Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
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Cult of the Blue Assassins

by Jim Alciere

Ba'ar Sidthe was getting too old for this Ninja crap. She didn't use those exact words, being from a different culture, in a different dimension, where there were no Ninjas and swear words were not scatalogically based, but the meaning was the same.

Ba'ar did not like heights, yet she was hanging from an old hemp rope twenty feet in the air, trying to climb the back city wall. The king insisted on a sacrifice. The river was low. The floods had not come last spring. The gods were unhappy.

Ba'ar figured the gods, if they existed, had better things to do than dole out rain clouds. She was cynical enough to think the king believed this as well. The old were constantly egging the young to slaughter each other.

Ba'ar had no idea why.

This year the king planned to sacrifice Sarhte Ranzon, Ba'ar's niece. Hence the rescue mission.

Ba'ar was thirty five. She herded thracks, an animal similar to our sheep, except uglier and dumber. And they bit. As a consequence of living impoverished and malnourished, in a land where even basic medicine wasn't imagined, Ba'ar was now an old woman. A rugose face. Hands gnarled and wrinkled. A back bent with age.

With Ba'ar was her husband, Bandir. He carried his grandfather's sword. Bandir's brother, Pilar brought an ax, and Ba'ar's younger sister, Tammila, brought a stout stick. Ba'ar brought a woven bag.

Sarhte's father, Dirzan, offered his daughter for the sacrifice. Not for money. Certainly not to curry spiritual favors. The man gave his daughter willingly, hoping for a place near the king during the annual tribal gathering. Not being a politician, Dirzan was surprised when assassins in blue robes stole into his house and slit his throat. The man was a drunk. Drunks didn't live long in primitive cultures.

Ba'ar crested the thirty foot wall. The city lay sprawled out below. Not so much a city as a huge clump of mud huts, the air was filled with the smell of smoke, urine, feces, and rancid yak butter.

The barbarians chose this precise minute to invade.

The barbarians were primarily a nuisance. A bunch of drunk rowdies from the North, they attacked about twice a year. Maybe it was the months of no sun, maybe it was the hallucinogenic mushrooms, but the men welcomed the chance to go to that great bloodbath in the sky. Ba'ar never expected much from a race that believed people were created as maggots on the rotting corpse of a long dead god.

Not that Ba'ar's people were much more enlightened. Take the young men that hid in blue robes, calling themselves martial artists, when in reality, they were murderers. It didn't take any creative talent to stab someone with a poison dagger. Not that Ba'ar had a lot of experience with art. Just the paintings deep in the caves.

Feeling no less anxious now that she was on level ground, Ba'ar took a small metal box from her bag. In the box was an ember from the fire that had burned for over a hundred years. She put the coal carefully on the ground and patiently fed it wood shavings.

The assassins should have been asleep, dreaming, deep in their hashish fantasies. They were not. They stood like birds, practicing their ballerina combat.

Ba'ar thought of those thin boys dancing. If the barbarians ever broke down the gate, those children wouldn't stand a chance against those bear-like men with their twenty-pound-axes. The dreams of the hashish smokers could not compete with the psychotic visions of the mushroom eaters.

The fire was burning for real now. Ba'ar took a willow stick from her bag. The willow wand, the original magic wand. She poked the fire until the willow was burning. The assassins saw her and her ragtag army. They attacked.

Tammila stepped forward. She had an amorous husband and five children. She knew just where to strike. Ba'ar carefully removed a handful of paper cylinders from her bag. The paper cylinders were tied to slender sticks. Against her better judgment, Ba'ar pointed the cylinders toward the bird-like boys.

It was odd to think of fireworks as children, but to Ba'ar they were. Chrysanthemums made of fire and thunder. She spent all winter rolling these, measuring the powder, adding just the right amount of magnesium. It was a ritual. It was an art. It was now warfare. The psychotic barbarians, the sparrow thin assassins, they would remember tonight. The people would never be the same again.

Ba'ar was afraid of what she was about to unleash, but she could not allow her niece to be slaughtered.

The world exploded with flames and rapid fire concussions. Ba'ar walked quickly to the temple. The door was guarded. Bandir took hold of the man. Forty years of shepherding had given him thin rock hard muscles. He had no grace, and was by no means lithe, but he picked the man up and dumped him on his head. The guard, dazed, saw the ax and the old sword. He decided he would stay unconscious.

The city was burning. Ba'ar hadn't thought of that. Mud huts shouldn't burn. There was so much litter -- old wooden carts, huge piles of dried manure, hay ricks. Oh well, the confusion would help.

The temple had too many rooms. They split up. Pilar shouted. Sarhte was locked in a room, unharmed. Pilar patiently hacked at the door with his ax, reducing it to splinters.

One look at Sarhte's face and all Ba'ar's doubts disappeared. The girl cried with relief. Bandir stooped down and put the girl over his shoulder.

The barbarians broke through the gates. They roared their homicidal songs, smelling worse than a rotting thrack. Going through the gate would be easier than scaling the walls again, this time with assassins after them, and a child to slow them down.

One of the assassins screamed. A rocket chased him. The stupid boy, rather than holding still, ran. The chrysanthemum bloomed. The concussion knocked the chief of the barbarians off his fat little war pony. The boy was covered in flames. He ran blindly toward the encroaching army.

Horses reared. Skilled horsemen fell from their mounts. The barbarians stopped. They were in the throes of their mushroom fueled rage, but they were not prepared to fight gods made of fire. They ran.

Bandir set Sarhte down gently. He took hold of a war pony's bridle, speaking slowly, gentling the frightened animal. The same tone of voice that had won Ba'ar's heart twenty long years ago. The horse stood still. Bandir put Sarhte on the horse's back. They set off at a slow pace, back to the encampment.

Ba'ar felt a drop of rain, then another. A gentle soaking shower. The river would flood. The desert would bloom. All without the need of a sacrifice. Maybe people would learn from this. Ba'ar had her doubts.

Still, her family was together. She put her head back and felt the coolness of the evening rain wash over her.


© 2011 Jim Alciere

Bio: Jim Alciere lives in the bustling metropolis known as East Machias, Maine, where assassins and barbarians rarely venture. His work has been published in The Binnacle and the Aputamkon Review.

E-mail: Jim Alciere

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