Outcast of Belmont
BY FRASIER ARMITAGE
Captain Ward cradled her head in her hands. She hadn’t killed anything in days. Not since she’d landed. And playing politics with these cities made her ache for a kill. What she wouldn’t do for a single snap of a neck.
But she had a duty to perform, and she couldn’t let a little thing like not killing someone get to her.
She rolled her shoulders, the tension assaulting her vertebrae. Even her hair wound in a bun so tight, it stung her forehead.
A screech through the intercom made her wince, and she held herself back from slamming her fist through the terminal. Achieve the objective, by any means necessary. She let out a deep breath. Just relax.
“What is it, Montoya?” she snapped.
“There’s a Vernon from Belmont asking to see you, Captain,” his voice crackled.
“Send him in.” Ward scrambled to her feet and brushed the creases out of her uniform, checking her lips still held their crisp purple shade. Vernon had been the only one on this planet who could’ve given her a decent hand-to-hand, especially with the muscles she’d felt beneath his robe when she’d teased a squeeze of his shoulder.
She needed to relax. Either he’d have good news, or he could do something to relieve some of this mission’s tension. Achieve the objective, by any means necessary.
The door opened and Vernon entered, bowing in his customary way.
“I wish all men had your manners, Vernon. What have you got for me?”
“I know a way into Belmont, Captain.”
Finally. Some good news. “You found the other Belmontian?”
“He asked me to give you a message. He said that Lorenzo of Belmont pledges friendship to the Polity.”
“And who is this Lorenzo? Anyone of interest?”
“Just a boy, Captain. But he is wise. He showed me the spot on the mountain where we can access the city. You can fly us there.”
Or a hike in the fresh air and a mountain climb might just be the thing to release some stress. “Could you guide us there on foot?”
“Is that an order, Captain?”
Ward’s smile grew until it strained her cheeks. “A request.”
“In which case, then know it won’t be an easy climb.”
“I’ll bring my best men.” She slammed the intercom. “Montoya, get Valdez, Johnson, and Ringo, and meet us outside the hangar in five. Make sure you’re cammo’d and ammo’d.”
She turned back to the Belmontian. “Lead the way, Vernon.”
“As you wish.”
Ward scooped up her gun and gloves, and they left together down the ramp. The other officers met them by a land cruiser, and Montoya piloted them across the dunes towards the distant mountain range.
They abandoned the cruiser and fixed breathing masks to their mouths before they strode into the mist.
“Here.” Ward pressed a small diode onto Vernon’s back, attaching it to his robe and letting her hand linger on his muscular frame for a moment longer than necessary. “So we can follow you through the fog.”
“Mind your step,” he said.
Over the barren rockface, they clambered. Ward followed first, and Montoya brought up the rear. Montoya was a good officer, paternal, with just the right amount of spunk to keep him wired without losing that level head he wore so well. He’d make a fine replacement for her one day. That’s why Captain Exeter had chosen him at the last minute for her crew.
The only person who didn’t like Montoya was Cookie. But Cookie couldn’t stand anyone with a food intolerance.
The light blinked on Vernon’s back as he climbed ridges without any need for the balance boosts wired into their suits. A sheer, fifty-foot drop faced them.
Vernon scrambled up using the thinnest of handholds, and the final bound took him ten feet to the top of the ridge. Ward followed slowly, maxing out her artificially enhanced grip, and as she neared the top, she slipped just short of the ledge. Vernon reached down and grabbed her arm, pulling her up as though she weighed nothing.
She gripped hold of his arm. “Thanks,” she said. Her hands refused to let go of the muscle bulging beneath the fabric. “What else are you hiding under that robe of yours?” she asked.
“What do you mean, Captain?” he said.
Her breathing mask hid the blush reddening her cheeks. “I mean, what other secrets have you kept from me, Vernon? About Belmont?” She let the rope fall and Valdez caught it, hauling himself up the final peak.
“Belmont is a cage, Captain. A cage of their own making. They say that segregation is purity. They have no interest in outsiders. You’ll have to be wary of the Council.”
“You mean, they won’t be welcoming us with open arms?”
“I doubt they’d welcome you at all.”
The others joined them at the top, and Vernon led them to the vent, which he found in the exact place Lorenzo had shown him.
“Down there, Captain,” Vernon said. “That is your back door into Belmont.”
Ward deactivated her breathing mask, and it snapped back, revealing her lips. “Nice work, Vernon. Montoya, take Valdez. I want surveillance on the city. And when the time’s right, I’ll follow you in.”
