Archive for the ‘Writings’ Category

In the House of the Law

June 15, 2019

In House of the Law in Osten on the border of the Bremid Empire, Gedreel paced back and forth. She was so anxious that she found herself practically shaking apart. The guards gave her the side eye and she decided to stay absolutely still. She briefly considered waiting out front but thought that might now look suspicious so she tried to hold it together. She had always been a good girl and she was rarely in a House of Law. She had been raised in the temple by the Order, a little sheltered maybe but walking the true path. She knew that she had done nothing wrong so why was she nervous? At least she was reasonably sure she was innocent.

She was in the middle of cataloging her every past action when Cherish strolled out from the holding cell area, escorted by another guard. Gedreel immediately forgot where she was and ran to Cherish and hugged her close.

“Oh, Cherish! I am so glad that you are alright,” she said and then paused. “You are alright, right?”

Cherish sighed but smiled. “I’m fine, Geddy,” she said. “I’m over the moon glad to see you but you didn’t have to come here for me.” She started to gently guide Gedreel from the building.

“Wait!” Gedreel said and stayed rooted to the spot. She held Cherish at arm’s length and inspected her thoroughly. Cherish had all of her fingers and toes, two legs, two arms, her tail, one blue eye, and one red eye. One of her horns was broken but Gedreel knew it had been that way when she met Cherish. Cherish refused to fix it no matter what Gedreel offered. Then Gedreel spotted the bruise just behind Cherish’s left ear. She gasped and gently laid her hand on it and healed her skin back to its usual crimson hue. She shot the guards a dirty look and she was about to say something nasty to them when Cherish pushed her outside.

“Relax Geddy,” Cherish said. “I’m fine.”

“But they hit you!” GEdreel yelled before suddenly realizing her loud volume. “They shouldn’t hit you.”

“On that point, we can both agree,” Cherish said. “And yet that’s what they do sometimes when they arrest people.”

“Why aren’t you angrier?” Gedreel asked. “I would be angry.”

“I was angry the first three times,” Cherish said. “After that, you figure out that it’s pointless to get angry when bitter will do just fine.”

“What were you even arrested for?” Gedreel asked.

“I was arrested for being a Tiefling, same as always,” Cherish said. “Same old song and dance.”

“But you were born that way,” Gedreel said. “Tiefling blood does not equate to automatic guilt.”

“I know that,” Cherish said. “and you know that but plenty of people can’t seem to grasp that.”

“But you were a member of the Queensguard of Deneia!” Gedreel said. “Your honor is beyond reproach.”

Cherish shook her head. “That’s not exactly a point in my favor in these small towns,” she said. “Being a bodyguard in a government controlled by my kind. Most tell me to just go back there.”

Gedreel gasped again and grabbed Cherish’s hand. “But you can’t go back there!” She said. “Your uncle said he would kill you!”

“They wouldn’t care, Geddy,” Cherish said. “I think you care enough for all of us who don’t care.”

“Last time we met, you said I care too much,” Gedreel said.

“I was wrong,” Cherish said. “We need people who care like you. I need people who care.”

“I do care!” Gedreel said. “You know I do.”

“Why are you here, Geddy?” Cherish asked. “Not that I’m complaining but how did you hear about my arrest? How did you know I was here?”

“Holy Lathander sent me a vision, a message to come and get you,” Gedreel said

“I didn’t know you got visions,” Cherish said. “You never got visions back in Deneia.”

“This was my first one,” Gedreel said, her eyes were bright and merry. “It was exciting.”

“Your first vision sent you to me?” Cherish asked. “Why? Why would Lathander send you to me?”

“I think that he means for us to be together for some purpose,” Gedreel said. “I think we’re meant to help people by defeating a great evil.”

“A great evil?” Cherish asked. “You I can understand but me? Really?”

“Yes,” Gedreel said. “Also I think Lathander has blessed my proposal of marriage.”

Cherish smirked. “Geddy! Are you proposing to me?”

Gedreel’s eyes widened and she blushed furiously. “I meant that to be a grander romantic gesture!”

“It was fine,” Cherish said with a smile. “Very romantic. Very you.”

Gedreel took a deep breath. “Cherish Westera Goldsong, we have known each other for so long and though our paths have pulled apart, fate and the gods above have brought us back together. I have thought of you every day that we were apart. Now that we are together again, I do not want to leave you ever again. Cherish will you–“

This was the point where Cherish kissed Gedreel. They kissed for a long, long time. They kissed until they had to come up for air. They smiled at each other and Cherish dragged Gedreel off to an inn to celebrate.

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The Nighthawk Pt. 2

June 8, 2019

“Don’t run. I mean ya no harm.” The voice said from no visible mouth whatsoever.

My response was a stunned silence with a renewed hawk-like watching of the puddle. I also might have definitely let loose a string of unrepeatable swear words. Alright, I definitely said the swear words. Meanwhile, the puddle was doing an awful lot of moving which looked disturbingly like it was animated by Ray Harryhausen. This is not the sort of thing that you expect to see on your office floor. The liquid coalesced into a blackened mess which might be interpreted as muscles and a skeleton. No skin seemed to be forthcoming but thankfully the thing slowly started to form clothes.

Imagine a blackened skeleton in a gray fuzzy sweater and brown corduroy pants. Now imagine that this delightful figure was four feet tall and was somehow both terrifying and adorable. That was what the creature who had just reverse-melted off my floor looked like. I had so many questions but my brain had put on the brakes at this point and I was already reaching for that old family revolver tucked into a holster by the small of my back.

“Lay off the gun, kid. I promise I won’t hurt ya.” The little black skeleton said.

“Did you just use a Brooklyn accent?”

“Good,” the Skeleton said. “You’re lookin’ at me without pissin’ yourself. I did live in Brooklyn for a long time. Actually since before you monkeys showed up. It was way different back then but that’s beside the point.”

