Archive for the ‘Writings’ Category

Time Goes By Pt. 3

January 25, 2020

After a few reluctant mouthfuls of breakfast, Mariel looked back up at the twins. Just in their happy, supportive presence, she was starting to feel more like herself. Her confidence and sanity were slowly regenerating and she found herself even smiling a bit.

“I truly am sorry that to interrupt your vacations,” Mariel said. “Where did the two of you go? Back home?”

“I went back to my order,” Dimitri said. “It was good to see some old friends and Mistress Callen.”

Mariel looked confused. “You didn’t go together?” she asked. The twins had been inseparable for much of their lives so any separation was curious. Perhaps both of them had gained more faith in Dina’s ability to control her curse.

“We didn’t,” Dina said, tearing a sausage in half with her teeth. “Fern and I went camping in Thorncatch forest.”

Mariel smiled. “You and Fern?” she asked. “Really?”

“Yes,” Dina said with a smile. “We finally decided to give it a shot.”

“It’s about time,” Mariel said. “It feels like the two of you first kissed ages ago. Did you enjoy yourselves?” Mariel was suddenly overjoyed. The young druid and werewolf had been making eyes at each other since they had met and Mariel had hoped something would spark. She had remained neutral but she had hoped desperately. She was also impressed that Dimitri had not stood in their way.

Dina nodded. “You know that Fern is hard to read but I think we both had a really good time,” she said. “It’s really nice to just get lost for a while, you know?”

Mariel blushed slightly and nodded. “I think I catch your meaning,” she said. “Would you two mind if I went back upstairs to clean myself up before everybody else arrives?”

Dimitri nodded. “I think we can hold down the fort until you feel that you’re ready,” he said.

“I never put much stock in being clean,” Dina said. “But do what makes you happy.”

Mariel almost laughed. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll be right back down.” She stood up and put a few silver on the table before the twins could try to pay for her. She still had her dignity. She hurried up the steps. She had not expected her friends to arrive so soon but she was so grateful for the support. The six of them had been through a lot together and it felt good to have them at her back again. Especially at a time where she had completely lost her footing.

She came back downstairs later after bathing and reapplying her makeup. She had her bag full of magical tools and weapons at the ready, attached to her waist with a sash belt. Just making the change made her feel ready for action again. There was still a tension running through her but she felt less wobbly. She would confront this head-on with her friends like they had confronted so many monsters and villains. She had turned a demon to stone, she could do this. She could hold it together.

When she arrived at the bottom of the stairs, the twins were nowhere in sight but her eyes were drawn to the source of whoever was playing a hurdy gurdy near the fire. It was Asher Woodhome, of course. Asher was a world-famous traveling bard who had somehow stumbled into fame by accident. He was more focused on making and understanding music and its power. He was also the only other member of their party who was as fashion-forward and put together as Mariel. Most who met him thought he was self-centered but he was actually just distracted and overly thoughtful.

Sitting on the floor and meditating near Asher was Luther Stonestill. The old dwarf had left home at a young age and, according to him, had led a brutal and self-centered period in his life. He had joined a monastery to atone and had become a centered yet passionate monk whose whole body was a weapon. And yet, he just as often used his words to diffuse tense situations. He was slow to violence but quick to end violence when it began. He had become the de facto leader of their group and it was he who had called everyone together once again. She was glad to see him.

Mariel sat in a chair across from Asher and next to Luther. Asher stopped playing with a smile and a nod. Luther spoke without opening his eyes.

“Are you ready to investigate?” Luther asked, absolutely calm.

“I am,” Mariel said. “Shall we?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Asher said, slinging his instrument over his back.

“The children are all outside,” Luther said.

“Let’s go gather them then,” Mariel said. “One way or another, we are figuring this out.”

Time Goes By Pt. 2

January 18, 2020

Mariel spent the following night in a fitful half-sleep, tossing and turning and getting up to pace and drink now and again. She knew it was not healthy but she was also not really in her right mind and wanted to be unconscious. She eventually did pass out in those achingly quiet hours before the dawn. Her mind had still been racing with possibilities but it had just shut down as she blacked out. Her dreams were full of faded scraps of memories of her parents. She woke back up in the late morning and everything was too loud and too bright even though the curtains were drawn.

She stumbled out of bed and nearly fell down, her legs wobbling and her head spinning. She had no idea if she was still drunk or it was sleep deprivation. It may have been both. She managed to keep standing and moved to her dresser where she drank directly from a pitcher of water. She rummaged in the dresser for something to wear. She got dressed in the streaks of morning light streaking from the edges of the closed curtains. She ran fingers through those crimson red locks and then slipped on the pair of flats that she usually only reserved for dungeons and battlefields. She was too unsteady for heels.

She stepped out into the hallway and headed for the stairs. She knew she had to at least attempt to eat something. As she descended the stairs, she heard the familiar chatter of the taproom, something she had gotten used to the world over. She put on a brave face, trying to make her expression pleasant but unreadable. She concentrated on changing her gait into more of a glide to cover up her nerves. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she saw that two of the raucous voices she was hearing belonged to her friends.

