Elementals-Chapter 9

From: Cheryl Baumgartner(C Baumgartner, Posted Date: Oct 8th, 2011

             “I can’t do it, boss.”

            Graint looked at the knife in his hand, then down at Benai, and shook his head.

            Benai scoffed.  He was on his knees at his second in command’s feet.

            “You’re the only one I can trust, Graint.”

            Actually, Benai didn’t truly trust anyone, but he was anxious to try his latest experiment and had to make the other man cooperate.

            “What’s the worst that could happen?  I’ll come back in a few days none the worse.”

            “Might be more than just days, boss”

            Benai sighed.  It had been almost a lunar cycle since they’d tortured and killed Duke and it appeared that he still hadn’t returned.  Benai’s people were now in control of both cities and had three balloons under construction.  They’d taken the crude bow and arrow weapons Duke had used and refined them, making them lighter, sharper, and more accurate.

            All in all, Benai’s enterprise was quite successful, but there remained this one giant mystery.  There were few things he hated more than not being in control, and he simply had to learn to control the resurrection process.  He would die as many times as it took for him to learn the dynamics of this planet’s system.

            But just to be safe, he would avoid taking his own life.  That might change things in that in-between place and he couldn’t risk it.

            Someone had to kill him.  And that someone was being a whining child about it.

            “Well, perhaps you’re just not cut out to be my number one then Graint”

            The man frowned and tightened his fist around the hilt of the dagger. 

            “I’ll keep everything runnin’ ‘til you get back boss.”

            “Good man.”

            Benai closed his eyes and tried to relax.  Even though he knew what would happen, it was still unnerving to be at the very point of death, knowing you could stop it if you wanted to. 

Graint’s fingers grabbed a fistful of his hair and forced his head back.  Make it quick, you brute, quick and painless.

The strike did not disappoint.  Despite his bulk, Graint was swift and precise.  Benai barely felt the slice that severed his airway and major arteries.

He was dead before his body could hit the ground.

 

 

 

 

Floating again, without physical presence.  The faint glow filled the surroundings and the cool serenity of nothingness permeated everything.

Benai had a job to do.

He called forth every single detail he could from the incident, trying to see it all with his adult eyes instead of the vision of the child he had been.

Have to work fast, no telling when you’ll be pulled out of here.

Benai remembered the height of the man, his thin frame, the paleness of his skin, the mark on his right cheek, the black clothes, the hawk’s-nest hair with the single loose strand hanging down on the left side.

And the weapon.  Most importantly, the weapon.

He knew it’s shape well.  He had carved it for Klea’s bracelet.  The double-bladed claw on the end of a whiplike tendril that extended from the right arm.

Benai put all these things inside himself, felt the strand of hair on his own face, saw every fold of the strange material in the clothing, felt the power of that brace in his own arm just waiting to be released with lethal precision.  He was that man.  He would be that man.

This was what he’d come here for.  He had to see if he could return in another form.  Naturally, he’d chosen the most awesome and deadly form he’d ever seen.  If this worked, there would be no limit to what he could do.  He could return as anyone, anything at all.

He could work on controlling where and when he awoke on another trip.  Right now, this was a far more important theory to test.

Keep on it!  Don’t lose focus!  Concentrate on the details.  BE HIM!

He had no idea how much time was passing, but he wouldn’t allow himself to become impatient.  It was a weakness he couldn’t afford. 

When the swift rushing and bright light finally overcame him, he focused even harder on his new shape.

And the walls of a body closed around him.

 

 

 

 

Graint nodded to his men as he released the wheel on the gondola’s platform.  The hose that had filled the fuel tank was disconnected and the workers stood back as Graint ignited the air torch.  The four balloons laying neatly on the dune next to the vessel began to stir as the hot gas flowed into them.

Graint eyed them carefully, watching for any signs of leakage.  They all seemed to inflate perfectly.  He tested the rudder chain and navigation scope while he waited, shaking his head at the cheering of his men on the ground.  They’d thought everything was working on a previous balloon and it had turned out to be completely non-functional.

The balloons started to rise from the sand and the gondola lurched.  He steadied himself on the ropes, waiting for things to straighten out.  He reminded himself again to build a better balancing apparatus on these things.  The deck under his feet leveled as the whole thing lifted from the ground.  The cheers of his workers became more raucous as he maneuvered the vehicle in wide circles, controlling the amount of air to stay at the same altitude, and determining his turning radius.  He tweaked the lens in the scope and fired the main crossbow to estimate its range while in motion.  Checking the gauge to make sure there was no fuel leaking, he finally allowed himself a little pride.

Everything looked good.  Number Five officially up and running.

The Boss was going to be so pleased when he got back….whenever that would be. 

