Non-Nacre Then

Fire Salts

Written: Oct 22 2016

 

She pulled the knife from her chest and smiled. “Was that supposed to hurt?” She wiped the blade on her shorts. A calm and careful action. “When you’re trying to mug somebody,” she continued, glancing back at the three men, who were still standing in stunned silence. “You should go for something more vital. I usually go for the thighs, myself. If you hit your target just right they won’t be able to walk. For example,” she thrust the knife into her leg, where the shorts didn’t cover. The assailants staggered back at the self-inflicted wound, stunned.

She didn’t even flinch.

“Well, maybe I’m not the best person to use as an example. None of this is going to work on me, anyway. You could also go for the neck, but that’s typically easier to defend, even with the three of you.” Again, she pulled the knife from her body and wiped it on her shorts. Blood now fully soaked her shirt and leg. It added to the aesthetic.

“But I’ll tell you what, boys.” She examined the knife and wiped any remaining blood from it with her thumb. “I’ll give you all a first hand experience of what it’s like to defend yourself from an attacker. Free of charge! You’ll learn valuable information about what it’s like to be on the other side of the blade. What do you say?” She took a few steps forward, knife gleaming in the moonlight.

“H-hell no!” one said, turning and bolting back down the street. His friends didn’t even have the nerves to make any reply at all, they simply fled like Death himself was on their pursuit.

“But this is your knife!” she called across the sidewalk. They kept running. Holding the tip of the blade in one hand, she took a firm stance and squinted at her target. After an extra second to aim, she tossed it. One, two seconds later it hit its mark, sinking into one of her attacker’s legs and sending him to the ground. His friend didn’t so much as look back.

“Too low again,” she said to herself. “Harder, Senna! You’ve got to throw it harder!”

The man was trying to grasp at the knife as she approached. It hit him in the calf, so he was struggling. She relished in the horror in his eyes when he looked up at her. “Having trouble?”

“L-look, I don’t w–”

“It was a rhetorical question,” she snapped. “I’m not going to kill you. The Watchers will take care of that much. I’m just going to take your stuff. Let me take care of that knife for you.” She pulled the blade out of his leg and slammed it between his shoulder blades. He screamed in pain and fell back onto the pavement. He was still conscious, but he wasn’t going to get back up. “That’s where I meant to hit. Hitting a moving target isn’t easy, you know.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t have much on him. A band of gauze and a half-empty bottle of water was all that was worth taking. The gauze, at least, would be useful. She pocketed both of them, though the bottle was bulky and uncomfortable. She returned to the vacant alley way where she was attacked. Not that it was necessary. Pretty much everywhere was vacant these days.

She took out a small vial from her pocket. Popping the lid open she tossed two of the pills into her mouth. Almost instantly her organs felt like they had erupted into flames, consuming her with an unbearable heat. After a few moments, the pain started to subside. She looked to the bottle. Only one pill left. She had to get back. If she was still out by sunrise, the Watchers would find her.

This time of year there was less and less moonlight to work with. She hated being cooped up all day, but there was no choice. Forty years the world had been under the looming gaze of those things. Forty years looking for things like her. Well, not forty of her years. She was barely old enough to drink, if the laws of the old world still applied.

She got back to the apartment building not having seen another living soul, not that that was surprising. Most of the population had banded together and made new little towns out of the rubble of the apocalypse. But her kind wasn’t welcome there. Echoes, they were called. While most humans didn’t even know they existed, large quantities of people were under the harshest scrutiny of the Watchers. She shuddered at the thought of them. Even making eye contact with one would be fatal for her.

The building was more sturdy than most. That’s why she had picked it. “Baxter!” she called up the stairs. “I’m home!”

“Finally! I was getting worried, you know,” Baxter’s voice sounded down the hall. It was getting deeper every time he spoke these days. “Another hour and the sun will be out!” A young teenager walked into the stairwell to meet her, but as there were no lights, it was hard to discern anything.

“Aww, you worry too much, little bro,” she said once she got to the top. “You know I always come back.” She ruffled his hair, even though he was barely a head shorter than her.

“You’re covered in blood again,” he scolded.

“Yeah, I got mugged.”

“That’s twice in two weeks! You’re not going near the city, are you?”

“Damn, Baxter. What are you, my dad? Relax, I got some gauze and water out of it. Well, not much water, but still.” She walked into the kitchen and put the bottle into their cooler, trading it for a granola bar. Baxter followed her in.

“We’re running out of clean clothes because of you.”

“Yeah. I gotta meet with Charon anyway. I’ve only got one pill of fire salts left. I’m going to go change.”

He nodded, running and grabbing her a new shirt. She smiled her appreciation and went into ‘her’ room. She pulled off her shirt and started munching on the granola bar, examining the wounds. The one on her chest was more shallow than she had anticipated, which was a good sign. Perhaps two pills had been a bit overboard.

Baxter walked in carrying a small bottle of peroxide. “Hey, you might need–”

“Baxter!” she yelled, covering her chest with an arm. “I told you I was changing! Get out!”

“Sorry, Senna! I forgot!” he stammered before scurrying away, leaving the bottle behind.

“Yeah, right! We talked about this,” she said across the apartment. “Knock on the door frame when you want to enter. You need to stop scrambling to find an excuse to look at me every chance you get. One more time and I’m going to crack your head open.”

There was no reply. “Dumb kid,” she said under her breath. She went back to her examinations, and she noticed that the blood on both wounds was hot to the touch. That couldn’t be good. She felt her forehead. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Could it be a new side effect of the fire salts?

She had a bad feeling about this. Something told her she had to find Charon now, and not wait for tomorrow night. Daylight was fast approaching. The Watchers would be out. Was it worth the risk?

It was nearly sunrise. She would have to leave immediately to gain a headstart before the Watchers came. Bandaged and restocked less than an hour after she arrived back at the apartment, Senna made her way from her room towards the stairwell that led outside.

“I’m heading out for a bit, Bax.”

“What?” he exclaimed from his room. “The sun’s coming up, you can’t leave.”

“It’s important.”

“You always say that!” He came out of his room, holding a handgun that had some wires attached to the barrel. “Here.”

Senna took it. “You modified the only gun we have? We just got this!” she chided, examining it.

“I didn’t change too much,” he replied. “I just couldn’t help myself. Anyways, it should still work fine. We’ve still only got the one magazine, but now it should be able to fire anything small enough to fit and sturdy enough not to disintegrate when the gun fires.”

“I thought the bullet was what caused the explosion.”

“Sure. But it’ll still fire stuff. It could probably fire nails, for example, pretty well now. The simple explanation is that there’s no explosion, just propulsion.”

“Have you tested it?” she eyed him.

“Nope. Didn’t want to waste ammo. Also if that thing explodes, I’d rather you be the one pulling the trigger. You’d at least be able to walk away.”

Right. Baxter wasn’t an Echo. That’s why he stayed home most of the time. At that moment she considered having him run to meet Charon. The Watchers wouldn’t be looking for him. It would be much safer. But at the same time he was barely fourteen. Genius as he was, the idea of sending him out to make a deal with all those things crawling about the streets made her uneasy. It would have to be her.

“If I explode because of this piece of junk I’m never going to forgive you,” she smiled.

“Come on, my experiments always work!”

“Oh, right,” she nodded. “Especially that gas bomb you tried to use as an air conditioning in our last apartment.”

“That’s not fair,” he retorted. “It did work as air conditioning. That building was freezing for a week! But I do see your point. My understanding of chemical stuff is still pretty lacking. At least we got out with all our stuff okay.” He shrugged.

“I should get going. I want to get as far as I can before the Watchers come out at dawn.” She pocketed the gun.

“Be safe,” Baxter said.

“I will.” And with that, she went down the stairwell and out into the open world.

The cool breeze caught her by surprise as she left the building. She tugged at her sleeves, a futile effort to shield herself from the air. A visible exhale and an arm stretch later, she was ready to go. She proceeded out the alleyway and turned down the sidewalk to meet the sun peeking over the distant hills into view.

Directly in front of her was a small, thin frame of what, in the old world, would have been referred to as a dog. It’s legs were little more than fur stretched over bones. It was a mere husk of a creature. Not even it’s eyes contained any semblance of sentience anymore.

Such was the way of all the Watchers’ hounds. They were just tools meant to sniff out and take down. The dawn had come. She had gone all of fifteen feet and she had already come into direct contact with a beast whose sole existence was to weed people like her out of their hiding places.

Getting to Charon would probably prove far more difficult than even she had anticipated.

 

Charon was a small dealer that provided basic necessities to the outside world, smuggled in from the cities. The warehouse he had established himself in was on the docks of the river that divided the city of the old world in two. It was barely holding itself together since the world had collapsed, just like everything else.

Senna had managed to find her way here, having escaped the Watcher’s hound and all of the patrols that made their way through the streets. They looked like normal people. But there was something distinctly inhuman about the way they moved. Too unnatural. They were always fully armored, white metal plating over grey leather. Under their helmets were the the red eyes of a demon. She had heard stories that making eye contact with one would kill you. She observed them on her way to Charon. Fortunately, the Watchers still had little roof surveillance, and she knew a quick route to the docks. After the dog, there was no more incidents along the way.

She knocked on the door. Two quick knocks, a pause, one knock, another pause, followed by two more quick knocks.

“Closed for the day,” a deep, yet thin and broken voice said from the other side.

“Charon, it’s Senna. I need your help. It’s urgent.”

There was no reply.

“I was wounded last night,” she continued. “My blood was hot.”

The door swung open, revealing a figure wrapped in a black cloak from head to toe. Absolutely no skin was showing. “Enter,” Charon breathed.

She did. He closed and locked the door behind her. The room was a small entryway to the warehouse. Save for a new set of table and chairs, It looked abandoned since the collapse, which was clearly intentional. “I don’t offer services while the sun is up,” he stated, gesturing to one of the chairs. She sat down.

“I know,” she replied. “I’m sorry. I had a bad feeling about the blood and I only have one pill of fire salts left. I’ve never given you trouble in the past, I was hoping you could do me this favor and help me out.”

“What do you have to trade?”

She shifted uncomfortably in her chair under his scrutiny. “That’s another reason it’s a favor. I don’t have much this time around, but again, this is the first time I’ve come short. I promise it won’t happen again.”

He didn’t reply at first. “You only require salts?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “And I was hoping you would be able to provide insight to the last batch. Is hot blood a known side effect?”

“It isn’t common. Pure salts are sometimes difficult to come by. It is nothing to fear. Wait here.” And with that, he opened the door out to the warehouse and vanished into the darkness.

Dealing with Charon always made her uneasy. He was shady at best, but at least he always provided. Through the doorway, she could see something glinting through the dark. She couldn’t make out what it was, but somehow it sent a chill down her spine. She turned her attention away from it, but kept it in her periphery. She decided it wouldn’t do well to seem nosy when she was already treading thin ice with Charon as it was. The glint vanished for a moment, and Charon entered once again. She glanced back as the sparkle returned to her line of sight, and somehow she knew what it was.

It was the reflection of eyes.

Senna immediately stood from her chair as the door shut behind him. “What is in that room?” she said.

Charon pulled a pistol from his cloak and aimed it at her. “Perhaps we should find out.”

She took a step back. “You’re going to shoot me? What exactly do you hope to accomplish with that?”

“You Echoes aren’t half as invulnerable as you think you are.”

He fired. Her left arm was consumed in an unimaginable pain, and she screamed in more surprise than anything else. Pain. She had forgotten what that was like.

She kicked into action. She knew the door was locked behind her. There was no time to do anything about that. The only other way was forward. At Charon.

She charged.

Curiously, he didn’t fire. She grabbed his gun and pushed it up, his arm included. Spinning around, she slammed an elbow into his face. Thus disabled, she kept running.

She threw the door open, glancing behind her as she ran.

His hood came off. Turning to face her, she saw his features for the first time.

Most notable were his red, demonic eyes.

She never slowed. The only path to survival was away from him. So she bolted into the darkness.

The warehouse was illuminated by a few streams of light, filtering through various holes and a few windows on the ceiling. It was hard to see, but it wasn’t total darkness.

All around her were people, bound and gagged. Many of them stared up at her, desperation in their eyes. But she couldn’t stop. He was right behind her.

The warehouse was similar to the office space. Columns of boxes were everywhere. She ran to a likely hiding place to catch her breath. Pushing back the pain in her arm, she pulled out her own gun.

“I’m not going to kill you, Senna,” Charon called. His voice echoed throughout the chamber. “The other Echoes here can attest to that.”

Other Echoes?! “You’re a Watcher!” she yelled.

“Of sorts,” he said.

Every other time she had seen him, it was in the dead of night. How was that possible? Nobody knew why Watchers went away at night, but they always just vanished. It was hard to believe a dark cloak would fix that somehow. Besides, if he really was a Watcher, why help her until now?

She slid the ammo into the chamber. “I hope this works,” she whispered to herself. Whatever happened now, she couldn’t allow herself to be captured with the rest of them.

“You must have questions,” Charon said. He wasn’t speaking loudly. He didn’t need to, for the rest of the building was silent. He was much closer now. Too close for her to reply without being discovered. “Since you all will be interrogated soon anyway, I might as well debrief you on your circumstance.

“Decades ago, the world fell apart because my kind supposedly tore it down from the shadows. It wasn’t until society failed that we made our presence known, but it wasn’t us that destroyed it. We created the Echoes as a sub species of humans genetically modified with Watcher DNA. We let you loose, and you tore society down from its foundation.

After that, we forced you into hiding, and we created the fire salts experiment. We weren’t hunting you. We didn’t even need to look. Because of the fire salts, you came to us. Pills that temporarily enhance the Watcher blood you carry in your veins. Tougher skin, enhanced recovery rate. We’ve learned all we need from it. Now that the experiment is over, we have no further use for you. A controlled Echo population is vital to the next step.”

Echoes are people infused with Watcher blood? Controlled Echo population? But it’s not hereditary, she thought. Beyond that it still didn’t explain how Charon managed to exist at night. She peeked out of one side of boxes. Nothing. Looking out the other side, she saw him walking towards where she hid. She sighed. Baxter don’t fail me now, she prayed.

Stepping out from her cover, she raised the gun to Charon’s head and pulled the trigger. There was no loud explosion that resulted from typical gunfire. This time, there was a quick snap, and a projectile shot right at Charon’s head. Upon contact, the pill of fire salts immediately erupted into flames, and he roared in rage. As it so happened, fire salts could make good ammunition with Baxter’s modifications.

She bolted towards him, careful not to make eye contact, and punched him in the stomach on her way through. He bellowed, seething with anger as he swung back around, but she kept running, back the way she had come.

She stared at the group of people, bound and hopeless on her way out. “I’ll come back for you,” she said, and closed the door.

 

Suicide Note

Written: Sep 24 2016

 

If you are reading this, then know that there was nothing to be done. What I do is an act of necessity, and it pains me that this is the only solution. I do not know who will find this first, but to anyone that is related to me, I apologize. I certainly hope you do not come home to this, mother, father. You are still on what I presume to be an important vacation, not due back for another month. If possible I’d like them not to be involved. It would probably be too much for them.

The Foe is upon us, friend. I am the only one that can stop it. You’ll find me in the attic. Please don’t come if you have a weak stomach. XXSAF2AMLJS87F… The sequence continued, but the rest was stained in blood and illegible.

The note was left on the kitchen counter, written on a notebook paper, covered in blood at the bottom. I noticed it when I was pouring myself a glass of orange juice while waiting for the toaster to pop. It appeared to be my own handwriting, and it was apparently days old now.

