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					                                      Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/1


         Prologue



         This story of mine begins 20,000 years after the last Period of

Enlightenment. A time when both man and technology fell from God‟s graces,

and turmoil reigned unchecked.

         During this time, the lost arts of magi finally resurfaced after such a long

absence, savagely reclaiming the parts of this Dead Earth which had not been

taken by the Devil‟s own dark forces.

         Beasts of every known creation (or man‟s unfathomable imagination)

roamed the lands, tormenting or humiliating the daughters of man and slaying

his sons for the sheer sport of it.

         But we fought back, taming both the lands and the beasts which lain

within###and those seeking an everlasting opportunity to stake a claim on what

was no longer rightfully theirs.

         But sadly, it was no longer ours either. Because of the fall of technology

and the rise of the lost arts of magi, we could no longer hold onto even a

meager parcel of land from the very beginning.

         Wars did break out, as they sometimes did###men fighting over something

ridiculous like resources for example, or stolen lands, or sometimes even women

###but   soon the thirst for battle and honor fell away, giving way to long periods

of peace and prosperity.

         But this time of tranquility also gave birth to a terrible monster. A
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/2


nameless individual who took it upon himself to anoint himself king and proclaim

rightful divinity over all of those whom his cold hands had touched.

         Namely us.

         A very quick and subjective march spread throughout Dead Earth, spurred

on by this man###this king‟s###insatiable craving for unfettered domination.

         Mankind was now being corralled like cattle and branded either a traitor

or a loyal subject according to some hidden doctrine known only by our new

ruler.

         Everywhere his minions went, stories of terror, fear, loss, and eventual

hate surfaced soon after. Small hamlets, towns, even cities themselves were

razed to the ground without question. Families were either torn apart or

destroyed outright.

         Community stags were left in ruins.

         Followers of man fought back even then, but we all knew what was

coming our way, as we alone believed that we were immune to this change of

circumstance.

         How wrong I was.

         Parliament and a few towns on the Final Frontier###(a fat hook-shaped

peninsula on the Eastern Continental Divide), stood facing Geran Bay to the

west, Salzbar Inlet to the south (running parallel to the Omen coastline), and the

Centauran Mountain Range to the east###were the only ones left untouched by

this king and his minions.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/3


      For a time, we prevailed. Not because of the lost arts of magi, but

because of a new form of technology perfected by a long lost group of tech

mages known only as the Gemins.

      They gave us reason to celebrate then, as we sat as a crystal clear

example of defiance to the rest of Dead Earth. Our ships were powerful, our men

skilled in the art of war along with the experience to back them up.

      Our then nameless bastard of a monarch grew impatient and unleashed a

new kind of threat that we had yet to see. A terror like none other.

      And for once in our proud history of histories, we now knew the true

meaning of fear.

      There was no turning back then. There was no escaping from this hell.

      Death and dishonor awaited us all.
   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/4




Jeanna Ulysses
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/5




       Chapter 1.



       A three day siege had left the sea port of Parliament in ruins.

       If that wasn‟t evident enough, have a look into the murky waters of Geran

Bay, fortunate traveler. They alone will tell you the story. Watch their sullen

motions as they reveal a city populace backlit by fire. Watch closer still, and you

can see makeshift ramparts fall. See the men at their stations die horribly by

whatever cataclysm has befallen us all. And pray mightily for divine deliverance

on this infamous day.

       We didn‟t ask for this. But tell that to the heartless bastard who

orchestrated this brazen attack upon our fair city, King Richard the Infinite First.

       He decided our fate. Sealed our destinies. Meted out punishment to those

who chose to defy him to the last man, woman, (or in my case), child.

       From the safety of my mother‟s bedroom alcove, surrounded by servants

sworn to serve and protect me and my oldest brother, Felix, I watched with

growing worry as another Gladiator mecha fell to Earth with a resounding crash

###flattening   a few establishments along the way.

       Thank Heaven‟s Gate that those places were already evacuated, or there
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/6


would have been more death and dismemberment for those unfortunate to have

stayed around!

       A soundless explosion followed by a rising fireball was all that marked that

pilot‟s new grave site.

       But the fight was not yet over.

       Another Gladiator had joined the fray, but seeing how things were going I

wondered if the pilot inside knew from which direction death would visit him or

her.

       I didn‟t have to wait long. Another sky dragon hit the massive mecha from

the east with a streaming glob of fire###having come out from beneath a bank of

dark and angry looking clouds.

       (Rain was a possibility this day.)

       Scorched and badly damaged, the pilot valiantly swung his machine

around and returned fire with his only operating gun arm###the other having

been sheared off by another sky dragon only minutes before.

       The plasma shots went wide (as I expected), but that didn‟t stop the hope

from rising up from the pits of my stomach.

       I prayed with all of my heart that the pilot would perform some

technological miracle and save that quarter of the sprawling city from

destruction.

       But another reddish-brown sky dragon came swooping down from the

south end of Parliament###skimming high over the rooftops of those houses still
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/7


standing tall in proud defiance, and launched another flaming salvo at the

one-armed mecha.

        The pilot didn‟t even see it coming.

        I screamed out in warning then, wishing my voice would carry far enough

for the pilot to heed it, but he couldn‟t even hear me.

        The fireball ripped the top half of the mecha right off, head and all.

        Burying my head in my arms, I could only listen as the other half of the

mecha toppled over in a slow and agonizing wail, before it too, joined its brother

in a thunderous fall.

        Another grand explosion followed suit###as its micro-fusion reactors went

critical.

        At this time, my father burst in and addressed the servants, telling each

and every one of them to take the pre-designated evacuation route out from the

back of the mansion (as it sat on a looming hill overlooking the main sea port

and a good northern part of Parliament, cresting out towards Grosse Point###the

most recognizable landlocked seamount from anywhere around), and head for

the mansion‟s courier ship, the Parma.

        I looked at my father, a proud man with the heart of gold and the

conviction of a warrior. His reddish-brown beard matched that of the sky dragon

which aced the unfortunate Gladiator, while his slate brown eyes betrayed the

concern he held for everyone present.

        (Including me.)
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/8


      The strong, squarish features of his face could not take away the stout

resoluteness his finely six foot muscled body betrayed underneath all that gold

and black armor encasing him from head to toe, along with the Slinger sword

hanging by a simple clasp attached to the belt on his left hip.

      And despite all of this about my proud and bearing father###the master of

this fine and noble mansion###there was still that atmosphere of fear which

served to freeze the very blood in my heart at that moment.

      “Father! What is it?” I screamed at him, though I knew deep down that‟s

not what I was really doing. I had way too much respect for him to do that.

      (Even if I was only 15-years-old.)

      “Parliament‟s defenses have been shattered,” he told me while rushing

over to scoop me up in his broad arms. “We are no longer safe here.”

      I protested a bit, but he shushed me by telling me things will be all right.

      “Go with Athena, my dear one,” he was saying in a breathless voice, while

rushing us both down the grand staircase, and out onto the lobby floor. “She will

see to your safety.”

      “A mere maid? But what about Merlin? Please don‟t tell me we are leaving

him behind!” I protested indignantly.

      “No choice.” My father was saying as he rushed us both out the door. I

turned back to view the place of my birth one last time, wishing that there was

more I could say to it to express my heartfelt sorrow.

      But all I saw was a thin trail of blood which appeared to follow us which
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/9


way we went.

       Alarmed, I turned to my father and exclaimed in a shrill voice: “Father!

You‟re bleeding!”

       Distracted only for an instant, my father slowed down in his pace, turned

around only too briefly, then smiled.

       “Only a flesh wound, dear one,” he consoled. “Jeanna, you worry too

much.” Then resumed his harried pace down the hill, past the open security

gates, and towards a small mooring where our courier ship, the Parma, lay

docked.

       Named after one of my great ancestors, the vessel was a sleek beauty to

behold. Gun metal gray in color, 600 feet in length, it was one of the fastest

ships in port. Not even the famed water skiffs could ever catch her, should there

have ever been a running contest of skill and daring.

       My father handed me to one of our servants, a thin-build of a woman

whom I loved dearly, with her straw-colored, shoulder-length hair, blue eyes,

sporting a tight two-piece maid‟s uniform. Not like those of ancient times, where

a woman pressed into this kind of service would wear (the white and black dress

blouse with all the frills and leggings), but a smart business-like suit instead.

       Her strong arms me carried up to the deck and she wrapped me up with a

grateful hug, followed by a kiss on the cheek.

       “Mistress Ulysses!” she praised with heartfelt gratitude. “Thank the Lord

Himself that you are safe! I grew very worried when you did not show in the last
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/10


couple of minutes! I thought those awful sky dragons had caught you and the

master unawares.”

       “They did not.” I assured her plainly, feeling a pang of anger in my breast.

I sorely wished then that we didn‟t turn tail and run like the cowards we were.

       But to think even that was disgraceful.

       None of us were cowards, that much was certain. My older brother Felix

had joined the fight in the first day of the siege. My father joined on the second,

as did a few of our other male escorts and service guards.

       Today###the third day###my father apparently was the only one who made

it back in one piece.

       I looked at Athena. “Where is my brother?”

       The maid looked at me with confused rapture.

       “I do not know, Mistress. We have not been able to get any reports in

since the communications tower in the southern part of Parliament was

destroyed in the first few hours of the battle.”

       It was then that the lines were cast off and the Parma made her way out

to the open waters of Geran Bay. Grosse Point was fifteen miles off our beam,

but I knew that we were not heading there. That is not what the motion of the

water was telling me, even as sea spray hit me in the face on more than one

occasion.

       Athena opened up one of the aft hatches and motioned me to come down

before I became thoroughly drenched.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/11


       “It would make no sense, young one, to catch the death of a cold now.”

She said, holding the door open for my passing. “Especially in light of our

departure.”

       I heeded her summons, because I knew that to be the truth.

       “Yes,” I agreed while passing through the hatch. Athena followed suit and

closed it with metallic clang!

       The light in the passageway was soft and luxurious###even for a courier

ship like ours.

       “Daytime waning.” Athena quietly reminded me, before taking me to my

individual stateroom. “The evening now descends upon Belt Rayne.” The

reference was our nickname for the hallowed province of Beltraine, one of seven

such provinces in the Zone of Fertility.

       Opening the door, I was entreated to elegance and splendor reserved for

those nobles of higher stature. I knew that we were part of such caste families,

rumored to have descended down from greater queens and kings than that of

the one whom rained down treachery upon our beloved Parliament.

       The lavish fixings and resplendent furnishings were meant to appease the

princess in me (as my mother and father had school me in the long and lustrous

bloodline of my past forebears), but I suddenly found them to be of great

discomfort.

       “The room no longer suits you, Mistress?” Athena asked, standing behind

me in a measured stance.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/12


      “I…don‟t know, Athena.” I told her. “It just no longer suits my inner self,

not while a part of me craves battle and glory.”

      “Spoken like a true male. But why would you seek such things? Are you

not content in your skilled magi arts?”

      “I‟m plenty content.” said I, before standing pat in front of a mirror,

taking in my appearance for the first time since we left home.

      Average in height for a girl my age, I sported the white and gold tiered

uniform of a healer###something that I regret that I wasn‟t. My loose gold shirt

pressed against my semi-voluptuous body, showing to the mirror how much I

had blossomed in the years since reaching adolescence.

      Because of my sheltered life, I had little chance of fraternization with boys

my age or older.

      A white vest partially obscured my shirt, along with the billowing white

pants, which ended in flared cuffs, leaning over a pair of emerald green boots.

      A silken utility belt wrapped itself around my waist, each weatherproofed

buttoned pouch or zippered pocket containing various ingredients and/or

powders essential to my healing craft. I had another belt…one that I was

forbidden to delve in. The arts of death and chaos.

      Dark magic.

      But the one thing that stood out on me was a weapon###specifically a

Sansui sword###attached to my left hip through a jeweled ring.

      A gift from my uncle, as it was a family heirloom passed down to him
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/13


through the generations.

         My mother didn‟t approve of it, but tolerated me wearing it, so long as I

made a solemn promise never to draw it against another in combat. Healers in

my profession and gender were prevented from such things.

         And as much as I loved her, I honored her request, though this gift would

be my undoing; as I spent a little bit each time fantasizing about what it would

be like to be a great warrior###defending Parliament from all kinds of imaginable

evils.

         (And those I enjoyed making up.)

         Aside from my skin sporting a nice, sultry olive complexion (from all the

summer months I spent sunning myself on the Alcoi beachhead behind our

mansion###one of our most intriguing private holdings), the only two things I

shared with my brother were the same long mane of luxurious brown hair and

the brown eyes of my father‟s. But my angelic looks were my own, (my mother

wasn‟t that plain-looking) as was the gamine behavior I exhibited on occasion.

         After all, being a teenager still had its drawbacks, even though I

desperately wanted to prove myself in the field of battle.

         However, my father refused me flat out, scolding me on the morals of

being a sound healer compared to that of a hardened warrior like him.

         I hated him for that, for treating me like I wasn‟t his equal, but he only

had my best interests in mind. He would not risk his own flesh and blood on such

a terrible whim.
                                     Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/14


          But I knew not to argue the point, so I held my tongue and accepted his

judgment.

          “So why do I hear a lilt of resentment in your voice, Mistress?” Athena

broke into my thoughts. “That is not the sign of one being so content, I think.”

          I sighed, wishing that it were so, but lying wasn‟t one of my best held

skills.

          “No. It is not.” I answered in truth.

          Moving up from behind, Athena joined me at the mirror, the two of us

looking like complete opposites. Not that the maid minded one bit. Vanity just

wasn‟t her strong suit.

          “I know that it is your warrior‟s heart that cries out for sustenance, but

you must realize that you can never be what you want to be, young one.”

          “I have trained###” I sought to make a point, but was cut off

incredulously.

          “Yes, you have trained. In secret. But that is a far cry from openly being

accepted as a warrior of the house like your brother, Felix, is.”

          Envy filled my soul, as I had always expressed that to my oldest kin on

many occasion. He was twenty-seven, twelve when I was born into this world, in

the Year of our Lord, 41,167.

          It was „182 now.

          “So I am condemned to being something I do not wish to be, though I am

well trained in it. But in reality, I want to be something that I can‟t.” I signed off
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/15


in abject misery.

       “That is the yoke of tradition, Mistress. One cannot go against tradition.”

Athena cautioned. “You would do well to remember that.”

       “I know…” I moaned plaintively.

       Athena left me by the mirror to sit down on one of the foot rests.

       “If it makes you feel any better, I am also trained in something in secret,

but not because I wanted to follow in this path, but because it was one of your

father‟s wishes.”

       “What‟s that?” I asked of her, turning my attention away from the mirror

and focusing it on her.

       “Have you noticed in recent years as to why I have never left your side

much, even if it was to go fetch you a glass of water or a magazine to read?”

       “I remember.” said I, shifting my weight to the other foot.

       “It is because I am also serving as your personal bodyguard, and not just

as your maid.”

       My mouth surely must‟ve dropped when I heard that revelation.

       “You must be jesting me!” I exclaimed in utter shock. “There is no way

that you could be my personal guard! I thought Ravehshi was!”

       “Rave was a competent guard, yes, but she agreed at your father‟s behest

to be replaced. In times of danger, I would be the least visible target, since I

carried out my duties as a maid. No one would second-guess that in an instant

when they encroached upon your position. But your attacker would not know
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/16


that I am also your personal bodyguard until it was too late###thinking that I

wouldn„t pose that much of a threat.”

       Closing my mouth, I could only stare at Athena in a new light. She didn‟t

seem the type, but…

       There wasn‟t much to her that met the eye, other than what I first saw in

her when I first boarded the Parma.

       Athena smiled, revealing a nice set of soft white teeth.

       “I can see that you still have some difficulty in accepting me in my other

role. But you shouldn‟t fret. I am quite capable.”

       I nodded mutely, still shaken by the revelation, but felt myself relax.

       “You will be with me always, Athena?”

       “For as long as I am needed, dear one.” The woman answered blithely.

       “Then can you do me one special favor?” I asked.

       “What is that?”

       “Can you call me by my first name?”



       Chapter 2.



       Nathan jogged down one side of Siren Street, armor clanking softly as he

went, Slinger sword held in his now sweaty grip, while on the lookout for an

enemy that he nor any of the few remaining defenders of Parliament had seen.

       But they were men, he was sure of it. There could not be anything less
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/17


than human, other than what was currently in command of the skies.

       The bastard sky dragons! He thought angrily, zipping past many

abandoned shops and living quarters. Only Richard would have the gall to call

upon their unholy services and decimate a population center whose only wishes

was to be left alone!

       But other than them, he did not see a single human soul anywhere. He

figured that most of the surviving populace had escaped to the west, taking the

evacuation routes easily marked down through Windy Plains###a stretch of land

barely connected to Grosse Point.

       As he stopped to catch his breath at the end of Castor Road, he happened

to glance to his left and spotted some movement in Blind Man‟s Alley###a place

notorious for thieves and unbound treachery.

       Only the foolish ever dared to venture in there. And usually those that did,

ended up losing either their money, a limb, or their lives.

       To say that Parliament was a pure and just establishment, had never

bothered to look inside its sometimes dark heart.

       “Halt!” Nathan shouted out in challenge to the roving figures in Blind

Man‟s Alley. “Identify yourselves and your intentions!”

       The movement stopped only all too briefly (too soon for the big man‟s

liking). A cold gust blew through the empty street, chilling Nathan to the core.

       Danger bells rang inside his head and he raised his Slinger sword slowly in

return.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/18


       A soft splotchy sound emanated from the darkened alley. A precursor to

what the man saw as a response to his challenge. But not the one that he

would‟ve liked!

       A human head flew out without warning, skimming across the cobblestone

pavement with a couple of sharp bounces included for good measure, before

rolling hard up against the man‟s armored boot.

       Even though he didn‟t recognize the poor sap who was just killed, the

hairs on the back of his neck were raised in both disgust and alarm.

       Then a half-eaten body sailed out, trailing a entrails like it had become a

fishing lure. It too, slammed into the pavement, blood and gore splashing

everywhere, including on Nathan himself.

       Revulsion and a nibble of fear joined in. But Nathan did his best to not

show it, as something massive came out of the darkened shadows. What he

half-expected to see what appeared to be a sky dragon, was nothing like that at

all.

       It had the body of a dragon, complimented by a large set of red,

wind-swept wings, and everything one would expect from such a creature###

except with the sharp spikes at the end of its long, slender “tail”. Other than its

typically clawed, five-taloned fingers, there was no head!

       Not one that he clearly recognized anyway.

       Instead of a head at the base of the neck, stood a long tubule (like a sea

worm), segmented with ringed bone-like rings covered by taunt, ink-black flesh
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/19


with yellow spots.

       Nathan watched as the thing reared back and its end opened up to form a

mouth of razor sharp teeth and a tongue that was nothing more than a pink rope

whence it flicked into the air.

       “Dear God in Heaven###!” The man breathed in stark horror. “What in

Norah‟s Eight Tides are you?”

       The creature hissed only once before advancing on the seemingly helpless

warrior, but Nathan wasn‟t about to give an inch of ground to this monstrosity.

       Each step taken sounded like an earthquake, as the emptied buildings

around him shook and shivered. A few windows shattered under pressure, but

nothing else did.

       Not even Nathan‟s resolve.

       The mouthful of horrific teeth lunged forward in a downward strike (once

the thing got within range), but all it caught was air, as Nathan catapulted

upwards effortlessly, swung his Slinger sword around and sounded off a series of

high-density crescent-shaped energy charges###stinging the creature in several

places along its torso and on its “neck”.

       Landing off to the side of the thing (a ways from its “tail”), Nathan was

about to get in a good first strike when the creature‟s “mouth” swung around,

opened up and let out a terrifying screech. Its tail whipped around feverishly,

before it stiffened, those spikes sent flying towards the determined warrior.

       Nathan deflected everything sent his way, marveling at how the tail
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/20


“regenerated” its spikes, and knew then that this was a demon sent straight

from hell.

       So hell is where he must send it back!

                     *             *             *

       On the bridge-deck of the Parma, the captain of the fine ship saluted

Jeanna as she entered from the rear quarterdeck, via another hatchway.

       “Your Highness!” The man crisply sounded off. “Welcome to the bridge!”

       Jeanna accepted his gracious manners with a smile, but nothing else as

she passed him by to go stand by one of the forward windows. She didn‟t want

to think of herself as a princess of royal stature, even if the accolade was a

properly afforded one.

       Athena followed close behind, giving the captain an equally warm smile,

and asked, “So how is our heading?”

       “Five by five, ma‟am.” He said in all confidence. “We‟ve passed Grosse

Point an hour ago, and our heading is 126 mark 5. We should reach the

Carthsage Refuge in less than two days time.”

       “The Beliaos Province?” Athena inquired, surprised.

       With eyes straight ahead, the captain answered, “Yes.”

       “Not exactly the safest harbor around. But I guess we really have no other

choice in the matter.”

       “The sky dragons ultimate range hasn‟t been fully charted, ma‟am. We still

believe that we have another full hour before we lose any of their scouts.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/21


      “Scouts?” Athena‟s voice raised in quiet alarm, before turning her focus

from the captain onto where Jeanna should be.

      She was there, standing quietly by the window, looking out at the smooth

quarter and fore deck of the Parma‟s bow. Three huge crates arranged in a

zigzag pattern were seen, intermixed with six smaller ones. In the center,

appeared to be a deck elevator of some kind. What its purpose was, the girl

could only guess.

      But there were only a few deck hands to be had, and every one of them

were on lookout duty###scanning the skies for trouble.

      “Yes,” the captain was saying, tearing the woman‟s attention away from

the girl and back to the conversation at hand. “Sail-tipped Vespers.”

      “By His Divine Hand!” Athena breathed. “Not those things!”

      “Yes.” The captain agreed. “Those things indeed.”

      “Are you running at max speed?”

      “We are.”

      Athena closed her eyes, sending a mental note of thanks for small

heaven-sent miracles.

      “Have you told her?” The captain inquired with a cant of his head.

      “Told her what?”

      “That her father isn‟t onboard the Parma?”

      “She knows. She‟s more focused on other things at the moment,

however.” Athena informed him.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/22


       “Like what?”

       “She wants to be so much like her father and brother. She resents being

trained in the arts of the white magi, but knows that she can‟t very well break

with tradition as easily as any other male would.”

       The captain chuckled softly. “If I could, I wouldn‟t be a captain of this fine

vessel. I myself wondered what it would be like to wield the powers of a white

magi sorceress.”

       “But the white magi has an affinity for women. It has been like this for

untold generations.” Athena reminded him.

       “True.” The captain said, before glancing over at the tall girl. “So why is

she allowed to carry a sword? And not just any sword! But a Sun sword!”

       Athena opened her mouth to say something about the girl‟s uncle, but a

soft beeping noise from one of the helm consoles grabbed the captain‟s

attention, and he yelled at his First Officer to go find out what it was.

       The woman hurried over to silence the little noisemaker, and then access

one of the display screens.

       “We have a possible bogey coming from the southeast, bearing 009 mark

3###” the First began her initial report, but was thrown off guard when the

reading promptly vanished from her screen.

       Going over to the HUD screen in the far corner of the bridge, she

accessed the ship‟s radar telemetry. But nothing here could tell her what set off

the proximity alarm.
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/23


          “Great,” the two of them heard her comment in a tersely modulated voice.

“Probably another one of those damned Spooks.”

          “Spooks?” Athena inquired curiously. “What‟d are they?”

          “Sensor ghosts of the worst kind.” The captain said, his body posture

changing over to clear agitation. This was the last thing he needed. Especially

now.

          “What‟s that?”

          “Someone‟s close by.” Was all he said, before excusing herself from

Athena‟s wonderful company and went to have a talk with the helm officer.

          “Alter heading to 086 mark 11.” He told the young lad at the controls.

“Increase speed to 121% of rated maximum.”

          “Engineering may not comply with that request, Cap‟n.” The boyish lad

informed him casually, while pecking at the control interface.

          The Parma heeled over onto her new course, while still running at 86% of

her maximum speed###or 37 knots.

          “Tony‟s got the new Stage Fives, doesn‟t he?”

          “He does. But that doesn‟t mean he‟ll engage them on a moment‟s

notice.”

          Nostrils flaring in annoyance, the heavyset man said with dangerous air,

“Mister Parks, if he doesn‟t engage them, we are all dead! Now, you get him on

the interlink and you inform that master ship wizard of ours to engage the Stage

Fives!”
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/24


       Parks hastily complied.




       Chapter 3.



       A few claw strikes drove the solitary man back as the creature from the

depth of hell took advantage of its tail attack and drove him its next attack.

       Nathan fell backwards onto the street, his Slinger sword flying from his

grasp only a short distance away.

       The thing made a fateful lunge for his exposed body, but the man had a

surprise waiting for it. He vaulted to his feet and at the same time, spun kick the

monstrosity right in the face before he grabbed a hold of its “mouth” in his

meaty paws as he came down###landing on his feet at the same time. The

weight of both him and the amalgamated thing caused this part of the street to

shake and the cobblestone beneath his feet to crack and then implode violently.

       Running on adrenaline, Nathan hurled his prized catch up and away; a

giant toss for such a small man.

       But the technique worked and that‟s all that mattered right now.

       The beast landed about a hundred feet away###far shorter than he had
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/25


dared hoped for (at least several hundred feet)###with a resounding earthshaking

CRASH!

         Several storefront windows imploded from the pressure waves, but that‟s

all the damage caused by the thing‟s unexpected fall. It had landed right in the

middle of the street not far from where the warrior of Parliament stood.

         Nathan scooped up his sword in a hurry, rushing towards his enemy with

all the intent and purpose of finishing off his foe. There was nothing he liked

more than a singular challenge for a warrior such as himself.

         While he raced towards his fate, his mind briefly settled on his daughter,

and prayed long and hard that she was all right.

                             *             *             *

         Tony Grayson looked up from his overhead HUD screen panel in growing

worry.

         “But###! Utilizing the Stage Fives is so…risky! They haven‟t been tested

yet!”

         Parks nodded, his ruddy face a backlit green glow on the screen.

         “That‟s what I told the Captain here!” The helm officer fired back. “He‟s

insistent!”

         “What‟s the emergency?”

         “We have Spooks.” The helm officer informed quickly. “You had better

engage the Stage Fives as quickly as you can, Tony. And fast. Her Highness‟s

safety depends on your next move.”
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/26


       “The Princess is here? On board the Parma?” Tony breathed in utter

shock. “Dear God in Heaven###!” he quickly cut the interlink connection and

turned to his reedy-looking assistant.

       “Larry! Get down below and tell Max to activate the Stage Fives! Now!”

       The lanky man hesitated, then snapped off a quick salute, before

disappearing down the hatchway before him###jumping down an access ladder at

the same time.

       Tony prayed that there would be enough time left before all hell broke

loose. Personally, he wasn‟t sure if the Stage Fives would even save them###

seeing how the Spooks were infinitely faster than they were at the moment.



       Up on the bridge of the Parma, Jeanna heard a new sound###something

like a high-pitched whine being fed through the bowels of the vessel itself, only

to grate on the ears of the girl herself.

       “What‟s going on?” I asked someone within earshot. But the person in

question was too intent on his console to answer even a member of great and

respected nobility such as myself. I turned my back on him in disgust.

       The ingratiating bastard! I cursed silently, before Athena came up from

my nine o‟clock position and turned me around.

       “We‟ve got to get below if the Spooks come.” She said. “Everyone here

has a job to do, and it would make no sense for them to worry about you and be

able to do their job at the same time.”
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/27


       I sensed a great amount of worry in her voice, but did as I was told. It

would be very unlady-like (not to mention inappropriate) to be tossing tantrums

on the bridge of my father‟s ship. But deep down, I seem to remember doing the

same when this magnificent vessel was commissioned ten years ago.

       It wasn‟t out of anger. It was out of excitement.

       Just as we reached the hatchway, the call to battle stations went out from

the captain, and the bridge lighting went scarlet.

       “Man the guns men!” He roared, just as the hatch cycled shut behind us

and locked with a hissing noise.

       We ran down the corridor as the guns on the forward deck were exposed.

The afterdeck elevators opened, and Gladiator and the Minutemen mecha were

brought up from the flight deck###the massive behemoths taking their station far

aft of the ship, while the Minutemen strode toward the bow to offer up their pole

arm Gatling cannons as a last ditch effort in anti-air defense.

       This much I knew as the two of us thundered down one stairway after

another in a blind attempt to get to our secure stateroom.

       But a sudden explosion ripped right through the ship, and the Parma

heeled to starboard, throwing the two of us against the walls opposite of us.

       The loud POOM! POOM! POOM! POOM! Of the deck guns in concert with

the sharp hissing of the Minutemen‟s weaponry caught my attention, before I

began to cough uncontrollably.

       A thick pall of smoke had rushed in, to fill the void of the precious oxygen
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/28


which sought to suffocate us all into Death‟s cold embrace.

       “.” I said in an ancient tongue, reciting the words of power

which would help free us of this hellish nightmare. “ÇÑÜßýæ######release now!

Your potent strength!” I cried, flinging my hand out strongly, calling up the

Winds of Doshinai and drove back the upwelling smoke, only to reveal###

       My eyes went wide and I began to say quickly, “ÐØÞõæ§###” but was

knocked backwards by a large set of leathery wings of one of the damned

Spooks which had invaded the ship.

       This modest-sized hairball of terror had nothing but a large orb with a set

of spider-like eyes and arachnid-like legs for a body, with a demon spawn‟s

wings, and the most God-awful set of sharp teeth you could ever imagine.

       When it opened its mouth to take in my heavenly scent of gamine flesh, I

felt my soul shrink in terror, as it sat perched on its legs only twenty feet away

from me.

       At this point, my mind shut down and my body took over###as I quickly

fished out my Sansui sword and leveled it at my horrifying opponent. There was

nothing worse than reliving those nightmares which only the comforting words of

your mother or father could banish, after waking up from such a troubled sleep.

       A sleep where only the unholiest of monsters dared to infest and attack

you in your dreams. In areas whereas it was thought to be the most precious

and sacred of places.

       “Back, creature of darkness!” I cast at thee enemy, while Athena was
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/29


trying to find her way back to me through the roiling smoky pall.

       The Spook hopped around gaily, taunting me with its own childish

sing-song language. But iron determination lent to me its strength and I said

loudly, “èåýþQOFØ!”

       Dark energy leaped from my sword and burned a swath of agony and

pain across the Spook‟s back.

       The thing shrieked in both surprise and displeasure, before it lashed out

with it‟s whip-like tongue to disarm me of my own rightful weapon. But a pair of

silvery barb-tipped spikes sang through the air past my face and pinned the

Spook into the wall like one of my mother‟s most prized sea-sprite butterfly

collections.

       “Now, Jeanna! Destroy that thing like you were taught! Expunge the little

horror from memory!”

       Lacking my other belt, I called upon the magi of Earth###the arts of fire

and brimstone, my voice filled with determination, purpose, and knowledge.

       “Ęßš###UČ˙######µ{w}xŃ###!!!” I spelled forth in the ancient

tongue born of the Earth wizard, Saugus. My eyes glowed an unearthly fire, and

so did the Spook, before the smell of burning flesh and a crooning wail filled the

air. A deafening explosion followed suit, sending pieces of the hell born darkling

everywhere.

         Athena made approving sounds of her own, even as she sniffed a few

times to clear the stench of death from her nostrils.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/30


      “Well###well done, child. You have indeed grown stronger in Earth magic.”

      I breathed out a sigh of relief on my own behalf.

      “But it is not enough,” I said in sad truth. “The enemy is upon us. We

are doomed.”

      Athena couldn‟t argue that, even as the deck titled beneath our feet###

spelling out the list in which the Parma was committed to.

      My father‟s proud ship was dying.
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/31




        Chapter 4.



        Nathan reached the horror just as it flipped back up onto its feet###

swaying just a bit from the harsh impact it sustained after its unintended flight.

        The man swept out with his sword, cleaving a nasty wound acrossed its

back.

        The creature roared in pain, a screeching cacophony which echoed

throughout the streets.

        Staggering from its wound, the beast turned on the warrior, sweeping out

towards him in a blinding rush to score a hit, but only catching air.

        Off went its clawed hand.

        Blood spurted everywhere.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/32


       The creature howled in pain.

       Nathan held up his sword high after landing in a crouch; a dozen yards

from his opponent.

       The wound closed itself up, but the appendage didn‟t regenerate.

       Nathan didn‟t expect it to. He had other ideas to play on.

       The tail went out again, this time, as a weapon.

       Nathan parried the first strike, then sidestepped and brought his entire

weight down into the next strike###cleaving off the tail where the spikes ended.

       Blood poured out the grievous wound too, before it too, slowed to a

trickle and then stopped on its own accord.

       The beast howled its indignation anyway.

       The man jumped back, confident that he had won a great and important

victory this day.

       He lopped off the other hand, once it came within striking distance.

       The beast was now disarmed###figuratively speaking of course.

         Howling in rage, it charged him again, head low, mouth open in an

errant charge to run him through with its serrated teeth.

       But Nathan was much faster than his opponent. Quickly sidestepping the

thing‟s attack, he reversed his Slinger sword smartly and with one quick thrust,

impaled it from the back; running his blade right through it.

       With a final howl of defeat, the creature fell to the ground, life fading from

its grasp, and massive amounts of blood gushing out both exit wounds.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/33


       Yanking his sword free, Nathan saw that this time###in death###there

would be no regeneration this around.

       The man had won!

       Breathing out a great sigh of relief-tinged victory, he began to walk away

from the scene, unchallenged###confident that this was over.

       Now, it was time to see to the rest of Parliament. To see if there were any

other survivors in this hell sodden war.

                     *             *             *

       “Top deck…” Athena said in a breathless voice, while holding a strip of

cloth close to her mouth and nose, as the two of them reached the hatch which

would lead them out of this nightmare. “Quickly now!”

       Spooks had penetrated the ship‟s lower sections in a matter of minutes,

and began punching or ripping holes in its ablative armor composite.

       As a result, the sea began rushing in several spots. A call over the

interlink had come for damage control parties to come and containing the

growing flood and the 15 list which made the deck listing more and more

pronounced. It became more futile to keep a hold of our footing as time went

on.

       Then the interlink went dead.

       Turning the handle, the hatchway flew open backwards, nearly catching

both me and Athena in the face.

       “All right, young one?” Athena asked, before she hauled herself up to the
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/34


deck.

        I nodded, wishing I could see through all this thick smoke. I heard the

flames of a nearby fire, but couldn‟t tell from which direction they emanated

from.

        Athena pulled me up as well.

        “Well, this is going to put a serious kabosh on our trip,” the woman said in

a conversational way.

        “Huh?” I went in total confusion, clinging onto the woman like she was a

lifeline. I prayed to God that He would deliver us from this mess. I only hoped

that He would listen.

        “Not to worry. We„ll be fine.” Athena reassured me. Then had me go to

the forward quarterdeck while she went to go get something from below.

        I managed to get around the cluttered quarterdeck with ease, despite the

growing list. The Spooks had all but vanished here, and the debris from the

battle could be seen, as the gun mount emplacements either in utter ruin or on

fire.

        A few Minutemen were also down, their metal-ceramic bodies torn to

shreds by the Devil„s minions, a single Gatling pole arm aiming for the sky in a

show of heroic defiance even in death. A reminder to me that the human spirit

would never be extinguished so easily.

        A loud explosion rocked the ship, as the bridge exploded above my head

without warning. A large shadow passed overhead, and I fell into an instinctive
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/35


crouch, covering my head and steeling myself against a possible attack.

       None came.

       Glancing up, I saw a sky dragon in the distance, soaring high above the

waters, as its muscular body vanished into the late afternoon-early evening sky.

       A small trail of fire had tagged along in its wake, leaving me to only

surmise that it had been solely responsible for the destruction of the Parma‟s

bridge.

       The ship###as far as I knew###was dead in the water. There was nothing

which would save me from an untimely death either.

       So###as I rose to my feet###I decided that staring Death in his face would

be more appropriate than embracing the life of a coward.

       “Come to me, you soulless bastard!” I challenged a sharp voice, fanning

out my body and my arms. “Come and meet your death at my hands. And when

you meet one of the hell lords from the Seven Circles of Eternal Agony and

Damnation, you will know who was your true master is on this day!”

       The sky dragon turned and banked sharply, as if catching the end to my

summons.

       I was not going quietly, I saw. And so did he.

       Wings fanned out, head low, maw open, the sky dragon belched forth an

impressive gout of fire.

       “###ÚÝ###…” I calmly recited, my whole body glowing,

instantly encased in a bluish aura of protection. The Shield of Divinity.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/36


       Okay, so maybe I also dabbled in a little bit of blue magi as well. But the

black magi was something I could never dare to touch on a whim. I valued my

soul‟s purity way too much to be coerced into the dark arts of Hell.

       The fire washed over me in the next few seconds, but I lain untouched by

the sky dragon‟s first strike.

       Reaching out with one hand, I said, “###strike thy enemy with

thunderous might!”

       Huge bolts of lightning arced from my fingertips, racing doggedly towards

my target, where just a few wisps of the magic‟s power grazed the beast‟s

hindquarters, before surging upwards and ensnaring the brute.

       Closing my fist, I let the fucking sky dragon have it.

       A massive jolt of power electrocuted the winged dragon, sending a large

pillar of jet black smoke into the air, before the monster dropped from the sky

like an immense counterweight.

       I was proud in this moment of glory. I only wished my father could‟ve

seen me now.

       But that all changed a moment later, when the body of the sky dragon

trembled violently, before the wholly charred mass exploded like one of my own

solar flare spells.

       The sky dragon arrested its fateful plunge into the cool waters of the

seas, surrounding Geran Bay, uplifting itself sharply, so that its new trajectory

would take it right towards me.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/37


       I was pissed!

       “Heathen cheater, you monstrous bastard!” I screamed at it. “You were

supposed to die!!!”

       The sky dragon seemed to think otherwise, as it reached out to ensnare

me with its sharp claws of death and dismemberment.

       “ÐþçΏh!!!” I commanded, flinging my hand up in a violent

manner.

       On command, the waters on the port side of the finished Parma surged

upwards, instantly forming an icy spike.

       The sky dragon saw this in time to maneuver itself around it, but not

enough in time to avoid the next onslaught.

       “###” I ticked off with a finger, and another spike rose.

       “###” A third.

       “###” A fourth one followed suite in succession.

       The sky dragon ran into the fourth one by bouncing right off the

mid-span. Bringing itself up, it roared its unhappy misfortune.

       I finished it, by uttering, “ÏѤ§Z.”

       The tips of the ice spikes transformed into a top###a lid###which shut the

bastard in. I almost smiled at the cruelty in which I was to unleash, but I was

too far gone to notice my own state of being.

       Staring at the beast from the open comfort of my father‟s slowly sinking

ship, I looked it straight in its beady amber eyes, and said, “Today, you will die a
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/38


most painful death###borne of both fire and light.” Raising both hands, I said

loudly, “######come and take thee with your Unholy Might!!!”

        A static discharge of dark matter resonated from the transformed

blue-white ice spikes; flooding the impromptu cage with a hotly contested white

light which ended in a bloodbath of Hell‟s fire, before surging upwards and then

exploding all together.

        The sky dragon screamed only once, instantly immolated by my Starfire

Bomb###one of few offensive spells in the arts of the white magi.

        A few chunks of ice splashed all about me, while the rest was reduced to

a fine mist of glittering crystals and smaller, sparser chunks of burnt dragon

meat.

        I was proud of my accomplishment then. I would‟ve been prouder still,

had I kept my sharp wits about me, before the forward deck was hit by a

massive fireball, pitched from afar, and thus, I found myself launched up into the

air like old-fashioned cannon shot from the days of old.

        But before I could land on the hard deck and thus kill myself (most likely,

seeing how everything on deck was strewn with sharper-than-average

implements on which to skewer myself like my mother‟s most lavishly roasted

game hen), a thunderous noise was heard just in back of me.

        Before I knew it, I was snatched from the waiting jaws of death by an

articulated metal shod hand, and born aloft by thruster power###just as another

fireball ranged in and cut the Parma neatly in two.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/39


       Two successive explosions was all that told the early evening skies of the

magnificently proud ship‟s prior existence. Two fireballs and it was all over.

       I looked back, half-expecting to see the familiar rotund lines of a

Gladiator, but found myself staring into the angel-like mecha profile of one of my

father‟s most proud possessions: The Seraph!




       Chapter 5.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/40


       I couldn‟t believe the strength and courage of the young one as she

battled the sky dragon all by herself! My heart swelled with pride at her skill in

the magi arts###knowing that even though her own soul‟s desire was to become

a warrior like her beloved father and brother, she was still a magi priestess to

the core.

       Pulling my thoughts away for the moment, I checked our progress###

noting that we were flitting away at speeds approaching Mach 1, and Seraph‟s

sensors did not pick up any signs of pursuit.

       I knew that to be wrong. The Spooks were always in pursuit of their prey,

should they survive any portion of the said encounter.

       Sighing, I checked on my passenger, and saw that Jeanna was protecting

herself from the onrush of cold and driving wind by having erected a barrier

shield around the mecha„s hand and extending up a bit to the wrist.

       She looked positively radiant and very princess-like from my perspective.

       I chuckled, thinking that she didn‟t like being considered important of her

royal heritage.

       Opening up a link to her, I asked, “How are thee faring, young one?”

       Jeanna‟s face transformed into open surprise as my words carried forth to

her in a loud and commanding voice.

       “Fine!” She responded. “Were there any survivors from the Parma?”

       I shook my head and told her otherwise.

       “We are the only two that had made it, young one. I am sorry.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/41


      Grief transformed her face, and Jeanna looked absolutely crushed.

      “My father‟s prized man o‟ war…” I heard her subdued voice. “All those

lives…wasted…”

      My heart grew heavy in my chest. “They died valiantly, I‟m sure.” I said in

what I hoped was a consoling voice.

      “Richard‟s going to pay for this travesty upon my house. I swear it in

God‟s name!” She said with dire conviction.

      “Well###” I began, before Seraph‟s onboard systems began to shrill and

beep with alarm.

      “Shit…” I cursed softly, tapping into the sensor relays.

      “What?” Jeanna quizzed me.

      Seven large blips registered on two of my HUDs. Four were a mere 100

miles off my port beam and closing fast. The other three were on my aft quarter

and moving into a flanking pattern.

      “Company, young one.” I said quickly, trying to get a bead on what the

four incomings were. But my external scans were being bounced back at me,

disrupting the enfolding picture with interference###making it impossible for me

to get a lock on the closest incoming.

      “Techno mages…” I said with a groan. Only they were capable of messing

with mecha systems so delicate as the Seraph‟s.

      “Did you say techno mages?” Jeanna‟s voice piped up unexpectedly.

      “That I did,” I answered truthfully. “They are running interference
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/42


patterns against the Seraph‟s detection gear. My sensors are on the fritz.”

       “I have yet to encounter a techno mage,” the young woman responded.

       “They‟re bad news, young one.” I said, shutting down the useless sensor

grid, and then having Seraph do a restart. It would take a couple of minutes.

“You have no experience in dealing with these heathen creations of the devil

Himself.”

       “I‟ve studied them, Athena.” Jeanna informed her bodyguard. “My

knowledge of their technology could come in handy here.”

       Astonishment rode the crests of my cheeks.

       “When did you find the time to study magitek?” I asked, watching for the

sensor grid to come back online. I would be flying blind until then. “Your studies

of the white magi didn‟t include those forbidden subjects. Even your mother and

grandmother before her were forbidden to study such things###as decreed by

tradition.”

       “You should know me well by now, Athena, that I don‟t do tradition. I###”

Jeanna paused, catching sight of something in the distance, off of her left

shoulder. “Um…I think that company you spoke of is already here.”

       Jeanna agreed wholeheartedly, as her newly rebooted sensor grid

confirmed the young one‟s suspicions, while the proximity alarms screamed

relentlessly in her ears.

       “I know. I can‟t get a reading of whatever‟s coming in first and foremost.”

       “Let me see if I can do something about that, Athena.” Jeanna offered,
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/43


bringing her hands together, and muttering, “+###reveal thee to thy

pretentious ways!”

       Making a swift cutting motion into the air around her, Jeanna‟s magic cut

a hole in the space/time fabric surrounding the Seraph.

       The mecha was surrounded by 3 powerful cyber-dragons, each one

different than its brethren. One dragon had a metallic foot, a metal arm, and half

a cowl replacing the actual fleshy skull and eye. Its green cybernetic eye glowed

brightly, and the dragon opened its mouth and roared.

       Another had cybernetic implants running up to enclose its left hip, right

shoulder and part of its forearm. Half its tail was cybernetic and so was one

majestic brown 30-foot wing.

       The third dragon‟s body was easier to spot. Its entire lower half of its

body was wholly metallic, while its lower jaw and throat were also embossed

with implants.

       The dragon‟s right side of its back was also studded with implants as well.

       And standing between the wings of each, stood a dark and hood-cloaked

figure###whose colors mirrored their steeds. Brown, Green, and Navy Blue.

       The one sitting in the brown cyber-dragon, cast his attention to their

fleeing prey.

       “I see that you have a well-endowed white magi sorceress with thee! Cast

aside your magicks and surrender thee to our technological might!” The first

techno mage declared.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/44


        “Up yours!” I threw back in defiance. “I will not surrender to the likes of

your unholy covenant!”

        The second techno mage on his red steed chuckled.

        “It seems she doesn‟t approve of your stately position, Brother Darandal.”

        “Log off, Arax. I will not let some common wench dictate how I should

carry out our lord and master‟s divine wishes.” Darandal countered acidly.

        Arax shrugged, but didn‟t push it.

        The third techno mage on her royal blue cyber dragon studied her target.

        “Such a delicately pretty thing,” the woman purred in admiration from

beneath her hooded shroud. “Do you suppose our master wouldn‟t mind

bequeathing her to me? I certainly wouldn‟t mind breaking her into my growing

harem. It is###after all###needing some fresh blood.”

        “I do not know if that will go over well with our lord, Eliza. Our orders

were very specific.”

        A sigh came from the woman‟s direction, but it was a recalcitrant one.

        “Very well. I shall deal with her, while you two take care of the mecha and

its pilot.”

        The two other mages nodded.

        “Crap. Here they come.” I heard Jeanna call over the open speaker.

        “I see them,” I said, before asking to be let go.

        “What? Why? You need to be protected and shielded!” Jeanna mildly

protested, even as the first cyber dragon and its rider made their first pass.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/45


       Giant lightning bolts flew from a techno-integrated, metal halberd staff.

       The cyber-dragon‟s hell fire joined it, and a rush of raw power and brute

force passed us by, just barely grazing Seraph‟s angelic wings.

       Jeanna fell back, and came up and around, trying to avoid the next one‟s

attack###wondering what it was going to do next.

       The brown dragon gave way to its green partner, and the Seraph was

battered by a gout of lightning from the cyber-dragon, lovingly embraced by

tongues of fire.

       “Let go!” I said, trying to worm my way out the mecha‟s hand, but Athena

wasn‟t so sure that was such a good idea.

       “I cannot###!” She tried to reason, even as more hellish lightning and fire

came her way.

       “Fine…” I grumbled, turning around and throwing my hands up in the air

and declaring, “!###Shield of Divine Protection: Cover us with your

blessed righteousness and turn away these defiling attacks!”

       A nimbus of white light blossomed forth from the mecha‟s mid-section and

arced outwards into a small globule barrier, which served to shield the mecha

and its human occupants from the cyber-dragons‟ attacks.

       Fire and lightning, lightning and fire both met their match with the girl‟s

magic, and quickly dissipated.

       Unfortunately, I knew that this stunt would only last for about two

minutes.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/46


       I told Athena that much and informed her on no uncertain terms that she

should make the best of Lady Luck‟s good fortune, and kindly get us the hell out

of here.

       Athena engaged the mecha‟s in-flight boosters and peeled away from the

scene###even as the last of the cyber dragons showed up###each one gold, black,

white, and purple.

       They tried to intercede, but we just blazed past them even as Arax, Eliza,

and Darandal sought to keep up their assault on us.

       Before we even got no farther than 250 miles more, the Shield of Divine

Protection sputtered and failed, just as a bolt of lightning struck the area behind

the Seraph‟s engine manifold###sending up a shower of sparks, followed by a

heavy pall of smoke.

       “Yikes!” I screamed, even as I heard Athena‟s cry of dismay echo openly

and the skies around us dipped like a wounded game bird.

       We weren‟t that high to begin with, but that didn‟t spare me from

imagining the cold and uninviting waters of the open seas beneath us.

       For a moment, I thought I saw something else, some dim outline of land

below, but it was getting darker by the moment as the sun finished the final leg

of its journey.

       The night sky would be upon us, and maybe we would be graced by the

company of Luna###the Solitary Guardian of Heaven.

       An explosion thundered in my ears as a port stabilizer gave out, and we
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/47


dropped like a rock###no longer the queens of the sky.

        “Can‟t control it###” Athena told me quickly, before she hit the ejection

button for Seraph‟s hand.

        This action caused the hand and its precious cargo to withdraw inside the

arm.

        I quickly found myself in an escape pod of some kind, where the hatch

quickly sealed itself shut above my head and I was shot out like a cannonball

towards the dark seas below.

        I screamed out Athena‟s name, wishing that I could see her for one last

time, even as I plunged uncontrollably earthward.

        The capsule righted itself, and I got my wish. All I could see at this point

was a blazing arrow indicative of the Seraph itself###the metallic feathers from its

wings trailing behind it like molten tears.

        The capsule buffeted violently back and forth, and my head came into

brief contact with one of the capsule‟s structural ridge bones; knocking me out

cold.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/48


       Chapter 6.



       2 years, 4 months later.



       Doctor Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla checked on her comatose patient like she

had these past couple of years, falling into a pre-set routine of stripping the

bedding off of the young woman###whom she believed now to be between 17-18

years old###and then taking a hold of her and laying her down gently on a

nearby couch.

       After getting rid of the soiled materials, she went into the closet to get

some fresh sheets, a newer pillow covering, and a clean wool blanket.

       Humming to herself while she did these things, Jan cast the occasional

eye towards her patient###wishing that she would somehow regain

consciousness and tell her who she was.

       Jan‟s mind fell back to that fateful mid-evening where some of Xanix‟s

townspeople reported seeing flashes in the distance, high in the skies above

them, then watching what many saw as a shooting star of some kind falling out

of the heavens towards them.

       A resounding crashing sound in the distance behind her friend Mari‟s

house###in the forest glen beyond, towards Stone Faced Valley###grabbed her

friend‟s attention, but what kept everyone riveted was the fact that a machine

had just crashed just shy of Kula Shore, by the boat wharfs, sending up a huge
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/49


geyser of water and blasted sand.

       The woman recalled the dead fish falling outside her windows, and she

believed that some fool upstairs was playing a prank on her once more.

       But when a large swordtail fish slammed down onto the paved

cobblestone road, did she think otherwise and went to have a look at what was

going down on Kula Shores.

       It didn‟t take her long to see the crowds of people milling around a heavily

damaged mecha with shorn wings and few###if any###tattered metallic-y

embossed feathers.

       A beautiful creation###Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla could see###but beyond the

physical attraction, the town‟s only doctor was more concerned about the

operator of the unfamiliar mecha, than standing about like a mindless idiot.

       The Seraph‟s cockpit module was undamaged and the retraction coverlet

had popped open (miraculously), to show everyone sparking and failing onboard

systems.

       Athena was still strapped in her sunken acceleration chair, and bleeding

from the head and mouth.

       Jan recalled the soft moans which emanated from her lips, moved by

concern and pit for the suffering woman.

       “I‟m here to help,” she recalled saying. “I‟m a doctor.”

       Athena‟s eyes opened just a crack and she coughed, bringing forth more

blood to light.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/50


       Some of it splattered across the woman‟s bright white tunic, but Jan didn‟t

mind. She had dealt with worse.

       “Don‟t bother.” Athena croaked. “I‟m about to rejoin my Lord and God of

All Creation. Your magicks would simply be wasted…” then she fumbled around,

then underneath for something, her fingers grazing a large carry-on bag###

partially stuffed behind the chair.

       But Athena couldn‟t find the strength to get it.

       “I…need…” she whispered helplessly, goading Jan into action; reaching

for the bag and pulling it free.

       “Thank…you…” she said with a weak, gracious smile.

       Setting it close to her, Jan nodded.

       “No problem. May I ask how you got here?”

       Athena went limp, her breath coming out in a soft sigh, as she stared

straight ahead at the crowd of townspeople.

       “No time.” She said quietly. “You must save the young one…” and said

nothing more after that.

       Jan waited for her to speak, but quickly found that she had passed on to

the next life.

       The doctor reached over and closed her eyes in all respect, praying to the

Divine One to guide protect her soul, while it made its wayward journey to the

Eternal Meadows.

       “Take her body to my house and prepare it for a proper burial.” She told
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/51


one of the townsfolk closest to her###a ruddy looking young man with a

noticeable cross-hatched scar across his lower arm.

         The young man nodded and with Jan‟s help, undid the straps holding

Athena‟s body in place, and helped her up; carrying her away, using all the

brawny strength at his body‟s command.

         Another man stepped forward, a questioning look on his face.

         “What about this thing?” He asked. “Shouldn‟t we at least bury it as well?”

         “Hardin‟s the resident blacksmith. We‟ll hide it in his enormous forge until

we can figure out what to do with it later.”

         “Okay. That sounds reasonable.” The man accepted openly. Looking back

at his fellows, he started barking orders.

         “Get every able-bodied pack mule, horse, and ox that you can muster and

bring them here. Get as much lashing rope as you can find. We‟ll drag this thing

to Hardin‟s place, and then conceal it in his forge. Once that is done, the rest of

us will begin wiping out all existence of this mechanical thing‟s arrival###lest

anyone comes calling.”

         The men and women nodded, then dispersed to do what the man ordered

them to do. After all, he was the elected mayor of this little town.

         “Teyru, go have a few find out what crashed behind Mari‟s place. I‟ll join

them.”

         The man nodded, and the few stragglers left behind were appointed to

the search.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/52


      A couple hours later, Jan and her improvised search party found the

escape capsule with Jeanna still inside###bleeding a nasty gash from the head.

      But unlike Athena, she would survive.

      Those who found her, didn‟t know what to make of her, but Jan was

confident that they would all find out soon enough.

                    *             *                *

      Unfortunately, that never happened. The damage sustained by her

collision with the metal support spar of her escape vehicle caused her to slip into

a persistent coma###a condition that I‟ve been unable to reverse. Even with all

my potions, text books, and what limited white magi spells I have at my disposal.

Jan thought as she finished the bed, and carefully placed Jeanna back under the

covers and made her comfortable.

      The woman sighed, wishing that there was some way to bring her out of

this state, but deep down, there was nothing more that she could do but wait.

      Because the questions the doctor had for the young woman were more

numerous than ever###and very hard to answer at this point in time.

      “Sleep well, young one.” Jan offered quietly, brushing back her hair a bit,

revealing the thin irregular scar which ran about an inch and a half up her

forehead before disappearing into her hair line.

      Then she quietly left the room.
                                      Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/53




       Chapter 7.



       I thought that I heard voices###slipping in and out of my own

consciousness. I believed that I must‟ve been awake then, not really dreaming.

       But I was.

       Images of my childhood flashed through my visions. I remembered the

gay laughter of both my parents, and my dear brother Felix, as we frolicked

along the Gazri beachfront, its pure white sands a cool salve on a particularly hot

day so many years ago.

       I saw myself then as a teenager then, not a rambunctious and

free-spirited little sprite of six.

       My parents and brother still took me as such, the dream clouding the

perceptions of reality, as I watched the whole scene unfurl itself through the

eyes of someone much older.

       And much wiser.

       I remember smiling then###a brief perception of unadulterated happiness
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/54


filling my soul###a witness to a very fond memory.

       All that changed as a roiling storm rose up from beyond the confines of

the distant horizon, quickly sweeping over everything and snuffing out the vision

which I beckoned towards with a scream and a pair of outstretched hands.

       “Mother! Father! Felix!” I yelled, bolting upright into a very unfamiliar

darkness, sweat pouring down my face, perspiration dotting my brow and

making an absolute mess of my hair.

       I pulled aside the modestly thick covers, wondering just where in the

Lord‟s Divine Name I was.

       Captured. I thought right off. Yes, that‟s it. I‟ve been captured!

       The lack of lighting gave me good enough reason to pause for a moment,

before delirium took hold, pushing me back onto the bed.

       “You will not take me alive, you damned techno mages!” I viciously

grated, believing that I was under some kind of telepathic attack.

       Raising my left hand in front of me, I muttered darkly, “Ż§###žšŠ-!###

let the darkness be dispelled by thy powerful Revelation„s Light!”

       In an instant, my hand was engulfed in light plasma###a form of dark

alchemy which had long since been abandoned by both man and machine.

       I waved my arm around to get a better look at my surroundings.

       Immediately, a modestly tidy room sprang into existence. Wallpapered

walls, a door, a vanity closet to the right of me, a small lying couch across from

the bed, a draperied window, a few hanging portraits, a standing mirror, a
                                     Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/55


wooden dresser parked underneath one painting of an unfamiliar woman in a

white jacket with an unfamiliar caduceus symbol on the left breast pocket, and

finally, a nice bed stand with an oil lamp in the center, and of course, the bed on

which I slept in###complete with a calico-weave pattern blanket and a nice rose

pink coverlet. The pillows were nice and full, filled with###what I believed to be

###the   softest Avarian goose feathers.

         I couldn‟t recall how soft I slept, or the fact that I didn‟t hurt at all. I did

recall banging my head on something, but I couldn‟t remember what.

         What was left of my previous memory was the brief instances of a fight

on a ship, being born aloft by the Seraph, and then…and then…

         Nothing.

         I couldn‟t even recall how I got here.

         Then another memory of an attack, being engulfed in something, shot

out, and watching as something fell from the skies like a stricken angel…

         My head began to pound absently and I moaned softly, holding the side of

my head (where the scar was) with my free hand; Revelation‟s Light dying in the

other.

         Darkness retook its domain from me once again, leaving me without any

directional bearing or moral compass.

         I was trapped in this miasma of an unforgiving life.

         Hot tears welled upside me, stinging my eyes, and I wept softly, the

harshest of all realities come crashing about all around me.
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/56


         I was alone! I was a trapped orphan###shot away from the life I once

knew and cherished!

         Then my trained ears picked up the soft footfalls of someone approaching

my room, and I wondered what to do next.

         My hand instinctively went to my hip, to grasp the Sansui sword of my

family‟s heritage, only to find to my horror that it was gone!

         A crushing dread filled the pits of my stomach, reaching up to squeeze my

heart.

         With seconds left, I leapt into action and bolted for the wall next to the

door, pressing myself sideways…waiting for my unannounced visitor to make his

or her presence known to me.

         Then it would be all over in a few seconds. I would make damned sure of

that!

         The door opened slowly, the light from an oil lamp casting shadows in

front of me, and illuminating the standing wall mirror just beyond the bed, hung

lovingly beneath another portrait.

         I fixated my gaze on the image, wondering who it would be that had kept

me a prisoner of this room.

         I did not have to wait long.

         The door pushed open even further, revealing a slightly taller woman

dressed in a kamino robe of lavish green and lavender highlights, wearing a pair

of soft-soled slippers, with pink bow ties on them.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/57


       Somehow, the woman sensed where I was, and looked over in my

terrified direction in muted surprise and growing astonishment.

       “How###” she began to utter, causing my warrior‟s reflexes to spring into

being and I rushed her; knocking her aside like a leaf, and bolting into###

       I tripped over something###a chair leg or the lip of a rug. But whatever it

was, caused me to stumble, stagger, and then I rammed myself into the back of

something soft###a couch maybe, I couldn‟t be sure###flipping me over smartly,

where I landed ass first and then got bounced off the piece of furniture; ending

up in a most undignified heap.

       The sound of someone running towards me###stopping only a few times

to light a few wall-mounted oil lamps###captured my attention.

       I grabbed the nearest thing, an iron fire pit stoker about two feet long,

with large hooked prongs at the end, and wielded it like a weapon.

       “Back!” I yelled. “Back! I will not let you come near me, you salacious

monster! I will not let you torture me!”

       Jan looked back at me with pity, concern, and mounting worry, not

malicious intent.

       “Dear child, I am not here to harm you,” said she in a comforting tone of

voice. “You have been a quiet guest of mine these past couple of years. I was

beginning to worry that you would never wake up. I‟m glad to see that my inner

suspicions were way off the mark.”

       The iron poker in my hand wavered, as icy cold shock exploded within me.
                                     Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/58


           “W-what‟d you say?” I whispered.

           “You‟ve been asleep for a long time, young one. I wasn‟t sure you would

wake up.”

           “But! But you said two years!” I wailed in fear. “Two years!”

           “Yes, that‟s right. You were out for that long.” Jan supported.

           In the dim light of the oil lamps, I saw that this woman wasn‟t lying or

deceiving me. I heard the iron poker drop and hit the floor with a hollow ring###

much like the state my mind was in right now.

           “Two years…” I whispered in disbelief.

           Jan took this opportunity to come to my side and hold me.

           “It‟s okay. You‟re safe amongst friends. You are not in any danger.”

           I wish that were true. I really did. But something deep down inside of me

was telling me otherwise.

           Safety was just an illusion in my world where the darkness and the

dangers always lurked###always being one step ahead me at every cornerstone

in life.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/59




       Chapter 8.



       With the night‟s action done and over with, the Lord‟s gracious light sifted

its way through the draperies, silently marching its way up the bed covers and

aptly planting itself onto my face like a serenely placed lover‟s kiss.

       This time around, my own eyes opened with a tired yawn on my face,

leaving me to wonder what time it was.

       I looked about me, and found that the bedroom door had been left ajar

after last night‟s escapade, and I could easily see a couple of people in the other

room, clustered about a couch in front of me.

       One man, and the other was a boy a bit older than me###though I wasn‟t

so sure at the moment###and yes, there was Jan.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/60


       And at that time, Night‟s Grip left me and I was able to pick up bits of

their conversation.

       The tall man of the two, Jon (Su-Ji-Osa) Kalamon, was talking in low

tones with Jan.

       “She‟s a very tortured child, Jon. That‟s all I was able to get from her last

night. She wouldn‟t talk to me afterwards###other than indicating that she wished

to be returned to bed soon after she tried to make a break from the room.”

       “After a two year slumber, you would think that someone in her stead

would be a little more grateful for our township‟s hospitality,” the man was

reminding her in a gruff###yet cautious###tone of voice.

       “I still say she‟s a spy sent by the border nation of Jasper.” The young

man next to Jon piped up.

