Journeyman: The Force of the Gods: Part I

BOOK: Journeyman: The Force of the Gods: Part I
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Journeyman
The Force of the Gods: Part I

© Mark F. P. Tuson, 2015.

This Work is protected by the 
Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
, alongside copyright laws implemented on the national level; the Author reserves and asserts all rights granted thereby. No part of this Work may be reproduced by any means or method, in any way or format, without prior and explicitly stated written consent from the Author.

Cover picture taken from 
www.pexels.com
 under CC0 licence
(for more information, see 
www.creativecommons.org/about/cc0
).

Linguistic resources from 
www.dnghu.org
were used in parts of
the composition of this book.

Formatted by the Author using Sigil.

Also by Mark Tuson

Singularity: a concept anthology

* * *

To the memory of my grandmother, Fran;

You taught me to keep my eyes and mind open, and find magic all around.

* * *

And to the future of my nephew, Noel;

What might you find?

* * *

“…for fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

– Alexander Pope,
An Essay on Criticism
(1709)

A broken world lay before Them;

Though its remains were yet unsullied.

 

The least of Them, maybe, thus far unready:

The Foundation Stone, uncut.

 

The stage was set.

Prologue

It was a much simpler time, long before civilization came along with its complications. Most people spent their days either making children, looking after them, or gathering food. This particular tribe was at the very dawn of agriculture; while there were small farms and those who looked after them, there were still hunter-gatherers who wandered the surrounding land and looked for fruits, berries, roots, and small animals.

The tribe wasn’t huge, maybe four hundred or so people, and it was led by a man who was only ever addressed as “Father.” He was wise, regarded as being part king, and part god: when his own father had died the mantle of divine power had passed to him; when he died, it would in turn pass to his own son. That was how it had always been: that was how it would always be.

This particular Father’s son, however, seemed to be more interested in wielding that divine power for its own sake than in looking after the people entrusted to his care. This disturbed Father rather a lot, though he maintained a personal faith that, eventually, his son would learn more about priorities and values as he grew older and saw more of life.

He was proven monumentally wrong when his son grew to be sixty seasons old. Part of Father’s job was to teach his heir the ways of magic in private, but only seven seasons from this tuition’s beginning, his son showed himself to have an extremely high affinity with it, as though he and it were attuned far more greatly than Father himself, and his thirst for power became increasingly obvious.

The crime he went on to commit was not one to be named in public. It was, however, one which lost him his heirship to the tribe. He was in disgrace, forever. He was ritually stripped of his divine right and expelled into the wilderness beyond the valley where the tribe was settled. Father had no choice but to try and quickly sire another son and teach him everything he knew himself before he died, and he was nearly at that age.

His son, however, didn’t stay away for long. Only two seasons after the start of his exile, he returned.

It was the middle of the night. The fires were dying down, and the tribe were sleeping. The stars and planets were clearly visible through the clear sky, over the valley, and the moon was high and full over the taller hill. The son walked slowly and purposefully into the boundary of the camp. He was wrapped in a bearskin, and wore an expression of stony, wilful desire and purpose on his immature face. He marched through the centre of the camp and straight into Father’s house.

Inside, Father was fast asleep, his chest slowly moving up and down as he heaved earth-trembling snores. At the back of the house was what his son sought: the ancient shaman’s drum, which had represented the power of Father for countless generations. He picked it up with a quiet reverence, along with the drumstick which was made with it.

‘Father.’

Father woke slowly, to see his son standing over him, holding the drum.

‘It is over, Father. You will have no other sons. Your power belongs to me.’

Father stood slowly and tried to back away, toward the door. ‘I will have another son. And you will die for coming back.’

His son didn’t listen. He kicked him out of the door, the older man landing spread-eagled on his back. He then wove the drumstick in a pattern over his head and the house took fire with a tremendous sound, like a distant earthquake and the laughter of the hills themselves. The noise reverberated for several seconds throughout the valley.

Throughout the camp, people were starting to awaken, disturbed from their sleep by the noise. They came out slowly and stood watching Father and his son.

