I was saddened to learn this morning that author Aaron Allston passed away yesterday. He was to be the guest of honor at Visioncon in Branson, MO. While in the airport he collapsed. The cause of death was heart failure. He was 53.
I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Aaron several times at conventions, most notably Origins in Columbus, Oh. He was one of three Star Wars authors that would be sitting at a table over in authors' alley. Him, Michael A. Stackpole, and Timmothy Zahn formed their own kind of trilogy. Aaron was always pleasant to talk with and friendly to his fans. I attended several of his lectures on writing. They were fun and educational. The mark of a man that knows his craft and is enthused about it.
I knew him before the conventions because of his writing though. I loved several of his Star Wars novels. He was one of the writers in the X-Wing series. Starfighters of Adumar was a favorite of mine for both its adventure and comedy. He also did work on some Dungeons and Dragons books. While those were before I got into the game, his influence can still be felt.
I learned a lot from reading his work and attending his seminars. At Origins 2013 I also bought a book a book from him on plotting. It is a good book and has some interesting exercises. I will be trying some of the exercises and posting them here. That is my tribute to his legacy. So look forward to some of those soon.
Aaron Allston will be missed. He has left wonderful works to remember him by though.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Fland let the dice roll across the table. They danced about, crashing into each other and the surrounding tankards. One came up with five pips, and the other with four. “Nine means I win this round boys,” Fland said with a big smile as he collected the small pile of coppers from the grumbling men.
They had been playing the game for well over an hour with the flow of luck sliding from one man to the other. Most of the men were only up or down a few coppers from what they had started until Fland hit a streak of good rolls.
Fland was a young man of twenty-six summers. His chestnut hair was kept somewhat shaggy and gave him a carefree air. His skin was weathered from days spent deep in the wilderness. Stubble spread along his face, a few days had past since he last shaved. He wore hardened leather breastplate with leather pauldrons and cuisse to protect his shoulders and thighs. Hanging from his belt were a pair of elven light maces. The slender, but sturdy shafts were topped with flanged heads smaller than a man’s fist.
As the men started to ante up for the next round, Fland turned towards the far corner of the room where his companion sat reading a small tome. “Hey, Elarr! How about you jump in and up the ante. I’d like to win a few silver to add some shine to all of this copper.”
Elarr had flowing raven hair that ran down past his shoulders. His long, pointed ears were the only break in the flow of his locks. While he had the fine, handsome features possessed by all elves, his expression seemed to naturally settle into a grim countenance. He wore a long, loose tunic of elven make. It was sky blue except for the light green trim. Arcane sigils sewn in gold circled the cuffs and collar. Resting beside him was a short walking stick made of crystal. It was topped with a multifaceted sphere at the top and tapered to a point at the end.
The elf marked his page with his index finger as he looked up with disdain in his eyes. “If you wish to toss away your coin gambling, that is your own mistake. I will not waste my time with such plebeian vices.” With that he turned back to his reading.
“What he means, fellows, is that he is afraid he’ll lose that pretty set of cloths of his and that we’ll send him to his room in his undergarments,” Fland told the others and received a hearty laugh from them all. He tossed a look back at the elf to see if he had managed to get his eyebrow to twitch, no luck this time, then cast the dice again.
Before the cubes stopped spinning the calm night was interrupted by screams of “Fire!” and “Help!” Everyone leapt to their feet as the warning bells started to echo through the air. All of the other men, local villagers, immediately dashed for the door. Fland took a moment to scoop a handful of coppers into his purse before heading towards the door. Before he turned away, he looked to see what the dice had landed on.
Both had come up with only one pip. Bad luck.
Fland stepped out into the cool spring air with Elarr following a step behind. Their eyes were quickly drawn to the multiple fires that burned throughout the village. At least a dozen buildings were lit from the inside or had their roofs on fire. This was no case of a knocked over candle. While shouts about the fire had been the first to reach the tavern, they could also hear alarms of an attack.
Fland scanned down the street and picked out the real threat. Running about in the dancing shadows caused by the fire were goblins. The wicked little humanoids stood only as tall as his waist. Their skin was a putrid yellow like an aged bruise and their too wide mouths showed off rows of sharp, pointy teeth when they made evil little grins. They cackled with glee at the chaos they had sewn into the peaceful village. As the confused villagers tried to put out the fires, goblins would swarm onto them, hack and stabbing with crude swords and axes. In every group, at least one waved about a torch.
