Contents Forward About the Breachspace Setting
BREACHSPACE: Figments The Belly of a Deep Sea Cavern Bartering Immortality Crypt of the Nameless
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Breachspace: Beholder Mad Scientist’s Best Friend Fox Tail and Mr. Greystone The Ghoul-Fruit Tree The Siren’s Call The Universal Citizen The Dryad’s Seed Like Father, Like Son The Sphynx Oracle A Deal With an Ifreet Demon The Cuckoo King’s Painting Sexual Appetite The Battle Bride The War Must Go On Home, Sulfuric Home The Gates of Sanctuary The Octopus Plant Strange, Wonderful, Love The Mob of Neuro Octavius The Four Wolfskin Brothers Breaking the Continuum Law
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BREACHSPACE: Figments Copyright ©2013 XEI. All Rights Reserved. The stories, incidents and characters in this publication are fictional. Any similarities to persons living or dead are purely coincidental. With the exception of excerpts used for review purposes, none of the contents of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written consent of the publisher (XEI).
Breachspace: Slivers All in a Heart Beat The Lady Ashford Mystery The Airship of Raining Men Yulie the Slick’s Bounty Sovereign of the Bone Fields They Called it the Torch-Maker The Hermit’s Crop Nothing Worse Than a Tangled Net The Tonanuuk of the Arktikos Bandits of the Scale Crags Ready or Not There’s a Nasty Bug Going Around The Buzz of Bozza Bogs The Spirit of the Hunt Moth to a Flame Scraps Prey and Predators The Day of the Flaming Fire Lizards Weasel and Pinch Worm Food Daig of the Wicker Man A Morsel for the Poor The Life Cycle of a Mircean Blow Fly The Black Rain Curse of the Medusa Graveyard Wallace of Whale Town The Dead-Head Tree The Hayworth Horror The Shi Ika Delicacy The Origin of the Pestilence Swarm
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Cover illustration by Harry Clarke, circa 1919. Design by Nuno Xei.
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FORWARD The BREACHSPACE Setting is a world where I get to explore new ideas. There isn’t a week that passes by where I don’t contemplate the secrets of some strange mystery, the intentions of some macabre entity, the wonders of some foreboding landscape, and so on, and so forth. Some of these ideas found freedom from the confines of my mind; they made their way to becoming something more substantial. They were given form with words and art. These ideas became part of something greater. They began to define a world. This compilation collects work created between September 2009 and June 2012. It includes eighteen sequential shorts, three (really) short stories, and thirty flash fiction shorts. The sequential works, part of a series titled “BREACHSPACE: Beholder”, were originally published in Blueprint Magazine from September 2009 to May 2012. Blueprint is an imprint out of Waterloo, Ontario, that focuses on the arts, culture, and commentary. Each issue of Blueprint Magazine encompassed a theme, and “Beholder” explored these themes by providing a glimpse into the BREACHSPACE Setting and its inhabitants. There is no continuity between the comic pages, they are all stand-alone works. They’re the equivalent of flash fiction in sequential form. The three (really) short stories were created during an attempt to write a series of 750-word flash fiction tales, set in the BREACHSPACE Setting. It turns out that this self-imposed word count limitation made the task of writing the flash fiction devilishly difficult for me. Finally ignoring the word count limits, these three (really) short stories survived. My hope to return to short fiction was fueled by this experience, but before I could tackle new short story prose, I was interrupted by a challenge that intrigued me; one that was quickly
approaching, and one that would (surely) motivate me to output more ideas to prose than I ever had before. NaFicWriMo 2012 was a challenge hosted at the website Ficly.com. This website encourages writers in its web community to write in short bursts (1024 characters to be exact, or approximately 205 words). If I thought it mind-wracking to stick to a 750-word limit, then this was exactly the challenge that I needed to face head on! As the NaNoWriMo Challenge (National Novel Writing Month) gained a growing audience of caffeine-drinking, carpal tunnel candidates each year, it seemed a natural evolution for members at Ficly. com to start up the NaFicWriMo Challenge (National Ficly Writing Month). This lighter challenge offered a taste of writer’s obsession, as those accepting the challenge set out to complete 6,000 words of flash fiction—instead of the super challenging 50,000 word novel goal of its predecessor—in one month timeframe. The NaFicWriMo Challenge encouraged its members to write one Ficly for each day of June 2012. To my surprise, I actually succeeded in finishing this challenge, and as a result, the “BREACHSPACE: Slivers” came about. A few months later, I felt it was time to bring all these orphaned works together. Each of these short tales, alone, carry only figments of details regarding the setting they take place in. Perhaps, sometimes, simply not enough detail, you may think. But, my hope is that, together, these stories compliment each other and provide a greater context for the readers. I’ve had fun populating the Breachspace Setting with new ideas these last few years. These ideas helped me define the fictional world I’ve spent so much time in… and I hope these ideas succeed in defining a world for you too.
Blueprint Magazine, Sept 2009, “Death” Issue
All in a Heart Beat
The Lady Ashford Mystery
The sun was setting, and the wind was cool. The rustling of leaves was calming; they helped her focus on her breathing. Suddenly, the ground gave out beneath her. The air was knocked out of her lungs as she smashed into the walls of a pit. She instinctively spread her limbs out to slow her descent. The soil was loose. There was nothing to hold on to. Thirty feet later, she crashed into the ground. The pit opened up into a tunnel that stretched into the darkness. She heard breathing. It was not her own. A large beast stalked slowly towards her. It was the size of a large wolf, but with the maw and arms of a bear and a long, lashing tail, like that of a rat. The beast lunged and took her by the neck. Stacy wouldn’t be breathing any more. Stacy wasn’t going to be beating her best time this evening.
Fog clung to the pavement like some amorphous entity. Gray skies over the city were common. Flickering lamplights barely penetrated the night’s gloom. Due to a series of murders, many stayed indoors. Lady Ashford had no need to concern herself with such trivial matters. She was hungry, and this area was known for its food. She heard a boot splash through a puddle, and then her back was against the brick wall of an old brewery. Her attacker was dressed like a dandy—a doctor or surgeon, she’d guess—with madness in his eyes. He took her long white hair in a clenched fist and slid a dagger into her gut. “A proper lady shouldn’t be out this late on her own!” Strands of her hair snaked into the dandy’s sleeve, and into the pores of his forearm like fangs. A cloudy film glazed over the man’s shocked eyes. The dagger slid out of her gut as he went limp. Her gut wound sealed as his life flowed into her. Her prehensile hair tossed him to the cobblestones. She was never wrong about food in these areas.
