Hi all. I wrote this story, set in my own fictional sci fi universe, for my dad, who is a commercial beekeeper. I think it turned out alright. It technically features ponies, so I thought I would post it to see what everyone thinks. Also, it never comes up in the story, but the “Equines” in this story can morph their front hooves into hands, making themselves somewhat anthro if they wish. Again, it never comes up in the story, but I thought I’d mention it as I’m definitely going to be writing more in this universe. Hope you enjoy.
If I posted this in the wrong section, please feel fee to move it. Thanks.
The apiary was a rooftop affair, set on a building at the edge of the city. The structure rose so high that it almost brushed the armorglass dome that protected the conglomerate from Empetore’s biting glacial winds. If one wished, standing on tiptoes at the northern edge of the rooftop could allow one to touch the dome itself.
All along the rooftop, arranged in rows like soldiers on parade drill, were white beehives made of pressed Empetori whalebone, standing straight and tall facing the city expanse. A calm, quiet stillness blanketed the place. The particular bees housed here were mechanical. The hydroponic farm facility on which the apiary was stacked grew food and flowers at an accelerated rate, and mechanical bees were preferable, in such a situation, to flesh ones.
Mercenaries’ Guild officer Nomen Sacrum looked up as the owner of the apiary approached. Ivol Marheim was a tall man in his late 160s, clad in a white boiler suit rolled down around his waist. He was flanked by two industrial menials. The automata, burnished in black and gold, had insectoid heads and long, slender dendrite fingers. They stopped as he did, their segmented eyes scanning the newcomer, whirring and clicking.
The man stretched out his hand, an ornate augmetic burnished in the same two-toned manner as his workers. Nomen shook it.
“I’m quite happy you could make it,” the man said, lowering his hand and gesturing to a small table and chairs set in a corner of the large rooftop. He turned to his servants and said something to them in a burst of machine-language, a quick, buzzing, clicking sound sent from the augmetic voicebox embedded artfully into his neck and made of engraved and polished metal. It was a common upgrade popular with shop foremen and other types who worked often with menials, allowing rapid, precise instructions to be relayed without hassle or miscommunication. They chattered off, returning with a tray of mulled honey wine on a heating matrix and a plate of freezeweed-and-fish sandwiches.
“So, did you find them? Did you find out what they were using my stock for?” Ivol asked, taking a sip from the small sake cup into which a menial had poured a measure of glistening gold spirit, “I got the preliminary report, but not all the details.”
“Yes, I did,” Nomen responded, taking a sip from her own cup as well, “But I should start at the beginning. You’re new to Empetore, am I right? You know, there’s a legend here, about tentacles in the sewers – this is relevant to the story, I assure you – about the tentacles of a great octopus or squid, snaking through the tunnels and waterways below one of our cities. Men would try to follow these tentacles through the channels, on and on, trying to find the body of the creature. They would go for miles, out beyond the boundaries of the city, out beyond where any tunnels would logically or even possibly be, and they would never find the heart of the thing, just more tunnels, on and on, endlessly. That was what your case felt like, Mr. Marheim. I should say you have the honor of being involved in something far bigger than you ever thought. You came to me thinking people were trying to tamper with your product, and you were right, but that wasn’t the half of it,” Nomen chuckled, taking a bite of a sandwich, “but to see it all we have to start at the beginning.”
The lights of Calody district were vibrant and warm. This midrise district was one of the premier night spots of Snowdown City. However, the crowds that normally packed the district had yet to form, as it was only late afternoon, not yet the dinner rush. All down the avenue, shopkeepers and restaurateurs were applying the finishing touches to their evening décor. Here, a bistro set out fresh tablecloths and arranged silverware in a walled-off seating section. There, a bakery owner set out his newest products for sale, steam wafting from them and drifting enticingly into the street. The thump of bassy music echoed from the open doors of a club a few doors down. Everything was abuzz with pre-rush excitement.
Nomen looked around, scanning the thin crowd for either of the two people she was supposed to be meeting here. Neither of them were anywhere in sight. She went up one side of the street, and down the other. Nothing. Only when she passed a small alcove made from the ground floor connection of two buildings did she pause. A slightly shimmering, transparent disturbance, only visible upon further inspection, occupied the space between the structures.
