"The Red Hand Of General Dragutin, part 2"
by Wil Alambre
Its less than a day later, and Vaso and I are half a galaxy
away, on a grey airless moon. By cupping our hands over our
brows, we can scoop up stray light waves reflected from the
planet and get a broad look at the surface below.
Vaso sneers at the world below. "I don't trust Sixth
Columnists, General. They're an unstable bunch, every lot of
them. And they splintering apart. Hard to be sure what bent
their worship takes."
"Don't worry. They rarely a threat. Religious kooks. Beggars
and dreamers, mostly. Not the most reliable sort, I'll give
you that, but at least they fight for what they believe in.
And given our available resources, we'll not be getting
better intelligence reports." Truth be told, the *only*
advantage to the Sixth Column movement was how spread out it
was. Keep popping up all over the universe, as
underdeveloped species encounter the super wizards race. The
various cults usually waver somewhere between foolish
adulation and obsessive stalking. But there'll always be
strategic use for people who'll literally do *anything* you
"Still. I'd rather we had reinforcements." He pauses, then
adds, "We can call back for Trifko, sir."
Ah. This at last. "No, Vaso, we can't. Someone had to stay
behind and watch the prison. Too many monsters and crazies
frozen in those cells. Couldn't leave them unguarded.
'Sides, if we try to send a message that far, there's a
chance it'll be overheard, and Hoag will learn I've violated
the terms of my exile."
"If he's discovered there..."
"Trifko *understood* the sacrifice I asked of him. As did
*Cvjetko*. They recognized a greater good than themselves
and did their duty. Like *soliders*." Sharper than I meant
to make it, but I need to nip this insubordination in the
Vaso looks shocked. Not insulted. Embarrassed. "Sir. Yes,
sir," he replies.
Better to move this along, give us something productive to
worry about. I point down to the planet, "This is Volsci. A
world on the border of Mummy Machine territory. They've
barely managed space travel. I don't think they've even made
it up here to their moon yet. But they've some decent enough
observatories, and we've made sure the Sixth Column
believers amongst them have been watching the skies for us.
We should be able to get a general report on Planet M. Or at
least, we'll find out if the boy's made his way there yet."
Vaso nods. "Should I take point?"
"No. You stay in the bird's nest. I'll do it myself."
There's a worried look on his face, so I reassure him with
smile and a pat to his back. "No judgement on you, Vaso.
I've been stuck in one place for a long time with little but
frozen inmates for company. The old man just wants a chance
to stretch his legs."
I stand up and draw my fusion over my shoulders, the
protective red light settling around me like a comfortable
pea coat. "Stay low. Be ready to cover me," I say, then I
launched myself at the surface.
Volsci's a planet of thin green skies and rolling blue grass
hills. Water speeds 'round in millions of twisting rivers
but never settles into anything bigger than a narrow lake.
It means the bipedal humanoids here don't want for a
transportation system beyond sleek and clever watercraft. On
past visits, it made the horizon look like a living thing,
with innumerable coloured points whizzing along arteries of
stream and creeks.
But not now. The rivers are empty. Not a single ship on
them. The night airwaves are quiet. No radio waves. No
cellular signals. The world isn't dead. Farms look to be
recently tended. None of the structures look overgrown or
ruined. Unlit. Maybe abandoned. No accidents, no
disasters... so where *is* everyone?
Make my way to the tallest peak on the planet's equator. At
the top is a scientific facility with a magnificent stellar
observatory. Its walls are decorated with massive murals of
glowing stellar gods... unsurprisingly. The people of Volsci
always had been curious astronomers, but when they'd visited
by Super Wizards From Space, that curiosity had turned into
cultural dogma. Awed by our immense power, they developed a
research-based religion and a determination to learn
everything they could about us. To emulate us. And if
possible, to become us.
