Sunday Surprise


Cyber Bodyguard

by Barbara G.Tarn

C’ell’andy was confused. He remembered the explosion, and throwing Kol-ian to safety before being half-buried by a crumbling building. Now he felt a numbing pain and couldn’t tell if he was conscious or not. He still had a body and it was probably tied to a machine – he could feel the tube down his throat, but not much else.

He didn’t know where he was, if the darkness was inside or outside of him, or if he was alive or dead. His mind struggled to stay focused, to understand what was going on.

C’ell’andy, do you hear me?

The powerful mind of the Emperor echoed in the nothingness that engulfed him. This was getting scary – he didn’t know how to answer with his mouth full – then he remembered the Emperor was a telepath and he didn’t need to speak. The voice in his head was a mind projection anyway.

Your lower body is badly damaged, and we need to attach a prosthetic to keep you alive, the Emperor continued coldly. But we don’t have anything ready except a horse body. You might not live long enough to have a proper human prosthetic, but it’s still your choice. Do you want to live as a scary-looking cyborg, or would you rather die and be honored for saving my son’s life?

So he was alive, albeit maimed. He couldn’t die now. The Sire had the most advanced technology in the galaxy, so the prosthetic might actually enhance him. He was a bodyguard, sworn to protect the Emperor’s son. If the Emperor saw it fit to save him by attaching a weird-looking prosthetic to what was left of his body, he could only be grateful for the gift.

Let me live, Imperiestra.

You shall live.

C’ell’andy’s consciousness slowly faded away.

***

art by Silvano Beltramo

art by Silvano Beltramo

C’ell’andy put down the dumbbell with a sigh. Time for the last pull-ups. He didn’t have any abs anymore, and his upper torso muscles had atrophied during the past two months. He’d recovered their strength by now, though, in spite of the added weight of the prosthetic. His biceps swelled as he pulled up the miracle that kept him alive. It looked like a silvery horse body attached to what was left of his hips. In the daylight it gleamed white, which made a great contrast with his dark-chocolate skin.

“Bravo!” Tyro clapped his hands while C’ell’andy finished his exercise.

C’ell’andy’s naked upper torso and shaved head were covered in sweat, but the prosthetic didn’t produce any. He walked to his friend, relaxing as his new lower half moved under his command.

“You’ve recovered your full mass of muscles,” Tyro complimented him. “You look even more fierce than before.”

“I look weird, but I had no choice if I wanted to live.” C’ell’andy sighed. “I think the Emperor used me as guinea pig.”

“Well, you’d be dead anyway if your body rejected the implant,” Tyro said. “But I’m glad everything went well. You control everything now?”

“Yes.” C’ell’andy went through some gaits – walk, trot, canter, gallop – around the gym, then slowed again to a canter and then a walk. He stopped in front of the scientist who had created the artificial body. “How did I do?”

“Perfect. I knew you could do it. You’re ready to go back on duty.”

“I’ll stop to hug my wife and will be on my way.” C’ell’andy grinned and clasped Tyro’s arm. “Thank you, my friend.”

They exited the gym together, and as they walked through the Vaurabi Labs, C’ell’andy’s metallic hoofs clanged on the floor.

“Do you think you can add padded horseshoes so I don’t scare Kol-ian away?” the cyborg asked, frowning with worry.

“Sure!” The pale-skinned scientist was quick to fix the annoying noise.

C’ell’andy exited the Imperial palace and galloped back to his quarters, exhilarated. The housing looked very small with his new body, and his wife giggled as he bumped into furniture with his prosthetic.

“Sorry, I’ll have to figure out a way to sleep,” he grumbled. “So far I lay my head on a shelf with a pillow… let’s see if I can sit by the bed and use it the same way…”

He squeezed the implant between the bed and the wall and sat his horselike body down. Since it was mechanical, it had no problems in doing so. Rotating his torso felt uncomfortable, though, so he decided he’d have to find another solution.

He rose again to his four feet with a sigh and backed out of the narrow passage.

“We’ll work it out later.” L’ill’oretta slid a waistcoat on his shoulders. “I know you don’t have private parts to cover anymore, but you don’t want to be completely naked, especially in front of the Emperor – or his son,” she chided.

He adjusted the colorful sleeveless vest and turned to take her in his arms – his beautiful, pregnant wife who now barely reached his nipples. The implant made him even taller than what he already was.

“Thank you,” he whispered, before kissing her. He was grateful she had stood by him in spite of the maiming that had cost him his manhood. Well, the whole lower half of his body.

“You’re alive. Our child will have a father,” she replied tenderly.

He caressed her round belly, thanking the gods for keeping him alive. He might have a robotic body, but he still felt completely human. He was lucky the accident happened when L’ill’oretta was already expecting, or he might have lost his wife along with half of his body.

“Thanks to Tyro Megnaghy and his wonderful prosthetic,” he said.

“How does it feel?” she asked, curious.

“I’m getting used to it. Controlling four legs instead of two is tricky at first. Unfortunately it was the only implant ready and available when I was taken down.”

“You look gorgeous,” she assured. “Like our legendary man-horses!”

He chuckled and gently squeezed her in his powerful arms.

“I better go and see how Kol-ian is doing,” he said, then kissed her frizzy hair. He knew he hadn’t been replaced, and the little prince he’d protected from the explosion was locked in his room since the accident – two long months to attach the implant to his ruined body, make it work, and then for him to learn to control his new lower limbs through a neural interface inserted at the back of his neck.

“Sure.” She sighed. She was on maternity leave, which had allowed her to care for him before she got too big and needed care herself. “See you tonight.”

They kissed and C’ell’andy left their apartment to go back to the palace. He walked to the higher floors and the little prince’s room, mostly ignored in spite of the obvious prosthetic. He knocked before the door slid open and he entered the child’s apartment – an antechamber for playing and reading, and a bedroom.

ImperialPrincesTXTeng_resize“Prince Kol-ian?” he called, not seeing him on the couch as he expected. “Are you hiding?” he chided, stepping forward. He reached the bedroom and heard a ragged breath coming from behind the big bed.

“Why are you hiding, my prince?” he asked, stopping at the door.

A tuft of raven hair followed by a pair of big black eyes peered over the bed. The eyes widened and C’ell’andy heard a gasp. The head vanished again.

“Prince Kol-ian, may I come forward?” C’ell’andy asked. “Why are you afraid of me all of a sudden?”

“I’m not scared.” The childish voice was muffled. “I’m ashamed.”

Startled, C’ell’andy crossed the room and reached the corner where the prince was hiding. Kol-ian Vaurabi was six and his eyes were wide with pain, shame, guilt and who knew what else.

C’ell’andy’s impulse was to grab him and hold him to his chest. He followed through with it and picked Kol-ian off the floor. The child looked even smaller next to his mechanic body.

“Why are you ashamed?” C’ell’andy asked, puzzled, looking Kol-ian in the eyes and stroking his back with one hand as he held him with the other arm.

The child sniffed and lowered his eyes. “Because Granny is dead and you are maimed, and it’s all my fault,” he whispered.

“No, it’s not your fault,” C’ell’andy assured. “What makes you think you have anything to do with this?”

Barely a whisper. “They were trying to kill me. Because I’m the Emperor’s son.”

C’ell’andy sighed. “Well, that’s why I’ve been appointed your bodyguard. So nobody could hurt you. That’s why I’m protecting you. Unfortunately I couldn’t save your granny.”

Kol-ian sniffed again and glanced at his horse body. “You look funny.”

“Do you want to ride me?” C’ell’andy suggested with a smile.

Kol-ian nodded.

C’ell’andy moved Kol-ian to his metallic rump and wrapped the short arms around his waist. “Ready for a ride?”

“Yes!” Kol-ian said, finally loud. Soon he was all giggly, and his shame was forgotten while C’ell’andy caracoled between the two rooms making horse sounds.

The cyborg finally took the child off his back and threw him on his bed, where he landed with a soft thud and a final giggle.

“Thank you, C’ell’andy,” Kol-ian sighed, curling up. “Will you tell me the story of C’est’aran now?”

“Of course.”

C’ell’andy realized he couldn’t really sit on the boy’s bed like he used to. Drat, this prosthetic can be very impractical in some situations. He couldn’t lie to sleep, he couldn’t sit… but the happiness of the little prince riding his implant was priceless. Kol-ian was a gloomy prince – the second-born of the Emperor – who had found some affection only with his late grandmother.

The Imperial family was quite cold and used to hiding their feelings. Some said they didn’t have any, in spite of being Sire and telepaths and superior to other Humanoid races like C’ell’andy’s. But the cyborg knew Kol-ian had feelings, much like his mother used to.

It had been mostly his maternal grandmother who often made the child smile. Except the aging woman had been killed in the assassination attempt and Kol-ian was left with only his bodyguard, now a cyborg, who could still tell him stories of his home world, Ulba’wis.

Kol-ian listened wide-eyed for the umpteenth time to the story of C’est’aran, a hero from Ulba’wis. The Humanoids living there were warriors and had plenty of stories about wars and great adventures, while the Sire had lived in peace for centuries, until they’d become the dominating race among the Humanoids and had formed the Galactic Empire. For some reason, Kol-ian preferred Ulba’wissian stories to Sire stories.

