A Barbaric Yawp

the ever expanding McHughniverse

From the Herald's Wearied Eye

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The imagery was fantastic, putting me right into a world I hope I never have to live in. The characters pull you in, to a point where you can identify with (almost) all of them, even if you don't want to. It's a book I will most definitely read again.

(J. Rigiel, Amazon.com)

 

In Cartesia, no one is free except for those who don’t understand the meaning of the word. The Council, populated and run by deviants and murderous politicians, have reduced nearly all cities to either impoverished wastelands or places operated solely for their hedonism. But the Shakespeare-loving vigilante named Shal has had enough of the Council’s tyranny and she’s going to put an end to them once and for all.

 

Her struggle to protect her stepsister, escape Malay Prison, avenge her father’s death, and do it all without being sent to the Herald of the dead called the Capesman, takes her on a maddening journey of war and emotion she’d never seen coming; especially not with only one eye.

 

From the Herald’s Wearied Eye follows Shal, a soldier named Raoul, and the Capesman through the world of Cartesia where the good live underground, God is long dead, and even one’s own mind cannot be trusted.

O’er the deserts of desperation

And tedious drifts of despair

There stands a man at the Crossroads

Waiting to usher you there

Through rivers of ruined redemption

And blessings broken in bond

There stands a man at the Crossroads

Waiting to take you beyond

With horn in hand, he calls you

To drink with those fallen before

There stands a man at the Crossroads

To open the amaranthine door

From the herald’s wearied eye

Breaks a new sunset and dawn

The Capesman stands at the Crossroads

To carry us all ever on.

 

The day of placement was greyer than any impending winter upon the sky, mostly because the choice of placement was concrete in its finality. Marius knew as he stood before the crowd of Councilmen that the past months of speeches and declarations had all been meaningless. Words don't matter when titles scream, and every title slapped on every soulless politician that approached the podium screamed, "Obey or be cast Underground!" It was an obvious decision, had there been a decision to make, and after it all, Marius not only became a lesser man, he became a banished man.

How long had it been since she first came to Malay? Four years? Five? Wasted years that could have been glorious times of discovery and ascension had become forced redemption and needless rehabilitation. Of course, she battled the forces that tried to tame her, but her rebel message to the men of Malay was not accepted with quiet judgment. The prison was so fierce that the building itself had fists and fangs, and although the guards were merely puppets of Malay's ferocity, they were puppets with iron claws that longed to tear the convicts’ flesh apart, as well as their dreams.

The prison was built upon an island two thousand miles off of the coast of the Cascade Quadrant. It was nearly the size of the massive Quadrant itself, but to Shal, it was suffocatingly small. Every wall seemed to pull towards her until she felt crushed by the stone slabs. To all others, Malay was immense, and it was filled with so many prisoners that even with as social as she was, there were still some cons that Shal didn't know. Every other week, a new shipment of prisoners arrived at, but barely half survived the first six months and at least three died the first night; most of the time by their own design. Death was often considered a gift in a place such as this.

Besides the considerable number of cells, there was also a mess hall that left much to be desired in the way of nourishment. There was hardly enough food to go around, and many of the weaker prisoners went without eating for days at a time because of bullies stealing their portions. But forgoing a meal or two was sometimes welcome considering Warden Grejous’ fondness of lacing their lunches. Most of the time, the drugs were just tranquilizers, but once in a while, he threw in something that would make the cons violently ill; just for a change. But despite the dangers of the mess hall, there were far more harrowing places within the prison.

It was the home for the worst of the worst. There were no petty thieves or simple vandals at Malay, and because of the severity of the convicts' crimes and their penchant for violent rebellion, there had to be extreme repercussions for any and all violations. Even minor infractions such as falling out of line during work detail earned convicts a trip to the Control Room. Its official name, according to Malay pamphlets, was the Darwin Center of Therapy for Patients of Severe Mental Deterioration. In actuality, it was a torture chamber filled with extravagant devices fashioned to break the will, and sometimes the bones, of whoever dared defy the Warden and his cronies.

Each machine was associated with certain infractions: cursing at a guard or sleeping through call for work detail merited a goodly length of time in the Slicer. A prisoner was strapped into a chair that had numerous mechanical arms attached to it, and each arm was tipped with razor blades. When activated, the arms would swing around the con and shallowly slice his or her face, arms, legs, and belly. But because it was the least torturous of the Control Room devices, a stint in the Slicer lasted longer than any other machine. The Jumper: a five foot by seven foot iron box with a scalding floor, ceiling, and sides, and the Juicer: a mechanical arm that was inserted into the mouth to induce vomiting were far more painful punishment. Although the Control Room was built fairly deep into the bowels of Malay, one could quite frequently hear tormented screams break across the night. Everyone knew that such cries were usually preceded by the sound of bones bent by the machines. If a bone was broken, however, the Doc would give remedy by way of a metal splint fastened to the leg with screws. The procedure allowed the prisoner to return to normal activities, usually in more pain. Because of the antibiotic salve slathered across the affected area, however, there was no chance of infection. The Doc performed such procedures with such lightning speed that Shal often thought that were her head removed, the Doc could reattach it and have her back at work before her blood could turn cold.

