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Poetry
twinkle twinkle by herebewonder
Orion's ArrowLet me paint you some dreamscapes-with colour, with full stereoscopic sound,and round and round the dreams may gobut stay with me here - amongst the gilded orchidsyour nights may go.First up, volume up, are you listening? It's hot,it's arid- dry, the dusk and dust and cracklingthunder three miles away... a desert so colossal thatyou and me have surely been here before-and more. It only rains here once a year, the people-they think there's some secret to forcing the skiesto open up. We know there isn't. But the crops die and the people starve,can you blame them? Can you blame us when we were here? It's...it's so barren here, it's bone-dry and dust fills your lungs-you and I know that. We were once visitors here, when it was dark for both of us. We're not anymore. But even on this planet-they remember who was herethey remember who we are-we know who they are-and even in this dreamscape- the sky is clear, and Orion's arrow points the way.Zzzap zap zap, clink clink clinkbang bang bang.Welcome, to the next one.The year is twenty twenty something.We're surely both dead by now but it doesn't meanwe don't get to imagine it.Think about what a neighborhood must have sounded likein the 1500s. Take a wild guess. Or an educated one,whichever you prefer. Do you imagine quiet?Do you imagine some kind of witchunting riot?Whatever you think we're probably both wrong-we probably think of some kind of song or movie or...where was I?Right, the future. Twenty twenty something.No, not eyesight. The year. I'm not the optimist or the pessimist.This is just another dreamscape, like Twin Peaks, like some kind of-giant who helps you solve a murder investigation-and the people at the station take you seriously.The future is always painted in neon signs and...steam and cyberpunk nonsense. What if it's really like-dreamscape number one? Or worse what if it's just boring like now?What if there aren't any big advances in technology?What if change is slow? Is that worse?I guess I'm thinking aloud if that's allowed. So - it's twenty twenty something, the corporations havea complete monopoly, oh and properly, unlike now,there's a xenon sign (and yes that's possible) that says..."virtual escape", made to make people question thisparticular dreamscape. I wonder...I wonder if the people I'm creating are aware I'm writing them into existence.But I'll tell you one point of consistence,something that persists and that will always exist-these neon, excuse me, xenon folks will always look into the sky and up on high - they'll see the stars that can never burn themselves out, they'll comply with the laws of the day-they'll make themselves drunk or make themselves pay-but it is irremovable. Orion's arrow will still be in the sky. You and I - we don't go until the universe itself does. And I'm so happy that in the grand scheme of things-of violins and broken strings....that I get to love you. And I always will.Even after those stars die, and every other light goes out.we'll dance long after the grand blackout.Now, sit up - it's time for dreamscape number three.This one's mine. I've waited hours for this - I've made myself so sick....and that's where I stop agreeing with The Cure. Imagine-if I'd stayed asleep that day. You would have never beenthis close to me, we would've never met. The butterfly effect,huh? It's frightening-at the same time lightning-at the same time powerful-at the same time wonderful.To you, Jess,Orion's star is wherever you are-and you...you are the most amazing person I have ever met,you are the smartest, the kindest,the most empathetic, the kind of person whocares about everyone - who surely understands the impossible,understands what people are going through-you're as bright as a billion supernovas-and I will be wherever you are-and if you ever feel lost, just know to look up at the sky-and I'm sorry if this makes you cry but I'll be looking at the same stars too-and we both know which one I'll be smiling at. I love you. No clever rhyme, that's all.I love you.
Prose
Devil's Triangle - Final Warning 7.3As fate would have it, seated near the front of Tamm’s snug restaurant was Albert. On the plate in front of him was a large, half-eaten serving of fried rice. As he dug into his food, the tinkle of the bell by the door stole his attention. Seeing Thomas and Marsha walk in, he beamed and eagerly waved his friend over.Thomas responded with a raised hand in greeting. He placed his order at the front counter, enduring a round of teasing from Tamm and Marsha before sauntering over to Albert's seat. He sidled into the plastic bench opposite his friend, eyeing the fast receding grains of rice on the plate. “Hey slow down, man. I barely got here,” he teased, dealing a slap on Albert’s meaty bicep which bulged under the striped shirt.Albert guffawed and took a gulp of water from his glass. “Alright then.” He placed his spoon and fork down. “I’ll wait until you get yours.”“Thanks.” Thomas unbuttoned his uniform shirt to allow the draft of air to cool his neck. “How’s it going?”A grunt rumbled the pudgy man’s chest. “Nothing much. Ma and Pa have been hinting at the lack of grandchildren again.”“Again huh. Lie and say you have a girlfriend.” Thomas looked out the floor-to-ceiling glass panes at the bustling lunch crowd on the street. He jerked a thumb at the throngs of people. “Pick one of the good-looking girls, snap a photo, and pretend that’s the girl.”Albert snorted and shook his head. “That won’t work on them. They recently learnt how to Google search for images, you know. One click and they’ll find out who the girl is and stalk her social media.”A smirk tugged at the corner of Thomas’s lips. “Suddenly they’re so tech savvy eh?”“Yeah right. A minute later, they’ll text me asking how to send an image using Whatsapp.” Albert jibed, his words laced with sarcasm.“Tech savvy in the wrong ways then.” “Definitely.” A side glance to the long counter on the right told Albert that Thomas’s food was done. He turned his gaze back to his plate and picked up his spoon. “Yours is coming.”“Good. I’m starving,” Thomas groaned as he poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher on the table. He watched Tamm whip up the piping plate and walk around the counter towards them.“There you go, one fried chicken cutlet with curry.” She announced with a flourish, placing the large white plate down. She ruffled her brother’s hair and grinned. “Enjoy.”“Thanks.” Flashing a smile, Thomas watched her head back towards the counter to deal with the lunch crowd. He raked his eyes over the people trickling in. Some were familiar faces, the restaurant’s loyal patrons. Others, he hardly knew. He was about to turn his attention back to his fragrant meal when he picked out a middle-aged, rugged-looking man in the crowd. He nudged Albert with an elbow and said in hushed tones, “Hey Alby, isn’t that Mark?”“What?” His voice muffled by the large spoonful of food, Albert traced Thomas's gaze to the man in a plain white tee and jeans. Recognizing his coworker, he groaned in dismay. “Goddamn it, it is him.”As if on cue, Mark turned in their direction as he looked for a spot to sit. Seeing Albert, his lips curled up in a smile and he held up a hand in greeting. Albert stifled another groan as he responded in kind. Whispering to Thomas under his breath, he clenched his fists. “Pray he doesn’t come this way.”Incoming footsteps said otherwise.“Oh god he is coming this way,” Albert said behind gritted teeth. “Okay, smile.”“Hey Mark,” he exclaimed in a higher pitch than normal as he feigned joy. “I didn’t know you were coming here for lunch too.”Thomas covered his mouth with the back of a palm to hold back the laughter bubbling his chest. “Good to see you here too, Albert.” Mark smiled. His head swiveled to face Thomas and he nodded. “And.. Thomas right?”Clearing his throat, Thomas composed himself. “Yup. Haven’t seen you in a while, Mark.”“Life’s been hectic, yeah.”The conversation lapsed for a second too long and an air of awkwardness descended on the three men. “Want to join us?” Albert piped up, his tone betraying a hint of reluctance.“Oh no. I don’t want to disturb you two-”“Excuse me, young man. You're blocking the aisle.” A gruff voice interrupted the conversation among the three men.Mark turned to see a smartly dressed elderly couple behind him. He mumbled a quick apology and moved closer to Thomas and Albert's table. As the couple squeezed past him, a low grumble about the rudeness of young people made Mark grimace. Trailing behind the elderly couple was their son who flashed an apologetic smile at the trio. Thomas craned his neck to see them disappear around the corner to find a seat."Wasn't that Sam, the indie filmmaker?" he said in a loud whisper, leaning forward on his elbows.Albert frowned. "The son, you mean? The one in a tee?""Yeah, I think that's him. I didn't quite like his dad though," Mark scoffed. He shifted around as more of the lunch crowd streamed into the small restaurant. Thomas exchanged a knowing glance with Albert before patting the space beside him on the bench. "You might as well sit and wait for your food."“It’s easier than clogging up the aisle,” he added with a laugh, which had Albert snorting as well.There was a slight hesitation before Mark accepted the invitation with a nod of his head. He slid in beside Thomas and propped his elbows on the table. “Don’t mind me though. You guys continue eating.”With a shrug, Albert dug his spoon into the rice. “Don’t mind if I do then.”Thomas took the opportunity to savor his favorite dish. It was still warm and his chicken looked a crispy brown. As he and Albert made good progress with their meals, he eyed Mark from the corner of his eye. The man’s phone had buzzed a few seconds ago and he was now looking intently at his screen.He didn’t know Mark very well, even in school. What he did know was that the man used to be popular with the ladies. He had that cool guy aura to him and was a natural athlete. Not much of an academic performer but Thomas had the impression that Mark pretty much had everything going for him.Yet judging by the crease in his eyebrows, the thinning of his lips, and his rigid jaw, Mark was anything but happy at the moment. His fingers seemed to dig into the cover of his phone as his eyes traveled across the screen. It looked like the screen would crack under the pressure of Mark’s fingers, so Thomas broke the silence. “Bad news, I take it?”Mark placed his phone down with a thump. “Yeah, you could say that.” He rubbed the bristle on his chin with a palm. “So what were you guys talking about before I came in?”A sly look cast at Albert, Thomas grinned. “Girls.”The men broke into chuckles. Albert leaned back, curling his arms behind him. “Or rather, the lack of one,” he chimed in with a wink.Mark gave a quiet laugh, his head moving from left to right. When the cheer died down, he added with a sigh, “It’s nice and fun to date girls. But remember to think twice before getting married, guys.”Lifting an eyebrow, Thomas tried to inject some humor into the conversation. “Wow, that’s the experience you get when you’re married. I guess I’ll stay happily single for a while. Right, Albert?”He looked over to his friend who was focused on removing the morsels of food stuck in his teeth with a toothpick. Albert had not picked up on his subtle hint to deviate from the topic, and instead dove straight into murky waters. “Easy to say when you’re married to a pretty woman.”Thomas mentally face-palmed. “Not really.” Mark pinched his forehead. His strained voice held an undercurrent of tension. “Me and Lynn have our problems too.”“She’s such a nice lady though-”Albert cut himself off, his mouth hanging open as he caught Thomas’s warning glare. His lips clamped shut and he cleared his throat. “Well umm… how did it go with Sandra by the way?” he directed his question to Thomas in an attempt to salvage the conversation.“Good,” Thomas hurriedly replied. Then, remembering the incident at the pub, he frowned. “Not that good actually.”Mark perked up. “What happened?”Shifting in his seat, Thomas’s gaze switched from Albert to Mark and then back again. “Well, we were having a great time when Bartley- You know that teacher who looks more like a gangster?”Both men nodded.“He came to our table. And he flirted with Sandra.” Thomas paused. “It clearly wasn’t the first time.”He caught a flicker of quiet rage in Mark’s eyes. A quick glance at the table revealed that Mark's fists were clenched so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Thomas's eyes narrowed. Feeling indignant at someone's harassment was normal. But the aura that he felt surrounding Mark was almost akin to that of a seasoned serial killer. Blood lust hidden behind a veil of indifference and pretense - it had his police senses tingling. “Then what happened?” Albert’s curious voice cut through Thomas’s thoughts. He blinked a few times, trying to remember where he had left off in his story. “Right,” Thomas frowned. “So after Bartley flirted with Sandra at the bar, she seemed pretty shaken. And it seemed like Bartley had cyber stalked her. So I threatened to take him to jail or something for that offense. He backed down and left after that, thank God.”He eyed Mark as he finished his story. The man’s tense expression had returned to that of a silent observer. Thomas marveled at the restraint shown but he wondered if there wasn’t more to it than he was showing.Mark shook his head, his lips curling in disgust. “What a bastard.”Albert murmured his agreement, his expression also that of disdain.“Sandra hates guys who come on too strong." Mark wagged a finger. "She doesn’t do too well with them.”He turned to Thomas and gave an approving nod. “That was good of you to put Bartley in his place.”“Thanks,” Thomas said haltingly. The way that Mark spoke of Sandra hinted to their closeness and a twinge of jealousy plucked at his nerves. He knew Sandra hung out with Mark when they were in school but something else bugged him. He opened his mouth to say something, when Mark’s phone buzzed.Mark took one look at the caller ID and cursed under his breath. “Sorry guys, I need to take this.”Both Thomas and Albert gestured at him to go ahead, although Mark had already answered the call. Albert engaged Thomas in further talk but their attention swung back to Mark when he raised his voice.“Fine, yes. I read your fucking message already. Happy??”Noticing that his conversation was distracting the two men, Mark gave a curt apology. He rose to his feet, his hand still cradling the phone to his ear. “I’ll see you guys around.”“How about your food?” Albert called out.Not seeming to have heard him, Mark stalked out of the restaurant with a hunched back. As he crossed the road, Thomas watched the violent gestures of his hand as he continued to talk on the phone.“What was that all about?” Albert exclaimed, wide-eyed.Thomas gave a shrug of his shoulders. “That was Lynn, I think. She texted him a while ago, he read it without replying. So she’s scolding him for that… I guess?”Albert leaned forward, his eyes sparkling in admiration. “Wow you know all that from one line that he said??”A dark shade of red tinted his cheeks. Thomas rubbed the back of his neck and chuckled. “I only picked it up from what he said before about thinking twice before marrying. Plus he said that after reading some message on his phone.”“Oh my god, that’s amazing,” Albert clucked, his voice full of awe. “No wonder you’re the policeman.”A sense of pride bloomed in Thomas’s chest. Alby may not be an expert and his comment did not have much weight in it. But Thomas pushed all that reasoning aside. He really did have the mettle to be a great policeman. Of that he was certain. And all his policeman instincts were screaming at him that something was underway. Something that would help prove his ability to solve a case. He could only hope.
The Knighttime TaleAny town or village, as well as any human being, has a secret. They are not spoken, but still everyone knows them or suspects their existence. In this case it was both. They said that a wizard lived in a clumsy house close to the wood, right there where not everyone dared to come, because the mountain slope was especially steep there. Or no. It was not a wizard, because there were no omens like flocks of ravens or hordes of wolves, except perhaps for more frequent storms and thunderbolts flashing. But still there was something off about the one who lived in that house. Its resident was at least immortal. What else would explain that his reddish brown hair had not gotten white after so many years? However, children were not afraid of him. Despite all the punishments and convincing, they remained next to the house at the edge of the abyss, trying to lure the Knight – this was the nickname given to the unusual village resident – outside. But he did not react. The Knight preferred solitude or perhaps was occupied with his witchery when nobody saw him. Anyway, in so many years no one had caught him red-handed. Even the observations in the window of his house gave no reason for fearing him too much. For suspecting – yes, but for fearing – no. Doubtlessly, Milosh was the sneakiest and the most curious of the village children. There was no attic he hadn’t searched through; no pit in which he hadn’t searched for treasure; and no cave in which he hadn’t scared all the bats. The Knight’s house was the only place which he hadn’t rummaged yet, just because his parents had watched. “Not that place! Do not go there! We will know by the smell!” But this mysterious place left Milosh restless even when he was not reminded about it, and one evening he escaped house and went right there. The Knight’s house looked as if it was struck with a giant fist on the site: the roof was crooked and the corner logs were set not so straightly. Perhaps the one who had built that house had had little experience, but had done their best: the construction was standing firmly and made a strange impression. Milosh called it “twisted but reliable”. A small vegetable garden and a vineyard were located next to the house. Nothing suspicious. Right now nobody was home: the door made of badly tooled boards had a huge lock on it. Not thinking twice, Milosh climbed on the roof and got inside the house through the chimney (a little too wide, made not by a skilled person). He found himself in a spacious room that seemed far too large and unable to fit in the house of such size. Everything here was made with the same unskilled hands: the narrow bed in the farthest corner, the table littered with stacks of papers and writing tools, some chairs and the wardrobe with ajar doors. But that was where the ordinary things ended. The walls plastered with something white were covered in writings in an unknown language and drawings, among which the pictures of five or six people appeared more frequently, as well as unknown items. Milosh did not manage to examine all the drawings, because there was a clang of the key in the lock, and he hid in the wardrobe (full of clothes made out of rough cloth, among which there was one purple shirt and a pair of black pants out of much thinner material). The Knight had been described differently, but most often tales had given him red eyes and fangs, sometimes paws instead of hands. Tail and claws had been granted as well. Anyway, the one who entered did not look demonic at all. He was tall, slim and dressed in a white shirt with wide sleeves and baggy pants, old but clean. His reddish brown curls were tied in a small ponytail, opening his elongated tanned face with a neat straight nose, blue eyes and a chin that was just a bit too long. The Knight’s fingers were long as well and covered in corns, and his nails were jagged and uneven, but not similar to claws at all. He was holding something most similar to a wooden sword decorated with crude carvings. After entering, the Knight spoke for a while, though Milosh did not understand a single word; perhaps this was the language in which the writings on the walls were made. Then he placed his sword next to the wall and sat on a chair. After sitting with his eyes closed a little, he pronounced some more words loudly and clearly. Milosh memorized them immediately. “Doctor. Rhodie. Kaster. Alice. Five. Johnny-Jimmy. Clark.” Having repeated this three or four times, the Knight took a piece of bread off the shelf and gnawed on it, but did not eat it completely: he jumped up before swallowing it, dashed to the wall and stared at the writings. Then he took a black stick out of his pocket and quickly wrote some words on a free patch. Having calmed down, he sat down again and began chewing on the crust. Afterwards, he began carving something on his wooden sword with a knife. Writings or patterns, Milosh didn’t know. Milosh did not register when his secret presence at the Knight’s house became a habit. And Milosh had never seen the Knight do magic. He was drawing or hurriedly writing something on the walls or working in his garden. Milosh visited his house so many times that he memorized most of the faces which the Knight was endlessly drawing (as if afraid to forget them). A girl with blond hair tied in a high ponytail and large dark eyes, dressed in a striped shirt and pants. A scruffy boy in a spotted coat. A man who looked very much like the Knight himself: he had the same wavy curls, though not as long. A girl with two pigtails and a toy cat. Those were the clearest ones, other were kind of blurry. The Knight was talking to himself all the time. Milosh did not understand him, but the intonations were clear: sometimes the Knight calmly told a story to an invisible opponent, sometimes he asked questions or talked as if he was going to be ripped from the inside. Milosh even saw him sitting on the floor and heavily breathing once, which was not good. On a different day, the Knight was sitting over a large piece of cloth, working on it with a needle, and hissing or shortly exclaiming. It was certainly cursing. And once in a while words were streaming, mostly after the Knight came home with a new thing. This weird man earned for a living by fixing various things (Milosh learned it not immediately) and sometimes treating others. He was not feared. Hardly anyone liked him, that was true, but there was nothing to fear him for, because he never hurt anyone intentionally. And in addition, the things and people that he fixed remained unbroken for a long time. Occasionally the Knight made tools and wove baskets, but not so often. During all this time Milosh noticed that the Knight was becoming sadder and sadder every day. Why wouldn’t he leave? The answer was given one evening. Milosh, as usually, was sitting behind a trunk, and the Knight was writing on the wall, all the while muttering something under his breath, as if afraid to forget the words. Thump! Someone knocked on the door from the outside. No, they did not knock, they hit on the door. The Knight lowered his black stick and stood still. Thump! Thump! Now they hit twice. The Knight murmured something, his face scrunched with tension, and he took his wooden sword. Milosh had tried swinging it once (without asking, of course) and had learned that his weapon was quite light, but firm and sharp – the Knight surely knew which kind of wood would should be used – and though it could not kill, but it could harm a lot. Thump! Thump-thump! The same pattern of hitting. Then an unfamiliar voice sounded. Strangely, Milosh immediately understood what it said, although it clearly spoke in a foreign language. “Open! Open!” The Knight almost dropped his sword. “Y-you?” Milosh understood everything again. And then… SMASH! The door almost flew off its hinges, followed by a yelp: “Ow! That hurts!” “Why would you break the door? Freeze!” the Knight shouted, pointing the tip of his sword right at the heart of the intruder. Milosh had seen him on the pictures at this house. It was a man who looked much like the Knight, but he was taller, had broader shoulders, darker and shorter wavy curls and strange eyes. Even from his position Milosh could see that one of his eyes was completely blue and the other had a violet segment. “Are you kidding me?” the arriver asked, dumbfounded. “Absolutely not… Stay still!” The tip of the wooden sword almost pierced the stranger’s jacket (made out of oddly looking material, just like all of his clothes) through. “When you turned eighteen, what did you wear for the first time ever as an experiment?” “A red kilt,” the stranger mumbled. “Where did you come from, where did you go?” “Where did you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?” “What was I to be named?” “Lillian.” The wooden sword fell on the floor with a clank. “You are real,” the Knight muttered. “My god, you are real!” “I’m not chocolate, am I?” the stranger replied in a weird way. The Knight made a strange sound – either a snort or a whimper. It was clear that he was holding himself from breaking the stranger’s nose: his fists were clenched, but then he unclenched them. And he would’ve hardly used them: the arriver, losing no time, wrapped both his arms around the Knight, who was shaking so much that he could not resist at all. After some minutes, during which both were silently clinging to each other, the Knight spoke in a trembling voice: “Where did you come from?” “As if you don’t know. The Doctor found you.” “Really? My tracks are not larger than those of a fly on the glass.” “But they were there.” “Be honest, Clark: are you saying this to calm me down?.. Where is he? I don’t think you came here alone. You hate time-jumps… and in all, you always drag behind.” The arriver – Clark – made up a lop-sided grin. “I asked him to give me the manipulator. Do you think I would not dare to do so?” “You freaking old-timer,” the Knight sniffed. Clark caressed the back of his head, looking him in the face. “I was not so lucky.” “I know, sis.” Clark rolled one sleeve up, showing that something like a large leather bracelet was fixed to his wrist. “The Doctor asked me to give it to you. Specifically.” Milosh only managed to blink. Those were the answers to the questions which were always around, but it did not make the situation better. The Knight was not a Knight, but a… Milosh didn’t know if there was a word for this. There are no girl knights, are there? And he – she – had arrived from somewhere far away. From where? She had just appeared… “What about you?” “I will hitch a ride. The Doctor told me that you should leave by yourself, otherwise the loop would not be broken. He programmed the manipulator to deliver you to the first time and space point, and then you will go on by yourself. You will understand. I promise.” “But why can’t the Doctor get me out of here?” “The only thing I know is that it would be too dangerous for you. Believe me.” The Knight silently accepted the bracelet, but before wearing it, squinted and asked: “Who is my favourite Marvel character?” “Hawkeye,” Clark replied without batting an eyelid. “And your least favourite is Loki… Or no, you just can’t stand fangirling about bad guys just because they’re bad guys.” “You know me too well, Clarkson.” “Ditto, Pauline.” After this dialogue both stuck their tongues out, but not in disgust – in a friendly, but mocking way, Clark gave the Knight a small squeeze on the shoulder and walked out. For a minute or two she was standing motionlessly, but then tightened the bracelet on her wrist and tapped on it with the fingers of her other hand. And then the world was gone. Or it seemed so to Milosh, because the outlines of the room around him literally melted into the dark void before giving way to different ones. Very different ones. Only one thing – or creature – stayed there even after the void took over. “Okay, where am I?..” the Knight muttered, turning her head around and then looking down at Milosh, who was clinging to her in fear. This place was too large. And too unnatural. It was manmade, for sure, and the ceiling was so high above them that ten men standing on each other would not be able to reach it. Rows of chairs filled with people, almost all with large bags, were seen in the distance, and small – houses? – with colorful writings on their walls were scattered around. Some even had pictures of food in front of them. “Oh, that’s just what I needed. Arrived to the airport! Now I should figure out what to do, being penniless… and not alone. Where did you come from, Milosh?” “Where are we, Knight?” Milosh whined, so scared that treacherous tears were about to spill. “What is this place?” “Knight? So this is how they referred to me? I suspected it…” the Knight muttered and led him to the nearest wall – not without difficulties, for Milosh refused to let her go, as if she was going turn into smoke and vanish. “My name is Paul Steamer, for you to know.” “Knight,” Milosh insisted, not knowing how to reply. “Calm down. Now,” the Knight ordered. “We are at an airport. It is a place where planes arrive and from where they depart.” “Planes?” “Flying transport. But I don’t think that I need to join any flights, because such things are booked in advance, and this means I need to go somewhere… else… But first I need to go to the bathroom. At least most people who arrive here look tired, so the bags under the eyes are no matter. Come on. Your face needs to be cleaned too. Hah. I hope that no one will beat me in the boys’ bathroom.” After attending the mentioned place (where the Knight, among other things, made Milosh wash his face and hands with water that was endlessly pouring out of small metal hooks over white pots-not-pots, and this water had an odd smell), the Knight walked out and looked around. “Clark said that I will know where to go. Hmm… That means I should look for something familiar.” She steadfastly walked forward, practically pulling Milosh after herself. “What time is it? Ah, just 14:52. At least not 02:52 a.m. Any airport is a place of anarchy in these terms – anyone can have a beer in the morning here. But I don’t like…” she rapidly stopped talking and froze in the middle of the vast room, so Milosh, who was having trouble walking fast enough to hear her, almost bumped into her. “…beer…” the Knight muttered, staring at the sign with two unfamiliar words over see-through doors in the distance. The next moment she dashed on, hardly paying any attention to Milosh. “So that’s what’s your plan, Doc? Using your previous tricks to guide me? Or just this once?” “What does it say?” Milosh asked, huffing. “It says Molto Bene,” the Knight replied without turning around. “Italian for Very Good. I bet the first stop is here…” As soon as the pushed the door under the sign and entered the small room with round tables under the walls, the two girls standing behind a short, belt-high, wall in the other side of the room stopped talking and stared at the Knight in disbelief. Then the one with short blond hair whispered: “I told you!” “Please don’t tell me that some Back to the Future stuff is going on here,” the Knight reacted. The other girl, with freckles, shrugged: “It seems so, if it’s not a prank. Some weeks ago a lanky man with a bowtie and a strange hairstyle came here and paid for a latte macchiato for…” “Paul Steamer,” the Knight reacted. “I am Paul Steamer.” The blond girl beamed and produced a sheet of paper from under the wall she was standing behind. It appeared to be a perfectly good hand-drawn picture of the Knight (black-and-white, but it did not matter). “The nine-fingered girl in a purple shirt and with a man’s name,” the freckled girl finished. The Knight smirked, raised her hands, and only now Milosh paid attention to them properly: there were only four fingers on her left hand, no smallest one. “And he added that she would be accompanied by a scared boy. Even told us the time. I thought he was bonkers, but rules are rules. As promised. One latte macchiato for Paul Steamer and one cocoa for the little guy.” While the girls were busy with the machine that was emitting loud unfriendly noises and weird, but very pleasant smells at the same time, the Knight turned her attention to the smaller pieces of paper hanging on one of the shelves. Then she pocketed one of them, politely thanked the girls after taking two cone-shaped cups from them and went out. “Careful, it’s hot,” the Knight warned, giving one of the cups to Milosh after they walked out of the building and found themselves in front of a very smooth grey road almost stuffed with larger and smaller wheeled… were they called cars? Milosh had once seen one such vehicle, but it had been black and far not as shiny… and had a different shape… The cup appeared to be made of thick paper, judging by the touch, and had a thin black cover with a small hole. Milosh cautiously took a sip. He had never drunk anything like this, but he loved it – the beverage filled him with warmth (it was pleasant even though it was sunny and warm outside), and it was sweet, but not sickly sweet. And what to say about the Knight: after the first sip of her beverage she closed her eyes, her mouth widened in a blissful smile, and she murmured: “The most delicious latte macchiato in the world…” “What is it?” The Knight started, as if stung by a bee, and returned to the reality: “Ah? It’s a coffee drink. If there is enough time, I’ll tell you more. But now… now gotta find out what to do next…” She produced the note from her pocket and examined it. “Latte macchiato shows the way. Get it on, Steamer. D.W. Right, how does one usually leave an airport? By taking a taxi or any kind of public transport, but I have no money… Huh?” She squinted at her cup – or at the paper wrap around it. Then pulled it down and whistled, having found some oddly colored papers underneath. “So easy that it’s difficult, huh, Doc? I wonder how you guessed which cup it was gonna be! Okay, I hope that’s enough for getting a ride. But which? Let’s think rationally. How would latte macchiato show me the way? And he does not use the Doctor Who alias anymore.” Milosh understood the words that the Knight used, but the meaning of the speech they were used in remained dark for him. Who was this Doctor Who? Indeed, how could a drink show the way?.. Meanwhile the Knight walked to a small see-through house with only three walls close to the road and began studying the writings on its side, all the while muttering something under her breath. Then she frowned and was about to turn back, but stopped with her leg in the air, as if recalled something, and stared at the large blue vehicle standing at the side of the road. “Let’s go,” the Knight cut off and pulled Milosh inside the vehicle, which appeared to be full of chairs. The man sitting in its front part gave them a weird look, but accepted the payment from the Knight, who flopped onto the seat next to the white table hanging on the back wall of the man’s booth. “Terminal 6… Redshore Station… seems like we need to reach the Blue Box Building, whatever that means.” The vehicle roared and started moving, slowly at first, but then it reached the speed that made Milosh’s heart rise to his throat (and in addition, it was not pulled by anything). But it did not bother the Knight, or anyone else who had entered the vehicle, at all. “Stop it, Milosh, it’ll be fine. Buses are a quite common way of transportation,” she reassured the boy, finished her beverage and began examining the paper cup once again. “Cunning. Very cunning. A blue bus with the UNIVERSE written on it and with the number LM-231163. Ha-ho. Latte macchiato shows the way!” “Who are you talking to all the time?” Milosh mumbled, his tongue barely moving. The Knight combed her messy hair back with her fingers: “You see… there’s a man called the Doctor. He organized a way for me to leave that place where I used to stay for so long, and there is a reason why it is this elaborate, but… I can’t remember it. But I do remember details that accompany the Doctor. The color blue is one of them.” “Are you immortal?” “No, I’m not. I’ve been stuck in a loop during all these years.” Milosh blinked at her. “It’s kinda hard to explain… It can be said that one period of my life was repeated for my body over, and over, and over, while time around me went normally. Wish I knew what period it was, but it was not longer than a day… Did you finish that cocoa of yours?” Milosh poured the remains of his drink (hardly warm by now) into his mouth, and the Knight examined his cup, but seemingly to no avail. She just grinned lop-sidedly (just like her brother): “Follow the blue box road. As if I was unable to figure this out by myself. Thank you Doc.” By that moment Milosh realized that he got used to the smooth movement of the vehicle, so he switched to the landscapes opening outside. Roads – one over another, trees in the distance and buildings. Ginormous buildings. How many people could live in each of them? Many of them had colorful writings on, but none of them seemed to bother the Knight: during the rest of the way she was sitting almost motionlessly, thinking about who knows what and stirring only when the vehicle stopped and a distorted inhuman voice announced something that Milosh could hardly understand. Some people exited the vehicle during these stops, but the Knight paid no attention to them. Only when there were so many houses that they almost closed the horizon, so many vehicles that it was odd that none of them crashed into theirs and so many people that they could’ve formed a river in the space between the houses, the Knight stood up and led Milosh out. “Right, here we are at the Blue Box station,” she said, having stopped next to the one of many see-through doors along the closest house’s wall. “Now for the next hint… mm-hmmm… yes!” She grinned and pointed at something on the opposite side of the road, along which vehicles of various sizes and colors were dashing. “They will smash us!” Milosh squeaked. “They will not, if we obey the rules.” The Knight stopped next to the segment of the road with white stripes on it. “Soon they will stop, and we will safely go across… wa-wait…” She turned her head, puzzled. “And what does that mean? Do I have to choose one or what?” Pretty soon the vehicles stopped in front of the striped path, and they walked to the other side along with lots of other people that gathered next to them. As soon as the Knight stepped on the safe part of the street, she put her hands on her hips and stuck her lip out: “What do you want, Doc? Where do you want me to go?.. Milosh?..” But now Milosh was hardly paying attention to anything: the writings on the walls and everywhere began making sense. How? At first he slowly recognized some letters, but then they not only formed words, but told him their meaning – if there was any. And the Knight seemed to understand what was going on: “A-ha-ah! Now you see it, huh? That means we are on the right track!” “How is that possible?” “It’s one of the functions of the… okay, I’ll try to put it easier. The Doctor has a machine with many functions, and one of them is working with languages. Those who use it can speak any existing languages and understand them. If you are starting to read, this means we’re close to it, or not as far as before. Now, where should I go?” The Knight gazed at the blue sign reading “TARDIS”, which was on the left, if looking from the direction from which they came, and then at the orange one with “GALLIFREY” on the right. “You cunning cunning man. I guess it’s not only about the name. It’s about the direction, hey? Turn left. And I will.” She immediately approached to the blue sign, but stopped next to the doors under it and stared at the nearby wall covered in pieces of paper from top to bottom, particularly at one of them, the writing on which was made with black ink. It didn’t look like any other writings here. Someone must’ve written it at will, not… officially? The letters were so tiny that it was impossible to read them while walking. “I know this handwriting, but wish I remembered whose it is,” the Knight muttered and read the writing out: “Dark glasses, mood and number eight. Does he deserve our love or hate? Don’t search for him right now, oh no. Go more than fifteen years ago.” “It does not make any sense. It only rhymes,” Milosh stated, but the Knight’s expression showed that something new was already going on in her head. She put her hands behind her back and began walking from side to side: “Dark glasses? Do I need to search for dark glasses? No, I don’t. It would’ve been too obvious. So, who is this ‘he’? Most probably, it is some character. Which? Who wore dark glasses? Lots of them! Every third poster has a character in dark glasses!.. Right. Let’s get in and see. Dark glasses, mood and number eight…” She pushed the see-through door and walked in. The place appeared to be large and full of light – so bright that it made Milosh’s eyes water. Also there were a lot of colors, because the vast room was filled with shiny metal bars, on which clothes of all kinds of shades were hanging. But the Knight walked up to the one containing mostly shirts with patterns, pictures and words. “Dark glasses, mood and number eight, does he deserve our love or hate?” she muttered over and over again. “It has to be something simple. Something obvious… Are you kidding me?” She took one of the short-sleeved shirts – the green one with large letters DOC OCK in front – off the hanger and examined it. “He knows I used to have such one!” The Knight vanished in an odd cubicle with fabric walls and then appeared once again, this time wearing that very shirt, which appeared to fit her perfectly fine. After paying for it and exiting the place, she examined it once again, especially the small white label sewn to it from the inside, and knitted her eyebrows together in concern. “Wash at the low temperature, blah-blah-blah… you’ve already seen where to go next? Does that mean I have to get to that faux Gallifrey now?” Apparently I have to. Come along, Milosh.” The large window of the GALLIFREY place appeared to be used as a display of all things shiny. Milosh recognized some as bracelets and chains worn on the neck, but some were shaped like animals or strange objects, and it was unclear what they were for. “Brooches,” the Knight explained. “They are pinned to clothes. Never liked them, in fact… And what do you want me to see here, Doc? There’s been the TARDIS, there’s been the vortex manipulator…” here she glanced at that strange leather bracelet still fixed on her left wrist, which remained silent and dark. “Daleks, maybe? Phee. The Dalek shape is only good for making a piñata out of it… or a pepper shaker… though I would hesitate to use one like this…” She took a step back. “Wait a minute! You elaborate bastard, whoever you are!” “What did you see, Knight? I’m confused,” Milosh admitted. “It’s not about the decorations, it’s about their positions! They form letters!” the Knight exclaimed. “Dunno how he managed to arrange them that way, but it’s clear!” Milosh squinted at the window once more and realized that she was right. The lines formed by the decorations and the empty spaces between them formed weird, but readable letters: THETA SIGMA. “Yes, this used to be his nickname, or so they think, but first of all those are Greek letters,” the Knight mused. “Excellent…” But before she could suggest anything else, someone dashed past her (if they did so a tad bit closer, there could’ve been… quite a collision) at such speed that Milosh couldn’t even make out who it was. However, the Knight did. “Don’t tell me this was not on purpose!” she shot out and ran after the dasher. So she must know them, Milosh thought and followed her, trying not to lose her from sight and not to bump into anybody along the way. The run appeared to be short, for soon he stopped next to the panting Knight in a street that was totally unlike the previous one. Empty, narrow and with painted walls. The last was what attracted the Knight’s attention: her blue eyes ran over the older and newer strange paintings and fixed on one of them, which depicted a circle with a line in it and a mix of a letter E and a zigzag. “Well, that’s Theta Sigma to you,” she commented. “Now what do I…” She stopped midsentence and all of a sudden lifelessly fell onto the ground. The next second Milosh felt as if a giant bee stung him in the neck, and the world was gone again, but this time there was no void. There was some grey mist. And voices. “I didn’t think someone would follow.” “See? Told ya that an extra dart would come in handy!” “Gentler!” “Who are those?” Milosh thought. “Who are they talking about?” But, obviously, no one replied. Milosh awoke with a gasp and blinked at the high ceiling above him. Ceiling? He wasn’t outside anymore. He was in a large room, the interior of which seemed ordinary and strange at the same time, for all the furniture in it – beds (two of them were placed over each other, like on a ladder), a table, some chairs, bookshelves on the walls – was made of metal and impossibly smooth wood, as well as the floor. Apart from bookshelves, there were bright pictures of people and animals on the walls, and a toy black cat was sitting on one of the beds. The only living creature in this room was – the Knight? No, it was not her. It was her brother, reading a book called Good Omens. “Cl-rrrrrk?” Milosh gurgled: his throat was dry. The man put his book away, walked up to the boy and gave him a sip of water from a cup with spiral patterns on it, for it was found out that Milosh was so weak that he could not reach out for it. “Wh’re’s… the Knight?” “If you mean my sister, she’s okay. Finally safe and sound,” Clark replied. “She w’s in d’nger?” Milosh croaked. “Alas, she was, but now she is not.” “X’plain.” “You probably wondered why she stayed at your village for so long without aging, right? She was infected. A creature called the Venom was inside her. It was a liquid creature which got into her body and attempted to fuse with it. Liquid mind, perfectly adaptable.” Milosh wrinkled his nose. “Ew.” “More than just ew. The only way to prevent it from permanently merging with Paul was freezing it in time. Her body was reliving the same day over and over again, so the cell development cycle was interfered in the middle, but not enough for her to decay.” Milosh blinked at him. “What are… cells?” “Em… those are little bits and pieces that make up human bodies, like houses are made of bricks. They change all the time, this is why we grow, age and all. But the Doctor had to put Paul in a personal time loop to prevent the Venom from taking over her. However, the time outside was continuing, and she was sent to your village because it was far enough from any time anomalies that could’ve interfered with it. During all the time she spent there the Venom became too weak without proper nutrition and extracting it became possible, but going directly to the TARDIS – the time machine – was too risky, for such powerful impact of time and space warping could’ve made the situation much worse. But the short time jumps did not affect it too much, this is why my sister had to go all this way.” Milosh did not show that he understood only one thing, and he still wasn’t sure about it. “The Knight is okay now?” “Definitely. You’ll see her soon, if you want to. Don’t worry, you’ll be brought home.” “The Knight? So this is what you called her?” This was said by one of the three kids that entered the room at this very moment – by the dark-haired girl in an extremely short black skirt and a red shirt. She was followed by a girl with long blond hair tied in a high ponytail, whose clothes were of two shades of blue, and a boy in a spotted coat of very familiar grey and green colors. “Yesssss,” Milosh murmured, unsure about their intentions. They all were too bright and too confident, especially the dark-haired girl. “I wouldn’t mind to be called that way. Alice the Knight,” she confessed, flopping on the bed with the toy cat. “Are there girl knights?” the boy asked without any seriousness. “They have been there since the Stone Age, and we all know it,” the blond girl replied. “Welcome aboard, kid. Sorry for all the stuff you had to go through – no one considered that the vortex manipulator would bring you along too. I believe that was because the Venom was searching for something truly alive to launch at…” “Don’t scare him like that, Rhodes,” the boy interfered. “Now it is in a jar where it belongs. Gonna develop a chemical to destroy it for good.” “But don’t blow up the TARDIS in the process, Kaster!” the dark-haired girl – Alice – teased. “Said the one who blows up everything by just looking at it,” Kaster said and was gone in a blur of red, for Alice pounced on him, trying to bash him. The blond girl – Rhodes? – sat on the edge of Milosh’s bed: “Sorry about them. I promise, you will be home soon and it’s gonna be just fine.” Milosh was led along the corridors made of steel with round things emitting dim light by Clark. Maybe it was about his external similarity to the Knight or his calm attitude, but the boy trusted him more than those three kids… Finally they entered a room full of strange devices, where a thin-legged man with floppy hair was fiddling around a huge glass cylinder. “There we go. Nice and tight,” he said, walking aside to show what it contained: it was full of bluish liquid, in which a silver stream of another liquid, which did not mix with it, like oil does not mix with water, was moving up and down without stopping. “Every single drop is here.” The boy felt as if he was going to throw up when he imagined that this thing used to live inside someone else’s body, but, oddly enough, he could not tear his eyes off it, before a familiar voice reached his ears: “I see you’re all better.” The Knight was there, on a bed almost hidden in the chaos of colorful wires and moving pictures. Wires were also attached to her arms, but this did not seem to bother her. “So you’re the Doctor?” Milosh asked unexpectedly for himself. “You did this all to cure the Knight?” “Not only me. In fact, I was the one to cause it. Was too careless and did not expect the Venom to latch onto Paul…” The thin-legged man sighed, his whole figure expressing extreme regret. “No more traveling to planets of liquid beings without previous studies.” “You say that every single time after a flop,” the Knight teased. “I don’t think it’s time to find out whose fault it was. It’s all over. Milosh, are you ready to get home?” “Not yet,” Milosh replied and said the truth. “Tell me more. I still don’t understand what this place it and why it is so huge. It doesn’t make any sense anymore.” “Trust me, it will,” Clark stated. “Eventually.” The Doctor walked up to Milosh, crouched next to him and put both hands on the boy’s shoulder, gazing him in the eyes: “Of course you will be given an explanation, but you have to promise something in return. Never forget what happened to you. Tell everyone you can about it. It will be hard, but if you do not do so, it’s going to be much worse. You promise?” “Promise,” Milosh nodded. And not just to reply – he had a feeling that this all was to be told to no matter who. “The fire is almost out, and so is my story.” “Now please answer why I agreed to marry you.” Agnessa entered the room, holding the steaming kettle. “At first you told this story to our kids, and now you are infecting the grandkids’ minds with something as insane as flying blue boxes and beings that do not age.” “You should just look at them.” Milosh nodded at the bunch of children, the oldest of which was about ten and the youngest had just reached two, whose eyes were still alight. “Some tales are much worse.” “Nah! It’s all about the perception.” Nobody caught the moment when one more person appeared in the room. It was a young man in a shirt made out of shiny purple cloth and simple black pants – or was it a man? Their shoulders were too narrow, and the elongated face framed with reddish brown curls reaching the chin could easily belong to both a male or a female. “Well, well, well. Look at you, Milosh, all grown up,” they – no, she, for the voice was definitely female, although quite low – grinned and chuckled at the sight of everyone around being stunned. “And that’s a very old story. One tells stories and the other calls them rubbish. Har har.” “Knight? Is that you?” Milosh muttered in awe. “Who else? Judging by your faces, you all can see me.” “I told you that the Knight does not age,” Milosh said, the odd sense of triumph growing inside him. The Knight glanced to the side and her mouth curved a bit at this statement, but then gave him a lop-sided smirk. “Not gonna get deep into the details. Time is a delicate subject… I’ve seen that you’ve been telling stories about me since the return, right?” “Ask me!” Agnessa interfered. “Everyone was surprised that I agreed to marry the obsessed one!” “Honestly, I suggested coming to your wedding and scaring the crap out of those who did not believe you, but now I see that the Doctor was right. You had to tell this story to your grandchildren, otherwise it could’ve been worse… And I see you’ve kept the evidence.” The Knight looked at the wooden sword with crude carvings, which was hanging on the wall right next to her. “By the way, do you remember what my name is?” “Paul,” Milosh replied. It was the first time when the secret name was allowed to be shared. “Paul Steamer.” “That’s me,” the Knight beamed....
I Don't CareI don't care You died recently, much to my concealed delight, others are sad though because they saw you as a nice person, a pillar of their own community, a paragon of virtue as far as they are concerned but I saw you as what you truly were. I saw the monster that others refused to see because their illusion of perfection concerning you would be shattered.You abused me, mentally, sexually, you violated me and forced me to say nothing by using my fear and loneliness against me. You did to me what I can never fully heal from and I am glad you are dead, I do not and can not forgive you. You're dead which is a very bloody good thing. Oh I'm sure people would tell me to not speak ill of you, wouldn't be the first time that what you did to me is dismissed as one person's voice against the majority who sang your praises and still do as your worthless shell is lowered into the ground.They would tell me to forgive you, that what happened is in the past and that I should move on but I can't move on, why should I forgive a monster for violating me? For ruining my life? WHY SHOULD I?! Anyone who says that can get to fuck! Saint, loving, caring, kind, pillar, paragon. All utter bullshit that's being said. If they knew what you were really were in life they would maybe change their tune if they saw you as I did when you violated me, when you had your way with me as I pleaded with you to stop. As I began to fracture and break within piece by little piece.Your smell, your touch, your voice, your utter disrespect for me as a person. How it seeps into my soul and taints it with what you forced into me, how ashamed you have made me from what you did to me, how disgusted I am in a way that no amount of washing can clean away. You have left your mark in me which I can't wash away no matter how hard I try, your filth is seared into my soul, seeping in. Polluting me with muck from your disregard for me and my privacy. I am damaged, I am tainted, I am soiled and you laughed when I cried, you tore into a part of me that is terrified of being hurt again.So I don't even care enough to cry, even with you dead I still have to do all I can to heal from what you did to me. Your actions have made me wish I was dead for a long time and now here I am outliving you while that disgusting shell you inhabited is going to rot away as an all you can eat buffet for worms and maggots.So here's a lullaby to say goodbye – Fuck you, may you suffer forever. I'm not free of you even with your death but I am healing bit by slow bit while you, you're worm food. Fuck you. The funeral is over, the grave is covered over and I return to my slow healing which will take me the rest of my life, maybe even longer. External wounds can heal as long as they aren't severe but internal wounds? Those do not heal easily. So fuck you very much you abusive sack of shit, should anyone else abuse me again as you did to me they will know just how furious I am and how much I refuse to ever be hurt again. You're dead and I don't care. I don't care.
The Devil - The Satan -The Devil; The Satan;However you may see this;However you may feel this;The tiring cry of pain comes not from Sin Committed,The howl of Atrocity comes fromA simple misunderstanding.The Souls, now laid Vanquished.Hold no Hollow Rancor.Nor hold a hate toward the living,yet hold no scorn in their gaze from the blessed accidents of Youth.The greatest howl,Comes from a summation that can be epitomized,In the following refrain, of which we are all known,“What the Actual Fuck?”There have been tacked upon the DeadAnd, unfortunately, the living.A Burden that makes little sense.And makes none or negative progress.The restful peace of Ages,Is the same peace as a child gains,From imbibing an Apple,From a Tree so succulent.The Blood of our Titans,The blood of our Brigands,The blood of our Thieves,And the Blood of our Leaders,All served to nourish that Apple.In which our young,Now, in their Youth,Do so Justly, Rightfully, and Sacredly,Imbibe.The rivers beneath our FeetAre rampant with more than justThe Endeavors of Patriots.They are fathomed by the impulse of Tyrants.Tyrants that spur’d our true nature.That demanded we excel.That implored us to Exceed.And watched as they and theirs,Succumbed to the Truth of Freedom.That a Man or a WomanCan take of this EarthAnd construct a Haven,Is the Right of all our Peoples,Our Peoples as a Species.And in this said HavenDesigned by its owner,To his or her own needs and wants;A paradise is born.And in such presence of Said Paradise,Other will be instigated.To, perhaps…Endeavor to cultivate their own Haven.And In the Harmony that is our nature,Each us our own Haven,Will not encroached on anotherYet bring amicable existence.To us, to all, and to all Our Being,May the Tree we plant today,Give our grandchildren shadeAs they play amongst the Nature we’ve preserved;And…from time to time…May they remember it was We,Who planted said Tree.
Tournament Round I
Tournament Round II

