More on the Epirian Scarecrow - A Short Story
Following on from yesterday's unveiling of the Epirian Scarecrow models, today we have a nice short story by Tomas L. Martin for you to read, describing a Scarecrow coming in to conflict with some Karist Enclave forces. This story is one of the earliest written for Maelstrom's Edge and helped drive the development of the Scarecrow model forwards significantly.
The Scarecrow by Tomas L. Martin
###Remote unit log, 10.14.206.27.15 Scanning... No target sighted. Unit in passive mode.###
"We've been watching the farm for four days," the acolyte said to the assembled cultists. "There's been no movement, no heat signatures, nothing."
"You're sure?" The Kaddar Alessi said. Even though the priest was the group’s leader, he was young, and nervous. This was his first mission. It was the first time since his conversion that he'd been sent to spread the word of Kariman, and bring more believers into the fold. This was his chance to impress the highest priests in the order. When Novrost Aikmann and the rest of the Enclave’s senior missionaries arrived to bring the glory of ascension to the people of Zycanthus, the Kaddar Alessi wanted to be there to welcome them, with a new congregation waiting to join the Karist mission.
"Nothing since the farmers went into the town," the acolyte said. He was a new recruit, local, ambitious. All four of the acolytes standing around him in the dark woodland were freshly converted, and from their demeanour the priest wasn't sure he'd won their loyalty entirely yet.
"And the food?" The priest said. "How much is there?"
"They finished harvesting for the season," the acolyte said. His face was mottled with the burns from his first cleansing, but the euphoria had passed. "But they haven't sold any yet. It's all there for the taking."
The Kaddar Alessi nodded, and began his sermon. The acolytes clustered around him. This part of the world, far from the major Epirian Foundation cities, was poor and desperate, and the priest had already found many more open minds to the Word than his first failed attempt in the city where he’d landed. He’d been thrown into prison for a week for preaching on the streets, and threatened with beatings. People there didn’t seem to understand that he was trying to bring them to salvation. Here in the country, there were more people who understood what it meant to have faith.
"This is our chance to secure a temple for our movement," the Kaddar Alessi told his acolytes. "We take the farmhouse, and we make it our own. From there we can prepare to bring the word of Kariman to the city. When the Angels come, they will be grateful for our diligence and devotion.”
"What if the farmers come back?" Direcca, one of the acolytes said, fingering his energy rifle nervously. The priest had only just begun giving them their combat training, and he knew that several still doubted the need for violence. New followers were often the same, it was only later that they understood that some would never be converted to their faith, no matter how wondrous or powerful the message.
"If they can feel the words," the Kaddar Alessi said, "they can join us. We always welcome new brothers and sisters."
"And if they don't listen?" The words were almost a whisper.
The Kaddar Alessi pulled out his own weapon, a heavy pistol he’d never fired before. The cybel canister that powered its shots glinted blue. The Kaddar Alessi looked up, where the approaching apocalypse stained the sky purple.
“The Maelstrom is coming,” he said. “They will meet their end soon enough. If they will not heed the words, then they do not deserve this farm.”
The Kaddar Alessi got the acolytes to check their weapons, and they fanned out, exiting the treeline and advancing across the field towards the farmhouse.
###Remote unit log, 10.14.206.27.30 Scanning... potential targets sighted, 5 signals, 423m distance, angle 243. Unit in ready mode. Chemtek dispersal unit activated.###
The ground was dry in the summer heat, and the remains of the farm’s crops cracked and crunched under foot. The Kaddar Alessi crouched low, following the acolytes as they ran low along the hedgerow that bordered the field. He glanced at the farm buildings, searching for signs of occupation. He’d got this far, begun to establish a foothold on this world. He didn’t want it all to be ruined by some territorial farmer with a shotgun.
In the centre of the field, something moved amongst the stacks of hay bales. A spindly grey figure, arms held out wide to the sky, rotating slowly as if pushed by the breeze.
“What’s that?” The Kaddar Alessi whispered to the lead acolyte, who shrugged.
“Just a scarecrow,” Direcca said. “A robot they use to keep birds off the crops. It’s harmless.”
The Kaddar Alessi eyed the scarecrow nervously, but it didn’t appear to be doing anything, its metal arms twisting in the air. It didn’t appear to scare the birds that much, for a few black-winged creatures picked at the freshly dug earth around the harvested field, taking little notice of the tired-looking robot.
“Ok,” the Kaddar Alessi said. “Let’s move. This will be a great step in the progress towards our ascendance. Shoot anything that resists.”
