As I get further in this story I’m realizing that I enjoy having more characters around. In the first book I had––what? Nine characters that were the main focus? And Vornis didn’t show up until the end. Back then if I wanted something to happen I had to make it work with just those few.
But now–! Look at this! I have many more characters to use! So many possibilities! Take this chapter for example: I’m having someone familiar show up just to see what happens! And also because I was going to put him in earlier but forgot, ha,ha.
This is why I’ll never understand those stories where half the characters die. Don’t those writers like having options? You can always make a character leave if they aren’t working out. “Put him on a bus” as those trope guys like to say. Or in Tyle’s case he actually came back on a bus.
That reminds me: I really should make a “cast of characters” page or something. Don’t let me forget to do that, Matt.
10 – Shirka’s Revenge
Pladomir lay on the dark shape as the flames from the other room glowed through the haze. The suit clapped together to encase him: starting at his torso and working down through his limbs. It molded around him and sealed itself as it went, leaving no visible seam behind. The entirety of the armor was transparent. Pladomir’s lit features glared through the helmet.
“Why have you done this, Shirka?” he asked. “Why lure me into this vile adornment again?”
The hazy image of Shirka let out a chuckle. “What’s good for the slave is good for the master. I think you always looked nice in it.”
Pladomir rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself up. “This is a violation of our law. Elder will punish you.”
“You think he will?” Shirka’s image asked. “I hope he doesn’t find out I went into your world, then.”
Pladomir looked past her. He staggered out, through the broken glass doors. He went to the burning pedestal, where the pipes converging to a point above it. “You wouldn’t have done such a thing,” he muttered. The fire blinded him as he leapt onto the pillar; when he opened his eyes he was in a cavernous lair. Smoke wafted out of the empty space above him, twining among the pipes that radiated out from a single spot. The pipes lead to machines, held by braces and wire. Large tanks labeled “O2 MIX” were set along the walls, and a system of conveyors lead out of each one. Bottles and jars of many shapes and volumes were carried on rollers and belts, spiraling away from the tanks through a funnel in the floor. The conveyers twisted down into an area below, where robotic arms snatched at them and whisked them out of sight. A railing was erected around the conical dip in the floor. Shirka leaned upon it.
“Looks like you caught me; I’m in trouble now,” she feigned. She tossed a glass bauble from one hand to the other.
“You will be executed for this, Shirka,” Pladomir said. “None of us are to intrude in each others’ worlds.”
Shirka laughed. “Oh, is that the rule?”
Pladomir stood with the anomaly smoking at his back. “What could be worth it?” he asked. “What did you do?”
“I wanted to see what would happen,” Shirka said. She held the bauble to the chain link strapped at her eye. “Did you forget what that suit was for? You’re cut off right now; it’s like you don’t even exist.” She looked up past the bauble, past the pipes, toward an object fastened to the ceiling. It was an ovular mirror with glowing filigree around the curved edges. “Your avatar.”
“Dear me, no,” Pladomir sputtered. He whirled around to stare at it. The reflective surface was warped, displaying a twisted view of the factory floor. The bright coloring was dimming. “Shirka, let me out of here!” he demanded. “This never happened–I won’t utter a word! Just don’t let it revert!”
“Millions of people on your world want this stuff,” Shirka began. She gave the bauble a toss. “Air from Arsiling. Packaged in glass and shipped to their homes. It does nothing. It serves no purpose at all. They only want it because you make them want it. You use that avatar to send your power of obsession around the globe.”
“It’s what we do, Shirka!” Pladomir said. “Why are you taking offense with me?”
“I show people what they need to see,” Shirka explained. “You show them something worthless.” She dropped the glass ball to the floor and it bounced away from her.
Pladomir watched it and straightened in his suit. “Shirka, I am losing millions as we speak. You are clearly upset. I am willing to talk to you about whatever grievances you have. Just please–let me out of here.”
“I almost forgot,” Shirka said. “You wanted to know where I put those containment suits. Here: let me show you.” She lifted both arms and many people appeared on both sides of her. They wore the environmental suits, staring out of them with bright facial features clouded by gas. Cameras were set up on tripods, and all of the lenses were pointed at Pladomir, the anomaly, and the massive avatar shaped like a mirror.