       “A spy like her doesn‟t dress up like that, boy.” Jon answered tartly. “And

Jasper‟s High Guard Elite wouldn‟t bother with such a backwater hamlet like ours

anyway. We have nothing they could possibly want as it is.”

       “Except her.” The unnamed boy continued slowly. “Maybe the crash is the

result of the High Guard Elite‟s interference.”

       “And maybe you‟ve been spending too much time with your group of

friends on Prominence Point, spinning your usual fantasy yarns and conspiracy

theories.”

       “Father! They are not conspiracy theories, but the truth!” The boy‟s

high-pitched voice shrilled back in anger. “Or do you not recall the times when
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/61


people from our township used to vanish without so much as a trace? Or the fact

that it still happens even now?”

       I was naturally curious as to how this could be possible.

       King Richard never did this. Could this so-called High Guard Elite be

connected to him somehow? I thought, then shook my head. No. Hellion‟s Gate

wouldn‟t go willingly with any other para-military outfit on Dead Earth.

       Unfortunately, my own self-analysis provided few clues as to what was

really going on.

       As an orphan of these parts, I would know of no such things. It is

therefore in my best interest to become acquainted with the locals and their

customs###even if it goes against the grain of my family‟s and thy own belief

system.

       This idealistic notion settled both my mind and spirit, so I rose, the

knowledge well in hand that I was indeed going to be charting unknown

territories very shortly.

          Jon‟s voice cut through my private recollections, as he said sharply, “It

doesn‟t matter what you think, boy! I know what‟s going on myself! But I do not

need your errant mouth running amok and creating panic in Xanix! You had best

shelve that tongue of yours until we really know the truth!”

       Stepping out of bed, I padded my way to the door, only pausing for a

second to hear the interesting boy respond in a subdued voice, “Yes, Father.”

       “If I catch your so-called „friends‟ going around and spreading discord, I‟ll
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/62


tan your hide so bad, you won‟t be able to sit down for a month.”

       “Yes, Father.” The same boy repeated dully.

       Jon‟s head turned in my direction, the second the door opened.

       I walked out, displaying the grace and agility of one wary cat###as I took a

quick look around###and continued on towards the living area.

       I caught a brief glance of a well-mannered young man###perhaps a year

younger than me, maybe two###dressed in the familiar lines of a trade merchant,

with his soft beige cowl and royal blue cape placed serenely about his small

shoulders, and a brown cap perched on top of his russet red head. The rest of

his outfit was a standard two-piece green shirt and pants, with an olive black belt

and silver buckle around his waist, and what looked to me like a sword lain up

against the sunken couch (probably what I tripped over the night before) next to

him.

       He wore nicely polished brown boots, with a steel wedge built into the

front of each, and some deck-locking stirrups on the back, turned in the upright

position and fastened against the back of the boot itself.

       Despite his hazel green eyes (which I admitted to myself were pretty

attractive) and his boyish features, the boy had a hardened air about him, which

I suspected lent to the fact that he was indeed a trader‟s apprentice, and not an

actual trader as I had first thought. My knowledge of this subject came from my

own schooling and some first hand knowledge from some of the Parma‟s crew

over the years.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/63


       Scrutinizing him, I could sense that either he wasn‟t enjoying himself as

much as he should, or he was still grossly inexperienced.

       I was silently betting on the former, as I stepped forward to introduce

myself.

       “Hello,” said I in polite greeting, bowing slightly from the waist. “I could

not help but notice your striking attire? What year are you?”

       “Third.” The boy automatically responded, surprise in his eyes. “H-how do

you know that I was still an apprentice?”

       Some disappointment radiated within me, but I would not show it. Not in

front of two complete strangers###even Jan.

       One bet lost. I reflected inwardly, my smile still affixed to my young face.

       “Your clothes are a dead give away. Your father wears the silver belt of a

highly trained and experienced master trader. Black, brown, and green are color

designations for an apprentice in four year intervals, before they graduate to the

blue rank of a midshipman that lasts nearly ten years before being given the

silver belt of a master and a lifetime commission by the local trade guild council.”

       All three were impressed by the girl‟s quiet deductions.

       “You do know that not many get the silver belt.” The boy reminded her.

There are so few midshipmen and masters in Xanix as it is. Plenty of apprentices

of my level and caliber###and older### but that is it.”

       “A seaside tradition?” I asked, looking at Jon, whose attire was much

darker than his son‟s, border lining on a gray pelt color for his cloak, while the
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/64


inside of his cowl remained a wine red. His attire was a buffed snow white, with

sky blue wrist cuffs and gold epaulets on them. Looking at his son‟s wrist, I could

see that he had no such changes, as his wrist sleeves ended perfectly in soft

frills, but lacking any other flowery arraignment.

       Glancing back at Jon, I studied him some more while he formulated his

words carefully. The man‟s hair was a bit of fire-engine red, but with silver

highlights on the sides of his already receding hairline. His forehead must‟ve

been shiny under that blue cap.

       “Nay,” he said with heavy sadness. “War with some of the neighboring

city-states over the years past. Ship masters are in high demand for some of the

few fleets which prowl the seas. But they cannot wait the required ten years for

one to receive a lifetime commission. So…”

       “So they take midshipmen who have yet to obtain their commission

rights?”

       The boy nodded.

       “Yes, sometimes.”

       “All the time, Tiddus.” The father admonished with a wag of a finger.

“Please keep that in mind.”

       Tiddus lowered his head. “Yes, Father. I shant forget.”

       Jon looked at me intently, taking in my profile with a casual air. “So you

are the one that we rescued a couple years back…”

       I fidgeted with some embarrassment.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/65


      “Yes. I am she.”

      “Where do you hail from, if I may ask? My son believes you to be a spy

for Jasper. Perhaps one for its High Guard Elite?”

      Keeping my gaze locked onto the floor boards, I said firmly, “I know of no

such nations, sir. Or its foreign elements. Only my own, which apparently is now

lost to me. Perhaps forever###seeing how I am trapped here.”

      “Trapped?” Jan queried for the first time. “How so?”

      “I…was a passenger on the flying mecha which crashed here. The

Seraph.”

      “Young one…” Jan murmured to herself, catching my attention in a

heartbeat.

      “What did you say?” I asked in growing fear.

      “I said, „young one‟.”

      Sagging to my knees in the center of the living area, I asked Jan a direct

question.

      “What happened…where is Athena?”

      Jon looked at Jan. Jan looked back at Jon.

      He gave his ascent.

      “Dear child,” the woman began. “Athena…well, she didn‟t make it.”

      I fell numb inside in an instant.

      “Athena…” I whispered, feeling crushed by the weight of her incalculable

loss to me. Both personally and professionally. The dam inside myself…broke.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/66


       A fresh infusion of hot tears coursed down my cheeks. I sobbed.

       Seeing this, Jan flittered down and wrapped her arms around me.

       “It‟s okay, honey. It‟s okay.” She said soothingly.

       But I shook my head violently.

       “No…!” I said fiercely through the storm of tears. “No! It‟s not okay! Who

will be here to protect me?”

       “Protect…you?” Jon and Tiddus echoed as one.

       I reached up to wipe the tears with a clean sleeve before continuing.

       “Yes. Athena used to be my bodyguard.” I revealed to them. “My father

ordered her to protect me while I was on the Parma###” I stopped abruptly, as a

host flood of memories came crashing down on me then.

       “I was in a battle on board the ship. So many people died. The ship was

lost###” I rattled out as quickly as I could before the memory was forever lost to

me and I would not be able to recount it. “We escaped in the Seraph. There was

another battle. We were struck. I was ejected. And###” I looked about me, and

took it all in with a partial arm gesture. “I‟m here. Two years later.”

       Jan let me go. “You were brought to my house after your capsule crashed

in the Stone Faced Valley. Since I am the only doctor within a few days travel,

the townspeople decided that you would be safer here, under my protection.”

She said.

       “What would I need protection from?” I asked curiously.

       “Hostile elements.” Jon told me.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/67


       “The High Guard Elite?”

       The man nodded. “And some other…more###shall we say###unsavory

rabble that occasionally lives here in Xanix.”

       “Huh?” Went I, confused.

       Jon smirked. “Don‟t be too deceived by the smallish appearance of our

quaint seaside fishing burg. Places like these always has its own dark side.”

       “Like Parliament.” I ventured openly.

       “Where is that?” Jan asked.

       “You don‟t know?”

       “No.”

       “It‟s far across the ocean###” I began, but when I saw the blank stares

being sewn into my immediate direction, I stopped. “No one‟s heard of it, huh?”

       “I‟ve lived here all my life, child.” Jan informed me. “Xanix is all I know.”

       Jon and Tiddus echoed similar sentiments.

       In all helplessness, I asked, “Does anyone here keep a map?”

       “Radii (Teit-sa-lor) Bryn is the master cartographer. His shop is on Cove

Street. I‟ll take you there later, if you so wish.”

       “I do.” I said with undying conviction. “I need to show you where I live.”

Or where I use to live. I thought with aching misery.

       Jan saw the look on my face, and sighed.

       “I think it‟s time that we fed you, child. Or would you prefer that I call you

„young one‟ instead?” She queried gently.
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/68


       “No. Neither is appropriate, nor are they fitting. Only Athena called me

„young one‟, before she died. My name is Jeanna Ulysses.”

       “A pretty name.” The doctor complimented. “Does your family have a clan

designation?”

       That bit of information threw me.

       “A clan what?”

       “Long ago, Xanix was settled by roving tribes of hunters and gatherers.

From our ancient records, we have long since discovered that we are their

descendants###though this information was kept from us for generations. Only

about 300 years ago, did we start the tradition up again. In order to honor our

forebears.”

       Digesting this bit of historical insight, I then shook my head.

       “No. No such designation. I am simply Jeanna Ulysses.”

       “Is your family still alive?” Jan asked.

       I shuddered inwardly, but everyone could still see how visibly distressed I

was.

       “I…I don‟t know what happened to them. My father and brother stayed in

Parliament to fight off King Richard‟s invasion forces. My mother, the women and

the rest of the servants left on a different on a different ship, along a different

route out of the Final Frontier.”

       “They‟re probably worried about you.” Jan spoke softly in open support of

my ever worsening situation.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/69


       “I really wish I knew. Lord only knows that I miss them terribly as it is.” I

said quietly.

       “As tradition dictates, guests of anyone‟s humble lodgings are giving an

honorific title as relegated by the master of the house###for the duration of their

stay, of course.”

       “Of course.” I answered hollowly, not really enthusiastic. But there was

little else that I could do to help improve my current status.

       A former princess of a great house, a white magi sorceress to boot,

forever lost on someone else‟s distant shores…

       Of course, both my parents would insist that any chances of survival were

better than naught, as I instinctively thought their response would always be.

       They wouldn‟t want me to give up so easily, and they would insist that I

fight on until events dictated otherwise.

       “Cheer up, Jeanna.” Tiddus piped up from behind me. “I‟m sure you‟ll find

your way home one of these days.”

       Yes, but when would that be? I asked myself, just before Jon laid into his

son with a sharp rebuttal of his own.

       Watching their exchange, I got the feeling that life here may not be as

bad as I first thought.

       But why did I still feel so uneasy? Why?
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/70




       Chapter 9.



       Tiddus and his father, Jon, stayed with us for about ten minutes more

before they each gave their farewells.

       I gave my silence as my farewell###not out of disrespect###but because I

was still immersed in what my mother and father would call my „deepest fears‟

come to life.

       True to form, I was alone, cut off from the world I once knew. But then

again, I was also embraced in a world which was wholly alien to me and yet

sheltered and comforted me in my time in need.

       I felt a rush of warmth saturate my body. Gratitude for something shown

to me was nothing new. My stature###though royal as it was###didn‟t envelope

me as I have seen others being swallowed up by the same indigenous behavior

common amongst all royal families.

       For a second, I was glad that mine was on a lower rung of nobility, and

was only recognized by title only and not by adamant reputation.

       Small favors from God, I gathered.

       “Come, Jeanna. Let‟s get you something to eat this morn before you end
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/71


up devouring all the floral arrangements in the house.” Jan said with good

humor, shortly after closing the door behind her and rejoining me in the spacious

living area.

       I rose up from my (probably) worn spot next to the open fire pit, and

followed the doctor into the tightly knit kitchen, where I found a simple cast-iron

sink, a similarly wrought-iron stove, a beautifully made wooden table crafted

from the finest roi oak imaginable, along with a set of chairs to match.

       I remarked on the stellar craftsmanship of the layout.

       “A true masterpiece if I may say so,” I complimented with open

admiration, tracing the finely etched weave patterns into the table. The

centerpiece was a gorgeously created scene of an unfamiliar mountain range,

rising behind a majestically placed forest in front of what appeared to be either a

shallow creek or quite possibly a pond.

       The angle made it impossible for me to tell, but it did nothing to detract

from my overall appreciation.

       “You like it?” Jan said with surprise, as she tended to a small boiling pot

and a sauce pan.

       “Yes,” replied I, taking my place across from Jan. “Very much so. It

reminds me of some of the work###” I stopped for a moment, wondering if I

should continue to recant on the past. But that would be foolish, I realized. The

memories held prisoner within me were the only links to a life I no longer had.

       Jan sensed my reluctance and asked me if there was something wrong.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/72


       “No, nothing. It‟s just that everything here reminds me of home. I can‟t

stop thinking about it.”

       “The past is sometimes not an easy thing to let go, Jeanna. Especially at

your age.”

       “So what must I do?” I asked the doctor, as she continued her meal

preparations. “Should I try and forget###for a time###my past and try to make the

best of a terrible situation until I can find a way to return home?”

       “I wouldn‟t exactly go that far, child.” The older woman said. “Your

situation is rather unique as far as things go. People are going to naturally ask

you a lot of questions about who you are, and you must use your connections to

the past as a guide.”

       “Even if some of the answers I give may sound a bit unusual?”

       “Considering what‟s been going on in Xanix lately, „unusual‟ is becoming

quite the norm around here.”

       I sat back in my chair, stewing over what had been exchanged so far,

crossing my legs at the same time, while folding my arms too.

       “Mmm…” I mused thoughtfully, thinking how this could play out to my

advantage. Aside from a few things which Jan knew about me, there was

nothing else that could endanger my precarious situation.

       On the inside anyway. I thought. Here, I may be safe for the time being.

But it is the outside world still has yet to be explored. And all those warnings

about the High Guard Elite and other hostile elements…
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/73


         “Why the silence, Jeanna? Is there something troubling you?” Jan

inquired, as she began to serve up something rich and steamy into a wooden

bowl with a spoon, and then setting it down on the counter top next to the

stove.

         “Thinking.” I said. “Pay me no heed, Jan. I just need a bit of time to sort

out my thoughts.”

         “Ah. That‟s good. At least you‟re tackling this thing head on, instead of

running from it.”

         “I guess with an increase in age, comes more wisdom and insight.” I

ventured.

         “Yes…” Jan dragged out knowingly. “And speaking of which, how old were

you when you crashed?”

         “15.” I answered easily.

         “When were you born?”

         “Winter‟s Solstice.”

         “That would make you almost 17½ years of age.”

         I nodded. “I know.” I said, even though I still felt 15 and acted 15, being

much older without the experience was really mind-boggling.

         Jeanna turned, bowl and spoon in hand, and set both right in front of me.

         “There you go. Enjoy.”

         I regarded the white porridge with strips of meat in it for a blank second,

my old life reasserting itself for a moment, memories of sumptuous meals being
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/74


presented to me and laid out in line on a table much grander and more

resplendent than I could ever imagine in my days as a little girl.

       I shook my head quickly and politely thanked Jan for her thoughtful

hospitality, and began to tentatively eat in quiet solitude.

       The woman watched me eat, then said with a startled look, “Oh! Almost

forgot something! How silly of me!” Leaving me for a moment, I continued to eat

my fill of the wonderful meal, sadly wishing that there was something I could do

to return her unfettered kindness towards me.

       Jan returned later with a large carafe and two generously sized silver

tankards.

       Plunking the items down, she went about uncorking the carafe bottle and

poured something dark and smoky into one tankard and then another.

       A rich cinnamon smell wafted towards me; startling me with unbridled

surprise.

       “Is that kalufa wine?” I breathed in budding excitement. I was sure that

Jan could see the sparkling anticipation in my eyes.

       “Why yes, it is.” She said, before pushing my drink towards me. I grabbed

a hold of it, and looked deep into the tankard‟s silvery depths, seeing the auburn

color of the wine bubble and froth just a bit.

       I inhaled its heady effervescence, my mind instantly filled with memories

of family gatherings and parties galore where the voices and laughter were

staggered and the kalufa wine brimmed to overflow.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/75


       I giggled at the instances where I would be helped off to bed, drunker

than any three-tailed river skunk, and the soft, comforting voices of either my

mother or father bading me a good night‟s sleep.

       “Something funny you wish to share with me?” Jan asked, breaking into

my reverie.

       I looked up and smiled. “Just remembering some happier times, Jan.”

Then proceeded to take a deep chug of the wine; swallowing it all in one fell

swoop without gagging.

       Jan‟s eyes bugged out with naked astonishment.

       “My goodness!” she exclaimed. “I was going to warn you about the strong

bite the wine has, but###” she trailed off when I plunked the tankard down, and

burped slightly.

       Excusing myself, I said, “I‟m aware of the pleasantly harsh properties of

the kalufa wine. I actually prefer it to be a little tangier than this.”

       “Too bitter?”

       “Oh, heavens no!” I deflected easily. “This is the best vintage I‟ve

sampled in a couple of years.”

       “Prior to your crashing here?” Jan guessed off hand.

       “A few months before Parliament was attacked and invaded. My parents

were hosting a gala party for my brother, Felix, in honor of his achievements as

a war-soldier for the city‟s defense militia.”

       “How many siblings do you have?”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/76


      “Just Felix. No other brothers or sisters.” I answered, before draining the

rest of my drink, and setting the tankard down more gently than before. Taking

a deep breath, I looked at my half-finished bowl and sighed.

      Okay. I can do this. I told my stomach, knowing how bloated I got after

drinking even one share of the exquisite wine.

      “You don‟t have to eat the rest, child.” Jan interjected. “I know what

happens when people drink the wine first and then try to eat something

afterwards.”

      Shaking my head, I said, “No. You have gone through all this trouble to

feed me, and I shant waste this most divine opportunity to fill myself###seeing

how I haven‟t eaten anything in the past couple of years.”

      “Liquid diets really kill a person‟s appetite, child.” Jan commented

suggestively. “But your constitution these past couple of years really helped you

weather through the worst of it.”

      I looked at the woman blankly.

      “What?”

      Jan smiled.

      “Don‟t tell me that you fed me all this time!”

      A nod.

      “Do you really believe that soup was the only thing I was going to feed

you during your coma?”

      I didn‟t know what to think at this point. Hot embarrassment flooded my
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/77


being.

         “I…” I stammered. “I…”

         Reaching over, Jan grasped my hand and gripped it supportively.

         “You‟re not the first patient I‟ve fed from a bed. Believe me, there have

been others.”

         “But, I###” I continued to stutter, still stunned. “I don‟t remember.”

         “Of course not. That blow to your head did more damage than I thought.

I‟d give you a run down in medical terms of what I found was wrong with you,

but in the simplest of terms, you cracked your skull and bruised your brain.

Some swelling of the dermal layers and a little bleeding, but not severe enough

to impair your body‟s normal functions.”

         Even though I felt comforted by this information, I was still floored by the

undeniable truth of my coma.

         “Is there something else which is bothering you, Jeanna? You seem

unnaturally perturbed by what I‟ve told you.”

         A fresh wave of embarrassment surged right through me, as I answered,

“If my family saw this, I wouldn‟t be able to live with myself. It‟s not…it‟s not

how a warrior like me should behave.”

         Jan scrutinized me for a second.

         “A warrior?” she scoffed lightly. “Child, you do not wear the garments of

any warrior that I know around these parts. Your clothing bears all the classic

hallmarks of a Second Level White Magi Sorceress.”
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/78


       I shuddered###violently###at the truth being set upon me, but I could not

sit there and deny it either.

       “Yes,” I admitted. “That I am.”

       “Well, that‟s more than I ever achieved. I‟m a First Level Beginner. I never

even achieved apprentice level because I wanted to become a doctor###a far cry

from what my own mother and three sisters achieved in their lives.”

       “You have family?” I asked, changing the subject of discussion for a

second.

       “I did. War took my father and grandfather before him. I had a

half-brother, whom I loved very much. Lost at sea many years ago. My three

sisters ended up marrying and moving away. I imagine that they are living

somewhere happy and safe from the this strife which has gripped our lands. But

I can‟t be so sure about that.”

       “And your mother?”

       “Claimed by illness 11 years ago.” Jan finished with softly exhaled breath.

       I nodded in sympathy, even though it was sorely misplaced.

       Jan didn‟t seem to mind when I voiced them, however.

       “It‟s all right, child. My days of grieving have long since been extinguished

by the passage of time. I feel their absence on some days when I allow it, but

others###like today###they‟re just reduced to a fond memory.”

       I nodded again in understanding.

       Jan continued to stare at me, her gaze never really leaving my hunched
                                     Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/79


over form.

          “So if I may, Jeanna?”

          I looked up, startled.

          “Huh? My bowl? Yes, of course!” I said quickly, holding it out to her. “I‟m

sorry! Did you wish to take this and then retreat to the living area?”

          “That would be a good idea,” the woman surmise, amused by my

reaction. “Seeing how neither of us will eat very much. I will go place the dinner

scraps in the Tiberius‟s bowl. He loves porridge and meat now and then.”

          “Your pet…dog?”

          Jan chuckled. “No, child. My pet sky dragon.”

          All of a sudden, the world turned cold and gray, and I stumbled

backwards###falling towards the table and crashing into the chairs like a drunken

sailor.

          “Jeanna!” Jan‟s shrill voice cried out.

          I did not hear her at first. My world‟s perceptions having gone out to the

way of the Lord, my spirit wanting to gladly follow suit.

          But her soft hands and strong arms caught me before I hit the floor and

braining myself out cold.

          I wish I did, fore the nightmare which I suffered so had never really left

me from Parliament to the Parma at all. Instead, it had followed me all the way

here to Xanix.

          To come and haunt me forever and ever…
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/80




      Chapter 10.



      Something bitter wafted past my nose, causing a part of me to instantly

gag and cough.

      “Oh, good. You‟re awake.” Jan‟s relieved voice filtered through my

muddled and disjointed mind.

      “W-what? Where?” I stammered in confusion, before my eyes opened and

I found myself laid on the couch.
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/81


      “You‟ve been out for twenty minutes. It took me that long to bring you

here and get the smelling salts.”

      My nose crinkled and I must‟ve made a face of disgust.

      “Ugh. Those terrible things.”

      “Have you been prone to fainting spells before?” Jan asked, before rising

and stepping out of my range of light.

      Shielding my eyes from the sunlight coming through the open window, I

shook my head and mumbled, “What? No. Not lately.”

      “What about the past?”

      “A few times,” I admitted. “But that was because I had overexerted

myself in my exercises.”

      Jan smiled a bit. “Me too.”

      I felt myself sink into the couch a bit as I evaluated my current situation.

      “I‟m sorry,” said I in a small voice.

      “Why? From my perspective, you looked absolutely petrified by fear when

I mentioned that I had a pet sky dragon. I believe that information is what

shocked your system into unconsciousness.”

      “Mmm…” I mulled unconvincingly.

      “Is there something the matter, Jeanna?”

      “What do you mean?”

      “I mean, do you have some hidden fear that you would like to talk to me

about? I may be the town‟s doctor, but I also have a respectable ear.”
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/82


         In other words, she wants me to open myself up to her. I thought.

         “I don‟t have a fear of anything,” I said in all stubbornness, my pride

getting the better of me. But the second I uttered those words, I felt an

indescribable wave of shame wash over me. “Sorry.”

         “But you do have a fear of something.” Jan continued with a nod###silently

accepting my apology at the same time.

         “I don‟t###” I began again, falling back into the same trap as before. But

then I stopped. “I mean, my fear isn‟t based on something I see, but more of a

feeling. Nothing else.”

         “Something tying into your experience with sky dragons?” Jan theorized.

         My blood ran cold at the mention of those beasts.

         “I don‟t know.” I told her in all honesty. “I‟ve dealt with worse. I just think

it has something to do with my recent memories, my recollections before coming

here.”

         “From what you described to me already, it sounds terrible. You could be

traumatized and not even know it. At your age, it„s entirely conceivable.”

         That thought never occurred to me at all.

         “I‟ve been through many grueling situations…done a lot of things on my

own…and even despite all that###?”

         “It doesn‟t take much, child.” Jan told me, her voice overlapping mine.

“Little things like that can sometimes bring about much larger problems later on

in life.”
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/83


       Quiet descended down upon me as I digested what she had said.

       “So what was your first experience in dealing with sky dragons?” asked

Jan.

       I looked up at her from across the living area, to her chaired perch next to

the open fire pit.

       “I didn‟t have any direct dealings growing up. The first time I actually saw

them was when they were attacking Parliament. After that, I had my first battle

with one on the Parma.” I told her.

       “Did you lose?”

       I smirked, then shook my head.

       “No,” I said with a satisfied grin. “I kicked its butt.”

       Astonishment grafted itself onto the older woman‟s face, as she stared at

me in surprise.

       “You…fought off sky dragon using your white magi magic alone?”

       “Some defensive spells. And some other magic as well.”

       A stiff pall came over Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla, as a part of her pondered

over what exactly had been used.

       “Not dark magic I hope.”

       I was suddenly quiet on that issue.

       Jan‟s face paled, drained of all its blood.

       “Jeanna Ulysses!” The woman exclaimed in abject horror. “You didn‟t!”

       I nodded slowly.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/84


       “Only a batch of spells. Light Thunder, Eclipsing Night, Wall of Shadows,

and some others. I know quite a bit earth magi and elemental magi along with

my own healing magic.”

       “But earth and elemental magi are strictly for men. It has an affinity for

them, as does your white magi have an affinity for women. But dark magic? You

have no business messing with that!”

       I nodded again. “Yes, I know.”

       “So how were able to learn it while being a white magi user? Shouldn„t

you have turned?”

       “I learned the spells by researching my great-grandfather‟s book. It was a

secret gift from my father on my 12th birthday. He said that if I was careful and

understand the true balance between light and dark magic, I wouldn‟t be

affected.”

       “You‟re garb is still white. Which means that you are still pure of heart.”

       I smiled. “Of course. Would I be anything else?”

       Jan was impressed.

       “You certainly are a rarity amongst would be magi sorceresses, child. Most

students and apprentices of the craft would crack. But you…”

       “Haven‟t broken###yet.” I admitted.

       The older woman shook her head, clearly amazed by what she knew

about me now. I wasn‟t too impressed by own abilities. I had an uncanny knack

appearing able to do more than what was allowed by tradition. And even though
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/85


commoners would‟ve prevented their offspring from attaining the same, mine did

all they could to encourage my abilities and potential as the princess of

Parliament‟s Royal Guard.

       “And the sword which was found inside your capsule? I must admit, I‟ve

never seen anything like it. Why do you carry it if you are a soon-to-be white

magi sorceress?”

       “It was a gift from a blood relative of mine on my father‟s side of the

family. The Sansui sword. I carry it because of my ambitions to become a

war-soldier like my father and brother.”

       “You do not approve of the life you lead as a magi user?” Jan asked in all

reason.

       “I don‟t approve of my life, no. It is a decision that I chose for myself. I

had planned on breaking away from my family‟s traditional roots as soon as I

was old enough. I did what I did to honor my family, nothing more. What I want

to do with my life, should remain my choice. Is it not?” I said all this without

looking up at Jan.

       Jan could sense my underlying nervousness. As if I was seeking approval

from her, only because my family wasn‟t here to here to catch my breaking

moment.

       “You shouldn‟t be held back from doing what your heart tells you, Jeanna.

You are now grown up to make your own decisions. You‟re family may not like

them, but you cannot be forced to abide by the wishes of others.”
                                     Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/86


           I chuckled in relief.

           “You do not seem to understand, Jan. My family tradition is very strict on

many things. As a matter of fact, a year ago, I would be betrothed to someone

else and be obligated to marry in four years.”

           “But you‟re not,” the woman pointed out.

           “No,” I said with a sigh. “I am not. But that loss would force me into a

marriage much sooner than I am ready for. It‟s called a penalty, and by law, I

would have no choice but to honor it.”

           “Distressing.” Jan commented disapprovingly. “But seeing that you are no

longer tied to the boundaries of family and tradition, you‟re a free woman. You

can do what you please with your life.”

           A flood of ramifications flooded right through me, causing me to shudder

visibly.

           “I don‟t know…” I quietly moaned. “If my family were to ever find out…”

           “What can they do?”

           “Ex-communicate me. We did that once to a cousin who refused to follow

family doctrine. But that was when I was nine.”

           “A lot has changed, hasn‟t it?” Jan ventured hopefully.

           “No.” I told her with a convincing shake of the head. “You would have to

meet my family and get to know them a bit, before passing personal judgment.”

           The woman shook her head, seeing something in Jeanna that she didn‟t

see before.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/87


      “You‟re being too hard on yourself, child. You are so hung up on things

being the way they are, that you fail to see if they could be ever changed.”

      “But things can‟t change where I live!” I defensively exclaimed. “It would

be tantamount to treason at the worst possible level! I cannot think of doing

things any differently. I###” then stopped in the middle of my tirade, seeing some

kernel of truth come out the doctor‟s words. “But they are not here…” I

whispered, tears welling up in my eyes. “But if I go against tradition in the here

and now, I will not only be dishonoring myself, but my family‟s memory too.”

      “No, they‟re not.” Jan confided in me, gently. “But are you going to hold

yourself back because of what your family wants, or what you want?”

      That was a question I didn‟t think I could answer.

      At least, not yet.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/88




      Chapter 11.



      Noon had come and gone just as quick as I could recall, and that left me

having to follow Jan on one of her usual house calls. Normally, I could‟ve elected

to stay in her place for the time being, but the older woman informed me that

she normally was gone until early evening###and leaving me by myself in a

relatively new situation would be inappropriate at best.

      “And I‟m a poor stewardess at leaving notes.” She joked as we left the

modest cottage-sized home. Taking an iron-cast key from her coat pocket, she

locked the door. Securing it, she added, “There used to be a time when locks

and keys were not even known to the Xanthis. But that was a long time ago.

These days…people are afraid of each other###in light of what is going on.”

      I nodded in understanding, following her out from a dull red cobblestone

pathway which lay broken and pockmarked with plant overgrowth. The lawn

around her leading out to a much larger road, but a much brighter red

cobblestone.

      On each side of the road leading down, were shops of every conceivable

type common to a seaside community###much like Parliament‟s Third District.

Fishing depots, wineries, smoke shops, a few inns here and there, some bars…

      For some strange reason, I felt like I was home again. However odd the
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/89


feeling which coursed through my body, the keen absence of my old life being

left behind every second was even worse than maddening.

      It was insane!

      I watched common peasants walk down the street past the two of us,

their garb reminiscent of peasant folk of ancient times. For the men, a simple

two-piece garment, rough shirts and loose breeched trousers, and soft

black/brown glossed over boots.

      The women wore one-piece dresses, satin and sometimes silk overlays

with tapered neck frills (wherever the sun glanced and I happened to paying

attention), while other times…a rich velvet, along with high-gloss black and

brown boots which enclosed their feet, unlike their male counterparts.

      I suspected that this mode of dress must be for outdoors use only. A few

of the women I caught sight hanging out the open upper windows from the lined

shops; each with bared arms to the sun and air, wearing loose-fitting blouses

and not much else###from what I could discern.

      They called out to someone they knew, or wanted to rain some

anger-laden snipe on some poor unfortunate soul.

      I caught sight of one older woman in the middle of a heated argument

and she skewered me with daggers sharp with equal displeasure and/or

suspicion laced upon that.

      “What are you looking at you insufferable trollop?”

      I heard a distinctive sigh come from my traveling companion.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/90


       “That‟s enough Maria. Just because you‟re husband came home last night

drunk as a lark, doesn‟t afford you the right to express your routine irritation to

my new charge here.” Jan said.

       Maria‟s facial features bottled up like a fine a‟ an wine from the Norl

Vineyards in Kasmyst. I‟m sure that the vintage flavor was just as tearfully bitter,

which brought me to sudden grins. (Not like the kalufa wine which I heartily

ingested earlier…)

       Of course, I wished not to inflame things as they were, so I kept my face

away from the woman as we walked past###even though I knew that she was

watching me, waiting for that one moment where I would slip up and she would

nail me for it.

       Not two years and a half out of bed and already you‟re causing trouble!

My inner voice scolded me. But I knew that to not be the actual truth. Just an

unfortunate victim at a most inopportune time.

       “Come along, child.” Jan beckoned to me as I began to lag behind, still

wrapped up in thought. I shelved my personal musings for the time being and

sought to catch up to the doctor. “Time doesn‟t wait for the lassi-une.” (Which

meant lazy one I later found out.)

       “Very well.” I agreed amicably, passing by many houses of variant colors,

some bright, others subdued, until we came upon a simple cottage overlooking

one part of the ocean with a smallish dock in the background. A tiny craft with a

mainsail rose up from the heavy seas.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/91


       From this direction, I could not only smell the sharp tang of sea spray

blow into my general direction, but the virgin freshness of the land around me!

       Clearly, King Richard‟s hand had not yet reached here in these parts

unknown to me. (I still did not know where I was at the moment.)

       Jan‟s frayed voice caught me unawares in the next moment.

       “If you are going to stand there like a lightship statue, I may as well not

keep the door open. Those who require my medical expertise do not need

further risking even more of a worse chill than they already bargained for.”

       I looked around, seeing that I could not possibly pass myself off as one of

these townsfolk in the meantime. (Not when you were being stared at every step

of the way, listening to the hushed whispers and low conversations.) I caught

sight of a few children scampering about yards away from the house, in the

sunny embrace of the sun-kissed street beyond yonder, but couldn‟t get close

enough to them by ways we had gone. Still, the attending parents of those small

and joyful sprites made sure that they were kept under eyes at all times, and not

strayed far from their ever reaching grasp.

       I sighed, before stepping back into the cooler embrace of the shadows

donned by the cottage, and stepped inside the house.

       The door closed behind me, and I listened to Jan saunter down the small

hall before breaking itself up into a smallish living area, an even tinier kitchenette

(complimented by a pantry), and one extra spacious sleeping area###sectioned

off into three areas.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/92


       Almost immediately, I could tell which belonged to the head of the house

hold and which belonged to the mistress.

       And though there were toys and children‟s articles of clothing strewn

about in one smaller corner of the „bedroom‟, I did not see one spark of joy or

enliviliment which commonly associated itself with the presence of God‟s own

little creations###children.

       Of course, I could only say that this was most likely a home filled with

elders###judging by how much dust was coated on the slowly warping

floorboards, or the delicate strings of fine spider silk ensnaring themselves about

the roof rafters above my head###but something inside my head told me

otherwise.

       This house was young! I thought to myself, continuing my personal

introspective the subdued surroundings.

       A couple of candles illuminated the innermost chamber, and there is

where I caught sight of frail movement within.

       “Stay here, Jeanna.” Jan cautioned me. “This isn‟t a place for young eyes

###even   those who have traversed the rivers of time.”

       “But###”

       “Stay.” The woman ordered unwaveringly.

       I hung back, not wishing to make things worse.

       “Doctor Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla…” a man‟s frail voice called forth. “It is

always a pleasure to see such a beautiful creature in the slighted cull of the
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/93


afternoon.”

        I heard the woman‟s soft laughter ring out as she attended to her

patients. Unfortunately, I could not see much going on beyond the man-made

enclosure of tattered draperies and shorn blankets###patch worked together by

hand.

        Truly I saw these people as the poorest excuse ever of human beings, but

looking around, I noted that their wealth and worth wasn‟t in simple garments or

jeweled entitlements, money, land, and so forth.

        This part of the cottage (from the sense I got) spoke of enriched

memories and dreams of the past. I felt the spirits of many passed souls flow

about me like family.

        Something I truly wish I had right now. The innocence and happier times

which flowed unbound, tore at my heart. I did my best to shut these sensations

out, even as I listened to broken bits of conversation.

        “You are such a flatterer, Mejan. And if your wife were still here, she

would say the same thing.”

        A brutal cough echoed off the walls, leaving me to wince with sympathy

for the man and his unintended loss.

        “God rest her joyous soul,” the man agreed with a brief wheeze, then

coughed some more to clear his throat. “I do miss her, doctor. I really do.”

        “As do I, old friend. As do I. Now, allow me to fix you up and I‟ll be on my

way.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/94


       “Sure thing.” The man agreed wholeheartedly, and there came a pall of

silence which stretched into an ungodly eternity, save for the soft exchanges of

breath, and maybe a muffled groan or two.

       I watched the shadows jump about for a few more minutes, before Jan‟s

strong voice brokered the silence, and left me wondering just what exactly had

transpired behind the drawn enclosures.

       “I will see you later Mejan. Try and get some sleep.” Jan instructed gently,

before the draperies and patch worked blanket rustled on its own accord,

allowing the woman some form of egress without undue hindrance.

       “What was all that about?” asked I, as Jan crossed the floor, kicking up a

bit of dust along the way.

       “The man behind me is dying from a malady that I know nothing about.

All I can do is keep him comfortable and calm. It‟s working so far. But the

madness is never far behind in his case.”

       “Did this person ever have any wife or kids?”

       “He did. At one point. But they all left him when the madness began to

eat away at his brain###robbing him of the ability to think rationally. The poor

man believes they all died from the same thing that has now inflicted him.”

       “Sounds like Ribors disease,” I muttered out loud without thinking.

       “Ri-what?” Jan inquired. “What‟s that?”

       “A disorder that essentially destroys the neural connections in certain

parts of the brain. Kind‟ve like getting unplugged, but being unable to do
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/95


anything about it.”

       “Is there a cure for this disease?”

       I sighed heavily, stepping outside and coming to a complete stop for the

moment.

       “No. No cure.” I offered, my back turned away from the woman.

       “What about your advanced magi magic? Could that do something?”

       “I don‟t know. No one‟s never tried before. Like those before me, I was

taught that white magi magic was solely used to cure maladies inflicted by other

magiks.”

       Jan smiled, seeing a noticeable flaw in the girl‟s line of thinking.

       “Child, you were lied to. Deliberately. I don‟t know where you were

taught, but magic is magic. It can be used in defense of or in the healing arts of

others.”

       “Really?” I murmured. “Never thought of that.” Just how foolish and naïve

was I then?

       “Maybe we can test how good your healing magic is on my next patient.”

Jan suggested hopefully, before stepping out of the shadows of the cottage and

back out into the open sun-ripened street where kids still played and frolicked to

their heart‟s content.

       I followed meekly, asking, “So what is wrong?”

       “An illness, unlike Mejan‟s. The little girl has been wracked with chills,

fever, unusual spotting over most of her body, boils###” but then stopped when I
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/96


did, a knowing smile on my face.

       “It sounds like the same pox I had as a little girl. How old is she?”

       “Seven.” the woman answered softly. “But there is nothing I can do to

help her.”

       “How long has she had it?”

       “Several days. But the symptoms are only going to get worse. There„s

nothing that I can do.” Jan sadly filled me in while we continued our walk. “Such

a sad waste of a life so young and full of energy.” We passed a few more open

shops, some street vendors peddling various things (from fine cloth to

vegetables), before stopping at a two-story rise. The brick outlay solid red and

pure, was washed clean by someone‟s loving touch###judging by the dark water

stains covering the portion of walkway with some sudsy leftovers###straight

windows cleaned and polished, gleaming like a dark lord‟s mirror shield.

       The entry was open, bringing forth the sounds of children‟s laughter and

the scent of the ocean air lagging behind us. The sounds of avian sea birds flying

overhead filled this part of the small seaside town###calling to the world in

general for potential gossip, a mate, or quite possibly on the look out for a stray

morsel left carelessly behind by their human inhabitants.

       “Follow me.” Jan instructed, pointing up a large flight of stairs. I did so,

climbing each step, listening to the soft creaking of the polished boards, before

stopping at the top of the stairs, and following Jan across the hall, and up

another flight of stairs.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/97


       Before too long, we had passed a dozen closed doors, each with brass

handles, a door knocker (with a gold-stamped number above it), and glass eye

holes for visitors to peep through.

       Jan stopped at the far end one, with a single oil lamp burning silently

away, any flickering shadows swallowed up by the day‟s light.

       I hung back while the doctor knocked a couple of times, gently at first,

before falling back in respectful silence and patience###cocking her head for any

forthcoming sounds.

       “She‟s coming,” Jan announced to me reassuringly, then straightened

herself up as the door opened. I automatically did the same out of habit###

drawing on years of ingrained royal custom.

       A slight woman 20 years my senior greeted the doctor with an expression

of worry, then relief, while pushing back plaits of platinum blonde hair in the

process.

       “By the gods!” she breathed in a rushed voice. “Thank ye are here!” She

motioned the woman inside quickly out of habit, before taking notice of me.

       “Hallo, young one. Are you with the kind doctor?” She asked.

       “That I am.” I responded respectfully, bowing slightly from the waist.

       The woman looked me over. “Strange dress you have there, child. But if

you are a friend of the doc, then you are welcome in my humbled sanctuary.”

       I mumbled my thanks as I crossed forward into her home.

       The woman nodded, allowing me to pass obstructed before closing the
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/98


door behind me.




       Chapter 12.



       Once inside, I found a pleasant layout awaiting me: For starters, the two

windows and small livery drapes drew my gaze towards a magnificent bird‟s eye

view of the seaport and ocean###the buildings below us seemingly small in

comparison. Every now and then, a gull would zip past the window, only to be

seen holding aloft in the warm air currents of yonder moments later###before

joining its brethren.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/99


       Tearing my eyes away from the windows, I found myself staring at a floor

rocker and circular carpet, along with a nightstand. A table spread itself across

the area for another several feet, its glass top reflecting the outside world, sitting

quietly on brass peg legs.

       Looking around, I found that the walls were papered in soft colored

themes of sky blue and pink. The foyer had a couple of unlit oil lamps, and a few

moving lithographs of ages gone by.

       The place was absolutely humble and ingratiating at the same time. I felt

that I could get used to something like this.

       Then a hand on the shoulder drove any further thoughts from my mind.

       “Child, I was told that you might have the power to save my youngest

from the fouling blight of death?” Another woman‟s voice asked respectfully.

       I turned and faced the shriven woman, whose dark hazel eyes resonated

with stark resignation and hopelessness. “I‟ve been told by the doctor that you

know something about what has stricken my little girl. She sleeps in blessed

sanctuary of the innocent for now, but I could not bear the foreknowledge of

being present for her untimely burial.” She continued gregariously.

       “That I do. But I am not sure of what aid I could offer###lest it turns false

towards the end.” I offered to her on no uncertain terms.

       The woman nodded, the partial relief and understanding evident in her

dour face. I could only wish that I knew myself (whether I could cure this

woman‟s daughter), but hopefully the Lord would ingratiate me with the strength
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/100


and knowledge of my ancient forebears and allow me to perform one small

miracle.

       “I understand.” She declared fatefully. “The premise of you being here

along with the doc has rekindled all hope inside me once again.”

       This comment served to light some curiosity within me.

       “Is she the only healer in this town with white magi?” I asked, while being

ushered into another part of the small establishment. A door less entry and I was

suddenly standing at the foot of a small bed, covered in soft blankets, with a thin

blue coverlet enveloping the body of a thin seven-year-old girl whose days could

be better. (By the looks of things.) The soft plaits of strawberry blonde hair hung

limp on either side of her ruddy face, her skin flushed and gone a bit ashen at

the same time###like she was in a constant fight between life and death. Her pale

red lips pursed against the air, a delicate mouth opening now and then. I could

distinctly hear the whistle of air passing between her lips, as her lungs were now

laboring to draw in sufficient life.

       The woman didn‟t even bother answering my question, and I was too far

caught up in the sight of this poor child to even repeat it.

       It mattered not.

       “Nothing you can do?” I asked Jan.

       “All I can do is keep her comfortable and try to alleviate her temperature

some, but beyond that…? No.” The doctor answered softly, helplessly.

       “What is her name?”
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/101


       “Aria. Her mother‟s name is Natalie (Mai-Soi-Guhn) Penn.”

       I looked at the expectant mother. “Hello, Natalie. My name is Jeanna

Ulysses.”

       “Jeanna…” the woman returned warmly. “It is nice to make your

acquaintance.”

       Turning back to the bed, I regarded the child for the longest moment.

       “She‟s in the latter stages of the illness, that much is certain. Usually we

fought this malady using strong bakus tea and an herbal extract from the paiza

root. You don‟t happen to have any of that stuff lying around, do you?”

       Both women shook their head.

       “I have never heard of such things,” Jan said.

       “Nor I.”

       I was at a definite loss.

       “Without these things, I will not be able to effect a treatment, let alone a

cure.” I said.

       Jan and Natalie didn‟t know what to do.

       Then I was struck with an idea.

       “Do you have things that I could use which are commonly found to have

medicinal properties?”

       Natalie brightened, as did Jan.

       “Yes! Of course! But###” Jan began to say, but I quickly shushed them

with a hand gesture. “Bring them.”
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/102


       Natalie vanished from the room as quickly as she had come, while Jan

began to unload a few things from her hip pouches.

       “Are you sure this is going to work?” She asked, before spreading them

out on a free area of the bed.

       I regarded the items that Jan had revealed to me, lips pursed in

concentration. “I don‟t know.” I answered, while chewing on a finger. “I‟ve never

seen these things before. I don‟t know what effect they will have in lieu as a

substitute for the real thing.”

       “Tell me what your treatments do.” Jan suggested openly, after Natalie

returned with a small armload of marked boxes and tied bags. She began to

parlay them out accordingly, while I explained a few things.

       “Well, bakus tea is a natural de-tox, used to purify the body of poisons

and refreshes the blood, so that the paiza root extract given can help fight the

infection at its source.” I stared at the spread collection###trying to find out what

would work and what wouldn‟t. Out of curiosity, I snatched up a small bag of

rust-colored powder.

       “This is looks very much like jao. A child‟s remedy for fever.” I murmured.

       “It‟s called terbo.” Jan supplemented helpfully. “A sleeping powder.”

       That had some possibilities. But it would do nothing to help cure Aria in

the short term. I set it down.

       Brushing my fingers across some of the boxes, my trained nose picked out

familiar scents, some minty and strong, while others were potently spicy and
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/103


overwhelming.

         I stopped at a bunched sprig, bound in simple green twine.

         Holding it up to eye level, I said, “Drenian?”

         Jan nodded. “Yes. Pain reliever.”

         I set it aside. “Good.” I scanned a couple of the closed boxes, going back

to the one that smelled strongly of mint.

         “That‟s a tea.” Natalie offered. “Has some medicinal uses, or so I was

told.”

         Selecting it, I asked, “Does it work for flu?”

         “Been known to help alleviate some chest congestion.”

         Excellent. This will work. I thought. I set that aside with the drenian. I

needed a couple more things.

         “A root extract and something else…a medicinal salve of sorts. Something

that will coat the skin.” I murmured.

         “Why?” Jan asked, while searching her trove of medicines for a commonly

used root extract, before handing a small capped vial to the young woman. It

was bluish in color.

         “Is this bitter?” I interjected.

         The doctor nodded. “Very.”

         “Good.” I said in approval, before turning to Natalie. “A small bowl of hot

water please and a dry cloth.” I requested, thinking back to the days of youth

when my mother did this for me, in place of the nurse. “The more bitter the
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/104


better.”

       “Do you even want to know what it is first before using it?”

       “As long as its alkaline properties are bitter, that‟s all that matters.” I said,

shaking the vial gently for good measure.” I looked around, sensing that I was

missing something. “Where‟s the salve?”

       Jan fished through Natalie‟s stash and came up with a small jar, with

something written in a language unfamiliar to me (Hibari), and handed it to me.

       “Here. Why do you need it?”

       “The pox I had as a child caused the pores in my skin to open up and a

yellowish fluid to leak out. It made a mess of things the first time around. The

last two times, my mother coated my skin with a medicinal salve which captured

the excess###preventing it from contaminating anything or me.”

       “You mean that my daughter could have this more than once?” Natalie

asked, after having come back with what I needed.

       “Yes,” I said reasonably. “If it is what I think it is.”

       Busying myself with the medicine, I undid the twine and crushed a

generous amount of the drenian into the steaming bowl, dumped the white

contents of the mint-like tea along with it, before uncapping the blue vial, and

pouring a small amount in it.

       I looked around for something to use as a spoon, and found it in a cinn

stick laying naked next to a dusty old book. I quickly stirred everything together,

before raising the bowl to chest level with one hand and then made a couple of
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/105


lazy passes with the other, invoking something magical. “###:Release now

and become that which heals!”

       The bowl began to glow, and I could only cross my fingers inwardly as I

asked Natalie to prop her child‟s head up so that she may drink the hot

concoction.

       “Mommy?” The half-asleep little girl mumbled. “No…I don‟t want to…” but

words failed even her, as she tried to feebly fight off her own mother‟s advances.

       “Shh…” Natalie offered soothingly. “It‟s okay, honey. I want you to drink

something, okay?”

       “Don‟t wanna…” she protested weakly, but in the end, she had no choice

if she wanted to live.

       Her mother was being patient as well as firm.

       “You will drink what the nice young woman here has to give you, okay?”

       Aria‟s eyes opened slightly, taking in my presence.

       “Is she like the lady doctor?”

       I smiled. “Something like that, honey. Now, please. Drink.”

       Owlish suspicion briefly flared and then faded, but Aria was past

protesting.

       “Okay…” she relented, allowing the warm bowl to press against her lips

and the hot mixture to enter without question.

       Aria drank deeply for a few seconds, then pushed the bowl away with her

hands, before making a face.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/106


       “Gross!” She scowled.

       “Come on.” I urged implicitly. “You do want to get better, right?”

       Taking aback by my gentle encouragement, the little girl suddenly became

all shy in front of me. My heart swelled a bit at this.

       “Yea…” she mewed softly.

       Inclining my head towards the bowl, I said, “Drink up just a little bit more,

and then you can go back to sleep, „kay?”

       Nodding, the little girl did as she was told, then found the strength to lie

back down on her own.

       “Thank you lady doctor.”

       I chuckled. “Your welcome, little one. But Jan here is the lady doctor.”

       Her eyes widened in surprise.

       “Your not###?”

       “Nope.” I said with a grin. “I‟m a white magi sorceress.”

       This was lost on the girl, but not on the mother.

       “You‟re a###?” She whispered in astonishment, before Aria blurted out,

“Magic###!” and dissolved into a fit of giggles.

       Jan looked at the girl in bemusement. “Seems like she‟s regained her

strength.”

       “For a time,” I said. “But the effects will wear off and she‟ll be

fast…asleep.” I looked and sure enough, little Aria was out like a light.

       “No terbo?” Jan looked on, dumbfounded.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/107


       “Nope.” I said, taking the jar of medicinal salve and scooping out a

healthy dollop, and using it to coat my hands with. “My white magi magic has a

natural side effect to those that I heal.”

       “Puts them to sleep?”

       “Of course. How else is the body and soul going to heal?” I remarked

good-naturedly, then had Aria‟s mom strip the clothes off her daughter###minus

her undergarments###so that I may be able to apply the salve on properly.




       Chapter 13.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/108




       Four hours had passed, along with our ever growing impatience; as we

waited for signs that Aria was out of any appreciable danger. This tense period

of inactivity had eaten a considerable hole out of my normally steel resolve.

       I could only imagine what it was doing for Jan and Natalie.

       I was just about was ready to leave for a spell, when we all heard little

Aria cry out for her mother.

       Instinctively, we raced as one for the small bedroom, with me tripping

over Natalie, and Natalie tripping over Jan to get to her daughter‟s bedside first.

       Oh, what comical bedlam that was!

       But to our own personal disappointments, we found the little one fast

asleep.

       Jan did the right thing by checking her vitals, while Natalie and I watched

on.

       “No change…yet. But she seems to be in visibly better spirits.” The

woman said, bringing a look of relief to Natalie‟s worried features.

       “By all accounts,” said I with some lilt puzzlement, “she should be

awakening by now.” I was sure that my own magiks weren‟t the cause of this

slight setback of hope. “But I suspect that because of the advancement of her

malady, things are taking longer to run their course.”

       “But she will make a full recovery, will she not?” Natalie asked.

       “From this?” I echoed with raised eyebrows. “Of course. Yiedes pox isn‟t
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/109


normally life threatening unless it has reached the latter stages without

treatment. As I said earlier, Aria was in the advanced stage of it, but that

shouldn‟t have any affect on her recovery.”

       Natalie exhaled slowly. “I am so glad that you were here to help take care

of this.” She said with deep gratitude.

       “As am I.” Jan added, feeling a bit humble in my presence.

       Pride filled my mortal vessel as I nodded while staring straight at Aria.

Some of her color had returned as she began to perspire just a bit. That in itself

was a good sign. It meant that the pox was losing its battle against the remedies

I had introduced.

       I silently gave thanks to my Lord in Heaven‟s Gate for listening to my

pleas of assistance, and offered up a prayer in His stead.



       Thou whose will is done in Heaven‟s Gate as it is here on this wretched

Dead Earth, please listen to the prayer of your humble servant. In Grace‟s

Hallowed Name, I give thee thanks and atone for all of my past sins and ask that

thou continue to look upon me with divine favor, as I carry out His Blessed Will

through the eyes and hands of thy own mortal flesh, and ask for continued

wisdom, strength, and guidance.



       “Your family must be proud to have such a wonderful daughter.” Natalie

offered openly in sheer innocence, causing a sharp look from Jan, and an audible
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/110


gasp from me.

      The woman looked at the both of us in bewilderment.

      “What?”

      Jan looked at me as I weighed in my proper response, then changed her

focus back to Natalie.

      “Natalie…” she began to say tentatively, before I put on a brave face and

looked over###making a dismissive hand gesture in the process.

      “It is all right, Jan. She didn‟t know what happened to my family when she

asked.”

      The doctor fell silent.

      “Okay,” she said. “I understand.”

      “Understand what pray tell?” Natalie queried in confusion.

      Placing a friendly hand on the woman‟s bare arm, I replied, “The question

in which you projected. If my family were around, I‟m sure that they would be

very proud of me.”

      “They‟re dead?”

      “I wish I knew.” I answered in all honesty.

      “Wars have a habit of doing that to people, Jeanna. I should know. My

husband was one of the missing from the last conflict around these parts. Aria is

all that I have left to remember him by.”

      “Mmm…” I mulled, wishing that‟s what happened with mine. But in truth,

a different kind of war had claimed them. I just wished I knew what the resulting
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/111


fallout from that was. It would‟ve made life so much easier for me. “Perhaps.”

       Both women sensed my remoteness. But while Jan fully understood it,

Natalie did not.

       “I am sorry if I caused you any pain. That was not my intent.” She

apologized.

       “Speak no further of it. The fault lies with no one.” I said easily with a

cheerful smile, though my inner soul was another matter entirely.

       I then voiced my desire to go outside for a moment to clear my head of

the last several hours and then come back.

       “Be careful.” Jan warned. “This town has more hidden dangers than you

can realize.”

       “I shall heed your word, Jan. Many thanks.” I said with a slight bow from

the waist, before nodding in respect towards Natalie. “I shall check up on you

and Aria later. Is that okay?”

       “Yes! Of course!” Natalie blustered with genuine affection. “My humble

place shant be the same without you. If Aria was awake, she would agree.”

       Another appreciable nod from me and I took my leave of the two,

gracefully escaping through the tiny living room area and out the door ###where I

closed it behind me.

                       *           *              *

       “I‟ll be back tomorrow around noon,” Jan told Natalie at the door###after

doing a final check on the sleeping girl. “In six hours, you may clean off the salve
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/112


which Jeanna applied on her, as instructed. Then wash her down, feed her some

broth, and put her promptly to bed. I don‟t want her doing any physical activities

for the next few days###no matter how well she feels.”

      Natalie nodded.

      “Tell Jeanna I give her my blessing.” She said cordially. “Aria certainly has

a guardian angel looking over her this day.”

      Jan smiled. “The gods look upon you both in favor.” She invoked.

      “The divine winds in return for a safe journey home.” Natalie responded

graciously, and then closed the door as soon as the doctor turned her back.

      Jan returned to the front entrance of the building, only to find me

standing, leaning up against the façade with a remorseful look on my face.

      “Something the matter?”

      I sighed.

      “I only wish my family were here to see what I did today.” I told the

woman.

      “Natalie meant no harm, child.”

      “I know. I know. That‟s not what had me rattled.”

      “But being reminded of your losses…?”

      Hesitation grabbed a hold of me for a second. There was no way that I

could lie to Jan. Not after all the good she had done for me.

      “A little, yes.” I admitted. “I thought that even though talking about it to

you, Jon, and Tiddus would make me accept the plight of my situation and allow
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/113


me to forget for a time of what I had lost.”

      “But?”

      “But seeing Aria up there, seeing what her mom was going through, just

kept the wounds fresh and alive inside my soul. My mind is constantly having to

battle between what was as opposed to what is.” I rationalized.

      Jan listened to me for a moment, then asked, “Does this scare you?”

      “To lose one‟s sanity? Yes.”

      “You haven‟t lost your sanity, child. Just the world that you once knew.”

      That bit of truth hurt even worse. I couldn‟t even imagine forgetting

where I came from.

      But before I could open my mouth to issue a sharp barb, Jan jumped in

with, “Have you ever thought about living here and beginning a new life?”

      That stopped me, my rage and anger executed on the spot without

further forethought.

      “Ah…no.” I admitted.

      “Why not?”

      I looked around me and spied a wood and steel tripar galleon moored to

the dock across the way###its elegant sails dwarfing the dock master‟s office. For

a moment, I had thought that strange###seeing that these ancient relics still

prowled the seas.

      But that thought was just as fleeting as my next response.

      “Because I don‟t belong here, Jan. That‟s why. I know next to nothing
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/114


about this place. It doesn‟t suit me, and I wouldn‟t know how to fit in.”

       Jan studied my face, before looking into my eyes.

       I thought that for a second, she would be angry with me and cast me out

onto the streets, but instead, years of patience and resolve had won out in the

end.

       “I can help with that problem if you wish, child.” She said quietly. “But

you needn‟t run away.”

       “I‟m not###!” I began harshly, before falling silent. I turned away in frank

embarrassment, before cold realization set in. “I‟m sorry, Jan. I guess I am.”

       “It‟s okay. I can completely understand what you‟re going through. It„s a

tough sell, but you„ll weather through it.”

       “But what can I do?” I asked. “I want so much to return my own place of

origin and find out what happened to my family.”

       “You‟ll do that,” Jan assured her. “In time…”

       Time.

       An eternal wait marked by the passage of untested youth and desire…

       I sighed in quiet frustration.

       This was definitely going to be more of a challenge than I had originally

thought.

       But at least this time, I wasn‟t alone.
Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/115




JASMINE STEINBERG
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/116




          Chapter 14.



          Of all the damned places to be! I thought as I found myself floundering in

the surf close to a beach that I didn‟t even recognize…

          “By the Grace of God!” I screamed in desperation. “Why the hell did you

dump me in the worst of all places?!?”

          Flopping around like a half-dead sea trout, I struggled to get my bearings,

even as my own mecha###the Torus###sank beneath the waves of the Southern

Ocean.

          “Heathen bastards!” I roared with indignation, watching as three smaller

figures flew off into the distant horizon. “I swear by all that is holy###this isn‟t

over!”‟

          Other than swallow a couple more milliliters of water for my efforts in

getting to dry land, I could not even exact my revenge on my pursuers.

          “Damned techno mages…” I muttered, dripping wet and soaked to the
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/117


bone, despite my 5th generation power armor. “Who the hell appointed them

judge, jury, and executioner?”

       “A close call, if I do say so myself, young mistress.” A tiny voice

commented airily.

       I sighed. “I still wouldn‟t mind knowing what we did to deserve such

treatment, Seth.”

       “As far as I can figure, we may have inadvertently strayed into their

territorial boundaries.”

       I couldn‟t believe that.

       “The Southern Ocean is now within King Richard‟s jurisdiction? How can

that be? It‟s hundreds of miles from the Final Frontier!”

       If Seth were human, I could almost imagine him shrugging in return###

judging by his next response.

       “The king doesn‟t care about borders or territorial annexes by other

neighboring countries. His will is law and he‟ll do anything to assure its

supremacy.”

       Climbing the beachhead, I felt the biting caress of the wind and wished

that I wasn‟t so wet. I would be lucky not to catch a chill before too long.

       “I‟ve got to get out of this weather and into a warm place,” commented I,

while trudging through the white sands. “I can only hope that this place holds

some friendly souls. Lord knows that I could use an ally or two in my fight

against King Richard and his Hellions Gate.”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/118


       “Torus‟s sensors were able to gain a gleaning picture of the isthmus‟s

overall profile. It recorded a modestly sized town now 10 miles from our current

position.” Seth revealed to me, though it didn‟t help much for my sore body and

aching feet.

       “By all that‟s Holy!” I snarled in mounting frustrating, wishing that my

personal skimmer hadn‟t gone down with the Torus. It would‟ve made the

journey a great deal easier in my book. “Is there anything else that God wishes

to punish me with?”

       “A good walk never killed anyone as far as I could determine.” Seth

pointed out mildly.

       “But you don‟t have to traverse ten miles…” I moaned. “What time is it?”

       “Just past noon.”

       I whimpered helplessly. In my current state, it would take me 8-10 hours

of foot travel to reach the settlement.

       “Is there anyone closer that could help us?” I asked of my companion,

praying hard that there was some kind and caring soul close by.

       “Scanning.” Seth said.

       “I would take an unbridled steed over walking any day.” I said as an

afterthought.

       “No one within range. I don‟t pick up any other human settlements either.

Sorry.”

       Sorry.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/119


       That‟s all anyone has been saying to us since we first ventured out almost

a year and a half ago. Well, I wasn‟t going to let this setback put a damper on

my iron-clad determination to keep fighting.

       No matter how long it would take.

                     *             *               *

       I remember my father telling me once that war was a literal hell, where

the victors and their intended victims played out a deadly game of cat and

mouse with each other. Where one was the hunter and the other was the prey.

He said that by then, the blood of the Many spilt on those days mixed together

as one, and no one really cared after that.

       I was seeing that now, as the once sleepy town of Xanix had officially

become a medical layover for the myriad of ships and galleons parked in the

overcrowded harbor inlet, as the war between the neighboring countries and this

once isolated isthmus escalated###bringing together both friend and foe into our

hallowed midst.

       Jan‟s hands were bathed in three different types of human and one type

of blackish orc blood, as she strived to save the life of one sailor who had his

abdomen split open like a ripe peach during a boarding sea battle.

