*Sarah Update: Sorry if I worried you being so late. I am okay, only following a program of trying to bore the sickness away. So I slept very late. Definitely getting test tomorrow, since not fully cleared up. I suspect I need to change our sheets and towels, except that — of course — our washer is not working in any sense of the word. So we need to go and buy another one, which means a lot of time, and me being out of the house and around people. So, we were trying to put it off. Sigh.
ALSO, and this is said affectionately, please, please, please, stop being nutters about me dying of this. It’s possible of course, but given my health and the fun surprises it throws, I could also die of anything, including being perfectly well. I am probably not going to die right now, and I’m being very, very careful, because I know my body’s eternal quest to kill me. It’s been at this for nearly sixty years. Take heart. I’m not going quietly when I go. – SAH*
If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com. If you feel a need to re-promo the same book do so no more than once every six months (unless you’re me or my relative. Deal.) One book per author per week. Amazon links only. Oh, yeah, by clicking through and buying (anything, actually) through one of the links below, you will at no cost to you be giving a portion of your purchase to support ATH through our associates number. A COMMISSION IS EARNED FROM EACH PURCHASE.
*Note that I haven’t read most of these books (my reading is eclectic and “craving led”,) and apply the usual cautions to buying. – SAH*
FROM SARAH A. Hoyt: Darkship Renegades
A crisis can stress the best of systems. Eden, a secret colony created by a people who accept no ruler and now laws, finds its energy supply blocked by Earth. Which allows a would-be savior
to rise to power. In this science fiction adventure, between two worlds,can Athena Hera Sinistra, Earth expatriate, and her husband Kit find the long-lost tech that will allow Eden to be free once more?
And can they do so while fighting one of the ancient rulers of Earth who threatens to kill Kit by high-tech biological means?
As they battle hostile forces with the help of unreliable allies, only one thing is certain: Kit and Thena will fight every power, risk every danger and counter any attack in order to return to Eden and freedom.
Okay, so it’s way better than I thought when I was coming down with whatever this is. It’s still two novels brought together at speed, but partly, I think it needed to be to accomplish its task in the series. I did somewhat (not markedly) revise the beginning and the end, for clarity and voice.
FROM PAM UPHOFF: Destiny
Everyone has high expectations for the daughter of Dr. Quail Quicksilver. Destiny wishes they would just leave her alone.
When her own Mother can’t stop agonizing over her delayed magical abilities . . . Destiny’s had all she can take and runs off to get thoroughly lost in her Uncle Xen’s interdimensional spy web. Unfortunately, by the time she stops to check where she’s gotten to . . . she’s deep into enemy territory and there’s a Cyborg Policeman reaching for her . . .
University student Roly was just heading home for the weekend when an oddly dressed girl came careening around the corner . . . and how can any red-blooded Intel Agent on an educational leave-of-absence resists such an obvious Damsel-in-distress?
A novella length tale of two people who ought to be enemies, but opt for friendship.
FROM LAURA MONTGOMERY: His Terrible Stall: A Science Fiction Lost Colony Adventure
On a lost and stranded colony world, with his brother’s family at risk, Peter Dawe will do what he must to protect them
A lost starship’s settlers turn one valley on an alien planet into a terraformed replica of Earth. The rest of the planet offers only hardship and madness. Despite the oasis First Landing provides, the ship’s crew fled decades earlier with their fabricators, spacecraft, and knowledge when those controlling the valley threatened their freedoms.
The ship’s crew founded a separate colony on the southern plains. From there they spied on their former passengers, always fearful that the richer valley would come to take what they had. Even after a generation, the loathing persists.
FROM KAREN MYERS: Second Sight: A Science Fiction Short Story
BORROWING SOMEONE ELSE’S PERCEPTIONS FOR A POPULAR DEVICE CAN ONLY MEAN COMMERCIAL SUCCESS. RIGHT?
Samar Dix, the inventor of the popular DixOcular replacement eyes with their numerous enhancements, has run out of ideas and needs another hit. Engaging a visionary painter to create the first in a series of Artist models promises to yield an entirely new way of looking at his world.