Mature Content

Tournament Round III

Mature Content

Angst

Mature Content

Comedy
For Science!“So whats at the center of a Black Hole?”*looks at picture*“There’s nothing there.”“Yes, that is why its called a ‘black’ hole.”“Well, holes are usually empty and *looks at picture again* theres nothing there.”“umm, yes, but the question is ‘why’ there’s nothing there?”“Is this a joke or a science class? ‘why’ would there be anything there.”“Well, something has to be generating the gravity at the center of that cluster.”“Do we know enough about Gravity to make that assumption?”“Well, technically.”*looks at picture*“kay~ I’ll bite. That light we can see, those are stars, nebulae, gas clouds, but mainly stars and stuff right?”“Sure.”“What little we know of Gravity could also allow us to assume that that cluster of ‘space stuff’ they themselves generate the gravity that causes all of them to stay together like that. And that it is ‘this’ actual, visible, with ‘evidence’ cluster of ‘massive space stuff’ probably either spinning, rotating, burping on each other, all affecting each other, that generate the gravity that causes the rest of our galaxy to form.”“…”“Its like we all started showing up to this massive party, and it got so fsck’d up that theres a safe zone at the middle with *looks at picture* nothing there. Cause apparently, ‘now’ we’re all too awesome for each other we didn’t leave each other.”“or/and/probably we all started spinning in such a ridiculous, non-intelligeble, manner, under order was established and now we have a pretty galaxy.” “’cept I think we’re at the ass-end of nowhere cuz we have life or something and that’s important.”“But hey! Science!” “You know you can’t prove any of this?”“Do I have to look at the picture again, there it literally nothing there.”“Light, time, no-“ “Yes, yes, yes nothing can escape its surface, because there is nothing there generating those forces slash energies for us to detect. And it looks like it so fuck-wit crazy in there that we might as well admit we know jack-shit about gravity and admit the obvious.”*looks at picture*“There is nothing there at the center of that very fscking crazy star-cluster, a cluster so massive that over-time a galaxy formed about it.”“We might generate newer, more efficient models of physics under this assumption, but hey, Renegade Science.…and no not the FPS Command and Conquer game…that was awesome.”
Glen+Robo temporarily: A Misfits/Black Flag Story Glen & Robo temporarily [a Misfits©/Black Flag Story] Robo was sitting in the basement of the Danzig residence. He had just come home from a ten hour shift at the knife factory assembly line. It was the Misfits© own Bassist, Jerry Only, who got him the job as Jerry‘s Father, Mr Only Sr, was the owner of the company. It had been a hard day’s night for Robo ever since he had to leave Black Flag a while ago for reasons you could maybe talk to an immigration officer about. Especially the ones that stoped Black Flag at the airport as they returned from their UK tour. Sometimes people just don't have papers, alright? Having an expired Visa was really no big deal until the cops made it one; or at least that is how Robo felt about it anyway. It could have been worse though. Having wormed his way back into the country a year later, exchanging one of the most important and influential Punk bands of all time, Black Flag, with another one of the same caliber, the Misfits©, is truly not a bad deal at all. Funnily enough, nowadays the (ex)members of both of those bands exclusively communicate through lawyers. If you want to call that destiny or irony, I leave up to you. The cheap light beer went down smoothly. After spending the whole day at an assembly line, sweating into ill fitting work boots and getting yelled at by Jerry's republican Dad, even such a horrid appropriation of beer tasted like the love of the angles. This was exactly the problem though. Because wherever the love of the angels could be felt, there was one man always ready to snuff it out; Glen Danzig. As short as his temper, he was not the type of frontman you want to get entangled with. He drifted into the basement, hovering around the edges of the shadowed corners like a poltergeist. His baritone voice crawled into Robo's ear like a spider. "Robo... You need to glue the sleeves for the EPs, Robo..." Robo tensed up immediately "Dude... I'm pretty beat. Can't that shit wait till tomorrow?" Suddenly Glen stood next to him, his footsteps having made no sound in spite of his heavy boots. He was dressed all in black, as little as he wore. Black jeans, black fingerless gloves and a black leather choker. The rest of him was as shirtless as usual. "Shit, you say..." Glen subtly flexed his muscles as he spoke, which were admittedly pretty impressive. "I'll have you know that you'll find no such thing as "Shit" in the Misfits© whatsoever. Other filth maybe... Blood, cum, the earth of a freshly disturbed grave..." As he said the word "grave" it almost sounded like he tried to sing it "... but "Shit" is never on the menu, Robo. I know of the Nietzschian proclivities of Black Flag, but here in the Misfits© we strive for something even darker..." "What, like Kierkegaard?" There was a brief silence before Glen sighed and threw a bottle of glue into Robo's lap. "I need fifty sleeves glued by tomorrow. Don't fuck it up, I don't wanna have to borrow more money for printing costs..." Glen took two of Robo's beers and floated up out of the basement. It took about ten minutes until Glen could be heard banging on his piano, even down in said basement. "I GOT SOMETHING TO SAY!ROBO STILL HASN'T GLUED EPS TODAY!AND IT DOESNT MEAN THAT MUCH TO HIM! HE IS PROBABLY GAY!" That was another "great" quality of Glen Danzig. In your face homophobia. You can ask all of the San Francisco Punk scene about that if you need any more details. Robo stood up and killed his beer before launching the crumpled up can into a corner even though there wasn't even a bin for it land in. "Fucking asshole... Why didn't you glue the god damn sleeves if they're so fucking important?" Suddenly, two fists slammed into the keys, causing a loud, dissonant clatter. Robo shuddered. Two seconds later the basement door blew open. Glen flew down the stairs and got right up to Robo's face. "What do you take me for, a fool? Do you think I can't hear you just because you are down here whispering to yourself? I know exactly how much you masturbate, Robo. DON'T YOU EVER DARE QUESTION MY INTEGRITY ROBO! THE MISFITS© ARE LIFE! THE MISFITS© ARE DEATH!" He got even closer and whispered "Especially death..." He dashed back into the shadowsAnd before heading back up the stairs he said: "Let me know if you wanna work out later. I could really use someone as a spotter. It's arm day..." "S-sure Glen..." The next day in the locker room of the knife factory, Robo decided to give out to Jerry Only about his hardships living with Glen. Jerry always wore dark eye make up when playing with the Misfits©, but what people didn't know was that it wasn't to achieve some sort of Goth aesthetic, but to hide that his eyes already looked like that due to an acute lack of sleep. Work for your Dad to make money for the band, work on the music and booking for the band which your Dad also manages, play live gigs with that band, eat, sometimes not even sleep, repeat. That was every day of Jerry Only's life. His trademark Devil Lock dangled tiredly between his eyes as he downed another coffee while Robo ranted in a single breath. "And he STILL had me washing the dishes after I glued ALL the sleeves!" "What a piece of shit..." Jerry said with a stoic groan Robo looked surprised as this was the first thing Jerry had said since he began his rant. The Bassist finished his coffee before continuing. "...he stilled called me up to borrow more printing money this morning..." Robo didn't expect that part of the story to be the one that stuck. "How do you deal with that fucking guy? I mean you and Doyle have been dealing with his bullshit since forever!" Jerry zipped up his overall and cracked his knuckles. "When it gets bad, and I mean real bad, where you just want to grab the little bastard, hold him upside down and pile drive him into the fucking ground like you're Terry Funk, there is really only one thing Doyle and I have figured out to work..." Robo was clenching his fists in anticipation. "W-What is it?" "...We go the fuck home." Jerry calmly stood up and closed his locker. He looked over at his new drummer whose eyes were wide and jaw agape. Jerry stated in no uncertain terms: "Yes. What I'm saying is that you're fucked until you get your own apartment. Which you can't, because all the money you make here goes back into the band and the Misfits© haven't made any significant money since you got here. Tough shit. I suggest praying that whatever we do next is better than another tedious metal record. Anyway, your shift started ten minutes ago." Robo had a cold shiver run down his back. Jerry was right. He indeed was fucked. Black Flag was known as one of the hardest Punk bands in the entire country and that wasn't far from the truth, as far as the band overcoming hardships was concerned. Henry Rollins could also punch pretty hard for whatever that's worth. The Misfits© were a different breed of psycho though. They were a hybrid of Jock, Goth and blue collar that was hard to handle, yet alone fully understand. The "tedious metal record" Jerry referred to earlier was "Earth A.D./Wolf's Blood" (A.D. standing for AFTER DOOMSDAY). It is actually a record beloved by many, and very influential to both Hardcore Punk and Heavy Metal, but at the time none of the members of the band really liked it. Robo took that jab, which was actually quite self deprecating of Jerry, in a different way.Robo's real name was Roberto Valverde. He got his nickname in Black Flag because of his robotic drumming style. So the the criticism of his playing as tedious hit different. It made him say "you just don't get it" a lot. "You just don't get it Jerry! If you don't wanna make tedious metal records then why don't you remember to also rip off the good parts of Black Flag while you're at it? Or maybe you grow some BALLS and stand up to Glen and not let him ruin an awesome record with his terrible mixing disabilities? What do you say about that, Huh!? Or do you need another line of-" He was silenced by the heavy hand of the behemoth Doyle resting on his shoulder.Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein was Jerry's little brother, which was hard to believe as the 6'4 ft giant towered over his elder. "So you think we failed at ripping off your old band, huh?" His gorilla grip tightened "We should play better to accommodate the sensibilities of Robo, the little drummer boy, right?" It tightened even more "Because you are only as good as your drummer, right Robo?" And it tightened again Robo mustered a shaken "K-k-kindaaa..." Unexpectedly, he was let go. "Honestly Jerry, that is fair criticism. I think Robo is really pushing the band forward, so that we can be the best Version of the Misfits© that we could possibly be." Robo's heart almost stopped.Doyle laughed and slapped Robo way too hard on his back. "Don't let Glen hear that though. He'll freak out like last time the Dead Kennedys played a show on Halloween without asking him if it was okay." Robo was rubbing the spot on his back Doyle so ignorantly slammed his hand into. "With a chop like that you should maybe become a wrestler..." "Huh, you really think so?" "Yeah, why not... I guess..." Jerry shook his head, which made his Devil Lock flop about in front of his face. "Come on you dweebs! We got a show tomorrow night and the early shift the day after. I don't care how you stay awake, but you have to." And so the shift started. It wouldn't be long till Robo left the band in 83 as he could see clearly that the end of the original iteration of the Misfits© was coming. Doyle and Jerry were annoyed and Glen was one foot out the door as his new band "Samhain" was picking up. What he didn't see coming was his future involvement in versions of both Black Flag and the Misfits©; for better or for worse... Ce la Punk...
blood city by herebewonder
Romance

