Archive for the ‘Writings’ Category

Poor Unfortunate Souls: China Pt. 11

November 27, 2021

The dragon’s gigantic face rose above the edge of the building and the heroes were prepared for the last stand. Those reptilian eyes filled with bright green fire. The dragon had new bleeding wounds across its face, near the right side of its mouth. As they watched, the dragon erupted into purple smoke and green flame and that green flame formed itself into a woman’s form. The woman stood imperiously tall and carried a large staff. She looked at them with absolute disdain in her eyes.

“Heroes,” she said dismissively. “When will you accept that this land is mine now. Any resistance will be met with death.” She spoke like royalty, her diction impeccable.

Mulan stepped forward, anger flashing in her eyes. “China belongs to its people,” she called out. “Who are you to say otherwise?”

The woman laughed. As her mouth opened wider in that laugh, blood dripped from the wound on her face. She did not even react to the obvious pain she must have been in. “I am Maleficent, child,” she said directly to Mulan. “You will say my name with respect before you die. If you say it now, your deaths will be quick and relatively painless.”

“None of us are dying,” Aladdin said. “We’re going to save this land.”

“Then we’ll find our way back to our worlds,” Rapunzel said.

“And our families and friends,” Anna said.

“For China,” Mulan said. “and for all of the worlds. It’s time to slay the dragon.”

“So be it,” Maleficent said. “Your deaths will not be quick if I can help it. I gave you your chance.”

“No more talk then,” Mulan said. “Time for action.” She raised her sword. Her new friends readied their weapons as well.

Maleficent slowly reformed into her dragon form, towering above them in no time. The battle began in earnest. The heroes had to keep moving to avoid the sheer volume of Maleficient’s dragon form and the occasional fire-breathing attack. They darted in with their swords when they could. Out of them, only Mulan and Merrida had any combat training and only Mulan and Aladdin had real combat experience. The others were holding their own, though. They had to or they would be dead.

Merrida fired arrows from a little bit of rubble she had climbed up on, nailing Maleficent with bullseye after bullseye. Maleficent eventually got tired of it and swung her tail. Merrida barely avoided the attack, tumbling down from her perch and landing hard. The string on her bow broke. Rapunzel ran to help her up as quick as she could.

“I’m out,” Merrida said. “My bow is broken!”

“I’ve got an idea!” Mulan called out. “Rapunzel! Use your hair!” She rushed toward the dragon and Aladdin ran with her. “Aladdin, both sides!”

The two of them dodged a lunge from the dragon.

“What!?” Aladdin yelled. “What does that mean?”

“Like a pincer,” Mulan said as she dodged a blast of fire.

Meanwhile, Rapunzel had plucked a long hair from her head. She wrapped that hair around one end of Merrida’s bow and then the other. As soon as she did, she closed her eyes and focused and the string glowed with golden light and tightened itself. Merrida knocked an arrow which also turned bright and golden.

Mulan and Aladdin drove their swords into the dragon’s neck at the same time from the right and the left. Merrida aimed her shot. Maleficent cried out in pain and Merrida fired into her open mouth. The arrow traveled deep into the dragon and then that arrow exploded. Maleficent exploded in green fire and cried out. Mulan swung her sword again and decapitated the dragon.

The battle was over and the exhausted heroes sat on top of a burning palace in the middle of the Imperial City. The flames surrounded them. There was no way out but they had slain the dragon and China would be free. Mulan saw Maleficent’s staff and picked it up and desperately tried to work it. The flames were so close now. She focused on the staff and it lit up. There was a sudden loud sound and a blast of cold air spread out over the palace quickly.

“It looks like this place needed to cool off,” a voice called out.

Anna sprang to her feet and hugged her sister. “Elsa!” she shouted. “I knew you’d come!”

Poor Unfortunate Souls: Atlantica Pt. 11

November 13, 2021

Belle turned to her host, Ariel, her eyes wide. “We can’t listen to her, she’s a vindictive fairy,” she said. She turned to Aurora. “Can we arrest her?”