All good reasons to go for a dramatic entrance, then. I hold
up a closed fist to the night sky, a signal for Vaso to hold
his position. Grabbing the shoulders of my illuminated coat,
I fling the red light out thin and wide. Its bathes the
entire mountain top with its blood hue. Should give
everything a theatrically appropriate menace. I glide into
the observatory's main dome, passing a gigantic telescope
and touching down in a dim cavernous room.
The only light is the one I cast myself. The floor's an
impressive mosaic of blue and gold triangles. Half the
instruments are powered and operating. Piled up printouts
and flashing displays are long ignored. No one at their
stations. Not a good sign.
But I'm not alone.
I can sense movement Keeping to the other side of doorways,
staying down the long black halls where my light does reach.
A clumping shuffling mass hinting of a large group trying to
stay hidden. Someone. or several someones. Maybe they can
fill me in on what's happened here. "I can see you there.
Come on out and meet me. I mean you no harm." I can feel the
increased agitation. Nobody show themselves. I start
marching toward them, calling out, "I'm a visitor to your
world. You *know* my kind. I'm a *Super Wizard From Space*."
I step in something... wet. Uh. Looking down, I lift my boot
out of a viscous liquid puddling across the floor. Looks
like blood. Cold and congealed. No, that's not right.
There's too much across too large a surface.
"Wizard...?" The first thrumming voice from the darkness.
Stepping back, I can see its my own light that giving the
puddle the red hue. It's more of a gold. A golden yellow.
"Wizzzard? SZzzuper WizzZZard?" Other voices joining in. A
growing droning mass. A familiar buzzing noise. Surrounding
The puddle shifts. Bubbles and boils up into form and
substance. As the gel rise, I can see its semi-transparent.
Oddly geometrical lines weaved within. Circuits caught in
I retreat several steps. Pull my light back around myself,
harden it into a shield between me and the growing liquid
mass. Damn. Damn.
The shape bulges and compresses in waves, piling up in
The circuitry within flickers to life, emulating a complex
nervous system in a growingly humanoid form.
Then it screeches. Loud static and louder feedback. Audio
systems screaming before they're fully formed.
"...wiizzzaard wiizZZAArd WIZZZard..." the buzzing's a
discordant dirge. The sound coming from everywhere now. The
halls, the doors, the walls, the floor.
Its a rumble. Its a crash.
Its an *ambush*.
The gelatinous clump settles into a small female form. A
feeble shape, with bits sized wrong for her scraggly frame.
Tiny hands on long arms. Big feet on thin legs. Short
mannish hair on a ball of a head.
The encircling cacophony dies with a punctuated, threatening
introduction. "SZzzibylla. SZzwarm. And QUEEN!"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
One of the things that kept this arc from being posted
was me overthinking it. Not that there's anything wrong
with plotting and and planning and outlining, but it was
getting in the way of actually *writing*. I had started
this series to get into a habit of writing regularly, and
as such, was going to let the plot come out by the seat
of my pants.
If I don't make a reasonable weekly schedule, then please
remind me to just sit down and get words to paper.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wil Alambre, follow me at http://twitter.com/wilalambre
"Hurry, uni-scribe! We have less than one space-hour to get to the
negotiating table before the Great Disaster arrives!" The desperate uni-diplomat paced back and forth in the room. He kept
looking at the space-clock, watching the moments tick away and
whinnying quietly under his breath. The light in the room was starting
to fade away as ominous clouds rolled in, covered up the twin suns. It
was as if the very planet understood the impending doom and was losing
"Very well, we agree. A tournament, then, to end this rampage. But you have witnessed the power at his disposal. He has a billion billion years of our science-sorcery at his command. Will all you great super-civilizations commit your super-champions to this?"
