Crystal Tech Sneak PreviewJanuary 8, 2009
It’s not a final, finished product, but it’s what I have for Chapter One of Crystal Tech. Comments and critiques are welcome. I think it may need some more “meat” on it, but it has the events I want to cover in the first chapter.
When it’s closer to final, I’ll do a recording of it to try out voices and work out kinks.
It really figures. The minute I find a quiet place to lay my head, someone has to burst in and ruin my evening.
“I oughts to run you through meself.”
Alright, I confess. The evening had been paid for out of the fat merchant’s purse. Of course he hadn’t been aware of it at the time. Details, really. Cratus Tyrell, or Cratus the Fat as he was called behind his back, was a sweaty, ill-tempered aspiring tyrant that ran the city of Illisport with a flabby fist. Yes, flabby. The iron fist was that of his bodyguard, a former soldier named Rax Dran with skin the color of midnight and muscles the likes of which I’d never before beheld.
“Cratus, you’re getting sweat on my best doublet.” I was reserving my usual venom for the overfed pig due, in no small part, to Rax’s presence. I was confident with my blade, but a rapier was rarely a match for a scimitar the size of a large dog. “Can you drip someplace else?”
I was comforted by the grunt of laughter from the bodyguard. It was no secret the big man had no love for his employer, but that was tempered by a fierce sense of honor and loyalty. He might like my wisecracks, but it wasn’t going to save my bacon today.
Cratus stood there, dripping and smelling. I could nearly see what passed for crystal works mechanics in his brain processing my words through his rage.
“Right then,” the merchant said thickly, “Rax, gut ‘im like a fish.”
I rose then, drawing my blade, ready to fight to the death. I spead my legs, balancing my weight, sword at the ready. I fixed my gaze on my opponent and he returned the stare. I saw no fear, no anger, no malice. So I did the only thing a bold and brash swashbuckler like myself could do.
I grabbed my rucksack and dashed through the window to my right and ran like as though my life depended on it. Because, well, it did.
Sure, it wasn’t the heroic fight that bards spin into epic poems, but it does keep one alive. That is, if I could manage to stay one step ahead of pistols and crystal rifles. Crystal rifles? Gods above and below, I must have really tweaked the flatulent bastard good this time. Bullets ricocheted off the stonework above my head as I crouched in an alleyway to catch my breath. Taking stock of my situation, it didn’t look good. I had the clothes on my back, a few coins in my purse and my blade. The rucksack, thankfully, held my pistols, a spare set of clothes, and my father’s leather duster. It was the only thing the drunken fool left me, but I was glad for it on rainy Illisport nights.
My reverie was broken by a crystal rifle’s beam punching a sizable hole in the barrel that had been my only protection. Back on my feet, I found myself, running hither and thither with no sense of where I was going, only trying to some distance between myself and those blasted guns.
A larger blast opened a hole in the building to my left. Never one to look unfavorably upon a blessing, I dove through it and found myself in a maze of crates and barrels. Footsteps were closing in from the alley outside. Readying my sword I began running, trying to find a way out of my labyrinthine predicament. I was beginning to feel a sense of helplessness as I ran into yet another dead end. Spinning around I found myself face to face with one of Rax’s henchmen. Steel rang upon steel as our swords met only a heartbeat later. My parries blocked his slashes and likewise mine were blocked. I didn’t have time to play around like this. Every moment I dawdled with the thug, the closer Rax, and his massive killing blade, came to my throat. With a sudden inspiration, I feinted right, making him lunge, over-extending himself. Too close for my blade, I managed a quick, but fierce blow to his face with the hilt of my rapier. I felt and heard bones crack in his face as his nose spurted blood and he went down in a heap.
I hesitated, not really wanting to kill the man outright. The decision was made for me as yet another rifle blast splintered a crate to my left.
“I get the bloody hint!” I screamed over my shoulder, making with all due haste in the opposite direction. A left, then a right, and another right. Another dead end. This time it was blocked by a crate half again as big as a man. I smashed the lock off with my hilt and tugged the crate door open, ducking in without a second look. It was only a few seconds later when I heard boots rounding the corner and skittering to a stop. I held my breath and counted to three before I burst back out of crate, sending the rifle-wielding hunter to the ground.
I scooped up his rifle and brought my blade to his throat, softly shushing him. It didn’t seem to do any good, as them man screamed like a banshee and bolted from my sight. I know I’m fierce with a blade, but I doubted I generate that kind of fear in mortal men. It wasn’t until I heard the heavy footfalls and felt the heavy, fetid breath on my neck that I realized I was not the source of the hunter’s fear.
