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Devil's Triangle - 3D Presence 8.4To say he was shocked after receiving a phone call from his nephew would be a gross understatement. Thomas was dumbfounded. He had expected Tamm on the line. When Shawn’s hesitant voice drifted down the line to ask for tutoring, pride and excitement filled his heart. Not once had he imagined his nephew would willingly ask for help with his studies.Bursting with enthusiasm, it took Thomas the rest of his shift to study up on Chemistry and Biology. For the first time, the lack of activity at the police station was a blessing. He pored over online texts and pulled up old homework he had done from the dusty confines of his cloud drive. By the time he reached Tamm’s doorstep, he was half-confident he could help Shawn with anything the teen threw at him.When the door opened to reveal his sister with bed hair, the radiance in her aura must have matched his own. Her disheveled clothes did nothing to hide the smile plastered on her face.“Why, if it isn’t my kid brother,” she teased. “Come in, Thomas.”Grinning, he followed her into her house. As he slipped his uniform boots off, he tucked the file of papers he had compiled under his arm. “This is a real surprise, Tamm. Shawn calling me about homework.”“Yeah, it sure is,” she chuckled as she leaned against the metal staircase railing. “I thought he was joking at first.”Thomas straightened and pointed a finger towards the kitchen. “Mind if I get a glass of water?”“Sure, let me get it for you.” Tamm strode down the hall, Thomas trailing her.The kitchen was in a mess. All sorts of vegetables and meats covered the island table. Plates, bowls, and pots took up the other counter surfaces. The tantalizing smell of different spices wafted up to his nose, stimulating his empty stomach. Thomas pushed aside a bowl filled with garlic, making enough room for him to place his hands on the table.“Food preparation for tomorrow?” His gaze scoured the ingredients and half-made dishes.Tamm hummed in reply as she rummaged in the cupboard for a glass. “A bit of experimentation too. I need a new dish for the upcoming festival.”“Oh right, that’s coming up soon.” Spying a plate of freshly breaded chicken, Thomas snuck a piece into his mouth.With her back to him, Tamm warned, “Don’t eat too much, or else I’ll have you clean up the place as punishment.”“Shit,” Thomas mumbled. He swore his sister had eyes implanted in the back of her head.Tamm turned around and placed a glass of warm water in front of him. “And yes, I do have eyes everywhere.”When Thomas’s eyes bulged in surprise, she gave him a conspiratorial wink. “Now get your ass up there and help Shawn out. I trust you brushed up on your knowledge.”He eyed her with suspicion, still wondering how she could read his mind. “Yeah don’t worry, I read up.” He patted the file in his hand. “By the way.” He scooped up the glass of water in one hand. “Any idea what made Shawn reach out to me?”Tamm’s shoulders rolled in a shrug. “Nope. No idea at all.”“At this point, I don’t really care,” she added with a grin.Thomas laughed and lifted his glass in a toast. “I can roll with that.”“You do what you were doing.” He gestured with a tilt of his head. “I’ll go up and see Shawn.”“Go ahead,” she called out as he backed out of the kitchen. ~ ~ ~Thomas turned on his heels and walked down the hallway. Behind him, the sound of Tamm’s merry whistling filled the house with a cheeriness that warmed his heart. If only this atmosphere could be permanent instead of the stifling tension between mother and son. The problem was that Shawn spent too much time on his phone or in school activities when he should be focusing on his studies instead. The teen insisted that what he did - networking and information gathering - was important. The younger generation boggled Thomas's mind.As he climbed the staircase to the second floor, he heard a loud thumping sound. Guessing it must be Shawn, he skipped up the last few steps. The second-floor landing was spacious but empty. Attached to the wall at the back was a small basketball net. To the right was Tamm’s bedroom and a bathroom, to the left was Shawn’s bedroom and study room.The thumping sound continued. It was louder, clearer, and definitely emanating from Shawn’s study room. He headed for the door, knocking below the sign that said “Enter at your own risk”.“Shawn?” he called out. “It’s me, Thomas.”The sound stopped. “Come in!”Thomas opened the door and stepped in, elbowing the door shut. Shawn stared up at him from his swivel chair, one hand rubbing the red spot on his forehead. He sighed despondently, “Hey Uncle Thomas. Have a seat.”Thomas poked around the clutter of books, crumpled clothes, and gaming CDs. He found the stool sandwiched near the unmade bed. Hooking a leg under the stool, he pulled it up beside Shawn. He placed his file and glass of water down on the computer table. “How’s my favorite nephew doing?” He ruffled Shawn’s mop of hair.The teen’s shoulders slumped. He swiveled to face the computer screen. “Not good,” he groaned. “I’m still stuck.”“Where did that come from?” Thomas pointed to the red mark tainting Shawn’s forehead.Shawn rubbed the little bump that was forming. “Banging my head on the desk to make something click.”Having found the source of the sound from before, Thomas chuckled. “That won’t help. I tried before.”“Great minds think alike, huh.” His nephew managed a thin smile.Thomas clapped his hands together and rubbed them. “Alright, then. Show me the problem.”The teen nodded. Pointing to the computer screen, Shawn explained the assignment question to Thomas. After listening attentively to his nephew, Thomas summoned all his knowledge to talk through the solution. A soft tinkle from Shawn’s phone stole the teen’s attention away from Thomas for a few seconds. Choosing to ignore his nephew’s distracted antics, Thomas continued on. By the third ping, Thomas had enough.“Shawn.” He kept his voice even with a hint of authority. “I can’t help you if you keep checking your phone.”The teen’s head jerked up, his eyes wide. A shade of pink tinted his cheeks. “Sorry, force of habit.”“I’ll turn it to silent mode,” he added. With a few flicks of his finger, the phone buzzed in response. He set it down on the table and pushed it out of sight.Satisfied, Thomas’s lips crinkled into a smile. “Great. Now let’s figure this out.”~ ~ ~Without any further distractions, the two guys huddled together, writing down equations and crossing some out. They inched closer and closer to a solution until half an hour later when Thomas cried out triumphantly. Thomas looked at Shawn who was grinning ear-to-ear and felt a sense of accomplishment bloom in his chest. “Quick. Key it in and see if we’re right,” he urged the teen with a thump on his back.Shawn nodded vigorously. His fingers flew over the keyboard as he typed in the solution they had arrived at. One press of the “Enter” button had both guys holding their breath as the server verified their answer. Seconds later, a green tick appeared on the screen. Shawn whooped, Thomas pumped his fist in the air, and the two shared a painful high-five. As they slumped back down in their seats, happy and exhausted, Thomas glanced over at Shawn. “That was great, wasn’t it?”“Yeah. That was awesome, Uncle Thomas!” Shawn laughed.Seizing the opportunity to change his nephew’s habits, Thomas said in a light tone, “Studying is this fun when you put your mind to it and do it with other people.”Shawn picked up on Thomas’s badly veiled attempt and rolled his eyes. “I see what you’re doing there, you know.”“Okay, okay. Guilty.” Grimacing, Thomas lifted his hands up in mock surrender. “But really, wasn’t that fun?”The teen was silent for a moment. “It’s not like I don’t want to study properly, you know. It’s just,” he paused for thought. “I can’t stop being distracted by stuff.”Thomas pondered over his nephew’s words. “Maybe you need someone to hold you accountable, like what I did. Someone who makes sure you don’t reach for your phone or computer.”“Probably not your mum,” he added as an afterthought.Shawn nodded in agreement. His eyebrows furrowed as he ran through a list of people. “Maybe Valerie?”At the mention of the girl’s name, Thomas recalled the slander incident with Sandra. He frowned, uncomfortable with her influence over Shawn. Trying to be gentle, he said, “Anyone else you could try?”Shawn’s expression dropped in disappointment. “I know you don’t like her, Uncle Thomas. But you know, she was the one who egged me on to ask you for help.”Without any further distractions from Shawn's phone, both uncle and nephew huddled together. Thomas wrote down equations, crossing some out when Shawn pointed out the errors. Closer and closer, they inched to a solution. Half an hour later, Thomas cried out triumphantly. He looked at Shawn who was grinning ear-to-ear. A sense of accomplishment bloomed in his chest. “Quick. Key it in and see if we’re right,” he urged the teen with a thump on his back.Shawn nodded vigorously. His fingers flew over the keyboard as he typed in the solution they had arrived at. One press of the “Enter” button had both guys holding their breath as the server verified their answer. Seconds later, a green tick appeared on the screen. Shawn whooped, Thomas pumped his fist in the air, and the two shared a painful high-five. As they slumped back down in their seats, happy and exhausted, Thomas glanced over at Shawn. “That was great, wasn’t it?”“Yeah. That was awesome, Uncle Thomas!” Shawn laughed.Seeing the teen so excited made him see a glimpse of hope. Maybe even a tiny possibility for change. He seized the opportunity. Trying to sound casual, he said, “Studying is fun when you put your mind to it with other people.”Shawn picked up on Thomas’s badly veiled attempt in a second. He rolled his eyes. “I see what you’re doing there, you know.”“Okay, okay. Guilty.” Grimacing, Thomas lifted his hands up in mock surrender. “But be honest. Wasn’t that fun?”The teen was silent for a moment. “It’s not like I don’t want to study properly, you know. It’s just,” he paused for thought. “I can’t stop being distracted by stuff.”Thomas pondered over his nephew’s words. “Maybe you need someone to hold you accountable, like what I did. Someone who makes sure you don’t reach for your phone or computer.”“Not your mum,” he added as an afterthought.Shawn nodded in agreement. His eyebrows furrowed as he ran through a list of people. “Maybe Valerie?”At the mention of the girl’s name, Thomas recalled the slander incident with Sandra. He frowned, uncomfortable with her influence over Shawn. He hummed in thought. “Anyone else you could try?”Shawn’s expression dropped. Disappointment twisted his lips. “I know you don’t like her, Uncle Thomas. But you know, she was the one who egged me on to ask you for help.”Thomas quirked an eyebrow. “Valerie did that? Why?”