Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’
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.”
I am from Baltimore, Maryland. I am pretty sure I have mentioned this over and over at this point but it always bears repeating because I am proud to call the city my home. I was born, raised and currently reside in the city after an extended stay in New Jersey. So there are certain things that happen when you grow up in Baltimore. A lot of people watch Orioles games, watch Ravens games or go to the Senator Theater. What you definitely do as a kid in Baltimore is you hear the name Edgar Allen Poe a lot and you read and listen to The Raven a lot. The man was inescapable in Baltimore since he was a fixture there in the years before his death. He is buried in the downtown area and there was a long, mysterious tradition surrounding his gravesite that captivated our imaginations. In fact, my senior prom was held in the church that is attached to the small graveyard where his grave rests. And yet, it took reviewing The Raven (2012) to realize that today 10/7/2016 is the anniversary of his death.
Last year I reviewed The Abominable Doctor Phibes and I briefly talked about Vincent Price. Vincent Price is a legend. He has an instantly recognizable voice that has been imitated but never truly replicated. A lot of people go deep and rich when they are trying to be scary. Sometimes actors will make their voice raspy and full of hisses and grating sounds to be scary. Price had a slightly high pitched voice that normally would be innocuous without the acting talent behind him. The force of his personality can be felt in every word and the importance of his words is clear in every single tone. Horror is difficult because the smallest thing can make things seem silly and it sucks the fear right out of you. Older horror movies can suffer from this. However, a lot of the earlier horror movies drew power from using the principle of less is more. A lot of their performances were more subtle because they knew that the ideas themselves could be scary enough. It is not the only way to go about it and it is not necessarily better but it is different from a lot of the big budget films that come out now.
Vincent Price begins the movie by reciting part of the famous poem and, admittedly, the movie could have ended right after he was finished. Few people can recite horror monologues like Mr. Price did. My mind goes back to the terrifying monologue he did as a cold open on The Muppet Show. He has a way of building tension out of nothing and creating an urgency in my gut. Of course, the original poem is about a student longing for his deceased love while falling into madness while talking to a raven. In this, the protagonist is a former sorcerer who is tasked with turning the Raven back to human form. The title character is played by the legendary Peter Lorre who was probably most famous for messing with Humphrey Bogart characters. The two are joined by another horror legend in Boris Karloff who was in a ton of stuff but most famously he played Frankenstein. (Both the Monster and the Doctor in different movies). Karloff is always super creepy. His looks alone are enough to be menacing but his voice just adds to the feeling. Of all people, Jack Nicholson shows up as well. Rounding out the cast are actresses Hazel Court and Olive Sturgess.
The movie is certainly a long way from the dark and romantic poem full of longing and madness. There are plenty of horror elements to the movie. There is a little body horror, mind control and the living dead and these moments have more weight because they are surrounded by lighter stuff. The 1960s saw a peculiar movement that inverted the usual values of what made something “good” or “art”. This was the camp movement which used a certain kind of comic acting to parody more serious ventures. This movie came out shortly before the Addams Family and The Munsters premiered which utilized traditional horror elements in more comic subplots. Of course, this is not strange since Abbot and Costello did it fifteen years earlier. I am more than willing to see the funny side of Halloween since laughing at Death is the only way we can get by sometimes. The movie did a great job mixing a few horror elements in with heavy fantasy elements and plenty of comedy. While the jokes are funny, there is an undercurrent of spookiness that definitely gives me a good Halloween feeling.
Overall, this was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. While it was not a very scary movie, it was definitely suffused with the same spirit that lives in Halloween. I really had no idea what to expect from this movie since I knew the poem was not an hour and a half long. There is only so much you can stretch that original but brilliant poem and I am glad they did not attempt it. Instead, they introduced an original fantasy story that also homages the original poem just enough to be respectful. The ladies are mostly used as props but when they get a chance to act, you can see that they gave it all they had with few opportunities. Peter Lorre provides a lot of funny lines which I understand were mostly improvised. Nicholson was not great but he definitely got better with age. Boris Karloff is manipulative and politely creepy and I really liked his character. Vincent Price is very likable in this and he has unmistakeable charm. The thing was put together by legendary Roger Corman who definitely embraced camp and Richard Matheson who has had a prolific career. I definitely recommend this if you are in the mood for something a little less scary this year.
