Offworlders Ch. 2: Insufficient Solitude

There was no up. There was no forward, no direction at all. Only the white. Only the expanse… and the pain.


A strong pulsing recovered Eddun to his senses and accompanied the fade of nothingness back into the here and now. The taste of copper, the smell of iron. He rolled onto his stomach, still regaining his vision, and planted his hands in the same congealed stickiness that caked to his face as he pushed himself up to sit. The throb in his head became unbearable at once, and he toppled over onto his back, the disappearing specks above finally materializing fully in front of him. Was he covered in blood? He must be he reckoned, and glanced down only for an instant to survey his body for the source before realizing he hadn’t taken note of his surroundings. A quick nod up to each side and back, all he could muster in his aching state, showed no signs of activity, so he settled back to check for damage. After some gentle poking and prodding, it appeared that the only tender area was his head, perhaps a blow from a thief who managed to stumble upon their tiny encampment, and that wasn’t even bleeding. He stopped then.

Where is Arkir? The thought made him cringe as the answer came quick and unfiltered. Dead. He shook his head and looked around again. Nobody. Just blood and the fading of darkness that signaled daylight. So much blood.

He must be dead.

Eddun exhaled hard to ward off the building panic and patted his chest for signs of the wooden pipe he had whittled for the trip ten days earlier. With the bowl already packed and scattering crumbs of dry herbs, he haphazardly brought the gnarled little sculpture up to his mouth, crunched the thin igniter rods on his leash of stones, and puffed greedily until a deep cherry formed.  He made use of his time smoking by coaxing his head up several times and rescanning the scenery. It seemed as though all his assets and the majority of his companion’s were still in their place or tossed out of camp nearby. A struggle but no signs of theft. He didn’t relish pondering those options. A couple of separatist groups in the tribes, the return of the Svitiu clans from their long isolation in the East…

He shuddered as the morning sun at last peeked over the tops of the Eastern flats and stole the chill from his body. There was no sense in waiting about for the assailant’s return at any rate, he figured. Eddun stood slowly, making sure to keep his legs under him, and began to gather his belongings and considering what he could carry of Arkir’s. It wasn’t much more than a mirror of what he carried and a few personal items. No cloak. No Alwa. No companion. He shook the thought, stifled the realization that it would be him deciding the next move and not his veteran brother and refocused on his current task.

The sore and encumbered Da’Ir resurveyed the ground in front of him for the telltale scuffings and bent grass of past presence, and followed them back several hundred paces into the rockline. A dead end. He knocked loose several pebbles in his sandals with the butt of his long, curled pipe and dumped the smoldering ashes on top of them. “The first notion is not always the best bladesman, but it is usually the quickest” came Arkir’s words. 


He reached into his cloak lining and pulled forth another clump of herbs to stuff into the still-hot bowl, renewing it’s glow with a few quick puffs. He would continue forward for now at least. There would be time to reconsider the way west as he searched for further signs of the trail. There were allies and amenities just a few days into the mountains, and a trip back after such a long venture out seemed a doubly-wasted endeavor if he was to report back with the news of a Keeper’s disappearance. But he couldn’t just leave a brother to whatever had left his head throbbing. A mounted messenger could perhaps be dispatched from his destination that could make far better time than he anyways – a day to find Arkir would not cost them the outcome of a simple scouting assignment.

He split off from the last signs of passage, circling out in a radial sweep but also wanting to distance himself from the potential of any afternoon activity. The path had wound its way into and around small valleys for nearly the entire morning, their greens and yellows and reds a lost beauty to the forest dweller, who only saw the treeless nuisances for what poor covering they were, then began an abrupt switch to patches of lifeless rock outcroppings before finally turning to a constant of sparse trees and shallow-rooted woody shrubs. He was being drawn further west, and while that meant the journey to the mountains was inadvertently underway, it also meant he would be facing whatever he was chasing on foreign ground.

Furthermore, he was famished. Keepers were outfitted to travel lightly, and being a rather lean member of his already rather lean people… and with a second satchel on his back, extra stones on his waist, and two bow-laden quivers across his chest… he would be hard-pressed to continue at pace without fainting from exhaustion. He placed a final scattering of the missing Keeper’s belongings inside an elegantly-stamped pouch that already held several small coins and polished gems of his former company and seriously considered his need to find food, to find meat, before the day’s end. 


As this new revelation restruck a chord in his gullet, the amount of conflicting issues seemed to come to a head. He decided this, at least, was a problem he could solve. Marking his trail with a bent sapling, the Keeper paced off towards where he thought the main road might be and found instead a spring, it’s trickling stream disappearing inside a deep overhanging of mossy granite. The entire landscape was rock and boulder by now, and he didn’t like thinking about sleeping in the spindly, whippy little trees that checkered the dugout either. Reckoning it the wiser choice in precaution anyways, he crawled in as the light began to fade and settled his and Arkir’s wares about the angular walls of the dark, musky crevice. Then he found a dry spot, placed beneath his cord of stones a collection of dry kindling he’d been picking lazily during his walk, and stretched out the cloak of his caste slightly above the ground, wedging its edges into several nooks of the wall. One never knew what might crawl into the Westland caves seeking shelter from the sheer night winds.

With his camp assembled for return, Eddun re-emerged cleaned and with bow and a few arrows in one hand. The buckskin, large-stitched robes that covered the lower half of most Southern men were unfurled from their usual place above the knee down to the ankles for added protection in these heavily-stemmed thickets of underbrush. With the other hand caked in a muddy rosin of dirt, mineral, and moss, he scrubbed himself lightly, fixed a short dagger onto his waist, then set off to enjoy the last moments of twilight devoted to the hunt. If there was anything worth eating in this humid pit of pebbles it would be out now. Best not to miss out.

His people were celebrated woodsman and respected warriors, but their revered hunting prowess had found its way into the songs and stories of all the races. Often hired as trackers and wilderness guides, there was something that appealed to the basic, primitive side of their species when listening to the riveting tales of Hamon and his years wrestling the waterborne behemoths of the lowlands. Children shook with anticipation at the verse-by-verse accounts of the battle between Alahn and the grizzled, wall-crawling rochbeor. Indeed, whether due to generations of lore or centuries of living alongside nature and its whims, the people of the South were fabled for their adaptability in the most uncivilized of regions.

He set out away and upstream from his small cave until he spied a nice climb to a perch, a small grove trailing from the banks with an overhang to the opposite side, and gave it an extra-wide berth. Crossing back over downstream and hopping into the lower limbs of the strangled patch of life, he picked his way back and up towards his perch. His tree was too small, the bark too greasy. It’s moss hung too low. There was little surrounding him for added cover. The wind was fierce, but he could hardly smoke so close to his hunting hole. The silted water below him did little to show signs of life, but it didn’t reek of stangnance or death so he assumed there’d be one parched patron or another visiting soon, and before long a few small birds, ground runners it seemed, popped out of the underbrush for a drink.

For a slow few moments he sat, his breathing practiced, his stillness at one with the clumps of branches and greenery surrounding him, waiting for the big one that must be waiting behind cover for some assurance of safety – that caution was often how such animals became so big and therefore much more desirable a kill. His thoughts wandered back to the path he was trailing, to the fortune of a man who encounters such a mishap on his debut venture into the Keep’s far-reaching and clandestine world, and he felt himself becoming groggy. A snap from behind, from too close behind, sent a surge of energy through his body that put Eddun’s heart in his long, wiry throat. He crouched low, as low as he could, conforming to the branch opposite the side of the now-steady rustling, his chin scraping the puzzled together bark of the squat river tree as he breathed.

Slowly he poked his head from underneath to view his quarry. Nothing. The sounds had stopped. He waited for what was most likely an eternity, and when nothing surfaced, he slowly rolled back around and began the rather arduous contorting between branchwork to return to his original position. The face he saw then, furry and wide-eyed, and most disturbingly a hair’s breadth away, sent him into a less-than-graceful dive down into the less-than-substantial stream below.

Thwosh!


That landing, he thought begrudgingly, looking up for his attacker while his hands unsuccessfully searched for any of the misplaced arrows, would surely leave a reminder for him to appreciate the rest of his walk West. Thwosh! He spat as the rather large canine… feline… rodent? He couldn’t decide, he supposed, rinsing his mouth with a small splash from the stream NOT dusted to the surface by their fall.


Was it dangerous? Was it edible? It certainly wasn’t acting very hostile as it clawed its way rather excitedly over his thighs when he’d settled in beside the water’s edge. Perhaps it was someone’s pet, though he had never seen anything like it before. The long face and wide maw of a wolf with pronounced, drooping canines, the bushy and overactive tail of a tree rodent, and the body and feet of the giant mountain cats that prowled the highest peaks of these regions.

And the attitude of a spoiled child, he thought, watching it sniff and nudge for affection. There’ll be no eating you, I suppose. At least one of us is up on their luck.

“Go,” he said in rough Chevalian, a word from one of the few phrases he knew, and gestured leave again in the signs of his people. No success. Not even a hint of understanding. He sighed deeply. This oversized thing, as long as his leg and as skinny on top of it, had likely ruined any chances of a hot meal for him tonight. He put his hand up in front of the big, fanged face in a fist and let it sniff. It did so for an instant before pushing past and planting into his chest to spring backwards. “What are you, ugly one” he remarked in his own tongue, sitting up and seeing now the over-exposed ribs shaking and the weariness return to the beast as its fit of excitement on seeing him began to fade. Anything he could have shot was now long gone, but perhaps whatever was chasing this poor creature had yet to appear.


As if on cue, a rustling began to grow louder from behind him, and so Eddun snatched up the fallen bow and a scattering of arrows and hopped straight up as hard as he could, hearing the footfalls close in behind him as he wound up and onto the lowest branch. He was feeling relieved in a way at the prospect of some company for the night in this unfamiliar stretch of plains and rock-choked woods. And the blessing of live bait, he thought with a cold grin, watching a large boar reveal herself and being to circle in on his exposed companion. It must have run upon her piglets in the open for her to be so bold in the face of such a foul-looking tree canine, and as such his time would be cut short. He slung his bow over a branch and tossed the arrows off to one side.


As they clattered, the sow jumped and looked over, giving his animal acquaintance the chance it needed to rush up a nearby tree, and as the big pig doubled back to charge after its prey Eddun dropped straight onto its back and plunged his long dagger deep between its shoulders. It squealed and scrambled, and Eddun rolled away, leaving the knife behind. After a few more shrill cries and a weak stagger, it collapsed in front of him to reveal the glittering eyes of his new cat-dog, the mouth below drooling greedily.


After a field strip, the walk back, and a thorough boiling and re-grilling in case of parasites, he settled into his cloak and blew on the dully smoldering coals to bring a flame from the fresh kindling he’d sat on top. Tonight they both would dine well, and tomorrow he would see if the little rodent was up to and worthy of following along; his path West would regain its momentum, and he would be at the raised beds of Ridgewood soon if he simply kept pace. Then he could be bothered with his still-pulsing head and still-missing keeper, Arkir.

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Offworlders Ch. 1: An Unpleasant Darkness

Gods, this heat.


Arkir brought up a long scarlet cloth and, heaving a sigh of renewed dismay at the charge he’d been given, held it out behind him in the “giving” gesture. His accomplice, no. He smiled in spite of himself. His ascribed companion, to put it more accurately, took the long, soft sash gratefully and swept what perspiration he could quickly off his brow and cheeks, handing it back wordlessly. Arkir’s grin broadened despite the growing cold that would soon overpower the sun falling at his side, and did the same. This stranger of the wilderness of Ohken, a mere child in the ways of survival and forestry, was intended to fill the void left by the great Alahn?

He severely doubted the notion, rejected it even, and had from its inception in the chambers of the Eldertree, no matter what the lack of alternatives had led the council to presume. A birther. He felt himself growing angry, a deep swelling of uncomfortability coupled with his now-racing heartbeat. A spineless, weightless, writhing little whore. His disgust was barely masked at this point as he came to a halt and turned halfway to face the once-smooth features of Eddun Da’Ir. Younger than himself by nearly three decades, the cross-caste’s first days in the great forest had worn him to a reflection of death itself. Already gaunt and poorly muscled as a member of a people whose days were spent in sheltered luxury, he had in addition become reddened and encrusted with his own burning skin, the whole of his form almost doubled over from a fatigue that crippled most their first time out. He had to give him that, he supposed. For all of the Da’Ir’s lack of preparedness and inexperience, he had lasted to the crest of the furthest hill on the plains past the wooded lowlands they called home.

He surveyed the land before him now, pushing the thoughts of rain and shade from his mind, wanting to distance himself as much as possible from the solace his old hunting grounds would bring. There would be over a full lunar cycle ahead, an entire journey West and then back South to the forest. Below him and to the left lay the rocky expanse of the clan’s trading route to the Westerners. To the right, the increasingly lifeless flats that stood between their conjunction with the route and the bone-dry Svitiu. With no more than a passing glance at one another, the decision was made to place themselves well within the lengthening shadows of the path’s large boulders, distanced from the main outcropping of the trail. With any luck they’d miss the chance encounters of these types of intersections, thieves and the like, for an evening of food and a full night’s sleep before the sprints started tomorrow.

They were O’hniun, The Keepers. They were the silent watchers of all things foreign and native to the Elkein. Theirs were the eyes and ears of the elders and the stone and steel of the council.

A recent consignment meant to signify the tribal alliance, the lot of them would never amount to more than a dozen or so members, and with some in training and others recuperating their numbers waned constantly despite their tasks remaining as daunting and, from the majority of the peoples’ perspective he imagined, irrelevant as ever. Their days were filled with primitive training and esoteric rituals, decidedly unaddressed from a distance or through the deep emptiness within the mottle of their woven hoods by passing locals. When not in combat or dispersed to some far corner of another man’s land, that was. He sighed all over again. The latter had been a constant of late.

He began unfurling what little he carried, a bit more diverse, a bit more outdated, but essentially the same as Eddun’s, and commenced the familiar dismantling of it all from meticulously-constructed pockets and straps. The corked shell of a water container, a thong of various pouches for smoking and treating bites and wounds on watch, a trio of stones for igniting fires and sharpening weapons, and other assorted survival trinkets.  A thin longbow, folded over itself for travel and stuffed into its accompanying quiver, was sat to the side for later but quickly forgotten as he opted to put off a quick hunt in favor of his current preserves. They were each allowed a certain amount of excess carry-on for their missions, and it was an easy allotment to fall short of in the double lining of the brown, gray, and green stained cloaks of their caste.

The Alwa, the weapon they each carried upon their acceptance into the Keep, was the most precious piece of his tiny arsenal. Each was slightly different, fitted to their wielder in type and function, hacked off the end of the muuts ore found deep in the heart of their forested homeland and chipped and smoothed to design. There was only the one source, and the light and resilient nature of the dark ashen metal that made everything else pale in comparison was actively sought after by foes and kinfolk alike. As such, the blades weren’t a commodity to be sold or traded at will. They were only bestowed upon the most prestigious warriors, chieftains, and the Keeper caste members, and were shown primarily to the now-deceased.

***

They slept against the backside of the only coupling of trees nearby, their own bodies a perilous balance of so much mass in the aftermath of a full day’s trek. It was an unusually cold night but an open fire was not allowed, was “never allowed in this sickening emptiness.” Arkir’s words echoed in Eddun’s mind with the typical shattering of expectations he’d recently become too familiar with. They were nearing the end of the ninth day out, of his ninth day ever, and nowhere had he seen the proverbial milestones in this arduous expedition. It didn’t seem to bother his traveling companion in the least, his thick, hooded cloak whipping quietly in the night’s wind, as weather-worn and wartorn as it’s wearer asleep beneath it.

A man much closer to his own age than he had suspected, Arkir looked a healthy century past him, the darkened skin creased heavily from the elements and looking almost stretched too thin over thick muscles. Beneath the tangled shock of hair as black as his robes, his eyes were another trait that belied his years, cold and hardened from some series of events he’d never share, calculating and penetrating to some hidden level of character. Perhaps tired from too much life Eddun thought, holding their gaze now as they opened to reflect what light remained in the sky. Mostly though, he figured, turning away, his involuntary mentor seemed angry. He’d noticed it from the onset of their relationship, a gnawing awkwardness that left every meal silent and every calm moment unpeaceful. And he was not the only one. His eyes found their way to the cloak’s fine, fresh hemming around his own ankles. And why wouldn’t they be different?

He turned up to the layers of grey surrounding him, the night enveloping the Keepers’ treed corner of the pass in contrasting angles and bright specs. He had always lived in the forest, had even spent most of his early childhood in the deep woods before being consigned to his place in the Ithren Chambers, living off the land in solitude with his grandfather, practicing regularly with sword, dagger, and bow. This wasn’t as big of a change as he had first feared. He should have been more capable than he felt now, he scolded himself, climbing through the trees of foreign lands and skirting the senses of every noticeable prescence encountered. But, if anything, he’d spent his time learning that he was not so far outclassed and unprepared as expected by those opposed to his new lot in life.

There was the Alwa as well, reminescent of his grandfather’s long, thin sabre and his only saving grace. His equalizer in this world turned upside down, it had been bestowed upon Eddun by the elders after a small session of combat had deemed it the best fit. He had deemed it his lifeline to sanity in an impending dance with endless peril. He thumbed the hilt now and rolled onto his side, his senses finally starting to dull as sleep took hold. Tomorrow, he had been told, they would head west and into the mountains. Then in another few days it would be hot meals with spices, warm homes with thick walls, and his chance to see a Western city for the first time. Still mulling over the possibilities, he faded off then, to the smell of garlic and peppers and the sounds of a crackling fire.

The sounds of his kinfolk came, chittering and shuffling into the great hall of the Eldertree – the new home of the united tribal council. “Why me,” he was saying, but it wasn’t him. Or he wasn’t him. It was all irrelevant now as he whisped through the audience, hearing better all the shuns and scorns of his day of reassignment. “Even he doesn’t think this is wise,” they were saying. “Da’Ir or not, Alahn’s seat belongs to a natural warrior.”

Natural. Chosen from birth to fulfill a task deemed fitting. What did they know of the natural, this concoction of strangers assembled to judge him as if they had spent a life together? He, the great-grand offspring of the fabled Akkihsi, the final blood and breath of a warrior line, raised from an infant in the ways of the Alwa and greatbow, had been resigned to a life in the dimly-lit halls of a neighboring tribe’s breeding community by the same fools on his last visit. A just decision indeed! He had spent decades in his chambers, the majority of his 140 years a single melting memory of court games, strange foods, obscure weapons training, and the obligatory intercourse that served to appropriately diversify and strengthen the future generations of the tribes. He had become quite fond of it all, honestly. He, or rather the man who he was, standing before him in this great hall of harsh eyes and tongues, didn’t relish the thought of leaving that lot for another 200 years in constant peril.

He fell back into his body then, and was a few days progressed, packing small personal items and remembrances of his now-previous life into the unfairly small satchel he had been given by his overseer. But, he was reminding himself, this was to be an entire caste change. No clothing beyond what he wore into the Keepers’ grove. No tools of any trade, and indeed there were few of his that seemed useful in the least as a woods-bourne wanderer. No scented items, soaps, perfumes, and the like, as they had the dually-undesired effect of drawing predators close and driving prey away. And no food. He’d be conforming to a quite different diet in his new minimalist walk it would seem, and this potentially blandest of all changes nagged at him constantly.

Thock thock. The knocks came to lead him away. He turned with a sigh from the now unlit front hall, stretching back into the honeycombed chambers he had called home for a full fourth of his life, and began to make his way through the intertwined branches and vines that formed the paths between areas of the village. As he followed along behind his shadow of an escort he began to pull back out of his body, watching himself as he traversed briskly through the tangles of trails that separated their tiny classes, each hundreds of steps up into the giant Ohken canopies. Below, the murky waters of the lowland’s last spring-fed buffer from the ravages of the sea’s salty waters swirled with the tell-tale signs of the life that teemed beneath it’s great opaque surface. They went over the crest of the market tree, central to the entire village, then right across the boughs of two more onto the outskirts of one of the garrison’s hollowed-out guard trees; then even further still, into the black and the cold and the thickest of unkempt paths he had ever been made to travel. Then finally, after a dizzying and disorienting final stretch through the woods, into the lair of the Keepers.

