Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Pekko Atlas Pt. 1

January 5, 2019

Today we start exploring the eastern continent of Pekko across The Serpent Sea from the continent of Taldona.  Pekko has less violent changes in climate probably due to it not having as many magical calamities in the far-flung past.  It also has bigger kingdoms due to more stability in its early settlement.  I only have a few more lands to do and I will have completed my world’s atlas.  You can find earlier parts here and here for the western continent.

pekko

Ieshon
Dragonborn 68% Humans 4% Half-Elves 4% Elves 4% Dwarves 4%
Half-Orcs 4% Halflings 4% Tieflings 4% Gnomes 4%

Ieshon is a kingdom settled by the dragonborn shortly after the Great Conflict where they resolved to wait should they be needed again by their patrons, the dragons. Over time, most of them forsook the dragons and formed a civilized society. In Ieshon, many prejudices between chromatic and metallic dragonborn have died down but the blood still calls to both sides. Used to hierarchical rule, the dragons formed a rigid feudal society which is still followed in the present. Who rules the land is determined by bloodline and power. Bloodlines rule the people indefinitely unless they grow weak and another more powerful bloodline wrests control from them. Most dragonborn (and others who have come to call Ieshon home) live in large city-states surrounded by farmland. Regional lords control and manage their land while a king or queen rules on high. The overall ruler is usually a metallic dragonborn but many lords and ladies have been known to be chromatic.  The worship of Bahamut is very popular in Ieshon, even among chromatics as the desire for fun battle is strong in their culture.

Oochar
(An accurate census of races of Oochar is not remotely possible but pretty much every race is present)

Most of Oochar is covered in thick jungle, only cleared out in places where people settle. It is a hard-fought living in the jungles of Oochar and there is very little of what the rest of the world might call civilization. There is only one city and only because they needed a place for important meetings to take place and a refuge for the darkest times. The government is actually made up of a large amount of semi-nomadic tribes with each of them being autonomously governed. The tribes are fairly varied as they are somewhat isolated from each other and it is difficult to determine from the outside how many tribes there are and how big each tribe is. It is also hard for outsiders to deal with Oochar as a whole because you never know who you might encounter once you cross their borders. A diplomatic expeditionary group once went mad trying to track the comings and goings of all the tribes. Most other countries find it not worth their time to do anything but trade on the Oochar borders but the place is great for adventurers. There are legends of the tribes uniting for various causes but it is rare for it to be done. Many tribes leave their elderly or infirm in the capital city as a sort of retirement along with some diplomatic members (with the message spell).

Oskia
Elves 25% Half-Elves 21% Humans 19% Halflings 12%
Tieflings 11% Dwarves 9% Gnomes 3% Half-Orcs >1%

Oskia is a matriarchal society currently ruled over by Queen Lynna and Queen Calasi. It has long been a society that revered the power of women but never treated men unfairly and the men of Oskia always supported the right of rule of women. Their society is highly based on and dependent on magic. Druids shepherd the fauna and flora. Wizards design the buildings and structures. Sorcerers, warlocks, and bards protect the peace with magical might. Not everybody in the country is magical but all are encouraged to learn a little bit of magic if they can. It has given rise to a nation of mostly hedge wizards who may know a trick or two. It is how the small nation has stood out and survived, especially next to the somewhat dangerous nation of Oochar. The country is fairly temperate if a little hot sometimes but definitely a famously pleasant place to live. Historically, Oskia often takes the lead in diplomatic negotiations in its area (even when it’s not asked for). For some reason, there is a higher percentage of sorcerers in Oskia, perhaps due to the more frequent use of magic but it is unknown at this time. There is also heavy prejudice against half-orcs in Oskia and many are driven into Oochar or killed.

Treania
Humans 32% Half-Elves 21% Elves 15% Dwarves 6%
Half-Orcs 9% Halflings 8% Tieflings 6% Gnomes 3%

Treania is home to the three greatest ports of the continent and therefore is the local shipping capital. Most things that come from the other continent or the Crumbs touches Treanian soil at one point even if it is just a quick stop. This has made Treania a very rich land and those riches have in turn made Treania more dominant in world trade. Of course, immense wealth for the trade barons has led to a greater disparity between the haves and the have-nots. At a certain point, the middle class in Treania began disappearing and the economy boiled down to the aristocrats and the working class. The working class people are not serfs but because the aristocrats have so much money, they are often quite powerless in class warfare. The only way the system has remained stable is that the working class bands together while the aristocrats compete with each other. The have-nots tend to look after each other better and are often kinder yet hardier as a result. Treania has also spearheaded the hunting of pirates from The Crumbs as much of their economy depends on shipping.

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The Faith of the Raven Pt. 8

December 29, 2018

The adventurers lept into action immediately. Carania ran directly at the two zombie goliaths. They swung their fists but Carania narrowly dodged their attacks. While the zombies were distracted, Galath pointed his holy symbol and there was a brilliant flash. The goliaths turned away in fear from the divine light and started to run but they accidentally ran into each other and fell to the ground in a tangle. Carania descended on them and slashed at them and then pierced both with her sword. Arne finished it by setting them on fire as Carania moved to safety. The zombies did not react as they started to burn to ash. Carania guessed that they did not even feel the flames.

Carania gripped her sword tighter and trudged toward the King of Crows. She stopped short when she saw that the King had a knife up against one of his captives’ throats. She heard Arne and Galath halt as well. She grunted and glared at the man. Close up, she could see how pathetic he looked. He was old and scared and Carania felt all of the adrenaline leave her system and she grew calm as death. The captive, a young girl, was shaking but Carania did her best to offer a reassuring look.

“Leave the girl and deal with me,” Carania said. “Face me fairly.” She gripped her sword tightly, calm but tense like a wound spring. Her years of training had prepared her for these moments and she was not about to back down.

“Three against one is no fair fight,” The King said. His voice sounded a bit like a cawing crow. “Give me but a moment and I’ll summon up some friends.”

“No more moments, Crow,” Carania said. “My Lady of Ravens has requested I deal with you by sending you to meet her. Your time is up. I would not want to disappoint her as you have done.”

“If I go then I won’t be going alone!” The King crowed out and dragged the knife across the girl’s throat with a sick smile on his face. He started to chant something, waving his fingers.