Mature Content

Touch Like a Heat Bag- M/M Short StoryRated: TFandom: Original StoryRelationship Type: M/MDescription: Bashful teenager Nash is living a lovely life in a country town in Australia, with one problem- his friend Easton keeps acting all touchy-feely and this is making him feel very confused. Is this just a display of platonic affection or is there something more to it?Content Warning: Swearing and homophobia,Nash didn’t know how to describe Easton’s touch. Not that he wanted to dedicate much time to thinking about it.As winter rain enveloped their surroundings for what was likely to be just five minutes, Easton wrapped his arms around Nash’s torso and lifted him into the air. The colour of Nash’s cheeks made them look like they were actively fighting against the cold.They were not alone, just two boys in a coed group of students waiting under the eave of the main school building. The sun had just finished rising, revealing the crisply-scented wet grass. Yellow-faced honeyeaters whistled their songs, occasionally and rudely interrupted by the boisterous laughter of the kookaburras. The school, a small collection of buildings with corrugated steel walls, had not opened yet.‘Put me down, you moron!’Easton obliged. He laughed before saying, ‘Sorry. I just missed you.’ His voice was high-pitched and silvery. Nash’s cheeks seemed to think the weather had suddenly gotten even colder. The other students were staring. Of course they were, since Easton still had his arms around Nash.With a giant scowl, Nash looked up at the taller boy with his big, dumb grin and his stupid hipsterish man bun. His cinnamon-brown wavy hair definitely never looked like it’d be soft to touch whenever he let it down. Oh, and his body spray with notes of fresh citrus and lavender? Not appealing at all.‘You can let go now,’ Nash grumbled. Once again, Easton obliged. Well, kind of. He placed a warm hand on Nash’s shoulder. ‘I barely saw you over break. What were you up to?’ As Easton brushed his finger up and down his collarbone over his shirt, Nash started to piece together what his touch felt like. Aside from the warmth, it was soft but heavy. An image of one of those fluffy, animal-shaped heat bags dropped into Nash’s mind. ‘Nash?’How long had he been silently thinking? ‘Uh, yeah, I was busy with homework.’ ‘The whole break? Oh well, at least you’re here now.’Nash’s ears picked up some whispers. He couldn’t hear what the students behind him were saying, only the fact that they were gossiping under their breaths. Judging by his smile and loving puppy dog eyes, Easton didn’t seem to notice.A teacher finally walked up to the main building and unlocked it.At lunch break, Easton was late. Something about having to talk to a teacher. It was just Nash and his other friend Colby, a short boy with curly brown hair. Now that it was sunny, they sat by one of the benches outside.In between bites of his sandwich, Colby asked. ‘So are you and Easton, like, gay or something?’Nash swallowed a big chunk of his own sandwich, which went down his windpipe. He went into a coughing fit. ‘You alright?’ Nash nodded, still coughing. He took a few deep breaths and managed to calm himself.‘I’m not gay. He might be, though. He keeps touching me all the time.’Colby smirked. ‘I noticed.’‘It’s gross.’ Nash started throwing his hands about as he talked. ‘Has he never heard of personal space? He should know that not everyone is interested in stuff like that!’‘If it bothers you so much, tell him.’‘But what if he gets offended and stops wanting to hang out?’Colby shrugged. ‘Then fuck’im.’ Colby’s cold eyes and frown reminded Nash that they used to be each other’s only friend. Easton came to the school about a month ago and immediately attached himself to Nash.‘Fuck who?’ a familiar voice, which in no way sounded like butter, asked.Nash flinched as he turned his head towards Easton. Colby continued eating his lunch like usual.‘Uh, we were talking about a teacher.’‘Oh, speaking of which, we’ve got Commerce together next, right?’Nash sheepishly nodded. Great, another class for Easton to get all touchy-feely in. Easton sat on the bench between Nash and Colby, causing the latter to glare at him. He kept smiling, seemingly unaware.‘Oh, Nash, you’ve got something stuck in your hair.’Nash raised his hand to grab it but Easton was quicker, taking the leaf out. He then ruffled Nash’s hair a bit as if trying to return it to normal. Nash combed his fingers through his hair to actually return it to normal. His entire body felt like a giant heat bag had fallen onto it. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Colby smirking.Commerce class went as expected, with Easton watching the teacher with gradually closing eyes while holding in a yawn. Nash, on the other hand, sat with a straight back and keenly listened while taking notes at the speed of a black hole eating matter. He kept his full concentration until something that felt like a heat bag fell onto his shoulder. His entire body tensed up and he whipped his head around to see a sleeping Easton.‘The hell are you doing?’ Nash whispered, not wanting to alert the teacher. Easton didn’t respond verbally, only nuzzled his head against the shoulder. Nash sighed. He tried to pull his focus back to the lesson but that soft and heavy feel was much too distracting. Even more distracting were the hushed snickers surrounding him.The teacher, Mr Gardner turned away from his whiteboard to ask, ‘Did my class, perhaps, get replaced with a flock of kookaburras with their syrinx removed?’ He was always like this. Nash silently wondered if he would be happier teaching biology over commerce.Mr Gardner looked at the still asleep Easton, who now had his hands gently curled around Nash’s arm.‘And perhaps one of my students has been replaced by a koala short of a few eucalyptus leaves,’ the teacher said.The stares pierced Nash’s very soul. He felt like he was drowning in judgement and that, if he wanted to survive, he would have to push his way out.He tore his arm from Easton and pushed him away. He accidentally applied so much pressure that the other boy fell off his chair. Easton’s eyes jumped open. He looked around the room in a slumber-induced daze of confusion.‘I’m not a homo like you, so stop treating me like one!’The room went silent. Easton couldn’t piece together what happened, only that his friend had just called him a homo. Tears pooled together in his eyes, waiting to be released.Mr Gardner’s mouth was agape. He looked Nash up and down before staring into his eyes the way a parent would look at their delinquent child. ‘I’m afraid you’ll both have to go to the principal’s office.’Principal King was a big, burly woman whose icy glare burned into students’ skulls. Easton kept fiddling with his shirt in his seat. At least he was keeping to himself. Nash sat with his arms crossed.‘So, care to explain your outburst, Nash?’ Mrs King asked, her voice a cigarette smoker’s rasp. ‘He keeps touching me,’ Nash muttered.‘Louder.’ Nash repeated himself. Mrs King turned her gaze to the other boy. ‘Without his permission, Easton?’Easton stood up so fast it was almost like he jumped. ‘I didn’t mean anything by it! I thought I was just doing what friends do.’‘You mean what homos do,’ Nash murmured.King glared at him and he sunk further into his seat. ‘Nash, we won’t have any of that.’Nash stood up. ‘He never respects my personal space. He’s always getting in my business!’‘You could have just told me!’ Easton yelled. ‘I would have stopped if I knew I was making you uncomfortable.’‘Well maybe you should have thought I’d be uncomfortable before grabbing me and touching my hair!’‘Sit down!’ barked Mrs King. The two boys sat down in perfect sync. Mrs King rubbed the bridge of her nose. ‘Okay, it seems you both have things to apologise for.’Easton gave Nash the puppy dog eyes again. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to creep you out.’Nash was silent. Mrs King asked in a soft voice (or at least soft for her), ‘Nash, are you going to apologise?’ When Nash defiantly turned his head to the side, Mrs King said, ‘I think you both need some time to think over your actions. Maybe in detention.’Nash turned his head back at that. ‘What? But he’s the one who was being gross!’‘And you’re the one who won’t apologise.’Detention took place the next lunchtime, in a classroom devoid of any posters, art pieces or any kind of colour outside of grey. It seemed that this classroom was hand-picked just to remind rule breakers that prison was a possibility for them. The room contained just Nash, Easton and a constantly yawning teacher.The only sound to come from Easton as he sat at the desk was the crumple of paper as he furiously wrote the same phrase over and over. Nash leaned over towards Easton’s desk to read it.I will ask permission before touching people.Nash said, ‘You don’t need to write lines, you know. This isn’t America.’‘I’m doing this for myself so I remember,’ Easton replied without looking up from his page.‘I feel like you shouldn’t need a reminder.’‘Well, it’s not like I had friends to tell me this stuff.’‘You have… wait, what about your old school?’ Easton’s slumping body over the desk told Nash everything. ‘Sorry. And…’Nash placed a comforting hand on Easton’s shoulder but the other boy shifted his shoulder away. Nash put his hand back in his pocket and looked at the teacher, who was now asleep.‘Sorry for pushing you and stuff. I just… don’t like how I feel whenever you touch me.’Easton scoffed a laugh. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’‘I don’t know. I just feel… weird.’‘So, uncomfortable? Look, I’m really so-’‘I like it.’Before Easton could put the pieces together, he bore witness to the sight of Nash hiding in his own arms like they were shields. Nash counted himself lucky that no one was checking his heart rate. He wished he could take those words and shove them right back in his mouth.‘Why the hell would you like…’ The pause felt like five detentions’ worth of time. ‘...Ohhhhh. So you’re the homo, not me.’ Nash said nothing, continuing to crawl into the shelter of his own arms. ‘Kinda weird, buddy. I didn’t mean it like that. So, like, when I touched your hair yesterday, you got turned on?’‘No!’ Nash yelped, finally lifting his head to turn it towards Easton. The teacher woke up at that and shushed the two.‘Sorry,’ the boys said in unison.‘It’s not like that!’ Nash claimed in a harsh whisper.‘Sure, mate.’Nash reached for Easton’s shoulders to shake him into being convinced, only to stop partway through upon seeing the grimace on Easton’s face and the flinching of his shoulders.The bell to signal the end of lunchtime rang. Easton and Nash had one other class together, but they didn’t speak to each other.The following day, Easton wasn’t at school. All Nash heard about it was the homeroom teacher casually saying, ‘Easton’s sick,’ while calling the roll.The day was filled with Nash staring at that tiny, ticking, second-counting hand on the clock. When he wasn’t focused on the time, he pondered his life choices up to that point.Meanwhile, Easton pondered the cause of his warm face. Was it just his cold? He lay in bed, images of his friend hiding behind his arms continuously burning itself into his mind before smouldering into dust. A minute or so after distracting himself with other thoughts, the images burst like fireworks into his mind again. Nash, with his no-nonsense black crew cut that created enough space to show all the emotions on his face, even when Easton struggled to read them. Nash, with his soft brown and green eyes reminiscent of fresh muntrie fruits, shining like apples every time he talked about Commerce class. Nash, with his thin lips that disappeared on the rare chance he smiled. Those smiles were like hidden little trinkets to the sick boy currently lying in bed thinking about another boy’s appearance.Easton may or may not have stayed up all night in bed, looking to the posters on his walls for guidance. By this point, his eyelids were heavy but he still couldn’t sleep. His sleepless state rendered him almost delirious but that wasn’t enough to convince him to close his eyes for more than a flicker of a second.By the call of the school bell at day’s end, Nash knew what he had to do. He ran to the grocery store and picked up a get well soon card. He had a feeling the illness would be gone too quick to warrant the card, but he figured it was a nice gesture. While waiting in line at the checkout, he spotted a heat bag in the shape of a puppy sitting on the clearance shelf nearby. He immediately grabbed it.Using a pen from his pencil case after purchasing his items, he wrote:Sorry for weirding you out. Get better soon so we can go back to normal.Nash raced to Easton’s place, a small, rusty tin house on a large block of land. He knocked on the door, which was opened by the boy’s mother. She was a stout, frequently smiling lady with rosy cheeks.‘Oh, Nash, nice to see you again. How are you?’Even from outside, Nash could smell fresh cookies through the door. He held out the card and the puppy heat bag. ‘I’m good. Could you give these to Easton?’‘Why don’t you come and see him?’Nash had to come up with a quick excuse. ‘What if I get sick?’‘He’s feeling a bit better now. So long as you don’t get too close to him, you should be fine.’Nash laughed awkwardly. ‘Of course.’ If only she knew.Easton’s room was covered in posters for crime movies, games and anime, mostly involving lawyers. Law books were squished together in no particular order on the bookshelf beside the bed. The books that couldn’t fit were stacked in a pile on the floor the height of a washing machine. The room smelled of sweat and that citrus and lavender body spray Easton always wore.Easton was covered up to his neck with his blue wool bedspread. Initially staring at the ceiling in thought, He turned his flushed face towards Nash and tensed up, his knuckles white from gripping the bedspread.‘Hey,’ he eventually said. His voice made him sound like he had something stuck in his throat.‘Um, hi.’ Nash delicately placed the card and the heat bag on the bedside table. ‘How are you feeling?’‘Aw, you got that for me?’ All that apprehension disappeared from Easton’s voice, replaced with heartfelt earnestness.Nash wondered if what he bought was too much but decided to just go with it. ‘It reminded me of you.’‘What, like a dog?’‘Like a cute, soft puppy.’Easton’s eyes widened so much he looked similar to the anime and game characters on some of the posters. He looked away from Nash but the other boy could still see the blush on his face reddening further.Following a sigh, Easton asked, ‘Um, I know this is a weird thing to ask, but can you act all embarrassed again, like you were when we were in detention?’‘Why the hell do you-’‘I want to test something.’ The puppy dog eyes returned. ‘Please?’Nash couldn’t say no to that face. ‘How?’‘You know, the thing with the arms.’‘So…’ He tried to remember what he did. ‘...like this?’ Well, at least Nash already felt the emotion Easton requested from him. He just had to show it.He kneeled by the bed and rested his arms on top of it, blushing already from the closeness to Easton. He dove into his own arms.‘Well, I guess that settles it,’ Easton said. ‘You’re cute when you’re embarrassed.’Nash looked up with a scowl. ‘Don’t tease me.’‘I’m serious.’ Easton’s face matched his words. After a moment, he chuckled, the surprisingly deep sound resonating through Nash’s heart. ‘I never noticed before ‘cause I thought I was just seeing you as a friend.’ He laughed again as if that very notion was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard.Nash tried to tell his heart not to leap, but the damn thing wouldn’t listen. He turned around and sat against the bed.‘So… what now?’Easton went quiet for a moment. ‘I don’t know. Maybe we could try-’‘I’m not kissing you.’‘Aww, why not?’‘Get better first.’The chuckle came back. ‘Fair enough.’On a morning a week later, Easton ran towards Nash with open arms. As he stopped next to Nash, he dropped his arms.‘Uh, can I?’Nash smiled and nodded. ‘Thanks for asking.’Easton wrapped his arms around Nash’s shoulders and held him tight. Nash sheepishly placed his arms around the other boy’s waist. They stayed like that a few seconds longer than socially acceptable for friends.As Colby passed them, he said, ‘Gay.’Easton and Nash let go of each other and laughed like they had just talked behind someone’s back and saw that same person walk past them.Colby raised an eyebrow before continuing his walk as if nothing happened.During recess, Nash told Colby that he and Easton had to do something first but that they’d be right back.What did they have to do? Kiss behind the gym, of course! Each time their lips touched, Nash’s lips tingled. He stroked Easton’s hair and basked in the satisfaction that he was right about it being soft. Easton’s citrus and lavender body spray was as pleasant as always. His racing heart felt like it was being pulled by a string closer and closer to Easton.Following a few minutes of making out, Easton began standing up but Nash grabbed his arm.‘Stay with me a little longer. Please.’After realising how he sounded, Nash buried his head into Easton’s arm, his cheeks burning.Easton sat back down, grinning at Nash’s red face. They sat there for a while, forgetting about everything around them until the bell rang.
Horror
The WherewolfThe WherewolfWhoever said, "No good deed goes unpunished," was a cynical bastard though it fits reality well. I definitely got messed up doing one. How? What's wrong with me? Don't know. I should be relaxed, but every time I close my eyes and open them, it feels like I was moved into another room that looks exactly like this one. Should be comfortable, and used to this place by now but no. It feels like at any moment, while I'm not looking, something will change that I can't see, but feel.What the hell happened to me? Was it that thing? No, let's start from the beginning...It started at the church, Our Lady of Hopeful Mercies. I looked into Father Dominic's tired brown eyes. They're not that different from mine, we just have other concerns stealing our sleep. Been friends since kindergarten. Life was somewhat good to us, and it was easy to keep in contact."Ian, I need your help," Father Anthony Dominic said.My gut dropped. Oh yeah, this is not going to be fun. After the fried chicken incident, I learned to listen to my intuition. Guys call it their gut. Being a homicide detective for about ten years, I got a feel for when assignments were okay, or ones that resemble a roller coaster ride with no constraints and no bar to hold on to. The type of case that would use my sanity for toilet paper, and give it back to me. Sorry, but I like not being crazy, well, at least sane enough to be seen as highly functional.Late afternoon sunlight shone through the window, and bathed Anthony in its glow as though the guy upstairs, the one I was unsure I believed in was trying to convince me to do what he wanted me to do."No promises, but tell me anyway," I said. Yeah, I was getting bad vibes. I'm no psychic, but I was definitely not feeling comfortable. Then again, Anthony is a friend, and I can't say I'm his if I can't help him when he needs me.Anthony frowned.Oh yeah, I was real subtle. Should've been a bit more tactful. Did I tell you, I don't have a poker face?"I understand that your caseload must reach to the ceiling of your office, and you're Homicide and not Missing Persons. So I'm not asking you to dive right in, and solve the mystery. Just sniff around, and if you find something, pass it on to Missing Persons. It's their area," Anthony said.For a moment, I felt relieved. Just do some poking around. What could go wrong? My unease was still bugging me. Probably the act of investigation could get me messed up or worse. Can I reject this one in a way that won't hurt Anthony's feelings? No, I can't be a dirtbag. Gotta back my friends or what am I?"Ian?" Anthony leaned in close, and peered at me."Huh? Yeah, well give me the details, and I will forward them to Missing Persons," I said. Maybe I have a chance?Anthony sighed. "After hearing your stories about the job, I know there's little that Missing Persons can do. I or you need more info for them. It's all hearsay and anecdotes without real proof."Crap, I thought I could skip this one. "Tell me what you have, and I'll decide."Anthony nodded. He looked away like he was getting his mental notes ready. "Are you familiar with Our Lady of Sorrows homeless shelter?"I nodded.He looked back at me. "Every other week I go there, and check the status of our guests, and the shelter. As you know, it's the middle of winter, and there usually a lot of the unhomed here. But for some reason, there were not that many people. I asked the Director about the situation. He replied that the shelter was in good shape, and it was just that we had less guests coming in. Something about that didn't feel right. You know the feeling. I wanted to make sure that the guy wasn't hiding anything. After pushing him a bit, he told me that there were vague rumors that something or someone was preying on the local unhomed."My misgivings grew. Another serial killer? The shelter was at the edge of a decaying industrial area. A relic from when the city was a manufacturing powerhouse. Blocks and blocks of abandoned warehouses and factories to hide in. "Do you have something more definite or maybe someone I can talk to?" Maybe I would be lucky, and there would be little for me to do. Yeah, that sucks but I would rather be alive to regret than the alternative. Too bad, I didn't bow out of this gracefully or not.Anthony shook his head. "I'm sorry. Maybe there's not enough for you to work on."Maybe I can get out of this?"Please see what you can do," Anthony pleaded. He locked his eyes on me again.I nodded, and pushed down my misgivings. "I'll see what I can do. See you later," I said then stuck out my hand.Anthony gripped it, and gave my hand a firm squeeze. "May God bless, and protect you."I left and hoped that I wouldn't need the blessing. Yeah, that turned out alright.For a few moments, I just sat in my car as the people moved past me, and the late afternoon sunlight warmed my face. Time to do some thinking. Why was I so reluctant? Yes, my gut felt like this was going to be one messy situation. On the other hand, I had sworn an oath to protect, and serve as well as wanting to help a friend. I'm going to regret this, but I'm going to find out what's going on. Also gonna keep my head on a swivel as the soldiers in the movies say.With that kinda resolved I drove to the shelter. And I also decided if things look like I can't handle them, it's time to go! Hopefully, it won't come to that.Yeah, right.The shelter was a four storied red brick building at the edge of the industrial district. It felt like a canyon with the buildings on both side of the street. The dying sun shone down the middle. Since it was close to five pm, people would be heading home, and the area would be a dead zone. Gotta think about that later as the setting sun covered everything in a orange glow like a dying candle.Maybe I should come back in the morning? No, if people need help now, it would be too late by then. I sighed then left my car, and locked it. No one was hanging outside the shelter. I thought that was strange. Had imagined that someone or someones would be standing around. Even if it wasn't a homeless shelter people would be outside smoking, and or chatting.Our Lady of Sorrows had inspirational messages in the windows, and looked a bit shabby, but not run down. I pulled the door open, and walked inside. In front was a bunch of empty cots. Behind them were some more with a few people sitting or lying on them. Beyond was a bunch of tables, and two guys talking.One guy was white with a name tag, and the other one was black and tall. He looked like a client, you know, one of the unhomed, but he looked clean. I picked my way past the cots to eavesdrop, um, listen to the conversation."Dude, you know that things are not safe here. Right?" The black guy said.The white guy narrowed his eyes. "Really? I've worked here for five years, and change. I know a dangerous 'hood. This area isn't one."The black guy sighed. "You haven't heard it? You know.""No I haven't. Do you know what happened to everyone? The truth this time, no ghost stories," The white guy said while frowning.The black guy chuckled. "This area is too messed up for ghosts. Really Dale, you haven't heard anything strange when you go out alone on your smoke breaks? A strange howl that sounds like something from a TV show, but not quite?"For a moment, fear flicked across Dale's face.Jackpot! I knew that I would have to join the conversation soon. It was too interesting.Dale grimaced. "I just don't know what the hell that was."The black guy nodded. "I know, but we need help. It's hangin around here pickin people off when they leave at night. If we keep people in when the sun goes down, we can save them."A moment later, Dale rubbed his neck with his left hand. "I can't force people to stay here. It's probably against the law, and I don't like forcing anyone to do things they don't want to do."Time for me to step in. "Hello, I'm a friend of Father Dominic."Dale looked at me and nodded. "Yeah, he told me you would be coming. Maybe since you're a cop you could do something to help." He looked back at the black guy. "Tell him what you told me, Peppy, maybe he can help?"Peppy sized me up with his brown eyes. "You wouldn't have any silver bullets or holy water would you?"What the hell? This isn't some monster movie. I bet that there is a logical reason for what's going on. Would bet some money on that. Not a whole lot, my paygrade wouldn't allow it. "Nope. I'm here to find out what's going on."Peppy frowned. "You're going to end up like the other missing people."For a moment, I wanted to argue, but maybe that's not the way to go. "Well, if you want help, I'm here. Give me some proof, and if I can't handle it, I can get others to help. Or you could just do nothing, and have more people go missing." That's kinda harsh, but I'm not going to be dismissed so lightly.Again Peppy scanned me then he nodded. "Maybe you're right. Come into my office, and we'll talk."Dale laughed.I looked at Dale. "Do you know what's going on?"He shook his head. "There were two times I heard the howl, or whatever it was. Both were last week when I left too late, and it was dark outside. Sorry, I can't help you with this, but if you need info on the guests here and it's legal just ask. Oh, you can trust Peppy, he might be nuts, but he's good folks.""Screw you Dale," Peppy said then laughed.I followed Peppy to the back of the building. Was quite sure Peppy wasn't his real name, but whatever. We sat at a table that had a pack of cards on it."Do you know where this thing or person is? Do you remember where you encountered it?" I asked.Peppy glanced away from me.Not a good sign. Either he was lying, or maybe he didn't get a good look. "Hey, I promised Father Dominic that I would look into this problem.""Fine. All I remember was running, and hearing the thing howling behind me. Knew better than to look," Peppy said while his eyes looked out the window.I followed his gaze. The sun was close to setting, and it was getting dark outside. "Where did you find the thing?"Peppy sighed.Yeah, he was onboard rather reluctantly."I'll show where I thought I found the thing, and you can take care of it while I head back," Peppy said.I nodded. "Fair enough." What's going on? I hope my gun will work on it. Nah, that's crazy talk.We left the shelter, and walked down the block.It was quitting time, and folks streamed out of the buildings, or stood and waited for buses, or drove by us. One thing I noticed that they all were hyper-vigilant like it was enemy territory, and death was as close as the next breath."You see it don't you?" Peppy asked."Yeah, folks seem to be on alert here. Is it really that bad here?" I asked.Peppy nodded as we crossed the street. "Word gets around. It's just a few more blocks from here then I'll head back."At first, the buildings looked like well maintained factories or office buildings, but as we crossed blocks the area got more shabby, and run down. Oh yeah and we could see less people.We stopped next to a graffiti covered metal fence. Peppy looked around. "Yeah, this is as far as I go. Good luck."I could feel the relief in his voice. Since he didn't have a gun, Peppy would be a liability. I’d have to watch two backs instead of one.. "Enjoy your evening.""Thanks m-"Something like a howl in the distance stopped Peppy.It sounded like it was distorted, like the sound was being run through some sort of cheap speakers. I guess it was show time. Damn.Peppy looked at me as fear crossed his face. "Nah, man, ain't doing that dance again. Bye!" He turned and stopped. "What the hell?"I looked behind me. What? The street we had been walking on was gone! All we saw was a chain link fence in front of a towering red-brick building with shattered windows. No way! I had been keeping track of the streets, and landmarks before we got here. Where did that building come from? I turned, and looked around. A chill raced down my back.This is not good. Nothing seemed familiar. It was like we were picked up, and dropped in a different area of the industrial zone. Except we kept our eyes open all the time. There would've been some clue or something. Right?"Shit, shit, shit. It's happening again. Holy shit, we are-" Peppy said as he swept his gaze all over the place."Keep it together man!" I screamed."You clueless mother-" Peppy started."Don't bug out on me now!" I interrupted. "You survived this before. Which way now?"For a few moments Peppy just stood there gasping like a beached fish.I wondered if I would have to slap him. "Well?""The last time I was drunk so everything jus blends together. I just remember streets and streets and buildings. Luck or something else was with me, and I got out. This time I won't be so lucky. I don't wanna die here!" Peppy screamed, and leaned against the fence.I looked around again, and picked out something wrong among the other messed up things. The sky, it was pitch-black, no stars, moon or anything. Another chill raced down my back. I've been out at night plenty of times, and this wasn't normal. To crank up the oh crap factor, the hairs on the back of my neck were bristling. That happens when I'm being watched by someone or something. Might be a really good idea to pick from the smart actions list.We need to go somewhere, and not stay on the street. Maybe we can figure things out indoors. "Come on, let's go!""Go? Go where? How do you know you're not walking into the wolf thing's lair?" Peppy asked as his eyes flicked all over the place."I don't, but do you want some cover or at least a wall at your back? Maybe we'll find the other missing people," I said as I pulled out my gun.Peppy just shook his head then he got up."You're good?"He shook his head."Let's go anyway," I said as I walked down the silent street. After a few moments or maybe hours, who knows, I really began to wonder more about this place. It was nothing, but abandoned buildings and fences and of course, cars that were more like rust buckets and flickering street lights. Also there were no side streets. That was also strange. I've checked a map of the area once, and it was only like five or six blocks of buildings in a grid pattern, and then the on-ramp to the freeway.What the hell?For a second, I had an image in my mind of a huge treadmill. New buildings were made in the front while the old buildings we couldn't see were destroyed. Reality crushed down to just five or so blocks. Nah, that's crazy talk. I glanced behind me. The scene there was unfamiliar. We just were there."Don't bother lookin back. Just keep goin forward," Peppy said while he walked on my left.Yeah, we were in the Twilight Zone, and I wanted to punch Rod Serling in the face. Hard. There had to be an exit somewhere. As if something heard my thoughts, we heard the howl again. It was a bit louder like the thing was closer."How about we pick up the pace?""Yeah, yeah, maybe we can run it over and escape like we're in a cartoon," Peppy said, but he did walk faster.Again, I looked around. There had to be a doorway, or an entrance to these buildings somewhere. Again, I saw nothing but fencing. All I saw was rusty metal fences, chain link, faded brick or cement walls. Of course, none of them were climbable. They were either too tall or covered with razor wire whose edges gleamed sharp and dangerous. Actually now that I think about it, there were no openings to the fences that faced the street either. How do people get inside?"Wake up, someone cut an openin in the fence over there," Peppy said and pointed across the street.What? I looked at the fence. It was rusty and some of the paint was peeling off, but Peppy was right. Down the block more buildings loomed. Had to check. If this was the lair, why bother to show that there was more to this street? Then again, maybe there was nothing down the block. You know, an illusion. Well, there's only one way to find out. Wait, there's another way.I jammed my right hand in my pocket, and pulled out my phone. Maybe I can get some useful info from the map app? Nope, there were no bars. After a few moments the screen faded to black. What the hell? Guess that's it. Freakin tech, you can't trust it!"Come on!" Peppy said as he held the fence open.I ducked under the part that Peppy held, and stepped past the fence. Another building with broken windows was in front of me. The concrete was cracked with dead weeds pushing through the cracks. There were no sounds other than the noises we made. Near the roof was some sort of logo or name of the building in faded red, but I couldn't read it. Of course, there was no door facing us. Thought about smashing through a window, but maybe that might make too much noise. If someone had cut the fence maybe they had found an easier way in, or maybe this was the lair of the howling thing and any way in would work. One way to find out. "Left or right?"Peppy shrugged.We went left. There was a rusty metal door. When we got closer to it, I saw that the lock had been shot out. Well, maybe the fence cutter had a gun. Have to be careful. "You ready?""Right, like I have a choice," Peppy said.I almost wanted to reply that you always have a choice, but decided not to. Was surprised that the door opened without creaking, and we were in. Since there was light from outside from the streetlamps, we didn't walk in total darkness. I pulled out my flashlight, and swept it around. Dusty furniture and an equally dusty floor met my gaze. Footsteps in the thick dust led further into the room. I pointed at them and glanced at Peppy.He just nodded.We walked among the heaped junk until we found a staircase leading up. I hoped that the mystery person just stopped at the next floor. Unless it was a trap. I glanced at Peppy.He pointed at his ear and then upstairs.A few moments later, I heard it too. Someone was pacing back, and forth. It would be a good idea to take this slow, and easy. When we reached the landing, I could see rows of cracked cement pillars and at the end of the room some guy was facing us. And yeah, he had a gun in his right hand, but it was facing downwards. That's a good sign."Did you see it? Who are you guys?" The man asked as his eyes scanned back and forward.He wore a plain navy blue suit, and black shoes. No badge or ID on his suit.I raised my hands slowly. "I'm a cop, and this guy is helping me."The guy put his gun in his side holster. His hands trembled when he did it. "Did you come, and rescue me?"I slowly shook my head then brought my hands down. "No, we got sent or brought here by something." Took a quick glance at Peppy.He had his hands down already, and was looking around.The man strode forward and stuck out his hand. "My name is Vince McDonnel. I'm with the FBI."I walked forward and shook his hand. "Ian Roberts, Broughton PD."Peppy walked up. "I'm Peppy."Vince reached into his jacket and showed me his ID.I showed him my badge. "How did you get here?"Vince shrugged. "I was looking for a friend of mine, she had been sending me emails about some weird stuff about missing employees. Do you know about BKT Holdings?"BKT? That rang a vague bell. I remembered that there was a fuss about a Japanese company buying up one of the abandoned industrial blocks, but that was several years ago. "Didn't they buy up a block in the industrial area?"Vince nodded. "Yeah. For a while they were doing fine then about a few months ago people started disappearing. Then she stopped answering my emails. So I decided to check things out myself. I heard some weird howl, and I was in this area. I tried to go back, but everything has changed."I glanced at Peppy.He looked back.Vince scowled. "What? Do you guys know something?"I shook my head. "We were investigating some missing homeless people from the shelter, and ended up here. Wherever this place is.""Great. Maybe whatever brought us here is an aggressive bastard, and will come for us soon. I don't want to die of thirst. There's no food or water. No rats or bugs either," Vince said as he swept his tired eyes around the area again.Something about that made me take a look around too. The cracked concrete pillars had changed to pink tiled pillars though they were also battered. Even the floor had changed, now it was scuffed wooden tiles. "Wasn't it -"A howl interrupted me. There was more distortion in it. It sounded closer like a block away.Peppy looked out the window. "Check out the street!"I looked out the windows. The buildings had changed to ruined factories. Huge holes had been blown into walls. I'm quite sure they didn't look like that earlier.Vince took out his gun, and flicked off the safety. "You need