The Short Fic Weekly Challenge Thread!
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07.24.2012 , 04:32 PM |
Characters: Rochester, Broan and Benedicta.
Style: Really half-arsed attempt at doing a bit of Lovecraft. Suffer if you dare.
"What do you think?" Captain Gorse spoke without turning from the window. They were in orbit above one of the many colony worlds. This was the first true expedition for the new ship and it had thankfully been quiet. Rochester joined the older man at the window, the planet spreading out below them. It was a mess of blue and green, looking more like the romanticised holos given to dreaming women than anything real. The upper hemisphere was more orange than green; it was autumn in the north.
"It looks... beautiful, actually."
"Yes, mostly a playground for a Sith Lord or two; not the usual 'destroy everything' type, so we get..." He waved at the window and smiled. Strips of cloud covered large parts of the planet, ranging from white to deep grey.
"That white stuff, is that snow?" Rochester pointed today the eastern continent. Autumn was melding into evergreens around the base of a mountain range.
"Yeah," Captain Gorse chuckled. "Is this the first time you've seen snow?"
"First time I've seen white snow on a planet with blue water," They stood in silence for a few minutes, concentrating on the scene below. The crew were equally relaxed; there was little for them to do other than to check and re-check signal strength. "I wonder what it's like down there."
"Why didn't you go down there?" Gorse shrugged and fell completely out of his usual stiff-backed posture. He waved over a petty officer, before indicating to his office.
"As much as I would have liked to explore such a lovely... planet," Rochester laughed softly and leant fully on the window. "My sister does not make for the best of company."
"So much so you couldn't join Lord Naught on their little expedition?" Gorse took the offered glass and handed the second to Rochester. The petty officer remained a moment longer, before realising he had not actually been invited to their little chat. Rochester sighed and swirled the whiskey about in his glass.
"It's really not worth the hassle. Lord Naught might out-rank her in terms of Sith business, but Benedicta still has a lot of sway with my mother. She doesn't like me much, if that's even a surprise," He sipped at the whiskey, unconsciously licking the scars on his lips. "And, like most Sith at the moment, she has a 'thing' about non-humans. You can see where this is going."
"Your boyfriend's a Sith who's above her, but he's also an ex-Jedi, weird-o alien. She'd prefer you to be running around with a lady Sith Lord and having lots of human babies?" Gorse threw back half of his whiskey, his gaze never leaving the planet.
"Well, I am technically engaged to my not-really-second-cousin. Benedicta believes I should honour that and, if not, at the very least fool around with men of my own species."
"You're the one who broke him; you should get to keep him." He finished the last of the whiskey and placed the glass on the floor.
"I didn't really break him, I just sort of..."
"He was a Jedi that worked for the Republic and helped to murder half my crew. Now he's a Sith Lord who makes kissy faces at you and falls asleep in the mess hall. I'd say you're responsible for that."
Rochester shifted uncomfortably; he was not used to coming under such scrutiny from his Captain. For all his vices and appearances of incompetence, Captain Gorse was almost disturbingly astute.
"What do you think of him then?" Rochester took a quick mouthful of whiskey, if only to prevent him from saying anything else.
"He's Sith, doesn't matter what I think, he'll do what he wants anyway. He sounded pretty pissed, though, back then. And he did help us off that blasted pile of crap the Republic had the audacity to call a ship. Still." Gorse made a wavering hand gesture and shrugged.
"You don't trust him because he's Sith?"
"Of course I don't trust him because he's Sith, I don't trust any Sith. I don't trust him more than most Sith because he used to be a Jedi." Gorse nodded, looking almost smug. It was dangerous to talk about the Sith in such a manner, but he had hand-picked his crew for their loyalty. He had also locked the doors to the bridge.
"That's fair." Rochester finished the last of his whiskey. He leant his head against the window, sighing.
"Let's get back to hitting buttons and pretending we're working."
"Yeah, I'll be with you in a minute."
The building was hardly a ruin. All of its walls still stood, though parts of the roof had gaping holes. The slits of windows were void of glass, but the iron frames were in place. They were still a little under a mile from the building proper, but had already passed the outer walls. A few centuries of neglect had led the gardens to over-grow into wild meadows. Creeping vines, laden with heavily scented flowers, covered the internal dividing walls and reached halfway up the enclosing brickwork. Ornate defence cannons now acted as flowerpots and birdbaths, the last reminder of what this had once been.
"They built the mansion a hill." Benedicta pocketed her binoculars and waved the handful of troops forward. Lord Naught stood at her shoulder and nodded.
