Solaris Knight – Chapter 6(ish)

Were anyone passing by on the forested road so late in the night, they would have mistaken his groans and grumbles as the sounds of an angered predator. And perhaps there was some truth to that, as Tolomir hunted sleep but could not attain it. Instead, shadows and whispers crept at his serenity, lashing small cuts and ripping little bites off his balance until they had buried their way into his memories. And when one of those specters hit on a sensitive nerve, Tolomir shot awake, panting and glistening in sweat. The grass at his back was trampled and pulled up in clumps and the rock that served as his headrest was cracked.

If there was one time in the day he held the most disdain for, it was now. Even searching the deepest tombs, Tolomir took solace that his Divine was casting her light down on both the worthy and unworthy alike. And he knew this to be true even now, when the moons were at their highest in the night, because Silena was the Lady of All Light. Yet right now, when she was the most distant, he was the most shaken and that did not please Tolomir.

Placing his hands upon the broken stone, he whispered “Silena, most glorious Light, I beg your audience in this silent hour.” With one of the few blessings Tolomir could use at such an hour, the rock began to glow, energized by her light as a beacon to summon his lady’s favor.

You are troubled, my wayfinder. I see wavering in your fortitude.” Silena called to him, honestly stern in her vision of his worry, like a mother with her youth under the wing.

“I am sorry, Queen of all Light. I do not mean to concern you, especially in this most still of hours…I do not know the cause of my weakness, and that troubles my mind greatly.” Tolomir bowed his head low, understanding full well how his Divine viewed hesitation of any kind.

What do these distractions show you, Dayfire?” 

Tolomir raised up to sit erect, now trying to focus on what he had tried to crush not ten minutes ago. Now, what had previously come in fragments and echoes washed over him like a rising tide. “I…I cannot say for certain. Whispers in the dark, but ones I feel I should know. Broken reflections of places and people I have never seen, but ring in my chest like I should remember.”

Though he could not see it, he could feel the hand of his Divine lightly upon his scruffy scalp, and that sensation alone warmed his blood and commanded the demons to retreat. “Do you recall when you came into my Light, my paladin?”

“Of course, my Light. It is my earliest memory, though I was a broken shell when you blessed me with your message.” Tolomir smiled, one of the few times he would do so in any day, but the memory filled his mind with balance and clarity. “It was the first time I can recall being given purpose.”

Because you were worthy of my banner, sentinel. And do you recall my first decree?”

“I was to reclaim your temple at Barthall Dume, and purge the wickedness that infected your Divine Light. The orc warlord Havnaroc bel Castadadon had infected your sanctuary with his brood, and sullied your blessings.” Tolomir let his eyes wander through his clear thoughts, remembering the great strength it had taken to smash the beast’s skull upon the false throne his followers had built. The shining Light she had bestowed on him to cleanse false writings and idols made Tolomir’s body feel afloat in divinity, and it was a feeling that plagued his greatest dreams to reclaim.

And when you emerged from my temple bathed in my favor?

That moment was one of his strongest memories, one that he anchored each day to when he woke to give devotion. “You honored me with your words, that I had succeeded where others had failed you. That I was with to bear your symbol and be an extension of your will.”

Tolomir unconsciously touched his bare chest and smiled.”It was on that day that I was born how I always should have been, yours and yours alone.”

And do you believe that I would grant that kind of power to one that was weak or corruptible in any way?” Silena’s question was a razor that stole his breath and quickened his pulse. “Of course not, yours is the Will by which I live. It can’t be flawed, because your Light is ever pure.”

Then hear my command and take solace in its finality!” Her words echoed from the stone and out into the night, sending any beast or wildlife that had been docile into sprints of fear from his camp. Tolomir fell to as low a bow as he could manage, nose buried in soil. “Forgive my impudence, my Divine. Your sword is sharpened and your shield unbreakable. Your Will is my life.”

Continue your journey to Koenn, and seek the temple of Gaius-grel Grethxathur, the World Dragon. Cleanse the heretics who worship their mindless beast and rip down the false walls! Let no mortal or beast evade my purification!” His Lady’s order shook Tolomir in its weight, but it focused his mind. It was an unusual command, for a Champion to murder the Speakers or followers of another Divine without contending with the opposing Champion first, but those concerns did not shake his newfound resolve. “Their lies will be silenced and the city frees of such heresy, my Light. Yours is the true Word the world should know.”

Then be at peace, my vessel. My edict will guide you and my gifts preserve and defend you.” Her last words as the stone grew dim swelled within his core, making his muscles twitch for movement. “I am yours, Lady of Light. Yours is the only desire I obey.”