But looking through another’s eyes isn’t quite as simple as he thinks, and no amount of tweaking will yield entirely predictable, or safe, results.
FROM CEDAR SANDERSON: Fantasy Treehouse Art & Architecture
What would you do, if a sketchbook from another world showed up on your doorstep? The pages of this book are filled with wonder, curious houses, and ideas for design that are truly unreal!
Contains more than 50 sketches of treehouses, with highly detailed renderings of their architecture. Marginalia gives hints of the world surrounding the houses, from inhabitants to the peculiar flora, fauna, and fungus. Meant to inspire creativity and influence designers.
FROM J.M.NEY-GRIMM: Faerie Tithe
Enthralled by her beauty, he loves his lady beyond all else…
Erceldoune lives with no memory of his past and no awareness of his lack. He lives in bliss because he lives in Faerie.
But one morning he awakens uneasy and chooses not to break his fast, leaving the peach nectar and almond cakes untouched. As his disquiet grows, he suppresses his discomfort and beats down his mistrust of his lady. Her goodness rivals her loveliness—she deserves all his faith.
But does she?
Unless Erceldoune embraces his doubts, he’ll never reclaim his stolen memory, history, or self—losing his very soul.
Faerie Tithe pits Faerie’s deathly perfection against mortality’s lifegiving flaws. If you enjoy stories that draw you in, heroes you long to see prevail, and worlds so vivid you feel like you’re there, you’ll love J.M. Ney-Grimm’s twist on Thomas the Rhymer.
FROM D. A. BROCK: The Lone Star, the Tricolor, and the Swastika: Republic of Texas Navy Book 2
The war that the Western nations have long dreaded has erupted in Europe. After the conquest of western Poland by Germany, the war on land settles into the so-called ‘Phony War’.
But the war at sea is anything but phony. Especially when the French Government accuses the Republic of Texas of providing aid to Germany. The tension escalates, and Hitler fans the flames for his own nefarious purposes.
After a devastating sneak attack, Commodore Karl von Stahlberg is thrust into command of the Texas battle fleet. Can he defend Texas against the enemy’s onslaught, or will Texas be defeated?
FROM KENNETH BENNIGHT: The Truth Shall Make You Dead: A Nacho Perez Detective Story
Nacho Perez, a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant turned private eye, confronts a corrupt political machine in a rural Texas county. They kill his primary witness. He continues, so they kill others who cooperate. Nacho is undeterred, so they try to kill him. When he survives, they try for his daughter. Then they come to understand the admonition: no better friend, no worse enemy.
FROM C. CHANCY: Seeds of Blood
Welcome to Intrepid. Where Halloween brings tourists, turning leaves – and demons.
Over two decades of bloody murder, Steven Savonarola carved a sorcerous Demongate into the heart of his own hometown. With less than two weeks to disarm it before Halloween, Detective Church and the IPD are running out of time.
Lucky for them, they have an edge: Myrrh, a hell-raider with over a thousand years’ experience shattering dark magic, and Aidan, a half-demon fire mage with a very personal grudge against evil.
The plan is simple: Find the tainted sites. Purify them. Try not to die.
They’ll need all the help they can get. Steven may be gone, but shadows in the mountains are determined to see the Demongate open – even if they have to slaughter half the city to do it. And when it comes to killing shadows, even hell-raiders don’t know everything.
If they’re going to make it to All Saint’s Day, they’re going to need hot lead, cold mead, and a weapon that’s out of this world.
And a little praying wouldn’t hurt….
Welcome to Intrepid. It’s a hell of a Halloween.
Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike.
So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.
We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.
If you have questions, feel free to ask.
Your writing prompt this week is: AFRAID.
35 thoughts on “Book Promo And Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike”
I’m afraid that I can’t think of a vignette to post right now.
Oh, D. A. Brock’s book is VERY VERY GOOD!
Thank you, I’m glad you liked it.
The school’s Games Night fundraiser had commenced. Jane Waite had put the word out among her bridge club and, with a lot of help from her best friend Luie, the event appeared to be a success. Tickets had sold well and Jane had brought her fallback deviled eggs to the refreshment table (“it doesn’t all have to be desserts”, she had argued). Glancing down the table she noted a bowl containing a bright-orange substance she could not identify.
