Archive for the ‘Writings’ Category

Magical Earth Defenders Pt. 8

July 22, 2017

The Team

It was too late, Maya had already invoked the charm and whatever happened would happen. The charm did not glow and no light enveloped Maya but instead, the charm seemed to absorb nearby light and the marks on Maya’s body seemed to get darker. Her shadow under her grew and stretched around her on the ground until it was a perfect square with her in the middle. At that point, the square started to grow off of the ground into a shadow cube around Maya. Maya was worried at this point because Arafina had seemed scared. The girls had rushed the cube but they could not reach in and get her as the shadows actively pushed them away.

Inside the cube, Maya watched as Arafina and the girls faded into darkness. It was so dark inside the cube and soundless but she felt that darkness moving around her, changing her. For so long the darkness had been a tool and an ally but she had worried about the toll it might be taking on her soul. She felt her dirty clothes change and she was eager to see what was happening now that she realized she was not getting ripped apart. As the cube faded away, she stood in a mix between a long black dress and leather armor. The dress part had a slit in it to allow her movement. She looked down and noticed that the runes on her body that she could see had changed.

Kelsie put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you alright?”

Maya looked up from studying her arms, a bewildered look in her eyes. “What happened to me?”

“It looks like you’re one of us, after all,” Lennon said. The other girls vocalized their agreement at once.

“What?” Maya asked. “I thought I corrupted the charm when I took it from your friend.”

“It seems the opposite has happened,” Arafina said. “The charm has become the source of your power and has scrubbed away the darkness in your soul. It seems that somebody who has walked through the darkness and could still think of other people is worthy to be on this team. I was wrong for judging you.”

Maya shook her head and smiled. “I have no grudge,” She said. “I have a clean slate and for the first time in a long time my heart feels lighter.”

Kelsie was the closest so she was the first one to hug Maya. “You couldn’t have saved Daffney,” she added which made Maya tear up. The other girls moved to hug her too at that, Natia being especially enthusiastic about it. Maya was caught off guard but soon found herself hugging back. She had needed this. She had almost forgotten what a hug felt like and she savored such positive human contact. There was a long silence as a breeze blew across the courtyard and Arafina watched her team bond.

As they broke away, Kelsie walked over to Arafina and stroked her head. Arafina forgot herself for a moment and purred and then looked confused. Kelsie quickly withdrew her hand and ran it through her own blue-streaked hair awkwardly.

“Sorry,” Kelsie said. “I just wanted you to be included but I forgot that you’re not really a pet.”

“It’s alright,” Arafina said. “Thank you for the sentiment. It has been an adjustment.” She sighed.

“I can’t imagine it’s been easy,” Lennon said. After all, she knew all about living with limitations and that was not forgotten in five minutes of walking around again.

“It has not,” Arafina said adding a tiny nod. This was obviously a sore subject and everyone could sense that. Arafina spoke up to try to defuse the tension. “At least I still have my spells and I can still open books with my paws. It does take time. It is hard to write with a pen in my teeth…”

“I could help with that,” Lennon said. “I would love to learn this stuff.”

“So would I, actually,” Maya said. “I need to learn about your system of magic and how this charm changed me.”

“We can study together,” Lennon said with a smile. Few of her friends had ever been interested in that.

“We all need to do some studying,” Margaret said. “We’re far too ignorant to tackle the challenge ahead.”

“I hate studying,” Natia said, plucking gently at the strings of her guitar.

“Suck it up, buttercup!” Kelsie said with a smile and Natia sighed but could not help but smile. “

“So, back to our magical powers,” Margaret said. “How do they work?”

“Well, obviously we have some control over a classic element or basic physical force that we can use offensively,” Lennon said.

“Obviously,” Margaret said.

“Yes,” Arafina said. “Lennon has fire, Margaret has light, Kelsie has water, Natia has sound and Maya has Darkness. The use of these powers was meant to be left up to the charm wielder. Use your experiences and visualize your attacks as something you know how to manage. Form the attack with your mind and words and then let loose.”

“Something we can manage like my guitar?” Natia asked.

“Yes,” Arafina said. “I suppose you subconsciously adapted to that mechanic ahead of instruction.”

“Here that?” Natia said with a grin. “I’m advanced! I’ve never been advanced.”

“You still have to study,” Kelsie said.

“Crap!” Natia said and folded her arms. Everybody laughed and after a moment Natia joined in too.

“We should go back down there and test these new powers out on those things that killed your friend, Daffney,” Maya said.

“Wait,” Margaret said. “Should we be going down to confront these things without practicing?”

“Actually, those beings are the weakest of what you might be facing,” Arafina said. “It would be a good test of your powers but it is not without danger.”

“Sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty,” Lennon said.

“Let’s watch each others’ backs, Defenders,” Kelsie said. “Right?”

“Right!” They all answered. They were a new to being a team but Daffney had been somebody half the team knew and it was the right thing to do to eliminate the danger if it was still there.

Horror

July 10, 2017

Horror slid the blade out of the last vampire and whipped the blood from it. He slipped the hood back over his head and looked around at his comrades. They were all looking at him and he hated it. He felt his face get hot and he turned away. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he shook it off. The hand returned and he turned and found he was face to face with Mercy. The anger died in his eyes and he took a deep breath. Mercy was the only one around who could possibly understand what he was going through. She had been like a sister to him. For all he knew, they probably were brother and sister.