The moment that followed felt like it flowed like molasses. Carania shouted wordlessly in anger and shock. She ran forward and stabbed the King of Crows hard through the stomach. His face seemed to freeze in surprise for an eternity. At the same time, Galath grabbed the girl and laid hands on her, healing the wound with holy light. Carania looked up into the branches above as the symbols of Nerull clattered to the forest floor. The ravens were up there in the trees, dozens of them, and they were glaring down at the necromancer. Carania smiled and calmly dragged the point of her sword across his throat as she mouthed a little prayer to Azrea.

As Carania stepped away, the ravens descended on the body of the King of Crows. She turned away and let them have it. She suspected it was their right as vassals of Azrea. She tried not to think of the sounds the birds made as they tore at the corpse. Arne was busy burning the symbols and tokens of Nerull and instantly the forest seemed to feel brighter. It was as if a fog was lifted and the evil evaporated from the fabric of the place. Carania walked over to Galath and the young girl. The paladin wore concern on her face.

“How is she Galath?” Carania asked. “Will she make it?”

“She will,” Galath said, looking up at Carania with a relieved smile. “She’s lucky a healer was so close by.”

“She’s also lucky the Talons were here,” Arne said.

Carania looked back over her shoulder. “Wait, who are the Talons?”  She asked.

“Just a suggestion for our little group’s name,” Arne said. “In honor of your patron, the Queen of Ravens.”

“I like the sound of it,” Carania said. “I think we’ll add it to our official introduction. I think we’ll be saying it a lot if we continue these fights.”

“I think you’re right,” Arne said.

“I agree,” Galath said. “I think this is exactly what we should be doing.”

Arne walked over and knocked on the cage holding the necromancer’s captives and the lock shattered and the door opened. The people started streaming out of the cage. They thanked the three adventurers profusely. Carania and Arne gave them directions back to town while Galath treated the most grievous wounds. As he did, Carania heard a noise from behind. The young girl was waking up. Carania knelt beside her. The girl was an elf so it was hard to judge her age but the light in her eyes looked very young. She had not yet reached physical maturity. She glanced around and saw no other elves which confused her.

“Are you alright?” She asked. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you from that pain.”

“You tried,” the girl said. “and you saved us.”

“What is your name?” Carania asked. She smiled at the girl, remembering when her former charge had been this young.

“Taryn Moonglow,” the girl said.

“Are you here with someone?” Carania asked.

“No,” Taryn said. “I came here alone. I was on my way back home when I was surprised by these men.” She sat up a little, taking deep breaths as she took it slow.

“Where do you live? I could take you there. We could take you there,” Carania said.

“The Fangleth Forest,” Taryn said. “I live among druids like me among the trees.”

“The Fangleth?” Carania asked. “What brings you out this far?”

“I came here to fetch a rare flower that grows here,” Taryn said. “It is the Southern Star Flower.” She pulled a dark purple, five-petaled flower from her cloak and held it up for Carania could see. “It can be used to heal some of my people from a specific curse.”

“Well, perhaps we can help with that too,” Arne said.

“Really?” The girl asked.

“Of course,” Carania said and took the girl’s hand. “The Talons are here to help.”

Fairytown

December 15, 2018

Princess Cuddlebottom sure was a funny name but there was nothing funny about her getting murdered. The incident had happened in Mount Washington and Detective Danielson was glad that no kids had been around to see it. He was a little surprised to see that a fairy had traveled this far from Fairytown. It did go down outside of a school so maybe she had just been trying to get a glimpse of the kids. Most fairies love kids and many missed being around them. Danielson shrugged and pulled out his notepad and began writing down his impressions. He spotted Detective Waters making her way over.

“I’m surprised you would show up this early, Waters,” he said with a smirk.

“Are you kidding?” She said, holding out a cup of coffee. “You know I’m always there when fairies are involved. Though, this is a bit out of our usual jurisdiction.”

“Our beat is Fairytown so when something happens to fairies, we get involved anywhere in the metropolitan area,” he said. He took the cup of coffee and took a sip with a smile. She may not have been a morning person but Waters could remember how he liked his coffee.

“Lucky us,” she said without a hint of sarcasm. Ah to be young again. “Is this where it happened?” She asked as she walked over to the roped off area. Her face grew more serious when she saw the blood. It looked like somebody had spilled sparkly nail polish but anybody who knew the real story could tell what it was. It turned Danielson’s stomach a little bit and obviously it had a greater effect on his partner. “Steady on, Waters. They’re counting on us to solve this one.”

Waters nodded slowly and composed herself. “I’ve never seen their blood before,” she said. “Do they all bleed glitter like that?”

There was the clicking sound of a lighter as Doctor Gabriella Stone walked up, smoking a cigarette. “Not all of them do,” she said. “There’s a whole rainbow of colors and some of them even bleed oily black.”

“Oh joy,” Danielson said. “What luck to have Charm City’s most sociable medical examiner join us on this beautiful autumn morning.”

“I’m the only ME who has studied fairy physiology,” Stone said. “Who else did you think was going to show up? I live right around the corner, I was here before you were.”

“Where’s the body?” Waters asked, looking around the street.

“I already had it moved,” Stone said. “No need to scare the kiddies. My team did all the forensics and we packed everything up and sent it back to the station. Relax.”

“Not a doubt in our minds,” Danielson said. “I just wanted to see the scene of the crime myself before we started knocking on doors and asking questions.”

“Have fun,” Stone said before walking away. She did not ask permission and she did not look back. Danielson could respect that.

“She’s so cheery,” Waters said. She was staring at the splash of blood on the pavement again but this time with a look of determination on her face.

“The Reapers are usually not the happiest souls,” Danielson said as he turned to walk toward his car.

Waters walked quickly to catch up to him. “Isn’t that kind of a rude nickname for the medical examiners?” she asked.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Danielson said. “What Reapers do is a kindness. They pick the fallen up off of the street and they help us figure out their mystery. They help us get justice. And it’s no wonder they’re cheery. They see and touch so much death in their lives.”

“True,” Waters said. “So what are we dealing with here? I mean, who are we dealing with?”

“The victim was positively identified as Princess Anjelica Snugglebottom, a resident of Fairytown. The system should have her address on file but I have a feeling I already know where she lived.”

“The palace,” Waters said. “Why was she all the way over here? Was she an imaginary friend back in the day?”

“I have no clue until we look into it but I wouldn’t be surprised,” Danielson said.

“Why would she be an imaginary friend?” Waters asked. “Isn’t that sort of thing beneath royalty?”

