The Biomancer Chronicles: Chapter 1
January 12, 2013 5 Comments
Increasingly I’ve found myself frequenting the intersection of ‘These Things Never Go As Planned’ and ‘Try Not To Shit Myself While Escaping From Things Which Seek To Kill, Eat or Inhabit Me’, and today was proving to be no exception.
With the live payload nestled in the leather rucksack on my back, I raced down the narrow stone hallway careful to give a long step where my tripwire was set. The only thing standing between me and sweet, sweet freedom happened to be a set of thick wooden cellar doors, but that was about to change.
I barreled straight at them with no intention of stopping, lifted my forearm to shield my eyes, and pressed the button on the crude detonator in my hand. The doors blew upward and outward into the busy nighttime street in a brilliant plume of smoke and splinters.
Contrary to popular belief, there was sometimes a vicious beauty to be found in my line of work.
With no time to marvel at my handiwork, I began to put distance between myself and the murderous mob of steel, arrows and vitriol not far behind me. Thankfully, they should soon be rushing headlong into my bundle of trip-wirey hugs and kisses.
The smell of split wood lingered in the smoky, blasted doorway as I maneuvered through it. Two heavily armored sentries had been stationed on the other side of them. I leapt over the shredded remains of one and channeled a hint of power into my legs. They became a blur beneath me as I raced forward, but they were nowhere near fast enough to outpace the danger which parted the detritus in my wake and closed in on me.
The earth beneath me began to shake and emit a low guttural groan as the explosion coursed through the underground tunnels. That’s when the arrow slammed into my shoulder with enough supernatural force to spin me a quarter turn and send me skidding onto my right side into the icy mixture on the ground.
I tucked the leather sack tight into my chest, covered my face and prayed that I’d made it far enough away to survive the larger blast to come.
It started with a spectacular ball of flame which turned night into day as it rocketed up out of the doorway from which I’d just exited. It ended seconds later with a shockwave which leveled buildings for nearly a hundred yards in every direction. Left behind was a massive crater and a thick, acrid smoke which choked the light out of nearby fires and ushered back in the darkness of nighttime.
I redirected a taste of power to my senses in an effort to expedite the healing of my hearing and the gathering of my wits, and surveyed the area. There was one sweet, merciful, moment of silence. Then the screams of the wounded and the wails of those clutching the remains of their friends or family began to permeate the thick, soupy fog.
Evidence suggested that I’d overestimated the amount of powder required to destroy the underground research labs and holding pens, and then safely seal the passage behind me.
It seemed unlikely that the arrow had been fired from the passageway before or after the blast, which meant that there was a good chance my attacker might soon be upon me. I tapped more of my waning power reserves to spring back to my feet, gain a solid footing in the messy conditions and propel myself forward.
The good news: the package survived the blast with nary a scratch.
The bad news: I was tapped for power and an arrow was still protruding from my shoulder. This would make it difficult to convince authorities that I hadn’t been involved in anything suspicious.
Oh, and the more bad news: the skin around the wound started tingling.
Most poisons presented with a burning sensation at the point of entry. A rare few caused the skin to bubble as they infected the blood. If you were a truly lucky customer you got fed, shot, stabbed, gassed or pricked with a rarer few which melted your innards and squeezed them out through your ears, nose, mouth and pores, but this one simply tingled.
The trademark tingly-jingling of Djinnweed signaled the poison working its way out of the arrow tip and swimming into my system. The extract of the Djinnweed plant was the premiere tool for bringing down exceptionally resilient targets. It worked to paralyze its victim while also spreading necrosis throughout the surrounding tissue, leaving it resistant to healing. Even a powerful and skilled Biomancer, of which I was guilty on both accounts, could struggle to heal a wound afflicted with Djinnweed.
Making matters worse, the exertion required to finish getting myself out of this mess alive tonight would only hasten the advance of the poison throughout my body, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter.
Back on the move, I took mental stock of the situation. Things weren’t looking good: a Djinnweed tipped arrow fired with enough force to blow me off my feet, conveniently striking mere inches from the precious cargo in the leather pack on my back meant that in the best case scenario I was being pursued by highly trained, resourceful and dangerous attacker. The worst case – a Hunter.
But when you’d lived for several centuries, you were no stranger to being stuck with an arrow now and again. When you’d spent a few of those centuries as a Biomancer, a handful of those arrows had undoubtedly been fired by Hunters and laced with a little Djinnweed.
