A Soulless Christmas, Parts Five and Six
This very special Forsaken Stars Tale of A Soulless Christmas takes place in Captain Sera Besh’s youth. You know, before she was a Captain. To begin with Part One, click here. This is the startling, bone-chilling, hair-rising, blood-pumping conclusion. And yes, it’s double-sized for your reading pleasure!
Samwell sped across the farmland cursing his underestimation of the value of Nieve, and the ruthlessness of those coming for him. No room for parley? Shoot first, ask questions later? I suppose that’s the modus operandi of Troll privateers. Let’s just hope they’re not all seven or eight feet tall and built like golems. He chose a diagonally curved course that would take him near the winter rye fields, but would then arc north to the forest. He figured that even with Nieve in human form, his hearing was above par and as soon as he’d heard the pulse muskets, he would have headed for the forests—he wouldn’t have known to go to any of the neighboring farms, and he wouldn’t trust them to take him in if he did know.
Sam took his hovercar as deep into the forest as he could, which wasn’t very deep, and then parked it to continue on foot. He fastened his rocket pack to his jacket—a power suit wouldn’t be too much good against Trolls. No, he needed speed and maneuverability if he was going to survive contact, let alone stay alive long enough to attempt to reason with them. “Crazy old man,” he muttered to himself. He realized he need to reason with himself first, so he slung a pulse rifle over his arm and checked the power levels on his pair of six-shooter fireblasters. Next he outfitted his utility belt with an assortment of light, smoke and energy grenades and a few other surpises. As he treked away from the car, his datatablet started to feed him intermittent, fuzzy captures from B9’s encounter with the Privateers and any info Sera could gleen from them. “That’s my girl.”
There were about eight or nine of them, only half of them Trolls, but the others a gruesome assemblage of Gotham, Gorgon, Vulturian, Mechan and Blackroach. The Blackroach was likely second in command, and would be the hardest to kill or reason with. “I hate Blackroaches.”
Sam could tell their communications were being jammed, and likely monitored, but Sera used a varying pulse frequency to slip through the jam and make it difficult to monitor. Sam took a moment to savor the pride, and then shook it off, because from here on out, every moment would require the most intense focus, and lightning quick decision-making.
Such was his concentration, he nearly walked into the statue in the middle of a clearing. “One of the Trolls. Must have looked into the face of the Gorgon.” The Troll’s face wore the contorted expression of one both surprised and repulsed. “Her hideous beauty was the last thing he saw, poor bastard.”
Sam took careful note of the snow-packed footfalls around the seven foot tall, four foot wide stone creature. There had been chaos, branches hewn into javelins littered the ground. Musket fire had hit several trees, and then the tracks moved almost uniformly north east.
Snowflakes were starting to fall. If Sam didn’t hurry, he’d lose the abilty to track them soon. It was impossible to tell if Emmy’s boots numbered amongst the tracks, but he prayed she was hiding high up, safe in some tree somewhere, waiting for the end of this.
Sam followed a path of destruction as the Trolls bashed down trees in an effort to get at their prey. Swiftly and silently Nieve must have zig-zagged in and out of their company, taking out one man at a time. The Gorgon was beheaded. A second Troll had lost an arm and bled all over the snow, which quickened the pace at which Sam could track them. The Vulturian’s wings had been clipped by two well-launched javelins, and he thrashed high up in a dredwood tree. Sam launched himself up the tree, untangled the Vulture-like humanoid, brought him down to the ground and asked him where they were headed and asked after his wife and brother. “Up the mountain. And I seen no woman,” he rasped, “but for every one of our men the Snowcub kills, your brother loses an extremity. This, Captain Korglord swears.”
“Why not just kill him and be done with it?”
“Korglord likes the hunt.”
“Doesn’t he realize he’s being hunted?”
The Vulturian balked and Sam punched him out and continued on his way.
* * *
Sera prayed they weren’t too late. She held tight to the reigns as her tri-horse, Quicker, did its best to keep up with Relampagio. It was said the Wolfen were supernatural, and that their speed, strength and fighting skills were enhanced by magic, like the Delven, Faerien, and other Mythics. Sera’s early study books tried to make links with Earth’s own mythologies, that maybe the Roswell-like alien Quarveil had something to do with seeding a young Earth with their kind, leading to all the mythological stories, but they never did quite add up for her. And right now, she was more focused on keeping her saddle.