Sitting at a table with sizable breakfasts were the twins Dina and Dimitri Briarhaven. They were collectively known as The Beast and The Blade. The two had been separated at a very young age. The more reserved Dimitri had gone on to take vows as a paladin of Lathander. Dina had been inadvertently saved from kidnappers by a pack of werewolves. In the attack, she had become a werewolf herself and barely escaped into the wilderness. It was many years later when the twins had been reunited. Dimitri used the powers he gained from his faith to help control his sister’s inner beast and she, in turn, had helped him loosen up. They became a great team together.

The two suddenly turned almost in unison to look at Mariel. She saw a brief hesitation in their eyes that showed concern before they smiled again. She realized at that moment that she had not only forgotten to put on her makeup that morning, she had also forgotten to take it off the night before. It was obviously no great sin but it was not like Mariel at all. Even in the midst of battle, she was put together.

“Quite a posh place you’ve found, Mariel,” Dina said with a wicked smile.

“She’s always held that particular skill,” Dimitri said. “Can we interest you in some breakfast?”

“I suppose I should,” Mariel said. “It’s honestly been a rough morning so far.”

Dina stood to give her a hug and Dimitri stood to take her hand and help her into a chair.

“We have fruit, cheese, and bread for you,” Dimitri said. “We can take things slowly.”

Mariel nodded and started to use a fork to put food in her mouth. She chewed mechanically and swallowed without really tasting anything. The twins tried not to stare at her.

“I’m sorry for interrupting your vacation,” Mariel said. “I didn’t mean to.”

Dina waved her hand as if she was blowing the words out of the air like smoke. “I was getting bored anyway,” she said.

Dimitri shrugged. “When Luther contacted us, he gave us a choice,” he said. “We chose to come. This is important and beside that, it seems like this is an interesting turn of events.”

Mariel nodded. “To say the least,” she said. “Everybody didn’t come did they?”

“Luther and Asher haven’t arrived yet,” Dina said. “Fern is outside.”

“Outside?” Mariel asked and looked concerned. “What is she doing outside?”

“Hanging out?” Dina said with a shrug, shoving a sausage into her mouth.

“She has too many ‘passengers’ and she’s filthier than usual,” Dimitri said.

“Oh,” Mariel said and went back to eating. Fern was a druid the team had found in a cave and she was much more used to the outdoors. She often had rats, insects, and snakes crawling in and out of her robes and often had enough dirt caked on her skin to actually grow plants out of. She was both touched and guilty that her friends were all arriving. She had not meant to ruin their good time but she was grateful to have the support. This mystery could mean nothing but could it could be the most important thing to ever happen.

Time Goes By

January 11, 2020

Mariel was walking down the streets of Carrena, every few steps she spun her parasol on her shoulder. It was a sunny day and she had a new dress and she was on vacation from adventuring. The rest of the team had scattered to the winds so Mariel was on her own. A lot of them had gone back to visit their families and touch base with their lives outside of fighting monsters and gathering treasure. Mariel had no family anymore. She was the tragic backstory type of adventurer. Her parents were magical researchers but had meddled with something wrong and they had detonated the tower they had lived in. Mariel had been flung across town and it was a miracle that she had survived at such a young age. One of her pointy ears had been singed off permanently which led to a lifetime of artfully arranged long hair.

Fifty years had passed quickly since they were just a blink of an eye for a young elf. Still, she could barely remember her parents’ faces and it had been a long time since she had been anywhere remotely near her home in the Bremid Empire. She had chosen instead to visit Carrena. She had grown up far from cities in her small town and she had gotten a taste for city life and especially city fashion while on adventures with her new family. They had been in Carrena the previous year battling a death cult down in the sewers. Not the best memories but when they had emerged from the blood and fouled water, the colors in the city had been so bright. They had hit several pubs in the city and had caroused for two straight nights on the King’s coin.

She had bought a new dress the morning they had left and she promised herself that she would return. Now she had paid for a week at the Deer’s Head and she was just having fun shopping and exploring the city. There were no dangers to confront and she was enjoying having some time to herself. She had spent her day reading a romance story by the famous Fountains of Umberlee’s Daughters. It had been so relaxing but now she was starting to get hungry again and there were no more snacks in her bag of colding. She also thought she could do with a glass or two of black wine. She was looking forward to the warmth of a good fire and a luxurious silk sleeping gown.

That’s when she saw it. It was a teddy bear lying in the gutter, leaned up against the curb like he had just been taking a little rest. He had certainly seen better days. He was tattered and burned as if the bear had been set on fire, flung against a wall, and then fallen into a bucket of water and stayed there for a while. The thing was, Mariel knew the poor gentleman’s name and she found herself whispering it.

“Mullo,” she muttered and a shiver ran up her spine.

She took her parasol off of her shoulder and held in front of her. She whispered a few words and she felt magic surge into the parasol. She looked through the thin silk which was her version of the Detect Magic spell. Through the veil of her parasol, the bear was lit up like a bonfire. The thing was radiating vast amounts of magic. The magic looked different from anything she had ever seen before. Every so often it would distort and then flicker as if it was not fully there. She reached into her bag and pulled out a pair of gloves and picked the bear up. Without a doubt it was Mullo. How had he gotten clear across the world? Was it the magic from that night?

She had not remembered when she had started walking again. She had not remembered when she had started crying. She had put the parasol away in her bag but she was still clutching Mullo. She walked through the taproom of The Wolf Moon and up to her room. She set Mullo down on the dresser and reached into the top drawer for her sending stone.
She didn’t think, she just poured her will into it and called out two countries over and deep under the earth.

