Cem Bilici Author

Cem Bilici - author of horror, steampunk and other awesomeness

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The Bladelands – Episode 3

The solid, powerful haunches of the beast carrying Duncan’s captor clenched and relaxed as its legs kicked. The creature, a transformed monstrosity, had once been a horse. It had no fur or skin, and the almost black bare muscles of flesh that had been expanded glistened. If it hadn’t been moving, it could have been mistaken for a statue carved from red and black marble.

“Keep up,” the rider said, not bothering to look around. She tugged the cord in her hand, the other end tightly bound about Duncan’s wrists.

Pulled sharply, he stumbled as his boots rasped on the cracked asphalt beneath them. Finding his balance, he hung his head and shuffled his feet, watched the weed-filled fractures pass.

“How about we swap places for a while?” He gave a dry laugh before licking his lips, though the sound his tongue made was much like his dragging feet. “Some water and food would be nice, too.”

The rider turned and with her the demonic steed. Its huge head was skull-like, the white bone replaced with dark crystal, like the morax horn tied to the half-demon’sbelt, and the small protrusions on her own forehead.

“What makes you think I’m going to feed you?” A wry smile spread across her face. She idly toyed with bear head, hung from her neck on a length of the same cord that bound him, nestled in her cleavage.

Duncan let out a snort. “You clearly want me alive. When you strip searched me, you didn’t have to give me my boots and clothes back.”

She gave the rolled up leather strapped at her rear a pat. “Good thing I hung onto this though. I think it would have taken hours to find all the little surprises you’ve hidden inside it. The masters in Citadel would not have been too pleased with that.”

The smile crumbled from Duncan’s face. “So that’s where we’re going. Citadel.”

He’d never been and meant to keep it that way given all the stories he’d heard. The dark, towering spires of Citadel stretched like gigantic stalagmites reaching for Heaven to stab at its heart. Or so the demon’s liked to so poetically state. Of the many stories among Bladelanders was that the place had sprung up overnight, it’s numerous jagged peaks piercing through the earth from Hell itself. Others, that the place had fallen from the sky, an infernal craft to carry the demons to Earth.

“Don’t look so down in the mouth, Duncan. I’m sure they’ll put out the welcome wagon for you, along with whatever else they might have planned.”

“So that’s your game now is it, Niz? Playing at bounty hunter for your new masters.”

Niz swung around to glare at him. “Provoke all you want, it won’t change a thing. I’m taking you to them.”

Duncan smiled. “Come hell or high water.” She smirked back. “You know we’re headed toward wetlands, right?”

“Afraid of getting your boots wet, Duncan?”

He kept his mouth shut, concentratedon the steady motion of his feet. As long as he kept a rhythm it wasn’t so bad. Each time he tripped or stumbled it took him longer to get his timing back, tiredness inching up his bones and muscles like maggots, eating away at him.

“Real, cheery, Duncan,” he muttered to himself.

“Don’t lose your mind yet,” Niz called out without turning, her body rocking back and forth as the creature beneath her powered along. “The masters will want something to play with.”

Lifting his bound hands, he extended a mid finger in response. It made him feel marginally better. That small rebellious victory was erased from his memory when bleached, bony trees in water greeted them and his feet started sinking into sodden ground.

Despite his fatigue, Duncan stood alert, eyes darting about. His head snapped back as a thick sound echoed from above. Dark eyes set in black peered at them. With a scrape of claws at the colourless wood, set against a sky of much the same grey, a crow took off, wings rushing. Duncan snorted a sigh.

Niz chuckled. “Afraid of what’s to come soon?” She looked back when he didn’t respond. “Not long now.”

“Nah,” he said with as much nonchalance as he could muster. “I’m just deathly afraid of drop bears.”

She gave a full-throated laugh and a shake of her head. “Koalas should be the last of your worries.”

“Yeah? You seen the koalas lately?” He looked into the dead branches around them. “Not to mention the kangaroos,” he said in a lower voice. His gaze dropped from the thickening branches and air to her, his nose and corners of his eyes wrinkled. “What’s in it for you, Niz? Why take me to them? You’re half human, or had you forgotten?”

Snorting in the back of her throat, Niz hacked up and spat out a gob of mucus. The projectile hit the cracked, grey trunk of a tree and oozed down. “That’s what I think of being human.” She wiped her chin with the back of her hand. “Like it ever did me any good.”

“People may have never trusted you, but can you blame them? And like you can trust the demons.”

Lips pulled back, she spun so hard he thought she might fall from her mount, the bear head swung wildly, looking at Duncan with sad eyes.