“Hey, Doc,” I said. “What is this?”

Doc was a spirit that lived in my house. There were about a dozen of them that came and went, first appearing when I discovered them about a month ago, but they weren’t ghosts like most people think of them. Instead, they’re like tiny balls of energy with little arms and legs. They’re kinda cute, really, once you get over how unnerving their nonexistent facial expressions are. They don’t even have pupils for crying out loud.

The little blue spirit appeared, standing on the granite, about eye level with me. He (it?) looked at the note for a second, then looked back to me. “Words,” he stated. None of them ever really said more than three words in a row.

“I can see that, Doc. But it looks like I wrote it.”

“Did you?” His voice sounded like the tones of a wind chime.

“Of course not. I don’t remember writing this. I mean, it’s a suicide note. These are the sort of words you write when you plan on… But I don’t even remember writing this.”

He didn’t reply at first. After a moment, he picked up the paper. It was larger than him, arms stretched outwards as much as they could go. He still couldn’t even lift it off the table. “Seems… strange,” he said.

“That’s what I’m saying. What do you think?” I had been trying to train the spirits for about two weeks now. They aren’t smart the way humans are, but they can do basic things, so I named them accordingly. Doc was the one I talked to about the weird things I saw. I mostly asked him about spirits, but maybe he had some insight into this, too.

“Your writing,” he diagnosed.

“So I just wrote that and forgot about it?”

“Obviously.”

“Don’t be sassy with me. What about the blood?” I asked.

“Your blood,” he confirmed.

“How do you know that?”

“Who else?”

“I suppose. Fetch,” I called into the house. Fetch, a green spirit wider than most of the others waddled down the stairs and into the dining room. I pointed to the glass across the counter. “Orange juice, please.”

He climbed up the cupboards and onto the counter, then grabbed the glass with both hands. “Don’t spill this time,” I added. He held onto it like he was hugging a tree, heaving it up and pacing over. He managed to put it back down where I stood without breaking anything, which proves I am a ghost whisperer. Well, besides the obvious. I took the glass and chugged it.

“So, lets assume I wrote this and forgot,” I pondered. “What was the point? What is ‘The Foe’ and why am I the only one that can stop it? What about these weird letters? There’s no way I just made all that up.”

“Wine breaks head,” he supplied.

“Oh, come on. All the alcohol in the world couldn’t have made me this drunk. Can spirits write?”

“Not like this…”

“You’re always so resistant when I ask about you and the paranormal.”

“Because.”

“See? You’re doing it again. Normal people don’t wake up to read their own suicide note. And even if they did, they’d probably find it the next day, don’t you think? It’s not like it was hiding somewhere. I don’t feel very dead. So what’s going on?”

“I don’t know…”

I sighed. “You’re useless.”

“Attic?”

“What’s that?”

He pointed to one of the words on the page. You’ll find me in the attic. I never open the attic. In fact I had only been up there twice that I could remember. I dreaded the thought of going up there now. Attics always creep me out. Whenever you’re watching a horror movie, bad things always start in either the basement or the attic.

And I don’t have a basement.

 

The entrance to my attic was a folding ladder that came down from the ceiling. You pull the door down, then the ladder collapses into place. The light to the attic didn’t work (of course), so it was pretty dark up there. I was armed with one of those huge bright flashlights that you can hold with two hands, just in case there were any werewolves or goblins that tried to eat me up there. Doc had yet to verify the existence of any such creatures, but I was pretty sure that if they did exist, they would be waiting to pounce in my attic.

“You know, Doc,” I said. “I’m pretty sure going up into the attic to look for my dead body is probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever done.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, little blue head cocking back and forth like a dog.

“Tell me honestly. Is there anything dangerous up there?” The dark hole in the ceiling loomed over the ladder, unaffected by the light in the hallway below it.

“I… don’t know,” he stated.

I’m not sure what I expected. “Are there any supernatural things besides ghosts like you? Yes or no.”

He didn’t reply for a moment. He seemed upset by those parameters. Spirits sometimes had a weird way of talking. When you get more than three of them together they would often reply simultaneously with slightly different responses, each one true, in its own sense. I tried to keep Doc alone so that confusion couldn’t really happen.

“Yes,” he finally replied.

“So there could be some vampire up there that wrote that note to make me easy prey.”

“…Doubtful.”

I didn’t reply. Taking a step up the ladder, I craned my neck to see if I could hear anything going on. There was nothing. I couldn’t even hear the wind outside.

“If I die,” I told Doc. “I’m blaming you.”

“Note’s already written,” he chimed.

That sent a chill down my spine. It was the perfect trap. Write a suicide note to lure the victim into a murder that would look like a suicide. Burning my house down to kill whatever it was that was lurking up there suddenly sounded like a very good idea. Could I call the police?

But no, there was no way to convince them that I didn’t write the note. I wasn’t diagnosed with any mental disorders, but that didn’t mean they’d believe me if I told them I didn’t write it.

I could just close the attic and pretend that this never happened. But what would the vampire do, his meal having escaped him? I couldn’t very well sleep in this house if there was some sort of malevolent necromancer in here or whatever. Could I perhaps stay in a hotel until my parents came home? But the thought of leaving the house for a month didn’t suit me either. If there was nobody home, who would guard it from new potential scary-things?

Which left me to the conclusion that if my parents had something to do with the supernatural, then I did, too. I could at least face this. So long as it was susceptible to flashlights to the head.

I took a deep breath and ascended the ladder. As I breached the next floor, the atmosphere of stagnant heat asserted itself. There was a little bit of light filtering through the only outside window, so it wasn’t as dark as I had anticipated.

I glanced around before climbing all the way up, making sure there was no immediate threat. Near both the front and back walls there were small plastic file cabinets, along with a few boxes of who-knows-what. My dad always liked things to be extremely organized. He could probably tell you the exact contents of everything up here, even though the attic door was probably opened less than twice a year. Everything had it’s place, and this was the place for things that didn’t need to see the light of day. Except maybe the few beams that filtered through that window.

After I climbed up the ladder and looked around, slowly scanning the room with the flashlight to check for any scary red eyes or maybe sleeping vampires, I found that the result was far scarier than I could have possibly imagined.

Save for the few items of storage, the entire attic was completely vacant. No vampires. No ghosts. No dead Lisa Stenton, or even any traces that anything unusual had ever happened.

Just what exactly was going on?

 

 

Premeditation

Written: Aug 5 2016

 

A lot of people may tell you that crime rate drops during the rain. They think that would-be criminals stay home when the weather gets bad. That’s wrong. People are actually more likely to commit crimes during inclement weather because less people will be out and there will be fewer witnesses. Case in point, I sat there in the drivers seat of a friend’s old Honda, asking myself if I was really going to do this as I watched the water droplets stream down the end of the side-view mirrors. My life was about to change, whether or not this went according to plan.

Sometimes in life you get to a crossroads and you know that whatever happens, things will change. Sometimes its a special occasion and you prepare for that decision, but others, an opportunity comes and you just have to decide which path to take. This was a little bit of both. This was a planned moment, but my chance arrived sooner than expected, and rain can also be a great cover-up.

We all have reasons for the actions we take. We may regret what we do later, but in the end the choices we make have answers behind them. I’ve always been different from those around me, even in what you would call my line of work. The two paths that lay ahead of me go in opposite directions, in some respect, and I know that most people would choose the safer one. In truth, most people frown on murder as a means to an end, and while I hate doing it this way, this is the only chance I’ll get.

Red and blue lights blurred into view from the main street, turning onto the road my car was parked at. There were no sirens; it was far too late at night and beyond that it would tip off the supposed break-in he was investigating.

There was, of course, no real break in. But there would be a real crime. Adrenaline surged through me as I held the gun at my lap. I glanced downwards to make sure it was ready to go. My eyes had adjusted as much as they could in the darkness, but there still wasn’t much to see. The gun doesn’t even have an external safety mechanism, which would surprise a lot of people, but the truth is that most guns don’t. One pulled trigger will always mean one fired shot, provided it was loaded, obviously. There are internal mechanisms in the gun to make sure it doesn’t discharge accidentally, but if you needed it, it was there for you in an instant. That was why this had to happen fast.

I glanced back up to the car as it coasted down the soaked asphalt. I wasn’t just going to kill any officer. This was personal. If all went according to plan, this would be the Chief of Police. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Other times, people get what they deserve.

There are actually quite a lot of misconceptions around being a police officer and how dangerous it usually is. Most people consider being a cop one of the most dangerous occupations, but the truth is that there are dozens of occupations that are more likely to get you killed. In fact, most people that die in the line of duty aren’t even killed in the act of violence. Today’s acts notwithstanding, the chances of being killed intentionally are astronomically low. I hoped to use this to my advantage.

The biggest problem with this plan would be the fact that while it would very distinctly give me cover, there was no way in hell it would look like an accident. Unless it started raining bullets, this would be a murder, and I would be mixed up in it for a while regardless of how this investigation went. I wondered once again whether this was really the choice I was going to make.

I watched him through the tears that rolled down my window. It was relatively dark in the cab of my car, so I wasn’t worried about him seeing me. As he opened the door and stood, the street lamp illuminated his face and I saw without a doubt that this was my target. I took a deep breath. It was now or never. If I waited too long and let it turn into a confrontation, my cover would be blown. Ideally it would only take one shot and he wouldn’t even see me.

I got out of my car. The rain greeted me as I stood, and just as the officer was turning on his flashlight he looked up to address the noise.

I fired.

One shot was all it took.

 

 

Pre-premeditation

Written: August 5 2016

 

A lot of people will ask me why I joined the force. Some people do it because of the romance of shootings, or high speed car chases, or because they like to feel in power. I don’t have any story like that. It wasn’t my childhood dream to be a policeman, and I actually think I have less regard for the law in some respects than most other people. In all honesty, I only joined because my brother became a cop.

I’m the kind of person that doesn’t really have hobbies or opinions. I mostly joined my friends when they went out to do something, and I let myself be pulled on a leash for pretty much my whole life.

There’s something people don’t tell you about when you join the academy. You can work at a grocery store, or teach kids, or start a business, and start over when it turns out you don’t like it. But when you start work as a cop, it becomes your identity. Your friends and family will see you as a cop, and even if you quit, people you will still be introduced as the ‘ex-cop’. You can’t escape it. You have to make cop friends because your old ones will stop wanting to be around you.

Most people quit within five years. I found that the job suited me, though. I think part of me always wanted to find something I was better at than my brother. At first, I figured this was the chance.

When my brother was promoted to Chief of Police, I was surprised at how angry it made me. It wasn’t even as though I wanted the job. I wouldn’t want the extra responsibilities. But the fact that he was offered it when I do my job better than he does infuriated me. There was nothing I could do that my brother couldn’t do better. He’s always been something of a social butterfly, and joining the force didn’t change that about him. He even met his wife a few years afterwards.

I’ve come to the conclusion that he isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. His social ties are all that made him promote instead of me. I’ve seen how he really treats this job. He’s the kind of guy that really gets into the role. Speeding because he can. Pulling people over for speeding one or two miles over. That kind of cop.

The weirdest part is that I’m not all that different. I don’t flaunt my authority the same way, but I’m not above doing things out of protocol to get what needs to happen done. The thing that irks me is that he needs to be a role model for everyone else. I can accept the fact that I am not the best person for the position, but I can’t sit idly by while he intentionally disregards the law.

Perhaps this is just an excuse. Maybe I’m just looking for justification for my jealousy. Either way, I really do believe that we will all be better off without him. He looks perfect, but he is a virus that plagues those around him, and you don’t get better by treating the symptoms. You have to take the virus out.

 

 

The Amazing Sightseer

Written: Jul 23 2016

 

“I want to go home.”

“And I want to go to the moon. It ain’t happening, sweetheart. Time to accept that.”

 

“Don’t call me that.” She hated his sarcasm sometimes. Looking around, she perused the hundreds and hundreds of buttons. Blast the whole thing. Why couldn’t any of them have labels? She scanned, once again, through the selection. Perhaps some of the buttons would show more wear than the others? But no, they all were immaculate and frustratingly perfect.

The large box in which they stood glided above Times Square now, peacefully drifting over the chaos and traffic below. It was a little unnerving, given the fact that much of the floor they stood upon was transparent via a large glass window. Most of the box seemed to be made of glass, in fact, with brass on the edges and around the buttons. Emma, however, didn’t focus on her surroundings, like Thomas had been doing. One of these buttons had to take them back home to Indiana, and she would find it, no matter how long it took.

The two of them weren’t quite sure what to make of the strange box when it had appeared suddenly in front of their house that morning. “The Amazing Sightseer” the top of the box said in silver calligraphy over the doorway. And under that, the words ‘Step inside and prepare to be amazed!’ After they had stepped in, however, the door shut and seemed to disappear, and in its place an imposing wall of an countless buttons.

They had been in the box for quite some time now, exploring the world with the occasional push of a button, at first they were fascinated at witnessing so many historical buildings and monuments all over the world, but enough was enough. It was hard to comfortably sit down in the box, between the two of them, and Emma really had to pee.

After a careful minute of consideration, she chose a possible suspect, and pushed the button.

The box immediately lurched into motion, launching upwards once again and throwing Emma and Thomas to the floor, somewhat sprawled over each other in the confined space. Soon it slowed its ascent and started speeding its way further east. Emma saw a speck in the shape of the Statue of Liberty through the ground as the box raced on its way.

To Emma’s surprise, Thomas didn’t complain this time. Instead, he untangled himself and returned to where he had stood before in the corner, staring down through the glass to what was now the Atlantic Ocean, rushing at an unimaginable speed. Soon, the smell of sea salt wafted into their noses as the whole world around them turned blue.

“Looks like that was the wrong button,” Emma said by way of apology.

“We’re never going to get home if you do it that way. Do you even remember what button you pressed?”

“I do, too!” she retorted. Looking back at the wall, she tried scanning the mass and realized that her fall had completely thrown her off. It was impossible to tell which button was which once more.

Thomas sighed. “The only way to we’re going to get home is if we apply an algorithm.”

“A what?” Emma asked.

“It means we systematically press every button until we get home.”

“That’s going to take forever!”

“It’s going to take a lot longer if you press any button more than once.”

“Alright, genius, let’s see you get us home.”

Thomas, by way of reply, cracked his fingers and walked up to the wall. Emma rolled her eyes when she watched him simply press the upper left button.

Their momentum slowed, and soon the box was moving in near the opposite direction from which it had come, though it was hard to tell over the rolling waves of the Atlantic. At this point their only point of reference was the Sun, but Emma could have sworn it sat far lower in the horizon than it was a minute ago. Even still, as they started to fly in that general direction, it almost seemed as if it was going back up.

“Thomas!” she shouted. “I think we’re going back in time!”

“What?” he replied. “That’s ridiculous, what makes you think that?”

“The Sun’s going back up!”

He sighed. “That’s because we’re going west incredibly quickly. Going back in time is impossible.”

“So is a magic box that takes us anywhere in the world,” she pointed out.

“Anywhere except where we want to go, that is,” Thomas muttered. Eventually, land came into view, but it didn’t look familiar.

Thomas tried the button directly below the first. They launched south. The next one started to take them further west, but before they got to the Pacific Ocean he tried again. This time the box finally took them north, and after several minutes of the soft humming of the box, they got to Los Angeles.

He kept trying. West. East. South. East. Thomas concentrated on his task, systematically trying every button on the first column, while Emma tried to forget about her bladder by staring out the windows. Thomas had taken a lot of the fun out of the experience, not waiting for the box to arrive at each individual destination before pressing a new button, but soon she stopped caring about that. She would probably explode if they didn’t get home soon.

