Thursday, April 1, 2021

Enjoy Sole Survivor: The Story of Kaza of Theseus!

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This novel is the immediate sequel to Book One of Melody and the Pier to Forever. In other words, this is the book you read immediately after Book One, not Book Two. I know it's confusing, but hey. It's just the way this story goes.

This is a very popular story with those who have read the series thus far. But it is very dark, and very violent, and does what most fantasy authors refuse to do with their stories: it actually visits the violence and evil done by the villain and watches it for more than a chapter or two.

Kaza was conceived a full three years before I started writing him in earnest. When I completed him, I decided that Melody would eventually have a host of these side stories: tales of other heroes who wouldn't be given just consideration were I simply to concentrate on the main story arc. That didn't seem fair to me, and it didn't seem I would be doing the world of Aquanus any favors, either. It's a world that deserves to be described as fully as possible through the eyes of those heroes.

I've always loved stories that take no one for granted. There are no "secondary" or "tertiary" characters in Melody's world. I don't write that way, and I don't respect writers who treat their characters in such a cold and inhumane fashion.


>>Table of Contents<<


And from the wreckage I shall arise
Cast the ashes back in their eyes
See the Fire, I will defend
Just keep on burning right to the end



The following events have been verified by
His Excellency Luis R. Arroyo, Most Senior Healer, Commander, Sentinel Phantasme,
Saeire Insu