Blueprint Magazine, Oct 2009, “Sexuality” Issue
The Airship of Raining Men
Yulie the Slick’s Bounty
The airship swayed. Chains rattled against the enchanted haul. The slaves dug their magical oars into the wind currents with more tenacity as the whips cracked across their backs. Kesh had to keep up with the group. A useless slave ended up served in the next stew. The Tigrakans were large winged tiger-men. They’d tear the skin off their face to expose parts of their skull. To them, all other living creatures were lower lifeforms. Kech saw a slave topple over in exhaustion. The man was too thin. He wouldn’t see the pot. No, he served another purpose. The slave was walked to the stern, a noose was put around his neck, and he was tossed overboard. Kesh recalled the day this airship soared over his village. He saw slaves hanging like morbid ornaments under the hull. Then the ropes were cut as the airship passed over the city. Tigrakans had a way of demoralizing a town fairly rapidly before they’d swoop down and replenish their slave supply. The village of Parigoria was up ahead. Kesh knew they’d be next. Yulie the Slick was a wanted man in the Town of Razorock.
Six rangers were on his tail. Yulie had climbed a cliff no horse could ride up. The rangers would have to come on foot. And that there, that was Yulie’s trick, see. That’s when he’d slip past them. Yulie spread out flat across a heavily textured boulder. He looked down at his pursuers. He thought it strange that they hadn’t dismounted to climb after him, but he was in no hurry. He chuckled. Yulie’s amusement became a shriek as he felt dozens of bites across his body. He sprung off the boulder. It was covered with his blood. Dozens of small mouths with sharp teeth hissed at him! Yulie backed away in horror. The stones beneath him shifted abruptly, and Yulie the Slick fell prone. The boulder rushed over him. Bones snapped, skin was torn, and blood spilled on the tiny lapping mouths of the stones under him. “I think Slick thar’s discovered why our dig’s called Razorock,” one ranger muttered to another. “Worst part: he’s up in th’ momma’s nest.”
Blueprint Magazine, Nov 2009, “Food” Issue
Sovereign of the Bone Fields
They Called it the Torch-Maker
The land was barren. The soil had been saturated by the death of hundreds of thousands in the early years following the Great Cataclysm. The land came to be called: The Bone Fields. The majority of human death came from towns devastated by a battle so otherworldly that it defied reality as it was understood at the time. The Hellfire Wars. Hordes of fiends were killed by reawakened dragons who rose to protect the land. The blood of fiends and dragons flooded the land. The Bone Fields were so tainted that the bones of the fallen would reanimate to continue a battle that ended in a stalemate a century ago. Recently, something stranger took shape. The skeletons of fiends and dragons joined together. They either formed a giant abomination that wandered the ancient battlegrounds like a guardian, or came apart and marched along the region’s borders. Necromancers made pilgrimages to The Bone Fields with skeletal minions, to be left behind, as an offering, to what they’ve dubbed, “The Bone Tyrant”.
Ursul and Grendel held their axes at the ready. They weren’t afraid to challenge wandering fiends this deep into Galli’s woodlands. The two barbarians were renowned. Their fame came from finding new and useful substances in their kills: hides, bones, chitin, blood, fur… it was all fair game. Ursul eyed the fiend’s scaled back. “Perfect for armour,” Ursul muttered to Grendel. The fiend was within charging distance, so Ursul initiated the assault. Instantly, the fiend snorted a stream of mucus from its nose. It was oily and thick. Ursul and the fiend collided. The fiend struck with deadly speed. Its claws sparked as they traveled through the air and struck Ursul. The mucus ignited, consuming him in flames. Grendel entered the fray with passionate fury as Ursul dropped to the ground to snuff out the flame. They eventually defeated the fiend, of course. Grendel cut off its head. “Perfect for lighting torches,” he said to the still-smoking Ursul. They both chuckled as they made their way back to camp. 4
Blueprint Magazine, Jan 2010, “Love” Issue
The Hermit’s Crop
Nothing Worse Than a Tangled Net
The old hermit had an addiction. He had acquired a new corpse from the village graveyard. He was near his cabin now, and he could see his garden. The hermit’s lips stretched into a thin, eager smile. He couldn’t wait to try the new batch. He dragged the corpse into his garden, he carefully rested its head down so that it lined up with the heads of the other bodies. This is how he yielded new crop. He rubbed his hands together, and made his way down the row of corpses to kneel down at a man who was dead for a month now. A cluster of mushrooms grew from the corpse’s forehead. The fungi had spread to the adjacent foreheads of a lady and boy. The hermit plucked a mushroom off the man’s head and ate it. The ground wobbled below him. He was the man eating dinner with the lady and boy—he had a family. He experienced the memory of preparing a body for burial—he was an undertaker. He recalled killing his family, and then killing himself—he was a murderer. The highs weren’t always so depressing.
Something heavy dragged down the fishing net. Snagging a small dolphin off the coast of Andalus was common enough, the fishers just hated how time consuming it was to cut the beast free from the net. Usually, it was already drowned too. Soon there was the sound of flip flipping fish on the deck. Still, the heavy burden on the net was unaccounted for. Francisco’s feet got pulled out from under him. He came crashing to the hull. A thick, spine-covered, tentacle wrapped around Francisco’s legs. Carlito dove towards Francisco and grabbed his hand. He braced himself against the mast. The strain was unbearable! Tentacles gripped into the wood of the railings. They sensed the crew through vibration and body heat. One limb detected Francisco as the obstacle withholding its meal. The tentacle wrapped around Carlito’s chest. Carlito’s and Francisco came apart violently. Carlos’s elbow broke. There was much screaming. Then there was a splash. Then silence… and the flip flopping of fish on the deck. 5
Blueprint Magazine, Feb 2010, “Patriotism” Issue
The Tonanuuk of the Arktikos
Bandits of the Scale Crags
The Arktikos is an inhospitable region. It means: “Near the bear.” Some southern Uropian cultures claim “Arktikos” is in reference to the prominent constellation of the Great Bear… northern Uropian cultures attribute the name to one of the most prominent megafauna of the tundra: the tonanuuk. The tonanuuk has the body of a polar bear. It has tremendous, curved, ram-like horns, and a wide mouth filled with layers of teeth like that of a shark. The tonanuuk, standing upright, can reach heights of 25 feet. The Inkaput people tell stories of avalanches being caused when two males clash horns during disputes. These stories are not far-fetched. For a creature weighing in at 15 tons, the impact of such blows are heard like a deep, booming thunder for miles. Inkaputs call it the “polar bear devil”. As much as it is feared by them, it is also respected. To some clans, the tonanuuk is even worshiped. The way they see it: anything that makes meals of killer whales is a pseudogod. Period.