“I was ranting to her about how Mum’s stupid colleagues always get on her case because of my exam results.” Embarrassed, the teen looked away and cleared his throat. “I felt it was my fault but didn’t know what to do. So she suggested asking you.”Shawn’s confession surprised him on many levels. For a long time, Tamm's pleas were always met with indifference from the teen. That must have been an outward display to seem cool. Shawn seemed genuinely affected. Plagued by guilt and the inability to improve his studies, the burden on his shoulders must be stifling. Thomas felt a wrench of pity for his nephew. If he had known what the teen was thinking, he could have helped him out earlier. To that point, Valerie was another surprising young one. He never expected the rebellious girl to have so much sense. Maybe behind the bitchy aura that she exuded lay a kind, mature woman. A smile split his lips. He chuckled. “Get Valerie’s help then, if you think it’ll work out.”“You're okay with it?” Shawn grinned, his cheeks flushing red. “Cool!”The joy reflected in Shawn’s expression had Thomas’s heart bursting with love. His chest rumbled with laughter as he ruffled his nephew’s hair. This time, Shawn broke into a wide smile, the cloud over his head now lifted.Thomas got up and stretched his arms. “Well then! I guess it’s time for a break.”~ ~ ~After stretching part of his unused brain muscles for an extended period of time, Thomas needed a short rest. He picked up the empty glass, having drained the water long ago. “I’m going to grab some water. You need anything from the kitchen?”“Nah.” Shawn grabbed the can of soda by the side of his computer and shook it. “Still got some left.”“I’ll be back in a jiffy.” Thomas winked.“Take your time,” Shawn called out in a sing-song voice as Thomas left the room.The moment the door closed, Shawn snatched his phone off the table. Eager fingers swiped through the various apps he kept open. Minutes may have passed in the real world but thousands of information tidbits would have flown through the cyber world. His greedy eyes glinted with excitement as he scrolled through his feed. Photos of his friends and schoolmates flashed past. Nothing interesting to take note of. He spared only a few seconds of his attention to the videos and gifs. Half-way through the long scrollbar, he noticed an intriguing link.www.timestoday.com/server-leak-throws-doubt-on-politician-affair.htmlHis brow furrowed as he skimmed through the article. He didn’t trust the reported information at face value. Too many things on the Internet could be fake. His nimble fingers danced across the small screen as he pulled up different links. With discerning eyes, he scanned the text for telltale signs of fabricated information. The final link he landed on was a mirror site for a reputable server that published news leaks and classified media.Shawn studied the content. He noted the writing style, language, timestamp, and edits. As his mind reached the conclusion that the information was accurate, his heart sank. He gulped hard. His eyes flitted over the screen as he re-read the article again.His grip on the phone tightened. If this published email was indeed sent by Sandra, if the photos were not faked…His mind raced as he tried to figure out how to handle this new piece of information. What bothered him the most was how Uncle Thomas would react. Sandra meant nothing to him but she was important to his uncle. Despite his belief that the information was not fake, there was still a possibility that it was a ploy by the politician’s enemies. So what was the point in telling Uncle Thomas and making him worry?“Hey, I brought you some snacks.” Thomas’s buoyant voice cut through his thoughts.Shawn flicked the article away and threw his phone to one side as if it were a ticking bomb.Chuckling, Thomas shook his head. “It’s okay. You can use your phone during breaks.”A sigh of relief escaped Shawn’s lips. He forced a nervous laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. This wasn’t the time to tell his uncle yet. Not until he found concrete evidence.
The Tale of Belmardina - Prt08 PG09 by DrZime
Devil's Triangle - 3D Presence 8.3“What took you so long?” Mark rebuked his son as the gangly teen clambered into the multi-purpose vehicle. The brief rush of clean air as the car door opened and slammed shut lessened the musty odor in the vehicle.“Stuff.”Mark put the car into gear and stepped on the accelerator. The old vehicle shuddered and jerked forward. As he spun it around the parking lot, he shot a side glance at Ray in the passenger seat. The teen’s elbow rested on the door ledge, his head cupped in his hand as he looked out the window. At his feet, his brown shoulder bag lay in a crumple. A picture of Joker decorated the bag, the clown-like face smiling up at Mark with crooked lips caused by the folds.The crumpled bag told Mark enough about his son. That bag was a present from Lynn. Ray loved it - in his own way. Discarding it on the car floor instead of leaving it on his lap hinted at the teen’s volatile mood.“Bad stuff, I take it,” Mark said gruffly.Ray didn’t respond, as expected. It was the common response of most teenagers but Mark felt a twinge of irritation. “Look, I can help you deal with whatever it is. But you have to tell me the problem,” he reasoned with his son.“I don’t need your help.” Ray's words dripped with acid.Mark bit down the urge to give his son a good tongue-lashing. He fixed his gaze on the road ahead of him and kept his voice even. “You’re lucky to have any help at all, Ray. When I was young, my parents were worthless pieces of shit. I had to solve everything myself.”He stole a glance at Ray. The teen’s head hadn’t even moved. He couldn’t see Ray’s face, so he continued talking. “Now I’m offering you help and you don’t even want to take it. What’s wrong with you?”“What’s wrong with me?” Ray scoffed as he angled his head to meet Mark’s gaze. “When I do ask you for help, you say it’s silly and that I should solve it myself. When I don’t ask you for help, you complain and say I should ask.”Mark jabbed a warning finger in Ray’s direction. “Don’t you talk back at me, young man. I know what’s best for you.”Ray’s lips parted as if to protest but then immediately clamped shut. The teen swiveled his head back to face the window but the anger rolling off of him didn’t subside.“And by the way, the problem you needed help with was so silly.” Mark chortled. “You wanted me to take you for a haircut!”“I didn’t have a choice,” Ray grumbled under his breath.“Yes, yes, your form teacher said your hair was getting too long.” Waving it off, Mark swung the car into the overtaking lane. The hum of the engine increased and Mark had to raise his voice to be heard. “You couldn’t go to Wayne’s barbershop down the road from the school, could you?”Ray scowled. “I don’t like Wayne.”“Right.” Mark sniggered. “Because he’s friendly and likes teasing you about what girl you like. And of course you couldn’t go to the other salon in town.”“They don’t cut well.”“And you couldn’t go to the hairdresser just out of town.”“Too far.”“And you couldn’t hitch a ride with a friend.”Ray kept quiet. After overtaking a few slowpokes, Mark decreased his speed. Leaving one hand on the steering wheel, he pinched his forehead with the other. “You have to solve these kinds of simple problems by yourself. You can’t always run to your mother for help because your stupid anxiety kicks in when you meet people.”With his gaze still on the road, Mark didn’t notice the tension that ran through his son’s body. “Damn, if I hadn’t stopped her, she would have come running home to take you to the hairdresser after you called her.”Seeing no other vehicles in the vicinity, Mark floored the accelerator. Raising his voice above the hum of the engine, he nagged his son. “You gotta be more like a man, Ray. And don’t just spend time with Kyler, for Christ’s sake. Go and hang out with other guys.”~ ~ ~Mark brought the car to a screeching stop as the traffic light ahead changed from orange to red. In the relative quiet that followed, Mark sighed. His shoulders sagged. Resting his arm on the steering wheel, he looked like he had aged another ten years. “I should have forced you to spend more time with other kids when you were young,” he said. “But oh no, your mother had to coax you every time you cried or complained-”A sharp ring pierced through his words. “Who is it now?” Grumbling, Mark grabbed his phone out of the cupholder. His eyes took in the caller ID. “Speak of the devil," he muttered as he hit the button on the screen and pressed it to his ear.By his side, Ray’s fingers curled into a fist on his lap. He didn’t move but his ears tuned into the conversation.“What now?” Mark said by way of answering the call.He listened to Lynn prattle on anxiously about something at work. Only half of it made sense to him. He cut her short. “Get to the point.”She turned quiet. After a second or two, she broke the news and ended it with an apology. Mark’s fingers dug into the scratches in the steering wheel. The anger in his voice was barely contained. “So you can’t even get someone to switch shifts with you on that weekend?”Excuses poured over the line, Ray being one of them. The more she spoke, the more it fueled Mark’s rage. His ears turned red as he slammed a palm down on the steering wheel. Ray’s shoulder twitched at the sound but the teen focused on the field outside his window.“We planned for that weekend ages ago, Lynn!” Mark yelled down the line. “It was for us. Even you said we needed it!”Listening to her weak reasons, he shook his head over and over again. “No, no, you listen to me, you stupid, overprotective woman. He needs to grow up by himself!”Ray stiffened. With nowhere to direct his anger to, he glared out the window, wishing that the fields would burst into flames. The traffic light turned green. A honk from the truck behind them cut through Mark’s rants. Still listening to Lynn on the other end, he struggled to shift his attention back to driving. More impatient honking ensued, driving the temperature in the car up several notches as the two male occupants grew furious.“Shut the fuck up! I’m moving!” Mark barked, despite the fact that the truck driver could not hear him.Ray squeezed his eyes shut, feeling the blood pound against his eyelids. His chest rose and fell in tandem with his increasing heartbeat. The incessant noise around him faded until all he could hear was his own breathing.“Lynn, I’m hanging up.” Mark ended the call, cutting her protests short, and jammed the phone back into the cupholder. Muttering a string of curses, he shifted into gear and slammed his foot down on the accelerator. The car lurched forward like a drunkard before picking up speed.As they left the trucker behind, Mark’s stream of rants continued. Stuck in his own thoughts, he was oblivious to his son who had not budged an inch.Ray let his rage envelop him, consume him until there was nothing left but a ringing in his ears. His heartbeat slowly returned to normal and he opened his eyes. The burning intensity in his irises extinguished with cold indifference.When Mark finally realized his son was no longer fuming, he believed everything to be well and that Ray was simply going through a teenage mood swing. That was his mistake.
Tournament Round I
Tournament Round II

Mature Content

Tournament Round III

Mature Content

Angst

Mature Content

Comedy
How To: Install A PoolAre you thinking about getting a pool? Do you want to enjoy the summer to the fullest, or are you hoping to help your family create fun memories like the ones you have from your youth? Whatever the reason, there is a lot to consider and do before you can get a nice, full-body sunburn from coasting on an inflatable raft in your private oasis.Cost, assembly and excavation, maintenance, migraines, and so much more are involved. It's a lot to consider, but if you let these simple instructions guide you through the necessary steps, you’ll have the pool of your dreams in no time.,STEP 1: Choose Your Pool's LocationBegin by deciding where you want to place your pool. Whether you are getting an in-ground or above-ground pool, you will need to know where it is going before you make your purchase.Next, you need the proper tools to survey the area you've selected. Items needed are a measuring tape, spray paint to mark your area, and, most importantly, a selection of family members that you can force to help you and then argue with you for free.While any tape and paint will work, choosing the right family members is pivotal. The best option is to invite your most abrasive and arrogant relatives. You want everyone to enjoy your pool, and if you can get the most irritating people in your life to admit your decision is not horrible, you can avoid many grievances in the future. This includes any embarrassing visits from the police because you broke into a fistfight with your drunk uncle over his snide and slurred remarks about your decisions.STEP 2: Purchase Your PoolAfter the domestic disputes are out of the way and everyone is (mostly) happy with your decisions, you can buy your pool. To decide what pool to get, your friends will tell you to ask your family, your family will tell you to check online, and the overload of information on the web will leave you with no other choice but to ask your self-absorbed, upper-middle-class neighbors where they bought theirs.The neighbors will tell you where to go, but be prepared for when they tell you it was expensive, as a reminder that they think you don't make as much as they do. If this happens, it's recommended that you buy a pool that is slightly larger than theirs.Once your neighbors have both helped you and ruined their chances of ever being invited to your house for a pool party, you will need to visit the business they suggested, as you are now out of ideas and options. For this visit to this pool store, you need to master the ability to look disinterested, impatient, and incredibly cheap. The last one is the most important. If they figure out what the cap is on your budget, you will be spending more than that amount.STEP 3: Prepare the LocationThis step is a two-phase process.Part 1: Now that you have ordered your pool, you will need to rush to excavate the area because you didn’t consider that the ground needs to be ready for when the pool arrives in only four days. For the first half of this step, you will need shovels, more friends and family to help with the work, and plenty of food and beer to keep the free labor happy.Part 2: For this part, all you will need is a telephone, the number of a good excavator, and to accept the fact that you’re about to shell out a lot of money. These three things are for when you realize you are in over your head and need the help of a professional who actually knows how to do the work.CAUTION: Avoid the temptation to listen to your pride over your common sense. Some of your friends might make fun of you for not being able to "dig a hole," but a lack of understanding about things such as pitch and grade will result in an uneven and unusable pool, a family resentful of time wasted, and hours wasted.STEP 4: Assemble Your PoolThis is when you actually assemble your pool. The foundation is set, and all that is left to do is build the pool of your dreams. The list of tools needed is large, but they will not be listed here, because by this point you know it is best simply to pay the people from the pool store to install it, especially after the failure you experienced when you tried to dig the hole yourself.STEP 5: Try to Enjoy Your PoolCongratulations! You have reached the final step!Your pool is now installed and the water is properly cleaned and chlorinated. It is now time to enjoy your private oasis. Well, it would have been, if you had not procrastinated for so long with your project and tried to do too much of the work yourself. Now it is the middle of September, and it's time to get your pool ready for autumn and close it down. For this, you will need two things: a large pool cover that will cover your failed DIY project and a quiet place where you can be by yourself and think about how you don't even like to swim that much.
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
A Saint Reborn"Do not ascribe to malice, that which is adequately explained by incompetence."-Robert Heimling The doors to the ER flew open with a bang as Micheal was wheeled in with swift urgency. The Opium had ceased his screaming but his burned arms were still a throbbing mess. Hot and cold, numb and agonizing at the same time. Patches of skin hanging off of him like he had been flayed, his extensive wounds were weeping blood and water. The way the hospital staff buzzed all around him was a hectic blur. As his heavy head slouched to one side, behind the window of a door by the big elevator, he could see what looked like a Doctor talking to two men in black suits. The Doctor, a younger man with short hair, was so obviously sweating bullets, that even a drugged up and traumatized burn victim that had just almost died, could see that something was wrong. The Doctor made many hand gestures that were utterly failing to appease the other two men. One of them pinned the man in white against the wall. Suddenly, before the events behind the window could play out, the elevator opened and the bed began to move. There was still aggressive chatter all around Micheal's head. Accusations hauled across the room as if the number one priority was to find a sinner amongst their ranks instead of providing someone in need of medical attention with a bed. "If Dr. Klein hears about this, you're the one who'll get their ass kicked, and if I get my ass kicked over this too, you'll be in a world of hurt, missy; I promise you that." "What is even you're point? Why do you gotta to be like this? Is this man's health not more important right now than whatever stupid paperwork we can sort out later? "I wouldn't be "like this", if you had called him in correctly! Is this guy even insured?" "Doesn't fucking matter! We'll sort this out once he is in his room." "Oh sure, it's your funeral." "Probably not though." "Whatever." The elevator closed. The motors came to life and he felt the sensation of being pulled upward. The nurse that was standing by his side was a friendly and kind lady. That much he could tell from how she spoke to him before. There is a certain warmth that you just can't fake. Yet, the tired but still tense expression on her face showed, that this sort of aggressive, stress fueled bickering was nothing but an everyday occurrence. The bags under her eyes standing out clearly against her light brown skin told that story very well. He decided that some levity might be of use. "Did I come by at a bad time?" She chuckled "No no, it always gets a bit chaotic during these hours. Best to just let it go into one ear and out the other." "Alright, I'll try." She looked at his burns. They were cleaned up a bit at the scene of the accident but were mostly still a mess of hanging skin and exposed, weeping flesh. See, just because there is also degree three and four, doesn't mean that second degree burns are to be taken lightly. They go deep enough to reach the layer of skin where the nerve endings sit, making them the most painful of all burns, as it leaves everything damaged, but also alive. "So what happened?" Micheal swallowed. It had been a mere hour or two since a faulty gas stove top launched a fiery blast at him. He got lucky that his face wasn't hurt all that bad and his eyes remained completely unharmed. He even managed to put out the part of his kitchen that had caught fire by himself. It was after the fire fighters, police and ambulance showed up and the adrenaline had worn off, that the pain began crawling through his limbs; he hadn't been able to hold a clear thought since. "Well... my stove top decided to explode at me..." "Damn, really? That's horrible. And here I was bothered by not finding time to cook." "Funnily enough, I can count all the times I used the fucking thing on one hand." He held up his hand in an automatic gesture and as it came into his view he took a close look at the appendage he had taken for granted all his life. Swollen and red, speckled with white spots of dead skin and glistening with hemorrhaging fluids. She saw how he retreated inward at the sight. "You'll be fine. We're good at this sort of thing, you know?" He gave a tiny, desperate chuckle "I hope you're right. I don't even know where my head is at right now..." "On a shitload of morphine." She said with a smile.They both laughed, her laugh exhausted, his laugh desperate. "We'll just bandage you up, give you something to help you sleep and the Doctor will see you tomorrow at 9 am, alright?" He nodded. The elevator stopped. Fourth floor. She pushed the bed down a curved hallway, the claustrophobic light of the hospital made everything appear sharp angled with even sharper shadows and reflections; piercing and cutting through the opiate haze Micheal was in. After rolling past the nurses office of the station, they arrived in another hallway. One of them would lead to his new temporary residence; room 1408. She wheeled him in. It was a standard, hundred twenty square ft hospital room with a big window leading to the dense darkness of the pine trees planted all around the hospital grounds. The kind nurse spoke softly to him, like a mother would to a child. "I will get my colleague and get the bandages and ointments ready. It will only be a minute. Here is the remote for your bed. If you should need anything, you press that red button right there. Someone will come running." "Thank you; I appreciate that. Could you also bring me some water?" "For sure. With or without fizz?" "No fizz for me, please." "Alright, I'll be right back." "Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere." She politely smiled at the obvious joke and left the room. He gazed up at the clock. It was 2:35 am now. That midnight snack was going to cost him far beyond the price of the ramen noodles he was about to cook up. It was completely out of nowhere. Just a sudden blast of engulfing flame that turned his arms into a fleshy mess that had already wetted and stained his sheets in sickly tones of yellow and red. The door opened again and the kind lady returned with a male nurse that looked like he was still going through puberty. They wheeled in a tray with bandages, which they applied thickly to his arms and face. He wondered why they bandaged his head as well, as his face had barely been touched by the fire and didn't look all that bad, as his beard burned up first before the fire could get to his skin. It wouldn't be till they changed his bandages two days later that Micheal realized how badly even this light contact had hit him. So there he was, sitting like a mummy in his hospital bed. Next, they put a drip in his right foot. Which seemed like a challenge for the adolescent looking nurse. "I'm sorry sir. It is hard to find a vein..." The female nurse walked over, looked at his foot, and put it inside him in a single try. "You'll get it next time, Randal." "So what are you giving me there?" Micheal asked. The young guy chimed in, seemingly happy to get something right. "That's an Ibuprofen drip." "Ibuprofen? That shit barely works when I got a headache." "Maybe so, but these burns are an injury that affects your vegetative nervous system, and Ibuprofen is just more effective at numbing that kinda pain." The