- Feb 20, 2002
Sylus had made the trip from Palestar to Walliston’s hill many times before in the past, but this was the first time that he ever made it alone. Yes, alone… He was by himself, completely free of those nets that had been holding him back. The wishes and dreams he had wished and dreamed were coming quickly to fruition. He felt an eerie sense of freedom, of terror and of excitement. He wondered what kind of man this Johnny Fiveaces was. Could he really be trusted? Walliston’s Hill was known infamously across the continent for its brews, its criminals and its dangerousity. How did Zybourne ever come to associate with people of that sort? Sylus was beginning to realize there was a lot he didn’t know about “Uncle” Dr. Zybourne, and even more about his mysterious clock, and yet more even still about he himself, Sylus.
His head was aspin with all the thoughts that were inside of it, in his mind. Much like the rolling hills that sped passed him blurred into some kind of unrecognizable streak, his mind swam through the many multitudinous ideas to which he had been introduced in the last few hours. How different his life had been not two days previous! Time is so strange! The previous years had compressed together in one indistinguishable lump of days, months and years, while the previous hours had opened an entire world. He was without hope, without future, then out of the sky, like a fictional angel, came the egg, and with it, it’s gift of deliverance. He revved the bike and zipped down the dirt path. Off in the fields, the irrigation-farmers on their geartills and camtractors watched in amazement as Sylus speeded by.
It wasn’t long before, far away in the distance in the direction in which Sylus was driving, he began to see the elevating foothills and atop the highest hill, Walliston’s Hill, the slight figure of the town of the same name, also Walliston’s Hill take form. He let out a barbaric yawp at the top of his lungs, feeling the air pass quickly over his face.
Approaching Walliston's Hill (Ferrinus)
Nina started at the noise, being timid and easily shaken by nature. She peered through her delicate canopy at the boy she had known as Sylus but who now was impassioned into some unrecognizable man. Her mind struggled to comprehend Sylus, what he had become, what he may become in the future, later, when more time had passed. Her head hurt. Not with the thinking, but because the mechanical stem of one of her gyroflora was poking her behind the ear and she was worried it might be bleeding. But she couldn’t move for fear of exposing herself to Sylus before they reached their destination, though she could shift slightly because he wouldn’t be able to hear in the loud wind. She hoped with her whole heart that the journey would soon be over, yet part of her was frightened of what Sylus would do when he found out she had stowed away. His anger and hot blood when he spoke about taking her motorcycle had scared her, but it had also excited her, and that scared her even more. She looked at his face through the lattice of stems. It was full of ecstatic joy, a look she had never seen, but also full of a kind of fervent madness, a look that now that she had seen it, wished she never had.
The engine of the steamcycle roared along, leaving its trail of smoke in the wake. Atop Walliston’s Hill, the unexpected waited patiently.
Map of Walliston's Hill (Mechanigma)
The city of Walliston’s Hill was sharply divided into four parts: the commerce district, where all the shops of merchant trader’s and stores full of exotic trinkets and bubbles were; hightown, which consisted of the rich, opulent houses of Walliston Hill’s elite upper class; lowtown, which was, like The Slums of Capital, a filthy series of alleys and hovels, where the poor majority lived in undignified privation; and finally the casino district, the glitzy yet shady area where all the bars, saloons, casinos, gambling houses and brothels were. It was said one could buy anything, black market, legal or no, in the casino district. Sylus had only ever been to the commerce district, trading or peddling for Angruff, always forbidden to enter any of the other districts. Much to his excitement, the bar where he was to meet Johnny was in the casino district.
Sylus wheeled the bike carefully through the narrow alley ways of Walliston’s Hill. Pedestrians of all shapes and sizes lined both sides of the street and vehicles of all kinds prowled up and down leaving the air a thick miasma of smoke, steam and fumes. He even spotted a decrepit old man chutting away on a betasteam scootwheel, coughing and hacking from the steamlung he had developed over his many years in the foul city.
