Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’
As the ship careened straight into the depths of the whirlpool, I could not be any prouder. Everything was going according to plan. We had fought long and hard for the map I held in a case across my back. It was one of a kind and it had required sacrifices both willing and unwilling. The crew had done their part but everything was on my shoulders. I was the captain of my ship and I needed to be sure I was heading in the right direction. Things were questionable there for a while but I had shown my most confident face. Now, as the ship began to glow, I finally knew I was on the right track.
As the legend went, there was a whirlpool off the western shore that only appeared every thirteen years. Most people wisely avoided it as sailors should avoid all whirlpools. They are dangerous even to the most experienced sailors. However, this whirlpool was obviously special. (Why else would I be talking about it?) It is a portal to another place, a place of extreme danger but also of great opportunities for wealth and power. It was a place called the Othersea. It was here that I brought my crew to see what we could find. When we reached the other side of the sea, the island was right in front of us.
“What’s that island, Captain?” Agatha asked. As usual, she was impeccably dressed without a hair being out of place even after going through rough seas and a whirlpool. It must be one of her magic spells or maybe she was just that good.
“I don’t really know the true name of it. Perhaps we’ll discover that” I said. “But the legends call it Victory Island.”
“Victory Island?” Oni asked and it was as if a piece of the mast has suddenly come to life. He had been leaning against it so still. “That’s quite a boast.”
Macan grunted from where he was tying a line back in place. During the stormy seas, the line had come loose and Macan had anchored it using only his enormous strength and his massive body. “Do you doubt the Captain?”
“Nobody doubts the Captain, Macan,” Agatha said. “We followed him this far, after all. We’re just in awe of this journey and this place.”
“I’m touched,” I said with a smile. “I’m pretty much in awe of the place too. I have only read the legends and even they couldn’t do this place justice.”
“Why are we here?” Oni asked. He was a very direct person. You generally knew where you stood with Oni, as getting on his bad side usually earned you a solid kick to the face.
“The island should have items of great power,” I said. “A pirate crew could benefit from them. Especially in a fight.”
“What items?” Agatha asked. “Like a sword? You’re deadlier with a sword than you are with a cannon and you already have one of the most well-crafted swords in the seven seas.”
“Well, this is the eight sea and things are different here,” I said. “No, the things here are not just weapons. They are focuses. They allow a person to tap into the talents, skills and abilities already present and allow the user to use them more freely. We’re already powerful, this will just give us that extra edge.”
“I don’t need an extra edge,” Macan said. “I’ve got two fists.” Macan was a simple man. He never held a weapon except for that one time he had thrown the extra anchor at a ship they were trying to board. It was a good thing they were in shallow water so they could dive for the treasure.
“Some of us weren’t born with a dragon’s strength, Macan,” I said.
“I don’t need to use weapons either,” Oni said with a smirk. The martial artist was a living weapon, one kick ended a tavern brawl.
“All this talkback is sounding a bit mutinous,” I said. I ran my palm along the hilt of my sword which elicited a chorus of ‘Sorry Captain’ even from crewmembers who had not participated in the conversation. “That’s better. We’re going to see what’s on that island. Besides, we need to find something to fund repairs on the ship.”
“Can we explore the Othersea after that, Boss?” Agatha asked. “There has got to be so much to see out there.”
“That’s a good plan,” I said. “Good thing it’s the plan I made a week ago.” Always ten steps ahead, or your crew will never respect you. It was time to brave the island and look for victory.
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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.
I came up with the idea for this post after the release of Pokemon Sun/Moon and the release of Pokemon Go. Recent readers of this blog know that I am still playing Pokemon Go. After hearing about challenges where people play through the game only using one type, much like a gym leader. Last year I invented gym leaders based on a game I wanted to write. This year, I thought about what I could have been based on my life so far and the world of Pokemon.
Fighting Type – Heavyweight Badge
When I was younger, I had less control of my anger. I thought about taking up something like boxing but my obsession from a pretty young age was professional wrestling. In this version of me, I would have pursued that dream and used it to focus my rage. I would have formed a bond with my starter pokemon and we would have trained together to be stars and then I would train others. My gym would be a place where trainers could challenge me but also where people could train physically along with pokemon.
Emboar – A young boy with an anger problem, I eagerly picked the fire pokemon Tepig as my starter pokemon. We learned to master our anger together.
Primeape – The mankey I caught was the embodiment of the unbridled and untactful anger that I was experiencing but we learned to calm down after a bunch of losses.
Machoke – The art of grappling was my first foray into more disciplined fighting and taught me that there was more than swinging fists or throwing fire.
Hitmonchan – The sweetest science helped further develop conditioning and accurate strikes.
Hawlucha – Of course, I was going to hunt down a Hawlucha ally after gaining respect for the faster, high-flying style of lucha libre.
Mienshao – Catching a Mienfoo sparked an increased interest in the broader spectrum of martial arts. In return, I gained an increased ability to focus my negative emotions.
