Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Orphans of the Celestial Sea, E-6, C-3


The story so far…

Tom Cain rescued sisters Nikki and Willow Keats from psychotic Draggers (humans who have been turned into animalistic killing machines by exposure to Mist) and a Mist infestation with the help of sharpshooter Agatha West. They fled Milton on the apparently deserted airship Hecate. In the town of Havenvale they nearly lost Hecate to a crime-boss, Ponderoy Charkart, but a vertically-challenged mechanic named Shorty came to their rescue and joined the crew. On a smuggling run to Atlantis they picked up the latest member of the crew, Dog, a runaway gladiator.
Lately the crew tried to recover several tons of gold from Charkart’s warehouse, but they had to dump it to avoid crashing into a lake, as Hecate had taken heavy damage during a firefight. Tom managed to rescue some of the gold, but was dragged through a wisp of Mist. Before the psychotic rage that overtook him caused him to kill anyone, Ishara, a mysterious ghost-woman who haunts Hecate, twisted something inside his brain that knocked Tom unconscious. Now she’s patched his brain to keep him from turning into a Dragger, but the fix is only temporary. What’s more, Charkart has assembled an army to recover the lost gold and his forces are assaulting Bedford, where Hecate is currently undergoing repairs.


Episode 6
Chapter 3

Half-way to the staccato sound of gunfire, Willow caught up with Tom and the Sheriff. “Tom, you have to come quick!”
Tom stopped. “What’s wrong, can’t you see we’re in the middle of a war?”
“It’s Ishara, she’s gone all crazy, says she needs you.”
“Crazier than usual?”
“Incandescent, Tom. You need to come.”
The Sheriff nodded at Tom. “Go on, son. One gun on the line won’t win the battle. Best we just prepare to fight the good fight, and surrender on our own terms.”
Tom bolted for Hecate, leaving Willow behind, panting in his wake. When he got close he could see the entire bridge of Hecate was lit up and shimmering, like a powerful spotlight passing through water. The open field where Hecate rested on her stubby landing legs was bathed in pale blue light, casting eerie shadows in all directions. He threw open the forward hatch, and saw that the rest of the crew was waiting nervously outside the door to the bridge. Even Dog looked uneasy.
Inside the bridge, Ishara was raging. Tom shielded his eyes with his arm and approached her.
“You made me do this Tom! You foolish, foolish boy. Why oh why wouldn’t you listen?”
“What’s going on Ishara. Let’s just settle down a little, okay?”
“I will not settle down! You made me do this! It’s on your head.”
Tom could still make out the faint sounds of gunfire at the edge of town. He hoped the locals were still holding their own.
“Ishara, we have a bit of a war going on here. I really do not have time for your games right now. What are you doing?”
“I’m calling to them, Tom. They’re coming. Can’t you feel them?”
Tom could feel something. A presence that wakened the malevolent spirit wormed deep in his brain. Something in the hills was drawing closer.
“Oh hell Ishara. Did you call Mist and Draggers down?”
“Had to do it… You made me. Your fault. Your greed, foolish boy. Now go, I’m tired.” With that she flickered out like a blown candle, leaving only a faint afterimage in Tom’s vision.
Tom turned and saw the rest of the crew staring through the open door. “Well, what’s the matter? You never seen a ghost before? Get going, warn the townies they’re about to face the worst Mist they’ve ever seen!”
The crew scattered, and Tom fell to his knees. Charkart’s men were about to be massacred. They might have been on the wrong side of things, but nobody deserved what was coming for them. Was it all his fault as Ishara had said? The spirit worming its way through his brain said yes. Yes it was Tom’s doing, and it was good.
An explosion of pain ripped through Tom’s head. He pressed at his temples, trying to hold his skull together. It felt like his brain might explode any moment. The spirit within him wrestled him for control of the body. It was the body… not his body in that moment. The two of them shared equal dominance.
Tom squeezed his eyes shut, and focused every bit of his being on fighting the evil presence. He screamed until his throat was raw, his stomach roiled, and he fell to the ground, convulsing in pain.
Then without warning, it was gone, and Tom was alone with his thoughts. He was curled in a fetal position in the bushes at the edge of Hecate’s landing field. The fight with the other in his head had seemed mere seconds long, but somehow he’d left Hecate’s bridge and wandered away in that time. He shivered against the cold night. There was a vile taste in his mouth and a hollow in his belly.
Tom raised his hand to rub his eyes and smelled the iron tang of blood. What had he done? He rose unsteadily and ran toward Hecate.
When he burst onto the bridge, Agatha spun his chair around and raised an eyebrow. “Where have you been? You look like hell.”
Tom paused, panting for breath. He’d half expected to find the rest of the crew dead. “I… uhh, checking the perimeter. How are things here?”
Agatha tilted her head to the side. “Well, we were a little worried about you, but all things considered it was an uneventful night. I guess you’d know, you had the front-row seat, after all.”
“Yeah… uh…” Tom pulled out his pocket watch, it read four-fifteen. Six hours since Charkart’s attack had started. There should have been Mist and Draggers running rampant through town, instead Agatha was acting like it was just another night.