“Feaver? Feaver, is that you?” Nomen called.
Feaver Painter stepped out of the shadows, shrugging off the fabric of reality in which she had cloaked herself. A tall Equine in early middle age, with batlike ears and leathery, powerful wings, appeared, clad in a smart grey suit dress and waist-length coat-cloak. She raised the apple she was holding to her mouth and took a bite, before tossing the core into a nearby trashbin.
“You were always better at that trick than I was,” Nomen said.
“Comes with the territory,” Feaver replied, adjusting the augmetic eyewear which sat in front of her mechanical eyes, “Thestrals have more of a natural affinity for these kinds of spells than other Equines, after all. I know it makes you jealous. That’s precisely why I do it.”
“Well you’re a scoundrel, aren’t you?” Nomen said, before following Feaver down the avenue.
“Aww you know you love it.”
“Come on,” said Nomen, brushing off the well-worn barb, “Our contact should be around here somewhere. Hopefully this whistleblower will be able to get us a foot in the door with this case.”
The district was filling up. The night rush had officially kicked off, patrons flooding in from every direction and entrance. Eventually, they spotted their target, a lanky human sitting on a bench, staring out at the slate-grey structures of the city as if in contemplation.
Nomen approached, while Feaver hung back, scanning the crowd for any potential interlopers. This man was a whistleblower, and, while a public assassination would be foolish, fools often abounded in the ranks of subversive groups as much as the clever did. Vigilance wasn’t unwarranted.
“Mr. Armlowe,” Nomen addressed the man, sitting down on the bench next to him.
“Are you the one whom I talk to?” the man asked. He had a thin, aged face, one eye a different color than the other, an augmetic replacement, surrounded by deep, old scarring.
“Yes, I am. I’m the one who can help.”
“Help,” the man chuckled, turning to face her. “I am already lost. I will receive my due castigation in the hereafter for what I have done. I am here to help you, to spare you from the ravages of the King.”
“The King?” Nomen asked.
“Do you know why they stole that poor beekeeper’s honey?” he went on, ignoring her question, “The hothouse plants it was collected from were magically enhanced to grow as fast as they do. That enhancement is retained in the nectar. It works something like an energy drink, boosting alertness, focus. If processed right, it can be used as a reasonably effective biofuel for small devices. In this case, I mean menials.”
He leaned forward, training his mismatched eyes on Nomen, “Go to the Clockwork and Dark menial shop on West Lower Greatwood. Find out what they are building in there and stop them.”
“You mentioned The King,” Nomen pressed, “Is he the ringleader of this group?”
Armlowe chuckled, “The King is watching all of us. We’re all in Carcosa now, under the black stars, under the eye of He For Whom the Tides Break.”
Suddenly, out of the miasma of noise, footsteps, and chatter around them, a whirring, screeching sound could be heard, echoing off the buildings around them. Seemingly out of nowhere flew a horrific sight.
It was a large robotic head, easily five feet in height, an ornate thing; riveted in brass and bedecked in polished grey metal, hammered to resemble a smiling humanoid face, leering a rictus grin down at the passersby below. It flew, grinning, towards Nomen and Armlowe on the bench. Nomen recognized it immediately. It was a combat menial, a terror drone meant for shock and awe tactics. She knew what was going to happen and threw herself to the ground, yelling for Armlowe to do the same, but it was too late.
Once the drone passed overhead, a thin fiberchord noose dropped from the neck of the device and wrapped itself so tightly around Armlowe’s neck that it drew blood. It wrenched him up so swiftly it looked as though he had simply vanished. He flopped back to the ground, the drone dragging him towards the edge of the district’s sidewalk. His legs banged against the railing as the grinning menial dragged him over the side, suspending him over the kilometer-long drop down the city stack.
Both Nomen and Feaver rushed forward, Feaver drawing a matte-black combat automatic from under her coat before Nomen pressed her hand down.
“No, no wait. It’ll detonate.” she said, “Too many people. He’s gone.”
Indeed, it was true. Armlowe’s neck was broken. He stared blankly out at the horrified pedestrians, many of whom were fleeing or calling the authorities. The drone released him, sending his body tumbling into the depths of the chasm between the buildings, tumbling through the street-stacks down toward the city foundations far below. The menial flew off, rounding the corner of an apartment block and disappearing from view, taking with it the life of one of their only leads.
