March Jin Mei. As recorded by the Jars Fen Darra Chronicler of Elshara
The island city of Carrabass floated beneath a vault of bright stars on the Alvardian sand ocean. Illuminated like a golden Jewel in the darkness the island rose and fell gently, the mighty sea anchors and chains creaking as they strained to hold the island in place against the powerful currents and strong winds that flowed in from the Eesterlands. In the centre of old town district, a weather-beaten white tower stood emitting regular pulse waves in warning to the sand liners and merchant sloops that chanced the lethal narrow rock passage that offered protected access to the sand ports of Alvardia and Tarraselum.
It was, at the foot of the tower that March Jin Mei First Captain in the Brotherhood Elite found himself in a dead-end street. Tall and lithe for his race, black battle cape covering his blue and gold field dress, he moved slowly carefully adjusting the Sha Ken that hung at his side. Attempting silence, he fought the primal urge to run as every grain and piece of debris cracked under his boots threatening to reveal his presence. Surveying the crumbling elegance of the once proud town architecture he desperately sought an exit.
Until one by one, the lights momentarily flickered then failed.
Why was he in this place, facing a dead end with four shadows hemming him in? Well the answer was pure and simple. The Rage.
What was the Rage?
For most it was a romantic legend, but for March and like those chosen before him it was a consuming fire. That had so far, without exception driven all of his predecessors mad. He remembered the night it came to him.
A quite whisper drifting into the dreams of a twelve-season boy. A gentle pervasive voice that wound itself around his spirit. Without permission, it invaded his thoughts and quickly crossed the line between sleep and waking becoming part of the noise of ever day life. Its voice morphed into his own internal dialogue and subtly but surely it became part of him.
Less obvious though, were the darker things that crept into his life that night as the Rage carried in its wake a deep well of emotions so violent and overwhelming that his young character had no chance of resisting them. The extreme opposites that gave tension and balance to the universe started to tear him apart and all March knew was that when the Rage arose in him, he could no more control himself than he could the weather or the seasons.
It was after one such experience that unconscious and covered in blood, he had been found by Orka Bloodstone the Bonds Woman of his home village Carrus Fen. She had gently woken him and cleaning his wounds had taken him home. It was Orka that had recognised the Rage for what it was. She had taught him how to control the wild animal and channel it urgings. If it hadn’t been for her, he was sure he would have gone mad or perished probably by his own hand.
She had helped him, not just control what she called “The Gift” but to also begin to understand it purpose. She had promised to teach him more, but like everyone else he loved in Carrus Fen, Orka had been lost to the Malice Hoard the night they breached the Spirit Wall, killing and burning everything that had life.
Unsure of how he had survived, March wandered the Wilders until a Brotherhood patrol dispatched to seal and decontaminate the breach found him naked and near starvation. On presentation to the masters, the depth of his abilities were quickly perceived and he was sent to School. However, it was no school for numbers or letters and regardless of the fact that March was well below the age for admittance he found himself training alongside carefully selected and seasoned Jin Mei. Commonly known as the Elite Brotherhood Guard.
March quickly found The Rage a useful ally and although he was never quite certain who was in charge. The Rage or himself, it’s presence accelerated his progress through training until still at a very young age, he was used in the field to catch the prayer sellers and spirit meddlers that were attacking the integrity of the Spirit Wall. As his prowess grew and his unyielding passion for service to the Brotherhood became known he earned the unofficial title of Rojin Mei or Godless Sword amongst his peers.
It was after his return from a particularly bloody purge along the western flank of the Spirit Wall, that he was shocked to find a sealed personal communique. To his knowledge he had no family remaining but this was from someone claiming to be an old friend Archen Dura, whom he also believed long dead. Buried beneath the ruin of the Sion Space Yard, when the Lords Arbiter a class five battle cruiser had mysteriously slipped her orbit moorings and crashed planet bound into the spacer city.
On examination the communique appeared genuine, its identity fixed to the genetic marker of his old friend.
