Sunday, November 7, 2010

A selection from "The Last Battle of Trewis" by David F. Mason

The Last Battle of Trewis
by David F. Mason

he caramel apple orchard dripped with sweetness. The ground was
gummy with it, and the west wind blew its October smell through
the hills and valleys that crowded close. An old disused lane ran beside the trees. Beside that, a small cottage smoked blue and purple from its twisting chimney.
“Not long, dear wife,” Trewis said after peeking out the window. “Harvest time draws near.”
Celizabeth smiled and stoked the fire, sending flakes of bright orange ash wafting through the air.
“I’m sure they’ll keep growing without you standing there gawking,” she said. “Now sit down with me, my love, your old legs look like they could take a rest.” She patted the cushioned chair next to her.
He sighed and felt the creeping ache needle at his shins.
Striving had warped his bones like a plank of wood left too long to the sky; years bound themselves around him thick. And he wondered how much the War had really taken from him—long days marched through the heat of the High Desert had left his skin leather tight, and nights under the dripping Jungle palms clouded his lungs. In those days all there’d been was fighting, fighting—ever fighting—killing in the trenches of the West.
He’d been a hero once, tiny though he was. A fudgewood flintlock rifle hung above his mantle, the only evidence of soldiering he let himself keep. The rest moldered with the bones of the dead—those he’d killed and those he’d tried to save. Then, like a sudden eclipse, his thoughts turned dark. Cannon thunder from years passed filled his ears. Winged Monkeys screamed, hanging gory on Quadling spears. Friends he’d known and loved since youth gasped with gushing wounds. And he was defenseless against the memories when they came.
Celizabeth saw his face seize, and inwardly winced. How many yesterdays lay like tombstones on his soul? she wondered. She caressed his calloused hand trying to thaw the ice that froze him so.
The white-headed Munchkin drew breath till his lungs ached, and exhaled in release, letting himself heal in her touch.
The visions of battle faded.
It had never been for the glory that he risked his life. It wasn’t even for freedom. This was why he faced the bullets and the swords, this was why he killed and soaked his hands in other creatures’ lives. It was for his darling bride and their quiet life.
He sighed again. This time with contentment.
“I think I’ll fetch water for the cooking,” Celizabeth said, bolting up from the chair. Fifty-years of habit fueled her quick steps. Trewis leaned back and closed his eyes, letting the breeze through the window caress him. Satisfied, he slept.
He didn’t notice that the wind turned cold.
Or that the fire sputtered.
Or that outside the sun bleached itself grey.
If he had been a soldier still, young and fresh, he would have woken, he would have known the signs, but he didn’t.
The stillest murmur of a whimper reached his ears.
“Dear Heart?” he called out, fumbling awake, “Are you well?” The fire had burned low. How long had he slept?
When no answer came he bounded out of his chair.
“Love? Love? Is something wrong?” His heart rushed, but he held himself steady. Nothing could happen. Not now. Not on a day as wonderful as this. He walked through the hall and turned a corner into the kitchen. The sizzle of a skillet filled his ears.
Someone stood at the stove cooking a flank of something on the fire. He was tall, twice the Munchkin’s height, and lank as a skeleton coated in wax.
“Ah, Trewis. It’s been an age. How fare ye?” The man turned to face him. His skin was green- emerald as a corpse when it’s pulled from the ground. And like a corpse its eyes had melted to gobs of pus, oozing in thick, wicked tears down his cheeks. Decay had taken his nose, and instead two hollow chambers looked out where nostrils should have been.
“Ozymandias? It can’t be…” The Munchkin’s words were strangled, ground out through gritted teeth. “I killed you. I buried you.” Trewis stepped forward, seizing a knife from the counter. The weight of the blade sparked slumbering instincts awake, and his knobby hands remembered war. “I’ll kill you again if I have to,” he spat.
“Will you?” The man laughed. “It takes more than a kitchen knife to kill the Witchling King. And if death was unkind to me, life was no more loving to you. Forty years, eh? You look about as dead as I do.” He paused, a smile blacker than shadow creeping out his mouth. “You’ll excuse me. Rotting in a mound of sand and soil leaves a man hungrier than you’d expect. I couldn’t wait on lunch. No worries, there’s plenty to go around.” He stepped aside, pulling back the edge of his dirt caked coat.
