View Full Version : The First Law, Chapter 4. Sci-fi/horror/fantasy

November 8th, 2019, 07:55 PM
Here's chapter 4 of the book I'm working on. Together with the first three chapters (which I've already posted) it forms the first "part" of the book. I'd say the four can stand on their own as a short story. I'd love feedback!

The Mess
The First Law, Chapter 4
by LaMDoH123

The figure on the altar did not turn around, or even seem to hear his words. It seemed to care only the monstrous thing it worshipped. Sebastian stared down the robed demagogue, feeling a familiar anger well up in him. It hadn’t even bothered to turn around as its followers were slaughtered, showing complete disregard for their lives. Typical. Such creatures rarely cared much for the “chaff” that served them.

“Very well, then,” he muttered under his breath. He sheathed his sword, and began walking towards the altar and the figure atop it. As he walked, he drew his shotgun and swiftly ejected the magazine, loading in a new one. His stride brought him to within a few meters of the altar, and still the figure did not turn around. Closer now, he saw that underneath the heavy robes it wore, the body seemed unchanged. No twisting of the flesh or bone like on its servants, at least not any that was immediately obvious. He stopped, took aim, and emptied the entire magazine into the thing’s back.

The projectiles exploded from the barrel of the gun, dozens of the standard 00 buckshot that mankind had been using for centuries. Some things never changed, and there was a power in tradition. Not enough, though. Without fail, every pellet stopped in the air a meter short of their target, hanging there in a single mass. Then they fell to the altar, pinging and clacking as they bounced on the metal surface. There was no motion, no sign of effort from the figure. The only sensation was a drop in temperature, and an increase in pressure that set his talismans rattling. Sebastian hadn’t truly expected that to work, not after the mutants had weathered the fire so well, but this one was powerful and no mistake.

At least he had it’s attention, at last. The figure turned around, reaching up and pulling down the hood of its robe as it did so. What was revealed was...anticlimactic. It was a man, just a normal-looking man. If anything, he was so normal as to be forgettable. Average height, average build, a bland face of no easily determinable background. Not ugly, not handsome, just the sort of person that could easily blend into the background of any setting. The only notable thing about him were his hands, which were calloused and stained with what looked like oil and lubricants. He looked at Sebastian cooly, as if unimpressed by what he saw.

“You’ve made quite a mess, interloper. I will have to find new servants.” His voice was pleasant, if somewhat high-pitched, and seemed to carry through the vast processing deck.

“Slaves, you mean,” Sebastian responded.

The man waved his hand dismissively. “Semantics. What matters is power and obedience. I have the former and I expect the latter.”

Behind him, Sebastian heard the sound of Becky sliding to the floor from her perch. He heard her approach, and held his hand behind him in a gesture of warning. “Keep your distance, girl. This one is dangerous.” He kept his eyes on the man.“And you have no remorse? No feelings of guilt for what you have done to your fellow crew? Your fellow human beings?”

“Why should I?” The figure laughed. “They ignored me, all of them. They didn’t even know I was there.” He looked past Sebastian at where
Becky now stood, and smiled widely. “Almost all of them.”

“David?” Sebastian heard Becky ask, softly. “What happened to you?”

“I did as you said. You told me to be more confident. To listen to my instincts, the little voice in my head, and assert myself.” David spread his arms, as if to encompass not only the processing chamber, but the whole ship and everything that had happened on it. “So I did.” The smile left his face, replaced with a frown. “I thought you’d be happy for me. But instead you ran away. Hid from me and my servants. Now you were the one ignoring me, when all others were not. Ironic, perhaps, but not very nice.” The smile was back as he turned his attention back to Sebastian. “But you have brought her here, and for that I thank you.” He sketched an elaborate bow. “As a reward and as mercy, I shall kill you before I flay your skin from your flesh and feed your soul to my God.” He held his head back and shivered, as if in anticipated pleasure. “Hmmm, it hungers for you. Your will and determination and yes, your hatred. It is delicious.” He smacked his lips, as if he could taste it. “Your soul burns bright, and shall be as a delicacy to Him.”