A DEMON was eating his sister.
It had lifted her thrashing, screaming form off the wooden floor of the living room and, like a drumstick, sank its huge fangs into the soft flesh of her midsection.
“KAZAAAAA-A-A!” she shrieked. “OH GOD—!”
Kaza stood frozen. He couldn’t seem to get his legs to move; he couldn’t avert his eyes from the unspeakable sight. Lesa shrieked and gurgled and then fell silent as the demon rumbled in sickening satisfaction, digging in deeper. She twitched one last time, and from her bloodied person a small green glass jewel flew, skipped to a stop at his feet. Kaza, who was peering around the hallway corner, bent to pick it up the same moment the demon noticed him—
—no, the object. The beast indifferently dropped his sister’s lifeless body to the floor, and with a vile rictus covered in her blood, tatters of clothing, and innards spewed, “SS-R’ACKCK LEES PFVOR! ASĒ! ASĒ!” It advanced on him—
He didn’t think to simply drop the object—which, if his singular terror had allowed, he would’ve noticed was very cold, like a cube of ice, and shaped like a lens—but pocketed it and, his mind white with the primal urge to survive, flew into his small bedroom at a dead run. It wasn’t to hide: he spied the curtained window in the last tenth of a second before he dove through it. The glass bit into his flesh an instant before gravity claimed him; he careened shoulder blade first to the slanted roof, tumbling, then over, spinning helplessly in mid-air to the earth ten feet below, where he bounced hard half on his back, half on his side, the wind knocked out of him. He didn’t feel the glass embedded in his shoulder and arms—or the cracked rib in his chest—or that his pinkie was bent at a perverse angle—or that a cluster of serrated thorns from the vine of a s’memine fruit bush stabbed into the base of his skull—or that he had bitten through his tongue and that his mouth was full of warm blood. He came to his knees, sucking wind in desperate, insufficient gasps, then to his feet, where he spun in place, casting about.
Half the house was aflame—where were Mom and Dad?—the barn, too … In the distance—Look up! Look up!—dark freakish monsters stalked about, or circled overhead with huge batlike wings, screeching hideously. There were men as well: armored men, the brass-colored metal of their shields etched with a symbol—a broadsword thrust down through a flaming ring. They were sweeping through the farm, setting fire to everything. One noticed him, shouted, pointed—
Lesa’s killer suddenly burst through the back door, wood and glass flying everywhere—
“UCC’C-KRSI!” the demon bellowed, pointing at him. “KRSI SSE!”
More had seen him. He was very rapidly being surrounded—
He turned and bolted away. He could hear shouts, orders being given. He heard in very clear Thesean: “Kill him!”
Arrows zipped over his head, very close. He sprinted, zigzagging, for the high trees at the edge of the farm’s property.
He stood no chance. The trees were too far away. Through a barren, exposed field he ran … the winged beings were diving for him … he had seconds to live …
He didn’t see the half-buried log and tripped over it, falling forward into a shallow mud-filled cart track. The object Lesa had thrown to him in her last moment of life shot out of his pocket up by his head. He grabbed frantically for it, encasing it in wet dirt; he flipped over onto his back as the first winged monster swooped hungrily in on him, its shadow snuffing out the daylight. Without thinking he held up the object between them and shouted, “GO AWAY!”
As the monster descended, its bloody talons reaching for his flesh, the object got abruptly much colder. Green light flashed—
Kaza bellowed, turned his head, closed his eyes—
—a heavy thump! just next to him—dirt falling over him—an eardrum-splitting screech. He opened his eyes, looked—
A thousand pounds of winged black demon flopped in the center of a respectable crater just a couple arm lengths away. One of its wings was broken. By some miracle it had missed him—
He scrambled to his feet and ran, his ears ringing. An arrow buried itself in the earth just next to him—the trees were seconds away—another arrow, then another—he made the forest just as another screech sounded directly above him: a white flash: a loud crash—
A demon fell on him, along with several large branches and thousands of leaves. Kaza, dazed, his entire person throbbing with pain and shock, struggled, screaming, to pull himself out from under it … The monster was injured and bloodied … Blood covered him: sulfuric, hot, rotten, greasy, puke-green … its slickness helped him pull free … He stood just as the beast focused on him with yellow cat’s eyes, slashed at him with wicked claws. It was the abomination that had killed Lesa. Shreds of her clothing still hung from its slack jaws. He ducked, tripped and fell backward—
He had stumbled on the beast’s broadsword. Without thinking he grasped the hilt with two hands—he had to grasp it so, it was massive—and, wrenching it from under a splintered branch, lifted and swung it over his head, aiming. The damn thing had to weigh what he did, but it didn’t seem to matter to the adrenaline pulsing through him; the blade swished through the air and into the meat of the monster’s neck, where it stuck halfway. The demon slashed again for him just as the blade halted. It gurgled richly, grasping for the sword instead of him, thick green blood spouting from the wound, covering the blade. He turned to run.
Men. They were in that same evil armor, combing through the trees just a short distance away. Several looked right at him—he ducked—but then they went on milling about as though they hadn’t seen him. He thought that he should hide here, in these woods, but … where—?
The monster gave a huge rich cough and keeled over. He scrambled away on his hands and knees as the soldiers made quickly for it, shouting….
He held up for several seconds under scrub brush surrounding another tree. The soldiers were inspecting the demon’s massive corpse; several flashed into gulls; one flew right over him—he was sure it had spied him—but it just kept flying, just as though he was invisible … He needed to catch his breath—no time!—his ribs twinged agony with even the slightest intake of air … Bending over, holding himself, he tore out of the brush for the large irrigation canal bordering the farm. The ditch was flanked by a wide road—way too wide! He held up, glancing around, before making for the sluggish water at a hard limping sprint.
The canal was full. Ignoring the pain shooting through his entire body with every step, he dove into the frigid water, surfacing several seconds later. He allowed only his face to come up, holding himself vertical to its insistent flow. The canal was deep—at least three times his height when it was full like this—but he was a superb swimmer. He hadn’t planned this escape; it was as though something inside him had known exactly what to do, and now all he had to do was disappear underneath the surface should he spy more soldiers or demons.
Maybe not. Because he was already very close to outright fatigue. He knew he would have to rest, catch his breath, and soon, or he would drown.
