Beleaguer collected his bag of gold and placed each bracer on a wrist, he felt dirty and used but this was what had to be done to preserve who he was, at least for now. A voice in his head echoed, “go now you must save the boy and bring him back to the city where you’re first paycheck will be awaiting you.” He looked around attempting to find the source but there was no trace of anyone but himself being anywhere around these parts. The snow only had the disturbed tacks he himself had left in them. Beleaguer felt somewhat nostalgic standing in knee high snow, it reminded him of a time not so long ago, when he was wearing the form fitting uniform of the Ghost army. He thought back seeing the beautiful blood-stained tundra, he could see his comrades, looking at him, their stillness was unnerving. He could not remember names or faces, or why they were there on that battle field. They were calling his name as he ran, but now he could only hear muffled mumbles in place of his name. A purple cloak and strange liquid metal chest plate which shimmered and swirled like liquid gold mixing with mercury were stuffed under his arm as he ran. Prizes, trophies to prove his worth! Taken from the champion he had just slain, a friend… or was it someone he hated? Male or female?
Beleaguer clasped his shaking hands over his face and sank to his knees in the deep snow, looking at his now exposed arms he could see the remnants of a fading scar, a wound received when he and his child hood friend were on their first combat mission together. He could still see the boy’s face, sweet and cheerful. He was much taller than his friend, his friend had long black hair in a thick braid, his facial features were more appropriate for a pretty girl than a hardened warrior fresh from the agogi. His thoughts riddled with the words… “shoot, I trust you!” he looked at the scar, his friend never left the hospital bed while his arm was being reattached. His friend had to shoot through his arm to free Beleaguer from a trap, his friend never got over the regret of it. Beleaguer never got over the shame of owing his friend his life for a stupid mistake made. What was his name! tears rolled down Beleaguers face as he tried to remember his home, family, lovers? Nothing… all was foggy. Just the face of his friend was clear
“No no no no!” a blood curdling scream ripped through the frozen silence of the winters day. Beleaguer leapt to his feet,
“God Damn brat! What have you gotten yourself into?” He sprinted with his bag of gold in tow. His breath left a thick trail like smoke from a chugging coal train he pushed through the snow and then fallowed the smell from there.
“I really hope this isn’t what I think it is!” he tore through the brush and stampeded into the clearing at the center of a small thicket of trees. Stopping dead in his tracks to confirm, “Shit… Hag-mole, so not good!”
Julius squirmed in the beast’s hand with little effect as its mouth opened wide and Julius stared down into a black hole of a gullet crawling with maggots and swimming with chewed remains of rotting corpses. A green grizzled tongue extended from his massive mouth dripping with a thick puss. Julius held his breath as the stench assaulted his senses kicking in his gag reflex. A thick trail of dead flesh, slime and puss was left caked to Julius’ horror-struck face as the entire length of the tongue ran its course across the length of his body. Julius vomited unable to hold it back anymore. Maggots crawled in Julius’ hair and face and the creature fell silent.
“Me wanna eat half meet pig. You tasty! But you no food, you taste a little like a Sand Man, or a Black Katt, but more like you part of gold bloods, but you meat pig for certain! Wonder why he won’t let me eat you meat pig?” it snorted “man meet is here!” The monster stuck Julius against a nearby tree and let him go. The saliva held tight and Julius hung by his face ten feet in the air. Still feeling the maggots crawling in his hair and near his nose, it was all he could do not to vomit again. The creature turned slowly casting a long shadow over the tiny Void Knight,
“You not gunna run?” It sounded disappointed. Beleaguer stood his ground and drew two light swords from the air around him and crouched slightly to make himself a smaller target. It snuffled but the eyeless creature did not seem to be blind to Beleaguers exact location as its thundering steps drew nearer. Beleaguer growled as he tried to think of this creature’s weakness. It was on the tip of his tongue though he couldn’t quite recall. He could remember that the monster was as strong and durable as a Dragon hatchling but possessed a low human intelligence. It magically spoke and understood all languages as all true demons do. It was blind but could track by scent for miles while tunneling deep in the earth. It had a nose so sharp it could tell the difference between lead and powdered carbon. He could even remember that it preferred to eat the entrails of magical creatures but would eat anything when hungry.
