Authors: Isaac Hooke
The Forever Gate
Copyright © 20
Lars Von Luk
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously.
Hoodwink stared at the sword that would take his head tonight.
The weapon was sealed away in a glass case for all to see, set there to remind the particular occupants of this section of jail what their short futures held. It was a simple sword of dual-edged copper, with a blunt point. The jailer had taken the blade to the whetstone this very morning, and those edges gleamed in brutal anticipation. Scenes of agonized victims and delighted torturers etched its surface. The blade seemed rusted in places, perhaps from years of bloodletting. But copper didn't rust, so those dark brown marks had to be something else. Maybe stains from the headless men who'd shit themselves.
Hoodwink fingered the metallic collar around his neck. If he didn't have that bronze bitch on he would've broken down the jail cell with a bolt of lightning, taken the sword, and cut his way out of here in a storm of electrical glory.
The torchlight flickered and a draft of cold air kissed his neck. The touch brought him back to the present, where, outside the bars, Briar had been blabbing the whole time.
"Are you listening to me?" Briar said.
Hoodwink nodded. "Listening for all I'm worth, I am." The long vertical bars embedded in the stone made Briar look thinner, somehow. Or maybe it was the rich, patterned silks he'd recently started wearing. Hoodwink recalled a time not too long ago when Briar had been the one in jail, and Hoodwink the one on the outside. Briar sure wasn't dressed in silks back then.
"Look," Briar said. "I've got the whoremongers lined up. Clerks, witnesses, and so on and so forth. Damn shame the judge is a gol though. He would have been the first to bribe. Ah well, just have to pay someone else to take the fall. You know how it is. So many poor folk in this town. Do anything to support their families. Even die." He winked conspiratorially.
Hoodwink squeezed his fingers tighter around the bars. "No."
Briar knotted his brow. "What did you say?"
"No." Hoodwink straightened his back, and stared the man down. "The only one who's taking the fall is me. You'll bribe no one, you won't." He had to protect her, no matter what.
"Oh please, don't you give me that holier-than-thou bullshit," Briar's face flushed scarlet. "This is hardly the time. It's your life we're talking about here."
"There's too many witnesses. They all saw me."
Briar threw up his hands. "They can be silenced. You know that. Each and every last one of them. And if they won't take the bribes..."
Hoodwink shook his head. "I don't want your help. Don't want no one's help. I don't. I'll take the blame for my actions." For
Briar shook his head, and his jowls trembled. His collar was almost buried in folds of neck fat. "You've gone mad then, haven't ye?" Those eyes widened in mock surprise. "He's gone mad."
Hoodwink nodded at Briar's throat. "You really ought to get that resized sometime."
"What," Briar said. "The bronze bitch?"
"No. Your neck." Normally he wouldn't insult Briar like that, but he just wanted him to go.
The simple-looking jailer came up. He wore black pants and a black vest over a white shirt. The middle of the shirt was stamped with the blood palm of his profession. He looked like a real person, as most gols did. Sometimes when you talked to them you could almost believe they
real, if you kept things light, superficial. But engage in any deeper conversation and you routed them out. Gols, the mindless working class of the city-state.
The jailer nodded at Briar. "Visiting hours are up, krub." He wiped drool from his mouth with one sleeve. You would have never seen a gol doing something like that five years ago. The gols were really degenerating these days.
"I heard you, gol," Briar said. "Jobe is it?"
The gol nodded. "My name is Jobe. Now get you to the surface, krub."
Briar smiled ironically, and glanced at Hoodwink. "Until later, then. Hopefully a few more hours in the asshole of the world will blast some sense into you."
Briar retrieved his fleece from the coat rack outside the cell, and ambled away down the torchlit tunnel. Hoodwink was suddenly aware of other eyes watching from the dark of nearby cells. Briar seemed oblivious, concerned only with moving his bulk up the tunnel. The man paused beside the display case that held the sword, and he shook his head, muttering something.
"Briar," Hoodwink said.
The man looked back.
Hoodwink almost didn't ask. He didn't want the other prisoners to hear. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he said, "Say sorry to Cora for me."
Briar frowned, and he turned away. In moments he was a featureless silhouette among the shadows.
Hoodwink felt the jailer's eyes on him.
"What are you looking at gol?" He pulled the neck of his jail-issue robe tight. His upper chest was blistered from the morning's flames.
Jobe didn't blink. "I am on guard duty, krub."
Hoodwink scrunched up his face. "Don't you have something better to do than stare at me all day?"
"I am on guard duty, krub." Spoken exactly the same way. Jobe unexpectedly clouted the bars with his baton.
Hoodwink leapt back.
Jobe broke into a stupid grin, and moaned mindlessly.
Hoodwink limped over to the cell's only mat. "Damn gols." They really
Not only was Hoodwink's chest badly burned, but he'd hurt his ankle something nasty this morning during the capture. He'd given the Gate guards quite the chase, that's for sure. If he hadn't stopped to roll in the snow and douse the flames on his person, he might've made it.