“Luther,” she called out in her mind. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to interrupt.”

“Mariel?” Luther’s voice sounded in her head. “It’s no bother. You sound distressed.”

“I found Mullo,” she said, trying to slow her breathing.

“Who’s Mullo?” Luther asked. The dwarf sounded understandably confused.

“My childhood teddy bear,” Mariel said. “Magic brought him here. Maybe…”

“Maybe you could find them?” Luther asked. The question was patronizing or mocking but filled with the cautious hope that Mariel had not yet allowed herself.

“Maybe,” Mariel said. “What do I do?”

“Stay put,” Luther said. “Find out what you can while I assemble the team. We’ll be there soon.”

“I don’t want to interrupt their vacation,” Mariel said.

“This is important to you,” Luther said. “We’re a family. It’s important to us too. You’ll see.”

“Thank you, Luther,” Mariel said softly.

“No problem,” he said. “See you soon.”

The Christmas Killer

January 4, 2020

Marla took a deep drag of her cigarette and coughed before tossing it to the pavement and stamping it out. She had barely stumbled out of bed just thirty minutes before. It was New Year’s Day and the party had been out of control the night before. She had lost count of how many glasses of egg nog she had had and that was long before the champagne even showed up. She had thrown on some shades in order to hide bloodshot eyes and had done the best she could with her hair and makeup. An investigative reporter had to look professional. Apparently, there were no days off for a true professional even though she wanted to spend the day hovering near her toilet. Ah well.

The paper had not sent over a photographer which was either an oversight or a budget cutback. The Spotlight was always being overshadowed by the Tribune and television so things were getting a little tight back at the office. The accounting department was getting increasingly testy. So, Marla was surreptitiously snapping pictures with her cell phone from behind the police tape. It looked grim. Cops at crime scenes always looked grim but this one looked particularly bad. Everybody was walking around either ashen-faced or pissed. Not a single cop was lax in their duties guarding the crime scene. Marla suspected she knew what the cause of it all was.

It was the Christmas Killer. It had been more than a week since the killings had begun. On Christmas Eve, a young woman had been found dead in an alleyway. She had been stabbed in the carotid artery and had bled out. It had not been pretty. What was curious is that the deed had been done with a simple candy cane. It had been sharpened to a point and driven deep. It had certainly put an extra chill in the air just before Christmas. The next day there was a very similar killer only this time the victim was male and the target was their femoral artery. Christmas Day in broad daylight. Every day since then there had been another bloody killing, all done with the same sharpened sweet. It was a baffling serial killer case because there did not seem to be a pattern with the victims.

So far, Marla had been at every crime scene but she had gotten very few details. After the first two kills, the cops had done well clamping down on any information they had. Though, the killings kept happening so they must not have had much of an idea yet either. It was frightening that a killer like that could work with impunity in a big city. It made anybody a target. It was a fact that Marla knew all too well. She had made a point of never being alone in the open wherever she went. She moved through crowds and attended parties. Safety in numbers had been her hope as it had been the hope of a lot of people during the last week.

Marla spotted a familiar face near the police tape so she headed in that direction. She had already tried flagging down an officer or detective for a comment. None of them would comment but she had not really expected them to. At one point, like at other crime scenes, she had shouted at them the question of whether it had been the Christmas Killer. The flinch she had seen in one officer had told her all she had needed to know. She moved over toward Rick Friedman who looked almost as hungover as she did.

“Hey Rick,” Marla said. “What’s a private investigator like you doing here? Can’t you see the professionals are already on the case?” She smirked, loving to tease even her closest friends.

Rick sighed. “Good morning, Marla,” he said. “You know very well that I’m a professional. I’m at least as good at sniffing out the facts as you are.”

“Only too true,” Marla said. “I’ll give the devil his due but seriously what are you doing here? I wouldn’t peg you as a rubbernecker.”

“I’m here for the same reason as you and the cops are here,” Rick said. “I want to help figure out who keeps doing this.”

Marla’s eyebrows went up. “You had the same hunch that I did, huh?” she asked. “The Christmas Killer strikes again.”

“I did,” Rick said. “Two of the families have hired me to assist with the investigation.”

“The cops must not be happy with that,” Marla said. “You’re making as many friends as I am.”

“No,” Rick said. “They’re not going to be happy that I’m snooping around but maybe I can see something if I look from an outside angle. Which brings me to why I’m glad that I ran into you.”

Marla smiled. “Aw shucks,” she said. “Why are you glad to see me?”

“I have a proposal for you, Marla,” Rick said.

Marla laughed softly. “I’ve already been married, Rick,” she said. “It didn’t work out.”

Rick smiled. “No,” he said. “I suggest a team-up. You and me. We try to figure some stuff out.”

“Are you for real?” Marla asked.

“I am,” Rick said. “However, I have one caveat.”

“Only one?” Marla asked. “Brave man.”

“Whatever you get, you keep out of the paper until the guy is caught,” Rick said.

“Deal,” Marla said. “For an exclusive, I can stay quiet for a little while but we should really get to work.”

“Agreed,” Rick said.