I stayed leaning against the wall, hand near my gun. I never did trust easily. “What is the point, creepy skeleton man?”

“This is creepy?” The skeleton asked. “Your species is so close-minded.”

“You keep floating away from making an actual point. Why are you haunting my office?” I was getting annoyed quickly. At least annoyed was better than scared. I headed back toward my desk, making a wide berth around the skeleton. At least I could use the desk as cover if this thing went from David Lynch to David Cronenberg.

“Alright, alright,” the skeleton said. “I guess being timeless makes you less inclined to rush things. I guess your impatience is more or less a biological imperative. I don’t have really have a biology so I’m not really sure.” The thing’s eye holes tracked my movements. Every single moment.

“What are you?” I asked. It was probably rude and blunt but I was rattled. Sue me.

“I guess I’m a messenger of sorts in this situation. Of course, maybe you’re actually asking what sort of creature I am. I am a djinn.”

“I’ll bite. What’s a djinn?’ I asked, still wondering if I had drunk enough whiskey to black out. If this was real, I was glad for the calming effect of the alcohol.

“A djinn is basically a being of thought and emotion and magic. Very few of us actually hang out here in the real world but reality kind of grew on me so I visit every so often.” The skeleton gestured and a lit cigar formed in his hand and he began to smoke. I did not smell any smoke.

“What’s your name?” I sat down, my legs ached with released tension.

“Unpronounceable. People call me Mr. Black. That works well enough.”

“My name is John Redcross but you probably saw the name on the door. You said ‘people’. What people would talk to something like you?”

“I’ll forgive the bigotry you’ve got going on there,” Mr. Black said. “The people I talk to are mostly the Council and that brings me to why I’m here. Like I said, I brought you a message.”

“First, who’s this Council? If you have a message from them for me, I’d like to know who they are.” I reached for a pencil and a piece of paper if only to look professional if this was going to be some sort form of business meeting all of a sudden.

“Makes sense. The Council is the ruling party of the so-called supernatural world. A world, we’re aware you briefly experienced just about a year ago.”

My heart tightened in my chest and my gaze went to Harmony’s badge where it was framed on my wall. “So it was real.”

Mr. Black nodded. “Yeah, they’re real. The Nagloshi are some vicious sons of bitches. Whatever they did to her could not have been any good. That’s not why I’m here.” He gestured with the cigar a bit while he talked. The talking skeleton bit was starting to get less unnerving. I am not sure whether this acceptance was something positive or negative. Regardless, my enemy had a name now which made them chillingly more real but also more within the reach of my revenge.

Mr. Black spoke up again, filling the silence. “Earth to Detective Redcross, do you want to hear the message or not?”

“A creepy little skeleton muscles his way into my office with a message from some clandestine council of supernatural beings?” I asked. “Of course I want to hear the message.”

Mr. Black put out the cigar he had been smoking on the top of his shiny black skull and shrugged. “Alright then. The Council is aware that you have discovered a piece of our world. It’s what we call ‘piercing the veil’. Most people who pierce the veil either go crazy or the world thinks their crazy and things spiral from there. It’s only when a large number of people discover the truth at the same time that we have to worry.”

“So if they’re not worried about me then why send you to creep me out?” I asked.

“Again with the impatience and bigotry. They sent me here to hire you. There have been several deaths in the Woodland Heights area and we think a rogue faction is responsible.”

“Don’t you have your own cops?” I asked.

“We do but the case involves both mortal drugs and the supernatural,” Mr. Black said. “They feel that since you have pierced the veil and have experience with human crime, you might be better equipped to handle this. Also, if you’re not gonna go nuts, you might as well prove useful.”

“I still don’t understand anything about this. Frankly, I don’t know if I want to help a community that killed my partner and lost me my career.”

“Don’t go lumping the rest of us in with that one Nagloshi,” Mr. Black said holding his hands up in the universal sign of ‘we come in peace’. “We’re not all psycho predators. Just like any community, we have our good guys and bad guys. We’re offering you the chance to step inside our ranks and be a good guy. You don’t have to like us to do the job. In fact, you’ll probably be more objective if you remain skeptical.”

“Your council is afraid that if too many people die, you will be risking exposure,” I guessed.

“Obviously,” Mr. Black said. “I guess those are the kind of smarts that they’re banking on.” Even with no skin on his face, I could feel the sarcasm radiating off Mr. Black.

“If I do this, will I get information on these Nagloshi?” I asked.

“Officially, I should warn you that revenge is not the diplomatic sort of idea that will keep you alive in our world. Unofficially, you might discover a few things about the nasty buggers. I honestly don’t know where this case goes, I’m not psychic.”

“Where do I start? Usually, there’s a crime scene or a case file for me to look at. “

“Hold onta your hat, detective. I got what ya need right here. There’re no active crime scenes right now but I picked up this from the local station house.” He pulled a file folder out of thin air and held it out. I came around the desk and tentatively took it from his bony fingers and retreated back behind the desk.

The Nighthawk

June 1, 2019

(This was originally written in 2013 as part of NaNoWriMo.  I thought it was time to do something with it)

If this were a noir detective story then muted trumpets would be playing as I sipped whiskey with my feet on the desk.  There would be a haze of smoke in the room regardless of whether I am smoking or not. A leggy blonde or redhead would be cued up to enter in the next few minutes with some sob story.  For the record, this is not a noir detective movie. The room is in color and I quit smoking two years ago.  But the whiskey was spot on but only half a tumbler because I was just about to walk home for the day and the office was officially closed.

The private detective business had turned out to not be as glamorous as Humphrey Bogart advertised it.  Who knew that Hollywood did not, in fact, portray truth? I was stuck in this tiny basement office because I had been fired from my job as an actual detective for the police.  I worked narcotics with my partner, Harmony Hall, for years and we made a lot of busts and we received a lot of kudos from the big wigs.  I really believed that Harmony had been on track for a promotion.  She was going to get stuck with a desk job even though she always hated the idea.  At least, that’s what she said.