Tom burned with questions, but he was afraid to give himself away. Agatha might very well put a hole in him if he said the wrong thing, and he’d not only given her permission, he’d written her the perfect excuse in his journal. He swallowed. She might even be right to finish him off now.
“I’m gonna go clean up. You want me to relieve you on watch?”
Agatha squinted at him suspiciously, fingering the grip of her revolver. “Nah, you look like you need the rest more’n I do.”
Tom stumbled to the head. The mirror showed him a wild man with matted hair and dark splotches across his face. He gently applied some soap and water to reveal himself under all the muck and blood. There were two nasty gashes near his temples that looked to have been made by his own thumbnails. Tom breathed a sigh. At least it seemed all the blood was his own.
He stared deep into the mirror, but as far as he could tell he looked normal. The thing in his brain was silent.
Safely back in his own cabin, Tom collapsed on his bed. “Ishara… Ishara what the hell happened?”
“Tom… I’m glad you’re okay.” She didn’t appear, and her voice was a mere mosquito buzz in his ear.
“I’m glad I’m okay too.” Tom grinned, but it quickly turned to a grimace. “Am I okay?”
“For now. Did I ever tell you that you remind me of Nergal?”
“Ishara, this is no time for reminiscing. What happened?”
“People thought Nergal was evil… well some did. Did you know that? He wasn’t evil. He was actually really nice, but he’s gone now, along with so many others.”
“Please try to focus. I need to know what happened, and I can’t ask the others. They’ll kill me if they find out I’ve been infected by Mist.”
“We needed him. Killing him was the big mistake. The biggest. They all needed some place to go. Without somewhere to go, all they did was hang around. And you can’t leave that much power just floating around now can you? Someone’s bound to take advantage.” Ishara sighed. “Everything was better before they killed Nergal.”
Tom had never felt the urge to slap a woman before in his life. Now that he did it was useless. He laughed at the thought. Slapping a ghost, that was a joke. He was a bigger joke, thinking he could get any sense out of her.
“Why are you laughing at me Tom.”
“Not at you… at myself.”
“Really? I’ve heard your jokes. They’re not that funny.”
“It wasn’t that kind of laugh.”
“Oh… the sad kind then? Are you sad Tom? What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? I have some evil spirit fighting for control of my body, a fight you’ve told me I’m destined to lose sooner or later, I keep blacking out and losing time…. I thought I’d actually killed some of my own crew! On top of that my first mate is ready to kill me if I blink funny and I haven’t a thrice-damned clue what’s been going on for the past six hours!” Tom paused, panting. “Other than that I’m doing great! How about you?”
“Oh, I’ve been better. I’m dead you know.”
Tom rubbed at his eyes. “Yeah… I’d figured that one out. Thanks.”
“Really? I didn’t know until just a few hours ago. I guess it explains a lot.”
“Like what?”
“I keep losing bits of myself… Like memories, and other things.”
“Sanity?”
“Now, now, be nice. Though I suppose I must seem a little bit crazy to one in your position.”
“A little bit… yeah. Just like I’m in a little bit of a bad place myself, you know the whole turning into a monster who will kill all my friends before my twenty-first birthday. Ha ha… Just a teensy bit annoying that.”
“Really? I’d have thought it would upset you more.”
Tom sighed. “That was a joke.”
“See? That’s what I mean. You really need to work on your sense of humour, Tom.”
“Yeah… why don’t you tell me a joke for a change?”
“Okay, how about this.” Ishara giggled. “I actually managed perfect control of the Mist. I think that’s because of the artefact up in the hills. It’s a powerful one, maybe one of the Decatria. The Mist swept down and engulfed Charkart’s men before they knew what had happened. A few survivors ran toward the Bedford defenders and were picked off like lambs. The entire attacking force, hundreds of men, were killed or turned to Draggers in a matter of hours. It was a total massacre.”
“That’s not funny… that’s horrible. Poor beggars.”
“Horrible? Oh. I guess I’m not good at telling jokes either.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “You can say that again.”
“I guess I’m not good—”
Tom snorted a humourless laugh. “Not what I meant!”
“Made you laugh.”
“You know, the more I talk with you, the more I wonder which one of us is crazy.”
“Can’t it be both?”
Tom closed his eyes and massaged his face. “I’m going to sleep now.”
“We were just getting to the important matters.”
“Gosh, and here I thought we were off on another insane tangent of yours designed to drag me down into your own personal world of crazy.”
“If you want to be like that, I won’t tell you.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “Fine, what is it?”
“No, no. You’re tired, and you need your beauty rest.”
“Ishara, just tell me.”
“Wouldn’t want to interfere with your precious sleep. No no no, that would be a crime.”
“Aww, don’t pout, just tell me.”
“Won’t. But in the morning you should really ask me about how to cure you, fix the Mist problem and save the world… that’s all.”
“What? Ishara, you know how to do that?”
“Yes, it all came back to me just now. That’s why I did it. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I keep saving you. Good night.”
“Ishara, this is very important. I need to know now, before you forget again.”
Tom listened intently but heard no response.
“Ishara, please tell me now. I’m sorry I called you crazy.”
There was still no response.
“Ishara! Ishara!”

