Welcome to another installment of Left of Midnight! Part of the weekly reader series involving one of my novels! I’m thinking of expanding to releases on Wednesday involving my novel Mass Effect 3 ReImagined that I wrote for my wife some years ago. We were still reeling over the ending to ME3 and she was not happy about it. I certainly wasn’t, I can tell you that. But, that will be something I consider at some future point. So stay tuned for that and I’ll let you know.
Right now, though, let’s focus on the next part of this rough draft of my latest novel. I’m hoping to have it ready to go sometime this fall (which makes me wonder if I can get all of the chapters up here before then–but maybe this will serve as just a taste? Or, I can continue through with it and, if you are intrigued by the tale, you can just go and buy it through the link I’ll provide after those postings are up for reading! We shall see!)
So, without further ado, the next few micro-chapters of Left of Midnight!
THE ALLEYS WERE practically dark as Shōtō meandered his way through them trying to find the right location in which to meet good old Nindemus. Who’d been right about the transit network taking him straight towards the center of the volcano, of course. Not that Shōtō wanted to give Nindemus, or any of his cronies for that matter, any sort of credit in the end. He ran his hand along his backside. The extravagant shirt he wore (deep orange with a series of black designs embroidered across its front meaning absolutely nothing to him) hung loosely across his buttocks. His hand found the handle of the knife tucked down the silken pants they’d provided just in his size. Even the knee-high boots felt like a personal affront. Yet, the shoes were just too… comfy for his tastes. And he wanted to be angry and ready to kill when he met Nindemus for their secret rendezvous in the Odjemir Grand Chamber. And it was grand alright.
When he’d first exited the cab that had crossed through a network of tubing lining the cavernous walls of Farediin, he’d been greeted by the most astounding and magnificent sight of his lifetime. And he hated everything about it. The chambers, as they were, were the hollowed out interior of a volcano so ancient it was nothing more than a mountain now. He imagined they could’ve shoved the whole of Tōkyō into its interior and still had room for the fantastically ornate opera hall at the center of the place. From where he stood on the taxi port, he could look over the breadth of the great hall and see the darkened walls far off on the horizon rising up to the apex of the great volcanic interior. Oh, it wasn’t dark because there was no light. Far from it. It was dark because the light pouring in from the great chasm looking out into the world beyond and above sank the furthest reaches of his sight into shadow. Leaving only the bright daylight from the skies outside the caldera’s underside to saturate the interior in a yellow white glow.
Hanging from the great opening (and encapsulated in a cooper gold network of holdings and braces, steel-like girdles, and long balusters of thick metal rods the size of skyscrapers latched onto the encircling circlets holding the great thing hostage and attaching it to the inner rim of the caldera high above), was a massive crystalline structure that took the daylight pouring in, and scattershot it all across the cavernous interior so that much of the shops and buildings encircling the great opera house at the center would stand out like jewels. And, indeed, the roofs of each place glittered in a myriad of colors. Like a mine full of gems and gold and silver veins. An infinity of precious minerals that could satiate the thirst of every greedy human for three times their lifespans and then some. Could support every human colony and economy from here until the end of time and still have financial support when the sun, in its glorious death knell, snuffed itself out forever.
Shōtō hated everything about the place. Its glitzy veneer, its ostentatious need for recognition of its existence (it wasn’t alive, of course, so couldn’t beg for recognition. But to Shōtō it felt more alive than it deserved), the very fact that all these strange creatures lived in such splendor while he and his family was forced to subsist in squalor. It was the pretentiousness of an advanced civilization considering itself far, far superior to the races that called Earth home and played host for their secret society.
And at the center of it all, the great Odjemir Grand Chamber Opera House itself. A massive dome rising up like a plastic ball popping up out of the water with a piece of one side cleaved completely out of it so that the interior could stare up into the stars. And in the center of the amphitheater, a massive stage. Surrounding this sunken opera house, dozens of bleachers rose high up and half encircled one side of the facilities.
Not that it mattered, Shōtō wagered. One could probably hear and see everything happening in that opera hall from any vantage all across the grand chambers.
Of course. Why shouldn’t it surprise me that Nindemus would want to meet me in a place such as this? Shōtō scowled and begun his walk towards the meeting place.
He’d only had to use the map twice. He’d gotten a pretty good idea that he was headed behind the opera house and through several alleyways that would meet at a juncture somewhere deep in the business districts. Nobody lived here, that he could tell, but it could be quite busy during its peak operational hours. Which, according to the information on the map provided, was after eight PM on the weekends. Only three days out of the week in which to entertain themselves. How do these people manage to stay sane? Or is it that their lives are so full that entertainment is an afterthought? I hate them so fucking much! Nindemus most of all!
