Guest Submission: Into The Deep

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Picture obtained through http://www.thinglink.com

Warm water lapped at Bairon’s thighs as he settled astride the aspra. The creature snorted with impatience, tossing its equine head, and he laughed, patting the side of its neck, feeling the power in the smooth muscles, “We’ll be going soon enough. Be calm.” Bowing his head, he focused his strength inward before allowing the power to spread out, bathing his surroundings in the magical light that comprised his sense of sight.

The waves were calm, the crystal blue waters of the inland sea looked peaceful, but there were few of those who lived on this island that were willing to come within a hundred yards of the water’s edge. The hidden, yet ever present, danger was illustrated by the misty shapes of hundreds of shipwrecks which now drew his gaze. There were so many broken masts that the shallows appeared as a forest whose trees had been decimated by some disaster, and everyone knew that each mast marked the final resting place of another crew that met their fate at the hands of the demons that lived in the depths.

There was not enough life within the rotting boards for him to make out more than the vague shapes, but he could see the bright darts of light that indicated the aquatic life in the area had adopted the husks which discouraged even the bravest of the villagers from approaching the water. Despite the life he could see, the smell of death was heavy along the coast, dimming the brilliance of the midday sun.

Movement at his side drew his attention and he turned toward the village shaman, “You don’t have to do this, you know,” the man rasped in a voice as weathered as his face.

“I am sinha,” Bairon replied, “It is my duty to protect the peoples of the land.”

“Your magics may not work in the deeps,” the shaman warned and passed a heavy staff to him, “Take this. You may need a weapon.”

Bairon accepted the staff and strapped it into a groove along the side of the saddle, “I will take it,” he gestured to the mask obscuring the upper half of his face, “however, my melee skills leave much to be desired.”

“Yes, the light magics demand a high price,” the shaman observed, his expression somber.

“They do,” Bairon agreed, “But they also give great strength. It is not a sacrifice I have ever regretted.”

“I hope that does not change today. You go into great peril, sinha, and our people will be forever in your debt. When you are ready, place the skimmer over your nose and mouth, it will allow you to breathe under the water. Hold tightly to the saddle. Aspra can move swiftly enough to knock an unprepared rider from their back.”

“I thank you for the warning,” Bairon nodded and a crooked smile appeared as he prepared to secure the skimmer, “I have to try, you know, because there is only one way to catch a mermaid.”

-Sherastiliin

Author Bio:

Where you are from?

  • Originally from Utah, now live in Arizona

You favorite: piece of writing writing/book/literature.

  • Typically love fantasy, but my all time favorite book is probably Pride and Prejudice

In no more than two sentences, why you love to write.

  • There is nothing more exciting to me than the endless possibilities of a blank sheet of paper. To me, writing is freedom to go wherever and be whatever I want.

 

 

Guest Submission: Horror in Repast

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The monolith looked harmless. Kind of a disappointing end to a rigorous hunt. Tall enough to be ominous, sure. Eerie because of how smooth the black rock was. But there were no fireballs flung from it, no smoky haze around it, and no thunderous voice emanating from inside it. Just a silent tower. It was everything going on around the tower that gave Kelly Greirson the heebie jeebies.

It had been years since the finding of her time-mastering necklace. But those years had swarmed in a nonlinear fashion.

Tinkering with the gears of time will do that. It will keep your body young but your brain a demented mess of aged memories.

Kelly did not let herself worry about that. Too much metacognition will drive you mad. Instead, she allowed her emotions to do all the processing. She cried a lot, screamed, cursed, laughed. It was emotional recklessness. But not during a job. At least not if she could help it. During a job she had to pull herself together. Especially a job like the current one.

She watched the ceremonial fires down in the valley. A wide ring around the tall, inhuman tower. Her eyes blurred and the scene converged into a strange point of light. It was happening again. Her mind was slipping away from the present. She felt for a stick among the detritus around her and gripped it. Sometimes if she held on to something, she could anchor herself. It was not working. Her breathing quickened.

She looked down at the stick then back up. The surroundings had changed. This was familiar. It was all the way back to the beginning of her strange adventures. That awful bonfire of fear. She threw the stick into the flames just like she had done so long ago. The twig was dry, eager to be devoured. All the fears she placed on it were fed to the monster flames, giving it a nourished shape.

  1. P. Lovecraft got it right. The human mind was not supposed to know all the deeply hidden things in the world. Humans had to confine themselves to small islands of reality. Maybe Lovecraft had seen too much himself. Maybe he had written it down as a way to expel it from his mind. And, of course, he had written it as fiction.

“How else could you write this stuff down and get away with it?” Kelly said.

The fire before her was a wide ring in a valley again. Good. She did not want to relive that fire creature’s attack. She watched the uninhibited dancers fling themselves around the monolith. Some of them bloody, others lusty, all hedonistic rag dolls. These were the same sane-looking folks she had followed earlier. After the protest. Her vision began to blur again. Sometimes remembering something took her to that time. Was the necklace getting more volatile? Perhaps it would not be needed much longer. Not if this tower was what she thought it was.

The dancers turned into protesters, signs bouncing up and down.

“Not my president!”

“No more words of hate!”

Kelly listened to the gnashing chants. They were angry. Obviously. But they were also fearful. A tremor to their lips. Many of her friends told her that many nights they could not eat or sleep because of the anxiety. Some turned to counseling, but Kelly never saw it help much. The world was just becoming … unstable … mentally.

A reporter had a giant camera pointed at the crowd. She was asking them what they wanted to express through their protest.

“We want everybody to know we won’t stand for those who stand for hate speech. They will not speak for us or to us.”

“How do you hope to stop them? Through a change in law? A clarification of the first amendment?”

“Through whatever means necessary. If that evil man wants a wall … We’ll build a wall around him!”

Then the chorus:

“Wall around him, wall around him.”

It was no wonder those fascist-hating fascists needed an outlet for insanity. Their protests only served to tease the angst. They needed more. The tower called to them and they came. They shed their sensitivities along with their clothes. Every hidden epithet they had been too scared to speak could be flung with spittle upon the dark stone.

Kelly did not notice how that spit sizzled and bubbled along the smooth ebony surface of the monolith. She was still transitioning back to the present. Lucky for her, twin sister Katie was more anchored into the now. Kelly envied her, but whenever Katie suggested they share the power and burden of the necklace, Kelly refused. It was like that movie about the short kid and the ring. His pudgy friend just wanted to help, but did not know what he would be getting into. That was a lot like this necklace. Kelly thought she had better protect her sister from as much horror as possible.

A pebble arched and dropped in the thick undergrowth beside Kelly. Then another tapped her on the shoulder. Kelly cursed and looked up as a third flew through the moonlight. It would have hit her head if she had not dodged. They were messages from her twin. Something must be happening. But the tower still looked sleepy to her.

A harder look down into the forest clearing, however, revealed that the bonfire ring was suffering under a heady wind. But she could not feel any wind. It was not blowing the pines, just the fire, pushing it away from the tower on all sides. The nefarious breeze was coming from the monolith, itself.

“Here we go,” she breathed.

She closed her eyes then rose from her hiding place. But in a blur the woods were gone, trees transformed into telephone poles.

“Not again,” she bit. “This is getting ridiculous.”

Kelly looked around the quiet street. Trash blew and a smattering of protestors collected on the corner. One waved to her and smiled.

“Kelly, you going to be joining us today? It’s been a while.”

A devious smile tugged up at Kelly’s cheeks. She played with her necklace. “Sure. What’s this one for?”

“Women’s rights. Didn’t you notice my hat?”

Kelly laughed. “Oh right. Just a little distracted lately. What’s oppressing us this time?”

The friend looked at her funny. “You feeling okay?”

“Yeah, sure. It’s Just … Don’t you get tired?”

“Of being oppressed? Of course.” There was an edge cutting into the woman’s voice.

“What if I told you you could do something about it?”

“But we are doing something. Hashtag resist, you know?”

Kelly sighed. “Yeah. Okay.”

“Hey, cheer up. Come out with us later. After the protest we’re gonna kick back and relax at the clearing.”

Kelly darkened to a grim shade. “The clearing? Where they used to have those safe space meetings?”

“Yep, that’s the place.”

Kelly stopped a groan just before it escaped. What was it with that place? It was a hotspot for collecting snowflakes … and melting them down to raw fear.

“That place sort of calls to you doesn’t it?”

Another strange look from the friend. “It’s just a clearing, Kel.”

“Right.” Just a very hungry clearing. She should have known that place would come back to haunt her, even after she had dealt with the creature from the fire. That had taken, what, about twenty-five tries before she had figured out how to stop it? What would she find there this time?

