Speakeasy #145: Her Majesty’s Ranger-The Hunt

Cezanne-cardplayers1

Cezanne-cardplayers1

I have spent years chasing the tail of my darkness. The murderer of my mentor, Mallais, ever eludes my grasp and the Queen’s justice.

He shall not do so again.

Hidden like a common cur, I stride through the dust of Hope. A ‘free’ village, the peasants shuffle with an absence of their community’s namesake. A lift-skirt eyes me, suspicion and warning mixed with desperation. I bury myself deeper within my cowl and hurry on, uninterested in losing my cover due to worries over lost business.

You need to change your walk, Izzy, vibrates in my ear. Even disguised you scream “Ranger!”, and you know what they say.

Rangers hope for hot glares instead of cold steel in Hope, I sub-vocalize. My hound companion, Keats, waits on the outskirts, his distinctive appearance a detriment instead of boon during this excursion. Maybe Cezanne will be drawn out by rumors of-

Two figures, dressed in royal blue-gold livery, halt my advance with their presence farther up the street. Plas-sheets adorned with my visage flash at uncooperative villagers. “Artemis’ ass,” blurts out of my mouth.

I bolt inside a tavern, murmuring, “Forgive me, Goddess, my blasphemies.” A haze of pipe-smoke sears my senses as I inhale my new surroundings. Silence, broken only by the soft flap of cards shuffled, holds sway. Villains stare at colored shards of plas with cold intent, my presence unregistered as they attend their sport.

Izzy?

QueensHands. Later. I sidle up to the bar and signal the tavern-master for ale, unsure of how to proceed. The Royal Guard of Her Majesty, known as the QueensHands, draw worthies from across the special forces wielded by the kingdom. Those few accepted are augmented by arcane sciences held secret for centuries.

Mallais served with them, only to die at the hand of his partner, Cezanne de Paulo.

I imagine the same intelligence about Cezanne’s whereabouts graced their path as it did mine. Fear, not a foreign emotion, but distant enough to be mere acquaintance, announces his presence within me. I fear not the punishment for leaving without authorization on my hunt, nor do I fear the QueensHands, formidable foes, but also fair.

No. I fear justice delayed and vengeance denied.

With my movements hindered, I find myself at a loss. It feels as if the Silver-Maiden turns away her favor.

Thoughts of surrender race through me. I stand, ready to face the Queen’s judgement, when a quick tug upon my cloak halts my despair. A small boy grins and motions me closer. I lean down and the scamp whispers, “I know who you seek.”

Child-wisdom senses my disbelief. “Cezanne the Darkhand, he resides at the Planetfall Inn.”

Gold flashes between my fingers, and disappears with alacrity inside his tunic. I ruffle his hair, though he sends me to a trap. He runs off, no doubt to call my arrival. “Forgive my doubts, Artemis,” I whisper. “I shall see the hunt through to fruition.”

Keats!

Izzy? The QueensHands can monitor these frequencies.

I hope they do. Meet me at the Planetfall Inn.

***

My Goddess smiles upon me as I reach Cezanne’s den without meeting my pursuers. Tabanca fills my hand as I throw off my cloak. Concentrated plasma explodes the door into splinters, and screams betray those hiding in ambush. “DARKHAND! I, Isabella Florentine, have come. Face me.”

A slow clap answers my bravado, and thugs encircle me in a moon of filth. “You are a persistent one, young Isabella.” His voice echoes from a communicator on a table. “Too persistent. Ah, well.”

His timbre hardens. “Kill her.”

My eyes swivel to each man. “I offer you one chance. Leave now. If not…”

“What?” one of them asks.

“Then you will learn a poet’s sting strikes down the mightiest of mortals.” My whistle pierces the evening. The questioner falls, throat missing from a black flash. Tabanca sings, sending to eternal sleep one, then another.

The last piece of my trap falls as blue-gold blurs descend upon my would-be slayers. Monofilament-blades sparkle as foes fall. In moments bodies litter the streets of Hope.

I stride to the communicator. “Hear me, Cezanne. You may hide, but I will find you. This is not over.”

His laughter mocks me. “I shall enjoy the pursuit, dear child. Fare thee…poorly.”

“Ranger.” A Hand approaches me, eyes glittering. “By order of Her Majesty…we are to aid you in your hunt.” He smiles. “If you’ll have us.”

I glance at Keats, who nods his blood-muzzled head. “The hunt continues.”

Word Count: 750

Speakeasy #145. Her Majesty’s Ranger, Isabella Florentine, and her faithful hound, Keats, are back with a new enemy and some new allies. If you missed their introduction, you can find it here. In keeping with the previous story, I incorporated the artist’s name into the story. Mostly because I think Cezanne kicks gluteus maximus as a bad guy name.

The prompts this week are Cezanne’s CardPlayers-1, to be referenced in some way, and the sentence “I have spent years chasing the tail of my darkness”, to be used as the first line.

Rules:

  • Your post must be dated January 19, 2013, or later.
  • Submissions must be 750 words or fewer.
  • Submissions must be fiction or poetry.
  • Your piece must include the following sentence as the FIRST line: “I have spent years chasing the tail of my darkness.”
  • The Speakeasy is for submissions written specifically for the grid. Please don’t submit an entry if you intend to showcase it to another blog link-up. Such posts are deleted without notice.
  • Please don’t post long explanations before your post. We want your writing to be the star of the show. If you need to clarify anything, feel free to do so at the end.
  • The badge for your speakeasy #145 post is found in the sidebar. Add the code to the html view of your post before publishing.

