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Fairy Tale (excerpt)

She’d been wandering for what felt like days, but surely had only been hours at best. The Unknown Depths were notorious for being hard to fathom or even follow despite the ancient and obvious markings that lay here and there and all about.  From one supposed creationist species to the next, the Depths were riddled with those who’d claimed to have created the whole of the fairy tale realms, from the mundane to the outlandish, and then, to the human.  Humans did indeed have their hand in creating the legends and myths that now existed on their own, but had long ago forsaken them for the exploration of science, which had meant the eventual death of her kind.

            They’d given up on their first creation in favor of another, like a child that has grown bored with a particular toy.  Her kind had been deemed unnecessary, juvenile, and even useless at times, though they still existed to remind humans of their more basic roots, their beginnings, and the reason they’d feared the darkness in the past, and delighted in the coming of the light.  She’d enjoyed their favor at one time, had even basked in their attentions and tithing, no matter how minor they might have been. Each and every moment of belief had been enough to sustain her, to keep her faith in the race that had done so much to elevate her and others of her kind to such heights.

            But the fall had done her no favors. When the maddening practice of science and reason had come along, Mab had been forgotten and relegated to the dim memory of humankind like any other. She had faded like any other, and in doing so had grown quite mad, both in mental stature and emotional state.  Throughout the time when men and women had learned to move forward without looking behind, she had sat and festered within her own anger, promising to herself that one day, mankind would come to realize just what had been left behind, and how truly dangerous it had been.  They would be reminded why they had feared, and why they had prayed to beings such as her.

            So lost was she in her own ruminations of the past and all that had occurred to this point that she nearly missed the commotion from ahead, the clamoring that finally drew her back to this place, this time.  Walking along at a steady pace, her dark robes trailing upon first earthen floor and then stone, scattered, dirt-streaked marble and then bare rock, Mab had become so lost in her own faded glory that she nearly came upon the quarreling trio, or foursome including the snake, as they made their way frantically towards her.

            Rounding another bend she stopped, hands folded in front of her as she witnessed the sudden fiasco, and saw just who it involved.  Rage, cold and white hot at the same time, flooded her heart as she saw the flash of white that was cowardly White Rabbit being chased by none other than the dust-ridden, sorry excuse for a legend she’d found not long before upon the surface, wandering amidst the ruins of Underland, pining for something or other she did not care to recall at this particular moment.

            And then she saw the Cheshire, and her rage spilled over into manic hatred, her teeth exposed as she pulled her lips back into a feral grin, almost like the wolfish smile of a hungry predator that has finally cornered its prey.  It wasn’t the children, the only reason she had come to such lengths, but in this instance, the interloping feline would prove good enough to stem her undying hatred just enough.

            She watched as Pecos Bill, her unwanted and unwitting servant, chased both the White Rabbit and the Cheshire about, snapping that silly snake he used as a lasso at each of them, hitting nothing but air until he finally, just once, struck the Cheshire, but to no effect.  The rainbow-eyed cat simply stiffened for a moment in shock, as well as a good amount of pain, before disappearing once again, no doubt smarting greatly from the serpent’s strike.

            She almost laughed in derision as the White Rabbit implored Pecos Bill to stop, but kept her place as the furious range rider came forward, his supposedly well-aimed strikes missing again and again until finally his eyes caught sight of her, and he stopped.  And that was when all three of them saw her, and her smile turned absolutely deadly.

            “Imagine this,” she said, her voice a deadly purr as she turned her gaze upon each one of them in turn.

            She blinked slowly, parting her lips as she drew her teeth back, savoring the moment as she looked over the herald, the cowboy, and the reason behind why the Dhei’read had become necessary.  It was almost difficult to decide just who to fix her ire upon first, but the decision was made before the others could react.

            “You promised me!” Pecos Bill roared at her, his lasso already coiling once again to strike, “You said that-!”

            “Silence,” Mab spat, pointing a single finger at him, “You are nothing, not even the dust beneath my heels.”  And just like that, the cowboy was gone, his lasso, his dusty trail clothes, all of it, a fading memory within her mind, and not even that within others.  She could easily see the confusion upon the faces of the White Rabbit and even the Cheshire, though she cared not a bit that they knew nothing of what had just occurred. To them it would seem as though they’d just woke from a dream, or a nightmare, and could recall nothing of the particular episode. But they would remember what came next, or at least one of them would.

            Her gaze fixed upon the White Rabbit next, burning with such ire that the herald, or former herald, froze where he stood, unable to even twitch as she raised her right hand, spreading her fingers as the ground opened up beneath the rabbit, plummeting him downward as he cried out in fright. That cry was cut off suddenly and without warning as she clenched her fingers into a fist, smiling as the White Rabbit was cut in two, the sound of bone crunching and being pulverized echoing within the passage as his upper half flopped lifeless to the ground.

            Her attention turned to the Cheshire next, only to find that he had already disappeared, as was his wont.   Mab spun about, her long, dark braids and robes swirling with the movement as she sought out any sign of the wretched feline.  She saw the furred creature only a breath later, further down the passage from whence she’d come, grinning at her in that implacable way that only he seemed capable of. 

            “Interesting as it might seem, unleashing the Dhei’read is unwise,” the Cheshire purred, the low rumble emanating from his body seeming to surround her as Mab faced the cat squarely, mentally preparing an entire host of spells that would be rendered useless if the Cheshire knew they were coming. Powerful as she was, the strange, enigmatic feline was elusive to the point of irritation, and knew far more than he reveled at times.  He would escape her clutches this time, of that she was almost certain. But then the question of why he hadn’t retreated in his own self-serving manner as was usual reached her, and she paused.  Unfortunately, the Cheshire saw this.

            “Are you afraid then?” she almost hissed, “You should be.  You and all the others should be absolutely terrified of what is to come.”

            “What a curious hatred,” the cat said, “Does it stem from any one source, or a gathering?”

            That set Mab on her heels just a bit, though she did not waver as she stood her ground.

            “What?”