“Fairy?” Aurora asked. “I was practically raised by fairies. They’re not all bad.” Yet she eyed The Enchantress warily, fingers just touching the hilt of her sword. She had known three wonderful fairies but also one truly horrible one. She was not so naive to trust this stranger right away.

“She cursed my husband!” Belle said. Adam, Lumiere, and Mrs. Potts had told her a lot about the night that this strange woman had transformed everybody in the castle. Her curse had almost reached maturity which would have kept everybody from regaining their human forms. It seemed overly cruel to Belle.

“People can change,” Tiana said. She thought of her own husband and her own personal journey.

“I can at least be a gracious host,” Ariel said. “Welcome to my castle, Enchantress. Can I get you anything?” She gave her best smile, trying to do what she thought Eric or her father would do. She had had such little time to train in the etiquette of human royal life and had been in battle so long that it was hard to remember when things had been normal.

“A spot of tea would be nice,” The Enchantress said. “Thank you.”

“I’ll go make some real quick,” Tiana said. She kind of wanted to get out of that room. Tensions were high and she was pretty sure that Belle had not blinked since The Enchantress had appeared. She walked toward the kitchens.

“Please, have a seat,” Ariel said, gesturing toward a chair. She sat down herself and looked at Belle who begrudgingly sat down as well.

“See?” The Enchantress said with a smile. “If your husband had been this kind, things would have been much easier.” Belle tensed at that. “A joke, my dear.”

“I’m not laughing,” Belle said crossly, folding her arms over her chest.

“The truth is, I have owed your husband and his servants an apology for quite some time,” The Enchantress said. “That curse was probably a bit much. I was looking for somebody to punish and I unleashed on the first person to anger me. If that also harmed you by extension, I apologize.”

Belle blinked in surprise. She was not sure what to say to that.

“Please excuse me for cutting to the chase,” Ariel said. “What is your intention in coming here? We’re sort of in the middle of a crisis at the moment.”

“Yes. I saw you slay the Sea Witch. Well, I came to offer my assistance,” The Enchantress said. “I could feel magical turmoil through the planes. Worlds that were once separate are now connected. The citizens of those worlds have been shuffled like so many cards.”

“We suspected as much,” Belle said. “Although, I suppose that confirmation of that theory is appreciated.” She offered that last statement reluctantly. She was still on her guard and appreciated that Aurora had not relaxed either.

“How can you help us?” Ariel asked. “We managed to open a portal through our own research. We were on the verge of reuniting with our loved ones.”

The Enchantress shrugged. “You have done well on your own, I must admit,” she said. “However, without a guide with power, it will be like groping around in the dark. I am a minor power. I can improve your travel options a thousandfold.”

Tiana brought in the tea with some beignets she had whipped up. Ariel gestured for her to sit and she did. Ariel trusted Tiana not only to cook but as an ally who knew a lot about logistics.

“What do you get in return?” Belle asked.

The Enchantress waived the question away with a laugh. “I’m not asking for anything,” She said. “I’m not the type to ask for first-born children. In truth, you have done me a great favor already in killing Ursula. The possibility that you might take out more rivals has me very willing to offer my assistance.”

“Rivals?” Ariel asked, a little taken aback. “Ursula was your rival? A rival in what?”

“She was a minor rival,” The Enchantress said dismissively. “Anybody who wields magic on her level or above has the potential to cause trouble for me. I would not oppose those who use magic sparingly or benevolently but Ursula and her new allies are unpredictable. If they got hungry enough for power, they could try and steal mine. I can’t have that. I already know that their little coven has imprisoned several of my kind. I will not let that stand.”

“Do you think we can trust her?” Ariel asked the room but looked pointedly at Belle.

“I think it’s worth a shot,” Tiana said.

“We’re kind of at her mercy,” Aurora said. “We’ve already seen how powerful she is compared to us.”

Belle sighed. “Aurora has a point,” she said. “and I actually trust her this time.” She had a hunch that The Enchantress was telling the truth. It was the same feeling that led her to befriend The Beast who had become her husband.