The two of them had been left as orphans on the doorstep of the village guardhouse. This would have probably led to a normal adoption, perhaps by a member of the local guard or a farmer or something. However, there was a problem. The two were tieflings and their demonic appearance had frightened the villagers. Horns and red-tinged skin were clear signs that somewhere along the line their relatives had consorted with Asmodeus. Horror had heard that a local cleric had even called for the two babies to be drowned in a bucket full of holy water. There had been widespread support for that plan. However, luckily a passing stranger had an alternative plan that saved the lives of Horror and Mercy.

The stranger had been an old knight, sworn to hunt the darker monsters of the world. He whisked the babies away to his stronghold where he spent his time while waiting for quests. He declared that they would be trained by his people to aid in the hunt of monsters. While many would think they qualified as monsters, they would do penance for their bloodline by hunting fellow monsters. Horror had embraced what they called him. He declared himself a horror to monsters and anybody who do evil to man. Mercy pitied the monsters and felt that their death was a mercy. Neither of them was allowed beyond the gates of the compound without a target.

“How soon do we saddle up to return?” Horror asked. Their ‘father’ would be waiting for a report.

“Soon, I think,” Mercy said. She was putting spent arrows back into her quiver to clean and re-fletch later. She was very conscientious that way. Seeing her taking such care compelled Horror to pull a cloth from his pocket and wipe off his sword. There was no need to bring vampire blood all the way home. “You don’t have to be so bitter about it.”

“I am tired of being caged up almost all of the time.” Horror said. “Every time we’re out here, I want to stay.”

“He keeps us for our own safety, Horror,” She said.

“Once upon a time it was for our safety,” Horror said. “I think we can handle ourselves now. We’re not children anymore. By blade and magic, I can defend myself.”

“We have a duty to remove threats from the world,” Mercy said. “We have a duty to end the shadows that hound the citizenry.”

“I can do that out there just as well as in a cage,” he said.

“There is no way they will let you just walk away,” she said. “Be content.”

“I feel like a falcon with a hood,” he said. “Every time I see the light, it is to kill whatever I’m told. We never even get to meet the people we are defending.”

“I don’t think they want to meet us,” she said. “We’re better off where we are.”

“You keep saying we,” he said.

“So do you,” she said. “We have been a ‘we’ since we were babies.”

“Since we are divided on the matter,” he said. “Perhaps it is about time we stopped being a ‘we’ so that we can become an I.”

“Two eyes are better than one,” she said with a smile.

“Don’t be cute,” he said and smiled despite the argument.

“I couldn’t if I tried,” she said.

“That is intolerance talking,” he said. “They can’t all be like that.”

“I would like to think that as well,” she said.

Jacques Ironclad walked into the courtyard at that moment, his great axe across his broad back. He looked like he had seen a thousand battles but maybe it had been more than that. He was a battle-hardened hunter who had been appointed the keeper of Horror and Mercy. He was the falconer to the two deadly falcons. Needless to say, he and Horror did not get along.

“Time to get back in the cart, you two,” he said. “We want to give the all clear to the villagers.”

“We were just cleaning up,” Horror said.

“No backtalk, please,” Jacques said. “Get in the cart.”

“No backtalk, huh?” Horror said. “We just vanquished a whole nest of vampires. The least they could do is thank us before they start to throw rocks.”

“Horror,” Mercy interjected. “Please don’t.”

Jacques did not argue.  Instead, he just swung a fist at Horror but this was merely sidestepped. Jacques used the momentum to quickly follow the right with a charging left. Horror caught that with a smile and raised his own fist to strike but Mercy caught his wrist. The momentary distraction allowed Jacques to rock him with another right to the jaw. When the world stopped shaking, Horror found himself on his hands and feet.

“Stop!” Mercy cried out. “He’ll come along quietly.”

“He had better,” Jacques said and stood by. The two tieflings walked toward the cart and climbed inside. Horror’s eyes burned with anger as Jacques closed and locked the door. Somewhere, a bell rang to signal the villagers that they could come back out.

The cart rattled on, back toward the compound. When it arrived, Jacques yanked open the door, ready to bring the tieflings to their master for praise or discipline. Instead, he found only Mercy who gave a little shrug and pointed to a hole that had been burned into the floor of the cart. Horror was nowhere to be seen.

 

The Story Pt. 4

July 1, 2017

The felt cold against my temple and let out a distinctive click. I had seen enough movies to imagine a bullet entering the chamber, ready to pierce my skull and end any more of my thoughts. Imagination is a hell of a thing. The woman was as still as a statue, confident and used to holding a gun. That meant she was unlikely to give me an opening to escape but she was also not likely to make any fatal mistakes. A true professional. I had never been in trouble before. I did not deal with that kind of professional.

“Freeze!” She ordered. “Don’t move a muscle.”

“I’m frozen,” I said. I was almost afraid to talk.

“On your feet,” She said. “Slowly. And keep your hands visible.”

“Any other instructions?” I asked.

“Watch what you say,” She said. There was a small smirk showing just at the corner of her mouth.