The good times ended when Harmony was killed during a stakeout gone horribly wrong.  Something came out of the shadows and tore Harmony and the crooks we had been tailing into shredded meat.  I call it a thing because I still do not know what it was.  I still cannot adequately explain my partner’s death.  I know that it was not human or anything that I had ever seen before.  I also know that the brass at the police station did not believe me when we got debriefed. What I do know is that they fired me or “let me go” for psychological reasons.  I feel that the only reason that I was not committed was that I eventually shut my mouth and agreed to walk away.

Harmony didn’t deserve to die and then get that horrible death swept under the carpet but I still didn’t know what to do about it. I don’t know if there is anything that anybody could have done about it.  I see that thing in my dreams.  It was all teeth, claws and sinewy shapes that made little sense. It stuck to the shadows and easily avoided shots from my service revolver. I had no experience hunting animals, especially ones intelligent and brutal enough to slaughter six drug dealers and one police officer and then slip away into the night without a trace.  How was there no forensics at the scene?

So now I was trying to make ends meet mostly by taking pictures of people cheating on their spouses.  It was the kind of thing that made me feel completely filthy but the landlady did not take reassuring smiles and good intentions as payment on the rent.  Some people are total hard asses when it comes to money. I was not prepared for the hustling up of clients or chasing them down and hassling them to pay me.  This job had quickly turned into a horrible headache but I had burned a lot of bridges by telling the truth.

But I still looked for that truth when I could.  In what little spare time I had, I scoured the news and the word on the street for anything weird.  I turned over whatever rocks I could find and poked my nose where I probably shouldn’t have.  I found some strange things that I could not really explain and honestly made me feel crazier.  I read through strange books on the weirdest subjects in search of something to explain.  A city is a strange place even without the supernatural elements that I thought that I had experienced.

The whiskey felt good going down in that sweet, sadistically masochistic sort of way.  Alcohol was dangerously seductive and there was a bad history in certain corners of my family.  Still, after a long week, it was much-needed anesthesia and that was good enough for the moment.  I was too restless.  I had spent too many days sitting in my car and watching motel rooms.  I felt like I wanted to do something but absolutely nobody had walked into my office today. Restlessness could become dangerous if I left it unchecked so I was just about to get up and go for a walk.

Of Course, that’s when the door to my office opened.  I had thought that I had locked that door and so I was about to look up and tell whoever that the office was closed.  To come back on Monday or never. Though, I did need something to do so maybe I wouldn’t send them away.  Then when I looked up they must have already left. If possible, I was both disappointed and relieved. They had left the door hanging open so I got up and closed it. I reached for my coat to just leave when some sort of smoke came in from under the door.  

At first, I thought it was a fire but the smoke was blowing under my door like it came out of a fog machine.  My church youth group had rented one when I was a teenager for a haunted house.  The memory was suddenly vivid. Whatever was going on, my fight or flight response must have been broken because I froze with one hand on my coat. I should have embarrassed that my first responder instincts had disappeared. I think part of the reason was that I could not smell any smoke.  I could not smell the smoke and I could not feel any heat or hear the crackle of flame.

With a strange, wet sound the cloud of smoke just suddenly dropped out of the air and condensed into a puddle on the floor.  As the guy who pays the rent, I started to properly freak out. I pressed myself to the wall and watched the puddle like a hawk with some sort of obsessive complex for watching puddles.  The puddle started to slide (or was it ooze?) across the floor toward my desk. I felt that if I followed it, I would be the guy in a John Carpenter movie who the audience was rolling their eyes at.  Maybe I should just bolt out of here and call the fire department. They wouldn’t believe me anyway. I wouldn’t believe me either.

Just as I was reaching for the door, fully willing to let the living puddle eat my damn coat, I heard a voice.  The voice came from the puddle. Of course, it did. With my luck, it would be a talking puddle.

The Tailors

May 25, 2019

When Lyda Penrose laid her hand on the boy’s head and cast Greater Restoration, she had expected the prince’s eyes to clear and maybe she would get a bewildered smile. Instead, as divinity channeled through her, the Prince’s flesh sizzled and his eyes went bright orange. Apparently, there was no disease in him to cure. The problem was much worse than that. At that point, the devil in the boy revealed itself and the rest was hellfire, blood, and chaos. In the melee, Cinda Karpon, Caleb Wolfspell, and Jo Penrose were lost, possibly caught or killed. Lyda, Maeve Penrose, and Ratha had made it out of the palace but only because Ratha had picked up the two sisters and run with them. The three of them found a cave to hide in as they caught their breaths.

“We have to go back for them!” Ratha yelled.

“We know,” Maeve said quietly. “But we need a plan.”

“We just can’t leave them back there!” Ratha yelled. “We’re the Tailors!” The rage that powered her looked like it was just about to explode again. She was dangerously close to losing control in a small, enclosed space.

“We know!” Lyda yelled, a rather uncharacteristic move for the young cleric. “Our sister is up there. Our friends are up there. We know.”

Maeve put her hand on Lyda’s shoulder gently. “Lyda’s right,” she said. “We need a plan. If you calm down, I think I might have one.” Both sisters watched as Ratha slowly calmed down, releasing that spirit of rage into the air.

“You really have a plan?” Lyda asked, turning back toward her older sister. She had remained cloistered in a temple for years but she had always thought of her older sisters and how much she looked up to them. Even when she found out one of them was a thief, she was still proud.

“Your surprise wounds me, sister,” Maeve said with a mock offended look. “I cased the palace.”

“You cased the palace?” Ratha asked.

“Yes,” Maeve said. “I case every building before we enter it if I can manage it. It’s purely for tactical purposes, of course.”

“I would never suspect wicked intentions, sister,” Lyda said. “You promised to reform for our little group. For the good of the realm.”