On a distant world, a mummy-robot and a brown-robed monk silently made their way to the center of a blasphemous cathedral. Though the robot lurched ungainly, it's servos making an uneven whirring sound as they moved the broken machine through black-stone hallways, it held it's bandaged head high, the ghostly
Cocytus the demon-glacier had the Super Wizard From Space engulfed in its icy grasp, forever to be a frozen prisoner of the ninth circle of Hell. Meanwhile the victorious Devil stood atop the massive field of ice, grateful to be back home. The Devil tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and just basked
On a filthy cobblestone hell-road outside the infinite walls of Double-Dis, the Super Wizard From Space stared up at the triumphant face of the Super-Devil. The monster's massive grin dribbled thick lava as he shouted out "Hey there, jerks! Welcome to Double-Hell!"
In the ruins of an ancient city of pillars, an alien octopus pointed eight dangerous looking ray-guns at a white-bearded hermit. "You best be giving me that there data-cylinder, Gavrilo, or I'll vaporize you right where you stand, I done swear it!"
Two figures hurtled through a scarred green warp tunnel underneath the skin of the universe toward the lost planet of the silver skull machine. The Super Wizard From Space was leading the way, encased in a cocoon of hard light that protected him from the rigors of space travel. His companion, a filthy bearded hermit,
The Super Wizard From Space and the Hermit Wizard From Space were trapped in an asteroid belt by a swarm of gigantic space-bees! As it's fellow drones circled uniformly, one particularly grusome space-bee broken from the formation. It was as massive as any of the drifting asteroids, it's gigantic yellow black body big enough to drag smaller free-floating
A monstrously giant bee made of hollow electricity used its clawed legs to peel open the hull of the crashed rocket-ship. It glowed brightly with a pale light, partially transparent and seemingly fragile as it opened up the armored cockpit as if it was made of tinfoil. The ship's two occupants didn't even have a moment to shake off the shock before
The two super wizards stood stock still as the two floors of the building above them were eaten by the ghost of a cosmic megalodon. Bigger than a rocket-ship, it nonetheless hung effortlessly in the air, it's fifty-five rows of cleaver-like teeth surrounding their room as it floated vertically above them. The daylight of the alien sky shone
I am Theodor. I am a rainbow blue fish. I lived on a planet far away. Then I died. But that is was not the end. That was the beginning. I became a ghost. I became part of the infinite school. Thanks to wise Rex. This is the story of Rex. He is big fish. A big shark. Many sizes big. From a far away blue
It took nearly every ghost fish of the infinite school to confidently herd Sharkasaurus Rex into the depths of the invisible galaxy. The megalodon's monstrous instincts were near impossible to fully understand, a hundred million space-years of predatory instinct and insatiable hunger. The spectral school's entire telepathic concentration
"Oh dear me!" shouted Brody Dharma to the marble diamond hall, his gecko eyes spinning in shock as the ghostly forms of Geisel and Theodor circled over the sticky yellow remains of Queen Buzz. "Fish! Please! Contain yourselves!" "Tyrant!" flared out Geisel angrily, telepathically sharing horrific
"Master hero! Master hero!" cried out the young boy, frantic enough to ignore his disciplined training. "A terrible occurrence! The infinite school have lost their hold on their grisly teacher! The cosmic crown reacted suddenly and cut off their psychic leashes! Sharkasaurus Rex is loose!". The young boy wildly rang the same small gong all the monks in this
Geisel was gone, his phantasmal form torn apart in savage fury by the recently de-crowned Sharkasaurus Rex. The equally ethereal Theodor watched the entire sudden rending in still shock. As did the rest of the infinite school, millions of fellow ghost fish that had all gathered to psychically leash the mighty megalodon.
"Sharkasaurus Rex is feeding on the simple people of this planet," said the
Super Wizard From Space, pointing to where a sticky-looking red hue spread in
the red mist for a space-minute before the fin moved on. "He's converting their
psyches into spiritual mass, growing exponentially. This incredible instrument
is our only hope."