female nurse softly elbowed him in the side. "Very good Randal! Now you just got to get better at hitting veins." He laughed nervously "Hey, I'm trying!" Micheal couldn't join in with the quips. Now that he was in these thick, stiff bandages, it was really sinking in how badly injured he was. When the lady saw that he was clearly sliding into depression she tried her best to give him something to look forward to. "In a few days you'll be able to get some lighter bandages. The Doctor will see you first thing tomorrow morning. Try and get some sleep. Goodnight, and get well soon." "...Goodnight." They turned the lights off and left. Now he sat there in his darkness and misery. Every little twitch of his body was uncomfortable. No thought wanted to really stay in an observable state. It was all torn up by mental intrusions about guilt and projections about why it happened. Useless psychological invaders trying to make sense of a Universe that never will. After a good long while of existential fencing, he gave up on the black ball in his mind. He closed his eyes and decided to let the drugs do their job. It wasn't long till exhaustion and sedation granted him some rest. The next day Micheal was awoken by a Doctor, disturbing his sleep for the routine visitation. He introduced himself as Dr. Klein. He was a skinny man in his late fifties, who had already lost most of his grey hair. His glasses seemed to be a bit ill fitting, as he fixed them with what felt like every other hand motion. Dr. Klein explained to Micheal that his second degree burns were quite the serious matter and that he should expect a three to five week stay, and about two or three operations; depending on if he needed skin transplants or not. As the Doctor was about to leave, he got stopped in his tracks by his patient. "Excuse me Doc..." "Y-yes?" "When I was brought into the ER, I saw two guys in black suits push around one of you guys. I just thought I'd let you know." As Klein heard this, a sudden shade of anxiety rushed over his face. "R-really? Ummm... I haven't heard of any such thing but thank you for bringing it to my attention. I-I'll be sure to look into it. I'll see you again at the end of the week to discuss your operation." With that the Doctor left. Time in a hospital flows differently. Every minute in that bed is slower than an ice age. Especially if you're in such a desolate state. Nurses came and went, horrible hospital food came and went, the changing of his bandages came and went, painkillers came and went; routines lit by only the harshest of white lights. Yet, even with such a perceived distortion of time, the night before his operation came crawling around eventually. They were going to thoroughly clean his wounds in order for the healing to go as smoothly as possible. He was about to get his last load of painkillers for the day. The door opened and a nurse wheeled in the usual tray of drugs. He had not seen her before. Long strands of thick, auburn hair hung down in front of her face, making it impossible to see it clearly. "Good evening" Micheal started. No reaction "Alright...", he almost sighed. Something was off about this that he couldn't quite place. Sure, some of the nurses were incredibly rude and the one that put some lighter bandages on him a few days ago straight up forgot to give him painkillers beforehand, so he got to enjoy a period of extra anguish alongside his new, more mobile bandages. What even the worst among them didn't do though, was give patients the silent treatment for no reason. Micheal watched as the woman moved around the room as if on tracks. She seemed to always be positioned in such a way that obscured her face to him. "Fine" Micheal thought, "If she wasn't up for conversation, let her have her way. The painkillers were the important part of this interaction anyhow." He took a peek at the clock; it was 21:30 pm. He looked at his bandages, hoping that tomorrow, modern medicine would make everything better and that that included him bypassing the need for skin transplants. He felt strongly about not requiring further injury to fix the abundance that he already had. As he was taking this train of thought, a palm struck his face, pressing him down into his pillow with vicious intent. He struggled in his heavily medicated state but it wasn't enough. He felt the sharp pain of a needle penetrating his neck, then the sensation of whatever was inside the syringe being pumped into him. He flailed his arms around in the hope it might somehow help to defend himself from his attacker. Every slight movement already caused something between major discomfort and disgusting pain. Every nerve in his body signaled to him that using his wounds as weapons was the last thing he should be doing right now; but there was no other recourse in sight. Suddenly, the Nurse let go and ran out of the room. He was in agony from the struggle, but he had just enough adrenaline in him to decide he wouldn't let her get away. He wormed himself to his feet and stumbled out into the hallway; not even pressing the emergency button by his bedside. Frantically looking up and down the hall, the concern about what had just been forced into his system was ever present. It didn't take long for Micheal to spot his blindsiding assailant. She stood at the end of the hallway and was talking to two men in black suits, who could have very well been the ones he saw bullying one of the Doctors, but they were too far away to know for sure. As the Nurse then looked into his direction, she froze, a look of honest shock on her face. As the man closest to her turned to see what she was looking at, he got angry. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" He cried out, before smacking her across the face so hard that it echoed loudly down the hall. What was all this about? Why are some men in black types bullying Doctors and slapping Nurses who themselves seem to moonlight as assassins and why assassinate a nobody like himself anyway? As he observed the ominous exchange he stood on legs who have never been further away from stability, and his entire being was one, nasty pain; yet he was determined to understand what the meaning of this nightly assault was. He limped towards the group of shady characters and was about to give them an earful, as something stopped him in his track he had never experienced before. A sharp jolt ran through him. A numbness expanded in his chest and a cold horror crawled up his spine. As he looked down, he could only cough up a shallow gasp as he realized what had stopped him. A sharp claw or stinger had pierced him from behind. There was no pain, just a morbid coldness as crimson spilled from the terrible wound. He would have instinctively gripped the spike exiting his chest, but his hands couldn't move. The suites down the hall looked at him in a rather annoyed manner, before grabbing the nurse by her arm and dragging the begging mess she was into the unknown. Micheal began to shake uncontrollably. He could feel something enter his neck and shoulder. Blackness swallowed him. When he woke up his body was totally out of control. Every inch of him was racing with pain. The edges of his wounds pulsated like never before and every time he moved his vision blurred as his agony surged. He screamed and cried for help, or maybe even mercy. The torment was so great he couldn't even consider the fact that he got mauled in the hallway and was now safely back in his hospital bed. He had enough presence of mind to hit the button that called for the nurse, even though it wasn't really necessary. His screams were disturbing even for a burn ward. The nurse that urgently entered his room was the friendly woman that had brought him up here on his first night. "What's wrong?" Between gurgled incessant screaming and anguished sobs, all she could make out was "Help me!" She called for a Doctor and send another nurse to get some pain medicine. In the following hours every pain killer known to man would fail. They pumped him as full of Fentanyl as they were legally allowed to and the despair of the patient only increased as the terror wreaking havoc on his broken body remained a mystery. The Nurse pulled Dr. Klein aside "Have you ever seen something like this before?" Dr. Klein swallowed and fixed his glasses "I have seen strange reactions to medication but this is new to me. We have given him so much Fentanyl, he already has one foot in the grave. I don't know how we are supposed to put him under for the operation when nothing works." "What about the program? He could be perfect for it." Dr. Klein's face was held tight by stoic worry "Even if you're right, I don't think it is ethical to offer such a dangerous thing to someone in such a desolate state." "With all due respect, do you see another way? We can't throw anymore Fentanyl at him at this point. Let's go live up to the hypocratic oath and offer him the damn drug." Dr. Klein's face twitched a little "Where is this sudden passion coming from, Mrs. Green?" "I have been in this line of work my whole life and I have never heard someone scream like that..." Micheal was a coil of suffering flesh. Nothing made sense. Sounds disappeared or grew louder beyond measure without rhyme or reason. He felt like a city in a firebombing. He would have wished for death if he could have held onto a thought for long enough to manifest that desire. He had screamed many a fragment about murderous nurses and fangs in the hallway. He did have three odd puncture wounds lined up right on the spot where the neck goes into the shoulder, but despite not being able to explain that away, the hospital staff seemingly put it all off as pain induced delusions. Suddenly, two men entered. They sported the same kind of black suite the men in the hallway had. As he was writhing in his stupefying anguish, the men realized they will face the same communication issues the staff had. One of them lifted his right index finger and said: "Shut up for a second". Micheal immediately stopped moving as if restrained by invisible binds. The pain didn't stop, he just didn't do anything against it anymore. The man continued, his partner just stoically standing behind him. "Excellent. Now, we have heard you're in so much pain you can't even coherently beg for death, is that right?" Without even realizing, Micheal nodded "Then we have an offer you won't refuse. This is currently my favorite NDA. It is for a new pain medication we're testing. It might just be the only thing in the world that can help you. You want it?" He nodded again "Excellent. Sign right here". The black suit held out the NDA and a golden fountain pen, and somehow Micheal had enough control of his tortured faculties to sign his name, even if it was in a pathetic scrawl. "That will do. Hand me the syringe please". "Certainly", said the other man and produced a pale, violet liquid, held in a container that looked more like a translucent sea shell than any syringe Micheal had ever seen, but still had a needle on its business end all the same. "Excellent", the first man repeated before injecting Micheal with the strange concoction. They both nodded to each other and left without saying another word. He was all alone again and amazingly, without pain. He looked around in awe. He felt reborn. He moved each finger of his hand carefully and even though there was still the tight strain from his burns, they at least worked without spiraling his entire system. Micheal looked around and noticed that his surroundings began to change. Everything was bathed in a soft pink light, pulling a psychedelic pastel filter over his sterile hospital world. It felt indescribable, not in an overwhelming way, more like a sort of floaty, disassociated wave that bopped him gently in place. He finally had the peace of mind to collect himself a little. He had spend too much time in too much pain to even think, so every breath he took now felt like a massive bass drop of relief; a reminder of normal, functional life. This was only exacerbated by the strange research chemicals. The sunset outside flickered every once in a while like the glitching sky box of an old video game, birds would freeze mid flight, twitch and suddenly