The Scale Crags were known for bandit activity. Geld was the guide to get you through them. His cost was high, but he got you to the coast two weeks earlier… and alive. Midway through the mountainous pass, raiders descended from above. Their scales reflected the scorching sun. Wings, too small to support flight, were used to glide instead, their skin membrane sounding like canvas rippling in the desert wind. “Payment of passage,” the pterodrake said, as it landed. One hand held a sword, the other sparked with electricity. “Of course,” Geld responded. The camels snorted and shifted as dozens of pterodrakes landed around the caravan. They took what they needed, then leaped off the opposite ridge. Their wings caught warm wind currents, and they glided away with their loot. “This isn’t good for business,” commented a merchant. “Other raiders would have killed some of us and taken more,” Geld replied. “The pterodrakes kill other bandits in this region. Which option do you think is better for business, hm?” 6
Blueprint Magazine, Mar 2010, “Roots” Issue
Ready or Not
There’s a Nasty Bug Going Around
It started with the goldfish. Margaret got home to find them floating at the top of the fishbowl, boated and dead. “Did you overfeed the fish, Damon,” she asked her son. “Reddy said they’d sleep happier with a full tummy,” Damon replied. The cat was found in the garden. It had been drowned. A week later, Margaret removed cat hair from the clogged bathtub drain. “Reddy told me to clean the cat,” Damon replied. He always blamed the damned teddy bear! She drove to the outskirts of town. She started a firepit with dry twigs and cooking oil. “Reddy says he’ll be back,” pouted her son, “and he’s not going to be happy.” She threw Reddy into the crackling fire. She hadn’t recalled how Damon came to acquire the worn and ratty toy, but she was happy to be rid of it. When they were long gone, Reddy crawled out of the dying flames. He shook himself like a small dog, and ash flakes settled at his stuffed feet. He looked towards the town with melted button eyes. “Ready or not… here I come…” he whispered.
“Your son has had this fever for how long?” the doctor asked. “It increased rapidly two days ago,” the father replied. “My time has been stretched thin lately…” the doctor said apologetically. “I’m sorry. I’ll be back to check up on him tomorrow.” The father was distraught. The town was struck with a strange bug this week, and the doctor was doing the best that he could do. There were other folk to attend to, so the doctor was on his way. The doctor looked up at the sickle-shaped moon, which hung high in the sky, then turned into a dark and narrow alley. Four additional limbs burst forth from his enlarging ribcage. His eight limbs extended and became thin and multi-jointed. His skull joined with a newly formed thorax. Two mandibles clicked and clacked. He was a large fiendish arachnid with an abdomen covered in small orifices. He climbed up a wall, and when he reached the roof, he raised his abdomen to the night breeze. A burst of spores misted into the air. He was getting better at his job. 7
Blueprint Magazine, July 2010, “Youth” Issue
The Buzz of Bozza Bogs
The Spirit of the Hunt
Within the peatlands of Tirnaland, there exists a place called the Bozza Bogs. Men have entered the Bozza perfectly sane, only to exit and commit murder. Others have gone into them and never returned. Those who make it out, with their wits mostly intact, speak of hearing the voices of whispering mosquitos in their ears for weeks. The fey races that live amongst the human know the truth. They tell tales of tainted sprites with long, thin, black limbs, fingers and toes; with sharp teeth and no lips; with hairless bodies and veins that flow red under their semi-translucent skin after they feed on blood. They’re of the Unseelie Court. Fey call them “bozza sprites”. Modern slang calls them “skeets”. Then there are naturalists who have documented the sprites in their journals as “mosquito faeries”. Regardless of the name they’re given, they’ve claimed the Bozza Bogs as their own, and travellers passing through them are considered trespassers… and bozza sprites are known for holding a grudge.
Three nights ago, ten hunters were warned about Graybark Forest. Villagers claimed they were cursed and that hunting was not permitted in them. The hunters just laughed. Two nights prior, the hunters ventured into the Ugolan woods. One night prior, they found buck footprints. They tracked it. The spotted it. They killed it. The beast was the mightiest stag they had ever seen. White, and perfect. The hunters got their prize kill. They gutted it, hacked it up, and distributed the parts amongst the hunters. A day later, as the full moon rose, they awakened to a distant dreadful howling. It sounded hollow, as if it came from an empty cave—but echoed down from the obscured sky above the trees. Then, there it was: a floating stag skull, spine and innards hanging below it, and skin and fur flapping about it like a cape. It opened its jaw and howled once more. Six men fell to the ground, dead of fright. The others were paralyzed, but they’d certainly be next, for hunting was not permitted in Graybark Forest. 8
Blueprint Magazine, Sept 2010, “Orientation” Issue
Moth to a Flame
I walk across a landscape… barren and silent. The shadows creep across blasted rocks, and flesh-colored clouds entangle the sky above me. Before me, in the stillness of eternal night, stretches Odland, the Wasteland. In the distance, across the desolate terrain, rises a constantly flowing beam of light from out of a wound in the earth. Pieces of stones float like globules of blood into the swirling clouds above. I am a Knight of the Chalice. I am here to challenge the Hellmouth’s denizens, and I will die fighting this day. I can’t see them from this distance, but the sounds of screaming souls, shifting around the column like moths attracted to a gaslight lantern, invade my mind and chills the marrow in my bones. I kneel and pray one last time, then I move towards the beacon of death. I know there will be no rewards for my actions, and yet I march forward—not because I think I can rid the world of evil—I do it because, hopefully, I will offer the rest of the world a few more minutes of peace.
