Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

In the House of the Law

June 15, 2019

In House of the Law in Osten on the border of the Bremid Empire, Gedreel paced back and forth. She was so anxious that she found herself practically shaking apart. The guards gave her the side eye and she decided to stay absolutely still. She briefly considered waiting out front but thought that might now look suspicious so she tried to hold it together. She had always been a good girl and she was rarely in a House of Law. She had been raised in the temple by the Order, a little sheltered maybe but walking the true path. She knew that she had done nothing wrong so why was she nervous? At least she was reasonably sure she was innocent.

She was in the middle of cataloging her every past action when Cherish strolled out from the holding cell area, escorted by another guard. Gedreel immediately forgot where she was and ran to Cherish and hugged her close.

“Oh, Cherish! I am so glad that you are alright,” she said and then paused. “You are alright, right?”

Cherish sighed but smiled. “I’m fine, Geddy,” she said. “I’m over the moon glad to see you but you didn’t have to come here for me.” She started to gently guide Gedreel from the building.

“Wait!” Gedreel said and stayed rooted to the spot. She held Cherish at arm’s length and inspected her thoroughly. Cherish had all of her fingers and toes, two legs, two arms, her tail, one blue eye, and one red eye. One of her horns was broken but Gedreel knew it had been that way when she met Cherish. Cherish refused to fix it no matter what Gedreel offered. Then Gedreel spotted the bruise just behind Cherish’s left ear. She gasped and gently laid her hand on it and healed her skin back to its usual crimson hue. She shot the guards a dirty look and she was about to say something nasty to them when Cherish pushed her outside.

“Relax Geddy,” Cherish said. “I’m fine.”

“But they hit you!” GEdreel yelled before suddenly realizing her loud volume. “They shouldn’t hit you.”

“On that point, we can both agree,” Cherish said. “And yet that’s what they do sometimes when they arrest people.”

“Why aren’t you angrier?” Gedreel asked. “I would be angry.”

“I was angry the first three times,” Cherish said. “After that, you figure out that it’s pointless to get angry when bitter will do just fine.”

“What were you even arrested for?” Gedreel asked.

“I was arrested for being a Tiefling, same as always,” Cherish said. “Same old song and dance.”

“But you were born that way,” Gedreel said. “Tiefling blood does not equate to automatic guilt.”

“I know that,” Cherish said. “and you know that but plenty of people can’t seem to grasp that.”

“But you were a member of the Queensguard of Deneia!” Gedreel said. “Your honor is beyond reproach.”

Cherish shook her head. “That’s not exactly a point in my favor in these small towns,” she said. “Being a bodyguard in a government controlled by my kind. Most tell me to just go back there.”

Gedreel gasped again and grabbed Cherish’s hand. “But you can’t go back there!” She said. “Your uncle said he would kill you!”

“They wouldn’t care, Geddy,” Cherish said. “I think you care enough for all of us who don’t care.”

“Last time we met, you said I care too much,” Gedreel said.

“I was wrong,” Cherish said. “We need people who care like you. I need people who care.”

“I do care!” Gedreel said. “You know I do.”

“Why are you here, Geddy?” Cherish asked. “Not that I’m complaining but how did you hear about my arrest? How did you know I was here?”

“Holy Lathander sent me a vision, a message to come and get you,” Gedreel said

“I didn’t know you got visions,” Cherish said. “You never got visions back in Deneia.”

“This was my first one,” Gedreel said, her eyes were bright and merry. “It was exciting.”

“Your first vision sent you to me?” Cherish asked. “Why? Why would Lathander send you to me?”

“I think that he means for us to be together for some purpose,” Gedreel said. “I think we’re meant to help people by defeating a great evil.”

“A great evil?” Cherish asked. “You I can understand but me? Really?”

“Yes,” Gedreel said. “Also I think Lathander has blessed my proposal of marriage.”

Cherish smirked. “Geddy! Are you proposing to me?”

Gedreel’s eyes widened and she blushed furiously. “I meant that to be a grander romantic gesture!”

“It was fine,” Cherish said with a smile. “Very romantic. Very you.”

Gedreel took a deep breath. “Cherish Westera Goldsong, we have known each other for so long and though our paths have pulled apart, fate and the gods above have brought us back together. I have thought of you every day that we were apart. Now that we are together again, I do not want to leave you ever again. Cherish will you–“

This was the point where Cherish kissed Gedreel. They kissed for a long, long time. They kissed until they had to come up for air. They smiled at each other and Cherish dragged Gedreel off to an inn to celebrate.

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The Nighthawk Pt. 2

June 8, 2019

“Don’t run. I mean ya no harm.” The voice said from no visible mouth whatsoever.

My response was a stunned silence with a renewed hawk-like watching of the puddle. I also might have definitely let loose a string of unrepeatable swear words. Alright, I definitely said the swear words. Meanwhile, the puddle was doing an awful lot of moving which looked disturbingly like it was animated by Ray Harryhausen. This is not the sort of thing that you expect to see on your office floor. The liquid coalesced into a blackened mess which might be interpreted as muscles and a skeleton. No skin seemed to be forthcoming but thankfully the thing slowly started to form clothes.

Imagine a blackened skeleton in a gray fuzzy sweater and brown corduroy pants. Now imagine that this delightful figure was four feet tall and was somehow both terrifying and adorable. That was what the creature who had just reverse-melted off my floor looked like. I had so many questions but my brain had put on the brakes at this point and I was already reaching for that old family revolver tucked into a holster by the small of my back.

“Lay off the gun, kid. I promise I won’t hurt ya.” The little black skeleton said.

“Did you just use a Brooklyn accent?”

“Good,” the Skeleton said. “You’re lookin’ at me without pissin’ yourself. I did live in Brooklyn for a long time. Actually since before you monkeys showed up. It was way different back then but that’s beside the point.”