“I will start on the goblins, you see about the fires,” Fland said to Elarr as he targeted a mob of five goblins coming down the street.
Fland was glad that he had not retired yet and doffed his leather armor for the night. He drew his twin light maces as he dashed towards the nearest mob of goblins. He jumped over the lead one to land in the center of the group. He kicked out hard, slamming his booted toe into the nose of the torch bearer, knocking the goblin to the ground. His maces worked like like lightning as they struck each goblin in turn he smashed them across their heads and faces at a rapid tempo. Any goblin that did not drop at the first blow, or that simply did not fall fast enough, received a second and even a third blow as he rolled his wrists to rain down more strikes.
He did not pause after dispatching the goblins. Instead he hurried on to another target between two buildings. After bashing the skulls the goblin trio he was off again. He could see that the villagers had begun to organize as the realized the threat. Some of the men were arming themselves, but still found themselves outnumbered by the goblins. Farther down, Fland could see a group of men with swords, village guards most likely, fighting together to hack their way through the goblins.
Fland grabbed a man that had just smashed the head of a goblin with a club. It turned out to be one of the men he had been dicing with. “Come with me, we’ll work our way to the guards.” The man nodded and followed along. As they moved, Fland grabbed a second, then a third man, each armed with farming implements. Soon their numbers swelled as they fought their way down the street, pinning the goblins between themselves and the guardsmen.
While Fland fought the goblins, Elarr ran towards one of the buildings with a burning roof. He was no conjurer so summoning a ball of water was beyond him. He had never studied much of fire magics, seeing them as having little practical application outside of war. What he could do, however, was command the winds. He chanted and made a gesture with one hand the pointed the top of his crystalline walking staff at the flames.
The air around the fire condensed into a tightly packed sphere that centered itself in the flames. The dense orb suddenly expanded with the force of a cyclone. The explosion of air caused the flames to flare up and then sputter out like a candle that was blow on to hard.
It was a good start, but Elarr knew that he needed more. He watched as villagers bailed water from rain barrels to put out the flames. A burly man picked up one next to the tavern and emptied it directly inside of a burning house. The flood from the barrel inspired an idea in his keen mind. Elarr dashed between two buildings with the intent of reaching the next street where the town well was located.
Fland’s rag-tag group held the line as they forced the goblins to retrete. Some fled down alleys or climbed buildings. Most were fleeing towards the town square. The guardsmen hacked apart any goblin they could from their own position. Soon the two forces were meeting at the center.
“Those things are still in half the town,” Fland shouted as he turned down the intersection to the town square.
“We had to retreat this way,” one of the guards said as he took position next to Fland, “They burst through the gate with so many that we had to regroup. And there were other things with them, big and terrifying. They cut through the captain and headed straight towards the square.”
“Damnit!” Fland cursed as he turned towards the man, “Were they hairy with heads like a bear?”
“Yea, how did y-”
“Bugbears,” he replied, cutting the guardsman off. “I’ve ran into them before. Tough, ugly, and wholly unnatural.”
As they marched down the street they could see the village square ahead. A mass of disorganized goblins could be seen in the flickering firelight. There were a few bugbears mixed among them. The large brutes stood as tall as man, and would likely be taller if they did not hunch forward. Sitting atop broad shoulders was a large, ursine head with a short snout and big ears. When the monstrous creatures opened their mouths in violent roars, they revealed that their lower mandibles split open to reveal that it was lined with teeth that led into a spiked gullet. They radiated an unnerving presence, and when they got closer, Fland new the men would falter under the fear aura.
“Everyone keep together!” Fland shouted as he started towards the goblins, “They’ll scatter as soon as they know we won’t stop.” Fland charged and the rest followed behind him. The guardsmen raised their swords and spears. The villagers shook their pitchforks, clubs, and kitchen knives.
The goblins hooted and shouted obscenities in their debased tongue. The bugbears gave them strength, not to mention intimidated them into staying in place. The cowardly creatures’ resolve fell apart as the villagers fell on them. The front rank broke as the villagers attacked with savage ferocity, determined to save their homes.
