Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Aftershocks: The Goblins Down Below Pt. 3

October 19, 2019

Aftershocks Witches

The trio had to find a safe place to wait for the Wicked Witch of the West. None of them wanted to involve the general public in this fight. Of course, all three knew that human authorities were of no use. Sabrina came from a society where such things were strictly forbidden. Nancy’s mother had tried to appeal to the police and psychiatrists to no effect. Lydia and her family had never had the chance to call for help but it was unlikely normal humans could have done anything.

Besides, human authorities either did not want to deal with these sorts of things or they were not really capable of keeping up. Either way, it was best to fight fire with fire and it was easier to cut loose when innocents were out of the way. To facilitate that, Lydia and Sabrina worked on weaving a cloaking spell which would keep people away from the warehouse they had chosen. If all went well, the Wicked Witch would be cast back to Hell and nobody would be the wiser.

While they prepared, the other girls told Nancy in detail the story of Dorothy’s first trip to Oz during which the encounters with the Wicked Witches had happened. They told her of falling houses, a scarecrow, a tin woodsman, a talking lion, and all sorts of other wonders. They told her of subsequent trips and what Dorothy had learned. They talked about when they met and some of the other girls in their circle. After hearing the stories, Nancy very much wanted to meet Dorothy and the rest of the circle. Lydia promised the two of them would somehow make that happen if they got through the next fight. Maybe Sabrina could come back and meet Rob, too.

When the spell was in place, Sabrina snapped her fingers and a small black cat appeared. Nancy leaned down to pet the cat with a smile.

“Is this your cat, Sabrina?” Nancy asked. The cat quickly crawled up Nancy’s arm and draped itself across her shoulders, purring.

Sabrina laughed. “That’s my familiar, Salem,” she said. “He’s not exactly a cat. Not really.”

“What does that mean?” Nancy asked.

“Like you, Salem is more than meets the eye,” Nancy said. “Familiars are otherworldly creatures usually in the shape of Earth animals.”

“Salem will be good in the fight,” Sabrina said. “He is way tougher than he looks. Let’s finish getting ready for her.”

It was an hour later when they started to hear banging on the outside of the corrugated metal walls of the warehouse. It started slowly at first with what sounded like the occasional tennis ball hitting the wall. Then the sounds started to surround the girls and they got faster, louder, and more numerous. The three of them stood their ground and tried to stay calm.  The sounds began to get more rhythmic and synchronized, signalling a small army outdoors. As the sound climaxed, the sliding doors of the entrance slid open. Standing in all of her glory was the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West, just as Dorothy had described her. She carried a broom etched with wicked-looking runes and there was a twisted smirk on her face.

“Well, my pretties,” West said. “Time to go to Hell!” Her voice was thin and high-pitched but somehow compelling and forceful. Her clawed hand flexed and she gripped the broom tighter. She grinned, revealing incredibly sharp teeth. Her face was impossibly angular and she was instantly identifiable as something no longer human. From the stories Lydia remembered, the Witch had ceased to be human before her death.

“Back off, West,” Sabrina said. “Nobody’s going to Hell but you and your stupid monkeys.” All of Dorothy’s girls knew the stories almost by heart and who could forget flying monkeys as villainous henchmen?

“Is that what you think they are?” West asked. “No. No more winged monkeys, no more Winkies. I have new friends now.”

“What are you talking about?” Nancy asked. “What are they?”

Creatures started to make their way through the door, they had orange-red skin, sharp teeth and they behaved like feral animals. “The goblins from down below,” West said. “You must be my prize, the one called Nancy.”

“Leave her alone!” Lydia called out, moving slightly in front of her best friend. The two of them glanced at each other and there was no need to say anything. They were in it together until the end.

“It’s best to give up now and save me the trouble,” West said. “Then I can go back and finish off that troublesome Dorothy.” She was having fun drawing out the anticipation and trying to get the three girls to squirm. All three bravely stood their ground and glared at the wicked witch.

“Back off, witch!” Lydia yelled. “Let’s get this over with.”

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Aftershocks: The Goblins Down Below Pt. 2

October 12, 2019

Aftershocks Witches

It was hours later when Sabrina showed up. She had bone-white hair and she was incredibly attractive, it made Nancy feel somewhat self-conscious. She shook off the feeling and moved on. She saw the worried yet happy look in Lydia’s eyes and wondered if she was not keeping her best friend from making other friends. Although she was cute, Sabrina had a cut across her cheek and a visible burn mark on her hand. Both had been properly treated but they were clearly fresh. They had met in front of the town library since neither Nancy or Lydia thought that Rob would agree to the risk of inviting a stranger to the bunker, even if Sabrina was a trusted friend of Lydia’s. As soon as they met, they moved quickly to a back room in the library so they could talk privately.

“Are you alright, Sabrina?” Lydia asked. “You look a little banged up.”

“I’ll live,” Sabrina said. “And luckily so will the others but it was a really close call.” She looked more relaxed now that she was sitting down but she still looked keyed up about something. It was definitely something really bad.

“Maybe we should start from the beginning,” Lydia said. She glanced over at Nancy in the corner. Nancy’s t-shirt had morphed back into a floppy sweater which was a clear sign that she was nervous. “Sabrina, this is Nancy, my best friend. Nancy, this is Sabrina, my old friend and classmate.” Nancy visibly brightened at the mention of her being Lydia’s ‘best friend’.

