A worn warrior wobbles at his feet. The weight of penetrated arrows hunkers him down as his blood trickles through the feathers. A thousand spears shall thrust into him, but instead of fearing pain, a rush of thrill exhilarates him. For, it is not the death which readies him at a stance, but the process of prevailing the peril is what stamps a grin on his tired face. With a crazed look in his eye, he bravely accepts the challenge.
On a clear and cold morning over a thousand years ago in the great Cai Empire, the capital city of Cai greeted the early sun with a yawn and a stretch. City guards, dressed in hard rhinoceros hide and turtle shells, began opening the main gate to let in the long caravan of goods and royals. This caravan was ten times the normal amount, for today was Emperor Cai Rong’s birthday.
The road from the gate leading to the castle was wide enough to fit four large carriages and their envoys. Peasants and merchants lined the road and cheered for the royals who were shrouded in curtains made of silk. At the head of the caravan was General Ren Xiuying, the brother of the Emperor. Xiuying was on his large white horse that was dressed impressively from head to hoof. But not as impressive as his rider who don a full ornate copper armour with a sword at his hip.
Xiuying led the caravan to the steps of the castle which stood as tall as the smallest mountain and was covered in red, white, and gold. Since today was a special day, flags and streamers made of silk were hung everywhere. Xiuying was met with the 10 eunuch advisors at the base of the steps. “Welcome home, General Ren Xiuying,” they said in unison as they bowed to him.
“Fu Zan!” Xiuying called. “Where are you?”
One of the eunuchs stepped forward and bowed to Xiuying. “I am here, General. How may I serve you?”
Xiuying slapped Fu Zan’s shoulder and beamed his famous smile which was well-known to all women. “You eunuchs look so much like each other!” Xiuying laughed at his own jibe while the others chuckled along. “Tell my lazy brother that I have come home to see another white strand grow on his head!”
Xiuying laughed some more as he climbed the castle steps. Peasants and slaves unloaded the caravans, and the other royals started to climb the stairs as well.
The air of the grand banquet was filled with food and wine. The tables were stacked with roasted pig, cow, and at least five kinds of bird species. Each one of the guests was announced into the hall and was seated in their respective long tables.
The Empress, Ding Wuhan, and her son, Cai Shuren aged 13, sat at the main table on an elevated platform. One of the Emperor’s concubine, Gao Hong, was also seated at the main table. She was special since she too had the Emperor’s son, Gao Guo 13 as well, who was seated beside her. The Emperor’s five generals were seated beside the main table. Each one was accompanied by courtesans.
Courtesans danced around as everyone else settled in. After a while, they hushed as the Emperor was introduced in the hall. The Emperor was dressed in an ornate silk gown of pure red with a golden sun weaved into its centre.
“All hail the great Emperor!” The hall rumbled as the guests bowed and proclaimed in unison. “May he live for a thousand years!”
“Please.” The Emperor raised his hand ordering the guests to stand up. He picked up a goblet of wine, which was filled by one of the other concubines, with both his hands; his guests followed him as well.
“I have invited you here,” said the Emperor “to partake in this empire’s spoils. We have lived in harmony for 15 years not because of my rule but because of the people. I drink this for more bounty. Long live the Cai Dynasty! May we live for a thousand years!”
The guests responded in kind. “Long live the Cai Dynasty! May we live for a thousand years!”
They all drank their wines in one silent gulp and sighed contented. The Emperor raised his hands and proclaimed, “The night is young, and the barrels are full of wine! Drink and be merry!”
The entire hall laughed then suddenly went still when the sound of a goblet rattled across the floor. The Emperor clutched his chest and coughed up blood. He fell down face first as more blood spilt out of all his orifices.
The hall screamed into a frenzy. People were darting everywhere and trampling over each other. Xiuying, with all the experience of a war general, quickly ordered the guards to barricade the exits.
“No one leaves this hall!” He shouted. “The killer is still here, and until we find out who did it, no one will leave!”
“Oh! My Emperor!” Fu Zan cried as he collapsed near the corpse. “Who could have done this?! YOU!”
