Selected

Most mornings were the same back then. I woke up, I had breakfast, I got dressed and went to school. 5 days a week, every week for 8 years. The morning in question was just another one of those. 1 Wednesday in 1 week out of 52, but when I close my eyes I can remember it all like it was yesterday. 

I can taste the corn flakes and fresh milk I had for breakfast, I can smell the toast and coffee my father was eating as he sat at the breakfast table across from me, I can hear the morning radio playing away to itself.

I can see the puppy-dog eyes Robbie, our dog, was giving me as he tried to guilt me into stealing him a piece of toast from my father’s plate.

I can hear the shower getting switched on upstairs and my sister wandering from room to room singing to herself as she busied herself getting ready for school.

Most of all though, I can hear my mother’s weeping. Over the radio, over my sisters singing, her weeping drowns it all out. I can see her face as she appeared at the kitchen door mumbling to herself through streams of tears, holding in her hands a blood red envelope.

I can hear the smash of my father’s coffee cup hitting the floor. I can sense the panic from Robbie as he scattered and scampered out the kitchen in fear.

I can see the deep, black lettering of my name on the envelope and I can see my mother’s eyes, bloodshot and haunted as she laid it down on the table in front of us all.

Dear Brandon,

As you are aware, since the enactment of the Bardow Selection (Scotland) Act 2024, all citizens of Scotland can be selected at random to become recipients of Dame Yanzi Bardow’s life enhancing medicine. It is estimated, but not guaranteed, that the medicine will increase life expectancy of the lucky recipient by an additional 50-80 years.

The legislation states, in line with the Transan Global Agreement 2024 (TGA ’24), any Transan Government introducing the use of the Bardow medicine must take appropriate steps to regulate the population of the country. Where a country does not take these steps, appropriate action will be agreed upon by the Transam High Court, Washington DC. To ensure Scotland adheres to the conditions set out by the TGA ’24, all citizens of Scotland can be selected at random to to be terminated.

I am writing to advise that you have been selected for termination.

Please accept my apologies to your family for this inconvenience, however I am delighted to advise they will be provided with a Government grant of £500 which can be used to part-fund your funeral proceedings.

Within 5 working days you will receive, by drone delivery, a package which you can inject to carry out the termination. Further details can be followed in the attached guidance document ‘How to administer your terminal injection‘.

If you have not carried out the termination within 5 working days of receiving the package we will take swift and appropriate action against you and your next of kin.

I thank you for your sacrifice and know you will join me in wishing the recipient of the Bardow medicine, Lord Morton Brown MBE OBE, well for his extended future.

THUG SI A BEATHA AR SON A TIRE, FUAIR SI BAS AR SON A TIRE

Yours,

William H Ferguson, Minister for Population and Environmental Control

I stood rooted to the spot, staring at that word. “Terminated”. A cold chill took over me and the room seemed to dim in colour. My stomach churned as the floor beneath me began to tilt. I felt like I was being spun round a kaleidoscope of greys and blacks. I couldn’t even take in the commotion around me. Mother had passed out on the floor next to me, my Father and Sister were fussing around her bringing her back to consciousness.

“Brandon?”

“Brandon??”

My Father’s hand gripped my shoulder tightly from behind. Still stunned and wobbly, I allowed myself to be spun around and pulled tightly into his embrace. His chest bobbed my head up and down as he quietly sobbed whilst simultaneously gripping me tighter and tighter as if he could squeeze away what the Government had decided on for his son. “It’s OK” he mumbled, maybe more to himself than me “I’ll do something about this.”

Since it’s commencement 5 years ago, every single recipient of the Bardow medicine had been some old, rich, white person. Whether a man or woman, they always had some initials after their name or had some connections to the Scottish Parliament or Scotland’s Royal Family.

We weren’t living in the slums, but we weren’t eating caviar every night either. I saw how hard my Mother and Father worked to provide for us every single week. My Father worked his job as a freelance journalist well into the evening most nights, sometimes starting his morning before the milkmen woke up. My Mother juggled three different jobs across the week including cleaning toilets every Saturday morning at our local leisure centre. Much of my Saturday morning social media mentions consisted of me being tagged in a recently used toilet with a witty message about my Mother cleaning up after them.

After the first couple of years of the medicine lottery we didn’t really take much notice of it. Media coverage tended to focus on celebrating whatever privledged person had become recipient of another 50-80 years on this dying planet. We didn’t really think it was ever anything that would ever affect us.

Of course, the person who the media now referred to as ‘the leveller’ i.e. the poor person selected for termination was always someone from a poor or working class background. A 46 year old joiner, a 25 year old Polish bus driver, a student nurse placed here in an exchange agreement with the German Government, a 17 year old black girl who had gathered a large following online through her brilliant songs addressing social issues in the country. And now me. A 17 year old mixed race kid from a working class background with two hard working parents who have only ever tried to live well and provide for their family. It stunk. Selected at random, yeah sure.