“I guess we’re accepting your help,” Ariel said. “Let’s get down to it. Our friends and loved ones are still out there.”

The Kids of Barrie Park Pt. 2

November 6, 2021

Liam grinned at Chantal from across the table at Bev’s Diner which was most assuredly not Dona Habana. Chantal frowned and gave him as mean a look as she could summon but it was not as mean as she could get. It just made Liam’s smile wider as he leaned back and sipped his coffee. Chantal had tried to stop him from pouring some whiskey from his flask into it but eventually opted to have him pour some in hers as well. Funerals gave her a chill and she felt like she needed to be a bit number.

“Don’t give me that look,” Liam said. “It’s not my fault that Dona Habana was closed for the day.”

“I am going to go ahead and blame you anyway,” Chantal said. “There’s not much you can do about that.”

“I suppose there’s really not,” Liam said. His fingers twitched, ready to grab a cigarette but it had been banned inside of restaurants. He would have waited outside and smoked a quick one but he was hungry and he really wanted to talk to Chantal all of a sudden. “I’ll take the heat.”

“You’ve always played the villain,” Chantal said. “You’re not as bad as you pretend to be.”

“Time will tell,” Liam said with a shrug. “Look, about what we were talking about earlier. I was trying to make a point.”

“You did not make it, then,” Chantal said. “I heard a lot of talking but not a lot of sense. Want to try again?”

“I’m serious, Chant,” Liam said. “I think we might actually be in danger.”

“Elaborate,” Chantal said. “I want to hear this conspiracy theory now. Dazzle me with your bullshit.”

“It’s not bullshit,” Liam said. “What got me started thinking was that the two of them died really young. Very sudden. Sometimes things just happen but what if it’s not a coincidence?”

“What do you mean?” Chantal asked. “

“You’ll recall that night, right? When those people kidnapped us and the other kids and brought us to Barrie Park. You know what they were trying to do right?” It had been decades since the event but some of the emotions and memories were still rattling around in Liam’s head. Terror and trauma had certainly made sure some of those imprints remained while some other stuff was washed away.

“Nobody knows what they were trying to do,” Chantal said with force. “They all died in the shootout with the police. There was nobody to question. They were all just crazy.”

“No doubt they were crazy,” Liam said. “but you must have heard the whispers just like I did. There are a few things I overheard while we were tied up and from the cops talking that I only recently remembered. Some bad dreams brought them back. I think that it was some kind of ritual. I think they were trying to sacrifice us to something.”

“Sacrifice us to what?” Chantal asked, a worried look creeping over her face. “and why? What’s worth killing children for?”

“I don’t know,” Liam said. “but my guess is power, money, or both. They obviously didn’t get it done.”

“Get to the part where we’re in danger,” Chantal said. “So far I’m not impressed. Those creeps are all dead so it’s long over. i don’t play with ghost stories.”

“What if it isn’t over?” Liam asked. “What if that’s a mistake the cops and our parents made? Maybe we should have been investigating this the whole time. Maybe the members of that cult weren’t all killed or maybe something else is starting to hunt us down?”

“Something else?” Chantal asked. “You don’t believe that some boogeyman or evil spirit is actually out there?”

“I don’t know what I believe but have you ever experienced anything weird since that night?” Liam asked. “Nothing out of the ordinary?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Chantal said. “After all the reporters got bored, my life returned to normal.”

“Bullshit,” Liam said. “Ever since that night, I’ve felt something strange. Sometimes when I touch things with my right arm, I get sort of thoughts or impressions. I used to think they were hunches but there’s no way I would have made some of the leaps I’ve made. I think it’s mind powers or magic or something.”

“Really?” Chantal asked. “That’s what we’re going with?”

“That night the one thing I remember really clearly is a bright blue-white light,” Liam said. “It was brighter than anything I saw before or since then. It felt otherworldly. I think that was something. I don’t know what it was but when the cops started shooting, something big exploded and the light was gone and my arm was injured.”

