Short Story: Liberty’s Fist

Liberty occupied a bench in the village square, staring forward. Her vantage gave her views over the assembled crowd, their pumping fists. She need not hear their shouts or chants, they were etched on the air, implicit to every breath. Her face meanwhile, was empty, expressionless: mind still spun from the goings-on.

The gallows had been oiled in preparation, the rope made new and fast around the girl’s neck.

Couldn’t have been more than thirteen, Liberty knew. Soot and grime-tattered clothing said she’d hung in a cell far too long. Poverty was smeared across her face. Suffering stamped in her downcast eyes.

It will finally be over.

That’s what she would be telling herself, Liberty knew. To make it easier. A life of suffering, of anguish, of nothingness, would finally end. They’d no longer blame her for their ills. She, in turn, would no longer suffer for those she neither knew nor understood.

At last, there would be no more pain. At last there would be peace.

Liberty grit her teeth; the Alderman himself, Chief Village-Bastard had come to read the proclamation. Even across the square, sleaze oozed off him like every whore-monger for power. She might as well be beside him for all his tainted corruption on the air.

His voice boomed from his man-sized blowhole with only the slightest hint of joviality, “By order of the power vested in me by his majesty the Emperor Keylon of Ardania, I hereby sentence you to death by hanging for the crimes of witchcraft and sorcery, harboring of seditious dissent, and the daily-theft of bread from the bazaar. You are hereby ordered to hang from the neck until dead. Have you any words in your defense?”

She didn’t breathe.

Liberty felt a tooth chip from her jaw grinding tension. The sick bastard was taking his time, enjoying it. He was drawing out the silence to revel, she could take it no longer.

A flash erupted in the sky over the gallows. The hangman and his master froze, aghast. The crowd hissed terror. Each man, woman, and child, froze. The flash resolved from a blinding orb into a light shaped so bright it stole the sky from the sun. Its form was that of a woman, decidedly more fearsome than any villager had seen. She was both beautiful and terrifying; her body muscled as befit a woman of war and strength, brutality and murder. Her face was marked, but too opaque: the longer one stared to make out its shape, the more they saw only swirling details in a sea of beautiful faces themselves.

Liberty rose slowly to her feet.

A voice of terrifying resonance shook the very Earth beneath the village, “Cut her down at once or face the wrath of your Gods!”

The quaking threatened to tear the Earth asunder.

More figures took residence around the square, echoing the first’s final words. Three were women, their voices from the middle and upper registers of an unabridged disharmony over the male bass and baritone. Each was a striking specimen of Human perfection. Each, like the first, bore some weapon denoting their skill in battle; bow, spear, shield, axe, staff. Each too, were dressed in thick hides infused and trimmed as with metal-scales and materials of undeniable strength.

A pause fell about about the square; a moment of hesitation in which the assembled Human minds fought to grasp the proceedings. Then, the hangman drew a knife, and took a step to cut the rope. His master cupped his bicep roughly.

“Heresy! Witch! You conjure this with your dark magicks.” The girl looked as if already dead.

“You dare defy us!?” The Gods roared with a grating dissonance. The girl remained still.

“Vile tricks. Fiendish. Foolish girl.”

Liberty lifted her hood, her face hidden but for her snarling mouth. A rip in the air left a wave of light that disintegrated in a blink.

A hooded figure appeared on the gallows behind the Alderman, still frozen in place, impotently raging to recapture the crowd. A collective gasp told him he was losing them still. The figure pivoted an arm around his throat. The girl stirred. The Alderman was silent, eyes widened and mouth gaping. The figure dropped him as so much refuse; blood draining from his neck while the crowd’s panic erupted.

Liberty was across the Gallows, hood threatening to fall. The Hangman raced her. The Gods screamed terrifying commands that threatened to tear the Earth with their resonance. Liberty couldn’t care less. She was only steps away.

The Hangman won, reached the lever. Liberty leapt, one arm outstretched. The Hangman threw the lever. The floor dropped, rope tightened. The girl’s eyes met Liberty’s: terror and betrayal, newly-found and dashed hopes, all within.

Liberty collided with the girl mid-air. The rope pulled taught. Her blade sliced. In a blink, the warp of air and light appeared and disappeared. The Gods roared fury. Explosions rocked the distance. The crowd stampeded in terror.

Liberty landed outside the village, just on the edge of the forest, wind knocked from her lungs. The girl choked likewise beneath her, fingers grappling the tightened noose and wrestling it away. Liberty, breathless, quickly regained her footing. She bolted, pulling the girl up, off into the woods.

They ran until the girl’s adrenaline could no longer support her. Liberty stopped only at a cry to find she’d drug her several feet. She panted an apology and examined her for any serious injuries.