He entered through a rather lowset trap in the base of the single, unspectacular little tree, still trailing his silent guide and wiping spray from the now-close and ever-roiling waters, and climbed his way up the spiral staircase within to a small but obvious living quarters. These are ingenious, he thought. It was as simple as carving from within rather than without. The great mystery of the Keeper hold revealed. He found himself grinning and quickly suppressed it as the shadowy figure turned to him, removing his hood, and spoke for the first time.

“I am Arkir. This will be your room, and I your mentor in the weeks ahead.”

“It’s a privilege” he was responding, waiting awkwardly for some sign of decency or comradery to be exuded from his new companion, and was still waiting when he was grabbed from behind and blinded by a single fierce blow to the back of his head.

Time Away

The blog has been much underutilized of late, and for that, to the several of you who are in fact following along, I apologize. Life has thrown me for several loops, none of ehich merit going into detail over here. Suffice it to say I am over the hump and back on course. As a show of the meausure of my remorse, and with the much-needed excuse finally up for grabs, I will be posting the first three chapters of my novel-in-development, Offworlders. 
I only hope you haven’t forgotten me and will sincerely enjoy the agonizingly imperfect umpteenth draft of my hopeful eventual masterpiece. Cheers.

The Bradley Method of Civilian and Military Fence in Modern Close Quarters Combat, or SHTF Swordplay: A Practical Design

Choosing Your Sword

While many different swords of many different types have been used throughout the ages, because not every sword is equal in every circumstance, there are a few notable evolutions of the long blade that have persisted into modern society as well as several that have held their worth throughout combat’s constant evolution over the centuries. This is meant to encompass not simply those weapons that have maintained a mythos or legacy in pop culture and folklore, but weapons with documented success against a wide array of adversaries and engagement types. This does not presume to include every valid option or reason for each choice, nor will I be placing these in any specific order in terms of worthiness or personal preference, although the latter will become obvious soon enough. Rather, this is a list of some of my more preferable options, reasons for those options, and considerations as well as implied and given parameters for your own personal choices, intended for ensuring a proper decision is made when acquiring that which must not fail you in those most vital moments of a confrontation.

The general rule when contemplating the size of a sword, to put the sentiment as I’ve always read it into your mind immediately, is that smaller is better. I would then as hastily remind you that this is hardly the case in my experience, although it is a good rule of thumb for starters. Longer blades have major advantages in many instances, to the point (an inadvertent pun) that some of the ever-popular Italian rapiers became little more than scrawny triangles and trapezoids of absurd length in their heyday among civilians. The commonplace battleware known as the greatsword as well, stretching in some examples beyond the length of the wielder’s entire body, remained in use for centuries after its inception into pre-medieval combat thanks in large part to an affinity for universal application, size notwithstanding. I would further council that two swords are better than one, though not always when wielded at once, while some masters of the European school of fence would even encourage harboring what they call a “full case”: that is, three swords or possibly even more, though I’d be hard-pressed to find an example of more than three. For the purpose of sticking to the context of modern-day survival in the most hostile environments, a well chosen pair – a longer straight and a shorter curved blade ideally – is more than enough, especially given the assumed presence of a LONG knife that can act as a tertiary device to attack, grapple, and defend with.


Short Swords


In terms of shorter swords, since we’ve broached the topic, hangers of various forms like cutlasses, dussacks, and some sabres, court swords, the Chinese dao and fu tao, many infantry swords such as the Greek xiphos and kopis and Roman gladius, most African swords which would have seen regular use in the continent’s harsh wilderness, and even today’s various forms of machetes are just some examples of these shorter types long favored for their versatility in many scenarios and against many weapons. Cutlasses, for example, became a staple among sailors for their usefulness in combat within the small spaces below the deck of a ship (and probably even on the deck with as many people as could amass in a skirmish). The Indian Kukri, on the other hand, was considered a horrifically devastating weapon on the open battlefield, favored by, as you’ve probably guessed, the Nepalese Gurkha and written about by Europeans as a primarily disemboweling stabbing weapon as opposed to the axe-ish hack many now mistake it’s short, stooped over stature to indicate.


Keeping in mind this is personal opinion relative to expected experience and is subject to differences person to person and setting to setting (do you use a buckler, is there little cutting to be done versus stabbing, are you in a group using collaborated weaponry, how tall are you, etc.), in general the more useful of these short swords are the curved hangers with complex enough guards – that part of the hilt that covers your hand and separates the blade from the handle that you grip – to cover the entire fist from on top and at least half of the knuckles from the front. The reason for this is that your shorter blades, in addition to potentially doubling as utility tools in a survival setting, are primarily used for guarding attacks to the upper half of the body and delivering cuts to the same portion of your opponent’s. The hanging guard, both a source for their name and a position you will become very familiar with regardless of the sword you use, is a primary guard for the active defense against these cuts, a feat made safer the more coverage the guard offers. The curved nature of most hangers also lends a natural slicing action to every hit that would otherwise require a manually accomplished push or pull to be effective were the edge straight.


One-Handed Longswords


Much like virtually every other weapon in history, the longevity of some sword types is primarily the result of cultural pride or pop-culture fanaticism, and this is more evident I find in the longer one-handed blades of various cultures than with any other size of sword. In addition to said proclivity for hanging on to outdated type variants, the constant evolution of armor, the law, and fencing methods made for some very specific lines of advancement in certain areas of the globe. In a concerted effort to leave these context-exclusive blades behind, and with very little venturing into the territory of swords handled regularly in two hands, this is the most preferred category of the three I will address here for convenient subdivision. The sabres have also been included here rather than in their own section, and before any letters are written and torches are lit, I’d like to clarify that this is due to nothing more than their size. Their distinction from the straight blades will factor in later, and it is a very important distinction to keep in mind when choosing and using the sword.


Examples of these longer one-handed swords include the basket-hilted Scottish claymore carried by warrior Scots up into the late 19th century and whose use became a major influence on many Georgian sabre methods as well as my own martial art, the notable Italian schiavona (another personal favorite) considered to be an evolution of the swords carried by the well-reputed Slavonic mercenaries of Eastern Europe, the garish Germanic mortuary sword with its drooping basket and lengthy blade, and the various Italian, Spanish, French, and other predecessors of the now standardized Olympic sport swords. The Japanese tachi and katana also would fit in this descriptor despite having room for two hands, a decision we will address slightly later, as would the longer Middle-Eastern blades such as the talwar, tulwar, shamshir, and kilij, and, to the dispute of many typology enthusiasts I’m sure, the one and two-handed swiss sabres as well as longer falchions and most of the military sabres found throughout Europe whose influence weighs heavily on my personal martial art – British, French, Russian, and Polish to name the major sources.


My preference for a curved blade remains when it comes to these longer weapons, aside from my own admitted familiarity bias, purely due to two main factors – the aforementioned natural cutting action of the curved blade vs the straight blade and the tendency of many curved weapons to have a point of balance further out towards the end of the blade, which is more conducive to the frequent beats and slashes of one’s natural approach in the heat of battle and indeed the method developed in this book. Where I stray from that proclivity is in the afore-praised schiavonas and basketed claymores, both of which came in curved variations and were used much more as a curved blade would have been handled, especially in the case of the Scots, but which were primarily straight-bladed weapons and therefore should be approached, if only at first, with a straight-bladed variant. Beyond that, later is better is the rule to remember before ignoring this time: many sword builds improve and many sword hilts become safer the later in their evolution you go. This is especially worth considering in the scenario of impromptu unarmored combat where the complement of a shield or heavy armor is likely not a practical option. So, again as with short swords, I’d venture that the more complex the guard the better, with consideration for potential two-handed and off-handed use in mind and respect for the increasing usability of the standard crossguard (that piece of metal that lies perpendicular to the sword at the base of the blade) as blade and handle length increases and blade curve decreases.


Two-Handed Longswords


Much like my sword-swinging British forefather George Silver, I have to state amid much disagreement that the rapier, that thin and sometimes unsharpened straight sword designed for thrusting and little more, is the least useful of these and is to be avoided by all with the sole exception of those who already have a proficiency with that weapon type when the decision to pick up a real sword must be undertaken. In nearly the same stroke that condemned the Italians and English fans of their rapiers, he also wrote that the two-handed sword trumped all, from lone epée to sword and buckler, in its use against other weapons and swords in particular, falling short only against staves, pikes, and other even longer weapons such as the halberd or forest bill due to their inherent benefits of reach, power, and defensive coverage. That said, when most people read “two-handed sword” they invariably conjure images of the monstrosities movies and folklore have made their namesake and the lengthy ceremonial swords stretching far above their carriers’ heads to the ground but never once used. In fact, Silver’s idea of a two handed sword, and indeed the idea of a two-handed sword art historically, is simply his ideal one-handed sword with room for two full hands on the hilt.


Area to area and people to people, as with all swords and weapons in general, the designs shifted and stuck for multiple reasons, not all of which were sufficient. The German Landsknechts made use of some of the largest variants of this classic cross-guarded two-hand design, quite literally called “bïdenhander” or “both-hander” and depicted often as rivaling their pikes in length and complete with a signature curled-up crossguard. The late medieval claymores of the Scots weren’t quite as long or wide, and these are the ones people usually think of when the word claymore comes up, with their sometimes slanted “Y” crossguards and long, thin blades, and their English neighbors long used even shorter blades with a wider base and longer taper. The greatswords of the Iberian peninsula were on par with the Landsknechts, with large rings on the crossguard and secondary guards jutting like barbs from the blade. It should be noted here that no pikes, scythes, naginatas, or any bladed polearm or swordstaff is being included in this group as they operate more closely in concept to a staff or spear than a sword.


It is hard to go wrong when choosing among the longer two-handed swords, and their variations will largely depend on comfort and need (are you able to reach your opponent, can you endure the weight or momentum of the weapon, where are you fighting and who with?). To simplify our categorization for the purpose of use in this martial context, the focus will be on a straight blade at least several inches longer than the wielder’s arm, double-edged, and having a handle with adequate room for both hands as well as a sufficient crossguard. To use a blade any shorter than this is to deny oneself the full benefits of using both hands, and to apply a curve to a blade of such a length as the previous observation obliges not only beats the proverbial dead horse of “it cuts” but can hinder one’s ability to effectively use the length, leverage, and angles offered an effective fencer at such range. A basket or knuckle-bow seems an equal or even greater hindrance when considering the amount of grip work that goes into the effective maneuvering of such a large melee weapon at advanced levels.