The Casino lights flashed brightly down both sides of the streets. Feathered courtesans in glinting sequenced dresses leered luringly at Sylus as he maneuvered through the labyrinthine streets. He could not be called in by any Siren’s song right now. His purpose was clear in his mind; he was on a mission, a quest, not a jaunt for idle pleasures. The sidewalks were crowded with peddlers, pedestrians, nightwalkers, thugs, scum, cutpurses, pickpockets, beggars, murderers and those who, fallen into poverty, resorted to whatever means necessary to procure money for their survival. Sylus tried to take it all in while strenuously avoiding eye-contact with anyone in particular. From this part of the casino district, Sylus could see the outline of the huge palatial houses of hightown. How different the privileged elite must live in those marble mansions than the dirty street dwelling lowlifes that meandered around the casino district. In Palestar, nobody owned a house even remotely that size. There was no wealth, but no poverty either, everyone lived in more or less an equilibrium of modesty that had, at the time, bored Sylus out of his mind, but looking at the sharp contrast now between the paradisal estates of hightown and what he could only imagine the filthy hovels of these pathetic wretches that writhed past him with downfolded faces, made him feel for the first time a twinge of respect for the small but efficient community of Palestar. Just as he was contemplating these ideas in his mind, his eyes focused on his destination. Tucked behind a large casino, on a small off-shoot alley, it stood dark and forebidding.
Sylus pulled up and parked the steamcycle outside the bar next to the most awesome magnabike he had ever seen. The magnabike twinkled in the starlight, it’s silver and chrome shining brightly. One day, Sylus thought, one day I’ll have a bike like that instead of this clunky junker. The bar’s façade was that of an old style saloon, but with a mechanized sign that lit up and whistled, reading THE BLOODY PISTON. The walls looked like sea-wracked detritus, the dark paint was peeling and cracking and electrografitti sparkled out the indecipherable glyphs of some lowtown miscreant gang. Four large steamstacks rose out of the top of the bar, yellowed sickly smoke pragled thickly upward into the sky. Sylus groaned softly to himself. He had been so excited at the prospect of doing something that he was unprepared for the dirty reality. Angruff had sheltered him from these kinds of places for all of his life and he felt a creaking sense of dread with the turning over of each engine and the gaze of every passerby. His faith, not that he had faith, and even chuckled to himself that the archaic term was still used to denote belief in someone, in Zybourne was dwindling. Somehow, staring at the unpregnantable saloon he doubted ever more that he would meet this so called Johnny Fiveaces and believed ever more that he would end up with his throat slit in a dark alley somewhere, while some scumtrog stole away with all his possessions. Sylus’ final thought before he pushed his way through the swinging synthwood doors was that he was glad he at least spared bringing Nina to such a vile place.
The Bloody Piston (Ferrinus)
Inside The Bloody Piston, Sylus found himself crowded into a foul-smelling, nasty looking crowd, with mugs of Steam Ale slogged around, slushing onto the floor, onto the bar, onto him. The noise was unbelievable as a Post-Steamcore Grind Band belted out a set on the small and dirty stage at about four times maximum volume. Leather clad journeymen cackled madly and heavily painted women with illicit looks and scant clothing laughed along in a horrifying dissonance. Thick smoke filled the air and swaggerettes, swiggars, dip, chaw and chum seemed to fill every crooked mouth. Sylus assumed what he thought to be his toughest face and began to push his way through the crowd towards the bar.
After reaching the bar, Sylus dusted off his jacket, unsure what foul mixture of fluids had soaked into his clothing. The bartender approached him, a stout, short man with a long beard that in his bearing reminded Sylus of Angruff, setting him on edge before the man even rattled out in a rude and slurring voice: “Whaddya want, kid?”
“Give me uh… a..uh..” Sylus glanced at the menu, not wanting to seem new to this sort of thing. “Give me a Double Marmled Gangromit.” The name too reminded him of Angruff’s little speech and the bruise on his face seemed to burn at the thought. The bartender looked at him skeptically.
“You sure that’s what you want?”
He had gone too far to turn back but the hesitation in the bartender’s voice worried him. Sylus assumed his tough demeanor and said in as deep a voice as possible, “That’s right. What’s the matter, you out?”
The bartender appraised him silently for a moment then cracked a gaptoothed grin. “No, kid, we got plenty. Just a minute. Hahahaha.”
“Fine. And don’t call me kid.” Sylus added, puffing out his chest.
