Today we bring you a FREEBIE short story from the author of the Eric Elmoor Sage. Yes i wrote that right, totally FREE! The Initiative is an all new FREE short story that takes place before ERIC ELMOOR AND THE GAUNTLET OF GODRIC. But enough gibbering from me, you want the story so here goes…….
THE INITIATIVE – an all new FREE short story set in the Eric Elmoor universe.
The wheels of the tram hitting the tracks below sounded like an unyielding thunderstorm. The cacophony was relentless on the way toward Egremont. Somebody oughta fix that, Robb thought.
He always hated these assignments at the end of the month. The tram was packed with agents from the United Novogard Initiative who were assigned to the same duty he was: collections. It was an unenviable job, but it was a job. During his two year tenure with the Initiative these tasks never got any easier. In fact, with each passing month, and the more suffering he saw, the more an undeniable guilt boiled inside of him.
Luckily, the view outside the tram was beautiful enough to provide him with the right amount of serenity to momentarily forget what he had to do. The glass separating him from the outside provided a soothing chill to his forehead as he stared at the rolling hills and mountains speeding past him at an ungodly rate of speed.
“What’s your problem?” asked one of the agents. Robb removed his head from the glass to see that his boss, Falmir, was looking at him with a most quizzical face.
“Nothing,” said Robb resolute. In truth, everything was wrong. What they were about to do was thievery and no one seemed to feel any remorse about it except for him. Falmir wouldn’t understand. He’s been with the Initiative for years and it’s rumored he’ll soon be promoted to a cushy job permanently settled in Gondlair. Falmir was loyal almost to a fault, seemingly becoming so embedded in the Initiative’s ideology that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see what was wrong about this whole situation.
“Doesn’t seem like nothing to me,” Falmir snarled. “Can I count on you to get the job done?”
“Haven’t you always?” Robb cringed at that, thinking it may have been a bit too sharp to be saying to his superior, but it was out now. He would now have to deal with whatever Falmir threw at him.
“Be careful. I don’t want any mistakes,” growled Falmir as he moved further back into the tram to harass other agents.
Robb placed his head back onto the glass, feeling the piercing cold rush through his skull. Villages came into view now. They must be getting closer to Egremont.
The tram began to slow. The squeaking of the brakes rubbing the single two-way track that stretched between each of the three major cities stabbed at his ears.
Picking up his empty duffel bag, Robb scanned the tram to see that almost all of the agents were doing the same thing. A few didn’t move a muscle. They must be the team headed to Thornburg and the surrounding villages. Robb noticed that Falmir didn’t move a muscle. He must be going with the other team. Thank goodness.
A massive circular wall surrounded Egremont just as it did Gondlair. All three major cities had the same wall. It was meant for protection from a number of vague threats outside the Novogard Assembly territories, but to Robb it made the cities feel more like prisons than anything else.
As the tram crawled to a halt at the designated platform, he could already see the multitude of Initiative troops standing by to partner up with their assigned agents to provide guard duty for the task ahead. It was more a formality than anything else. The villagers never really were much of a threat other than their occasional verbal spat but the Assembly and the higher-ups in the Initiative wanted to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible…all while showing the commoners who were really in control.
The tram doors slid open as each agent was immediately joined by their escort of three troopers all dressed in sleek black armor complete with a darkly tinted helmet which allowed for no hint at who was underneath. Each trooper carried a standard issued plasma rifle that could put down almost anything that stood in its way.
As Robb exited the tram his escort was on him in an instant. They introduced themselves in flat tones as they seemed to brag about their ranking and service records. All Robb cared to hear about were their names: Gabe, Talon, and Bethian. After the formalities were over, the stoic troopers led Robb through the wall and out to a procession of horse drawn carriages waiting outside the city. The multitude of agents and troopers loaded into the carriages one by one, Robb and his three escorts being one of the last.
Robb had always found it amazing that the technological advances that the Novogard Assembly prided itself on weren’t shared with the surrounding villages and townships. It seemed as if those outside the cities were still stuck in some distant past that they could not escape from. Some reasoned that the technology had to be strictly controlled so it would not fall into the wrong hands. Robb found the reasoning to be a load of codswallop.
Once inside the carriage, Gabe informed him that they would be going to a village called Rivermill. Robb recognized the name, he had been their before several months ago. The Warden of the village was a most animated portly fellow called Skarn. Robb’s previous experience with him was less than savory but uneventful nonetheless. Robb just wanted this all to be over with as soon as possible.
The driver slapped the reins on the two horses as the carriage lurched into motion and they were on their way. Rivermill wasn’t far from here, but judging by how fast the carriage was moving it would be a long ride. Robb decided to try to sleep, a task he was unable to do before this morning. The bumps on the dirt road would provide a most annoying obstacle in an attempt to rest, but he had to try. Everything about these collections was mentally draining. Resting his head against the pathetically padded seat, he closed his eyes.
Some time later, Robb was both thankful and angered for the annoying tug on his clothes that awoke him. Gabe stood over him. “Sir, we have arrived.”
As Robb lifted his head, a searing pain passed through the back of his skull – no doubt caused by the lack of cushion the carriage provided.
