Archive for the ‘Writings’ Category

Magical Earth Defenders Pt. 2

May 20, 2017

The Flame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aah!” She yelled. “Stupid cat!”

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

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

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

“Who is we?” Lennon asked.

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

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

Tooth and Claw

May 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Turn around.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let it come. I am ready.”

X Marks the Spot

April 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow,” Oni said. “So what now?”

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

Radio

April 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Spooky Joe,” Joe said.

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

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

“What the hell does that mean?”

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

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

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

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

“Death.”

“I am the one who died, Caleb.”

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

“Explain then.”

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

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

“How the hell do you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Comforting.”

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

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

“Just go on?” Caleb asked.

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

“I’m sorry, Joe,” Caleb said.

The light had gone out. Dead air.

The King

April 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One last cry for justice, hmm?”

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

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

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

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

“How about the King?”

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

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

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

Electrical Malfunction

April 5, 2017

Once again, I woke up before my alarm could go off. This time it was an hour before my alarm was set for seven in the morning. I tried to close my eyes again but sleep did not come. My eyes were tired and my brain was fuzzy. I had plenty of work to get done so I guessed that I might as well get to it instead of wasting any more time in bed. It was at that moment that I figured out that my eyes were not the only part of me that were tired. My limbs were heavy and refused to work at first. Great, my implants were on the fritz again. I hate mornings.

I struggled to reach for the diagnostic panel in the headboard but it was slow going. I was born with a physical defect that made it hard to gather enough energy to get through the day. Physical movement was a chore as a kid mostly because eating and breathing became difficult. My folks paid for the implants to fix the problem and pretty soon I was running and playing with the other kids with no problem. The implants were first generation so I never got to the level of an Olympic runner. (The implants were banned from the games on the day I got them anyway). They also were not stable twenty years later. It was not fatal but it was annoying.

I pressed the button on the headboard and a blue light came on on my wrist as the devices wirelessly connected. I groaned and turned my head to look at the screen as the thing fired up. First generation technology was so slow. When the display finally came to life, it showed that the implants were only running at half power. I pressed the button to reboot the system and felt the implants shut off. My limbs became like lead and my breathing slowed. It felt like I had some sort of double pneumonia that made it nearly impossible to move. If the implants failed to reboot, a message would be sent for assistance.

I hoped they would reboot, I did not have the money for a medtech technician to come out. Besides, the things were so old now that most technicians had to look up a manual before they could do much work on it. I realized that this might take a while if I was unlucky. I should have signaled the office of the possibility of me getting in late. For once, it was a good thing I woke up extra early. I had two cases open to investigate and I had to get downtown to do it.

A while back the police force had become too overburdened after it was pretty much gutted to get rid of all the corruption. As they rebuilt the system, they restructured new investigative units who were made up of unarmed civilians. I had gotten in on the new unit when it was getting started and I enjoyed the work. Most of the work was done digitally but there were also new drones used for gathering witness statements and doing forensic work. It was a brave new world and I did not want to risk losing the job by being late.

The screen above my head let out a pinging noise and I was suddenly able to breathe deeply. I used that to breathe out a sigh of relief. I sat up slowly as the extra oxygen made me light-headed for a moment. I tested out my arms and they moved fine. My legs kept steady under me as I stood up. The screen showed a hundred percent efficiency so it was time to relax for a minute in the shower before I got dressed. I made a mental note to get the tech looked at the next time I got a little time off to see one. I had a feeling it was going to be another one of those days.

Redcross Pt. 8

March 25, 2017

Redcross

“A metaphorical key?” Marion asked. She pushed her glasses up in front of her eyes. “We are practical people, we deal in things we can observe. We leave metaphor to the poets.”

“I’m not so sure, Doctor,” Warren said. “I always enjoyed a little poetry before bed.” He smiled and Sarah could not help but smile too.

“Maybe not metaphorical, but maybe not a key you can hold in your hand,” Sarah said.

“That sounds like a riddle. What is a key you cannot hold, Sheriff?” Warren asked with a smile. Marion shuddered at that smile and Sarah was instantly reminded that Marion and Warren were feuding and that most people found Warren creepy.

“Please explain yourself, Sarah,” Marion said. “It is getting very late and I need the comfort of my own bed. What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about secret messages,” Sarah said. “Back in the big city, my friend Suzette and I passed secret messages. They were only visible at night. It was a special ink.”

“Interesting but what does that mean to us now. Sarah?” Marion asked. Sarah knew she was getting impatient.

“I think I get what the Sheriff is getting at,” Waren said. He accented the word ‘sheriff’ to remind the good doctor that she should be using the correct honorific. “Let my height be of use for once.” He reached up to the window and pulled the thick shutters open. Moonlight flooded the room from the small window there. Sarah’s stomach tightened as Warren pulled the sheet off the body. All three of them gasped as the moonlight touched the skin and images started to glow.