I stayed leaning against the wall, hand near my gun. I never did trust easily. “What is the point, creepy skeleton man?”

“This is creepy?” The skeleton asked. “Your species is so close-minded.”

“You keep floating away from making an actual point. Why are you haunting my office?” I was getting annoyed quickly. At least annoyed was better than scared. I headed back toward my desk, making a wide berth around the skeleton. At least I could use the desk as cover if this thing went from David Lynch to David Cronenberg.

“Alright, alright,” the skeleton said. “I guess being timeless makes you less inclined to rush things. I guess your impatience is more or less a biological imperative. I don’t have really have a biology so I’m not really sure.” The thing’s eye holes tracked my movements. Every single moment.

“What are you?” I asked. It was probably rude and blunt but I was rattled. Sue me.

“I guess I’m a messenger of sorts in this situation. Of course, maybe you’re actually asking what sort of creature I am. I am a djinn.”

“I’ll bite. What’s a djinn?’ I asked, still wondering if I had drunk enough whiskey to black out. If this was real, I was glad for the calming effect of the alcohol.

“A djinn is basically a being of thought and emotion and magic. Very few of us actually hang out here in the real world but reality kind of grew on me so I visit every so often.” The skeleton gestured and a lit cigar formed in his hand and he began to smoke. I did not smell any smoke.

“What’s your name?” I sat down, my legs ached with released tension.

“Unpronounceable. People call me Mr. Black. That works well enough.”

“My name is John Redcross but you probably saw the name on the door. You said ‘people’. What people would talk to something like you?”

“I’ll forgive the bigotry you’ve got going on there,” Mr. Black said. “The people I talk to are mostly the Council and that brings me to why I’m here. Like I said, I brought you a message.”

“First, who’s this Council? If you have a message from them for me, I’d like to know who they are.” I reached for a pencil and a piece of paper if only to look professional if this was going to be some sort form of business meeting all of a sudden.

“Makes sense. The Council is the ruling party of the so-called supernatural world. A world, we’re aware you briefly experienced just about a year ago.”

My heart tightened in my chest and my gaze went to Harmony’s badge where it was framed on my wall. “So it was real.”

Mr. Black nodded. “Yeah, they’re real. The Nagloshi are some vicious sons of bitches. Whatever they did to her could not have been any good. That’s not why I’m here.” He gestured with the cigar a bit while he talked. The talking skeleton bit was starting to get less unnerving. I am not sure whether this acceptance was something positive or negative. Regardless, my enemy had a name now which made them chillingly more real but also more within the reach of my revenge.

Mr. Black spoke up again, filling the silence. “Earth to Detective Redcross, do you want to hear the message or not?”

“A creepy little skeleton muscles his way into my office with a message from some clandestine council of supernatural beings?” I asked. “Of course I want to hear the message.”

Mr. Black put out the cigar he had been smoking on the top of his shiny black skull and shrugged. “Alright then. The Council is aware that you have discovered a piece of our world. It’s what we call ‘piercing the veil’. Most people who pierce the veil either go crazy or the world thinks their crazy and things spiral from there. It’s only when a large number of people discover the truth at the same time that we have to worry.”

“So if they’re not worried about me then why send you to creep me out?” I asked.

“Again with the impatience and bigotry. They sent me here to hire you. There have been several deaths in the Woodland Heights area and we think a rogue faction is responsible.”

“Don’t you have your own cops?” I asked.

“We do but the case involves both mortal drugs and the supernatural,” Mr. Black said. “They feel that since you have pierced the veil and have experience with human crime, you might be better equipped to handle this. Also, if you’re not gonna go nuts, you might as well prove useful.”

“I still don’t understand anything about this. Frankly, I don’t know if I want to help a community that killed my partner and lost me my career.”

“Don’t go lumping the rest of us in with that one Nagloshi,” Mr. Black said holding his hands up in the universal sign of ‘we come in peace’. “We’re not all psycho predators. Just like any community, we have our good guys and bad guys. We’re offering you the chance to step inside our ranks and be a good guy. You don’t have to like us to do the job. In fact, you’ll probably be more objective if you remain skeptical.”

“Your council is afraid that if too many people die, you will be risking exposure,” I guessed.

“Obviously,” Mr. Black said. “I guess those are the kind of smarts that they’re banking on.” Even with no skin on his face, I could feel the sarcasm radiating off Mr. Black.

“If I do this, will I get information on these Nagloshi?” I asked.

“Officially, I should warn you that revenge is not the diplomatic sort of idea that will keep you alive in our world. Unofficially, you might discover a few things about the nasty buggers. I honestly don’t know where this case goes, I’m not psychic.”

“Where do I start? Usually, there’s a crime scene or a case file for me to look at. “

“Hold onta your hat, detective. I got what ya need right here. There’re no active crime scenes right now but I picked up this from the local station house.” He pulled a file folder out of thin air and held it out. I came around the desk and tentatively took it from his bony fingers and retreated back behind the desk.

The Nighthawk

June 1, 2019

(This was originally written in 2013 as part of NaNoWriMo.  I thought it was time to do something with it)

If this were a noir detective story then muted trumpets would be playing as I sipped whiskey with my feet on the desk.  There would be a haze of smoke in the room regardless of whether I am smoking or not. A leggy blonde or redhead would be cued up to enter in the next few minutes with some sob story.  For the record, this is not a noir detective movie. The room is in color and I quit smoking two years ago.  But the whiskey was spot on but only half a tumbler because I was just about to walk home for the day and the office was officially closed.

The private detective business had turned out to not be as glamorous as Humphrey Bogart advertised it.  Who knew that Hollywood did not, in fact, portray truth? I was stuck in this tiny basement office because I had been fired from my job as an actual detective for the police.  I worked narcotics with my partner, Harmony Hall, for years and we made a lot of busts and we received a lot of kudos from the big wigs.  I really believed that Harmony had been on track for a promotion.  She was going to get stuck with a desk job even though she always hated the idea.  At least, that’s what she said.

