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Behind the mask

AragmarMar 3, 2022, 6:22:39 PM


Once these tall buildings glistened in the sun, their multi-colored facades reflected moonlight during the long, mellow, Avern’a nights. Those who lived in them sang songs, thanked the Architects who designed their homes, praised the Builders who constructed them and, remembered the Soldiers who sacrificed so they could live free.

Avern’a men and women no longer lived in this city – their children’s laughter silenced forever, when the cannibalistic Jaern invaded. Gnawed, falling apart bones rolled at the bottom of huge plasma bomb craters. Nearly all buildings had gaping, molten at the edges holes, mangled pieces of metal sticking out like the broken ribcage of a skeleton. 

Where the invader’s orbital beam guns and plasma pulse weapons hit – soil, metal, stone, and flesh turned into a glass-like sludge. Yet, even after all that devastation, during the beginning of their end, there were plenty of vengeance-seeking Avern’a survivors. For generations, they stood and fought, battled the invader with resolve unrelenting.

The sun’s burning hot rays now shone upon their dilapidated skeletons. Dressed in ancient battle armor, some of them rotted together with their machines. Many a tank or mecha lay blasted apart, their metal husks turned monument for entire people’s defiant resistance. 

Towns like this one lay devastated under piles of rubble; every building damaged, every road bombed, every statue crushed. Museums filled with ancient art, libraries, theaters – it was all ruined, gone. Their crumpled, miserable husks were sad remnants from a bygone era; a time of peace and prosperity, when these people held the tool and the brush, not the gun. 

Those precious few Avern’a who lived now – they could not imagine how many billions perished before them, for their memory was slain. Even lore keepers had forgotten the songs of their honored dead and now only sang of sorrow, impending doom. The inevitable death of their people was at hand, and seemingly not they, not anyone else could prevent it.

His teal robe gently fluttering in the wind, with apparent ease the masked man trekked across this ravaged landscape. Seemingly unaffected by the burning hot midday sun, he walked on the dirt-covered ancient street, instead of embracing the shadows. 

The eyes of many followed him; ravaged by hunger, thirst, and sickness aliens scurried around and about, fighting for scraps of food. The strongest and most vicious of them took shelter inside the less ruined buildings, while their peers suffered the elements, out in the open.

Among their number there were a token few Avern’a survivors. Yet their will squished by constant hardship and history erased, these remnants no longer yearned freedom. They were in fact, barely distinguishable from the alien scavengers who lived alongside them. Some even forgot their culture, and did not speak their own language anymore.

Distant screams, wallows of pain and pleas for mercy, accompanied by a choir of malevolent laughter, echoed across the ruined town. Midday heat distorted and enhanced them; carried by scorching hot winds, soon these unsightly sounds reached the masked man’s ears. 

He slowed down and after a few star-seconds, stopped, his cowled head canted slightly to the left. 

Those who watched him from their dusty holes, they noticed how the yellow crystals of his mask glinted once. The ends of his robes flickered, golden light shrouded him and his entire figure shimmered. This eerie glow persisted for a second longer, and then the mage looked just as he was before yet, the onlookers knew better.

Something or someone angered the mage and, shuddering, these wretches wrapped themselves in whatever raggedy clothing they still had. Eyes tightly shut they turned their heads away and covered their ears, skulking deeper inside their ruined adobes. Not one of them wished to witness the doom which this mage would soon manifest into existence.

The cries quickly turned into shrieks and then reached a desperate crescendo, but the mage was no longer there. With a flash he’d moved, transported himself by unfathomable ways and those few who dared steal a look, they heard his ominous command:

“Come and see...”


This is an excerpt from my Starshatter anthology. If you like what you read, you can grab both paperback and digital copy of A Mandate Of Sword And Railgun here.