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What to do….

I wanna go out but I don’t have the cash.

Want to take a picture but I can’t work the flash.

Looking out the window and I see upside down trees,

reaching for the sky but getting cut off at the knees.

My nightmares reach from the shadows and I keep on running fast.

But every time I do I can’t help looking past.

The darkness closes in and I have to wonder why,

my mind won’t simply shut off and let the last thought finally dry.

Sounds invade the silence and let it slip away.

But here in the cacophony I tend to sit and stay.

What to do I don’t know but I’m running out of gas.

Want to fill up and go out but I just don’t have the cash.

-Make of this what you will, it confused the hell out of me, and I’m the one that wrote it.

I am that I Exist

I am frustration that boils and churns upon the fires of intolerance and unresponsive bias.

But I am the tolerance and humility of humanity that seeks to draw others closer, not farther apart.

I am the dark cloud of hatred that looms over the hearts and minds of those that see trouble on the horizon.

Yet I seek to show others the light within the gloom that still shines the brightest.

I witness the disdain and lack of respect that so many hold for each other in a world divided by ideology and belief.

Still I have a lasting faith in humanity and the world that it will seek the similarities rather than the differences that unite us.

I am the hopelessness that seeps deeply into the soul of every being, fostering despair and breaking bonds that hold together the last vestiges of humanity.

Always I will seek to unite, never to divide, no matter the differences between individuals and their values.

Our world, OUR world, is one of great struggle and strife that no one individual can ever fully understand. Those that suffer more than others do not hold the only key to understanding such pain or degradation. To deny the experience of others is to deny the validity of all. In the acceptance of our shared humanity we regain a measure of what makes our species worthy of our current position in the world.

This world, OUR world, is filled with wondrous and amazing sights that should be cherished and held in awe. But it must be balanced at all times, held in check by those forces that are not agreeable even as it is made livable by those that seek to make life worth living.

We must take the good with the bad, the wrong with the right, if we are to take our place within the world. Life will not adhere to our plans, but will go on its own course. It will help to elevate us or leave us wallowing in the dust that is left when it passes by.  In order to become what we are meant to be, humanity must seek to elevate one another and bring our race into the future, not step upon each other’s necks and backs without mercy or compassion.  Life is a struggle, but it is one that is best endured together, without the desire to fight to reach the next stage of our evolution……

But when the need to fight arises, do so with the knowledge that if you seek to fight, it pays to be  the meanest, smartest, most crafty sonofabitch you can be, without reservation.

 

The Story (excerpt)

The Story

Fairy Tale 2

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

Prologue

 

            Do you wonder why we dream? Why we imagine such wondrous worlds and figures that make no sense or even have a practical and logical place in the world we deem as reality?  Oh reader, why would you ever question what you see with your eyes and perceive with your other senses? Why? Because it is what we are taught, what we are raised to believe, and what happens when the world of the adult begins to supersede that of the child.   There the wonder begins to fade, to dissipate into the smoke and ether of the unreal as we are all given over to the cruel and capricious grind of life that we are told is all there is, all there will be, and all that remains.

            We are told that reality is the only real part of life, and we believe it.

            He’d believed it too during his short time in the human world, the world of his birth, but not his birthright.  To be honest he’d believed what he’d been told, not what his heart told him was true.  It had been some time since those days, but he still firmly believed in both worlds, that of the humans who knew that their world had a definite end and beginning, and the world of fantasy, of the fairy tale, where the story was everything, including the meaning of existence.  Many of those within this world knew that their very lives depended upon the belief of those who had supposedly created them, but more didn’t even begin to realize the importance of the balance that existed between this world and that.

            He’d come to learn about it, and he had fought to protect it for many a year now.

            “She’s come back with a vengeance this time,” purred a familiar voice to his left. He saw nothing at first as he turned his gaze that way, but had expected nothing.  As the distinctive pair of large, rainbow-hued eyes began to appear however Nolan only nodded his head, looking off into the distance at the dark, foreboding clouds that marked the Wastelands, the territory that was the furthermost border of Underland throughout the entire kingdom.  For years now he and his loyal soldiers had fought hard to preserve Underland from its many detractors, doing whatever it took to keep the kingdoms of fairy tale at peace with one another while still maintaining the order that stood between them.  Long ago, far longer than he had existed in fact, an unwritten law had been accepted stating that the fairy tale realms that existed would be best if they were to remain separate, to keep to their own borders and not allow any mingling of realms.  This had been kept as the norm until this day, and would continue to be so if he had a say in it.

            People of each realm were still allowed to come and go as they would, but Underland, unlike many lands, remained largely unreachable unless one had the means.  The reason for this was simple, the magic that had linked this realm to so many others had been almost lost several times, and as a result had been locked away long ago.  An added conundrum was where it had been locked away, and how one might retrieve it.  Other methods were available of course, but they were far more dangerous and required far more effort. This meant that Underland was, for the most part, on its own when it came to defending its own borders and could rely upon only a minor bit of aid now and then against any invading force, of which there were many.

            “I should have killed her back then,” Nolan said calmly, “It might have spared us what is sure to come.”

            A hissing chuckle came from his advisor and confidante, the fabled Cheshire, “It would have only paved the way for another maddened despot who decided they had a problem with your rule.”

            “They might still have been better than her,” he countered.

            “Or worse.”

            He frowned. The Cheshire always seemed to get the final word, but that was why he was so valued.  He often had his own agenda when doing anything, but had thus far worked for the good of Underland since Nolan had assumed control.  The overlying consensus had been that he was the only one that could possibly hope to keep Underland on an even keel, and so far he had done his best. As the fabled blood of Alice, the young woman who in her own day had changed the fate of these lands, he had come to this world quite by accident, lured here by the White Rabbit, who had only a few years ago passed of old age, leaving his clock and his duties to one of his many sons, Rembrandt.  The young bunny was still in the prime of his youth, and often displayed as much by acting like an insufferable know-it-all while still attempting to liven up any given situation with an ill-timed quip or joke.  He was not his father by any means, but he was learning, and overall he was a fine enough addition to Nolan’s court.

            “Why now though?” Nolan asked, “Why would she bother coming back after so long?”

            “Any good insurrection takes time,” the Cheshire purred, “and Mab has always been known for a good plot twist, something that is sure to take us by surprise.  I can only begin to wonder what it might be this time.”

            “You sound far too excited at the prospect,” Nolan chided.

            “On the contrary my commander,” the Cheshire said, his multi-colored pelt shimmering as he looked up at Nolan, “I am worried indeed that she might come back, as I did not relish her presence the last time. You will recall I am the one who aided in defeating her last time.”

            “I do, and I am still thankful,” he replied, “Though I still believe I should have taken Mab’s head and not her hand.  That at least would have eliminated one threat.”

            “Perhaps,” the Cheshire mused, “Or perhaps there were and still are others willing to take up her mantle. One can never know until the threat is near enough if mercy is the correct response or not.”

            Nolan could only reply with a frown. The damned cat had a point he supposed, but he still wished he would have cut her down.  At the very least it would have put his own mind at ease.

            “Are we certain that it’s Mab this time?” he asked quietly, “You do happen to remember that the last time someone threatened Underland it was no more than a hoax, the workings of a brutish ogre trying to scare us off.”

            “Oh I recall very well,” the Cheshire purred, “But unless the ogre has learned dark magic in that short time since his coming, I highly doubt it.  This is more akin to Mab’s fury, though it does not seem to be moving towards us, which is again, curious.”

            “Maybe she’s just throwing a massive hissy fit,” Nolan offered, which made him grin slightly.

            “And if you believe that I’ve a few magic beans to sell you,” the Cheshire countered, “Be it feasible or not, I recognize the power inherent within the storm, though do not understand why she has not attacked as of yet.  The forces of Underland stand ready, yet given that she can summon the very demons of these hells and those of the mortal world, I do not care for their chances against such hordes.”

            “Is it time to try and enlist other lands again?  That didn’t go so well last time.”

            “Would that it were, I would be away already.” The Cheshire began to flicker in and out of existence as was his wont, his smile and eyes remaining steady.  “But this is something else, and thus calls for something entirely different, something you swore never to call upon.”

            “No,” Nolan said, his flat refusal causing the Cheshire to shrug as he floated silently upon the air just above the balustrade.  “I told you, she’s no longer a part of it.”

            “Oh she is, you simply don’t want her to be,” the large cat said calmly, still smiling as Nolan looked to him.

            “She is not a direct part of this, and doesn’t need to be. I made that vow long enough ago and have kept it since.”

            “Indeed,” the cat said, “But then, does she know that? Does she not pine for the brother she had? Would it be satisfying to watch Underland quake yet again beneath the heels and claws of a horde that was never meant for these lands?  And all it would take is the sto-“

            “Don’t say it, don’t you dare right now,” Nolan said in a hushed voice, “She got to go home, she got to have a life.”

            “And you did not?”

            “I chose this.”

            “But why?” the Cheshire smiled at him, “Because you are one of us? Yes?”

            “Because I am the blood of Alice,” he said, “But now I’m not enough.”

            “Not if my suspicions are correct, and they usually are,” the cat said calmly, “If she has taken one of our neighbors by force then she is in possession of some truly wicked gadgetry, and will likely turn it against us sooner rather than later.”

            “So is any realm safe if she does?”

            “No.”

            It was an honest answer at least, but not one that Nolan had wanted.  He knew the Cheshire spoke the truth, he knew from the stories that he’d read as a boy and the movies he’d watched while still a part of the human world, but he’d never believed such a thing would come to pass.  Somehow, some way, the mad queen Mab had invaded one of the last realms that anyone would wish to see fall under her rule, and she had done so far too easily.  If she unleashed the vast power and energy that the realm was known to possess there would be no chance in hell that Underland, or any other land connected by the fairy tales of mankind, could hope to survive.  While it would not eradicate every story ever written, it would surely eliminate the fairy tale for good in the hands of Mab, and would seek to erase every last story just as she had attempted more than a decade ago. 

            If Oz had fallen, Underland was surely next, and from there it might be nigh impossible to stop Mab from finally getting her wish, to stamp out the fairy tale.  At this point he could only hope that the one he needed to reach would still remember him.

 

 

 

And 6 Shall Come (excerpt)

Chapter One: Subjugation                                                                             

 

 

 

            Smoke curled lazily from the meter-wide bowl that was shared by the five that sat around its base, two of the younger individuals nestling their bare feet within the concavity of its base.  The brown leaf substance that lay heaped almost halfway up the interior of the bowl burned slowly as the five individuals took turns drawing forth the calming smoke that resulted from the slow immolation of the leaves.  Each individual seated around the bowl had already partaken of several large puffs, finding that they were suitably relaxed and as a result in a far greater state of attention.  The four young men and woman that had come to this place still looked expectantly to the wizened elder that sat between them; though their gazes no longer held any trace of the impatience they’d had only moments before.

            The old man, and he was old, perhaps many decades beyond each of them, sat with his eyes closed and one wrinkled hand resting gently atop the long-stemmed pipe that descended in a graceful arch towards the bowl that sat between them all.  A full head of pale white hair that might have once been blonde adorned his age-spotted head, causing him to look not unlike a ghost, though the sparkle that lit his dazzling green eyes as he slowly opened them was so intense that three of the four couldn’t help but gasp in surprise.  This man was old, there was no dispute, but the light in his eyes burned with an intensity that not a single one of them could begin to match.  There was a spirit to this elder that none of them could truly fathom, an essence that seemed to dwarf them not only in spirit but in the flesh as well. A slow grin spread across his wrinkled features as the warmth in that gesture extended to each of them, giving each individual a feeling of such acceptance that not a one of them could doubt that they were welcome here.

            “Now then, forget what the historians have told you, for it will avail you nothing here,”  the old man coughed lightly before continuing, taking a deep breath before settling himself once more, “Listen with your hearts my young friends, and learn another tale, one they do not teach, one that must be lived.”

                                                *                      *                      *         

 

Eighty-five years earlier…

 

            Moonlight sparkled upon the still waters of the oasis, bathing the solitary figure in its soothing luminescence as he knelt before the cool, refreshing pool.  He was tired, bless all the waking gods of the stars he was exhausted!  Not a day had passed in the last few weeks when he had not been forced to run, much as he and many others had done in the last year’s time.  There was no other option though, to stop was to be found and to be found was to die, slowly and in great pain.  He would not allow such to happen, though he couldn’t think of a way to stop such a fate from happening.  Looking down upon his reflection the figure couldn’t help but feel certain helplessness as he tried to look in his own eyes, finding that he as glad for the darkness.

            Beneath the surface of the crystal clear water he could see movement, a faint ripple of motion that caught his attention.  He smiled as he saw the source of the disturbance only a moment later, seeing the glistening forms of several elsae, what people called “water cats”, as they swam lazily into view.  Their long, sinuous forms shone brightly as they rolled playfully in their watery home, their graceful bodies

glimmering within the moonlight as they crossed through the shifting reflections of light.  The creatures rollicked gleefully as they surfaced briefly, staring at him with their slanted pupils.  He saw as the moonlight reflected in their eyes, turning them a faint, silvery-white hue before the docile creatures immerses themselves once more. 

            They were curious creatures by nature, timid until threatened and hardly inclined to harm another creature for anything less.  Yet they were also wary of those they did not recognize, a fact that was proven in the next moment as they slipped once more in the darker depths of the pond, retreating from the sandy shore.  The rich and powerful were often known to keep such exotic creatures as pets; though he’d always felt that such a practice was not only cruel but pointless.  He couldn’t imagine taking such a beautiful and kind creature from its natural home.

            A low, quiet sigh escaped the man as he supposed that like so many other aspects of this world this small haven would soon be gone.  It was the way of life upon many worlds if not all, change was necessary to continue any semblance of life.  The changes that had been wrought to this world and many others over the past year were anything but natural.  Entire continents had been shifted, underwater currents had been disrupted and the world at large seemed to have flipped upside down in a matter of months.  He knew that such was not the case, though at times it certainly felt that way.  And this world was not the only one.

            According to the few reports he’d managed to view, entire planetary systems had been disrupted, moons had been shattered, worlds had been devastated and entire populations had been thrown into chaos.  A divided galaxy was indeed a far easier opponent, though he had trouble believing that anyone would willingly back down against such anarchy, or that they might even embrace it. 

            Deep green eyes rose to a sky filled with stars, comets and distant worlds that he had studied, heard of, but rarely visited.  In the past he’d been privy to dealings and transactions between his race and the many other species that inhabited the galaxy’s many reaches, though as of this last year most commerce among the normal trade routes had either thinned or ceased altogether.  He would have thought that full scale war would have given the many species within the galaxy reason to band together, to come to one another’s aid in defense against a common enemy, but he’d been wrong.  Old hatreds and feuds had erupted not long after the war had been declared by the invaders to the galaxy, the negative emotions serving their aggressors well as the invasion force had swept through each system like wildfire, spreading their chaotic torch of faith in such a manner as to keep their enemies divided and at odds with one another.  Even he had to admit that the strategy was sound, though it was impossible to remain impressed when his world had soon become the staging ground from which the invaders had continued their destructive course throughout the entire system.

            Saedroch, that was name that had been given to the vile race when the twin suns at the center of the universe had still been young.  Or at least that was how the tales went.  The species had been known to sow dissent among their galactic neighbors more than a few times since the technology for gateway travel had been found, though more often than not they’d been seen more as a nuisance than a true threat.  Humanoid in nature, the Saedroch were a race that embraced chaos and all its ways, existing only to dominate and

subvert those who would not understand their glorious undertaking.  They were bent on little more than spreading insanity and destruction on such a scale that few had truly understood the depths of their depravity.

            He and a few others had managed to escape a year past when the Saedroch had managed to invade their world, accessing the main gateway within the vast metropolis of Stena that had before that time acted as a portal to allow commerce to flow freely between worlds.  It was to the great lament of those who were in charge of maintaining and guarding the gate that they had never thought to install safeguards that would warn of an imminent attack. As one of those charged with finding new and inventive ways to facilitate travel between worlds, Elayden couldn’t help but blame himself in part for this egregious oversight.  Like a few others he’d known that the threat of the Saedroch was very real, though after so many years of never once being attacked in great numbers he, along with many others, had grown noticeably complacent.

            The price his people had paid within the last year had been almost too much to bear, stripping Elayden of the youthful exuberance he’d once possessed.  Stena had been invaded, taken over and reformed within a matter of months, becoming a place of such base debauchery that Elayden had only looked upon it one final time before fleeing into the uncertain safety of the Sifting Wastes, where he and three others had fled to escape the city’s fate.  He felt in many ways like a coward, a vile betrayer that had turned his back on his people in their time of greatest need.  It might have been better to die with his people or at least share their torment, anything to rid himself of this feeling that he wasn’t worth the concern of those that had helped him to escape the city.

            A sudden noise caught his attention, snapping him back to the present as he instinctively hunkered down, trying to make himself less visible.  The rough clothing he wore blended in well with his surroundings, though Elayden still feared that he was far too visible in the moonlight.  He didn’t dare take refuge within the deep pool; it would surely incite the elsae to consider him as a threat.  He had no wish to discover the truth about their ferocity at this point.  It was said that their bite was highly poisonous, not to mention toxic, more than enough to down a man his size with one good chomp.  As exotic and awe-inspiring as they were Elayden saw no need to get any closer. 

            The sound had come somewhere close by, too close for his liking.  Elayden suspected that it had come from behind him, from within the grove of padla trees that ringed the dark pool.  Standing nearly six meters tall on average and growing nearly three meters wide, the padla trees were a marvel of the Sifting Wastes.  The massive trees needed only a minimum amount of water to survive and could live for hundreds upon hundreds of years within the harsh climate of the desert.  Their tough bark made them more than resilient enough to weather the harsh electrical storms that often crossed the width and breadth of the vast desert that lay beyond the borders of Stena. 

            There was at least two to three meters of clearance on each side of the pool, the shadows that lay beyond the sands offered many a convenient hiding spot.  As Elayden tried to peer behind himself he could hear the gentle swishing of branches caught by an evening wind as he strained to hear something more of his unseen observer.  It could have been those that had placed him in their charge, though he believed that they would

have announced themselves, that they would not be trying to sneak up on him, not even the one of their number that didn’t really care for him. 

            Elayden was far too aware of his surroundings at that moment as well as his own body.  He could hear as well as feel his heartbeat as it pounded within his chest.  Every inch of his skin seemed to throb with anticipation, as though he were actually waiting for an enemy to show themselves.  The sand beneath his palms seemed to grate against his skin despite the fact that he was not moving, each coarse grain conspiring to strip layers of flesh from his exposed hands and wrists.  Closing his eyes Elayden imagined he could hear footsteps approaching from all directions, surrounding him even as his mind insisted that it was only the wind sighing through the trees.  Fear gripped him in its unrelenting clutches as Elayden felt his jaw clench shut tightly enough to produce a low creak as he felt the unneeded tension strain the surrounding muscles and tendons of his face.  He couldn’t help but shudder as he tried to stay absolutely still, not wanting to alert anything to his presence.

            “You scare too easily.”  Elayden couldn’t help but cry out in surprise, or at least try to as a strong, unyielding hand was suddenly clamped over his mouth, “Stifle it hi-tech, we aren’t alone here.”  Elayden calmed noticeably as he recognized the voice of the woman behind him, her sultry tone identifying her easily.  Both of them stiffened as an electric charge ran through their bodies.  The gentle current was an integral part of the woman’s race, washing over Elayden in way that he knew the woman felt as well but would not admit to.  As a F’an, the enigmatic, long-lived race that inhabited this planet, Teysa Riis was among the hardest individuals that Elayden had ever met.  She was also the only female to have captured his heart so effectively; though it was a pity she didn’t seem interested in him at all.

            “Just stay put until I tell you otherwise hi-tech, trust me on this.”  Elayden nodded as she slowly took her hand from his mouth, helping him roughly to his feet as she peered intently towards the shadows that ringed them on all sides.  As he managed to catch her eye Elayden conveyed without words the question that was burning foremost in his mind.  Where were their pursuers? 

            Teysa didn’t speak as she nodded behind him, raising three fingers before pointing in the same direction.  Looking upon the woman that so captivated his every sense Elayden felt himself in awe of this stunning warrior woman as always.  Garbed in a black,  form-fitting suit of light chain mail with leather pads over key areas of her body, Teysa was a deadly beauty that Elayden could not help but stare at.  He could well imagine that more than a few enemies had paused for the few fatal moments it took her to strike.  In addition to the two long blades that rode at each hip, Teysa now hefted a large, rifle-like weapon that lay strapped to her back, its thick strap crossing over her chest and abdomen. 

            “Is that a-?”  Elayden didn’t get to finish as a piercing howl split the quietude of the oasis, alerting the two of them to the emergence of three figures from across the pool.  Elayden’s view of the world suddenly tilted crazily to the right as Teysa thrust him aside, reaching for the very sinister-looking quad-rifle slung across her back.  Elayden could feel his mind reel as he looked up from the sands to watch the fierce warrior woman take aim with the four interwoven tubes of messen metal that he knew could be murderous in

the right hands.  He wasn’t a warrior, but his knowledge of weaponry was extensive enough that he knew very well what the implement in her hands could do. 

            Covering his ears reflexively Elayden could swear he felt the concussive force of the weapon as Teysa triggered all four firing nodes at once.  Such a rash action was often more dangerous for the wielder of such a weapon than for their targets, yet as he dared to look up Elayden just managed to see as the three bronze-skinned Saedroch that had stepped from the shadows tried to move out of the way.  Two of them made it, diving away just in time to avoid the deadly hail of metal fragments that the quad rifle fired with each round.  The storm of razor-like shards caught one of the Saedroch full on, reducing the hapless male or female, they were too far away to tell accurately, to a pile of blood, bone and twitching appendages.  Had the being even had time to scream?  

