Mimics & Murder

Matthias, you should have realized this sooner. Much sooner! Matthias reprimanded himself as he lay with a gaping wound across his belly. The star Adventurer group known as Silver Flame was known for recruiting newbies and testing them, and sometimes they failed. Sometimes they didn’t adventure again. But those who survived the first few dungeons often went forward to become local legends. Now Matthias knew why– it wasn’t because the Silver Flame were nurturing these newbies, it was because the newbies who survived must have had incredible reflexes or other means.

The Silver Flame recruited new people so that they would enter the dungeon first. The newbies would be the ones triggering traps, finding the monsters lurking in the dark.

The Silver Flame used them as gods-damned meat shields!

Matthias had already dug through his pack trying to find supplies. The group hadn’t provided him with much, since their healer was ‘top notch’. Not such a great healer if she was leaving Matthias to die!

Matthias had fallen for a Mimic, or, rather, he had been told to open the chest that he had somewhat suspected was a mimic. He had been told they cast a spell to check, but of course they hadn’t. They wanted to save all of their MP for the more dangerous creatures.

They simply froze the Mimic with an ice potion after it gored Matthias, and they walked on without giving him another glance.

The only thing left in his pack was food. Damn. Wouldn’t do him any good without the stomach to digest it. Matthias laughed at the irony, causing a wave of agonizing pain.

For one last little joke, Matthias tossed the roasted goat haunch into the Mimic’s mouth. Maybe when it unfroze it’d enjoy the treat and not desecrate his corpse too much.

Though Matthias couldn’t recall closing his eyes, it must have happened at some point, and he felt himself brushing the space between worlds, like a wall made of cool water. He managed a small, sad smile before placing his hands on the wall, preparing to trudge through–

Pain. An agonizing bolt of pain. He tried to scream, but the noise died in his throat.

“Wha-?” He managed. Beside him was the Mimic, having somehow produced a single feather from a Phoenix. From where, he had no idea.

The feather had brought him back to life, but hadn’t healed him completely. He sat perfectly balanced on the verge between passing out again, and being in too much pain for that to happen.

The Mimic used its bizzarrely large tongue to scooch closer to Matthias. It whined, sounding almost like a dog.

“Oh. Well, thank you.” Matthias groaned, putting out his hand.

The Mimic gave it a lick, then morphed into the shape of a healing potion. Matthias laughed, as best as he was able. “I’m afraid taking the form of a potion and being a potion are two different things.”

The Mimic seemed to at least partially understand. In a moment, it had transformed into a needle and thread.

“I’m not sure anyone has ever had a monster heal them before.” Matthias said, but when he reached for the windfall friend’s ‘body’, something in him re-opened, and darkness snatched him back up in a mere heartbeat.

The Mimic grew frustrated. This was the first human that had shown it any sort of kindness. The first human who had done anything other than attack it. The food that had been placed in the Mimic’s mouth had given it the energy to recover from the ice potion, and the Mimic wasn’t sure it would’ve survived without.

The Mimic made up its mind. There was a shortcut it could use, and if it mimicked the form of a Minotaur, it would have no trouble carrying the scraggly lad with the sad smile.

Quickly, Matthias’s body was presented to the host of the lair. Her form was like silk and smoke, obsidian and ink. The Goddess Samaya, she who presided over death, time, and decay. Dethroned and somewhat diminished, but still well beyond the means of the bloodthirsty adventurers who were headed her way.

Yet, here was one of her minions with just such an adventurer, asking for help. Samaya considered it for a few moments, but upon the Mimic’s insistence that the adventurer wanted to live, she withdrew the presence of death from his body.

In exchange, of course, he would now have to slay the adventurer’s party before they reached her.

Nialghas The Necromancer Pt.II

Luise considered, for a brief moment, following after Nialghas. Her more rational inclinations won out over her hot temper, and she made a right-hand turn to drop off Camilo.

“Wait, I want to see what’s going on!” He objected.

“They’re playing a dumb game, Cam. Let them cause a goddamn car accident and see if it makes them wise up.”

“Well- yeah, they’re being dumb, but isn’t that what friends are for? To stop you before you make mistakes?”

Luise grimaced. “In a perfect world, sure. You’ve seen how stubborn Nialghas gets when he finds a new project to fixate on. We could chain him up in your basement for weeks and he’d find a way to slip out and chase down this so-called ‘mystery’ regardless. The sad truth is that friends often don’t get to save their friends from making mistakes, we just…help console them after.” Her tone was learned, like she’d been down that road before, and very bitter.

Camilo didn’t fight it. He let himself be dropped off, and Luise gave him a brief hug before leaving. “I’m going on vacation soon, so call me if you need anything tomorrow, or if those idiots wind up in the hospital, okay?”

Camilo nodded, and as soon as she was out of sight, he began jogging towards what passed for ‘downtown’ in their small city. By now he stood very little chance of finding where they went, but at least he could wait to see if there were sirens or something. He couldn’t just do nothing.

Camilo went to the city library, which was two stories tall and had an accessible roof. He waited there until the sun went down, and lingered for a few hours more after that, seeing nothing, frustrated that neither Eroll nor Nial responded to his texts.

Nial’s mind was racing. There was too much gravity surrounding the man who came to retrieve his book for the word Necromancer to mean nothing. He had felt it as soon as he stepped into the storefront. The man he saw– he was just a bit shy of six feet tall, with at least two day’s worth of salt and pepper stubble on his neck and cheeks. His eyes were wary and cold. He was a serious person, not some fiction fanatic. Nial had never been a religious person, per se, but on some of his ‘trips’ with Eroll he had sworn he had brushed up against another world. Felt the cold metal that kept them apart. If there was any kind of truth to the existence of magic, he had to know.

Eroll was driving, and doing a fairly decent job of it. He had kept pace with the racing car, which had certainly noticed that it was being followed by now. The driver had elected to ignore them, it seemed.

Eroll was gripping the steering wheel with his full strength, his knuckles white. “Damn sun is in my eyes.”

“We’re almost to the solstice, the days will get longer soon.” 

Finally, the driver braked to a screeching halt in front of a parking garage…to pay the fee and enter. Eroll, of course, followed closely behind.

When he had parked, Eroll parked his car lengthways behind his car so there wouldn’t be any quick escapes on his part.

“I wanna talk.” Nial said as he hopped out.

“Whatever you think you figured out, you’re wrong. Whatever you think you want, stop it.” The man looked exasperated. “No one gave me this warning, and I wish they had. Fuck off, right now, in any direction, as long as it’s away from me.”

“I deciphered part of the book. I need to know.” Nial said, heedlessly.

“Buddy, grab your friend.” The man said to Eroll. “I’m serious, get away from me!” He seemed a little alarmed now.

“No. What’s happening two days from now? What else were you hiding in the book?” Nial crossed the space between them and the man began to backpedal. Nial, like a shark smelling blood in the water, lunged forward to grab on to the man.

Nial’s hand brushed the skin on the man’s neck as he tried to take him by the shirt, and something changed.

He told his hands to move forward, and they moved backward. He tried to look left, to look at Eroll, but he looked right. He tried to look down, and he looked up.

“What the hell?!” Nial shouted, tumbling onto his ass.

“I warned you. I warned you!” The man shouted, angrily.

Eroll approached and helped Nial stand. “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do a goddamn thing, and now your buddy is my fucking responsibility and it is not a good time.

“What’s happening to me?” Nial asked, sounding disoriented.

“You’re going to see soon enough.”

Nial looked down, causing his head to move up, and began to understand. Surrounding the man across from him was some kind of shimmering mirage, like steam or clear gas fumes.

“That’s my life force you’re seeing, enhanced by– at risk of sounding like a cosplayer, a potion. I was about to go stop a goddamn zombie apocalypse by walking through the spirit realm. My Order, however, has rules. Now that you’ve touched me, the effects of my potion have shed onto you somewhat. You have to come under my wing until such a time as you can join an apprenticeship in my order, or you die under my care. Which means you’re about to get a crash course in all things supernatural.”

“Zombie? Like…like TV. Like The Walking Dead?”

“Sure, close enough. They’re actually called Ghouls but whatever.”

Eroll looked back and forth between them. “You’re screwing with us.”

“Not at all, and in about ten seconds your buddy and I are going to stop moving, apart from drawing breath. Guard our bodies, we’ll be back in a few hours.”

True to his word, in just a few moments both of the men slowly flopped to the ground.

Eroll, thoroughly confused at the scenario but experienced in handling people as they were tripping, fireman carried the men one at a time into the back of his car. He pulled a blanket out of the trunk, and played mellow music…though that was now for his benefit more than theirs.

Hours passed. Eroll went from confused and nervous to downright paranoid. He habitually checked to make sure both of the men were still breathing, at least once every five minutes. 

Finally, the street lamps flickered on, and Nial took a deep, irregular breath.

“Easy, Nial. Easy. Do you remember where you are?” Eroll turned around in his seat to look at Nial directly.

“I’m fine, Eroll. I’m fine.” Nialghas slowed his breathing over the course of a minute. “Um. This guy…his name was Eric Prospero. He won’t be… he won’t be returning to his body.”

“He died?!” Eroll shouted.

“Quiet!” Nialghas chastised. “It’s not like that. Not entirely. We should get out of here.”

“Well– yeah, but what do we do with him?”

“Cameras saw all of us enter and none of us leave. Hmm. Put him in the front, we’ll drive out of here with him, then dump him. Cops will only come asking if someone reports him missing, which they won’t, and even if they do, we just met him once, gave him a ride and haven’t heard from him since.”

Eroll blinked hard twice, then smacked himself across the face. “Jesus. Okay. This is way over my head, man. What do you mean we’re gonna dump him? Like this body, this guy is dead? Isn’t he still breathing?”

“Nope, he stopped when he chose not to come back. Look, this guy? His body? It isn’t real. It’s basically a fabrication. Don’t sweat it, cops won’t come looking for answers, as long as no one finds the body.”

“I’m gonna be sick.” Eroll said, now unable to stop staring at the dead man’s body.