The distress beacon had died a few minutes ago, but Sera was able to guess that Nieve had gone deep into the forest, and was likely heading back towards the site where his ship had crashed.
Relampagio darted in and out of the trees, easily leapt over downed trunks, bushes and other foliage. Even at his speed, he was able to avoid the poisonous Wertger plant, named after its first victim, and ran over the surface of the half-frozen Red Eel River. Sera nearly lost him when she slowed down to more carefully cross the river. There was a gap in the ice floes, and she looked down into the clear water to see a Troll looking up at her. She drew her taserblaster, but the monster was dead. “The River could not support his great weight,” Relampagio said, and kept moving. Sera, atop Quicker, crossed the river and followed him.
Nearly at the top of the mountain, Relampagio stopped and crouched over a stain. Sera noticed the snowflakes had turned to snow. Tracking would get a lot harder, for everyone.
Nieve’s brother picked up a pack of snow, sniffed it. Tasted it. “He is wounded.”
“Oh, no. He’ll revert to human form!”
Relampagio stood and ran, continuing up the mountain’s peak and over.
“Wait!” Sera shouted, and kicked Quicker into a gallop.
* * *
Samwell and Nieve stood behind a large granite slab, both of them breathing heavy. Nieve had a pulse blast shot in his side and it was bleeding badly. Sam handed Nieve his pulse rifle and then drew his fireblasters. In the distance, the crashed Ohm transport cruiser that had brought Nieve to P4112, or as the Soulless locals liked to call it, Smallworld.
“I shoulda brought a medkit,” Sam said.
“Damn this human form!” Nieve said. In his Wolfen form, he would have healed already.
“If you hadn’t reverted to human form, I never would have been able to fly you off the top of that mountain, and we’d both be dead by now. I told you, it’s got its advantages.”
“Apologies, Samwell Besh. I thank you for these few more moments of life. All that much more chance to tear the throat out of that Troll Captain.”
“OR,” Sam said, “We make for that ship over yonder and get him to listen to my proposition.”
“Proposition? I killed or wounded half his drop crew, I doubt he’ll listen to any—”
“He’s still got my brother, and that’s gotta mean something.”
“Yes. Trolls like to play with their food.”
Sam looked at him gravely, and held up a finger to silence such talk.
“We’re coming to get you, boys!” Korglord barked, still over a hundred yards away, his voice carrying in the wind. “Come on out and I promise your torture will be short and sweet. After all, it’s dinner time!”
“He can’t be serious. He didn’t come all this way to eat you,” Sam said.
“Wolfen meat is prized amongst Trolls and Giants for its enhancement of fight, speed… and heart.”
“I see. Well, then let’s hope his greed is greater than his hunger. What’s in the ship, anyway? Weapons? An escape shuttle?”
“I was going to draw them in and breach the core.”
“Good plan. A bit fatalistic, but solid nonetheless.”
“Perhaps we can rocket to safety once the self-destruct countdown is under way?” Nieve asked, a trace of hope in his voice.
Sam shook his head, unclipping the pack from his rocket jacket. “Rocket pack is no good. Damn Blackroach is a good shot. Go, I’ll cover you.”
Nieve nodded, and bolted for the ship. Sam darted out from behind the granite slab and laid down cover fire. The Privateers were still a great distance away, but they had started to return fire, and their weapons had a greater range than Sam’s energy six shooters. He fired a few more shots, then ran after Nieve.
Ahead of them, the privateer ship, a mean, angular, black, diamond-shaped thing, rose angrily from behind the Ohm cruiser.
“Hahaha!” Korglord laughed, his voice breaking in over Sam’s comm headset. “Where did you think we started our search for the Snowcub, Besh? The South Pole? Hahaha!”
Sam and Nieve turned to face the Privateers and dropped their weapons.
A Soulless Christmas Part Six
Sera dismounted from Quicker over a hundred paces back, and crept up to the privateers as they bound her father and Nieve and brought them both to their knees next to her uncle Dorn. When the Troll captain punched her father in the face, sending him to the ground, she wanted nothing more than to run to him, but Relampagio held her back, and told her to stay put, and that under no circumstances was she to interfere.
