Blessed silence reigned in the throne room. Meat-puppets, devoid of all desires except those of their master, stood sentry, sightless eyes staring in eternal guardianship. Rags from states that no longer existed decorated the walls, mute testament of the New Way. The Lord and Master, black-cloaked and silver-eyed, reclined in his chair behind the used-to-be judge’s bench, catching a moment’s respite from the war.
Heels clacked along the former courthouse’s floor, drawing a frown from his shadowed face. Doors opened of their own accord, allowing one of his lieutenants entry. The athletic woman, clad in black leather with multiple buckles and stiletto-heel boots, floated into the room, kneeling when she reached the railing. “My Lord Majstro.”
“Speak, Súcubo .”
“We have word of a candidate.”
Storm-clouds gathered across Majstro’s dark features. “This is certain?”
Her tongue ran over blood-ruby lips, small fangs flashing during the movement. “The Augurs assure me it will come to pass.”
Majstro crooked his finger, calling wisps of smoke before him. The strands danced to his command, whirling to form a faceless woman clad in white robes. “Efemera Murdisto, go forth and destroy whomever Animo-Luc has chosen.”
Efemera rose through the ceiling, flying away from the blasted hellscape once known as Charmsburg.
Sam fought to control his wheezing, his father’s old AR-15 heavy in his shaking 15-year-old hands. He peeked out the broken window of the looted drug-store where he and his sister, Melody, hid. “Damn it!” he whispered. “I thought the Free-Lifers cleared this sector of Revenants.”
Melody gathered scattered pills from the floor, blowing off years of accumulated dust before sticking them inside a rat-skin pouch. She felt her big brother’s gaze and shrugged. “Not many places stay clear of Revs for long. Complaining about it doesn’t change things, so how about you help me scrounge up meds for Doc before this place goes full morgue and we have more than two to deal with?”
“Probably irradiated and useless anyway,” Sam muttered, slinging his rifle. He opened his pouch and shoveled stray pills in with sweeping movements of his arm, despite his grumbling. The two of them made short work of the slim offerings from the old pharmacy in the afternoon sun.
Sam whirled, rifle raised. A Rev stood at the door, bringing it’s weapon to bear. Sam’s Colt barked, the bullet slicing through dead eyes. The Rev fell to its knees, gray dust escaping from the pierced orb.
A double-tap startled him. He rolled and swept the perimeter with his rifle. Melody’s M1911 pointed at the shattered window, fire-smoke curling from the barrel. The second Rev lay on the ground, charcoal-smoke pouring from a shattered skull. “Nice shot, sis.”
“Not bad yourself.” She holstered the pistol handed down from her grandfather. “Trust in God…”
“…swear by Colt,” Sam finished with a grin. “How did you know they were there? I didn’t hear a thing.”
Ocean-colored eyes narrowed. “I thought you warned me.”
Sam gaped at her for a moment, but the deepening gloom shunted his mind back to survival. “We need to get back to Fortress. Talons will be out soon.”
He hoisted his weapon, checked the streets, and hustled down the debris-strewn sidewalk, Melody in rear-guard. The siblings cleared the five blocks to their waiting Grizzly ATV without incident.
Neither noticed the increasing chill or small white cloud that followed them as they roared out town.
Efemera drifted over the high walls of the settlement mortals called Fortress. Narrow paths, easy to block against intruding enemies, wound around stone houses. A large cathedral, bustling pub, and countless chimneys belching haze from hearth-fires testified to the thriving civilization these humans rebuilt after the Futile War.
A parapet guard shuddered as she passed, pulling his jacket tight around his throat. She paused, toying with the idea of draining him.
Do not dawdle, Efemera. The candidate. NOW! She writhed and lost form for a moment as Majstro’s voice thundered through her being. A tendril snaked out to caress the sentry. He groaned, falling to the wooden planks, once black hair turned white.