The goblins might have been routed then and there if the bugbears had not stepped forward. The monstrous creatures strode through their smaller brethren, kicking aside any that did not part the way for them, crushing the dying under heel as they engaged their prey. They chopped and slashed with their weapons, cleaving into villagers with ease. Their unsettling presence sapped the rage from the villagers, dashing their momentum like a wave against a cliff. As a bugbear hacked off an arm or leg, opportunistic goblins would follow behind, delivering a cruel killing blow to the wounded or attacking someone that was put off balance by the death of a friend.
Fland could feel the unnerving aura that the bugbears generated. It left him, and everyone else within range, shaken. It stirred the instincts to flee not fight. He would not let that stop him. He knew that most of the villagers were not trained warriors. Some of the guardsmen seemed like they might have been soldiers in the army in years past, but even they were faltering. It was up to him to take down the bugbears.
That damn elf had better do something soon.
Fland spun and ducked under the swing of a bugbear’s ax and brought both of his maces hard into its side. He sidestepped behind it as he came up and rolled his maces to bring them down hard on the bugbear’s head. He spun one around to crack its neck for a final blow as the he brought the other around to block the attack of another bugbear. One of the men he had been dicing with stabbed a sickle into the bugbear to finish it off.
Spinning maces blocked the attacks of the new bugbear and slipped in one hit after another. The light maces were fast and let him put up a wall of steel to batter aside the unskilled, but powerful, attacks by the bugbear and any sneaky goblins that were feeling brave. Unfortunately, they lacked the power to kill such brutish creatures in a single blow. Each attack built on the next in a rapid succession that collectively pulverized the target. The tactic was working, but to slowly for such a mass battle. Matters only became worse as Fland saw another bugbear coming at him. It appeared that they had determined him to be the most worthy target.
That damn elf had better do something really soon.
Elarr blasted a goblin with a bolt of eldritch energy. The little sneak had been lurking in the shadows, hoping to catch someone from behind. Keen elven ears heard the patter of feet, though, and where human eyes might have missed it lurking in the shadows, he saw it as plain as day.
He watched the pitched battle as he prepared his spell. This was not going to be easy and would drain most of his aether. He drew a circle around himself and chanted the words to a barrier spell. Pale runes began to hover in the air around him as the ward formed.
From a pouch he drew forth a vial that contained pale smoke that swirled about as he shook it. He planted the base of his staff in the ground as he began to chant. It stood there, unwavering as though his hand had not left it. His free hand traced patterns through the air as he shaped his fingers into elaborate seals. Aether coalesced around him as he drew the strands of power in. He shaped them and weaved them together with his will.
His thumb and index finger deftly unscrewed the lid on the vial without dropping it from his palm. The smoke wafted out, but did not dissipate. Instead it was drawn into the strands of aether and Elarr willed it into a swirling orb. Sweat formed on his brow from the exertion and his vision blurred slightly. He dropped the empty vial and directed the swirling sphere to move away from him, towards the town well. He took his staff again and lifted it above his head. He used it to focus and draw in more aether.
He centered the orb over the town well and let it extend outward. Then, with intense focus, he reshaped it. He stretched it out and sent on end snaking down the well. The column of wind sucked up water, funneling it up into the air. To anyone that looked, and many villagers and goblins did, it looked like an elemental serpent breaking out of the earth.
He directed the top of his creation to swing towards one of the worst fires. It drove into the burning building with a great hiss of steam. Elarr relaxed his control on the end of the churning mass of air for a moment and it sprayed its water about. Not all of the flames were put out, but it most were smoldering now and the villagers with buckets could finish the rest. Elarr turned to the next building, dousing its roof.
Soon he had put out most of the nearby fires. Elarr turned his attention to the battle in the square. He was almost completely drained. While putting out more fires would be nice, he knew he could not last much longer. With his final effort, he was determined to make a difference in the battle, which did not seem to be going in the village’s favor.
With a white knuckle grip on his staff, Elarr commanded the mass of water and wind to lash against the goblins and bugbears. It sent the goblins scattering and smashed one of the bugbears to the ground. It swept across the horde, battering them about before Elarr’s power finally failed. The binding wind dissipated as it aimed at an ax wielding bugbear, sending a wave of water to soak the monster. Elarr stood there panting from the exertion. He leaned on the crystalline staff as he watched the fight resume.
