Neira to My Heart – Part 3

FictionFriday

Neira to My Heart  – Part 3

By Vicky Morgan-Keith

Part 2

mrrowl

 

“Get ready, arnt! We’ll see if you prove your worth today.”

Mrrowl dipped a massive paw into the stone watering trough of the staging paddock. He lapped bright droplets from his fur several moments before glancing at the Neiran looming before the barred gate. “You say that to every gladiator before every bout, Handler Fodrun,” he replied. Flicking his ears, he dipped his paw back into the water, more concerned with quenching his thirst than rising to Fodrun’s taunts.

The Neiran’s eyes gleamed. He chuckled softly as he drew a lanky aqua-hued arm across his face and chest in a gesture of reverence. “By the Firstmother Aoth, today, arnt, it is true! This will be no ordinary battle–even for the Arena Eviscorita!”

Even though he was a ranked representative of the grandest arena of all Neira, like most Neiran, Fodrun wore very little. A loincloth of simple cloth bearing the emblem of the Arena Eviscorita was belted across his slim hips. From loops on the belt hung both a stout baton and coiled whip Fodrun could put to use with great skill on any arnts who displeased him. A silken sash encircled his long narrow chest. A silver epaulet adorned the sash where it draped his right shoulder, signifying him Chief Handler of the Arena Eviscorita. Nevertheless, he gestured respectfully to the female guards before opening the gate to the holding paddock and stepping inside. Flicking his fingers dismissively  at the slaves who approached to lay the gladiator’s equipment on a nearby bench, Fodrun helped Mrrowl don his armor with his own hand.

“This will be the ninth bout for you, will it not?” the Neiran asked, checking the tightness of the straps of Mrrowl’s breastplate and giving them a firm tug. “You have done well in your time here! Druzh-Shaad is within your reach! If you survive, of course. Perhaps Aoth will smile on even you, an arnt, and freedom will be yours!”

“Perhaps,” Mrrowl growled, wishing Fodrun would be silent. A wave of superstition swept through him, causing the fur along his spine to bristle. It was not wise to bat at the tail of Fate. She often laid a heavy paw on those foolish enough to tempt Her. “I know only that I fight to the death as I have been taught. I will view the path beyond when that is done.”

He pulled the lacings of his metal battle claws tighter with his teeth, flexing his own claws as he did so. The weapons fit snuggly over both his front paws. Called Shre’ro’quo by his own people, the metal claws were forged from a special ultonium alloy known only to Shrinaar smiths. The claws were extremely sharp and almost impossible to break. Fodrun had gone to great trouble and expense to acquire them for Mrrowl, but the gladiator knew better than to entertain the notion the Chief Handler favored him. While the Shrinaar might cherish the weapons as a part of his heritage, Mrrowl knew to Fodrun the weapons were merely for show, nothing more. 

The Neiran made a last adjustment before he stepped back, nodding in satisfaction. “You are ready,” he said. “Come.” He waved Mrrowl toward the gate and walked beside him down the long tunnel leading to the far gate that would release the gladiator into the arena. The cheering of the crowd grew louder as they approached, swelling to a thunderous roar.

When the gate to the arena slammed open. Fodrun caught Mrrowl’s arm before he stepped through. He leaned close and spoke quickly into the felinoid’s tufted ear. “This will be an interesting spectacle, regardless of the outcome. Yet, succeed here, and with one more battle, freedom is yours. Remember that, arnt, and fight well.”

Mrrowl met the Chief Handler’s eyes, thinking how easy it would be to open the vein in Fudron’s neck with the barest swipe of his Shre’ro’quo and spill the Neiran’s life blood on the ground. He buried the thought, instead giving the Chief Handler a curt nod. Mrrowl wasn’t ready to throw his life away. Not yet. Not with his freedom so very, very close.

“Nine,” he muttered under his breath and stepped into the arena.

(To be continued . . . )

Posted in Fiction

Babes 3 in Progress

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Visit the Kickstarter Preview page.

We have the Babes 3 project set up on Kickstarter and will launch September 19th. Visit the preview page and select to be notified when the project goes live. Pics of the sculpts will be posted as they are ready between now and the launch date. Below is a sample of some of the sculpts in progress.