Pladomir shrunk back. “This can’t be happening,” he said. “They aren’t real; this is just another trick.”
A woman with crescent markings on the sides of her eyes spoke up. “We’re from the D.O.F.” she told him. “Shirka told us everything. We agreed to meet here–“
“No, this isn’t real,” Pladomir insisted. The massive mirror on the ceiling began to fade. “You could not get government officials in here; you would not risk breaking our law; I am not going to fall for it, Shirka!” He clapped the gauntlets of the armor together. “We’re still in the factory. That’s it. I can’t sense anything. I can’t trust anything.” He closed his eyes, stepping backward into the anomaly. “You can’t fool me. You can’t. You can’t.”
Dark hovered near one of the high arena windows, looking in.
“There’s a large, open area,” he relayed down to Darrow and the rest. “Dirt, foliage, bones.”
“Bones!? Is it her?” Darrow asked. Tenny elbowed him.
“They’re from some sort of large creature,” Dark said. “There are even exoskeletons. Nothing that looks human.”
“Hey, toss me some of those fruits,” Jelk called up. “The only food I found in that bag was cracker crumbs.”
Dark yanked a melon free from one of the vines. “I see cages along the edge of the arena: a few of them have Enpo inside. Those are the wolf-like beings that came out of the ship back at the pyramid.”
“So where’s the master?” Darrow asked. “Was it that tall one with the helmet?”
“I suppose,” Dark said, dropping the fruit into Jelk’s impatient arms. “I would set them free, but I don’t think it would do a whole lot of good right now.”
“We should load up on that fruit and get started toward the next place,” Tenny said. He went to the front of the makeshift cart, lifted it, and pointed it at the far-off Ferris wheel. The lit pattern on the frame resembled feathered wings; the other bright signs around it were too distant to be discerned.
Slaberdashia strode through the forest. Every step up the hill firm as she swatted the low tree branches away from her face. A pack of the Enpo trailed her, leaping and weaving through the thick brush. A chirp sounded from Slaberdashia’s helmet and she pressed a button near the visor without slowing her pace.
“Someone’s at the den,” she said with a light growl in her throat. A view of Dark’s floating body appeared on the inside of her helmet. He was taking a melon from the vine-laden window and tossing it down to the cart. “Feh!” Slaberdashia muttered. “They would come while we’re away.” She clicked her visor’s image off. “Maybe the bear traps will get him.”
She came to a break in the trees and halted. The pack held back, positioning themselves behind the trunks. A road was past the clearing: Dhaston’s vehicle was parked on the incline.
“It’s warm,” Slaberdashia said. “Where are they? Ah–up there.”
She peered through the leaves, following the road up the hill. A building was near the peak, with long windows facing outward. Half of it was held up from the ground by long, wooden struts.
“There are six of them,” she whispered. “Let’s see who comes out to face me.”
Tecker took a seat at a table by the long window. He frowned at the view: hills scarred with bright flame and shrouded with black smoke. He was wearing his tattered gray suit and a holster beneath the jacket. Vornis took to the other side of the table, with Dhaston easing into a chair next to Tecker. Toreen was at the bar, speaking to an aged man behind it.
“You need to come with us, Cots; it’s not safe.”
Cots squinted his eyes at Vornis. “What is that thing? That a monster?”
“He’s one of the aliens from the Fair, remember?” Toreen said. “But there are monsters outside.”
“You all come up the road?” Cots asked. He set the broom he was holding against the bar and headed over to the long window. “You and the rest are always telling me not to maintain it–but here you are! It’s the only way out here; hex door’s closed.”
Tyle Dhaston clicked his tongue. “So unreliable, aren’t they? You should invest in a Jesice-made vehicle.”
“And who might you be?” Cots asked.
“I’m Tyle Dhaston, entrepreneur. I’m traveling with Lord Ley Tecker here.”
“Former Lord Ley,” Tecker said. “My term recently ended. I always wanted to come back to this planet.”
“Really? I thought you looked like a noble,” Toreen said. “Too bad your visit isn’t under friendlier circumstances.”