Sann looked out over the crowd and idly wondered how many of them were guilty. Walking through the marketplace just being eaten by their sins. They might not even realize they were being consumed. They might walk around without a care in the world that their morality was forfeit. Then there were the ones with the shifty eyes and crooked, wary smiles. The obviously guilty. So obvious that even they realized and shrank away from sight when you looked directly at them. They were the easy ones.
Of course, the whole marketplace was guilty. The whole marketplace was guilty because everybody was guilty. Everybody born under the sun was guilty of something. The King had once stated that this belief is what made Sann a great executioner. No hesitation, no remorse. The King’s tone had not indicated that this was a positive trait. Sann had to agree with the King on that point. If he executed every last person in the world, Sann would have to execute himself last. Of course, he would do so without hesitation.
It was the third day of the Grand Festival in Cammaratta and Sann was bored already. He had no heart for festivities and so he only wanted to remain on duty during the festival. Unfortunately, during the Cammaratta Grand Festival, there was a moratorium on executions. Not that there were many executions in a normal day but having guaranteed none was torture. There was no difference between being given a vacation and being forbidden from doing his job. No death was a big thing to ask for Sann. He did not hunger to kill but it gave his life structure.
So, Sann was sitting in a high place at Cammaratta’s largest marketplace. He scanned the crowd for the visibly guilty. The place was teeming with citizens of Cammaratta and other places in Altiria and many travelers from outside Altiria’s borders. He had to see their crime before he could punish them. No killing was allowed but bodily injuries could be very instructive. For that, Sann carried a long bow. In fact, it was close to double the length of a normal longbow. Its distance was unparalleled. For a more personal touch, he had a broad scimitar he had gotten imported from the southern continent. It could be very brutal and just the sight of it dropped crime rates.
Of course, there were always exceptions to every rule. One of those exceptions was illegally grasping an apple off of cart some distance away. There was obvious intent to steal. Before the man could pivot his feet to run, Sann had drawn back his bow. He let the arrow fly and watched and he watched the arrow hit the man’s hand, just missing the apple. The shrill, wounded cry he let out was thanks enough for Sann doing his duty. He watched the man sink to the ground. Two little field mouse guards scurried across the marketplace to retrieve the prisoner. Sann smiled proudly as the crowd acted with nervous dread and horror.
Sann turned to grab another arrow from the bucket behind him but froze instead. There were two stern-looking guards standing very close behind him. Too close.
“Stand away,” Sann barked, “that was a clean strike! My target will live. For now.” He added the last as an afterthought.
“We’re here on behalf of the throne. Collect your things and come with us.” The blond one said.
“Not unless I am given a good reason,” Sann said and moved to reach for another arrow anyway.
“The crown has a job for you.” The red-haired woman said.
“A job, you say? That is more interesting,” Sann said with a tiny smirk. “Fine. Lead on.” Sann picked up his weapons and started to follow the guards, noticing they kept their distance from him.
The two guards were silent as they walked toward the palace. They could remain silent but they had said so much already. They had been vague in their statements but they had been careful to use the correct pronouns. They had called it the crown and the throne which were meaningless terms. They referred to inanimate objects and not people. Those words could mean anyone with authority from the King all the way down to the smallest sniveling official. Sann normally only took his orders from the King and nobody used euphemisms instead of referring to the King. Most people felt that orders from the King were an honor and would never stop using that word. Something was strange and Sann wanted to find out what it was before refusing these new orders.
He wondered what had happened to the King. If he was dead, perhaps he had been murdered. Killing the King was the worst crime in the land. The idea excited Sann almost far too much. His heart began to beat faster at the thought of somebody guilty of regicide. The crime would potentially make that person the guiltiest person that Sann had ever been given. Killing that person or persons would feel better than any he had killed before. It was an outrageous thought. The thought brought such pleasure that Sann knew that it must not be true. The King was merely away on business or incapacitated. Nothing truly good ever happened to Sann and he guessed that nothing ever would. He would die, his work of killing all the guilty people would remain unfulfilled.
