Outcast of Belmont
BY FRASIER ARMITAGE
The Marine Lander’s doors whooshed open, and Vernon’s long robes trailed behind him as he entered the hangar. He left his iron staff by the door and paced towards the center of the vast chamber.
Captain Ward stood with one hand on her hip and the other twirling a laser pistol. Subtlety was for diplomats, not marines.
Vernon approached her and bowed. “You summoned me, Captain?” His face remained hidden in the shadow of his hood.
Ward holstered her pistol and smiled at the Belmontian, catching her reflection in the glisten of his mirrored goggles. “Vernon of Belmont. You’re a hard man to find. You know it’s taken me three days of sending messages through Whitehallers to get you here. Where’ve you been?”
“Is that why you summoned me?”
Ward raised an eyebrow and tapped her pistol. “You showed up out of the blue the night we arrived. We watched Kite Night together. And then you vanished into thin air, with no way to be contacted, despite the fact I made it clear how much I wanted an escort into Belmont. I just wondered what could be more important to you than your duty to the Polity, and to your city?”
Vernon nodded. “Nothing is more sacred than duty, Captain. But I have no duty to Belmont. Not anymore. So I can be of no use to you. It was in your best interest that I disappear, for I would only hinder your chances of safe passage into Belmont.”
Vernon’s shoulders shuffled in apprehension. “Because of my banishment. I may never return to Belmont.”
Ward frowned, her tongue pushing against the inside of her cheek. “But you represented Belmont at our talks?”
“I represented myself. I never claimed to speak for Belmont.”
Ward laughed. “Vernon, you sly dog. You know I’ve heard so many things about Belmontians. That they’re made out of fire. That they’re inbred mutants, allergic to sunlight. That their skin is so pale they make the moons look dark. But I never heard they were smart.”
Vernon shook his head. “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Captain. A true Belmontian would never deceive another. Not intentionally.”
“Then you really aren’t a true Belmontian, are you?”
His head dipped. “Not anymore. A pure Belmontian would never be seen outside the mountain.”
Ward’s lips curled into a smile. “I’m curious to know how many of these rumours are true. Why don’t you pull back your hood and show me that face of fire?”
Vernon stiffened. “It is forbidden to reveal oneself to an outsider.”
“You can’t remove your hood? Not even if I ordered you to?”
Vernon’s fingers fluttered in a ritualistic gesture. “I still follow the way of fire, Captain. But, like I said, nothing is more sacred than duty.” His hand quivered as he peeled back his hood to reveal his face. Scars tattooed his cheeks in a pattern of scorch marks.
Ward ran her eyes over his calloused skin. “Well, they were right about you being pale, at least. Still, I like a man who knows when to follow orders. So tell me about Belmont, Vernon. How do I get there? How do I get inside that mountain?”
He shook his head. “You cannot. The Gatekeeper watches when the force field protecting the city is lowered to allow supplies through.”
“It was the station I used to hold in Belmont. They monitor everything that enters the gate. It would be impossible to get past them, either in or out.”
“Not totally impossible. Take a look.” Ward produced a marble from her pocket and it floated from her palm, projecting a holo across the hangar.
Cast in pale blue, footage played of a skirmish at a restaurant. Two people boarded a hover and the camera chased them through the streets. Just before a pistol-blast fried the footage, the image paused to show a young man and woman.
Ward clipped her fingers together and zoomed into the image. The fractured pixels revealed the man wore goggles, the same as Vernon. Along the hangar wall, Vernon reached out and traced the faces of the man and woman.
“This was taken from a drone in Whitehall during kite night,” Ward said.
“The Whitehallers gave up their footage?”
Ward pulled the imaging-ball back to her and it zipped into her palm. “Not exactly. We monitored all of Whitehall’s drones during kite night. For security, of course.”
Vernon nodded. “Of course.”
Ward slunk towards him with panther-like grace, ready to pounce at whatever prey crossed her path. “Rumour has it that goggle-boy’s a Belmontian. So he must’ve got out somehow.”
“Not through the gate.”
“Then there has to be another way into the city.”
Vernon rubbed his brow. “If another way to reach Belmont exists, the boy is the only one who knows it. Why not summon him instead of me?”
“I tried. But he’s even harder to find than you are. I think he’s getting help to stay out of sight.”
“And you want me to find him?” Vernon asked.
“Not just a pretty face, are you? I have the feeling you know all the best hiding places. But I want access to the city, Vernon. I want Belmont to know we’re here.”
Vernon bowed. “I will find the boy, and if he knows of another way into Belmont, then you shall know it too.”
Ward grinned, placing her hand on his shoulder and squeezing. Her perfume danced through the air between them. “I know you won’t let me down.”
Vernon pulled his hood over his head. “I will not fail you, Captain. I, too, wish for Belmont to know you are here. Who knows what kind of fire that spark of knowledge may stir? When I find the boy, I shall return.”
He paced away from her, picked up his staff, and left the hangar. The door whirred closed behind him.
