Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

The Summoning

January 15, 2022

Life as a knight of Lamora was not as grand as one would think. It was a day of summoning at the castle of Lord Urnar, one of the greater lords of Lamora. Zelia woke well before dawn and she had to find somebody to help strap her armor on. She was familiar with the castle and its staff but she had to find who might be available. The meeting she was summoned to was to happen before breakfast so Zelia got waylaid in her search passing through the kitchens. Breakfast smelled so good that she could not resist a bit of a preview tasting. She flagged down Onelle of the kitchen staff and then spent time leaning against a counter and eating a biscuit with ham and cheese, watching the workers as she did. She spoke a bit at Onelle but the young woman was busy and Zelia had to repeat herself often. She did not mind.

After eating, there was still plenty of time to get ready but Zelia did not have all day. Zelia had to take her leave from the kitchens and resume her search for somebody to armor her. She physically dragged young Arne out of bed. He was a good lad but he had a tendency to be a bit lazy sometimes. The boy complained at being roused from bed but stopped when Zelia gave him The Look. It never failed. The boy straightened up and saluted.

“Knight of the Iron Hand,” Arne said. “How can I assist you?”

“So formal,” Zelia said. She had known the boy a little before being knighted. “I need somebody to help me with my armor. Follow me.”

“Lead on, lady knight,” Arne said.

Zelia turned and walked back toward her quarters with Arne following behind. After a few moments, Arne set to work. The sleepy boy struggled to strap the pieces of armor to her body. She grew impatient.

“Boy, you had best wipe the sleep from your eyes and get this armor on straight,” she said firmly, trying to keep most of the crossness from her voice.

“Yes, m’lady,” Arne said. “I’ll try, m’lady.” The boy’s almost painful politeness softened her bad mood. He was pitiful.

“You had best stop blushing as well,” she said with a soft smile. “You would think you had never seen a woman’s body before.” That only made the boy blush more.

“You know, that’s entirely possible that that’s the case,” Anneslie said. “What woman in her right mind would show him her delights?”

Zelia glanced over at the beautiful Anneslie, Knight of the Golden Bloom. She was standing there in her own armor, ready for the summoning even earlier than Zelia had wanted to be. Perhaps that was a sign of a more experienced and accomplished knight.

“I have so seen a lady!” Arne shouted, turning to face his accuser but then he immediately backed down. “Begging your pardon, Lady Anneslie, Knight of the Golden Bloom.” He cast his gaze down at the floor in contrition and embarrassment and saluted.

“Relax, little fish,” Anneslie said with a laugh. “No need to stand on ceremony. Return to your normal duties. I’ll take over here.”

It was Zelia’s turn to blush at the thought of the older woman touching her.

“You will?” she asked Anneslie and then turned toward Arne. “Go about your business, we’re fine here.”

Arne bowed and left quickly, leaving behind a sudden silence between the women. Anneslie worked in that silence comfortably while Zelia’s gut turned itself in knots. Anneslie expertly assembled Zelia’s armor and tightened the straps tightly. Finally, Anneslie finished her ministrations.

“There,” she said. “The Knight of the Iron Hand in all of her glory.”

“You do good work,” Zelia said and fought back a blush to establish eye contact with Anneslie. “You should put on my armor more often.”

“You’re very silly,” Anneslie said with a smile. “I’ll see you downstairs.” Then the Knight of the Golden Bloom left the room abruptly.

Zelia looked up above the fireplace as she entered the meeting room and her gaze lingered on The Sword of Storms which was also known as The Sword of Heroes. As the story went, the sword could only be held and wielded in times of great chaos and need by somebody pure of heart. If the sword allowed itself to be held, things were in a very dark place. The last person to use the sword had been a scholar who had been subsequently elevated to the role of knight before his death years ago. Zelia dragged her eyes away from the sword and moved quickly to her seat, the chair bearing her emblem.

“Knights of Lamorra,” Lord Urnar said, his voice loud and commanding. “You do yourself credit to drop everything to report here in the name of the Queen. I do not summon you lightly. I brought you here to deal with a threat worthy of your talents which our scouts have brought to my attention. I will cut to the chase. Goblin bands are threatening the nearby lands in several locations. We need you, good knights, to eliminate this threat. You will ride out after breakfast. You are dismissed.”

Zelia blinked a bit at the abruptness but stood up in order to head toward the breakfast table. She looked for Anneslie but felt herself get dizzy and then, as she reached for her chair to steady herself, her vision went black.

Suddenly, she came back to herself and she was standing on her feet, grateful that she had not fallen down in her dizziness. She felt a weight in her hand and looked down. It was the Sword of Storms. Smoke was drifting in from another part of the castle but nobody else was visible. What had happened? What did she do?