“Nice to meet you,” Sabrina said to Nancy. “Any friend of Lydia’s is somebody I can trust.”

“Thank you, Sabrina,” Nancy said. “What happened to you?” Nancy healed really fast so she was more likely to fuss over other people’s injuries. She had certainly fussed over Lydia and Rob enough.

Sabrina’s expression darkened and she shuddered. “That’s why I came here. She’s back, Lydia. The Wicked Witch of the West has returned and she’s in our world this time,” she said.

Lydia’s eyes went wide. “She’s dead!” she shouted and then remembered they were in a library. “Dorothy killed her in Oz.”

“Yeah,” Sabrina said. “but all worlds lead to the same Hell and they brought her back. There was a huge burst of hellfire and there she was. She caught us all off guard. Dorothy and I were the only ones left standing and we only kept everybody alive with a desperate defensive spell. Dorothy and the rest are safe in a hospital but I had to come and warn you.”

“Warn me?” Lydia asked. “What could she want from me?” and then her brain caught up with her and she shut her eyes with a sigh. “Oh.” She looked at Nancy.

“Not another one!” Nancy cried out and buried her face in her sweater sleeves. The rest of what she had to say only came out as mumbles as she was muffled by the fabric.

“What’s going on?” Sabrina asked. “What does she want?” The mystery had been eating at her the whole trip and now she was so close to figuring it out.

“She wants Nancy,” Lydia said. “Not me. The King of Hell wants Nancy.” She could feel the fear and anger rising inside. Nobody was going to take Nancy anywhere.

“Why?” Sabrina asked without knowing how loaded that question was.

Lydia and Nancy locked eyes and then Nancy nodded slowly. She literally trusted Lydia with her life. “Nancy’s dad was a demon,” Lydia said. “She inherited a lot of his powers and maybe even more.” Nancy watched Sabrina nervously.

Sabrina took that in for a moment. “That’s alright, Nancy,” she said. “A lot of my family worshiped the Devil for a while. Also, I’ve heard a lot of weird stories from our circle so I’m a little jaded at this point.

Nancy smiled and her sweater changed back into a t-shirt. “So who is this evil witch?” She asked.

“The Wicked Witch of the West,” Lydia said. “She clashed with our teacher Dorothy but died almost by accident from getting wet. It, uh, sounds sillier than it was.”

“Sure,” Nancy said. “but what is her name? You keep saying the Wicked Witch of the West.”

“She and her sister sold their names a long time ago in exchange for more power,” Sabrina said. “They have gone unnamed for a long, long time.”

“That’s pretty twisted,” Nancy said.

“They were some pretty twisted sisters,” Lydia said. “They ruled over large sections of the land of Oz and warred with the admittedly ineffectual government. Dorothy took both witches out and ended up helping with a regime change too. She’s gone back and visited some but that first trip was pretty rough.”

“So what are we going to do?” Sabrina asked. “We need a plan.”

“I think I have some ideas,” Lydia said. “Which I’ll need your help with, Sabrina. Nancy, think about what you can bring to the table. I know your powers take a lot out of you so we can’t rely on just you. We’re in this together.”

“As usual,” Nancy said with a smile.

Aftershocks: The Goblins Down Below Pt. 1

October 5, 2019

Aftershocks Witches

“Oh dear sister,” the West said. “My mistake last time was getting fixated on you and that little girl. This time, I’m going to stay focused. So, I’m not bringing you with me.”

“Damn you!” East said. “You can’t leave me down here.”

“Oh dear sister,” West said. “I have the stamp of approval from the King himself. I’m about to do what I could not do before. I’ll get that little girl and then I’m off to capture the King’s prize.”

*                *                 *

It was summer vacation and Lydia and Nancy were left to their own devices which mostly meant just hanging out in the bunker or swimming down at the local pool. Rob had reported at the start of summer that his parents were making him go to summer camp and he would not be around. Demon activity had been strangely quiet but the girls knew that something would be back. They had interfered three times with demon plots and the one that had started it all, Ley, had said something about the King of Hell wanting Nancy. Lydia was not about to let that happen. So, they spent a lot of time studying whatever books they could get their hands on. The Bunker also had a remote link to a database from something called the Men of Letters which had been very enlightening so far.

It was on a hot July afternoon when Lydia had gotten a text. She was honestly surprised, she had been caught in that belief that overtakes people that once physical and temporal distance separates us from our past, it is gone forever. There were parts of her life that she had not told her best friend Nancy about. She never imagined she would tell Nancy about any of it but they had both been open books otherwise. They both had horrible pasts but that had bonded them together. Now their future did not look exactly bright but there was hope if they stayed together. Important to that was telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

“Nancy,” Lydia said. “I just got a text.” She felt nervous. They had faced down demons and ghosts together on several occasions. She had had her own encounter with a deadly ghost. Her best friend was some sort of demon offspring. Still, she was nervous about not telling her friend something from her past. The words did not slip through her lips easily.

“Oh?” Nancy asked. “I didn’t think Rob was allowed to have a phone at camp.”