“I do remember the light,” Chantal said softly, voice trembling slightly. She was suddenly looking through Liam before she shook herself from what almost looked like a trance.

“Tell me you never experienced anything weird then,” Liam said. “Tell me honestly.”

The Horror Movie Poster Project Pt. 2

October 9, 2021

This week, I decided to do horror or horror-adjacent movies that were planned but got canceled at some point. I really enjoy making these posters.

Undead Reckoning Pt. 13

September 25, 2021

Supper continued without Talbot getting any more clues as to the agenda of Lord Blackrance. At least, nothing more than had been in the letter. There was a necromancer in the wasteland. A wasteland that the Dragonborn Rahj was familiar with as their guide and presumably their tracker. The Cleric Ana was obviously along for the ride to counter undead threats. Talbot assumed that he and Clarity had been invited as damage dealers to fight back whatever henchthings that the necromancer had. Of course, Talbot still had no intention of going anywhere closer to the wasteland. He was going to take his rifle back home and hang it over his mantle. Forever.

After a nip or two of Drown brandy, sent by the good Lord Blackrance himself, they all retired to bed. All of them except for Rahj who stayed up drinking heavily of the cheapest ale available. He took a keg out behind the inn so he could be with his pet, Sandor. They all left the dragonborn alone. Talbot paused outside of his door and looked at the door currently belonging to the mysterious Mr. Seneca. How did he fit into all of this? Talbot had a sudden urge to go over and knock on that door. Just beyond, a question could be answered. But trying to answer that question could raise a lot of hell. It was best to just wait until morning.

Thanks to the good meal and the brandy, Talbot was just about out when his head hit the pillow. He came to when the sun was up but it felt like just a moment later. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and got himself together. A change of clothes and he was ready to descend the stares once again. Luckily, the smell of good food once again wafted up from the kitchens. It made Talbot take the steps a little quicker. It would not hurt him to have one more good meal on Lord Blackrance’s coin before he went back home. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw three people in the sitting room. The halfling Titus Talbot already recognized but there was also a masked figure and a drow sitting there as well. The masked figure got up and walked past Talbot without a word.

“You must be Sergeant Hawkwing,” the drow said with a sly smile. “As you might have gathered, my name is Lord Blackrance. Have a seat, won’t you?” He gestured toward the fourth chair.

“I no longer go by my rank, Lord Blackrance” Talbot said bluntly but not unkindly. “You may call me Talbot if you wish.”

“Fair enough, Talbot,” Lord Blackrance said. “If you wish to dispense with formalities, then you may call me Callum.”

“That’s a little forward when dealing with the aristocracy,” Talbot said. “but sure.”

“I had a feeling that you would want to talk,” Blackrance said. “I’m glad you’ve come down before breakfast.”

“I have a feeling you’ve already divined what I want to talk about,” Talbot said. “I might as well get to it. I have no intention of going on your expedition. There are plenty of hired guns even around here that you could take with you.”

“But I singled you out, Talbot,” Blackrance said. “I assembled my team carefully as I have assembled all of my teams. Your record speaks volumes and you are uniquely suited for the mission ahead.”

“How am I uniquely suited for it?” Talbot asked, more than a little curious at that statement.

“I’m honestly not sure yet,” Blackrance said with a shrug.

Talbot was a bit shocked. “You don’t know?” he asked. “I thought you had all of this figured out?”

“I have an ace up my sleeve when planning a mission,” Blackrance said. “The secret to my success.” He gestured to a young girl sitting peacefully in the corner.

Talbot blinked in shock. It was the young woman from his dream on the train. What the hell was going on?

Undead Reckoning Pt. 12

September 18, 2021

Pepper and a young man that Talbot did not recognize started carrying a veritable feast into the room on platters. It all smelled very good and it was far finer food than Talbot had expected this far out in the frontier. There were several whole roasted chickens, steamed carrots, toasted mushrooms, brisket, and mashed potatoes. Rahj immediately reached out and palmed one of the chickens, whistled, and then threw the chicken out of an open window. Something very large and hairy jumped up in the window and snagged the chicken. There was a deep growling sound from beneath the window. Everybody stared at Rahj who shrugged.