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part1

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KritterKins PreOrders

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Pre-Orders available until September 1st, 2016

Be sure to get your pre-orders in by September 1st to get all KritterKins at Kickstarter prices. Visit the web store here.

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Posted in Releases, Store

Neira to My Heart – Part 2

FictionFriday

Neira to My Heart – Part 2

by Vicky Morgan-Keith

Part 1

EdoUnderlingSpawnguard No Longer calmly awaited its fate. Absently running two tentacles along the cool sandstone walls of its dark cell, Spawnguard No Longer probed the alien minds it sensed around it while the suckers along its tentacles searched for weak points in the rock. It didn’t hurry. It felt no need to. It moved about with deliberate purpose, devoid of panic or desperation. Those feelings were not part of its genetic makeup, denied Spawnguard No Longer since it first emerged from the spawning pool of its birth long ago.

Its methodical drive was probably what fated it to complete its development cycle as a Spawnguard rather than an Edo Leader. Spawnguard needed to be physically strong, reliable, efficient, ruthless, and unfaltering in their protection of their fellow brood members. Spawnguard No Longer had been all these things and more. While a strong affinity to The Deep was not required of its caste, Spawnguard No Longer could activate its psychic abilities more frequently and successfully than many of its peers.

A member of the Edofleini, an alien race originating from a galaxy far from the Milky Way, Spawnguard No Longer had emerged from the icy grasp of stasis along with several others of its brethren. Ignoring the ravenous hunger resulting from its long sleep, it obeyed the psychic directives of its Edo Leader, joining others of its clutch for a mission to investigate a promising planetoid. The scouting party was to determine if the Edo could use the small planet to start a new spawning colony. Unfortunately, other creatures had claimed the planet as well. Tall, spindly beings with minds like iron, willful and resistant to the psychic intrusions of the Edo. These competitors fought ferociously, and the Edo, perhaps relying too heavily on their psychic connection to The Deep to ensure victory, were defeated.

Spawnguard No Longer saw its comrades overrun and slain. It, too, expected to be killed on the spot as well, for it did not relinquish its weapon, a mighty halberd that employed the Edo’s Arc technology. Spawnguard No Longer had brandished the polearm as its enemies surrounded it, their own weapons poised to fire. It wasn’t that the Edo refused to surrender, Spawnguard No Longer was unable to surrender. The normal bio-engineered genetic pattern of spawnguard did not allow them to consider capitulation. Death or victory were the only combat options their minds could grasp. Therefore, Spawnguard No Longer prepared to fight to the last. It opened a psychic link to its weapon, causing brilliant fingers of electrical current to arc and snap around the surface of the polearm’s blade.  As it did so, it realized with a sort of mild surprise that the thoughts of its enemies clamored not for its death, but instead were tinged with…admiration?

Before Spawnguard No Longer could make sense of the situation, one of the beings surrounding it boldly stepped forward, gesturing languidly with a limb as it did so. Almost instantly, the Edo slumped to the ground, darkness abruptly descending over its mind. When it awoke, Spawnguard No Longer had found itself in the cell it now occupied.

Its weapon had been taken, although it could sense the halberd’s psychic signature somewhere close by. It was punished when it attempted to assault the minds of those who first came to feed it and refrained from further attacks afterwards, content to gather its strength and bide its time. It sensed something was to be required of it. The thoughts of its captors fairly dripped with excitement and anticipation. The Edo could easily sense that much. Spawnguard No Longer remained vigilant for an opportunity to escape and perhaps retrieve its weapon. It would need to sift through these alien minds until it found one with the authority to take it away from here. The target’s mind would then need to be dominated and the being forced to assist Spawnguard No Longer to escape.

Hinges groaned as a barred gate on one side of the Edo’s cell swung open. Spawnguard No Longer peered into the dark hallway beyond. No one awaited it or blocked its path. The Edo moved into the hallway, seeing only a tunnel bordered on both sides by cells similar to its own. The floor sloped up a slight grade to another barred gate through which bright sunlight shone. It moved toward the sunlit gate, ignoring the occasional occupants in the adjoining cells. As it neared the opening, it increased its pace. Spawnguard No Longer’s halberd lay on the ground beside the metal portal. It picked it up, running tentacles across its smooth metal surface in an almost reverent fashion.