Sebastian had questions, but none that he planned to ask this one. “I’m afraid that will be a bit difficult without kneecaps.” A frown of puzzlement began to appear on David’s face, but too slow. In one motion, Sebastian dropped the shotgun in his right hand and with his left drew the pistol on his hip. It cracked once, twice, and David threw up his hands to block the bullets. This time, the effort was visible on his face. Blood trickled from his nose and the bullets glowed and shook as they hit the same wall of force the shotgun pellets had hit. Finally, they shattered and sprayed him with fragments. David staggered and fell, cursing, and when he looked up Sebastian was almost upon him, having leaped up onto the altar and charged. His left hand still held the pistol, while his right had drawn the knife at his chest. David threw up his hand and shouted something, a single word in a language not made for human mouths. Sebastian froze mid-blow, leaning forward in a sprint, gun out and knife cocked back to strike. They were less than a meter apart, and the two stood there in a frozen tableau. Sebastian’s fright mask leered down as he strained, teeth gritted and muscles – real and mechanical – straining to push him forward. His many talismans and charms rattled, and the silver patterns on his armor glowed, and he slowly moved, trying to bring the gun in line. David crouched there, veins bulging, nose and eyes bleeding freely from the strain. He rose shakily to his feet, and turned his eyes towards the gun in Sebastian’s left hand. Slowly, Sebastian felt the bones in his hand and arm being squeezed. Pain shot through him as he felt and heard a crack. Slowly, ever so slowly, his hand uncurled and the pistol fell from his grip. The pressure shifted to his chest, and Sebastian felt his ribs begin to compress. Pain spiked, but he ignored it. Still, he pushed forward, inching closer.

“David! Stop!” Sebastian heard Becky scream behind him. David’s concentration wavered for a split-second, and Sebastian surged forward.
David threw up his hands and caught Sebastian’s right arm in a psychic grip, but his left was free. With a thunk, and a revving of gears, Sebastian extended the cutter on his left vambrace and buried it David’s stomach. His psychic hold failed, and David had just enough time to look surprised before Sebastian punched the knife’s spiked grip into his face three times. The rapid blows left a crater, but Sebastian wasn’t done. He pulled the knife back, raised it high, and rammed it into David’s left temple. Simultaneously, he wrenched the cutter free with a sickening tearing noise and a tide of viscera, and swung it across David’s neck, freeing his head from his shoulders. His body dropped, nearly cut in half, and Sebastian was left standing there, breathing heavily. With a flick of his wrist, he dislodged the head from his knife and stared at the blade, watching as the blood and brain matter that clung to it disappeared, absorbed by the hungry weapon. He slotted it firmly back into its sheath. Quickly, he ran diagnostics. Some overstressed servos, some cracked bones, nothing to worry about. At least nothing concerning himself.

“Are you ok?”

He turned, and saw that Becky now stood on the deck right in front of the altar. He noticed that she seemed to be going out of her way not to stare at the ruined corpse at his feet. He eyed her. What David had said, about listening to her, troubled him. He kept that thought to himself though, instead replying, “I am fine. Are you unharmed?”

She nodded. “Now what do we do?”

He gestured behind him, at the egg. “Take care of this, and then clean up the mess.” He looked out over the field of slaughter he had just perpetrated, doing mental calculations. “One hundred and thirty.”

Becky looked at him, eyebrow raised inquisitively. “Sixty-seven in the stairwell. Thirteen there.” He pointed at the twisted bodies strewn across the deck. “Your Mother. You.” He pointed at her. “David.” He pointed down. “That leaves one hundred and thirty.”

“Well, I don’t see any-” Becky began, but she trailed off. He looked at her. She had her hand over her mouth, and her face was white as a sheet. Her expression was one of utter shock and horror, and given all that she had seen already that was something. Turning around, Sebastian saw what she had seen and wished he could be as surprised.

Up close, the egg was even more horrifying than it first appeared. It was big, and was raised above the deck on a twisted mass of skinless meat, which cradled it like a nest. Additional ropes of flesh webbed over the egg, holding it upright and in place. Its shell was part-translucent, and inside could be seen a suggestion of tentacles, suckers, pincered maws, and far, far too many eyes. Up close, he could feel the pressure in his mind as power rolled off of it in waves. It felt old, and full of malice and greed. It all was horrifying, but he knew what had impacted Becky so. The fleshy mass cradling and surrounding the egg was the crew. Arms, legs, and faces could be seen sticking out of the twisted meat. Some of them even still moved. Most faces were contorted in agony, but worse were the ones that seemed to be in the throes of ecstasy.

“The death of David and it’s other servants has weakened it, but it will recover. That cannot be allowed.” With these words, Sebastian strode forward and pulled a roll of leather covered in symbols from a pouch on his armor. As he approached the thing inside the egg twitched and spasmed, but without its mortal puppets its power was limited. Kneeling down on the deck, he unrolled the leather and drew out a tube of silver paint. He began tracing a circle of runes and symbols around the base of the mass. He worked quickly, but carefully, and it took a while. This was not something that he could afford to get wrong, and the thing was big. Eventually, he completed his work and stepped back. The thrashing inside the egg had grown more frantic, but also seemed weaker. Good. Going back to the tools, he picked up a knife of crude obsidian and stepped over the protective ring, being careful not to damage it in any way. He began to cut symbols into the flesh and shell of the egg. Sickly brown ichor oozed from the wounds.