He was lying on the ground. Still at the top of the mountain
monastery. Yes, he was certain of it. There was no mistaking. He
remembered the feel of these particular stones. And the scent of that
particular moss. But he could not remember how he had came here. It
was like his mind was rattling around in his head while at the same
time trying to swell larger than his skull could contain.
I warned him not to use the Gong Ago, as the volume required from that sacred instrument would have unintended side effects. But like an old mule wearing ragged blinders, he rung it out anyway. And that powerful pitch has freed me and my like-minded brethren. My name is Andy Dharma. I am the master villain of the Invisible Monks.
In a clearing at the center, a nine-foot lizards bowed respectfully to his duplicate. He dressed the same way. He moved with the same simple grace. He stood with the same relaxed posture. And he looked back at him with the same calculating eyes, measuring the short distance between them, judging the smallest of movements.
"You are unbalanczed. You cannot be truszted with coszmic power." Her hand closed into a fist and squeezed. From every direction, the spectral fish tossed out their determination in crisscrossing grey lines, trying to ensnare his mind.
"Andy, don't do this," whispered Brody, "You can't." "Yes I can! Yes I will!" he shouted back at him. "No more bad habits disguised as tradition! No more of yesterday's rules deciding today's fate! I will show you what change can accomplish!" He spat on the floor in disgust, and backflipped off the balcony.
On the side of a small lake, a simple man was fishing off the end of a rickety dock. The lake was usually a clear blue, filled with many delicious fish. It was not so now. It was murky, tinted pink and red, the fish preferring to stay closer to the bottom, where the water was cleaner and lines could rarely reach. It meant the man would be lucky for even a small catch, but that would be enough. He lived alone on this shore, in his cabin up the hill, and had only himself to feed.
He wiped his hands on his bloody apron, then stroked his long grey beard with a smile. It was with great experience that he could judge the quality and balance of a blade and in all the experience, he had never worked with such magnificent instruments.
A portion of empty space bubbled and bulged, like plastic melting in a fire, then peeled away to reveal the spitting green end of a warp tunnel. Wrapped and protected in a cocoon of pale starlight, the Super Wizard From Space blasted out of the tunnel opening at incredible speed. The wound in black reality mended behind him with a practiced flick of
Sharp super-lightening split across a sick dry sky as a lone yellow cab pulled up in front of a long abandoned university. The pale driver scratched at his unkept beard. Hunched over the steering wheel, he got a better look through the windshield at the derelict campus. "You sure this is where you wanna to be?" he gruffly asked the passenger in the back seat.
"I will not tolerate your
presence here. Nor your trickery. I will burn away every molecule. I
will crack every atom. I will unravel your infernal form down to the
minimalist components and grind the remains under my boot."
"Once upon a time, five dark lords of multiple underverses made the mistake of signing a series of magical contracts in an attempt to insure some level of trust between them. Inevitably, all five of them went back on their words and now the tangled wording of those contracts have trapped them in the stone sepulchres of Quinto-Hell."
The ashen remains of the gorgon sunk into the circling river of molten rock and disappeared down the sinkhole in reality, pulled toward the punishments of Triple-Hell. A bleating car horn sounded. The Devil tugged at the wizard's shoulder. "Come along, guv. Our ride awaits."
Somewhere in the dank musky darkness swamp, a single snapping growl was followed up by a chorus of hungry grumbles and hollers and howls. Jagged trunks of twisted trees creaked and cracked as something massive pushed through. Huge lungs filled up and expelled, making for a thunderous breathy bass echo.
Black glass and brittle shale and oddly shaped boulders all bashed against each other in the tornado ferocity of the space between conceptual realities. Every small piece was both nonexistant and an immense solidity to itself, dragging and throwing and colliding with its surroundings as the entire mess fell through infinite layers of fractal
Looking about, he could see endless desert interrupted by black stone squares, similar to the one they were taking refuge on. A long wind was blowing, picking up loose dunes, shifting them up and over and around in an ever-moving landscape. It gave everything a burnt look, a rising sea of sand that just faded without an horizon. The only thing cutting through the leather-colored sky was the sun, massive and oversized, ten times larger than it should be.
