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The Watchmen Part VIII – A Horror Novella

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

 

It creeps along at a lingering pace, the blast barely moving a handful of feet at a time. I desperately want to move, but I know they won’t allow that. Not until they have wrung every ounce of pain from my body. I’m hoping through my own suffering I’m able to convey the message convincingly enough that the people watching may listen. ‘May’ being the key word here. It’s almost beautiful watching the buildings bend around the blast radius, the pieces wrapping the dome of smoke and fire. My survival instincts kick in as the blast gets less than a hundred feet from me. I can’t scream, mustn’t scream I tell myself over and over. I want to believe I can do this, that I can somehow trick my mind into not trusting what I see and feel. I wasn’t sure how long in real time I’m here. Seconds? Minutes? Hours? I knew that it had to be less than an hour until the restaurant closed. I secretly hope that they don’t close and have to drag my catatonic body out of here as I stare lifelessly, or worse, scream my head off. Not that I would have to worry about losing my job but upsetting or freaking out Devon seemed far worse than any of that. As the light draws closer I think back to how many days we all had left. Four days after today. It had been so long that I thought I’d lost a day between now and this morning. It felt days apart. It’s less than thirty feet now, everything in sight a blinding blur. I should be feeling something by now, or ripped apart─ but yet again I have a feeling my friends have made it far worse. They’re showing me not only what it means to defy them, but the pain that they will inflict on me─ either at the end, or until the end. I’m not sure how much more I can take of this or if I can even last the next four days. I know I will have to upload my video and live-stream soon. If I give people more time, it will go much better for them. 

 

The fire is directly in front of me, three feet from my face. I choke back a whimper as the heat stretched across my skin. The pain is so unimaginable that it steals the breath from me. My skin peels back from my fingers, arms, chest, and then face. The muscles along my bones turn from red, to purple and then black. An in-human sound escapes from me as I groan, unable to contain myself. I know it isn’t real and I know I can’t harm myself, but at this moment I want the agony to end. I fall to the ground, my legs and spine shattering into fragments against the pavement. I can feel every blow, every splinter as I slowly dissolve. A second, and then third blast tears me apart and finally I’m released into nothingness.

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Devon carries me over the threshold as I cry against his shoulder. My arms are tight around his neck. I can’t shake the chill from my body and shiver uncontrollably. He says nothing and lays me on the couch. He disappears for a moment and then returns with a blanket from my room. He drapes it over me, pulls up a chair and places his hand on my head. He runs his fingers through my hair and we both sit quietly together. His touch is soft, as if he doesn’t want to press too hard. I breathe out and close my eyes, allowing myself a moment of release. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been touched this way. The only thing that came to mind was when my mom would rub my back and neck while I was sick. I snuggle against the blanket, my sniffles subsiding. The wetness around my eyes and cheeks have dried. I breathe deeply and my heart finally slows. It should be weird laying here with a man I barely know touching me intimately. I should cringe and pull away, my skin crawling at the invasion of my personal space. I should be a lot of things right now, anything but calm, and yet here I am allowing this to happen. He applies a little more pressure and I sigh. I nearly let out a small sound but stifled it─ eager to put behind the appearance of weakness. I know that moment however has passed, he’s seen me bawling like a child. I managed to make it out of the bathroom with my dignity still intact and before closing, but the instant I saw his face I disintegrated. I had collapsed in front of all the staff and worst of all, Devon. How many times could I do this in front of him before he decided to abandon me as a friend and a coworker? My breath hitches and my chest tightens just thinking about it. “Devon, I─” my voice falters.  

 

“Shh,” he says, continuing to stroke my hair, “don’t worry about anything except here, and now.” I’m content for the first time in a long time. We quietly sit this way, his hand caressing my head and then running them through to the ends of my hair. His voice comes out soft, “Zedd had his moments, like this, for the past several months. He was starting to get much better just a few weeks ago.” He paused, looking down at me, “you want to know something that really strikes me as odd?” I look over at him staying quiet. “Zedd once brought in a sheet of paper, just like you and had me look it over. It was blank and he shrugged it off, much like you. But there was something there in his eyes. Haunted, like yours.” I keep silent but my eyes betray me and I have to turn away. I stare at the back of the couch, trying not to show what I’m feeling. “Kate, I don’t know what’s going on but I don’t want things to go the way they did for Zedd.” He gently places a hand on my shoulder. I wanted so badly to believe that I could stay strong and keep quiet, but I can’t anymore. The will to hide it all slips away. I’m tired, so tired of keeping it in. 

 

I push myself up and swipe at my face. “You’re right about me hiding things from you.” “I know,” he says, “but I was waiting for you to tell me on your own time.” “The thing is,” I bite my lip deciding on what to say, “even if I told you everything, you wouldn’t believe it.” He’s quiet for a little while and then sighs, “I think that whatever you are going through is real, just like it was for Zedd. I know it was bad enough that he took his own life.” My lips quiver and I hug myself, running my hands along my arms. “I don’t think that you are the type to make things up and I think that what you and him went through is somehow connected.” I nod and wipe away fresh tears. “Yes, it is. I honestly thought that I was going crazy until Zedd approached me that day. We talked over dinner but I swear to you, he gave me no hint of his” I look at the ground “intentions.” Devon’s hand slides under my chin and he tilts me toward him. “I know you didn’t. That was his choice.” His voice is raw and his eyes tear up. We’re now inches from each other and I’m struggling to breathe. He leans dangerously close to my lips but veers to my ear instead. His whisper sends chills down my body, “tell me what you’ve been through. I want to hear it.” My chest rises and falls quickly, it’s too much and all of my senses are in overdrive. 

 

He senses that something is off and pulls away, giving me my space. I’m thankful, but at the same time, I want him to be close. I’m so confused. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” My face is on fire from his words, “I no, well,” I clasp and unclasp my hands, “words.” I offer lamely and then try again, slowing myself down, “I like you.” “Duh.” He says, cracking a smile. My eyes grow wide and then I lose it. Despite the situation we both can’t help ourselves. It feels good to let it all go─the tension, the pain, and heartache. “How did you know?” I ask after a few minutes. “I didn’t, but I do now. I’ve been told I’m sort of clueless on signals.” He said, scratching the back of his head. “Damn it,” I mutter, “I’m so horrible at this.” He pulls me into a hug “I like you too, dummy. If it wasn’t obvious.” My grin grows wider at his words and my heart flutters. It’s the first time that I’ve ever felt something for someone and they liked me back. My shoulders sag and I lean into him. I want to capture this moment and remember it until I’m gone. 

 

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The Watchmen Part VII – A Horror Novella

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

 

For the better part of the evening I’ve managed to avoid eye contact as we sit across from each other. I’m mortified that he stumbled on me like that. I still haven’t been able to vocalize exactly what I saw. Thankfully, he just helped me onto the elevator and we drove over to the restaurant in silence. I was feeling a bit self conscious about my body odor and had excused myself to the bathroom to wash up. Nothing makes you feel more classy than taking a bath in the sink. To my utter relief, no one had walked in during the process. I even had a chance to wash and dry the pit stains from my blouse. When I came back, