Friday, May 6, 2011

Rist's New Friend, Part One

Rist sat quietly nibbling on his latest pigeon as he watched another one of the Great Towers collapse in upon itself from the after-shocks of the latest tremor. The merchants from the Botanica-Souk had mumbled warnings to one another about another quake hitting Talibarr and many of them had cleared their tents and folding pavilions from the inner plazas, moving to more secure locations closer to their ships and the dirigible tethers along the Wet Wharves. Rist wasn’t sure what an earthquake was exactly, but the little egg he wore told him that he would be safe in this spot so he watched so he could learn. Rist was going to become smarter. He was a professional now. The dark lady Komeedra had said so. She had also given him the little egg that he wore. Rist liked the egg-thing. It was warm to his touch and it spoke only to him, whispering secrets and teaching him many useful things like how to make his pitiful little sling much more accurate and powerful by bending some wire and scrap metal into a frame that fit around his forearm and using a length of the stretchy spider-silk he had been using to climb down gullies and trenches with as the elastic part. The oily bit of sharp metal he had killed his first pigeon with had now delivered his fifth and he was as proud as only a drijj with a full-belly could be.
Massive clouds of dust rolled upwards into the otherwise still, oppressively hot air as the great structure fell to pieces. There’d be a lot of scavengers in the area soon. They’d want to grab anything uncovered by the falling building, loot anything spilled out of the upper sections that might have survived the ancient riots behind once impregnable armor-doors. Then there’d be the ones who preyed upon those in a hurry to loot the debris. It was no place for a self-respecting drijj to be and Rist had learned how to respect himself. It had been one of the first lessons the egg-thing had taught him. He was worthwhile. He was a living, breathing, walking, talking, thinking being in his own right and the egg-thing was teaching him everything he asked for and then some. Rist’s brain was rapidly assimilating everything the egg-thing fed into it, creating hundreds, then thousands of new synapses, pathways, connections in a feverish frenzy of intellectual development that no child of the Tower Arcologies had ever matched. The egg had identified Rist as a prodigy and continually upgraded the lessons it streamed into the little creature’s cortex and consciousness, talking to his unconscious even as it spoke to his waking mind. Rist was a fast learner.
Finishing with his pigeon Rist wiped his clever little hands on the rags he wore and repositioned himself so as to best watch the place where the Broken Tower had once been. He felt safe in his high perch across the wide plaza overlooking the garbage-strewn and rubble-mounded boulevards that ran in-between the regularly spaced dead husks of the Great Towers like the one that had just collapsed. He settled in and watched intently. His nostrils flared and itched with the scent of opportunity. Maybe someone would uncover something that they couldn’t take away before something got them. Often the best spoils came to the third party to appear on the scene, after the finders got eaten or run off. It paid to pay attention to such things, especially for a drijj that no one would give a second thought to and no one in their right mind would try to eat. Drijj were poisonous to most predators and tended to make scavengers painfully sick. Things might kill them, if they noticed them at all, but for the most part drijj were rarely noticed, like the beetles crawling all over the dusty broken walls or the geckos that hunted the beetles. They were tiny, moving parts of the background, not anything to worry about or pay any attention to and Rist liked that. It made it so much easier to pluck shiny-bits from under the noses of other looters and debris-pickers.
Warm, snug and well-fed Rist fell asleep watching the ruins across the plaza from his perch. He dreamed of lovely, easily-climbable trees without any owls or strixae to hunt him. He imagined a place where no one was allowed to hurt a drijj ever again. Rist slept deep and only awoke when the reverberating thunder shook his perch and the rain began to fall in a cold, dark late Summer or early Autumn torrent. Rist still wasn’t sure how to tell the seasons apart yet.

To be Continued...

