The Wraith of WWI

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Re: The Wraith of WWI

Postby Sterling on Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:28 pm

Far to the South-West:

Sterling had been walking through the thinning trees for almost a half hour, noting how they looked wilted, singed, and there was the occasional deep crater where something had obviously exploded. The entire forest edge smelled of death and battle and it stung his nose. There were places with blood, where the smell of death was stronger, where people had obviously fought. There was a constant echo, like distant thunder, of large explosions far off ahead that never seemed to stop. It made him wonder what the war described to him by the dying man in the tent was really like. Even that description hadn’t prepared him for what he saw when he came to the last edge of the trees.

His higher vantage point afforded a full view of the battle lines and even from the distance he was from them the extent of the devastation and scope of the front was incredible. He stood absolutely still, his eyes darting from place to place, taking in the chaos and destruction. It was so vast, so complete, that he even stopped breathing.

Long lines of trenches stretched off to the horizon, several layers on each side. All vegetation from the place he stood to a mile or more past the other side was gone, burned and blasted to bits or shredded unrecognizable. Craters and wreckage littered even the open ground behind the trenches. And between them was a chewed and scorched wasteland that varied from hundreds of yards to almost a mile wide at points. Broken barbed wire, wrecked machines, pieces of shattered rock, and the dead or what was left of them, left to the cruelty of the conflict because it was too dangerous to try to recover them.

Back from the lines, out of range of bullets and usually from the other side’s heavy guns, huge batteries of artillery were set at key points. Larger, heavier, guns than he’d ever seen, that fired with reports like the blow of a god’s hammer. He watched the shells they fired as they arced over the field and landed blowing even more gigantic holes in the land and spraying death with not only metal and fire but very often a haze of vapor and gas.

His eyes looked up from the incalculable destruction on the ground and saw another wonder; flying machines. Dozens of them. Men in machines that looked like strange kites, kites with guns, spiraling and fighting in the air above the long lines of trenches. Bright and complex colors showed on their wings and tails, some on the entire craft, as they turned, spun, jousted, and dove. Fire would erupt on one, smoke pouring from the engine, and the craft would spiral down to the ground and come apart in a shower of pieces. Others would take damage and flee. Still others, their driver killed, would almost lazily dive down to be destroyed by the ground.

He looked down at the lines again, his attention drawn by a large movement.

Thousands of men poured from the trench on the far side as a large barrage of explosions rocked the near trench, artillery shells landing every second for almost a full minute. The men charged, every one of them screaming, shooting their rifles toward the enemy. It was glorious.

Then the closer trenches came to life. Even as the artillery rained down on them the men began shooting at the oncoming wave of soldiers. Two fortified positions on the trench that had not been blown into the next world by the raining shells blazed to life, the guns in them firing at an unbelievable speed. Machineguns.

The rushing attack of soldiers began falling, dying by the hundreds, as the hail of rifle and machinegun bullets tore into and through them. With no cover in the blasted wasteland between the trenches, slowed by the broken ground and tatters of wire, they stood no chance. To make it worse, as the attacking artillery stopped the defending artillery began, shells falling into the fray and blasting the attacking wave. Bodies were shredded, blown to pieces, torn, and destroyed.

The attack faltered, then broke, and the men began to run back toward their own trench line without even getting two thirds of the way across the field.

But the defenders kept firing, cutting them down as they fled. The shells still rained down, killing more. Until at last only a quarter of the force that began scrambled, bloodied, into the relative safety of their own trenches.

Sterling just stared, almost hungrily, and thought it would have ended there but it didn’t. The distant voices in his mind laughed.

The defenders counter-attacked. Another wave of men, this time going the other direction, poured out of the trenches and began running toward their enemy just as the others had before.

And they met the same fate.

The entire process took nearly two hours and after it was done neither side had gained even an inch of field. The flying machines were long gone from the sky, returned to wherever they’d come from or reduced to wreckage on the ground. Thousands were dead and both sides were exactly where they’d began.

They’re insane, Sterling thought. The whole world has gone insane. And they said I was a monster.

He moved at last, shaking his head, and began walking toward the lines. His destination was far through the disaster before him on the other side.

“...you belong here...” the distant voices in his mind whispered. “...it is beautiful.”

“Shut up,” he growled, closing his eyes tight and clenching his jaw.

“So much food...”

He stopped for just a moment, breathing deep and focusing on his inner self, pushing the edge of the darkness back. The voices faded but the distant murmur of them was still there.

It was worse than before. It had only been a day and they were back when last time it had taken a week after he’d awoken. It would take energy to keep them quiet, to remain hidden. Perhaps it was the chaos and destruction before him. Perhaps it would just continue to grow worse the longer he lived until it consumed him completely. Whatever the case he still had to continue on.

He walked toward the rear line of trenches as the red-tinted dusk began to grow.
~
Sterling

"Naive wishing for peace is the surest possible way to invite an aggressor."
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Re: The Wraith of WWI

Postby Sterling on Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:47 pm

The large dugouts and nests where the heavy guns were kept was quite a sight from up close. He’d been inside batteries of cannon before but never anything as coordinated, mechanical, efficient, and absolutely huge as this was. The guns themselves were giant machines, all smooth steel instead of brass or bronze, and sounded with a titanic, deafening, report when fired. A few were even mounted on rail-car flats that rolled back several feet on actual rails when they discharged. The shells they threw, some of them, were so large that even a normal man could watch them fly from the barrel and into the sky, arching toward their destination with the promise of heavy destruction when they landed.

Sterling just stood there for a moment admiring the machine as men buzzed around it like bees on a field of flowers. They pulled out and discarded spent brass shells, scoured the locking breech on the back, and brought up another projectile to load and eventually fire.

A man in a decorated spired helmet noticed him standing there watching, as he’d not bothered to actively conceal himself by position or power, and strode over toward him with a hard look in his eye. He had the rank insignia of a Sergeant. Sterling composed himself, making sure that he would appear entirely human to the man’s eyes, before he drew close enough to notice anything else amiss.

“You there!” the Sergeant boomed in a deep bass voice, one that very well befitted the thick moustache and beard he wore. “Mountain Patrol. What are you doing here?”

Mountain Patrol? Sterling thought for a moment, then remembered. Oh, right, the uniform.

He stood straight before the Sergeant and saluted as he had seen others do as the man had ordered them about at the guns.

“Just returned from patrol Serg...”

“What?” The Sergeant boomed, leaning closer. “Speak up man.”

His hearing must be damaged from the constant gunfire. Ok...

Sterling drew a bit of power and used it to lend weight to his words as he did not feel like shouting at a deaf man for the entire evening. His eyes tinted just a bit with the influence but the man wouldn’t notice that.

“Just returned from patrol, Sergeant.”

The Sergeant heard him that time, and nodded, then looked around.

“And where are the rest of your men? Resting already?”

“Dead, sir. We encountered the enemy.”

The Sergeant nodded again, the look on his face not changing at all as if he were used to such news and it was quite routine.

“Did you kill all of the enemy then, or run?” The Sergeant gave a stern look when he asked this, his voice still overly loud but lower than before.

“They’re all dead sir. But only I got out of it. Just.” It was a complete fabrication but one that Sterling hoped he’d believe.

“Good! Good!” the Sergeant smiled wide and slapped Sterling on the shoulder with a large, very toughened hand. “That’s a lad. Go and tell the Colonel. He’s in the secondary command bunker.” The Sergeant gestured vaguely into the trenches in front of them to the right-ish. “Had to move it when the other one was hit in the last raid. We’ll win this war yet!”

With that he turned back to his battery and began shouting at the men loading another large shell as he walked back to his post.

