Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Poor Unfortunate Souls: China Pt. 3

July 18, 2020

Mulan was a little surprised when Yao hugged her when she entered the hastily assembled war room of the fort. The usually grumpy Yao pushed away after only a moment but was still grinning from ear to ear. Mulan found herself smiling even though Shang was still down in the medical tent. Mulan, Shang, Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling had been through a lot of adventures together. It made Mulan’s heartache and worry about Khan and Mushu who were still missing in action. Still, it was good to be in a stable environment with a friend in front of her although they were not always exactly friendly.

“Mulan!” Yao croaked out in his somewhat raspy voice. “I am so glad to see you. I was worried about a lot of our friends and the Emperor’s forces. I made it here with some of our soldiers but I am out of my element in command.”

“You seem to have done pretty well,” Mulan said. “The soldiers looked orderly and the fort is running smoothly and is fortified.”

“Do you know where Shang is?” Yao asked. “He could take over. He could even counterattack through this chaos.”

Mulan took a deep breath. “My husband is in the medical tent,” she said. “He is injured and unconscious but I am hopeful that he will recover.”

“I’m sorry,” Yao said. “I have great respect for General Shang.”

“We all do,” Mulan said. “Is that white healer really any good?” She instinctively looked over her shoulder back toward the medical tent. Her husband had been in pretty bad shape but she had thought him dead before and had been glad to have been wrong. Shang was a fighter and she had to count on that.

“Yes,” Yao said. “I wouldn’t have put her in charge there if she wasn’t. Rapunzel has magic when it comes to healing and she’s so damned perky it’s hard to beat her optimism. It kind of gives me the creeps. We rescued these foreigners and they have come in useful. They all claim to be royalty so it made sense to let them make themselves comfortable. In return, they have helped us operate more smoothly without trying to take over. Believe me, I tried with that Aladdin.”

“He seems capable but I’m not sure if we can trust them that far,” Mulan said. “As far as we know this is the last major holdout after the attack on the Imperial City.”

“Then you should take over, Mulan,” Yao said. “You’d be a much better leader.”

“I’m not even officially in the military,” Mulan said. “I don’t know if that’s proper.”

“You’re an advisor to the Emperor!” Yao said.

“I turned that post down. Remember?” Mulan asked. “I’ve helped out in an unofficial capacity but I don’t really have the skills to lead here.”

“Who cares?” Yao said. “You’re a hero of China. They’ll accept you. Your country needs you Mulan and I know you have always stepped forward.”

“That’s hardly fair,” Mulan said. “I’ll do what it can but I’m not sure if that isn’t too far.”

“It’ll work,” Yao said. “You’ll be better at it than I am.”

“Fine. If the soldiers agree then I will lead until Shang can take over,” Mulan said. “He is much better in command and I am much better at doing my own thing. It’s how we work.”

“It’s a deal,” Yao said excitedly. “I’m sure you won’t have to shoulder the burden for long. Shang will be up on his feet quick. Where should we start boss?”

Mulan sighed. “I guess I should meet with these foreigners and get the lay of the land,” she said. “I have to admit to being very curious. How many are there?”

“Only four so far,” Yao said. “Rapunzel is a healer and spends most of her time in the medical tent although she’s handy elsewhere. Anna is a really hard worker and apparently really well-read and is always there with a helping hand. Aladdin is an accomplished fighter and he and his carpet have been going on scouting missions to bring back more survivors.”

“What about the one up in the tower?” Mulan asked. “The one whose speech I can barely understand.”

“Merida is a wild woman but is a crack shot with a bow,” Yao said. “She’s better than anybody I saw in the military and that includes you, Mulan.” He caught a look in her eye. “But not by that much.”

“She needs to learn more manners,” Mulan said. “but it is good to have an accomplished warrior keeping a wary eye on anybody who approaches.”

Hesper’s Web Pt. 8

June 13, 2020

Mariel, Asher, and Luther walked into the light coming from overhead. Directly in that light was the black crystalline form of the Thing that Had Not Been Gwendolyn. It was wrapped in heavy chains. Each link of those chains was carved with warding runes that would guard against magic and would limit the shapechanger’s abilities. The three surrounded the Thing with Mariel facing it directly. She smiled peacefully pretty self-satisfied. The Thing regarded her with malice so strong that one could sense it even though it had no face.

“I think you will find that you cannot move,” Mariel said.

The Thing tried to struggle regardless of Mariel’s warning and confirmed it. There would be no easy escape from this predicament.

“It doesn’t like being told,” Luther said. “Listen to her, she’ll only tell you the truth.”

“I think this discussion will go a little more smoothly if you have a mouth,” Mariel said. She waved her hand and the Thing’s surface ripple and it changed shape. It became a young girl, one who had teased and bullied Muriel back in school. It gave her some satisfaction to see the girl in such a bad way.

“Where am I?” The thing asked with a snarl.

“You are in my mind now, Devilspawn,” Muriel said. “You’ll find it is a lot stronger than the mind of a child. My mental defenses were well-trained by good education and experience. You are at our mercy.”