“Oh sure, sure, buddy. Whatever you say.” The bartender said ironically, as he walked away. Sylus exhaled. He wiped the sweat off his face and leaned back against the bar. He scanned the bar for the man who might be Johnny Fiveaces. Every face was an unkempt, scarred, tough-as-nails study in manliness. Any one of them could be him. Men gambled and drank at every table. But none of them seemed to fit Zybourne’s description. Or maybe all of them did, too well. Blast, Sylus thought, even if I do find him here, what good will it do me? He’s probably too drunk or too stupid to be of any help, how is he supposed to help me get into Capital if he spends his time in a parggle sty like this? All the excitement and joy he had felt on the ride here had evaporated, leaving only the residue of fear and incertitude in his soul.
Sylus was jolted into the present when a strong hand clapped him on the back. He spun around quickly with fright and anger in his eyes. It was the bartender holding a mug of thick black liquid. “Woah there kid,” the bartender sneered, “don’t do anything rash. I got your order here.” Sylus blushed furiously and took the mug with a muffled ‘thank you.’ The bartender stood and watched him.
The Beer Menu at the Bloody Piston (Hernando)
“What?” Sylus said irritateably.
“Oh, nothing. Is there anything else?” The bartender said in the same sneering tone.
“Actually yes, now that you mention it. I’m looking for Johnny Fiveaces. I’m a friend of his.” Sylus said as matter-of-factly as he could manage. Apparently it wasn’t matter of fact enough because the bartender stood back and looked at him suspiciously. Even the people to the sides of him who had been wrapped up in conversation turned to look at him when he mentioned the name Fiveaces. After what seemed like an eternity, the bartender answered.
“You’ll find him in the back room. Mind your step.” Gone was the bartender’s glib tone, replaced with a hollow vagueness that frightened Sylus even more. He turned his head and looked at the small alcove in the back where supposedly he would find this Johnny Fiveaces.
“Thanks.” Sylus tried to mimic the bartender’s earlier tone. He turned away and began walking toward the alcove.
“Hey kid!” the bartender cried out. Sylus spun around again. “Don’t forget your Double Marmled Gangromit! Hahaha!” Sylus grimaced and quickly stalked back and retrieved the mug. He hurried away from the laughter of the bartender and his companions.
As Sylus approached the musky alcove in the back, he noticed the noise died down significantly. The raucous excitement and wanton revelry were replaced with a nervous tension, the toothy grins replaced with stoic emotionless faces. In the far back, was a solitary poker table. Around this table were seated the four toughest looking men Sylus had ever seen. Three of the men wore studded leather jackets and had ceremonial tattoo markings on their faces and necks, they sat with a quiet apprehension, calm but with an edge to their calmness that betrayed a deeper sense of nervousness and caution. These men were Thuglodytes! Sylus had heard of the ruthless gangs that prowled the wrong sides of towns. Under one of the men’s coats, the leader, Sylus presumed, since his shoulders bore the largest spikes, the telltale bulge of an EMP pistol, or at least what Sylus took to be an EMP pistol, since to be truthful, he had never seen a pistol, even an archaic gyroPistol, much less one of the new EMP models that CAPITAL was producing, much less a concealed one, but Sylus had a nose for seeing these things, made itself visible as the large man shifted from side to side. But to his surprise it was not this motley crew of alleged well-armed Thuglodytes that drew Sylus’ attention, it was the fourth man, sitting with his back literally in the corner, who commanded the small alcove.
A Thuglodyte (Evilkosh)
Sylus knew immediately from the man’s body language, which Sylus, being very observant, could easily read, that he was in complete control of both himself and his situation. The man reclined with the comfortable ease of one with nothing to fear;his right leg was positioned on the corner of the table, gently rocking his chair back and forth, throwing convention and manners to the wind. His other leg swung out carelessly to the other side of the chair, his foot tapping absently to some internal rhythm. This position might have rendered a lesser man vulnerable, but for him, it was the vulnerability of one who had the balls to seem vulnerable because of the surety of their more than sufficient capability. His brown leather workman’s pants creaked with his motion. His left arm hoisted a huge mug of the palest ale, held at nearly a right angle as if upon some invisible armrest, showing to the observant observer the strength of his bicepts. His right arm, supported by his propped up knee, non-chalantly held his cards, which he never looked at, having easily memorized them, being an expert card player. His jacket and shirt, like his pants, were of a tough brown leather, workman’s clothes, sturdy and dependable, probably much like his spirit. But around his scruffy, sinewy neck, he wore a bright orange scarf, which may have seemed to clash with his otherwise drab and utilitarian apparel, but made clear the juxtaposition of his outlook on life: one can be unpretentious and pragmatic, while still keeping a sense of flair and style. It was as if the scarf cried out for anyone foolish enough to challenge its wearer to make their move and suffer the consequences. His face, though covered with the stubble of several days not shaving, showed signs of the gentleman’s moustache and goatee, which framed his taut, frowning lips. Held within these lips was a repungent swiggar, its wispy smoke drifting upward into a haze in front of his steely gaze. He had those features common to the ancient northern peoples of City5, the proud, rounded nose, the small but aware dark eyes that flashed dangerously behind his streamlined slickshades, his dirty brown hair was tossled carelessly down his brow, to the top of his eyes, and cascaded in a careless yet alluring wave from the supremely low sloping brow so common to people of that region. Without a word, Sylus knew that this man meant business. He truly had that ‘hero’s makeup’ that Sylus had read about in the ancient romantic texts of Rasennian literature.
