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.

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.”

Aliens, Allegations, And Alligators Pt.II

I didn’t sleep that night- how could I, when so many lives were going to be destroyed in such a horrific manner?

Instead, I spent the night reading Samyaza’s guide over and over, trying to make it all make sense. I was sure that some of this terminology must have been already known by the top brass, because he offered no explanation for some of the most difficult parts to understand.

Yuliette eventually ‘forced’ me to help her warm her bed, but all that changed was that I now read by a much dimmer light while she slept with her head on my chest.

Whenever weariness began to make my eyelids heavy, I once again felt Samyaza’s cold hand resting on my shoulder, jerking me awake.

Finally, morning came- such as it was on this planet- and Yuliette finished her preparations.

“Now, to yours?” She asked.

I shook my head. “I didn’t bring any keepsakes with me. We can go.”

Military housing didn’t allow soldiers- or, in my case, military stenographers- to buy any of our own stuff, except for food. I didn’t have any furniture, entertainment units, or anything else that was actually mine to go and get. I had no reason to go back.

“Have you finished your formal resignation?” Yuliette asked.

“Well- sort of. They made it clear this job is over. If they fail to reassign me, that’s their own problem.”

Yuliette tsk’d at me. “What if they do reassign you, and you’re all the way back on Earth? They could call you a deserter. You should really do a proper resignation.”

I thought about it for a moment, but decided against it. I may need access to my high level of clearance before this whole thing was over.

I grunted in a noncommittal fashion at Yuliette, which was well understood as my way of saying ‘I don’t want to talk about it anymore’.

I had Yuliette book the flight back to Earth but paid for it myself since she had only had random blips of employment during this whole debacle.

We stored Yuliette’s vehicle, which was capable of travel through both air and land, in a commercial garage meant for long-term storage. We then took an airtaxi towards the spaceport.

The weather was behaving in a pretty typical fashion- it was constantly drizzling, overcast, somewhat gloomy. It didn’t help that the rain was slightly acidic- not enough to kill a human like me, but enough to cause painful acid burns on the first layer of our skin. That was why I always had to wear the annoying EEE, but Yuliette did not.

As we reached the spaceport, I thought about how I was going to do this. I wanted Yuliette safe, but I needed to stay here. I should’ve just brought it up earlier. I really did need to work on my communication skills.

Before I could begin to solve it, other complications arose.

As soon as we stepped inside, two security personnel began shadowing our footsteps. The spaceport was huge, and after three different turns, they were still on us. Couldn’t have been a coincidence.

Yuliette noticed nearly as quickly as I did, which was impressive for someone who wasn’t trained.

“I’m going to veer off into the washroom. You keep heading for the gate. If they follow you, I’ll come up from behind them. If they follow me, I’ll deal with it.”

Yuliette nodded, though she didn’t seem particularly happy. Made sense- Yuliette was the type to turn in two assignments and ask her teacher which one they liked better, always striving to be the best she could be for her ‘superiors’. Going up against authority wasn’t her thing at all.

That just reaffirmed my choice to send her away. This was going to get hairy.

I veered off- and, unfortunately, the two men shadowing us split up. Worst case scenario. I stepped into the washroom and angled myself behind the door- a child’s tactic, but it would probably work. The security following us looked to be simple airport guards- not military or secret operatives.

The man stepped inside, and I thought I would end our confrontation before it even began.

I did not succeed.

I tried putting him immediately into a chokehold- nothing lethal, just to put him to sleep long enough for me to get Yuliette out of this spaceport, and to find another way off-planet.

Unfortunately, this security guard was unusually wary. As soon as my hands reached around his neck, he ducked, pulled on my arms, and tossed me against the far wall.

“What the hell?!” Shouted a man using one of the stalls.

“Sorry bud. Fight going on, here.” I said, groaning as I stood.

“You tripped one of our sensors. We gotta bring you in.” The security guard said. He had a mess of dark hair on his head and an unkempt, thin beard over his jawline.