“Keep it together. And, as soon as we dump the body, it’s probably best if both of us just forget about this. What I saw over there…it’s fucked. This isn’t, like, Skyrim magic. It’s blood sacrifices and torture and a bunch of nasty stuff. We dump this guy somewhere, and leave this whole thing behind us.”

The notion that this evening could be quickly forgotten spurred Eroll out of his shellshock. “Okay, yeah. Where do we go?”

“Bunch of lakes south of town that are too small to have fish. We get some weight, tie him to it, and let the body take care of itself. Easy.”

“Where do we get the weight?”

“Mmm, I think I have enough leftover concrete mix from when mom and I were refinishing the basement.”

It ended up taking until the early hours of the morning, when the sun once again peaked over the horizon, but the body was disposed of. Not once, in his panicked and overexcited state, did Eroll notice the new leather-bound book that was now tucked into Nialghas’s pants.

Nialghas looked back on the evening after settling in at home. His mother hadn’t noticed him sneak in– his simple trick was to use the front door instead of the back. The back door was noisy. It was cliche to use the back door, or the windows. The front door, however, had an electronic password on it that he could use to come and go seamlessly. Plus, Nialghas had never given her reason to really worry about him before. She was sound asleep.

Everything had transpired so quickly in the short time he was away– he hadn’t meant for Eric Prospero to die, but he died all the same… And it was death, as true and final as all the death everyone else had ever known. Nialghas just decided it would be easier to lie to Eroll than to panic him with the truth. He knew for certain that the police wouldn’t come to care about his body, though, since he and Eric Prospero had failed. The witch they pursued, a Necrophos who had defected from Eric’s so-called ‘Order’ had won. In that one event alone, she must have raised over two hundred zombies, and was likely already working to make more. She would find it more difficult now, however, since Nialghas had cut out one of her eyes, and stolen her book.

Nialghas opted not to sleep. Instead, he opened the witch’s grimoire, and began the much longer, much more arduous process of deciphering her nonsense notes, which would ultimately lead Nialghas to understand how to take control of her ghouls, and use them against her.

She knew his face. She knew his name. She had a growing army that she could unleash at any time, turning the city and Nialghas’s life upside down in her search. Nialghas had only one path forward and no way to turn back.

He had to become a Necrophos.

Intergalactic Insurrection

Inside the cockpit, despite the perfect air conditioning, a bead of sweat rolled down Orion’s back. He knew he had just one shot at this. “Pull out of the warp maneuver in 3…2…1…NOW!” Shouted Lieutenant Lestrange. 

Orion pulled back on the lever, engaged rear thrusters, and tried to hold himself still as the extreme forces battled towards equilibrium. When he was able to open his eyes again, the sight was beyond what he could ever have hoped.

Life. Advanced life! There was what must have been a space port teeming with activity, life forms coming and going, in orbit around a lush green planet. “This isn’t going to be Earth 2.0, crew!” Orion announced to everyone on the ship. “Expect contact with alien lifeforms imminently!”

Orion was much more excited than he was scared. Perhaps he ought to have been more worried than he was, but there was no way the alien lifeforms were this advanced and still barbarically hostile, right?

Cautiously, Orion guided the ship closer to their airspace. He had his comms engineer reaching out through every method he could think of, but there wasn’t any kind of response yet. Once Orion had pulled close enough in that he could begin to make out details on the space port, a trio of small ships departed and began their approach to his ship. 

While he waited, he tried to learn what he could. The space port used the vacuum of space to initialize the launch of everyone departing, but only let out a few ships at a time, despite there being a long lineup. They would close the doors, passengers would load, the ships would engage their thrusters, and the door would open. Anything loose left in the bay would be sucked into space. Perhaps the reason there were only two or three ships departing at a time was to minimize the potential for impact, even though the bay could easily fit 10-15 of the standard ships Orion had noticed.

Orion pulled himself out of his thoughts as the trio of what appeared to be single-occupancy ships drew close. “Are we getting anything?” Orion called out to his comms engineer.

“Nothing I can make out.” He responded. “Various forms of short-wave, but I don’t even think it’s communication. Just noise.”

Eventually, the trio of ships pulled in front of Orion’s viewing window and slowly glided forward. Orion knew enough to figure out that they intended for him to follow.

“Lieutenant Lestrange, please get together with your choice of four of our crewmembers. Seems like we’re going to go on a tour soon. Bring me the multi-purpose suit as well. I’ll be coming of course.”

As the excited crew began to trade favors, argue, flip coins and engage in mostly-friendly horseplay surrounding the issue of who was to touch down first, Orion laid eyes on one of the new lifeforms for the first time. He set down in a bay that looked just like the departure bay he had been observing, and the door sealed behind them. From the small ships, out hopped one very tall, very lanky being whose personhood moreso resembled a spider than a human, though there were no facial characteristics visible. The second departed their cockpit, and they were sturdily built, and short. Orion would’ve likened them to a Tolkenien dwarf. They removed their helmet and their face was more akin to a Eewok from Starwars…if George Lucas was right about space after all this time, Orion was going to flip. He hadn’t attended ten years of studies and another five leading and training this crew to have been beaten to the punch in the freaking 1990’s!

Finally, Orion, Lieutenant Lestrange and five others (all of whom Orion would know by name, but their faces were covered by helmets) departed their ship.

They were greeted by the tall alien. As it approached, it vocalized a wide variety of tones and syllables. It was trying to establish language.

Orion responded. “Our warm and humble greetings! I am from a planet we designate as Earth from the galaxy we designate as The Milky Way–”

“Ah, humanoid.” The tall alien responded. “Mmm, Marcus, could you?”

“Aye.” Called out a distinctly human voice from the third ship.

“What in the…?” The crew began to murmur. 

“Welcome to the Intergalactic Community, Captain..?” Came the human voice again as he was released from the bottom of his cockpit, dropping to the deck. 

“Orion. Sorry, you’re human, like us? How are we not the first to make contact?”

“You are, sort of.” The man approached as he removed his helmet. Pale blonde hair and gray eyes accented his oddly perfect features. By his aesthetics alone he could have climbed to fame back on Earth. His build and looks were like if Jason Mamoa had impregnated an angel and he was the result. His accent was somewhat strange, nothing Orion had ever heard before, but he spoke with intention and clarity. “You are the first humans to reach us. As for myself and the others, we were…or, in my case, our great-grandparents were simply taken as samples from our original planet.”

Orion’s mouth went dry. “You’re kidnapping victims.”

The human, Marcus, arched an eyebrow, and a vein pulsed in his forehead. “That isn’t the terminology I would use. Perhaps from your perspective that sounds correct, but it paints us– the intergalactic community– in a certain light I wouldn’t prescribe us. Let’s take a tour and I can explain everything. But first, allow me to walk you through our decontamination cycle.”

“Y-yes, of course. How many humans are there here, Marcus?”

“Samples are maintained at a maximum of 100 per species until they are ready to join as full-fledged members of the community. We are currently at our maximum.”

“What happens if one of you has a child and the cap is broken?”

“Let’s focus on one thing at a time.”

Orion began to get a bit of a knot building in his stomach. The crew behind him was no longer quietly chattering, they stood at attention. They were subtly scanning their surroundings.

“The decontamination process can take place just over there.” Marcus pointed to the farther end of the bay, where what looked like two sets of tents were set up. 

Orion led his crew inside. “Please strip off all your things and grab a new set of clothes. You won’t need your helmets and whatnot until you depart later, if you choose to do so.” Marcus continued. He now had the short, furry alien and tall, spider-like one at his side. While the crew stripped, they spoke quietly to one another.

“You two are the ones in charge, correct?” Marcus asked of Orion and Lestrange.

“Correct.” Orion responded neutrally. 

“In the next tent, there is another set of jump suits you two should wear. It will distinguish you for our other members.”

Lestrange looked at Orion with the question in her eyes. What are we doing? Is this safe? 

It seemed as though they would give them the option to leave if they chose to. Orion ground his teeth and moved over to the next tent. Lestrange followed.

Quietly, she whispered to him as they donned their new jump suits. “I don’t like how he referred to himself as a sample. Are we heading into some kind of evil scientists rule the galaxy bullshit?”

“Let’s not draw any conclusions this early, Lestrange.” Orion looked around the tent, showing that even if Marcus couldn’t hear them, there was no way to know that they weren’t unmonitored. Lestrange nodded. “Zip me up, please, Captain.”

Orion pulled Lestrange’s long red hair out of the way of the back of her jump suit and obliged her. As soon as they were both ready, Marcus and his two partners joined them in their tent.

“As I mentioned, we do have a population cap. I’ve been conferring with my colleagues, and we believe the best course of action isn’t to take your whole crew with you for the tour. Typically, the people who stay are the people who get the tour, you see.”

Orion swallowed, trying to measure his response. “I believe, in that instance, it may be better for us all to withdraw. What are the requirements to join as full members of the community, without the population cap? Perhaps we can return once we’ve reached that requirement.”

“Mmm. No, the community wants you to join the sample group, as you are clearly the most accomplished member to ever grace us, you and the Leiutenant. Your crew, however–” Marcus’s words were cut short by the loud *clang* of the doors being closed. The same kind of doors that they used to separate the safe zones from the ones leading out to the vacuum of space.

It all happened in an instant. Marcus swept out Orion’s legs, and the spider-like alien lunged at the Lieutenant. The bay doors opened, and Orion’s ship, along with every member of his crew who had come along with him, were sucked into space.

 Marcus was on top of Orion before he even registered the pain from his fall. 

“Welcome to the community, brother.” He grinned, pinning Orion’s arms. Orion tried his best to resist from his disadvantaged position, but he was winded. Rage boiled deep within his chest, even as he struggled to breathe.

Lestrange, however, did not have Orion’s limitation. She wrestled free from the lanky alien’s grasp and snatched what appeared to be some kind of short blade from his belt. The furry alien barked orders into his communications device while Lestrange kept the lanky alien at bay. 

Marcus was not to be distracted. He kept his infuriatingly perfect gaze on Orion, the grin on his face very self-satisfied.