When Thomas got to one of the middle buttons on the second column, they slowed to a stop. This hadn’t happened before, so it peaked their interest. After a moment of confusion, the box started to launch upwards. It went up and up and up, accelerating until eventually the horizon started to curve inwards and they left the atmosphere, breaching the cold, dark nothingness of space. They stared down the floor window, gazing at the ever shrinking Earth as the view expanded, mountains being covered by the shadows of clouds and the soft blue of the sea enlarging to compete with the wondrous sight. For a few moments, they forgot their predicament as the sheer vastness of the world presented itself before them.

After they finally managed to tear their eyes from the planet, they turned around to something even more astonishing: the impossible infinity of the stars. Every corner of the cosmos was filled be dozens upon dozens of stars. There was only one small area in which they couldn’t see any stars, and that was the enlarging circle of the Moon.

The box, arriving at its destination, drifted around so the moon was below them. Slowing down, it scattered dust around it as it landed with a soft pat. Earth was just a small disk, now, the barely bigger than the size of Emma’s thumb. If the wonder of the box wasn’t quite apparent before, it didn’t escape them now.

“Well, you did say you wanted to go to the Moon,” Emma smiled, incredulity betraying her demeanor.

“It’s,” Thomas began, awestruck. “It’s amazing.”

At that word, some of the buttons started flashing red. In a line, the ones that turned red spelled out ‘AMAZING‘, and after they flashed off and on a few times, one singular button flashed green. Soon the red lettering changed to spell out ‘HOME‘. A few moments later, the red lettering faded, but the green button stayed lit.

“Shall we?” Thomas asked, moving his hand to the green button.

“Actually,” Emma said. “I think I can stomach one more. I’ve always wanted to see the Taj Mahal.” She pressed one of the buttons adjacent to the flashing green one, and it didn’t take long before they were hurtling through space once more, back towards the giant blue circle they called home.

 

 

The Spiritwalkers

Written: Jul 13 2016

 

The monstrous howl of the garbage truck aroused me from my sleep, as it did every week. Twice a week I would be woken up by either gardeners or a garbage truck, but most often I’d simply shut the window in my room and fall back asleep.

Today, though, as I was teetering on the edge between wakefulness and dreamland, I had that sluggish train of thought that went from ‘I don’t remember taking the trash cans to the street last night‘ and spiraled down into ‘Oh my gosh I have about thirty seconds to jump out of bed and do it before the truck gets to my house‘.

The worst part about running outside in your pajamas is that there is no time to adjust from warm blankets to chilly breeze. I can only imagine how many times garbage collectors see people rushing to get their trash cans out in the early morning, and for that I pity them. A five foot even, tangle-haired and shivering Lisa Stenton is not a pretty sight by any stretch of the imagination, let alone a half-awake one struggling to race against a towering behemoth of an automobile.

I managed to get the trash can to the sidewalk with time to spare. The truck was still two houses down from me. I thought I might as well bring out my other two trash cans while I was outside. It would be too much work to go back inside and dress properly, though, to be honest my feet were freezing.

As I pulled the last can to the curb, the garbage truck finished emptying the first one I had placed and started to coast down to the next house, and that was when I saw something I couldn’t believe.

Behind the truck marched a dozen little creatures of all shapes and colors as ducklings would follow their mother. They looked sort of like the cartoony white ghosts except that most of them had little arms and legs proportionate to the rest of their body. As I watched the truck drive away, I noticed that there were a few more creatures trailing out of the houses in my neighborhood to join the others.

I blinked, rubbing my eyes to make sure I wasn’t crazy. Maybe I was still dreaming. But if I was still dreaming then I might as well investigate matters further.

Running back in my house, I grabbed a coat, pulled sandals on, and just as I was jogging back out the door I remembered to grab my glasses.

Pulling all of these on properly as I once again left the house, I was dismayed to find that these creatures were no longer there. That wasn’t fair at all. Either this was a dream and I ought to be able to have fun with it, or it wasn’t and they had no right existing in the first place. As the truck turned the corner, I took my glasses back off and turned to go back inside.

When I took my glasses off, the creatures reappeared, as if the curtains had been thrown back.

Whatever these things were, I could only see them when I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I felt a grin spread across my face.

Tucking my glasses back into my coat pocket, I ran to chase down the garbage truck.

When I turned the corner, I slowed to a brisk walk, as if I was just out for a morning stroll. I imagine there are some people that wake up in the unholy hours of the morning to take a walk in their pajamas. Inspecting the growing crowd of creatures marching behind the truck, I racked my brain trying to figure out what they were. None of them were over a foot tall, and they were all intent on following the truck.

“Hey!” I called, voice lowered so as not to attract attention. One of the creatures glanced backwards and made eye contact with me, an odd sensation as the creature’s white eyes didn’t seem to have pupils. It stopped walking when it noticed that I was staring at it, though I couldn’t make out any facial expressions.

“A… spirit walker…” it stated, voice tuning up and down like the notes of a wind chime. At its proclamation the creatures behind it stopped to look.

“A what?” I asked. “What are you?”

“Shades,” one toned.

“Ghosts!” another sang.

“Sprites,” a third hummed.

Shivering again, I took a tentative step toward them to get a closer look, and in response they charged forward, surrounding me so I couldn’t take move without hitting one. They all stood, staring up at me with the fascination of a child witnessing a fire truck zoom down the street.

“So you’re… dead people?” I asked them. They didn’t seem to be of any threat to me.

“Yes!”

“Not really.”

“Sort of!”

“Sometimes…”

They all spoke melodiously, each only a few syllables at a time and each singing different notes that somehow blending into one beautiful chord. I scanned around me, suddenly realizing that I had forgotten to lower my voice. I noticed a woman in the driver seat of her car discreetly watching me, and as soon as she saw me look at her she immediately turned away. I blushed, remembering I probably looked ridiculous to this lady wearing a coat over my pajamas, standing on the sidewalk talking to nothing.

“Can other people see you?” I whispered.

“Rarely?”

“You can…”

“Not well.”

“Ghosts!”

“Right.” I said, shivering as another particularly strong wind blew down the street. “Look, I’m really cold. Can one or two of you come back home with me?”

“Who?”

“Two?”

“Few…”

“With you…?”

I couldn’t tell if they were talking to each other, but I was impressed that they understood the concept of rhymes. What exactly were these things? They didn’t move, but I raised a foot to take a step towards my house, and the throng around me started to move with the flow of my step. It was unsettling, but soon I was actually able to walk normally without fear of stepping on one. They always moved out of the way just as I put my foot down. I couldn’t feel them, but none of them ever actually got close enough to physically touch me, if they were even capable of that. Being surrounded by them, though, the air felt considerably colder. It was like being surrounded by a hundred ice packs, and my feet were happy to remind me I wasn’t wearing any socks.

When I opened the door to my house, the little creatures flooded in, eager to discover what lay beyond. I took off my coat and sat down on a chair in the dining room. The spirits, as I was coming to think of them, explored everywhere, and I immediately grew a little anxious as to what these things may have been looking for. Some started climbing the furniture, but they seemed to be able to decide what did or did not pass through them, so I wasn’t too worried about them knocking anything over.

“So I’m the only person that can see you,” I stated aloud.

“No!” one crooned. I felt a spike of panic as it walked right through a half-empty glass of milk I had left out from last night.

“Others… can,” another said, voice sort of muffled as it tried to crawl under the couch.

“We see!” another sang. Somehow that one managed to get on top of the refrigerator.

I thought about that for a second. “Why couldn’t I see you before today? Why me?” I asked.

“Spiritwalker…” one breathed, reverence somehow seeping into his tone.

“Glasses!” one stated abruptly, pointing a little arm to the coat I left by the door.

Recalling that I couldn’t see them with my glasses on, I jumped out of my chair and pulled them out of the coat pocket. Inspecting them for a moment, I put them on to see all the sprites in my house vanish from view. They even disappeared from the parts of my vision that my glasses didn’t cover. “Do all glasses hide you from sight?”

“Just yours…”

“Special!” the one that had pointed sang.

I had had these glasses for as long as I could remember. My eyesight had never been the best. People made fun of me in kindergarten and first grade for having glasses so young. I had gotten used to it by now. My eyesight wasn’t terrible, as far as I knew, but I being nearsighted helped form the habit of never leaving the house without my glasses.

Until today.

“So, you said I’m a spiritwalker? What is that?”

“You.”

“Family…”

“See us!”

Mentally translating what these things were trying to say wasn’t easy. Were the spirits a family? Or were they talking about me?

Suddenly I realized that it was no coincidence that my parents had glasses, too. They always told me bad eyesight runs in the family, but what if it was more than that?

“My parents are spiritwalkers, then?”

“Maybe…”

I waited for another reply, but surprisingly only one of the spirits answered me this time. My parents were on vacation, as they always were early in the spring. The house was always pretty vacant this time of year, but I was starting to suspect that maybe ‘vacation’ wasn’t the real reason they left. Maybe there were bigger things going on that I haven’t been aware of until today.

Then again, maybe I actually was dreaming.

 

 

Fortune’s Fool

Written: Apr. 8 2016

 

The entrance to the bar swung shut as Felix stepped in, dressed in a full suit to match the rest of its occupants. He nodded to the doorman with a tip of the hat and surveyed the crowd. This was a Luck Joint, a place where the ‘Lucky’ gathered to measure the strength of the figurative hands life had dealt them.

Gambling in a Luck Joint was different than a casino. Many of the older establishments that had run based on pure statistics alone had either been shut down or monopolized by the people that Luck always favored.

Instead, the men here placed bets on who would come out on top. It was a sort of tournament process. Most often this meant whose Luck was stronger, but sometimes even somebody with a weaker Luck could use their wits to outmaneuver their opponent, bluffing them out of a winning hand through masterful plays. It was possible to actually draw a better hand than an opponent with stronger Luck, sure, but that chance grew less and less likely the larger the disparity grew.

Felix hated places like this. He always tried to do his best to make sure everybody stood on equal grounds in life, but somehow that was impossible. Whenever he gave food and money to the poor, would that not simply mean that he gave it to the person with the stronger Luck? In a world where Luck was an all but tangible substance, true equality was almost by definition impossible.

So, if helping the lesser didn’t solve the problem, it stood to reason that the opposite end of the spectrum would yield better results.

He walked up to the bar and, after surveying the occupants, sat next to a tall young woman with her brown hair cut uniform at the neck. She seemed to be weighing the worth of human life based on the laughing and drinking men in the room. By the distaste in her features, she didn’t seem to think they were worth so much as the drink she held in her hand. “I knew I’d find you here,” he smiled with a secret knowing that would be impossible for anyone to place.

“Did you?” she replied, not making eye contact, her languid tone giving him the impression that she had already had a drink or two.

“Well, not you, but somebody like you. I know your type,” he continued. “My name’s Felix. So, let me guess. A woman with lesser to moderate amounts of Luck, spending your free time looking for somebody to fill that void, both attracted to and disgusted by the Lucky ones?”

She put her glass down on the counter, sizing him up for the first time. “You should know better than to guess a woman’s heart.” She sighed. “You’re half right, I’ll admit. But I don’t find this rabble attractive. I just hate them.”

Felix nodded sagely. “That’s why you waste your time staring daggers at them.”

“What do you want from me?” she retorted.

“I want somebody to share an adventure with. I hate seeing trash like these guys use their Luck as a means of entitlement. I want the people that have to work for their keep to earn it.”

“What a noble and righteous cause,” she shifted her weight to give way for the sarcasm in her tone.

“Will you help me?”

“Sorry, I just don’t get along well with righteous types.”

“But you could. We all want to save the world. But I’m somebody that’s actually putting an effort in. How often do you see that?”

She paused. It seemed as though she had been about to laugh but his sincere face made her change her posture again. She looked back to the men. “How about,” she paused, thinking. “I want a nickel.”

“A nickel? That’s it?” He started to pull out his wallet.

She put a hand out to stop him. “No. I want a nickel. From 1982.”

This wasn’t really the kind of place that would have a whole lot of change lying around. Nobody in here would pay with cash. That was probably the point.

Felix couldn’t help but chuckle. “Of all the random things you could have asked for,” he said under his breath. He reached into his pockets and drew out a small handful of spare change. He laid it out on the counter in between them, without having inspecting the coins.

The woman furrowed her brow and looked down at the change. Of the seven coins, three of them were nickels, but every single coin in the pile was minted in 1982. “How in the world…?” Felix shrugged as if he had had never seen the pocket change before in his life. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?” she asked. “You’re Lucky.” The expression on his face was a sober one. His eyes were closed, and he was nodding. “Why do you need my help?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I have an ambitious task ahead of me. I can’t do it alone, regardless of how Lucky I am. I don’t know what you can do, but I know it’ll help my cause. Let’s just say it wasn’t chance that brought us together,” he winked.

“You don’t want my help,” the woman stated, finality etching into her tone.

“If that were true you wouldn’t have been here when I walked in.”

“I don’t think you understand,” she sighed.

Felix held his hand out to touch her, but she averted his touch, moving her hand away to avoid contact. “Trust me. Having me around is a bad idea.”

He frowned, thinking. Biting his lip at an idea, he nodded to her. “I don’t have bad ideas. I’ll prove it.” Then, he turned to the rest of the bar.

“Everyone!” He shouted. “I have an announcement!” A few men stopped what they were doing to glance back at him, but the rabble of the building wasn’t deterred.

“I will pay ten thousand dollars to the man that can roll anything other than a one on any die in here.”

The room stilled.

Then, the clamor resumed with revitalized spirit. Everybody was grabbing all the dice they could.

“Dangerous game to be playing,” the woman said, facing the room but in a voice only meant for him. “Men envy those with more Luck than them.”

“Only because those men they envy are invulnerable.” Luck did, of course, extend to life or death scenarios. A Lucky man would crash at a hospital if he drove drunk. He could find something to defend himself with if a rabid dog attacked him, and bullets would go wild and miss if he was being shot at. Felix looked back to the woman, reaching into his suit pocket and pulling out a deck of cards. “A man’s Luck is both a man’s greatest weapon and his greatest defense. Shuffle this for me, would you?”

She took the deck with a suspicious hand and inspected the cards.

“They aren’t trick cards,” he laughed. “As if I would need such a thing.”

She was a little disconcerted by the fact that around them, it was blatantly apparent that everyone had begun to roll ones on every single die on every throw. The shock and bewilderment sent out more than a few curses, but it seemed that everybody was too astonished at the sheer implausibility of the matter to even come up to Felix claiming they had rolled anything else. She took to shuffling the deck as requested, too amazed to do anything else.

“So,” Felix began. “What’s your name?”

“Mallory.”

“Lovely name. Now, I know you’re special. I knew I would meet somebody special today, you see. But I’m not sure how. I trust you can help me with my cause, if you’re willing. All I’m asking is that you meet me halfway.”

She made no reply. Instead, she passed the deck back to him. By now the amazement in the rest of the pub was reaching an uproar, and many of the men were getting visibly angry. It wasn’t so much that seemingly free money was out of reach, since more than a few of them were probably well supplied with funds as it were, but they were so shocked that their various degrees of Luck held no water to Felix’s own that the tension in the room enflamed.

Felix took the deck, and, without ceremony, played the cards face up, one at a time, to reveal that every single card was in order by suit. The number of combinations of a simple deck of cards, fifty two factorial, is a number over sixty digits long. Felix had taken a number that dwarfed the amount of microseconds that have occurred since the beginning of time, and he had picked out the result he wanted.

