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The Queen of Cassiopeia was standing there as well, along with the disgruntled American General.
“Von Schtorr has been entreating me to provide an introduction. He has many particular gifts that are interest to us. And besides that, he is a physician. He has made the most passionate protestation about a wish for your friendship, Lael.”
“Only friendship,” said Von Schtorr. “I wish only to be your friend.”
Lael quickly, but somewhat condescendingly, translated for the benefit of the American General, who responded with an expression of gruff distain.
Cassiopeia took a deep pull on the cigarette holder between her lips, agitating the coal and making it flare. “When there is so much affection between a man and woman, they should be lovers.”
“Yes, the fastest way to put an end to it,” Trichmann retorted.
A wistful smile played upon Lael’s lips. “Not always.” Lael glanced to the Queen, expecting to find confirmation. The two women regarded one another as if they shared many intimate secrets. “It is a beautiful thing to stay friends with a man after he has ceased to be a lover.”
“But not as satisfying as leaving him broken and suicidal,” replied Cassiopeia with a laugh. She was joking of course, but evidently she had certain experience of what she was joking about.
“Von Schtorr needs to see our elaborate ruse up close. He’ll understand better when he sees how it is put together. It is a work of art the like of which the world has never seen before. And like any form of art, it plays upon the mind with illusions that illuminate the truth that lies beneath. Have you ever flown, Wolfgang?”
“I don’t like airplanes.”
“You have never been in my hands,” said Cassiopeia.
In the history of humanity, had there ever been a fighting force superior to the legions of man-eating flies that obeyed commands of their human masters? The jet black clouds massed across the horizon, their opacity bursting to aqua brilliance as they drew near. Their collective buzzing rose to a treble roar.
The tide of the war turned quickly as the irresistible power of the flies tore through the allied forces and civilians fled. Finally, the Fatherland had broken the dismal stalemate of the Western front, that absurd gash of trenches into which great nations dumped the fruits of their industries and the fruits of their loins.
Von Schtorr watched the babbling hysterics of terrified commanders and retreating troops. He tasted triumph through the countless mouths of his insatiable airborne legionnaires. Surely there had never been cleaner victories than the fields of polished bone he left behind.
For the first time in his life, Von Schtorr understood the glories of conquest. Battle roused the spirit. He came in touch with the values of his ancestors. But none of them, not his father, nor his father’s father, nor anyone in their long lineage of warriors ever enjoyed such an intoxicating sense of invincibility. They may have wished for it, or lied to themselves to feel a semblance of it, but they could have never truly known it.
Veringer and Trichmann remained to conquer Europe while Von Schtorr headed for America with the Expeditionary Force of the Central Powers.
He was ready to conquer the New World.
Hollister Congrieve lay on the flat of his back within the shelter of a Cyprus stand.
Orville Wootin shooed the mosquitoes whirring around Congrieve’s face, so that he could get a better glimpse of his friend’s pallor.
Congrieve pushed Wootin away. “Go. Find a plane and get the hell out of here. It’s best to split up.”
“You’re too weak.” He could tell by the ineffectuality of Congrieve’s shoves.
“I’ll be fine, just so long as you leave me all the cigarettes. And the lighter, too. My strength’s been coming back. There’s nothing like getting out of bed and into the wild to rouse a man’s spirit, if he isn’t the surrendering kind. And I’m not. No white flag for me unless it’s a shroud.”
“Sounds like a motto destined to be an epitaph.”
“I can connect with the militia. If we split up, we double the chance of getting the runes to the defending armies.”
“Only if you live.”
“What’s your problem, Wootin?”
“I don’t want to give up all the cigarettes and the lighter, too.” He was touching on a matter that had long been the soul of their friendship. It seemed one always had the cigarettes, while the other always had the lighter.
“I don’t need a nursemaid. Give me the cigarettes and get going.”
“You’ll live longer without the cigarettes.”
“I’ll die for certain without them.”