The House of Blankwing’s central headquarters was a stunning structure sat high in the spires of the city; a tall marble and glass building overlooked by a towering statue of an immense tundra bird, easily twenty stories high and a block-and-a-half wide. Forged from steel and adorned with decorative paint and intricate case-hardening, its immense wings encircled the entirety of the building and attached courtyards in a protective manner, its beadlike eyes, carved from solid chunks of lapis lazuli and easily as tall as a man, staring down at any newcomers suspiciously.
Nomen and Feaver ascended the carved marble steps to the entrance. House menial guards, their piercing mechanical eyes staring over gilded faceplates adorned with communication gear and vocoder boxes, chittered in machine-cant as they presented their clearance passes. After verifying the passes’ validity, the automatons stepped aside, their ceremonial helmet-fringes blowing in the wind drafting in from the city outside.
After its murder at the plaza, the drone had been chased down by local police, using jamming equipment to prevent it detonation, and captured. However, little could be learned from it, as its logic-bank was system-standard and no fingerprints whatever could be found on its chassis. These drones had been illegal for many years, but on the black market they were relatively easy to get, and thus hard to trace to a buyer. Furthermore, Armlowe’s corpse, once it was retrieved from the sinkstack roadway it had landed on, turned up no leads. A background check showed that he was an unemployed electrical engineer with no verified home address. Thus, their only lead was Clockwork and Dark. However, their presence had been requested by the Blankwing Territorial Security chief himself, as the murder had taken place in House Blankwing jurisdiction.
The main hall was bustling with activity. Scribes and officials scurried to and fro, followed by harried paralegals laden with books and scrolling smart-paper ledgers or servant-menials taking hurried dictation onto datapads with slender, stylus-tipped fingers. Above them, light filtered in through a series of earth-toned stained glass windows, giving the entire affair a warm, golden glow. Standing against a pillar, and talking to two riot officers clad in blue armored bodygloves and plate-vests, was Blankwing’s security chief.
Security Chief Tundra Burn was a tall, reserved Equine in his late 170s. An ornate, platinum adorned augmetic arm extended into the sleeve of his white uniform shirt and intricate neural circuitry snaked from his right temple up into his greying brown mane. As they approached, he turned to face them.
“…Get to it,” he gestured to the two officers, and they walked off, their bulky augmetic eyes glancing at the newcomers as they left, “Let’s go to my office.”
They headed down a side corridor to a spacious office bedecked in the same marble-and-stained-glass arrangement as the hall outside. Once they were seated in comfortable leather chairs in front of the chief’s olmwood desk, the man continued, “Let’s keep this short, we both have a lot to get to. I heard about what happened down at Calody. I understand you were investigating a theft for a client?”
“Yes, we were. He claims that the theft of the Marheim apiary’s stock was for use as biofuel in menials. Doesn’t seem terribly efficient, but it seems important enough that they’d kill him for it
“Seems a little over the top,” Burn concurred, “We’ll see what we can dig up on our end while you check out Clockwork. We’d send some trigger pullers with you, but we’ve got a near riot in Kessmalore Court right now; gang crackdown that’s getting out of control. If it looks like you need support, we’ll send it. No need to be heroes. Now, get to it.”
“Just to be clear, recon and report, only blow the whistle if we get in over our heads? Sounds good.” Feaver replied, standing up and shaking Burn’s hand.
“Very good, we’ll get on that immediately.” Nomen agreed, and they headed out.
The storefront was rich and lavish, set into a building beautifully adorned in carved Empetori limestone, the tall glass windows stared out like giant eyes from the structure’s facade, leering down at the pair of mercenaries as they approached the structure.
“You see any lookouts? Guards?” Nomen asked as they peered around the corner of a haberdasher’s shop kiddy corner to the target building.
“Nope,” replied Feaver, “but background heat from the place is quite strong. Not unusual, seeing as it’s a menial shop, with charging stations and all, but that means I can’t pick out any cameras or hostiles in the place with any degree of certainty. Looks like we’ll need to get eyes on the old-fashioned way.”
They headed forward, running across the bridge connecting the two sides of the streetway’s sidewalk. A large waterfall, a vanity project by some environmental artist long ago, roared off to the building’s right, masking their hoofsteps as they advanced on the structure.