Lydia paused at that. “Is it troubling that he is our only other friend really?” she asked. The two of them ate lunch together at school, hung out together all the time, and had only recently started to hang out with the much younger boy who had shown up in their lives in a car with a trunk full of weapons. He had introduced him to the family bunker, a family he revered like kickass saints.

“No,” Nancy said. “The teen years are supposed to be awkward, right? Also, we’re totally weird.” She was not wrong, a witch and the daughter of a devil.

“True,” Lydia said. “but no. I got a text from an old friend. We’re going to be getting a visitor.” She slid her finger along the edge of her phone over and over, a nervous tic.

Nancy looked curious. She had changed since Lydia and she had met. She had started to blossom into a young woman who was less scared of the world and, most importantly, less scared of herself. Lydia had assured her over and over that she was not her father and that her admittedly fantastic powers were not a sign of evil. Nancy looked less like her usual muppety self without her trademark sweater but she had somehow used her own internal magic to turn it into a t-shirt. Those familiar red and green stripes were something that Nancy was rarely seen without. “Who’s coming?” Nancy asked. “I’m interested to meet one of your other friends.”

“When everything happened to me and my parents were killed I felt lost,” Lydia said. “My foster family just did not understand. I met a bunch of girls like me who were being tutored by a wise older lady named Dorothy. Like us, she had been the victim of magic. She had experienced another dimension and had come back changed from the experience. She had set out to learn witchcraft to make sure it never happened again to her or anybody else. I brought what little knowledge I had to the circle and they taught me so much. Eventually, my foster dad got a new job and we moved. We lost touch and I started off on my own journey and met you.”

“Wow,” Nancy said. “so you were part of an actual coven? I’ve only seen that kind of stuff in movies.” She looked so intrigued. She had such big wide eyes that made her look so innocent.

Lydia shrugged and smiled. “I’d hesitate to call it an actual coven,” Lydia said. “We never used that word. I’m sorry for not telling you about all of this until now.”

Nancy shook her head. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “We’re friends. Best friends and I trust you more than anybody in the entire world.”

“And beyond,” Lydia said with a smile.

“And beyond,” Nancy agreed. “So who’s coming? Are they riding a broom?”

“My old friend Sabrina,” Lydia said. “and maybe. You make fun but some of us learned to do that stuff. She’s on her way now. I can only imagine this will lead to a new danger for us.”

“We’ll face it together,” Nancy said.

Death and Rebirth of Love

September 14, 2019

Cappio placed Harro’s shield on his grave and wiped the tears from his face. He felt Annabel’s hand rest on his shoulder and it made the burden just a little bit lighter. He sniffled and then stood and finished wiping his face. He looked out over the hills of Harro’s homeland and then at Annabel and Zalania.  Zalania was hard to read because she was always wearing the mask from her home on the streets of Koshain. She also rarely talked. She usually let her fists do the talking. Annabel on the other hand was a picture of compassion, even though she was tall and willowy, she always looked motherly. She was a full three feet taller than Cappio and even had almost a foot on Zalania.

Cappio had worn his best clothes for the funeral. It just so happened to be a costume from his days as an actor. He rarely liked to dress up. In fact, most of their little crew rarely dressed up except for Harro. He rarely went anywhere without wearing his armor. He was a knight of renown before he had fallen in with them. After a while, Cappio had felt guilty about roping him into their criminal enterprises. Cappio was the conman, an ex-actor who had moved smoothly into telling lies for profit. He had convinced Zalania to accompany him as his muscle. She was a monk who had lost her way. Annabel was a street musician and mother of urchins. She had jumped at the chance for a better life and had sort of adopted Cappio and Zalania. She also brought along some of their urchins who often came in useful for schemes.

They had ripped off the noble who Harro owed allegiance to. Harro had pursued the trio, hoping to bring them to justice. He was like a wolf with a scent and would not let the trail go cold. He pursued them through three nations and even across the Crystal Sea. Then something happened that neither Harro nor Cappio had expected. When Harro arrested Cappio in the jungles of Oochar, the two of them had a chance to talk as they made their way. The two of them had fallen in love. Harro had seemed lost for a bit but forsook his master and joined the gang. When the fighting happened, Harro and Zalania were good to have around. Cappio used much of their take to show Harro the finer things he had missed while living under the heel of his master.

Life had been good, easy, and fun. Then something had changed. They got wind of a deadly plot from an evil cult and Harro begged the rest of them to help. The quartet was in the best position to do something and if they saved the day, there might be the biggest profit ever. Cappio had known this was probably not true but he also felt the tug of conscience and thankfully everybody else did as well. They had worked their magic and had stopped the cult’s ritual. Except in the ensuing climactic battle, Harro had been mortally wounded. They tried everything they could but Harro passed away. They had attempted a resurrection but it had failed. Cappio had to believe that wherever he was, Harro was happy and did not wish to return. He hoped they would meet again.

“What’s next for us, Cappio?” Annabel asked. “We have enough money left to be comfortable for a long time. We can take a break.”

“No,” Cappio said. “I don’t want to take a break. We’ve been living the easy life for too long.”

Zalania grunted and growled.

“What does that mean?” Annabel asked.

“It means that we should live by Harro’s example,” Cappio said. “We should be saving the world, not lining our pockets off of the idiot rich.”

“Why can’t we do both?” Annabel asked.