       His insides were a mess to say the least.

       The young man thrashed weakly as I continued to apply my powers of

sedation to him###utilizing the Touch of Ro###and prayed to the Heavenly Father

that he should make it through this day.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/120


       Shush, young one. I tried to telepathically send into his mind. But his pain

thresh hold was much greater than my weakened psychic abilities. Of course,

several days of non-stop action would do that to you.

       Neither Jan nor I had eaten or slept since the last campaign had begun.

       During the last couple of years, I had grown into a productive citizen of

this seaside town. Made plenty of friends and even a few enemies. Jan had taken

me under her wing as her medical assistant 6 months after my unofficial

“adoption” into her family home and name.

       But the disappearances never eased###even in wartime. I tried my best to

play the amateur detective, but my skills were poorly managed at best, as I

yielded few clues as to why some of the townsfolk would up and vanish like

ghosts.

       The sailor‟s moaning brought me back to reality for a moment and I could

see his eye slits partially open. My experienced mind told me that he was slowly

coming out of the Touch, but it would be fifteen minutes before he would fully

awaken.

       I quickly glanced over at Jan, who was finishing the last healing touches

on the man‟s abdomen, grateful to see that magic###not Man‟s old ways###had

saved the day and allowed for another soul to go on living.

       Catgut and nano thread tech indeed! I thought to myself wryly, thinking a

little bit about my planet‟s medical history before Dead Earth took flight. The old

texts preserved over the eras proved to be a boon of insight for me, as I
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/121


devoured every bit of written and sometimes recorded information in those

books.

         “He‟ll make it?” said I through a haze of nonchalance and discontinuity. I

felt as though my body was purely on its own wavelength and my mind had

been methodically removed from its confinement through some unholy force.

         “Yes, he will.” Jan answered tiredly, her energy expended throughout the

13-hour ordeal. “But he‟ll be taking the next few weeks to self heal. I‟ll let his

commanding officer know this, before they come and get him.”

         I breathed out a great big sigh of relief for this small miracle of miracles,

before leaving the converted wash room, and staggering out into the living

room, where I thought that the soft couch would make for an excellent bed.

Heaven knows that even a b hard dirty floor would be absolute bliss compared

to all the torture I‟ve been through.

         I was just glad that Jan and I were no longer the only white magi healers

in this overrun burg.

         Instead of going to the couch, I staggered off into my bedroom,

dismissing its bedraggled appearance for sheer heaven, as I flopped my tired

and burned out body onto the disheveled bed covers and sheets; pulling one of

the lightly scented pillows close to me and underneath to cushion my aching

head.

         I fell asleep in an instant.

                        *               *           *
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/122


       Jan had taken over the couch after checking up on me, placing the

‟CLOSED‟ sign on the front door, and fallen asleep for the next six hours, before

a gentle knock on the door roused her from a hopelessly eternal slumber.

       Come on! She groused bitterly. Is there any place in this burned out

hamlet that doesn‟t have an open medic facility? Are we the only ones?

       “We‟re closed,” she said automatically, loud enough for the person to

hear, even as she began to open the door. “Please come back tomorrow.”

       A dashing older man stood in the doorway, cloaked in the garb of a

fully-fledged ship‟s master, with his sword dangling at his side in a state of proud

prominence.

       “May I come in?” He asked in all politeness which took me completely off

guard. “I must admit that this isn‟t the best of times to drop by for a visit, but

my ship was in the immediate neighborhood and so I thought some familiar

company would be###”

       Jan stopped him right then and there with a gasp of astonishment as she

recognized the handsome lad.

       “Tiddus?” Jan whispered, wishing that she had the mind to install a front

porch light before hand. It would‟ve made things a lot easier by all accounts.

       The young man nodded in ascent.

       “It is I, Doctor Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla. Tiddus (Gir-ah-soiski) Kalamon. I

pray that this isn‟t too late an hour for you.”

       Hour? The woman thought to herself before glancing over at the
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/123


timepiece sitting about the sunken hearth. It quietly ticked on nine in the

evening.

      “By all that‟s sacred!” Jan breathed in heartened dismay. “Is it that late?”

      Tiddus inclined his head. “Yes. If this is a bad time, I will come back

tomorrow if you so wish it.” He began to take leave of me, but out of simple

foolishness or desire for someone to talk to, Jan asked him to wait.

      Tiddus stopped and turned.

      “It is no bother for me, my lady. I can only imagine how exhausted you

must be these last several days. I only arrived here last week###” but was cut off

by me as the doctor told to come in and stop blathering like a drunken idiot.

      “You can fill me in,” Jan scolded with some amusement in her voice, “over

a tankard of kalufa wine. Standing out here in the cool night will only reward

your fine discourse with a cold.”

      “I am not freezing, my lady.” Tiddus countered thoughtfully. “My clothes

are made of the finest threads designed to ward off even the worst of chills out

in the open sea.”

      “Have no mind, then, Tiddus. But I still want you to march yourself right

into my humble home.” Jan said, opening the door wider for his admittance.

“And be quick about it. Unlike you, I am sensitive to the cold at times, and do

not have the same masculine temperament as thou.”

      Bowing gracefully, Tiddus passed me in silence, leaving me to wonder just

where his father, Jon, was.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/124


         After closing the door, I turned and asked him about it.

         With a flourish, Tiddus pulled off his cap, to reveal a full head of long and

drawn out brown hair with some reddish highlights mixed in. His dark hazel eyes

had gone somewhat darker, and his face had transformed into that of an

experienced man borne out of many seasons on the open seas.

         Even the full beard he wore gracefully told me a lot more than Jan needed

to know.

         “My father died several years ago in an accident along with half his men

on the Esmeralda Jasmine.” he told the doctor quietly. “I managed to survive

along with a handful of others. But it was just barely.”

         “But it‟s only been two years since we last saw you and your father!” Jan

exclaimed in shocked surprise, drinking in more of the older man‟s physical form.

         “Temporal storms.” Tiddus reminded her. “They blew off from Witch‟s

Peak.”

         “You were caught in such a calamity?” Jan murmured. “Even with the

proper protections?”

         “This storm was severe enough to nullify our protective barrier and

subsequent gear. Half the crew aged in a matter of minutes. Many died of old

age whereas they were only in their youth mere days before the incident.”

         “Dear God in Heaven!” The woman blurted in sympathy. “And your

father?”

         “He…” Tiddus stopped, thinking on the moment his father shoved him into
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/125


anti-temporal chamber, slamming the door shut before the time eddies caught

up with him.

         At that moment, a much younger Tiddus witnessed something that his

older self had dearly wished that he hadn‟t.

         “…didn‟t make it.” The man finished curtly, not wanting to relive that

horrifying day over and over again. Once was enough.

         “I‟m sorry.” Jan said in condolence. “He was a great man and a wonderful

father.”

         Tiddus nodded, gratefully accepting the doctor‟s kind words before looking

around.

         “Is Jeanna around?”

         “Passed out in bed. I can see if she‟s up to a little bit of company, if you

wish.”

         Tiddus bowed slightly at the waist, his movements cloaked by the

flourished movements of his outfit.

         “Very well, I shall wait right out here for your return, doctor.”

         Jan nodded and left to go fetch Jeanna.
                               Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/126




      Chapter 15.



      A gentle knock on the door roused me from a much needed sleep, and

the fleeting dreams that accompanied it vanished right back into the ether from

whence they came.

      “Jeanna? Are you awake, honey?”

      I opened my mouth to say something, but I couldn‟t. Not only did it feel
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/127


like cotton, but I soon discovered that I had been suckling on the end of my

pillow like a newborn babe would with their mother‟s nipple.

        Flushing red with embarrassment, I spit out the end of my pillow,

wondering just what in the divine Lord‟s name I had been dreaming about!

        “Give me…a second.” I dragged out tiredly. “I‟m not quite fully awake

yet.”

        Unfortunately, I do believe that the door between us had somehow

muffled my voice, because Jan apparently didn‟t hear me the first time.

        She opened the door and peered in; allowing the light from the hall and

living room to spill in.

        “Jeanna?”

        Stretching out on my bed, I did what I could to drive the sleep from my

body and still muddled brain.

        “Coming, Jan.” I promised slowly.

        “I didn‟t think you heard me.” She said.

        “I heard, but you didn‟t hear me.” I countered with some grumpiness in

my voice.

        “I am terribly sorry!” Jan fired back with amusement. “I guess I should

learn to never underestimate the all powerful and all knowing, Jeanna

(Sun-ani-eki) Arilla-Ulysses.”

        I groaned inwardly. I didn‟t like to be placated and Jan knew this. But I let

out a growl of discontent to let her know how I felt about that remark.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/128


       The doctor took it in stride, as apparent by her backlit smile.

       “You have a visitor. I thought at the very least that I should wake you up

and let you know.”

       “A visitor? Is it Aria?” I inquired.

       “You know that she isn‟t allowed past her bedtime, young woman.” Jan

said, slightly cross at my blistering stupidity. “Now get up. You‟re disrespecting

our house guest by deliberately stalling.”

       “Who‟s stalling?” I fired back even after the door closed on me, shutting

me out from the outside world. “I‟m just not used to awaken at a most ungodly

hour…”

       Of course, my own ears were the only ones who heard me. The quite

emptiness of my own room did nothing to comfort my inhibited state.

       Sighing, I rolled over and decided that nothing could be further gained by

me staying here.

       Whoever was out there had better be damned worth it! I silently prayed

with growing agitation.

                      *              *            *

       “Sensors are recording some dim illumination up ahead.” Seth announced

to my tired ears. “I believe we are nearing our destination.”

       “About damned time!” I loudly complained. “My feet are past the point of

death here!”

       The trip had take exactly 7.4 hours by Seth‟s calculations, and I wish I
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/129


had been better suited for long travels. But the truth beholden was that I

normally did it by the use of the Torus.

       Sitting down for a moment on a small grassy knoll, I decided that this

would be the perfect time to take another much needed breather.

       “But we are so close to our objective, Mistress Steinberg###”

       “Don‟t call me by my last name!” I howled at my left wrist. “I‟ve warned

you against that many times in the past! Remember?”

       “Apologies, mistress. I wasn‟t aware that the order was still in effect###

given the current state of circumstances.”

       “It doesn‟t matter.” I said into the fluidic darkness. “The dangers to me

are still the same as before. It wouldn‟t matter if we were still in Charlo, the

king‟s spies are everywhere. Even on a backwater place like this.”

       Yes, the paranoia was there in my voice, I would not deny even that. But

I couldn‟t take the chance of being found out. The blessings of this trip were that

no one had seen me crash.

       “I have yet to detect any such deception on my part. This place seems to

be as serene and virgin as the white snow caps of the Centauran Mountain

Range.”

       “Looks can be deceiving Seth, mark my words.” I patiently reminded my

wrist comp companion, then got up, my ass a tad bit sore, but nothing worse for

wear other than my poor feet.

       The only two things which had me going this far were my spare energy
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/130


rations and my desire to get to this detected settlement.

      With this in mind, I resumed my trek forward.

                    *             *             *

      “Ah,” Jan said with marked approval. “Here she comes.”

      Tiddus looked up and caught sight of me coming out, still dressed in the

same white outfit I had worn on our first meeting.

      “My lady of this fine house.” Tiddus bowed elegantly. “A pleasure to make

your acquaintance once again under most trying circumstances.”

      I stopped short while scratching my head, a nonplussed expression

perched firmly on my face.

      “Okay…” I said with open reservation, before shaking my head in order to

rearrange my hair back to its proper emplacement. “Who are you and what in

God‟s name are you babbling about?”

      Jan choked back a chuckle while covering her smiling mouth.

      “Jeanna, this is Tiddus. The boy you once knew only two years ago.”

      My jaw practically hit the floor upon hearing that statement, but I quickly

recovered.

      “Th-that‟s Tiddus?” I squeaked in stunned disbelief. I couldn‟t believe with

my own two eyes that this handsome and drop-dead gorgeous man standing

before me was the same one that I had briefly ogled at so long ago in the

presence of his father.

      Scooting up closer to him, I stared him right in the eyes, seeing that the
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/131


color of hazel eyes had gone darker since the last I laid eyes upon him. But

instantly, the ravages of time had fallen away and I could get a clear sense of his

essence, not his soul, and realized that it was indeed him!

       Blushing furiously, I stepped back, and quickly made my apologies known.

       “I am sorry,” said I with alabaster grace. “My manners are not befitting of

a woman of my stature. Please forgive me.”

       “No harm or fault is intended upon thy self, fair lady.” Tiddus coolly cast.

“My changed presence even had the good doctor here stymied.”

       The blush on my face had gone slack just a bit, but the stinging

embarrassment had not###as did the stirrings in my loins.

       “Still, my manners were not appropriate to one whom has crossed the

bridges of time and space and come away unscathed.”

       Tiddus looked at me with an arch look.

       “I wish that I could say this is the truth, but nay, it isn‟t. Many died on the

voyage on which I and a small handful remained stolid with the Esmeralda

Jasmine.”

       I bought from the hip slightly. “My condolences on your loss. Is your

father still with you?”

       “No.” Tiddus responded a little more tightly than he had wished. I took no

offense in that###sensing a most bitter pain emanating from his tortured psyche.

       “A most…regrettable loss.” I said softly. “He was a bright and intelligent

man. I can see already that if he were still alive, how proud he would be of you
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/132


this very moment, I think.”

       Tiddus looked at me in a new light.

       “I thank thee for thy kindness and words of courage, fair lady.”

       Nodding back, I then asked of him, “Are you staying here or just casting

off for the open waters?”

       “The Esmeralda Jasmine will be leaving port in a couple of days. You are

welcome to come aboard###as a guest of her honorable ship master.” Tiddus

offered. “My crew would enjoy the company of such fine beauty, I wager.”

       I blushed again, charmed by his steadfast manners and sweet talk.

       “I can think of no such better thing. I would be delighted by your gracious

invitation.”

       Tiddus bowed his head. “I await you then, my lady.” Glancing up at Jan,

he added, “You are most welcome to join her of course.”

       “Well…” The doctor mulled, hesitation in her voice. “I don‟t really know.

Things have been so busy, since we‟ve been at war with neighboring Jasper###”

       “That unholy bitch queen declared war on you?” Tiddus‟s voice raised in

anger. “In the name of Heaven‟s Gate, why?”

       “When her envoy came by to pay us a visit eight months ago and

demanded that all settlements capitulate to her demands of overall sovereignty

of all lands bordering the Kraean territorial annex.” I jumped in before Jan could.

“Ever since then, it‟s been hell on earth.”

       Tiddus‟s face clouded with rage and righteous fury.
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/133


        “Nothing is sacred anymore to that woman, is there?” He accused bitterly.

“All she thinks about is conquest and misery. I just didn„t stop to think that Xanix

would be on her list of targets.”

        “Just like King Richard.” I said with heartfelt knowledge. At that time, I

was overcome with deep despair over the unknown fate of my home town of

Parliament. Since I was welcomed with open arms and love from a strange

woman, I had all but forgotten about my past.

        Grievous shame washed over me, and I immediately offered up a swift

prayer of forgiveness to my family and to my Lord in Heaven for dishonoring my

family‟s memory.

        “Huh? Who?”

        “King Richard.” I said, before spearing Tiddus with a sour look. “I‟m

surprised that you have forgotten what I had gone through those two years

ago.”

        The man stepped away from my dourness, hands out in supplication.

        “Apologies, fair lady. But my memories of that time have been clouded

and overridden by other more pressing matters. You can‟t fault me for not

remembering such a vague name.”

        “It‟s not your fault,” I said with supple forgiveness. “I was just thinking

about how similar Richard and Queen Darcoshia are in retrospect. They both

apparently have the same goal, which is conquest and oppression.”

        “You haven‟t mentioned Richard much,” Jan volunteered. “Is there
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/134


anything about him you wish to tell us?”

         “Nobody‟s never seen him in person. Some believe him to be the Devil

himself or some form of twisted human replicant which used to prowl the lands

ages ago. But no one really knows. His orders are carried by his minions and

never questioned. And those who defy his will are subjugated or worse.”

         “How did your homeland of Parliament come under his scrutiny?” Jan

asked.

         “We defied him with technology given to us by the mysterious Gemins.

But that period of resistance didn‟t last long.” I answered sullenly, my heart

heavy with rekindled pain and loss.

         “The Gemins?” Tiddus echoed in sharp recognition. “I know these

mysterious techno mages. A benign group whom popped up in the latter half of

our voyage three years ago and offered us a way out of the temporal sink we

had inadvertently trapped ourselves in.”

         I stared at the man in astonishment.

         “You?!?” I blurted out. “You met the Gemins?”

         The man nodded. “There were of course, some bargaining to be done on

our behalf for safe passage. But the ensuing trade allowed us to leave the hell

we had been burdened with and allowed to return to our own world and time.”

         “Did you get a chance to talk to them?” I asked in budding excitement.

         “They…weren‟t the talkative sorts.” Tiddus admitted.

         Hopes of fancy dashed themselves against the back of my mind. I had
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/135


hoped that he would‟ve brought back some information in regards to what

transpired in Parliament, since these Gemins were rumored to remember all the

ports of call they visited and had access to the time stream in such a way that it

could be revealed on what the final fate of each had thus been born.

       I was hoping for some news on my lost oasis. And my family.

       “That would explain your aged appearance.” Jan supplemented knowingly.

“Gemins don‟t use physical means of monetary payment for such Herculean

tasks. They steal a little bit of your years away to add to their own omniscient

life spans.”

       “Yes. They gave me a choice. Ten years or an eternity of being stuck in

the hellish nightmare we were in.” Tiddus revealed. “Each of us chose the ten

years according to our age. And though we look marketedly older in appearance,

our minds and mannerisms are still that of our forgotten youths###but tempered

greatly with the wisdom and responsibilities of our elders.”

       “Some of you were young back then, is that right?” Jan asked.

       “Most of us were, yes. But those of remarkably aged distinction didn‟t last

long. Several of us gave their lives so that we may escape###seeing that the

temporal storms had robbed them of the majority of their youth and energy.”

       “And your father‟s.” Jan reminded him.

       “My father was one of the lucky ones.” Tiddus told her. “I know that the

temporal storms killed him, but he wouldn‟t have survived the Gemins payment.

Not when the storms had aged him well beyond his years to cope. His last dying
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/136


wish was for me to take the Esmeralda Jasmine and ply the seas in his memory.”

      I took a deep breath, wishing that there was something that I could‟ve

done to help them. My abilities in the time and space environs were a secret

even to those who had known me. Including my family and Jan. It was the

kindness of an old crone of a woman whom had shone me the wonders of

eternity for the better part of one year###making me promise on my fragile soul

that I would never reveal my other hidden attributes.

      My mother and father never suspected this, even after she had left the

sanctity of my home. But she left me with a message of hope and delight, telling

me that great things lay in store for me, because I was a very special child.

      Looking at Tiddus, I felt a pang of sympathy for the man. Having endured

so much, but not able to turn back the hands of time to correct such an abysmal

moment.

      “…and I have,” Tiddus was informing the two of us, even though my mind

was still immersed in the past. “Our ship has come back from the Lore of Ages,

stronger and wiser than ever before. And her gallant crew will once again take

up the challenge that lesser men have dreaded.”

      “Spoken like a true romantic.” I teased with a growing smile.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/137




       Chapter 16.



       The outskirts of this place looked picture perfect from where I stood,

compared to what I had gone through previously in Corrinar.

       Three years ago, the entire city came under siege by both Hellion‟s Gate,

some gargoyle shock troops enslaved in nanotech bio armor, and about 15

techno mages riding bareback on their trusted sky dragons.

       The entire populace was slaughtered without incident. And those that had

the audacity to survive were also killed in the most unimaginable ways###on

orders from King Richard himself.

       Of course, I could say that I fought well and fought bravely that day, but

alas! it was not to be.

       Torus couldn‟t stand up to the overwhelming invasion forces and I was

lucky to have escaped with my life. But that act of cowardice attracted the

attention of King Richard, and it was he who had sent the initial 15 techno

mages against me.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/138


       I smiled at the memory of being on the run these last few years, picking

off the techno mages one by one###or one instance, I bagged six in one sitting

###until   my luck ran out here against the last three.

       Not that I wasn‟t skilled enough to face against those pitiful whelps, but

Torus had been badly damaged after this long succession of fighting and battling

for my life.

       I was on auxiliary power when my last battle happened.

       “Just like Corrinar before the storm.” Seth chimed in psychically,

completely unaware that was exactly what I was thinking.

       “Damned mind reader…!” I scowled with burning affection in my voice.

“By all that‟s Holy and Blessed!”

       “Sorry? Was my observation the same thing you were quietly brooding

just a minute ago?” My wrist comp queried innocently.

       “Yes.” I admitted openly. “I was thinking exactly that. But it seems like

this little hamlet isn‟t in dire straights as the other towns we came across during

our flight.”

       “There are ships of all kinds in the town‟s only harbor, and some stretched

out even further###all anchored by the looks of things.” Seth analyzed, the small

panel of lights on my wrist blinking in time with his austere voice. “Can it be that

the war on at the Final Frontier has stretched across towards the Southern

Ocean?”

       “No…” I slowly disagreed. “There doesn‟t seem to be any clear sign of
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/139


Hellion‟s Gate here or any other machination of King Richard‟s vast armies.”

       I looked around some more, taking in the peaceful and quaint

farming/gardening community, and saw more than one road leading to

somewhere promising.

       “How close are we to the harbor?” I asked my traveling companion,

seeing that none of the road signs made any sense to me. All were to places that

I had no knowledge of. And I found the thought of getting lost in such an alien

place all the more unsettling.

       “1,348 yards distant, on this road directly in front of us.” Seth told me,

before a pencil-thin laser beam punched out from beneath my wrist###a shining

beacon of hope and salvation for a weary traveler such as myself.

       “Thirty-three minutes of more self-indulged agony,” I muttered to myself,

hoping that there would be a doctor kind enough to allow me to soak myself in a

long and hot bath.

       The smallish cottages and other low-level dwellings appeared shut and

unlit by my trained eye, and I highly doubted that anyone with a sharp mind and

quick wit wouldn‟t take too kindly to a complete stranger happening upon their

quiet solitude and peace of mind.

       “Even in the time of war, the denizens have the common sense to keep

their doors shut and locked from any potential invader.” I said philosophically.

       “That would include us as well.” Seth pointed out knowingly.

       “Yes, those were my thoughts as well, old friend. Time?”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/140


       “Coming up on 9:15 in the evening.” There was a pause. “It makes me

wonder something though.”

       “What‟s that?” I asked.

       “If these people even have time pieces as advanced as I.”

       I chuckled, the laughter inside me taking some of the edge off of my

excruciating pain. Right now, I would give all the gold and silver in the land if I

could have a moment of salacious bliss with a certain hot tub and a good

masseuse.

       I started walking.

              *             *             *

       Tiddus had bid us both goodbye a half hour before the time piece on the

wall bore upon ten in the evening.

       I rather enjoyed his pleasant company. I thought to myself, after closing

the door and locking it for the night, whilst at the same time, forgetting to blow

out the lamps in the hall and dim down the oil-lit chandelier in the living area.

       Jan elected to retire to the kitchen for the moment, getting something to

feed Tiberius, motioning me to follow at the same time. I thought a nice tankard

of kalufa would soothe my spirits and pass a rather quiet evening.

       No sooner had I grabbed my fill and bringing it out to the living area to

savor longingly on my own time, did I hear a frantic knock on the door.

       Tiddus forget to kiss me? I thought with a mischievous grin on my face,

before I buried it in a swig of the good stuff, prior to taking a peek outside to
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/141


see who it was.

       Yes, there was a rather lithe figure standing out there, wobbling back and

forth on anxious feet. Well, I couldn‟t tell who it was, so I opened the door and

said, “If you‟ve come back for a nightcap and a goodnight kiss, Tiddus, you‟re a

bit late on the follow through. I‟m the kind of girl that enjoys being surprised first

before being swept off her feet.” Then I took another healthy swig of the potent

wine and then suppressed a belch all on my own.

       “I‟m not that kind of girl, whoever you are.” A tightly controlled and

feminine voice fired back archly. “And I know of no Tiddus either.”

       I peered into the unforgiving black of night, still unable to see whom I

was addressing, but could distinctly see a soft pattern of blinking lights close by.

       “Merlin?” I asked in stunned amazement. “Is that you?”

       “Sorry. But you have the wrong wrist comp.” A quieter voice responded.

“My designation is 71092-STH. But my mistress calls me „Seth‟.”

       “Oh.” I muttered in open disappointment, wondering at that point what

became of him. Was he still safe in Parliament?

       Seth‟s owner moved back and forth.

       “Is it all right if I come in? All the places I‟ve come across are closed and

no doctor is in sight. I was about to give up when I saw your lights on, and

prayed to the Almighty Savior that you wouldn‟t begrudge a weary traveler a

place to rest her sore and blistered feet.” She propositioned.

       “We‟re closed though,” I pointed out in heart-felt sympathy. “You would
                                       Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/142


have to ask Jan if it is all right.”

       “Where is she?” The distraught woman asked impatiently. “Please! For the

love of God, allow me just a few minutes of rest before you kick me out again! I

implore you!”

       I held back, not knowing what to do next. The woman appeared in

desperate need of our services, but we were in no shape to render even the

most meager of administrations.

       But something about her wrist comp compelled me think otherwise.

       “Jan isn‟t available at the moment, but as her trusted assistant, I do not

see any harm in allowing you access to our humble establishment. But be

warned: Any trickery and your head will come off from your shoulders smart

quick.” I said tersely, laying a hand on my Sansui sword as an added incentive.

       “You have nothing to fear from us, young woman. We pose no possible

threat to you.” The woman promised. “That‟s the Lord‟s honest truth.”

       “Very well.” I said, stepping outside of the doorway and pushing the door

open a bit more. “You may enter on your word of honor.” Stranger or no, I was

going to be keeping a close eye on her.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/143




      Chapter 17.



      Jan came out ten minutes later after feeding her pet sky dragon and came

face to face with yet another visitor###one of whom she didn‟t recognize at all.

      The woman was dressed in what appeared to be a variation of fancy dove

gray space armor from the neckline down###save for her head, which allowed a

luxurious man of black hair to emerge from the top and all the way down;

stopping halfway along her lower back. She also wore a satin red cloak with

emerald greed trim on the sides.

      Her face was young, like all gamine girls were, with soft cheekbones, a
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/144


sloped nose, and pale complexion overshadowed by sharp red lips coated with a

fine gloss, with eyes of a nice sea blue.

       But she didn‟t appear armed from the looks of things, even as she sat on

the edge of couch, talking to Jeanna and nursing her feet.

       “By the Divine Lord!” she was heard saying as the doctor stealthily

entered the living area. “My feet hurt so bad! I don‟t know where to begin with

the apt description of the pain I am presently feeling at the moment!”

       I looked up and saw Jan approach from behind our guest and I shook my

head in a way which indicated things were all right.

       The woman relaxed and casually sauntered up to her.

       “Hi.” She said. “Welcome to my home. New here?”

       “You…could say that.” I said with a bit of a reluctant tone.

       “Whereabouts to you hail from, if I may ask?”

       I held my tongue, not sure if I should be giving away my points of origin.

       “You‟re not amongst the enemy,” the other young woman with the Sansui

sword said.

       I quietly marveled at where she was able to get such an exquisite piece in

the first place. Those kinds of weapons were pretty rare.

       But why is she dressed up like a white magi sorceress if she‟s carrying

weapons? I thought to myself, before tearing my gaze away from her and to the

other woman at present. She was also dressed in the arraignments of a white

magi, but her simple clothing told me that she was an advanced third level
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/145


adept, and not quite a sorceress just yet.

          A healer? I continued to scrutinize in silence. But how does she get to be

so old and a simple adept while this one is so young and highly skilled in her

arts?!?

          Quickly burying my curiosity and my inward questions, I hastily replied, “I

can gather as much from your presences. But that still leaves me little comfort in

the fact that I am still a very much hunted woman.”

          I (Jeanna) looked at her and said, “You look like you‟re eighteen.”

          I (Jasmine) nodded her simple deduction. “Yes.”

          I (Jeanna): “Really? I‟m only twenty. Or close enough.”

          Jasmine: “Is that a fact? Then how did you ever become a white magi

sorceress here at such a young age and your older lady friend over my shoulder

is only a third level adept of the healing arts?”

          That threw Jan around for a loop. “H-how could you tell that?”

          “Your clothes for one, and the magiks into those pouches around your

ample waists are also a dead giveaway. You have many,” I said, pointing to

Jeanna. Then to Jan, I finished with, “you only have few.”

          “Well, it has been a rather busy day…” Jan responded sagely.

          “So has it been with me. I have been walking for the betterment of eight

hours, and I desperately would like a bath and a good soaking for my tired and

aching feet.”

          “What about Seth?” I asked in curiosity. “Does he require any special
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/146


needs?”

         “Seth is powered by both the armor I wear and a solitary thoron battery

good for a few thousand years.” I answered. “Other than that, he doesn‟t need

what I want at the moment.”

         “A hot bath and a good soak?” Came the doctor‟s coy response.

         “I can pay if you wish.” I quickly said. “Money isn‟t a problem…is dikari

gold sovereigns okay?”

         At the mention of the Final Frontier‟s frontline currency, I turned as white

as a ghost!

         Jan declined graciously. “You needn„t spend your hard gotten money here,

young woman. I can get started on the bath if you want.”

         “My blisters and I thank you.” I said mirthlessly with a sardonic grin in

place.

         The doctor left me with the young woman, my bleached expression still

firmly entrenched.

         “What‟s gotten you so worked up in a major tiff?” She asked, studying me

like a cat.

         “Y-your mention of dikari.” I stammered in cold dread. “That money‟s only

used in a few provinces outlaying from Parliament!”

         “Yes….so?”

         “P-Parliament‟s…well…”

         “Overrun and currently occupied by King Richard‟s army the last I heard.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/147


Some areas were destroyed during the initial invasion years ago. But the people

still live, though under a banner of oppression and tyranny.”

         Shock gripped me as memories of that horrible day replayed inside the

depths of my mind.

         “Whose flag?” I asked in cold fear, but that was soon replaced by a tidal

surge of boiling anger. How dare they do that to my home town!

         “Hellion‟s Gate.” The 18-year-old calmly said.

         “Bastards!” I seethed, my hand gripping the pommel of my blade in

white-knuckled ferocity. “Whatever become of the royal family that lived there.

The, um, Ulysses‟?”

         “Driven from their lands and the estates sealed off from what I could

deduce. The father and brother were rumored to have been killed in the fighting

###”   she said, as I let out a sharp gasp of dismay. “###and a full sized cruiser

escaped from Parliament‟s Topaz Harbor into Geran Bay, but was lost some

1800 miles off shore somewhere in the Southern Ocean‟s vast totality. No

survivors from what I learned.”

         I ground my teeth in tense frustration, wishing that there was something

that I could do to avenge my brother and father‟s death. Cold hatred burned in

my eyes, and I was sure that my new friend could see the rage ablaze in them.

         “The remaining family is said to have escaped, but to where they are, no

one knows even to this day.”

         And just like that…my anger and hatred left me, and I felt very drained of
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/148


my strength afterwards.

        My friend could see that the fire had left me just as quickly as it had

come.

        “Something wrong?” She inquired gamely.

        “N-no.” I quickly amended. “Nothing you said. I just felt…”

        “Lying doesn‟t become one who follows closely in the footsteps of our

Lord and Savior, miss. „If you follow in His teachings and Scriptures, you should

lest beholden to the truth than be swept away by a riptide of lies.‟ ” She quoted

in a slightly chastising voice.

        My cheeks burned in humiliation. “I know.” I said aptly.

        “So what has gotten you so turned over?”

        “I…” I began, then lied unwaveringly. “I just used to know some people in

Parliament…that‟s all.” Forgive me Lord, for this white lie, but I knoweth not any

other way to conceal the truth about me! Even Jan knows so little of my own

past!

        I could almost hear His murmurs of soft understanding being whispered

softly into my mortal ears, making them burn just a bit pinker than average.

        Apparently, my new friend bought it. I really wish I hadn‟t lied to her so,

but I knew nothing about her, even if she did proclaim herself to be friend.

        Sometimes the enemy can conceal his true nature by being as open as the

most alluring of all skunk-smelling flowers. I recalled my father‟s advice to me,

the very first day I practiced against him with one of my brother‟s steel-edged
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/149


opal colored swords. You must remember that deceit and treachery can be found

in all of God‟s creations, down to the smallest creature roaming this Dead Earth.

       I treasured that day as any other day with my gallant father. It was that

day, when I managed to best him at his own skills of sword play.

       My ears still recalled the crystal ringing that each sword imparted on each

other in a ferocious battle of wits and cunning. At the age of 10, I had gotten

quite adept at a man‟s weapon of choice.

       And this didn‟t exactly fill my mother, grandmother, or aunt with pride.

They each believed I was throwing away my skills as a white magi apprentice for

the sake of a man‟s world, and his things.

       Not to mention forsaking tradition as well.

       But I vowed that I would hold fast to both my role in this grand world of

ours, but I also didn‟t want to rely on my magiks alone like my mom and the rest

did.

       “That‟s clearly understandable. Many a close villager on the outlaying

provinces of Parliament also had blood relatives, immediate family, or friends.”

       “Um…” I began delicately.

       “My words do not have that ring of truth after all?” My friend questioned.

       “No!” I exclaimed hurriedly, surprising the young woman with my sharp

tone. “I mean, that is…yes, I have, had, some family in Parliament. But I do not

know their final fate. I was away at the time, on an errand, when the attacks

came.”
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/150


        The lies came so quickly and smoothly, I felt ashamed of my bold-faced

sinning. I was certainly not a child of the Lord if I continued to lie like this!

        But what choice did I have? I reasoned to myself. If there were only times

when the truth could come so easily. Then none of this hidden deception would

have to be burdened upon me.

        “That was the way with many unlucky souls, those of whom were caught

in the initial exchange.” My friend said, all the while making some subtle hand

gestures at the same time.

        I caught sight of her wrist comp.

        “Is your friend Seth still…?” I began to question, before the blinking lights

froze and then started up again.

        “I am still aware of what is being said, young mistress. You needn‟t not

worry about my state of affairs.” Seth commented for the first time since coming

in.

        “Oh!” I said, hand fluttering to my mouth in surprise. “I didn‟t know that

you were still active! I had forgotten what it was like to have a wrist comp of my

own.”

        “You had one such unit?” The young woman asked.

        I nodded. “I did. But that was such a long time ago. His name was

Merlin.”

        “Named after the great legendary wizard sorcerer of Klejanth Gorge?”

        “The same,” answered I. “This unit is based on both magic and
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/151


technology, while some wrist comps are based on one or the other.”

       “Mine‟s based on tech only. No magic.”

       “That‟s because your STH-unit hasn‟t evolved yet.” I pointed out. “But

give it time.”

       The young woman looked surprised.

       “Evolved?”

       I nodded. “That‟s right. Merlin was based on tech too, but in time, he also

gained the ability to wield magic.”

       The young woman laughed at me, and for a moment, I wasn‟t sure why.

       She explained it to me in the most simplest terms imaginable. And soon I

discovered that not everything was the same.

       “But there is one catch, miss. I don‟t use magic.” She said.

       The look on my face must‟ve been worth many dikari gold sovereigns,

because I just stood there like a slack-jawed fool.

       “Impossible! Every woman I‟ve come across uses it! It is bred in our

genes! Just like a mere man is bred to fight and bred to war, we women are

made to harness the magi magiks which infiltrate our lands!” I protested meekly.

       “Not everything is as it seems, now is it, my young mistress?” Seth broke

in. “Whilst it is true, that my master-at-arms could wield the magic of her natural

born sisters, it is a path upon which she never was given. You see, her family

was killed at such a young age, thus denying her the arts and knowledge of her

forebears.”
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/152


        “How did you gain Seth?” I asked my friend directly.

        “A surviving great uncle of mine was a techno mage master. Seth was his.

But because of the dangers surrounding my plight, he elected to turn full

sovereignty over to me###so that I may be fully protected. But even he was killed

in the end by the pursuing guards of Hellion‟s Gate.”

        “So with no knowledge of magic…” I pondered.

        “I came a techno warrior instead. I had a battle mecha called Torus. And I

used him to beat back King Richard and his damnable army! For a long time, I

battled his minions and I won each and every time!” The woman seethed with

righteous rancor. It faded into the background as she resumed talking, but at a

much more softer pace. “But this time around…I didn‟t win so easily. My mount

lost, I still survived. But without any hope of returning to the home I once

knew.”

        I felt sorry for her, I really did.

        One lost warrioress and one lost white magi sorceress…I thought

objectively, then smiled.

        “Welcome to my neck of the woods.” I offered in dry humor. “And

welcome to Xanix by the way. You already met Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla. She‟s one

of the resident healers here in the once quiet and backwater sea port.”

        “And you are?”

        “Jeanna (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla.” I told her, deliberately leaving out my birth

name.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/153


       “Daughter?” The young woman ventured.

       “Yes.” I said easily, in part, because it was true. Jan did treat me like her

own flesh and blood. But she had confided later after my adoption that she

never once married or had children of her own.

       “My name is Jasmine. Jasmine Stein.” The young woman offered with an

outstretched hand. I took it in greeting, feeling the surprising softness of her

flesh, and wondered how she could be a warrior without a trace of callous.

       “Soft and warm.” I observed with a hint of laughter in my tone, causing

my other to giggle.

       Withdrawing, Jasmine said, “Well, no one is perfect. Except for the Lord

Himself and his Followers of Heavens Gate, of course.”

       I laughed at this, and Jasmine followed suit, sharing in her joke.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/154




      Chapter 18.



      Morning had arrived with the sun‟s blessing upon the land.

      Jasmine and I stayed up past the midnight hour talking and conversing on

a myriad of subjects, before calling it an evening and heading for bed. Jasmine

took the couch whilst I returned to my room and fell into a dreamless sleep.

      But that period of restfulness had been disrupted by a loud knock on the

door###but to my tortured ears, it sounded like a constant pounding.

      “God‟s graces!” I seethed in grand irritation, once I sensed that no one

was going to get off their lazy butts and answer the repeated summons.

Throwing off the covers, I plodded my way out the door and into the living room,

where I found that Jasmine wasn‟t where she had elected to be, and that left me

with a bout of worry in my heart.

      Glancing out the window, I saw that she was out there, stamping her feet

to drive out whatever chill she felt and possibly the impatience of having to be

put on hold until one of us answered her.

      Of course, it came to no surprise that the door had been locked after ten

the previous evening, so I could‟ve only assumed that this was Jan‟s doing and

not mine.

      Putting on a mischievous grin, I unlocked and then opened the door.

      “Yesss…?” I answered impishly. “Did someone lock you out and forget to
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/155


let you back in?”

       Jasmine stuck her tongue out at me in reply, which left me chuckling at

my newfound friend‟s misfortune.

       It was such a departure from the last few years when all I knew was

turmoil and strife.

       Opening the door, I said, “Come in, girlfriend, and pray tell what news

you may have picked up off the streets from your lonely rounds.”

       Jasmine‟s face wasn‟t one of cheer, I could say that much. I looked past

her shoulder, just in time to see a throng of town‟s folk run past the house.

       Stepping away from the door, I checked the window, once more, and saw

that the problem extended farther down than I thought.

       Jasmine came in and quickly closed the door.

       “Not good I am afraid,” said the young woman. “The High Guard Elite has

entered the outermost city limit markers of your town, and some people are

reported to have being killed and their dwellings ransacked and burned.”

       Dread filled my heart.

       “My Lord in Heaven!” I breathed in horror. “So soon?”

       Jasmine nodded.

       “What about our town‟s defenses?”

       “Destroyed.”

       I glanced around and saw that the light had grown dim inside the place,

and wondered if that was just the sun„s light, or my perceptions of reality fading.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/156


          My eyes fell upon the mantle and the timepiece only read about

nine-thirty two.

          “I should wake up Jan. She‟s going to want to be informed.” I said

quickly, without thinking. I started, but Jasmine stopped me in my tracks by

grabbing my arm.

          “Wait, Jeanna! She‟s already gone. The call for healers went out at six this

morning, and you were out cold in your room. I elected to stay behind to watch

over you.”

          “Then we must go!” I exclaimed in a hurried voice. “We need to find her

and###”

          A deafening explosion rocked the place, showering the two of us with

age-old dust and wood chips from the ceiling rafters.

          “Sounds like a fierce battle has already begun!” Jasmine said.

          On cue, Seth reported, “I am detecting some elements of the High Guard

Elite entering the middle of town. The people are scattering. They are afraid.”

          “What about the ships in the harbor?”

          “Destroyed.” Jasmine reported grimly. “Kamikazed by living fire bombs.”

          My blood ran cold.

          “Here?!?” I whispered in stunned disbelief. Oh, lord no! Not…Tiddus‟s

ship!!!

          My heart sank like a rock.

          Jasmine was there to hold me before I fell.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/157


        “Easy,” she said, laying me down. “It‟s okay. A Castle-class galleon was

seen leaving the dock, with all gun ports ablaze, as it lent its might in covering

all the smaller ships that lay stranded and helpless in the harbor. She was the

last to leave.”

        My senses…they did return to me. But it was a strange feeling, able to

hear her, but not able to see.

        I struggled to regain my footing with my friend‟s help.

        “We…” I began, my voice caught in my throat. “We must find Jan…”

        “We will. But we must do so carefully.” Jasmine said, drawing out a

long-armed battle axe###laser-guided by the looks of things.

        I stared at her in befuddlement.

        My friend shrugged innocently.

        “What? It‟s not like I‟m going into this fight empty-handed. This

techno-mage warrior has to be able to defend herself too, you know.”

        “I know.” I said, still a bit confused. “But I just find it strange that people

like you should be able to wield the power of technology-based magic, not

weapons in themselves.”

        “You would be surprised by what I am able to do.” Jasmine said with a

wink.

        “I‟ll believe it when I see it.” Was my unconvinced response.

                      *              *             *

        Human and their Neo-Gargoyle counterparts began to swarm one section
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/158


of Xanix.

         Both Jeanna and I heard the climaxing shouts and cries of the people

comb through the air as their unfortunate lives were being cut short left and

right.

         We scurried through one lengthy street alley with lightning ease, having

encountered not one citizen or a glimpse of the enemy.

         “The Elite High Guard has been known to herd their victims into one spot

before meting out a final death blow. At least in close quarter combat. I can‟t be

certain about opened area spaces.” I heard Jeanna comment.

         “Which would mean…what?” I asked of her, before we popped out into

the open.

         The square was devoid of life. I held my laser-guided battle axe with one

hand, while keeping an eye out for anything useful that I could use as a weapon.

Anything would do in my case###as long as I could wield it successfully.

         Nothing here. I thought to myself, so I kept my wits about me sharp as

always and prepared for a most unsavory encounter with the enemy.

         “Got me. I only heard this from some of the old-timers who fought in past

conflicts with Jasper. But not here###specifically.”

         “So Xanix isn‟t involved with whatever‟s going on with King Richard?” I

asked.

         “Good question. That I don‟t know.” Jeanna said, before drawing out her

Sun Sword.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/159


       A marvelous weapon, I‟d admit. The way it gleamed bright gold in the

sunlight, with various jewels coating the blade and encrusting the handle.

       I immediately felt a pang of desire overcoming me, for that sword and not

my beloved battle axe.

       Of course, there would be no way I would be willing to part with my

trusted implement. Not for all the gold and dikari sovereigns in all of Dead Earth.

       A woman like me had to have her priorities after all…

       Harsh grunting came our way, and I knew that we would soon find out

exactly the battle strategy of the High Guard Elite.

       A band of them fifteen strong barreled towards us, every one of them

dressed in the gleaming ivory-white combat armor of Jasper and its queen. A

black lion adorned their chest plates, along with the blood red shields held in

each hand.

       Swords, pikes, javelins…every sharp-ended weapon of choice greeted us,

along with the Neo-Gargoyle shock troops, which used the power of electricity to

play out their battles with.

       With a sharp cry, I engaged those nearest to me, while Jeanna hung back

for a bit.

       While a part of me fought with all of my heart, soul, and strength, my

mind was focused on one puzzling question: Why hasn‟t she joined me?

       I slashed at my human foes, burying my axe into the chest of one

unfortunate soldier of the High Guard Elite###his armor cracking like an egg
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/160


under the ferocity of my hit###its laser-guided edge wedging itself deeply into the

soft fragileness of human flesh.

         The stupid bastard didn‟t even have time to cry out as he fell to the

ground, lifeless to the world, only to be replaced by more of his brethren.

         Ripping my weapon free, I knocked aside a few would-be heroes with

stunning blows to the head###not enough to cave in their brains###but enough

force to render them senseless.

         But then I came face to face with a couple of Neo-Gargoyle shock troops,

and as name would have it, the each opened their ugly maws and giant sheet

streams of lightning burst forth###coming straight me like a expertly launched

arrow.

         “Ú######¶######•Ñ###Activate your powerful divinity! Shield of Justice!”

         Upon command, my forearm armor and hand transformed itself into a

large pentagram-shaped shield, flaring outwards and nearly half my size.

         To the outside observer, one would automatically believe that this new

accessory would be too large for me to wield.

         Not so.

         Hefting it up with ease, I intercepted both bolts in the blink of an eye,

ricocheting them upwards towards the heavens.

         They fired again relentlessly, pressing the attack.

         At close range, I would naturally be shoved backwards by the successive

blow. But my armored boots instantly adjusted the weight values so that I would
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/161


only be knocked back by a few yards, instead of a dozen or so.

         I held my ground admirably, which was more than I could say about

Jeanna###which left me wondering once more as to why she hadn‟t joined in this

magnificent fight.




         Chapter 19.



         Stupid I wasn‟t.

         Sure, the battle had progressed without me, but that didn‟t mean I was

that eager to join in the fight.

         At least not until I had finished completing the Aura of Divine Protection

###a   white magi spell of mine that allowed me to protect anyone going into a

complicated battle. It didn‟t shield them from taking hits though.

         Mortal injuries on the other hand…

         Of course, that didn‟t stop a few of the stragglers coming for me.

         But in the couple of minutes that our gracious Lord in Heaven managed to

allot to me, the spell was already complete.

         Jasmine would be protected for a time. I just hoped she would use it in

the time given###even as I drew myself up and prepared for a bitter (and most

likely) ugly conflict.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/162




       The damned Neo-Gargoyles were more persistent than I gave them credit

for. Not only were their lightning-based attacks becoming more and more

effective against my Shield of Justice, but I also found that the majority of their

human counterparts had gone ahead and decided to attack Jeanna head on.

       Blasted cretins! I cursed, deciding at that point to start going on the

attack, instead of hiding behind my defenses.

       Glancing around me, I saw the motionless figures of the High Guard Elite

and their weapons lying about them haphazardly, so I decided to use them

against the enemy.

       “Þçñ¿§###ªßµ!” I chanted, hand raised towards the heavens themselves.

“Come forth and do your mistress‟s bidding!”

       The weapons vanished right then and there in the blink of an eye, only to

reappear like arrows of light high above the heads of my human enemy.

       I dropped my hand, and so began the Dance of Light.

       Multiple strikes rained from the skies themselves, piercing the rock hard

armor of my foes.

       Guttural cries rose up, but each sounded like a strangled animal‟s.

       Jeanna stood there with her sword arm poised to strike at her enemies as

they fell like a house of cards###stunned. But that expression only lasted a few

seconds, before she shouted a warning to me.

       The Neo-gargoyles were about to strike!
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/163


       “Shit!” I swore, but I had little time to recant the spell which would bring

back the Shield of Justice###as it was sacrificed for the Dance of Light.

       The Neo-gargoyle had forgone his lightning barrage and jumped into my

personal space to deliver one heck of a claw-swipe, which sought to partially

eviscerate me from my left side.

       For a moment, I believed I was done for. Death had finally claimed one of

its own at last.

       The hallowed Hall of Warriors awaits me. I gave into my last thought,

silently praying to God that He would look upon me with divinity and grant one

of His own children the right to stand before the Keeper of Wisdom and recite

the Passage of Heroism:



       With my sword, I striven thee

       As I kept thy soul pure as virgin snow

       Thee enemies have been vanquished

       And life‟s sins have been conquered

       With valiant courage, emboldened righteousness, and humble obedience

       I bask in thy Holiest of Glories



       The words came so easily to me. For a second, I wondered then why I

had forgotten them so, even as I felt the heavy burden of my own body###

encased in its broken armor###hit the ground with so much dedicated force.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/164


       A cry went up###I‟m sure it was one of pure anger###and I knew that

Jeanna would avenge my death, even as I lay there with a sharp pain in my side.

       I clutched what I thought was a mortal wound, expecting to feel the

familiar warmth of my own lifeblood spurting between the small spaces of my

own fingers.

       There was nothing after ten seconds.

       Instant confusion rattled my body, gripping my brain. I wasn‟t sure what

had just happened, but even as I struggled to flip myself around to see what had

become of Jeanna, the Neo-gargoyle had already left me###believing I was

already slain###and was going after her.

       But the sight I saw before my stunned eyes, couldn‟t even begin to

describe the shock of her outward appearance, as a dark nimbus cloud of energy

radiated outwards from her body, surrounding her.

       Her clothes were whipped up to a frenzy, only to match the wicked

madness in her eyes.

       I think Jeanna was pissed and had called upon all of her magiks to aide

her in summoning one last devastating attack. One###I think###would surely

result in the destruction of this part of Xanix.

       Then the air around me grew cold.

       insufferably cold!

       I shivered uncontrollably, not used to the sudden change in climate.

       “Temperature dropping rapidly.” Seth chimed in. “Gale force conditions
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/165


evident in the planet‟s atmosphere. I think a storm‟s a-brewin‟.”

      “N-n-no k-ki-kidding!” I stuttered through chattering teeth. “Seth,

i-increase the heating elements potential in my armor…b-buh-by 20% for 45

seconds!”

      “Affirmative.”

      Within seconds, my body grew nice and toasty warm, even as heavy snow

and ice began pelting the area mercilessly.

      Through the growing haze of the rising storm###along with the screaming

wind in my ears###I could see nothing of Jeanna‟s form at all.

      Then I heard a voice call out:

      “BRING FORTH, YOUR UNFETTERED RAGE! HEAVEN‟S ICY BLAST OF

FURY!”

      I stood there for two seconds, wondering just what in the Lord‟s Holy

Name was coming my way.

      Then###by some unforeseen miracle###the storm abated somewhat, but

not enough to quench its inescapable wrath.

      The sun peeked its way through a hole in the clouds, illuminating the area

surrounding the battle###like the Lord Himself saw favor in what was going on

and bestowed upon the warring pair His Blessing.

      “Incoming!” Seth bleated sharply, causing me to snap my head skywards

###searching   for the offending projectile.

      What I wasn‟t expecting was to see this GIANT multi-faceted ice ball come
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/166


screaming from the sky, leaving a fine trail of crystal-white particles in its wake.

        Stay or go, stay or go, stay…or…

        Go!

        I knew not what to do next. My soul and body was paralyzed with sizzling

fear.

        “Activating emergency defense shields.” Seth quickly chimed in. A

shimmering gauze of energy enveloped my being, physically protecting me from

undue harm. “I would advise that you take some cover. This is going to get

rather nasty.”

        I knelt, crossing my arms, and shielding myself away from the incoming

missile.

        Like a sharp thunderclap, everything within my range of sight,

consciousness, and feeling, was quite simply###obliterated!

        Time for me stood still in the eternal sense, as a fine white snow

blanketed this part of the township, along with a fierce and unforgettable wind;

which whipped things around like a Heaven-sent maelstrom.

        I found myself being thrown about like a child‟s favorite plastic street ball.

        My armor‟s capabilities were surprisingly nullified here, and I had

absolutely no control over my choice of landing!

        With the skies meeting the air, and my perceptions being tossed around

wildly, I flailed about like a wind-born leaf; gripping for anything which would be

kind enough to soften the blow of impact, and save me from a period of despair,
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/167


red-hot embarrassment, and an ass load of pain!

       But my gauntleted fists couldn‟t latch onto anything solid.

       I was doomed!

       Up I went further, sent aloft by the winds themselves, before Mother

Earth reasserted her Laws of Gravity, and I was sent spiraling downwards like an

out of control carrier pigeon.

       “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!” I screamed at the top of

my lungs as my eyes took in the horrifying sight below: Someone‟s roof was in

my way!

       Either I was going to hit and punch right through, or I was going to###

       WHA-BOING!

       The sound of me hitting the middle part of the roof like a kinetic spring

echoed through the air, as my emergency defense shields were still in place###

miraculously having not faded out at this critical point in my life.

       Up once more I went, and it was at this time that Seth announced that

power levels had dropped below safety levels and the shields would be cut out in

the next seven seconds.

       “Seven seconds?!?” I bellowed in absolute terror, my mind already fixating

on what would becoming of me then. “Seth! I am going to die! Do you know

what that means?!” By this time, all the energy in my upwards ascension to the

heavens had righteously exhausted itself, and I began to fall back###by clipping

the edge of the same house with my left shoulder (and taking a good chunk of it
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/168


off in the process.

        Two seconds of consciousness revealed to me where I would land.

        And sighed heavily.

        This wasn‟t going to be pretty.




        Chapter 20.



        I dropped to the ground from utter exhaustion###sword falling from my

hand, striking the pavement with a sharp ringing sound.

        A sparse cloud of white snow crystals swirled gracefully through the air,

watching it being played with and gradually torn apart by the occasional gust of

wind.

        It was at this time, I caught sight of someone falling from the heavens,
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/169


dropping below my range of sight for just an instant, before being bounced right

back up like a child‟s ball.

       What in the name of Heaven‟s Gate…? I mused, finding the strength to sit

up on my own accord, and getting a better look at the unfortunate soul in

question.

       A flash of the satin red cloak obscuring the dove gray space armor caught

my attention, as did the brief glimpse of that person‟s long mane of black hair

billowing out in all directions, as she slammed herself into the side of the roof###

and straight like an arrow###landed with all the love and grace of a rock.

       A loud percussion ensued, followed then by a brief cloud of black plastic,

while everything rancid fell back to earth as a putrid, slime-caste rain.

       My nose wrinkled in open sympathy.

       “By all that‟s Holy…!” I muttered to myself, before picking myself up and

rushing to my friend‟s side. Of course, I had the fortunate luxury of not having to

travel very far, and I soon found myself wading through ankle-deep trash and

rotted scraps of food and (yes), animal waste.

       “Yuck!” I grimaced as I stepped into a freshly laid pile, stopping only for a

second to wipe my boot on some wadded and soiled wash garments.

       “Jeanna, is that your melodious voice I hear?” Jasmine called from

somewhere in the trash pile.

       “It is I,” I returned with acid distain. Not that this matter could not be

helped in some degree or another. But soon, this transformed into some wry
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/170


humor on my part.

       If my family could only see me now…I thought with a certain wistfulness.

But a creeping tide of embarrassment spared me from continuing with that

aggregated thought, so I instead kept my focus tight on what was going on

about me.

       “Nice trick by the way. I am sure that the Elementals of Druila would be

unduly proud of one of their own mortal children having mastered a small

fraction of their insidious might.”

       “The Elementals would curse me forever by invoking their power with a

little bit of dark magi magic…” I told her on no uncertain terms.

       “Dark magi?” Jasmine echoed in surprise, before a small pile fell away

only feet away from where I presently stood.

       “Yes,” said I quietly. “Dark magi.”

       “But I thought those who used the dark arts were already condemned to

an everlasting hell and shunned from Heaven‟s Gate?”

       “Aye, ‟tis true.” I continued, eyes averted, brushing myself off. My

bell-bottomed trousers were stained in a couple of places, but nothing that a

good wash and soak wouldn‟t fix.

       “But…?”

       “I am not.”

       “But using dark magi magic…?” Jasmine started with some continued

puzzlement. “Wouldn‟t that qualify? I mean, aren‟t you turning your back on the
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/171


Divine Lord?”

        “No. I use my knowledge for the betterment of myself and others…never

for selfish means or attack.” A grin split my face as I instantly recalled a couple

of past incidences. “Tho‟…some practical jokes on the unsuspecting townsfolk

was a commonplace thing for me, growing up.”

        Jasmine shook her head before finally standing up on her own accord, in

much worse shape than I. Her cloak was stained in a myriad of places, and her

armor was streaked with refuse and bits of animal waste.

        The stench from this pile rose along with the glowering sunlight.

        My nostrils unexpectedly started to burn from the overpowering smells,

and I fought off the urge to vomit my stomach‟s contents all over the ground

thus.

        “You are so lucky not to have been torn asunder by the seductive allure of

the black arts. Not many have successfully avoided its basic compunctions.”

        I wholeheartedly agreed, while holding my arm sleeve up to my face and

voting to continue on###before I lost my iron-clad will on my desire to throw up.

I imagined myself dry heaving for the better part of the day, till we found some

place where we could properly clean ourselves up.

                     *             *             *

        “Aria…please…step away from the window, lest you wish to attract some

unwanted attentions from the streets below.” Natalie begged of her daughter in

quiet worry.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/172


       “Mother,” the ten-year-old girl countered, “I haven‟t seen anyone come

pouring down the streets since early morn. I don‟t believe that the assault has

reached this part of Xanix just yet.”

       Cup of warm tea in hand, Natalie strode over to the open window, wishing

that the cool breeze carried more than a hint of overriding fear from abroad. But

word had spread quickly like a sickness, and everyone she knew, had decided to

leave in the retreating cover of darkness.

       She decided to stay behind, because this place was all that she knew.

       “To be sure, but the harbor beyond lays nearly empty of all manner of

craft###including that majestic ship we saw coming through earlier###tho‟ I

believe it is still lurking about somewhere off shore.” The woman said in a low

voice, before sipping from her cup.

       “Yes…” Aria breathed. “That ship is so magnificent! I wonder who‟s her

master?”

       Natalie chuckled gently through her cup. “Someone who has the common

sense not to stick around in times of crisis.”

       There was a period of silence between the two, as each fell into their own

reservoir of thought.

       “I would love to meet him…” Aria thought out loud. But before her mother

could object, she asked, “Do you suppose Jeanna will ever come back? I haven‟t

seen her since that time she saved me from that illness.”

       That brought up a wave of surprise in the woman.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/173


        “No. I haven‟t seen her, nor have I spoken to Jan since then.” Guilt

crested in her voice, and it wasn‟t too hard to see why. Best friends were always

supposed to keep in close contact with each other###even in times of strife. “I

think this war has caught everyone off guard. So that„s to be expected.” Lying

never came easy to Natalie, and she sorely wished it were otherwise the God

awful truth, but it wasn‟t.

        Silence immediately came from Aria‟s end.

        “Do you think the town will survive?” She finally asked, concern in her

eyes.

        “Only if the Lord Himself wills it, dear. Only if He wills it.” Natalie

comforted her, before taking another quiet sip from her cup.

        Inwardly, she prayed that it would.

                      *              *              *

        Five minutes later, we ran into something new and unexpected.

        Rounding a shop corner on the far end of another street, we believed that

we had seen the last of the Neo-Gargoyles and anymore of the Elite High Guard.

        But this?

        Both I and Jasmine stopped dead in our tracks as our young eyes beheld

a horror that we each thought only existed in books, but not in real life!

        The thing in front of us had the body of a sky dragon, inset by a large set

of brown, wind-swept wings, and everything one would expect from such a

creature###except with the sharp, club-like spikes at the end of its long, slender
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/174


“tail”. Other than its typically clawed, five-taloned fingers, there was no head!

         Not one that we both clearly recognized anyway.

         Instead of a head at the base of the neck, stood a long tubule (like a sea

worm), segmented bone-like rings covered by taunt, ink-red flesh with green

spots.

         I watched as the thing reared back and its end opened up to form a

mouth of razor sharp teeth and a tongue that was nothing more than a pink rope

whence it flicked into the air.

         Tasting its environment.

         “What the hell is a Leecher doing here?” Jasmine whispered in awe,

wondering how best to approach this thing###because the only exit was blocked

by its massive body.

         “I didn‟t think those things existed.” I whispered back in numbing horror.

The fear of seeing this thing in the flesh was just as palpitating.

         “They do,” my friend countered in equal tones. “But they‟ve been rumored

to be the foot soldiers belonging to one of the Hell Lords of the Seven Circles of

Eternal Agony and Damnation.”

         “Which Hell Lord?”

         “Neuron the Caustic?” Jasmine offered with a shrug. “Praise the Almighty

that you won‟t be meeting up with him anytime soon. He would eat us both for

lunch.”

         I nodded, thinking back to my studies which described in clear detail of
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/175


such legendary creatures and places. The vague text descriptions didn‟t do them

justice, neither did the few depict o‟ graphs which graced the pages of one of my

father‟s books.

         Such giant brutes! I remember saying to my father, after visually

assimilating one of the images. Do they really exist?

         I recalled my father shrugging then, but offering nothing more than that

to me.

         I suppose my overtly vivid imagination was a bit overwhelming for him to

swallow at times.

         “Does this Leecher bear his hallmark?” I asked then, breaking out of my

own personal reverie.

         Legend had it that these Leechers had a specific marking###unidentifiable

to the untrained eye###to which master they currently served. The patterns were

not a brand like one would see on steers or other forms of cattle, but something

of a birthmark on the thing‟s meaty hindquarters, lower back, or neck area even.

         “Can‟t tell. Too far away.” Jasmine said, focusing her attention on the

mauve colors and patterns on this one. “We‟d have to get closer to get a more

positive identification.”

         I watched my friend as she stepped out of the protective corner of the

shop and out into the open.

         “Hey!” I whispered after her. “Are you insane?”

         Jeanna kept going, stealthily sneaking up on her intended quarry.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/176


         I sighed in disgust, wondering if my friend had a death wish or something

worse.

         No choice, but to follow, I guess…I reasoned with great reluctance, then

stepped out of the cast shadows of the shop, and proceeded into the large town

square after her.

         Everything looked good so far, minus the bodies which lain everywhere,

and other unsightly body parts. Swords and other weapons of choice were also

present, green and red blood coating some of the shattered blades and points.

         The surrounding structures were also badly damaged as well. The

fountain at the center of this area was partially destroyed in such a way, it

allowed the water to fountain all over the place without abandon.

         But no sooner had I stepped out, did something else make its presence

known as well.

         A loud hiss resonated throughout the air, stopping Jeanna in her tracks.

         She looked over to the Leecher and found that it had turned, somehow

sensing her presence###as these things relied on body heat signatures, rather

than direct line of sight.

         “Crap!” She squeaked.

         I was frozen in place. But not because of what had just happened.