Hope you enjoy this foray into the planetary kingdom of Gliese and my delve into sci-fantasy.

Happy Reading and Writing!

J. Milburn

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Speakeasy #140: Her Majesty’s Ranger

John Everett Millais: Isabella, 1848-49..

Isabella by John Everett Millais

I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees. My hand caressed a solitary salmon thread, ripped from its owner. My hound, Keats, growled as Lorenzo’s scent grew ever stronger. “Go, boy.”

Keats bounded away in the winter twilight, a silent messenger of savagery for whatever filthy kidnapper crossed his path. Fingers tightened on my most trusted friend, Tabanca, riding low at my side. Hardened muscles, honed from years of training and patrolling with the Rangers of Artemis, exploded into motion.

Keats’ prints dimmed as the gloom grew, but the further into the forest we traveled, the more sign I discovered. A broken branch here, a dangling cobweb there, all processed automatically as I ran in the easy rhythm pounded into me by Ranger Mallais. My focus narrowed as visions of justice gaoled my thoughts.

Like the rankest amateur.

A low growl broke free my foolishness for the Goddess to gaze upon. Keats circled a badger-like creature with golden fur, silver eyes, and eight viciously clawed paws. An aurumvorax. Tabanca filled my hand, ready to strike for the glory of the Goddess, the Queen, and the Rangers.

As I crept closer to flank the beast, a whiff of smoke performed its own assault on my senses. Taboo and decree declared this wood off-limits to all but Rangers, punishable by death. I reasoned my quarry lay near, which cast my current battle in a new light. I could not risk the sounds of dispatching so dangerous a beast reaching my true prey.

Tabanca disappeared back into her sheath, replaced by several golden coins all Rangers carry for emergency purposes. Fortunately, gold served as a delicacy to the aurumvorax, and my dilemma certainly qualified as an emergency. The Goddess’ light twinkled off the flying treasure as it scattered in the snow.

The creature hesitated, torn between fresh meat or that which made it so deadly. In the end, the promise of increased power won out and it started rooting through the banks to find its metal muse. I grunted at Keats, and that faithful hound and I resumed our hunt.

The stench of unwashed villains soon mixed with the ever-increasing smell of smoke. Voices, borne upon Aeolus’ grace, reached my straining ears. I communed with Keats and we slowed our advance, seeking refuge behind a rivenoak. Shadow became our ally as we darted from tree to tree. A quick flick of my fingers sent Keats slinking off so we may encircle our game.

I peeked around the great bole, my gaze falling upon a large, bearded ruffian gnawing on a piece of meat, drippings matting chin-hair into a tangled mess. His companion, a thin, pinch-faced fellow, guzzled wine from a leather bladder, red rivulets echoing his nature.

I saw no sign of Lorenzo.

A small subsonic yip vibrated in my cyber-ears. Tabanca rang with joyous abandon as concentrated plasma burst forth, exploding the fire and sending the fiends scrambling. Keats cybernetic legs propelled him onto the back of the fat one, chromed teeth rending flesh. I pointed Tabanca at the drunkard. “Where is Lorenzo?”

His Adam’s apple bobbed as I watched lies race through his eyes. A quick glance to the side of the clearing bespoke cruel truth, but I reined my fury and did not kill him.

Yet.

“Who hired you?” I gestured to his unmoving companion on the ground, swimming in a pool of crystallizing red. “Before you speak lies, know that you have only two choices. A quick, painless death,” I lifted Tabanca, “or death by poet.” I pointed at Keats, tongue lolling and Hades own grin on his face. “He will make your death a work of art to be marveled at by enemies of the Crown for centuries. What say you?”

After I garnered what information I needed, a blast to his head fulfilled my bargain. Keats sniffed out Lorenzo’s shallow grave, and I reclaimed my lost love’s head, as custom demanded.

***

“Thus is the testimony of Isabella Florentine née Boccaccio, Captain in Her Majesty’s Rangers of Artemis, independent planetary kingdom of Gliese, year of our lord 2343. I serve the Goddess and Her Majesty at their pleasure.” My face is expressionless as I shoot my lover’s killer in the stomach and leave him to die slow, writhing like a worm.

“And that pleasure is your doom, Giovanni Boccaccio, former head of the Bardic Society and former beloved brother.” I pat Keats on the head as we walk out the door and back to our duty.

Word Count: 750

Genre: Sci-Fantasy

Speakeasy time again! This week’s prompts: The painting Isabella by John Everett Millais, based on a poem by John Keats, who based it on a work by Giovanni Boccaccio. Get it? Got it? Good.

Our sentence, to be used in the first line, comes from the very talented winner of last week’s Speakeasy, EA Wicklund. The sentence: I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees.

Head over to Speakeasy and check out some very good writers as they all put their own spin on the prompts. Entries are posted on Tuesdays!

The rules:

  • Your post must be dated December 15, 2013, or later.
  • Submissions must be 750 words or fewer.
  • Submissions must be fiction or poetry.
  • Your piece must include the following sentence as the FIRST line: “I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees.
  • The Speakeasy is for submissions written specifically for the grid. Please don’t submit an entry if you intend to showcase it to another blog link-up. Such posts are deleted without notice.
  • Please don’t post long explanations before your post. We want your writing to be the star of the show. If you need to clarify anything, feel free to do so at the end.
  • The badge for your speakeasy #140 post is found in the sidebar. Add the code to the html view of your post before publishing.

Hope you enjoy this week’s offering.

Happy Reading and Writing!

J. Milburn