“What on earth is that?” she muttered to Luie.
“Barbara brought it. It’s Dry Jello salad. It has cottage cheese in it.”
Looking closer, Jane could identify mandarin orange segments and a strong whiff of orange aroma. She glanced up and, before she could comment, realized Barbara Gurning was standing on the other side of the table, beaming at her: “It’s a family tradition for us. We have this every Thanksgiving! I think you’ll like it.”
Knowing she had no choice, Jane smiled and took two plates, passing one to her friend. “Here you go!” Ignoring Luie’s glare, she scooped some of the orange mass onto each plate. “Eat it,” she muttered.
“You first. I’m afraid.”
As Jane looked around for the nearest trash can, Dr. Anderson paused next to them. “It really isn’t that bad,” the principal muttered. “She brings this to every potluck. You’ll get used to it.”
Heroically, Luie took a bite.
(If you really want to know: https://www.food.com/recipe/dry-jell-o-salad-jello-cottage-cheese-fruit-salad-95290 )
I LOVE jello salad!
Our recipe is one container cottage cheese, one container (so two, three times as much whipped topping as the linked recipe) whipped topping, one pack sweetened fruit flavored jello and complementing fruits to your taste.
Usually it’s oranges, yes, but strawberry is also rather nice.
Frequently, it’s the first dessert to vanish, unless someone brought something like a single pie.
Then I’ll give it a try some time. I just could not resist the humor of a frightening dessert.
And you did a good job of it! I was just startled to recognize it!, and I can remember having trouble getting over the texture of cottage cheese.
(The power of sugar is amazing, I still have trouble with it in any other context– just something about the texture of the curds.)
Works all the better because it really does look horrible if you aren’t familiar with it and get a plop on your plate, and I suspect it came out of the days when women would “diet” by eating cottage cheese and lettuce leaves.
“I know Toccata and Fugue in D minor is cliché for ‘spooky’ and we can all play it. But… sometimes when you play it, it really creeps me out. And sometimes then The Door opens. Only when it’s really creepy, never when it’s not. And only sometimes then. Level with me, what gives?”
“You and everyone else, and I, myself most of the time, keep to normal range notes.”
“And… sometimes, somehow, you play abnormal range notes?”
“Yes. I won’t give away the sequence, but The Door is open by a subsonic key.”
When I did a haunted House in a college music building, I tossed in “Picardy” but used some very odd stops (2 2/3, 11/3 , Nazard, Tirces, that sort of thing) and creeped the had of security Right Out. Bugged him a LOT more than did “Toccata and Fugue.”
He did a huge double-take when I pointed out that it was an Advent hymn. It’s all in how you register the organ . . .
Most people find organ music sufficient.
William the Conjurer, scourge of the spaceways subdued the Gordians. Asked how he passed the densely tangled Gordian planetary defense web he answered; “No problem, I had Big Alex check it out. He found it was old, dilapidated, worn and that it’s exceedingly easy to cut through a frayed knot.”
“Load the launcher with Constant Acceleration Rope-net Penetrators!”
“I’m afraid those CARP have been depleted, Sir.”
I was struggling mightily not to use the frayed knot story. Good variant, though.
She smiled sleepily over at his teammate from the shelter of his arms. “He’s strange like you. Not like anyone else I’ve ever met before. You don’t quit, or run away. Even when you’re scared.”
“I am not scared!” Andris protested. “Do I look like I’m shaking in my boots? Ooh, if I was, can I borrow your big stuffie bear there, and ask him to hold me?”
Arkady gave that the gesture it deserved. “Too late! You lost out on your chance to be the little spoon!”
As the jibes flew, he watched the light dawn on Mika’s face as she caught up on what they were talking about, and the blush deepen from pink to deep red. This was good; if his little touch empath was getting embarrassed, then she wasn’t locked down in fear of what they were driving toward.