Of course he expects me to know where that is. Sterling mused to himself as he turned and walked into the line of trenches. Well, I can find out. Hmm...

The rear echelon of trenches was laid out in a rough grid of long rectangles that paralleled the front lines. Occasionally there were fortified entries that led forward into the front-lines as well as long ramps that led back to the rear support areas. There was a near constant stream of people, wounded and not, moving back and forth along these; men going into the fight, men coming from it, supply personnel hauling food and ammunition up and back, and every so often a runner with a satchel dashing between the others.

Runners. I’ll ask one of them.

As the next one with a satchel came dashing through the trench Sterling reached out toward him.

“Excuse me, but could you...”

The man, if you could call him a man for he looked like he was still in his late teens except for the hardened look in his eyes, didn’t even slow or acknowledge Sterling. He just ran straight by and kept going.

“Huh.” Sterling grunted. “Ok then.”

Sterling moved to a less busy section, one were only a few men were sleeping along the low edges of the trench line wall, the forward one he noted, and leaned up against the back wall and waited.

It was nearly half an hour before another runner came along. This man was older, twenty-ish, and looked very worn.

Sterling didn’t bother trying to talk to him this time, he just waited until the man was passing him and grabbed him by both shoulders. The speed with which he did it was human-normal, but the grip was inescapable. He turned the man and shoved him hard against the wall in one motion, stepping in front of him and keeping his grip on his shoulders.

“Hey, what are you doing?! Let me go!” the man protested. “I have to get to...”

Sterling locked eyes with the runner and forced his mind into them. The man quieted instantly and stared, his mouth still hanging open from the aborted protest.

“What you have to do,” Sterling said quietly but with the weight of hundreds of years of will behind his voice that sent a deep, nearly inaudible echo into the man’s mind. “Is tell me where the Command Bunker is. Now.”

The runner moved his arm out and pointed back the way he came, his eyes still locked with Sterling’s. His voice was dreamy when he spoke.

“Two junctions back that way. And one line up.”

Sterling let go of the runner’s shoulders and leaned close, his palms flat on the wall to either side of his captive.

“Good. Now you won’t remember this. Go about your business.”

Sterling stepped back and turned to walk the way the man had indicated. The runner stood dazed for a moment, then shook himself and took off on his original path. He only got a few steps when he stopped and looked up as a harsh whistling sound grew from the sky.

“Artillery!” the runner screamed, and dove to the ground.

Sterling turned and looked at the runner, then at the few other men that had been awakened by his scream, all clinging to the ground. The whistle of the incoming shells screamed in his ears.

The entire world shook as large shells landed around the trench. First one, then four more, gigantic explosions sounded close. Dirt and debris rained down, scattering randomly, covering one of the men totally. Three more detonations sounded and more rocks and dust fell. Then there came the strange hissing sound out of the sudden silence, a sound like the dry scales of a snake over grass.

One of the men around Sterling got to his feet, and listened, then went pale with panic and began to shout.

“GAS! GAS! GAS!”
~
Sterling

"Naive wishing for peace is the surest possible way to invite an aggressor."
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Re: The Wraith of WWI

Postby Sterling on Tue Feb 07, 2012 6:29 pm

With a soft flash of light and a slight breeze the party of mages appeared in the ruined cave that had held Sterling and now served as a tomb for the unfortunate men that had awoken him. They stood just as they had in the circle under the tower, in a small circle, and turned in a single movement to look outward. Each of them was on alert, one hand on a weapon or with a spell ready.

The cave, however, was near pitch black as the entry to it was on the northern side of the mountain, it was dusk, and it was winter. While they couldn’t see, they could sense that no living thing was near nor hear anything but their own breath. But just breathing gave them some information. The choking smell of day-old death was thick as fog in the blackness, an outhouse/slaughterhouse stench that seemed to cling and stick in the nose and throat so that you could taste it as well as smell it even through the cool air.

The darkness only lasted for a few moments before Romero spoke a soft spell.

A gentle, warm, light blazed in a small sphere above his hand stretched high above his head to illuminate the cave.

As one they stepped together forming a small formation over the place where the fire had been. Akiyama was in the front of the triangle, which pointed toward the entry, his hand on his sword and his eyes flicking about. Behind him stood Romero and Torra, the former with one hand high and another in his satchel, the latter with the sphere floating above one outstretched hand. Behind them Adeel and Din Tau flanked Farstadt, the younger men with their hands ready to cast while the older gripped both his sheathed wand and a dagger.

They were tense, poised, ready to be attacked, but there was nothing waiting for them but the carnage Sterling had left of the mountain patrol.

Blasted rubble littered the cave, and scattered among it was discarded equipment, and ruined bodies. Two of the bodies were stripped and appeared to have been partially eaten. Blood soaked the ground but not nearly as much as would have been expected from the state of the remains.

Farstadt’s eyes widened at the sight, and Adeel seemed to pale. Torra stood and stared about curiously, her mind trying to put together the pieces of the scene. Romero fought to swallow the nausea from both the sight and smell while Akiyama cursed softly that there was no enemy to fight. Din Tau, however, stood firm and silent, his keen eyes taking in the entirety of the calamity with no outward reaction whatsoever.

The sphere floating above Torra’s hand flickered, then spun, swinging to point off through the wall of the cave to the north-west. The runes etched into the silver band twinkled as the arrow steadied and held but the glow remained rather dim.

Akiyama walked over to the first of the savaged bodies to inspect it and Romero coughed at the stench and recovered his breath. Farstadt moved next to Akiyama and Torra pulled a small cylinder from her belt with a little eye-sized window on the top.

“He shifted fast, violently,” Romero said, looking at the strewn debris and the position of two of the bodies. “The records say that the explosion could destroy a building. These four soldiers. They never stood a chance.”

Akiyama grunted an affirmative response.

“Five,” Din Tau said, looking over at Romero.

“What?”

“There were five men,” Din Tau explained. “Look.”

He pointed around the cave, small rays of light extending from his fingertip as he did, each indicating a separate and mangled piece of what had been Clemens. None of them were larger than six inches, and they were strewn about the entire cave.

Adeel, who’d just managed to get back some of his color, paled again. Farstadt simply raised a brow. Akiyama, however, looked to Torra.

“Not here. Not for a day or more,” he said. “How far?”

Torra took a moment longer to look around the cave through her small device before she answered.

“He was here for a long time,” she said. “This place is soaked with his energy.” She slid the device back into her belt and looked at the sphere. “Hard to tell how far he is away. We’re much closer than we were, of course, but even a regular Vampire or Werebeast can travel fast. Who knows what the limit of a Kinsmir would be? If he was trying to blend in, traveling slower like a man would perhaps... Twenty to thirty miles. That direction.”

She pointed off the same way the sphere indicated.

“He’s going TOWARD the battle lines?” Farstadt asked, his tone shocked.

“It makes sense,” Romero answered. “He’d be drawn that way by the chaos of the conflict.”

“Hai,” Akiyama said simply. “So we follow.”

“It’ll be night soon,” Torra said. “We don’t want to encounter him in the dark if we can help it. And we can’t camp here.” She added, looking around at the carnage in the cave.

“Iie,” Akiyama agreed. “Below, if there are trees. Adeel, Din Tau. See to it. We move an hour before dawn.”

Just as the two initiates were about to leave the cave Torra spoke, her voice tense.

“Something’s happening!”