Group Equipment


When functioning as a unit, the decision of what to equip involves many factors – expected terrain, group tactics and duties, the number and ability of members, the availability of resources – and those factors should not be ignored for the general recommendations found here. It has been long known that sword and shield has a distinct group advantage, as do certain multi-weapon setups such as sword and targe with spearmen or pikes with a single greatsword, and all these on the open ground whether large or small, outdoor or indoor. However, to be more fitting of the times and considerate of their environments I would mention more recently the machete and shotgun troops of the Philippines, or point back to the merciless soldiers of the Jacobite rebellion with their long basket-hilted claymores, short spears, and twin pistols, or even further back still to the guerilla warrior natives of America written about during European colonization, armed with little more than a shortbow and club.


Along with whatever personal projectile weapons are available, hopefully at least a longer and shorter range pair be they pistol and rifle or blowgun and recurve bow, a wide and long dagger or hatchet for both self defense and use on wood, dirt, etc. along with a smaller knife for more dextrous and utilitarian purposes should be a given. Then, supply either a basketed/guarded one-handed long sabre, such as the Scottish claymore or various military sabres, or a two-handed longsword with a crossguard useable in one hand coupled with a light defense instrument such as a buckler, guarded dagger, or even a bazuban or parrying glove (this can also be a feature of either the longer dagger or shortsword previously mentioned). The Swiss sabre is a particularly interesting example of a favorable two-handed longsword – the substantially basketed hilt, room for two hands, and longer than average blade size for a weapon so readily held with one hand as well as a surprisingly close to the hand balance point gives this blade a particular desirability in a small to medium, multi-function group setting. When combined with armored protection for the offhand and a dagger or short sword, the setup becomes a very versatile and unencumbered option for all scenarios.


Note: Author’s Choice


I have, through a combination of research, trial and error, and grandfathered familiarity, settled on my own trio of swords for a potential arsenal. I train actively in their respective arts, cross over their techniques whenever possible, and seek as funding allows the highest quality antiques available for my inventory. While not intended as a basis for nor example of the perfect assembly and actually rather guilty of breaking several guidelines, hopefully it can give some idea of why it is adequate for me as well as provide an example of how others can begin going about making these choices for themselves. The primary weapon I admire, chosen for familiarity and practicality and to be carried at all times and used in all manner of instances, is a heavily curved and basketed variant of the Polish cavalry sabre (and Middle Eastern sabre) known as the karabela. The second, longer, straighter, and still intended for a single hand, is a curved English broadsword hybrid with a schiavona hilt, chosen due to its adequate basket, versatility in use, and longer reach among one-handed weapons. The third choice, for both its physical and martial benefits, is a shortened and tapered zweihander with a wide base and simple, single crossguard. Not all are worn together at all times, but all are necessary in my experience to cover the range of possibilities faced in the spectrum of close quarters confrontation. In addition, a long and short knife, one approx. two feet in length and basketed, and the other approximately half that size and curved, would remain with me at all times. 

Dystopian Address #2: Over-Pack, Over-Plan, Over-Practice

Part One (1/3)

It was a long, lightly treed expanse cleared around a double asphalt strip, an old road out of town rarely used by the city’s working commuters… and on any other day Donovon thought he might welcome the drive. On the last inspection, however, the foremost hilltop was peppered with a half-dozen sentries blocking the road via the aid of massive concrete barriers and the tall musket-looking rifles they carried. Continuing forward on their half-packed motorbikes meant a definite confrontation, but moving on without the provisions they carried or the speed they provided could mean missing a rendezvous with the only person who could shed light on their situation.

Why had this become his lot in life? What the hell was happening to this place? Why was his companion still sharpening and shaping that makeshift sword?


“Trevor, this is hopeless,” he managed after a few moments of inward pouting. The young prepper just grinned beneath his beard and kept working, now fastening a chunk of iron from some broken-off item in his rucksack into an improvised crossguard. The handle, nothing more than hammered smooth rebar, had been pounded into a hook and wrapped in leather twine for comfort, and it’s “blade”, after an hour of shaving and hammering, was now razor sharp and shaped in a curve more worthy of being called one. Trevor shook it roughly and slapped the new piece around a bit, then held out the handle to its rather unkempt and in doubt owner, saying haphazardly, “You’re a natural, Donno, embrace it. And don’t fret over losing parts – no sense crying over spilt milk.” Then, with a wink and a groan, he pulled himself off the floor of their tiny hideout and crawled a short distance away to survey their way forward.


Camp was little more than an oversized pile of debris, layered solid inside and dug out to accommodate the two of them lying side by side. Their bikes were stashed both further from them and closer to the road than they would have liked, but they had hardly been in a position to have preferences, and so they made do. It had been a long, stressful wait until sunset, a time at which they had both agreed their odds of undetected passage would significantly increase, and in an attempt ignore the sweltering yellow hourglass bobbing and weaving from break to break in the roiling, dark clouds, Trevor had, among many other subjects, imparted upon Donovan the basics of military sabre fencing. It was a sparse explanation and full of holes, not to mention the prepper’s inability to answer a single question left little confidence in this newest of practitioners. In the end he felt it made sense, however, and so with his new weapon in tow he headed to the small clearing around their tiny dugout to test it out. “It’s sheer logic and improvisation Donno,” said Trevor from behind behind him. He was already hearing the echoes of earlier and becoming annoyed…


“It’s a metal stick, with an edge. What’s to know? Stand upright now, it’s like any other fight.” He did so now. “Keep your feet light and your weight centered, make sure what’s between you and them stays that way… so bring the damned thing out in front of you! No, tuck the elbows in, you just got the damned thing between you and what wants you dead, don’t play whack a mole with him…”


Donovan practiced a couple cuts, making sure to drag the blade along his imaginary target. “You either cut vertical or horizontal or crossways. The blade’s either up or down or forward or back and on one side or the other or up top or down low. Everybody else operates the same way too, mind you, assuming we’re all human-” he had paused to look almost embarrassingly over his shoulder at that. Another round of pretend blocks and cuts; another slew of reminders. “Cut to hit, cut to block, cut to feint. Grab him. Or stab him. Or put your sword in his way and then stab him. Or…” Donovan shook his head. He may have been a bumbling fool of a first impression, but Trevor had quite the metaphorical dungeon of dusty tomes lingering in that alternatively-educated head of his.


While still pondering the nature of his newest endeavor as a swordsman, he failed to notice the sun dip below the horizon, leaving him in a deep, impenetrable blue. He also failed to notice the pair of black-clad officer-types topping the hill behind him, as well as Trevor’s fervent whispers to dive into their bunker for safety. But thank god for Trevor, for without his incessant hissing Donovan may never have broken his wide-eyed trance. The men were calling out now, not only to him but to their comrades over the rise, so, without much time for planning, Donovan ran off at full speed into the growing dark and over the next hilltop.


Without hesitation chase ensued. They blew past Trevor, scarcely breathing in fear of detection, and pulled out their large muskets to take aim on top of the next hill. As they flexed their suits into position and placed the scopes to their eyes, the attack came. Donovan, springing up from his prone position only a few feet away, went straight for their exposed stomachs and saw the adequate work of his new companion first hand as the stiffer, sharpened metal cut clean through black canvas and into flesh. He drug the blade, as he had been forewarned to do, as far across their midsections as he could – so far, in fact, that he had to take another step to continue the draw – and then ran off to the side and slid to the ground, still crawling, pushing his limbs until they ached as a volley of projectiles whizzed above his head.


The two bodies atop the hill fell awkwardly into a heap, and as they settled the butt of one of the rifles lurched into view from the shadows. He scrambled without hesitation, still on all fours lest he be shot, and lunged for it blindly, turning his head at the last instant towards the commotion beside him. 


All he saw was blinding light. All he heard was a deafening ring. All he felt was pain, and all he tasted was blood; and as he gathered his senses, focusing on the smell of the dirt and grass against his cheek, he felt pain again. And again. And finally, he felt nothing. Just warmth, comfort, and… pain.


His vision cleared and his mind grappled with wave after wave of reality as it crashed down upon him. All the sensations came back, most noticeably the pain in his side, and he pushed it back to fight onto one knee. To his left, Trevor grappled with one man in black. Above them, another closed to lend assistance his own – Donovan’s hand tightened around his new sword and his legs tensed. To his right was a third, raising his rifle for a clear shot, and so Donovan bit back his eagerness to jump towards the men beating his accomplice and instead stuck the blade point-first as deeply as he could manage into the chest of the distracted shooter. A hollow whoosh and a coarse cry accompanied the maneuver, but his bloodlust, or something suspiciously like it Donovan would later surmise, made him ignorant to the grotesqueness of his acts. He simply looked over his shoulder at his next victims and pulled the blade behind him, leaving his foe to crumple in a heap.


The next leap was more animalistic, and he thought for an instant how much he could have regretted it had either of them looked over, but instead he crashed into the nearest man’s back, the long sabre’s edge preceding him in a diagonal arc. As he tumbled forward on top on the falling pray, Donovan leapt again, but out of the way as his last attacker turned baring a third gun and fired at empty space. Trevor was up in an instant, his hands around the last opponent’s chest, and he dove to the ground, causing the gun to drop. Already on the way over, Donovan saw the exposed head of their final attacker and picked up the pace. He was never one for sports, but he had played soccer for years. Crack!


Everything was terribly still. Nobody moved. No insects chirped or buzzed. Even the breeze, it seemed, had stilled in the bitter aftermath. “Trevor-” he began, but couldn’t think of any words to fit the situation. Sorry? You’re welcome? Maybe a little of both? He felt guilt and excitement, pride and doubt all at once, and he doubled over with the intensity of it. Trevor, covered in blood, his face a swollen silhouette of its former self, came into view and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “You did well, man. The shakes will wear off soon enough.” Had he done this before? “But you’ve seriously got to get this weak stomach under control. You’re starting to affect me.” He made as if to gag and Donovan laughed, then gagged again and doubled back over for another round.