I turned slowly, not certain what I was expecting. What met my eyes was something out of crystalsmith’s worst nightmare. The man, and I use the term loosely, stood at least half a meter taller than myself, and at two meters that’s no mean feat. He was broader than any man I’d ever met, even Rax, with fists the size of large hams. And despite his immense size, that’s not what held my attention, it was his pale gray skin and his eyes. No, there were no eyes, just crystals. Burning red crystals. Crystals that belong in machines, engines, even weapons. Not in a man’s head. Several tubes, hoses, and various gears and machinery protruded from the thing’s head, neck, and shoulder. I shuddered involuntarily and the motion seemed to enervate the man-machine. It opened its mouth and emitted a scream, part human, part mechanical squeal.
That enervated me and, with new rifle in hand I bolted in the direction the hunter just ran. I lost track of my lefts and rights as I ran haphazardly through the maze of crates until I slammed full-face into a wall. No, that’s not a wall.
“‘Allo my little friend,” Rax said, with his thick tropical accent, staring down at me with a vicious grin. “I don’t know how you avoided my compatriots, but here I am and here you are.”
“Listen…Rax,” I said, gasping for air between words, “I’d love to continue this little tete-a-tete, but we’ve both got bigger problems.”
A anguished scream and the sound of something being torn apart resounded maybe 20 meters away. Some of the color left Rax’s dark face at the sound.
“Really, really big problems,” I finished.
“What in the name of the Seven…”
“I don’t know, but I am not waiting to find out,” I said, and taking advantage of his distraction, ran around the big man and headed for the main doors.
The sun had yet to crest over the mountains and found myself in the most unlikely of places, the docks. Moored as far as I could see were sailing vessels and airships of all shapes and sizes. I spun around for a glimpse of either of my pursuers. Only Rax could be seen, beating a path towards me, but with no apparent interest in fighting me. As he came level with me he spun around to face the warehouse. At that moment the Man-Machine unceremoniously smashed its way out of the builiding, caring not a lick for property or obstruction. Its gaze was locked on the two of us. Without a word we both drew weapons, I my pistol, and Rax his viscious looking scimitar. I’d emptied the chamber in half the time it took to close the distance between us. A titanic fist came smashing down between Rax and myself, sending us sprawling in opposite directions. Rax, like a true warrior, sprang to his feet, blade flashing and raining down blows. Again and again the big mercenary landed blows that would rend a normal man in half, but none of these mighty swings did more than leave small marks on the creatures skin.
I, not being the classic warrior type, felt the urge to cut and run again. But, I had to admit, watching Rax be valiant and epic, I just couldn’t leave him there. But what to do? My gun was empty, my sword would be less than useless against that thing. I had nothing…except the crystal rifle. Swallowing, I drew a bead on the thing’s head. The first shot of green light hit and smoldered, but did nothing to stop the monstrosity. The second and third were even less effective. By now it had disarmed Rax and tossed him like a discarded plaything. It turned its baleful gaze upon me and started towards me.
I drew deep breath and sighted down the barrel, focusing on its forehead. I exhaled, squeezed the trigger, and…nothing. The crystals were dead. Just like me. I popped the housing open, as if I knew what the hell I was doing and looked at the crystals. Dull blue and yellow crystals just sat there. In the early dawn light I couldn’t make much out. I had maybe fifteen meters between me and the thing. Then its head began glowing. No, that wasn’t right, the sun was rising. By the gods above and below it was uglier in the light. It’s crystals glinting in the morning glow, making the red look demonic and…
The morning light! I raised the gun above my head into the early streams of sunlight. Immediately, both crystals began to glow on their own. Only ten meters to go, I drew and fired. I may never know what made me aim for the thing’s eyes, but the beam flashed bright and true, ripping through the right ocular cavaty, making the crystal erupt in a shower of red shards and blowing out the backside of its head. Like a marionette with no strings, it fell limp to the ground and didn’t move again. I fought the compulsion to examine the body, knowing whatever made that thing wanted only death to follow in its wake. I gathered my gear and took stock of the situation.
Rax, in the meantime had recovered his senses and his scimitar and was making straight for me. Scanning the nearest row of ships, I found what I was looking for: A weathered, but sturdy looking vessel that was just casting off its lines and spinning up propellers to lift off. I spied that big Rax rounding the corner.
Sprinting across the boardwalk I made one of biggest leaps of my left, landing less than gracefully on the ship’s deck. Before I could scramble to my feet, I felt the heavy boots of my pursuer land beside me.
A sharp, thin, razor of a man was standing on the deck, barking orders and wearing a crisp, clean uniform. His attention was now locked onto this uninvited newcomer sprawled out on his deck. I stood and straightened up as best I could.
I snapped a quick salute, “Nathanial McGrath, reporting for duty sir!”
The thin man raised an eyebrow then, quick as lightning, had a pistol drawn and pointed at my head.