            Setting his paws upon the passage floor the Cheshire lowered himself to the ground, striking a rather contemplative pose as his rainbow eyes gazed at her curiously, as though attempting to sort out her motivations, her reason for being. Mab was not comfortable with this, but she would know what the cat was speaking of, and then she would attempt to get rid of him.

            “You desire an end, that much is obvious, though in releasing the Dhei’read you do not promise oblivion, only a never-ending horror that will sweep throughout the realms without fail.  Interesting as it might be, and even considering that I myself am not immune, it would be somewhat counterproductive.”

            That confused her a bit, though her mind started to unravel the complex web of deceit and lies the Cheshire was so often thought to spin, only to realize that he was indeed telling the truth in a somewhat roundabout way.  The realization hit her just as he began to speak again.

            “If you do unleash the Dhei’read, then to erase the entirety of the realms, you must, given their nature, erase the creatures that make up the exiled lot, if only to keep humanity from even guessing that there is something beyond their otherwise mundane world. It is a quandary, truly.”

            Mab had nothing to say to that, and as the Cheshire disappeared, she found herself at a loss.  The Cheshire had actually made sense for once.

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30 Years intro.

30 Years

By Tom Foster

 

 

Prologue

Before…

 

            I screwed up.  I’ve been over this so many times in my head, wondering what I could have done, what I could have said, and what I could have tried to make her believe, to make them all believe, and I’ve come up with nothing.  It wasn’t enough to do what could be done or say anything that came to mind, no one believed, and all those previous times seem to have been for nothing.  It’s like having an itch for three decades that you can’t scratch, but once you do you can’t stop until it’s red, raw, and bleeding.  Sometimes the pleasure isn’t really worth the pain that comes after.

            This isn’t the first time I’ve been through this, that’s the worst part. People always think I’m crazy when I tell them this part, and I can’t blame them.  After all who would really believe the kind of story I’ve been living now for probably three or four different renditions?  It’s the same thing each time, the same problems I’m presented with no matter how much I change it around, no matter what I do or say. I’ve tried to change things, both for the better and the worse, but it always seems to snap back to this moment, the moment I first open my eyes, and feel realization flooding in.

            I screwed up.

            At that point I can’t tell anyone.  If I did the next instant might be filled with the floor rushing up at me and a pain in my skull that lasted only a short while before I had to go through it all again.  Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Shit, live in my life as it is now and you might find yourself rooting through your medicine cabinet for the pills most likely to knock your ass out without remembering what you’ve just learned. The mind has a way of keeping itself from going crazy right?  Sure, and if you believe that I’ve got a bridge to sell you, as the saying goes.

            If you’re reading this it means that I’m on my way out again, and damned if I don’t fully believe I’ll wake up to the blurry, fuzzed out vision I’ve become accustomed to at the beginning, and the squalling that I soon enough realize is my own.  It’s a do-over see?  A chance to either make things better or make them worse depending on what I do and how I act, but here’s the problem.

            As much as I remember what happened before I check out, I simply don’t understand what it is I’m supposed to be doing, or why.  Ever have someone give you a vague problem and say “fix it”? That’s my dilemma, I know something’s broke but I don’t know what and don’t know how to get the job done. So I keep going, doing what I can to just get through, and then bam, there I am again at the beginning.  It’s confusing isn’t it? You’re probably scratching your head and getting ready to put this damned book down before proclaiming me to be a kook, and I don’t blame you.  But really, just keep reading and it might make sense. No promises though.

Fairy Tale (Epilogue)

            She woke as she always had, half-remembering her dreams, feeling them fade and slip into obscurity as the demands of the day pressed in upon her soon after waking.  It was   a life she led, but one she hadn’t counted on.  Of course, given what other people had to go through at times in their own rat race-inspired existences, she didn’t have it so bad.

            Rising to her feet from the bed Tina felt the ever-constant presence of her bracelet, its three points digging lightly into her wrist as she looked down at it.  As trinkets went its tarnished silver appearance wasn’t much, but it was important to her, a reminder of why she did what she did, and a meaning in a time when the world around her had almost none.

            It was the last piece of her life that she had left, the life that she’d thought was normal.  It was the last piece of her brother, a memento of a life that had gone on without her.  Blowing out a long breath Tina ran both hands through her long, reddish hair, a dye job that had yet to grow out.  At times she could barely recall just what color it had been originally. 

            Tina had shown up ten years ago in this part of the world, far from home but not too far.  Despite having learned where she was however, she’d done her level best to remain here on the peninsula, having found in her travels that she’d much rather be on her own, alone to figure out just what had happened, what she was to do about it, and what she was meant to do after.  The first two had come before the third, and had eventually had began to make sense, though it had been no less heartbreaking for the loss.  But she’d pushed on, and done whatever she could to make a life.  She’d done okay in her own opinion.

            The ringing of the telephone, a cell phone as she had no land line, alerted her to the device as it chimed and rung upon her bedside table, the picture that appeared upon the screen that of a smiling, carefree older woman.  Blinking several times she picked up the device, thumbing the screen to the side as she then placed it to her ear.

            “Good morning Anne,” she said in a groggy voice, “I trust this is more than just a social call.”

            “Indeed,” said the woman on the other end, her voice telling much of her advanced years.  Anne Saari was a senior librarian at Ilwaco High School, and most of all, Tina’s mentor.  The woman had given her a chance when several others had been against her attempt to find a place in the school system, becoming not unlike an aunt or a favored family friend.  She’d given Tina so much that it was impossible to do anything other than what had become her purpose.

            She was the storyteller, or in the politically correct term, the assistant librarian, and as such it was up to her to facilitate story time at the local girls and boys club just down the hill from the high school.  If nothing else, it helped her to pass the time, and it served a purpose.  And it enabled her world to continue, and remember why it was so important to believe in fairy tales.

            It was a simple line that came to mind just then, not even a full sentence, but something still so important nonetheless, a reference for so many fairy tales, legends, and myths that had become important cornerstones of humanity.  Tina actually smiled as she allowed the thought to come, remembering a little blonde-headed boy who’d done his best to insure that such a world survived. 