            The point was moot as Teysa swore under her breath, watching as the remaining two Saedroch disappeared into the shadows of the trees surrounding the pool.  Elayden’s jaw was hanging wide open as he looked upon the mess that lay across the pool, wondering just how anyone could do such a thing, no matter if the Saedroch were their enemies.  His next thought was interrupted as he was hauled roughly to his feet and brought face to face with his savior as another electric jolt coasted pleasantly along his nerves.  The only thing that ruined the sensation, as it had since the first time, was Teysa’s frown of disappointment. 

            “Hold this.”  Elayden staggered back a step as Teysa almost threw the quad rifle at him, dropping the weapon into his arms as his eyes widened in surprise.  He was just as strong as she was, but his strength came from maintaining and tweaking world gates, not from warfare.  As he stared at her in question Teysa drew her long blades, shaking her head as she answered Elayden’s unspoken question, “You know how to use that thing hi-tech, if one of those bastards shows their face don’t hesitate, just shoot.”

            “What are you going to do?”  Teysa offered him a sardonic smile as she disappeared quickly into the shadows, her blades flashing once before she was gone.  Elayden felt at a loss for words, the same way he usually did around this woman.  In the next instant though the weight of what she’d said to him finally hit home.  Elayden shook his head at the shadows where she’d disappeared, sure of very little except the fact that he could not do this, could not take a life no matter how much his life might depend on it.  He’d been raised to build, to create, not to destroy.  It didn’t matter that Teysa had already told him more than once that all living organisms possessed the need to survive and would do anything in order to draw another breath, Elayden could not see himself ending the life of another.  That was the path of a warrior, to dispose of your enemies in any and all ways possible.  Teysa had no compunctions over killing the Saedroch, she’d shown this capacity many times in the past year.  Her ferocity was understandable though, she’d lost just as much as Elayden and the two others they’d escaped with.  The difference was that she didn’t hide behind anyone, Teysa was always the first to attack. 

            Elayden didn’t know what to think as he turned about, expecting at any moment to be cut to pieces or at least knocked to the ground.  His heart was hammering in his chest yet again as he nervously licked his lips, looking down to the firing nodes of the weapon that were located near the stock.  The quad rifle was a startlingly simple weapon for being so deadly, it was basically four tubes of molded messen interwoven so as to

allow the force of the projectiles to gain maximum velocity before being ejected from the barrels towards whatever unfortunate being had been targeted.  When all four barrels were discharged the force of the weapon was deadly enough to shred apart even one of the mighty padla trees, though as had been shown in the case of the hapless Saedroch the force of the weapon was much deadlier to flesh and bone. 

            The act of analyzing the weapon in his hands and inspecting it slowly and thoroughly for any telltale flaws or defects calmed Elayden just a bit as his mind was allowed to drift away for the moment.  Teysa wouldn’t have approved of his vacant expression or his lack of attention, but Teysa was off hunting, she had no say in what happened right now. 

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            She was a huntress, a lean, silent creature that made little to no noise as she prowled the shadowed forest that had for the moment become her domain.  The Saedroch that had invaded this place were her enemies, nothing more.  They made only a bit more noise than she did, though Teysa grinned viciously as she could hear the bronze-skinned intruders moving about, looking for her.  No doubt they considered her the greatest threat, which was all too true.  If she fell, Elayden would be easy prey, hardly worth more than a single barrel from a quad rifle, which they would no doubt appropriate from the scientist before silencing him.               

            It was a bit confusing as to why the two of them were worthy of such interest.  She was a soldier, Elayden was a scientist, there were thousands like them within the city of Stena, the Saedroch could have let them be without feeling the loss.  Yet they seemed to warrant special attention, they’d been hounded since fleeing Stena and had been forced to watch their backsides nearly ever step of the way.  Nearly seventy miles of barren desert lay between them and the city now, though the Saedroch still pursued them as though they were a prize that could not be allowed to escape.  Teysa might have felt a bit of pride at such a thought had their situation not been so deadly. 

            The long blades she held in her hands were the last weapons she had aside from her own body, which had been toned  and hardened over the many years of her service to the military force of both Stena and Cota, the nearest city to the capital that had been her home for so long.  Each blade was composed of messen, the same metal used to make the quad rifle she’d almost emptied trying to take out the three Saedroch that had been on her tail for miles now.  Each blade was nearly three feet in length, four counting the grip, and had been crafted in such a way that their edges never dulled, growing sharper with each use.  The art of folded steel was one that had almost died out years ago, though it had been revived thankfully by a master weapons smith, a F’an she was proud to say, that had seen the need to keep such a valuable art alive. 

            Holding her left blade with its blunt edge against her forearm she kept the weapon close to her body while keeping her right blade in a normal grip, positioned diagonally across her chest.  The simple defensive stance had been taught to her when she’d still been a grunt, little more than a wet-behind-the-ears grub in the military.  Like so many she’d earned her blades, but unlike a great many Teysa had given her life over to the

military, finding peace only when she was on a battlefield.  What others called a normal life had never truly appealed to her.

            The furtive sound of someone trying to be silent alerted her to a presence off to the left, forcing Teysa back to the present as she realized with just a bit of chagrin that she’d allowed her thoughts to claim her for the moment.  Mentally berating herself in that moment Teysa halted abruptly, taking refuge behind one of the larger padla trees as she listened carefully for another slight sound that would give away her prey.  That was all they were now, creatures to be hunted down and eliminated.  She couldn’t think of them in any other way.

            Teysa continued to listen as the soft, tentative footsteps came closer, announcing the presence of only one of the remaining Saedroch.  Keeping herself very still the huntress closed her eyes as she took a silent breath, centering herself as she waited to strike.  As she opened her eyes she heard the figure come closer, stepping near the other side of the tree she was currently behind.  Teysa waited only another moment, rolling her shoulders before moving, just one more shadow among all the others.

            The Saedroch never saw his death coming, his pale green eyes were focused instead to his left as Teysa struck.  She was merciless as the foul being tried to defend himself, his weapon, a double-barreled fragment rifle, rising in order to block her strikes.  Teysa moved easily around his paltry defense, her blades biting hard into the body of her enemy as she attacked without a sound, carving deep into the Saedroch’s form as the male uttered a barking cough in protest.  She continued to move as she attacked, cutting and then stepping to the side, cut, step, cut, step as she’d been taught years before.  The trick of such an attack was to keep moving, to not allow ones opponent to realize the tactic and thereby find a way to stop the constant motion.  Teysa had learned the attack well, honing its intricate and very deadly nuances so well that she was nearly unstoppable.  The Saedroch had no chance.

            Her blades continued to hack and slash at the male as his arms dropped to his sides in response to her final blow, a thrust to his back with her left blade.  The weapon entered the male’s body with a grisly tearing sound as she twisted it about, sundering the being’s flesh as she pierced his heart.  Blood coated Teysa from head to waist, almost covering her hands and forearms as Teysa yanked her blade free.  The Saedroch crumpled to the ground, the life having already fled from his eyes.  Teysa moved quickly, abandoning the already cooling body without taking a single thing from it.  She needed nothing more than her weapons and the armor she wore, though it might have been nice if the Saedroch had been carrying something useful such as a container of water.  She would have to do without it seemed, though she would wash herself off in the pool before leaving.  The elsae she’d seen within its depths would hopefully remain at a distance.

            Teysa turned her head to the right as she heard the sounds of footsteps once more.  No doubt the other Saedroch was coming to avenge those she’d already slain.  Good, let them come.  Moving silently once more Teysa melted into the shadows, seeking the final threat to her and the scientist. 

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            Elayden continued to fiddle with the quad rifle, barely noticing the regard of the elsae that seemed content to watch him from yards out in the water.  The feline features of the three creatures that watched him were curious as their wide eyes blinked every now and then.  Their observation might have been more intriguing had Elayden not been so intent on the maintenance of the weapon in his hands.  He’d found three flaws within

the weapons construction, two of which would make it inoperable if it were fired in such a condition again.

            His mind was far away as Elayden worked with the rifle, disassembling it bit by bit as the muscles in his arms bunched time and again from the force he was required to apply to take the weapon apart.  He was strong, that was without doubt, but he had little desire or even knowledge how to apply his strength to anything other than what had driven him since he was a young boy.  Working with his hands had always been Elayden’s way to escape, to center him when the world didn’t seem to make any sense.  Thus far it had worked for him more often than not.

            Examining the metal tubes after disconnecting the bundle from the main part of the weapon he’d seen in one of the barrels a small fragment left over from the last discharge no doubt.  It wasn’t that big, though it was enough of an obstruction that if Teysa had tried to fire again she might well have blown herself to steaming bits, probably him too.  The thought of such a gruesome death didn’t even faze him as Elayden had already begun to work on extracting the small bit of metal.  Such a thing was not uncommon with a quad rifle, though it was hardly ever fatal since soldiers were instructed to check the functionality of their weaponry before going out into whatever field they’d been placed in. 

            He had no thought that Teysa would appreciate this, he knew she wouldn’t.  She might grunt in a manner that meant “thanks” but that would be it.  The thought flew from his mind as he took from the slim tool belt at his waist a thin, collapsible extractor rod that came in handy for several reasons, one of them being the use he needed it for right now.  Elayden was so involved with the process of cleaning out the weapon that he didn’t hear the stealthy approach of the final Saedroch, he didn’t even register as the elsae dipped back below the surface of the water at the approach of his enemy.  He did however notice the sudden dull, thudding impact of metal against flesh as he spun around, cradling the barrels of the weapon to his chest along with his tool. 

            Teysa stood over him, the last Saedroch they’d seen slumped not far from where Elayden had been sitting, face down as the dark pool of blood that had spread out around his body indicated the enemy’s current condition.  Looking up to the woman Elayden saw as she shook her head in disdain before walking past him towards the pool where she quickly knelt and proceeded to wash her blood coated form and weapons clean.  Elayden kept an eye out for the elsae, as did Teysa.  Neither of them needed another complication to arise over such a small thing.

            “I still can’t believe it. I’ve seen it more than once and I still can’t believe it,”  Elayden said nothing as he sheepishly looked away, dropping the barrel bundle as he realized what Teysa was speaking of, “Are you really this inept or is this just an act you’re putting on?  I seriously cannot believe that you would so willingly zone out when you know there’s a chance you might not live to see the next day.”  Elayden still said

nothing, his wish that Teysa would find him acceptable in some way going unfounded yet again.  F’an, as wise and enigmatic as they were, also held within their minds an ego that in a way, to their thinking, placed them in far different category than most humanoids.  They lived for perfection and could often stand nothing less.  This was why the strange bonding that had occurred only months ago between Elayden and Teysa vexed her so much.

            It was not uncommon for a F’an and a human to bond in such a way, but to Teysa’s race such a bond was stronger than even a formal marriage.  To her people the electrical bond that formed between two individuals could only be broken by death.  Elayden had wondered in the recent past if Teysa had entertained thoughts of getting herself killed or simply allowing him to perish.  Either way she would be free, though he knew that she was far too proud to even consider such a course.  Plus, no matter what she said or how many times she insulted him, Elayden knew that she had at least an inkling of respect for him.  It was a foolish hope, but at this time it was all he had.

            Elayden could only shrug as though in apology, though as Teysa rose from the task of cleaning off her weapons she lobbed a bundle at him that he hadn’t noticed strapped to her waist.  He was at least quick enough to catch it as the parcel hit him, letting out a small rush of air as hit him in the chest. 

            “Put that on genius,” Teysa’s voice was quiet as she looked around, “We can’t have your wardrobe announcing our presence every step of the way to the Forgotten.” 

Teysa’s magenta-hued gaze flashed in irritation as she turned around, offering him at least a bit of privacy.  As he swiftly changed into the snug chain suit she’d given him Elayden couldn’t help but wonder where and from whom she’d appropriated the suit, though he knew better than to ask.  So involved was he upon fitting into the suit that he didn’t notice as Teysa sneaked a peek at him, turning her attention away once more before Elayden could catch her.  It was too bad he missed her look, he might have seen the reluctant smile and small flush that crept upon her features.  Perhaps the most trying part of this man, in Teysa’s opinion, was that he had the body, the stamina, and the look of a warrior, but none of the instincts.  Elayden was a certified genius, a whiz kid with mechanics and almost all things technological, but he couldn’t fight to save his life.  Teysa had first learned how to throw a punch when she was only four years old and had been taught to fight ever since.  There were few if any weapons that she didn’t know how to fully utilize, including her own body.

            “I thought you didn’t believe me about the temple.”  Teysa turned to offer Elayden a look that suggested he stop talking, though she was rewarded with the steely glare she had come to know far too well.  The sudden fire in Elayden’s gaze was rare but it was enough to tell her that he would not move until they spoke.

            Teysa had grown tired of talking about the reason for their flight from the capital city of Stena, though in her heart she had known for some time that such a perilous trip was necessary.  But it would sure as hell beat being captured or killed.  It grated upon her to admit that running was a good idea, she rather enjoyed a good fight, but one she had at least a chance of winning.  The encounters where she and her friends had found that they were severely outmatched had been the opposite.  Those had been times to tuck away her pride and run.  She might have been happy within the bowels of the city where she and

the others could have run, hidden and struck when they could, terrorizing their enemies in such a way as to make sure the Saedroch know that there was still a piece of Stena that had not given in.  Teysa’s hope of such a thing had been squashed along with the majority of her regiment when a building had been dropped on them, a result of the Saedrochs’ maniacal quest to either subjugate or destroy everything they saw. 

            Then had come the mention of the temple within the vast forest known as the Forgotten.  Teysa had wanted to laugh at first when Elayden, who’d been saved a year ago after the grand planetary gate had been taken, had suggested that the temple might offer them a hope that Stena would not, a chance to escape.  Not a single person within the small band of those that had survived had jumped on top of the idea at first, thinking that the scientist’s far-flung belief was nothing more than wishful thinking.  The Forgotten was a dangerous enough place, a vast forest that lay to the far south of Stena, separated from the capital by the burning sands of the Sifting Wastes.  In Teysa’s first opinion the trip would have finished what the Saedroch had started.

            “I’m not saying I do,” Teysa matched his glare as she placed her hands upon her hips, taking in a deep breath before continuing, “Right now it’s just a better option than returning to Stena,” Teysa dropped her eyes then as Elayden saw something within her gaze as her face softened just a bit, “I lost Kumi and Trudi on the way here.”  Elayden’s glare immediately softened as he listened.  Kumi and Trudi had been the last two survivors that had fled along with them when Stena had become far too dangerous.  Each of them had become constant companions, as close to being friends as possible.

            Trudi, another F’an, had been one of Teysa’s best and oldest friends, a woman after Teysa’s own heart when it came to serving her purpose.  The woman had been far looser with her emotions than Teysa though, accepting Elayden rather than spurning him so often.  The blonde-haired woman had laughed often even in the most dire of situations, finding it necessary to keep up the spirits of her companions when life seemed ready to grind them all under its cruel heels.  Trudi had been a good friend and a good soldier.  Kumi on the other hand had been far more quiet and reserved than either Trudi or Teysa, though he had been kind as well.  The human male had watched over Elayden much as Trudi had, his interest in keeping the scientist safe a point of pride as he had at all times kept his eye upon Elayden, making sure the man was well cared for.  He’d been a bear of a man, easily over two meters tall, blocky with muscle and completely bald save for the thick facial hair he’d kept neatly trimmed.  Kumi and Trudi had been the best of friends, some had even said there was more between them.  To hear that such valiant allies were no longer with them was a stab to the gut that Elayden had not been prepared for.

            “Let’s move hi-tech, before I change my mind.”  Elayden wisely kept his mouth shut as Teysa lead him around the perimeter of the pool, telling him to leave the dismantled weapon as she grimaced before shaking her head.

            “We couldn’t have used it anyway Teysa, there was an obstruction in one of the barrels.  If you’d have fired it again-“

            “Shut up scientist.  Just keep up.”  Elayden shut up once more, keeping his eyes upon the ground as he followed after the warrior.  He kept up obediently as Teysa first skirted around the perimeter of the pool, keeping just a stride away from the tree line

before the two of them ducked into the shadows, leaving only the faintest footprints in the sand to show their passage.  Soon enough those would be gone as well.

3 Brothers (excerpt)

Chapter One: Territorial Dispute

 

 

 

            Kingdom.  It wasn’t most inventive of names, but in nearly two thousand years, ever since the cataclysmic event known as the GodWars, it hadn’t changed, its residents having no say in the matter.  As a realm, it was one of the only safe portions of Hanyr left, ruled by a council of thanes that had divided the city as fairly and as equally as they could since its inception.  There were those who argued over the belief that Kingdom had once been a place ruled by warlocks and necromancers, though others debated that it had one time been a secret haven for the god-touched, later on called celestials as their blood had reputedly thinned and their divine status had waned over generations. Both were amongst the popular theories; though none that had arisen in the city’s long and storied history did much to fully explain how it had come to be.  Most considered it was because no records existed beyond when the city had first been founded.

            Personally, Tyn figured it was because when push came to shove, no one liked paperwork.  And from what he’d seen his adopted father go through over the years, well, him and his adopted brother Adik, he was certain of one thing, he was never getting anywhere near matters of state if he could avoid it.  Going on the road seemed a fitting deterrent to a life spent filing lengthy scrolls and pieces of parchment that contained nothing more exciting than writs and other mundane matters.  The life of an adventurer was far preferable, or so he’d heard, to becoming just another clerk in a city where such menial tasks were seen as far beneath the type of sons that had been raised by Jurel Lumden, famed paladin of Markone and once a member of the famed StormGazers.  Tyn had always liked that name, it had a certain flair to it that just made the word seem to command respect.

            Their adopted father, a human, had taken them both in when they were still children, literally in fact.  Jurel had been dead and gone for nearly four decades now, and his “sons” were just now taking their first steps into the wide world beyond their home, no longer content to remain within Kingdom any longer.  Their training was as complete as it could be within the circle of fighters, paladins, and priests that had taught them so much in their youth. All of them were old men now, and their replacements, all fine men and women of stout heart and the strictest discipline, could teach them no more.  Or so Adik had said.  His dwarven brother was supposedly an expert on thing such as this, though Tyn had questioned him for days now on where they would go.

            He desired adventure just as much as his brother, but didn’t often go charging into battle just on a whim, no matter if it meant glory and riches, as the stories of their father had often described.  Jurel had told them many a tale of his time spent as a youth and later on a middle-aged man within the StormGazers, though the wealth the paladin had amassed in his service to his divine lord had all went to the church, leaving him only enough to live on with his three adopted sons.  Tyn hadn’t quite understood that part, but he’d accepted it at least.  What he’d really responded to however had been the tales of adventure, of how his father had supposedly fought beasts such as dragons, and mirage cats, terrible pack beasts that could fool and adventurer into believing they were many instead of one single beast. 

            Many a tale their father had told them had involved magic, both innate and divine, which were only two of the five major sources that were known throughout the breadth of their world.  There were five schools of magic within the breadth and width of Hanyr, practices that were said to be as old as the realms themselves.  There was Innate, that could not be taught, but was a part of each being to some degree, no matter if it never manifested or not, Arcane, which had to be learned, but could be the very lifeblood of spellcasters  the world over, Ellesum, which was a type of mental magic, that had to be learned as well as cultivated if it was found that a being possessed the necessary qualities, Divine, which was what his father and brother in turn had ascribed to, a source of magic that was godsent, bestowed upon the willing servants of the divine pantheon that ruled and watched over Hanyr constantly, and last, there was Forbidden, which was an odd conglomeration of skills and spells that combined to create a magic of sorts that was ultimately self-serving and more than a little destructive.  Few if any practiced the Forbidden type of magic, particularly since the justiciars, champions of order and justice throughout the realms, were sworn to stamp out the use of such magic.

            Like his brother.  Or at least, like his brother wanted to be.

            Walking out of the front gates they were nodded to deferentially by the guards, men they’d both watched grow from younglings to the strapping soldiers they were now, thanks to the longevity granted to both of them by their individual races.  As a dwarf of the Deep Mountains, so far as their father had been able to tell, Adik was nearly half the size of Tyn, squat and built of solid muscle despite looking a bit bulky. The dwarf would say this was because of the gold-plated platemail he wore, though Tyn knew better.  His brother was just, well, big-boned. 

            Tyn was a celestial, a race that was said to be either the progenitors or the offshoots of elves and another enigmatic race, either angels or a long-lost civilization of demi-gods that had apparently fled Hanyr long ago, prophesying the GodWars before they ever happened. That was how the tales went anyway, that the demi-gods had bestowed their greatest blessing upon the realms in the form of their continued lineage, of which Tyn was a part.  From the slight, golden glow of his skin to his long, tapered ears, he was full-blooded celestial, though he had no idea of his clan, nor of why he’d been left within the vast forests of the Silver Wood. 

            He’d been second of their father’s children to be found, though Adik had been discovered not far from where Jurel had found Tyn, wandering about lost and confused.  He’d only been five years of age at the time, the tips of his ears still drooping as was normal of a celestial child until they reached the age of ten or older.  Some never felt their ears firm up until they were in late teens, which was still almost like infancy for his race. 

            Lush greenery surrounded them on both sides as they walked past merchants and other folk coming and going from the grand city, either seeking to sell or buy needed wares.  Kingdom was a widespread realm, stretching for many leagues east and west across the breadth of Kuben, the continent that Adik, Tyn, and their brother Vacca had known as home for so long.  It was among the most peaceful and tolerant of nations, protected quite well by its justiciars and other champions, though still imperiled at all times by the other, more violent nations that shared this continent with their far more peaceful neighbors. 

            There were dangers to be sure upon the land, though for the most part the heavy stone walls that were part natural rock formations and part ingenuity laid down by their father and the thanes, had kept the worst of them at bay.  All others, savage beasts and the like, knew better than to attempt to storm Kingdom, as had been seen many years before, when the three brothers had still been deep into their training. Tyn could remember the beast raids that had been attempted, the small lizardfolk known as ablak’s proving to be rather troublesome as they had managed to rile up other beasts within the vast forests surrounding Kingdom.  That uprising had been quelled rather quickly and with minimum bloodshed, but he’d heard his father more than once mutter about how the ablak’s were growing bolder with each passing year.