The smoke cleared as Sarah walked toward the head of the mine. She had only been out here the one time before, shortly after her father had died and she had gotten the job of sheriff. She had ridden out to the mine but it was severely boarded up and those boards had been very secure. She had been satisfied that there would be no sneaking into the mine, not even by curious little children. She had no idea why anybody would try to blow the thing open. Everyone had told her that the thing had dried up a long time ago, longer than anybody could remember. At that point, the town had all but withered but somehow the smaller population thrived without it.
The mine was still smoking as Sarah approached but the smoke was not stinging her eyes anymore and she could breathe easy again. There were wood shards all over the ground and Sarah kicked them aside. If there were nails, she sure as hell did not want them going through her boots. She looked up as the smoke cleared and she saw that the boards had all been broken away like ribs broken away when gutting a deer. Sarah thought there should have been an opening in the rock. There was no such opening. The rock face was dark and glossy. She looked back and Simmons was standing there, his rifle still in hand. He gave her a sheepish smile.
“I’m sorry, Sheriff Redcross. I got curious and had to see what the fuss was all about.” Simmons said, taking some round-framed glasses from his pocket and putting them on.
“Careful of the debris, Preacher,” Sarah said. He had already left his post, he might as well see what there was to see.
“Have you ever seen anything like this, Mr. Simmons?” Sarah asked. She brushed some soot and dust from the surface of the wall. It fell away in a little cloud.
“No, I definitely have not. Am I mistaken or is there some sort of writing here?” He asked.
“What?” Sarah asked. She looked closer at the black, glossy surface and there was definitely something carved there. Actually, the whole thing was carved with something that was not writing or at least was not writing that Sarah recognized. She found herself shaking her head in confusion but realized that might be confusing. “There is something carved there but it’s not English. I don’t know what it is, Preacher.”
“It’s a mystery, Sheriff. I wish I knew which language it is. I could try and find out for you if you want.” Simmons said. He got even closer to squint at the carvings.
“What do you mean? How would you do it, Pastor Simmons?” Sarah asked. She was intrigued. She had never really seen Simmons do anything besides drink and attend to his ministerial duties. She had no idea what his qualifications for translating mysterious writings.
“I have a couple trunks full of books. I can order more. I have plenty of time between services.” Simmons said with a smile. “I love a good mystery too.”
“You’re just full of surprises today, Preacher. First, you prove yourself a crack shot and now a scholar. Are you sure you’re just a simple pastor from Lochiel?”
“Last I checked. Though I have been many places before there and though I am still young, I have lived quite a life.” He replied.
“Roy Simmons, I’ll have to keep my eye on you,” Sarah said with a smile. Though she wondered if she wasn’t missing something about him. “I would appreciate your help with this. They wanted this for some reason and we have to find out why.”
“Well, I guess I’m at your service, Sheriff,” Simmons said. He had shouldered his rifle and was scribbling a few notes in a small pad of paper.
“Listen, Roy, can I count on you keeping this a secret?” Sarah asked.
“Why, Sheriff Redcross, I thought you swore to fight for truth and justice,” Simmons said with a mocking smile.
“Don’t sermonize me, Preacher. Sometimes truth takes a backseat to justice when I have to worry about keeping my town safe,” Sarah said. She walked past Roy and headed toward the gap in the rocks. Simmons followed behind her, putting his little notebook away.
As they turned the corner, the first thing they noticed was that the body was gone. Sarah cursed and spit on the ground with feeling. She had not heard a single sound from the area around the area of the body. She looked over at Simmons who looked embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, Sheriff. My curiosity lost us a large piece of evidence,” He said.
“Don’t worry, Preacher. I’ll solve this one way or another. Let’s just get back to town before something else tries to kill us.” Sarah said. She headed for her horse with a really bad feeling in her stomach.