Kelly blinked forward through time, back to this time, and found she was descending toward the clearing. She tore through thorns and vines and they tore her back. But she did not seem to feel it. She was only half present. Besides, she was used to pain. So Kelly kept running, straight for the stuttering flames that the wind blew right into her. The humans, who had been dancing inside the ring of fire, were now being blown into it, limbs and hair becoming personal pyres. The tower seemed to like its delicate co-eds medium-well. A brûlée to lazily pop down ancient gullet, perhaps.

But this Old One, this decrepit god, was going to get a rude awakening. She hoped.

She saw Katie on the other side. They were both coming through the heat of the fire, careless of the burns. Once through, it would be mere yards to the monolith.

At the top of the tower she could see tentacles push out. The emerald gem of her necklace flared as the she pushed through the naked gyrators and leaped to the stone. This Old One was ready to eat. She drew a knife from an ornate scabbard. A reward from another adventure. An old demon that needed killing. She thrust it now at the ebony and it slid in as through charred bread. Crunch. Another knife in her other hand sank to the hilt as well. Both glowed with sickening sea green. In this way she scaled her way to the top, heart shoving blood hard out of every valve.

There was no trepidation in her clear eyes. She left that to the folk screaming below. But there was pain. Every place on her body that touched the monolith sizzled. Kelly’s receptors crackled in response, popping with agony. She hoped it would keep her anchored in the present … to the task at hand. So on she went, encouraged by the sound of her sister’s voice on the other side of the cylinder.

Katie was screaming defiant profanities. She always seemed to enjoy herself. Kelly smiled and then shuddered. She felt a time shift coming and tightened her jaw.

“Are we doing this? The two of us?”

“You mean rescuing millennials by taking on ancient earth demons?” Katie said. “Heck yeah! Sounds like fun to me. As long as that necklace really does what you say it does.”

“You have no idea.”

“Exactly. When it alters time my memories are all rewound.”

Back to the tower. The tentacles elongated and writhed above. A few whipped down, inky and wet, narrowly missing the heads of the twins. Meanwhile, knives kept cutting chinks in the obelisk and the siblings kept rising closer to the top.

Another fat feeler swung like a tongue licking the lip of the tower. Kelly let go of an anchored knife and swung down to the other hilt, avoiding the protuberance. But Katie was not so lucky. It slammed into her chest head on, flinging her into the air. She flew high before smacking into the top of a tall pine like a rag doll and falling to the ground with a crunch.

Kelly growled and redoubled her efforts. With a strain she reached the hilt of the knife she had let go a moment earlier. She yanked the other blade free and the next tentacle received a slicing cut, spilling watery brown goo. A howl emanated from deep inside the tower’s gut. Kelly smiled. While its pain flared she ascended to the brink. The round top was concave, tentacles all around the edge. The center was pitch black. Only a mouthful of grinding teeth were visible in descending spirals down its gullet. It reminded her of one of the Star Wars movies. Sarlacc pit, right?

A searching appendage wrapped around her middle. It tightened and then lifted her up into the air above the toothy hole. A single tendril of black slithered up from the depths of the mouth. A glowing eye at its tip blinked then stared at the intruder.

There is defiance left upon the earth? Or are you simply eager to be consumed?

“Hashtag resistance,” she grunted, trying to breath inside the arm’s hold.

I prefer my food charred, like the morsels around my foundation. In any case, where did you learn bravery in a world of fear?

“A lot of second chances.”

And yet you shall still be consumed.

“Yes.”

Then why bother?

Kelly’s necklace shimmered in the Old One’s eye, catching its attention. Kelly grinned.

I know the feel of that gem.

“What does it make you feel?” There was genuine interest in her voice.

I feel the same timelessness as that of myself. It has been a long time since I have felt that outside of me. But … something else as well. Something molten. Something … incandescent. I will understand more once I have ingested it.

“There are words I once learned that go, ‘It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour’.”

The being shuddered, as though bitten by the words. If there was a time to escape, this was it. But that was not the plan.

Few still speak the words of the Ancient One. But you underestimate my longevity … and my voracious appetite. If you think you can scare me with words then … well, there is a humorous irony to that.

“You can’t be that old. There was no tower here a few years ago.”

You must think of me as a tree. A tree is timeless because its fruit fall into fertile ground, recreating the tree again and again. There is very good soil here.

A needle on the end of the appendage lifted and pierced Kelly’s leg. Droplets of blood spilled down into the creature’s throat.

Yes, I thought so. Your blood is familiar. It was the one thing off-putting about the ground here. But I will eat you just the same.

“I left a lot of it here. All of it, maybe. But I’m tired of talking. Let’s get this over with.”

She ripped at the tentacle around her, wriggling free and slipping down into the maw.

But as Kelly fell, she found herself descending into the ringing chime of a door. It reverberated through her.

She held out the necklace with a trembling hand and a smile. “I’d like to buy this please,” she said to the squat, frowning owner.

“You sure about that? No refunds. Not this time.”

“This time?”

“You know what I talk about. First round on me. Teach you thing or two.” A pause. “So you learn something, eh?”

“A lot.”

“You buy this again, you learn more. Maybe things you rather not. Scary things. You can do … handle this?”

“I … I need to learn more. Learn to not be afraid.”

A shrug. “That will happen, but there more too. When you stripped of all fear, will face things others cannot; things that drive you mad maybe. Deep things. Dark things.”

A credit card had been hovering in the air, aimed at the store owner. It began to waver and retreat. The owner snatched and swiped it.

“Okay then. Deal.”

“Wait, I—“

“You start to act like big baby. You need necklace more than I thought. I make decision for you. You welcome.”

Kelly shivered.

The stomach was cold. So cold her extremities began to coat in frost. At least it was not slimy and gelatinous like she had expected. Just empty space, stale, and so very old. Older than anything she had ever experienced. The further she sank the more ancient the smell. Like she was drifting back through the ages. Toward the beginning of evil.

Then time began to break down. Even more so than usual for Kelly. She looked down at the necklace. It was coming apart at the edges, bits chipping off. Had she been wrong about the power of the gem? Had it finally met its match? Snippets of memories like frozen shards spun round and cut her. Or maybe those were teeth. Either way she bled the memoirs of her life.

Her father pushed her on a tricycle which morphed into a bicycle with training wheels. Peals of laughter transformed into terror as a car sped around the corner and straight into her dad.

Kelly was thrown from the bike, soaring back into her mother’s womb. The swollen belly was strapped with monitors. Medical personnel were quietly, methodically, coldly proclaiming they could no longer hear three heartbeats. Beside her was Katie, doing a slow summersault. A third baby floated limp in viscus fluid, eyes vacant.

Then the fetus shrank, enlivening, the three sisters growing what looked to be tails as they swam in their mother’s uterus.

She swam and swam until the stomach stretched into a lake. She was a young teenager. And what once had been an umbilical cord became the serpentine form of a cottonmouth whisking across the surface of the water. Toward Ben, the neighbor boy. A scream bubbled from Kelly’s lips.

The spewed lake water became vomit spilling into a toilet. She gripped the sides of the bowl with white knuckles. Katie was rubbing her back and quipping, “You are what you eat. Or drink, in this case.”

“So I’m a wild turkey?” Kelly croaked.

The following laughter echoed back to the present, bounding off the arcane walls of the old monster.

“No fear,” she whispered.

What?

“Just something written on a shirt my dad was wearing when he died.”

Ironic. I enjoy irony almost as much as the taste of some of those memories you released. Such an interesting past. I can barely wait to finish you.

One of Kelly’s arms, now frozen, snapped off and floated away.

Kelly only smiled. “It’s taken a long time to find you, Old One. But that’s okay. Gave me time to figure out how best to defeat you. Gave me time to notice your appetite for fear.”

It is why I have grown so large here.

“It is why,” Kelly breathed, “it will be your undoing. My gem isn’t timeless, like you thought. It is simply … made of time. You know what happens when a timeless creature eats time? It means your time … is … up.”

Her mouth and tongue were stiffening into ice. She was barely able to creak out a smile before she became a frosty statue. The deadly cold drove down to her brain and forced the last of her synapses to fail. One last heartbeat thudded.

The necklace gem, barely still in one piece, pulsed, then throbbed, then broke, tearing a shaft of light from the being’s mouth. It gutted the creature from the inside out, sending waves of turmoil through those inky tentacles. Never before had it felt such tremors of trepidation. It existed to feed on fear, not to become it. The tower could not endure. Its seams ached and then cracked into tumbling rubble.

Those below still with enough breath left in them screamed and those with working legs fled. This time their fear was a healthy one. One young man scraped along the mossy ground. The left half of his face was charred a papery black, the eye bleeding down his cheek. But his good eye turned to observe the fate of the obelisk. He wondered at the shattering tower. He asked himself why he had come here. But most of all he worked with all his might to escape. For he realized there are things better left alone. And there are fears … real fears … that supersede the petty ones we horde.