They veered left, avoiding the large windows at the front of the shop, instead heading into an alley which opened into a large loading bay at the rear of the structure. They stopped under the cover of a small awning and checked their weapons one last time. Nomen drew a large combination revolver burnished in case-hardening with black-and-white bone grips from her shoulder rig. She broke it open to check the load. Ten rounds of eight-mil surrounding a large-diameter slot containing an energy magazine presented itself to her eyes. She snapped it closed, adjusting the hammer to fire the center-pin barrel’s directed energy bolts. Feaver had a similar revolver in hand, along with the automatic from earlier stowed on her belt.
They stacked on the rear door. Feaver removed a small, cigarette case-sized object from her coat-cloak’s pocket, and thumbed an activator. Small, dendrite feelers extended from slots in the device and worked their way into the door lock as Feaver placed it over the hole. A click, and Feaver slid the device back into her pocket. Nomen eased the door open slowly, trying to avoid eking any sound from the old hinges. She scanned the room for threats as the door swung open, revealing an empty office space, powered-down computers sitting amid stacks of flexible datacards and tan pulpcard folders. All was quiet.
They advanced inside, keeping an eye out for any hiding threats as they went. Their journey took them onto the main shop floor, where high-end household menials, powered down in their display stands, stood on grand damask carpet. This was a high-end shop, with no expenses spared for those who selected their servants here.
Holstering her revolver, Nomen examined one of the floor models, a household example with a human face molded to classical perfection, burnished in black and copper. Upon further inspection, it was not deactivated at all, merely idling. It was muttering a phrase, over and over, almost inaudibly, “…black stars…black stars…black stars…”
A quick check of its onboard biofuel backup tank confirmed her suspicions. The sticky residue of genetically engineered honey coated the inside of the tank’s cap-port. This was the evidence they needed. The perpetrators were here.
As she reached for her comm-link to call for the reinforcements they were promised, Feaver, who had been pulling security as Nomen had examined the menial, called out,
The rest of her words were drowned out by a flurry of automatic magweapon fire, the bolts cracking along the length of the room and smacking around them, missing them only because Feaver had fired as they did, diverting their aim. Nomen ceased reaching for her commlink, instead drawing her backup weapon, a heavy slugpistol with a frame hewn from pressed bone. It was closer to her hand than her shoulder-holstered primary.
The slugpistol’s shots were deafening in the confined space, orders of magnitude louder than the magbolts being exchanged between Feaver and their attackers. She squeezed off three shots, the weapon bucking in her hand, the rubberized grip absorbing the worst of it and allowing her to keep on target. The two attackers, who had entered through a door on the far right of the main hall, ducked back through it, their last few shots smacking into the menial Nomen had examined, sending it crashing to the floor like a marionette with its strings cut, fractured body metal pinging off the display rack around it.
“Go, go!” Nomen called, and the pair of them advanced on the doorway, sending shots through it at the fleeing pair of perpetrators. They got to the doorway, Nomen switching from her backup to her primary revolver. Using the doorframe as concealment, if not cover, they took aimed shots at the fleeing men. Nomen squeezed off a magbolt from her weapon which clipped one of them in the neck, sending him sprawling into a display of replacement chest-modules, the collection of dustbin and coffee-brewer attachments bouncing off the man’s back as he crumpled to the ground.
They advanced into the room, Nomen clearing the deep corner to the door’s right, and Feaver taking the left. They followed the remaining assailant just in time to see him speed away in a beat-up aircar, gliding up into the traffic flow above. Feaver raised her weapon, but lowered it again. She was likely to miss at this distance, the round being more likely to hit something in the background buildings than it was to find its target.
Nomen was already on the link, calling in tac teams to clear and investigate the rest of the structure. As she clicked off the link, however, she noticed something familiar. It was a small, copper cockroach, an intricate mechanical insect. It skittered into a crack in a city power conduit and disappeared. Nomen smiled. Maybe they wouldn’t need to wait for the House forensics teams to scour this place after all. Maybe someone else had done it for them before they even arrived.