Parks and Rec
Ground Type – Park Badge
A couple people have said that I would have been well-suited for a career in parks and recreation. Whether it is designing activities for people to do or just walking the parks. I love walking around and exploring and lately I have been haunting my local city park a lot. In this version of me, I would have embraced the outdoors more and walked around protecting people. Gym battles would be done by appointment or if the challenger found me walking out in the woods or the fields. It would add a degree of challenge to not know the battlefield beforehand.
Golem – Most people say that Geodude is shaped like a boulder but I thought that she was shaped like a friend. She was a good starter pokemon as I started to hike through the wilderness looking for Pokemon.
Sandslash – As I journey off the beaten path, I sought out a Sandslash to cut through the underbrush and through the competition.
Krokorok – I grabbed a Sandile so I could train an enforcer with dark type moves.
Rhyhorn – Rhyhorn is useful for moving fallen rocks and trees off of paths and crushing the competition.
Gliscor – My eye in the skies on those days where I am deep in the woods and he fights like a superhero in the gym.
Onix – Opponents tend to quake with fear when they see my largest pokemon. In a pinch, Onix is also big enough to provide transportation for a wilderness rescue.
Electric Type – Spotlight Badge
For five years, I worked as a technical director for a regional theater in New Jersey. I could not have stayed there (the theater folded shortly after I left) but I could have stayed in the business instead of moving on. I love the theater and I loved hanging lights and making them do what I wanted. I loved seeing my designs (and hearing my sound designs) in real life stage productions. In this version of me, I would have stuck with the theater and would still be haunting a theater. In between swinging a wrench and drawing lighting plots I would take on challengers. I would get permission to use the theater stage as a battleground for big showy battles.
Electabuzz – When I started with my Elekid, he was not super impressive but he was a friend. Now that he has evolved, he is another hand on the job and a true partner.
Magneton – Levitation is handy in getting tools from the ground up to where I am up on a ladder or the catwalk.
Emolga – A little friend who can scurry up and check the plugs on the lights if necessary. He can also glide from pipe to pipe to check things out.
Rotom – The best board operator is one who can literally possess the board and control it from within.
Raichu – For a kid with a thing for electric type pokemon, a pikachu is a welcome addition to the team.
Flaafy – A gentle reminder of my family’s pastoral history and a personal symbol of my family. The lamb.
Agent of the Law
Steel Type – Marshall Badge
When I was a teen, I wanted a badge. My uncle worked with the police but I never wanted to be a cop, I wanted a little bit more freedom. Some of these feelings have been stirred up lately by my legal studies and my brand new career as a paralegal. Law enforcement in the world of Pokemon always seemed really mixed up with the world of champion trainers. In several of the games, members of the Elite Four investigate crimes and fight terrorists. In this version of me, I would help keep the peacce and troubleshoot criminal or terrorist threats. My battlefield would also double as a headquarters for crimefighting.
Aegislash – My Aegislash is evolved all the way from Honedge which was my starter pokemon. Usually, giving a sword to a child is a bad idea but I respected the blade and gained discipline.
Skarmory – My Skarmory has the advantage of the high ground and speed for ruthless attacks to hopefully end the battle quickly or chase down criminals.
Empoleon – Empoleon’s size is a great thing to have as back up and his water moves act as a non-lethal method for resolving tricky situations while also dominating gym opponents.
Registeel – Who doesn’t like a giant robot acting as a shield when necessary?
Lucario – A great partner for practicing hand to hand combat and a great tracker.
Bronzong – A literal heavyweight for protecting myself from criminals and challenges to my badge.
Haunted House Owner
Ghost Type – Scare Badge
I have loved Halloween since I was a little kid. Lately, I have visited some haunted houses and watched some documentaries on how they are put together. It has gotten into my head lately that I would love to design haunted houses given the chance. In this version of me, I would own and operate an ever-changing haunted house that people could get amazing scares and thrills from. The battles would take place in a spooky, dark basement meant to unnerve my opponents. The huge basement would be below the haunted house so that people could hear periodic screams and laughter while battling. It would be so fun.
Gengar – Travelling to real haunted houses as a spooky little kid, I would have embraced a Gastly instead of a ‘normal’ pokemon for my starter.
Mismagius – How could I not want a ghost that looks like a witch and evolves into a wizard.
Trevenant – Spooky plants are a must for a haunted house and I knew this guy would make a very scary tree.
Chandelure – A well-controlled fire can scare the pants off of visitors just as much as any other ghost in the house.
Dusclops – A powerful ally and a formidable scary opponent. You want to be on the right side of this creepy pokemon.
Sableye – A creepy little guy with gem eyes. Victims can see his eyes sparkle in the dark before he scares the crap out of them.
Water Type – Penstroke Badge
I have thought about being a professional writer and maybe that still lies somewhere in my future. For now, I love writing here for whoever reads this blog and for myself when I am not working or out playing. If I had become a professional writer, I would want to live where I could take a break and swim in nature. In this version of me, my gym would be alongside a large lake. My chosen battlefield would be on the lake using a series of rafts so my water pokemon could swim among them. I would write pages and when a challenger came, I would take a break and we could have a lot of fun on the water.