Several lunar cycles had passed, and still no sign of their leader. 

At least it also seemed like old baldy wasn’t coming back.

Graint wouldn’t allow himself to think about a limit on the times someone could come back from the dead.  No.  Benai said it would always work, so that meant it would always work.

He turned off the air, slowly, to begin landing. 

A screeching sound, like the call of a predatory bird, sliced the air at the same time as a claw-like grapple latched onto the side of the gondola.  Graint unsheathed his knife as a man wearing all black vaulted over the railing onto the deck, retracting the claw into his right sleeve.  He had a mark across his cheek and very pale skin, topped by a large bun of jet-black hair.

Graint would have attacked immediately if the stranger hadn’t been….

Laughing?

The newcomer looked at him and winked.

“Graint, my good man, this is excellent!”

 

 

 

 

Duke squatted at the cave entrance.  His temper burned hotter than the sand at his feet, which was almost melting his shoes.  Having awakened in the same spot as before, he’d found out how Benai had managed to sneak up on his tower.  He turned to glare down the dark tunnel.

And now, no doubt, Benai was in control of both cities and all the workers.  Duke was essentially alone, except for the few dirty bodies that had awakened with him this time around.  As usual, he was the only one who remembered anything.  Apparently, this planet studied the souls of those who died and allowed only the most powerful to retain their self-identity during the transition.  At least, that’s what Duke hoped. 

What would be the point of Duke trying to use that same tunnel himself?  Benai certainly had guards at the other end.  Why didn’t he have them at this end?

Duke growled, and the man sitting next to him recoiled a little bit.  Why would his enemy not have people waiting here at the “wake up” spot ready to kill him, Duke, and convert any others to become drones. 

Benai must have something else in mind and Duke had to stop it before it happened.

He had to get more followers and figure out a way to cripple Benai severely, enough to allow Duke to regain his power.  Just killing him was out of the question.  The only way to do it was to hit his supports, the foundation holding him up.

The plan formulated in Duke’s head and he nodded to himself.   

 

 

 

 

Night had fallen.  The usual two or three guards roamed around the borders of Benai’s encampment. 

These men were so easy for Duke and his few minions to dispatch, they surely must have been drunk.  Duke did not have time to wonder at the strange vehicles he saw under construction a little way from the camp.  He strode quickly and silently from tent to tent, cutting the throats of Benai’s followers one by one.  He would save Graint, the giant brute who slept in the tent nearest the tower, for last.

He would leave Benai alive, horribly maimed, but alive.  Duke would claim all the dead that reawakened in the cave and retake both cities, perhaps even start on a third.

When he finally reached that last tent, he heard a choked gurgle from inside.  Graint was not asleep, but his back was turned toward the entrance when Duke peered through the gap in the doorflap.  The big man was kneeling over someone, someone very strange looking.  A pale man dressed all in black with a large coif of black hair lay on the ground.  Fresh blood spilled from the hilt of a dagger embedded deeply in his heart.

Staring at the man’s eyes as the life seeped out of them, Duke saw something that terrified him, something that he recognized.

Benai?!  That was Benai!  How could it be?

“NO!!”  Duke screamed, bursting into the tent and slashing at Graint’s neck as he turned.  Before Graint’s body could hit the ground, Duke had pulled the pale man’s form up to lean it against the small table next to the bed.

“How did you do it?!” he screamed at the corpse.

How had he changed form?

Furious, Duke drove his knife into the throat of the body, yanking it back and forth until the head tumbled from the shoulders.

You were not supposed to die tonight!

 

 

 

 

In the dark space again.  But this time, Benai felt uneasy.  He had started to hear noises outside the tent just as Graint had made the killing thrust.  As he’d died, he had seen Duke burst into the tent, but could see nothing of what transpired after.

Stop worrying about that.  Whatever happened, you’ll fix it later.

Think about the new form to create for your return.

But he couldn’t focus.  For some reason, this place seemed much more crowded than it usually was.  The human forms that floated in the void with him were more numerous, and more and more appeared as he watched.  They weren’t distinct enough to recognize, but they must be dying by the dozens as he watched.

They must be falling victim to a complete massacre.  Suddenly, he realized what it must be.

Duke!

He was murdering every single person in both cities! 

As the only one still alive, Duke would take the towers, the balloons, the supplies, the water.  He’d take as many of the returned ones as possible and re-establish himself as ruler.  It was actually a brilliant idea.  Benai almost admired his enemy’s ruthlessness.

And all this could happen before Benai could re-awaken.

No!  It would not!

Now, Benai had his focus.  Not only would he have a new body, but he would choose when and where to go back. 

 

Are you ready Duke?  Are you ready to face the most terrifying foe ever?