            As he looked around Tyn inhaled deeply of the redolent odors that reached his nostrils, thinking not about ablak’s or other dire things in that moment,  simply enjoying the freedom from the city that he and brothers had enjoyed only briefly when their father had been alive.  Jurel had been a rather protective parent, even when the three of them had grown big enough and skilled enough with their chosen weapons to aid in the defense of the city.  A good father, he had still been somewhat stifling in his manner, though of the three brothers, only Adik had ever seemed to fully accept this.

            Their other brother, Vacca, had defied their father outright more than once, and after the old paladin’s death had taken it upon himself to leave the city, going his own way as he had not been allowed to do so in his younger years.  Of the trio, only Vacca had ever possessed such an obviously defiant spirit, showing his affinity towards the woods beyond their home early on as he had snuck away time and again, seeking to learn the skills necessary to survive on his own.  Tyn had envied his brother at times, though never when one of the seasoned veterans of the woods, one of the famed rangers, had brought Vacca back per their father’s orders.  The punishments that Vacca had been forced to accept had not been pleasant, no matter that he’d never been beaten or tortured in any way. Instead he’d been subjected to lecture after ear-blistering lecture, and then forced to attend the morning and even prayers with their father, something that Tyn had thought  was worse than a beating.

            Vacca’s lineage was just as different from Tyn’s as his own was from his father and Adik, he was an elf.  The pointed ears, like Tyn’s but somewhat shorter, were the only trait the two of them shared, there all similarities ended.  Tyn’s facial features were a little more blunt, stronger in a way, where Vacca’s were a little longer and far more lean.  His eyes were almond-shaped, where Tyn’s were oval but still situated more or less like a humans.  And one of the most telling differences was that Vacca’s eyes were a deep, rich brown, where Tyn’s were, like the rest of his race, a solid, sky blue, without iris or pupil.  All celestials, as far as he had seen in his life, shared this trait.  They could see as normal folk could, though far better than humans in the night, but still retained the eerie quality that unnerved most who did not know of them. 

            Sadly, his race was not all that prevalent upon Hanyr, or so he had heard, hailing from another realm that was largely unknown save to select scholars and those few celestials that had not been born within this realm.  Tyn had heard the name of the place, Daewyll, a place of such powerful magic and natural beauty that to look upon its verdant fields would cause lesser beings to weep, perhaps even crumple to their knees in awe.  He’d listened to such tales with rapt attention, wondering if one day he could perhaps see such grandeur.  For now though his life was here, with his brothers, one of whom had not been seen in almost a year’s time. 

            Of the three of them, Vacca had taken their father’s death the hardest, his fragile mind unable to cope with the loss of the man that had raised them all since they were children.  No matter that a human lifespan was measured in decades, the three had looked up to and respected their father, treating him with all due respect not only because of his title and exploits, but because he had been the only man who had cared to take them from the wilds.  None of them knew their origins, only that they had been found not far from one another, an inexplicable circumstance that had never been fully sorted out.  Dwarves, celestials, and elves never really got along, which would make their being found within the same forest, alone and cast away it would seem, all that more confusing.

            Jurel had seen it as providence in a way, finding three young lads whom he’d seen fit to take as his own, giving them a home and a life that they might not have had otherwise.  Each of them knew in their hearts that he had saved them, though it was still curious that their own kind had never seemed interested in questioning how it was that a human came to befriend and raise three vastly different lads as his own.  Tyn had never thought about it much, he’d enjoyed the life that Jurel had given them, as had Adik and even Vacca, despite his defiant ways. 

            As he and Adik gained a bit of distance from the city, the hard-packed dirt road beneath their feet, Tyn wondered just where Vacca had gone this time.  His training as a ranger of the woods had been completed only a few years before their father had passed on, though Vacca had only returned now and then, attending the funeral and then disappearing for months at a time. The last time Tyn and Adik had seen him the ranger had been bound for the northernmost parts of Kuben, seeking adventure as always.  That had been almost a year before, and far beyond any length of time that Vacca had spent away from home.  Adik had told Tyn not to worry, that Vacca would return in Vacca’s time, not theirs.  It had been with only a shrug that the celestial had acknowledged his dwarven brother’s words.

            Continuing to stare around at the woods and the road ahead Tyn shook his head as he thought back to how he’d allowed his brother to sway him into following what might very well be a fool’s course.  Adik had finally given into the same wanderlust that had gripped Vacca early in life, wishing to see the wider world beyond their fair city and prove that they were indeed their father’s sons.  Tyn hadn’t argued much honestly, but then, when Adik spoke, most people listened, no matter if they were dead set against whatever the dwarf might say.  Whether it was by the blessing of Markone or the simple fact that Adik could convince a miser to part with his fortune out of sheer selflessness, the dwarven paladin was capable of convincing anyone that his path was the right one.  More annoying than this really was that he could do so with his brothers, those who had known him for so long, as well. 

            His brother’s promise of grand adventure and of course the promise of spreading the word of Markone into the wilds and even into the hearts of the wicked had sounded like so much divine rubbish to Tyn, but even so he’d been unable to fully explain the headache he’d experienced shortly after thinking in such a manner.  He knew his brother’s devotion to his lord and liege was absolute, no matter that his dwarven nature sometimes ran contradictory to what Markone stood for.  Their father had noted this during Adik’s training and had eventually decided it was better to allow nature to run its course, especially considering that his son had taken so well to the teachings.

            Tyn had studied the texts and scrolls penned by the priests of Markone as well, though had always seen more use for the practices of a fighter, not of a holy warrior bound by edicts and honor to fight always with dignity.  He didn’t mind hitting an opponent when they were down, nor did he have the same qualms as his brother about striking an unarmed and defeated foe.  It was one less devious bastard that could come back later and attack again.  Adik of course did not see it that way.

            Out of all the quarrels they’d had however, all the discussions and fights over how different their lives were, Tyn knew his brother’s feelings, he knew Adik’s heart. They were brothers, no matter the difference of race.  The bonds that lay between them were such that not even the death of their father, the one that had brought them all together, would sunder that most important tie.  Of course they still had differences, one that came to mind being the frittering away of money towards the church and the most righteous of causes.  Adik did not crave wealth or grand fortune, preferring to give such material things to those who needed them, and of course to the church.  That alone vexed Tyn, and had angered Vacca more than once in the past, since the ranger was quite materialistic when it came to matters of magic and its use to keep him safe in the wild.  Needless to say, where Tyn was cautious in his spending of coin, Vacca was downright selfish. 

            “I still say you gave too much,” Tyn said, rolling his eyes at the armored dwarf beside him.  Adjusting his grip slightly upon his weapon, a longspear that had been given to him by their father years before, he shook his head in mild disdain.  Adik looked up at him, a slow smile barely visible past his rich and luxuriant beard.  While most dwarves would have allowed their beard to hang loose, with maybe a few ornamental pieces used to plait the mass, Adik had taken it upon himself to procure several golden and silver bands to secure the braids and loose parts of his beard, keeping it easily kept neatly and manageable as it length lay against his broad chest.  He was without a doubt one of the most fastidious dwarves that Tyn had ever known, and he’d known a few in his time.  They had Jurel to thank for this.

            The dwarf was bedecked in armor that featured carvings of several stylized warhammers, his weapon of choice, from his shoulders down to his heavily booted feet.  Though the god Markone favored the broadsword, Adik had proven quite adept with his hammer over the years of his training, and had kept either one or two of the weapons upon his person at all times.  Aside from this was the heavy metal shield that was strapped to his back, covered over by his shortened red cloak.  A helm of hammered gold blended with steel reinforcements covered his shaved head, fitting snugly despite the absence of any hair. 

            Much like his brother, though without the flare, Tyn was garbed in plate mail as well, his own shining in the light of day as it had been polished before they’d set out.  Neither of them squeaked or squealed as they walked, the padding they’d stuffed into the joints quite comfortable and useful in reducing noise.  His own head remained bare, though he would not have it any other way, fully enjoying the touch of the wind upon his long, golden locks.  His weapons included his longspear, a greatsword strapped to his left hip, and a large metal shield that was likewise strapped to his back, sans cloak like his brother.  Their supplies for the road ahead were held in packs that were affixed by shoulder straps to lie secured to their shields, offering only a slight amount of weight as they continued on.  All in all they were prepared for almost anything, no matter if it was beast or otherwise.

            “Bah, me brudder from anudder mudder,” Adik grinned as he uttered his favorite phrase, “’Tis but a pittance t’ the church what gave me so much.  If ye’d only drop yer durned pride an’ find yer faith, ye’d know the truth of it.”

            Tyn knew he would regret asking, but he did anyway. “And what is that o’ stunted one?”

            Adik allowed the crack about his height pass with only a stern look.  The celestial and the dwarf had been raised together, such insults had been a natural part of their days for far too long to offer true insult.  Their father had scolded them more than once for such behavior towards another, though even he had come to accept that boys would be boys. 

            “Pah!” Adik exclaimed, “Did our fadder teach ye nothin’ ye glitterin’ elf?!” The silver-tongued dwarf guffawed uproariously at the sour look that Tyn leveled at him in that moment.  This was by far and large not the first time that Adik had used such an insult to pull Tyn from his current state of ruminations.  He was not an elf, nor would he care to be.

            “He taught me better than to listen to grumbling boulders that mumble through the briar patches they call beards.”  Adik laughed long and loud then, startling several small birds and other animals as they could be heard scurrying through the brush.  His brother was quite loud when he wanted to be, a fact that irritated Tyn to no end at times. 

            The woods around them swayed gently in the constant breezes that passed along like unseen ghosts, caressing everything they touched with their light, phantom fingers as Tyn closed his eyes, enjoying the breeze as it tousled his hair.  His pointed ears twitched suddenly as he heard a noise not too far ahead and to their left.  Adik was too busy touting the lessons on piety and giving that Jurel had attempted to teach each of them for so long, his loud voice almost drowning out the slight noises that Tyn continued to hear.  The dwarf would prattle on and on if not checked in his favored speeches of their father’s days and how one had been expected to bend knee and give thanks to the holy Markone for each and every day within his service, and on and on and on.  It was litany that Tyn had heard more than once, and one he would have preferred Vacca was here to suffer through as well.

            His attention remained upon the sounds of rustling from somewhere off in the brush to their left as they grew closer.  Adik was of course still talking, Tyn had learned through years of experience that it took far more than anyone could produce to shut the dwarf up.  He didn’t have the knack for stealth that their brother Vacca had, nor the inclination to learn, which might very well get them into trouble down the road.  Still Tyn heard the slight, furtive sounds as he drew closer to the concealing brush that hid the rest of the forest away from the road, frowning as he heard something else along with the scuttling.  There was a wet, tearing sound, something he’d heard before but did not enjoy.  The wet tearing of flesh reached his ears again as he tightened his grip upon his spear, thinking that if this was to be their first encounter away from the city, he was more than ready.

            There was no reason to expect trouble less than a mile from the city, but it was better to stay sharp as their father had taught them, to be ready for anything that might come along.  Even for a paladin their father had been sharp-witted and more than capable of holding his own in the wilds. 

            “Be silent a moment brother,” Tyn cautioned, not turning around to see as Adik pushed his lower lip out, giving his brother (from another mother) a stern look for interrupting him. 

            “What’re ye about ye shiny elf?” the dwarf asked, “Ye’re knowin’ better’n t’ be interruptin’ me when I’m speakin’ o’ father an’ what he taught us!” Tyn rolled his eyes again as he shook his head, wishing to any and all gods that would listen to clamp his brother’s lips shut in that second.  Of course that wouldn’t happen, no matter if he swore allegiance to Markone as his brother had pestered him about for so long.

            “There is someone up ahead, just beyond the trees. Can you see them?” Tyn waited patiently as he pushed aside the screening brush, his own eyes narrowing as he tried to see past.  The dwarf made a rude gesture as he peered forward, looking up at Tyn as he came to stand side by side with him.

            “Ye interrupted me fer that?” Adik spat, “Ain’t nothing more’n a coupla humans out in the durned forest!”  Tyn shook his head again as the two of them made their way further along, the brush wavering where he’d parted it.  How had his brother seen what he could not ?

            The answer came as he looked down, seeing several gaps in the tight shrubbery near Adik’s level, easy enough to peer through as the dwarf continued to walk ahead.  As they walked the scrub began to thin out, showing a much more detailed scene as Tyn could now see past the foliage, seeing the two humans that Adik had already noticed.  What he saw though was far different than the simplistic explanation given by his brother would warrant.  Through the thin screen of trees that were all that separated the two brothers from the humans he could see far more than Adik had cared to notice. 

            The path they were on curved to the left, the untamed forest to their left shaded and kept from the majority of the sunlight by the leafy canopies that hung far overhead, seeking to conceal the forest floor from the view of passerby.  Tyn’s keen vision was easily enough to pick out the two figures however, one small and one fully grown, a child and an adult.  That both were clearly human was not hard to affirm, though as Tyn saw the third human come into view, beneath the female that crouched over him, his eyes widened slightly, his jaw dropping just a bit.  As he stopped the woman’s eyes found him, dark pools of shadow within the darkness that fixed upon him as in her left hand she held something that looked soft and rather wet, dripping some dark fluid that he could only guess was blood.  In her other hand she held a rudimentary carving knife, a crude tool made from either bone or rock, he couldn’t be sure.

            Looking closer he could see that her arms were coated in gore from her fingertips nearly to her elbows.  Swallowing hard Tyn took a step forward, noting that the younger human, a little girl, had noticed him as well.  In her small hands was a badly chipped wooden bowl, scarred and beaten from years of hard use no doubt.  The child’s eyes were wide as the two of them beheld the armored celestial that now came towards them, and widened further as Tyn could hear his brother crashing into the brush behind him.  Blood dripped slowly from the knife in the woman’s hand as she continued to stare at them, almost in challenge as she stepped in front of the body beneath her.  The girl did not move.

            Keeping his steps slow and measured Tyn walked closer, silently willing his stocky brother to do the same.  Thankfully as Adik saw the bloody knife in the woman’s right hand the dwarf didn’t express himself in his normal manner, which was to exclaim an oath to Markone’s sacred bones or some other ridiculous aspect of the god.  Tyn believed in the god of his father, but he did not serve him.  Instead Adik made his way forward until he was standing even with his brother, one hand straying just within reach of his beloved warhammer.  As a paladin of Markone, Adik would not dare to harm an innocent or a non-combatant, but as the woman raised the knife slightly Tyn could not help but tense.

            “What’re ye about woman?” Adik bellowed, his left hand coming ever closer to the haft of his weapon.  The woman saw this and slowly lowered her knife, a look of fierce determination settling upon her features.  She was a mess as Tyn could see, her and the girl both.  They were coated in grime and dirt, as though they’d not bathed in days or even longer.  The girl was rather cute, for a human, and the woman might have been beautiful once.  Time however had not been kind to her, or so it seemed.

            Just as Adik was about to ask again, the woman spoke, her voice more like a raven’s throaty caw than a human, “My daughter is hungry, she has to eat.” Both Tyn and Adik looked at the child a little closer, finally noticing the dark circles under her eyes and the way that her dirt-smeared cheeks sank in slightly.  Tyn had seen such a condition before, but far worse.  His mood softened just a little as he continued to look at the child.  But as his gaze roamed to the dead man lying at the woman’s feet his eyes hardened a bit, his lips pressing together to form a thin line of caution.

            “Did you kill him?” Tyn asked the woman. The filthy mother looked wistfully down at the man before closing her eyes. Tyn quickly noted the brief glimpse of sorrow that passed over her features just then, as did Adik.  She had known this man, that was for certain.

            The woman shook her head as she spoke, “My husband died recently, nearly three days past,” she sniffed, wiping her eyes as best she could on the arm of her filthy shirt, “His heart done gave out on ‘im.” The woman opened her eyes, which were now misted over the two of them could see as she turned to face them.  There was a fire deep within her eyes that both of them instantly noticed, a burning defiance that would not trifled with.

            “My husband woulda done the same for our girl if it was me lyin’ in yonder weeds, “ she said, her words hard and confident,” My daughter needs t’ eat.”

            Tyn didn’t know whether to nod in understanding or retch.  What manner of life had brought these two to such a state?  He’d heard of those who ate their own kind, but until now had never seen such madness.  Looking to his brother Tyn could only shrug as he shook his head, hefting his spear as though to head on his way once more.

            Adik had a different idea however, “Can ye not find a life within the city?” the dwarf asked in his gruff voice. The woman, who by this point had gone to a knee, plopping the fleshy organ within her daughter’s bowl, was already back at her task, no doubt determined to make as good use of her husband as possible.  She turned to the dwarf with a sad look as she spoke again.

            “We’ve tried, but none will help us. Roland is our only means o’ survival any longer. He’s the one what helped me an’ my family t’escape the abandoned keep that was supposed t’ be our new home.”  Adik looked to Tyn just then, a curious glint coming his dark brown eyes that celestial knew all too well.  Rolling his own eyes yet again Tyn planted the blunt end of his spear against the ground again, vowing just then to make his brother pay somehow for dragging him into championing yet another hopeless cause.

The Way It Was

The Way It Was

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

Saturday, November 23rd, 2002

 

 

Nothing was the same anymore.  Such a gross understatement wasn’t hard to make, but it was even worse to realize as truth.  Kerian Anne Turmish had been born into a world that had made sense once, when the land she’d been introduced to had not been a place made for killers and things that clung to the shadows just waiting to spring upon the unwary.  The world she’d wanted to grow up in and eventually create her own family had been lost to her it seemed, gone before she’d ever had the chance to really understand it fully.  As she stood upon the southwest bank of the Willapa Bay, Kera couldn’t help but feel a chill run down her spine that had nothing to do with the temperature outside.

Even in the warmest of summers there was a definite chill when standing so close to the water, a fact that she had enjoyed growing up.  Like her boyfriend Tyler she had never been much of one to withstand a great deal of heat.  She could remember a trip that the family had taken down to southern California many years back.  They’d gone to Palm Springs to visit relatives and what was worse, they’d gone in the middle of August, arguably one of the hottest months out of the year.  She could remember a little too well the sunburns that she and Tyler had suffered through during the trip.  She smiled as the memory of how miserable they’d been surfaced after so long.

“Am I interrupting?”  Kera turned to regard the speaker, she’d already felt the blonde coming but had decided to wait until her friend arrived.  Brooke Landis, a friend since grade school and a pleasant companion even in the worst of times, strode up to her with a gentle smile upon her features, her feet crunching lightly through the light frost that had coated the grasses around them.  Winter was on its way to the peninsula already and would no doubt grip the land in its icy hold for several months.  Thankfully enough the salt air was not conducive to snowstorms all that often, though Kera could remember at least once or twice when the snows had fallen upon the coastline.  It had lasted for all of a day.

“No, I was just standing here, wondering about things is all.”  Brooke nodded her head at her friend’s statement.  Kera had been daydreaming in fact, a luxury that they were afforded far too seldom these days.

“Sarah is inside with Maddie, it looks like she’s going to be okay.”  Kera rolled her eyes as she thought of their other companion, Sarah Burgher.  The dusky blonde was at her best moments an impetuous youth and given more to action than thought.  This was what had brought the trio to this place now when Kera would rather be in Ilwaco, where her boyfriend had gone.

Her love, a young man only a year her senior, had gone on what many who had been left behind in Ocean Park had called a suicide mission.  None of them had understood just why he had decided to make his way, alone, into the heart of the viper’s den without so much as a single companion to make sure he remained safe.  Of course, in this new hell that they were forced to call life Kera wasn’t quite sure if “safe” was anything more than a fantasy that had no grounding in reality any longer.  None of them had been safe for several months now, at least not when it came to wondering whether or not they would be able to open their eyes on the next sunrise.

Their world had changed so drastically in the last several months that Kera could hardly believe they’d adapted so well.  Everything they’d known had been flipped almost upside down, forcing them to conform to what they could no longer understand or be trod beneath the cruel feet of change.  She’d heard so many times from her boyfriend’s parents, the couple that had taken her in as a child, that life would change after high school.  This was undoubtedly not what they’d meant.

In one night the world they’d known had been torn apart.  Evelyn and Gary Ferris, her boyfriend’s parents, had been savagely murdered by three of Kera and Tyler’s classmates, while all around the peninsula the same occurrence had taken place.  The young had supplanted the old somehow and for some macabre reason that they had yet to truly discover, inciting a bloody war that had lasted for only a matter of days before each and every adult over the age of twenty had suddenly gone missing or been found torn apart.  Kera hadn’t been able to understand just what had been going on, none of them had in fact, but she and Tyler had made quick work of abandoning the only home they’d known for so many years, striking out to see just who had managed to survive.

The fellow students that had been responsible for the death of Tyler’s parents had been ready to kill them as well unless they were to join their demented cause, but Tyler and Kera had proven stronger and far more deadly.  The act of killing another human being had been repulsive to Kera and still was, but no longer did she feel the regret that had threatened to crush her at first.  Life was now a matter of survival, but what her boyfriend had gone to do seemed more akin to murder than anything.

Only two weeks before one of their former classmates, a young lady by the name of Brianna Woodall, had been cruelly beaten and dumped outside of their refuge, the large store known as Jack’s Country Store. A note had been left on Brianna’s person, a missive that Tyler had not allowed anyone else to read.  It had most likely been the note that had prompted her love into making his way south towards Ilwaco, where it was more than likely that the missing adults had been taken.  Brianna had confirmed this once she had woken, telling them of how several of their classmates had herded up the adults on the northern end of the peninsula and prodded them towards Ilwaco.  The image this had brought to Kera’s mind had been so horrific that she had shook it away immediately.  That such terrible things could happen in so short a time was more than hard to believe, it was absolutely horrifying to think that anyone she’d once counted as friend could do such a thing.