He leaned in and stared into her eyes. “I know you can help me. I don’t know how, but I know you can.”

She knew in that moment that he could have any life he chose. Any life that could be achieved for any man, and perhaps even some that no normal person ever could, was within Felix’s hands. And he chose her, in a sense. Who was she to refuse him?

“You have no idea how stupid you are to entangle yourself with me,” she smiled.

He shrugged. “I guess I’ll find out, then.” He took the cards and placed them back into the box before tucking it into his suit once more. He placed a hand on her wrist and winked. She drew breath in shock at his touch, as though she had never experienced the sensation before. She tensed up, her face a mask of consternation. He let go swiftly but with caution, trying to refrain from further damage.

“No,” she whispered, eyes closed as if she had lost a battle.

Felix frowned, trying to discern what he had done wrong. He turned his attention away from her only when he heard movement of people drawing near. It wasn’t until that moment that he had realized that most of the bar had gone quiet once more.

“Is there a problem here, miss?” A voice said. Looking up, he noticed they were surrounded by a group of gentlemen that looked ready to pound somebody into dust if they had to. None of them were exceptionally hard-bitten, but Felix himself wasn’t a large man. His body tensed at the sight of direct opposition in such close proximity.

Mallory frowned, obviously apprehensive. In spite of that she shook her head. Felix sat up into a more defensible posture before speaking.

“Is there a problem, gentlemen?” Felix asked, drawing their attention to him. His tone was professional, yet comfortable, though he himself was more than a little worried, at least for Mallory’s sake. “Did one of you manage to beat the odds?”

 

“No,” one said, his voice higher pitched than Felix would have imagined. “But as it so happens we’re not so happy somebody with as much Luck as you has the nerve to come into our place and ruin our fun.” He glanced back at Mallory at that last bit, though his glance wasn’t directed at her face.

Felix held his hands up. “I’m sorry, sir, it wasn’t my intention to ruin your fun. I simply thought it could be enjoyable for all if there was a little sport thrown into the evening. You could have gone back to your games if you weren’t interested.”

“Hard to gamble with dice when all anyone can do is roll ones,” another man said. He had a point.

“Are you one of the guys that owns the lotteries and casinos these days?” A third asked.

He wasn’t. But it seemed as though these guys weren’t going to back off until their bloodthirst had sated.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble. I’ll give you each some money if that’s what you’re after.” Out of his periphery, he managed to find Mallory’s hand and covertly grab it, squeezing it gently for assurance. She didn’t try to break his grasp, but made no reply, by sound or touch. She was probably far more scared than he was, and rightfully so. She clearly didn’t have the same sort of protection as he did.

“We don’t need your money,” the high pitched one said.

“Oh,” Felix sighed a fake breath of relief. “Then we’ll be on our way, if you don’t mind.”

With that, they both stood from their stools, though Mallory did so reluctantly. Felix pushed past the men as affably as he could manage, smiling the whole time, still holding her hand and leading her along. The men, miraculously, made no move to stop them.

They were almost out of the bar when somebody said something too quietly for Felix to make out. Out of the corner of his eye, he turned to see one of the men pulling a gun out of his suit and pointing it at the two of them. Time slowed as Felix pulled Mallory back and out of the way, pushing himself in between her and the gunman.

A shot rang out.

For the first time, Felix saw his own blood.

 

 

Aging in Reverse

Written: Feb 8 2016

 

“I’ll age forever and back with how long this is taking,” she mumbled.

“What?” he shouted into her ear.

“Nevermind, Dad,” she called back in the same volume. “You wait here, I’m going to use the bathroom.” Grabbing her cane, she strained up off the uncomfortable plastic seat and started hobbling off. It wasn’t like he would be going anywhere, stuck on a wheelchair as he was.

He sighed, squinting to see around him though his glasses could only take him so far these days. Outside, there were planes landing, taking off, and otherwise going about their business, marked by distinctive blurs in his vision. There wasn’t much to life at this point.

But for the first time in ages, taking a nap wasn’t foremost in his mind. He pushed his wheels forward and went out into the quiet, yet crowded room.

There were a few kids crowding over one with a game system in his lap, sucked into the favorite pastime of this century: instant gratification. Their mother sat nearby, likewise staring down at her phone.

Across the gap, an older man in a suit was on the phone, presumably telling his wife that he would be home soon. Come to think of it, he was pretty far away, but somehow he heard the half-conversation with a strange clarity. Where was Carol?

Absent-mindedly, he got up from his wheelchair, leaving it out of the way of any possible passersby, and approached a woman working at one of the terminals.

“Excuse me ma’am,” he addressed. “I seem to have lost my daughter.”

“Okay, sir, how old is your daughter?” she replied.

“Sixty-nine,” he stated almost instantly. He surprised himself with how swiftly the answer had come to him. She looked surprised, too, but for a different reason.

“I see,” she nodded after a moment. “If you could just sit down on one of the benches I’m sure she’ll turn up soon.”

She did seem to know what she was talking about, so he complied. Walking back over and sitting down on the bench, he looked over to see the mother with kids who now sat across from him. It had only then occurred to him how attractive she was. She had her dark hair tied back out of her face and was–

Another airport employee approached him just then, catching his eye. “Excuse me, sir,” he asked. “We’re looking for an gentleman of an advanced age. He was in a wheelchair but seems to have gotten out. Would you happen to have seen anyone like that?”

He couldn’t think of anyone that really fit that description. At least nobody he remembered seeing. What old man would just get out of a wheelchair he needed? It seemed odd that the people working there would address ordinary people about it, too. He shook his head. “I haven’t, sorry.”

The employee nodded. “Thanks anyway, sir.” He moved off to ask someone else.

Just then he saw Carol, standing next to the wheelchair he left a few rows down. She looked distraught. Frantic even.

He got up and went over to go see what was upsetting her, but as he passed the next row the sound and glint of victory caught his attention. He turned to see the boys around the game system cheering at what had just happened. Looking over their shoulders, they seemed to be playing a pretty cool fighting game. It seemed like they had just beaten a really hard boss. He wanted to play, too, but you don’t just ask a bunch of strangers if you can try out their game, even if it did look like a lot of fun.

Back to the task at hand, he turned to see Carol panicking. She made eye contact with him, but didn’t take any notice of him. Running over, he noticed that his clothes were uncomfortably large. Have they always been like that?

“Carol,” he said. “These shoes are too big. Can you take them off for me? Did you bring other ones? Maybe they fit better.”

Carol turned to him again, this time incredulous. “Sorry, young man, I’m a little busy right now.”

“Oh. Whatcha doin?”

Now she was annoyed. “Look, I’m very busy. Go find your mother, would you?”

Mother wasn’t here, was she?! It had been a long, long time since he had seen mother. Was she coming in on a plane? He loved planes. Glancing out the window, he could see planes! Tons of them! Planes are cool.

 

 

A Fool’s War

Written: Nov 15 2015

 

A fool will go to war for the honorable name of ‘peace’. Peace, though, is simply not something that can be attained through a concept so extremely opposite to it– as fools fail to see. The thing that I fail to see, though, is that if I accidentally start a war with the intention of achieving peace, does that make me a fool?

 

I stood at the door to the manor, trembling in my boots. The darkness slowly encroached past the iron fence and into the courtyard as the sun receded from view, I gulped, looking back to the door and gripping the cast iron knocker a second time. As I did though, the door opened slowly as a butler dressed in a traditional suit complete with glasses and a goatee peered through to address me. “Master Harlow, I presume.” His soothing voice somehow did a measure to calm my nerves.

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

“This way, please.”

I followed him in and through the house, a mansion compared to the house I grew up in. The interior was exactly as gothically decorated as the outside was. You would think that this place was inhabited by vampires that hadn’t really been outside for a few centuries other than to acquire the latest and most necessary pieces of technology. Which, of course, was true. That’s why this place was so terrifying. Growing up with my family, I always thought they were an old bunch that didn’t see how the world was changing. But compared to Clan Feredin, our family was practically human.

The man that sat at the head of the table in the hall looked up from his nails as his butler and I stepped into the otherwise empty dining room, his manner utterly apathetic. “Nicholas Harlow, sir,” his butler introduced, pulling a chair out for me to sit in. I nodded my thanks and sat next to Lord James Feredin, head of Clan Feredin.

“Good evening, sir.” I pushed the words out of my mouth, tentative to say anything lest I invoke his wrath. “Thank you for having me.”

“It’s my pleasure. I’m sure you wish to discuss business between our Clans?”

“Yes, sir,” I nodded. The alliance between our Clans have been strained over the last dozen years, and peace talks to mend them have only increased tension as it seems as though Feredin’s interests have grown apart from ours. Clan Harlow is in dire need for the alliance to stay together, however, and if things continue the way they are going, a war could start. A war my family would be certain to lose. “I’m to ask what your terms are for retaining a full alliance between them, and, if they are deemed reasonable, accept them.”

Lord Feredin sighed, stroking his unshaved chin. “Boy, if I am to take your family seriously in this I would expect them to send somebody of higher status than you.”

“Everyone else in my family is currently,” I paused. “Indisposed. Dealing with other matters.”

“More important matters?”

I bit my tongue. That question was a trap. There was no way I could reply to it without insulting him in some way. “I was found most capable,” I answered instead.

“Most capable what, errand boy or stepping stone?”

“Sir, if you could just–” I stammered.

“I’ll not take orders, from you, you insolent pup!” His tone intensified as he moved to rise from his chair.

“I was sent to give you the Oath!” I shouted, eyes shut with terror at the words I said.

He stopped cold as I pulled a revolver from my coat and placed it onto the table. After a moment he settled back in his chair, thinking.

“You, the heir of Clan Harlow, were told to give me the Oath? Such a ritual hasn’t been performed in centuries. And an heir no less. That is no small promise.”

“Y-yes, sir.” I replied. “I am to do it here and now, if you would accept it.”

He made no reply at first. Instead, he sat there pondering as he stared at the gun.

Please say no. PLEASE say no.

“Very well. I accept Clan Harlow’s Oath. Do it.”

Well, there goes that last hope. I swallowed and nodded, standing from my seat and facing him directly. “Lord James Feredin of Clan Feredin,” I stated, tone as formal as possible. “Clan Harlow wishes to establish and carry out its full and undying loyalty to the alliance held between our clans four four hundred and thirty-eight years. As proof of this, I stand as a blood sacrifice to seal the bonds with which my clan hopes to secure. My blood shall be spilled and my death here, in your manor, by means of this gun will stand as acceptance of this request. My death will be seen as Agreement to this Oath, and Clan Harlow and Clan Feredin will retain their relationship as allies for the next two hundred years.”

I took a deep breath. With shaking hands I grabbed the revolver from the table and handed it to Lord Feredin. He accepted it and cocked back the hammer. We locked eyes, and I could tell that he saw how terrified I was. His apathetic posture shifted ever so slightly when he pointed the gun at my heart. I felt a bead of sweat travel down my forehead to my cheek as I squeezed my eyes closed.

“It’s a shame such a young man has to go so soon,” he exclaimed, but it seemed that the words were more for himself than for me. Perhaps that was because his tone was significantly less harsh than it had been all evening.

He fired.

The hammer clicked back into place, but no gunshot went off. I peeked one eye open to see him furrow his brow. Cocking back the hammer, he fired again. The hammer clicked back into place without a bang. Unlocking the chambers, his confusion deepened as he saw that every slot had a round in it. I opened my mouth to say something, but shut it again. The last phrase of the Oath, the terms that were to be fulfilled, was supposed to be the last thing you spoke. Instead, I put my hand forward in request for the revolver, which he returned. I examined it, and everything seemed to be in order. Putting the chamber back in place, I pointed at the wall and fired twice. The gun went off and I heard a shout of pain. I turned to see Lord Feredin, felled by the ricochet of the gun. Blood was already pooling around him as his eyes became glassy.

How I suddenly longed to be in his shoes.

 

 

Dragons, Man.

Written: Jun 14 2015

 

That shadow didn’t come from a cloud. It was way too dark and passed by too quickly. Besides, I heard it fly by.

Look, I know what everyone says. Dragons are just stories to scare little kids. Daddy says I’m old enough to know they aren’t real, but he’s wrong. About the realness part, not my oldness. You see, dragons are just really fast and never land on the ground. If they’re hungry they just swoop by and take some chickens. Maybe a goat if they’re famished. And they fly so high that old people with bad eyes can’t see them.

I’ve been watching the skies ever since I was little. At first I thought everything was one, but according to Dad everything that’s big enough to make a silhouette in the sky is just a bird. But dragons don’t fly like birds. They don’t glide and dive, they hunt and swoop. And you can hear them if you’re listening.

I sat in the backyard, looking up in the sky. I always seem to have my attention elsewhere when a dragon flies by. I’ve never seen one fly directly overhead, but I’ve heard them and seen them when they were really far away. I guess that’s how they stay secretive: they avoid the people that know they exist. They’re pretty smart too. I don’t know if they can talk, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Half of the stories I’ve heard say that dragons can talk, and some of them say that they’re pretty witty, too. Maybe one day I’ll catch one and find out for myself, but I do think it’s pretty smart to stay away from humans, personally. Ifeverybody knew that dragons existed, the king would round all of his knights up and hunt them down, just like in the stories! One thing I find odd, though, is how everybody in the old times seemed to know about dragons, but nobody today does. Did we somehow forget or stop believing or what? Maybe the dragons went into hiding until everyone forgot that they were real. Don’t ask me, though. I’m not an expert or anything.

I’m not saying dragons are common or numerous by any means, I’m just trying to point out that they exist. I mean think about it. Every lie begins with a shred of truth. Look at all the tales and legends that have dragons in them! How can you possibly explain all of those different cultures describing the same kind of creature when there are mountain ranges and oceans dividing these people?! Obviously there is no way everybody can be making it up. And anyways, the only reason you don’t find dragon skeletons anywhere is because they’re like elephants. They go to their own little graveyard in the mountains when they die. And you don’t find the bones of the animals they eat because they take and eat the whole thing! It just seems like a no-brainer to me.

Why doesn’t anyone believe me?

 

 

Letters to Lee

Written: Nov 24 2014

 

November 15th, 2014 —

The first thing I remembered after waking up on this beach was the sound of the quiet waves brushing up against the sands, bleached against the undying and relentless heat of the midday sun. Well, I guess it isn’t entirely true to say that waking up in such a manner was the first thing I remember. Aside from the past life that this island seems to have erased from my memory, you are the only thing I have never forgotten. But as much as I’ve been able to retain your face in my mind, Lee, I feel as though everything around my past life is almost nonexistent and, indeed, irrelevant. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know how or when I got here in the first place. Nearly every part of my mind tells me that you’ve always been a figment of my imagination, created to preserve my sanity and keep me company, but there is one small piece that says you are real. An even smaller piece of that one tells me that you also know and remember me, too.

However, as much as I tell myself these things to keep me sane, I know that I am never getting off this isle. It will be both the site of this new life, and the site of my grave, if I am so fortunate as to be given one.

I know you will never read these, Lee, but I would appreciate it if you gave me the benefit of the doubt and joined me as I venture through this isle of mystery to see what I may find here. I suspect creatures of both joy and sorrow reside in this place, and I should be interested to see how they react to a new resident of their home.