Cappio smiled for the first time in weeks. “Exactly!” he said, appearing almost like his old self for a fleeting moment. “Let’s save the world, shall we?”

“Where do we start?” Annabel asked.

“I have no idea,” Cappio said. “Maybe we should recruit somebody to help with that. We don’t have a lot of experience with this.”

“What do we need?” Annabel asked.

“Well, we do need more muscle,” Cappio said.

Zalania folded her arms across her chest.

“You are plenty strong, Z,” Cappio said. “We just need more. Maybe somebody magical, maybe somebody powerful.”

“I may know where to look,” Annabel said. “Do you want to go to Oskia?”

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been there,” Cappio said. “Let’s go.”

Pirates of the Crumbs

September 7, 2019

“You’re a coward,” Caelan said, staring hard at the back of Captain Frostgrip’s head. “Think of what we’re giving up if we don’t try. We need to follow up.” The sea was calm and the door was shut to the Captain’s Quarters so they had as much privacy as you could get on a ship out to sea. It was hot so the Captain had taken off his coat and Caelan had taken off her overdress that the Captain usually made her wear.

“When I left harbor,” Frostgrip said. “I promised your father that I would keep you safe. That section of the Crumbs is not safe.” He stayed at his desk looking over the maps and charts, scribbling down notes.

“Did you also tell him that you had turned pirate?” Caelan asked. “I doubt he would have approved of that.”

“You forget your place, girl,” Frostgrip said bitterly as he turned away from his work to face her. “You should be grateful. I brought you on as my cabin girl. You get your own room. That’s rare on a ship like this. It keeps you away from the rough characters below deck.”

“I don’t need your protection, Captain,” Caelan said. “I can take care of myself.” She raised her chin proudly.

“Is that so?” Frostgrip asked. “I have heard you feel very free to draw your knives on my ship.”

“I’ve never used a knife on anybody who didn’t deserve it,” Caelan said, folding her arms across her chest and looking away. The knives were tucked into the folds of her dress but she had cut hidden access points so that she could draw them quickly. She had a lot of practice doing so.

“I’m sure,” the Frostgrip said without much conviction. “Look, if it offends you to be among pirates, I can drop you off at the next harbor and you can find your own way. It’s not hard to book passage.”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” Caelan said after an exasperated sigh. “I don’t want to just be among pirates, I want to be a pirate.”

“I don’t think I’m comfortable with how into this you’re getting,” Frostgrip said. “I’m only supposed to deliver you to Suma-Jo.”

“And I’m supposed to make myself useful,” Caelan said. “If you didn’t have me, nobody would have gotten that one chest open last week.”

“I’m not sure I know where you learned lockpicking of all things,” Frostgrip said. “Nobility should be less criminal, no?”

“I did all of this back home too,” Caelan said. “That’s why I petitioned to train in Kusura in the first place.”

“Kusura!?” Frostgrip asked. “I thought we were headed to Suma-Jo.”

“That’s because that’s what I told my father,” Caelan said. “My skills are way more suited for one of the ninja schools but now I think I want to be a pirate. I don’t necessarily want to kill but high seas adventure and a life of crime are attractive to me.”

“No. If I allow this, I will never hear the end of it from your father,” Frostgrip said. “I can’t allow this.” He turned from her back to his desk as if that were the end of it.

“What are you going to do?” Caelan asked. “Throw me off the ship? I’ll just find another pirate ship. If you want to protect me then keep me here and show me the ropes.”

Frostrgrip sighed. “You won’t give this up,” he said. It wasn’t a question but a weary statement of fact.

“Never,” Caelan said. “A girl wants what a girl wants. I promise to listen to your orders.”

“We’ll see how long that promise holds,” Frostgrip said. “I guess I have no choice but to acquiesce. You know, if a member of my crew disobeys my orders, they get thrown into the sea, right?”

Caelan swallowed hard. “I guess I can live with that,” she said. “but no more dresses. I want to wear shorts or pants.”

“I’m sure I can find something more suitable for your new job,” Frostgrip said with another sigh. “I have a trunk belonging to my former cabin boy.”

“Great!” Caelan said. “Now about this mysterious island.”

Frostgrip waved in front of his face as if fanning her words away, dismissing them. “I am no dungeon delver,” he said. “There is so much else we can do safely and still profit.”

“We could sell the information to somebody at the next harbor?” Caelan asked.

“Yes,” Frostgrip said. “That is a much better idea. We can leave the danger for some other poor soul. If there is a treasure, we can take it from them down the line.”

“But shouldn’t we check that it’s there first?” Caelan asked with a sly smile on her face.

Frostgrip stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I suppose,” he said.

In Fear of Sundown

August 31, 2019

The town of Rosewood had a problem. During the day, everything was fine and everybody’s life went along easy. Well, as easy as life in a pioneer town in the west could be. Rosewood was a cattle town and not much else so life was simple but rough. The problem was at night. It started with the cattle on one moonless night years ago. There had been no sound during the night but one of the cattle was gone the next morning and there was a lot of blood in the dust. When guards were posted at night, they started disappearing too. Nothing was safe outside at night. When nothing was outside at night, people found scratch marks on windows and doors. Everybody lived in fear of sundown.