A huge fist came crashing into the ground where Beleaguer was standing, he dodged and rolled under the creature thrusting his blades into its soft underbelly. As he pulled the blades out and smiled the wounds closed and two hands clapped together attempting to squish the flee that was biting. He dodged just in time but felt his ears ring with the bombshell like crack that came from the colliding hands which echoed all around. Beleaguer struck out at the two arms supporting the beast with little effect and it shifted weight to one hand and flicked Beleaguer out of the tree thicket like flicking a booger. Beleaguer spat crimson blood onto the clean white snow as he landed, and the ground thundered as the demon burst out from the tiny grove.
Tongue flapping and all five arms cartwheeling and flinging the Hag-moles’ body forward Beleaguer had little time to react. Boom! The ground split as the Hag-mole punched with its incredible strength. Beleaguer dodged again and again as each of the five arms fired out and split the frozen earth like an egg shell. Strike after strike Beleaguer stabbed the monster only to see the wounds close up. The Hag-mole lunged with four great arms and struck out like a serpent with its head catching the black knight off balance. Beleaguer dodge each of the arms only to be engulfed by the enormous maw of his opponent. There was only one choice in that split second Beleaguer jumped with all his might avoiding the rows of blunt crushing teeth he grabbed hold of the uvula and held on tightly as the teeth crashed down over and over and the creature gagged and howled tilting his head to the sky like a wolf crying to the moon.
Beleaguers’ grip finally slipped, and he dropped down the Hags’ slimy bail filled throat. When Beleaguer finally came to a stop at the bottom of the he’ll ish water slide he was lying in a cavernous black void filled with rank, rotting pools of blood and rotting meet. Standing up and spitting fiercely to eject the contents of the stomach from his mouth he splashed and staggered with the sloshing movements of the monster who was still having a fit. Panicking, he tried to find a high ground to escape the possibly lethal liquid. A great mass of rusting, twisted metal and mountains of rotting corpses filled the space. Porcelain dolls cracked and stained with blood lay intermingled with the mangled mound of bodies. Human, animal, demon… bodies of all kinds were rotting in the belly of this beast and Beleaguer now having his fill of the terror began to climb his way back up the throat. Half way up a great light poured into the tunnel illuminating Beleaguers’ disgusting world briefly. Eyes, teeth, hair, and fingers lay scattered and plastered all about. This was the stuff of true nightmares and as he looked ahead his heart sank once again as the light dimmed and handful after handful of snow and dirt plummeted down the beast’s gullet sweeping him up with it and back down into the hell below.
Lub-Dub… Lub-Dub… Lub-Dub! Beleaguer awoke to the sound of a heartbeat. He was calm in his waking thoughts, quite in the darkness of the world around him. He was comfortably buried in a bed of permafrost and mud. A snug and form fitting bed cradling his aching body encouraging him to return to his dreams. He closed his eyes once again, his head was throbbed from where rocks and bludgeoned him nearly to death. His vision slipped in and out of focus. Like a dream he heard a voice so fermiliar he shouted back out to it. But nothing was there. The voice became louder as he closed his eyes and laid his head back in the blood and mud soaked snow. The cold of the permafrost felt nice. Voiced pulled him into a dream, a memory perhaps he was too weak to tell.
“Hey Jace! My mother would like you to come to dinner this weekend is that okay?” a boy with long, thick braded black hair looked up from a pile of machine parts. He was too pretty to be a boy, he was popular with all the boys because they thought he was a gorgeous, and easy to approach tom boy. The girls all hated him because he had perfect hair and perfect skin, and an amazing figure! The girls that he could get a date from all broke off the relationship once the discovery was made that Jace was in fact… a boy!
“Certainly, let me check with my mom first though. My uncle may have an adventure planned.”
“It must be nice to be… you know, royalty…”
“not really, I’m a prince that can’t get a date. A prince with expectations that I can never live up to… Seriously dude, how could I ever…” he dropped his cleaning rag over the loose parts and sighed. “People are my friends because they fear being on my bad side, they are nice to me because they want something from me… girls that do like me only want to be a princess, not my wife.”