Stabilized by the stolen life-force, she extended her senses, searching for the taint of the Animo-Luc. A small cabin, as separate from the main village as one could be in a society hemmed by walls, glowed with the soft yellow-orange of Animo power. Wind gusted, gliding her closer to her quarry.
Sweat gleamed on Sam’s chest. Hands clutched thin sheets as visions of Melody being pursued by a ravening darkness subsumed his being.
He jerked upright, tumbling out of the cot. Fumbling fingers found the matches and he lit the lantern on his nightstand. Flickering light threw shadows on the wall and he pulled his rifle out from under his bed. “Show yourself.” The barrel flicked from shadow to shadow, searching for the unknown voice.
“WHO ARE YOU?” His door flung open and he trained his weapon at the entrance, trigger-finger tightening. He jerked the gun toward the ceiling when he registered the sleepy countenance of Melody. “Are you playing some kind of game, Mel?”
“I heard you fall out of bed and talking.” Her eyes widened in fright at his angry glare. “What’s going on?”
He strode forward and grabbed her by the wrist. He leaned in and hissed, “Don’t lie to me.”
She yanked her arm, but his grip held firm. “I promise, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Flee. She comes.
Sam clapped his hands over his ears. “Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up!”
Melody backed away at Sam’s fury. “Sam? Is…is it the…madness?”
Sam sank to his knees, breathing in deep gulps of air. “No. I don’t…think so.”
Melody pointed to the stand. “Where did that come from?” He twisted to look, surprised to see an emerald gleaming in the lamp-light. He grabbed it, then put on a tunic and coat. “Get dressed. We’re leaving. Now.”
Efemera heard an engine growl and a cone of light cutting away from the cabin. She shifted to humanoid form and poured on the speed. Dogs howled and garden-plants wilted as she descended on her prey. Gunshots rang out from the back of the ATV. They were no danger to her, but it stirred the people out of their malaise.
Spotlights burst to life, and the populace of Fortress shouted, “Apparition!” Efemera ignored it all, her focus on solely on her rapidly closing target.
“Sam! It’s gaining on us!” Sam twisted the Grizzly, heading for the East Gate. Melody popped off several more shots, cursing when the slide burst back. “I’m out!”
“Doesn’t matter anyway.” Sam stood, controlling the 4-wheeler with one hand and waving with the other. “OPEN THE GATE! OPEN THE GATE!”
Gate-keepers scrambled to raise the giant portcullis. Sam calculated the relative speeds of the groaning metal inching upward, their speed, and the speed of their pursuit. “Oh…shit. DUCK!” He suited action to words, leaning forward as far as he could.
They zoomed underneath, one of the pointed barbs tugging Melody’s hood back. Sam gunned the ATV, redlining the motor. “The Never-Glade? You can’t be thinking of going in there!” Melody yelled.
He ignored her, following the directions of the insistent voice taking residence in his mind.
Efemera sliced through the night-sky, the machine gaining distance in the open-ground between the city and forest. She didn’t worry about losing them. Power glowed around them like a beacon, making it almost too easy to track.
She worried more about the revelation of her existence among the humans. Long had she served as her Master’s unknown killer, filling his enemies with fears of his power reaching out to slay them no matter the distance between them. She could only hope the death of the Animo-Luc’s pawn would appease him.
Maybe if she murdered all the witnesses of her existence as well…
Gnarled branches scratched and scraped as Sam navigated the twisted undergrowth of the Never-Glade. A web glistened with dew in the faint moonlight visible through skies clouded by fallout many years ago, two spiders the size of puppies eyeing them with milk-white orbs. “Where are we going, Sam?”
He pointed ahead to a rock formation. The faint outline of a cave mouth stood at the bottom of the hill. “There.”
Melody stared behind them, looking for signs of their pursuer. “Do you think we can hide from it?”
“No. But I think we can do something else.” He fell silent as the mysterious voice whispered instructions.
Efemera sailed into the cave, floating over scum-coated puddles. She passed through a curtain of moss, able to see the power-taint of her victim cowering in the dead-end back. She hovered forward, fingers distending into tendrils.