         No, what got me so rooted in absolute terror was the fact that there

wasn‟t just one Leecher to deal with.

         But two.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/177


       A second one had emerged from the shadows of the far end of other shop

and ambled slowly into the square, its magnificently grotesque form almost an

exact mirror for its cousin, but with different colorations.

       Someone else‟s pet? I quickly asked myself, before the whole ground

beneath my feet began to shake and quake!

       “Crap!” I emulated my friend in the same squeaky voice, believing that we

were done for right then and there. Neither one of us wanted to make the first

move…yet.

       All we could do was pray.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/178




       Chapter 21.



       With the last ships having left the sanctity of the Southern Sea and on

their way to the nearby ports of Halifax and Myrna (200 and 210 miles away

respectively)###both located at the southern end of Kewn Province###15 miles

from the northern territorial boundaries of Jasper and bordering the northern

city-state of Mistulve, Tiddus decided then to heave his ship to and head back to

Xanix to pick up any survivors from the shattered town.

       By his calculations, it would take him the better part of the hour, but

arrive in plenty of time to see if there was any action to be had.

       The man smiled. As a good master and ship‟s captain, his men could

always use the exercise and experience.

       The sails billowed in the wind, strong as any cart-driven ox, and the

1,520-foot, Castle-class war galleon cleaved the calm waters of the Southern Sea

with graceful determination.

       “Garven!” He hollered up to the pilot‟s station in front of the lower

quartermaster‟s fore deck on which the man stood.

       “Aye, sir! What is your wish?” Came a strong, but disembodied voice.

       “Call the crew to battle stations! I want this valiant girl ready for action

before we get to Xanix! Not after!” Tiddus roared back crisply, eyes alit with

brimming excitement.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/179


       “Roger that!” An electronic boson‟s whistle filled the air and a moment

later, Garven‟s voice was heard over the ship‟s interlink system.

       “All hands! This is standing 3rd watch Lieutenant Garven speaking! Battle

Alert! I say again: Battle Alert! Look alive mates! This is no drill! Stand to and get

this ship ready for action!”

       Seconds followed and the ship plunged itself into heartfelt action, as the

feet of her 700+crew thundered below in grand anticipation of a glorious fight.

       Hatches above deck flew open, and out poured a sea of men and women

clad in a colorful array of attire befit a pirate crew of their standing. They all

swarmed the two decks below Tiddus like a proudly running, well-oiled,

steam-driven turbine. Crew pits running along the beams on both sides of the

Esmeralda Jasmine filled quickly, as shouts, orders of confirmation, and highly

charged banter echoed back and forth.

       Plasma cannons, deck guns of assorted caliber, and other weaponry of

different makes and models were broken out, swung around, or locked into

position, while men and women manning certain consoles in the deep-seated

crew pits ran continuous system‟s diagnostics, before giving their thumbs up to

their supervising crew chiefs.

       The engines down below would be brought to battle speed and combat

readiness 20 minutes before the re-entered port, but the giant sails guiding the

ship would be sufficient till then.

       The giant foredeck hatch split open slowly, revealing a pair of deck
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/180


elevators. The first one rose, revealing newly acquired third-generation

Tomahawks and the more aptly designed 2nd generation Harbinger mecha. The

Tomahawk bore a tri-pod assault cannon with a multi-purpose rotation barrel in

its grip and a right-shoulder mounted array of Trident missiles. A single-pulse

phase cannon complimented the left shoulder. The Harbinger was a monster of a

mecha, dwarfing the Tomahawk by 250 feet in height, fiercely armed with a

devastating array of eight forearm pulse guns, fourteen lesser (but no deadlier)

auto-assault cannons, and three pectoral missile launchers. The center armored

apex hid a graviton beam weapon of the likes which could easily cut through

rank and file of the worst any enemy could put forth. (But not tested in battle as

of yet.)

       Both the Tomahawk and the Harbinger were flight-capable.

       The six mecha thundered off their deck elevator in earth-shaking steps,

while another elevator rose seconds later, sporting four Minutemen and five

Gladiators clustered together, side by side. Their green-brown armor glistened

softly in the sunlight, each a proud reminder of the might the Esmeralda Jasmine

sheltered with distinct pride.

       Tiddus hoped then that the enemy wouldn‟t be too much of a

disappointment.

       After going through all this trouble, and not having nothing to show for

it…? he thought to himself, watching things unfold with a trained eye. Let‟s hope

not!
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/181


                       *              *               *

         Okay, as I said before, this was a really bad situation we were both in.

         Bad enough that we had one Leecher to deal with, but a second on top of

that?

         By God‟s Divinity, it would be such a messy challenge! Personally, I‟ve

never fought these monstrosities, as the closest aberration I encountered had

been a twenty-five foot satith worm along with its immediate family.

         In my Torus suit, of course.

         But naked out here without it, I thought the very least we could do is get

in one valiant stand before we met our Lord in Heaven.

           Nothing but prey to these vile creatures…

         The second Leecher entered the square, apparently challenging the reign

of the first.

         Neither I nor Jeanna made a move. We both wanted to see what these

things would do to each other.

         The first Leecher hissed its displeasure at being interrupted from its meal

###a   thin stream of blood and gore trailing from its own mouth.

         Seconds passed. Then a minute.

         The second Leecher then made an odd sound.

         I looked at the first to see its reaction.

         An inquiry of sorts? I thought to myself, still paralyzed in fear.

         The Leecher returned its reply in the form of a low growl.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/182


         I smiled. Condescending, aren‟t we?

         The second creature‟s “shoulders” drooped response.

         Disappointment? I continued to think to myself. But why? There is no

many dead bodies to feast on around the square! Why that particular one?

         I chose this moment to glance over at Jeanna. Her face also betrayed her

abject puzzlement and confusion.

         Why aren‟t we dead? She silently mouthed over to me.

         I shrugged. I didn‟t have any answers. I looked down at Seth. His lights

were muted on my wrist, but they were still blinking randomly at times.

         I checked the fountain area only thirty feet away from my immediate left.

Despite its structural damage, it still was high enough to provide some form of

cover.

         Looking over at Jeanna, I inclined my head over to her and then back at

the fountain, then made a couple of hand gestures to indicate someone walking

and then pointed over to the fountain.

         Jeanna nodded astutely, body tensed, waiting for my signal.

         Glancing back at the two Leechers, the first one was still engrossed in

what it currently feasted on, while the second stood by with what I could only

imagine a forlorn and miserable expression###that is if it had a face!

         I, for one, could never believe that companionship ever entered a

Leecher‟s mind (did it even have one?). It stood as a symbol of terror and fear of

the dark forces commanding the Seven Circles of Hell itself. A simple foot soldier
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/183


for its masters.

       I took one small step forward, forgetting for the moment that the ground

beneath me lay shattered from the fighting, and my armored form comprised of

both alloy, metal, and ceramic compounds.

       The ground crunched audibly beneath my right foot.

       Inhuman “heads” snapped around, and before we knew it, both Leechers

had us in their sights###dead to rights.

       “Shit!”   I squeaked, my heart a thudding jackhammer underneath my

breastplate. Cold adrenaline surged right through me, before common sense

took over just as the first thunderous footfall echoed in my embarrassed ears.

       Looking up, I saw the second Leecher coming right for the two of us.

       “Run like the possessed!” I yelled to Jeanna, before taking off like a

scared rabbit.

       Jeanna didn‟t have to be told twice. She bolted soon after me, just before

the Leecher lunged; its jaws snapping at the space once occupied by the two of

us before finally tripping over some obstruction in its path and falling like a great

big tree.

       CRASH!

       My warrior‟s instincts quickly took over, eyes aflame with opportunity and

chance.

       I turned and charged back at my fallen foe, leaping high into the air and

bringing my entire body weight into the downward strike of my laser-guided
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/184


battle axe.

       Flesh and blood exploded in an instant. The Leecher screamed in pain and

dismay at being assaulted by such a meager human flea.

       The first Leecher heard its companion‟s cries and answered the call by

leaving its meal behind and swinging around and out to deal with the problem.

       But just as it got there, the first Leecher got up on its own accord and

promptly shook me off###even as I was too busy hacking away to even notice

the approach of its brethren.

       Using the thing‟s momentum, I spring boarded off the second Leecher,

angling my body high up in the air.

       It was then I saw the other Leecher, and its impossibly large mouth filling

up my vision.

       I heard Jeanna cry out in anticipated fear and heartbreak.

       “Ready Seth?” I asked.

       “Huh?” Came the distracted reply.

       “Engage Valkyrie combat armor. Firebird configuration.”

       “May I remind the mistress that this system has yet to be fully tested? I

still have a few bugs to work out.”

       “Test it in combat.” I counted tersely, counting the seconds worth of

safety margin I had before I would become another side dish for this

monstrosity. Twenty-two seconds. That‟s all I would ever get.

       “Do it now!”
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/185


       “System configuration engaged. Valkyrie Firebird mode in full op in twenty

seconds.” Seth relayed to me.

       “Talk about your close calls…” I muttered to myself, wondering what it

feel like to be munched on.

       I would soon find out.




       Chapter 22.



       I felt a crushing vice grip my heart, squeeze my body mercilessly, after

watching the first Leecher snag my only friend out of the air like a dog snatching

a thrown treat.

       I knew then that I didn‟t stand much of a chance against two Leechers.

       The first one turned away to consume its newly caught prize while the

second one turned its attention on me.

       The Leecher‟s snake-like tongue whipped to and fro in the air, tasting the

fear radiating off of me like Suna„s blazing glory.

       I stood there, quaking in my boots like a terrified little girl, and not like

the grown woman I had come close to being.

       I heard the Leecher‟s throaty growl, followed by a hiss of anticipation, as

it bent over to give me the once over before deciding on whether or not to eat
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/186


me.

       In four seconds flat, I decided not to play the part of the damsel in

distress and silently vowed to fight this thing tooth and nail down to my last

dying breath if it came to that.

       I waited for the right moment, when it rear back and take me. It would be

then I would act. But not before.

       Tension filled the air, as my fear melted away into apprehension, then

anxiety and finally a lilt of courage which had thus escaped me all this time, only

to return to me when I needed it the most.

       The Leecher reared back, just as I had hoped. Scant seconds and my

acutely heightened sense of reflex took over; leaving me to my decision and that

bastard thing to a most unfortunate turn of events!

       The Leecher lunged forward just like its tall cousin, seeking to ensnare me

with its mouthful of sharp teeth, to impale me and drink my body‟s life-giving

essences###before either tearing me apart or crushing me asunder.

       I would not know which fate would befall me because I wasn‟t going to

allow it.

       I sidestepped the thing‟s charge effortlessly, its grotesque skin brushing

wistfully by against my body for just a brief time, before I drew out my Sansui

sword in a blur of motion, whipping it around and impaled the creature right

then and there!

       My weapon cut effortlessly through the Leecher‟s neck like soft goat
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/187


cheese, singing its way to the stone walkway beneath.

       I jumped back, seeing that the inhuman creation impaled by my crafty

handiwork.

       I had done it!

       I only wish that Jasmine was here to see this crowning moment in my life,

as a magi-born warrioress took her place amongst all the noble and brave souls

whom freely gave away their freedoms so that others would continue to live

unmolested.

       But I wasn‟t down yet. For even as the Leecher screamed its protest and

howled indignation, I leaped forward to embrace the cause of my challenged

existence by damning these little horrors from whence they came!

       “ÚÝÑØEL######suli-chi-ahn!” I yelled, my sword aglow

with otherworldly power and blue magic. “Kal-i-see, #########(…!###Wretched

beast of hell, I banish thee!”

       A sharp report blurted itself from somewhere nearby, but it wasn‟t from

my Black Erasure spell###as a hole opened up around the creature‟s massive

width, and before I knew it, the damned thing would be sucked into it without

further word.

       Then the spell evaporated completely in a spiral down effect.

       My sword had reappeared a second later, spinning lazily in the air, before

dropping to the ground.

       Having practiced this maneuver many times in the past, I deftly snagged
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/188


my weapon by the handle as it came towards me in a harried rush.

         A second sharper report echoed in the air, but for the life of me, I could

not determine where it came from.

         Sheathing my sword, I ran towards the sound, only to be stopped short

by the sight I saw.

         An angel? I thought in mild disbelief, then shook my head, believing that I

had been seeing things for my own good.

         Looking again, I could see that my eyes had not been playing tricks on me

like I had first thought.

         It was an angel. But not like the ones that I read about in textbooks!

         Whereas an angel lent itself to a higher calling, the cornerstone of

righteousness, and a messenger of God Himself, dressed in brilliant two-piece

garbs of clothing with golden sandals, this “angel” bore none of the hallmarks of

a Heaven-sent being of light and purity.

         This caricature reminded me of the stories told about a legendary warrior

from Bergeron‟s Temple of Sorrow, as depicted in reproductions of his ancient

texts.

         But this version appeared avian-like in appearance with gray armored

components instead of onyx colored skin, metallic wings having unfurled

themselves from between the person‟s shoulder blades###two sets total.

         Nor was this individual hapless either. The person carried in his

two-handed grasp a halberd staff with a crescent-moon shaped blade at the top
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/189


end.

       I stood there, stupefied, watching as the battle continued on without

interruption.

       A swift spin of the halberd staff followed by a quick strike, delivered a

glancing blow to the surviving Leecher. Large cuts and other open wounds could

be seen bleeding freely, and I could see that this unidentified associate of mine

had managed to inflict a terrible vengeance on it.

       I smiled toothily.

       Good! The fucking bastard deserved every moment of pain delivered with

unwanted grace.

       “For the hallowed memory of my friend,” I whispered up to my newfound

savior, “Rend that monstrosity a new one…!”

       Somehow, the person in question heard me and granted me my wish.

       On the wings of an earth-born angel, the unidentified person dropped a

bit before spinning about and then slicing out a 14-yard gash into the Leecher‟s

stomach.

       An ungodly amount of blood, entrails, and other kinds of viscera spilled

out, causing the Leecher to come crashing down upon itself, while trying in

desperate vain to hold itself together.

       I let out a whoop of joy mixed with excitement, pumping my fist into the

air, bouncing up and down the broken cobblestone gaily.

       “Go! Go! Go! You###! Drive it home! Make the bastard rue the day you
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/190


touched this Dead Earth of ours!”

         The avian-like individual didn‟t have the time to deliver the coup de grâce,

as the Leecher fell forward like the towering bulk it was and collapsed in on itself

with a thundering crash.

         The ground around me shook and rumbled, but I considered it to be the

delicious sounds of another hard won victory best told over a keg of the best

kalufa wine around.

         I couldn‟t wait to tell Jan of my adventures when I caught up with her.

Perhaps this stranger would be kind enough to assist me in my long search! I

thought to myself, watching as the person in question turned and faced me.

         A woman?

         I stood there dumbfounded for three long seconds, before letting out a

horrific groan of utter embarrassment.

         I should‟ve known!

         The beaklike visor covering the woman‟s face popped up, revealing…

         Jasmine.

         “Surprise!” She commented with a wolfish grin, before pirouetting for me,

striking what I thought was a truly ridiculous pose. “So what do you think?”

         “I think you look like that ancient warrior from Bergeron‟s Temple of

Sorrow.” I said with a sour face, not thrilled with my friend‟s deception. “Why the

ruse?”

         “The what?” asked Jasmine, her face adopting a petulant expression.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/191


“What do you mean? What ruse are you talking about?”

       “Your armor,” I began to argue, oblivious to what was going on behind

my friend‟s back. “How come you didn‟t tell me that Seth possessed this kind of

a capability?”

       Before Jasmine could answer, a sickening crack! sounded behind her.

       The young woman turned and found herself being confronted by

something that she didn‟t think was even possible.

       The Leecher‟s body looked in worse shape than before when she had aced

with her halberd. More blood and bodily fluids were still spewing from it in small,

fountain streams.

       But we both saw that the bulk of the thing‟s mass had been gone!

       Eviscerated…

       What remained were large and small disconnected chunks of flesh.

       “What in the name of Talis is this?!” I asked in sharp fear, the hair raising

all over my body.

       Jasmine cursed. “I knew it!” She exclaimed, before snapping her visor

down over her face.

       “What?” I asked in confusion, my sword heavy in hand. I switched it to

my left, feeling the weigh lessen. But that did little to ease my anxieties.

       “These Leechers are two different entities,” I heard Jasmine quickly

explain, her body language and voice taunt with the same tension I now

experienced. “The large brute we both see are just host bodies ###merely shells I
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/192


think. The real threat is what is inside!”

       I stared at her in shock.

       “Are you saying that we haven‟t seen the worst these things are capable

of? My God in Heaven!”

       “Heaven may be are only safe haven from these things.” Jasmine

continued on uninterrupted. “Once any of them are free, they start asexually

reproducing at an alarming rate.”

       My heart dropped to the bottoms of my boots, the blood inside me turning

ice cold, as the chill I felt arced all the way up my spine.

       “Without their host bodies?” I meekly inquired, my mind growing numb at

the thought of not coming out of this one alive. Where‟s the fun in that?

       “Bingo.” Jasmine told me. “Our best chance is too run.”

       Anger froze me in my tracks.

       “And leave Xanix to a fate worse than death?” I challenged her, hefting

my sword up to eye level, then made a defiant sweeping move. “When I join

Hellions Gate of my own free will!”

       Jasmine turned on me, the anger in her body‟s movements an easy match

for my own.

       Grabbing me by my shoulders, she said, “It won‟t matter what we do,

girlfriend! We won‟t stand a chance against the Horde!”

       I blinked. “Is that what they are called when they are no longer

Leechers?”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/193


       “Yes. And their strength is supernatural beyond recognition. Which is why

they are the perfect foot soldiers for the Hell Lords of the Seven Circles of

Eternal Agony and Damnation.”

       A cold realization slapped me in the face.

       “And what about Parliament? Were they in the employ of King Richard

that day he decided to invade my home?!?” I blurted out unexpectedly, my

emotions taking over rather than common sense.

       This stunned Jasmine.

       “Your home?!” She asked. “Whatever the hell do you mean?”

       Before I could answer, something looking like a grotesque combination of

a walking stick, a praying mantis, and having the lower body half of a spider

punched through the cobblestone ground, showering us both with remnants of

its former self###before landing nimbly on six strong legs with a heavy-looking

abdomen swaying beneath it.

       The thing towered above us like death itself. Its arm appendage unfolded

from its body###six in all###giving us a full view of the kind of claws it wielded.

       Three sharp prongs ending in claws.

       The thing‟s elongated neck trunk and everything else remained the same.

       Teeth and all.

       It hissed at us with profound pleasure.

       “We…have…to…ruuu###un…!” Jasmine relayed back to me with intense

urgency.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/194


       “No!” I hissed back. “We have to stand and fight!”

       “What?!”

       “We can‟t run!”

       “Against the Scuttler Horde?” Jasmine fired back. “Are you daft?”

       “No.” I answered firmly. “I think we can beat them.”

       “All of them?” Jasmine said with fevered worry. “How many are there

presently, Seth?”

       “35.” He relayed back to her crisply.

       I stared back at her in astonishment.

       “From one single being?”

       “They can multiply in minutes.” Jasmine told me; backing up all the while.

“Still want to stay and fight?”

       Before I could even answer, the Scuttler in front of us leaped forward and

attacked.




       Chapter 23.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/195


        “Land to port!” The crow‟s next operator called out.

        Tiddus tapped the side of his open-faced visor and a target spectacle

swung over his left eye, then locked into place.

        “Sensor sweep###overhead shot. Wide angle, then start looking for signs

of life.”

        A soft beep! echoed in his ear as the ship‟s main computer and sensor

array began to work in tandem with one another, according to their ship master‟s

request.

        A full minute would pass before the results came up.

        He got in touch with the Engineering Deck below.

        “Slow to one-quarter speed.” He said calmly. “Cleave the water as gently

as you can. There‟s no sense letting the enemy know that we‟ve come back for

the leftovers.”

        “Aye, aye! Slowing to one-quarter, nominal speed.” A cheery voice came

back through the comm piece nestled just inside his ear.

        “Engage Stealth Mode as a precaution.”

        “Um…”

        “I know what you‟re thinking, Marcos. Just do it anyway. We need every

element of surprise that we can muster.”

        “Yes, sir. I shall carry out the order as requested.” The chief engineer

radioed back. A soft clicking noise told him that the connection had been broken

from the other end.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/196


         It may have been just as well: They were coming up on the berthing slips

at a good clip.

         The same beeping noise from earlier grabbed his attention. Tiddus had

the visor headset hold for a moment, while he got in touch with Marcos again.

         “Sorry, old friend. Please reduce to port speed only. We‟re coming in too

fast.”

         “Port speed, aye.” Marcos said, breaking the link once more.

         Turning around, he hollered up to Garven, “Prepare to disembark all

ground troops! Skeleton crews to standby!”

         Garven acknowledged his orders and then relayed them via interlink over

the ship‟s comm system.

         “This is 3rd watch Lieutenant Garven. Ground troops: prepare to

disembark on the captain‟s signal once we‟ve put into port! Relief crews to

standby stations! That is all.”

         Tiddus returned to the previous task at hand, calling up the results of the

ship‟s sensor sweeps.

         As he suspected, most of the townspeople had bailed out of Xanix. A

smaller contingent stayed behind (no surprise there), but he knew that they

would also have to face either involuntary evacuation, or outright slaughter.

         Brave. But stupid. He thought to himself, as he continued to comb

through the data.

         The bulk of the enemy forces were pinpointed to be concentrated in the
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/197


northwest quadrant about six clicks from the sea port parameter.

       Slowly moving back in.

       In the meantime, there was still enough game for his assault troops and

mecha inside the town‟s tiny interior to make it a worthy battle yet.

       “Time!” He yelled out.

       “Four minutes, captain!” Garven‟s voice returned.

       “Launch the Tomahawks! Have the Harbingers stand by!”

       “Aye!”

       Roaring thunder of a different kind echoed down below as the mechs

launched themselves off ship.

       Tiddus watched them go.

       “Have them perform a standard recon sweep of the immediate area

closest to the ship, and then touch down about six hundred yards from the

nearest docking pier!”

       “Roger that!” Garven said, relaying his master‟s orders via uplink. “Two

minutes!”

       Tiddus gripped the banister railing of what he referred to as the Captain‟s

Lookout.

       “Prepare yourselves everyone!” he said in breathless excitement. “This

day will be glorious for us!”

       Shouts and cheers rose up from the below decks of the Esmeralda

Jasmine as the emotional tide of everyone involved began to build up to an
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/198


almost erotic crescendo.

         The massive ship slipped into the empty harbor with inescapable ease;

unchallenged by all.

         “30 seconds!”

         “Grapple guns at the ready!” Tiddus called out. “Prepare to fire in ten

seconds!”

         A line of men and women on both sides of the ship stood up and aimed

their guns at the sides of the dock.

         Time ticked by.

         Tiddus dropped his raised hand.

         “Now!”

         Explosive puffs ratcheted out. Retention lines sang softly as they arced

out and found their respective targets.

         Tiddus got in touch with Marcos to cut the engines.

         The Esmeralda Jasmine sighed to a complete stop###reigned in by her tow

lines.

         “Ground troops disembark! Find any survivor and bring them back!

Skeleton crews man your posts! Deck guns standby to cover!” He ordered loudly,

then jumped off the Captain‟s Lookout and gracefully landed on the foredeck.

         One of his men asked, “Will the Captain be taking out Belarus?”

         Tiddus nodded. “Have it ready and brought up as soon as the Harbingers

leave.” He said, thinking about the survivors‟ welfare in particular. “Have a few
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/199


Tomahawks join me when I disembark.”

      “As you command, Captain!” The jubilant youth replied, taking off for the

nearest elevator deck.

      Tiddus watched as the Harbingers thundered off the deck.

      Now only his turn awaited him.

      Glory and honor to all!
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/200




       Chapter 24.



       Brushed aside###no knocked aside###violently, I could only watch in horror

as the Scuttler went after Jeanna with all intense and purposes of killing her

outright.

       I thought I had seen it all end in the space of a few seconds, giving me

my last moments of memories of a daring and brave magi sorceress.

                     *              *            *

       “Get the hell off of me!” I yelled, as the oversized Scuttler slammed me

into the ground with so much brute force, I felt myself bounce a couple of times,

striking my head onto the ground with a savagery only meant for something else

entirely, but never for a human body.

       The Scuttler reared back in triumph, retracting all but two of its arms,

while the rest held me down fast.

       Then its tuberous neck lunged down at me, seeking to impale me in the

chest and end it all in a bloody-soaked mess.

       I twisted my body just right and the jaws of death escaped me by mere

inches.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/201


       With my hands pinned, I couldn‟t do anything to save even myself. But

that didn‟t mean I was wholly defenseless.

       I could still act!

       “ÕÆK###ÃÝ!!!” I screamed loudly, my eyes become aglow with


otherworldly fire. “Sirenska-shi-car!###Burn under my righteous might!”

       This time, the Scuttler caught my Vision‟s Fire Blast of Full Agony full in

the face###that is, if it had such a thing.

       I didn‟t let up, chanting some more to increase the frequency and the

power. “ÁÒñNZW…” I whispered to myself. “yÙÐÍ###Bring forth the

magiks which govern Dead Earth‟s mighty lava forges and imbue me with their

strengths and wisdom…”

       Not ten seconds into this battle and I heard (not saw) the Scuttler scream

and jump off of me.

       “Heathen bastard!” I swore indignantly, trails of fire escaping from my

eyes. I charged past Jasmine with a murderous mindset in tow. “You will not

escape my wrath that easily!” Retrieving my Sansui sword from the ground, I

swept my sword arm up and angled it at my enemy.

       “Chaliseenmakoosilaramitira!” I quickly said, before switching to an

ancient tongue more deadly than anything known to both man or woman.

“x§§§ÇýPQ1###Ó!###Now see yourself trapped in my Web of Pain!”

       Black lightning erupted from the length of my sword, joining at a central

point just in front of it at the fleeing Scuttler###watching it bound around the
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/202


square madly, climbing all over the brick masonry up a few roofs, looking for a

way to escape.

        It would not find one! I vowed.

        Sweeping out my arm, I let the pointed black lightning energy go;

targeting the Scuttler with simple ease.

        Thunderous booms ricocheted all over the place, but I had ensnared my

target without further ado.

        The thing writhed in place, trapped by my web, howling and screaming in

protest at my attack. But I would not allow it a moment‟s worth of pleasure or

rest.

        “You wanted my flesh and life force so bad, creature, you‟re going to have

to work for it the hard way! I do not yield as easily as you might think!” I

scowled haughtily. “Now you die!” With that, I pulled my sword away sharply,

plunging it blade-first into the ground###burying it halfway.

        Turning away sharply, I dropped into a crouch and covered my head.

        A keening noise built up as the black-lightning web prepared to go out

with a bang.

        A giant one!

        A titanic explosion followed, blowing out one of the buildings across the

square and showering the surrounding area with pieces of everything

imaginable, including what remained of the Scuttler.

        When I sensed that everything was in the clear, I rose to my feet and
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/203


yanked my Sansui sword cleanly out of the ground. Because of its mystical

properties, it didn‟t carry the same dirt-stained residue found on normal swords.

       As decreed by the ancient sword master, Y‟sen Taborah, of Narmah.

       My memories of that day were clear as I had remembered them.

       “This sword will serve you well, little one,” I recalled my uncle‟s exact

words when he showed up in my room, with a wrapped bundle in hand. I

remembered the delight and awe of such a wonderful prize, finally coming true

after 4 years of yearning and wanting.

       I pulled off the silk bunt twine holding it all together in its chartreuse and

jasmine scented cloth, eager to behold my newest toy.

       “Thank the ancient sword master Y‟sen, for it. Praise his devout wisdom

and intelligence that I was able to get such a rare commodity on fair terms. He

wishes to tell you that he will not be able to grant thee a second chance, should

you lose it. It is a very special sword.”

       I remembered nodding excitedly, as I pulled away the last of the cloth to

reveal a powerful sword like none other. A Sansui sword!

       One of only a handful of mystical weapons said to have been conceived by

Y‟sen and blessed by the Almighty to be used against the evil which had

dominated our lands for so long.

       But legend had it that the old sword master had deliberately lost his cache

and spread the half-dozen weapons he created all over the world###safe from the

prying eyes of his worst enemies, and those whom wished absolute power over
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/204


mortal men and women alike.

       “T-this is the real thing?” I asked my uncle, holding the sword up to eye

level, forgetting the book which came with it.

       My uncle nodded. “It isn‟t a pale copy, little one. But I implore you not to

reveal its true nature to everyone around you, or to your family. Tell the curious

that it is a heirloom and leave it at that. Because if word were to leak out of this

sword‟s true origins…”

       “I would be targeted,” said I quickly, knowing what terrible price I would

have to pay just to have an elite edge over my foes. “And death would soon

follow me everywhere I went, thus.”

       “Aye. So „twas would be a good idea to keep your mouth shut and eyes

open, little one.” My uncle flatly told me. “Protect that sword with your life. Use it

in defense of yourself, your family, and others in conjunction with your budding

magi skills. Do not allow piety or vanity cloud your judgment.”

       I stared at the brand-new blade, my mind awhirl with the possibilities it

presented.

       So much clarity and beauty, yet deadly in both power and grace…thought

I…

                            *              *             *

       The present wrapped itself around me lovingly, as I smoothly returned my

Sansui sword back to its sheath, ignoring###for the moment###the stunned

expression of my comrade-in-arms.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/205


       “Well,” she said with a sardonic grin and teasing voice. “I guess I was

dreadfully wrong about you needing some protection…”

       “If you want to get on my good side, you‟d better not piss me off.” I told

her flatly, my emotions torn between the adrenaline rush I currently experienced

and my brief interlude into the past. Then stopped, feeling ashamed.

       “Sorry.”

       Jasmine apparently took it all in stride.

       “Hey, no skin of my back,” she said. “But I‟m surprised that you were able

to take care of one Scuttler, let alone four dozen or so.”

       “85 actually.” Seth‟s voice resonated into the air.

       Jasmine looked at her wrist comp.

       “Are you sure?”

       “Yes. But while you were dealing with just one, the rest managed to elude

you and escape deeper into the township. We have to hurry. There are still

people in Xanix and they are in grave danger.”

       “But Jan###!” I started to protest. “What about her?”

       “Seth‟s right: The people here are more important than one person, even

if that person happens to be your teacher and close friend.” Jasmine told me,

knowing that this would only ruffle my feathers even more.

       “I don‟t care!” I seethed angrily. “She‟s my family now, and I don‟t leave

family behind! I won„t make the same mistake twice!”

       “You‟re gonna have to adapt!” Jasmine fired back at me. “Look! I know
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/206


what she means to you, but we can‟t go look for her now! Our priorities have

changed! We have to start saving as many people as we can, and do it fast!”

       I stared at her in cold hatred, my eyes burning with absolute disgust.

       “You‟re a bitch.” I threw at her. “Sacrificing one person because she

doesn‟t hold the same fucking nobility as the rest of these illiterate peasants###?”

       Jasmine was taken off guard by my words.

       “What are you talking about?” She queried, more curious than angry with

my stubbornness. “These „peasants‟###as you call them###also happen to be your

friends if I‟m not mistaken. You are after all, your lady friend‟s healer apprentice,

right? Even though you‟re an advanced magi sorceress?”

       “…yes.” I admitted with great difficulty.

       “Then don‟t you think that you should at least try to save those whom

you‟ve formed bonds of friendship with first? I am sure that Jan is all right. But

these people won‟t be if we don‟t get our collective rears in gear.”

       I stood there in quiet solitude, listening to the truth which Jasmine‟s

words carried aloft.

       I sighed heavily, both my heart and soul crushed by the decision I would

have to make.

       “Very well,” said I with reluctance, “you had better be right. Or by God‟s

graces, you will be punished by me.”

       “After seeing what you did? I wouldn‟t expect anything less.” Jasmine

commented wryly.
                               Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/207




      Chapter 25.



      Jan reached the outer town marker of Xanix, still running, half-jogging the

entire way, while trying her best to evade the influx of enemy troops,

Neo-Gargoyles and other unspeakable horrors which had overwhelmed the tiny

town‟s meager defenses.

      Her experiences in the last half day would put any story teller‟s tales to

shame###while casting woe and heartache for those lucky to have lived through

this harrowing war to date.

      Only to face a decidingly grim and uncertain future.

      It was clear that the queen and her minions wanted Xanix all to

themselves. The Elite High Guard had made sure of that by cutting off all
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/208


avenues of retreat from all around.

       All that remained was the sea ports, and the last she heard, they had

been cleared and evacuated even after the unrelenting tirade of living Kamikaze

Bombs.

       There would be no escape from here. She thought to herself, as she

passed by broken and burned reminders of the battles themselves: Modest farm

hamlets strewn about the hillsides surrounding Xanix, once fraught and filled

with life, laughter, and peace.

       No more.

       No more.

       Jan clutched her chest in agony, feeling the crushing despair wash up

against her as her mind temporarily shut down against the numbing depression

and overriding hopelessness which she couldn‟t escape from.

       But there wasn‟t anything she could do.

       The doctor found herself becoming just another survivor with a morbid

tale to tell, and not a single living soul in sight to tell it.

       What was even worse, was the possibly she alone was rushing to her own

fare, her own death!

       “What if I only get back home to find myself being surrounded by the

enemy and there is no escape?”

       She worried about her pet sky dragon. But she most importantly was

concerned about the welfare of her only adopted charge, Jeanna Ulysses.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/209


       It was such a joy to induct her into my home, she recalled briefly, while

briskly running the entire length of the open road, while keeping an eye out for

possible trouble.

       Everything had taken on a more subdued atmosphere. So much darkness

had saturated the land. There was not a hint, or ray of hope for anything or

anyone caught out in the open and unawares of the dangers fast encroaching.

       Jan had seen it herself, as she tended to the wounds of more unfortunate

souls whom had later died at the hands of the enemy###slain in cold blood

because he was either weak or couldn‟t defend himself with valor and honor.

       They were coming! Her mind cried out, momentarily splitting her attention

and focus in two. “And no one will be able to stand up to them###let alone

Jeanna and her newfound friend.” Jan mourned dejectedly, feeling lost and in

pain at having to only known them a short time, only to see their lives cut down

in the prime of their youths.

       “Cannot it not be fair?!?” She screamed out into the empty countryside,

listening to the echo of her voice carry itself afar, hearing the sharp anger born

from the depths of her soul. “We didn‟t ask for this, y‟know!” She shouted outlay

and longingly. “We‟re nothing more than a simple fishing village, you fucking

bastards! May God Himself curse the whole lot of you with pestilence and boils!

May the serpents and other ungodly creatures of this Dead Earth feast upon your

rotting flesh###keeping your souls only alive long enough for you to remember

what true agony is like!!!”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/210


       Just like that, Jan collapsed onto the dusty road; kicking up a cloud for

good measure.

       Exhausted by her raging emotions.

       “It‟s just not fair…” She whispered to herself. “It‟s just not fair. We only

wanted to be left alone to our own devices.” Please Lord, don‟t let our sacrifices

be in vain. Let some of those lucky enough to survive this holocaust live on to

tell the rest of the world of our stories, our lives, and our cultures. Jan

beseeched in prayer.

       “Now give me strength to see this day through and find those that I have

cared about and loved in days past.” Jan continued out loud, her mind eminently

calmer by the second, her body releasing much of the worry and tension she had

kept bottled up inside of her all this time.

       The casualties of war, where the mind and body are both broken and

shattered…only to be considered ample pieces of worthless excrement to be cast

off into the winds of time. Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla remembered General Ty‟s

words as she helped patch up his body, while laying there on the surgical table

of her modest home, before going under the sedation field which Jeanna had

helped cast all on her own for the first time.

       It was a tricky spell, for it required the complete and total concentration

of the spell caster. Nothing could be left to chance, while Jan worked on her

patient.

       She remembered how he laughed softly as he fell asleep, the last words
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/211


imprinted on her long-term memory: But time itself…nay…not even that could

heal the spiritual and psychological wounds of a proud warrior like myself. No,

once scarred by the rigors of battle, the horrors of war, you are never quite the

same person you once were before…always seeing things in a much different

light.

         But do I have the strength to remain whole as I once was? Jan wondered,

long after she had left the dusty roads for the safety of the canopy trees in the

distance###crossing lush fields of green grass and gold cow wheat, heading

straight into the forest.

         First she had to endure the lashing briar and poisonous barbs of some of

the stinging fruit nettles camped out in her path.

         But Jan would endure all of that if it meant finding sanctuary back home.

         Just as she disappeared into the woods, did the first scout parties from

Jasper‟s surging armies make their appearances.

         In under an hour, they too, would be stumbling up the outskirts of Xanix.

Then nothing would be able to stop their advance into the partially deserted

township itself.
                               Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/212




      Chapter 26.



      We turned the corner, expecting the worst to come at us.

      The good Lord didn‟t disappoint either myself or Jasmine.

      Three Scuttlers prowled the sleepy street. No, not sleepy###deserted.

      No one in their sane minds would dare venture outside now, and risk their

souls for a moment‟s worth of solitude, only to have it embrace eternal oblivion
                               Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/213


in the end.

      The first one stopped in its search of fresh meat, sensing our presence.

      Turning, it saw the two of us and screeched out a warning.

      The other two stopped in their own searches and took off.

      The third disappeared in an orderly fashion too###leaving the two of us to

scratch our heads in deep puzzlement.

      “What in Callistera‟s name was that all about?” I muttered out loud,

swishing my sword about the ground for good measure. “There were three of

those horrors and two of the us###!”

      “###I know!” Jasmine interjected. “They should‟ve attacked us. We‟re

outnumbered…”

      “Doesn‟t make any sense,” mulled I. “These Scuttlers are formidable

opponents. We could‟ve made short work of them and then moved on.”

      “But they were…well, they looked terrified of us.”

      I considered my friend‟s words for the longest minute available to me.

      “But why?” I asked petulantly. “These abominations are a threat to

humans, not the other way around.”

      “If I may?” Seth smoothly interrupted our conversation.

      We both looked at the wrist comp. “Yes?” We chorused together, our

voices perfectly synched.

      I chuckled softly as did Jasmine.

      “I scanned all available files on the Scuttlers and I found something
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/214


equally disturbing you both should know.”

       “What‟s that?” I asked.

       “The Scuttlers operate on a principle of racial memory. The moment one

is cut down after a fashion, its surviving brethren will commit both the act and its

attacker to memory###thus avoiding any future encounters or confrontations with

that said individual.”

       “Would explain that other‟s strange behavior a minute ago,” Jasmine

quickly surmised, getting a silent nod from me. “So what do you suggest, Seth?

How are we going to be able to fight things that don‟t want to be fought?”

       “Considering what I‟ve seen of the battle so far, you Jasmine, stand a far

better chance at confrontation and battle than Jeanna here does.” Seth

answered.

       At that, my blood boiled inside of me.

       Walking over to Jasmine, I promptly grabbed my friend‟s wrist and pulled

up###leaving her to gasp sharply in pain.

       Ignoring her protests for the moment, I glared at the blinking piece of

technology slaved innocently to Jasmine‟s wrist.

       “Come again? Did you just call me a coward?” I seethed volcanically.

       “Ow, ow, ow…” Jasmine‟s pained voice rose in protest. “Can you not let

go of me you…?!”

       “No. I implied no such disrespect, Mistress Jeanna. I am simply pointing

out that you‟re tactics have branded you a liability in this fight. You cannot hope
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/215


to defeat your enemies whom now know what to expect.”

        I let go of Jasmine‟s wrist in visible disgust. If I read the little

techno-genie‟s comments right, I had essentially taken myself out of the game.

        Glaring at my retreating back, Jasmine massaged her wrist.

        “Will I have to warn people about your temper?” She appraised with open

admiration, feeling no animosity towards me. “How can you get so fired up over

the littlest things these days?”

        “Because it is my nature.” I replied in stiff pride. “You should better know

than to ask that, then heed my words, woman.”

        “Mmm…” My friend‟s pensive voice carried aloft. “It does no good for you

to be upset all the time. Things happen for a reason. Not because you wish them

to.”

        “I didn‟t wish to be taken out of the fight so…quickly!” I thundered with

pained misery in my breast.

        “Doesn‟t mean that the fight is over, Jeanna,” Jasmine cooed. “You can

still fight.”

        “Like a pig wallowing in hip deep slop.” I griped, turning around in sober

disgust and despair. “With no way to get out. No way to fight with honor.”

        “You can still have both.” Jeanna‟s voice filtered over to me, before I felt a

soft hand grip my shoulder. “You can still crave the battle that you want so

badly.”

        Shoulders slumped in humiliation, I nodded absently. I never felt so
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/216


empty of purpose in my life.

       Not since I came here.

       “What can I do? My sword is useless and my magiks might as well be###

seeing that these heathen bastards know what to expect.”

       “They only know a couple of your attacks. But have you not wondered

why Seth hasn‟t included me into that equation of yours?” Jasmine questioned

patiently.

       “Huh?”

       “I attacked in my Valkyrie configuration.” She said, tapping the wings

slaved to her back with her halberd staff. They rang softly. “Why haven‟t I been

taken out of the equation?”

       I did not know. I shook my head.

       “Because,” she said with quiet wisdom, “I had attacked the Scuttler in its

Leecher form. It had not expected me to do so when it faced me. That‟s why it

ran from you and not from me afterwards.”

       So it was another joke played on me.

       How I hated being tricked!

       But what more could I expect from life‟s little twists and turns?

       Jasmine allowed me a few more moments of reflection before telling me

that we had to get going if we were going to find any hope of locating possible

survivors.

                            *             *             *
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/217


         Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla continued her flight for freedom and salvation###

hoping against hope that she could reach the town‟s outskirts before whomever

presently gave chase would reach her before she did.

         But only twenty minutes of ducking and dodging through the thick over

brush hadn‟t brought her any closer to her objective.

         Panic set in, giving the doctor reason to believe that she had erred in

personal judgment and allowed herself to make such a callous decision to get

lost.

         The sting of the occasional fruit nettle reminded her of this, as she

continued her headlong plunge through the briar.

         The crashing and crunching of dry and dead foliage beneath her feet only

spurred her on###once Jan realized that she indeed was on the right path.

         After the last partial wall of thick greens and taunting rose and fruit

nettles, did she burst out into a familiar clearing, her hair hung up on some more

of the same.

         Taking this moment of peace and quiet, Jan began to untangle herself,

only to see a brief flash of steel come her way.

         Yelping in fear, the woman fell backwards, hopelessly hung up on the

briar.

         Her attacker did her a favor by cutting through the offending branch

which held her prisoner; allowing her to hold onto an embarrassing keepsake.

         But the return flash of honed steel gave her more reason to scream. And
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/218


scream she did.

         “Ah!!!” Jan cried out, before grappling for her sword###pulling it free from

its hip scabbard and bringing it up.

         The force of her opponent‟s blow clearly outmatched hers and soon, the

doctor found herself without a weapon.

         “Will thee surrender to my superior mastery of###” the brutish man began

before the doctor spied an obvious opening and let him have it.

         By kicking him in the balls.

         With a pasty expression in place, the ogreish man dropped his sword,

grabbed his crotch, and crumpled over###moaning pitifully.

         “Whoring….bitch!” He ground out, after Jan picked herself up and

retrieved her sword. Sliding it back into its sheath, she looked down at her felled

opponent and said, “Next time, do not be so quick to judge an opponent###

especially one whom posed no clear threat to you.”

         White-faced, the man could only breath in sick gasps of air, as his crotch

still burned with pain from the impact from her well placed foot.

         “I apolo…I…apologize.” he finally relented sullenly. “I beg of your

forgiveness and ask that you help me up off the ground afterwards.”

         Jan nodded. “If you so wish, kind sir, now that you are not being such a

tard.”

         Stung by the rebuke, the sword-swinger nodded gratefully###and with her

help###managed to get up on his own.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/219


       “You swing well, for a woman of your caliber.” The man said with

hardened pride. “Is it always common with females these days?”

       Jan shrugged, before hunting around for his sword, and then pointed it

out so kindly for the gentlemen in question.

       “My thanks.” The man said, bending down next to the bushes to grab it.

       But when he rose, he found two cold red eyes staring back at him.

       Blood running cold, the man backed up slowly, sword in hand, head

pounding from a fresh surge of adrenaline###the pain in his groin overridden by

the fear he felt as it plunged into his heart like a sharpened dagger.

       “Run.” he said tensely. “Run like the devil himself and don‟t look back.”

       Jan didn‟t follow him.

       “What? What do you###?” She began to question, before the bushes in

front of them began to quiver and shake like the possessed.

       The something exploded from the briar, landing into the clean, green

grass of the clearing as it did.

       A large hell dog had emerged. Its large and brutish-looking body easily

overshadowed the pair by ten feet. Oily black, standing tall on powerful legs and

having greatly muscled hindquarters which rippled and flexed with anticipation.

       The tail wasn‟t that of a dog‟s, but rather a long, barbed tail with a vicious

looking stinger welded onto its end.

       Opening its mouth to howl loud and clear, acid-like saliva dripped down in

torrential rivers, scalding the ground beneath its taloned claws.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/220


         “By the grace of God Himself!” The man seethed in blind astonishment.

“Where in the Sixth Circle of Hell did this beast come from? And why is it here

and not guarding the Gates of the Damned?”

         Jan didn‟t know.

         All she knew was the terror gripping her soul at this very moment.

         Legend had it that those who encountered such creatures rarely lived to

tell about what they saw.

         The doctor wondered if she be alive long enough to join those unfortunate

souls.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/221




       Chapter 27.



       Despite their overwhelming superiority in both strength and firepower, the

endless hoards of the invading armies from Jasper kept coming in spurts.

       But what was really bad###in Tiddus‟s opinion###is that some elements of

Hell itself started to make themselves known to him.

       He wondered just what kind of pact that the queen of Jasper had made

with the minions of the underworld.

       Reports coming back found the fighting to be relentlessly fierce, and a few

of his men were down as result###having given up their souls for God and the

Esmeralda Jasmine.

       Evil bitch! Tiddus silently swore. There would be no way that he would be

left behind to watch his men suffer at the hands of the enemy!

       The last Harbinger touched off like a Roman candle, angling towards the

city in graceful flight. His own mecha###the Belarus###stood an impressive 70

feet tall, wielding a long-sword half its length, but what size diminished in

presence, its owner made up in swift skill and mastery.

       Holding up its gold dragon-shaped shield, Tiddus yelled, “To the glory of

He who thou calls Himself Master and Lord of all Divinity!###HO!!!”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/222


       The three Tomahawks accompanying Tiddus rallied to the charge, blasting

off the ship‟s forward deck elevator and rocketing in line with their ship‟s master

at point.

       Today‟s hunt would go extremely well.

                            *              *             *

       Hunting was the last thing on my mind. But since our last encounter with

those cowardly Scuttlers, I saw no logical reason but to act as the unwilling scout

to Jasmine‟s plan.

       I don‟t know what truly came over me. I‟ve never been like this towards

anyone in the years that I‟ve lived in Xanix. I had to literally train myself to

accept the dire consequences of my actions and go on with living my new life as

best I could.

       Everything I knew in my past life was a dead ballad for someone else to

sing, but not me. I was too busy at the moment to really lay down any roots and

pine for the days of old, and pretend that everything was all right.

       However (as I had a few minutes to reflect while playing scout), I was a

bit perturbed by my behavior as of late. I‟m positive that Jan would agree

something was wrong with me emotionally. But I could not pinpoint the problem

as easily.



       (Rounded another bend of a deserted street here…nothing!###so I

continued on.)
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/223




       I didn‟t feel unhappy about my situation. Was I more inclined about that

towards the people whom I called friend and family all this time? What set their

lives apart from me?



       (The soft sounds of something crashing nearby grabbed my attention###

shelving my self-introspection for now. I gripped my sword; ready for battle.)



       Inching closer towards the sound, I thought it would be the enemy###

someone on which I could vent my frustration for not being able to fight well as

I so desperately wanted.

       I found myself turning yet another corner###one of whom belonged to a

deserted warehouse###creeping along stealthily, making as little sound as I could

possible.

       This time, I would surprise my foe! This time I wouldn‟t be taken for a

patsy! I would make my parents proud for my role in today‟s action and my

brother Felix as well!

       And everyone else I left behind.

       The sounds of disarray were music to my ears, the closer I came to my

objective. I would at long last have my heart‟s desire!

       Though I could not see directly above the bins of refuse and other goods,

I didn‟t need line of sight to see where I wanted to progress.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/224


          I continued to inch my way along, using my senses to guide me to my

target.

          Laying out a hand, I ran it gently along the smooth metal sides of the

silver container, attuning myself to whatever vibrations I may or may not pick

up.

          I wanted to surprise my foe. And this would be the only way to do it.

(According to my gut instincts.)

          But just as I got to the end, all the noise guiding both me and my

senses…stopped.

          Taken off guard, I neglected to stop at the end, where I found myself

face to face with something I had also read in books. (As Dead Earth mythology

was a impassioned favorite of mine.)

          Red eyes stared back at me in blind contempt. Soft growls echoed from

inside the bin and I knew that I only had seconds at best to decide on living or

dying.

          “By the love of God…!” I whispered in frank disbelief. Why did it seem

that I habitually attracted the wrong kind of attention these days? Or was it just

an occupational hazard?

          The thing standing crouched in the container let loose a challenging howl

and then came leaping out of its tight confines###landing smartly on the

cobblestone in front of me.

          A hell dog!
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/225


       Where in God‟s name did thing come from? I thought to myself, drawing

myself up defensively, sword at the ready.

       The creature‟s jaws dripped a mixture of acid and blood onto the ground

beneath its feet.

       Human blood.

       Thick bile rose up in my throat, as all its muscles constricted and flexed all

their own###my stomach threatening to heave on a second‟s notice.

       The hell dog‟s beady red eyes narrowed, the glowing dimming just slightly

to compliment its mood.

       Without warning, it launched itself at me.

       Yelping in astonishment, I barely managed to get out of its way, it sharp

teeth impinging off the side of my blade, but its powerful hindquarters slapping

me aside on the follow up.

       I fell backwards, my shapely ass taking up the role as seat cushion, but

the jarring shock rattled me from the inside out###throwing my concentration

and focus askew.

       The hell dog turned around###50 feet away from me###confident that it

had scored another easy kill at my expense.

       But the stunned effects had passed me by just as quickly###thanks in part

to my apt warrior‟s training and also the hours of meditation I spent in between

practicing my magi skills. A woman of my craft had to spend more time in

constant meditation than ample swordplay###like my father, brother, and uncle
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/226


had done in years past to sharpen their blade skills.

       Magi had become more brutal than any other trade in all the lands thus###

and those who wielded it…

       A part of me shuddered inwardly, feeling a tide of shame wash over me.

       Yes, sometimes, I was the harsh mistress when it came to harboring my

most lethal spell abilities. But this moment of repentance passed as I soon

realized that those like me could not hold remorse for what we all carried within

us: Cruelty.

       Born on a scale not known in human existence. The ability to simply

torture others paled in comparison to the power I held. I knew that when I

began my training under my grandmother and mother, the capability of human

oppression existed in all its fractured realism.

       My heart could be turned to evil and thus, I could become just as evil as

those techno-mages I once battled against. But my family‟s love and perchance

for divinity and righteousness, heralded and molded me onto a path of the

protector and healer.

       (I stood up then, carried aloft by my own strength of will and

determination to see this through.)

       You must always show compassion and understanding###even for your

enemies. This is what will set you apart from they. I recalled my grandmother‟s

gentle words after I had first used my magi spells to selfishly torture a poor and

hapless water frog.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/227


       At the age I was, I knew nothing of what my magiks could do###let alone

to a creature as insignificant than me.

       But I was taught remorse and shame then, as I had many times over the

course of time. I knew what humility and pride was in my arts as an apprentice,

before growing into the role of the sorceress I am now.

       I staggered a bit after standing, feeling the pain in my derriere radiate like

a throbbing hot star in the heavens. Using my sword as a crutch, I strived to

collect myself, even as my enemy sought to end this affair by simply charging

me###gaining speed as it went.

       I chuckled at my line of misfortune. I simply could not understand why

Hell‟s denizens were after me more than my human counterparts!

       Surely the queen of Jasper hadn‟t made a pact with the Hell lords…I

thought, fury overtaking my pain and fear.

       “This is supposed to be a battle against the armies of man!” I screamed

into the air. “Not against the armies of hell!”

       On cue, the hell dog launched itself against me, jaws open, claws

outstretched…

       And at this point in time, God gave me the strength to lift my sword high

over my head, pivot back on my right foot, swing my body away from my foe,

and come down###swinging with all my might as a result.

       The hell dog softly split like any other ripe piece of fruit I greatly enjoyed

on occasion###each half sailing off in two different directions; splashing down to
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/228


earth in one big mess!

       Arms stiff, muscles sore, I let my Sansui sword drop from my hands,

listening to its high-ringing chatter as it bit into the ground.

       Chest heaving, I stood there, in a glued daze. After 5 minutes of blessed

piece and quiet, I murmured, “This can‟t be real.” Staring at the corpse of my

enemy, the pooling of its dark red blood around the split body parts, I knew this

was no dream.

       No nightmare either.

       Because deep down, I knew our Lord in Heaven wouldn‟t be this cruel as

to afflict torture and punishment so needlessly on one of his own children.

       But seeing how this war was turning out, I began to question even my

own rigidly held beliefs.

       How could thee inflict such misery upon the world you hold so dearly to

your Heart? I silently prayed, before scooping up my sword and sheathing it, but

getting no answer in return. I automatically started thinking it had to be just

another test of my strength and courage.

       It just had to be!
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/229




       Chapter 28.



       I cursed loudly after Seth informed me of Jeanna‟s plight###believing that

her plan on playing “scout” would lure some more of those damned Scuttlers out

into the wide open.

       But lo and behold!###nay that wasn‟t the course we had envisioned.

       “So where are they?!” I asked in a huff, running down one of the deserted

side streets, still in my Valkyrie guise. I had no inclination to change back unless

it had become absolutely necessary.

       “Unknown at present. I find it very odd that the whole gaggle had come

up and vanished from my sensors…” Seth radioed back in a tinny voice. “I was

tracking close to 240 at one time, before…”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/230


      “Before what?” I ventured breathlessly, coming to a dead end. A steaming

street grate lay before me, with small piles of litter, water-sodden boxes, and

animal waste mixed with human on the sides###stretching back incrementally

where I came.

      “I‟m at a loss to explain.” Seth answered helplessly. “One minute they

were there, and the next…gone, like they never existed.”

      I wouldn‟t accept that. Couldn‟t accept that!

      “Impossible!” I thundered, looking around, carefully checking my

surroundings. There was no way out other than the way I had come.

      Glancing up, I saw nothing but smooth walls.

      Reaching out tentatively, I meant to graze the mortar surface, but

something in front of me moved with liquid transparency.

      I almost didn‟t catch onto the fact that this was just another hellish

apparition, believing that it was just another trick played upon these mortal eyes

of mine.

      But the second I reached out again, the “wall” shifted again###this time I

caught it!###jumping back with spread wings.

      The “wall” came alive, stepping forth with a thundering footstep###shaking

both me and my surroundings.

      But I could not see who it was!

      Lowering my helm into place, I switched scan modes. Nothing in normal

range. Ultraviolet showed nothing. Neither did the infrared.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/231


       “Stupid piece of useless…!” I grated, going through six other modes of

vision-enhanced sensor scans, before finally hitting on a magi-tech combination

which allowed me to filter everything into a false spectrum of reality. Everything

danced and weaved in sick, pasty colors and shapes, gravely threatening my

own human equilibrium.

       I closed my eyes and “trained” my senses to refocus themselves to accept

the new change as if it were a normal evolutionary trait and not something

artificially born.

       Opening them up, I saw the abomination more clearly. A Scuttler to be

sure, but this version of it was so much larger and more massive than its smaller

cousin varieties.

       And what was worse was that its body now sported a giant set of wings,

larger, more articulated hands and an almost dragon-like head to accommodate

its giant mouth of razor-sharp teeth.

       Other than that, the new Scuttler‟s body proportions remained the same.

       Just 50 feet taller than me! I thought with a nibble of fear.

       Closing out the scan, I returned my vision to “normal” mode and decided

to chance things on the fact that I could still “see” it###even in its cloaked

format.

       The unexpected backhand from it provided me with all the incentive to go

back to my “wild-party” mode.

       Feeling my stomach heave silently in protest, I sought to qualm things by
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/232


quickly ending this in the only fashion available to me: By using what I had at

my disposal.

       Raising my halberd, I pointed my hand towards it and fired off a volley

which arced madly around in a tight, lazy circle for one moment, before zooming

upwards###barely missing the Scuttler-dragon in the process.

       It‟s scaly roar told me all I needed to know: I had thoroughly pissed it off.

For my reward, it backhanded me: the force of the blow sending me airborne for

a few moments, before I came crashing down and skidding a good distance###a

shower of golden yellow sparks my only wake.

       “Ow! Ow! Ow###!” I cried out with each bouncing hit that soon followed,

before the open streets yawned opened, and I found myself lying on my back,

looking up at an angry black sky###senses reeling.

       This unique position did not last long###as I heard###and felt###the

thundering footsteps of the Scuttler-dragon coming towards me. With one deft

grip, it snatched me up like a child‟s limp doll in its overpowering grasp.

       “Oh, God…” I whispered in shock and delirium. “Please save me from this

minion of hell…”

       Certain was I that this would be my last moments on this blessed Dead

Earth, I closed my eyes and prepared my hallowed soul for the end###whereas I

would soon find myself before the Gates of Heaven, standing before Peter, the

sainted messenger of our Lord.

       Something answered my pleas###or at least that‟s what I thought###as a
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/233


missile barrage interrupted my captor‟s cruel intents.

       Rearing back in surprise and dropping me all the same###the

Scuttler-dragon snapped at whatever had gotten the upper hand on it###before

spitting a fire-acid combination at my intended saviors.

       Falling fast, I heard a voice call out: “Do not worry, fair lady. I have thee!”

Then an articulated metal-shod hand snatched me gently from Death‟s abated

embrace, closing itself around my armored form.

       I looked up and found myself staring into a mecha‟s face###a Tomahawk

by the looks of him###and smiled broadly.

       “My liege!” I sounded off all too gratefully in the pilot cockpit‟s direction.

The head inclined my way and nodded. “My blessed thanks! And the Lord‟s for

saving me!”

       “A bit of a pickle you have gotten yourself into, my lady. But nay worry,

we shall deal with this braggart sooner than you think.” The pilot informed me

with razor-edge confidence.

       “It‟s an evolved Scuttler!” I yelled back, not sure if the Tomahawk‟s

external pickups could hear me. “It has the ability to cloak itself!”

       I felt the Tomahawk‟s massive form fall back sprightly, as it deftly avoided

another strike from the Scuttler. The sound of a particle cannon going off held

my attention while blasting my ears at the same time.

       A sharpened roar filled the street before it died down.

       “We know. My master has encountered these evolved bastards before and
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/234


knows what to look for.” The pilot said briefly, before rushing in and using its

shield as a weapon.

       A dull crunch! came and the Scuttler-dragon howled in pain and agony.

       The Tomahawk I was being held by fell back again. I expected it to strike,

but it did not.

       Another large form brushed by me, but my range of vision did not betray

what had passed us so. My ears picked up the sharp singing of a sword and

moments later, the final death cries of the Scuttler-dragon.

       I silently applauded my hero and saviors for rescuing me from such a

bind. I made amends to thank them properly once this was over.

       It was then when I felt the Tomahawk straighten as it bowed its head

slightly with respect.

       “Excellent performance, Captain! You carried yourself well with honor!”

The pilot squeaked with breathless excitement. The other Tomahawk pilot issued

further praise, while my unknown hero walked by with metallic-y hollow steps.

       “Same to you, Lucrecia. And you Valaris. Your marksmanship with your

particle cannon is still unmatched to this day.”

       “500 paces and never missed yet, sir. I holed the abomination before it

could strike at Lucrecia‟s Tomahawk###seeing that she could not return fire so

easily.”

       I smiled at the exchange.

       “Master Tiddus did order me to save our wayward robin after launching
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/235


that missile barrage. I could do nothing less, seeing that she would fall into

oblivion without my timely assistance.”

       “Too true, sister. Too true.” Valaris returned gaily. “Shall we see whom

we‟ve snared?”

       “Yes, let‟s.” The third pilot###Tiddus###I assumed replied coolly. “I would

like to meet the daring soul who would have the gall to go one-on-one with such

an unfathomable creation.”

       I felt myself being lifted up, as the palm of the mecha opened up

smoothly, revealing its prize.

       I rose to my feet, looking around myself, feeling a bit insignificant in the

presence of such magnificent machinery. I had only seen Tomahawks in pictures,

and came across one rusted hulk in my travels a few years ago, but never saw

one in action###and in good shape###until now.

       Three stood proudly with the other mecha###which was just as gorgeous

and beautifully sculptured, and I wondered if the pilot inside was just as well.

       “You were right, dear sister. It would seem like we have a wayward robin

in our midst. Look at her delicately armored wings. Certainly a byproduct of her

armor‟s evolutionary capabilities.” Valaris pointed out.

       “Fifth-generation, possibly sixth.” Tiddus mulled thoughtfully. “But where

would such things exist. Unless…”

       The second Tomahawk glanced over at its slightly smaller compatriarch.

       “Unless what, Master Tiddus?”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/236


       The mecha Tiddus piloted shook its head. “Unless she‟s some kind of

techno-mage…”

       “Techno-warrior, actually.” I graciously corrected with a bow. “You may

call me Jasmine Stein.”

       “Lucrecia.” The mecha displaying me said with a slight bow of the head.

“That‟s Valaris over yonder, Darla behind us###she„s the quiet one, but don„t let

her silence fool you###and this is my master and ship‟s captain of the Esmeralda

Jasmine###Tiddus (Gir-ah-soiski) Kalamon.”

       “My lady.” Tiddus‟s mecha bowed with a flourished move of both body

and sword. “A distinct honor on behalf of myself and my crew. Are you a

resident of these parts?”

       “Nay, kind sir. I am a wayward traveler###stranded here not so long ago

by a band of techno-mages. My Torus mecha sank off shore###having suffered

too much to stay battle worthy.”

       “And you are here to help those in distress?”

       “Yes. For the time being. But my friend had gotten hung up on something

critical and she may be in danger. I was tracking some of the many Scuttlers

which had sprouted like mold recently, when I ran into this new aberration.”

       “It has gotten worse by some accounts.” Tiddus told me. “The town‟s

people are still very much in danger. We have to get them out as soon as

possible. My people tell me that the invasion forces are steadily closing in, and

what‟s been cropping up here as been advanced scouts.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/237


       “How long do we have?” I asked.