“They won’t let me keep Sandor inside but he still must be fed,” the large Dragonborn said. He then set about devouring whatever food he could reach.

“Um,” Clarity started, seeming to be at a loss for words for once. “Is Sandor your dog?”

Rahj grinned and began to speak with food in his mouth. “Ha!,” he cried out, letting out a single barking laugh. “In the desert, we have pets far superior to your dogs. It’s an insult to call Sandor a dog.”

Clarity seemed to think about that, almost as if she was deciding which part of the statement she was most interested in. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Did you say ‘out in the desert’? Do you mean to tell us that you have lived out there? Is this a recent occurrence or have you lived out there when it was still dangerous?”

Rahj frowned and looked at Clarity as if he was deciding whether or not she was being ignorant or insulting. Talbot immediately realized Clarity’s mistake and he looked around and saw that Clarity was the only one not in the know. She had an innocent look on her face which must have convinced Rahj that she was merely ignorant.

“Your government has always hated my kind,” Rahj said, his voice a low growl that almost harmonized with the growl from Sandor outside. “They made it real hard to find land of our own. Our scales are resistant to magic and we went out into the desert to settle where other mortals were too scared to go.”

“That is impressive, Mr. Blackscale,” Clarity said. “I apologize for my ignorance, I had not known that the government had dealt you such a poor hand. It is shameful. I am sure that everybody in this room does not share in such prejudice.”

Rahj grunted. “Thanks,” he said. “We made it work out there but the government and all of the business types want back out there now that it’s safer. I’m sure they’ll take our land too.”

“I hope they don’t,” Talbot said. “I never did cotton to how that worked out. You all should get first dibs, of course.”

“Blackrance is going to go to the government about it,” Rahj said. “He understands what it’s like since he’s drow. It’s the only reason I agreed to guide all of you out there.”

“You’ve talked in person to our illustrious patron?” Clarity asked. “I have only communicated with him via correspondence myself since I was out of country.”

“He sent me a letter too,” Talbot said. “I haven’t met him.”

“He came out into the desert,” Rahj said. “Faced me like a man alongside that one.” He pointed at Titus who nodded.

“I accompany Lord Blackrance on most occasions,” Titus said softly. “This is a rare moment when I am not by his side.”

“He came to see me at church,” Ana said. “He vas very polite and convincing.”

“So only half of us have met him,” Talbot said. “Wait, that reminds me. What about the other one? The person across the hall from me? What is their deal?”

“Mr. Seneca has a complex situation so he and Lord Blackrance agreed that he would not meet you until Lord Blackrance could be present,” Titus said. “Everything is going according to plan.”

“You do realize how suspicious that is don’t you?” Talbot asked, his eyes narrowing.

“I am very aware,” Titus said with a smile. “I can only operate according to Lord Blackrance’s wishes unless there is an emergency.”

“A lot of rules go out the window in an emergency,” Talbot said with a sage nod. “I remember that.”

“I’m sure you do,” Titus said.

Poor Unfortunate Souls: China Pt. 10

September 11, 2021

Mulan was able to lead her team since she had been to the Imperial City several times before. They crept down several alleyways. The place was crawling with those shadowy creatures and the dragon was raging, stomping around everywhere and large parts of the city were burning with green flame. This whole thing was coming to a head and Mulan knew that she had to end things soon or there would be no China left to protect. They broke a window in the lowest floor they could reach and they all snuck in carefully.

“Which way do we go?” Aladdin asked, crouched against the wall.

Nobody seemed to have an idea right away. The city was chaos and the palace was not much better. Everybody was relatively unscathed from the cart crash. They still had their gear and weapons but there was no way to know which way was the solution to their problems. They could not stay still for long. The longer they stayed still, the more likely it was that they would be found and cornered.

“I’m not sure,” Mulan said. “I feel like logic would dictate that we’re heading to the throne room but that could be wrong.”