Of course Andris was scared; they all were. Only the rawest recruit with no clue wasn’t scared when riding into a battlespace. Under all the jokes, the bravado, it was there. At this point in his career, Arkady wasn’t scared of dying anymore; those who let that fear get to them rotated out to support roles. No, he figured he was a dead man walking, and somewhere out there, fate had a bullet with his name on it. There was no point in worrying; his job was to fight well until that day came. He was scared of screwing up, of letting his teammates down, of possibly getting one of them killed by what he did or failed to do.
They were driving toward a battle humanity had lost. EMP didn’t penetrate underground, and they were very likely to meet biobugs and possibly worse down in the dark. He knew it, as did every man here. Mika… he didn’t know what she thought. When they survived this, he’d just have to spend the time talking it out, and using touch for mute comfort.
Ava swallowed. She had come to do this. She had known since before she could remember that she would do this. It was her purpose in life and the reason why she lived so fine a life.
There was no reason for her to fear it. Or even be unnerved.
The mongrel stared at the two children with a sickening leer. Young Nigel stood in front of Lily, torn between protecting her and running away. Suddenly, Nigel heard “WOW! WowowowowoWOW!” Whining, the mongrel ran off.
Nigel turned, and found Lily grinning calmly. “Part of your software?” he asked.
The rebellion was over. The last base had held out for a whole standard year until starvation and disease forced its surrender.
Their leader was brought before the Omniarch himself. The tyrant’s antennae flexed angrily and his three purple eyes glared at the defiant mien of his prisoner.
“Well!” he gurgled. “Have you anything to say, witling, before evisceration?”
“Yes. You’d never have defeated us without the aid of quislings like him,” said the prisoner, gesturing at Colonel Lackminster, prominent in the Omniarch’s entourage. “Someday your pet will turn and rend you. Don’t you realize than humans are dangerous?”
“Him?” The tyrant’s laugh was like water going down a hundred drains. “He’s a tool, nothing more. I can dispose of him as easily as I dispose of the cloths I use to clean my orifices. Take away the prisoner!”
The rebel leader saw the look that Lackminster gave the Omniarch. “Be afraid!” he cried as he was led away. “Be very afraid!”
The fuse had been lit. The Omniarch was doomed.
I’m afraid of everything. No reason for it (by the grace of God beat cancer twice, divorce/remarriage, multiple layoffs, and so on); but my faith is still smaller than a grain of mustard seed. Still, I know better, so it’s time I start walking the talk.
Best non-canon ending for a film based on John Carpenter’s body of work:
He felt oddly thirsty.
For a moment, he thought there was something in the air of the bed chamber, or perhaps something he had eaten, but he told himself that he was being a fool. Thirst did not require him to be ill, and illness was commonplace as a cause.
“I am probably not going to die right now …”
Sounds a little like Esmerelda Weatherwax, but with better grammar. In any case, I’m glad to see you’re feeling a little better.
My pet bug this year has been the All Summer and Part of the Fall Sinus Infection. Nasty thing: made me dizzy and limited my driving. Consulted ENT doc about it. Surgery is indicated. I’m looking forward to it.
“Then that dog ran off,” boasted young Nigel, “and Lily wasn’t even scared!”
“Of course not,” said Father. “She’s not designed for fear.”
“But she –”
“Not a ‘she,’” corrected Father. “Lily is a Howland Technologies Y8T10F.”
Which Nigel knew, of course, but it was hard to think that way.
“I’m afraid that’s all the information we’ve been able to collect.” Detective Sargent Orbach sighed as he closed the thin manila folder. “I’m going to give you a copy of everything we’ve collected concerning your husband’s murder in case you’re inclined to seek Private justice, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope. The inhabitants of Mirabon aren’t predisposed to cooperate.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” said the youngest. “The king is not sending away his son because he freed a prisoner, or because their wicked stepmother tricked him. It’s not like any of them need to go away, except that they love their father and want to save him.”
No, thought Rose, coldly, serenely, as if the words were very distant from her, she was going to marry not the dragon, but the dragon slayer. After her father’s chicanery, it was hard for her to forget that the dragon slayer had to be the more dangerous of the two.
