On the Night of the Rocket, in the mountains of Belmont . . .
The Voice of Beasts
Purple streaked across the heavens as Lorenzo staggered over the mountain. Mist saturated his view, and a trail of violet blurred through vapor. He followed the light’s path as it burned above him, before it altered course and lowered as a distant speck. Then the lurid glare faded, but its afterglow still fell in shards of purple light, painting the sky.
The glow drew him, pulling him towards a sanctuary of light. Its trail was a road stretching out above him, beckoning him away from the mountain. Rocks jutted from the ground in random clusters. The only road to follow was the one above him.
He inched forwards, beginning his first reluctant steps away from Belmont, and the life he left behind. Each stride strengthened his resolve, and as the distance between Lorenzo and the city grew, so did the surety of his heart.
Navigating a way down the rockface of the mountainside strained the muscles which the mines had nourished. His tendons stretched as he clambered down steep embankments and clawed his way across narrow ledges.
The ground levelled, and a causeway wound a path towards a faint amber shimmer which danced over a gate. Everybody knew about the Gatekeeper who kept watch over the mountain, but he’d never pictured the gate that led to Belmont until he saw it now. He shied away from where the bizarre haze shielded the entrance, and took the road leading down the mountainside.
Dawn approached as Arrant Moon rose, reflecting the sun’s light. Day opened up to brighten the sky, and Lorenzo squinted through the onslaught of golden fire. His red eyes had never seen the sun. Twilight scorched his vision with disorienting intensity. He staggered as the world around him blurred in a blinding white.
Mist thinned until it vanished, the last barrier between the raging sun and his innocent eyes. The sound of water trickled across the flatland. A tree’s shade gave him a moment’s relief, and a shadow emerged in the direction of the water. He tottered towards it, feet dragging him forwards as daybreak fractured the world around him.
“Hey!” he called to the distant shadow. He flapped his arms. “Hey!”
The shadow sharpened as he neared it. A figure. They raised their hand and fixed a gun on Lorenzo.
“Help!” he cried.
The barrel of their pistol thundered as a bolt of blue plasma flashed. The shot brushed past his shoulder, whispering as it flew beyond him to strike a form behind. A body thudded to the ground. Lorenzo fell to his knees and turned to see a young man splayed lifeless. Plasma scorched his skin in burns and blotches.
But at the sight of the man’s face, Lorenzo fell. He shivered, pointing at it, his jaw agape. Staring back at him was his own face. A perfect replica of his own body lay dead on the ground before him.
Footsteps followed the shot, and the figure emerged from shadow. They holstered their gun and offered Lorenzo a hand.
“That was close,” they said. “It almost had you.” They hoisted Lorenzo to his feet, their face a blur.
“What almost had me?” Lorenzo asked.
“It’s a Mirrim. A mirrorbeast. Deadliest creature in the savagelands. It’s a good job you yelled, otherwise you’d have been the one lying in a heap.”
“That thing is a creature?”
The figure nodded. “A nasty critter. The only thing they’re good for is target practice.”
Lorenzo bowed. “Then I owe you my life.”
“Pfft. Are you kiddin’? You gave me the chance to shoot a Mirrim. If anything, it’s me who owes you. Where are you heading to anyway?”
Lorenzo shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m following the sky.”
“Okay. That doesn’t sound crazy at all. Why don’t we start with where you’re heading from?”
“I come from Belmont.”
“Belmont? Is that a joke?”
Lorenzo shook his head. “I swear it.”
It’s a Mirrim. A mirrorbeast. Deadliest creature in the savagelands.
The figure leaned closer and peered into Lorenzo’s squinting red eyes. “Well, would you look at that? A real-life Belmontian. That explains the outfit at least, or lack of.”
“What do you mean, outfit?”
“Your clothes. Those rags barely cover you.”
Lorenzo picked at the strands of fabric hanging loosely from his body. “We have no need of clothing when mist covers us.”
The figure’s hands rested on their hips. “I don’t know the rules in Belmont. But if you hadn’t noticed, it’s not exactly misty today. Come on. I’ve got a spare set of clothes in my skiv you can use.” They turned and slunk into the distance where the sound of rushing water cascaded.