It was The Rule that had eventually kept everyone safe. The Rule was that when reaching the age of ten, everyone in town had to receive the brand. The symbol of the brand had been foreseen by the Blind Sisters in a vision that they only vaguely spoke of. Nobody could remember the Sisters’ names. Everybody was too embarrassed to ask and they would most likely not have shared them. Nobody had asked the sisters but one day they had been screaming that they had the solution outside of the tavern. Many had not seen the two of them outside of their house in years. Some had thought they were dead already.

Of course, nobody had actually listened to the Sisters and they were eventually shooed back to their house. After that, the two of them had begun painting the symbol everywhere. The scratch marks stopped appearing. As an experiment, the ranchers left a steer outside after branding it with the symbol. The steer was untouched in the morning but a little spooked. It had nearly pulled the post down. Still, it was alive. Suddenly, the next cattle drive seemed like it might be possible. The deep dread that lived in the town’s hearts began to lift. The Reverend Sawyer was bitter that his prayers and crosses had done nothing when these arcane symbols had seemingly solved the problem.

It had been Ben Hoscut, the town blacksmith, who came up with the idea of branding the skin of humans with the symbol. People had thought the idea was barbaric at first and were content to wear makeshift amulets. Old Sheriff Williams had outlawed the practice and the wives of Rosewood had backed the decision. He and his deputy had tried to enforce the ruling but they could not watch everybody at all times. Bit by bit, people still received the brand. Hoscut had been thrown in the jail and the Sheriff had confiscated all of the branding irons that he could find. He had gotten the evil eye from some folks for it but it was his job to protect the town, even from itself.

Hoscut’s son, Angus, had solved the argument by getting the brand and branding the sheriff’s daughter, Rebecca. The two of them walked out into the desert at night. He was gone all night and nobody, not even the sheriff, was willing to go out and look for him. In the morning, he came back untouched. Even the sheriff had to admit that the brands were the right way to go. As soon as the practice was widespread, nobody mysteriously disappeared anymore. For the first time, there was a feeling of hope in Rosewood. There was still something out there but the people could now just push it from their minds and carry on with their lives.

After the second cattle drive, Williams passed in his sleep and the town started to decide who would be Sheriff next. Everybody looked to Deputy Westcott to step up but he turned the offer down, not wanting the responsibility. Besides, he might have felt some residual resentment from his backing of the Sheriff’s plan to block the Rule. Everybody argued over who it should be. When people said they should ask The Sisters, Reverend Sawyer had objected strenuously. When they knocked on The Sisters’ door anyway, there was no answer. The town became divided over the choice with various groups backing various candidates. During these days, a young woman with long fiery red hair and dark skin walked into the tavern. She ordered a drink and sat down.

It was Billy Hampton who approached her. “Ma’am,” he said. “You might want to move on from here. This town isn’t safe.”

“I don’t want to leave,” the woman said. “I heard this town was in need of a sheriff.”

“To be honest,” Billy said. “I don’t think you’d understand this town enough to have a prayer.”

The woman laughed. “Prayer is for the weak,” she said. “I think I’m exactly what this town needs.” She brushed her hair from her neck and there was the symbol, tattooed on her neck.

Distracted

August 24, 2019

The cat sat in the middle of the table, eyes half-closed. He seemed either oblivious or completely indifferent to his surroundings or both. His tail swished this way and that and he yawned mightily. The team of adventurers was sitting around the table, all watching the cat. They had found the cat in a local goblin den and had gone to great lengths to bring it back to town with them. If they had known the cat from earlier, they would have known that his name was Orlando but they had elected to call him Smudge because of his gray coloring. He did not answer to either name so it hardly mattered.

“Who do you suppose owns this cat?” Cait asked. The little halfling bard peered at the cat curiously, her eye level was just barely over the top of the table. She adjusted her glasses and ran a hand through her hair and idly plucked at her ukelele. “What do you guys think?”

Gobo the Goliath was on his hands and knees in order to more comfortably fit under the tavern’s ceiling. He leaned in close, putting one eye at table level opposite Cait. The closeness from the half-giant was enough to finally get the cat’s attention and unsettle him briefly. “I think it’s cute,” he said. “Can we sell it?”

“You always want to sell almost everything we touch,” Vel said. The gnome investigator was leaning back in his chair and sipping a whiskey, really savoring it. “Let’s slow down, the cat might be important. We’re not hurting for money right now.”

“More money means more money for ale,” Gobo said matter of factly. He returned to sitting on the floor, more comfortable with roughing it. He had a singular focus on mostly two things. The first was consuming food and alcohol, the second was violence. He was quite cheery as long as he had one or the other. He was a simple beast.

“Solid reasoning,” Vel said, a sarcastic edge to his voice. He leaned back and sipped his whiskey again, studying the cat. He was a criminal investigator, he had little interest in pets before but the current mystery was intriguing.

The elven druid, Melina, stood up suddenly with a gasp, she was decked out in glitter and the prettiest leaves she could find and also some antlers on her head. She had been the one who named the cat. She was also the only one of them who could have talked to the cat to ask its name. “What if Smudgey is a familiar?” She was so enthralled by the idea that there were stars in her eyes.

Karinne, the tiefling wizard, sighed. “Familiars are not actually animals,” she said. “They are actually otherworldly beings. Celestial, fey, or fiend.” It was very easy for her to slip into teacher mode even so far from the academy.