When he spoke, his thick, heavy voice purled out of his clenched teeth like the smoke of his finely rolled swiggar, sounding like gravel and rocks dragged over a well-trod dirt road and then scraped across a grate with a rake, “Well boys… Gonna have to see your wagers and raise. All in.” He smirked wryly, and spoke with the confidence of one who was sure to win – or made a strong bluff. The Thuglodytes looked at each other, first in disbelief, then with wry twisted smiles.
The lead Thuglodyte squared his shoulders at the cocksure man and gargled roughly, “Hahaha, you havin’ a go with us, love? All in? Look round you, sunshine, you lose this one and you’ll be ‘all out.’ Literally, if you take me meaning.” The others joined in with the laughter. The man seemed undisturbed.
“Heh,” he whispered through his swiggar, “if you ain’t got the stones to put yer money where yer big flappin’ mouths is, then maybe I’ll take my business to a classier joint where they don’t allow little girls to sit at the big boy’s table.”
The smile on the face of the lead Thuglodyte dropped. He glared and spoke dangerously with a wicked tone, “Careful, boyo… don’t forget yerself. We’d sooner skin ya and hang ya up for Merton to serve as an entrée than brustle words while ya lie through yer chompers. You want all in. We’re all in. Go all in, boys.” All three of the Thuglodytes pushed their piles of chips forward. Johnny raised an ironic eyebrow and made a mock whistling noise.
“Either you all got some really good cards,” the punks looked at each other and laughed, “or,” the man continued, “you really like losing money. Me? I’d wager on the ladder. Lift your dresses, sweethearts, and let’s see what goodies you got.”
The Thuglodytes put their cards down on the table. The man looked at the first hand, “Not bad, not bad. What’s that, five in a row?” He looked at the next hand, “Two pair, ‘gic, mate, you really did well!” He looked at the leader’s hand, “And what about you big boy, oh what’s this, a straight flush? Now that is a rare hand. I’ve only ever seen one or two in my whole life!”
“Well they’s gonna be the only one’s ya ever do see, if’n you don’t pay up, chop chop,” the lead Thuglodyte exclaimed arrogantly. But the man hadn’t revealed his hand yet. He smirked, sardonically, with an ironic twinkle in his eye and said sarcastically with a vicious, caustic tone, “Heh, the thing about gambling,” he began as he laid down his first card, the Ace of Clubs, “is that sometimes you win,” he laid down his second card, the Ace of Hearts, “but sometimes,” he laid down his third card, the Ace of Diamonds, “just sometimes,” and then his fourth card, the Ace of Spades, “you lose.” He held the fifth card flippantly between two fingers, with just his middle finger visible to the incensed Thuglodytes. After making certain they got the message, he laid down his final card, the Ace of Time. “Looks like time is on my side, fellas, and it looks like your time, and your money, just ran out.”
Sylus held his breath as the tension grew to the breaking point in the cramped, quiet alcove. The Thuglodytes looked at each other, grimacing, while the winning man, scooped up the chips on the table into his own pile and then leaned back arrogantly in his chair once again.
“Five aces…that’s….impossible.” the lead Thuglodyte said in a breathless whisper. “The Ace of Time? This can’t be. There is only one explanation for this.” He slowly reached into his jacket. The other Thuglodytes followed suit. The band stopped playing outside and all eyes focused on the situation developing in the little alcove. Sylus backed himself up against a wall, trying to seem as small as possible. The only one who didn’t seem disturbed was the man who had won. The silence was louder than noise. Sylus was sure that here and now he would die in some hopeless crossfire, on the muddy, dungy, dirty floor of the most horrible place he had ever been in his whole life. Hero stories aren’t supposed to turn out like this, he thought, I haven’t even made it to Capital yet!