“You think I am afraid of you?” The Thing asked. She spat. “I’m not afraid of you, little elf.”

“We’re not particularly concerned with how you feel,” Muriel said.

“We’re more focused on your boss,” Asher said. “Hesper.”

“Hesper would devour you in but a moment,” the Thing said. “Do not look for what you do not want to find.”

“Oh we’ll find Hesper,” Luther said.

“With your help,” Muriel said. “Whether you like it or not.”

“You’ll get nothing out of me!” the Thing screamed. It spat and hissed.

“Oh? Is that so?” Muriel asked and then she laughed. “We already have the information we need out of you. You’re in my mind. I whittled down your defenses hours ago without you realizing.”

The Thing looked confused. “Then why am I still here?” it asked.

“You tortured a little girl,” Luther said. “You took days of her life for yourself and tried to take over her body and make it your own.” Images of Gwendolyn and her suffering floated in the air around the Thing. It looked at those images and felt pride at a job well done. Rage flitted across Muriel’s face but she maintained control.

“We wanted to make sure you died,” Asher said.

“And not quick,” Muriel said. “Slow and painful.”

“Do your worst,” the Thing said softly, staring defiantly into Muriel’s eyes.

“I will,” Muriel said. She walked forward and touched the Thing gently on the forehead. The point where she touched burned with green flame. A single candle-sized point of combustion and the Thing shuddered but remained defiant. Slowly the flame started to grow, surface skin started to flake and blow away. As its false face floated away, the Thing finally gave in and started to scream. The sound quickly went from human into something more shrill and inhuman. Muriel waved her hand and Luther and Asher disappeared. Muriel stood there and watched for quite a while as the flame slowly consumed the Thing and then she disappeared herself.

Gwendolyn was out of bed two days later. Everybody voted to stick around and make sure that she was going to recover and regain her health. She was able to walk to the gate where everybody was waiting. She had thankfully forgotten a lot of her experience in her long nightmare but she remembered the more recent positive memories of Muriel and her friends. She had asked them all a million questions as she started to recover but now it was time to go.

“Where are you going?” Gwendolyn asked. “Will you be back?”

“We’re going to go find the devil that hurt you,” Muriel said.

“We probably won’t be back,” Dina said before being elbowed in the ribs by her brother.

“Never say never,” Asher said. “You just focus on getting better. Alright?”

“OK,” Gwendolyn said. “Please get rid of the bad thing. Make sure it can’t hurt anybody else.”

“I promise,” Muriel said. “I promise you we will.”

And then they got onto their horses and they rode away.

Clear Skies – A Breaking Bad Story

April 3, 2020

Jane Margolis looked out at the sunset and took a drag from her cigarette and then blew it into the wind. She watched the smoke disappear and just let the moment be. She stretched and put out the butt in the ashtray on the railing. She was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and the breeze momentarily made her clutch her arms. She looked down and saw once again that her track marks had healed now too. That made her smile a bit. She looked over at Detective Knight.

“I’m sorry,” Jane said. “What was the question again?”

“We’re still looking for your ex-tenant,” the Detective said. “The one who was a drug dealer. Do you remember his name yet?”

“You know what,” Jane said. “I really don’t.”

“Look, Ms. Margolis,” the Detective said. “I know that you went through a lot. You OD’d. You almost died. This guy put that shit in your hands, he nearly killed you. He’s nothing but a drug dealer.” He was obviously losing patience and Jane did not really blame him. Of course, she did not really blame anyone anymore. She was at peace.

“Detective, I chose to do heroin,” Jane said. “It was not his fault. Sure he supplied it but I made the choice. I would have made the same choice no matter who was offering. I was sick.”

“Look,” the Detective said. “This guy is out there. He’s putting drugs in the hands of people. He’s a scumbag.”

“I was going to move to New Zealand with that ‘scumbag’,” Jane said. “He was a good guy. He was better than all of that. I think he’s going to be alright eventually. I think he’s going to break free.”

“That’s really sweet and all but I’m concerned with closing off drug sources,” the Detective said.

“And I’m interested in not ratting out somebody I used to fuck,” Jane said. “I’m interested in the beauty of the universe and the spirit of creativity. I’m not interested in what you’re interested in.”

“We didn’t arrest you, Ms. Margolis,” the Detective said. “We did you a favor.”

“You didn’t arrest me because I went to the hospital,” Jane said. “You didn’t arrest me because you didn’t have anything on me. There’s no possession when it’s in my veins.”

“That’s not necessarily true, Ms. Margolis,” the Detective said. “We did you a favor.”

Jane laughed. “New Mexico has a Good Samaritan law,” she said. “It protects the person who overdosed from prosecution if somebody seeks medical assistance. I don’t know who called the ambulance but they saved me.”

“Do you think it was the guy who called?” the Detective asked. “Is that why you’re protecting him?”

“I don’t think it was him,” Jane said. “We were both lying in bed totally gone on some good, good shit. I don’t think he was even conscious. I’m surprised he didn’t overdose too.”

“What do you think happened?” the Detective asked.