disappear and the cars passing by sounded like the ocean tumbling onto the shore, but tuned down a couple of octaves to a white noise drawl. As the minutes drifted by, the feeling shifted. It was slight at first. Like his bed was swaying just enough to notice but then, in an odd, angular flood of lights and chemicals, his trip lead to a swirl of his entire cognition. He felt rushes of hot and cold, calm and anxiety coiling and switching within unforeseeable intervals. He was unknowingly screaming his head off, as he himself could only hear an alien sound collage that contained so much information that his high voltage mind state absorbed the audio equivalent of a hellish kaleidoscope, so full of melody, so full of rhythm, composed of sounds and notes no human would ever hear, of which he only received the fewest of fragments; the ones his mind could comprehend. After an indiscernible amount of time, the thrashing storm slowed to an anesthetic breeze and the men who administered the drug walked back in. "Hey there. How are we feeling?" Now that he was conscious enough, he noticed they both looked exactly like another. "You guys twins?" He mumbled in a stupor "Something like that. Back to you though..." The man straightened his tie and held out his hand to his co-agent, who pulled an odd apparatus out of the same briefcase that held the alien syringe earlier. The device looked somewhat like a gun metal grey megaphone, but an antenna extended out of the center. The man took the odd instrument and plugged its power cable into a port on the side of his briefcase, that seemed to have no end to its functionality. The man in black then pointed the thing at the tripping, bed ridden burn victim and hit a switch on the right side of the "gun". A slight buzz could be heard, but other than that, nothing else seemed to happen. "Excellent..." The man put the device away. They wished him a speedy recovery and went off into the night. Suddenly, blackness enveloped him and he fell into the deepest sleep of his life. When he woke up again, he felt like he never had before. He was still undoubtedly an injured man but a power pulsed underneath his burned skin that was undeniable. He looked at his bandaged hands. A rush of images of all the things his hands were capable of flashed through his mind. Grabbing, clutching, hitting, slashing, ripping, tearing, mangling, choking, smashing, smothering, clawing, crushing, gouging and the desire to experience all these motions. The door opened, snapping him out of his day dream. It was Randal, the young nurse that had bumbled his way through each and every encounter they ever had. "H-hey there..." The timid youth's hands trembled pathetically as they held his clipboard. "I'm supposed to check up on you and see how you're feeling... So... How are you doing?" Micheal looked at him with unwavering focus. Never had a person looked like this to him before. A collection of veins and nerves sprawling throughout an almost aura like human shape. "S-should I just come back later or..." "No, please. I don't mean to be rude... Ummm, Randal, was it?" "Y-yeah... ummm... alright.." Randal timidly stepped closer to the bed. He held his clipboard in front of his chest like a worthless shield. He erratically wiggled his fingers around its edges as he tried to remember which questions he was supposed to ask again. It wouldn't matter. As soon as Randal got close enough, a bandaged hand grabbed his collar and with a forceful yank Randal's head smashed into the metal frame of the hospital bed. Randal's vision blurred as he found himself on the floor, blood pouring out of his broken face. He scrambled towards the door, thoughtless flight as a last ditch effort to survive, but a vice like grip ceased him, and as he was pulled up by his scalp, he realized that that door might as well be miles away. Randal was now face to face with his predator; the same patient that had screamed up a storm of torment just yesterday. His eyes were no longer human. He opened his mouth and his tongue split at the tip. An assortment of small fangs revealed themselves, clustered around a throat like hole in which a black stinger sat, twitching ever so slightly in anticipation. The appendage dug right into Randal's artery as the inhuman attacker bit him in the neck. The young nurse was drained of blood within seconds. Randal's bloodless husk fell to the linoleum floor with a dull thud. Micheal was only slowly realizing what had just happened, but even in the face of this horror his hands were still. His heart pounded loudly, but steady. Micheal would have been shaken to his core by this sudden turn towards murder and vampirism, but whatever was happening to his body as it pulled all of the nutrients out of the young man's blood was too enthralling. He was no longer bound to that damned bed. He was going to get some answers. The door to room 1408 burst into splinters. Two Doctors, one of them Dr. Klein, choked on their conversation as the silence after the explosion of wood, metal and glass was filled with the most animalistic sound they ever heard as every heave of Micheal's chest pushed another rattling snarl out of his throat, triggering primal instincts our ancestors have known from the dawn of time, as they faced the darkest corners of ancient Earth. The black of Micheal's eyes frenzied pin points, he focused in on the two Doctors. Micheal recognized Klein and lunged for the old man while his younger colleague fled down the hallway. Micheal's feet pushing off the floor was like his hamstrings where mighty pistons firing against gravity. His flight was effortless and as he snatched Dr. Klein by the throat and pinned his former caretaker against the wall, it took no more effort than it would to toss a pillow onto a couch. "What have you done to me?" Never would Micheal have thought his voice could sound so brutal. Like an old, rusty sword being dragged through gravel or fire consuming a house. As his hostage could squeeze no answer past the death grip around his throat, Micheal threw Klein to the floor, only to snatch him back up and pin him against the opposite wall; by his collar this time. "Answer me!" The Doctor's broken glasses slipped off of his face as he coughed pathetically from a now raw throat. "You don't know what you're asking if you think I could even begin to explain it to you." The formerly skittish Doctor spoke with a resolve that was unexpected to say the least. "Kill me if you have to, dying was a risk I was willing to take from the start. I have seen what they are capable of, nothing about you scares me in anyway. I have nothing more to say to you..." The old man's face was still. It was clear Klein wouldn't budge. As the interrogation had fallen short, there was an awkward silence between the enraged patient and the still pinned medical professional. Micheal decided to let the man go and Klein slid to the floor. "Just tell me where I can find them..." Doctor Klein struggled to his feet and dusted himself off, took a second pair of glasses out of his pocket and put them onto his disheveled face. "Certainly, if you insist to march straight into your doom, I guess this little problem here will simply sort itself out." He pointed down the hallway. "You have to cross the bridge to the other wing of the hospital and then follow the signs to the office that says-" Suddenly Klein flashed a needle he had hidden somewhere in his coat and stabbed at Micheal. The old man was commendably fast in his sneak attack, but it wasn't fast enough. As Micheal grabbed the wrist of the syringe baring hand, the same strength he had just used to lift a grown man into the air, or tear a reinforced door apart like it was a sandcastle, he now used to snap his attackers arms like a twig. Dr. Klein screamed a wildly modulating howl as his broken ulna pierced his flesh, before the same jagged tip of bone was rammed into his throat, silencing him with a bloody gurgle. Wide eyed, the dying man fell to the floor, his mangled arm still stuck in his neck, his second pair of glasses smashed and as shock, blood loss and lack of oxygen began to close the curtains on Dr Klein, he could only look up at the survivor of his desperate Hail Mary, who's determination radiated revenge. Micheal tore a transponder off of Klein's key chain and left him to fade out as his blood spread across the freshly wiped floor. As he thought of what to do next, the lights all went out with a startling bang, then a PA system crackled to life. A softly sobbing voice dripped out of the speakers. "I... I-I'm so sorry I..." Sobs and cries interrupted the speech until a pained gasp put a stop to that. The voice carried on as the speaker did their best to hold back tears. "You sh-should surrender. Just walk out onto the parking lot and stop resisting." Another pained sound pressed itself through gritted teeth that eventually released into a sharp cry. "....cross the bridge to the west wing. We'll meet you there." The speakers fell silent. His head was pounding as he reached for a clear thought on what to do. His whole body was racing with adrenaline, screaming at him to run off. Run off to where though? He could leave the Hospital entirely if he so desired, simply jump out of the next window; but then what?He decided there is no other course to take then to meet whatever awaited him on that bridge to the west wing. His steps frantically echoed down the corridors of a hospital that was now somehow completely devoid of life. No patients, no nurses, all people seemingly raptured into thin air. As he finally reached the bridge to the west wing, a walkway lined with glass on either side, he saw something that made him shudder. As he looked out onto the parking lot through the big panorama windows, he could see the entire hospital staff standing out there in the pale moonlight, perfectly still, like a congregation of menacing statues. The dark pine trees rose up behind the hospital grounds like spires, looming over the gathering. He couldn't say for sure at this distance, but it felt like their gaze singled in on him, piercing him from afar. His dread was interrupted as he heard shuffling steps and shallow breathing coming out of the shadows on the other end of the bridge. The auburn haired Nurse that assaulted him slowly moved out of the darkness with all the grace of a drunk trying to walk off a hit-and-run accident. Each step was an ordeal and as she dragged herself into the light of the full moon he could see why. She was covered in cuts and bruises from head to toe. The look in her eyes was so full of fear and regret that Micheal was stunned into silence. He was so sure of himself that he would have torn her to shreds the moment he saw her, but here he was, his abuser already broken and now a heart rendering sight to behold as her busted knees looked like they would buckle at any moment. Micheal searched for something to say, anything, as this tortured woman stood before him on this moonlit bridge, just as mute as he was, while an auditorium of distant onlookers silently beheld the scene. Something else decided to break the ice first. "Say your lines, please..." A voice spoke out from the dark that was so deep and commanding that Micheal's blood froze. Like a King so powerful that the walls of his castle would bend to his whims. The woman forced herself to stand up straight against all pain and injury. Tears streamed down her face as she began to speak. "I'm so so sorry. Please forgive me. I was supposed to mark you as to-be-spared but I gave you too much and I... I'm so sorry." His tongue was still. Whatever she expected him to say, it wasn't coming out of his mouth. After what seemed like forever, he answered. "So this is all some stupid mistake? I am like this because... you "messed up"?" "I'm sorry I wish I could do something-" "But you can't, can you? I'm a Monster now and that's it. End of Story..." The voice from the dark spoke again. "It doesn't seem like he wants to forgive you. Not everyone has it in their heart to follow "love your enemy as thy neighbor"; can you blame them? You have committed great sin against this man, as well as our Organization. You have been punished for those sins, your Stigmata show