The Bureau

January 8, 2022

John remembered the knife plunging into his gut. He remembered staggering through the alley, unable to ask for help loud enough to draw anyone. He remembered falling to his knees and crawling, trying desperately to find anything or anyone who could help him. All in vain. He remembered the warmth leaving his body before everything went black. He remembered all of that which meant that he had reached game over. There should have been no continue, no option to put in more tokens. Yet, here he was sitting at a table in a barren room.

He took a deep breath to prove that he could and then tapped his fingers on the table. Sight, hearing, and touch were all still working. At that moment, he could not smell anything but there did not seem to be anything especially fragrant in the room. He was not about to taste the table, of course. Still, it seemed that he was alive. Why he wasn’t patched up in a hospital bed was not exactly evident. The mystery nagged at him. He should be dead or at least severely injured.

He reached down to his side and felt no wound. There was not even any tenderness at the site of impact. Still, touching it was making him remember the attack more vividly which made his anxiety levels rise. He jerked his hand away. He spent time doing the customary checks one does after misadventure. He counted his fingers. He checked to make sure his limbs were intact and moved around. He checked his head for any bumps or contusions. He seemed to be in full health as far as he could tell. He stood up.

There was a sudden smell of a mix of peat and blood that strangely did not smell too bad. Any displeasure was offset by the realization that his sense of smell still worked. Another test passed with flying colors.

“Please have a seat, Mr. Caldwin,” a woman’s voice said. He looked back at the table and there was a woman sitting in a chair that had not been there before. She was wearing a wide-brimmed hat in such a way that he could not see her face. He had not seen or heard her come into the room. He sat down. As soon as he did, he noticed a steaming cup of coffee that had also not been there before. He drank without hesitation and without consideration even afterward. His anxiety lessened. The woman was looking at some sort of file folder.

“Thank you,” John said. “I mean for the coffee, of course, but also for whatever you did to keep me alive.”

“You’re not strictly alive,” the woman said without looking up. She wrote something quickly.

“I beg to differ,” John said. “Everything seems to be in working order and I’m not a bleeding wreck on the ground in an alley.”

“Well yes,” the woman said. “We are responsible for that. So you’re welcome.”

There was a long silence after that little exchange. John slowly sipped his coffee and watched the woman’s hat bob a bit as she read and wrote in the file folder. He was uncomfortable with the silence. The woman seemed to be just fine with silence.

“So you know my name,” John said, waiting for the obvious answer.

“I do,” the woman said. She kept her focus on her file folder without fail.

“And you are…” John said, trailing off to let the woman fill in the blank.

“Very busy,” the woman said. She finally looked up and John was taken aback to realize that she had no face. Where a face would have been, there was a blur that was uncomfortable to look at. John found himself staring at her hat rather than trying to establish eye contact with non-existent eyes.

“I don’t mean to be rude but you seem to be missing your face,” John said, trying to be helpful. “It’s just not there.” He managed calm words but he felt the cold stab of fear.

The woman sighed. “It’s not missing,” she said. “I just don’t have one. I’m not a human. I’m more of a concept. Please focus on the important things.” She closed her file folder and it ceased to exist.

“Is this the part where you explain things to me?” John asked. “I really need it to be the part where you explain things to me.” A headache was slowly forming behind his eyes.

The woman sighed again. “I don’t have time for that,” she said. “This book will explain everything.” She placed a leatherbound book on the table and then she vanished into thin air. At least she left the coffee behind.

An Easy Favor Pt. 3

January 1, 2022

The taxi arrived in Old Remington in front of a rundown halfway house. Hawthorne and his sister’s apartment had long been reclaimed and their possessions had probably been disposed of. The prison system had provided a few changes of clothes and a pair of boots and that was it. He grabbed the duffle bag and thanked the cabbie. The cab was prepaid by the State but he wished he had some money to tip the guy. Not having the money to give that tip wounded him. He had been a criminal but he still had respect for the workers out there. He and Mars had only hit wealthy targets by design.

Hawthorne started toward the front door. He still had to get his room assignment and check-in with his parole officer before he could even think of carrying out Art’s wishes. He reached and checked to make sure Art’s note was still tucked in the joint of his shoulder. He stepped into the doorway of the apartment building and the security scanners whirred to life. One of the sensors gave off some sparks as it moved. He could see some rust and exposed wires in places. In older days he would have looked at these signs as something he could exploit but now he just hoped it would not spray sparks on him anymore.

