Cythera Chronicles: Collusion, Chap. 1-3



  • Chapter 1
    Five Years Later, After the purge of the ‘corrupt’ judges...

    The rain poured down unrelentingly on the roofs and streets of Cademia, soaking any person, noble or vagrant, who dared be out in such weather.

    Horgan peered through the gray mists at the inviting entrance to the Alraeican Tavern and Explorer’s Club.

    The warm glow of the lamps inside seemed to penetrate the cold, wet atmosphere outside. Horgan recognized the slightly reddish tint of Gum-Whale oil burning, a sign that this establishment was using a product imported from his homeland.

    In his younger years, he’d seen the development of the inter-island zeppelin fleet, and how the many lands of Cythera had founded a confederation of mutual protection. Then came the second leader of the confederation, Jalos the Mad. His purges, carried out at the hands of his fanatically loyal secret police, had destroyed Cythera’s system of justice, and left most of the traditional houses in ruin. Only the ousting of Jalos and the reforms of the much more level-headed leader Tarja had set things back on track, ensuring that such tyranny could never again exist.

    But the dissension Jalos feared was real, if not so far reaching. It was only a matter of time before political disagreement broke out into rebellion, Horgan knew that much.

    There was no sense thinking in the rain, so Horgan entered the structure, his thoughts drifting back to the days of pioneering explorers and treasure seeking adventures playing on his mind. He’d been among their ranks back then, and he was counted among the minority who had come out on top in what was a very risky profession, to say the least.

    Horgan sat down at a table near the newly installed coal stove, glad to be out of the cold outside. Forty years ago, such devices were unheard of, clay ovens were the status quo in heating. He removed his hide gloves and faced his rough palms toward the radiant stove.

    "Cold Evening, eh Horgan?" Inquired a voice from behind the counter.

    Horgan shook his head. "I’ve lived through colder," he replied.

    "I’d suppose you have," the man tending the bar agreed, and returned to washing glasses.

    "That reminds me of the sixth expedition across the great mountains. Now, Marchal, that was indeed truly cold. In that kind of weather, someone could remove their glove for a minute and find their hand frozen solid!" Horgan continued.

    The bartender turned around to face Horgan. "My Grandfather was a lieutenant scout on the Sixth expedition. Did you know him? He was a tall man, black hair and a beard?"

    Horgan pondered briefly, then answered. "I knew him. His name was Velcarn, correct?"

    "Indeed it was."

    "Your grandfather was a fine man, Marchal. Myself and the other captains all trusted him. There wasn’t a disloyal or cowardly bone in his body."

    Marchal nodded.

    "He died with honor, your grandfather. If it weren't for his sacrifice, I wouldn’t be here today. He saved the entire expedition."

    The discussion was interrupted by the entrance of two armed soldiers, shattering the peace. The soldiers were clad in shining steel armor, and armed with chemical bombs and serrated swords.

    Neither soldier looked very happy. "What can I do for you?" inquired Marchal.

    "We’re here for Rothan, we know the rebel’s in here!"

    Despite Marchal’s protest, they began searching the premises. "I assure you, I know not any such person. If this ‘Rothan’ is here, it’s none of my doing!" he said.

    The soldiers, undeterred, barged into the storeroom, swords held high. A shout of alarm rung out, followed by a minor explosion in the storeroom. Responding to the cry, four more soldiers ran into the tavern.

    Horgan leaped up, his war-honed reflexes still sharp. He drew his ornate but deadly battle axe and poised to strike whatever emerged from the door.

    Suddenly, a figure clad in black and brandishing a dagger leaped out from the storeroom, and into the middle to the group of soldiers. He hesitated and tried to escape, but it was too late. The soldiers turned and grabbed the man, and in moments he was bound in fetters.

    The first soldier emerged from the storeroom, supporting a wounded comrade.

    "No Rothan, Marchal?" He inquired, helping the injured man take a seat in one of the chairs.

    "I had no inkling of any of this, I promise!" Marchal exclaimed breathlessly.

    "You can tell it to the judge. You’re under arrest for aiding a traitor to the confederation!" The soldier barked.