Fland brought his maces down hard on the heads of two goblins as lead everyone forward. Elarr’s show of power had sent the goblins into retreat. Only one bugbear remained. He was the largest Fland had seen and he appeared to be the only thing keeping the goblins from fleeing.
Fland rushed at the bugbear. It was armed with an ax that was too good for goblin make. It must have been scavenged from another raid. It bore a hefty shield that was painted with a wired design, some kind of goblin rune Fland figured. The bugbear swung its ax in a horizontal arc, intending to cleave the charging ranger.
Fland did not try to block or change his stride. Instead, he dropped low and slid feet first into the bugbear’s shins. The towering creature was caught off guard by the surprising maneuver. Fland rolled to the side so as not to be pinned under the larger humanoid’s bulk. He came came up to to a knee and hammered his maces down in rapid blows on the bugbear’s head.
CRA-CRACK! CRA-CRACK! CRA-CRACK!
The rapid succession of pair blows beat the bugbear’s head into a bloody pulp. The goblins saw this and turned to run. The villagers chased after them, but only to the village gate. Fland stood, and surveyed the destruction. Buildings were still on fire, but the worst were out and villagers were quickly getting back to work extinguishing the flames. Fland headed over to Elarr to see how he had faired through the ordeal.
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Sir Albert watched as the great beast soared through the air like some kind of terrible hunting bird. It was larger than the chestnut horse he was mounted on, easily twenty feet from fanged maw to barbed tail. Its scales were a deep, earthy brown mottled with forest green. Great membranous wings kept it aloft. It bore neither crest nor spines, but did have two swept back horns. A powerful flap of its wings caused it to speed onward toward him.
It had been a week back when Sir Albert and his squire, Orson, had come across the first signs of the dragon’s ravages. An entire village of peasants had been razed to the ground. From there it had left a swath of destruction. They had found two other small villages that had been raided. They had survived, but their livestock was devoured.
Rogue dragons would come out of the wilds periodically. Usually young males looking for territory. This one looked to be an adult, though barely. Albert would have preferred something younger, and smaller, for his first time facing a dragon. Maybe only the size of mastiff. His mother always told him that He Above called men to where they were needed, not to where they wanted to be.
Albert raised his crossbow and took aim. It was a long shot, but then again it was also a big target. Letting out slow breath, he loosed the bolt. It sailed towards its target and struck the dragon squarely in the chest. Steel proved no match for thick scales, though, and it bounced off. Albert had expected as much at this distance. The shot was more to make sure he had the dragon’s attention. He already had his horse turning about and racing towards a sparse copse of trees before the spent bolt had hit the ground.
His mount galloped across the field. He could tell that the horse was eager to distance them from the dragon. Stonefoot was both obedient and powerful. Albert had ridden him into a dozen battles. The horse had not shrunk away from conflict. No amount of training could truly prepare a horse for the kind of fear a dragon inspired though. Instinct told the horse to flee and given rein he was doing just that.
As they neared the copse’s edge, Albert was finally able to load another bolt. Looking back he could see the dragon still pursuing, and closing the distance rapidly. As Stonefoot carried him between two oaks, Albert fired his second shot. More by luck than aiming, the bolt earned a roar from the dragon as it pierced the soft flesh of the belly.
The copse was made up of ancient white oaks. The giant trees ruled over the grassy field, casting a dark shade on the ground. Each was thick enough that it would have taken at least four men to wrap their arms around the trunk. They were tall and their branches spread out wide. Even set so far apart from each other, their thick canopies intertwined. The trees were just far enough apart for a dragon to fly through, but it would find itself trapped under the net of branches, unable to soar any higher.
The dragon would have had them for sure if it had not been forced to slow its flight around the trees. If not for the oaken giants, Albert would have found himself plucked from his mount and meeting an ignoble end in the beast’s gullet. He had planned on this though, and led the reptilian monster on a winding path through the sparse grove. He slung the crossbow over his back to hang by its strap and drew forth his sword.
It was not easy to slow Stonefoot down with the dragon ready to land on them, but Albert pulled on the reins to slow the horse’s half-mad dash. He needed the dragon in close for what he had prepared. Riding close to one of the great oaks, he slashed a rope that run up the tree. As Albert rode on, a log swung loose above his head. The mass of wood struck the dragon in its side, knocking it from the air.