The good times ended when Harmony was killed during a stakeout gone horribly wrong.  Something came out of the shadows and tore Harmony and the crooks we had been tailing into shredded meat.  I call it a thing because I still do not know what it was.  I still cannot adequately explain my partner’s death.  I know that it was not human or anything that I had ever seen before.  I also know that the brass at the police station did not believe me when we got debriefed. What I do know is that they fired me or “let me go” for psychological reasons.  I feel that the only reason that I was not committed was that I eventually shut my mouth and agreed to walk away.

Harmony didn’t deserve to die and then get that horrible death swept under the carpet but I still didn’t know what to do about it. I don’t know if there is anything that anybody could have done about it.  I see that thing in my dreams.  It was all teeth, claws and sinewy shapes that made little sense. It stuck to the shadows and easily avoided shots from my service revolver. I had no experience hunting animals, especially ones intelligent and brutal enough to slaughter six drug dealers and one police officer and then slip away into the night without a trace.  How was there no forensics at the scene?

So now I was trying to make ends meet mostly by taking pictures of people cheating on their spouses.  It was the kind of thing that made me feel completely filthy but the landlady did not take reassuring smiles and good intentions as payment on the rent.  Some people are total hard asses when it comes to money. I was not prepared for the hustling up of clients or chasing them down and hassling them to pay me.  This job had quickly turned into a horrible headache but I had burned a lot of bridges by telling the truth.

But I still looked for that truth when I could.  In what little spare time I had, I scoured the news and the word on the street for anything weird.  I turned over whatever rocks I could find and poked my nose where I probably shouldn’t have.  I found some strange things that I could not really explain and honestly made me feel crazier.  I read through strange books on the weirdest subjects in search of something to explain.  A city is a strange place even without the supernatural elements that I thought that I had experienced.

The whiskey felt good going down in that sweet, sadistically masochistic sort of way.  Alcohol was dangerously seductive and there was a bad history in certain corners of my family.  Still, after a long week, it was much-needed anesthesia and that was good enough for the moment.  I was too restless.  I had spent too many days sitting in my car and watching motel rooms.  I felt like I wanted to do something but absolutely nobody had walked into my office today. Restlessness could become dangerous if I left it unchecked so I was just about to get up and go for a walk.

Of Course, that’s when the door to my office opened.  I had thought that I had locked that door and so I was about to look up and tell whoever that the office was closed.  To come back on Monday or never. Though, I did need something to do so maybe I wouldn’t send them away.  Then when I looked up they must have already left. If possible, I was both disappointed and relieved. They had left the door hanging open so I got up and closed it. I reached for my coat to just leave when some sort of smoke came in from under the door.  

At first, I thought it was a fire but the smoke was blowing under my door like it came out of a fog machine.  My church youth group had rented one when I was a teenager for a haunted house.  The memory was suddenly vivid. Whatever was going on, my fight or flight response must have been broken because I froze with one hand on my coat. I should have embarrassed that my first responder instincts had disappeared. I think part of the reason was that I could not smell any smoke.  I could not smell the smoke and I could not feel any heat or hear the crackle of flame.

With a strange, wet sound the cloud of smoke just suddenly dropped out of the air and condensed into a puddle on the floor.  As the guy who pays the rent, I started to properly freak out. I pressed myself to the wall and watched the puddle like a hawk with some sort of obsessive complex for watching puddles.  The puddle started to slide (or was it ooze?) across the floor toward my desk. I felt that if I followed it, I would be the guy in a John Carpenter movie who the audience was rolling their eyes at.  Maybe I should just bolt out of here and call the fire department. They wouldn’t believe me anyway. I wouldn’t believe me either.

Just as I was reaching for the door, fully willing to let the living puddle eat my damn coat, I heard a voice.  The voice came from the puddle. Of course, it did. With my luck, it would be a talking puddle.

The Tailors

May 25, 2019

When Lyda Penrose laid her hand on the boy’s head and cast Greater Restoration, she had expected the prince’s eyes to clear and maybe she would get a bewildered smile. Instead, as divinity channeled through her, the Prince’s flesh sizzled and his eyes went bright orange. Apparently, there was no disease in him to cure. The problem was much worse than that. At that point, the devil in the boy revealed itself and the rest was hellfire, blood, and chaos. In the melee, Cinda Karpon, Caleb Wolfspell, and Jo Penrose were lost, possibly caught or killed. Lyda, Maeve Penrose, and Ratha had made it out of the palace but only because Ratha had picked up the two sisters and run with them. The three of them found a cave to hide in as they caught their breaths.

“We have to go back for them!” Ratha yelled.

“We know,” Maeve said quietly. “But we need a plan.”

“We just can’t leave them back there!” Ratha yelled. “We’re the Tailors!” The rage that powered her looked like it was just about to explode again. She was dangerously close to losing control in a small, enclosed space.

“We know!” Lyda yelled, a rather uncharacteristic move for the young cleric. “Our sister is up there. Our friends are up there. We know.”

Maeve put her hand on Lyda’s shoulder gently. “Lyda’s right,” she said. “We need a plan. If you calm down, I think I might have one.” Both sisters watched as Ratha slowly calmed down, releasing that spirit of rage into the air.

“You really have a plan?” Lyda asked, turning back toward her older sister. She had remained cloistered in a temple for years but she had always thought of her older sisters and how much she looked up to them. Even when she found out one of them was a thief, she was still proud.

“Your surprise wounds me, sister,” Maeve said with a mock offended look. “I cased the palace.”

“You cased the palace?” Ratha asked.

“Yes,” Maeve said. “I case every building before we enter it if I can manage it. It’s purely for tactical purposes, of course.”