            Once upon a time…

Don’t Assume

Don’t assume you know anything about me until you’ve walked long enough in my shoes and done the things I’ve done. I don’t make that assumption about you on a regular basis as a personal rule, and I will hold to that if you can.

Don’t assume that I am one way or another because of how I act or how I present myself in public. My personal life is unknown to you and should not be judged by the face I must present to the world.

Don’t ever assume that my life is any less important than yours simply because of what you know. One person’s life is just as valuable as another and should be taken into consideration no matter the circumstance. If one life becomes worthless, then the species will eventually follow suit.

Finally, and most importantly, just don’t assume anything. It makes an ass out of u and me.

Don’t make an ass out of me.

The Return (excerpt)

Marijka felt the power within Tyler as she held on for dear life, hoping that she would not transport them into the path of the falling mountains.  Her arms were around the Champion tightly, wrapping him in a fierce hug as it had been the only manner she could think of that he would not shrug her off so easily.  She knew this man was powerful, knew that he was fiercely dedicated to everyone within the clan, but as Alex had quickly apprised her of the situation, she’d known he would not go willingly.  And so she had been forced to act quickly, not thinking, just wrapping him in a fierce embrace and exerting her will as best she could, using the power she’d been born with to whisk them both away from what was soon to become a very dangerous place. 

            Even as they came back to the world, away from that strange fugue plain she went to when transporting throughout the world, Marijka could feel the ground trembling, could hear the dangerous rumbling of rock as it was forced to reconfigure against its will.  Alex had told her what Aulik was doing, what was supposed to happen, and she’d felt her blood run cold at the prospect. The Chosen of long ago were going to sacrifice themselves so that the rest of them could escape. 

            For as long as she’d been a part of this clan, she’d never once seen Tyler or the others afraid, she’d never once seen them run unless it was entirely necessary.  And she was certain that now would have been much the same.  Tyler had not wanted to leave their friends, Josh and the two hellhounds included.  She’d not seen either of the three she knew lost to the press of nightmarish monsters, though Alex had told her that they were gone, they could not be saved.  She’d felt her heart tear a little as she’d thought then of Sarah, Elizabeth, and Kyle.  They were losing a husband and father, though she wondered idly if they’d known as much, or would be forced to find out once the battle was over.

            The two of them snapped back into existence with a sudden jolt, their feet hitting the hard-packed dirt as Marijka held on tightly to Tyler, not stumbling thankfully as she felt her feet turn beneath her.  Tyler was solid, not moving as she could feel that his arms were almost directly in front of him, his entire body tensed as though in deep, intense concentration. 

            “Tyler?”  She spoke his name softly, the rumbling of the stone and tons of dirt was now thankfully far enough away that she didn’t sense that they were in any impending danger. Tyler did not answer her though. 

            Marijka felt the corded muscles, the power that Tyler held within, and for a moment she was afraid, thinking that he’d not come through their ordeal as well as she’d hoped.  As she managed to unlock her hands from his body however she stepped to where she could see his face, noting that his eyes were wide open, the silvery mists that flowed through them were churning madly, almost like a sparkling, turbulent sea.  His face was locked in deep concentration, she couldn’t even tell if he was able to see her just then, though something told her that he knew she was there.

            “Tyler?” she repeated.

            “I’m not letting them go,” he said, his voice solid and stern as he held his hands with fingers crooked slightly, splayed as though he were holding something, a large ball, or a parcel.  Marijka felt her heart throb as she looked back from whence they’d come, expecting to see a crumbling ruin upon the highway, the dissolution of tons upon tons of dirt and rock.  Instead she saw the boiling, dark mass that had attacked them, churning crazily as it no longer had a guiding mind by which to follow.  She could not make out where the Chosen might be, nor Josh or the missing hellhounds, though as she stiffened her upper lip, Marijka realized why the mountains had not yet fallen, why the wavering dunes of earth she could see attempting to crest the peaks and break upon the enemy had not been allowed to collapse inward.  Tyler was holding it all back.

            Her breath was effectively stolen away as she came to this realization, the power that she felt no doubt small in comparison to what Tyler was truly holding back.  He was foiling the Elemental’s sacrifice, attempting to keep them alive when it was they who wished the same for the rest of them.

            Marijka’s heart was in her throat in that moment, though she still turned back to Tyler, her eyes pleading and her tone earnest as she spoke.

            “Tyler, let them go.”  He shook his head, the strain of holding back the megatons of earth and rock showing as his entire body began to shake, his hands trembling as he remained stoic, not willing to give in.  It was undoubtedly one of his greatest strengths, the ability to care for his friends, but it was also a great weakness, one that far too many enemies knew how to exploit.  And if she could not convince him to let go, it would be their undoing.  The Chosen of long ago had given them a chance to live, they could not in good conscience squander it, though he would choose to risk all if only to keep them alive.  She loved him in that moment, much as any proud sister will love a brother, but this was folly, and she knew it.

            “Tyler, please,” Marijka said, standing closer now to the man that was her leader, her friend, and her brother in all but blood, “They’ve made the choice, don’t dishonor them like this.  Let them go.”  Still, for several moments, Tyler refused.  Marijka did not turn her attention from the man in that moment, her gaze penetrating Tyler in such a way that she could feel his heartbeat, could sense the sorrow that threatened to drag him down, and the fierce determination he seemed to live by each second of the day. 

            Stepping even closer as he did not release the power, Marijka folded her arms around him again, placing her head upon Tyler’s chest as she could now feel the power like a heavy blanket, wrapping around her and offering protection, and doom if she got too close.  She didn’t care what happened to her, so long as Tyler knew that she was here for him, as the rest of them would be, always.

            “Let them go brother,” she whispered, hoping her words were being heard, and felt, “For the love of our kind, and the love of our people, let them go.”  Tyler was trembling even harder now, the power threatening to explode from within if he held on any longer, or perhaps lash out at the first available conduit.  Marijka found in that second that she would gladly be that target, if only to be sure that Tyler realized the error of his current action. 

