Monday, April 11, 2011

Koreshi Chronicles: Chapter II - The Prince, the Lady, The Bear and the Wolf

Winter 1922

Countless architectural treasures were lost during the War of the Alliance. Temples in Mekong had been desecrated, ancient settlements irradiated in the North. Entire towns were gone or destroyed beyond salvaging. It was one of the many injustices of war that with all the art, beauty and hard work that lay in ruins after the failed attempt by Earth to retake Terra Nova, the Tractor Barn outside Temple Heights had been spared.

The outside was a nondescript metal rectangle with a rounded roof. Rust showed the age of the building as centuries of morning dew slowly and patiently ate away at the ferrous alloy. The inside was not as pleasant to the eye. One of the former proprietors had either landed a bargain on Longrunner wheels or had a particularly disturbed sense of taste. The former tractor hangar was littered with the enormous disused wheels that distinguished Neil Motor Works' most popular product. Three meters across, each gigantic wheel had been cut into an oversized “C”, allowing patrons entry into what had become secluded booths.

For the locals who did nothing more than farm, the aesthetic choice was part of the landscape and struck them as no more unconventional than the fields dotting the plateau. Passers-by either cringed or laughed, depending on the sophistication of their tastes.

Temple Heights was not a cosmopolitan community. Besides farming, their main claim to fame was the cornucopia of Stoneheads that drew tourists, conspiracy theorists and the occasional academic. The Tractor Barn was the perfect gestalt for the insular, self-satisfied and provincial community. At least in Lukas’ view.

A previous tip had led him, Todd and Lyta to Temple Heights in search of the one known as Bear. “Yeah, you heard right. I knew the Bear, but he’s dead now. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard,” drawled the craggy old man from behind a long and dirty grey beard.

Lukas eyed him with the same opinion he had for the bar’s decor. “Where and when did he die?” he asked while he signalled the barkeeper to refill the old codger's pint. If the man took offence at Lukas’ disdain, it didn’t show as he happily took another draught from his mug.

“Well, let me see. Last I heard, he was in Prince Gable. Yeah, that’s right. He was slipping information to the resistance just before the Peace River Army rolled in. That was some fierce fightin’ there, I do declare. As far as I know, he didn’t come out of old PG. There’s plenty who didn’t.”

Lukas refrained from rolling his eyes. Plenty of places had seen bad fighting during the war. The costs were, in most cases, immeasurable. Though in some cases, he reminded himself, the costs were easy to tally: a home, a mother, a father and a family fortune. He looked away from the old man and scanned the bar. Locals milled around in the truncated Longrunner wheels. In the middle of the dump was a dart board where Lyta and Todd were letting a few fly. The dart board, he could see even from his distance, was a Neil Motor Works bit of swag.

“Who would know, I mean really know, if he was dead or alive? I was lead to believe that was you.” Lukas turned his attention back to the old resistance partisan.

“No, my lad, I helped get things and such in and out of the city during the fightin’. I met the Bear twice, but he mostly dealt with the fighters. You want to know where he met his fate, you track down some Peace Army soldier who fought in PG. Yup, that’ll fix ya.”

“Great. Peace River,” Lukas spat out as he turned away again in frustration and disgust. They were running around in circles. They had come out to the Western Range and now their supposed lead told them to head back to Peace River to find someone who could tell them where that CEF turncoat, the one they called the Bear, could be found -- dead, but preferably alive. This time when he scanned the bar, he saw that Lyta and Todd had been playing with a few other men, or rather playing against.

He could tell by their tense body language that they were displeased. Maybe a harmless wager had been involved? Loud music blasting mindless tales of heartbreak drowned out the conversation, but it was clear that Lyta was about to take offence. Lukas sighed and shook his head. “Different dive, same crap.” Lyta pivoted on her right toe and threw her hip to direct as much force as she could into her left leg as she snap-kicked his shin. His scream carried over the wailing music and down he went. The second hick was winding up a punch, but he was too slow. Lyta’s leg never came back to touch the floor; instead, she bent at the waist, counterbalancing her left leg with her upper body, and gave the second fellow a powerful sidekick to the torso. Lukas didn’t move. Lyta could handle herself, even if she couldn’t handle her temper.