The sphere flashed bright, then brighter, becoming an almost painful light to look at for several seconds before the glow dimmed to the bearable level several bright candles.
~
Sterling

"Naive wishing for peace is the surest possible way to invite an aggressor."
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Re: The Wraith of WWI

Postby Sterling on Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:29 pm

Sterling just looked at the panicking men as they scurried around, digging out their equipment and fumbling on the masks he’d seen before. The terror was plain in their expressions as they scrambled and hid their faces in the masks, and even through the glass covering their eyes he could see their too-wide stares and panic.

“Get your mask on! Get your mask on!” one of the men shouted at him, his voice muffled by the leather and canisters.

Sterling just stared at him, the voices in his mind too loud to ignore.

“Wait,” they said. “Wait for it. Breathe it deep. Feel what they fear.”

He looked away from the man now running down the trench line to the top edge.

Gas slid like the morning fog rising on a field or the late-night ground mist that curled around the feet of travelers in forest or damp country. It curled in wisps and tendrils, snaking along the edge of the trench and cascaded down in a slow, diffuse, waterfall that was entrancing to look at. An artificial, ground-coating, cloud that was the most feared weapon in the world at the time. It drifted, almost lazily, down the wall and began to pool on the floor of the trench.

Sterling’s enhanced senses smelled the first edges of it, though it was not yet concentrated enough to harm, the strange mixture of natural and unnatural scents somewhere between pungent mixed with an almost fresh scent like that of damp hay or cut corn. He didn’t know it but this was a deadly mixture developed by the enemy known as “White Star”, a diabolical mixture of two agents: Chlorine and Phosgene.

The first tendrils of the gas slipped ghost-like over his fingers and everywhere it found moisture it began to itch, then burn. It was enough to snap Sterling from his contemplation of the fog and bring him back to himself but it was too late.

The voices in his mind were distant and laughing, the whispered words unintelligible.

His immediate reaction, pulling back his hand from the mist, proved a mistake as a long wave of it followed in the wake of his hand to encircle his chest and head just as he inhaled in shock.

Sterling’s world was set on fire as his own incredibly sharp senses were turned against him. His nose was filled with burning vapors, every particle of the haze clinging to and attacking his tissue. His throat closed involuntarily, choking him even as his chest heaved and tried to cough the mixture from his burning lungs. His eyes reddened with irritation and blazing pain, tears flowing freely from them that only made the situation worse. Every inch of exposed skin itched and burned.

He staggered, his lungs spasming hard, driving out his breath in a long, wet, cough that doubled him over and sent him to a knee in the midst of the deadly yellowish-green haze. He gasped for air only to swallow more of the deadly burning. His nose began to bleed, as he choked again and coughed a ragged scream into the fog. Even his great healing ability was losing the fight against this new and horrifying weapon. Blisters would fade only to rise again, and every exposure by contact or breath inflamed his tissue anew. Agony was a constant as his body fought to live, both the damage and healing of it. He couldn’t breathe any more. His eyes were swelling shut, and consciousness beginning to fade.

Then the fire inside him ignited, deeper than any poison or weapon would ever reach. Power flooded him as his body fought back and began to regenerate the damage faster, faster even than it was occurring. His eyes cleared, though they still burned continually with pain, and blazed deep red. He fought to a leaning hold on the wall, standing bent over, screaming inhumanly as it took hold.

Inside he fought not only the pain, but the urge to change, to let go, to become what he was physically instead of holding the form of a man. The fight to hold on redoubled his pain.

Then someone grabbed him from behind.

“He doesn’t have a mask!” he heard the man’s muffled yell to someone else.

“Get him OUT!” came another distorted voice.

Hands pulled him upright, freeing his head from the deadly fog, and turned him around to try to pull him away.
Sterling’s face came into view and the hands dropped away quickly. The view was something that would haunt the poor soldier until his dying day.

Sterling’s eyes were pure red, the burning in them so bright that the distinction between pupil, iris, and white were gone. Tears of blood dripped from the corners of them, inside and out. His nose bled as well, the crimson lines framing his blistered, but healing lips that were pulled back impossibly wide showing his bestially pointed teeth and wickedly long fangs and lower canines. His helmet had fallen away when he stumbled, his pointed ears showing long now through his cascading mane of hair.

“Dear GOD!” the masked soldier yelled, his eyes as wide as the glasses of his mask. He didn’t hesitate, he dropped the mask he was carrying, the one he’d intended for Sterling, and ran faster than he ever had before.

“What...” the other voice said from above, drawing Sterling’s horrific gaze.

Sterling pointed at him, the long fingers of his blistered hand tipped with sharp and evil looking black nails. He looked like the embodiment of every soldier killed by the weaponized fog he now stood waist-deep in. Bloody, pale, hateful, and hungry. A wraith that would destroy and kill anything in its way, consume any life it touched.

“Run.” He said to his other would-be rescuer, his voice dripping with darkness and hate.

The man on the trench wall also disappeared, yelling unintelligibly as he ran.

The mask that had been dropped floated up into Sterling’s outstretched hand on a ribbon of darkness, a portion of his power. It leaked from him now in a soft, steady wind that swirled the gas around him but didn’t let it touch.

Pain still burned through him as his body regenerated and ate at the poison but his mind was now focused on revenge and blood. The voices still laughed in his thoughts, but the laughter was different now, anticipatory.

He slipped the mask over his face and began to walk, slowly, through the trenches toward the front lines. His gate was so smooth and steady that he seemed to float through the gas and darkness like a ghost, a hateful specter with a face covered by an inhuman mask, the glass eyes of which glowed like coals of hellfire.
~
Sterling

"Naive wishing for peace is the surest possible way to invite an aggressor."
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Re: The Wraith of WWI

Postby Sterling on Tue Feb 21, 2012 3:45 pm

The last light of the sun had faded from the horizon by the time he passed through one of the last zigzag channels of the trenches that had been cut to provide more cover for the rear support lines. The moon was just cresting the horizon in the east, and it would be full and bright.

Ahead of him he saw something that made him pause. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men were massed in the front-line trenches. Their tension was palpable, their nervousness and fear a tangy spice on the air that Sterling could smell and taste. They were going to attack the enemy in the darkness.

“Perfect,” he muttered, his smile hidden by the mask.

“Perfect...” echoed the voices in his mind.

A whistle sounded, three sharp bleats, and the men began to move in a wave. They climbed and scrambled over the lip of the trench, some yelling, some crying, as the Sergeants and Captains shouted “GO! GO! GO! OVER THE TOP! GO!”

None of the charging soldiers looked back to see the horrific vision of Sterling as he moved out of the trench entry and toward the edge or they’d have run faster. Only one man saw him as he moved to the makeshift ladder, a lone Captain who dropped his whistle and just stared in shock and awe, not believing what he was seeing.

In Sterling’s mind he was eager, hungry for combat, thirsty for blood, fiending for chaos and death. As his hand touched the ladder that would take him to it the voices cleared for just a moment, a brief silence that was filled with a long absent but unforgettable voice. It sounded soft, like a whisper, distant as if it echoed from the depths of an infinite well, far-away and dreamlike but perfectly clear. The tone was gentle but demanding, almost motherly.

“...make me proud.”

Then it was gone, the flood of the sights, sounds, and smells of impending battle driving everything else from his senses as he crested the top of the trench and strode slowly through the wreckage following the wave of men.

Overhead there were several loud pops, not quite explosions, that drew his eyes up. Light flared, bright as the full moon, in several points as large artillery shells burst open and ignited bright white flares, drifting slowly downward on parachutes. The light of them laid bare the entire field from trench to trench and beyond and showed that every soldier’s worst nightmare, and Sterling’s fondest wish, was about to come true.