“How hard did Sarah hit her?”  Kera asked.  They had promised Tyler that if two weeks passed and he did not return that they would come looking for him.  The two weeks had passed and he was still not home, which meant in Kera’s mind that something had happened.  She had promised long ago that as long as she lived nothing would ever happen to Tyler, she would not allow it.  Kera had loved Tyler for many years, feeling a bond with the young man since the time they were children.  He was her everything, the only one that could tame the wild love that existed within her heart.  Many had claimed it was only puppy love when they had been children, but Kera and Tyler had known it was far more.

“She hit her pretty hard, enough to give her a mild concussion.  But Maddie’s already responding to the food and drink that Sarah’s been giving her.”  The three of them had been on the road to Ilwaco when Kera had noticed that they were being followed.  The slip of a girl, her name was Madeline Rohen, had been another of her friends and had come as another surprise that she hadn’t anticipated.  Maddie had always been a nice girl, kind of shy but easy to open up once she was comfortable with someone.  Kera and Tyler had enjoyed Maddie’s company more than once in the past year and had come to find that the young woman was a very interesting person.  That she came from a poor family and a rocky background didn’t matter, she was a decent human being.  The fact that she had allied herself with those who had inflicted so much carnage had been hard to believe, but Kera was bound and determined to see if they could possibly convince the girl to convert back to the gentle soul she’d been.

The three of them had taken refuge in the small farmhouse that Sarah and Maddie were now in, hoping to lure Maddie into a spot where they could flank and then capture her.  Maddie had fallen for their simple trap quite easily, but it had been Sarah that had almost made Kera’s efforts pointless.  As with everything else upon the peninsula, changes had occurred within the three of them as well.  To Tyler had been given the strange ability to absorb any and all kinetic force and then release it in what many of them had already dubbed “energy bombs”.  Added to his already deadly martial skills the young man had become easily the most powerful among them as well as the most dangerous.

Kera had been given dominion over the elements of the land, finding that she was able to utilize them easily to any extent she could think of.  Her control was still a rudimentary thing, meaning that she could only perform small feats.  Brooke had been given the power to project her voice in such a way that any song she gave voice to, no matter the tone or force, would enact a change she desired within an individual or a given area.  She had already come to master a few aspects of this strange talent, though like Kera she was still too new to such a talent to make full use of it.  Sarah’s was undoubtedly the most simple and the one that had allowed her to almost take Maddie’s head off with a length of wood.  The blonde’s speed had made her into something akin to a child’s comic book, allowing her to move at such a rate that she was little more than a blur.  It had been this added force that had almost done Maddie in as the length of wood that Sarah had used had smashed hard into the dark-haired girl’s head.  Kera was just glad that Sarah hadn’t been using one of the carving knives she carried with her.

“Something’s got to be done to calm that girl down.”  Kera said, speaking of Sarah as she shook her head.  Her long brown hair had been done up into a simple ponytail, flowing down the back of her sweatshirt as it swished back and forth with the movement of her head.

Brooke smiled, “She’s fine Kera, just a little overzealous is all.  At least Maddie’s going to be conscious soon, she’ll just have a really nasty headache for a time is all.”

“The bay gets so cold this time of year.”  Brooke frowned lightly as she regarded her friend, wondering what had brought the words spilling from Kera’s mouth.  She could see in the woman’s hazel eyes that Kera’s gaze was focused on nothing, or perhaps something far away that was meant only for her.  Brooke found herself wishing at that moment that she had someone that she could feel this strongly about, that she would gladly go to the ends of the earth for if it meant just one last chance at seeing them.  She knew of the bond between Tyler and Kera and couldn’t help but be just a bit envious.  She and Tony, her late boyfriend, had gotten along just fine and in fact had been planning to attend the same college after high school, but there had always been the questions in her mind of what life would be like if she allowed herself to remain with Tony indefinitely.  He’d been a nice, handsome young man, but like her, he’d still be growing and finding out who he really was.  High school had been a fine place to do this, but it had still been a time in their lives when being young had been more important than what was to come next.

“He’ll be okay Kera.  This is Tyler we’re talking about.”  Brooke flashed a grin at her friend as she spoke, hoping it was help Kera to lighten up just a bit.  As the other woman grinned just slightly Brooke was still heartened to think that perhaps the gravity of their current situation hadn’t begun to bow her shoulders just yet.  The good lord knew it was already heavy upon their hearts, they didn’t need it to force them to their knees as well.

“I know.   But I’m still worried.”

Now Brooke knew that her friend was concerned.  While Kera wasn’t close-mouthed about her feelings she rarely if ever expressed them so easily.  Like Tyler the woman was more reserved when it came to such things, she didn’t give out more than she felt was necessary.

“What if he’s not the same?”  Kera didn’t answer Brooke’s question for many moments, keeping her gaze out upon the bay as though she hadn’t heard.  Brooke realized her friend didn’t want to think anything bad about Tyler, neither did she.  Though she hadn’t approved of Tyler’s methods in their survival thus far she could no longer find fault with his results.  She had pledged her life to the man with every ounce of morality and truth she could muster, which was considerable, and she would hope against all hope that her question would be answered with a negative.

“I don’t know Brooke.  I just don’t know.”  That hadn’t been what Brooke wanted to hear, but she couldn’t bring herself to say anything else.  As she turned her own gaze to the bay Brooke felt a cold lump within her heart when she thought of Tyler.  He had gone to Ilwaco to free the captives they’d learned of in any way he possible could, no matter what happened.  Brooke had known Kera and Tyler for too many years to misunderstand Tyler’s methods.  She had seen the young man black out once before when she and Kera had been endangered, and it had scared her so badly that she’d been unable to talk to Tyler for several days after.

She knew her friend was a compassionate and loyal person, she knew that Tyler would give the shirt off of his back to anyone in need.  Even those within the school that hadn’t always liked him found that he was a person to at least respect, someone who wouldn’t hold grudges for long and would forgive more readily than punish.  Only a few people in school had ever been able to hold a grudge against Tyler for more than a month or so, and even then they wouldn’t go out of their way to bother him.  He was far from being a saint, but he was a good person.  The thought that something like that might change was hard to stomach.

Brooke knew that Tyler could be cold and calculating, she had seen that he could be vicious and unforgiving, but this was a side of him that rarely if ever surfaced.  The day he had nearly beaten a man to death, and at the age of thirteen no less, had never left her mind.  She and Kera had accompanied Tyler down to the corner market in Ilwaco shortly after school had let out, discussing their triumphs and losses during the end of the Track and Field station.  They’d stopped at Hilltop Elementary to enjoy the sack of food they’d bought and had been accosted by two grown men, both who had focused almost entirely on her and Kera.  When the men had told Tyler that they were going to take her and Kera off and “have some fun”, Tyler had stood up, stating firmly that they would not.  The men of course had laughed, thinking that a boy had no chance of fending away both of them.  One of them had had to find out the hard way that Tyler’s word was far more than just talk.

Tyler had pummeled the man that had attacked him so badly that the unfortunate fellow had been sent immediately to the hospital with injuries so severe that it had looked as though he’d been hit by a truck.  Worse than this however had been the blank look in Tyler’s eyes as he’d hammered away at the man, the absolute lack of presence within his eyes that had caused him to look as though he were in a trance.  Later on he’d claimed not to have any memory of the event after he’d stood up.  The few adults that had questioned him about this had not believed it at first, but when pressed Tyler had still claimed not to remember nearly beating a man to death.  In the end he’d been scolded, grounded and admonished for taking matters into his own hands.

Brooke hadn’t agreed completely with the punishment, she and Kera had after all been spared from whatever unimaginable horrors that the men would have inflicted, but she had still walked softly around Tyler afterward.  It hadn’t been the last time either that Tyler had lashed out at someone in a blind rage.  Only another two years later he’d broken a senior’s jaw during football practice when the larger boy had pinned Tyler to the ground.  That case had been taken to court and had been ruled on in favor of Tyler thanks to the proof of physical torment that the senior had inflicted on Tyler for many years.  Still, the student body had began to look differently upon Tyler for a short time.

“He’ll be the same.  He has to be.”  Brooke said.  She didn’t feel the truth of her words, but it felt good to say them nonetheless.  She had to believe that Tyler was the same man, that he wouldn’t change so drastically in such a short time.  If she couldn’t believe that then there would be no reason to keep traveling south.

“He went to Ilwaco to kill, Brooke.  He’s not going to let them all free, he’s going to make sure they don’t suffer any longer.”  Brooke felt the lump of ice turn to lead in her heart as Kera spoke.  She knew too well that her friend was right.  Tyler’s motives for traveling south were not as pure as she would like to believe, he was not on a mercy mission to free the adults and non-conformist children, he was going to make sure that they weren’t forced to suffer whatever degradations that their former classmates might be inflicting upon them.  According to Brianna the stadium that sat just a short ways from the high school had been reinforced with extra tall fencing and razor wire so that escape was impossible.  Brianna had gone on to tell them of how the football field had been utilized as a sort of arena, not unlike the Roman gladiators used so long ago.

The idea of this had appalled each one of those who’d heard it.  To think that their classmates had created such a bloody sport within what had once been a field filled with memories both good and bad was sickening.  Kera hadn’t even wanted to think of what might occur on the field grounds now, though her imagination had done quite well in filling in the blanks she had left.

“I know what he went for.”

“And you don’t think killing will change him?”  Kera turned to look at Brooke now, her eyes hard as she stood absolutely still.  Brooke didn’t want to argue with her friend just now, especially not given their current circumstances.  But perhaps it would be better to get this out now rather than the closer they got to Ilwaco.  They were already close enough to the port town to reach it within the next day, but they’d already decided to stay within the home until Maddie recovered.

“Has it changed him yet?  He’s killed more than once in the last several months Kera and he’s still the same man, or at least mostly.”  Brooke added this last part at the last second as she finished her sentence.  What she said was true and Kera knew it, Tyler was for the most part the same man, at least for the most part.  He had changed in a way, but then so had they all.  Having their world tipped on its ear suddenly overnight had a strange effect, it had made them all grow up just that much faster.  There had been a time when none of them had been forced to worry about waking up the next day, when their greatest concern had been studying for the next test in a long succession of papers and exams.  Now their biggest concern was how well fortified their home was within Jack’s Country Store and whether or not they would discover a new and more dangerous enemy on the next day.

“He doesn’t laugh as much.  And he, I don’t know, he’s too serious now, as though he can’t loosen up anymore.”  Brooke nodded, she knew exactly what Kera was speaking.  She’d noticed the changes as well and had wondered at them just as much as Kera no doubt had.  Tyler had at one point been a rather carefree individual, given to laughter more than brooding and living life as though it were a massive playground rather than the real world it actually was.  In short he had been much more alive, much more child-like in the way he composed himself.  This man they both knew now was the same person, but the carefree attitude seemed to have been replaced by a wall of stone, a barrier that Tyler had somehow lain across his heart in order to do what he must.  Brooke could sympathize a bit, she had already begun the process of moving on a few months before.

None of them had truly accepted the fact of what their lives were now, but all of them had quickly realized that life was not going to grow any easier. Grieving would allow them to move on, but it would not allow them to live as they needed to if it became a prolonged thing.  The time to mourn the dead was gone, the days that lay ahead now were for the living.

“He still cares deeply for all of us and wants us to be safe.”  Kera nodded at Brooke’s words but did not reply, keeping her gaze out across the bay.  As Brooke followed her trackless gaze she could have sworn that she saw a ripple just beneath the water, as though something had moved off just a moment or two before she would have spotted it.  The shadow of something beneath the water hinted at the fact behind her suspicion, but she couldn’t have said what the creature was even if she’d wanted to.  So much about their world had changed that it was no surprise that the local wildlife would be a part of it.

“Do you think this has happened all over the world Brooke?  Or are we just cursed to have it happen here?”  Brooke shook her head, she had thought of this as well but could not speculate.  There were no rumors or beliefs that anyone had escaped this hell, at least not upon the peninsula, but she also knew from the story that Brianna had given them that apparently any who tried to make their way off of the peninsula did not return.  That could have meant many things, but Brooke hadn’t been of a mind to test any of them.

“I’m not sure.  We don’t get any television reception or radio.  Even cell phones and land lines are useless.  Its funny though that the utilities still seem to be working.”  It had been several months since the change, but yet the power and water had continued to flow without any cease, startling each one of those that had survived.  In each and every post-apocalyptic story they’d ever read or watched both Brooke and Kera could remember that the power and clean water had been among the first concerns of the bedraggled survivors.  That they still had use of the utilities was amazing enough, but they had not questioned it so much as they had decided to instead enjoy it.  Having working lights, clean running water and the ability to cook their food with electricity was simply too good to be believed.

“Life used to be so simple.”  Kera’s voice was quiet as she spoke, her eyes closing for a moment as Brooke listened.  She could hear sorrow in her friend’s voice, even a hint of melancholy, but there was strength there as well.  So much had been taken from them, so much that could not be given back.  She had felt the bite of this strange malady that had sown its chaotic way upon their lives as well, but like her friends, she had refused to succumb to it.  Those in Ilwaco that had been so readily corrupted by the strange, feral nature that they had given themselves to were lost to them now.  Friends, classmates that had at one time been around them for years were now the most bitter of enemies, a turn of events that Brooke could not help but lament.

“Life is still simple, but the rules have changed a bit.”  Brooke replied.  Kera found that she couldn’t really argue with that, even though she wanted to.

*                      *                      *

 

Almost an hour after she’d stood on the bank of the Willapa Bay with Brooke, Kera finally managed to wander inside to catch some rest.  It was an elusive prey at first, ducking and dodging its way through her consciousness, evading her even though she could feel it within her bones.  Finally though Kera fell asleep, sinking into the soft covers and mattress of the bed within the master bedroom of the home.  Brooke and Sarah had each taken their own rooms within the house, Brooke the living room and Sarah one of the other two bedrooms along with Maddie, whom she was still charged with looking over.

Sleep was good, it helped her to relax finally, aiding her into a rest that she didn’t feel she deserved but could definitely use.  Kera had not forgiven herself for allowing Tyler to go alone towards Ilwaco, no matter that he was almost a grown man and could make his own decisions.  He was her love, her heart in all ways, it didn’t seem right to her to allow the man whose child she now carried to walk into danger by himself.  But he had wanted it this way.  That was Tyler though, even before he’d changed he had always wanted to do things on his own.  He acknowledged help when he needed it, but he was also stubborn to refuse it when he didn’t want others to get hurt for his decision.

In some ways he was far more mature than his eighteen years would indicate, but in her mind he would always be the young man that had looked at life each day with a fresh outlook and a smile that told the world, “bring it on”.  That was her Tyler, he was so confident that he could grin in the worst of storms, the most dangerous of situations.  He knew his limits, he knew when he was outmatched, but he didn’t’ care.  In many ways he was the most fearless person she had ever met, the most dominating personality that she might ever know.  Thankfully he didn’t throw it around, preferring to keep his ego in check at most times, but it was far too obvious even when he didn’t wish it to be known.

As she fell into deeper slumber Kera remembered the Tyler that had been, not the man that he was now.  She loved him still as fierce as ever, but there was no denying that he had become a different creature, someone that she didn’t entirely know as of yet.  This mattered not a bit to her, she would always love him, no matter what.  As the darkness finally enfolded her fully into its waiting embrace Kera let this last though linger, allowing it shield her against the nightmares that had come all too frequently as of late.  It was more than enough, just as it had always been.

*                      *                      *

 

The waters in front of her lashed hard against the weather worn rocks that had been set upon the side of the road so long ago.  Placed there to absorb the force of the storms that rolled so unerringly upon the coastline with barely a hint of warning, the massive stones had seen many a decade of harsh weather and had still remained, dislodged only by the fiercest of shoves from the river that flowed just beyond their place.  This day was no different as she looked skyward, seeing only the dark, iron gray clouds that visited the peninsula so often during winter and spring.  Fall was a far more festive time upon their home, displaying colors of such intensity that the eye was drawn to them all at once, causing one to feel as though they were mired within a panoply of dark hues that simply radiated a feeling of hearth and home.  This was not the same, though she could not help but feel a sense of home, a feeling of familiarity that she could not feel anywhere else. 

            Looking down Kera saw that she stood upon one of the water-slicked rocks, her footing as sure as any.  Casting her gaze out to the rolling breakers within the river she could see the massive swells and whitecaps that were normal for storm season, their every cresting movement sending them forward or to the banks where they crashed upon impact.  She knew that to stand upon one of the rocks during such a time was more than a little dangerous, but for some reason she felt as though she were in no danger, that she was completely safe.  There was only one explanation for this, Tyler was near.

            All her life since she had known him, Kera had always felt safe around Tyler.  The effect he had upon her mood was such that she could not bring herself to stay sad, depressed or even angry when he was around.  He was a balm to her heart that she could not do without, a soothing presence that made everything, even a storm such as the one that seemed to be brewing, seem like nothing at all. 

            Kera looked to her left first, her eyes taking in the far shore of Astoria, where she expected to see the bustling port city that she’d known so well for so long.  What she saw instead was a ruin, a decrepit pile of rubble and shattered buildings that barely resembled what she could remember of the city.  Nothing remained of Astoria it seemed, not even the houses atop the hill had seemed to escape whatever ruination had been visited upon them.  Her heart thudded madly in her chest as Kera tore her gaze towards the bridge, her eyes widening further at what she saw. 

            The four mile long bridge that led from Astoria to the Washington bank of the Columbia River was little more than a few iron beams and concrete shards sticking up out of the water.  Not a single arch remained, leaving only empty air where once the proud green metal of the bridge had existed.  How could such a thing have happened?  Her mind whirled with the impossible image, stunning her so readily that Kera couldn’t help but gasp in horror.

            “Much will change.”  Kera almost stumbled as she heard the voice, whipping her head around to view the speaker.  The water that had slicked the top of the stone she stood upon betrayed her as Kera’s feet began to slip, sliding dangerously as she felt her balance deserting her.  Even as she began to fall however she felt a strong hand reach out, grasping her easily by her right arm as she fought to regain her footing. 

            After several moments she stood straight once again, her balance regained but her mind still awhirl with the impossible things she had just seen.  Her heart hammered away in her chests like a crazed animal as her mind denied that she had seen the far bank or the bridge correctly.  As she looked up to see the face of her savior Kera’s breath caught again, an uneasy smile creasing her lips as she looked upon her lover’s face. 

            Tyler had changed.  She knew already that he had changed from what she remembered, but there was more to him now than she could remember in the past several months.  Instead of allowing her to see his eyes he wore a pair of dark sunglasses, tinted so black that it was though they absorbed any ambient light rather than reflecting it.  His face had changed slightly as well, though Kera could not dwell upon this completely for the moment. 

            “Tyler?  What’s happened here?  What happened to Astoria?  What happened to the bridge? What-?”  Tyler brought one finger to his lips silently, reaching out to caress Kera’s chin gently as she was silenced.  Kera felt herself tremble slightly at his touch, feeling a strength within the man that she could not remember.  There was power in his merest caress, an electrifying sense of absolute force that could not be ignored and she could not remember having been present ever before.  Something had changed in Tyler, that much was obvious.  But when had it happened?  Was this what had happened to him when he’d gone to Ilwaco?  Was she right, had the same thing that had happened on the peninsula happened elsewhere?  So many questions rattled through her mind at that moment that it was all that Kera could do not to give voice to each one of them, finding that her senses were just as confused as the rest of her.

            “Things are going to change dragonfly, they’re going to change in a big way.”  Tyler’s face pinched slightly as he spoke, his gaze never leaving Kera from behind the dark glasses.  She could feel something at that moment, as though Tyler were relieved in a way to see her.  Such sadness poured from him that she could not help but feel tears trickle from her eyes, mirroring the strange sorrow that suddenly seemed to come from the man.  What was happening?

            “What happened here Tyler?”  Her love didn’t answer for a moment, inhaling through his nostrils as though steeling himself in a way.  Kera couldn’t help but tense, she knew nothing of what was coming, nor did she understand why Tyler was here, now, when he had been in Ilwaco for the past two weeks.  What had happened?

            “It’s easier to show you Kera.  So much has happened, or will happen, that words can’t adequately explain it.”  Kera still didn’t understand as she shook her head lightly, her long brown locks blowing about in the winds that ripped along the banks of the river.  She had no clue as to why she was here now, nor did care.  She was with Tyler, that was all that mattered.  Unfortunately the rest of what had happened in her sight still nagged at the back of her mind, refusing to simply be dumped aside as it tore at her consciousness, demanding her attention despite the fact that she did not wish to give it. 

            “Please Tyler, just tell me what’s going on.  Are you okay?”  Tyler managed a weak smile just then, the facial hair (it had grown so thick!) upon his cheeks and above and below his lips crinkling slightly with the gesture.  He seemed older somehow, far more experienced and even harder in a way that she could not reconcile with the man that had left on that fated morning two weeks before.  This did not seem like the Tyler she knew, but it was still him nonetheless. 

            “Close your eyes Kera.  Trust me and close your eyes.”  Kera narrowed her eyes just a bit as Tyler took one of her hands in his own, his calloused fingers caressing her fingers gently.  She felt such a warmth from this man, just as she always had, that she would trust him with anything, no matter what.  Tyler had always been the man for her, no matter what anyone had ever said.  Other young men had tried to woo her, they’d tried to vie for her attention, but it had always been meant to be her and Tyler.  Not once in their lives had it ever seemed to either of them that it was meant to be any other way.  They were bound together in such a way that not even death would break them apart it seemed, that even the grim visage of the reaper would be hard pressed to even nick the ties that bound them. 

            As Kera closed her eyes she held her breath, unsure of what was about to happen.  She would trust Tyler, he would never harm her nor allow her to be harmed, but at this moment she was concerned, though she did not know why.