“You will have your own child soon?” the boy asked when the story was over. He looked worried again.

“Yes, in a couple of months,” C’ell’andy answered, caressing the child’s black hair.

“So you will tell him or her your stories.” Kol-ian averted his eyes, disappointed.

“No, I will still tell them to you. It will take some time before my child will be able to listen to my stories,” C’ell’andy assured.

“Really?” Kol-ian brightened again. “Tell me another, then!”

____________________________________

Cyber Bodyguard is included in Star Minds Snippets. Pictures by the author and Silvano Beltramo.

Sunday Surprise


So, poll results (13 votes out of 200 followers… neat! Not) say 7 votes for giveaway and 5 for free fiction. Not counting the 13th vote, I’ll give you both. Free fiction is the prologue of Technological Angel, that was taken out of the final draft of the novel. It might be “recycled” or it might be completely changed when I’ll write about Kol-ian’s stay on Earth, but here’s how it started. Short and sweet.

Technological Angel

by Barbara G.Tarn

PROLOGUE

When Kol-ian saw the blue planet, he thought he was safe. His computer readings told him it was a Humanoid planet where he could easily disappear, as it wasn’t part of the Galactic Empire yet.

The impact with the planet’s atmosphere was harder than expected, but Kol-ian ignored the warning signals. Maybe the part of him that had pushed him to run away also wished for death. Crashing on an underdeveloped planet could be a nice ending to his stupid story. And maybe it was the only way for him to be free.

He drove the starship towards the night side of the planet as he glided closer to the surface. At the same time he got the identification request.

“Saurians,” he muttered. “Don’t even think about it!”

He was gliding over a peninsula roughly shaped like a boot when he received the radio ultimatum.

“Go to hell.” Kol-ian got out of his pilot seat, mildly irritated by the interference. He grabbed his backpack.

Outside the sky was clouded with sparkles of rain. Perfect for my mood! Just the warm welcome I expected, Kol-ian thought, getting off the flying starship.

 ***

Lombardia, June 12, 1933: a mysterious flash of light lit up the night on the road between Magenta and Novara. No noise could be heard, but at dawn of June 13, the Blackshirts recovered a flying saucer. First news spoke of “landing”, immediately turned to “crash” to hide the fact that the starship was damaged but whole.

The Fascists hid the flying saucer in the buildings of Siai Marchetti of Vergiate, covering up the fact that remained secret for at least half a century.

 ***

The Blackshirt shivered before entering the room. His superior sat at a desk wrapped in darkness, as if he didn’t want his face to be seen.

“Sso?”

“Nothing, Sir, the flying vehicle is empty,” he answered, saluting and staring into space so he wouldn’t have to focus on the intimidating shadowy figure.

“It’s imposssible!” The hissing sent shivers down his spine. “There was a pilot or a passsenger!”

“We found nobody, Sir.”

The man muttered something, then threw a picture on the desk. “Find this man. He must be around.”

“Yes, Sir.” The Blackshirt grabbed the photo and left the dark office as fast as he could. Why was that man so slimy? His hissing was most unnerving, almost like talking to a snake – if snakes could talk, that is.

He took a closer look at the picture and stared at it, puzzled. The young man on it looked normal enough – dark hair and eyes, pale skin, flawless features – but it was a color photograph with a different resolution of the normally very expensive color prints of the time. And in spite of showing a close-up of the model, the background looked strange and the collar of his shirt very unusual.

German technology? he wondered. Whatever. It was bigger and better than usual, it must be easy to find someone with such a perfect picture.

He called his team and showed everybody the strange color picture, then they split to start searching for the mysterious youth.

 ***

Kol-ian made the first contact as he came down on foot from the top of the Appennini. He was following a track in the forest of chestnuts when his long legs made him catch up with a petite woman who was carrying a wheel-shaped basket full of grass that was almost as big as her.

“Do you need help?” he offered, as his own backpack was much smaller than the weight the woman was carrying on her head. She looked in her thirties and dressed like a local peasant – human peasants, what an interesting notion.

She stared at him, surprised. “No, no, thank you!” she said, quickly.

“Really, I can help carry that,” he insisted. “What is it for?”

“Rabbits food,” she answered. “We have some. And hens.”

He managed to unburden her. She smiled, relieved, and thanked him. “My name is Caterina, yours?”

Kol-ian hesitated and searched for a name that could sound familiar to her. “Pietro,” he said as they emerged from the trees and reached a small village on the side of the mountain. “What is this place called?”

“Fosciandora,” she answered. “Is it your first time in Garfagnana?”

“Yes… but it looks beautiful.” He looked around, quite pleased. The little houses looked old and there was no trace of technology, but the place seemed peaceful, almost out of time. A great change from the galactic frenzy he came from.

He followed her to a stone house where he put down the wheel-shaped basket next to an external wall. He saw the cages with rabbits inside and hens wandered around them. Cows mooed from a part of the building that must be the stable.

“Thank you,” Caterina said. “Would you like a glass of milk?” she offered.

He accepted and entered the house. The windows were small, so it was quite dark inside. Three children sat in the small kitchen and stared goggle-eyed at the guest, too intimidated to speak. He smiled at them, but they didn’t react.

Caterina shooed them off while she offered Kol-ian a glass of foamy milk. She mentioned her butter – the best – and her cheese as well, but he wasn’t hungry, so he accepted only the drink. It tasted strange – very rich compared to the diluted beverages he was used to. He licked off the foamy white mustache over his upper lip with a sigh of satisfaction, putting down the empty glass.

“You’re so tall!” Caterina looked awed even now that he was sitting down. “Where are you from?”

“Roma.” Again, he fished for an answer in her unprotected mind. He hadn’t really studied where he was yet, but it was obviously impossible to avoid all contacts with locals. He needed to rethink his strategies for his stay.

He thanked the woman for the milk and headed out again. He’d stop on the way to the bottom of the valley to check his laptop, so when he’d reach the closest town (Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, from what he could tell), he’d be ready.

That was it! 🙂 Caterina is a real person and I had to ask my dad how old she would be at the time and if she already had kids and whatnot (my dad himself was barely 1 then). She died in the 20th century (can’t remember if it was the 1980s or 1990s), but I still remember her handmade butter, cheese and fresh milk. Her daughter has sold the cows and was never as good as she used to be…

1000likesNow, to the giveaway! I shall celebrate also the 1000likes you gave to posts on this blog (with special thanks to WordPress for keeping count)! 🙂 Leave a comment to have a chance to win a Smashwords coupon for a free download of one of the Star Minds booksTechnological Angel if you’re new to the series, Mind Link if you have already started on it, or Slave Traders, the brand new third book that completes this (short) saga of science fantasy (and even if you’ve beta-read it, you might want to check the modified ending…).

Official announcement of Book 3 will be repeated next week when it will be live on all platforms like the previous books. At the moment it’s only on Smashwords – which allows me to get those coupons for free downloads. Thank you for stopping by! 🙂

Fiction Wednesday


Records of the Varian Empire

A new emperor

continues from last week

“What?” Moonstar exploded. “We should tolerate Human inhabitants?”

“That’s the Emperor’s command.” Governor Skydreamer looked exhausted. His daughter’s temper wasn’t really easing an already hard situation. “You will have to look after Isabel Blackmore, Sunray will spend his time with Dickon Blackmore.”

Beth’s siblings, Blondsun thought. Luckily Moonstar doesn’t know who Beth really is.

Moonstar had met Beth when she passed herself off as squire Benedetto Black. She knew Beth was a woman and a noble maiden who had run away from her father’s house, but she didn’t know the actual household – the Blackmore Dukes of Havenstock, who were now sending their off-springs to keep an eye on Jinxie on behalf of the young Emperor.

Moonstar had never liked Humans and hated spending time with them. Blondsun tried to appease her, telling her the positive side of Humans, but Moonstar wouldn’t listen.

“I know you and Sunray love those ignorant barbarians, but you’ll never convince me they’re good!” she repeated every time Blondsun tried to talk some sense into her.

Even his brother Silverstar had hated Humans – until Penny had walked into his life. Moonstar’s aversion seemed even more deeply rooted, although Blondsun couldn’t figure out why.

“You should forget my sister,” Sunray suggested at last. “She doesn’t love you. You’re not animkunulo, Blondsun, try to find someone else.”

“Why does she sleep with me, then?” Blondsun asked, depressed.

“You remind her of her first love,” Sunray answered.

Startled, Blondsun stared at him. Moonstar had never mentioned a first love.

“Joystorm was eighteen,” Sunray explained. “He was killed by the Hunter. He was my best friend. He was young, handsome and in love with her, much like you are. When I first met you, you felt familiar, and when you ended up with Moonstar, I realized why. But they were animkunulo, you could only be a surrogate. It’s not really her fault, but you better forget her.”

Blondsun lowered his eyes and sighed. “You mean I’ve been living a four years illusion?”

“I mean you deserve better, Blondsun. You left your family to be with us, I want you to be happy with your choice. Find someone who truly loves you.”