The doors swung open as Robb gazed upon a village draped in squalor. The villagers were dressed in rags. Guards roamed nearby who were adorned in tattered armor and chain mail that were long outdated.
Stepping off the carriage steps, the three Initiative troops moved into a triangle formation around him as they motioned their pulse rifles towards anyone who was looking their way. The only problem was that everyone was looking their way. Everybody here knew what Robb’s arrival meant and they didn’t need these dimwitted soldiers to antagonize them anymore.
“Can you three please lower your rifles? These people have enough to be angry about as it is,” Robb said.
“Sir, we’re here to protect you,” Talon replied.
“Trust me, these people are far too tired from real labor to do anything. Besides, it’s not like the Assembly arms them so fiercely as they do you.”
Robb brushed through the three troopers and made a beeline for a building straight ahead that contained the Warden’s office.
“Sir, please exercise caution,” pleaded Bethian.
“I have exercised caution quite enough in my life, thank you,” Robb retorted.
As the three troopers struggled to keep up with him, Robb gazed around at the tattered buildings on either side of the dirt street. Everyone in the village seemed to have stopped what they were doing to catch a glimpse of the “Collectors” – those that brought them such economical woes. A father stood outside his shop door as a small boy with a dirt flecked face looked out the window.
No face was without despair. They only served to hasten Robb’s gait.
Arriving at the Warden’s office, Robb found himself face-to-face with another guard adorned in rusted armor and wielding a pathetic spear.
“State your business,” barked the guard.
Robb laughed. “You must be new.”
The guard shifted nervously on his feet. “State your business.”
“You know who I am, son. You know why I’m here. Now get out of my way and let me do my job,” Robb demanded.
The guard stepped to one side, albeit noticeably uneasily, to let Robb pass.
“Thank you,” Robb said as he turned to face his three escorts. “You three stay here.”
“Orders dictate that we be present during the collection process, sir,” Gabe stated.
“I don’t need you raising anymore tensions. Watch those horses over there. They look most threatening,” Robb said as he walked through the door to the Warden’s office.
As he rounded the corner, Robb found Skarn already waiting for him. But something was noticeably different. Skarn knew instantly what Robb was thinking. “See what happens when you go a month with barely any food?”
The portly fellow that Robb remembered was no more. Now there was a thin, nearly emaciated, man standing before him.
“What happened?” Robb asked, stunned.
“The Assembly happened. The Initiative happened. You happened. What in the bloody hell do you think happened?” Skarn retorted.
“How long has Rivermill been without provisional assistance?”
Skarn guffawed. “What provisional assistance? You mean those trifles they send every two weeks that some bureaucrat thinks will suffice to help people out here in the real world? Provisional assistance my back side.”
“I…I’m sorry,” Robb replied, his tone genuine.
“And here you are again with your hand out,” Skarn said.
“I’m not the one with my hand out.”
“Oh, no. Of course not, my boy! You’re just the blasted idiot they sent to do their dirty work for them! Oh yes, indeed! You are completely innocent. Here, let me fetch you your money.” Skarn reached under his desk.
Robb watched as the Warden threw a small bag of coins onto his desk. “What’s this?”
Skarn raised a single eyebrow. “What’s this? What’s this, you ask? It’s our earnings…excuse me, our taxes young man. The Assembly demands one third of all wages. Well, there you go.”
“This is it?” Robb asked, grief striking his heart as the question left his lips.
“There is nothing else to give but the flesh off our bodies. And if you want that you’re gonna have to take it from me because my people have been doing the best they can with what they got and it ain’t much. I’ll be certain to mention that in the next Grand Council,” Skarn said, his face hardened.
“It isn’t right,” Robb whispered.
“Come again?” Skarn asked.
“It isn’t right,” Robb repeated louder.
“Well I’m glad you see the obvious in our predicament. But what can we do about it?”
Robb took a moment to contemplate the question posed to him by the Warden. The strife caused by the Initiative and the Assembly upon the citizens living outside the three cities have left an undeniable mark on him that he was unable to shake. He wished he knew what could be done to end the suffering. Everything he thought of led down a path that would have regrettable consequences. Every choice led to risk.
But perhaps the risk was necessary to take. Maybe to gain something in the end, something else had to be sacrificed. He couldn’t believe what he was going to do, but it had to be done. Even if Rivermill wouldn’t be saved by the actions they took here, maybe it would spark something in others to take action as well and make a stand. He had to make a decision. They had to make a decision. Here and now. If it wasn’t done then the agony would only continue on and may even worsen.
“I can’t accept your payment,” Robb said.
“I’m sorry?” Skarn asked.
“I will not be taking your money,” Robb stated, absolute.
“Are you mad? Do you have any idea what the Assembly will do to you? To us?! The danger is far too great.”
“The risks are extraordinary, but someone, somewhere, at some point must stand up to the bureaucrats and say ‘no more.’ We can be those people.”
“This is an act of insurrection,” Skarn pressed.
“Let it be called such. If we should succeed, however, we will be hailed as heroes,” Robb said.
“Ah, so you seek glory?”
“No, only to live life without the burden of oppression.”