            “I am sorry my love, but this is what must come to pass.”  Kera frowned as Tyler spoke.  She wished to ask him what he meant but in the next moment was rocked backward as images flooded into her mind, random bits and pieces of scenes and surroundings that assaulted her every sense as she was almost knocked to the ground.  Tyler’s hand was there upon her however, holding her steady as her balance threatened to leave her once again.  As he held onto her firmly Kera opened her mouth wide, almost screaming in an attempt to banish the thoughts and sounds that now assailed her.  So much pain, so much sorrow, she could not help but feel each bolt of sadness like a lance into her heart, an icy stab of such agony that it was all she could do to not break down in sobs of heartfelt despair.

            There was more than this however thankfully.  There was joy, there was happiness, there was honor and the feeling of those who would lay their lives down gladly for one another, a truly warm feeling that alit upon her bones and sank deeply into her soul as she was dimly aware that Tyler was still holding onto her.  He would not let go, he was the rock, the juggernaut of the ages she sensed, the one that would always be there when he was needed.  Yet she felt the sadness within him as well, the utter sense of loneliness that emanated from his being.  How could that be?  He had her, he had the rest of his friends back in Ocean Park, how could he still be so undeniably sad? 

            Kera rocked back once more as what seemed like eons of time pressed against her, threatening to squash her mortal mind like an ant beneath the foot of a lumbering giant.  There was so much within the simple touch of her love that was conveyed that she could scarcely comprehend why he had done this, why he had shown her this.  What had happened?  Why did he seem so different?  Her mind screamed at her to stop, to cease and desist this continuing storm of emotion and allow it to rest.  Kera would have liked to do nothing more than this, but she was denied her memories of the way it was.  There was no sense of time now, only the crushing despair and the balancing emotions that strove to bring the entire mess back to level dominated.  Her mind was overwrought with the effort of attempting to assimilate this sudden and very unexpected task, threatening to shut down at any second as she still felt Tyler’s gentle grip upon her arm.

            “I am sorry my love.  We will enjoy the time we have, but this must come to pass.”  Kera wanted to cry, she wanted to shout for joy, she wanted to break down and sob until her tears dried up, anything to rid herself of the pressure that was now laid bare against her battered nerves.  She wanted it to end, she wanted the unwanted despair to leave, to depart like a wisp of storm cloud that knows to expend itself is folly.  She wanted to-

 

-wake up.  Kera jolted from where she lay half-sprawled upon the bed, flinging a large, fluffy pillow across the room suddenly as she came awake with a start.  Her breathing was heavy as she leaned forward after several moments of glancing at the shadows within her room, as though to make sure that she was alone.  The dream faded quickly as she leaned forward, holding her head in her hands, finding that she was sweating profusely for some reason.  After several moments she could no longer remember what she’d been dreaming about.  All she knew was that Tyler had been there.  That thought alone seemed to comfort her more than anything.

 

Cha Cha Cha

Cha Cha Cha

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2002

Portland, Oregon

 

He was a sunbeam, a glorious ray of light sent to alight upon the world in all his glory, dancing for the pleasure of the trees and the green fields of grass that so thoroughly enjoyed his company.  They wept when he was not there, pined for him when he did not come, and when he came around, it was for him that they danced, for him that they swayed and sang.  It was for the sunbeam and its glorious warmth that they opened themselves so fully, allowing him to dance upon their surfaces, fill them up with his radiant heat, slide up and down them in a sensuous manner not unlike a lover.  They would give him everything, and he would give in return as well as take.  It was what he was made to do, and he did it well.

His painted face glowed an iridescent yellow within the black lights that were used within the abandoned warehouse.  The strobe that accompanied them waved back and forth over the crowd as the music blared and the many stoned and drunk dancers threw their heads back, down, side to side, and cavorted about from the hastily constructed bar to the dance floor.  Many of them latched onto one partner only to swing around and latch onto another as flesh met flesh, clothing was parted to reveal more flesh, and so on and so forth.

Secret promises were whispered into ears, lustful desires spoken aloud as the warmth of the large space was allowed to permeate every last pore of their bodies.  He could feel himself burning with a desire that might have had to do with the voluptuous, dark-haired temptress that had come around only minutes before, telling him to meet her in the dark corner to the rear of the warehouse.  He’d made her laugh by telling he that it wouldn’t be dark once he got there, that he’d light her up in ways she’d never experienced.  Her laughter was strange, like tinkling glass falling upon a stone, floor, but damn she was beautiful.

The tab of ecstasy running wild throughout his body didn’t even seem to faze Erin as he danced and moved to the crazed rhythms of the funkadelic music that was being blasted from the massive speakers near the DJ’s turntables.  He didn’t want to stop moving, didn’t want to stop dancing, but he was thirsty.  Being the sun was a tiring role, no matter that his date, who’d disappeared with another muscled stud only a few minutes ago, had so lovingly done his makeup.  He didn’t mind, that was how this rave was supposed to go, it was free love, free to be had with anyone, anywhere, and at any time.  The acts being performed within the converted warehouse were wild and even perverse enough to become a porn director’s dream come true if only there were a camera.  And it was all good.

As he sidled up to the plywood bar he was still dancing, moving his head from side to side and smiling as he was groped, pinched, and even rubbed up against as he smiled nonstop, accepting it all with aplomb.  He did his own fair share of pinching and groping, it was accepted after all, he even felt his hand slip between a pleasing pair of cheeks that were conspicuously bare until his fingers discovered an almost non-existent g-string running up the woman’s crack.  Erin smiled again as he nodded his head to the music, running his tongue over his teeth as he turned back to the woman in question.  His smile faltered just a bit however at what he saw.  Only a bit though as he blinked away the sudden image of fiery red eyes and pointed teeth that flashed dangerously in his direction.  Her expression in that split second was almost, hungry, as though she wanted to take a chomp out of his ass and then move on towards his balls for dessert.  Closing his eyes for just a second Erin took another look at the woman, seeing this time as the dark-skinned woman, she was beautiful in fact, came sidling up to him, her full, luscious lips parting as she rubbed up against him, her perfect breasts rubbing against his chest, held in place by only a strap that connected the thin pieces of cloth that covered her for the barest of modesty.

“Hey baby,” she purred seductively, her voice pouring directly into her ear, “You wanna find a dark spot to get me hot?”  Erin smiled as her tongue flicked out softly against his ear, feeling a tiny shudder run down his spine.  Or maybe that was the X.

Don’t do this.  He shook his head at that moment as the strange thought ran through his mind, confusing him just enough that the woman backed away a step.

“Are you alright?” she asked, raising her voice just enough to be heard over the music.

“What can I get ya?” the bartender, a large man who’d dressed himself up as a half-naked grizzly bear, thrust his head forward, or rather, the large, grotesque grizzly’s head he wore over his features forward.  Erin suddenly felt boxed in as he could sense people to all side of him.  Looking around however he could see that the nearest people to him were the unknown woman and the grizzly-headed bartender, everyone else was either out of arm’s reach or on the dance floor.

“I think he needs a double of whatever,” the woman said, the smile coming back to her lips as she stepped close again.  Erin felt as her hand reached down and squeezed a tender part of his anatomy pleasingly as she smiled up at him.  “I can take care of the chaser.”  Erin nodded his head, moving into her hand as he began to grind against her body, looking to the bartender as he gazed directly into the dark, glassy eyes of the grizzly.

“I’ll take a shot of Jose and another shot of Jose, and whatever the lady wants.”  The bartender’s smile was just barely visible beneath the open jaws of the grizzly, but Erin didn’t care, he was concentrating solely upon the hand that was so pleasingly perched upon his crotch.  That was nice.

*                      *                      *

 

This was hopeless, but he had to keep trying.  Only so many humans had the qualities that his kind required to attach themselves to a living host.  He could find an animal to latch onto, though the last time he’d tried that Larissen had been forced to undergo the painful death that the cat had suffered at the hands of a neighborhood bully.  Humans could be undeniably cruel at times, even if they were children.  He’d wondered more than once at why the survival of a race that could breed such uncaring young was so vital to this realm.  It had gone along just fine before the humans had gotten here, it would no doubt find a species to fill the gap if they were to be somehow exterminated or forced into oblivion.  But that was not his place to say, no matter that he shared this realm with them.

As an exile he could do no less, though as an exile with no physical form of his own he was dependent upon the living body of another, otherwise he would soon fade away.  The cat that been so cruelly strangled not long ago had expired near here, but the youth that had done the grisly act had not been the right type of soul for Larissen to attach himself to.  Strangely enough he’d felt the pull within this place, the familiar tug of a kindred spirit that would suit him just fine.  The unfortunate part was that he was not the only spirit here.

The sickening parade of flesh and carnal desires were not completely unknown to him, yet still the fallen angel could not equate the perverse acts he’d witnessed this night with those he’d seen in the past.  He had experienced through others the deeper emotions such as love, passion, even caring on a level that he knew was perhaps one of the greatest gifts humans possessed.  Within this den of corruption however there was little if anything in common with such tender moments.  This was a carnival of flesh, a disgusting example of pornography that he could not abide. But he needed the consent of the human he now stood near.

He knew the daemons, his kinds ancestral enemies, could sense him here, though they could not see him.  They were as blind to his winged form as any human was, restricting themselves by the flesh they wore and thereby unable to see his glorious form.  Larissen knew he was not a true soul such as his brethren that existed within the glorious heavens of the Light, he carried his own scars and the foul taint within his blood that had resulted from the last and greatest war, but he was still an angel, and thus he was still appalled by what he now witnessed.  There were women foisting themselves upon women, men upon men, and even more perverse acts as both sexes intermingled with one another freely, not seeming to mind the questing hands and other appendages that seemed to appear by magic within their midst.  It was simply too appalling to believe.

Not everyone within the building was a daemon in disguise, though there were a great many of them, such as the bear-headed fellow serving drinks, drinks laced with some sort of powder that Larissen could not identify, and the woman who was attempting to lure the human he’d come for away.  He’d seen at least a glimpse of her true face, Larissen had seen the uncertainty in the young man’s painted face, but that had been fleeting, and the drugs within the young man’s system no doubt were making him question his senses.  Larissen knew that the young black male had seen something, but he was already convinced that he had not.  Larissen shook his head, his grayish-white wings fluttering behind him as the female next to the human seemed to sense his presence, frowning just a bit as she looked around.

Her façade was that of a beautiful, Nubian female, her form pleasing to the eye and her features almost ethereal in their quality.  The angel knew very well that this mask was only skin deep, beneath the woman’s thin veneer of deception was a creature of such pure evil that Larissen knew he would surely drive his blade into her heart had he his own body.  The disassociation from his own corporeal form had been punishment however for striking out against his own brethren, leaving him bereft of his own flesh and blood yet still bound to this realm.

Had he the chance he would have gladly rid the realm of every daemon within this place, but he could not.  The human male in front of him now would have to accept him, and so far that was not likely to happen.  As Larissen looked to the massive bartender, another daemon, he could just barely see as the creature sprinkled a heft amount of crushed powder into the young man’s drinks, turning around in the next moment as he placed them upon the bar.  Erin was far too engrossed with the woman in front of him, no doubt far too attentive to the hand that was gently massaging his groin.  Larissen was disgusted, though he could do little about it.

As he watched, Erin downed both shots, knocking them back quickly before turning back to the woman, who had already exchanged a glance and a wink to the bartender, who’d smiled and nodded, neither of them seeming to mind that Larissen’s anger could easily be felt.  He would have gladly slain them both, mounting their heads atop the bar no matter that this was not the way of his kind.

The woman then pulled Erin’s head down with her free hand, her lips seeking his as her tongue danced along his lips for only a second before their lips locked.  Erin leaned down obligingly, his own hands roaming quickly over the woman’s body as she moved into him, grinding in rhythm to the horrid, blaring music that seemed to echo off the walls.  Larissen tried his best to place his suggestive voice into the young man’s mind again, though he was met with a wall of such dire passion and fierce resistance that it was like trying to yell into a hurricane.

Let her go! Larissen pleaded, trying to gain the young man’s attention.  The female daemon kissed him harder, placing her false womanhood against Erin’s crotch as she broke the kiss, moaning into his ear how much she liked this behavior.  Erin obliged her, grinding and moving with the music as she then disengaged, confusing him for just a second.

“Against the bar,” she breathed, the signs of her lust showing as her cheeks reddened and her body reacted to the stimulus.  Larissen wanted to retch.

Walk away from her Erin, now.  The angel pleaded once again with the young man, trying to make him see what he was about to rub up against.  Erin closed his eyes as he shook his head, his lips twisting as he held one hand to his head.

“Is something wrong with you?” the woman asked, her tone becoming testy as she narrowed her eyes at Erin.  Larissen thought that perhaps this was his chance as he reached out, his insubstantial hands seeking to grip the young man’s head as he used his force of will.

Listen to me Erin, she is not who you think she is.  Please, for your own sake, leave this place and follow me.  Erin seemed to hear him for a moment, in fact it seemed as though the young man saw him, but then Larissen’s hopes were dashed aside as the young man’s grin widened across his lips, the garish paint upon his face making the gesture seem a bit grotesque as Erin strode past Larissen, his grin only widening in response to the woman’s as she leaned against the bar, her upper abdomen striking the bar with an inaudible thump.  The bartender grinned at the woman as she grinned back, leaning her head back just enough as he lifted a bottle filled with a pale yellow liquid, its golden label speaking of the contents as it was poured directly from its metal-plated spout onto her tongue, running down her throat and from the corners of her lips as she swallowed, making an obscene show of it as she waggled her tongue back and forth.  As Erin gripped her hips Larissen had to look away, not wishing to see as the human and daemon sought to please one another.

*                      *                      *

 

Erin couldn’t believe his luck as he thrust his hips forward again, and again, and again.  His entire body was tingling, he felt as though he were ascending into the ceiling for some odd reason, and it felt really, really good.  As the woman in front of him continued to moan and beg for more he knew at that moment, he was the man.  His hands felt along her smooth buttocks, feeling the warmth of her body as they ascended her tender flesh, his body folding against hers as he could smell the tequila upon her breath.

“Hey babe, is there room for another one?”  Erin turned his gaze toward the voice as he saw his date, her gaily painted features still as bright as when they’d arrived.  She was painted up as a foxy vixen, the dark circles around her eyes serving to make her dark blue orbs seem even larger than they were.  He smiled at her as she ran one hand up and down the dark-skinned woman attached to him, running her tongue over her teeth as she used her other hand to gently rub the point where they connected.

“Oh yeah baby,” the woman said to his date, “come here and we’ll fit you in.”  His date was a white woman, something his parents didn’t truly care about but still raised an eyebrow towards. They didn’t realize this was a new age, a new time in history when colors didn’t matter.  Erin smiled as the woman pushed back against him, levering herself, and by extension him, away from the bar as his date slid in smoothly, facing the woman as she smiled seductively, looking coyly past the woman towards Erin.

“Does this get you hot baby?” his date crooned, reaching for the woman as she and Erin moved forward, seeking to envelop the dark-haired woman.  Erin could only nod as he felt the point of connection between himself and the woman throbbing almost painfully, demanding he pay attention to what he was doing.  He happily obliged.

*                      *                      *

 

The new woman was human at least, though it made the act no less disgusting as Larissen stood just behind Erin, his back turned to the tryst as he surveyed the dancers and other individuals upon the warehouse floor.  His eyes burned as he saw daemons cavorting about in human disguise, fooling those around them so easily that he could not stop himself from believing that those who’d come to this place deserved what they were to receive soon enough.

Looking out upon the dance floor and other areas Larissen could easily spot several daemons, saepes as they were known, dancing and caressing their human victims as they used every touch, every charm at their disposal to fool the gullible mortals.  Only a step above their weakling cousins, the milikedes, these daemons were much more intelligent than the soldierly creatures beneath them, less prone to simply tear another being apart, preferring subterfuge and the pleasures of the flesh.  They were the most carnal of the daemon race, enjoying the full range of human feeling as it pertained to satisfying their more amorous desires.

They were sickening in his mind, less noble than the foulest of their race and more deceitful than even the sorcerers that reigned above them within the hellish realms of the Dark.  He could not abide their presence, though for the sake of the young man he was here for Larissen must.  As he cast a look behind him he could see that Erin, the saepe, and the human woman were still locked in the throes of their sickening passion.  He could see as the massive saepe behind the human woman reached forward, his pale skin rippling slightly as he reached for the human female’s breasts.  Claws that would have cruelly torn into the woman’s skin were covered once more by human flesh as the bartender grasped her quickly, pinching and fondling as the woman moaned in pleasure.  Larissen looked away again, his temper flaring as he could do nothing, not even speak out against this atrocity.  He had tried to convince Erin that he needed to leave, that this place would be his end, but the boy would not listen.

He wondered what was the use in that moment, a thought that never would have entered his mind long ago.  As one among the multitudes of angels that had been sent forth to make war upon the daemons that had sought to claim this realm, Larissen had pledged his sword to the cause of saving those who could not save themselves.  After the great war however his views had changed, as they were wont to do he’d been told.  He’d never given much thought to the talk of the elder angels, preferring to think that he would be the same person once he’d passed through his own fires of doubt and uncertainty, but that had not been the case.

Larissen had seen such atrocities that could not be easily dismissed, horrors that were forever burned into his conscious mind no matter how badly he wished to forget them.  And he would see more he knew.  Hard times were coming, the fulfillment of a prophecy that had existed since before the time of mankind was soon to be initiated.  And then the world would know true misery, such as it had not known for far too long.  The DarkFall would come again.

*                      *                      *

 

God he felt like he could go all night!  Erin thrust again and again into the woman, not minding the way she slammed back into his crotch.  Had he been sober he might have backed away, thinking that she was a little to overzealous for his liking. But that wouldn’t have been as fun as this moment, when his loins were burning for more, more, and even more.  He could see his date French-kissing the woman even as the woman lowered her hands along the woman’s body, making her gasp as her fingers disappeared between them.  Erin had no intention of stopping, but as the woman suddenly settled firmly against him, pulling his date forward with her, he felt as though he were about to explode.

“Let’s find a dark corner,” she suggested, her voice low and husky as Erin rested his chin upon her shoulder, almost coming nose to nose with his date.  The woman’s glitter-covered eyebrows rose as she licked her lips, her eyes seeming a bit glazed over as he stared at her.  He didn’t care though, this was the best time he’d had in far too long and he didn’t mean to waste it.

“Hell yeah,” his date said.  Was her name Alison, or was it Alice?  Erin didn’t know for sure, all he knew was that she’d been excited to go to this rave with him tonight.  It was hard to know everyone in the halls at school when the student body was nearly three thousand students strong.  Hell his own class, the seniors, boasted nearly a third of the school!  All he knew was that Alice, or Alison, had one smoking hot body and had known him at least long enough to tell Erin that he had a hard body too.  Of course he knew this, he was a football star, a track star, hell he could write his own ticket into any college he wanted at this point.  He’d already had scouts from schools as far away as the University of Washington and even Duke University looking at him during games and meets.  At the end of the year he would make his decision on where to go, and then his life would take on a whole new vista full of possibilities.  But for tonight, the only vistas he wanted to explore were the soft curves of his date and this other woman, who seemed almost too good to be true.

“Oh hell, I got someone waitin’” Erin suddenly remembered, laughing along with the two women as the dark-skinned female turned to him, disengaging from him as Erin groaned slightly.  Looking down at his revealed member each woman pouted slightly as they each reached a hand down.

“Well let’s not keep her waiting any longer,” his date said, guiding her tongue along Erin’s lips before placing her mouth over his.  Erin couldn’t help but agree as the two women reluctantly pulled up his pants.  It wouldn’t do to have his member get abused on the way there after all.

*                      *                      *

 

Larissen almost didn’t notice as Erin and the two females left the bar, turning around to see instead the uncertain stare of the heavy saepe that was running the bar.  The daemon sniffed audibly, looking this way and that as he sensed the angel’s presence.  Larissen wanted so badly to lash out at that moment, but he would not.  He could manage to affect the material world, but only if he let go of every last emotion, which was far too difficult.  In this instance though he was sorely tempted to try.

“I know you’re there,” the large daemon growled, revealing his large, misshapen teeth that were covered over by the veneer of flesh.  Larissen’s eyes widened in disgust as he attempted to purge himself of anger, the desire to harm this creature burning even deeper in his being as for the moment he almost forgot about Erin.  It was a breach of his duty, a dereliction that he would no doubt berate himself for later, but it was just so damned tempting that he could not move for the moment.

“You say somethin’ Adam?”  came a voice from the daemon’s left, high in quality as slightly nasal with a lilt to it.  The daemon did not shift his position save to narrow his eyes, leaning slightly to the left as he spoke.

“Nah, just thinkin’ out loud is all Lenny.  You wanna shake and poke when you’re done?”  There was a startled gasp as the man in question, a thin, pock-marked human who looked as though he’d be more comfortable in a more tropical setting, winked at the big bartender, a sly look that further disgusted Larissen as he felt his lips curl in absolute disdain.  He knew just why the daemon had said such a thing, especially if he knew the angel was here.  Nothing would please a saepe like the chance to nettle an angel’s sense of propriety, the opportunity to insult their sense of honor and what was right a delicacy to such beings.

“Soon as I’m done, come and get it big guy.”  The man named Lenny shook his hips suggestively as the big man leered over the bar, moving away as Larissen closed his eyes.  He didn’t want to see what came next, so he left.

*                      *                      *

 

People were getting it on everywhere they could, the moans and groans reverberating from the dance floor to the four long walls of the warehouse, with a few screams of ecstasy mixed in here and there as though to add a bit of spice.  Already a few people had been asked or forced to leave, their sensibilities or simple bouts of jealousy earning them the dreaded eighty-six.  Erin didn’t know what the problem was, everyone was here to have fun, it was supposed to be an all-night orgy, something that most everyone would remember the next day with a smile on their face.  He knew there would be a hangover to go with, but it would be worth praying to the porcelain god for a short time.

