Monday, April 24, 2017

Urbem Conclamare

     “Look!” Brimley pointed in the general direction of Raven’s Drop.
     Forcing himself to remove his lingering gaze from Brimley’s extraordinarily long legs to the search lights, Santos yelled, “holy fuck!” as he leapt up and nearly fell off the roof. If Brimley hadn’t grabbed the back of his pants, he would have fallen to his death on the cobblestone below. The near-death experience didn’t slow him at all; he jumped over the still sitting Brimley, hollering, “come on!” while dashing through the door leading into the heart of the Templus de Ambros.
     “What’s the rush?” Brimley called after him.
     “Those aren’t searchlights,” he practically screamed from the stairwell. “Something’s wrong!”
     That last bit was all she needed to light a fire under her ass. Within a few strides, Brimley had caught up to Santos. Had she wanted, she easily could have passed him up; instead, she followed him down the tower stairs and by the time they reached the bottom they both were sweating.
     “This way,” Santos ordered as he ran past the main entrance to the Templus Ministrae where Officer Brimley was inclined to slow down. She glanced at the entryway, sighed, and then sped off after Santos. Five minutes later they were midway through the underground passage that led from the Templus de Ambros to Mercury’s Headquarters. When they reached the beat-up beige security door, Santos swiped his thumb into the reader, cursed, and then swiped again. It took a few tries before he finally got the damned door open. They ran through the emergency tunnel, passed by the Trauma Unit, and up another set of stairs before they were inside Merc HQ. Santos slid to a stop in the middle of the hallway. His sudden stop caused Brimley to slam into him. The two tumbled to the floor in a tangled heap of arms and legs, from which they were laboriously attempting to untangle themselves from when one of the on-duty Mercs stumbled upon them.
     “Uh, what are you doing, sir?” the young Merc practically shouted, her voice echoing through the empty hall.
     “Well, don’t just stand their gawking, Ensign! Go get the Duty Officer!” Santos ordered from under Brimley. “Like she’s never seen people on the ground before,” he scoffed as he got to his feet.
     “I’m sure she was just surprised,” Brimley defended her fellow woman.
     “Doesn’t matter,” Santos grumbled as he headed after the ensign.
     “You don’t have to be a dick about it,” Brimley said.
     As they sped down the hall Santos shot her a dirty look, before saying, “if you think that’s being a dick, you’ve got another thing coming. I haven’t even shown you the tip of my vast dickiness.”
     “I really hope that wasn’t your idea of a come on,” Brimley said, rolling her eyes while trying not to trip.
     “I’ll cum on you later,” Santos promised.
     “Sick fuck!” Brimley punched him.
     Before he could respond the Duty Officer and the ensign turned the corner. “1st Lieutenant!” the Duty Officer exclaimed.
     “Ensign Ford, get on the squawk box. Something’s going down at the Drop.”
     “Sir?” Ensign Ford asked.
     “You got a hearing problem, mister?” Santos snapped.
     “No, sir. But, what should I tell them?”
     “All hands on deck. Sound the alarms. Make haste, boyo!”
     With that Ensign Ford slammed his fists against his thighs twice and grunted, “aye, aye!”

     General Sherry Cranston was in her office at the Regular Militia’s Command Center, down the road from Merc HQ, when she heard air raid sirens screeching. She lowered the intelligence report that she’d been reading for the umpteenth time, exhaled in frustration, and wondered aloud, “what in the blue blazes?” Dropping the report on her desk, she got up, and then walked to her 4th story window. From where she stood she could see all the way to the Forum Publicos; well, she might have been able to, if the forsaken fog hadn’t covered everything. Unbeknownst to her, a plethora of curious government officials also stood at their office windows staring into the grey-white expanse. She hovered by the window and listened to the sirens, counting the seconds between blasts, dah-dit-dah-dit, pause, dah-dah-dit-dah, pause, dah-dit-dit. When the siren cycle began to repeat the CQD signal, she vacated her position at the window. Habitually, before leaving her office, she would have donned her uniform, straightened her gig-line, and situated her cover so that the rear band rested on her hair bun. Her theory being that women in power have a hard enough time without the lower ranks judging their appearance. Tonight, she grabbed her uniform jacket and cover from the rack by her office door, and then stormed through her secretary’s office. She was midway through the office when the phone rang. Spinning around to grab the call, she nearly lost her balance. In a huff she said into the receiver, “Cranston!” While listening to the caller she shook her head and muttered, “un-fucking-believable.”

     Though they were in the middle of their 2nd game of Go, both Celatrix Verna and Bard Kent stood up from the table with their heads tilted as they listened. Around the time that the Celatrix realized what she was hearing, the Merc stationed outside of the Bard’s Quarters barged into the room, shouting, “get away from the windows.”
     For the first time in hours, Celatrix Verna looked out the window. Upon seeing the white mist, she cursed, “well shit a brick!” She glanced at Kent who remained with his head cocked to one side listening to the sirens. At which point she realized that the young man had no idea what he was hearing. As much as she would have loved to explain to him the emergency signal, she didn’t have time. Without knowing how long the fog had been in place, she was absolutely convinced that they had to get to Mercury’s Marshes to check on the Ignes Fatui. The Celatrix tapped Kent’s arm, “I need you to follow. Now.”
     Although curious, her tone compelled him to obey without question. The Merc fell in line behind them and as they exited the Bard’s Quarters a sullen, pimple-faced Ministrae Officer fell in, too. With the bleating siren as the only sound, the quartet marched through the Gryphon’s Gardens, passed the practically invisible Phoenix Rose with her ever circling sentry, and through a hidden entrance in the furthest corner of the temple compound. The Merc and the Officer hazarded surprised glances at one another but otherwise maintained their disciplined silence. By the time they reached the edge of Mercury’s Marshes, their clothing was damp and their exposed skin dripped.
     Flinging water off his hand, Kent whispered, “what are we doing?”
     Without acknowledging his question, Celatrix Verna continued forward. She finally stopped when they reached a series of knee-high stone markers, where she turned to their bodyguards and said, “no matter what you hear, you do not cross these,” she pointed to the nearest stone. “Understand?” Once they’d nodded their ascent, she said to Kent, “this is the only time you’ll come with me. Step where I step. Say what I say. Understand?”
     “Um. Sure,” Kent agreed.
     Thrice Celatrix Verna tapped the stone nearest her. A slow-building, dim, orange glow pulsed out from the stone she’d touched and lit up the barrier stones in series running away from the quartet.
     “Whoa,” Kent said.
     “You haven’t seen anything yet,” she promised. “Ready?”
     “I guess,” Kent replied.
     “Good. This is what you will say, ‘O’ Termine. Hoc dico ne urbs capiatur. Via mei doce.’” She smiled at the confounded youth, “say after me, ‘O’ Termine.’”