“I would never suspect wicked intentions, sister,” Lyda said. “You promised to reform for our little group. For the good of the realm.”

“My criminal days are behind me,” Maeve said, holding her hand up as a mimicry of the oath she had solemnly given her sisters a year earlier. “I only use my powers for good now. It’s your influence, naturally.”

“So what’s the plan?” Ratha asked, interrupting verbally and physically with her tall imposing form. She was getting excited again and that made the sisters a little nervous.

Lyda took a deep breath and held up a calming hand. “Relax and save your strength, Ratha,” she said. “If my studies have taught me anything, it has taught me that devils do not kill people outright. Devils like to corrupt if they can and only kill if they fail. If somebody is still useful, there is no wisdom in killing them.”

“And our friends can hang tough,” Maeve said. “I believe in them. We’ll drive the devils out and save our friends but we will do it together. To do that, we’ll need your rage focused for my plan to work.”

“Um,” Ratha said. “Of course but what do you need me to do?” She looked at Maeve with childlike wonder and it suddenly hit the sisters once again how young the huge woman was.

“When we reach the end of the tunnel, I need you to plow through whoever or whatever is in our way,” Maeve said. “We’ll back you up. If we can get to our friends, we will have a fighting chance. Who knows what else will be imprisoned, maybe some potential allies.”

“I can do that,” Ratha said. “I swear it.”

All three of them nodded. The question about what to do if their friends were already dead or turned was left unsaid. They could not afford to think about it much less voice it. They had been together as adventurers for a year and they were more of a family now. The three Penrose sisters had grown up together, grown apart, and then had come back together to save their hometown. Now, they were stronger than they had ever been before and they were not about to give up on each other now.

The three of them slowly climbed their way around the steep cliffs that surrounded the palace. They made their way to an ancient passage around the back of the palace walls that had been built in Elven times and long forgotten. There were five complicated locks for Maeve to pick but her training under The Scythe had prepared her for these sorts of moments. After a long tense time, she tripped the locks and Ratha yanked the doors open and they climbed in, grateful to be away from the cliffs and the ravine below. They made their way down the tunnel and as they reached the end of it, Ratha summoned the Stormlord’s spirit of rage once again and charged forward.

Speak to the Dead

May 11, 2019

Kerel waved her hand over the dead man’s face and gripped her holy symbol tight and focused her thoughts on a simple prayer. Her prayer to Asherah had no words but instead was more of a feeling, a feeling of certainty and faith that was always deep inside of her. She closed her eyes without realizing and when she opened them, the dead man’s jaw cracked and shifted and something resembling life entered the man’s eyes and he almost seemed to glare at Kerel. It coughed hard and dust and other things came up as their throat cleared. She blinked and then backed off a bit and tried to offer a smile.

“Sorry for you waking you, sir,” she said. “We just have a few questions.”

The corpse looked around, its eyeballs hesitating slightly in their sockets as if to ask who ‘we’ was.

“Oh,” she said. “They’re in the other room. They think this is creepy.” Sabin was a fighter and he was really only comfortable with what he could control at the point of his sword. Kobal was enigmatic and he claimed that he would merely distract from the experience. Carissa had disappeared as soon as they had arrived in the village. Kerel hoped she was behaving herself.

The corpse stared at her blankly as if it was already completely bored. Kerel took a deep breath so that she did not rush things.

“They’re not wrong,” Kerel said. “I never really liked this ability. Father Harun always insisted that it was very useful. It is but it never gets more comfortable.”

The corpse continued to stare blankly.

“Anyway,” she said. “Let’s begin. Who or what killed you?”

She studied the corpse’s face. The young boy was largely untouched by wounds and that is why the four of them had been summoned to this village to assist. The corpse seemed to think about that for a moment. Kerel knew from experience that the dead found it difficult to access their memories of life. It probably had to do with the barrier between life and death. She had to remember that this was not the young man who had died, this was an avatar used to briefly connect with his soul in the afterlife. This was not necromancy, it was just necromancy-adjacent.

“It was the Witch of the Woods,” the corpse said. “A magic spell stopped my heart.”

Kerel frowned. That did not sound good at all. Her parents had always been distrustful of magic-users so her experience until recently had been minimal. Witches were often more unpredictable than wizards. Witches were often wild and lawless. At least, that is what mother always used to say.

“Who is the Witch of the Woods?” Kerel asked.

The corpse hesitated less this time. Its momentum was starting to pick up. “She is known,” he said. “The Witch of the Woods has been there since as long as we can remember.”

“Hmm,” Kerel said. She wondered if that meant that the Witch was an elf or something else long-lived. Hopefully, the Witch of the Woods was not immortal. “Why did she kill you?”

“She has my sister, Laessica,” the corpse said. “I was trying to rescue her.”

Kerel gasped. “She has your sister?!” She yelled and then immediately cursed. She only had five questions and she had just blown one.

“Yes,” the corpse said without hesitation. Kerel could not be sure but it seemed to have an almost mocking tone. It was probably her imagination. She took a deep breath.

“Where is the Witch of the Woods?” Kerel asked.

“In a dark cave beneath the Blackened Woods in the forest north of the village,” the corpse said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kerel asked.

The corpse was silent, its eyes starting to cloud over. Kerel sighed.

“Five questions asked, five questions answered. I send you back to your rest and thank you for your time,” Kerel said. She let go of her holy symbol and the corpse was no longer animated. She took a beat and then walked back outside into the open air of the village. She immediately felt many eyes upon her. Eyes filled with hope and curiosity. Many of them were citizens of the village, trying not to appear like they were watching. Thankfully, she had managed their expectations by letting them know she could not resurrect the boy. It was still early days on her path.

“So,” Sabin said, sheathing his sword. “Did you get the information?”

“I really wish you would accompany me on these sessions,” Kerel said. “It was lonely in there.”

Sabin shuddered. “No thank you,” he said. “Such things are beyond me.”