The enemy had apparently had the same idea as the troops on Sterling’s side and were also pouring out of the trenches. This fight would be no back-and-forth of death, it would be a grand engagement, a melee, in the middle of a wasteland. The shock of the revelation was clear as both sides hesitated in their advance, then charged directly toward each other, a great battle-cry erupting from every one of them.

Sterling quickened his pace to join the fray, loping silently along, long-fingered hands fanned out at his sides to display his claws.

Gunfire began immediately, first the sporadic shots of rifles, then the brief buzz from bursts of machinegun fire when a line of sight was open between friendly troops. Men threw grenades back and forth as the lines drew closer, the small but loud explosions adding to the din. Then the lines crushed together and it was hand to hand as well.

Men stabbed and slashed at each other with the long bayonets on the end of their rifles, having fired them empty. They swung the heavy wooden stocks and steel barrels at each other like clubs and staves. Long combat and short knives were flashing back and forth as well as heavier chopping blades and small hatchets. Several were even using the small spades of personal entrenching tools. Others beat each other with fists and feet. The melee was complete; every man fighting for their life in a vast swirling maelstrom of the human tide.

Sterling walked unimpeded through the back ranks of the men that had charged ahead of him, his mind and body vibrating with the chaos and slaughter. Almost casually he swung his hand out and raked his wicked claws across the back of a man that he passed even though he wore the same uniform. His nails tore through the cloth, flesh, and muscle underneath like butter before a hot blade, rending long gashes that exposed the white of ribs and spinal bone to the air. The man fell screaming to the turf, writing in absolute agony, and Sterling kicked him casually aside. The force of the simple kick sent him crashing into two more men over two yards away.

Sterling didn’t stop, or even look at the man, he just kept walking forward, toward the more intense conflict, toward the battle, willing as hard as he dared for someone to come and face him. His wish was granted as the two sides mingled further.

A large, burly, man wearing a plain brown uniform and what looked to Sterling to be an American style hat crushed the face of the man in front of him with an entrenching tool, the body falling backward to land at Sterling’s feet. The soldier, perhaps in his twenties, was taller than Sterling was, and far more muscled, with short blond hair and a weather-tanned face that said farmer turned hard soldier. In his frenzy he didn’t notice the glow emanating from the eyeglass of Sterling’s mask, he just saw another German uniform and charged with the spade held over his head in both large hands.

Sterling reacted by taking a gliding step forward and stabbing all four of his extended fingers into the charging brute’s throat before he could bring the weapon down. The slicing impact as his nails slid through the soldier’s neck sprayed blood in all directions and left Sterling with two fingers on either side of the spine. The man’s eyes widened in shock and terror, realizing that he was dead but not yet dead, staring into the masked face of a monster, and his mouth began to work but no words would come from the broken and cleft windpipe, his upraised arms dropping uselessly to his sides.

Sterling held him there for only a second then jerked his hand upward, removing the man’s head completely with a tearing, wet, snap.

Off to his left someone screamed, having witnessed the decapitation, and turned a rifle at Sterling. He fired twice, both bullets poorly aimed and missing, while Sterling turned toward him, first swiveling his head to fix the man with the hellish look of his now gore-stained mask, then flexing his body. The man fired again and this bullet would have hit Sterling, but the tendrils of black mist that surrounded him caught it and dissolved the projectile into atoms.

Sterling reached back with his right hand, still holding the silently screaming head, and threw it as hard as he was able at the man shooting at him with the rifle. The energy imparted to the head by Sterling turned it into a blur of a missile that exploded against the man’s chest on impact, shattered every one of his ribs, crushed his heart between a broken sternum and spine, and sent him rolling backward out of sight into the melee.

He didn’t have time to pay attention to where the man went as the main front of the battle was rolling over his position now and on every side there was blood and death. It pulled at him inside like an irresistible magnet, drawing out more of his power to enhance and feed on it. There was so much blood, so much suffering, he had to taste it.

Some of the dark mist surrounding him manifested into chains at his arms and wrists, chains which moved on their own or as part of his will. He grew slightly taller as the power filled him up, splitting the back of his coat so that it flapped like twin tattered capes behind him. And his eyes burned brighter through the mask.

Out of nowhere it seemed a metal ball came flying toward him. His reaction time far beyond those of mortals he caught it easily at arm’s length. The oblong sphere was covered in square dimples, and was smoking.

“Must be a...” but he didn’t finish the thought as the device detonated, taking his hand and half of his forearm with it. The glowing-dark chains, however, were completely unaffected and still rand down to and circled where his wrist would have been, moving when he pulled back his arm just as if it were still there.

Sterling gritted his teeth. It had hurt. A lot. But the power flowing through him wouldn’t let the injury last. Already the bone was lengthening out with tissue crawling over it.

Three men in British uniforms charged at him with bayonets but Sterling had no time for them, he wanted the bomb-thrower. He dismissed them with a lazy swipe of his left hand, the chain at his wrist lashing out and cutting through them effortlessly in a long whipping motion, first to the left, then to the right, and then to the left again as they fell.

He walked purposefully in the direction from which the grenade had come. His hand reformed, first bones, then tissue, then flesh all within ten seconds. He deliberately stepped upon the wounded, both those that matched his rapidly decaying uniform or others, crushing a boot heel to a neck, driving a toe into a temple, or slashing downward with the chaotic chains to stab or flay them to death as he passed. And to those that had not yet fallen he was no less brutal. Anyone within reach was slashed, clawed, mauled. Throats were shredded, heads removed, limbs torn away, spines broken, skulls crushed by wicked claws on inhumanly strong and fast hands. The chains were no less busy, squirming and writhing on their own, impaling and rending, ripping and stabbing anyone that was close or didn’t run fast enough. He had once again become the war machine he had been, the monster of nightmare and legend that the world had forgotten and hoped never to see rise again.

In his now torn and tattered cloak, blood-soaked, mud-caked, and ripped uniform, and alien-looking gas mask with glowing hellfire eyes, writhing black chains that seemed to both absorb all light and glow with darkness, and a fine mist of pure chaotic vapor that hung near to his body he certainly looked the part of a demon come to bring the apocalypse. A demon that was headed for the twisted wreck of a downed aircraft behind which two men were throwing grenades frantically at any enemy they saw.
~
Sterling

"Naive wishing for peace is the surest possible way to invite an aggressor."
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Re: The Wraith of WWI

Postby Sterling on Tue Feb 28, 2012 11:14 pm

Sterling drew the shadow around himself, vanishing almost completely from sight in the harsh slanting light of the flares that burned high above the battlefield. He stepped around the edge of the tail of the plane, and watched for a moment as one of the men took another grenade, pulled the pin, and threw it out into the field.

He chuckled, a horrible sound coming from the darkness, and let the camouflage slip just as the other man was about to throw his pinless explosive.

Both men froze at the sight and sound of him there, eyes widening in terror.

One of Sterling’s chains whipped in a flurry, driving straight through the chest of the closest man to whip the grenade from the other’s hand. The handle popped off the explosive and it began to hiss as it flew skyward but the chain didn’t let it fly away, it snaked up, wrapped around it, and dove back down to slam the device deep into the second soldier’s chest.

The chain evaporated into smoke, reforming beside Sterling, as he turned to walk away. The speared soldier dropped to the ground, lifeless, while the other stood in shock, choking on blood.

He strolled almost casually, gliding over the wrecked ground, to the front of the crashed plane that the men had been hiding behind the tail section of. The grenade timed out and exploded inside the soldier he’d left with a heavy, wet, THUMP. Dirt, pieces of the tail, and wetter things rained down around Sterling, one of the harder bits clanging off of something next to him, drawing his attention. He looked over at the crumpled wing, the front edge of it down in the dirt, and smiled.