“Can I ask what I did? Or actually what you think I did?” I had a hunch who she might be but the library had been shot up and several cars had been detonated. Who knew what alphabet soup organization could have shown up.

“You know what you did,” She said. “You’re one of them now.” Her voice was calm but her voice was clearly accusatory.

“So, you must be an editor,” I said as gently as possible.

“A derogatory term,” She replied. “But yes, that’s why I need to take you in.”

“I said no,” I looked her in the eye, looking past the gun in her hand. I needed her to believe me. “I turned down Wonderland’s offer. I’m still a free agent. I’m still normal.”

“I don’t believe you,” She said. I let out a defeated breath. “Nobody ever turns down real magic.” There was disgust in her voice.

“It seemed like they were using it irresponsibly,” I said. “If you don’t believe me, please at least tell me your name and rank? I need to know how to address you since I have no choice but to go with you.”

“That’s not how we do things,” She said with a smile. I thought for a moment that she would just execute me but she brought out a pair of handcuffs. They were machine-etched with what looked like Nordic runes and other symbols that I did not recognize. These people probably know exactly what they were dealing with when it came to magic. “If you don’t mind.” She gave a little smile and held the cuffs out. I had a feeling that if those handcuffs went on, I would never see the sun or the moon again. I had no choice. I held my wrists out.

That was when the black horse rode onto the scene. On the horse’s back was a man who looked more like a shadow of a man if it crawled off the ground and escaped its owner. There were no pleasantries, the man was immediately yelling in a voice that sounded like death.

“Die!” Was the simple message and I jumped to get out of the way of his swinging sword as he rode directly toward my captor. She rolled out of the way while I dove face first into the grass. She even kept a firm hold of her gun

The horse circled around and the man jumped down from the horse. He advanced on me with his sword while the horse walked menacingly toward the editor. I watched as the horse started to change into a dragon-like creature, snapping its jaws at its target but not catching her yet.

See You On the Other Side

June 24, 2017

I stood on the threshold of the portal. The surface of it was shiny like a mirror dusted with glitter. I could see strange neon-bright circuitry creeping over the walls next to the portal. Pretty soon, the invading technology would be advanced enough to grow a defense of the portal from that strange circuitry moss. Laser grids, grenade launchers, machine guns, sonic pulse emitters and anything else the stuff could think of. It was only a matter of when not if. We had to hurry.

I touched the communications button under my ear gingerly. I was a little wary of being watched in that hallway. “Marianne,” I said into the implanted microphone. “Timing is crucial. Are you going to get here in time?” There was a three-second pause that lasted an eternity.

“Yeah,” Marianne said as she rounded the corner a few feet away. “Hold your horses. It took a bit longer to get through security. This is getting even crazier than I thought.” She spotted the portal and her eyes went wide. “Much crazier.”

Marianne had been my client for the past month. She was the Chief Operating Officer of DOT Industries when the company started to act strangely. Strange orders started coming in and paperwork was getting fudged. When Marianne started to look into it, she had been reprimanded. When she persisted in investigating, she had been removed from her position with a healthy severance payment. She had used part of that severance to hire me. We had been digging for a month and now we had snuck into one of the buildings belonging to her former employers.

“That’s why you hired me,” I said. “I was right, by the way. We have an invasion in progress or at least that’s what it looks like.”

“So do I owe you twenty bucks?” She asked.

“I’m not really happy about it but yes,” I said. I gestured toward the portal. “Shall we?”

“We’re not going in there are we?” She asked. She had obviously been a tough executive but there was a difference between that and jumping into a strange portal. Adventuring took a different kind of guts and maybe a little stupidity.

“We have to know what is on the other side,” I said. “What did you think we were going to do?”

She pulled out a camera. “Well, take some pictures and get the word out.” She aimed the camera at the portal.

“No flash,” I said. “You might startle the moss.”

“Of course not,” Marianne replied. She snapped the picture and then two more to be safe.

“That thing doesn’t have any scanning technology, does it?” I asked. I was no scientist. I could pretty much tell the portal was stable but beyond that, I was out of my element. I would have loved a little more data.

“No,” She said. “However, it did upload to three different servers and it was sent to a friend of mine.”

I had to admire her drive and attention detail. “Well, if you’re done with the photography, we may never get another chance to see the other side of this thing.”

“How do we know we can get back?” She asked.

“I have a transponder on me that I can activate,” I said. “It will provide coordinates for our own portal. I have friends on standby too.”

“You think that will work?” She asked.

“It hasn’t failed me yet,” I said. “By the way, if that techno-organic moss is what I think it is, we should try and keep electronics close. They might be able to absorb our tech.”

“What about you?” She asked.

“What about me?” I asked, watching her watching me.

“Well, I don’t want to pry,” She said. “But don’t you have a lot of cybernetic parts?” I must have shown surprise on my face because she added. “I do my research before hiring anybody.”

“And you still hired me,” I said softly. Cybernetics and old school surgical corrections had fallen out of favor when genetic recombination and nanotechnology had advanced.

“I don’t judge,” She said. “You’re not less human to me. Just somebody who got broken and repaired the best way they knew how.”

I was surprised by the acceptance. “Um, thank you,” I said. “We really should be going, though. Anything could set off the alarms at any minute.”

“Um, can we breathe on the other side?” She asked.

