Once again we take a third trip to the world of Modern Realms, an illustrated short story set in a fictional world of magic and suspense, this time exploring a little further afield with Death and Politics. As is probably blatantly obvious, the story takes some inspiration from Native American mythology (east cost specifically), which is a fascinating subject and well worth a read in to if it piques your interest.
As always, feedback and questions can be directed in the comment's below, or my tumblr or deviantart. All characters and world concepts are copyright Jack Harvey (I.E me). Most of all I hope you continue to enjoy my stuff.
Death and Politics
A Leo Wounded Bear Story
By Jack Harvey
Leo Wounded Bear finished cleaning his sidearm. He had daydreamed through it. Second nature to him. A soldier once, but no longer. His time had been served. Nowadays he made a living as a bodyguard for Councilman Onatha. Still he dressed prepared for combat, more so than someone with his responsibilities really should
“Your nerves betray you young one. Pray tell what is on your mind?” The creature said, hiding in shadow.
“You already know what is on my mind,” Leo replied. The creature had arrived unannounced, but he had become so accustomed to it's visits that he was rarely startled by it.
The creature was known by many names. Changeling, Mimic, Shapeshifter. To Leo's people, it was Hoklonote, a creature that had one foot in this world and one in the next. A trickster that could read peoples thoughts. It's intentions were always unclear, but it long had an interest in Leo, an interest he knew he could exploit. The creature had chosen to appear as a hairy elongated humanoid, with the decomposing head of a dog. Hollow sockets stared at him out from the darkness.
“You fly far tomorrow young one, far from your native lands. You fear the Old Realmers?”
“I do not fear the Old Realmers. I do not hate them either, it is just that their ignorance irritates me.”
It was true that those outside the Spirit Lands were poorly educated in it's ways. To Old Realmers in particular, the radical differences between the nations of this continent were simplified at best.
“They even insist on referring to The Circle as 'The Circle of Druids',” Leo laughed, “Druid is an Avalonian word. It is their own creation. The Circle is composed of shaman and medicine men and conjurers, and yet they insist on playing by their own rules, not ours.”
“Would it worry you less if you were not a native of the Wendiga?” the creature asked. A touchy subject, since Leo was a son of the plains, not the forests.
“No,” he said confidently, “But the distinction only makes the ignorance more insufferable. Why are you here old one?”
A sickly breath left the the Hoklonote's whithered lips. “You travel tomorrow to Malana, Bascilicata for trade negotiations. You will be enjoying the hospitality of Fernando Carlita.”
“Enjoying?” Leo objected, “He is a rich fat animal. He only hosts these meetings to treat foreign dignitaries like personal exhibits. We are nothing but curiosities to him.”
“But go you will, because Onatha is the chief of agriculture, and the people need their food.”
Leo nodded, there had been a population boom over the last couple of generations, and the Wendiga were not a warlike people. They would happily pay when others would fight, but it takes a clever person to make sure you are not paying too much.
“A man will be there. I know not who, nor who he represents, but he will be there. He is armed with a weapon. An enchantment carved into the grip of his pistol. He is there to end Onatha's life.”
“Why?” Leo said, grimly. He was grateful for the warning, but he knew never to to take a Hoklonote's advice at face value.
“Unknown, but not difficult to speculate. There is a tension between the council and The Circle. They resent the fact that outsiders often see The Circle as the de facto authority of the Spirit Lands. There are many who feel The Circle is becoming too influential.”
“But the Councilman has The Circle's ear,” Leo said, “As long at Onatha holds his position, tensions are eased.”
“There are many who feel a conflict amongst the Wendiga would be a profitable opportunity.”
Leo was about to ask the Hoklonote what it meant by that, but without warning or ceremony it flitted out of existence. He had known the creature too long to bother crying for it to return. Instead he pondered upon it's warnings, and contemplated what it sought to gain.
It was to be a long weekend. Not in the good sense.
