8FOLD: Mighty Medley # 33, October 2016, by Messrs. Brenton, McClure, Perron, Russell, and Stokes

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Oct 2 06:20:42 PDT 2016

-------------EIGHTFOLD PROUDLY PRESENTS-------------
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-------------- ISSUE # 33    OCT 2016 --------------
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-----------SAXON BRENTON--ADRIAN McCLURE------------
--------------- Editor, Tom Russell ----------------


"The Terrific Visage" Part 3
   by Drew Perron

Full Combinary! Ionic winds, solid light, and the coming of the sci-fi
holomatter magical girl that we need today!

"The Science-Blades of Terra Alter" Part 5
   by Adrian McClure

The wonders of the galaxy, and its mirror. The things a cat can see.
The line of the year: she has no stomach but she must barf. The
magical, wonderful, terrible words: "And then."

"The Gardener"
   by Saxon Brenton

The problem of a desolate world, and its solution. The principle of
the magical hammer, the implications of a polymorph spell, and an
inordinate fondness for beetles.

"Empress of Pages" Part 18
   by Colin Stokes

The one constant in a changing world, changed. The significance of the
violet sun. Boldness before the Pillars of Creation.

"Seven 'Gainst Thebes" Finale
   by Tom Russell

In keeping with recently established tradition, an extra-length
conclusion to our horse opera. The final battle with Jack Peake, and
its cost: one of our heroes falls. An oath that was never sworn. Some
things a man can't ride around.

----------------THE TERRIFIC VISAGE-----------------
-----------------------Part 3-----------------------
------------Copyright 2016 Drew Perron--------------

Okay, *this* time they were ready. Mackenzie stood in the driveway, on
her favorite rollerblades. She had her leotard, her tights, and her
visor, knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, and the special belt buckle.
  'Ready?' she thought, with a smile on her face.
  'All ready,' came the low, warm voice in her head.
  "All right!" she said. "Medusa Zero!" She shifted into a cool pose,
carefully balancing between back and front feet. She pulled the lever
on her belt buckle and shouted, "FULL COMBINARY!"
  The heart on the buckle came alive with green light. 'Physical
combination activating,' said Medusa. Little holes opened in the
buckle, and nanodust poured into the air, on ionic winds modulated by
the pattern of Mackenzie's bioelectricity. A beam of light shot out
from the buckle's heart, reflecting off the dust again and again and
again, coherent waves layering over each other on the quantum level
until the light became solid.
  The solid light wrapped around Mackenzie's body. Soft pulses of
bioelectricity shaped it into armor, and over Mackenzie's chest, a
shield appeared, with the face of a beautiful yet terrifying woman
molded on its photonic surface. Around her visor, a helmet formed,
faceless but with lines in the shape of a heart. 'Physical combination
  Okay, and... 'Mental combination activating.' Right. This was it -
thought parallelization. Mackenzie's heart beat faster. It was
intimate and powerful and scary, but she *trusted* Medusa, and she
could do it!
  Mackenzie stopped focusing and let her thoughts hang open. 'Affinity
ready.' She let go of her walls, and felt the datastreams of Medusa's
mind hanging around her like wind chimes, cool and crystalline,
inhuman and cthonic and lovely. 'Reality ready.' Their thoughts
spiraled around each other, and oh goodness, Mackenzie could feel how
her partner, her sister, her other half, was as excited as she was.
'Affinity ready!' And the spiraling dance became a person, a
character, a creation and expression of them both. 'Mental combination
  And the character spoke. "I am their curiosity!" She shifted into an
even cooler pose. "I am their drive!" She raised a hand in the air. "I
  The front door opened. "Mackenzie? Everything going okay out-- oh!
Well, hello there!" Mackenzie's mom smiled and crossed her arms. "I
see it worked."
  Gorgoneion pulled her hand down and gave a sort of little wave. "Oh,
um, yeah!" She bounced with nervous delight. "We did it! Full
combination achieved, ma'am. We're stable, everything's fine with no
perturbations and..."
  "Okay, okay." Her mom laughed and pulled her holomatter-encased form
into a hug. "You did a good job. Your father and I are very proud of
you." She let go. "But it's time for dinner, so power down, okay?"
  Mackenzie was ready to object; Medusa thought she had a good point;
the opposing goals tugged at each other, and Gorgoneion's combination
came apart, minds gently flowing back into their places. *Wow* but
that was a weird sensation, Mackenzie thought.
  "Okay, Mom." The armor flared with a burst of light and dissolved
into dust, sucking back into the buckle. Mackenzie clomped back into
the house on her rollerblades as the sun began to set.