     Having moved inside after the fog fell upon the backyard, Patrick Field continued to play host to Praeceptor Archeleus Imler while his Merc bodyguard paced the house between front and back doors. If the man’s unstoppable pacing didn’t drive Patrick to heavier drinking, then the uncomfortable silence of Archel’s visit would certainly do the trick. Mercury, grant me the patience I need…Patrick prayed. He contemplated asking the boy king questions, but couldn’t wrap his mind around anything that he had a right to ask. So, he waited for Archel to speak.
     For Archel, there was no grand plan. The boy had seen the hedgerow and impulse had brought him to the door. He knew he could never go back to the way things had been when he was still a servant—not that he ever wanted to see Adonis again—but, somehow it all had been simpler. “Mr. Field, uh um. Patrick,” Archel began for the 20th time, “what… never mind.” So many questions rolled through his brain, but he didn’t know what he could rightfully ask. Each time he started, the would-be question sputtered out like a fuel-less fire. Without knowing enough about politics and proper kingly behavior, Archel didn’t only feel out of his element, he was hindered from otherwise normal conversation. He reached into the dirty underbelly of his subconscious and grasped for memories of their previous interactions. At the moment when Archel had finally lit upon some safe topic, the sirens had begun. The Merc dashed through the house, opened the front door, and let the wailing in. The awful noise was enough to banish the safe topic from Archel’s mind. “What is it?” he asked.
     “Shh,” the Merc whispered, his eyes were practically white as they rolled back while he listened. When the cycle began to repeat, the soldier closed the door. “That’s a distress call,” the Merc said as he looked around the room, frowned, and then added, “we can’t stay here. It isn’t safe.” To Archel, he said, “my liege, we must get you to safety.”
     Laughing, Archel choked out, “safety.”
     Uncertain what had caught Archel as funny, Patrick offered, “I have a basement.”
     “Thank you, but no. I have procedures,” the Merc motioned to the door, “Sir.”
     “Can I come back later?” Archel asked.
     “Of course,” Patrick answered, silently finishing the thought with, you’re the king. You can do whatever you want. When they were gone and the door shut behind them, Patrick let out a long sigh. Then, promptly went to the fridge, removed another beer, and then returned to his comfy chair. “Still early.”

     Inside the kitchens, the steady thrum of banging pots and pans masked the sirens. Cassie, with the young cook’s help, had returned to Preston’s office couch where she promptly laid out and lost consciousness. The novice cook stood watch, pacing between Preston’s desk and the doorway where she could watch the kitchen staff flit around like hummingbirds. She thought about the work she needed to get done, glanced at the couch where the Messenger lay snoring, and contemplated returning to her station. But, every time she put a toe outside the door, she heard Preston’s voice bellowing orders. There was no way she’d risk his ire by leaving the Messenger’s side.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Spem Alere

     The scent of pine cleaner burned her nose hair and made her eyes water. Clara “Chondee” Darin blinked at the eggshell white, pock-tiled ceiling, then rolled her eyes around. A hideous pink and yellow flower print privacy curtain looped out of the wall to surround her. Though its proximity encroached on her space, she wasn’t ready to face the shadows that passed by. The left side of her head felt as if some asshole had taken a jackhammer to it. Between the throbbing bursts of deep nerve pain, her throat ached. She vaguely recalled someone choking her. That’s what you get, Chondee told herself. Should have kept walking. Should have… She groaned under the weight of her lips. No. No. No. Repeating in her mind as she sent command after command to her uncommunicative lips. Dear Mercury, please not paralyzed. Not paralyzed. To her great dismay and infinite joy, her ocular muscles functioned normally.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Convenire Aliquem

     He hadn’t had a destination in mind when he’d left the Templus de Ambros for the Gryphon’s Gardens. After 10 minutes of wandering aimlessly, he’d realized that the Mercury’s Elite Guardsman would always be nearby. Upon sighting the disheveled hedgerow that marked the border of the groundskeeper’s home, he sped up. The last time that Praeceptor Archeleus Imler stood inside Patrick Field’s house he was stuck in griffin form, struck by the horror of death, and fucked by circumstances outside his control. As he rounded the hedge, a wave of memory slapped him in the face. Bowing into it, he closed his eyes and blindly forced himself onward. After three or four steps, the mental hurricane died out. Opening his eyes, Archel focused on the sidewalk and slowly made his way to the door. Weak, he silently spat at the hollow sound of his knock. He tried again, but with a little extra weight thrown in. Not much better. He shrugged off the urge to continue beating on the door and opted for shifting from foot to foot while he waited.
     “Stop there!” the guard yelled.