Lying on the mat, he lifted one hand to his face. The guttering torches whipped shadows across his knuckles. He made a fist. He could almost feel the electricity within, the power that was shielded away by the collar at his neck. If only he could get the damn thing off. For the ten-thousandth time in his life, he brought his hands to his neck and squeezed his fingers beneath the rim, digging into the flesh of his throat, and pulled. He clenched his teeth and fought against the bronze, but the metal didn't yield.
He gave up. It was impossible. In a contest between flesh and bronze, bronze always won.
The gols had bitched him when he was fifteen, just when he'd started to develop his powers, like all the other humans who came of age. Bitched for twenty years.
"Your trial is tonight?" Jobe said. "Ahead of the murderers? Rapists? What did you do?"
Hoodwink ignored the gol, who was
staring at him.
Jobe wiped a batch of slobber from his lips. "Tonight your head goes bounce-bounce."
Hoodwink blinked, and a smile flitted across his face.
They'd have to break through the collar to make his head go bounce-bounce.
Hoodwink sat behind a desk at the front of the courthouse, his back to the stands. He was shivering from the cold, and nervousness, and the shackles around his hands rattled quietly. One word repeated again and again in his mind. Lightning lightning lightning. Lightning lightning lightning. LIGHTNING.
Behind him, the courthouse was packed. He'd been stunned by the sheer number of people who'd turned out to watch his public trial and execution. He didn't think he was that important. And he wasn't. The fact was, he hadn't been to an execution in a long time, and he'd simply forgotten what a draw the bloodsport could be. It seemed somehow fitting that the last execution he'd attend would be his own.
"This court has heard the witnesses." The judge wore an ermineskin cloak over a black gown that was stamped with the red gavel of his profession. The long white curls of a wig spilled over his forehead and down his back. He was one of the most lucid gols Hoodwink had conversed with in months. "The evidence is overwhelming. You have been placed by multiple observers at the scene, and caught committing the most horrendous act of terrorism this city has known in years. What do you have to say to all of this, krub Hoodwink Cooper?"
That I'm glad
, he thought.
So damn glad none of them saw her.
Instead: "I'm guilty, oh honorable gol." Hoodwink's breath misted.
Murmurs rippled through the crowd.
The judge eyed him critically. "So you admit that you attacked the Forever Gate?"
"I thoroughly admit this, your honor."
"That you defied our most ancient and sacred law?"
"Defied? Defiled might be a better word. Raped in the arse." Hoodwink shot the audience the biggest shit-eating grin he could manage. One old woman gasped.
The judge slammed his gavel onto the sounding block of his desk, and Hoodwinked jumped, actually jumped. That thud had a certain finality to it. An end of ends.
The judge leaned forward in his chair. "Do you admit to belonging to the terror organization known as the Users?"
"I do." He nodded toward the envelope on the desk in front of him. "You'll find a full confession in there. Along with names." All fake, of course. He didn't even know a single User. But he had to play this out to the end. Had to protect her, and to hell with this sham of a trial.
The judge lifted an eyebrow. "Then I will pronounce sentence. For the attack on this city's most important asset, and for the countless gol lives lost, I sentence you to immediate death by beheading."
"Thank you your honor." Hoodwink gave the onlookers a flourishing bow.
"He's mad!" Someone in the audience.
Hoodwink cocked his head. "Mad? You're the collared. It's
who are mad, I say!" If they didn't believe he belonged to the Users before, they would now. The Users were the biggest advocates of an uncollared society. At least their graffiti implied as much.
"You're collared too buddy!" came the audience repartee.
Two guards restrained him. As if he could run anywhere with his arms and legs shackled. Both guards had swords belted to their waists, and one guard was an obvious gol, with the sword-and-shield symbol stamped into his breastplate. The other was collared, and his plate was free of markings. That seemed an odd dichotomy to Hoodwink—to be collared and free at the same time.
Hoodwink decided to play up his terrorist role. He was rather enjoying this. He looked at the collared guard like a judge. "You'd help kill someone who only wants the same thing as you? Someone who wants to be free?"
The guard elbowed Hoodwink in the ribs. "Keep silent gutter scum!"
The outer door near the judge's desk abruptly flung open, and three gols wheeled a guillotine in from the cold. Hoodwink's heart sank when he saw it. He'd hoped the snowdrifts were too deep to convey the thing from its storehouse, and that the executioner's sword would be favored instead. Flakes of snow followed the death device inside. Hoodwink shivered. And not from the cold.
One of the gols slammed the door behind him, shutting out the storm, and then the trio wheeled the guillotine forward, bringing it between the judge's stand and Hoodwink.
The crowd broke into a chant. "Behead! Behead! Behead!"
As the guards escorted him to the guillotine, Hoodwink noticed the various scenes of decapitation imprinted on the blade. Severed heads with eyes and tongues sticking out in over-dramatization. Headless bodies pumping blood. The inscription brought a fresh shiver: "Through me pass into the city of woe."