“If it was dangerous over there, we would have already passed out,” I said.

“Comforting,” She said.

I nodded and drew my pistol from where it was shielded from scans, hidden in a cavity in my right hip. I ran through the portal. It felt like stepping through a curtain of falling mercury except for that right afterward you feel like you are falling. Except, you are still stepping forward in the same moment. It is incredibly disorienting which is probably why portal travel never caught on commercially. After a swirl of light and color, I came out on the other side. I stepped aside so that Marianne would not bump into me when she came through. Then I turned to look at what we had stumbled onto.

The place was absolutely covered in eye-searingly neon circuitry. The stuff had formed itself into structures either for purposes of form or function or both. It was hard to take in but it strikingly beautiful. I heard a soft rippling noise from the left of me. Then Marianne let out a soft and breathy ‘Wow’. I nodded, that was the word for it.

Magical Earth Defenders Pt. 5

June 17, 2017

The Star and the Shadow

Daff was so hyped to be heading to auditions for the Spring Musical. She had been in every school show since she was old enough to try out. However, this was the first year that she felt that she could actually get the lead. She enjoyed being in the ensemble. She enjoyed the costumes, the energy, and the camaraderie. However, she felt like she had paid her dues and it was her time to shine. She really wanted to shine.

She had wanted to be a star since she was old enough to walk. She wanted to be the one out in front in the lights and maybe even that white hot spotlight. She wanted people to look up to her like she had looked up to the stars before her. It was the cycle that show business was built on. She wanted to be part of that business for real so badly. Experience here might serve her well in the future or she might even get seen by the right people and secure her future. The possibilities were thrilling and they fed her excitement and confidence that she would pour into her audition.

Suddenly, she tripped over something. She recovered her balance at the last moment and looked around. A thing that was not a cat had been in her path.

“Hey!” Daff yelled. “You almost made me fall! I could have been hurt, you need to watch where you’re going. Oh God, I’m yelling at a cat.”

The thing looked up at her. “Daffney Sinclair, there is little time but I do apologize. We need to meet with the others. Time is short.”

“What?” Daff said. “You have to explain.”

“There is no time, Daffney. Take this charm and follow me!” The thing yelled. A charm flew through the air toward Daffney. She caught the charm in midair. It was some sort of metal with an orange crystal in the center of it. She tried to argue but it was pretty and the cat thing was gone. She needed to find it and fast.

* * *

Maya ran as fast as she could through the city streets. She knew her appearance startled all of the people she passed. Runes from various cultures decorated much of her skin in inky black. However, it was not ink. It was concentrated dark energy. It had been the only way to hide and protect herself from the strange invaders that were chasing her. It was the only way to fight back. The use of dark magic had turned her hair oily black and her skin chalky white. She looked like something out of a Japanese horror movie. She had been on the run for so long but now they were finally catching up.

She had only a little idea who they were. She knew they were called the Dark Covenant and that they controlled terrible magicks but that was about it. They had killed Maya’s parents right before her eyes. An old witch had come from nowhere and rescued Maya and took her on as an apprentice. She learned spells and runes but Maya fled when she learned of the dark nature of the spells she was learning. She did not want to fall into the darkness, even if it meant saving her life and avenging her parents.

She was on her own for the first time in her life. She drifted from place to place. When there was danger, she ran. A few days ago, she had felt the pull to come here to Drake City. She had gone immediately. She had never been there before and it was a long way from her homeland but something about it felt right. Maybe her journey could finally be over. Somehow, the creatures had made it there first and that dream was in danger again.

Maya rounded the corner and ran right into a girl her age. As they both fell to the ground, Maya saw a glittering orange charm clatter to the pavement. All around them, the brick walls and blacktop formed humanoid shapes. These newly formed monsters surrounded the two young girls. Maya was instantly back on her feet, her runes pulsing with power.

“Get behind me!” Maya yelled out.

Before the other girl could move, one of the brick monsters held up its hand. What could only be described as pink flame shot out and hit the other girl. With an unearthly shriek, the girl fell back to the pavement. She was not moving but she was still burning with those strange pink flames.

“No!” Maya cried out. The brick monster turned to her but she poured will into a collection of runes on her wrist and she teleported before the pink flame could touch her. Unfortunately, the spell did not work for long distance so she was only just outside the circle of monsters. A thing that was not a cat came running from the alley. It stopped cold when it saw the burning body.

“Daffney! No, I was too late,” The thing said with a yowl. Maya reached down and picked up the charm that Daffney had dropped. She held it in her hand and watched the crystal turn black. The cat thing yowled again. “No! That’s not for you! Drop it!”

“What the hell are you?” Maya yelled. Everything was happening so fast. It was hard to concentrate on the danger when confronted with a talking animal.

“It’s too late! Bring the charm with us! Run!” The thing yelled. Maya chased after it, out of the alleyway. She needed answers. For the first time since this whole thing had begun, there was somebody besides that awful witch who might know about these monsters. The two of them sprinted down the street. Thankfully, the monsters seemed to be as slow as you would expect brick and blacktop monsters would be. Pink flame shot out of the alleyway behind them but it came just short, missing them both. Maya heard the screams of bystanders on the street. She started to turn back.

“No!” The cat thing yelled. “We can’t help them like this. I want to help them too but we need assistance first.”