There, mounted atop the wing, right at his side, was an amazing gun. A long machinegun with a short stock and handle topped by a large pan-like drum. A Lewis Gun.

He reached over and wrenched the gun from its mount, admiring the weight and size of it, and carried it with one hand on the grip and the other under the cylindrical shroud on the barrel.

He walked on toward the enemy trench, jumping gracefully over a medium-sized crater, and landed on a heap of bodies three corpses high at the lip of the crater, at least a dozen men, the ones on the bottom older dead while the top several were killed in just this battle. Sterling stood atop the grim monument and screamed a challenge, a roar of pure fury and delight.

Everyone nearby stopped fighting each other and stared in shock at the sight of the monster with the gun. Red eyes blazing through a gas mask, tattered clothing, monstrous hands, long swirling hair that drifted in an unnatural breeze that seemed to surround him, and writhing black-glowing chains that snaked around him.

A loud grinding noise answered Sterling’s roar from the direction of the enemy trench. They had witnessed the carnage he’d wrought and sent their most powerful weapon to counter it.

From a depression behind the enemy trench emerged a great metal monstrosity. It was huge, made entirely of steel, with great caterpillar like bands on each side that moved it forward. One long barrel projected from built-in swinging turrets on each side and smaller barrels poked out of the front and sides from open squares in the metal. Smoke billowed from the back of it out of pipes, and the entire thing rumbled and screeched as it moved. It rolled slowly over the trench, the great length of it spanning the line so that it rode over rather than falling in, and turned toward Sterling.

A dozen brave soldiers crawled out of the trench behind the tank, fanning out on each side of it as it moved forward, and began to shoot at Sterling just as the small barrels on the front of the machine began to flash as they too opened fire. The men left on the field watching, both sides, cheered.

Most of the shots were poorly aimed, going wide, stitching the ground, smacking into the bodies that Sterling stood on top of, or whizzing close by him but not hitting. His chains sprung into action, sliding back and forth like snakes before him, disintegrating bullets that would have hit him so that he stood, untouched, in a literal hail of bullets.

The voices in his mind laughed, pure insane laughter, that Sterling echoed as he brought his own machinegun to bear.

He squeezed the trigger, sweeping the weapon from left to right, bullets flying from it at a fantastic pace, and gunned down every one of the flanking soldiers in two passes. He held the trigger down, centering the weapon on the metal monster, and let the rotating magazine empty. The bullets, of course, did nothing to the tank itself, but several of them found the square holes that the machine gunners were firing from, forcing them to stop firing and close the shutters.

The tank rolled to a stop fourty yards away as Sterling dropped the now empty, steaming machinegun. Both of the long barrels at the side swiveled forward, orienting on him, then fired one after the other.

The first cannon shot missed, hitting ten yards behind Sterling. The second was better aimed, flying directly at his chest.

He reacted with supernatural speed, bringing up an empty hand and slapped the shell aside as it flew at him, sending it spinning away with a clang and whine to explode harmlessly off to the side.

Seconds later the tank fired again with both cannons. This time one of Sterling’s chains shot forward, intercepting the first shell, detonating it half way between the tank and its target, the second landing short and blasting the turf in front of him in a spray of dirt, metal, and body parts that washed over him.

“Enough,” Sterling shouted.

His eyes flared brighter as he brought his hands forward, fingers extended like claws, reaching toward the tank. His chains reacted with the motion and his will, six of them growing impossibly long and snaking forward. They hit the metal beast from all sides, three of them sinking through the steel like it were putty to whirl inside and shred the occupants, the other three wrapping around the vehicle like dark anacondas. Screams echoed from the metal hulk for several seconds before falling silent. He flexed his fingers in a gripping motion and the encircling chains squeezed. The tank seemed to wilt, like a can under pressure, buckling in from the top and sides, with a horrible groaning sound as the metal was stressed. Then he closed his hands in fists lifted them in front of him, the chains following suit and lifting the almost thirty ton behemoth as if it were weightless. Then he flared his fingers and swung his hands wide apart.

The tank came apart like papier-mâché as the dark chains ripped into and grabbed the steel then pulled it in six directions at once. The sound of tearing steel filled the suddenly quiet battlefield. Pieces flew in all directions, the chains that threw them whipping them to shreds as they let go. In seconds the mighty British Mark II tank was reduced to scattered wreckage.

Everyone man on the field began running. They didn’t care which direction their own trenches were any more, they just wanted to get away from the monster.
~
Sterling

"Naive wishing for peace is the surest possible way to invite an aggressor."
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Re: The Wraith of WWI

Postby Sterling on Tue Mar 06, 2012 9:58 pm

The utter chaos on the field had not gone unnoticed by the observers on both sides of the line. While the Allied side was too close to risk using their artillery, the Germans had no reservations about shooting that close to the enemy to destroy the monster.

Sterling turned toward the distant booms of the large guns behind the German line, watching the five bright flashes in the darkness behind the lines as they fired off in sequence. He looked up as a few seconds later the distant whine of incoming shells started to sound, his supernatural vision able not only to pick out the dark projectiles in the night sky beyond the illumination of the falling flares but to track their trajectory as well. His glowing eyes flicked from one shell to the next as they arced down toward him. Only one of them was any threat whatsoever and he watched it eagerly as it approached.

The first shell was far short, landing twenty yards off in front of him to blow a large crater in the now empty battlefield. The shockwave slapped him but did not move him and shrapnel flew past harmlessly. As the dirt and debris from the first impact rained down around him the second hit far off to his right, too distant to do any harm. It was the third one that he waited for.

This one was on target and nosed down directly at Sterling where he stood as the fourth and fifth shells sailed long over him to eventually detonate in the Allied trenches themselves, blowing dirt, wood, men, and parts of men skyward. Sterling braced his feet and caught the falling shell like a football between the crook of his arm and his body, the impact fused nose of it jutting out behind his back. The force of the shell slid him ten feet backward, his boots drawing furrows in the torn ground, but he stayed upright.

The object was nearly two feet in diameter, and searingly hot, but Sterling held it as if it weighed nothing. He rolled the shell into a grip between both of his hands and regarded the deadly projectile for a moment, knowing that he’d be safe from any more incoming until the spotters had confirmed the hits from the last salvo from which the dust was still settling. It was massive, heavy, and hot. Everything about it spoke destruction.

Sterling smiled beneath the mask.

Two of his chains slithered forward to encircle the shell, the length of them stretching out around him like a clockwork spring in a wide spiral. The chains gripped the shell, but didn’t crush it, smoldering softly against the steel case.

Sterling spun around once, his arms out at his sides like a dervish, drawing the chains along in a long, whipping arc. They extended outward, accelerating, then released the shell in a fantastic spiral back along the trajectory it had come from, a soft whistling accompanying the deadly object as it flew back to it’s origin.

Far in the distance the gun crews were just readying another volley when the whine of the incoming missile froze them in place. They screamed and scattered, trying to get away from the loaded weapons and piled ammunition, but it was too late. The shell impacted immediately next to the gun that had fired it.

Sterling watched from the field with satisfaction the first massive explosion was quickly followed by several secondary detonations, then a huge blast that spread flaming debris over hundreds of yards behind the German line. The sky above the wrecked guns lit up like an obscene fireworks display.

The voices in his mind shrieked and cheered.

He laughed, long and loud, at the supreme devastation, at the hiding men, at the chaos in general, and turned toward the Allied line. He walked slowly, deliberately, without care of being seen or seeking any cover, knowing that by now any who saw or heard of his approach would give him a wide berth and he could be on his way without further trouble. At least, for now.