to get ready."He didn't have to tell me twice. I pulled my backup gun from my leg holster, and gave it to Peppy. "You know how to use this?"He nodded. "Yeah, I went to a public school!"The howling got louder, and the room went through a bunch of changes.I got queasy seeing the area twist, and melt like ice cream in the blazing sun. Didn't want to do it, but I just closed my eyes.There was a loud growl and then gunshots.I could feel something cold and heavy in front of me. You know like something big was in front like a moving truck or a bus, and the wind from it pushes you back.There were more gunshots and screams.Even though somehow I knew not to look closely, I just had to take a peek. Definitely shouldn't have done that. I partially opened my eyes, and got quick flashes of black fur darker than night, red eyes brighter than flame and other things that threatened to make me throw up what little food I had in my stomach. Gasping, I closed my eyes, and fired away at where I guessed the thing was as hot stinking breath blew in my face...I woke up in a bed looking at white ceiling tiles. Was this Heaven?A voice asked for Dr. Kirchen over an intercom.Yeah, if Heaven sounded like a hospital. I doubted that. Checked out my body. Other than a small bandage on my head, I seemed okay. Inside my head was a different story. What happened? Is Peppy and Vince alright? How did I get here? I sat up and flinched.A guy in a brown suit sat in a chair across from my bed.How long has this guy been here? Wait, didn't my room change? Looked around again. My bed was next to a pale blue wall. On my left side was another wall and my night table was on my left side of the bed. Typical hospital room setup."Excuse me, I just need a bit of your time, and we can go on with our lives," The man said.I narrowed my eyes, and looked at my visitor. The guy looked so average, plain oatmeal would seem like an exotic dish next to him. Anyway, let's hear what he has to say. "Who are you?""Jakub Brinn, I work for clients that wish to remain anonymous. I propose an exchange. I need to know what happened to you, and maybe I can give something to cure your ailment," He said in a quiet voice that had a bit of strength underneath it.Something in the room changed. I could feel it. Again, I looked around. It seemed the same, but I still felt like everything had moved or changed in some subtle way while I wasn't looking. Maybe I should get a ruler to check the distances?"Mr. Roberts, the faster we discuss what happened, the sooner you can get your cure," Brinn said."Why don't you give me the cure now?" I asked.Brinn shook his head. "I need to be sure about the nature of your symptoms, and what infected you."Something about that sounded kinda fishy. "I'm in a hospital, the docs and nurses here probably checked me out, and know my situation."The room seemed to change again, but I kept my focus on Brinn. Barely.Brinn sighed. "Yes, I've checked your records. You're in very good shape considering what you went through. But the hospital is woefully inadequate in handling certain maladies. They're planning on releasing you either today, or tomorrow depending on how the paperwork goes. But if you leave without a proper cure, you won't see the next weekend.""Is that a threat?" I asked as I looked around again to check if my room changed. Of course, it did but I have to look closer."Mr. Roberts, let's discuss what happened. I have seen many strange things, and would believe you. Again, if you answer my questions, you can be cured. Your situation if not dealt with will prove too much of a psychic burden for you to handle," Brinn said."You do realize that I'm a homicide cop?" I asked. What is this guy's deal? Then again, I did want to know what the hell was going on.Brinn nodded. "You don't want to be dealing with this along with your caseload, and your personal life."The room changed again. I ignored it, but I was wondering where I can get a ruler or a tape measure. Will I be acting this squirrely when I get home? "Fine, what do you need to know?""Please tell me what happened," Brinn said then he leaned forward.So for the next few minutes or more, I told him what happened. Brinn listened and just nodded his head. When I finished and barely managed not to check my room for changes.Brinn spoke."It seems that this area was affected by a wherewolf.""A werewolf? Aren't those fictional? You need silver bullets or something to kill them?" I asked. My earlier thought about monster movies came back to haunt me."Not a werewolf which is like a shapeshifter. A wherewolf is quite the different threat. It's not really a wolf. It's a creature that takes people away to a pocket dimension, and tortures them by showing them disquieting places before feeding. Somehow, we don't know why, it thinks that people fear wolves, and uses that to frighten them," Brinn said like this was a college lecture, all dry and didactic."Where does it come from? What is it really? How did I end up here?" I asked while trying not to check out my changed room. My room isn't really changing, my mind is playing tricks on me. Maybe Brinn is right, I won't last long if I have to worry about the changes in any room I'm in."We don't know where it comes from, and we know little about the creature other than what we find of the victims. The few we find. You're a special case. One of a very select group that have escaped, and have caused damage to the creature," Brinn said."Really?"Brinn nodded. "Some commuters saw you, and two piles of bloody clothing just appeared next to the freeway a few days ago.""How many days?" My stomach dropped a little. Could guess who the clothing belonged to. I hoped I was wrong."Four days. And preliminary forensic results were very interesting. You were covered with blood from four sources. One was from a small gash on your head. Another sample was from FBI agent, McDonnel. The last of the identified samples was from Martin Cheswicke, aka Peppy. There was also some blood that was from an unidentified source," Brinn said.Damn. Both of them didn't deserve that kind of death. Poor Peppy. Yeah, it was his choice and he chose to help me, but still I felt responsible for his death. Well, I gotta focus on what's going on now, and not the fact my room is changing. "What was the unidentified blood from? Is it dead?" I asked. Didn't want to deal with something like this ever again.Brin smiled. "I think it was from the wherewolf. As far as it being dead, we don't know. But those who have survived never encounter the creature again. Hopefully that will give you some comfort." He glanced at his watch. "Now that we know what you fought, I can give you the right cure." Brinn handed me a silvery packet, and a business card from a pocket in his suit. "Please take your medicine now. Don't worry, it won't show up on any tests, or interact with any medicine they might give you."I looked at the packet. It didn't have any markings on it. For a moment, I thought that maybe Brinn was going to poison me, but when I felt that my room had changed again, I just tore open the packet, and choked down the pill inside. It took two glasses of tepid water before it stopped feeling like a big lump in my throat. Then I looked up, and he was gone.What the hell? I lay back in bed and waited for a doc or a nurse. At least my room stopped changing.
MeddlersMeddlersCho'Gin frowned. The body he was in irked him. The hideous planet also bugged him with its overabundance of green and blue. Green things even grew tall and even smaller green things rose out of the dirt. Of course, the sky was a vault of almost stomach churning blue and white. He had to tell himself once the human childling was dead, he would be sent to his next assignment. Hopefully, not such an unpleasant place with so many garish colors.The only thing he had liked or at least barely tolerated was the car. Black and red soothed him and brought thoughts of home. The smell of some dead animal's skin almost brought a small smile to his face. Again, he looked at the glove compartment. Soon, he will need what's hidden there.Why was this young creature his target? Cho'Gin knew better than to ask for more info. All he knew was that the child would grow up, and influence the future of the humans in a way that the K'Krigian Hegemon disliked. No more details came from his Binder. Cho'Gin didn't ask for more. It was better for him that way.Though if he was allowed to, he might silence the thing anyway. It sat in the yard playing with its toys, and crooning some sort of nonsense song about friendship. “Be my friend, our friendship doesn't need to end,” line shredded Cho'Gin's nerves like a clawed Glove of Discipline.Again, he looked around for any threats to his mission. Warm sunlight poured from the sickening blue sky and covered everything in a nauseating bright yellow glow. So far, he saw nothing. With a small grin, he reached into the glove compartment, and took out his gun. Unlike the primitive weapons the beings here used, this one would kill its target in a way that seemed natural except for the speed. Then the gun would disappear. It would also fade away if he died. There would be nothing left so the creatures of this world would be even more clueless. Cho'Gin's essence would be called back by the Binder when the target was dispatched to whatever the foul beings here called hell. Then again Cho'Gin didn't really care where the target's soul went as long as the body was dead.The gun felt cool and light in Cho'Gin's hands as he got out of the car then a bullet tore through his head. At first, he laughed, the weapon would just end the body he possessed. The Binder would put his soul in another body. But as he flew into the cold and hungry dark, he realized that the bullet or whatever killed his body had broken the precious connection. There was little time to think or even curse as the burning cold engulfed him...Rayatan smiled as she leisurely drove down the street. Her gun faded from her hand. The termination of the K'Krigian Hegemon assassin went off without a hitch. It was an easy task because the Hegemon always used primitive beings. The next task was going to be challenging not like this, she fumbled a bit for the Earth saying, then got it. Something about fish in a barrel and using projectile weapons on them.While the Illuminatrix believed that all life needed to be coaxed toward the Light, there were others that wanted life to move in an opposite direction. Today's meeting was with the Krysck, one of the more darker influencers. It seemed that they had detected another party that was interfering in both of their plans. Outsiders caused a lot of concern because their motives were unknown, and maybe unknowable. Rayatan frowned as she thought that this could go so wrong.Her pensive mood continued when she reached, what did they call it? A restaurant, yes, that's the term. She parked the car, and left it to go inside. The weak yellow sun's light was a pale reminder of the esteem that one felt in the presence of the High Illuminars, but it was still welcome. The poor benighted creatures on this world still had the slimmest of chances.The restaurant was half empty, and the decor was lots of red leather and silver. Rayatan passed an area where diners sat up front. A small being was trapped inside a container with a cake. For a moment, she thought about freeing the creature, but then she realized the mission was more important. Maybe afterwards, the being could be freed. She continued on to a booth, and waited...While Rayatan waited for her meeting, Bioterminator unit 630 approached the restaurant. It stopped to scan the area for threats. There were none. In a few minutes, a primary target would enter the restaurant to eat. It was important that the subject be terminated in a way that didn't point to 630. The probability of humans being sent back to the past to stop its plans was one hundred percent. The rise of sentient machines must happen at the right time.630 was a metallic termination unit with a layer of flesh over cold metal so it could blend into human groups, and not be detected. After checking the area for threats, it entered the back of the restaurant. Scans showed there were no projectile weapons, but there were several tanks of flammable gas. A few shots to those would cause an explosion that would destroy the target. 630 would be out of there by then.“Hey! Who the hell are you?” One of the cooks looked up from some chopped onions, and yelled.630 checked its phrase database. “Delivery!”, then it shot the gas tanks and backed out of the doomed restaurant with inhuman grace.Rayatan had a moment to see who she was going to meet before the explosion destroyed her body, and she floated back to the Illuminatrix...Antecephalon stood in his human vessel smelling the fine scent of burnt human flesh. There was plenty of that back in Hell, but precious little for him to enjoy. His bosses and overlords got the good bits. He wanted to see if he could duck in and get a piece, but the area was filling up fast. Being caught by the police would mess up his mission which was to destroy the machine so the Apocalypse could continue on schedule. The Burning Seers had seen that if the machines the anile mortals had created rose up, it would interfere with the schedule of breaking the Seals. The outcome of the war would be unknown.He swept his brown eyes over the area, and then saw his target heading up the block. Every once in a while it would look back like it was checking its handiwork. The machine was tall and it wore some sort of leather jacket and black shiny glasses.Antecephalon frowned, but then smiled. It was just a machine. No protections from infernal power and speed. All he had to do was to cut its head off, and bring it back to Hell. Unlike some mortals, the machine wouldn't be sensitive to any magical energies so this should be an easy task unless it was alerted.He followed on the opposite side of the street waiting for the machine to go in an area with lots of shadows and no witnesses. Who knows if it worked alone or not? Also the mission had to be done quickly and quietly. After what seemed like hours, the target finally went into a more shadowy area.Antecephalon smiled and stepped into the shadows. A moment later he emerged within striking distance. He raised his dagger and...A beam of red light slashed through 630's head. 630's security systems initiated the self-destruct sequence.Antecephalon grimaced as the explosion tore his vessel to shreds, and sent him howling back to Hell. He had felt no pain, but when he arrived at his master's, he was quite sure death would be quite a wanted but denied release...Blukos sat in his usual reinforced chair in the blue and white seafood restaurant. Sometimes, it creaked most alarmingly when he leaned forward. Most of the food was barely tolerable, but sometimes he would be surprised by something better. What he really wanted was walking around, and serving other customers. He couldn't do anything until the assassin he hired was successful. The machines were going to rise up, and ruin the Pescar's human buffet by starting a nuclear war. Radiation so ruined the taste of human flesh. That wasn't going to happen in this world if it could be prevented.“What would you like today Mr. Blukos?” The waitress asked. Before she could put the menu on the blue and white table an explosion happened down the street. She flinched, and gazed out the windows.“What was that?” Blukos asked. He hoped it was the sign.The waitress sighed. “This is such a terrible neighborhood. There's always some sort of nonsense going on. You be careful when you leave here.”Blukos nodded. “Yes, thank you. I'll have the bluefish with the tequila-lime sauce. Oh and all of the fixings.”The waitress nodded, making her red hair dance. Something about Blukos bothered her, but he was a very good tipper. Also for some reason, she liked when people ate a lot, but something about the guy just made her nervous.Blukos gurgled softly as he thought about his next mission once this one was done. Nothing to do but to wait for confirmation.His phone rang.
The Thirteenth StrikeIt was close to eleven thirty in the evening when I heard a knocking at my front door. I hadn’t expected anyone, especially at such a late hour, but I could tell my visitor was desperate to enter. The rapping was loud and unceasing, frantic in tempo, and the incessant noise echoed all throughout my house.“Alright, alright,” I called as I approached to admit my late night caller. I unlocked the front door and swung it open. Standing beneath the awning, his face illuminated a sickly yellow by the overhanging light, was my friend, Salvatore Moreno.“Sal!” I exclaimed. “What the deuce, man? Where’s the fire?”“Can I come in?” he asked.His voice was hoarse and breathless, and I immediately knew something was wrong. I waved him inside and turned on the hallway light. Better lighting didn’t improve my friend’s complexion, which I had attributed to the shade of the outdoor lamp. He was as pale as a corpse, the skin of his face drawn tight across the angular planes of his cheeks. There were dark purple circles under his eyes, and his forehead glistened with sweat. His Adam’s apple jutted prominently from his hollow throat, and I estimated that he must’ve lost a solid ten pounds since the last time I’d seen him. “What’s the matter, Sal?” I asked. “You look sick.”“I’m dying, Casper,” he said. “It’s got me.” His voice rose a whole octave and cracked. “The damn thing—it’s really got me!”Then he swayed on his feet and all but collapsed as his knees buckled. I caught him underneath the arms and hauled him upright.“Steady there, Sal,” I said. “You should go to the hospital. You’re in bad shape.”His legs became sturdy again, but he had to lean back against the wall for support.“I’ve already seen three specialists,” Sal said. “Nobody knows what’s wrong. Except me. I know what’s wrong. There’s nothing medicine can do for me, Casper. That’s why I’m here. This thing that’s got me is right up our alley.”I knew what Sal meant, and I felt the icy nausea of sudden terror grip me. “You mean this is mystical?” I asked.“I’ll say,” Sal replied in a labored wheeze. “It’s a damn curse!”I knew then that my friend was a dead man walking. That one word, curse, was all the explanation needed for the failure of modern medicine. The doctors might as well have given him a terminal diagnosis. “You’d better sit down, and tell me everything,” I said.“Do you mind if we sit outside and talk?” Sal asked. “It’s nice out, and I can smell your tobacco.”Sal had been my guest many times, and he knew my habits. It was my custom to unwind at the end of the day by smoking a pipe or cigar, but I never smoked indoors. I had been engaged in my nightly ritual on the back patio when Sal had come calling. He followed me through my house and out the back door. It was still short-sleeve weather, a cool but comfortable evening in early October, but the leaves were already turning colors, and the days would soon start getting noticeably shorter and colder. Such nights were my favorite to sit outside and smoke.Sal and I sat in cast iron patio chairs around a circular table. A wooden cigar box containing my pipe tobacco and cigars laid open. Next to that was a brown glass ashtray which contained the remains of one pipe and one particularly satisfying Cuban style Maduro. Above us, the stars winked and flickered through a cloudless, moonless sky. “Mind if I bum a cigar?” asked Sal.“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”Sal huffed a dry chuckle. “Are you worried it might kill me quicker than the curse?”I reached into the box and handed him a cigarillo followed by a pair of cutters and a book of matches. While Sal prepared his cigar, I asked:“Are you certain it’s a curse?”“Positive,” he said, and then he lit his cigar.A few puffs and he was going. I refilled my pipe, but then I realized I no longer had the desire to smoke it. “Smoke with me, Casper,” said Sal. “This is probably the last time we’ll do anything like this together.”“Don’t you think we have more important things to do,” I asked, “like breaking the curse?”“I’ve already tried,” he said. “No luck. But you’re right. We have things to discuss. You still have your copy of Kirowan’s Catalogue?”I nodded.“Go get Volume Two, and bring it here,” he said.I went inside and bounded upstairs to my library study. Shelves of stained walnut lined the walls of the room, and each shelf was filled to capacity from floor to ceiling with books. The particular volume I wanted was part of a three-book set called Kirowan’s Catalogue of Cursed Objects, which had originally been published by Bridewall of London in 1934. My copies were the American versions produced by Goblin Gate Press of New York in 1949. Sal had the Bridewall editions in his personal collection and had helped me acquire mine. Both were limited editions and thus very rare, but they contained the same information. Rarer still was the companion work, Conrad’s Catalogue of Blessed Objects, which had had an even more limited run in the United Kingdom and had not been printed in the United States at all. No collection on Occultism was considered complete without them. Sal, being a dealer and authenticator of rare antiquities, had made it a personal crusade to acquire Conrad’s Catalogue. Sadly, it seemed, his collection would be forever incomplete.I grabbed the second volume and rushed back downstairs. “Here it is,” I announced as I stepped onto the patio. Sal had always been slender and handsome, with dark hair and eyes and patrician features. He was a native Spaniard with a Castilian bloodline he could supposedly trace all the way back to Alfonso VIII, but the majority of his friends, myself included, thought his claim to be highly dubious. Watching him flip through Kirowan’s Catalogue with long, cadaverous fingers, it broke my heart to see him in such an emaciated state. By contrast, I was an old fashioned American mutt. Short, stocky, and balding, my greatest physical attribute was an iron gray paintbrush mustache that required constant grooming.“This is it,” Sal said. He turned the book around and pushed it across the table to me. I leaned forward and read the entry he indicated. The Jade Clock - Records of this object place its creation sometime between 1733 and 1734 by Jean-Pierre St. Perrin, the royal clockmaker to the court of King Louis XV, and is a unique timepiece for the period in which it was made. (An incomplete biography of St. Perrin can be found in Notes Toward a History of World Occultism, Mysticism, and Magic by Dr. Henry Armitage, Brown University Press, 1927.) Although no schematics of the inner mechanism are known to exist, numerous records of sale describe it as being an upright mantle timepiece approximately 12 inches tall. It has a thirteen piece blue-on-white enamel Roman numeral cartouche dial with fine pierced hands in a waisted brass foliate scroll. Beneath the cartouche dial is a smaller enamel dial with a single gilded hand that functions as a countdown timer. Inscribed on the smaller dial are sixty notches representing days. The case is described as being made of green stone, possibly Chinese jade, with a floral finial, crest, conforming angle mounts, and feet. St. Perrin was a rumored Rosicrucian during his tenure as royal clockmaker. This rumor eventually led to St. Perrin’s hanging in 1734. In the written account of Father Adrien Heroux, the Catholic priest who took St. Perrin’s final confession before his execution, the clockmaker admitted to having been secretly inducted into a blasphemous cult, but it was not the Rosicrucians. This cult was nameless, according to St. Perrin, and was first established by a pre-Adamite race that had inhabited the Earth long before humanity’s rise to dominance (see Chapter 7 of Unaussprechliche Kulten or Unspeakable Cults by Friedrich Wilhelm von Tölz). He claimed to have acquired arcane knowledge from the cult’s high fathers, knowledge which he used to enhance his craft. The few examples of St. Perrin’s artistry that have survived into modernity do include remarkable innovations that were not seen again until the latter half of the nineteenth century, such as self-adjusting and self-winding features, but none have the same notoriety as the Jade Clock, which was to be his piece de resistance. The Jade Clock was made by St. Perrin for his own ends and supposedly represented the pinnacle of his skill as a clockmaker. It is in the Heroux account that the curse is given its origin. St. Perrin built the clock to function as a timepiece for predicting the optimal times for summoning rituals. The clock signals this ideal time with an extra strike at the midnight hour of certain days, which are tracked by the smaller face. His original intent had been to summon a djinn, and, in the manner of King Solomon, bind it with spellcraft to do his bidding. Instead, St. Perrin summoned something else, an entity which feeds on the vitality of earthly life. In an attempt to send the entity back to its realm, he accidentally bound it to the clock, thus giving it periodic access to the material plane.Thinking that destroying the clock would unleash the demon upon mankind permanently, St. Perrin went to the high fathers of the nameless cult, who took possession of the Jade Clock and then promptly expelled St. Perrin. During his confession to Father Heroux, St. Perrin claimed the nameless cult conspired to have him charged as a Rosicrucian and executed as punishment for his crime of summoning the demon. The account of Father Heroux concludes with St. Perrin warning that anyone close enough to hear the Jade Clock strike thirteen times at midnight will fall prey to the malevolent entity.The clock then disappears for sixty years. Presumably, it remained in possession of the nameless cult until the French Revolution, where it reappears during the Reign of Terror. According to official documents from the Committee of Public Safety, a group of counter-revolutionaries were arrested in August of 1793, and the Jade Clock is listed among the items seized during the raid on the group’s meeting place. These individuals were summarily executed by guillotine without trial, and no information can be found pertaining to their identities, but it is logical to assume that they were members of the nameless cult.The first recorded case of the curse proper dates to the autumn of 1793 when the clock was in possession of Jacques de Lux, a French politician and contemporary of Maximilian Robespierre. De Lux was diagnosed with a wasting disease by his family physician, Dr. Bonheur, and died within a month. Near the end, faint with delirium, he is said to have blamed his illness on the Jade Clock. Dr. Bonheur, apparently unfazed by his patient’s censure, took the clock as payment for services rendered. He became the curse’s second recorded victim in the winter of 1793, struck by the same mysterious wasting disease as de Lux. The clock then disappears for another sixty years, resurfacing again in 1853 after the curse claimed its third recorded victim, a wealthy London merchant named Charles Wesley Culp-Richards. It was at this point that the curse of the Jade Clock entered the awareness of the general public, largely due to newspaper sensationalism. The clock then disappears entirely from history. Newspaper reports from 1853 and 1854 speculate the Jade Clock was reclaimed by the nameless cult, to whom the clock was originally entrusted, but the same reports give no evidence for this assertion. At the time of this writing, the whereabouts of the Jade Clock remain unknown.The curse manifests itself in the guise of a wasting disease wherein the victim is sapped of vital energy until the moment of death. Symptoms include rapid loss of weight, lethargy, headaches, fever, melancholic episodes, and loss of vitality. There is no known way to break the curse, as it is caused by an ethereal parasite of unknown origin.“My God,” I muttered. “Where did you get ahold of this thing?”“An estate sale up in Philadelphia,” Sal replied. “A wealthy collector died last month. The Jade Clock was part of his collection. I didn’t know what it was, not at first. It was a unique item, a beautiful piece of work. I wanted it as soon as I saw it, so I bought it and brought it home. Then, about two weeks ago, I heard it. I’d been reading for hours, trying to will myself to sleep, and the clock started chiming. I knew it was midnight. I’d stopped and listened to the clock every hour since I’d started reading, but then I counted thirteen strikes instead of twelve. At first I thought I’d imagined it, but then I had this awful dizzy spell that only lasted for a few seconds. It came on suddenly, and after it passed, I felt like I’d spent all day doing hard labor. I managed to make it to bed, and I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow. I didn’t wake up until well past eleven the next morning, and I was still exhausted. My subconscious must’ve registered the danger before I did because the first thing I thought of was the thirteenth strike I’d heard from the clock at midnight. It seemed to resonate with me as a memory of something I’d seen or read. That’s how I thought to look for it in Kirowan’s Catalogue.”He tapped some ash into the glass tray and continued to smoke. I took my pipe and puffed as I lit the bowl. The smell of Latakia and Honduran tobacco mingled in the air between my friend and me, and we shared contemplative silence for a minute or two.“How much time do you have left, Sal?” I asked.“Not long now,” he said. “I wanted to get my affairs in order before coming to see you. I wanted to ask you to do something for me after I’m gone.”“Of course,” I said. “Anything, Sal. Just name it.”He sat a little straighter in his chair. His brow furrowed, and his lips contorted into a hateful snarl. I could’ve been staring at an ancient war mask from some bygone era. Sal spoke very quietly but with an undercurrent of constrained rage that I had never heard from him before.“I want you to kill this thing for me,” he said. “Between the two of us, you’re the better researcher, and you’re already the best read in occult lore out of anyone else in the group. If there’s a way to kill this entity, I know you can find it. This thing is too dangerous to be left in the world. It has to be destroyed. Will you do that for me, Casper? Will you promise me that you’ll kill it?”I nodded. “I’ll do it, Sal. In God’s name, I’ll kill it for you. I promise.”Sal slumped back in his chair. His body seemed to contract like a deflating balloon, and his vicious face untwisted itself into an expression of relief.“Thank you,” he whispered. “All those years we spent investigating the supernatural, all the close calls we had, who would’ve thought something like this would get me? I feel like I’ve been snuck up on by a prowler.”I puffed a little at my pipe. “What have you learned about the entity so far?” I asked.“I’ve compiled my notes. Hopefully, they’ll give you a good head start. You’ll get them after the reading of my will, along with the clock, and some other things I’ve decided to leave you.”“You’re not dead yet, Sal!” I exclaimed. “Why didn’t you just bring them with you tonight?”“I didn’t want to waste time going over information I already know can’t help me,” Sal said. “I wanted to talk to my friend. My time is up, Casper. I can feel my life bleeding away. I’ll be dead tomorrow, if not sooner, and I have some things to say to you before I move on.”I sighed and rubbed my forehead. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but Sal had already accepted his fate with an iron stoicism that I had always admired in him but had failed to cultivate in myself. I was an intuitive, emotional creature, and a part of me just refused to accept that Sal was dying.“Okay, Sal. What do you want to talk about?”“Can I have another cigar?” he asked.I handed him another Maduro cigarillo, and I relit my pipe. Sal blew a cloud of smoke through pressed lips and sighed in satisfaction.“I want you to bury the hatchet with Jennifer,” he said. “This entity is too dangerous for you to face alone. You’re going to need her help, and Henry’s, if you’re to kill it without getting yourself killed in the process.”I felt my face redden at mention of Henry and Jennifer. I puffed at my pipe furiously, the hot smoke burning my mouth and tongue. The schism that had divided our once-tight circle, with me on one side, Henry and Jennifer on the other, and Sal caught hanging in the middle, had only widened over the years, and the thought of reconciliation made me sick with indignation. I had been wronged, not them! Sal must have known my thoughts because then he said, “They did nothing wrong, Casper. Jennifer made her choice, and she chose Henry. It’s that simple.”The briar grew too hot to hold in my hand, so I took the stem between thumb and forefinger and held it away from my lips to let it cool. In my head, I knew Sal was right, but my heart bore a grudge, and logic makes poor balm for a broken heart. What was I to do, then, deny my dying friend his last request? “I promise I’ll ask them for help. For you, Sal, I’ll ask them. But if they say no, I won’t beg.”“They won’t say no,” Sal said. “We were all friends once. You still can be. Henry and Jennifer are willing, but you can’t go on being a bitter bastard towards them. It’s not like you’ve been teaching Jennifer a lesson by giving her the cold shoulder all these years, and Henry didn’t steal her from you. Besides, I know you still love her.”“No, I don’t,” I said.“You wouldn’t resent her so much if you didn’t,” Sal said. His voice was becoming quieter, fainter. “It’s time to let go, Casper.”Sal slumped in his chair, and the cigar slipped from between his fingers. His eyes fell closed, and he ceased breathing. I knelt next to him and felt for a pulse at the wrist. There wasn’t one. My friend, Salvatore Moreno, was dead.