Spawnguard No Longer peered out the gate, its quartet of eyes squinting and blinking in the powerful glare of the arena. The roar of the crowd washed over it as the gate opened and it moved through. It required little effort to sense the overwhelming desire radiating from the multitude of spectators.

Kill!!!

It was a directive Spawnguard No Longer found much to its liking.

Part 3

Posted in Fiction

KritterKins Pre-Order

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If you missed pledging on our KritterKins™ Kickstarter project, you may pre-order these select items offered at the Kickstarter prices until fulfillment shipping begins. Visit the Late pledging section of the web store to order.

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Initiative Magazine #1

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The premier issue of Initiative Magazine by Robot Pigeon Publishing, the makers of Figure Painter Magazine, is now available. This issue features an article written by Patrick Keith covering our pulp sci-fi adventure skirmish game Counterblast.

Posted in Counterblast, News

Neira to My Heart – Part 1

FictionFriday

Neira to My Heart – Part 1

by Vicky Morgan-Keith

GladiatorThe metallic tang of blood lay heavy over the hastily raked sands of the famed Arena Eviscorita, the grandest gladiatorial arena in all the Neiran Empire. It’s infamous displays of gory violence drew more spectators than biteflies as travelers from all over Neira and even star systems beyond flocked through its massive stone archways. Once inside, they found shaded seats beneath brightly colored awnings, the cloth specially treated to resist fading in the world’s triplet of suns. A steady roar of savage anticipation rolled and tumbled about the stadium, spilling from its walls to be heard even at the very fringes of the city as gladiators fought and died on the pale lavender sands. Other arenas in lesser cities might trade in staged or even nonlethal combats, but here in the great Neiran capital of Zu Jiin, heart and soul of the Neiran Empire, combat was often entertaining, frequently exotic, and always to the death. 

One particular spectator hoped for more than mere entertainment this day.  Nuvos, House Aoth-Kol’s Chief Merchant, turned from accepting a glass of shasberry wine and a skewer of tender grilled shoth from a vendor’s serving slave as the crowd roared excitedly. Absently waving the slave away, he took a sip of his wine, then leaned forward for a better view of the current combat. On the sands below, a muscular Alanti of the psygrif subspecies had been pinned to the ground by a vrak’ulgo, a dangerous ursine indigenous to Neira. The Alanti had lost his weapon, but was savagely biting the vrak’ulgo with his razor sharp teeth, tearing away chucks of flesh even as the creature’s  maw closed about his chest. The crowd cheered as the Alanti’s head fell heavily to the sand and the vrak’ulgo shook the now limp body like a youngster’s target doll.

Nuvos refrained from cheering, but applauded politely. After all, the Alanti’s spirit in the face of death was admirable and deserved some token of acknowledgement. Besides, he didn’t want to risk offending his host. Normally Nuvos would have enjoyed the games from the booth reserved for important members of his powerful House. Today, however, he was the honored guest of Ramosh, Chief Steward of the Arena Evisicarta, a direct servant to the Royal House itself! Until he learned the reason behind Ramosh’s invitation, he wished to avoid starting any potential negotiations at a disadvantage. 

His host drained his cup, then beckoned a slave to refill it. Swirling the fresh wine in his glass, Ramosh addressed his guest. “I wish to offer my congratulations on your successful thwarting of the attempt on your life, friend Nuvos. The loss of you as Chief Merchant would have been a great loss to House Aoth-Kol…and many other Houses.”

Nuvos stiffened at the mention of the attack. Three evenings ago he’d been accosted by two Shadowsister assassins while returning home from a party thrown by a lesser House. Fortunately, he’d not been injured, but two of his personal guards had been slain and a third badly wounded while protecting him. One of the assassins had escaped into the night. His remaining guards cornered the other, but she managed to kill herself before she could be restrained and interrogated. Nuvos’s fury had been so great he’d almost killed the surviving guards for their carelessness. Practicality alone made him merely have them flogged. He needed the answers the Shadowsister might have revealed. What House had dared the attack? And why? 