Melina gasped again. “Smudgey could be a fairy?” She was nearly vibrating with energy. She rarely stayed seated when she was conscious. She and Gobo were the intellectually challenged pair of the group, but they meant well.

“No,” Karinne said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “That is definitely a cat. Can’t you tell when something is an animal?” She loved and respected Melina but sometimes the girl could be trying. The two had been officially a couple for only a short time and Karinne was still adjusting to the contrast between their personalities. Karinne had been doom and gloom for so long that the sunshine could be blinding.

“Now now,” Vel said. “We can all plainly see that it is a cat. Is it also magical?” He lit his pipe carefully.

“I got nothing from the cat when I swept that chamber with a detect magic spell,” Karinne said with a shrug. “It is a normal cat. Fairly healthy-looking.”

“Yeah,” Melina agreed. “Smudgey does not feel magicky.” She reached for her cup of milk happily. She had never touched a drop of alcohol.

“Magic glows,” Gobo said matter-of-factly. “That cat does not glow.”

Karinne made an exasperated sound but Melina reached out to grab her hand. Karinne relaxed and decided it was not the time for school, especially with a student disinterested in learning. Perhaps Melina was wiser than she appeared.

“Thank you for your expertise, Gobo,” Cait said. “So it is a normal but cute cat. So I think we come back to whose cat is it?” She had her journal laid out in front of her on the table. She was always focused on the story and the song.

“Well,” Vel said. “The cat carries no identification, no collar. It makes it incredibly difficult to identify the cat.”

“Must the cat belong to somebody in this town?” Cait asked. “Could it be an errant cat?”

“Well,” Vel said. “This is the closest town to the goblin den. I can’t imagine goblins would focus on dragging a cat very far.”

“It could have been a feral cat,” Cait said.

“In those woods?” Vel asked. “There are way too many predators.”

“True,” Cait said. “It really is a mystery.”

The others had gone silent. Melina was chugging her milk happily, Gobo was distracted by a passing moth, and Karinne had zoned out. They were clearly not as invested in the mystery.

Halan, the Half-Elf Paladin of the group, walked in. He stopped short when he saw his friends still staring at the cat. He walked over. “Are you all still staring at the cat?” He asked.

Vel shrugged. “It is quite a mystery.”

Halan laughed. “You guys are really naive, aren’t you?” he said. “There is no mystery. Goblins often take cats along with them in raids to eat.” Everybody was visibly repulsed, even Gobo.

“Gross,” Cait said. “but that does not answer the question of who this cat belongs to.”

Halan shook his head. “Let the cat find its own way back,” he said. “There are zombies two towns over. We have to go.”

The adventurers moved to pack their things and clear out their rooms at the inn. They handed the cat to the barmaid who promised she would feed the cat and also promised that somebody would take the cat in. The adventurers had no more time to worry about it.

(Inspired by this post.  H/T to my friend Liz of CatAList Crafts)

The Fifth Floor

August 10, 2019

When I got in the elevator at work this morning, I guess I was not paying attention when I pressed a button. When the door opened, the indicator said I was on the fifth floor. The sign on the side of the elevator door and the sign on the hallway wall both said ‘five’. Big red ‘fives’. 5. The red was unsettling.

I had not been aware that our building even had a fifth floor. I had never gone higher than the second floor. Well, that was not entirely true. I went up to the third floor the one time to steal toilet paper when our floor ran out. I had truly never ventured to the fourth floor but I had heard the echoes of peoples’ footsteps descending from it in the stairwell.

There I was, halfway out of the elevator on the fifth floor. I did not know what to do. I mean naturally, I had to get back on the elevator and ride down to my floor. But did I not have a duty to explore? I certainly had the opportunity and might never get it again. Work would always be there but this mystery might be fleeting. This was my opportunity.

I stepped into the hallway and the door closed behind me. The decision was made. I walked slowly down the hallway. I do not know why I was so cautious. There was no need to fear anything in an office building. Was there? The carpet seemed like our carpet, the walls seemed like our walls. It is always in moments like these that we realize how little we observe.

All of the signs were that disturbing shade of crimson red. The names were all foreign to me. I could not pronounce half of them. Nothing on the signs indicated what the offices were for. No “Dr.” prefixes and no hint of an “Esq.” or “CPA”. There was a definite dearth of evidence in plain sight. I would have to go deeper to figure things out. I was not sure if I wanted to do that. This was getting strange.

I headed back to the elevator but there was no button there on the wall. There was no indicator of what floor the elevator was on. I stood there and waited as if I could mentally summon the elevator. Obviously, nothing happened although I would not have been surprised by it with how weird the events of the day had been. Still, nothing happened. I could almost hear my heartbeat in the silence. I had to give up. My anxiety rose as I realized that I would have to go into one of the offices and ask somebody.

But which one would I try? I walked back down the hallway and stared hard at the office signs. I walked toward one door and at the last moment, I thought better of it. I thought about it a little longer and picked the sign that was the most comprehensible to me. I thought about knocking but you don’t knock on office doors, right? I tried to be as confident as possible as I opened the door. I put on a smile but I did not get a word out.

“Great,” the lady at the desk said, rising to her feet. “You’re finally here.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked. “I’m a little lost.”