“Fairytown is lousy with princesses,” Danielson said with a shrug. “I’m not sure where she falls in the line of succession but I feel like it has to be way down the line if she was able to travel this far uptown by herself.”

“So a princess could be an imaginary friend?” Waters asked.

“You know that they do not like that term, right?” Danielson asked. “We all know that they’re not imaginary now.”

“Yeah, I know,” Waters said. “It’s just habit. I had one, did you know that?”

“An imaginary friend?” Danielson asked. “I seem to remember that from your file when you came aboard.”

“This was before we found out that they weren’t imaginary, of course,” Waters said. “Her name was Lady Carinas and she watched out for me when I was little. My parents worked a lot.”

“The fairies that posed as imaginary friends did a lot of good back then,” Danielson said. “They got a bad rap after they were revealed. I really feel for them.”

“Me too,” Waters said. “That’s why I requested this detail. So should we start knocking on doors?”

Danielson shook his head. “The uniforms can handle that. I really don’t think we’ll get anything useful out of canvassing the neighborhood. If somebody was going to come forward, they would have done it already. Besides, I don’t think a human could bring a fairy down so easily.”

“Then what do you think happened?” Waters asked. Though, they both knew as they locked eyes.

“It was probably a monster,” Danielson said. “It’s the thing that makes the most sense but we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. We have questions to ask.”

“So where are we going?” Waters asked. “Wait, are we going to the palace? I’ve never been.”

“Well, this is your lucky day,” Danielson said. “You get to visit the palace and more than that, you get to meet the queen.”

“I can’t wait!” Waters said.

“Don’t get too excited, Junior,” Danielson said. “I have a feeling that the visit isn’t going to be pleasant.”

The Shield of Tau Pt. 3

November 10, 2018

Jace arrived at the central city square before his time and so he was waiting when the Shields of Tau emerged to set up the trial. The others who would be trying out arrived around the same time. The Shields wordlessly unlocked and opened a trapdoor and everybody walked down a set of stairs. Right before Jace was about to descend below the level of the square, he looked around for a friendly face but he saw neither Lita nor <A>. The trapdoor clanged back into place behind them as they descended toward the Pit of Trials. They were brought into what looked like an ancient armory.

“My name is Captain Cahrn,” a man in armor yelled, his voice echoing in the small stone space. “Choose your weapon wisely.”

Jace looked over his options. There was just about everything a fighter might want, really. There were several different flavors of swords, spears, halberds, shields, daggers, axes, hammers, and everything you could conceive of to slash, pierce or bludgeon a foe. Even though all of those weapons were relatively cheaply made, Jace was definitely wowed. He had grown up loving weapons and here was a room full to the brim. He started walking through the room, putting his hands on all of them and feeling their heft.

“Would you hurry up?” Cahrn said to nobody in particular.

Jace hurriedly picked up a shield and a sword and moved to line up near the door. The shield and sword was not the most exciting choice but it was a classic. More than that, it was the iconic pairing that Jace had fallen in love with when he and Lita had been rescued from the blink dogs. Whenever he thought about protecting the people of the Empire, he imagined himself using a shining shield and a wickedly sharp sword. He had no idea how that imagined reality would match up with his true future but he was definitely ready to give it a shot. Or at least, he was as ready as he was going to get.

They shuffled through a door into the next area. Jace counted five others who were trying their hand at this. There were two women and three men. Jace did not recognize any of them but in a city the size of Tau that was not so strange. They were led to a caged-in area and beyond was a bigger cage, a huge circle. It was the trial pit itself and at the top of it, Jace could see the sun filtering down and he could hear people gathering to watch outside. The Festival to Kord was a big yearly holiday in Tau and the Shield Placement was the biggest event so the crowd was very boisterous. It was a completely different atmosphere from the tension down in the pit as the fighters waited their turn. One by one Jace and his fellow applicants drew lots to see who went first. Jace drew second and started to prepare himself as he watched a young blond man enter the pit.

As the man stood there, a door opened on the other side of the cage and a crag cat leaped out, white and furry. The blond immediately dodged that first attack and tried to maneuver to a place to sink their spear into the cat. The two opponents began combat in earnest, both of them moving fast around the cage as the crowd gasped or clapped above. The crag cat would lunge with tooth and claw and the young blond man would try and dodge and counter. The crag cat was too nimble to be caught by such a simple plan. Fear started to sink in as Jace realized that the cat was toying with its prey. Unless something changed, the cat would win. A few moments later and his suspicions were confirmed as he watched the blond accidentally roll his ankle and succumbed to the claws of the crag cat. Shields rushed into the cage and tried to clear the cat from the body but the cat dragged the body back through the door while the Shields pursued it.

After a beat, Jace got the signal that it was his turn. He took a deep breath and walked into the cage. He saluted the crowd above and he tried to look for Lita. He could not spot her but knew that she would be somewhere in the crowd. He trained his eyes on the opposite door and tried not to look down at the bloodstains. It was time for his future to begin and he would let nothing get in his way. He swung the sword, trying it out again, and made sure the shield was securely strapped to his forearm. He listened to the countdown and then the door began to open but instead of one beast, there were two small ones. He knew these beasts all too well. It was a pair of blink dogs.

For a moment, Jace flashed back to the day one of his friends was killed by blink dogs. It was the first day that he had swung a weapon at another living thing. The horrible moment that had solidified his dream to forge himself into becoming a protector, a true Shield of Tau instead of just a kid pretending to be one. The memory of that promise pushed through the trauma and he felt his resolve become as iron as he gripped his sword tight. He did not wait for the blink dogs to get their bearings, he lunged forward. They both lunged at him but he fended off one with the shield and grazed the other with the sword. The one that was cut suddenly blinked away and Jace worked hard to calm himself. The dog suddenly reappeared in the air above Jace, trying to dive down onto him. He swatted it hard out of the air with the shield.

It was at this point that the other dog lunged at his feet, forcing him to step aside and plunge his sword into the thing’s back. The dog yelped and struggled but was unable to free itself and passed out, bleeding profusely. Meanwhile, the first dog had teleported to the other side of the cage. It growled defiantly at Jace and Jace glared back at it in return. He flicked the blood from the sword which caused the dog to charge in a rage. Jace charged the dog and he saw as the dog failed to teleport again and instead tried to bank right to circle around. Jace spun and struck at the beast, injuring its paw and causing it to stumble but keep moving. As the dog lunged one last time, Jace stabbed it in its throat, putting it out of its misery. The crowd cheered and the door opened and Jace was summoned to leave.