“My criminal days are behind me,” Maeve said, holding her hand up as a mimicry of the oath she had solemnly given her sisters a year earlier. “I only use my powers for good now. It’s your influence, naturally.”

“So what’s the plan?” Ratha asked, interrupting verbally and physically with her tall imposing form. She was getting excited again and that made the sisters a little nervous.

Lyda took a deep breath and held up a calming hand. “Relax and save your strength, Ratha,” she said. “If my studies have taught me anything, it has taught me that devils do not kill people outright. Devils like to corrupt if they can and only kill if they fail. If somebody is still useful, there is no wisdom in killing them.”

“And our friends can hang tough,” Maeve said. “I believe in them. We’ll drive the devils out and save our friends but we will do it together. To do that, we’ll need your rage focused for my plan to work.”

“Um,” Ratha said. “Of course but what do you need me to do?” She looked at Maeve with childlike wonder and it suddenly hit the sisters once again how young the huge woman was.

“When we reach the end of the tunnel, I need you to plow through whoever or whatever is in our way,” Maeve said. “We’ll back you up. If we can get to our friends, we will have a fighting chance. Who knows what else will be imprisoned, maybe some potential allies.”

“I can do that,” Ratha said. “I swear it.”

All three of them nodded. The question about what to do if their friends were already dead or turned was left unsaid. They could not afford to think about it much less voice it. They had been together as adventurers for a year and they were more of a family now. The three Penrose sisters had grown up together, grown apart, and then had come back together to save their hometown. Now, they were stronger than they had ever been before and they were not about to give up on each other now.

The three of them slowly climbed their way around the steep cliffs that surrounded the palace. They made their way to an ancient passage around the back of the palace walls that had been built in Elven times and long forgotten. There were five complicated locks for Maeve to pick but her training under The Scythe had prepared her for these sorts of moments. After a long tense time, she tripped the locks and Ratha yanked the doors open and they climbed in, grateful to be away from the cliffs and the ravine below. They made their way down the tunnel and as they reached the end of it, Ratha summoned the Stormlord’s spirit of rage once again and charged forward.

Wolfsong

April 26, 2019

Jenny held on tight as the sled rounded another bend in the trail. She checked her watch and saw that midnight was approaching. That checked out as it was very dark and she was pretty tired. The dogs looked like they could run forever and they probably could if Jenny let them. Still, Jenny thought that they should probably all get some rest even though none of the dogs looked like they wanted any. They pulled the sled along pretty fast considering the fresh snow on the trail. It had snowed that morning and it definitely showed. Eowyn, the lead dog, was probably finding the trail by smell alone and the other dogs and Jenny were just trusting that. She was so proud of the team for sticking together.

They crested a hill and Jenny caught sight of the cabin. She could tell that the dogs saw the cabin too because they sped up and ran harder toward it. Eowyn let out a little excited bark. Jenny reined in the team a little but really she was happy to let them expend that last bit of energy. They would probably be pretty antsy most of the night until they got going in the morning. As they got close, she threw on the sled brake and moved to unhitch the dogs so they could go about their business.

She went to the outhouse quickly to go about her own business and then came back to the cabin. She went to the back of the cabin and grabbed a bale of hay. She scattered it in front of the cabin so the dogs had something to sleep on. She pulled the rifle carefully from the sled and leaned it against the cabin. She went about starting a fire before feeding the dogs some frozen meat to gnaw on and grabbed herself an MRE. After she had eaten, she finally moved back to the sled to grab her guitar. She would never bring the guitar on an actual race but she was just going on a run to build team building.

She took a seat and started to play and sing. After a while. the dogs started to join in with the song. It was funny how the dogs would join in the song most of the time she played either out on the trail or back home. She originally thought they were complaining but over time, she felt they got the same thing out of it that Jenny did. It was good to sing together, relaxing after a hard day of travel.

She often wondered in moments like this at the trajectory her life had taken. She had originally gone to school for accounting years ago. Along the way, she had hit a wall and dropped out of college and then she had drifted. She had eventually ended up in Montana where she had volunteered at a kennel. From there she got a job as a handler for sled dogs and now she was a musher with a stake in the company. She could not have been happier if she planned it all. She especially enjoyed training the dogs but she lived for the races. The next race could never come soon enough.

In the middle of a verse, she thought that she had heard something out of place. She stopped singing and playing and the dogs stopped too with a little bit of confusion at the sudden stop. She saw their ears all prick up as she heard the baying and howling of wolves in the distance. She felt terror deep in her stomach and then felt its fingers creeping all over her body. She knew that she could not freeze so she forced herself to get up and grabbed the rifle. She had never fired it at a living thing but there was no time to think about that. She would protect her team and herself. This was the wild and normal rules were out the window.

There was a long silence as Jenny and the team watched the darkness for wolves. The wolves had gone silent as well which made Jenny even more nervous. It made it harder to track their movements. They could be anywhere. After a while of nothing happening, the dogs’ tension started to disappear. She watched them, knowing their senses were much better than hers and they would know danger earlier than she could. She trusted her team with all of her heart but she feared those wolves. Would they grow brave enough to charge in even with ten dogs and an open campfire? Anything was possible.

Finally, the silence was broken again by the wolves once again howling in the distance. It sounded like they had not moved after all. The dogs started to howl in response and Jenny found herself smiling at them. They were making friends while Jenny had been ready to face down enemies. She watched as the dogs howled at the wolves and then looked down as Eowyn drew closer. Eowyn nudged the fallen guitar and looked up at Jenny. Jenny slowly put the rifle down and picked the guitar up and started to play again. She started to sing with the wolves and the dogs and for a moment in time, they were all bonded together.

(This story is inspired by following Blair Braverman on twitter.  She is a musher for BraverMountain and she and her team competed in their first Iditarod this year.  She recently published a great essay for Outside Magazine which can be found here.)