Or with accusation. He felt his heart quicken as he remembered when it had come free. Stuffing it and stitching it up. Crushing it in his fingers when finished.

“Trust?”

He blinked several times in quick succession to wipe away the past and bring his mind to the here and now. Niz sneered at him.

“Do you know what happened to me when I was a child?” she said. “I was a reviled outcast from both sides. The demons saw me as trash, and the humans as a monster. My only fault was to be born.”

“So you never had a shot? Boo hoo. You still have a choice.”

“Yes, I have a choice, Duncan Foster. I choose to take you to Citadel. The other demons may not accept me, but at least the masters of Citadel give me a chance, and respect my results.”

A bitter laugh escaped Duncan’s lips. “You sound just like them when you say my full name like that.”

“Well, we both know names have power, don’t we.” She gave him a knowing look.

Duncan nodded, remembering the names that held the most power and sway over his emotions. And, as it tightened, his heart.

“So do not fear your drop bears, Duncan foster,” Niz called out, her voice ringing off the bark-free trees and skimming from the surface of the shallow water that was pooled among them. “There are far worse things ahead.” She turned to look at him with humour on her lips and in her eyes. “Or do you fear the mosquitoes that buzz around you? Or perhaps the crocodiles, or—”

Intense sound filled the air as a shriek like a locomotive whistle carved from human bone stabbed at Duncan’s ears, rising in pitch and pressure until it was a scream. Before it had finished, an almost identical wail overlapped it to take over, then a third.

Niz’s eyes went wide and she turned to look ahead of them as a mist rolled in. When she turned to him again, eyes full of damnation, another bank of thick vapour had crept in from their rear. She stopped the beast, threw the coil of cord from her hand, and slid from its back as stealthily as she could, arms wrapped about its thick neck so she landed by its head. Leaning in and pulling it down, she whispered into the hole that was once an ear, then dropped to a crouch. The creature cantered away as the fog enveloped Duncan, and moments later he could no longer see Niz or anything else.

Just as Niz had, Duncan ducked low to where the stuff was thicker by the damp ground. It would obscure his vision, but also afford him more cover.

Duncan slowed his breath. Just like he used to. He screwed his eyes to shut out the memories but it only served to focus them. A slender hand touched his chest and made his heart beat as it did now, but without the stink of fear.

He pried his eyes apart and took a deep breath through his nostrils, allowed the miasma to beat the images from his skull.

Thick and heavy like an oily blanket, the mist clung to his skin. Leaving his flesh somehow both warm and cold at once, it left behind a greasy feeling. It cloyed in his nostrils and lungs and exited as thickly as it entered when he exhaled. A taste like old, raw meat crept over his tongue and the roof of his mouth and clogged his sinus.

The triple shrieks sounded again, this time closer.

Duncan craned his head back and made out shadows in the sky. A breeze blew over, caused the smoky air to twist and roil, and created opening enough to see what they were. Ibises. The black headed birds were fleeing, but their flight couldn’t help him. Disoriented by whatever power was in that sound, the birds criss-crossed in each others way instead of flocking, so there was no way to know where the danger lay. But at least they were getting away,

But not all of them were so fortunate. Two collided head on and dropped to land some distance away with a crash of dry branches and twin splashes seconds apart. Water thrashed and the birds squawked in terror. There was a third splash, followed by fourth, then altogether more meatier wet sounds, and the birds were silent.

The death sirens came again from where the birds had been, and this time with it a steady, plodding stab into the muddy water. High above the trees, another silhouette fell through the screen of fog, coalescing and sharpening like a shadow puppet pulled closer to the screen. Before he could make out any details, or vice-versa, he rolled for one of the trees. His body careened sideways in his exhaustion and attempt to be silent and he hit the  thick trunk at an angle. Unbalanced, his hand fell to the ground to prop him up, slithering down a thick, snaking root.

The sound reverberated through the wood into his head where it was pressed against the tree at an angle. The plodding walk ceased and Duncan closed his eyes, but this time he had no issues keeping any unwanted visions out.

Behind the tree at his back, something creaked, the noise intensifying. Duncan jumped as a gunshot crack ripped through the tree and a branch fell into the water, the remaining limbs rattling as something moved among them. A hiss of inhaled air and a growl rolled through the air and down his spine as the creature sniffed about. It had to know he was here.

Duncan shifted his wait, inching along the trunk in an effort to see, prepared to move should the demon venture further or discover him. He had to know. He froze as something grabbed him from behind as soon as he exposed his back, covering his mouth. He relaxed as he felt hot, sweet-sour breath on his ear.

