Monday, September 30, 2013

The Ties of Fate

Bryante sprinted across the room at full pace, breathless with aching limbs, pushing past the guards in his way. The bloodless 'virgins' immediately moved out of his way, but the more experienced, those with more marks on their environment suits, they stayed put, forced him to go round. His visor was steamed up, his oxygen tubes strained and stretched out of shape, by the time he got to the entrance into the newly-christened Throne Room. He didn’t have time to marvel upon the bloody trophies mounted either side of the wall of this once-grand hall, once filled with Cendran elites and dignitaries, now a dusty shadow exposed to the elements – the ceiling above sported a large hole, an explosive reminder of the trouble they went through to claim this territory.

The Bandit King looked around the room as if bored of the proceedings. Although he’d never use the title himself – he was far too proud to refer to himself as a Bandit, and far too humble to refer to himself as a King – he was seated on a throne that caught the attention of everybody in the room. It was a mess of melded steel and cracked plastic, forged into a throne by sheer force. The blacksmiths of their crew spent weeks working on this single item, foregoing all other jobs. The Bandit King had had them whipped and marked for their time-wasting, and ordered them back to more important work immediately. Of the dozen spikes and shafts of steel that jutted out from the back of the throne, almost every one had the environmentally-sealed helmet of a single Cendran Archivist, their races highest ranking citizens, mounted for all to see. A savage display of power. Only two remained free of such gore – a middle-set spike, which would leer over the Kings right hand, and the top-most spoke, sitting above all others, mounted high over the chair. They were reserved.

The Bandit King seemed immune to the noise and commotion before his throne, as Bryante fell prostrate before him. He rested his chin idly on his clenched fist, glancing up at the dusty sky visible through what once was only ceiling. A storm was coming. He could feel it in his bones. He glanced from person to person in the room, seeing nothing but Cendran environment suits and blank-faced visors staring back. Each customised just enough to be different, just enough without compromising the security of their poor immune systems, their weak bodies.

Bryante was silent all this time, catching his breath, forming his story, patient and penitent before his King. His suit was scuffed, soiled. The pitched combat in the town of Boundary was rough, and to outside eyes, he looks like he’d seen the worst of it. What they wouldn’t know, however, is that Bryante fled as soon as the first shots were fired, and kept fleeing as soon as the combat looked to be a loss. A crazy sword-maiden challenging him to a duel, and a Sorcerer summoning ghostly masses to drag the unsuspecting into the void? He didn’t sign up for that! He sighed deeply and raised his head, to see if his King had even noticed him. The voices around the room were getting louder, looking for answers or results from his latest raid, but he remained silent.

His silence was soon rewarded. The Bandit King lifted himself up from his slouched position, glanced over the room. They were criminals, thugs, bandits, almost every one. Used to taking what they want, not waiting. And the less information Bryante offered, the more worked up they got. They formed their own obscene arguments and scenarios in their heads, and had the audacity to simply shout them out into his court, as if making them real simply by uttering them. The arguments ranged from Cendran military action, to Ghoul infestation, to the arrival of an entire TOWER Colonisation fleet. All of them ridiculous, all of them haunting the dreams of every bandit living on Cendra, a haven for people like them.

As two bandits looked to come to blows over their opposing scenarios – one sure an Apaex patrol had killed every last citizen of a Ghoul city not far from here, as his friends friends brother had seen an Apaex warship not two days ago; the other, positive a Ghoul legion had been found not 20 miles from their very position, loaded with Apaex gear after a victory over an Apaex unit, as confirmed by an Uncles cousins friend a few days back – the Bandit King raised his hand, demanded silence in the most regal way he knew how. He may not have believed he was anything equating to a King, but he knew that’s what they responded to.

“How about we let Bryante talk...” commanded the Bandit King, who then slouched back into his chair. Bryante stood, cleared his throat.