Sunray was right. Moonstar didn’t love him. His first love was unrequited and it was crumbling down.

 ***

Blondsun closed his eyes and went into a trance. His astral being left his body and reached Xendaria in a heartbeat. Invisible, he followed Kurt and his family live a normal Human day.

He watched Kurt open the shop with Penny on his heels as Beth breastfed baby Sarah. He listened to their laughter and their chats. He observed the parents and the children, envious of the happy Human family. They’d soon grow old, but they had each other.

Blondsun’s astral body went back as the sun set on Xendaria. The young Genn opened his eyes and sighed, still a little dazed by the trance. He slowly moved his numbed limbs and got to his feet in time to join dinner at the Governor’s table.

The noble Humans had just arrived. Isabel was eighteen and looked haughtily unhappy – much like Moonstar. Dickon Blackmore was different. Brown hair and blue eyes like Beth, he was twenty-one and introverted, so he didn’t talk much – more out of shyness than anything else. He was already married and his wife and firstborn, James, were with him.

Blondsun waited until the end of the dinner when the Humans retired for bed and the Governor’s off-springs took refuge in their apartment. Sunray pretended to be very tired when he saw him, and went to his bedroom. Moonstar glared at her brother as Blondsun sat near her. She closed her book with a snort.

“What do you want?” she snapped. “I had a very bad day!”

“I’m Genn, not Human,” he reminded her, sick of her tantrums. “Don’t lash out at me only because you’re mad at them!”

“I never liked Humans – unlike you,” she retorted.

“Which didn’t prevent you from using them when you thought it appropriate,” he replied. “Much like Vario X did with the Genn.”

“Please, spare me such comparison,” she said, disgusted.

“It’s appropriate,” he said, sarcastic. “You used Kurt to go to Agharek, where otherwise you would have never set foot. You used his sister Penelope as your substitute while you were away, but openly shun her as soon as you came back. That was only four years ago, Moonstar, nobody has forgotten.”

Moonstar’s eyes narrowed. “What’s your point, Blondsun?”

“I’m trying to figure out if you’re just a selfish and manipulative person who used me as well,” he said. “I guess so, as you never told me anything about spending our lives together.”

“We are living together,” she shrugged. “What do you want, a Human wedding?”

“No, I want an animkunulo,” he answered. “And you’re not mine. You like sex, and me or another doesn’t make any difference to you.”

She frowned and averted her eyes, not denying what was now plain obvious even for Blondsun.

“Very well, Moonstar.” He rose, taking in a deep breath. “Find someone else to spend your nights with.”

He turned his back on her and headed for Sunray’s room. He had often crashed on his friend’s spare bed in the past – except now it would be a permanent solution. Unless he moved out of the palace and went to live on his own.

He hoped to hear her voice calling him, but she didn’t. He was alone.

***

“Hello, Blondsun.” Beth carefully closed the shop door to avoid customers could see the Genn’s glorious beauty. He had materialized in the room with a spell, obviously aware she was alone – how he could see them from Jinxie still baffled Beth, but she was only Human and he was a Genn magic user. “Kurt is upstairs with the girls.”

“I know.” Blondsun stared at her with his sapphire eyes.

“So you’re here for me?” she asked, puzzled. She had stopped wearing male clothes after the wedding and felt more feminine now – but envied Blondsun’s unchanging features.

“Your family…” Blondsun hesitated. “Do you hate them?”

“No, even if they made my life hard,” she smiled. “Sometimes I miss them, especially my brother Dickon.”

“Dickon is very sweet.” Blondsun pondered. “Unlike Isabel who is a brainless and haugthy maiden.”

“How do you know?” she asked, amused.

“Dickon moved to Jinxie,” he answered with a smile. “Emperor’s orders. He brought his wife and his son. Isabel is there too. You can imagine how happy Moonstar is with all those Humans around.”

Beth chuckled. “I can imagine!” She stared at him. “She must be making your life impossible.”

“I live on my own, now,” he said, lowering his eyes. “She never loved me anyway.”

“Poor Blondie.” She hugged him. “Go to Kurt and tell him. And when you go back to Jinxie say hello to Dickon from me.”

 ***

The Blackmore Duke had five children that had survived into adulthood. The firstborn and heir, Dafydd, now twenty-five. The second born and hopefully dead – as she had brought mostly shame to the family – Elisabeth, who had vanished years ago. Dickon, twenty-one, and Isabel, eighteen, who were now living in Jinxie by the Emperor’s order – mostly because Isabel had failed to impress him, so until her father found her a proper husband, she would be exiled among the Genn. And James, twenty, the spiritual one who would some day enter a monastery, not interested in his father’s estate.

Dickon was glad to be out of the Blackmore Palace of Havenstock. He had called his son James like his younger brother because he preferred him to the haughty eldest. He was very close to Elisabeth and James, while Isabel adored Dafydd and the Blackmore pride. She was a true Blackmore, but Dickon often wondered if he wouldn’t have been better off if he had been born to a less noble family. Sometimes he had considered running away like Elisabeth had done.

Then he had met Abigail and fallen in love. He had married her and settled, forgetting his escape plans. He had volunteered to follow Isabel to Jinxie, as it was improper for his unmarried sister to go there on her own. Abigail was happy to get out of the Blackmore Palace too, so they had packed with a smile – unlike brooding Isabel.

Dickon liked Jinxie, although all those Genn awed him with their beauty and their many talents. Especially Blondsun, who looked – and was – so young but already a very good magic user, made him feel worthless. Blondsun was four years older than him but looked ten years younger.

Dickon was startled when the Genn magic user went to talk to him.

“Can you keep a secret?” Blondsun asked, dragging him aside with a mysterious smile after a brief introduction.

“Sure,” he answered, puzzled.

“I bring the greetings of your sister Beth.”

“Elisabeth is alive?” he asked, incredulous. “How is she?”

“She’s married, two beautiful daughters and sends her love. If she’ll have a boy, she’ll call him Dickon.”

“I would have called my first daughter Elisabeth.” Dickon beamed. “Where is she, who did she marry?”

“The left-handed warrior twice champion of the Gladius Games,” Blondsun sounded amused. “They live in Xendaria now.”

“May I write to her?”

“Sure. I’ll let her have your letters…”

END

This short story (and all the other Records) follows CVE2 – The Left-handed Warrior that tells the story of Kurt and Blondsun dealing with Vario X.

Fiction Wednesday


Records of the Varian Empire

A new emperor

Blondsun was lost in a book of magic spells when his friend Sunray distracted him from a very convoluted passage. Blondsun was relieved for the interruption, as concentration was giving him a headache.

He was twenty-five, but geing Genn he was barely out of adolescence. Although his innocence had ended three years earlier when he had stolen the Varian Emperor’s life with a spell.

He had been considered an adult since, also because his family had all moved to Issanda. The Governor of Jinxie had welcomed him into his household and he had become a good friend of Sunray, but sometimes he felt he was living a second life. Locked in the ghetto that was the last Genn city, able to see his adoptive brother only because he was a magic user and could travel without Human means.

“Not the same reading experience of Benedetto Black’s novel, right?” Sunray commented as Blondsun stretched his limbs and closed the book of spells. “Is it true you personally know the author?”

“Yes,” Blondsun grinned getting up from his desk and following Sunray out of the room. “Busy writing the second book.”

“Hmm… why do you hide pronouns when you talk about him?” Sunray asked as they walked towards the Governor’s office. “He’s good for a Human, he has a wild imagination, but also did some thorough research…”

Blondsun guffawed. “Yes, and she’s actually a woman,” he said, unable to keep the secret from his best friend anymore.

Stunned, Sunray stopped in his track as he processed the information, then groaned. “I should have known!” He shook his head, resuming his walk towards his father’s office. “Why does she use a male pen-name?”

Blondsun chuckled. “Because she’s Human, she’s a woman and her family thinks she’s dead.”

“She’s proven smarter than many of her peers, even if your adoptive brother had to save her in the end,” Sunray said, amused. “Anyway, I’m curious to read her latest fantasy.”

“Keep her real identity a secret, though, we’re too close to Havenstock to let it leak,” Blondsun said, serious.

Sunray nodded as they entered the Governor’s office.

“Did something happen?” Blondsun asked, worried.

The Governor – Sunray’s father – looked at them, serious, and signaled them to sit down. His desk was covered with manuscripts and parchments, both sealed and unsealed.

“Prince Vario turns sixteen,” he said. “He will be crowned Emperor.”

So?” Twenty-nine-year-old Sunray stared at his father, puzzled. “He won’t lift the ban, Father! And we can’t go to him.”

“No, but the Sila can,” the old Genn said patiently.

The Sila had always been closer to the Genn than the Humans. Yes, they worked for the Varian Emperor, but they were of a Magical Race, like the Genn, and preferred dealing with their pointed-eared brethen than with Humans.

“Is Winged Liam here?” Blondsun asked.

The Governor smiled. “No, he’s flown to Xendaria and looks forward to your meeting with your adoptive brother.”

Blondsun grinned. “Thank you, Skydreamer.”

Kurt Allistairson was the only Human friend the Genn had left in the Empire. Kurt, his wife Beth, and their children – at the moment a little girl called Penelope who was almost two. They lived in Xendaria because Jinxie was too close to Havenstock, Beth’s hometown.