Night Sparrow

December 30, 2019

She had been born Sierra Swiftwatch but she had shed that name when she was still a scrawny teenager. She had been awkward when she had been thrown out on the streets. She had been taken in by Holdo the Blind. The world knew Holdo to be a blind beggar priest but in reality, he was a legendary thief in charge of a secret band of criminals. His alter ego was the Typhoon, and when he swept in, everything was gone. Sierra went through Holdo’s brutal training and came out the other side transformed. She became the Night Sparrow, a minor goddess of pickpockets and cat burglars. She left her tag behind wherever she went but they still could not stop her.

It was a gloriously bright Grand Festival day in Corallen in the proud nation of Alscines and the Night Sparrow was smiling. Her daytime garb changed every day because she never wanted to be recognized. She wore a different wig in a different style every day and never wore the same outfit in a twenty-day period. She even tucked her ears away to look more human. Although, she had posed as a half-orc a couple of times. She was extremely careful as anonymity was one of her greatest attributes. She had looked into getting some sort of enchantment to change the color of her eyes but no go so far.

She found herself on that sunny day flitting through the crowd and cutting purses and picking pockets like it was nothing. She was a little bored. The guards were completely clueless and every so often she would hear a surprised noise as people realized they were suddenly broke. She chuckled to herself as she was dressed very posh in an upper-class outfit. Nobody would ever suspect it was she who was the shark amongst all of the little fishes. She could have murdered any one of them but it was not in her code to kill anybody. She was ready to inflict a few cuts or a knockout blow if it was ever necessary but she was definitely not ready to kill.

Well, she had killed Holdo but he had pushed her too far. He had been a cruel master and she eventually needed to cut herself loose. Holdo had objected and had tried to push their relationship deeper so she had pushed the dagger deep. Even though she knew it had been necessary, it had given her nightmares for months. In the light, she had felt fine but when shadows crept, she saw blood on her hands and his empty eyes. She had been haunted. She did not want that ever again. She shuddered.

She reached out for another money pouch but she felt a hand clamp down on her wrist. She blinked. This had not happened since her training, in older days Holdo would have beaten her for this. She had been thinking about him and she had gotten distracted. Damn her eyes she had gotten sloppy. She kept her eyes low and blushed and then she looked up at the owner of the hand. She saw a grim-looking man with a long beard in the process of going gray. His eyes literally flashed blue and she gasped. Fuck! It was a magic-user. It had to be a magic-user.

“Can I help you, miss?” He asked and then smirked, an eyebrow raising.

“Um,” the Night Sparrow mumbled. “My mistake.” She hit the man’s wrist with her knuckles and he released her as he cried out in pain. She sprinted toward the closest alley. She would disappear in a moment and burn this outfit so she would never be compromised. This could be salvaged. Everything could always be salvaged.

Her feet flew from underneath her and she hit the pavement hard, her cheek planted in the puddle of grease. Was it magic or just bad luck? She tried to scramble to her feet but she had a lot of difficulties. The grease was absolutely horrible and it was everywhere. She managed to push off of the wall but when she looked up the magic-user was there again. He did not look mad, though. He looked amused, he offered her his hand.

“Well, miss,” he said. “I wasn’t sure before but now I am. You’re exactly what I need.”

The Sparrow blinked. “What?” she asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Let’s get you cleaned up and then I’ll get you a drink,” the man said. “Then I have a job offer.”

Lessons

December 28, 2019

It had been a roller coaster for Carly Weatherby in the past decade. Like many young wizards and witches, she had attended Hogwarts, excited about following an old family tradition. She learned a lot about herself at Hogwarts. She was sorted as a Ravenclaw and learned that she loved to learn and moreover she loved to teach. She happily tutored a lot of her fellow students and looked forward to maybe having a career in teaching. She wanted to help students explore new horizons in their lives and into their future. It was something that just instantly clicked in her just the same as memorizing spells and learning new charms and potions. She made a lot of friends and, bit by bit she was able to learn to set aside studying to have a little fun with her friends. She was never the stuffy academic but was able to remain wide-eyed and excited about new things.

There was just one problem. It was not a problem for Carly but it ended up being a problem for Hogwarts. The school had often been seen as a little more conservative than Ilvemorny or Beauxbatons but less conservative than somewhere like Durmstrang (of course). A lot of old families clung desperately to tradition. Carly had actually been named Joseph when she was born. In between years six and seven, Carly came out as transgender which her parents and family were very accepting of. They supported her decision to undergo a transformation spell that physically turned Joe to Carly in order to match her inner self. The spell itself was physically painless but it ended up resulting in emotional scars. While her friends were supportive, other students and the staff could be cruel.

Officially, the school kept referring to her by her dead name and they refused to move her to the girl’s dormitory. She was constantly getting chased out of the girl’s bathrooms. She was misgendered in classes and some people at Hogwarts just could not wrap their heads around the simple change. Carly was still the same person she had always been, she was just now living her completely true life as well. Students stopped wanting to be tutored. Carly’s grades suffered and the school graduated her because they probably wanted her out. That was the year of Dumbledore’s sabbatical but Professor McGonagall had been comforting and supportive. It did not spill over into the school’s board of governors and Carly was ostracized.

Carly had applied for teaching positions throughout the wizarding world, not feeling ready for her dream job of teaching at one of the great wizarding schools. She was flatly turned down because her reputation preceded her. Nobody wanted their kids to be exposed to Carly’s innocent true nature which they saw as wicked and unnatural. Carly became cynical and frustrated over the whole thing and began to fade into obscurity. She delved into research instead of teaching and started to show up on many radars. She was hired by a small collective in northern Africa that was doing good work researching weather magic. Carly eventually became an expert in lightning and storm magic. She invented a way to store lightning for use as magical power. She and a colleague were even able to provide small bursts of magic to squibs.