Lorenzo tried to follow, staggering blindly. He waved his hands in front of him, shuffling across the plain.
“Are you okay?” they yelled.
“The light,” Lorenzo said. “It’s so intense, I can barely see.”
They appeared at his side. “Here.” A pair of goggles was pressed into his hand, the lenses tinted dark as coal. “We use them for sailing into the sun.”
He fixed them around his head and the light dimmed, softening everything into focus. The figure before him took shape. She smiled through thin lips, her yellow hair a mane of curls, and her startling blue eyes glistened like two hot flames. Clothing wrapped around her slender frame, hiding her body in oil-stained folds, and her waistcoat matched dark leather boots.
“Better?” she asked.
Lorenzo pirouetted to take in his surroundings. A river flowed not far from where they stood, and a machine that must’ve been her skiv hovered above the water. Behind him, across a flat plain, at the foot of the mountain where the mist clouded, lay the creature’s plasma-blistered body.
“Where is the tree?” he asked. “The one that gave me shade so I could see you?”
“The Mirrim was the tree,” she said. “It took a couple of seconds to shift from one form to another. That’s how it hunts. To match its prey, it becomes its prey.”
Lorenzo shuddered. “Why did I not hear the creature approaching?”
“That’s the one way to know if you’re dealing with a Mirrim or not. They make no sound. They can’t. Something about the way their skin changes means you’ll never hear them coming.”
“But I heard it fall.”
“Thanks to my plasma rounds.” She took her gun and kissed the barrel. “This baby’s never failed me yet.”
Lorenzo frowned. “How does it work?”
“The gun? You just point and shoot. What’s the matter? You never seen a gun before?”
Lorenzo stared at the corpse, transfixed by how easily it could’ve been him. “What should we do with it?”
“Let it rot. It’ll be a warning to passersby. Now are you coming, or not?” She raised an eyebrow and sauntered to the machine that floated above the water.
Lorenzo followed her up the rungs of the craft, the cold metal tingling his fingers as he hauled himself onto the hover’s deck.
She rooted through an old sack and tossed him some clothes.
“Thank you,” he said.
“No problem. You can pay me back later. The interest isn’t too steep.” She winked.
Lorenzo frowned. “What do you mean ‘pay you back’?”
She rolled her eyes. “Let me guess, you’re gonna try and tell me there’s no such thing as trade in Belmont, aren’t you? How gullible do you think I am?”
“The fire feeds all.”
“Not unless you feed it first. Everything’s a trade. See?”
Lorenzo rubbed his chin. “I have nothing of value to give you.”
“Not yet. But when word there’s a real-life Belmontian roaming around gets out, having you owe me a favor might come in handy, if you catch my drift.”
Lorenzo fumbled the clothes over his tattered rags. “I can tell you my name, if that’s worth anything?” he offered.
“Well someone’s got a high opinion of themselves, don’t they? Safe passage downriver and fresh clothes just to know your name. What are you? Royalty?”
“What would you give me for my name?”
“I’d trade like for like, if you’d accept those terms?”
“Alright. I accept. I’m Lorenzo.”
“Rosaline. But you can call me Ros.”
“Ros? That’s a short name compared to my own. I’ll take these as compensation.” Lorenzo glanced at the clothes he wore, the leather jacket and canvas sailor’s trousers, tucked into thick boots. He straightened the goggles over his eyes. “How do I look?”
“Like you still owe me, buster,” she said.
Ros stood at the hover’s prow and worked the gears with the grace and skill of an artisan. Engines roared as she slung the skiv around, and shot off down the river. Lorenzo toppled onto the deck. Spray rushed up the side of the barge, splashing over him.
Ros stifled a giggle into her sleeve.
Lorenzo peered over the hull’s edge, wind whipping his hair back. He staggered on deck, the motion throwing him from side to side. “What manner of beast is this?”
“It’s no beast. It’s my baby.”
“You said that about your gun. Are all your babies so deadly?”
Ros smiled. “Did you see those lights last night?”
“I can still see them.” Lorenzo stared at the purple trail leading across the skies.
“Really? I don’t see anything.” Ros shrugged. “Must be those pretty, red eyes of yours. What else can you see?”
“I see you. And this baby of yours. The land. And the sky. And a purple trail leading that way.”