-Benjamin Davis Shelor

Author Bio:

From Southwest Virginia. Favorite lit is Tolkien. write like I breathe. It just happens, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes foul, sometimes fresh.

You can follow Ben on his blog SeeBenWrite.

Guest Submission: Long Journey to Hell

It was one of Heaven’s cunning emigration policies. Citizens were led to believe that secure poverty was better than a journey into insecurity.

Raphael almost didn’t make it. He wasn’t even at the middle of the journey, when all his strength left him. He was reduced to a skeleton with featherless wings. He didn’t lose his wing with one fatal tear, like the first wave of immigrants did. It hurt beyond compare, but it was over in one painful second. Those who took the long way lost their old self like a leper loses his skin, slowly and painfully aware how they became less and less.

Feathers and small broken bones littered the winding pilgrim road. Raphael’s shoes turned into rotten scraps and then into nothing. He was left with nothing but the road under his soles. The dust felt almost intolerable, it covered the landscape, tiny smoke-flavoured specks invaded Raphael’s lungs and eyes and soul. He inhaled the dirt of the other pilgrims, the ash of burning wings and the trash of unwanted memories.

Raphael lay on the side of a ditch and waited for life to drain away from him. He waited and waited but Death was not walking those parts of the universe that day. Raphael wondered what happened to ‘hell-dwellers’ and ‘celestials’ when they arrived to the end of their long existence. After some contemplation he concluded that he most probably would just stop existing, disappearing like the flame of a candle when blown out. His eyelids grew heavier with the weight of unfulfilled dreams.

Raphael put his hand on his heart and asked for the forgiveness of his beloved ones. He failed them.

Death had a light touch and stroked Raphael’s face with endless patience. Water dripped on Raphael1s deserted lips. As it reached his tongue he realised it was more than pure water: it tasted of life and a will harder than steel. Morning sunlight and childhood giggles filled his soul. When he gasped for breath, the air soared into his lungs and he realised he wasn’t going to die. When he opened his eyes, his saviour had already left.

Raphael only found a slim bottle of “Mercy,” the sparkling version with extra minerals and hope. He felt surprised and grateful although he had no idea how it all happened. His mysterious benefactor had also washed his feet and wrapped them in white linen and also tided the stumps of his wings. Raphael fell to his knees and wept.

After his eyes ran dry of tears, he got up and continued his journey. His body felt lighter and his soul gleamed with a strange warm feeling. The journey was still long and after a time even his new shoes became rags and the bottle of Mercy didn’t give him consolation anymore. But he wasn’t going to give up anymore, he knew he’d arrive to his destination. Days melted into each other and time stuck to him as an overchewed gum. Then one day he smelled water. First it was no more than a faint dampness on his skin, then as he got closer he could see the river and the bridges dipping their feet in the waves.

Where there is water, there is life; this was one of the wisdoms Raphael learnt from Ms. Colomba in Generic Cosmography.

Raphael made the last meters running, staggering, almost falling over the stones. He arrived to the river just outside the city. It flowed with the slow grace of the great ones who don’t care about the passing in time. Raphael smashed into the water, the lukewarm waves embracing him like a mother the prodigious son.

After climbing out, he sat down on the muddy bank and tried to get used to the emptiness on his back. It was the happiest day of his life. (…)

-Fanni Suto

Author Bio:

I’m from Hungary, but I live in France.

Favourite literature: I love Sandman by Neil Gaiman and anything by Antal Szerb, who is a Hungarian writer from the first half of the 20th century. He’s got pretty good English translations, worth checking out.

I love writing because I care about other people even if it’s me who made them up. Writing is something which makes me truly happy and stimulated.

You can follow Fanni’s writing on her blog Ink Maps And Macarons.

Guest Submission: Chased By Death

Have you ever seen a peace so quiet, a night so tranquil, a person so unsuspecting that you knew they were begging for disaster? Like a fly following sweet aromas into a hungry flytrap, a busy little ant strolling along a spider web, a thirsty wildebeest drinking tiredly in a crock-infested watering hole, some people become prey only by living their lives with simply too much comfort. So whose fault is it when a powerful, overconfident general finds a body within his own stronghold? Is it his own?

“Christopher,” one of the commanders whispered. Four commanders accompanied General Borfan as they examine the body.

“Face down,” Borfan said, rolling the body onto its back with his foot. A massive gash through the front of his throat stretched even down to his collarbones as Borfan and the four followers shuttered. “Had the killer attacked from the front, he probably would have fallen backward. Poor Christopher most likely didn’t even see who cut him because they must have come from behind.”

“Look at the cut, General,” another commander said, bending low and tracing the slice in the air with his finger.

“What’s your point?” Borfan asked.

“It is nothing like ours. That this weapon was created to be used for this sort of thing,” the soldier answered, standing again. “This is no traitor, simple burglar, or even hired no-name after your head. This is a professional outsider.”

“Come,” Borfan told them immediately. “We start with-” he stopped. The two guards that had stood in the doorway lay in puddles of their own blood, cut along their throats just as Christopher had been. Their eyes, however, were different, large and gaping in fear of whatever they had seen as they bled to death beneath their enemy.

“How…?” Borfan whispered.

“He must have been in there with us!” one of the commanders stated.

“Close and lock all the security doors to the main hallways, and double the guard to the main gates. Whatever room or hallway they are in, they will be locked in until we find them. Not one soul leaves this building!” Borfan shouted, leaving the table and drawing his sword. “We’ll find him.”

The order went out and all hallways on the eight floors were closed, bookended by massive, iron doors with locks so complex that two soldiers were needed to unlock them. Loud clangs could be heard as they slammed powerfully and cut off all exits. Then appeared a messenger.

“Another death on the third floor!” he said, gasping for breath. “A sentry there spotted the intruder.”

“Lead us there!” Borfan commanded.

Racing to the staircase, they descended at a velocity almost impossible, and Borfan stumbled towards the end, nearly spraining his ankle. Arriving on the third floor, the messenger guided them through the maze of hallways until they met two guards protecting a sealed door. But a third female soldier sat against the wall, moaning quietly to herself. The General strode over to her, grabbing her by the forearm and lifting her to her feet.

“HE’S FOUND ME!” she shrieked in a desperate terror. “HE’S RETURNED AND FOUND ME! HELP ME PLEASE! SAVE ME!”

“Silence you fool, it’s me,” Borfan growled, turning her face so she would look him in the eye. Yet as he did, her eyes bounced around the room spastically, as if she had lost their control. “Look at me,” he told her. She whimpered, holding her face still, but her brown, desperate eyes continued to race about, resting in no place. “Janen, look at me!” But she could not.

“I…I can’t see you,” she whispered.

“What in Hisman’s name…I’m right here, you stupid-”

“Sir,” one of the door guards interrupted. Borfan glanced over at him with no response. “She…she has been blinded, General.”

A sickening feeling swarmed about Borfan’s body as he released her, and she clung to the wall as if she would lose herself in the hallways.

“I can’t see anything,” she sobbed, her eyes still lashing about uncontrollably.

“What happened to you?” Borfan asked her, stepping backward. “What manner of man could do such a thing?”

“It was no man,” she stammered. “It was a devil, drifting through the hallways in a cloud of shadows…unseen unless it desires. Its finger is slender and sharp, like a sword itself. I didn’t even realize it was there until Jaxol’s throat was opened beneath its finger…and it will be the same for you! Even the death among your men has gone unnoticed!” Borfan glanced around, horrorstruck as he found that now, only three of his commanders were with him.

“Where’s Daun?” he snarled at his soldiers.

“I don’t know!” one of them answered. “He was just with us!”

“His fate is the same as the others,” Janen whispered. Her body trembled as she clung to the wall as if it was her only protection. “He’s coming for you, Borfan! Run! Flee! Escape if you can! DEATH ITSELF HAS ENTERED THIS KEEP AND WILL NOT LEAVE WITHOUT YOU IN ITS CLUTCHES! RESIST IF YOU WILL, BUT YOUR END WILL BE FOUND SOON ENOUGH! BEWARE THE CREATURE WHO’S EYES HAUNT THESE HALLWAYS LIKE BLOOD-RED SPECTERS! LIKE DOORWAYS TO HELL ITSELF! RUN! RUN! RUN!” she began to scream, and Borfan’s resolve failed him and he left them in a dash down the corridors, nearly leaping down the stair case, but awaiting him on the second floor was a great iron door, closed tightly.

“RUN! RUUUN! RUN! HAHAHAHAH! RUN BORFAN!”

“Open!” he screamed, pounding his fist, but there was no answer.

“RUN! RUN!” Janen could be heard through the hallways above. “RUUUUUUUN!”