“Damn facial recognition.” I hadn’t thought we’d be on any kind of a list- did the top brass realize that I’d taken Samyaza’s book? Or had they somehow heard my talk with Yuliette?

“Come on then,” I said, putting my hands up.

My opponent was large. Taller than me by a good six inches, longer reach- but I doubted he was stronger. My best bet was to take this to the floor.

I feigned shooting a few quick jabs, then swept his legs. He was top-heavy, so it was perfectly effective. He hit the ground, and I quickly followed. From there, I disoriented him with a few blows to the head, and finally got the chokehold I was looking for.

I placed the guard inside a stall, told the other person in there that it was safe to come out, and sprinted after Yuliette.

She and I had, not long into our relationship, put tracking devices on one another. These were dangerous days, after all, and as a diplomat, she was a prime target for kidnappings.

She was nearing the departure zone, where space-faring ships would leave with their cargo.

My heart was pounding in my ears, but after the fastest mile I had ever ran, I saw her.

I saw as she was being loaded up into a Coalition Passenger Ship, with her wrists manacled.

“No!” I bellowed, running through the enameled glass corridors, trying to get to her-

Until a man with dark hair, cruel eyes, and a familiar voice stepped into my path.

“Stenographer Williams.” Samyaza said.

“Samyaza. Pardon me, I’m not on duty.”

“Don’t play coy. You have my book.”

“I merely followed orders, my lord.” Amandine said from somewhere behind Samyaza.

“Mmm, indeed. Yet we have a mess to clean up.”

“Where are you taking her?”

“She doesn’t seem to know anything about my book, so she is going to Earth, exactly where you wanted her. If you come with me, quietly, and right now, I will leave her in your brother’s care. If you resist, she will be brought to a prison.”

I lost sight of Yuliette. She hadn’t seen me following her. I hesitated a moment…


“Yes.” Samyaza agreed. “Now, we’ve involved the normal people for too long, Williams. Let’s go have a chat.”

The Draconic Domain Pt.III

I knew Pierre wouldn’t approve of my plan. I burned through another pair of his cables to charge my Gear, swiped one of his spare coats, and left quietly before he awoke.

I began heading towards the eastern edge of town- gang territory.

The way I saw it- the lawmen and the Academy weren’t in a position to help me nearly as much as I wanted, nor were they in a position to be of much danger, either. The gangs, however, would be my most dangerous enemy…or my most valuable friends. Siding with one of them made the most sense.

The gangs currently had an unsteady working relationship- essentially a truce- and they were united under a shifting leadership. Amongst the city crews, there were the Blackened Bones, Heartfires, and Undercity members. A few other small gangs existed, but these three were the most powerful.

My choice was obvious- the Blackened Bones were the only crew willing to go face-to-face against the police. They were the ones pulling off major jobs, jailbreaks, assassinations. The only thing they didn’t have was drugs because it was against their code.

The Blackened Bones were only kept in check by the threat of outright war, with the police and both the other major crews attacking them at once- if it weren’t for that holding them back, they would run the entire city.

With my help, they could tip the scales- and that would land me unparalleled safety in their ranks, and comfort for my family.

Even though the sun was now up, and the sun was shining through a cloudless sky, I didn’t feel any safer. Perhaps it was the buildings that were looming over me. Perhaps it was the fact that I could feel a growing number of eyes watching me as I approached the Blackened Bones headquarters.

Everyone knew where the Blackened Bones headquarters were- it was also the city’s only gambling house.

I didn’t make it all the way to the front door before I was interrupted.

On the back of a lithe, tall, grey and black dragon was a woman with a serious scowl on her face. She was quite the opposite to her dragon’s toned-down appearance- her hair was dyed in bright stripes of many colors, and her clothes were very…punk rock.

“What do you want?” She sounded bored and peeved.

“I have a unique ability that your organization might be able to make use of. I want to trade my services for employment, and a dragon.”