Albert forced Stonefoot to a stop by a gnarled old tree. Orson stepped from around the tree, holding forth his master’s lance and shield. The boy looked on with awe and terror at the dragon as it stood and roared its fury. Albert had to rapp the boy across the head to remind him to take cover.
Albert wheeled Stonefoot about and spurred him forward. The horse was reluctant, but obedient and galloped at his master’s bidding. As Albert lowered his lance, the dragon readied itself to meet his headlong charge. Its maw opened and let loose a ball of flame. Albert pulled hard to the right and still had to throw up his shield to protect his side. The shield held, but burned. The oak heraldry turned to ash, and heat washed over him. Flesh baked inside plate armor. Stonefoot whinnied, yet carried on.
With the distance closed, the dragon reared up and prepared to slash the knight and horse. Albert gritted his teeth and braced himself. The first strike was the victor. Pushing past pain and fear, Albert struck true before the dragon could catch him in its claws. Steel parted scales and several feet of sturdy oak sunk in deep to piece the beast’s heart.
Albert dropped his shield to the ground as he surveyed his kill. Orson was coming at a gallop on his own horse, shouting victory cries. Albert took one waterskin from his squire to quench his parched throat while he instructed the boy to remove all of Stonefoot’s barding and soak any burns he may have. Albert tended to removing his own armor, letting cool air sooth red skin. He did not boast, but a dignified smile formed as he thought of how the bards would soon sing of Sir Albert Oakheart, Dragonbane.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Here we are, halfway through the year and I think things are going well. So far I have gotten a new flash fiction piece out each month. Unfortunately I have fallen a bit behind in some of my other writing. It has been a busy few months and quite trying at times. I have had some big changes in my life, a mix of good and bad.
I want to focus on the good news that slowed my production last month. I was given an opportunity to edit monsters for a Pathfinder RPG compatible book being produced by RKDN Studios! That means I will soon enough have a real editing credit to add to my resume. It is not a job I will be making a fortune off of, but I hope it will help give me some street credit for getting other work.
So, a little background on what is going on is in order. RKDN started a Kickstarter to fund a book they were planning, The Reliquary. It was funded, along with a mess of stretch goals. I was one of the backers. Well, one day I get an update stating that they need another editor for one of the pieces they are working. I volunteered and was chosen for the task. What I found was a list of thirteen monsters. Each had a picture and a description or background information (some more detailed than others). My job was to come up with stats for the monsters to be used in the Pathfinder game system. Now, to be fair, two were already worked out, so I really only had to do eleven. I am working on two expanded versions of monsters that have been completed though.
It was tricky work. Some of the monsters were very vaguely described. I did not have a lot of points of reference such as a desired CR (challenge rating for the non-gamers). I dove into it though and got most of them done over a two week period. I am rather proud of some of the designs I came up with and look forward to throwing them at my own unfortunate players. Some additional good news is that I think I made a good impression and that RKDN will be tapping me for some more work.
So, that is why May saw less writing done than might have been desired. There were some other reasons though. The first weekend was eaten up with a search and rescue class. The last weekend was taken up by my sister’s wedding. There were some other bumps mixed in as well. June is going to be another busy month. This week I will be doing more search and rescue training. Next week I will be at Origins Game Fair. There will likely be some more bumps in the road of course.
Origins deserves its own mention. It is a yearly convention held in Columbus, Ohio. While I mainly go to play RPGs such as Pathfinder, Arcanis, and Witch Hunter, there is a lot more going on. I look forward to attending some good panels on writing and design. I will be attending panels by Michael A. Stackpole, Timmothy Zhan, and Aaron Allston among others. I am a big fan of all three and have gotten great advice from their seminars in the past. It also provides an opportunity to network. I will get to meet designers of some of the games I play. Who knows, maybe they will be needing a freelance writer? A guy can hope. I look particularly forward to meeting the designer of the Kaiden Campaign Setting (another Pathfinder compatible campaign funded by Kickstarter).