He walked into the lobby which looked alright but there were definitely signs of wear and tear. He shook his head and turned to head toward the front desk. He had to stop acting like he was casing the joint. Besides, it was a halfway house so there was probably nothing to steal anyway. He set his bag down near the front desk gently and tried his least intimidating smile. He knew that he was big and imposing and he knew he sometimes had to compensate for that. He did not want a bad reputation on day one. He had been on his best behavior in prison in an attempt to get the best chance to go straight. He had to continue that effort.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “My name is Hawthorne Cassidy and I’m here to report for my room assignment.”

The young woman looked up from her book and looked Hawthorne up and down. She seemed thoroughly unimpressed. She grabbed up a datapad and scrolled through it slowly. She looked at the datapad and then at Hawthorne and back at the datapad’s screen.

“Hold out your data tag,” the woman said, looking up to suddenly stare into his eyes.

Hawthorne found himself actually flinching. This lady was one tough customer but he tried to keep smiling. His arm clunked against the counter as he held out the device bound to his wrist. He tried to be gentle but his cybernetic arms weighed far too much to be too gentle. She rolled her eyes and waved a scanner over the data tag.

“Hawthorne Cassidy,” the woman said in a monotone. “Formerly of the Cassidy Twins. Held for robbing banks, antiquities, and private collections. Several pages here about the destruction done to law enforcement property.”

“All that is over,” Hawthorne said. “I’ve served my time. All of my enhancements have been powered down to human levels. I just want to walk the straight and narrow now.” He smiled again, trying to project innocence.

“We’ll see,” the woman said and yawned. “Unit 405. Keep it clean and behave. Your data tag and only your data tag will open the door to your unit.”

“Will do,” Hawthorne said. “Can I ask your name?” He genuinely was not trying to get intimate. He just wanted to make a human connection.

The woman swiped a strand of her platinum blonde hair from her face. “I’m not giving a criminal my real name. It’s also against company policy. You can call me Erinyes,” she said.

“Kind of a weird name,” Hawthorne said.

“Read your Greek mythology,” Erinyes said. “and get away from my desk.”

“Sure,” Hawthorne said. He grabbed his bag and started to step away. “You know my sister taught me quite a bit about electronics,” he said. “I could take a look at the scanner at the door. It looks a little bit busted.”

“There’s no chance we would let a known ex-con even touch that thing,” Erinyes said. “If I see you touching it, I’ll report you. Now go away.”

“You got it,” Hawthorne said and headed toward the stairs to get to his room. So much for first impressions.

Festival of Gifts

December 25, 2021

The city of Kante was covered in decorations for the Festival of Gifts. Extra torches and lanterns were strung up everywhere, making the city bright and warm even at night. Red, Gold, and White ribbons and cloth banners were hung everywhere. Statues in honor of the sun god Lathander and the demigod Tall Winters had been placed in prominent places. People were in the markets buying food and gifts for their loved ones or bustling off toward the temple district to make offerings to the lords of light to bring back the sun during the darkest and coldest part of the year. There was a lot of love and good cheer flowing through the city.

Sabina was indifferent to it all as she shuffled through the city. Sure she had tied some tinsel to her horns but that was more to blend in than actual celebration. She was wrapped in a patchy yet warm fur coat and a big furry hat. The coat was a little long for her so that the hem of it trailed across the wet pavement. Yet she pulled it off gracefully, moving effortlessly through the crowds. Nobody even realized that she had a knife slipped into the sleeve of the coat. They were so distracted that they did not notice that knife flashing in the torchlight as she liberated people’s coin purses. However, now her night was over and she headed home.

She slipped into an alleyway and sidled up to a nondescript doorway. Hardly anybody would have noticed the minuscule writing in Thieves’ Cant. She tripped the secret catch on the door and it popped open safely. Opening the door incorrectly would have locked it completely with twelve different deadbolts. At least it was better than the door had been in her youth. The mechanism had been potentially deadly back then. She stepped into the small room and brushed off what snow she could. The rest had melted and she felt uncomfortably damp and cold.

The room was empty except for a table and a mirror. She headed straight for the mirror and stepped through it and felt the surface of the mirror tugging at her a bit before she made it through. Then came the disorienting feeling of the teleportation enchantment a little bit like standing up too quickly after waking up. She was face to face with a huge portrait of Laverna, the Goddess of Luck. She smiled when she saw the portrait. It meant she was home and home meant warmth and relaxation.

“The real reason for the season,” a voice behind her said. “Our Lady Luck.”

Sabina turned to see the one-eyed visage of Jole. Out in the world, Jole was a lieutenant in the city’s law enforcement but secretly he was part of Sabina’s found family. He fed the thieves information and in turn profited off of their scores. He was so rarely in their subterranean hideout out of necessity. Still, he did manage to come around now and again to connect with his friends.

“What are you doing here?” Sabina said. She tried to act cross but could not fight back the smile from her lips.

“Busy night, eh?” Jole asked. “Out plucking your fair share from the revelry?”