“How did you know that would happen?” Marion asked.

“I am as surprised as you are, Doctor,” Sarah said. “The special ink we used is nothing like this. That glow is actually kind of beautiful.”

“Yes, I suppose it is,” Marion said. She leaned in to study the glowing markings more closely. Sarah was struck by how close the woman could get to a dead body that was really starting to smell. “Some sort of tattoo. Well, a lot of them anyway and they used a special ink.” She looked over her shoulder at Warren and Sarah. “It’s a working hypothesis anyway.”

“Seems like a good one, I think,” Warren said. “As good as any I can think of at the moment, at least.”

The three of them stood there trying to make sense of the images on the skin. Sarah had no idea what she was looking at. The glowing kind of made the edges of the images fuzzy which made it hard to tell what the symbols were or what they meant. Sarah looked at Warren and Marion and she guessed the two of them were having no more luck with the symbols. It was not like she fully expected the two of them to use expertise outside of their field to solve the mystery but they were the smartest people Sarah knew. Just as she was about to give in and tell them to call it a night, Sarah saw something.

“Hey look,” she said. “There’s that pesky key.” Sarah pointed at an image that looked like an old key on the man’s forearm. As she did, the image started to glow brighter and then it started to move. Before Warren could pull Sarah’s hand away, the image itself reared up from the skin and caught Sarah’s finger. She stared in absolute shock as the thing snaked its way up her finger. The sensation was like ants crawling just under her skin. She was afraid to move. Finally, the key centered itself on her palm and the sensation stopped.

“What the hell was that?!” Sarah shouted and Warren put a comforting hand on her shoulder. It helped but only a little bit.

“I would like to revise my hypothesis,” Marion managed to get out. “I have limited experience with tattoos but I do not think they can do that. Are you alright, Sarah?”

“I think so,” Sarah said. “It didn’t hurt and it seems to have stopped but now I have this thing on my hand.”

“And this man was killed for having the key,” Warren said. “That puts a target on your back, Sheriff.”

“Don’t scare the girl, Warren,” Marion said.

“My dad didn’t raise me to scare easy,” Sarah said. “If anybody is going to have the key, it should be the Sheriff. We Redcrosses can take care of ourselves.” She reached down and touched the butt of her gun for a little bit of comfort. There was somebody or something out there that wanted this glowing key.

“Well, that is definitely true. I didn’t mean to imply that you’re defenseless, Sheriff.” Marion used the correct honorific. It sent a clear message.

“We are just worried because there is still so much we don’t know, Sheriff,” Warren said. “This looks like magic.”

“No such thing,” Marion said.

“I’m not so sure about that, Doctor,” Sarah said. “I just stole a dead man’s tattoo.”

“It’s late. We should look into this again tomorrow,” Warren said. He looked tired. Marion looked very tired too. Sarah could only guess at how tired she looked too.

“I must insist that you stay with me tonight, Sheriff,” Marion said. “That way I can observe you if this ‘magic’ affects your health adversely.”

“I won’t argue, Marion. I think we’re all out of our league here,” Sarah said.

 

 

Hurricane Hak

March 18, 2017

Hak ran through the trees as quickly as he could. At age twelve, he was already over five feet tall and very athletic but that was not strange for a half-orc. He would have had an easy time running except for the tree roots underfoot and the arrows in Hak’s back. Now that his seemingly bottomless rage had run out, Hak could feel the blood dripping down his back even as he ran. He could not stop running or the slavers would catch him again. Two people had already died in the escape attempt, Hak had to make this count or he would join them or he would be back in chains. Both were pretty much the same option.

It had been a long year since Hak had seen the tribe that had raised him. Some of them were half-orcs and some of them were human but they lived together in relative harmony. They hunted together and fought off powerful enemies together. It was here that Hak had learned how to use the rage his blood gave him to his advantage. He missed the grip of the enormous sword he had earned in combat on his sixth birthday. The slavers took the tribe by surprise, using powerful sleep spells to steal away some of the younger members. Hak was shipped far away and put to work. He lived his life in chains now but that was over now if he could just keep running.

As he ran past a tree he reached up and pulled a large branch off of it and carried it with him. If they caught up to him, he would make them pay for every lash of the whip and every boot to his ribs. It almost made him hope they would catch up, even if it would probably mean his death. He was a rabid dog. If he was cornered, he would kill anybody who came into reach. The trees fell away and he was in suddenly in the open which filled his stomach with anticipation. It would not be long now. His heart fell at the sight in front of him. It was a cliff and beyond that was the sea. Hak had run the wrong way.