He screamed for the guards on the opposite side to open the door, but no response came, so he descended again to the first floor, but that was also closed off, leaving him boxed in the staircase. Like the door before, the first-floor hallway was locked tight, with no one to open it up to him. Refusing to be caught and killed on the stairs, he bounded upwards again, moving to the third floor, where he knew that on the opposite side of the keep, there was another staircase. Flying upwards, he quickly reached that floor as his calves seared but he paid them no heed.

Leaving the stairs and freezing in place, he found that the door before him was left gaping open. Undeniable, inescapable terror caused heat to blanket his body and then to vanish, leaving him shivering in the dark.

Quiet.

All was quiet.

The door was open.

Why was it open?

Where were the guards that were to assigned to close it and allow none to pass through?

He was alone. His options were to turn back or to move forward and turning left only blocked halls in his way. He had to move forward. Every ounce of common sense within him bellowed to not enter the dark corridor. But where else could he go? Step by step, he entered through the open doorway until all torchlight vanished and the world was black. His only hope was the light an eternity away from where the door at the other end awaiting, open and inviting.

CLANG

The iron door to the corridor slammed closed behind him, while who had shut it, he did not wait to see. He was soon streaking through the opened hallway at a grueling speed, putting as much distance between himself and the slammed door as he could.

CLANG

The second door, this one at his destination, slammed shut and enclosed him in darkness. Almost immediately he tripped, slamming his head on the cold, solid wall as he fell. His sword rattled across the ground as it slid, falling from his sheathe. He scrambled blindly, crawling along the floor trying to find his only source of defense, but his sword was gone. Desperate frustration welled in him and he screamed in the darkness, punching the wall and sending shooting strips of pain up his fist and wrist. His shout echoed up and down the corridor and he found himself alone. He had rolled as he fell and now in utter night was unable to tell from where he came and to where he had run. As he sat, the cool air and silence seemed to sooth him slightly and he rested, beginning to think through the ways of escape. His own breathing was the only noise as he panted, alone in the dark.

Yet suddenly, a light crept back into the hall behind him and he turned and saw that the hallway door had been opened. A tall, shapeless figure stood in the doorway, only a silhouette against the dim torchlight from outside of the hall. Still and silent, the figure stared into the hall as the light behind it seemed to bend around its form. Borfan gasped and struggled to stand and run forward, but all was dark again.

CLANG

The hall door slammed shut, and only seconds after it slowly creaked open, lighting the hall again. This time, the figure was twice as close, yet it stood still as if it hadn’t moved. Borfan took the moment to find his sword and bolt away before-

CLANG

The darkness returned and the door shut again, but immediately began to creak open another time. Even closer, seemingly traveling at speeds much higher than Borfan, yet when he turned to see, the intruder was still, standing motionless in the hallway and watching him.

CLANG

CLANG

CLANG

CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG

The door began to slam open and closed again and again on its own as the figure was now sprinting toward Borfan like a ghost, who finally reached the end of the hallway, ripping open the already unlocked security door, stepping out and slamming it shut, twisting the great wheel to lock it as best as he could. Closed inside, the intruder would surely be slowed. He swept across to the stairs, but upon descending, found that the ground level doors were also locked, just as the other side. He was caught in his own trap. Unless he could make it to the roof and escape by repelling to the ground, he would die. To the roof then. To the highest level, number eight from the ground. As he ascended from the third, he could hear faintly that Janen continued to scream “RUN, BORFAN, BUT IF YOU RUN, YOU WILL ONLY BRING YOURSELF CLOSER TO HIM!”

The eighth floor was reached, and greeting him in the hallway was his messenger, standing wide eyed in a frozen state of surprise.

“Ready my horse!” Borfan commanded him, and when no response came, he grabbed his shoulder and shouted: “Do as I say!” The messenger fell limply onto Borfan’s shoulders, and as the General yelped in shock and stepped aside, the messenger’s body lifelessly rolled down the stairs.

“Dead…” Borfan shuttered, now in a terrorized panic. “Dead where he stood.” Raising his eyes from the lifeless heap, he clutched his sword tightly in his hand as he ran towards the door that led upwards to the roof of the keep, but as he reached it, he found that it too was sealed shut. The guards that had stood there lay in heaps on the ground, filling the hallway with their blood. As he stopped his running, deep wheezing took over and he began inhaling as profoundly as he could. He reached for the door, his last exit to safety, hands trembling and body shivering.  Yet as he reached forward, the great wheel budged, and the sound of iron on iron slid from its wheel as it began to turn, unlocking itself with a mind of its own. What ever man, spirit, or beast that haunted his steps awaited the door’s opening patiently, itching to greet him. His cry of distress was high-pitched and wailing, and he left the door to hide in the eighth-floor meeting room. Escape was impossible. Hiding was his only option. Down two hallways and on the left, he found two of his commanders standing beside the door.

“General! The keys, quickly!” one of them cried. He stood with his fellow soldier’s arm thrown around his shoulders as if the man could not stand on his own. The second, supported by his comrade, had been babbling words over and over, staring at Borfan as if confused at why Borfan could not understand.

“Gael saw him,” the stronger of the two said. “He saw him, and now his mind is rubble.” The General whipped out the keys from his belt, fumbling with them madly, unable to still his hands from shaking.

“And Aaron stretched forth his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt,” the second man whispered. “…Aaron stretched forth his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.”

“Will you shut him up?!” Finally, the correct key was found and shoved into the lock, turned as the simple door clicked quietly and they entered.

“It’s the plagues, sir,” the saner of the two told him. “The plagues of Moses.”

“I don’t care what it is, just get him in here,” Borfan said, yanking the babbler by the shirt and tossing him into the opened door, who immediately fell onto his stomach. The first followed him in and Borfan stepped inside, slamming the door and locking it.

“And he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.”

The commander bent low and lifted his friend from the ground, again putting his arm over his shoulder and walking him into the room and sitting him in a chair. Like the meeting room they had been in only a few minutes before the nightmare had begun, the room was simple and dark, with a table and chairs for convenience. The only difference was two windows in the far walls, opening with a glimpse of the black and empty night outside.

“And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.”

Borfan strode over to the window, glancing out at the wall beneath him, hoping and pleading that there might be some way to climb to the ground to run. The commander ran to the other window, doing the same.

“I don’t see any way out!” his voice shouted.

“…and the cattle of Egypt died: but the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.”

“Are there any curtains that perhaps we could use as a rope?” Borfan grumbled, bringing his head in from the window and glancing throughout the room.

“NO!” the commander shouted. “NO, PLEASE DON’T!”

“Issachar!” Borfan shouted, watching him cling with his hands to the window’s sides as if something were pulling his head outward.

“GENERAL, HELP ME!”

Borfan sprinted to his side but was far too late. Issachar was yanked outwards, screaming as he waved his arms and legs in the air, dropping like a rock until he found the ground with a disgusting “thud” eight stories below.

“And they took the ashes of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses sprinkled it up toward heaven; and it became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast. And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boil was upon the magicians, and upon all the Egyptians.”

Borfan leaned out Issachar’s window, bearing his sword with him, but there was no one…or nothing, that would have pulled the poor fallen soldier out. Above, a small sound of movement was heard, but by the time Borfan’s gaze rose, the sky was empty.

“Come down here and face me, coward!” he shouted. “You crawl in the shadows, but fear to stand before me!” Silence responded as Borfan stared up at the roof, which lay only ten feet above them until he heard it.

“I….come….” a voice said from above, slow and silent, breathing deeply in between words, and Borfan immediately knew he had made a mistake.

“And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.”

“What is wrong with you!?” Borfan screamed, coming in from the window and kicking the commander off of the chair and onto the ground.

“And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such,” was the answer as the commander climbed to his knees, crawling towards Borfan and hugging his legs.

“And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days!” the commander said, in a violent, pleading tone. “They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days!” Borfan struggled to pull the madman off of him, but his grip was as iron. “But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings!”

Then it was quiet, and the commander stopped, staring up at Borfan with wild eyes, horrified that Borfan did not understand what he was saying. He turned slowly to look at the door, and Borfan’s eyes followed his, and in the silence, thumps from behind the door crawled into the air.

“What is it, Gael?” Borfan whispered. “What is there?”

“For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians!” Commander Gael shouted.

“What is it?” Borfan hissed, eyes still locked on the door.

“And when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses and smite you!”

“Is this he?” Borfan asked, backing against the wall, Gael still clutching tightly to his legs. “Is it the destroyer?”

The door’s lock, while it could only be unlocked from the inside, turned slowly on its own with a small click. The wooden door began to open ever so slowly, creaking loudly and filling Borfan’s ears.

“And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle!”