“What are you doing?” Becky’s voice was soft, almost a whisper, and he responded without turning around.

“I do not possess the power to banish the creature myself, so instead I am weakening it and binding it in place. That way, it will be vulnerable when I overload the ship’s reactor.”

“Excuse me?”

“These things cannot be killed, not as you understand it. They can only be sent back. But they will return, eventually. To prevent that would require unmaking them, and I know of no one that has that power.”

“What are you talking ab-? Wait, never mind about that! What was that about the reactor!?”

Sebastian finished carving the marks and returned to the tools. He cleaned the knife on a cloth, then pulled out a lighter and lit the cloth on fire. He let the burning remnants fall to the deck. “These things are powerful, even relatively young ones like this” he explained as he reached down and picked up a hypo full of blue liquid. “To banish them requires firepower, and more than a man can carry even when augmented as I am. However, a reactor explosion should be sufficient.” He flicked the needle and turned back to the egg. “Alright, time for your medicine.” He allowed himself to feel a small amount of vicious glee as he stepped up and rammed the needle into the fleshy mass. He waited a few seconds, and then the creature within the egg began to writhe, while the tissues surrounding it began to appear necrotic. Nodding in satisfaction, he returned to the leather roll and repeated the same cleaning ritual with the needle as he had with the knife. He returned the tools to their places, then rolled up the case and returned it to its pouch. He turned to Becky, who was staring at him in shocked silence.

“Now,” he said. “To the reactor.”


What had happened here could not be discovered. Humanity could not be allowed to learn what lurked in the dark and in-between places, waiting to devour their souls. This ship, and everything on it, had to burn. The ship he had come on possessed the weaponry to do so, but that would attract attention. It was better to make it look like an accident. A freak reactor accident on an old ship. Not completely unprecedented, and when combined with the ship’s isolation, it would provide an easy and obvious answer to any curious eyes. Easy and obvious. That was the key, Sebastian had learned. Make the answer easy and obvious, and the human mind tends to ignore any little inconsistencies or curiosities.

Luckily, the reactor was just a few decks above the processing chamber, and he soon found himself setting the Faust Reactor to overload. It was a model he was unfamiliar with, and looked surprisingly new for such an old ship, but still he was able to operate it. He exposed the core, and the strange light of the Faust particles lit the reactor room. He then tampered with the dampers, and slightly ramped up the particle levels. It would take a while, but eventually the particles would become self-generating, and containing them would be impossible. When it blew it would consume the ship entirely, leaving nothing but a cloud of spent particles and some small bits of twisted metal.

His work done, he turned around. If he had read the displays right, they had six hours to get clear- plenty of time, but there was no reason to
court danger. He looked around for Becky, and saw her standing at a hatch set into the wall. She had grown increasingly quiet ever since the encounter with David. She was probably numb, nearly overcome by all that had happened.

Slowly, his hand dropped to the pistol at his hip. Smoothly, without a sound, he drew and aimed it.There was no way he could miss. One bullet to the back of the head and it would be done. She wouldn’t even see it coming.It would be the easiest course of action. The girl would never have a normal life again, not after what she had seen. And for the same reason, she couldn’t simply be allowed to walk free. He could do it. He should do it. He’d done it before, after all. But he had given his word. Besides, he was curious about her. Much about this whole situation seemed off, or more off than was usual. All this ran through his head in a few seconds, and then he sighed and holstered the pistol.
Resigning himself to the earful he knew he would get later, he walked over to her. She didn’t seem to notice his approach, and he peered into the small room she was examining. Given the reactor manuals and tools scattered around, as well as the cot jammed up against a wall, he guessed it had belonged to someone on the reactor crew. What drew his eye was a shelf of books- old fashioned paper ones at that- above the cot. Mixed in with more technical manuals were a handful of trashy-looking sci-fi and fantasy novels, the works of Lovecraft among them.
There was a mix of conspiracy theory magazines on the bed, with names like “Incredible Tales” and “The Truth is out There.” The last caught his attention. Some truths are better left unknown, he thought to himself, shaking his head. “Girl,” he said, tapping her on the shoulder to get her attention. “We must go. Before long there will be nothing left of this ship.”

She seemed lost in thought, and did not react. “This was David’s room,” she said, finally. “He was always a little odd, and he spent most of his time down here, tending to the reactor. People usually just ignored him.”

“But not you,” said Sebastian.

