Short Story: Verdict of History. History was deliberately unkind in its verdict, and I fret that I didn’t make it unkind enough. I rarely dislike my own protagonists to the extent that I disliked these two.
Liberated Salt Lake City Republic of Deseret 2803 AD
Orson Smith, Friend of Serpents, Executive Administrator of the Pacific Trade Confederation, Lord Protector of Old Vegas, and True President of Deseret, had been sorely tempted to just order every mage in the Bitterwater Sephiroth hanged from their own tower parapets. God knew the sick bastards had already installed cruel-looking gibbets up there, back when the First Usurpation Circle took over the occupation. In the end, he decided that simply putting them on trial, having them found guilty by somebody else, and then hanging them was the more moral option.
That it could also be seen as more insulting was merely a happy accident. Besides, this way he didn’t have to look at their bound, gagged, struggling forms every day of the war crimes trials. If he did, he probably would order the whole lot hanged; or possibly take a sword, and start whittling random Dominion mages down to size. His subjects wouldn’t mind, but Jesus probably would.
Still, if he didn’t show up too often, he could maintain his composure. Mostly Orson just wanted to see each mage’s face at least twice: once during the trial, and a second time, when they were being led to the conversion pits. It really bothered Dominion mages to know that, after their execution, their corpses would be then reanimated and used against the enemy.
Personally, he thought their reaction a bit overwrought. The Universal Dominion did much, much worse, and it wasn’t like the mages would be sacrificed for their life energy. Recycling bodies was a perfectly ethical way to employ necromancy.
Bastard: dead. Now I just have to make all the lacings tight.
2456 AD Bitterwater Sephiroth (Salt Lake City)
The Supreme Archmage had sent the crystal phial of poison himself, using his own sorcery. Firebrand supposed that was supposed to be some kind of obscure honor. He didn’t particularly feel honored.
He held it up to the sun, almost if he hoped to see some way out in its moon-colored depths. There wasn’t one, needless to say. Only death, inexorable — and likely painful, as well. The Universal Dominion never saw the point in offering a quick and easy death when it could just as effectively make the choice be between a long, painful death, and a very long and horribly painful one.
It’s a funnier joke when it’s pulled on somebody else, Firebrand decided ruefully. If only that damned fool Peregrine hadn’t died! She understood what I was going to do here. And she understood I’d never try to take the Throne That Overlooks The World away from her.
Her replacement was blind, blind, blind. He wanted what was left of Deseret smashed, and he didn’t understand that the Dominion… even now, Firebrand shied away from even thinking something stronger than ‘would find that too tedious.’ The armies needed years to recover from their losses, losses incurred because the new Supreme Archmage wouldn’t stop directing the war from a thousand miles away. Even now they were out there, smashing where Firebrand would have squeezed.
This is very close to being done! I just have to kill this bastard off nastily, too.
Outskirts of Salt Lake City Republic of Deseret 2455 AD
Salt Lake City was burning. Finally.
The invasion was behind schedule again, which meant that Commanding Warmage Copper Firebrand of the Crystal Expanse was behind schedule again, and he for one was getting tired of it. The last desperate holdouts had been routed, though, so the Universal Dominion could at least get on with teaching its new human chattel why resistance was, as the ancient saying had it, futile.
Hopefully that’ll get the Supreme Archmage off my ass, he thought peevishly as his retinue bustled about him. This part of the city was being kept unburned, if only because he had to live somewhere until a proper wizard’s tower could be built. The original plan was to use the Tabernacle itself, but it was now a pile of broken wood and antique aluminum — with two of Firebrand’s best regiments underneath it. Two more had been so savaged in that particular skirmish that the Supreme Archmage ordered the survivors to be put down.
The fighting had gotten a little out of hand, after that. Firebrand didn’t like being forced to cull his own troops, and was absolutely tired of the Desereters’ bullshit by then. (He was also tired of the new Supreme Archmage’s increasingly intrusive oversight, but he was too self-disciplined to even think those thoughts.) Letting the remaining Dominion forces off the leash for a few hours might have almost counterproductive, but it certainly made him feel better.
Such a shame I don’t really need this bastard anymore for the story.
He was still thinking that when the ratopus suddenly snapped its head in a vicious arc. He tried to block, but he was suddenly too slow, dammit. Any suspicions he might have had about why that might be were washed away when the ratopus whipped its fang-tipped tentacles across Razor-Claw’s face.
Decades of fighting the Dominion’s monsters had burned uncompromising reflexes on Razor-Claw’s nerves; he gritted his teeth through the sharp agony in his right eye and moved. Back, forward, it didn’t matter, to go was the thing. Did that mean colliding with a dresser, feeling the sharp pop of one old, weakened rib cracking under the sudden strain? Fine. Just as long as he bounced back.
The ratopus didn’t expect Razor-Claw to leap forward, roaring. That was the one weakness Dominion monsters had. They were terror weapons, used to horrify the meek and commit atrocities on the foolish; there was always that impulse to preen and menace. If you didn’t give a shit about getting hurt, you could hurt one of the filthy things, too.