**Well, no such thing as fair in a fight…’* Orion thought, and spat into Marcus’s eye.

“What the fuck?!” Marcus roared, rearing back. Orion bucked him from his seat on Orion’s stomach, and he tore Marcus’s entire toolbelt off of his jump suit. He tossed it to the side and began pelting Marcus with vicious blows.

Finally, the furry one finished speaking, and the tent-like structure they had been in lifted. They were once again surrounded by the silver-and-steel aesthetic of the inside of the space port…and surrounded by over a dozen soldier types, all armed with rifles. 

“There is no resisting the community, Captain.” Marcus said, once again grinning, though his teeth were now stained with his own blood.

“Aah…hell. Ideas, Lieutenant?”

“Awaiting your orders, Captain.” She sounded breathless, but furious.

“I spy with my little eye…” Orion said, then held his hand open. The Lieutenant tossed him her blade, and Orion struck out at a large canister that was sealed against a nearby wall. As he had hoped, it was a fire-suppression canister, and the area filled with white foam. Orion used this to grab Lestrange’s hand and kick away a nearby grate that led into something of an air tunnel. “This air tunnel is still susceptible to the vacuum, so find somewhere to hide, and re-establish communications with our ship! If they sealed the doors after letting us off, they should all still be alive!”

“And what will you be doing?” Lestrange asked.

“Causing damage.”

“Ugh, you always take the fun jobs.”

“Finish your job early and you can join me on mine.” Orion used his best sarcastic parent-like voice.

“Asshole.” Lestrange jettisoned herself down the air tunnel.

Orion knew the aliens were drawing close on him again. He groped through the foam for Marcus’s toolkit, and sprinted towards where he thought he saw some doors. The foam was beginning to dissipate, so with a little luck–

There. A keycard was on Marcus’s belt. “God bless my lucky stars!” Orion shouted as he stepped through. All he had to do was stay hidden, stay alive, and enact a little revenge while Lestrange got back into communication with his crew.

Simple. Easy…

Orion swallowed hard again and began wondering what death was really going to be like as he sprinted down the unexplored alien hallways.

Silas and Somnus Pt.I

Setting sun and the sharpened form of the crescent moon battled each other for dominance over the sky- though the outcome was known, they shared the stage for a few contentious hours. Autumn had come, the harvest and its celebrations were over. Returned now to simple enduring, returned to letting time slip by as unnoticed as possible– winter was always like this for the twins.

They were still too young. Too young to abandon what they called “home” in search of a better life, though they had no parents to sigh from their absence.

Silas and Somnus had been raised by the Priests of the Halls of Galdr; the Church was their home and the Priest Mother and Priest Father were the only ‘authority’ they were beholden to- though even that thread had begun to fray.

“I mean- look at them, Silas.” Somnus said, repeating a tirade he had long since verbalized to death. “The look in their eyes is bovine. There’s a detached, animalistic inattentiveness about them, the way they talk, the way they move.” He brushed his sand-colored hair from his eyes as he watched the workers returning from their day. The setting sun made his wood-and-amber eyes blaze, emphasizing the indignation in them.

His anger was not abated, but he returned to his work regardless. The binding of an ancient Tome of Galdr was coming apart, so he was making it anew.

Silas knew and agreed with Somnus on his anger- though he saw it perhaps a little differently. It was true the locals were incurious, generally speaking, and they seemed to have no ambition, no purpose aside from living out their little lives in their little ways. Silas, however, wasn’t mad that that was the way they lived; he was mad because he and his brother were alone. The pair of them were multi-passionate, and the root of Somnus’s indignation, Silas believed, was that they were not being nurtured in their pursuits. The farmers here raised another generation of farmers, and nothing else. They did not inspire any growth in themselves or their children, and so the fiery and driven twins felt very much alone.

“We should calculate,” began Somnus, breaking a silence that spanned several hours, “how much longer we have to remain here. They are supposed to keep us until we are old enough to earn a man’s wages, right?”

Silas nodded. “Eighteen years old, the day of the eighteenth birthday we are allowed to leave.” He folded an ear of the book he was reading, and set it aside.

Somnus cast a funny look at Silas- not that he could see it.

“Have we never questioned that before?”

“What do you mean?” Silas asked, popping up onto his bed. He had won the prestigious position of top bunk in a wrestling match- though he had broken a table during the struggle, and earned a good lashing by the Priest Mother from it. An acceptable trade.

“This word…’allowed’. Permitted. If we choose to risk ourselves by venturing out into the world, what grants them the authority over us to say ‘yes, you can’, or ‘no, you cannot’?”

“Well, the government has their program for orphans- they pay the chapel to mind us, so I suppose if we agree to governmental rule, then we agree to the authority of the chapel.”

“Our government is a joke. It’s so feeble, people hardly know it’s there.”

“Imagine if we’d had the Magocracy come to fruition all those years ago, instead. They’d be running the country with intelligence and strength.” Silas said, echoing Somnus’s own opinion back to him. Silas knew that Somnus was impulsive enough to leave without a plan, which would be dangerous, even potentially fatal- so he hoped to change the subject.

Somnus didn’t fall for it. “True, but let’s not disassemble. I don’t think the government has the right to say when we can leave or when we can’t. I reject their notion of having that power over us.”

Silas resigned himself to following the conversation through. “Fair enough. I don’t truly recognize them as being an authority either. But- if we leave, we could easily perish upon the road. We don’t know the world out there at all, which roads are safe, where the cities are, where to find work, or even what kind of work we could get.”

Somnus thought about that in silence for a while. “If we stay here, we would become farmers. To save up enough money to travel, we would have to work for at least five good seasons, even spending minimally during the winters. We would be twenty before we even begin to see the outside world. Twenty three! Maybe more! We would become the very thing we despise. Hell, would the farmers even work with us after how we’ve ostracized ourselves from them?”

Silas imagined a future sprawling out before him of working the fields- it was entirely possible that the fields would be their only choice- unless they took a massive risk.

Silas pondered in silence. He didn’t see any good options. He pondered until, eventually, he heard snoring from the bottom bunk- Somnus had let sleep take him.

Silas did not sleep that night- he never could sleep on an undecided mind.

A few weeks passed since Silas and Somnus had had their conversation, when the energy began to shift in the town. Silas could see it in the eyes of the farmers as they went about their morning duties- they weren’t in quite as much of a sleepy daze, in fact they looked riddled with worry.

Silas went to the Priest Mother about it. The Priest Mother and Priest Father, despite the care with which they had raised the boys, had never seemed particularly attached or invested in either of them. Their attitudes seemed to be a self-satisfied tolerance- as though their sacrifice in raising the boys granted them some kind of religious clout, and perhaps it did, for all Silas knew.

He found her in the chapel’s hall, washing the wooden pews.

Silas grabbed a cloth and began to help with the washing as he peppered her with questions- as he often did.

“Something’s going on. Do you know anything about it?”

“I do.” She replied neutrally.

“What is it? Is it war? A plague? Kitsune?” He asked, fearing the worst.

“Kitsune? We haven’t seen those in nearly fifty years.” She laughed, an edge to her voice- Silas could only describe it as sardonic.

“Well, what is it?”

She sighed, as she stood slowly. Her knees popped audibly with the movement. “I think it be bandits. Word is that some of the nearby towns were struck, but we don’t know which direction they came from, nor went.”

Silas nodded solemnly. “I need to find Somnus.” He said, turning to leave.

The Priest Mother gave him a half-hearted smack on the back of the head. “Just pretending to help so you can get answers, huh? I suppose I should be used to that by now. Somnus is with the Priest Father buying supplies.”

The only resolution the twins had managed to come to, pertaining to their previous discussion, was that at the least they needed to find a Pilgrim’s Map before they attempted to leave.

With the Way of Magic constantly shifting, maps could become obsolete within a few months of their making- the leylines restructured the world around them by some unknown and haphazard design, so what was in one place yesterday may have shifted a mile away by the next- and may have disappeared over the horizon a few months hence. It was more prevalent where the leylines were powerful, which they certainly were not in Yaruna, but both Silas and Somnus agreed that to simply try to leave without any idea of where they were going would be tempting fate. They needed a recently made map if they stood any chance at surviving.

Many of the magically sensitive and adventurous types had begun to make their living by traveling and making these maps- both for the scholarly purpose of figuring out the design of the leylines, and to sell their updated maps to each of the villages they came across. Those people called themselves Pilgrims, and finding a Pilgrim’s Map seemed to be the only hope Silas and Somnus had of escaping their predicament.

However…Pilgrims did not come often enough- and even when they did, how would they pay the Pilgrim for a map?

A dangerous idea leapt into Silas’s head- the bandits would have to have a map- a new one- to be able to roam around as they did.

Did Silas dare to steal from a den of thieves?

Somnus woke before Silas- there was a slight noise, still distant- but unmistakable. A dozen horses were galloping towards the village.

Somnus was out of his bed in a heartbeat. He swiftly slapped Silas awake, then had a lethal-looking dagger grasped firmly his right hand, and was out of the door before Silas had even finished opening his eyes.

Somnus was used to this– though Silas was every bit as quick-witted as Somnus, perhaps even more so, though Somnus would only admit that to himself, and never to his brother, he was the better athlete. Somnus had faster reflexes, a sharper eye, and a stronger arm- not by too much, but by enough.

Somnus waited a few heartbeats for Silas to join him outside the house. Neither of them had changed into night clothes before bed- not that it was much of an improvement- but they would, at least, feel a little less silly trying to defend what passed for their ‘home’.

Silas had armed himself with a metal pole, longer than he was tall, and solid. “We should get behind cover.”

Somnus nodded, reluctantly. Their only goal was to protect the Church, nothing else… though a part of Somnus wanted to engage as many thieves as he could, hoping for some kind of reward for taking them down- something that might translate into freedom, perhaps.

Silas leapt behind a bush just as the first alarm bells rang- there were no walls protecting Yaruna, but the village’s governor had set up some semblance of a night watch.

Noise quickly filled the night- first came the clashing of steel, then screams. Somnus stepped behind a wide oak tree and waited for his first kill.

The thieves broke through the first line of the watch and began to run rampant through the town, utterly chaotic.

Silas was engaged first- a scraggly looking man went for the front door to the Church, and Silas pried him away with his bare hands.