The woman rolled her eyes. “Dragons don’t grow on trees. Do you know how hard it is to raise them to be tame? Your ‘ability’ better be good. Get on.”

Before I’d even taken a step she put her wrist to her mouth and spoke into it. “Tell Morris we have a visitor.”

I mounted the rear saddle on the woman’s dragon and held on while she leapt over walls and raced at the highest speeds she could- she definitely wasn’t trying to get a high rating for her guest services.

I was taken inside their compound- not the gambling hall that I had thought I’d be going to- and I was ‘greeted’ by a very disinterested-looking man with long, slicked-back white hair. He wasn’t old, not if I could judge by his skin or voice, but his hair threw me off. I guessed he was in his mid-twenties.

“So, Killanna tells me you have an ability.” He started.
When she had told him this, I couldn’t be sure.

“Yeah. I was thinking- I join your crew, I get a dragon, and in exchange, you get my ability.”

“You’re asking a lot. What are you bringing to the table?” His voice was neutral, but I could tell that if I was offering him nothing substantial, he’d probably break my arms for wasting his time.

“Let me explain it this way.” I said, subtly activating my Gear. “You have two men stationed behind me, and one in the tower over there,” I said, gesturing. “He wields the black energy of his dragon. Killanna uses red energy, and the dragon she rides is black.”

“So, you know about the energy types, but you don’t know their proper names. You sound childish, listing things off like ‘black and red energy’.”

“I have an ability, not unlimited access to ancient secrets.”

“Mmm. Okay, so you can detect energy at a distance. Can you feel the magnitude of the power as well? Or just detection of presence?”

“Your energy is the strongest here, although there is someone underground who outstrips you.” I noticed, looking down.

“Ah.” The white-haired man grimaced, as if he’d swallowed something unpleasant. “Well, if what you’re saying is true, then you and I don’t have that much time to talk. How far are you willing to go with your ability? If I asked you to use it to track someone, could you do it? If I asked you to steal, do you have the guts? If I asked you to kill, would you follow through, or cave?”


Aliens, Allegations, and Alligators (Fantasy fiction short story)

I wasn’t meant to be privy to the secret meetings that the Humanity Coalition held. I was not on their war council, their secret service agencies, or even a general in their armies. I should have had no business learning about every little dirty deal and nasty secret.

Regardless, I knew more about the Intergalactic War than almost everyone else, even including most of our leaders.

For the sake of reliable communication and historical accuracy, a stenographer of sorts was required. I had that job foisted on me, even though I didn’t want it.

Now, here I was, listening to the ugliest side of humankind being spilled out.

I heard as they debated upon targets- the enemy had vulnerable hospitals and schools that could be blown up. Their supply trains of medicine and food, those were fine to attack too- but could we steal those supplies? What even was alien medicine? Perhaps it would be more cost-effective to just burn it.

Theft. The slaughter of innocents. I had heard every despicable word coming from the people we were supposed to look up to, and it only got worse as we began to lose. It took the better part of a decade- almost seven years, to be exact, but we were losing planetary control and key spaceports every single standard earth day.

It seemed like humanity was going to be wiped out, but I shed very few tears. I had seen what we were capable of, and it revolted me. I had recorded every sin, and I hoped we would be exposed for each one. I hoped humanity wouldn’t survive. At least, not this humanity. Not under these leaders.

Finally, on what we thought would be the day humanity was due to surrender, a wicked-looking man strolled into the War Room. Every step he took made a sharp noise that echoed across the room.

Immediately, all conversation and bickering ceased, and every pair of eyes was on him.

I felt his energy. His presence. Every General straightened their back, and the fatigue left their eyes. Every politician looked like they were afraid of being spoken to by this…person.

I was not spiritual by any means, yet I was willing to bet my life that this was a true God of War.

“Everyone. General Roudon has apprised me of your situation. I trust you all know who I am.” His dark hair was long and slicked back. His movements were precise and swift. His tone allowed no room for anyone else to speak.

By reflex, I was recording what was being said, my newly-made but old-fashioned typewriter click-clacking away.