It was during this time that she met and fell in love with a young vampire named Sura, a lovely woman native to Sudan. The two bonded over their rejection from society and their mutual love of learning and knowledge. They made a home together in the shadows. While Carly made a sort of name for herself in weather magic research, she slipped through the cracks of academia at large. Her first true love of teaching was almost a distant memory, a dark frustration that reminded her that she would never be truly accepted by the wizarding world. She and Sura did their best to be happy but Carly knew something was missing and Sura knew that it had wounded Carly.

Then the second great Wizarding War happened and Carly waited with anxiety for the results of the Battle of Hogwarts. Sure, there had been plenty of bad memories at the end of her stay there but there had been plenty of good ones before then. Even though she knew they had done her wrong, she did not and could not wish death or injury on any of them. Her favorite teacher Professor Mcgonagall was still there and Carly feared the worst. She knew that everywhere people were fighting the Deatheaters which were the most visible symptom of the hate and prejudice that Carly had experienced. She had a twinkling of hope that the exploits of the great Order of the Phoenix might banish some of that hate and bring some light back into the world.

She was not disappointed. Many things changed in England after the Battle of Hogwarts. There was a concerted effort to change hate into love everywhere people looked. People found it a bit harder to listen to darkness after the King of Darkness had been defeated. The joy of victory spread from Hogwarts and the world began to change bit by bit. The bigots were expelled from the Ministry and the tide turned against them. People’s minds started to open bit by bit thanks to young luminaries such as Luna Lovegood speaking up about the right to be different. Best of all, Professor McGonagall became the new headmaster of Hogwarts and the first female headmaster. McGonagall reached out specifically to Carly and asked her to take her pick of subjects to teach. Carly hesitated only as long as it took Sura to convince her to take the position.

Carly moved back to a much more enlightened Hogwarts and brought Sura with her. While students were curious about the new transgender professor with the vampire girlfriend (soon to be wife) but they were kind and respectful. They were even supportive. Sura happily agreed to work in a staff position when Carly vouched for her. Carly felt herself healing deep inside a wound she had barely acknowledged but had darkened her heart. She felt love and light shining all around her as a new day dawned for the wizarding world. A much kinder, more inclusive world to be sure.

Mindcrash Pt. 3

December 21, 2019

May and Dylan questioned the crowd surrounding the crime scene, most of them had only come to gawk when the security barrier had been erected. One of them pointed toward a nearby house and said that they had been alerted by the citizen in the house. May and Dylan dispersed the crowd after scanning them to keep a record of who had been there. They headed to the threshold of the house. When they got to the door, a tall and gaunt form stepped close to the door. May looked up at the man who had coal-black eyes and fought not to shudder. Vampire Town was creepy.

“Greetings, Detectives,” the man said. “I am Grimm. I am, so to speak, the leader here and I thought I might check in.”

May held up her badge and scanned Grimm. Her badged chirped and the display popped up. “Grimm Harrow. Councilman and de facto mayor of Vampire Town,” May said. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Detective May Collins and this is Detective Dylan Rider.”

“I’ve actually met Mr. Rider before,” Grimm said. “It’s nice to see you again although the circumstances are not ideal.”

“We’re sorry that this happened on your doorstep,” Dylan said. The council did not really rule with iron fists but people deferred to them in times of crisis. They also acted as arbitrators in conflicts.

“Was it one of ours?” Grimm asked, his eyes narrowing slightly. “One of mine?”

May looked around to make sure they did not have any eavesdroppers. “Our technician, Cirra, was able to identify the remains as somebody from the Gamezone.”

Grimm’s eyebrows rose. “So far abroad?” He asked. “So strange. This might be a deep mystery. We have not had many deaths in the Lost Lands so far.”

May nodded. “Yes, well, if you’ll excuse us, Councilman, we were just about to question a witness,” she said.

Grimm looked at the door. “It might be better if I accompany you,” he said. “My constituents are very theatrical but many are actually quite shy.”

May and Dylan shared a look and Dylan shrugged. May sighed. “It might be a really good idea, I guess,” Dylan said.

“Alright,” May said. “Let’s go.” She turned and knocked on the door. Nobody answered it, it simply slowly opened. Grimm made a gesture for them to go first and May cautiously stepped into the house.

The house was extremely dark, like something out of the old horror movies. Almost every surface was textured like old, rotting wood. There were huge cobwebs absolutely swarming with spiders. Every so often, a bat flapped from somewhere in the darkness to somewhere else in the darkness letting out a shriek. May flinched every time a bat made a noise and her skin crawled when she saw the spiders. She knew that none of it was real. There was no such thing as actual animals in the Lost Lands. The spiders and bats were probably elaborate AI programs or possibly just well-programmed decorative effects.

“You don’t really like it here, do you, Detective?” Grimm asked.

May shrugged. “I’m not a fan of horror,” she said. “No offense.”

Grimm laughed and the sound of it was chilling but charming. “It’s quite alright, Detective,” he said. “It’s not for everyone.”

“Who lives here?” Dylan asked. He reached back and touched the sword on his back almost by instinct. May checked her own sidearm just in case.