Councilman Onatha always traveled without aides, and only Leo for protection. Many, Leo included, called this foolish, but Onatha always insisted that it was the best way.
“When a person walks into a room with fifteen bodyguards and twenty advisors it screams of arrogance. Before they even speak the others will already have made up their mind,” Onatha said during their flight over. “The quiet two in the corner? Those two are humble. They could make the most outrageous demand in all the realms and it would still come out sounding reasonable.”
Leo couldn't tell the councilman about the assassin. It would not be taken gracefully if people knew he associated with a Hoklonote. He had tried to get Onatha to take more men, but the councilman was having none of it. Onatha's priority was nailing the trade agreement, and he felt further protection would jepordise that.
“You think the other delegates will be agreeable?”
“Most certainly. They know we do not need food, we have the power of earth magic granted by The Circle for that, but we do need resources. Fuel for the harvesters, fertilizer for the crops. It won't be hard, the Old Realmers heavily industrialized themselves decades ago. Most of them have forgotten what it was like to grow their own food.”
“That it is Leo, but one I do not state lightly. We have food in abundance, and as long as the Circle stays loyal to the continent then they cannot learn our secrets easily.”
“Some would call that cruel.” Leo said, grimly.
“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he has no further use for you,” Onatha laughed. “This is no a fairy tale world Leo.”
Leo knew that all too well.“I'm just keeping your mind sharp,” he said. There was a bullet with Onatha's name on it somewhere, waiting in an enchanted pistol. What was the significance, he wondered? Enchantments were rarely seen in the modern realms, long gone out of use since flaming swords and lightning staffs were no longer needed. “This man, Carlita. I have heard many talk of him. They say he treats these gatherings like a freak show.”
“Worry not about this Carlita my friend. He is only the host, a playboy who thinks he can buy influence. In his Bascilicata that may be possible, but not to me. I only care about the talks, once they are finished we will depart.” He turned carefully and pointed at Leo closely. “You just need to make sure you do your job. Keep me safe, and I will do my duty to the people.”
Leo nodded, but as always, he feared he was not up to the task.
“Take a shot from the bow. Go on, I have always been curious.”
Leo shook his head. “Mr Carlita, I have never trained in the use of a bow.”
“What! Never? I thought you Spirit Landers were brought up hunting bison upon the plains?”
Typical ignorant Old Realmer. “The Wendgia are forest dwellers Mr Carlita.”
“Bah, more boring than expected. Very well, I will have to go watch the Janissaries fly their carpets one more time.” Fernando Carlita waved Leo away. He was not as fat as Leo had been led to believe, and much more handsome. He radiated wealth, but this didn't make him any more likable. Money was the man's only desirable quality.
Indeed the halls of his penthouse could attest to that. The entrance hallway was graced with a fountain flanked by two carved dragon skulls. These creatures were endangered now, but that didn't seem to stop Fernando displaying their remains with pride. The view of Malana from the roof was breathtaking, and it's tall skyscrapers even put Wendiga's own sprawling complexes to shame.
Leo walked past the pool, where the bikini clad Aethena Carlita, Fernando's trophy wife, swam with an assortment of lady friends. Leo did not let his eyes linger like some of the men, it felt unseemly. Instead he glanced up at the dignitaries on the next level. They were all talking Avalonian, one of the most widespread languages used thanks to King Arthur's crusades during the golden age.
Onatha seemed safe for now. There were only other dignitaries around the table. It was unlikely that an assassin would strike during the talks. Instead he motioned to the barman for a drink, and leaned over the glass barrier to enjoy the view.
The Vangarian Janissaries glided past on their flying carpets. Leo was modestly impressed. He had never seen the carpets of the desert legends before. That being said, he reminded himself that his own people could produce spectacles just as breathtaking.
“Bunch of amateurs,” came an accented voice beside him. It was one of the other delegate's bodyguards. One from the flying city of Al' Fahja. If Leo recalled correctly he had introduced himself earlier as Nazim. Though he wore a red and white headscarf, Leo could tell beyond his tanned skin that he had elven blood in him, probably second or third generation.