“I think the universe aligned so I could finally get my shit back together,” Jane said. “I think whoever took him away, did us both a favor. He and I were toxic together. We loved each other but we did not mix. I never want to see him again and yet I do but I can’t.”

“Ms. Margolis, were you threatened?” the Detective asked. “Is that what’s happening? We can protect you.”

Walt’s face flashed before Jane’s eyes but she shook the image away. An image of Jesse slipped into her mind and she pushed that away too as if the Detective could possibly see them too. “I’m fine,” Jane said. “I’ve moved all the way out here and away from all of the bullshit. I just want to focus on my art. I want to move on.”

“Are you sure that’s what you want?” the Detective asked.

“I’m more than sure,” Jane said. “I’ve answered your questions. Please leave.”

“Once again, Ms. Margolis, if you think of anything, don’t hesitate to call,” the Detective said.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Jane said and then she turned to look back over the railing and lit another cigarette. She really needed to quit this too but one day at a time.

(Breaking Bad was suggested by my friend Steve on Twitter. This is the first thing that came to mind.)

Brooke Wayne – A DC Comics Elseworlds Story

April 2, 2020

Brooke Wayne would be the first to admit that she had not had the happiest life. Her therapist, Dr. Crane, would confirm that. Everybody knew her story. Her parents had been murdered in front of her outside of a theater in downtown Gotham. She had undergone significant trauma but all of her friends had not taken her seriously. Poor little rich girl. She had disappeared suddenly one day and left her trust behind. That was the part of the story that the public did not know. What came after had been a secret. She traveled the world and trained her body and mind to fight crime. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When she returned to Gotham, she took up the life of a costumed vigilante. She styled her costume after a bat, a creature she had encountered in deepest Africa. She had looked to battle the criminal element but she ended up in a war with the Gotham City Police Department. Supervillains began to appear in Gotham. Brooke felt like she was losing more ground than she was gaining. Finally, she explained her double life to her therapist, Dr. Tabitha Crane. It was at this point that Dr. Crane revealed that her ex-husband was the supervillain known as The Scarecrow. Together, Brooke and Tabitha put together a plan.

Brooke contacted the GCPD and worked out a deal. The Bat would disappear, here reign of terror would evaporate like shadows in sunlight. In return, she proposed setting up a special task force directly under Commissioner James Gordon. Additionally, Brooke would donate part of her vast family fortune to the police force for better technology and resources. She was already starting numerous social welfare programs to help heal a city broken by crime and corruption. She had other people running those. People more qualified to determine where that money should go. She was bored, she wanted to channel her anger in a more positive way.

Amazingly, Commissioner Gordon had conferred with the Mayor and had agreed. Brooke was sent to the police academy to learn protocol and pay her dues. She was sent along with several other vigilantes who were offered a similar deal. Now, Wayne had been on the force for years and she was really good at it. She was working things out with her therapist and the squad was having real success cleaning up the city. Things were looking up with crime and corruption on the decline. This left Brooke’s squad to tackle the real threats, the real dangers to the community.

“Good morning, Captain Wayne,” Olivia said. “How are we doing today?”

“Your Royal Highness,” Brooke said. “So nice that you could grace us with your presence.”

“Queen by name and Queen by reputation,” Olivia said. “Thank you for continuing to get the good word out there.” She set her gear bag down and hung up her bow. She had a special dispensation to carry a compound bow instead of a rifle. She had crusaded as the Green Arrow, inspired by The Bat. Brooke had eventually used that reputation to convince Olivia to partner with Brooke to fund the new GCPD squad.

“Whatever Queen,” Brooke said with a laugh. “You’re late. We’re joining everybody in the briefing room after I stop by to see the new tech from Holt.”

“I’ve got all the tech I need right here,” Olivia said and patted her bow. “What’s on the docket today? Spill.”

“You could just wait until the briefing,” Brooke said. “Sage, Dodds, Grant, and Tyler are already in there.”

“You have never been fun,” Olivia said. “Not once.”

Brooke sighed. “Fine,” she said. “We’re following a lead. Harley contacted me last night with some juicy stuff.”

“That whackjob?” Olivia asked. “I don’t trust her.”

“She’s given us good intel before,” Brooke said. “You have to learn to trust people, Queen. I can give you the number of my therapist.”

“Don’t get me started,” Olivia said. “She used to date the Joker.”

“I used to date Catwoman,” Brooke said. “Nobody’s perfect. She’s reformed. Well, she’s mostly reformed now that she’s with Ivy.”

“Well,” Olivia said. “I do believe in redemption. I guess you do too.”

“I’m starting to,” Brooke said. “One night at a time.”

(DC Comics was suggested by my friend Liz on Twitter)

Hesper’s Web Pt. 6

March 28, 2020

Even though everything hurt, everybody hurried toward the source of the plaintive cry. They pushed through weeds and charged through the fog and found a small clearing. In the center of the clearing was a little girl in chains which were staked to the ground. Tears were flowing down her face but it was clear that it was young Gwendolyn. It was easy to believe that this one was the real one. She trembled as she looked up at everybody, frightened and defeated. It broke Mariel’s heart and she knew she was not alone.