Finally feeling his mind settle with its mission, Tolomir stretched back out within the tall grass, letting the blades frame the portrait of the treeline above him, so dense that only the brightest lights of the heavens could pierce the thicket to reach him. Just as my Divine intends…is there no greater display of her absolution?

And as his eyes closed once more, a single word left his lips. A whisper that not even the plants would hear easily. “Keena…”

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In a much different light that yesterday’s post, this one is actually a continuation to an older WIP that really hit a nerve with me. I’ve never written fantasy until Tolomir came calling, and now I want to see where his journey goes.

Why did I call this Chapter 6? Simple: I haven’t written Chapters 2-5 yet…but this is the scene that came to me, so here you go.

I hope you all enjoy.

Wildlife Security Solutions, LLC – Contract #1

WARNING: MATURE CONTENT AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

The hovel in Bin Jawad looked much the same as every sad slab of tan that was next to it. Air conditioners hung haphazardly out of windows and cables for power linked each building to the next, forming a thin canopy to go along with the afterthought window shades. One would need to be close to it to see the thickness of the doors thanks to layers of sheet metal, to watch the same four men walk the same corner every five minutes during the day, but never say a word to each other. 

It had taken Pasha back at Kontrol a week to track the truck that left bombed out yellow-cake uranium vault loaded with barrels and crates it should not be carrying, scouring image after image of the Libyan wastelands. Every day, he had cursed at their handlers for being so tepid. “Yesli by eto byl Afganistan, my by prosto bombili yego seychas…” he’d told his men on day three of training and idling. If this were Afghanistan, we would’ve just fire-bombed it by now.

Finally, their overworked and underpaid intelligence support had found it, thanks to the driver’s complete lack of cellphone encryption. Now the four-man sedan waited an alleyway a block over from their quarry, under the cover of midnight, counting.

“Chto ty vidish’, Akula?” What do you see, Shark? Asked the man behind the driver, who was equally focused on the western facing corner of the dwelling he could see.

“YA schitayu dvenadtsat’, a mozhet byt’, vsego pyatnadtsat’. Vse nesushchiye pistolet” I count twelve, maybe fifteen. All carrying pistols. Akula responded. It was a standard tactic used by extremists and cowards. The driver of the stolen goods had called his brothers, who had brought their wives and children to stay with him, at least until the uranium was unloaded to some other extremist who actually had the backbone to use it. Nekotoryye malen’kiye mordashki, eti khuligany na Zapade, ne porazyat ikh. Vse lyudi uvidyat, chto kusochki detey snova vyvozyat iz-pod oblomkov… (Some many little faces, those fucks in the West won’t strike them. All people would see are pieces of children being carried out of rubble again.) 

“Kak naschet bokovoy dveri?” What about side door? Asked the passenger, sliding his fingers along the edge of his favorite hunting knife.

“Net, Volk. Slishkom predskazuyemo.” No, Wolf. Too predictable. Akula replied, then gestured to the eastern corner that faced the street. “Tam steny samyye tonkiye, ideal’no podkhodyat dlya Nosoroga” Walls thinnest there, perfect for Rhino. The last member of the team said nothing, but pulled a backpack up from between his feet.

Akula fixed his gaze to each member of his team, the non-verbal acknowledgement that they were ready, then opened his door. The rest followed, Nosorog at his side, Volk and Grizli behind them and to the right. They moved silently along the pavement and dust, years of training muffling the many pounds of gear each man wore under their thawbs. At such a late hour, it was haram (sinful) to be out so late, so only one sentry was at the main door, and the poor idiot was asleep, beaten old rifle practically at his feet.

It was over with one strike. Akula grabbed the man by the scruff and yanked, bringing his brick-like fist down on the guard’s windpipe, collapsing it with a meaty ‘thuck’. Desperate eyes widened as the man gasped for air through a pipe that couldn’t open before he collapsed back into his seat, as if falling peacefully into eternal sleep. Nosorog slipped his fist into the dead man’s robe and pulled a small wad of dinar for his own, as well as yanking a small silver chain easily from his neck. With that, the massive Chechen took his cover along the designated wall, Akula sweeping the still of the darkness with night-vision. 

A double-chirp in his earpiece told him that Volk and Grizli had ascended a rear stairway Pasha pointed out for them from drone imagery. The door there was painted to look like the stone wall, and inset to no one from the street could see it open, but a few easily-pirated pictures had revealed it. Now the count began, for in ten seconds, the two men above him would blast the door in and secure the upper floor. In that same time, Akula and Nosorog would have to clear out the bottom floor, not a single soul was to leave the building or summon help, of that Kontrol was quite specific. Ostal’noye samoye interesnoye… (The rest is the fun part).