She didn’t know how he was going to face off against the Troll captain, the Blackroach, the Mechan (who was built like a mini-tank, tracks and all), the one-armed Troll and their ship hovering less than seventy feet overhead—they were in the open clearing between a granite slab and the downed Ohm ship—Relampagio was fast, but could he bridge the distance between the trees that offered them cover and the privateers before getting gunned down?
She had promised not to interfere, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t still try to help in some way, so she pulled her porta-comp from her satchel and started running passive scans while straining to hear the exchange between captors and captives.
“I’ve had Soulless meat before. I found it to be quite bland.”
“We shouldn’t linger, Captain. This is Samwell Besh of the Republic of Humanity. He has friends,” the Blackroach said.
“Ah, yes, the great and reckless Commander Samwell Besh. I heard you were courageous, but taking in a Lupos? With a Man Curse? Madness.”
Her father got back to his knees, and wiped the blood from his mouth onto his shoulder. “You should talk, Korglord, whoring yourself out to Ohm to bring back a wolfcub.”
“You’re getting old, Besh. I liberated the whelp from his oppressors, and now I’m taking him home for a King’s Ransom. And restitution for damages sustained and crew lost.”
“Let him go,” Samwell said.
“You’re in no place to bargain,” the Blackroach said, his dark chitinous head scanning the surroundings nonetheless, wary.
“Let him go and I’ll provide you coordinates to an Unarium cache the likes of which has never been seen on this side of the galaxy.”
“We’re not miners, Besh.”
“But Dwarven are. And the Republic has amassed a secret store—”
Captain Korglord lifted Besh off his knees and drew him close, “And this boy is worth that to you?” His great neanderthalic brow drew low over his eyes in disbelief.
“This boy, my brother, and a promise that you’ll never show your hideous face around these parts again.”
Korglord dropped Samwell back onto the snow-covered ground and laughed, “And I’m just supposed to leave, with nothing to show for it but directions to a Uni store and your word that it exists?”
“If it’s not there, then our agreement is null and you can come back and do as you will.”
“Talk! All talk. And I hunger. The Lupos boy need not return home with all his appendages. Bello,” Korglord addressed his one-armed Troll crewmate, “Exact your revenge.”
“You had your chance, Korglord,” Sam said.
“Sir, lifesigns detected,” the Mechan said. And then his head blew up as Relampagio’s sword spun through it.
The ship’s pulse turrets trained themselves on Relampagio as he bridged the gap from the edge of the forest towards Korglord and it fired, once, twice and a third time, missing him. He made one final leap at the Troll Captain—Samwell, seeing the Blackroach take aim with his long-barrelled pulse rifle, got to his feet and threw himself into him, ruining his shot.
Bello, moving towards Nieve, had his legs swept out from under him by the young Wolfen, who then twisted in his bonds, to bring them around the one-armed Troll’s neck. He squeezed hard as the Troll reached back and grasped at his face with his remaining hand.
Relampagio came down on Korglord claws bared. Korglord drew his pulse musket and fired, landing a glancing shot. Relampagio sank his claws deep into the Troll captain’s chest and sweeped outward. Blood arced across the snow.
At that moment, Sera found the frequency the Captain was using to remote pilot his ship, and hacked the now headless (and directive-less) Mechan to commandeer its jamming tech to jam the Captain’s signal. The ship wavered and hung limp in the sky.
The Blackroach wrestled Sam off of him and rose to his feet. “The great and reckless Sam Besh,” he said, with relish, “It will be my honour to dispatch you from this life.” He drew a rapier with one of his other arms, drew back to thrust—and then was shot from behind. He shuddered but did not die, and spun around to see a woman at the opposite end of the forest’s edge. Sera followed his gaze to see her mother standing there, holding a double barreled pulse rifle. She fired again, and he took another step back.
“Enough!” Captain Korglord bellowed, knocking Relampagio away from him, stumbling over to Nieve and pressing his musket against his silver-blue haired head. “Anyone moves again and the Snowcub dies.”
Sera stepped out from her hiding place, a tree and bushes near the granite slab, “No!” And the Blackroach trained his rifle on her.
“And the girl as well,” he said, smirking.
“Oh, Sera…” Sam said.
“That is not going to happen, pirate,” Emilene said, “You are not in charge here.”