The man’s attention snapped immediately over to me. “Not another word.” He warned me.

His gaze bore an intense heat, like I was being scolded by a cruel father. I put both of my hands up, trying to nonverbally signal that I would comply.

“You seem to have forgotten, ladies and gentlemen,” the man orated, as though he were giving an inspiring speech, “the fundamentals of warfare.” He began moving again, slowly circling around the large table which hosted all of our leaders. All eyes remained trained on him.

“You have all read books written by great warriors, I am sure. The Book of Five Rings, The Art of War, the secret diary of Genghis Kahn, yes?”

A muted mumbling of agreements came from most members around the table.

“Yet all of these writers were incomplete. They had wives, children, friends. Even Miyamoto Musashi, may his stained soul rest in peace, had favorite concubines.”

Having finished his slow walk around the leaders, the man now placed himself behind me. I had a feeling he was ensuring I hadn’t continued writing in secret. Feeling him standing behind me made shivers run up my spine.

“You look to your fellow humans for inspiration, yet you should be looking towards your apex predators, instead.”

He placed one his hands on my shoulders. Though I was wearing a coat, it felt as if his hand was seeping cold into my very bones. With his other hand, he pulled free the sheet of paper upon which I had written his opening sentence.

“The Alligator, my friends. The Alligator has been almost entirely unchanged by evolution for millions of years, because it has stumbled upon the epitome of lethal hunting techniques.”

His hand lifted from my shoulder, and I fought to ensure I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief.

“Take your opponent into a place where you can breathe longer.” The man now walked, with his back to me, toward the leaders once again. “If they are stronger, manufacture a favorable environment. If they are smarter, manufacture a favorable environment. If they are winning, flood the arena, because you know you can hold your breath longer than they can. Wash away every difference in wit and skill and strength, and make it a competition of endurance. One you know you can win.”

No one dared to speak, only nod along to the man’s suggestions.

“No one wants to ask ‘how’?” I could hear the smile in his voice. It was lopsided, cruel.

“I happen to have come prepared with an answer, but you must promise me,” he said, the last two words sung in a musical tone, “that you will enact it immediately. No if, no and, no but, you do what I say and you do it now.”

I began to wonder if our leaders were in a trance, the way they nodded along.

“I have…discovered something, about the aliens. To keep it very, very simple, the aliens do not dream. They have no concept of the other realm. So, we introduce a little of the other realm into your realm, this realm, and we simply endure a few strange months while they endure losing their Gods-damn minds!” A note of excitement had begun to creep in.

I had seen enough talks by charismatic, evil leaders. People like Hitler, Stalin. This man knew exactly what he was doing. He was maneuvering himself to be their saving grace, at their darkest hour. He was inspiring fanaticism in the Coalition. If he wasn’t already in charge, he was certainly becoming the de facto leader.

The man laid out the specifics of the plan, but nothing else he said made sense to me. He spoke in terms of physics to the physicist, war to the generals, and politics to the politicians. I allowed myself to stop paying attention, until the very end, when he once again addressed the entire room.

“In order to protect ourselves from the worst of the difficulties, you will all need to learn to control your minds and spirits. You must unify them both, and have your soldiers strictly under control. While the aliens lose their grip on reality, they may become…feral. Even those that want to die will throw up a defense in their last moments. To aid in that, my assistant will provide copies of my guide to everyone in the room. Now, I must be going.”

“Y-you won’t be far, will you?” Asked the Executive Head of the Coalition.

“Have no fear, I am only ever one phone call away. Amandine, the books, please.” With that, the man left.

“Yes, Lord Samyaza.” A woman stepped out from the shadows- I hadn’t noticed her entering- and to each person around the table she gave a copy of the man’s ‘guide’.

The leaders began chattering again. They had more energy now than they had when the war began. I was, once again, sickened. Though I didn’t quite understand, I knew that if this plan worked, humanity would turn the tide- and we would win.

We did not deserve to win.