            It did not come to that however.  Tyler, lowering his gaze, closed his eyes, not shrugging her away but not drawing her into his arms as she held onto him, feeling the sorrow that coursed through him now, the guilt that sprang to life within seconds.  He let go, his hands opening wide once before he lifted his arms, as though letting go of a tremendous weight that had been holding him back.  And as the tension fled, Tyler roared, long, and loud.  And still, Marijka held onto him, suffering the storm for the love of a brother.

                                                *                      *                      *

            Aulik felt the pressure lessen, the restraint release, and he exulted in the absolute power that flooded through his body, threatening to tear him apart as it ran rampant throughout his large form.  Elemental of the Chosen he might have been, but he was still human, and the physiology of human beings had never been meant to withstand such power, no matter how tough a person might be.  He died with a roar upon his lips, a battle cry as fierce as any his people had ever uttered, a smile upon his lips as he went to meet his gods, his last act upon this earth to create his own burial, along with his fellow Chosen and their enemies.

            The others felt him go, felt his life force slipping away as he collapsed, and they knew. Aulik had succeeded, the pounding and thrumming of earth and stone as it began to pummel their enemies was enough for any one of them to know that death had finally come, that they would finally be allowed the rest they’d been denied so very long ago.  And for each one of them, it was long overdue.

            Not a one of them stopped, fighting until the last, when the crushing waves of earth and rock overcame first their enemies and then them, crushing, tearing, burying, and pummeling so that bones broke, flesh tore, and dirt filled every last available spot.  Before the deluge of dirt consumed them all however Moriggan uttered a long, maniacal laugh of joy, one that each of the other Chosen  mirrored as they continued to hew and hack at their enemies, a laughter that defied the Dark, that spat in the face of all that had come before the Darkfall, and all that would come after.  The Chosen of that long ago age defied the Dark, they trod upon it, and in their final, selfless act, their laughter echoed into the halls of their gods, allowing them to meet death with smiles upon their faces, defiant to the last.

            And thus did the Chosen of the third age fall, not with dishonor, but with joy. 

Hero’s Passage (Apocalyptica excerpt)

The funeral took place just before sunset had truly began, each member of the group arriving either in the company of others or on their own.  Tyler, Kera, Brooke, Bear, and Summer were the first to arrive, followed shortly by Matt, Josh, and Sarah.  Jimmy had been laid out in the clothes he’d been wearing, his eyes closed with one coin for each eye in the old tradition that Tyler had favored for so long.  He’d lived too long and seen too many things to not believe in such customs.  He’d be damned if anything prevented Jimmy from reaching the final clearing he so richly deserved.

Tyler had elected Tamara to speak the eulogy of their fallen friend, a surprise that had gripped each individual within the group.  Tamara had not refused, understanding more than a little as to why Tyler would pick her to speak of the young man.  She had after all been rescued in a manner by Jimmy when they’d first met and she had been the first among the current group to be taken in by Jimmy and the old man, Gene, months ago.  When told of the old man Tyler had smiled as he had remembered the young man that Gene had once been, how eager he’d been to rid the world of the Darkfall.  Never once had he forgotten a face or a name of those who had stood with him and his three students at the end of the war, nor had he forgotten how many of them had met their end. Tyler could remember with a hint of sadness the day that Gene had lost his sight, he’d been there in fact.

The old man had lived far longer than any human had a right to, he’d been almost thirty when Tyler had last seen him, a young man in his prime.  He had to have been nearly one hundred and ten years old when he’d finally passed away.  To hear that the man had acted as though he were still in his midlife hadn’t astonished Tyler, he’d known many that had found their lives extended by forces they would not understand even if such were explained to them.  Tyler had deigned to explain such a thing only a few people in his life, though each one had thankfully kept his trust by not speaking to the masses.

Chosen, by dint of the power they were given, stood outside of time, untouched by the physical effects it was so adept at creating.  A Chosen had often been selected in the past to serve for as long as they were needed and no longer, though there had been few cases where the power given had not been relinquished and had been passed on through blood.  In such cases the power given to the Chosen was eventually diluted and faded out after much time, though it never truly disappeared.  Instead it would adapt, change and grow into something far different than it had began as,

One constant of the power given to Chosen was that it affected those around them as well, granting a longevity that had been mostly unheard of in the world that had come before now.  Tyler wondered if Jimmy would have benefited from the company he kept had he survived the first and most important stage of the Joining.  He couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty as he looked down upon the still form of the young man, wondering so many things that it was a miracle that his head didn’t ache from the strain.

It wasn’t your fault.  Kera stood next to him, her head towering above Tyler as she fixed him with her silvery gaze.  Jimmy was meant to go ahead of us Tyler, that’s allLike everyone else he’s already waiting for us in the clearing.  I’ll bet he’s found Gene by now and the two of them are waiting for us all.  Tyler nodded as she spoke, smiling as her words brought at least a little comfort to his heart.  So much had been lost since their lives had been changed those few centuries ago, so much had been sacrificed for the cause they had come to embrace.

He hadn’t wanted life to become this way.  All he’d wanted was to graduate high school, go on to live his life in whatever way he saw fit and be a good man as his parents had taught him.  Tyler and Kera had planned only so far ahead, deciding to allow life in for a spell and see where it took them.  Neither of them had worried about their future, they’d known deep in their hearts that no matter what they would always be together and the world would still be there.  That still held true, though the world they had imagined would be there was far different than the world they’d known.

As the rest of their group began to arrive the sun continued to dip towards the horizon, the shadows around them lengthening to the right as they gathered together.  The heavy, clomping steps that shook the ground beneath them announced Matt’s arrival, his iron form shining from within with the purple light that had come to represent his being.  Brooke looked down to Tyler from where she stood across the bier, her golden eyes, changed after the Joining, sorrowful as she then looked to Jimmy.