-----------------THE SCIENCE-BLADES-----------------
-------------------OF TERRA ALTER-------------------
-----------------------Part  5----------------------
-----------Copyright 2016 Adrian McClure------------

Elaine lies down on her bed and closes her eyes as Antinea presses the
snow-white jewel into her forehead, the transmitter that will send her
to the other world. A sense of warmth, of peace, of bone-deep
tiredness washes over her. She is floating up, up, through a calm
ocean, free of cares. She opens her eyes, and sees herself floating
slowly up toward the ceiling. Can it be?--she looks down and sees her
own body beneath her. Instantly she's self-conscious--does she really
look like that, with her frizzy and messy hair? Allecto looks up at
where she is in the air and arches her back, eyes wide in confusion.
So cats can see spirits, or at least, this one can. How many times
when it had seemed like she was freaking out about nothing had there
actually a been presence in the house? Antinea sees her and waves her
hand, meeting her with her lovely smile before she, too, vanishes to
dust. Her soul has returned to her world and now it is time for Elaine
to follow her.
   She feels a current pulling her into the air--she wants to
struggle, caught in the riptide, but she knows the only thing to do is
follow it. It pulls her up to the ceiling, and she winces, but then
finds herself passing right through it with only a slight shiver. Then
she is past the roof, and rushing right up into the stars. Seeing
their light nearer and clearer than ever before, she bursts out
laughing, but in this un-space her soul is passing through there is no
one and nothing to hear her.
   Pulled by the soul-current she rises up further, the moon growing
nearer, half in light and half in shadow, its craters coming into
focus-- she can even see glimpses of its dark side. Somewhere in the
shadow there is a tower, and she shudders remembering the old and
awful story of that tower and what the Seven Wonders had found there--
but then she is going up and out, past Mars and its ruins, Jupiter and
its moons, then out through the edge of the solar system, to the
darkened reaches of the Kuiper Belt which astronomers have never
mapped, and then--
   The stars rush toward her at firework speed; her soul is yanked
through interstellar space. She has no stomach but she must barf.
There are flashes of ships moving in and out of hyperspace; lone
supergods traveling alone like her; interstellar lifeforms that float
like jellyfish through the dark. And then--
   There is the Kuiper Belt again, and Neptune, and all the worlds
that were-- but different. Before her lies the Earth and then beyond
that Venus, bright and shining and beautiful--she does not look
forward to what she will see in its place when she returns. She
hurtles down to the Earth, passing the moon in sunshine and in shadow,
toward continents that are similar but not the same as hers, down past
airships flying through the air surrounded by an aura of blue light,
and are those *dragons*?--and down to an island where lies a bright
brass city of Art Deco metal and stone, and through the buildings, her
soul rushes down, down, and--

--------------------THE GARDENER--------------------
-----------Copyright 2016 Saxon Brenton-------------