“Well boss, three days ago, we caught sight of a ship landing hard not far from here, near that dusty vlieg-town, Boundary. Turns out a guy had escaped that prison,Dante-01, and had fled here to get away from his pursuers – in a Dante marked ship, of all things! He fled into the town, bunkered down with that Doc Meyers and his family. Pretty big reward, we thought. Clean money. Single guy, how hard can it be? Turns out, the Doc was a real do-gooder, had to rough up his family, still he wouldn’t give the guy up. By the time we got the info, he was long gone, Inhert knows where. So we’re patrolling the area the last few days, a guy by himself in this heat couldn’ta gone far, right? Well, what’s our luck, we gets a report of another ship in the area, one of our scouts shoot it down. No way there could ‘a been survivors in that mess, so two look around, while the other two come fetch the rest of us to take a look. Well...” Bryante shuffles nervously, aware of how bad the next part’s going to sound, especially with so many higher-ranks around him.

“Well... we get there and our guys are gone. Totally gone. Takes us a short while to find ‘em, but find ‘em we do. Dead. Whatever survived, survived well enough to take down two of my guys and high-tail it out of there. We rush Boundary to see what we find, but the storm slows us. Me and 20 men get there as the Sun sets and the storm kicks in, and what do you know, the guys are holed up in the bar there, The Trigger Finger with that straight-and-narrow Seb. We call them out, and fuck it, if they ain’t got a whole army there. Snipers and sorcerers and all sorts coming out of the woodwork, Seb’s finally done it and fucked us over like he’s been saying for so long. Well you know me boss, I stayed till the last man was down – “a few laughs from the men around him causes Bryante’s voice to falter, but he continues, “– and fled when things were looking rough. I don’t know who they were, but they were packing heat. Musta been travelling with the first guy, they had to be, no two ships fly that close together this time a’year, especially in this dead-end hole. I think...”

With a raise of his hand, the Bandit King silences Bryante. He crosses his arms tight over his chest.

“You’re not here to *think* Bryante.” More laughs. Bryante slinks back, fully aware of his position in the crew. “Forget this... this... *bullshit* with theDante-01 escapee. If you want to be a snitch to make a quick credit, be my guest, but don’t you dare return here with your ‘clean’ money. You said there was a Sorcerer? What did he look like?”

Bryante is now visibly panicked. The Bandit King is not a large man, nor is he especially strong or agile, but he was well known for his incredible brutality. Bryante tries his hardest to speak loud and clear, but ends up merely whispering “I don’t know...”

“What was that Bryante?!” The Bandit King now stands from his throne, and makes his way down the three steps of his raised dais. His voice was a roar, echoing down the corridors of this dusty old building.

“I don’t know!” Bryante squeals, terrified. The Bandit King now stands next to Bryante, who has once again fallen to his knees and leans so their faces are next to each others, the faceplates on their environment suits practically touching. “Cimmaronis, please don’t hurt me...” whispers Bryante, a coward in the face of his King. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I didn’t see them. They attacked from the bar; they were attacking out of every window. A few even ambushed us from behind, they were everywhere. Please don’t Cimmaronis, I’ll do better next time, I’ll do better...”

The room was silent, and Bryante’s whispers may have well been screams. Few dared mock or laugh, for fear of inciting their Kings rage. They all knew that, in the same situation, they would be equally as scared.

“Make sure that you do...” And Cimmaronis, the Bandit King, stands straight. He walks past Bryante, as if the weeping bandit wasn’t even there, as if the whole scenario hadn’t even taken place. He turns to one of his men near the door, and places a hand on his shoulder. “Take Bryante, and a team of scouts. You go to that village and you search, quietly. Observe from afar if you have to. Find their ship, what remains of it, and get their tracking number, their serial number, anything we can use to trace it. A dozen men escaped from Dante-01, and if there’s a chance, even a tiny chance that he is back here...”

Cimmaronis sighs deeply. “I can’t take that risk.” He leaves the room, and looks down to the arm panel on his suit; sat there, mostly scratched away sit three numbers –191 – he scratches at them once more, away from prying eyes, away from expectations and demands. For a moment he is nothing but a lost Cendran on an old ship with a formidable master and mentor by his side. His reverie is soon broken. Soon after, the other bandits in the room begin to leave, one by one, until only Bryante remains, quivering on the floor until the shakes stop wracking his body and the tears stop flowing from his eyes.

He releases the clasps on his helmet, and removes it, setting it down beside him. He brings his Human hands to his Human eyes and wipes the tears from his Human face.