that clearly. Yet the grievances run deep. Forgiveness is a divine act, so maybe you can in turn forgive him the rage that doesn't let him work such divinity himself. It would be a final act of great faith to do so, as this sadly has to be the end of the road for you." Her bloodshot eyes widened in terror. There was a moment of tense, dreadful silence. A pin drop would have felt like a gunshot. Out of the obscuring shadows, a long, red tendril baring claw like fangs at the end launched out of the shadows and pulled her back into the darkness at the end of the bridge. Micheal heard her struggle and plead for a few seconds, before a sound that could only be described as the violent removal of life echoed out into the empty hospital, followed by the splash and thud of a corpse falling into its own guts as it hit the ground. Micheal didn't know what to think or feel anymore. Where there once was justice and revenge bolstering his heart, there was now just emptiness and neither was there a future for a bloodthirsty beast such as himself that he could see. Part of Micheal hoped the Entity on the other side would simply take him next. "Do not ascribe to malice, that which is adequately explained by incompetence." Heavy steps announced the Entity moving towards him. The first thing illuminated by the moonlight where the sharp tips of long, black horns, before the head they were attached to revealed itself. The grey skinned creature was like a Gargoyle from Hell and stood at least ten foot high, with a pair of massive wings on its back that it couldn't even fully extend inside the confines of the glass lined bridge, and a whip like tail that was covered in horrid scales that made it almost seem more like a sword. It spoke in a manner that was a mix a corporate casual and mildly inconvenienced, which absurdly contrasted with the primal sound of its bass filled voice. "Let me say earnestly, it truly was a foolish mistake that brought us together here tonight, and I must admit that you're correct... It can't be undone." The Gargoyle looked out towards his subjects in the parking lot. It sighed a heavy breath that caused a lion-esque rumble in its throat. "I can only offer you mercy, which is death, or a burden, which is an entirely new life. Either way, you can never return to anything you've ever known in the past. I'm sorry Micheal, but it is all gone." "So I have to make a Sophie's Choice I don't even fully understand, and one of the options is getting torn apart by whatever the fuck you are, great." The Gargoyle spun around. "How dare you?"He roared like a whole forest of animals. Micheal froze in place as the Beast took a quick stride towards him. "I have acknowledged that this is on us and, by proxy, on me. I have only acted cordially towards you, even though you killed a nurse and Dr. Klein, who was extremely important to our operation. I could have killed you that night in the hallway if I had wanted to. You could at least show some manners." "I-I'm sorry... it is just hard to... wrap my head around all this. What do you mean by new life?" "It means that you will serve as a vessel for our purposes. A Saint reborn and a powerful warrior along side us. Refuse and die, fight for us and you might live; such is the paradigm." Micheal looked inside himself and battled scenarios in his mind for a bit. The Gargoyle respected his process and patiently awaited the answer. "My father used to say: "Never take all pieces off the board" and I always lived by that, so you're already wrong, not everything will be lost to me. The most important things stay right here with me anyhow. So I accept your bargain... What's your name?" The gray Beast hesitated for a second before answering: "Azazel... I'm honored to know you as my Champion." Azazel extended one of his claws and pushed it into his new Champion's forehead. Runes lit up along side Azazel's claws in a violet hue and as a rush that almost felt like flight took hold of Micheal, Azazel's eyes lit up in the same otherworldly light. After what Micheal could have sworn was a shock wave encompassing the entire world, he came to, still on the bridge overlooking the hospital grounds. Azazel looked down at him with relief. "Good, you survived. I was right about you after all." Micheal got up and looked at his new master with a sense of overwhelming purpose. "So what happens now?" Azazel let out what could be called "a chuckle" "You have a lot to learn about, and I unfortunately haven't the time to teach you. I will leave you in good hands though, don't worry." Azazel turned around and walked back into the darkness dropping a "Dominion, show him the ropes" before leaving. A group of the men in black appeared almost out of nowhere, all looking completely identical. One stepped forward and put his hand on Micheal's shoulder. "So, you might wonder what you have become on this fateful night, well, one thing is for sure, Mikael; you're no Vampire." The End Micheal sat on a bench in Venice Beach, California, staring at the sun down and listening to the repeating crescendo of the waves. His mind was awash with knowledge that would leave the biggest truth seeker filled with regret. Suddenly, a male voice tore him from his haze. "So this is who you are now, huh?" Mikael turned around to see a stranger in a long, black coat and equally dark sun glasses, oddly not bothered by the California heat. For a reason he couldn't explain the man felt as familiar to him as he felt unknown. The pale stranger sat down beside him. "Oh, don't worry, I know it's weird. We have done this old song and dance so many times now. It will take a while until you're fully back with us." Mikael's eyebrows raised in obvious confusion. "Who are you?" "You'll remember soon enough, Mikael. As far as Micheal is concerned, you'll get evicted soon enough. Enjoy the weather while you still can, before you inevitably get flung from the driver seat." Mikael didn't know how to respond, but he didn't have to, as Dominion showed up as he knew them, two men in black. "That's enough. You're going off script a bit too often lately, don't you think?" The pale man laughed in a purposefully fake way. "You have no idea how much improv goes into this business, hive boy." He got up, towering over Dominion. "But how could you? You are nothing but an over glorified Ant Queen, aren't you? Also, my shades are much cooler than yours." He turned around to Mikael. "Don't worry, once you get back into shape I'll be right here to kick your ass. Oh, and Micheal, good riddance." The pale stranger left. Dominion touched Mikael's shoulder. "Forget about that guy. We have a job to do. Something is rotten in the State of Denmark."
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 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 31 by MisterMistoffelees
Adventure
At the End of my World (READ: scene in ENG) by Van-Syl-Production
Science Fiction
Come here, my Children (incl. SOUNDTRACK + SCENE) by Van-Syl-Production
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
Charmy and the Laundromat (1/4)Author's Note: Psst, who's ready for a super special 4 parter mystery story to celebrate Charmy Nonsense's anniversary? ;)=============================="UUUUUUGHHHHH..." Charmy groaned as he slumped over the worn glossy counter, his eyes rolling to the back of his tortured head. The nauseating sterile scent of artificial lemon and chemical cleanliness made him lightheaded, hence the slumping, while the faulty florescent lights scattered uniformly over the room made everything flicker sporadically. The awkward hustle of frugal tenants from nearby apartment complexes shuffled lazily before his tired eyes, their pockets rustling with the tune of loose change. Rhythmic humming and churning interrupted by occasional banging and scrapes against metal filled the space with an almost lullaby melody, which made keeping his eyes open and his body upright even more of a struggle. Mix in the severely dated songs part of a tasteless playlist on loop, played at a volume hardly above a whisper, and the perfect soundtrack of boredom was achieved. Charmy slowly rolled his helmet clad head across the plastic counter, eyes half lidded and fully uninterested in the collection of blank tags hanging on the counter beside him, as he tuned out whatever the old tortoise lady was droning on about right in front of him. Last time he dared tune in to what rousing topic she'd chosen for conversation, she was yammering on and on about her great grandson looking just like him, except for the wings... and the stinger... and the black and yellow stripes... and the fact that her grandson was a tortoise like her, so it really wasn't a good comparison and blah blah blah. He let out massive yawn as he studied the rules and regulation poster on the far wall for what had to be the 200th time that day. Don't put more than the recommended amount of detergent in the machines. Use exact change in quarters, nickels, and dimes, no silver dollars or pennies allowed. Only use the large dryers for large loads or bedding. No shoes in the washers. Remember to check your pockets before you load the machines. And Charmy's personal favorite: For all dry cleaning needs, see the worker at the counter. Worker meaning volunteer worker, meaning whatever poor sap signed up for this gig. Meaning Charmy Bee, who had just managed to outfight a lingering boredom coma for the 60th time. Yes, he'd really landed in a stiff situation this time, but then again it wasn't his fault. It was no one's fault really, save the landlord who upped the rent 1000 bucks, that prick. He had to wait until after Vector paid for repairs to spring this on them, assuming they had the cash to spare. But little did the landlord know—or care—the repairs took all the spare cash they had. So they were essentially broke for the foreseeable future, which of course meant a 1000 ring increase was perfectly unreasonable right now. But the Chaotix were no strangers to poverty and tight deadlines, so like usual when everything was falling apart financially, the team banded together to take on the challenge. Vector went back to his side job as a DJ, working any place that was looking for some cheap entertainment for their dance floors. Night Babylon was obviously his hope in that regard, Rouge was always looking for some cheap but solid tunes to keep her club jumping, but there was always her competitors to keep in mind as well. Espio went back to dojo hopping until he found one that was in need of his teaching style, one he deemed worthy to learn from him. He knew they were in need of money quickly, but he still had his pride as a ninja. And if the dojos he visited were subpar, he would absolutely read them the riot act from Chun-Nan and move on to the next one.Mighty, ever the culinary master, immediately set about using up the rest of the baking ingredients to make his delicious brand of confectionaries in the hopes of selling them to some small businesses who understood just how good his baked goods were. Thankfully, he was a legend around town and the local businesses would fight tooth and nail for exclusive rights to Mighty's Bakery for a day, so all he had to do was auction himself off for the best deal and he'd be golden. Following in Mighty's footsteps, Ray went to his garden and gathered up his entire stock in order to take over the farmer's market he always had his share of criticisms for. All criticisms he was keenly aware of and would rectify at his produce booth, something the patrons of the market were more than grateful for. However, he wasn't very good at selling himself, he felt the product was so good it would sell itself. Everybody strongly urged against such a relaxed method, which meant Ray was also out of his comfort zone on this one.And last but not least, Charmy had to go to one of the only places that were desperate enough for cheap labor that they'd take a 6 year old kid and put him behind a counter for 8 hours. The laundromat wasn't his first choice, no no no, his first choice was the electronics store. He could watch as much tv as he wanted and only help customers on the commercial breaks, it would have been perfect! Except for the teeny tiny issue of