The woman- Amandine- stopped at my table, and placed a book down.

“For me?” I asked.

“My Lord instructed me to provide one for every person. You are a person, correct?” Her tone was perfectly polite but entirely void of character. Without waiting for a response, she now followed the man’s- Samyaza’s- path out of the building.

It felt like a spell had been lifted, and my hands began to tremble.

I looked at the book across the table and wondered- did I want to know what that…thing had written? Would the knowledge corrupt me, somehow? Or would it help me protect the few people I cared about?

“You’re done, now, Mister Williams.” Called out one of the Generals as she approached my table. “We won’t need you for the rest of the war effort.”

I scooped the book up and held it against my back, with my other arm snapping up into a smart salute. “Yes, sir!”

“Very good.”

I walked a longer path than I needed to to leave the room- but I knew this way, no one would see me leave with the book.

I felt ill. I felt stressed out. I felt tired. But I knew there was much, much more I needed to get done before I could rest again.

As soon as I left the compound, I went through the laborious process of putting on an External Elements Equalizer suit- also called the EEE, and made a phone call from a booth, instead of my personal device.

“Hello?” Responded the sweet, smokey voice I had grown to love.

“Babe. I’m…done work early. Want to swing by?”

I was quiet on the ride back. Yuliette tried several conversation starters on me before I silently put my finger to my lips to pantomime a “ssh”.

She understood.

As soon as we arrived at her apartment, I powered down every device I could find. Yuliette caught on and even brought all the mobile ones into her washroom.

Finally, as secure as we could be, I sat her down.

“We aren’t going to lose this war.”

Relief washed over Yuliette’s face. “Oh, thank God-“

“No. The means we will use to make this win happen are… well, I can’t pretend I understand fully, but they will be monstrous. Every single alien is going to die, and it won’t be a swift death. It’s like some kind of…psychological genocide. You and I need to get off-world immediately, back to Earth-“

“You always want to go back to Earth.” Yuliette objected, a slight grin on her face. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand the gravity of what I was telling her- it was that she was trying to comfort me.

“I’m serious, baby.”

Yuliette chewed on her lip for a moment. “I wish this was just a silly ploy to get us to move in together.”

“Afraid not.”

Yuliette and I had met each other when this job began- I had just graduated from the Military Academy, with the intent to become a staffing officer. No front-line work, just clerical. Approve paternity leave, sign off on medical forms, stuff like that. However, just when the big brass at the top needed a stenographer, they noticed my file.

I was brand new, which they needed. No chance of bias or prior affiliations amongst the Coalition. I had been accepted for full clearance on personnel files, which meant I had passed the psych evaluations for keeping confidential things confidential, which they needed. I could also type at 200 words per minute, which they said was great. I wasn’t told the details, I was just assigned the new position off-world without the opportunity to say ‘no’, and there I was, a few weeks later, on the very edges of humanity’s intergalactic reach, penning every word of their deliberations.

Yuliette, however, had been born on this planet. She wasn’t even entirely human, though the DNA tests had been inconclusive about how much of her was alien. She had been working on inter-species diplomacy before that ship sunk. She went to a bar to drown her sorrows the day the fighting started, and I had done the same. Since that night, we had been inseparable. As each day grew a little darker, we grew a little closer. Now, I couldn’t imagine being without her.

…And the thought that she was even the slightest bit at risk of this new plan of theirs made me sick with rage.

“So, you want to fall back, in case this new weapon of theirs can hurt me, too?”

“Yeah. I-“

I thought about telling her about the book, but Yuliette was a stickler for rules. She’d want me to return it, or throw it out at the least.

“I’m worried. Besides- we’re both out of a job, and you should meet my little brother, and see Earth for the first time. There’re lots of reasons to go, and none to stay.”

Yuliette had lost most of her friendships when the war began- most of her alien friends saw her work as a diplomat to be traitorous, and most of her human friends were now deployed on the front lines. She had no family that she knew of.