The ravals rummaged through the corpses littering the battlefield. Whatever feud happened here had left enough bodies to feed them all comfortably. The raval is a breed of paravian: wingless birdcanines. They have toothed beaks, talons instead of paws, and are covered in glossy, black feathers. Few animals forage the fiendish wastelands of Odlund, but raval packs make meals of even dead devils. This accounts for the fact that they are prolific asymptomatic carriers of disease. The alpha raval had already teared into a dead warrior. His beak had no trouble tearing the leather armour straps and under-padding. The corpse’s torso was split apart. Half of his ribs were picked clean. Three puplings played tug-of-war with a barbarian’s severed arm, yipping and cawing playfully. One corpse rose and shambled towards the puplings. They scattered, and three females quickly swarmed the undead: its ankles were snapped, and its head decapitated within seconds. The puplings returned and began eating.
Blueprint Magazine, Oct 2010, “Secrets” Issue
The Belly of a Deep Sea Cavern “Not even the Iberian pirates sail here,” Manuel said while adjusting the harness straps across his chest. “They say the depths are cursed.” “They probably spread the rumor to keep their treasure safe!” Carlos replied, getting in one last chuckle before putting in his mouthpiece. The sylphgenerated oxygen entered his lungs. Carlos turned away from Manuel and lumbered across the deck of the skiff towards Luisa and Antonio. The two treasure-hunters were sitting on the edge of the small craft clipping weight belts to their waists. Carlos moved slowly and hunched over to compensate for the 40 kilograms twin-hose aluminium double-tank aqualung rig strapped to his back. He sat down on the skiff’s edge by his additional gear: two extra lamps for safety, each diver always had two backups, some net sacks to retrieve any valuables discovered, and the guideline, which he’d be responsible for. Carlos was eager for the weightlessness promised by the sea. “Maybe the pirates drown in the cave while hiding their gold. Their loss, our gain, right?” Antonio said with a smirk. The playboy winked his eye at Manuel
and inserted his mouthpiece. “May God rest their souls if that’s true,” Manuel said. The action of lowering his goggles over his eyes was quickly followed by the sign of the cross across his wetsuit. “Hell, if they’re still shambling around down there,” Louisa added, “they’ll take a celestium spear to the head!” Louisa raised her speargun like a proud warrior. In went her mouthpiece. “People go missing down there and yet you all joke,” Manuel said. “What kind of treasure gains its value in corpses?” Manuel mumbled more to himself than to be heard by anyone in particular. Manuel shuffled over to the other three deep sea adventurers and placed in his mouthpiece. There would be no more talking from here on in. Manuel activated his headlamp. He raised a hand to the captain and the navigator, signalling that the four explorers were about to dive into the sea. Carlos ensured the guideline was secured to the boat and was the first off the boat. Then, one by one, the divers fell backwards over the side of the skiff into the cold and still waters of the Noxpraeterium Sea. Manuel let his body sink a few feet before kicking out with his flippers to straighten and turn his body. Manuel placed his arms close and kept his breathing 10
calm to conserve oxygen. After a few kicks downward, the bottom of the skiff was gone. The night sky and stars were gone. The darkness of the deep stretched out beyond him. The light from Manuel’s headlamp was barely enough to make out the forms of his descending colleagues, their forms mildly silhouetted by the glow of their own light sources. Going down was the easy part, Manuel thought. Ten minutes later, and the team was 200 metres below the surface, at the mouth of the fabled cave. The sylph-elemental didn’t only help fill their lungs with pure oxygen due to a symbiotic process, it also powered a propeller unit attached to their tanks. It would take the explorers hours to return to the surface as they’d have to schedule stops along the way to avoid the bends. They’d be lucky if they could get back to the skiff before sunrise. Carlos secured the guideline to an anchor point outside the cave entrance. Antonio and Louisa settled in behind him. Carlos turned to give them a thumbs up. Manuel descended and joined the group; he gave them an affirmative wave. Carlos nodded and entered the cave, taking point with the guideline into the darkness. Thirty minutes had slipped by as the treasure hunters glided through the cave’s passages. Their headlamps did a superb job of lighting up the tunnels along the way. Up ahead, though, beyond a ninety-degree turn that his team had already cleared, Manuel could see Carlos bathed in a luminescent golden glow that came from a larger cavern within. There was about twenty feet between Carlos and Manuel. Antonio and Louisa moved along, an equal distance apart, excited about their discovery. Manuel had stopped moving. He was certain that treasure didn’t glow--and no matter how impressive their headlamps were, they weren’t strong enough to fill an entire area with a glowing aura. Carlos and Antonio entered the cavern. Louisa glanced back at Manuel and motioned for him to keep up with the group. The passage between Manuel and Louisa was lit with two crisscrossing lamp lights for a moment until Louisa turned away to enter the cavern. Manuel reluctantly guided himself down the dark tunnel towards the glowing chamber. Manuel stopped himself at the cavern entrance. The room was, indeed, filled with treasure. Dozens of wooden chests, ancient unrecognizable armours and weapons, and art objects in the shape of sea creatures he had never seen. The most impressive object in the area wasn’t the treasure, though: it was an enormous sea anemone… a glowing one. The lit-up sea cavern must have been thirty feet high; this sea plant’s tentacle limbs-hundreds of them--brushed against the stone surface
above. The basal disk was thick, easily twenty feet in diameter. Antonio was near the basal disk inspecting a breastplate made of gold and coral. Carlos was drifting near the swaying tentacles above them, enthralled by the immensity of the sea plant. Louisa had her celestium spear harpoon at the ready. Her eagerness and curiosity quickly fading. Manuel was still at the entrance when a low vibration spread out from the sea anemone. Manuel could feel it in his eardrums. And then all was dark. Even their headlamps were extinguished. Manuel scrambled for his backup lamp. He flipped the on-switch. A beam of white light cut through the deep darkness, and Manuel pointed it into the cavern. In the next three second of his life, Manuel knew it was all over for the divers. They wouldn’t make it to the surface. This was their last deep sea treasure hunt. Carlos floated limply, half way into the giant sea anemone’s tentacle mass, the ancient breastplate slipping from his fingers. Antoine was subdued by three tentacles, one of them firmly around the exposed skin of his checks. He looked like a marionette, Manuel thought. Louisa’s legs were entangled by one extended tentacle while she held off another with her speargun. She stopped struggling when the tentacle touched her exposed hand. Louisa’s speargun arm floated behind her. A muscle spasm, brought on by the paralyzing poison of the anemone tentacle, caused her to fire the celestium spear in Manuel’s direction. It narrowly missed his head and pierced his rebreather tank instead. All this, Manuel saw in three slow seconds. His lungs hurt as the sylph-elemental was expelled from his tank. Without the sylph-elemental, his body’s adaptability to the higher pressure at these depths was reduced significantly. The sylph-elemental was a primal creature. If given the opportunity to be free, it would take it. Unfortunately, at this depth, the oxygen content in the water was as fatal for the sylph as it was for Manuel. Bubbles gathered around the tank as the sylph rebuilt its bird-like elemental form. It panicked when it realized it was nowhere near the air. It even struggled to re-enter the rebreather tank, but it was too late. The damage was done. The sylph’s essence was corrupted, and it was dissipating. Manuel’s eyes glossed over as he watched his three colleagues disappear into the anemone’s mass. It was the last thing he saw as he began to lose consciousness. He’d drown before he was rescued.