The Ace of Time (Maltag)
Just as these thoughts raced across his mind, the lead Thuglodyte whipped his hand from his jacket. Sylus shook viciously and spilled a little of the thick black liquid in his mug. But, to Sylus’ utter amazement, the man held a black handkerchief.
The Thuglodyte wiped the sweat off of his brow. “Yes, there’s only one explanation, mate. You really is as good as they say, Johnny! We heard stories of how there was a bloke who was uncanny at poker since the Rasenni Gaming Commission instituted the fifth suit, Time, someone whose specialty was the Ace-Five-of-a-Kind. Bravo, mate, truly, that was smashing!”
This “Johnny” nodded slightly, the same smug smile on his face as he watched the brutish Thuglodytes file out of the alcove and back into the bar, probably to drown the memory of their loss in a sea of booze. Only Sylus remained in the alcove, as Johnny methodically counted his winnings.
“Let’s see here. One thousand… two thousand…” Johnny looked up as Sylus shifted. “Is that my refill, junior? ‘Bout time. The service in this place is worse than a Bookworld brothel.” Johnny pushed his empty mug forward on the table. Sylus stood speechless for a moment, still reeling from what he thought would be a big exciting brawl.
“Uh…what? No. No. I don’t work here. This is my drink!” Sylus said angrily. Johnny eyed Sylus skeptically through his glasses.
“Kid. You ain’t took a sip off that mug. You look like yer about eleven and scared out of whatever wits you got. Heh. Take a hike before you get hurt.”
“Before I get….hurt?” Sylus spluttered. “You..I…you don’t… I’m not…” Sylus couldn’t believe that this could be the man Zybourne meant. He was rude, obnoxious, annoying, arrogant and reckless. Johnny reclined in his chair again. Sylus held the mug forward defiantly. He raised it to his lips and took an enormous chug, as much as he could pour down his throat without choking. The thick viscous liquid was like burning tar, tasting like something between the floor of a parggle sty and steamrefined combustion fuel. He thought it would burn a hole in his throat and that all of his insides were on fire. He stumbled around, dropping the mug to the floor, grasping at his throat and spitting out as much of the foul slop as he could. “BLEEAOOURGH!!!!!” Sylus screamed helplessly as his eyes watered and he threw up all over the floor. He doubled over in pain, then fell to his knees as his body refused admittance to the foul liquor that was in his glass. Johnny watched with an amused disgust, then returned to counting his chips until Sylus finally stood again, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.
“By all that is rational and true, I have never tasted anything like that. I thought I was going to die,” Sylus said, embarrassed. Johnny just smirked and then resumed ignoring Sylus. Sylus stood, his eyes unfocused as the room righted itself again. The foul second-taste of his lunch was on his lips and he grimaced dolefully at Johnny.
“Something I can do for you, or you just planning on staring at old Johnny all day? I do autographs but you’ll have to pay.”
Sylus looked around in amazement. “An autograph? What? No, drat it. Look. I’m supposed to find someone here, a Johnny Fiveaces. Dr. Zybourne sent me.”
At the mention of Zybourne’s name, Johnny’s ironic smile faded. He looked Sylus up and down again, as if really seeing him for the first time. “Zybourne you say….hmm. Well that’s me, kid. The name’s Aces. Fiveaces. Johnny Fiveaces. And I guess after that little show you know why.” He flipped a card out of his pocket at handed it to Sylus. Sylus examined the card, it was a custom made Ace of Time, made into a business card. In fancy script it read: “Johnny Fiveaces: Gambler – Gunslinger – Wanderer.”
Johnny Fiveaces (unknown...)
Sylus couldn’t believe this blowhard was supposed to help him get into Capital and help rescue Zybourne. He stuffed the card into his pocket. “Yeah okay, well, Dr. Zybourne said you could help me. He said you were trustworthy…” Sylus added, ‘though I doubt it now’ under his breath. Johnny grinned mischievously at Sylus.