“Alright, Mercy. I’ll pack up.” Yuliette said, after a long pause.

Mercy. Her nickname for me. My proper name was Mercurio Williams, but Yuliette never used it.

As she packed, I cracked open the guide that Samyaza guy had written.

I learned three things, all on the first page.

Firstly, dreams were a function of our spirits interacting with the real world. Most of them made no sense because our minds did not hold proper control of our spirits.

Secondly, Samyaza was not human. Nor was he alien. He was something that came from before. He was one of seven of his kind.

Thirdly, this ‘collision’ of the ‘other realm’ and our realm meant that we were, in essence, employing demons to torture all alien life to death.

The fourth thing- it wasn’t something I learned, but something I realized. No way in hell was I letting that slimy bastard Samyaza do this. I was sending Yuliette to Earth, and I was going to stop this, even if it killed me.

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.”

As Above, So Below, Pt. I & II

Superhero society was small. Turns out, all the movies and comics got one thing wrong- the average person, endowed with special abilities, used it almost exclusively for their own gain, and they clung to anonymity carefully, lest they be manipulated into servitude.

I wasn’t aware of all that. In fact, I, like most people, wasn’t even aware that ‘super powers’ even existed, until it was too late.

On the night of my eighteenth birthday, I was celebrating in the traditional fashion. Going to the bar, to have my ‘first drinks’. Of course, I’d already had a few beers in private with my friends- but my parents didn’t know that.

While my Dad secured us a table, Mom and I read over their menus- I was in charge of selecting the booze, and she, the food.

“You like soft shell tacos, right?” Mom asked.

“You bet. Messy, though, if we’re all going to be drinking.”

“Good point.” She replied, and looked over the menu again.

I’d made a deal with Mom and Dad- if I stayed sober until my 18th, they had to keep up with me, drink for drink, and drinking whatever I was drinking. I was in the mood to mess with them a little bit- I was thinking I’d start with a G&T, then rum and coke, then beer, and, if I was sure I wanted all of us to be ill, I’d add wine somewhere in there.

Not that they’d done anything to annoy me- I just thought it’d be funny.

Dad came back and showed us to our table.

“Why is it so busy?” I asked.

“Turns out it’s a trivia night.” Dad replied.

“Oh.” I thought about it for a moment.

“Should we find somewhere else?” Mom asked.

“Nah! It might be fun.” I responded as we took our seats.

The night began, and my parents gave me mockingly scolding looks as my drink selections got progressively stranger.

Finally, after we finished our third round, the trivia started.

Table 1 was asked random trivia about Harry Potter- which they got wrong, but I stole the answer right after. Didn’t everyone know Cedric Diggory’s dad’s name? I thought that was pretty common knowledge.

They came to us, Table 2, and asked what the basic needs for achieving flight were. Dad was a pilot, so he answered- but I mouthed the answer right along with him.

Mom looked at me with an arched eyebrow.

Table 3 got their answer right- one of them must’ve been a marine biologist to know that one.

Why were these questions so difficult?

Our fourth round of drinks arrived, and I nodded gratefully at the waitress.

“What’s in this?” Dad asked after the first sip.

“This is the Brown Sugar Grapefruit Whisky Smash. Brown sugar bourbon, a quarter of a grapefruit, simple syrup made from cane sugar, mint leaves, ice cubes, served in a julep glass.” I responded without thinking.

“Did you take a mixology course or something?” Dad asked.

“Nope. I mean, you can taste it, can’t you? The flavors are pretty obvious.”

“Hmm.” Dad said.

The trivia came back to us- except, while we were distracted, the host had changed. There was now a very tall, lanky man asking the questions.

“Where were you when the lines were drawn across the Universe?” He seemed to be addressing me moreso than the whole table.

“I was but scattered energy, coherent of nothing, wanting for nothing.”

The lights seemed a touch dimmer now than they had been a moment ago.

“Who is it that gives the orders to the ocean, instructing when it can rise and fall?”

