Hymn of faith
Published by Andrew Mowere on Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Andrew Mowere
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Fantasy Short Stories:
When a man Bleeds
Murder was an ugly vice, thought Captain Jim Grey to himself as he stabbed through the mermaid’s heart. The creature tried to crawl back along the beach’s sand for a few seconds, but her futile attempts ended in death’s embrace. The militia Captain pulled out a handkerchief from within his white vest, cleaning out his goggles from smoke and charred bits of wood. His mechanical spear he furled back into a smaller form, no larger than a lighter, before pocketing it into his brown leather jacket. His overlarge hat, seeming to be a normal Victorian styled thing but outfitted with a plethora of defensive devices, hummed suddenly, indicated that it was running out of power. They only had an hour more, at best. Looking around, Jim saw that each of his twenty charges was done with their work, and that none were harmed. The Captain activated his signature flair, designed especially by him for ease of access. Seeing his signal, a large holographic trident, his soldiers came to him, and the company set off back towards the closest base. All around them other companies did the same, some taking care of their wounded or dead silently. No one cheered the victory, for this long war had taken its toll on spirits. Behind them on the beach, the bodies of the mermen were already decomposing at inhuman speeds, on account of the magical properties present in their bodies. In a few minutes there would be nothing left except organic moss. Jim sighed. What he wouldn’t give to be a carefree piece of moss right now.
Just then, trudging along a muddy path from November’s constant downpour, the young Captain caught something out the corner of his eye. He waved his second in command forward along with the rest of his company. He sighed, thinking that he’d seen a straggler merman hiding from the slaughter. He’d killed far more than he wanted to today. Still, work was work. He went into the shrubs, knowing that his company should already be pretty far forward, having turned on their mobility devices worked into their uniforms. Mike and the others knew more than to worry for Jim Grey’s safety. The man was a prodigy, being not only the youngest officer in history, but somewhere in the top highest military capabilities of the entire human Frontier. To wait for him would be silly.
Surprisingly, the figure lying on brambles and thorns was not a merman. At least, not entirely. In an instant, Jim felt his body rocked by a chill. All these years of war, the only thing to have brought the two races of mermen and humans together was cold steel and warm blood. Death had always been the missing link.
Who would have thought to merge life between them?
Next to the baby, the remnants of a merperson lay, rotting. The mother, presumably? Did a pregnant mermaid come to this battlefield? The baby was covered in her life’s essence, and not a sound came from it. It blinked in the sunlight, and Jim’s instincts took over, honed by years of warfare and murder.
There was no way he was letting a child die.
He took the babe in his arms as a tear fell from his left eye. It was a strange feeling for the war veteran, for he’d not shed tears since the day his own mother tried to kill him under urging from her opium dealer. He hugged the poor orphaned baby, murmuring “I’m sorry for your mother. You’ll be alright, little baby.”
Jim reached the lab of his command post under the cover of night, unseen by any. He knocked on the door and doctor Mist opened the door, a smile upon his elderly face. “Oh, if it isn’t young C-“ he started, before Jim clamped his mouth shut. “I’m sorry, doctor,” he explained, steering the alarmed but cooperative doctor to a chair, “I just think it’s better that no one know I was here tonight. I’ll come back publicly tomorrow, but for now, I’m still twenty miles west. Is that alright?”
Dr Mist nodded silently, and Jim pulled back his hand. “Well, I’m sure you have something important for me this time. Is it another Merman relic? I told you I can’t help there. The technology they use is just as advanced as ours, but in a completely different direction. No matter how much you flatter, I just cannot make any headway. It’s closer to what we’d call magic than anything else, so analysing these relics is too hard and- What’s that you have in your arms?” The question was asked with as much curiosity as suspicion, but when Jim pulled the baby out from under his jacket, the doctor’s mouth hung open, slack jawed. The child had aged what seemed to be a month in the time Jim had waited to enter the facility, and was now cooing at the doctor. He had washed it, given it some water, and gathered it in a bundle of cloth: winter was no time for a newborn.