---

Back in the cave where he’d awoken the group of mages sent to pursue him huddled around two scrying glasses, watching the devastation and the effects that the soldiers best weapons had had, or rather not had, on Sterling as he moved through the field. They’d been watching since the gas had enveloped him, and they watched him still as he dropped into the trenches of the Allies and made to head north west.

The shock of what they’d seen was plain on the faces of Torra, Romero, and Waseem. Farstadt seemed to have a look of mixed disgust and admiration. Only Master Akiyama and Din Tau watched with no expression other than intent interest.

“Torra,” Akiyama said to the Machinist. “Close the scrying. We’ve seen enough for now.”

She obeyed immediately, sickened by what she’d seen and not at all eager to see any more. The glasses clouded over then went dark.

“Gaia’s Grace!” Romero cursed. “How are we supposed to stop that? The records said that Kinsmir were destructive but I had no idea...”

“That ABOMINATION must be destroyed!” Farstadt interrupted.

“But how can we match that kind of power?” asked Waseem, looking rather ashen.

“There HAS to be a way,” Farstadt countered, then turned to Romero. “What do the archives say? What stopped them last time?”

“It wasn’t that simple!” Romero protested, beginning to dig through his scroll satchel. “Times were different and we had...”

“He did,” Din Tau said, his voice soft but firm and very sure.

They all turned toward the young Initiate, varying looks of shock on every face but that of Akiyama who simply shifted his eyes to regard Din Tau.

“What?” Farstadt asked the question they all had.

“I said,” Din Tau answered. “He did. John Sterling was the one who stopped most of the other Kinsmir.”

The realization of this took a moment to sink in as the group stood silently.

“Great Gaia,” Romero said. “We’re doomed.”
~
Sterling

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Re: The Wraith of WWI

Postby Sterling on Tue Mar 13, 2012 7:21 pm

"No we aren’t,” Farstadt snapped at Romero. “We are Mages! We’re better than that beast!”

“How do we fight that?” Waseem asked at the same time. “Does magic even effect him?”

“There are five of us and only one of him,” Torra answered them both.

“But the records...” Romero began.

“Enough,” Akiyama cut them all off, drawing all eyes to him.

He waited for a moment before continuing making sure that their attention was focused on him. The only illumination in the cave was a floating magical lantern that Torra had set up, a silver cross that held a small censer a foot beneath it on dangling chains in which a soft white fire burned without heat. Hovering just above their heads it cast a soft light but the steady shadows on Akiyama’s face were hard with the set of his expression.

“We have our mission,” Akiyama said, his tone calm but stern. “We will succeed. For now we have other business that needs to be tended.

“Initate Adeel, Initiate Tau. Go and find a suitable camp site for tonight. Adept Farstadt, Adept Salazar. Check the records that Adept Salazar has brought for anything that might aid us while the Initiates set up the camp. Torra. We will need devices to conceal our presence and to isolate the beast. Prepare them and keep track of his location.

“Tomorrow we will go to the combat lines and ensure that the Veil is maintained, then we will pursue Sterling. Go.”

The party separated as each task was assigned to them leaving Akiyama standing alone to consider their mission. He’d never seen the like of what Sterling had done, nobody had that was still alive to tell of it. It would be a most dangerous mission indeed.

---

Chapter 5: Ghosts


The presence and activity of his pursuers unknown to him, Sterling walked alone through the varied countryside behind the Allied lines and trenches. He’d procured a different uniform from an unfortunate drunken soldier he’d encountered in the night, one of a group of them that were passed out in a small farm cottage a mile or so beyond the trenches. The soldier’s friends would doubtless have a good laugh at their comrade’s expense when they awoke and he was the only one in nothing but his undergarments. They’d all been left alive and untouched otherwise, Sterling having fed fitfully on both a horse and it’s rider in the fields before finding the cottage.

Dressed now as an American he wound his way slowly north, angling along the contours of the edge of the conflict, keeping distant enough from it that he was out of the line of any gunfire or artillery but close enough to keep the last line of trenches in sight if far off. It was the best way he could figure to stay out of trouble, at least human trouble. The voices were still a constant annoyance.

“...rain, oven...” one of them broke through, then faded. As usual it made no sense. They never seemed to unless something big or special was happening, and after the overload of chaos and destruction of the previous night he was particularly susceptible to them.

He shook his head, focusing on the horizon. Within a day or two he should reach the town that he was heading for as he traveled fast and could do without sleep. His condition did have certain advantages.

One of them was a general disregard for the weather, which had turned miserable over the night. Clouds had rolled in to transform the sky to a uniform slate gray and a fine mist of almost freezing rain drifted down from them steadily. This gave rise to small areas of fog and vapor from the ground and muted the distant sounds of the incredible conflict raging between nations far off to his right.

Despite being perfectly immune to the cold the weather did pose a challenge; it let his mind work against him. Shapes would appear, just at the edges of his vision, in the mists and vapors, only to vanish when looked at directly. The muffled booms of artillery far away were warped into alien sounds somewhere between distant thunder and a sleeping giant’s muffled breath which brought forth long buried memories of the past.

He thought, just for a moment, of a home long gone in time and space, remembering from before he became a monster his family and clan. He could almost see their shapes in the rain as he walked. More than once he stopped, shook himself, and closed his eyes tight to banish the memories, visions, and voices.

---

The Mages were no less busy as Sterling moved north. The party had divided into three groups, aided by a small glamour spell that would make them appear as mid-ranked officers of whichever side the human observing them was on and a charm that would keep them from direct notice unless they interacted with a person first. Nobody would be able to recall their faces, or their names, if asked later.

Torra had remained behind at the small encampment to work on her devices, insisting that she had to check and enhance them to deal with Sterling. Akiyama had agreed with her and the debate was settled. He had also directed Waseem to stay behind with her to assist, not because he believed that she would need the help but because he doubted the boy’s ability to handle interaction with the soldiers.

Akiyama had taken Farstadt with him to deal with the Allies, knowing that the hot temper of the man would be trouble if unchecked by his authority, and sent Din Tau with Romero to speak to the Germans. Their task to preserve the Veil and make sure that no official record of Sterling existed on either side. Battlefield rumors and whispered ghost stories were one thing but official reports would compromise the secrecy of the Veil and endanger them all.

“How did you know it was Sterling that helped to stop the other Kinsmir?” Romero asked Din Tau as they walked calmly toward the German HQ area. “The records did not mention his name, just that a tool of the Circle had done so.”

“I study Seal Magic,” Din Tau said evenly, his voice very reasonable as if it were obvious to anyone. “While researching the incantations used to confine an insane and powerful Vampire I came across his name. It was at the same time as the original Kinsmir appeared. He was used to help subdue the Vampire as well. He was a tool of the Order, coming from a very successful Slayer clan that we had used many times before. The other records have been obfuscated to keep the Circle from being held responsible for Sterling.”

Romero looked amazed at Din Tau’s revelation.

“I never thought to look there for information on the Kinsmir. I assumed that the ‘tool’ they referred to was the Orb.”

“Nobody would have reason to,” Din Tau replied. “That may be why those records were unaltered.”

“Can we use Seal magic to contain him?”

Din Tau thought on that for a moment as they walked unnoticed past a German guard and approached the wreckage of several heavy artillery pieces.

“Perhaps. But we have other business now,” he said indicating the gregarious form of the Sergeant in charge of the artillery who was supervising the cleanup of the wreckage.

“What shall we tell them?” Romero asked.

“Ammunition explosion,” Din Tau reasoned. “Someone dropped a fused shell. They’ll believe that very easily.”