Tecker let out a sigh. “It seems like things are always going wrong,” he lamented. “I tried to use my influence to get exploration of your world started, but plans always got ruined. First the city was destroyed, then that monster attacked the capitol. Then someone else held us hostage. And then–! Just as you all came back from that Pinada incident and your world is populated again? My term ends! I can’t even help the people that I promised. I told them I’d make coming here easy. Now it’s all in the hands of bureaucrats and businessmen. No offense, Tyle.”
Tyle shruggged. Cots tapped the table.
“Normally people drink before they tell me their sad tales,” he said.
Tecker chuckled. “Sorry. I’ll just have water.”
“We shouldn’t be staying that long, anyway,” Tyle said. “If you don’t want to ride with me that’s fine–but I still have an appointment with King.”
Cots went to the window. “We don’t open for a while,” he said. “Maybe I’ll ride. Is that it down there? Next to that–what is that? Some other monster?”
“Other?” Tyle choked out as he leaned across Tecker. On the road below Slaberdashia was striding up to Tyle’s vehicle. The open roof came up to her waist. She hopped atop the van, and the body sank beneath her weight. The sun glimmered on her visor as she tipped her head up to stare at the building. She opened her mouth and exhaled a loud shout.
“What is that!?” Tyle sputtered. “My car! What is that!? It’s some kind of giant, furry, monster woman!”
“Yep,” Cots said with a nod.
“Just what is going on?” Tecker asked. “The wolves might have been from this planet, but that–that doesn’t look indigenous.”
“Nope,” Cots said. “And I’ve lived here for sixty-two years.”
Tecker studied the combat armor Slaberdashia wore. “You don’t suppose this is another alien?”
“Just how many planets have things living on them!?” Tyle groaned. “And why do they hate my car!? You!” He pointed at Vornis. “Go beat her up!”
“Me? Why do I have to do it?” Vornis asked.
“Because you’re the monster! I saw you fight! You were able to beat me, anyway!”
Cots flinched. “You beat up a guy on crutches?”
“I know you’re up there!” Slaberdashia bellowed. “By the laws of Arsiling I can not kill you! Come out and fight or I will destroy your home!”
“Arisiling?” Tecker repeated. “I’ve heard of that.”
“Vornis, please!” Tyle pleaded. “She just said she wouldn’t kill you. Just do that leaping thing and, you know, toss those scales at her.”
“That’s where that creature said it was from!” Tecker recalled. “Arsiling.” He pushed back from the table. “I’m going to see what it wants.”
“I’ll go too,” Cots said. “No one’s running me off my land.”
Tyle groaned. “This is a nightmare. I can’t be responsible for this.”
Slaberdashia sat on the cab of the bus, her long legs crossed over the passenger side. She stroked at the hair that hung down from her arms, and the bones woven into it clinked together. Footsteps on the pavement neared. She slid off the cab. Tecker, Tyle, and Cots had walked down from the bar. They halted as she studied them.
“What is this?” she asked, tapping on one of the rear-view mirrors. “A cripple? An old man? And who are you, scrawny thing?”
“I’m, ah, a former Lord Ley of Jesice,” Tecker said. “I’ve dealt with your race before, and I’d like to hear your intentions.”
Slaberdashia bared her black teeth. “Race? I don’t have a race.” She pounded the mirror with her fist. Tyle winced and held up his finger a moment before retracting it.
“You’re probably talking about my sister,” Slaberdashia went on. “She did claim your planet as hers, but now it has been relinquished to the rest of us.”
Cots gave his head a half-twist. “I’m not giving my land to anyone,” he said. Slaberdashia swung her long arm out, catching him in the chest and pressing him to the pavement. Tyle tottered backward and Tecker reached for his pistol. Slaberdashia hunched over Cots’ body, her palm on his chest; his wrinkled head stared back at her from between her index and middle finger.
“You want my land you’ll have to kill me,” Cots gasped.
“Let him go!” Tecker cried. He snapped the gun’s safety off and aimed the barrel at Slaberdashia’s hairy arm. She bared her teeth at him.
“I can’t kill any of you; I said that,” she admitted. “But I have my own way of getting you to obey.”