him being banned from the electronics store because of his "rambunctious antics" as they called it. All he did was use 2 universal remotes at the same time, it wasn't his fault they kept making everything short out. When you think about it, it was actually the store's fault for having universal remotes that can't work simultaneously. Or at the very least not having a sign that warns people about that glitch.Then there was the paint store, with giant white walls just begging to be turned into an awesome mural. Something the young bee was all too happy to oblige, as he flung paint all over the walls to make the greatest painting of the Chaotix, fighting a dragon with 5 heads. One head for each of them to beat up, so it didn't seem like he was playing favorites. But of course, the grown ups had a problem with that too, despite the fact that Charmy using their paint to make the super awesome mural was the best advertisement they could dream of. Those stiffs couldn't see it as the golden gift that it was and ordered him to clean up that "outrageous graffiti", then after all that work they turned around banned him too! Real class act they were, Charmy recalled bitterly.Which meant the only place left was the lame-dromat, the most boring place on Mobius. He'd been there forever and not a single interesting thing had happened, just plain old people putting plain old clothes into plain old machines. Charmy realized it was like the worst arcade ever, you put coins in the machines and instead of a wicked sweet game, you get to watch clothes spin around for an hour. Amazing stuff... Why do people even have clothes n' stuff to wash, most people just walk around with gloves n' shoes, he complained while flicking the order tags. Why can't everybody in the world agree to just burn the dirty clothes an' buy new ones? Then places like this wouldn't need to exist. Mmmm, but if this place didn't exist, I couldn't get the money we need for rent, so haaaaah... he groaned once more, simply to break the bland monotony of his life. Charmy sat up and propped his cheeks against his hands looking out at the laundromat's patrons. Come on, there's gotta be some way to pass the time, if it gets any more boring in here I'm gonna explode!, he whined inwardly as he flicked his eyes to the different animals tending to their clothes. One patron that caught his attention for a split second was a black furred jackal with a green vest and camouflage pants, a white muzzle and flare tipped tail. She had a similar disinterested look on her face as he did, but with a sharp edge to it, like she was always scowling. The hilt of a weapon was barely visible in her jacket pocket and based on how she carried herself, she was comfortable using it. Definitely not a friendly customer, evident by how far away she was from everyone else, towards the back and against the wall. But she wasn't interesting enough to hold his attention when someone finally came up to the desk who actually wanted to put something into the dry cleaners.The man was an old brown feathered owl with a weird blue hat drooping on his head, his glasses thick and rippling. He had a pleasant smile on his bearded face, if not a little dopey, as he took out exact change for his... was that a coat or a cape? Did the guy want to dry clean his cape?? Why did he have a cape, was he a superhero??? Charmy started to ask him that very question, but after seeing the owl slowly count aloud the change with his feathered finger he found the answer on his own. The bee also recalled seeing the ditzy bird walk around the whole laundromat asking everybody if their specific machine took pennies. Everybody gave him the same exact answer, there's no machine here that takes pennies, but he felt the need to ask anyway. Only for him to come to the dry cleaning counter and use quarters, nickles, and dimes like everybody else, making his entire trip around the floor pointless and irritating.No way would this guy be a superhero, and the only other person that would wear a cape is a weirdo. Considering this guy wanted to dry clean something that anyone would consider on the level of a simple jacket, that suspicion was solidified. Though it was heavily stained, probably as a result of the owl's strange lifestyle that includes wearing a cape and not fighting crime.The boy remained polite while placing the cape on a hanger, filling out the dry cleaning ticket and handing it off to the elderly owl, then proceeded with his search for anything interesting. And it seemed as though he found it tumbling out of the bathroom in a daze. A huge purple furred bear rubbed his head and looked around with a perplexed look on his face. He was shirtless and soaking, his head was still dripping water down his chest and he didn't have gloves on either. The only clothing he still had on was a pair of pants, fancy dress pants, freshly ironed now that Charmy looked closer. Very strange and certainly unexpected, especially since Charmy didn't see the man anytime before now. Just what was going on there?Before he could ask the bear any questions, a loud shriek stretched across the entire building, causing everyone to jolt their heads up to the source. It was the old tortoise woman, holding tatters of clothes in her shivering hands, wailing to the ceiling incomprehensible exclamations. Charmy fluttered over to her, passing over the confused murmurs of the crowd and looking closely at what she clutched with a shaky grip."Woah, what?" he said incredulous at the sight he beheld. The clothes, old lady dresses, sweaters, and gloves, all of them had obscene holes and tears in them. Along the boarder of each one, there was a ring of discoloration staining the fabric. Charmy rubbed his fingers against the clothing, trying to figure out how this damage could have happened, while the elderly tortoise woman wailed on."My late husband bought these for me and now they're ruined! This has never happened here before!" she cried, as Charmy put the clothes on top of the dryer."Uh, it's gonna be okay—" he started before another customer screamed in disgust."Unbelievable, I just can't believe this!" Charmy heard from across the room, a white koala holding a sash at arms length, a snarl on her face. Then, as if on cue, multiple patrons took their clothes out of the dryers and had similar results. Regardless of material, specific drying machines, or time spent in the dryers, everyone had the same damage dealt to their clothes. Charmy looked all around and slowly tried to piece together what could be happening so suddenly in this once uneventful laundromat. "What seems to be the problem here?!" an otter yelled from behind the counter, over the complaints and groans of the agitated crowd. Everyone looked over to him, while Charmy just winced and tucked his head down a bit.The otter was the owner of the laundromat, Mr. Shellwinkle, a notorious cheapskate of a man infamous for his no nonsense policy when it came to his workers and his intolerance for complaints when it came to customers. He sauntered from behind the counter, his peach fur blending right in with the bland tiles and countertops of his establishment, which could explain why no one noticed him until now. The other explanation could be that he was hiding away in the back playing a high stakes poker game with his other otter friends, while Charmy manned the counter and fed the clothes through an automated system. Perhaps a bit of both. His cane tapped along the tiled floor as everyone looked at the stern faced man making his way to the old tortoise lady still weeping into her tattered dress.He stroked his whiskers and craned his neck to look up at Charmy, still floating in place hoping he wasn't noticeable. Mr. Shellwinkle took a pair of gloves out of the dryer and immediately glared at the offending damage."I see..." he said dryly, poking his finger through one of the holes."That's it?! Her clothes have holes in them now!" one person spoke up in annoyance."Something is wrong with this laundromat!" the white koala shouted, throwing her ruined clothes to the floor. "Wait just a second—" the otter started."It's the detergent! They clearly use cheap detergent to make a quick buck and look at who has to pay for it!" another spoke up from somewhere, causing everyone to grunt and murmur in agreement. "Now, hold on!" he tried again. "I thought we could trust this place!" a squirrel spoke up. "Of course you can!" Mr. Shellwinkle declared, pointing his cane at the accuser. "I've been running this laundromat for the last 23 years and this has never happened before! This is just some freak accident!" he shot a look at Charmy as he finished.Charmy finally found his voice again, "Hey, don't look at me Mr. Shellwinkle! I didn't do anything but man the counter, like ya said""Is that so? I've heard stories about you from the electronics store and the paint shop. You're some kinda prankster, aren't you?" he accused while jabbing Charmy's stomach with the cane. Charmy smacked the cane off of him, "Not a prankster, pranksters prank everybody. I only prank people that I like" he stopped and thought for a beat. "And people that deserve it—but the point is I prank people I know. Otherwise there's no fun in it" "A likely story..." Mr. Shellwinkle sarcastically responded while rolling his eyes. "Look, if ya don't believe me, just ask anybody here. I never came away from that counter until just now" Charmy offered."The kid's tellin' the truth" a gruff voice spoke up, snatching everyone's attention. "He didn't do it" the jackal woman continued, giving Charmy a look of solidarity. He grinned at her impressed, maybe she wasn't so bad after all."Well, then it was an accident that I will fix by the end of the day. For now, everyone just use the washers that didn't malfunction and continue your day" Mr. Shellwinkle assured as he unplugged the washer. Everyone murmured dissatisfied as Charmy studied the tortoise's dress again."Mr. Shellwinkle, I don't think ya get it. This wasn't an accident. This was done by somebody in this room""What?" everyone collectively asked before their voices clamored over each other.Mr. Shellwinkle shook his head in disbelief, "How could you possibly know that, child? Have you any proof?" he asked loudly, intending to put Charmy in his place. The young bee flew down to the otter and began to circle him as he delved into his explanation."Well, first of all, you've been open for a couple'a hours now. A buncha people've come in an' finished their loads o' laundry no problem. If this was an accident, it pro'lly would've started from the first load of the day n' it would be obvious how it happened. A weird noise, a customer screamin', maybe a big flashin' light on these industrial machines that are made to warn people when they're busted" he finished, kicking the machine lightly."Which is why I said it was an accident, boy" the otter replied in irritation."Right, 'cept... An accident with all these washers, all at once? Not one, a bunch? All connected to different plugs, with different clothes n' customers, with the same warnin' sensor thingy that just so happens to not work? Not one of these washers are flashin' an' I'm s'posed to believe it was an accident? No way""It's not impossible" Mr. Shellwinkle muttered out, surprised he hadn't thought of any of the details Charmy seemed to have effortlessly picked up."You're the one who's been runnin' this joint for the last 23 years, so you would know. Has anything like this ever happened before?" he asked, motioning to the old otter who struggled to find a clever retort.So he simply slinked down in embarrassment and answered honestly, "N... no...""Alright, then somethin' else must be goin' on. An' if it ain't an accident, it's gotta be on purpose, right?" Charmy reasoned, smirking proudly as he stopped his orbit around the grouchy otter."Then... how—how did this happen? Who could have done this?" the old woman asked, solemn eyes peering at Charmy, melting his heart."I dunno, ma'am. But I'll get to the bottom of it" he assured warmly."You?" Mr. Shellwinkle scoffed, a hint of laughter in his voice.Charmy looked around confused for a moment before answering, "Yeeeeah, me. Duh" was his succinct reply, showing