On a world far removed from the Earth, there was an old man sitting in
the dirt. He was contemplating new types of beetles. And occasionally
hideous and unspeakable revenge. (He had been keeping himself busy,
and sometimes his mind tended to wander between all his various
self-appointed tasks.) Around him were small tufts of new grass and
even a few spindly limbs of what would one day hopefully be trees. He
also had three captives, enchanted to be compliant but nevertheless
also stoutly tied up with rope because why take unnecessary chances?
   He looked out beyond the edge of the plant growth. Its perimeter
was only a few tens of metres away, and beyond that the landscape was
still a blasted and near desolate landscape dominated by dust red
earth and occasional scrabbles of blackened vegetation. Then he looked
at his captives and heaved a sigh. "I really don't know what I'm going
to do with you idiots." The three idiots said nothing, stared blankly,
generally acted like lumps.
   Despite the lack of response he began to lecture them. "You seemed
to think that just because I don't use my magics to seek power over
others or blast them with balls of fire that I couldn't do so if I
wanted to. It's a matter of choice, not inability."
   He looked back out at the desolate plain. And in that desolation,
other defiant patches of green that he could see in the distance. He
was familiar with them, since he had planted them. The old man's
lecture took on a grumbling tone. "I've been criss-crossing this
continent on foot for ages, planting new groves of trees every dozen
miles or so and placing some of my own life force into them to help
them thrive and spread. Has it ever occurred to you what *decades* of
that sort of thing says about my strength? No? No, of course not.
You're young and stupid and think that the measure of power is how
quickly you can destroy something."
   He stood, scratched his beard (he was enough of a traditionalist
that he wore a beard, even though it was short trimmed and hardly made
him look like a wizard) and gazed at the three silent warriors. "I'm
going to tell you a secret about planting gardens. There was a time
when this sort of information was common knowledge. Back before the
warlocks started drawing on the lifeforce of the environment to power
their own magics. Back before the biosphere was brought to the point
of collapse, and civilisation fell into barbarism. You ready for this?
Okay then.
   "Growing plants is the easy part."
   He looked suspiciously at them, as if daring them to voice dissent.
Not that he could reasonably expect any reaction, positive or
negative, and in this matter he was not disappointed. "Plants are
autotrophs, you see. They grow by taking energy from the sun. Once
you've got them started with a bit of soil that has nutrients pumped
back into it, just make sure they've got a bit of sunlight and water.
Best of all, they grow from seeds.
   "The difficult bit is rest of the ecosystem. I've got plenty of
seeds and cuttings. No problems there. I can harvest those as I go,
from the gardens I've already planted and the occasional surviving
remnant. But the insects and animals, that's trickier. Not that I'm
being an old grumblebum. Even with magical stasis and bags of holding,
I'm not really equipped to ferry around living creatures. But you can
work around these things if you're tricky.
   "Are you aware of the magical hammer principle? No? Well it goes
kind of like this. If I conjure a hammer into existence, and then use
it to hit my thumb, then when the spell expires and the hammer
vanishes, the bruising on my thumb doesn't go with it. Reality doesn't
give a damn about how my thumb got bruised, or what happens to the
tool afterwards. Now here's the interesting thing. The same applies to
polymorph spells.
   "You can make polymorph spells that are permanent, of course.
Curses of irreversible transfiguring, and the like. But for my
purposes I only really need to set the spell for long enough so that a
pair or group of creatures will maintain their shape to breed and
gestate their young. After that the magic can expire or be dispelled
and the parents change back to their original forms, but it won't
affect the offspring. They haven't been conjured into existence.
They'll be real, and will breed true."
   The old wizard leaned forward on his staff, a satisfied grin on his
face. "And I have some really interesting ideas for new types of
beetles that I want to try out on you three."

---------------- EMPRESS OF PAGES ------------------
----------------------Part 18-----------------------
-----------Copyright 2016 Colin Stokes--------------