A bark sounded from the forest. Slaberdashia released Cots. Vornis flew from the treetops on the opposite side of the road, wielding the sword with the feathered hilt. Slaberdashia bounded sideways, onto the road’s shoulder. Vornis landed, swinging the sword at empty air.
“They heard me,” Vornis growled. He reached down to Cots with his free hand.
“It’s fine; thanks,” Cots assured him, rising to his feet. Tecker kept his gun pointed at Slaberdashia. Her mouth twisted beneath the spattered visor that concealed her eyes. She recoiled, using a tree trunk to steady herself.
“What–what is that!?” she asked. She tipped her head up, peering down at Vornis past her visor. She took in the vein spikes that protruded from his neck and sides, squinting next at the sheets of plated scales that hung across his button-up shirt and jeans. “That isn’t just clothing–what are you!?” she cried.
“You’re kidding,” Tyle muttered. The Enpo’s long faces poked out from their spots next to the trees, sniffing, inching forward. Slaberdashia sent them still with a glance.
“Answer! What are you?” Slaberdashia inquired. “There isn’t any living creature that looks like you do: not on any planet we have.”
Vornis snapped his fingers at Tecker, Cots, and Tyle, then jerked his thumb at the van. The three made their way over to the door on the driver’s side.
“Lady,” Vornis started, “I don’t even know what to say. You knock out our power, set everything on fire, you send these dogs to chase us everywhere, and now you want to know my life story?”
“She wants to take my bar, too!” Cots added. “You tell her–you tell her that I got this place back in–“
“Yeah, I’ll tell her; just get in there,” Vornis said. Slaberdashia pushed away from the tree, stepping onto the road with one slow stride. Her form blanked out the dim light from the hazy sun.
“You’re like us, aren’t you?” she asked. She pressed her palms together and eyed him more closely. “A normal person, but changed.” She stroked the length of her arm, displaying the long hair and interwoven bones. “Made different. For a reason.”
Vornis cocked his head up at her, holding the sword off to the side. “I was. But I thought I was the only one.”
Slaberdashia smiled, baring her black, jagged teeth. “There are eight of us. Two of us are here on your world. The rest are back on Arsiling.”
“There’s another one!?” Tyle gasped from behind the van with the others.
Vornis ignored him. “I know Parlay didn’t do this to anyone else, so who was it that changed you? Miss–?”
“My name is Slaberdashia,” she replied. “I was made by one of the first to dominate the populated worlds.”
“The first?” Vornis asked. “First what?”
Slaberdashia held up a finger. “The first people that were made.”
Quick First Draft Notes:
The title – There’s no way I’m keeping this as “Shirka’s Revenge.” I just put it there because I couldn’t think of anything; it sounds like a cheesy film title. But at this point it’s tough to make one title that fits everything. Only the first segment is about Shirka, right? I’ll have to think hard to find some clever title with a double-meaning that will blow your mind. Or triple or quadruple meaning as the case may be.
“Shirka exposes Pladomir” – There’s no way I got this right the first time. I’ll have to set up some scenes from this planet beforehand or something. Maybe I’ll just have one of Pladomir’s slaves explain everything to Mean: that everyone on their world is under the “obsession” spell. Maybe Whittler can talk about it.
“Dark, Darrow, Tenny, and Jelk find Slaberdashia’s angle.” – Yeah, “angle.” That’s what the areas on Arsiling are called. I’m sure you were smart enough to figure that out––it’s not like there were protractors lying around or something. Too bad nothing really happens here. Dang it, guys! Stop fooling around! Go get into a thrilling situation, will ya!?
“Slaberdashia meets Vornis, Cots, Toreen, and Tecker.” – Yes, Tecker is with them now! Whoa, where’d he come from? Oh, that’s right! I just made him appear because this is my first draft and I can do whatever I want! Just pretend he was asleep in Tyle’s bus; I can always put in a proper introduction later.
To be honest I didn’t think Cots would show up again either. He was just running the bar in book two, but here he is! Out defending his land from unruly hooligans. I must be getting nostalgic for my own grandpas now that they’re gone from this world. I miss all of that crotchety boasting. ::wipes at a tear::
So tune in next time! After Vornis twists his ankle, Cots steps in to battle Slaberdashia! How many nostalgic tales can she endure!?