"A good defensive point, it would have been hard for any of the natives to assault the building, even if they had made it through the gardens," Broan gave a quick glance to the flowers that carpeted the meadows, noting their bright and varied colours. "How many of these are poisonous?"
"Does it even matter?" Benedicta glared at him, her words full of spite. The difference between her and her brother were remarkable. Broan watched her slip away, shrouded in the Force, nearly invisible and mused. Benedicta was correct, after a fashion. Neither of them was here for plants and there was certainly no requirement for the flowers. Their goals, in fact, lay in the mansion beyond. Broan crouched and began to collect some small samples. He had never seen plants quite like these before and, though his house had no need of them, the flowers could prove useful. The Sith had never seemed like a people who would take pride in having such dainty distractions in their lives, so there was sure to be a hidden property or two.
As the soldiers walked past, one bent to offer Broan assistance. For a moment, he considered having her collect the more dangerous looking plants, particularly the one that seemed to be oozing at the thorns. He shuddered and waved the woman on. A creeping sensation, like icy water, slid up his spin as he watched her rejoin the group. The temptation had been there, a great looming shadow of potential. Images flashed through his mind as he started to examine the tiny blue flowers. He saw the woman, her helmet gone and her face contorted from agony, all for a simple plant. The trailing thorns grew, reaching toward the sky with malign intent. They covered the ground and the walls, twisting and writhing as they grew, blocking out the sun. He felt himself suddenly surrounded by a palpable evil, oppressive and suffocating.
"Lord Naught, are you with us?" Benedicta's voice cut through his anxiety. Broan shuddered and gasped. Her disdain for him became an anchor and he was able to climb out his of his reverie. He stood, breathing hard and looked at his hands. Little trails of blue slime covered his fingers, iridescent against his skin. "Lord Naught." Benedicta's tone stayed close to civil and respectful but it was clear, even over their fuzzy comm. link that her contempt for Broan was growing.
Broan was able to compose himself enough to reply. He wiped the blue slime onto his trousers, noting with regret that it started to turn the black fabric purple.
"Continue into the mansion, Apprentice Benedicta," Broan paused as felt the ground lurch under his feet. He stumbled and sank to the ground. The static of the radio link started up again, but Broan spoke before Benedicta. "I needn't explain myself to you; do as I say." He tried to stop the spinning by putting a hand to his forehead. It slowed, slightly. His breathing evened and softened. He contemplated just staying in the meadow, surrounded by the flowers, their scents, their soft signing...
"Lord Naught, we've found a shed." He nodded, not recognising the voice at first.
"Open it, maybe find yourself a shovel." Nausea was making him grouchy. He wavered. The flowers were so close, so inviting and the house so, so far away.
"No shovels, my Lord, but we did find a hoe and some rakes. Not sure what you wanted them for, my Lord, they're rusted through." This was a different voice, a man's this time. They were all so literal, all the time. No flair, no desire, no initiative; not like... Broan clutched his head. His thoughts were jumbled, scattered everywhere. A wave of nausea hit him, forcing him over. He gagged, biting back on the vomit. The perfume was overwhelming now. He wanted to sleep, to dream...
"Lord Naught, if you're done picking up posies, we'll be pressing forward to the mansion proper. Benedicta Windthorpe out." There was silence. He was alone in the garden with only the signing, weeping flowers. With a gasp, he crawled forward. Through hazy vision he saw the purple infection seeping into his clothes, feel it scratching against his skin. A statue, half sunk into the dirt, helped him to his feet. Pushing away the vines and leaves that covered it, he revealed a grotesque figure. One arm was outstretched, beseeching some anonymous force and the other was curled in, held tight against the chest. Broan was struck by how life-like the statue was, how each of its features were so deftly carved from stone. This was certainly more the thing he expected of a Sith Lord's garden: statues that captured a person's last moments of utter agony. The realisation was enough. The garden was a poison.
Broan hurried to rejoin the group. The hair went up on the back of his neck. Shadows flicked just out of view and something hovered, whispering, just behind. He kept his composure, fighting the urge to run with every step. He was Sith, now, and Sith did not jump at shadows. Even with his quickened pace it took Broan ten minutes to find the soldiers, all the while he had been harried by some malign, unknowable thing.
"Lord Naught, we were just about to start scouting the mansion. There does not appear to be any immediate danger, my Lord." It was the woman. She had removed her breathing unit, revealing pale and clammy skin. Her breathing was laboured, coming in long ragged gasps. Many of the other soldiers were also breathing hard. The shadow of the mansion did nothing to ease their worries. Only Benedicta seemed unaffected.