Kobal stood from where he had been sitting on the porch. “It is easier for you to focus when you are alone,” he said. “Many feet disturb the puddle and the reflection is no longer clear.”

There was a beat. “What?” She asked, her face scrunched in confusion.

“Never mind that,” Sabin said. “What did you find out?”

“Well,” she said. “He was killed by the magic of a Witch of the Woods. She kidnapped his sister so she’s still out there. She might be immortal?”

“That’s just great,” Sabin said. “We’ll let her taste my blade and test that rumor.”

“First we need a little more information,” Kerel said. “We need to ask about the Blackened Wood.”

“I know where it is,” Carissa said from up on the roof of the cottage. “Follow me.”

Wolfsong

April 26, 2019

Jenny held on tight as the sled rounded another bend in the trail. She checked her watch and saw that midnight was approaching. That checked out as it was very dark and she was pretty tired. The dogs looked like they could run forever and they probably could if Jenny let them. Still, Jenny thought that they should probably all get some rest even though none of the dogs looked like they wanted any. They pulled the sled along pretty fast considering the fresh snow on the trail. It had snowed that morning and it definitely showed. Eowyn, the lead dog, was probably finding the trail by smell alone and the other dogs and Jenny were just trusting that. She was so proud of the team for sticking together.

They crested a hill and Jenny caught sight of the cabin. She could tell that the dogs saw the cabin too because they sped up and ran harder toward it. Eowyn let out a little excited bark. Jenny reined in the team a little but really she was happy to let them expend that last bit of energy. They would probably be pretty antsy most of the night until they got going in the morning. As they got close, she threw on the sled brake and moved to unhitch the dogs so they could go about their business.

She went to the outhouse quickly to go about her own business and then came back to the cabin. She went to the back of the cabin and grabbed a bale of hay. She scattered it in front of the cabin so the dogs had something to sleep on. She pulled the rifle carefully from the sled and leaned it against the cabin. She went about starting a fire before feeding the dogs some frozen meat to gnaw on and grabbed herself an MRE. After she had eaten, she finally moved back to the sled to grab her guitar. She would never bring the guitar on an actual race but she was just going on a run to build team building.

She took a seat and started to play and sing. After a while. the dogs started to join in with the song. It was funny how the dogs would join in the song most of the time she played either out on the trail or back home. She originally thought they were complaining but over time, she felt they got the same thing out of it that Jenny did. It was good to sing together, relaxing after a hard day of travel.

She often wondered in moments like this at the trajectory her life had taken. She had originally gone to school for accounting years ago. Along the way, she had hit a wall and dropped out of college and then she had drifted. She had eventually ended up in Montana where she had volunteered at a kennel. From there she got a job as a handler for sled dogs and now she was a musher with a stake in the company. She could not have been happier if she planned it all. She especially enjoyed training the dogs but she lived for the races. The next race could never come soon enough.

In the middle of a verse, she thought that she had heard something out of place. She stopped singing and playing and the dogs stopped too with a little bit of confusion at the sudden stop. She saw their ears all prick up as she heard the baying and howling of wolves in the distance. She felt terror deep in her stomach and then felt its fingers creeping all over her body. She knew that she could not freeze so she forced herself to get up and grabbed the rifle. She had never fired it at a living thing but there was no time to think about that. She would protect her team and herself. This was the wild and normal rules were out the window.

There was a long silence as Jenny and the team watched the darkness for wolves. The wolves had gone silent as well which made Jenny even more nervous. It made it harder to track their movements. They could be anywhere. After a while of nothing happening, the dogs’ tension started to disappear. She watched them, knowing their senses were much better than hers and they would know danger earlier than she could. She trusted her team with all of her heart but she feared those wolves. Would they grow brave enough to charge in even with ten dogs and an open campfire? Anything was possible.

Finally, the silence was broken again by the wolves once again howling in the distance. It sounded like they had not moved after all. The dogs started to howl in response and Jenny found herself smiling at them. They were making friends while Jenny had been ready to face down enemies. She watched as the dogs howled at the wolves and then looked down as Eowyn drew closer. Eowyn nudged the fallen guitar and looked up at Jenny. Jenny slowly put the rifle down and picked the guitar up and started to play again. She started to sing with the wolves and the dogs and for a moment in time, they were all bonded together.

(This story is inspired by following Blair Braverman on twitter.  She is a musher for BraverMountain and she and her team competed in their first Iditarod this year.  She recently published a great essay for Outside Magazine which can be found here.)

(Written on 4/24/19)

Voice of an Angel

April 25, 2019

Corbin was laying face down in the mud. He had a feeling that he should be having trouble breathing but he was perfectly calm. Actually, as he thought about it, he should have been breathing period, right? He tried to take a deep breath and found that his heart was just not in it. He started to panic but found that he was perfectly alright. Still, he could not move. He could not see anything through the mud in his face. He tried to move and his muscles would not even tense. He was starting to wonder if something was seriously wrong. He tried to retrace his steps in his memory to see where things might have gone wrong.

He found that he could not remember much. He certainly remembered getting ready for a battle. But who was he fighting against? Had it been daytime? Had it been nighttime? He had remembered visiting his family just before going to the front lines. He had spent the morning eating breakfast with his little sisters. He remembered laughing with them and he remembered them begging him not to go. He remembered telling them that it would be alright. He remembered telling the same to his mother and there was no belief in her eyes. He remembered having an honest discussion with his father for the first time in his life. He remembered that his father was proud of him. He remembered seeing tears in his father’s eyes for the first time in his life. Then it was all blank.