May and Makoto were on their fifth house by now and had moved pretty far down the street. This was good because it meant they were being pretty efficient. Unfortunately, it also meant that there was probably no success on find a lead yet. Felix did not know Makoto’s capabilities but her confidence and wisdom beyond her age bespoke of something Legendary. Besides, May and Ren not only vouched for her but also deferred to her even though she was half their age. That was impressive.
Even after their discussion, Jun was still tense and pensive as she stared out the window. Felix was relaxed. Back at Sub-Hopkins, he had found his best success when he was relaxed but ready to act. You had to take moments of calm and pleasure when they came. A crossword puzzle, a drink at the bar or just sitting in the back of a car on a warm, Osaka afternoon. If you dwelled on what was coming you would go insane.
Of course, moments of calm never last forever. As Felix looked over to check on May and Makoto, a bear of a man leaped from a tree branch above them. He swung a giant sword as he fell but his swing was opposed and blocked by May’s upward swing of her own sword. Even as the sound rang through the neighborhood, Makoto drove her staff into the man’s ribs. This is when that calm moment truly exploded into chaos.
Felix watched as Jun unlatched her door and then kicked it hard with both feet. The force swung the door out into the path of a man who had been running down the street with several other black-armored people. Jun slid out of the car and dropped the now-winded man with one punch. Felix could see that she had brass knuckles on each hand. She started to fight as best she could but there were a lot of tough-looking people surrounding her.
Of course, Makoto showed up pretty quickly to help even the odds. She swung her staff, punishing her targets with hard impacts. May was back where she had been, fighting the big guy and a few normal-sized thugs. Felix noticed that May had added a sheath to her sword which blunted her sword. He was kind of glad that this probably would not be a blood bath. These guys did not look like Legends even if they outnumbered Makoto’s little circle.
Felix watched as May swung her sword like a baseball bat as hard as she could. The sword slammed into three chests and three thugs went flying through a wooden fence. Makoto’s staff whirled around her and struck sensitive spots. Jun planted fists and feet into anyone within reach and ran to reach those who were not. Arrows whizzed from somewhere and pinned people down by their clothes. This made them easy pickings for the three fighting ladies.
In the end, the neighborhood was covered in still and hopefully unconscious bodies. As soon as the danger had passed, Felix immediately slipped out of the car and started to check vital signs. Ren came down from wherever he had secreted himself carrying his bow and everyone started to search the perimeter and watch everybody on the ground. All the men and women who had just attacked them were all armored in black, built like MMA fighters and there was some kind of logo on their armor. Nobody recognized it immediately.
“Well, Officer Jun, it looks like you will be useful after all,” Makoto said, nudging a woman with her foot.
“My father trained me well but thank you for the compliment,” Jun said. Her brass knuckles glowed for a moment and shrank to single rings on her ring fingers.
“Don’t be modest, Jun,” May said. “You really were amazing. Sentinel training must be hard but it sure is effective.” She slid her sword and sheath impossibly into a slot at her hip and it was just completely gone.
“Arigato, May-san. You and Ren are very skilled at fighting as well.” Jun answered.
“Eh. I mostly learned from anime and video games but thank you.” May said. Jun laughed with disbelief but Felix knew it was probably somewhat true. May grinned over at Felix as if she was telepathic and Felix laughed too. She then turned and hugged her husband briefly.
“Lion cub,” Makoto said abruptly although this time the nickname was a little more light-hearted. “Call in these hooligans to your father. We will be taking three of them with us.” There was no room for argument in her orders.
“Hai!” Jun said in agreement. “If we are taking prisoners, you will probably need these.” She tossed Makoto a bag of cable ties and then pulled out a walkie-talkie to contact her father’s office.
“Doctor Graham,” Makoto yelled,”How are the patients?”
“I’m impressed. Not a single one of them is deceased. There’s really nothing they can’t sleep off. I even healed the worst of it.” Felix said.
“May the universe save us from good samaritans,” Makoto said with a sardonic smirk.