“I came and talked to him sometimes. We weren’t great friends or anything. At least I didn’t think we were. Usually he would complain that no one liked him, that no one would listen to him.” She stared at the ground, lost in remembrance. “One day, a few weeks ago, he said that a voice in his head was telling him to be more assertive. That it would help him make people listen. I told him to give it a try.” She turned around, looking up at Sebastian. Her eyes were starting to tear up. “I just wanted him to be happy,” she whispered. “Was this my fault? Did I cause all this? All this death?” Before he could answer, she rubbed her eyes furiously and breathed deeply. She did that for about a minute, and then said “Am I coming with you?”

Sebastian hesitated, and then answered, “Yes.”

She nodded. “Good. Before we leave, I want to go to my room.”

“I don’t think we have time to-”, he began.

“You said it yourself: in a little while there will be nothing left of this place, the place I was born, the place I grew up. Everyone I’ve known my whole life is dead.” She snapped her head up and glared at him through eyes tinged red from tears. “Is it too much to ask that I be allowed to bring a change of clothes?”

Sebastian stared at her for a long moment. She was strong of will, that was clear, but he knew he could only push her so far. She was clearly compartmentalizing, and showing remarkable clarity of thought for one so young. Not many could act this way after what she had been through. If he could give her what she wanted, and keep her angry at him, it might prevent her from wallowing in her situation and going into shock. He finally gave a nod, and gestured for her to lead on. Becky wiped her eyes and set off for the stairs. About 10 minutes later, the two left the stairwell through a bulkhead door, then set off through a maze of hallways until they finally came to a door with the name “O’Casey” printed above it. Inside was a suite of cabins, impressively large for being onboard a ship. It had a kitchenette, lav-cubicle, and a small common/dining room with two doors leading from it. Becky went straight for the leftmost door, which had “Becky’s Room” painted on it in bright green letters.

“Two bags, that’s all,” he called after her. From within the cabin came a grumbled acknowledgement, and then a chorus of drawers being yanked open and zippers being unzipped and zipped. Sebastian stood in the common room, feeling that he could at least give her privacy while she distilled her whole life into a bag or two. Instead, he was thinking about what Karen and David had said.

“Becky. You said your mother and David told you they were hearing voices. Do you know if anyone else did?”

Her response came back somewhat muffled, “I don’t know, but people had been acting strange for a few days, muttering to themselves. All my friends were having trouble sleeping.”

“But you didn’t feel anything?”

“No, I didn’t. I told you that already.”

She came out of her room, with a backpack and a duffel bag stuffed to the brim. She took one last look around the small set of rooms that had been her home, then walked to the door. Sebastian was lost in thought. Something wasn’t right. He knew he was missing something. Maybe it would be better to just leave her here...

“Hey! Don’t we have to go?”

That broke him from his reverie, and he followed as she headed back towards the stairs. She was in front of him, so did not see the way the eyes of his mask stayed fixed on her. When they reached the stairs, Becky stopped.

“Wait a minute, I almost forgot something.” She then dropped her bags and ran back down the hallway. She returned shortly, holding a small bundle in one hand and a staff of wood in the other.

“Grabbed some of Mom’s jewelry, and the family pictures.” She gestured with the bundle, and knelt on the deck to squeeze it into her bag.
She placed the staff down next to her. It was too long to fit in the bag, being almost as long as Becky was tall. Sebastian glanced at it, and
did a double take.

“What is that?” he asked.

“This?” Becky looked at the stick. “Figured Mom wouldn’t have wanted me to forget this. She called it a shillylay, or something like that. Apparently it’s been in her family for centuries. Maybe even longer. It’s supposed to bring you luck, to protect you,” Her face fell. “I guess it didn’t work for her.”

“May I see it?” Becky looked over her shoulder at him quizzically, but nodded and returned to stuffing the extra items in her bags. Sebastian reached down and picked up the staff, cradling it. It was a length of solid wood, polished to a shine and about the thickness of Becky’s wrist.
It was artfully carved along its length with old symbols, both ones he recognized and ones he did not. “Shillelagh, you mean. And that’s not what this is, although it is similar.” He muttered the words without thinking, as all his attention was taken by the symbol at the top of the staff. Up there, the wood branched and knotted to form a circle. Inside that circle was a polished stone. The side facing him was white, and on it were three petals intersecting a circle, all engraved and painted black. The whole shape was girdled with miniature rose vines of astonishing detail. Above, perched on one of the petals, was a raven. These were all symbols he knew, but not together like this. He flipped the staff over in his hands, and his eyes went wide behind his helmet. Sebastian was unfamiliar with the first symbol, but the second he knew and knew well. It was far simpler than the other side – a single, small white starburst, set against a backdrop of utter blackness.

He was brought back to the present as Becky made a frustrated noise as she tried to zip up her bag. Becky, absorbed in her task, didn’t notice Sebastian come up behind her until it was too late. And she had no time to react when he locked his left hand around her jaw, and punched his right hand into the back of her skull.