Romero nodded and stepped toward the Sergeant.

“You there, Sergeant. I must have a word with you.”

“What?” the Sergeant boomed, turning toward Romero then straightening into a salute. “Oh, excuse me. What sir?”

“I need to speak to you about the explosion,” Romero said, indicating the wreckage. “Do you know what caused it?”

The Sergeant nodded vigorously and pointed to the wrecked guns as well.

“Ya,” he boomed. “Explosion threw a lot of dirt. Wrecked the guns too. We’ll get it cleaned up though sir! Not to worry. They’ll send us more guns.”

“No,” Romero said. “How did it happen?”

“What?” the Sergeant shouted. “Haggen? That town is a long way off sir. The guns come from Berlin, not Haggen.”

Din Tau turned away, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a smile as Romero began first speaking louder, then shouting so that the gun-deaf Sergeant could understand him.
~
Sterling

"Naive wishing for peace is the surest possible way to invite an aggressor."
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Re: The Wraith of WWI

Postby Sterling on Wed Mar 21, 2012 5:18 pm

It was nearly a day and a half later before the group of mages could sort out the chaos of the front lines and ensure that the official records of the “incident” at the trenches with Sterling would never mention him. By this time Sterling had made his way north, still skirting the lines where possible, and was approaching what he’d hoped would be a place that he could get rest, direction, and more information on what was going on.

His entire past was not one of complete devastation and conflict. Scattered here and there throughout Europe and he’d made friends, usually families of humans who that did not know of his nature or those who knew but considered him either of use or an ally. One such family were the Rubideaux of Bezonvaux. They owned an inn and tavern in the small township near the city of Verdun, famous for their “Rubideaux Rouge” wine and a place that Sterling had stayed frequently enough to befriend the family. It was here that he was headed.

Surely Poul Rubideaux and his wife Lisenne would still be alive. They were only in their late twenties when Sterling had left. Perhaps in their fifties or sixties now. Or their sons Jean-Michelle or Beau would be there; grown up from the seven and ten year old boys he’d known.

But the fortunes of war it seemed had not favored the location of the township, and Sterling grew more concerned as he traveled along the outskirts of the battle lines, lines that shifted more steadily west. Though the active fighting now was to the east it was clear that the area he was heading into had been thoroughly ravaged by the war. The smell, the feel, of death carried on the faint wind.

“...siraah den wan si kao...” A voice clarified in his mind, singing, for a moment before fading. Another seemed to shout it down with unintelligible words. Sterling just grit his teeth and waited for them to pass.

He approached Verdun itself from the south, the corridor along which the damage was least, and had some hope that what lay beyond would still be somewhat habitable until he crested the last hill before the city.

His heart sank, and the shiver that ran through him had nothing to do with the temperature.

The sky overhead was steel gray and threatened either rain or snow but the ground was clear of fog at the moment. He could see the entirety of the city, or what was left of it, as well as the ruin beyond for a few miles.
The chill breeze from the north-east pushed the columns of smoke that rose from countless points in staggering lines as they drifted up to meet the low clouds. The ground beneath his feet vibrated softly several seconds after the huge and distant blasts of gigantic artillery shells landing on the battle lines. If he concentrated he could hear the far-off gunfire, a light, sporadic staccato tint beneath the deep booms.

Sterling closed his eyes and sighed, the glimmer of hope replaced by nagging despair as he started forward toward the embattled city of Verdun. Still, he’d see it through and go to Bezonvaux.

He had to see for himself.

---

The southern outskirts of the city seemed to have been spared most of the previous fighting and, aside from a few collapsed buildings and craters from long-range heavy shelling, seemed to be mostly intact. A bit more built up than he’d remembered it but that was to be expected since the last time he’d passed this way was thirty years before. Electric lighting had replaced most of the gas-fired lamps on the streets that were just flickering to life as the dusk came on and the strange glow of the same filled the windows of many of the buildings on the long thoroughfare that he walked down. Soldiers of several nationalities, but mostly French, seemed to be using this district as a rest and recuperation area and drifted back and forth between several open bars where music played and conversation was loud.

Intrigued, Sterling fell in behind one of these knots of men, four of them in the group all talking about their lives before the war, and followed them into an establishment with grime-stained windows and a placard above the door that read “Le Hibou Blanc” (“The White Owl”) in chipped and faded paint.

The noise inside was raucous, loud voices all engaged in conversation, thick with cigarette smoke and the smell of beer. The group of French soldiers wove through the jostling bodies milling about toward the bar, Sterling in tow taking in the sights and sounds of humanity again.

But something caught his eye that he hadn’t expected. Women. There were women in the crowd, some leaning provocatively up against the back wall by the stairs that led up into what he guessed was the inn portion of the place, others sitting at tables or on laps talking, drinking, and laughing with the soldiers. The sight of the feminine form thoroughly distracted Sterling, particularly one of the women leaning against the far wall, so that he didn’t watch where he was walking. The short woman with very dark hair that flowed over her shoulders, milky pale skin, deep blue eyes and wearing far less than was modest was just turning his direction. She looked like someone he’d known, long ago, someone now centuries dead. Someone from before. His mouth was just forming a name when he bumped into the back of another man.

“HUZZAH!”

A French curse sounded loud beside Sterling as the man he’d collided with spilled his beer.

The solider turned and slapped Sterling’s shoulder, breaking his transfixion with the woman, and turning him to face the angry Frenchman. He wasn’t tall, nor was he short, just under Sterling’s six-foot height but very well muscled, wearing the distinctive blue tunic of the French Marines, and very drunk. Angry blue eyes, fogged with alcohol, stared into Sterling’s as the man shouted at him.

“Hey Doughboy, you don’t belong here! Now buy me another beer and get out!”

Sterling stared blankly at the man, understanding the words but not the term “Doughboy”, and not aiming for a confrontation. The marine seemed to think this an insult and grew more belligerent as his partner, another marine wearing corporal’s strips stepped up behind him.

“You heard me,” the drunk marine said. He wore the insignia of a private. “Buy me another and get out, ugly American. Now.”

“You tell him, Jaques,” his friend added, egging him on.

Alcohol toughs. Sterling had dealt with far too many before and he had no desire to do so now. If they thought him an American because of his “borrowed” uniform they could take up their grievance with the American command tomorrow. If they remembered any of it.

“My mistake,” he said in English as he turned to walk away.

The drunk private, Jaques, was having none of that. He wanted his beer, and he was itching for a fight. He slapped at Sterling’s shoulder to turn him back to face him.

“No you don’t,” he growled as he balled up a sizable fist. “I want my beer. Or I can take the cost out of your face.”
Several men had noticed the confrontation and had moved back a pace or two from Sterling, Jaques, and his corporal friend. The conversation in the room had quieted a degree as more people watched.

Sterling had let himself be turned back and now faced Jaques with cool steel in his eyes. He was letting his frustration and apprehension about the Rubideaux’s get the better of him and he knew it but he didn’t care just then.

“Let it go, Jaques,” Sterling said in smooth, low toned French. “You don’t want...”

“Oh yeah?” said the corporal.

“I’ll show you what I want, Doughboy!” Jaques interrupted the both of them and swung his fist hard and straight at Sterling’s jaw.

It seemed to take a long time for the blow to land, from Sterling’s perspective, and he let it. When it did connect, square on the left side of his face with a terrific “Smack!” he didn’t move even a fraction of an inch. His eyes, however, deepened a shade.

“That’s one, Jaques,” he said calmly. “Don’t push it.”