It had been important that Roland make the train to Three Forks. Maybe the word important was understating things a little. It as actually imperative that he make the train to Three Forks and specifically the one he was on right at the moment. That was what the old stranger had told him. Be on the ten thirty to Three Forks and the meeting would take place at the appointed time. The seat Roland found faced another set of seats. Roland sat next to the window so he could see the scrubland drift by outside.
Roland remembered being excited by the train when he was a kid. The sounds and sights of a steam train were way more impressive back then. Watching those behemoths pulling into the station with an ear-splitting whistle and a belly-rumbling chug-a-chug was pretty much life changing. That had been back in the Carolinas where the scenery had been greener and arguably more beautiful. Roland knew, however, that many found the endless plains of Texas plenty beautiful. Roland just missed the green.
The tall thin woman was sitting opposite Roland before he could register that there had been any movement in the train car. Needless to say, he was startled. He was not used to these sorts of dealings and it showed on his face with half a dozen nervous tics. He fought to make his face neutral but he also knew it was too late for that. His shaky, bumbling fingers grabbed the strange coin from his pocket. He slapped the coin down on the seat next to him a little too hard.
“I invoke a truce for a uh,” Roland began, “So we can parley.” The word parley returning to his memory just in time for him to say it.
The woman or the thing masquerading as a woman smiled. Her thin lips moved in a parody of human emotion. “I accept your truce. For parley.” She said, putting a mocking emphasis on the word parley.
“Good. That’s good,” Roland said. It sounded like he had convinced himself that this was true.
“What was it that you wanted to discuss? I don’t particularly want to talk to you. We don’t particularly need to talk to you. So talk and maybe it will amuse us to listen.” The things said.
“I have been sent here to see if anything can be done for Three Forks,” Roland said.
“Our people are fairly confident we can get the job done. No interference will stop us,” The thing said. It sipped from a teacup that had definitely not been there before.
“So you’ll burn it to the ground and you won’t even care,” Roland said.
“If that were a question, the answer would be yes,” It said with another parody smile.
“And what if you don’t make it to Three Forks?” Roland asked. He pulled the pistol from its holster behind his back and placed it on the seat beside him where the coin had been earlier. The gun was made of strange looking metal and oak wood. The barrel and handle had both been carved with strangely beautiful symbols that somebody had poured silver into. The thing across from Roland hissed and for a moment, it looked less like a human woman.
“Where did you get that?” The thing demanded urgently.
“Oh this? Some guy sold it to me through the window two stations back. He took my last five dollars.” Roland said. He studied the thing, interested in its suddenly unsettled reaction.
“How did somebody get hold of one of the Six? This cannot be. This will do.” The thing said, more to itself than Roland. Since Roland did not understand the question, he did not know the answer and, therefore he remained silent.
“You have not seen the last of me. I will see you in Three Forks. We will see what happens there.” It said.
Roland grabbed the gun and fired. The thing’s belly exploded and black ichor splashed all over the seat and window. The thing looked shocked, its eyes impossibly wide and its mouth soundlessly moving like a fish. Roland grinned and leaned in closer and fired again, point blank in the thing’s face and even more black fluid splashed everywhere. Roland jerked back to avoid getting any on him.
Three Forks was approaching on the horizon. Roland had been sure that its fate had hinged on this meeting. The thing was dead and Roland hoped that would tip the scales in their favor. However, maybe that was not the mission he was actually sent on. Maybe that strange old man had meant for Roland to fight for Three Forks himself. He checked the half full box of bullets in his coat pocket. As long as there was a single bullet left and breath in his lungs, those things would not get Three Forks.
Fearal had grown up living in Omata. It was a rough and tumble life in the small town that was only seen as a crossroads on the way to Cammarata. While the port town of Cammarata was seen as sunny and beautiful, Omata often looked dusty and dried out and far too hot. People who visited Omata rarely wanted to stay longer than a night and even then they rarely wanted to do that. The inn was rarely half full and most of those guests were caravans transporting goods to the markets of Cammarata or the ports. Fearal had even helped feed horses and move boxes for coins when he was a little boy.