End of Episode 6


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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas


The Orphans are taking a well-deserved break for the holidays. They'll be back in the new year with more fantastic adventures!

Art courtesy Steampunk Scholar

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Orphans of the Celestial Sea, E-6, C-2


The story so far…

Tom Cain rescued sisters Nikki and Willow Keats from psychotic Draggers (humans who have been turned into animalistic killing machines by exposure to Mist) and a Mist infestation with the help of sharpshooter Agatha West. They fled Milton on the apparently deserted airship Hecate. In the town of Havenvale they nearly lost Hecate to a crime-boss, Ponderoy Charkart, but a vertically-challenged mechanic named Shorty came to their rescue and joined the crew. On a smuggling run to Atlantis they picked up the latest member of the crew, Dog, a runaway gladiator.
Lately the crew tried to recover several tons of gold from Charkart’s warehouse, but they had to dump it to avoid crashing into a lake, as Hecate had taken heavy damage during a firefight. Tom managed to rescue some of the gold, but was dragged through a wisp of Mist. Before the psychotic rage that overtook him caused him to kill anyone, Ishara, a mysterious ghost-woman who haunts Hecate, twisted something inside his brain that knocked Tom unconscious. Now she’s patched his brain to keep him from turning into a Dragger, but the fix is only temporary. What’s more, Tom just found out that Charkart is assembling an army to invade Bedford, where Hecate is currently undergoing repairs, because Charkart thinks they still have the gold.