(Written on 4/24/19)

Voice of an Angel

April 25, 2019

Corbin was laying face down in the mud. He had a feeling that he should be having trouble breathing but he was perfectly calm. Actually, as he thought about it, he should have been breathing period, right? He tried to take a deep breath and found that his heart was just not in it. He started to panic but found that he was perfectly alright. Still, he could not move. He could not see anything through the mud in his face. He tried to move and his muscles would not even tense. He was starting to wonder if something was seriously wrong. He tried to retrace his steps in his memory to see where things might have gone wrong.

He found that he could not remember much. He certainly remembered getting ready for a battle. But who was he fighting against? Had it been daytime? Had it been nighttime? He had remembered visiting his family just before going to the front lines. He had spent the morning eating breakfast with his little sisters. He remembered laughing with them and he remembered them begging him not to go. He remembered telling them that it would be alright. He remembered telling the same to his mother and there was no belief in her eyes. He remembered having an honest discussion with his father for the first time in his life. He remembered that his father was proud of him. He remembered seeing tears in his father’s eyes for the first time in his life. Then it was all blank.

Suddenly, he could hear something. It was really soft at first but he could tell that it was a woman’s voice. As it got closer, he could tell that it was beautiful singing. It was so beautiful, he could feel it touch his heart. He had heard all of his life about music’s ability to move you but now he knew what they meant. He felt the music in every part of his body and then he was able to stand up. He reached up to brush off the mud but there was no mud there. He opened his eyes and saw a woman with fiery red and gold hair walking toward him. Her eyes lit up when she saw Corbin. That was not just a figure of speech. They literally flared to life like two burning torches for a just a moment before she more purposefully strode toward him. He thought for a moment about running but something inside said that was a bad idea. Maybe it was the matching red and gold wings extending from her shoulders.

“Hail mortal!” She called out. “You’ve responded to my song. That makes you special.”

“Do you know what happened here?” Corbin asked. “I’m kind of out of it.”

“Understandable, Corbin Armstrong,” The woman said. “You have been through quite an ordeal.”

“What ordeal?” Corbin asked.

“Well, it has something to do with all of these bodies, don’t you think?” the woman asked. She gestured to the field around them and Corbin suddenly noticed all of the bodies in armor lying in the mood and pools of blood. He started to feel fear and anger rising up from within and that old battle instinct was starting to take hold. He looked up and his eyes caught the woman’s eyes and he instantly calmed down. “That’s better,” she said.

“Who are you?” Corbin asked. “What are you?”

“My name is Hertha,” the woman said. “I’m an angel. I’m sent after battles to help with special souls.”

“Special souls?” Corbin asked, running his hand through his hair. “Wait, you mean like dead people? Then why can I see you?”

“I think this should answer your question,” Hertha said. She reached down and rolled one of the bodies over and Corbin saw his own face, nearly obscured by mud. He staggered backward for a moment.

“I’m dead!?” Corbin shouted. “How?” He searched his mind and he could not find any memories of his death or the battle at all. It troubled him deeply.

“You don’t remember for a reason,” Hertha said. “You don’t need to be tethered to that moment. But I suppose a warrior deserves to know.” She bent down and tilted Corbin’s body’s head back and revealed a huge cut that was no longer bleeding.

“So I’m dead,” Corbin said. With the finality of seeing the wound, he began to calm down a bit. There was no going back now. “What happens now?” He felt rattled, barely keeping it together.

“Well,” Hertha said. “When I said that you are a special soul, I meant it. You were a valorous warrior for much of your life. You came alive in battle and itched to return to it in times of peace. In a natural life, you would have grown old and settled into a peaceful state. Now, you have an unquiet soul. You have a good soul but it is still wild.”

“So where do I go?” Corbin said. “Please don’t send me to the Abyss. I don’t belong there.”

“You don’t,” Hertha said with a soft laugh. “You would have been a true beast in life to deserve that place. You were fair in life and lived by an admirable code of honor. We have a special place in the Heavens for you. I think you might have heard of Ysgard?”

“The domain of Bahamut and Mala? The Eternal Battle?” Corbin asked.

“The very same,” Hertha said. “There are also regular hunts and great feasts. When you have tired of battle, you can travel freely throughout all of the Heavens. Can you accept those terms?”

“I suppose that’s the best deal I’m going to get,” Corbin said. “I accept.”

“So, will you join us in battle?” Hertha asked.

“I’m ready,” Corbin said. “Let’s fight.”

(Written on 4/22/19)

An Ode Remembered

April 17, 2019

“Read that last bit back to me, Halas,” Darden said, sipping the last of his glass of blackwine.

Halas finished writing and then took a deep breath. “Of course, sir,” he said. “You said ‘ And so the song of the sea was now safely in the hands of the library in <>.”

“Great,” Darden said. “Another of my stories written down for posterity. You can go home now. Take the rest of the roast with you.”

“Yes, sir,” Halas said, setting his book aside on the desk and wiping the nib of his pen clean and setting it aside too. He stood up. “Have a good night.”

“You too, Halas,” Darden said. “And stop calling me ‘sir’.” He smiled as Halas shrugged and shuffled out of the room, headed to the kitchen to pick up the remains of the roast to take home with him. Darden slumped in his chair, relaxing as he stared into the fire in his fireplace.

Dictating stories of his adventures with Halas always stirred up all sorts of memories for Darden. Some of those memories were very good and some of them were very bad and everywhere in between. In his youth, he had been inspired to leave home instead of following in the family business. He had become a wandering bard, touring the country and performing for money and he had seen a lot. At some point, he had unlocked the magic that music contained thanks to the teachings of an elder bard far to the north. He had become an adventurer then, helping a group of like-minded individuals fight evil and rescue the common man. He had had a long and successful career and he had made his fortune. In fact, he had given away more than he had earned and he still found himself rich.