“Like this? Like what?” Maya yelled back. Everything made less sense than usual.

“Run!” The cat thing commanded and Maya shut up and ran harder, feeling her own darkness pushing her forward faster. She scooped up the cat thing and kept running. “Turn right ahead!” It yelled out.

Maya hung a right and nearly ran into four startled girls, one of them in a wheelchair. The thing called something out into the gathering twilight that Maya did not hear clearly. There was a flash of light and then all of them were gone from the streets of Drake City.

Magical Earth Defenders Pt. 2

May 20, 2017

The Flame

The doctor came back into the room and Lennon knew from his face that the news was bad. She wiped at her glasses in an attempt not to cry. She hardened her heart and looked up at the doctor almost defiantly. She felt her mom squeeze her hand and the tears almost came again but she held on tightly instead. She had to be strong.

“Lennon, Ms. Clarke,” The doctor said. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”

At that, Lennon’s mom did start crying. Lennon kept it together even though she felt the words tear her apart inside. She found herself focusing on being strong for her mother and trying to comfort her, reaching to stroke her mother’s shoulder and back. This illness had been a long journey for both of them. It seemed the journey was far from over.

Over five years ago, Lennon had lost her father. He had been hit by a taxi on his way to his car after a late shift at work. She still missed waiting up for him so they could eat cookies and talk about their day. She missed Sunday breakfast where all three of them could laugh and have a leisurely meal together even though her father was still usually dog tired from the night before. She knew her mom felt the same. Now, Lennon stayed up alone with only her books to comfort her while mom was off working to cover the bills. Cookies had lost their taste.

Two years ago, Lennon had fallen during gym class. She had thought it was just a fluke and chalked it up to being an awkwardly clumsy nerd. Things went downhill from there. She had thought that her legs were just bruised and injured from the fall but they started refusing to work right. They were weak and she could not stand right. Soon, her legs shook too much with the strain of her weight and she could not stand at all. The school had chipped in for a wheelchair. It made her cheeks burn with embarrassment.

There had been so many tests and nobody had any answers. Lennon felt that she had become an expert on the subject by now. Not only was she living the experience, she was also spending all the time she was not doing her homework studying medical books. She was looking for some clue the doctors were missing that would lead her to walk again. She never wanted anything more. She had found nothing in those books. Nothing useful.

“The tests show what we feared,” The doctor said. “Your legs show no signs of improvement and may only get worse from here. With some work, you may be able to stand briefly in the leg braces but you will most likely never walk again.”

“Never?” Lennon asked. She had always been a bookworm but even bookworms like to walk and play with the other kids.

“I’m sorry,” The doctor said. Her mother hugged her and Lennon allowed a single tear as emotions swirled inside of her. There was a lot of sadness but there was also a lot of anger.

“Can I be alone for a little while?” Lennon asked. The question surprised her mother but not the doctor.

“Of course, honey,” Her mom said. “I want to go over the charts with the doctor if that’s alright?”

Lennon nodded and wheeled herself toward the door. The doctor pressed a button and the door opened, letting Lennon out. She wheeled past the receptionist’s desk, a dark cloud hanging over her head.

She tried to think of all the people she knew who still made a difference while confined to a wheelchair.  There was Dr. Hawkins, Mr. Reeves, Frida Kahlo, and so many more. Still, she pictured having to cross the room for a book and now that simple task was so much harder. She would probably have normally spent her career sitting anyway but not her whole life. It was not fair.

She did not look forward to all the awkward smiles and pitying looks from her friends. Lennon did not want to be pitied. She just wanted to live her life. Everybody kept saying that things would get better but that sounded hollow to Lennon. It was hard to have faith sitting in a wheelchair with no hope of ever getting out. The lobby felt so cold and empty.

That was when she heard the weird purring noise. It was almost like a mechanical rhythm which made it even weirder. It instantly distracted Lennon from her troubles, pushing them aside for the moment to solve a mystery. She rolled toward the noise and found nothing at its source. Which is when a weird cat thing jumped out and startled Lennon.

“Aah!” She yelled. “Stupid cat!”

“I’m not a cat!” The thing shot back. “I’m not stupid either. Though I admit that I am not as smart as you are, Lennon.”

“You can talk?” Lennon asked. She felt that she may have disproved her intelligence by asking that question. “I mean, how do you know my name? What do you want with me?”

“You are strong enough to exist in that chair, Lennon,” The thing said. “We, however, may not be strong enough without your intelligence and heart. We need you.”

“Who is we?” Lennon asked.

The thing produced a charm from somewhere and placed it within reach of Lennon. It started to back away.

“Take this charm to the meeting on the note and you will find out all the answers to your questions and more.” Then the thing was gone. Lennon picked up the charm which went from white to red. She puzzled over it but pulled out the note.

Tooth and Claw

May 13, 2017

Bron found himself in the woods, deep in unfamiliar woods. He had no memory of how he had gotten there. He remembered being on watch with that Druid. She at least could make good food. Orc cooking was crude and utilitarian so Bron had grown to like Elven cooking even if he rolled his eyes at all the religion the elf girl and others insisted on. He also really liked alcohol but it would have to wait until the next town. Regardless, he must have slipped past everybody at the changing of the guard which made them all a bit more useless. Or it made Bron that much better than them. However, he wished he could spot the camp fire not that he needed them.