Blueprint Magazine, Nov 2010, “Money” Issue
Blueprint Magazine, Jan 2011, “Fetish” Issue
Prey and Predators
Weasel and Pinch
Periodic howling came from the canopy, deep within the tropical rainforest of Congwana. A troop of umbrakins shadowed a prowling tiger below them. After the umbrakin had made its warning call, it leaped off its tree branch and swung away to a new vantage point. As good as the tiger’s eyesight was in the night, it still had tremendous difficulty spotting the erratic simians. The retreating umbrakin was supported by the simultaneous movements of other umbrakins positioned around the tiger, making it difficult for it to focus on just one. The initial strategy ensured the safety of the vulnerable members of the troop. The secondary strategy was all about confrontation. An umbrakin dropped from a tree and landed in front of the tiger. The umbrakin was covered in black fur, and a wild mane flared outwards as it screeched. The tiger growled threateningly. Other umbrakin dropped from the trees. Some held sharpened stones, others held makeshift spears. Tonight, the predator would become the prey.
Weasel dodged the fruit vendor’s grasp! He wove between pedestrians and jumped over toppled obstacles. He’d done this before. It’s how he survived in Cog Town after all. He snagged two apples and a loaf of bread from the market and foraged for the bits of meat in some restaurant trash cans. He got by. He reached a familiar alley, climbed up a stack of crates, and grabbed a window sill. He heaved himself up and grabbed the roof’s gutter. Another small effort later, and Weasel was walking along red clay shingles. He sat down against a stonework chimney. Pinch should be here already; he was never late. Weasel opened and placed the bag of scraps next to him. He barely released the bag when an invisible force began rummaging through the meat. An imp materialized: his skin was scabby, his face was ratlike, one eye was glossed over, he had a nub for a tail, and small wings hung limp down his back. The fiendish pest was a pitiful sight. “Took you long enough,” Pinch squeaked. “You’re welcome,” replied Weasel.
The Day of the Flaming Fire Lizards Jian Zhung watched the moon approaching the sun. Citizens across Zhongdi feared the day of the “feixing huo xi”… the flying fire lizards. Jian Zhung guided his cattle far from his barn and wheat fields. Eighteen months ago, his neighbour lost his livestock to a collapsing, flaming barn roof. The moon began covering the sun. Darkness spread across his land, and within seconds, it was covered in shadow as far as eyes could see. Flickers of flame came to life in the bordering woods. Small salamanders sprouted wings, their bodies sheathed in flame, and they took off in a frenzied swarm. When they came together, they looked like a dragon’s fiery breathe. As long as feixing huo xi remained airborne, all was well. Catastrophes only happened if they landed. The event lasted five minutes. Jian Zhung was lucky. Far off in the distance, a pillar of black smoke rose into the sky, just as the darkness lifted off the countryside, and the sun shone once more. “Someone was unlucky,” Jian Zhung muttered to himself.
Worm Food Joey “the Slick” Lema and Mason “the Bull” Malleti had a gruesome task to do, but as mooks of the Carnosa family, it was their duty. Bull reached into the wagon, grabbed a black rubber bag, and pulled it towards him. With a heave, the two mooks lifted the package. They walked into a cave. Their secret cave. Its interior was still lit with a reddish hue from the sunset. They stopped at a pit. Bull unzipped the bag and pulled out a corpse. They looked into the pit. A mangy canine circled below. It had been stuck down the thirty-foot hole for months. The beast detected their approach and made a series of slurping sounds. A dozen maggot heads swayed hungrily out of the things neck where a wolf head should have been. “This guy’s worm food,” Bull grunted. They tossed the body into the pit. The carrion mongrel immediately sunk its maggot heads into the corpse and began devouring it. “Do you have to say that every time?” Slick asked. “Yup,” Bull patted his hands proudly, “every single goddamn time.”