“That..that….” the doctor mumbled, taken aback “human eyes, normal fingers… but that skin! And those fangs! I’ve never heard of anything like it! we didn’t think it was possible! Jim… by god, is it yours?!” the old man’s eyes were wild and accusatory as he pointed a finger at Jim, but the young Captain hushed him down before explaining how he had found the baby. It took him less than a minute to run the doctor down the story of the battle, starting to head home, then seeing the baby. “Oh, oh, oh poor child,” remarked the doctor, wiggling his fingers before the child now nestled on a number of blankets on his desk. Little cooing noises filled the small mess of a lab, and Jim ruefully wondered when the last time that he had heard a child laugh was. “So young and completely alone already… Now,” His face suddenly changed, and for an instant Jim felt frightened by the doctor’s presence and anger. The doctor’s voice remained calm and pleasant, but Jim knew it to be a facade. “I earnestly hope that you did not bring this baby to me, an inventor and biological researcher, for any reasons beyond finding the best life for it.” In but an instant, Jim understood: The doctor was worried about being asked to experiment on the child. He smiled and simply answered “Him, doctor, not it. This is a baby boy.” The old man gave his younger counterpart a slightly surprised look of approval at that. The simple knowing of that child’s gender seemed to further awaken his grandfatherly instincts. He was like a parent watching his child’s sonar image for the first time.
The doctor beamed at the child, knowing that no harm would come to the child.
They spent the next few hours discussing what to do with the baby. It was decided that for the time being it had to call the lab home, since no one usually came into it except Jim himself. They had to hide the child. “I believe,” the doctor theorized, “That this abnormal rate of growth is just for the purpose of allowing the baby to be able to protect itself in the ocean. It should stabilize soon enough. But how long can we keep the baby’s existence a secret, anyhow?” Jim Grey chuckled mischievously, causing Dr Mist to feel nervous. Everyone knew that chuckle, coming from the young commander who never laughed. It was always trouble.
“Don’t you worry about that, I have a new invention just for that….”
Within a few months, young Leo reached the maturity of a seven year old and started growing at normal speeds. At that point Jim was done with his new invention, a wristwatch that doubled as a hologram creator. Using that invention, Leo was able to pass for a normal human, and one would only be able to find his true heritage by touching his teeth. After all, holograms were only visual illusions. Thus the child’s blue skinned heritage could be concealed.
Doctor Mist, naturally, became infatuated with the boy. It seemed that he hadn’t seen his own grandchildren in years and in Leo he found a vessel into which to pour all of his love. He taught the boy everything from how to speak to reading to mathematics. Jim was surprised at how fast the boy was able to pick things up, and thought it no surprise if he grew up to have an intellect comparable to his own or the doctor’s in years to come. More of a discovery was the fact that the boy’s internal structure was practically identical to a human being’s. It was almost as if the only difference was in his teeth and skin. Jim thought back to the doubts he and the doctor had when they found out that differences in the organs between them and a race they had fought against for nearly forty two years were minimal.
Still, differences did exist, and the one that was most astonishing was the discovery of abilities in Leo not unlike what the mermen boasted. The partial transformation of his lower half into that of a fish, aquakinesis, as well as telekinesis seemed to be intricately and instinctively possible for the child, although to a lesser degree than full mermen. Such things were impossible for humans, and Jim forbade Leo from showing anybody what he was capable of, barring the doctor and himself.
After another month, Leo was “allowed” into the camp as one of Doctor Mist’s grandchildren. A story was fabricated where his son was expecting one extra child whom he could not afford to feed, forcing him to send the oldest to his grandfather. An entire history was spun carefully by the child, who proved a capable actor and moved many of the barrack’s hardened men to tears. The boy came to be adopted by the entirety of Jim’s barracks as a mischievous nephew as well as a sort of mascot of good luck. To each of them, he became a symbol of what they were fighting for. Of course not all of the twenty Captains were in agreement, for it was against the rules to bring children into camp. However, out of all of them Jim ranked the highest and had the most merits of war. He was practically commander of the entire camp, after the Major and the Lieutenant Colonel, who rarely dabbled in such minor affairs. Besides, the white coated doctor was an extremely respected man, due to his inventions and expertise saving a great deal many lives. Seeing how happy he was to have the child along with him, no one had the heart to sound public dissent.