Trevor just laughed and looked around. The carnage was evident, and it seemed to the other that he was trying his best to downplay a heavy undertone of awe in it’s most original sense. “By my count,” he ventured eventually as he wandered from body to body in search of worthy belongings, a practice that eased Donovan’s misgivings about his own inhumane acts, “that leaves only one left at the barricades Donno. Considering we have something of a schedule to keep, what do you say say we try out these new rifles and bring our bikes back on the road?” Still breathing heavy from his bout with their assailants, or perhaps from his bout with nausea, Donovan failed again to produce words and settled with a nod of approval. 

About Dystopian Address:

The dilemma is a common one. Picture yourself among several fellow authors, each of you in possession of your own master work. An interwoven web of experiences and desires, lessons learned and blessings imparted, rich with culture and scenery and drama, this masterpiece, this coup de gras of literature has been left to your ever-too-idle hands and their reek of incompetence. You can’t readily expose this wonder to the masses in its raw form, you can’t yet turn it into the deep and plot-infested symphony of text you see ahead, and you sure as hell aren’t about to sit back for another thirty years and try your luck with oral hand-me-downs. What are you to do?

If you’re still groping at the back of your mind, fear not. The answer we, at our humble round table of creativity, have come up with is to create a world of such haphazard adventure and lackluster lore, an endless outlet for reinvention and renovation, that one can not help but to find a place. Titled as guidelines stemming from the innards of the only newspaper still running in the apocalypse, all works are instead traditional short story fiction, some lasting a mere several thousand words and others continuing from story to story without a foreseeable end, with the simple and concise prompt of placing an average individual into the havoc and disarray of any number of conflicting, conjoining, and colliding versions of the apocalypse of the human race. Whether fleeing aliens, battling gods, or outwitting the powers that be, the story must go on!


The first story, for example, focuses on a near-future version of Austin, Texas, the capital of the author’s native state, and the events that befall a pair of inadvertent companions during their struggle to understand and escape the madness that befalls them. A deadbeat delivery man and an unpracticed prepper, the two are meant to allow for comedy, conflict, and character evolution in this most leisurely context of having no fear of betraying your dearest creations, writing key players into a box, or even worrying about their impression upon readers. The entire premise is to write freely, experiment, and, as cliché as the phrase is, just have a little fun.


From just this first story, a mere 7,000 words written 1,000 at a time a day at a time, I’ve been able to exercise tools, try out simple ideas with dialogue and description, work on transitions and plot flow, and complete to posting in full a task outside of my comfort zone of technologically-void, stereotype-ridden fantasy. My next installment, a three-part continuation of the escape of Trevor and Donovan, will let me attempt my first real travel scene, use a different format, and write out a coordinated tactical effort between multiple characters against even more characters – my most daring choreography yet and one I can focus on not overwriting every physical detail of the confrontation in, as I am want to do.


Feel free to work on, publish, and link your own creations and stories within this vague, open-ended realm to the collection as it grows. I plan on finishing a trilogy, publishing two stories by proxy of fellow authors and friends, and going from there into individual tales and continued stories as the whim demands it. For those who might like a more structured idea of our original concept for the series, I will include a bulleted list below of basic character rules and plot regulations we developed to keep ourselves from going too haywire. These are obviously suggestions and are not to be seen so much as rules of engagement in your own adventure as guidelines for our MO moving forward, to be treasured or trashed as you see fit. Enjoy.


  • Character Design

    • “Utterly Average” modernizations

    • Out of Place in Apocalypse

    • Ironically inept

    • Surprisingly capable in context

    • Hyperbolic flaws

    • Personal attachment


Most characters have a weapon or skill to fall back on as their saving grace in the beginning and are intended to develop that into a prized necessity. This was primarily done as an homage to the “RP” feel so many fantasy junkies are well-acquainted with, but also provides for an easy alternative to a plotline should one not find the inspiration readily available.  Donovan, as an example, is your stereotypical sword-wielder reimagined as an average joe American, complete with non-heroic reactions and non-superhuman knowledge of the weapon he literally just picked up (again, poking fun at traditional fantasy themes). He is my George Costanza, a manifestation of my worst and most insecure self, having no business in an apocalypse and no interest in an adventure. Place that type of normalcy in the wide array of scenarios possible in an ensuing apocalypse, void of the adept skills and surreal courage found in most novels, and voila! Your ingredients for conflict, achievement, comedy, and tragedy are all but in the oven baking.

  • Setting Development

    • Barely futuristic (fashion, tech, etc.)

    • The end of days is in your town

    • Mysterious natural events

    • Vague explanations

    • Overlapping armageddons


The idea for setting up an open-ended world to hash out our wildest trials began with throwing the regular world into chaos. Armageddon, we felt, was a hilariously overused and thus easily parodied (not to mention exploitable) theme to run with. The “joke”, as it were, is that, unlike most authors who pick a demise and run with it, we’ll be throwing everything on the table all at once, essentially making everybody and nobody right all at once. Most areas mentioned are virtually identical to their present-day form, with key differences usually relying on hyperbolic examples of what would happen should one certain influential body or another have complete hold of the reins. Austin, for example, is depicted as the exaggerated pinnacle of a Blue capital in a Red state – mass transit, public housing, and heavy officer presence. Now envelop that in the midst of alien invasion, government conspiracy, natural disaster, or biblical genocide and do your best to keep the reader guessing which is the reality.

Dystopian Address #1: Choose Your Friends Wisely

Part Three (3/3)

“Are you sure we can’t use any of the other vehicles outside your place?!” Donovan was shouting as loud as he could to get through the noise of the rain and poorly-upheld little motorbike that Trevor had piled them, their gear, and the prepper’s oversized cb contraption onto. “Only one that works Donno!” came the reply, and so he hunkered down and tried his best not to crush his own genitals on the absurdly bumpy ride into town.


One look, they figured, from the trees to reassess the severity of their predicament, and then it was over to a local dockyard, into the nearest river canoes, and down the creek towards Houston. If the old paper map they’d taken could still be trusted, they’d be able to hop streams and only walk the last 45-60 miles. That alone would be a couple days if all went to plan, and Donovan wasn’t sure he trusted any plan made by his inadvertent companion. Add to that their circumstance in whatever hell had befallen their otherwise peaceful, repetitive grind of a life and he wasn’t sure he trusted any plan to get them to their suggested destination on time.


The sound of heavy crunching and cracking came then, quiet at first but quickly growing louder, and he turned awkwardly on the bike to try and see behind him. “Trevor! Trevor,” he shouted, snapping his head forward. “Does this thing go faster?! Do that!” Trevor nodded, looked in the mirror, and veered hard off course. The sound of the engine took on that characteristic whir of needing to change gears – Donovan knew it quite well from his time learning to ride the old bike. “She’s maxed out Donno, two passengers is a heavy load. We’ll have to lose it in the trees!” The old bike!


When he looked in the mirror at Trevor’s eyes, he was pretty sure he knew that feeling pretty well also, and he fought hard to swallow the lump in his throat. In the mirror, the massive white-suited man… or whatever it was, for no man should have been able to run this fast, or wreck through trees like a grizzly, or track them this far from its knock out site behind the alley… came steadily closer. “Go back towards the city,” he said loudly, nearly shouting still and trying to keep the tremor out of his voice. “No, Donno, the TREES!” Trevor sounded adamant, but Donovan shook his head. “I have a bike!” He yelled, and pointed back towards town. Trevor seemed to hang for a second, the monstrosity behind them closing fast, and then he turned low to the ground and headed back towards the treeline, passing so close the glassy facehole almost gave away a figure beneath it. “I hope you’re right,” came Trevor’s bitter response. “We won’t be able to outrun him long at all in the open, and I will not fight him!”


Donovan tried to sound hopeful but found it difficult with the fear still coursing through every muscle. He gripped the newly wrapped handle of his Sheet Metal Shamshir, as Trevor had dubbed it, and took a deep breath in hopes it would solidify his resolve. It did not. “It’s just past the suburb blocks, we can gun it through the fields and be there before he gets us!” He looked in the mirror again and cringed at the renewed hopelessness of his plan and tapped Trevor on the shoulder again. “Get some more distance between us before then. Go!” And the bike rattled and whirred and shot off in a wide zig zag arc.


When they hit the tree line, they had made little progress, but then neither had their pursuer, and so they broke free into the fields and raced along the fence line towards the nearest back alley several blocks away. Their suspicions were right however, and soon the behemoth was right behind them, grabbing and rasping and heaving itself forward on all fours like a maddened ape. In his tight buckskin trousers and the wool blankets the prepper had insisted they bring with them wrapped around him and secured with an actual brooch, he felt like they must look like something out of a Tolkien story to anyone left to look. He looked down. And he had a sword now? What the hell was happening?


He found himself grinning in spite of the situation, or perhaps because of it, and whether it was the reality of their impending demise or simple moment of delusion in a spiral of overwhelming despair, his mind was made up. He twisted back in the seat, managed to gather his legs beneath him, and flung himself point-first into the giant humanoid. His senses returning to him and his doubt rebuilding, he pushed as hard as he could as they collided, sending the blade deep into its chest with a heavy rush of air, through the rubber layers and cloth beneath, and finally stopping at bone.


He met its gaze then, through the visor, and was instantly dizzy. He felt tears stinging in his eyes and couldn’t stop them now, his muscles aching as he wrenched the makeshift blade free and brought it down with all his might. Trevor had shown him how to sharpen it, and he’d done the best he could with what little time he was given before their departure. It did not disappoint, the hit cutting deeply into the large adversary’s shoulder as it doubled over in agony. By this time Trevor had wheeled back on the little scrambler and came in at full speed now, ramming the big man in his backside and sending him sliding into the mud.


Donovan was on him before he could think, hammering again at his back, ripping through rubber and flesh and feeling like he was finally done with this engagement. Then the big beast came back with a backhand that sent Donovan flying through the air, knocking the breath from his lungs and leaving him writhing on the ground. Trevor stepped in then, and in his hand was a small pistol. He aimed it, quite professionally Donovan thought for such an obsolete weapon from his vantage point in the muck, and fired two quick rounds. The thin revolver spat flames and put the giant on its knees. Trevor closed in further and put three more into its chest, the whole of the chamber if Donovan knew anything about revolvers, then stepped back in shock at what he’d done.


