June 2021 Archives

A duel in the shadows as echoes of an ancient war wash up onto a new planet!

Life in the Empire has finally settled down. The last of the ston rebels have taken amnesty, and re-joined civilization - or have they?

A massive terrorist attack kills millions and the trail leads the investigator straight to a remote world with no known Imperial contact - a world known to its inhabitants as Earth


Overall, Riverside's not a bad town. I've got a small apartment not too far from the UC campus. The complex is full of students with a smattering of old fogeys too poor and too stubborn to leave, and working class stiffs, not to mention hybrids like me. The ones I've talked to were alright.

But this wasn't there. The warehouse sits in a commercial district near where the 91 dies and turns into the 215 at the 60 merge. There are some rough people nearby, in the old twenties and thirties housing they threw up back before tract housing. Tiny lots, old decaying houses, ancient plumbing and wiring, never updated. Paint cracked, chipped, and peeling. Calling them Craftsmen would be implying a level of charm that simply didn't exist. Streets jammed with old junker cars. Chain link fences, neglected lawns, junk left wherever someone dropped it because it was too much effort to clean up. An occasional abuela put in a few flowers that just made the rest of the neighborhood look even more pitiful. Rough people, mostly poor hispanics with the occasional white trash or black, human refuse that just didn't have what it took to get ahead in the world as it had become. Some were disabled, most simply never applied themselves much. Get a second or third generation in there, and you got some real gangbanging. Easy path to see, damned near impossible to make it work into a real life worth living. Enough to make me appreciate my parents, who escaped that world and made sure I knew enough not to fall back.

The gangs had been cooped up inside most of the previous ten days. El Nino storms came through one after another. Maybe they wouldn't drown or freeze you, but they were cold, wet, and miserable - at least by the standards of California weather. Nobody came out when it was raining without a good reason why they had to be out there and then, but once it stopped a light jacket would keep you warm, and the hoodies would be out looking to burn off some energy. It's not like they had anything better to do.

And here I was, a 28 year old woman leaving the building all by myself in the dark just after eight-thirty with no one around. Just bad luck the four guys in jackets walking up the other side of the street at the exact wrong time. No key to get back in - damn "Call me George" to hell. I picked up my pace. If I could get to my car - beater that it is - and lock the doors there was a chance I'd be able to drive away.

Mistake. The hoodies started to run. Now there was some effort in it for them, things were looking worse for me. Cell phone, you say? I could grab the phone and push the number to dial 911, but it wouldn't do me a bit of good. Typical response time was thirty minutes. By the time the cops showed up, it would be long over. I was about to do it anyway when it happened.

I swear on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that this happened. He looked like an Angel of the Lord, minus the wings. Hanging up there in the air. Well, not hanging - he was falling, though not like he was getting pulled - more like he was riding an escalator that wasn't there. At least six five, thin as a rail, with a softly glowing sword of all the improbable things. Wearing what looked like some kind of uniform, dark with lighter trim, cut like nothing I'd ever seen.

I don't know what he did to call attention to himself, but all of a sudden the 'bangers noticed him. Not just the 'bangers, but everything's attention was wrenched towards him as if someone grabbed our heads, sunk hooks into our eyeballs and made us look. Right down to the rats in the dumpsters.

That was enough for the 'bangers. They hauled out their guns and started banging away. The visitor looked puzzled for an instant, then the sword vanished, and I saw a flash from him. Something in his hand - didn't did get a good look at what it was. The gang members fell over so fast it was over before I could twitch. Damn! The guy was fast. I'd never seen anything like that even in the movies.

One look showed four lifeless bodies with blood starting to pool. The visitor lit with catlike grace, apparently as unconcerned as if nothing had just happened. I had a decision to make, and I did. I jumped in my car and got the hell out of Dodge. I didn't want to be anywhere in the neighborhood when the cops finally got there. I didn't stop to say thanks, I definitely didn't talk to him, I just jumped in and went. I didn't slow down until I was home. I might have run a red light or two; I really couldn't tell you with any certainty.

COPYRIGHT 2013 Dan Melson All Rights Reserved.

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We knew it was going to be a disaster before it happened.

If it had just been the frontal assault, I think the second layer of First Wall's defenses would have held. Starshells were already up and burning; the defenders now had an extra two sixty-fours of paces to kill the charging demons. .43 Caliber machine guns reached out from the second curtain wall even before the first wall blew up, and individual riflemen could pick targets. Mortars kept lofting explosives and caltrops on preset targeting. Entire waves of manesi vanished into the meatgrinder that was First Wall's defenses, legions at a time. Asina was near the middle of the wall; the defenders kept the direct wave from reaching second curtain at her location until the evacuation.