Niz shushed him, the sound no more than a slow leak from a pierced lung. “I’ll kill you,” she said, voice barely perceptible but for the fact her lips were pressed into his ear. As soft as it was, the words carried enough intensity that it may as well have been a shout. “You knew there were stalkers here, didn’t you? Nod or shake your head.”

As well as having her lips pressed to his flesh, so was her blade, and it bit into his throat as Duncan shrugged. He stiffened as the stalker shrieked. All three screams now came at once, the sound so shrill the tree vibrated. It had smelled blood.

His blood.

The branches of the tree groaned as it pushed its way around. One of its four incredibly long, multi segmented legs stabbed the earth with a bony protrusion jutting from its deathly flesh, another joining it as the stalker came into view. Three hairless human torsos had been fused together, one facing front and back each, and one inverted. Its lidless eyes were yellow and ran constantly, thick trails running over the cheeks and attracting flies. Lipless mouths bore carnivore teeth and elongated black tongues, blood-stained white feathers stuck out between the teeth of the head hanging among the four insect-like legs.

All three mouths shrieked again as the stalker saw its two targets and closed in.

The Bladelands – Episode 2

The Fall, as the survivors called it, had come abruptly, though many claimed they had seen the signs of humanity’s collapse long before. Evil’s hand could be seen everywhere leading up to the event, they said, spreading corruption to pave the way. Preachers, Rabbis, Imams, Swamis, cult leaders–all said they’d seen the rot well in advance of the first hellfire storms that wiped whole cities from the globe.

When the first of the largest cities fell under the deluge of fiery projectiles from the sky, people were outraged that the authorities had done nothing to warn of the meteor strikes. But the truth that they themselves had no idea, and the panic that realisation brought, came soon after. Within hours it was clear that the incident was neither isolated, nor celestial. But at the time, like now, Duncan had far more immediate matters on his mind.

He turned the pain from the remembered images of carnage he had caused into fuel for his legs as he thrust them harder, the bear head on his belt assisting. With no idea when K’Phrazzis would unleash the horde, all Duncan could do was run for his life, something he seemed to have gotten used to, as much as anyone could.

He weaved in and out of scrubland heading for a break in some trees. Knowing he couldn’t lose the creatures, the noses on the bestials like the morax so acute it would make no difference, he would attempt to slow them as much as possible. In their bloodlust to get at him they would likely get in each other’s way. He’d witnessed demons fighting over prey and just how possessive they were many times in the past, and it was his only true weapon. The horn shard in his hand would be of little use with its short reach, putting him in a place no sane person wanted to be–within reach of a demon.

Jaw aching from being clenched tight, leg muscles soaking in acid torture, Duncan tried to reduce the flow of fuel to the inferno that was his anger, to keep a level head. He failed. There were plenty that put themselves and others in the service of the demons for whatever use and desire. Collaborator, playing the victim, or both, Duncan had no sympathy for people such as that and their fates.

The crack and crash of kindling dry vegetation at his back did what he couldn’t bid his own mind to do, putting a stop to his thoughts. His breath streamed all the faster and his blood throbbed in his ears as fear set the tempo of his heart. Pain in his sword arm, legs, and heart forgotten, Duncan scanned his surroundings. The lack of familiar landmarks hit him in the gut like a baseball bat. If he didn’t find his way soon–

A screech from above was the only warning he got before he was swooped head-on by a female harpy. One of its sagging, pendulous breasts smacked the top of his head as he ducked, a clawed foot aimed at his eyes narrowly missing. Head darting quickly, Duncan made a sharp turn, rough bark from the tree he used to slingshot around scraping his palm. Gaze fixed on his path, he ran hard for a distance before ducking once more. This time he also brought up his blade as the harpies shadow kissed his own silhouette.

With a guttural cry and a shower of fetid blood, the harpy went into a nose dive, it’s bat-like wings flapping as it rolled, kicking up dirt as the membranous appendages scrabbled uselessly. As he ran on, Duncan noticed the diagonal gash running almost the entire length of the demons unarmoured flesh. It would have been an instantly fatal wound had his blade been longer and contained iron. As it was, he had no idea what this glass-like shard would do to the thing, and he had no time to find out.

Wiping gore from his eyes, he was confronted with a sight he didn’t think he would ever see. A landmark. An old windmill tower stood tall like rusted, decapitated skeleton, but it was the best thing he had seen in a long while. Certainly the only thing that gave him hope. Though the circular blade assembly and accompanying tail that would have once topped it was long gone, he glanced to the tip of the narrow pyramidal frame, squinting to make out what had replaced them. He changed direction once more, skirting fat, twiggy bushes that scratched at his coat, running on toward the jagged remains of a building.