-Your energy regenerates slowly,- the Library mused as Meredith
started to ascend the central staircase, -but it does; the opposite of
its effects in reality.-
   The daemon nodded, not bothering to move stealthily. The barrier's
destruction hadn't immediately drawn anyone's attention, so his
footfalls likely wouldn't do any further harm; and for some reason he
felt in need of haste, or perhaps more accurately he /wanted/ to be a
little bolder. 'The Wellspring sustains all things here,' he thought
in return - no sense revealing his partner to anyone within earshot,
even if he /was/ being bolder - 'but in reality, as you say, out of
its reach, our time is limited to the magic we are given.'
   -Then I shall continue draining you at the same rate you
regenerate, to provide us with the greatest advantage possible,- the
Library replied with a little laugh, -and we shall see how much I can
store before our time here is at an end.-
   Meredith stepped up into the Netherworld's twilight, leaving the
vault behind at last as he stretched his arms out expansively with a
sigh, and took a moment to look up at the black sun overhead and its
dull red corona. It was a sight every daemon knew, the first memory
they each had; and as such, something of a calming influence as well.
   Or it would have been, but the corona was now a brilliant, vibrant purple.
   "What," the daemon heard himself say, flatly, with the hollowness
of someone who has seen the impossibly absurd. He closed his eyes and
saw his partner's numbers whirring away behind them, and opened them
again. Still purple.
   -Is something amiss?- the Library inquired, without the sly grin in
her tone to indicate she was poking fun at him. Meredith explained,
   -The sun is... the wrong color?-
   The Library kept silent for a moment, then: -It seems our Empress
is unlocking the secrets of this world as we are traversing it.-
   Meredith stared at the sun, shaken to his core. Small wonder that
he'd had no welcoming party, then; doubtless the entire Netherworld
was in an uproar about the change. The sun was the one truly static
feature here - the world itself could be dug up and scarred and then
regenerated by the Wellspring, but that massive black orb was out of
reach of anyone and anything. Except it wasn't, not any longer.
   -Do not fear,- the Library whispered softly.
   Meredith placed a hand to his chest, and felt the metallic plate.
He inhaled, deeply, and exhaled slowly, focusing on the flow of magic
through him - in from the world, out to the Library. He hadn't even
realized he was starting to tense up.
   -Our Empress sent me to watch over and protect you,- his partner continued.
-You are her Legionnaire, and she will not abandon you; nor will I, no
matter what changes may come.- A slight smile crept into her voice.
-And come they shall. You will experience many new things, Meredith,
but not alone; never alone.-
   The daemon nodded, thoughtfully, and clenched and unclenched his
fists.  'And what should this Legionnaire do, then?'
   -Does this world have any... magical storage facilities?- the
Library asked, in return. -Batteries of a sort, for magic? Or perhaps
a place where artifacts are safeguarded? Either would do, as a
   Meredith's eyes narrowed in thought, and a smile crept onto his
lips; and the daemon began to walk. 'I have an idea...'

Four massive artifacts had been engineered when the Netherworld was
still newly formed, each identical to the others. They served as
buffers, to compensate for the Wellspring's output limitations. The
lower half of each one dug rootlike into the ground and drained it of
magic, until the upper half - a series of collector crystals, each the
size of Meredith's arms - was fully charged. At that point it would
lay dormant until the upper half lost some of its charge, often by
repairing a particularly grievous injury to the world, and then the
cycle would begin again.
   -And we are going to take those crystals?- the Library inquired, as
Meredith approached one of the artifacts, his journey across the
rust-red sands (tinged a violet by the sun's corona) nearing its end.
   'One way or the other,' the daemon confirmed. 'It is forbidden to
do what we are about to do - to even approach the Pillars of Creation,
truth be told - but I see no reason to abide by those laws any
   With an earthshaking crash, a musclebound daemon landed between
Meredith and the Pillar, a look of pure hatred in his eyes as he
brandished a pair of bone claws.
   -Is /he/ reason enough for you?- the Library inquired again, bemused.
   Meredith simply snorted. 'Hardly.'

--------------SEVEN 'GAINST THEBES------------------
------------Copyright 2016 Tom Russell--------------

   Gulliver watched Peake, standing and burning and laughing. "Well,"
said Gulliver, absolutely gob-smacked, "that's unnerving."
   Before he could think of what to do next, Peake shot out like a
bolt of light, a blur of orange and red trailing behind him, and
rammed right into the church. Suddenly the whole structure was
erupting in flames, and just as suddenly, Peake came out the other end
of the building. He was no longer afire, but his face were a terrible,
blistering mess, and his clothes reduced to blackened rags.
   Peake immediately resumed his search for the injun, rushing into
this building and that. Gulliver's first instinct was to go after him,
but then he heard the screams coming from the church. A mass of people
was trying to push themselves out through the smoke and flame. All
them folks wore some mighty fine duds, not your normal Sunday duds
(this not being a Sunday), but the real fancy attire, which suggested
a wedding. And though, being Protestants, the lot of them were
heathens, Gulliver figured that burning alive was an awful way for
them to go. With his control over fire, he could suck up all the smoke
and flame into his own person, where it would dissipate, mostly
harmless like. He knew from experience though that doing that would
knock him down for a spell.
   "Sorry, Hank," he said to the wind, who would, in his windy way,
presumably pass the message along, "but you're on your own."