Sabina frowned. “Don’t tell me that somebody saw me working out there,” she said. “I’m too quick. Their eyes can’t be trusted. How could they accuse somebody of that during the holiday season?”

Jole laughed. “Nobody saw you as far as I know,” he said. “I just assumed that’s what you would be doing. Looks like my hunch was correct.”

“You’re a very good detective,” Sabina said sweetly. “Sorry for acting so hostile right away.”

Jole shrugged. “I’m not down here often and almost never unannounced. To answer your question, I wanted to wish you and yours a happy Festival. I just happened to swing by when nobody was home.”

“Nobody?” Sabina asked and snapped her fingers three times and a small kitten crawled out from hiding. “Diamond is hardly nobody.” She took off her coat and hat and felt a lot better. She dumped her sack of coins into the bin before bending down to pick up the cat. “I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”

“A weight lifted off of my heart,” Jole said. “Forgiveness is good for the soul.”

“It is,” Sabina said although there were moments in her life that she felt she could not forgive. She pushed those invasive thoughts from her mind just as quickly as they came. “Happy Festival to you too. May the light return to us all.”

“Amen,” Jole said with a smile. “I brought you a gift.”

“Me?” Sabina asked and she was thankful that her red skin would hide her blushing.

Jole stuttered slightly. “Not just for you,” he said. “I brought everybody gifts.”

Sabina smiled. “You’re a very generous man,” she said.

“But I am glad that you were here when I came to deliver them,” Jole said.

Sabina smiled and smoothed her dress a bit to keep her hands busy. “Well, I do love a present.”

Jole held out a small package wrapped in colorful cloth. “Hopefully you love this one.”

She quickly opened the package and gasped at the silver pendant necklace that she found. “It’s beautiful, Jole,” she said and wished she had gotten him a gift in return. The Festival was not over yet so there was still time. “I love it. Would you like to stay and have a drink with me?”

“I would love nothing better,” Jole said with a smile that only made Sabina’s smile brighter.

An Easy Favor Pt. 2

December 18, 2021

When Hawthorne woke up the next morning, Art was already up and getting ready for breakfast. He pressed a scrap of paper into Hawthorne’s palm as they shook hands which Hawthorne tried not to react to. Hawthorne discreetly slipped the rolled-up paper into a compartment in his cybernetic arms, one that was small enough that it looked like an anomaly on X-Ray, and therefore it had never been searched. Hawthorne’s sister, Mars, had built all sorts of tricks into his cybernetics, most of which had been shut off after his arrest.

“Give her my best,” Art said with a grim smile on his face. Art really did not show a lot of emotion, so this was a lot for him and Hawthorne regretted leaving him behind again. He would definitely do this one thing for Art. They were not exactly friends but they had somehow almost become family. Art had been there after the death of Hawthorne’s sister when nobody else gave a damn. “Don’t forget to watch your ass and don’t you come back here, right?”

“Don’t worry,” Hawthorne said with a smile. “I’ll be good.”

“You don’t have to be good,” Art said. “just don’t get caught.” He let out a single barking syllable of a laugh and headed off to breakfast. Neither of them had said goodbye. He hoped Art would keep himself out of trouble but he had a feeling that trouble would not leave the old guy alone.

Hawthorne was led off to eat his breakfast in private to prevent any problems before his release. One more meal of nutritional paste which was designed to be healthy, taste decent, and keep the prisoners regular. He was definitely looking forward to a real meal once he got into the city. After breakfast, it was time for the usual multitude of scans and medical examinations that came from living in prison. The final stop was the property window where he was handed back his watch, a pocket knife, and clothes he had not seen since his arrest. He had been loaned a suit by the penal system for his sister’s funeral, one of the few good things the system did for him. He also received a datapad with which to check in with his parole officer. After he got dressed, it was finally time to make that walk through the gates and into the back of a waiting taxi.

He finally relaxed as the taxi pulled away from the prison gates. In that moment he realized that he had not really relaxed the whole time he was in prison and it had taken its toll. He leaned against the window a bit and looked out at the scenery as it went by as if he had never seen any of it before. His eyes drank it all in. Of course, he realized that his criminal career had not been exactly restful but it had been side by side with his sister as his partner in crime. Both of them had been addicted to the rush but they had also been proud of something they had built together. He never saw himself as the bad guy but maybe it was time to really go straight. He did not know if he had the heart to start pulling jobs without his sister’s razor-sharp intellect anyway.

The taxi headed south down Route 83 on its second level and past both beltways and into Baltimore City proper. He found himself smiling as he saw all the familiar sights of his hometown. He rolled down the window so he could smell it. It was fantastic. The cabbie gave him a curious look but he did not care. He was free. His heart truly sang at that thought. There were days and even weeks in prison where he wondered if he would ever be free and here he was smelling exhaust, taco trucks, and the faint smell of the sea through a cracked cab window. Very few things could have made him happier at that moment.