The men and women who had been following slowed to a jog, forming a semi-circle to make sure Hak could not get away. Hak raised the branch and swung it a few times, showing them that he meant business. He backed almost to the edge of the cliff and growled at the slavers. He tried to access that rage again but it had been depleted. He was just so tired but he would not give up no matter what. A dwarf with a battle ax charged and Hak swung as hard as he could. The branch broke a little on the dwarf’s head, sending the slaver stumbling away. Hak laughed wildly, his eyes wide open.

The tiefling woman to the dwarf’s right did not take such chances. She aimed a crossbow and fired it into Hak’s shoulder. There was a terrible moment when Hak fell to one knee and he felt they were going to take him alive. He tried to push himself back to his feet but he lost his balance. Time slowed down as he realized he was falling over the edge. He could see the disappointed faces of the slavers. He could see the dwarf already yelling at the woman for firing her crossbow. Then they were gone and Hak was alone, falling parallel to the rocky cliff face. At least the slavers had lost. Then came the water and sweet oblivion.

The light came again and Hak held his arms in front of his face. There was the sound of seagulls and the crashing of waves. He realized that the swaying he was feeling was real and not just from his recent blood loss. Though the sun hurt, Hak dared to open his eyes anyway. He was on a ship on what looked like the ocean. Standing over him was a woman with cloth strips tied over her eyes. She smiled in relief as he moved to sit up even though he let out a grunt as he did. She walked down the length of the ship, the ship’s crew took little notice as they went about their duties.

“So you’re finally awake, are ye?” A man with a long beard said. He walked with purpose and authority and Hak knew he must be in charge. He was a human but he was not an ordinary one.

“I am awake. How–?” Hak asked.

“How did you get here?” The man asked. “We fished you out of the ocean. You’re lucky we recruited a cleric a while ago.”

“Lucky,” Hak said. He looked up and could not see the cliff anywhere. “Very lucky. Thank you.”

“We didn’t save you for free. We could use a big lad like you,” The man said.

Hak tensed, remembering how the slavers had put him to work. “You could, huh?”

“Yes. For pay, of course,” the man said with a smile. “You would follow my orders but no more chains and no more whips. What do you think?”

“I have a choice?” Hak asked. He could not hide his surprise.

“Every person in the world has a choice, lad. What are you going to do with yours?”

Hak looked the man in the eye for a long moment. “I will follow you. See what the ocean has to offer,” Hak said at last.

“Good,” the man said. “You look like you could use a drink. Then we’ll see about putting you to work. I’m Captain Trystan but most people call me The Shark. What do we call you?”

“I am Hak.”

The man grinned and patted Hak on the shoulder. “Hak the Hurricane. I like it.”

Bron’s March

February 25, 2017

Bron had traveled quite a distance by then. The rage at his clan still burned deep in his heart and he never hesitated to unleash that anger. Creatures died as he swung his great ax. He used every part of them but more out of necessity than saving the environment. He thrilled at the new challenges each animal presented. His blood surged with each kill and sometimes he lost a day or two pursuing a target that temporarily got away. He did not care, the Witch had sent him in a direction. There was no true time limit.

Prey beasts became boring. There are only so many ways to skin a deer. Bears were more fun. Sometimes he would drop his great ax and just wrestle one of them. Finishing a bear off with his bare hands was difficult but satisfying. It felt like more of a fair fight, not that it mattered. He even got the drop on an owlbear once. The battle had been a close one but Bron had been victorious and he had consumed the beast as he healed the next two days.

By chance, he stumbled onto a robbery one day. He had not expected it. Neither had the robbers or the young woman standing on the roof of the carriage that was getting robbed. She had clearly noticed Bron first and her expression confused the robbers for the moment.

“Monster!” The woman shouted. Her eyes went wide as she turned completely away from the robbers.

She fired a bolt from her crossbow and Bron barely managed to get his arm up to block the shot. The sting of the bolt pissed Bron off. He lunged for the carriage in a blind rage but the robbers were already there in the way with their swords. They were actually defending the carriage they were trying to rob. The robbers put up a good fight. It was three against one but Bron barely felt their blows. The last robber died as Bron brought his ax down onto her neck. He thought about taking the head as a trophy but she just was not good enough to keep.

He looked up at the woman whose hands were shaking as she tried to load the crossbow. Bron slapped the crossbow aside and started to climb the carriage. She did not even run. In some ways, Bron respected that. It did not stop him from putting his hands around her neck. She made a little noise as he started to squeeze.

As he strangled her, he heard nothing but silence at first. Then he heard whimpering from inside. He looked to the woman’s right and saw the body of a slain ranger. The girl he was strangling was dressed as nobility.  A mistake had been made.  There were no warriors left here. He let go of her neck with a grunt. She gasped and turned a little less blue.