“You know, the PRA wasn’t just made up of Riverans. You could find some locals who ran with them, too.” Lukas frowned. He had forgotten about the old man and swivelled on his bench to listen to this new information. But before he could quite form a follow-up question, his attention was once again drawn back to the sound of more brawling. The two unlucky farmers had a number of friends, six by Lukas’ count. They were advancing on Lyta, their faces contorted into vicious smiles. Lyta leapt up and over a Longrunner wheel, forcing them into a more manageable single file and defeating their attempt to encircle her. She was crouched in a combat stance and ready to take them on alone, but she was never really alone.

The last thug in the line went down silently as Todd delivered a crippling blow with a stool. The second from last only turned in time to notice a pitcher exploding in his face. Up front, Lyta had side-stepped the first target and jumped high on a booth. She bounced off the rubber wheel and flew knee first into the befuddled farmer’s jaw. The three remaining aggressors, or aggressees, still believing they numbered five, nonetheless stopped their advance on Lyta.

Todd attacked once more without warning while Lyta did so in plain sight. When the last man turned to run, he found himself tightly hemmed in by Todd from behind and Lyta in front. It might have ended there had not another booth of patrons decided to avenge their local honour.

While Lukas’ siblings were sharply reverting the numerical balance of the bar fight, a couple of more sinister-looking women had drawn pistols and were making for the pile of stricken farmers with expressions that stirred Lukas from his passive, yet up to this point confident, stance as onlooker.

“I’ll be right back,” Lukas said distractedly even as he motioned the barkeep to refill his informant’s glass as an added insurance against his departure. With that, he entered the fray.


She had been sitting on a boulder looking out over an expanse of Junira Loresh. She could see the valley spreading in both directions, protected by flanking walls climbing high into the sky through which a bright blue sky nourished the lush jungle. Patches of growth had been cut back by the Ferah to grow food on their farms. The scene was one of tranquility and absolute peace. The Koreshi lived in a secluded paradise, and all Lyta wanted to do was leave.

She had hoped the view would settle her just as it had once amazed her. Returning to Junira Loresh, bathing in the rivers and eating fresh fruit, not to mention competing in the B’Ti, had been the highlight of each cycle since she had been taken in by the Bathani. Now she would trade it all for a simple meal with Amaraa and Bestha. She found no peace here, only anger and regret.

“Lyta, my child,” Jonas called her softly, waking her from her reverie. “Torgath and I have been looking for you. The ceremony will soon begin.” She wiped a tear distractedly from her cheek but did not move. “It is beautiful,” he said sitting by her side, but she did not answer. He had a cane and was still limping, but he was healing much quicker now that he was being tended by the healers of the valley.

“You know you need not follow him.” Another tear rolled down her cheek, this time unchecked. “But you will. As long as this view makes you cry instead of smile, you should not gaze upon it, lest you ruin it for yourself forever.”

She turned to him, her lower lip quivered, so she bit it. Her cheeks were red and raw and she cried freely now. She could not find words to express her loss, but his eyes soaked it all in. She did not need words. His arms spread and she plunged into their embrace and sobbed so violently Jonas’ wounds bled anew under his bandages, but still he held her. Her sobs turned to howls as she gasped for air and screamed a primordial pain, a suffering so great it filled the whole valley and demanded to flow out into the world.

“Let it out, child. Let out your anguish, your pain and your anger. Let it all out.”


Winter 1921

“How they look, Doc?” the marshal asked the old physician.

“I’ve seen worse, but it's lucky for them you stepped in when you did, Lenny.” Marshal Green chuckled as he surveyed the three bruised Sandriders sitting in his jail. Two young men and one younger woman, one might say a young lady, sat in the squat cell with expressions as dark as the undeveloped portions of Grotte DeValmont.

“Brandon Trallis says the little lady started it,” the marshal continued, speaking to the other man, who was nearly done bandaging the three incarcerated brawlers.