Soldiers stood at the ditch’s edge, just past an upcoming bend, guarding a long line of children.  The soldiers were … drowning them. One by one. Children Kaza knew, children from the bordering farms (where were their parents?). A pair of soldiers held them under until their small forms stopped thrashing … The kids were waiting their turn, crying in helpless horror … Other soldiers nearby were leisurely washing their bloodied weapons … two or three were swimming upstream, their armor and weapons piled on the far bank. They were laughing and splashing each other….
Kaza gagged, sucking in a mouthful of cold water. He sank beneath the surface coughing, his lungs emptying themselves in a single burst of bubbles which rose placidly to the surface. The men were just ten or so body lengths away….
In the frigid, flowing, wet blackness, as he struggled to keep from coughing again, and as the want for air became the single point of concern for his mind and body, he could hear a child—a little girl—cry for her mother as she thrashed in the ditch water. She and her killers were just above and to the left of him now; he could hear the ghastly muted counterpoint laughter of the swimming men; he passed just next to them, grateful beyond words that they didn’t see him. He could just make out their legs and feet, kicking in time to keep them afloat and stationary against the current … He was close to drowning, could feel his lungs buckling, his mind blackening like the inky murkiness swirling around him … He would have to surface now or die …
He came up as slowly and as far away from the grisly scene as he could. At the surface it took everything in his person to keep from loudly gasping and coughing. He disconnectedly considered suicide, how he could end his own life before the men got to him, before the demons did…. The unspeakable image of Lesa crying out for him as the demon bit into her was indelible, unforgettable….
But, somehow, no one noticed him. Gulls and pigeons passed overhead in regular intervals; so too demons. Surely he was visible from the sky!
Something hard bumped into his head.
He submerged so fast that his face barely made a ripple as he went under, his heart hammering in his chest. The thing had latched onto him; he twisted violently to push it away. It was substantial, heavy, like a log … it was floating free … pink … and brown …
A little girl.
She floated face down in the current, her long brown hair almost lovely as it drifted around her face. He very cautiously surfaced and carefully turned her over, a constant eye on the banks, on the skies. He looked to see who it was, if he knew her.
He didn’t recognize her. Her pretty visage was almost serene in death, her nose bleeding clear canal water. Her clothing had snagged weeds and reeds from the water’s edge. She couldn’t have been more than three Aquanian-years old. He couldn’t help it; tears stung his eyes at the same time a helpless rage surged through him. He, like so many of his countrymen, had listened to the Thesean government’s many assurances that rumors of an imminent invasion were baseless. His father—My God, I hope he’s all right!—had friends in Puowbalpom, the capital, officials of the government who insisted that all reports of an invasion were nonsense. His father had trusted them, and so Kaza had trusted them …
The little girl was sinking. He let her go, wondering how many other bodies were floating in the water with him.
The canal, he soon discovered, was choked with them. Men, women, children, even animals. Many were bloodied; many more were missing heads, arms, limbs. Countless were burned, more often than not beyond recognition. And furniture: rocking chairs, table legs, utensils, drapes. As he floated farther and farther downstream, the water’s murky blackness changed slowly to blood-red. At one point, exhausted, he eased himself to the bank, to an outcropping of small round rocks. He grabbed one. It was a head. The outcropping was comprised entirely of human bodies. He almost let go, but his exhaustion won the day; he hung on to the soft skulls and hair and submerged, rubbery shoulders and legs and torn, clinging clothing as he fought for energy, for the tattered threads of will to continue on. The current here was insistent; the bloody water gurgled richly as it swirled around him. He kept as much of his head under as he could; he brought his nose above the surface only when the need for air became urgent. He breathed in as deeply as possible as quickly as possible before sinking low again. When he thought he had recovered enough to let go, even for just a little bit, he did so, floating away from the submerged massacre, his tears feeding the stream.
The canal widened and shallowed as it wound its way towards the capital city coming into view beyond a low, barren range of rocky foothills. Blind terror had compressed time: Puowbalpom was hours away by horse, but only minutes seemed to have passed since he dove into the ditch. He was surprised to be astounded by such a trivial fact.
The city was burning. There were many more soldiers here, at its outskirts, many more demons. Birds of seemingly every kind flew overhead with alarming military regularity; the black-winged monsters, too. He marveled that he hadn’t been spotted. But the bodies floating downstream with him were ghastly in number; perhaps their patrolling killers saw nothing but bodies, reckoning them all to be dead. It seemed perverse to him that he felt intense gratitude that this was so. The genocide’s sheer volume was protecting him.
The canal was widening, the gory current picking up speed. At points his feet scraped bottom; several times his knees knocked painfully against submerged rocks (what he hoped were rocks). The current tossed him mercilessly about. Without regard to how it had to appear from above, he tried floating on his back. He knew he would have to leave the ditch before it made it into the city—but … where? The hiding spots sliding past his watery vantage point were all wholly inadequate.
Up ahead another bend came into view, a sharp one. The channel narrowed considerably at that point, calming the water. A grove of trees hung over the ditch along the right bank just where it angled out of sight. He could rest there for a bit while he considered his options, knowing full well he was only kidding himself. He had none.
It was very difficult getting to the bank. He had to navigate through more floating bodies, all of whom he had no idea were next to him until just then, kicking and stroking furiously between and over them. He reached a barely submerged, slick tree root, grabbing it and hanging on for dear life. He crawled along it, fighting the sucking current all the way, until he could put his feet down under him.
No bodies here … He waded ashore on his hands and knees, wheezing, spitting out bloody water….
No. Even here in these peaceful shadows there was death. An old man lay partially covered in heavy foliage, twisted half on his side, his legs submerged up to his knees. He appeared to have gotten stuck in the roots. Kaza spied a dry spot not far from him and was making for it, trembling with cold, when he heard him groan.

Chapter Two