The door finally reached its extent, and the dark hallway gaped before them like the throat of a terrible beast. The darkness and shadows seemed to crawl out from the depths of the keep, and the three lit torches in the meeting room simultaneously were extinguished. All went black, a darkness that nearly pained Borfan’s eyes as he held his sword with such force that his fingers ached deeply while they trembled.

“And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians!” Gael was screaming. Borfan’s heart pounded painfully against his chest and in his head and in his fingers. There was something there. Something dark. Something evil. Something spawned from the very bowls of the fiery inferno. In the blackness that reached out from behind the door, there was a light. Two red, piercing lights that glowed like the belly of Hell, moving silently as they entered the room. Eyes with no pupil, no body, no voice, glared at Borfan as they glided through the air, unblinking and unwavering.

“AND THERE WAS A GREAT CRY IN EGYPT!” Gael roared, releasing Borfan’s legs and vanishing into the room. “FOR THERE WAS NOT A HOUSE WHERE THERE WAS NOT ONE DEAD!”

He started to say something else, but his words withered in his throat as an object struck him. And Gael was gone. Borfan scrambled away from the eyes that drifted toward him, but everywhere he turned, a wall impeded him, and there was no escape. And then the fiery eyes were before his face. He swung his sword for them, but something struck it with enough speed and power to dislodge his weapon from his grip and it fell into the dark and disappeared.

“Who are you?” he asked. The intruder hesitated, staring into his soul.

It gripped his throat with an invisible hand, mechanic power squeezing his neck closed and no air passed through again. It lifted him off the ground and held him out the window with terrific strength. Borfan’s vision dimmed as blood was unable to reach his head. He struggled to breathe, but the being’s fingers were like great walls obstructing the oxygen. The temperature dropped even lower as Borfan entered the windy outdoors, clawing at the arm that held him so many feet in the air.

“I am the Destroyer,” the killer whispered almost silently. “I am Death.”

And Borfan fell.

-Spencer Cook

I am excited to feature Spencer on the Ink Owl this month. He has been writing for quite some time and has recently created his first writing blog. It has been a pleasure to get to know this rising storyteller over the past year and learn more about the world he has created. Follow this link Omegastc to explore his first post and make sure to give him a follow and some thoughts. And follow this link to explore his blog and give him some feedback about it.

Author Bio:

1. Where are you from?
I’m from Salt Lake City, [Utah].
2. Your favorite: piece of literature/writing/book.
My favorite book is probably Enders game.
3. In no more than two sentences tell us why you love to write.
I love to write because it lets me become a creator of worlds and a writer of histories!

Betwixt Eternity’s Roots

Solumra and Undaros walked upon rocks barren of life, and young of heart. Two lovers from the same root. They danced upon a world of fire and heat, awaiting a sign in the stars for life to come forth.

“How long are we to be cursed to roam these lands, dear one?” Undaros asked as his feet hissing upon burning sands.

Solumra looked to her lover, seeing the pain upon his shifting face.

“We must wait,” she said, pain filling her soul at the thought. “A sign we will see from the veil of darkness above.”

Both looked to the heavens, wanting in their eyes.

Time passed, and their world circled in the dark. Solumra planted life where she could, but to no avail. The rocks lay scorched and blackened where she had touched.

Utter ruin lay around the two glowing forms. Solumra fell to her knees and cried aloud to the empty lands, “Where do we go from here? Are we to parish upon an unforgiving stone, and an empty sky?”

“Come, love we will die together.” Undaros said, pulling Solumra into his arms. “Turn your face from our prison, we will depart in love.”

And as light faded from their world, a single star shone down from the heavens.

It was Lucia, goddess of life. Purity descended from upon high as those of a lesser road watched with hope.

With a ringing voice Lucia called to them, “Come, my children. Let us bring life to this rock.”

And so Light, Earth, and Water converged upon a sea of dead sand, and from there life was born. From dust rose a garden green.

Out from the ground grew the Varena, the Mother trees. Towering pinnacles formed living walls of waving leaves. Thick trunks held their swaying bodies to the ground, while thick roots of creation delved deep within the world.

“It is beautiful.” Undaros said with a smile. From his footprints bubbled springs, filling into pools and streams.

“It is.” Agreed Lucia, her gaze warming the new flora at her feet.

“But something is amiss.” Solumra said, looking through the garden. “Who is to care for our garden?”

Lucia walked between the trees, listening to the wind. She stopped before the Varena, pressing her hands upon their bark. Radiance flowed into the tree, setting each line of its bark aglow.

“They will.” Lucia breathed into the night air.

And from between the roots of each Varena sprung the Dryadai, Children of the Trees.

-M.E. InkOwl

From Spriggons: A Comprehensive Fieldguide

Here is another featured unpublished writer that I excited to share with all of you. Hope you enjoy this intriguing piece!

Spriggons: a brief guide

The following exert was written by Dr. Malcolm N. Hansen.

Life’s Beginnings

Spriggons, as a plant species, arrive exactly as you would assume they would. They grow right out of the ground, albeit their birth is slightly more complicated than that of a garden rose bush. When Spriggon seeds are correctly planted, they develop into large pods as the new Spriggon fetus develops. These pods have intricate and minuet root systems that provide sustenance for the pod.  These roots secrete small amounts of poisonous sap that coats the pod and contaminates nearby soil. In small amounts this sap a relatively mild skin irritant, but undiluted it will burn skin. Furthermore, pods contain a nitrous gas that is released when a pod is damaged. This gas is lethal.

Spriggons have very long gestation periods, upwards of 7 months. During this growing period, limbs, organs, and buds form fully. The Spriggon will develop into its adult form while still in the pod, and does not grow very much once it leaves its womb in the ground. The pod offers the Spriggon fetus maximum safety, it is after sprouting that Spriggons are most vulnerable. When a Spriggon sprouts, there is a brief intermittent period when it is still tethered to the ground by its roots. Upon sprouting all leaves and buds on the Spriggon are closed. During a brief 3-4 day window, juvenile Spriggons have a blooming period when their buds and leaves unfurl and dry off. During this time the infantile Spriggon relies on both its ground roots and its new leaves for nutrition. As new leaves become active roots slowly die until finally the young Spriggon can survive off sunlight and water alone. At this point in life female Spriggons are already reproductively mature, however male Spriggons will not reach reproductive maturity for 8 years after bloom.


Explaining the Sexes: Females

There is a long-standing argument amongst scientists; the debate over whether females are the dominant sex in the Spriggon species. Females are the more common sex, outnumbering their male counterparts 10 to 1. For a long time, many thought the Spriggon species to be a purely female entity. The discovery of the Male King was one of the greatest botanical discoveries in this century.  I hold no opinion on the argument of whether female sprriggons are the dominant sex, but I will warn that they are the most ferocious. Females will always band together to protect infantile Spriggons, and form defensive groups for their community. Males are not part of this defense system.

The average female Spriggon will have anywhere from 2-5 offspring during their life cycle, all of whom will be female just like herself. A female Spriggon becomes fertile when a new seed forms inside her abdomen. Upon formation of a seed, the female will immediately set out to find a male Spriggon, who can fertilize the new gamete. Unless the female has been accepted into a Royal Colony, a colony with a male Spriggon King, this trek can be very strenuous. It becomes a race against time. It takes ten days for a seed to reach full maturity, at which point it needs to be fertilized or else the body will dispose of it. Once a seed is fertilized the female Spriggon has a relatively easy labor in which she will expel the small seed, and immediately plant it.  The Female Spriggon will not stick around while the seed grows. The female will leave the seedling for the first 5 months. After 5 months, the Female Spriggon will return . If the pod is still growing the female will explore the area and find other unattached females to help her defend the pod. The female’s group will defend the pod for the last 2 months of underground growth, as well as during the new Spriggons infantile period.

Female Spriggons have an average life span of 20 years, though some have been known to live up to 50 years. This short life span can likely be attributed to their risky lifestyles and defensive nature.

Explaining the Sexes: Males

Many researchers still argue that males are the dominant sex in the Spriggon species. This argument seems valid when you follow the lifestyle of a male Spriggon. All male Spriggons are born Kings. All Male Spriggons are born into a life of luxury . At a young age, female Spriggons attend to the juvenile males every need. This behavior is very much a give and take. Females sacrifice a lot to take care of the young male. By taking care of the young Spriggon they often guarantee a spot in the new male’s royal colony once the King reaches reproductive maturity. However, during the eight years before their juvenile king reaches maturity there is greater reproductive strain on the attending female; Should they become fertile during this time they must make the laborious trek to find another king to fertilize their seed. For a young female, sticking around with the juvenile king is the best investment, older females Spriggons are less likely to volunteer their support as the juvenile king is unlikely to reach sexual maturity before they elder females death.