Waiting for a short amount of time to make sure that everyone was there Tyler motioned for Tamara to come forward, noting the silence that reigned over the group as they stood assembled.  Each person here had known Jimmy at least a bit and each person here, even those of the Baryn’alt, had come to enjoy his company.  Tyler found it heartening at least to have seen even James Kordell, the sarcastic ass that he was, spend a few moments now and then with Jimmy, helping the dim-witted young man to understand a certain fighting stance or even helping Jimmy with matters that didn’t concern fighting.  As Tamara made her way forward Tyler allowed his gaze to pass over the entire group, resting for only a second on each person before moving on.  What he saw as Tamara reached the bier caused him to smile solemnly before he motioned for Jayden to come forth as well.

There was not a disinterested look among the group, each person seeming as though they’d been wounded themselves as Tyler felt an outpouring of emotion from each heart that beat within the group.  He felt a rush of pride for those who now stood together, finding that like the many he’d fought with before, the feeling of belonging to something so grand was a heady experience, an honor that not many ever realized.

As Jayden made her way forward she beckoned for Michele to come with her, a gentle smile on her face as the leader of the Living Flame parted from the demonic Chosen to go with her order’s creator.  Tyler couldn’t help but cock one eyebrow at Andrew, who merely shrugged as Tyler grinned.  There were other pairings that he couldn’t help but notice before allowing his gaze to trail back to Jimmy’s form.  Bella and Matteo stood together, as did Kenyan and Alexis.  Summer remained as always near Tyler’s side, though he could see that Josh and Sarah, and Brooke and Bear stood together as well.  Jamie and Alex and the rest of the guardians stood not far away from Tyler and Kera, though the entire group remained close as though afraid to move much farther.

Taking his gaze from the group back to the bier Tyler saw as Tamara looked at him as though awaiting permission to start.  He couldn’t quite believe the difference in the woman after the past few months. She had come from being a sarcastic, standoffish witch to a young woman that realized she still had much to learn and was willing to do what it took.  Tamara had changed a great deal and for the better, something she no doubt realized as she offered him a small smile.  Tyler returned the gesture, motioning with one hand for her to go on.  Jayden and Michele stood next to the dark-haired beauty, awaiting their time as well.

“When I met Jimmy it wasn’t far from where we were standing and I, well, hadn’t exactly had the best luck when it came to life.  Jimmy found me when I was down, quite literally, and helped me to reach the store where he and Gene had settled.  After that I kind of knew that he wasn’t all there in the head, but that didn’t matter.  Jimmy always woke me up in the morning with a big smile and a warm meal.  I thank Gene now for having taught Jimmy how to do these things, but I thank Jimmy for doing them.  He was the kindest soul on this island and the most deserving of a better place.”

Tamara’s voice cracked just a bit as Jayden laid her hand gently upon the woman’s shoulder, seeking to offer her strength as Tamara sniffed into her closed fist.  “You don’t find a man like Jimmy very often, someone who always wakes up with a smile on his face for no better reason than because he feels safe with those around him.  Jimmy knew he had friends in each one of us.  I know we didn’t always admit to it but I know from Jimmy that each of us found in him a gentle soul that wanted nothing more than friendship.  The world would benefit from more people like Jimmy.  I’m glad to have known him and we’re all better for having had him in our lives for even a short time.”  Tamara sounded as though she were trying to hold back a sob as she stepped away, returning to the comforting arms of Korvin as he accepted her into his embrace.

Tyler felt another stab of guilt as he saw the two embrace, wondering once more what would happen once the final promise had been kept.  He knew that Korvin and Matteo must have already questioned themselves concerning this matter, though neither of them had come to him or any of the other Chosen thus far.  Eventually it might become an issue, though for now Tyler was content to let the moment play out as it would.  As the group watched Jayden stood by Michele as the leader of the Living Flame called upon her innate ability to control fire, the very tips of her hair seeming to dance as the power coursed through her, resulting in a spark that blossomed from the palm of her right hand, which she then laid gently upon the wooden bier next to Jimmy, offering the young man one last smile before stepping away, keeping her right palm raised as though offering Jimmy the small bloom of fire that still resided upon her palm.  As she concentrated the fire grew hotter, burning almost blue as the rest of the bier suddenly caught, the billows of smoke that resulted causing a few within the group that stood too close to back away a step or two.

There is no pain, no strife we’ve not shared.

            No rest for the warriors whose blades still lay bared.

            Wandering the dark lands, seeking for true,

            Warriors that mayhap once knew…

Tyler closed his eyes as he listened to the heavenly voice ring out across the blacktop, knowing instinctively whose voice this was as he allowed himself to be caught up in the resonant tones.  Brooke stood upon her clawed feet with her eyes closed and her head lowered in respect, though there was no doubt that each and every person could hear her voice as she lent her words to the passage of their young friend.  It was an honor that had been bestowed upon each one of those that had died within the early years of the Darkfall, Brooke’s own contribution to the life of those that had fought so valiantly and had lived so passionately.  It was what Jimmy deserved and yet Tyler still felt as though this weren’t enough.

As though to echo this sentiment, each member of the group, the beasts excluded, suddenly drew forth their weapons, the ringing of steel and the crackling of energy filling the silence between them as Tyler led the way, the bluish-white flames of his staff burning bright and true as it appeared in his right hand on a whim.  It was an old practice, a tradition of sort, a sendoff of a fellow warrior, raising salute to guide them into the next life, and it was one more honor that Jimmy Spoons deserved.

Lowering his head in respect to the fallen Tyler could only hope that the rest of them survived until the final battle.  The group that fought alongside him now was far different than those he had enjoyed in the many years past, but they were as noble and as fierce as any he’d ever had the honor to fight amongst.  In their company he felt that the final promise would be kept without fail, that nothing, not even the most furious minions of the Dark, could possibly stop them.  The time for dreaming had ended, it was time to wake.

12 Miles (Blasphemy)

            Karl remembered a great deal as he walked.  It took his mind to another place, a much more pleasing, peaceful place that he would have wished for some time ago.  A small grin touched his lips as one foot traveled in front of the other, left, right, left, right, and then left, and then right again.  It was a cadence he’d practiced for as long as it had taken to get to this point, one that he was tired of, and yet, one that he could not quit until he’d reached the end.