“I didn’t start it, he did,” Lyta spat venomously. Marshal Green chuckled again. “My apologies, little lady, I heard tell different. I heard tell your friend here in the mask made some disparaging remarks and that Brandon was only acting to defend his honour.” He pointed an indicting finger at Lukas, who only shook his head in disgust.

“They okay, Dr Milton? Can I cut them loose now?” The older man nodded.

“Now, I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for Sandriders, on account of an old friend I once had, but you three have been trouble since you arrived in New Baja. So mind telling me what brings you folks down here underground? You mostly keep to the open, so I wager you have a pretty good reason.”

Todd was about to say something, Lukas assumed some question rather than an answer, but he cut him short with a motion of his hand and a telling look. Lukas turned his gaze on the lawman and crossed his arms as he relaxed into his jail bunk. The trip back to New Baja had been fairly uneventful. After leaving Junira Loresh, they travelled across the desert and over the Pacifica Range in search of their old home. Lyta and Todd had never questioned where they were going, where Lukas was leading them.

What they found was far worse than even their most pessimistic expectations had prepared them for. Only a handful of oasis towers still stood near the core district of the spaceport. Of those, not one was safe to live in. Apparently, until recently, that hadn’t stopped a number of refugees from their own city squatting in the unsafe structures. All that had changed, they had learned, in the last cycle, as the former inhabitants of Baja moved underground into a cave network surrounding the MacAllan underground river.

Their childhood memories of the Jewel of the Badlands was replaced with a surreal image of prefabricated buildings clinging to walls, submersible boats and underwater structures. Everything about the place was artificial and dark. The dry warmth of the desert had been replaced with a cool and humid mist which amplified the noise of the growing community. Lukas started asking general questions, trying to find former resistance fighters, and tailored his inquiries as they went. Lyta and Todd, who felt even more alienated than they looked, kept a watchful eye on his interactions. They would stand back and watch silently as Lukas tried to uncover what he could about the man who had ‘stolen’ their family fortune five cycles before.

“Silent types. Figures.” Marshal Green said in the cell. “Okay, tell you what, I’ll level with you. He isn’t here. The man you’re looking for left in 1916. Rumors say he moved west with the retreating keffers, offering intel as he went to any resistance that would pay.”

Lukas tried very hard to hide the surprise on his face. Lyta and Todd did not. “It's my town, kids. I know who comes in and out, and I like to know when strangers start asking questions. I also like to know why, so care to share?” The marshal had drawn a bench and sat down in the cell while Doc Milton stood. The three Koreshi remained silent while the marshal waited.

After a while, Lukas spoke up. “Are we free to go?” Marshal Green arched his back and grunted as bones cracked. “You’re free to leave Baja, but I won’t tolerate you kids running around beating people up and digging up the war.”

“This isn’t Baja. This is a dark hole. Who’s the idiot that decided to abandon the city above to live like a animals underground and under the heel of the AST anyway?” Lukas asked with unconcealed disdain.

“Well, someone shot that mayor, oh… a little more than a cycle ago. But there are plenty of people besides the mayor who moved New Baja underground. You saw what was left above on your way in, didn’t you? Half the population of Baja was killed in 1916, and most of the city was destroyed. There’s nothing left up there but bitter memories. Sometimes change, radical change, is necessary to forget the past and move on. So, are you going to be trouble or are you going to move on also?”

“We’ll go, marshal,” Lukas answered flatly.

“Marshal, may I ask you one more question before we go?” Lyta chimed in. He nodded, so she braved Lukas’ disapproval. “Do you know a boy named Ti Corovan?”

Marshal Green frowned and turned to Dr Milton, who was obviously surprised and reinforced his facial expression with a shrug.

“Ti isn’t in New Baja anymore. He left a few weeks ago, heading for Khayr-ad Din. He’s a good young man. Do you know him?” the Doctor asked. Lyta did not answer, but her eyes sparkled and Lukas and Todd shared in her silent relief.

“What about Brian Ranner? Did he leave, too?” Todd asked, speaking up for the first time. Over the cycles, the memory of the bully he knew as a boy had not faded, but the young man who helped them escape Baja was just as strong a memory and, as far as his feelings were concerned, another person altogether.