The lowest levels of the city were a miasma of support beams, old warehouses, scrap metal, and garbage. Meltwater from the snow outside had mixed with the mud and refuse to create a river of sludge along the street channel over which they flew. Salvage teams, standing on hoverskiffs and clad in dirty overalls and facemasks, dug through the muck river with long poles, assisted by tiny drone menials with long, probing sorter claws.
The structure they were looking for was nestled below one of the city’s centuries-old support pylons. The structure huddled below the flared shock-absorption struts like a crab in a rock alcove. They landed on the courtyard’s edge and were shown inside by slender, heavily augmented humans in Ochran glass bodygloves and long grey whale-leather trenchcoats. They were led onto the roof of the structure, which still felt as though it was indoors due to the low strut-ceiling above them. Their presence was announced and the man at the far end of the roof turned to face them.
He had never revealed his real name to Nomen or Feaver, although they had known him for years. He was known simply as Wisdom, and he was the most powerful information broker and hands-off spying specialist on the Data Moon.
He was a tall, powerfully built Ocanti man, his short-cropped downlike hair framed a scarred, stubble-brushed face laced with augmetic circuitry. He was dressed in expensive trousers and a button-down silk shirt with the sleeves removed, revealing the distinctive signs of old gang tattoos that had been surgically removed from the lavender skin, without anesthetic, by the Empetori justice department as penance, Nomen knew, to avoid execution for involvement in an attack on Empetori law enforcement, and to get out of the gang life altogether. The man smiled upon seeing the pair. “To what do I owe the pleasure,” he called, his voice deep and tinged with a northern cities accent, “Although I probably already know.”
“Wisdom,” Nomen called, extending her hand, which he shook, “I believe we have business to conduct.”
“I don’t believe I’ve ever met with both of you together,” Wisdom replied, turning to a side table and picking up a small mechanical bug like the one Nomen had seen at the store. Wisdom activated the bug with a switch and raised it to an open slit in the strut roof. The bug crawled into the city power conduit and vanished, making its way up into the vast conglomerate far above them.
Wisdom addressed Feaver, “Do you know, that Nomen Sacrum here could have been my demise? Long before my salvation, I was involved with a group of very bad men. Your friend here,” he gestured to Nomen, “Snuck up on me. She knew my heart wasn’t in it and she gave me the option to walk away, to surrender, to turn my life into something honoring to the Great and Bountiful Empire and honoring to God. I chose that path, and now no-one sneaks up on me anymore.” He turned around and tapped the brass augmetic eye embedded into the back of his head, right below the hairline. He chuckled, “My salvation was this place, and now look at me. I have you, coming to me for help, as I am obligated by the terms we agreed to. Although I’d like to think we are friends, after all we’ve been through.”
“Yes, people I choose not to kill do tend to become my friends,” Nomen chuckled, “I saw one of your clockroaches up on Greatwood. I assume you’d been watching the place.”
“I had,” Wisdom acknowledged, “They’re a very interesting group. You know the story of the King in Yellow? It’s an old Terran myth about a mysterious figure of the same name. It’s had many interpretations throughout the years, but the one your boys like seems to be based on a book written about one hundred fifty years ago on Terra’s moon. In it, a manifestation of the King in Yellow leads an army of menials to retake his homeland of Carcosa, which in this version is on Terra’s moon, with the help of holy yellow nectar, from plants nourished with water from Carcosa’s holy lake Hali. It made his soldiers unstoppable, and they seem to be trying the same thing here. I’ve been watching them ever since your little incident this morning up on Calody. Your whistleblower bit into their plans, and now they’re scrambling. That gang riot on Kessmalore was just to divert law enforcement from their evacuation of Clockwork and Dark, where they were assembling their army. Their plan was to send them out into the city, get them purchased by the citizenry, and then, when they were given the order, they would strike and kill their targets; politicians and other important types I would assume. They were mostly gone by the time you got there.”
“Do you know where they went,” Feaver chimed in, “where they were taking their forces?”
“I do. They’re not terribly disciplined, and their plans aren’t the most sophisticated, with their leader thinking he’s the King himself, after all. They’re not exactly an insurgent powerhouse,” he touched the activation stud of a holoprojector set at the edge of a worktable. A fuzzy image of a rundown churchlike building flickered to life, “They’re here, at the old transmutation chapel in Lower Tress courtyard. Heard one of them blabbering about it as they were packing up. Apparently, it’s got enough mechanical resources that they can modify the rest of their menials there, and is a soft enough target to not draw immediate attention from the authorities, with it being open to the public as it is.”