An Easy Favor Pt. 1

December 11, 2021

A loud alarm sounded as the cell doors slid closed in Cell Block 4. Of course, the bars were holographic as a forcefield actually responsible for keeping prisoners in. Hawthorne took a deep breath, feeling grateful to have made it through another day. His last full day. He was fully expecting to start something. You didn’t make it through four years at New Lincoln Penitentiary without expecting a ruckus usually right when you did not want one. Thankfully, things had been relatively peaceful and he had been allowed to just work out for a large part of the day. He had been taken off of work detail rotation due to his imminent departure so they had not known what to do with him. That suited him just fine.

“So, tomorrow’s the day, huh?” Art asked with a lopsided grin. The lopsided grin was mostly because his face had been rearranged too many times before Hawthorne started protecting him. Art was a lifer and, at his age, that term could probably be used literally. “Gonna miss you big bear.” There was humor in his face that did not fully reach his eyes.

“If I could take you with me, I would,” Hawthorne said. “You going to be alright in here?”

“Probably not,” Art said, again half-joking. “but I’ve had a hell of a ride.”

Hawthorne nodded. They had never really talked about it but he had always gathered that Art was old school mob, a rarity among the gangs and factions in New Lincoln. Art had a punchable face but Hawthorne swore there were actual reasons for attacks on him. There was something shadowy out there that wanted Art Bayley dead. Hawthorne suddenly wanted to say something but nothing seemed sufficient. No words would be enough.

“Oh, don’t you go worrying about me, kid,” Art said. “I’ll be alright. I just wanted to ask you for a favor if I could. I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important.” This was true. When Hawthorne had first saved Art from a beating, Art had simply told him to let him die. Hawthorne was not exactly about to do that and Art had eventually warmed to the assistance.

“Go ahead, old-timer,” Hawthorne said. “I won’t make any promises but you’ve earned at least a favor.”

“Smart ass,” Art said with a grin that almost had half the teeth it was supposed to have. “It shouldn’t be that hard. You just have to make a little visit for me.”

“A visit?” Hawthorne asked. “Where would I be visiting?” He was now a little doubtful but it was not a no go yet.

“The where would be Baltimore,” Art said. “That’s easy, right? That’s where you’re from, right? But more important is the who. I want you to check in on my daughter, Carter.”

“Is she in trouble?” Hawthorne asked. He was a little suspicious at that point. His probation definitely limited contact with any criminal element and he had never picked sides before. He was proud that he had never joined a gang and he had kept his circle tight. He was not about to throw in with the mob but if this was genuinely a family thing and not a Family thing then it would probably be alright.

“I don’t think so,” Art said but he glanced away as he said it. “She’s a smart girl. She’s fine but I haven’t seen her in forever and I just want to make sure she’s alright.”

“I guess that’s something I could do before I settle in,” Hawthorne said. “I was already heading toward Baltimore but I’m not sure I’ll stick around. A lot of memories.”

“Understood,” Art said. “This wouldn’t take but an hour at most. Just don’t scare her, big guy.”

This was actually a cause for concern. Hawthorne was born big and he had grown up even bigger. He was nearly seven-foot-tall and ripped. He had had body modifications due to some injuries and a lot of him was made of polymer and metal. Thankfully, his face was still intact but he definitely had to work sometimes at being non-threatening.

“I’ll try my best,” Hawthorne said. “How does she know I actually came from you?”

“Hound,” Art said. “Tell her I said ‘Hound’.”

Poor Unfortunate Souls: Atlantica Pt. 11

November 13, 2021

Belle turned to her host, Ariel, her eyes wide. “We can’t listen to her, she’s a vindictive fairy,” she said. She turned to Aurora. “Can we arrest her?”

“Fairy?” Aurora asked. “I was practically raised by fairies. They’re not all bad.” Yet she eyed The Enchantress warily, fingers just touching the hilt of her sword. She had known three wonderful fairies but also one truly horrible one. She was not so naive to trust this stranger right away.

“She cursed my husband!” Belle said. Adam, Lumiere, and Mrs. Potts had told her a lot about the night that this strange woman had transformed everybody in the castle. Her curse had almost reached maturity which would have kept everybody from regaining their human forms. It seemed overly cruel to Belle.

“People can change,” Tiana said. She thought of her own husband and her own personal journey.

“I can at least be a gracious host,” Ariel said. “Welcome to my castle, Enchantress. Can I get you anything?” She gave her best smile, trying to do what she thought Eric or her father would do. She had had such little time to train in the etiquette of human royal life and had been in battle so long that it was hard to remember when things had been normal.