A shadow passed over the marshal’s face. “Brian was a tunnel rat during the Battle of Baja, like Ti. But Brian didn’t make it. How do you know them and why are you asking about that CEF agent and Bragga?”

Todd’s head turned down. He didn’t answer the marshal’s question. Lukas was uncomfortable that the marshal knew about their investigation. He knew they would have to be more discreet in the future. Better to take things slow than risk Kaspar finding out, like the marshal did, that he was looking for him, Lukas thought to himself. They had managed to discover Bragga was dead before they had gotten into the fight and been arrested. Taking it slow wouldn’t be a problem now anyway since Lukas had no more leads. He got up and the other two followed suit.

“We’ll be going, marshal. There’s nothing left for us here,” Lukas said as they filed past the lawman and the doctor.

“Novgorod. There or Temple Heights, depends who you listen to. You’ll find an old-timer called Tom ‘Timber’ Fall. Ask him about the Bear. That’s the name your CEF turncoat used,” Marshal Green said to their departing backs. Lukas stopped and turned, suspicion apparent even through his mask. “You telling us this because you have a soft spot for Sandriders?”

“Nope,” the marshal said, leaving the cell and walking up to Lukas, Todd and Lyta. “Because I have a soft spot for Bajans. You still have the accent,” he added helpfully to allay the confusion on Lyta’s brow.

“We’re neither,” Lukas said, leading them out without another word.


A week had passed since they had escaped the destruction of Peter’s Fence, two weeks since the slaughter of the Bathani. Lyta, Todd and Lukas were travelling with the Ashgabi clan now and heading towards Junia Loresh to attend to the wounds Jonas has suffered at the hands of the NEC agent.

The three remaining Bathani had been keeping constant vigil over their Thral. He awoke to find Torgath by his side. The young scout offered him a cup of water, and Jonas drank small sips. His face contorted in pain with every movement.

“Torgath,” Jonas whispered with some difficulty, “you will not stay in Junira Loresh.”

“Hush, Thralan. Save your energy,” Torgath answered. But he knew the Jonas had sensed Lukas’ intention or maybe even overheard something.

“I understand. You have lost your tribe.” Jonas took another sip. “When you attempt to climb a crumbling dune, you must sometimes retrace your steps, must go back, before you can go forward.” He spoke in spurts, breathing heavily. “You have much to mourn. Lukas needs to mourn his life before the Koreshi, before he can mourn the loss of the Bathani.” He paused for another sip, sweat beading on his brow.

“Rest, Thralan,” Torgath repeated while he wiped Jonas’ brow.

“Listen, Torgath. You must listen. Lukas... Lukas will not find what he seeks in Baja. He seeks who he is.” Jonas cringed with pain as a spasm shook his body. A long minute passed before he could speak again. “You must remember who you are because he will need you. He will need you.” Jonas closed his eyes and succumbed to the pain. After a few minutes, his struggling breath settled into the rhythmic pattern of sleep.


Spring 1921

He crawled on his stomach, keeping as low as he could. Through his breathing mask he could make out the head of one of the beasts just a meter away. Approaching the last of the three mounts, he ensured the nose ring was still safely tethered to the sand anchor. The armadillos weren’t prone to running off, and their natural instinct in a sandstorm was to hunker down, but losing them now might mean death for him, Lyta and Lukas. The storm raged all around, nature’s sandblaster hurling tons of debris at 150 km an hour. The armadillos weren’t only their means of travel, they were also their shields. The Koreshi planted the low oval tent in the lee of the hulking beasts, sheltering it from the dominant wind. If the animals ran, the wind would probably tear it and them apart. Todd made a cooing thanks to the beasts for their protection and crawled back the two meters separating him from the shelter.

Inside the vestibule, he drew the outer flap tight. The sand swirling in midair, now deprived of driving winds, simply fell to the ground. He removed his desert cloak and brushed as much sand off as he could before entering the tent proper. Lyta gave him a cursory look before turning back to the hanging stove and continuing to stir the soup. Lukas lay on his back. He did not move but asked in a loud voice that could be heard over the raging winds battering their shelter if the animals were alright. Todd’s sigh was inaudible over the cacophony.