Hurdling a pile of rubble, he flew through what would have once been the inside of a house, knocking several balanced jars from atop the remains of a skyward jutting brick wall that looked like broken, rotted teeth. Leaping again, he was outside the building once more. How many people must have died thinking they were safe in buildings like this all over the globe? Thinking their homes were hallowed fortresses from the Devil’s minions?

If only things had been that easy.

If only it had been that Biblical.

A satisfied smile tugged the corner of his mouth as Duncan heard a bellow of pain and a crash of debris. One of his pursuers must have stepped on the contents of the jars. Full of bent nails welded into caltrops, he’d perched them them there a week or so ago. He knew it was too much to hope it had been their leader. K’Phrazzis was too wary to run blindly into a building like that, dilapidated as it was. Whatever demon it had been they would be out of the race for his blood for the time. The iron content would ensure that much.

His victory was short lived, the cacophony of the horde gaining on him rising, the grunts and snarls of the nightmare beasts come to terrifying life incensed by his taking out another of them, no doubt. As much infighting as the demons had within their ranks, they abhorred when a human got the better of their kind, and the fact that they had been unable to eradicate them.

Veering around a rusted out tractor and onto a cleared out path that was once a dirt road, he channelled all his energy into a sprint. The din of the horde on his trail increased and he could almost feel the heat of their breath on his heels. A sound like dozens of untuned cow bells rose beneath the fracas and, hearing it, Duncan’s eyes closed tight. If he had been a praying man, he would have done so now.

The sounds of rampant foot, claw, and hoof were replaced by hell itself. The cries of pain replacing it varied from human to indescribable.

Chancing a look over his shoulder, Duncan slowed his pace until he came to a halt, doubling over to put his hands on his knees. His body jerked with fatigue as he held himself taut and ready to run again, his laboured heart and lungs wracking his frame. After a handful of deep breaths without incident, he allowed himself to stand easy and calmer to survey the scene. The tractor he had ran past was now at an angle, dust settling in the air around it above a large hole that was beside it on the road. After another handful of calming lungfuls, he traced his way carefully back to the tractor.

The sight and sounds in the hole were as satisfying as they were gruesome. Long, sharpened staves of iron lined the pit, barbs along their lengths holding down any of the demons that had not perished already. The trap had worked better than he could have expected, apart from the fact that this location was no longer safe. Eyeing the pierced and broken limbs in the pit, he could not make out any that resembled their leader. That wasn’t to say he wasn’t in there, but Duncan highly doubted it. Generals didn’t charge in with the troops, at least not the demon variety.

And the demon goddess had been here. If it weren’t for the fact that he was exhausted and still in very real danger, Duncan mused as he looked over the trailer and leaned a hand on it, he might have been impressed with himself. He had known far better blades men and women than himself that had never been bestowed that honour.

“Well done, Duncan Foster,” K’Phrazzis said from atop a hillock overlooking the scene, the demon’s voice travelling unnaturally.

“Speak of the devil,” Duncan said, tipping his head back and rolling his eyes. He turned to face the demon. “Don’t suppose this means I win?”

“Win?” K’Phrazzis strode down the mound toward him. “You have further dishonoured my horde by allowing them to live and die a slow and–“

Duncan stepped back and kicked the dead machine listing toward the hole. With a metal creak, it toppled into the hole, as it had been set up to do, sending up a further cloud of dirt. “Sorry,” Duncan said, waving his hand in front of his face and squinting. “What were you saying?” The sounds from the hole in the ground were now reduced in number if not intensity.

With an animal growl, the demon leaped over the pit, swinging his solid fists at Duncan’s head as soon as soon as his feet hit the ground. Duncan avoided them sluggishly, exhausted body fighting his command over it. Tired as he was, he did not avoid the third blow from the demon’s knee. It grazed his gut but winded him, though he was able to get his weapon hand up in time to slash at another punch. The demon grunted in pain and stepped back toward the edge of the pit. Duncan lunged forward with a kick, the flat of his boot landing on the demon’s hip and sending him toppling back. With a hollow clang, K’Phrazzis fell on the tractor, but Duncan didn’t wait around to see if the demon would give chase or retreat.