Suddenly, Rapunzel’s short brunette hair started to pulsate with bright white light and momentarily became blonde before growing down to her shoulders. Everybody looked surprised and Merrida opened the door a crack to make sure the sudden blazing light had not attracted attention. Rapunzel had taken hold of her hair and was marveling at it with a mixture of awe and worry.

“What is going on with you?” Merrida asked. She came off as gruff but everybody was concerned at the surprising turn of events.

“Are you alright?” Anna asked, taking hold of Rapunzel. Anna definitely wanted to fix everything for everybody and she was beside herself.

“I think so?” Rapunzel said. “This is actually sort of how my hair used to be. There is a lot of magic floating around this place.” She tied back her hair with a bit of string she found on her person.

“Do you have a feel for where the biggest mass of it is?” Mulan asked. “Where are we headed?”

Rapunzel closed her eyes and thought. “The highest point,” Rapunzel said softly. “I think.” She pointed upwards toward what Mulan knew to be the top floor of the palace. The Emperor’s living quarters were up there. It made sense.

“That’s good enough for me,” Aladdin said.

“I can lead us there,” Mulan said with a smile, her confidence returning to her. Everybody else looked bolstered by this news as well. “Follow me.”

They set off again and crept through the palace. Their pulses were pounding so loud that they thought somebody would hear them. Their stealth could only last so long and soon they were having pitched battles in the hallways and on the stairs. The shadowy creatures were all around them but they fought bravely. The fighters fought and the more peaceful people supported as best they could. They all knew that it was only a matter of time before this fighting would attract the dragon. If that happened, their time might really be up.

They fought to the top of the palace except that much of the Emperor’s quarters had been burned away and that level was exposed to the open air. Mulan hoped that the Emperor and his family were safe somewhere. They looked around and there was nothing too obvious. There were what looked like they could be magical objects of some sort but it was all foreign to the adventurers.

As they stood trying to figure it out, a massive claw hooked onto the edge of the roof and green flame erupted. The adventurers gathered their weapons for a fight.

Poor Unfortunate Souls: Hawaii Pt. 10

September 4, 2021

In the morning, something happened that had not happened in days. Jumba came out of the underground lab. He was carrying Maui’s hook and he carefully set it down on the table as Maui, Moana, and Adam were having breakfast. Maui instantly snatched it up, obviously happy to have it back in his sights.

“Not a scratch on it,” Jumba said. The alien looked tired and Moana watched him some concern at first but knew that Jumba would not have accepted her fretting over him. Jumba had similar bravado to Maui. It was easy to spot but not exactly easy to deal with.

“Of course not,” Moana said. “It’s fine.” She put a little force into her voice to try and convince Maui to not worry so much. For all of his bravado, Moana knew that her friend could be very insecure. Out of every mortal creature in her whole world, Moana actually knew the demigod the best. The bond they had formed was strong.

“Uh huh,” Maui said with some doubt in his eyes. He was looking over the hook in minute detail, determined to find any slight bit of damage. He got up from the table and started using the hook to transform into various animals. Each transformation was very sudden and startling and Adam tried to keep calm watching it. Moana seemed to be used to it and ignored it. Adam tried to do the same.

“Did the hook help you figure anything out?” Adam asked, getting to the real topic at hand.

Jumba’s face brightened a bit from its usual stoic expression. “Yes!” he said excitedly. “I discovered many things. This object has opened many doors in my studies.”

Maui transformed back into his musclebound humanoid self and managed to tear his eyes away from his hook. “Anything specific to what we’re dealing with?” he asked. He sat back down at the table. He seemed to be back on mission once he was sure that the hook was intact.

“Oh yes,” Jumba said and put a small disc-shaped object down on the table. He smiled slightly and looked at the three sitting at the table. They looked at the device and then they all looked back at Jumba. They stared at each other for a few beats.

