The fields outside Hornblower brimmed with people; elderly, infants, teenagers, and all ages between. They spread out in a huge ‘V’ that radiated out from the stage as far as the river bank, a quarter mile away. Some folks, in fact, were sitting atop the old guardhouse roof on the far bank of the river.
Kratia promised that everyone would be able to hear and appreciate the unusual, outworlder music. All three thousand people she had invited were present, and at least twice that number of family members or uninvited guests had come as well. Though crowded, it wasn’t much worse than fair day at Gonash.
The stage itself was a beautiful affair, constructed earlier in the day by Kratia’s wizards under the direction of Nikademos. An open amphitheater with almost perfect acoustic properties, its conical backdrop would carry the sound of Nick’s huge speakers farther and louder than anything ever before heard in Salmineria. The sound amplifiers were enormous, taller than two men’s height, built from Nick’s memories of how they should look and the insights of Vejij Onwei on how they must function. Their confirmation test earlier in the day had rattled windows and walls in Hornblower, and was clearly heard in the castle miles away on the hill.
Kratia had spared no expense on this evenings entertainment; food and candy vendors patrolled the crowds, providing free sustenance. To many of those who normally worked six days of the week just to meet basic living expenses, the taste of free luxury seemed a frivolous extravagance. To many more, however, it seemed to be their just reward; an acknowledgment of and repayment for all their long toils from those of humanity that seemed never to have to toil. This was especially reflective of the attitude of the newly arrived troops of the Esaf Condeu, all seven hundred fifty of them.
Though the stage was still empty, a deep bass ‘boom’ reverberated out of the speakers, and cowed the enormous crowd to silence. Another ‘BOOM’ blasted out, sending terrified younger children scurrying to their mother’s arms. A third, still louder blast rocked the stage and shook the ground in sympathetic vibration; a blinding flash accompanied this one, and inside the dying light of the flash Nikademos appeared.
Standing behind his neon orange synthesizer, dressed in a bright red latex body suit, face painted red and black, he looked like a demon as he lifted both arms high in the air. Then the hands came down upon the keyboard, and the show began. His fingers raced across the keys, and the people gasped in astonishment at the raw power and strange beauty of the sound. The cords were basic, primeval: Nikademos knew how to beckon to the dark side of the human soul. The melody followed, simple accompaniment for the words that began flowing from his lips.
You might think me filled with sin
But your thoughts cannot begin
To comprehend the madness in my brain.
I will open up to you
Be the judge of what is true
Relate to me and let me share the pain.
I work hard, and what’s it for?
I’m just as hungry, just as poor.
Nobody gives a damn if I complain.
Look away, look away, let me die.
Learn to follow orders quick
Kiss some ass, avoid a kick.
The wealthy hold the world on a chain.
If I try to get ahead
I’ll be broken, or be dead
To wish for something better all’s in vain.
Life’s unfair, life is cruel
We gripe and sip our gruel
And pretend the agony is just mundane.
Look away, look away, let me die.
Is there nothing better here
Than to live in pain and fear
And watch the whole world slowly go insane?
I’d trade ten years of my life
For a month unspoiled by strife.
A happy bargain that would be to gain!
But I see no hope, no light
Just endless years of fight.
A loveless world where Justice has been slain.
Look away, look away, let me die.
He sang and the crowd heard him with their ears and with their hearts, captivated by the heavy bass beat, strange instrumentation, empathic lyrics.
Kratia was euphoric. With her help Nikademos had reached a new level of insidious charm. He had never sung better, never felt so keenly the crowd’s mood as it hung on his every word and gesture. Kratia knew this and keenly felt his infectious rapture because her own consciousness was deeply fused with Nikademos. But her expanded consciousness was not limited to only his mind; it went far beyond his to soar and hover and dart within all the vast crowd; seeking, probing for any entrance into the minds of the listeners. A listener had to want to become one with the music, had to lose himself or herself in it, in order for magic to let her to slip into their minds.
There were many such minds. She stopped at each one and entered stealthily, cautiously. Doing nothing more than making the listener identify even closer with the lyrics, intensifying their emotions, fueling their appetite to hear more, to suspend rational thought in favor of the emotive fire of the music.
It soon became obvious that the best converts were the teenagers and the young adults; over ninety percent surrendered their minds to Nikademos and Kratia. Some disgruntled mature adults also joined with her, though less than half. Fortunately most of the new troops were young or were predisposed to accept the message being carried by the music. The elderly recruited poorly and the children she ignored as useless.