The Doc wasn’t famous only for his barbaric remedies though; he also operated the ominous Dream Machine. It was hard to get a sense of what the device really was because everyone who had experienced the machine either returned to the community without their sanity or didn’t return at all. Supposedly, it was able to access one’s memory and cause the sensation of reliving selected periods of time, but because it invaded the deepest recesses of the mind, the con was frequently left trapped in their memories, unable to return to reality. Shal wished the concept of getting trapped in the past didn’t sound so appealing to her, but with the passing years and ever-widening holes of lost time in her own memory, she was more than a little intrigued by the prospect of sensory recovery.

As they usually did, the years flew by in retrospect. Her time in Malay seemed to be spent faster than any years prior, as if the prison was a weird kind of temporal vacuum. It sucked the life out of her and stole the vibrant years of her twenties. She could've been a chemist or an archeologist; she'd always wanted to be an archeologist, but the regret that she'd never dug up artifacts for a living was not as sorrowful as the regret that she'd never finish her magnum opus if she remained stuck in prison. She would never get to kill the men who needed killing, but no matter what, her mind killed them every night.

 

Shal’s bed seemed harder than before, or maybe she had just been softened by her failure at sea. She laid her book open on her face and breathed in the antiquity, but just as she started to drift off into sleep, the alarm sounded. Scores of moans and groans from her block followed the alarm’s first clang and the halls were filled with armed guards by the time her cell door squealed open. The guards ripped her out of the cage, and she knew that it was time to visit the Control Room. Her will, as well as her pain threshold, was soon to be put to the ultimate test.

"Don't scratch or bite, little girl. It'll do you little good, and you've no chainsaw to help you now,” Guard Toye hissed.

"I don’t have anything to say. No Slicer or Jumper will make me talk."

"No one cares if you talk or not. We just want to watch you break.”

"I've been subjected to all of the machines before and walked away with a smile."

"Not this one,” he replied with a sneer. “We've got something special for you, Shal. You're going to help us break in the new machine.”

She was pulled down through the hidden tunnels and rickety staircases, and even before they reached the Control Room, she could hear the wails of the prisoners inside. The guards tore the doors open, threw her inside, and she skidded across the floor. When she came to a halt, she was at the feet of Rashus, the head of the Control Room and High Officer of interrogation. He had a round, fleshy face, and his head wobbled on his brawny shoulders as he strode. His flabby chest was bare, and his mammoth stomach hung sloppily over his broad belt. Wound around his chest and shoulders was a bullwhip, but he unfurled it with a surprisingly graceful flick.

"We're going to have a lot of fun today, Shal. The Warden thought that spilling your blood would be the perfect way to christen the new machine."

"Then I must go and meet with danger there, or it will seek me in another place and find me worse provided," she replied nonchalantly.

"Whatever," he said, grabbed her neck and started dragging her to the new torture device.

It resembled a sadistic throne fused with an ancient rowing machine. It had a high back with a long concrete seat that she sat upon with her right leg extended and her left crooked to the side. Her wrists were secured to the bars distended from the device and her legs and chest strapped tightly to it. Rashus set a strange metal object above her knee and turned two screws that held her leg firmly inside it. A formidable hammer, cocked back above her knee, was attached to the device on her leg, and Shal could clearly see where it would hit when released. Rashus smiled, and when he flicked a tiny switch on the side of the device, there were several evenly spaced clicks, like that of a metronome, and Shal grew more nervous with each staccato beat.

The hammer released and soared toward her knee, and when it made contact, it knocked her patella drastically off-center. Her leg surged with indescribable pain, and she howled as her knee swelled and turned purple. Rashus knelt next to her and leaned his bulbous head against her cheek.

"Shal," he whispered in a voice that was sweetly brutal. "Does it hurt? I need to know if the Knocker is effective. So, tell me: does it hurt?"

"Yes,” she hissed, fighting to stifle her tears.

"Would you rather die than be in the Knocker one more minute?"

"Yes."

"Are you going to try to escape again?"

She swallowed her pain, forced a tiny smile, and replied, "Yes."