       “A few hours by our best projections.” Tiddus informed me.

       Spreading my wings, I prepared to take off.

       “W-wait!” Valaris cried out haltingly. “Where are you going?”

       “To find my friend, and help put a stop to this insane misery.”

       “We‟ll go with you.” Tiddus volunteered instantly. “By all measures, it may

look like you‟ll need some assistance.”

       As much as I would‟ve loved the idea, I saw that this would only make

things worse for the both of us towards the end.

       “No. You go. But I‟ll come back here when I finish.”

       “We won‟t be here. Do you know where our ship is berthed?”

       “No,” I answered automatically. “What ship do you speak of?”

       “War galleon.” Lucrecia chimed in. “The Esmeralda Jasmine.”

       Upon really hearing it for the first time, I smiled. “Nice name,” I

complimented. “Give Seth the coordinates and I‟ll meet you there after I take

care of some business.”

       “Who is this Seth character?” Tiddus asked curiously.

       Holding up my wrist, I showed the beautiful mecha my blinking

companion.

       “Wrist comp.”

       “You are truly gifted,” I head Tiddus murmur as he worked something out

on his end. “All right then. Ready on the interface.”
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/238


       I nodded at my wrist. “Go ahead, Seth. Download the information.”

       “Mecha interface ready. Connection established. Downloading in progress.

Standby.”

       A half minute was all that it took. Afterwards, Seth indicated that he had

indeed gotten the data on file.

       Tiddus‟s Belarus nodded its head, and all four left the scene of a very

grisly picture of a decimated and torn asunder Scuttler-dragon. I saw no reason

standing around trying to pick out key identifiers in its tattered carcass. Suffice to

say, Tiddus and his men###er, women###did a valiant job in destroying the

enemy.

       Much better than I could‟ve###given how outmatched I apparently was.

       I flew off, intent on locating Jeanna; silently wondering what mischief my

friend had gotten herself into.




       Chapter 29.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/239




       Jan‟s protector looked at her again in mild annoyance.

       “When I give you an order, woman, I expect you to obey it! Now go!”

       Jan didn‟t know what to do. But the hell dog did. It quickly launched itself

into the air at her, but the man with the sword was much faster###the flat of his

blade connecting with the thing‟s skull.

       A sharp howl of pain haunted the air as it was thrown backwards into the

bushes.

       Thrashing and crying pitifully, it sought to get itself free.

       Taking a precious moment, the man walked up to Jan, took her by the

arm none to gently, and shoved her towards the town‟s common.

       “Move it.” He emphatically stated. “You can‟t hope to last long in a

situation like this. Allow me to sacrifice myself so that you may live.”

       Jan made a dismissive gesture.

       “I may be a woman, a healer of the arts of white magi, but I am not a

defenseless harlequin!” She countered frostily.

       Taken aback by her unexpected fiery attitude, the man relented ever so

slightly.

       “I only have one sword, my lady.” He said quietly, while the hell dog

continued to flail helplessly in back of them. Then###without so much of a

warning###it melted into its surroundings.

       The terse silence took both of them by surprise.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/240


       “Agar‟s Forge!” The man muttered in disbelief, after he had turned around

and stared at the spot where the beast had been valiantly held prisoner by the

thick briar. “Where in the Five Suns of Crescens did he go? I haven‟t even drawn

blood from the creature yet!”

       “Better to live and fight another day, eh, kind sir?” Jan suggestively

volunteered just out of ear shot.

       “What are you chattering about now?” The man coolly asked, gaze still

fixated on the silent briar. “I didn‟t quite get that last part.”

       Jan gripped his arm. “Running now would be a wise choice. I think it

would be a good time to###” but the rest of her words were drowned out by the

sudden explosion of briar as more than one hell dog leapt into our midst.

       Jaw dropping, the man stared at the unexpected pack and then at his

sword, which###in his mind###took on the appearance of a butter knife with each

passing second.

       “I expected a battle to the death with just one of these heathen fiends of

hell, but to be cheated out of my own rapture by so many at once###?” He

growled in solid anger. “This is just simply not fair!”

       Jan began to back up ever so slowly, her heart and mind pounding in icy

cold fear.

       “Fair is not overestimating your enemy‟s strength…!” she said quickly,

before taking off. “And living to fight another day!” Her voice carried on after she

had sufficiently put some distance between herself, praying to the Lord in
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/241


Heaven that she would make it unmolested.

        The man stood behind, nodding, while waiting for the first hell dog to

make its first move.

        Three did actually, lunging at him from two sides. The man gracefully

sidestepped the first attack by turning his body away from the first hell dog‟s

claws (which carried him within striking distance of the other)###towards the

open jaws of the third###and plunged his sword into second‟s face; cleaving the

thing‟s head neatly into two parts as he yanked it cleanly free.

        Brains and blood splattered both him and the ground nearby, as the body

fell limply to the ground, but the man was still in motion, and he used the hilt of

his sword to savagely hit the second hell dog in the back on passing.

        A satisfying crack! could be heard, but that‟s all the victories afforded to

the brave soul of a man whom Jan never learned his name, or where he came

from.

        Just as the second hell dog fell to the ground, the remaining pack

strength were already in motion###jaws open, claws outstretched.

        A minute later, a human scream sounded into the air, before being cut off

with a strangling cry.

        While some of the hell dogs feasted on the hot flesh of the downed man,

two broke off from their brief meal, to raise their heads and sniff the air.

        Howling, they took off in a rush of excitement.

        The rest of the pack soon abandoned their kill to give chase.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/242


                            *               *           *

       I imagined that it did not take long for Jasmine to locate me. Inside my

mind, I found her finding me sitting perched on a couple of discarded crates

which I had pulled from the refuse bins nearby###taking a much needed

breather. But I was also consumed by both doubt and desolation over what had

taken place###as I wanted to. No. Needed to.

       Touching down like the earth-born angel that I imagined herself to be,

Jasmine looked around at the carnage about her and whistled in surprise.

       “Wow. You certainly know how to pick „em.” She marveled, while I

continued to mindlessly dig small groves into the cobblestone work with the tip

of my blade.

       “Ur…mmm…” I grunted with great disinterest, my mind and thoughts still

very much locked up in their own little battle of wills. One would rue the day, this

much I was certain. But which…I did not know. As my mind played things out, I

ignored her, leaving my fantasies to play out on their own for as long as

possible.

       Jasmine walked around the small area, inspecting points of interests

known only to her, before ducking her wings and thus her body into the refuse

bin which had been the scene of so much gruesome misery earlier.

       “Poor soul,” said the woman, before turning about and exiting smoothly.

“Chewed to bits like a finely cut steak.”

       I turned away, not trying to show any reaction to her statement, but my
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/243


stomach threatened to say otherwise.

       “Must you say such awful things?” I retaliated under my breath, before

digging my sword into the ground much harder than before. The stonework

beneath soundlessly split under my assault and I felt the Sansui sword push itself

through brittle dirt.

       “What did you say? I kinda missed out on that exchange###being some

where‟s else at the moment.” Jasmine replied good-naturedly.

       Unexpectedly, I turned on my friend###jumping to my feet, yanking my

blade from the ground. Dirt and stonework came with it. With a shaking hand, I

whipped my sword arm around and pointed it in her general direction.

       “Must you prattle on like an incessant mother hen?” I accused in a

blistering tone of voice. “I know what happened here! Can‟t you see with your

own god given eyes? Or those technologically enhanced sensors of yours? Must

you always remind me of what deeds I‟ve already done and accomplished for the

sake of the Lord Himself and my own?”

       “Um…” Jasmine countered with abject confusion. “All I did was…” She

began, but I cut her off right then and there with, “Don‟t pretend to not know

what you were doing, you common whore! I know! I can see it with my own

eyes! I know what I did!”

       Clouds of hurt began to show up on the woman‟s face. Flipping up her

helm, I could see that. But for the love of God, I could not see it right then. I

was too wound up in my own tirade to even notice until she spoke###her voice
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/244


tightly controlled and immeasurably patient.

         “Do not presume that because you are older that you can treat me in such

a callous manner. What has eaten into your mind and soul so much that you

have to treat me this way?” She inquired.

         Eyes widening, I dropped my arm, sword following suit###falling limply to

my side.

         Turning away, I said quietly, “None. I am sorry, Jasmine. I am irreparably

torn at the moment between what I believe in and what I‟ve just witnessed and

seen with my own two eyes.”

         “Accepted and granted, Jeanna. But your anger has allowed you to

become more brazen and chiding than I would ever expect from you. Why is

that?”

         “It is…” I began sullenly, control of myself quickly being reasserted.

“Nothing.”

         Brightening just a bit, Jasmine said, “Nothing? Just a second ago you

called me a common whore. Am I so below the radar, that you have to treat me

as an unequal?”

         “You were never such, Jasmine,” I ingratiatingly complimented. “I am just

dealing with some inner problems of my own.”

         Leaning on her halberd, my friend snorted.

         “Not very well, I gathered, judging by your outburst. Are we going to

continue having these kinds of issues?”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/245


       “Mayhap.” said I, readily agreeing without placing much thought into the

subject. “Does this bother you any?”

       Having been frozen into place by my earlier comment, Jasmine quickly

shook herself free of it and shook her head.

       “No. None at all. But tell me something if you can.”

       “Certainly.”

       “What‟s gotten your panties in such a twist anyway? Is it the dead

individual in the trash bin or is it because you took out one of the Seven Circles

of Hell‟s dreaded minions?”

       “It‟s this war,” I said with a heavy sigh.

       “The war?” Jasmine echoed with surprise. “What do you mean?”

       “How can our Blessed Lord of Heaven‟s Gate care so much for his own

children and yet turn a blind eye to the suffering of those who are sworn into His

service?”

       “ „Thy whom embraces my service and cause for all that‟s holy and good,

will always bear up the hallmarked scars of injustice and sin.‟ ” Jasmine quoted

easily, forcing me to recall the text from the Book of Jerosiah, verse 116 in the

hallowed Paradigm of Blessed Divinity.

       “War was not part of the injustice or sin. It is the man‟s way of enslaving

the weak and culling any and all opposition.” I shot back weakly, knowing that

my argument didn‟t have that much merit.

       “It is an injustice to those whom did not want or embrace this war,”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/246


Jasmine corrected knowingly. “Are you going to hold this against those whom

are innocent?”

       “No.” I said irritably, thinking how much of a fool was I. Now, even my

own fantasies were turning against me. Turning traitor!

       “It would be immoral and improper. As a child in the service of our Lord, I

would only be considered a mockery in His eyes###cast aside to be swallowed up

by one of the hell lords.”

       Jasmine laughed softly. “Again, you are too hard on yourself. But I believe

that###in my eyes###you want to prove something, but no not what…yet. So you

go around, trying out different things, but still cannot find your true path in life.

It makes sense thought, in a perverted sort of way.”

       “What do you mean?”

       “Your lifestyle. It didn‟t occur to me up till now that you wanted both of

two worlds###one born of magic, the other born of a warrior‟s blade. For awhile,

I thought you were kidding…”

       “It is wrong to desire something one cannot have.” I said softly. “To do so

would consume and destroy my soul in the long run.”

       “You seem to be handling it well, Jeanna.” Jasmine pointed out in full

support. “No woman I know###past or present###could be both a warrior, a magi

sorceress, and a servant of our Lord all at once.”

       I wanted to thank her for those words, but nagging doubt kept eating at

my steely resolve.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/247


       “Am I?” I replied, gazing at the sword of a gift from an uncle I barely

knew. Though I excelled at family functions, remembering everyone whom

attended them in the past was a naturally occurring human failure on my part.

       “Where in the Paradigm of Blessed Divinity does it say that a child in the

service of our Lord is allowed to use the dark arts in His name only, while

keeping on pure path of righteousness? There isn‟t a single verse or scripture

which does! And yet…here I am! Using magi magiks of the dark arts and quoting

verses in our Lord‟s name, praying to Him in times of need, and even

questioning His judgment!” I took a deep breath before continuing. “Which of

course, will most certainly guarantee me the Seat of Everlasting Agony within the

Fourth Circle of Hell for all time!” I stopped and shuddered, the sting of hot tears

welling up in my eyes. “I am a born sinner of everything I swore I would uphold

with revered grace and piety…!###and I cannot even honor the memories of my

dead family by doing this!” Gripping the Sansui sword, I just wanted to die then.

       I felt so humiliated and betrayed.

       I couldn‟t even bear to pray to our Lord in Heaven‟s Gate right now###

though I wanted to so badly. I envisioned stripping bare and plunging my soiled

self into one of the six coldest, virgin lakes surrounding the St. Oberon

Monastery, beseeching my Lord to accept my sins and forgive me for all the

heartache and pain I caused Him###a child servant in His employ.

       But that was nothing more than a fantasy###since I did not know the

exact whereabouts of the Land of Six Lakes, or the monastery for that matter.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/248


       Good one, I mockingly scolded myself, as I stood there with a heavy

spirit, embroiled emotions, turmoil and tension in my body, heart, and mind.

       Then I turned and found no one there###as I had expected. My grip on my

own fantasies had silently ended.

       The world had not changed because I wanted it to.

       I sighed some more, feeling some of the guilt and burden lifting off of me,

but still feeling no better than I had before.

       No matter. This war had no real place for the doubters and cowards. I

had to just bottle things up for now and continue to push on until I could find

the proper place of solace and confess all of my sins with one fell swoop.

       Only God could judge me now. Not I. Only He could assail me for my

failures and shortcomings.

       All I knew is that when I approached Heaven‟s Gate, I would be sure to

explain to Peter as to why I had kept within my heart, a ton of self-doubt in my

other mortal life.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/249




       Chapter 30.



       “Wake up,” I said, shaking my friend gently from her angelic slumber. I

found her sprawled across the cobblestone twenty minutes ago, after coming

upon the gruesome scene of seeing a hell dog sliced in two.

       “Wake up, dammit!” I said with a sense of imminent urgency in my voice,

before I dropped her back on the pavement. “There‟s time for action and a time

for sleep, and this isn‟t it! ”

       Sitting back on my haunches, I looked at Jenna with bewilderment.

       “Fine time for her to take a nap,” I said with unease, keeping a wary eye

out for trouble. The pooling blood of the hell dog had cooled and congealed###

set to make one heck of a mess whenever it came time to clean it up.

       But seeing how Xanix was going to be evacuated anyway…
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/250


       “Your habits are just as puzzling to me as they are to you, mistress.” Seth

commented airily. “But I be nay in a position to judge thee.”

       “Mmph.” I said, before getting up, wishing I had learned a little blue magi

when given the chance. But magitek was my craft and I would never trade it for

another.

       “So what now?” Seth inquired as I looked around for something in

particular. With the street deserted of all activity, it didn‟t take me long to set my

eyes upon my target objective: A cold-water trough for trade cattle.

       A common enough sight in all trade ports of interest that I knew off in my

own collective travels, so I knew that this would suit my purposes just fine.

       Hehehehe….I thought to myself, thinking evil thoughts along the way, as I

approached my target objective.

       “Your not planning on…?” Seth began tentatively, forcing a nod out of me.

       “Yep. Only way I can think of. I need her onboard and ready for action. I

can‟t do this by myself and she knows it.” Returned I with conviction burning

deep in my heart.

       “She won‟t wake up in the best of moods, you know.” My partner

cautioned me with buttered pessimism.

       “I know.”

       “She‟ll most likely have a good reason to kill you…” Seth continued

unerringly, even as I picked up the draw bucket sitting next to the trough;

dipping it in smoothly as glass.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/251


          The water made nary a ripple as I withdrew it. Small rivulets escaped

down the sides in silent applause as I carried my small burden back with me.

          Jeanna Ulysses still remained where she was: Camped out on the cold

cobblestone and out like a blown engine.

          Sleeping so peacefully in the middle of a war…I mused silently, giving

myself###and her###one last minute of peaceful solitude before carrying forth

with the dirty deed.

          “Joy to the world…” I prayed in silent anticipation. “May thee find reason

to thank the Lord for this upcoming moment of blessed and divine raucousness.”

          Then I proceeded without abandon to douse my sleeping compatriarch

with the coldest water imaginable!

          The sweetest scream imaginable filtered up and around my ears as I

amply tossed the empty draw bucket aside###listening to its hollow clang! as it

struck the cobblestone and spun gracefully about a few times###before going

silent.

          However, my companion was another matter entirely, as her entire front

lay soaked and exposed to the world to see. Hardened nipples protruded from

beneath the now drenched and taunt fabric of her clothing, but my attention lay

more squarely on Jeanna‟s face, as I witnessed first the shock and astonishment

melt away into another layer of cleanly excreted volcanic anger.

          “W-what?!?” She sputtered flittishly, wiping the excess water from her

face and eyes where it had temporarily pooled enough to blind her sight. “H-how
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/252


dare you do this to me!”

       “Yep. She‟s rightfully pissed.” Seth observed. “I told you she would be

very unpleasant when she awoke.”

       Ignoring my wrist comp, I said in defense of my acts: “Had no choice in

the matter. You were sleeping like a cradled babe in the middle of the street,

smack dab in the tide of a heated conflict. Fools have died for less than what

you‟ve earned only moments ago. What possessed you to go to sleep anyway?”

       Jeanna‟s anger was crushed by the truth in my insolent words, as she

stared back at me with murderess intent. Nay that I could blame her for thinking

such thoughts about me. But I sorely wished that things had proceeded under

completely different and vying circumstances.

       This was certainly not the place to hold such an impromptu conversation.

       “Stay alert for possible trouble and/if any incursion of enemy forces in this

immediate vicinity.” I told Seth as I squared myself against any possible counter

by Jeanna. She certainly had the capability and I did not wish to anger her any

further.

       In the long run, I would only lose out in such a match###as there lay no

weapons within my reach or any sufficient technology in which to defend myself.

My armor could only take so much of a beating before Seth forced a shutdown

and then I would be on my own.

       Still, I didn‟t back down, even as Jeanna rose to her feet.

       “Well?” Asked I in a sweet, conversational tone of voice. “I am waiting for
                               Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/253


your response.”

      Jeanna gruffly passed me on by, searching for something and found it:

Her Sansui sword.

      Picking it up, she sheathed it cleanly back into its scabbard.

      Pointing to something afterwards, she said cryptically, “There lies your

answer, Jasmine. My enemy whom I slaughtered without recourse###taking a

small amount of revenge for the poor bastard whom it had killed wantonly. A

challenging foe whom nearly bested me; taking with him all of my strength and

will to his grave.” She paused for a moment, and then added, “I suspect that

since you splashed me, I had fainted dead away from exhaustion###believing that

I was still awake and…”

      Silence split us in two after that, as I digested what my friend had

delivered to me in words.

      “And?”

      Jeanna turned away###presumably in mortal embarrassment by the way

she carried herself###garnering on what proper response she would give me.

      Hopefully not another, “You illiterate peasant!”###speech…I quietly mused

with mirthful humor in the back of my mind###still thinking that there was much

more to my newfound friend and comrade-in-arms than I had first thought. I‟ve

had enough with the „kowtowing to royalty‟ avenue as of late. I continued to

brood, giving my friend a moment more of peaceful respect.

      “Nothing,” she said quietly. “Simply a product of my overactive
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/254


imagination, Jasmine. Pay it no further heed on my part.”

       “As you wish.” I said with a slight and unconscious bow of the head, my

body following suit.

       Jeanna caught me of course in my subservient position, reacting to me as

if I had preened myself to her for her personal approval; the quiet fear and panic

rising up into her eyes.

       “Must you do that?” She unconsciously snapped at me, her nerves still

raw from the earlier incident with the watery nap.

       “What is that I pray tell?” I inquired pleasantly, unaware of the

transgression I had caused on my part.

       “That.” She pointed at me with an accusatory finger. “Treating me as if I

were of high-born status and you were nothing more than a common woman

seeking my noble consent.”

       “I was unaware that you treated other‟s kindness as such,” I cast off

fluidly, my curiosity getting the better of me. Clearly, Jeanna had more personal

issues than just with common courtesies. But instead of making things worse, I

decided to shelve the subject for now, and focus more on what I wanted to tell

her. “Do you always have problems with accepting gratitude and admiration from

others?”

       Jeanna shook her head, clearly miserable with herself. “I have no such

failings,” she said stiffly. “I just don‟t want to be reminded of those things which

connect me to my past. I want to remain free.”
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/255


         “Whilst be chained to a lie which grows like a cantankerous disease eating

away at you from the inside out?” I questioned boldly. “How long will you last

under such conditions?”

         Jeanna sighed heavily, resolutely defiant. “Long enough.” She answered.

         “ „The Lord seeketh as He forgives thee for your lies as long as thou give

up that which seeks to destroy you.‟ ” I quickly threw out. “You must not allow

your petty inhibitions and pride ruin you, Jeanna. I won‟t judge you based on

what I know already to be the truth!”

         Jeanna spun around, turning on me with such fury, I was at a loss for

words.

         “And what would you know of pride, foolish woman? What is thee seeking

that you wish to harbor against me for the rest of my days?!” She screamed.

“What?”

         “I don‟t…know.” I returned weakly, thinking how much of a bad decision

this turned out to be. Here, I wanted to tell my friend of the events which had

transpired, but I kept coming back to the same innate curiosity which continued

to war against my better judgment.

         I wished no ill will against her, but a part of me wanted the unblemished

truth!

         Must I be so pig-headed? I asked in grave silence.

         “If you value your life, you will hold your tongue, lest you want me to rip

it out by force###if necessary.” Jeanna threatened lividly, turning on her left heel
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/256


and walking away from my own astonishment.

       I had failed!

       “W-wait!” I blurted out in abeyant supplication###arms stretched out, both

hands turned upwards submissively. “I don‟t know what came over me! I am

sorry, Jeanna. I had no right to challenge you on those grounds. I just wanted to

know the truth…”

       Jeanna stopped 20 paces away from me, weighing her next options.

       “The truth…” she muttered to herself, then looked at me, the fire gone

from her eyes, but the haunted pain remaining in her face. “Can be both a useful

tool and a hurtful weapon wielded like a dagger against friend and foe alike. Is

that what you wish of me, Jasmine? Do be wounded so deeply, that not even a

shred of dignity is left within? Or any application of thy own honor to carry forth

to the next generation?”

       I shook my head.

       “You would not like the story I would tell you, should the proper time

come. And even then, I may not be able to live with myself or the decisions I

had to make in order to survive. You know what that‟s like, do you not?”

       I did. By the Divine Lord in Heaven, I most certainly did!

       “Yes,” I answered with ingratiating honesty. “I do indeed.”

       “Then let us not make things worse by revealing parts of ourselves that

were never meant to be seen out in public.” Jeanna eloquently proposed.

       I smiled despite my best laid intentions.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/257


       “Do you wish to live a lie, then?”

       “Considering what we all have gone through, a lie would be much better

than having to face an empty truth. Especially the ones which we can no longer

hold power or authority over no longer.”

       I saw what she was saying and nodded in absolute agreement. Nothing

would be gained by revealing everything about one‟s self. It would avail the two

of us nothing.

       And where would we be then?

       Stuck in time and marooned in places we would never once consider our

ancestral homes...

       “I concede your point, Jeanna. For that, I am sorry for putting you

through hell.” I said humbly.

       “At this point in time, hell would be a pretty nice place compared to this.”

Jeanna mused, then looked at me. “You wouldn‟t be a true friend if you didn‟t

stand there and not expose the faults which lie within me now and then. I am

the one whom should apologize for treating you so rashly. There are times when

I forget myself and no longer consider the fragile feelings of those allied close to

me.”

       “No bother,” I gently cast aside. “Your feelings on the matter have been

made clear to me and I shant bother you no more on the subject###lest you wish

it.”

       “Accepted. Now what is it you wish to tell me?” Jeanna asked.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/258


       “What do you mean?”

       “Your eyes betray the nagging impatience inside you. Your whole body is

tense and looks ready to burst from it.”

       I nodded and plunged in with what had been on the top of my mind.

       “While searching you out, I ran across someone named Tiddus###”

       Jeanna‟s jaw dropped right then and there.

       “The Tiddus (Gir-ah-soiski) Kalamon?” She asked with brightly lit

recognition.

       “Yes!” I said. “Do you know him?”

       Jeanna nodded eagerly. “Do I ever! He is a close friend of Jan‟s. But he‟s

also incredibly gorgeous. Did you see him up close and personal?”

       “In his mecha. I‟m surprised that someone like him could afford such a

luxury.”

       “If the tides are right,” I told her, drawing upon the knowledge of the

seas and the abundant wealth they contained. Only the hardy could gently coax

such treasures from the oceans‟ watery depths. “And if the ship master is as

intelligent as he is cunning.”

       I chuckled###seeing the effect Jeanna‟s words were having on her. But I

declined to call her on it, vowing only to see the truth in her words for myself.

       Such men commanded not only grand admiration from all, but the

deepest respect. Even from their enemies.

           “He is. Him and his comrades took down a mutated Scuttler-dragon###”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/259


and was stopped in my tracks by the stunned look on my friend‟s angelic face.

“What?”

       “We‟re in trouble then.” Jeanna interjected worriedly, before a dawning

realization hit her like a bolt of wayward lightning. “May the Lord strike me down

for not thinking of this sooner!” She berated herself by thumping her forehead

with an open palm. Drawing out her sword, the young woman continued. “The

Scuttler is a multi-purpose aberration which draws upon its other transformations

only when faced with insurmountable odds!”

       “What?” I asked, anxiety building up inside me.

       Shaking my head, I cursed myself for being so stupid!

       “It never occurred to me that we would be fighting more than just one

reincarnation from its original host body. But then again, no one‟s really had to.

And now…”

       “And now, we‟re finding out the truth.” I finished with cold dread. “Oh, my

God! Tiddus!”

       Jeanna nodded. “The entire town is in dire straits, too. The next

transformation will be much worse than the last. And then the one following…”

       “Until there is nothing left…” Jasmine added quickly, before taking flight

into the air.

       “Nothing that can stand the full fury of one god-like Scuttler, that is.” I

added in quiet solace, watching as my friend zipped over the rooftops and out

into the open skies.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/260


       There was more danger than I first led on. Only because I was too blind

to see the possibilities before they sprang into existence.

       I only hoped that we weren‟t too late.




       Chapter 31.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/261


       Jan didn‟t know how long she had been running. Time slipped together

along with the adrenaline rush###creating a sense of awkward determination,

building up into supreme conviction that the only reason why she hadn‟t stopped

ages ago was for the plain fact of the matter: The sounds of baying death hot on

her heels.

       Granted, she had a good head start on her pursuers, Jan knew that she

didn‟t have much long to last, despite all of her physical training regimens in the

past as a young woman training to become a healer. Part of her training was to

go long days and nights without rest in face of war, endless emergencies and

other crises.

       Crossing another unfamiliar patch of lush green land, the doctor found

herself on familiar grounds once again, and found the same sign directing

travelers to the town‟s entrance.

       The baying died down after a few more minutes of renewed sprinting, and

Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla believed that she had lost sight (and sound) of her

inhuman pursuers.

       The back end alley way leading down Crescent Street looked more than

inviting and she took this opportunity to disappear down the narrow passageway

and out into the wide open…plaza?

       Jan stopped in the middle of the wrecked fountain square, the bitter scent

of death and destruction choking her nostrils.

       “Dear Lord in Heaven…” She said softly, wondering just how this was
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/262


possible. The place looked absolutely trashed and lacking any signs of human life

anywhere.

       Jan walked listlessly around, instinctively checking the upturned bodies

which had been left behind as a stagnant reminder of human frailty, finding no

pulse of life anywhere.

       None!

       Giant carcasses of creatures unknown to her littered the street in the back

way towards one of three exits. The mottled green-brown corpse of one had

been split down the middle or simply sloughed off in such a way, the picture

reminded her of a caterpillar going through its larvae stages before turning into a

brilliantly colored butterfly.

       Shuddering at the thought of having to encounter whatever had been

birthed from these things, Jan took the middle exit and left the scene of misery

before her stomach threatened to revolt.

       She had enough problems as it was.

                      *            *             *

       In all the texts provided to me by both my mother, father, and

grandmother, none of them ever said anything about a Leecher going through

any more endomorphic transformations other than to a Scuttler. The only reason

I knew its other latent configurations was because of my uncle Robert. This man

on my father‟s side was one of a select few who walked every inch of the Dead

Earth to search out and record what they saw with their very own eyes and ears.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/263


(Traveling Scribes as I called them.) Robert was a brilliant man as he was a

natural born fighter and warrior. He was also gifted in the Earth magi,

particularly in the hard-pressed arts of magnetism. Gravity and the little known

forces of this Dead Earth of ours was his grail and specialty, and he wielded both

his Grave Sword and his knowledge of Earth magi like a natural born sorcerer.

      Truth be told, he was one of few men I truly and openly admired. He was

also the same one who bestowed upon me the gift of Y‟sen Sansui, that###along

with the sword###I would later hold as a precious reminder of my family‟s royal

lineage.

      Tho‟ I did not know his final fate after the dispersion of my family so

many untold months ago, he also revealed to me more than I wished to know

about the minions which crawled beneath our feet in silent agony###sometimes

waiting for the day when a pitiful mortal would unerringly stray into one of the

Seven Circles, or be sent there by the Lord Himself as Divine Punishment for

unforgivable deeds committed in that other life.

      But my dear uncle imparted upon me the knowledge about some of the

worst creations ever conceived by immortal minds and nary given a passing

thought by mere mortals such as I.

      At first, I did resist, because it went against the grain of everything which

stood as a reminder of my status and educational values. But Robert was patient

as he was persistent. He knew the value of knowledge in itself and told me that

this would be one of my greatest of all weapons###if I could apply it properly in
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/264


due time.

        So traversing the deserted streets in search of an enemy I didn‟t even

know any longer, it gave me reason to pause with a bit of ironic pride: Only 8

years would come to pass before I put my dear uncle‟s knowledge to the test!

        I only wish that he was here to see this glorious moment. I sorely wished

everyone else was here to see me in my prime###taking on evils only meant for

the eyes, ears, and the hand of a man, not a woman such as myself or Jasmine.

        Everything looked clear from my perspective, and I found myself quickly

encroaching upon the same dock areas close to where Natalie and Aria lived.

        On cue, Jasmine touched down only twenty yards from me, folding her

wings back and returning her halberd weapon to a casual first-guard position. (I

knew of ten levels out of the fourteen rumored.)

        “The area within 1500 yards is devoid of all enemy activity. I would

assume that there will be no more action in this quarter of the town.” She told

me.

        “Assumptions are a man‟s fallacy,” I answered back. “Not mine. I do not

assume that we are in the clear, only being given a breather by the Lord Himself.

They will come, if they sense more human flesh to prey upon.” Walking towards

the familiar two-story rise, I quickly went up the stairs, taking four steps at a

time.

        Had I known what I would be running into, I wouldn‟t have made such a

hasty ascent. I would‟ve quietly snuck up on my enemy and gave them all what
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/265


for in the form of a gleaming, diamond-edged weapon, honed by the greatest

legend ever to be birthed.

       Unfortunately, my youth and slowly unraveling inexperience proved that I

had many more years to transgress before I could be considered a woman wise

beyond my years with the patience to match.

       Jasmine rammed herself into the back of me, causing the two of us to fall

over in a disorganized heap at the top of the landing###attracting some more of

the ugliest beasts you could readily imagine.

       Something like a slithering half-worm, half-snake creature turned and

focused its attention onto both me and Jasmine, its slithering tentacles opening

and closing sporadically. I knew from texts that these headless horrors were

called Crawlers and could move at more than a lightning‟s pace if needed. Their

mauve-colored bodies were strong and muscular, and while they sprouted

tentacles on both sides of their bodies, their “mouths” were concentrated inside

their empty chest cavities where their organs would normally be. In hindsight,

these things were nothing more than eating machines with no need for such

anatomy.

       Truth be known, Crawlers lacked even a brain to guide and govern their

actions, as they operated purely on instinct driven by the wills of their hell-born

masters (whichever they maybe), and attracted to anything radiating enough

body heat to be considered a delectable morsel of great succulence.

       And when they find a victim…
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/266


          I shuddered at the thought of becoming a dinner item on this thing‟s

lunch menu, even as I struggled to get free of my friend‟s entangling long and

graceful legs.

          “Couldn‟t you have been at least a few inches shorter?” I huffed and

puffed in desperation, even as I felt the subtle vibrations of the Crawler‟s

hideously graceful approach.

          “What?” Jasmine retorted gaily, “and miss all of this?” Then she yelped as

the Crawler‟s outreaching tentacles grabbed a hold of her armored leg and

pulled.

          By God‟s immeasurable graces###! I reflected as I was being dragged

along for the ride, before my left foot unhooked itself and I tumbled to the floor

in another shabby heap of indignation and pure embarrassment.

          “Salarius‟s Claw!” I growled to myself. “Must I always be treated in this

ungainly manner?”

          At this point in time, I heard the sound of something being crunched into

and the sounds of teeth breaking violently.

          “Yeah! Chew on that, you insufferable lackey!” Jasmine was heard

crowing with jubilant excitement in her voice. “Canna cut through 5th-Gen power

armor, no?”

          The Crawler howled in pain at losing its teeth, but only I alone knew the

truth in the matter: It wouldn‟t be defeated for long.

          One of the most enduring qualities of any of the Seven Circles of
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/267


Everlasting Pain and Agony‟s minions was their uncanny ability to adapt to any

given situation###seeing how the human world was challenging enough.

         Some could be easily overcome through human cunning and guile, while

others required a more indirect approach.

         The Crawlers which associated itself through the 5th Circle were one of

many low-level soldiers capable of adapting to given situation. Unlike the

Leechers, their adaptations were only rudimentary and easily defeated if one

knew how to go about doing it.

         Wearing the right armor was one such blunted necessity.

         Standard armor was no match for the teeth of a Crawler. It was akin to

punching through tin or aluminum sheeting with little or no resistance. I recalled

some instances where the victim was simply eaten whole###armor and all!

         The Crawler had no compunction for modes of dress. But it certainly didn‟t

like it when its meal was found to be inaccessible right off the start of a battle.

         Rising to my feet, I saw Jasmine being suspended high up off the floor,

her arms dangling and her weapon hanging limply off to the side. The Crawler‟s

“mouth” had extended far outside its body, and now lunged upwards in a savage

strike###encompassing my friend‟s head and half her body.

         A silent scream welled up inside my throat as I heard the muffled sounds

of protest coming from inside the thing, but the Crawler continued to suckle

away on my friend as if she was some kind of ice-cold, chocolate flavored nujik

stick.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/268


       Gross! I thought to himself, while my down turned lip formed into a

half-smile all on its own; watching as the Crawler detached its “mouth”, leaving

behind a coated trail of slime over half her body, making for a deliberate mess of

her hair.

       Oh, she was going to survive, but I was certain she would never forget

this encounter for times to come.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/269




       Chapter 32.



       “Well?” I cried out in dismay, grateful that my helm automatically closed

after seven seconds when I couldn‟t do it myself. This protected my face from

whatever would come my way and shielded my eyes from harm.

       Unfortunately, my built in mini-HUD display gave me a bird‟s-eye view of

the Crawler‟s false “gullet”!

       “Are you going to come and free me, or must I do everything myself?”

Sickening nausea filled me momentarily as I continued to struggle feebly against

my captor.

       Jeanna‟s voice rang out in the hall, filled with laced humor on top of

concern. I didn‟t know whether or not I was going to kill her right then, but I

could always save that for another time###that is, if I could get down!

       “You‟re doing such a marvelous job, girlfriend. I didn‟t want to spoil the

moment.” She called back to me in a teasing tone of voice.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/270


       Oh, may the Lord forgive me, but I wanted to kill her right then and

there!###just as the Crawler decided to let me go then; leaving me hanging like a

prized trophy.

       Though I couldn‟t feel the trail of wetness I was sure coated my lithe

frame, I knew that my hair was another matter entirely###as my skull‟s nerve

endings suddenly came alive, tinged with horror and inflamed with outright

disgust!

       “Ohhhh…!” I cried out, shaking my head, listening to the mats of long hair

slap against the sides of my body. “This is sooo degrading!” I sought to make my

point by struggling more violently against my captor, seeking a weak point in its

iron-like grip. All I could hear was the grating noise of my armor against the

smooth leathery skin of the Crawler itself.

       “Some help here would be nice at some point!” I continued to berate my

friend, wondering just what was taking Jeanna so long to respond.

       A second later, I caught the flash of another tentacle lashing out and then

throwing the poor woman down the hallway###sliding across the floor like a

child‟s ice puck; before being upended down the first flight of stairs.

       I winced as my amplified hearing picked up the sounds of her body

ramming itself against the wood with every fall. At this point, my feelings for

simple revenge changed over to concern. Jeanna would definitely be feeling that

one come morning! I could guarantee that much!

       But would she come back in a valiant fighting spirit? I thought to myself,
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/271


before I became distracted by movement at the extreme range of my own vision.

       Turning my head, I found myself staring into the “face” of yet another

Crawler!

       “My God!” I breathed in amazement. “Just how many of you ugly bastards

are here at this very moment?”

       The other looked smaller, quite possibly a juvenile. But I never once heard

of Crawlers being in a pack, much less than a family! It‟s tinier tentacles reached

up towards me, entwining itself gently along the larger versions of its “parent”

(for the lack of a better description), and caressing my lower calf and snaking its

way up my leg.

       Shuddering with open disgust, I decided that since Jeanna could not

longer afford to help me, I saw to it that I must help myself out of this jam.

       Raising my weapon arm, I sought a way out of this mess by trying to slice

off a few of the offensive appendages, but the young one must‟ve been a mind

reader then###as it quickly immobilized my arm and thus; prevented me from

taking quick action.

       Just then, I heard the most bizarre sounds coming from the heir apparent

Crawler: Cooing sounds!

       Sagging slightly with defeat, I sighed, before speaking to no one in

particular, I then muttered, “You have got to be shitting me…”

       Of course it would make perfect sense to the outside observer###if he or

she knew what I had gotten myself into and what these little abominations
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/272


meant to the average human being.

       Oh, yes! How very cute! I whipped up silently in livid indignation, this

small portion of fantasy doing nothing to cull the foul mood I was in. This was no

way to treat someone of royalty! I thought out loud as I could###letting the

whole world know how indescribably pissed I felt.

       “Surely, you‟re planning on something,” I heard Seth‟s sarcastic voice cut

through my own thoughts. “After all…it would do us no good to be gradually torn

apart by these monstrosities.”

       “Are the forearm mini heat seekers on line?” I sharply questioned, a

desperate plan forming in my mind. Normally, I wouldn‟t dream of doing this to

myself. But I was left with little choice in the matter. Either I was going to free

myself from this unholy imprisonment or I was going to be these Crawlers‟

newest special on the dining menu!

       “Yes, but###” Seth began as I felt a sudden shift in the creatures‟

movements. My graciously given time of stalling had finally run its course. If I

had any chance to act, the time would be now!

       Cocking my left forearm down and away from my body as far as I was

“allowed” by the Crawler, I yelled, “Fire the missiles, Seth! Fire them now!”

       I didn‟t need to know that my tactic had worked. I caught sight the brief

plume of escaping fire emanating from my forearm‟s launch tubes, then called on

the Holy Lord of all Creation to give me one moment‟s worth of superhuman

strength as I pulled myself into a fetal position; raising the ire of both Crawlers
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/273


at the same time.

       Seconds later, I was buffeted by one terrific explosion after the next###as

each missile homed in on my own armor‟s heat signature. (Which was greater

than that of my enemy‟s.)

       Surprised and a bit stunned by this unseen tactic, the Crawlers both

released me to recoil and lick away at their wounded pride.

       In that split second, I twisted my body around so that I landed in a

crouched defensive position###halberd now pressed up against my body in quick

anticipation of a sure-fire strike.

       I nary disappointed my own weapon of choice, as I leaped up like a cat,

spinning both my body and my weapon simultaneously so that on the downward

strike, I would connect with savage ferocity.

       I succeeded in opening a giant wound in the Crawler‟s right side, before

taking off a few of the tentacles in the process on the follow up.

       Badly wounded, the parent recoiled its tentacles back inside its own body

and proceeded to hastily retreat from my colossal attack###calling back its young

with a series of scratchy clicks and wailing.

       At this point, the ceiling above my head began to shake and shiver at

random, showering my position with alabaster dust and smaller chunks of

dislodging particle wood.

       “What in the name of the Wisdom Stream is going on here?” I asked out

loud. But before Seth could answer me, something heavy broke through the
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/274


ceiling and landed on the floor with such a thunderous crash, I was actually

knocked onto my feet!

       Looking up, I saw the face of my newly arrived tormentor and could not

believe my eyes!

       It was a Crawler! But it was the biggest fucking one I had ever lain eyes

on!

       “By all that‟s Holy###!” I whispered in reverent awe. “Are you the

grand-daddy of them all?!?”

       Screeching its displeasure at me, it proceeded to pound my position with

its terrible might###each successful near strike with its tentacles feeling like

getting hit by the fibrous vihali from the trunk of an almond fire tree.

       I did my best to get out of its way, thinking of ways to defeat this titanic

horror.

       Then a voice shouted, “ÝË{###ÆÞ}~ÒÌEegÁÇ!###Bring forth the rage


of fire and brimstone!”

       Almost instant the whole place grew oppressively hot and a swirling

cauldron of heat and plasma energy swirled about me like a tornado, before

slamming into the giant Crawler with impressive might.

       Stepping back, I flung out my arm and said, “Activate! Arc Beam of

Destruction!” My armored chest plate irised open, revealing a concave circular

emitter, which glowed white hot within me and spewed forth an unholy amount

of light and energy###connecting me to my target and blowing a huge hole in the
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/275


Crawler. I arced my back upwards, playing the beam up its massive bulk,

listening to the crackle of stored energy hiss and whine, while watching as

chunks of flayed flesh were blown clean away.

       The beam died away like a spent afterthought, and my armored chest

plate closed shut soon after.

       Jeanna showed up next to me, with an admiring look in place.

       “Nice of you to finally show up,” I said with heart-felt relief tinged with a

tiny bit of animosity mixed in. Seeing her rekindled feelings of personal

retribution, and I found myself torn between gratitude and still wanting to kick

her ass for leaving me hanging high and dry like a fish. But I couldn‟t keep the

smile from my own face as I asked, “So what kept you?”

       “About five minutes worth of unconsciousness.” Jeanna filled me in, with a

wry smile of her own. “Believe me, Jasmine, I felt every ache soon after when

waking up.”

       “Not enough to keep you from using fire-born Earth magi,” I deliberately

teased.

       Shrugging, Jeanna replied, “It isn‟t like I was given much choice in the

matter. „Sides, these things are only vulnerable to fire. Anything else is a waste

of breath.”

       Glancing up at the wounded Crawler, I could see that she was right. My

Arc Beam of Destruction did only marginal damage. Whatever I had inflicted was

immediately beginning to repair itself. But those areas smarting from Jeanna‟s
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/276


attack were still scorched, bubbling masses of red and black-charred flesh.

           “Adequate regenerative capabilities.” I analyzed, then looked down at my

halberd staff. “When in Croesus Temple…”

           “Hold.” Jeanna told me. “Attacking the thing head on has only proven

futile.”

           “And your fire-born Earth magi hasn‟t been able to slow it down much.” I

countered promptly, keeping an eye on the still moving creature. It had

retreated in wake of both our attacks, but this time around, its smaller cousins

had taken up the fray once again###seeking redemption for their earlier failures.

           At this point, I didn‟t know whether to feel pity or pride for what we now

had against these things.

           “I can take care of these minions,” I quickly volunteered. “I‟ll use my Arc

Beam attack again…”

           But Jeanna had other ideas in mind.

           “No,” said the young woman, unsheathing her Sansui sword. “I‟ll use this

to finish them off. You might want to stand back though; this may affect you a

bit###since you‟re wearing a 5th-Gen power suit.”

           Nodding, I fell back about ten paces, watching as Jeanna held up her

sword and said, “Cal-a-sai!” At this point, clouds began to gather above our

heads. Angry looking storm clouds. Peals of thunder boomed inside the

expansive hallway, shaking the walls and vibrating the floors with their powerful

voice. Lightning discharges began to go off. “Çm椧ߎ{###3}###ðøÅ###ÕD!###
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/277


Discharge your awesome might! Lightning…Thunder Strike!”

       It was at this time, I wished I had stood just a few feet downwind. Bolts

rained down on Jeanna, merging with her Sansui sword, before she swung her

sword around and whipped it out###nailing the three Crawlers outright in a haze

of electricity.

       I got a few stray discharges in the process, my armor singing with its

power, while my hair rose up all by itself. I smelt the awful stench of burnt slime

dating from my earlier encounter, and it turned my stomach inside out.

       Other than this, I stood my ground.

       The enemy on the other hand…nothing was left of the two smaller

Crawlers. Black scorch marks and some burning embers all that remained of their

pathetic existence, while the larger one looked absolutely awful.

       Ribbon-streaks marked its body where the lightning had traveled up along

its girth, and what was left of four of its tentacles were nothing more than

blackened remains. Two crumbled to the ground, while the other two twitched

spasmodically, before following to the ground.

       The husk collapsed in upon itself before vanishing slowly like a ghost.

Only smaller piles remained behind, before Jeanna Ulysses sheathed her

weapon, her eyes glowing brightly with otherworldly power. The effects faded as

emotional control resumed, and she smiled.

       “That was easier said than done.” She commented with an air of

nonchalance.
                               Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/278


      I could only stare at her in astonishment, before I went over to the spots

where the Crawlers once stood. It was true to form: Nothing remained of our

enemies. And there was no chance of them coming back either, as some of them

sometimes did###just to torment the victor.

      “But you said they were only vulnerable to fire attacks…?” I postulated

with grave uncertainty.

      “Weaker Level 1‟s.” Jeanna said, brushing off some errant wood pulp she

had collected as a souvenir from her trip down the stairs. Her magi‟s uniform

was dirty and smudged, but I could only imagine what mine looked like after

wearing my 5th-Gen power armor in its Valkyrie mode, all day long. “I used a

strong Level 3 to knock the stuffing out of grandpa over there and then followed

up with a Level 5 lightning spell to encompass three or more enemies. Neither of

them had the strength to withstand it###and they died on the spot. Your Arc

Beam was a nice touch though. Never seen such magitek spells so integrated

into a 5th-Gen power armor before.”

      I beamed. “This armor is a special model. Made by a long-dead uncle who

had more proficiencies in a special kind of Earth magi than I. He knew I loved

technology, but he said that my breed of techno-mages were a rare sort; that

being I could merge magiks and technology together, instead of relying on one

to compliment the other.”

      Jeanna‟s jovial mood darkened just a bit.

      “Like cyber-mages.”
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       Caught off guard, I asked, “What?”

       “Cyber-mages are those like you whom are described as being masters of

both technology and magiks. Especially the dark arts.”

       “True. But I am a techno-mage. I use technology and magiks together as

one entity, but I also use the technology to aide me in times of battle. That‟s

something cyber-mages could never do.” I elaborated a bit.

       “What about control over technology? I heard that cyber-mages could

control technology, whilst techno-mages could not.”

       I blanched right then and there. Jeanna did have a point after all.

       “Yes…” I said breezily. “They do.”

       “So that means if we come across any in the future…you would be the

one in trouble.”

       Staring at her, I asked, “Are we expecting such company?”

       Looking around, Jeanna shrugged. “In this day and age, anything is

possible. Now let‟s get going. We have some people to check on and I don‟t wish

to be made a fool of.”

       “You mean that coming here was done on purpose?”

       Jeanna chuckled. “You did say that the townspeople were a top priority.

There are a couple I want to check on.”
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/280




         Chapter 33.



         “Are they gone, mommy?” A scared Aria asked, cowering behind the chair

###her   eyes filled with antic fright. Natalie had been the first to warn of the
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/281


intruders upon opening the door to check up on some noise she had heard out

there###only to be confronted with horrors she had only read about in fairy tale

books she had read as a child.

        Upon opening the door a second time, all which greeted Natalie was a pall

of smoke and dust from the caved in ceiling.

        “I don‟t know, honey.” Natalie murmured before closing the door and

leaning up against it. “But I want you to get the things we‟ve collected so far and

get ready to leave.”

        Aria nodded; resigned to the inevitable: Xanix wouldn‟t hold.

        “Yes, mother.” She quietly offered, before getting up and heading into the

bedroom.

        Just then, a hard knock on the door startled both###freezing them into

their respective tracks.

        Natalie looked at her daughter in unmistakable fright, her panicked

expression telling her not to make a sound. With a bunch of hand silent

gestures, she urged her to go into the back room and hide!

        Natalie turned her back towards the door, determined not to let

whomever was knocking to come breaking down the door to steal her only child

away.

        “Go###!” she squeaked out in terror, as the knocking persisted. “Go away!”

        “Natalie?” A softly familiar voice called out from behind the closed door.

“It‟s me: Jeanna. I brought a friend. Can we come in?”
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      “How do I know it‟s you?” Natalie fired back tightly. “You could be

masquerading as her and I would never know!”

      On the other side, I nodded.

      “True,” I said from behind the door, listening to the panic in my

acquaintance‟s voice. “But if you want proof here you shall have it: Jan and I

were the ones who visited you on the day Aria was down with a pox. I created a

medicinal concoction which was instrumental in saving her life.”

      “We don‟t have much time.” Jasmine‟s voice said quietly behind me.

“Those Crawlers could be part of an advanced guard. The real invasion force will

be here in the matter of hours.”

      Nodding to the door, I said, “I know. Which means we have to hurry.”

Looking up at the ceiling, the shadows from the side lamps were sharp and

morose, but not threatening. Each appeared to be as scared as Natalie was at

this very moment.

      “Natalie? Are you there?”

      “I am,” the woman said. “I am opening the door right now.”

      Standing back, I gestured for Jasmine to do the same.

      “Keep Seth quiet. She doesn‟t know about your kind of technology.” I

informed her.

      Surprised by this revelation, Jasmine nodded, only to inquire, “Not

even…?”

      “No.” I quickly said, as the door opened, the bedlam of the light around
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/283


us seeking some comfort from the transpired chaos.

       Natalie didn‟t look worse for wear, despite all that had taken place. Her

facial expression told me of the terror she had genuinely believed would come

and invade her hallowed sanctum, if we weren‟t whom we said we were.

       To break the ice, I cracked, “Rough day?”

       This melted the fear in the woman‟s eyes, only to be replaced by a mix of

relief, gratitude, and a lilt of amusement.

       “You could say that.” She said, before her eyes went wide with terror.

       “Wha###?” I began, turning my head in that split second before being

shoved unceremoniously inside the modest apartment###my right arm going

through the wooden door itself. “Ooof!”

       Splintered pieces crashed down around us hollowly, before quiet settled

in.

       Jasmine lay right on top of me, before whatever had slammed into the

back of her had taken off.

       Growls reached my ears and I cursed.

       “Hell dogs…” I grunted. “Then…that one I fought…”

       “Wasn‟t the last one it appears.” Seth‟s voice carried next to my left ear.

       “Seth?”

       “Operational.” He said.

       “Jasmine?”

       “Knocked unconscious. Her head slammed into the upper support beam
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/284


above the doorway. Even with her armored helm, it doesn‟t always protect from

the full effects of a savage blow. The human brain is###after all###a frailty.”

       “Great…” I moaned, before trying to move on my own, but couldn‟t. “I

can‟t get up!” I told him. “Her heavy ass has me pinned down!”

       I heard an electronic chuckle. “She‟s not that heavy.” Seth lightly

defended. “Only her legs have you immobilized. All you can do is throw her off###

that is…if you really wanted to.”

       Stinging embarrassment flooded me and I replied, “Oh? Is that all it is?”

Then proceeded to heave off my unconscious friend. “Well then: That‟s

different.”

       But before I could gain a precious second to collect myself, I was

suddenly set upon by another hell dog. It was so amazing; how one could see

things happen in slow motion! As it was, I got sight of some movement out from

the corner of my eye and just as I turned, my entire world was nothing but

tough sinewy muscle, hardened flesh, wide-open jaws, and those glowing red

eyes which I had begun to detest.

       In the split-second I had left to me, I whipped out my sword and used it

as a barrier between me and those devilish sharp teeth.

       Klink! went the sword as the teeth intersected themselves neatly on my

burnished blade, which I then used my enemy‟s forward motion as an

advantage, as I spun myself neatly around and threw my opponent right through

the blessedly open window.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/285


       Thankfully, I didn‟t have to listen to its solid body mass hit the ground

below. But the hell dog‟s mournful howl was all I needed to track its progress,

before being cut short.

       However, this did not even my second encounter with these horrid

monsters!

       Looking out into the hallway, I saw more slowly making their way

stealthily towards me. Now (normally), I wouldn‟t be stupid as to let myself be

caught wide open, but there were seven of those things marching themselves up

the stairs and filling the expansive hall.

       I didn‟t have much time left.

       And Jasmine was still unconscious and splayed out openly as one could

easily partake in a wholesome bran muffin with sprinkled nuts.

       “One hundred and ten meters and closing…” I heard Seth call out to me in

warning.

       A minute and a half tops###roughly gauging the distance between me and

them###and as fast as they were…

       I quickly walked up to the open door, studying my dilemma in the seconds

spared to me. There was no way that anyone would undoubtedly survive if I left

this place wide open to attack. Nobody would forgive me for such a grave error

in personal judgment.

       I had to make a decision! I scolded myself.

       That‟s when I spied the opening in the roof.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/286


      The hole made by the giant Crawler was large enough for a human like

me to pass through###let alone a pack of murderous hell dogs intent on

devouring my virgin flesh.

      Maybe one at a time.

      And this gave me an idea…

      I closed the door behind me###acutely aware of the hole which was made

by my arm. But the damage wasn‟t bad and maybe, just maybe they all would

be attracted to me, rather than take that precious moment to scope out some

easy prey.

      I decided to chance it, just as the first two hell dogs came closing in. I

noticed that all of them had bloody muzzles and for a second, I thought that Jan

had bought it. But my relief came when I saw the shred of fabric dangling from

the jaws of the third beyond the first two###and knew that it wasn‟t her which

had died at the paws of these infernal cretins!

      I vaulted across the hallway, leaping up on top of the wooden railing,

listening it creak and groan under my weight. Balancing myself gingerly, I slaved

my sword to my hip, then repositioned myself accordingly to whatever desperate

plan was now running inside my head.

      The idea was to get up onto the roof…

      I leaped up, just as the first hell dog made a lunging grab for my legs###

intent on ripping me open with its teeth.

      He missed!
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/287


       I heard a howl of despair follow before a modest crash below grabbed my

attention and I saw that it landed on the cobblestone pavement below.

       It was not moving. Pooling blood could be seen and I figured that it had

died on impact in servitude of its hell-born masters.

       I clung to the rafter fragments with my fingers, dangling like some prized

turkey after it been stuffed for the upcoming Day of Thanks (a day which had

survived obscurity for long as I could remember, and was used as a day of family

gatherings and merrier times).

       The subdued howls below me indicated the impatience of my pursuers###

as they salivated over me, most likely thinking about the moment I would lose

my grip and fall to my death, I would be theirs.

       “Unlikely, you bastard heathens,” I whispered under my breath, taking a

moment to luxuriate in what I was doing, attuning myself to my surroundings

and inner self###before heaving myself up.

       The slight cracking of the rafters spurred me faster to get up to the roof,

where I found the place in question to be shambles in some places, but in one

spot it looked relatively safe to stand on.

       I carefully threaded my way around lightly, giving myself a chance to

scout my surroundings, before heading back towards the hole.

       But before I could get to it, a hell dog leaped up towards me###landing

lightly on top of the roof.

       Lifting its head, it let out a God-awful howl which instantly attracted more
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/288


hell dogs out of the ether; each appearing like ghostly mirages side by side###

forming a formidable pack.

       Where these the ones which had been hounding me earlier, or…? I

errantly thought, hoping against hope that this wasn‟t the case. Because if it

was, there wasn‟t much that I could do to save Jasmine, Natalie, or poor Aria.

       Screwing up my courage, I silently prayed to the Divine Lord of Heaven‟s

Gate###asking for courage and strength to flow through a child disciple of His

own.

       Don‟t let me fail, Father. There are too many depending upon my services

at this point. I could never live with myself if something were to happen to them!

       Taking out my sword, I prepared to do battle with my enemies.

       But Hell wasn‟t through playing tricks with me yet!

       Right before my very eyes, I saw the pack blur randomly, merging

together as one, becoming one large hell dog on a scale that almost dwarfed me

by a good sixteen feet or more!

       The newly formed creature glared down at me with cold contempt and

unbridled anticipation. Opening its mouth, it let out a serene howl which tore

through my ears like the Wailing Sylph on Eagle Point.

       I nearly dropped my sword, the sound was so deafening as it was

terrifying!

       Before I knew it, the giant hell dog reached out with its massive paws and

took a swipe at me. The sudden impact crushed the air from my lungs as I was
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/289


thrown like a limp doll across the roof.

        At this point, the hell dog launched itself into an attack, leaping right from

where it stood###into the air###coming down on the roof with such force, that I

was sure that the ground beneath and the surrounding area quaked with fear.

        I certainly did.

        I felt the roof bow up like the incoming tide at Alcoix Beach; pitching me

up into the air like a chew toy, before coming down to rest on the floor beneath,

before being picked up again by the still shuddering tremors.

        “###ÊYEKݾ######ß!###Shield thyself! Sphere of Safe

Haven!” I cried out, just as the jaws of death clamped down on my all too frail

body.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/290




       Chapter 34.



       An ungodly pain kept lancing through my head, as I slowly came too and

wondered if something was taking a leisurely bite out of my hide, which would

account for it.

       An internal sense scan of myself and I discovered that my pounding head

was the source of the pain, and not the cause!

       Flipping my visor up, I breathed a catatonic sigh of relief.

       “Oooh…” I whispered lowly, feeling like Death.

       “Oh! So you‟re awake! That‟s wonderful!” Seth‟s squeaky voice rang in my

tortured ears. I then realized that my wrist comp had been used as an

impromptu pillow of sorts. So with some discomfort, I managed to throw my arm

away from my head###only to have it hit the floor.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/291


      The world spun before my eyes, adding to the sparks and stars I

witnessed.

      “Ugh…gah…” I drooled out incomprehensively.

      “Hello? Anyone home?” Seth‟s distant voice called back.

      “S-Seth?” I began disjointedly.

      “Yes?”

      My vision blurred for a moment, cutting out just for a second, before the

world came back hazily. I ground out my misery then and there with a

slow-acting groan.

      “I‟ll gladly give a few tithes to the Chapel of Divinity, if you would kindly

shut up for a few moments while my brain comes back online.” Said I with some

human effort on my part. It wasn‟t easy when a distant part of your blood line

was Avi-Ti-Su (A legendary chameloid clan from the distant regions of Barsohv),

and you inherited a surprisingly strong one-third of that line‟s anamorphic

characteristics from both parents.

      And no one told you this until you were 12###while you struggled with

your own self-identity.

      Of course, I haven‟t told Jeanna this. But then again, we all have our own

little secrets. Some (as I struggled to get up on my own accord) were more

embarrassing then others.

      “Only three? The Priestess Galena would be very cross by such a small

offering.” Seth piped back softly. “Legend has it that those who give such small
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/292


vices are rumored to have angered the stone goddess and they were cursed to

be barren for the rest of their natural lives.”

       “That was 800 years ago.” I griped, as I sat cross-legged, hunkered

forward like a sorry assed drunk, head low and cradled with both my hands.

“Besides I can only afford 3 tithes as it is.”

       “Barren…barren…barren…”         Seth playfully mocked at my expense. I

slapped my left wrist gruffly. “Oh, do be quiet!” I snapped out of spite. “You

know nothing of Galena. She is a most forgiving goddess! I dare say she nay

expects every female visitor to the Chapel to cough up 8 tithes every visit.”

       “That is the standard offering.” Seth countered. “And you have yet to

make your annual pilgrimage.”

       “But the Chapel is three weeks travel! And we‟re on the wrong side of the

world as it is!” I grated, before taking the initiative to stand up on my own. It

was not easy, since my equilibrium was still off kilter.

       But I managed with a warrior‟s determination. Picking up my halberd up

off the floor, I spread my wings experimentally to see if they still worked.

       They did.

       Folding them close to my body, I turned to take stock of the situation.

       The place was still in a state of disarray, but I could not find any sign of

Jeanna Ulysses anywhere!

       “Aria and Natalie have taken refuge in the back room. Their door is

closed. But this gaping hole in the doorway poses a bit of a corundum.” Seth
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/293


commented airily.

       “It certainly does,” said I, going through the doorway and looking left and

right of myself. No enemy was present. “But I###” I began to comment further,

before the roof above my head shook with such terrible force, I was actually

knocked backwards!

       Falling on my ass, I stared up into heaven, curiosity alight on my face.

       “Just what in the Nine Levels of Hades was that?”

       A light shower of dust rained down outside, as another thunderous boom!

resonated inside the hall###clear as a church bell.

       “Trouble.” Seth informed me. “And most likely where we will find our lost

sheep.”

       I got up in a hurry. “Lost sheep my ass!” I replied with conviction. “That

sounded like something gigantic landed on our collective heads!”

       “Maybe it‟s a giant sheep looking for its master…?”

       Glancing around in the hall, I found our way to be clear. There was nary a

soul to be found anywhere‟s.

       The shaft of light pouring down the stairwell made me look up.

       Something monstrous flashed past my range of vision with lightning

speed…

       “If that‟s a sheep###” I began to retort with growing apprehension, before

the roof thundered once more; signaling that all idle conversation must end and

action must be taken before it came to be too late!
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/294


       Locking down my helm, I spread my wings, preparing to take off.

                     *             *             *



       I felt myself being tossed upwards into the air again###my Sphere of Save

Haven fluctuating madly. I didn‟t have time to fully cast the spell, so as a

consequence, its strength was only one-third of the value allotted to self.

       Great! I thought with some indignation, as gravity and Mother Earth

began to gently tug me down###directly in the line of fire with the giant hell dog.

Its glowing red eyes looked so much larger to me than I can remember…

       Maybe it was the childhood memories which had taken hold of me then,

or perhaps it was that overriding fear everyone has of being eaten alive, torn

apart, swallowed, which had me shaking like a leaf at this point.

       But in the few second left to me, I quickly discovered that it wasn‟t fear

which had driven me so close to the edge, but rage.

       “I will not be treated this way!” I soundlessly screamed, just as I entered

the damnable beast‟s mouth; feeling the jaws of death clamp down on me with

horrific force.

       My Sphere of Safe Haven sagged like a wet loaf of bread, pinning me

underneath the crushing vise of the hell dog‟s teeth and tongue. Huge amounts

of drool washed up against me and I felt absolutely sick to my stomach!

