Axiom preview

book preview of Axiom


 


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BOOKS

AXIOM


Axiom is an immediately
accessible, multi layered chronicle of one woman’s transformation from average citizen
into tormented heroine. Set in a unique fantasy world, Axiom is a story about
suffering and conflict, fate and control, emotion and logic, and ultimately
existence itself.

http://www.ixenfor.com 

In Store Price: $24.00 

Online Price:   $23.00

ISBN:1-9210-0574-2

Format: A5 Paperback

Number of pages:
241


Genre: Fiction


June 2005 release

 

 

Author:
Shane Raffa


Imprint: Poseidon

Publisher: Poseidon Books  
Date Published:  2005

Language: English


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Chapter
1: The Beginning and the End

 

I dodged a forward fist thrust
aimed at my face. Air stirred near my ear, rustled my short hair, hinting that
the miss was closer than it should have been. I knocked the fist away and
followed through with a directed knee jab, straight to the fist owner’s gut. A
greasy, chunky brute with lots of weight but little poise, he exhaled hot,
smelly breath before cleverly rolling with the impact. He finished behind me,
his hairy arms about my chest. They tightened, grating my linen breast strap
painfully. I grunted, gritted my teeth. Curse it I was fighting badly today!

           
Frowning, I wriggled my tall, lithe frame downwards and simultaneously
heaved the brute using my shoulder. He spun in front of me and I lashed for him;
one of my palms found his bare chest while the other nipped his shoulder. I
twirled beside him and extended my leg near his ankles. His balance faltered and
he tripped. A moment later his loin-clothed buttocks slapped the stamped clay
floor. Finally!

Contest
complete, I straightened, feeling only mild satisfaction. My opponent had fought
better than I had expected, despite his flawed style. Ordinarily it would not
have mattered, except on this occasion I had planned to demonstrate his
weaknesses to the other students. I could only hope they had not noticed their
teacher’s feeble efforts.

           
Behind my back I fixed my loosened breast strap knot and extended my
hand. “Your performance was admirable,” I said. “But you failed in one
critical aspect.”

He gave me
his thick, sweaty hand and I helped him to his feet.

           
“Blocking, defence,” he said between breaths.

           
“That is correct.” I smiled. “Your offensive manoeuvres proved
worthy but my counter blows easily penetrated your defences… Or perhaps your
attacking style leaves you too vulnerable – you can look at it either way.”

           
The bearded brute nodded thoughtfully.

           
I continued, “It is good that you realise your deficiency, always the
first step toward improvement.”

           
He rejoined the other students, encircled around us. They were a mixed
collection of youths, men and middle-aged chaps from varying backgrounds. There
were no women in this particular unarmed combat class and hardly any taking my
other classes. A shame really, because the sport could be quite satisfying.

           
I wiped the back of my hand across my forehead. Sweat lathered my
complexion, which was surprising considering the scuffle had barely taxed me.
Probably the day’s rare balmy attitude was responsible. Or was it nervousness
about that other matter?

My attention
strayed to the large barred window in the far wall. Outside, the sun hid behind
overcast early autumn skies, making time estimation downright impossible. It
could have been late afternoon just as surely as it could have been mid morning.
There were not even shadows to give me a clue, just a fuzzy dullness blanketing
the gravel streets. That irked me. Was
it time to end the class or not?

           
Back inside, my students blinked expectantly in my direction. Some of
them conveyed blatant lust, others curiosity at my uncharacteristic distraction.
The worst offender, Lexis Jeweller, grinned openly, flirtatiously, setting my
heart racing.

           
I gathered my wits and said, “Find your partners and spar for a while
longer. Focus on the principles I have taught you this morning.”

           
The men split into pairs while I took my usual observation position
against the northern wall. Made from sun-baked mud brick, it stretched about
twenty steps long and ten hands high, the same dimensions as every other wall in
the training hall. Not as large as I would have liked, or as clean, but the rent
was affordable.

           
When I turned I immediately noticed Lexis again, despite my intense
desire to ensure otherwise. Short and lean, he was not the most statuesque man
on Ixenfor. His hair grew dark and oily, skin white and freckled, hands and feet
somewhat oversized compared to the rest of him. In some ways he reminded me of a
frog.