“Why has he gone to pick up Kurt?” Sunray asked.

“He can be our ambassador too,” his father answered. “He’s Human, he can travel freely – unlike us.”

“But he refused to serve Vario X;” Blondsun said, frowning again. “Why should he serve his son?”

“We all hope he’s different, better,” Governor Skydreamer replied. “I think he should really pay homage to the new emperor, even for his own good.”

“Yeah, so Vario XI can outlaw him as well,” Blondsun muttered, knowing his adoptive brother’s temper.

“Is he still such a poor diplomat?” Sunray teased. “He should have learned something – he’s an adult Human, isn’t he?”

“Of course, but he’s also a warrior, even if he now lives as a merchant.”

“Maybe his life could go with him?” the Governor suggested.

“Beth is pregnant.” Blondsun shrugged. “They didn’t even go to the Gladius Games this year.”

“Empress Reika knows him as Gladius Champion.” Governor Skydreamer pondered. “She could receive him. He’s been Champion twice already.”

“The first time with Vario X,” Sunray observed.

The second time the Imperial grandstand hadn’t seen an Emperor, only the Regent Empress and the underage heir. Prince Vario had commended Kurt’s prowess, but hadn’t asked him to join the Imperial Guard.

“Prince Vario admires the left-handed warrior,” the old Genn said. “He would probably listen to him.”

Blondsun wasn’t sure his adoptive brother had acquired any diplomatic skills, but promised to talk to him before he went to the Capital to meet the new Emperor.

 ***

Kurt reached the Capital the day after Vario XI’s coronation, transported by Winged Liam who deposited him directly in the gardens of the Imperial Palace.

Both requested to meet the newly crowned Emperor and the presence of the young Sila probably helped them to go through the many levels faster than any common Human visitor.

Kurt had already met the Emperor when he was still prince heir. Vario was blond like his father, but more good-looking. Even if he was only sixteen, he was aware of his personal charm and the fact he had become the most powerful man of the world.

“Your Highness.” Kurt bowed to the boy who was merely eight years younger than him. He didn’t envy the responsibility that had just landed on those still frail shoulders.

“Rise, Champion,” the Emperor answered, his eyes bright. “I hoped to see you again at the Gladius Games this year.”

“My wife is pregnant and we couldn’t afford the journey,” Kurt explained.

“But you’re here, the day after my coronation,” Vario said, sounding like the excited teen he indeed was. “Did you come to pay homage?”

“Of course.” Kurt bowed again with a smile. “And I hope your reign will be better and longer than all your predecessors’.”

“I wish to follow in my father’s footsteps and keep the peace in the Empire,” the boy announced gravely.

“Your Highness, I’m here on behalf of the Jinxie’s Governor.” Kurt decided it was useless to postpone his message. “The Genn request to be admitted back to the Empire, or at least to lift the ban and allow them to travel freely without being killed on sight.”

For a moment Vario looked just like his father as his eyes narrowed and his lips thinned in anger – an Emperor with an angel face capable of genocide.

“Right, you’re the Genn’s friend,” the boy said coldly, his enthusiasm for the Champion gone.

“Your Highness, the Genn saved my life more than once,” Kurt tried to reason with him.

“And now you want to return the favor,” Vario said. “But I’m not going back. The Genn have no more rights on these lands and I will not revoke my father’s edict.”

“Why?” Kurt asked, nonplussed. It couldn’t be a teenager’s tantrum, Vario sounded way too serious and determined.

“Because I think, no, I know one of them took my father’s life,” the young Emperor said, staring at Kurt who was stunned into silence.

He couldn’t tell Vario that he was right, that his adoptive brother Blondsun had indeed killed Vario X to avenge the unfair death of Silverstar and Penny. Only him, his wife and Governor Skydreamer knew that secret. How Vario could suspect the truth was anyone’s guess.

“Have you ever had a Genn friend, Your Highness?” Kurt managed to say at last. “Have you ever read their books or studied their culture?”

“No,” Vario snapped, frowning at him.

“Of course not, your father wouldn’t let you,” Kurt said. “How about the Sila?”

“I like Winged Liam.” Vario smiled briefly at the Sila who stood one step behind Kurt with a worried look on his face. “And he likes me. I know Genn and Sila are very close, they’re both Magical Races, but nobody will convince me the Genn are not demons. If this is what you came for, Kurt Allistairson, you might as well leave.”

Kurt sighed. Damned boy, he was more stubborn than his father! How could he convince Vario to revoke the anti-Genn edict?

“Your Highness, allow me to spend a few days with you to tell you about the wonderful family who raised me,” he begged. “I’m from Xendaria, I had never seen a Genn until the day I was orphaned and Sunriver’s family saved me from death…”

“No,” Vario said, determined. “I don’t want to hear about the Genn! I told Winged Liam already – keep your stories, the Genn are doomed!”

Kurt left, frustrated by his failure. He doubted Beth could have done better.

“He’s stubborn, huh?” Winged Liam said. “I didn’t dare telling Skydreamer, but I knew your trip would be useless.”

“You’re his friend, right?” Kurt asked.

“Yes, he’s a good boy, with some limits,” the Sila shrugged. “He was raised into hating the Genn, Kurt, he won’t forget. Reika never really liked them, and Vario adores his mother.”

“Will you do your best to change his mind?” Kurt asked, depressed.

“Of course, but I doubt I’ll succeed.”

***

“Thanks anyway.” Governor Skydreamer couldn’t refrain from sighing.

“How long can you go on?” Kurt asked, feeling a complete failure for not convincing the young Emperor. The Varian pride was already too strong in the sixteen-year-old.

“Until they chase us from here. We do have a place to go if things go too much down the hill for us.”

“It’s time you go back to Xendaria,” Blondsun added. “Your second born is on its way. Give a kiss from me to Beth and little Penny.”

Kurt hugged his adoptive brother, then Winged Liam brought him back home. His wife welcomed him with a serious expression. She expected the son to be as ruthless as the father and confirmed she couldn’t have done any better. But little Penelope was oblivious of the politics of the Empire, and she rushed in her father’s arms with a squeal of delight. Kurt relaxed as he cuddled his daughter, happy to be at home.

A few days later Sarah was born. Master Kurt’s shop was still heirless, but the young merchant was very happy to be surrounded by women. The left-handed warrior had been buried after his wedding, when he had gone back to his father’s trade for the safety of his family. Sometimes he missed his few adventurous years traveling the Empire with Blondsun – and smiled when in his wife’s book he found autobiographical events masked as fiction.

Beth had managed to write that novel she had had in her head for years – although to circulate it she had to sign it Benedetto Black – and was now writing another, while nursing her daughters, cooking and keeping the house and shop clean and loving Kurt more and more.

They were a happy family. Kurt hoped soon Blondsun could be happy too.

end of part 1 – continues next Wednesday

Sunday fiction


Read part one of this story.

Luckbringer

by Barbara G.Tarn

They went as a family through the cobbled streets of Agharek, their long blond hair shining in the sun. The local Humans covered themselves from head to toe, so the only uncovered heads in the marketplace were those of pointed-eared Genn in various shades of blond.
Luckbringer and Goldstar bought flat-breads, candies, oranges and dates, and were headed for the herbalist when a commotion stopped them in their tracks. The Governor’s guard was making way for the Governor’s son and his family, who were leaving the palace in an open carriage.
Luckbringer’s smile slowly vanished as she stared at Damir’s haughty looks and Mathilda’s triumphant expression. Her eyes rested on six-year-old Giordano who looked nothing like his parents. His sweet face was lit by innocent sea-blue eyes neither Damir nor Mathilda possessed.
Mathilda spotted her and stopped the carriage in front of the Genn family to stare at Joyspring with a puzzled expression. Luckbringer held her baby tighter, feeling Goldstar’s protection spell surrounding the three of them.
“Luckbringer, you had a baby?” Mathilda squealed in fake delight. “May I see it?”
“Her,” Luckbringer corrected. “Her name is Joyspring.”
“Well, may I see Joyspring?” Mathilda insisted impatiently.
Luckbringer offered the baby who had stopped smiling at the sound of Human voice.
Mathilda leaned to look at her, but didn’t try to touch her.
“I see, what a miracle!” she said cheerfully, leaning back and holding Giordano to her generous bosom.
Luckbringer glared at her. She knew Mathilda wasn’t her friend, and she better not upset me or I’ll expose the truth about her son’s birth.
Mathilda giggled nervously, aware of the threat. “Really, Luckbringer, I hope you have found happiness with your Genn mate.”
“I have, thank you, Mathilda,” Luckbringer answered, glancing at Damir’s gloomy expression. He was staring at her with a mix of anger, envy and other not so clean thoughts again. “May the Immortals protect you and little Giordano.”
“Let’s go,” Damir snapped, averting his eyes.
Mathilda suavely waved good-bye to the Genn family as the carriage moved on.
Giordano got up to look at the Genn baby and smiled a genuine smile as the carriage took him away.
“What a sweet boy,” Goldstar said, squeezing Luckbringer’s shoulder to prompt her to move on. “So glad he has none of his parent’s haughtiness.”
“His father isn’t haughty,” she grumbled as they walked towards the herbal shop. Poor Giordano, stuck with the wrong side of his family. Would they ruin him, or would he keep his natural innocence?
“What do you mean?” Goldstar asked, puzzled.
She remembered he didn’t know what had happened at the Governor’s palace before her divorce, as Damir had unbelievably managed to keep it under wraps.
“Giordano is not Damir’s son,” she explained. “Damir is sterile. Mathilda toyed with Conall the half-blood.”
“Marina Isabel’s son who had been secretly kept prisoner at the palace?” Goldstar asked, incredulous. “So who knew he was there, besides the Waiora that rescued him?”
“Damir, his personal valet who fed Conall, Mathilda and I,” Luckbringer sighed. “I think even Desiderio knew at some point, but he decided to ignore his son’s misdeeds. I tried to heal Conall before Mathilda used him but he was so hurt, I guess only the Waiora could actually help. But that opened my eyes on Damir,  he’s a monster and his hatred for Conall made him do things to the poor half-blood, I still shiver at the memory.”
“So Giordano has his father’s eye-color,” Goldstar mused. “I was wondering how that was possible. I mean, Lady Fairuza has blue eyes, but not really that shade of blue. And I don’t know what Mathilda’s ancestors look like, but they probably don’t have a Waiora eye-color.”
“And Damir is so happy, he can’t see it,” she said scornfully. She looked at Joyspring’s emerald eyes and smiled. “Humans are tricky, honey,” she told the baby who smiled. “Stay away from them when you grow up.”
Goldstar chuckled. “Yes, don’t be as silly as your mother!”
“Goldstar!”
He quickly hugged her and they entered the herbalist’s shop. Luckbringer was very glad to be rid of her crush on Damir. Life with Goldstar was the best thing she could dream of.
She prayed Ether to give Joyspring a Human-free life, so she wouldn’t have to struggle with the feelings and passions Humans liked to impose on Genn.