He remembered how delighted he had been when he discovered that his voice could hurt and heal, weaken and strengthen. He had traveled with a wizard gnome, a drow thief, a human sorceress, a half-orc bruiser, and a tiefling swordswoman. He had made friends with these people which had made up for his lonely childhood. All along the journey, he had found many of the pieces he had felt missing early on. He grew into a stronger person, a hero. He had found love and lost it. Now in his declining years, he was trying to get it all down on paper with Halas’ help. He did not want his stories to disappear from the world when he disappeared from the world. He hated these morose moments in front of the fire. Perhaps it was time to go to bed. There was a knock at the door.

“Halas?” Darden called out. “Why did you knock? You know you’re always welcome.”

A familiar elven face opened the door. “I am not Halas,” the man said. “So I thought I should knock.”

Darden’s heart nearly stopped. “Kalavas!?” He shouted. “Is it really you?”

“It is, old friend,” Kalavas said. “I hope it is not too late for a visit. I was passing through and I heard you had a house in this town.”

“Friend?” Darden asked. “Of course, you’re welcome but I would have thought you were done with me.”

“Done with you?” Kalavas asked, his laughter was genuine. “You were the one who led to my awakening.”

“I mean, you’re not wrong,” Darden said. “I did lead the way for the wizard that broke the spell on you but…”

“Yes?” Kalavas asked, his eyes curious and amused. “Are you torturing yourself?”

“I could have led somebody to you long before I did,” Darden said. “Somebody could have released the spell years earlier. I visited you and sang to you instead of helping you.”

“Is that all?” Kalavas asked. “I should have visited decades ago. You were a child, you can hardly be blamed for your romantic notions.”

“Romantic notions?” Darden asked. “What do you mean?”

“I still remember the songs you sang to me when I was petrified,” Kalavas said. “I remember many of the words you told me.”

“You could hear all of that?” Darden asked.

“Sort of,” Kalavas said. “It was much like I was in a dream.”

“So you knew I had a crush on you,” Darden said. It was not phrased as a question but he still eyed Kalavas closely.

“I did not want to mention it when I woke up,” Kalavas said. “I thought it might be too awkward and I have no preference for men.”

“I guess I should thank you,” Darden said. “You look exactly the same as back then.”

“We elves age slowly,” Kalavas said. “I wish you could live as long as I will.”

“Me too,” Darden said. “But it is nice to have a proper ending.”

“You had a good life,” Kalavas said. “I have heard some stories.”

Darden smiled. “I did have a good life. Soon you will be able to read all about it.”

Kalavas smiled. “I’m glad. You did a lot of good in the world. I hope your stories can inspire others to do just as good.”

“I hope they do better,” Darden said. “We should always be better than we were before.”

“That is a noble sentiment,” Kalavas said. “I suppose that is something the younger races are better at. Improving.”

“Why don’t you stay the night?” Darden asked. “Have a glass of wine with me.” He turned to grab the bottle but when he turned back, Kalavas was nowhere in sight.

Had he imagined the whole thing? Had he simply had too much blackwine and it turned his own memories against him? Perhaps. Or perhaps Kalavas did not want to linger. Darden had a feeling he would never get the answer to his questions. Still, the experience left him feeling lighter. It also might make for a good page or two for his books. He would think on it when he was clear-headed in the morning.

(Written on 4/13/19)

Jamming

April 11, 2019

Kath sat against the cool stone of the mini storage place on Elm Street. In the late afternoon, the sun had shifted so that she was now sitting in the shade. A kind stranger had gotten her a cool drink so she felt revitalized, ready to keep playing her guitar for the people. Her case was once again open in front of her, already jangling from the morning’s tips. She had pocketed some to encourage people to keep donating to her cause. The morning had been alright but she needed to keep going.

She was tooling her way through an acoustic version of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. It had attracted some attention but it was a bit too hot out for anyone to linger to listen. The best she got was a few dollar bills, some quarters, some thumbs up, and one very good set of metal horns. It was not bad for a workday in the summer. She wondered how long she would have to play before taking shelter from the heat once again. She hoped she could go the distance.

A piece of paper fell into her case as she was starting into a Cat Stevens medley she had put together. The piece of paper was not green. Kath stopped playing and, out of curiosity, she leaned over to pick it up. She unfolded the sheet and saw that it was sheet music. She was a little confused. She looked up and saw a tall, thin man with wiry hair and big glasses. Before Kath could even open her mouth, the man spoke.

“Can you sight read?” the man asked.

“I can,” Kath said patiently. “I’m actually classically trained.”

“Are you very proficient?” the man asked, narrowing his eyes as he scrutinized her.

“Again, I’m classically trained,” Kath said. “I’m pretty good if I say so myself.”

“This needs to be played with absolutely perfect precision,” the man said. “No mistakes. ‘Pretty good’ is not good enough.”

“Did you want me to play this?” Kath asked. “What is it?”

“Only if you are sufficiently proficient,” the man said. “You’re not a spy, are you?”

“Who are you?” Kath asked, laughing a little bit.

“I don’t see how that matters,” the man said. “Can you play it? Perfectly?”

“My name is Kath,” Kath said and stuck her hand out to shake hands. “Some people call me Kath Kat. And you are?”

“Can you play the song or not?” The man asked.

Kath paused for a moment and stared at the man. “And you are?”

There was another long pause.

“Fine,” the man said. “You may call me Edgar.”

“Nice to meet you, Edgar,” Kath said. “So you want me to play this song? Is it special?”

“More than you realize,” Edgar said, pushing his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.

“Did you write it?” Kath asked.

Edgar’s eyes narrowed again. “You never answered whether or not you are a spy.”

“I’m a music major,” Kath said. “and I’m not a spy.”

“Fair enough,” Edgar said. “I suppose whatever you said I could not verify your claim. Things have progressed and I must test my hypothesis. Before you ask, it is too complicated to explain.”