As Nikademos played the music, she played him: the beat, the melody, the words twisted and flowed as she directed, following the mood of the crowd, capturing more and more of the audience. Letting her insinuate the changes that were necessary into their tiny minds. With a change of chords the music shifted towards the possibility of a salvation. There was hope, it said, but only on Kratia’s terms. Open up to her, join her, and freedom and power and love and acceptance could be yours.
We can pray it’s not too late
To avoid that dismal fate
Let’s crawl out of the slime and shed its stain!
Kratia cares, she’s good, she’s kind
Open up to her your mind
Our love and hope and dreams she’ll not restrain!
We’ll be loved for what we are
Every blemish, every scar
And we’ll dance on rainbow bridges in the rain!
Look at me, look at me, help me live!
Many more minds opened up to her and she gleefully entered them. It was time for more fundamental changes; the open willing minds soon found happiness as their brains were properly rewired. Satisfied at last with the number of converted minds, Kratia checked her cache of wands, knowing the power drains were enormous. Over ten thousand megs had already been spent; more than a week’s output from the hydro plant! More than three-fourths her immediate supply. Yet she was almost there; it would be enough.
As Nikademos began another song, she contacted Sarral, ordering him to have the staff magicians at the castle proceed with the cloaking spell. She was reasonably sure that the castle, four mile away, was outside the range of pain and fear that would soon erupt. True there were mild tranquilizers and pain killers in the free food and beverages being distributed, and that would help. But it was hard to estimate the emotional force of carnage. In any case, there was the power of the Crystal backing her prophesy. She could not fail.
She felt the distant spell begin, a holographic overlay on every visual image of the crowd. Every face, body, article of clothing, even each blade of grass, perfectly captured by the spell that her wizards were casting. For now it was passively duplicating reality; soon it would hide that reality, showing any prying eyes only what she wanted them to see.
It was time. Kratia let the concert end with Nikademos bringing forth a final glaring crash of dissonant chords. Sporadic applause broke out, nervous and uncertain.
Kratia appeared on the stage as Nikademos fainted and collapsed. She raised her arms and magically insured her voice carried to all and that her separate thoughts were heard by the chosen.
“My friends and guests, (my beloved followers) that concludes tonight’s concert (look around you; nod to each other, feel the presence of each other) please be careful upon leaving (we have no fear, only love, only loyalty) it is dark and there are so many of us here (find those near you who are not of us; those who feel pain or fear, and the elderly, and the children) and I would not want anyone to be inadvertently injured (and kill them now!)”
Pandemonium broke loose in the crowd; screams and curses of outrage as blows were landed and choking and kicking and stabbings began. Kratia screamed and collapsed to the stage, clutching her head as the spell was instantly dissolved by the intense pain and terror that surged through the crowd.
There was thunder, loud booming thunder, but she had been so very careful with the wording of her announcement as she cast that spell. She could breathe, she was alive. The Crystal was her ally, not her executioner. She laughed hysterically as the crowd continued to scream.
A young boy jumped up on the stage, running, terrified, screaming for help.
Kratia beckoned him over, pulled out a dagger and slit the boy open, crotch to sternum. His intestines fell out, steaming, with the overwhelming odor of feces. She stood up, kicked the body away, and laughed some more.
She knew that the cloaking spell would show hundreds of Reps swooping in, attacking and killing the crowd. For each death at the hands of her new recruits, a Rep would appeared to have claimed a life. She had ordered that the spell include an image of herself, futily trying to form spells in the midst of so much pain and fear, and then just wildly swinging her dagger in a attempt to keep the beasts away.
In the end it would show her as the hero by setting the stage on fire; the resulting light, heat and smoke confusing and blinding the Reps, which gave the Esaf troops time to form ranks and mount a serious counter-attack that finally drove off the beasts.
Kratia shuddered as she felt the magical lines of force reform, and her power to command that force was restored. The dying were now the dead.
Of the original nine thousand plus people, only two thousand remained. All were totally devoted to her, even those that had slain brothers, sisters, or parents. These were followers of whom she could be proud!
Kratia broadcast a message to Sarral. “Tell General Messick that I have solved his recruiting problem, and that I want these troops to begin training under Drake tomorrow.”