Fu Zan pointed at the concubine who poured the wine into the Emperor’s goblet. Xiuying’s drew his sword and pointed it at her neck.
“What did you do to my brother?” Xiuying’s eyes burned like a fireplace in winter.
“Please, General!” She wept and collapsed to the floor. “I would never do this to my beloved Emperor!”
“Hold your tongue, wench!” The Empress spat from her seat. “You have no right to call him beloved!”
Xiuying kneeled beside his brother. He could smell poison in the wine. “Why would they do this to you?”
He stood up and stripped the concubine till she was bare skinned. As her robes fell, he heard a soft thump hit the cobbled floor. He searched through the robes and found a small corked white vial.
“What is this?” Xiuying towered over the naked and trembling concubine.
“I have never seen that thing my entire life!” She sobbed even more.
Xiuying uncorked the vial and sniffed its contents. It was definitely poison. He grabbed his sword and swiftly dispatched her head off without a second thought.
“General!” Fu Zan exclaimed. “What’s the meaning of this?”
“She had the vial of poison in her robe. She must have poured it in while we weren’t looking. However, I do not think that this is the end.” He inspected the vial and saw the insignia of the royal chef. “Bring out the chef!”
The chef pleaded as well, saying that he’s never seen that vial nor the concubine in his life. His pleas fell on deaf ears as Xiuying sliced his head off as well.
“I highly doubt that these two were the masterminds,” Xiuying said. “We must protect the heirs of the throne! Guards! Escort the princes and their mothers to a room nearby, and do not let anyone near them.”
The guards did as they were ordered to and led the four away.
Fu Zan looked in disbelief at the general’s decision. “General. You sound so sure that one of the Emperor’s closest friends and allies would dare kill him!”
“And you, Fu Zan, sound so suspicious! Do you not fear for the lives of the heirs, or are you wishing for their death as well?”
Fu Zan bit his tongue and steered the conversation back to the Emperor. “The next in line would be Prince Cai Shuren. He’s young and still very inexperienced to rule. The logical idea would be to control Prince Cai Shuren from the shadows, so whoever is closest to him would be suspect.”
“Wait,” Xiuying thought. “The Empress and Concubine Gao Hong are with the heirs! Guards with me!”
The generals, the eunuchs, and a handful of guards ran to the room where the four were held. They were met with two dead guards by the door. Both of them looked like they had ingested the poison as well. Xiuying kicked the paper door down and saw the Empress and Concubine Hong poisoned on the floor. Their dresses were drenched in so much blood, and it looked like they were poisoned as soon as they settled in the room. What was worse was that the princes were nowhere to be found.
“The Emperor and the Empress are dead. The heirs have disappeared. We have a killer in the castle. Heavens help us.”
Part 2 coming next Wednesday
There’s a podcast I follow called Triforce! They talk about video games, comics, movies, TV shows, and everyday life. One of the hosts, Pyrion Flax, is a master in writing short stories, so he gave it a go and gave us Bodega. If you love gritty sci-fi adventures, you’ll love Bodega. Eventually, I wrote a fanfic of Bodega and sent a copy to the author himself. As you can see with our exchange below, he was extremely pleased. I originally posted this fanfic on two subreddits: here and here.
“BOH-DEH-GAH,” spewed the green insect humanoid to the squat, fluffy skinned, and trembling Hamsturian creature. The six long claws, extending off the Mantisian’s back, looked like spears forged by teranium-smiths from the fiery depths of Hell-Hole 7 (formally known as Zu’than Prison Planet, the 7th prison planet in the Shal’anor Prison Solar System). Two of the claws pierced the Hamsturian’s white petty coat, hanging him off the wall of a narrow alleyway, while the four others carefully poked the poor creature’s jugulars and temples. The Mantisian spread his mandibles open, revealing rows and rows of red fangs covered in dark callous liquid. He whispered again, this time so close to the Hamsturian’s ear he could feel the air vibrate. “HU EES BOHDEHGAH?
“OOH MA DEAR, SA’HORA! SAYB MII, PLIS!” The Hamsturian squeaked, squealed, and squirmed. The sight of bones decaying in between the mandibles was obviously not a good sign.