“Baalschepsuit, the man who usurped God.” The answer came out of me automatically, as though I was required to speak.

“And where is Baalschepsuit now?” The man asked.

“He is with you now, is he not? He stands behind you.”

The lanky man whipped around, shock and fear plain on his face- only to be met with a powerful fist.

The lanky man crashed into the crowd, who had been, for some time, completely motionless. I hadn’t really registered that until now.

“Yours is a most interesting ability, young man.” Baal stepped out from behind the darkness. “These people you were speaking with, they meant to recruit you. They had discovered your power. But- I think I can offer you a better deal. Come serve me, and you will want for nothing. Refuse, and I will render your tongue into scalded ash.”

This man radiated power. True power. I had met high profile people before, Dad often piloted for them. Some of them had charisma, or an intimidating presence.

This was something else. I knew it was his power that bade me to speak, that had frozen the crowd. I was helpless before him- and there was no sense in dying for a cause I didn’t even know existed.

I stood, and approached Baal, though my legs trembled with fear.

“Where are we going?” A small part of my mind continued to be aware that my responses may have been…compromised, as though Baal controlled not only time, and immense power, but also some element of mind control.

Baal smiled, and rows of crooked, sharp teeth revealed themselves- rather like a shark’s mouth might have, if it was forced into human shape.

“Heaven. As you know, I am in command up there. You will find it…somewhat different than you have been led to believe.”

With that, Baal and I left the bar, and Earth, behind.

The lanky man was known as Ibis. He had discovered his own power many years before- the simple ability to detect and concentrate energy. This was the same ability that led to the emergence of the human race- though it was not Ibis who had done it, but Ibis’s predecessor, who had served the original God.

His jaw was broken- twice, if he was not mistaken. The pain clouded his thoughts. How had he not detected Baal’s presence?

“Mistrah, help.” He called into his radio, hoping she was close enough to hear and respond.

Ibis waited, trying to clear his thoughts. He may have been internally bleeding in his brain. He needed a hospital.

Mist showed up before long. She was nearly as tall as the man she came to save, but instead of Ibis’s own characteristic jerkiness and awkwardness, her every step was fluid and graceful. “Another failed recruitment?”

“Not like other time. Found new power, looked. Baal came.”

“Oh, Gods above.” Mist pulled her dark red hair back from her face as she saw Ibis’s jaw. “Well, he didn’t outright kill you.”

“New recruit young.” Ibis said.

“Didn’t want to scare him too badly. I see.” Mist pulled Ibis from his spot on the ground. “Let’s get out of here before the Humans wake up.”

“Gotta help him. Just little kid.” Every word hurt to form, but Ibis knew once he was in the hospital he wouldn’t be coming out for a while. “Big threat. Knows everything.”

“He knows everything?” Mist asked.

Ibis nodded.

“Well…if we can’t save him before the week is out, then we’ll have to kill him. He could tell Baal where we’re hiding- or where God is licking his wounds, waiting to return.”

“Don’t kill.”

“I will if I have to, Ibis. Let’s pray that it doesn’t come to that.”


Mist didn’t bring Ibis to a regular hospital- regular hospitals wouldn’t have been able to endure a long-term stay with him.

Ibis was aware of this, of course. Whenever he needed to heal, whenever he slept, Ibis drew energy in from the area around him. If he wasn’t in one of his special sleeping pods, he could easily have killed the people around him by drawing on their power.

Luckily, the Grey had prepared for people like him.

The Grey were an underground movement trying to oppose Baal- they weren’t large, well-organized, or even especially powerful, but they had managed to hide from Baal’s sight for a long time. That was more than any of the other opposition had managed.

Hell, they were doing better than God’s own angels had managed to do- assuming the angels were even trying to save God in the first place.

Upon reflection, perhaps it was because the Grey were weak that they had survived.

Mist followed her usual route towards their underground safe house- it was disguised as an abandoned skate park, and was surprisingly large. Most of their actual equipment and services took place three or more stories deep, far away from any mundane prying eyes.