The rage and the anger drove him onward. There wasn’t even a thought spared for turning around and calling off this dangerous gambit. He wouldn’t consider it an actual option. No, for Shōtō, it was time for Nindemus to die a horribly painful death.
Not a soul stirred as he made his way through the mostly dark alleys. The light from the crystal above still cast the glittering dancing light all across every curved surface, every smooth floor, each glittering mosaic window full of colors of the spectrum he’d never seen. Yet he walked onward in a pit of his own rage and saw only darkness awaiting around every corner he crossed. There were a few moments where he thought someone was following him and ducked into a darker alcove to wait several minutes for any sort of movement behind him. Yet, he’d never seen anyone. Still, he was cautious as he made his way to the archway leading up towards the summit of a hill leading away from the opera house. Here, several side streets met and formed a circular well-lit juncture and open to much of the buildings looking down upon where he stood casting his gaze around.
The rest of the buildings rolled up the hill and towards the back wall of the great Odjemir Grand Chamber. Along the interior of the chamber walls, he saw several levels of construction, walkways, and shops built into the ragged inner surfaces of rock and stone rising upwards and towards the pinnacle of the caldera high above. Here, the sunlight was nearly blinding despite the fact he was in fairly shadowed fairways.
“Nindemus! Where are you?”
He kept looking around but saw no one. He was beginning to think this was an elaborate setup for reasons unknown when the voice behind him caused him to bolt forward and twist around. His hand went to his back and braced just outside his shirt.
And he saw him. Nindemus.
Standing with his two clawed hands held up in front of him in a gesture of calm. Twisted smile broad on his reptilian visage. He wasn’t wearing his typical military gear, though. Instead, he’d dressed himself in what looked to be a silver and sapphire colored brocade sherwani overhanging blue silken pants. And his shoes were practically slippers made of a dark blue material. His dark green face almost balanced the ensemble.
If Shōtō didn’t despise it so much.
“Shōtōsan, my dear friend,” Nindemus spoke. “Please, hold your hand. I would hate to be stabbed before I’ve explained just why I’ve brought you to this place.”
Shōtō’s mouth dropped and he froze in place. How was it possible that Nindemus could know he was armed? Should he play his hand now? Or wait until a more suitable opportunity?
“Will you hear me out, Shōtōsan? Or do you intend to attack me before we’ve spoken?”
“I, I have no idea what you’re speaking about!”
Nindemus let his arms drop to his side and his smile broadened showing the razor sharp teeth behind those hardened lips. “Don’t insult my intelligence. Or your own, for that matter. First off, why wouldn’t you bring a blade to our meeting? I would be disappointed if you hadn’t. Secondly, we have ways of determining levels of threat. You don’t get to be Prefect without understanding certain truths about the people around you. And, I’ve been trained in the military arts. In fact, I was, for a time, General of the Farediin Martial Forces. Before I had to bow out over concerns of… a conflict of interest.”
Nindemus clasped his hands behind his back and slowly walked a circle around Shōtō. A nervous trepidation crawled up his spine and Shōtō dropped his hand from his back and straightened to his full height. Nindemus only watched him in his slow trod. Near the archway, two of Nindemus’ associates stood watch but seemed in no real hurry to get between him and their lord. In fact, they didn’t seem really concerned about him or his motives at all.
Shōtō turned his gaze towards Nindemus and twisted with the man as he walked. “What do you want with me? What do you have to tell me? Be done with it and quick.”
Nindemus chuckled. “So impatient. Tell me, are you feeling… angrier than usual? Perhaps a little quick to temper? Maybe wondering why the whole of the world seems hellbent on making your life miserable?”
Shōtō furrowed his brows. “I don’t know what you mean. I’m perfectly fine. It is you and yours who have shown spite and anger. Not I!”
“I acknowledge that our first encounter was rather dubious. Certainly, it didn’t help that I tortured you to get at a truth you’d already expressed,” Nindemus twisted his head from looking straight ahead, and down to the shorter man. He let a laugh fall from his gullet. “That’s my bad.”
“Maybe things have been… rough lately. It is only our first day in the city, after all.”
Nindemus spread his arms out in a friendly gesture and looked forward once more, his steady gait in no real hurry. His voice low and lulling. “Yet your good friend, Avery, seems quite intent on chasing a little tail.”
Shōtō shook his head. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean.”
Nindemus quirked a brow. “No? Haven’t noticed him questing after a certain little birdie? One that’s caught his fancy? Strutting around like she owns the place?”