Whatever contemplation or recovery he was dealing with was cut short however, and with another rasp their adversary was swinging away at the bearded gunman, who managed to back away from the first two wide swings but caught the third in the head. Trevor was lifted off the ground with the force of the blow and tumbled limply into a pile. He tried to pull himself up, but the apparent stun he was in kept him unable to find his balance. The white suit closed on him.


Spitting blood and cursing, and still trying to catch his breath, Donovan drug himself off the soaked grass and muddy patches he’d become content with and groped at his sword. Balancing it over his shoulder, he moved as quickly as he could, shuffling at a jog and holding his ribs until he was right behind their relentless attacker. Trevor had picked himself up to his knees and was fumbling for more rounds, but the white fist had already begun its swing, and he closed his eyes tightly against the oncoming blow.


Chock! The hand stopped, and Donovan peered from around the massive flimsy helmet he’d just split by several inches and hoarsely offered his condolences. “You alive down there?” he tried, but his voice failed him and so he just slumped over and laughed, an equally choked and hoarse unpleasantry. Trevor joined him, and they lay back in the pouring rain letting their aches subside and their breath return. “What in all the gods on this damned rock is that thing?” Trevor managed finally. Donovan remembered what he’d seen behind the mask and felt the tears again behind his eyes. He turned and looked gravely at Trevor. “I’m not sure. It was through the glass and in the heat of the fight….” He trailed off. “It was just a girl. Just an ordinary person. But there was something off about the eyes. They were-”


He was stopped abruptly as the massive lady in white heaved a great sigh and flared up to land another blow. Pow! The revolver smoked and the glass of the facemask shattered with a satisfying crunch into itself as the shot penetrated and hit home. The body slumped back onto Donovan, and he wretched and pushed it off him quickly with several poorly-placed shoves. “Is it dead?” Trevor asked. Donovan kicked it once, then twice more, increasing the force each time. “I think so?” he responded, as if it were a question itself, then added “We should probably not wait to find out.”


They begrudgingly worked their way to their feet and began gathering the items that had scattered during the fight, during their respective flights through the air and Trevor’s ramming of the bike into their incessant antagonist. Finally stooping over to retrieve his blade, Donovan asked Trevor, “Do you think you could sharpen this point for me? It barely made it through the suit, and I’d rather not have a repeat failure if we see another one of those… things.” Trevor picked up the bike and began working to get it started. “I think you need more strength if you plan on doing that again. And maybe a fair warning next time, eh Donno?”


Donovan sat behind him on the bike and feigned offense. “Surely you don’t expect me to devote myself of the gym with this lot running around.” “No, not you,” Trevor said quickly, pushing off towards the city line and the bike waiting beyond, “The sword. Although you’re not exactly built for melee.” He laughed, better sounding than before but still quite hoarse, and put a hand to his throbbing head. Donovan just smiled, relieved to be done with their immediate threat, and settled in for the final few blocks.

Within a few moments they were seeing dozens more of the white-clad demons, shoving and lining people up into rows, then filing them onto decrepit-looking cargo trucks, all rust and shaking parts. It was all they could do to not panic, to not be seen, and they went well out of their way to avoid conflict. Whatever was going on wasn’t something they’d be able to change, certainly not by going out there and becoming one of them. Or worse if the suits were to have any idea as to what had been done with their dispatched colleague…


They chose the long route, and at last they had reached the back entrance of his employer’s office. Donovan quickly made his way into the utility room with the spare key his boss had always left above the doorsill. An instant later he was back with another key and on the bike, which fired up with significantly less effort than it had been taking his companion’s since they left the cabin. Thinking better of his typical routine, Donovan tossed the key on the ground inside the office door and hoped that he might get in trouble for it tomorrow, thought he highly doubted it since it appeared the reich had returned and he was going to Mad Max his way South with this odd choice of friends.


The man had saved his life, he realized, and he’d never thanked him. He looked over at Trevor on his bike and met the other man’s gaze. Trevor just nodded, knowing already and probably thinking the same thing, and so Donovan – Donno – turned back and hit the throttle. At least on this backroad, at least for now, there seemed to be no presence of the rubbery bastards, and so they opened up and let the road fly by.


The rain had slowed to a steady drizzle by morning, and over the countryside that rushed by him Donovan saw a quiet peace that was very much the opposite of the havoc they had left. Their map had taken them down a series of back roads, old and cracking and winding through hills peppered with trees and troughs, and it was a welcome change from the horrors behind them. Birds began to chitter in aggravation at their wait in the rain, small foxes, coyotes, and whitetail deer rushed from one bush of cover to the next, and all before him the housing complexes and tall buildings of the city were replaced with the reds and oranges and occasional greens of the onset of fall.


They had left it behind them, he told himself again, and were now making excellent time towards whoever it was they would be meeting. Trevor had mentioned that Steve was a diver, a boat cleaner primarily, and was convinced that his presence aboard a military vessel, combined of course with their run-in with the suit and the apparent evacuation of everyone in Austin, was a sign of bad events to come. “Why”, he’d said as they rumbled along in unison across the empty roads, “would they take a cleaner on board? I know the military has a hang-up on looking good, but I think that’s a long shot Donno. 


Something bad is happening, something you and I don’t understand but maybe the Navy does, and I’d prefer to find out from someone who doesn’t want to knock me ten yards every time I have a question.”


He had rubbed his head as a reminder then, and Donovan couldn’t stifle his laughter, an act that wracked his chest with renewed pain just thinking about it now. He looked up and thought of Houston, of another town full of people being herded into the backs of trucks, of more of their heavily-suited shepherds, and hoped they could make it to their spot without traversing the inner city. At least that would be another day away. A day to rest and recuperate. A day to process the absurdity of their circumstance and maybe make sense of some of it.


“Donno.” His thoughts were cut short by Trevor’s imposition, and he refocused on the road quickly, pulling on the brakes of his little motorcycle to match the other’s slowing speed. Ahead of him was a solid wall of concrete stretching the width of the road with the top of a vehicle sticking up from behind it. “More trouble?” he guessed aloud, and Trevor shrugged, their bikes rolling to a stop several hills away from the obstruction. Reaching in his bag, the woodsman produced a monocular and looked through it towards their new obstacle. “It’s definitely trouble, although I don’t see your friends in white anywhere.” He handed it over to Donovan, who took it gratefully and put it up to his eye.


The wall was easily four feet high, and the suv behind it, or at least it looked like an SUV to him, was rocking back and forth with signs of occupation. To either side were what looked to be armed guards, complete with the standard issue non-lethal firearms that law enforcement carried by requirement. He lowered the monocular for a moment and considered the implications of government involvement, then raised it slowly back up.


Would they even have a chance if this was happening from within? What would that mean for the Naval command they were chasing down? “Trevor, if these guys are police, what does that leave us? If we don’t even have the law on our side?” He went to hand back the monocular and looked around when nobody grabbed it.


Trevor was already stamping down a rusted fence line and was haphazardly preparing his bike with camouflage to stash in the brush. “We’ll just have to make a side then,” he called over his shoulder, so Donovan stepped off his bike and wheeled it over and through the newly finished gap. “Oh, after you,” came Trevor’s sarcasm, still light in spirits compared to his cleaver-bearing comrade.

“Just drag the damn thing in here and let’s scout a bit closer,” he shot back, and they moved deep within the brushline to lay over their bikes, spreading dead branches from a nearby collection of oaks on top to help assure their safety from discovery. With a cursory look from several angles, they moved on towards the blockade well away from the road. As they moved closer and topped the final hill, the wind whipping at their blanket cloaks and sending the light rain stinging into their faces, the closer of the two guards standing alongside the wall looked up.


He looked right at Donovan, or it felt that way anyhow. And as the armed guard peered from beneath a black helmet into his very soul, they did the only thing they could. They froze, as still as the rabbits they had passed as they crawled and slid around the lowest limbs of whitebrush and mesquite to get as close as they’d come to the two guards. For a long moment he stared, and for much longer they did not move, but eventually he turned back and looked off into some other dim nook in the miserable wet of their outpost. “We need to find out what’s in that van,” Trevor whispered, and without so much as a nod they continued forward, crawling on their bellies now in fear of being spotted.


After what seemed like an eternity, they came close enough to see over and into the SUV. It was heavily tinted, which didn’t lend to their efforts, but they were high enough up to see within the open sunroof, and within to the dull glint of white rubber. Donovan’s heart sank. Again? How would they get to Houston on foot? Because surely they were in no shape to take on another one or more of those glass-faced nightmares. He looked over at Trevor and nodded his head in the direction they’d come. He nodded the same way, and together they began to pick their way back through the soaked underbrush towards their bikes.


They had just topped the first hill when they heard shouting, and when they turned the same guard who’d almost seen them earlier was advancing on them, and fast. Not good. He couldn’t see them, could he? They were so careful, they went back the exact same way they’d come… the way that nearly got them spotted on this very hill?


Donovan and Trevor froze, as still as the rabbits they had passed as they crawled and slid around the lowest limbs of whitebrush and mesquite to get this far.

The Bradley Method of Civilian and Military Fence in Modern Close Quarters Combat, or SHTF Swordplay: A Practical Design

Prologue

Often, in the throes of discussion amid my fellow martial artists, the topic of obsolescence is mentioned in passing. It is often stated, even and especially by its own practitioners, that the sword has no place in today’s physical confrontations. With the relatively recent addition of semi- and fully-automatic firearms into the fray of humanity’s homicidal arsenal, suddenly close combat with a melee weapon above a foot or so in length seems utterly impractical to the modern warrior. 

While this may be commonplace for modern warfare, where multiple guns and plentiful rounds combine in many cases with as much firepower in each member of a given group, long-term survival in a potentially hostile environment requires much more respect for the relative scarcity of ammunition and the value of well-working firearms in more pressing scenarios than those better handled with a more expendable, or more appropriately less-ably expendable, weapon.