    "Let’s go. We’ve done our job!" Ordered the first soldier.

    At that, the group of them departed, dragging Marchal and Rothan with them.

    Horgan got up and left the tavern. Marchal was innocent, Horgan was sure of it. A dwarf’s instinct never lied!

    Horgan watched forlorn as the soldiers dragged their prisoners into a steam wagon, and drove off to the tribunal in Odemia. Could he do something?

    ------------

    The road to Odemia ahead of Horgan was a combination of mud, dirt, and the occasional horse leavings. The rain had let up, but it was still freezing cold, endeavoring to penetrate the warm cocoon of the whale skin armor he wore.

    'Marchal would not aid a traitor, would he?' Horgan suppressed the thought of doubt.
    'Of course he wouldn’t,' Horgan thought. He held he horse’s reins in his gloved hands.

    Horgan’s breath formed a steamy cloud in front of his face. It was past midnight, he was sure. The steam wagon he pursued was not faster than his horse, but he’d slowed down over the last hour. It was best that the soldiers didn’t know he was in pursuit. Stealth had never been a dwarven strength, but he’d been around enough to have picked up the basics.

    Horgan looked up ahead. He saw the faint glow of the wagon’s lanterns, orange light illuminating the woods a hundred yards ahead. He, of course, traveled without a lantern. He could see perfectly well in the moonlight, a luxury not shared by the humans.

    He repressed a yawn. Dwarf or not, Horgan was tired. However, if the soldiers kept moving, so did he.

    -----
    Chapter 2

    "So, what is this treason you’ve pulled me into?" Asked Marchal of his fellow prisoner, apparently called Rothan.

    "There no treason on our... err, my, part!" sneered Rothan. "The only treason is what the new order is doing to this land! Those confederate lizards want to do nothing other than make everyone the same, mix all the cultures together. They won’t stop unless someone stands up, and that’s going to be me, bartender. And we’ve got an ally, too. With our allies’ help, we won’t fail."

    Rothan huffed in approval at his mildly charismatic speech, as Marchal looked on indifferently.

    For the next ten minutes, all that was heard was the rhythmic thump-woosh of the primitive steam engine.

    Marchal broke the silence. "Well, what made you choose my tavern for your little hideout? And what exactly were you doing, anyway? I think I deserve to know!"

    "Since the mission is failed anyway, I see no harm in telling you. Besides, I’m as good as dead as soon as the tribunal looks at me," the rebel replied. "It started a month ago, when my, shall we say, friends, caught wind of the upcoming visit of a very famous confederation war hero to you’re establishment, a certain adventurer by the name of ‘Flynn’"

    Marchal interrupted the story. "Yes, he’s due to arrive tomorrow, but with the Tavern in shambles and me being hauled off to a tribunal, it looks as if his visit may have to be resceduled..."

    Rothan continued. "We assumed you’d bring out you’re finest North Shore wine for such an event, correct?"

    "We were planning that, yes. It’s the best Cytheran wine, after all."

    "My mission involved adding some special ingredients to the beverage."

    "An assassination? You’d have killed the entire ensemble! Are you with no shred of decency?" Marchal replied, stricken.

    "Oh, some things require sacrifice, Marchal. This is one of them, and besides, no one is... go..ing to... die..." Suddenly, Rothan’s words became difficult, as if his mind were suddenly fading.

    "Oh... no... no death.... only the bliss... but I must... tell... no mo..re..."
    Marchal looked on helplessly as Rothan leaned back against the wall and expired.

    "Rothan? What happened?" Marchal inquired as he leaned over Rothan’s body.
    Marchal lifted the rebel’s wrist, feeling for a pulse.

    Nothing. Rothan was dead.

    "Driver, I think he’s dead!" Marchal shouted to the driver of the steam wagon.

    The soldier functioning as driver pulled a long control rod, stopping the engine. He and another soldier stepped down form the control booth and walked around to the cell in the rear of the machine.

    The soldiers drew their swords, they knew this could be the classic ploy for luring a guard into a prison cell.

    Unlocking the large, steel lock on the bars, the driver stepped into the cell. Marchal spoke up. "Sir, we were talking and suddenly, he seemed to have difficulty speaking, then he just... died!"