I finished looking through the notes, and thought. “I am going to ask you to engage your imagination, sir. First item-do not think of this as a criminal investigation, think of this as a story. A bad BBC 3 story, but still a dramatic story,” I started as Blake looked at me. He nodded, and I continued. “Second, ignore the supernatural. Third, once you have that, this is my theory.”
I closed his notebook and put it on the table. “Linda Redding is the mousy, forgotten sister. Her older sister Kristen is the golden child, the one that always succeeds at everything. There are bad feelings on both sides, but they are still family, they love each other.” I took a deep breath and continued my thoughts. “One day, they go out on the bay, Linda is easily sea-sick, so she stays behind on the shore. Something happens to the ship, and Norton dies in the accident. Kristen is hurt and unconscious. Maybe by accident, people thought Linda was Kristen, and it just…snowballed from there. Into tragedy, not comedy I am afraid.”
Elaine insisted she hadn’t had time to be afraid, that everything had happened so fast that it was only after Spartan had carried her to safety that she realized just how dangerous the situation really had been. But as persistent nightmares disrupted her sleep, the Institute trainers had insisted on a full hypnotic regression. It turned out the truth was quite a bit more complex than her recollections would have it.
Marcus felt colder than ever. Master Stephanos had started casting spells as soon as he told Marcus to run. If Master Stephanos had done nothing against them, they were stronger than he could even imagine.
No one ran where he could see them, again. Soon, no one shouted any more.
“All is well,” said the chancellor heartily. “Little Dawn is settled in her home and answering to her name as docilely as if she had always borne it. There is nothing to fear.”
The chamberlain scowled. “Does she answer to Gloriana still?”
The chancellor raised an eyebrow. “Do you wish to go and call her that?”
Do Not Do That! [Crazy Grin]
Actually they, unbeknownst to them, between a rock and a hard place. For now, calling her that name would get them in trouble for questioning her lowered status. It will be nearly two decades before her lower status is a problem, at which she will serenely point out several things that confirm it.
The chant rang through the glade as the coven reached the climax of the ritual. They had the power to summon the demon. Whether they could control it afterwards was a different question. Either way, Father Michael would ensure it would be cast back into the abyss before it did any damage. He tensed himself, ready to step into the clearing and call down God’s censure on them for this attempt.
Father Michael’s eyes widened briefly as he saw luminous beings appear next to him, their skin the color of burnished bronze. dressed in white robes and carrying swords like five foot tongues of fire. The one to his right looked at him. “Be not afraid, Father. We are here to help.”
In a Perfect World there would be no need for prisons, or police, or effective prosecutors, or drug laws, or border security, or guns, or icky oil wells, or polluting cars with infernal combustion engines, and of course nobody would ever, ever disagree with the Left; therefore, simply eliminating all of those horrible things will make the world Perfect!
I’m afraid the Leftroids will never understand why their plans don’t work.
“You missed a…” (most embarrassingly, her voice faded out for a moment) “…spot.” Yekaterina pointed, vaguely but vigorously, to her own forehead at about the right place. “Blood or… other stuff.”
And Ivan Kuznetsov, sandy-haired guy right out of some pre-War recruiting poster for the Red Army, touched the ‘spot’ with a finger, verified its color in the dim light of the bouncing military truck, then reached down for the rag in its tin bucket half-full of well-used water, and wiped the blood and (brain?) matter easily away. “Thank you, Gospazha Dzhugashvili.” With something remarkably like a grin. (After going almost hand-to-hand with a clot of Other Ones, risen dead from out of some horrible old-timey peasant tale, there he was now, sitting not a meter from her, at ease and smiling.) “And I mean, for more than just that little thing.”
She couldn’t believe it, and yet she could. Second-in-command, more or less, of what was left of the whole Union from days of old. Even briefly and recently first in command, actually; the “Tsarina’s regent” a few had (softly and most judiciously in known company) called him, while Anya Petrov had been out of commission until that axe wound to her head had healed, more or less. Minus an eye and plus a truly remarkable scar that she half-hid behind a black eyepatch, now, “back in the saddle again.”