In the days of bows and muskets, and I’ll add here a cursory reminder that those particular projectile devices will stand the test of the harsher times of our societies as well, the sword was always on one’s person should the need for personal combat arise. When a musketeer would pull his gun, a fencer had a small grace period in which to cover ground and land a strike that would leave the opponent disabled before he could fire or reload. When a bowman would loose his arrows, a shield was used, or cover was taken, or sometimes arrows were even swatted away as a swordsman covered ground towards the assailant. When faced with an armoured opponent that could not be felled by projectiles, or put in a position to make use of the sword preferable (whether due to a lack of resources, need for slience, proximity, etc.), one would close and strike to the weak areas of his adversary’s armor or, if it came to it, effectively bash the opponent into submission.


Even in more recent conflict, after the invention of rapid-fire guns, when an officer’s firearm was out of rounds or out of reach he would bring forth his sabre to dispatch enemies at close range. And while bows did not penetrate plate armor well and muskets were inherently weak compared to their modern brethren, these two projectile weapons alone have already comprised for centuries what we’ve only recently implied is the end of melee-based weapons combat – long-ranged, fast paced firepower. 


And why? Because the seeming abundance of ammunition and apparent infallibility of modern mechanics forever negates the need for close-quarters combat? Because personal defense is now useless in the face of ever-evolving heavier weapons and our swords useless against modern armor? Because the availability of firearms for the average person seems to trump any merit to the longer blades we’ve held as a final resort for thousands of years against any and every insurgence into our homes and countries?


I protest this, as the previous paragraphs have likely made clear, and consider it nothing more than a fallacy bred by our short-term complacency and fostered into common philosophy by our short-sighted nature. Whether it be the guns that misfire or the rounds that run out, the peace that never lasts or the last piece that makes the whole crumble, melee combat has been, is, and always will be an integral part of dealing with hostility and therefore life on this cosmic rock overrun with it. Within that realm of melee combat, the sword has consistently proven itself an affordable, useful, and irreplaceable item in the inventory of self preservation. It is from this perspective of practical application in modern context that I present, in its initial but eventually complete form, this hybridized method of fence in the single-handed and two-handed sword for use in close quarters combat.


In dedication to all the generous masters of fence, to the motivated scholars of their lives’ work, and to the inseparable and insurmountable members of SJD,


     – Alfred Ochs

Dystopian Address #1: Choose Your Friends Wisely

Part Two (2/3)

Donovan stopped long enough to double over and succumb to his nausea. He felt alone. He felt helpless. He was lost, cast into a panic by some… thing… He wasn’t sure what. Or why, for that matter, was it chasing him? What the hell happened to everyone? Was that even an earthquake?

It was raining so hard he could barely bother to consider the possibilities, trudging foot over foot through the buckskin tan of gravel and mud that had replaced the upheaved pathway he’d chosen to follow. The running muck covered his feet past his ankles and was bitterly cold, and the longer he walked the less sure he was of his decision to abandon food and shelter and the familiar surroundings of his complex to strike out through the woods. What kind of madness had put him here?


It had seemed the only feasible option at the time, what with the rubber man thing chasing him down while everyone stalked like zombies towards some unknown destination or ran like cowards into the waiting arms of others like his fallen adversary. Now, however, as he fought to stop his body from shaking and failed to pick his way through the darkened, rain-battered trails that seemed so much more obvious in dry daylight, he couldn’t push away the building dread of defeat. His bones ached and his muscles spasmed, and then his legs finally gave way.


Donovan leaned against the face of a large rock, a familiar trail marker he’d passed several times in his attempts to find a way forward through the haze. He was drowsy, he realized, and thought he could remember something about avoiding sleep in these exact situations. He also thought he could care less about what he’d heard, that his body was telling him what it needed, and he curled up against the rain and closed his eyes. Even through the pounding turmoil of the storm, he found peace and drifted quickly away to sleep.


***


“Ahh, we’re awake, are we?” Donovan heard the voice like it was spoken in a cave, the echo and painful boom of it rocking his senses unpleasantly and leaving his head at a steady throb. He tried to look around and saw only fog, a blur and some specs of light. “Wasn’t sure I’d be hearing anything out of you after the way I found you.”


That voice again. That echo. He looked around more, testing his neck and then propping himself up gingerly to stare in the direction of the speaker. “Where am I?” Donovan managed, a hoarse and cracking slur of words which he barely recognized.


“Who is that?” His eyes were focusing now, and his wits were returning too, though the pain in his head remained. The face he saw, younger than it seemed it should be for the size of the wiry beard it was buried beneath, showed the wrinkles of a smile.


Donovan sighed deeply, feeling at least relieved of this man’s intent, and decided to submit to the exhaustion and pain’s demand that he lay back down. “Thank you,” he said after a long silence. The other man chuckled a bit and pushed a waterskin into Donovan’s hands. “You’ll be needing that,” came the painful reply. Donovan worked himself back into a prone position, supporting his weight on his elbows, and drank greedily. He didn’t intend to. But when the first drops of water hit his mouth he couldn’t stop himself, and he drained nearly the entire skin before returning sheepishly.


“Sorry,” he said quietly, still choking on the dryness in his throat. “I’m Dono-,” his voice faltered, and he attempted to cough his voice clear. “I’m Donovan,” he finished. A hand stretched his way, gnarled and tan for someone as young as the face he’d seen moments earlier. He took it gratefully and rolled halfway back over with the effort, coughing more and laughing in vein contempt of his own misfortune. “Trevor,” came the reply, “And I’m glad to meet you, Donno.” He smiled wryly beneath his bushy beard. “Or at least I am now that I know your corpse won’t be stinking up my cabin.” Trevor winked and gestured lavishly with his hands.


Donovan looked around him then, and saw that he wasn’t in the horrible cave of steel it had sounded like upon waking, but rather he laid on a table in the middle of a warm, wood-beam cabin that smelled of garlic and rum and glowed faintly from candles and a stoked fire. “Welcome,” he heard the bearded man say, and he felt tears of relief well up behind his eyes. Behind him, through the windows, a dark blue sky poured steady rain over the treetops that barely revealed the Austin skyline in the distance. He’d come further than he thought.


He looked up, choking back an uncomfortable show of emotion in front of this new person. “Trevor,” he managed evenly, his look grave, “something terrible’s happened.”

“That earthquake, or I think it was an earthquake…” Donovan thought he must sound like a chittering fool. “That shudder threw the whole city into chaos. Have you seen anything on the news? Radio? No web reports?”

Trevor looked at him grimly and shook his head. “No television. No internet either.” Donovan was feeling better about sounding foolish already. “I’ve heard some unsavory back and forth on the CB,” Trevor continued, pointing to a desk in the cabin’s corner with a large, multi-knobbed machine, a few pairs of headphones, and several microphones. “Nothing specific though, just chatter to a fro. Initiate this, code that. Go, go, go.” He smiled as if that meant something. Donovan was sure it must.

“So?” He asked impatiently when no further response came. “Easy Donno,” Trevor said, leaving back into his chair and handing over the waterskin refilled and cold. “It sounds like something we certainly won’t be changing by fretting, best we wait it out.”

The gruff looking man with the child’s face stood as if he were a hundred years old and stooped over the fire a few paces away. “Hungry yet?” Donovan didn’t even hear the entire question. The instant Trevor had removed the lid from whatever was boiling over the low flames, Donovan’s stomach revealed itself to be in great need. “Please,” he managed, and sat up fully to move off the table.

The walls of the small, one room cabin were covered in cans, tools, gadgets, and various trinkets all synonymous with one particular breed of crazy in this globally-centralized world, and Donovan invariably guessed his chances at running for it when his mind uttered the word. Prepper. Of all the various brands of Texan that could have stumbled upon him in his moment of weakness, in all the remote places he could have wandered off to die, amid all the unconceivable havocs that could befall a place at one time…. he had to end up owing his life to this third generation nut job.

Preppers weren’t hated initially. Hell, most people thought it was just a bit of paranoia mixed with sound reasoning fifty years ago, the idea that one would take it upon themselves to prepare for the absolute worst. But, as politics took a turn for the passive side and nations around the globe demilitarized, it became clear that anyone who was still preparing for the industrial apocalypse was about as down-to-earth as the local chimney swifts.

Donovan put his criticism aside for the moment as the thought of food took over again, and he accepted the bowl of stew he  was given with what he hoped was sufficient gratitude. Thinking better of his musings, being as it were that he was saved by this nutcase, he looked at Trevor’s strange leather and earth-colored clothing – like something out of a Terry Brooks novel – and thought to ask if his clothes were available. Of course they wouldn’t be, they must be soaked through, and so he decided instead to refold the coarse wool blanket he’d been wrapped in and seat himself gingerly on one of two short wood-stump stools.

Trevor, seeming to sense the awkwardness, moved over to a short bureau and began to pick through various vests and pants. “I imagine you’ll be wanting to wear more than a blanket,” he was saying, throwing clothes towards Donovan, who was pulling on a pair of tanned hide pants over green stockings, when the radio began to sound off. Donovan jumped up so fast his head sent him crashing to the ground through the bottom two rows of canned goods against the nearest wall.

“Get that,” he said, still struggling to stand with his new trousers half down and pointing a shaky finger towards the source of the fuzzy, broken sounds of conversation. Trevor hopped past the mess that was left in Donovan’s wake with a little effort and sat heavily into the creaky rolling office chair in front of the CB setup. “And do what now?” the prepper asked, looking amusedly over at the other’s vain attempts to reorganize the canned goods onto their various shelves. “I don’t know, just turn it up,” was the reply. “Maybe we’ll hear something about what’s got this town turned on its head.”


He cranked several of the knobs and twisted some small exposed screwheads with an old wooden screwdriver, his own leather boots and vest creaking under the stress of his frantic movements. The sound became louder and more fuzzed. “Trevor… Steve… ssshhh… Steve…. You th…vor…” Trevor picked up the small walkie mic and pushed the button. “Steve? Is that you?”


“Trevor… something’s wrong. The milit….sically captive on board. I keep hearing mass evacu… sent out to….” Trevor hit the button harder, as if it would make his voice travel through the failing signal and replied as best he could. “Sounds like you’re in a bit of trouble old man, do you know what the problem is? Austin’s up in smoke according to my new companion over here.”