“Morgan Le Mark,” Grimm said. “She’s rather dramatic as you may have noticed.”

A silken voice rang out from the next room. “Mayor Harrow,” the voice said. “Who have you brought into my abode?”

Grimm called out. “Morgan,” he said. “These detectives mean no harm. May we speak to you?”

“You may enter,” Morgan said.

They stepped into the room and there was Morgan standing in front of a roaring fireplace. She was pale and tall and she was wearing a black dress and she was draped with a black silk shawl. She smiled and there were actual fangs glinting in the firelight. May shuddered.

“Relax, Detectives,” Morgan said. “You will come to no harm in my home.” Her voice held the hints of some sort of European accent. She was a bit cliche but many stuck in the Lost Lands ended up that way. When you could be whatever you wanted for an eternity, some embraced their fondest dream.

Mindcrash Pt. 2

December 14, 2019

May arrived at the crime scene and luckily somebody had erected a barrier around the body. That was good as a crowd of pale people in dark clothes had gathered around with curious and cautious eyes. It had probably been one of the AI servitors who operated as officers in the Lost Land. They usually laid dormant until moments like these. The barrier was bright white and eight feet tall and made of energy. May flashed her badge at the barrier and it rippled and pulsed and allowed her to step through. It felt a little claustrophobic inside the barrier but at least the crowd could not see inside. There were only two other people present inside the barrier.

Dylan was standing and looking down at the body. He was really tall so May had to look up which was kind of annoying. He nodded at her and she nodded back. Cirra was crouched over the remains like a pale spider. May recognized her as one of Vampire Town’s local Learned. She had probably been closest when the call went out. It looked like Cirra had just finished coaxing what energy was left of the body’s energy into a container.

“What do we got?” May asked. She crouched close to the container and peered at it until Cirra gave her a scathing look which caused May to stand back up.

“From what I can tell,” Cirra said. “A male. Energy signature matches an Akemi Nakamura.” Her voice was monotone and kind of sounded disinterested although May knew from experience that it was just how she sounded. She loved doing her job even when it was this morbid.

“What killed him?” May asked. “Was it a Fracture?” The Fractures were the distorted remnants of those who had been lost in the server failures on Christmas Day. The files of their mind had been corrupted and twisted. They operated much like ghosts but their energies could be unpredictable and harmful. Most people were scared of them but some found them fascinating. May thought they were sad and wished there was some way to help them.

“It was not a Fracture,” Dylan said. “Scans prove there has been no Fracture activity in this sector for a while. The only ones remotely near here were on the other side of town.”

“Good work, Dylan,” May said. “So what is the cause of death?” Dylan was a go-getter and had obviously been able to get out of bed a little earlier. May felt a little embarrassed that she was lost to the party but she could play catch up with the best of them.

Cirra sighed. “It’s a little early to tell,” she said. “I will have to run any data I find to create a simulation. It was violent, though. I can tell you that it was most likely not natural causes.”

May raised an eyebrow. “Do we even have natural causes in here?” she asked.

Cirra shrugged. “Maybe,” she said. “We don’t know enough yet. It’s actually my personal research project.” The Learned were highly intelligent and creative citizens of the Lost Lands who chose to study the Lost’s unique human condition. They were the doctors, the scientists, and, in this case, a crime scene investigator.

“Interesting,” May said. “Not exactly useful here but I’d be interested in hearing any results.”

“I think most people would be,” Cirra said. “That’s why I picked it.”

“Is there enough to reboot?” Dylan asked, interrupting. “Seems a shame to see a guy go like this.”

“I think so,” Cirra said. “There is significant data left over but I am not sure what will come out of it.” She looked hopefully and thoughtfully at the container.

“And whatever is rebooted from Mr. Nakamura will have no memory of the crime,” May said. “We need to know who he was.”

“Nakamura had designated himself a citizen of Gamezone,” Dylan said without looking at the container. “He was a top scorer.” Gamezone was the part of the Lost Lands dedicated to video games and gamer culture. It could be a pretty wild and violent place.

“What was a gamer doing all the way over here?” May asked. “It’s not the most inviting area.”

“People have different interests,” Cirra said indignantly. “I could go over to Gamezone.”

May gave her a sidelong glance. “Do you go over to Gamezone?” she asked.

“I said I could,” Cirra said. “if I wanted to. I probably won’t want to.”

“Uh huh,” May said. “Fair enough. Anything to add here Dylan?”

“Not really,” Dylan said. “We should probably head over to Gamezone to check out Nakamura’s friends.”

“Of course,” May said. “but we should also question any witnesses around here and drop a note with the head of Vampire Town as a courtesy.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Dylan said with a nod.

“Back to the lab for me,” Cirra said. “I’ll let you know when I know anything else.”

Mindcrash

December 7, 2019

It was the Mindcrash that started everything. In the year 2045, true virtual reality had taken hold and had gone mainstream. People used it for more than just video games. They used it to surf the internet, create virtual meeting places for business or social reasons, and so much more. Many people had had chips installed in the base of their cerebellum in order to accelerate data streaming from a computer to the human brain and back again. It was a fairly simple surgery so many people opted to have it done. Of course, that much hardware near the brain caused a vulnerability but it was an acceptable risk or so the public was assured.