“Towards Whitehall. It’s where we’re heading now.”
“To follow the lights?” he asked.
“Something like that. If you can see the afterburn, maybe your eyes would make a fair trade for those clothes.”
Lorenzo backed away, his face aghast. “You can’t have my eyes. Or else how would I see? Is this what the world is like? Full of people swapping limbs for finery and fetishes?”
“Pipe down, sailor. Your eyes can stay where they are. I just want you to show me the way. To the spot where they landed. That’s not too high a price to ask, is it?”
Lorenzo puffed a breath of relief. “I accept your terms, Ros. For what reason do you seek the purple sparks?”
She smiled. “Who knows what these newcomers might have to trade? Now, fair warning, this might get a little bumpy.”
Ros slammed the hover over the riverbank. Its pads reverberated as the ground undulated below. Lorenzo’s legs wobbled, and he gripped the helm.
Ros pushed him off the controls. “Keep those eyes peeled, Lorenzo. We’re heading into the savagelands. Quickest way to Whitehall. But Mirrims could be anywhere. Got it?”
They passed over the wilds of the savagelands in silence. But silence was the mark of the Mirrims. Lorenzo wanted to speak just to prove that he was still himself, but Ros hushed him with a look. She stalked the horizon with a predatory gaze, her hand resting on the hilt of her gun.
They passed rocks and the odd outcrop of grass, but could trust none of it. Not even the sand. Who could tell if a single grain was not a beast waiting for them, lurking?
In the distance, another barge ploughed across the bedrock and dunes. Their silhouette warped in the sun’s heat.
Ros nodded towards the craft. She placed a finger to her lips, and drew her gun.
The hover pulled alongside Ros, and she signalled with her arms to the captain of the barge, counting down from three, two, one.
She blasted a horn. But no blast came from the hover beside her.
It tilted to ram her and she fired a burst of plasma at the hull. Blue plasma burst like lightning across the hover as its metal shell writhed, morphing in and out of shape. The ship convulsed, and Ros fired again, before it collided with her hover, shunting it off course. Ros fell from the helm, and the gun clattered across the floor. Lorenzo toppled and when he rose, there were two of Ros on deck. He reached for the gun, and scooped it in his hands.
“Lorenzo. It’s me.” There was only one voice, but both of them moved their lips.
“Quiet,” he said.
Sweat poured down his brow as he glanced from left to right. Which of them is Ros and which is the creature?
“Lorenzo! It’s me! Use your ears!”
“I said quiet.” They both stood by the helm. “I just point and shoot, right?”
Both Rosalines nodded.
“Okay. You.” He signalled to the one nearest the throttle. “Step forward.”
They shuffled in front of the rudder, out of sight from the Ros that stood behind them.
“Where do I come from? Both of you point on three.” Lorenzo said. “Three. Two. One.”
The first Ros spun and pointed to the mountain in the distance. So did the Ros behind, at precisely the same moment.
Lorenzo shook his head. His hands rattled on the pistol. “Change places. You go behind, and you in front”
“On three, I want you to point to your baby. Three. Two. One.”
The Ros behind pointed one arm to the deck and her other arm at the gun he held, and the Ros in front frowned, pointing at their stomach. Lorenzo fired. The blast rippled over her body as plasma ignited her skin, charring her to a crisp.
The remaining Ros picked up the Mirrim and flung it over the side of the craft.
“Thanks,” she said.
Lorenzo’s shoulders relaxed at the sound of her voice. “You said your baby never lets you down. Does this settle our debt?”
She snatched the pistol from him and holstered it. “Keep your eyes peeled.”
“We’re nearly there,” he said. “The purple sparks gather ahead.”
Ros swung the hover in the direction Lorenzo pointed. They sped across the dunes, ever closer to discovering what manner of monster those lights had belonged to; ever nearer to where it lurked, waiting for them in the sand.
If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Frasier’s “Pillars of Smoke,” which kicked off the entire Globe series.
And make sure to check back Friday for Part 2 of “The Voice of Beasts” by Frasier Armitage. Ranging from the harsh desert of the savagelands to the glass towers of Whitehall, Part 2 is filled with a race, a brawl, and a chase.