“Aye, Captain,” Montoya said.
“Expect a hostile response. You copy?”
Montoya drew his gun and charged the blast cycle. “Loud and clear.”
The two officers switched on their chest-cams and lowered themselves into the shaft.
Ward took a marble from her pouch and held it in her palm. It projected the feed from Montoya’s suit.
In darkness, he navigated his way between twisted metal, like climbing through a dinosaur’s skeleton. Eventually, he found a grill, and kicked his way through, emerging onto solid rock.
“I’m in,” Montoya said. He raised his pistol and swept an arc around the shaft’s opening. “All clear. Far as I can see.”
Smoke smothered the feed, denser than the mist swamping the mountain.
Montoya inched forwards. He crept along a passageway, and found steps chiseled into the rock.
“I’m heading down,” he said. “Valdez, watch your step.”
They scaled the mountain’s core on the smooth steps chiselled into its side. Smoke charred everything. Soot festered around them. Shadows loomed out of the smog, but they held no threat. A lump of rock here. A shard of metal there. Then a shadow moved in the distance.
“Did you see that?” Valdez said, his voice faltering.
“Stay close,” Montoya ordered.
They crept forwards, but the shadow disappeared into the mist. Footsteps echoed around them, pattering like rainfall.
They followed the shadow deeper into smoke, their guns raised. A faint red glow burned through the mist.
“Whew, it’s getting hot in here,” Montoya said. He crept towards the glow and a blood-red river flowed from between two pillars that loomed out of the smog, towering over the heart of the mountain.
Across the river, a metallic pounding rang once, reverberating around the cavernous chamber. Then it rang again. And again. Harder. Faster.
“We’re not alone,” Montoya said.
A clang struck behind them. Then all around them.
Sparks flew as iron met iron and shadows swarmed their vision. A form leaped through the mist. By the time the officers fired their weapons, the creatures were already on top of them, red eyes fixed on their faces, and they clawed the guns away and threw them into the river.
The creatures possessed human faces, but their snarling teeth and unbridled shrieks made them animals rather than men. The enhanced power of the suits couldn’t compete against the rage that fuelled the beasts’ strength.
“To the King,” voices cried around them. “To the King!”
A mob dragged Montoya and Valdez to the pillars and they plunged through an opening into darkness. A lift ascended. Gears whirred.
“Captain, are you seeing this?” Montoya said.
“Stay strong, Montoya,” Ward whispered into the feed. “I’m here.”
The lift stopped and they were thrown into a chamber where an iron throne reigned in its centre. On the dais, a man sat in a hooded robe, his red eyes glowing behind the shadow of his hood. Beside him, a woman sat quivering.
“Ophelia, leave us,” the man said.
“Treat them kindly. He’s alive, Brutus. I know it. Maybe they know where he is?” she said.
“Did you not hear me? Leave us.”
The woman disappeared into the corner, and she shivered, holding her legs and rocking back and forth.
“Speak,” the King said.
“Oh, mighty King,” one of the mob said. “We found these outsiders trespassing in Belmont.” They pushed Montoya and Valdez before the throne.
“Who are you?” the King commanded.
From Montoya’s chest, a blue glow illuminated the chamber, and Captain Ward’s face appeared larger than all of them.
“My name is Captain Ward,” the hologram boomed, “and I represent the Polity. These are my men. Who are you? Where is the Council of Belmont?”
“The Council is no more.” The man on the throne’s eyes narrowed. “I speak for Belmont. I am the fire.”
“No man is a fire.”
“Fool. What know you of fire? You appear in light and yet your flame holds no heat. There is no spark. You are an illusion. You are a myth, waiting to be judged by the true fire of Belmont.”
Captain Ward scowled. “Is that a threat?”
“Heed this warning. The fire of Belmont will consume you. It will purify you or turn you to ash. You cannot escape the fire. The time for our reckoning has come.”
The hooded king stood from the throne and picked up an axe. He ignited its blade and swung through the hologram. Valdez’s head rolled across the floor before Montoya fell, and the feed was slashed by his blade.
On the mountain, the hologram dissipated into smoke, and Ward stared at the mist, her fists clenched so tight, her nails drew blood from her palms.
That’s two for the butcher’s bill. And not by her hand.
“Did you know this was going to happen?” Ward yelled.
Vernon shook his head in dismay. “What has become of Belmont?”
“If it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’ll get. You said they built themselves a cage. Then let’s cage them.” She turned to her two remaining officers. “Johnson, Ringo, I want you to stay here and set up a perimeter. Nobody in or out. We’ll assemble a team and surround the gate. Let’s see how long they last without food or air. Vernon, you’re with me.”