And so the months and years passed. Jim was rarely in the command post, since war was a busy time for soldiers. When he was, he spent as much time as possible with the child, teaching Leo how to defend himself, act like a soldier, and how to read people. These were things that doctor Mist neglected in his education, as scientific as the man was. The child seemed to have a natural knack for Jim’s style of battle, relying on agility and observation to dodge and determine the enemy’s weakness. When it was required, physical combat relied on delivering precise strikes to weak points, or using whatever inventions and tools were available. Such battle was tricky, requiring quick thinking and mental flexibility. On his tenth birthday, Jim presented the almost white haired child with a replica of his own mechanical spear, gungir. He also taught Leo how to make miniature grenades, electrical tasers on his gauntlets, and other small knickknacks that would allow him to save himself when the time came. Leo was aware of it himself: The day would come when he was expected to enlist with everyone else and fight the mermen side by side with Jim.
“Do you resent it?” asked the now Major once, scratching his smooth jaw. He was apparently unable to grow a beard, and was often teased about it by the other officers. Still, everyone respected the dark haired man. Besides, the ladies quite liked his boyish looks. Perhaps that was why the others teased him. He and Leo sat upon a sand dune, watching the barracks and sky behind it. Far away the sea waited patiently, like a heavy presence.
The young five year old (practically twelve for all intents and purposes) would be forced to fight against half of his heritage, against his mother’s people. There was no other way for him to survive. “We killed your mother, your family, and now we are raising you to hide who you are and be a tool of ours. It was humans who did that. The doctor may not experiment on you, but he does use you to understand the bodies of the mermen. It doesn’t seem like you’ll ever know the rest of your half, since you’re stuck with us. Do you hate me for picking you up that day, Leo?” He asked to probe. Despite caring for the child, he needed to know if he was raising a little monster. If so, it would be better to send Leo away from the battlefield and have him engage in a normal life somewhere.
The young boy glanced at the Captain with his big blue eyes, wise far beyond their years, and said “A little.” Jim sighed, he expected as such. “But then again, this is the life that I have. It might be nice to live with both Men and Mermen, but this is all I know. If peace comes, wonderful. If not, I’m glad to have you and the doctor, at least.” He giggled, then laughed out loud, his face pointing upwards at the blue sky, possibly sniffing the far off ocean he hadn’t had the chance to see yet. “You’re such a liar, uncle Jim.” He exclaimed, laughing himself to tears.
Jim was perplexed. “What do you mean?”
“Hah, I know you hate the war more than anyone. That information you have about my body, you’re trying to use it to end the war. You know that if the humans decide to stop, so will the Mermen. You can’t tell anyone I exist, but you and grandpa are trying your best to make sure the war ends as soon as possible. Do you know my favourite part about this month was?” The sudden question, paired with the knowledge Leo apparently had about his efforts, left Jim dumbfounded. He just shook his head and the young child chuckled. “I found my father,” said the boy, shocking Major Grey even more. “Grandpa was able to match half of my biological runes to a Soldier’s records. Meyer Stephenson was his name.” Jim didn’t know the man, although he thought he’d heard the name before.