“You are growing more powerful,” A voice said from somewhere. Bron looked in that direction and watched as the Witch stepped from behind a tree. Bron let go of his axe, letting it hang back in the sling on his back. He could always grab it if she said something stupid.

“Witch,” Bron said and spat. “It was you who brought me here.”

“It was either fate or free will. Which do you believe in?” The Witch asked.

Bron thought for but a few seconds. “I do what I want,” He said gruffly.

“Fair enough,” the Witch said. “Do you want more power, Bron? To battle new challenges?”

“My power is enough,” Bron said with a frown. “No deals. No tricks.”

“No deals and no tricks. I promise,” she said. “This power is not coming from me. Nature itself is recognizing your strength. It has a gift for you. A tribute of sorts.”

“A tribute?” Bron asked. Tributes were only for powerful and important people.

“Turn around.”

Bron turned and saw a large bear standing almost directly behind him. As he reached for his ax, the bear moved to a pose on all fours. It was almost like it was genuflecting, bowing to him. Clearly an offering.

“Kill it,” The Witch said. “Take its power.”

Bron looked at the peaceful bear and shook his head. He threw down his ax. The witch looked outraged like she was going to start yelling at Bron.

“No challenge,” Bron muttered. Bron pulled back his hand and slapped the bear across the snout. The bear suddenly forgot its sense of decorum and reared up angrily. Bron had to dodge its first furious swipes. The battle was on. The two brutish competitors lunged at each other, wrestling with one another as one tried to kill the other. They both got their shots in, inflicting horrible damage. In the end, Bron rolled over to his great ax and brought the fight to its end. What was left of the bear lay still.

Bron stood, breathing hard and covered in blood and wounds but smiling. The Witch’s eyes were wide as they shone from under her hood. Her identity was still hidden but her surprise and fear were laid bare. She held out a necklace made from the bear’s claws.

“Take it,” She said. She held out the necklace firmly. To her credit, she did not shake. She seemed to have re-composed herself. Bron snatched the necklace from her and she did not flinch.

Bron instantly felt the bear again and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. It was there but Bron could not see it or hear it. Then he realized that he felt the bear’s presence within. Its menace, size, and ferocity were there and Bron felt stronger. He felt his flesh knit together once again, leaving just the usual blood stains on his skin. He felt nature around him come alive. He was acutely aware of every creature within miles, including the tiniest insect. There was challenge out there.

His vision blurred and when it cleared, he was running on all fours. His fur rustled in the wind. There was a deer that he was chasing so tantalizingly close in front of him. The deer stumbled on a tree root and he felled it with a mighty swipe of his paw. He bit the thing’s neck and dove into its guts, ripping and tearing. For a brief moment, the thing was Urka and Bron smiled.

“You are one of us,” a voice said. “Go and show them your power.”

“I will,” Bron said. “I am half orc, half human and half bear. And I am more than all of them.”

Then Bron awoke, still clutching the necklace. The fire was low and the Druid was making breakfast and everybody was starting the morning routine. He still felt the challenge ahead.

“Let it come. I am ready.”

X Marks the Spot

April 28, 2017

The sand had been easy enough to get through. The dirt was a bit harder. I left most of the digging to Macan. That is one of the perks of being the captain of the ship. You do not have to dig if you do not want to. I still took a turn because that sort of thing is good for morale. Besides, I need a good workout now and then and it had been a while since the last good sword fight. It looked like my turn just might have been the last turn as my shovel hit something hard. The symbols above had indicated that something important was buried here. Pirates and buried treasure seemed a little too on the nose but I was not about to complain. Treasure is treasure.

“Agatha!” I called up. “I don’t really want to dent whatever this is any further. Could you bring up a little wind to clear off what I probably just dented?”

There was no verbal response. Instead, the air started to swirl around me and I covered my eyes, nose, and mouth as best I could. Agatha was a powerful sorcerer but she did not disobey orders even if it meant playfully taking the order a little too literally. The wind picked up and dirt and sand rushed out of the deep hole I was standing in and it did not feel great against my skin. I was tough and I was pretty sure I would survive. When the wind died down, I coughed a little and looked down.

There was a long flat box sticking halfway out of the dirt which intrigued me. Supposedly there were charms and artifacts that would draw out and amplify the powers and abilities of those who obtained them. That is why we had come to the Othersea and whatever was in the box might be the first step in making my small crew the most formidable crew around. I touched the box and I felt the hairs on my arm rise and I shivered a little.

“Throw down a rope!” I called up. When the end of the rope came down, I tied it to a ring on the box. “Macan! Pull the rope!” I called out and I started to scramble out of the hole. As I reached the surface, Macan was grabbing the rope and he pulled hard. I watched as the box shot up to the surface and fell with a thud in the sand. Everybody was instantly crowding around the box but I elbowed my way to the front of the crowd as only somebody in charge can do.

Hooded Kartha was standing next to me. Her robes were encrusted with salt and seaweed and all sorts of bits of nature. She was wise beyond her young years and I valued her counsel. “What do you think it is, Captain?”

“I can only guess,” I answered. “I feel its magic. Can you detect any?”