“Yor Gad, Sa’Hora, nat sayb yuu, Wazyr. Ay am Gad now. Tell mii, hu dis Bohdehgah? End Ay nat kill yuu. Meybii.”
The claws pushed against Wazyr’s neck, sending pain through the creature’s esophagus. “Hii look layk… MONSTUR. Mor skeri dan yuu… Layk monstur wid meny meny horn!!!”
The Mantisian thought to himself, “Eet ees dipurrent, layk othurs descreepsyon.” The others he roughed up in the past two months gave depictions of a large killer android, an underwater devil, a seductress with tentacles, and such. “Tell Bohdehgah, Ahlmak ees camming.”
Ahlmak dropped the Hamsturian, who gladly scurried away, tripped over a large discarded reptilian tail, fell into a mound of rotting chum, and then faded into the night. Ahlmak sighed and shook his head. Driving his six claws into the wall, he climbed up the building to his ship.
The Nightingale was camouflaged at the rooftop. He de-cloaked the ship, which looked like water washing away the dirt of a canvas to reveal a cubed abstract painting dating some 200,000 years ago. He entered the vessel and pulled a lever on the pipe-infested wall.
Light flooded the small deck, and in it occupied a coffee table, three stools, multiple metal boxes overflowing with tools, stacks of paper, and a large pin board. He walked up to the board and stuck a photo of Wazyr beside a meat vendor named Tim. Tim had a large ‘X’ drawn on his ugly wart face. Ahlmak didn’t kill him, but he knew there could only be one person who would do such a thing to a father of 57 Frogger spawns.
Ahlmak stepped back to look at the board. Red strings connected pictures of dead people to explosions, missing people to explosions, and live people to nearby explosions. The strings looked like a Ghalonats spit-web, and in the middle was a question mark with the label Bodega – shape-shifting monster?
The Nightingale blasted off the planet and out of the solar system, leaving Ahlmak to ponder the on clues he had. Many of the victims were criminals and many weren’t. There was no motive for this kind of genocide. Genocide.
Ahlmak dozed off into a dream. He found himself running for his life, dodging streams of laser attacks from above. The warlords of his small village shot back with inferior light-arrows. This did nothing but make them an easier target.
Ahlmak ran faster and faster until, “PAPA! PAPA! WAYT!”
His daughter was lagging behind. Her legs were not fully developed as she had just hatched two weeks prior. His wife, gone. In a last effort to save their child, the mother threw her daughter into Ahlmak’s arms milliseconds before a beam of light disintegrated their hut and half of Almak’s wife. Her scream woke him in a torrent of sweat. He looked at his chrono-clock and counted 30 minutes of sleep.
The scanner at his cockpit was lighting up (he had smashed all auditory alarms some weeks ago. It had given away his position making his surprise attack on the Slugalese less effective, yet they were still slow on the reaction time). The ship jumped out of warp speed and entered a small system of dwarf planets. The system was called the Duchess’ Necklace since each planet held an abundance of natural resources. Millions upon millions of mining drones flew from the planets’ surfaces to dilapidating high-orbit mining stations where some of the grey stones would be cracked open to reveal pockets of ice. Water was power in these parts.
Ahlmak saw a small meteor to the right, about 2,000 clicks away, with a bright neon light blinking “Booze N’ Boobs: we give ‘em by the jugs.” He parked the Nightingale under the meteor, away from the sun, and in the shadows (the cloaking would only work if light didn’t hit it). He put his space-walker suit on, checked his gun for ammo, and tucked away a small pendant that held a picture his wife and child.
In the middle of the 5-floor bar was a cylinder of racked booze. Bartenders zipped up and down via harness, serving customers at different levels. The bar was filled with miners. Creatures from all corners of the universe drank and sang their worries away. Ahlmak walked up to the counter and beckoned a bartender, “Mii look for… person.”
“A Mantisian, eh?” His voice was rough from all the shouting over the music. “Don’ gi’ your kind ‘round dese days afta’ da’ shi’ storm genocide hi’ ya planet two months ago.”
