Sabledrake Magazine

February, 2004

 

 

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     Gatherings

     The Ways of Magic, Pt. 9-13

     Tell the People What She Wore

     Interview with Shannon Muir

     Buttercup 

 

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Buttercup

Copyright 2004 Clint Wilson


            He could not believe it. She was actually gone. George attempted to rub the goose-egg on his forehead and winced at the slightest touch. This pain, compiled with the lump on the back of his head, and the fat lower lip which he now sported, where nothing in comparison with the raw aching that he felt in his heart and in his soul. She was truly and actually gone. His love, his sweetness, his devotion, was nowhere in the upturned farmhouse.
            They had landed without warning in the barnyard. They had stormed the little rancher without asking any questions. They had sicked their dogs on the couple, wrecking much of their small abode in the process. George shuffled around amongst the overturned furniture and debris. He was in such a state of mind that he was not in the slightest bit aware of his own dry sobbing. They had come like a summer storm into their lives, had wrecked their love nest- they had left him for dead, and they had taken her;
they had taken his Buttercup away.
            He swore at himself for being unable to do anything. He had run like a scared rabbit, leaving Buttercup to the hands of those heathens. He tried to tell himself over and over, that there was nothing that he could have done differently; but then he cried again and said aloud to the empty room, "I could have died for her!"
            The little man collapsed onto the floor which was littered with their personal belongings. Shards of glass shone on the carpet, from broken windows and picture frames. His body was wracked by more sobs as he lay there; he looked through his watering eyes to see his tears splashing on their wedding picture, which was mashed into the carpet by a huge dirty footprint.
            The giant, genetically altered Rottweiler had jumped into the kitchen just as he was trying to bar the back door. The beast had slid on the plastic floor and slammed into the cupboards, smashing doors off and breaking dishes. George's instinct had kicked in quickly, and an incredible fear for his own life had acted for him. He had unlatched the backdoor with one quick motion, and as the massive dog regained its feet, he had slipped
out faster than a ghost. The man did not turn around to see the dog's master enter the room, weapon raised.
            The Hogmen were aware of his flight, and so half a dozen of them had chased him across the dooryard and over the back fence. Two of the killer dogs also joined in the chase.

            George had never been so scared in his life. He barely touched the five-foot high fence as he sailed over and into the back field. That was when his incredible luck had begun.
           Normally, a lone unarmed man would not live to tell of a run-in with a gang of Hogmen and their K9 killers. They took whatever they wanted; including people- (usually women, but not always) and they left no witnesses. They were pirates and murderers, and very few stood in their way.

            Their snouts glistened with dripping mucus, and they grunted past upturned tusks as they moved their fat bodies far quicker than they looked able to. The pursuers also jumped the rear fence with ease, and kept at their quarry. George still did not look back as the beasts began to shoot at him. Projectiles screamed by his head, as like a snowshoe hare, he darted back and forth through the tall grass. He was a small wiry man, and the Hogmen had trouble seeing him. Also, they were running, finding it harder to take aim; and so their bullets flew wildly. The dogs however were a different story; they could smell him.
            George knew the distance to the cliff, he and Buttercup had walked to the edge hundreds of times in the past. But he was traveling incredibly fast, and was scared entirely out of his mind. Their small farm was perched on the edge of a high plateau overlooking the sea. The grassy field ended sharply and dropped off to the crashing waves below. He burst through the high stalks and looked upon the open ocean air, and screamed.
            The Hogmen had gathered at the ledge with their whining, sniffing dogs, and had stood silently with their weapons looking down to the powerful surf far below.
            They turned away satisfied and made way back across the field towards the little house. By this time others were already stowing Buttercup aboard their warship.
            If they had only been able to see twelve feet below the place where the tufts of grass hung in the wind above sheer vertical rock, they would have seen a bruised and battered George hanging on for dear life. He had skidded over the edge grasping at weeds, sticks, rocks, anything within his reach, and had magically caught a thick tuft of roots. Even more wondrous, was that the handhold held. He was fortunate for both his luck, and his small stature.
            The warship stood in the barnyard. Its grey and rusty-brown sides were scarred with the marks of never-ceasing tussles and skirmishes. The squat body was accented by the huge ion engine at the rear. The massive steel housing filled with endless winding pipes was more than twice the size of the small passenger and cargo area. The ship's landing ramp closed as the last of the Hogmen squeezed aboard. Then the ground shook as the deep rumble of the engine lifted the pirates away.
            George screamed and clung to the rock face even tighter as the behemoth vehicle cruised directly over his head, filling his ears with its roar. It sailed on out over the sea. The heathens on board did not see the small pure-breed human hanging on for dear life as they made way for the mixed-lands.
            He had eventually pulled himself up, taking great care. At first the man had only lain there on the grass, exhausted from the ordeal. But soon thoughts of Buttercup had gotten him to his feet.
            Quickly traveling back, he found that the house was in shambles, and he was completely alone. It would be many hours before he was able to compose himself again.