Hank watched from behind the doctor's building as Peake ran amok. He
didn't cotton to it; it rankled him something fierce. But he knew with
a man as fast and as mean as Peake that timing mattered, and the
element of surprise. So he gritted his teeth and waited for the right
moment, and he watched, and he wondered.
   He had seen Peake twice afore. Once, when he took Celine, and once,
when he split Hank's innards with a hot knife in the belly. The thing
that struck Hank both of those times was that for the fastest man that
lives, Jack Peake weren't particularly in a hurry. Everything about
him was slow, calculated, and cruel. But not now. Right now it was
rage, and panic, and zipping about. No focus, nothing calculated, just
ugly, angry, and sloppy. Hank didn't know if that made Peake less
dangerous, or more so.
   Peake stopped for a moment, screaming for the injun, and Hank
decided this was as good a time as any to try and sneak up on him,
real slow-like. He was a couple feet away before Peake could sense him
getting near.
   Peake turned his head toward Hank, smiling malevolently; then he
saw Hank, and the smile faded. "You must be the shapeshifter," said
Peake, "I already killed the breeches."
   Hank punched him right in the face, sending him sprawling out into
a pile several feet away. "I got better."
   "So you did," said Peake, wiping the blood from his blistering
face. "You know, when I kill someone, I expect them to stay dead."
   "The way Ned Strife stayed dead, after you killed him?"
   "You shut your mouth!" Peake was suddenly up on his feet, and
running right at Hank. Hank had the uneasy feeling that Peake would
run clean through him like a living cannonball, and even with his
miraculous factor of healing, Hank weren't too sure he would survive
the experience. But he also knew he weren't fast enough to sidestep,
and further he knew that Peake, fast as he was, was going slow enough
that Hank could actually hit him with a backhand.
   Peake landed next to the split-rail fence. He gathered himself back
up, and gave Hank a bloody smirk. "You hit pretty good for a woman.
I'll give you that."
   "I'm more of a man than you ever were," said Hank.
   "I know what you're doing," said Peake. "Trying to make me lose my temper!"
   "Like you did with Ned?"
   "You don't get to say his name!" Peake zipped back toward Hank.
Hank brought his fist down when Peake came in close, slamming Peake to
the ground. Peake was motionless for a while, which Hank found
disconcerting. He was right to be disconcerted; Peake's hand flung out
with a knife, passing through Hank's ankles in that ghostly way. Peake
then zipped out of Hank's reach, leaving Hank with a sharp, hot pain
in his legs, which crumpled up like paper underneath him.
   "Got your tendons," singsonged Peake. "Maybe they'll grow back just
like your belly, but afore they do, that makes you a captive audience.
You'll get to watch everything I do to the injun. And when I'm done
with him, I'm going to find the oriental. You'll watch then, too. And
then," here his voice became shrill and high, "and then, I'll let you
live. So you know what it is to live when someone takes what you love
from you."
   "That's enough, Jack Peake." It was Silke who said it. He stood
there with Three-Nine.
   "That's enough, huh?" said Peake, amused. "That sounds like an
ultimatum. Like, I better agree that that's enough, and walk away, or
   "No," said Silke. "You ain't walking away. There's some things a
man can't ride around." He fired his gun.
   The first bullet hit Peake in the arm, but Peake became ghostly
after that, letting the others pass through him. Three-Nine fired his
pistol as well, the queer red light passing through him.
   For some reason, this irritated Peake more than the bullets did,
and so he grabbed hold of Three-Nine and shook him something fierce.
The metal man exploded in a thousand different directions, twisted
shards of metal hitting the ground, the buildings, the fence.
   They hit John Silke too. He let out a little groan, perhaps the
only little groan he ever let out in his whole silent life, and
grabbed at the hunk of metal that was lodged between two of his ribs.
Silke crawled in the dirt toward the split-rail fence, pulled himself
up into a sitting position, and began reloading his gun.
   Peake watched all of this with some interest and bemusement. "Why
bother loading your gun?" he asked. "They're all gonna pass through me
   Silke didn't answer. He finished loading, then aimed his pistol.
   Blam! The first shot whizzed through the air, and then through
Peake. Peake started walking toward Silke, passing right through the
split-rail fence like it weren't there at all.
   Blam! The second was just as harmless as the first. Blam! And the
third. Blam! Blam! And the fourth and the fifth.
   "One bullet left," said Peake. "I'd suggest you use it on yourself.
Because even the torments of hell that await a suicide are gentler
than what Jack has in store for you." He kept on walking, still a
ghost, still passing through the fence.
   Someone called his name, and threw something toward him. The
something caught his eye. He recognized the beat-up little ball of
metal, and it made him stop for an instant, and remember the words
Dash Adams said to him. In that instant, his body became solid, no
long passing through the fence but merging with it, his heart impaled
upon the wood. He was dead before the ball of metal landed in the
   "Pa! Pa!" said the boy, coming up to his father. "Are you alright?"
   Silke grimaced and held his blood-soaked hands over his ribs.
"Might be I need to see the doctor," said Silke. "I ain't concerned.
He appears to have done wonders for Hank. What was that, that you
threw at him?"
   "That was the bullet that killed Jack Peake."