The bartender, named Lupus from his name tag, reached over with his prosthetic arms for a vial of clear blue liquid and placed it on the counter. “No pay. So, who ya’ lookin’ for?”
Ahlmak scribbled the name on the counter and saw Lupus’ single eye grow three sizes. Lupus quickly covered the name with a coaster. “Ya’ gon’ gi’ us both killed, ya’ flarvin’ idiot!” He whispered.
Lupus waved Ahlmak to follow him three floors up and into a back door. After passing through several kitchens and offices, the two entered a supply closet at the end of a hall.
“WHA’ DA FLARV!” Lupus was still whispering. “Da’ man is bad news, ma’ friend.”
“Wai ees ebberibody so ahfrayd? Hii a killa!” Ahlmak’s voice prompted Lupus to shush him violently. They both looked around the closet, thinking the walls had ears.
“Bodega,” said Lupus. “We used ta be in da same sniper class. He had da gift. Could shoot a coin from a hundre’ Roshans away while takin’ a piss and downin’ a pint. And da’ wuz on a windy day. Never go’ ta graduate cuz of ma’ sickness. Ah couldn’t pay da medication, so dey lobbed ma arms off before i’ spread ta ma bodeh.”
Ahlmak saw the sorrow in Lupus’ eye. Memories, good memories, were running through him.
“Yuu know wat happen to mai people?” Ahlmak asked; Lupus nodded.
“One of da graduation rites wuz ta prove ya skill before da Commandin’ Offisa. Bodega’s target wuz…”
“Wat… Mai people… dayd coz of…”
“Ahm sorreh, ma’ friend.”
Silence engulfed the closet. If there was a sound a black hole would make, this would be it.
Ahlmak touched his pendant. “Othurs see hiim in dipurrent form. Wai?”
“Sound like da’ fear agen’—Varyzta 8. Iz da real deal and real hard ta find. Bu’ if ya find who makes i’, ya can be sure he’ll com’ ‘round.” Lupus wrote the coordinates of where he thought the agent was produced on a piece of paper.
“Bohdehgah wiill pay for hiis siins,” Ahlmak whispered to himself as he memorised the coordinates and swallowed the piece of paper.
They both left the closet and entered the bar again. Lupus harnessed himself and went back to serving drinks; Ahlmak walked out the entrance and saw the sun rising from one of the dwarf planets. He dialed in the coordinates as soon as he entered Nightingale and headed for the Illusium system. He punched the warp drive into gear; the monitor said ETA: 3 days 5 hours.
“Closur end closur.” Ahlmak ate his rations, building energy for what was to come.
The light snow had finally stopped falling unto the mountain. The sky was shedding its blue-violet skin and slowly revealing its orange heart. The sun had yet to creep over the horizon, but its rays had already touched the forest’s treetops. A small rickety blue car struggled along the rock infested road along the side of the mountain. The thin veil of snow over the road wasn’t helping either since the car’s tires were as smooth as freshly caught tuna at 5AM. The car was paper thin, and the cold easily pierced through the bones. Yet the cold nor the rocks fazed Ken’s driving as he’d driven this route ever since he bought this car. Beside him was a girl, blindfolded and tied shibari style. Ken felt comfortable in his blue jacket and white scarf unlike his passenger who was naked and shivering.
After another 30 minutes, they stopped at a small rusted gate. Ken reached for two duffle bags at the back seat and got out. The girl stayed in the seat blowing hot air into her rope-tied hands. Her side of the door swung open, and Ken pulled her rope which was tied to her chest dropping her on the damp forest floor. Her snow white skin was a stark contrast to the dirt and dead leaves that stuck to her. Ken pulled the rope up signalling her to get on her feet.
They walked on a path weaved in tree roots. Ken looked up at the canopy: two duffle bags in one hand and a tied girl in the other. This brought a smile to his face, for how lucky must one be to be able to do this each weekend? They reached an opening to a field covered in snow, and in the middle was a wooden shack.
“We’re nearly there,” said Ken to his shaking companion. Her feet were red from the forest floor. Her sides were red from branches and bushes scratching at her skin.