Another Belmontian had left Belmont. Did that mean Julius had failed again? His lip quivered at the thought of another outcast roaming the sands.
With staff in hand, he journeyed across the dunes towards the river. His feet had grown so used to sand, he’d forgotten what it felt like to stand inside the mountain, to feel the surety of rock and the pulse of magma rippling up from the river of fire. He’d caught glimpses of it in the Marine Lander. The dormant engine’s hum filtered through the hangar’s floor, reminding him of his post by the gate, before Julius’ scheme was discovered. If only he’d opened the gate before the Council had sent their enforcers against him. They were all so young back then, with dreams of harmony and unification. Ideals which abandoned him as he’d been forced to walk the sands alone.
Those first nights after he’d been forced out from the mountain, he’d wandered the savagelands, his robes tearing as Mirrims snatched at him. He’d spent his days wrestling unseen beasts and his nights wrestling the cold. His skin blistered as the sun penetrated his hood. Skycrawlers circled above, until he stumbled across the river, to Wildcat Fields, and the fringe of Westminster.
It was there he’d found a shard of glass poking out of the dunes. His first glimmer of fire beyond the mountain. He still remembered the day he built his first kiln, and the first ornament of glass he fashioned as he turned the sand around him into cups and bowls.
Nomads from Newlondon had stumbled into him, and traded his sculptures for food. As his craftsmanship became more precise, he sculpted them ever more intricate maps for their skivs. That was how he’d made the beginnings of a life, how the seeds of friendship with the outsiders had been planted, and how the harmony he’d dreamed of had in a small way come to pass.
Now, as he journeyed across the same desert, from Ward’s ship to the Elizabeth river, he trudged through his memories. They shivered through him like the shifting sands.
Vernon wondered how long the boy might’ve wandered alone before he’d found help. Whether the boy had been luckier than him. His help had come too late. His curiosity over the lights had made him a puppet of Ward. But it might not be too late for the boy, provided he kept the lad away from her. Besides, if he brought another Belmontian to her, she may not request his presence again, and he may never smell the sweet intoxication of her perfume. But he pushed thoughts of Ward away from his mind, as he focused on the image of the young man from Belmont and the woman on the skiv.
Vernon dipped his toes in the Elizabeth’s crystal water, and waited for the passing hovers which had fed him all these years. He collected boulders from along the riverbank and wisps of tall grass. Stones grouped together to form a kiln, and he removed the shard of glass which had saved him all those years ago, and given him the gift of fire. He angled sunlight through the shard, and the grass erupted in flame. He fed the fire until it was so hot, he could barely stand beside it, and then he tossed sand into the hearth.
After hours of working on the sculpture, and blowing air through his hollow staff, he’d worked the glass into the image that he’d seen on the holo. He let the glass cool, and flagged down a passing skiv.
“You need a ride, old man?” the Newlondoner hollered as they slowed.
“I need a favor. Do you know Oberon?”
The Newlondoner scoffed. “What Newlondoner doesn’t know Oberon?”
“Will you give him this for me?” Vernon handed them the sculpture. “Tell him that Vernon the Outcast seeks an audience with these two. I’m certain he can reach them, for one of them has eyes of blue.”
“And in return?” the Newlondoner asked.
“In return, you may keep the sculpture. The glass alone is worth the hassle. Do you accept?”
The Newlondoner weighed it for a moment. “Okay, Pops. You got yourself a deal.”
“Tell him that I shall wait here three days, and on the third day, if I haven’t heard from them, I’ll know they refuse me an audience.”
The Newlondoner sailed into the distance.
Vernon laid beside his kiln and slept. Three days should be plenty of time for Oberon to send the message. The old sea dog had connections up and down the river. Someone was bound to know of them.
Of course, there was no way of guaranteeing Oberon would send out the message. But he trusted his friendship with the man enough to believe that Oberon may feel a duty towards him.
All Vernon need do now was wait, and hope that duty would be enough for the old trader.
Night fell on the third day. Vernon had blown glass in his makeshift kiln each day and night. At first, they were just random shapes, but as the hours drew on, they came out more and more like the image of Captain Ward. He’d foraged enough to survive this long, but he could wait no longer. He stomped out the fire, and took his staff to smash his sculptures, when a hum droned up the river. A barge approached with its lights off, but his red eyes made out its shadow as if it were midday.
“Are you Vernon?” a voice echoed from the hover.
“I am the same,” Vernon answered.
“Then hop aboard. Nice and slow.”
Vernon collected his staff and his latest sculpture. He leapt in a single bound onto the deck of the skiv.
A gun pointed straight between his eyes.
“I mean you no harm,” he said.
“If I had a credit for every guy I’d shot who said that, I’d be a rich woman,” the Newlondoner threatened.
“I seek only to talk with the Belmontian. Look.” Vernon removed his goggles and hood, flashing his red eyes. “I am a friend.”
“Lorenzo, do you see anything?”