In the Shanti Desert Pt. 3

November 5, 2018

A thin, spindly man slowly climbed out of the box. He had pale white skin and hair and he looked like somebody had wrapped a bundle of sticks in skin and hair. His striking appearance was the first thing that hit her but the man’s impossibly big smile surprised her. He looked sweaty and sore as he shifted on his feet after climbing out of the box but he still had a big smile on his face. His gaze scanned the room and when they fell on Saara, she saw that his eyes were a dark shade of pink. When he met her gaze, he winked playfully. It was then that the full realization that these people had been transporting a living creature in a box hit her.

Before Saara could object, Arana blurted out. “What are you?” Her eyes were wide and the words came out sounding awestruck.

“My lady,” The man said as he turned to her and bowed. The action made Sabri flinch slightly. “They call me Ba’as. As for what I am, I suppose you might call me one of a kind.”

“You’re Ba’as?” Saara asked. Her voice rose in pitch a bit in her excitement.

“Unless I’m lying,” Ba’as said. “Do I detect a fan?”

Saara nodded. “We didn’t think you were real, though,” she said.

“Sometimes I wonder myself,” Ba’as said. “Who is we?”

Saara pulled up her sleeve and showed off a stylized tattoo of a rat high up on her forearm. “The <>. Small crew. We heard stories from fences about you, though.”

Ba’as shrugged. “People do like to talk,” he said. “but I don’t like to brag in mixed company.” He gestured toward Arana, Adira, and Sabri. “It’s all true, though.”

Saara noticed a tattoo of a key and a question mark on Ba’as’ bare chest and she made a mental note to ask him about them if they were ever alone together. “Wow,” she said with a beaming smile.

Horseface Horu came in through the door and immediately reacted to Ba’as, a mix of startled fear and curiosity. When Sabri snapped his fingers, Horu was brought back into the moment. “Boss, we found the flag,” he said. “I can bring you there.”

“Are we to swing into action, ‘boss’?” Ba’as asked, turning toward Sabri with that unsettlingly broad smile. “Buckle some swashes? Locate some treasure?”

Sabri looked away and over at Saara and shook his head. “Not until daybreak when our sorceress should be healed up,” he said. ” Until then, I trust you not to try to escape.”

“It’s far too hot and dry out there, I’m sure,” Ba’as said. “Besides, I am curious about the job for now.” Ba’as then bowed low and gracefully for Sabri.

“Good enough, I suppose,” Sabri said. “Horu, get the man his clothes and then gather the rest inside.” He settled into a chair with one last glance at Ba’as and closed his eyes. He was either meditating or taking a nap. It was really hard to tell.

Horu started searching through chests until he found Ba’as’ gear. Saara watched Ba’as start to pull on black leather armor. “Ah, I felt so naked without my second skin,” he said. He chuckled a little to himself as if he had told a joke. When nobody laughed, he glanced around and raised an eyebrow. Saara could see that the armor had an attached half-cape with a heavily tattered edge. He went back into the box and pulled out a necklace, some rings, and a bracelet and slipped them on one at a time. He pulled out a white porcelain-looking mask with black braids dangling from it. He slipped the mask on and he looked somehow more ordinary, at least for a Kofrani city. He reached for two wicked looking daggers but Horu shoved him aside and picked them up instead.

“I don’t think we’re going to trust you with those yet,” Horu said. “If you need them, you’ll have them. Until then, I’d rather not have them sticking out of my back.”

“I’d love to disappoint you,” Ba’as said. “but it appears I have no choice but to wait.”

“What?” Horu shouted, outraged.

“Kidding,” Ba’as said.

Horu grunted and looked over at Arana. “I suppose I’m relying on you to help the boss keep things under control in here,” he said. “I wouldn’t put that burden on the healer.”

“I have my eye on all of them,” Arana said. “This is literally my house. I think we’ll all get along, right?” Ba’as simply smiled and Saara shrugged. Horu stepped back outside without another word.

“What is your name, witch?” Ba’as asked, moving slowly toward Saara, Arana, and Adir.

“I’m not a witch, I’m a wizard,” Arana said in a matter-of-fact tone with no anger but a tinge of nervousness. “My name is Arana.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Arana,” he said. “I promise I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t or you don’t want to?” Arana asked.

Ba’as merely winked. Saara laughed. Arana frowned but then managed a fake laugh.

“And who is this young lad?” Ba’as asked. He gestured to Adir who was watching Ba’as with big eyes.

“This is Adir,” Saara said. “He’s a healer but he doesn’t talk.”

Adir gestured toward his throat, glancing at Arana.

“He can’t talk,” Arana said. “He was born that way so it doesn’t respond to healing magic.”

“Curious,” Ba’as said. “and also unfortunate. I’m sorry, Adir.” Adir shrugged and nodded and stuck his hand out. Ba’as was taken aback for a beat but shook Adir’s hand. “Trusting. I like that, sir.” Adir smiled and took his hand back.

Sabri opened one of his eyes. “I would suggest you rest your mouths and your bodies,” he said. “We will be working hard tomorrow and I do not want my investments failing on me.”

“Aye aye, boss,” Ba’as said with a mock salute. Saara giggled and mock saluted as well. Ba’as leaned over and ruffled her hair with his hand.

“Gross,” Arana said and she grabbed her spellbook and moved over to settle in a chair.

Adir slowly laid down on his back and closed his eyes.

Aftershocks: Playthings Pt. 4

October 27, 2018

Aftershocks Playthings

It took a while to find out where the kids were. This time, Lydia had no reservations about Rob doing some hacking. Already having access to a server was not the same as actively hacking into a government computer. Lydia spent her time trying to keep Nancy calm as Rob worked, knowing how much she cared for those children. Also, she knew the way her dad had preyed on children weighed on her and had her wanting to balance out his actions. It was a hard weight for sunny Nancy to carry and Lydia could see that. Also, she knew that Nancy’s freak out had started to wear on Rob’s nerves. How she became team mom, Lydia had no idea.

They arrived at the safehouse not quite as put together as they had been at the toy store. Lydia’s nerves were still jangled from combat, she was getting more battle-hardened but she still had a ways to go. Rob put on a brave face but Lydia was sure she could tell that he was nervous. Still, he was obviously the most composed. In the backseat, Nancy was like a dog begging to be let off of its chain. There was a wildness in her eyes that Lydia could understand but knew that they could not afford to indulge. She took Nancy’s hand in hers and spoke softly.