‘You will have no other sons,’ his son repeated loudly, and then stamped on Father’s gut. Father groaned, and then screamed in terror as he saw his own son reach under his bearskin and produce a knife, of the sort they made and used for hunting and butchering: a small grey piece of chert, expertly knapped into a blade. ‘Ever.’ He knelt down and emasculated Father in a single flick of his wrist.

There was dark blood everywhere, shimmering its perverse beauty in the light of the flames. Whether Father died instantly, nobody ever knew; nobody was paying him any attention. His son stood straight and high – the centre of attention. He was holding the drum and stick in one hand, and Father’s genitals in the other, high in the air.

‘Father is dead.’ He spoke clearly and loudly, and the entire tribe gasped as a single body. ‘His life and his ability to create another son are mine.’ He tossed his late father’s manhood on the cold earth and put fire to them with an animal grunt and another flourish of the drumstick.


I
am your king.
I
am your god. I am Rechsdhoubnom.’

They knelt. Whether for reverence or fear, he didn't care.

 

One: Down and Out

A young man was eating a salad, and resenting every mouthful. Not that he had ever had a problem with salad; he just didn’t like how Mike’s girlfriend prepared them: all lettuce, no flavour. She was, his friend Mike had explained to him, under the impression that she needed to lose weight. It was bollocks, but she believed it, which meant they had to go along with it. Sadly, nobody had ever had the thought to actually tell her how a decent salad is made.

The young man forced down the food until it was gone, feeling like a small child being made to eat his greens. Oh well, he thought. At least he had something to eat and somewhere to sleep. He removed his plate to the kitchen sink, and went outside to walk around the block.

It was a pleasant night: he’d give it that. It was the beginning of April, and this year April had brought a hell of a lot of bright sunlight, which, of an evening, subsided into a pleasant ambience which was neither cold nor hot. As he walked, he couldn’t help dreading getting back, falling asleep, and doing the whole damned thing again the following day. Every day was the same. His mind wandered, as often it did, to how he had come to be in this position.

When he had started university at eighteen, all who knew him simply
knew
that Peter Rutherford was at the start of something great. Or, at least at the start of the preparation for something great. Likewise, when he had finished university at twenty-one, having earned an honours degree, it was agreed by all who knew him that he was at the start of a great career. He was likely, in their eyes, to be earning more than a doctor would within a few short years.

However, the career promised by his lecturers and supervisors simply wasn’t there when he finally left the academic world. There were no more jobs in the field in which he had immersed himself. He was high and dry.

Six months following his graduation, Peter had found himself unable to find work. A year, still nothing. The situation was not ideal. In fact, it was so far from ideal that he sank into a deep depression. After having spent three years of his life studying hard, and in the process accruing a personal debt of almost thirty thousand pounds, he was now being force-fed a truth which didn’t taste very nice at all: neither reality nor society give a dam how much you know or how hard you’ve worked. They only care that you are in the right place, kissing the right arse at the right time.

When it got to eighteen months without Peter managing to pass an interview – or in some cases even secure one – he decided to broaden his searches and seek help from the government organizations which were set up for that purpose. Within a month, he was living in a small flat of his own, receiving just enough money to be able to buy food, and being presented, every day, with a number of options for jobs he could apply for. It wasn’t living, but it was a life of sorts.

It looked, for a while, as though things were starting to look up for him. Though his definition of “looking up” had changed a lot since he had first begun his journey.

But like all systems, the system that was there to look after people like Peter, was flawed. Thus, after only four months, he found himself suddenly and unceremoniously without any income, and without anywhere to live.

His parents were on holiday, and he had volunteered his key to their house back to them on his leaving, which meant he couldn’t go home. He was lucky enough to have a close friend, however – Mike – at whose house he was able to stay, albeit on the couch, and with the few possessions he had been able to salvage before being evicted, kept in a backpack and a bin liner.

While there, he was spending most of his time frantically looking on the Internet for any possible avenues through which he could find work and a place to stay on a more permanent basis. It was a lot of effort spent in prolonged periods of time: getting up in the mornings at seven, looking for opportunities and writing emails through most of each waking day, and then going for a brisk walk in the evenings before going to bed.