Frog-like or not, I found him desirable, probably because respect,
patience and kindness formed his core personality. Such traits were hard to
find, especially in a twenty-five-year-old. That made him four years younger
than me. And while current relationship trends favoured older women with younger
men, that had no bearing whatsoever on my interest in him.

           
During a combative pause his gaze latched onto mine. Another flirtatious
grin lit up his narrow face. This time my gut knotted. The poor guy had no
suspicion. Why would he? I had given no indication of my discontent.

           
I had plans, goals long before Lexis entered my life. I could not just
abandon them to host love’s untimely visit. Why? Why, indeed? Perhaps nothing
needed to be abandoned, only ‘adapted’ as father used to tell me?

           
No! This was why it had to end. I could achieve nothing in this
ridiculously confused state. Best I confront the matter and get it over and done
with before more doubts shook my resolve.

           
I took a deep breath and called out to the class, “Very good! That will
do for this morning. Before you leave, there is one more thing I would like to
tell you…”

           
I waited until I had their full attention. Usually I ended the class with
good worldly advice and, in spite of everything, this morning would be no
exception.

           
“Often my students fall victim to costly schemes devised by crafty
merchants, schemes that supposedly improve physical capabilities. Do not be
fooled! Contraptions and devices, potions and balms are a waste of time. Simple
things like push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, stretches and jogging are perfectly
adequate. Done often and repetitively, they will improve you internally and
aesthetically. Remember that and save yourself a fortune. You may go.”

           
Some students called their thanks. Their appreciation failed to quell my
nervousness. And when Lexis approached full of obvious good cheer, that
did not help either!

           
“I cannot believe my good fortune,” he said, reaching for my hand.
“You are so…”

           
“Lexis, no.” I stepped out of his reach. Curse it, this was going to
be harder than I thought! My mouth was dry now, my heart heavy and pounding.

           
Uncertainty replaced his grin. “Sorry, Misti…”

           
I took another deep breath. “Our relationship must end and we should
avoid contact, initially at least.”

Lexis blinked at me. I had to turn away. His soft
but searching expression threatened to change my mind.

Silence stretched between us. I felt so queasy I
wanted to vomit. What had I done? Made the wrong decision? I had hoped to feel
relief; instead I felt like a criminal.

“You are serious I see.”

“Yes. It is best.”

“How is it best?”

Avoiding his eyes, I searched for a credible
excuse. The dusty floor did not offer one, nor did my tender emotions. I thought
about telling him the truth but that might be interpreted poorly. So all I said
was, “I am sorry.

“Explain to me why you are doing this.”

“I am not ready for a committed relationship.”

“That is not true and you know it. You are more
ready than some women who have been married for ten years or longer.”

I bit my lower lip. My cheeks blazed. Unless I took
control I would become a bawling wreck. That must not happen.

Frowning, I faced him again, forced composure. “I
have made my decision.” And I would not change it here, now, under these
circumstances.

“But we have a rapport, a real rapport,” he said with exasperation. “That is not something
you abruptly discard because your mood is low. What if we…”

“This has nothing to do with my ‘mood’. I
have considered it day and night, my sleep has been very disrupted because of
this, more so than usual.”

“Then perhaps your decision is faulty.”

I folded my arms. Ordinarily Lexis did not force an
argument. Why in the world had he started today?
“Listen to me,” I pleaded. “The time is not right. Two years from
now, maybe, but not now.”

It was his turn to frown. “Two years? What do you
mean two years?”

“I have goals, Lexis, objectives I have been
working towards for many years. I am not prepared to compromise them over
this.”

There, I had said it – the truth. Yet hearing it
stated out loud, despite my outwardly confident, unfaltering delivery, it
sounded pathetic and insincere. And I had made Lexis seem nothing more than a
trivial obstacle in the way of achieving my all-important goals.

He narrowed his eyes, which had at first reflected
his unmistakeable hurt. “I did not realise my affections were so destructive
to you. Obviously you do not feel as deeply for me as I thought, or as deeply as
I feel for you! Good morning!”

He whirled around and strode for the doorway. He
did not look back. I wanted with all my heart to call out after him but instead
I cursed under my breath. It felt like boiling venom had scorched my gizzards.
Bloody carcass! It was my life; I
could see who I wanted!