This life of luxury continues into the male Spriggons adult life. Upon reaching sexual maturity the Male Spriggon will become a lot more popular. The male can accept and denounce members of its Royal Colony as it pleases. Attending Females work hard to stay in the king’s good graces, hoping to ensure reproductive success for themselves and hopefully their future offspring, who will likely be invited into the Royal fold once they sprout. Other females who are not part of the male’s Royal Colony will shower the king with gifts and favors to access the males Spriggons services.

The average life span of a male Spriggon lasts less than 30 years, despite their spoiled and careful upbringing. Upon death, a male Spriggon is given an elaborate ceremony. The burial plot is often found years in advance, often picked by the living king’s own self. The body of the king is laid to rest quickly as time is of the essence. The body is planted in the most fertile soil available, and the site is (wo)manned by around the clock guards. Upon burial, the kings seed, his only seed, will begin its growth.

Author’s Thoughts

The burial of a Spriggon King is the most memorable event I will ever encounter.  The care that is taken to ensure that the new seedling will grow is heartwarming and breathtaking. A king has his reign, and then he falls. It is inevitable. The survival of the Spriggon race depends on the carefully planned deaths of its Kings.  The life of a Spriggon King is not all roses, they live their whole lives planning their own deaths. They make sure to make all the right connections, ensuring that strong and pleasing females will attend to their offspring. They spend countless man hours hosting search parties to find burial plots. They take the task of deciding who will handle their body when the time finally comes.

I implore my fellow humans to be mindful of the Spriggons life cycle. While Mitosis of male seed is possible, it is uncommon. For the most part, the number of male Spriggons that we have, is the number that there always will be. The poaching of King Spriggons is the most irresponsible and disgusting form of sport that I can imagine. It is up to all of us to advocate on the Spriggons’ behalf and stop this behavior.

More information can be found in the Authors completed Work, Spriggons: A Comprehensive Field Guide

 [CO1]discovery of the male spriggon, history

 [CO2]if the mother sprrigon is still alive, otherwise the infants chance of survival is much less likely.

 [CO3]spriggon hierarchy and culture.

 [CO4]examples of gifts and parties

 

What is Winning by Gabe Smith

I have another guest writer to feature on The Ink Owl, Gabe Smith. I’ve worked along side Gabe in the past, and it exciting to see how far he has come with his writing. This post features an excerpt from a larger story. Enjoy!

The holiday atmosphere of the pub spilled into the street where the festivities continued.  Neon lights seemed to shine more brightly and in the joy-soaked minds of the celebrants the lights would always be remembered as bright and beautiful and never the garish yellows, pinks, and greens that they actually were.  Fireworks were launched into the night sky with pops and bangs that served to punctuate the excited shouts and laughter that were in the throats of all the gathered crowds. But even in the most brightly lit and star-studded sky there are dark spots and, in the effervescent crowd, that dark spot was named Jeron Smythe.

Jeron wore the Peace-keepers uniform, faded blue with tarnished silver, a complement to his dark looks, a glower and a frown.  The uniform had been a beacon of hope for years during the War of the Master.  Though, Jeron’s uniform was dirtier than usual with burned patches, dirt, and blood crusting large swaths of the jacket and pants.  The fighting he had engaged in the night before had been close and nasty where fists were used when it took too long to get a spell off or ammunition had run dry.

Though now, the pub denizens slapped his back, hugged him, gave him kisses on the cheeks, and generally praised him for his role, no matter what the role might be, in the now ended conflict.  Last night Jeron was a rebel fighting for a slim chance of peace, today he was with the establishment and a hero.  Yet, with each touch his frown deepened and he glared across the pub at another Peace-keeper, his uniform a bright sky blue with shining silver, receiving the same accolades.

The other man, a wizard who’s speciality lay in illusion, was named Ian Kimball, though everyone called him Kimby.  His uniform, in addition to being much less worn, bore a swath of unfaded fabric in the shape of manacles, the sign of The Master.  Yesterday, Jeron had knocked Kimby down to protect his family, friends, and even complete strangers in the name of freedom. The other man had fought just as hard in the name of duty.  Today, The Master was dead and it was Jeron who had to be pardoned.  While Jeron glowered at him, Kimby stood up and moved through the shifting crowd, turning down drinks and returning handshakes, to make his way to Jeron’s corner table.

“Hey, Jer.  It’s been a while.  I mean since we talked and everything.  Yesterday was crazy but we did it.  The Master is gone and I hear that old Nabiri McMahon’s star is rising in the East.  With her at the helm that’s going to be a big change…” Kimball’s ramble slowly ground down as he saw Jeron’s frown tighten.

“Look,” Kimball tried again. “Look, it’s all over.  We won and we can put the past 3 years behind us.  Come on, now, don’t give me that look.  I did my job but we both know I was always on your side.  I stood in Freedom’s Light and all that.  But, I have a family.  There was too much at risk for me to go all out.  I had to provi…”

“How are Reggie and Arline James doing?” Jeron interrupted him.  “What about Mary Wilds? Or have you kept in contact with Helmut Yarman?  I hear he is still alive, at least, though his brain isn’t much to speak of.”

“Hey, that’s not fair.  We both know I was just doing my job.  We both did things we aren’t proud of.”

“You’re right.  I regret waiting a week, following orders for a week, after that bastard took the government.  But I guess in my defense I used that time to figure out who to pass information to and how to cover myself so I never had to hurt anyone that didn’t have it coming.  So, yeah, I guess we are the same here,” Jeron said to Ian’s gaping face.  “Why are you wearing the blues when it’s only pardoned keepers for the next 3 weeks while the hunts play out?  Taking advantage of the general goodwill for those who fought?”

“Just because I wasn’t stupid enough to fight the inevitable doesn’t mean I didn’t want it over.  I did what I had to survive and all the others just weren’t good enough.  They’re not on my conscience and I won’t lose any sleep over it.  In a month, no one will remember ‘em anyway.  But if you want to go, let’s step outside.  I let you go last night but we both know who the better man is,” Kimby said, standing up and roughly pushing his chair out behind him hitting several other bar patrons.

Jeron stood slowly without a word, the fire and energy that had lit his words now extinguished and replaced with an immense weariness.  Ian stood with one arm extended as though to say “after you”.  Jeron led the way to the front door, his shoulders hunched forward, a look of defeat in his eyes.  As Jeron walked past the other man, someone in the crowd shouted a warning and an electric crackle sounded sharply.

Jeron whipped his head around to see Kimby with his hands extended, thumbs touching and his index fingers extended with a bright line of electricity discharging between them, lunging at him.  Before he could react, a small man who looked vaguely like a rat, with ears pointed a little too much and buck teeth that needed a dentist’s touch, poured beer on Kimby’s head with one hand and grabbed his left wrist with the other, breaking the spell, leading to a harmless discharge of energy into the people around him.

“Watch it, Kimby.  I remember when you kept your shackles shiny on your chest.  Taking ‘em off one day doesn’t make you a hero the next.  Tell you what, you go home and I won’t kill you here,” the rat-faced man, named Jacob Tunn, said without raising his voice.  His whole expression showed an amount of pleasure at the exchange. “Ah nevermind, I’ll let our dearly esteemed Mr. Smythe decide what to do with you. What do you say?  Do him like the Master? Put him in a pyromantic feedback and let him burn to a cinder?”

Kimball didn’t reply though his face grew pale.  He brought his hands up as though to grip Jacob’s wrists but he lowered them before he made contact.  Kimball looked around and when no one would meet his eyes he looked to Smythe.

“No, Tunn. It was just a disagreement.  It happens with emotions running so hot.  We were both on our way out anyway.  No need to do something we would regret when we’re sober.”

“Whatever you say, Jer, but I’ll tell you I just lost my first drink.  I’m as sober as a stone and I could sleep like a babe every night knowing I got rid of the shite who did that girl Marci Grimes.  Saint of a girl and she would have been a saint of a woman.”

Before Ian Kimball could respond, Jeron patted his rescuer on the shoulder and said, “We’re all on the same side now, at least we should be.  We fought yesterday, let’s let someone else be the judge and jury today.”

“Right, Mr. Smythe.  Right, I see what you are saying. But, you see, I know I’m a rat, or at least I look like one, and it burns me up to see the real rats get away from the exterminator. Sure, we cleared the nest last night but you know the dirty, plague bearers will be back.  Breeding and filling up their hole, it makes me sick to let ‘em go.” And with that, the shorter man began pummeling Kimball with his fists.

This fight, unlike the first attempted fight, was not broken up.  Other bar patrons began to pile on top of Ian Kimball, venting their fury at his continued existence.  They did not use their magic and they didn’t need to.  In seconds his blood began to flow freely from cuts caused by muscle and skin being pressed so forcefully against unyielding bone that they split in long lines.  Kimball’s face was unrecognizable before the pile of inhumanity began to really pulverize him.