“You are not entertained?” Leo asked.
“Bah. The Vangarians have only known the art half as long as the people of Al' Fahja.” Nazim said in exaggerated disgust. “If Carlita thinks that this is skill then he should see what our carpet runners can do.”
“Why didn't you...” Leo started, but was cut off.
“Because my people aren't stupid enough to go around displaying their military capability for all to see. There are eyes watching you know?”
“Or listening,” Leo said, partly as a joke, but partly for vigilance. He leaned back and looked at a man at the bar. Middle aged, bearded and white, he wore a heavy brown jacket with fur lining. “Have you any idea who that man might be?”
“Him? Been here since we arrived. I think someone said he was with the Avalonian delegation. He has got his priorities right I can tell you that much.”
Leo looked back up at the delegates. An air born human with faintly translucent skin, the Avalonian government's foreign secretary, was kicking up a fuss about something.
“So you are the Wendigan's bodyguard yeah?” Nazim continued, “You seem pretty miserable my friend. Are you not enjoying Signor Carlita's hospitality?”
“I find that many times It is hard to do this job without confronting the misery.”
Nazim laughed. “Relax. Have another drink. Go talk to the fair Aethena if that's your poison. From what I've heard she no stranger to extra marital activities. Strapping young man like you shouldn't have any trouble.” He slapped Leo playfully on the chest. “That being said it looks like the barrel chested Avalonian's got there ahead of you.”
Leo turned to see Aethena talking flirtatiously with a tough looking bodyguard. Despite her enthusiasm, he still wore an uncomfortable grimace. Leo had little interest and turned away.
Nazim seemed to take personal insult to this. “Oh by the gods why do you Spirit Landers have to be so fucking stoic all the time?”
“I am not being stoic you desert dwelling hoople head.” Leo shot back. “I am being professional. You want raucous small talk then drop me a line when I'm off duty. For now I don't have time for anything but the job.”
“And a small whiskey it seems,” Nazim eyed Leo's now empty glass. Before the jab could find it's mark, shots were fired, and the two men turned in a panic. Nazim held his cool much better than Leo did.
There were playful screams and giggles from the women as the Avalonian fired off a few more shots towards the bottles on the wall. His aim was awful, until a fifth shot finally found it's mark. Leo squinted to see if he could make out any markings on the grip, but the man was too far away.
“See what I mean? Surrounded by amateurs.” Nazim joked to ease the tension “I could have hit that bottle in one.”
“You like to boast a lot don't you? You are a proud man.”
“One of my many sins. Alas, you know what the cult of Dread Lord Skafell preach?”
“You've got to sin to get saved,” the two recalled the common saying in unison.
Leo smiled. He hadn't realised he'd been doing it. To Nazim's credit the man didn't gloat. He slapped Leo on the chest again. “Let's go get a drink.”
The two left the railings to head back to the bar. Leo picked up the conversation quickly. “I thought the people of Al' Fahja did not touch alcohol. Something about it being against your religion.”
“Bah! You are thinking of the followers of Urak. A popular religion from my home, but not the only one. I am a follower of Passia, which means I get to eat drink and make love to whatever I want.”
“No doubt related to your elven heritage.”
Nazim looked surprised. “Well spotted my friend. Though I confess I think I please the goddess far more than the stuffy elven kingdoms ever did.”
They had closed in on the bar now. The delegates were descending the nearby stairs, and they too were looking for libations. Noticing this, Nazim hopped forward, accidentally colliding with the Avalonian man from earlier.
“You'd be able to see where you were going if you didn't have that fucking towel on your head,” the man shot an uncomfortable slur, but Nazim took it in his stride.
“I don't know what you use for towels back in Avalon my friend,” he pointed to his head scarf. “Is this the kind of thing you use when your woman refuses to wash the dishes?”