"Private...tsk... Sanatr, open the door." Benedicta waved the woman over, indicating to one of the smaller servant entrances. Private Sanatr hesitated. A faint scrabbling sound came from just behind the rotting wood. The door opened and the noises stopped. Private Sanatr looked her shoulder and smiled weakly. The building beyond was dark, darker than they expected; much darker than was natural.
Broan ran, stumbled, blindly groping along the walls. The screams followed him, always just behind, always just a little bit further...
He tripped. The world tumbled over and over. Wood hit his ribs. Sharp teeth bit his flesh. After an eternity, after mere seconds, he landed. Moulding, musky carpet cushioned his face, stinging in his cuts. He stood, staggered forward and fell to his knees. The screams were there, at the top of the stairs. He could feel them, nothing but hollow teeth and eyes made from air. They called him, cooing and promising, but still, behind their voices he could hear them. Sanatr, Hendry, Jothan. He could not remember them all, but he could hear their last cries.
Desperate, he turned. Lightning launched from his fingers, flying up the stairs. The room about him was lit in a brilliant flash of blue. The smell of burning paper wafted to him. There was silence, for a moment, and then a noise like laughter. Broan yelled. Horrible, furious and primal, his voice filled the hall and echoed throughout. The voices laughed again, mocking him. Calling him weak. Worthless. Nothing. Lord Naught. A nothing. An empty. A shell.
He rose. Electricity tickled his hands. He could see them now, creatures made of smoke and hate. Madness swirled in their depths. Broan took a step forward. Light flickered over the walls and stairs, casting bizarre and disturbing shapes. He took another step forward, eyes fixed on the top step. He could feel power building within. The creatures, the screaming, mocking monsters, were afraid of him now. They stooped, they begged. Sanatr pleaded for her life, skin yellow and slick from the poison, drenched in blood, her mouth an open, sucking wound. He grinned. The creatures stretched out their arms, welcoming him, beseeching his mercy.
Something heavy hit him in the back. Broan fell, the wind knocked out of him. The lightning dissipated and the screams disappeared. He was yanked upwards and backwards.
"Are you insane or just an idiot? I swear by the blood of my forebears you are beyond redemption!" Benedicta held Broan's robes in her fist. She was wild and furious, her red hair undone from its bun and falling over her shoulders and back. "I need you to get out of here; otherwise I would kill you myself." She pulled him to his feet, pushing him away from the stairs.
"I heard them, I saw them this time." Broan pointed to the top of the stairs. The wall was blackened and smoking and a vase had shattered. Benedicta looked at the spot, her curiosity beating fury. A cold shiver ran down her spine.
"Out. Out now." Still with her hand gripped about Broan's robes she all but ran from the mansion. Outside it was night. Their instruments had died upon entering the building and the unnatural darkness had prevented any time keeping. A chill wind blew into the valley and clouds covered the sky. Benedicta looked up and was suddenly seized by terror.
Three *****s of purple light were pushing their way through the clouds. The body followed the eyes through the clouds, sharp and sleek. A great predator was descending from the heavens. The trap was sprung, the jaws were closing. Benedicta's heart raced. She had never known fear, true fear, until now.
"Fear no evil, child, for it is in you." Broan spoke with a voice which was not his own. He grinned at her, his eyes dead and his face lifeless.
All was black.
"How are they?" Doctor P-- examined his slides a second time before shrugging.
"None the worse for wear physically, Lieutenant," Rochester nodded, fiddling impatiently. Doctor P-- sighed, stretched and scratched the bridge of his nose. "Can't say how well they're doing mentally, of course. From what I heard that place down there was pretty bad. I'd hate to think about what would spook a Sith Lord."
"Thank you, Doctor." Rochester turned to regard the patients. Broan and Benedicta sat in separate quarantine chambers. They were both hunched and silent, staring at the floor. All the soldiers assigned to them were missing, presumed dead in the mansion. Rochester had led the retrieval mission after having not heard word from the surface in days. How would he write a report on that? Two Sith Lords found unconscious in a garden full of flowers, at night, half a mile from the mansion. How could he justify not entering the building to search for the remains of the squad? Fear was no answer but it was the truth. He leant all of his weight against the table. He just wanted to bomb the entire damned thing from orbit and never look back.
"Give them time, Rochester. They're Sith, they'll bounce back, they always do." Captain Gorse patted him on the shoulder as he turned to leave.
"They bounce back... or they die."