The ordeal of arguing wore him out, and Congrieve slipped back into unconsciousness.
While Congrieve slept, Wootin watched over him.
The place was horrible enough. The very air seemed to be boiling, not only with overheated humidity, but also a countless number of small pestering insects. The harsh climate was cooking him and eating him. It was all he could do to muster enough stamina to chase the shade, but the sun seemed to be chasing the shade as well, and burning it away. Wootin would have been only too glad to take his leave. But Congrieve needed him, and Congrieve had saved his life more times than he could he could count. And Congrieve put up with him. No small feat.
Wootin nursed Congrieve throughout the course of the following week, while the enemy encampment grew. He slipped out of sight whenever Congrieve woke up. He didn’t want another argument about whether to stay or to go. To pass the time, he started smoking the few cigarettes they had left between them. Sometimes he lost track of how many he had lit. One burning cigarette might dangle from his lips, and yet he’d find himself holding additional ones in each hand.
The Corporal shot back, “We’ve been through this before, kid. I’m not going to risk the lives of a thousand men on a blind luck bet on faith.”
“You’re poisoning the land.”
“Ah, what the hell. Who cares? Let it all rot.”
One of the visitors slapped O’Deal on the back of the shoulder.
“Stop playing the fool with the boy,” said the visitor. He folded his hands on the table, and leaned close to Peyotr’s face. The rank smell of the visitor’s dentures choked the boy.
O’Deal chuckled to himself. He said, “We know your rune works, and its enchantments have the power to hold back the mystic flies. The way I see it, there’s no harm in juicing up our product with a little bit of magic of our own. You gotta’ understand, kid, folks aren’t going to appreciate and use nothing you give them for free. You gotta’ give them something tangible, something they can grab and taste. And you need to extract your fair share of whatever you can get while we’re all living in the shadow of death. This drowning swampland may not look like much right now, but there’s fortunes to be made here, once the war ends. We can kill all this grass with poison, get people to pay us for doing it, and when the war is over, we’ll cover the place with cement and tar-grouted macadam. Think of all the people who will want a home where the sun shines in winter. I can foresee growth in this area like you wouldn’t believe, and I’m not talking about palmettos and possums.”
Peyotr asked, “What of the beauty in the land’s natural state?” He regretted the question as soon as it left his lips.
“A businessman can’t worry about nature. Nature is what happens for free. And besides, nature is what beats the stuffing out of us when we let it. Resisting nature is where the profit lies.”
“I don’t intend to stay.”
O’Deal said, “You can leave anytime you like.” All the men found this uproarious.
Was this one of the elaborate intrigues of the Mysteriarchs? Was this part of that unspeakably ancient conspiracy, sinister and incomprehensible in its intricate schemes and counter schemes? The Mysteriarchs had the power to wring magic out the air by destroying things that were beautiful. Or was this something simpler and less mysterious than the Mysteriarchs of the Abyss? The product of greedy men following their own nature, though nature was something they professed to abhor.
From Twilight Patrol #2: Maggot Czar of the Everglades
From “The Tethers”:
“There are some things that not even the Lord of Heavens can change,” shouted Diego, as he lay down the cards that would doom them all. “Four Aces beats four Kings.” Diego Diablo!
A wayward losing bet brings Orville Wootin to the legendary Isla Lajana, off the coast of Cuba. It promises endless delights, and even perfection itself. But the island itself is yet another game of chance, full of odds that no one would dare to lay.
There was too much light and too much darkness, and those who saw it– or failed to see it—were blind drunk anyway. Despite the full moon, the Cuban night was impenetrable, for the sky was shot with painfully bright flashes of lightning which seared the vision and smotethe eyes. It was as if someone were playing with God’s own light switch. A storm had knocked out electricity all over the island. Apart from that which was wasted in the sky, there was no current to be had for love or currency.
Orville Wootin and some of the young pilots took refuge in a bar. By the flickering of candlelight and lightning, they settled in to play poker.