But the direct assault wave wasn't the only attack.

Captain Teroas was a good soldier. He had flamethrower jeeps out to the north as skirmishers, while the mortars at the northern end of the line laid caltrops and pressure sensitive submunitions. The jeeps were as vulnerable to them as the manesi; they had to exit to the east outside the impromptu minefield. Their usefulness as well as their ability to escape would be compromised between the curtain walls anyway. Instead, his men were on the second and third curtain walls as well as in hollow rectangular formations between and behind them. The men knew they were likely to die; Captain-Major Alomar had correctly decided to sacrifice a small portion of his forces in the hopes of preserving the majority, and they'd drawn the short straw by reason of being in the best position to make it count. This was the reason desertion in the face of the enemy was a capital offense in every military in history; any individuals attempting it would be shot down immediately by their fellows. As a result, they all stood and fought.

I had Asina's eyes and ears to make sense of the defense, as well as the orbital sensors. The first reports came in from the airborne Molitors as they bombed demonic formations before they ever came into contact with the defenders on the ground. The accuracy wasn't so good at night; our technology just wasn't up to starlight scopes and the like yet, and demons didn't show up on infrared anyway. But the Air Guard tried their best. One plane would drop a small portion of their napalm load for illumination and confirmation of a target, and then the entire squadron would unload on the targets revealed, then head back to Yonskarr to be refueled and reloaded. There was no way for the Calmenans to know how effective it all was at first, but the Imperial sensors in orbit showed a decent casualty rate among the legions they bombed.

By the second run for the Molitors, the flamethrower jeeps had made contact on the ground and could be used as spotters. It still wasn't perfect, but it was a lot better being able to use the fires ignited by the jeeps together with radio to know where to hit. Local measure was a drum, about thirty-five liters Earth measure, and the jeeps had eight to ten drums worth of napalm; the planes had thirty to forty times as much. But the jeeps had it under pressure where it could be used to spray maybe eighty meters or a little more from the jeep; it made marking edges of targeting areas easy. Just before dawn, one of the jeeps apparently scored a hit on one of the brakiri wonder weapons that had downed our plane a few days before; it lit up the jungle in a premature sunrise. I was told it rained demon parts for better than two eights of breaths, and there was a crater the size of the city of Yalskarr in the jungle where it happened. The Molitors who reported the explosion said there must have been four legions destroyed at the cost of a maniple of jeeps.

By the time the demons hit from the north, it was starting to get light. Had the demon commander been worried about its troops, it likely would have held in the jungle until sundown. But for whatever reason, both the frontal assault and the flanking attack from the north continued into the light of day.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

This is from the first draft rough. Copyright 2021 Dan Melson All Rights Reserved.

The first warning we had was the general alarm.

I hadn't expected a marching band. The Imperial military is built on lightning strikes, and fast responses to catch those strikes before they achieve their goals. Vector Drive meant that space warfare was about concentrating firepower and directing it usefully - position meant nothing. Even planetary surface troops got used to the idea that when an opponent could rig a portal or hijack an existing one, they could be anywhere.

But it's disconcerting to get the 'all recipients' message on your datalink: "Warning!: Demonic elements have been reported in your area, and most other areas of the system! Be prepared to respond appropriately." Impersonal as hell, and no information as to how close they were, or exactly what sort of 'elements'. Were we talking about manesi, which were easy meat for anyone with modern weaponry, or were we talking about an elite corps of spraxos or basileus?

In the absence of specific information, I had to assume it was the same sort of mix generally encountered. I'd been working more than a full day already, tagging fortyseven potential traitors who'd recently interacted with demons on Sharanna. Asto's splinter had been taking care of the children, as much as they needed taking care of. I'd managed to check in for quick hugs in the breakfast hour, and then right back to tracking demonic contacts.

What was most important was clear - continuing my checks for demonic contacts. However, my uncle's old adage about trying to drain the swamp when you're up to your backside in alligators also applied. Trying to make a spak recording in the middle of a firefight would be problematic. Not to mention that I didn't care if my husband's splinter was more capable than I was, or for that matter the children themselves - I was going to guard my children myself. It wasn't that I didn't trust him, House security, or the children themselves for that matter. It was simply that I was their mom. A quick portal home was all it took.

Esteban took my arrival as a matter of course, I found a cooperative website tracking all the engagements.

Absolutely not. The five of you are protected by the fact you are legal children. It would be acceptable to defend yourselves, especially here in the residence, but if you go looking for demons you're declaring yourselves adult.

Esteban meant we could use it to track how close the demons are, Asto's splinter intervened.

Good. We have five children here who are not ready to assume adult risks.