“What is it?” Adam asked, looking dubious. He leaned over momentarily to get a closer look. If he was still The Beast, he might have sniffed it. Since his arrival, he had seen a lot of strange so-called technology. It was all still very new to him. Magic had seemed much simpler in his world but somehow more wondrous. Moana seemed to be better adapted to it all but Adam looked at her and she was just as clueless.

“It is a tracker for the source of the transformation magic,” Jumba said. He pressed a button in the center of the device and a blinking arrow appeared and then started pointing in a direction away from the city. “Magic is over there. Apparently.” He stepped back and looked proud.

“That’s great, Jumba!” Moana said. “Now we can hunt down whoever or whatever is doing this and maybe fix things around here. Maybe we can even get everybody back to where they belong.” She took a deep breath. “One step at a time. Let’s finish eating and then we’ll get out there.” She started to eat her breakfast again. She was excited to solve the mystery and save the day but she knew that she had to take care of herself.

“We’re going to make somebody hurt,” Maui said. “Fuel up for beast mode, Adam.” He punched Adam’s shoulder playfully. Adam tried to smile. He was still not completely at ease with his inner beast especially when it became his outer beast. He was not sure if he knew how to control the transformation.

The Faceless

August 28, 2021
Photo Credit: @rn_murse on Twitter

Cat and Sparrow stood, barely hidden in a back alley. Cat was having a hard time keeping it together. Anxiety was clawing its way out of her and she had to fight to stay still. Meanwhile, Sparrow was standing as still as a statute, not a bead of sweat. The tall girl was very narrow but had long pretty pink hair. Cat always felt self-conscious about her own black hair which she kept extremely short. She tried to push such thoughts out of her head. They were on a mission. Besides, everybody else was walking around them without a care in the world. They were all smiling.

Of course, they were all smiling because that was their default setting. They were not actually present any more. As far as they could tell, something had invaded Earth two years earlier. Cat and Sparrow were part of the resistance, something that Cat had stumbled into completely by accident. As near as the resistance could tell, whatever was doing this was taking people and turning them into robots. Well, robots was not the correct term. They were still organic but nobody was home. The things that were no longer quite human walked around and remained productive but they were easy to spot. They just smiled way too much and had vacant stares. It was creepy. Otherwise, they looked untouched.

“Stay with me, Cat,” Sparrow said firmly in a whisper. “Stay present. We have a mission to complete.”

“Sorry,” Cat said with a slight nod. “I’m feeling very exposed out here.”

“If you don’t feel nervous in the field, you shouldn’t be in the field,” Sparrow said. “I wouldn’t have brought you with me if I didn’t think you were ready.”

“Why does everything still look the same as before the invasion?” Cat asked. “Like, why do they keep all of the signs illuminated? it seems pointless.”

“Well, it’s not exactly the same,” Sparrow said. “There are definitely little differences. Like that sign.” She pointed.

Cat looked where Sparrow as pointing. The sign read ‘You must wear a face’.

“That makes no sense,” Cat said.

“They haven’t quite mastered our language,” Sparrow said. “but I think it’s a reference to the facial recognition scanners.”

That had been part of several briefings before returning to the surface. The resistance had found and dismantled a few of these scanners for study. The most likely conclusion was that when citizens were taken, they were scanned and cataloged. The scanners in the wild would catch anybody who had yet to be cataloged and would sound the alarm. Reviewing this in her head did not make Cat any calmer.

“How safe are we out here?” Cat asked, her voice suddenly a little shaky.

“The lab rats whipped up these jammers for us and they are field-tested,” Sparrow said. “Visually, we are wearing our own lovely faces.” Cat turned away a little so she could blush at that. “Electronically, we present as drones already on file. We’re good. Though, we should probably limit our exposure out here to the mission and only the mission.”

Humanity’s resistance lived underground in isolated cells that communicated through dead drops and encrypted burst transmissions. They were structured so if one cell was taken, they would not be able to discover the others easily which would give the other cells time to scatter. They stole food and technology from the surface the best that they could. Luckily, they still had some engineers and scientists on their side. They were important for staying in front of the invaders’ efforts to hunt them. The countermeasures were holding for now. Their enclaves remained hidden for the time being.