Celizabeth sat slumped over against the wall, her hands bound together so tight blood wept out from beneath her fingernails. Her mouth bulged, gagged full with the corner of her apron. Her glassy eyes seemed to peer down in disbelief at the side of her dress- it was cut away… she was cut away… so deep ribs showed their marrow. Her half gone heart hung limp.
Munchkin blood runs in rainbow shades; Celizabeth’s was indigo, and it filled the floor around her like the sea. 
Ozymandias looked down at Celizabeth’s body then back at Trewis.
“What colour do you bleed, Little Father?”
Trewis’ senses betrayed him. Mint tears drowned his eyes blind. Grief buzzed his ears deaf. As his lungs twisted themselves empty. His fingertips burned, the heat growing and growing till he knew the only thing that could quench the fire was the green man’s brains laying in chunks on the counter. He slashed out, and a sick, wet sound filled the room as the knife-tip bit through the skin and muscle across Ozymandias’ chest, leaving an angled gash from shoulder to sternum.
Trewis staggered back. Out of the wound a giant eye peered out, its iris thick and yellow and contracting. The skin on either side formed lids. Coarse black hair grew out like weeds, making spindly lashes for itself. It blinked and the pupil narrowed, focusing and reflecting the horror in the Munchkin’s face.
Ozymandias shrugged.
“Death doesn’t leave a man with many options. I had to make some rather… unsavory agreements. You wouldn’t believe how crowded the grave is, how many things want out and how few bodies there are to go around.” Ozymandias, drew a finger over the wound, closing it like a zipper. “No more of that now,” he murmured. “Now, Trewis, back to the task at hand. If you want revenge, you’ll know where to find me.” 
And Trewis did know. Onyx City—where the streets were a maze and black obelisks rose like talons to the sky. The blocks of its buildings were made of midnight stone, heavier than even a giant could lift; stones like marble but whose veins took the shapes of the screaming faces of dying men. It was a jigsaw city of madness and shadow, whose history lie in impenetrable gloom. A place where Sorrows stalked.
He’d only been there once, pursuing this wicked man. He’d sworn never to return, but it seemed that history was in the habit of repeating.
“Yes,” Ozymandias whispered. “Onyx City. My capital. My crown,” he shook his head, “…at least it should have been. Would have been, but for a turn of luck. Do you know how long it took me to even find the Lost City? More importantly, can your diminutive wit grasp an entire metropolis built like a lock to seal a Door? Can you imagine what that Door might hide?” He pointed a putrefied finger at the Munchkin. “The man who rules that city rules all things.”
“I stand against you,” Trewis choked through tears.
Ozymandias scoffed.
You stand against me? Faugh. You and those traitorous daughters of mine, Lacasta and Glinda, built a ramshackle imitation with that Emerald ghetto. Do you truly think that there is power in it to fight your fate? Fool. No light can pierce the blindness that I bring, and this time you’ve no army gathered behind you to delay the inevitable.Remember, revenge waits where the horizon swirls darkest. But I won’t wait long.”
With his last words the witchling dissolved into nothing and Trewis let the knife clatter to ground.
He rushed to his bride and squeezed her clay cool hands.
Hours later, when the sun melted into night, he stood over her open grave, soaked in indigo and sick with the smell of the caramel apple trees.

Trewis shoved open the shack’s door. Dust danced thick in the musty air. The only light came from chinks in the rough wood boards that comprised the ceiling and walls. Stacks of boxes towered high over his head, packed he was sure, with junk and scraps not worth saving.
He hadn’t traveled days to sort through someone else’s trash. Where could it be?
He scanned old crate labels, then shoved them aside with half snarled words. It had to be here somewhere. Then he saw it, tucked in a corner half covered by an old oiled tarp. He yanked it off and stepped back.
“He’s returned,” was all the Munchkin needed to say for the mechanical man to rattle alive. Inside it, flywheels groaned for oil and old iron gears spun wobbly on rusty axles, spinning faster and faster until they finally righted themselves and found their grooving. Its dented skin hummed as the propane burner in its guts burst with streams of blue fire, engulfing the water tank that filled its stomach.