Until next time, Lee,

Lin

November 24th, 2014 —

Hey, Lee,

I wanted to tell you that I’ve just about gotten settled here. I set up a little tent using some leaves from the trees that grow here on the coast. I used about seven, and let me tell, you, those things are heavy! Along with being cumbersome and difficult to carry, they have a lot of bark on them, too, and their shape strikes me with an odd familiarity. I can’t put my finger on it.

Anyways, using dead branches as the framework, I propped up the leaves against a rocky outcropping near where the beach runs into the nearby forest. From my little camp, it’s only a short walk to the water. It’s nice. Along with being conveniently located, I’d say it’s even comfortable.

And now that I’ve gotten myself settled, it’s given me time to think. About you.

Truth be told, though, I think about you every day. I wonder how life is going where you are, and how your daily struggles are faring. Is life as tasking where you stand? Must you live in loneliness’s shadow as I do? It must be a long shadow indeed if it spans oceans and reaches distant lands.

I haven’t ventured into the forest quite yet. I know now that there are things lurking under that canopy that only fools face without being prepared. Instead, I’ve gotten my meals from crabs and the occasional fish that is unlucky enough to be caught by the tip of my spear.

But I can’t stay here forever. Both my sanity and curiosity demand that I brave the forest. There is something… in there that is calling me. Time will tell whether or not it is something that wants to eat me, but I will find it all the same.

Perhaps it will bring me closer to you, Lee.

…But is that something you would want?

Lin

August 10th  2016 —

Hey, Lee.

I’m sorry I haven’t written to you in a while. Quite frankly I’ve been so occupied trying to survive on this island that thinking about you is a distraction. I’ve started to actually kind of like it here. Besides all of the predators, murderous plants, and those strange flying squid things I see from time to time around the forest, this place is actually quite comfortable. I don’t stare out to sea as often as I used to. I do think about you, but my mind is focused elsewhere.

I want to make a boat. I don’t think going deeper in the forest will accomplish anything other than getting me killed, but I also don’t know how far out the sea goes. Maybe you’re somewhere beyond the horizon, waiting. Maybe you never even existed in the first place. But you know what the funny thing is? I don’t want to make a boat to go out and find you. I want to make a boat to go out and find myself.

Is it weird that I feel that I only exist partially? My body is here, but my soul is somewhere beyond my reach. I think I can find it if I look hard enough, but I’m pretty sure it’s not here with the murder beasties.

If I find you on my way, I’ll stop by to say hello. I’m not sure I’ll have the time to stay and chat, however. I may not look like I have a pressing need, but a man needs a reason to live, and I think I’ve found mine.

Wish me luck,

Lin

 

 

My Father’s Eyes

Written: Sep. 14 2014

Last Edited: Feb 3 2016

 

I loved my father. He taught me what to value in life. When I was little, he would teach me everything the head of house needed to know. This included both survival skills, like fishing, cutting wood, catch food, build a tent; but he also showed me people skills, like how to respect those of higher status, be generous to those less fortunate, and how to practice chivalry. At the time, I didn’t understand why I needed to know any of that, because my father could do all of it perfectly well, and I never wanted to know, because I was old enough to know that if I did, I would be expected to do it, even if others were perfectly capable. I guess what I was really afraid of was responsibility, but, nonetheless, I learned willingly, because I wanted to give reason for my father to be proud of me.

When the war began, he had never hesitated to shoulder his weight. I tried to follow behind him, to fight by his side, but he refused to let me. He told me that I didn’t have the right eyes. I didn’t really know what he meant by that, so I assumed he was still just trying to baby me and keep me safe. I’m sure that was some of it, but I didn’t realize I still had a lot to learn that only time and experience could show me.

It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized the importance of all of those skills. I was suddenly the one that had to cut firewood, catch fish, and provide for my family. While he was away, I began to teach my younger brother the skills that our father gave to me. I knew it was what my father would have done had he been there. Finally being the teacher, I had begun to understand what it was that my father had been trying to tell me.

Time had run its course, and one day years later we received a letter in the mail, asking for our presence at a funeral. That funeral was for my father, by now an old soldier killed in the line of duty.

The story I was told, was that he had taken charge when the chain of command was disrupted, and had initiated a retreat when enemy forces surrounded them. He covered his men and delayed enemy advance, saving dozens of lives, giving enough time for his men to help the wounded escape, too. This act had given him many honors only awarded to the best and bravest of soldiers. Many of his commanding officers attended to pay their respects to him, and I heard his Commander even helped carry the casket.

I approached his Commander after the ceremony, wiping away the tears in my eyes I asked him where I should go to enlist. I had never met the man before, but upon looking at me, he smiled at me, and said I had my father’s eyes.

 

Original Draft

I loved my father. He taught me what to value in life. When I was little, he would teach me all the important things, like how to fish, cut wood, trap animals, be chivalrous, everything. I didn’t understand why I needed to know any of that, because my father could do all of it perfectly well. I never wanted to know, because I was old enough to know that if I did, I would be expected to do it, even if others were perfectly capable. But, nonetheless, I learned willingly, because I wanted my father to be proud.

When the war began, my father never hesitated to shoulder his weight. I tried to follow behind him, to fight by his side, but he wouldn’t let me. He told me that I didn’t have the right eyes. I didn’t really know what he meant by that, but I knew that at least part of it was just trying to protect me.

It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized the importance of all of those skills. I was suddenly the one that had to cut firewood, catch fish, and provide for my family. While he was away, I began to teach my younger brother the skills that our father gave to me. I knew it was what my father would do had he been home. Being on the other side of the teachings, I finally started to understand what it was that my father had been trying to tell me.

One day I was told that my father had died in the war. It was only a few days after I had become old enough to enlist.

All of the recruits were personally greeted by the General. As I approached him, he looked at me with a surprising recognition. He smiled and said I had my father’s eyes.

 

Flash Fiction

I loved my father. He taught me what to value in life. When I was little, he taught me all the important things: how to fish, cut wood, trap animals, everything. I didn’t understand why I needed to know, because my father could do it. I never wanted to know, because I knew I would be expected to do it, even if others were capable. I learned willingly, though, because I wanted father to be proud.

When the war began, my father never hesitated to shoulder his weight. I tried to follow behind him, to fight by his side, but he wouldn’t let me. He told me that I didn’t have the right eyes. I think he was just trying to protect me.

I discovered the importance those skills when he left. I was suddenly the one that had to provide for my family. While he was away, I began to teach my younger brother those skills father gave me. I knew it was what my father would have done. Being on the other side of the teachings, I finally started to understand what it was that my father had been trying to tell me.

One day we were told that father died in the war. It was a few days after I had become old enough to enlist.

All of the recruits were personally greeted by the General. As I approached him, he looked at me with a surprising recognition. He smiled and said I had my father’s eyes.

 

 

D&D Campaign: “Calitha” Journal

Written: 2013

 

I arrived on this planet with a burst of light, appearing in what looked like a ruined town with two figures standing some distance away. One had the head of an elephant. The healer my God had sent me to find. He was accompanied by a large, imposing man, whom I assume was his demon-slaying bodyguard. The town was quiet, and the only ambient noise was the buildings that were slowly but surely burning down. The town was obviously of no importance, and whatever monsters that had caused this seemed to have gone. That being said, I studied my future allies carefully. I would by no means be considered a tall Seraphim, but even from the distance between us I could tell that they would both tower over me. They both had their weapons drawn and were breathing heavily. Perhaps they were the ones who had eradicated this village’s attackers.

I stood there in silence with two objectives in mind: to both force the first move upon them and seize the opportunity to further scan the area.

“Who are you?” the healer asked as I looked around.

“I am a holy prophet of Corellon. Who do you follow?” I replied.

“Corellon,” the elephant replied.

“And you?” I turned to the bodyguard.

“Odin,” was all the noise his deep voice made. I nodded. There was no doubt now. They were the ones. But there was something wrong. Wasn’t there to be two more?

Putting my mind to the task at hand, I pointed to one of the unscathed buildings. “That one was not touched. Perhaps there was something there that the monsters were looking for. Else the brutes would not have remained.” The two seemed to be in agreement and we went to search it. There were many various items, including a few magical weapons, (none of which seemed to have been made by my god,) an old tea pot, some strange and quite revealing women’s clothing, and what appeared to be an ancient runic tablet. Or, at least, a piece of one.

The healer seemed to be most interested in the old tea pot, but as it made no reaction upon inspection, placed it back down. As he did, it began to glow brilliantly and a being of pure energy clad in heavy armor (perhaps so that its true form would not show) came out of it. I nodded in approval. He was another member of the party my god desired to be formed. Once it was fully materialized and had finished settling itself in this dimension, a small demonic-looking man dressed in robes ran up to the building we were stationed inside and started praising us for releasing the trapped being. Apparently he had been trying to release it for a long time now. An odd little teifling, but I did not speak. He was the last member of our party and we could now begin our quest to form a guild. Upon seeing the small mage, the demon hunter grew extremely hostile and readied for a quarrel. After some persuasion and an examination of the runic tablet, he calmed down. After all, he had no qualms with the teifling people, and since they themselves were of almost no demonic origin, he was obviously not a threat. The mage looked at the tablet, but could offer no more information than the fact that it had something to do with the cure to the plague that had stricken these lands. After discussing what it could mean, we left to camp out for the night. The ruined town would not be the best place to sleep, especially with large open flames still burning.

The next day we traveled to Van’Qiir’s market district to look for clues on our journey. Corellon had directed me to guide these people to form a guild, but the four of them seemed to be tending to more pressing matters. What’s more, I couldn’t say I wasn’t interested in this runic tablet fragment. Perhaps Corellon was leading us down our path through it. A path that he had hidden from me.

As we arrived in a bazaar, we heard several dozen people screaming and running terrified in the opposite direction. Obviously there would be trouble ahead, but what of the guards patrolling the area? When we reached the stalls, a man ran up to us, pleading for help. Suddenly, he started glowing brightly as vines shot out of a crack in the wall, enveloping him and manifesting a large portion of it. As he struggled, three drakes followed behind him, thirsting for blood. The party and I readied our weapons in the man’s aid.

After killing the drakes and the vines, the healer helped him regain consciousness. Once he did so, he was able to tell us what had happened. This unlikely man held one of the runic tablet pieces, and a month ago, a woman in a dark cloak seemed to have been very interested in purchasing it from him. After no small amount of dispute, the angry woman stormed off empty-handed. The next day she returned, trading him four draconic eggs and an expensive looking necklace for some other goods, having seemed to have forgotten all about the tablet. She said the eggs would hatch in about a month and would make exceptional pets. It was obvious by now that it was a trap to obtain his runic tablet piece, and it would have worked had we not interfered. This man would be dead and the woman would have her tablet piece.

Once he was finished with his story, the sorcerer asked to see the tablet. The merchant hesitated, but did so. He showed us his fragment, the second one, which he kept wrapped in a cloth. The sorcerer inspected it and told him it was very dangerous to remain holding on to. The merchant seemed to grow uneasy at this knowledge, but knew better. He had been a merchant too long to miss his chance to get some easy money. Cutting to the chase, he asked for fifteen-hundred gold pieces. Hearing this, the arcane knight loomed over him. We had just defeated the trap that would have otherwise killed him, and could easily finish the job for them. He sighed and we ended up taking it for a thousand. It fit right in to our other piece as he told us the woman was supposedly searching for the third piece in the Shimmering Hills. So that was to be our next destination. But had the merchant not mentioned four drake eggs in his tale? And were there not only three that had attacked him? The others seemed to have remembered as well and the merchant gladly gave it to us, wanting nothing to do with something that could very likely kill him if he was not careful. The party members seemed to be arguing with each other over who would hold on to it. The owner would have to take care of it and be wary in case it attacked when it awakened. In the end, the hunter was the one to claim it and once all was settled, we set our eyes for the Shimmering Hills.

 

Havenbrook was in terrible state when we arrived. There was no man or woman that did not appear sick or worried that they were about to be. The tavern looked oddly shabby for its age, but if that wasn’t strange, then the giant extravagant tent next to it with hundreds of people lined up outside definitely was. We decided that the bartender would know and went inside to ask. He told us that there was a suspicious, religious group healing this land’s sickness, but he gave heavy implications that this was not a good thing. Perhaps he had hoped we were planning to stop it. I couldn’t help but be more interested. This was a matter not only concerning the plague, but some scandalous religion was claiming to be capable of nullifying it? Remembering the hundreds of people lined up of the tent outside, it appeared many poor people had been waiting for days and had spent the remainder of their savings for such a journey. We would have to stop it. I turned to the rest of my party to see they had gone to eavesdrop on a group of thugs drinking at a table in the corner. I waited a minute before meeting up with them to discuss our plan of action. The sorcerer, arcane knight, and demon hunter would talk to the people in line about what was going on, getting more information, while the healer and I would sneak by the tent, looking for a way to put an end to this foolishness.

We split up, filling out our plan of attack. Next to the tent, I could not see the others, or even the line of people which they had gone, but I could hear something happening inside the tent. I listened closer to hear somebody blabbering nonsense in a somewhat formal tone, giving somebody completely ignorant to the magical arts the impression that they were doing something. What’s more, I could also hear the pouring of gold pieces and a soft chuckling of some guards. They were stealing paupers’ gold!

The very thought infuriated me to no end. I prepared my blade-staff and walked sternly around the tent, molten with hatred. Time for somebody to die for their crimes.

The imposter’s guards came out to stop me, but they were powerless against true strength. I deflected one’s attacks and spun around to knock him out cold, then shoved the other out of the way as I ran into the tent to end this madness once and for all.

The weakling was already cowering in fear of my presence as the poor, scammed soul hurried out in tears of ill-placed joy. “You will cease your blasphemy now before any more gold is sapped from these people.”

The fat abomination was obviously worried for his health, but clearly I wasn’t being forceful enough to get through to this fool. “No? Then suffer the might of Corellon!” I yelled and prepared to execute the criminal. He yelped in horror and stumbled under his desk, crying and sobbing in pathetic terror. Many criminals deserve to die, but there were some that were so far below trash that they only deserved to continue living their pitiful, miserable lives. My work was done here.

I left the tent to see my comrades doing various things. Some were calming a squabble that was brewing in the now useless line, some were fueling it. I met with them and one told me of the third and final piece (of the runic tablet that had something to do with the cure to the plague) and that it was in possession of the gypsy woman that had come to barter for the second with the man in the marketplace of Van’Qiir. It felt as though our guild was just around the corner.

 

The gypsy woman’s home was just a shack far off in the woods, looking innocent and quiet. We entered and found out that she was not present at the time. We rummaged through her things to find some fashionable looking gypsy wear, a magic orb that the sorcerer seemed to be attracted to and, lo and behold, the final tablet piece. But we still had to put them together.

Meanwhile, our demon hunter stood outside as sentinel, and called us to get ready. The gypsy had returned. This gave me an unholy chill down my spine. We were in for trouble.

We left the sorcerer alone to fix the pieces together while we dealt with the gypsy. She spotted us when we left her house, and for the first time I was staring face to face with Nyx, the plaguebringer. In hundreds of years, before this era would be brought to an end, the Shimmering Hills would become known as Nyx’ Mire. The reason behind this was not clear to me, but knowing this news would not bode well for my fellow comrades, I said nothing. There is nothing one can do to change the future. For now, though, we would fight, and blood would be shed today.

 

We did somehow manage to defeat her, but once she saw she lost, she vanished in a puff of smoke. Typical witchcraft. Of course she would not be defeated so easily. Before we had defeated her, the sorcerer had completed his spell and had fixed the pieces back into one runic tablet. The others were excited, but now that I knew that Nyx was behind this plague, I could not grasp much hope that we could stop such a fiend.