There was a shiver of magic in the air and Kartha’s barely visible eyes went white for a moment. “There is powerful magic at play but it is in the box. The box, while pretty, is just a container. It is safe to open.”

I knelt down in the sand and smoothed my hands over the box and I felt both the thrill of discovery and something else. I felt the strong magic that Kartha spoke of as well. My excitement reached its peak as I flipped the latches one by one. I gripped the lid and I opened it. Inside was a large sword and I could feel my heart thudding in my chest. There were murmurs from the crew behind me. The clear consensus that this one was for me. I found it hard to argue that point.

I gripped the blade’s handle and mysteriously it began to shrink. It quickly reformed itself into a copy of the soldier’s rapier that I already wore at my side. There were gasps from behind me and I admit that although I was expecting magic, I was not expecting that. I swung the sword around a bit and it felt really good. It felt faster and smoother than any sword I had ever held in my hand. I had held a lot of swords over the years.

“What do you think, Captain?” Oni asked. I turned and saw a very curious crew and I felt myself smiling, not realizing when the smile had started.

“It’s powerful. It’s fast. Once I get used to it, I think I could be even more unbeatable.” I said with a smirk. You can only call it cocky if you cannot back it up. I can back it up. “I just wish it was a little sturdier, a little stronger.” And just like that, the sword transformed into a two-handed claymore. “Nevermind, it’s a magical shape changing sword.”

“Wow,” Oni said. “So what now?”

“We keep searching,” I said. I grabbed up the sword’s sheath and slid the sword into it and slung it over my shoulder. “The tools to conquer the seas are here and we will find one for everybody.”

Radio

April 21, 2017

Caleb shuffled into the studio and flipped on the lights. He yawned and sipped his soda to get a little more caffeine in his blood. The late night slot was a hard row to hoe but Caleb was just strange enough to do it. He fired up the equipment and checked the levels on the board. They were fine. They were always fine. Nobody came in here but Caleb. Most shows at the station used the main studio instead of this old one. Caleb was stubborn but if that lead to getting his own private albeit dusty studio then whatever. He checked his watch, it was almost time. Normally an engineer would be doing the counting down but nobody else wanted to work at midnight.

He picked up the familiar record and placed it on the turntable. He played most of the other music from his laptop but this one was special. It was one of his favorite songs and it had become kind of an unofficial theme song for his slot over time. It had been three years since he had moved up from engineer to host. The slot did not pay very much but he was finally doing what he wanted again. After Chicago, it was good to be back in the saddle. He looked at the clock. Ariel was winding down, any minute and she would go into commercials and throw it to Caleb. He was always ready and she knew that even on the days they missed each other in the hallways. It was almost time, the red light went on and Caleb dropped the needle. The familiar strains of People are Strange filled the studio and went out on the airwaves.

Caleb tilted back in his seat and let the song wash over him. As the song started to fade, he hit the button to turn on his microphone. It was time for the show.

“Welcome to midnight, where only the crazies, the insomniacs, the parents with newborns, the late shifters, etcetera, etcetera,” Caleb said. “I’m Caleb and I’m strange, how about you? The phone lines are open. You know the deal, though. If you don’t want to talk, then we’ll just hang out and listen to music. So how about it?”

Caleb just let there be a silent pause. That was usually a no no in radio. Dead air. Caleb was comfortable with silence. He knew his people, the army of the night, were fine with silence too. You had to be familiar with silence at the midnight hour. A single light lit up on the phone and Caleb was curious so he hit the button.

“You’re on, stranger,” Caleb said. He slipped his headphones on.

“Why didn’t you come by today, Caleb?” The voice on the other end asked. “I missed you.” The guy’s voice chilled Caleb to the bone. It was impossible.

However, “No” was all Caleb said. He reached to hang up the line.

“My funeral, Caleb,” the voice said. “You actually missed my funeral. You don’t even work during the day.”

“This is a really bad prank, even for my listeners,” Caleb said.

“This is no joke, asshole,” the voice said.

“Joe?” Caleb asked. Any semblance of the show was gone from his head, his heart was beating faster.

“Spooky Joe,” Joe said.

“Back from the dead, huh?” Caleb asked. There was a long enough silence after that question. Dead air again.

“No,” Joe said and his voice sounded rougher, tired. “But I guess you could say they let me have my one phone call.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“You like it strange, Caleb,” Joe said. “Cut the shit. Why didn’t you show up?”

Caleb took a deep breath. There was a station policy against drinking on the air but Caleb was seriously considering violating that policy. “I figured you wouldn’t know the difference.”

“Well, I did,” Joe said. “What were you so afraid of?”

Caleb let the dead air stretch between them. He wanted to shrug the question off. He wanted to give some biting, sarcastic response. He wanted to raise two middle fingers to the sky and play God Save the Queen a hundred times in a row.

“Death.”

“I am the one who died, Caleb.”

“I know that Spooky Joe,” Caleb said. “It doesn’t change anything.” Caleb leaned back in his seat. He wondered briefly if this was actually happening. He wondered if he had not finally passed out on the air.

“Explain then.”

“You know who’s at every funeral, Joe?” Caleb asked. “Death. He… or she… they’re waiting there. I don’t want to run into death at the funeral, Joe. I don’t want to be next.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Caleb,” Joe said. He sounded like he was smiling.