Books of the Immortals – Ether is set 15 years later and deals mostly with Luckbringer’s daughter Joyspring.
In between you can also read Conall’s sons about Giordano, who also appears at the beginning of Ether.

Sunday fiction


Here’s the very short story of Joyspring’s birth, split in two parts and ending next Sunday. It’s freshly out of the oven, so feel free to comment and spot typos or other mistakes! 🙂

Luckbringer

Luckbringer stared at her baby girl sleeping, thinking how much her life had changed in a few years. She was Genn, she knew she’d live longer than any Human, and she couldn’t believe how fast things had moved since she had come out of childhood.
Her first love had been Human. She was young and naive and was dazzled by Damir’s charming manners and fiery passion. The Governor’s son had enjoyed her dancing skills so much, he had thoroughly seduced her, which had made her incredibly happy for a couple of years.
Those years had vanished in the blink of an eye. Damir had met the Waiora, got obsessed with one of them, and even picked up a second wife, a Human. Luckbringer had found herself locked in a triangle, tricked into a war against the Waiora and betrayed by her beloved who was finally showing his true nature.
She blamed her youth for that dreadful mistake, but still it took her five years to get over Damir. Sometimes she thought that a part of her had always known that Damir was an evil young man, as she had never carried his seed. He was unable to reproduce, but she was Genn and could have had his babies if she really had wanted them.
Thank Ether, she hadn’t. She was probably too young to think about maternity anyway. When Damir had divorced her, she had felt lost. Who would want her again? But mostly, why should she allow anyone to break her heart again?
Then Goldstar had come along, reminding her they were Genn, that she shouldn’t attach herself to Humans and should try the Magical Races’ love instead. Even if some Genn had been happy in marriages with Humans, their long lives meant they’d eventually end up with their own kind sooner or later – “why wait?” had been Goldstar’s winning argument.
Luckbringer was almost thirty by now – mid-life for a Human, still very young for a Genn – and she had accepted Goldstar’s deep love. They could be animkunulo, or soul mates, for the rest of their long lives. They could have two batches of children, one now, one later in life – still together.
Former Varian Queen Rainspot (Luckbringer’s great-aunt) had had half-blood children with her first husband Fabio Varian, but her youngest children were two pure-blooded twins who has seen the birth of the Varian Empire aged fifteen – at the time of Fabio’s grandsons.
Being Genn in a Human-ruled world wasn’t easy, but having a Genn mate had helped Luckbringer to blossom. Her healing powers had reached full maturity and now she was a proud mother. Gone were the years of trying to keep up with the Humans’ frenetic life. In the very small Genn community of Agharek, she was finally enjoying life at a slower pace, with like-minded people and no competition for her man’s love.
Goldstar came into the room and she smiled at him, grateful.
“Is Joyspring asleep?” he asked, walking towards her.
“Yes,” she answered. “Isn’t she the most perfect being?”
“Of course,” he grinned, stopping by her side. “Like her mother.”
“Goldstar!” she chided, rising from her stool.
He took her in his arms. “What? Are you still blaming yourself for Damir’s misdeeds? Forget them, Luckbringer. Humans have long forgotten them.”
“But the Waiora still remember,” she sighed, lowering her eyes.
“I don’t think they blame you for the invasion of their underwater city,” he replied. “Us Magical Races tend to forgive each other’s mistakes, especially when youth is involved.”
She giggled. “Well, nobody would ever challenge Starblazer for what she did to Arquon!” she said, relieved. She put her arms around his neck. “Thank you, beloved. Thank you for loving me.”
The baby seemed to feel both her parents by her side because she opened her emerald-green eyes and gurgled with happiness. Luckbringer picked her up with a grin.
“It’s time to go out, Joyspring!” Goldstar announced, caressing the baby’s head.

end of part 1 – part 2 next Sunday

short story – The Sect (part 2)


read part one if you missed it.

The Sect

by Barbara G.Tarn

“Manjeet!”

Ashlee rushed into his arms and he held her tight, closing his eyes, drunken with her perfume. He was free! Happiness was overwhelming.

“Oh, honey, I thought you’d never come back!” she whispered. “I was terrified at the thought they might kill you! Are you all right?”

“Yes,” he pulled back to look her in the eyes. “I’m fine.” All pain was forgotten in the joy to be with her. He kissed her passionately and again lost himself in the world of love.

The wedding was simple and their love grew with each day… and each night, each kiss, each caress or whisper or moan or giggle.

Until Ramesh came, with an overwhelming number of community members: they now wore blood red turbans and had scimitars. Something must have changed in their setting, as they looked fierce like the king’s army.

The village thought they were under attack, but the leader’s smirk told them maybe it wasn’t so.

“What do you want?” Manjeet asked, squeezing Ashlee’s hand.

“You belong to the Sect,” Ramesh answered. “Our Goddess is bloodthirsty now.”

Manjeet gulped down his terror.

“Your father let me go. I’m exiled.”

“The Goddess wants you. She punished my father for letting you go. The High Priestess Chandra and myself are in charge now. And the Virgin Seeress spoke: the Goddess wants more blood.”

Ramesh had always been cold and calculating, so the lack of sorrow and hint of triumph in his voice didn’t surprise Manjeet. But the fact that a good leader had been killed and his worst enemies were now ruling, that was very bad news.

He let go of Ashlee’s hand, desperate and defeated. He couldn’t risk her or her family, her people. He looked her in the eyes, knowing he’d never forget her.

“I must go, beloved,” he said.

“Don’t. They’ll kill you,” she said, serious.

“They’ll kill you too if I resist,” he replied. “Don’t wait for me this time. Remarry…”

“Never.”

He held her tight and kissed her, then turned his back on her, her village, their brand new home.

Two guards grabbed him and dragged him away. He could feel Ramesh’s lustful eyes piercing his back.

 ***

Ramesh stared at the fountain of dark liquid to the right of the temple entrance with a frown. He knew it was that thing calling him, feeding on his emotions and giving him power. When they had built the Temple of the Goddess, that fountain had been left in a corner, untroubled. Nobody dared touching it.

Without thinking, he plunged his hand in the liquid. It was warm and purred as his fingers wiggled in it. He could hear sighs and moans of pleasure, as if a woman was enjoying his touch.

He took out his hand. It was dry. He licked it, but there was no taste. What was in that fountain wasn’t water. And it was powerful. When he had plunged his knife in his father’s heart, he had felt invincible. The voice of the Goddess had praised him and given him strength.

“I want Manjeet,” he whispered, filled with lust. “I want him all for myself.”

“He’s full of light,” the husky voice answered. “You can only destroy him.”

Well, he wanted to tame him and break him, so what was the difference? Besides, Chandra wanted to sacrifice him on the Goddess altar…

“His blood will give you more power,” the voice assured.

“Enough power to get rid of Chandra?” he asked, interested.

“Yes.”

He stared at the liquid one last time.

“If I can’t have him, I might as well use him to gain control of the Sect,” he decided.

The disembodied voice chuckled.

“You’re wicked, Ramesh. But you’re the best to teach your people the power of sex and blood…”

 ***

“The Goddess wants you, Manjeet. You shall join her in the Afterworld.”