He was tired. Not from walking, though his legs were already beginning to ache. It was from all the effort he was putting into looking, and while he knew it was probably futile, he intended to do the same again tomorrow.

The area in which he was walking was a small suburban village which, until seventy years ago, had been primarily a loose collection of farmland. He wasn’t all that far away from his parents’ house, which was also in this village, or from old primary school he had attended. A little further down was a small corner shop he remembered sometimes spending amounts of money which today would be worthless.

As he walked past the shop, he saw a flash through the corner of his eye. He wasn’t even sure that he’d seen it, but then he saw it again: a pale blue flash of wicked bright light, almost like a bolt of lightning, or maybe an expensive flashgun. He didn’t ascribe any significance to it.

He walked on, but before he had managed a further twenty yards he heard a crash. Not the kind of crash he might have expected to hear from a car colliding, or from furniture falling down inside a house. It sounded more… disturbing to him. More deep; more
real
.

He stopped and looked around. ‘What the hell?’ He said it aloud.

Suddenly he felt as if he were being watched. He looked around for a moment, and then started walking again, more briskly than before. The night seemed a lot cooler now than it had a moment ago; his bare arms were covered in goosebumps and he felt his heart beating worryingly fast. Even his nipples were standing out against his T-shirt as he broke into a half-run. There were more flashes, but they seemed to be going slower now, as though the speed of time had been turned down along with the meteorological thermostat.

From nowhere, there was a man stood in front of him, and another behind. A voice came from the figure behind him, calm and clear: ‘run past him, don’t stop for anything!’

Peter snorted and darted sideways, turning so fast that his foot almost lost traction against the tarmac beneath it. He recovered quickly, however, and ran onto a long lawn beside a mechanic’s garage. There was another flash from behind him – red, this time – which was accompanied by a sound like a gunshot, which made Peter’s ears ring for several seconds.

Another voice was yelling, also male, and slightly Germanic. ‘Another one of yours?’

‘No! Leave him alone!’ A thud. A groan.

And then Peter found himself suddenly pinned by his chest, a foot off the ground, against the door of another garage further along the road. He made an embarrassing squeak in an attempt to breathe.

‘Who do you work for.’ The voice wasn’t asking a question. It was making a statement:
I desire an answer.

Peter wouldn’t have known what answer to give, even if he were able to speak at that moment. His vision slowly resolved on the figure which had been ahead of him on the pavement across the road: it was roughly an average male’s height, and it was covered from head to foot in what looked like a brown woollen cloak, with no part of the person therein exposed to sight.

‘WHO DO YOU WORK FOR.’ The figure didn’t move, but Peter felt a rough slap across his face.

‘Stop!’ The other figure looked more normal: a suit and shirt, all black. It repeated. ‘Stop!’

The cloaked figure turned, and the man in the suit blew ten feet backwards, as though caught in a gale. He then turned back to Peter, let him fall to the ground, and stood over him. Peter just about caught a glimpse of a broad face with what might have been a week’s stubble on it. The man straightened and looked straight ahead, as though deigning to look straight at the person he was addressing would be a gross injustice.

‘Who do you work for.’ Each word was spoken calmly, with a sense of purpose.

Peter was beginning to regain his wits. ‘NOBODY!’ He said it as loud as he could, in the hope that he might rouse someone from one of the houses nearby, at the same time kicking out at his assailant’s shin.

The kick didn’t land. However, the man in the suit ran in and swung a glowing rod, the length of a walking stick, at the man in the cloak. The rod hit the man’s back with a heavy thump, and then shattered, no longer glowing. The man in the suit made a gesture, like a conductor motioning to an orchestra, and the broken shards of metal floated upward and shot like bullets at the other man’s eyes, which started to glow like deep sapphires. The shards coalesced, suddenly liquid, into a ball, and fell to the ground without hitting their target. The ball rolled harmlessly into the gutter.

Peter tried to edge away backwards, as slowly as he could, but this was noticed. He turned and broke into a run, but tripped after only a few steps, landing flat on his face.

‘Okay.’ He knew he wasn’t going to escape. ‘What do you want?’ He stifled a grunt as he hauled himself up, sitting up on the edge of the pavement.