We sat together around the kitchen table and agreed to try to go have a normal day, the bills didn’t stop needing paid just because we’d received this. We’d talk again tonight, a bit of time would give us all an opportunity to try to think a bit clearer.

I opened our front door and was immediately blinded by a flash from a giant, remotely operated camera, it was sat on a tripod on large, all terrain wheels. Some journalist obviously didn’t have the balls to brave the outskirts of Edinburgh so had instead decided to send in the machines. Unfortunately, the camera wasn’t alone. Around 10 or 12 drones zoomed around above my head, each one with voices shouting questions at me as they swooped down towards me at increasing speed. With the focus on keeping my head remaining on my shoulders, I jumped back into the house and shut the door.

The following day was worse. Our whole family had been plastered across the media’s 24/7 breaking news ticker for much of the day and night. Sat holed up in the house we spent most of our time staring at eachother and consoling my Mother. That was until the next breaking news of the day exploded onto the screen.

The reporter stood in front of a grey stone pathway with a professionally trimmed garden running up either side of it. In his face you could see the reflection of blue and red flashing. As he tried to speak he was knocked sideways by a line of black-clad men wearing helmets and thick vests. SPS was emblazoned across the back in bright yellow and white reflective material. The reporter returned back onto the screen and began to describe the scene.

A hostage situation was ongoing and he had been told that the Special Police Scotland branch had surrounded the house and were believed to be attempting to negotiate with a lone combatant. Just as he was about to explain where the location was, my phone exploded with WhatsApp notifications. 20 or so urging me to click a link. Distracted from the TV, I clicked the link and was taken to a streaming site I didn’t recognise.

What I saw, I couldn’t comprehend. What looked like a balaclava’d man was stood in a large living room with a camera trained on him. A small older man, clearly terrified, was perched down in front of him with the butt of the man’s gun placed to his head.

With a large intake of breath my family were suddenly around me, eyes fixed on my phone too. The TV had been muted as we huddled round watching the small screen.

“I am the rich man’s nightmare.” the man bellowed. “for too long they’ve taken from us and filled their own egg timers to the brim. Lord Morton Brown. This privileged, rich, white, 76 year old man here has been randomly selected to receive the Bardow treatment.” for a second he had released the gun from the terrified man’s head to accentuate air quotes when he had said the word random. At this movement the older man had cowered and screamed.

“For the first time in your life, my privileged friend” he continued looking down at the top of the man’s head “you have been incredibly unlucky. Not only have you been selected to receive the Bardow medicine but you’ve also been randomly selected by me, the Reaper.. ” the word random triggered air quotes and a scream again “…for execution. This is for you Brandon.”

A pop filled the air. The older man slumped to the ground out of the grip of the masked man. Red spilled from the top of his head. The masked man walked towards the camera, he held up a piece of paper with the phrase “#forBrandon” and the stream turned to static.

Hornswall Pt. 1: Rise of a King

Hornswall, the most Northern of Kingdoms was the very tip of our world. Royalty – loved, respected and feared sat as the centerpiece, the very heartbeat of the Kingdom.

A vast sweeping domain of cities, woods and seasons, Hornswall had once been a Kingdom fractured by borders and dominated by bloodshed for decades. Since the dawn of the first men, five proud families were raised to become combatants in a perpetual chess game for control. The women, most of them more resilient than the warriors they cared for, lived to raise a perpetual carousel of war-hungry centurions.

The Benjon’s. The Hurvants. The Gilliam’s. The Gome’s. The Draff’s. The Dune’s.

For eternity their ancestors had fought tooth and nail to take the Hornswall Throne. To rule across the Kingdom. Only during the Century of Peace and Progress did the conflict take a backstep to politicking. Only for oceans of bloodshed to flood the shores with a horrifying vengeance.

That was until the rise of King Rendan Hurvant of House Hurvant. The Great Unifier. The King of the Black Kings, who would come to be known to history as the King of Kings. He united the Kingdom as one, breaking down the borders and recognising the possibilities that unification would bring their great land. Once it became clear that the myths about the invading tribes from The Southern Border were no longer that and they were the nightmare incarnate the fables had painted them to be, raping, murdering and pillaging their way through Hornswall, unification wasn’t difficult.

Resources were combined, 5 proud armies became one and the Borders which had once sought to divide now united. They became the sites of historical battles at which hundreds of thousands of men lost their lives defending the honour of their beloved Kingdom. The power their fathers and their fathers before them had warred over for millenia was no longer under threat from each other, but from an unknown, terrifying race. The Barbarian’s from The Southern Border were without morals. They tore through the Province, which sat on the Southern side of Hornwalls enormous imposing walls. The Duffs had owned the Province since the beginning of time and would continue to do so until time was no more. Lead by the charismatic ‘Provincial King’ Lariston Duff, the once noble gatekeeping land of the Kingdom was decimated by millions of maniacal, merciless savages. Duff’s proud armies couldn’t stop the onslaught of depravity from their adversaries who appeared to have no purpose but to seek blood, death and destruction.