Nosorog moved with a speed more akin to a jungle cat that his ‘Rhino’ callsign. Within his backpack was a large pad of C4, spread about an inch flat to cover as much surface area as possible. The entire pad was a good head taller than Akula, but the larger man had no issue securing each corner to the wall, and priming the central detonator. Once armed, both men stepped several paces away while still flat to the wall, supressed AK-74 rifles now revealed from under their clothes and readied. Witnessing such a brute keep pace with him impressed Aklula, as did Nosorog’s focus and steady hand. skol’ko russkikh ty ubil v voynakh?…skol’ko brat’yev? (How many Russians did you kill in the wars? How many brothers?)

The timing was perfect, and a pair of calculated explosions tore down both the hidden door above and the weakened wall below without ringing out in the still of the city’s night. Immediate screaming rang out from both levels as Akula dashed into the room first. He did not hesitate, and a three-round burst caught the small flailing shadow center of mass and dropped it. A young man, no older than fifteen, had lunged for a salvaged American rifle by his mat. Nevernyye delayut ochen’ khorosheye ognestrel’noye oruzhiye, ne tak li? (Infidels make very nice firearms, don’t they?)

Two other men were more prepared, foreign pistols in hand and yelling at each other. One man shot wildly into the dirt cloud by Akula’s head while the other smartly dove behind the remains of a table. Akula caught the standing man in the gut, arcing blood from floor to ceiling as the idiot dropped. Nosorog was less precise, spending half a dozen rounds for only one strike, but that one bullet caught the diving man in the thigh, earning a high-pitched scream of agony as the target’s femoral artery dumped liters of crimson onto the prayer rugs around.

Above them, the two other men worked with equal proficiency, though the resistance was far less from what Akula could hear. The screams were different. Feminene and ranging in age, but at least one of them had shot at his teammates, Akula could hear pistol rounds shattering glass and cheap wood. But those blasts gave way to a shriek that was consumed by a choking gurgle. Volk nakhodit drugoye gorlo. (The Wolf finds another throat.)

Kicking in the door to an empty lavatory, Akula signaled Nosorog with one hand. The first floor had been cleared, and now any remaining targets were encircled. Quickly, the leader made was way to cover at the base of the sole stone staircase up to the middle level. “ladayk fursat wahidat lileaysh , ‘iidha kunt tastaslim alan!” (You have one chance to live, if you surrender now!) Akula called up in one of only a handful of Modern Arabic sentences Kontrol had forced them to memorize. 

What the survivors screamed back at them was nothing that he understood, save for the mentions of Allah. Raz ty tak sil’no khochesh’ vstretit’ svoyego Boga, pozvol’ nam … (Since you want to meet your God so badly, allow us…)

“Podmetat’!” (Sweep!) he called out, and Nosorog rushed to the upward stairway, priming a hand grenade as he dashed. As expected, gunfire rained back town the tight space at them, but in the dark and the confusion, the little handheld bomb bounced between the defenders with ease. The following explosion cut the yelling short like the tearing of meat from bone, and the confined space rang the shockwave out clearly, even over Akula’s hearing protection. “Blyad’!” (Fuck!) was the instinctual howl as he moved forward. 

The shattering of glass, followed by the panicked scream of a final man before the gushing impact of skull against street told him that the fight was over. Tapping the behemoth next to him on the shoulder, Nosorog sprinted up the stairs, ready for more. Akula covered the stairs until the last moment, then walked backwards up the corridor, only looking away from the first floor when he could no longer see it.

On the middle floor, Volk had buried the bayonet of his rifle up to the barrel into the heart of one man, and was pulling his knife out of the neck of an old woman cradling a loaded RPG launcher. Grizli was wrapping a graze on his calf, cursing with every motion. “Neplokho, tovarishchi. Nasha missiya …” (Not bad, Comrades, our mission is…) Akula began before the sudden slam of a dropped corpse upstairs alerted them to a survivor. Expertly, each man trained their rifles at the source. Volk was first back up to the top level, practically leaping into the room, ready to fire. But the desperate pleas greeting them were not in Arabic, they were in Korean. “…dodaeche museun il-iya?! dowa jwoyo!” 

Moving carefully, Grizli stepped around Volk to one of the few beds in the house, now occupied by a young woman who had been shot through the back. To their surprise, the girl was nude and straddled atop a half-clothed Korean man cowering under a pillow and her limp body, who was easily four decades her senior. Next to the interrupted coitus was another girl, equally naked and still in the prime of youth, whose flawless skin and face had been ruined by a textbook shot between the eyes.