On paper, and according to their ‘government’ still hiding out from the zombie-vampires and the Vampire Plague in their cozy deep atomic-powered bunkers, they had no authority at all. In everyone else’s reality…
What was it the Americans said? “In this war you lead from the front or not at all, because if you don’t no one follows you.” And how very much like them, to say right out loud what no-one else ever needed to?
But what could she, here and now, say back to him? “I’m not the one who did the real work, Coordinator Kuznetsov. I only happened to stumble over a stray thread out of the huge tapestry. And that masterwork will forever belong to its truly inspired weaver, not to me.”
Who’d have imagined there might be a way to make light itself a weapon; not just burning magnesium or bluish arclight to stand in for the searing light of the sun, but hundreds and thousands of times more effective? Abigail Gentian, may the hosts of Heaven receive her, had done that and far more. Had, most significantly, made the leap from her own bio-physics work all the way to a grand plan to use it to win the Great War itself.
(Almost insane even to think of winning, now after years and decades of fighting to exhaustion, for longer than she’d been alive. But, dare to be mad enough to try, or else be resigned to fighting the Others forever.)
All Yekaterina had done was find the same thing, a very particular color of deep-violet light that had… a disproportionate impact on the Others, the revenants, the infected and risen dead. (And almost, almost, talked about it too much and too freely to become a security risk to the whole effort, herself, without even knowing it existed. Such things were told to her, once in a while growing up, about the Great Patriotic War with the Germans. But few indeed called it that, now; this war made it small in comparison, no matter how many millions of Russians had died.)
Her hand moved almost of itself, over the (now over an hour gone) splotch of arterial red from one of the Others, that had covered her cheek and a lot of her neck. Full, to a near-certainty, of Vampire Plague bacteria; yet she’d not been horrified, she’d been too busy shooting, and setting off the “Purple Twilight” device in its field test, covering for some of the more overtly military people to capture and cage some of the less, ah, degenerated Others for later tests in the lab. (Too busy to be afraid at the time, really; and of course the Scarlatti-Markham retrovirus made it almost impossible for her to catch the Plague. Still…) She let herself relax enough, again, to lean back against the rough canvas seat.
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales… It’d been her own idea, that threadbare fig-leaf of a cover name, but it had been approved. Possibly simply because of that old English poem?
“Still a little nervous you’re going to become one of Them, Katya? Not to worry, Signore Scarlatti and Lieutenant Markham did their work well.” It was obvious enough, she figured. The gesture, that she made, touching the terrifying contact of blood, or its ghost. That he never did, somehow.
They — Anya Petrov and Ivan and some others — rarely called Elisabeth by Lieutenant Markham, her former rank in the American Army Medical Corps. As every once in a long while, they’d call Anya ‘Academician Petrova’ by her most-precocious title from back in the old, old lovely bygone days, before (as the old-timers often said) any of us really knew how much we’d had.
“I know, ah, ah, Ivan.” (It still felt madly disrespectful, to return the courtesy of a first name for a nickname. As if one had one’s own strange little nickname for one of the Trinity; yes, and straight from that One, but still…) “Remember I’ve seen the data, for a long time now, biologist or our best decent modern-day counterfeit. Still doesn’t give one, ah, total faith all the way, from the intellectual down to the messy real.”
But she found the courage, perhaps half after-action exhaustion too, to just simply… ask. “So how do you do it, Ivan? If it’s not some kind of lese-majeste, or something… how do you just go on through everything as if nothing much has happened, nothing much is happening right now? As if something gives you the purest faith, despite?”
And he smiled, his smile, again. “I’ve seen so much, Katya, and it’s not been easy all the time… but what’s the better way? Once I read how some interviewer asked a Buddhist how we live in a world of impermanence — it was way back before the Plague — and he showed the reporter the glass he was drinking out of. ‘In my mind, this glass here is already broken. See how well it holds my water, how it even catches the light sometimes, but some day, the wind will blow or the earth will shake or my hand will slip, and it will fall and break. So knowing that, resting in that, I can value and enjoy it now all the more.’ I’m not anyone’s Buddhist, of course, and these are very different days. But hopefully you’ll understand.”