“And?” he asked tentatively, his hand clutching a handful of white ash like sand beneath him. One of the things he and the doctor were most worried about was concerned with Leo’s sire. Terrible things were done during war…
“He was almost kicked out of the military because he didn’t like fighti ng mermen. He was never married, and people called him the merman lover. He’s dead, died a month before my mom. After dying, love letters were found in his room, addressed to a Maya... they didn’t say too much about how she looked, but… My- My mother’s name is Maya, uncle Jim.” The Major had never thought a person could become so happy from knowing such a simple fact. He’d assumed that he and the doctor had done well with Leo, but perhaps they neglected a part of his education after all. Jim lifted up the boy’s face, who had been staring at his feet and fiddling with his fingers, to look him in the eyes. The tenderness he saw cut him as deeply as a merman’s fang. “I may be an orphan, but my father was no criminal and my mother was neither rape victim nor mistress. I was made of love, Uncle.” The words were said with the utmost pride and Jim held the child as he cried into his chest.
In that moment, he did not even wish that he’d been as lucky a child as the boy. He simply swore to himself that he would end this war, some day. One more rank.
It was five years later that Jim Grey finally got promoted to being a Colonel. Since being a Lieutenant Colonel, he had started to gain more political weight, and he already had a few friends that would help him start to publish some of the research Doctor Mist had about mermen. They called themselves the green trident party, and were moving things quite slowly towards a path of peace. However, as a Colonel he would be able to directly exert influence from Headquarters. He was musing over the difficulties he would encounter, since all the higher ups were convinced the only path to peace was total annihilation, when a knock came on his door. “Enter”, he said, and was surprised to see young Leo come into the room, in a white shirt, brown pants and jacket and boots, as well a mechanical spear stuffed into a holster on his belt. “Ah, it’s time, I see,” remarked the -still- Lieutenant Colonel, trying hard not to fret. The boy looked dashing with his white hair and blue eyes, getting ready for his first battle. Mike should be able to take care of him until his baby fat wore off. He had Jim’s green trident emblazoned on his jacket, since he was now part of Captain Mike’s men, and the man chose not to change the symbol after taking over the company. Jim would have liked to have had mike as a Major, but other Captains took precedence. Still, the grizzly Major Storm was also a capable and loyal man. All in all, Jim had total command of this seaside 4000 warior station, as well as many men from the HQ, Yggsdrail. He could well hope to become the Field Marshal in time, but it may still not be enough to achieve his goals. It may have fall upon someone else’s shoulders to continue his work.
Leo cut off Jim’s train of thought by walking around his desk and kneeling in front of his chair, like one awaiting knighthood. Jim Grey’s office had no windows, and the young soldier took advantage of this to disable his cloaking device, revealing his heritage. “Your blessings,” he asked, and Jim smiled. He placed his right hand on the youth’s head, and instead of asking for his victory he whispered, “Stay safe.” There was a flash, and when Leo looked back up he looked human again, a red flush upon his grinning face. Without another word he filed out of the office and towards his comrades in arms, presumably. Jim leaned back into his chair. He wished he could go with them, just to make sure nothing happened on Leo’s first fight. Still, he had his own battles to fight. He needed to get to HQ to finalize his promotion and meet with the higher ranked officers. He stood up slowly, and went to get Major Storm. A few guards went with them, of course, but he simply grinned at them a second before sprinting off at full speed with the enhanced capabilities of his uniform, yelling “Try to keep up.” Despite everything, he himself was still barely into his thirties, after all.
It took but a day for them to reach HQ, despite the distance. They arrived at nightfall, which made the sight of the building all the more amazing. For all intents and purposes, the building looked an enormous tree decorated with starlight, like the trees people used to put in their homes long before the war. It was part of some ancient festival marking a new year’s coming, Jim had heard. The main building served the part of the tree’s trunk, and at its top branching hallways marked the branches, rooms acting as leaves and fruit. It all looked over the top, but Jim knew that it was to make it harder to accurately aim at any one part of HQ. Each room, like a heavily laden fruit, could be disengaged and dropped at opponents amassed underneath. Each branch was filled with cannons, and each starlight was in fact a window from which defenders could fire their weapons. Behind him, Jim’s two guards gasped in wonder, causing him to chuckle. Of course, the true purpose of the Yggsdrail, the world tree, was to impress. It was a symbol of earth, and by extension, humanity’s struggle. All over the tree humming could be heard, for it was of course a clockwork building, filled at its core with gears and turning parts, heat and energy, elevators and elaborate mechanisms. The building had been designed almost completely by doctor Mist’s father.