*Fool!* Somnus thought. *You should have whapped him while his back was turned!* Somnus leapt from behind his tree to go help Silas as his fight went to the ground- but came nose-to-nose with an opponent of his own.

The man was both wide and tall, with a round belly and a full beard. He had a hammer on his belt– but not the kind that you would use to hammer nails. It was the other kind.

Luckily, he hadn’t taken it off of his belt yet.

Somnus swiped at him, first with his open hand as a distraction, then with his knife. The trick worked, and he drew his blade across the man’s belly. It was too shallow, but it would certainly be painful enough to give Somnus an edge.

With a grunt of surprise, the man’s massive arm furiously launched towards Somnus, catching him with a powerful backhand.

Somnus spun a little, his head swimming from the sudden shock and pain, but he kept his feet.

Trying again, Somnus went for the brigand’s eyes. This time, the man’s experience saved him. He simply caught the weapon hand, and pulled Somnus in for another vicious strike.

Somnus knew now that he was in trouble. He must’ve come across one of their leaders for him to be so experienced, and to handle the pain of his wound so easily.

Somnus collapsed into the dirt, pretending to be spent from the man’s hit– then tossed a handful of soil towards his eyes, and scrambled to run away.

The man laughed scornfully, the dirt having no effect, but he did not give chase as Somnus managed to flee.

‘Damn–what about Silas?’ Somnus thought, and he circled around the church, hoping that the bigger brigand hadn’t begun to interfere with their fight.

Silas had the man on the ground, the opponent’s head caved in by Silas’s metal staff. Silas looked like he was going to throw up.

“Hey, well done.” Somnus clapped him on the back with his own unsteady hand. “You did better than me.”

“Bleh.” Silas responded. “I thought I’d handle it better.”

“Probably takes some getting used to.” Somnus said. “Maybe we should move inside the church for now.” The sounds of struggle were rising up from all around the town, and Somnus was suddenly very aware that their backs were exposed.

“Did you get your guy?” Silas asked.

Somnus tsk’d. “No. He was a big bastard, and fast for his size. Had to run away.”

“At least you survived.”

The twins sat still within the church for a short while, undisturbed. There was no sign of the Priest Mother or Priest Father– perhaps they’d holed up somewhere safer.

The sounds of the struggle carried on, but no one else threatened the church during the next hour or so. Somnus patrolled within, and Silas stayed near the main doors.

“Perhaps we should look for the priests.” Silas suggested.

“Mmm. I don’t like our chances out there very much.”

“If we stick together– I mean, hell, they’re brigands. Can’t be that smart.”

Somnus grinned a little. “Yeah, all right. Let’s make sure our caregivers are cared for.”

As soon as the twins stepped out of the church, they laid eyes on pure horror. Towards the center of the town, all of the farmers were being tied up and thrown onto large stacks of wood– wood that was soaked in oil.

“T-this isn’t normal brigand shit.” Silas said, sounding sick again.

“No. This is something else. They have nothing to gain from this.” Somnus agreed. “But we definitely can’t do anything about it now. They’ve won. We should…we should go.”

Silas hesitated for a moment. “We still need a map.”

“Either we chance the roads, or we die for sure.” Somnus insisted.

“Bring us the child! The sand-haired kid!” Bellowed a powerful voice from the center of the town, where the would-be bonfire was.

“Oh, hell.” Somnus said, recognizing the man who was shouting. It was his former opponent. Perhaps he wanted revenge for the cut.

“Okay. Either we run and they die, or I die for all of them.” Somnus weighed it for a moment. “Let’s go.”

Silas was too stunned to think– not that Somnus’s choice was particularly shocking, he had never had much love for the Yarunians, but the absurdity of their situation was beginning to weigh on him.

“Uh, yeah. We could probably snag the weapons off the city watch?” Silas managed.

As the two began to sneak out of the town, they tried to ignore the revulsion they felt as they went through the pockets of each of the fallen they found.

After just a few minutes of that, they both had swords, some coins in their pockets, and rations that might last them three days or so. They escaped to the town’s outskirts, and before them lay the open road.

Then they heard the now too familiar sound of horses shaking the earth.

“There’s a second wave of them.” Somnus warned.

“I can hear that! Where do we go?!” Silas sounded panicked.

They were out in the open. They were armed properly now, at least, but they were completely exposed aside from a small group of bushes that couldn’t house both of them.

Somnus took a quick breath. “Go to those bushes. I’ll be right behind you.”

Luckily, it was dark enough that the brigands didn’t see, and Silas was shellshocked enough that he didn’t object.

Somnus watched as Silas dipped behind the bushes, then he lit a torch he’d scavenged and ran back into the village.

Silas realized, a moment too late, what Somnus was doing. He may have been willing to let the villagers die for him– but he wasn’t willing to let his twin do the same.

“NO!” Silas shouted, chasing after the brigands, his feet pounding as quickly as he could manage down the dusty road– but the speed and cacophony of their horses left him unnoticed. As he chased them into the town, he was suddenly yanked off of the path by the Priest Mother, and held down.

“We watched what happened. Somnus is done for, but you can still live!” The Priest Father said sternly as he held Silas in place.

“Let me go!” Silas objected, thrashing against their grip.

The Priest Mother opened herself to the small storehouse of magic she possessed and made Silas go limp.

“At least…let me see.” Silas tried to growl, as anxiety and tears began to threaten to clog his throat.

“Are you sure?” The Priest Father asked.

“I’ll never sleep again if I don’t. I need to know who kills him.”

“For revenge, I’m sure. Don’t waste the chance we’re giving you to live.” The Father scolded, but he brought Silas into a barn where the priests had presumably been hiding, and helped him up the stairs. From this vantage point, the three were quite hidden, and they had a view of the center of town.

Somnus was already being spoken to by the brigand’s leader. He was wearing a blood-stained shirt, and had a wound across his belly. There was a massive steel hammer in his hand.

Somnus did not grovel. He did not beg. He had locked eyes with the brigand, and seemed to be goading him. Silas couldn’t hear exactly what was being said.

Finally, the brigand seemed to make up his mind about something, and he simply wound up his fist and knocked Somnus off his feet.

Somnus was loaded into a horse-drawn cart, unconscious.

“They aren’t killing him. They’re going to take him!” Silas whispered urgently.

The villagers weren’t freed, but neither were they set on fire. The brigands finished looting the town over the next hour or so, then left. Silas was still unable to move, and his heart felt twisted with emotion– but Somnus still lived. A glimmer of hope remained.

“I am going to get him back. If it’s the last gods-damned thing I get to do, I will get him out.” Silas said through gritted teeth. “Just hang on.”

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall- Bring Misfortune To Us All

Werewolves are well-known and often discussed. Vampires are practically the talk of the town, and the Inquisition set up their new headquarters within Moldavia specifically to tackle the growing threat they represented.

One thing they always neglected to discuss, much to my chagrin, was where the damn things came from.

Was I the last scholar alive who remembered the Feyfolk?

Was I the only one left who remembered that Vampires, Werewolves, Krakens, Ghouls, Hags, and Wraiths were a symptom?

It seemed that I was. The Inquisitors refused to speak to me on the matter anymore, and I was quickly growing a reputation for being a mental patient candidate.

Knowing that the burden of the mission fell squarely upon my shoulders, I began making moves from the shadows.

Originally, I posed as an unofficial opposition to the Inquisition- the cover served my purpose well.

The Inquisition was well known as monster hunters, but they were essentially obligated to serve the interests of the local lords, barons, and other lawmakers. If a poor farmer needed a job done to keep his family safe, the Inquisition would put him on the very bottom of their long list. This left a gap in the market- though it was not always profitable, it at least allowed me the opportunity to continue to explore the bizarre patterns the Feyfolk had left in their wake.

The crew employed under as my ‘monster-hunting militia’ was only half a dozen strong, but after word got out about us, we had plenty of work to do. Members came and went- some of them dying in the field, others retired while they still had the original limbs and appendages they came into the job with- but the militia’s size remained at about half a dozen at any given time.

I knew all of them. Respected them, tried to treat them well, and ensure they came home safe…but there was always an arm’s length between myself and them. An arm’s length I had placed there myself, because I was using them, after all.

Finally, the day came when my militia came across our first real piece of evidence.

The sun had barely risen, my coffee hadn’t even reached my lips, when three of the best in my employ were knocking down my door.

“Thomassa!” They called out, panic plain in their voices.

“Door’s unlocked.” I responded, putting extra bracing in my brain, preparing for the worst.

They piled in, none of them bleeding or holding a stump where their arms or legs used to be.

“What’s the issue?” I asked, my voice sterner than I’d intended.

“It’s the Veld case.” Harold said, holding up a rolled-up bundle of paper. The Velds were a small family close to the coast- two boys, three girls, and the parents, who were beginning to reach their elderly years. Vampires had been spotted sniffing around their farm.

“I remember. Did you finish the job?”

“Well…you see…”

“Quit it!” I shouted. “Give me the damn details!”

“We uncovered something unusual. Their layer was mostly normal- the kind you see all the time. Lots of booze, rotten meat, a few stolen trinkets. But one nook was different. It was neat and tidy, practically sparkling clean. They had books filled with notes that we couldn’t read.” That certainly was unusual.

“Is it in a foreign language?” I asked.

“Er- well, we couldn’t read it.”

“Oh.” I understood. These men hadn’t learned the skill yet. “Pass it here then.”

Harold passed me a leather-bound journal.

“It had been sealed with…well, it looked like really thin glass. Like if glass was turned into rope. But that isn’t possible, is it?”

“Not for simple vampires, no.” I responded, looking at the first page.

Some of it was written in plain Moldavian, but there were notations and marks every here and there that were…not.

“Boys, I’m going to need time to read all of this. Is there anything else to tell?”

“Mmm. I think you oughta go look at that room yourself, sir. Make sure there isn’t something about it we missed.”

I nodded, and returned to my seat. “You boys can go. Don’t forget to grab your pay tomorrow. Rest up in the meantime.”

“Ah, sir, if I may?” One of the others asked. Windsor, his name was.


“Are we…getting close to the source? The original family of vampires?”