“Are you thirsty?” she asked. “Do you want some water?”

“Actually,” I said. “Yes. Water would be great.”

The lady stood up and began to pour into a mug. “Once you drink this, we can begin,” she said.

“Begin?” I asked. “I don’t even know where I am.”

The lady tilted her head back and laughed. She stopped abruptly and held out the full mug. “How true,” she said. “I often feel like that too.” She handed me the mug.

I swished the liquid around in the mug and it made a strange bubbling, hissing sound.

“Is this blue?” I asked. “I don’t think this is water.”

“Oh dear,” she said. “It’s time.”

I felt a sudden strike to the back of my head and I lost consciousness.

* * *

I turned to the other bird on the branch. “So,” I said. “That’s basically how I got here.”

The other bird continued to ignore me.

The Cave Witch

August 3, 2019

In the morning, the town would burn the swamp witch. She was accused of poisoning the crops outside of town and leading several youths astray through her potions. Nobody knew quite who the witch was. Everybody else in the town of Canterstone had been born within town limits and had grown up there. Like many small towns, the citizens’ reaction to outsiders ranged from curiosity to distrust. Those tides could also change quickly and when magic was involved. The witch had just appeared one day on the outskirts of town in the woods. Nobody was quite sure when she had actually moved into the cave as a hunter had spotted odd smoke coming out of it one day and that was that. She had arrived, evicting an old bear, and set up a home and shop far from prying eyes.

Little by little, some of the townspeople came to timidly visit her cave. Some were merely curious and wanted to catch a glimpse of the witch. Others came to browse here wares and see what a witch could give them for a little coin. She had not been very interested in coin but seemed to be more interested in offering services for barter. While this was not unheard of in a small village, it was a bit peculiar for what was technically a shop. Local law enforcement also visited the little cave and shouted questions from the safety of the mouth. The answers they received were sometimes straightforward and sometimes less so. She claimed to offer only peace but her status as a mystery made people nervous. Children were told to stay away and they disobeyed as children are wont to do.

Then things had gone all wrong and the peace was broken. Some crops had withered unexpectedly, threatening the town’s food supply. So close to harvest was not the time to lose crops like that. The village had grumbled about it but the local druids had moved on and could not be called on to investigate. Suspicions grew as the farmers did not want to admit that they might have failed and ruined a bit of the harvest. After that, a few of the young people were found to be goofing off instead of doing their work for their families. The timing was off as people were already looking for an excuse. One of the wayward teens blurted out something about the witch in the cave and that was it. This outsider had turned against the town and it had to be stopped. They took her captive while she slept and then she was doomed.

They had tied her to a pole in the middle of the town and left her there. In the morning, they would pile firewood and kindling around her and send her to the Hells. She slumped against the pole bound and gagged and sadly resigned to her fate. She had no tricks to pull to get out of her punishment. Gavin Flintshade’s mind would not settle and sleep would not come so, while everyone else slept, he stepped out to watch the witch.

“I wish I could know whether you were guilty or not,” Gavin said.

The witch said nothing, being gagged. It was hard to gauge her expression as she was absolutely encrusted with dried mud and bits of grass and her long hair covered a lot. However, her eyes said enough. Her glare was at the same time angry and pitying.

“I don’t suppose I could ungag you?” Gavin asked. “Would you promise me no tricks?”

The witch seemed to consider this. After they had stared at each other for some time, the witch nodded. Gavin thought he must be crazy or bespelled for even thinking of doing it but he walked up and ungagged her. She spat from the taste of the dirty cloth that had been her mouth but otherwise made no moves.

“My name is Gavin Flintshade,” Gavin said.

“My name is Rina,” the witch said.

Gavin waited for her to finish before he spoke. “Just Rina?” he asked.

“I am only Rina now,” Rina said.

“You don’t seem too dangerous to me, Rina,” Gavin said.

Rina smiled, the mud cracking at the corners of her mouth as if it was a foreign expression for her. “Looks are almost always deceiving,” she said. “But I never meant any harm to this town or its people. I wished only to live in peace.”

“How many years have you lived out there?” Gavin asked.

“Many,” Rina said. “Many without incident.”

“Exactly,” Gavin said. “That’s what troubles me. That’s what makes me think the people here have rushed to judgment.”

Rina paused and thought of what to say next. “In the cities, they would have had some sort of trial,” she said at last.

“We’re not equipped for that here,” Gavin said. “and I don’t think anyone’s inclined to hear you out.”

“I beg to differ,” Rina said. “You are listening.”

“I’m just one person,” Gavin said.

“We are all just one person,” Rina said.

There was a long pause after that and then there was a crack of thunder and it began to rain. Gavin and Rina looked around at all the houses but nobody stirred or made a move to protect the witch from the rain. She was only going to burn in the morning, anyway. Gavin stood there struggling with his own conscience but as he watched, a transformation began to happen. The rain started to wash the mud from Rina and Gavin was not prepared for what he saw. The palest white skin came into view as the mud fell away. Her hair was revealed as a wig made of some sort of woven grass. This was no human. This was not even an elf. It was nothing Gavin had ever seen before.

“What are you?” Gavin asked, his eyes wide.

“You have never seen one such as me,” Rina said. “I am Drow.”