Ken looked for the door key as they approached the shack. He unlocked the door after finding the keys in one of his eight jacket pockets. The inside of the shack was much cleaner than the outside. It had a bed, a chair, a table, and a fireplace. Ken threw duffle bags on the floor and took the girl’s blindfold off. “Maya, go wash while I light the fire,” said Ken.
Maya stared at Ken with her beautiful black pearl eyes.
Ken chuckled. “That’s right. I forgot you were deaf.” He took out a pen and paper from the duffle bag and scribbled what he told her earlier. Maya walked out the door, got a pile of fresh snow, and started rubbing it on her skin. She came back relatively cleaner. The room was a bit warmer but still freezing.
Ken emptied the two duffle bags and laid its contents on the floor: clothes, packs of ramen, a pot, chopsticks, more rope, whips, sex toys, gags, candles, a knife, and a gun. She walked over, picked up the gun and cocked the hammer. Ken stopped feeding the fire with wood and slowly turned his head. He saw the fire reflected from her eyes.
“Maya, be careful with that.” She didn’t hear him, but she could tell what he was saying. She manoeuvred him out the door, and into the middle of the field.
Ken stared at her then his eyes widened like an owl at night. “You’re not Ma-“
She turned around and walked back into the shack. She used the knife to cut the ropes and wore the clothes that were on the floor. She looked at the wall and noticed it was filled with polaroids. Photos of naked girls and boys with bruises and red marks on their skin. Each one had a date written on them.
She packed the duffle bags once again and headed back to the car on barefoot. She looked up the canopy with the sun high in the sky and smiled. The car was a pleasant sight, but she didn’t know how to drive. Thinking that the walk back to town would be long, she placed the duffle bags on top of the car and started her way down the mountain.
“So this girl killed our victim for revenge?” Kazu asked Ryo as they sipped from their cups. They sat across Rui in the investigation room. The translator stepped out for a break so she couldn’t understand what they were saying.
“It does seem like it,” Ryo responded. He scratched his chin as he thought more. “But why the revenge? She knew no one in those photos. In fact, no one in those photos is related to each other.”
“They all look alike,” Kazu said as they stared at the table full of polaroids. Two other officers found the shack that Rui and Ken were at while Rui was recounting the events.
Ryo exhaled in frustration trying to wrap his head around his first murder. “Let’s bring Mika in again to the interrogation room.”
Mika stepped in a couple of minutes later and sat between the officers and Rui.
Ryo leaned back and started asking again. “How did you know Ken?”
“Ken was my sister’s boyfriend.”
“Sister? You didn’t tell us you had a sister.”
“You didn’t ask.”
“So why were you with Ken?”
Rui let out a sigh and said, “I have very little time in my hands, and I think telling you now or later wouldn’t make a difference.”
Kazu and Ryo looked at each other puzzlingly.
“My sister was my twin,” she continued. “She and Ken have been doing that kind of stuff since high school. They got other people to do it and then eventually got kids involved.”
They stared at the photos, and there were some that were clearly still children.
“She didn’t mind… doing kids. She was as sick and demented as Ken. But Ken was something else. He started choking them, waterboarding them. Then one day, he took it too far. I don’t remember how he did it, but Ken made my sister kill one of those kids as they climaxed. Later that week, she came over to my place and told me what happened. We drank and cried. When I woke up, I saw her hanging from my ceiling.”
Rui stopped there and stared at the photos. They all sat there in stillness as the universe outside continued to move.
“I decided to kill Ken for my sister, for the child. Besides, I’m dying soon anyway so prison life wouldn’t be so bad.”
“What do you mean by that?” Ryo asked.
“I have a sickness, Captain.”
“So you decided to do one final act before you faded away?”
“You could say that. He would have kept doing this if I didn’t stop him.”
“The police could have done something Ms Rui.”
“He was too clever to be caught. Look at how many victims he had. This was the work of a genius. Then again, he couldn’t tell that it was me and not my sister. Either way, that’s one less scumbag, and when I die, you’ll have another one gone.”
Kazu raised an eyebrow and looked at his captain. Ryo rubbed his temples, and his eyes changed from an officer to a concerned parent.