“Well kid, that all depends. What seems to be yer trouble? Girl problems?” Johnny winked, “I can definitely give you a hand there, there’s a dancer over in the Quantum Boa that owes me a few favors…”
Sylus blushed furiously despite himself. “NO! Nothing like that. Listen to me for a minute will you? I got a hologramographogram from Dr. Zybourne, saying that something called the “Golden Egg” was in danger and that he needed our help to find it and get it back… also at the end of the tape… I think Dr. Zybourne is in serious danger. It sounded like CAPITAL sentries were at his door.”
Johnny once again lost his ironic grin, his eyes growing steely at the mention of the egg. His grimace increased when Sylus mentioned Zybourne’s predicament. He pented his fingers together and whispered through his clenched teeth, “The golden egg… drat it. I told that old man… And Dirk? What was he thinking? This is no good. And it figgers that I’d be the one around to have to clean it up,” He turned his attention back to Sylus, “Yeah kid, I can help you. But we’re gonna need some help getting into Capital. Fortunately, I know just the man. We better get moving though, if Zybourne’s in trouble, I don’t want to waste any time.” Johnny paused, then resumed, “How did you say you knew the old man?”
Sylus squirmed uncomfortably. “Well, he always came around once every year or so and brought me presents. My step-father said he was my uncle.”
Johnny’s eyes squinted grimly. “Well kid, let me tell you a little something about li-huh?”
There was some kind of commotion outside the Bloody Piston and a crowd was gathering by the entrance. Sylus and Johnny looked at one another and both could tell that they had the same idea simultaneously: to go and check out the ruckus. As they approached the saloon style doors of the bar, a single scream pierced through the air, a scream Sylus recognized the voice of who screamed it, because he had heard it many times in the past, though not as desperate as it sounded now. It was Nina.
Sylus and Johnny ran outside, Johnny grabbing a mug of ale off the bar on his way. Outside, Nina stood by the steamcycle, brandishing a gyroflower at the three Thuglodytes Johnny had just aced at poker. They leered and made playful grabs at Nina as she whirled around, frightened and desperate.
“Nina! What in the name of all that is rational are you doing here? How did you get here? What’s wrong with you, I told you not to follow me! drat it!” Sylus spluttered, looking harshly at Nina.
“Sylus… I’m sorry… I… I couldn’t let you go alone! I stowed away under the goods in the sidecar, I thought you could use my help!”
Johnny smirked, looking over the steamcycle. “’Gic, kid, this clunky thing belong to you?”
Sylus turned angrily to Johnny, “Yes, it does, and it’s not a thing, it’s a girl, and her name is Nina!”
Johnny laughed, “Heh… Actually I meant this piece of garbage you call a bike. It’s older than your clothes, junior.”
Nina’s arms went akimbo. “First of all, that’s my Steamcycle you big jerk. Secondly, we have a bit of a situation here. These…these… thugs were trying to hurt me!”
Johnny laughed again. “Steady now darlin’, don’t get all twisted up. Sylus, why don’t you mind yer broad and I’ll dance with these ladies,” he said, turning to the Thuglodytes. “So, girls, ya got somethink to show this old one eyed Jack?” He held a card threateningly between his fingers and winked at the leader.
“I’ve ‘ad about enough of yer big mouth, mate. You might be some kind of poker whiz, but you ain’t so tough. It’s about time you put yer farggin’ money where yer mouth is,” the lead Thuglodyte growled. He shoved off his studded jacket, revealing his bulky taut shoulder-girdle. He flexed his arms a few times, his veins popping out over his biceps and chest.
“Cram it, musclehead,” Johnny said, “yer about to make a big mistake. Why don’t you just fold now and get out with yer rear end intact. Or, you can ante up and see how fate deals… but take my word, it won’t be a winning hand.”
A crowd was gathering around the group, the favorite form of entertainment in Walliston’s Hill being a street brawl. The Thuglodytes were notorious for causing trouble and even notoriouser for ending that trouble – with a vengeance. Barflys, shady grifters, streetwalkers, drunkards, hagunots, and urchins crowded around chuckling gleefully, yelling Fight! Fight! Sylus held Nina’s wrist and stared at the spectacle that was evolving. He could tell this wasn’t a good idea.
“Johnny! We need to get out of here. We’re drawing too much attention to ourselves!” Sylus yelled over the din of the crowd.