“I hate you,” Manjeet whispered, glaring at Chandra, held still by two muscled guards.

She scoffed, while Neha repeated in the same, toneless voice of her visions, “The Goddess wants you. And the people want you dead.”

“Since when do we do human sacrifices?” Manjeet asked with a frown.

“Since you upset the Goddess and made her bloodthirsty,” Chandra replied. Her white clothes had been replaced by a blood-red sari with a black bodice. Everybody in the underground city now wore red and black instead of white. “She requested Puddra first.”

“And you performed the sacrifice?” he asked with disbelief.

“No, Ramesh did,” she scoffed. “The power generated by his father’s death was unheard of. The statue of the Goddess turned all black.”

This explained the new colors of the people clothes.

She walked to him.

“Surrender,” she whispered in his ear. “And I’ll save you.”

“Never,” he replied through clenched teeth. He had enough of being her toy. He didn’t want to know the new direction his community would take, not with Ramesh and Chandra at the head.

“You’re a fool, Manjeet,” she said coldly, backing away. “You shall have the end that you deserve.”

They took him to the temple, where indeed the statue of formerly gray granite had become totally black. Ramesh waited by the altar with his sadist smile, and Neha offered him a drink. He was about to refuse, but her eyes, now focused on him, were pleading, so he nodded. She put the chalice to his lips and as the sweet juice went down his throat, he knew she had drugged him,

Drums and horns, chants and prayers started clashing in his head. Unaware of his surroundings, numbed and dazed, he let them take him to the altar. The statue of the Goddess loomed over him and seemed alive.

He saw Ashlee, but she vanished before he could call her. Deaf and blind he slid into oblivion, wondering where this new custom would take his doomed people.

 ***

Ramesh stared at Manjeet lying drugged in front of him. He licked his lips in anticipation and raised his knife, then plunged it.

The blood was sweet on his tongue.

“And now, let’s party!” he announced, aroused by the surge of power the spilled blood had given him.

“Ramesh, are you out of your mind?” Chandra protested.

He laughed at her, drunk with the power.

“I think it’s time our Seeress loses her virginity,” he said, grabbing Neha’s hand. The girl whimpered, trying to free herself from his grip.

“You will not touch her,” Chandra put herself between him and the terrified Neha.

“She’s mine!” He screamed with rage.

Lightning struck the High Priestess, creating a hole in the ground. Neha jumped back, and so did he in front of the new feature of the temple: the Goddess Pit opened on eternal fire. Red and black. Blood, fire and darkness. No more light and boring white clothes. The power of sex and blood.

Ramesh started laughing, exhilarated.

The Sect started chanting the glory of the Bloodthirsty Goddess, feeling her power. Lust filled all hearts and the orgy started.

Only Neha seemed immune to the call. Her eyes darted around, trying to look for a way out. Ramesh was on her before she could move, and forced himself on her.

“Welcome to the Temple of Pleasure,” he whispered in her ear when he was done, ignoring her tears.

“You… wicked bastard…” she tried to push him away, managing only to excite him again.

“When I’m finished with your training, you’ll be more expert than an old whore,” he promised her.

He could feel her light and it was intoxicating. But there was also darkness in her, which was even better. He’d have her babies and create new rules. And eventually the outside world would belong to him.

The End?


short story – The Sect (part 1)


As promised, and because I’m offline this week, a short story in two parts. I’ll be back next week to answer your comments and visit your blogs! This is the first of the Tales of the Southern Kingdoms, and it happens 25 years before the start of Books of the Immortals – Air, in the kingdom of Arquon mentioned yesterday by Shafali(sorry about the weird formatting, sometimes word.doc don’t convert well on WordPress, sigh!)

The Sect

by Barbara G.Tarn

Manjeet closed his eyes, blinded by the torches that lit the Temple as if it were daylight. The guard behind him pushed him forward and he moved again, adjusting to the light after days in the darkness.

A hostile whisper accompanied his walk, and the stone eyes of the Goddess seemed to pierce him. He wished he could free himself from the ropes tying his wrists behind his back – they were too tight and his hands were numbing.

“Sinner!” an old woman hissed as he passed. Manjeet wanted to scream. I haven’t done anything! I’m innocent!

Still more insults flew towards him. The alter was a few paces away now, with the statue of the Goddess looming over all of them. Manjeet stopped and the guard forced him to kneel in front of Puddra, the Supreme Judge and leader of the Sect. The High Priestess Chandra stood at Puddra’s right and stared at Manjeet through half closed eyes. Still, he could feel her lust, and he shivered, his head hung in front of the two most powerful persons of the underground city that had given him birth.

“The trial begins,” the herald announced, and the crowd of white clothes fell silent. Puddra stood up like the king he wasn’t and stepped towards Manjeet. His black hair was hidden under his white turban, but he caressed his well trimmed black beard, thoughtful, before speaking. Manjeet dared to look at him, silently pleading for mercy.

Puddra crossed his arms on his chest, still staring at the young man kneeling in front of him.

“The accusation is not light,” the Judge said. “Manjeet has done dirty deeds outside our community. He had already been admonished for trying to corrupt Neha, the Virgin Seeress…”

Manjeet lowered his eyes. Ah, Neha. He saw her again with his mind’s eyes, beautiful and  pure. She was younger than him, but her visions had consecrated her to the Goddess since childhood. For months he had loved her without telling her, realizing she was no longer a child. And one day he had dared to speak, to tell her what he felt, brushing his lips against hers… then the Goddess had punished him: lightning had struck him, leaving him half-dead and scarred for life on his left shoulder. But the Goddess had kept him alive and by simply looking at him, everybody was reminded of his sin.

Manjeet was called back to reality by the words of the High Priestess who was now chanting a spell. And the Goddess got him again, sneaking inside him and breaking him with pain. He writhed on the floor in front of Chandra, too breathless to scream, but groaning and moaning as the fire of the Goddess burned him.

Through the flames he saw Ashlee’s sweet face. She whispered his name, worried, and vanished. He shook his head, trying to free himself from the powerful spell, but he wasn’t strong enough to defeat the Goddess.

Chandra took his face in her hands and forced him to look at her. The crowd, who had been screaming with joy to punish him harder, fell silent again. They couldn’t see the dark eyes of the High Priestess burning with lust like him, though.

The silence and Chandra’s eyes hurt even more. Manjeet wondered what else awaited him. He was numb from pain, but managed to catch some breath and slow his panting during those few moments of respite.

The High Priestess let him go and the guard banged his head on the ground. Dazed, he was forced to stay down, nose bleeding, while the High Priestess put one foot on his head.

“Like a woman kills a snake, the Goddess can kill a man,” she said. “Today, the Goddess is good. We shall be the judges and Puddra shall give the verdict. Lock up this sinner while we discuss his fate.”

She took her foot off of him, and the guard pulled him to his feet, dragging him back to his cell, untying him before locking his door.

Manjeet sat in the darkness again, exhausted and hurt. Why were they after him? What was wrong with loving a woman? Why did the Goddess punish him?

Like everybody else in the community, he had been coupled with someone since childhood. He was supposed to marry that girl chosen for him at birth now that they had both grown up. But he had always been restless and unsatisfied with his betrothal. He had always avoided the chosen girl to play with the other children, and when they were all beyond childhood games, he had fallen in love with Neha.

But Neha was off limits, untouchable, consecrated to the Goddess… so he had looked elsewhere for love. And he had met Ashlee. The monsoon was barely gone and the nature outside the underground city had called him. He had walked and walked, unaware of the distance, enchanted by colorful birds and attracted by strange smells. He probably got lost in the jungle and by sunset he had reached a small village.

Hospitality was sacred even for pagans, so he had been welcomed for the night. People wore clothes of different colors, not the usual white he was accustomed to.

When morning came, he followed them in their fields and meadows, and helped them harvest, listening to their songs and their jokes and their laughter.

He had been told all his life that outside of the underground city there was only an ugly, evil world, but he was witnessing something completely different. Outside the safety of his  community, people were just… people. They only adored different gods and wore slightly different clothes.

He had gone back to the underground city too puzzled and amazed to discuss his discovery with anyone. He didn’t even know how he had found his way back through the jungle, but as soon as he had been back, the village outside had started calling him.

“So I went back, and tried to observe from the safety of the jungle,” he told the Council, the Judge, the High Priestess, anyone willing to listen to his story as he pleaded “not guilty”. “Then one day a girl saw me and greeted me. And I answered.”

“Our law forbids any contact with the outside world,” Chandra said sharply.

Manjeet bowed his head. He could still see Ashlee and her beauty. His hands were free now, so he hid his face in them. Why couldn’t they understand him? Why couldn’t they let him go?

“Repent, Manjeet,” Puddra warned with a frown.

Repent of what? Falling in love? Wanting to live in the open instead of caves, hiding from the world and eating mostly meat as there was no way to grow anything in town in spite of the opening up there in the giant cave ceiling?

Neha spoke with her eyes lost in her vision.

“Your sin is not talking to a stranger, Manjeet.”

“Continue, then,” Chandra said. “What happened after the greeting?”