I mulled it over for a second. It was possible. “How did you kill the vampires in that den?”

“Normal means, sir. Chaste cross and knives.”

“Probably not, then. The original vampires are a lot more sturdy than this new breed. Now get.”

After they’d left, I set about deciphering what I could. The notes in here were distinctly not about vampiric affairs- they did not mention blood sources, the Inquisition, or anything the vampires ought to have cared about.

The entire journal was a study on enchantment.

“Vampires…don’t use magic, do they?” I wondered aloud. Perhaps this was it- after six years in business, I finally had a lead.

In the morning, I had all six of my men gather, and for the first time since the company had started, I was wearing my armor.

“Listen well, everyone.” I began. “What we’re looking at today is not a normal vampire hunt. We may be coming across an enemy we have never found before, but I have reason to believe that this will be the most important hunt we ever do. That said- it could also be unusually dangerous. If anyone wants to back out, now is the time. If not, we’re looking at four times the day’s wages.”

Each of the men perked up.

“I’ll take that as a yes, then. We’re headed out to the nest near that Veld farm.”

I let the men talk amongst themselves as we rode out- no sense in letting them stew in their worry. Mostly the newer three pestered Harold for answers- answers he didn’t have.

When we arrived at the den, the sun was nearly set.

“Should we wait for daybreak?” Harold asked.

“Not today. The sun won’t help us with these.” I pulled my crossbow off of my back and led the men back into the vampire’s den.

Nothing had changed from their report, it seemed. Most of the house was messy, aside from the one room that was apart from the rest.

“Thomassa, I got a bad feeling.” Harold said, his silver axe held firmly in his hands.

“Shake it off. We got work to do.”

Truth be told, I felt that bad omen too- but ‘feelings’ were the territory of the Feyfolk. This wasn’t the time to trust your gut, only your conviction.

We filled the room, and I began instructing them to look around for any runes, marks, even a scrap of uneaten food-

Then I saw it. The Mirror.

“Boys, back out slowly.” I instructed- but my own legs would not move.

“Boss. I can’t-” Harold began, but then he began to walk…in the wrong direction.

“Someone grab Harold!” I demanded.

“I can’t move.”

“My arms won’t go!”

“Harold, stop!”

The shouting did nothing. In only a few moments, Harold pressed his hands against the glass and disappeared.

“Damn it! No!” I shouted.

One by one, my militia began to walk forward. Each of them screamed in protest. None of them were able to stop.

Finally, just before the last one touched the glass, I figured- if the only movement I was allowed to do was to go forward, then I’d do just that.

I charged forward, and knocked the last remaining man aside, taking his place with the Mirror.

I knew it’d be the end of me. It was worth it.

“Tell the Inquisition. The feyfolk did this.” I said- then everything went dark.

I had no way of knowing how long I sat in that place. There was nothing remarkable about my time there- I didn’t have a dramatic transformation, and neither did I manage to find Harold, Dillon, or any of the others. There was no landscape to speak of. It was all just grey.

Then, one day, I simply…popped back into the world. After coming to my senses, I found my way back to the city to find that three years had passed.

I wasn’t entirely normal. I had to hide my ears now, as they were long and pointed. The Inquisition, if they’d found out, would have killed me just for that. At least they took me seriously now- seriously enough that they offered me the prestigious position of Scholar.

The one who survived- he worked with the Inquisition now, too. We didn’t speak much, but every time he said my name, whether I was in ear-shot or not, I knew. Somehow, I always knew, and he must’ve figured it out too, because after that he stopped saying my name at all.

Part of me felt defeated- in fact, all of me felt defeated. Six years of preparation, and my militia didn’t survive an encounter with even one of their artifacts.

Only a small glimmer of hope remained. Perhaps a day would come when I would meet an exceptional Inquisitor, who could take my mantle from me, and do what I could not.

As Above, So Below Pt.III

Mist had been in many fights. Since her time at the Sechelt Corps, she had been in life-or-death fights almost every single day. Even after their disbandment, she had stained her hands with blood regularly, though the fights were no longer ‘life-or-death’. Her opponents just weren’t threatening enough anymore, not for her level of expertise.

Mist also didn’t particularly enjoy fighting, not like Fence did. She also didn’t really know the extent of his abilities, which was worrying- but she had promised servitude, which was, among supernatural humans, the highest stakes you could offer.

The supernaturals were proud, generally speaking. They were distinguished from regular humans- and they were always strongest when they worked together. A group of ten superhumans could accomplish more in a few weeks than dozens working alone could in their entire lifetimes- hence why servitude was so important to acquire, and so important to never provide, unless one absolutely had to.

Fence would have a plan. He absolutely would have a plan, because if Mist didn’t step into leadership, it meant he would inevitably have to, and there was nothing Fence hated more than behaving in authoratative or nurturing ways, which this leadership role would require.

It didn’t take long for the crowd to gather. Fence must have put the word out, because Mist certainly hadn’t.

The Greys weren’t a huge movement- perhaps a few hundred people, most of them lower-class superhumans. It felt like all of them had shown up for this fight, since the stands were packed.

“Am I so famous, to draw everyone here?” Mist asked Tijn as he prepared Mist for the arena.

“Everyone knows about the Sechelt Corps, Mist. You guys were legends before Baal…happened. And everyone thinks you’re going to lose, so…”

Mist curled her lip up in disgust.

“Sorry, but it’s true. We haven’t seen you fight in years, and Fence is down here every week, mopping the floor with everyone who will try. Hell, I’ve even gone a few rounds with him. Even gave him a good bruise one time- he broke my leg for it though.”

“I’m sure the good Doctor got you back on your feet in no time.”

“Yep- but anyway, listen. This is important. Our arena isn’t just a plain concrete patch, there are details you need to know. About every minute, there’s a part over here where…”

Mist stopped listening. No matter what the arena and Fence threw at her, it wouldn’t change the outcome.

Less than an hour after the match had been agreed upon, Mist walked out into the wide, open space, hearing cheers, loud music, shouting- and Fence, on the other end of the arena, hyping up the crowd. He’d stripped off his shirt, showing a torso filled with muscles and covered in scars.

‘Well, that’s a bit much.’ Mist thought.

An alarm went off, and their fight began.

Fence wasn’t even facing the right direction.

‘Idiot.’ Mist thought, throwing a handful of small rocks towards him.

Without looking, Fence dodged to the left, narrowly avoiding the rocks that had started small, but grew exponentially as they flew.

“You aren’t starting off soft, are you?” Fence asked, his smile splitting his face- yet it wasn’t a happy smile. This was more of a…hungry smile.

Mist clenched her jaw tightly to make sure she didn’t talk back. She had to focus on the fight.

From within her coat, Mist withdrew a simple shortsword, and began expanding its length in thrusting attacks, like a spear- then, before Fence could recover from dodging, it was already retracted and thrusting again.

The smile left Fence’s face.

He kept on his feet, trying to bridge the gap between them, but Mist kept backing away- since she wasn’t completely sure of his abilities, it was best to fight cautious.

Then the arena began to change.

Barrells were dropped from above, causing explosions randomly throughout the arena- or, perhaps it was less than random, since Fence didn’t even so much as glance upwards while he continued to chase Mist down.

Mist, however, was too used to combat to let that fluster her for long.

As each barrel dropped, Mist either expanded or shrunk them- whichever suited her purpose as she backpedaled away from Fence.

Two of the explosions had managed to catch Fence’s back- but apart from singeing his pants, Fence seemed unbothered.

Eventually, Mist decided to let Fence think he had managed to get close. She pretended to trip backwards, and Fence rushed to the opportunity-

Only for Mist to quickly shrink him down to half his usual size, and slam him down into the concrete.

Fence howled, and whipped out a weapon- where he had hidden it, Mist wasn’t sure.

It was a whip. Fence lashed out at Mist again, trying to catch her- instead, Mist expanded the handle of the whip until the shrunken Fence couldn’t physically hold it anymore.

“Enough games!” Fence shouted, charging in yet again.

Mist pretended to begin her backpedaling and sword technique again- only to encourage Fence’s charge- and instead met him with a full offensive counterattack.

Fence led in with a wild right hook, which Mist simply stepped inside of, and gave a short, powerful punch to Fence’s ribs. She felt them crack under the pressure.

Fence barely flinched. He grabbed Mist around the neck to hold her still, and landed his first attack of the round.

Even disadvantaged as he was, the brutal force of his punch sent Mist reeling.

Then she saw red.

Mist wasn’t sure what happened next, because every time she sustained real damage in combat, some kind of feral side took over. When she regained her senses, Fence was crumpled on the ground in front of her, bleeding from his mouth, unconscious.

The crowd had gone silent.

Then Tijn chimed up from over a loudspeaker. “Victor, Mist!”

Some half-hearted cheers from the crowd. Fence was clearly the favorite.

Doctor Rochelle split apart from the crowd and came to assess Fence.

“You don’t do anything with half-measures, huh?” She asked as she knelt down.

“I’m fine, Doc.” Fence protested, apparently awake. “No hard feelings, Mist. I didn’t know you had that side to ya.” He had a small grin back on his lips.

“Right.” Mist suddenly felt rather awkward. “Once you’re healed up, your two weeks will begin.”

“What’s the first job?”

“A new superhuman emerged, and Baal kidnapped him. We need him out of Baal’s hands. He has the power to wipe all of us out.”

“Even you?” Fence asked, trying to sit up.

“Even me.”

Silas & The Seven Springs Pt. V

Every Trattuknah was different.

If the family was known for their blacksmithing, the thing may be laden with bladed traps, pitfalls, perhaps even massive axes fastened to swing like pendulums over a thin bridge. If the family was known for their shrewd minds, the place could be filled with logic puzzles and word games with deadly consequences.

This Trattuknah- much to Silas’s pleasure- was rooted in magic.

“This’ll be a breeze for us.” Silas said as they approached the door.

“Don’t be so sure.” Hali said. “Keep your guard up at all times. Our magic is sometimes meant for healing, as mine is, but…not always.” Hali stepped forward and examined the door. “There’s a seal on it.”