he clearly missed the taunt in Shellwinkle's tone."Why would I entrust you to figure this out, pray tell?" he dryly asked."Uh, cuz I'm a detective?" the bee shrugged casually."A detective?" the old tortoise lady beamed impressed, causing everyone to murmur in surprise and disbelief. Charmy nodded and reached a hand under his helmet before flinging out a card and waving it around so everyone could get a quick look."Charmy Bee, from the super awesome Chaotix Detective Agency, at your service..." he said as coolly as possible, brandishing their business card like a badge and doing his best impression of Mighty. He may have sucked at detective work, but he knew how to act like one to a crowd. "The Chaotix? Haven't I heard that name around town?" the jackal woman thought aloud as she quirked an eyebrow at Charmy."I've heard of you guys, you helped my sister clean her gutters!" Another patron spoke up, causing Charmy to chuckle awkwardly."Yeah, we do jobs like that sometimes," then quickly regained his composure, "but most of the time we solve mysteries. Ya know, crime n' stuff? And this is a crime scene"The purple bear, who had remained quiet until now, scoffed unimpressed. "This is ridiculous, I'm outta here" he said as he stomped over to the door. Charmy quickly cut in front of him before he could touch the handle, waving his finger at the man."Nuh-uh. Nobody goes anywhere until I find the culprit. So sit tight while I get to the bottom of this" he instructed.The bear loomed over the small boy blocking his path, "Get outta my way, brat" his fangs bared as he flexed his hands to reveal the strength of each individual finger."I don't make the mystery rules, buddy. I just enforce 'em" Charmy replied without an ounce of fear. "Don't worry, this won't take long. Not to brag or nothin', but I'm a really good detective" he offered, smiling warmly at the menacing bear."I have somewhere else to be, kid. So unless you plan on forcin' me to stay here against my will..." the bear leaned in close before he grabbed Charmy's head like a bowling ball. "Move..." he growled more than spoke, rattling the more diminutive customers and setting on edge everyone else. The jackal woman slowly began to unsheathe her weapon, Charmy noticed from the corner of his eye. But he simply sighed and flew away from the purple bear, "Well, when ya put it like that..." he replied calmly.The bear watched Charmy leave and turned his attention back to the doorway, until a loud metallic scraping sound rushed closer to him. Swiftly, the bear reeled back just as the object, a drying machine, slammed against the door, pinning it shut. He whipped his neck behind him only to see several other dryers slam into the doorway, some raised off of the ground and slammed down on other dryers. Everyone stared at Charmy as he clapped the dust from his gloves, his eyes closed as he calmly smiled."Well, since you're stuck now, how 'bout ya answer a couple'a questions?" he grinned a cheeky smile back at the fuming man."You lookin' for a fight, pipsqueak?!" the bear howled, raising his clawed hand in preparation for attack. As Charmy eagerly rolled his arms to limber himself up for a fight, the old tortoise lady stepped between the two would-be combatants. "Young man, if you've nothing to hide, you should have no trouble answering the boy detective's questions. He's only trying to apprehend a heinous criminal, something an innocent person should have no problem with" her tearful eyes bore holes through the towering man's head as he slowly lost the will to fight. Charmy peeked from behind the scaly head of the brave woman, his mouth agape in surprise. Who knew the sweet little grandma had that in her? he marveled as he hovered over to the jackal woman, knife fully hidden in her jacket once more. They exchanged a quick look of mutual respect, before Charmy laughed comically loud. "C'mon folks, loosen up! You're in for an entertainin' show, now that the star detective of the Chaotix is here! Mr. Shellwinkle, don'tcha have some snacks n' drinks for everybody?" "There's a vending machine in the back, for employee's only" he stressed sternly."I think everybody'd be real grateful if you loosened up just this once an' shared with 'em" Charmy suggested sweetly, batting his eyelashes and clasping his hands together."No. People come to the laundromat with loose change, they can put it in the machine. I'm already allowing you non-employees access to the back of my establishment, I have limits" the old otter huffed as he crossed his arms."Fer cryin' out—Just go get some snacks to calm everybody down, ya cheap old coot!" Charmy shouted as he angrily jabbed toward the counter. "Fine, but it's comin' outta your pay!" Mr. Shellwinkle retorted as he led the group to the back of the laundromat. "Ughhhh, just go" the young detective waved off, his other hand pinching the bridge of his nose. A tender hand tugged on Charmy's shoe, grabbing his attention. "Young man, I believe in you. Find the person who did this to all of us" the old tortoise woman clenched her torn up dress in her hands before shuffling to the back."Well now I gotta deliver" Charmy snorted as he scanned around the room, looking for any details he might have missed in his initial assessment. He swept over the entire room, went through the timeline of events in his head again, everything Vector and Espio taught him came naturally as he underwent his investigation. As he suspected, he found no evidence of sabotage to the machines themselves, nor were they decrepit or worn out machines, though they were still very old. Mr. Shellwinkle was cheap, but he wasn't an idiot, he'd been in this business for 23 years without incident, so it couldn't be something as simple as broken down machines or cheap detergent. In fact the detergent was the same stuff the Chaotix used and they never had a problem with it, so that ruled that out for sure. So if it's not the detergent an' it's not the machines, how did the guy ruin the clothes? And why would he even wanna do somethin' like this, nobody here is loaded or nothin'. Maybe somebody knows somebody here, they are all from the area. Maybe there's a connection there... Charmy mused, lost in thought, which explained why he didn't notice someone else was there until an icy, condensation-coated surface touched his plump cheek."Eeep!" Charmy yelped as he jolted backwards, whipping his arms around wildly until he realized what was happening. The jackal woman was standing next to him, dripping wet soda can in her outstretched hand as she quirked an unimpressed eyebrow at him, a tight frown on her face. "Ohohoho, it's just you" Charmy sheepishly laughed, "What're you doin' here?" he asked while receiving the wet can, dripping on his knees.She gracefully hopped up on a nearby washing machine. "Came to help. You look like you need it" she said flatly."Oh, uh. Thanks, but I'm good" he waved off, sitting on the machine next to her's. "Just gonna start askin' questions, see if stories match up, who's suspicious an' who's not. All that good stuff" he laid out like a checklist before snapping the can open."You ever done this before?" she asked in a leading way, as if she knew the answer already. Charmy tried to brush it off."Oh yeah, loads'a times" he casually boasted, while reclining back against the machine."By yourself?" she added quickly, causing Charmy to sputter on his drink a little."Uh... yeah..." he forced out while darting his eyes away. "A couple'a times... here an' there..." he pantomimed uncomfortably, his tone uneven and hollow."So this is your first time" she confidently judged as Charmy looked at her in shock."Whaaaahahahat?" he choked out while leaning back. "Nooooo, I told ya, I've done this a couple'a times already. This is no biggie" he scoffed trying to sound confident, but his fake smile betrayed him completely. She looked him up and down for a moment. "Uh-huh. Well, my offer still stands, if that's okay with you, Great Detective" she dropped off the washing machine and started walking towards the back, confidence in her smooth stride. "Thanks, but I got it covered, just you watch" he called back, raising his fist to the air emphatically.The Black Jackal turned to the side and smirked, "Oh, I won't take my eyes off of you", before slipping into the back. Charmy stared at the door while slowly lowering his fist, his gaze falling on the soda can sitting in his hand, orange and popping with sharp shapes and fonts. For a silent moment, he fondled it in his hands, lightly moving his fingers along the surface. An almost nerves soothing action, one he'd never had to do before, he realized with a start. Charmy took another swig of the soft drink and let out a satisfied burp before setting the can down.Alright, guess it's time to start talkin' to people. I should start with the easiest ones first, then move up to the hardest ones. Like Vector says, "Ya can't let people know they're a suspect 'til yer sure they're hidin' somethin'! So start wit da victims an' work yer way up to da most suspicious guys!" he quoted, while placing his hands in front of his mouth to mimic the crocodile's jaws. Heh. Kinda wishin' he was here, he'd be able to handle all this real easy... he lingered for a second before clenching his fists and pumping them into the air. But I'm a detective too! I got this, just watch me, Vector!==============================Author's Note: I missed Charmy Nonsense's anniversary! I felt so bad that I decided to make a really special chapter to make up for it, and one that can hopefully make up for the Clockwork Maze chapter. I really goofed that one up... But it's been a while since then, I've been looking through a lot of mystery and detective stories, studying up, trying to improve. And I'm really happy with how this one came out! So I think you'll all be very interested in how this multi-parter turns out! And of course all the little details and references I always love including will be revealed at the very end. But until then, see if you can pick out a few as you make your way through the chapters and feel free to speculate on what twist and turns the case will take! I will give you this one for free though, as it's more worldbuilding than a reference or anything: Rings = dollars, therefore quarters, nickles, dimes, and pennies are percentages of Rings as opposed to dollars. Which explains why there's loose change in this story.I put all I got into this one as a celebration of this hyperactive bee character, this fan fiction universe centered around him, and of course, you, the readers who's love and attention keep the whole thing going. So do stay tuned for the continuation of Charmy's first solo case: Charmy and the Laundromat Part 2! Coming very soon! Like, this week even! See ya there C:
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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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:iconalgernonlocke:
AlgernonLocke Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2022  New Deviant Hobbyist Writer
Hello. I submitted a join request a few days ago and have yet to see a response. Is there an issue with my request that I need to rectify? Please let me know if there is something I need to do. 

Thank you, 

- Al
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:icontgc189:
TGC189 Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2022  Hobbyist General Artist
I didn't know there was a club for writers, and I've submitted a few stories years back
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:iconanimeboye:
Animeboye Featured By Owner Jul 22, 2022  Student Writer
I think I accidentally put Dragon's World- Jake's First Flame Part 2 in the prose folder when I meant to put it in the Fantasy folder. I guess either would technically work but it is from an urban fantasy series so I want to keep the parts together so would you be able to move the second part to the fantasy folder? Sorry about that.
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:icondemondragon66:
DemonDragon66 Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2022
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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