“Fair enough,” Kath echoed. “So should I play the song now?”

“Begin the experiment,” Edgar said. “Whenever you are ready, of course.”

Kath grinned and shook her head before taking a deep breath. She scanned the notes on the page and looked for any surprises or tricky bits. It was all surprises and tricky bits. This was unlike any music she had ever played before. For a moment, she wondered if she was proficient enough. She shook it off and arranged her fingers and began to play. She gave her all into and out of her guitar came strangely beautiful discordant music. Each note reverberated through her being and the air around them. She could almost feel the pressure waves from each and every note.

She wondered how other people on the street might be reacting to the weird music. She looked up and saw Edgar hurriedly writing on a pad of paper he had fished out from a pocket. He looked excited. She looked to her right and saw a tall shadowy being walking on two legs, Edgar stepped out of its way, snapping pictures of it with his phone. She saw a bird with two sets of wings swoop by, plucking a cockroach off the side of the building across the street. The building seemed to be covered with cockroaches. To her left was another group of those shadowy figures. The landscape around her seemed to flicker and change like static on a television set. She reached the bottom of the page and stopped playing and it all stopped. It was just a normal city street again.

“What the hell was that?” Kath asked. She stood up and looked around wildly.

“The other dimension,” Edgar said. “The experiment worked!”

“Um,” Kath said. “What does that mean?”

“Please come back to my lab,” Edgar said. “We have to keep going.”

“Sure,” Kath said. “I guess I can’t just walk away from that. I’m inviting a friend, though. No offense.”

“None taken,” Edgar said. “They’re not a spy, are they?”

Kath shook her head with a laugh. “No.”

The Filí

April 6, 2019

Conor woke up on the bus with a start. He instinctively clutched his guitar closer, a habit he had learned from sleeping in shelters and on the street. When you had something that could earn you money, you did not let it out of your sight and you never let go of it. Of course, those days were long gone now. Instead of falling into a restless sleep on a cot or a stack of cardboard boxes, he had fallen asleep on the band’s comfortable tour bus. As lead singer, he had his own little room on the bus. He had his own house by the beach back in California. Life had changed for the better thanks to music. He had gone from being without family or friends to being part of a band, a new family. He tried not to take it for granted. There was a knock at the door and he hurriedly pulled on a t-shirt and swept his hair back.

“Come on in,” Conor said. “I’m decent.”

The door opened and Ella stepped inside. The band’s drummer was a rainbow of color, as usual, multi-colored hair and flashy clothes. “Decent?” She asked. “I suppose you are fairly decent for a rock star.”

“I do my best,” Conor said. “What can I do for you? Did you read through that notebook yet?”

“It’s always work with you,” Marta said. “You need to rest while you can before we get to the next town.”

“I don’t know how long this ride is going to last, Marta,” Conor said. “I need to get everything I can from it.”

“The ride is going to last at least as long as it takes to get some rest once in a while,” Marta said.

“So why are you here?” Conor asked. “If it’s not work then it means it’s not time for sound check yet either.”

“It’s mail call, you ass,” Marta said with a laugh and she tossed an envelope onto Conor’s bed. “Phil’s office is still going through the latest batch of fan mail but they forwarded this along first.”

Conor picked up the envelope which was already unsealed but he had gotten used to that. “Why’s that?” he asked. “What makes this one so special?”

“I don’t read your mail, jerk,” Marta said with a shake of her head. “But Phil said it was from family.” She shrugged.

“Family?” Conor asked and he looked at the front of the envelope. “Oh, it’s another one of these.” He smiled and tossed the envelope back onto the bed.

“One of what?” Marta asked. “Now you have me curious. Besides, you’ve never talked to us about family.”

“Because I don’t have a family,” Conor said. “I’m an orphan. I never really had anyone at least not for long.”

“I’m confused,” Marta said. “Who is this cousin then?”

Conor rolled his eyes. “She claims that she’s my cousin,” he said. “She spotted one of my tattoos on a magazine cover and swears that it could only mean that we’re family. It’s crazy.”

“But don’t you wonder if she’s right?” Marta asked. “You could connect with actual blood after all this time?”

Conor shrugged. “When I first read one of her letters I worried that she was only after fame and fortune,” he said. “Then after reading on, I realized that she’s crazy.”

“Crazy?” Marta asked. “Our lives are already crazy. What kind of stuff is in those letters?” Her face became concerned. Their band had not exactly achieved superstar status but they definitely dealt with their share of craziness.

Conor picked the envelope again and this time he slid the letter out of its envelope. The writing was done with a calligrapher’s hand much unlike the usual crazies who had wild or disturbing handwriting. At least, most of them did. “Get this,” he said. “She says the tattoo signifies an old, old group called the Filí.”

“How old?” Marta asked.

“Ancient,” Conor said. “And Irish. They traveled around and fought monsters. It sounded really badass when I first read it.”

“That doesn’t really sound like you,” Marta said. “The closest we have to that is Luke but that’s only in his video games.”

“Well, here’s the thing that fits,” Conor said. “The Filí was a group of traveling poets and musicians. They apparently used that as a cover to fight everything that went bump in the night.”

“Then why don’t we know about monsters?” Marta asked. “It seems like that would be front page news at some point.”

“The Filí used to sing about monsters and crazy stuff all the time,” Conor said.

“How metal,” Marta said with a grin. She threw up metal horns with both hands.

“Except nobody believed them,” Conor said. “So they just kept singing and people enjoyed the tales, few knowing that the supernatural things in the songs were real.”

“Weird,” Marta said. “So how did they fight monsters?” She leaned against the wall, completely interested now.

“They used magic,” Conor said. “and they drew that magic from music. Their voices and instruments could summon elemental forces and great power. I’m really not sure exactly how it was supposed to work. In a pinch, they just hit the monsters with something blunt or sharp.”