Costumes, body paint, face paint, and other accoutrements adorned the dancers, making it seem like some strange, macabre ball where the only inhibitions were those that were left at the door.  Flesh was flesh, it was meant to come together in such a manner, to slide and grind against each other to the satisfaction of the concerned parties.  He was fully into it, accepting the questing hands and fingers that alit upon his stiffened member and his hard body.  The women with him didn’t fight it either, accepting just as many groping hands as they passed by, seeking the woman he could barely remember now that had told him to meet her in the darkness.

Erin couldn’t wait, he wanted to ease the throbbing in his groin so badly that he was about ready to take Alice, or Alison, or maybe it was Alonzo for all he knew, right on the dance floor and show her just what kind of man he was.  She’d moan for it, tell him he was the best, and then beg him to take her again and again, in so many different poses his head would spin.  And then he’d watch as the dark-skinned woman, he still didn’t know her name, took his date over and over as well, maybe he’d even get to join in.

As they moved along the dance floor Erin and the two women moved to the music, seeking the dark corner at the back of the warehouse as he looked up, seeing the dirt-streaked and almost opaque panes of glass above as he felt hands all over his body, pawing and grabbing, groping and fondling. God this was too cool.

*                      *                      *

 

He could no longer find Erin.  Larissen felt his spiritual heart beating madly as he passed by one daemon after another, barely registering as several of them snarled or seemed to turn their heads upon his passing, feeling his divine spirit as he hurried by.  They were not his concern, Erin was.  He could feel the young man’s life spark, though he could not pinpoint it through the dark miasma of filth and decadence that permeated this place.  His senses were so dulled that he could scarcely see past the painted faces and bodies of those who writhed and twined together upon the dance floor, blocking any easy egress to the other side of the massive room.

How he wished for his sword now!  The saepes herein would surely hack him down eventually, but at least Larissen would take several of them with him.  His divine aura would burn away the eyes of a few, and his blade would take many more, but he knew that soon enough the hideous things would overwhelm him.  But he would die as a warrior, as was proper.  He could not abide being confined to such an existence as this.

*                      *                      *

 

They found the woman that Erin had spoken of reclining upon an abandoned crate in the far corner of the warehouse, her flimsy clothing still adorning her body as she looked as though she’d been waiting for them.  Erin’s jaw dropped as he beheld the almond-shaped eyes, the slightly tanned skin, the long legs and the perfect form of the woman.  Her dark, jet-black hair was tied into pigtails that rode high on her head. Pigtails!  Erin felt his groin throbbing even harder as the woman beckoned him forward with one finger.  The two women with him followed behind, not fighting the young man’s advance as they both looked upon the Asian woman with lusting in their eyes.

“You found a cute one Silla,” the Asian woman spoke, her voice mid-range in tone, very pleasing to the ear.

“From what I hear Meso, you found him first,” Erin didn’t even turn to the dark-skinned woman as the Asian, Meso, wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down to her as she licked his lips with her tongue, the wetness thrilling Erin as he gasped.

“Meso?” he asked, smiling as she pulled back, her lips pulling into a pouting grin as she spoke.

“That’s right big boy, Meso horny, me love you looong time.”  Meso laughed as she leaned back, pulling Erin atop her as he willingly obliged, feeling as she guided him inward.  His gasp of only a second before became a moan as he entered, followed by Meso’s own groan as she too felt the heat that was radiating between them.  Erin didn’t waste any time, thrusting his hips forward as he braced himself against the crate, looking down into Meso’s lovely face as she raised an eyebrow, holding his buttocks with both hands as he pressed even closer to her.  And then, she changed.

Erin couldn’t even fully describe what happened. One moment the lovely Meso was a young, vibrant creature of passion, thrusting against him as Erin sought to pleasure her, and in the next second he was doing the wild thing with a creature he couldn’t even understand, a demonic yet somehow still alluring visage glaring up at him as he felt hooked nails dig tightly into his flesh.  What in the hell?!

“Me love you looong long time baby.”  The thing’s voice was gravelly as Erin looked down fully upon her mottled red and gray form, noting that she was still a knockout even as he felt a wave of such revulsion for the creature that even the ecstasy he’d taken couldn’t dim this harsh reality, if in fact that was what it was.

“What’s wrong baby?” the thing crooned, “You no like me now?”  Erin felt as his stiffened member kept thrusting in and out, mindless it seemed of his disgust as he tried to pull away, wincing as the hooked nails wedged firmly into his buttocks dug deeper, creating deep furrows as Meso pulled in opposite directions, flaying his backside as he could not stop, could not stop, had to keep going, had to keep on, unable to keep himself from thrusting, thrusting, ah God it just wouldn’t stop!

Erin turned his head as much as he could, looking for Alice, or Alison, or whatever the hell her name was, to yell at her to run, to just run and get out of here.  He didn’t want to be here any longer, not with this devil-thing forcing her claws into his ass, tearing it to dark ribbons of meat as he felt his own blood pouring down the backs of his legs. And still his hips didn’t stop thrusting, as though in some macabre way his penis had taken control, demanding that he finish at least before being completely turned off.

“Oooh, come on give it to me baby,” the thing crooned, dragging him forward with one clawed hand as she raised her left from his torn buttocks to just under his right arm, digging her nails in painfully as Erin tried to cry out.  She was there for that too however, her mouth rising to cover his quickly as he saw the twin rows of sharp, serrated teeth just beyond her full, luscious lips.  Good God how could he be getting turned on right now?  This wasn’t right, it wasn’t cool!

What he’d seen behind him, what he’d seen of it anyway, was no more comforting than his own situation, which was to say it had caused his eyes to bug out of his skull as he’d seen his date being thrust against the wall, her own eyes wide as the dark-skinned woman had turned to him, smiling as she’d then thrust her own lips upon the younger woman’s, burying any sound that Alice, or Alison, might have made as she ground her body against the senior’s.  His date hadn’t been able to fight the creature off, her hands and arms pinned to the wall effectively as the horned, black-skinned creature had rubbed against her, up and down, her scaly form rasping against his date’s clothing.  Good God what was going on?!

“You no horny no more baby?” the monster beneath him crooned as she pulled away.  Erin could feel a stinging sensation within his mouth as he tried to scream, the sudden torrent of blood that came from between his lips shocking him as he looked down at the woman with wide, frightened eyes.  She opened her mouth then, revealing something he’d not expected to lose so painlessly as his tongue was revealed, its ragged end peeking through her lips as she smiled at him, swallowing the thick, muscular morsel in the next second as she grinned at him with those shark-like teeth.

“You like I swallow baby?”  The monster beneath him hooked her legs behind his as she spoke, moving her hands up to just underneath his arms as she hauled back, rocking backward as she dragged him along, moaning in pleasure as her red eyes rolled back in her skull.  Erin didn’t know what to do, though he tried to scream, heedless of the torrent of blood still pouring from his mouth.  All that came forth was a thin wheeze as he felt the creature’s legs squeeze his midsection like a vise, driving the air from his lungs as she tore down his sides with her claws, easily parting the thin shirt he wore and drawing several lines of blood as she drew her fingernails, her claws dammit!, across his belly and up towards his chest, digging deeper as she went.

“Oooh baby you so hard, you very hard man!” the thing laughed as she spoke, still rocking against him as Erin could feel that he was about to explode.  This was just grotesque that he would be on the verge of climaxing in such a manner, though he could not deny the burning in his loins any longer.  As he finally bucked for his final time, his throbbing manhood seeming to explode, the demon dug harder into his chest, cracking bone easily and reaching deep within his chest cavity as Erin could feel a tearing, tugging sensation, incapacitating him as he could no longer lean back, his very spine quaking as he began to shudder.

He was able to look down however, and what he saw was not pleasing, not even as he gaped at what the monster now held.  Erin’s mouth worked open several times as his eyes opened and closed, the disbelief within their depths fading along with his life as the woman held his still beating heart, grinning around her deadly, sharpened teeth as she moaned once more, rolling her hips as she coaxed just a little more from his rapidly wilting member.  Erin rolled his eyes as he found that he could not take his gaze from this lovely, deadly, virulent, disgusting, somehow unearthly creature, watching as she brought the pumping organ to her mouth, where she took a hefty bite from its still pulsating form.

Erin wanted to be sick, he wanted to lie down, he wanted another drink, he couldn’t decide.  As the demoness swallowed her grisly bite of flesh she spoke, the grin within her words more than evident as Erin began to black out.

“Mmmm, you so tasty baby, me love you looong time.”  The demon-creature thrust him away then with one hand, as though he weighed no more than a rag doll.  Erin didn’t care, if it got him away from the bitch that was just fine.  As the darkness began to fold over him however he could have sworn he heard the woman, and her friend, hiss in anger, or was that fear?  He couldn’t be sure, but as both of them ran away, stark-ass naked, he saw what looked like a glowing form step over him, a vision he was sure of what might await him.  Or maybe this was just a really screwed up dream, and when he opened his eyes his mother or father would be there waiting for him, wondering why he had a wilting hard-on and a look of such confused terror on his face.  Well, they might not ask about the hard-on.

I told you Erin, the woman was not what she seemed.

He wanted to shout out a curse to the strangely glowing being that might have made his mother or father slap him lightly across the mouth.  Of course she wasn’t what she’d seemed to be!  What kind of stupid thing to say was that?  As he continued to look up at the figure he tried once more to talk, though no words would come, either thanks to his missing tongue or the blood that was now threatening to choke him out he wasn’t sure.

Erin pleaded with the winged being, it had to be an angel, how many stories had heard about from his mother and her friends about such creatures, he reached one hand out, as though beseeching the glowing figure to help him.  The winged form, he had to be one of the most handsome men Erin had ever seen, did not move however.  God what a gay thought, to think another guy was handsome, but he couldn’t help it, the man was.  His features were almost fair enough to be called feminine, but there was a strength to his jaw, his cheeks, and a fire to his eyes that was definitely masculine.  For example the frown he leveled at Erin, that was all that was man.  The insane thought almost made him laugh as he tilted his head back, trying not to choke as he lowered his hand.

I can no longer help you Erin.  You have done this to yourself.

That was crap, Erin wanted to say, he’d not done this, he’d had it done to him!  He’d just wanted to get drunk, get laid and then the next day go on about his way.  He hadn’t asked to be duped by some demon bitch into being served up as a cut of prime beef!

I will leave you now, may you find the Light, though I somehow doubt it.  Erin wanted to curse at the angel, to tell him to mind his own damned business, he’d never asked for his help!  Why couldn’t he have just said “Hey, this bitch is a demon, don’t screw with her?”  Oh God he wanted to kick the angel’s ass in that moment, to rip a few feathers out of those wings and see how loudly he squawked then!  What was the use of telling him that someone was no good without giving him more information so he could make a decision?  That was a bunch of crap Erin though, even as the lights began to dim.  Eventually the dark was all he knew, and then, he didn’t know anything else but pain.

*                      *                      *

 

Larissen’s heart was heavy as he made his way through the center of the dance floor, not even noticing as the dancers, daemons all, shied away from him.  His rage was dampened effectively, the sorrow that had tamped it down holding court within the vast chambers of his soul as he felt nothing but a burning desire to see vengeance, the only thing that kept him from lashing out as he wished.  And then, he let even that go.

The angel did not hesitate as became visible, a wraith-like specter amongst the solid forms of the daemons as he attacked.  The trick was to feel nothing he’d heard it said, only to act, react, and feel no emotion.  Spirits could affect the material world, but it was vital to let go of all attachments to the physical world such as emotion.  He could do that finally, he could release the pent up hatred, prejudice, and anger he’d felt.  Larissen could easily displace the sorrow over the young man as his wings flared out mightily, batting hard into one of the daemons as it went flying into its fellows, who snarled in response to the sudden appearance of the angel.

Larissen did not stop, driving his fists, elbows, feet, and even his forehead into the bodies of the daemons around him, cracking  bones and tearing flesh as he raked at their eyes, hammered their flesh and bones until they broke.  The howls of pain and agony pleased him, causing a sick chill of exhilaration to wash through him as he was attacked in turn.  The first offending claw however did no damage, nor did any after that, as he allowed himself to sink once more into rage, becoming immaterial again as the passage of the dark forms through his invisible body caused him to stiffen until finally he reached the edge of the dance floor, where there were fewer bodies.

He’d had his time, he would again.  But for now, he needed to find a body, and soon.  This was far from over.

 

Excerpt from The Oregonian

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2002

 

TEENS FOUND SLAIN IN ABANDONED WAREHOUSE

 

After an anonymous tip phoned into the Portland Police Department, two teens were found within an abandoned warehouse in northern Portland.  Officers have declined to comment upon the possibility of the warehouse being used for a current rave party.  A flyer announcing the party’s name, Cha Cha Cha, indicates that such a party might well have taken place.  The chief of police has gone on record to state that one of the victims, Erin James Rawlings, was the apparent victim of a vicious and fatal animal attack, though no tracks have been found.  The high school senior, soon to graduate from Sunset High School this year, was found face up on the floor of the warehouse, chest exposed and with several organs apparently missing.  Found along with Rawlings was another senior by the name of Alice Huger, a fellow student and editor of the Sunset Herald, the high school paper.  While it is said that Ms. Huger was found largely intact save for gouges and punctures to her wrists and lips, toxicology reports will perhaps tell a different story.  Both teenagers had allegedly reported to their parents that they were to attending the local theater in the late evening, though friends state that neither Mr. Rawlings nor Ms. Huger had ever been seen together before last night.  Further sources indicate that the two were surrounded by the contents of a small plastic bag, which contained no less than….

 

 

Larissen did not need to read any further, knowing exactly what had happened.  If only he were a muse, then perhaps he would be able to iron out the story in a more accurate fashion.  But that was not his function.  He was warrior, and he required a warrior to occupy.  He’d just have to keep looking.

Looking upon the smiling faces of Erin and Alison that had been posted within the paper he did feel a bit of sadness, though he could not feel entirely sorry for the boy’s death.  He had done such damage to himself in a large way, the saepe had only ended his torment.

“Is this to your liking?” the daemon that sat at the computer asked him, leering slightly as she looked here and there, feeling his presence as she sniffed, her nostrils flaring as her human eyes narrowed in suspicion.  She was wise enough to whisper in the buzzing office, though Larissen figured that no one would have heard anyway unless they were right next to her.  Saepes were everywhere, leaving him to wonder how many of the beings within this city were truly human any longer.  Most of the people within this building were at least, but that was small comfort.  Something was coming, something big.

Your time will come daemon, Larissen said, his eyes burning.  Oh yes, something was coming.

To Love and Lose

To Love and Lose

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

 

Spring 1998

 

 

“You’ve many questions my young charge, this I know.  But I must tell you this, you are not ready.”  Tyler snorted at the woman’s words, shaking his head as he looked out upon the endlessly rolling waves, seeking the serenity that had eluded him for the past month.  His life and those of his friends had changed in such radical ways that it was hard to imagine this wasn’t all some sort of demented, macabre dream that would end sooner or later.  His body and mind were in agreement that it wasn’t however, no matter how much he wanted it to be.  This was the reality he and the others had been given, and this was the world they were now forced to adapt to.  If only it weren’t the same world that had once been a haven for each of them, maybe it wouldn’t be such a daunting task.

“So then what makes you think I was ready for all this?” Tyler asked, spreading his arms as though to take in their surroundings.  He sincerely hoped that the woman knew just what he meant, though he was fully prepared to elaborate if that were needed.  He already had a few choice words in mind, though even they wouldn’t adequately convey the full scope of his emotions.

It had been hardly two months since life had changed, yet it felt like years had passed.  So many thoughts had run through his mind that Tyler felt as though he were about to burst under the sheer pressure of the mental burden.  He was just a teenager, a high school student that had been looking forward to graduation, moving on in life, simple as that.  But for some reason the woman that stood only a few feet away had seen fit to disrupt all that, and what was worse was that from what she’d been telling him it didn’t seem as though life would be returning to an even keel anytime soon.  It was almost too unreal to accept.  In fact he didn’t want to, but it appeared as though he had no choice.

“It was time for you to emerge my young warrior, your world is about to change, and it was necessary that you awaken before this happens.”  Tyler didn’t understand her words and to be honest he didn’t want to.  He wanted to wake up and realize that this had all been a dream, to feel it fade from his mind even as he rolled out of bed.  That would be his idea of fair, of what should happen.  But he’d already figured that this wasn’t going to be happening, the thought of being normal again was the dream.  Reality was the horror that he and his friends were forced to live through now.

“And so who made that decision, you? What gave you the right?”  The woman smiled thinly, her strange, dark eyes boring into him as Tyler stared defiantly back.  He wasn’t afraid, though his skin was tingling slightly.  Shaking his head he looked away, his anger rising slightly as he cast his gaze out upon the waves.

“It was time my First.”

“Quit calling me that!” Tyler replied as he turned around to face her again, “I’m not your first, I’m not your warrior, and I’m not interested in this little farce you’ve created!”  He wanted to say more, but the words were choked off in his throat as he felt a deep welling of emotion threatening to emerge, a sob that he would not show this woman no matter how much it wanted to come out.  He was stronger than that, he was not going to break down in front of this stranger!

“No matter my Champion, this is your path, and you must travel it.”  Tyler wanted to lash out at her, he’d never struck a woman in his life without due cause, which had happened only once, but now he was sorely tempted.  The woman was quite slender despite her elegant look, he could no doubt snap her in two if he was truly enraged, but Tyler felt that it was as at least a bit justified.  This woman had somehow taken away the world he’d known, replacing it with a nightmare that had replaced what had been real, a frightening, fog-shrouded landscape that had washed away the normally peaceful semblance of this place.

“Calm yourself my warrior, there is no need for-“

“Just leave us alone!”  Tyler roared, his blood boiling as he felt his face grow red.  “Everything was fine until you came and screwed it up!  Just put everything back the way it was and go away!”  Tyler knew he was acting childish, that no matter what he said the Lady would do as she pleased.  But at least it felt good to yell at her, it felt like he was at least in control of himself.  And that was good.

Tyler turned around as he began to storm away, realizing this was a dream but not caring.  He’d walk along the stretch of beach until his body decided it was time to wake up for all he cared, it was better than having to listen to the dark-haired female behind him.  As he walked off, his footprints showing the heaviness of his step, Tyler didn’t bother to turn around to witness the Lady looking after him, nor did he hear her words.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

“If I could, I would.”

*                      *                      *

 

1 month later…

 

 

 

“You have become the animal, you’ve let the darkness in.”  The thing in front of her that wore the form of her Champion snarled in response, his dark eyes shot through with the silver mists that had been a part of his body since his birth.  He still did not know how special he was, how important his life was to this world.  As she looked upon the warrior Aliyana knew that he was still there, that all was not lost, but he had allowed the darkness within his soul to blossom, to overwhelm him in this time of strife.

She knew that the young man was as susceptible as anyone to the hidden and unknown secrets of his being, but this was not the right time for this.  There was little to nothing she could do however, once one had allowed their inner darkness to take hold it was entirely up to them to return, if such was their desire.  She could not reach her Champion now, no matter how much she wished to.  He would be forced to fight his own battle, his own inner struggle, though she feared for him.

Aliyana knew too well the resistance that her First among the Chosen had shown, and she knew that there would be much, much more to come. Ever had those who had become Chosen been willful, almost seemingly dedicated to defying her in whatever way they possibly could.  Of all of them though, this young man was the only one among them that would truly threaten the stability of his world if he were to remain so obstinate.  She could not force him however.

Free will was not an illusion, it was a reality that could not be circumvented, an intangible thing that could not be stripped unless the will was weak. And Tyler Ferris was anything but weak.  He was young, and thus his defiance and headstrong manner were quite normal, but Aliyana had to impress upon him the importance of who and what he was.  He would not accept her, he would not step willingly into her embrace, but he would use the power that she had bestowed upon him, if only to keep himself and others alive.

He was a soul unlike many others, a true light within the darkness that was to come, but he was also capable of great violence, the truth of who he was a bane as well as a boon to those around him  All that remained was for him to choose which path he would take.

“You must awaken my warrior, you must take your place among the world, and you must do so now.”  Her words did not seem to penetrate the dark mien of the creature in front of her, Tyler’s face contorting into a mask of absolute rage as his body tensed, his fingers hooking into claws.  In that moment she could see the shadows that dwelled within him, the uncertain darkness that he’d unleashed more than once in his life.  It was a reflex action, an uncontrollable act that he had never desired to happen, but had been powerless to stop.  She knew the truth of this young man, of how he had come to be, and the truth made her shudder.

As Tyler attacked Aliyana could feel the waves of crushing shadow reach out for her, fading away only inches from her form as she called forth the power within her body, batting away the darkness as she twisted aside, faster than even this being could move.  Tyler was a blur as he struck at her again and again, his martial prowess proving great enough that Aliyana was forced to utilize every last move and hint of power she held within her body.  He was powerful, there was no doubt of this, but he was also young, inexperienced in the use of such power, and as such his strikes were just that fraction of second slower, allowing Aliyana to keep ahead of him as they danced upon the gray sands of their home.

She wondered idly if he would remember this once he awakened, though she doubted it.  Tyler was somewhere far away, this dark, chaotic thing that attacked her now was him only in flesh.  The calmer nature of this young man, the true essence of who he was, did not exist in this moment.  As she evaded a lunging strike Aliyana lashed out in turn, though was surprised when Tyler moved almost instinctively, evading her just as easily as she’d moved aside from his blows.  Avoiding another blow aimed at her head Aliyana backed quickly away, seeking to gain some distance between herself and this vicious thing, but it was not to be.

Tyler followed her step for step, his face locked in a mask of such rage that Aliyana felt sure it would have intimidated even the most fearless of opponents had they looked upon him.  The mists within his gaze swirled madly with each punch, each kick, as though his anger had agitated them in some way.  She knew this young man better than he knew himself at this moment, though she highly doubted that her words would be welcome to the deranged creature he’d become.  She could only hope that he awakened soon.  Aliyana did not want to harm this man, no matter what he might do to her.