The tingling started to spread from my shoulder. If I didn’t act quickly I would soon lack the strength required to expel the poison from my body and heal my wounds. This would eventually lead me to succumb to complete paralysis, and then death.
However, any attempt to brute force the arrow back out the way it went in would only cause further trauma to the wound and expose me to more of the poison.
I wasn’t married to the idea of parading through the city with an arrow sticking out of my shoulder. While still trying to put distance between myself and my hidden attacker I reached up with my left hand, firmly gripped the shaft and attempted to snap it off. That’s when things got interesting.
The once solid arrow shaft went flaccid in my hand, began secreting a sticky mucous-like fluid and started to swell. I soon found myself gripping the slimy end of something which moments ago was a simple wooden arrow, and then I sensed the blood magic course through it as it gorged itself from deep within my wound.
Suddenly, with explosive energy, it came alive like an angry serpent.
I felt a sharp, gruesome pain in my shoulder, accompanied by the grotesque sensation of the buried end of the creature gnawing its way deeper into my body. The end I still held in my hand bulged with veins and knotted sinew, then started striking at my neck with powerful, blinding speed.
I snatched my knife from my belt and successfully parried each strike. The creature hesitated for just a moment, allowing me enough time for one swift, clean blow. I severed it as close to my shoulder as I dared and cast it aside, where even then it continued to pursue me, slithering through the snow. Cutting the creature in half did nothing to break the enchantment or slow the other end of it still working its way into me.
With all of my focus placed on fending off whatever had been fired into my shoulder, I hadn’t noticed the King’s Guard flooding into the streets. This meant it was nigh time to make myself scarce. I ducked into an alley and lingered in the shadows for a moment to watch the scene unfold.
Guards yelled and shoved survivors into a line against a wall for questioning. One delivered a baton blow to the head of a mother who refused to stop cradling the mangled body of a young boy. His body was heaped onto the meat wagon. Then hers.
Slaves rifled through the clothes of the dead, collecting valuables before dragging the corpses – or sometimes parts of them – out of the street and heaping them onto the wagons.
Horns trumpeted from the gates signaling that the city was locking down. The King’s Guards patrols became thicker, as they increased their efforts to apprehend whoever had leveled half their city.
Those suckers had no idea what type of vile experiments were taking place right beneath their feet, or that they were currently working to arrest the man who had just done humanity a favor. Bah!
Making my way to the city walls, I darted from one alley to the next sacrificing stealth for speed and hoping luck would pick up the difference. Shouts behind me meant that luck would have none of it. I rounded one last corner into a dark alley, ducked behind two crates and pooled the last of my energy into the organic matter woven into my cloak, darkening the material and helping to obscure my form.
I didn’t wait long before two torch bearing guards on horseback appeared, presumably looking for the rather dashing man who just disappeared into the alley.
Remaining crouched, frozen in place, still obscured by the magic in my cloak against the encroaching torchlight, I tensed as the guards stopped less than two paces away. Attacking them risked drawing undue attention, but I sorely needed to replenish my power in order to heal my wounds. The poison was still at work, as was the creature still eating my insides.
I slid my knife from its sheath and formed my plan: cut the throat of the man on the left and drain the one on the right – simple. I inched forward, ready to make my move when one, then the other, fell to the ground clutching familiar looking arrows which protruded from their chests. Blood arced through the air as the arrows came alive and began stabbing at the screaming men. Oh man, what a way to go!
My first instinct was to bolt down the narrow alley, but doing so would only make me an easy target for my arrow slinging secret admirer. I might just as well stand in the open, waving my hands in the air and wait to take a hungry snake-arrow thingy right in the ticker. Instead, I chose to dive through a window into the house on the opposite side of the alley.
In a tangle of broken glass and limbs I landed on what only moments before might have been a very nice wooden dinner table. I stood and had begun to brush myself off when I found I was staring at the point of a very old and shaky sword held by an even older and shakier man.
“Now you just hold it right there, mister. I don’t want no funny business,” he said in what I think might have been meant to be his most dangerous tone.
I raised my hands. “Neither do I.”
A woman shouted came from another room, “Henry, what in the seven hells is all that racket? Have you been drinking again?”
His voice beamed with pride. “Cheryl, stay right where you are. I’ve apprehended myself an intruder!” He grinned as he continued to hold me at shaky sword point.
She laughed. “Apprehended an intruder, Henry? You haven’t apprehended anything more’n a sandwich in the last thirty years and that’s only ‘cause sandwiches don’t run fast.”