“What?” Lukas said loudly, more loudly than the storm required. The three had not been speaking much since New Baja; they had barely exchanged any words at all since the storm had overtaken them two days before. Todd propped himself up on his elbow and looked Lukas in the face, his real face – his mask was off. “We’re lost!” Todd shouted before slumping back down.

The eldest member of the trio looked annoyed. He had been disappointed in New Baja, which was a step up from the total dismay he had felt seeing the ruins of Port Baja. He knew Lyta had been depressed since the Bathani had been slaughtered, and Todd was little better. Lukas too was saddened; he had harboured a desire to leave the Koreshi since they had first joined them, but his heart ached to see the loss in his brother and sister. But whatever his feelings and whatever their fate, they were all in this together, so he couldn’t help but feel unfairly persecuted by the disappointment Todd and Lyta displayed.

His sister had become aggressive, lashing out easily and even becoming violent back in Baja in a way that he had never seen before. Todd had become even more reclusive, if that was possible. He had discovered the New Baja library and spent as much time as he could there when they weren’t tracking down leads. The one thing they paused to collect before leaving the cave was a datapad which Todd loaded with enough e-books to last him a lifetime.

Now, three days into the storm, sharing four square meters, more than two seasons after loosing their tribe and being distilled to this tight family of three, they had never been more distant. “We’re not lost. After the storm falls, we’ll be able to find our way. Even if we couldn’t, the armadillos could.” Lukas huffed in exasperation. Todd did not flinch. A few tense moments passed, and Lyta served them both their soup. As she handed Lukas his bowl, she spoke at last. “That isn’t the kind of lost he’s talking about.”

Lukas wasn’t short on words; he could try and rouse them with a speech. He knew the importance of morale. He wanted desperately to shake this dejected torpor his siblings had fallen into, but he bit his tongue. He knew that the wrong words now would only make things worse. His own mood turned decidedly sourer when he realised his father would know what to say. If the memory of his father drove a dull blade into his gut, the next thought was a sharp pinprick; Jonas would also know what to say. “Listen,” Lukas started with a conciliatory tone, “let’s go back to Junira Loresh. We can make it in time for the Imti’quan, and Torgath can share what we’ve seen with the Thral.”

Lyta and Todd shared a look and shook their heads with disappointment. “What?” Lukas cried, once again annoyed.

His sister had lost interest in the B’Ti. The training seemed hollow, the competition meaningless. What good could that or her acrobatics do? Neither had served her parents or her foster parents. She had spent her short life up to this point engaging in trivial activities for vain glory. Lukas had been right all along, she thought bitterly, she had wasted her time with childish things. ‘No more,’ she vowed to herself. She would learn how to fight and train for the real world. Junira Loresh was a haven. It wasn’t the real world, and she couldn’t bear to return there right now anyway. Her feelings were still too fresh. She had one thing left in her life which she was devoted to, her family: Lukas and Todd. She would stay with them and, come what may, protect them.

Todd ate silently. Lukas didn’t understand that the duty of the Jonus Kerasi was a sacred one, a responsibility to be taken seriously, not treated as a pretext for returning to Junira Loresh. They had nothing to report, nothing which would help the Thral unravel the mysteries of the Great Cycle. ‘Not yet, anyway.’ He had started reading as much as he could. He wished he had had more time in New Baja to exploit the library or, better yet, had learned of the Hermes 72 Network sooner.

There was so much information, so much to learn, and in that knowledge, he could mine for wisdom. Somewhere out there was some critical piece of information, hidden in arcana, buried in trivia where no one had looked or made connections. Torgath knew he would find it; he would serve his role to the Koreshi and prove his worth. He realised now that Junira Loresh held no truths for him, that the secrets he desired to know and understand were out in the real world. He did not need the Thral; they needed him, and so did Lukas. He would stay by his brother’s side and help him look for his quarry, for while they searched, they fulfilled their sacred duty as Koreshi.

