Monday, May 8, 2017

Difficultatibus Affici

     Holding his suspenders in a light grip, Captain Decker stood on the stairwell outside the pilot house. From his vantage point, he could see down the river and up the embankment which led to the little shotgun cabin that was their port of call. Not that there was anything to see, dusk having faded to twilight. He stared up the shadowy embankment to the invisible treeline. Any time now, one of his crew would pop out, a lone torch. Who? he wondered. Doesn’t matter, he mused, soon as they’re onboard, we set sail. Waiting wasn’t the problem. Sailors know Waiting intimately. No. The riptide in his gut longed desperately to be rolling out into the Sovereign Sea where overgrown river banks would be distant memories. Storm coming, he shuddered. Taking the giant cigar out of his mouth, the captain stared at the embers a moment, and then tossed back his hand to knock the ash into the wind.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Incunabula Doctrinae

     After minutes of pacing between Preston’s desk and the door, the novice cook thought she’d lose her mind. Sitting down in the chair next to the couch where the Messenger lay sprawled, the young woman took time to really observe her unconscious charge. The Messenger’s wavy blond hair covered half of her sickly face which currently matched her pale tunic and contrasted sharply with her partially unbuttoned black jerkin. On the ground next to the couch lay a dingy old knapsack, its seams stretched, a couple unraveled. What is in that thing? the girl wondered. She reached toward the bag, then stopped herself, you can’t. That’s the Messenger’s. Sitting back in the rickety chair, she could barely hear it creak with the noise from the kitchen. How can she sleep through all that? At that last thought the cook leaned over again, flipped up the top of the bag, and stared at the contents. Of course she has a shit ton of notebooks, the cook chuckled. First, she glanced from the door to the Messenger. Then, after holding her breath for a count of three, she repeated the action. When she couldn’t stand it any more, she knelt down before the bag and gave the middle notebook a solid tug which caused her to rock back. Inhaling, she pushed herself off the ground, weaved, and then eased into the chair. Flipping open to a random page, the nosy little cook read:

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.