Of course, nobody had expected the Wonderland Routine. It was not a virus in the traditional sense. That was how it did not get noticed by any of the virus or malware protection. It slipped past security protocols as innocuous third party programs. Once it was all through, it pulled itself apart and reassembled itself into a nasty yet subtle virus. On Christmas Day, its timer went off and it fried everybody’s chips at one. In the process, it stranded a hundred million people in the network. Their entire essence was set adrift on the Internet as their brains boiled in their skull and their nervous systems shut down.  Their bodies would never be of use to them again.

Calling it a crisis was an understatement. People were separated from their friends and loved ones. Several servers suffered cascade failures from the additional strain and a few thousand minds were completely lost or fractured. Technicians eventually patched together a solution. The minds were ushered into servers for their own safety. However, several ethical questions arose. Could they back up the servers? Could one back up a person without making an entirely new person? The servers were eventually hooked up to dedicated and redundant power supplies. Nobody wanted to use VR equipment for a long time. Was the Wonderland Routine gone? Could they ever safely experience virtual reality again? Entirely new equipment was designed in order for the first people to visit the Lost, as they began to be called.

The Lost found it hard to connect with reality without being able to really be out in it. People could summon their loved ones as holograms but it just wasn’t the same. After a while, most got dispirited and retreated deeper into their private Internet. For a while, people still came to visit but tourists were eventually regarded with derision and hostility. Tourism to the Lost Lands slowed to a crawl and then a trickle and then stopped. The servers were sealed off from the world and the Lost were left alone. Occasionally, some politician or group would propose shutting the servers down to save resources but they were always shouted down. The Lost Lands continued on. It mutated and became fairly alien from our world.

May stretched as she cycled out of sleep mode. The Lands’ technicians had figured out that minds could not run longer than twenty-four hours straight for very long. People had figured out to initiate a sleep cycle in order to preserve sanity. May cycled during daylight hours because she was on a night shift. She was a detective with the Net Knights and it was her job to help protect the Lost Lands. Her communicator beeped in her arm. She yawned and pressed the button.

“Go for May,” she mumbled.

“Detective May,” Captain Cable said in that lovably gruff and disinterested voice. “We have an incident. You need to meet Detective Dylan. There’s been a homicide.”

“Really?” May asked. “Was there enough to perform a reboot?” Minds that were murdered with the Lost Lands could sometimes be rebooted into children and raised back to adulthood.

“The meds are not sure about that yet,” Cable said. “It is apparently very messy.”

“Where did it go down?” May asked. She activated her gear and her clothes and armor formed around her.

“Vampire Town,” Cable said. Vampire Town was a place for those who had an affinity for the darker side of things. Back in reality, people might have called them goths but they had involved in the digital landscape.

“Great,” May said. “Those guys are weirdos. They set up shop in the area with the highest concentration of fractures. I think they remind the vampires of ghosts. Are we sure that a fracture didn’t do it?”

“Well, that’s your job to figure out,” Cable said. “but the early reports don’t indicate that to be the case. Get your ass in gear.”

“I’m going,” May said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” She hung up and headed toward the garage. Technically, denizens of the Lost Lands could instantly transmit themselves any distance but, again, it did not make life worth living. Some behaviors were worth sticking to. Besides, May really liked her car. She had designed it herself.

Pokemon Dark and Light

November 30, 2019

(I had several ideas for the plots and design of Pokemon games that have banging around in my head.  Here is one of them)

The game would follow a former criminal thug who puts themself on the path of redemption by taking on the criminal enterprise he used to work for. He (or she) starts the game just before gang initiation. They get to choose between three starters but they are wild pokemon that lurk around the hideout. There is a Lilipup rummaging through the dumpsters out back, a grumpy Sandile living under the back porch, a Zubat fluttering around the hideout’s attic. You get a period of time to bully kids around the hideout and then you confront the boss of your local chapter as a gang initiation, Caleb.

Flash forward a couple of years with the gang on a job that goes wrong. You have earned the nickname of The Ace and are highly regarded in the Organization. You fight through some guards on a pokemon storage center heist. In the middle of the final battle, there is an explosion and people get hurt. Your character gets arrested and sent to jail. You flash forward to being released from prison. You’re approached by a contact at the cemetery while visiting the graves of those hurt in the explosion. They want to see how willing you are to atone. They have a plan to take down your old gang but to do that, you have to challenge Underground Gyms and defeat their leaders. After you have finished your mission, you are given permission to do the regular gym challenge.

You would have two rivals. The first, Detective Holloway, is a cop trying to bring you in and you face off as they try to apprehend you.

Her Pokemon:
Staraptor
Swanna
Fearow
Fletchinder
Trumbeak
Farfetch’d

The second is Caleb, the man who brought you into the gang, he constantly tests you as he wants to steal your reputation and take your spot. He is more of a traditional rival.

His Pokemon:
Weezing
Sizzlipede
Sharpedo
Pidegeotto
Vileplume
Machamp

 

Underground Gym Leaders:

The Chiller – Ice Type
Denton is the storage expert for the organization. His family has been part of the group going back many generations and he has absolutely no reservations about what they are doing. A blue-collar sort of criminal, he is at home in the secret warehouses where he flash freezes pokemon in order to store them for black market buyers.