Lukas was still waiting; his last word had been torn away in the howling ruckus of the storm as soon as he had spoken it, but the interrogation still hung poignantly in the air. Todd looked once again at Lyta, and she at him. There was a look of acceptance, of realization. They looked at Lukas, and he saw in them a change, one which he could not understand and so only grudgingly accepted when Lyta said, “Nothing. We’re not going back to Junira Loresh, we’re following you.”

Their expressions were peaceful. Lukas sipped his soup in contemplation, trying to understand what had changed. Finally they dozed, off and Lukas dreamt of Jonas and Donovar.

When the morning came, the storm had passed, and Lukas woke to find Lyta had made him breakfast while he slept. Their belongings were all packed, and once he rose and went outside for his ablutions he found the mounts ready for travel. When Lukas returned, he found the tent was packed and Lyta and Todd were waiting on the armadillos.

“Let’s go, Lukas, time’s a wasting,” Lyta said enthusiastically. “Lead the way,” Todd added with a slight nod.


Lukas was changing bandages on Jonas’ chest. His flesh was slowly healing, but at this point it still looked terrible. Lukas paused as he realised it resembled his own scarred skin.

“You are still planning on leaving after we reach Junira Loresh?” Jonas asked Lukas, sensing in him doubt and apprehension. “You’re worried about leading Hyppartha and Torgath?”

Lukas snorted. “No, not really. I’m not worried about leading; I’m worried about them following.”

Jonas nodded sagely. “Because they have not gone with you in the past. I see. But a leader must heed the wisdom of his followers.”

“A general doesn’t ask his soldiers’ opinion. He leads, they follow. But I guess this is different.” Lukas felt the responsibility of being the older brother. He felt the duty of his family history and the call to respect his ancestors by reclaiming something of the Lassanders. He knew he wasn’t a general leading soldiers, but he was less than a father guiding his family.

“Not as much as you might think, Lukas. You are correct in theory, but in practice things are quite different. A general is a totem. He gives his soldiers a purpose.”

“Yeah, well, Todd and Lyta aren’t exactly disciplined troops.”

“Lukas, a general or a chief or even a father leads, and others follow. But if one looks deeper, it can be quite the opposite. No general will enter the fray alone. A general follows his soldier into battle. This is often hard to perceive because he follows them from the lead.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Lukas rejoined.

“It will,” Jonas said softly.


Summer 1922

The Westridge Trenche was a cleft separating the desert from the Westeridge Range on a north-south axis. It was reputed to be one of the most spectacular physical features of Terra Nova, and many tourists from the poles came to visit the natural wonder. As a result, Prince Gable, which sat at one of the most visually stunning entrances to the Trenche, was overrun with expensive oasis tower hotels and fancy restaurants. Despite the harrowing fighting which had occurred between the Peace River Army and the CEF to retake the city in 1917, it was arguably the first Badlands community to physically recover from the war.

The influx of tourism only added to the existing business of trade and the burgeoning Satellite News Service which had established itself there in 1918. There was even talk of building a new state-of-the art broadcasting facility to serve the expanding global news agency. Many true-grit Badlanders felt the city had been gentrified and was now too posh, too pretentious and too expensive to live in. Others only felt at ease near the caravan parks. For Lukas, Lyta and Todd, even that provided little refuge. For them, it was odd to be so close to the Great White Desert and yet to feel so far from home.

Following ‘Timber’ Tom’s suggestion, they had come to PG to find traces of the Bear. Lukas was too distinctive with his mask and Lyta would not leave his side, which left Todd to enter the city, a task he relished as it afforded him the opportunity to exploit the library and the free Hermes uplinks in the coffee shops and watering holes. It took a week to find someone who could tell them who to ask to get the information they wanted. It took another week to do the job this person wanted done in order to barter for the information in question.