“Gwendolyn,” Asher said softly. “Your mother sent us to find you.”

“R-Really?” Gwendolyn asked. “What about the monsters?”

“We’re quite experienced with monsters, young lady,” Mariel said. “We’ll protect you.”

“Dimitri and Dina, help me pull these stakes up,” Luther said. He and the twins moved over and started to pull on the chains. The stakes stubbornly stayed in the ground and Gwen cried harder, shaking like a leaf in the wind.

Mariel kneeled down in front of Gwendolyn and took the young girl’s hands in hers. “Gwendolyn,” she said. “I know that you’re scared. This is very scary. However, this is your world.”

Asher kneeled down next to Mariel. “This is your story, Gwendolyn,” he said. “You hold all of the power here.”

“What?” Gwendolyn muttered. “I have no power.”

“That’s what I thought when I was your age,” Mariel said. “Then I went to an academy and learned magic.” She was proud of her upbringing from a powerless place to wield the forces of magic effortlessly.

Gwendolyn looked up at Mariel again, the first glimmer of hope returning to her eyes. “But I don’t know magic,” she said. “I don’t have any magic.”

“Magic is in everyone,” Mariel said. “Some do it like me and use words but some do it with their mind and heart.” She punctuated this by pointing at the girl’s heart which filled the girl’s eyes with wonder.

Ashe nodded. “Gwendolyn, you don’t have magic in here,” he said. “In here, you are magic. Just think it and it’ll happen.”

“Really?” Gwendolyn asked. “For real?”

“Just give it a try,” Mariel said. “Get rid of these awful chains first.”

The little girl closed her eyes and her shaky breathing slowed. There was a near-blinding pink light and then the chains were suddenly made of flowers instead of thick metal. She shrugged off the flowers and clutched one of the flowers to her chest as she stood up. Her tattered clothing became a princess dress even more spectacular than the one worn by the imposter back at the castle. She opened her eyes and suddenly everybody’s wounds were healed. She smiled so brightly that Mariel and everybody else could not help but smile. Even the usually unreadable Fern was smiling an enigmatic little smile.

“I really am magic!” Gwendolyn said and giggled. “I did it!”

Mariel and Asher stood up clapping. Everybody joined in on the applause and the landscape around them seemed to become more green and colorful. The area just felt happier which would not have made sense back in the material plane but here it made perfect sense. Asher started to play a tune on his lute and the little girl clapped and danced a little and sang along. It was great to see.

“Do you think you could help us get back up there?” Luther asked. “Help us save your friends and get rid of the bad thing?”

Gwendolyn faltered. “The bad thing is scary,” she said. “I don’t know.”

“Normally we’d do it for you, Gwen,” Luther said. “but we need your help. This is all yours. Your mother and father are waiting for you. We just need to get rid of the bad thing. For that, we really do need your help.”

“You know how to do it now,” Mariel said. “You’re so powerful.”

“You’re magic,” Asher said.

“And we’ll be right there with you,” Dimitri said.

“We’ve got your back,” Dina said. “Don’t even worry about it.”

Fern gave a weak thumbs up and a slight smile.

Gwendolyn brightened up again. “We’re going to get rid of the bad thing,” she said. “But how?”

“First we need to go back to the castle,” Mariel said. “Do you think you can handle that?”

“I think so,” Gwendolyn said. “What then?”

“One step at a time,” Luther said. “Trust us.”

Hesper’s Web Pt. 5

March 21, 2020

“I am going to go ahead and guess that you’re not Gwendolyn,” Luther said. “You’re who we came to see, though.” Mariel glanced over at Sir Buttonface and he was staring at the floor as if he had somehow gone to sleep on his feet. Thankfully, he was not present for this horrific sight of something wearing his master’s image eating a beloved baby unicorn.

The thing that looked like Gwendolyn grinned and then tilted its head back and actually cackled. “Obviously,” it said. “What tipped you off?”

“Um, the unicorn feast was a big one,” Dina said.

“I couldn’t resist,” the thing said. “Such innocence is delicious. I haven’t fed like this in ages.”

“What are you?” Mariel asked. “No no, we know what you are and why you’re here. Who are you?”

“Tsk tsk,” the thing said with a smile. “I know how this works. You do not get to know my true name. All you need to know is that precious little Gwendolyn was weak so I decided to move in.”

“Well,” Luther said. “It’s time to move out now. This is not yours.”

“It is now,” the thing said. Its voice changed back to Gwendolyn as it looked over at her loyal knight. “Sir Buttonface! Please remove these guests.”

Sir Buttonface slowly and sadly turned toward the party. “I’m sorry for this,” he said. He drew a giant ten foot sword and swung it in a wide arc at the party as hard as he could.

Luther pushed Mariel out of the way but caught a little bit of the blade on his shoulder. Dimitri quickly brought up his shield and stopped the sword swing, getting driven back a few inches. Dina took the opportunity to shift into hybrid wolf form, her claws grew and she circled around behind Buttonface. Fern waved her hands and vines grew from the floor to capture the giant teddy bear. Asher pulled out his lute and started to play a countercharm to see if he could somehow break the unnamed devil’s hold on this unreality. Dina lunged and shoved claws deep into the fluff of the teddy bear knight and then she backflipped out of the way. Mariel stood with righteous indignation and tossed a fireball which ignited right in the knight’s face. Burning stuffing and fur flew everywhere and the bear fell to his knees.