The Devil, The Secret Living Language, and the Super Wizard From Space stood upon a massive square of black stone half buried in blistering desert sands. "This is it, end of the line," the Devil announced.
In the seedy bowels of a seedy mining camp, Cephalo Paul roused from blurriness to found himself at the mercy of an unkindness of anthropomorphic ravens. The lot of them stood on four clawed talons, spoke through horrifying beaks lined with serrated edges, and had too many ruby-coloured eyes.
"My name is senior lieutenant Yuri Gigan Topithecus, last survivor of the once-mighty space-sasquatch race. I was a hero of my people and a triumph of my government, becoming the first of my planet to journey into outer space... and as I completed my first orbit in my prototype capsule, I helplessly watched the Super Wizard From Space destroy my world."
The Super Wizard From Space towed his wounded prisoner to a dying system in a lonely constellation. It was a place that had been full and vibrant when the universe was young, a very long time ago. Now, it's small, dense white star bled away its diminishing heat and weak light into empty space.
Across the vastness of galaxies, a nameless forager bee achieves a stable geosynchronous orbit with distant Planet M. The ladened insect has been in contact with appropriate representatives, has deposited it cargo. It now maintains a microwave relay with the surface, and only awaits permission from the Hive to open communications.
In the clarity of the desert night, a single point of light smolders against the blue-black curtain. And it slowly grows the closer it gets, falling toward Us through immense distances. The Super Wizard From Space is coming to Planet M.
Emperor gestures back to the great monolith and declares, "At-the-behest-of-our-electronic-ennead, I've-entombed-the-Super-Wizard-From-Space-within-the-Pyramids-Of-Ka! His-power-will-feed-our-preservation-batteries-for-countless-cycles."
"The Szuper Wizard From Szpace is sztill alive. And He sztill has Hisz coszmic crown." We say it aloud. Not to anyone. To ourselves, as swirling shaking thoughts become cold and real. This is real. This is happening. "Why? Why have you done thisz?"
If you'll indulge me, I'll tell you a story about how some people ( who were much too smart for their own good, I'm afraid ) tried to find an easy, quick solution; by doing so, they doomed countless lives to AGES of suffering.
Now, I was halfway through a tale about countless doomed lives... and yes, my friend, I do know the difference between 'countless' and 'seven'. Those tragic academics were only the first direct victims of these newly formed cosmic crowns. What happened next was intended to prevent more loss of life, but it actually placed the entire universe in peril.
"A swarm! A monster swarm! Oh! Oh gods, they were everywhere. They killed everyone. They stabbed them and killed them. And the dead changed into more and went to do the same. Stabbing and changing and stabbing. Everyone's gone!"
Long spear-length stingers, glints of wet toxin at the tips. Wide crystal wings banging against torsos, making thrumming thunder. It's a *blanket* of angry buzzing. Getting thicker as they crawl over each other. At me. Looking to smother me. Kill me. If I'm lucky.
"What I'm doing, it has to be done. Because someone has to do it. Because no one else is doing it. They're scared of what might happen. Scared of what they could lose. Scared of things they can't change. We can't live like that."
Do you have any idea how this looks? We aren't at war anymore. The tournament is supposed to *prevent* this exact sort of conflict from flaring up again. You can't just go around dropping armies on the *home planets* of the universe's seven super-races."
His ancient race long ago unravelled the laws of physics, and they then learned how to redefine them. They harvest fusion fire to sustain themselves, and they hollow out suns to build their private strongholds. They are guardians of the spaces they know and explorers of the spaces they don't.
Reality stretches like canvas pulled taut. Time stutters and scratches and skips, between moments and months. The Wizard takes refuge within the umbra of the system's innermost planet, little more than a corner to be backed into.