‘I want to know why you’re here.’ The cloaked man spoke again.

Peter could barely believe what was going on. ‘I told you, I’m not working for anyone. I wanted to walk.’ He groaned and rubbed his forehead with the fingertips of his left hand. ‘I didn’t know that was wrong,’ he added.

The man in the suit stepped forward. ‘It isn’t. You can walk where you like.’

‘You’re lying,’ said the man in the cloak. ‘You came to help. You came as backup.’ He then lifted Peter off the ground with the same invisible force as before, but much more violently; in his effort to fight it, he wet himself. He didn’t feel any shame. All he felt was fury, fear, and determination not to die.

‘Don’t be so stupid!’ The man in the suit yelled, trying frantically to release Peter but getting nowhere. The force suspending Peter in the air was becoming more and more powerful with each passing moment: soon his chest would be crushed, and the breath of life would literally be squeezed out of him. He started to feel it falter as the man in the suit tried to break the bond, but it kept redoubling until, eventually, Peter lost consciousness.

The was no way to tell how much time had passed, but eventually he awoke. It took him a few moments to realize, but his chest no longer felt like it was going to implode. The room he was in had almost no distinguishing features other than being brown: the walls were covered in well-worn wooden panels, as was the floor; the ceiling looked like earth, or maybe some kind of brown plaster; it looked raw, unpainted. Natural.

He slowly lifted himself off the bed, and in doing so realized he wasn’t wearing the clothes he had been, but was dressed in white pyjamas. The cloth looked rougher than it felt. By the heavy-looking iron-barred wooden door was a small table, which looked like the same kind of dark wood. Opposite the door was a fireplace, which was keeping the room warm and lit. Everything was the same shade of dark brown, which made Peter think that everything here must be centuries old.

On rubbing his face, he was brought up short by the stubble that had grown. He must have been unconscious for a number of days. He experienced a brief pain in his stomach which he recognized as intense hunger, which reinforced this suspicion.

There were slippers by the bed. He put them on and opened the door to peer into the world beyond. Outside looked much like inside, with the wooden walls and floors and earth ceilings. It was a wide corridor, slightly curved so that the room Peter had been in was on the outside, and the wall of the room looked slightly concave from the outside.

He wondered where he was. He hadn’t ever seen or heard of any place like this. He might have wondered if he had been kidnapped, but if he had, why would his captors have put him in clean pyjamas and made him feel safe, in a bedroom of his own – with a door that hadn’t even been locked?

From the other rooms nearby, there was a low ambience of background noise issuing, which sounded like muffled speech. Peter’s impression of the place was that it was very monastic, judging by the colours and the layout of the corridor and rooms, and the generally subdued feeling that being here seemed to impart.

‘Hello…?’ He looked up and down, wondering if it would be a
faux pas
for him to speak loudly.

‘Hello.’ Someone was walking toward him from the right. It was the man in the black suit. He led Peter back into the small room, closed the door, and they sat down on the bed. ‘Welcome to the Guild. You were badly injured, and those kinds of injuries are beyond the normal medical profession.’

‘The Guild,’ Peter repeated. ‘Guild of what? What is it you do?’

‘All in good time. How are you feeling?’ The man sat calmly, with his hands on his knees, as Peter stood up again and walked slowly in a small circle near the door.

‘Better than… whenever it was. How long was I…’

‘Four days. You were unconscious for four days, you healed very fast.’

‘What did I heal from?’

‘A broken heart. The other person, who was attacking you, had broken your heart, literally, into pieces.’ Peter stood still, shocked, and felt himself pale. The man continued. ‘When you passed out I dispatched the person who had done it and brought you here.’

Peter sat down on the floor, with his head in his hands, for a long moment. Broken his heart into pieces? That didn’t even sound possible, especially when the heart was a soft piece of flesh, and when his attacker didn’t have a weapon to tear or cut it with. When he felt able to again, he spoke. ‘So who are you?’

‘My name is Eric. I work for the Guild.’

The Guild. Everything so far seemed to be revolving around it, whatever it was. Peter stood up again, shakily, and offered Eric his hand to shake.

BOOK: Journeyman: The Force of the Gods: Part I
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