“Are you speaking about Er’ra Zel?”
“Oh, yes. I’m speaking of the Adjudicant alright. Does it not bother you how quickly he’s abandoned you to go and enjoy her company? Particularly when the two of you have spent months together trying to survive in the harsh wild environment of the island? And, just like that,” Nindemus snapped his fingers not looking to Shōtō, “he’s off, running after that woman.”
Shōtō sensed a deep welling pit of spite within Nindemus and the words he was choosing to use. However, he couldn’t argue with the man. Avery did run off practically the first moment he got. And he was completely dismissive of his concerns about her. Even so, Nindemus was a lying monster that deserved nothing less than death.
“Avery can chase after whatever ‘tail’ he likes. It doesn’t concern me. We don’t owe anything to each other. We did what we had to, to survive. Now, we just need the council to take us home.”
“Is that what you really want, Shōtōsan?” Nindemus placed his hands on Shōtō’s shoulders and a chill ran up his spine. He went to shrug off the creature’s clawed abominations, shake free those taloned weapons. Yet, Nindemus kept speaking and closer to his ears. “Do you really want to return to the world that cast you aside? Told you, you only had one purpose and one purpose alone? To die for a nation that no longer valued you as a person of consequence?”
“I… I’m Nihonjin… my Emperor required sacrifice…”
“A sacrifice you refused to stay alive, yes?”
“How…” Shōtō stared off into an unseen distance. There was an unsettling sensation perching on his chest. He thought he heard his mother’s voice distantly, but it was faint and weak against that of Nindemus’. “How could you know anything at all about that? I only told Avery. And I know he wouldn’t tell you.”
“Oh, he keeps his own council… on a lot of things, wouldn’t you say?” Nindemus droned on and Shōtō wanted nothing more than to just be done with Nindemus and get out of there. “But the True Word, on the other hand, well, it knows all and sees the truth sitting on your heart.”
“The what now?”
“If you’ll come with me, I’ll show you the way,” his voice soothed lulling Shōtō into a state of calm he hadn’t felt since… Since… before my mother died… “The True Word will never abandon you…”
Shōtō pulled out of Nindemus’ grip and turned towards him. “No! I won’t! I’m not interested in your false promises!”
Shōtō stared up at the tall creature and saw him as nothing more than a lizard in human clothing. He was lying to him, he knew it now, but couldn’t figure out why it’d be so difficult to pull out of the trance. He had to leave and had to leave now. Shōtō pulled the blade from his pants and tossed it to the ground. Nindemus watched this all play out with great interest.
“I’m leaving. I should never have come here. Never agreed to meet you! You lie! You’re a liar! A great reptilian monstrous liar! I’ll never give in to your smooth words and manipulative rhetoric! Stay away from me. Stay away from Avery!”
“And if Er’ra Zel has other plans?”
“I don’t trust her any more than I trust you! You’re all monsters and liars! Hell has brought you here! And I’ll find a way to stop you!”
Shōtō turned at that and raced back down the alleyways and towards the entrance of the Odjemir Grand Chamber. Nindemus watched him race away.
NINDEMUS SCOWLED INWARDLY but was relieved in a way. Shōtō hadn’t been interested directly in the True Word. But he did give hints as to why. Avery still meant something to him. Somehow. He would have to take measures to break the connection. And he thought he knew just how to accomplish the task. In the last moment, he saw something in Shōtō’s mind. Something that the master himself was intrigued by. The man’s mother. She’d been a stabilizing force until her death several years ago. And it was that force that was driving him to try and convince his brethren to leave the city.
Nindemus lifted a clawed finger with his right hand and motioned for his two guards to join him. They quickly came to his side.
“I’ve had a thought. Contact adjutant Prush’e. Have her join me in the operations lounge at twenty-one hundred. I’m sure she’s studying whatever philosophical works right about now. Tell her this is more important. History is about to be remade.”
“Sir!” the two saluted and hurried off.
Nindemus didn’t immediately join them. He clasped his hands behind his back, brought together his two armored lips, and let loose a whistle. It was an old tune he’d learned from his grandfather. One that spoke of conquering one’s foe through a simple trick of convincing them their enemy was actually themselves. He smiled as he did this and made his way through the streets in no particular hurry. Soon enough, he’d have all the pieces in place.
We come to the end of another entry of this latest book! I hope you’ve been enjoying the reading and feel free to go back and read previous chapters in the book if you haven’t already! I appreciate your reading and I hope you’ll come back next week for more of Left of Midnight. I’ll keep you all posted on when this will be available up on my author’s page.
Until next week!
~Timothy S Purvis
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