Silas looked using what he called his True Sight, and tried to garner the details- but as soon as he laid eyes on it, he regretted his choice. The sigils on the door were blindingly bright.

“Ah, damn it.” Silas growled, looking away.

“Did you look directly at them?” Hali asked.

Silas didn’t answer.

“I told you to have your guard up. The Trattuknah must be more dangerous to pillage than it is rewarding to plunder, otherwise we’d have lost our culture over the many wars.”

“Mmm. Caches of culture. An interesting concept.” Silas said, regaining his poise. “I have an idea. A doll.”

Hali considered a moment. “Worth a shot.”

Silas stripped his armor and enchanted it with a pseudo-life force. Technically, this was the kind of sorcery he despised- but it was only energy being manipulated, not actual life. Still, it did tread into territory that made him uncomfortable. Perhaps that inclination had always been apart of him, since his own form was…compromised.

Carefully, Silas moved the enchanted armor, and through simple instructions, it mimed the script written on the door, perceiving it through Silas’s leather gloves.

“You are probably more familiar with the old language than I am.” Silas said, giving Hali a rough idea of the runes in the spell.

“Mmm…not so much. I’ve done some learning of my culture, but the old magic runes? Those are…”

“I have an idea!” Silas said suddenly. “Take cover!”

Hali watched as Silas overcharged the pseudo lifeforce within his doll and charged it towards the door- as the two collided, the door, as well as the doll, exploded.

The ensuing cloud of rock dust and sand threatened to clog Hali’s nostrils for a few moments- then it passed.

Silas, meanwhile, sneezed five times consecutively.

“Not your most subtle work.” Hali said between his sneezes.

“Shut- aaa- shudda- AACHOO! Shuddup.” Silas protested.

“Well, we can only do that, at most, one more time.” Hali said as she once again took the lead.

“If it comes down to it I can probably brute force my way through most of these- though the magic users of your culture are great, I am exceptional.” It sounded like a brag- but it was accurate.

“Mmm.” Hali said, focused on her task.

Hali swiftly moved the door’s wreckage, and took the first tentative steps within the Trattuknah. The inside had a distinctly different aesthetic- outwardly, the plain limestone walls and roof barely differed from the sands that surrounded it for miles. Within, it looked as though a mirage of moving water painted every wall, casting a blue hue wherever they looked.

Immediately inside there were descending stairs, and little else. “You can come in.” Hali called back as she began to walk, and Silas followed her.

“I couldn’t detect anything amiss for the entryway, but can you feel how this place hums? I bet there’s some kind of artifact here that stores magic energy.”

“There is a certain something.” Silas said neutrally.

The remainder of the stairs passed without incident, as they descended what must have been hundreds of steps.

“When does it end, I wonder?” Silas said aloud.

“Oh, who knows? I imagine they dug deeply to hide from the heat, but this is just excessive.” Hali said.

Eventually, the pair came to an opening.

Hali and Silas tried everything they knew to detect danger, but nothing showed.

“Perhaps this place has already been ransacked.” Silas said.

“The seal on the door was legitimate. Unless…perhaps the most recent descendant of this family line hasn’t come back to re-make the traps they undid when they ascended to leadership.”

“Our timing is perfect, then.”

“Remain on guard.” Hali said, pushing on the door they had come to.

It didn’t budge.

“I will melt the lock.” Silas said, gently moving Hali aside.

Silas applied a liberal amount of heat onto the door- so much so that Hali was now sweating just from being near it.

The door remained unchanged.

“What if I freeze it, then? The temperature difference would cause anything to snap.” Silas pulled all the heat from the area he could, and now Hali’s sheen of sweat froze to her skin.

“Stop, please.” Hali said, uncomfortable.

“I don’t understand.” Silas said, his frown furrowing deeply onto his face.

“There are many options yet. I wonder if it reacts to passwords or something?”

Thinking quickly, Hali recalled every phonetic syllable in the Old Language she knew- these weren’t magic runes, so she was confident she got them all.

“Say each one.” Silas said, holding a spell between his fingers.

What followed was an agonizing cacophony as Hali’s own voice repeated every combination possible, within a six-word limit, of each possible combination. Many were being rattled off at once, and the volume was painful.

Finally, they reached the end.

“Well, that was…terrible.”

Silas looked at the door and arced an eyebrow. “We haven’t tried brute force yet. Cover your ears again.”

“Gods above.” Hali said, stepping as far away as she could, her hands over her ears.

Enforcing his body with energy, Silas lashed out at the door- he threw several kicks and punches, aiming for the parts of the door that ought to have been weakest. At some point, his focus must have slipped- as the protection on one of his hands faded, and he took the brute force of his own punch without anything to prevent damage.

Hali heard the sickening crack. Silas, at first, didn’t react.

Blood dripped from his knuckles. Slowly, Silas tried to splay out his fingers, testing their movement.

“Whole thing’s broken.” His breathing was steady, but sharp. “…Ow. I need a minute.”

“Okay, no problem.” Hali resumed her consideration of the door. If this Trattuknah was based in magic, perhaps it wasn’t anything physical, enacted with magical enhancement, that would get the stubborn thing open.

“Have you ever tried Spirit Walking?” Hali asked.

Silas did not respond.

“I’m going to give it a go.” Hali curled up with her back to the door, and did her best to replicate the process she learned about briefly as a girl- she had been successful then, but a lot of time had passed without practice.

Calming her mind, Hali imagined her spirit as an individual aspect of her living self. She separated her thoughts, her knowledge, her memories- all the properties of her mind- and put them aside. Her body- the aches, the cold, the hunger that was gnawing at her because Silas was an inconsiderate ass- she set those aside, as well.

Her spirit was what remained, and it was through her separated spirit that Hali moved on into the next room. With a small grin, she realized that she must have beat the system the original creators had designed. She identified each upcoming trap- beyond the door was a series of sacred runes, some of which would bestow upon you blessings, and some which would curse you. There was a room that would fill with a paralytic gas, forcing you to manipulate your body using magic alone to escape, or die. Further on was a large chamber filled with scrolls that were out of order- but Hali felt she was getting ahead of herself.

She had solved what was to come, but the door remained in their way.

As she began to return to her body, she heard a faint noise- it was a faint…whimpering.

Hali knew nothing should be alive down here, apart from herself and Silas.

She followed the noise, uncertain- until she came across Silas, who was strapped to a table, his body stripped down and covered in strange marks. Silas, who had not passed through the door, still sat near Hali’s body…yet here was another Silas.

Both looked the same, apart from the clothes and their respective wounds. Both were in pain, though from different causes.

What is going on? Hali asked herself. Was this one laying on the table a fake? Illusion magic, perhaps? But he looked so real.

The one she had left behind hadn’t moved, almost at all. He was still nursing his wound.

Hali hesitated. How could she divine which was the real Silas? Were they both fake? When had the real Silas left her side?

Torn by uncertainty, Hali returned to her body-

Only to see that the Silas she had left behind was now glassy-eyed…and dead.

Silas & the Seven Springs Pt.II


Silas put Hali on the back of his horse and walked back with her towards the city. It was a long road, and much longer for the loss of his horse- but it did give them the opportunity to speak.

“How did you discover my plan?” Silas began.

“When I first sailed into the harbor, must have been four or five months ago, I was lending a hand to the sailors- they mentioned strange cargo. I took a look, and found myself staring at the sigil of a noble house that does not exist.”

Silas glared at Hali. “There are more noble houses than there are varieties of hats. How could you possibly have spotted it to be fake?”

“I had…irregular studies growing up.”

“Fine. You spotted one strange shipment, then?”

“Had the dock hands tell me whenever a new one with the same sigil was coming up. They contained some very curious things- mostly black alchemy.”

“I paid those dock hands for secrecy.” Silas said, gritting his teeth.

“Money only goes so far.”

“In your world, perhaps, not in mine.”

“Well, it seems my world trumped yours, in this case.”

“So, you know my plan. Why would you forsake your position just to flush me out? It seems…counterintuitive.”

Halibaba laughed softly. “I could say the same of your plan, Silas. Your own plan doesn’t suit your priorities.”

“You would presume to know my priorities?”

“In truth, I don’t know you very well, but I do know something about you that you do not.”

“Right, you referred to me as a spirit with a broken flask. What did you mean?”

“You will have no reason to believe me. You may even find this insulting.”

Silas waited for Hali to get on with it.

“After I’d made introductions with the King, he gave me the freedom to go through his court mage’s research notes and laboratory- none of it was useful to me. His court mage approaches magic through the lens of meticulous experiments, like applying science to magic. That is not my way.” Halibaba took a deep breath. “Then I found a journal with your name on it. I had learned your name at that point, and thought it curious. I assumed you’d bought your way into the court mage’s favor. Instead, I learned that you are one of his experiments.

Silas cocked an eyebrow. “You mean he’s been observing me and my actions?”

“That’s only half of it. He…you- how do I say this? You believe you were born into slavery, and you eventually escaped. Those memories aren’t real.”

Silas pondered that for a moment. He had never considered using magic to plant false memories before- but, with research, he felt confident he could achieve it.

“Then what does this court mage say my past truly is?” Silas asked.

“That was as far as I got before he interrupted me. He accused me of theft, and…well, you see how that ended.” Halibaba ran her hands over her shaved head. “To be fair, I did not do much to assuage the King’s concerns. I was calling the court mage all kinds of terrible names, and said that I would never serve alongside a man like him.”

When had these alleged false memories been implanted? Who was he before? There were many questions that Silas needed answers for- and Hali probably didn’t have any of them.

“That’s an awfully strong reaction. Why should you care if your enemy was compromised?” He asked instead.

“Sanctity. How could I consider you my enemy if you were the product of someone’s vile experiments? How could I fight against you if you were a victim?”

For a moment, the situation seemed too perfect. Silas had come here hoping to scoop Halibaba under his wing- now it seemed she was trying to do that to him. Silas had run scams before, during his rise to power. Halibaba likely had no proof to back this up- so it was just a mindgame to put Silas out of Halibaba’s way.

“I do have proof- or, rather, we can acquire the proof.” Halibaba said, as though reading Silas’s mind.

“What do you propose?” Silas asked.