When they’d finally regained their wits, Liberty explained, “If you’re to be branded a witch, you’re to be raised as one.”

The girl’s doe-eyes, until now hidden by circumstance rose to meet hers, “I… I don’t understand. I’m not a–”

Liberty knelt beside the girl, hand on her shoulder, “You will be.”

She clearly did not understand, etched as it was in the pain on her face, the utterly confused hopelessness.

Liberty’s eyes softened, “What is your name, child?”

“Meuz,” she said shyly.

Muse,” Liberty muttered under her breath. “Meuz, I am Liberty–”

Dogs howled not far enough off. Panic was still going strong, but the Alderman had been murdered. Whether by Gods or man, the village was in a turmoil that wouldn’t end any time soon. In retribution, any strangers would be rounded up as scapegoats– rightful or not. The smoke drifting toward them demanded it.

Liberty helped Meuz to her feet once more, the pair reinvigorated by their sudden, encroaching reality. “We must go, but know this, your journey has yet to begin. Should you ever return here, these louts will know the Witch Meuz’s power like that of the Gods they’ve denied.”

“But why, Liberty? How?” She pled.

“Because the Universe demands it.”

Short Story: The Treatises

And on that day, the skies thundered and the Empires’ death-machines soared overhead. And on that day, came rest to millions; dead. And on that day, the post-Human dream; bled. And on that day, arose a great evil incarnate from its bed.

Man, but not man. Human, but inhuman.

But too, on that day, was born something greater; a seed tempered in fire. Though lain dormant in the cold despair that followed, it awaited only a spark to ignite.

And so, it did.

She held it as if precious, but sentimentally so. Its covers were worn, but for certain, it was the fabled Treatises on the Empires’ Rise. A collection of so-called “heretical” works outlining the laborious details of the rise and fall of previous civilizations, their way-paving for the Empires’ rise.

The last, true-history book known to Human-kind. Likely, the last printed or distributed before the Empires’ rise, it was beyond myth. Afterward, information was too closely-guarded and censured for any truth to be printed or distributed. Since then, things had only gotten worse.

A lot worse.

Myna knew Humans could adapt to adversity, it was the only reason she– or they– were alive. It was as simple a principle to her as stepping over a fallen, petrified limb blocking one’s path. It was an inevitability. Yet, nothing had prepared her for this. She’d only been on the scavenging run two days now.

Over the century, people’d been working themselves ever outward from the Empire’s main settlements. They trickled out, thronging this way and that like water through weakened stone. Smaller villages and settlements were appearing here and there, but nothing substantial enough to be permanent in the way the Empires seemed to be.

That was important; so close, yet so far.

Treatises was a direct contradiction that the Empires had been formed as believed. History went that the Empires came of lands once in chaos and madness, to aid in bringing them order. After civil wars tore the world apart, there was little more that could be done than try to rein in the madness.

No-one was sure what had really happened anymore, so far as Myna knew. She doubted even the Emperors knew what really happened. What’d it matter anyhow? The damage was done, the past, past. All she or anyone else knew was what lay ahead.

Now, what lay ahead was utterly shrouded in mystery.

The book had already decided that. She wasn’t sure how she’d first heard of it, but she knew from whom. That fact alone caused her to wrap it in a fur pelt she’d been working with after dinners and before sleep. It would keep the book safe from the elements while she decided what to do with it.

She spent the night meditating on what she knew of Treatisesand roasting the day’s large hunt. She’d have to start rationing soon with the land as petrified as it was. The game,disappearing with it, was thin as it was. It would only get worse. Soon, she’d reach the barren lands.

Her mind wandered, inexorably drawn to the book’s mystery: Myna first heard of Treatises as a child. Her mother and uncle were arguing about something.

“It doesn’t exist, Turel. This is an obsession!” Her mother hissed in angry hush.

“Treatises does exist, I have the proof!” Turel argued, thrusting something in a hand at her mother.

Myna remembered little else, save that her mother tore the object from his hand and immediately cast it into the fire-pit. He’d wailed something angrily as the page formed ash, then stormed away.

Myna couldn’t recall the last time she saw her uncle, but she knew it was sometime around then. He went missing not long after, and although Myna’s mother assured her he was fine, had never returned.

Through the years, there were times when her mother would stare blank-faced into the fire, hypnotized by it. It was different than the usual hypnosis of a full meal, or sickness, or fatigue. It was deeper, pained, as if guilt seized her.

Myna was determined not to wile away her days in that same despair.

She broke camp for the outer regions the next morning, managing to procure more game than she should rightfully have found. A day and night thereafter, she returned home with little more than a few, old-world trinkets barely enough for a week’s bread. Next time, she would have to choose a better direction.