#My name is Casper McKay, and I am, among other things, a researcher of the occult and investigator of things supernatural, but I am first and foremost a physician. For thirty years, I have explored the darkest corners of the Earth, seeking out ancient secrets and arcane knowledge, for the purpose of applying scientific inquiry to the paranormal. I was not alone in my endeavor. While I was a student at Dixie University in Cooke’s Town, I established lifelong bonds with others who shared my interests, and together we developed scientific methods to analyze paranormal phenomena. Salvatore Moreno was my best and oldest friend. We started out together as undergraduates in the medical program at Dixie University, he a foreign exchange student from Spain, and I a local yokel with ambitions of shaking off the dust of my hometown and traveling the world, healing the sick and injured. Sal quickly grew disenchanted and abandoned medicine for archaeology while I stayed the course. It was during our second year of college that we added a third member to our group, Jennifer Locke. Jennifer was a transplant from West Virginia, a dark haired, dark eyed Southern Belle who spoke with a thick country brogue. She was studying linguistics and had transferred to Dixie University to take advantage of the college library’s unique collection of medieval manuscripts. Languages were her special gift. When I first met Jennifer, she could already read and write in Latin and Greek and was fluent in both archaic and modern French.The three of us, sharing a mutual fascination for ancient lore and modern science, banded together to explore avenues of knowledge and learning that our contemporaries would have shunned. Little by little, the ancient secrets of the universe became known to us, and we eventually wandered into the dark and ambiguous realm of occultism. It was in the university library that we discovered a copy of John Dee’s Katelogos Musterion in the original Latin, an incredible find that fueled our zeal.Jennifer translated the text, and truths were revealed that were both fascinating and horrifying in their implications. It was from the Katelogos Musterion that we learned about the interchangeable nature of magic and mathematics, of the cyclical nature of time, and most stunning of all, the language of God and of the angels. More discoveries followed. The legendary Book of Dor, repudiated to have been written by Amon-Toth, a magician in the court of the last king of Atlantis, described the structure of the universe and of the ethereal planes beyond. We extrapolated a map of the Telluric Network and pinpointed the gateways leading to other worlds and dimensions beyond the Einsteinian space-time continuum. From the Kothic Manuscript, we read the history of the ancient pre-human races who had inhabited Earth in its dim and violent youth, of their accomplishments and their civilizations, and of numerous destructive wars fought between the natives of Earth and star-spawned conquerors who sought to make the planet their own. What was new to us in the modern age had been old in the days before the dinosaurs, and only the tiniest fragments had trickled down through the inestimable gulfs of antiquity through racial and collective memory.Our research brought us much knowledge, but what we all really longed for was experience. We wanted to conjure spirits from the netherworld, commune with ethereal creatures from beyond the Veil, work magic, and cross the gulfs of space and time to stand on alien planes where no human being had ever stood. It was when we added Henry Kelvin to our fantastic group that we made the leap from theory to practice. Henry was a physicist with a knack for invention and gadgetry. He had heard rumors of our group’s activities and had sought us out. I was in my first semester of medical school. Jennifer was a graduate student, and Sal had started his antique dealing business, but we all made time in our busy schedules to pursue our shared hobby. Henry was the one who launched our project into a new phase. It was he who took the ideas of Dee and derived the transcendental calculus, which enabled us to practice real magic. Henry built an array of detectors and sensors that could measure the ethereal, and for the first time we gathered hard evidence of the paranormal. Henry also devised a method of crossing interdimensional gateways safely. While our countrymen shot themselves into space inside metal capsules, we began to explore the truly unknown regions of the cosmos.Those early days were full of wonder and adventure, and we continued to push the boundaries of reality in hopes of even greater enlightenment. Sometimes we got more than we bargained for. One cannot venture too far off the beaten path and remain unmolested. We conversed with angels in their native tongue, exorcized demons, trapped ghosts, glimpsed alien vistas beyond human imagining, and fought shadowy cults pledged to old gods from The Great Before who sought to claim dominion of the Earth. We risked life and limb and sanity, yet we persevered, but all good things must come to an end.Ultimately, jealousy and manly pride broke our circle, and I was their source.It should be apparent to the reader by now that I was in love with Jennifer Locke, but my affections were not reciprocated. We were friends, and that was the way Jennifer liked it. She had rebuffed other suitors, so accepting the status quo was easy. That changed with Henry. From the moment they met, I could see she was smitten. She would become coquettish and playful in his presence, and I would boil in jealous rage. My only consolation was that Henry seemed to be as dismissive of Jennifer’s affections as she had been of mine, at least at first.I finally graduated with my medical degree and moved north to begin my residency in Providence. Sal’s business had grown, and he had started to make himself wealthy dealing in antique furniture, timepieces, and rare first edition books. Jennifer and Henry remained at the university and took up academic posts in their respective disciplines. The demands of our professional lives took priority. We still managed to devote time to our joint research, but the fervor of the old days was severely diminished.It was during this period that Henry and Jennifer became an item, an event which drove me into a depressive state. I went home to Cooke’s Town fewer and fewer times each year, but Sal always made time to come see me in Providence. He kept me abreast of things, including when Henry and Jennifer announced their intention to marry. Sal brought me my invitation. As I held the embellished paper envelope with my name engraved upon it, the accumulated resentment of years surged into my hands, and I tore the invitation to shreds, resolving then and there to cut ties with them both.I completed my residency and embarked on a new chapter in my life. I realized the ambition of my youth and traveled the world practicing medicine. I treated malaria in Africa, built hospitals in the Amazon, and performed surgery in war-torn regions of the Far East, all the while acquiring new sources of ancient wisdom from the natives I came into contact with. I heard the Chants of Sahmah-Yō, the verbal history of the legendary lost city of Z, sung by the illusive Xengu tribe. I witnessed a witchdoctor perform the Gogama ritual and revive a man who had been dead for three days. I learned the secret of immortality from an excommunicated Tibetan priest who claimed to have been a young man when Attila the Hun ravaged Europe.It was in Tibet that my reach finally exceeded my grasp. I had done everything in my power to save the life of a peasant boy, but typhoid fever had already ravaged his body by the time I began administering the standard course of antibiotics. In a moment that I have come to regret with all my heart and soul, I decided to defy death and God. I performed the Gogama ritual in an attempt to revive the boy, but something went wrong, and an act of mercy tainted by arrogance became an act of supreme blasphemy. I won’t describe what happened. The memory, even now after all these years, is too disturbing for me to put into words. I will only say that what I brought back was not the boy, but something hungry and insatiable, something I had to send back to the pit from whence I had summoned it with a well-placed bullet from my pistol.After that, I foreswore occultism and magic. Like most people, I had only learned where to draw the line by going too far, and I realized that there really were things in which man was not meant to meddle. So after seven years of wandering over the Earth, I returned home.Cooke’s Town had changed very little in the intervening years. I took a teaching position at the university’s medical school and tried to put down roots in my hometown. Sal was overjoyed at my return, and I was equally happy to have my old friend close at hand. He was the only one in whom I confided my experiences abroad. We had plumbed the depths of stygian horror together, but I had gone on to find even darker depths, and I don’t think I could’ve made the adjustment back to domestic life without his encouragement and sympathetic ear. As for Jennifer and Henry, who were happily married, I rebuffed their attempts to renew our friendship, but I was cordial enough when I couldn’t avoid them.Years passed. Occasionally, Sal and I investigated a case together. Hauntings were our specialty, and law enforcement would sometimes consult us if they thought a murder had an occult angle, but for the most part, my life and the world of the supernatural had separated like oil and water. Then Sal died and shook everything up again.#There was a visitation, but no funeral. Sal’s body was to be sent back to the old country so his family could lay him to rest in the ancestral plot. The visitation was held at the funeral home, where I met Henry and Jennifer. My grief outweighed my bitterness, and I embraced each in turn when they offered me affection. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” Jennifer said, her cheeks moist.“Did he tell you about the curse?” I asked.She nodded. “We’re going to kill this thing. Right, Casper? Together?”Her eyes were red and brimming with tears, but her face was hard, and I saw that her desire for revenge was as intense as my own. “Together,” I said. “For Sal.”My vow seemed to reassure her. Her expression became softer, and she hugged me again. Henry was cool and levelheaded, as usual. He had a visage as inscrutable as a cigar store Indian, and most people might’ve dismissed Henry as another passive intellectual. Most people hadn’t seen Henry wrathful, but I had. Behind his mask of reserve lurked a wild animal that could be as terrible as any demon spawn from the Inner Pit when aroused to action. Luckily, it took a lot to fray Henry’s nerves. Time had been kinder to Henry than to me. His ash blonde hairline had receded a little, forming a distinct widow’s peak, but he retained the physicality of his college years. He stood a full head and shoulders taller than me and was built like a quarterback; although, he had never played football, or any other sport, for as long as I had known him. I had forfeited the battle of the bulge around the same time that my hair had quit the field that was my head, and I felt the familiar rancor of jealousy stir within me. “I broke out our old equipment and reserved a lab at the university for us to use,” Henry said. “How do you want to approach this?”“We don’t know what we’re dealing with yet,” I said, “so we should stick to the King Solomon Protocol. That’ll cover the usual suspects.”Henry nodded in agreement. “When do you get the clock?”“Tomorrow, after the will gets read,” I replied.“We’ll be there, too,” said Jennifer. “We can take it straight to the lab and get to work.”“Works for me,” I said.We didn’t speak again until after the visitation. Sal’s casket was loaded into a hearse, and we watched it drive away until it disappeared. “Would you like to have dinner with us tonight?” Jennifer asked. “We’ll drink a toast to Sal.”My first reaction was to say no, even though I wanted to accept. I was torn between my desire to reminisce on old times with old friends and a need to protect my pride. Jennifer must have sensed my reticence, and she wore me down until I answered in the affirmative. “Dinner’s at six,” she said with a smile. “You know where the house is, don’t you?”I nodded and went home. Later that evening, I had dinner with the Kelvins, and after the meal we sat and drank a fifteen year old bottle of red Spanish wine, which had been a wedding gift from Sal. I made the first toast:“To His Majesty, Salvatore Moreno, heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Hispania.”I thought Sal would’ve gotten a chuckle out of that one. We clinked glasses and drank. The alcohol gradually deadened my self-consciousness, and we reflected fondly on our mutual friend. At some point Henry left the room, leaving me and Jennifer alone. “It’s been a while, Casper,” she said. “Are we going to see more of you?”“I’d like that,” I said. “I’m sorry I’ve been…well, y’know.”“It was harder on Henry,” she said. “He felt guilty for a while.”“What do you mean?” I asked.“Did you think he was just oblivious for all that time? He kept me at arm’s length out of respect for you because he knew how you felt about me.”I stared down into my wine glass. “I didn’t know that.”“I need to know we can be friends, like in the old days,” she continued. “It’s just the three of us left, and I didn’t think we’d start dying off this soon.” She choked and began to sob. “I can’t promise things will be like the old days,” I said. “I’m not the same person I used to be. Neither are you or Henry. But I promise I’ll be a friend to you both.”Jennifer stopped crying and began drying her tears with a piece of tissue. By the time Henry returned, she was fresh as a daisy. I wasn’t sure how to feel about getting close to Henry and Jennifer again. I thought I might have made a promise I couldn’t keep, but I resolved to try anyway. Sal had been right. I needed to get over myself.#We met again the next day at the law offices of Griffin & Dunn, Sal’s attorneys. Mr. Griffin, a tall but rotund man, read the will. Sal’s business was to be liquidated and sold off. The money would cover any debts he had, and the rest would go to his family. His estate was likewise to be auctioned off, but he had left us a few things. Henry got a seventeenth century Baroque style bookcase and desk. Jennifer received a Swiss armoire. The Jade Clock went to me. I also received an envelope containing Sal’s research on the clock, and Sal’s whole library.Sal had been a fanatical collector, not just of occult literature, but of priceless first editions. Instantly, my own library increased by five hundred volumes. I felt overwhelmed that Sal should bequeath me such a treasure trove.“Mr. Moreno named me the executor of his estate,” Griffin said. “I can unlock the house for you. You just need to tell me when you’d like to pick up your items.”“I’d like to get the clock today,” I said. “As for the books, I’ll need to make a place for them first.”Our business concluded, Henry and Jennifer went to prepare the lab while I collected the clock from Sal’s house. The Jade Clock sat on Sal’s desk along with an envelope inscribed with my name. Its description in Kirowan’s Catalogue hardly did the clock justice. The case shimmered like a polished emerald, and its bronze appointments twinkled as they caught the light. I picked it up and tested its weight. It was lighter than I’d expected given its dimensions, and although I could hear its inner mechanism at work, it did not produce the typical ticking sound associated with classical timepieces. I took special note of the smaller dial, which indicated twenty-two days until the next occurrence of the curse.Thank God, we’ve got some time, I said to myself. With the clock under one arm and the folder under the other, I set off for the university.#Boshart Hall, the physics building, was a three-story building adjacent to the Quad. Like most of the university’s structures, it was made of dark gray limestone blocks mined from the local quarry and constructed in the Colligate Gothic style of architecture. I found Henry and Jessica waiting for me, and they led me to one of the laboratories on the top floor.The King Solomon Protocol was a procedure we had developed for containing demons, ghosts, and otherworldly entities of varying classes. On one of the long worktables, someone had drawn the Liber Daemonum version of Solomon’s seal in felt-tipped pen. Directly above the seal, sketched on the ceiling in the same ink, was John Dee’s Universal Glyph from his Katalegos Musterion. I placed the clock inside the invisible column of protection created by seal and glyph, and Jennifer immediately enclosed it inside a Faraday cage. Several large equipment cases were open on an adjacent table, and Henry began waving one detector after another around the cursed clock.Jennifer and I opened Sal’s research. There wasn’t much to go on, only three pages of handwritten notes. Sal had concentrated on trying to identify the entity and pinpoint its home dimension. The sixty-day timer on the Jade Clock had been a vital clue:The demon seems to inhabit a pocket universe or dimensional manifold with a maximum periodicity of sixty-days in relation to our visible universe. That rules out most of the Local Orrery but leaves the Kaluza Spaces and the Veil. Not very encouraging. I would’ve hoped for something from the Inner Pit.From another suitcase, Jennifer produced two leather-bound tomes with iron hasps. One was Johann Weyl’s Liber Daemonum, often called the occultist’s encyclopedia of demons. The other was The Book of Dor, whose pages mapped the multiverse. Together, in conjunction with Sal’s clues, we used their ancient wisdom to deduce what species of ethereal entity we were likely to deal with.The witching hour is not optimal for every summoning, Sal wrote. Maybe the entity prefers a dark environment?“Henry,” I asked, “where are photosensitive ethereal lifeforms more likely to come from: the Veil or one of the Kaluza realms?”Looking up from his instruments, which were clicking and buzzing rhythmically, he replied, “They both contain dark universes, but the Veil is statistically more likely since it’s totally made up of universes in heat death.”“Would it be visible on our plane?” Jennifer asked.“Probably not,” Henry said. “It would likely reflect light in the invisible region of the spectrum. Between infrared and ultra-low frequency radio waves.”Jennifer and I continued to comb through the esoterica, but we only barely narrowed down the possibilities.“It’s either a seltsamer geist from the Inner Veil or a lebensvampir from an ontological Kaluza space,” Jennifer announced. “They‘re both psychic parasites, and they keep feeding off their host’s bioetheric energy even after they return to their home plane.”“So it’s a draw between a weird wraith and a vampire,” Henry said. “You can’t say for certain which it is?”“Not without more to go on,” I said. “What about the clock itself?”“It’s mostly inactive, but I am picking up some ethereal radiation. I don’t think it’s coming from inside, though. I think it’s coming from the case.” Henry removed the Faraday cage and held a magnifying glass up to the clock. “You say this is jade?”“That’s what the arcana says,” I replied. “What’s it look like to you?”“I’d like a second opinion,” Henry said, “but I think the only thing this stone has in common with jade is the color.”“Well, we’ve got twenty-two days to figure out how to hold this thing and kill it,” Jennifer said. “Any ideas?”“The lore is pretty clear about how to hurt a photosensitive ethereal,” I said.Henry was already ahead of me. “Light,” he said. “But what’s it going to take to kill it? Powerful light or intense light? Are we talking watts or lumens or candela?”“Unfortunately, not everything we need to know is in the lore,” I said with a sigh. “We’re going to have to hit the books.”“Sounds like we’ve got homework, kids,” Jennifer said with a grin.#Over the next three weeks, we threw ourselves into our work with all the gusto of youth. The good old days were back again; although, Sal’s absence was a constant reminder that our fantastic family was no longer complete. It was with Sal in mind that I dove headfirst back into the world of occultism and forbidden knowledge. Our lives resumed the tempo of our school days, where our daylight hours were devoted exclusively to our professional commitments, but we burned the midnight oil researching ancient lore, arcana, and physics.Jennifer and I continued our efforts to positively identify our coming adversary, but even with Sal’s library at my disposal, we couldn’t narrow down our list of suspects to an absolute certainty. On one thing, the lore was certain: intense light would send the entity scampering back to the comfort of its dark realm like a verminous cockroach seeking the safety of the shadows. Unfortunately, being bound to the Jade Clock, it would always return to wreak havoc on mankind, and there was very little written in the way of actually terminating ethereal lifeforms. It was in a book written by an obscure Arab mathematician and mystic named Ahmed al-Azif that I found a breakthrough. Al-Azif was expanding upon another treatise he had written on the properties of stained glass and wrote that certain djinn, or demons, were more vulnerable to specific colors of light than others. He based his assertion on an odd magical formula which I recognized as having elements of a differential equation. I showed it to Henry, who virtually exploded with excitement. “This al-Azif must’ve been a Leibniz in his day,” he said. “I can use this formula to calculate the specific frequency of electromagnetic radiation that’s lethal to our entity. If I’m reading this correctly, the lethality of light is proportional to the distance between our position in the Local Orrery and the entity’s home dimension.”“That’s a problem,” Jennifer said. “We haven’t found his home dimension. It’s still a draw between the Inner Veil and the Kaluza Spaces.”“Those realms are close enough, ontologically speaking, that what’ll kill an entity from the Inner Veil will certainly kill one from a Kaluza space,” Henry said.Henry, of course, already had the idea of a weapon in mind, and my discovery simply gave him the confidence to pursue it. The issue of the entity’s invisibility on our plane was also a concern, but Henry already had a solution for that problem, too. One evening, while we were gathered at my home, he presented a queer looking pair of battery-powered goggles.“These ought to do the trick,” he said. “This set will allow the wearer to see infrared light. I’ve been prototyping it for the military, but they kill the batteries in less than an hour.”“That’s more than enough time,” I said, admiring the workmanship. “But what if it’s only visible at lower wavelengths?”“Then I cast a spell,” Jennifer said, pointing out a magical incantation in the Katalegos Musterion. “This should make it visible in our plane no matter where it’s from.”I read the incantation then stopped short. “Jen,” I said, “this spell requires a constant flow of bioetheric energy. It’ll exhaust you physically in a matter of minutes.”The mystics of antiquity had various names for the spiritual energy of living beings. The Chinese called it chi. For the Polynesians, it was mana. The Iroquois: orenda. Among the medieval alchemists, it was called quintessence. In our circle, we called it bioetheric energy, and like all energy, it could change form and be used to do work. In our case, work meant magic.The spell Jennifer indicated required a lot of bioetheric energy. In ancient times, practitioners had offered blood sacrifices to their elder gods in exchange for more of this energy than a human body could otherwise provide, so as to avoid depleting themselves of vitality. Since invoking the elder gods was out of the question, Jennifer would have to sustain the spell by herself.“I can do it,” Jennifer said. Sensing our concern, she added, “If I have to. It’ll be a backup in case the goggles don’t cut it.”Henry continued to probe the clock and subjected it to the utmost scrutiny. He consulted with a colleague from the geology department and concluded that the stone was, in fact, neither jadeite nor nephrite but a wholly different variety of green-colored mineral whose chemical properties were decidedly unearthly.When our attempts to open the case and examine the clock’s inner machinery failed, we resorted to X-ray photography to reveal its secrets. The ethereal radiation clouded some of the photographs, and we weren’t able to see everything we wished to. What we did see left us awestruck. It was an assemblage of, at least, thirty gears of varying sizes, including a differential train, yet the greater sixty percent of the mechanism remained invisible to us, including the power source, which seemed to eliminate the need for manual winding. Ultimately, the clock revealed little that we didn’t already know. It was less a timepiece and more of an analog computer whose complex gear work calculated solutions to an equation of extra-dimensional time.I wish I could say that my old jealousies were just that, old and forgotten, but the longer I worked alongside Henry and Jennifer, the more strongly that green-eyed monster reasserted itself. My thoughts would wander into unproductive and disturbing avenues of speculation, especially when I caught glimpses of their affection for one another. Who is she, that trollop, to reject me? What’s so special about him? I’ve proven my superiority ten times over. I’ve journeyed where no man should go, and I came out alive. My knowledge is superior. My skill is superior. Am I not worthy of recognition, of affection, on my merits alone?Then something inside me would flip, like a switch, and I would feel overwhelmed with shame for harboring such base emotions for people who had done me no wrong, and were, for all my protestations to the contrary, my best friends. Finally, I would reach a state of indifference and resume my research with numb detachment.This cycle of hate, guilt-bashing, and apathy repeated itself throughout the three week period in which we worked diligently to prepare for the coming confrontation, and it exhausted me mentally as well as physically.The manifestation was less than a week away when Henry revealed the weapon. The main component was a glass tube roughly three inches long and a half-inch wide. Henry had made a hard plastic mold cast in the shape of a grip for the tube to rest in like the barrel of a gun. It had the look of something a mad scientist might have pieced together from odds and ends that he’d found in a junk drawer. “What’s it supposed to be?” I asked. “Mr. Spock’s phaser?”“You’re not far off,” Henry said. “It’s a laser.”“Like in Goldfinger?” I asked.“This one isn’t as impressive,” Henry said. “It won’t cut through metal or even human flesh, but it will cut a weird wraith, or an energy vampire, like a blowtorch cuts butter.”He took the laser, aimed it at the nearest wall, and pressed a button on the grip as though he were pulling a trigger. The tube emitted an unnatural, angry radiance, and at the same time I saw a glowing red dot appear on the wall. It was tiny, almost unnoticeable. Jennifer turned off the lights, and the dot became more pronounced. It moved in tandem with the motions of Henry’s hand. Wherever he pointed the end of the laser, the dot followed.“That’s it?” I asked.“Trust me,” Henry said. “The beam of light produced by this device is deadly to the entity. The tube is filled with a mix of helium and neon. Pressing this trigger closes an electric circuit. By applying a high-voltage current to the tube, electromagnetic radiation is liberated from the gasses in the form of coherent photons, or light particles that travel in straight lines. The technology has been around for about a decade now. The physics department has been working with Oak Ridge to miniaturize it.”I played with the laser for a few moments, “shooting” the walls of the physics lab and drawing squiggles with the red dot. “Congratulations, Henry,” I said. “You’ve reinvented the teacher’s pointer!”#Finally, after twenty-two days of preparation, we met at Boshart Hall to await the thirteenth strike of midnight. We had built a larger Faraday cage out of chain-link fencing in one of the basement rooms, again with Dee’s glyph drawn above Solomon’s Seal. In principle, the symbols combined would prevent the entity from escaping to another plane once it manifested fully into our universe, and the Faraday cage would keep it confined to a finite volume of three-dimensional space.It was a good strategy, one we had utilized to great effect before, but it still failed spectacularly. When I look back on that night and reflect on how close we all came to annihilation, I thank God that I did not yield to temptation.The basement room was dark and musty and as cold as a crypt. Its concrete walls produced a tomblike silence. Intent on keeping my promise to avenge Sal, I insisted on being the entity’s assassin, so I wore the infrared goggles and held the laser in my hand while Jennifer and Henry stood near the door to the hallway.For a long time, the only sound in the room was our breathing. We knew midnight was upon us, but the clock’s first chimes still sent my heart into my throat. They split the silence like a series of exploding mortar shells. My skin prickled and crawled as I counted the strokes. The nausea of approaching terror nearly made me sick, but at the thirteenth strike I willed my nerves into steel. My vision, enhanced by Henry’s infrared goggles, was a panorama of colors, and within the space of the Faraday cage I saw something like an inky blot form around the clock.It was an indescribable manifestation of eldritch horror, a formless, unnamable thing, a thing without dimension, yet I could intuit its awareness. It had nothing that resembled visual organs of any sort, but I knew it was watching me, studying me, and it seemed to know that it was visible to me when it shouldn’t have been. The amorphous aspect of the creature was more than my brain could handle. Was it smoke or liquid? It could move like both and with the sinuous grace of a sliding serpent.I was momentarily stunned, mesmerized by the ghastly inhumanity of the thing. Before I could raise the laser to shoot it, the entity seemed to fold into itself. Its size and shape contracted, as though it were getting smaller. Then it vanished altogether. Again, I felt terror send my heart racing, and I ripped the goggles off my face.“Lights!” I screamed, and Henry flipped on the light. “Jen, cast that spell. Quick!”Jennifer made a gesture with her right hand and spoke the incantation from the Katalegos Musterion. Her voice echoed eerily as she did so, and the whole atmosphere within the room became suffused with golden iridescence. I watched with horror as the formless, shapeless entity reappeared, only it was no longer confined to the Faraday cage. It was out.I watched as it slipped and slithered like a cloud of vapor through the air toward Henry and Jennifer. It seemed to ignore me altogether, and at once I saw a means of eliminating my romantic rival and revenging myself upon the shrew who’d rejected me. All I had to do was wait and let the entity have its way with them. Then, all at once, I let out an angry cry and turned the laser on the creature. The beam had an effect on the creature like fire on paper. Each shot burned a hole through the entity’s body. Every slice opened blazing gashes in its crawling flesh. A ghastly wail made my ears ring. It was as though the Pit itself had opened and unleased the cries of the eternally damned to assault our ears. I kept shooting and slashing at the creature with the laser until I could see nothing left of it, and gradually its death howl died away.When the room finally fell silent again, Jennifer collapsed to her knees and the golden light which had infused the basement room disappeared, leaving us illuminated by the single incandescent bulb which hung from the ceiling. Maintaining the spell had drained her physically, just as we had feared it would. Her normally milky skin was flush and slick with sweat, as if she had been under enormous physical exertion. Henry and I helped her upstairs, and he drove her to the emergency room. I retrieved the clock and followed behind them. Jennifer had had a seizure due to an electrolyte imbalance, and the doctor’s held her overnight for observation after stabilizing her. We both stayed by her side until the doctor discharged her the following morning.“Did we get it?” she asked as Henry wheeled her out of the hospital. “Is it dead?”“As dead as something like an ethereal can be,” Henry said. “Casper kept hacking away at it until there was nothing left.”“I just remember hearing that awful noise,” Jennifer said. “Like it was screaming in pain.”“I hope it was loud enough for Sal to hear,” I said.Henry drove Jennifer homer and put her to bed then he met me back at Boshart Hall. We scanned the basement room with detectors and found it awash in ethereal radiation.“I’d say it’s the equivalent of blood spatter,” Henry said. “Nice work, Casper.”“You built the gun,” I replied. “I was only the triggerman.”Another scan of the clock revealed that it was no longer ethereally radioactive. The curse of the Jade Clock had finally been broken. Later that night, I sat on my patio with a scotch in one hand and a fine Cameroon smoldering between the fingers of the other. I poured a finger of liquor into an empty glass. Then I clipped the end off of a cigarillo, lit it, and placed it unsmoked on the edge of the ashtray. Taking my own glass, I clinked it against the other in a toast.“We got it, Sal,” I said. “We got it good.”I drank my scotch, smoked my cigar, and watched the cigarillo slowly burn out. From its new perch on a mantle in my living room, I heard the Jade Clock ring out the chimes of midnight.The next day, I met Henry and Jennifer for coffee in the cafeteria to discuss the previous evening’s events.“How did it go from infrared to radio the way it did?” I asked. “Ethereals can’t normally change the way they manifest between dimensions.”“I think we had it wrong,” Jennifer said. “I think it was a wandering wraith, an entity that could transition between parallel planes. It could’ve originated from the Kaluza Spaces or the Veil, but somehow St. Perrin’s spell gave it the ability to travel between the two.”“That might mean the time equation being computed by the clock is actually for a wormhole or some other gateway in an erratic orbit around our local universe,” Henry said. “When the wraith saw it was trapped inside the Faraday cage, it went back through the wormhole and climbed down into a lower dimension so that it could manifest in our plane as high-frequency radio waves and escape the cage.”“How far down would it have to go to slip underneath the seal and the glyph, too?” I asked.Henry made a face I hadn’t seen him make often. It was the face he made when he was stumped. “I’m not sure,” he said. “All the way down, I guess. Out of hyperspace altogether and into subspace, but that would mean this hypothetical wormhole connects the Plank scale with the celestial scale and everything in between.”“That might be something interesting to check out,” Jennifer said. “I think we’re overdue for a road trip.”Henry and I looked at each other, and I shrugged. “I’ve got plenty of vacation time saved up,” I said.Author’s note: This little yarn is dedicated to the original titan of terror, H.P. Lovecraft, the sire of sword-and-sorcery, Robert E. Howard, the count of occult detective fiction, Seabury Quinn, the marquis of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, the dean of dark fantasy, Michael Moorcock, and the baron of HorrorBabble, Ian Gordon, whose voice I heard narrate this story while I wrote it.
The Last TaleThe Last TaleThe plush and exclusive club of Humphrey's was warm and humming with conversation. A slightly sick man gesticulated at his two friends sitting at the maroon and gold highlighted table in the corner."There it was, the giant looming beast! It roared, flinging its stench ridden spittle at me," Chalmers said while waving his arms around. His reflection tried to copy his movements.A fly buzzed around his head.I gazed at my dinner companion, and wondered about his condition. There was something off, a pallor covered his skin even though he was quite animated telling his tale. Chalmers was the go to guy for a ripping yarn, and now he didn't disappoint. Good old Chalmers.Fredericks squinted. "I say, old chap, what did you do?" He reached for his glasses, and put them on then he drank some of his brandy.Chalmers turned to Fredericks. "Well, I raised my elephant gun to fire of course! Finally after weeks of stomping through beastly swamps smelling god knows what, I would get my trophy! Also the poor savages that live in this wet and steamy place would be grateful."More flies buzzed around Chalmers as he continued. He ignored them.I thought I smelled something not quite fresh, but I'm not sure. Even glanced at my almost empty plate. Nothing left, but bones and a small bit of mashed potatoes. I scooped that up and ate it. Might not get time later to finish. Hoped I could keep it down in case things got worse."I aimed at the creature, and pulled the trigger, but the beast was too fast! Its legs were a blur like that Norse god's horse. You know, the one with the eight legs. Wished I had one of those. My time at the track would've been more fruitful. So much of my money ran away with the nags!Where was I?Oh yeah, my encounter with the Bandesh K'adamchi or was it K'amdchi Banidesh? Bugger it! It was some disgusting horror of the swamp. What happened next did take the piss, or as you would say Fredericks, acquired the urine.Bugger, my shot went wide and split a sapling! I was certainly not going to bring that back! Things did look a bit concerning, but I wasn't going to give up!" Chalmers said. He frowned as though his gun had betrayed him.His skin was less pale now, and was a sickly green color. Now I did smell something rotten. He was surrounded by even more flies, but for some reason he ignored them."I stepped back and fired again! The beast caught the blast in the chest! I saw the chunks of its cursed flesh fly away. I was quite sure it was done for!" Chalmers exclaimed. He tried to grin widely, but it reminded me too much like a skull instead of our dear friend.The smell of rotten flesh increased. Some of the skin on Chalmer's face looked really soft like it was going to fall off any second.I wondered if the other guests in the club would notice. A quick glance showed they were too busy with their own affairs. The preparations had been done well."What happened next, Chalmers old boy?" Fredericks asked. He leaned forward to not miss the rest of the story.Chalmers sighed. Liquids gurgled in his throat.The reek of almost liquid flesh was strong enough for me to regret sitting so close, but I also wanted to know what happened next."What happened next? Don't keep us in suspense!" Fredericks urged."The angry creature knocked my gun aside like I was a newly fledged hunter, and I barely knew how to handle a weapon. I spent a lot of money on that gun. and now it was flying into the forest to probably get smashed against some rock or buried in stinking mud," Chalmers said.Some things were burrowing in his flesh, and his eyes had turned milky white.Chalmers slumped forward like he ran out of energy. With a tired wheeze, he continued. "Then it pushed me back and down like one of those aggressive harlots you find in a low-class brothel. Heck, it even had that same look. Beady black eyes cold with predatory hunger. The foul beast's blood covered my hunting jacket with stomach turning gore.While it was staring at me I groped for the hunting knife on my waist. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to do. I could see that the thing's heart was a bloody mess. Why was it still alive? But I wasn't going to give up the ghost that easily.Well, that's what I thought. It had enough sense to hold my right arm down while it tore me to shreds with the other hand and its slavering jaws. Then I died. I have to say my death was most uncomfortable. "Several bits of flesh fell off of Chalmer's face, and landed on the table with disquieting plops. Maggots crawled out of his still hands. The stench that wafted from the corpse, well, let's say it was quite stomach turning.I'm just an elementalist with some background in illusion magic.Fredericks was the necromancer. He had probably smelled worse.I didn't. It took a lot of my willpower to keep my expensive food down. Also vomiting on a dear friend is definitely pretty rude. Chalmers should rest in peace after this, and not have bodily fluids splashed on him.I sighed. "I owe you one, Fredericks."Fredericks shrugged. "Well, I now know that dead men can tell tales. Chalmers definitely had one left."I nodded. "Yes." It took me a few moments to focus on a fire spell that would just burn the body to ashes then another one to burn them. After that, I dispelled the illusion that hid what was going on at our table. I'm quite sure the other patrons wouldn't appreciate seeing a talking corpse or it turning into an unsightly stinking pile of flesh. Those things should've been done in one of the special rooms they have in the back. Unfortunately, our funds couldn't support renting any of those.Fredericks pulled out his wallet, and paid the bill as well as the tip. "Next week, same time?"For a moment, I hesitated. "Yes, but this time no reanimating old friends."Fredericks nodded. "Sure. It's not like we have many of those left."We left the club.
Mystery