Now he had just reached thirty years of age and he had never really done much. He had never left Omata during his entire life. The jewel of Altiria, the port city of Cammarata was not too far down the road but he had never been there. He had no reason to go to the big city where merchants tried to steal your money before the thieves could get at it. He had grown into a strong and honorable man. Sure, he was the first to admit that he was not the smartest man but honor went a long way. It had gotten him chosen by the town to be local constable and he was dedicated to keeping the law in Omata.
Fearal started his day on the outskirts of town, every morning. There he always got breakfast and strong coffee at the home of Pella. She was a beautiful woman who farmed up a meager existence near town. Mornings with Pella were easy and a comfort since Fearal was not a morning person. After Pella, he made his rounds to all the farms that surrounded the town. The only thing Omata had going for it besides shipping was livestock. There were three cattle farms and two horse farms and they all worked together in an alliance. Still, it was good to check on them because there were sometimes disagreements.
There had been no disagreements that morning. All of the horsemen and all of the cattlemen and women were playing nice which was always a blessing. Fearal made his way back into town and walked down the main street. Of course, that was also the only street in town but that was barely worth mentioning. He checked in on the general store and it was empty except for a single sleeping shopgirl. Fearal then headed over to the inn. The inn was generally where all the trouble was if there was going to be trouble. He always visited the inn second to last as it could very well be the hardest part of his day. He walked into the place with a sense of dread in his chest.
“I don’t have much time today, Murio. Please tell me there aren’t any drunks to toss or arguments to settle. I don’t think I even have time to make sure one of your bills are paid.” Fearal said as he walked across the floor. The inn’s main room was empty and sound echoed back from behind the front desk.
“Isn’t that your job, Constable?” Murio asked. He had inherited the inn from his mother and, like her, he accepted no nonsense.
“My job isn’t so strictly defined. You know I do what needs to be done,” Fearal said.
“Funny you should mention jobs that need to be done,” Murio said with a smile.
“Oh please tell me it’s not a drunk.”
“One of my guests has boxes at the warehouse. He said that there was a commotion over there last night. Did you hear of anything?” Murio asked.
“You know I sleep like a stone, Murio. I didn’t hear any commotion but that doesn’t mean anything.”
“So can you check it out?” Murio asked.
“Of course. It’s probably nothing but a rat,” Fearal answered.
“Do you need me to get the blacksmith’s boy so you can have some backup?” Murio asked with a smirk.
Fearal gave the innkeeper a rude gesture and headed off toward the warehouse. He had a rusty sword handed down to him from the previous constable. He had never had to use it this whole time and he was sure today would be no different. He grabbed the sliding door on the warehouse and shoved it aside. The unrelenting sun shined into the warehouse, illuminating the shelves and boxes. And yet, there was something in the corner that Fearal could not make out. Fearal advanced and something made him pull his sword this time. He found himself trembling and not knowing why.
“Did you really think a sword would help you deal with us, mortal?” A woman spoke from the darkness.
“Who’s there!?” Fearal called out. He pointed the sword at the woman as she came out of the shadows. There was still something huge behind her that Fearal just couldn’t see.
“It is not important for you to learn my name. It will do you no good,” She said.
“You need to leave,” Fearal said but his voice was far too shaky to be authoritative.
“Oh, we’re not going anywhere. We used to rule this place and we will gain the power to do so again,” The woman said again. “You are not important enough to know my name but I will introduce you to my husband. His name is Balor and the world will feel his gaze.”
The thing in the corner stepped into the light. It was nine feet tall and it had three eyes. The two that were open were cold and emotionless as they looked down at Fearal who was paralyzed by fear. Balor walked forward, step by plodding step until it came to a stop. Slowly the third eye started to open and Fearal could feel the sun’s heat become more unbearable. The heat was rising fast and Fearal heard the sword clatter to the floor without remembering he had dropped it. Too late, he realized that the heat was not coming from the sun but from the eye of Balor and Fearal screamed as he burst into flames. Balor marched toward Omata.