Go on, Mom! We'll be fine! This was Ilras. You don't want to miss all the excitement, do you?

Even if 'the excitement' held any special allure for me, I would not be willing to leave the five of you unsupervised during this crisis. Especially not you, mister energy cannon, planar explosives, and automatic needler!

The others has stashes, too!

The others aren't treating this like some sort of simulator game!

Patience, Esteban counseled, I'm sure we'll all get our fill of action once we're adults.

Absolutely right! I certainly have!

Grandfather says you find enough trouble for any three people
, Alden interjected.

Just what I needed - the older generation making it difficult to manage my family. Whether he meant Scimtar or Gilras wasn't important. I certainly don't go looking for it! Yet somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice asked 'if the truth makes it difficult, does it make more sense to look at others or yourself for the solution?'

Yet if you keep finding it, doesn't praxeology tell us you must be doing things to attract it? That was Ilora, the sensitive one who didn't even like playing Natural State Survivor against 'live' opposition. I had to admit she had a point - but more importantly, if she was sniping, it was a sure bet that Ilras would do something outrageous as soon as I wasn't watching him full time.

Whatever you might think, young lady, we're going to shelter here and hope that this invasion passes us by without endangering five children who might happen to be Seventh Order Guardians someday, but for now are half-trained and not capable of understanding the risks they want to take.

You all heard your mother's decision, Asto's splinter lowered the boom. They might argue with Mom, who after all was only a Fourth Order Guardian from a little barbarian planet in the back end of beyond. When their father agreed with that kind of finality, it meant debate was over. We all have our personal weapons. We're going to monitor the situation, and try to stay out of trouble.

Their ancestors were human once - humans who lost a war and were enslaved by the Elemental Lords, their genetic structure twisted into knots to the point where they have trouble breeding, even with each other. They are largely dependent upon the blessings of The Mother, an Earth goddess who has given them a fertility ritual they utilize at the eight turning points of the year (Solstices, Equinoxes, and halfway between each). Even with it, they aren't very fertile, but they are long-lived, and they do have native elemental powers - at least the full-blooded ones.

There are seven varieties:

Phantom Elves or Mist Elves have largely reverted to feral state. They live in small communities of primitive hunter/gatherers, largely pushed to the edges of habitable zones. They are rare in the analog of the western half of the United States, and almost non-existent on our side of the veil. They are almost entirely mixed-breeds that have lost any native power, but there is a strain of primitive magery among them. They have a wilderness skill that makes them hard to spot or find.

Wood Elves are also mixed breed, tending to live apart from Elvenmentals and often treated as an inferior race. They have lost their native powers, but there are a fair number of sorcerors and a small number of true mages among them. Skin color is usually light brown or earthy green, but can favor any of their ancestral breeds.

Dark Elves are mixed breed, but are still considered Elvenmentals, having decided service to the darker powers is worth the power they grant. Some can pass for the purebloods of their ancestry, but they are reviled by all the other breeds except perhaps Mist Elves, who keep to themselves. Communities of the Dark Elves have been driven deep underground, and it is rare that they interact with any other elven communities, the West Elves being by far the most commonly subject to issues with them. Skin color can be anything from pasty white that looks albino to any of the colors of the other Elvenmentals.

Sea Elves have water powers. They prefer to live in sea-going vessels, and spend a large amount of time in the water, but they do have shore-bound communities, including a moderate sized city on the alternate Catalina and a smaller enclave near the alternate Santa Monica. Skin and hair tend to be green or blue.

West Elves have earth powers. They prefer to live close to the Earth, either in farm burrows or single-story dwellings where more band together. Their name comes from the fact there was a significant concentration of them in the westerly areas of alternate Eurasia and Africa before they colonized the alternate New World during what was the latter part of the Roman Empire on Earth. Skin tones tend to the darker browns; hair is almost always black or close to it. Their mages tend to be burrowers as well.

Bright Elves have fire powers, and tend to live in hot arid areas and near volcanic activity. The alternate Mediterreanean was their classic area of concentration; now they inhabit most of the Pacific Rim of Fire on the alternate world as well. Skin tones tend to brighter pinks or even fiery orange, hair is usually orange or actual red. They are comparatively rare, but mages are common among them and sorcerers very common.

Star Elves are the rarest of all. On the other hand, they have the strongest and most common strains of magery among the Elves, possibly excepting the Dark Elves. They have Air powers, and tend to live on high mountains. Skin tones are pale, usually with pastel tint, hair and eyes tend to be light blue or light violet or pale pink.

Gates to Faerie can be be purchased either e-book or paperback, from either Amazon or the Books2Read retailers. The sequel, Gifts of the Mother, will be my next project


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