His Pokemon:
Alolan Sandslash
Abomasnow
Sealeo
Beartic
Cryogonal
Sneasel

The Poisoner – Poison Type
Kira is a former student of Koga in the Hoenn region and was friends with Janine at some point. However, she eventually turned from the straight and narrow path and the example Koga set. She used the ways of the ninja to eliminate threats to the organization. She set up her own shadowy dojo where she trains others to strike others efficiently for profit.

Her Pokemon:
Seviper
Alolan Grimer
Skorupi
Salazzle
Croagunk
Dustox

The Darkness – Dark Type
Nora is the person that the Organization calls on when it needs a place for secret meetings or hideouts. As the daughter of a real estate mogul, she is an expert at finding excellent hideaways for performing criminal acts in safety. She operates out of a huge penthouse and controls several of the floors below her. She is accustomed to the finer things and is often seen indulging in the high life.

Her Pokemon:
Umbreon
Absol
Liepard
Bisharp
Morgrem
Mandibuzz

The Ghost – Ghost Type
Nobody is sure of the real name of The Ghost nor are they sure their appearance at all. They wear a costume that covers their face with bandages and a large hood. They are the expert at getting in and out of places that nobody wants them to go. They are also the member of the Organization they sometimes call to scare somebody into compliance.

Their Pokemon:
Spiritomb
Gengar
Cofagrigus
Mismagius
Chandelure
Banette

The Heavy – Ground Type
Doro is the go-to enforcer for the Organization. He likes to throw his weight around and it shows with the pokemon types he prefers. He likes to hit hard and can take a lot of damage before going down. He also happens to be the son of the leader of the Organization. He resides in a hideout below his favorite bar.

His Pokemon:
Donphan
Sandslash
Excadrill
Hippowdon
Golem
Onix

The Programmer – Steel Type
Roderick is the computer and technology expert of the Organization. He runs a computer data center under his own high tech casino which he is obsessed with. He is highly intelligent but suffers from overconfidence.

His Pokemon:
Klang
Aggron
Metagross
Magnezone
Magneton
Skarmory

The Thinker – Psychic
Angelica is the chief intelligence officer of the Organization. She prides herself on “know everything”. She monitors the authorities, the Pokemon league, and various informant sources to keep track of possible threats or opportunities for the Organization. She operates out of an abandoned library that she has filled with disorienting illusions.

Her Pokemon:
Alakazam
Hypno
Espeon
Gothorita
Reuniclus
Mr. Mime

The Beast – Dragon Type
Marc is the leader of the Organization and a fearsome person that nobody ever wants to cross. He used dragon pokemon to forcefully conduct the raids that funded the creation of the Organization. Eventually, he retired from fieldwork but rules everything from his castle. As the player approaches him, he becomes more interested in hiring the player as his new right hand. Little does he know that his time is short.

His Pokemon:
Haxorus
Dragonite
Dragonair
Salamence
Garchomp
Noivern

Regional Gyms

Fire Type Gym
Charli is a celebrity chef, loving to feed people and the heat of the kitchens. She works with both humans and Pokemon to prepare feasts for both rich and poor. Her gym doubles as a restaurant.

Her Pokemon:
Magmar
Torkoal
Litten
Talonflame
Oricorio (Baile Style)
Fennekin

Water Type Gym
Kylie loves all sorts of aquatic Pokemon and runs an aquarium and water park near the sea. She is happiest while in the water. She runs an aquatic battlefield gym and has little love for drylanders.

Her Pokemon:
Polywrath
Seadra
Clauncher
Arrokuda
Azumarill
Whiscash

Grass Type Gym
Henry is a professional partier and people often invite him to their parties in the hopes that he will arrive and make it more fun. He often throws his own parties at his gym when he is not training or facing challengers. He enjoys being out in the open as a celebrity and uses an open-air public fields and gardens. He also supports several farms and orchards.

His Pokemon:
Ludicolo
Cacnea
Carnavine
Liligant
Tsareena
Bellosom

Normal Type Gym
Arthur is a gym leader in more than one sense of the word. He runs an athletic gym for both humans and Pokemon. He encourages people to get fit and get competitive. He loves strength, speed, and agility.

His Pokemon:
Slaking
Exploud
Snorlax
Bouffalant
Diggersby
Bewear

Fairy Type Gym
Marnie is the last princess of a fading dynasty and the youngest gym leader. She loves inner beauty and sparkles. She loves sharing her royalty and her privilege with the world.

Her Pokemon:
Wigglytuff
Clefable
Granbull
Galarian Rapidash
Gardevoir
Gallade

Bug Type Gym
Cody runs a gym that is constantly moving within the bounds of the forest of his hometown. He loves bug pokemon and the forests and the fields so much. He really just loves nature and lives simply in a treehouse.

His Pokemon:
Pinsir
Kricketune
Beedrill
Scyther
Heracross
Masquerain

Electric Type Gym
Fantana is a theater and performance enthusiast. She prizes putting on a show most of all. Her gym doubles as a theater for pokemon and people. She is a dancer and is constantly moving.

Her Pokemon:
Raichu
Electabuzz
Ampharos
Pikachu
Rotom
Oricorio (Pom Pom)

Fighting Type Gym
Dumo is a real superhero. He loves jetting around the world, fighting the Organization and any threats to the populace. He is somewhat mysterious and wears a mask. The player can catch sight of him during the regular game during several close calls.

His Pokemon:
Hawlucha
Primeape
Hitmonlee
Hitmonchan
Mienshao
Hariyama


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