    The driver remained skeptical of the tale. The second soldier examined the newly dead captive, and confirmed that Rothan was indeed dead.

    "You killed him, didn’t you?" Accused the driver, pointing his gloved finger at Marchal.

    "Couldn’t have him talking at the tribunal, could you?"

    "No, I had nothing to do with this!" Marchal exclaimed.

    The soldiers were unconvinced as they locked the cell and returned to their posts. The wagon headed for Odemia, with one less prisoner and the thought of one more crime.

    -----

    Horgan watched as some kind of disturbance came over the wagon ahead of him.
    The driver was stopping the vehicle. Horgan watched with interest as the driver extracted himself from the control booth and joined another soldier around back at the cell.

    What had happened, Horgan wondered, slightly confused.

    In a few moments, the wagon continued ponderously southward.

    Horgan stopped momentarily to drink from his canteen, another fine device imported from his homeland, now an aid to adventurers everywhere. The water was cool and crisp, chilled by the night air.

    He stretched and returned the canteen to it’s place. The wagon was moving again now, he’d do well to return to following it.

    -----
    Chapter 3

    Marchal sat forlorn in the cell, trying to catch some sleep. The dead man sharing the cell with him didn’t help.

    He listened to the rhythm of the engine, to the quiet conversation of the soldiers above the cell, to the cracks and pops of the fire in the boiler, and to the stretching, fleshy tearing sound coming from next to him...

    Fleshy tearing sound?

    Marchal sprung awake to a disturbing sight.

    Rothan was evidently not human. He watched in stunned horror as the being he’d thought was a human disintegrated into a outer shell of human and perhaps a hundred small, mushroom like creatures. They climbed out of their host-shell, and onto the cell floor as the now empty skin collapsed.

    Marchal looked over the parasites. They were small, about two inches tall. Brown in color, and shaped very much like a mushroom with octapoidal tendrils emerging from their stems.

    We are Shroomish. We speak for the Overmind. Marchal was taken aback as words poured into his mind without a voice.

    The shell Rothan is gone. He had to be pruned to preserve the secrets of the Overmind.

    Marchal was unsure how to respond. He tried thinking a response to the creatures. Who are you?

    We are Shroomish. We Speak for the Overmind.

    Yes, You said that. But why are you here?

    We controlled host-shell ‘Rothan’ over its useful lifetime. Its assignment came to an end when its local intelligence attempted to release secrets.

    Marchal was worried. Did the parasites recognized him as an innocent bystander?

    We sense your fear, ‘Marchal’, and you need not be afraid. We desire no harm to you, but we can not let you to live with the knowledge of us while you are unassimilated into the control of the Overmind. Prepare to receive us...

    Marchal stood up, and took a defensive posture. _No, you may not do that!

    You have no choice. It is the will of the Overmind. No one may defy it’s will and not be pruned.

    We’ll see about that!_

    The Shroomish beings charged in one united cluster at Marchal’s feet. His boot connected with the vanguard, crushing them into a fungal puree. Marchal yelled for the guards as he leaped over to the other side of the cell.

    You can not stand against us, we shall prevail against your futile efforts.

    Marchal was relived as he heard the steam wagon grind to a halt, but he was not out of the woods yet. He felt something climbing his leg. With a swat, the invader was dispatched. But more Shroomish were surrounding him, taking positions so that it would be difficult for him to jump somewhere that wasn’t occupied by a parasite.

    _Why do you resist? Serving the Overmind is a privilege!

    I DO NOT WANT THIS ‘PRIVILEGE’!_

    Suddenly, the soldiers burst into the cell, swords brandished. The Shroomish were taken aback briefly.

    Prepare to receive us. Communicated the Shroomish to the soldiers as most of them turned to attack the soldiers.

    The soldiers, overcome with shock, watched as all but a few Shroomish launched an assault. Seeing his chance for escape, Marchal stepped over the few remaining Shroomish and out of the cell as the strangely outmatched guards fought the tiny parasites.