March should have known better. But as always, the Rage had its own agenda and beating to its own hidden drum had persuaded him to break every protocol in the rule book and hop a sand cruiser to the island of Carrabass. The Rage wanted him here, that much was certain. Truthfully though it didn’t have to push too hard, as the guilt that March carried for his old friend was a sufficient incentive to make him investigate any chance that may point to his friend being alive. The years since the crash long and the fact of his own survival, whilst he pictured his friend crushed and dead amongst the ruins had burnt a scar into his very soul and what he craved above all else was redemption. But then the Rage knew this, and as always used the perfect lever to bend March to its dark will.
As requested in the communique, he had arranged to meet Archen at the Broken Dagger Inn on the island of Carrabass with no backup or beacon locator.
Only not entirely to his surprise, Archen had never showed.
After unsuccessfully trying to contact Archen several times, March gave up and decided to make the most of the evening by getting to know the Carasion barmaid who went by the name of Sirena. The evening progressed well, when in between offering to climb over the bar and instruct March in the ways of Carasion love dance Sirena produced an illegal bottle of Goran fire water.
Someway through the bottle Sirena had actually climbed over the bar and helped him finish the bottle and as intended instructed him in the ways of the Carasion dance.
It had been an unexpected evening and the dance remarkable.
Leaving sometime later, with a head full of warm perfume and liquor, March made what was to be in retrospect a very badly informed decision when decided to walk back to his lodge in the hope of it sobering up. After all, he told himself it wouldn’t do for a decorated officer of the Jin Mei to arrive back at the lodge looking like a common womaniser and drunkard. Somewhere in his head a traditional song kicked off, its words recounting the tale of a Prideful soldier and his fall from grace.
Shaking the tune out of his head, March took a deep draught of the cool air outside the Broken Dagger. It smelt of Alder spice and cooking fires and reminded him of home.
Dam Archen for waking those thoughts, they had been well buried and under control. Turning in the direction of the lodge he slowly meandered his way down the lane enjoying the Calabrasion night air.
It was then, like a knock on the door of his senses, he noticed them. Even in his semi drunken state, something drew his attention to the two shadows on the opposite side of the lane keeping pace with his somewhat erratic movements. He had been close to walking across the lane and introducing himself when he caught the glint of a metallic re-breather across the mouth of one of the shadows. The sight had an instant effect, as a re-breather meant only one thing “Off worlder”.
On Elshara off worlders including, Carasion bar maids were common. However not off worlder Shadows with re-breathers. These were, without exception always Mercenaries, assassins and guns for hire.
[Contextual Extract taken from the Art of Combat. Author unknown or redacted: Translated and edited by the chronicler of Elshara in the year of the Queen 540002] Mercenary: Mercenary refers to the Breed of Shadow born within the conquered Dark world slave system. As slave flesh they are born trained and employed across the near galaxy. Cross reference: The Scrak: Selvarion: Flesh World:
Careful not to change or correct his disjointed movements, March mentally repeated a trigger word that initiated a physiological reaction. Instantly firing a measured shot of adrenaline into his system. The rush was like a bucket of ice being poured from a great height accompanied by the instant feeling of his senses tightening like the strings on a balkier. Every nuance, sound, sight and smell lighting up around him like a Formosion sun rise.
Naturally, he didn’t want the shadows to realise that.
The Rage tasted the adrenaline and stirred in his belly like a molten lake of darkness.
About to turn into a narrow alley that would take him to his lodge, March saw the first line in the first page of the enemies play. As partially hidden in the recess of a doorway he caught the slightest flicker of movement. Smoothly changing direction, he accelerated down another alley. Quickly turning left then right into a small neatly flowered square, he doubled back across a private garden and vaulting over a wall into a small lane he slowly jogged away from the shadows. Eventually slowing March found himself at the foot of a white tower facing a perfect dead end.
There was something else, or actually. Nothing to be precise.
The dead end was silent and even the hum of the city seemed muted here, like someone had thrown a dampening field around the area.
The houses facing him were dark windowed, skull like and devoid of normal life.
It was at odds with the normal rhythm of the city, as this part of the old town should have been bustling with life on a warm hot season evening. Only as he walked forward the silence deepened around him and one by one the last of the lights went out.
Everything screamed trap, the phrase “Dead End” suddenly taking on a new connotation that March had never considered before.
Then as the neurones in his consciousness finally aligned, an inescapable realisation crashed into him. That his every action and decision from the moment he had received the communique from Archen had been accurately foreseen and mapped to this very juncture.