Johnny irregardlessly disregarded the warning. He just stood grinning at the Thuglodytes, brandishing a card in his hand. The Thuglodytes looked at each other and the leader took a step toward Johnny. Just as he did a loud siren sounded, its wail carried over all the rooftops of Walliston’s Hill and the terrible noise of the crowd died instantly. Sylus stood frozen with fear as he walked slowly over to Johnny. It seemed like the siren was the only noise that had ever existed and all else was silent. It went on like this, in Sylus’ mind, for an eternity. Then as quickly as they had gathered, the crowd dispersed in a panic. People shoved one another into the street, kicking, tearing, pushing and biting to flee into the alleys and the shadows.
The Thuglodytes gave Johnny one last look that said ‘Yer not worth it’ and joined the fleeing mob, disappearing into the night. Only Johnny stood calmly and raised his mug of ale to his lips. But a rotund hagunot, jostling his way through the crowd, bumped roughly into Johnny and caused the greater portion of his ale to spill all over his face and scarf.
“You son of a bitch!” Johnny screamed. He threw the mug down in disgust, it shattered into a thousand pieces, an interesting juxtaposition to the crowd which had also shattered into many pieces because of the siren which still wailed in the air. Sylus clapped a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
“Johnny Fiveaces, what is that siren?” Sylus said.
“That means trouble, kid. It means CAPITAL is on its way, and I don’t mean for a friendly game of cards. They’ve been looking for me every since I… well they’ve been looking for me for a long time. And don’t think yer not on their targets neither. CAPITAL don’t make mistakes and if they know yer involved with the Egg, they’ll do whatever it takes to catch you – dead or alive.”
Sylus grimaced at the news and looked over at Nina who was trying to pick up the gyroflora that had fallen out of the sidecar. Damnit! Sylus thought, what did that fool Uncle Dr. Zybourne get us into? The gravity of the situation hadn’t hit him before now, that he and those he cared about, he looked again at Nina, would be in actual danger because he received that message. He looked at Johnny who was mopping his face with his scarf, a look of disgust on his face. Could it be that we have to trust this bozo? Well, we don’t have any choice, Sylus concluded, we’ve got to go with him and hope that he can get us to Zybourne.
“Johnny,” Sylus began, “we need to get going too. You have to get us into Capital. We have to find Zybourne and the egg before it’s too late. Please. You’re our only hope.”
Johnny unwrapped his scarf and threw it on the ground. “I was gonna drink that beer, drat it.” He looked up at Sylus, a weariness in his usually bright, dancing eyes, and nodded solemnly. “All right kid, first we have to go by Prey Bark to find the bloke I told you about what can get us into Capital.” Johnny glanced dolefully at Nina and the steamcycle. “I can’t fit both of you on my bike, so you’ll have to take that junker, at least to Prey Bark. Think she’ll make it?”
Sylus looked back toward the parking lot of the bar. All the spaces were empty but two. In one, was Nina and the steamcycle, which for some reason looked rustier and dirtier than he ever remembered seeing it. But even worse, the only other vehicle left, Johnny’s vehicle, was the sleek magnabike Sylus had admired before entering the bar. He blushed furiously. “Yes, the steamcycle will hold up just fine,” he said curtly “let’s just get out of here.”
The Magnabike (Evilkosh)
“Right, kid, follow me,” Johnny winked as he unrolled a new and unspoiled scarf, the same vibrant orange, and wrapped it about his neck.
“Uh…boys…” Nina’s little voice squeaked from behind the sidecar, “we might have a leettle bit of a problem.”
Sylus and Johnny turned to see three CAPITAL soldiers standing in their way. They were fully decked out in their army attire, armed to the teeth with the latest EMP technology. They wore their tight rounded hats with the short brims pulled down close to their eyes. Over each soldier’s right eye sat an electronic headphone/eyesight which allowed them to communicate and view statistical data through their own visual interface – a creation of Dr. Malaprop – and integrated into their brains. Each brandished an EMP rifle and a bandolier of ammo, the blue liquid electricity crackling menacingly inside the glass casing of each slug. Each had several grenades at their waist, some of the old style that merely exploded, others the even more dangerous EMP grenades that not only exploded but had a fierce charge, turning the grenade into a strong electromagnet.
The Typical CAPITAL Soldier (unknown...)