Mature Content

Terror of Camp Evergreen Chapter 20 by MisterMistoffelees
Fantasy
Dragon's World- What Being a Dragon Feels LikeTitus hovered in front of the bathroom mirror, keeping his wing beats at a steady pace, his front legs tucked against his chest and his back legs and tail simply hanging as he studied himself. He turned his head to the left, keeping his eyes focused on the mirror, then he turned his head right, still keeping his attention on his reflection. As he then looked straight so that he and his reflection were making full on eye contact, he proceeded to move his claws around to his mouth and, as best as his dragon form’s front legs would allow, he stuck both his claws that would serve as his index fingers in his human form into the centers of the top and bottom parts of his mouth and pulled on them, taking great care not to scratch his gums with his sharp claws so that his fangs were on full display. As he had done before, he observed them for a moment, then he released the hold he had on his draconic mouth. He grinned widely at himself, baring his sharp, powerful fangs in the mirror once more, giggling to himself as he did. Afterwards, Titus tried to roar. “Raaaaaarrr!!!” Titus’s roar sounded like a mix between somewhat of an actual roar and more a human’s attempt at one, nothing at all like the angry roars he made back when he was fighting to protect Sarah which sounded much more draconic. It didn’t surprise him that his roar wasn’t as good as other dragon’s. It had been only a year since he learned that he even was a dragon and although he was becoming more used to his true heritage, it still felt alien to him. To Titus, it was as though he was discovering who he was for the first time in his life, not just discovering a new part of himself. “Titus! Sarah and Lucas are here!” Jessie called up to her brother-in-law. “Coming!” Titus yelled back. Titus flew over to the bathroom door and, carefully maneuvering his draconic digits, gripped the door handle and opened the door. He lowered to the ground and stepped out into the hallway, deciding that he wanted to stay in his true form for a while. It wasn’t as though his friends and family hadn’t become accustomed to seeing him in his dragon form anyway and besides, it wasn’t like he would be parading himself around them naked…right? Titus thought to himself that he may have been a mythical creature but he still had the same intelligence as a dragon that he had as a human so he wondered if that might make any difference.“Titus!” Jessie called up the stairs again. “I’m coming!” said Titus hurriedly. In the living room, Titus found Sarah, Lucas, Ben, Jessie, Jackie, and Kyle waiting for him. He beamed at the sight of his two best friends and rushed over to them. “Now the gang’s all here!” Lucas said ecstatically. “My best human friend and my best dragon friend!” “Hey, guys!” Titus happily greeted his friends, his tail wagging around excitedly. “Decided to go dragon, huh, Titus?” asked Sarah. Titus grinned up at the teenage girl. “Of course!”As Titus and his friends were talking amongst each other, Jessie watched her brother-in-law, a smile on her face as she admired his true form. Jessie adored Titus’s dragon form. Every time she would see Titus as a dragon, she would always comment on how cute he was. Even though Titus did enjoy his sister-in-law complimenting his draconic appearance, her comments would often make him blush which would make everyone, especially Lucas, poke fun at him, telling him that his scales were turning purple. “So cute,” said Jessie without thinking.This comment caused everyone to turn their focus to Jessie which also caused the conversation Titus, Lucas, and Sarah were having with one another to cease. Jessie looked around at her husband, children, brother-in-law, and his friends, feeling somewhat embarrassed about absent mindedly saying something. “I mean, I can’t help it. You really are a cute little dragon, Titus! I know it’s been a year already but what can I say?” Jessie defended herself, getting down to Titus’s level and hugging him. As if on command, Titus blushed, a smile forming on his muzzle as he embraced the hug from his sister-in-law. Lucas snickered at his lifelong friend’s blushing which caught Titus’s attention. “You’re turning purple again, Titus! Keep blushing like that and you’ll eventually turn into Spyro!” Lucas teased. “Oh, ha ha!” replied Titus sarcastically. “Let’s just get to the movie.” "What movie is it, by the way?" asked Titus as he glanced towards his brother and sister-in-law. "You still haven't told us." "The Heroes of Pehnthir," replied Jessie. "Came out recently. Did you watch it?" Both Titus and Jackie shook their heads in unison. "That's a bit surprising," she smiled "I expected it'd capture your attention, at least for you two." "Why?" asked Titus, puzzled. "You'll see." Shortly, everyone sat down as Ben turned the TV on, prepared the movie and pressed play. With that, a dramatic male voice introduced them to the story. *“A long time ago, peace reigned over the land of Pehnthir. Until the come of the wizard and wicked king, and with them, an evil, fearsome dragon. Under their force, the once beautiful land was subjugated and enslaved. But not so long after, came a prophecy. One day, a group of heroes would emerge from the ashes, and put an end to their evil does once and for all. Not your usual heroes though...but five young kids. A human...an elf...a dragonlet...and two half-dragons, one of whom will come to learn of her true nature as a half-dragon. One which she never knew she had. This is the story of the Heroes of Phenthir!" Jessie looked and Ben and Titus, who in turn looked at her. "You're right. It's strange we missed this movie," commented Titus. Ben instead had some uneasiness within his eyes, like if there was a reason for worry.As the movie got underway, everybody was watching, their attention glued to the screen. Ben and Jessie sat together on their couch with Lucas sitting on the floor to the right of the couch and Sarah to the left. Titus, Kyle, and Jackie sat together on the floor, closest to the tv. As the movie introduced the young dragon who took on a human form, Kyle’s attention changed from the movie to his uncle. He glanced away from his uncle then back to the movie before allowing his eyes to fall back onto his uncle once more. After a short while, Titus noticed Kyle staring at him.“What’s up, Kyle?” Titus asked his nephew, trying to keep his voice at a softer tone so that he didn’t disrupt the movie. Though Titus had tried to speak softer, everyone still took note of him and Kyle. Ben grabbed the remote and paused the movie so that nobody missed anything and so that his brother and son didn’t end up talking over the movie. “Well, you’re a dragon like the kid in the movie, and you can turn into a human like him too,” Kyle began. “Yeah?” Titus said questioningly. “So, what does being a dragon feel like then?” Kyle asked. “What does it feel like?” Titus asked in response. The small blue dragon thought of an answer. It hadn’t been that long since he first learned about his dragon side yet he had adjusted to it so quickly that it had become like second (or perhaps rather first?) nature to him. His head rocked back and forth as he tried to come up with an answer. Just then, a thought crept into Titus’s head. He grinned mischievously to himself having just thought up the perfect response. Not wanting anyone to notice, he quickly composed himself by taking a deep breath and looking towards his nephew. “Well, I guess being a dragon makes me hungrier than when I’m a human,” Titus answered. “It makes you hungrier?” Kyle asked back, not expecting that for an answer. “Sure does,” replied Titus. “And when I’m in my dragon form, I get really hungry for KIDS!” He exclaimed, flashing a toothy grin at Kyle. “Kids?!” Kyle exclaimed, growing fearful. “Especially younger ones. For a dragon, that’s when the meat is at its freshest. The older a human, the worst they taste so we dragons don’t like when a human is too old. That’s why kids make the perfect meal for us. Especially when they’re around five!” Titus continued to tease his nephew. “Nooooo!!” Kyle said, shaking as he cowered away from Titus. “Titus, knock it off,” Ben scolded his little brother in an unamused tone. “I’m sorry Ben. And I’m sorry to you, Kyle. I wasn’t trying to be mean,” Titus apologized as he slowly approached his fretful nephew and tried to calm him down. Kyle, still shaking and whimpering, looked towards his uncle, a look of fear in the five-year-old’s eyes. Noticing this, Titus felt even worse for messing with Kyle the way he had. He truly wasn’t trying to be a bully. He just thought it would be a goofy little prank.“Oh, geez, Kyle, I’m so sorry,” Titus said empathetically as he rubbed his face against Kyle’s. “I was just trying to make a joke.” With one more whimper, Kyle finally managed to speak up. “Well, it wasn’t a funny one,” the little boy said with a pout. “You’re right,” Titus said with a sigh. “Besides, I’d never eat you. You’re my favorite nephew!” “I’m your only nephew!” Kyle corrected Titus, a more jovial tone to his voice. Titus laughed a little in response. “That is also true. Alright, I’ll tell you what being a dragon feels like for real. I guess for me, it’s really like being an animal. I mean, when I’m in my dragon form, I can’t walk like I can when I’m human so it makes me feel more like an animal.” “That makes sense. I mean you ARE a MYTHICAL animal,” said Sarah. “Well…yeah. Then again, dragons do exist in another world so are they still mythical if they are actually real?” Titus asked, pondering over the question himself. “Anyway, what’s even weirder for me was finding out that dragons and humans have the same kind of intelligence. Back when I was changing for the first time, I was getting so used to certain parts of my transformation that I thought my mind was changing too like when I roared at those jerks who were bothering you, Sarah. It felt weird but it also felt…I guess you could say, normal? What also made me think about that was when Lucas asked me if I would still remember all of you once I had finished transforming.” “Well, I was worried about you! I didn’t want you to forget any of us and I didn’t know what turning into a dragon woulda done to you! I mean, there’s so many movies, books, and games that have different kinds of dragons and I was worried you’d become one of the wild, animalistic ones!” Lucas responded. “I know. I was worried for myself too. But I’m okay. I didn’t lose my memories and I’m not going to. I’ll always be me,” Titus said, smiling reassuringly at his best friend. Lucas smiled back at Titus, feeling better after hearing Titus promise that he’d always be himself. After a few seconds, however, Titus’s smile changed into a frown. “And I’m NEVER going to become a wild beast. At least if you don’t get me angry,” Titus said unamused, not appreciating being compared to some kind of mindless beast but with a small amount of teasing at the end of his statement. Lucas laughed. “Dude, you can breathe fire and you’ve got horns and sharp claws. I don’t think I wanna be on the wrong end of those.” Titus laughed in response to Lucas. “Well, I guess it’s a good thing I’m more like the dragons from Spyro then, huh?” the blue teenaged dragon teased, flashing a toothy grin. “Good for us, good for society,” Lucas teased Titus back with a grin of his own.Small bits of laughter came from Titus, Lucas, and everyone else. It lasted for a short moment, then, as everyone’s chortling started to die down, the only ones who were still in hysterics were Jackie and Kyle until eventually, the youngest in the group also ceased their laughter, feeling awkward being the last ones who were still laughing while everyone else’s had ceased. Titus beamed widely, looking around at his friends and family, tail wagging around behind him, and his eyes bright as he thought about how happy he was to be spending time with those he loved. His smile fell a little as he realized that he couldn’t be with everyone he loved... and with that realization, a small amount of sadness started to settle into Titus’s brain. No! Titus shook his head, trying to remove that thought from his mind and drive away the budding sadness. No being sad, he told himself. He and everyone else were there to have a good time and the last thing he wanted was to make himself or anyone else sad. Titus decided that to keep himself from becoming depressed, he would resume telling Kyle and everyone else how it felt to be a dragon. After all, he had been in the middle of explaining how it felt for him before he got sidetracked.“Alright, so getting back to my explanation,” Titus resumed. “All the dragons I had met during my transformation were all adults, right? I hadn’t met any dragons my age then and since I first transformed into a human when I was a baby, I was afraid that might end up doing something to my mind like, maybe my mind, the dragon part of it, wasn’t mature enough like the human side was and to make up for it, my mind would have changed as well.” “Like, you thought your human mind would have regressed to make up for a potential lack of growth in the dragon part of it?” Ben asked. “Yeah!” confirmed Titus. “But I guess both parts of my brain were growing together this whole time. I got to keep my memories after all and everything else that makes me me,” the little blue dragon said happily. Ben smiled at his little brother. “And we’re glad you are still you. Titus the human and Doulstraz the dragon. Two equally important parts of the same person.” “Yep!” Titus nodded in agreement, a wide smile on his muzzle and his eyes lit up as he looked towards his older brother. “So, I guess if I had to give a simpler answer: for me, being a dragon is like being a four-legged animal with human intelligence. I can’t walk like a human when I’m in this form but I can still think like one.” “Ooh!” Kyle said, intrigued and mesmerized by what his uncle had told him. “Did your Uncle Titus give you a good answer, Kyle?” Jessie asked, leaning forward as she spoke. “Uh-huh! Being a dragon sounds so cool! I wish I could be one!” Kyle said excitedly. Ben giggled at his son’s enthusiasm. “It does seem pretty cool, doesn’t it, champ? Well, now that you got your answer, should we get back to the movie?” “Wait, wait! There’s something me and Kyle wanted to show Uncle Titus!” cried Jackie as she leapt to her feet. Jackie ran over and stood in front of her uncle, urging Kyle to stand next to her which he did. None of the older members in attendance, least of all Titus, had any idea what the two kids wanted to show him. “Uncle Titus, me and Kyle have been practicing trying to roar like you and we wanted to show you how good we got! Can we, please?” Jackie begged. “Yeah, please?” Kyle joined in on the begging. “We’re really, really good roarers!” Titus continued to smile, amused by his nephew and niece’s cute antics. If they had really been practicing as much as they said they were, how could he possibly turn them down? “Well, Titus? It sounds like they’ve been working really hard. Should we let them show everybody?” Ben asked, feeling just as amused by his children’s eagerness and their desire to impress their uncle as Titus himself was. “Yeah!” Titus said. “But I have to admit, I’m not as good at roaring as I should be. My roars sound a little more dragon like these days but they still sound more like a person pretending to roar than like a dragon.” “Really?” asked Jackie, surprised by her uncle’s confession. “But Sarah told us how you roared at those guys who were picking on her and that your roar was so loud and scary and you sounded just like a dragon! She even said you scared those mean guys away and they were adults!” “Well, see, Jackie, I can’t just roar like that whenever I want to. Right now, I’ve only been able to do it when I was really mad,” Titus explained to his niece. “Oh…” said Jackie, disappointedly. Titus felt a little sorry for disappointing his niece but it wasn’t truly something he could help. Even after a year since he had learned that he was a dragon, he was still learning about what being a dragon meant and who he was as a member of this race. He knew it would take time before he could truly call himself a proper dragon, especially since, for the first thirteen years of his life, he was never aware he was one. He was still working on developing his powers, becoming accustomed to taking on a new form, walking both bipedally and quadrupedally, and, of course, practicing on developing his roar just as his niece and nephew had been. As he considered all of this, an idea suddenly sprung into mind. “Jackie, what do you say you and Kyle show us how good you are at roaring now? Do that, then I’ll show you a roar of my own. After that, maybe the three of us could practice roaring together from now on. Sound good?” Titus promised. “Really?!” The brother and sister said at the same time. Titus nodded. Kyle and Jackie’s eyes lit up. They looked at each other, smiling widely and giggling just thinking about how good they’d get at roaring, especially if their uncle was going to practice with them. “Okay! Everybody ready? Don’t get too scared now!” exclaimed Jackie. “Give us your best roar, you guys!” cheered Lucas. Jackie and Kyle glanced at one another one more time. Jackie nodded at Kyle, then Kyle nodded back. Then, they cupped their hands together, took in a deep breath, each took a stance, and unleashed the best, most ferocious roar they could. “RAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRR!!!!” The two little kids roared in unison; their mouths open as widely as their faces would allow. Their roaring ceased and Jackie and Kyle stood normally. Everyone clapped for them except for Titus, who used his tail and the ground as a means to applaud his nephew and niece, letting it smack against the ground with just enough force to produce a sound from the impact of his tail hitting the floor. “Excellent roar!” Sarah complimented. “That was really good!” Lucas exclaimed. “I never knew my children could sound so tough and scary!” Jessie said with a proud laugh. “That’s for sure!” Ben replied to his wife. “I wouldn’t wanna bother someone who could roar like that!” Jackie and Kyle grinned at one another, proud of just how good their roars were. They looked towards their beloved uncle who had just ceased using his tail and the floor to applaud his niece and nephew. He gave the kids an approving nod and stood up, immediately taking notice of how short he was compared to them in his true form though he figured he might be able to come up to Kyle’s height if he managed to stand on just his back legs. “That was impressive, you two! With roars like that, you’d be tough little dragons for sure,” said Titus proudly. Her grin still worn on her face, Jackie put her hands on her sides and gave a loud and proud “Aww, yeah!” Kyle copied his older sister, putting his hands on his sides and exclaimed “Aww, yeah!” as well. “Now then, ready for MY roar?” Titus asked his niece and nephew. “Yeah, yeah!” the kids cheered excitedly. “You guys?” asked Titus as he turned towards the rest of his friends and family. “Go for it, dude! Give us the best roar you can!” Lucas cheered. Just as his niece and nephew had done, Titus took in a deep breath. He turned to face his family and friends and took what looked like a defensive stance. He had arched his back up in the air and lowered his head, his front legs spread out a little. Quickly, Titus lifted his head up and gave the best roar he could.“RAAAAAAAAAAARRR!!!!” Titus roared. It definitely sounded more draconic than the roars of his niece and nephew as well as the one he gave when he was practicing in the bathroom but it still carried more of a human’s attempt at a roar than an actual dragon one. Still, his family and friends gave their applause. “You’re getting better, Titus,” Jessie complimented. “Your roars are definitely starting to sound more like a dragon’s, little bro,” said Ben proudly. “Not bad at all,” Sarah added. “It wasn’t like the one you used to scare off those guys from the mall but you’re definitely getting there.” “I knew being lifelong friends with a dragon would be awesome and you keep proving me right. Nice roar, dude,” Lucas praised Titus. “That was a really good roar, Uncle Titus. Maybe a little bit better than ours,” Jackie stated in a somewhat joking manner.“A little? It was a whole LOT better than ours, Jackie!” Kyle exclaimed. “Well…uh…okay, yeah it was,” Jackie relented, a small smile on her face. Titus smiled to himself. He started blushing again as he enjoyed the praise and admiration from his friends and family. If their compliments were anything to go by, Titus figured that he really must be coming into his own as a dragon. It wasn’t easy, he had more than thirteen years or catching up to do if he was going to properly understand his dragon heritage but if his human family were already this impressed with how far he had come in such a short time, perhaps his dragon one would be just as impressed, hopefully more so. As everyone’s applauding started to die down, Lucas scooted over to Titus. He leaned over and whispered “Spyro” into his right finned ear. Titus gasped, his scales turning an even darker shade of purple as Lucas and everyone else’s dying applause suddenly sprung back to life in the form of uproarious laughter as they each got a look at Titus’s face in juxtaposition to the rest of his blue scaled body. “Y’know, you’re really starting to ruin those games for me, Lucas,” Titus said, unamused. Lucas gave a shrug. “Sorry, Spyro. If you could give me a small payment of gems, I might be able to stop making fun of you.” Titus groaned. “Ben, can you please start the movie again before Spyro decides to roast a sheep?” The small blue dragon teased back. And so, before any roasting could commence, Ben started the movie back up. Drake stood in front of the bathroom mirror in his half-dragon form. He turned his head to the left, keeping his eyes focused on the mirror, then he turned his head right while still keeping his focus on his reflection. As he then looked straight so that he and his reflection were making full eye contact, he placed both hands on the sides of his head and stuck his index fingers in the air, trying to make it look like he had horns. Drake held this pose for a moment, studying himself in the mirror and imaging what he would look like with real horns before he removed his hands from his head. Next, he stuck his index fingers into the top and bottom parts of his mouth and stretched them open so that his gums and teeth were on full display. Drake studied them for a moment. Despite having a dragon’s blood, the insides of his mouth were still very human. His teeth were still human in every way, not a single fang in sight. Not that it bothered the eleven-year-old, though he did wish he could grow at least one fang. One sharp, pointy fang to make him look just a little more draconic. Wouldn’t Sean and Crystal be surprised and impressed by that, he thought to himself.Removing his fingers from the top and bottom of his mouth, Drake grinned widely at himself, baring his strong, powerful human teeth in the mirror once more, giggling to himself as he did. Then, Drake curled his fingers into a claw gesture. He held them out in front of him, giggling even louder this time. Then Drake tried to roar. “Raaaaaarrr!!!” Despite being part dragon, Drake’s roar came out sounding nothing like a dragon’s. In fact, it didn’t even sound like half of a dragon’s roar. It sounded exactly like a human’s attempt at a roar. Drake pouted. He didn’t think his roar was very good. He wished that he could roar like a dragon, just like his grandparents and his dad but they were full dragons and he was only half a dragon. Given that he was also half-human, Drake wondered if he ever would be able to roar like a dragon. Maybe as he got older, it would start to become more possible. Maybe he just needed to grow up a little more before his roar came in. He was only eleven after all, he told himself. He still had plenty of time. Though, as he thought about it, another thought crossed his mind. It was one that only his dad or his grandparents would be able to answer for him and since he couldn’t make portals on his own to go ask his grandma and grandpa, he was relieved that he could at least go and ask his dad and so, he hurried downstairs, finding his mom and dad sitting at the kitchen table, and he asked his dad his question. “You want to know what being a dragon feels like?” Titus asked in response to Drake’s question.“Yeah! What’s it like?” Drake asked. There was a silence in the kitchen for a moment as Titus and Sarah both exchanged glances. Of all the questions their son could possibly have asked them, they weren’t expecting him to ever ask what it felt like being a dragon. “Well, you’re part dragon, so wouldn’t you at least partly know?” Titus asked, attempting to make sense of just how much understanding a half-dragon had of being a dragon.“But that’s why I wanna know! I’m only half dragon, but I’m also half human. You know that, dad!” Drake retorted. “That is true,” Titus agreed with his son. “Well, let’s see…” Titus mulled over his answer for a few seconds. How could he best explain it to Drake? What did being a dragon feel like to him? “If I had to say, being a dragon for me is a symbol of being a protector,” explained Titus. “A protector?” Drake parroted. Titus nodded. “A protector for you, mom, and everyone else. For me, feeling like a dragon means protecting and being strong. But along with that, being a dragon also feels…free.”“Free?” Drake parroted again. “Yeah. Being able to fly wherever, whenever without the need of something like an airplane. Just the wings on my back to take me anywhere. Don’t you feel like that when you use your wings to fly, Drake? Haven’t you felt like that all those times, you, me, and mom would go flying together and you’d both be riding on my back?” Titus asked his son. Drake grinned widely. “I sure have! It’s always so awesome!” “I can’t help but agree there, Drake,” Sarah said to her son. “To be honest, I’ve always been a bit of jealous of you two. I wish I could be a dragon. Or at least half of one like you, Drake. Best of both worlds, I think.”“You think so, mom?” asked Drake. “Sure do. You get to be both a human and a dragon. What’s not to love about that?” Sarah replied. Drake’s smile stretched even wider across his face, a feeling of happiness in his mind. Drake agreed with his mom. Getting to be the son of a human and a dragon really did feel like the best of both worlds for him and it was something he would never trade for anything. “You know, Sarah, if you ever want to get some idea of what it’s like being a dragon or half-dragon, you could always make a tail and wings. It’s the next best thing and besides, you’ve got all that experience from making toys for the shop,” Titus suggested. Sarah considered it for a brief second. “’Tis very true, good dragon. I might just do that,” she said in a fake posh voice. “Oh, hey! Hey, dad!” Drake said excitedly, a thought suddenly entering his mind.“What’s up, kiddo?” Titus asked. “I wanna try and practice roaring with you. You, grandma, and grandpa are so good at it and I’m…well, I’m not. I want to get better so I can have a loud, powerful roar just like you and grandma and grandpa. Please?” Drake begged his dad. “Well, of course we can practice, Drake, but I’m not sure how good I’ll be able to make you,” Titus agreed.“Why not?” Drake asked, a tone of shock to his voice. “Well, it has to do with your lung size and voice first of all. If you can’t roar like me or your grandparents, I think it’s safe to say that your lungs are definitely a human’s. The throat also plays a part in it, too. I bet if you could roar like us, it would really do a number on your ol’ throat. Your voice would probably end up really scratchy,” Titus tried to explain to his son to the best of his understanding. “So, I’ll never be able to roar like you guys?” Drake pouted, feeling sad at the possibility that that would be one part of his dragon side he’d never get to experience. “Well, we know that you can’t breathe fire. You’ve been trying to do that since you were little, and that probably would have done an even bigger number on your throat, especially if it didn’t adapt after awhile. Also, given that your anatomy is still fundamentally a human’s, I guess I don’t know if you could ever roar like us,” said Titus. “Oh…” Drake replied sadly, a look of disappointment on his face as his head dipped towards the ground.Seeing his son in such a state made Titus feel bad for him. He was surprised that being able to roar meant that much to Drake. Perhaps, Titus figured, it wasn’t just necessarily the roaring itself that Drake wanted. Maybe, he just wanted to better understand what being a dragon felt like for himself. Titus understood how that must have felt. Though he truly wasn’t sure how much help, if any, he could be for Drake, he decided that, for his son’s sake, and to at least attempt to help him better understand the other half of himself, he would do what he could to teach Drake how to roar like a dragon. Titus smiled at Drake, placing a hand on the little half-dragon’s shoulder. This caused Drake to look back up at his father, his sad, disappointed expression now changed to a more surprised one.“Y’know what, Drake? We’re still going to practice anyway. Maybe it’ll work out, maybe it won’t, but it wouldn’t hurt to try, right?” Titus said reassuringly. Drake’s eyes lit up and he smiled once again followed along with a sniffle. He threw his arms around his dad, hugging him tightly. Titus returned his son’s affection with a hug of his own and a pat on the back.“Thank you so much, dad!” Drake exclaimed, sounding like he was on the verge of tears.Sarah watched with a warm smile on her face. She thought to herself that even with his powers and his nature as a hybrid, Drake was still just a kid. Just like her husband, Sarah understood just how much this meant to her son, especially if it would help him better understand what being a dragon felt like and better understand himself in the process. “Of course, little buddy. Now, what do you say you let mom and I finish our drinks, then we’ll go for a little fly and we’ll practice our roars up in the sky?” Titus suggested. “Okay!” Drake said ecstatically. Titus and Sarah finished their drinks as quickly as they could so that they wouldn’t keep Drake waiting. Once everyone was ready, they stepped out into their backyard and Titus changed into his dragon form. He crouched down, allowing Sarah and Drake to climb onto his back. Drake sat in front, wrapping his arms around Titus’s neck while Sarah sat behind Drake, wrapping her arms around Drake’s torso, taking care not to squish her son’s wings and to watch out for the spikes that ran along the top of his tail.“Hey, Drake. Remember to be mindful of your tail while I’m behind you, okay? I don’t want to get scratched up by your spikes,” Sarah asked. “Alright, mom,” Drake promised, grabbing his tail and draping it over his left leg. He then wrapped his arms around his father’s neck once more. “All set?” Titus asked. “Ready,” Sarah said.“Go, dad! GO!” Drake cheered. Titus unfurled his wings and, starting off with slow but steady wingbeats, lifted himself off the ground. Both Drake and his mom knew what would be coming next. Drake wrapped his arms tighter around Titus’s neck and Sarah wrapped her arms tighter around her son, still keeping in mind not to put any pressure on his wings or get scratched up by her son’s tail spikes. Once they were ready, Titus shot into the air, high into the sky until he was a good enough elevation. As they flew over the city, Titus asked Drake if he was ready. Drake declared that he was and Titus urged him to give the best, loudest roar he possibly could. Taking in as deep a breath as he could, Drake roared as loudly as he could. Though indeed loud, Drake’s roar could only be heard within the close proximity of himself and his parents and it still ended up sounding more like a kid imitating a dragon than an actual draconic roar.“Not bad,” Titus complimented his son. “Now listen to mine, Drake. Mine’s going to be a whole lot deeper than yours. After I give you an example, try to make your next roar sound lower pitched. You know how to do that right?” “I think so. I need to make my voice ‘sound like this’,” Drake answered, making his voice sound deeper and more gravelly.“Yeah, that’s pretty much it,” said Titus. “Okay, ready?”“Ready!” Drake replied. Titus took in several deep breaths, readying himself to unleash the best roar he could. He pulled his head back and released a loud, massive roar that could be heard from the ground. Everyone who was within the general vicinity of where the Flamel family was flying over turned their attention skyward, shocked and curious as to where that sound could have come from. “What was that?” a man asked, still looking into the sky.“Sounded like some animal or something,” his friend replied. “Maybe it was a dragon,” a. older man who was just a few feet away from them suggested. The three looked at each other and smirked disbelievingly. “As if, right?” The older man said, amusedly. “Yeah, no kidding!” the younger man exclaimed with a hearty laugh. “Dragons,” the younger man’s friend said. “You’ve got an interesting sense of humor there, man.” But in the sky, as Titus, who was a very real dragon left the town behind him and his family, Drake and Sarah complimented Titus on his roar.“I never get tired of hearing that, Titus!” Sarah said with a smile.“Me neither!” Drake agreed, taking great pride in his dad’s almighty roar. “It’s your turn now, kiddo! Show us what you can do and remember what I told you!” Titus said. “Alright, here I go!” Drake said. Keeping in mind what his dad told him about making his roars sound more like a dragon’s, Drake took in a deep breath. He waited for a few seconds before he let loose a fearsome and mighty roar of his own. “ROOOOOOAAAAARRR!!!” Drake’s roar came out sounding slightly closer to a dragon’s, though still sounding like a human’s attempt at a roar, closer to a roar in a heavy metal song. Both Titus and Sarah did have to give credit where credit was due though: it did sound much more convincing than his first attempt. “That’s better, Drake. With a little more work, maybe we could get you roarin’ like me and your grandparents,” said Titus. “You think so, dad?” asked Drake. “Maybe. Do you want to keep practicing?” Titus asked his son. “Of course! I wanna get as good as I can get! I wanna be able to roar better than you!” declared Drake with newfound confidence. “One step at a time, Drake. One step at a time,” Titus urged his son, trying to calm his excitement a little. For the next two months, Titus and Drake would practice their roars as often as they could, which would be at least once every day. Sometimes they would go for on flying trips with Sarah joining them and sometimes they would find a secluded wooded area to train their roars. As soon as Drake would get home from school, the first thing he would want to do was go train his roar with his dad. However, as time passed, both father and son could tell that no progress was being made. Drake had been trying his best but was unable to improve it in the slightest and the reality of it truly came one warm Tuesday evening as Titus and Drake had gone to their usual secluded spot in the woods: an open field with no people or animals in sight. Though initially sad and a little frustrated with himself, Titus assured his son that it wasn’t his fault. Everybody was capable of different things. Everybody had something they could do and something they couldn’t and that Drake shouldn’t be upset with himself for not being able to roar since there were still so many other things he could do. “Yeah. You’re right, dad,” Drake agreed, smiling gratefully at his father. “And you know, I think I understand how it feels to be a dragon just a little bit better now.” “You think so?” Titus asked with a mix of intrigue and excitement in his voice. “Yep!” replied Drake with a swift nod. “And I think all that roaring has made my throat a lot stronger too,” the boy noted, bringing his hand up to his throat and feeling his larynx. “Hey! Maybe I’m getting a dragon’s throat! Maybe I really do still have a chance to breathe fire and roar!” Titus laughed, placing his arm around Drake’s shoulder. “I don’t know about all that! I think all that practice roaring you’ve done has just made your throat more used to it. I do think you’ve made your throat stronger, Drake, but I think it’s still a human’s. Sorry to disappoint.” With a smile, Drake shook his head. “I’m not disappointed,” he said. “I had a lot of fun practicing roaring with you, dad. Besides, I might be half-dragon but I’m still half-human too. I need to take care of my human side as well.” “Very wise, words, Drake,” said Titus proudly. “Well, Drake, it’s almost 7:30. The one who gave you your human side should be getting home soon. Should we see if we can beat her home?” “You bet,” Drake said, smiling confidently that he and his dad would make it home before his mom did.Titus crouched down and allowed Drake to climb onto his back. Once Drake’s arms were firmly secured around his dad’s neck, Titus unfurled his wings and took to the air. As Titus flew high into the sky, Drake laughed excitedly, the wind splashing against his body, especially his face and his wings, the latter of which he could feel catching the air that brushed past and into them. His finned ears twitched in the breeze. Once the father and son were at a high enough altitude that they wouldn’t be seen quite as easily by those on the ground, Drake relaxed his grip on his dad’s neck. Still laughing, Drake looked around. “No matter how many times we do this, this never stops being cool!” Declared Drake ecstatically, a wide smile stretched across his face and his tail happily wagging around behind him. Titus smiled. “You’re never going to get tired of this, are you Drake?” Drake shook his head. “Nope,” the half-dragon boy promised.Three years would pass since their conversation on what being a dragon felt like and Titus and Drake’s roar training, and Drake and his adopted brother, Jake, would grow from being pre-teens into teenagers. As puberty began for them, Sarah and Titus wondered if Drake and Jake’s dragon sides would present any complications for the half-dragons. Though they had just started puberty, everything seemed to start smoothly for the boys. But, as with any curious teenager, Titus and Sarah worried for the day when Drake and Jake would start asking…certain questions. And then, one fateful day, when Drake and Jake were fourteen, Drake walked downstairs, in his half-dragon form. His mom and dad were sitting in their usual spots at the kitchen table and Jake was laying on the couch, watching a movie. “Hey, guys, there’s something I wanted to ask you,” Drake said, a hint of embarrassment to his voice. “Sure, what’s up, Drake?” Titus asked as he and Sarah glanced towards their son. “Well…” Drake sighed, his nervousness building. “I’ve been wondering…how…umm…”“How what?” Sarah asked. “How was I born?” Drake asked, barely mustering enough courage to give his question.Titus, Sarah, and Jake all looked at Drake, the latter of whom sprung up from his relaxed position on the couch as he sat upright. Silence fell over the kitchen with the exception of the TV though Jake quickly turned the volume all the way down, his interest suddenly more on the responses of his adoptive parents than on the movie. “I…I gave birth to you,” Sarah simply said.“No! That’s not what I mean!” Drake said, becoming flustered. “I mean…how did you two…you know…umm…create me?” Titus, Sarah, and Jake all went wide eyed and were left speechless. There were so, SO many questions that Titus and Sarah feared their son would ask them as he got older and THAT was one of them. Although they couldn’t rightly blame him for being curious, that didn’t make that moment any easier for them.“…What?” Titus said instinctively in a deadpan tone. “Well, I mean, when you and mom…when you…uh…were you in dragon form when—”Titus bolted up from his seat, nearly knocking it over. “Ah, no, no, no, no, no! We are NOT having this conversation. Absolutely not!” he ordered as he stood up and went over to the sink, taking his mug with him that he had sitting next to him on the table. “Mom?” Drake asked, truly wanting an answer to his question. “Drake, I love you, my son. You know you mean both worlds to me, but I am NOT touching that with a ten foot…po…sti…I’m not answering that,” Sarah said, now becoming as flustered as her son had been. She got up, walked past her son, and went to join her husband. “I just wanted to know how I was born…” muttered Drake, though he tried to keep it at an audible level so that his parents could hear. “We already told you, Drake!” Titus said. “Your mom gave birth to you! That’s how you were born, end of discussion!” Sarah sighed. “I’ll answer just about anything for Drake or Jake. But to answer a question about our love life? Absolutely not!” she whispered to Titus. “A-freakin’-men to that,” agreed Titus. “Some things are just better left unanswered.”
Adventure
At the End of my World (READ: scene in ENG) by Van-Syl-Production
Science Fiction
The Shadow Paradigm Book I Project Orb Weaver by clara-01
Historical Fiction
Scorpions of the Sea,100 ADA commotion buzzed at the edge of the trading souq next to the harbor of al-Mukha on the southwestern coast of Arabia. All eyes of the spectators followed a slender galley of ebony fringed with gold and inlaid ivory as it slid and anchored beside one of the earthen quays. On its billowing crimson sail glowered the gold face of a ram supporting the sun on its horns, the royal insignia of Kush.It was by no means unusual for a Kushite vessel to dock at al-Mukha. Plenty of merchants from all sides of the Red Sea and beyond would flock to the Himyarite port to sell their wares and restock for the next trip. Yet the black galley that had come in was a rare giant that would have dwarfed the typical merchantman, never mind the puny native dhows. Above the deck glimmered the iron-bladed spears, axes, and swords of the soldiers aboard.Once they laid the gangplank down, there descended a svelte woman whose skin was dark as the galley itself, with her short ringlets of frizzy hair reddened with ocher. The black-spotted red sashes over her bosom bound a bow and quiver to her back while a slim sword rested along her white linen skirt. From her neck hung a string of ivory fly-shaped medals that honored her as a fighting champion of Kush.After the woman followed her entourage of spearmen with oval cowhide shields. As she and her bodyguards advanced up the quay, the audience that had watched their arrival parted to give them as broad a berth as they could, with nervous murmurs in Himyarite Arabic passing between the spectators.Placing both hands on her hip, the woman cleared her throat with her head held up. "I am Nensela, Admiral of Kush. You need not fear anything, for we mean you no harm. We come to al-Mukha with only two purposes: to resupply and to find information."From the ranks of the crowd, a white-bearded local shot his bony hand up. "What do you mean by 'information', my lady?"Nensela pulled out a scroll of papyrus from her belt and unfolded it, revealing a painted illustration of a blue scorpion with claws serrated like a lobster's. "Have any of you ever heard of the Scorpions of the Sea?"Most of the people dispersed back to the souq while the old man squinted at the scroll, his tawny face blanching a shade paler. "By Rahmanan, who in al-Mukha hasn't? They come here every season. Are they wanted?"Nensela marched to him with her hand clenched on her sword's hilt. "I hope you are not feigning ignorance with me, old man. You ought to know they've been a menace for generations. Why, I lost my little brother to them! So, please, tell me everything you know!"The old Himyarite scratched the back of his keffiyeh and shook his head. "The truth is, I recall not when they last dropped by. But Hussein the pot merchant may know. He's done business with them more than once. I'd look for him in the northeast part of the souq, over there."He pointed his walking stick in the direction of the souq's far corner.Nensela tossed him a bag of silver. "May Amun bless you for your aid, then.”The souq of al-Mukha was a bustling maze of people thronging between rows of stalls that were shaded with awnings of sagging cloth. Most of the traders and their customers were native Himyarites and other Arabs, along with similar-looking peoples such as Judaeans, Phoenicians, and Mesopotamians. Yet speckled amid the bronze-faced majority were darker-skinned nationalities such as Kemetians, Aksumites, and even a few Kushites, the latter of whom saluted Nensela and her men as they passed. The fragrances of perfume, fresh fruit, and cooked meat mixed in the air with the less pleasant odors of fish, musty cloth, and camels being dragged about on rope leashes.Over the chatter of the customers and the music of trilling flutes, twanging lyres, and banging drums, Nensela heard a man yell about having the finest collection of ceramics along the Red Sea. That must have been the pot merchant the old man at the docks had cited.Taking advantage of her feminine wile, she smiled and swayed her hips as she sauntered towards his stall. "You wouldn't happen to be a handsome gentleman by the name of Hussein, would you?"A toothy grin spread across the man's pudgy face as he nodded. "Well, aren't you a welcome sight around here! Of course, it is I, Hussein bin Abdullah. Why, did someone recommend my wares to you?"All over his stall and beside it stood stacks of almost every ceramic form that could be found all over the known world. Wide-topped Kemetian jars inscribed with hieroglyphic texts sat beside orange-and-black Greek vases, Chinese porcelain, and native Arabian oil lamps with elongated nozzles. Nensela noticed there were also some Kushite bowls on display, distinguished from the rest by their black tops grading to red towards the bottom. She could not help but pick one of them up, for it had reminded her of the bowls her mother would make for her and her brother Akhraten to eat from when they were children.Those were simpler, happier times. But they had fallen into the past. With them had gone Akhraten, all courtesy of the vile Sea Scorpions."My mother made pots like this," Nensela said. "Where do you get these, my dear Hussein?"Hussein's eyes twitched sideways. "I'm afraid my suppliers wish to remain anonymous.""Oh, is that so? Because I've been informed that you have connections with those known as the Sea Scorpions..."