Outside, beyond the window, well-to-do people
strolled within view. They did not
have these problems. Or if they did they handled them far better than I just
had.

I snatched my daily-takings purse, my linen
warm-weather cloak and reed sandals and marched toward the exit. I almost
collided with a female police officer – recognisable by a red and black
armband and government issue bronze sword.

“Misti Potterdon?” she asked.

“Yes, I am she,” I answered uneasily.

“The authorities require your immediate
presence.”

I blinked at the short but tough-looking woman,
expecting at least a little elaboration. None came. Either she knew nothing or
had been told not to reveal anything. Whatever the truth, a meeting with the
city’s managers was wearisome at the best of times, let alone when sweaty and
upset. Unfortunately such a summons could not be ignored.

“Very well,” I sighed. “First I need to wash
and change into something more appropriate…”

The officer blocked the doorway. “The time is not
negotiable. The matter is urgent. I am to escort you.”

 

She led me through the busy, dusty streets of
Bucleville. According to the last census, approximately fifty-five thousand
people inhabited the city and by my reckoning at least half of them stepped in
my way. I should have been used to it; I was not and my tense muscles and
pounding heart emphasised the fact. Almost an entire life spent in one hectic
population hub had not cured my loathing for crowds.

Bucleville sprawled over a wide distance, a lattice
of communal and private suburbs intersected by commercial buildings and
marketplaces. Orchards and croplands girt the city’s perimeter, joined by
noisy, smelly industries that would have caused problems had they been situated
centrally.

Things had not always been that way. Before the
Riyan Society revolution, the Ixenfor continent had been comprised of city
states run by monarchs, despots and religious fanatics. Sizeable population
centres in that Second Era had been hodgepodge at best – it was not uncommon
to find a putrid leather station right beside an eatery. But that was so long
ago only clay tablets and abandoned ruins kept the memories from fading.

Soon we arrived at Bucleville’s centre, where the
primary administrative building stretched two storeys high. It was a squarish,
terraced design more functional than aesthetic, and, like most regional
structures, was built from adobe bricks atop an imported jarrah framework – or
so I assumed, based on texts I had read on the subject.

I followed the woman into a familiar reception
area. The small, windowless room looked the same now as it had several months
ago; even the dust piles in each corner seemed identical. Unpleasant memories
stirred. I wanted to turn around and leave. Alas, that was not an option.

A bench occupied some space near the furthest wall.
Scattered parchment, papyrus scrolls and ink pots covered its surface, free for
any stray thief to snatch – though undoubtedly the unlit bronze lamp hanging on
a stand in the corner would have made a more profitable target. The receptionist
was absent. If it was who I suspected it was, he had likely busied himself with
less important matters.

My police escort and I marched into a narrow
passage at the rear and then through a side doorway. A moment later, the city
manager’s office stretched before us, bathed in the powerful smell of aged
kangaroo leather.

More disconcerting memories filled my mind, blended
with my already depressed mood. The crowds outside suddenly seemed more
attractive.

Two low, square tables sat near the centre, not
beside each other but at right angles. An elderly man named Yenield sat behind
one, while behind the other was an elderly woman, Farina. Like the bench in the
reception area, both tables held an assortment of writing materials. Farina’s
looked much tidier than Yenield’s, but nowhere near as neat as I would have
kept it.

Feeble light filtered through the room’s numerous
barred windows. I could barely see the old couple. Even so, I knew from memory
neither person was attractive – not Yenield with his patchy white hair and
gnarled, leathery features, nor Farina with her grey locks gathered in a bun
behind her flattish head.

“Ah, Misti, good morning to you,” Yenield said
as he rose from his chair. “Rest your legs.” He pointed at a simple wooden
stool, one of several positioned halfway between the tables and the doorway. The
stool’s faded, ancient upholstery was undoubtedly the source of the room’s
odour, though possibly Yenield and Farina’s crinkly hides also contributed.

The officer left the room while I edged my buttocks
onto the rickety seat, adopting a proper posture: very straight and upright,
knees together, hands in my lap atop my sandals and purse. Such a pose helped
keep me alert, though perhaps in this instance I would need more than that.

“I trust your classes progress well?” Yenield
asked.

“As well as usual, yes,” I lied and dispelled
distracting thoughts of Lexis.