He stepped out across the field, heading for the nearest of the farmhouse buildings, the acolytes following in his wake. This would be an important day for his mission, the Kaddar Alessi decided. He could feel it.
###Remote unit log, 10.14.206.27.33 Targets confirmed, 5 signals, 132m distance, angle 268. Entering combat mode. Maglock Railrifle at full capacity. ###
The Kaddar Alessi was halfway across the field, two hundred metres from the farmhouse, when he realised something had gone wrong. There was a whirring noise in the air, and the acolyte to his right was suddenly not running alongside him anymore, but instead was flat on his back in the dust, his robes stained red. The others dropped to the ground behind the nearest hay bales, pulling their rifles around to meet the threat.
The Kaddar Alessi was not used to battle, and his legs had carried him closer before he thought to stop and look around him for the source of the danger. There was more whirring, and a sharp crack. The birds pecking at the ground took to the skies in alarm, squawking. Something whizzed past the Kaddar Alessi’s shoulder. He felt a sharp pain in his arm, and fell to ground behind a straw bale.
He clutched his arm in dismay, mind still not quite grasping how things had gone wrong so quickly. A bullet had nicked his bicep. He stared at the blood trickling from the wound through his fingers.
The acolytes began to fire back, their pulse carbines firing off bursts of cybel energy in a high pitched staccato. The Kaddar Alessi heard one of them cry out and saw the acolyte go sprawling to the dust. Keeping his hand over the wound, the priest clambered to a crouch and peeked around the corner of the hay bale.
The scarecrow robot stood about a hundred metres away, striding between cover on its long metal legs. What had seemed to be a harmless bird-scarer attached to its shoulder was now revealed to be a long rifle, and its odd, bespectacled head was filled with sensors that span to fixate on every movement.
Its gun cracked once more, and he ducked his head back into cover. The bullets crashed through the bale of hay one of the acolytes was crouching behind, sending him sprawling to the ground, groaning in pain from a leg wound.
The Kaddar Alessi looked back at the two acolytes left still unhurt. Their cybel energy shots were too distant from the robot to do any good, impacting harmlessly against its cover.
“We can’t do any good from here!” he hissed at them. “We have to get closer!”
“It’s got a bead on us. If we move it’ll get us!” Direcca, the local acolyte, looked terrified. The Kaddar Alessi pointed at them.
“If we all move together,” the Kaddar Alessi said, “we can distract it so that we can get close. You, go around that row of hay bales to the left. Acolyte Direcca, lay down covering fire, draw the robot’s attention whilst I approach it from the right.”
They nodded and began to move. At least now that they were under the stress of combat, they were listening to him. The priest rocked back on his heels, preparing to sprint.
Direcca stood up and blasted wildly towards the robot, seemingly not attempting to aim, just firing in the general direction of the scarecrow. The robot swivelled to meet this new threat, striding forward on its long legs, the gun on its shoulder spitting hard rounds at Direcca, who dived back to the ground. The Kaddar Alessi couldn’t tell if Direcca was hit, but sprinted out towards the scarecrow, pistol aimed at its chest. To the left, the other acolyte ran behind the stack of hay bales.
The scarecrow’s torso rotated quickly, and the long rifle barrel snapped once more. The other acolyte crumpled to the ground, missing several inches of his skull. The Kaddar Alessi was on his own.
The distraction had let him close the distance to the robot, however, and the scarecrow was facing the wrong way. He stopped running when he was twenty metres away, and raised his cybel pistol to aim at the rugged metal back of his enemy. His finger hovered over the trigger. The farmhouse was his now. Once he disposed of this nuisance, he could begin to establish his own temple, and ascendance would be his for the taking.
The Kaddar Alessi coughed, and the air swam in front of him. The scarecrow wobbled in and out of his vision. He looked down at the pistol, confused. He coughed again. There was blood on his lips. The air was thick with something yellow and acidic, and he felt like his insides were on fire. He had time to see the scarecrow snap round and fire three shots into Direcca before the Kaddar Alessi collapsed to the ground in agony, hacking as his lungs burned.
###Remote unit log, 10.14.206.27.36 All targets eliminated. No further threat detected. Combat mode deactivated. Entering passive mode. ###
The scarecrow’s rifle began to cool, and the chemical cloud around it dissipated into the air. Its head returned to its slow, patient rotation. The silence returned to the field, and gradually the birds flew back down to pick at the dry earth. As the dust settled over the five bodies, the scarecrow returned to its vigil, watching patiently over its land, waiting for its next target.