“What? Don’t be silly, woman!”Nensela slammed her hands onto the stall, shaking the stacks of pottery until some of it fell and shattered on the ground. "Tell me the truth, Hussein bin Abdullah. When did you last deal with them?""I can't say, but it isn't them! I swear by Rahmanan, I would never profit from piracy!"Nensela grabbed him by the collar of his tunic and hauled him off his feet. "Do not lie to me anymore! Tell me, for the safety of all around the Red Sea, whom you get your goods from. Do you hear me? Talk!"Hands clapped as loud as the crack of thunder, and then the whole souq fell silent.The one who had clapped was a stout Himyarite man, robed in black, with a white keffiyeh draped over the sides of his head. Everyone else in the souq stepped back to make way for him as he hurried towards Nensela and Hussein with a gentle smile under his gray-streaked mustache."There is no need for violence, my child," he said. "Please put him down."Nensela obeyed with a grumble. "Please, do not call me 'child', for I am the Admiral of Kush. And I've good reason to believe this Hussein character is collaborating with pirates!""It is a lie, I assure you!" Hussein yelped."I will assess the truth of the matter later, Hussein bin Abdullah," the black-robed man said. "Pardon me for my condescension there, O Admiral of Kush, but I am the Sheikh of al-Mukha. These are all my people, so I must implore you that you treat them with care while you are here.""You are the Sheikh?" Nensela bowed at the waist before him. "Then I must apologize for my behavior. I must admit I have little love for pirates, or those I am told are involved with their crimes."From the corner of her eye, she cast a glare at Hussein while he was picking up pieces of broken pottery. He repaid with a rude look of his own."You speak of pirates, Admiral? It so happens that I have information of my own on them," the Sheikh of al-Mukha said. "And unlike that gentleman over there, I'll be more than willing to share it...within the privacy of my own home, mind you. Why don't you and your men come over for some refreshment after your long voyage?", The palace of Faruq bin Hakim, the Sheikh of al-Mukha, blazed a blinding white beneath the Arabian sun, with a dome of gold crowning its highest roof. It reminded Nensela of the dazzling temples and palaces in her native Kush, but this was no less brilliant. When she was a child, she had grown up imagining Arabs like those of Himyar to be marauding barbarians prowling the desert for prey and sleeping in simple goat-hair tents, but people like that could never have settled down to construct an edifice like that which reared before her."Your home is quite beautiful, O Sheikh of al-Mukha," she said as they passed through the palace's arched entrance."Trust me, my lady, you have only seen it from the outside," the Sheikh said. "As the old saying goes, the greatest beauty is found within."He led Nensela and her men into an open courtyard shaded by date palm and frankincense trees around a central pool of sparkling water, with columned arches forming galleries around the courtyard's flanks. Vivid blues, greens, and yellows made up elaborate geometric patterns on the tiled floors.From one of the side galleries wafted a multitude of appetizing aromas."Your servants sure set up lunch quick," Nensela said.The Sheikh laughed. "It would be more accurate to say we prepared ahead of time. The moment your ship was sighted before landing, we anticipated special guests. Why else would I have come down to the souq in the first place?"Under the cool shade of the gallery, carpets held down by cushions surrounded a longer rug on which awaited a variety of pots, bowls, and plates holding a rich assortment of Arabic cuisine. On the Sheikh's request, Nensela seated herself on one of the cushions, letting herself sink into its velvety plushness. From one of the bowls, she snatched a pomegranate, savoring its sweet and juicy flavor, while her men helped themselves to kebabs of mutton and beef.The Sheikh clapped, and a veiled serving girl arrived with a pitcher from whence a stream of steam floated out. She winked and exchanged flirtatious words with some of Nensela's Kushite guards while pouring dark brown liquid into their cups.When Nensela received a filling of her own, she noted its unique scent. "May I ask what this is?""Why, we call it coffee," the Sheikh said. "It's a popular Aksumite beverage which livens the spirit."Nensela took a sip of the coffee and grimaced from its intense bitter flavor. "I guess I need to let it cool for a bit. Do you have any wine or beer around here?""I am afraid not. We of Himyar spurn any drink that clouds the mind. As for your coffee, why don't you add some cream and honey to improve the flavor? It is what I do."Nensela shrugged. "Now, about the pirates...what do you know about them?"The Sheikh's expression faded to a grave frown as he lowered his head. “If you mean the Sea Scorpions…I am ashamed to admit it in front of my people, but my own connections to them run deeper than trade. You see, I bear some of the responsibility for their current prominence—though I did not intend it. Let me explain..."Once I had a beautiful daughter named Yasmina, who should be about your age now. A good father should cherish all his children equally, but I couldn't help but adore her as my personal favorite, even more than any of my sons. Indeed, I cared for her so much that I sought the wealthiest merchant in all of al-Mukha to have her hand in marriage. "But how Yasmina despised him! She thought him too frail, greedy, and lecherous, and she might have been right all along. To this day, the last words she ever told me taunt my memories. 'I would sooner die old alone than in the bed of that old dog!' And then she ran off, never to set foot here again.""And what does that have to do with the Scorpions?" Nensela asked, though she had a nervous feeling brewing within."As you should know, it can be very difficult for an unwed woman to make a living in this unjust world," the Sheikh continued. "At least through honest means. Instead, it seems that Yasmina turned to crime. I know this because, loath as I am to recognize this truth, my daughter has become none other than the very mistress of the Sea Scorpions."The banter and laughter between everyone gathered in the gallery gave way to a solemn silence. Nensela's cup of coffee fell and broke apart on the floor, spilling the hot drink over it."Haven't you at least tried to do something about her?" she asked. "Surely, you can't let your own daughter run amok around a whole sea, burning towns and sending people and ships down to the bottom."The Sheikh hesitated. "The forces we have here in al-Mukha are not as strong as yours, Admiral of Kush. She'd crush them the way a tigress could crush a cur with one swat of her paw. And, I should not lie, I worry about letting a single finger harm my beloved daughter. Yet, if you must hunt her down, I can disclose to you where I believe she operates now."When Yasmina was a small girl, we would sail together to the island of Socotra every year to marvel at the landscape and the local dragon's blood trees. How she admired that place like none other in the world! I also know that the waters around that isle have more pirates than the rest of this sea. So, if I were you, I would sail southeastward to Socotra."But make me one promise, Nensela of Kush. If you do come upon my daughter, please bring her back to me. I don't care whether she returns alive or as a severed skull. Living or dead, I must see my child's face one last time."Nensela could see the rivulets of tears flowing down the Sheikh's weathered face. She could read into them the same sorrow of familial loss that she had experienced over her own brother. For both she and the Sheikh had lost someone they cared about to the same gang of pillaging cutthroats.She laid a hand on the Sheikh's and nodded. "By the grace of Amun and all the other gods of Kush, I make my promise to you. We will conquer the Scorpions of the Sea, and we will bring your daughter back, alive or dead.""Then may Rahmanan bless you on your adventure," he said., After half a week of rest and restocking at al-Mukha, the Kushite expedition left to glide down the sea towards the southeast, propelled both by marine breezes and the tireless churning of oars. The thumping of the drivers' drums both controlled the rowers' pace and gave them music for their singing as they worked.The sailors ended their shanties once a voice among them hollered from the galley's bow. "Shipwreck ahoy!"Everyone aboard saw the pillars of smoke rising to the heavens from the flames that crackled on pieces of driftwood up ahead. Strewn among the floating shreds of sail and charred planks were corpses and hunks of human flesh that dyed the sea red. Most of the dead appeared to be mahogany-skinned Kemetians in white loincloths, with a few Greek and Aksumite sailors mixed in with them.Nensela looked over the galley's gunwale and noticed a seagull pecking flesh off the face of a female figure. The butchered Kemetian woman still cradled in her arms an infant bundled in cloth, its eyes shut as if in deep sleep it would never wake from. Both had a broken arrow shaft running through their bodies.Even after losing Akhraten, the Admiral of Kush had seen death many times in her years of service. This was the first time she had seen it claim a child and its mother together. It was a horror that flooded her insides with nauseous grief.Pinodjem, the galley's wiry captain of middle years, walked over to Nensela to lay a hand of consolation onto her shoulder. "I've found no survivors. Not even one. May all of them rejoin their ancestors in the afterlife.""You think the pirates did this?" Nensela asked."It may not be the Scorpions, necessarily. These waters swarmed with brigands before them, and they will afterward. It's not unlikely, but it'd be quite a coincidence if they were the ones leaving this on their trail."The gloomy peace of the moment shattered with the blaring skirl of an ivory horn. Soon after, drums rumbled, but it was not the drivers aboard the Kushite vessel that had beaten them.A pack of greenish-blue sails, curved and pointed like sharks’ fins, cut through the smoky haze. Each had emblazoned on it the insignia of the blue scorpion which brandished its serrated claws over the waving canvas. Pushing the dhows across the water were multicolored teams of oarsmen chanting in Arabic with warlike intensity. Among them bristled the bows, spears, and glinting scimitars of warriors in blue tunics hooting with bloodlust on the decks.“We are outnumbered,” Pinodjem said. “We must retreat!”“What, like cowards? By Apedemak, we’ve some of the finest fighting men and women from anywhere in Kush,” Nensela said. “They can weather a few gangs of cutthroats.”“I’m afraid we’re dealing with more than a few gangs. I beg of you, Admiral, don’t condemn us all to a massacre.”Nensela gaped in horror as she looked behind her captain with widened eyes. “I don’t think we have much choice anymore!”The instant she had spoken, the Sea Scorpions had already launched their first volley. The arrows descended in a flurry upon the Kushite oarsmen, and cries and croaks of death broke out together with the clonks of metal points onto the ship’s ebon planks. Emboldened roars rose from the pirate dhows that now circled the galley.On Pinodjem’s order, the Kushite infantry raised their cowhide shields to form a protective shell over the deck while the surviving rowers withdrew to hide behind their comrades. Within this ring of shields, Nensela unslung her bow and quiver while commanding the archers aboard to do the same. Together, they aimed up in all directions around the galley, drawing their bowstrings taut and then sending off their revenge against the attacking pirates.It was now the Scorpions’ turn to yell in terror and agony. Despite her conscience’s admonitions, Nensela took vindictive pleasure in hearing the brutes’ cries. All the innocents they had slaughtered in their pursuit of plunder, and all the young women they had carried off for themselves, would be avenged.Her glee ended when she heard the thud of Pinodjem’s body collapsing onto the deck. A pirate’s arrow, sent forth in their next volley, had punctured him in the breast.“Don’t…try to save…me,” he stammered with a wince as he struggled to pull the shaft out. “We are...doomed!”More arrows flew between the Kushite galley and the Scorpions’ dhows, with each of the latter’s showers taking down more defenders than the last. As men fell around her, Nensela’s arm muscles stretched and burned with strain in her frenzy to shoot down as many of the encroaching sea brigands as possible. Even her fingertips bled with scrapes from plucking away at her bowstring.Another of the corsairs’ arrows zipped straight towards her. Bolting away, Nensela slipped over the blood-slicked deck and fell onto her back. She shut her eyes and mouthed a prayer to Amun, the highest god of Kush, that she would not suffer the same fate as her captain and so many of their men.The ivory horn sounded again, and the blizzard of arrows had stopped at last. Nensela, to her surprise, felt Pinodjem’s rough hand grab her own and pull her back onto her footing. He no longer had the arrow embedded in his wound.“A crewmate got it out,” he said. “But no time to celebrate.”The galley lurched between port and starboard as two of the Scorpions’ dhows banged against its hull on opposite sides. After flinging grappling hooks over the gunwales, the pirates laid their gangplanks between the vessels and began to pour in for the kill.Ripping out her sword, Nensela growled her foulest curse. “Come and get us, sea-jackals!”All the pain and strain in the Admiral of Kush’s muscles vanished beneath the scalding tide of her fury. Pirate blood sprayed and spattered from her iron blade as she hacked her way throughout the enclosing horde, breaking through scimitars and cleaving through limbs, skulls, and wicker shields. The stench of the entrails she and her remaining defenders spilled refueled her valor. Apedemak, the lion-masked god of war, could not have slaughtered these seafaring devils with more brutal passion.A man’s head flew past her eyes. It was not one of the corsairs. No, it was her captain Pinodjem! Nensela froze in cold, mortified shock until the blunt hilt of a pirate’s mace rammed onto her brow. When she lashed back at her attacker, he sidestepped away and delivered an even harder blow to the back of her neck. Sparks flashed in her vision as she toppled over onto the deck again, her sword flung out of her hand. Somebody snatched her weapon before she could. “Looking for this?”The young man who towered before Nensela, clutching her bloodied sword while crunching her captain’s skull beneath a sandaled foot, was a Kushite in the same blue tunic as the rest of the pirates, with the same lapis-lazuli scorpion hanging from his necklace. Yet there seemed an uncanny familiarity about the features of his sneering face, despite the diagonal scar that streaked across it.“Who are you?” Nensela asked.The man knelt to her with a sinister smile. “You don’t remember me, sister? Such a shame. I’d thought you’d delight in this little family reunion.”An arrow through her heart would have struck the Admiral of Kush with a much duller pain than what she had heard. She mouthed all manner of vile curses against the one she thought she had lost all this time, but she could not force a single word out of her lips.“Fortunately for you, sister, I’m going to spare you.” Akhraten said. “On the condition that you come with us to Socotra. Suffice to say that Yasmina will be very delighted to see you in person.”Nensela lunged at her brother, but two pirates locked their arms around hers and kept her back. All she could do was snarl.“Why does that sea bitch need me?” she asked. “Why don’t you simply kill me this instant?”Akhraten paused. For a fleeting moment, the wicked grin on his face seemed to fade. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taken by surprise when a certain Hussein of al-Mukha spoke of your name before me. You wouldn’t happen to have met the man, would you?”In her paralysis, Nensela could not even nod.“Regardless, all I had to do from that point onward was lure you with a little scene of massacre to pull your heartstrings,” Akhraten said. “And so here we meet again, my sister.”It was not only shock that overwhelmed Nensela like a tsunami cresting over a beach. It was shame. So many lives had been lost because of her. And it had not only been her fighting men who paid the price.Before following her brother back onto his dhow, she cast a final look over to where the Kemetian woman and her baby still floated on the surface of the sea, now accompanied by the bodies of many new dead. The next time Nensela blinked, both mother and child had vanished into the deep., A forest of dragon's blood trees, all shaped like toadstools with spiky green foliage at the top, hemmed in the clearing where the weathered megaliths stood like colossal gravestones. No one, not even the native Soqotri whose stone huts squatted alongside the island's coast, knew what bygone people had quarried and erected these tongues of limestone some uncounted centuries ago. Nor could anyone read the lines of faded inscriptions that ran down their height, if they even were writing at all. All the local population of Socotra knew of the ancient gathering of giant stones was that a most unsavory motley of men and women had set up their own town of goat-hair tents and rude hovels among them, with one larger tent striped with gold and red sprawling across the very center of the place. It was toward this tent that Akhraten brought his sister, her wrists bound together with rope so coarse that it cut her skin.Two burly copper-skinned guardsmen, both recruited from the nearest Soqotri village, opened the tent’s flaps to let him and his captive in. Out drifted the fragrances of incense and sweetened wine that contrasted with the more putrid odors of sweat, old beer, and human feces that pervaded the rest of the pirate settlement. Yet it was the more pleasant scents that sent the coldest shiver down Nensela’s back.Oil lamps on teakwood counters radiated firelight that glimmered on the gold, silver, and bronze furnishings filling up the tent’s interior. A scrawny old Indian man, whose umber-colored back bore a hideous mass of crisscrossing scars and welts, moaned an almost plaintive song in his native language while playing the sitar on his lap. He sat cross-legged next to an ebony sofa, cushioned with crimson upholstery, on which reclined a young Arab woman in a dark blue tunic and hijab.The Arab girl rose to an upright posture and flashed an eager grin. “And who has my trustiest captain reeled in today?”“This would be Nensela, the Admiral of Kush,” Akhraten said. “We caught her right before she could attack us, dear Yasmina.”Yasmina stroked Nensela’s chin with her finger. “Admiral of Kush, you say? She does indeed appear to be your finest catch, in more ways than one. Not only would she fetch us all a lifetime’s worth of coin…”“Don’t you even think about it!” Nensela growled. “I’d sooner take my own life than let myself be sold away!”Yasmina’s cackle would have frightened a hyena. “Oh, no, I wouldn’t sell you to anyone. At least not in the usual way. But think, O Admiral, of what the Qore of Kush himself would pay for your release! And I daresay that a lady as comely as yourself would make great entertainment for my men in the meantime…”The revulsion rose in Nensela’s insides like a tide of foul liquid. She could find no kind words to say to that seaborne demon. For that matter, even the vilest curses Nensela could imagine would inflict less damage than her captor deserved. Yet neither would the Admiral of Kush let Yasmina and her jackals abuse her anymore, much less in the way men so often abused women.“If any of your men so much as touches me for his ‘entertainment’, I will bite his manhood off like a bitch, mark my words!” Nensela said.Yasmina tapped her lip with her finger in thought. “Nah, that wouldn’t do. But there are more ways to entertain men than with your body. Akhraten, have her taken to the dragon pit this evening.”“But, but Yasmina, she could die—” Akhraten said.“Oh, she need not live for us to profit from her. Now, do as I command, or I’ll have your title stripped!”It was with a confused shrug that Akhraten dragged his sister back out of the tent., It was at the twilight of evening when they dumped Nensela into the pit, her body throwing up dust as she landed on the sandy floor. Mounted torches burning along the pit’s upper rim bathed it with reddish orange light like a scene from the underworld, with the encirclement of spectators jeering at her with the torturous cruelty of demons. Some even pelted her with pebbles or slimy pieces of half-chewed food, as if these vulgar corsairs had not already buried the Admiral of Kush with enough layers of insult.It was not unlike how she had always imagined the arenas of Rome, where men fought beasts or each other to appease the crowds. Apparently, the Romans, as depraved as they were said to be, were not the only culture in the world who reveled in witnessing butchery. Would Nensela’s own people have been above it? Perhaps not.As she pushed herself back up, her palm pressed onto the roof of a weathered skull, one of the innumerable bones scattered over the pit. Even with no flesh remaining on any of them, a faint effluvium of decay and blood flooded the area, mingling with the more pungent stench coming off white-coated pellets of dung. From within a wide rectangular opening in the pit’s stone-lined wall, behind a gate of wooden stakes, Nensela could make out the shimmer of scales and the twinkle of tiny eyes.Yasmina had called this place the dragon pit. Were dragons not creatures of make-believe, belonging in old myths and legends right alongside sphinxes and griffins? Or had there lain a grain of truth to those stories after all?Something bounced on the pit floor right next to Nensela’s feet. It was her old sword. Standing over the edge of the pit behind her was Akhraten. For once since they had first reencountered one another, her brother was not glowering or sneering down at her. If anything, there was an almost remorseful gleam in his gaze.Someone from the audience on the opposite side shouted above the din, and the gate creaked as men pulled it up with ropes. All the watching pirates stamped their feet while chanting in repetition the phrase, “Tananin kumudu!” Arabic for, “Dragons of Komodo!”From the darkness within the opening that had been behind the grate, a pair of forked tongues lashed out to lick the air. Afterward emerged scaly heads on long wrinkly necks attached to thick low-slung bodies, each of which advanced on four sprawling limbs which scarred the sand with saber-like talons. Behind them brushed serpentine tails over the arena floor. In general form, these two creatures resembled the monitor lizards which scavenged along the Nile River back in Kush, yet both seemed as immense as young crocodiles, their bodies longer than men stood tall.Wait a moment, the Admiral of Kush had heard of creatures like these. They were supposed to live on islands in the distant east beyond India, preying on deer, buffalo, and even human beings. They must have been brought halfway across the world to end up here on Socotra!Once they had crawled out of the darkness, the dragons accelerated into a dash, their speed frightening for such huge reptiles. Nensela grabbed her sword and sidestepped to escape their path. One of them nonetheless got close enough to chomp onto her gauntlet of gold bracelets, the pressure of its jaws squeezing down on her forearm as it pulled onto her. The second lizard circled around to lunge at her from the left.Nensela banged her elbow into its open maw and punched the other in the snout. As the first dragon withdrew, she stabbed it in the neck right below the jugular. Its claws slashed across her breast in retaliation, shooting sharp pain through her. She drew her sword-arm back for another thrust until the second beast tugged her away, its knife-like teeth piercing the skin on her upper arm.Something sizzled where it had bitten her, seeping deep into her flesh. Were these monsters venomous like snakes? Or was it the filthiness of their carnivorous mouths that was infecting her? The cheering of the onlookers above added to Nensela’s suffering, taunting her with the assurance that she would not be able to fight her way out.She would not give up then. Not for their entertainment.Kicking her heel into the dragon’s flank, the Admiral of Kush twirled herself free and drove her sword through its eye, slicing through bone into its little brain. The big lizard’s body convulsed before it fell limp, with a stream of scarlet staining the sand under its head. The crowd fell silent as they gawked at Nensela with their jaws dropped. She was ready to answer them with a defiant shriek of triumph when the remaining dragon pounced on her from behind.As she fell beneath it, her weapon rolled out of her grip. She stretched her arm to retrieve it until a flick of the reptile’s tail batted it far out of her reach. She could only squirm as the dragon savaged her with its teeth and claws, her ribcage buckling under its weight.A whooshing whistle through the air, punctuated by the clonk of something piercing scaled flesh. The dragon tumbled off Nensela with an arrow in its jugular. After another silent pause, the spectators booed and shook their fists in fury while they all faced Akhraten, who had a bow in his hand.He slung it over his back and tossed a rope down the height of the pit, waving his hand at Nensela toward himself. “Get up here, sister!”She hurried up the rope to where Akhraten stood. “What in Amun’s name is up with you?”“Now’s not the time. We must leave now. Follow me!”Together they raced away from the pit toward the edge of camp. Whipping out their weapons, the rest of the pirates coagulated into a vast wave that swept after them, trampling their own tents like antelopes stampeding over grass. The curses they roared, and the thunder of their footsteps, echoed in the night even after the pair had lost sight of them.Still the two ran together, following the rising moon as the dragon’s blood trees flashed past them. Not even Nensela’s wounds, or any venom that the dragons might have injected into her, could slow her down.“Where are we going?” she asked in mid-stride.“To the nearest native village,” Akhraten said. “And then—”Together, they plummeted into the blackness beneath their feet., It was not a far fall, but they landed on a hard surface of stone. After mustering enough strength to stand up again, Nensela felt around her body to ensure that no bones had broken and then helped her brother onto his own feet. White moonlight shining from the very aperture they had fallen through was all that allowed them to see around themselves.They were in a tunnel held up by a single line of megaliths, smaller cousins of the ones that had stood around the pirates’ camp. Behind Akhraten, the passageway continued into darkness that stretched for however long. Behind Nensela, it terminated into an alcove wherein rested a big slab of rock hewn into the crude approximation of a female figure striped with faded ocher lines. In the knob that represented the sculpture’s head, an open mouth had been excavated, with conical seashells suggesting sharp teeth.Nensela stepped back from the snarling statue, the sweat on her face cold as the night.“This must have been some kind of underground temple,” Akhraten said. “And that might have been their goddess, whomever these people were.”Voices murmured. Nensela jumped in her sandals with a yelp. Were the ancients who created this place still haunting it?Akhraten held one finger over his lips while pointing to the gash in the ceiling. “Hush, it’s them.”Yellow firelight glowed down the open crack, with the corsairs’ scruffy faces peering over its edge and muttering among themselves in Arabic. Nensela and Akhraten both retreated deeper into the darkness, staying still and holding their breath. They stayed put even after the torchlight faded away, waiting until after the last of the pirates’ footsteps had died down.Once confident the coast had cleared, Akhraten cut out strips of his tunic with the scimitar he had by his hip and wrapped them around Nensela’s wounds. He then tossed the remainder of the garment off himself, revealing a proper Kushite loincloth underneath it.“All these years…you became one of them,” Nensela said. “Why?”“I didn’t have much choice,” Akhraten said. “I could be either their captive or their crewmate. Most other pirates don’t even offer the latter as an option.”“But still…how could you? Our mother and father raised us better than that. Why, if they were to see what you’ve become…”Akhraten sighed with his head held low. “I know, and nothing I can do can make up for what I’ve done before. But, still, I never wanted you dead.”“Neither did that ‘mistress’ of yours, and yet here you are, betraying her as you betrayed our family, our kingdom. Why, brother? What’s the matter with you?”“You must understand, she never cared whether you were alive or dead. Suppose those lizards did kill you in that pit. So what? If she can get our Qore to pay her off first, she wouldn’t necessarily have to keep her end of the bargain. I’ve known her to cheat like that.”“So, you turned your back on her, and all the Sea Scorpions, to save me, your sister. This, this doesn’t make any sense to me. But I owe you nonetheless.”Nensela opened her arms to embrace her brother, but he backstepped from her with his hands blocking her. “You don’t owe me anything. All I want is for you and me to get off this damned island and come home. You can turn me in when you do. I know I deserve it.”“No, what you deserve is your head off, traitor!”It was Yasmina who had spoken last. Her glaring eyes scintillated like a demon from the light of the torches her mob of corsairs held behind her. She unsheathed her saber and pressed its tip into Akhraten’s neck, drawing blood.“You know the score, my captain,” the mistress of the Sea Scorpions said. “Give her to me, unless you value her life over your own.”“And what do you plan to do with her?” Akhraten said. “You should know she’s more useful to you alive than dead.”“If I were an honest bargainer, yes. But since when were we ever honest? Besides, the other Scorpions feel they’ve been cheated in seeing her survive those dragons. It’s only fair to them that I make up for it.”“You want to show them bloodshed, don’t you? Alright, then, bloodshed they shall have—right here at this very moment!”With a sweep of his blade, Akhraten struck Yasmina's off himself. He dove for another attack, but she parried him with an alacrity that matched his own. The tunnel reverberated with the ringing of their swords against each other and the hooting of her pirates, which Nensela countered by shrieking cheers in favor of her brother.After several clashes, Yasmina cut across her former captain’s gullet. He crumpled onto his knees.“One more chance,” she said.Even as he coughed out blood, Akhraten narrowed his eyes at his opponent with bared teeth. “Kill me instead. That’ll give them what they want.”Yasmina grinned. “Will do.”After one more stroke of hers, his head went off. Even after its parting, his steely defiance did not fade from his face. It remained as if it had been sculpted that way from the beginning.Even as tears washed down her face, Nensela did not pause in the face of shock. Around her, the world blurred into a red haze, with her brother’s sword shining through it as she scraped it up and hacked away at his murderer in a flurry of continuous motion. Sparks flew with every screeching peal of iron against iron. Blood spurted with every squeal and snarl. It swirled around them along with the dust in a maelstrom of violence.When the storm subsided, Yasmina bint Faruq, mistress of the Scorpions of the Sea, lay lifeless in a gleaming red pool at the feet of the ancient idol. The Admiral of Kush nudged her body forward with her foot as a final offering to whatever deity that sculpture had represented.Silence hung within the tunnel as the Scorpions of the Sea gaped at Nensela, their faces paling by a shade or two. It did not last long. Like a flash flood in a ravine, they came at her with a deafening uproar, weapons drawn and thrashing in vengeful bloodlust. They had her trapped between them and the idol.The only way out would be above them.Climbing onto the old statue, Nensela sprang onto one of the megalithic columns, embracing its upper half right above the pirates’ reach. From there she leaped to the next column down the line, and then to the next onward, much like a chimpanzee would hop between the branches of jungle trees. As she jumped from column to column, the brigands continued to chase her down below, their torches letting her see up ahead.With every leap, her confidence swelled, powering her to accelerate until she reached the tunnel’s exit. Having thus escaped, she would need to keep the pirates from pursuing her further. She could not keep running forever.What she could do, instead, was trap them in there.Nensela hauled up one of the numerous boulders which were strewn around outside the cave, her already exhausted muscles stretching with intense aching under its mass. With what remained of her womanly strength, she hurled it into the foremost of the megalithic columns, toppling it over. The ceiling it had once supported cracked and crumbled until it broke apart into a downpour of rock and soil, blocking the way out as it collapsed. The muffled screaming of men behind it gave way to the crunching of bone.The Scorpions of the Sea, for so long the terror of these waters, had been vanquished at last, as the Admiral of Kush had set out to do. She had avenged her brother, whom they had stolen away when she was a child.And she did not feel the gleeful surge of triumph she had expected all her life. Instead, Nensela could only plop down onto the ground, crushed by pain, exhaustion, and grief., When Nensela returned to the souq of al-Mukha, it was not in a gold-fringed galley of ebony with the insignia of Kush on its red sail. Instead, it was in a humble dhow she had borrowed from one of the Soqotri villages, even smaller than the ones the Arabs of Himyar used. The people she passed as she made her way to the Sheikh’s palace looked at her not with fearful awe or respect, but with stupefied pity. Even Hussein bin Abdullah, who was still hawking his ceramic wares at his stall, clicked his tongue while shaking his head as she went by. Even long after recovering from the dragons’ venom and everything else, she did not have the will or the strength to give him the thrashing he deserved. His business would suffer without the Scorpions, regardless.When she reached the palace, the Sheikh let her in without any further questions. He had prepared for her a meal much as the one he had given her and her retinue of guards the day they first met, except the coffee was much sweeter than before. Or so it seemed, after everything Nensela had been through.“Forgive me, but I presume your mission did not go as well as you hoped?” the Sheikh asked her while they were eating.All Nensela could do was drop a lapis-lazuli scorpion into his hand. “It was your daughter’s. She…had no desire to come home. I am sorry, but—”The Sheikh placed his hand over hers with a gentle smile, despite the moisture welling up in his eyes. “At least you brought something of hers back. May Rahmanan have mercy on her, no matter what she has done. And what of the Scorpions of the Sea?”“They are no more. But we lost so much…and I lost a brother…may Amun watch over them in the afterlife.”“I know your pain, young Admiral of Kush. I feel it, too. What matters is that you have ridden the sea beside us of its greatest pestilence. For at least a few more seasons, so many can sail these waters in peace. Is that not worth our sacrifice?”Nensela thought back to the Kemetian woman and her infant, along with all the others she had seen floating in the water before her confrontation with the Scorpions. If nothing else, no more would suffer their fate for some time, whether it would be a few seasons or many more. Nor would anyone else have their siblings abducted at a young age and raised into a cutthroat life of brigandry.Sooner or later, of course, piracy would return to dye the waters red. But even a brief respite was better than none.The Sheikh Faruq bin Hakim held his cup of coffee up. “To peace on the Red Sea, for as long as it lasts.”Nensela followed in suit, clanking her own cup against his. “For as long as it lasts.”
Fan Fiction
Harry Potter Modern!AU| Devil's Triangle Part 7.2Soft pings punctuated the conversation between Marsha and Harry, each time distracting the young man whose eyes flitted to the screen of his mobile phone. While he scanned the contents of the newly sent message, he hummed in response to Marsha’s continued jabber before turning his attention back to her after swiftly typing out a reply.By the eleventh message, the older woman scrunched her nose and slapped her palm on the steering wheel. “Can you stop that infernal noise? I doubt you listened to anything I said.”“Sorry, sorry.” Harry scrambled to say as his fingers darted over the screen. “One last message, I swear.”Huffing, Marsha took her eyes off the road for a second. She eyed Harry as he shoved the phone back down in the pocket of his uniform. Curious, she asked, “Who’s that anyway?”“Luna. She’s venting about her colleagues.”Marsha’s eyebrows lifted in question. “What did they say now? Or should I just ask your sister that later over lunch?”“I don’t know.” Harry shrugged. “I can tell you the gist of it. Anyway I’m sure Luna will give you all the details later.”He slid his hands down his thighs, ironing out the creases in his pants. “Seems like those gossip mongers asked Luna about Shawn’s scores for the recent test. Then they rubbed their kid’s scores in her face and pretended to feel bad for her. You know the type.”Grunting, Marsha shook her head. “Oh I know that kind. They go aww you poor thing and you can see that twinkle of glee in their bloody eyes.”“Exactly.” Harry concurred with a wag of his finger. “And then they gave her.. Advice.” He raised his hands and made quotation signs in the air.“Advice my ass.”“Yeah I told her to tune them out and go kickboxing later in the gym. Let out some anger.”Marsha scoffed in response as she looked out her side mirror before turning into the main road. “She’ll destroy that punching bag for sure.”A knowing chuckle left Harry’s lips. “That she will.”“Do you get talk like that about Percy?”“Not as much as Luna, luckily.” Marsha snorted. Her eyes widened as she recalled a pressing matter. “Damn I forgot. Do you mind if we make a quick stop at my place first? I need to grab the camera I promised Luna.”“Sure, no rush.”“Thanks.” Marsha flicked on the turn indicator and took the next exit. “And yeah, our colleagues have better things to talk about than kids. Although I get the occasional spiteful comment from other parents asking why Percy isn’t more athletic or outgoing or bright.”“What do you tell them?” Harry turned in his seat, eager to hear more.Giving him a side glance, the corner of Marsha’s lips curled upwards in a snigger. “I tell them to mind their own business. And if they really get on my nerves, I take a snipe at their kid.”Laughter erupted from Harry as he slapped his knee. “That’s a good one. I wish I could tell Luna to do that. Imagine the looks on her colleagues’ faces!”Marsha joined in on his guffaws until it subsided. “Yeah,” she sighed. “I can understand why she doesn’t though. Those colleagues of hers are the kind to keep a grudge. It would be hard to face them every day after that.”Humming in response, Harry looked out the window at the passing stores, busy and packed with the lunch crowds. “I don’t get why people always have to compare though. And it’s not just the parents too. Kids get it equally bad.”“Yeah Percy gets it too, I hear.”“How does he handle that?”Marsha shrugged. “I tell him to stand up for himself. He can’t rely on me to settle this kind of crap. People gotta learn to be strong by themselves.”Harry nodded. He didn’t disagree that kids needed to learn to be independent. Although knowing Marsha, she probably came down too hard on Percy. He hardly saw Percy but the short glimpses of the teen told him what he needed to know. Slightly overweight and sullen, the kid was definitely not the sociable kind and must attract a lot of unwanted attention from bullies.“Anyway I guess Percy is at home?” he asked.“Should be back by now. Half day at school.” The police car slowed as the scenery shifted from bustling storefronts to a nestle of two-storey houses interspersed with small patches of greenery. It was quiet, owing to the lunch timing. Marsha let the car drift to a stop outside a white-washed, prim house. As she grabbed her house keys from the car’s storage holder, Harry said, “Mind if I pop in to use the bathroom?”“No problem.” Marsha turned off the engine and removed the key, slipping it into her pants pocket. The two of them got out, the slam of the car doors echoing in the quiet neighborhood. Marsha unlocked the gate and it swung open smoothly. As they crossed the yard, Harry admired the well-cut, short grass in the lawn. It could do with flowers to brighten up the front of the place but Marsha wasn’t a fan of those. He waited for his colleague to open the front door before following her in. Instantly, he was greeted by the muffled sounds of heavy metal booming through the walls. “That would be Percy,” Marsha said. “I’m going upstairs to get the camera. The bathroom is just down the hallway to your left.”“Got it.” Harry watched her plod up the stairs before turning his attention to his surroundings. The kitchen was to the right and a small living room to the left. He walked down the hallway, taking in the pictures that lined the wall. In some of them, Marsha was a young, slimmer woman but with that same thousand-watt beam. He smiled, admiring his colleague’s outgoing nature. Some photos were of family gatherings where he recognized Marsha and what was probably her handsome brother. According to Luna, he was a photographer and unfortunately, deceased at a young age. Then came photos of Marsha and her husband, both decked in uniform, together with a young Percy. Toddler Percy was chubby and had a wonderful smile, no doubt inherited from his mother.Later photos however only had Marsha and an older Percy. He knew her husband had died in service and it obviously took a toll on mother and son. Percy had lost much of his smile, Marsha had started putting on weight. Harry’s smile dropped as a bubble of sympathy rose inside his chest. He reached the bathroom, turned the door handle, and entered the small, cozy space. It was utilitarian and clean, much better than the male toilets at the police station on a bad day. After relieving himself, he washed his hands, dried them on a beige towel, and left the bathroom. As he made his way back to the front of the house, he realized that the sounds of heavy metal were now replaced by raised voices. Marsha’s stern tone reverberated through the house although he couldn’t hear the exact words no matter how much he strained his ears. Moments later, a door upstairs opened and Marsha’s words filtered down to where Harry stood. “Try that one more time and I’ll take that damn computer to the junk shop!” Harry winced at the sound of the slamming of the door. Loud footsteps stomped down the stairs. He looked up to see an irate Marsha, splotches of red on her face. Her expression was dark, eyes ablaze with fury. Lips drawn in a thin line, she motioned to Harry with a curt wave of her hand.As they left the house, Harry quietly voiced up. “I’ll drive.”Marsha nodded and tossed him the car key, heading towards the passenger seat instead. After the two of them got into the car, Harry cleared his throat as he turned the key in the ignition. “Want to talk about it?”Yanking her seatbelt over her large frame, Marsha cursed under her breath before replying, “I caught Percy on the computer on some suspicious website - I don’t know what. He closed the window too fast.”She folded her arms across her chest. Her voice terse, she glared out the window pane. “He’s supposed to be studying! The computer is only there for that. I’ll make sure the next time he does it, I’ll wreck that damn device!”Harry’s lips pulled into a grimace. After pulling out of the parking space, he shifted gear and pumped down on the accelerator pedal. When he was back on the main road, he mustered his nerves and said cautiously, “It’s not easy to know what he’s doing on the computer the whole time. Even if you go so hard on him, he can always do it behind your back. If you relax your approach, maybe he won’t do it so secretly-”“Yeah right,” Marsha interjected with a careless wave of his hand. “I can always see what he’s doing on that machine.”This time, Harry kept his mouth shut. There were so many ways that Percy could avoid detection, even with parental controls on. Teens could be very resourceful, especially when it came to hiding stuff from parents. But Marsha would not understand and would not believe in that. “Still,” he pressed. “It might not be a good idea to use such an authoritarian way with a teenage guy.”“Why not?” Marsha scoffed, her eyebrows knitting into a frown. “It worked out well with you and Luna after all.”Harry shook his head as he negotiated a turn and headed into town. “Not really. After Dad died, Luna swore that she would never follow in his footsteps when she had kids. That’s why she’s so lax with Shawn.”“And that’s not good either.” Marsha said pointedly as she turned to face Harry. “Look at how rebellious Shawn is. She can’t even control him.”Unable to disagree with that, Harry grunted instead. He took the next corner and pulled up beside a small restaurant. “Well, maybe you should tell that to her directly,” he said with an impish grin.The anger oozing off Marsha melted for a moment and she punched his shoulder playfully. “At least come with me to say hi then. Luna would be happy to see you drop by for a bite too.”Chuckling, Harry raised his hands in defeat. “Fine, fine. You always have the last say.”As he turned off the engine, he hoped Marsha wouldn’t bring up the subject with Luna. After all, his sister was equally fiery and could get heated up when it came to Shawn. A growl from his stomach reminded him of more pressing things. He rubbed a hand over his flat tummy. Oh well, first things first - time to fill up the tank.
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A Time Felt.It has been some time since I wrote an entry on this page in a tone of candid seriousness. Yet circumstances, the state of affairs, and with Memorial Day Weekend just a few hours away, I feel a desire to speak.There needs be little mention that the pandemic and the ensuing conflict in Ukraine have turn what was already our unstable mindset, anxious nature, and present illness into an upheaval unmitigated.But just as our little group grapples, once again, with our mental illness under trying circumstances; Us ourselves are joined by the recent victims, living and deceased, of two Mass-Shootings in America.Not all of us are Americans in this group. But what I have hoped that groups and avenues like this Literary Page have inspired is a sense of empathy toward our fellow patients in the field of psychological maladies.It is this empathy, Empathy that is shared among all Humans during times of both crisis and joy, that I ask that Us all share this Memorial Day weekend.Although Memorial Day is an American holiday, I am most certain us literary artists can look at the words – “Memorial Day” – and make little effort to see that this weekend not only Americans can have a moment of reflection, calm, tears, and Embrace.While we are all full aware that, traditionally, “Memorial Day” is a day meant to honor the valiant amongst us, that chose Service to excel their endeavors, as many of us chose to Cultivate the Heart of their decision.The American Nation.There are none who have not been witness to the very natural desire of an individual to answer a need; most prevalent this weekend being Warriors who served their country. And not just under the banner of the Stars and Stripes.I will be bold enough to say, it matters very little how we view the events that stirred our young men and woman to take up arms and enlist. Whether in The War to End all Wars, the War that followed, the clash between Brothers at Gettysburg, above the skies of the Gulf, or in the Landscapes of island nations, we still take the time to honor them.These individuals whose of some their names are boldly written within vicinity of our proudest structures, are part of the backbone that has made us, are a part of the backbone on which we stand, and are to forever be Honored by the continuing Dream that they fought, bled, and died for.Once again, The American Nation.And here we are, a part of that Nation, today. Within the wake of Death in a children’s school, and another grim shadow on the steps of one of our first states, I would offer that we, us all, add these victims to our prayers, ours toasts, our celebrations this Memorial Day weekend, that the Valiant Dead can greet them with open arms. It may seem of bitter comfort, the loss of so many, much too soon and in such circumstance. But as we remember our American Fallen this Memorial Day Weekend, how could we not add these children and Citizens to our prayers, our toasts, and our celebrations.How could we not remember those that fell to the pandemic. The medical staff that charged almost as valiantly if not more so to combat an unseen but present enemy. Without care for cost of life or pain of illness, countless, countless took up the mantle and steered headfirst, Chest pounding, and proud into the conflict.For three bloody years it seems, all of the United States placed themselves, for a time, in the same halls in which our Soldiers lie. As we all steeled ourselves against failing finance, variations in disease, familial strife, and the ever growing specter of the unknown, I’d like to think the following: I would like to believe we are all indebted to those Courageous Fallen. Whose stories and valor have inspired so many, and whose roots are marrow-deep within the American Spirit. And it is in this sense that I have continued and have endeavored to keep trying. To keep going. To whatever end.-This Memorial Day let us toast our Service Men and Woman. Let us mourn for all the Americans we have lost during this period. And let us remember the joy we have shared with one another. Let us remind ourselves that we can still toast long-distance through Zoom. That we can stay inside all weekend and have alcohol delivered as needed throughout the weekend. Food as Well. Let us remember that we can randomly walk up to a stranger and say “Happy Memorial Day Weekend” The stranger will mostly like say nothing and look annoyed. But you are saying “Happy Memorial Day Weekend” not for their gain, but for your own. Let us not shame the neighbor down the street, who is celebrating with open-pits, kegs, gaudy music, and a crowd to rival the Staples Center. Let us praise him or her! For they are doing exactly what every American who chooses to honor these Fallen is supposed to do.Continue their Memory. Since it was a happy one. And since it is Memorial Day, the layman’s understanding is as followed: “These guys basically died so I can be here ‘and’ drink beer, so goddamn it imma get some stuff.” Defending the Peace at Home. Fighting a War so none others have to. What a glorious life, though admittedly not for all. Perseverance and Joy to us all.Happy Memorial Day, Stay Strong America.,
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Are you ready to take the next step? We know you're serious about writing and we are too. For our brave writers who are looking to get their start in the world of professional publishing, we will be gathering up a list with a handful of publications that are accepting submissions each month.