The man didn't say anything, too surprised to think of a clever retort. He shuffled closer to the man in the brown jacket and Leo thought he caught them trading words. Nazim taxed his attention though, as the dark skinned half elf had somehow managed to get them two whiskeys in the time it took Leo to blink.
“Was not very nice of him.” Leo said.
“Old Realmers will always be that way. Don't let it get to you.” Nazim laughed. He leaned over so that the Avalonian could hear him. “I'm still a better shot than him anyhow.”
Leo spied Onatha approaching, he was chatting cordially to the Avalonian minister.
“So you imagine yourself a good shot?” he asked Nazim.
“Best in the city if I do say so myself,” He answered not too seriously.
“You have your sidearm with you now?”
“Of course. I would be a pretty lousy bodyguard without one.”
Leo paused for a moment.
“Let me see it.”
“I want to see your pistol.”
Nazim's smile started to fade. “Why?” he asked.
Leo didn't grace him with an answer. The Spirit Lander's face was like stone, unmoving. A few people in the bar had noticed the tension, and the chattering began to drop.
“Show me your pistol,” Leo commanded again.
Nazim looked around. Without knowing what Leo's game was he put his glass on a nearby ledge and slowly began to move his hand up to his jacket. Leo gritted his teeth and made his hand ready to go for his own. Slowly, slowly, Nazim reached under his armpit and began to withdraw. Leo's hand hovered over his holster. Nazim's hand came back into focus, concealing the grip of the pistol. Carefully now, it was out of his jacket.
A woman screamed. Onatha gasped as he looked down the barrel of a gun. Faster than a blink Leo whipped out his pistol and fired.
The pistol clattered to the floor, a glowing white star shape etched into it's grip. The Avalonian bodyguard looked down at his broad chest and coughed up a gob of blood. Seconds later, he dropped to his knees and fell flat on his face.
Onatha sighed in relief. Nazim, not quite sure what had just happened, was frozen in place. Calming down, he returned his pistol to it's place of concealment.
“How did you know?” Asked Onatha, jogging towards Leo, none the worse for ware. “How did you know?”
“To be honest It could just have easily been Nazim.” Leo looked at the half elf “I though it odd you singled me out for a drink. I guess you are just a polite guy after all.”
This snapped Nazim out of his tension, and he smiled goofily.
“As for the Avalonian, I thought it was a little unusual for a bodyguard to be such a bad shot,” Leo noted. “Which meant he was wielding a weapon he wasn't used to. An air enchantment means lighter bullets, and lighter bullets are harder to aim.”
“If that was the case, then why bother with the air enchantment?” Nazim asked, finally coming up to speed.
“I suspect to incriminate you sir.” Leo pointed to the foreign secretary he had seen earlier.
“Me?” the man said in shock.
“Elemental born people have a natural affinity for certain aspects of magic. I suspect the man intended to carry out his assassination covertly, and later plant the evidence. Hoped we would put two and two together and made five. Fortunately I managed to force his hand.”
“A risky strategy Leo,” said Onatha, “but a prudent one.”
“Did you know the man?” Leo asked the foreign secretary.
“No. He was a last minute addition, one of my regular boys was otherwise indisposed.”
“By the way things are going I imagine he's permanently indisposed,” Nazim joked blackly, but nobody laughed.
Leo turned to the bar, and looked at the now empty seat the mysterious man in the jacket once graced. Long gone no doubt. If this man was as smart as Leo guessed, then the assassination attempt would be a mystery that would never be solved. Not for a long time anyway. The assassin's body began to leak blood over Carlita's miraculous marble floor. This debacle irritated the millionaire, but was ultimately little more than an inconvenience to him.The Hoklonote's grim premonition had played out to it's grizzly end.
“My goodness. Oh dear lord. We're going to have to do an investigation.” said the minister “Why would anyone do such a thing?”
“Who can say?” Leo said, turning away from the gore. “Politics probably.”
Copyright Jack Harvey 2014