“A spot of tea would be nice,” The Enchantress said. “Thank you.”

“I’ll go make some real quick,” Tiana said. She kind of wanted to get out of that room. Tensions were high and she was pretty sure that Belle had not blinked since The Enchantress had appeared. She walked toward the kitchens.

“Please, have a seat,” Ariel said, gesturing toward a chair. She sat down herself and looked at Belle who begrudgingly sat down as well.

“See?” The Enchantress said with a smile. “If your husband had been this kind, things would have been much easier.” Belle tensed at that. “A joke, my dear.”

“I’m not laughing,” Belle said crossly, folding her arms over her chest.

“The truth is, I have owed your husband and his servants an apology for quite some time,” The Enchantress said. “That curse was probably a bit much. I was looking for somebody to punish and I unleashed on the first person to anger me. If that also harmed you by extension, I apologize.”

Belle blinked in surprise. She was not sure what to say to that.

“Please excuse me for cutting to the chase,” Ariel said. “What is your intention in coming here? We’re sort of in the middle of a crisis at the moment.”

“Yes. I saw you slay the Sea Witch. Well, I came to offer my assistance,” The Enchantress said. “I could feel magical turmoil through the planes. Worlds that were once separate are now connected. The citizens of those worlds have been shuffled like so many cards.”

“We suspected as much,” Belle said. “Although, I suppose that confirmation of that theory is appreciated.” She offered that last statement reluctantly. She was still on her guard and appreciated that Aurora had not relaxed either.

“How can you help us?” Ariel asked. “We managed to open a portal through our own research. We were on the verge of reuniting with our loved ones.”

The Enchantress shrugged. “You have done well on your own, I must admit,” she said. “However, without a guide with power, it will be like groping around in the dark. I am a minor power. I can improve your travel options a thousandfold.”

Tiana brought in the tea with some beignets she had whipped up. Ariel gestured for her to sit and she did. Ariel trusted Tiana not only to cook but as an ally who knew a lot about logistics.

“What do you get in return?” Belle asked.

The Enchantress waived the question away with a laugh. “I’m not asking for anything,” She said. “I’m not the type to ask for first-born children. In truth, you have done me a great favor already in killing Ursula. The possibility that you might take out more rivals has me very willing to offer my assistance.”

“Rivals?” Ariel asked, a little taken aback. “Ursula was your rival? A rival in what?”

“She was a minor rival,” The Enchantress said dismissively. “Anybody who wields magic on her level or above has the potential to cause trouble for me. I would not oppose those who use magic sparingly or benevolently but Ursula and her new allies are unpredictable. If they got hungry enough for power, they could try and steal mine. I can’t have that. I already know that their little coven has imprisoned several of my kind. I will not let that stand.”

“Do you think we can trust her?” Ariel asked the room but looked pointedly at Belle.

“I think it’s worth a shot,” Tiana said.

“We’re kind of at her mercy,” Aurora said. “We’ve already seen how powerful she is compared to us.”

Belle sighed. “Aurora has a point,” she said. “and I actually trust her this time.” She had a hunch that The Enchantress was telling the truth. It was the same feeling that led her to befriend The Beast who had become her husband.

“I guess we’re accepting your help,” Ariel said. “Let’s get down to it. Our friends and loved ones are still out there.”

The Kids of Barrie Park Pt. 2

November 6, 2021

Liam grinned at Chantal from across the table at Bev’s Diner which was most assuredly not Dona Habana. Chantal frowned and gave him as mean a look as she could summon but it was not as mean as she could get. It just made Liam’s smile wider as he leaned back and sipped his coffee. Chantal had tried to stop him from pouring some whiskey from his flask into it but eventually opted to have him pour some in hers as well. Funerals gave her a chill and she felt like she needed to be a bit number.

“Don’t give me that look,” Liam said. “It’s not my fault that Dona Habana was closed for the day.”

“I am going to go ahead and blame you anyway,” Chantal said. “There’s not much you can do about that.”

“I suppose there’s really not,” Liam said. His fingers twitched, ready to grab a cigarette but it had been banned inside of restaurants. He would have waited outside and smoked a quick one but he was hungry and he really wanted to talk to Chantal all of a sudden. “I’ll take the heat.”

“You’ve always played the villain,” Chantal said. “You’re not as bad as you pretend to be.”

“Time will tell,” Liam said with a shrug. “Look, about what we were talking about earlier. I was trying to make a point.”

“You did not make it, then,” Chantal said. “I heard a lot of talking but not a lot of sense. Want to try again?”

“I’m serious, Chant,” Liam said. “I think we might actually be in danger.”