Mist kept Ibis in her purse. Reshaping people’s structure wasn’t easy, per se, but she had become quite good at it. She could hear him trying to keep cool, but his jaw must’ve hurt a lot. Ibis wasn’t one to complain…yet he was definitely complaining.

Eventually, Mist reached her destination. Four floors underground, there was a peculiar disbarred doctor who was somehow intimately familiar with the supernatural beings she surrounded herself with- she understood the scope of their abilities and how to effectively treat around them.

“Good evening, Doctor Rochelle.”

“Ibis?” She asked, indicating Mist’s purse.

“Indeed. You knew he was here?”

“I have sharp ears.”

“He got punched by… a tremendous force.” Mist said, as she pulled Ibis free from her purse.

Ibis, in this scale, looked very much like a pen.

Mist allowed Ibis to return to his original shape, slowly, so he wouldn’t become ill from the process.

“Jesus, Ibis…” Doctor Rochelle said as she palpated along his jaw. “The whole damn thing is pretty much shattered. Gonna have to test you for concussions and brain bleeds, too. We have your special sleeping pod prepared, as well.”


Mist prepared to leave, only to find herself hemmed in by six of the other Greys.

“Mist, we’d like to speak with you.”

“No.” She said neutrally, and walked through the group.

“Please, Mist!” One of them called out to her. Tijn, this one was called. He was a young man, perhaps seventeen, a bit short for his age, earnest and hardworking.

“I know what you want, Tijn, and the answer has not changed.”

“We’re bleeding members, Mist. We will never make any headway without you.”

Mist could feel every pair of eyes on her back as she walked away.

The Grey had been hunting for a leader for years. Some had tried to fill the role, but it wasn’t the kind of task you could simply slide into. Mist had…relevant experience. She also had a firm desire to never put someone else’s life at risk ever again. She’d lost friends, people who were practically family-

Mist had done enough. She was not willing to become a leader again.

She reached the elevator without further disturbance, only to find someone on the elevator, going up.

It wasn’t a coincidence.

“Fence.” Mist greeted casually.

“Mist. Going up?”

“You know I am.”

“I do.”

Fence was perhaps the only other superhuman who was in the same caliber as Mist. His abilities lent themselves to combat in a way that made him unstoppable against even dozens of regular men. He looked the part, too- his dark hair was cropped short, his beard did its best to hide the many scars on his neck and face, and his nose was crooked from one too many breaks. In a rugged way, he was handsome. To normal women, he probably only looked dangerous.

“I have a proposition.” Fence said, pushing the ground floor button.


“Shut up, Mist. You don’t even know what I’m offering.”

“Don’t really care-“

“Even if it has to do with the Sechelt Corps?” Fence asked, a grim smile on his lips.

Mist felt a chill crawl up her spine, drawing her to her full height. “If you’re fucking with me, Fence, I will kill you, regardless of how many Greys they put in front of you.”

“I have a lead. It isn’t a lot, but it’s something.”

“In exchange?”

“Leadership. These morons don’t know battle tactics from their own backsides, and they’re supposed to take down Baal? Bullshit. It’ll never happen. With you, though, given some time, a pissed off Ibis, and what’s left of God?”

“Leave Ibis out of this.”

“He’s our best weapon.”

“He isn’t a weapon, you ass.”

“Well, I guess that’s for you to decide, O Leader.”

They arrived at the ground floor.

“I have a better idea. You’ve been wanting to see for years who’s the better fighter.”

Fence arched an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“We fight. Winner takes all.”

“How long?”

“Two weeks.”

“Two weeks of servitude for me, and permanent leadership from you?”


“Too sweet of a deal. You that confident you can win?”

“You won’t land so much as a scratch on me, Fence.”

“I may have gotten a little rusty running goods for these sloppy pricks, but do you really think it’ll be that easy? You’re on.”

“Take us there, then.”

With a wolfish grin, Fence touched the B6 button- the basement of the Grey headquarters. The arena.

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!’