Vohalfa, his House’s warlord, or Jamad, displayed only cool displeasure regarding the incident. After all, Nuvos was only a male. A mere merchant, not a huntress or clansister. It wasn’t as if a House had dared to attack a true warrior of Aoth-Kol. But Nuvos knew Vohalfa was secretly outraged. She placed great value on Nuvos as the master trader and steward of her mighty House. And he knew although he’d insisted on meeting Ramosh in public with only his normal contingent of guards, Vohalfa would have at least a huntress and several clansisters among the spectators, alert for any danger to him. In spite of his bravado,  Nuvos breathed a small prayers of thanks to the goddess Aoth for his lover’s protection.

He studied Ramosh through narrowed eyes as he took a measured sip from his own glass. His host seemed to exhibit no more than neutral interest. Keeping his voice steady, he replied, “You are too kind, Chief Steward. But surely that’s not why you’ve invited me here? Our past dealings have always proved profitable–for all parties involved.”

“Ah, but it is!” Ramosh assured him. “As you will soon see!” Looking to the arena, he smiled. “Here, my colleague,” he bade Nuvos, gesturing to the sands now cleared of both the victor and victim of the last conflict. “Attend! You in all prudence seek another bodyguard, do you not? Perhaps I can offer you a solution. Witness this truly rare exhibition! Our glorious Firstmother surely blesses all of our spectators today!”

Nuvos looked in the direction Ramosh indicated. A lone Shrinaar male strode through a far gate into the arena, and many of those attending cheered at the sight of him, tossing coins and other tokens which spattered the sands about him like a brief shower of rain. Nuvos could not recall seeing him before, but it was obvious the Shrinaar was a successful gladiator and a favorite of the crowd. He was large, even for one of his kind, powerfully built, with heavy muscles rippling beneath dense striped gray fur, marked here and there with white. Yet for all his size, he moved with a deadly fluid grace that promised speed and agility. He wore a breastplate, grieves, and bracers, but no helm. His only other attire was a simple loincloth marked with the emblem of the Arena Evisicarta. His weapons were a set of metal battle claws, called Shre’quo’ro by the Shrinaar, on both front paws.

Nuvos raised an eyebrow, giving his host a dubious look. Annoyance flashed through him at this waste of his valuable time, swiftly giving way to disquiet. Perhaps this invitation was merely a ploy to expose him once again. With all his will, Nuvos keep his voice offhand. “A Shrinaar?! Really, Ramosh! I admit he’s an impressive specimen, but such gladiators are anything but rare!”

The Chief Steward of the arena settled himself more comfortably in his cushioned seat and sipped his wine. His mouth relaxed in a wide, maddening smile. “Patience, my esteemed guest. His opponent has yet to appear.”

Retaining an air of skepticism, Nuvos resisted the urge to glance toward his bodyguards. He stared at Ramosh thoughtfully, deciding Aoth-Kol would have little to fear from an agent of the Royal House. He returned his gaze to the arena, his curiosity getting the better of him. He wondered what the mystery combatant was to be. He knew Ramosh too well to think his host would arrange a bout presented before, no matter how spectacular. So what could it be? Did Ramosh intend to pit the Shrinaar against one of the strange humans, the newest race of arnts to join the loathed Galactic Council of Worlds? That would indeed be rare. Neirans had not encountered many humans so far, but if what Nuvos had heard of them was true, a human would stand little chance against this particular Shrinaar. While perhaps unusual to see, the combat wouldn’t prove to be much of an entertaining fight.

Cries and shouts of astonishment roused Nuvos from his musings. Several spectators had leapt to their feet and were gesturing wildly, pointing at the wall below the booth he and Ramosh occupied. Intrigued, Nuvos leaned forward to peer over the ledge. His breath caught at the sight of the creature emerging from the gate below them, moving cautiously into the arena on six undulating tentacles. He had never seen its like before, but he had certainly heard tales of the alien creature from the huntresses and Jamad of his House. Momentarily forgetting his dignity, Nuvos excitedly pounded a fist on the ledge as he watched the alien cephalopod move warily toward the Shrinaar, a strange metallic axe studded with blue spheres held ready in its grasp. 

Ramosh chuckled as a thrilled cry burst from Nuvos’ throat.

“An Edo!!!”

Part 2

Posted in Fiction