Duncan ran through long, yellowed grass that sang and waved like a dried out ocean. He would have normally avoided it from the noise giving away his position, but he couldn’t afford to in this fight. Exploding with a spray of seeds and clinging stalks, he stumbled out of the sea of yellow and into the mouth of an old water tank that lay on its side. The shade within it gave him a moments respite from the harsh sun, and also allowed him to better spy through the various rust holes in the corrugated walls. Trying to control his breathing, he pressed his cheek to one such peephole, the pitted edges scraping his skin.

Nothing.

He held his breath and listened intently, trying to discern footsteps from the general rustling of the swaying stalks and his hammering chest.

The tank gonged as something hit it and rolled, throwing Duncan headlong into the uneven surface. He rolled out the opening and onto his backside in time to see K’Phrazzis’ foot stomping toward his body. Rolling again to avoid it, he kicked out and tripped the demon, continuing his roll onto hand and foot to scrabble into an unbalanced run. He flew along, toes dragging at the dirt at times, and stumbled up an embankment only to trip at the top. He tumbled down, landing with a crash and letting out a whoop of air as his gut hit something hard and continued forward. Thrusting out his his arms, he grabbed on to something, the heavy object spinning him to fall backward before following after him. Duncan managed to get his arm out from the weighty objects path before it landed with a bone breaking thump.

Relief turned to desperation as K’Phrazzis fell on him with a snarl. Duncan kicked and scrabbled wildly, all thought and technique gone in desperation and fight for his life.

But no fight came.

Dragging himself out from under the demon, Duncan saw what had happened. The anvil that Duncan had pulled down with him as he fell down the flood embankment into his camp landed with it’s pointed horn facing up. K’Phraziss must have also tripped and fell in his bloodlust to get at Duncan. Now the spike of the anvil was embedded deep within the demon’s skull through one of his eyes.

Duncan let out a single snort of laughter before the tip of a blade touched his throat.

Holding out the suicidally short obsidian horn, his arm shaking from fatigue, Duncan spun around. A light-red skinned, blue-eyed female half-demon smiled back at him over a wide longblade. She pushed back a curtain of jet black hair with her free hand, revealing a line of dark protrusions running into her hairline above each eye.

“Well hello, Duncan,” she said before giving him another wide, toothy smile. Her eyes flashed malice. “Long time no see.”

Dream Journal 1: Crazy Girl

Dream Journal 1: Crazy Girl

So I decided to keep a dream journal, because I have been having these really vivid dreams of late. That's nothing unusual for me, they come and go, though lately I have been having quite a few. Almost on a daily basis.

Dreams can be amazing inspiration, especially when you write horror and have, what most "normal" people would consider, fucked up visions. I've certainly used them before to write stories.

Some of the most interesting dreams I have ever had have been lucid dreams. Like this one time, I was surrounded by zombies, realised it was a dream, and suddenly willed a katana in my hand and mad anime/kung-fu movie style sword prowess and semi-flight to go with it. So yeah, advantage me.

But I kind of consider them cheating because you're like Neo in the Matrix to a degree. Especially when it comes to actually exploring your inner thoughts and psyche and when it comes to story, narrative and character ideas. Of course, given the type of dream this can be rather advantageous. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

But let's leave the number of times I've summoned the TARDIS to one side for the moment... Uhh, yeah, what did you think I was talking about?

You have to also be careful of course. Pop culture and literary creep in can be unavoidable, so taking a dream verbatim without any analysis and vomiting into your word processor of choice would be akin to sticking your fingers in your throat and hurling into your NutriBullet and giving it a whiz. Sure, it will look kinda cool as it's all rushing past, but when you're done and you pour/pore it's still gonna be fetid puke. Yes, even if you drop a stick of celery in it. In fact, that just makes it all the more disgusting. You should be ashamed. But moving on.

So, with To the Bone, the aforementioned linked story, I changed a lot. When I'd actually had the dream I was a kid, and I was also in the dream as a kid. I woke up with measles or something, but it was a hell of a cool dream. I've always been fascinated by dreams and rarely find them frightening. So when I had this particular dream the other night I decided, OK, I gotta start writing this shit down. Then I thought, hell, why not share it? People can only think you're so messed up. Right?

So basically, I will write the dreams down as they come to me, so first person or third depending on how it plays out. Some dreams I will shift from one POV to another, other times even different people, but I'll blow up those bridges when I come to them. I always dream in colour, so, you're welcome, you don't have to read in black and white. And I do not, nor never have, owned the car featured in the dream. Nor do I keep my car in a similar state as in the dream.

The title of this one is Crazy Girl, and you'll see why.

I can't think of anything else to say to preface this one but, enjoy, and if you psychoanalyse me, drop me a line as long as I'm not paying.

Cheers,

Cem Bilici

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