Episode 6
Chapter 2

Tom took a deep breath. “Whoa now… before I start, you have to promise me two things.”
Agatha’s pistol wavered for a moment from his forehead, then she snapped it back into position. “Why should I promise you anything?”
“They’re simple requests. All I want is that you keep this conversation between the two of us for now, and that you hear me out fully before pullin’ that trigger.”
“Okay, but only if you back off a few paces.”
Tom slowly stepped backwards until Agatha lowered the barrel of her revolver. He let out a breath and thought about how he could phrase things to avoid being filled full of holes.
“Don’t make me wait too long, Tom.”
“Right… sure, well first off, I wasn’t being quite straight up when I told you I didn’t hit any Mist.”
Agatha snapped the revolver back up into firing position, aimed straight at his head. “I knew it! God damn bastard! I should kill you right now.”
“You promised! Agatha, hear me out. Am I acting like a Dragger?”
She lowered the gun so it was pointed at his chest. “No… but I don’t know everything about Draggers.”
“No, you don’t. I don’t think many people do. It’s…. You know where you go when you die?”
“You’re seriously not doing anything to allay my concerns here, Tom, talkin’ about me dyin’ and all…. I suppose you’re just gone, finished, blackness, whatever.”
“Well, seems it’s more complicated than that. Mist is made up of dead people, Agatha, somehow their souls have been… I don’t know, defiled or something. They possess the living ‘cause they’re impotent on their own.”
“You’re still not convincin’ me.”
“Right, well Ishara is a ghost too. Only she’s whole, and she has some kind of powers. She fixed me so the spirit inside me can’t take possession.”
“You have any idea how crazy all this sounds?”
Tom grimaced. “Some. If I hadn’t lived it I probably wouldn’t believe it either. You’ve got to admit it explains Ishara at least.”
Agatha paused and rubbed at her temple with her off hand. “Yeah… it does that. So why is she undamaged, and everyone else is driven to killin’ rage?”
“I have no idea, but I think we can use this. If we can learn more, we can figure out how to do somethin’ about the Mist. Maybe even get rid of it entirely.”
Agatha holstered her revolver. “Even the chance of that is worth the risk. You show any signs of cracking though, and I won’t hold back.”
Tom nodded. “Agatha, if it comes to that, I expect no less. I’ll write a journal explaining everything, and keep it in the secret compartment in my room. If you have to kill me, you can use that to explain why.”
Agatha sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her sleeve. “Tom I…” her eyes started to mist, and she looked away, “I hope it don’t come to that.”
“Right, well I second that. Now, let’s go back a page. Who the hell could have stolen my gold?”
#
Harry Rees did not look pleased to see Nikki and Willow again. “You brought the gold?”
Nikki nodded and held up a messenger pouch.
Rees brightened slightly. “Let’s see it.”
Nikki dropped the heavy bag on the table. “There’s a bonus in it for you, if you can keep word we’re alive from getting back to our parents.”
Rees sniffed. “You two ought to give me a bonus for being a pain in my ass. If Charkart invades, I’ll have to find a new place to do business.”
Willow pushed the bag forward. “Well then you ought to be thankful. An extra two pounds of gold should help you relocate.”
Rees laughed. “Fair, but you know they’ll hear about you sooner or later.”
“You let us worry about that.” Willow turned and led Nikki out. “Come on, let’s get back to Hecate before anyone misses us.”
Nikki sighed. “Yeah… yeah.”
“We’re just doing what we got to.”
“Stealing from Tom.”
Willow put her arm around Nikki’s shoulder. “We’ll make it up to him, and it’s a damn sight better than going back to Mom and Dad.”
Nikki nodded. “The plan was for us to have so much gold Tom’d never notice it missing.”
“Nikki, I don’t like crossing Tom either, but we did what we had to.”
“I know… I just, I’d feel better if he was awake. I could have asked.”
“Nikki, don’t you do it.”
“Do what?”
“You’re going to tell him when he comes ‘round aren’t you?”
“No…” Nikki shoved her hands deep in her pockets, “well maybe.”
“Just let it be, he’ll be right cranky when he finds out it’s missing. We add in our affiliations, which is bound to come out in that discussion, and we might as well just go back to the Dodgers now.”