I rolled my eyes. Normally I find old people shenanigans amusing, but I just didn’t have time for it tonight.
“I’m going to reach into my cloak, retrieve three gold coins and toss them at your feet. You may feel free to replace the window and table I’ve broken, or you can purchase alcohol, sandwiches, or something nice for Cheryl-” I tried to get out, but Henry cut me off.
“Oh, I see what’s going on here.” His smile disappeared and his face turned serious. Jealousy?
“No, sir, I do not think you do-” He cut me off again with a thrust which brought the sword closer to my face.
“How’d you come to know my wife’s name?” He turned towards the direction of the woman’s voice. “Cheryl, have you been schlepping some beggar?”
With his attention turned elsewhere, I batted the flimsy, old sword away, palmed the old man’s forehead with my right hand and stole just enough of his bio to weaken him so that I might make my escape without any further geriatric ridiculousness.
I cracked open the front door and peered through the narrow slit. It seemed clear. I navigated through a series of alleyways leading towards the back gate. Once there, I relied on my cloak to obscure my form as I scaled the wall. Landing safely on the other side, I headed for the cover of the forest.
I hit the tree line without incident, but once I entered the forest my instincts less than politely insisted that I stop. I took a knee and focused on the area around me, but something confounded my ability to sense its presence. It felt less like nothing was there, but more like something was missing.
Nothing gave itself away after a few moments, so I decided to move in a less direct route to the rendezvous spot with my apprentice. I made a wide, sweeping arc through the forest and doubled back around twice to gain the advantage on anyone following me, but I came up with nothing except a little more fatigue and a lot more blood loss.
Despite not being entirely satisfied that I wasn’t being followed, I chose to make my way to the rendezvous point. As I closed in, I struggled to detect Kaul’s presence, which meant that either he had finally learned to mask it (unlikely), he had abandoned me (also unlikely) or something was wrong (given the events of the evening, more than likely).
I took a knee behind some bushes just short of the meeting place and was relieved to see Kaul’s slender silhouette leaning against a tree.
I approached him. “Only five years to learn to mask your bio, Kaul? By now you should have already been onto healing.” But as I got closer, I noticed the disturbing angle his head hung at. Closer inspection proved that a garrote wire looped around his neck and tied to the tree trunk was the only thing keeping him upright.
Apparently Kaul hadn’t learned to mask his presence after all.
I reached for his neck to feel his pulse, but as my fingers touched his skin, his eyes snapped open and he stuck a knife into my stomach several times. Needless to say I was unprepared for this turn of events; noticeably absent from today’s to-do list was “get disemboweled.”
Already weak from my battle with the flying, man-eating snake thing which was still eating me, I knew there is very little chance of healing my way out of this one. The wound in my stomach began to tingle.
“I could have killed you myself,” the corpse croaked as it maintained eye contact with me. “But I thought you’d appreciate the irony of me using your dead apprentice to do it.”
I slumped onto the ground.
My hands were slick with blood. The pain was becoming unbearable, and my power was completely gone. I was struggling to hold my guts in when a young man wearing a long brown leather duster emerged from the behind a giant tree.
The world was becoming a hazy place, but even in the dim light I could make out the tattoos on his face and hands. He wore a bow over his shoulder, and peeking over his back was a quiver of arrows. Left with nothing else to do, I claimed a small victory: I had been right about my pursuer being a Hunter.
If removing a hand from my stomach wouldn’t have killed me, I might have fist pumped.
The man pulled a six shooter out of his holster. I felt the cold metal on my temple. “Or maybe I will do it myself, Biomancer.” He spat the last word.
“Or you could take another shot at me with one of those fancy arrows.” I nodded towards the quiver. “Maybe at this range you won’t be such a terrible shot.”
He flashed a grin which I read as “I appreciate a man who doesn’t lose his sense of humor while dying.” I took it as a compliment and added it to the growing list of last minute wins I was racking up. No fist pump.
Seeing I was in no shape to fight back, he uncocked the weapon, holstered it and stood up. Using his boot, he rolled me over onto my side. Weak from blood loss, I lacked the strength to stop him from removing the leather pack from my back. After undoing the straps, he reached into it and withdrew the baby. He smiled; it cried.
Satisfied, he tucked it back into the sack and slung it onto his back.
“You might live to see another day, mancer.” Then he glanced down at my oozing stomach and turned to leave. “Or not,” he shouted over his shoulder as he walked off into the forest.
Lying on my side, I watched the back of his boots fade into the forest. My last conscious thought: These Things Never Go As Planned.