“Isn’t that the same thing?”
“No! I want someone who will love me for me someday, and not for my royal title and blood line.”
“You know Jace, you don’t have to live up to any expectations. You’re a citizen of Skyland with the right to live your own dreams too. I think your mother wants you to dream and build your own legacy, not live up to hers and your uncles.” Jace looked up at his best friend with a mischievous smile.
“Thank you.” He tied a blindfold over his eyes and hit a timer. Clanks and rattles filled the air and three seconds before the buzzer sounded Jace had assembled a sleek, sharp looking energy rifle. “Alright, let’s go have some fun! It’s voluntary sparing day for the boys and the girls are taking the field for ground fighting.” Jace grinned, “It’s time someone does it. Let’s be the first to mix it up with the girls. Next year it’ll be mandatory and then it won’t be fun.” The two boys stripped off their uniforms and strutted down the barracks hallways with every eye on them. Down the grand stairway and out to the training field. Sixty naked girls stood awkwardly in line listening to their commander’s lecture. She too was naked and wielding a razor-sharp combat knife. The girl’s eyes bulged and some giggled while others turned bright red and attempted to hide from view.
“Boys, what are you doing here? You have the day off from the field exercises!” Jace smiled
“Yes ma’am, reporting for voluntary combat training today, all chores and class work are completed Commander!” the boys saluted and waited for their scolding. A scolding never came for them only for the embarrassed girls who scooted away from the two naked boys.
“What the hell is the matter ladies? If caught in the shower will you freeze up and become a victim or will you fight… kill your opponent and hope there is still hot water left after!!?” The training was brutal, full contact battle, grappling, wrestling, and even cutting one another to desensitize the body to the pains of war. The boys laughed as today they had the advantage, soon that would change as these girls would learned to use their wiles and the next few years would be back and forth as the sexes became a united fighting force. Beleaguer smiled, that was the first day Jace had been seen by the girls as a boy, as a powerful warrior. That day, the Commander had given him his name, Beleaguer because of his tendency to strike with a merciless flurry of attacks. His determination to conquer and never be conquered earned him a reputation as a budding Skyland Void Knight. That day… was perfect for the both of them. But what were the names of all his classmates? He couldn’t recall a single one!
To never be conquered, that is Skylands way of life! Beleaguers eyes burst open and with all his might he fought free of his early grave. He remembered being trained to kill demons and practiced hundreds of different methods, he couldn’t remember specifics now, his mind was going, and his training was slipping away! Lub-Dub… he looked around, Lub-Dub… he smiled. Lub-Dub… “That’s it!” he began to fallow the sound placing his ear against the wall of the stomach he listened all around to see where the sound was the loudest. Finding the spot, he smiled and pulled a femur from the knee-high sludge. Chanting he waved his hand over the bone and it turned into a frosty snowy blade.
“There may not be light here, but I’ve always got a sword with me you disgusting slug!” his susurrus voice echoed in the darkness. Blood shot from the wound made as he plunged the sword into the stomach lining and cut from head level to his feet. The wound began to rapidly close so Beleaguer pushed his way through the opening and into a mass of moving slimy snakelike intestines. Crawling his way through the visceral jungle he crept with his eyes and mouth closed and fallowed the beating heart up and up! The Hag-mole roared and Beleaguer laughed then spit violently and regretted opening his mouth. A distant and foggy voice echoed in the halls of Beleaguers memory,
“Many demons and undead can be killed by piercing their heart with bone or wood and removing said heart from their body. After that, remember to always remove the head from the body and burn both separately to prevent it from standing back up.” Beleaguer hopped this was one of those creatures. As he came to the thundering heart encased in a thick flexing bone plate. “Bingo!” The monster rolled and roared in agony gripping its chest before finally exhaling and slumping in silence. It collapsed to the ground and a glistening frosty blade pierced the flesh at the diaphragm and like a zipper, slid down and down until an incision big enough to slip out with a heart had been made. The twitching heart rolled out first as if the beast was giving birth, then the man covered in slime and gore emerged. He muttered, “Hag-moles have no stomach acid, and can’t bite or squish you from the inside.” As if remembering a quote from his favorite play or poem. He removed the head and burned the head and body on opposite ends of the small thicket before returning to chip Julius free from the tree.