The first soldier stepped forward, his sandboots kicking up dirt from the streets, and spoke in a monotonous, semi-robotic voice:
“Under the orders of CAPITAL we demand you drop any and all weapons, put your hands on your head and surrender yourself to our custody for the crimes of high-treason, espionage and public disturbance. Jonathan “Fiveaces” aka “Johnny the Ace” aka “The Jack of Time” aka “The Prince of Poker” aka “Johnny Four Aces and One King” aka “Don Geojohnny” aka “Jean Suite” aka “Juan ‘The Jack’ Cardlos” you are also wanted on the additional charges of extortion, loansharking, grand theft, assault and battery, armed robbery, evading police, vandalism, solicitation, rioting, being AWOL and speeding.”
Johnny grinned at the soldier and said, “Heh… you forgot murder!” The soldier’s eyes widened and in one graceful motion, Johnny flipped a gleaming card from between his fingers and struck the soldier in the throat. The soldier grasped futilely at the wound, his blood spurting out into the street.
“Three of a kind – or should I say two of a kind now – never beats an ace in the hole.”
The other two soldiers sprang into action. One lurched at Johnny, preparing to fire his EMP rifle, but Johnny grabbed the barrel and tilted it upward, wrestling with the soldier over control of the gun. The other soldier started toward Sylus, the glinting point of his bayonet pointed directly at Sylus’ heart. It was only in seeing the soldier’s mad charge that Sylus realized he was unarmed and helpless. But he heard Nina’s voice from behind him call out, “Sylus, catch!” He spun around and already flying in an arc toward him was his old steamhammer, the one Angruff gave him when he came of age that he had never used in the shop. His fingers closed over its sturdy handle and he spun with its momentum in a full circle, swinging the hammer with all his strength and catching the surprised soldier, who could not stop his forward movement quickly enough, square in the chest. The hammer clarnged against him and Sylus felt the sick crushing of bone beneath the hammer’s weight. The soldier crumpled in a heap. Sylus stood amazed at himself, staring at the hammer in his hands and remembering Angruff’s speech.. ‘Only with this will you make your way..’ How ironic, Sylus thought, it was truer than Angruff knew at the time. The soldier Sylus had struck groaned and rolled over onto his back. The EMP bullets on his chest had cracked and were violently shaking on the bandolier. Sylus didn’t know how EMP technology worked – few did – but he knew this looked like a bad thing.
“Johnny, Nina! Get down!” He shouted, flinging himself to the pavement like a hound on a pargglechop.
Nina saw what was happening and ducked into the sidecar, shielding her head with her arms. Johnny looked around the head of the soldier he was still struggling with and saw the EMP rounds rattling on the fallen soldier’s chest.
“Aw poo poo.” He said. He winked at the sweating soldier and promptly kneed him in the groin, and pushed him back towards the other soldier. He tripped over his comrade’s fallen body and landed on top of him. Just as this happened, the containment field on the EMP rounds fractured and a violent EMP blast destroyed the two bodies and everything within ten feet, leaving a massive crater in the ground. Johnny flew back in the air from the force of the blast and landed in the middle of the street.
“Aw….poo poo….” Johnny repeated slowly. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a swaggerette and lit it. Lying supine in the street, the swaggerette hanging from his lip he called out to Sylus, “Nice work, kid, but I think some of the town is still standing.”
Sylus got up and dusted himself off. Nina sat up in the sidecar, her eyes wide. “Come on Sylus, let’s go, more will be coming!” Nina called.
Sylus took one last look at the hammer in his hands, the memories of his apprenticeship as a steamsmith flitted across his mind, and thinking of the surprised, scared look on the soldier’s face who moments ago was alive but now, because of his actions, was not, knew that he would never live the quiet life Angruff had planned for him.
Sylus fights a CAPITAL Soldier (Mechanigma)
“I’m coming, Nina. Get up Johnny, we better leave.”
Johnny laughed and sat up on the pavement. He took a long drag on the swaggerette and looked at Sylus.
“By rithma, kid, that was a helluva thing!”
Johnny picked up the EMP rifle of the soldier with the card in his throat and his ammunition belt, the soldier also had an old style gyropistol in his hip-holster. Johnny took it out and threw it to Sylus.
“Here, you know how to use this thing? I don’t trust you with that drat hammer.”
Sylus caught the gun. Without saying a word, he turned from Johnny, mounted the steamcycle and took off down the street. Johnny laughed again, looked around at the destruction, got to his feet and walked over to his bike. With a loud and intimidating roar, the engine of the magnabike amped up. He pulled back out of the parking lot, took a last wistful glance at the Bloody Piston and sped down the street so fast he caught up with Sylus and Nina in a matter of seconds.