“Thank you, “Nomen said, “We’ll get House troops on it right away.”
“My pleasure,” Wisdom replied beneficently, “Always glad to be of help to a good cause. Bring me back a souvenir from your trip, will you?” he turned, and headed back down the roof, reaching for another clockwork insect to send on its way.
And so, Operation Shepard Tone commenced. Forty of House Blankwing’s best soldiers, clad in riot gear and armed with armor-piercing submachineguns and automatic shotguns, flooded into the small, sleepy district of Lower Tress. This district was once home to the main transmutation chapel for the entirety of Snowdown City and the surrounding towns and encampments. Local custom dictated that the dead be embalmed, and their bodies transformed, through a certain fusion process, into biofuel for use in civil applications. It was considered a holy, selfless act, giving warmth and life back to the city that granted one these things in life.
Nomen and Feaver advanced down the cobblestone pathway toward the chapel’s side entrance. In addition to the main house force, Wisdom had tasked eight of his best fighters to the mission. They strode next to her, their glass bodygloves glinting in the ambient light and their whale-leather coats flapping in the low breeze. They carried Ostrum Workhorse assault rifles with engraved bone handgrips and forestocks, topped with auto-sight systems that linked to their implanted augmetic eyes.
Nomen had changed kit for the mission as well. She had donned a grey reinforced bodyglove made of ceramic matrices, capable of stopping most low-caliber pistol rounds. It was additionally reinforced at vital points with chain mail to prevent against blade penetration. Over it she wore a tan tunic and a black hooded vest. Finally, she had switched her solid-slug sidearm to one that chambered the house-standard .41 caliber rounds. It’s sandpaper grips felt secure in her hands as they made their way toward the structure.
It was an imposing building; a tall, gothic structure bedecked with pounded brass gargoyles and angelic figures. Saint Savastronell, the inventor of transmutation, was depicted sitting at his worktable in a large stained-glass window over the side entrance they were approaching.
They stacked on the door. Nomen holstered her backup and drew her revolver. Into the center chamber she had loaded a special single-shot breaching round, colloquially known as a “littlepig”, used to destroy locks or hinges without injuring those on the other side with shrapnel or stray munitions. She set the muzzle at an angle to the large brass keyhole, and pulled the trigger. The shot was a deeper noise than the usual crack of energy rounds, and the shot shredded the area around the door lock with ease, allowing it to be kicked open and breached by the team.
They entered the quiet hush of a side chapel. In the distance, they could hear the thumps of the other squad’s breaching efforts as they too assaulted the structure. Nomen knelt and replaced the dead breaching shot with a fresh energy magazine before joining the team, setting the dead cylinder on the rich red carpet next to the open door for later retrieval. No need to carry it with her, she reasoned.
They took fire immediately upon exiting the side chapel. Two servant menials, with magpistols held in their ornately-fashioned hands, took inaccurate shots at the team as they advanced. They were cut down with ease with a flurry of rifle fire as they strode down the dim hallway. They were not as invincible as their owners believed, Nomen thought to herself, but that wouldn’t be all of them, and proximity negates skill in a confined space such as this.
They headed on, up a powered down moving staircase with segmented bone handrails polished smooth by hundreds of years of mourner traffic. The lights in the structure were on, but certain systems were still powered off, as Tress’ transmutation trade had long since been usurped by newer, grander structures. Still, Nomen wondered, with a certain degree of apprehension, where the caretakers of the chapel had gone to.
Her fears were confirmed at the top of the staircase. A maroon-robed Ocanti figure, his face hidden by a gilded mask of a saint’s likeness, lay dead in the corridor they entered, his ceremonial short-muzzled shotgun lay next to him, the bolt locked open. These men, more used to dealing with vagrants and squatters than an armed, determined force, had been simply outmatched.
Gunfire echoed through the halls of the structure as they cleared it, coming from the other squads, and occasionally from them, as they cut down various types of menial, most of them household types, although some of them were illegally-modified combat variants, with body-mounted mag-autos or programmable-matter blade appendages. They encountered men as well, most of them untrained and quick to surrender, but others that put up enough of a fight to be a nuisance to the veterans Nomen and Feaver were with.