 

 

“Mech” Project

Written: Mar 11 2013

 

“You’ve got to be kidding. You want me to design a mech for you?” I laughed, shaking my head. There was no way Scai was being serious. Designing mechs wasn’t exactly the kind of thing I did on a regular basis. Heck, I didn’t really like many of the ones I built for myself, and who knows how many would-be models were scraped out of personal distaste. The only mechs that actually completed the tests with approving results and appeal were 032WOUND and 312SHOCK, and those were both at least a decade old. Surely Scai wasn’t looking to me for a personal mech.

I looked away across the empty, old-school diner that was only occupied by Scai, my childhood friend, and the one or two employees that worked here, who were no doubt passing the time with holo-boards in the back. Their jobs were probably minimum wage, since there wasn’t much to do in this old, retro style diner from the 50’s. The checkerboard tiles were spotless, the few booths had been disinfected, and the sun had just escaped behind the top of the windows as it made its ascent into the sky. Though it hid, the sun’s light managed to reflect perfectly on the clean floors and tables, and I was forced to reposition myself in order to avoid being blinded. Had Earth always been this bright?

“Come on, Nin!” Scai coaxed. “We can be a team and enter in partner-tournaments!”

I scoffed at his pathetic and useless persuasion. It would be stupid to waste my time and money on a mech that wouldn’t end up meeting his absurd expectations. “Don’t call me that. And I’m not making you a mech, Scai.”

“Not even to return the favor for years ago?” he smiled and folded his arms as he leaned back into his side of the booth. How smug he looked, playing that card. I tried not to sound moved, but it was nearly impossible in the face of such words. I had gotten used to being indebted to Scai, and figured this debt was one to remain unpaid.

“What are you playing at?” I asked him, giving him no clues as to what I was thinking. Designing a new mech suddenly sounded tantalizing. “Why do you even want a mech?”

“I want to be somebody, Nin. You got famous using a borrowed mech, so I figure I can do the same with a little handicap,” I replied, his eyes wide in the fantasy of being in a mech cockpit, but whether it was in an Arena or formational combat I couldn’t tell.

After a moment’s thought, I came to a decision, and stood up from the booth of the empty diner. “I’ll tell you what, Scai. I’ll let you borrow Lightning. If you don’t break it in a week, I’ll make you a mech. Sound good?” I was aware Scai could simply wait a week and not use the borrowed mech at all and get a free one, but I figured Scai was too impatient to wait for however long it took to design and create an entirely new model, especially since he knew how persnickety I was with perfection in the details. No, Scai would use Lightning. Besides, even if he did break it, I could simply make a new one. It wouldn’t be the original model, sure, but it wouldn’t cost as much as making a mech from scratch, even if he was still in debt as a result of it.

Upon hearing the offer, Scai jumped up from the other side of the booth and tackled Nincil. “Thanks, Nin! I won’t disappoint you!” I shoved Scai off, brushing my shirt off as I sighed in dismay. Scai always managed to get what he wanted in the end somehow.

 

Scai had never operated an online mech before. He knew how to handle them, but this was the first time he would be putting his self-training to the test. Better not break it, he thought. He was in Lightning, after all. Nincil’s very own 312SHOCK…

 

 

The Black Guardian and the Royal Scholar

Written: Apr. 3 2012

 

In the Great Demon Outbreak, the terrible demonic lord Malgorus devastated the lands. He and the demons under his command killed thousands of innocent lives. The king had been forced to act. Malgorus, according to reports, had been the most powerful demon humankind had ever known before, or since. The king sent his most battle-hardened legion to deal with the threat. The legion knew how to deal with threats like this. The best strategy was to split up into groups of at least twenty and spread out so that the demon would always be being attacked, no matter where he teleported. This strategy proved effective with the demons they had fought before.

But Malgorus was no ordinary demon.

One of the most highly respected paladins in the kingdom was present in this battle, as commander of one of the squads. He had survived some of the worst massacres in the Outbreak. He was ready. Or so he thought.

The demon materialized swiftly and suddenly. The time it took for Malgorus to pass through the rip in the void was all the nearby squad had to prepare for the incoming battle. He was a gargantuan the size of the king’s castle itself. And he was clearly not to be trifled with. He peered down on the squad with molten hatred for eyes. He uttered a single word in his demonic tongue.

The entire squad started vaporizing before the paladin’s eyes.

There was nothing he could do but to place a shield on himself and the man closest to him, right as he disintegrated, catching nothing of the man’s essence other than his life force itself. His body was no longer existent, but his soul remained enclosed in the golden sphere. Maybe there was still time.

The years went by. The Outbreak subsided after the encounter with Malgorus, as he was never seen again. The paladin had devoted his life to helping his friend, while studying him at the same time. He was able to communicate through the indestructible shield, and helped the paladin with his studies. As time went by, they learned more about the mysterious spell. First, it wasn’t an ordinary spell at all, but a curse, and a deadly one. They couldn’t figure out how to dispel such a powerful curse, nor would it return his body to him if they did. They had become aware that upon releasing the shield, it would release a massive burst of demonic energy, and would most certainly kill everyone nearby. Granted, the paladin’s small but formidable fortress was miles away from the capital, but no chances could be taken.

The paladin started studying mage craft, but there was nothing that suppressed demonic energy. The main goal was to figure out a way for him to survive without the help of the shield. There was no paladin spell that did anything they wanted, besides the shield they used as a makeshift container. The paladin searched other types of magic practicing, like shamanism and necromancy, but there was nothing that did what they needed.

More years went by, and the paladin slowly became more frustrated. He was forced to do what no human, let alone paladin, had ever done. He began to study the demonic arts.

He knew this was forbidden on too many levels to count, but he was determined. The paladin’s deity saw this with disdain and felt the paladin had dishonored him. Without a second thought, he took all ability he had as a paladin. He became exiled among his order. Still, he helped his friend, knowing he could never be redeemed. He resigned to his tower permanently studying, looking for his spell.

Years went by. In his advanced age, and his friend being stuck in the shield, there wasn’t much either could do. But one day, he found it. It was a binding spell that took the target’s soul, and placed it into a previously inanimate object. Not having another suitable candidate for the binding, the paladin gifted him his old armor, battle worn yet still golden with the paladin’s crest. They began the preparations for the spell.

The bodiless soul moved to the center of the circle, next to the exiled paladin’s golden armor. The exile paced around a corner of the octagonal room scanning the tomes he himself created. They’d been best friends for three decades, now. The soul could usually tell what the paladin was thinking, by his gesturing and facial expressions.

He was obviously nervous. This had never been attempted before, so what were the chances of success? Not thinking about it, the soul looked around the room. He saw the intricate circle of chalk drawn carefully below him, and the dusty bookshelves against the walls. There were lit candles scattered around the ground, and there was a single window that brought a beam of outside light into the room. He looked back to the exile, who was staring at him. “I’m ready,” the soul said.

The paladin started speaking in a tongue never uttered from a human mouth. As he spoke, a breeze started blowing counterclockwise in the center of the room, but the window was shut. A quiet drumming tuned in, with an unending crescendo. As he chanted more, the candlelight dimmed as the wind became stronger. Pages in the open tomes started flipping, and the drumming grew louder and louder. The armor slowly rose up to a stand, as if an unseen force acted upon it. The wind blew harder and harder, turning into a fierce gale. It blew out the candles, and they were knocked over by the force of it, leaving only the window’s small beam of sun to light the room. The sound of the drums became even louder.

The exile was almost done with his binding spell, but next he needed to dispel the barrier before he could finish. He needed to time it perfectly in order for the soul not to disperse too much. “I’m dispelling the barrier, get ready,” the exile said, but his voice was lost in the gale. He soon realized this, and spoke up.

“I’m going to dispel the shield,” He yelled, “Get ready.”

The soul’s only response was, “Go.” The exile prepared himself, and cast the dismiss spell. But it did nothing. He came to know that he could not utilize his paladin abilities. There was only one option left.

“I can’t take the barrier off. But you can. All you have to do is use your willpower to break yourself free. The power of Malgorus’ curse will help you. You can do it,” He shouted as loud as he could. The soul understood. He had never even tried before, for fear of not being able to be contained again. He mustered up all the strength of will he had, and in one burst, broke the barrier he had been contained inside most of his life. The power of the curse was eager to break free, and was eager to destroy everything it could with pure hatred. A malignant wave of energy blasted out of the barrier, and headed straight for the paladin. He could not cast a barrier to protect himself as he had so many years before. All he could do was finish the binding spell to put the man inside the exile’s old armor before he was consumed by the curse. The man saw the entire thing and reached his hand out to stop it, but it was too late. He was gone. It was over.

The exile might have known what the result would have been all along. He might have had no idea. There was no way of knowing. But at least the spell had resulted in success. The old paladin probably would have given his life to save his friend anyway. But now what was there to do? He could actually interact with objects again, a feat that had seemed forever unreachable. But somehow, he could not bring himself to care. Being bound in the armor he had somehow lost all emotional contact he had had even as a soul. He left to the bottom of the tower, almost feeling human. He stood in the back of the room, facing the great entrance doors to the tower.

One year later, and he stood in the same position. He did not require food or entertainment. He did not get sore or tired. So, he waited. Waited for something to happen.

His current state was still unstable. He could not contain the power of the curse that remained inside him, and it emanated for miles. The change in pressure it caused killed all small nearby life forms. Eventually, even a few children were killed by the curse’s aura. People came by to investigate what caused their childrens’ deaths. Strangely enough, they were never seen again. The story of the tower that killed all who came near became more and more popular. Everybody knew of the paladin who had become exiled. But only few officials knew why. The majority of the population assumed that he had obtained an item of immense power, and became corrupt with greed. They thought that the item had killed him and it was now killing everything around the tower. Nonetheless, people went to the tower, only to be killed by it.

More and more vengeful people and treasure hunters were lost to the terrors of the tower, which only mounted the hysteria of the people. People began to become fearful that the guardian of the tower would come and wreak havoc in the capital. The king (two generations younger than the king during the Demon Outbreak) thought he could deal with his threat, so he sent an army to capture the fortress.

He lost three entire legions that way. It became an inevitable realization that it would not be stopped, and so the king had deemed it forbidden to venture towards the tower, and the people, completely ignoring the law, only did so because they knew they would die if they did find it.

Centuries went by, and the life around the tower slowly died and became a barren wasteland. The guardian’s armor had gathered dust and ash from its encounters and the golden, holy armor of the paladin slowly transformed into the black, cursed armor of the demon. Still, as time went on, and people feared the tower, less people ventured to it. Thus the tower and its guardian slowly became forgotten, and those who did seek it were thought to have died from dehydration of the wasteland, not the guardian of the tower in the middle of it. Centuries more and it was forgotten altogether.

I was a noble born under an elf and a human. My father was the most renowned human archaeologist in his day. He was famous for discovering and exploring ruins that had been forgotten for centuries. On my ninth birthday, he gave me an ancient scroll from one of the expeditions he had been working on at the time. The scroll was written in a text that had been lost for ages, and was unreadable. At the bottom of the page, there was a sketch of a dark suit of armor that had what looked like a cloud of smoke emanating from it.

I had made it my life’s goal to find out what the text said.

It was the only document they had found in the ruins, and thus it was all I had to work with. The ruins my father found it in were several hundred years old, but beyond that it was hard to make out more details about it.

Every so often, my father would bring me along to his expeditions, and I would be eager to look for clues to translating the ancient language. Every day, I would spend hours trying to translate it, looking at the markings and brainstorming on the meaning of it. The focus of the text was obviously the suit of armor, but other than that it was impossible to be sure. It was written steadily, not hurriedly, and it used a lot of ink, so that its meaning was clear. My mother was not exactly the most history-learned elf. She gave me tips where she could, but overall, she did not save me much time.

Eventually, I was able to understand the general meaning of the scroll. It told of an ancient, mysterious that caused mass hysteria. The scroll was a warning for future generations to read and know not to go to the tower it guarded, for their fate would be so disastrous it would be worse than anyone’s worst nightmare. Despite myself, upon deciphering it, I took it up to the king, who trusted me more than any other of his advisers. He understood the grave danger it could inflict among his people, and despite our precautions, news of the black guardian spread throughout the kingdom. My king would not stand for it, and he declared a law of the utmost importance that there was no soul to venture for the lost tower. Anybody even mentioning the notion was to be executed and made an example of. He would not lose his people to an unnecessary threat.

That is, he would not lose anyone except his son. The prince was an ambitious creature, always looking for a way to come home a hero. When he heard of the guardian in the tower, he could not resist. He took his entire army and vanished into the wasteland.

I heard of the grave news two days later, and it was the king himself who had told me. He was extremely dismayed, and I told him I would take my horse and go after him to get him to turn around. After all, I had indirectly studied the guardian all my life. (In reality, I just wanted to see the object of my life’s work in person to study.) Reluctantly, he agreed. He was in no mood to argue, and I probably would have gone anyway.

My horse traveled well on the hard dirt, and it was much faster than the march of the prince’s army.

Passing through some sort of barrier I felt the atmosphere suddenly change, and I found it slightly harder to breathe. Nonetheless, I reached them in a day’s time, just as they reached within a mile of the tower. It was the center of the flat, sand-less desert, and the atmosphere, both literally and metaphorically, weighed heavily on us. A party of adventurers had beat us here, and they had come to discourage entering the tower. I happily joined by their side to help them.

After almost two hours of consulting with the party and the prince, we uh… “convinced” him to turn back. (I’m sure the king would rather his sun return to him half-dead than full-dead.) We pitched tents for the night, being too late to go back home, and the party and I decided to pitch our tents a few yards closer to the tower than everybody else. We set a campfire and got to know each other. They were a rather interesting bunch. Each had an interesting background and motive, yet all were moved to fight together. Rather peculiar this was. Once it got late and our fire was no longer potent, we said our goodnights and went to bed.

We were all woken up by the sound of a man in a full suit of armor walking by, but nobody really wore full plate armor in the current time period, especially in the peace we were in. We came out of our tents to see a man in full, dark armor, awkwardly sitting in a chair, staring at the smoldering wood. He peered at us when we emerged, but said nothing. When we asked who he was, he cocked his head to the side slightly, and remained silent. His identity did not come to mind quickly, but it indeed came. It took me a while to realize that it was the black guardian himself who sat aloof upon one of our chairs, uncomprehending mind staring at us. It took me a while to realize just who the black guardian was. I was thrilled that I finally met him. He was no malevolent demon at all, but simply a tormented soul trapped in the armor that he still handled awkwardly. Maybe I could help him. Yes, I could help him. But I would need help to find the materials. Just maybe the party could help. I would not mind fighting alongside them, helping them with their goals in return. I had an idea. I stood up, walked slowly towards the guardian, and, without saying a word, put my hand on his shoulder and smiled gently. To this day I’m not sure if he understood me, but I guess we both got what we wanted. We worked it out, and we both joined their party to help each other with our various quests.

 

 

 

Fanfiction —

 

An Adventure Awaits

Written: Apr 23 2016

Origin: Sunless Sea (videogame)

 

“A smooth sea does not a skilled sailor make.”

I sat on the edge of the wharf, looking out into the blackness. It was quiet around this time of day, not that it was easy to tell what the ‘time of day’ truly was. It had been over a dozen hours since that flash of green on the horizon announced the new day, but it had been years since anyone in Fallen London had seen the Sun.

I’ve heard, as we all have, the tales of the Surface. I’m told the Sun is so bright that you can walk through an urban city with no other lights when it is out, but I never believed those stories. Nobody in London ever left their house without a lantern at their side, and street lamps pierced the blackness, but could do nothing to halt the gloom.