            His thoughts roamed to that place in the past, that place that memory recalls, and emotion often tinges with any and all perceived importance.  It was a calling that Karl could not ignore, a pull towards better times that he felt was, at that moment, vital to his continued existence.  Why this was so he could not think of, but he was not about to question it. 

            One breath.

            He was thirteen years old, he led a good life, and his family was as stable as any in the world.  Karl was an adopted child, but to look at the resemblance between his father and himself, one could hardly tell.  This was no doubt why most people didn’t know that he wasn’t of his parents’ bloodline.  He even looked like his siblings to a degree, though Gary had always allowed him to realize that no matter the family resemblance, he was not a part of their genetic heritage. 

            For a time, it had been a wound in Karl’s side, a blow to his heart and emotions that he’d been just barely able to take.  His father had told Karl too many times that it didn’t matter, that he was their son just as much as Gary was.  But Gary was having a tough time transitioning from his father’s first marriage, which had been long over before Karl had come along, and had allowed his anger at his and Sarah’s mother, and their father, to taint his budding relationship with his new brother.  This had culminated in a series of torments that had followed Karl throughout his life, even into this time.

            It’s not all bad though. Gary had his moments.  Karl could count them on one hand, but the fact of the matter was simple: they were there. 

            Like today, Gary had proven he wasn’t a career asshole by taking Karl out for a burger and a Slurpee at the nearby 7-11.  It had been a hot, miserable day spent landscaping for the company their father owned, a side job that had little to do with the actual business, but was important enough that their father had decided to use them instead of hiring a gardening service.

            His brother was actually a brother sometimes, not just a prick who lorded his position of elder brother over Karl all the time.

            A sudden chill crept into his body as Karl continued forward, tearing away that good day as he closed his eyes, feeling the utter cold stab its icy fingers into every inch of exposed skin, threatening to steal away the warmth that the power of the Knight that was keeping him upright, keeping him moving.  As he looked around, his gaze focusing downward, Karl did not flinch as he saw what awaited him at his feet.

            There were faces in the road, within the ice that had crusted over the entire street, the trees, and the houses that lined the street.  He might have continued forward in the moment, save for the first face he saw.

            It was his brother, Gary.  And only a few strides away, he saw several more faces he recognized.

            His sister, Sarah, his mother, his father, his nieces, even his aunts and uncles, they were all here. Not a one of them moved, though as he listened, standing there, Karl could hear the whispers intensify, thrumming to the rhythm of his heart as he could hear the lament deep within his being.

            In the beginning there was nothing, no one and no thing that existed within the void.  The earth was formless, and the spirit of the Morning Star, He who is Samael, who is Lucifer, the mightiest of all, hovered over the face of the deep.

            Karl shook his head, sure that he’d heard, or seen wrong.  He had seen the mouths of his family move in accordance to the whispers, but as he looked at them, not a one of them so much as twitched.

            And the whispers continued. 

            And the Morning Star created man and woman in His own image. He created them, that they might continue the knowledge of His works, and spread forth His glory.

            Karl felt physically ill, the cold chill sinking into his bones as he looked down at the faces in the ice again.  In one breath he saw their lips moving, and in the next, they were silent yet again.  He tried to move forward, though he could not raise his eyes from the ice, could not tear his gaze away from those of his family that were stuck in the tomb-like stasis.

            He has betrayed.

            Betrayed, betrayed.

            He will betray.

            He has used you, the voices he heard whispered, coming from the lips of each of his family as their eyes stared straight ahead, unseeing as they glanced upon a vista that was reserved solely for the dead.  Karl could not move forward, not until he knew the truth.

            All will betray.

            All have betrayed.

            You are alone.

            No Knight.

            You are alone, alone and unlamented.

            He has stripped all.

            You are alone.

            Now the lamb was the craftiest of all, the most trusting, and the most susceptible.  He knew how to use his wiles, his cunning, and his lies to trick the man and woman, to convince them that the Morning Star was false.  He knew how to appear merciful, to appear weak and caring.  It was he that led the man and woman against the lord of creation, taking advantage of the good will of the Morning Star.

            It was odd how a lie could harm another, and how, when it was known in one’s heart, how it could bolster as well.  He felt warmth flood through his body again.  Karl felt his limbs strengthen, and as he looked upon the faces in the ice again, he saw not a single one of those he recognized.  They were not his family, nor were they anyone he could recall ever having seen before.

            They were nothing to him, and so he moved on.

Why?

By Tom Foster

Why do certain television shows and movies become popular? What do their messages say to certain people that others simply can’t pick up on?  Why do some of the most ludicrous plot ideas make it to the screen while others that made more sense are left on the cutting room floor so to speak?

We can theorize and give answers that stem from emotion and reason alike, but one thing that many people can agree upon is that no matter how bad a television show or a movie might be, there will be people that flock to it. For instance, anyone remember shows like MTV’s “The Real World”? Or maybe you remember the flop that was the “Jersey Shore”? Reality television was a big thing for quite a while and still demands a great amount of attention from those that seem to think that people responding to one another in front of a camera and an audience of millions is in any way genuine.

Do you react the same when you know people are watching? Chances are the answer is no, especially in moments of great frustration, stress, or even elation.  So then what does that say about “reality” television?  Okay, rant over for now.

Strength and Honor (fight)

Sanu’te’ was just coming off the steps when Skald caught up to her, swinging his massive blade towards her retreating back as the lady knight seemed to sense this, tucking into a forward roll that allowed her to gain a small measure of distance from the barbarian.  The front entry was clear of anyone save for the three prone knights who were still unconscious upon the marble floor.  Sanu’te’ continued to run until she was only a short distance from the rock fountain, which still burbled on despite everything.  Turning to face her opponent she narrowed her eyes as Skald advanced quickly, the hate upon his face turning to mad glee as he no doubt thought he had her dead to rights.

            The edge of his sword skirted dangerously close to her throat as he tried to take her head from her shoulders, backing out of the way just in time as she pressed forward, striking him with her left stick upon the hip as he danced away quickly.  Skald seemed to barely notice the pain of the blow as he attacked again, finding that his footing was becoming increasingly unstable thanks to the water that splashed all about from the fountain.  His sword just barely clipped the trailing edge of her cloak, though it was enough to unbalance Sanu’te’ for just a moment, sending her to a knee.  She recovered quickly however, using the slick surface to slide across to where the barbarian stood uncertainly, attacking twice in rapid succession.