“That makes sense,” Cat said. “We’re taking one of these brainwashed people to a safehouse for study, right? To see if their condition is reversible?”

“Yeah,” Sparrow said with determination and a faraway look. “I know the perfect person too.”

Undead Reckoning Pt. 11

August 21, 2021

Clarity thought about that statement as they started down the stairs. “Very interesting,” she said. “I suppose if the stories are true and the gods were destroyed, all of that energy would have to go somewhere. There is no way to destroy energy like that and the Riders were at least semi-mortal and they could not absorb that much energy. What vessels are the gods in now? Maybe they have no vessels. Maybe that means they are more powerful than ever.”

Ana shrugged with a small, unbothered smile. “I have not given it much thought,” she said. “It is enough zat I have faith, no? I am more focused on doing good in the vorld.”

“Now that’s an attitude I can get behind,” Talbot said. “You’ve just got to leave the world better than you found it.” He could guess that Clarity’s intellectual curiosity was not satiated but then again how did she expect to test any theories when it came to deities from the beyond?

“Vat do you do for ze vorld, Talbot?” Ana asked with a curious smile. “How do you make it better?”

“I’m a carpenter,” Talbot said. “I share a shop with two partners back home.”

“A noble profession,” Ana said. “Vhat brings a carpenter all ze vay out here for zis endeavor?”

All three of them stopped outside of the dining room as Talbot turned toward Ana. He was not about to get into it with a complete stranger even if Ana was a woman of the cloth. His past was painful and he still did not know why he had discussed it with Clarity. Something about her inquisitive eyes, maybe.

“I wasn’t always a carpenter,” Talbot said. “I’ll leave it at that for now. Lord Blackrance wanted me to come out of retirement but we have a difference of opinion. I came to tell him no face to face.”

“I tried to change his mind,” Clarity said. “It didn’t take.” She shrugged and shot a mischievous smile at Talbot. The look irked him for a heartbeat.

Ana’s smile was more beatific and kind. “I respect that you are a man who has left violence behind,” she said. “A man of peace. However, peace is not alvays the answer.”

“It’s my answer,” Talbot said. “I’ve already lost enough to battle. I support the mission, of course, but I don’t have the heart to join in.”

“Perhaps your heart may yet change,” Ana said with a smile. “Only you can decide your path.”

“Maybe,” Talbot said. “Anything is possible but I just don’t see it. You’ll just have to take care of this without me.”

The door to the dining room burst open and Titus was standing there looking frustrated and a bit desperate. “Could you come in to eat?” he asked. “He’s getting impatient and I really don’t want to piss him off anymore.”

“Who?” Talbot asked. As soon as he asked he knew it was a stupid question. It had to be the Dragonborn from earlier.

“You’ll see,” Titus said. “Quickly, please.” He held open the door and the three all looked at each other and then entered the dining room. Seated at the head of the table was the giant Dragonborn who practically glared at them.

“Finally!” he yelled. “They said they would not serve the food until you came. Sit down.”

“Such manners!” Clarity said. “We were having a lively discussion. We apologize if we kept you and Mr. Mapleburrow waiting.” The four of them moved to seats around the table. Talbot made sure to sit closest to the angry dragon man. He was sure Clarity would disagree but he did not want either lady to be harmed if it came to a fight. He had a feeling it would not and that the Dragonborn was more bark than bite.

As they all sat down at the table, the Dragonborn slammed his fist on the table. “Food now!” Titus flinched a bit at the sound and Ana got very still. Neither Clarity nor Talbot reacted and Talbot fought the urge to roll his eyes. No need to rile the guy up any further. There was definitely movement in the kitchen.

“What do we call you, sir?” Clarity asked. “We haven’t been formally introduced yet.” Titus was not about to make any introductions in that moment. He was rattled.

“The name’s Rahj,” the Dragonborn said gruffly and when Clarity arched an eyebrow at him he looked remorseful for a moment. “Rahj Blackscale.”


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