Julius looked as though he had just been through the single most traumatic experience of his life. Beleaguer wished he would have let the Hag-mole swallow the kid so he wouldn’t be the only one haunted by what was within the belly. He waved his hand over himself and the boy and sparks shimmered from his hands igniting the filth that covered their bodies. The filth melted off and disappeared in a wisp of green smoke. Only their cloths remained stained,
“Well you wouldn’t happen to have a spell for making new cloths, would you?” Julius inquired and Sir Beleaguer laughed.
“one moment,” He disappeared leaving the skittish boy alone and came back with the black bag given to him by the mysterious demon in the black cloak. Looking through it he found a black business suit in his size, and strangely enough… a set of traveling cloths in Julius’ size. “here…” he tossed Julius the cloths and began changing.
“Where did you…?”
“shut the hell up, put them on! I should death march your stupid, worthless ass through the snow for that shit!” Julius winced at the harshness but did as instructed.
“Sir, thank you for saving me.”
“Do me a favor, don’t speak. At all, it’s all I can do to not hurt you right now!” He growled, and Julius looked down at his gore covered shoes. Beleaguer tossed Julius a set of knee high riding boots in his size and after a brief silence Beleaguer spoke again, “Boy, you know why at fourteen you are allowed to drink, smoke, buy weapons, join the army, and get married?” Julius not speaking still just shrugged and Beleaguer smiled, “Because boy, in this world you can die at any moment, that fact is true even in that big ass city, so called a ‘safe zone’. There is no time for being a child, you either grow the hell up and get strong or you wither and die. Drink, smoke, fight, have sex. Tomorrow you could be dead! In this life, no laws apply other than your own, there is only one rule…live while you can because you will die… soon. This is the beauty and curse of being human, being mortal.” Julius looked shocked and yet somewhat inspired. “Hurry up we have no time boy! We are both in some deep shit!”
Beleaguer felt as if the stress on his mind was eased, with the wrist bracers his memories felt a little clearer even though the fog was still there. He had very little time left, and his new employer had what he needed. There was no time to waste! They cleared the hover jeep off in moments and with no regard for anything at all they punched it and left a snowy rooster tail in their wake as they headed for the nearest outpost town, forty miles away. Because of the plumes of smoke left in the forest they could hear volleys of missiles impact the area they had left behind. Burning down the tree zone Julius sighed in relief as they had made it out before the fireworks. They made it in ten minutes and Beleaguer barely slowed down when he grabbed Julius by the shoulder,
“Boy, Trust me… Go to the dome city, you’ll be safe there for now. Stop being such a pussy you’re plenty old enough so be a man or be a victim!” He handed Julius a gold coin and then tossed Julius out of the moving hover vehicle before Julius could do anything to stop him. Julius was amazed by the almost genuine concern in those icy blue eyes. Julius rolled head over heels again and again until he finally came to a painful stop. The dust settled long before Julius was able to stand again. A mix of agony and motion sick nausea kept him flat against the frozen earth. People within the outpost town looked on with absolutely no concern or surprise as if this sort of thing happened all the time. Julius finally stood up and looked around, people looked shocked and disappointed that he stood up. Most had hoped to loot the body and the unspoken rule of the town was ‘leave the body where it is for a few hours before anyone touches it’ seemed to be how everyone operated. After all, out here you never know if the body is infected with something, or an undead, or cursed. So, it’s far better to play it safe.
“First things first… a hot meal, a hot bath, a warm bed, and tomorrow the city!” Julius limped his way to the closest Inn, indifferent to how rundown and seedy it appeared to be. Julius ate his fill, drank his fill and slept like the dead for the first time in months. A soft bed and full belly do wonders for the soul e thought as he enjoyed the hot water that morning. How he would get to the city now was a mystery, he doubted it would be safe to hitchhike so what options did that leave him?