“Should I not stay? Perhaps I can go down and reason with the people?”
“Vernon. Don’t be a fool. They want a war, and the Polity will give them one.”
“Belmont dreamed of peace once. The people are not beyond hope.”
Ward bit her lip. “Ringo, Johnson, you have your orders.” She snatched Vernon by the arm and yanked him into the mist.
Ward began the climb back down the mountain, retracing their path. Vernon followed easily. It had been years since he’d dared approach the mountainside, but the tricks to crossing the rocky terrain and steep slopes hadn’t escaped him.
His mind reeled from the violence he had witnessed. And he knew Ward was ready to kill anyone or anything to avenge her men. Her movements were lythe as a hunter, as if she were stalking prey through the mist. He waited for the climb to take some wind from her. When they reached a flatter plateaux, he spoke, knowing any time would be too soon.
“Captain,” he said, “I’m from Belmont. I’m an outcast, but not an outsider. Perhaps I can broker a peace?”
Ward whirled on him. “Listen, Vernon. Those officers gave their lives for the Polity. So don’t you dare think you can go down there on some kind of suicide mission and get yourself an easy way out of this. You hear me? Those people are savages, and we’ll treat them as we do all savages. But until then, you have a duty to avenge those officers whose lives were just wasted. So I need you here. I need you with me. Understand?”
“I understand, Captain. Duty is sacred. I won’t fail you.”
She paced the flattened path, her blood rising, death yearning to find its way into her hands. “Just calm down, Ward,” she whispered to herself. “Find a way to relax. To think.”
Achieve the objective, by any means necessary.
“What can I do?” Vernon asked.
Ward snarled, succumbing to instinct as she flung out her hands. Knives twirled in her grip. The first blow rang from where it collided with his staff. But her rage only grew. She swung again. And again. Each thrust stronger than the last. Even over the rough terrain, she moved smoothly, in her natural element. Ward and Vernon began to dance, the only music the knives ringing against his spinning staff. Their breath and the slide of their footsteps across the gravel punctuated the tune. She stretched her muscles, striking high, and then swooping low, making him bend to meet her glinting blades.
His hood fell back. They breathed deeper.
She slashed at his face, and he ducked, but lost his footing. She swept his leg, and he planted his staff, launching himself through the air in a somersault over where she stood. Her roundhouse struck air, and she pirouetted, facing him, their shadows growling through the fog.
Apparently, Belmont’s Gatekeepers knew how to fight, better than a lot of her Marines. But Ward was not just a Marine, she was a Polity SEAL.
In a flourish, she sheathed her knives. The time for finesse was over. Two of her men were dead.
Tears filled her eyes. Not tears of sadness. No, she had lost Marines before. Some of them better than Montoya and Valdez. These were tears of rage, she told herself. She unleashed herself upon the Belmontian with a force deadlier than any beast he’d encountered in the savagelands.
Vernon dodged the full brunt of her kicks and blocked others with his staff. She closed in and slugged it out, her punches growing sloppy, as if she didn’t care where they landed. Anything to vent the fire within her.
Vernon dropped his staff and blocked the lunges with his palms. Then he wrapped her fists in his own large, gloved hands.
“Fighting will get us nowhere,” he said.
She fed from his strength, finding solace in his touch. He leaned over her, surrounding her with firm shoulders, biceps of iron, and his dark cape.
She withdrew her hand from his grasp and reached up. He flinched, but saw in her eyes the smoulder of her anger transmute into desire. They breathed heavily. She pulled his head towards her and planted her lips on his.
“Shut up, Vernon. That’s an order.”
Guilt inflated her chest. She thought he had emerged from the fight unscathed. But she’d slashed both his wrists and ankles. Nothing serious. She had merely kissed the skin with the blade’s edge. But in a few seconds they would sting, and he might bleed into his leather gloves. Yet, she relinquished her guilt to the pressure of his lips, and surrendered to the fire that burned inside him.
To Vernon, her perfume mingled with the mist, intoxicating him. Swallowed by the mountain’s veil, they found comfort in each other’s arms. A flame ignited within Vernon, one that had long since died. He would never need to wander again. His heart became glass, and it took the shape of the warrior in his arms, an outcast no more.
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.
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
- “Outcast of Belmont- Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- You just read: “Outcast of Belmont–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “Bounty” by Matthew Cross
- “Feral Fields” by Jeremy Wilson and Shanel Wilson
Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on their way soon!