“There are always other options Ms Rui. Reaching out for help would have been better. We could have brought justice to your sister, but you stained her death with revenge. She accidentally killed a child. She killed herself for it. Then you killed her lover. The cycle doesn’t end with this sickness killing you. Ken’s family would want revenge as well, and if you’re gone, Ken’s family will go to your family or your friends. Revenge is pouring oil on a fire. It’s a selfish way to satisfy your shallow desires. Your revenge has accomplished nothing. It has only passed the anger on to more people.”
The ending to this story has been put off for over a year because I couldn’t find the perfect way to introduce the twin sister. This is no way that this is in its perfect form, but I am satisfied with the ending. I hope you are too.
This story of revenge was inspired by one of my close friends. She told me how getting revenge towards my father wouldn’t solve anything. She told me that the cycle would only continue if I wouldn’t let go of the hatred I had in me. And so I did. Not right but eventually I did.
Every night, the battle-scarred half-elf arrived at the tavern with eyes so tired they drooped over his bloodstained cheeks. He sat alone at the corner in an alcove where the barmaid brought him his usual mug of ale, a bowl of water, and a clean rag cloth. Sylorin, the half-elf, took a sip from the mug, lapping up the froth that clung to his lips. He stared at the split moon in the night sky as memories danced through his mind.
The blood on his face came from a small band of goblins that raided a nearby temple. He was paid a modest amount to rid of them, but he hated the job. As a child, his parents taught him the ways of the spear and dagger. He was the best in his class and eventually bested his mentor. But his passion lied in music. A pang of jealousy would bolt through him each time he passed by a bard in one of his adventures. It’s too late to turn back now. You’re too good at this, and people pay you for it.
Sylorin’s first wife, a pure woodland elf named Alora whom he met 200 years ago, showed him the light he thought was lost. The sense of her touch from the gaze she gave crushed the wall he built around him. She was a breath of fresh morning air at spring. Everything about her was perfect, but the marriage came to an end. It was his fault.
He met a human girl 50 years later in the capital city’s library. Her appearance to many was mundane, like most humans, but her abrasive nature reeled him in. They had a brief relationship before parting ways from the city. They met once years later in a carnival. That was the last time he saw her.
He stared unthinkingly out the alcove, leaning on one hand, the other clutching the ale. Every so often he would hear a burst of laughter from the patrons that would pierce through the music. It did not interest him. Nothing in this material plane interested him. At least I’m alive, right?
“You know, you could try to be a little bit happier.” The barmaid came up to refill his mug. She was a fat woman with two children and a temper to match. “You’ve been at this alcove every night ever since my father first built this tavern.”
Her father was a good and honorable man. He was Sylorin’s first friend in a long time. Sadly, age took him. Humans had unbelievably short lifespans even though 70 was considered ‘old’ in their culture.
“Being in a place that feels like home does make me happy, Fastel.” Sylorin gave a flat and very tired smile. Fastel sighed but knew what he said was genuine. He continued, “People, not just humans, find me irritable, so finding happiness would be difficult with the entire world breathing down my back.”
“You’re not that important to grant the entire world a mild irritation.” Fastel’s eyebrow cocked along with an ever so slight smile. Sylorin chuckled, but what he found funny were moments like this with Alora. Fastel sensed that he had gone back into his memories and tried to snap him out of it. “Your room’s ready by the way. I don’t know how you manage to keep paying your rent. You would’ve owned this tavern by now.”
“I’m not very good at barmaiding given that I’m a…”
“A man or a sarcastic, egotistic, anti-social, foul-mouthed–“
“I get your point.” Sylorin waved away her smart comments, stood up, and paid for the ale with two silver pieces. He took his weapons and satchel from the table when he glanced at the noisy group of travelers across the tavern. They laughed at each other, though one talked less than the others. She was a human in a blue cloak.
“They’re new,” said Fastel, “from the east.” The woman in blue had lines patterned on her face that emphasised her eyes, no weapons, and a stack of books by her. Scholar perhaps? Interesting.
Sylorin climbed the stairs to his room, armour clinking against the wooden frames, and looked over his shoulders to the woman in blue from the east. She laughed and smiled at the others. Interesting.