Suddenly, he could hear something. It was really soft at first but he could tell that it was a woman’s voice. As it got closer, he could tell that it was beautiful singing. It was so beautiful, he could feel it touch his heart. He had heard all of his life about music’s ability to move you but now he knew what they meant. He felt the music in every part of his body and then he was able to stand up. He reached up to brush off the mud but there was no mud there. He opened his eyes and saw a woman with fiery red and gold hair walking toward him. Her eyes lit up when she saw Corbin. That was not just a figure of speech. They literally flared to life like two burning torches for a just a moment before she more purposefully strode toward him. He thought for a moment about running but something inside said that was a bad idea. Maybe it was the matching red and gold wings extending from her shoulders.

“Hail mortal!” She called out. “You’ve responded to my song. That makes you special.”

“Do you know what happened here?” Corbin asked. “I’m kind of out of it.”

“Understandable, Corbin Armstrong,” The woman said. “You have been through quite an ordeal.”

“What ordeal?” Corbin asked.

“Well, it has something to do with all of these bodies, don’t you think?” the woman asked. She gestured to the field around them and Corbin suddenly noticed all of the bodies in armor lying in the mood and pools of blood. He started to feel fear and anger rising up from within and that old battle instinct was starting to take hold. He looked up and his eyes caught the woman’s eyes and he instantly calmed down. “That’s better,” she said.

“Who are you?” Corbin asked. “What are you?”

“My name is Hertha,” the woman said. “I’m an angel. I’m sent after battles to help with special souls.”

“Special souls?” Corbin asked, running his hand through his hair. “Wait, you mean like dead people? Then why can I see you?”

“I think this should answer your question,” Hertha said. She reached down and rolled one of the bodies over and Corbin saw his own face, nearly obscured by mud. He staggered backward for a moment.

“I’m dead!?” Corbin shouted. “How?” He searched his mind and he could not find any memories of his death or the battle at all. It troubled him deeply.

“You don’t remember for a reason,” Hertha said. “You don’t need to be tethered to that moment. But I suppose a warrior deserves to know.” She bent down and tilted Corbin’s body’s head back and revealed a huge cut that was no longer bleeding.

“So I’m dead,” Corbin said. With the finality of seeing the wound, he began to calm down a bit. There was no going back now. “What happens now?” He felt rattled, barely keeping it together.

“Well,” Hertha said. “When I said that you are a special soul, I meant it. You were a valorous warrior for much of your life. You came alive in battle and itched to return to it in times of peace. In a natural life, you would have grown old and settled into a peaceful state. Now, you have an unquiet soul. You have a good soul but it is still wild.”

“So where do I go?” Corbin said. “Please don’t send me to the Abyss. I don’t belong there.”

“You don’t,” Hertha said with a soft laugh. “You would have been a true beast in life to deserve that place. You were fair in life and lived by an admirable code of honor. We have a special place in the Heavens for you. I think you might have heard of Ysgard?”

“The domain of Bahamut and Mala? The Eternal Battle?” Corbin asked.

“The very same,” Hertha said. “There are also regular hunts and great feasts. When you have tired of battle, you can travel freely throughout all of the Heavens. Can you accept those terms?”

“I suppose that’s the best deal I’m going to get,” Corbin said. “I accept.”

“So, will you join us in battle?” Hertha asked.

“I’m ready,” Corbin said. “Let’s fight.”

(Written on 4/22/19)

Unsing the World

April 24, 2019

Erica was leading Joseph down into the old cave outside of town. Everybody in town knew about the cave but as kids, they had heard that bears often made their home there. As adults, most of the town forgot about the cave and went about their lives. For some reason, Erica had knocked on Joe’s door in the middle of the night and begged him to come to the cave. He had been so sleepy and she had been so insistent that he had agreed without really thinking about it. Was there a kid trapped in the cave? What was going on? Now that they had arrived at the cave, Erica was much calmer and was even smiling again. She was smiling a lot, actually.

“Are you going to tell me what we’re doing here, Erica?” Joe asked. He tried to use his flashlight to find his footing as they walked into the cave.

“You’ll see,” Erica said. “I can tell you that it’s nothing you’d guess.”

“That does not make me feel any better,” Joe said. “So we’re here. What do we do now?”

“We’re here,” Erica said. “but we’re not there yet. Come on.” Then she slipped through the back wall of the cave.

Joe blinked and then ran up to the wall. It looked solid but then he took two steps to the right and he could see the thin gap in the wall. He slipped through and caught up to Erica.

“How come I never knew that this went deeper?” Joe asked. “We used to come here as kids and peek in. I thought it was just a few feet deep.”

“It’s an optical illusion,” Erica said. “We never got close enough to see it. Of course, we might not have seen it because a magical spell makes us ignore it or something.” She kept walking and Joe followed her.

“Magic spell?” Joe asked. “This is really weird and now you’re talking like we did when we played pretend in the woods.”

“Except it’s not pretend anymore,” Erica said. “We’ve discovered how real it actually is.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Joe asked. “What’s real?”

“Exactly,” Erica said. “What is real? That’s the question we started to ask ourselves and each other.”

“Um,” Joe said. “You’re only getting weirder.” He stopped walking, not sure he wanted to be following Erica anymore.

She sighed and turned toward him. She pointed the beam of her flashlight down. “Alright, that’s fair. Just look down.”

Joe pointed his own beam down and blinked in surprise again. The cave floor below them was made up of interlocking hexagonal rocks as if this had all been built. It looked almost like stone tile. “What the hell?” Was all he could think to say.

Erica laughed softly with what sounded like sympathy in her voice. “This shouldn’t be here, Joe. The world wasn’t supposed to let this be here.”

“But what does that mean?” Joe asked.

“If you follow me, I’ll explain,” Erica said. “Don’t you still trust me?”

Joe hesitated and looked up to see the hurt on Erica’s face. “Yeah,” he said. “I trust you.”

Erica nodded and turned and started walking further down into the cave again. “Many cultures have argued over how the world was created. Science has been at odds with religion for a long time. Religion has been at war with itself since we can remember. There are too many theories to count but we’ve discovered that they are all wrong.”