Tyler attacked again, and again, and again, each blow coming closer to Aliyana’s body as she ducked and dodged, twisted and moved aside, just barely avoiding being struck with hits that might well have pounded her into the sand.  She didn’t doubt the power of this being, that he would be her end eventually, but it was not time, not yet.  So thinking she continued to move, not striking back as she evaded the many strikes executed by the young man that would one day be her end, that would one day balance the whole of this world once more, that would walk the lonely road of immortality.  She had to do something, but she knew that any action taken against him would be futile and, quite honestly, fatal for one of them.

As she continued to move Aliyana gathered to herself the energies of this place, feeling a slight tingle as they gathered within her body, circulating throughout her veins with the familiar rush she’d become accustomed to so very long ago.  She was a Shaper, the blood of a race that had once been the most powerful within this realm ran within her veins, and she would not fall this day.  Unfortunately, the same energies flowed within the young man that now attacked her.  She could only hope and pray that he would succumb to her touch, or she would be lost.

Tyler came ever closer, his fists and feet still seeking to connect with her flesh as Aliyana felt the burgeoning power within her body seeking release, demanding to be set free as was its wont.  She did not deny it any longer, waiting only a matter of heartbeats until Tyler gave her just the right opening.  As his left hand flashed over her head she struck, reaching out with her right to lay it gently against his chest.

“STOP!”

The power flooded from her instantly, flaring between the two of them in such force that it should have easily planted Tyler on his backside.  Aliyana felt herself forced back several steps as the force of her shout slammed into her as well, causing her to lower her head as she ground her teeth together, tasting blood as she felt the inside of her cheek split as she felt her jaws clack together over the tender skin.  She didn’t cry out, nor did she open her mouth as the gray sand beneath her feet was sent flying in small sprays of dry grains that were almost immediately caught up by the constant winds that blew along the coast.

This was a dream state, a world within a world where none truly held absolute power, but she had learned long ago how to control the energies of this place, to harness them as she would the real world this place emulated.  Raising her head Aliyana felt her breathing grow a bit heavier as she kept her eyes closed, shuddering lightly as she felt the taxing quality of the energy she’d just summoned taking its toll. She would not suffer unduly for this, but she would require at least some time to rest.  Dream it may be, but the price to be paid was the same as within the waking world, no matter how the power differentiated between the two.

Tyler was frozen, held immobile by the force of her attack, though she could see that this would not be so for long.  Even now she could see that he was fighting against it, his body trembling as he sought to reach her again.  She was powerful, of that there was no doubt, the blood of Shapers was hers by right of birth, but it was his also.  No matter that he had been born to human parents, this man was to be the one who would bring balance to this world once more, to usher in a new world where anything might happen.  Aliyana felt another shudder pass through her body as she thought of the trials this man must face, wondering just how he and his friends would weather the storms that were to come.  For they would do so, and the Creator help them if they failed.

“You will be powerful my First, but you must awaken.  You must take your place within the balance, or this realm will be lost.”  The wild look in Tyler’s eyes suggested to her that he was not listening, that he simply wanted to rip and tear her to pieces, to feel her flesh and bones give under his hands.  She knew that somewhere within that maddened form was the young man she had awaited for so long, the one who had been prophesied over for eons before his birth.  Aliyana wondered if he would ever come to realize his importance to her people, or if he would choose to walk away from his destiny, to leave the world to ruin.

The world would go on, she knew this, though it might never recover unless the Champion were allowed to claim his mantle.  If he were to walk away, the entire realm might well fall to the Dark, never to return.  That could not happen.

She knew very well what it was like to love and lose, the war between her people had seen much loss, much that had once been so beautiful torn asunder.  Thus she could easily understand his pain, the grief and sense of despair that had gripped this young man and those that stood with him.  There was much more to come.

*                      *                      *

 

1 year later…

 

 

 

The DarkFall had come.  Aliyana had known even as the blade of her student had entered her body that it had begun.  This world would suffer once more for her weakness, as it had done before.  This time however was much worse.  Sivis had escaped before the Chosen were ready to confront him, gathering his power and even managing to subvert four of her warriors for a time.  Never before had this happened, that her Chosen had become so divided, enemies before they were allowed to realize their true power.  Perhaps that too was her fault.

She had as a necessity spread the energies of the Chosen far and wide, so that she might not repeat her past mistakes.  There had been Chosen selected after her worst mistake long ago, though never had they been as powerful as the second gathering she’d assembled, requiring her aid to vanquish Sivis once again.  To this date there had been five different incarnations of the Chosen, souls she had deemed pure enough to harness the diminished power she had bequeathed to them for a short time.  Each time she had come to retrieve the power however, she had been forced to do battle with her own warriors, who would not relinquish the power so easily.

Power was to a human mind a terrible burden, a thing that was so badly desired yet could turn even the most caring individual into a monster.  Only a few among her past Chosen had willingly relinquished what she had given them, spared her wrath as their fellows had fought against her with every last ounce of energy within their bodies.  Those who had resisted had been left broken and beaten upon distant fields, unable to fend for themselves any longer.  She had been their savior, and she had been their end.

“Would you have done that to us?” Tyler asked.  He’d been made privy to many of her secrets, of how Sivis had escaped her clutches, how she had gathered to her side Chosen throughout the many years, and he had remained silent until now.  There was nothing to hide from this man any longer, no reason to not tell him the truth of who she’d been, who she was, and why she could not pass on to the other world just yet.  She had a duty to this man, a responsibility that still rested upon her ghostly shoulders.

“Only as a last resort,” Aliyana replied, her voice hollow as she stood upon the water-darkened sands of her home. She could not feel the winds that blew by them, though they still affected her transparent form.  Her time upon this world as a living being had ended, though still she remained.  She could pass on towards the clearing at the end of path just yet, Tyler and the Chosen still needed her, or rather, Tyler did.  Powerful he was, wise he would be, but the man was still a boy yet.  He needed her so much, yet he would never admit to such a thing.

“I see.  And do you believe you would be successful?”  Aliyana closed her eyes as she turned away, not wanting to discuss this right now.  She knew the answer deep within her heart, but she did not want to admit as much to the Champion.  He no doubt guessed at least what she might say, for she was as bound to tell the truth as he was, though she was not nearly as adept at the subterfuge he was.  He wasn’t a liar in any regard, but he knew how to omit the truth when it suited him, a trait that came from the darker side of his heritage.

“I do not know.”  That was enough of an answer for Tyler as he nodded, realizing in that moment that the Lady knew she would not have been victorious.  He knew in his heart that he and his friends had grown powerful within the past year, but there was much still to learn.

“Is this the way the whole world looks now?” Tyler asked, his gaze taking in the decimated remains of the port city of Astoria.  The strange, rubbery-looking tentacles that he’d fought so hard against upon his return to the peninsula had somehow spread, growing in number and even size as they had attacked the city, climbing the steep hill and working their way further as he could see the swaths of devastation left behind.  It was too much to believe that they’d continued forward, enveloping other stretches of land and perhaps even entire cities as quickly as they’d done to this one.

“The DarkFall has indeed come Champion,” Aliyana replied, her toes wriggling within the wet sands of the sandbar they stood upon, “This time it has stretched far beyond the imagination of its creator.”

“Answer my question please.”

Aliyana grinned slightly as she heard the calm forcefulness within his tone.  He was indeed growing up, becoming more accustomed to his place within the world.

“Yes, the world has fallen.”

Tyler lowered his chin slightly, his dark eyes taking on a hint of sorrow as the silvery mists that swirled within them seemed to leak from the corners.  Aliyana wanted to embrace him then, to tell him that it was his destiny to set things aright, but she could not.  He would not accept her even now, after all they’d been through, but he had thankfully accepted his place among the Chosen, becoming their leader in both body and spirit, if only to keep his friends safe.  He was the one that she and her kind had been expecting for so long, the one soul who was neither born of the Light nor the Dark, but of something in between.  He was the son of Chaos, the Champion of Order, a being infused with both Light and Dark, the only one who could hope to withstand the unfettered power of each.  He was the Champion, the one to whom the energies of this realm would bow to eventually.  And he was his world’s best hope of reclaiming its lost glory.

*                      *                      *

 

Four Hundred years later…

 

 

 

Much had changed, as it always did.  He was still here, though many were gone.  He had remained, to walk the long, hard road of immortality that had been set out for him so long ago.  His birth had been foretold for longer than the race of mankind had been upon the world, longer even than his people could remember.  He’d not asked for this, he’d never wanted to be anything other than what he had appeared to be, a normal human being with normal problems.  But that hadn’t happened.

Nations had fallen, the darkness swallowing them within its enveloping folds as those who had fought against it had withered and retreated, seeking haven where only death remained.  He’d fought against the darkness, he’d wielded the power of the Light, the fury of the Dark, and he had failed.  The power of his heart, the strength of his arm, none of it had been enough to save those he’d loved.

It is not your fault, this was fated to happen.

He didn’t respond to the voice, he didn’t want to any longer.  The voice had brought only pain and anguish to those he loved for so long.  He was done with the voice, done with the woman it belonged to.  He was done with the world.

It could get by without him.

Chosen’s Return

 

Chosen’s Return

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

 

1318 AD

Echoes Pass

 

 

They were children, though by the standards of their race they were grown adults.  Three of them were just barely out of their adolescent years, while one of them was getting on well towards middle age.  Yet they were hers, the ones she had deigned to come to with the gifts that were hers to give.  Those who had received them in the past had called the gifts a curse, a cruel chain by which they were attached to her will.  She’d weathered the vile and disgusting names she’d been called, she had even managed to forgive the first among her Chosen that had leveled such accusations from her, but not the second.

That time she had left her Chosen broken, bleeding and without hope of survival, the price paid for defying her.  They had of course already served their purpose, regaining for her the precious balance of this realm, thus they had no longer been needed.  Aliyana knew that she had not been so callous in the many millennia that had come before, but this was a new age, a new time, and her patience was not without limit.  Those who defied her were soon to learn that she was what legends had made her to be, the dreaded White Lady, the Vengeful Spirit and many other monikers she did not desire.

For her they were all the same, titles that meant nothing.  The syllables and breath wasted upon them were so much wind expelled uselessly from the lips of those who spoke them.  Thankfully those she had selected to serve her purposes this time did not question needlessly, though they obviously did not trust her fully.  This was to be expected, she had found that humans did not trust the very nose upon their faces if it did not convey what they desired.  They doubted their own senses, their own perceptions and even worse, they had good reason.  Sivis had escaped again, and the world was once again in peril.  Aliyana knew that her former lover would be recaptured once more, but the act of calling forth the Chosen yet again to deal with him would only the precursor to this.

She was stronger now, wiser and much older than she had been.  Outwardly Aliyana still looked the same, her youthful appearance serving to rattle and even unsettle her Chosen as they had marveled at being in such awe of a girl who barely looked old enough to marry or bear children.  This was the curse, or blessing, of her kind.  Time did not bear down as heavily upon her people, or hadn’t she thought.  Her kind were all but extinct within the world now, there were only a few that she knew of that had gone into hiding, preferring to live within the world rather than be its tenders any longer.

Aliyana could only imagine the chaos that would result from their absence, but thus far the humans had done fairly well.  They did not ask before taking however, often raping the land so as to gain what they desired.  Their kind knew little of balance, at least in the majority, and those that did were still barbarous, savages that still took without regard under the auspices that they were more in tune with the land than others.  It was a poor joke to her eyes, her ears and her heart, one that she wished to remedy with the terrifying wrath that she was so capable of, but she had thus far stayed her hand.

Those she had selected were the purest of heart she could find among the race, which was not saying much, though it would have to do.  They had been selected from all corners of the world, but they had come to her call, to this place, where she knew her former love would strike next.  They had come to the call of the Lady in the Mists, a name she had not shied from in the past, and would no doubt favor above all.  She knew each of them more than they realized, but she had revealed nothing of this to them, saying only that they must come, that they must heed her words and make all haste to the place they felt pulled.

The urging she had placed within each of them would not abate until they reached the dry, arid climate she now stood upon, its few bodies of water lapping gently against their sandy banks.  It was a desolate place, with only a few lush areas of forest to break apart the monotony of the surrounding mountains and rolling plains.  There were few animals here, mostly scaled, large-eyed reptiles that lay in the sun most of the day and then went foraging for their sustenance in their more active moments.  Aliyana had remained here for nearly twenty cycles of the sun and moon thus far, and she could easily say that this place was not among her favored spots.

She missed the rolling tides, the smell of brine and the open ocean, but it was not yet time to go home.  For many years now she had traveled far from the shores of her domain, the Sacred Glen where her heart and the memories of her childhood lay, waiting for her to return.  If she closed her eyes Aliyana could still hear the cries of seabirds and the gentle rolling of the mighty waves as they dwindled down to the thinnest ripples of water that darkened the gray sands.  There was a longing for home within her heart that would not abate until she once more stood upon the soft ground of the coast, but before that could happen, she would see her lover imprisoned once more.

Sivis had escaped not long ago, wisping his way from the red pearl she still wore around her neck once again to wreak his havoc upon the world.  So long she had labored to make his prison more secure, more inescapable, but always he seemed to find a way out, a way to hammer through her defenses.  It had taken her and many elders to construct the prison, but he had still found a way out.  In their haste they had been unable to fully inure the unseen walls of his cage so that he would be rendered completely helpless.  In hindsight Aliyana had already figured it might have been better just to kill Sivis, but the decrees of the elders had been firm.  The dark lord was to suffer as much as possible, death would be far too quick.  For the elders, death for Sivis would have been a release, and he had been meant to suffer.

Brushing these thoughts away Aliyana focused instead upon the names of those she had called, and just where they would be coming from.  She knew that each one of them would hail from lands far from this one, continents, as she’d heard them called, that had broken apart from the whole many millennia ago.  She had felt the bedrock of the world shift during this time, though she had understood far better what had caused it.  Sivis had been loose during this time, and once more the Dark had been allowed into the world, though so depleted had his power been that the dark lord had not been able to throw the gates into the shadowed realms as wide as he’d like.

Instead of a deluge of evil the bastard had loosed only a handful of the most powerful of daemons into this world, thereby insuring that the Dark would not leave this realm with ease.  There had been no rallying cry to war this time, though Aliyana had recaptured Sivis swiftly after he’d spent his energies releasing the daemons, with the help of the last band of Chosen of course.  Unfortunately they had not been able to enjoy the fruits of their labors, breathing their last upon their final resting place shortly after the battle.  No one challenged her, not even her Chosen.

*                      *                      *

 

Moriggan had commandeered a single-person vessel and made her way onward, braving the dangers of the open ocean with little more than a week’s worth of supplies and a few weapons that she felt she might need if she survived her trip across the waters.  She’d known more than one person who’d made such an arduous journey, though few from the many that had gone had ever returned.  Those who had had spoken of a new world, a place where the troubles and feuds of the land they’d been raised upon did not exist.  There were dangers to be sure, new and more terrifying trials to endure, but life overall was so much better, so much more, free.

She hadn’t wanted to go, Moriggan had been set to be wed to a fine man only a few days before, but this call could not be denied. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew it should have been, that she should have railed against the mysterious woman that had come to her, but she could not.  There was a purpose behind what she was doing, even if she didn’t truly know what it was.  That she would set sail on little more than a whim and a word from a woman she didn’t know was bad enough, but to think that she had accepted whatever strange gift the woman had given her without a peep of protest was even worse.  The father within her small village would no doubt condemn her for accepting the touch of the pale white woman; perhaps even insist that Moriggan be cleansed of her sins by being burned at the stake.  It had happened more than once in her peaceful little village.

Moriggan knew how her people thought, even if it wasn’t the same way she thought.  They were God-fearing folk that had left the old gods behind, even the trickster Maab, whose name was still uttered when ill luck befell one of them.  The one God was swiftly erasing the old legends, taking the place of superstitions that lain in place for so very long.  Some among her country fought such change, clinging stubbornly to the old ways and teachings, while many more came to the new and risen Christ gladly, as though needing a savior.

She had paid mere lip service to the one God, making others believe that she was indeed a woman of the one and only God.  In truth though her heart was not convinced.  Moriggan didn’t cling to the old ways like some other silly fools, she believed in Maab and world of fairies only enough to acknowledge that at one point and time perhaps such things had existed, but no farther.  This was not the same world that the elders and their elders had once known; it had changed a great deal and would continue to change so long as new ideas and new ways of living were invented.

Her wants were simple.  She had wanted to marry into the clan Mcullough, changing her name from McGregor, have children, perhaps four or five, and live out her life in peace.  The man she was to wed was a good man, a peaceful and loving soul, someone she could grow old with as she desired.  But of course, here she was, and that meant that such a life had not been meant to be.

Leaning her head back Moriggan allowed the brisk sea air to blow through the mass of braids she’d woven into her hair, closing her eyes against the possibilities that lay before her.  She didn’t know exactly where she was going, nor did she particularly care. All that mattered was that eventually she would desire her freedom from the Lady’s will, and when that time came, she meant to have it.  The journey ahead would be long enough, but a life without prospects of peace and freedom, that was far longer than she cared to think of.

*                      *                      *

 

Power had been granted to each of her Chosen along with a purpose that Aliyana had made sure overrode every other desire they possessed.  They would retain the knowledge of their lives before the compulsion to leave such worlds behind drove them forward, but they would come without question.  She knew that once they reached this place they would have a great many questions, though she also knew that such a time would have to wait.  Sivis was nearly here, she could feel his dark presence many miles away from this site, this place of power where she had staved him away many times before.  The last two times she had defended Echoes Pass had been harrowing battles from which she had almost not walked away, but Sivis had lost this font of power regardless.

Though buried deep beneath the ground the wellspring of energies that flowed for miles in either direction called to her, filling Aliyana with the power that was so very tempting, beckoning to her in a way that felt both right and wrong at the same time.  Power was not its own right, as she had been taught so long ago, but it was always there, always ready to be used.  Such a thing was hard to ignore, and even harder to use judiciously, but she had managed.  Sivis had laughed at her before, calling her a hypocrite, a weakling and many other, far more colorful names that she had not wished to hear.  He did not realize the importance of the balance of this realm, or if he did, the dark bastard did not care.  Aliyana had often hoped that it was the former, but could only surmise that it was the latter.

A shiver of power ran through her limbs as she stiffened, enjoying the pleasant sensation for the moment.  She knew what Echoes Pass was, though the extent of its true power had never really been given to any among her kind.  It was a safeguard, just as so many other relics and sites created by her people remained.  When triggered, by a means that only she and Sivis still knew, it would activate other safeguards the world over, insuring that neither of the primal forces, either Light or Dark, would be able to claim complete and total dominance over this realm.  Earth would remain independent of the primal realms, its own world in its own right.  She knew very well that the forces of Light and Dark had attempted to subvert this rule many times, creating new worlds and even planes of existence in the process, but never had she allowed them to enter this one unless she so wished it.

They could influence, they could whisper and cajole the humans, but never could they fully enter the realm itself.  Whether it had been a rule implemented by the Creator or by her kind was unknown, but it was one that could not be broken save for one way, by invitation.  Sivis had used this method more than once, though each time had weakened him, and in such a state he could not control even the least among the demonic hordes that had threatened to spill forth into this realm.  He would no doubt be somewhat lessened by the time he arrived, but he would still be powerful enough to put up a good fight.

She had learned that each time he escaped, Sivis was weakened to such a degree that even opening a rift for the creatures of the Dark took a monumental effort.  This time he had done no such thing, she would have felt the parting of the veils that separated the realms.  Instead he was conserving his strength, no doubt to confront her with as much power as he possibly could.  The result would still be the same, he would be imprisoned again, this time as with last time with the aid of the Chosen she had gathered.  Aliyana could feel each one of them drawing closer, their heartbeats pulsing madly as they sought the arid plains she now stood upon.

None of them knew everything about why they were coming, though each one of them knew that the need was dire.  They knew that what she had summoned them for was vastly important, enough so that dropping their lives on a moment’s notice had been necessary.  Humans were quite easy to manipulate she’d found, though the slight pangs of guilt she’d felt each time had torn at her enough to trouble the Shaper.  She had a conscience, though in the face of worldwide annihilation, war and the unending strife that Sivis would bring if left unchecked, her conscience was of no concern.

*                      *                      *

 

It took each one of them nearly a month to reach the area where Aliyana had summoned her Chosen, though every last one of them managed to make the arduous trip.  From the highlands of Scotland came their leader, the dark-haired woman known as Moriggan McGregor, the Champion and therefore strongest of the Chosen.  Hers had been perhaps the most stern countenance, she had been torn from the arms of her lover and soon to be husband on a whim, and thus her life had been stolen from her in a way.  Aliyana did not care, this woman was the solid leader that was needed, the power behind and in front of the group of Chosen that was needed.

Hela, the diminutive woman from the far eastern land of Mongolia, was short of stature but carried an aura of command about her that could not be denied.  As Herald of the Chosen she saw everything, her reddish eyes taking the measure of each warrior that she had learned upon her trip would be her newest companions.  She was a stern woman, her closely bound black hair always pulled back into a severe bun and her dazzling golden robes always kept neat, but she also possessed a heart far more warm than her cold stare would admit to.  Of them all, the Herald was perhaps the only one that Aliyana did not fully understand, or trust.

From the frozen north came the blond giant known as Erobos, a carefree and good-natured soul as well a deadly and formidable warrior.  Looking into his heart Aliyana had seen the warrior’s desire for peace, though she had also seen a sense of honor that had enabled her to make the correct decision upon which title to bestow him.  As the Balance of the Chosen he would not be allowed to fight, though neither would he be allowed to remain aloof from what was to come.  It was a decided insult to his proud heritage, but like the others, Erobos had selected to follow her path of his own free will.  To cage so fierce a warrior seemed like a crime against the very nature she strove to protect, but such was the sacrifice that had needed to be made.

