Authors: Erik Schubach
By Erik Schubach
P.O. Box 523
Nine Mile Falls, WA 99026
Cover Photo © 2015 Coka / Triff / ShutterStock.com license
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, blog, or broadcast.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Manufactured in the United States of America
I yawned as I stepped out of my family's stone cottage with my little brother, Jace, the steel pin hinges groaned in protest. I closed the old wooden door as quietly as I could as to not waken mother. Her health had been deteriorating and we didn't like her exerting herself.
We walked to the pig pen and I grabbed my wooden cart by the handles and started toward the portcullis of the defensive wall around our village. I called back, “After you feed the hogs, bring Matilda to the butcher. She isn't laying anymore, and we could probably get at least two pennies for her or trade for a half sack of grain, she has some good meat on her.”
He nodded as he grabbed the bucket to get some of the castoffs from Castle Wexbury we had traded some eggs for. Our feathered ladies were some of the best laying hens in the village and the lords of the castle were partial to them. I smiled. He was only seven but was a godsend around here. With mother down, he was all I had to help me with all the chores while I was out scavenging.
I was not about to marry myself off just to maintain the household, I don't care if I was of age of consent last month or not. No man would have me, ever, and I don't understand why any woman would ever betroth herself to one. I shivered at the thought.
I looked back at the door then added, “Remind me when I get back to grease the door hinges with lard or bacon grease would you? I don't want that noisy door waking mother, she needs her rest.” He nodded in earnest. I smiled at him, he was such a good boy, I was proud to have him as a brother.
I started wheeling my cart to the cobbled road in the twilight of the morning. He called back, “Do you think you'll get enough today Laney?”
I smiled more confidently than I felt and crossed my fingers at him, “Let's hope this batch will get us enough for the medicines.” He crossed his small fingers too and smiled and went back to the morning chores.
I walked down the lane, the village was waking up. I started passing people getting to their jobs and had to move for a couple chargers trotting gallantly past as the morning patrol went to replace the night patrol outside the walls.
I looked at them with awe and amazement. To be a noble would be so glamorous. They protect the village and we tithe them so that they can concentrate on that defense. I blinked. One had the crest with a lightning bolt crossed with a sword on her sash. A Techno Knight! I noticed my jaw was hanging open as she passed by and snapped my mouth shut. She noticed my admiration and she winked at me as she trotted past. She looked a year or two older than my nineteen years.
I blushed, she was not only a knight, but a Techno Knight. Her red hair flowed back over her armored shoulders like a cape draping over the studded leather and metal. Her emerald eyes were sharp, and they glowed with the magic potential of a Techno Knight... they seemed to swallow me whole. I looked down in embarrassment when the other knight said loudly, “Looks like you have an admirer Celeste.”
She hissed at him, “Don't be such an ass Bowyn.” I kept my eyes down but I could feel her eyes on me. I had a little affinity for magic and could tell when it was focused my way. Her eyes were overflowing with it.
She kicked her horse and gave it some rein and shouted, “Hyah!” And galloped off toward the gates. I looked up to watch the other knight urge his horse to catch up. I grinned, being a mere Knight of the Realm, he was subordinate to that Techno Knight. What did he call her? Celeste? He was subordinate to Lady Celeste.
I noted the street lamps in the row I was passing were flickering. I looked at the electric filaments in the globes and they were intact. I stepped over and kicked the ceramic containment vessel which held the magic potential that powered the little copper wound generator. With a scree that was just beyond all but the hearing of the young, the bulbs brightened and remained steady. I grinned.
I absently wondered how the wizards of the old realm of the Before Times powered their tech. I have heard so many ludicrous theories. Like chemical reactions. The old buffoon who proposed it called it batteries or some other nonsense. That would be terribly inefficient, and what would you do with these... batteries... once the chemical reaction was exhausted? Throw them out and build new ones? Non renewable resources were in such short supply and that would be a waste.
But that wasn't as funny as the Techromancer who was laughed out of the conclave for suggesting that his interpretation of the old writings of the Before was that it was with water from rivers. How can water power electricity? The two do not mix. I chuckled at the thought.
No, the wizards of the Before were so much more powerful than us. Just look at all they had accomplished. We unearth more every day. They had to be so far beyond our abilities. It was only the Great Impact that brought down their civilization. I imagined all the wonders I would have seen if I had lived in their time.
As I approached the huge gates at the portcullis, I glanced back to the east, to Castle Wexbury. The great castle with it's soaring towers and waving standards. It was so large it formed two thirds of the east wall of the village itself. Well over a half mile of stone.
There, hanging above it in the sky, were the Three Sisters. The three pale white moons and the ring of debris around Earth. I tried to imagine what it would be like to see one huge moon in the sky in ancient times, before the Great Impact. A rogue astral body had collided with Mother Luna and tore her in half. I looked at her oblong egg shape and the two smaller sisters, Athena and Freya, which formed afterwards.
They say that Mother Luna will again be round one day as gravity reshapes her as she spins. She appears to be always looking down on Earth with her red eye. The pale red glow of the vast magma fields on her broken edge will eventually be swallowed. Much like the vast magma fields on the Dark Side of the Earth.
It is rumored there were billions of people in the Before. Over three quarters of the population was wiped out when the debris storm and shock wave had hit the Dark Side. And even more died in the early years. There were rumored to be huge bodies of water they called oceans that covered most of the surface of the planet. I would not have believed it if I had not seen some of the old writings that they have in the castle. The Techromancy Scrolls.
There was a picture in one, of the Earth as a blue ball, covered in water. The language looked so much like English, and I could read most of it, but the old English from the Before was so different than now. Now all villages were built by the few lakes and small rivers that came down off the Whispering Walls Mountain range in the center of the habitable lands.