Wartortle – A traditional starter pokemon, the squirtle evolution track always made think of superheroes.
Azumarill – A water pokemon with excellent hearing, it could help listen out for fellow fishy pokemon under the waves.
Kingdra – I could imagine this horsea hanging out in a bucket next to my desk sometimes.
Ducklett – A pokemon who can fly but can also dive deep to evade enemy attacks.
Sharpedo – Sometimes a writer needs to use a scary monster to further the plot.
Kingler – The krabby evolution line is surprisingly powerful, especially when facing moves like crabhammer or guillotine.
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 woke to the sound of the base alarms going off. The sound made my eyeballs jiggle in their sockets and made the rest of my body feel like jello. I scrambled to get out of my bunk and stood for a moment in my boxers trying to get my bearings. There was a chill in the air which meant that something was wrong. I reached out to turn the lights on and they flickered for a moment and then the fixture exploded with a loud pop. I flinched. I realized that there must be some sort of electrical problem. There were never electrical problems at Base Victor. It was close to a solar panel array and had state of the art energy storage.
I reached for the disk on my bedside table without having to look. It was nearly a year since I had started as a researcher at Base Victor, a forward research station on the moon over Arcturis. All of the little things had become easy through the routine. I slapped the disk against my chest and I closed my eyes as cloth spread over my body. The bodysuit would keep me warm with the malfunctioning climate systems. I immediately felt more prepared for the emergency. The cloth over my feet hardened into boots. I grabbed my jacket and walked out into the hallway and tried to get the jacket on as I ran toward somebody who could tell me what was happening.
Like its name might suggest, Base Victor was a lonely place. The highest number of staff members I had seen in the base was fifteen and that had been maybe one week before many of them were transferred. The base currently only had five staff members. It was divided up into different laboratories and offices that researchers took over and practically lived in. My office was set up with shelves and shelves of recently discovered books. We had already deciphered the alien language a few years ago and now I was trying to piece together the history of their civilization. I was starting by trying to sort books into fiction and non-fiction.
I stormed down the hallway toward the Command Action Center. It was the one common area beside the kitchens and it was supposed to be the nerve center of bases like this. Most days it was neglected but now I could guess that it had four people in it. Make that three, Holly turned the corner ahead of me and looked at me with an exasperated look in her eyes. She stomped toward me and I slowed my pace to a stop as she approached. In the flickering emergency lighting, her pink hair practically glowed.
“Where have you been?” She shouted.
“The alarms woke me up,” I shouted back. The alarm shut off so my next words still sounded loud even though I kept myself from shouting them. “I was up late reading a book of poetry.”
“We have an emergency,” Holly said as if they had been waiting for me.
“Can it be solved by reading more poetry?” I asked and I believe that Holly nearly slapped me. Her eyes narrowed and I shrugged. “What? I know nothing about engineering or science like you and Arif.”
“It’s some weird sort of ion storm. It is messing with most of our systems as you can see,” She said, releasing her anger visibly.
“Will we survive?” I asked. I was a little shaken knowing that our two scientists were not exactly sure what was happening yet.
“I think it will pass. Arif seems to agree,” She replied, leaning against the wall for the moment. She looked tired. It looked like she might have been up for hours already or maybe she had not gotten to sleep yet at all. There was always a danger of that out here, free from the conventions of the time cycles of normal society.
“Should we go back and check it out some more?” I asked.
“Only if you promise to lean against the wall and not touch anything. Can you promise that?” Holly asked. She had a smirk on her face that felt insulting. Well, sort of insulting. She was not in the wrong.
“I promise,” I said. “I’m curious what’s going on.”
“Come on then, poet,” Holly said. “Follow me.”
We walked back the way she had come to reach the Command Action Center. Arif was lounging in front of a console, not really working on the problem. He looked like he was deep in thought. He snapped to attention when Holly and I entered the room. I dutifully leaned against the wall with my hands behind my back. I may have smirked when I did it.
“There’s a strange build-up of ionic charge,” Arif said. He looked at me. “Before you ask, it’s strange because there’s little to no atmosphere out there. It’s almost like a lightning storm. It shouldn’t exist.”
“Maybe it just wants to exist,” I offered. I got looks for that comment.
“Holy shit, we’ve got incoming!” Holly yelled, rushing up to a console. Before I could ask what that meant, the base was raked with what looked like lightning. It was both terrifying and awe-inspiring and I pressed myself closer to the wall as if that would save me. Holly and Arif scrambled around trying to monitor the situation. I saw the emergency teleporter start to glow in the corner and even I knew it should not do that. Before I could alert them, it exploded.
We all hit the deck, our training kicking in. Thankfully nothing was breached and there was no explosive decompression. Instead, there was a glowing figure standing where the teleporter had been. As the glow faded away, I stood atop the rubble looking confused. Against the wall, I was confused too.
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.
“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.
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.