Unfortunately, the bear then stood up while he was still burning. The devil laughed as the burning bear started to attack again. Buttonface attacked with mindless savagery, his large size and strength made him more than a match for the combined forces of the party. Luther tried a knockout punch but was swatted into a wall hard by a burning paw. Mariel was picked up and tossed into Fern, the two of them tumbling to the ground in a tangled mess. The devil lashed out with hellfire at Asher, sending the bard into deep unconsciousness. Buttonface landed an overhead downward swing on Dimitri, driving him into the ground despite his shield. Dina tried to run for her brother but was stomped by the still-burning teddy bear knight. For good measure, Buttonface stomped hard on the others.

One by one, Buttonface picked each member of the party up and carried them to the edge of the cloud and tossed them off. They fell to the shadowy ground below. When they woke up, they saw that the landscape around them was dark and full of shadow and mist. They started to check their injuries. They were definitely in bad shape but they were all still able to stand. Their equipment, weapons, and supplies were all damaged beyond repair. They all looked up at the castle on the cloud and then looked at the ground below them.

“How are we still alive?” Dimitri asked. “I mean, I’m not complaining.”

“A reminder that this is a dream,” Mariel said. “Things do not always work out like they do in the material plane. However, I think our survival actually has a lot to do with Sir Buttonface.”

“How is that?” Dina asked. “He really kicked our asses. He tore us apart.”

“I think I see what you’re getting at, Mariel,” Asher said. “That devil told Sir Buttonface to ‘remove us’ instead of telling him to kill us. I think that the lack of specific language actually saved us this time.”

“Exactly,” Mariel said. “I suspect that Buttonface is a pure creation of Gwendolyn’s and therefore carries a lot of power in here. That devil has taken control of Buttonface and everything else in here.”

“Hopefully deep down, Buttonface is still loyal to Gwendolyn,” Luther said. “We need him out of the way so we can get our hands on that little devil.”

Then, from somewhere in the mist, there came a small pitiful sound. “Hello?” the voice said. “Is anybody out there? Please!”

Hesper’s Web Pt. 4

March 14, 2020

The party stepped through the main gate and found themselves in a glass tunnel under what looked like fathoms of water. Sir Buttonface seemed nonplussed but all of them were absolutely astonished. They had traveled the world and seen many wondrous and horrifying sights but this was new. Fern and Dina pressed their faces to the glass and Mariel gently pulled them back. As she did, a mermaid swam by and waved and smiled at them. It was not like real sea people that Mariel and her friends had seen. The top of the woman was beautiful by human standards and the bottom was all fish but the scales shone like gems. She was absolutely magnificent. Then three more swam by, more graceful than anything in the world.

“They’re beautiful,” Dina said. “Super weird but beautiful.”

“Totally wild and free,” Fern muttered. “I want to swim with them.”

“Master Gwendolyn swims with them often,” Sir Buttonface said offhandedly. He was not even looking at them, he was just staring into space with a bored expression. “She can breathe underwater. Did you know that?”

“We didn’t,” Mariel said. “Has she swam with the mermaids recently?” She smiled and turned with wonder toward Sir Buttonface.

Buttonface turned to face her, his attention suddenly attracted. “Not lately,” he replied. “Master Gwendolyn has had other things to focus on.”

“Like what?” Luther asked. “She’s a little child. What does she have to do except for play?”

Sir Buttonface shrugged. “Law and order,” he said. “There is a threat to the kingdom.”

“Oh?” Luther asked. “What’s the threat? We can help.” He gestured to his compatriot’s weapons and armor. “We are adventurers. Fighters.”

“You’ll see,” Buttonface said. “Come. We’re expected.” He pushed open the next gate and kept walking.

Everybody looked at each other, exchanging worried glances. Still, there were few options other than following the teddy bear knight. Everybody tensed and continued.

They were led through the next door which revealed an indoor area that was covered with plants and grass. Prancing nearby was a couple of unicorns. Everybody stopped again. The unicorns were rainbow-colored and their hair seemed to be made of light and love. They moved like they were completely unencumbered by anything natural. They were beautiful otherworldly spirits in horse form. Mariel hardly noticed that her breathing had stopped. When she noticed she gasped and just could not stop smiling. She noticed Asher staring intently as well.

“I have always wanted to see a unicorn since even before my orphan days,” Mariel said. “I have never really known of them outside of the Faewild. I’ve never really wanted to risk it all by going there.”

“I have,” Fern said softly. Mariel and Dina glanced over at her and she shrugged and turned back toward the unicorns. That girl was a mystery.

“You’re a unicorn fan, Asher?” Mariel asked.

“My sister drew them endlessly when we were little,” Asher said. “She was absolutely obsessed. That obsession was definitely contagious and many nights I dreamed of unicorns. One of my first songs that got famous was about unicorns.”