The young chamber maid, Resme, who cleaned the library had been punished for letting me in to see the forbidden writings. I still feel bad for putting her in disfavor with the lords of the keep. They traded her off to another realm. She had been my only friend here.
I had to take ten lashes at the whipping post for my part. The punishment for trespass into the library was usually twenty, but the magistrate did not wish to be so harsh on a thirteen year old child. I believe he did not strike me with the enthusiasm I have seen in the past, the blows barely left any scars. He explained why the nobles were so strict with public floggings in regard to the library. The scrolls and tomes there are invaluable, and the kingdoms greatest treasure. I did not cry out, I was strong like mother told me to be.
The library had tens of thousands of scrolls and tomes that were falling apart with age. They have had Techromancers working diligently over the centuries to restore them or make modern records and reproductions so that the knowledge would not be lost to the ages.
I was knocked out of my musings when the first rays of sunlight from Father Sol crested the majestic peaks of the Whispering Walls far in the distance. I took a deep breath and looked at the line of people that was starting to form on either side of the gate. We all stayed clear of the knights, and the gate and wall guards.
A man was walking down the line with a checklist asking each person their business outside the gates. The grumpy, heavyset man wearing old, ill fitting, worn leather armor that had suffered most likely decades of disrepair, finally got to me. “Name, station, reason for travel?”
I glanced over to see the Knights just twenty feet away. I smiled a little when I saw Lady Celeste speaking with two other knights of the realm. I looked away and said to the man, “Laney Herder, serf, scavenging.” We used our profession to identify ourselves, in case there were more than one person in the village with the same name. My family are livestock herders, so I had to identify myself that way.
He placed his pen down on his tablet and cuffed my ear roughly. “What are you doing scavenging you worthless tramp?! Get back to your animals, the kingdom needs food more than junk!”
I held the side of my face, my cheek stung, but I did not cry out. I worked my jaw trying to get the ringing in my ear to fade. I looked at his feet. “Please sir. I'm scavenging copper, and iron. I'm a sensitive.” I pulled my crystal necklace from under my shirt, it hung on a small leather strap, it started glowing faintly amber when my hand came in contact with it.
I heard a large horse approach. A familiar woman's voice snapped out with authority, “Steward! The realm needs metals and machines from the Before as much as food! Maybe more.”
He stood at sloppy attention and I kept my eyes down as he ground out, “Yes Lady Celeste. She didn't specify that at first.”
Then she spoke again, “You, young miss. Are you of majority? Has your age of consent come?”
I bowed my head a little, looking at my feet. “Yes Lady.”
She spoke again with a tinge of amusement in her voice, “Look up, I do not bite.” I looked nervously up and she asked, “You have others to tend your animals while you are outside the gates?”
I nodded and my voice wavered when I replied, “Yes Lady. My brother. He's small but is a good worker.” She smiled a little and I looked back down.
Then she asked, “You say you are a sensitive, but you said copper AND iron. Which is it?”
I chanced another look at her up on that grand mount of hers, its coat dark as midnight. “Both, Lady.” I tried not to show the pride on my face. It was extremely uncommon to have the magic affinity to more than one metal. That is why I did so well on my last two outings once I was the age of majority and could travel outside the walls without an adult. I also hid the other abilities that I had started developing the past two months.
The Techromancers needed the various metals and machines to maintain and build upon the growing technology base of our village. We were one of the most advanced villages in all the realms. There was so much old technology buried just below the surface, which was so much easier and quicker to use than the mining and smelting of ore from the mines. I was able to save up fifteen iron pennies and two gold coins from my previous outings. Just one more gold coin and I could afford the medicines for mother from the hospital.
She cocked an eyebrow and gave me a genuinely surprised smile. “Truly?” I nodded and then she looked at the man. “Steward, allow this woman to the front of the line, her work is valuable to the realm.”
He shot me a glare but bowed slightly to her and responded, “Lady.” Then he grabbed the handles of my cart and pushed it roughly to the front of the line, cussing the whole way.
I looked up to the knight and did a curtsy and said quickly, “Thank you Lady.”
She shook her head and said, “Celeste. You may call me Celeste, Laney.”
I nodded and ran off to my cart. I was blushing profusely. I wondered where all my confidence had gone. I'd never felt so self conscious around anyone. Because Laney you fool, she was a Techno Knight! A Knight of the Realm! I caught myself smiling. I had just spoken to a Techno Knight, Jace was going to be so jealous!
The clock in the church steeple in the center of the village turned over to seven o'clock and the huge church bell started chiming the start of the day. The deep resonating bongs filling the valley. Lady Celeste had her horse sidle up to the receiver beside the huge motors that operated the gate. Then she drew her long sword.
The light of the rising sun reflected off of it. I could feel her magics rise like a pressure on my chest and the little hairs on my arm and the back of my neck stood on end. I could see energy bleeding out of her green eyes, lighting them like twin emerald stars as energy crackled down her arm, arcing from stud to stud on her armor. It traveled into her sword and it started to glow red hot in her hand.
Then she looked over to me and winked again and slammed her sword into the receiving socket. It was like energy just cascaded into the ground, and I felt like I had dropped down three feet. Nobody else seemed to notice any of this. The motors began to turn, the huge iron gates groaned then started to rise and she withdrew her sword and slid it into her scabbard.
The steward was speaking loudly. “The gates close at seven this evening. If you are not in the gates of the keep by the seventh strike of the bells, you must seek your own shelter for the night.” As he spoke, the returning knights passed the day patrol. They saluted each other, my eyes were glued to Lady Celeste and she turned back in her saddle as she went out on patrol and I swear she looked directly at me.
I was cuffed on my ear roughly by the steward again. “Are you listening Herder? I told you to start moving three times.”