I will be working hard to get in more updates this month even with all the running around I will be doing. As soon as I get some blessed free time I will be finishing up the first part of my story about survival on an alien world. The next issue of Night Raider is in the works, but I am not going to promise him as a June arrival just because things are so hectic. I am also going to to be aiming for more updates and expect to see essays and other fun pieces popping up. Keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Jordan walked along the street with his eyes cast down. The hood of his jacket concealed his face. His hands were in his pockets. Everything about him shouted to the world, “Ignore me, don’t pay attention,” and that was exactly what he wanted. He did not want people looking at him or thinking about him. So long as he minded his own business and did nothing to attract attention to himself no one would even take a second glance at him.
That was how he wanted it. He just wanted to be another nobody that no one paid attention to. It was not that hard in this part of the city. He called a rough neighborhood home. It was run down and everyone was too worried about themselves to care about some guy they did not know. As long as he did not do anything that would draw attention his secret would be safe.
He came around the corner, a block away from his apartment and safety. Then the shouts started. Three men stood around a woman. The thugs had her scared, and for good reason. She was going to get mugged at the very least, probably worse. There were other people on the street, but they all turned a blind eye. They were like Jordan, they did not want to be noticed. They did not want to be the next victim.
Shopkeepers were heading back indoors. Some even turned their signs to closed. Any blinds that were not already shuddered were being so now and Jordan could hear the volume on a few TVs go up. People on the street just averted their eyes and kept on going about their business. Someone might call the police, after it was over. One man even walked right by the ally that the woman was being coerced into. He looked at his watch, apparently he was late for something and could not be bothered with the fact that someone was in trouble just feet away.
In a way it shocked Jordan. So much of his time was shut off from everyone else that he never had to look it in the face. He knew crime happened and that people suffered. It was a rough place, but he never realized just how callous people were about it. This woman was about to be raped, and everyone was just going to pretend nothing was happening. That is when it hit him, he was about to do the same thing. He was trying to avoid being noticed, so he was going to walk across the street so that none of those people took a closer look at him.
All he had to do was take a step off of the street corner and he would be safe. It was not his problem what happened to that woman. He certainly would not expect anyone to do anything for him. One step and he was free of this problem.
“Hey, let her go!” Jordan said, surprising himself with how loud his voice was.
The men turned and looked at him, surprised and annoyed by the interruption. The woman looked at him with pleading eyes. Some of the people on the street or behind windows looked at him as well. Some were surprised, others just shook their heads. Jordan knew what they were thinking, some fool had just thrown his life away.
“Get out of here and mind your own buisness,” One of the men said. He glared at Jordan thinking he could stare him down and intimidating him into looking away. Jordan was not afraid of any threat the man could make. He feared only losing his anonymity, and he had already sacrificed that.
“Not until you let her go,” Jordan said in a firm voice. An odd sensation swirled around in his stomach. A mix of fear and excitement maybe. He knew the men would not just let her go. He wished they would, but that was a fool’s hope. His body was bracing itself for what he knew was about to come.
“You’re a dead man punk,” said another one of the men as he held up the switchblade that he had been using to threaten the woman. “I’m going to cut you stupid--”
The man never got to finish his sentence. Jordan leapt into the air twisting his whole torso back before swinging a powerful haymaker at the man’s jaw. Corded muscles like woven steel contracted to bring around a punch that shattered the man’s jaw. With bones four times denser than a normal human’s, Jordan barely felt a thing.
Jordan swung at another one of the men as soon as he landed. He caught the man in the abdomen and doubled him over. As the man fell to the ground, the third man attacked. He had his own switchblade and stabbed at Jordan’s kidney. The blade sliced through fabric, but skidded along tough skin, unable to penetrate into Jordan’s body.
Jordan turned and backhanded the man, sending him reeling. Lost in his fury, Jordan picked the man up, lifting him over his head. He threw the screaming man down the alley where he crashed into the side of a dumpster. Jordan stood there looking at what he had done, panting from the exertion.
He turned to the woman, but she looked at him with more fear than she had shown the men. Some people down the block were pointing now, with voices of fear or anger. In the fight, the hood of his jacket had come off to reveal his inhuman state. The excitement had caused his skin to flush to a bright, bloody red. His eyes flickered and fangs protruded from his mouth. He knew he looked like a monster.