“My accuser knows very well what I was doing when he found me,” he said through clenched teeth. “No, I didn’t ran away after she greeted me. Her name is Ashlee. She told me she had heard of us as a bunch of fanatics hiding from the king’s wrath.”

She also said he couldn’t be too happy with his upbringing, which was totally true. He wasn’t happy in the underground city, he had never felt the Goddess’s motherly love he had been told to worship since childhood. He had actually felt her wrath and wished he  could leave that temple and that community to live with Ashlee under the sun.

“How dare you?” Puddra’s face became red with anger. “This is blasphemy! Your pride shall be punished!”

“The Goddess knows all her children,” Chandra said. “I’m sure she knows everything about Manjeet. Let him continue, Puddra. Let’s hear what this perverted being has to say.”

“I’m not a perverted being!” Manjeet exploded. “I didn’t do anything evil!” He could name people who were perverts in his own community, though. He could accuse too. But he was accused now, and throwing venom on somebody else wasn’t a good strategy.

“Shut up!” Puddra replied. “Finish your dirty story, we shall be the judges!”

Upset, Manjeet looked at Neha, but she was lost in her visions. And Ashlee had no idea where the underground city actually was.

He lowered his eyes, gulping down the lump in his throat. He was alone against his own people.

“Speak, blasphemous being!” Puddra said.

“I kept seeing her.” He kept his voice monotone, hiding his pain and anguish as he spoke. “We talked, we laughed, we cuddled and enjoyed each other’s company. Her village had welcomed me and I enjoyed working with them. I was alive, happy and free for the first time in my life and the Goddess wasn’t mad at me, or she’d have struck me again.”

His body enjoyed the caress of the sun, and of Ashlee’s hands. His eyes had never enough of her, and his lips found their way to her mouth. He got to know her in the deepest way, and she loved him back with all her passion. He moaned for pleasure in her arms, and was inside her.

Puddra slapped him back to reality before he went more into details.

“Fool! You broke a divine law!”

Manjeet stared back at him, undaunted now that the memory of his love filled him.

“I am not repenting, Supreme Judge,” he said. “Because I had something you shall never have. You have sex without love. But combined…”

“Shut up!” Puddra slapped him again as the crowd grumbled and insulted the sinner. The Judge raised his hands to quiet the crowd. “I know, he hurt our pride,” he told them. “And we shall punish him.”

Manjeet had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. He tried to defend himself, but was abused by both men and women because he had dared looking for love outside of the Sect. Ashlee was right, his people were fanatics that could become obsessed with sex for the wrong reason.

He could feel the energy sucked out of him, and hoped they would kill him on the spot. But Chandra stopped them.

“Enough! The Goddess doesn’t want him dead yet!”

They left him alone, naked and bruised on the temple floor.

“Get up,” Puddra ordered.

But he was too weak to obey. Two guards pulled him to his feet and he managed to look the leader in the eyes.

“Let me go,” he begged.

“And where would you go?” Puddra looked sad and tired now.

“Let me go, let me live with Ashlee, let me…”

“Enough!” Chandra interrupted him. “You belong to us! Your life belongs to us and to the Goddess and you have no rights of living elsewhere!”

“I’m sorry, Manjeet,” Puddra added. “This is our way.”

Manjeet bowed his head, defeated.

 ***

It was true love. Ashlee was sweet and loving and Manjeet was head over hills. Ramesh watched them making love to each other with anger and envy burning in his heart.

He wished Manjeet looked at him like he looked at Ashlee. He wished Manjeet allowed him to undress and touch him like he did with Ashlee. But Manjeet didn’t care about boys or men, and Ramesh’s love and attraction were  slowly turning to hatred.

Ramesh was Puddra’s beloved son and had the charisma of a natural born leader. He had married the girl his father had chosen for him, but his sexuality didn’t have enough with only one woman. He loved men also, and orgies that made him feel powerful. He could feel the energy flooding him when he had sex, which made him more hungry.

He didn’t like Manjeet’s secret happiness and his more and more frequent absences, hence he had told his father and the whole community about Manjeet’s “sin”. He was the prosecutor that had brought the trial on Manjeet’s head, and was ready to watch him fall with glee.

“It was an obscene sight, my friends!” he told the court. “Both were naked and looked like mating animals!”

Manjeet glared at him, but he ignored him.

“It was disgusting,” he continued, not mentioning he had done much worse in the privacy of some unused tunnel with members of the community who kept their mouths well shut. “Manjeet betrayed our law and our customs, dishonoring all of us with his dreadful behavior!”

“Look who’s talking!” Manjeet exploded. “Everybody knows what you do!”

“I do my duty,” he snapped. “I married the girl my father chose for me and didn’t go out looking for adventures in the world outside!”

“Enough, both of you,” Chandra said. “Manjeet, you admitted your fault, don’t plead innocence now.”

“How can you consider guilty the love for a woman?” Manjeet protested. “How can you live without love, spending life together out of duty, because some inhuman, divine being decides who is our match? I did wrong, I admit it, but I’m ready to leave, to disappear forever from this blessed community! You can’t keep me here!”

“Shut up!” Chandra slapped both his cheeks and Ramesh scoffed. Stupid, stupid Manjeet. The High Priestess was another person hot for the young rebel. Maybe they could join forces to tame Manjeet. “This is blasphemy! The Goddess will punish you!”

Manjeet glared at her.

“You can’t keep me prisoner,” he whispered, so Ramesh guessed his words more than hearing them. Boy, he was desperate! They really should tame him once and for all! Obviously the public rape hadn’t been enough, but in a more private situation him and Chandra could break the little bastard who dared to shun them.

“Shut up,” she hissed back.

Manjeet backed away from her and turned to the audience.

“Listen to me!” he said loud and clear. “The High Priestess is lying to you! I don’t think the Goddess cares if I stay or if I go, but Chandra does! She’s been after me since I was fifteen!”

“He’s lying!” Chandra screamed as Ronan looked at her, admired. He had been drooling over Manjeet for only a couple of years. The High Priestess had good tastes.

“She seduced me,” Manjeet continued, undaunted. “And because of her behavior, I thought I could do the same with Neha, the Virgin Seeress, because I was protected by the High Priestess!”

“He’s lying!” Chandra repeated, furious. “He’s crazy! He’s trying to drag us to hell with him!”

“Silence!” Puddra got up and raised his arms, quieting the growing murmur of the crowd. Manjeet knelt in frond of him of his own free will.

“Help me, please,” he pleaded. No way, we’re not letting you go, Ramesh thought, ready to jump in if his father proved too weak. He knew Manjeet was much loved in spite of his rebel behavior.

Puddra pulled him up.

“I like you, Manjeet, but if they condemn you, there is nothing I can do,” he said. “What are you talking about, though? What’s the story with Chandra?”

“The truth, Supreme Judge,” Manjeet answered. “I was fifteen when the High Priestess summoned me to her rooms. She told me I was a handsome boy and let me sit near her. I was naive and childish, but my blood was on fire. She kissed me and gave me a taste of what Ashlee gave me. A taste that ruined my life, because it awakened the man in me and since that day I’ve been restless. I wanted a woman, but none was really available, and then I noticed Neha was not a child anymore. Chandra caught me and denounced me because she was jealous of her younger rival.”

“Neha was off limits,” Puddra said. “And Chandra is too old for you.”

“Still she messed with my growth, Supreme Judge.”

“There isn’t one word of truth in his story,” Chandra interrupted, venom spilling from her voice. Always deny the truth, Ramesh knew it was the main rule. Manjeet had condemned himself by admitting his fault.

“You will believe her,” Manjeet told Puddra, serious and sad. “Everybody will believe her. You will all keep following that lying witch and none of you will ever know what’s beyond this underground city. You’ll keep thinking you’re perfection, but you’re nothing. Nothing.”

A minority that had hidden from the world to follow their own traditions. Ramesh thought Manjeet was too stupid to live. Maybe both of them had been born in the underground city, but their parents came from the outside world. They knew exactly what they had left behind.

The temple was silent as the people tried to catch every word from the accused’s mouth. But the young man was talking to their leader in a low voice, so only Puddra, Chandra, Ramesh and Neha could actually hear him.

“You’re being stupid,” Ramesh said, scornful. “My father knows very well what’s out there. And so do our elders. And why should I listen to you? Who are you? Nothing. You are nothing, Manjeet!”

Manjeet was still staring at his father, who looked spellbound.

“Go,” Puddra said at last, averting his eyes. “You’re exiled. Don’t come back. Ever.”

“Puddra!” Chandra protested, shocked, while Manjeet fell on his knees again to kiss the Supreme Judge’s hands.

“Go now!” Puddra ordered. Manjeet got up on his feet, bowed deeply and left, untouched.

No! Ramesh swore he’d bring the beautiful rebel back. He’d tame him and break him and make him his bed slave for the rest of his life! If only he had his father’s power…

Something dark started calling him, whispering promises in his ears.

to be continued tomorrow…

Story Carnival


This is taken from Shafali the Caricaturist’s blog. In case you didn’t know, every month she posts a caricature, inviting authors to write the story of the drawing… So here is this month’s caricature (and the rules):

After putting my thinking cap on, I decided to rewrite a scene from a novel-turned-screenplay (which means I took both from the original novel in Italian and from the screenplay in English to write this short bit of prose). Hope it can stands on its own. I haven’t rewritten the whole thing yet, because it’s sci-fi and I’m still mulling about this future. It is our planet, though… enjoy.