“So you’re saying there’s a chance that you could do magic?” Marta said a little too loudly. “If there’s even a chance of that, don’t you think she’s worth talking to?”

“I don’t know,” Conor said. “She said all sorts of things that sounded like they came from a fantasy paperback. She said I would see strange things that other people missed.”

“Have you seen anything?” Marta asked.

“Only what I would expect from sleep deprivation and malnutrition from eating out of a dumpster,” Conor said. “I think it’s all some sort of angle she’s working.”

“What’s that on the bottom of that letter?” Marta asked. “It looks like music.”

Conor held it up and looked at it and shrugged. “It is music,” he said. “It’s labeled ‘song of awakening’. Whatever that means.”

“Well, whatever I guess,” Marta said. “We should probably get something to eat before sound check. Put the guitar down and come with me and we’ll grab the rest of the band.”

“Sure,” Conor said and he laid the guitar on his bed. He stuffed the letter into his back pocket and followed Marta out of the bus.

(Written 3/28/19)

The Dragonsong

April 4, 2019

Akhona paced in the hall, the marble echoing under each of his steps, the claws of his feet clicking against the stone. He was nervous, far more nervous than he had been since he could remember. In fact, he did not really ever remember being nervous. He was part of the third generation which meant that he had never known any other world than this one. He liked his life, it was fairly peaceful. He was in training to be a knight like his uncle, a great warrior who protected the peace. He worried that that peace was now in danger. Which is why he was pacing. Finally, the door opened and his uncle, Mpendulo, stepped out into the hall looking very perturbed.  Akhona paused for a moment but he could not hold in his excitement.

“Uncle,” Akhona said. “What is going on? The palace is abuzz with rumors.  Please tell me.” He perhaps got too close to his uncle and had to be pushed back to give some personal space.

“Walk with me, nephew,” Mpendulo said and gestured for Akhona to follow before he started walking. Akhona hurried to keep up. “I apologize for having to exclude you from the meeting, you are not yet allowed to sit in the room during such conferences.”

“I know, uncle,” Akhona said. “I am still in training.” He lowered his eyes to the floor. He knew his place even if he longed for more responsibility, more acknowledgment. He was caught between respect and excitement.

“Yes, my young squire,” his uncle said. “And yet, I am not forbidden to fill you in on what I know.” Akhona looked up with a slow smile and met Mpendulo’s smiling eyes.

“Is that so?” Akhona asked, easily keeping pace with his uncle. The question was tentative as his uncle did sometimes test Akhona by dangling a learning opportunity in front of him.

“It is up to a knight’s discretion to pass on information that might help in their mission,” Mpendulo said. “As my squire, I need you to know what I know in order to keep the peace. If you live in ignorance, you are of no use to me.”

“As you say, uncle,” Akhona said. “My eyes are your eyes, my claws are your claws. My mind is receptive to your teaching.”

“Thank you,” Mpendulo said. “It relieves me some to hear you say so. As golden dragons, we are often given the hardest tasks but there is nobody I trust more than family.” The two of them stepped out onto one of the palace’s balconies. With the additional space, the two of them changed shape from two-legged beings to their full dragon forms. Mpendulo paused and looked out over the beautiful land of Dragonia. It was a rich yet varied land due to the many energies of its denizens. Swamps, mountains, plains, forests, and more had been gifted to their kind to live in.

“Please tell me everything, uncle,” Akhona said. “The anticipation is killing me.”

Mpendulo laughed at that, savoring knowing and holding the power in the situation for a moment. “There is a rumor,” Mpendulo said. “It is a very believable rumor. A strong rumor that a faction is preparing the Dragonsong.”

“The Dragonsong!?” Akhona asked. “That is forbidden! So this faction wants to open the gate wide? They want to return to the land of elves?”

“Yes,” Mpendulo said. “At least, that is the easy assumption. As you know, many of our kind are content with living in this new land. However, others desire to return to our ancestral lands for conquest. Some have managed to slip back there on their own but such travelers are few and far between. With the Dragonsong, they could march on a world that is no longer ours.”

“But those who want to go are undesirables,” Akhona said. “Would it not be better to see them go?”

“We made an ancient promise,” Mpendulo said. “We must make sure they also keep that promise in order to make sure the elves and other races stay safe. It’s their world now. The elves, the humans, the gnomes, and so on.”

“I suppose you’re right, uncle,” Akhona said, backpedaling from his statement and puffing out his chest. “It is our duty and we must do it. We should do it. So how are they meant to do it? What is our first step?”

“Well, the first thing we know is that the song can only be sung from the throat of a small one,” Mpendulo said. “A halfling.”

“I’ve seen those things in books,” Akhona said with a shrug. “I cannot imagine how they would convince a halfling to open the gate.”

“Indeed. The rumor is that the black dragons are abducting halflings to study,” Mpendulo said. “They are taking them by force. Once they have figured out the halflings, I suppose they would find one among them who could change their form to suit their needs.”

“The ability to use our shape change ability to that level is rare, no?” Akhona asked.

“Yes,” Mpendulo said. “Incredibly rare. I’m almost more nervous that the black dragons have somebody with that much ability. I suppose anything is possible in this brave new world but that is for the scholars to figure out. Your sister perhaps.”

“Where do we start?” Akhona asked, both nervous and excited at the same time. He was still a young dragon, merely a hundred years old.

“We find isolated black dragons and we start trying to get information out of them,” Mpendulo said. “We work our way up the chain and we find whoever is doing this.”

Akhona cracked his knuckles and flexed his claws. “So we do this by force?” There was very real excitement in his eyes.

Mpendulo chuckled. “If we have to,” he said. “As always, if we can use or words instead, we will. We cannot be quick to strike when we can persuade or intimidate.”

Akhona took a deep, centering breath and tried not to be disappointed. “You are right as always, uncle,” he said.

Mpendulo actually fully laughed this time. “Not always, nephew,” he said.

(Written 3/26/19)


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