Part Two
Ristdex / Index Page for Rist

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rist, Part Six

Continued from Part Five
Ristdex / Index Page

"Hello Rist. Do you have something for me, or should I just stick you now?" There was an incredibly sharp, translucent whisker-thin blade poking his belly from right in front of him. He had been watching intently, unwaveringly and still she had been able to sneak up on him. The dark lady walked silently and unseen like the merchants said that an afrit or asurreh could. Slowly, calmly Rist replaced his knife up his tattered sleeve and made the placatory gesture he hoped would mollify his client the best. There was no mistaking her icy, sneering voice, nor the violence that seethed behind her violet eyes. Rist moved to stand up and as she did not thrust her blade through his belly he brushed off his rags and smiled crookedly at his client.

“It is considered badly fortunated to kill a drijj during the retrograde phase of the Lesser Inner Moons of Mother Shuubra.” Rist lied smoothly. Years of practice and surreptitious eavesdropping upon the merchants of the Botanica-Souk and the D’phinn Fakir himself had sharpened his wits, if not his astrological competency.

The dark lady laughed. He admired her smooth jet-black skin and the sardonic smile she always seemed to have. Try as he might Rist couldn’t avoid looking into her luminous violet eyes. She not only looked through his paltry little lies, she looked through him into the depths of his soul and on down into the murky depths of the very well-spring of his being. He could hide nothing from her and she liked to remind him of that terrifying fact.

"Rist have the shiny-shiny. I have it.” He whined pathetically.

“Of course you do Rist.” The dark lady purred sinisterly as she contemplated the squirming little wretch of a drijj before her. Perhaps she wondered if the thing’s corrupt blood would pit her blade? Rist certainly hoped so, in both cases.

“You let me go when I give it to you yes? Please?" Rist proceeded to whimper like a beaten dog. Ugly to begin with, he was heavily scarred both by past fights and by the spurious protection rituals taught by the Dermamancers in the more notorious parts of the Lower Precincts. He had practiced his whining and groveling technique for years as just another way to earn some small morsel of food or momentary shelter from those who clung to the outmoded ideals they called ‘mercy,’ or ‘compassion.’ Rist was quite good at appearing pathetic — and more importantly harmless - a good and useful talent if one wanted to survive in the warrens surrounding the Fallen Domes and Broken Towers. He tried to look as inoffensive and subordinate as possible, going so far as to lower his head to the ground before his clients’ elegantly booted feet.

The dark lady looked down at Rist. He amused her. Of all the feral gene-trash infesting the devastated core of the old city she despised him the least. He had adapted to the harsh realities of life in the Lower Precincts. He had survived and even proven himself useful to her. No one would ever look at the wretched little thing twice and that made him an ideal agent. No one would ever suspect such a servile and obsequious creature as Rist of being anything more than just another filthy, degenerate urban parasite.

The dark lady scanned her immediate environment. The area surrounding the Empty Temple was once a sprawling complex of pleasure palaces and garden-domes built by members of the now all but exterminated genetic-aristocracy who were the once and future rulers of Talibarr. During the Angry Years following the Severing, the Lower Districts had been overrun by rioters, looters and renegade bands of neo-tribalists who saw their chance to end the tyranny they had endured for generations at the hands of the genecastes. It had been nearly five hundred years since the gates closed and the rioting began. Five hundred years of being trapped on the wrong side of the slowly rotating black disks that once opened onto hundreds of other worlds.

Looking down at the writhing self-effacing creature before her the dark lady recalled how a charismatic leader had arisen from among the ranks of the dispossessed mobs of hybrids and brought a majority of them together to cast down their so-called oppressors. They had called themselves the Azure Wrath and they had raged across the Lower Precincts of the city even as someone else killed the gates. The Azure Wrath proclaimed themselves liberated from their outmoded or vestigial sense of humanity. They declared themselves free to create new, non-human strains of sentience, to bring about a Garden of Eden isolated from human taint. But a garden filled with what? Pathetic, warped little creatures like Rist? She snorted derisively, making the little drijj nearly impale himself on her extruded blade.

Komeedra, for it was none other than the notorious black assassin who served Orothazz himself who stood before Rist, looked at the remains of a collapsed arcology tower across the spider-infested canal. Where once had stood a noble shaft of faceted carbon that had glinted and twinkled like ice entwined with slender minarets and faery ramparts now was a tumbled, jumbled mass of broken shapes buried under layers of dust, ash and the runaway growth of myriad competing vines, lichens and other plant-derived things it was often best to just ignore.