       Then like a prized catch, the creature began to shake me violently###as if

it knew that I was still alive and hoping to make some kind of sport out of this
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/295


yet.

          “Aaaah!!!” I bellowed long and loud, which only made things worse. Not

better.

          Sensing that I had yet to perish, the hell dog opened its mouth and

coughed me out###drool and all. I landed out into the hallowed open on my side;

the wind crushed out of me.

          Weakly, I tried to get up, to counterattack, but I could not. The impact

had robbed me of my strength and with it, my victory!

          I cried out pitifully, which seemed to excite my tormentor even more.

Lunging forward, the hell dog managed to grab me by my lower extremities;

flipping me up smartly like a grilled apple cake.

          “Holy Mother of###!” I bleated helplessly, before remembering that I too,

was still armed with my Sansui sword. Tugging it free, I spun it around###aiming

the point downwards.

          Make sport of me, will he? I thought venomously. Maybe this will make

him change his mind!

          But just before I could plunge my warrior‟s spirit into the heart of a most

fearsome enemy, something bright caught my attention###just beyond my own

scope of vision.

          The effect successfully blinded me and I fell from the skies in an

undignified heap; crashing into the roof with a small amount of force to leave a

noticeable dent behind.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/296


      Assuming anyone was left around to see it.

      The hell dog fell back, surprised by the blast of energy it had received in

its upper hindquarters###completely spinning it around.

      Howling its outrage, it forgot me and lunged for my rescuer.

      Breathing a sigh of relief, I went about picking myself up###slowly###since

my Sphere of Safe Haven had vanished after impact. It was a protection spell###

not a shield one.

      Few white magi could attain the master level of mental control needed

where magic could function on one level and consciousness on another. Though

I was a sorceress and an adapt at many levels of spells and incantations, my

emotional channels were more geared to the warrior‟s lifestyle than a magi‟s.

      I felt that flood of guilt fill me my mortal vessel then, even as I gazed up

the strong masculine sides of the hell dog###seeing it battle something which

was much quicker and agile than he.

      My own strength left me for the next thirty seconds, as the battle raged

on without me, as a part of that guilt ate into my reasoning and logic centers.

For five of those seconds, I spent berating myself into the ground; feeling less

than worthy in the eyes of my departed family and in the eyes of the

ever-knowledgeable Lord God of Heaven‟s Gate.

      Ten seconds later, I was paid for my dawdling when the hell dog

accidentally side-kicked me after falling sideways###having been struck by an

incredibly potent blow.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/297


       I skidded across the roof, my sword leaving my hand; momentarily

airborne before coming back down and driving itself into the resilient roofing

material.

       Getting back up proved to be a bit of a painful###but manageable###

experience, but nothing in me was broken or torn asunder.

       Effortlessly ripping up my Sansui sword from the roof, I scampered across

it with renewed determination###forgetting for the moment that I had been

moping earlier###ready to do my part in this fight.

       The hell dog did not move, even as I approached it with stealthy intent,

my sword held high in a good strike position; eagerly looking to have a taste of

adrenalin-mixed blood.

       Disappointment reared its ugly head, my sword arm mirroring my inner

emotional turmoil.

       “Ah…skrag!” I swore lividly. “I can‟t claim victory if my opponent has

defeated itself!”

       The giant hell dog‟s normally dead gaze looked glazed as did the fading

red fire in its enormous eyes. Blood poured from a deep gash under its throat. I

could see the exposed raw flesh beneath the charcoal black fur, along with

muscle and other fluids (which leaked out).

       A death rattle of sorts echoed from inside its throat and the „look‟ in both

eyes also dimmed.

       Its life force dulled and gradually I knew Death would be here any second
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/298


to lay claim to this monster. But for a time, it certainly didn‟t look it. My battered

body was a clear testament of that.

       The hell dog faded from my sight, it‟s body becoming nothing more

transparent as it returned to its purloined spot in one of the Seven Circles of

Everlasting Damnation and Agony.

       About to breath a sigh of relief, I wished I hadn‟t been so foolish then to

allow my guard to drop so callously.

       “Look out!” I heard Jasmine‟s voice call forth in earnest alarm, just as the

survivors of the original creation separated, and I found myself staring into the

jaws of hell once again.

       Dumbfounded, I raised my sword again in quick fashion, deflecting a blow

meant to take my head off. I quickly parried the creature‟s attack by venting all

of my frustration and anger into one savage blow from my hilt###nailing my

attacker with such precision, it left the rest of the pack in staggered disarray.

       They didn‟t know what to do!

       And for that matter…neither did I.

       From my past teachings, I learnt that those whom had the ability to

merge into one single representation of the original copy gave up all of their

strength, stamina and life force to „supercharge‟ their newly fashioned form.

From my studies, I found that 9 out of 10 attempts led to the complete demise

of the entire collective.

       Very rarely, did any survive such a merging.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/299


       But here was the proof contrary to personal belief.

       These hell dogs were fucking resilient to the core. And both me and

Jasmine were about to find out just how well a pack fights###even after one

singular defeat.




       Chapter 35.



       It‟s funny how your elders say that you should always fear and respect
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/300


that which is your obvious superior; bowing gracefully to its power and wisdom

at every given opportunistic moment.

       In other words, my grandmother wanted me to kowtow to something

which claimed mastery over me because of its either impressive size, or its ability

to woo the opposite sex into doing whatever it wanted.

       Fucking slavery if you ask me. Why did I want to pay homage to

something that was using my best friend as a human chew toy?

       Seeing the giant hell dog brought back memories of the days of my

ill-begotten youth###where I would spend it frolicking with my dog Zeus###a giant

great Dane whose power and mastery of its grace and speed left me in

breathless awe each and every time we played out in the fields.

       Then came an incident which forever seared into me the difference

between fear and respect.

       We‟ve been having problems with this rogue of a sky dragon for the last

couple of years. It would torment and torture the cattle my father (the king of

Taracereshia###a small, but impressive bit of land surrounded on the distant

shores of Laokata###located next to the mighty Junis River), would have sent out

to graze to their heart‟s content.

       To my best recollection, he wasn‟t a bad fellow. Just badly misunderstood.

He would take his anger and frustration out on the cattle###cows, sheep, some

goats…maybe a few pigs mixed in###I could not be certain. Memory recall into

my own occluded and fragmented past wasn‟t one of my strong points. I
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/301


preferred not to mention anything about my past if I could; because of my

obvious heritage.

       I didn‟t want to be alienated from the world, before it eventually alienated

me in return###based on future events of my own doing.

       Anyway, the sky dragon had been torturing my father‟s cattle, some of it

prized for sheer sport, sheer pleasure, I could not be certain. All I knew then,

was that whatever safety measure my father ordered to be put into place or

made ready for the bastard dragon‟s arrival, failed in wake of the cruel

intelligence of the sky dragon himself.

       This beast was plenty smarter than we all have him credit for, and this

was partially my undoing anyway.

       And it ended up costing Zeus his life in the process.

       I still shed an errant tear now and then for my fallen companion, for it

was I who not only saved my father‟s prized possessions, but cost me my closest

friend in the process.

       I did not know which day the sky dragon would show up###he just did.

And he caught me out in the open while I had my back turned and was playing

with my dog.

       Only his cry of warning saved me from being killed###as my faithful and

unselfish companion put himself in harms way for that brief second###imposing

his will upon the sky dragon‟s by making the ultimate sacrifice.

       One clamp of the claws, one never-forgotten sharp cry of despair and
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/302


pain, and my beloved animal-friend died right there in the clutches of my most

hated enemy right there.

       When I got sight of my poor dog clutched in hand by the rogue sky

dragon, my seven-year-old voice declared resolutely, “Is that what you came

here for?!? To claim the life of a benign creature whom never once showed an

ounce of aggression towards you? You‟re cowardly ways have netted nothing but

the blood of a warrior! May you choke on it as you feast upon his entrails!”

       It was then that I started groping for anything that I could get within

reach of my smallish hands###rocks, sticks, anything.

       Even a broken blade!

       The hilt had long since rotted away###claimed as spoilage by the Dead

Earth for its very own uses###but to me, it was a weapon which I could now use

against my most hated enemy!

       Using a guidance spell, I threw the rusted aberration towards the sky

dragon and guided it towards its body###aiming for a critical part of its body###

preferably its black heart.

       The creature had managed to shield itself by covering its vulnerable body

with its magnificent sea-green wings, but when it opened them, it soon found

itself staring eye to eye with a glowing blade of burnished metal and inlaid with

gold ingots, and fire jewels on its refurbished blade.

       I called it my Zeus Sword in divine honor of my fallen pet, and I now was

about ready to call upon Heaven‟s Gate for guidance and a blessing for this
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/303


moment, as I was prepared to take a life in light of another‟s.

       I wanted revenge!

       With glowing eyes and magical energies about my young body, surging

through my arms and arcing out my fingertips, I prepared to end it all in the

name of my dog.

       The sky dragon stared at me and I back at him. And for a moment,

neither one of us moved or breathed a single syllabus.

       Even the wind died down then, though the sun remained bright and

strong that day###pouring forth its effervescent radiance upon us both.

       The sky dragon dropped the corpse of my beloved pet, taking one lasting

piteous gaze on my trembling form (I was cold with anger and rage, not fear!),

before taking wing into the skies above me.

       But before I could do anything else, it banked towards me seconds later,

head slung back as it gathered its fire breath and blew out a huge conflagration

onto the spot where my pet lay in Death‟s gentle arms.

       Zeus went up in a pall of fire and smoke###the snap and crackle of his

tender flesh burning in the air reaching my ears, his gentle wake mussing up my

hair in the process.

       I had earned the sky dragon‟s respect. Not because I was small and

insignificant. But because I had stood my ground by making the ultimate

sacrifice.

       In the end, however, that made little difference in my heart. Simply
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/304


because I was young and just lost my best friend in the whole wide world.

                     *                 *          *

       I imagined that it was Zeus whom I was called to protect then###even

though another part of me said otherwise###that did nothing to stop me from

gaining the attention of the hell dog.

       I leveled a Starlight Blast from my halberd staff###nailing the beast from

the side; right in the hindquarters###spinning it completely around.

       And just like the sky dragon, this hell dog also stared at me###sizing me

up as a worthy opponent, before launching itself at will towards my position.

       And while Jeanna would take a fall that would save her life (as she would

tell me later), I took this opportunity to end this confrontation by pivoting

smartly, and slashing upwards###catching the hell dog right into the throat; my

blade opening up a fatal wound which would kill it.

       I fell back smartly, flicking my weapon to the side, as I waited for the end

to come.

       Unfortunately, I didn‟t count on the giant hell dog to revert back to its

original state either. Had I known, I would‟ve used Heaven‟s Blight instead. (One

of my favorite annihilation spells.)

       But no…the Lord didn‟t afford me such a trivial bit of 20/20 hindsight. No

foretelling of one‟s future, or those of events not yet transpired into reality.

       All I could yell for (in Jeanna‟s case), was for her to watch out before we

were both plunged into hell once more.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/305




      Chapter 36.



      A paw reached out to swat me down, then a few more. Eight of these

little bastards wanted a piece of me while ignoring Jeanna. Perhaps because they

thought that since she delivered the fatal blow, she wasn‟t the world‟s most

easiest target to take down.

      So that accolade was left to me.

      I snorted in stark disbelief.

      Pray thee, to thy high god of all creation. O‟ Lord, what have I done this

day to deserve such a cruel joke upon thy servant? I prayed silently, while

dealing with the pack.

      One was sacrificed all ready###as the body of one of my enemies lain on

the roof###cold and immobile to the world in general.

      The paws, claws, and jaws continued to assault me unhindered. I felt my

body begin to sag beneath the rain of blows delivered unto me###reminding me

of those times when I would get the tail end of a thick ruler against my own

hindquarters for my periods of disobedience towards either my mother and

father on occasion.

      In times like these, family tradition wasn‟t the absolute hierarchy of whom

was at the top of the pecking order, but whom earned that spot through
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/306


validation and heroism.

       Tho‟ we commanded royalty and were such, things like gold, jewels, and

other precious baubles common to houses of great kings, lords, and other levels

of elegance, were an ancient curio of the past, and no longer afforded even upon

the most respected and most influenced.

       What we had was accumulated over time and invested in the welfare of

our community and countrymen‟s defense of the realm###saving just enough to

keep up general appearances. Not to simply grow indifferent, stagnant, and

morose through time and inaction.

       Those were the riches worth singing victory praises over and accruing

great respect and adoration.

       Though however, times and tradition still rang strongly in my blood, and I

did not always treat people with the same conviction and respect as dully

afforded in others.

       My mind returned to the present, to the point of the last attack which had

been meted out to me with such precision, such ferocity. I caught it across the

shoulder; my ears picking up the sharp tear of fabric, my brain immediately

picking up the sharp prick of pain and the fresh rush of blood spraying outwards

in a torrent.

       I cried out, falling to the deck; one hand clutching the sword, while my

other tried desperately to cradle an out-of-reach injury.

       Pain lanced throughout my body like fresh, hot little daggers serrating
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/307


maddenly into my soul, but the hell dogs didn‟t hold back.

       Blood had been spilled, vulnerabilities exposed, and I lay naked and

exposed to the elements around me. Fate wasn‟t playing by the rules here and I

knew Death wasn‟t picky or choosey either.

       However, this didn‟t leave me the helpless cripple.

       I could still act!

       Despite the radiating pain, I raised my sword; holding abreast three hell

dogs which now had lunged towards me.

       “I won‟t…be…defeated…in this manner!” I grated through clenched teeth,

feeling the pain, but also the searing rage and adrenaline washing through me.

       The beasts didn‟t care and for that matter, neither did I.

       “Çðóúú#########íÿþ###!###Come forth, your blossom‟s rage###Force Wave!”


       Giant sheets of electric lightning surged out from my Sansui sword;

sparking and crackling with prudent intent###before expanding outwards in

increment surges###the first force wave slamming into the hell dogs from behind

the lightning display.

       Two bought it by being shoved backwards and off the roof. The third

managed to punch through; the claw swipe nearly taking my head off in the

process.

       But once it landed, turned, and shook off the electrifying effects of my

Force Wave.

       Then howled once. And only once.
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/308


          Out from behind Jasmine, I saw four more blurs zip upwards and land

gracefully in front of me###each one howling in response.

          “By God!” I breathed in disbelief. Where did they get the ability to

multiply?

          I could see that Jasmine was also stumped by this unexpected

development.

          I suppose that when you‟re a minion of hell, anything is possible.

          Brandishing my sword, preparing for one ungodly battle. But even as I did

so, I felt suddenly dizzy. Extremely dizzy.

          Sagging to my knees, I held my sword in front of me like an improvised

shield.

          At this point, I certainly can say I really missed Merlin. His protection,

guidance, and wisdom were two things that I really could count on in a pinch.

          But I had none. I was operating remotely. Whatever link I had hoped to

forge with my past, was now a dead stick. There was nothing for me here now.

          I was left fending for myself…

          The world spun about me for a moment. And in that time, I saw

everything in a glassy, foggy haze.

          I saw the shape of my death approaching me…

          Then someone dropped down in front of me, and I found myself staring

up into the face of an angel.

          The most beautiful angel I had ever seen!
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/309


       “Grace…be…mine…Lord…” I slurred drunkenly. “Thank…thee…for saving

sush…aye…ugh…um…heh…”

       The angel in front of me kept looking down at me, wordlessly asking me

something that could not be heard through the strong pounding in my ears.

       My heart…

       I fell backwards, my hands leaving my Sansui sword for that time. I sorely

wished I didn‟t hurt so much. I would‟ve had enough strength left to cast the

Spell of Healing.

       But my mind and body were no longer in synch.

       And that was a dangerous folly in itself.

       More shapes entered my swimming field of vision. Shapes that a part of

me logged as a genuine threat and must be dealt with!

       Groaning, I tried to get back up, moving around like a drunken sop.

       “No…” I whispered. “It must…not…end…”

       Jasmine, on the other end, was too busy with the hell dogs to pay that

much attention to her companion‟s inebriated state.

       But a quick report by Seth changed my mind in an instant.

       “Great,” I muttered, “she‟s drunk with pain.”

       “She‟s lost a great deal of blood. That wound cut pretty deep.” Seth

analyzed.

       I managed to knock back three more hell dogs, but the pack‟s strength

had been increased and reinforced by the four which had shown up on call.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/310


      This was clearly a situation in which I could not win on my own.

      I had to escape.

      But what about Natalie and Aria? I asked myself, thinking that if I left

them on their own, the hell dogs would certainly make a meal of them.

      These bastard minions were relentless as they were cunning. Once they

had the scent of fresh human flesh in the wings, it would be next to impossible

to keep them distracted from their ultimate goal.

      “Incoming!” Seth suddenly warned, before the whole rooftop exploded in

antic white light###followed by a sonic compression wave which slapped me back

like a useless paper weight on a scribe‟s desk. I called out to Jeanna, but I doubt

that she heard me.

      Why?

      Because the second the din had faded away on its own, I looked to the

spot where I figured she would be. But wasn‟t.

      Gone!

      Her sword was there, still lodged in the roofing material, but its owner

was no longer to be found.

      Seth reported that he could find no sign of her either.

      “Did she fall over the side?” I asked absently, while running over to the

edge of the roof###grabbing her sword while on the go.

      “Unknown.” Was my wrist comp‟s reply.

      I looked over and felt my heart sink.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/311


       She wasn‟t there.

       So where did the light come from?

       I turned and looked. There was nothing left of the hell dogs whatsoever.

       I blinked.

       “Wha###?” I began in strong disbelief. They were there a minute ago!

       Puzzled, I walked slowly back to the last sworn spot of my sworn enemies

###believing   that they had somehow pulled another disappearing act on me, but

not like the ones I had seen when they had died and been returned to whatever

hell had birthed them.

       After a few minutes of thorough searching every inch of the roof, I could

find little evidence of their previous existence.

       “So where are they?” I complained to myself, before feeling another gust

of wind come brush up my backside.

       Turning, I found myself confronting an angel.

       Not the kind humans commonly mistook for the real thing, but the real

thing in itself!

       Diaphanous, it spread its great wings, touching itself down on the roof

mere feet away from me###an earth-born angel of sorts, wearing 5th generation

power armor.

       The brightness of the thing caused my visor to go completely opaque, as

it strived to shield my sight from something which could only be accounted as

something sent from up high.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/312


       Instinctively, I dropped to one knee.

       “By thee grace!” I choked in humble servitude. “What does thee want of a

lowly servant of thy Lord in Heaven‟s Gate?”

       In response, it attacked me###hitting me with such force, it didn‟t even

register. I went flying.



       Chapter 37.



       Natalie opened the door to the bedroom###cautiously at first###checking to

see if there was any sign of trouble.

       Blissful quiet reigned. There was no indication of danger.

       She opened the door even further, exposing herself to the rigors of the

outside world.

       Still nothing.

       Turning around, she called to her daughter.

       “Aria, honey, it‟s clear.” She said.

       The darkened room gave no sign of movement, but it wasn‟t too long

before Aria popped up; anxiety and worry still present in her cherubic face.

       “Are you sure?”

       Natalie nodded. “Yes. Whatever attacked Jeanna is gone.”

       The young girl‟s eyebrows beetled together. “I could‟ve sworn that I heard

her talking to someone else. Another woman mayhap.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/313


       Natalie ruffled her daughter‟s hair with gentle affection.

       “Someone‟s got an active imagination.” She said, before something

plunged past her window like a screaming eagle; hitting the ground with such

force that it caused the building to shake.

       Aria squealed out in alarm, and Natalie turned###stunned by the sudden

commotion.

       “By Sacroses„s Right Hand!” She breathed, before running towards the

open bay window, sliding it up, and looking out. “What in the world###?”

       Aria joined her, looking down and saw something, or someone pancaked

into the cobblestone street below.

       “There!” She exclaimed, finger pointing in blithe excitement. “I was right!

It is someone. It‟s that other person I was telling you about!”

       Natalie found this hard to believe. “Are you sure###?” she began to inquire

before the person in question slowly shook herself out of whatever doldrums she

had been subjected to. But she didn‟t get to her feet as quickly as the two

unwilling spectators had hoped.

       “Hallo there!” Natalie called down. “Are thee all right?”

       There was no response to the woman‟s urgent summons.

       “She‟s obviously out of it.” Aria quietly observed with unusual calm and

demeanor. “See how she cannot rise unto her own accord?”

       “Quiet!” Natalie bit back harshly. “It is not your position to start

questioning your elders at this time!”
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/314


         “Mother###!” Aria fired back. “How can you stand there and deny me the

naked truth before my very own eyes?”

         Natalie held her next retort in check###seeing that her only child had a

valid point.

         “I guess you‟re right. I###” She answered, before some commotion at the

front door of her tiny apartment tore her away from the action going on at the

window.

         “Hello? Anyone home?” A new voice called out, then said with

astonishment: “By the Almighty! What in Heaven‟s Gate happened here?”

         Natalie rushed over to the entry way and was astounded to see Jan

standing there, picking her way through the shattered remains of her front door.

         Her look of uncertainty was quickly replaced by relief and open warmth

towards her friend, before rushing to embrace her.

         “Unexpected company,” the woman talked past her ear, holding her tight;

not letting go for an instant.

         “I saw some Crawler remains back there,” Jan countered, looking at Aria

and giving her a wink.

         Aria nodded and waved back, before jumping down from the window

ledge.

         “Was that the source of your problem?”

         “Partly.” Natalie said, releasing herself and stepping back; glad to see a

familiar face. “A pack of hell dogs apparently made an unexpected house call as
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/315


well. However, Jeanna and her mysterious friend took care of things on their

end. So we‟re eternally grateful to them and are forever in their debt because of

it.”

       Jan grinned. “Don‟t expect a refund anytime soon.” She joked, before

taking a look around. “Where are they anyway?”

       “We don‟t know,” Aria called out from the living room, unmoving from

where she had jumped off. But her concentration and attention told the doctor

that something else had her riveted. “But something just happened only a few

minutes ago, and both my mum and I were in the middle of a heated debate

over who our unexpected arrival might actually be.”

       Jan‟s jaw dropped.

       “S-say…what?” She stammered in awe of the girl‟s impressive deduction.

Glancing at her friend, she said, “Has she taken after you?”

       “It would seem so.” Natalie replied, a prideful blush riding up the crests of

both cheeks. “Her language and communication skills continue to grow with each

passing month. I‟m at a terrible loss as to how to explain it.”

       “Impressionable?” Jan queried off hand, leaving the ruined confines of the

entryway behind and going into the living room.

       “No. Not really. She‟s been a very open child since you‟ve known her.”

       Jan couldn‟t see how such a young sprite such as Aria could‟ve developed

so quickly in such a short amount of time.

       In only 2 years…the woman marveled, seeing hints of Natalie herself in
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/316


the little girl. “What about###?” she questioned right off the back, before catching

sight of her friend shaking her head.

       “Basic education was completed only four months ago. Aria started

Advanced 1 only last month.”

       Jan was impressed. “At her age???” She whispered in subdued awe. “But

she‟s only 9!”

       “Ten now.” Natalie corrected. “She turned ten just last week.”

       Crestfallen, the doctor stared at the young girl and went, “Oh.” Then

sighed. “Damn. Sorry I missed out on it.”

       Natalie touched her friend‟s arm in an attempt to console her.

       “Don‟t be. Aria had a small party with her friend‟s and got a couple of

presents in return. The important thing is, is that you showed up.”

       Jan accepted this, before looking out the window. “Hello…” She

announced with blatant curiosity. “And who might you be?”

       Aria shrugged indifferently. “That‟s what mom‟s been trying to figure out.

But I think it might be Jeanna‟s friend.”

       Jan‟s eyes bulged out. “That is her friend?” She queried with grave

incredulousness. The femininely armored figure below had finally started to

move on her own (she had managed to roll over with slightly bent wing

appendages since the discussion began), but it was clear to the doctor that she

had laid partially unconscious after striking the street below. Glancing at Natalie,

she asked, “Where did she come from?”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/317


        Natalie shrugged. “My daughter claims that she is Jeanna‟s traveling

companion. But I cannot confirm that.”

         Looking out the window, Jan quietly witnessed the woman straightening

herself up, before attempting to get to her feet. Whatever took place before, still

had a grip on her; gauging by how remotely unsteady she appeared to her own

eyes.

        “I felt impact tremors just a couple of minutes after I climbed the

debris-laden stairwell…” The doctor ventured.

        “That was her.” Aria interjected smoothly, as she and her mom watched

the action unfolding before their very eyes. “She must‟ve fallen off the roof

somehow.”

        All three spectators watched as she tested out her wings###flapping them

gently for effect; their graceful ballet drawing a couple of appreciative gasps

from Aria###then stretched.

        “You okay?” Natalie called out to the mystery woman.

        The person in turn looked up.

        “Aye,” she rallied back. “But I wasn‟t expecting to take such a tumble off

the roof.”

        “By whom?” Aria questioned out of turn; her suspicions confirmed.

        The woman answered contritely, “The Lord preserve me, but I was

knocked down by one of his reverent messengers.”

        “An angel?” The three chorused together in unison. But it was Jan who
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/318


asked, “Are thee sure?”

        The woman turned to show off her back in a non-provocative manner.

        “You wish to see the dent in my backside?” She joked lightly, patting her

butt. “I wasn‟t expecting to get my prideful honor handed to me in such an

unruly manner.”

        The women laughed and Aria giggled gleefully.

        “Saints preserve me,” the woman was heard muttering in embarrassment.

“This hasn‟t been exactly a day for the record books.”

        “Will you be all right?” Natalie asked.

        The woman was taken off guard by her question, before nodding her

head.

        “Huh? Yes, of course. I shall be fine. Once the aches and pains go away

that is.” She answered them swiftly.

        “And the angel?” Aria asked with grave concern. “What about him?”

        Lowering the helm over her face, the woman said with clear conviction,

“Heaven sent or not, I‟m going to be returning the favor by subjecting it to the

same personal ass-kicking it gave me.”

        Spreading its wings, the woman took flight gracefully; rooting the three

onlookers to the spot in astonishment.

        “She flies!” They all squeaked together like mice. But the woman had

vaulted upwards###vanishing out of sight before anyone else could launch into

another round of questions.
                               Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/319


      “Let‟s go!” Aria said impulsively, turning and grabbing her mom by the

arm. “I want to see this!”

      Both Natalie and Jan were taken off guard by the little girl‟s enthusiasm.

      “W-what?” Natalie croaked. “Honey, that‟s dangerous! It‟s not safe!”

      Jan agreed.

      “We need to get you to where it is safe.”

      The other woman agreed. “Yes,” she said, “Safety is more paramount

than becoming a spectator to some unimaginable battle.”

      Aria‟s emotions sagged right then and there and she had a look of defeat

in her eyes.

      “Aw…mom…” she complained softly.

      Jan took the girl‟s hand. “Come on. We have to leave.”

      Aria nodded sullenly.

      “Fine. But let me get our stuff first. I have a feeling we won‟t be coming

back here anyways for a very long time.”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/320




      Chapter 38.



      I didn‟t want to lag behind jabbering like a parrot###seeing how much time

had passed me by while unconscious to the world in general.

      Seth had told me that eight minutes had elapsed; leaving me to wonder if

my ethereal opponent were still around on the roof.

      No sooner had I flitted up like a long-tailed swallow, I was suddenly

grabbed in a choke-hold from out of nowhere, spun completely around at high

speed to the point of losing all consciousness; then let…go.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/321


       The screaming was me, but I was certain the air had also tagged along

for the ride###before slamming bodily into the side of an unfortunate two-story

high rise building; collapsing a good portion of it in the process.

       A giant cloud of dust-filled masonry, masterfully baked brick molds, and

simple wallpaper plaster rose up into the air###along with the sounds of tinkling

glass resonating in my ears###before falling to earth.

       “Fast little minx.” Seth commented wry.

       However, I was still too disjointed to think of much else at the moment.

       “Huh? Whuzzat…yer sayin„?” I bubbled out, wondering why my mouth felt

funny. I then turned and spit.

       Blood.

       Along with some pieces of my own flesh and what looked like part of a

perfectly healthy tooth!

       “Oooh…that ass is going to get it!” I venomously promised, while

swabbing the inside of my mouth with my tongue and then spitting again for

good measure.

       More saliva than blood this time around. But it still irked me to no end.

       “This is going to hurt.” Seth informed me, before I felt the stinging

injection of some medication by my own suit‟s automatic med-paks.

       “As opposed to what?” I joked weakly###feeling the cool rush of the

medicine flowing through me. “Ah…”

       In less time than I imagined, I started feeling my strength come back in
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/322


force; giving me reason to get back up onto my feet and back into the fight.

       No sooner had I taken a peek outside the gaping hole, something fast and

furious came right at me###punching me right through the remainder of the

building.

       Tossed high up into the air, I came crashing down onto the unwavering

earth with such force that I couldn‟t even see straight.

       The world‟s focus swam in and out of focus. I felt lost within myself for

the next couple of minutes.

       “Valkyrie mode will not do against such an impressive foe,” I dimly heard

Seth say. “Engaging Wings of Solaris.”

       “Sol…ar…is…” I whispered groggily. Part of my mind latched onto that

part and I smiled. “Y…e…s…”

       Heaven‟s Armor.

       I should‟ve known that this battle would go beyond the mortal plan and

into the realm of impossibilities. I should‟ve transformed the second I

encountered this new threat.

       Deep inside though, I still wished I knew where my friend was. Jeanna

had not been seen since whomever was attacking me, flattened me through a

building twice, and now was seeking an early audience with me before Heaven‟s

Gate and Saint Peter.

       But with the strength of God at my side, I would prevail!

       I didn‟t feel the change in my armor‟s capabilities. But I knew that by the
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/323


time the transformation took flight, I would not be an earth-born angel no

longer.

      A new kind of strength radiated through me, my injuries healing by

themselves at a fantastic rate. I stood up, encased in one wicked battle suit

which dwarfed the power of even my own mecha, the Torus.

      Each step I took shook the surrounding area a little bit each time. My

newly forged Helm of Divine Protection showed me my path, giving rise to the

buildings around me, the clustered piers and the sea port in the distance.

      Rising up behind it was the gallant war galleon, the Esmeralda Jasmine.

      “Come on…where art thou…?” I whispered to nobody in particular. “You

should be###”

      Then I was hit!

      The Wings of Solaris staggered backwards; digging into the hard

cobblestone, then soft earth, and finally…

      SPLASH!

      Right into the Southern Ocean I went.

      The water wasn‟t so deep after all###not even a half fathom###but the

incredible fall drove away much of it in a giant plume of spray.

      “Fast…” I admirably observed, while staring up at a crystal blue sky. The

soft lapping ocean water was ambrosia to my ears, but I knew that I could not

stay here for much longer.

      However, that option was taken away from me as I was unexpectedly
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/324


picked up and tossed upwards into the skies; accelerating out of the control.

        “Whaaaaaaah….!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. The Wings of Solaris

responded by engaging its own built in thruster packs to stabilize itself in a

minute„s time, before gossamer wings snapped out fluidly, allowing me to come

to a not so graceful stop. (More like a few knee-jerk movements.)

        “Ugh!” I croaked, as the sudden stop snapped me forward and then back

some.

        Looking around, I commented sourly, “This is getting monotonous.”

        “I agree.” Seth‟s voice echoed inside her helm. “Shouldn‟t we try to

respond?”

        “How?” I absently asked, thinking that this suit should give me an edge

up on my opponent. It was created by Sari herself and then given to my family

from so long ago…I thought to herself. “Every time we try, it seems that it

makes no real difference.”

        “When fighting the messengers of God, you have to think like them. They

do not operate on the same guiding principles as humans do. They treat

everything with blind contempt when pushed too far.” Seth schooled me.

        I resisted the urge to scratch my head. But my battle suit had followed

through anyway; having sensed my thoughts.

        “But I was told that they were gentle beings of light, and the rescuers of

those whom they favored from their own eternal blights.”

        “Mythos is not always grounded in the annals of reality, mistress.” Seth
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/325


countered knowingly. “There was bound to be some changes in the status quo

sooner or later.”

       “Mmph.” I said to myself, still suspended in the air. Away from the

trouble, away from the battle which beckoned upwards to me. It was then that I

realized that I hadn‟t been attacked at all!

       “Oh-kay…this is rather new.”

       “What is that?”

       “The attacks have stopped.” Said I with a measure of befuddlement. “In

fact, I don‟t see###” and was stopped right then and there as something bright

flashed right in front of me, causing the Wings of Solaris to tremble at first, and

then shake mercilessly.

       “W-w-w-w-w-wh-wh-wh-a-a-a-t-t-t???” I stammered uncontrollably,

barely able to form even that one word!

       Then###with a violent tug###my battle suit slewed to the left, then sharply

to the right. Then down!

       Wings of Solaris did its best to counter this incredible force, but nothing

appeared to be working.

       “Seth#########!” I screamed out in sheer helplessness. “Do something! I

have no control!”

       Like a rocket, I plunged towards Dead Earth.

       “You‟re not thinking like a high-born angel, Mistress. You must be able to

think clearly first before the suit will be able to respond to your own commands.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/326


       “What?” I yelled above the roar. “What was that? I didn‟t copy!”

       “I said: You‟re still thinking like a human! This suit isn‟t###!” Seth

countered strongly, clearly upset by my lack of clarity.

       Sudden realization dawned on me. “Lord!” I breathed in hot

embarrassment. “No wonder I‟ve been having problems!”

       Looking down, I saw my fate spread out before me like an open book. In

order to play on the level of Heaven‟s Gate, I had to give up my own humanity

for the next few minutes or so. Become a true messenger of God.

       Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and cleared my mind and prayed.



       Blessed be Thou whom have created this wondrous armor

       I ask that you assist me in defeating this terrible blight.

       My mortality I freely give in Heaven‟s Gate presence.

       In the name of the Holy Creator, I give thee thanks in thy name

       Which is Good and Pure.



       Amen.



       Opening my eyes, I felt the Wings of Solaris respond. In the five seconds

before hitting the ground, I vanished.
                        Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/327




Chapter 39.



Tiddus dropped his next round of foes by blasting the said area with a
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/328


Swords of Revealing Light attack from inside his mecha. (Simply put, he raised

his sword and called down a shaft of light which illuminated the area in question,

then finished it off with a lightning barrage###scorching the enemy to a crisp.)

       “Well done, Master!” Lucrecia bubbly voice applauded. “You have slain the

accursed beasts with one solid strike!”

       However he wished that were true. Taking out sixteen hell dogs was by

no means a feat in itself. But try telling that to the hundreds which suddenly

appeared on the southern flank of Xanix; quickly overrunning the sea port‟s

meager defenses.

       Even now, he was listening to scattered reports coming from the

Esmeralda Jasmine that many of his ship‟s other units were also taking losses.

       Not enough to threaten an overall victory###to be sure###but would

certainly place this battle for every single survivor to be extremely difficult.

       “Valaris!” he called up.

       The other mecha stepped forward, rifle raised.

       “Yes?”

       “Go back to the front lines and lend some assistance! Darla? Join her.

Valaris and I will continue our assault. We must not fail in our sworn duties!”

       “As you command, Captain! Praise be our Heavenly Lord that He bestows

upon you His many Blessings in your glorious fight!” Saluting one last time, the

paired mecha took off, leaving Tiddus in a bit of a rut.

       “Your sister is a spirited soul, Lucrecia, that„s for sure.” He mused.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/329


“Sometimes I wonder why she hasn‟t been killed yet because of it.”

          Lucrecia‟s Tomahawk shrugged indifferently. “Her warrior‟s spirit is very

much###” she started to say before her mech‟s sensors cried out in warning.

          ”INCOMING!” The woman squealed, her Tomahawk diving out of the way

###just   as something bright and fast intersected between the two###flattening six

buildings in its wake.

          The passing shockwave picked Lucrecia up like a paperweight and hurled

her a good hundred meters downwind.

          Tiddus heard her land; a plume of rock dust and smoke evident seconds

later when he turned to check up on her.

          “You all right?”

          There was no immediate response to his query, and he tuned in the gain

on the outgoing intercom for any sound. “Lucrecia?”

          Then came a long winded groan. “Oooh…what hit us?” The woman‟s voice

coming in weakly over the open channel.

          Tiddus turned, not sure himself.

          “I don‟t know. I###” He began to answer, before his own Belarus

screamed a similar warning out at him.

          Behind me!

          Turning, he found himself facing an arrow of energy which angled down

at him like a runaway bull.

          Tiddus imaged his mecha into a defensive position, dropping his massive
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/330


shield right down in front of him###shattering the cobblestone in the process.

       The salvo struck the shield and was deflected, but he wasn‟t able to do

the same to the counterattack that followed.

                        *         *             *

       Jan lead Natalie and Aria down the street, while keeping an eye out for

any sign of trouble. So far, this part of the town appeared to be enemy-free, but

with the way things were going, there was no telling how long that would remain

a definite certainty.

       “Where are we going?” Aria asked nervously, her eyes casting back and

forth to the empty shops and side streets. Even the empty docks behind them

hinted of possible trouble, but neither woman wanted to even dwell on the

possibility.

       “Home.” Jan said. “My home.”

       Natalie was a bit surprised by this admission.

        “Home? But you said that you were going to take us to some place safe.”

       “It is.” Jan emphasized. “Even the enemy would think twice before taking

on Tiberius.”

       “Tiber-who?” Natalie questioned in curiosity.

       “Tiberius.” The doctor elaborated. “My pet sky dragon.”

       Aria stopped right then and there, a growing smile on her face. “Little

Ty?”

       “Little…Ty…?” Her mom echoed in confusion. Glancing at her friend, she
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/331


said, “In all the times I‟ve known you, never once have you mentioned that you

had a sky dragon. Those creatures are not exactly…um…domesticated.”

      “Ty is!” Aria commented with an airy attitude. “I swear by it!”

      Natalie glanced at her daughter; worry and concern steeped in her facial

expressions.

      “That doesn‟t exactly fill me with divine confidence, dear daughter. You

should always be careful when entering other people‟s homes. You nay know

what may lie therein###all the dangers concealed or lurking in the shadows.”

      Aria plainly understood where her mom was coming from, but still

remained absolutely resolute###even as they neared the doctor‟s place.

      “God‟s honest truth, mother, but you should know Jan would never allow

me to come to harm. She once said that she would perish first before that were

to ever happen.”

      Natalie looked at her friend for help with her stoic child, but the woman

shook her head, while concealing a smile from view.

      “I canna help you with this corundum, Natalie. You are on your own###as

every mother should be.” However, she could not help it for long.

      Cross, Natalie smacked her friend across the upper shoulder in blithe

annoyance.

      “How can you stand there and encourage my own flesh and blood to

embrace the dangers surrounding her, instead of shying from it often in times of

crisis? Are you that eager to see her go to Heaven‟s Gate that quickly?”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/332


       “Nothing would be farther from the truth, girlfriend. I have nothing in my

humble abode which would have cause to harm Aria. „Sides…Tiberius misses

your little girl. They have grown quite attached to each other###which I find a bit

trifling to say the least.”

       “Why is that?” Natalie queried, as they crossed the street, only a few

precious steps away from the doctor‟s place of residence.

       “I have heard of sky dragons bonding to their respective masters###once

they are tamed. However, Tiberius bonded to me as a little girl, and we have

remained steadfast companions ever since; always looking out for each other‟s

welfare. But since Aria introduced herself to him, it‟s become prevalent that

Tiberius has also taking an interest in her###exhibiting the same signs of trust

and companionship as he would me.”

       Natalie crossed the wet and worn cobblestone street in Jan‟s wake. Her

daughter followed dutifully behind.

       The sounds of battle not being too far off.

       In response to this unseen signal, Jan looked towards the heavens;

scanning the skies.

       “Trouble?” Natalie asked from behind her back, as the three resumed

walking towards her place.

       “Since this war began, I‟m expecting nothing less,” the woman answered

calmly, before turning the simple latch-handle. Looking at it for a second, she

stopped.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/333


       And stood back.

       “What‟s wrong?” Her friend inquired.

       “Something‟s not right.” She said quietly. Pushing on the door gently, Jan

was treated to a surprise.

       Someone was here.

       With the door ajar, Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla looked inside, but found

nothing amiss. But the feeling buzzing around inside her skull and traveling down

the length of her spine said otherwise.

       “Mommy!” Aria wailed frightfully. Both women turned and saw a cloaked

individual in emerald green stepping away from the open doorway, clutching a

struggling and fighting little girl.

       “Stop resisting, little one,” a smooth-talking male voice chided in a

tightlipped manner. “It is not you we are after.”

       “That‟s telling her, Darandal.” A woman‟s voice carried back in open jest.

“I am sure she‟ll believe you now…”

       The other man snarled something under his breath and out of earshot of

his female compatriarch, but not low enough that a third voice returned solidly

from the direction of the side bedroom.

       Jeanna‟s.

       “Children are always a rebellious sort. Never once in their lives have they

listened to their elders; let alone their own peers. It is the will of God after all.” A

brown-cloaked figure appeared at the doorway###before reaching out and
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/334


grabbing a hold of a very startled Jan (Sun-ani-eki) Arilla and pulling her towards

him in a rough embrace that was none too gentle.

      Catching on, the person in question cast her a leering look.

      “Don‟t like my touch, wench? Then perhaps if you wish to stave off

anymore unpleasantries, you will begin by telling me where I might find a

wayward sky pigeon whom evaded us years ago.”

      “Who###?” Natalie questioned in abject puzzlement, her body tense; its

language betraying the fact that she would rather be rescuing her daughter from

the grasp of her own tormentor.

      As if on cue, a shrill scream punctuated the air.

      “Let…me…go! Heathen bastard!” Aria cursed loudly, before being silenced

by a sharp cuff across the head; knocking her senseless.

      The little girl let out a small moan of distress which sent shivers of

anxiety, anger, and rage through her mother‟s petite frame.

      “Aria!” She squeaked, making a lunge for her little girl, but finding a

navy-blue cloaked figure right out in front of her; blocking her pathway.

      A single red eye glowed in response.

      “If you value the life of your offspring, you will stand there and not move

a muscle. Otherwise, I cannot guarantee Darandal will not simply cut her in half

to silence her for good.” The woman behind the mask of darkness coolly

informed her.

      Natalie stood like a statue where she was, torn between a mother‟s
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/335


natural desire to protect that which was so dear and precious to her, and killing

those responsible for this ungodly charade.

         The woman leaned back a bit, her shadow moving, but her body only a

second behind it.

         Minute time dilations followed in her wake.

         “Much better.” She approved. “You have learned where your place is after

all.”

         “My place###” Natalie ground out in mounted frustration, “is with my

daughter. At the very least, you could allow me to be with her, and still be under

guard. Or is that too much to ask of infidels like yourselves?”

         The woman considered the woman‟s proposal.

         “Arax? Is this acceptable to your needs?”

         The brown-cloaked man shrugged.

         “It is not her we are after, Eliza. I for one do not care what you do at this

point. If the woman wishes to be with her pretentious brat, then what‟s stopping

her from doing so?”

         Eliza stopped to regard the woman for a moment. Glancing over her

shoulder, she said, “Darandal? Release the girl into the mother‟s custody. Our

lord would normally approve of such actions, but they are simply not the prey we

seek.”

         Darandal let out a gruff reply, but did as he was told. Once Aria was in

safe hands with Natalie, Arax trained a cold eye towards the doctor in his
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/336


clutches.

       “Now that the sideshow has concluded itself. It is back to business as

usual.” He casually illustrated with a sweep of an arm. A cyborg fist shot out

from underneath the flared cuff of the cloak.

       Jan stared at the softly gleaming metal.

       “My gods…” She breathed. “You‟re a…machine?” It was the first time she

had ever seen such an amalgamation. All the stories she had heard…

       Rang with a cold hardened truth.

       A soft wheezing sound escaped from the man‟s hidden face, followed by a

soft chuckle.

       “My dear, you wound me. Are you saying that you never even heard of us

before?”

       Jan shook her head. “No. Should I?”

       Arax stared in Eliza‟s direction, who shrugged. “This is a backwards water

hole after all. It wouldn‟t surprise me if these unrecognizable sea urchins have

never heard of a techno-mage before.” She purred.

       Natalie bristled, but said nothing. Not while the life of her child was still in

the balance. She didn‟t want to think about it, but a dreadful feeling in the back

of her head told her quite contritely that neither she, nor Jan would live to see

another day.

       However, none of this was about to put a cork on her curiosity.

       “We thought…” she began ever so slowly, choosing every word ever so
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/337


carefully.

       Arax looked past Jan and stared towards Natalie.

       “Yes?” He encouraged.

       “We thought you were nothing but legends, myths, stories to be told to

our children and their children‟s children.”

       A sound of muted disgust fired from Eliza‟s direction.

       “Truly…a degenerate society. I cannot believe that our lord and master

would ever send us back into this general direction. Not after we pasted that

pilot and her angelic-winged mecha; killing two birds with one stone.”

       “But we missed one, didn‟t we?” Darandal openly suggested to his

companion. But the comment only served to rile Eliza.

       “It wasn‟t my fault!” She screamed at him hotly. “I naturally assumed that

my steed had at last delivered the killing blow which annihilated both of them!”

       Arax had enough of the bickering.

       “Enough!” He thundered. “Save your energies for the battles ahead and

the task at hand! It would do us no good if we returned empty-handed! So let‟s

concentrate on what we came here for!”

       Both quieted down as expected. Arax was the senior field commander

here. And his authority was absolute.

       “Sure, brother.” Darandal capitulated easily. “Of course, you are wise in all

things, and are correct in this instance. We should not allow ourselves to become

so blindsided by past failures###”
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/338


         Eliza bristled slightly, but said nothing.

         “###instead, we should concentrate on what we‟ve come for.”

         Jan couldn‟t stand silent for long.

         “And what is that, may I ask?” She inquired cagily.

         “By all known accounts, we‟ve been searching high and low for a

particular wayward girl whom apparently survived the sinking of a battle cruiser

several years ago###after escaping the clutches of our lord and master‟s armies

in the now defunct seaside city port of Parliament. A year and a half ago, my

master and lord alerted us to a weak KP-6 energy wave coming from this part of

Dead Earth. Though he could not pinpoint it exactly, he sent us back out to scout

the terrain, and then go in for retrieval.” Arax explained calmly, before laying

eyes on Jan. “And it would seem that our travels have led us here to your

unsuspecting doorstep. With that knowledge in hand, we‟ve come to a general

conclusion that you are somehow in possession of the mecha.”

         “We aren‟t###” Jan began, then stopped. “We had the machine buried

soon after it crashed.”

         It wasn‟t the exact truth, but she was certain no one would begrudge her

a little lie.

         Lord God…please forgive me. She prayed inwardly.

         “And the pilot?”

         “She died.” Jan answered quickly.

         Arax digested this information with time tempered patience. Then she
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/339


looked at Eliza, who nodded silently.

      She was telling the truth.

      “Seems that you are a woman of your word. Very well. Then allow me this

next question if I may?”

      Jan nodded stonily. “Go ahead.”

      Arax dropped his head low to whisper dangerously, “Where‟s the girl

whom was that pilot‟s unwilling passenger?”



      Chapter 40.



      Sparks shattered his vision; the savage hit having sent himself backwards

in an uncontrolled flight. Belarus slammed into the ground, tearing up more of

the cobblestone-laced ground; the shower of sparks and the torturous sounds of

metal blistered loudly in Tiddus‟s eardrums###deafening him to the point of

senselessness.

      But that was all.

      Except for the creaks and groans, the sparking of several of his mecha‟s

onboard circuitry and systems, nothing more followed. Not one single attack

which would‟ve surely rendered him impotent while guaranteeing him an

audience before the hallowed St. Peter at Heaven‟s Gate.

      “Blessed be the Messenger of Alous Croix…” the man whispered in awe

and disbelief. “That has got to be one bugger of an adversary to smash the hell
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/340


out of my mech!”

      Tiddus checked his situation and found that he did not have as much

motive power as he would‟ve liked. All his primary systems were fritzed, and

most of his critical backups were non-op.

      Then###like a gentle wave###terrific explosions buffeted both man and

machine.

      “W-w-w-whoa!” Tiddus gasped in cold shock, gripping both emergency

escape handles on either side of the cockpit, and prepared to jettison. Belarus

would be salvageable. He would make sure of that.

      But nothing came to pass. The shockwaves simply were an aftereffect of

what was transpiring above his head.

      Sinking back into the pilot‟s seat, Tiddus breathed a big sigh of relief.

      Then the ground beneath him began to heave at random, and he thought

for sure it was the end.

      “Oh for the love of God!” He griped. “Can‟t an honorable mech pilot die

with some forlorn dignity?”

      The shaking stopped after a moment, after the man spent that short time

quaking inwardly in fear. Though Tiddus considered himself to be a man of great

courage, there was something about dying without the chance to perish in battle

which ate away at his conscience.

      He couldn‟t believe that whomever was coming would shoot him right

where he lay instead of giving him one last chance to fight with his head held
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/341


high.

        “Sorry to keep you waiting, my liege. But my systems only came back

online just a few minutes ago.”

        “Lucrecia!” Tiddus howled with delight; upon recognizing her voice. “Lord

preserve my soul, it‟s good to see you!” Leaning back, he sighed, watching as

the shadow of Lucrecia‟s Tomahawk cast itself over his.

        “Same here. I thought I was the only one left alive. My sensors recorded

an enormous power drop from your ship.” The woman said. “Do you require

assistance?”

        Tiddus did a quick system‟s check. There was no way in hell he could get

up on his own.

        He was done. Taken out of the fight.

        “Sago‟s Foot!” he swore rigidly. “This is just great!”

        “No power?” Lucrecia guessed, before bending down to pick up the

Belarus.

        Feeling himself lift, Tiddus groaned long and loud, then joked, “Tell

anyone on the Esmeralda Jasmine, and I mean anyone about this, I will not only

put you in leg irons, but I will also dock you a month‟s worth of pay and rations!”

        Lucrecia grinned despite herself.

        “I will take that under advisement, sir.”

               *                    *                     *

        Jan stared long and hard into a faceless visage that she didn‟t know, but
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/342


took very seriously.

        “G-girl?” She squeaked.

        “Yes…” Arax said silkily. “The girl. The one we‟ve been pursuing. Where is

she?”

        Jan didn‟t know who she was referring to. She even said so.

        “What girl?”

        Arax grabbed the woman‟s left shoulder and squeezed.

        The doctor cried out in pain. Arax released his hold on her.

        “That‟s for lying.” He growled. “The next words coming out of your mouth

had better ring with the lilt of truth.”

        Jan stood there for a moment, trying to come up with something which

would alleviate their demands, but for the love of God, she didn‟t know to whom

they were referring to!

        “I am…not…lying!” She seethed in fresh anger, mindful of the precarious

position they were all in. “I don‟t know whom you are talking about!”

        Arax looked at Eliza, who nodded. But she also had something else to say.

        “She‟s being evasive. But I believe it‟s because she‟s being run by fear.”

        “Fear is always a useful tool in our trade.” Arax murmured out loud. “It

keeps the sheep in line and the strong off balance until we at last decide to

strike. And strike we will. When the time is right.”

        Jan didn‟t know what else to say. Fear was controlling her actions, and in

some respect, her mind as well. But even so, she had enough common sense to
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/343


keep a cool head on things, even in the face of uncertainty.

        “If we knew who you were referring to, we would have told you long

ago.” Natalie piped up, drawing the attention of the three intruders. She hadn‟t

budged from her position since Aria came back into her care, but the woman

didn‟t have the courage to try anything else at the moment either.

        “A girl in the dress of a white magi apprentice. Possibly a magi sorceress.”

Eliza elaborated with heavy distain. “If you‟re looking for me to draw you a map

too, you‟re woefully out of luck.”

        That bit of information floored Jan; rooting her to the spot.

        Arax caught sight of her newfound expression and smiled beneath his

hood.

        “Ah. So it seems we have a change in venue. How interesting.” He purred

with great satisfaction. “Now that the final puzzle has fallen into place, we can

get down to business and stop this shilly-shallying.”

        Natalie stared at her friend in realization. “You mean to tell me###?”

        Jan nodded.

        “It‟s Jeanna. It has to be. But I didn‟t know what she was mixed up in.

She never once mentioned it. However, she did tell me she tangled with a sky

dragon once on the ship she was on.”

        “Where is she?” Arax demanded.

        Jan shrugged. “She could be anywhere. We got separated in the battle to

save the town.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/344


       Arax nodded to himself and stepped back; taking both his trusted

subordinates in.

       “Go and find her. Have her brought here before me.”

       Eliza hesitated, then complained mildly, “How will we find her? This place

is run-down and overrun with so many undesirable creatures###”

       “Use some common sense, Eliza. You‟re far above such petty conflicts.”

Arax chided. “But unless you can‟t do the job assigned to you, I‟ll be sure to let

our lord and master know that upon our return.”

       The woman did not want that to happen. Nor did she want Arax to think

of her as some kind of coward.

       Bowing, she relented by answering, “No. Of course I can. I just felt

compelled to voice my concerns before we dared to venture out.”

       Darandal smirked behind her.

       “Such open questions could be viewed as a dangerous sign of budding

incompetence. Now, I am sure that our lord and master would never stand for

such things###as he would have you killed on the spot.”

       Eliza turned, spearing her companion with a cold hard glare from beneath

her hooded shroud.

       “I am no lackey, Darandal! I can do my job just as well as the next loyal

follower. It is not your place to start questioning my judgment! You are just a

shrew who thinks he has special arraignment because your family courted and

curried great favor with our lord!”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/345


        “My status is well known to the king, Eliza. Yours has shown him nothing

which wouldn‟t save you from his wrath, should you fail in this mission. He does

not look kindly upon such travesties.”

        “I haven‟t###!” Eliza countered hotly, then buttoned herself up; realizing

that the two were testing the patience of Arax. Glancing back at him, she said,

“By your leave then.” Bowing stiffly, she left without further aggravation.

        Darandal chuckled.

        “So easily to manipulate. And yet so naïve.” He commented airily.

        “That‟s enough, Darandal. As much as I would hate to say it, even

incompetence has its place in the greater scheme of things. You would do well to

learn from that, and from her.” Arax countered knowingly.

        Darandal didn‟t break stride with what his older companion had just

staged.

        “Showing favor already, dear brother? That is a dangerous folly. Even for

you.”

        “My reasons are none of your concern. Go and do as I bid. Otherwise, I

will be compelled to tell our lord and master how much you enjoy displacing my

orders by ignoring my wishes. I‟m sure he can come up with a more suitable

punishment than I at the moment, should you fail.”

        Darandal snorted contritely, but inclined his head nonetheless.

        “Threats do not become thee, dear brother. You should best be aware of

what you say. Sometimes, a knife in the back can come from such unsuspecting
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/346


places.” He too, left before Arax had a chance to respond; his movements fluidly

graceful.

       Both women watched him and then Arax with greater apprehension. Their

spirits were buoyed by the fact that there apparently was some bone of

contention amongst them and quite possibly the beginnings of a power struggle

as well.

       Arax###as always###sensed the pair‟s needling curiosity.

       “Good help is always hard to find these days,” he openly admitted. “Even

in the services of the king.”

       Neither Jan nor Natalie said anything in return. They just stood where

they were and waited.




       Chapter 41.



       I exchanged one blow after another with my angelic adversary, scintillas

of light, energy, and spirit were being exchanged at an incredible rate###neither

one of us giving ground.

       That‟s when I spotted Tiddus‟s mech on the ground, along with one other

###having   seen the other flit away###and thus did my adversary. I tried
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/347


desperately to gain the advantage, by maxing out the speed of my ship; sadly

however, my foe got there first and was able to carve off a shot before vanishing

again.

         Tho‟ I could not spare the energy myself, I threw a weak Spell of

Reflection onto the mech itself###just as the bolt burrowed into it. The spell

shattered easily###even as I rocketed away###but the mech and its pilot would

come out all right.

         Had it hit full force…

         Tearing my attention away from the smoking wreck of Tiddus‟s mecha, I

looked to the skies for any sign of my adversary, the thoughts of my friend very

much with me.

         I still could not fathom where she had vanished to after our encounter

with the giant hell dog. I certainly wish I knew who I was fighting though. Our

continued war ballet was getting more and more destructive as time lent on.

         Chittering alarms awoke me out of my own self-rapture, and I looked up

###the   Wings of Solaris following suit###catching sight of my adversary coming

down at me with an angelic hand alight with heaven-sent energies.

         Immediately, I angled my mech‟s body profile sharply to the right, down,

and then sideways, as my attacker blazed a path of light past me; missing its

target by mere feet.

         Catapulting up and around, I drew out a long-snubbed rail gun, its stock

much larger than I could possibly hold. But the Wings of Solaris was no
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/348


weakling, and its weapon had much more than deception at a first glance.

      One shot and it would be over.

      One shot and I would be the victor.

      But one side effect of the Halo Buster Rifle was that it also allowed me a

much deeper introspective into my enemy, into his heart and mind. Peering

through the specialized targeting sight, I looked.

      And what I found stunned even me!

      “No…” I whispered. “It can‟t be!”

      Looking again, I found my adversary to be much more than he appeared.

For all this time, I believed I was fighting a messenger from our Lord in Heaven‟s

Gate; I was fighting something so virgin pure that even the cleanest snow up on

Mount Tarsait would still be looked upon as both tainted and dirty.

      But I was wrong. Lord preserve me…I was wrong!

      In the second I realized my tactical error, my angelic foe turned on me;

sensing my hesitation even though I still had it trained in my sights, and shot

back up towards me with aspiration and a purely-driven will.

      Dropping back, I shelved the Halo Buster Rifle, raised my mech‟s arm at

the same time and called forth the Shield of Divinity to stop the next blow which

I knew was going to come unerringly.

      The being hit the shield with such force, that it shoved me backwards;

spinning out of control for the next ten seconds.

      I quickly pulled out of the dive, engaged my thrusters, and yanked free
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/349


the Sword of Truth and Retribution###its gleaming blade a painful reminder to

anyone facing me that I was not someone to trifle with.

       But my angelic adversary so no such compunction in me; coming at me

again with such grace and speed that it was going to be a personal blow to me

in having to possibly land a blow too fatal for it to recover from.

       I swiftly dodged the first attack, holding back from inflicting the next

strike upon its exposed left flank as it rocketed away. I engaged all thrusters###

becoming an angel of light and good myself###before catching up within 200

paces of my intended target.

       “You shall not escape me!” I challenged it loudly. “I will return you to the

form you once knew###and give thee light to see in the error of thy ways!”

Swinging my sword around, I said in a striven voice:



       “Heaven‟s Light guide my hand! Unshackle thee from time immortal and

come down from the Gate to aide this discordant one! þøÇÀ-ÐÔ×úáÑÌ###Dispel!”




       My blade glowed brightly for a time, but I did not look away. I could not.

As the wielder of the Sword of Truth and Retribution, I had to see the whole

process through.

       As painful as it may be.

       The angel screamed long and hard###as if torn from its cherubic perch of

divine blessing###its form wavering to and fro like a lake mirage.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/350


         Come on…! I screamed in silent agony. Release yourself from this hellish

nightmare! JEANNA!!! YOU MUST LET GO!!!

         With one final cry which pierced the heavens, the angel “died” right there

in front of me, leaving###

         Sheathing the sword with ample grace, I quickly reached out to catch the

limp form of my best friend, shielding her from both the harsh reality of our

battle and the biting cold.

         I found myself breathing heavily, my heart racing out of control. The

Dispel spell took a lot out of me. Tho‟ I knew no Earth-bound magi of any kind###

save my techno-mage ones###this particular one drained a lot out of me.

         I would need time to recover from this order, as I knew that Jeanna

would to.

         “Seth? Take us home.” I instructed.

         “Roger that.” He said quietly. “Good job by the way###in bringing her

back. I knew that you could do it.”

         “Yes…” I whispered tiredly, before closing my eyes. I desperately needed

a nap.

                      *                    *                    *

         The hunt for her prey brought Eliza to a small plaza which hadn‟t been

untouched by battle so far. The place was as pristine as that nameless meadow

and empty as the emotional façade she now felt within herself.

         Once she was free of Darandal‟s incessant badgering, she found herself
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/351


being able to concentrate on the mission at hand.

       Her infrared scanners detected minute traces of fleeting body heat###a

few hours old###which indicated that her targets weren‟t too far away.

       A bloom of fire arced up above her head, followed by a percussive

explosion; rattling the immediate area, but being of no concern to the woman

herself.

       Let these gnats destroy each other wantonly. It matters not. I have more

pressing concerns than having to deal with petty conflicts like this. She thought,

before setting out, crossing the plaza silently in an effort to escape this dead

end.

       However, long before she got a chance to leave, something broke through

the ground; rising up into the skies, casting a mournful shadow over the

woman‟s.

       Eliza turned and found herself to be a bit surprised by this creature‟s

appearance.

       “Hell Lord Falgra wishes to challenge me###a 9th Level techno-mage

sorceress?” She asked the towering behemoth as it swayed back and forth for a

moment, it‟s dull glassy green eyes gazing about before the sound of Eliza‟s

voice drew its attention towards her.

       “Urggglhh…uhhhh…ahhhh…” It dribbled out in a concave voice###its

massive clay like body shining with a generous amount of slick moisture and

wetness.
                                    Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/352


         “So pathetic that you cannot speak more than a few sounds; feinting real

language.” Eliza chided openly in observation.

         The monstrous Burrower was nothing special in itself. It resided in the 5th

Circle of Everlasting Hell and Damnation, a place solely ruled by Falgra the

Tormentor.

         This area of suffocating heat and cold, extreme weather, and other

abnormalities existed primarily for the hell lord to use at his whims and desire;

inflicting eternal pain and suffering on those unlucky enough to be caught in his

grasp.

         The Burrower itself nothing more than a foot soldier molded out of the

earth of the damned and given some mediocre intelligence###governed by its

master.

         As such, its special abilities lay in its arcane control over the local

elements###both weather and earth itself. On a normal scale, it towered sixteen

feet.

         But this one…

         Almost three stories in height, and by all accounts, this particular

Burrower was no lieutenant.

         Eliza stepped back a bit, admiring this uprooted aberration, before it

plunged both arms into the ground###ripping up everything in its path.

         “So Falgra the Tormenter wants me?” The woman guessed off hand,

thinking about the rumors of the hell lord‟s insatiable sexual appetites varied by
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/353


his collection of victims.

       The arms shot up on both sides of the woman, but she artfully evaded the

thing‟s attack.

       “I‟m not interested in becoming a personal toy of Falgra! You can tell him

that once I send you back to hell!” She called forth, raising up one of her arms to

bat away one of the earthy “fingers” intent on sneaking up on her aft quarter

and ensnaring the woman.