“Really?” Mariel asked. “I don’t think I’ve heard that one.”

“It’s Unicorn in the Meadow,” Asher said. As he said it, the sound of music filled the air around them and an invisible singer seemed to circle around them. It was the song that Asher had just mentioned.

“That is one of Master Gwendolyn’s favorite songs,” Sir Buttonface said. “She has sung it often. That’s her voice.”

“We need to see her,” Luther said. “We want to help her.” He looked up at the teddy bear knight.

Sir Buttonface seemed to consider Luther’s request for a long moment. “She does not need your help,” he said. “I will still bring you to her. She will want to meet you.”

“Lead the way then,” Luther said.

“We have already arrived,” Sir Buttonface said.

They looked around and found that they were suddenly in a glittery pink room with white marble floors and accents everywhere. It looked like they were inside of a confection. A rich girl’s birthday cake come to life. On a golden throne was Gwendolyn. She wore a flowing silk dress with literal stars twinkling in the fabric. She wore an impressive silver and gold crown. She had a baby unicorn on her lap. As they all caught her eye, she smirked and leaned down and took a large bite out of the baby unicorn. She swallowed hard, multi-colored blood running down her chin as the baby beast squirmed. She tossed it aside and wiped her mouth clean.

“This is going to be fun,” the thing that was not Gwendolyn said.

A Rose In the Snow

March 9, 2020

Jack made his way into the taproom of the Emperor’s Tailor and shook the snow from his cloak. The barmaid eyed the wood ax strapped to his back and whispered something to the bartender. Jack shrugged and tried to look harmless as he took off his cloak and hung it and the ax in its harness by the door. He did not want any trouble. Well, any more trouble. He had more than he knew how to deal with as usual. He had the best luck and the worst luck. That strange mix had made him travel out into a snowy night to this inn in the middle of nowhere on the border of two kingdoms.

He walked up to the bar and tried to look charming as he approached the bar and smiled at the barmaid. She rolled her eyes and walked off to deliver somebody’s drinks which left Jack with the bartender. Jack smiled again and leaned on the bar.

“I was told that I could find some sellswords here,” Jack said. “Is that true?”

The bartender grunted. “I don’t want no trouble in my inn,” the bartender said. Was he also the owner or was it a figure of speech? It barely mattered.

Jack put his hands up in a harmless gesture. “No trouble, sir,” he said. “Well, there is trouble but it is far from here. I have brought none of it with me. I’ll be traveling back to the trouble soon enough.”

The bartender gave him an unfriendly, impatient look. “Did you have a point?” he asked.

Jack nodded. “Yes,” he said. “My point was my original question. Are there sellswords here for hire?”

“Do you mean in general or are you looking for somebody specific?” the bartender asked indifferently.

“Uh yes,” Jack said. “There was one in particular that I was told would be able to confront the particular trouble I’m confronted with.”

The bartender sighed. “Who in particular were you looking for?” he asked.

“Ah, sorry,” Jack said. “I do tend to give less than straight answers. It’s an inherited trait. I am looking for the famous Rose Red.”

The bartender narrowed his eyes. “Are you serious?” he asked.

“Deadly serious,” Jack said. “I need her particular talents. I’ve heard the tales and I need her.”

“You’ve heard the tales,” the bartender said with a scoff. “So you know that her name comes not only from the color of her hair but also that she has worn the blood of her enemies.”

“That’s exactly why I’m looking for her,” Jack said. “She has a long, long list of vanquished monsters and villains. I have one more for her list.”

The bartender shrugged. “Don’t come crying to me if she breaks your nose,” he said. He knocked on the bar in a particular rhythm. “Knock like that on the door to the backroom over there.” He pointed.

Jack nodded. “If this goes well, I’ll order your finest ale,” he said.

“And if it goes poorly?” The bartender asked.

“I’ll order several of your cheapest,” he said. “But I’ll need a room either way.”

“I’ll have one prepared,” the bartender said. “Good luck.”

Jack nodded gratefully and headed to the door in question. He carefully knocked exactly as the bartender had indicated and waited. A woman’s voice from within yelled “Enter!” Jack pushed open the door and stepped inside, shutting the door behind him. The room was warm and full of smoke from the burning herb. There were two beautiful but hardened women sitting at the only table. They were empty plates and plenty of empty mugs scattered around. Both women were dressed casually, their cloaks and jackets slung over a chair near the fire. One woman had pure white hair and porcelain white skin. The other had scarlet hair and her skin was a darker brown. The barmaid was sitting on the lap of the one who had to be Rose Red and the two of them were in the middle of a deep kiss.

“I don’t mean to interrupt, Ms. Red,” Jack said. “but I have a business proposition for you.”

Rose Red pushed the barmaid off of her lap and pressed a coin into her palm with a smile. The barmaid left the room, giving Jack the stink eye. “And yet you did interrupt,” Rose said. “This had better be good.”

“Ah,” Jack said. “Should we not talk in private?” He glanced at the white-haired young woman whose eyebrow rose in response.