He leaned back in his own seat and half-closed his eyes.
“And also it’s something happened to me while Anya was… hurt. A dream I had, believe it or not. We were both older, and laughing in the sun, and there were other things, about that scene, I should not share. But it was clear that the War was over and that we, all the true humans, had not lost.
“Now maybe this dream will come true one day, and that will be magical. And maybe it never will; maybe I will die before the War is won, so I’ll not know as a living man whether or when we did. But even so, it gives me something to return to, a future to look to instead of a past.”
And he smiled again and opened his eyes. “Besides, Katya, remember, there are angels on our side.” And he pointed up, moving his index finger as if he were tracking something moving swiftly across the sky.
And she understood, what he’d told her before. Mir Defyants, or at least some of the satellites they kept up and in touch with. Russlish for Fort Defiance, The Cosmos. A literal eye in the sky, true-humans to a one, watching out for them tonight, their task force and convoy, specifically.
And he half-closed his eyes, again. Calm and still, almost serene.
In half an hour, they’d be at the railhead and airstrip. Headed home, work done with few casulaties, something-like-safe again at last.
Perhaps she could follow his example. In sleep, and maybe other things?
(Based one some pre-existing charcters and setting; and ultimately inspired by a certain Richard Matheson story too…)
“Hudson! Salinas!” said Carrington.
“Just a sec, sarge,” said Hudson, not looking up.
Salinas went over to the table of computer equipment that Hudson called his “place” and elbowed him. “Huh?” said Hudson, then, “Right. Sorry.” And turned away from his table.
TSgt Carrington thought it would be nice if Spec3 Hudson, the ranking computer geek in his squad, just gave him his attention immediately, but he always harbored a fear that forcing an interruption might lead to something important crashing or being corrupted. Especially when he was madly typing, as he had been just then.
The full moon hung low over the valley, gleaming bright as polished bone. Beneath the foggy mists below the long day and night of debauchery, torture, and death had come to an end hours ago. Gnawed bone lay scattered about with a few scraps of rotting flesh here and there hidden under a carpet of buzzing flies.
A bit of color caught the eye of Galbruzel the Fat as he lazed upon a rocky outcrop- a pale blue rag, ripped from some article of clothing. Part of a dress, perhaps? A man’s shirt? He could not recall, and it did not matter.
They’d drunk deep on the suffering of a village that day and night. Every last degradation, humiliation, suffering, and surrender that he could fathom they’d wrenched from the surviving townsfolk fed the well of power he could feel growing in every imp, goblin, and demonkin below. He could feel it in himself, as well.
Soon they would descend to new depths of might. A single village? His horde would sweep across the surface of the land, consuming all before him! He would-
A sound broke Galbruzel’s visions of conquest. Something was approaching the valley through the trees. He concentrated, his large ears focused on the sound of heavy footsteps coming nearer.
They were not subtle, these heavy footfalls. They pounded the earth, arrogantly smashing through underbrush and plowing through branches and tree limbs. A troll perhaps? Or even a young ogre come to join his band? Galbruzel’s greed conjured visions of an army of demonspawn under his sole command, crushing his foes.
A glimpse of metal through the trees was enough to quench that dream. Shiny metal meant manfolk.
Quickly, Galbruzel kicked a nearby imp awake. It bared its teeth instinctively at him before cowering away- imps knew their place in his horde. He whispered to it briefly, pointing out a handful of goblins that still slept amidst the corpses and the flies below.
An ambush would take care of this would-be hero.
Goblins excelled at stealthy attacks. They would sneak close to the trail, hiding in the underbrush. As the victim passed by they would slice his knees, bringing him low and stopping those wretched footsteps. Then what?
Maybe they’d slice a few more tendons, disarm him, bring him back to camp for a bit more fun.
No, better they just killed the fool. The horde was mighty, but they fought best from the shadows. They weren’t ready to face a prepared foe, not yet. Best to slink away into the shadows, find another unsuspecting village, reap another harvest of suffering to grow their power…
A scuffle-thump followed by a sharp scream, then a thunk. The sound of blood splattering on dirt. Scratch one foo-
The sound of heavy footsteps sounded once again.