“We?” Joe asked. “Who’s we?”

“The people brave enough to go into the cave, Joe,” Erica said. “Keep up.”

“Alright,” Joe said. “So what’s the correct theory?”

“It’s not a theory,” Erica said. “It’s reality. Well, it’s unreality. We’re not supposed to be here. Let me start from the beginning. In the beginning, there was darkness. Then some beings started to sing. Then came light and life and everything we know. Our world started with a song. Our universe started with a song. That song is still going.”

“Alright,” Joe said. “Like some cosmic song.”

“Exactly,” Erica said. “Except they got it wrong. Have you ever wondered why we’re all so unsatisfied with the way the world has turned out?”

“I mean, I guess,” Joe said. “It’s easy to get frustrated.”

“That’s their fault, Joe,” Erica said.

“Whose fault?” Joe asked.

“For lack of a better word,” Erica said. “We call them the gods.”

“And they sang the world into existence but they hit too many high notes or something?” Joe asked.

“An oversimplification,” Erica said. “They sang the wrong song and we ended up unhappy.”

“How do you know all of this?” Joe asked.

“We read the texts,” Erica said. “That’s where I’m taking you.”

“How do you know that the texts are right and everything else is wrong?” Joe asked.

“When you read them, you just know,” Erica said. “You just have to trust me. When you see it, you’ll understand.”

“I’m trusting you,” Joe said. “Look how much I’m trusting you. I’m deep underground with you while you’re talking about some very strange stuff. I’m still here.”

Erica smiled. “Yeah, you haven’t turned back. When we reach the bottom, you’ll be glad you didn’t.”

“Will I?” Joe asked. “It seems pretty hopeless to be sure that the world is wrong and there is nothing I can do about it.”

“Knowledge is power, Joe,” Erica said. “We can use it to our advantage.”

“How much further is it?” Joe asked. His feet were starting to hurt.

“We’re here,” Erica said.

As she said it, the cave opened up into a large chamber which looked like it had been carefully carved out of the surrounding stone. On the walls of the chamber, there were all sorts of pictograms. Joe peered at them and tried to make sense of them but their meaning was not immediately clear. In the middle of the chamber, there was a huge stone tablet sticking out of the floor. Erica stepped to the side and pointed at the tablet, beckoning Joe toward it. He stepped closer and shone his light on it. There was some sort of language chiseled into the tablet. It was a language that he did not recognize but as soon as he looked at it, he could still understand it.

His eyes were hungry for the words and he found himself reading the tablet feverishly. He could hear a melody running through his head. He could not place the tune but it was maddeningly familiar. He kept reading and all of what Erica had said was true. He could feel in his gut that the words were true. Not only that but the tablet spoke of how the world really should be. It sounded beautiful. When he was finished he rubbed his eyes, blinked, and looked over at Erica.

“What are we supposed to do about this?” He asked her.

“I think we’re supposed to unsing the world,” she said.

(Written on 4/21/19)

Jamming

April 11, 2019

Kath sat against the cool stone of the mini storage place on Elm Street. In the late afternoon, the sun had shifted so that she was now sitting in the shade. A kind stranger had gotten her a cool drink so she felt revitalized, ready to keep playing her guitar for the people. Her case was once again open in front of her, already jangling from the morning’s tips. She had pocketed some to encourage people to keep donating to her cause. The morning had been alright but she needed to keep going.

She was tooling her way through an acoustic version of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. It had attracted some attention but it was a bit too hot out for anyone to linger to listen. The best she got was a few dollar bills, some quarters, some thumbs up, and one very good set of metal horns. It was not bad for a workday in the summer. She wondered how long she would have to play before taking shelter from the heat once again. She hoped she could go the distance.

A piece of paper fell into her case as she was starting into a Cat Stevens medley she had put together. The piece of paper was not green. Kath stopped playing and, out of curiosity, she leaned over to pick it up. She unfolded the sheet and saw that it was sheet music. She was a little confused. She looked up and saw a tall, thin man with wiry hair and big glasses. Before Kath could even open her mouth, the man spoke.

“Can you sight read?” the man asked.

“I can,” Kath said patiently. “I’m actually classically trained.”

“Are you very proficient?” the man asked, narrowing his eyes as he scrutinized her.

“Again, I’m classically trained,” Kath said. “I’m pretty good if I say so myself.”

“This needs to be played with absolutely perfect precision,” the man said. “No mistakes. ‘Pretty good’ is not good enough.”

“Did you want me to play this?” Kath asked. “What is it?”

“Only if you are sufficiently proficient,” the man said. “You’re not a spy, are you?”

“Who are you?” Kath asked, laughing a little bit.

“I don’t see how that matters,” the man said. “Can you play it? Perfectly?”

“My name is Kath,” Kath said and stuck her hand out to shake hands. “Some people call me Kath Kat. And you are?”

“Can you play the song or not?” The man asked.

Kath paused for a moment and stared at the man. “And you are?”

There was another long pause.

“Fine,” the man said. “You may call me Edgar.”

“Nice to meet you, Edgar,” Kath said. “So you want me to play this song? Is it special?”

“More than you realize,” Edgar said, pushing his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.

“Did you write it?” Kath asked.

Edgar’s eyes narrowed again. “You never answered whether or not you are a spy.”

“I’m a music major,” Kath said. “and I’m not a spy.”

“Fair enough,” Edgar said. “I suppose whatever you said I could not verify your claim. Things have progressed and I must test my hypothesis. Before you ask, it is too complicated to explain.”

“Fair enough,” Kath echoed. “So should I play the song now?”

“Begin the experiment,” Edgar said. “Whenever you are ready, of course.”