So it was that I was fascinated with what else was out there, waiting for me in the cold dark. My father had been a traveler. He had seen everything there was to see, every settlement, forest, and forgotten structure peeking over the waters. He led the romantic life of a captain thirsty for adventure, always coming back with impossible souvenirs from even less possible places.

I stood from the docks, scanning, once again, to see if there had somehow been a ship that had docked without my noticing. I had always wanted to join my father, but both my parents persisted that I was too young to brave the dark, where no lights distinguished from up and down, from sky to water. It was always supposed to be a birthday present from when I turned twelve. My father would take me to see the Salt Lions. From what I was told, they are two basalt statues so large they rival the size of London themselves.

So, today, I was excited to run down to the docks to await my father’s arrival. He always arrived early after the morning green flash, and when he did not today, I assumed it was because he had been met with a new adventure, and intended to arrive with some extra souvenir to provide as a birthday present.

I did not, however, believe he would have done this if he had judged this adventure would delay his scheduled visit very much. Yet I had been standing on this dock for hours, and there was no sign of his ship.

But I refused to take this as an ill omen. It was only a few hours, my father was still, in all likelihood, just late. It could have easily been a simple storm that had delayed his journey. But it was still my birthday. I wasn’t about to let it pass without a momentous change.

So, with an urgency in my step I went home. Both avoiding any contact with my mother and ignoring the hunger in my stomach, I went into my room and grabbed my chest of all the money I’ve saved up over the years. I hoped it would be enough.

Running back out, I went back to the Wolfstack Docks, or more specifically, the shipyard. I looked for the dockmaster, who I knew to be a grizzled old captain with a huge grey beard. I found him carrying some lumber, and clearly walking towards him, he stopped to address me.

“Whatcha need, boy?” he asked in a friendly yet business-like tone. As business-like as an old ship captain could be, anyway.

“I’d like to buy a boat!” I stated cheerfully.

“A bo-” he stopped, putting his load of wood down as he laughed heartily. “What would you do with a boat, boy?”

“It’s my birthday,” I explained. “I want to meet my father at the Salt Lions.”

“The Salt Lions?!” he repeated again, incredulous now. “Boy, do you have any idea how far into the Zee the Salt Lions are? You can’t possibly do it alone. Your best bet is to board a merchant’s vessel for Mutton Island if you want leave London.

Mutton Island wasn’t very far from London. My father would have already taken me there for my eleventh birthday if my mother hadn’t disapproved. Apparently the people that stayed there were the disreputable sort. The people that enjoyed the nearness of civilization and the distance from the Revenue Men. I could practically swim there if I wanted to, though I’d also heard that huge crabs liked lurking the surface of the waters there. One didn’t go out into the water unless they had a boat to distance themselves from the deep. Who knew what could be lurking beneath?

I opened my chest to show the dock master. “How big a boat can I get with this?”

He looked at my money, not impressed in the slightest, then pointed out into the distance where a small boat was already moored. Calling it a ship would be an insult to literally anything else buoyant enough to float. I could probably fit it into my tiny room if getting it through the door wouldn’t have been an issue.

But I was not discouraged. What a tale I could tell with that! “Deal!” I nodded firmly, placing my box of Echoes onto his lumber. As I went over to the boat, I heard him calling back that he wouldn’t sell. But it was too late. Even in jest he still told me I could buy it with how much money I had.

I had gotten lessons of the duties of crew members of his vessel. This wasn’t much different, though there would undoubtedly be much less to do with how small it was. I had already unfastened the rope and let the engine loose before I realized I probably should have brought some food along with me.

 

 

Part of the Crew

Written: Jun 23 2015

Origin: Guns of Icarus (videogame)

 

Just get me to the next city. No pit stops, no wind changes, and especially no dogfights. Just get me to the next city.

The crew of the zeppelin I had stowed away on labored without words. The four other men seemed to have been part of their little team for years. The pilot scanned through the mists as he guided the ship over the open waters, the two engineers moving about the deck, tinkering with the various engines and mechanisms and keeping them in tip-top shape, and the gunner keeping a lookout for any threats should his services be required. I observed their workings behind some of the minimal storage with a wary eye. I didn’t know what they’d do if they found me, but it certainly wouldn’t be good. Being hundreds of meters in the air meant that you were at the mercy of the men keeping you there.

Obviously had I a better option I wouldn’t be stowing away on what was essentially a few guns held in the air by a big balloon. I wasn’t afraid of heights (thank goodness) but I certainly was afraid of being attacked and shot down. This, however, was the only way to get away from home. Albys was only a few short hours across the Abyssal Gulf, and I could make a new life for myself there. All I would need when I got there w-

“Galleon off the port bow!” the gunner suddenly shouted, facing towards the helm. “Vulture symbol. Looks like its a League ship! Must be out looking for salvage.”

“I see her!” the captain yelled back. I felt the ship lurch to one side as he turned the ship up to meet their quarry. I gulped in terror as I realized my horrible mistake. Men would die in the next few minutes. There was a good chance I would be among them.

I heard lots of movement follow. The gunner sliding down the ladder to the lower deck, mounting an appropriately located gun. The engineers scrambled to prepare themselves for the chaos soon to come.

The first cannonballs whizzed by, their unstoppable fury missing the ships hull by centimeters. “For the Windseeker!” the captain bellowed.

“For the Guild!” the others chimed in. Shots rang out, both parties firing relentlessly at their foe as their ships were brought in close, the enemy Galleon on the port side. A crash soon rattled the deck, throwing the whole ship backwards as one of the engineers called out “We’re hit! Lower deck!”

“I’m on it!” his partner called to him, rushing off to repair the damage. I sat back, quietly hiding and hoping they wouldn’t have time to notice me amidst all the chaos.

The crew worked with a synergy I had never seen before. The engineers coordinated with each other, repairing damage as their priorities and proximity dictated, and the captain angled and maneuvered the ship according to the gunner’s suggestions based on his own angles in regards to their enemy. In a weird way, the GFA Windseeker had suddenly been transformed from a zeppelin and its crew to a single living organism, breathing, thinking, and strategically attacking the looming threat. I was awestruck as I peeked over the cargo and watched.

Without warning our ship lurched back violently, keeling to one side for a moment before it steadied again. I was thrown out of my hiding spot and onto the main deck, landing on the floorboards with a painfully dull thud. “Benton’s down!” I heard somebody call, and I looked up dazed to see one of the crew members staring at me, his brow furrowed in confusion. He glanced up to the helm and shouted “Cap, looks like we got a stowaway!”

“Put him to work for now! We don’t have time to deal with him!” he replied without turning around, his attention on the skies and the enemy.

The engineer looked back. “What are you good for, lad?” he said quickly. I stammered for a reply, but he didn’t wait for one. “Nevermind that. Either get on a gun and shoot like your life depends on it or help me keep this ship in the air. As long as you’re out of our way it doesn’t matter but don’t just sit back and watch if you care about living!” With that he turned to go see to the ruptured hull on the other side of the deck. As a matter of fact I was good at neither of those things. I was no good manning a gun twice my size and I hardly even knew what a wrench looked like. I did have training on real water vessels, but that hardly held relevance on zeppelins. Even in regards to piloting the two were quite different. On this boat I was locked to uselessness.

But with that thought came an idea. “Captain!” I called out, my shriller voice distinctly different from that of the seasoned crew. “I need you to take us closer!”

He dared a glance back at me, his eyes squinted in confusion and anger at my interruption. “We’re taking hits with one crew member down and you want to make ourselves a bigger target?!” As if to prove his point, a cannonball shot by, luckily missing anything important as it charged through the air in between the hull and the balloon.

I nodded. “A little bit higher, too. I’m going to distract them! Gunner!” I yelled, turning around as I addressed him. “Focus fire on their guns! Make them a sitting duck!”

“Captain?!” He said in answer.

“Do it!” he agreed. “Whatever this kid’s plan is, not getting shot won’t cost us much!”

Soon the enemy’s return fire was slowed as our gunner set the attention of his Gatling gun not on shooting the galleon out of the sky but on rendering it useless. This wasn’t a permanent solution, of course, as the enemy’s engineers would likely be tirelessly fixing the guns he worked so hard to retire.

I had no time to watch, though. I grabbed a long strand of hope– hoping it wasn’t used for something more important– and took it with me as I flew up the ladder to the upper decks. Tying the rope to one of the bars and testing the knot’s strength, I gulped, hesitating. I turned my attention to the enemy ship and the time that was running out for all of us. It was multiple dozen feet away, and the deck of the galleon was smaller than most other ships.

I had a small window to hit.

Gripping the other end of the rope tightly, I ran to the starboard side until it went taut. Then with a yell of more terror than anything else I leaped off the railing and into the air. The wind blasted into me as I flew downwards, and soon I was moving back up as I passed into the infinite gap between the two ships. Not daring to look down I kept my eyes on the ship that was ever moving closer. As I slowed at the apex of my swing, I croaked out a little cry and let go. I wonder what all the men here thought of me. It probably wasn’t every day that a stowaway hundreds of times more stupid than crazy sky boat sailors threw himself from one ship to the next. Probably.

I crashed onto the other deck, tucking my arms in and rolling to disperse some of the impact. I still stopped sprawled all over the deck, but it seemed my parts were still there. Sighing with relief, I got up to see the incredulous looks on one of the engineer’s faces. I couldn’t help but agree with him as I charged and snatched the (probable) wrench out of his hands, using his shock as the advantage I needed to knock him unconscious with a quick blow. Next I assaulted the other engineer, who was too preoccupied with the ship’s cannons to even notice me. I hit him hard and swift, moving back around to see the gunner pointing a pistol at me. I stopped in my tracks.

“The gunner has a gun,” I chuckled. “Guess I should have suspected that.”

“Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you now.”

“Uh, well, you’re down two engineers. You can’t beat them now, but you could use all the help you can get in running away,” I offered. “And, I’m pretty good with a wrench if I do say so myself,” I continued, lying through my teeth as I tossed it up and and caught it with the same hand.

“That’s a hammer,” he replied, thumbing back the hammer as he caught my lie. Whoops. Guess I was even more ignorant than I thought.

“Look we don’t have time for this! They’re going to shoot us down any second and we have to work together!”

He paused for a moment, considering. Soon he nodded and went back to work on the damages, not having any other clear option as the guns were down. It seemed he wasn’t the brightest of people if he believed me enough to turn his back on me. With one more swing I went on my merry way. The captain was all that was left, but I knew better than to knock him out. That would probably end with dire consequences. Instead, I ran up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and smiled warmly. “You should probably surrender,” I suggested. “Your crew’s been decommissioned.”

With a defeated sigh, he nodded. The gunfire from the Windseeker slowly ceased as the two ships were brought to a halt.

As I boarded back on the Windseeker, I wasn’t met with friendly gazes. It wasn’t surprising, but it was disappointing. I at least felt like I saved their lives. “Payment for passage?” I asked, gesturing towards the defeated galleon behind me. The gunner took off his cap and started to chuckle at my idiocy. The rest of the crew joined in, but I think it was a laughter that was spawned more from relief at the retention of their lives than the joke. I wasn’t in the clear just yet, I knew. The Mercantile Guild wasn’t the sort of crowd you wanted to get in the way of. But for the time being, I wasn’t dead. That was a plus.

 

 

Sharrkan’s Request

Written: Apr 5 2014

Origin: Magi (anime)

 

Sharrkan stood before the great doors of the throne room, pondering how he could possibly tell his brother. Of course, Armakan most certainly would not approve of his decision to join Sinbad on his travels, but it was his life, damn it, and he would do what he wanted with it. A prince should choose how he lives, should he not?

If only it were so easy as to say, “Brother, I’m going to Sindria. Sinbad can’t run a proper nation without my help.” Armakan would probably disallow it out of spite if nothing else. Sharrkan bit his lip as he looked up at the golden, serpent-shaped handles of the door. He took a tentative step to grasp one, but his hand fell as quickly as it rose.

It was then that the doors opened towards him, being pushed from the other side, and Sharrkan had to step back in order to avoid being struck by the wide arc of such a large door. To his horror, it was none other than the young King of Heliohapt, Armakan Amun-Ra himself who walked out, accompanied by his personal guard, Anepou. Armakan, clad in jewelry that could only befit royalty, strode out into the hall as such, with Am-Mut, his pet snake, curled around his neck. Anepou moved silently behind him, and if one did not have the privilege to see the king so often, as Sharrkan unfortunately did, one may not even notice the existence of the man behind him, though he was nearly two heads taller than his king. Sharrkan was well acquainted with Anepou, as the tall, dark-skinned man’s adept swordsmanship was what had sparked his own interest in swords. Though he wasn’t considered a noble, Sharrkan deeply respected him as a fighter.

Upon seeing his little brother standing in the entry hall, Armakan smiled. “Brother,” he said as he approached, his voice ringing out in the otherwise silent hall. “I was just looking for you. I… why are you just standing here all alone?” he asked.

“I-I was actually doing the same,” he replied faintly.

Armakan nodded. “Good, good. Walk with me, would you? This is important.”

Sharrkan did as he was asked and joined Armakan and Anepou as they strode down the spacious entrance hall of the palace. “What is this about?” he inquired of his elder brother.

“It concerns the dungeon that appeared just outside of the city two years ago.”

“Vassago?”

“Precisely. Brother, do you know what happened to Sinbad and Kouen Ren when they came out having successfully conquered the world’s first two dungeons?”

“They obtained wealth and power, didn’t they?” he asked absent-mindedly. Sharrkan wasn’t really paying attention to his conversation with Armakan. He was instead trying his best to come up with a plan of just how to tell his brother of his departure for Sindria.

“Indeed they did. So, let me ask you, have you ever wondered what would happen if somebody were to conquer Vassago?”

“I… uh… no, I haven’t… But I imagine they would obtain wealth and power just as Sinbad and Kouen Ren did.”

“And what would they do with that power, Sharrkan?” he persisted. They reached the steps to the palace and walked into the stale, hot air of Heliohapt. Ignoring the intense heat of the sun that beat down upon the city, the three of them began making their way down the immense staircase. Anepou moved quietly behind the two, making no move to interject in their conversation.

“I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about it…”

“They would challenge the throne, brother!” Armakan grabbed his brother’s arm, shaking him as if to send the words with more power than vocals alone could allow. “They would overrule us!”

“So what would you do? Make it forbidden to enter?” Personally, Sharrkan thought that that should have been done long ago. Not only had their father, the former king, sent thousands of men inside, but he himself had also gone into that cursed pyramid. None had ever returned. Sharrkan had once dreamed of bringing Sinbad to Heliohapt, and helping him conquer Vassago, but that was long ago, and he had since dismissed it as foolishness. Dungeons were nothing more than crypts to devour the weak and desperate.

“I wanted to ask you if you wanted to go conquer Vassago with me.”

Sharrkan was caught off guard by that statement. Was Armakan serious? Each of the nine dungeons that appeared in throughout the world had ended thousands of lives, and only three of them had ever been conquered, and even then only by extremely capable individuals. Neither of the two boys were of age, but now Armakan wanted to go and throw both of their lives away.