“How the hell do you know?”

“Believe me, I know,” Joe said. There was a deep, unnatural hollowness in his voice when he said that but his voice started to warm up again quick. “She’s actually pretty nice and she’s got rules.”

“You’re making fun of me,” Caleb said. He let the silence fill in for a moment but for once he could not let it be. “I miss you already.”

“I miss you too. I’m glad you took my call,” Joe said.

“I’m glad I did too,” Caleb said. “So what now?”

“I can’t tell you that. Just know that death isn’t gunning for you. You’ll get your appointment when it’s time.”

“Comforting.”

“I know but what are you gonna do?” Joe asked. That familiar grin was back in his voice.
,
“I don’t know,” Caleb said. He felt knocked out of his routine, his thoughts scattered.

“Play your music. Entertain the folks out there in the night. You were always good at that.”

“Just go on?” Caleb asked.

“You’d better,” Joe said. “And don’t miss any more funerals.”

“I’m sorry, Joe,” Caleb said.

The light had gone out. Dead air.

The King

April 12, 2017

When Arano showed up to the meeting place far below the city, Carana could only sigh and pinch the bridge of her nose. He was just so impossible. He was impeccably dressed like he always was in a bright white cotton shirt with a scarlet vest, the color of the holly berries adorning the doors in the city above. Here Carana was in her most uninteresting dress with her hair wrapped up in rags to hide its color. She had gone incognito to a secret meeting and here was this show off basically advertising the meeting. Arano just stood there waiting for Carana to speak as if he was not already in trouble.

“You idiot,” She said. “I should gut you right here.” She yanked the rags off of her head, revealing hair almost as red as Arano’s vest.

A knife appeared in his hand seemingly from nowhere. “Just try it,” he replied. “They will never hear your screams this far underground.”

“Impressive,” Carana smirked and shrugged. “Your reputation precedes you and does not lie. They said that you were fast. Deadly too.” The man’s reputation was fearsome but unprovable. Of course, just because nobody could prove anything, that did not mean that it was all a lie. It just meant he might be the perfect man for the job.

“You have to be in my line of work,” Arano said, his eyes narrowing a bit. His body projected a feeling of ease and a carefree attitude but Carana could tell that he was a tightly wound spring, ready for action.

“At ease, I called you here in peace,” Carana said. She showed her palms to the man and smiled gently to show that she meant no harm. Of course, she had plenty of weapons in easy reach. She had what looked like fancy knitting needles hidden on her person. They were coated with belladonna and could take down even the strongest enemy with a single scratch. She breathed easy knowing that as fast as this fox was, she would still survive if it came to it.

“But not for peaceful purposes,” Arano said with a smile. “You do not call an assassin lightly. You call with a purse and a target and then you step aside.”

” I have a purse and a target but I will not step aside.”

“No?” Arano asked. “Little sparrow, I do not need your help.”

“I am no sparrow and we’ll see if you need my help or not when the talking is done,” Carana said. Her eyes went hard as she stared at the man, unflinching and unafraid.

“So what are you then?” Arano asked. He leaned against the wall. He was a little more relaxed but no less dangerous.

Carana let out a long, slow breath. “The city above has become a dark place. The kingdom around us has grown colder and less and less kind until the people suffer unbearably. People are tired of fighting for justice when justice should come naturally. We cry out for relief and none ever comes. When I was a little girl I may have been a sparrow but those days are a distant memory. The world has made me a wolf. A wolf looking for blood.”

“A wolf. I see it now,” Arano said softly. “You know that blood never really washes off, right? You cannot return to your simple life once the deed is done.”

“I have weighed everything before I contacted you. Don’t start worrying about my soul.”

“Fair enough,” Arano said. “I suppose it is not really my concern. My concerns remain the two items I mentioned earlier.”

Carana pulled a large coin purse from the small of her back and tossed it to the professional assassin. “I would never ask you to work for free.”

Arano caught the purse and a puzzled look spread over his face. He opened the purse and found it full to the brim. “This is far too much. I find that suspicious.”

“We took up a collection,” Carana said. “We wouldn’t want you having an excuse to say no.”

“One last cry for justice, hmm?”

“Yes,” Carana said. “One last stab at getting a fair deal for the people. Literally.”

Arano frowned. “Which means I am not going to love the answer to my other question, am I? Your words and this amount of money mean difficult work.”

“Are you complaining already?” Carana asked. She shrugged and walked toward him with her hand held out casually. The gesture was clear and loudly proclaimed ‘nevermind’.

Arano pulled the purse away and shoved it in a satchel at his hip. “Complaining? I would never. I will kill anyone at anytime. If enough money could be raised, I would kill God.”

“How about the King?”

“The… King?” Arano asked. “The people cry out for the blood of the King, hmm? The poor and destitute would give their last coin to see the King dead at their feet. You could have asked anyone to do this but you asked me.”

“And your answer is?” Carana asked. If the answer was no, there was no way she could ensure his silence without his death. She did not want to kill this man even if he was a killer himself.

“My answer? I’m flattered,” Arano said with a fox smile. “Flattered and excited. In the end, when blood gushes from his wounds and his eyes begin to close. When the end is rushing up to meet him. The King will learn to fear the wolves.”


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