“We get that journal.”

Launching himself head first into enemy territory. Yes, that reeked of a scam.

“Perhaps.” Silas said. “We should restore your powers, first.”

Halibaba nodded, and the pair returned to silence.

Eventually, Silas and Hali came across someone willing to part with their horse- for an exorbitant fee- and their return to the city was expedited.

By the time they arrived, Silas had finished mentally drawing up his plan.

Stealing into the city under the cover of night, Silas brought Halibaba to his home. 

“To return your powers to you, I’ll need to get a look at what was done to you. The specifics of the spell they used. You will have to trust me.” Silas said, while he prepared a basic meal. Hali likely hadn’t eaten in days.

“I…yes. I suppose I couldn’t stop you even if I tried, at this point, so resisting would be moot anyway.” Hali admitted, before reaching for the cheese and bread Silas had presented.

After their rudimentary dinner, Silas did what he needed to do. With magic, he rendered Hali unconscious- not so that he could examine her, not yet, but to use his powers on himself, first.

Using every single trick he had in his arsenal, he delved into himself. He walked the catacombs of his own mind, using dendrites like tree branches- until he had verified every single aspect of himself.

He was untouched. He had no false memories. Halibaba really was trying to lure him directly into the enemy’s clutches.

Shame. He’d almost taken a liking to her- something about her honesty appealed to him.


Halibaba awoke- and she felt that her powers had been restored. She could feel it coursing through her veins.

“You were honest with me, Silas.” Hali said, surprised.

“I wish I could say the same for you.” Silas had a deep scowl adorning his face. “I am surprised that you would try such underhanded techniques- not because those are beyond you, but because you should know I am so, so much better at them. My memories are not compromised.”

“If you believe that…why did you return my powers?”

“To even the battlefield. Go back to your side, and we will fight as we ought to.” A grim smile grew on Silas’s face once more. “Perhaps I don’t get to poison the Nobles as I had planned, but neither will you pull me into their dungeons.”

He then pushed Halibaba into the street.

Halibaba stomped on the cobblestone street, frustrated.

“I am going to find that proof, with or without you, Silas!” She shouted. ‘Even if it means sneaking into the castle myself!’

Silas & The Seven Springs Redux Pt.I

“Begone, you wretch!”

Silas had heard that phrase so many times. Such was the life of an orphan- an orphan, and foreigner, at that. Doubly cursed, since the day he had escaped the chains of his slave master. He was young when he had been sold into slavery- too young. Then, when he escaped, he found that there were no support systems to help him. There was no food to be found- not while it was all hoarded onto the tables of the wealthy.

Silas survived by fleeing from one country to the next, stealing and sneaking through every miserable night, only hoping to survive.

That was when he found the book- the turning point in his life. The catalyst of his ascension.

Some wealthy dignitary had hired a Collegium Wizard to write a basic primer on magic for his children. It fell from his pack, as he left an expensive tavern one night, stumbling and drunk.

Silas had been hiding in the dark, hoping for an opportunity to steal into the tavern’s cellar- instead, he collected the fallen book, originally thinking to sell it for a few spare coins- but when he read its contents, he was mesmerized. The elite class kept the secrets of magic close to their chest- so close it may as well have been their own beating hearts. It was their one sure ticket to ensure control over their slaves and working class.

Their secrets were now *in Silas’s hands*.

Not knowing what else to do, Silas continued to steal, and practice magic- eventually, he combined the two practices, and he began to steal more, and better. He made complicated games, confidence schemes- tricking merchants out of their money by promising great returns on investments and things of that nature. Silas learned how to talk as they did, how to move like he had been born into wealth. The first step of this, curiously, was to steal expensive clothes.

Eventually, Silas caught wind of a very illustrious party being held, and he stole inside. He shook many hands, memorized each and every face. Silas told them I was a traveling dignitary, waiting for his father to die so he could take his inheritance. 

The nobles ate the story up, and why wouldn’t they? It was exciting, and Silas had every outward flourish that marked him as one of *them*- all except for the fierce anger which kept his blood moving. They would never see that side of him- not until he decided he no longer needed them.

For a time, things went well- he secured a lavish apartment, and began tutoring rich brats in magic, for an exorbitant fee, while using his new connections to acquire more knowledge.

It was only after Silas’s first duel that he learned that the nobles studied magic very casually- or, perhaps, they did not possess the fortitude necessary to become skilled at magic, as evidenced by how easy his first duel went.

Silas had, mostly by accident, offended some pompous old man. He had barely noticed until the duel had already begun.

Silas’s opponent had barely conjured a few licks of flame before he was ripped in half with a temporal vortex. With that, Silas’s stature was cemented as a skilled, cunning man of high pedigree. Everything was progressing according to Silas’s grand plans..

Then the self-proclaimed ‘hero’ came. In all fairness, they did seem to walk the walk. Perhaps they did deserve the title. 

Silas didn’t end up bumping into them at any parties, so he paid a local footpad for an intelligence report.

Hali, short for Halibaba, was the consummate picture of a ‘hero’. She served the Lords, the upper class, the Kings. She ensured ‘order’, and served faithfully. 

Apparently she never had any reason to think that she was *empowering oppressors*.

She was alleged to be skilled with both magic and metal, but skilled warriors were common enough that Silas hadn’t had a reason to investigate this hero any further. She seemed very unlikely to ever become a threat to Silas’s plans.

Her reputation grew over the coming months, and it seemed that she was settling into Rayben City on a more permanent basis, so Silas had his operative keep him up to date on their actions, along with some of the other notables within the city.

He learned that Hali had begun to use her accumulated wealth for setting up soup kitchens and other infrastructure to lessen the terrible conditions the peasantry had to deal with. Silas was impressed- but still did not deign to make her acquaintance.

Then the day came that Halibaba seemed to have gotten word of Silas’s plans- how she did it, he didn’t know. Perhaps the damage to Silas’s operation were merely *incidental*- but the damage was very real.

Every key procurement was delayed, canceled, or sunk in the harbor, and every time, the fault, one way or another, came down to Halibaba.

Silas considered having her killed- but her combat prowess was well-known, and it would certainly raise eyebrows if there was a failed assassination attempt on the hero. It would mark that she was doing something right- and Silas could not afford to be outed just yet.

After a few weeks, Silas formulated a plan to cripple the hero’s efficiency- remove the gold in her coffers, make her fall from favor, and she would not be able to operate with even half of her current strength.

His plan was thwarted, and, in turn, one of Silas’s assets, an old warehouse, was burned to the ground.

Perhaps the hero *did* know who Silas was, after all.

The two began a quiet war- trading blow for blow, learning to hate each other, yet having never even seen one another’s faces.

Then, one day, the attacks stopped. Everything returned to operating as smoothly as it ever had- and Silas soon learned why.

“Good sir,” began the footpad as he entered Silas’s apartment. “I bring news that I am sure you will love.”

Silas had always struggled to remain composed in front of this footpad. His smile was as insincere as a cobra’s, his every word was coated with a toxic honey. Silas knew that if the footpad thought he could get away with it, he would have cut Silas’s throat and tossed him into the harbor without a moment’s hesitation, even if all he gained from it was a single bent copper coin.

Silas could very easily have become this person, if he hadn’t escaped his enslavement as quickly as he had.

“What news?” Silas asked, turning away. He was experimenting with an ancient form of alchemy, and could not be bothered to abandon it for the likes of him.

“The Hero is gone.”

A grim smile spread across Silas’s lips. “Oh?”

“It would seem that she made some kind of enemy- apart from yourself, of course. Who it was, and what exactly transpired, I don’t know, but she was beaten, and her powers have been sealed away.”

The hair on my neck stood up. 

“They sold her into slavery.”

“Yes, sir, yes they did. That was how I learned of this- I have an ear within the slaver’s circles, a friend who helps transport new slaves into the city.”

“There is only one party powerful enough to have overcome her and sever the ties between her and her incredible social support.”

“Sir?” The footpad asked.

“Never mind. Your payment is on the table.”

“Always a pleasure. I appreciate your patronage.” Silas knew how to tell when someone was lying- and Silas knew how to tell when someone was good at lying. This footpad was *very* good at lying.

Once he had left, Silas put aside his experiment.

Despite how much the hero had infuriated him, Silas now knew he could use this- he could turn this situation to his advantage.

An extremely powerful hero, well respected by the people, and now jaded at the King himself? She could become the most powerful piece on Silas’s chess board.

All he had to do was rescue her.

Using a different member of his intelligence community, Silas investigated those closest to the hero- why were none of them pursuing her? Perhaps the King had slandered her name before selling her. 

Silas sent word off for the request for information, but found himself too impatient to wait for the response.

Silas donned his armor, some of it cast from the resin of the Zinferous World Tree, and other parts woven from the demi-silk of the fifth generation of enhanced spiders he had bred. He also took a cloak and face mask, as it would not do for him to be seen fighting slavers.

Astride his fastest horse, Silas took off towards the route he believed the Hero would have been sent down. There were only two roads the people of this city didn’t use- the one that led through the eastern swamp, and the roads the city guards always patrolled. 

Silas was confident he knew which road the slavers would use.

After riding for an entire day and night, using magic to empower his horse and keep himself alert, Silas finally caught sight of his prey.

A large, clunky-looking carriage was leading several chained people down the tumultuous path- among them was a woman who was tall, looked strong, and was covered in bruises. Her head had been shaved. By the way she walked, she probably had broken ribs.

*’That’ll be Halibaba, then.’* Silas thought. 

Silas dismounted and approached the slavers- they were armed, but they did not attack immediately.

That was a mistake.

Wielding his immense magical power, Silas engaged the slavers with extreme prejudice. Wielding lightning like a blade, each slaver fell before Silas without him having so much as a scratch.

One by one, he let the slaves go, giving each of them the food and clothes the slavers had in their cart- until, finally, he came to the hero.

She had barely looked up the entire time. She hadn’t shown much interest in being saved.

“Halibaba.” Silas said, extending his hand. “We haven’t met.”

“No.” She said, ignoring his outreached hand. “But I think I know who you are.”

“All of that can be put aside for now, Halibaba. I would ask only one thing of you- the opportunity to speak, in exchange for your freedom.”