       The “finger” retreated, as did most of the arms which appeared all around

her. But then they reformed into smaller versions of its parent###each one

standing seven feet tall.

       Eliza chuckled at this lame attempt to take care.

       “You treat me as tho‟ I am some kind of helpless flower in distress. But

you###sadly###know not whom you are dealing with.”

       The Burrower army slowly advanced on her, arms stretched out. Streams

of earth fired forth, pinning the woman on all sides.

       “Utterly futile.” The woman casually said, before stretching out her arm

and slapping a control stud on her cybernetic wrist. A sound emanated from it,

but Eliza knew that it would be a minute before Gasat would respond. So until

then, the techno-mage would have her hands full, taking care of business.

        “I have no time with the likes you. You‟re games are boring me.” She

said, checking her immediate surroundings for something she could use against

her many opponents, Eliza scanned the material properties for even the slightest
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/354


hint of metal.

          To her delight, there came to be no such shortage. Kneeling down, she

commanded her silent army of nano Assemblers and Destroyers to spread out

and start absorbing all the metallic compounds in the immediate area and return

to her.

          This process would be instantaneous and only take a few moments for

everything to fall into place.

          By the time the army of Burrowers swarmed her position, Eliza had

gathered enough metal to amplify her own abilities and thus turn the tide against

these cretins.

           The once untouched plaza imploded inwards a bit###having been robbed

of their overall support.

          Flinging out her right hand, she yelled: “ñÁßØ«###æë###Energy Drain!” A

cloud of tiny phosphorescent objects descended upon them all; absorbing into

the Burrower army and momentarily stopping them in their tracks.

          These types of nano-bots were specially designed to infiltrate and leech all

kinds of energy from their respective victims###biological or mechanical. But their

half-life cycle was woefully minute, and this is the reason why Eliza had to spring

into action.

          Withdrawing a metal staff from beneath her cloak, Eliza pointed it at the

army and said sharply, “Disperse Wave!”

          The end glowed brightly, casting a sickly sheen over the Burrowers, then
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/355


every one of them exploded silently into the air like dandelions.

       What was left served to scatter itself into the wind like so much fine dust

and dirt.

       But the parent wasn‟t done yet. Not by a long shot.

       Eliza smiled.

       “So you still have something to show me? Come on then!” She challenged.

“I await thee!”

       The giant Burrower did not disappoint.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/356




      Chapter 42.



      I touched down in blind silence, allowing my Wings of Solaris to crouch,

my thoughts imaging it to releasing my all too precious cargo onto the cold,

damp, and unforgiving Dead Earth.

      “Mistress? Mistress? It is time to awaken. I have allotted you a half hour

to recover your senses, by taking what used to be called by your ancient lore as

the „scenic route‟.” Seth‟s soft voice filtered into my wretched unconsciousness.

      Eyes fluttering open, I groaned in abeyance, the throbbing pain in my

head like finely shattered tableware.

      “By the water lords of Tosa Reye,” I mumbled in disarray, a thick

paste-like taste sitting###more like perched###serenely in the back of my mouth.

“What a delicious rush.”

      “Becoming a servant of God certainly has its drawbacks, does it not?” Seth

countered knowingly. “Even I had what you humans would call a period of

incandescent „bliss‟###uncouth to say the least; myself being a machine entity, of

course.”

      “Naturally…” I responded, still locked in a semi-tired state of mind. “You

do not share in the same inhibitions as those of us who are simply flesh and

blood.” Closing my eyes once again, I could not last recall when I had felt this
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/357


drained. This was the first time in known memory that I had used the Wings of

Solaris###apart from my Torus.

        I never once realized how much I had missed out on a golden opportunity

to be one with God Himself, to be His Messenger of Divinity and Righteousness.

        But my father‟s warning had come to me too late. I would indeed have to

pay such a heavy price for using its unfathomable power and special abilities.

        So here I lie…weak and helpless as a newborn babe. I thought

disjointedly, before realizing that I was still trapped, still locked in a battle which

bore no human semblance.

        I chose to look down then, staring into the magnificent hands of Solaris,

staring into the treasure I helped save.

        “Jeanna…” I whispered sullenly. “Whatever possessed you to become so

angry? I did nothing to incur your wrath###and yet, you still chose to fight me.

Why?”

        Though I did not expect an answer, I certainly got one. But from an

unexpected source unknownst to even myself.

        “Because she does not know the power she wields within herself###being

a simple white magi sorceress. But in time, she will learn. For now, however, she

remains a danger unto even you.” A powerfully rich and slightly feminine voice

resonated across the empty square.

        On simple reflex, I sat up, looking around for the person whose voice so

enraptured my attention. I wasn‟t disappointed when he stepped into view###
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/358


nothing more than a cowled figure in brown coming from behind another water

fountain, footsteps silent as they were sure; shadows cast naught in the person‟s

wake.

        Naturally, I was curious as to whom this mystery man was.

        Dipping his head low in a commoner‟s curtsy, he said, “Forgive the sudden

intrusion my lady. But I could not help but witness a part of your most

awe-inspiring battle. Surely, a tale worthy of song and legend.” Tho‟ he acted

like a lowly peasant, I was intrigued by the ways he addressed me in a high born

tongue of nobles and dukes.

        “Kind sir,” I began with a lilt of respect in my tone, carefully choosing my

words, “I am deeply honored by your compassion and praise. But this was no

battle. Merely a misunderstanding between friends.”

        The brown-cloaked figure looked up at me, askance with surprise.

        “Thee would consider this merely a minor sacrilege?” A tiny snort of

disbelief echoed back to me. “Surely you must not take me for such a fool. I

could easily see she meant to kill you where you stood###had you not

transformed into the Armor of Heaven‟s Light. Only God would bestow upon you

such a rare treasure.”

        “Yes…” I droned with some uncertainty. “It is a special kind of armor,

meant for only a select few.”

        There was a moment of silence between the two of us, each one listening

to soft whispering wind in the background.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/359


      I was the first to grow impatient.

      “What is that you wish of me, sir? I do have business to attend to, you

know.” I said brashly###before realizing my first mistake. But it was too late now

to recant what I said. The damage was done.

      The cloaked figure nodded eagerly###too eagerly for my tastes. “Yes, yes,

yes. We each have our own calling. Our own means to a way, and end to a

means. Simply poetic if you ask me.” He jabbered on silkily like a parrot.

“Simply poetic…”

      The hairs on the back of my neck rose in uneasiness. For some strange

reason, I felt compelled not to turn my back on this one. The whole incident

reminded me of something which occurred to me years earlier, something which

###

      The color drained from my face.

      “Oh my God…” I whispered in dread.

      I knew.

      “Problems?” The brown man inquired casually. But a part of me now knew

this to be nothing more than a play act.

      And I had been played like a fool!

      All this time! I thought angrily to myself. He knew it! But I did…did…

      Did not.

      His next words chilled me to the bone.

      “If you don‟t mind, I‟d like to have the girl. She‟s very much important to

me and the plans of our lord and master.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/360


       I stood there, stone-like, unable to move, unable to say anything worth

remembering. My mind was presently caught in a maelstrom of memories,

thoughts and images of the past.

       Things that I didn‟t think would anger me so, but with each passing

second, rage built up inside of me, until###

       Wings of Solaris rose to its full height, towering over the cloaked man with

impunity.

       “You bastard!” I seethed. “You were the one that caused my craft to

plunge from the skies!”

       The brown-cloaked man shrugged impassively.

       “You put up quite a fight, girl. For someone so young, you certainly are a

foolish little waif.” He insulted with deliberate care. “Now, please. The girl if you

don‟t mind. Time is pressing and so is my patience.”

       I held back my mech‟s hands, before I instinctively opened a small

passenger module in the left breast plate of Solaris; depositing her with great

gentleness.

       The cloaked man smirked under his hood.

       “If you think that you‟re going to get away, think again.”

       For some reason, I didn‟t think that was a problem. “You think you can

stop me?” I offered up in challenge.

       “You‟re drained from your last fight. I seriously doubt you have enough

left in you to keep me from coming for the girl.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/361


       The truth smacked me in the face like an insolent child. But I was beyond

my breaking points; running on nothing but adrenaline and my own emotional

rollercoaster.

       But I would not yield. Not to the likes of him. Never again. I silently

promised.

       “If you want her, Darandal. You‟re going to have to get through Solaris

first.” I said with rock-solid emphasis.

       Darandal didn‟t blink when I revealed his identity. But he didn‟t balk at it

either when he replied, “You seem to forget: I am a techno-mage. I control all

aspects of technology through magiks and deception. You‟re little toy is

vulnerable to my charms.” He paused for a moment to let that sink in. “Do you

really want to risk a confrontation with me for the sake of the girl?”

       “She‟s my friend. And I would defend her to the last breath within me.” I

proudly crowed. “But if you think that for one moment that Solaris is vulnerable

to your cyber parlor tricks, think again.”

       This time, it was Darandal who was put on the spot. But he fielded the

implication with the best of them.

       “Ah. Of course. How silly of me to forget. You‟re machine is not of this

Earth; though it was crafted by human hands. However, it had to be blessed by

the High Priestess of Leoma in order for it to become something more, didn„t it?”

Darandal crooned.

       “Aye.” I cast back. “It was.”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/362


       “Such a pretty flower, that young maiden.” He continued to implicate,

making it appear that he indeed had done something so unforgivable, that no

amount of punishment from our Lord could erase it from existence.

       “You didn‟t###!” I breathed in shock and dismay.

       Darandal made a dismissive hand gesture. “Don‟t get your hopes up,

Princess Steinberg. None of us would ever stoop that low to deflower a high

priestess born into God‟s graces so easily.”

       My eyes smoldered with an inner fire.

       “Don‟t call me that!” I snapped.

       “Call you what?” The man asked innocently; albeit teasingly. Like the fool

I be, he was playing me masterfully, and###dammit!###I was letting him!

“Princess?”

       “Yes.” I snarled under my breath.

       “So odd, how one would be so willing to shun her royal heritage###for the

sake of adventure.” Darandal accused tauntingly.

       “It wasn‟t adventure.” I countered frostily. “Your damned king invaded our

realm and I had no choice but to flee, whilst my family was taken hostage.”

       “Killedwouldbemorelikeit.” Darandal bit out quickly. So fast in fact, I could

not believe my own ears.

       With one earth-shaking step, I moved forward with a dangerous air.

       “What. Was. That?” I demanded in a thick voice.

       Darandal smiled, enjoying this game he played with me.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/363


       “Nothing. Nothing at all. But it was a real joy, nonetheless###to see you

scurry off like a mouse in your father‟s prized war suit. I must say, you really

knew how to handle it. Much to our surprise.”

       Though I would be prideful of another‟s flowery comments, I remained ice

cold towards Darandal. And for good reason.

       I hated him as much as I loathed him.

       “You never gave me much choice. Or cause for that matter.” I said. “I had

to become a fast learner in order to survive. Would you do no less in my

position?”

       “Of course. But only if our situations were reversed.” The man answered

truthfully. “However###being the man that I have become###events played out

have heavily favored me. And not you.”

       I resolved to kill him right then and there###virgin sanctity or not.

       Wings of Solaris moved one step closer. Darandal did not. He stayed his

ground.

       “Tut, tut…” he admonished me with a wagging finger. “I‟ll have none of

that, thank you very much. Only a barbarian would consider such acts in cold

blood. As a princess, you should have more higher standards than simple

thoughts of revenge killing.”

       “I am not a princess!” I ground out in frustration, not believing that I‟ve

let this game go as far as it did. Why do I allow him to crawl under my skin and

burrow there? I asked myself. Is it because I am such a weak-minded whelp in
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/364


the eyes of my adversaries? My enemies? “I-” I trailed off, my words failing me,

whilst the truth of a harsher reality did not.

        Darandal caught on quickly.

        “Ah. So you wish to forget your heritage, eh? Such a shameful act on part

of your family‟s otherwise sterling honor. How would your parents feel if they

knew the choice you‟ve made? Would they still call you one of their own? Would

they still call you their daughter?” He plunged forth, every sharply delivered salvo

like a wound to my open heart.

        “I###” I began, moving from anger to a sea of clouded loss and

uncertainty. “I…”

        Darandal shook his head, as if he were pitying me in my current state of

mind.

        “Such travesties for ones so young. To shed themselves of their rightful

heritage###whether they be a lowly commoner or one so high born such as

yourself###it becomes an unforgivable sin in the eyes of the Lord. Does it not?”

        I could not fight it. No matter what lies lay straddled before me. My whole

life had been one such trove of happiness and peace. And all I‟ve known since

then is the lies and deceptions of my own soul.

        I felt utterly dirty.

        “Does the girl know?” Darandal asked, before I could say anything in my

meager defense. “Does she know of the painful and darkened past which you

carry inside your delicate breast?”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/365


       “I###no.” I uttered in complete misery, tears coming to my eyes. “She

does not know of the truth I have kept from her all this time.”

       “How can you call her friend, if all you do is lie to her? Doesn‟t she

deserve the truth?”

       Rage broke inside of me; bursting outwards like some poorly constructed

dam.

       “I didn‟t want things to be overtly complicated!” I shouted. “I didn‟t want

to be treated any differently! As far as I am concerned, my past is dead! I will

not go back to it willingly!”

       “Ah. So the truth finally resurfaces after all this time. I was beginning to

wonder how long it would take for you to come to your senses.” Darandal

mocked.

       Stock still, I shook inside the comfort of my pilot‟s acceleration seat.

       “I will not stand by and let you make a fool of me, Darandal. Whatever

problems I have, is none of your fucking business.”

       Darandal snorted. “Such callous remarks, and yet, you still are intent on

denying yourself?” Shaking his head in disbelief, he asked, “How long will this

charade of yours go, until you finally come to terms with the truth?”

       “For as long as it takes.” I said resolutely. But deep inside, I knew it to be

too late. The seeds of doubt had been firmly planted by one of my worst

enemies, and there was simply no way to escape that.

       Suddenly, I found myself ruined, encased in an armor blessed by divine
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/366


hands and surrounded by such hypocrisy.

      Of my own creation.

      I wanted to die then.

      Darandal sensed that time for such idle talk had finally come to pass.

      “In that case,” he said with an outstretched hand, “the girl. And please:

Don‟t make me ask you again.”




      Chapter 43.



      The Burrower attacked Eliza head on, giving the techno-mage little chance

to counterattack. For the next several minutes, the massive creature destroyed

every bit of its surroundings###buildings included###to try and stamp the

unyielding woman into the ground.

      Eliza evaded the thing‟s charges by performing a complex series of

maneuvers worthy of a gymnast, while coldly calculating on when the next best

opening would be for her to really lay into the abomination.

      In reality, the creature was nothing but earthen mud itself, carried aloft by
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/367


the will of Falgra himself. There was nothing really holding together.

       Another shot whizzed past the woman‟s ears; grazing the skin###exploding

like a rifle shot into the brick and mortar masonry behind her; destroying it in the

process.

       Then the moment came and Eliza sprang into action. As the giant

Burrower reared back just a bit to redouble its efforts, the woman‟s right arm

shot out, morphing on the fly into one big particle cannon.

       Its gleaming round gone glowed brightly as it prepared to discharge a

bright flash.

       “Freeze Ray!” She yelled.

       A sharp report echoed from the newly formed appendage, and a cascade

of liquid ice particles belched forth in a massive stream###catching the Burrower

right in its tracks; legs glued to the ground.

       Eliza wasn‟t finished by a long shot. Starting from the bottom and ending

at the top, she essentially created one of the world‟s first giant ice sculptures.

       Lowering her left arm, it transformed back into its cybernetic state.

       A stiff cold wind brushed past the woman‟s hood, upending it, and

revealing a glorious cascade of rich golden brown hair.

       But any chance of finding a normal façade ended there, as the right side

of her face and eye socket were nothing more than a mix of burnished metal and

flesh, shaped in a ghostly reminder of human flesh.

       Blinking lights and other small diodes flashed at random, before the
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/368


woman pulled her hood back over.

       A near fatal accident in the past almost cost a much younger Eliza her life.

But a promise transformed into a life of indentured servitude to the king, wasn‟t

enough to erase the long periods of pain and agony she had to endure.

       The ice sculpture shivered violently, vibrating at an impressive rate; then

shattered###

       “Shit…!” Eliza breathed in disbelief. Then looking up at the still wet, still

glistening Burrower, she shouted: “That was my best shot, asshole!”

       A long winded groan emanated from the creature###oblivious to the fact

that it had undone what had previously been a personal achievement by a 9th

Level techno-mage.

       “Yeah, and you‟re mother is a mud-dwelling prairie rat!” She continued to

insult, before the colossal beast got its bearings and started to attack her once

again; putting Eliza on the spot and in a situation she had never encountered

before.

       Because she never had to.

                     *              *             *

       I stood there with a sudden petulant expression painted on my face;

extremely annoyed that I had to be asked to do something I didn‟t want to.

       “Who are you to order me around, you arrogant horse‟s ass?” I chirped

sharply. “If you feel able bodied to steal my best friend from me, then I suggest

you do it.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/369


       Darandal sighed, shaking his head all the while.

       “I tried reasoning with you. I tried to be patient. Lord only knows this. But

if you‟re that desperate to end your life prematurely at my hands, then so be it.”

He ventured in a chilled tone.

       Before I know it, a bright flash had exploded from Darandal‟s right hand,

and punched the Wings of Solaris###hard###and sent it flying backwards violently.

       Flailing about in my cockpit, I strived to regain control of the situation by

countering with a screaming shot from my materializing Halo Buster Rifle.

       A sloppy attempt###seeing I was still off balance. But the attack surprised

Darandal. Apparently, he had been expecting something from my Sword of Truth

and Retribution instead.

       The explosion sent him flying onto his ass, and that‟s all the time I needed

to turn coward and run.

       “No way am I taking on an 5th Level Master techno-mage,” I muttered

aloud to myself, while scanning the skies. “Especially on the ground.” I had no

qualms about fighting Darandal anyway. The idiot savant deserved every bit of

retribution he accumulated since making me a wandering orphan so many years

ago. I couldn‟t even remember everything which had transpired. The only thing I

could ever recall was my father stuffing his nine-year-old little girl into the Torus,

and sent it away on a pre-programmed flight to somewhere I must‟ve assumed

would be a safe haven for me and those whom had escaped that hellish day.

       “A childish attempt.” His voice crackled over the open comm. “You must
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/370


feel insignificant enough not wanting to face me. But who could really blame

you? Indeed, whom could hold up a candle to the likes of myself?”

       Anteless bastard! I seethed inwardly. Though he had a valid point, his

syrupy arrogance was much to be desired.

       “I only wanted some maneuvering space.” I shot back quickly, readying

my next attack. This one would surprise him even more###the son of a whore

believing that my sword and rifle my only weapon.

       Calling up a rear view scan, I saw my toady opponent not much farther

back; alight on a magnificent sky dragon.

       “Grash…” I quietly said, invoking the beast‟s name. “So you share your

master‟s hatred of me, eh?”

       On cue, a solid tongue of blue plasma exploded from the cyber-dragon‟s

mouth, arcing over my head. This attack only caused a slight alteration in my

craft‟s heading.

       “Only a matter of time, mon peche. Then your flower will be mine to

cherish and hold.” Darandal‟s taunting voice echoed.

       Ohhhh…! BE QUIET! I shouted back silently at him, before slapping the

comm link stud and cutting him off from me. A blissful silence soon followed and

my adversary continued to pace me from behind.

       I did not know by this time, that Jeanna had decided to wake up at that

point and rejoin the land of the living.

       But an internal alarm beeped in earnest; snatching my attention from the
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/371


majestic screen view to one illuminating the insides of a semi-cramped escape

pod.

       But there she was all right###banging away on one of the walls in a vain

effort to grab my attention.

       “Seth? Patch in the pod‟s emergency comm system, please.”

       “Patched.” His disembodied voice confirmed.

       “Hello, Jeanna. It‟s good to see you finally up and alert.” I said jovially,

before another alarm screamed in earnest###tearing my attention away from my

friend and back to the matter at hand.

       Of course, it wasn‟t hard to fathom who was on my tail still. But I was

even more surprised to see that Darandal had picked up a few more uninvited

guests in return.

       A large squadron of Neo-Gargoyles and a small contingent of flesh and

blood sky dragons had joined in the chase over the skies of Xanix.

       “Ah…” I muttered with rapt interest. “This should prove to be

entertaining.”

       “What‟s going on?” Jeanna‟s beet-red face inquired, the uncertainty in her

eyes staring right back at me.

       “Just some competition wanting a piece of the prize.” I relayed back to

her with firm assurance. “It seems that lately, you‟ve become quite the catch in

these parts.”

       A confused look spread across my friend‟s face and I wished that we were
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/372


closer so that I could explain some things in greater detail. But time and patience

were not good bedfellows in this instant.

         Not when you had every Tom, Dick, and Harry chasing after you.

         “What? Whatever for?” Jeanna quizzed urgently. “I have done no wrong

to instill such a reaction from those closest to me…”

         I sighed and leaned back. Just then, some of the sky dragons and a few

of the Neo-Gargoyles began their attack run###slathering the area with pulses of

fire and twin beams of energy.

         I could almost hear Darandal laughing at them all. Indeed, I caught a

brief glimpse of him beckoning to his opponents to have at thee with all their

might.

         Suicide…I thought to myself, feeling somewhat sorry for those poor

creatures; knowing not that their demise were scant seconds away at most.

         But these things were part of the invasion force. They attacked on orders

from their field commanders and from there, the overlord in charge of the

invasion.

         And from there###

         “Our mysterious queen of Jasper.” I said to myself.

         “Huh? What was that, Jasmine?” Jeanna inquired. “I didn‟t quite get that.”

         I didn‟t answer for a few seconds; watching as Darandal easily shattered

their ranks with little effort on his part. Truly, a man of great stature. So sure of

himself. But nay, still the enemy which sorely wanted something which no man
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/373


had right to.

        Jeanna herself.

        Consequently, that thought made my blood boil. And along it, my rage.

        A woman like her was a treasure to covet, a flower to cherish and nurture.

        Not control.

        I half expected the survivors to come after me###seeing how badly a

beating they were getting at one of my sworn enemies###but nay, here cometh

the welcome party.

        “Stand by!” I barked, cutting the link between the two of us. I would need

all my concentration for this one. I hadn‟t pulled this stunt for six years.

        The first wave of attackers was upon me in the next eighteen seconds,

and before I knew it, I was not only in the fight for my life, but my friend‟s as

well.




        Chapter 44.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/374




        Esmeralda Jasmine.



        The deck of Tiddus‟s prized war galleon and home never looked so good

###even   as Lucrecia taxied in under full power; carrying with her one mighty

load.

        Despite the red lights across the board and her computer telling her once

again that coolant pressure levels were spiking past the zone of tolerance, the

woman believed her ship wouldn‟t buckle under the strain.

        Crewmembers down below had the common sense to scatter like ants

upon her arrival; thruster fire scorching the elevator deck where she set down

with a loud booming noise.

        “Here, master. We have finally reached sanctuary.” Lucrecia told him,

while giving the deck master the okay to begin descent.

        A shudder and they were under way###being lowered down at a nicely

measured pace.

        “I still have no motive power. That last hit must‟ve damaged some servo

relays.” Tiddus‟s frustrated voice radioed back. “Horus is going to be pissed

when he sees the damage schematics from this plucked bird.”

        Lucrecia smiled to herself. “Have some faith in our Lord, and in your men,

my valiant ship master. You have acquitted yourself on the battlefield quite

admirably. Setbacks like these were bound to happen.”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/375


       A long winded groan filtered back to her.

       “That‟s not what I wanted to hear, Lucrecia.” Tiddus griped; the elevator

stopping with a soft jolt.

       Lucrecia kept her mecha steady and that of her damaged master‟s.

       “We have arrived, my master. Disembarking.” She informed him, urging

her craft forward in slowly but steady steps; a shower of sparks trailing them

from Belarus.

       The cavernous repair bay was situated six decks below the after

quarterdeck###well away from the Captain‟s Quarters, and one deck above the

M.A.E vaults. (Mech Arms and Engineering.)

       Five minutes later, Lucrecia found the massive diagnostic and repair flat

bed, shaped to conform to mechs in general. No feat by itself, the bed system

had been originally crafted as an escape capsule for the giant machines. Indeed,

its padding was still intact###lovingly maintained by the crew.

       “Here we go sir.” Lucrecia warned, before shifting her mech into a

half-kneeling position and then lifted the damaged craft into a carry hold, before

gently depositing both ship and pilot onto the bed.

       It creaked and groaned as always, but that didn‟t alarm the mech techs

standing by for orders.

       Looking down at the idly waiting men and women, Lucrecia barked

sharply, “Heave to people! Your master requires thy ministrations!”

       A gantry crane was soon lowered into position next to Lucrecia‟s
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/376


Tomahawk, before stopping just above the mecha‟s plated visor.

      Lucrecia activated the top hatch in the head, her chair automatically rising

in response.

      A crewmate was ready to snap the harness releases which set her free.

The same man extended his hand to her###which she took###and the pair stood

on the gantry crane for a moment, while a third crewmate###a young woman

with blonde hair billowing out from beneath her soft gray work cap###jumped

back into the chair and vanished inside the Tomahawk‟s head.

      The hatch sealed itself afterwards, with the gantry crane retracting itself.

Moments later, it lowered slowly back down towards the ground.

      Lucrecia could see other work crews pulling Tiddus out. She told the crane

operator that she wanted to go see him first###even as her Tomahawk backed

up, did an about face, and went around the large bed to one of its own to be

serviced and repaired.

      The gantry crane swung over effortlessly, allowing both master and

crewwoman to reunite on the gangplank next to the bed.

      Thumping her chest in respect before bowing smartly, Lucrecia said,

“Master! How goes the battle?”

      Tiddus stared at her, a sharp sputter of shock roiling across his face.

      “You###!” He grated mildly, then broke out into a wide grin. “You know

damned well what happened! You were with me!”

      A ghost of a smile touched the woman‟s lips, but she quickly squelched it.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/377


         “If you say so, sir.” She answered neutrally.

         Tiddus waited five more seconds, scrutinizing Lucrecia carefully.

         Lucrecia lost it. The smile she had kept so carefully under wraps finally

peeked out on its own.

         Tiddus shook his head. “You just love tormenting me don‟t, you?”

         Lucrecia gave him a demure look. “Every second I get, my ship master.

Every second I get.”

         Tiddus scratched his head. “Um, yes. Well, let‟s try to keep things a bit on

the professional side, eh, Lucrecia?”

         The lithe woman pouted, body slumped over, head slung forward, tresses

of ash-brown hair following suit to veil her more attractive features.

         “You‟re no fun at all, Tiddus…” She complained under her breath.

         “Naturally,” the man confirmed mildly. “I‟m supposed to be the upper

echelon of being a hard ass. If I started to act soft towards my own people, then

my enemies might take advantage of that.”

         Now it was Lucrecia‟s turn to act surprised, while two mech techs brushed

past them cordially to get topside and begin repairs.

         “What? By Fe‟s Light! That‟s a lie! That‟s###” then stopped in the middle of

her tirade, once Lucrecia saw the twinkle of amusement in her captain‟s eye. It

was then that she knew she had been put on.

         “Oooh!” And smacked him one across the upper chest. “How can you say

that?”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/378


       Tiddus started to laugh, wiping the errant tears from his eyes. “Because

you are so easily fooled, Lucrecia. My enemies could care less about how I treat

my ship-bound subordinates. On the battlefield however, I am the right hand of

our Lord and the punishment I mete out is hell on earth.”

       “Aye.” Lucrecia acknowledged breathlessly. “That you are, sir. But I am no

one‟s fool.”

       “I said nothing of the sort. Being slightly gullible is a human trait; though

not a fatal one. Think of it as being taken off guard when you least expect it.”

       “But###”

       Tiddus put a hand on her shoulder. “You are a warrior amongst warriors. I

have noticed in the past how diligent to your duty you have become. That is

truly admirable, however, there are also times where being serious all the time

can have its drawbacks.” He pointed to himself. “Look at me: I am ship‟s master,

but I also have a flexible side. In order to function as a person, you also have to

learn to let yourself go now and then. Being absolutely rigid in decorum, even

around your crewmates can have a most adversely negative effect.”

       Lucrecia blushed lividly in embarrassment. She didn‟t bother to hide it

from her ship‟s master.

       “I…I…see.” A few seconds later, she said, “I‟ll try to loosen up a bit more

in the future, sir.”

       “Good girl. For now, I need you back in the saddle. Go sign out for

another Tomahawk. I‟m going to talk to Horus and see if I can‟t get him to pull
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/379


Hellgard out of mothballs.”

      “H-Hellgard?” Lucrecia stammered with astonishment. “Master! That ship

is over a hundred years old! It has nothing in ways of modern armament which

could hope to stave off another attack like the one we just went through!”

      “It was a mighty machine in the days of my great-great-grandfather

Janus; so shall it serve cravenly with honor for his great-great-grandson. Not to

worry: I shall have her ready in six hours time. Go fetch your sister and report

back to me the status of our forces.”

      Lucrecia bit back her reply, then stepped back and saluted smartly.

      “Aye, honorable ship‟s captain. I shall return with the swiftness of an

angel in time for your launch.” She solemnly vowed.

      Tiddus watched her leave and then sighed.

      “No rush on my part.” He murmured.

      This was going to be a long day yet. And there was still a lot to do.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/380




       Chapter 45.



       A nearby explosion turned Wings of Solaris into a child‟s rattle

unexpectedly###after Darandal had unerringly targeted us with a near miss which

vaporized one of the sky dragons giving chase.

       Not only did I scream, but I was certain that Jeanna did too, before the

shaking finally stopped.

       A quick check of all systems revealed nothing amiss. I glanced at the

screen in front of me, calling up a rear view.

       The battle was a mess. Enemies were everywhere###having formed a

cloud structure which blocked out a small portion of the skies above our heads,

but offering very little in terms of escape.

       Not that I wanted to. I thought, switching views once more and

concentrating on the ever growing cloud. I noticed little red balls earlier in the

battle. When I called up a sensor scan of that area in question, my blood ran
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/381


cold.

        Kamikaze Bombs.

        These creations of hell belonged to Sarana###the hell goddess of the 4th

Circle of Everlasting Hell and Damnation. Her domain was true brimstone and fire

###where   her victims had their skins either slowly baked, peeled off, before being

drenched in scalding lava, or some other fire implement.

        Other times, she would have her minions torture a select group. I read in

several textbooks that in one depiction, these Kamikaze Bombs would be

dropped from afar into the Pits of Sorrow. Into here, they would fall###these

deformed balls of fire and combustive methane###and give chase to one or more

unsuspecting victims; latching onto the nearest one with its sinewy arms and

oversized hands.

        And detonate with such force that death would come in a cloud of pain

and agony.

        I shuddered, watching these little hellions dance to and fro amongst the

ranks of its companion sky dragons and Neo-Gargoyles.

        If only that were the truth. I shuddered thoughtfully, noting that they

were 2,000 feet from my position. I checked their movement against the motion

of my craft and found they weren‟t coming towards me.

        Once they locked on however…

        It would be impossible to shake them loose.

        More gouts of blue plasma fire lit up my aft quarter. But none of it came
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/382


close to singing me.

       “Darandal‟s in a bit of a pickle.” Seth analyzed.

       “Yes…” I mulled.

       “I know this goes against everything you were raised on, but perhaps…it

wouldn‟t hurt to lend an assist.”

        The unexpected thought turned my stomach sour.

       “Help…him?” I nearly choked, turning Solaris sharply right to avoid a

swiping attack by several Neo-Gargoyles.

       A sky dragon came up from below, almost eclipsing my ship as it passed

###before   turning suddenly and blowing out a stream of fire which swallowed up

the front of my mecha.

       Orange and yellow flames washed over my screens, but I punched

through on full thrusters, bringing up my Sword of Truth and Retribution and

swung###cleaving the beast in two.

       Both halves exploded in a rush of fire and spent matter soon after. But I

was already in motion; Wings of Solaris carrying me high above the remaining

adversaries whom decided to make a game of this.

       Raising the Sword of Truth and Retribution into the, I called upon my

weapon for supreme deliverance.

       “Bestow unto thee, thy ancient powers!###10K Blade Strike!”

       The sword left my mech‟s hands, rose a bit higher, then split into not two,

but into two dozen blades. That number amplified itself in seconds and I was
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/383


soon surrounded by untold copies of my prized weapon.

       Eyes glowing, I sent the first wave into the midst my enemies###slaying

dozens in the blink of an eye.

       The Kamikaze Bombs finally picked up on what I was doing, and not one,

but hundreds charged my position.

       Falling back, I directed the next wave at them; praying all the while that

Sarana was indeed paying attention to the demise of her minions.

       I could almost imagine her screams of dismay echoing throughout her

damned circle, as she witnessed a mortal kicking the unholy snot out of her

cherished army.

       By the glorious decree of our Lord, I say###DIE! I commanded silently;

each sword intersecting and snuffing out so many of the bombs that not one

single one of them even closed into within 1,200 yards of me.

       I rode the adrenaline rush then, gathering both my power and my wits at

once and concentrated on the next wave coming at me.

       Reaching back, I cleanly snatched the Sword of Truth and Retribution

from the air, and sheathed it effortlessly. Despite my high kill ratios, there was

still numerous enemies, but not as many as before.

       I plainly saw the heat had been taken off of Darandal, and even he was

taken aback by the powerful display that I had exhibited.

       “Clearly more than meets thy eye, child. Commendable to say the least.

Where you saving that for me?” He patronized.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/384


       I paid little attention to him, as I now took on a squadron of sky dragons.

Most of the Neo-Gargoyles had been wiped out, but still much more of them

remained. The Kamikaze Bombs were few and far between.

       And that became a blessing upon itself.

       “Still no response, eh? Are you intoxicated by your recent string of

victories that you cannot answer your opponent‟s one single question?”

Darandal‟s continued to pester.

       I reached over to slap the comm link, while I twisted my body in tune with

Wings of Solaris###placing it in a vertical handstand###which carried me past one

full grown adult sky dragon.

       Its massive body overshadowed mine, but its swiping claw attack missed

me and tagged the pair of Neo-Gargoyles whom just happened to be inside my

vacated area of space.

       Blood and gore filled the skies, as the decapitated pair hung in the air in

mid-chase, then gracefully fell away from me.

       The dragon itself roared in disapproval, twisting its powerful red body

around###long tail following suit###and gave chase to me.

       “Nay,” I answered. “Nothing of a kind. I am simply a little too busy at the

moment to hold court with you, Darandal.”

       “So I gather.” His disembodied voice coolly observed, while I swung left,

evading another claw strike. But having left himself wide open, I launched myself

at him; bringing the full strength of Solaris‟s behind the first gut-wrenching
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/385


punch###nailing the dragon right in the stomach###followed up by a few more to

the mid-section, then back handed the beast across the neck, and finally

finishing it up with a haymaker to the jaw.

      Not only did it send him reeling, but it also left the sky dragon badly

battered and bruised.

      Solaris experimentally flexed its hand###reacting as if it had bruised it

somehow. But that was just me thinking about it.

      “Care to go again?” I taunted the sky dragon.

      The creature stared back at me with wounded surprise. With a strangled

roar, it declined, and began to fly away.

      You would figure that this would‟ve ended the battle right then and there

for me, but nay, I was deeply stunned by what happened next.

      A grouping of his fellow sky dragons immediately set themselves upon the

injured brute; ripping him to pieces before he could slink away to safety.

      I watched the process play itself out in absolute horror, wondering just

where in all of God‟s creation did these beasts ever play the role of the

executioner?

      “Did I ever forget to tell you?” Darandal‟s sugary voice radioed back to

me. “Sky dragons do not like it when one of their own flees. Despite what you

know about them, they are an honorable race of beasts. Born for battle, born to

die valiantly in the heat of combat. A coward‟s way out is considered a

deplorable act amongst them. Grash knows this. That‟s why he fights with
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/386


abated breath. A true warrior to the core.”

      I hadn‟t considered this, even as the despicable act concluded itself

smartly. Only a few yard strips worth of flesh remained to flutter aimlessly in the

breeze. The only evidence that a giant had remained standing.

      Only because I beat it fair and square!

      Instead of acknowledging my enemy‟s council, I smartly responded with

dripping sarcasm, “Thanks for the lesson.”

      There came no reply from Darandal. Perhaps it was because he knew how

I would respond, and feigned to reply in retrospect.

      Or perhaps his attention had been diverted like it had with mine.

      I suddenly found myself alone in the skies, the smallish cloud of enemies

having retreated.

      “What###?” I queried in puzzlement, calling up a full sensor scan of the

area around for a half-mile.

      The last of thy enemies finally vanished from sight, leaving both me and

###

      “Ah-ha.” I smiled knowingly. “Still sticking around for the grand finale,

Darandal?”

      To my surprise, he declined!

      “Nay, child. Grash is wounded from the fight and needs to recover.

Because of this, I‟ll have to reschedule our match for some other time. My

condolences on your loss.”

      I stared at the sudden wind wake left behind by Grash‟s sudden
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/387


departure.

        Loss? I thought to myself. What in God‟s name does that supposed to

mean?

        My comm link chimed softly for my attention.

        “Huh?” I ventured absently, before touching a blinking indicator light on

the forward screen.

        Jeanna was presently pushing a clump of disheveled hair out of the way,

a severe expression plastered on her face.

        “Are you through yet?” She questioned with great agitation. “I‟ve already

lost my lunch in this padded contraption of yours###”

        “Oh!” I blurted out in complete embarrassment, while rubbing the back of

my head. “My apologies, Jeanna. I completely forgot about you!”

        Jeanna looked like she was going to spit nails any second now.

        “F-Forgot###?!?” She stuttered in astonishment. “How could you forget?”

        “Um…been busy?” I meekly squeaked in lieu of my own defense. “This

hasn‟t been an easy battle…exactly.”

        “Define „exactly‟.” Jeanna countered with a frosty air about her.

        I paused on that one. “Uh…can we just go home and forget about this for

awhile?” I pleaded. “We‟re in it deep as it is.”

        Jeanna sat back###fell back really###and sat with both knees propped up

against her chest. Her Sansui sword lay up against the wall; still sheathed.

        “And where do you think we should go? Pray tell, where do you think I
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/388


should go?” She challenged openly challenged.

      Nervously, I looked around for a second, before returning my attention

back to her.

      “Um, the Esmeralda Jasmine?”

      A low growl escaped the soft lips of my friend, and I knew right then and

there I had incurred her anger.

      “I need to get home first, Jasmine. That means###” She prattled on,

before I cut her off; knowing what she would say next.

      I sighed, all the fun energy quickly wilting out of me like a poorly

managed flower. “Yes. You need to return to Jan‟s place, don‟t you?”

      Jeanna sat there, stock still in absolute silence.

      Clearly, I had been given my marching orders.

      Shutting off the comm link‟s video feed, I stewed there in blessed peace

and quiet.

      “Don‟t know how she does it, but that girlfriend of mine really knows how

to ruin a good moment and get under my nerves!” I grunted miserably. This of

course back memories of past incidences; giving rise to the notion that she may

be more than she said she was from the first time we met.

      “Just my luck, she‟ll have been descended from royalty like I was, and still

be a self-serving pain in the ass.” I muttered under my breath, thinking how

ludicrous that sounded.

      There was no way the world could ever handle two spoiled princesses, let
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/389


alone one!




       Chapter 46.



       Eliza found herself flying through the air; having been punched through a

retaining wall. For the longest ten minutes of her life, the best she could do was

play Keep Away from a very persistent Burrower###whose tricks appeared as

endless as its patience.
                                       Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/390


       The stunned techno-mage landed in a processed flowerbed, petals

exploding upwards in a cloud of color and rich fragrance.

       “Gasat…” she whispered in vain. “Where art thou?”

       On cue, a deep roar punctuated the area, before a majestic sky dragon

touched down; unfurling its wings, casting an ominous shadow over the small

portion of the previously untouched plaza.

       Gasat‟s green hide moved all its own, as powerfully muscled legs moved

him in front of his downed mistress.

       The cyber dragon bawled its anger at its foe###even as the Burrower

crashed through a standing upright, and attacked relentlessly. Gasat turned

aside a couple of the attacks, before opening its mouth and cutting loose with a

red plasma beam from its singular cybernetic eye and a gout of orange fire from

its fire lungs.

       The twin attack seared the Burrower, but caused little in terms of

damage.

       Gasat appeared puzzled by his foe‟s resistance, but that didn‟t stop it from

continuing to press home the advantage: Missile racks appeared on its back by

magic and a torrential hail of high-velocity projectiles slammed into the Burrower

###exploding      with hellish fury!

       Eliza smiled, glad to have Gasat trained to be independent of his

mistress‟s actions, regardless of what they were.

       “Good…boy.” She praised dazedly, trying to shake off the effects of her
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/391


unintentional landing. “You have done well in my absence.”

      A soft growl resonated from deep within Gasat, and the injured woman

knew that he simply answered back in agreement. However, that was cut short,

when the charred earth###that had been the Burrower###cracked all over, before

giant slugs rained all around them like the same ordinance which Gasat had used

only a couple of minutes ago.

      “Oh, for the love of Serenity‟s Song of Innocence!” She complained;

seeing that the Burrower lain untouched###having reconstituted itself. “What is it

going to take to demolish this monster?”

      “A lot more than you apparently have, it seems.” Darandal‟s voice cut in

appropriately, before the sight of a slightly smaller brown dragon made its

appearance next to its green cousin.

      Both exchanged simple greetings with each other, before the pair turned

their focus back onto the problem at hand.

      The Burrower didn‟t seem the least bit impressed by Grash‟s arrival. It

attacked the second dragon with a good hard swipe; hitting the wounded beast

of burden in the shoulder.

      Grash howled in pain as the fine particles stung the already open and

exposed wound. It was a souvenir from its recent escapades with the other

rogue sky dragons and Neo-Gargoyles.

      And it didn‟t even have the time to properly heal!

      Steady on his mount, situated between the giant„s shoulders,
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/392


perpendicular to its forty-foot wings, Darandal said soothingly, “Shh…it‟s just a

scratch, my steed. The pain is only a reminder of the badges you wear with

great pride and honor. Let it be a sign to Gasat that you acquitted yourself well

in the battlefield.”

       The sky dragon roared its assent, telling its master that indeed the pain

was functionary at best, and it would carry on the best it could.

       “Good.” The techno-mage affirmed. “Good. It is time we show this

creation what it‟s truly up against. Feel up to it?”

         Another soft roar, even as it jostled around a bit to avoid the next

attack. Gasat stepped in front of his warrior brother and unleashed another

torrential blaze at the Burrower. Except for a blackened and charred spot (which

immediately reformed into something else), the creature was relatively

untouched.

       Leaping up onto her steed‟s back, Eliza dropped into her specialized

mount, just between the wings, then glanced over at Darandal.

       “There is nothing that can be done!” she screamed at him. “Every trick I

know is useless against one of Falgra‟s minions!”

       “Falgra?!?” Darandal echoed in mute surprise. Then laughed. “You have

enough audacity to attract one of his creations?”

       The woman wore a pissed expression beneath her hood.

       “Wasn‟t my doing, damn you! The Burrower just showed up while I was

on the hunt for our lost prey!”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/393


      “Mmm…” Darandal murmured self-consciously, wondering if he should tell

her what he had found untold moments ago. “It would seem that a respective

lord of hell finds you most engaging.”

      That comment only served to set the woman off even more.

      “I‟m nobody‟s play toy!” She snarled. “Especially his!”

      Darandal chuckled to himself. “So it would seem.”

      Eliza speared him with a frigid look.

      “What was that?”

      “Oh, nothing. Nothing at all that should concern you.” Darandal

commented languidly. “I was simply having a conversation with myself.”

      Eliza sunk back into her mount, silently wishing that Darandal would jump

off the nearest sea cliff without the benefit of Grash. She didn‟t need a map to

figure out that she had just been insulted again.

      Men! She thought venomously. Why do they always have to be

this…asinine?

      Gasat moved underneath her, bouncing back a bit to avoid another direct

attack by the Burrower. Forgetting her own poisoned thoughts, she instead

concentrated on the fight at hand.

      Darandal had Grash rear back on his hind legs###then came down in the

blink of an eye to deliver a Sonic Slash attack. But Eliza moved forward; seeing

something that her companion did not.

      “Wait! No###!” She yelled, having risen to her feet, but it was far too late
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/394


to call off the attack.

       The energy-imbued metal claw cut through the Burrower with greatest of

ease###splitting the monstrosity right down the middle.

       Eliza sank back down into her chair mount, shaking her head in disgust.

       “Idiot.” She breathed, before urging Gasat back for more room. This

battle was going to take longer than anyone else believed.

       The Burrower then split into two.

               *                     *                    *

       I sailed high above Xanix, thrusters blazing white hot with blue flame.

       The battle outside had spilled within, taking much of the southern quarter

unawares and spreading fast like a virus. Only the northern sector along the

seaport (where the Esmeralda Jasmine lay docked), remained dully unaffected.

       However###by Seth‟s calculations###it wouldn‟t remain so for very long.

       An hour at most.

       Then I spotted something below and called for maximum magnification.

       “Mmm…this is very interesting, wouldn‟t you say, Seth?”

       “Indeed. I thought we had been ditched, already?” The disembodied voice

of my traveling companion commented sanguinely.

       “I don‟t like being stood up.” I growled lightly. “But this…this certainly

takes the booby prize for sure.”

       “Should we help? Perhaps we can score some more points with the

opposition?”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/395


       Sheesh! I thought with amped irritation. What am I? A rescue unit for evil

henchmen these days?

       But Seth did have a point; though it was a lame one. The more chances I

had to sully the bad guys with my high and mighty standards of morality and

ethics, the better the outcome for all of us.

       Maybe this time, Darandal and his goony-bird squad will leave us alone?

       I laughed to myself. Fat chance of that ever happening!

       “Sure.” I said with an absent-minded grin on my face. “Why not? Besides,

I think with this kind of action at hand, Jeanna will surely be on her hands and

knees thanking me for giving her a chance to stretch her legs. I know I would.” I

engaged the retro-thrusters, swinging Wings of Solaris around for a rapid

descent.

       At three hundred feet, I cut all power and dropped into the thick of things

like an unguided rock.



       Darandal was forced to admit: That was a pretty dumb stunt on his part.

Not only did he manage to cleave the Burrower in two, but also (unerringly),

made more work for the two of them than the first time.

       “Nice going, retard!” Eliza scolded, finding herself with more than her

usual full hands. The two Burrowers attacked her in unison; putting both master

and subordinate on the defensive. “Why don‟t you just do that Sonic Slash attack

again and give me more than one gigantic headache to work with?”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/396


       But as usual, Darandal found more than one way to turn this to his

advantage.

       “Apologies, Eliza. But seeing how less of a warrior you‟ve been handling

yourself of late, I wanted to see if you were up to a simple challenge.”

       Eliza turned Gasat around and a plume of fire singed over Darandal‟s

head; singing him only just a little.

       “How‟s that?” She smirked cruelly, before Gasat suddenly jumped clear of

the next sneak attack by the first Burrower: Giant chunks of tiled cobblestones###

turned missiles###pierced the spot where they had been only seconds before;

slamming into the ground with undulated force.

       Darandal grinned, enjoying the game. “Not bad.” He complimented. “Can

you be a dear and re-direct your next attack towards yonder? It would seem that

you‟ve missed your primarily target.”

       Eliza cast a sensual smile in his direction.

       “Not from where I‟m standing, I haven‟t. You should take heed: It isn‟t all

that wise to make an enemy of me.”

       Darandal‟s smile broke when he sensed something coming from above.

       A piercing scream shattered the calm of battle, and a magnificent

snow-white mecha dropped in, right in front of them.

       Unchallenged.

       Spreading its “wings”, several plumes of hot steam arced out of several

key areas in the legs, arms, and back###where the main engine assembly was
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/397


housed.

      Angelic, feminine, and oh so breath-taking, Wings of Solaris unhitched its

massive Halo Buster Rifle; drawing a bead on the first Burrower.

      “Hope you don‟t mind if I crash this little party. But seeing that you were

in trouble, and I, in the immediate neighborhood###” A familiar sounding voice

echoed, then fired###the first salvo blowing away immense amounts of

corrugated earth. A spent shell casing clattered to the ground. Two more joined

its brethren, as the mech dealt one punishing blow after another to the same

Burrower.

      In a haze of smoke and the smell of burnt earth lingering, Wings of Solaris

came out of it unscathed and victorious. But the second Burrower didn‟t share in

the massive machine‟s party. With one solid punch to the back, it sent the mecha

skidding forward and out of control.

      Only the skill of the pilot and a wallop of good luck saved it and the two

techno-mages from certain demise.

      Eliza watched as the mecha recovered from its bruising; wings spread

outwards in an instant, and then (while crouched) leveled the giant rifle in the

direction of the second.

      Three powerful shots rang out###cutting the second Burrower into

absolute nothing.

      Darandal nodded. “Impressive. You indeed have more skill than I thought

###taking   on one of Falgra‟s minions all by yourself, and leaving nothing for poor
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/398


ol‟ Eliza in return.”

        The mecha rose on its own accord. “Don‟t be so blind, Darandal. These

two haven‟t been defeated yet. I just simply leveled the playing field a bit.” The

same voice countered haughtily.

        Flipping her hood back, Eliza peered through the hazy smoke. “You what

###?”

        The ground began shaking then. Gently at first with small tremors. Then

everything around exploded upwards###columns of dark, dank earth rocketing

skywards.

        “Here comes round two!” The Solaris‟s operator informed. “Get ready for

it!”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/399




       Chapter 47.



       “Stand clear on catapult deck. All hands…stand clear. Catapult #3 now in

use.” A masculine voice bellowed. “Cat officer, she‟s all yours.”

       The new Tomahawk II stood proudly on the after deck of the Esmeralda

Jasmine, catching a few gleams of dying sunlight in the process. Nothing new

had been changed in the outward appearance of the giant mech. The only

exceptions was better armor protection, a boosted missile payload, and a

brand-spanking new Spartan Assault Cannon.

       Lucrecia felt like a powerful goddess in her new get up, grinning from ear

to ear with nervous excitement.

       Wait till my sister sees me in this one! She thought, caressing the control

interfaces with a loving hand, while impatience began to build up inside her.

       “Stand by. Launch in fifteen seconds. Stand by.”

       Lucrecia tensed for a second, powering up her mech for immediate

takeoff. The Tomahawk hunched a bit as required###the overhang just a tad low
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/400


towards the end.

         “Launch!”

         The steam-powered catapult shot her forward; pitching her off the ship in

quick succession.

                      *                    *                    *

         And come they did!

         It was as if the bowels of Dead Earth had opened up###disgorging a slew

of creatures not fit to be gazed upon with human eyes.

         “You have…got…to be…kidding…me!” Eliza choked, thinking that the

Burrowers were the only thing they had to be facing.

         Even Darandal was astonished by the events transpiring before his eyes.

         “Well, well, well…” he finally mused; having recovered from his initial

shock, even as thin, swept-winged demons of varying sizes touched down.

         And wherever their taloned feet contacted, the ground screamed in literal

agony.

         “The Tortured finally decide to grace us with Their Inhuman presence.”

He said with relish. It wasn‟t Falgra‟s doing after all, but his half-demon sister,

Sarana.

         “Is your mistress unfit for the presence of two lowly techno-mages and a

high-borne warrior of Heaven?” He challenged forthright.

         The Tortured declined for idle talk. Instead, the hoard swept through with

an attack of their own###blowing right through the defenses of the three present,
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/401


and knocking them all back, before taking to the skies in earnest.

       I recovered quickly, bringing my other weapon arsenal into play. A lethal

little tidbit which I had been saving for our previous encounter, but thought

better of it; using my 10K Blade Strike instead.

       The back of my mecha opened up like a flower, my wings unfurling

themselves to their maximum length. Racks upon racks of missiles locked

themselves into position###all aimed skywards.



       The skies above our heads parted then, revealing what I believed to be

the heavens themselves in all its wondrous glory###a miasma of stars. From them

light bled down in a canopy of lustrous waves.

       Having pointed upwards, the wings which had been a part of me

separated as I cried forth: “Strike with the power of the heavens themselves###

Starlight Barrage!”

       The missiles###along with the wings themselves###and I parted company

on a blazing trail of fire.

       The wing section punched upwards quickly to about five thousand feet,

then discretely released its untold payload back down to Dead Earth.

       The Tortured were taken by surprise by this unexpected maneuver, and

half their numbers were annihilated by the conflagration which followed.

       “Unholy bastards!” I charged indignantly. “You will not escape thee!”

       Before I could launch myself at them, more of the Tortured emerged from
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/402


the depths of hell itself; tearing forth my attention from my intended targets,

and giving rise to more than enough demonic irritants than I had originally

wagered for.

       Eliza and Darandal engaged them valiantly, but I knew that even with me

at their sides, we would still be hard pressed for victory.

       Plasma flares and technological barrages lit up this quarter of the city,

even as my wing reconnected itself to Solaris.

       I was going to need some help, if we were to prevail on this day.

       “Seth: Capsule Door Release Command: Inside Victory„s Breath.”

       A small chime was heard, even as a few of the Tortured jumped me.

       “Oh, so I can finally come out?” A shrill voice countered archly. “Blessed

be###” then an even higher scream echoed out into the open. “Get off me you

unholy bastards###!”

       I grinned lopsidedly. So much like me…

       “###oooofff! This isn‟t funny, Jasmine###!” But Jeanna‟s voice was cut

short, as she redoubled her efforts to beat the intruder at its own game.

       I chuckled, even though I had my hands full. A few of the Tortured had

gripped a hold of me in several places###their sharp talons digging noticeable

grooves into the Wings of Solaris.

       I twisted and turned, trying to shake them off valiantly. Then I heard

something over the comm.

       “ñÆ###òþÿ&###Þߧmµ!###Consume thy unholy flesh: CHARGE FLARE!”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/403


       “What###?” I said in disbelief, my external sensors registering a sudden

buildup of heat on the skin of my mecha. In mere seconds, my craft glowed

brighter than the sun itself###washing over the whole area with its antic

brilliance.

       Not only did the Tortured go poof! rather quickly, but so did the rest of

the hellish army which had managed to pin both Eliza and Darandal so quickly.

       The gaping hole in the Dead Earth closed by itself soundlessly, till nothing

remained of the Tortured‟s presence.

       Jeanna‟s head popped out a minute later, Sansui sword in hand. Dotted

perspiration marked her forehead.

       “Only way to get rid of those horrid abominations.” She commented. “But

I don‟t think Sarana is going to be pleased nonetheless. I suggest we leave the

area###immediately.”

       I nodded, making a quick check of all systems. Everything appeared in

working order. Nothing amiss from what I could discern.

       But before we could leave, a quick flash of movement from the side of my

peripheral vision caught my attention. Before I knew it, Jeanna had been stolen

from my grasp###snatched from the sanctity of both my personal protection and

that of Solaris‟s.

       “Darandal!” I screamed from inside my mech###turning as one.

       He touched down lightly onto Grash„s back, holding a screaming and

struggling Jeanna Ulysses in is arms.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/404


       “Now, now, my wayward pretty. No sense in causing such a dreadful

scene. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.” He crooned.

       “Up yours!” I heard Jeanna seethe. “I am no one‟s prisoner!”

       Eliza smirked. “Arax seems to differ on that account.”

       I moved, reaching down to rescue my friend, but a stream of high-voltage

electricity inserted itself between me and Jeanna.

       I stepped back, surprised.

       Eliza lowered her staff. “No heroics, little woman. I know that you‟re

mecha isn‟t affected that much by our magiks, but don‟t think we have other

means to keep you and your toy at bay.”

       “But###!” I protested. “She‟s with me!”

       “No longer.” Darandal commented dryly. “She now belongs to the rightful

king. King Richard the Infinite First. It is by his decree that we retrieved our lost

sheep.”

       My blood ran cold.

       “King Richard?!” I echoed in astonishment. “The bastard king who‟s been

responsible for the recent woes across the lands of Dead Earth?”

       Darandal chuckled, still embraced with Jeanna. Arms pinned back, feet

locked together.

       “The one and the same. Do you find that surprising, Princess?”

       Again with the taunts. Again, I stood there in cold shock.

       “Princess?” I heard Jeanna echo in the same hushed breath I had used
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/405


only moments ago. “Whom do you mean?”

         “….yes.” I admitted. I had believed that it was someone else whom had

commanded the techno-mages that routed my family from power and God‟s

graces that dark, cold, day. But I did not know the truth then.

         Now…

         Jeanna was still screaming for attention, wanting to know who Darandal

had referred to, but the techno-mage was much too interested in playing this

little game with me.

         “Hold thy tongue!” Eliza barked in irritation; shutting the insistent young

woman up. “You will find out the truth in due time! Now isn‟t the time to be

jabbering like a Darsa sea-monkey!”

         Quiet fell upon us all: Darandal wearing a triumphant expression

underneath that cowled hood of his, Eliza standing with a look of anger and

annoyance, leaving a bottled up Jeanna Ulysses no less pissed off than I.

         Darandal urged Grash away from Solaris, taking the empty street as the

his solitary means of a safe haven.

         Instinctively, I moved###drawing out my Halo Buster Rifle###gathering a

bead on the departing techno-mage and###

         “Aye,” he commented back to me on cue. “You could take the shot, but

you would only end up killing your friend here. Is it really worth that much of a

risk?”

         I lowered my weapon in defeat.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/406


       There was no victory for me this day.

       “No.” I said dejectedly, watching Eliza leave as well. “Not for a friend.”

       The female techno-mage stopped and looked back.

       “If you want her, come to the healer‟s home.” She said as she left the

scene###leaving me far behind.




       Chapter 48.



       The waiting was perhaps the worst thing anyone could experience###

especially when one was being held hostage against their will.

       No more than a couple hours had passed, but it felt more like an eternity

to Jan, Natalie, and Aria.

       Arax held no such compulsions. However, he didn‟t stop them from

getting a couple of things to make the transition easier for them.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/407


      Fifteen minutes later, there was some commotion out front, and all three

women started.

      Arax held his cool, until he was absolutely sure who it was, then relaxed.

      “Ah. Good. They‟ve returned.” He announced briskly. The door flew open

and Jeanna was tossed in unceremoniously to the floor.

      Both Jan and Natalie reacted instinctively, but Arax told them to stay their

ground.

      Eliza closed the door behind her, while Darandal stood, hood down###

pride etched on his surprisingly youthful face###and said, “We have returned,

with our prize at hand.” Looking back at Eliza, he quickly added, “Though, it

wasn‟t an easy assignment; barring some unexpected delays.”

      Arax nodded, pleased nonetheless.

      “That is to be expected, Darandal.” He replied, striding across the living

area and stopped just shy of the young woman on the floor. “Now, pick her up.

She deserves at least some respect for evading us all this time.”

      Darandal choked on that one, but silently did as he was told; gruffly

picking her up by one hand.

      “Ow!” Jeanna yelped in pain. Tearing herself free, she shook her left arm

a couple times to rid herself of the creeping numbness. “Do you have any

manners? Or do you enjoy being a complete ass in the treatment of others?”

      Darandal snorted in mock dismay. “You think yourself so above me that

you can address me in such a manner? Your insolence knows no bounds, my
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/408


dear###none! Much like your friend‟s…” He paused for a moment, then added

coyly, “In a way, you two are so alike, I am surprised to find someone like her in

august company as yours.”

       Owlish suspicion entered my face.

       “What do you mean?” I asked. “Are you casting false premise over my

friend?”

       Darandal looked at her for the longest second, then laughed.

       “False premise? My dear###you wound me with such words.”

       My eyes narrowed. “Oh, I promise: I will do so much more than wound

you when this is over.”

       “Such fiery spirit,” Arax appraised judiciously. “I can see why your family

held you in such regard.”

       The mention of my family sent cold chills throughout my body. I had

forgotten about them up till this moment; my life being such a wondrous blur.

       “What about my family?” I said guardedly. “Are they alive? Tell me!”

       Arax stared at me in length, before nodding. “I must first congratulate you

on your escaping us so long ago. We had hoped to ensnare your entire royal

family from the start; after our initial invasion of Parliament. But sadly, we never

got that chance###as they escaped out of the city before we could reach them.

However, our luck wasn„t all that bad.” He gestured to me. “We have you.”

       Part of me felt absolutely relieved by the news, but the other half did not.

       I was angry!
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/409


      “Why in God‟s name did you attack the Parma? All we did was escape!” I

accused. “You could‟ve let us go!”

      Arax shook his head. “My lord and master‟s orders were very specific. You

were to be captured. That is all. When we came upon the wreckage of your

doomed ship, we nary expected to find survivors. But further out, we discovered

you and your mecha.” He paused for a moment. “We weren‟t expecting you to

put up so much as a fight.”

      I adopted a defiant pose then and gave him my best shark‟s grin. “Oh-ho!

You were hoping to find a couple of defenseless refugees then, eh?”

      Behind me, Eliza‟s mood darkened a bit. “Aye. I wasn‟t expecting to get

my ass seared in the short term.”

      I turned and bowed mockingly to my former foe. “Cannot be helped, my

lady. I don‟t go down because of overwhelming odds.”

      “Such bravado…” Darandal chimed in. “But what can one expect from one

born from royal lineage?”

      Jan, Natalie, and Aria had watched the exchange from a distance; their

expressions showing their collective puzzlement and confusion.

      “Royal lineage?” Jan echoed out of turn. Everyone turned at the sound of

her voice. Looking at me, she asked, “Jeanna? What does he mean by this?”

      I sighed dejectedly, shaking my head all the while. “It means what it

means, Jan. I###” I stopped, not sure how to explain it best.

      “You‟re high born, then?” Natalie guessed, before I could fill in the blanks.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/410


      Pausing, I hesitated. Then gave her a curt nod of ascent.

      “Aye. That I am.”

      Instead of understanding, I got the least expected surprise of the day.

      Jan walked up to me and slapped me!

      Stuttering in shock, I looked at her.

      “W-what? Why did you###?” I stammered in abject astonishment.

      “You lied to me!” She screamed at me. “You lied!!!”

      Still stinging from both the slap and her accusation, I stared at her; tears

brimming in my eyes.

      “I thought…” I said softly. “I didn‟t want you to think of me any

differently.” Glancing away, I wiped my eyes on my white tunic sleeve; a

different version from the one I had worn when I first came here###though it had

a few dirt smudges from my recent activities. “I wanted to be accepted for the

person I was then.”

      “By pretending to be something you‟re not?” Jan railed against me.

      “I never pretended!” I countered vividly, spearing her with a cold look of

contempt; one that I had subconsciously used when I thought so little of other

people. Its effect on Jan was no less impressive.