Several times a day, various means of travel left PG for the Trenche. Some were regularly guided tours, others were chartered and could visit more secluded areas. It was one of the latter which brought a hopper down on a stumpy pillar just above the valley floor. A man and a woman exited form either side of the vehicle brandishing assault rifles. They scanned the area and eventually landed their gaze on Lukas and Lyta, who were approaching from a few hundred meters away. The woman trained her rifle on them briefly and then continued scanning the surrounding area. When they were nearly there, the two personal protection agents signalled the all clear and the hopper powered down. The woman turned back and helped an elegant looking woman in her fifties out of the hopper as Lukas and Lyta gingerly climbed up the few meters which separated the impromptu landing platform from the valley floor.

“I take it you’re Lady Alexander?” Lukas said with a slight bow to the older woman. She smiled graciously, “And you would be?” she asked.

“Your art dealer.” Lukas drew a small object from his cloak. It was wrapped in hide. He moved slowly, aware of the razor sharp scrutiny of Lady Alexander’s two bodyguards. She took the object and unwrapped it. Her smile widened as she turned the gold-colored figure over and over in her hands, inspecting the fine detail of the limbs. Finally, she returned her attention to Lukas, “And the other one? It was a matching set.”

“When we get our payment.” Lukas was new to his sort of business, but Todd’s books had come in handy in planning their strategy. It was the ‘Coffers of Capharnium’ that suggested they only hand over half the stolen goods in the first place. Another book had suggested Todd keep a watchful eye over the transaction with the 15mm rifle. Lyta had been uncomfortable about stealing, but they had no means to pay for the information Lukas wanted and an exchange seemed equitable. Lady Alexander had chosen the target and told them how to disarm the security, Lyta had executed the actual theft, and once she saw the opulence of the house she was robbing, her resistance faded. ‘Besides,’ she thought to herself, ‘it was fun.’

“The information you seek is available from the Desert Wolves,” she said silkily.

“That was not the bargain. You get your bobble, we get the information, not a runaround,” Lukas said tensing up. Lyta was already preparing herself to engage the closer of the two security personnel and trusting Todd would eliminate the other from his camouflaged vantage.

“My dear young man, I am providing you with the information you require. The Bear left Prince Gable in 1919. The only people who might know were he is are in the Desert Wolves. No other Peace River Army unit still remains on this side of the Badlands with that level of intelligence. What is more, I can help you talk to the Wolves because they do not answer questions nor sell out comrades.”

Lukas gave a short sigh while he considered his options. “Very well, tell me more.”

Lady Alexander smiled, showing teeth in an almost feral manner. “Davood Mor, the one they call Grey Cub, is about your age. He runs the Wolves like a clan. He’s been in charge for about six cycles. They won’t take you on. You can’t petition to join the Wolves; they have to invite you. They raid caravans that run up and down the range. If you were to join a caravan and find a way to distinguish yourselves when the Wolves attacked, they might ask you to join them.”

“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ there, lady. This doesn’t sound very convincing,” Lukas said, his tone more menacing.

“Please, my masked friend, I’m not done. I can guarantee your caravan will be attacked. I’ll leak the information back to the Wolves through a proxy that it will be worth their while. All you need to do is put up a good fight without killing any of them to impress Grey Cub. I’ll tell you which caravan to hire on to; you don’t want to get onto a Guild one because the Wolves avoid them. Grey Cub doesn’t want to antagonize an organization with an ascending star like the Guild’s, he’s superstitious that way. Once you are invited in, they will demand you prove yourself. It may be helpful to know there is a power struggle between Grey Cub and his older half-brother, Antoni Mor.”

“I wanted to know where to find the Bear, not the inner workings of a band of desert rovers.”

“One flows from the other. I’ve fulfilled my side of the bargain. Are you going to renege on yours?” She asked politely, but the threat in her smile was clearly visible even through Todd’s scope. Lukas considered his options for a moment but found there was no better way to extract a win from this adventure than by sticking to the plan.

“There,” Lukas pointed to a stone by the tail of the hopper, “flip that rock over and you’ll find your other statue. Good day, Lady Alexander.” With that, Lukas and Lyta went to the edge of the outcropping and hopped down to the valley floor in three easy bounds. One of the bodyguards watched them leave with the Lady as the other retrieved the second statuette from its hiding place.

“I trust,” Lady Alexander called out into the valley, “that we will have the pleasure of doing business again.”