    Sadly, the advantages to surprise and speed had by the Shroomish were too great an influence on the capabilities of the first soldier, and the Shroomish had control of him in moments. The second soldier, busy fighting off Shroomish himself, was taken unaware when his former comrade turned and knocked him unconscious.

    Above, the driver, unable to hear the confrontation over the venting steam, saw Marchal run off into the bush. Jumping down from his post, and ran off in pursuit.

    "Prisoner! Halt!" He commanded.

    Marchal knew the soldier would catch up to him, but he wanted it to happen as far away from the wagon, and thus the Shroomish, as possible. He slowed down, allowing the soldier to approach with more ease.

    "What do you think you’re doing?" The driver inquired.

    "There... are... creatures..." Marchal panted.

    "What? Creatures?"

    "Yes... Shroomish..."

    "Eh? What’s a Shroomish?"

    Suddenly, a chemical bomb rolled in between the driver and Marchal

    "Look Out!" shouted the soldier as he yanked Marchal behind a tree with himself.

    BANG!

    The bomb exploded just as the two were safely behind the tree. The driver looked around the tree in time to see two of the soldiers, now assimilated by the Shroomish, emerging from the brush.

    "We are Shroomish. We act for the Overmind," said the soldiers in terrifying unison.

    The soldier looked almost as terrified as Marchal himself had been, or, rather, still was.

    The Shroomish-controled soldiers drew their fearsome swords from their scabbards, ready to strike as they advanced.

    The driver removed a bomb from his belt, and flung it into the midst of the attacking soldiers.

    The soldiers leapt in precision away from the bomb, before it exploded into a fireball.

    Marchal decided that the driver would not likely care if he departed now. With a start, he fled. Running into the bush as fast as his legs could carry him, until he was deep within the forest.

    He was alone with the lizards and trees, finnaly free of the Shroomish menace. Only an expert tracker could find him here - hopefully, the ‘Shroomish’ hadn’t assimilated any expert trackers.

    ------

    Horgan watched the disturbance ahead with interest. The early morning light illuminated a strange spectacle before Horgan’s keen vision. First, a shout, then the wagon stopped and the guards got out. Then, Marchal darted away.

    Was he suicidal? Why would he try to flee with the soldiers there? Horgan only became more baffled when the soldiers did not pursue their prisoner. Rather, they stood there, seemingly whacking randomly with their swords. Then, one hit the other, knocking him out.

    Had the soldiers gone mad, suddenly rendered insane by some force?

    Horgan was in a state of disbelief by the time the driver got down and pursued Marchal, apparently oblivious to the ruckus taking place behind the wagon.

    Horgan thought things couldn't get any more absurd.

    Soon, things cleared away, and Horgan approached the wagon, now devoid of the soldiers, who’d gone running off into the woods moments ago.

    The wagon’s boiler was still at full power, venting steam into the air with a low whistling sound.

    Horgan noticed an unconscious soldier’s form, lying near the cell door. This must have been the man the other soldier knocked out. Horgan bent down to the soldier.

    He seemed in fairly good condition, though he’d received a blow hard enough to knock his helmet loose. Horgan opened a pouch slung around his shoulder, and removed a tiny blue bottle. He uncorked the bottle, allowing the dwarven smelling salts to meet his nose. Most humans disliked the odor, though most dwarves were fairly indifferent to the smell. Either way, they normally did an equally good job reviving members of either race.

    Horgan had purchased the bottle a year ago, the last time he visited his brother’s apothecary shop in Galt. His brother sold only the finest herbal remedies and concoctions, such as the salts in his hand.

    He waved the salts beneath the nose of the fallen soldier. The soldier stirred, but did not quickly rise. As Horgan did this he took a look at the immediate surroundings. There were tracks, made by the soldier’s boots, and the deep ruts made by the huge wheels of the wagon on the wet road. Horgan was half surprised it hadn’t sank into the ground, given the weight of its immense boiler and cast-iron engine.

    Suddenly, Horgan saw something very disturbing to someone who recognized what it was. A Shroomish corpse, lying in the dirt. Horgan temporarily gave up the effort to revive the soldier as he pierced the fungus with his utilitarian dagger. He stood up, holding the dagger and the specimen impaled on it in good light. It had all the identifying marks of a Shroomish, the tentacles, hard cap section on the top, and the innocent brown markings that would have rendered it hard to tell apart from a ordinary, benign mushroom if it had been planted in the ground.