“Elaborate,” Chantal said. “I want to hear this conspiracy theory now. Dazzle me with your bullshit.”

“It’s not bullshit,” Liam said. “What got me started thinking was that the two of them died really young. Very sudden. Sometimes things just happen but what if it’s not a coincidence?”

“What do you mean?” Chantal asked. “

“You’ll recall that night, right? When those people kidnapped us and the other kids and brought us to Barrie Park. You know what they were trying to do right?” It had been decades since the event but some of the emotions and memories were still rattling around in Liam’s head. Terror and trauma had certainly made sure some of those imprints remained while some other stuff was washed away.

“Nobody knows what they were trying to do,” Chantal said with force. “They all died in the shootout with the police. There was nobody to question. They were all just crazy.”

“No doubt they were crazy,” Liam said. “but you must have heard the whispers just like I did. There are a few things I overheard while we were tied up and from the cops talking that I only recently remembered. Some bad dreams brought them back. I think that it was some kind of ritual. I think they were trying to sacrifice us to something.”

“Sacrifice us to what?” Chantal asked, a worried look creeping over her face. “and why? What’s worth killing children for?”

“I don’t know,” Liam said. “but my guess is power, money, or both. They obviously didn’t get it done.”

“Get to the part where we’re in danger,” Chantal said. “So far I’m not impressed. Those creeps are all dead so it’s long over. i don’t play with ghost stories.”

“What if it isn’t over?” Liam asked. “What if that’s a mistake the cops and our parents made? Maybe we should have been investigating this the whole time. Maybe the members of that cult weren’t all killed or maybe something else is starting to hunt us down?”

“Something else?” Chantal asked. “You don’t believe that some boogeyman or evil spirit is actually out there?”

“I don’t know what I believe but have you ever experienced anything weird since that night?” Liam asked. “Nothing out of the ordinary?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Chantal said. “After all the reporters got bored, my life returned to normal.”

“Bullshit,” Liam said. “Ever since that night, I’ve felt something strange. Sometimes when I touch things with my right arm, I get sort of thoughts or impressions. I used to think they were hunches but there’s no way I would have made some of the leaps I’ve made. I think it’s mind powers or magic or something.”

“Really?” Chantal asked. “That’s what we’re going with?”

“That night the one thing I remember really clearly is a bright blue-white light,” Liam said. “It was brighter than anything I saw before or since then. It felt otherworldly. I think that was something. I don’t know what it was but when the cops started shooting, something big exploded and the light was gone and my arm was injured.”

“I do remember the light,” Chantal said softly, voice trembling slightly. She was suddenly looking through Liam before she shook herself from what almost looked like a trance.

“Tell me you never experienced anything weird then,” Liam said. “Tell me honestly.”

Undead Reckoning Pt. 13

September 25, 2021

Supper continued without Talbot getting any more clues as to the agenda of Lord Blackrance. At least, nothing more than had been in the letter. There was a necromancer in the wasteland. A wasteland that the Dragonborn Rahj was familiar with as their guide and presumably their tracker. The Cleric Ana was obviously along for the ride to counter undead threats. Talbot assumed that he and Clarity had been invited as damage dealers to fight back whatever henchthings that the necromancer had. Of course, Talbot still had no intention of going anywhere closer to the wasteland. He was going to take his rifle back home and hang it over his mantle. Forever.

After a nip or two of Drown brandy, sent by the good Lord Blackrance himself, they all retired to bed. All of them except for Rahj who stayed up drinking heavily of the cheapest ale available. He took a keg out behind the inn so he could be with his pet, Sandor. They all left the dragonborn alone. Talbot paused outside of his door and looked at the door currently belonging to the mysterious Mr. Seneca. How did he fit into all of this? Talbot had a sudden urge to go over and knock on that door. Just beyond, a question could be answered. But trying to answer that question could raise a lot of hell. It was best to just wait until morning.

Thanks to the good meal and the brandy, Talbot was just about out when his head hit the pillow. He came to when the sun was up but it felt like just a moment later. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and got himself together. A change of clothes and he was ready to descend the stares once again. Luckily, the smell of good food once again wafted up from the kitchens. It made Talbot take the steps a little quicker. It would not hurt him to have one more good meal on Lord Blackrance’s coin before he went back home. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw three people in the sitting room. The halfling Titus Talbot already recognized but there was also a masked figure and a drow sitting there as well. The masked figure got up and walked past Talbot without a word.

“You must be Sergeant Hawkwing,” the drow said with a sly smile. “As you might have gathered, my name is Lord Blackrance. Have a seat, won’t you?” He gestured toward the fourth chair.

“I no longer go by my rank, Lord Blackrance” Talbot said bluntly but not unkindly. “You may call me Talbot if you wish.”