“Anything said to me can be said in front of my sister,” Rose said. “Out with it before I make you regret knocking on that door.”

“I need help with a giant,” Jack blurted out.

“A giant?” Rose asked. “I’ve never tangled with a giant before. What’s your name?”

“My name is Jack,” Jack said.

“Wait,” the white-haired lady said. “Jack? Giants? You’re not that Jack are you?”

“The one with the beans?” Rose asked with a smirk.

“That was my father,” Jack said. “His story has become somewhat exaggerated but he did steal from a particular giant and killed him somewhat incidentally. He died years ago but the giant’s family wants vengeance now. They would not only harm me and my mother but they want to level the entire town of Spriggin where I’m from.”

“Well,” Rose said. “Your father was a thief and probably deserved their revenge but you can hardly be blamed for his actions. What’s your plan, Beans?”

“I am putting together a team to accompany me while I parlay with the giants,” Jack said. “If that’s unsuccessful then I need fighters who can get the job done. I don’t want to further the cycle of violence but – ” Jack said, leaving the obvious unsaid.

“So you want me for your team do you, Beans?” Rose asked.

“The team really does not work without you,” Jack said.

“Flattery,” Rose said. “Will not get you as far as coin.”

“My father squandered a lot of his ill-gotten gains before he died but I have turned what was left into a thriving business,” Jack said. “I’ll pay your fee.”

Rose nodded. “It sounds like fun,” she said. “What do you say, Snow? Do you want to come with us?”

The white-haired lady shook her head. “I have a kingdom to get back to,” she said.

“Come now,” Rose said. “Leave the crown for a little longer. We spend so little time together these days.”

“Fine,” Snow said. “I’ll come with you. You may need my particular skills too.”

“You’re welcome to come too,” Jack said. “I’ll pay. Does that mean we have a deal?”

“We’ll draw up a deal when I’m sober in the morning,” Rose said. “For now, get the hell out and send the barmaid back in.”

“Right,” Jack said and headed for the door.

Hesper’s Web Pt. 3

March 7, 2020

It was a bright and sunny day as Mariel opened her eyes, standing in front of a giant, unfamiliar castle. As she looked around, she saw that everybody had made it inside. The grounds around the castle were full of green trees and gardens full of flowers. The flowers were hard to look at as their colors were unearthly bright like nothing in the material plane. Now that Mariel thought about it, the sun was way too bright. The place was off, like a saccharine version of the real world. The hopes and dreams of a peasant girl personified.

“Did everyone make it?” Luther asked. He was looking around, blinking. Even after decades above ground, a dwarf would be sensitive to such bright sunshine. Hells, Mariel felt her eyes start to hurt. She had to remember that it was not really her eyes as they were not really there. They were all in their armor and Mariel guessed that this drew from memory. There might be loopholes to exploit in that but that would require experimentation. They had to get their bearings first.

“Looks like it,” Asher said. “We’re all in one piece. Though, it is oddly quiet.”

“That would be the first thing you’d notice,” Mariel said. She was a little annoyed at herself that she had not noticed it. “Not the eye-searing visuals or the strange architecture.”

“I thought it would be stranger,” Asher said with a shrug. “This place just feels like it’s badly rendered art rather than a true dreamscape. However, the silence unnerves me. The world is never silent.”

“Everybody’s a critic,” Luther said. “Maybe the girl has limited imagination.”

“Perhaps the devil’s influence has imposed some undue order on her dreamscape?” Mariel offered. “Devils despise chaos if it does not suit their purposes.”

“Umm,” Dina said. “Did you not notice that this castle is resting on a cloud far, far above whatever’s down there?”

“That seems structurally unsound,” Dimitri said.

“Not in the Dream Plane,” Mariel said. “The laws imposed by nature and magic do not apply here.”

“What does that mean?” Dimitri asked. “Should we be frightened?”

“It means that literally, anything is possible here,” Luther said, “So be smart and be prepared for anything.”

“Like that?” Fern asked and pointed at a giant stuffed teddy bear in golden armor. It was walking toward them slowly. Its height was ten feet and it looked substantially solid. Obviously, it would be a bruiser of a fighter in the material plane. Except, of course, that it was a stuffed toy.

Everybody drew their weapons in unison and got ready to fight. The bear gave them a stern expression and shook its head and then let out a ‘tsk tsk tsk’ disappointed sound. It waited patiently for everybody to slightly lower their weapons in confusion.

“My name is Sir Buttonface,” the bear said in a deep gravelly yet comforting voice. “If you can behave then you can come inside. If you cannot behave, you must be sent below.”

“Umm, what’s down there?” Mariel asked.

“You do not want to know,” Buttonface said. “We do not contemplate such things. However, we assume that it is not pleasant. Master Gwendolyn is not to be disrespected and she handles such disrespect efficiently.”

“Wouldn’t it be ‘Mistress Gwendolyn?” Dimitri asked with a smile. He had been taught the ways of the court and nobility and these things were ingrained.

Sir Buttonface turned quickly toward Dimitri, frowning deeply. “Girls can be masters too,” he yelled somewhat defensively. “It would be like calling me Mister Buttonface. Honestly!”