Halibaba looked into Silas’s eyes- and he saw that the light had not gone out from them yet. She was in real pain, but she was not defeated.

“That’s much kinder than I thought you’d be, Silas of the Broken Flask.”

A scowl grew on Silas’s face. “I’ve come to free you from your chains, Halibaba. Why would you scorn my help?”

“Because, Spirit- I am not the prisoner here. You are.”

A chill went down Silas’s back.

“This was a set up.”

“Yes and no.” Halibaba leaned over and split the chains that held her wrists together. “Have I turned my back on the King? Absolutely. Did he seal my powers? Yes, for now. Have I lost all of my friends? Probably. Did I do all of this just to trick you into meeting me? Definitely.” Against the backdrop of Halibaba’s dark skin, her wide smile was bright.

David and the Gigantic Asshole Pt.II

The night ended with Dave curled up among a bunch of the bird’s eggs. Luckily, Dave’s warmth was considered enough to keep his three bed mates held over, so he was not being perched upon by his carnivorous ‘friend’. The storm came, but the bird’s large nest- roughly the size of a car- held together just fine, and the rain was warm.

Dave eventually gathered his wits, and scanned the bird using the gun he’d been gifted by Jasmine. Based on what the scanner could glean, the bird was warm-blooded, which was pretty standard, carnivorous, and showed signs of having high social intelligence. Nothing about that was news to Dave, really, but at least he’d begun working on his database. 

Dave did manage to sleep a little, and as the sun rose, so did he, feeling…mostly okay, all things considered. He did need to get to work, though.

The momma bird wasn’t around- probably hunting again. Dave wondered how safe it was to continue to be around the momma bird- after all, if an egg hatched, maybe he was the most convenient meal, like a ready-made burrito from a gas station, compared to having to actually go out to get food.

Dave shuddered at the thought.

He began walking, unsure exactly where he wanted to go- if predators were both on the land and within the water, maybe building a treehouse was the best option. Then again, if his house wasn’t sturdy, a storm would tear it to shreds. Dave debated on this for a while, before finally deciding- with a shrug- that since he was still likely to die, he may as well get to try living in a tree house like he always wanted.

The Maker would only have so much energy in it- certainly enough to last him a few weeks of work, but Dave also needed to consider that the scanner might not have enough juice to last him.

“Ugh. I miss paperwork.” Dave grumbled half-heartedly as he made his way deeper into the bush, further from his bird ‘friend’.

Eventually, Dave found a cluster of trees that were all very wide, very tall, and looked as though they had weathered the previous night’s storm very well.

Dave set to work- though the Maker couldn’t directly work with wood, he could use it to turn plant fibers into rope, and if he was very lucky he may even find some bog iron he could use to make a bow saw or an axe with.

Dave labored under the hot sun for a few hours, uninterrupted, before he began to get hungry.

“Oh, right. I have flesh. Flesh has needs.” Dave sighed, and finished his project as best he could- he didn’t have anything to protect him from the cold, but he did have a fairly secure space that would protect him from wind, birds, and land-bound predators.

Dave decided that starting small would be best. In areas like these- almost jungle-esque, his safest bet would be bugs.

His stomach was already roiling in protest- but he couldn’t hunt without weapons, and he needed calories soon.

Actually- shouldn’t safe water be his priority first?

Dave wasn’t sure. He may have been capable of designing and coding nanobots, but he was absolutely in the dark when it came to the basics.

He continued to debate this for a while, as he walked towards an area with more fallen trees- ideally, there would be grubs of some kind underneath, and his scanner could let him know if they were edible.

Then he saw it- for just a brief moment, out of the corner of his eye, there was a red flashing light. Dave had seen this plenty of times, and, somehow, his homebody reflexes served him well enough to save his life.

Dave dropped to the ground, then scrambled to get behind a tree, all the while, bullets shot off towards him in a staccato rhythm. 

It was a Hunter-Killer Droid. A three-foot tall, hovering death machine. It had the equivalent of an automatic rifle for its left hand, and a laser cutter for it’s right. HKD’s had very, very few functions. They hunted, killed, and sometimes could be used to deliver messages.

If that message was ‘eat shit and die’, at least.

“Damn, damn, damn.” Dave complained. The HKD alone was a threat- but all the noise he was generating, and so close to his house- he was going to attract other predators. 

Dave thought as hard and as fast as he could. He knew exactly where the HKD’s emergency turn off switch would be. He knew exactly what it was made of, and what senses it used to find its prey- he also knew that if he kept the memory core intact, he could use the fact that it had been programmed to hunt him as irrefutable proof that this Judge was a clandestine dickhead and needed to be sent to an outer-orbit prison.

Dave thought for a few more moments- then the bullets stopped. The HKD could see that his heart was still beating, and it must have come to the conclusion that the bullets wouldn’t pierce through the thick wooden tree he was hiding behind.

Which way would it pivot around? If Dave guessed wrong, it was over.

Taking a deep breath, Dave circled back, trying to get a peek- then, seeing the back of the HKD unit, he sprinted deeper into the woods.

He had only one option, at least that he could think of- if he could sneak behind the HKD, he could use his Maker to melt it down- he’d need about three seconds of uninterrupted access to do so. How could he make sure the HKD wouldn’t react during those three seconds? Some kind of direct magnetic interference might do the trick-

As Dave’s feet carried him into the jungle, he heard the HKD reloading- it must’ve spotted him.

Another shot rang out, the harsh noise slightly suppressed by the dense foliage- but the bullet wasn’t even aimed at Dave.

Had a predator already arrived?

Dave turned back to look, and was horrified by what he saw.

Dragons had always been a myth. Dragons continued to be a myth, since there was no evidence that this dragon-like beast hoarded gold or kidnapped pretty princesses- but in the moment, Dave couldn’t help but squeal in terror “Is that a fucking dragon?!”

The massive reptilian beast absolutely resembled a dragon. Scales, horns, roughly the size of a three-bedroom house plus the backyard- the kind anyone back in Old York would’ve been jealous of.

At least it didn’t breathe fire.

Dave crouched once again, finding another tree to hide behind- only to discover that the dragon and HKD were not his only problems. As he slid behind the tree, he felt a sharp pain just above his ankle- and screamed as he found a snake’s jaw wrapped around his lower leg.

‘Do I force it off me or leave it? Which way is worse? How do I concoct the antidote? Can the Maker-’ Dave shut off his thinking brain and yanked at the snake, trying to dislodge it, succeeding on his third try. In a moment of savage inspiration, he turned the tables on the snake by biting it- severing the head clean from the rest of it’s nearly five-foot long body.

With the scanner, he learned that the antidote could easily be synthesized- it only needed a bit of water, and it had to be injected near the wound, or he’d start forming blood clots and die in less than ten minutes.

His heart had beat hard before. It had beat hard when he’d perfected the previously-neglected Nanobot technology, and was given awards and promotions and forced to give speeches. His heart had beat hard when he’d been in a car accident, and the first time he entered space. His heart had beat hard when he was sentenced to be sent down here- but for the first time in his life, Dave felt like his heart was genuinely going to explode from sheer pressure.

Water. He needed water- and a syringe.

Syringe- from the HKD. The Maker could do it. It’d probably be less comfortable than a mosquito bite- but his options were nil.

Forcing his trembling body to obey, Dave marched towards where the ‘dragon’ and the HKD unit were battling- dancing back and forth, neither quite able to harm the other. The dragon’s thick scales prevented bullet damage, and the HKD stayed out of reach of the dragon’s claws- but, with the HKD distracted, Dave had a chance. He only hoped the dragon wouldn’t take offense to his presence as well.

Allfather, Jesus, Buddha, Oprah, please anything that’ll listen, help me through!

Dave’s leg was throbbing, but he kept his movements as stealthy as possible- until he came within two feet of the back end of the HKD. From here, he could start disassembling the unit. If he melted it down, it would register as ‘damage’, but the Maker had a mode for disassembly that would not trigger the HKD’s awareness protocol.

Dave had managed to strip off only the back panel when the dragon made a furious move, swatting the HKD unit to the ground, and swallowing it in one swift movement.

For a moment, Dave was devastated- but then he realized that that may have been one of the best options.

With the back panel in his possession, he needed only to synthesize it into a needle, and to get water within a few minutes-

The dragon roared triumphantly. Then the note of triumph soured- and turned into a howl of agony. From within, the HKD had initiated a non-standard self-destruction… the HKD had been equipped with a bomb. Dave could tell, because he had helped with the design of that option for the HKD, and he knew what it looked like when it went off. A series of concussive blasts, each more powerful than the last- and he could hear them going off from within the dragon.

The dragon was extremely sturdy, however- even though its insides had turned into a foul soup by now, none of the explosions broke through those scales.

The dragon collapsed, blood pouring from its mouth, snout, and eyes.

Dave knew what he had to do.

Using the Maker, he created the receptacle that would hold his toxin cure- and he filled it with the dragon’s blood. The Maker purified the blood, discarding all of the heme iron, plasma, and every other ‘contaminant’, until pure water remained. Using the venom, the Maker then produced the anti-venom. Dave shoved the needle in, and plunged away.

There was no breath of relief. There was no patting himself on the back. If it hadn’t been for Jasmine’s interference by giving him the Maker and the scanner, he would’ve died so many times now.

Dave folded in half and retched- not that there was much in his stomach to retch, apart from stomach acid, but he retched anyway.

There was a new kind of fire within Dave. He knew his place in this world- it was at the absolute bottom of the totem pole, and technology was his only way to ascend. With a cruel, determined, fake smile, Dave approached the corpse of the dragon.

“Thank you.” Dave said, then began to use the Maker to sheer off the skin and scales.

The skin would become leather, the scales would adorn the leather as armor. He would dig inside the messy internal organs of the dragon, and the HKD would provide him with enough metal to begin fastening the tools he needed.

For a moment, that satisfied Dave- but he realized he was being wasteful.
With the Maker, he drained all of the blood from the dragon, and harvested the heme iron from its blood, turning it into a short sword. This would be the last time Dave would be helpless on this gods-forsaken planet.