The man’s pleading cries only grew louder as the fire team approached. “Podyvitʹsya, braty! Komunist tovarysh!” (Look, brothers! A fellow Communist!) Grizli chided in Ukraininan as he grabbed the man by his still-buttoned shirt collar. The lapels of the survivor’s Dear Leaders were unscathed by the fight, and Grizli ripped them right off with this other hand to place in his pocket. Such an action moved the foreign man from fear to anger, and the Korean lashed out with weak punches and slaps against Grizli’s face, causing the solder to laugh. Only when the elder man struck the open wound did the Bear take him by the neck and slam him head-first into the floor. The Korean did not stir, but he still drew breath.

Akula was just as displeased at finding such a target in his operation. Pasha nichoho ni pro koho tut ne skazav …I (Pasha said nothing about finding anyone else here…) Turning to Volk, he ordered “Kontrolyuyte dzvinky ta povidomlyayte yikh pro nashykh zatrymanykh. Yak tilʹky vin perevʺyazanyy u bahazhnyku, poprositʹ povitryanu komandu vyrivnyaty blok i pokhovaty vantazhivku. Pryzovnyky mozhutʹ tse vykopaty!” (Call Control and inform them of our detained. Once he’s bound up in the trunk, have the air team level the block and bury the truck. Conscripts can dig it out!)

“Bryuki?” (Pants?) Volk asked, gesturing to the half-naked old man being bound in wire ties.

“Vy mozhete otrubit’, yesli on udarit vas etim” (You can cut it off if he slaps you with it) Akula responded, eliciting a belly laugh from Grizli as the broad-shouldered Ukrainian lifted his limp cargo with one arm and headed back down the stairs, Volk following suit, making ever attempt not to look at the Korean’s exposed groin.

“Vy deystvitel’no khotite pokhoronit’ tsel’ nashey missii?” (You really mean to bury our mission objective?) Nosorog asked, looking out into the street at the splattered remains of the final defender.

“Net, ya ozhidayu, chto nashe vozdushnoye prikrytiye zalozhit bombu pryamo v gruzovik.” (No, I expect our air cover to put a bomb right on the truck.) Akula clarified, then gestured to the ceiling. “VVS pokinuli Khmeymim dva chasa nazad, chtoby vyrovnyat’ etot musor” (The Air Force left Khmeimim two hours ago to level this garbage).

The Chechen giant glared at him, but said nothing as he slung his rifle onto his back and headed back downstairs. By now, Akula could hear murmurs of voices through the broken window as people were coming out of their sleepy stupors and onto the street to see what had disturbed them. The fire team leader took one last look at the mauled room, noticing a blinking light coming from a countertop now covered in bits of debris. Sweeping it aside, Akula was rewarded with a powered laptop and satellite phone, as pristine as they could be in such a shithole. “Eto dolzhno sdelat’ Pashu schastlivoy” (This should make Pasha quite happy) he muttered to himself, absconding with the whole kit before heading back to the ground floor. The rest of his squad had kindly left the front door popped open, so everyone coming to see the gaping hole in the wall could not see him leave the hovel. 

Akula arrived back at the car just in time to see Grizli slam the trunk lid down, their Korean cargo coming out of his enforced nap and starting to yell at them again. Wasting no time, he popped the disposable car into reverse and crept out of the alleyway and into the adjacent road. Once each man in the vehicle ensured him that no one was paying them attention thanks to lots of shouting now erupting from the scene of their firefight, the team darted around the next intersection and made it a full block over before the loitering Mi-28/HAVOC let loose two air-to-ground missiles fixed on the cutout where the truck has been parked. The entire car shook and slid as the thundering plume of fire consumed the stolen cargo, the building, and anyone dumb enough to be within the intersection. Only careful driving and keeping a line of buildings between them and the explosion kept Akula’s team from being swallowed by the blast.

“Eto Drakon; tsel’ vypolnena” (This is Dragon; objective complete) was the only reply the ground team received from their ‘support’ as the helicopter began its rapid return to their forward operations base. Not five minutes after the precision strike ensured no one would ever find enough of the uranium to pose a threat, two Su-24/FENCER bombers dropped two thousand pounds of iron and death on the area, wiping out the remains of their target and anything else on every neighboring block. Looking in his rearview mirror, Akula watched the fireball light up the night like a second sun. The radiating thunder almost overpowered the Korean swearing  from the trunk, but the two mixing together made the team lead laugh. Yeshche odna uspeshnaya konsul’tatsiya, provedennaya Wildlife Security Solutions Inc. (Another successful consult performed by Wildlife Security Solutions Inc.)

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This little piece was born from one part love of military fiction like Tom Clancy, one part experiment in dialogue-writing, and one part catharsis. A little glimpse into how I get to see the world sometimes.

I hope you all enjoy.