**


            A day later George was in Numar City; the big trading centre for the farms of upper New Buckerland. Having nothing faster than a gas carriage, he had made his way across the countryside toward the population centre as quickly as he could. He had spent enough time sobbing like a blithering idiot. The heathens had taken away everything that meant anything to him. He was going to save her, (if she was even alive that is) or die
trying.
            Now at the lab of Doctor Fitzer, he sat patiently while she showed him the apparatus which he had come for.

            "It zips up here and here, and you don't have to do the flaps if you don't want to, because once the stasis field is on, nothing will be able to come within an inch of the suit."
            She was not exceptionally good looking, but either was she ugly; and when she spoke, it was obvious that she was intelligent.
            "It's relatively new, and is based on the same technology that's used by space ships to keep passengers alive during dangerous gravity-defeating manoeuvres."
            He had sold his gas carriage and his wedding ring in order to purchase this proto-type. The good doctor was not overly pleased about her impervious suit's intended usage; but there were many scientists in the city playing with such technology, and funding was not so easy to come by anymore from the municipal officers who were made up mostly of superstitious farmers. So she had reluctantly taken this poor desperate fellow's money.

She knew the suit could help him, but she did not think it was worth it. By now this tragic figure was surely too late. She feared that his wife was far beyond rescue. But his mission was not hers to argue. She had her money, and he his suit. That was the deal.
            His next stop was at a weaponry store. He still needed money for transportation to the mixed-lands, and so he was only able to procure a hand blaster and a plasma slicer, but they would be enough. He holstered the gun in its accompanying sheath and stuffed the long cutter into his belt. Then George made his way toward the docks.
            He managed to afford meagre traveling rations and a ticket aboard a freighter. That was it; his money was gone. He had only just enough to get himself to the mixed-lands, but not back again. This was okay though, as George did not truly believe that he was going to be coming back at all.