Jim was escorted inside with his companions, where they were treated to a hot meal, a bath, and a fluffy bed. All of these were delicacies rarely enjoyed outside the fortress and were deeply appreciated. Before going to bed, Jim was informed that he was expected in the morning at the Field Marshal’s meeting room at 0800 hours.
At 0750 Jim Grey and Major Storm stood outside the meeting room at attention. When the door opened they filed in along with their guards. A minute later the room filled with officers. Field Marshal Helion, commander of the entire human Frontier army, General Stark, as well as his two Lieutenant Generals, two Major Generals, and three Brigadiers. Added to them were 3 other Colonels, each one responsible for one of the four main camps and their Lieutenant Colonels. Today Jim was to take over the fourth main camp and official rank of Colonel, commanding from this very building. Each of the men were in their fifty’s at least, all experienced veterans. Jim Grey was to be the youngest Colonel in history. Of all the men in this room, a quarter of them were in the green trident party. However, something was amiss.
There was no reason for all of these officers to be here. The ceremony should have been just the Field Marshall, then two Brigadiers and one Lieutenant General. Each of the men sat around the large conference table with his cap set before him facing outward. All looked grim. Jim sat, with Storm behind him. They waited.
“Lieutenant Colonel Grey!” exclaimed Stark, the General and effective commander here after Helio. “I’m glad you could join us. How do you like Yggsdrail so far?” The man had a tough build, unmarred by his age, and a scar running down his left cheek, connecting his ear to his mouth.
“Quite well, sir,” answered Jim wryly. “It’s just as I remember it.”
“Ah, indeed! I forgot you were raised here. Where are you from originally? Brennt?” Jim was just about to correct the man when the large General put his hands on the table with a sense of authority very few possessed. “No matter, you’re one of ours now. You’re going to stay here for a very long time, you know.” The last remark had a menacing quality to it that was not lost on Jim. Wasn’t that the whole reason of him being here? “You must be wondering,” Stark went on “why there are more officers here than customary for a simple Colonel ascension. It’s puzzling, isn’t it, Wright?” the last question was directed at his Lieutenant, who said, “Quite, sir,” his tone matching the suspicious look he had fixed on Jim. The Colonels and the rest seemed to have no more idea about the proceedings than Jim himself, and looked genuinely puzzled at the turn this was taking. The only other expression was upon Field Marshal Helion’s old scar ridden face. His intelligent eyes had nothing but amusement in them. The man had been commander even before the war started in earnest. Many speculated that to the long lived man, the entire thing was nothing more than a squabble between children.
General Stark intruded upon Jim’s musings. “You see, Lieutenant Colonel, today was supposed to be your new promotion. But something happened in the west frontier while you were gone. News reached us at dawn today.”Jim remembered that his camp had gone to battle the day before, but it was just supposed to be a routine skirmish by the beach, nothing more. His heart raced. An ambush?
“Are my men alright?” he asked, his voice barely held in check.
“Oh, perfectly alright,” replied the man conversationally, scratching his scar. “But it was a close thing. A newcomer had tripped on the mud, and a mermaid leapt up to slash his throat.” Jim wondered where this was going. There was no way that such things would interest the officers here. Then his heart caught in his throat, constricting. Something must have shown on his face, for Stark smiled “Yes, something amazing happened. When the mermaid attacked him, a wave surged up, and the water stopped her.” The room went deathly silent: every eye in the room turned towards Jim. All of them were shocked except for Stark, Wright, and Helion. “But, I’m sure you already suspected something like that had happened, he wore your insignia on his jacket…” The general’s gloating eyes betrayed a hard edge to them. “Did you think that you could experiment on humans without reporting your findings? Honestly, was it something you were going to use against HQ?”