    It all made sense to Horgan now, the seemingly insane actions of the soldiers, turning on each other, and Marchal’s terrified exodus from the cell. Of course, it was perfectly reasonable, that the soldiers didn’t pursue Marchal immediately, they must have been trying to fight off Shroomish attackers.

    But how did Shroomish get into the cell? He’d seen the wagon loaded outside the tavern, and only the prisoners had been loaded into it. Shroomish were by no means indigenous to Cythera proper, they only lived in the upper regions of the mountains of the Northern continent. In fact, most scholars thought they couldn’t even survive for long periods in temperate or tropical areas.

    Shroomish were known to invade larger animals, but, to the best of Horgan’s knowledge they rarely exhibited this behavior. Having reverted to a state of confusion over what exactly had happened here, Horgan turned to the soldier. Still nothing.

    Odd, he didn't seem to be so injured so that the smelling salts should not have affected him by now. The man did not seem to be bleeding or in other need of immediate medical attention, so Horgan entered the cell to further his investigation.

    Were it not for his extremely sturdy constitution, Horgan may have fainted at the sight. The empty shell of Rothan lay open, and a dozen or so Shroomish were enrooted around the corpse.

    Experiencing another ‘ah-ha’ response, it dawned on Horgan that Rothan must have been a Shroomish host, controlled by the distant instructions of the Overmind, and filled with Shroomish nodes supporting the outer shell of skin.

    Horgan wondered if his brain was kept intact and integrated into the hive mind, or if he became strictly a puppet of the Shroomish. It was, perhaps, to terrible a thought to comprehend.

    He shifted his attention to the enrooted Shroomish. They’d already grown to twice the size of the small one form outside. They did not seem to notice him, yet.

    We are Shroomish. We speak for the Overmind. Do not come closer to us.
    The enrooted nodes signaled their awareness of Horgan.

    Horgan thought no reply to them, he simply raised his war hammer. At this point, he was curious why the rooted the Shroomish were not being protected by unrooted brethren. Furthermore, why were they rooted in the first place?

    Horgan’s attack was interrupted by a noise from behind. The Soldier behind him arose, and picked up his sword.

    "Do not harm the Mind-Seeds!" bellowed the soldier.

    It took nothing more to tell Horgan that the soldier was a Shroomish host, and thus no friend of his.

    He prepared himself for a battle, something he’d had little of in the last years.

    (to be continued)

    (This message has been edited by moderator (edited 04-29-2002).)



  • I enjoyed this chronicle. It was quite interesting, and significantly longer than the introduction. I was hoping that this chronicle would expand on Jalos the Mad a little bit more, though.

    Slayer's Guide to Cythera Chronicles, and Grammar in General

    Always proofread your chronicles! Spell-checkers and grammar-checkers are your friends.

    'It's' serves only as a contraction for 'it is'. In all other cases 'its' should be used. Example: Instead of "It's assignment came to an end" one should write "Its assignment came to an end".

    In addition to the ellipsis character(...), curly quotes also don't turn out right in many browsers.

    Taken from a few chronicles ago:
    Incorrect: "Hi." Said Bob.
    Correct: "Hi," said Bob.

    ------------------
    Slayer's guide to Cythera:
    (url="http://"http://www.macclassics.com/cythera/cythera.htm")http://www.macclassi...era/cythera.htm(/url)



  • I enjoyed this chronicle. It was quite interesting, and significantly longer than the introduction.

    Thanks very much!

    I was hoping that this chronicle would expand on Jalos the Mad a little bit more, though.

    Well, it truth, there wouldn't have been a Jalos the Mad if cache had not pointed out that if Cythera's current justice system was still existant in the future, Marchal, being innocent, would have had nothing to fear from being taken before the tribunal.