“Nancy,” she said. “These kids need us but they need us to be strong for them.”

“I’ll be strong for them,” Nancy said. “I’ll tear Charles apart like Ley and Jack.”

Lydia squeezed Nancy’s hand. “Nance, you are scaring me. We got lucky the last two times but this time they have hostages. We have to play it smart.”

Nancy looked helpless.

“You need to keep the monster at bay,” Lydia said. “Unless we absolutely need her. You are not a monster. You’re my happy friend. So let’s go save the day and make those kids happy again.”

Nancy took a deep breath. “Alright,” she said. “I’m with you.” Her voice was shaky but she looked sufficiently calmer.

Rob stepped out of the car and the girls piled out after him as quietly as they could. None of them were exactly stealth experts. At that moment, it really hit Lydia how young they were and how normal fighting demons had become. It was inspiring, frightening, and sad all at the same time. She wished she was reading paperbacks back in her room. She wished Nancy was leading sing-alongs back at camp.

Unfortunately, it was gunfire that snapped Lydia from her revelry and the three of them scrambled to duck back around the car. Rob cursed loudly as the bullets impacted the car but it was lost in the noise. Lydia reached into her bag and grabbed a mirror and held it up to try to see who or what was shooting at them. A bullet grazed the car near her arm and Lydia lowered the mirror. She whispered a few words and waved her hand over the mirror and she remotely viewed their surroundings. There were two cops with rifles aimed at their car.

“We’re not the bad guys!” Lydia yelled out. “We want to protect the kids.”

There was nothing but silence from the cops but they had stopped shooting.

“There is a maniac named Charles who is after the kids,” Lydia said into the night.

Both cops simultaneously tilted their heads back and let out insane cackling laughter. Then they spoke in unison. “The kiddies will be mine just like these two dopes. Either come and submit to me or I’ll pull out your eyes.” They both cackled again in perfect unison.

“Shit,” Rob said. “They’re possessed!”

“What do we do?” Nancy asked, eyes wide.

“We improvise and move forward,” Lydia said. “Sorry, Rob.”

Before Rob could ask what for, Lydia waved her hand and the hood of the car pried itself up and floated in the air. Lydia walked toward the house as the cops shot up the hood. The other two hurried to follow behind Lydia. At the last moment, she waved her hand again and the piece of metal flew into one of the cops. Rob pulled a revolver and shot the other cop in the shoulder. He pulled out a vial and sprinkled liquid onto the cop that Lydia had hit with the metal. There was no reaction.

“They’re gone,” Rob said. “It’s not normal demonic possession.”

Nancy actually growled and her hands sprouted sharp claws. Lydia actually mom armed her, raised her hand and snapped and both cops caught on fire. What had formerly been the cops flailed around but succumbed to the flames. Rob moved to pick the lock on the front door but Nancy lunged forward and dragged those claws down the door, cutting it to pieces. The three of them slipped into the house.

In the living room, the kids were unconscious and tied to the furniture. A little red-headed toy man stood in the middle of it all with a twisted grin on his face. He did not look afraid of the three newcomers. Lydia knew at once what this little man was planning and hoped that he had not succeeded.

“You can’t stop me,” Charles said. It was the same voice that came from the cops. “Their bodies are mine. They will be the start of the Army of Me.”

“No way!” Nancy yelled.

“Yes way!” Charles yelled out. “Do you think I subdued all these kiddos myself?”

As if on cue, toys came out of hiding and attacked. Nancy lunged at Charles, claws out and began to wrestle him. It would have looked comical in any other situation. The other two combatted the rest of the toys, slowly hacking and smashing their way through them. The living room was chaotic with battle and thankfully the kids really were out of it. At one point, Nancy and Charles crashed through a window and outside which was impressive since there were bars on the windows. Rob and Lydia did their best on their own, slowly destroying each toy and it seemed to take forever. Finally, they made sure the kids were safe and headed outside.

They arrived just as Charles got the upper hand, landing on top of a prone Nancy and pulling out a large wicked knife.

“I’ll rip your guts out, kid!” He yelled.

A shot rang out and then two more and Charles went flying from shots from Rob’s revolver. He and Lydia charged forward, covering for Nancy as she tried to recover.

“You little shits!” Charles yelled out. “You’ll never win. Me and the big guy are friends to the end.”

“This is the end,” Lydia said. She snapped her fingers and Charles burst into flames.

His screams were horrible but oddly satisfying. The three of them stood and watched the doll burn. When the screaming stopped, Rob made an anonymous call to the police to come to clear things up. Nancy continued to watch the remains of Charles burn as Lydia and Rob collected the car’s hood and untied the kids. They came and grabbed Nancy and Lydia was satisfied that Charles would continue to burn down to cinders before the police arrived. The three of them left. None of them really wanted to talk about things yet.

Aftershocks: Playthings Pt. 3

October 20, 2018

Aftershocks Playthings

Once again, Lydia insisted on driving, pushing Rob into the passenger seat since he was still a much younger kid. Nancy climbed into the back and made sure everybody buckled up before they started off toward the toy store. Nancy thought about how normally she would have been overjoyed to explore a toy store, even an abandoned one. Now, she knew that this was not going to be fun. It was going to be the gym and the hotel all over again. Beneath the fear was an anger quite unlike her usual happy demeanor. She clung to that anger a little, trying to use it to fight back the fear as she bounced a bit in the backseat of Rob’s big black car. Lydia glanced back at Nancy, a little worried for her best friend.

“So what’s our plan?” Lydia asked. “Go in hot like usual?”

“They’ve already hurt the parents,” Nancy said. “We need to crush them before they go after the kids.”

“Agreed,” Rob said. “Besides, the tactic has worked for us before. I don’t know what their plan is but we have to stop it.”

Nancy nodded. “For the kids,” she said.

“For the kids,” Lydia and Rob agreed. The three of them were still all under the age of eighteen but they did not really feel like kids anymore. Nancy looked over at Rob and wondered about him most of all since he was the youngest but had way more experience fighting these things.

Lydia felt the whole thing was unfair. She and Nancy had been pulled into this because of their shadow-touched pasts. They never chose it, it had been thrust upon them. Lydia was in this because her parents had dragged her to that house and things had gone off the rails. He had nearly married her and would have been unleashed on the world. Nancy’s story was even worse. She was only in the game because that demon had somehow impregnated Nancy’s mom so the process had been started long before her birth. It was maddening but if they could not get away, they both had decided to confront the problem head-on.