Jim was shocked at this jump of reasoning, and surged to try and explain things as best as he could. “Sir, you don’t unders-“
“Know your place, Colonel!” bellowed the man at the top of his lungs. He was red in the face, panting with rage and barely pent up aggression. “I don’t have anything to hear from you now. We will talk in the interrogation room. Your man or beast or whatever it is, he’s being brought here as we speak. We will know everything before we hang the both of you for treason.” With a gesture not unlike that of swatting a pesky fly, the General said, “That is all. Dismissed.”
Jim sat in his seat for a second, weighing everything that Stark had said, how sure of himself he had seemed. Hang the both of you. The man was simply not going to listen. He thought about all the hard work he had gone through, and the likely consequences of his actions. Yesterday, the best that he could have hoped for was paving the way for his successor to end this war. Now…
Jim sighed, and before anyone could react he pulled out Gungir and casually pressed a button at its base. It unfolded into a spear immediately and instantly a harpoon shot out, pinning Stark’s already-dead body into the wall behind him in the matter of a second. The man hadn’t had a chance to register the attack, and his face still kept its smug expression, even as his eyes went dead and his life’s blood fled his chest, dripping unto the nicely carpeted floor.
In an instant, thirteen men had their weapons trained on Jim as he let Gungir fall to the floor with a dull thud. The only one still seated was the Field Marshal, although his eyes had a bit more seriousness in them now. It was as well, for word was the Field Marshal used explosives.
There were blades, axes, guns, even a sort of fishing pole with energy sizzling along its length, all seeking a reason to end Jim Grey’s life then and there. Jim took a deep long breath, put up his best non aggressive front, and announced “Gentlemen! We have fought this war based on the assumption that we were he mermen’s betters, that they were glorified animals. We struck first, thinking them not capable of reasoning nor thought… nor love.” At this some of the men shifted their weights. “Let me tell you a story. Kill me if you must, but if all goes well and you listen with an open mind… Gods… we can have peace in ten years, damn you!” for an instant his words failed him, but then the Field Marshal opened his mouth for the first time that day. Everyone looked to him at that moment, knowing that he held Jim’s life in his scarred hand.
“Tell me.” He murmured in his wise old voice. His eyes held the promise of a child’s curiosity.
Five years later, three men sat around a white table on the white sand. They signed a white piece of paper and had a white dove with them. Only one of them was white. The Field Marshal sported black hair combed over one eye, the other one looking grey as life sometimes liked to be. He had no facial hair, and while he pretended to read the paper, Jim Grey was actually listening to the sound of the waves. He did not need to read the paper, for he had the thing committed to memory.
The second man looked nothing like Jim. He had blue hair and blue skin, long fingernails, and something akin to a cat’s eye. He also pretended to read the piece of paper, although like Jim he had no need to. This was the king of mermen, ruler of Atlantis. His chair was made of water, for he liked its touch. Its form was kept intact by a tiny mental effort of his. King Alzhaer had proved Jim’s match in negotiation, and had a keen tactical mind. This the man had welcomed. Trade worked better with two capable men.
The third man, strangely, looked like a mixture of the two. He had a number of scars upon his otherwise spotless blue skin, but he also had clear blue eyes and pure white hair. It had turned out to be a sign in the lands of mermen that one was born with a great Gift, a magical power unique to their race. Jim liked to think that the man himself was the gift. Without him none of this would have been possible.
When the Field Marshal and the king shook hands to finalize the peace treaty, it was Leo who stood witness and bound their hands in blessing.
Thank you for reading this story. I hope it was an enjoyable experience. If you would like, please have a look at my Shakespir, amazon, scriggler, or goodreads. I even have twitter.
This is a short fantasy story about a war between humans and the merfolk. It follows Jim Grey, an officer willing to do anything in order to secure peace. In the human Frontier, such views are considered unorthodox to say the very least, for they have been fighting long before anyone other than their seemingly immortal Field Marshal was born.