    Since I didn't want to remove that, I tacked on the concept of 'no more judges', and used that couple paragraphs of prolouge to explain why it had happened. I choose a mad ruler because it would probobly take someone who was insane and in power to wreck a system as relible as Cythera's. (Given the fact that Earth has seen more than enough examples, there were plenty of avalable archtypes for 'mad ruler' to choose from... Jalos inherited a bit of Staliness in his personailty.)

    Always proofread your chronicles! Spell-checkers and grammar-checkers are your friends.

    Er, I've never used a grammer checker seriously, perhaps I'll start.
    My only proofreader, normaly, is cache22. He's good for pointing out logic errors and continuity problems, (as well as doing other helpful things) but he only occasionaly touches grammer and spelling issues.

    'It's' serves only as a contraction for 'it is'. In all other cases 'its' should be used. Example: Instead of "It's assignment came to an end" one should write "Its assignment came to an end".

    Thanks, Hopefully you'll notice that its use will decrese soon.

    In addition to the ellipsis character(...), curly quotes also don't turn out right in many browsers.

    I'll keep this in mind, but I don't use ellipsis, I use three periods...
    Hey, I don't even know how to make an ellipsis...

    ------------------
    That Lightning is out of rockets now, we can take it out easy!
    (Famous Last Words #804)

    Where do you want to (url="http://"http://www.macclassics.com/cythera/tricks/rJade.htm")teleport(/url) today?

    (This message has been edited by Bryce (edited 04-30-2002).)



  • Quote

    Originally posted by Bryce:
    **I was hoping that this chronicle would expand on Jalos the Mad a little bit more, though.

    Well, it truth, there wouldn't have been a Jalos the Mad if cache had not pointed out that if Cythera's current justice system was still existant in the future, Marchal, being innocent, would have had nothing to fear from being taken before the tribunal.**

    So I did! I'd forgotten that. That seems a slightly odd use for a prologue, though. As I understand it, a prologue is used for material that's in some way separate from the rest of the story - either by its setting in time, or by the fact that the characters involved are not the central characters in the story (in Dark Legacy, the separation was one of realites ; that scene relates Flynn's experience of the illusory world created to keep him prisoner.) Your use of a prologue would seem to fit both of those first criteria, but doesn't quite fit the next one: that it in some way sets the scene for the central plot of the story.

    While your prologue does set the scene for Marchal's fear, the central plot appears to be the Shroomish invasion, and so the prologue doesn't really relate. Of course, that could all change in upcoming chapters, if you think of some way to tie in the mad ruler.

    The most skillful use of a prologue I've ever read is in a book called 'A Talent for War', by Jack McDevitt. In that book, the prologue had no visible connection with the story at all, and could even be forgotten - until you reach the epilogue, and suddenly everything makes sense.

    Quote

    Originally posted by Bryce:
    **Always proofread your chronicles! Spell-checkers and grammar-checkers are your friends.

    Er, I've never used a grammer checker seriously, perhaps I'll start.
    My only proofreader, normaly, is cache22. He's good for pointing out logic errors and continuity problems, (as well as doing other helpful things) but he only occasionaly touches grammer and spelling issues.**

    Sorry, I tend to gloss over those, thinking you or Slayer will catch them anyway, and not wanting to be too discouraging. If you want, I'll start commenting on those too.

    ------------------
    Kobayashi Maru!

    (This message has been edited by cache22 (edited 04-30-2002).)



  • Quote

    Originally posted by cache22:
    **that could all change in upcoming chapters, if you think of some way to tie in the mad ruler.
    **

    It will now...
    That's a great idea, and I think it could be tied in quite well.
    Thanks for your comments, cache.

    Oh, what do you think of my new sig, in celebration of my chron's release?

    ------------------
    Meh, it's just a little mushroom creture, it won't hurt us...
    (Famous Last Words #512)

    Where do you want to (url="http://"http://www.macclassics.com/cythera/tricks/rJade.htm")teleport(/url) today?

    (This message has been edited by Bryce (edited 04-30-2002).)



  • Quote

    Originally posted by Bryce:
    **It will now...
    **

    Bah, that didn't work out as well as I thought it would. It ended up just not fitting :frown:

    ------------------
    "Why do these candles say T-N-T?" - (famous last words 104)

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