Claws of the Lion: These handsome and ornate bladed gauntlets were once owned by the legendary revolutionary Razor-Claw Singh. Originally constructed of titanium with a tungsten carbide edge, they were refurbished in 2524 AD by noted Elf-Lands artificer Anna Barbour Sáfindë. In keeping with the original owner’s beliefs, Sáfindë forbore from putting actual enchantments on the Claws themselves, contenting herself with magically cleaning and restoring them to their original state, as well as adding a silk liner to the inside of the gauntlets.
It was not until 2633 that the ruby and gold inlays were added…
— A Field Guide to Unconsidered Trifles, ed. Master Golias Silverlock, OL (City of Ravens, KoV: Baen-Arkham House Publishers, 2640 AD).
The Archmage had messed around with her own wards, like the Dominion always ended up doing. They weren’t supposed to let anybody through once up, sure. The thing was, somebody had to be allowed through on the regular, unless Lacewing felt like cleaning her own dishes away; and her mage assistants were on the pass-through list. You couldn’t just cut off a hand and gouge out an eye, though. The wards cared if somebody tried to use a mage-corpse to get access. They didn’t give a shit if the mages were alive, but brain-bleeding chumps, though.
Only thing was, you had to be practically dry-humping whoever you were using as a key in order to keep the wards from closing on you. Razor-Claw could feel a sudden pressure on the back of his skull as the field snapped away the last half inch of his hair. Gotta clean that up afterward, he realized. Can’t let them use my hair to track me.
He’d worry about that later, though. Right now there were two more people in the room than he had planned for.
Razor-Claw’s hand-blades did not glitter evilly in the lamplight. Neither did they smell of blood and pain, constantly whisper the names of his victims, or do any of the other stupid shit people had claimed, over the years. Instead, they were just what they looked like: two metal gloves with attached spikes, carefully dulled to not flash or sparkle. When Razor-Claw was in the mood to ram them through someone’s gut, he liked to make sure it was a surprise.
They would ram through somebody’s gut, too. His hand-blades were made out of the fabled Old American wonder-metal titanium, with the edges made of the even more wondrous substance tungsten carbide. Some idiots from the old days thought they were magical, anyway — but if they had, Razor-Claw would have never started wearing them. He didn’t trust magic, and not just because it didn’t work on him real good. Nah, they were just really good at fucking up people’s shit, all on their own. He didn’t know who made or had them before he took ‘em off some asshole’s corpse; and he didn’t give a crap what would happen to them after he was dead. They didn’t even have names. They were his; that was name enough.
It felt good, having them back on his hands, especially since he’d need them for the last stage of his plan. This was going to have to be fast and hard, and if anybody else tried it, they’d die. It was him, though, so he’d be fine.
The viewpoint characters were getting so awful, I had to go ahead a few centuries and wash my mouth out with heroism.
Cunningham, Matthew (2420-2507) Deseret scout, trailblazer, soldier, and guerrilla leader, Matthew Cunningham was the first Commander of the Danites (q.v.), a resistance organization created in the wake of the First Deseret-Dominion War. Captured by Universal Dominion forces in 2445 AD, he quickly escaped, reputedly with the help of the legendary resistance fighter Razor-Claw Singh himself. Cunningham’s heroic trek back to Deseret to warn of the impending war might not have saved the kingdom directly, but it did give them enough time to prepare the fallback positions that kept one-third of Deseret unoccupied.
After the Armistice of Moab in 2456, Cunningham officially broke ties with the rump Deseret government to lead the new Danite guerrillas. Despite the Dominion’s best efforts, he spent the next fifty years organizing and leading an effective resistance to the invaders. Cunningham was also the first guerrilla leader to hail Rex Fang-Blade as the True President of Deseret, for all that it would take two and a half centuries for the Smith Dynasty to rule again in Salt Lake City.
While he died (and originally buried) in what is now the Pacific Trade Confederation, his bones were moved to Salt Lake City in 2812 AD. His tomb is a popular tourist attraction, second only to Fang-Blade’s official memorial.
— From Notable Heroes of the Second Age (Erieson, W., 2879 AD, University of Philadelphia Press)
Razor-Claw Singh would never admit it to anyone, but he liked how spells couldn’t dig into him. Oh, it sucked when it came to healing potions and shit like that, but that was only sometimes. The rest of the time, it was like having weightless armor that nobody could see, steal, or strip off him. He had spent years fighting a doomed war against the Universal Dominion; he’d take what breaks he could get.
That got him through the first line of defenses around this Festering Lacewing (second, if you counted all those fucking brain-dead guards that used to be wandering around). It was supposed to only get harder from there, because next would be getting through Lacewing’s lackeys. Three solid mages, Firebrand had told him. Not Archmages, but they’ll kill you if they see you. And if you somehow kill one of them, the other two will know, and come running.
That was funny: Firebrand thought Razor-Claw was going to sneak past, or something. Like he’d leave anybody around to come after him afterward! Being told about the no-killing thing was good, though. He hadn’t planned on murdering any of them, but it never hurt to have a good reason for doing the thing you wanted to do anyway.