From behind the helm-panel, the young man from Belmont appeared. “It’s all clear on the shore. I think we can trust him, Ros.”
She lowered the gun. “What do you want with us?” she asked.
Vernon shuffled forwards and placed the sculpture on the deck. “I am Vernon. I was once the Gatekeeper of Belmont. And though I am an outcast, I honour the flame.”
“My name is Lorenzo. I never heard of a Gatekeeper by the name of Vernon before.”
“It was a long time ago. Do you know a Hoodsman by the name of Julius?”
Lorenzo nodded. “I heard rumours of him down the mine. They say he wants peace between Belmont and the outsiders.”
“And so do I. He was my brother once. I may have been forgotten by the mountain, but does he live?”
Lorenzo shrugged. “All I heard were rumours. Is that what you wanted to ask me?”
Vernon shook his head. “Did you see the lights that adorned the sky?”
“The Polity?” Ros asked.
“You know of the Polity?” Vernon raised an eyebrow.
“They’re looking for a home,” Lorenzo said. “They’re no different than the rest of us. If you’re here to convince us otherwise, you’re wasting your time.”
“They sent me to find you,” Vernon said.
Ros frowned. “You’re with the Polity?”
“Captain Ward of the Polity seeks an audience with the Council of Belmont. But she cannot obtain entry to the city. You got out, Lorenzo. How?”
Lorenzo glanced at Ros and back to Vernon. “Through an old smoke vent. The deeper they mine, the more smoke they produce, but this old vent was redundant. The smoke barely reached it.”
Vernon pinched his brow. “There must be hundreds of vents that lead to the mountain. But you say you found one that is safe to travel through? Can you show me where it is?”
Lorenzo crossed his arms. “I’m not going back to that mountain ever again.”
“You don’t have to. Here.” Vernon gestured to the glass sculpture. “This is the mountain. All you need do is point at where the vent is.”
Lorenzo approached the glass object on the deck and peered closer at the intricacy of its details. His jaw dropped as he recognised the path he’d wandered, and the ridges he’d scaled. “You made this?” he asked.
“I did,” Vernon answered.
“Then I salute you, Vernon. This is the entry point, exactly where I was when the Polity landed.”
Vernon memorised the spot. Not even the thickest mist could’ve hidden it from him. “Thank you, Lorenzo.”
“Will you take a message to the Polity for me?” Lorenzo asked.
“Speak, and they shall know it.”
“Will you tell them,” Lorenzo said, “that we are all the same. And that Lorenzo of Belmont binds himself to them in an oath of friendship. We are galvanised by one purpose.”
Vernon smiled. “I’m sure that Captain Ward will be thrilled to hear of your vow.”
Ros stood behind the helm. “You need a lift?”
“Can you take me to Whitehall?” Vernon asked.
“We’re not too popular around Whitehall these days,” she said. “I can get you to the city gate, but no further.”
“Thank you. Now, tell me of Belmont, brother Lorenzo. Do the pillars still stand?”
Ros threw the hover towards Whitehall. Lorenzo caught Vernon as he stumbled at the sudden lurch of the craft. “They stand as solid as I am on this deck. And yet, how I wish they would fall.”
“The way I do on this deck.” Vernon laughed.
“You get used to the way she pilots,” Lorenzo said.
Vernon nodded. “People can get used to anything.”
Lorenzo pulled him to his feet. “Even the darkness,” Lorenzo said. “That is Belmont, brother. They are so used to the darkness that they cannot see the flame, even as it burns before them. Is that why you left?”
Vernon sighed. “I left because I tried to make them see there was a world out here. That we had a higher duty which stretched beyond ourselves.”
Lorenzo nodded. “You cannot cure a man of blindness while ever he refuses to open his eyes.”
“We’re at the gate,” Ros called. The hover slowed to a thrum.
“Thank you, brother.” Vernon took Lorenzo by the arm.
“I hope we meet again,” Lorenzo said.
“May the fire warm and feed you. Both of you.” Vernon leaped from the hover and landed on the sand. Ros turned the skiv and it faded into the distance as Vernon vanished into the night.
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 Belmont stories in the Globe Folio series.
Check back on Friday, when we reveal the conclusion to “Outcast of Belmont.”
P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:
Act 1: Night of the Rocket
- “Pillars of Smoke” by Frasier Armitage
- “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Towers of Whitehall” by Jim Hamilton
- “The Beast Below” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross
- “Kite Night” by Matthew Cross
Act 2: Nights of Revelation
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Sands of Change-Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Sands of Change-Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “A Matter of Principle” by Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Shambles” by Matthew Cross
- “Interrogation” by Matthew Cross
- “The Burning Flame–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Burning Flame–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “Swift as Shadow–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “Swift as Shadow–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “Song of Thieves” by Frasier Armitage
- “The View from the Wall–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “The View from the Wall–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- You just read: “Outcast of Belmont–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “Outcast of Belmont–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “Bounty” by Matthew Cross
- “Feral Fields” by Jeremy Wilson and Shanel Wilson