There was no response as her hopper engines hummed back to life.


Torgath, Lyta and Lukas entered Jonas’ tent when they were instructed to. The dark abode was lit with a single candle. Jonas sat crossed legged on the floor as usual. He was flanked on either side by two other Thrals. He motioned for them to take seats and complete the circle.

The ceremony was short, and less than fifteen minutes later, the other Thral left. Jonas tethered the flaps of his tent open to let more light in. “I am proud of you, Torgath. To be named a Jonus Kerasi, a sacred wanderer, is one of the noblest duties a Koreshi can carry out. You are now of the blood, and we are honoured to have you as one of us.”

“It is I who am honoured.” Torgath answered tersely.

The three of them rose, eager to finalize their belongings for their imminent departure. “Lukas, would you stay a moment?” Jonas called before he had left. Lukas nodded to his siblings and returned to sit.

“Both Torgath and Hippartha are full Koreshi now. Does this bother you?” Jonas asked.

“No, I think it was a good idea to help Todd recover from the loss. Thank you.” Lukas answered frankly.

“Do not thank me. He earned his place among us, and it is a burden we place on him, not a relief. His is a sacred duty. I would ask that you help him…” Lukas started shaking his head, sensing that this conversation would go the way of so many more before, but Jonas continued, “as he will help you.”

“There’s the catch, hunh? Quid pro quo. You knew I wouldn’t say yes to this Jonus Kerasi, but you get me by proxy by making Todd one. I don’t appreciate games or manipulation, Jonas.”

“He’s earned it and it did not occur to us to ask you, Lukas. You are not Jonus Kerasi. They must observe the world and report it to the Thral. Lyta is not in a state of mind to accept the Jonus Kerasi either, nor would we wish to impose such a burden on her. It is my hope that she will heal and once again return to Junira Loresh to enjoy its beauty and her people.” Jonas spoke with a smile, his hand opened in a show of honesty, not that he ever lied.

“And what about me?” Lukas said suspiciously.

“Yes, what of you, Lukas? Where you go, seeking that which you seek, you too will be tested. Your honour will be challenged. You must establish a code, lines which you will not cross. Do so now, before you ever come across such doubt. They will rely on you, and you need to rely on something greater than yourself. Trust to your code of honour. When in doubt, ask what your father would do, and when the answers are unclear, clear your mind and let them come to you.”

Lukas had to admit that all this advice was reasonable. He was looking for the doctrinal small print, the thing which made this counsel sanctimonious, but he could not find it. He realised that this was what he had always argued for with Jonas. Wisdom and knowledge without the trappings of ritual and dogma. After four cycles, Jonas was finally speaking to him on equal terms.

Lukas smiled, feeling a confidence he had not know was wanting until then. He leaned over and carefully hugged Jonas and got up to leave.

“Take care of them and yourself,” Jonas said before Lukas exited.


Winter 1922

It was not the first, the worst nor the last bar fight the Tractor Barn would see. Wars, big and small had left the building standing, for good or ill, and the passage of three Koreshi did not shake the foundations – though some fixtures might need replacing.

Had the proprietor been present, or the sheriff’s office closer, the ruffians might have taken there leave more readily, but as it was, they sauntered over to the bar. A dozen people lay strewn on the floor, tables were overturned, broken glass and splinters which had recently been stools littered the battlefield. Lukas readjusted his mask which had come little loose in the ruckus, Lyta was beaming as blood ran down her face from a cut at the hair line. Todd limped over next to Lukas and sat heavily while motioning for a whiskey. The bartender responded with the alacrity of a man compelled by admiration and fear.

“So, old timer, you were about to enlighten me as to where I could find a man named Bear,” Lukas said, taking up his seat at the bar once again.

The man they call Tom ‘Timber’ Fall had watched the fight with vicarious pleasure. “I like your style Sandriders,” he said approvingly. “Share a drink with me and I’ll tell y’all a tale of War.”

“Does it have interesting protagonists” Todd asked while applying antiseptic internally.

Timber Fall smiled ruefully. “Aye m’boy, there’s a Prince, a Lady, a Bear and Wolves.”

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.