Finally, they came to the main transmutation floor, a large, vaulted room with a table slab on an alter at the far end, underneath a vast tapestry of the dead being reconstituted into perfected bodies at the end of days. Much of the wall space had been covered in bright yellow cloth, and menials in various states of assembly lay on makeshift tarps fashioned from the bags into which the dead would be placed before the transmutation process was completed. The church symbols and scripture passages inscribed upon them were stained with lubricant.
Standing at the altar table, pouring refined biofuel into a combat menial covered in ceramic armor and wielding an arm-mounted solid-ammo weapon, was a figure clad in yellow robes. He was bald, with a thin, pockmarked face and dark gold eyes. He activated the automaton, which whirred to life and sat up, leveling its weapon at the team. It let out a burst of fire, even as they fired back. The team’s rounds sent it staggering, even as two of the bullets hit Nomen in the chest. Each impact felt like being hit with a sledgehammer. She staggered from the shock, before regaining her footing once again.
“Nomen, Nomen, you alright?” Feaver yelled, turning as the team’s overwhelming firepower sent the combat droid slamming to the ground.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Took ‘em to the plate.” Nomen replied, looking back up the concourse toward the altar.
The yellow-robed man had ducked behind the altar as they had fired. Now he had jumped up and ducked into the sacristy. Nomen and the team advanced over the smoking corpse of the menial and entered the dimly lit room. Vestments and surgical tools soaking in vats of antiseptic holy water presented themselves to their eyes. The door at the far end of the room was open.
They advanced into the monks’ living area. Going two-by-two, they cleared each room of the dormitory in sequence. Nomen and Feaver ended up clearing the Abbot’s quarters. Three rooms; an office, bedroom, and prayer room comprised the space. As Feaver took the bedroom, Nomen advanced on the private chapel.
She had not gotten to the door before it was thrown open and the yellow-robed man burst out. He threw a flurry of swings at Nomen with a bone saw, who blocked it with her arm, the teeth biting into the hardened material of her bodyglove harmlessly. She retaliated with a punch to the ribs, and grabbed the man’s arm as he staggered from the blow. He had more energy than skill. She wrenched the saw from his hand and slammed him against the wall. “Stop resisting! Mercenaries’ Guild. You are under arrest. Stop resisting or I will have to shoot you.” Her revolver was pressed into his back to reinforce the threat.
“You hold no power here!” the man laughed, and, using his leverage, pushed Nomen back and wrenched himself from her grip. She fired, and the shot burned through his shoulder. But still, he ran.
And then, he was on the ground. An invisible Feaver stood in the doorway, decloaking and throwing herself on top of him, delivering blow after blow. She wrenched his arm behind his back and dislocated it. “Submit!” she snarled. The man screamed in combined fury and pain before slackening his body. “Who are you?” Feaver asked, cuffing him with disposable plastic cuffs from her jacket pocket.
“I wear no mask,” the man replied, “I am the rightful heir to this, my kingdom.”
Nomen chuckled, slapping her bodyglove’s front armor, the bullets lodged there coming loose and clattering to the ground with a clinking sound, “I’m not impressed,”
“…we cleaned up the rest of the site.” Nomen told the apiarist, “They had some incredibly interesting black market specimens there. Surely that’ll be an interesting case, tracking those back to the sellers, and on up the chain. Got Wisdom his souvenir too; the king’s yellow cloak, complete with magbolt-hole. He seemed pleased with it. Well, that’s pretty much it. Finished all the paperwork and came here to see you.”
“Well, that’s quite something,” Marheim replied, seeming amazed to be involved in such a story, “In addition to your fee, I have something else for you,” he said, gesturing to one of his menials.
It brought over a tray on which an ornate glass bottle sat, filled with glistening gold honey. Nomen took the bottle and examined it. It read “Carcosan Yellow” and featured a picture of a gold robed, hooded figure, with its arms outstretched, against a background of think grey fog.
“Honey from the same harvest from which they stole. It’s quite delicious, and comes with lifetime refills. Consider it a ‘thank you’ for your service.”
Nomen smiled, and thanked Marheim copiously. She stared at the bottle. All this drama, from something so common, and yet so powerful. But that was the way it often worked. Power comes in many forms.