Blueprint Magazine, Feb 2011, “Gender” Issue
Bartering Immortality The abandoned barn in the quiet Cavallon countryside smelled of hay and dust. Inside a middle-aged man patted his sweat-beaded forehead with a silk handkerchief. Sir Thomas Legend placed a gold and lead artifact on the owliksir’s work table next to some vials of silver liquid and got straight down to business. “How do I live forever?” Thomas asked as he looked up to the rafters. There in the shadows, he could see large, unblinking orange eyes, staring down at him. “You’re late,” said the owliksir. The creature spread its tawny-freckled wings, and after a few silent flaps, the magical hybrid landed on the table. It stretched its two front talons across the table’s oak surface and dug into the wood. Its upper back arched downwards, its rump extended high, and its wings spread wide. Its body length was just over two feet, and for a moment, it looked intimidating. Thomas took a few steps back to make room for the stretching owliksir. “Just means I gave you an extra hour of sleep, heh.” It gave off a sound that was a mix of hoot and feline yawn. Thomas’ attempt at humor did little to amuse the owliksir. The owliksir pruned a few chest feathers with its curved beak, adjusted both its silver bracelets, and straightened out its jewelled necklace–all undoubtedly arcane–then sat on its haunches and settled its wings about itself like a cape. “This is what you barter?” The owliksir picked up the lead and gold trinket and began to inspect it meticulously. The item depicted two snakes, each swallowing the tail of the other. One snake was lead, the other was gold. “You believe this artifact to be of the same value as the answer you seek, Sir Thomas Legend of Port Liber?” Thomas began sweating. He wiped his brow with a sleeve. “Hot and humid in here, heh,” he said nervously. “How do you know where I live?” “What I hear, I never forget.” The owliksir padded closer to the vials of silver liquid, lifted one up and tapped it with a talon. “You come for the Philosopher’s Stone, yes?” Thomas put both his hands on the table and leaned forward with a wide smile. “Yes. Yes!” he replied hungrily. The owliksir scratched behind one of its ear-tufts with a hind claw, then proceeded to lick and clean its talon before placing it back on the table. “You just bartered it. You had it the last twenty years, you just didn’t have the potion,” the owliskir said while putting the vial back in its holder. “Albert was working on such a potion!” Thomas shouted. “This must be it!” Thomas lunged wildly across the work table swat-
ting at the owliskir. The creature let out a hiss followed by a screech and leapt off the table, flying up toward the rafters. Snatching up the vial and raising it to his lips, Thomas drank the silver liquid in one massive gulp. He began to laugh, his quest finally complete! –Then fell to his knees, clutching at his throat. Thomas looked up, his eyes focused through floating fragments of dust particles, blurring them into snowflakes, and he saw those large unblinking orange eyes staring at him once more. “You have thirty seconds of life left,” the owliksir purred from the darkness above. Thomas crumpled on to his side. “How–?” “You were the partner of Albert Mundi, philosopher and alchemist. You were also his murderer. I know because I gave him the Philosopher’s Stone in exchange for his potion’s formula. Both combined hold the secret of immortality. Ten seconds, Sir Thomas Legend.” Thomas coughed up blood. “I just… wanted… to live… forever…”. The owliksir snorted. “I never once lost track of you or the Stone. I’ve heard stories about you for twenty years and knew your jealousy would find me. Three Seconds.” Thomas stiffened. The last thing he’d hear made him smile. “I never forget a story.”
Daig of the Wicker Man “I’m innocent!” Daig shouted. The three druids ignored him and continued the wicker man ritual. The first druid lit his torch. “You’re as good as ash,” said a thief, while mooning the druids and laughing wildly. “I’m of the Redwood Clan!” Daig said. “I’m just a messenger!” The second druid lit his torch. “Let it rest,” said a murderer, as he tugged on Daig’s orange hair. Daig spun around in the confined space and head-butted the man. The thief laughed some more. The third druid lit his torch. With a bloody forehead, Daig faced the druids once more. “So help you all, if I burn this night, I will seek vengeance!” The druids threw their torches on the wicker man. It was true. Daig was innocent. They needed one more convict for the ritual but had none… until Daig came along. Crackling flame, crazy laugher, and caustic screams filled the night. Daig was silent as the fire consumed his flesh. The wicker man did not burn to the ground that night—it walked, and vengeance was had. 16
Blueprint Magazine, Mar 2011, “Spirit” Issue
Blueprint Magazine, Jul 2011, “Home” Issue
Blueprint Magazine, Sep 2011, “Borders” Issue
Crypt of the Nameless A tear rolled down Petra’s cheek. She just wanted the grotesque creature to stop torturing her husband. “Enough!” she screamed once more. Torches set in iron fixtures made shadows dance eerily on the rough hewn walls. The hunched over thing stopped running its curved claw across Zenon’s chest. Zenon lost consciousness again. In the last half hour, he could barely even scream anymore. Being unconscious at least gave him respite from the pain. Each time Zenon went limp, the thing would put its head against his chest. After confirming Zenon still had a heartbeat, it would just squat beside him and stare at Petra. It was as if the strange creature were simply waiting for something. It was the size of a child, its rib cage protruded– every single rib could be seen. Its stomach bulged outwards, more a sign of severe malnutrition than a product of overeating. It was like a starving street dog begging for scraps. But never once did it attempt to lick its bloodied claws; never once did it take a bite of her husband. “Why are you doing this?” Petra asked through sobs. It said nothing. It just stared at her with swollen, bulging eyes… the black orbs distant and vacant… endless voids absorbing even the limited torchlight. “Let my husband go – ” she began. She noticed it cocked its head and licked its lips hungrily when she said the word husband. Every time the thing cut or pierced Zenon’s flesh, it would just pivot its head, eager not to miss any word that Petra shouted. It listened intently to ever word Petra spoke. But what? What did it want from them, Petra thought. “I’m sorry,” Petra said desperately. “I’m sorry for disturbing your home. Is that what you want? An apology? We’ll leave and never return then! I promise!” The crypt had been sealed for almost a hundred years. Petra and her husband had taken months to put a team together to dig out the site. The first workers who finally uncovered the entrance set off into the crypt with torches to explore further. The next day they had no idea who they were. Some faint memories existed, but it was obvious that something had traumatized the workers enough that they had no desire to return to the dig site. When asked why… they simply had no words to explain it. Petra and Zenon, feeling responsible, set off to seal the crypt and close down the site. The creature captured Petra first and then bound her to a marble column. Zenon came looking for her and was likewise caught. His torture began soon after. The thing crept towards Petra like a hairless monkey; its skin so thin the muscles could be seen extending and contracting with each movement. It never
took its black orbs off her mouth as it approached. It stopped a foot away, and Petra was certain it was her turn to be tortured. “Please stop! My husband… my husband is bleeding to death.” Its head inched forward at the word husband again. She could feel its hot breath as it wheezed and then sniffed her lips; it was a deep and long inhale. She started to feel faint. “I love him, please let Zenon go…”. Zenon–it wanted to hear Zenon’s name! The thing leapt away from her–it was an eager leap–a strand of saliva dripped from its mouth to the cold stone floor. It rushed Zenon and straddled his extended legs. It raised a bony hand to Zenon’s forehead, the thumb and index finger dug into the skin, just enough to pierce it. “Please!” Petra screamed. The thing slowly pulled its hand away from Zenon’s forehead, a shimmering thread between its fingers. A long tongue licked dry lips hungrily. The thread came free. The thing looked at Petra once more and snapped Zenon’s binding ropes. It scrambled away with its prize and settled against a wall in the back of the crypt. Petra watched as it slipped the shimmering thread into its mouth and started to suck it slowly. Zenon’s eyes opened. He seemed drowsy and took a moment to acknowledge the pain he was in, and most importantly, the fact that he was no longer bound. Panic overtook Zenon causing him to jolt to his feet. He was disoriented. He was cut and bleeding and knew he had been bound earlier, but was no longer aware of the name-eater that tortured him. Zenon started to head for the exit but then stopped and turned to free Petra. “We have to get out of here, miss!” “I was so worried,” Petra said as she hugged her husband. “I love you so much, Zenon.” Zenon pulled her away. “Who’s Zenon?” Petra recalled the previous workers who had lost their memories, their names, their identity… now she understood why. There was an alien creature in these ancient crypts that devoured names. Fearing to lose her own identity she glanced back into the crypt for the creature but it was no longer there. She cared not for how it vanished, she only cared that her and Zenon were now free. The newly estranged couple started to climb the worn out stone stairs when the torches went out, leaving the crypt consumed by darkness once more.