A shrill whistle sounded and the Ticktock’s ruby eyes lit up.
Your information is false. Ozymandias’ body was recovered after the rebel’s victory and verified deceased.
Trewis scowled.
“I know what happened. I was there.”
For further investigation the evidence must be reviewed. The Organic Leaders must be summoned,” its voice emanated from a music box in its throat, clicking out the words in odd, singsong tones.
“There are no others. Polychrome, Lacasta, Glinda, the China Princess, all of them—all the old resistance leaders—they’re gone. Kidnapped. Probably taken to Onyx.”
Inside the Ticktock’s stainless steel guts something hissed. A jet of steam sizzled out its mouth.
If your statement proves true, the chances of their survival are outside the realm of possibility. Their organic functions will terminate.
Trewis rubbed the hilt of his dagger with a calloused palm.
“He mentioned a Door…”
The machine’s eyes blinked a deeper shade of red.
You interfaced with the enemy and survived?
Its voice turned suspicious. As a Tin Soldier, detecting subterfuge was well within its programming. During the rebellion it had to be. Ozymandias had agents planted so deep, the resistance leaders could never allow themselves the luxury of trust, even with each other.
“The witchling killed my wife,” the Munchkin said, then paused, searching for a phrase the Ticktock would understand. “My marital counterpart… ”
If the information is verified,” it sang. “The enemy has the advantage of time and location of battle. He has destabilized your emotional capacity for logical war. The enemy’s chances of success are well within the realm of possibility. ” It lifted an outstretched arm. “But the possibility of life function returning to a terminated Organic is not within the realm of possibility. Ozymandias is dead, his vital signs nil. What is the purpose of this deception?” The last words were a clamour, like all the keys of a piano struck at once. Green sparks razzed from its extended fingertips, charring the wooden floor where they landed. It took a tottering step forward on pole legs. “Termination eminent.
Trewis scampered back, suddenly desperate. A knife, his rifle, none of them would do anything more than leave a smudge on the Tin Soldier’s grey metal hide.
It never occurred to him that the Ticktock might think he was the enemy.
“What is your program directive?” the Munchkin asked as emerald fire freckled his face with welts. “ACKNOWLEDGE!
The music box’s delicate tones mixed with the zzzzaaaa of thirty thousand volts sprouting from its palm.
To kill the Tyrant Ozymandias at any cost.
“I want the same thing,” the Munchkin cried.
The machine stopped. The electrical fire sputtered out.
“Trewis?” It asked, recognition flooding its voice. For the first time it seemed that the mechanical man did more than imitate life. “Trewis? But… you’re old,” it said with dismay. “How long have I been stored?”
“A long time. Too long,” Trewis said, trying to steady his breath. “For all you did you should have been allowed to live, but you were the last of the Soldiers, and they thought it’d be better to keep you locked away in this shed, for another day. Another emergency. Maybe they were right.”
There was an awkward silence kept imperfect by the rhythmic ticking of the Ticktock’s clockwork heart. Its program was filtering; checking, rechecking all apparent facts and eliminating all unlikely outcomes. Finally the Tin Soldier asked,
“There is no possibility of aberrant data? No falsification of facts?”
Trewis shook his head. If only it was a lie—or some fever dream, and soon he’d wake to find Celizabeth bathing his brow with a cool cloth and a gentle kiss.
“He stood in my house. He killed her,” he said simply, and kept the rest to himself. No one else needed to know about the blood clotted dishes he’d found in the sink, or the pieces of her skewered on the ends of forks. That was between him and Ozymandias.      Him and his gun and the pieces of lead he’d prayed would pierce the witchling’s tenderest parts.
“The Tyrant’s previous objective was to locate Onyx City. This he achieved the day of his termination. His new goal will be to unlock the Door.”
“What do you know of the Door?”
“Only what my programmers theorized and obscure legends state. The city was constructed in order to harvest the vast energies emanating from the site. The original inhabitants were ignorant of the fact it would alter them, eventually resulting in their death. Some believe it is a nexus, where layers of reality collide. But again this is only a theory. Some view it as preposterous.”