“You have done well Rist. Do you know that once upon a time Talibarr was a shining, glittering jewel of a city, a wonderful place filled with all imaginable good things?”

“No. Rist not know much past-things. Rist live here. Now. Might no be tomorrow.”

“An excellent answer my little friend. Very wise indeed. But nonetheless, five hundred years ago Talibarr, this city you live within, was a beautiful place. Then everything went wrong. The Gates were closed down even as the city burned and riots broke out all over the Lower Precincts. A group who called themselves the Azure Wrath claimed responsibility for a lot of things, but they couldn’t have done half of what they claimed. They were mostly outcasts from impure lineages and mongrel or hybrid genestocks that had not been given any place in Talibarrian society. Shut out from the majestic towers, cut-off from the palatial estates of the Genartists, Genomancers and other favored scions of the Noble breeding programs, the dregs of society had been relegated to the margins of society. But what is not seen can fester and seethe unchecked and unbridled until it eventually boils over into chaos and violence. But none of this means anything to you little drijj, does it?”

“Not understand all words you use, but dark lady say this once pretty place, like her, now not so nice. Others, not so nice as her make things this way, on purpose. Yes?”

“You impress me even more Rist. You must have more sentience that I gave you credit for earlier. You intrigue me.”

“You let me go now? I have shiny-shiny. Here.” Rist tugged the foil-wrapped cube from his special pouch and held it out to the dark lady as if it were a dancing wisp of cold blue non-flame. He offered it to her and hoped that she would go away and leave him to his pigeon-hunting and sleep; he felt very sleepy. It wouldn’t be good to fall asleep in front of the lady-client.

"If you truly have what I asked you to get for me, then you can certainly go on your way— -until I require your services again. If you have failed me, then you'll wish that I had just killed you the first time we met." She picked the shiny foil-cube from Rist’s hands and re-sheathed her sword all in one fluid, seamless motion that left the drijj wondering when she was going to take the thing from his scabby little hands.

"Rist already wish that almost. You beautiful, yet you not be so nice to Rist. This bad. Very bad for Rist. Do as you say. Get the shiny-shiny from the bone lady. Bring it back to you. No one see Rist. Now you take it and leave Rist, yes?"

Komeedra smiled and flicked her long, black braids back out of her face and shook imaginary stars out of her intricately braided hair. When she tipped her head back to look down upon Rist her features flowed until they were those of a ferocious faery tale dragon and her jaws distended outwards to become a snout filled with cruel teeth. Rist squealed and tore at his pouch where he had slipped the poison vial when he had hoped she wouldn’t notice. Komeedra laughed in a deep, rumbling voice as he peed his filthy pants.

"No-no: you not need kill Rist. I gave it you. Rist did what you want. Rist professional. Rist keep his part of deal." Fumbling and shaking with fear, Rist tried his best to stand up to the dark-skinned woman whose features resumed their previous slickly-molded obsidian elegance and seamless beauty. It had been the very first time Rist had ever tried to assert himself before. His spontaneous display of backbone amused Komeedra. She didn’t kill him where he stood, though she had destroyed or maimed myriads of others for lesser displays of insubordination. She looked at the cubic foil-packet with glittering violet then green eyes. Gently, almost kindly if such a thing could ever be said of dread Komeedra the black assassin, she bent towards Rist, keeping her eyes locked on his and with a flutter of her fingers the foil packet disappeared within a fold of the robe-like sleeves of her stylish half-jacket. She quietly stared at the little drijj courier and made sure that Rist understood that this had all just been a game to her, a momentary distraction, nothing more. After all, it wouldn’t do for the hired help to get uppity.

“Thank you Rist.” She sweetly said as she fixed him with a baleful, malevolent amber glare that made him shiver uncontrollably. There was a dull thunk from between his feet. His knife had slipped out of its make-shift sheath and fallen into the fresh puddle of urine Rist had just made involuntarily.