The car ride was pretty quiet. Nobody really wanted to talk in front of the newcomer. Jun was nice enough and Felix felt kind of bad for her. Just a little while ago he was the newcomer and he felt he had gotten a little flak from Makoto. Jun getting the silent treatment and all the objections in front of her father was probably too much. Still, everybody was briefed and on the same page so there was not much to talk about.
They arrived in the neighborhood of the first group of addresses. Members of the Tengu were ordinary aware people and these were ordinary houses and apartments. Sure they might have an extra room or two not accounted for on the building plans but even that was pretty ordinary. The car pulled over and stopped by the curb and May shut the engine off. May was the first person to move toward her door but Makoto stopped her.
“You are with me, May-san. We shall go door to door and we find a lead no matter what. Ren, you are on overwatch. Let nobody see you. I know that you can accomplish this. The Doctor and the Lion Cub will stay put here in the car until further notice.” Makoto said. She pulled some sort of short iron rod from the center console. She turned around to look at Felix and Jun in the backseat but her eyes were unfocused as if she was looking at something else.
“Excuse me, Makoto. I am supposed to help you gather intelligence and eliminate this threat from Osaka. Would I not be of more use knocking on doors? Perhaps with the Doctor or I could pair with you.” Jun asked. She was very rigid and direct. This was obviously behavior that had been drilled into her by Sentinel training. In contrast, Makoto and Ren were stoic but somehow more relaxed. Felix felt that he and May were the same, able to be formal but generally causal people. That may have come from an American upbringing.
“You are still in uniform, Sargent. I do not want to scare anyone.” Makoto said and climbed out of the car without another word.
“Besides, we may need you as back up.” May said. “Just sit tight. I’m sure we’ll need you eventually. Keep her company, cousin.” Then May slipped out of the car herself. Ren was already just gone and Felix had not noticed at all.
Jun looked miffed although a stronger word might have been needed. It was harder for Felix to tell with somebody who kept their face so neutral. They sat on opposite sides of the back seat with Jun on the street side. Down the street, Felix could see May and Makoto walking up to the first door. From what he had seen of the list, it looked like there were quite a few houses in this area.
“So, you’re usually in the middle of the action?” Felix asked.
“No.” Jun answered. “My father has made sure that if I am not filing then I am on safe but prominent assignments and details. ” She sighed and watched out the window, here eyes following May and Makoto’s movements.
“I’m used to only being there just after the damage has been done.” Felix said.
“You are a healer, correct?” Jun asked.
Felix nodded. “I am strictly a healer. I have no training in combat and, so far, no experience in investigation.”
“No experience? No experience at all?” Jun asked with a very slight but still existent smile.
“Well, I am an avid reader. I used to sell comic books but once I became aware I started to read about Legends and aware history as well. I’ve learned a lot but mostly because I love a good story. I’ve learned a lot but mostly because I love a good story.”
“They are not all good stories. Some of them are very boring.” Jun said.
“Not really the case for Legends or at least that’s what I’m finding so far.”
“How long have you been a Legend?”
“Less than a week. I worked in a hospital in a pocket dimension below Baltimore before this.”
“What was it like? Being called?”
“Everything was suddenly very clear. I felt a huge surge of power and I was able to pull my patient back from the edge of death. I just knew what I was supposed to do.”
“I am envious.” Jun said softly. It looked like she was a little embarrassed by it.
“It can be a burden too. You can’t have a normal life.” Felix said. He was not upset about that, it was just a truth of the life.
“Who wants a normal life anyway?” Jun asked and Felix found himself smiling.
“Fair enough.” Felix said.
Koriana woke up and groaned at the wooden floor below her. The last thing she remembered was trying to drag her boyfriend out of a bar in South Lucroy harbor. Had they gotten out of there and back to their little farm? She wasn’t exactly sure. Her head was spinning and it was hard to get her bearings. Maybe the horse had gotten them home safely and maybe not. Maybe she had given in and joined him for a pint or two. It wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary for that silver-tongued devil to reverse her efforts to sober him up. If he did, it would account for her light sensitivity and a funny feeling in her stomach.