Something icy slid down the center of Trewis’ stomach.
“Would it be possible for someone like Ozymandias to use it to his advantage?”
The mechanical man’s rust tinged neck squeaked raw as it nodded its head.
“That is obviously Ozymandias’ hypothesis. There is no quantifiable data to support his conclusions, nor any to discount them. Yet it is within the realm of possibility.”
“How would he open the Door?”
“A structural flaw is inevitable within any design and I am programmed to detect such weaknesses. When you pursued him into the City and I followed with the reserve forces, my sensors mapped the defects. Several charges, if located correctly would bring down the monoliths, designed as tumblers in the lock. The City would shatter.”
A sound echoed from outside- a grunt mixed with the flutter of feathers and the sweep of wind.
“Gumdrops,” Trewis cursed. It was too familiar a noise to ever forget. He rushed to the door, swinging the rifle off his back and pouring gunpowder and shot into the barrel as he ran. The Ticktock’s feet clanked close behind. By the time he stepped into the sunshine the weapon was packed and ready to fire.
Trewis skidded to a halt. Every tree limb sagged with the weight of apes, their shoulders twitching with raven wings.
These were no flying chimps. These were Silverbacks. Gorillas. Once Trewis had seen one catch a cannon ball midair and throw it back. Flying monkeys were dangerous. These were death from above. He glanced at his gun. What would he do now? Their skulls were too thick for bullets.
Imminent danger,” the Ticktock warned.
Trewis spat.
Suddenly the Munchkin tumbled forward, pain searing through his side. An ape pounded the ground where Trewis had stood, throwing dust and torn grass in the air. In the trees gorillas drummed their chests and howled.
DESIST,” The Ticktock commanded and threw up its arm to fire. The Silverback was too quick. It gripped the mechanical man’s hand in its own and the Tin Soldier’s metal fingers crumpled back like paper.
Trewis righted himself, spun, and fired sending a cloud of blueberry haze funneling from the muzzle. So many years had passed since the sweet and sour tang of gunpowder had invaded his nostrils it made his nose twitch. The lead shot struck just above the ape’s frenzied brow, but did little more than madden it.
Let him go you filthy monkey!” the Munchkin screamed as he reloaded.
The Silverback roared and swept its wing across the Ticktock, sending it crashing through the shed wall. A second later the ape charged, its mouth so wide Trewis could count every tooth.
Trewis held steady. There was only one chance. He wrapped his finger around the bronze trigger… felt the earth beneath his feet throb with the gorilla’s gallop, but he held steady and studied his enemy. Probed the savage face. Where was the weakness? Where was the flaw?
Then he knew.
In his mind the ape’s eye grew so wide he knew he couldn’t miss, and as he aimed he willed it wider than the sky.
With one squeeze of the trigger the gorilla’s entire body quivered. Blood sprouted where its eye had been—a curling stream, growing like a funeral flower out of a grave. The beast was dead before it hit the ground, but inertia carried the body forward until it collapsed. With a final convulsion it laid its limp hand at Trewis’ feet. 
Howls erupted from the trees. The gorillas spread their wings and flocked to the air, black like storm clouds and grey like ghosts. Trewis saw them coming, his hands working in a flurry to reload- but it was too late.
They surrounded him. A fist jagged his head back. Knees and elbows pummeled his sides. He heard snaps as his ribs cracked and an arm caught around his neck cinching tight, tinting the edges of his vision dark. It felt like he was swinging from a gallows made of muscle. Suffocation crackled through his bones, lighting up his brain like wildfire. He snatched the dagger from his belt and stabbed out until blood coated his hands, but they never let go.
Apes plunged into the shed and pulled the Ticktock out, hoisting it over their heads like a war trophy. The mechanical man swung a hand down and crushed one of their skulls, but the others took hold of its arms and legs and pulled them apart.
With swift wing beats they lifted into the air, still carrying the mechanical man between them and hooting victory with extended lips.
The last thing Trewis saw was a bright blue sky as his eyes rolled up and blackness vomit from the sun.