The woman had good reason to be afraid. Mutates were feared. Another leftover from the war. Jordan had tried to hide, blend in. That was gone now. He did made the choice though, and he was tired of hiding like everyone else.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Luke pulled the box out from under his bed. He kept everything he had from his dad in the small, black trunk. Around his neck was a chain with the key on it. The key opened the lock with a click the resounded through the room. Luke opened the truck with all the solemness reserved for prayers and funerals.
At the top were photos, every one that Luke could scrounge up. He had gone to relatives and his father’s friends. They painted the story of Lieutenant Brandon Young from his childhood on a Florida farm to his career in the army. Luke knew a story to go with each photo. The one he kept on top was the most important, a picture of his father and mother together. It was the last picture taken of his father, before the Incursion War.
The Incursion has arrived eleven years ago. No one knew for sure why they came or what they wanted. His teachers taught the theory that they had arrived from a dying world and wanted to colonize ours. To that end they invaded the earth and started a campaign of extermination. Most of Earth’s armies were wiped out in the first week.
Under the photo albums was a tray of miscellaneous items. There was a pocket knife and some unit patches. There were little souvenirs and coins his father had collected. Coins from countries that did not even exist any more. His father had traveled around the world during his time in the army prior to the Incursion War. He had fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan. After becoming an Army Ranger he had missions in both the South China Sea and the Middle East.
In the final level rested the most important mementos of all, his father’s metals. Brandon Young had been a very decorated indeed. There was a Purple Heart with five oak clusters, the last posthumous. There were two Medals of Honor. Luke’s father had been the first double recipient in over a century. There were medals for various acts and battles, among them the awards for the fight against the Incursion. Shining most brilliant among those was the Medal of Global Sacrifice. It was awarded to all of the men and women that had died as part of the last ditch assault on the alien forces.
In school they said that if the invasion had come twenty years earlier the world would not have been ready for the invaders. Even then, many said it was fortunate circumstances. Luke, and other children whose parents had died fighting the invasion did not care for that assessment, feeling like it diminished the sacrifice their families had made. The facts remained though, that it was a desperate fight.
The aliens had far more advanced technology. Shields protected their ships from conventional and nuclear assault. They had terrible energy weapons that could wipe out tanks and aircraft with ease. They did not have to fight themselves either. Instead they sent robotic ships to attack human bases. They wiped out major population centers in the blink of an eye.
The key weakness was found when someone made realized that the shields were not always active. They were only used for defense against major attacks such as nuclear strikes. Some researchers believed that the aliens had used up their energy reserves on the journey to earth and lacked the capacity to use them without imminent need. A plan was formed to attack the control ships. A small aerial attack was launched against the hive ships. It was not enough for the Incursion forces to raise their shields. Instead, they just shot the planes and helicopters out of the sky. The human forces did not bother shooting back, instead they headed for the ships on a crash course. It was too late for the ships to raise their shields. The modified aircraft half crashed, half landed on the ships to deposit elite teams. Luke’s father had been one of the team leaders.
The details of what happened inside were sparse. There were very few survivors of the World Wide Offensive. What was known came from the few first hand accounts, transmissions inside the hive ships, and studies done after the war. Luke knew that his father had led his team of rangers into the core of a ship and that they had been pinned down. Whatever happened after that, they overcame it and destroyed the core of the ship, bringing it down. What happened was a mystery to most, but in his minds eye, Luke could see it all clearly.
Lieutenant Young fired at the aliens, tearing them apart with a hail of bullets. He dashed from one piece of cover to the next, working his way through the corridors. His men followed after him, inspired by their brave commander. They forced their way to the engine chamber with a deadly force close on their tales. They were cut off and outnumbered. Young watched as his men fell in the hopeless struggle. He took out the picture of his wife and young son that he kept in his breast pocket to give him courage. Grabbing a bag of explosives he charged through the alien weapons fire and leapt over the railing to the reactor bellow. With a victorious yell he activated the bomb and destroyed the ships core.
Thinking about his father’s sacrifice and looking at his medals always filled Luke with courage. He closed the box, and put away his sacred treasures then hid the key behind his shirt again. The eleven year old boy that was the son of a hero marched down stairs and out the door. There was a bully down the street that had been picking on him and all the other kids. He was big and frightening, but Luke would be like his father and stand up to the menace. He held his head up with pride and courage as he walked down the street to face his enemy.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Cade watched the three men from the shadows of the forest. They were sitting around a campfire and making dinner. They were all dressed in armor that was dented from battle. Two talked back and forth, while the third that seemed to be the leader was silent. He was one of the largest men Cade had ever seen, enough so that he wondered if the man had some ogre blood in his veins. He was certainly ugly enough for it with a lopsided face, bloated lips, and a tangled mass of hair.