The three of them piled out of the car at the toy store and they opened the trunk to get out their weapons. Rob pulled out his silver blade, the one he called an ‘angel blade’ which was curious knowing what they had seen during their first encounter with the boy. Lydia pulled out her sword, an item that always made her feel sufficiently badass. Nancy grabbed the iron fireplace poker that she had taken from their last adventure in the hotel. It had served her pretty well and it was something she was more comfortable using than her own powers. Lydia was ready to use her magic spells. Finally, Rob grabbed a shotgun which Lydia was going to object to but thought better of it. The kid obviously knew what he was doing and they would be fighting sentient toys, not people.

Rob picked the lock on the sliding doors out front which raised some eyebrows with the girls but both of them let it go. The three of them slipped into the store which had shelves of old merchandise. Obviously, that made the three of them tense from what they had seen back at the bunker. They stood in the middle of those aisles and before any of them could comment, the shelves erupted with living toys. The three of them sprung to their defense and all three slashed at the attackers. It was an absolutely ludicrous sight to see three kids smashing and cutting up a whole bunch of toys. Everybody involved was screaming bloody murder and when the dust settled, the floor was littered with stuffing, plastic bits, springs, and all sorts of other parts. The three demon hunters were relatively unscathed. They walked toward the back.

“Where are you, Charles?!” Lydia called out, working at getting her breath back.

“Your plans are over!” Rob yelled.

They walked into the back and they almost ran into a baby doll, a teddy bear, and a jack in the box. The baby doll was smoking a cigarette calmly.

“This is the end of the line, kiddos,” the baby doll said. Its voice certainly sounded like it smoked.

“For you,” Nancy said.

“Charles isn’t here,” the jack in the box said, its voice like nails on a chalkboard. “We have a deal. He gets the kids, we get you.”

“What do you mean he gets the kids?” Nancy asked.

“Enough talk,” the baby doll said. With a growl, the teddy bear grew into a real bear and lunged after the three. Rob, Nancy, and Lydia spread out and the bear ended up chasing Lydia. The others each went after Rob and Nancy. Lydia swiped her sword at the bear, making sure to keep out of its reach the best she could. A couple of times, the bear nearly took her head off. She led it back into the shelves. Each slice with her sword only exposed stuffing under the bear’s fur. She was getting nowhere and she could feel her arms beginning to hurt and her swings started to slow down. Backed into a corner, she waved her hand and called out an incantation and set the bear on fire. As it panicked, it lost interest in Lydia before falling to the concrete and slowly burning away. Lydia leaned against the wall and tried to recover.

The baby doll had chased Nancy through the storeroom. It moved surprisingly fast for something with such little legs but Nancy supposed that demons worked with different rules of physics. She turned and swung the poker at the thing and was startled when the baby doll blocked the shot with a switchblade knife. Nancy thought it must have looked ridiculous as she started to fence with a baby doll. She was never going to look at another doll the same again. After a few moments, she gained an edge over the baby doll. At last, she disarmed the doll, sending the switchblade flying across the room and sticking into the wall. She drove the poker into the doll’s face and, as it shuddered and stopped moving, she worried about the nightmares this might cause.

As for Rob, he squared off with the jack in the box which laughed maniacally, showing off needle-like teeth. After spending some time trying to stab the thing with his angel blade, he gave up and retreated. As the thing laughed in triumph, Rob cocked the shotgun and blew its head off. The laughing abruptly stopped.

“This isn’t over,” Lydia said. “Charles is going after the kids. Where are the kids?”

“They’re all gathered together,” Rob said. “at the social services safe house.”

“Let’s end this then,” Nancy said. “Nobody messes with kids when I’m around.”

Aftershocks: Playthings Pt. 2

October 13, 2018

Aftershocks Playthings

While they were waiting for Rob, Lydia and Nancy had tried to do their best to research the problem. They had called a few people to see if they could separate fact from the rumors that had started to circulate. They found out which parents had died specifically and they had started to theorize what the actual plan was. The children were all going into the system but in the meantime, they were being held at a Social Services-sponsored group home. Without more information, neither of them had a clue what was going on. They were not even sure that the problem was supernatural in nature. There was definitely a killer on the loose, though.

Rob showed up at the bunker a bit later in the day, hanging his coat up near the door. He looked tired as he laid his magical blade across two pegs on the wall of the bunker. He took a deep breath and turned toward the girls.

“So,” he said. “People are getting murdered again.”

Nancy nodded. “A lot of them so far,” she said. “At least the kids got away. Do you have any ideas about what did this? Is it a demon again?”

“Slow down,” Rob said. He was a serious little kid and he looked sternly at Nancy’s frantic behavior. “I poked around little myself and yeah I think it’s demons.”

“What makes you think this is demons?” Lydia asked.

Rob pulled out his phone. “I found some stuff at one of the houses,” he said.

“You snuck into an active crime scene?” Lydia asked, her eyebrows rising up in surprise. “That’s a huge risk.”

“It’s not like we could flash a badge and pretend I’m FBI like my family does,” Rob said. “I’m too young for that. Nobody would buy that you two are law enforcement.”

“Thanks,” Lydia said with an edge of sarcasm. “I guess it’s fine as long as you didn’t get caught. People’s lives are on the line. What did you find?” Lydia was pragmatic and, although she was not much of a rule breaker, she recognized that the demons obviously did not care about rules.

Rob showed them the screen of his phone and the word ‘Playtime!” was written on the wall in a reddish brown liquid. The two girls had seen enough violence to know blood when they saw it. It still made them cringe and feel a little sick. “I found this written on the wall of the garage where one of the dads was found.”

“Oh geez,” Nancy said. “Why would somebody write that?”

“I have a theory but I wanted to check if the cops have uploaded the crime scene photos yet,” Rob said and moved toward his laptop.

“How?” Nancy asked.

“I have a backdoor into their server,” Rob said. “I installed it months ago to keep tabs.” He started to type on the computer.

Lydia took a deep breath. “I’m going to hold back my disapproval and just focus on how all the crimes you’re committing are saving lives.”