Blueprint Magazine, Oct 2011, “Nature” Issue
Blueprint Magazine, Nov 2011, “Queer” Issue
Blueprint Magazine, Jan 2012, “Power” Issue
A Morsel for the Poor
The Black Rain
“A morsel for the poor?” Yilan Ruhu mumbled to the pedestrians walking by. They ignored him like usual. Deep down, he knew that to be a good thing. He was always hungry nowadays. He could feel his guts shifting inside him with displeasure. Yilan used to be a successful merchant. He’d sail to Andalus with spices, and return to Persis with pottery. A cursed storm raged over the Noxpraetorium Sea, and he was warned not to sail. Money would be lost, so Yilan didn’t listen. The booming of thunder shuttered the ship’s haul. The rain was slick like oil. And then there were the snakes that fell from the dark spiralling clouds overhead. It was a nightmare come to life. Those snakes haunt Yilan to this day. His wealthy life was left behind. He kept his stomach under better control in crowded areas. A small stray dog padded by Yilan—too close for its own good—and a tangle of snakes darted out from his belly. There was a short yelp, and then the dog was absorbed.
The people of Sangbolge were used to rain. If they got thirty days of sun a year, they were lucky. Today’s rain fall was just another day. Puddles gathered in the streets. They had a strange, dark hue and oily texture. Fisherman shouted out in horror when they realized that the fish spread out on the docks were losing their scales. Minutes later, the fish’s unblinking eye had melted away. Those who were exposed to the rain began to show signs of discomfort. Their skin itched, rashes covered their bodies, and lethargy overcame them. People collapsed, unable to move. Their muscles loosened. Their skin sagged. Their hair, teeth, and nails fell out. Two hours later, they liquidated into black puddles. When the rainstorm passed, the sun shone on Sangbolge. The puddles converged slowly and evaporated. The black droplets rose into the atmosphere, now joined with those who had transcended before them, and together, the black rain rode the wind currents along the coast of Ragnoros, to their next feeding ground.
The Life Cycle of a Mircean Blow Fly
Curse of the Medusa Graveyard
Anton had been dead for twenty days now. His body was left in a shallow ditch in the woods. His killers didn’t even bother burying his corpse. The superstitious folk of Mircea are familiar with tales of restless dead. Ceremonies and customs were put in place over the last century to reduce the likelihood of supernatural incidents. For the most part, nowadays, they worked. Unfortunately, in cases like Anton’s, where the body has been left exposed to the unnatural elements of the land… any number of circumstances could lead him to rise again. It only took two days for the smell of his rotting flesh to attract the Mircean blow fly. They didn’t feed on his corpse; instead they laid eggs in his ears, nose, mouth and multiple stabbing wounds. After one day these eggs hatched into larva. After a week, they were at their full size (about 20mm). After about twenty days, the larva goes through its last development cycle. It bonds with the corpse. On day twenty-one, Anton will rise from the ditch and walk again.
“Does it hurt?” asked Leon. The boy touched his aunt’s skin. It was textured like a clay roof tile. Euthalia gave a stiff chuckle. “I can’t even feel your touch, little one.” “I want to be an explorer when I grow up!” The boy loved his aunt’s stories. “Did you see dead snakehairs there?” “No.. but surely, there must be some there.” Euthalia had difficulty speaking. She was afraid to crack her cheek. “I saw grass, flowers and trees that had been turned to stone though. It’s said that the village at the center of the Medusa Graveyard buried a witch and her baby daughter alive. The witch cursed the land, and all its living things, to be taken by the earth as well. There exist few places more still and quiet in all of Dorattica.” Leon’s mom entered the bedroom with a vase of olive oil to rub on her sister’s skin. “You’re suffering from petrification sickness, and still you have time to move your mouth for my boy!” “I saw a village of statues… I appreciate being able to move at all.”
Blueprint Magazine, Feb 2012, “Family” Issue
Wallace of Whale Town
The Hayworth Horror
“I’m from—hic—Whale Town!” the drunk yelled as he slammed his mug of ale on the stained wooden bar top. “You’ve ’ad enough, Wallace,” the bartender interrupted. “That’s yer las’ pint, ol’ man.” “These buggers—hic—they think me a liar!” Wallace pointed a thick finger at the others in the bar. Wallace slid off his wobbly stool. “I miss my home,” he slurred, “Big White Momma… she saved us all. Swallowed the crew and busted ship whole, she did. We restarted our lives within her belly… built homes from the ship’s timber.” Some people snickered at Wallace. “Friggin’ drunk,” one man said. Wallace continued, “Big White Momma saved other castaways as well… she gave us air and fish. She needed our help, she did. We had to kill the cancer sharks feeding on her guts. Those things were like giant lampreys, they were!” Wallace left the tavern. He didn’t need anyone to believe him. The drinking helped him drown his sadness away. He didn’t just miss his home, you see. He missed his wife and boy as well.