“No challenge,” Bron grumbled and jumped down from the carriage.

“You certainly get messy,” The witch said as she stepped from behind the carriage. Bron could still not see her face.

“None of this blood is mine,” Bron said. The remark was matter of fact and brief as ever.

“I imagine that’s true,” She said. “You have carved yourself a little path. How are you feeling?”

“I want more challenge,” Bron said. He stared hard at the dark shadow beneath the Witch’s hood.

“Patience,” The witch said. The word brought a growl from Bron’s throat. “Head to Neverwinter. The challenge you seek want starts there.”

“What do I want with a city?” Bron asked. He had born in the wild. He had never even been in a city before.

“Go and find out. Unless you think I am just smoke and mirrors,” The Witch said with a smile.

“What’s a mirror?” Bron said without a hint of humor in his voice.

The Witch laughed and slowly faded away.

Hendry Hawkwood

February 11, 2017

The Baron Dran and his men had come into town one gray morning. Hendry was just a boy then and he did not understand at first that there was a new law in town. He did not immediately see the bad signs but he saw that his parents were worried. The Baron had a very nice house built as his headquarters but he and his men spent most of their time in the local tavern, The Green Lady. There was plenty of grumbling early on, but nobody dared to raise a hand to stop them. When they sent word summoning Hendry to their impromptu court at the Green Lady, he could see in his parent’s faces that they did not want him to go. They did not speak out and so Hendry had to go.

Hendry was surprised that the Baron was not much older than himself. He tried to keep the surprise off of his face but he was not sure if he managed it. The smoke was thick in the place so perhaps they could not see anyway.

“What is your name, boy?” The Baron asked. His voice was arrogant, made more so by the closeness of their age and his choice of words.

“Hendrick, sir,” Hendry said.

“You’re a farmer’s son, right?” The Baron asked. He was not even really looking at Hendry which was incredibly annoying but Hendry kept his mouth shut about it.

“I am proud to be a farmer’s son, sir,” Hendry replied.

“Not anymore,” the Baron said. He gestured and one of his men held out a shovel toward Hendrick. Hendrick grasped it and pulled it close with growing confusion. “You are now a gravedigger. I have a feeling that this village will need one before I am through.”

Hendry’s eyes went wide at the implications of that statement but Dran’s men were already pushing him out of the tavern. Their laughter shook him to his core.

* * *

“Why would you do such a thing?!” Karina yelled as she shoved things into a pack.

“The Baron’s men killed my brother. I had to dig his grave! Those men had it coming,” Hendry replied. He was still holding the bloody sword he had seized. He had seen red and before he even knew what he was doing, he had murdered two of Dran’s men. He was still breathing hard even as he watched Karina pack. The two men had started to push him around and he had just snapped and stolen one of their swords. He lashed out, slashing them to pieces in a moment.

“We have to get you away from here,” Karina said.

“I can’t leave,” Hendry said. He dropped the sword and it clattered on the floor.

“They will kill you if they catch you,” Karina said. “I will watch out for the rest of your family. I promise.” Karina was a good ranger and the best archer that Hendry knew.

“I cannot let him rule here any further,” Hendry said.

“What are you going to do? Wave your shovel at him?” Karina asked. “You got lucky with those two earlier.”

Hendry sighed. “I guess you’re right.”

“Come on, I have the best place to send you.”

* * *

Hendry stepped out of the barracks of the Battle Arts Academy. He breathed in the fresh air, as he hoisted the pack on his back onto the horse that would take him from that place. He slid a shovel into a loop he had tied onto the saddle. It was two years since he had left his village behind. He heard footsteps from behind him.

“You and that shovel,” Caleb said. “It sat by your bed for the last two years.”

“Just a reminder of the past,” Hendry said with a smile. “A reminder that I will not suffer a bully.”

“Hero type,” Caleb said with a smile. “I guess you will be out there fighting the good fight now?”

“Yes. It is time for me to move on,” Hendry said. “I will keep improving and one day I will make things right.”

“Whatever that means. I’ll miss you.”

“You are a great friend, Caleb. I promise we’ll see each other again,” Hendry said.

“We’d better,” Caleb said with a laugh. “You owe me after that last game of liar’s dice.”

“Hopefully you’ve forgotten by the time we see each other again,” Hendry said. He held his hand out to possibly his best friend in the world. Unless, of course, Karina was still alive somewhere. There was little news of the state of his village. The last he had heard, the Baron had been forced to flee by an errant group of adventurers. He felt a little cheated at his chance for revenge. Caleb shook his hand and brought him back to the present and Hendry smiled awkwardly.

“I’m sure I’ll never forget. Until we meet again.”

“Until we meet again.” Hendry climbed up onto the horse and started down the road toward an uncertain future.


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