“Good, good…” Yenield planted himself.

“It has been quite some time since your last tax
duty, about five months in fact.” Farina’s voice was surprisingly deep,
almost masculine.

“In a properly managed city my services are
rarely required.”

In all honesty, I did not like Farina, not one
little bit. She was arrogant, contemptuous and downright domineering. Prior
incidents had seen us verbally clash and it was simply miraculous I had not yet
flattened her. My violent temper was well known, and I did wonder if she
provoked me on purpose. She would love to see me flogged for insubordination.

“True, true,” Farina agreed. “Unfortunately
though, there has been an incident, one requiring your investigative talents.”

“I was told it was urgent.”

“It is. Extremely…”

Preparing to speak, Yenield stood again – a
weird, irksome trait he had acquired over the years. “An impixi, by all
accounts, forms the core of this particular mystery.”

I arched my eyebrows, curious and surprised at the
same time. It had been a long time since I had heard anything of impixies, and
then only in stories and hearsay. The little rodents supposedly possessed
destructive psychic powers, not to mention the potential to spread disease.
Nonetheless some reckless fools liked to keep them as pets, illegal though it
was. Maybe this would not be so boring after all.

While Yenield sat down again, Farina took up the
story. “The creature was sighted yesterday by a group of children. Not long
after they found it, a man chased them away, caught the impixi and then escaped.
Who he was or where he went we obviously do not know.”

“Where did this happen?”

Yenield stood and answered, “A private suburb
called Herandon. You know of it?”

“Yes. It is the second most affluent area in
Bucleville.”

“The most
affluent in these times,” Farina said.

Yenield retook his seat.

“Wealthy offspring are capable fibbers, as
capable as any other child.” I mused.

“True, but their tale needs to be investigated.
Question them this day. You will find them waiting for you at Herandon’s
school. It may be that their imagination is at work. If so, then good. If not,
well, I do not need to tell you the impixi must be found as soon as possible. To
make matters worse there is an oxilod contingent in town – and you know
how poorly they mix with impixies.”

Yenield stood. “Do you require an escort?”

“No. I can find my way.”

“Report to us as necessary,” Farina said.
“Good day.”

“Yes, good day to you,” Yenield added.

I nodded and left the managers’ office. The
meeting had been shorter and more interesting than expected. Regardless, I was
not happy. Tax duties never incited great joy, not for anybody, and for me the
only reason I hated them was bitch Farina. My students would not be impressed
either, now their classes would be postponed for a few days.

As I followed the passage into the reception area
my thoughts strayed to Lexis. Was he crying over me? Cursing me while he guzzled
half a dozen mugs of ale? Well, he would have to get over it. Quickly, I hoped.

A man arrived at the building’s main doorway at
the same time as me. It jolted me out of my thoughts. Annoyed, I almost grabbed
and hauled him out of the way.

Instead, I politely stepped aside. He cast his dark
blue eyes downward and shuffled inside. Beneath his arm he hugged a bulging
leather rucksack against his ribs. Its shabby condition matched his tattered
tunic and linen pants, both yellowed with age. His shoulder-length clay-brown
hair looked similarly scruffy. Maybe he had come to steal something. I did not
have time to keep watch.

Outside, I quickly slipped into my sandals and
started along the uneven, brick-paved main street. I veered toward a
straw-strewn area reserved for mounts, intending to cut across it. Then I
halted. More than just camels mulled around the beams and water troughs. Three
‘Big Eyes’, officially called ‘oxilods’, loitered alongside a small
entourage of human servants. They were undoubtedly the contingent Farina had
mentioned.

I shuddered. Ugly creatures, even from this
distance, towering over the humans by at least a head, their hairless grey skin
stretched taut like leather on a drum. I did not need to draw closer to see the
fine detail, the two enormous black eyes in the narrow bald heads above two tiny
nostrils and a similarly proportioned, lipless mouth. And if looks were not
enough to make most people nervous, their psychic abilities were. Big Eyes could
stun or dominate a person’s mind. Double them over in paralysis or stab
themselves to death. I shuddered again. I had heard enough to know I did not
want to experience such powers.

I changed my direction. The morning had been
unsettling enough. I resolved to make the afternoon turn out better – avoiding
oxilods was an excellent start!



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