**

            The trip half-way around the world took less than an hour. The ship docked at high noon in the city of Nemnibus. George was not half-way down the gang plank when he spotted the first mixed-breed. It was a Monkeyman. The half-human being was pushing a pallet-jack full of cargo. Then as the pure-breed man stepped onto the concrete walkway of the pier, he saw another Monkeyman unloading boxes from the side of the freighter. He brushed past them without a word. He had only one purpose; to reach the
imposing black fortress at the top of the hill. As he exited the shipyard, the dark structure loomed into view. He judged it to be no more than a mile distant. The man put his head down and began to walk.
            In the streets of the trading district, he saw more Monkeymen, as well as Dogmen, Catmen and Frogmen. And even though he saw their smaller cousins, the Pigmen, he saw not one Hogman as he wound his way up to the gates of the fortress.
            George turned onto the street that led up to the castle- and flicked on the suit. There was a brief crackle and he knew it was activated. The field was invisible, save for the way it tended to bend light near to the edges of the wearer's silhouette. The very fringe of the man's body seemed to distort as if it were being viewed through the curve of a wine glass. As he approached the gates, a Bearman stepped out of the shadows. The
huge mixed-breed stood intentionally in George's path with his massive arms crossed.
            George was in no mood for conversation. He maintained his forward speed and as he walked, he drew the hand blaster. Pointing the barrel directly at the beast- he said, "Get out of my way!"
            The half-human reached behind his back and produced a hand blaster of his own. This one was far larger than the one George carried. The Bearman growled, "Make me!"
            George did not falter. He raised his weapon higher and as he neared he said, "I've got no business with you. I'm here to see the head Hogman."
            The Bearman replied, "No you're not!" And he fired. The hot projectile smashed into George's chest, and burst into tiny fragments, which rolled harmlessly off of his perfectly protected body. He cocked his own weapon and fired back. The bolt exploded into the Bearman's forehead, ripping a large hole in his skull. The massive being fell back, and was dead before he hit the pavement. The small man leapt once, landed on the
mixed-breed's huge belly, and bounced forward to the mighty gates.
            He drew the long plasma slicer from his belt and in one swift motion, hacked a large gash through the bars of the gate. After another well-placed cut- lower this time, four severed bars fell aside and George stepped into the fortress of the Hogmen.
            They were on him at once.
            Four armed Hogmen fired upon him. This time they did not miss, but the bolts and bullets bounced harmlessly away as the small pure-breed human approached; a look of stark determination on his face. Holding the blaster in his right hand, he quickly dispatched three of his attackers. They all lay on the cobblestones of the outer courtyard, holes smouldering in their heads. George had taken the advice of the weaponry dealer back in Numar City. Just point at your target and shoot, he had said. The man was now quickly discovering that he was an excellent shot with the deadly little device. The fourth Hogman had made the mistake of getting within an arm's length of human. The beast's ugly face was covered in slobber and snot. It rushed at him screaming in its guttural swine-call, as it continuously pulled the trigger of its useless weapon. George raised his left arm, which still held the cutter. He brought it down in a swooping arc, and suddenly the Hogman's head was at his feet.
            He continued on to the castle's front entrance and made ready to use the slicer on the heavy steel doors, but it was unnecessary, as another dozen Hogmen came bursting out into the courtyard. They quickly formed a semi-circle around him, raised their rifles, pistols and hand blasters, and opened fire.
            He stood there fixedly, in a blaze of light and sound, as the hundreds of projectiles bounced off of his body. One of the Hogmen caught an errant ricochet and fell to the ground unmoving. The others intensified their fire and stepped closer. George found it difficult not to squint and wince as the assault continued. His instincts told him that he should be dying a painful death right now, but he was as safe in the stasis field, as a baby in the womb. He laughed aloud, and holstered the hand blaster.
            Taking the plasma slicer in both hands like a broadsword, he began twirling 'round and 'round, severing the heads of his adversaries as he went. When the last Hogman fell, he was standing in a sea of blood and gore. The large amount of the mess which had plastered his protected body quickly ran off of the suit's impervious field.  He stepped over his fallen foes, and entered into the castle itself.
            As he walked under the arched entrance of the grand foyer he felt renewed strength. They could not stop him; he would soon have his Buttercup back!
            A full fifty Hogmen -nearly half of the palace guard- was there to greet him. With an insane smile on his face, George again began to twirl in his dance of death with the long cutter raised in both hands. They fell and they fell. They screamed and they died; yet still they came. He was having trouble maintaining his footing on all of the slippery gore and he almost fell. But then regaining his stance, he quickly dispatched six more in less than five seconds, killing two of them with one furious blow. Soon he had hacked and cut his way to the far side of the room, where he did actually fall at last.
            Two of the Hogmen were upon him in an instant, and still more approached. One of them groped for the cutter, but accidentally grabbed the super-hot blade, and felt his fat thumb melt in half. He screamed loudly in his swine's squeal; but the noise was cut short as George freed his right arm from under the weight of his fat oppressors, and drew his blaster from its holster. Boom! Boom! In a flash of light and smoke, the two Hogmen fell to motionlessness atop of his crushed body. Finally he wriggled to a sitting position, (one of the Hogmen still weighed upon his legs) and began firing at his nearest attackers. Soon he had dispatched the immediately close heathens, and was scrambling one again to his feet.
            With the blaster in his right hand, and the cutter in his left, he wreaked more havoc and caused even more gore, as he made his way up the mighty staircase. He did not know the way, and he did not care.