“We may be outgunned, miss,” Korglord said, clutching at his wounds, “But you are outmatched.”
“You are mistaken, sir,” Emilene said, and gestured for the others to emerge.
From the forest, two dozen Soulless emerged, men and women, armed and armored. And four heli-jets rose up from the mountain’s peak and over, criss crossing and circling back to hover just overhead.
“Now drop your weapons and get off our land,” Sam said, getting to his feet.
Korglord wore an almost admiring toothy grin and hesitated, before tossing his musket aside.
The Blackroach followed suit.
Sera powered down the Mechan, which allowed Korglord to remote control his ship again, bringing it low enough to board.
“Any chance you might hand over those coordinates?” Korglord asked of Sam.
“Core yourself, Troll,” was Sam’s reply.
Korglord picked up his one armed brother, unconconscious from Nieve’s suffocating rope choke, and the Blackroach stepped up onto the Mechan and drove it up the ship’s ramp after them. It lurched with power fluctuations.
The Besh family huddled around Dorn and watched the ship rise up until it was just a speck and then nothing.
“How are you, brother?” Samwell asked Dorn.
“Minus a couple of digits and toes, but I suppose I’ll live. I hope I give that finger eating Troll the shits. I was cleaning out the stalls when they hit us.”
“My sincerest apologies, Dorn Besh. I will take up your chores until you recover.”
“You will do nothing of the sort, little brother. You have to come home, to answer for your crimes. I am here to escort you back, or deliver a swift judgment, if you refuse.”
“What?” Sera said, incredulous, eyes wide, bottom teeth showing, “You came all this way just to kill him? That doesn’t make any sense! You nearly killed yourself to save him.”
“It is our way, Sera Besh,” Relampagio said, pulling his sword out of the snow and holding on to bruised ribs.
“Then you’ll have to get through all of us,” Goony said, surrounded by Soulless.
Relampagio surveyed their stalwart faces, breathed deep and looked to his brother.
“You would stay in this form? Does it not disgust you?” He asked under his breath.
Nieve looked to Sera and Emilene and Samwell, and finally his brother, and he said, “It… has it’s advantages. If you are agreeable to it, I would like to serve out my sentence in the Besh’s service.”
“I will have to take this to the Tribal Council,” Relampagio said slowly, as his thoughts turned to words, “I suspect their deliberations will be contentious—and protracted.”
Sera wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but she took it to be a good thing when Nieve’s grim face broke into a smile.
“It might take years for them to come to a decision,” he said, finally, and opened his arms to welcome his brother’s embrace.
“Thank you, brother!”
“It was good to see you, Nieve. But I must return home quickly, otherwise the Guard themselves might come for you.” Relampagio’s demeanor went from hopeful to fearful.
“No, stay, brother, but for a night.”
“He’s right. We could use a hand,” Samwell said, looking to Emilene, who held him tightly.
Sera nodded, and took his large clawed hand in hers, “Please. Stay for dinner. It’s Christmastime.”
“Christmastime? What is Christmastime?” Relampagio asked.
“It is wonderful, brother. Just wonderful.”
That’s it folks! I sincerely hope you enjoyed our dark not-so-little Christmas story. Apologies if I dragged on too long, I rushed to get it done by the deadline, so it could stand some cutting and polishing, and I’m sure there’s a plot hole or two–like how did Emilene get there so fast and contact everybody? Be gentle, but also be honest, I want to know what you liked and didn’t like.
This is also your final chance to win a sketch from this story! Leave a comment below, again be gentle yet honest. Constructive, not cruel–unless you feel you must. A mutually serving comment would be which is your favorite scene out of this story? Deadline to comment on Parts One through FiveSix is 11PM Christmas Eve Pacific Standard Time. A sketch will be given away for each post (even though there are six parts, there are only five posts) so you have five chances to win! Drawing will be held on Christmas Day! Good Luck and Happy Holidays!
*Note: Sketches will be delivered when two conditions are met: 1) That the winner has been notified, and confirmed receipt of notification. and 2) When the sketch is completed. Now I’m trying to sketch at every available moment I’m not working the day job or sleeping and since it’s retail, free time is at a premium right now. I sincerely expect to have all sketches done and sent out by the end of January at the latest.