A boy’s voice, filled with scorn, called out, “Bring it, lapdog. We’re not afraid of you.”
She zipped ahead, fury narrowing her focus. She never stopped to wonder why he held a hunting knife with his hand wrapped around the blade.
Until he yanked it, slicing his hand and squeezing blood onto what looked like a rune scratched on the cave-bed. Light flared, sparking against other markings along the cave walls. The colors of the sunrise wrapped around Efemera like a cocoon.
She thrashed against the bonds, unable to phase through them or shift into a different form. The girl shuffled forward, gaping at her brother with stupid amazement. Efemera calmed, and waited.
“How did you do that?” Melody’s gaze stayed on the still form of the trapped ghost as she joined her brother’s side.
“I don’t know.”
She grabbed his arm. “Do you know what this means?” she squealed. “There’s finally a power to match Majstro’s!” She grinned and strode toward the cocoon. “Do you hear that, thing? My brother found a way to beat your master!”
Sam’s head whipped around in time to see Melody’s foot cross the rune’s threshold. A tendril snapped, grabbing her leg. He burst into motion, slamming into his sister and sending her sprawling away from danger. She hit the stone ground hard, forelock of her hair bone-white.
His arm flew out during the impact, crossing the threshold. He felt stabbing cold wrap around his wrist and pull him toward the cocoon. He used his free hand to dig out the emerald and toss it to Melody. “Mel! Toss the jewel under the ghost…and me.”
“SAM!” Melody struggled up and started to her brother.
“Stop!” Sam croaked out. His skin sagged as his life drained, and his voice sounded like grandfather’s on his deathbed. “Throw the emerald. It’s okay. The voice says…it will be okay.” With his last strength, Sam leaped at his killer, screaming, “NOW!”
Melody threw the emerald, crying as it skittered under the trap. Green light pulsed bright and she shielded her eyes. When she lowered her arms the trap, her brother, and the ghost had disappeared.
She tumbled to the ground. She stared at the spot until the hazy sunlight of dawn highlighted the cave-mouth. Her stomach growling kicked her to survival mode. She grabbed her brother’s rifle and trudged toward the opening, scooping up the now black emerald. She frowned at its warmth, but set the implication aside as she dropped it in her pouch.
The ATV sat, unmolested, where they hid it the night before. She straddled the seat and started it up. “Why, Sam? Why?” she whispered.
It was necessary.
She bowed her head, tears threatening to escape. “You’re the voice Sam heard, aren’t you?”
“Who are you?”
A friend. One who can help you free your world from the tyranny of Majstro.
Come, my candidate.
“My name is Melody Colt. Not ‘candidate’.” She revved the engine and took off toward the horizon. “You and Majstro would be well-advised to remember that.”
Here are the lists he provided:
THE WHO (PROTAGONIST)
- Dirty Cop
THE WHERE (SETTING)
- Nuclear Wasteland
- Amusement Park
- Far-Flung Space Station
- Mad Botanist’s Greenhouse
- Virtual Reality
- The Underworld
- Trailer Park
- Pirate Ship
THE UH-OH (PROBLEM)
- Betrayal by best friend!
- Left for dead, out for revenge!
- Encounter with a nemesis!
- Something precious, stolen!
- Lovers, separated!
- Warring against nature!
- An unsolved murder!
- A conspiracy, revealed!
- Besieged by supernatural enemies!
The limit is 2000 words this week. If you feel like joining in, pick three elements and create a story. You can even pick twice in the “who” category to add to your protagonist or create an antagonist. Once you’ve written the story, post it and link back to the challenge.
My words this week: Ghost (assassin for my second pick in the “who”)/Nuclear Wasteland/Trapped.
These three words happened to spark an idea on continuing a story I began with Picture It & Write, titled: New Order of Light-The Beginning.
Hope you enjoy.
Happy Reading and Writing!