The Hayworth farm had been in the family for three generations. Merle was the last of the line. He was murdered earlier today in his cornfield. Two thieves had snuck up on old Merle while he harvested corn. The first called out to Merle, just past the tattered scarecrow, “I’m lost, sir. I’m in need of directions.” Merle put down his basket of corn to help, but quickly became aware of the roose when he felt a dagger enter his back. One strike wasn’t enough. Thirteen did the trick. Merle’s blood spilled and soaked into the dirt. The first told the second that he was going to bury the body, and sent him to go loot the home. The moon rose, and the second hadn’t heard from the first. He opened the back door that led to the cornfield, and there, where the tattered scarecrow had hung, was the first impaled on the stake. The second slammed the door and forced his back against it. Across the interior of the home, there in the front porch window, a tattered scarecrow stared at him with a scythe in his hands.
The Dead-Head Tree
The Shi Ika Delicacy
It was the strangest tree Victor had ever seen. The bark was heavily textured like coral, and it was dark— almost black as pitch. The fruit was the most provocative and disturbing feature. It drew him closer, one step at a time. He was afraid but was so entranced by the faces on the hanging fruits. Yes, yes, faces. He could see them now. Each fruit a tiny human head. “Help me…” a fruit whispered into the wind. Should he eat it? Would that save it? “Don’t come closer…” another one whispered, its voice faint, strangled to quietness. He sweated profusely, for he was warned to refrain his approach… yet he could not stop walking towards the tree! He stood at the dead-head tree. It was a husk of something magnificent and foreboding in the night. A hundred faces swayed hypnotically in the wind. He had to eat one. He had to consume the mystery. His elation was such that he never even felt one of the tree’s skeletal branches pierce his back and protrude from his abdomen. He just kept eating as he died.
In the southern Yakozan peninsula, a group of reclusive fishermen make a living by rounding up shi ika. The shi ika is a type of squid aberration found just off the coast. The shi ika kai—death squid herders—are shunned by most because they bargain low prices for corpses, which they use as bait. They pile the dead on fishing boats and sail to the shi ika breeding trenches, where they are dumped overboard. By evening, the next herd of shi ika walkers shamble forth from the coastline. The squid anomaly attaches itself to the corpse’s skull. As they feed on the decaying fluids, they release enzyme that reanimates the body. For some mysterious reason, it always travels back to the shore. The shi ika kai taser the corpse, which forces the squid to detach itself, at which point they’re gathered for the next morning’s market. The shi ika is a very high profile delicacy in Yakozanese cuisine. If cooked incorrectly, the side effects could be severe. Officials don’t allow these side effects to be publicly known.
Blueprint Magazine, Mar 2012, “Future” Issue
The Origin of the Pestilence Swarm The worst of Greydon’s plague outbreaks occurred over one hundred years ago. The Lord Mayor ordered cats and dogs to be killed, for he feared they carried the taint sickness. Unfortunately, the true carriers were the black rats, who in turn were the hosts of tainted ticks from Odlund that spread the germ. Without predators to kill the rats, their population grew, and the death toll soared. Once panic set in, many fled for their countryside estates. Some even took their pets. It’s said that fever cats and plague hounds originate from this stock. As these pets ate the rats, they inevitably consumed the tainted tick as well. The germ evolved and corrupted the pet from within. Now, cats and dogs roam the Cavallon countryside, with rat-shaped heads, hairless tails, and swollen bellies. It’s said that when they hiss or bark, flies expel from their throats, or when they die, their bellies erupt, releasing the pestilence swarm colony. These threats are rounded up, and thrown alive into pyre pits, still today.
About the Breachspace Setting The BREACHSPACE Setting is a world filled with fear, dread and unsettling realities. It is a world brought into existence because of a reality-shaping anomaly triggered by the opening of The Hellmouth, an event called the Great Cataclysm. The Hellmouth is a gaping wound in the earth that spewed forth fiendish hordes in the early years. It would plague the continent of Uropia for decades before things settled down. Finding a new “normalcy” for the mortals wasn’t an easy feat; it required the Dawn of the Celestials, the Awakening of the Dragons, The Fall of the Curtain of Fey… angels, dragons and magic were added to the world’s tapestry. Each momentous event was a building stone, set in place, to make the world of Teira what it is today. The present of the world is set 120 years after the Great Cataclysm; those who survived are at ripe old ages and now have children, and grandchildren, growing up in a remarkable world. New generations are growing up in a world where their cultural history has seized to exist. People on the world of Teira have no memory of any world that came before the Great Cataclysm. Libraries filled with history books no longer made any sense: ink faded away, written language turned into gibberish, pages crumbled to dust, and so forth. This didn’t mean the world had no history of its own though. Explorers and adventurers would find evi-
dence that proved the world predated the anomaly of the Great Cataclysm. It was as if time was mending itself backwards, even as cultures progressed into the new future. Many cultures adopted the X-Calendar to mark time, starting at X-0, to designate the year of the Great Cataclysm. The gothic horror genre predominantly makes up the tapestry that is the BREACHSPACE Setting, but the setting is nothing more than a wrapper that quietly smothers all other genres. The difference is that gothic horror literature is often a world where the general population is entirely unaware of the supernatural phenomena that exists and shares the same world with them. In the BREACHSPACE setting, all the people are well aware of the morbid reality they now face. The BREACHSPACE Setting entertains the idea of tapping into the collective unconscious nurtured by older literature, folklore, legends, mythology, history and so forth. Furthermore, it draws on imagery from more modern references: from the height of the high action pulp fiction, to the bravado of silver age heroics; from the retro-futuristic genre of steampunk, to the ultra-futuristic dystopian cyberpunk genre. It intertwines ideas and archetypes from these things to build the new imaginary world of Teira. Regardless of this accepted reality—as dark and impossible as this kind of world seems—the common men and women of the world have come to terms with their environment. They come together in communities, have children and witness deaths, both natural and grotesque, but most importantly, they value the concept of living for today and looking forward to the next day, one day at a time. Then there are the not-so-common men and women. These individuals have been changed by their new world, sometimes by benevolent means, sometimes by the Wasteland’s corrupting Taint. They struggle to bring about the possibility of more glorious days, they abolish evil where it lurks, lead relief armies to battle across blasted lands, defend cities from offended dragons—but so too do they lead dark cults motivated by mysterious masters, rule over populations with an iron fist, perform age-old rituals to harness new powers and release fiends from the Pits of Hell. The BREACHSPACE Setting offers tales of wonder, of intrigue, and of fear. This anthology focuses on the continent of Uropia, but there’s still a whole world to experience… one breach at a time.