He looked out of his hotel room window to see a large armored personnel carrier parked at a makeshift bus depo. A crowd of people gathered around the green grey tank which belched black smoke as it idled with its two-foot-thick hatch doors wide open. A sign glowed near a set of benches reading, ‘boarding for City of Resolute, leaving in ten minutes!’ the sign was counting down, now at nine minutes and six seconds. Julius gasped and in a whirlwind of panic threw on his cloths and charged out of the hotel tossing the room key at the sleeping front desk clerk. Who drew a gun and fired at no one in particular spurring Julius to run even faster.
“Have a nice day hope your stay was enjoyable!” The man called out as he stared at a new hole in the ceiling. Julius made no attempt to stop and chat as he was racing time and potential bullets. Racing time and sleepy gunmen through a thick crowded street of rough looking folks he made it to the platform with five minutes to spare. Panting he whipped away sweat from his brow and stepped onto the threshold of the APC. A grizzly looking driver in a bullet proof glass box sat puffing a glowing stick of liquid that reminded him of an ancient thing called a lava lamp, which he had seen in a museum dedicated to something known as the peace movement of the consortium in the year 360 A.A. The item billowed a thick white smoke and the driver glared at Julius,
“D’ya got business with us today little urchin or are ya juss gunna block the walk way?”
“Oh, uhm sorry I need to go to Resolute today…” Julius was nervous he had never traveled in something like this before and felt somewhat out of place her among all the vagabond types.
“Well at least ya aint stupid, this is the safest way there kid. Sixty creds and ya got a real safe ride!” The now sales man of a driver smiled and pointed to a center console with a cred chip scanner and a coin slot. Julius rummaged through his pockets and pulled out a hand full of silver coins from the gold he broke earlier. He slid in one silver coin and the machine buzzed for a moment like a wood chipper before speaking.
“Thank you for your payment, this… one ounce 99.29% pure silver is… acceptable. Please scan your cred chip for the remainder.” Julius looked puzzled,
“I haven’t a cred chip can’t you give me hard currency instead?” He looked to the bus driver for help. But before the man could speak the machine did,
“I apologize for the inconvenience valued customer, for a small fee you may purchase a fresh cred chip from this unit and the remainder shall be transferred automatically. Would you like the medical cred-chip installed in one of your hands or would you like the pocket chip?” Julius nodded,
“Okay, the pocket cred-chip will be fine.” Before he knew it, a small chip was produced as the machine stated that the transaction was now completed. He removed the brand-new chip and placed it in a pocket. The driver pointed behind him to the available seats not yet filled. The driver shouted out all aboard as Julius shuffled into the dark metal cave. As Julius maneuvered he caught the scent of perfume, sweet, crisp, and refreshing like the scent of rain in a field of spring flowers. It was beautiful and completely out of place in a tank that ordinarily should reek with body odder. Julius found the seat with the strongest lingering scent, it was comforting, and the embrace of aroma made him feel less edgy. When the last of the passengers had been ushered in the doors hissed closed as the hydraulics worked hard to latch the heavy doors shut. The driver gave the engine some juice and the cab light up and suddenly everyone was looking out of bright sunny fiber optic windows. Even the ceiling was rigged to act like sky lights, so the passengers could view the beautiful blue sky. As they left the small town they were joined by three flying suits of hunter class power armor. They kept formation as they gracefully escorted the APC, darting and rolling as if celebrating the ultimate freedom of a joyful song bird. Julius only wished that he could feel the same way about heading back to the city that betrayed him.
It wasn’t long before the great dome came into view, the air around the city was swarming and buzzing with aircraft of all kinds. 90% of which were military craft on patrol. Julius held his breath afraid of what was to come. The ride was brief and nerve racking, Julius crumpled and spun the loose fabric of his shirt into knots trying to keep his mind off everything. Why did Sir Beleaguer tell him to return to the city? What was awaiting him now? Could Sir Beleaguer be trusted? Julius jumped as he was pulled from his nervous reverie by the sound of radio chatter, military escort had joined theirs and was bringing them in. A dozen gleaming power armor units joined them they were vastly more sophisticated than the mercenary’s older model escort power armor.