“No, you’re losing them,” Donno was walking over now, rubbing his head and limping slightly as the signal began to fade off severely. Trevor glared at him for a second and went back to his fidgeting, remarking something under his breath about… ignorance? He wasn’t sure, as the voice that filled the speakers drowned out the insult and they both leaned in looking at each other, eyes wide and ears strained.


“Traveling… approx… 12 no…. due to…. Ccssshhhh.”

Trevor cursed and hit the receiver box, but nothing happened. It was just static. “Damn it man,” Donovan kicked at a can on the ground that had rolled over during his spill earlier. “C’mon, what would kick the food for, it didn’t do anything,” Trevor passed him with a rough push and picked up the can. “You’ll ruin all my stores at this rate.”


Donovan glared back at him this time, raising his voice as the voice over the radio kicked back in. “What do you mean ‘stores’, there’s a handfu-”.


bssccchhh Houston port… repeat, we will be… cssssss… three days…”


The signal faded back out and a long silence settled over the room. Trevor set off across the room without hesitation. “That made sense to you?” Donovan’s pessimism was not hidden in the slightest. “You heard the man,” Trevor said without looking back, piling up a few clothing items and a pair of rucksacks behind him on the floor, “whatever’s happening, it’s in Houston and it’s either starting or ending or happening for three days.” Donovan stepped closer and leaned in to accept the moccasin boots he was given with as much a pleased look as he could managed. Sick of waiting, he finally plopped down and began lacing them to his feet and asked, “So?”


Trevor stopped stuffing supplies into the two bags and looked at him, that already annoying grin spreading back over his nearly furred face. “So we’d better do better than three days, and Houston’s a long hike.”

Dystopian Address #1: Choose Your Friends Wisely

Part One (1/3)

As the leaves began to clump along the untended city sidewalks and the day became steadily colder, Donovan jogged rather casually towards the emptying skyline silhouetting the red-brick complex that housed his studio apartment on the outskirts of town. For nearly six months he’d had this bore of a delivery job, ferrying packages and documents considered too fragile for “regular” mail to and from various small businesses throughout the streets of downtown Austin. Six months and still he wasn’t deemed worthy of taking the company bike home. He frowned openly.


It was nothing special in speed or power, a small 250cc Honda, but it was from the golden age of automobiles, back when vehicles were highly customized and came from dozens of different makers. A light powdery blue with heavily-tracked wheels for use offroad accompanied by a loud growl and rattle from the engine and exhaust pipe respectively, it was a welcome change from the humming blobs of identical grey that peppered the slow-moving caravan lanes he zipped through on his daily routes. Still, it amounted to nothing special to anyone unexcited by such antiques, namely his employer, so to deny him simple commuting privileges was salt in the wound of bad pay and poor job security. Donovan shook his head. He hated thinking like this, all bitterness and stress.

As he worked his way down the final few streets and onto the dirt path, stopping at the iron fence surrounding his and his neighbors’ dwellings to reposition his backpack for the jump over, he paused. Did everything just shake a little? Had he felt an earthquake? He’d never been in one, so he couldn’t rightly know…

… Nothing. He shrugged, shifted his pack, and hopped over the rail, then landed roughly on his side as the entire ring of iron began to shudder. It was an earthquake! he thought, picking himself up and looking for a stable spot to hide. Then it was gone again, and Donovan was left questioning his sanity. What’s going on? That was definitely a harder shake than the last one. If there’s another-

He never finished his thought. The shaking, accompanied this time with a blinding light, riddled the very air around him and the entire world went white, then abruptly black.


***

When he came to he was alone. Well, he might as well have been. As Donovan’s eyes began to unblur to the dark, roiling clouds above and reddish hue of havoc beneath them, he realized he was surrounded by people, his neighbors and some others, but it seemed nobody cared to fret over his fate in the least. All around him they scattered, running frantically and shouting here and there. It all jumbled together in his mind as he tried desperately to force it to stop reeling.

He breathed deeply and stood up, walking up alongside one of them and forcing his sore body and reeling equilibrium to keep pace. “What the hell just happened?” Donovan asked, limping a few steps towards the nearest person and groping absent-mindedly at the pain in his chest. The back of a head he’d chosen to ask, didn’t seem to hear, and he furrowed his brow and prepared to make himself heard this time. “Wha-!” he was cut short as the head snapped around to look at him and he realized something was horribly wrong.

The way it craned and shuddered, like an old bird. The lifeless grey eyes hidden deep behind and barely visible through a pane of reflective glass. The strange, amorphous suit of thick, white rubber with it’s array of lights and dials and pads. Bad decision! His senses were firing off like a car alarm, warning and stress and an overwhelming need to run. He thought he might vomit.

He jumped up and scrambled the opposite direction of the lumbering creature, finding a small clump of fellow fear-stricken locals to fall in line with, and to his dismay the suit followed suit. They were all around them now, watching and waddling on all sides as if to mock his poor decision. After a long, heart-pounding, all-too-casual walk and more than a couple of sidelong glances, Donovan picked up the pace and finally split from the tiny group, ducking off the sidewalk in between blocks and climbing onto the nearest way up he saw. A final look behind him brought his heart back into his throat. Were they following the suited people? Or being herded even?

It was an old fire escape system on the back of a concrete housing complex, and, while he felt neither excited about heights nor sure of his footing, he didn’t hesitate to start the climb. His speed increased further now as he felt the separation from the madness below set in, and he had to skip three and four steps at a time to keep up with his momentum, grabbing the loose rails and hurling himself around from set to set of the rusted, degrading staircase. When the top was near enough, he jumped as high as his legs would let him and felt the reassuring edges of concrete under his fingers as he began to pull himself up.

A creak. “No.” He had meant to only think it but the words came out just loud enough to echo off the stone wall back at him. His breath caught in his throat as he bit his lip and looked down through the rusted red and brown layers of metal grates to find his newest worst fear craning its disgusting, vulture neck around and looking up at him like so much roadkill. It drug itself up step by step, steady and labored, and reminded Donovan of a number of horror movies he’d been forced to watch as a child.

He ran then, climbing up so fast his nails ached and sprinting at full speed towards the edge of the rooftop. Leaping onto the neighboring building’s scaffolding, he thanked the maker his mother had failed to instill faith in anyways and chanced a look back. Nothing. Thank God.

He sat down against the small cube that housed the roof exit, his back to the building and his strange predator, and caught his breath as best he could for an instant. Thinking it wise to move on, he convinced himself to get back up and keep heading for the next building. It was significantly easier to cross, so he did and looked for a way down. If he could make it to the woods a couple blocks South he could disappear in the trails there. He’d spent enough time wandering them to find his way out, he reckoned, and so he began his descent to the streets after a long, unfruitful look for signs of the suited man.

His feet hit the ground entirely too loud, he was sure of it, and he crouched as expertly as he could for someone whose experience in stealth lied exclusively in examples found in video games and old samurai flicks. He peeked out from between the dumpsters he’d chosen as cover, first left, then right, then both again several more times, then took off at full speed.

He was met rather promptly with a whack to the side of the head. His world splashed color and his temple throbbed. He looked to the source of the blow and saw only sparks again as his nose exploded in pain. He fell back, tasting copper and smelling iron, and he groped desperately, blindly, for anything to defend himself with. Through the reddish blur he saw the glass paned face once again, and he thought for sure he was going to vomit.

Then his hand found something, something metal, and he brought it around as quickly as his jellied muscles would allow. It hit with a tin-hollow ring of satisfaction, the man in the suit stopping for a second before drawing back his large baton again. Thung! Again he brought the large hunk of metal around, a piece of a gate it looked like, and harder this time. His confidence bolstered when the glass cracked and the hulking figure stepped back.

Seeing his opening, Donovan jumped into the thing’s stomach with all his might, bringing the massive, jagged gate rung in front of him. He was not as successful this time, his greediness resulting in another smack to the top of the head that put him on his stomach. He whirled around to his back, bringing the makeshift weapon in front of him instinctively, and managed to parry a fourth hit aimed again at his head.

“Unimaginative prick!” He shouted, and as if on cue thunder cracked through the silent street. People ran around them still, but there were much fewer now and they were peeking and ducking through the neighborhood like frightened mice. Above him, the sky had grown nearly black and rain had began its steady roll into the gutters and channels of the little suburb.
Always at my head, he was still thinking.

He took better stock of his weapon as they circled each other for an opening, his smooth crouched motions contrasted oddly by the other’s birdlike stalk. It was a gate rung after all, from an old tin farm gate. He noticed his hand was bleeding from the ripped edge he’d been grabbing and he wiped it clean. It was plenty sharp.

He grabbed it tightly once more, feinted to the left like a bad football player, and struck to the right. A hit! This poor guy could hardly see from inside that mask, he figured, with the heat of activity to steam it and a fresh crack spreading from Donovan’s first hit. He feinted the other way and repeated his attack method to the opposite side. The big suit was ready this time, and it took a step right into his path and arced a swing right over Donovan’s ducking head as he hit the ground and clawed out of range. “Not one for repeats, eh?” He grimaced, shaking off the close call visibly with a couple hops and a pace to the side.

He was invigorated, he realized suddenly. His adrenaline was going, his teeth were gritted so hard he thought they might shatter, but he could feel a crooked grin fixed to his face as well. He feinted left again, then attacked right. His adversary was ready again, stepping right into his path, but this time Donovan stopped short and dropped his raised club down hard with both hands.

The glass groaned loudly and he could see the crack split and spread across the oversized visor from end to end. Without thinking, without daring to pause, he came back up and heard the glass split again. And again as he pushed the butt end hard into what was now a rectangle of white webbing and fog. The resulting hole it left made a loud sucking noise and the eyes inside widened noticeably.

One more for good measure, a step back and a baseball bat swing into the side of the ribs, and the tall figure went down, his suit giving way to the sheared metal and squeaking eerily as the rubber settled into its new prone position with its wearer. The rain poured hard now, and Donovan spat blood and looked one more time at the strange outfit, then set off towards the line of trees well within sight after his flight across the rooftops. He would need to dry off soon, he knew, and that meant not straying far or for long. For now, however, it would be nice to be far enough away from whatever madness had gripped the city to decide what exactly it was he should do next.


To Be Continued…