You will be happy to learn that the doctor did remove the shrapnel
from between Mr. Silke's ribs, and that Mr. Silke did survive the
ordeal, though he had to rest in bed for a week after. He stayed in
the same room as Skin of Snake, who as you recall had lost the power
of speech after his encounter with Celine. So neither Silke nor Skin
of Snake ever spoke a word to each other the whole time they shared
the room, and yet both seemed very glad of the other's company.
   Hank's tendons healed over night, and he helped Silke's boy and
Gulliver gather up all the pieces of Marshall Three-Nine. They buried
him on a hill outside of town, alongside the remains of Dash Adams.
Three-Nine's mechanical horse seemed awfully sorrowful, but was
comforted by the boy; and this, friends, is how Righteous Silke (for
this is when Silke's boy started using that name) came to have his
famous mechanical horse.
   They buried Peake between the two Strife brothers.
   Once Silke and Skin of Snake were back on their feet again, all of
them that was left - Silke, his boy, Hank, Gulliver, and Skin of Snake
- rode up to Thebes Ranch. Gulliver set that dark place afire, and
they watched as it burned to the ground.

It seems like I been telling this tale for a good long while, seems
almost like I've been talking for the better part of three years. So
you might've forgotten that this story began with John Silke and his
worry for his boy, who took to killing like he was born to it (and in
point of fact, he was), and that Silke had hoped that this caper would
be his last one, and that there'd be enough money in it that his boy
might have a finer life.
   Well, there weren't no money in it, of course; it's hard to get
paid when you shoot your boss stone dead. And it did not turn out to
be his last job, nor the last job for his boy.
   But it was the last time the boy ever took a life. After Mr. Adams,
and to a lesser extent Mr. Peake, he never shot to kill, only to
wound, and only then to save the lives of others. His father noticed
the change, and it gladdened his bitter heart; he was proud of the
boy, and even though Silke never told him that, the boy knew it.
   Now, the boy never swore a holy oath, or told his father that he
wouldn't take another life, or how he felt about Dash Adams, and Jack
Peake, and poor Mad Hattie, and how that all changed how he felt about
   That wasn't his way, or his father's. Men were different then.
   Not better or worse. Just different. They had to be, because of the
times they lived in.

-----------------SEE YOU NEXT MONTH-----------------

Medusa created by Tom Russell & Andrew Perron.

All stories are the copyright of their authors.

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