            Skald danced away as he just barely kept his balance, chopping down as he did, trying to split her skull in two.  Raising both sticks to block Sanu’te’ was driven down several inches as the blade came dangerously close to her face, the knight’s far greater strength pressing her towards the floor.  The two of them remained locked in the stalemate for several moments as Skald continued to push, driving her to both knees as he then tried to force her on her back. 

            “This is where a woman truly belongs, on her back before a man.”  Skald snarled the words down at her, spittle flying from his lips to strike her face.  Sanu’te’ bared her teeth back at him, narrowing her eyes as she pushed right back, feeling the integrity of the sticks beginning to wane as the barbarian’s sword notched deeply into them.  Thankful that the Expert had taken such great care of his weapons Sanu’te’ shifted her balance just enough to bring one knee up to her chest, knowing that she was taking a terrible gamble at that moment.  If she missed her intended target then Skald would be upon her, no doubt sundering both sticks and cleaving her in two with his enormous blade. 

            As she lowered herself to her back she saw the triumph in Skald’s eyes, the animalistic snarl he gave one of victory even as her left foot extended quickly, finding the soft spot she’d been hoping for.  She’d noticed quickly before entering battle that the barbarian was without his armor, dressed only in the standard white tunic and breeches that were the dress of most knights and initiates who were not currently in the field.  As her foot planted into his groin she saw his eyes widen, the snarl disappearing as the grip

on his blade faltered slightly.

            As the barbarian doubled over Sanu’te’ quickly used both feet to push off his ankles, tapping them quickly to give herself the force she needed to slide on her back several feet away.  Rising to her feet Sanu’te’ was set to block the next attack as Skald quickly attempted to regain his composure, utilizing his intense rage to push through the pain.  Sweeping his blade upward he was further enraged as she managed to quickly reverse her grip on the sticks, holding them with their long ends against her forearms as she effectively halted his swing, blocking it away to the right as she then stepped into him.  Skald’s head was rocked to the left and then the right as she hit him as hard as she could, causing spots to dance in his vision as he found the strength of this woman to be unbelievable. 

            Pushing her away, or rather she yielded to his shoulder block, he gained enough distance to swing his blade once more, aiming a horizontal strike towards her chest.  Again Sanu’te’ blocked, holding one stick with a reversed grip and the other as normal, defeating his attack again as she then stepped forward, utilizing only her right stick as she

smashed Skald directly in the nose, breaking both cartilage and bone as his lips were also mashed by the wooden stick.  Before he could react she brought the stick down, jabbing up quickly under his chin as his jaw clacked shut hard upon his tongue, easily shearing off the tip as his teeth broke upon each other as well. 

            Skald’s eyes squeezed shut in pain as the bloody ruin of his mouth opened, disgorging blood and broken bits of teeth.  Still he was not done, taking one hand from the hilt of his sword to try and backhand Sanu’te’ as she easily backed away, the knuckles of his hand just barely missing her nose.  Despite his most recent injuries, or perhaps because of them, Skald lowered his left shoulder in the next moment, keeping the blade in his right hand as he rushed forward, looking to knock Sanu’te’ down with his much greater mass.  Sanu’te’ knew that such a large man would have no trouble knocking her to ground with such a move, so in response she did not hesitate to step to her right, raising both sticks to deflect just the back of his shoulder before striking low towards the back of his knee.  The blow landed perfectly, causing the joint to buckle as Skald fell to his knees hard upon the marble floor, the crack of his kneecap quite loud in the entrance of the temple. 

            Sanu’te’ did not stop there as she continued to attack, slamming both sticks alternately into the back of Skald’s head, hearing bone crunch as she hit him as hard as she possibly could.  Skald’s weapon dropped from nerveless fingers as he somehow remained upon his knees, swaying gently back and forth as the damage took hold.  Sanu’te’ gently replaced each Arbursan stick through her belt, standing behind the fallen barbarian for a moment before she walked to his front.

            What she saw was a sight that undoubtedly most people who’d known this man would have never expected.  There was no doubt that until his grievous wounding the barbarian knight had been a proud man and a fierce knight.  Sanu’te’ had not known this man, though by the method with which he fought she could easily tell that he was indeed by his blood a barbarian through and through.  As a knight perhaps he had never been the most level or honorable warrior, but he had served the order much in the same way that Tobias had, losing sight of himself for the righteousness that Sanu’te’ knew now was

misguided hypocrisy. 

            Skald barely registered presence, his eyes glassing over as deep within his skull the gray matter of his brain struggled to function.  Shards of bone had pierced deeply within the soft tissue, causing blood to leak from his ears as well as from his eyes, completing the number of facial orifices he now bled from.  Sanu’te’ found that she could not feel the least bit sorry for this man.  He’d attempted to take her life and as a result was about to lose his own.

            In truth he was already dead, his body was simply trying to struggle against the fact.  Sanu’te’ had seen this many times upon the battlefield, a body would attempt to stay alive long after the will had fled, the natural instinct of any creature to survive no matter what.  So fiercely had this man fought that she could well believe that if there were anyway to revive himself from this condition Skald would rise to his feet and continue to fight.  Sanu’te’ knew however that there was no possible way such a thing would happen.  Stepping forward she stood only inches from the barbarian, his glassy eyed stare hardly fixed upon her at all, but rather focusing upon some distant horizon that

the living were not allowed to see.  As the tears threatened to well up in her eyes Sanu’te’ grasped either side of his head, cupping his ears as she looked down to see his arms twitch slightly.  Bunching the muscles in her arms she twisted quickly to the right, putting as much force into the movement as she could. 