It was little surprise then as only moments later March’s heightened senses warned him of the two shadows behind him and two more coming in from the street on his right.
Time slowed and forewarning trickled sweat down his spine as he considered the closing Shadows. An old saying like so many unbidden words burnt into his consciousness by the Brotherhood whispered in his ear.
“Two to tail four to finish”.
Four then, they were here to kill him.
Still, it was bold to attack a Brotherhood Jin Mei.
But then Mercenaries weren’t bothered with respect or repute. It was all profit to them. In the same instant, his curiosity peaked as he wondered how much his life was worth and who was their employer. Perhaps he should ask before they began?
Only then March felt the finishing touch.
It began as an ice-cold wave and cramp in his stomach then spread. A creeping paralysis that began to turn his arms and legs to stone. Invisible hands were forcing him downward toward the hard-cobbled street.
Sirena, what a simple fool he was.
The soldier’s eternal weakness for woman and drink.
She had played him and played him well. The Goran Fire water no doubt laced with a remotely activated poison that had just been triggered by one of the approaching Shadows.
March watched, as the odds of his survival tumbled alongside his rapidly diminishing options.
Four Shadows that seemed to know his every move and an unknown poison running through his system that was going to offer him up as an easy kill any moment now.
He’d had worse odds, but only just.
Whatever he needed to do it would have to be now.
The Rage screamed and licked at his mind like a wild animal wanting release, he pushed it down. He needed to focus, think and stay sharp for just a little longer.
Thankful that Sirena hadn’t been to thorough in searching him while they were entwined March palmed a small sugar ampule from a hidden pocket in his sleeve and with rapidly numbing fingers managed to get into his mouth. The warm honey like fluid coated his tongue and slid slowly down his throat, the sweetness quickly turning to a gagging bitterness.
The honey like substance was Cral venom, its effect instantaneous. It felt like someone had released lightening into his veins. As a venom, Cral venom was the most lethal substance on the planet and for ninety nine percent fatal. Unless, like March you were the one percent who still bore the single blackened scar left by the viper’s fang. His immunity to the venom now turned the very same lethal poison it into an antitoxin, that targeted and destroyed every other invader in his system.
Buying himself time to allow the Cral venom to complete its work, March obeyed the invisible hands and dropped to the ground allowing his head to drop down, as if the poison were taking hold.
A last glance around him confirmed his fears. This was an almost perfectly constructed trap with no exits, no witness’s and a what should have been a dead mark in the middle it.
Taking the level of planning into account it was clear that someone had studied him very carefully and had probably factored in his next moves.
That was fine as they would struggle to predict the moves of the last strategy. The unpredictable and random “Throwing of the curve”.
The strategy of the curve was a complete misnomer, as in fact it entailed action without strategy or plan. But then, that was the point. Only it was a balanced blade that cut both ways. The first in favour of the thrower, giving the element of surprise and providing the momentary lapse in concentration that would in most cases leave an adversary open. But the curve also ran the other way, as the necessity the curve was usually a desperate move in response to a well-planned strategy and that whatever you did would always be a secondary response and never the best choice. Only March had an addition to the curve that made the odds better than even. He had the darkness of the Rage that was already spilling over the walls of his control like a boiling caldron on a fire.
Sighing in frustration at his own foolishness at being manipulated into this place, March gently raised the hood of the black velvet cape that flowed away from the fastening at his neck. Then touching the collar stud of his battle jacket felt the compression of his cape wrap around him like vice as its molecular binding instantly altered turning the black silk material into a hardened exo-shield capable of resisting a close-proximity pulse blast or sword thrust whilst still behaving like a fine material.
Kneeling in the darkness beneath his hood and cape he stole the silent moments before combat to slow his breathing and empty his thoughts. It was technique that served him well. Only lately memories were finding a way of creeping back in.
They were mostly of his Mother, Father and brother and how ever since his encounter with The Rage and the Bonds Woman in his village his life had consisted of a series of violent collisions that made him feel like a leaf caught at the edge of a storm. A Storm that had already ripped away everything precious to him and that was now growing in intensity. The outward spiral setting in motion events that would soon determine the very fate of the planet and its people.
As well as memories creeping into the silence, there was also something else
The dark voice of the Rage.