It was at this point that she realized that although the ground below her was wooden and quite hard-looking, it didn’t actually hurt to lay on it. In fact, she felt pretty numb as she lay there and the realization was more than a little troubling. What had happened the night before? She had a huge blank spot in her head when she tried to recall the night before. She reached out to feel the floor with her fingers and that numbness persisted. She heard a scraping sound as her fingers moved over the wood and it was the only way she knew she was making contact at all. The whole thing was very strange.
Koriana started to climb to her feet but nothing seemed to be working. Her muscles wouldn’t gather under her so she could push herself to her feet. Her head would barely move and she felt so heavy and strange. She didn’t even feel tired or hurt, her body just wouldn’t cooperate with her. The room had been absolutely still and silent and the silence suddenly struck her as odd. If she was home there would be the sound of the dogs, the birds and all the other animals. If she was near the port there would the sound of the sea and the city. There was absolutely nothing and that was strange.
The silence was suddenly broken, the sound of a rough wooden door opening echoed throughout the room followed by creaking hinges. There were thunderous footsteps and fear went straight for Koriana’s heart like a dagger. Why were those footsteps so big? She had hear of giants but thought they were only a myth. However, magic had touched her life before and she had seen myth become reality in earlier days. The thought terrified her and she tried to move again but only managed to wiggle a little. She was frantic to run, to hide but again nothing was working.
“You need to relax, little one. I imagine it may take some time to get your strength back in your present condition.” The voice was surprisingly soft and heavily accented.
“In… In.. In m m my present condition?” Koriana managed to choke out though somehow her voice didn’t feel like it was coming from her body.
“Let us shed some light on your situation, shall we? I will warn you, this may come as a bit of a shock.” The voice said. Koriana barely had time for that statement to scare her. How bad was her situation? What was her situation? She felt herself get pulled to her feet and she could now see the room. The room was giant and the man in front of her was huge as well. She was sitting on what looked like a humongous desk. “Now, I found you in this condition and I was able to reverse the enchantment a little bit. I’m glad it allowed you to speak. Perhaps it will allow you to move soon.” The giant said.
“You keep saying condition. P P Please tell me what y you mean.” Koriana said.
The giant set a mirror before her and she was shocked at what she saw. She looked back at her own face but it was now wooden and her hair was made of thread. Her body was wooden under doll’s clothes. She hung there just above the desk by strings through her wrists and knees. She was the very model of a marionette and she felt her vision dimming with the revelation as if she would just black out. The giant watched her from just beyond the mirror and Koriana fought back to consciousness.
“I told you it would come as a shock.” The giant man said.
“I I Is this what giants do? Turn human beings into p p puppets?” Koriana asked. She looked up past the mirror and directly at the man with what she hoped was an accusatory glance.
“Giant? I assure you that I am as human as I believe you were. This was the work of a djinn. It made a deal with your husband and he was unprepared for the results. Whatever his wish was, it and your body were twisted. I only know as much because I coaxed the story out of him when he sold you to me.” The man said. His voice and eyes were steady and Koriana felt he just might be telling the truth which was devastating enough.
“So I’m a doll now?! What am I supposed to do now? How am I supposed to live?” She asked.
The man took the mirror away and brought his face level to her entire body. “The first step is to cut those strings. He can no longer control you. Although I paid for you, I do not own you either. You are your own woman. Your destiny is in your hands now.” He cut the string connected to her right wrist carefully and her arm fell limp. Slowly she flexed it and found she could move afterall. He held a small blade out to her and she grabbed it with her tiny wooden fingers. She reached and cut her own strings and fell to the desk. After a few moments she was able to push herself to her feet. She held the blade out to him.
“Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for setting me free.” Koriana said with what she hoped was a smile but was probably just the same painted wooden face.
He gestured for her to keep the blade. “Keep it. My gift to you. I sense a great strength within you but the small need every advantage they can get. What will you do now?”
She hefted the blade and it was just about sword-sized for someone of her stature. “Revenge on my husband maybe.”
“And after that?”
“I don’t know.” Koriana said. A future as a wooden doll was daunting.
“Meet me back here if you can’t figure that out. I may have a path for you yet.”