Robin & Beth

extract from Soul Stealers by Barbara G.Tarn

 

The terrace restaurant was almost all for them. Robin and Beth looked down from various angles, admiring the 22nd century landscape: New York was now only the isle of Manhattan, all around it the buildings had been destroyed and nature had taken back the land. The bridges were still there, taking few futuristic flying cars into the wild.

The sun set and robots switched on candles on the restaurant tables.

“I’m hungry, how about you?” Beth asked.

“Yes, let’s go,” Robin smiled.

He offered her his arm like a perfect gentleman.

“Where did you learn such old fashioned good manners?” she inquired, pleasantly surprised.

“I saw a movie,” he grinned. “It’s called A love-story from the past, very useful on 20th century manners.”

She took his arm, amused. The movie that had made them meet. If only he hadn’t forced her to retire it. She was still fond of it… especially now that he had looked her up after their not so great last meeting.

“Really? It’s not just another Cinderella story?” she asked.

“Maybe, but I like it.”

“But we’re not in the 20th century anymore.”

“We are where we want to be. We only have to ask and we’ll have 20th century waiters attending us. We can have anything we want thanks to computers, remember?”

They stopped by a table for two and sat down.

“So, you’re looking for a friendship now?” Her smile slowly vanished and she felt nervous again.

“Yeah. What about you, what are you looking for?” He was serious too now.

She shrugged.

“Friendship, I guess,” she said. “My mistake, I should have stuck to my holograms.”

“Why? You don’t like real people?”

“Not really. I don’t like being touched.”

“Can’t blame you…”

***

In the control room Shadya sat at the computer, with Bolton standing behind her, curious.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Instructing the kitchen,” was the cold reply. “They’ll never make it without a little help.”

“Are you blaming me for damaging one subject?”

“They’re both damaged. An aphrodisiac in their meal will take care of it.”

***

Dinner over, Beth and Robin left the table and walked towards the balcony again. They looked at the city lights and the ocean.

“My house is over there,” she said, pointing down.

“Mine too at the moment,” he said.

She smiled. They were very close.

She shivered, he noticed.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

“No, I’m fine.”

He held her closer and kissed her.

Breathless, Beth hugged him, sinking her fingers in his hair. She thought she hated kisses, and here she was, hungry and eager and happy to feel his body against hers. It wasn’t like her virtual lover, he was real, warm, and so different from what she had imagined…

She pulled back, keeping him at arm’s length to catch her breath.

“Are you all right?” he asked, concerned.

“Yeah, give me a minute,” she panted.

“I’m sorry, I got carried away. I forgot I have to be careful.”

“You… remember what I said?” she worried.

He smiled.

“Every word. There’s nothing wrong with it,” he said.

“My friends advised me not to tell you.”

“When you told me, there was nothing between us and no reason to think there ever could be. And it doesn’t change anything now, I should calm down myself. I’m excited because I haven’t felt like this in years, but I don’t want to spoil it all by hurrying.”

Of course, he had never looked for a substitute for Pauline, therefore he had had no sex for five years.

He averted his eyes and pulled back a little more.

“I think we had enough emotions for tonight,” he added. “Maybe we should go home before we overdose…”

No!, someone screamed inside her. She grabbed his face and started kissing him all over, overwhelmed by her own desire. On that roof, under the stars, she discovered reality was much better than imagination.

Doreen 3


Part one and part two

Doreen

by Barbara G.Tarn

“Help me, mother, tell me if I have a way to snatch my love from another woman,” Doreen pleaded, kneeling humbly in front of her parent.

Nadia smiled, softened. She found funny her daughter’s passionate love. She even sort of envied Doreen for those feelings, even if she could see Doreen’s sorrow. She knew her daughter was truly madly deeply in love, but she didn’t know his name yet.

“I’m pregnant, mother,” Doreen continued quickly. “I won’t have to go to the Temple after all. Is there a law that allows me to claim the man who performed the miracle?”

“In theory yes, depends on whom he belongs to,” Nadia answered, still puzzled by the news that her daughter was actually fertile. Both of them had lost hope on that topic a long time ago.

“I guess I’m lost, then,” Doreen sighed.

“Why, who is she?” Nadia asked. She was quite powerful herself, and she’d do anything for her daughter.

“The queen,” Doreen said gloomily.

“Damn.” Nadia’s joy faded. “I had heard that Azzurro had a lover, but I couldn’t imagine it was you! You better forget him, darling, because even if he survives Cynthia’s wrath, she will never let you go near him ever again. My Goddess, she could kill you, except you’re pregnant, so she can’t do it now, but she might do it after you deliver!”

“Could I appeal to the people?” Doreen asked, desperate.

“Don’t,” Nadia answered, serious. “She’d kill you in spite of your pregnancy. She doesn’t want anybody to know that not only her Favorite doesn’t love her, but he even cheated on her. She’d have you assassinated.”

“What about him?” Doreen complained. “How can I save him?”

“You can’t,” Nadia said. “Your rival is too powerful. You can only forget him, dear.”

“Forget him…” she whispered. “I can still see his sapphire eyes… and the darkened face of the queen finding me in the pavilion, ordering me to disappear…”

“Thank the Goddess she didn’t kill you on the spot.”

“I want to scream…” it sounded more like a moan, and Nadia took her daughter in her arms, trying to comfort her.

“I’m sorry, darling. You know there’s no way out. Azzurro is the Queen’s Favorite, and by pure pride Cynthia would never let him go.”

Doreen started sobbing softly in her mother’s arms.

***

“He isn’t eating, my lady,” the healer said.

Cynthia gloomily stared at Azzurro, lying on the bed, his eyes lost somewhere. He wasn’t eating, he wasn’t talking. He was letting himself die.

“Can we force some food into him?” she asked, worried.

“Yes, but it won’t really help if he doesn’t want to live,” the healer answered.

“Leave us.”

The healer bowed and left. Cynthia lay down near her Favorite and pulled him against her.

“Azzurro, why are you so stubborn?” she chided. “I cannot let you go! I chose you for life, I can’t give you to another woman! The Goddess would punish me!”

He gulped down some tears and didn’t answer, nor looked at her.

“Please, Azzurro, eat,” she whispered tenderly in his ear. “I promise I won’t hurt you anymore.”

“Then let me go,” his voice was hoarse.

“I can’t! I’m the Queen! You will not refuse me!”

His blue eyes looked at her. He sighed and closed them, as if he wanted to sleep.

Cynthia held him tighter, whispering sweet nothings in his ears. She’ll force him to live. She didn’t want to lose him.

***

Doreen couldn’t console herself. She was finally pregnant, but wasn’t allowed anymore to see the marvelous man who had performed the miracle. All those wasted years with useless lovers, and now the only man worth fighting for belonged to the queen herself.

She sulked all day, remembering the few precious moments with him, his tenderness, his smile and his cerulean eyes. She wondered how he was doing. Her mother told her he had been punished, but was recovering.

Nobody came to visit her. Not even the novices with whom she had shared her destiny for a few months. The Temple of the Goddess had given up on her, but so did her former Aristocrat friends, including Princess Ashlee.

Nadia asked her if she wanted to celebrate her pregnancy, and whom she’d like to invite, but she didn’t really feel like seeing people. She felt isolated, and it was fine with her – more time to think about Azzurro, obsessing about their destiny and if they could ever be together again.

She stayed in, never went to the palace for a few days. Until her mother gave her the news: Azzurro was dead. Devastated by sorrow, Doreen rushed to the temple for the funeral, and only when she saw his body composed in the stillness of death did she realize she had lost him forever.

She almost fainted, but her mother was ready to pick her up.

“Hold it, Doreen,” she whispered in her ear. “You don’t want to lose his gift, do you?”

Doreen straightened herself, gulping down her pain. No, she wouldn’t lose the much wanted baby, especially now that the man who had sired it was gone.

She sniffed, staring at him, and Nadia put one arm around her shoulder, trying to comfort her. The High Priestess blessed the corpse, and the coffin was closed. Doreen’s sniffs became silent sobs. Nadia held her tight, patting her back like when she was a child.

“Hush, baby, everything will be all right,” she said gently.

Slowly, Doreen calmed down. She wiped away the tears and looked at the coffin again. The ceremony was over.

Doreen’s eyes met Cynthia’s.

The queen went to the young girl and looked her in the eyes.

“I hope you’re happy now,” she said flatly. “I didn’t kill him, Doreen, he died for you. He knew he couldn’t have you and preferred to die that staying with me.”

She turned her back on mother and daughter, and left without turning back. Princess Ashlee exchanged a sorrowful glance with Doreen and followed her mother.

“Goddess be praised, I was afraid she’d take it out on you,” Nadia said, hugging her still shocked daughter.

Doreen’s sorrow was speechless. But at least before dying he had given her the gift of life. He had proved she was fertile. She could live on and have children. She’d never forget him.

THE END

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