            The man’s neck broke with an audible crunch as his eyes rolled up in his head, his last breath escaping as Sanu’te’ released her hold upon him, stepping back as his body thumped hard to marble floor.  Water splashed lightly as his large frame settled upon the floor, his blood flowing to mix with the water about him.  Sanu’te’ kept her eyes upon him as tears rolled down her cheeks, her skin flush as she stiffened her upper lip defiantly.  She did not cry for this man, nor did she cry for Tobias.  Rather, her tears were shed for the chance at a life she had never asked for, but sorely wanted. 

Dreamers (excerpt)

When the man, comes ‘round…”

“What is that? Johnny Cash?”

Clinton nodded as he continued to sharpen one of his knives, keeping the whetstone in hand as he ran the blade down its rounded edge. He’d learned to do this some time ago, it was one of the few things his drunkard, drug-snorting father had actually taught him that he had wanted to keep. Everything else had gone by the wayside as much as was possible.

“Kind of a butchered version of Johnny Cash, but yeah.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Julie sat next to him, only a foot or two of space between them.  Had she been visible to anyone else, it might have seemed like she was trying to get close to Clinton, much like a love-struck young lady trying to get a boy to notice her. That analogy almost made him laugh.

“I guess I could say you’re not my type, but I’d be lying,” Julie said, grinning as Clinton managed a small chuckle. As was normal, they were alone, off in a patch of woods just to the south of where the others had camped.  He went off on his own a lot these days, though he always stayed within earshot, just in case.

In the past three years he’d learned how to be a team player, how to stick around and make himself a part of a group. It had been an adjustment, but to Clinton, who’d only had a few support groups in his life, namely his alcoholic mother, booze-hound sister and stepfather, his own alcoholic drinking buddies, and a few grunts that had looked up to him, it was change he’d welcomed.  While he hadn’t quit drinking altogether, which, he had learned, could be fatal, Clinton had learned how to severely regulate his alcohol intake.  He only had a drink every now and again, just to be sociable, and even then he didn’t binge like he once had.

“If I thought it could go anywhere Julie, I think I might actually try.”

This caused her to chuckle.

Shaking her head, Julie replied, “We could find a way, but I’m not sure you would like it.”

At that he immediately shook his head, his grin faltering just a bit.

“No, no you’re right, I wouldn’t.”

“I didn’t say I would.”

“I know,” Clinton said, not once losing his composure, “I know.  But that’s not something to take lightly either.”

Julie knew he was right, though she still hadn’t forgotten what it felt like to have a body nearly three years before, a tingling that had reminded her just what it meant to be alive.  To be honest, it had been quite intoxicating.

But to Clinton, it had been both draining, and invasive.  He’d felt hollowed out when she had left his body, violated in a way that he had known Julie did not mean to harm him, but had happened all the same. Since that time she had vowed never again to do anything such as that without his express permission, and he meant for it never to happen again. Of course, he knew that stuff could happen, and if it did, then they would talk.  If that kind of thing happened again however, if he was damned tired that just moving his eyes hurt, then she had permission to just step in again and do something about it. Clinton only hoped it wouldn’t feel as terrible as the last time.

“You know, I kind of liked Johnny Cash, he had real twangy voice.”

“He was popular back in his time and in mine, he had real following.”

“What was your favorite song?”

Clinton had to think about this one, considering that he’d listened to a lot of different music back then.  Johnny Cash hadn’t always been one of his favorites, but a few of his songs had struck a chord.

“If I had to be put on the spot and pick a favorite, I’d have to say “Folsom Prison Blues”.”

“Really? I was always kind of partial to “Ring of Fire” myself.”

“Just how long have you been around Julie?” He knew the literal answer, but he was going for something a bit different, and Julie, being Julie, had already read that much within his thoughts. Of course, it wasn’t like he tried to hide anything anymore.  It was kind of impossible with a nosy mind-picker like Julie.

“Hey,” she protested mildly.  Clinton just grinned in response.

“I’ve been around a while I suppose, long enough to get the general lay of the land here and there.  But truth to tell, being in the USA for the last several decades was really my favorite spot in a long time.  There was so much change, so many exciting and new things happening.  From the fifties to the nineties it was all kind of a rush, you never really knew which foot you were going to land on in any given time.”

“Which was your favorite decade?”

She rolled her eyes, “Oh like that’s an easy decision.  Each one of them had their own fair share of ups and downs, but I guess the seventies was kind of a letdown, especially if you consider the fact that I could only appear to one person at a time.  Plus, there really wasn’t a lot going on, at least if you asked the common person.  It was almost like a rest period between the sixties and the eighties, and then when the eighties hit, it was almost like people were trying to get back into the sixties, but in a new and exciting way.”

“The eighties didn’t strike me as a normal time.”

“You couldn’t have been that old in the eighties, what were you, like four years old when the eighties came on full force?”

“Around there, and my memory is pretty good. From the clothes and the hairstyles to the politics that went on while I was still too young to understand them.  To be honest we still paid for a bit of what happened in the eighties when it came to the nineties.”

“How so?”

Clinton didn’t really want to go into it, though she had asked. There was one simple way to explain it though.

“The sins of those that come before almost always end up harming those who come after. It’s as true today as it was back before my time.”

“I get what you’re saying, believe me, but it’s a little short-sighted I think.”

“How so?” This might be interesting to hear. Anything she had to say usually was he’d come to learn, especially concerning the past.

“You know the saying ‘those who do not learn from the past are cursed to repeat its mistakes’?  It goes something like that, but my memory is a bit hazy on proper quotes these days.”

Clinton nodded, “I’ve heard variations on that same quote, and I agree.”

“You say that those who came after pay for the sins of those that came before, and its true enough, but when I pluck thoughts out of your head, and out of Ashley’s, I find that you only half-believe what you’re saying when you talk like that, while she believes it wholeheartedly.”

Ah crap, not back to talking about Ashley. After their last little interlude a couple weeks back, Clinton and Ashley hadn’t spoken much, though she had remained a part of the group, if only because she felt that she owed Sarah.  The woman had after all taken her in and given her a place after she’d been separated from her original group.  But Ashley’s views and opinions were a bit different from what Clinton believed in, and to be completely honest, he didn’t always agree with her.