Jeron was shocked at the sudden brutality of the situation and looked on in a stupor that he gradually shrugged off.  He made as if to turn but shook his head and began moving his arms in sweeping movements, his hands making arcane symbols to gather large amounts of energy.  With a sudden gesture a shock wave of force shot out from his left hand bowling the attackers off of the now bloody Peace-keeper, his uniform now just as bloody as Jeron’s.  Kimball was still alive and moving though he seemed to have lost his sense because his movements were sporadic and did nothing to either address his wounds or help him stand.

“You all know me to be a fair ‘keeper.  I try to show justice and I fought and sacrificed with all of you.  You all know I sacrificed for all of you.  But you know I can’t let you kill this man.  What would that get you?  What happens after he’s dead?  Would you kill me next?  I may not be on duty now but I would have witnessed this.  Why don’t you all go home.  Go home and give your husbands and wives and children and whoever else a hug and a kiss.  Go be with them and be glad that you are alive to celebrate today.  There is no victory in punching down,” Jeron said.  It had started with a yell and had finished in a voice so low that the people lying on the floor had to strain to hear him.

The group who had attacked picked themselves and each other up, not meeting Smythe’s eyes.  Some moved back to the bar for another drink and others left the bar out of embarrassment or perhaps looking for other unprotected prey for their ire.  There were no apologies and not a single one attempted to help the still twitching Ian Kimball.

Jeron walked to the spot where Kimball lay bleeding, a growing puddle of blood surrounding him.  Jeron bent down, hands gathering energy and laid hands on the man.  The puddle seemed to flow in reverse, the body reabsorbing the blood.  Audible crackling bore testament to the number of broken bones that had knitted back together.  Had Kimball been conscious he would have howled at the pain but, with all the trauma, he didn’t even whimper.  After the blood had cleaned itself up and the bones stopped shifting under the skin, Jeron again moved his hands gathering the magic from the air and pressed his hands on Kimball’s head.  With a jerk Kimby regained consciousness, stumbled to his feet and out the door of the pub without a ‘thank you’ or a backward glance, leaving Jeron crouched over a, now clean, patch of wooden floor.

He stayed crouched for a moment until a shadow loomed over him.  It was a large woman. She stood taller than everyone in the building including the barman positioned on an elevated platform behind his bar.  She stood with hands clasped behind her back and shoulders squared.  Though she wore civilian clothes everything in her demeanor seemed to shout that she was military.  Her hair was gray and missing where shining patches of scar tissue crisscrossed on her scalp and face.  She was not fat and the chords of her forearms and neck spoke volumes about an era of meager supplies and lean times, nevertheless, she radiated power.

“You were always good with healing and I shudder to think I was the one that drew you away from a higher calling to serve in the trenches with the dregs of society,” She said, putting out a hand to pull Smythe up from his crouched position.

“I think the healing was a necessity when we worked together.  You remember our first case when I broke your arm falling down the stairs? How are you Nabiri, or is it General McMahon or…” Jeron trailed off accepting the hand and using her support to lift himself from the floor.

“Nabiri will always be just fine coming from you.  Our friends mentioned to me that you haven’t been in to check on your wife since yesterday.  Let me walk you there,” McMahon responded.  It was not a suggestion or invitation; the tone spoke of command and Jeron followed as he had done for years as a Peace-keeper in training.

McMahon did not say anything to her former protege as they walked out of the bar.  The continued fireworks gleamed off the older woman’s scars as they walked out the door. The larger woman put her hand on Smythe’s arm to prevent him from walking further, gathered energy with her hands, and launched a much brighter light into the sky that hung for a moment before bursting into the shape of a key.  Within seconds four men and two women appeared, their clothes were plain but each had a pin of a key on their lapels and worn, silver and blue ribbons festooned their arms to set them apart from the common man.

“You can never be too careful right now.  Recent shift in power and a change in official policy.  This makes for a prime time to settle an old score,” the general said to her former partner.  “Alright, my friends, we are just taking a walk to Mr. Smythe’s house.  Eyes alert, yes?”

The group of 8 turned out from under the awning and passed the sign of the upside-down crown that advertised the pub they had just left.  They turned left walking down a lit street with flashes of light illuminating revelers, men and women alike.  The six men and women took their places naturally, and without needing to be guided, around Jeron and Nabiri their positions constantly moving as though to disguise the actual position of their leader despite the fact that she towered over all of them by no less than six inches and was taller than the shortest by more than a foot.

“You know, Jeron, I have heard reports about what your wife has been up to today,” Nabiri began as they walked.

“She’s a hero.  Working harder than the rest of us,” said one of the bodyguards, the intermittent illumination insufficient to give away defining details of her face.  Judging from height, Jeron thought it might be Clarissa Tanner, one of McMahon’s inner circle.

“She is a hero,” Nabiri agreed. “I notice you have not been with her today.  I do not mean to call you her keeper but, Jeron, you have been very careful with her since your…”

“I know, you don’t have to bring it up.  I know.  Just don’t bring it up,” he pleaded.  The first flicker of emotion other than defeat flickered to life on his face.  It was pitiable and pitiful.  Volumes on loss and sorrow were writ large on the man’s face.  “Please, just say what you came to say.  Don’t bring him up.  Please.”

“I was saying, you seem to be okay with letting Marija go on her own again.  This is good, I think.  She will heal better with getting back to work.  I could definitely use her again in the Peace-keepers.  But you, Jeron, do you want to be a Keeper forever?  What I mean to say is, I could use you in the new government, Secretary of Security.  You’re passionate about justice and mercy equally.  I need that kind of levelheaded thinking around me.  The people, our people, deserve to have someone like you watching out for their welfare.”

They walked in silence for a time, Nabiri McMahon letting Smythe roll the invitation in his mouth, to swallow it, and see how it sat deep in his gut.  The silence stretched thin until it turned to tension.  The tension stretched taut to razor wire that threatened to cut whomever would attempt to break it.

“Mr. Smythe, we must have you at the top.  I worked with your wife when she was with the Keepers.  We all knew when you both were married that you must be something special.  And if you were heading Security perhaps Mari, I mean Mrs. Smythe would return to duty,” the shortest guard said in a deep bass that resonated in Jeron’s chest.  He did not know the man and had never heard his wife speak of someone with such a distinctive voice.

“I know you mean well and I understand your sentiment.  You may have known who my wife once was but you don’t know who she is now.  The way you talk about Marija sounds like you may have been close but there’s probably a reason that I’ve never heard of you.  I’d guess that reason is you’re a pompous ass.”

The tension snapped, lacerating the bass-voiced man, leaving his mouth agape and his eyes bugged.  In the flickering light the man appeared distinctly like a frog.  He sputtered and gaped but at a gesture from his general he spoke no more.  The silence had been broken and the large woman laughed softly.

“Jeron, that is why I want you in power.  You so obviously don’t want the job that I think you would never abuse the power.  You would be so conscious of that power all of the time that you would be practically untouchable when it came to bribes or blackmail.  And the way you spoke to the prospective Secretary of Finance tells me you wouldn’t let anyone else get away with anything either.  Besides, we need one of us to make sure the right people get arrested and the right people… don’t. It’s basically what you’ve been doing for the past three years, just on a larger scale,” Nabiri said. She looked down at him to catch his eye and winked large enough to be visible in what little light remained.

“There are going to be trials, Jeron.  There are going to be very public trials that will be widely reported.  The evidence needs to go where it can be best used.  There are certain supporters that came to our side, after The Master fell, that have ties that need to be protected.  We just need to sweep a few minor indiscretions under the rug to have their continued support. With your well-known zeal for justice added to your family history, you would be perfect for the part.  If you say someone is clean, everyone would have to agree.”

“Nabiri, I don’t mean to be slow here but I’m not sure what you mean.  What I hear is you telling me that you want me because I look clean.  Then, you say you want me to be just a dirty as The Master’s old cronies who swept evidence under the rug for favors or money.  I know you wouldn’t ask me to do that.  But if you were to ask me to do that you should already know my answer.”

“Jeron we were partners for 2 years and we saw a lot together.  I taught you the ins and outs of keeping the peace.  Let this just be another lesson about how to keep the peace.  This conversation is really just a courtesy.  Our sources in the media are already reporting that you will be the next Secretary of Security.  You are going to act as judge in the coming high profile cases.  For the first three weeks, we will have some of the more well-known or heinous criminals.  You can be as holier-than-thou as you want to be, sentence them to death if you want.  The people will love it because, honestly, these criminals deserve to die.

“After the three weeks are up, we will start having trials for some new supporters who will need to be acquitted so they can continue business as usual…”

“Who,” Jeron interrupted. “Who am I going sell myself out for?”