In Hornswall they found it in droves. Duff lead what remained of his depleted battalion in tandem with their former bitter rivals, the awaiting army led by ‘The High King’ Huntro Gome. They met them head on. Across the former City of Hallstorm they battled night and day for weeks on end. The once golden roads and fields of Hallstorm were painted red with the blood of men from both sides. The King of Wolves, Walton Dune, and his pack of a thousand Wolf-Men rode out to join the brutal conflict providing a crucial tipping point in the numbers in favour of the defending Hornswall army. It was on the twelfth day of a tumultuous war that Grood Gilliam of House Gilliam, now famously known as The Architect of Desolation for the part he played that day, stood upon the Hill overlooking the chaos before proceeding to slay all before him, beheading the largest and meanest of the Southern Barbarian’s. The tide turned on that day, on that very swing of his sword.

It was that night that King Hurvant joined the battle. Over the following week the allied armies would push the remaining Barbarian tribes back out of the gates of Hornswall, back down through the decimated Province and farther South through The Fernes. It was at The Fernes that the united armies stood their ground and saw off the final, concluding onslaught.

That very night and for the next 3 weeks the army lead by Martal Benjon of the former city of Gern would carry out an operation to restore the Kingdom and the Province to its former glory. This vital and oft overlooked operation earned Benjon the moniker ‘The Burier of Bones’. A fitting but often misinterpreted label which he was happy to wear.

The united Kingdom, backed by representatives from all 6 families, unanimously crowned King Hurvant as their ruler. The Black King quickly sought to name those who had selflessly fought aside him in battle as his lieutenants. Thus, the Black Kings of Hornswall were crowned:

The Executioner, King Losan Hurvant. The brother of the King who had fought side by side with his Royal kin night and day.

King Martal Benjon, the Burier of Bones.

The King of Wolves, Walton Dune.

King Grood Gilliam, The Architect of Desolation.

The High King, Huntro Gome.

The Provincial King, Lariston Draff

The Black Kings would secure the Kingdom of Hornswall and The Province ensuring that no battle like the one which threatened to wipe out their bloodline would occur ever again. Their families, after they were but dust in the wind would continue the tradition. Each Black King made a blood oath before the people of the Kingdom to signify an end to the blood shed by their ancestors and to forever honour the now unified kingdom of their King.

The Unifier, King Rendan Hurvant, the King of the Black Kings sat raised upon his golden throne before his table of loyal lieutenants, The Black Kings. Battle scarred tissue covered his 52 year old face. No longer the powerful warrior he was at age 25 when he lead the final charge against The Southern Border Tribes, he winced, as he did most days, when a flash of bloodshed and a drawn sword haunted his daydreams. Not a day went past when he was not reminded of the battle his kingdom endured. Not a night of slumber had went by without a visit from the men who’s lives he had taken that day. And not a day went past without him visiting the Chantry to give thanks to the Path of the Gods for guiding him to unify the Kingdom either. The act had defined him, not only in title but in character too. It haunted his sanity with every aging day.

“What news from the Province, King Draff?” asked King Hurvant in a gruff tone as he ran his large ring-heavy hand through his thick grey beard. “Nothing to be concerned with beyond the Ferns my lord” replied the beady-eyed Draff. The other Kings banged their large tankards in unison “‘Tis the Path of the Gods” they chanted.

This exchange had opened the counsel since it’s inception. It was the unwritten anguish which plagued every Hornswall family since that momentous day on which the victorious battalions had returned. When would the savages follow again? For more bloodshed, death and brutality. To take the lives of their wives, their lords, their sons, daughters, their lovers, their sisters and brothers. Children with no knowledge of the history of the once fractured kingdom they lived in, had grown up regaled with tales of the brave Black Kings who drove the evil out of the Kingdom back down to the Southern part of the world where no soul dared venture. But the question remained, when would they return?

Somewhere beyond the Southern Border

It was no mirage after all. Liano Roark slumped to his knees and dunked his head deep into the beautiful, blue, flowing water. He stayed under until he could no longer hold his breath. He dropped his satchel and blood stained sword to the ground and considered for a second diving straight into the flowing river. It was going too fast and he knew, given his lack of energy, he’d have been swept away in a wave of beautiful blue relief. His red skin sizzled as he splashed the cool water across his body. He had travelled for what felt like weeks across the barren desert with only the odd scrap of rotten carcass to tame the rumbling he felt in his stomach.

This young warrior, named Maximiliano Roark First of His Name by his mother, aided by the beguiling Princess Junes Hurvant, was to become King Liano Roark: the Ruler of Fate. The King of Autocracy. The Obliterator of the Path of the Gods. And most notably, The King of the Black Kings.

But before all that, he had some savages on his trail and he was in dire need of some food and rest….