“It’s kind of a family tradition,” Sam said. “Look at these.” On screen there were a series of photos of similar writing on walls. Messages like ‘Friends til the end’, ‘Jack wuz here’, and ‘Wanna play?’ all written in blood. There were dozens and dozens of messages. “The messages are all written close to the ground like really close to the ground. That confirms my theory. The toys killed the parents.” He got up from the computer and headed toward the door.

The girls looked at each other and then back at Rob. “The toys?” Nancy asked.

“Are you alright?” Lydia asked. “Did you hit your head or something?”

“I’m fine,” Rob said and started fishing through the pockets of his coat. “I found something else at the house.” He pulled out a plastic container and walked into the interrogation room, the room where the three of them had officially become a team. He dumped the contents onto an elaborate symbol engraved on the table’s surface. The girls walked in to see what the fuss was about and saw a little sailor doll which looked kind of cute. Except that the doll was moving around by itself and its little hands were stained with blood.

“What the Hell?” Lydia said, joining Nancy in taking a step back from the creepy little doll.

“Exactly,” Rob said. “It’s possessed by a demon.” He turned toward the little demon sailor. “Tell us what happened.”

“Go f%9# yourself!” The little doll yelled. Despite its efforts to seem tough, it came off a little bit cute if creepy.

“I don’t think it’s going to talk to us, Rob,” Nancy said.

“Strange,” Lydia said. “We’ve killed quite a few of his kind so far.”

“You don’t scare me, lady, you’re a c&*7!” The little thing yelled at the top of its tiny lungs.

Lydia started to gather a fireball into her hand but Rob caught her wrist. “Hold that thought for a minute,” he said. “I have something they’re all afraid of.” He started to chant in what sounded a bit like Latin and the sailor started to scream and writhe in pain. “Talk and the pain stops!” He yelled at the demon. Nancy backed up a little further and hugged herself.

“Stop! Stop!” the demon screamed and Rob stopped chanting. “I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

“Go ahead and talk then,” Lydia said.

“He told us to kill the parents but I was out of practice and I hung around too long and that’s why you caught me,” the demon said indignantly. “It just felt so good.” The demon sighed. “He’s going to be mad.”

“Who’s he?” Nancy asked. One could practically see her pulse speed up.

“Charles,” the doll said in a mocking voice. “What a loser.” Nancy started to relax and Lydia reached over to squeeze her hand gently.

“Where are the other demons?” Rob asked. “Where’s Charles?”

The doll hesitated, looking down. “I dunno,” it said but gave itself away by smirking.

Rob started to chant again. “Talk!” Nancy yelled, furious at this little creature for harming the children she cared for. Her eyes flashed inky black for a moment and the doll recoiled from that even as it was in pain from the chanting.

“Harbin’s Toys!” The doll yelled out. “43rd and York! Please!”

Rob tapped that into his phone and then nodded at Lydia who tossed the fireball onto the doll and the three of them watched it writhe as the flames consumed it. It melted before the flames got hot enough to actually burn it to cinders. Lydia extinguished the flame with a gesture and they all left the room. Rob sat down at the laptop and searched the address.

“It’s an abandoned toy store,” he said.

“Perfect for finding little murderous bodies to inhabit,” Lydia said.

“We have to stop them,” Nancy said. “Charles must die.”

“I’ll get the car,” Rob said.

Aftershocks: Playthings Pt. 1

October 6, 2018

Aftershocks Playthings

Charles stepped into the back of the toy store and admired the blood stains on the walls and floor with glee. The only thing he regretted was that the deaths that had occurred in the storeroom were not his handiwork. He had been out of the game for far too long and he was ready to spill plenty of blood himself. He placed one of his small hands against a blood spatter on a shelf of toys and found that it was still wet. He reveled in the feel of blood on his flesh once again. He wondered if enough of it was wet that he did not need the blood he had brought with him. He shrugged and figured he might as well use the bucket he had gotten out of the taxi driver.

He dipped his finger into the bucket of blood repeatedly as he drew the pentagram on the floor. He was really more of a voodoo guy but this was how these things were done. He focused his will on the symbol and a little boy appeared in the middle of the pentagram but partially transparent. He looked impatient and annoyed which turned to complete disdain when he saw who summoned him.

“Oh,” the boy said. “It’s you.”

“Yeah yeah,” Charles said. “It’s me.” He liked being recognized but usually, that recognition brought unreasoning fear. “We haven’t actually met yet but we’ve both worked with sort of a similar theme.”

“I’m far more creative than you are,” the boy said, folding his arms over his chest. “The other yous are slightly smarter but still not as smart as I am.”

“And yet you failed once and haven’t done squat since,” Charles said. “Look, I have a different plan from those other mes and I need a power source to do it.”

“Why do you think I will help you?” the boy asked, his eyes narrowing.

“Look, I know this is a crapshoot,” Charles said. “You are plan C after things with Toulon and Hartwicke didn’t work out.”

“I’m so flattered,” the boy said.

“If you help me,” Charles said. “I’ll make sure to give you credit and when He hears how much you helped, he might let you out.”

“Then playtime could really begin again,” the boy said with a grin. He thought of the last time he had gotten to come out and play and the lives he had been able to take. Of course, Charles had been right when he had reminded him of his failure. That door was shut forever but new doors could always be opened.

Charles laughed his wild laugh, his red hair flinging all over the place as he tilted his head back. “Exactly! But for now, it’s my turn.”

“I suppose I can learn to share,” the boy said. “On one condition. You have to say the thing.”

Charles hesitated and sighed and nodded slowly, mentally filing away that he was being forced to say the phrase once again. “Give me the power. I beg of you!”

* * *

Lydia was in the bunker, which was where she was spending much of her summer. She had always been pale and unathletic so going out into the sunshine hardly sounded like fun to her. She much preferred to dive into Rob’s collection of arcane tomes to research the world of magic. As she read, she realized that she had only just dipped her toes in the world of magic and there was so much more to learn that it made her head spin. It was all so fascinating and she ended up spending whole days absorbed in reading book after book.

Nancy, on the other hand, could not stand to be cooped up for too long and reading about demons made her nervous. Twice she had displayed her father’s demonic powers but in the real world instead of the dream world and it dredged up too many shadows and fears inside of her. She spent most of her days in the sunshine as a camp counselor run out of their school. Laughing and playing with kids in the light lifted her spirits and seemed to bring her back to herself. Sometimes she came to the bunker and brought Lydia dinner or a DVD so they could have a movie night. This was why Lydia was startled when Nancy walked in before lunch one day in early July.