Cade stepped out from the trees like a spirit materializing from the forest. “Hail!” he called to the men. They looked up in surprise to see the man that seemed to have appeared from thin air. The first two stood and put their hands on their swords. The largest man stayed seated and took a bite of travel bread. He did not reach for the large bearded ax laying against the log he was sitting on, but his eyes focused intently on Cade.
One man who had short, curly hair and scars across his face snarled, “Who goes there and what is your business?!” The man had the ready stance of a veteran, but his eyes darted about nervously.
“Me, I’m just a just a ranger passing on my way through. There are dangerous men about. Thought I would investigate when I saw the fire,,” Cade told them. He held up his hands to show that they were empty. He took a few steps closer till he was in the light cast by the fire.
The men seemed to relax some. The other man that stood, this one with a haggard beard, spoke this time in a nasally voice, “Yea, and ain’t no men more dangerous than us. Now get your arse out of here. We ain’t interested in sharing our camp or dinner with anyone.”
“Fair enough,” Cade said with a shrug. His eyes narrowed slightly as he said, “Before I go, I need to ask if you passed by a farmstead about three days ride back?”
“We did. What’s it to you?” asked the scared man as me moved back towards his seat by the fire.
“The family that lived there met an evil fate. A group of men stopped there one evening. The family let them share their meal and offered them a roof to sleep under because one of the men was a knight. However, the men were not happy with that. They each raped the mother and daughter. Killed the father and his young sons when they tried to intervene. They locked the women in the house and then set it on fire. Didn’t even wait till they were done screaming to ride off,” said in a stoic voice despite the rage that boiled inside of him.
All three men laughed. It was the large man that spoke this time with a deep, rumbling voice, “That would be our handiwork. Would have let ‘em live probably if those boys hadn’t thought to try and stop us from having at those whores. Neither one was a decent fuck. What I’m wonderin’ though is how you be knownin’ all this?”
“You left the cat alive,” Cade said as though that were plain and obvious. Confusion flashed over the faces of the two that were standing. The large man though, he smiled a vile grin of understanding. He steeled himself as he spoke his next words in a grim voice, “My name is Cade, last of the justicars. I am here to sentence you for your crimes. Do you offer any defense or repentance? If not, the sentence is death.”
“I don’t care what you call yourself,” the scarred man snarled, “but the only death sentence here is yours.” He drew his sword and started towards Cade.
Cade gave a sharp whistle. A half heartbeat later a grey wolf burst from the underbrush and leapt at the scared man. It drove into his side and knocked him down. The man screamed as the wolf’s fangs tore his face from his skull.
The bearded man had drawn his sword as well and the large man picked up his ax as he stood. Cade did not wait for them, instead drawing his own sword and charging forward. Hidden in his hand was a small pouch of alchemical powder that he tossed into the fire. The flames flared high with a loud pop and belched forth heavy smoke. The men were disoriented as Cade closed the ground.
Cade stabbed into the bearded man’s shouldered. He kicked the man hard in the stomach to free his blade and sent the man reeling backwards to fall into the flames. The man rolled about bleeding and on fire with no hope.
The giant man swung his ax blindly. Cade did not bother trying to parry the juggernaut blows. He ducked and dodged the powerful swings. The man roared as he swung the ax down, but Cade was already gone and the ax cut off the leg of the bearded man that had just put out his flames.
Cade slashed the giant’s face causing him to howl. The wolf bit into the man’s leg from behind and took him to the ground. A two handed chop from Cade took off the man’s hand that held his ax. It took three blows from the pommel of Cade’s sword to knock the man out.
The sun was starting to rise when the men woke. Cade had tended to them enough to keep them alive and stripped them naked. They were bound hand and foot with ropes running up to the horns of their saddles. Their horses pawed the ground.
Cade looked down at them as he said, “Those people died in pain and terror. You will too. By the way, your horses really didn’t like the way you spurred them.” Cade gave a whinny and the men's horses took off dragging them down the road.