“I know what you’re thinking, Sharrkan, but it won’t be just us. Of course, Anepou would join us,” he explained as he gestured vaguely behind them. “He swore on his life that he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us. Besides, what would happen to our honor if we couldn’t do it? That poser Sinbad conquered the world’s first dungeon years ago when he was a child, and we have to capture Vassago before somebody else! How can we hope to hold the throne if somebody with more power than us wants it?!” Armakan glared intently at his brother, waiting for a response. It was obvious he was serious about this. Sharrkan looked worried. Anepou, while certainly a competent fighter, could hardly claim to be more effective than an entire army when it came to dungeon conquering, especially when serving as bodyguard for two adolescents. Was Armakan insane?

“Brother… I… You’ll die if you go. If father couldn’t do it–”

“Father was careless! What dungeon conquering is about isn’t vast armies, it’s small, fast groups! That’s how Sinbad and Kouen did it, after all. Look, Sharrkan,” he continued as they reached the bottom of the steps. “I need your answer now. Will you be the prince you were meant to be, guiding Heliohapt to a better future with the power of a conquered dungeon?” Armakan looked down on his brother, extending his hand towards him.

“B-before I give an answer, could we talk about what I wanted to ask you?”

“Can’t it wait? This is important, Sharrkan! You can’t run away from your duty!” Sharrkan took a step back at that statement, looking down and away from his brother and king.

“Armakan… I wanted to tell you that I’m leaving Heliohapt.”

“Excuse me?” he lowered his arm, narrowing his eyes.

Sharrkan gulped. “I want to explore the world with Sinbad.”

The king folded his arms and relaxed. “I knew letting you leave the country wouldn’t be good for you. You’ve lost yourself out there, brother.”

“You’ve lost yourself here, Armakan. I don’t think you’re ready to be king, and if you go into Vassago, you won’t live to see the majesty in such a title. My answer is no. I don’t want to die like father did, and I would advise you to stay away from there, too.”

“I’m disappointed in you, brother,” Armakan sighed, closing his eyes. “Of all things, cowardice was not a trait I had seen in you. I give you permission to leave Heliohapt.”

“You-you do?”

“Yes. I hereby strip you of your title of Prince of Heliohapt and exile you from the country. You have three days to leave and you are never to return. You are no longer my brother.”

“A-Armakan…”

“Get out of my sight!” Armakan hissed, turning away from his brother, facing the palace once again.

Sharrkan nodded gravely, turning to go without another word. He knew full well it would do no good.

 

 

Sinbad’s Offer

Written: Apr 18 2014

Origin: Magi (anime)

 

It had been a month since Armakan had exiled his younger brother from Heliohapt, and the arrangements were nearly complete. As Armakan sat pondering on the throne of the vast, yet empty great hall of the palace, he glanced at the golden, snake-headed scepter– the symbol of his official rule over Heliohapt– held rather loosely in his left hand. At one time it had been his father’s scepter. And his father’s. And so on. But now it was his own, as was his birthright. Of course, he hadn’t expected to ascend to the throne so early in his life, but with the appearance of Vassago, his father had all but thrown his life away to obtain the riches rumored to be held within.

Could he really expect to do what his father could not? He was not the king his father had been, and didn’t pretend otherwise. His advisors, for the time being, were the ones handling matters he himself did not have a full grasp of, and Heliohapt was not as stable (in any sense of the word) as it had been before the dungeon arrived to haunt the lives of so many. Did Sharrkan’s words have merit to them? He would never admit it, but he did feel guilty over how harsh he was to his younger brother that day, if only a little. But what else could he do? It wasn’t like it really changed anything. Even if he hadn’t exiled Sharrkan he still would have left Heliohapt, perhaps even for good. In fact, all Armakan accomplished was ensuring that his little brother never returned home. And was that really for the best?

But in Armakan’s mind, Sharrkan was a fool and a coward, deserving of nothing else. He gripped the scepter tightly in his hand, as if trying to squeeze the life out of the reptile it resembled. He would regret choosing to run off with Sinbad to go do who-knows-what. Armakan would capture Vassago and Sharrkan would realize just how powerful his older brother was, and beg to return and serve at his side, only to be forcefully denied. He was an exile after all.

Footsteps echoed down the hall, and Armakan looked up to see Anepou coming through the hall towards the throne room, which almost assuredly meant that he had finished packing for the two of them and they could leave for Vassago immediately. Armakan practically leaped out of the throne in anticipation before noticing that a man kept pace just behind Anepou. He was most certainly not from Heliohapt, as he had bright skin and was more elaborately and ornamentally clothed than most natives, even compared to nobles. The young man wore his dark, lavender hair in a long ponytail and had jewelry lavishly dressed on his arms and around his neck. Armakan recognized him as the king of Sindria, Sinbad himself.

Armakan sat back down slowly as Anepou entered the room, with Sinbad waiting just outside the open doors to be granted official audience with the king of Heliohapt.

“Sire,” Anepou began when he was within a reasonable distance, kneeling down as he spoke. “The king of Sindria is here. He wishes to speak with you immediately.”

“Well,” Armakan pondered, his eyes shut in thought. “This is unexpected. How rude of him not to send word of his arrival. Where are my advisors?”

“They are both currently engaged in other matters, and Sinbad tells me that it cannot wait.

“Of course it can’t,” Armakan scratched his chin, suspicious. “We’re about to leave for a dungeon. What about the preparations?”

“Everything is set and ready to go, sire.”

“Good. Thank you, Anepou. Send him in and make sure everything is prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. I will be there when I can. Dismissed.”

“Of course.” Anepou rose and nodded once, leaving the way he had come. About half a minute passed before Sinbad made his entrance in the hall, and his quiet, steady footsteps gave him an aura of confidence about him in such a way that even Armakan was impressed. He rose from his relaxed, aloof position and stepped down from the throne to meet the man not as a subject but as an equal. Sinbad was dumbstruck when Armakan extended a hand before him. He took it and the two locked eyes in a mutual respect.

“Sinbad,” Armakan murmured quietly as he looked up at the taller man.

“Armakan,” Sinbad returned, smiling slightly. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“And you,” Armakan nodded, his face expressionless. “My brother used to speak about you often. How is he?”

Sinbad was once again taken aback at the king’s actions. This wasn’t the uncaring, contemptuous man that Sharrkan had described to him. “He is… doing well. I’ve hardly seen a more talented swordsman, but if I may, sire, that isn’t why I sought your audience.”

“Of course not. You’re not foolish enough to think I would allow him to return,” Armakan stated, his tone blunt.

“R-right,” Sinbad replied, shifting uncomfortably. “I came to formally request Heliohapt’s joining the Seven Seas Alliance.”

Armakan pursed his lips. “Why?”

“Well, sire, the Kou Empire has recently been advancing on smaller nations, taking them over and growing stronger. I received word that another of their family has captured a dungeon, and if we don’t take precautionary actions, we will be caught ill prepared for any act of aggression they make against us. The Seven Seas Alliance is one of defense. Our creed is ‘don’t invade and don’t be invaded’. As a nation in this alliance, one’s job is to ensure the safety and preserve the independence of every other nation in the alliance.”

“I see. One must aid in the defense of every nation in this alliance, then?” Armakan asked, moving back to take his seat once more upon the throne.

“Yes. The Kou Empire will not move against a united force as large as us. What do you say?”

Armakan sighed and shook his head. “I have no intention of sending troops to regions unknown when I will receive nothing in return. Heliohapt is quite distant from the Kou Empire, and thus I don’t see any imminent threat to Heliohapt save for internal matters, which must be the focus of my power for the time being. In the future, my answer may change, if your offer is to remain open, but for now I must decline. My apologies.”

“Would your answer change if I offered my assistance in capturing Vassago, Armakan?” the young man coaxed.

Armakan glanced up at Sinbad, suspicion arising. “And have you emerge with the power, glory, and riches while I tragically perish inside?”

“With all due respect, sire, I have enough of all of that. I’m merely offering my assistance in order to persuade your answer.”

“I think not. Vassago will be mine and mine alone. Even if I believed you, my people would not respect me if a seasoned dungeon capturer aided me in my quest. Don’t you agree?”

Sinbad nodded in understanding. “A fair point. Very well. But what about your brother? Surely you still care for him. Would you not send aid if you heard that he was in danger?” Sinbad asked.

“If I send aid, it would be in the form of an undertaker armed with nothing but a shovel,” Armakan hissed.

Sinbad recoiled in surprise at his words. “I see. Well, in that case I will take my leave. Send word if you ever change your mind. Until we meet again, sire.” He bowed to Armakan before turning to depart.

 

 

Vassago

Written: Apr 24 2014

Origin: Magi (anime)

 

To say that Vassago’s interior caught Armakan off guard would be an understatement indeed. The desolate pyramid’s shadow loomed over the capital city with malicious intent nearly every afternoon, and, standing at its base, one could do little save for marvel at such an imposing structure. Had the young king not been so determined to conquer what he considered the embodiment and, strictly speaking, cause of Heliohapt’s recent decline, he would most certainly have not stepped within several hundred feet of the dungeon. This very dungeon had killed thousands of valiant and courageous souls, including his own father. Each man that entered Vassago was a more capable a fighter than himself, (though he had received a sizable amount of training in swordsmanship for his age,) and every one of them had died in that monster. Was Sharrkan right? Was he too ambitious for such a task? Would he be killed like everybody else? Amarkan had struggled with those questions since the day Sharrkan left, and it wasn’t until he had set foot into the dungeons entrance that he obtained his answer to them.

Yes.

The platform he stood on was of a somewhat thick, translucent blue, and the platform flowed organically into a thin path that went elsewhere. The remarkable thing about his whereabouts was the fact that the platform was all there was to see. Everywhere he looked he saw vast, unyielding emptiness, with stars spread sporadically across the sky. It was as though he gazed upon the endless, purple night sky, void of visual obstruction of any kind. The night continued even as he looked down, since the platform was only about a dozen feet in each direction, and he could see through it to some extent to peer at yet more stars. As Amarkan looked back to the road that branched off from the platform and lead elsewhere, he vaguely noticed that it faded out of view before he could make out an end to it.

It was only then that Armakan noticed that he was no longer accompanied by Anepou or his cart of supplies. He was completely and utterly alone in the great void he found himself in. Well, save for Am-Mut. The snake, coiled around his neck as it usually was, seemed to be asleep for the time being. That was some comfort at least. Amarkan sighed nervously at the nothingness, walked cautiously to the end of the platform, and placed his foot where he guessed the platform would be if it continued. It didn’t. This was no illusion. At least, the emptiness wasn’t. There was no path other than the one provided, so he simply had to trust that that was the path. He strode down it cautiously, making his way towards the unknown destination that seemed so impossibly far away. As he walked, his mind wandered to Anepou. Amarkan had seen hundreds of men walk into the dungeon’s portal at once. Is this where they had all ended up? Did they each appear on a different platform, regardless of the numbers that had entered? How big was this place?

Then an echo came from far away, from somewhere behind and to his right. Amarkan stopped and snapped quickly around to see what had made that sound, but it was only Anepou. Wait. Anepou?

“Yes, sire?”

Before Amarkan could respond, he felt something grip his arm, intending to redirect his attention. “Armakan… I wanted to tell you that I’m leaving Heliohapt.”

Amarkan swiveled back around to see his brother standing at the base of the stairs to the palace, with the bustle of the city around them. “What?!” he practically shouted, coincidentally at Sharrkan.

His little brother gulped visibly, nervous at his next words. Sharrkan dropped his hand from his brother’s arm and let it fall to his side as he spoke. “I want to explore the world with Sinbad, brother.”

Amarkan looked down and scratched his head, trying hard not to panic as he contemplated what was going on. “No,” he thought aloud.

Sharrkan frowned at his brother. “I know you may not approve of it, but… I… I’m not exactly asking for permission.” Sharrkan winced visibly at those last words.

“No, you can’t be here. You’re an exile!” Amarkan seethed.

Sharrkan froze, literally stunned by the king’s words. Amarkan looked at the living statue of his little brother in sudden revelation. This must have been some weird dream thrown at him by Vassago. So be it. He made no move, but waited for Sharrkan to act to his statement.

“A-Amarkan, you’re not really going to…” the prince shuddered. Sharrkan must have taken Amarkan’s all-too-vocal confusion of the situation as a royal decree.

Amarkan sighed. As if exiling his own brother once wasn’t bad enough. “Yes, Sharrkan. I am. I hereby strip you of your title of prince of Heliohapt and name you exile. I’ll give you a few days to pack.” He turned his back on his brother and began solemnly walking up the steps to the palace. He didn’t watch Sharrkan turn to leave. That part, at least, he could not bear to see a second time.

It was several moments longer before he did finally find the strength to look back, and when he did, the king did not see the beautiful, albeit hot city that he called home. Instead, he turned to face the infinite canvas of innumerable stars that Amarkan had come to associate with Vassago’s interior. He glanced downwards to see the blue, translucent path he stood upon once more. Had he made the right choice? Maybe Vassago had intended him to try to relive moments differently, and perhaps right wrongs that were done. If that was the case, surely he had failed by making the same choice he had made that day. Just what was the fate of those who “failed” to do whatever Vassago’s dreams were meant to? It seemed unlikely to fall into any sort of pit of spikes or step on pressure plates that would set off deadly arrows at this point, though he and Anepou had come fully prepared for that sort of thing. Of course, the emptiness was real enough. He could fall off the path into… nothing? Would he simply keep falling? It’s easy to imagine falling when there is a visible—er—end, but falling endlessly is a different story. In fact, it seemed almost more terrifying.

He shook the thoughts out of his head, pressing his hand to his forehead. He had to focus. Standing here and thinking about dying wasn’t going to get Vassago captured. He looked up and down the path he stood on. Each direction was indistinguishably plain. Both wound endlessly in almost opposite directions, and it was impossible to determine the direction from which he had come. Was that the challenge? Probably not. Such a simple task, while impossible to foresee, would only rule the population of those that continued to about half, assuming each person guessed as to their origin. Perhaps it didn’t matter which way he went.

Well, he thought. Only one way to find out.

 

 

Getting Acquainted

Written: 2014

Origin: Naruto (anime)

 

“That’s all the information I have for you, along with this,” the Third Hokage passed a file of papers across the table, to which one of the men he was talking to picked up. “You are to leave immediately. If all goes well, you should return in three days’ time. Dismissed,” he said as he waved the two masked ANBU Black Ops members out, giving them leave. The two men nodded and left, departing through the main doorway to the Hokage’s office.

As they walked down the hall, the elder skimmed through the papers, looking for any important information he may not have been already equipped with. “What do you know of the ‘Akatsuki’?” he asked his subordinate before quietly passing him the file.

“Not much to know,” he replied, taking it and repeating his elder’s actions of flipping through the papers. “New organization. Members are all S-Ranked missing-nin. Goals unknown. Highly dangerous.”

“Here’s our target,” he said, pointing to a picture that the younger had flipped to. “Kakuzu. S-Ranked missing-nin from Takigakure. Height: 6’1”. Weight: 192 lbs. Proficient in nearly all chakra natures. Blood type A if that means anything to you,” he continued. “Currently residing in the Otafuku Gai, east of Konoha. Preferred capture.”

The two left the building and strode out into the open air of Konoha. It was a nice, clear day, if not a little windy for the average person’s taste. There were several people walking to and from wherever they needed to be, running errands and doing favors. Often, they greeted each other as they passed. The younger ANBU member smiled under his mask. How he loved his home.

As they walked, the elder ANBU abruptly turned down the path leading almost directly south. “H-hey, where are you going? The Otafuku Gai is–”

“I know, but I’d like to see your abilities first hand. Dossiers don’t exactly tell you just who you’re dealing with, you know?”

This seemed strange, but he couldn’t lie. He wanted to know just how powerful the “Copy Ninja” was.