Jaques, however, was too far gone in his rage to be surprised that Sterling hadn’t reacted and was in fact more angry now than before that he thought he was being taunted. His corporal friend, however, possibly less drunk or a bit smarter, stepped back a pace with his eyes widening. After the first punch everyone in the bar was now watching. Jaques swung again, harder, a wide haymaker that would hit like a sledge-hammer blow.

This too connected square with the left side of Sterling’s face but, again, Sterling didn’t move an inch. The force of the blow meeting a seemingly solid wall broke Jaques’ hand in two places. The entire length of the bar itself had cleared a path from the windows at the front behind Sterling to the barrels stacked against the back wall. Nobody wanted to be in the way of a fight.

The shock and pain in his hand made Jaques stagger half a step back as Sterling regarded him coolly through dark eyes, red eyes that would appear brown in the poor light and smoky atmosphere of the bar.

“And that’s two,” Sterling said, his voice even, calm. “But three’s for me.”

Sterling took half a step as he threw a hard, fast punch from the shoulder straight into the center of Jaques’ chest. It hit with the speed and force of a truck.

Ribs cracked as Jaques was propelled backward, his feet inches off the floor, to crash hard against the stacked barrels at the back wall. The wood on two of them splintered as he collided, his head snapping one of the planks and his hips buckling another. His eyes rolled back and he pitched forward bonelessly to the floor with a soft but audible thump. He was still alive, and would remain so if they got him to medical care soon.

There was a collective gasp from the remainder of the bar, and two or three higher pitched squeals from some of the women. Sterling still looked human but they knew deep down that he wasn’t any more a man than a tiger was a housecat.

Sterling looked around, from face to face, reading the horror and fear of him in them, when his eyes came to rest on the corporal that had been standing with Jaques. He held the man’s gaze for seconds, letting just a bit of what he was show through his eyes to shine darkly. The front of the corporal’s pants began to darken as his bladder voided while he stood rooted in place by fear.

“See to your friend,” Sterling said, his voice cuttingly cold, then he turned on a heel and strode out of the bar unopposed into the gathering night.

He heard the commotion as people inside rushed about and voices raised in amazed discussion about what had happened. The word “monster” was mentioned more than once.

Monster, his own thoughts echoed as he walked. Creature. Beast. But...

There’d been something in there that had awakened another hunger, one that had nothing to do with blood or death. He turned down a side alley, cutting between buildings, heading farther into the city where he’d find another bar.

And other women.
~
Sterling

"Naive wishing for peace is the surest possible way to invite an aggressor."
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Sterling
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Joined: Tue May 06, 2008 2:41 pm
Location: Always where you least expect me.


Re: The Wraith of WWI

Postby Sterling on Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:45 pm

The mages had re-assembled in a small abandoned farmhouse on the Allied side of the lines after their task. Akiyama stood, the rest of the group arranged in a semi-circle around him. He was displeased at losing so much time in the hunt but he knew that it was a necessary sacrifice. He looked at Torra who had the small scrying glass set up in front of her along with a map and the crystal sphere.

“Where is he now?”

“He’s continued north,” she replied without looking away from the glass. “He’s in the city of Verdun. Here.” She pointed at the city on the map, more than two days travel for them by normal means.

“We can’t pursue him there,” Romero said. “There are too many people. The Veil couldn’t be maintained if there was a major conflict.”

Akiyama grunted a small acknowledgement.

“He won’t stay there for long,” Farstadt said. “He’ll move on. But to where?”

“We will have to wait and find out,” Akiyama said after a moment’s contemplation. He looked at Din Tau. “Be ready to transport us when he reaches somewhere that is not so populated.” His gaze moved to Torrah. “Is your device ready?”

Din Tau nodded once and Torrah looked up from the scrying glass.

“Yes, Master Akiyama,” she said, her hand brushing over a very complex looking arrangement of interlocking gold and silver rings around a bright red crystal. “I had to modify it so that the field would be larger, and that will shorten the time it will be active, but it should work quite well.”

“Excellent,” Akiyama said, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword.

---

Sterling awoke to the diffuse light of early morning. The sun would be barely over the horizon but light was filtered through low clouds and there was a sharp chill in the air along with the scent of coming rain. The voices, for a change, were quiet.

Beside him lay a woman, lovely, young, nude, and quite dead. Her long brown hair was fanned about her in the bed, framing her too-pale flesh, and her hands were clasped across her stomach just below her well-rounded breasts. She looked as if she were sleeping. There were no marks of violence upon her, no bruises, only the deep punctures in her neck. There was no blood, not upon her silken skin, nor on the bed sheets. He had been careful, gentle, and she had not suffered. Quite the contrary.

He looked down at her as he stood by the bed, the soft light of the morning at his back, his shadow over her still form.

A shadow of death, he thought. How fitting.

There were sounds from beyond the door, the slow movement of an early morning for those after a night of drinking and debauchery. He knew that nobody had seen him come up with her, he’d made sure of that, and he knew that he couldn’t be seen leaving. He turned toward the window.

Three stories up, one level above the building next to this one, and down below a blind alley. Not luck, planning. He opened the window and slung over the sill to drop gracefully to the flagstones of the alley without any sound but the breeze of his movement.

His mind was still quite occupied with the other woman he’d seen in the first bar before the French marine had pressed his luck too far.

It couldn’t be her, he thought as he walked slowly down the alley and turned north. She’s gone, dead, long dead. Forget it. It was a hallucination. Nothing but a dream. Damnit.

Out on the main thoroughfare there were troops moving about with purpose, the night before having yielded to the needs of the day and the war. A platoon of fresh-looking but very young French soldiers led by a Sergeant not much older than his conscripts, double-timed past heading toward the north side of the city. Toward the war. Toward death.

Sterling shook his head and moved along the walk keeping his power close about himself so that any questing eyes would slide away. It was a simple matter not to be seen and he’d had a lot of practice at it. Even a shifter, or vampire, or a mage that wasn’t looking hard wouldn’t see him though they may sense a presence. Cloaked as he was he moved to the northern edge of the city.

Ruins were more plentiful here as the war had touched the outskirts of the township, artillery craters dotted the outskirts and several roads, and there was wreckage on most streets that had been simply pushed aside rather than cleared.

He slid into a burned-out storefront at the edge of the town. The inside was completely blackened, no furniture remaining only fallen beams and charcoal. He stepped over to a shattered window and found two charred skeletons curled under it, likely the owners of the building that had tried to escape the fire and hadn’t.

Poor bastards, he thought.

He moved around them and looked over the landscape. It was devastated. Trees only stood as splintered or burnt sticks in the chewed ground and there wasn’t a complete building beyond this point for as far as he could see. Shattered vehicles, dead horses, and broken rubble stretched all the way to the last great fort remaining on the north side of the town and even that was haggard and broken in several places though it still was occupied by the French.

Beyond the destruction lay the now stabilized line of battle. Even at this early hour shots and shellfire were traded, large and small explosions throwing up debris and dirt, as the conflict continued. Sterling studied the line carefully, reading the angle of it, and was hopeful. The trenches seemed to turn more north than west, perhaps Bezonvaux had been spared.

Even as he slid out of the burnt out building and moved along the lines of whatever cover he could find his mind overlaid the devastated land with a faded dream of what it had looked like before. It was as if he was walking in two worlds at once. Bezonvaux was only a few miles away, he could be there in an hour or two depending on how careful he chose to be.
~
Sterling

"Naive wishing for peace is the surest possible way to invite an aggressor."
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Sterling
Shifter Darkly
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Posts: 88
Joined: Tue May 06, 2008 2:41 pm
Location: Always where you least expect me.


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