Kath grinned and shook her head before taking a deep breath. She scanned the notes on the page and looked for any surprises or tricky bits. It was all surprises and tricky bits. This was unlike any music she had ever played before. For a moment, she wondered if she was proficient enough. She shook it off and arranged her fingers and began to play. She gave her all into and out of her guitar came strangely beautiful discordant music. Each note reverberated through her being and the air around them. She could almost feel the pressure waves from each and every note.

She wondered how other people on the street might be reacting to the weird music. She looked up and saw Edgar hurriedly writing on a pad of paper he had fished out from a pocket. He looked excited. She looked to her right and saw a tall shadowy being walking on two legs, Edgar stepped out of its way, snapping pictures of it with his phone. She saw a bird with two sets of wings swoop by, plucking a cockroach off the side of the building across the street. The building seemed to be covered with cockroaches. To her left was another group of those shadowy figures. The landscape around her seemed to flicker and change like static on a television set. She reached the bottom of the page and stopped playing and it all stopped. It was just a normal city street again.

“What the hell was that?” Kath asked. She stood up and looked around wildly.

“The other dimension,” Edgar said. “The experiment worked!”

“Um,” Kath said. “What does that mean?”

“Please come back to my lab,” Edgar said. “We have to keep going.”

“Sure,” Kath said. “I guess I can’t just walk away from that. I’m inviting a friend, though. No offense.”

“None taken,” Edgar said. “They’re not a spy, are they?”

Kath shook her head with a laugh. “No.”

The Scene of the Battle

March 23, 2019

The battle had happened some nights ago when soldiers from two armies met at the crossroads and the result had not been pretty. Bystanders with their trade wagons had been sent scattering to the four winds. One of the wagons had broken a wheel and their owners had been forced to abandon it. Constable Lucia Ironpaw spotted it in an instant. Apples were scattered on the road beneath it.   Some of the baskets had been taken away from the cart by hand by fleeing traders. There was blood all over the ground but the bodies had already been removed. Frankly, Lucia felt more sympathy for the traders than the soldiers who had only brought the violence. This was no righteous war for peace and liberty, this was a trade war. They had only fought for money and power. It disgusted Lucia to hear of such greed.

It was Lucia who had been assigned to assess the site of the violence for any more clues as to which factions had been involved. There was a low fog but the area was clearly a mess even in low visibility. Lucia had heard that nobody had died in the violence but Lucia doubted that statement when she looked the site over. There was so much blood everywhere. There were even a few puddles of it here and there. Lucia gestured and her celestial cat familiar appeared out of thin air and approached one of the puddles. He sniffed at the puddle and Lucia could smell the rotten iron smell of the blood of battle. She turned up her nose and divorced her senses from the cat’s for a moment. She used her eyes for a moment, trying not to retch from the intense smell.

Directly in the middle of the crossroads, the ground was scorched black in a wide radius. Lucia knew the effects of the fireball spell well. Somebody had detonated a fireball in what would have been the middle of the crowd. This would have been devastating but it also would have taken a lot of the will to fight from both sides. It made Lucia wonder which side had done it. Perhaps a wandering wizard or sorcerer had detonated the fireball in hopes of stopping the fighting. There were no witness reports that mentioned who had cast the spell. Lucia nudged at a bit of blackened grass with her foot. She had long proposed research into time travel magic for law enforcement use but the suggestion had always been shot down. It was the only true way to solve mysteries like this. She shook her head and moved on.

From behind her she heard her cat, Caleb, let out a long plaintive meow which means he had found something. The cat sat patiently, staring with its one eye. The other eye was not damaged, the cat had chosen to appear like that. Somehow, the lack of an eye did not impede its sight in any way. Lucia allowed her senses to be swept into the cat once again which was always both familiar and disorienting to suddenly be so low to the ground. She instantly sensed what the cat had. It was an intense smell of brimstone that meant that this had been no ordinary battle. While she did not want to jump to conclusions, Lucia knew from school that brimstone often meant the presence of some sort of demonic being. With her perspective so low to the ground, Lucia could see something scratched into the dirt. She left the cat’s perspective and shook her head to adjust again. She crouched next to the drawing in the dirt. It had been disturbed by stomping feet and burning fire but they might have been runes at one point.

Magickal runes do not just get drawn for no reason though Lucia supposed they could have been normal runes left as some sort of message left for communication over time. Still, one of them looked like half of a very powerful magickal rune she had seen in many books. She had a hunch that it might have been a trigger for a trap. There had to be more to this. Lucia did not really believe in coincidences. She pulled out a few pieces of paper and carefully sketched what she could make out of the symbols. She then dug a way under them to see if there had been some hidden evil. She came up empty and started to look around to see what else could have hidden whatever the runes had triggered. That is when Lucia spotted the lone tree on one corner of the crossroads. Travelers would often sit beneath that tree to get out of the sun, one last break before reaching the town market. Now Lucia spotted what looked like putrid corruption around a branch high up in the tree. The bark had turned blackish-green with white veins. Was it some sort of side effect of a spell?

Lucia sent her senses back into Caleb the Celestial Cat and the cat slowly began to climb the tree, far easier than Lucia could have climbed. The smell of brimstone was almost unbearable as the cat approached the blighted spot on the tree. The cat’s paws tentatively tested the blighted bark but it seemed stable enough to climb on and it did no damage. Just above the branch, there was a hollow in the tree trunk, somewhere a bird or a squirrel might have made their home at one point. Now, no living thing would make a home there. It was absolutely putrid, the air thick with brimstone. The cat poked its head into the hollow and both it and Lucia saw a small bundle. It looked like a material component bag but it also looked like it had detonated. Lucia was forced to conclude that her hunch was probably correct. Somebody had laid a demonic trap and it was hard to tell what that was now that the evidence was mostly destroyed. Either side could have laid this trap or perhaps a third party. For what purpose? Lucia could only report the results of her investigation to her superiors and see what the information led to. She moved under the tree and caught her cat as he jumped from the tree and headed back to her horse to return to town.


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