Until then, she was preoccupied.

She stood beneath the hanging candelabras forming the poor-man’s chandelier over IzKie’s table. The woman had evidently not expected her back yet, else-wise Myna doubted she’d have found her in such a state. Papers and books were always strewn across every surface– of which there were an inordinate amount in IzKie’s home, but never before had Myna seen her table so piled.

Usually, it was set for tea, dinner, or any of the number of activities the two had planned.

All of it would have been frightening to an average person, so much so-called seditious materials, but IzKie was authorized them. Apart from making her incalculably smart, it also made her a pariah among most villagers. Myna’s association put her on the fence herself. Even leaving her worse-off in negotiations at the bazaar, for fear too much haggling might kill a sale.

When trading for food and survival, that was unacceptable.

Yet Myna’d never have it another way. She admired IzKie too greatly, had learned to read by listening to her quote passages from memory while following along in silence.

But she had not opened Treatises.

It was dangerous. Not knowing what lay within, no matter its power, meant it could not be properly handled… but it was also dangerous to know. If only because it might make her disappear– like Turel.

IzKie offered her tea to soothe her aches after the recent journey. She accepted, but remained distant, speaking little.

IzKie noticed, her voice soft and sweet, “Are you unwell, Myna-bird?”

It took a moment to respond, IzKie’s words contending with a fog, “Hm? No… Yes. I’m… not sure.” IzKie’s walnut-dark eyes brightened in the excess light, turning to warmer woods. Myna could have lost herself in them, wanted to. Instead, she sighed and sipped tea, “I found something I can’t do anything with.”

“On your run, you mean,” IzKie assumed, settling into her listener’s-role; perfect-posture and pointed shoulders relaxed but disciplined, like Empire Guards at-ease.

For a moment, Myna hesitated; she loved IzKie. Probably more than she should. There was something intoxicating about her. As if her intelligence enthralled certain types, Myna’s most of all. Probably, Myna guessed, it was the intelligent ones themselves– or, those capable of it. Like how every had various uses, but only some made for proper bows or arrow-shafts.

But… how much about IzKie did she really know? Was it enough to trust her with this? Could IzKie disappear her? Would she lead someone else to? Or, would she disappear herself? Myna didn’t think she could handle that. She was too attached.

But, IzKie had appeared around the same time Turel disappeared. Was it coincidence or design?

Now IzKie was looking at her, watching her. Expectantly.

Myna reached into her pack. One of IzKie’s brows twitched, ready to rise, but held before it could. Drawing forth the fur-wrapped tome, Myna set it upon the table and began to unwrap the corners. IzKie’s eyes widened, then narrowed shrewdly; the left-one half-squinted as an archer’s mid-aim.

A powder cask lit behind them. They exploded to triple sizes, confirming Myna’s fears: she had procured what she believed. IzKie was up, shutting her windows and drapes, locking her doors and windows. It all happened so fast Myna was still trying to catch up when IzKie whirled and grabbed her shoulders.

“Whom have you told of this? Where did you get it? Who saw you? Does anyone know of this!?”

Myna was stunned, thrown for a loop, wishing to answer but spinning. IzKie’s bony fingers dug into her shoulders. Apart from hurting, it grounded her. She attempted to find her voice, seeing the walnut eyes now almost deep-black in the new darkness.

“I– I…”

“Speak, bird. Speak!”

“I told no-one,” she swore. “I hadn’t even opened the furs until now. I swear it, Iz! I swear it!”

IzKie straightened, slowly releasing her. She was swept away by a mental whim and began pacing the kitchen’s open length, swaying the racks of drying herbs with each passage. A long while of silence passed beneath the rhythmic tamp of IzKie’s feet. Then, on compulsion, Myna sighed desperately.

At that instant, IzKie appeared beside Myna, kneeling, “Myna-bird, you are my angel and Humanity’s redeemer. You know it not, yet, but I love you deeply and what you have found is a treasure for all.

“But I must go. And you must stay.” She began wrapping Treatises with the fur. “Keep it hidden and avail yourself of my home. Or if you desire, return to yours. I only ask that you do as you have done thus far and keep it hidden.”

“Where are–”

“No time, bird,” she said firmly, halting any further conversation. She wrapped herself in a light-cloak and draped a pack across her breast, immediately setting out. “I will return soon.”

She pecked Myna on the cheek as she bustled past and out the door, shutting it with speed. Myna sat, spinning again, this time from the kiss radiating along her cheek and IzKie’s hurried departure. Wherever she’d gone, Myna decided, wasn’t worth knowing. Not yet.

But a very real dread was inching along her spine, decidedly sourced in the book beside her. Already, she wished she’d never found the damned thing…