Skarn sat silent for a moment. No doubt weighing the risks of this course through his mind. Clasping his hands together and bringing them to his chin, he stared off somewhere in the distance away from Robb.
“Very well,” the Warden finally said.
Robb was taken off guard by his response. Sure enough, that was the response he was hoping for, but it was unexpected as well. Skarn stood straight and reached out his right hand. Robb took it firmly in his grip. Everything was about to change.
Hopefully for the better…
The scream came from outside. The handshake that made Robb and Skarn traitors to the Assembly was broken as they rushed toward the window.
Outside, they spotted three imposing figures dressed all in black unleashing arcane spells upon the scant buildings of Rivermill – driving people out in droves.
As the citizens flooded the streets, each were brought down by one or more of the figures in blasts of terrible red light. Men, women, and children…no one seemed off limits.
The screams were deafening.
Robb spotted the three Initiative troopers sent to escort him to Rivermill engage the figures. Their pulse rifles seemed of little use against their foes as they were brought down in an instant.
Rivermill guards didn’t even bother to engage after watching the slaughtering of the Initiative troopers. But as they turned to run, they too were brought down in flames wrought of the arcane arts.
As the destruction continued, it dawned on Robb that the figures were coming closer. The realization hadn’t escaped Skarn either as he quickly moved away from the window and toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Robb asked.
“The hell out of here! You would be wise to do the same,” Skarn shouted back.
The moment Skarn opened the door and entered the hallway, a red light flashed outside the room, and where the Warden had once stood there was only a pile of ash on the floor.
Robb couldn’t help himself but remain absolutely still. He didn’t know if it was out of cowardice or courage in the face of imminent death.
His eyes were fixed on the doorway as he heard the distinct thud of boots hitting the hardwood floor and coming his way.
Soon enough, a hooded figure peered through the door, saw Robb still standing by the window, and turned to whisper something to his two companions.
As the tall, imposing figure entered the room the other two remained outside.
“What is your name, agent?” the figure asked.
“Robb Reinhart,” he managed to finally say after a moments hesitation.
“You bore witness to our power, I assume?”
All Robb could offer in reply was a single nod.
“Very good. I want you to do something for me.”
“And what is that?” Robb asked nervously.
“I want you to return to your beloved city and tell your High Council about what you saw here today. I want you to tell them that The Order has come to collect a debt and as long as the Assembly continues sending emissaries into lands that are not their own and trying to force an alliance, we will continue collecting. No township or village is safe as of this point forward.”
“You’re not going to kill me?” Robb inquired.
“No. Enough blood has been spilled this day.”
The figure began walking back to the door as a burning question raced through Robb’s mind. “Why are you doing this?”
The figure stopped and turned. “I do this so that my people may live a life without the burden of oppression.”
“By killing innocent people?”
The figure moved away from the door. He approached Robb until they were face-to-face. Robb could barely make out the man’s features under the cloak but could tell that he was deadly serious.
“Anyone who willingly allows their leaders to behave in such a manner as the Assembly have are just as guilty as they are. No one can claim innocence when they fail to act against such tyranny.”
The figure left the room at a brisk pace as his two companions followed him out of the Warden’s office.
Robb looked out the window as the three cloaked figures left Rivermill behind them still aflame.
What the figure had said to him stuck in Robb’s head and kept repeating itself…
“No one can claim innocence when they fail to act…”
Robb knew he was on the verge of acting.
But this changed things.
The power The Order had at their disposal was nothing to scoff at. All of a sudden, an inner debate raged within him.
Should he warn his superiors or let The Order continue their endeavor?
It seemed as if they were fighting for the same thing Robb desires. But the deliberate extinguishing of innocent life was inexcusable.
The debate was settled. This was not the way he wanted change to come about. Perhaps in the future, he or someone else would bring about a shift.
But it wasn’t today.
Today he had to find a way to warn the Novogard Assembly of what was coming…
The story continues in
ERIC ELMOOR AND THE GAUNTLET OF GODRIC.
Will we see Robb again? Who were the three “figures” destroying Rivermill? You will have to keep reading the books to find out!
Did you enjoy that?! Stupid question right! Well, now you’re hooked go buy book 1 of the Eric Elmoor sage.
UK ~ http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eric-Elmoor-Gauntlet-Godric-ebook/dp/B00AK21Z48/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1372419314&sr=8-1&keywords=eric+elmoor+and+the+gauntlet+of+godric
US ~ http://www.amazon.com/Eric-Elmoor-Gauntlet-Godric-ebook/dp/B00AK21Z48/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1372419350&sr=8-1&keywords=eric+elmoor+and+the+gauntlet+of+godric
And to feed your obsession that will grow with this sage you can get all the updates and maybe teasers, because he likes to do that to us! In the following places ~
Facebook page ~ https://www.facebook.com/#!/EricElmoor?fref=ts
Goodreads ~ http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6696172.Thomas_A_Meyers
Twitter ~ https://twitter.com/tommythescribe
And a little birdie tells me that Book 2 of the Eric Elmoor Sage, ERIC ELMOOR AND THE CHALICE OF CAMERON, is coming soon! BIG girlie Ekkkkkkk!!