The broad-shouldered and extremely lanky Aulick ir Vassen was a native of the barbaric land known as Germania, a conquered place that had felt the touch of war more than a few times in its long, bloody history.  The man had no doubt grown tired of the wars in his long and storied career of violence, but he had been ready and possessed the heart for dozens more.  At nearly forty winters of age he was among the eldest of her Chosen, but by no means the weakest.  A shaman of sorts among his tribe, Aulick had been the perfect choice to grant the mantle of the Elemental, though he had already abused the power given to him more than once for his own self-preservation, an act that Aliyana should have reprimanded him for, but had not.  She had not thought it prudent considering the outcome of the battle that was to occur within the vicinity of Echoes Pass.  The Lady of the Mists knew what was to come, though she would not dare to share this with her Chosen.  Like all things, this too must come to pass.

One of the most feared of the Chosen, the Reaper, came in the form of the dark-skinned male known as Cheraa, a native of the dark continent of Africa and a hunter of some renown.  Within his tribe Cheraa had been revered as the deadliest among them and at times been called the “master of death” for his brutal and often effective methods of slaying both prey and enemies from rival tribes.  Among his people Cherra knew more ways to kill a fellow human than most, and despite the darkness this brought to his heart Aliyana had selected him, bringing him to her side with only a hint of unease as he had answered the call readily, thinking that the gods had finally recognized him as their equal.  The man was a bit vain, but then so were most humans who excelled above their fellows.

Another dark-skinned human would serve as the enforcer, though unlike Cherra he was much larger and more severe-looking, as though his features and body had been chiseled from solid slabs of stone.  The large, brutish man known as Bala lived among the wild and lush jungles of the southern continent that lay just south of the land mass that Aliyana had summoned her Chosen to.  Fierce in both demeanor and heart, Bala would serve perfectly as the Enforcer, the one among the Chosen who was strictly about power and the application of force, be it passive or aggressive.  Among them all he was the most simplistic, the strongest and the most durable.  But he was also one of the most volatile, a trait she would have to watch before the battle to come.

The next two, opposites even though the power that had been granted to them was similar, were the Tempest and the Winddancer, masters of the unnatural speed that existed as an anomaly born of both time and matter.  It was a unique quality that each human harbored, the ability to accelerate their movements to such a degree that the normal vision of any among their kind would perceive only a blur.  Aella, the dusky-skinned, dark-haired woman from the Greek islands, was perhaps the most impetuous of the two, doubtful where her counterpart, the woman Kerberos, was accepting.  The almond-eyed woman from the isles of Japan did not question what she saw as fate, or ka in her own words.

The Tempest, Kerberos, was far more ferocious than the Aella, the Winddancer.  Aliyana knew the difference in their temperaments was due now to more than just their original mindsets, the powers that had been granted to them having much to do with how each woman comported herself now.  Arrogance tainted Kerberos’s attitude far more than it did Aella’s, who responded to the summons with more caution and far more doubt.  Kerberos had accepted Aliyana’s word without reluctance or hesitation, making her way from her peaceful village, a place she had detested, towards the far off continent where her destiny awaited.

Aella had decided to come after only a day of hesitancy, leaving behind her gleaming cityscape and the husband and children she supported.  Within the empire that seemed poised to crumble at any moment, it was a matter of pride that her husband, an ailing senator, did not appear weak, thus Aella had for so long supported him, making sure that he did not show such frailty to those who mattered.  Her children had scorned her both for bowing to their father in such a manner as well as taking up the practice of what was considered a man’s job, that of a soldier.

For many years Aella had considered herself something of a stranger to her own family, as though she had married, given birth and raised her children as someone else.  Who she was within was far different than the meek façade she showed to the world.  Within her heart she was a warrior, a being who did not back down, did not show pity and did not allow those around her to play upon her sensibilities such as her husband and children had.  Aliyana reflected that it had not taken much to get Aella to leave her old life behind, though she had not told the woman that this would be the case.

The last of the Chosen to be called was one of the most powerful and in fact one of those who was most directly tied to Echoes Pass.  Anya, daughter of Bromin, had answered the call to become a Chosen almost immediately, though with a piety that had somehow touched Aliyana in a way she had not expected.

Born a baker’s daughter, Anya was a golden-haired beauty, lithe and agile and quite strong from helping her family with the daily chores day in and day out.  Her hand had been promised in marriage to a fine young man, but deep within her heart Aliyana had found that Anya yearned for something more, a life that did not include her family, nor the bakery, nor anything that had to do with the world she knew.  Anya had wanted what she had never had, a life away from home.  Though it had pained her to admit this to the Lady of the Mists, the blonde beauty had done so, tears rolling down her cheeks as all thoughts of her sisters, brothers and parents had flown away on wings of only the barest regret.

The guilt she had felt over this had been only partially soothed by the promise of something far more satisfying that Aliyana had spoken to her.  It was not a lie, not from what she saw lingering within Anya’s heart. She could offer the young woman what she desired, if only to make the girl realize that it would end almost as soon as it began.

They were coming, her Chosen were making their way to where she was, and they would arrive only shortly before Sivis, who had been forced to abandon the dark pathways of the Shadow Road.  In his state he was powerful enough to stave away the creatures that now roamed the realm of earth, but along the Shadow Road, the predators that would seek his flesh would number far too many and far too powerful for him to contest in his weakened state.  Thus he had been forced to travel overland, much as a human would. The irony of this was not lost upon Aliyana, and even made her smile.

*                      *                      *

 

Though none of the Chosen knew this, it was the power of Echoes Pass that called to them more than Aliyana at this point.  As soon as each one of them touched upon the unknown soil of the northern continent they could feel the tug all that much more, focusing their gazes in the direction that seemed implanted within their minds.  Anya, who had made her way from her native country both secretly and with as much haste as possible, could feel the tug more acutely than any, in fact it was all she could think of any longer.

She had come across the waters as a passenger, paying for her fare with the few remaining coins she’d possessed.  The baker’s daughter had felt guilty for such deception against her family, but this had to be done.  Nothing else mattered at the moment, only reaching the source of the power that was calling to her so insistently mattered.  For many days now Anya had dreamt of the place she was to reach, the woman she was meant to meet finally in person.  Aside from the stout rod she carried in one hand and the severely depleted pack slung over one shoulder Anya had only the clothes she wore and the heavily worn sandals on her feet.

She’d done so much walking as of late that her feet had blistered over and over again, though she had managed to keep the damage from spreading by dint of the power that came when she used her voice.  Anya had learned much of her new talents upon the voyage across the vast, rolling waves that separated one land from another, learning to control the power as she’d come along, using it to mend her wounds, to ease her spirit and at times to gladden her heart when her darkest dreams threatened to pull her down into their chill embrace.  As she had found her voice could lift hearts, cause the worst of nightmares and even bludgeon others as though she had swung a mallet into their bodies.

Fear had been a natural effect of such power to begin with, especially when she had first used it against her rather annoying older sister.  The damage done to the woman had been minor, but the split lip and torn garments had been more embarrassing than harmful.  No one had denied that Anya was capable of bruising her older sibling, but the manner in which she had done so had never left her mind, or her sister’s.

*                      *                      *

 

Aliyana could feel when the Chosen united, smiling as they came together finally.  There would be difficulties among them, that was to be expected, but this had happened with the first two groups of Chosen as well.  Humans had so many issues with one another it was amazing that the species had survived so long.  From the color of their skin to the tenets of their religion to even the way they spoke, the race of mankind was constantly at odds with itself.  She knew that Shapers had been little better, but at least they had come to a peaceful resolution more often than not since each among them had known that a true fight among Shapers could divide land masses and cause entire regions to become nearly uninhabitable should the fight grow out of control.  Humans at least were bound by their limitations to affect only themselves and small areas around them.

*                      *                      *

 

What Aliyana didn’t know was that the Chosen nearly managed to kill one another as the skies lit with thunder and fiery bolts of lightning as the group met.  Cheraa, never a stable individual in his past, had instigated the fight almost immediately as he’d seen the pale skins that had seemed to wait for him upon a low rise within the deep valley he’d seen as the best way around mountains that seemed to stab at the sky with their needle-like points.  The fierce warrior had not shied away from the coming fight that was already playing in his mind, but neither had he come at the male and female directly either.  He’d known better, he was a hunter after all.  One did not approach their prey with arms waving and mouth wide open to announce their presence.

The two in question, Anya and Aulik, had taken to each other readily enough, though Anya had kept her distance from the man just the same.  Each of them had come to the rise as though it were some pre-destined spot and were determined to wait, the feeling that others were to come somehow burning deep within their minds.  This was an odd sensation, but neither of them saw fit to deny it as they’d began to talk, their differing accents not seeming to matter as they could somehow understand one another perfectly.  The two of them might not even have gotten a warning that Cheraa was about to attack unless Moriggan had not appeared within the hunter’s path suddenly and quite unexpectedly.  Unbeknownst to any there the Scottish woman had arrived before even the first of them, which had been Anya.  She had watched the blonde woman carefully, not willing to say hello until the feeling that others were to come had passed.

Seeing as how that hadn’t happened soon enough Moriggan had been about to walk forward when Cheraa had come upon her, his dark skin helping him to blend in with the shadows of the woods around them.  The hunter had shouted a quick war cry before he’d attacked, his long, deadly bladed spear stabbing hard for her heart.  Moriggan had reacted instinctively, drawing deeply upon the destructive power within her veins as she felt the energy of the surrounding world fill her, threatening to burst her heart from her chest just before she had released it.  Cheraa had gone flying backward with a startled shout as Moriggan had gone to her knees, the exertion taking its toll as she gasped for breath.

Aulik had then glared at Anya, crying out “Deceiving witch!” before reaching for the heavy club that was attached to his waist by a leather thong.  The man had tried to strike her, but Anya had been quicker, her fear lending speed to both her voice and the reaction that came unbidden as a result of her terror.  She was no fighter despite the rod she carried, nor was she as enamored of combat as the others.  Anya had always been a baker’s daughter, peaceful and reserved save for when she scrapped with her siblings.  In those times she was still gentle unless her older sister had pushed her too far, but she was never as crazed as the man who had attempted to strike her was at that moment.

Without regard or even knowledge of what would happen Anya shouted “NO!” at the man as loud as she could, her voice amplified in that moment as Aulik went tumbling away, his club flying from his open hand as he landed hard several feet down slope from her.  Anya had stared, marveling at how such a thing could be, when four more characters had suddenly sprang from the surrounding woods, each of them wielding a weapon that looked much more substantial than her own.

Confusion had gripped each of them at first as they had wondered what to think of each other, but as Aulik had risen with a defiant roar of anger the skies had seemed erupt, thunder and lightning tearing at the fabric of the heavens as though Armageddon was upon them.  Anya had winced as a single bolt of lightning had pierced the ground not far away, striking the ground with a force that she knew instinctively would be her end if it connected.  Aulik had charged then, his club regained and the madness in his eyes, which were a clear and frightening silver at this point, promising an end that Anya knew would not be pleasant.

Before he could reach her however Aulik was stopped by a mountain of a man, the dark skin of the stranger seeming to stand out against the colorful surroundings as he confronted the enraged warrior.  The heavy stone club that the dark-skinned man held in his massive hands seemed far too large for any human to handle, but as Anya had watched he had fended Aulik away easily, using the stone club easily as the fierce warrior had been forced to keep his distance.

Lightning had still scored the sky as the others had come forward, though they had not seen fit to attack, especially not after the words of one of the women, a dark-haired and very stern-looking female, had spoken.  Anya had been frightened to death, thinking that among them all she was the weakest, most ill-prepared for this moment.  Yet as the woman had spoken she and the others had suddenly come to attention, listening intently, as though the words were of the greatest import.

“Chosen, halt!” the woman had shouted, resting her hands upon the hilt of a curved weapon that was sheathed at her left hip.  Her imperious manner had captured each one of them save for a dark-haired woman that had come walking slowly out of the brush, glaring back at the form of another dark-skinned man that had followed her out of the brush, looking just as angered as she was.  Anya had wondered what had transpired between the two, though that had ceased to matter as the woman had gone to stand with the first female, towering over her by at least a head as the first speaker had nodded in acceptance, as though she knew the woman.

“I’d imagine ye’re all here fer the same reason what I am.  So say it then if it be so.”  Her voice had carried only slightly less command than the first woman, but Anya had detected a great deal more force in the woman’s words, as though she were, above all of them, the one to be paid attention to.  That she and the others could understand the woman was strange enough, but to think that they knew one another in some way was odder still.  Yet something about the dark-haired woman, no matter that she was a stranger, struck Anya as familiar, though she didn’t know how.

“I am Bala.” the mountain of a man said, his voice deep and serious.  “I come to the Lady’s call as you have.”

The snort they all heard came from the man that had followed the dark-haired woman from the surrounding trees, “I too have come by request from this Lady.  I am Cheraa, master of death as I am called.”  There was arrogance in the man’s tone as well as his stance as he planted the butt of his spear into the ground, his eyes roaming around the loosely assembled group as though daring anyone to speak against him.

“My name is Aulik.” the man who’d been about to attack her said.  His eyes had not left Anya, though from the abatement of the storm, she could only imagine that he had calmed somewhat.  How she knew it had been him that had caused such a thing was a revelation that didn’t seem to matter at the moment.

“I am Erobos,” came a voice from off in the trees, followed by a handsome and very large man, almost as large as Bala, as he emerged from cover.  Anya had seen the man’s type before, though the coming of such violent folk often denoted trouble.  Erobos was a Viking, one of those who pillaged and overran small communities when they could not forage for themselves.  Instantly she knew that she did not like this man.

“My name is Aella,” said one of the women, her weapons shifting slightly as she moved her body just a bit, no doubt thinking to remain alert just in case anything untoward happened.  Anya couldn’t blame her, this entire mess seemed to be getting more tense by the moment.  At least however she would know the names of her fellow Chosen before they tore one another apart, if it came to that.

“I am Kerberos,” said another of the smaller women, holding onto a pole whose top featured a curved and very sharp-looking blade.  She too seemed rather stern, though in her almond-shaped eyes Anya could detect just a hint of something other than concern or even caution, something akin to respect.

“I am Hela,” the woman next to the dark-haired, white-skinned female said, bowing her head as the dark-haired woman did the same.

“Well, I’d guess that leaves jus’ the two of us then.” the woman said as she looked to Anya, whose eyes were wide with both wonder and fear.  The grin the woman gave her as she spoke was somehow both terrifying and reassuring all at once, though Anya could not reply for several moments.

“I, I,” she began, licking her lips nervously as she looked around.  All eyes were on her, some of them even seeming a bit hostile, as she stammered.  Anya had never been at a loss for words like this, nor had she ever been in a situation like this one.  It was like being a rodent in a field with several very hungry and curious hawks watching her, waiting to see who would be the first to pounce.

“Out with it girl, lest we simply call ye “lass”.” the woman quipped.  That decided Anya then and there, especially when she noticed Aulik grinning.  She would not be patronized, nor would she be spoken down to as though she were child. With a firm roll of her shoulders she fixed her gaze upon the dark-haired woman, not twitching so much as an eyelash as she spoke.

“I am Anya, daughter of Bromin and I too have heeded the Lady’s call.”  The iron in her voice felt as though it would crack and fail at any moment, but for that heartbeat at least Anya felt good, she felt the power that the Lady had bestowed upon her.  And she felt as though she were just as strong as anyone there.

The woman smiled in response.  “Well enough, I am Moriggan McGregor and according to the Lady, it appears as though I am to lead ye to where she’s called us to be.”  There were a few murmurs to this, though none dared dispute it.  Anya had figured that Aulik or perhaps Erobos would do so, she knew the pride of the Vikings very well, but no one did.  Instead each warrior turned their full attention to Moriggan, nodding their heads in respect as they did.  Anya did the same, though for some reason she could not help but think that the woman had not yet earned even this slight fealty.  She hadn’t earned it at all.

*                      *                      *

 

Many days later the Chosen met with the Lady for final and perhaps most important time.  Aliyana had not left the arid land where she had waited for them, utilizing the vast power at her disposal to keep herself comfortable, fed and entertained while she had awaited those she had gathered to her side.  Sivis was still several days away at best, only a few at the very worst, and she had much to teach her Chosen before the time came for them to fight.

Resistance to her ways was expected and without surprise the Chosen offered her more questions and far more difficulties once they arrived.  These were dealt with in short order as the Lady was forced to dominate her Chosen once more, insuring that they would do as directed once the dark lord arrived.  There was no time for dickering, no time for argument and none at all for defiance.  She would have their loyalty or they would perish far quicker than she had hoped.

That they would perish was not in question, though she did not tell them this.  In the several days before Sivis arrived Aliyana managed to convey the importance of Echoes Pass, just why it could not be subverted, and what it would mean if such a thing were to happen.  There were still more questions, mostly from the Songbird and Herald, but none that could not be answered with a dodge or in full truth.  Aliyana did not outwardly lie to her Chosen, but she did not tell them everything.  That would have been too much, even for them.

As the days passed she feared for her Chosen even as she realized that they would soon perish, however nobly.  It was wrong to throw away life, she knew this with absolute certainty, but it was equally as wrong to allow the realm to fall for the sake of only a few.  She could not accept such a loss and would not.  Her Chosen would fall as warriors, rather than as prey to the dark things that would be unleashed if Sivis were to have his way.  The days passed, and she waited, and she feared.

*                      *                      *

 

And then the day came.  She could feel Sivis’s roiling cloud of darkness, could sense his vile presence, but he did not appear.  Instead the sands rose, the exiles who were trapped within the dwindling power of this place standing to defend Echoes Pass as they had been charged.  If it had been Sivis who had come forth not even the fallen angels would have stood a chance, but Sivis did not show himself.  Instead he sent his foot soldiers, creatures born of darkness and fostered into life by the dark lord himself.  He sent the legions of humans that he had corrupted, the hellish feline creatures known as hellcats, the duskwalkers, the wagging jaws and the worst of the bunch, the Darklings.

And they were not enough.

The Chosen and the exiles plowed through them easily, reducing the fearsome horde to little more than straggling and wounded curs that howled as they retreated.  Aliyana did not fully understand until the day after the initial battle what had happened.  Sivis had somehow faked his presence within the desert, alerting her to the danger yet not the fact that he was nowhere near where she was.

The Chosen were of course not pleased, but upon her word they had gone forth into the world, seeking out her former lover and his minions a bit at a time, not stopping until finally, finally, Sivis had made his move towards Echoes Pass.  Many years had passed, decades in fact that had tried the patience and the loyalty of the Chosen again and again, cementing bonds between a few of them and creating at least a mutual respect among others.  Each one of them had been tested, tried and thrust into the fires of the continuing war that Aliyana had not expected.  Even the weakest among them had become strong, forging their bodies in the blaze of combat time and again until not even Anya, the most innocent of their number, had been able to remember just how weak she had once been, how fragile, how docile.  Each one of them had killed, taking life when it was deemed necessary and restoring balance to more than one area after another as they had made their trek across the face of the realm, not stopping until one day Aliyana had called them back, summoning them once more to the desert where she had expected them to make their final stand.  Sivis would strike soon she had said.

The day of this happening had been unknown, but Aliyana had still managed to trick him into believing the way was clear to take the wellspring of power.  By this time the Chosen had grown so far in power that not even Anya could be taken for granted any longer, her mastery of the Song that she had discovered within the very folds of Echoes Pass imbuing her with even more power, more energy than even Aliyana had expected.  She could only hope that the power that each of the Chosen had found would be enough, though after so many years left out of captivity, Sivis had undoubtedly grown far too powerful to be taken captive by the Chosen’s combined power, let alone one on one.  It was the diversion she would need however, not the actual victory, but as always Aliyana had left this minor detail out of her words to the Chosen.  They had no need to know that they were her sacrificial lambs.

The Chosen’s return to the desert lands heralded the thrumming of power that resounded from Echoes Pass as Sivis had attacked, bringing forth yet another legion of dark creatures that had sought to overcome the exiles that guarded this place as well as the assembled Chosen.  Aliyana had known the true reason the dark lord had not deigned to fight this battle alone, but she had not divulged this to her warriors, seeking to remain unseen and unheard until it was time to strike.  And strike she had.

*                      *                      *

 

Devil’s Playground-The Present

 

 

Moriggan remembered a little too well how her will and those of her fellow Chosen had been bound to both Sivis and the wellspring that was Echoes Pass.  The unreal level of pain that had been visited upon each of them had broken each of the Chosen one by one, until only she had remained.  And then she’d seen the truth.

As she sat upon the wooden rocker that she’d found inside Moriggan looked to the horizon, seeing nothing but sand and dry scrub where there had once been still lakes and lush forest, sparse as it had been.  This land had changed a great deal in the time since she and the other Chosen had been secretly kept away.  She could only wonder how much of it might be Aliyana’s fault.

The White Witch, as she had taken to calling her, had led them all to a certain doom just by acting like a godsdamned innocent of all things.  Had they seen past the illusions they might well have sided with Sivis there and then, thereby stopping the woman’s rampage across the face of this world.  Moriggan didn’t think this made her or the others fools, but she couldn’t help but feel responsible for the loss of order that Sivis had told them about.  The world had fallen into chaos he said, and for all Moriggan knew the dark lord had no reason to lie.  Dark he might be, but honesty was often the most hurtful of all weapons.

Aliyana had lied to them, telling each one of her precious Chosen, precious!, that their actions upon this battlefield would never be forgotten.  Dirty Maab if that hadn’t been just a bald-faced lie! The world had indeed forgotten about them, as Sivis had shown!  None of what they’d done was remembered by anyone, not even their descendants, of which they’d all learned they had at least a few of their bloodline.  Moriggan had been curious to know just what had become of her kin, but Sivis had convinced her that such things were better not to know.  She hadn’t even questioned him after this, not once.  If Sivis had said it didn’t matter, it must be true.  After all, truth was the hardest thing to accept, and right now the truth was the last thing she desired.  All she wanted was to go home.

The Writer’s Corner

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