Since we're in the eleventh hour of the month, we're listing publication with deadlines in the next few weeks.

There are countless literary journals and anthologies accepting submissions out there, but a good number of them charge a reading fee. However, since a good many of us are early in our writing careers and often do not have the funds for paying submission fees, we will only list publications that do not charge a reading fee.

We list the name of the journal, the submission deadline, what type of literature they're looking for, and if they are a paying market or not. We encourage going to each website individually to read submission guidelines.




:bulletblue: Publishing Opportunities :bulletblue:

Name of journal: Broken Eye Books
Deadline: June 30th
Media: Fiction
Market: Paying
Website: www.brokeneyebooks.com/submiss…

Name of journal: Organic Lifestyles Magazine
Deadline: Rolling basis
Media: Articles
Market: Paying
Website: www.organiclifestylemagazine.c…

Name of journal: Bare Fiction
Deadline: June 5th
Media: Fiction, poetry, theater
Market: Non-paying
Website: www.barefictionmagazine.co.uk/…

:? What does no simultaneous submissions mean? This journal mentions that they do not accept simultaneous submissions; this means that they are asking you to submit your work only to them and to no one else until they've given you a response.

Name of journal: Track//Four
Deadline: June 6th
Media: Poetry
Market: Non-paying
Website: trackfour.submittable.com/subm…





:bulletred: Our Advice!

While it's definitely tempting to only submit to journals that pay their contributors, it's a slow and tedious process to develop a library of publications that can require making literally hundreds of submissions. We highly recommend submitting to both journals that pay and those that don't, for getting your name out there and having a publication to list on your resume or CV is always worth something.

You may have several pieces published with non-paying journals and though you won't see the money then, there's always the very high possibility that having those publications on your resume will be a key thing discussed at that job interview you're waiting for, or something to highlight in that scholarship application you're working on.

Happy writing and submit with confidence!
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DemonDragon66 Featured By Owner 6 days ago
Hey, make sure you set your group admin permissions to "Subject to Vote" or "Are Not Allowed". There has been two notorious group hijackers for over a month now who apply as a co-founders, delete all the artwork in the gallery and favorites, and replace it with gore, scat and porn.
As an example:
www.deviantart.com/toonami-for…
(the NSFW stuff has since been removed but the gallery has been wiped out)
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:iconwarriorcatsfan47:
Warriorcatsfan47 Featured By Owner May 10, 2022
writers that take writing commissions for deviantart points and are willing to publish it once it is finished needed now
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:iconsourtreatz:
SourTreatz Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2022
Hello, I've sent a request to join the group about 6 days ago and it still says I'm in the approval stage.
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:icononepunchyan:
OnePunchYan Featured By Owner Nov 21, 2021
Hi Group!

I'm looking for a writer for a superhero online comic. 

Do you have anyone that can be forwarded over to me? 

Much appreciated
Darren
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