#
“Where have you been?” Tom eyed Nikki and Willow as they boarded Hecate.
Nikki was about to speak when Willow elbowed her in the midriff. “Just stretchin’ our legs.”
Nikki swallowed and nodded. “I’m so glad you’re okay, Tom. You are okay… right?”
Tom grinned. “Well, truth told, I felt terrible when I woke up. Now I’m doing a whole mess better. If it weren’t for the missing gold and Charkart on the warpath I’d be right dandy.”
Nikki shuffled her feet and cleared her throat. She looked ready to say something when Willow threw her arms around Tom and gave him hug. “We were worried about you ya big lug.”
Tom put an arm around Nikki’s shoulder. “Well, I’m fine. Is that what’s getting to you, or losing the gold?”
“Bit of both, I guess.” Nikki sniffed.
“It’s okay, really. I’m fine. I was pretty wound up when I found the gold missing, but I don’t blame you. I will stake whoever took it to an anthill and smother him in honey though.”
Willow punched him in the arm. “Don’t you think that’s a little harsh?”
Tom nodded. “Right, maybe I’ll just yank out all their finger and toenails with a pair of rusty pliers.”
“Well, we’ll probably never know who did it, so what does it matter? Gone is gone. We’ll find a way to make more.” Willow shrugged. “We should get back to helping Shorty fix up Hecate.”
“You don’t think it was one of the crew?”
Willow scratched her ear. “Maybe, but we had a half-dozen or so people from Bedford on board before anyone noticed the gold was missin’. Could have been any one of them.”
“What I don’t get is why they left us enough for repairs. Why not take all of it?”
“Who knows what goes through the minds of thieves and criminal lowlife types. We’re just a couple of small-town girls, right Nikki?”
Nikki frowned at her sister and sighed. “Yeah…. By the way, Tom, Sheriff is holding a town hall tonight. He wants one of us to stop by, give our side of things, you know.”
“Sure, I can handle that, sounds like fun.”
#
“Get out of our town!”
Tom ducked as a beer bottle whistled overhead. The crowd gathered in the town square roiled with anger.
“Pipe down!” The Sheriff of Bedford stepped forward, shielding Tom. “Any one of you throws another thing is going to land in jail so fast they’d swear they was born there!” He waited a moment for the crowd to settle. “Now, y’all know this has been comin’ for some time. If it weren’t for Hecate and her crew, Charkart would be comin’ in a month, or a year, maybe two, but sure as shootin’ he’d be comin’. Point is they didn’t bring trouble.” The Sheriff waved his hand in Tom’s direction. “Charkart is the enemy here, and any in-fightin’ goes on here only helps him.”
“If we got rid of them at least we’d have another while to prepare!” A tall man from the crowd pushed forward.
“That ship has sailed my friend. Once Charkart mounted an army there was only one place he was going to point it. There’s no way he’ll stand down, even if they left today.”
“But what if we turn them over?” A woman’s voice from the crowd. “All he wants right now is them!”
The Sheriff tipped his hat. “Ma’am, respectfully, he wants the gold he thinks they have more than he wants them. Even if we turned ‘em over, he’d think we were hidin’ the gold.”
“Well, how do we know they ain’t hiding the gold?” The tall man pressed forward.
“Yeah who would dump that much gold!” a fat man at the front said. “I’d push my wife out first if the load needed lightening.”
“You’d push your wife out for free!” shouted another voice.
“Point is,” said the tall man, “we think they’re holdin’ out. And we want our share!”
“We want a share! We want a share!” The crowd chanted, all of them surging forward at once.
The Sheriff backed off and put his hand to the revolver at his side. “Sorry ‘bout this Tom. I suspect Charkart’s men have been working behind the scenes here to rile folks up. They ain’t normally so cutthroat.”
Tom was about ready to draw his own pistol, when a series of gunfire reports echoed across the small valley. Everyone froze and listened to the wind. The shots continued, a rapid exchange of fire between two sides.
“They’re here!” called the Sheriff. “Every armed man get to your perimeter stations. Tom, you come with me.” He took off at a run toward the sound of battle.


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