Dimitri looked seriously at the stuffed bear. “I am sorry Sir Buttonface,” he said. “I would never dishonor a fellow knight. Please accept my apology.”

Sir Buttonface visibly brightened and nodded. “Of course,” he said. “Mother always said to be nice.”

“Mother?” Mariel asked. “Your mother?”

Sir Buttonface shook his head. “I don’t have a mother,” he said. “I mean Master Gwendolyn’s mother. I’ve never met her myself but our dear Gwendolyn speaks highly of her.”

“We’ve met her,” Luther said. “She sent us here to visit.”

“Truly?” Buttonface asked. “Then you must all come inside. Master Gwendolyn will want to speak with you. In fact, she will want to play with you.”

“Play with us?” Dina asked, a little nervousness in her voice. “What does that mean?”

“Just what I say,” Buttonface said. “Shall I lead the way?”

“Lead on,” Luther said. “We will follow you.”

Sir Buttonface lumbered toward the massive castle gates and started to push them open effortlessly. Everybody moved to follow. They stayed prepared for a battle.

Hesper’s Web Pt. 2

February 29, 2020

Mariel, Dimitri, and Asher bought the supplies at the local herbalist and made their way back to the house. The whole way back, Asher jokingly complained about footing the bill once again. He was the wealthiest member of their group by far even before they had become successful adventurers. Dimitri and Dina had come from a wealthy family but they had each forsaken their birthrights for different reasons. Asher’s fame and intermittent concerts kept him fairly well off. He never spent too much beyond good food and drink for the party and held much of it in reserve for emergencies and supplies. When they arrived at the house, Mariel appropriated the kitchen table to set out all of the supplies.

“All of that’s necessary for the ritual?” Luther asked. He really had no mind for magic but he was always curious.

“Well, we had to make do with some substitutions due to being in a small town,” Mariel said. “I think it should all still work. What really matters is the prime ingredient.”

“What is it?” Luther asked. “Is it dangerous?” He trusted Mariel but he also mistrusted a lot of the world of magic.

Mariel fished a vial from her bag of holding. The dust inside was gray but when it caught the light, it had a rainbow shimmer to it. “It’s dream powder,” Mariel said. “It’s very important.”

Luther’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull. “Dream powder!?” he hissed. He looked around desperately to make sure nobody else was lurking close to the kitchen. “You know that’s an illegal drug in most of the world, right? Do you know how many authorities we’ve dealt with while you’ve held onto that?”

“I know,” Mariel said. “I’ve been ready to ditch it at a moment’s notice but it’s really hard to come by. I just couldn’t ditch a good reagent.” Mariel was mashing the ingredients into a thick paste with mortar and pestle. She was efficient and careful about her work.

“I dealt with a lot of people addicted to the stuff in my past life,” Luther said. “It was no joke.” Luther’s criminal past was not a secret as he was an open door as part of his atonement.

“I’ve seen a few addicts myself,” Mariel said. “Near the orphanage. I wouldn’t even suggest this ritual if it wasn’t the only thing I can think of to help that girl and stop Hesper.” Mariel’s past was not much brighter.

Luther thought about that for a few moments. “You’re right,” he said. “I’d do just about anything to help that innocent girl. We have to do this.”

Mariel nodded. “We do,” she said. “Sorry. This is going to be one of our strangest adventures. If it helps, I’ve really researched this a lot. It’s a very interesting ritual that I am repurposing from worshippers of Somnus. They used to use this to dream walk in order to connect with each other and bond closer as a community.”

“They regularly used dream powder?” Luther asked.

“Well,” Mariel said. “Somnus worshippers are rare. As you would think, they spend a lot of time asleep or in a waking dream state. They end up being really disconnected from reality.”

“None of that really makes me feel better about what we’re about to do,” Luther said. “Please assure me that this will go well.”

“I assure you that this will go well,” Mariel said. “We’re in this together.” The two of them smiled at each other and almost shook their heads in unison. They had all done a lot of dangerous things together. This would be no different.

“Well, any adventure we can walk away from is a good one,” Luther said. “As long as everyone can walk away. That includes little Gwen.”

“We’ll do our best as always,” Mariel said. “That will have to do.”

Dimitri entered the room. “I just need to get my armor on and I’ll be ready,” he said.

Mariel shook her head. “No armor and no weapons,” she said. “This is a purely psychic journey. We’ll be in the Plane of Dreams, specifically in the corner dedicated to Gwen.”

Everybody else had filtered into the room by that time. “Well,” Dina said. “Are we going to do this thing?”

“Let’s do this before I have to think about it too much,” Luther said.

They headed upstairs and stood around Gwen’s sleeping body. Mariel smeared the paste in designs on each of her friend’s foreheads and then her own. Finally, she drew a design on Gwendolyn’s forehead. She was so gentle. She started to intone an ancient prayer to Somnus and then everybody slumped to the floor at once. Their bodies lay sleeping where they had been standing. Though, to the adventurers, it felt like they were all water and Nina was the drain. They swirled around and around and then sank into her and then there was blackness.


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