      She backed up a bit.

      “I am who I am, but that doesn‟t mean I have to force people to bow to

me because of my royal blood!” I finished in rage.

      Aria looked at me curiously.
                               Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/411


      “You‟re a princess?” She asked in a small voice.

      The sound of her sweet voice deflated everything that presently boiled

inside of me.

      “Yes,” I answered, suddenly tired. “I am a princess.”

      Inside of me###however###was a different story entirely.

      I wish to God I wasn't. My life was too complicated as it is!




      Chapter 49.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/412


       Getting back to Jan‟s place was a royal pain in the ass by my account. The

invasion force had breached the inner confines of the city###taking everything by

storm and leaving nothing in its wake.

       I happened upon a few Tomahawks###one badly damaged###two others

fighting it out with some Crawlers and a familiar looking giant hell hound.

       The sparking Tomahawk was easy prey for the hell hound###as it set upon

the poor mecha with hellish intent; giant claws going for the mortal wound on

one side.

       I raised my Halo Buster Rifle and trap-shot the sonofabitch right then and

there###tagging it right behind the head.

       A dull explosion of blood and matter filled the air as part of its head

vanished. But so did the giant hell hound.

       I watched it discombobulate into its smaller cousins.

       But the downed mecha wasn‟t getting up fast enough. Seven would be

enough to finish it off, and I did not want to give it that golden opportunity.

       Snapping my mech‟s left arm out, small compartments within the Solaris‟s

wrist gauntlet silently opened and a murderous canopy of micro-net missiles

sailed out###pinning each of the miniature (from my perspective) hell dogs‟ to

the ground.

       “Tag,” I muttered nonchalantly###watching as each struggled within the

confines of my little toys. “You‟re it.”

       The pilot within the mecha continued to try and upright his ship, but it
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/413


became clear that he could not.

       The other Tomahawk###a modified one###bent down to lend an assist,

while the second continued to meet out punishment against the Crawlers.

       Chain-gun fire flashed against their leather-like exteriors; chewing good

sized holes into their sides, but they proved to be more resilient than I first

thought.

       It was a bit strange, seeing they were a lot more vulnerable to

human-sized attacks…

       “M-Crawlers.” Seth‟s voice intruded into my thoughts. “I should‟ve known

that with each situation, the variety of creations becomes more and more

adaptive to the current state.”

       “Like mech units?” I asked, thinking about the giant hell dog which

attacked the downed Tomahawk.

       “Possibly. But no one‟s really had any chance to confirm these theories.

However###given what‟s happening now###it is entirely feasible that we are being

tested for any weakness and thus exploited in the end.”

       “By whom?”

       “Well…these creations belong in one of the Seven Circles of Everlasting

Agony and Damnation, do they not?”

       “Yes,” I quickly said, leveling the Halo Buster Rifle at them and changing

the ammunition cartridge. Purity Shot would have little affect on these changed

aberrations. But I knew what might.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/414


       The new cartridge went in###snapping cleanly into place###just as two of

the M-Crawlers charged me.

       Whipping around, I pressed home my Halo Buster Rifle‟s new attack:

Flame Bore.

       Shaped like tiny drill bits, each new fire round exploded forth, trailing

wakes of fire in the process###before slamming into the M-Crawlers with crystal

clear precision.

       Within five seconds, the first M-Crawler was engulfed by intense flame,

even as I continued to lay into him for another ten.

       The backwash caught the second one, but little damage was caused to

the group behind the pair.

       Once I let up on the trigger, the whole open area was awash in fire. But

that soon extinguished itself###leaving behind charred corpses.

       I tensely waited for them to vanish like the one we had faced in the

hallway at Natalie‟s place. But nothing happened.

       “Oh, spit!” I bit out in blind recognition, before I immediately switched out

the half-spent cartridge and stuck in one which I knew would do the job for sure.

       But as fast as I was, the M-Crawlers were faster. Hairline cracks began to

ribbon across the charred remains###before shattering cleanly into the open.

       The affected M-Crawlers shook themselves for a few seconds, guttural

cries filtering across to me, their bodies untouched and clean once more.

       “Snap!” I complained bitterly, angling my rifle for a new attack. “Lightning
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/415


Strike!”

       The tip of my rifle reconfigured into a probe, and from it, sheets of

lightning exploded###enveloping the entire group in a web of highly charged

electricity###born from the heavens themselves.

       Another seven seconds of this and it was indeed over. The M-Crawlers

had been annihilated without further incident###each one vanishing like the next.

       I did the same to the captive hell dogs, finding it equally emboldening to

be able to snuff out their pathetic existences in one shot.

       The downed Tomahawk###its pilot###radioed back to me; though the

transmission was badly garbled.

       “Nice…ne…glad…you…here…and…help.” He said.

       I tipped my rifle in salute.

       “Glad to be of service to you and yours, in the name of the Almighty.” I

replied.

       The modified Tomahawk stepped forward. “Praise be to God that you

came when you did. Those bastards gave us quite a fight worthy of song.”

       I nodded. “I hope to hear it someday. But right now, I have something

important to attend to.”

       The modified Tomahawk nodded. “I will gladly accompany you, in

exchange for the assistance you rendered on this day. My sister will escort our

wounded brother back to the Esmeralda Jasmine for repairs and recovery.”

       I didn‟t seem to have a problem with that. The way I saw it, the more
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/416


help I had, the better.

       “Fair enough. You can come with me. But I must caution you: This will be

no easy task.”

       The unnamed pilot nodded. “I expect nothing worse than a challenge.”

Turning to the other Tomahawk, she ordered, “Darla: You may take my leave!

Go! Report to our master of what is going on! He may be inclined to send in

reinforcements!”

       The other Tomahawk nodded. “I shall do as you command, my sweet

sibling. I shall return as soon as I can!” Then boostered off into the skies;

carrying her downed comrade in tow.

       “Pray be to our Lord, I can only hope.” I heard the other pilot mutter.

Turning, she said, “I do not believe we have met. I am called Lucrecia. In the

service of our ship‟s lord and master, Tiddus (Gir-ah-soiski) Kalamon.”

       I smiled. “I know. It is good to see you once again, Lucrecia. You have

acquitted yourself well in this field of battle.” I said with open praise.

       “You know me?” Lucrecia questioned in a stunned voice. “Nay, that

cannot be right. I know no one such as yourself who can command the Armor of

Heaven and thus claim to know me personally.”

       “So you know of my armor?”

       “Aye. That I do. I heard from stories passed amongst the crew. Even the

Gemins talked of it once. But that is a long story, and we are short on time. The

invasion force will be reaching our ship in a matter of minutes###if not an hour.”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/417


       “Less,” I corrected gently. “My friends are being held hostage by some

techno-mages, and I need to rescue them before we are all overwhelmed.”

       Lucrecia straightened up, her mecha following suit. “Techno-mages?” She

bit out, then a spitting sound could be heard over my comm link. “They are an

abomination to all magi users! They hold no true alliance to their craft, and

abuse the powers given to them through stolen technologies!”

       Despite the unintended barb, I took all of what Lucrecia said in stride.

       “That is true. But not all techno-mages are pure evil. Some are quite

respectable and honest.”

       “That they are. But for those who would turn their services over to those

who seek to do unspeakable things to the populace###”

       I nodded. “Yes. Shall we depart?”

       “Of course! Forgive me! I usually do not ramble.”

       “That is not a problem, Lucrecia. By the way: My name is Jasmine Stein.

We met once before, after you saved me from a mutated Scuttler-Dragon.” Then

I lifted off, leaving an astonished Lucrecia in my wake.

       “You are certainly full of surprises, aren‟t you?” She inquired, before

following.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/418




         Chapter 50.



         Arax allowed this exchange to go on. It was partly amusing to see

someone of high born status to outwardly reject the accolade she was born into.

But he was also drawn into fascination by the young woman as well.

         From what he understand of some of the royal families presently held in

their respective imprisonments, very few of them could function in the outside

world.

         So how could one so young as she, be able to do it for so long? He

privately asked himself, while listening to the little girl‟s inquiry. It was too bad

that they would all have to die as soon as they left with their quarry in tow.

         But orders were orders. And he wasn‟t about to start disobeying the king

now. Especially this king!

         “How lovely…” Darandal broke in with a mockingly winsome smile. “A

young woman who doesn‟t want to live the life of a wealthy mistress by

birthright; instead seeks the life of a vagabond adventurer. Does this also include

seeking sympathies and outright pity by those whose paths you cross?”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/419


      I didn‟t know how to respond to that personal attack at first. I was too

caught up in my own thoughts at the moment.

      However, this brief interlude didn‟t last long, and I was back on the

offensive once more.

      “If I wanted to elicit pity from a diseased street rat like yourself, I

wouldn‟t have had to spend all my time pretending otherwise.” I sharply

wounded; a wicked smile tracing itself across my lips. “But you seem to think

that my royal stature should be used as a crutch to curry favor with the common

folk, wherever I go, so that both man, woman, and child would fall to their knees

and pay homage to one such as me.”

      Darandal had a mixed look of both rage and murderous intent.

      “How dare you speak to me like that!” He whispered threateningly. “Have

you no idea who I am?”

      I seized on that statement like a slab of finely baked bread; deliciously

garnished with cheese fat butter.

      “Certainly. You‟re a pathetic bore who believes that the world he lives in

should revolve around himself at the expense of others.” I thickly insulted.

      Darandal drew his sword first, but I was faster. Much faster than either

Arax or Eliza could possibly react. My Sansui blade pressed up against the

partially necrotized flesh of his neck###where it seamlessly flowed into the metal

guard wrapping around the other half of his throat.

      “I could easily vanquish you, you know. I am not some pathetic little
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/420


tramp in the need of a lesson or a fragile flower in need of a rescue from a

valiant knight in shining armor. I am a princess who###for the time being###has

no home to go to because of sick bastards like both you and your king. But that

doesn‟t mean I lack the will or the strength of my family bloodline to kick your

pathetic ass up around your ears so far that only God Himself will be able to

straighten you out in the long run!” I pressed my blade against his neck, drawing

only a small dribble of blood, before releasing him.

       Sheathing my sword, I looked at Arax. “You still want to try and bring me

in?”

       Arax looked at me for the longest moment; as I was sure that he was now

re-evaluating his options.

       “You‟re escape from us will not go unnoticed by our lord and master,

Jeanna Ulysses. He will want to know why we failed to bring you in like it was

planned.”

       I stood my ground###certain that I had won a small victory for myself and

those around me. Certainly###with Darandal choking on a pleasurable dose of

humility###that would give us some leverage in bartering for our freedoms.

       Jan, Natalie, and Aria held their collective breaths.

       “Tell your king that I bow to no man. I am my own entity by right of

humanity. And as soon as I find out what happened to my family, I will make

damned certain that God Himself helps me in my new quest for vengeance.” I

announced ruggedly. “Should you try and stand in my way…” Glancing at
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/421


Darandal, I shrugged. “Not even your skills will be able to soothe the wrath of

my blade.”

         “You sound certain of yourself, my wayward princess. Are you sure that

you have what it takes to vanquish three highly proficient techno-mages?” Arax

questioned in all curiosity; deciding that this could be best attended to yet

another day. The king could be told a small lie###that they arrived much too late

to secure the girl; as she got swallowed up by a local state‟s invasion force###and

they would simply wait another time to cross paths. And even swords if the case

may be.

         Eyes flashing with self-determination and supreme confidence, I nodded.

“You only have your techno-mage magi skills to rely on. Including those pet sky

dragons whom call you master. But even then###with all combined###you will not

be able to overcome me or my defenses.”

         “A white magi-sorceress###!” Eliza barked in muted amusement. “Against

the likes of us? Surely, you must be jesting!” Glancing over at Arax, she

implored, “surely, she is lying through her teeth!”

         Arax stared at me. I back. But neither of us would flinch into looking away

first.

         Arax grew slightly troubled upon what he saw.

         “I…don‟t think it would be wise to underestimate her. She apparently is

more than capable of tangling with Darandal without a second‟s worth of

conscious thought…”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/422


       Eliza could not believe her ears!

       “Arax!” She thundered uncharacteristically. “Are you###?”

       Arax silenced her with a steely look.

       “What I do here is my decision! Not yours! Understand?” He cracked.

       The woman wisely backed off, head dipped in abeyance.

       Looking over at Darandal, the man himself showed no sign that he had

been ruffled in the slightest from the recent altercation. But the man could

imagine that his dignity was.

       “What is your call, Darandal?”

       The man straightened. “Do as you wish, Arax. My silence will not break

the unspoken decision that you have cast for all of us this day. Pray it be the

right one.”

       “As usual, you worry too much.” Arax told him. “The king values our

service. He would not throw it away on a mere setback. Even he knows the

horrors of war. Things like this happen all the time.”

       The man‟s shuttered expression told me that I had won. We all had.

       Arax turned his focus on me.

       “Pay close heed, princess. This day is yours by default, not by design.

There will be other times which our paths will surely cross, and then###and only

then###will there be a reckoning.”

       Eyes sparkling, both in anticipation and cold calculation, I replied tartly,

“On that day, there will be. Mark my words, Arax. There will be a penance to be
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/423


paid for the life you all stole from both me and my family, and those whose lives

you so callously snuffed out.”

       Eliza looked at me, before leaving first; repressing a shudder. I smiled

inwardly in satisfaction. There was nothing like having your enemies humbled

before your feet, by one simplistic act upon itself.

       Darandal was next. He said nothing in his passing. But I could almost hear

the gears inside his head turning furiously###as his devious little mind continued

to hatch plans within plans.

       This man was indeed a cunning strategist, tactician###and from the looks

of things###a marvelous actor. Oh, the stage plays he could perform on…I

thought with idle wistfulness. I could not spare the energy to admire someone so

disparaging. I simply abhorred men like him. Always the ones who sought to

wield control over those less fortunate.

       Lastly, Arax. What could I say? He was a man whose profile bellied

strength and wisdom. And though he also served the one person I hated since I

could long recall, he earned my respect on this day.

       No man could turn against his master in the threat of death to spare those

whom were sought for destruction. It took a lot of courage to see the futility in

the actions of this moment.

       But I knew that this wouldn‟t be the first time we would cross paths.

       I was sure of it.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/424




       Chapter 51.



       Lucrecia alerted me to some potential trouble; as three very familiar

contacts were seen taking off from near the residential quarter of Xanix. (It

wasn‟t my fault that I couldn‟t get to Jan‟s place sooner###we had a few more

run-ins with some sky dragons and another contingent of Neo-Gargoyles, plus

some humans in their own###smaller###Obsidian war mechs. The Neo-Gargoyles

and sky dragons were quickly dispatched, but the Obsidians were another matter

entirely. But in the end, we proved victorious.)

       “Oh, great…” I muttered to myself, seeing Grash come up to my
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/425


starboard. “These guys again.”

      “What do you mean? Have you met them?”

      I nodded. “In a word? Yes.” I said dryly, even as they angled higher for

the open skies. It appeared to me that they were leaving, and not coming back.

      “Should we engage anyways?” Lucrecia‟s expectant voice radioed back.

      Shaking my head, I said, “No. Let them go. There will be other times for

personal conflict. Right now, we have to go see what‟s become of my friend.”

      “Roger that.” My traveling companion replied; taking the lead ahead of

me, and vanishing out of sight for ten seconds on full burn.

      I followed###jacking up the speed###the time allotted and the distance

eating themselves up quite nicely. Then I started dumping the excess velocity by

simple air braking with my wings; coming up short and slightly abreast of the

house###seeing Lucrecia‟s Tomahawk rising gracefully from a three-point

touchdown.

      I dropped soon after###hitting the lawn just right.

      “Seth? Disengage Wings of Solaris.” I prompted.

      “Acknowledged.”

      There was a sudden transition of light, and I found myself in freefall from

about fifteen feet. But a quick transformation into my Valkyrie Mode, afforded

me a much softer touchdown.

      I reconfigured back into my normal 5th generation power armor format###

none worse for wear###and started for the front door.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/426


        Business as usual. I smirked inwardly, thinking how silly this must be to

those inside the house. I just hoped that everything was all right.

       Lucrecia‟s Tomahawk stood by, the woman herself deigning to come in.

She needed to be on guard, since her sensors were recording the ever so close

invasion force.

       “You need to hurry. There isn‟t much time.” She called out to me.

       I nodded to myself and quickly picked up the pace.

       As usual, there never was. Wars had a habit of doing just that: Destroying

something this preciously immortal; a singularly glorified concept.

                     *               *           *

       I sat back in the couch, taking a much needed breather from what had

just transpired. Both Jan, Natalie, and Aria sat on some pulled out love seats;

each wearing an exhausted and pale expression on their faces.

       Death had never come this close.

       Natalie voiced that###believing she was going to die###but then fell

strangely silent.

       Aria wanted to know some more about my past###how I became a

princess###but I gently shook my head and told her that it wasn‟t an appropriate

subject for her to dwell on for the moment.

       Especially since I didn‟t want to come to grips with my past either.

       An uncomfortable silence befell us all, but even still, we could hear the

sounds of battle not too far away.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/427


       “So what should we do?” Natalie asked Jan quietly. “Soon, we will not

have a town at all, but rather an occupied sect.”

       “We can‟t run.” Jan voiced respectively. “This place means too much for

us to simply abandon out of fear.”

       “It doesn‟t look like we‟ll have much choice, Jan,” said I, staring straight

at her unflinchingly. The pain of getting slapped still resonated within me. It

wasn‟t a badge of honor. It was my stamp of cowardice###a reminder of the oath

I had broken as being a respectable human being.

       I not only shamed me, but I also destroyed the trust Jan had built up for

the two of us. I‟m certain###even as she looked back at me in quiet servitude###

that she was thinking along similar lines.

       A wound I wished to God that I had never inflicted in the first place…

       “No.” She said in complete disagreement. “We have to make a stand.”

       “And your death…? What will it bring to those who know you best? Will it

be filled with hopeful redemption or whilst be in vain?”

       “I don‟t care much about how my life will end. Just so it does in the

defense of my heart and of my home.”

       I wished I could say the same about me. Back when I was but a young

lass of fifteen. But those thoughts were reserved only for the men in my largely

knit family circle.

       The ties which bind us together…

       Shall never tear us apart.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/428


         Unfortunately###for me###that clause came to pass as the unbridled truth.

A truth which I didn‟t want to face on my own. My own death would‟ve most

likely been a minor footnote; and yet, so my family would‟ve still died alongside

with me.

         Valor having nothing to do with it.

         “There will be other times.” A new voice entered the fray. So engrossed in

my own thoughts, I daren‟t looked up. When I did, I found my friend, Jasmine,

closing the door quietly behind her.

         Apparently###from the look on her face###she had caught enough of our

present conversation to appropriately chime in.

         Crossing over to us, she said, “The battle comes ever so close. We no

longer have a precious hour, but scant minutes here and there, before the

invasion force finally sweeps through.” Jasmine took a seat across from me, and

added, “Then whatever happens afterwards, God Himself only knows.”

         Relief shot through me. But so did guilt. I was about to ask Jan to

abandon the only home she ever knew.

         It was bitter irony that I too, would be leaving my adopted place of

residence.

         “Jan…?” I began to sequester, but the doctor shook her head, adamant.

         “No. I will not leave. You###you may go. Your life is more important than

mine.”

         “No one‟s life is more or less important!” Jasmine contested. “Does it not
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/429


matter any longer? You‟re town is lost! But that does not mean you should share

in its fate! For His sake, Jan! You have got to take a more noble stand and

leave!”

         The doctor fell quiet, thinking about what my friend had lobbied at her.

Taking this precious second, I glanced in Natalie and Aria‟s direction.

         “Do…you share in Jan‟s vision? I cannot force you to go. But for Aria‟s

sake to say the least###I beg you, please, think of her.” I proposed stoutly.

         Natalie stared back at me, still cradling her daughter in her arms.

         “Where will I go? I have no one else but she, who is my life blood. My

only link to a man I was fell in love with and married.”

         “Any place is better than here.” Jasmine rallied. “At least you would be

safe.”

         More silence dropped down onto us like a piece of fine sarafin cloth.

         “But our place…” Aria cried helplessly, her mind settling on the happier

times as well as the bad ones. Memories like that couldn‟t be shunted aside and

cast aloft###alone and forgotten.

         “Honey…it‟s okay. We‟ll come back.” Natalie promised in a soothing

manner.

         Jan looked over at her friend; incredulous. But when her mouth opened,

no words came out.

         A pained look traversed her face, and it was then I knew.

         A decision had been made.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/430


        “No!” I shouted, jumping across to her so quickly that it startled everyone.

“You can‟t do it! I forbid it!”

        Jan looked at me. “Is that an order, Jeanna?”

        I took a step back and went, “Huh?”

        “As the long-lost princess of your royal family, I mean.”

        I cast my eyes downwards, feeling a rush of embarrassment cloud my

face.

        “No. As your adoptive daughter and apprentice.” I countered softly.

        Jan‟s eyes lit up, her heart catching in her throat; listening as I plunged

on.

        “Ever since…ever since I came here, I had no family or place to call home.

And yet, you went out of your way to make a place for me to stay, to be loved,

to be honored and cherished. To be a part of something special. And I loved you

for it. Every waking moment…I loved you for that. For showing someone like me

ample compassion and genuine understanding. And even though I betrayed your

confidantes, I still very much wanted to be the daughter you never had.

Someone whom you could put God‟s faith into and never waver the slightest.” I

took a deep breath, to catch myself at a critical moment, and to also give my

poor heart a chance to recover.

        With my focus back in check, I finished with, “But I never once wanted

you to throw your life away simply because of this place.” With one sweep of the

arm, I encompassed the whole house.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/431


       “It is my decision.” Jan told me on no uncertain terms. “You cannot force

someone against their will###even those that you claim to love and honor.”

       With that said and done, I realized that there was nothing more that I

could do. In just a matter of time, everything about Doctor Jan (Sun-ani-eki)

Arilla would cease to exist.

       “What about Tiberius?” I asked.

       “He shall remain with me; as he is better suited on dry land than heaving

his guts out on a man o‟ war like the Esmeralda Jasmine.”

       I lapsed into silence at this point, and fell back onto the couch in one fell

swoop. I felt empty inside. This time around, I knew what it felt like to lose a

close friend and compatriarch.

       The slicing pain in my chest was incomparable to losing Athena not so

long ago…

       I stopped to think that implication over.

       Or my family? I thought to myself, mentally comparing each insurgent and

familiar pain.

       No. My family‟s loss registered like a dull throb in the depths of very soul.

Athena‟s passing was no less excruciating. But this pain…

       This pain…

       It had something special attached to it. Some deeper and more

meaningful purpose.

       I was about to lose something###no###someone I loved.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/432


         Jasmine was quiet next to me. Out of respect.

         “Life holds no boundaries, Jeanna.” Natalie spoke up. “You shouldn‟t fear

change or impending loss. It is simply the way our Lord in Heaven‟s Gate has

decreed it so. Mortality was never meant to have special privileges.”

         Instead of fighting it, I let my tears run freely.

         “I never meant###” I began, then choked up.

         Jan saw this and moved over to me, taking my hand. “There are some

things even a princess like yourself cannot change. You are the most resilient,

stubborn###”

         I chuckled through my tears.

         “###and the most courageous young woman I have met so far.” She

praised.

         “Besides me.” Aria piped up.

         Jan turned and smiled a bit. “Besides you.”

         Wiping the tears with my hand, I took a deep, commanding breath.

         “Having these qualities…I feel…ashamed of myself.” I muttered in

crushing guilt. “I should be able to do more.”

         “You‟ve done all you can, Jeanna.” Jan said. “You‟ve done more than what

anyone has ever asked. Instead of acting to self-centered and so full of yourself

###as   a princess should###you‟ve put on your sleeve, your warrior‟s spirit. And

with that, you‟ve put others before you. Instead of retreating, you have faced

each danger with conviction and determination.” The doctor paused for a
                                     Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/433


moment. “In some cases, you‟ve sought it out.”

          “I remember.” I told her in all honestly. And I did.

          “But to ask someone to willfully give up their lifestyle in hopes of a quick

exit, isn‟t what I am all about. I‟m sure they‟ll be dangers, but I am willing to

face them. That‟s my destiny. Yours lies some where‟s else. So go: Face it.”

          “I won‟t forget you,” I said meekly. “I‟ll come back here at the first chance

I get.”

          Jan nodded. “I know you will. This is as much your home as the one you

left not so long ago. It would be criminal for you not to return.”

          Jasmine looked at me and then at Natalie. “And you two? What is your

decision?”

          “We‟re going to stay here, I guess.” Natalie amended. “Seeing that Jan

isn‟t about to leave, it wouldn‟t make it right for us to leave prematurely, when

things could change for the better.”

          “Could be,” Jasmine replied, “but not in a situation such as this. You could

all be taken prisoner, your homes destroyed.”

          “A calculated risk.” Jan fatalistically affirmed. “But our life blood will

always remain a part of Xanix###even if that means being an occupied hamlet for

awhile longer.”

          I nodded. So things have been decided. A cold finality to a potentially

long-term problem.

          “I‟ll let Tiddus know what‟s going on, and have him swing by here at the
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/434


earliest opportunity.” Jasmine promised.

       “Don‟t worry about us just yet.” Jan said with a shake of her head. “We‟ll

be fine in your absence. Just concentrate on the tasks at hand.”

       Jasmine smiled broadly. “Optimist.”

       “Pessimist.” The doctor fired back good-naturedly. “But you mean well, so

I‟ll take what you said as a compliment.”

       Rising to my feet, I glanced down at Jan. “We…better get going. The

battle can‟t be too far away###”

       On cue, a searing explosion rocked the street; shaking the house like a

cat with a mouse.

       Seth spoke up then.

       “Lucrecia‟s calling for help. We better go and lend an assist.” He said.

       I nodded, looking at everyone in turn.

       “I‟ll hold them off as long as I can. But if the invasion force is closing in on

this location, this operation is going to need more firepower than either Lucrecia

or I can presently provide.”

       “What about your mecha? The one I spent most of my time encapsulated

in?” Jeanna asked.

       “I can‟t call on the powers of God that often and expect Him to answer my

summons each and every time I get my ass in a jam.” I eloquently stated.

“Wings of Solaris needs time to recharge anyways, after such a lengthy battle.

Not to worry. I still have my Valkyrie Mode to fall back on.”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/435


      “But it‟s not going to be enough, is it?” Jeanna postulated.

      I shook my head. “No. But that won‟t stop me from going.” And I started

for the door, leaving everyone else behind.

      I watched Jasmine leave, thinking about the best possible strategy at

hand. With an imaginable force this large, there is no way that even I could hold

out against the coming tide.

      Help couldn‟t possibly arrive in time.

      “Shit!” I growled in frustration.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/436




        Chapter 52.



        I couldn‟t believe what was coming.

        But what I saw invoked another childhood memory of flesh-eating gimri

ants.

        It started when I came across a knee-high mound as a girl no older than

six. It was a sunny day. The skies were crystal blue, the grass green. The trees

brimming with life of their own.

        I think it was summer.

        The brownish, rust colored pile of dirt had been meticulously pampered

and carved by what I thought had been by human fingers.

        I remembered scuffing the bottom of the pile ever so gently, believing

that the mound had been empty.

        In the next few seconds of my life, I found out just how wrong I was!

        The mound shifted a bit, then undulated like it was a living thing.

        Then the top erupted like a volcano, spilling forth hundreds of

mouse-sized bugs!

        All swarming towards me.

        I remember screaming then.
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/437


       At this point, some strong arms swept me up; cutting off my cry.

       I looked up then.

       My older sister.

       She was a beautiful young woman, barely twenty years old. My mom had

her first before me. Despite the long years which separated us, I imagined that I

would grow up to look like her twin.

       Then the ants combined…

       And we were both shoved off balance.

                     *              *              *

       I stared at the advancing armies rapid progress from the living room‟s

side window. The lower half of the residential sector had been overtaken###

including where Natalie‟s place was. Oh, the building was still there, but badly

infested by the enemy.

       I lowered my head in abject sorrow and looked away from the window.

       “I‟m sorry,” said I in a tiny voice. “Your place is gone.”

       Natalie nodded mutely, understanding the loss she just had to endure.

       “That‟s okay. We‟ll make it just the same.” She said, trying to sound

brave. But deep down###I knew###she was terrified.

       Aria didn‟t show any hint of fear. She had the most courageous expression

one could ever hope to see or imagine.

       I smiled grimly. She had no real concept of what was about to happen###

despite her advanced skills. Aria was still just a child!
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/438


         Barely ten years old, with her whole life in front of her.

         “I wish there was something that I could do,” I told them. “But of this

magnitude, I have grave doubts.”

         It was then that Jan had an idea.

         “Jeanna. There is something I want to give you. It may help you in your

quest.” She said, getting up.

         “What?” I asked her, back turned towards me. “A gift?”

         The doctor had vanished inside the kitchen. With a practiced ear, I could

tell she had back into the storage room, and then opened another door, where

Tiberius‟s kennel was.

         “Oh, no…” I breathed, thinking the worse. “It can‟t be Tiberius…! You said

###”   but I was cut off short with surprise as Jan came out###sans one pet sky

dragon.

         In her left hand, was a black duffel bag.

         Handing it to me, she said, “This is something Athena left behind before

she died. She told me to give this to you.”

         Staring at the most precious gift ever given to someone like me, I said,

“Really?”

         “Yes,” Jan went on. “I‟ve been holding onto it for awhile now. Never

looked inside it, mind you, because I didn‟t feel it was the right thing to do###

considering your bodyguard had just died.”

         I stood there in shock, before I began to finger the zipper seal which lay
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/439


as a barrier to such secret things. I dearly wanted to open the bag, to find out

what Athena had left me behind before joining God Himself.

        But I was hesitant.

        “Open it.” Jan urged. “Find out what secrets your past has kept hidden

from thy prying eyes.”

        My past.

        Something which a part of me wanted to leave behind, but the other half

wanted to face.

        Jan‟s eyes grew pleading.

        I sighed, knowing that I just couldn‟t put if off any longer.

        To make a justified point, the house shook once again by more

explosions. Something in the window reflected a massive rush of fire, then a

thick pall of smoke wafted past it###blocking out the sunlight for thirty seconds.

        “Guess there is no point, huh?” I muttered quickly, before breaking the

seal.

        It was a suit. A pale green jumpsuit. One that I had worn before during

my training with###

        Merlin? I thought in ice-cold disbelief. Could it be?

        I fingered through some of the data pads which had also found

themselves wrapped carefully inside the jumpsuit, my fingers searching for###

        I found it, wrapping my hand around a large wrist bracelet, which had

been long since a good friend and companion since I‟ve known him.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/440


         “Merlin!” I cried out in delight, bringing out the cool metal object.

         To my surprise, all forward indicator lights were out.

         “Are you sleeping?” I scolded him, then smacked the bracelet with an

open palm. “Wake up!”

         The lights slowly came on, one by one. When the panel was brightly lit, it

began blinking again###in time to the voice of Merlin himself.

         “Heavens me!” A tiny voice echoed back. “Is that really you, Jeanna?”

         “Yes,” I answered, before setting him on the floor. But then I thought

better of it, and walked over to Aria. “Hold him. Would you? I need to change.”

         Aria‟s eyes bulged out at the gift she was being given. A temporary one to

be sure, but a treasure nonetheless.

         “S-sure!” She proclaimed in wonder, turning the bracelet carefully in her

hands.

         “My, my, my…” Merlin chortled. “Your hands are indeed warmer than I

secretly had hoped, child. That is good, considering my mistress‟s are not.”

         Aria giggled, her mother staring at the bracelet in equal awe.

         “Hey!” I looked back at Aria with indignation. “Be nice!”

         “See?” Merlin commented. “Cold hands, but a warm heart. Tell me, how

long have I been asleep?”

         “What was the last thing you remember?” The little girl asked.

         As I stepped behind a privacy blind at the other end of the room to

change, I listened to what my missing friend had to say.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/441


       “Very little, to tell you the truth. I was in a stasis mode like always,

following one of my mistress‟s training exercises.”

       Like a dam bursting, I blurted out, “That was a week before Parliament

was invaded! But that was almost 5 years ago!”

       A moment of silence passed between me and Merlin.

       “Five years you say?” Merlin queried. “Now checking local star chart

configurations against the present. Please stand by.”

       I shucked off my top and bottoms real quick, setting aside my sword; left

clad in panties only. I pulled out the royal green jumpsuit, and zipped it open###

glad enough to find an extra layer of soft material for me inside. Enough so that

it was like wearing a corset. But not as torturous.

       “Star chart analysis, complete.” Merlin reported. “Time elapsed: 4 years, 3

months since last known activation. Updating files.” There came a measure of

silence. “You have certainly grown up in my absence, mistress. I think your

mother and father would be proud.”

       The mention of my family gave me some pause.

       “Do you have any information on where they are? I recall Jasmine telling

me that both my father and brother were killed during the invasion. Is it possible

my mom may still be alive?”

       A second or two more elapsed, before Merlin replied, “Unknown at

present. The signal connecting me to the mansion‟s mainframe computer has

been either blocked or cut off.”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/442


       “Can you try the backup link?” I asked, more and more of my past

opening up to me.

       “Standby.” Merlin instructed. I zipped up the front of my jumpsuit, then

dug into the bag once more for a different pair of boots which I knew would be

there. The soft leather items were partially folded for easier transport, but they

would revert to their normal state once I slipped them on in quick order.

       Once that was done, I folded my clothes and put them back into the

duffel bag. Looking back, I reached for my Sansui sword###scabbard and all.

       I wrapped the belt around my supple waist, and with a soft click!, I had

my weapon around me snug as a bug on a rug.

       “Negative.” Merlin reported, as I stepped behind the blind, dressed in my

new duds. I indeed looked changed without all the extra frills and folds of my

flowing white magi outfit.

       I looked like one of those mecha pilots I had seen in books. Going over to

a mirror, I found that a lot more of me had changed over the years, but I could

still see a hint of my younger self in my adult face.

       “The backup link is severed.”

       I sighed. “It looks like someone doesn‟t want me back home just yet.”

       Jan and Natalie complimented me on my new look, even as I pinned back

my hair and pony-tailed it with the hair tie I had in my right hand.

       “Thank you.” I said, while Merlin commented, “Apparently so. But I don‟t

think it was the enemy‟s doing.”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/443


       I glanced back at Aria. “No?”

       “The system was designed by the past reigning monarch of your family###

your great-great-grandfather I believe###yes, it was he. Your great-grandfather

after him, your grandfather after him, and your father after him###were all

obligated to keep the system up and running. In doing so, they‟ve added a

wealth of safeguards and backup programs which would prevent the main

computer from being tampered with###even by an enemy as advanced as King

Richard the Infinite First.” Merlin paused in his analysis, then resumed. “Your

father was the only person last left in contact with the mainframe computer.

From what little data I have at my disposal, it looks like he had anticipated

Parliament‟s fall from grace, and introduced a specialized virus into the computer

which would lock out the system and prevent outside access. However, he did

leave a tiny backdoor in the program. And it looks like to me, that I was

downloaded with a key of sorts to unlock it.”

       “So that‟s why there is no access to the mainframe, even from here?”

       “The distance is too great. I got a NO SIGNAL icon on my end. The

computer is not only locked out, but further scrutiny reveals that there is also no

power either.”

       I blanched in the mirror. “How is that possible? The mansion‟s power

comes from a miniature fusion reactor! Totally self-sustaining!”

       “I am aware of the residence‟s power supply. But suffice to say, the

computer is down.” Merlin insisted. “There‟s no way around that, my mistress.”
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/444


      “So there‟s nothing you can do?”

      “I may be a technological wizard, but I am not God.” The device pointed

out wryly.

      I grimaced a bit. “That‟s not funny.” I countered frostily.

      “Was never meant to be. I simply was stating a fact. I can‟t simply wave a

magic wand and expect everything to be in working order.”

      Merlin had me there.

      “Sorry.” I apologized curtly. “I didn‟t mean to hurt your feelings.”

      “Accepted. But you must know###” The bracelet began, but I cut him off;

even as I walked across the living room to retrieve Merlin.

      “Yes, I know: You only have a limited set of human emotional algorithms

on which to draw upon.” I thanked Aria for keeping Merlin in safe company,

before slipping him on my left wrist.

      “Nice choice of outfit. Athena‟s doing I wager?”

      “Must be. Royal green wouldn‟t be my first choice of colors though.”

      “Then you must know that what you‟re wearing is a mecha pilot‟s

jumpsuit.” Merlin surmised.

      “Mmph.” I muttered unhappily. “I don‟t have one available to me.”

      “Not true. I am detecting a weak signal from somewhere in this town. Its

transponder‟s operator code identifies itself as the Seraph.”

      My blood ran cold.

      “W-w-what?!?” I stammered in shock. “But that craft was disabled from
                                      Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/445


those three techno-mages! I saw it fall from the skies before blacking out!”

          “And some of us saw it crash.” Jan spoke up. “The ship was clearly

disabled. We had it buried in of Hardin‟s inactive forges to prevent it from being

discovered, after Athena had died.”

          “And the forge is still inactive?”

          “As far as I know. Hardin closed shop one year ago to move to one of the

adjoining provinces.” The doctor filled the bracelet in. “No one‟s been there

since.”

          “Looks like I got some place to go. The only problem###” another

resounding explosion ricocheted outside the doctor‟s house, cutting Jeanna off.

Once the vibrations settled down, she said succinctly, “is that I have to go

through an invasion force just to get there.”

          “Shouldn‟t be a problem. I still have access to Prometheus and Argus.”

Merlin told me. “Either one could help you get access to the Seraph in no time at

all.”

          I thought that one over.

          The only problem in that plan was a rather simple one. I didn‟t have my

5th generation power armor with me.

          I even said so to Merlin.

          “Check your side pockets, my mistress. Your armor modules are in them.”

          Looking down, I saw the slightly thick bulges in both my side and thigh

pockets. Popping the snaps, I dug inside, coming away with four sets of bands
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/446


with twin eraser-sized modules on them.

       “H-how did she know?” I mumbled to myself. “My mother didn‟t want me

to use the armor, despite my father‟s strongly voiced objections. She was

worried that I would…forget…” I trailed off, my arms going limp in shame.

       I sighed, before finishing with, “my training as a white magi sorceress in

order to embrace the life of a warrior. My mom was worried that I would also

forget the tradition women have upheld in this regard, and not just that, but my

the role the women played in our ascension to royalty over the past 1,500

years.”

       Jan studied me for a long time###digesting what I had just said###before

smiling.

       “I don‟t think your mother would object now. Remember what I told you

about how much of a person you‟ve become? I‟m sure she would be more than

happy that you‟ve upheld the family tradition, but in your own way. Other than

that, I think it‟s safe to say that you can now march in your own shadow, rather

than that of what family tradition demands of you.”

       “And forget my lineage?” I countered somewhat harshly.

       “No,” the doctor counseled, “honor it by becoming the persona you want

to be. By fulfilling your own destiny, rather than your family‟s.”

       I stood there, thinking that implication over.

       Was I that eager to close the door to my past, and open a new chapter to

an unwritten future? I thought to myself. The house shook again, and I knew
                                  Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/447


then I didn‟t have much time left.

         A decision had to be made. And I was the only person who could make it.




         Chapter 53.



         I smashed my halberd into the nearest human soldier###bearing the

chevron insignia of Jasper‟s High Guard Elite###catching the fool right across the

chest.

         We both grunted###he from the impact###me, from the effort.

         My arms had quickly filled with lead awhile back, as every inch fought so
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/448


far was being sorely tested by a persistently swarming enemy.

        Lucrecia‟s SAC chattered above my head###as she strove to keep some of

the stragglers at bay###but without success. There were simply too many!

        Obsidians landed in the distance; joining the swollen ranks of Jasper‟s

armies. Against two defenders, I didn‟t think that we could last against such

odds.

        I was about to unleash a Jade Strike spell against the group in front of

me, when something massive touched down right in front of me.

        Looking up, I saw the back of a giant mech in front of me###rear thrusters

dying upon landing, before it moved right in my direct line of fire.

        The thing was more humanoid than mech, but still retained a lot of its

technological characteristics of a mere machine.

        “Thought you could use some backup,” the monster‟s pilot was saying in a

casual voice. “Stand by. Shifting power to Gatling guns.”

        The mech reared back a bit, thrusting both hands out###each transforming

into a massive rotating barrel. In mere seconds, the machine trained both

appendages on the overflowing crowd and cut loose with murderous fury.

        Streams of high-velocity rounds chewed their way through the ranks###

cutting down so many soldiers and other creations, that everything was a haze

of blood and blown off limbs.

        Two minutes of this assault cut us a path towards town###which I thought

was the pilot‟s original intentions###but as quickly as things got started, the
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/449


wounded and dead was replaced by fresh faces and more than enough pain for

us to deal with.

       Then the Obsidians came###fifteen in all. These things both me and

Lucrecia had fought earlier and believed to be the last we‟d see of them.

       But I was wrong.

       Each touched down in ranks of three. Small, compact, power suits

inhabited by augmented humans.

       “Don‟t let their small stature deceive thee!” I screamed up at my new

savior. “They are more lethal than you think!”

       The mecha turned and faced me. “Thanks for the warning. But I think I

got things covered.” The Gatling guns reconfigured back into hands, even as

Lucrecia finished off a persistent group of Neo-Gargoyles; finally eliminating the

last one by simply stomping it out of existence.

       “Unholy braggarts.” The woman‟s raspy voice filtered back to me###her

Tomahawk covered in bits of flesh and other splashed fluids. Then she ejected

the spent cartridge out of the aft ammunition drum, and inserted a new one.

       Priming her cannon, she said, “I shall join thee in this fight, brave

warrior,” nodding to our new ally.

       The new mecha nodded back. “Accessing Trafalgar-One capability.” The

pilot announced, before the machine standing next to me underwent a brief

metamorphosis. New armor components enveloped the body of the mech,

bulking up the legs, arms, chest, abdomen, and back. The soft squarish head
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/450


rose up a bit on reinforced shoulders.

        Twin-compartments opened up and two cannon emplacements came out

###riding   upwards before locking down into place.

        The left arm whipped out and a nasty 60-foot, spring-loaded rifle

appeared out of nowhere.

        The pilot cocked it smartly and locked in on the first three Obsidians.

        “Might want to stand back. This thing has quite a kick to it.” The pilot

warned the two of us. I stood my ground, but Lucrecia heeded the warning and

retreated to a station twenty feet abeam.

        I only wish that I had done the same.

        The twin cannons on the mech‟s shoulders glowed and fired###feeding

their energy into the spring-loaded rifle.

        There was an audible click! and one of the biggest percussions of energy I

had ever witnessed blowtorched outwards###nailing the three enemies right

where they stood.

        For a second, there was this bright flare of light, followed by a sharp

explosion which rocked everything for three hundred feet around.

        A miniature mushroom cloud rose up right in front of us, as the cascading

wave of energy reduced the three to nothing more than a nicely placed scorch

mark.

        I was flattened backwards by the shock wave###carried back about three

hundred feet, skipping along like a rock at times, before landing in someone‟s
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/451


grassy yard###but not Jan‟s.

        A fifteen-foot dirt furrow was the only evidence of me hitting the ground

at such wrong angles, rock powder trails scattered here and there wherever I

had bounced along hard enough to leave a noticeable mark.

        Shaking my head, I found that I was also deafened by the blast.

        “Ooh boy…” I murmured disjointedly, barely able to hear the soothing

sounds of my own voice, let alone Seth‟s.

        But when my hearing cleared, I heard: “…unable to fathom how such a

mecha could carry so much power to begin with. Truly and utterly, and amazing

feat in itself.”

        “Aye,” I answered, feeling the urge to spit. I did, finding a little bit of

blood mixed in. Staring at it for a few seconds, I just realized that I had cut my

inner cheek when I inherently bit down. I worked some more spit and did the

same, this time, the color a bit clearer.

        The nerves…they did return…reminding me of the minor injury I had

sustained.

        “By His Glory, blessed be thee whom delivered us from this travesty.” I

prayed reverently. “May more battles end the same.”

        I tried to get up, but I found that my left leg wouldn‟t stand alone on its

own. Instinctively, I leaned on my halberd staff###using that as a crutch.

        “My…leg…!” I hissed in cold agony.

        “A clean break along the upper thigh.” Seth‟s words a death knell to me.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/452


“I‟ll have to inject the injury site with specialized nanites to fuse the break, but

it‟ll take some time for your leg to properly heal.”

       Cold pain lanced through my body, sapping much of my overall strength.

       My vision swam briefly and I felt discombobulated.

       “Can‟t…risk it.” I shuddered. “Have to…” But I collapsed soon after, my

right side taken the brunt of the fall.

       “Mistress?” Seth inquired. “Jasmine?”

       There came no response from me. I had joined the realm of the

dreamers.

       “Great.” The device audibly groaned. “What a fine time to take a nap###

right in the midst of an enemy assault!”

                             *             *              *

       I cringed from inside Argus###my 5th generation armor‟s first battle suit

configuration###shaking my head.

       “Oopsie!” I scolded myself, once Merlin informed me of what transpired.

Scratching my head, I added to no one in particular, “That would be my fault!”

       However the test of the Trafalgar Combat System proved to be a wild

success.

       “Nice shot, my mistress.” Merlin praised. “I wasn‟t so sure things were still

operational once we left the house. It had been 25 years since this format had

been successfully used in battle.”

       “Tell that to those Obsidians left. The minute their brothers bought it###” a
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/453


metal shod hand slammed into the Argus‟s upper pectoral armor###sending

noticeable shockwaves right through me.

       Argus fell back some, but I quickly recovered; grabbing the offending

outstretched arm and pulling the newly formed Obsidian Overlord forward, and

then picking it up by the waist###tossing it onto its back.

       A thunderous crash! ensued. I brought my left foot down with all of my

willpower and might###smashing it further into the ground.

       The earth beneath it imploded.

       Jumping back, I brushed myself off in a seemingly human (almost casual)

manner, and then looked at my handiwork.

       “How I hate it when that happens. The minute you take your eyes off

these little gnats, they have to combine to form one big pain the ass!” I mildly

complained.

       I turned around and was about to join the lone Tomahawk on the field,

when the ground beneath me exploded behind me, a giant hand gripping the

Argus‟s ankle.

       With one impressive heave, I found myself being flipped head over heels,

where I landed with an equal amount of force.

       I lay there, stunned out of my senses###my head swimming with a certain

cottony thickness, before my brain settled back down.

       “Wa-hoooo….!” I slurred drunkenly, waving my hands back and forth. “Did

someone get the number off the guy who hit me?”
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/454


       My world went topsy-turvy again as I was picked up effortlessly by the

Obsidian Overlord and thrown again###only to be tagged on the return flight back

to Dead Earth.

       Systems screamed at me###as did Merlin himself###of the damage being

sustained by the other mech‟s attack. A nice sized hole had opened up in the

lower abdomen by the shot, but Argus‟s repair systems kicked in for repairs, just

as I landed on top of someone‟s house###crushing the aft section of it into the

ground.

       The brutal hit left me in a much noticeable daze.

       “Air cushion!” I chortled gleefully in disarray, more stars erupting in front

of me. I started counting them all at random. “One…two…three…four…oooh,

boy! This is so much fun…! Nice teddy bears…! Can I have one?”

       “I don‟t think###” Merlin began to interject, but was interrupted when the

Obsidian Overlord fired on their position with a Dark Matter Shot###from one

hundred yards away.

       A purplish black explosion ripped right through Argus, pushing everything

to the brink of overload.

       None of this seemed to register on me. I felt very much like a gem inside

an old-fashioned rock tumbler.

       “Whee!” I clapped, woozily thinking how much fun this must be. I only

wished that my friend could‟ve been here to see it.

       At this time, reinforcements came dropping in. But not Jasper‟s.
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/455


      Lucrecia breathed a sigh of relief at five more Tomahawks ranging in on

the site of battle, followed by two Harbingers, and one unusual mecha.

      The woman recognized the multi-limbed machine as the Hellgard.

      On thruster fire, the last one touched down.

      “Master!” Lucrecia bubbled happily, even as the other downed mecha

sustained another two Dark Matter shots, strobes of purple lightning arcing all

over the place amidst the ruins of the house.

      She managed to lob off a couple of shots at the obstinate Obsidian

Overlord, but they were having little effect; save to keep it from focusing wholly

on the Argus.

      “Apologies, Lucrecia. But Hellgard needed some last minute tuning to its

onboard targeting array, before I could take her out.” Tiddus‟s voice said, as

they all stood on a hill overlooking downtown Xanix. The whole place looked

untouched for the most part, but in other places…?

      Utter ruin.

      Jasper‟s armies were now everywhere. No place###not even where the

Esmeralda Jasmine previously lay docked###was safe.

      “I‟ve ordered Garven to take the ship half a mile off shore soon after we

came under attack,” Tiddus filled in Lucrecia, as both Tomahawk and Harbinger

began to pound the Obsidian Overlord mercilessly. “Now he„s waiting.”

      Their combined attacks got the mecha‟s attention.

      Tiddus gestured to Lucrecia with a third arm and had her go check on the
                               Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/456


downed pilot.

      “I shall do as requested.” She radioed back.

      Tiddus turned to face his new foe###ready to give him his best regards.

      The Obsidian Overlord didn‟t disappoint.




      Chapter 54.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/457




       An eternity passed for me. First in a dream-like state, then finally, a

semi-dark reality.

       Sparks exploded over my head as something else shorted. I reached up to

bat at whatever it was with a listless hand###coming away with a few black

marks on my fingers. Looking at them closely, I discovered it to be some black

wiring to something.

       “Gods…” I muttered to myself. “What in the name Heaven‟s Gate hit me?”

       “Oh. So, you‟re awake now?” Merlin‟s voice joked lightly from somewhere

inside the cockpit.

       I sat there with a slightly cross expression. “Don‟t push me. I‟ve had a bad

day as it is.” Looking around, I could no longer see where I was, but the left port

window showed me lying down, facing away from the action. The right showed

nothing but sky.

       “Status?”

       “Systems are down. But I‟m working on making that a temporary thing.”

Merlin reported.

       “How long?”

       “A few minutes at most. But once I‟m done, you‟ll only have limited

motive power.”

       “Weapons?”

       “Well, that seems to be the only bright spot. We‟ve still got them. But with
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/458


limited motive power, it really doesn‟t do us much good. Those last shots from

the Obsidian Overlord really put us out of commission.”

       I sighed heavily. “Wonderful. Just wonderful.” There was no way I was

going to get the Seraph now.

       Then a shadow fell over me.

       “Hello? Anyone home?”

       I fumbled around for the comm link and flicked it on.

       “Aye. What is it you want?” I asked gruffly.

       “No need to bite my head off. Tiddus asked me to come and check up on

you###to see if you need any assistance.”

       “I‟ll be mobile in another minute or two. How goes the battle?”

       There was a pause.

       “Interesting to say the least. That Obsidian Overlord is really giving us a

hard time. More so than the last we entangled with. However, there were only a

few Obsidians then###”

       “How many?” I curtly cut in.

       “Five, maybe six. But Jasmine and I handled them well, but not

spectacularly so.”

       “Not enough to form an Overlord,” I surmised expertly. A dozen is what

you need, and I wiped out three, so…”

       “You gave them the numbers to combine?” The other pilot voiced in stark

disbelief.
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/459


         I scratched my head absently. “Well…it wasn‟t my true intent.” I said in

defense of myself. “I saw that you guys were in trouble, and thought I‟d lend a

hand in the fight. Nothing more.”

         The pilot fell silent. In the short time between conversation bytes, Merlin

finally informed me that I could now get up. I rolled the Argus over onto its

stomach and then pushed up with both hands and knees###much like a human

would.

         More sparks erupted in face from some panels which had finally been

taxed beyond their limits and went dark.

         “Well, it looks like we got more problems than I first thought.” I said,

studying one particular panel, then sighed. “There goes the life-support systems.

I only have a few hours of air in this thing at best.”

         “You should return to the Esmeralda Jasmine immediately.” The pilot of

the Tomahawk suggested urgently. “We‟ve got people who can repair your

valiant craft.”

         I smiled. “No need. This suit needs to be retired, so that Merlin can begin

effecting repairs on the initiation program.”

         “What?” The pilot began in confusion.

         I gave Merlin the order to disengage the Argus battle suit.

         A brief transition of light, and I was in a state of free-fall. I plummeted

gracefully to the ground, landing in a crouch.

         Rising up, I was dressed in my 5th generation power armor. Similar to
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/460


Jasmine‟s armor configuration, mine was satin black in color with a nicely flowing

red cape reaching halfway down, just past my knees.

       I drew my sword.

       The Tomahawk walked over in earth-shaking steps.

       “Ah. So you‟re suit also doubles as personal power armor.” The pilot

guessed off hand.

       I watched as the new multi-limbed mecha draw out several rifles and fired

off a concentrated salvo simultaneously###nailing the Overlord dead to rights###

ripping some impressive holes into the Obsidian‟s armor.

       But it wasn‟t slowing him down one iota.

       I tapped the side of my neck, my visored Helm of Justice coming out and

snapping into place.

       “Time to make my grand entrance.” I said with supreme confidence, then

charged the Overlord before the Tomahawk behind me could intervene.

       Lucrecia sat back in her pilot‟s seat in utter disbelief. “Suicidal to the end.”

She whispered, before engaging her mecha.

       Raising her SAC, the woman took a bead on the Obsidian Overlord and

fired off a shot to distract it long enough for me to cut across the right side of

the mecha; sending up a shower of sparks.

       The machine howled in pain, as I landed nimbly on my feet, then

launched myself into the air just as it turned and fired on me in outright

frustration.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/461


       Drawing back my hand, I chanted, “ØÞÇÐ35ßêµ!###Fist Strike!” ; hitting it


with a powered up upper cut###sending the Overlord sprawling back into the

ground.

       Still airborne, I spun my sword around and pointed it downwards. Before

the mecha could react, I sank my Sansui sword into its stomach.

       Eyes and body glowing brightly, I said, “Discharge now###§þÿè###Oc###

Thunder Strike!”

       The whole area lit up around me as lightning culled from the skies above

me joined; arcing through my sword and into the Obsidian Overlord. I stood

rooted to the spot for a few seconds, before yanking my weapon free and

jumping clear.

       A crack of thunder echoed as one massive bolt from above struck The

Obsidian Overlord dead center.

       Surges filled the mecha, before it finally exploded outright.

       I tapped the side of my neck again, allowing the Helm of Justice to

retract.

       “Whew! Didn‟t think that would work at all. The damned thing is

surprisingly resilient to most mecha attacks.” I said to no one in particular.

       Tiddus‟s multi-armed mecha lowered its rifles in amazement.

       “No wonder that thing shrugged off so many of our hits.” He said, even as

one of the Harbingers used its lesser assault-cannons to deal with more

stragglers coming up to reinforce their downed boss. “The Overlord can take
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/462


much more than your average assault unit and still keep coming.”

       “That‟s what happens when you have augmented humans in service of

someone like the queen of Jasper.” I said knowingly. “No challenge is too great

for her.”

       Lucrecia joined her master.

       “I shall go and join the others and see if we can‟t push back the invasion

back.” She volunteered. “Seeing how much of a victory we have won this day.”

       Tiddus‟s mecha shook its head. “No. This was nothing. Have a care and

look at the rest of Xanix. This is simply a useless vanguard detached solely to be

sacrificed. The others have already rooted themselves in.”

       The Tomahawk did look, as did I. Though I could not see it now, I

imagined that the whole place was righteously infested with more than my share

of enemies.

       Forces whom we couldn‟t possibly eradicate in time.

       “So what shall we do?” I asked. “I need to retrieve something left behind

by an old friend of my family‟s.”

       Tiddus weighed in my words carefully, then shook his head. “It would be

too dangerous. Even for someone of your capabilities. You‟re just going to have

to leave it behind.”

       I felt crushed then.

       “No!” I retaliated, before bolting for the upper residential quarter of Xanix.

But I got no more than thirty feet behind me, did a metal shod hand come
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/463


crashing down###blocking my path. The large white and gold arm attached to it,

also provided an inescapable barrier towards my plight.

       “I‟m sorry. But you cannot risk something as precious as your life, Jeanna,

on a whim. I forbid it.”

       I to looked back up the strong and agile profile of Hellgard, and said

angrily, “You have no authority over someone like me! Now stand aside and let

me do it!”

       Tiddus remained unmoving. “Can‟t allow it, Jeanna. I care too much for

you at this time to let you callously throw your life away. Every minute we spend

arguing, the less of a chance we have of actually escaping this place.”

       His admission had me floored.

       Care for me? I thought, as his hand rose from the ground. I stood there in

a daze.

       “It‟s your decision, my lady.” He said in all finality, before giving the rest

of his forces the order to abandon the hillside and retreat back to the Esmeralda

Jasmine.

       One by one, the Tomahawks left, followed by the heavy-hitting

Harbingers. Only Lucrecia and Tiddus remained behind.

       I could see that I wasn‟t left without much choice in the matter. Even

now, those that hadn‟t been cut down by our small contingent, continued to

surge upwards in a steadily moving tide.

       In just a matter of minutes, our position would be overwhelmed and there
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/464


would be no stopping the queen of Jasper.

         Adrianna! I seethed in cold silence. You selfish bitch! You couldn‟t allow

me one more second to retrieve a treasure far greater than all the money in the

world!

         Then someone new spoke up.

         “You have to go, Jeanna.” Jan‟s voice filtered back to me. I turned and

found both her and Natalie standing there, with Jasmine in tow###my friend

being helped along gently. She didn‟t look worse for wear, but she did appear to

be favoring her right leg more than her left.

         “W-what?” I stammered.

         “You have to go.” Natalie reinforced. “Xanix is lost now. The best you can

do is leave. Come back when things have calmed down greatly.”

         “But the Seraph###!” I began to protest indignantly, before Jan cast an

admonishing finger in my general direction.

         “It‟ll keep till you return. The area where the forge is hasn‟t been

breached, even though its surrounded by the enemy. They know not what they

have in their possession. But it should matter not. Your bodyguard‟s mecha is

well hidden. Now go. And don‟t look back.”

         At this point in time, I felt drained, even as all three women reached me.

With my help, I relieved Jan and Natalie of their burden, taking up the weighty

load myself.

         Jan smiled a bit. “You‟ve done more than God has asked of anyone else,
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/465


this day, my adopted daughter. Better to fight another day, then to spill more

innocent blood needlessly.” She said, before giving me a hug. “Athena wouldn‟t

have approved of you running off on some wild errand. She would‟ve wanted

you to live instead. So take Tiddus‟s offer and go before it is truly too late.”

       Drawing away from me, I nodded; emotionally giving up the last link to a

past I wanted to forget.

       Forgive me, Athena. Please forgive me. I never wanted this to happen. I

only wanted to honor your memory since you passed on to Heaven‟s Gate and

into the loving arms of our Lord. I prayed to myself, even as Tiddus used two of

his four hands to effortlessly scoop us up.

       I waved listlessly back to Jan and Natalie, even as Jasmine called down,

“We‟ll return! We promise!”

       I could see them nodding.

       “We know!” Natalie called back up.

       It was another precious minute before I said, “Take care of Aria for me!

Protect and love her in my absence!”

       Jan nodded, telling me that she well, before wishing the two of us luck###

before Tiddus stepped the other way; walking away from the lip of the hill, and

boostering off.

       Lucrecia had covered our retreat with a couple of well placed missile

strikes, but most of the shots went wider than originally intended.

       Still, some of the enemy forces bought it, but we could see that only a
                                Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/466


few minutes remained before even that hillside was consumed.

       I turned my head away in resignation, not wanting to know the final

outcome.

       Twice over now, I was simply another orphan, being forced to run away

from the only home I had only known. Either by King Richard‟s henchmen, or by

a bitch queen who was intent on claiming everything for herself.

       Jasmine‟s voice washed over me.

       “For what it‟s worth, you did all you ever could, Jeanna. There is just

simply no going around that.”

       I sighed dejectedly, watching the last remnants of my adopted home give

way to the open seas of the Southern Ocean. Soon, we would be touching down

on the Esmeralda Jasmine.

       “Not enough, I‟m afraid. Even with Argus, I could not secure even a small

path to my goal. The enemy was simply too strong for me to aptly overcome.”

       “Tis true. But Jan was right. There will be another time to come back

here. I can promise you that much.” She said.

       And make Darcoshia pay? I pondered idly in thought, mentally setting

myself up for a possible new goal. My eyes narrowed a bit, as I decided on what

to do next after this defeat.

       Oh yes, she would pay for this loss of mine. And pay dearly!
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/467




       Epilogue.



       In the candle-lit room, a lithe figure###scantily dressed in a ripped, grey

tank top and matching panties###lounged provocatively on the lavishly made

bed. A sensual smile played across her lips, as the scene unfolded before her in

the Orb of Sight„s transparent face.

       “So much destruction, so little time.” She purred. “As my toys have

marched across yet another delicious little morsel###securing it for their lovely

queen.”

       The young woman stretched backwards, body arcing like a cat, before she

rolled over onto her back, extending one leg slowly up into the air, one graceful

foot pointed downwards. Then she lowered her leg, and did the other one the

same way.
                                 Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/468


       “There is nothing like having witnessed the final defeat of your enemy, is

it not? So very erotic, if you ask me.”

       From the shadows of her room, a figure clad in a blood red robe stepped

silently stepped forward.

       “My master is quite pleased with your results, Adrianna. But pay

close heed. He will not brook any failure###lest you want to be facing

his wrath.” The rumbling voice told her.

       Adrianna‟s forest green eyes flashed with annoyance. “You worry too

much###as usual. I held up my end of the bargain by securing this paltry little

spit of land for him. Now where‟s my reward?”

       The figure stepped forward again and placed a glowing blue jewel on the

woman‟s bed.

       “As promised, the Eye of Remittance. With this, you can easily

control the more weak-minded and foolishly gullible###by bending them

to your will. Or give them pain as you so desire. The possibilities are

virtually endless.” The messenger explained.

       Adrianna retrieved the pulsing item of interest. “Tell your king, it has been

my perverse pleasure in doing business with him.” She gushed.

       The red-robed figure said nothing, then vanished like a ghost.

       Adrianne looked to the Orb of Sight, before staring at Hellgard as it

silently touched down on the deck of the Esmeralda Jasmine.

       “My sweet, sweet, Tiddus (Gir-ah-soiski) Kalamon. With this little trinket,
                                   Stories of the Dead Earth-Book 1: Orphan/Thorpe/469


you will be mine.” She said in a sing-song fashion. Then her tone dropped a few

degrees on the cold side. “Because no one###no one!###ever gives me the brush

off and lives to tell about it…”

				
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