Galbruzel shook another three imps awake and sent them down to wake the horde. It was only one set of footsteps. The intruder seemed to have some skill, to spot the goblin ambush and slay them before they could strike. But one man against his horde?
There were dozens of imps, a score or more of goblins left, and several handfuls of various other demonkin besides. Enough to slay any mortal man. And with their recent growth in power, this fool would-
Galbruzel’s thoughts stilled as the owner of those heavy footsteps crashed through the underbrush and into the moonlit clearing.
Heavy plated boots stood below legs as thick as tree trunks. His chest was wrapped in a heavy mail coat and as big around as a wine barrel, at least. His shoulders as broad as an ox, with arms as thick as most men’s legs and hands even bigger around than Galbruzel’s own large head.
In the man’s hand was a long shaft with a spearpoint at the end and an axe head just below. A halberd. Beyond that heavy weapon he also had a heavy mace on one hip and a short hafted warhammer on the other, sized for those large hands.
Galbruzel swallowed, no longer quite as sure of the horde’s superiority.
The man continued forward. The spearhead stabbed out in a flash of bright steel, piercing a goblin’s skull at a seemingly impossible distance. Quick as thought it flickered out twice more. Two more of his precious horde fell, dead before their corpses struck the earth.
“Swarm him! Get in close and his weapon is useless you fools!”
From atop his rock and now carefully hidden from easy view Galbruzel continued to exhort them to greater efforts. The horde did indeed manage to close on their foe, a dying demonkin weighting down the polearm for a critical second.
This did not prove to be the boon they hoped, however.
With a speed that belied his great size, the man dropped the halberd and swept out his mace and hammer in a flash. Then he began smashing his way through the assembled horde even faster than he had slain them before!
The hammer seemed to not even slow as it crushed skulls and pulverized rib cages. The spiked mace crunched through a demonkin and flung the corpse into a knot of goblins, bowling them over. An imp slipped through the flying weapons and tried to bite into the man’s leg.
The armored man simply stomped down on the imp, crushing its body into paste.
Galbruzel did not stay to watch the destruction of the last few members of his horde. They were already dead, whether they knew it or not. A few stray baubles and bits of gold has come into his greedy hands along with the surviving villagers. He snatched these up as he fled over the hills and into the forest beyond.
The sound of stomping footsteps seemed to follow him as he ran, his heart slamming in his chest.
On the morning of the fourth day after the massacre in the valley Galbrezu was spent. He’d run and he’d rested, only to jolt awake as the sound of pounding footsteps awoke him. He did not know whether they were real or imagined any more.
His legs felt like leaden weights and his chest shuddered with every breath. He crashed to the earth several times, only to scramble back up and flee again as soon as his senses returned, only to fall again moments later.
Galbrezu stumbled on, only to realize that his feet would no longer carry him. He crawled. When even that stopped working, he lay back, sobbing in exertion.
The large man was there, stomping down the hillside. In a blink he appeared, far closer. Almost on top of Galbruzel.
“Wait! Don’t kill me! I can-”
What? Something told him that the few baubles in his pouch- where was his pouch? Even if he still had it, that it would not matter. What could sway this apparition of violence?
“-tell you where there are others! Other demonkin like me? That’s what you want right? Just let me live! Just-”
A burning sensation came from his legs. It was the first feeling he’d had from them in a while, they’d become numb-
Galbruzel looked down to see the stumps at the end of his thighs dribbling blood into the dirt. There would be no running anymore, not for Galbruzel.
With a dull and toneless voice, Galbruzel the Fat told of an enclave of demonkin in the North, the place he had been born. He spoke of the mighty army that would soon sweep across the Northern kingdoms in fire and slaughter, the massive blood ogres and thorn trolls that would break armies and shatter walls, of the vile demon knight that led them all.
Galbruzel did not notice his death as his heart finally stilled, his mind broken with fear long before.
He did not hear the sound of pounding footsteps as the nameless warrior turned to the North and strode away, his tireless gait pounding the earth like a war drum to herald the coming of the scourge of all demonkin and slayer of evil!
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