Gavin gasped. “I thought your kind was a myth,” he said. “Aren’t you supposed to have black skin?”

Rina shrugged. “We had jet black skin soon after creation but ages of life underground away somehow changed our skin,” she said.

“And all the vicious rumors about your kind?” Gavin asked. “Are any of them true.”

“I can only imagine what the humans and elves and other races have invented,” Rina said. “However, most of my kind are still bitter against the races of the surface. However, there are many like me who escaped to the surface for a more peaceful life.”

“And then it all got ruined,” Gavin said. “By my kind.”

“It seems so,” Rina said.

There was another long silence and then Gavin stepped forward and moved to cut the ropes restraining Rina.

“What are you doing?” Rina asked. “Don’t.”

Gavin looked up in surprise. “This is not fair,” he said. “I can’t let this happen.”

Rina shook her head and spoke some arcane words and disappeared and reappeared on the ground, the ropes going slack without her form to hold them in place. “It would be incriminating if they found the ropes cut,” she said. “Go back to bed, Gavin Flintshade. I will depart in peace.”

“Good luck,” Gavin said and backed away to go back to his house.

“Goodbye,” Rina said and disappeared into the night.

The War Veteran

July 27, 2019

In the midst of the Battle for Hogwarts, Henry Redwell had been hit with the Cruciatus curse. He had been one of the many students who took up their wand against the Dark Lord’s army. It had never been his wish to be a fighter, to be in a war but it had been necessary. He still had no doubt that had they not fought back, He Who Must Not Be Named would have slaughtered them all after he had been done with Harry Potter. They had fought for their very survival and they had barely survived. Henry had done his best with what few lessons he knew but the students of Hogwarts were not really trained for such things especially with the meddling of Umbridge and Snape.

Henry’s older brother had been friends with Cedric Diggory and so Henry had met him on holiday several times before entering Hogwarts himself. The Redwell family had always been members of Hufflepuff going back ages and so Redwell had entered that house. His older brother had looked after him until graduation and by then Redwell had his own friends to keep him safe. The Redwells were loyal and so Hufflepuff made sense. They left the courage to Gryffindor, the usual champions against evil. Still, when the truth came out about Harry Potter trying to save Cedric’s life during the Tri-Wizard cup, Henry felt inspired by the story and all of the subsequent stories of Harry and his friends.

All told, Henry Redwell had probably been destined for a Ministry job or to take over the family shop. All of that changed in the Battle for Hogwarts but a lot changed that day for a lot of people. He had been fending off the attack of a death eater when he was hit from behind with the Cruciatus curse. It might have only been a moment or it could have been the hours that it felt like but the pain was excruciating nonetheless. He had been saved by Professor Lupin who took out both Death Eaters. Henry’s future wife Felicity Partridge had pulled him to safety and tended to his wounds the best she could. A smart man would have left it there but Henry Redwell had found his bravery.

Henry spent his remaining years in Hogwarts working toward a new goal. He asked Felicity, a girl with a truly brilliant mind, to tutor him and he poured himself into his studies. His grades saw an immediate improvement and with that momentum, he pushed himself even harder. As he walked the halls of Hogwarts, he would not stand for bullying. When he heard about a problem, he set out to put it right. He tried not to use force if talking worked and soon his friends were following his example. He was no leader but he had started a small trend that helped everybody at Hogwarts. He wondered briefly if this was what Dumbledore’s Army had felt like. He humbly shook that thought away and continued working toward his goal.

When he graduated Hogwarts, he just barely had the grades to become an Auror. Part of his acceptance as an Auror was due to his extracurricular anti-bullying behavior. He had shown that he wanted to be part of the community in a positive way while also protecting that community. He was accepted into a new global task force. The British government had been briefly compromised by the rise of the Dark One. If there had been closer ties within the worldwide wizarding world, aid might have come to England and the Battle at Hogwarts might have been completely different. So much could have been different. This new task force would root out dark wizards and try to stop another Grindelwald or Voldemort from rising to power.

Many people in England wanted to call them The Snake Eaters but thankfully it was agreed that this was a bad call. Having been at Hogwarts, Henry knew that there was still a lot of animosity against the Slytherin House. However, Henry had forgiven most of the ones he knew and the world was starting to warm to the idea of giving second chances to the least complicit snakes of the world. Henry’s compassion led to him getting command of his own squad and he had put one together after a lengthy interview process. He had recruited his own wife, Felicity, as the team medic.

Henry had forbidden the use of any magical methods to coerce captives to give up their wicked friends. Torture or tricks would only create animosity which would make reform all the more difficult. This meant no Veritaserum, no Imperius Curse, and definitely no Cruciatus Curse. Henry had picked a squad with near limitless patience so that they could obtain information purely through conversation. His team armed Henry with all of the knowledge he would need to outthink and connect with the person across the table.

Henry walked into the interrogation room carefully, closing the door slowly behind him. He sat down in front of a young woman with an intricate snake tattoo on her face. They had chased her through Bath, lost her, and then found her again and caught her in Blackpool. Henry took a deep breath and smiled gently at the young woman. He set his folder down in front of him. The woman spat in Henry’s face, the wad of spit hitting where his nose met his right cheek. His file never faltered and he slowly wiped the spit off and opened the folder.

“Now then,” Henry said. “Let’s have a little chat.”


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