Komeedra laughed. Rist shuddered and practically convulsed like a rabbit dangling from a hawk’s talons. She smiled even more sweetly down at Rist making him pee himself even more. His fear was a rancid, noxious haze of pheromones, musk and perspiration that she breathed in, delicately sorting out every component and deciphering the biological tell-tales and details that radiated from Rist. Where others were ignorant or oblivious to such things, Komeedra was a skilled interpreter and uncanny diviner of secrets. She learned as much or more from how a person smelled or the cloud of excretions and secretions surrounding each living being as others did from trying to interpret language, posture or emotional cues.

“Rist did like you asked … like you said to do. No one see Rist.” He pleaded for his life.

Sadly, terrorizing the little drijj had grown stale. He was still potentially useful so she decided to let him live. For now.

“You did well tonight. Of course you may go Rist, however I may have further use for you in the future. In the meantime accept this as a token of my appreciation.” She casually tossed a small, ovoid object on the ground next to his knife in the puddle of his own urine.

“What is it?” Rist hunkered down to stare at the thing. He poked it with a dirty finger.

“Pick it up.”

“But … “ he whined. He suddenly feared the egg-thing as though it might bite or sting him. He had heard of such things from eavesdropping on the sailors and traders.

“Now.” She practically whispered, making the command intensely more frightening and effective than if she had lost her temper or raised her voice.

Rist picked up the smooth ovoid object. It was warm. He wiped the urine off on his rags and turned it this way and that in his delicate seeming little hands. He thought it might be alive. Maybe he’d pray to it later, after he appeased the knife for his having dropped it.

“Good. Now find the more tapered, almost pointed end of it and pinch it hard.”

Rist adjusted the egg-thing in his hands, found the more tapered end and pinched it as hard as he could. There was a snapping noise then his fingers slipped off of the thing and a loop of flexible, white material extruded soundlessly and smoothly from the ovoid like a snaky noose.

“What is it?” asked Rist in a tone somewhere between awe and panic.

“Now you can wear it around your neck, like another one of your quaint if disgusting rat-bone talismans.”

“Is it goodly fortunated?” croaked Rist, tickled beyond his wildest dreams to receive a charm from someone as obviously godlike and powerful as Komeedra herself. He quickly looped the egg-thing over his neck just as Komeedra instructed. It settled into place like it belonged there, smooth and pliable, pulsing in perfect synch with his rapidly fluttering heartbeat.

“In a manner of speaking, perhaps. Long, long ago such a thing was considered a child’s toy but for you it may well prove to be much, much more than that.”

“Oooooh … old magick is bestest magick.” Rist clapped his scabby hands in joy at his excellent good fortune – not only was he not going to be killed or eaten, he had been rewarded with something old and amazing, whatever it was.

“Give it a little while so the pod can complete its integration protocols and it will be keyed to you and you alone.” Komeedra shook her head ever so slightly at the way the little drijj capered and carried on. He had probably never received any sort of a gift before, let alone anything so extravagant as the little oval-shaped pod.

“Mine!? It’s all mine?” Rist screeched incredulously.

“Yes, Rist. It’s all yours; it won’t work for anyone else now that it is bonded to you.”

“Aaaaaah … then the little egg is all mine, no one can take it away from Rist?” He mused to himself shrewdly.

“That’s right. Once it wakes up you can name it and help it learn so it can help you.”

“Little egg help Rist how?” He looked up at her dumbfounded.

“It will teach you.”

“Teach Rist what?”

“Anything you want to learn.” Komeedra suppressed a shudder at the thought of what a socially retarded and emotionally stunted thing like Rist might spend his paltry, inconsequential life learning. But a gift was a gift and it was his to waste however he saw fit.

“That sounds very muchly fortunate. Rist very happy thankful.” He danced a little dance for her, still not sure just what it all meant, but extremely grateful to just still be alive.

“Good. Have fun Rist. Until next we meet.” Komeedra turned away from the dancing drijj, melted into the darkness and was gone.

Once he noticed that he was all alone again, Rist retrieved his knife from the pool of urine and quickly ran off in the other direction. He hated being at the mercy of fickle gods and demons and wished he could be an atheist. Maybe the little egg could help him with that.

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