“Fair enough, Talbot,” Lord Blackrance said. “If you wish to dispense with formalities, then you may call me Callum.”

“That’s a little forward when dealing with the aristocracy,” Talbot said. “but sure.”

“I had a feeling that you would want to talk,” Blackrance said. “I’m glad you’ve come down before breakfast.”

“I have a feeling you’ve already divined what I want to talk about,” Talbot said. “I might as well get to it. I have no intention of going on your expedition. There are plenty of hired guns even around here that you could take with you.”

“But I singled you out, Talbot,” Blackrance said. “I assembled my team carefully as I have assembled all of my teams. Your record speaks volumes and you are uniquely suited for the mission ahead.”

“How am I uniquely suited for it?” Talbot asked, more than a little curious at that statement.

“I’m honestly not sure yet,” Blackrance said with a shrug.

Talbot was a bit shocked. “You don’t know?” he asked. “I thought you had all of this figured out?”

“I have an ace up my sleeve when planning a mission,” Blackrance said. “The secret to my success.” He gestured to a young girl sitting peacefully in the corner.

Talbot blinked in shock. It was the young woman from his dream on the train. What the hell was going on?

Undead Reckoning Pt. 12

September 18, 2021

Pepper and a young man that Talbot did not recognize started carrying a veritable feast into the room on platters. It all smelled very good and it was far finer food than Talbot had expected this far out in the frontier. There were several whole roasted chickens, steamed carrots, toasted mushrooms, brisket, and mashed potatoes. Rahj immediately reached out and palmed one of the chickens, whistled, and then threw the chicken out of an open window. Something very large and hairy jumped up in the window and snagged the chicken. There was a deep growling sound from beneath the window. Everybody stared at Rahj who shrugged.

“They won’t let me keep Sandor inside but he still must be fed,” the large Dragonborn said. He then set about devouring whatever food he could reach.

“Um,” Clarity started, seeming to be at a loss for words for once. “Is Sandor your dog?”

Rahj grinned and began to speak with food in his mouth. “Ha!,” he cried out, letting out a single barking laugh. “In the desert, we have pets far superior to your dogs. It’s an insult to call Sandor a dog.”

Clarity seemed to think about that, almost as if she was deciding which part of the statement she was most interested in. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Did you say ‘out in the desert’? Do you mean to tell us that you have lived out there? Is this a recent occurrence or have you lived out there when it was still dangerous?”

Rahj frowned and looked at Clarity as if he was deciding whether or not she was being ignorant or insulting. Talbot immediately realized Clarity’s mistake and he looked around and saw that Clarity was the only one not in the know. She had an innocent look on her face which must have convinced Rahj that she was merely ignorant.

“Your government has always hated my kind,” Rahj said, his voice a low growl that almost harmonized with the growl from Sandor outside. “They made it real hard to find land of our own. Our scales are resistant to magic and we went out into the desert to settle where other mortals were too scared to go.”

“That is impressive, Mr. Blackscale,” Clarity said. “I apologize for my ignorance, I had not known that the government had dealt you such a poor hand. It is shameful. I am sure that everybody in this room does not share in such prejudice.”

Rahj grunted. “Thanks,” he said. “We made it work out there but the government and all of the business types want back out there now that it’s safer. I’m sure they’ll take our land too.”

“I hope they don’t,” Talbot said. “I never did cotton to how that worked out. You all should get first dibs, of course.”

“Blackrance is going to go to the government about it,” Rahj said. “He understands what it’s like since he’s drow. It’s the only reason I agreed to guide all of you out there.”

“You’ve talked in person to our illustrious patron?” Clarity asked. “I have only communicated with him via correspondence myself since I was out of country.”

“He sent me a letter too,” Talbot said. “I haven’t met him.”

“He came out into the desert,” Rahj said. “Faced me like a man alongside that one.” He pointed at Titus who nodded.

“I accompany Lord Blackrance on most occasions,” Titus said softly. “This is a rare moment when I am not by his side.”

“He came to see me at church,” Ana said. “He vas very polite and convincing.”

“So only half of us have met him,” Talbot said. “Wait, that reminds me. What about the other one? The person across the hall from me? What is their deal?”

“Mr. Seneca has a complex situation so he and Lord Blackrance agreed that he would not meet you until Lord Blackrance could be present,” Titus said. “Everything is going according to plan.”

“You do realize how suspicious that is don’t you?” Talbot asked, his eyes narrowing.

“I am very aware,” Titus said with a smile. “I can only operate according to Lord Blackrance’s wishes unless there is an emergency.”

“A lot of rules go out the window in an emergency,” Talbot said with a sage nod. “I remember that.”

“I’m sure you do,” Titus said.

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