“Lyds!” She called out as she burst through the door. “It’s so terrible.”

“Nancy?” Lydia said, looking up from yet another book. “What are you doing here? What happened to summer camp?”

“People are dying, Lydia,” Nancy said, pacing back and forth. “It keeps finding us no matter what we do.”

Lydia stood and hugged her best friend. “Slow down, Nance,” she said. “You said something terrible happened?”

Nancy took a couple deep breaths and then started speaking again. “Summer camp was canceled today since the parents of three kids died last night.”

Lydia took a moment and thought about that. The two of them had experienced death and violence before both before and after they met. Nancy was excitable and all but she was frantic. Children were involved and the deaths had happened at night. Lydia was able to put two and two together and realized that Nancy must have been reminded of her father. She made sure to hold onto her friend’s shoulders and looked her in the eyes. She tried to make her voice as comforting as possible.

“Nancy,” she began. “I know what this sounds like. I know how much you like kids. We’re going to get to the bottom of this. We’re going to stop whatever is happening.”

Nancy nodded and she started to shake a little less. She started to calm down but still clung to her best friend. “Alright,” she said.

Lydia nodded reassuringly. “We are going to need to call Rob to get him in on this. All hands on deck, right?”

“I already called him on the way here,” Nancy said. “I left a voicemail for him.”

“Wow. That was probably an interesting message,” Lydia said.

“Oops,” Nancy said. “Yeah, let’s actually fill him in.”

The Shield of Tau Pt. 2

September 17, 2018

“You should go back home to Lita,” Numa said. “You have a big day tomorrow.” She relaxed in her seat at the inn her family ran. She always felt safe and at home there.

“She is still doing her weekly component shopping, I think,” Jace said. “It takes forever and she knows how boring it is so she does it with her wizard friends.” He held out the bottle of Deneirian whiskey that he had been drinking from, offering a drink to Numa.

She pushed the bottle away gently and then thought better and took the bottle and set it back down out of Jace’s reach. “I’ll remind you that I’m on duty here and I can’t drink with you,” she said. “Besides, it’s unseemly enough that you are hanging out with a human. I can imagine the talk if you are seen drinking with one.”

“I’m not worried about that,” Jace said that, waving the question away with his hand. “Elves and humans are allowed to talk to one another. Besides, you’re my friend. Your family gave us shelter when the blink dogs came.”

“I remember,” Numa said with a shudder. “That guard shoved you and you and Lita through the door but that other girl didn’t make it.”

“Miza,” Jace said with a shudder. Even five years later it still felt bad saying her name. He was grateful that he had not looked back in the chaos and seen her shredded by the blink dog. It was bad enough hearing it. “The worst day ever.” As soon as he said it, it felt like an understatement.

“The silver lining is that it was the day you met Lita, right?” Numa asked.

“Of course,” Jace said. “It’s also the day that I first swung a weapon and hit an enemy.”

“Which led you to where you will be tomorrow,” Numa said. “The Grand Festival of Battle.”

“Yes,” Jace said. “Tomorrow. The Placements of the Tau. The final step toward my future. In front of the Lord of Tau himself and also everybody I have ever known.”

“You’ll do fine. Where do you think you will be assigned?” Numa asked with a smile. “Hopefully not the border.”

“I have no idea,” Jace said. “I just want to serve. I’ve always wanted to serve. The incursions have started to get worse again.”

“Do you think you might get tapped to investigate those?” Numa asked.

“I’m sure that won’t happen,” he said. “The incursions must be magical in nature and I have no aptitude for magic. I would definitely not mind protecting the city from the invaders.”

“You would be good at it,” she said. “and it would be good to stay close to Lita’s shop.”

“Those are basically the reasons I have for wanting that post,” Jace said with a laugh. “You’ve summed it up nicely.”

“The gift of speech is one of my best skills,” Numa said. “Oh! By the way, I might be able to watch some of your matches.”

“How are you going to manage that?” Jace asked with some surprise. “No offense.” The last was added in quickly.

“No,” Numa said. “I understand what you meant. My family was selected to help with the food for the event so we’re closing down our kitchen for the day.”

“Nice,” Jace said. “I will look for you in the crowd. You can stand with Lita.”

“I’d love to,” Numa said. “I so rarely see her these days since we are both so busy. But you need to go home, Jace. Sleep before your big day. Besides, we need to close for the night soon.”

“I have received your message loud and clear,” Jace said as he stood up. “I will try and spot you tomorrow.”

Numa walked him to the door with a smile. “Tomorrow,” she said. “Your destiny and my snacks.” Which earned her a laugh from Jace before she shut the door on him.

Jace walked down the street, briefly walking along a line of stones to test how drunk he was. He concluded that he was probably fine and he walked home through the cold air. He opened the door of what doubled as he and Lita’s home and her enchanting shop. He paused and sniffed and he could quickly tell that the shop was closed for the day. All he could smell were stale reagents and parchment. As he climbed the stairs to their small apartment, he could hear that Lita was home. He stepped through their front door and closed the door firmly behind himself.

“My husband,” Lita said, coming from the kitchen area. “Welcome home.”

“My wife,” Jace said with a smile. “How was your shopping?”

She shrugged. “It was routine,” she said. “It will be delivered the day after tomorrow. I’m in no hurry since I will have the shop closed tomorrow. I stopped by Marian’s to consult about an upcoming project.”

“And how did that work out?” Jace asked. He slipped his jacket off and hung it up.

“Do you really want to hear about mundane issues about my job instead of talking about your big day tomorrow?” She asked with a sly smile which drew a smile out of him. “Are you that nervous?”

“Yes,” Jace said. “I know how hard I’ve trained but I don’t know what I will face tomorrow and what I face determines much of the rest of my life.”

“Oh husband,” Lita said. “Whatever happens tomorrow, you will find a way to protect people. That is the fate you’ve chosen. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I will love you and I am proud of you.” She moved over to him and kissed him deeply. He kissed her back happily and pulled her close. When they had both had enough, at least for the time being, they broke the kiss and held hands. He looked down at his wife’s ink-stained hands and smiled. She was so smart and they had grown together so close.

“I love you, Lita,” he said with a smile.

“I love you too, Jace,” she said. “I am happy to spend eternity with you.”

“And I’m happy to spend it with you,” Jace said. “Shall we go to bed?”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Lita said. “Tomorrow is going to be a full day.”


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