“What?  Oh, just a few of the old guard who have advantageous connections.  A genius or two who got wrapped up in the wrong group but have seen the light.  Don’t worry too much about it.”

“If it’s my name attached to the record, I’m going to worry about.  Nabiri, General, we go back and you know me.  You know me well enough to know that I am clean and these people you want pardoned better have good excuses and give me a solid show of faith.  But most of all, I need to know who you want me to let go,” Jerron said, stopping short and causing two of the guard to stumble into him before the group noticed the his change in speed.

Another voice spoke up.  Jeron looked around to see which guard was speaking but could not see any mouths moving.  He realized one of them was wearing an illusory mask to hide to face. “General McMahon, we already had reservations about your dog.  If you can’t call him to heel, we’ll have to withdraw our support.  I’ll take my leave now, to report to my colleagues what was said tonight.” The figure stepped away from the group, gathered energy in a way that was clearly meant to be showy, and disappeared as quickly as if he had never been there.

“Jerron, I’m disappointed in you but I’m not surprised,” the General said turning to face her guards.  “Northwood, you and Benoit go to that group of idiots and let them know the deal is still on.  If you can’t assure them that everything will go according to plan, at least stall them until I can get there.  Make sure you don’t threaten them, though, that’s last thing we need.”

She turned back to the man who had caused her the trouble and said, “Well, if you’re done with your little tantrum, perhaps we can talk like civilized people again?  Yes, I do mean to pardon most, if not all, of the Stars.  That includes Müller, Kahn, Williams, and Chen.  Yes, I know you have history with them and that’s where it will stay, in the past.  When you pardon them, people will know you are fair even to your enemies. Now, I don’t have time to coddle you anymore.  Claudius Alistair and Jamila Mayhew will escort you to my office tomorrow.  You will be there for the inauguration and the trials will begin immediately afterward.  I wanted to do this as friends but, either way, you are my subordinate.  Now go home and sort your wife out.”


Turning to her guards she said. “What a ridiculous fiasco.  You all go to the Diet for the Emergency Session.  Keep things moving in our direction.  I don’t need anymore roadblocks.  If there is any opposition, make them out to be traitors.  We need to lock this down tonight.  No excuses.  I’ll deal with the Stars and be there in, let’s see…” She checked her watch. “Five minutes to make the deal and ten to seal it.  If I’m not with you in fifteen minutes, send Jabar to get me on ‘Diet business’.”  The general and the three remaining guards gathered energy with short sharp movements and vanished as one, leaving Jeron standing alone in the middle of the street with nothing but the occasional flash of light for company.  

Under a Gibbous Moon

img_1185“Click.” Went the locks in my car as I walked away into the growing dark.

At last, alone.

I felt my body shake off the day’s grime as I stepped confidently out of the parking lot and onto the darkened pathway.

Not long now.

Before me stretched deep hues of twilight. Cobalt lines mixed with deeper ribbons of midnight blue and black. Reeds moved in the wind, whispering in the night. Their woolly tips shifting and dipping in and out of placid water.

I walked along the edge of a gently rippling mirror, framed in broken rocks and earth. Completely alone. Wind touch my hair, brushing against my skin as I walked around a bend.

Closer. It will happen at the close.

I alone watched the world succumb to night. City lights blinked and glowed, scattered like stars in the depths of the universe. Above me the moon wreathed itself in bruised clouds, dampening its ethereal light.

So much to change. I thought as memories overran my senses. The world. The stars in their heavens, all will change in a matter of moments. Because of me.

My feet stepped over aged asphalt, crackling with sound in the near silence. There was no feeling of impending doom, nor drowning in a sea of human sorrow. Just an individual, the nature of a living planet, and the void miles beyond.

When IT comes, will they know? Will they understand what is happening? Will I feel guilt finally? Will the future call me a Destroyer? A Savior? Or will these actions fuel an eternity of nonexistence?

I knew the path too well, like a childhood room. I closed my eyes knowing the placement of each pebble and roll. Their imperfections laid bare to my unseeing eyes. it was coming soon, the bridge. There it would be, at the close, when all would end. My senses communed with the physical world, touching and interacting as only a familiar could.

Now, without hesitation, plunge the knife, break the bone, bring awe to the universe once more. IT could wait no more. I am the gateway for the unleashed, for the inevitable.

My feet pressed against metal, cool reassurance for what must come. Taking of my shoes I felt my naked feet press into those unnatural grooves. Metal shaped by an imperfect hand drew me to the water’s edge.

I do this for the greater good. It must be done for a more perfect cause than what transpires before me.

Pulling off my cloak I tossed it to the ground, stepping further onto the bridge. My weight caused the structure to dip, sending rings throughout the pond. Shedding each layer of spun cloth, I felt the night kiss my mortal flesh, welcoming the proffered gift of my essence.

What I enact here, must be done as it has for infinity.

Opening my eyes I saw the edge before me. My pale skin shimmered in the liquid undulating before me, bare to the elements.

Speak the words you must. End this, now.

Skin prickling in waves I open my mouth and speak the unutterable. At once all is still. The air, water, flora and fauna, all pause as if to listen.

Now the submission.

Bowing my head I looked into transfixed water, and see all. A mortal husk, in the depths of immortality.

I yield my flesh.

With that final thought my body falls from its perch. For an eternity I hovered over fate, and then was consumed.

So I end, and IT begins.

-M.E. Inkowl

 

 

In Death’s Garden

“Walk with me.” Said Cerum. The command was quiet, yet it willed the very air around my body, pushing me forward.
“Yes, Mastre.” I ducked my head,  feeling my skin crawl as I fell in stride with the Lord. Beside us his hunched attends walked, tactfully blocking any chance of evasion.
Cerum held up a wraith like hand, motioning at the sleeping wood. “Behold this, my Garden. A product of my own dark creation.”
Oily black liquid bubbled in a slow flowing stream. The lane stretch before the two, clouds of sulfur stretching between dead wood.
Hooded head turning to take in the scene, Cerum continued, “Is it not a magnificent mirror for the Empire I have created?”
Gulping down tainted air I managed a,”Yes my lord it is.”
I could feel his gaze upon me, like cold dead flesh pressing upon me. Could he see through my lies?  My deceit?
His next words were said with a smile, one you heard rather than saw. “You do not approve, Mernor? Is it the stench? Tell me.”
What was I to say? What was I to do? I looked around, feeling my carefully constructed walls of protection falling down around my ears. He would know soon enough the lengths I had gone to see his empire fall.
For a moment I gazed out beyond the edges of that hellish garden and saw into the true free world. Crisp blue mountains covered with snow. Fresh clear air and a wisp of cloud floated contentedly, beyond Cerum’s control.
The Lord of Filth stopped where he was. His black tar cloak clinging to the ground as he twisted to face me. Dead eyes took in my body, looking through my skin. His face was that of a man long died at sea, face translucent to the bone. Two broken horns held up his sagging cowl, framing a damned face in black pitch.
His lips parted,and a pointed blue tongue wet his lips, “Well?”
I took a deep breath and reached within myself to speak, “I do not approve of the end of this garden.”
Cerum’s eyes blinked, taking in my words. He was taking in the lie.
I raised my hand to the horizon, to the open world. “Out there, Lord, those blue mountains. They stand as a mockery to your power and prestige. Out there, the free folk of your world mock you with their rebellions. Each of their victories is a personal assault on you, my Greatness.”
Cerum raised a hand, silencing me, “What do you mean by this? Betrayer? Could this be you are fully committed? By these words you damn those you hold dear to a torment more painful than life itself. Do you wish to commit to me? To death itself? I can see through your flattery, lowly one. But I see your heart, I see the anger. Do you wish to unleash my darkness upon this world?”
I looked him in the eye, feeling the turmoil within my body. Knowing what I must say, but regretting each of my next words I spoke.
“I do, my Lord. Kill them all.”
There was a long silence as Lord Cerum looked upon my flesh. His eyes roved over me, and then to the garden around us. He stepped away from me, continuing down the path. We a flick of his hand he signaled to his attendants. They hurriedly pushed me forward. I followed, unsure of what was to happen.
A low iron wall ran round the perimeter of the garden, separating it from the rest of the palace. The Lord Commander placed a booted foot on its edge, metal grating on metal. He considered the open world before him. Trails of ash and smoke billowed up from great vents in the ground, shrouding the pinnacles and spires of his mountain fortress. Below them the foot hills crawled with savage warrior, underlings, and laborers all under his command.
Beyond his kingdom lay a lush valley surrounded by unmarred mountains. The world lay before them, ripe for the taking.
Cerum turned to Mernor a smile pulling at his grey face. When his lips parted, a smooth and confident voice rang in Mernor’s ears, “So be it. We will bring the world to it’s knees. There is no one to stop us now.”