The gas is no threat to her; sub-consciously, as she inhales, her body transforms it in to harmless air. Not so for the Repressed, as soon as the gas reaches beyond the limits of Alpha's manufactured bloodlust, they will collapse in to sleep-like stupor.
Though they have expelled the most of their payload, she grips the spent grenades with her mind; thought formed into snaking, grasping tendrils, and flings them up toward the guardsmen on the walkways above. Her Red Flag's luster fading, she reels in some of the force surrounding her, allowing the crowd a closer proximity, hoping the guards would lose her a bit longer in the sea of bodies. From their perch, the gassers continue their nerve-dulling rain, barely thwarted for an instant by her returned projectiles. For an instant, she contemplates tearing the walkways from their anchors in the ceiling and endangering everyone beneath. As if in answer to her unspoken question, a man is caught directly by one of the propelled canisters, half his face torn away by the velocity and heat of the blow. Knowing naught of his innocence or guilt, she can only feel so much sympathy, but she has used the inmates enough; any more loss on their part would be unacceptable.
As the last of her cover falls, the Wardens arrive; dressed head to foot in a heavy, matte black metal that seems to blur in the low-light, making the ordinary gaolers seem children playing in cheap, imitation costumes. Four in all; the two in front carry heavy batons; 'dimsticks'; they can release nerve gas, or a hell-of-a-lot of voltage, whatever necessity dictates. The two behind have rifles at ready, should the 'dimstick' twins fail.
“Threat identified,” a static-y, metallic voice quips, one of the riflemen, already underestimating her, “Isolating and restraining.”
The twins take synchronized steps forward, and she hits the lights; it's not much, but it's time enough – a half-second until their low-light visuals kick in. She moves in low and close – the armor blurs because it vibrates; it vibrates at such a frequency as to offer protection against psychic attack. No system is perfect, and she's broken it before, when she escaped; the first time she was caught, and the time after that.
And this last time she was caught? That was no mistake, either. But it's not just the thrill of beating the Wardens of the Milieu that keeps her coming back.
Rifleman two drops; the one that quipped: mask open now, there's a hole in his chest, just the size of her fist. He gurgles; throaty laughter, “Stupid bitch … wrong way.”
“Trust me – I know the way in. I left someone here a while ago – just came to get him back.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Well, this is happening...

That's right, folks - your wildest dream made real:  a blog!  

Here (and also at all those other fun places listed in the sidebar) you'll find:  updates about my various projects and publications, pieces that I feel need work/won't be published, ideas/thoughts/rants/in(s)ane babbling on writing/gaming/love/life, and all other things that you've no doubt come to love me for; like my astonishing good looks, and alarming modesty.

So stick around, and I'll try to make posting here a habit, if you'll make the reading as regular.