**

            Fifteen minutes later he was exhausted, yet still the adrenalin flowed through his veins. He had killed every Hogman he had come across. Now he wandered the halls of the castle alone. There were bodies and body parts everywhere. The last five minutes had been spent hunting down the stragglers who had slipped away during the larger battles. One by one he had exterminated them with swift justice.
            He now ended a long hallway, where stood a pair of ornately decorated doors. He knew she was in there. He could not say how; but he just knew it. With a swift downward arc, the lock between the two doors was in pieces on the ground. He kicked open the double doors which led into a huge, lushly decorated bedroom. It was the bedroom of the head Hogman. And he was in there, sitting on the bed, a large plasma rifle in his hand. In the corner, sitting on a straight-backed chair, was Buttercup.
            "Buttercup! Oh Buttercup, you're alive!" He burst forth into the room, hardly paying attention to the Hogman on the bed anymore.

            The look on Buttercup's face was a strange one; as if though she couldn't believe what she was seeing. The fat Hogman stood up. He did not raise the rifle, but instead spoke to the human woman in the chair. "Is this him? Is this your husband?"
            She nodded slowly, still with the look of disbelief in her eyes. "Uh-huh," was all she said.
            George stopped in his tracks. He had suddenly remembered again, the Hogman on the bed. Something did not seem right here. The mixed-breed seemed to notice the change on George's face and immediately jumped at the opportunity to speak.
            "That's right George. We didn't take her." His ugly snout twitched, and exhaling out his nostrils, he blew two snot bubbles which promptly popped. He blinked his beady hog eyes, and then went on. "It was only made to look like a pirate raid. But now you've gone and killed all of my innocent guardsmen for no reason. You see." He paused and then smiled a piggy smile at Buttercup. "She doesn't want to go back with you. She's here because she wants to be!"
            George only stood for a moment, dumbfounded. Finally he looked to Buttercup, not saying anything, but merely reading her face. She sat unmoving, her lower lip working, as though ready to pout. Finally she stood up and pointed at him angrily. "This wasn't supposed to happen. You're supposed to be dead!"

            His mind reeled. His mouth worked wordlessly, like a fish out of water. How could this be? This didn't make sense. She was his wife. She was the one who let him make her breakfast every morning, and let him read her the newspaper. She was the one who gave him guidance, and taught him how to behave and act properly around others. She was the one who decided what clothes he should wear, and what food he should eat. She was his Buttercup!
            She saw the look of confusion on his face, and her own face became even angrier. "Don't look so surprised! You knew I hated being a farmer's wife! You knew I wanted to get out of that godforsaken land of mud and chicken dung!" She spat. "Why didn't you just die like you were supposed to?"
            The Hogman laughed and opened fire on the impervious suit. For a moment the beam assaulted George's body steadily. He felt the force of the ray pushing him to the side, but for that second he stood still, while his sanity was sent a further push towards the edge. Like a twig snapping in the forest, the light came on again in George's eyes. In a second, the plasma ray fell silent, as the head of the head Hogman rolled across the floor. He then trained the blaster on Buttercup.

**

            That night, a warship from the fortress of the Hogmen landed on a small street in Numar city, its fuel supply nearly depleted. The steam of the ion engine twirled into the evening sky as the gang plank came down. Out stepped a lone pure-breed human male.
            The light of Doctor Fitzer's lab was still on, and he found the door unlocked. He let himself in.
            She looked up from her computer screen and smiled. "George!" She looked genuinely surprised to see him. Then she said earnestly, "You know, I've been thinking a lot about you since you took that suit this morning, and well. I'm just glad to see you back."
            He had the suit folded over one arm. He noticed that she actually was a pretty lady. "I thought you might want this back. I'm selling it for the price of one measly ticket back home."
            She suddenly stood. Her expression had changed to one of worry. "What about your wife? What happened to Buttercup?"
            George threw the suit over a chair and smiled at the good doctor. "Who's Buttercup?"


**

 

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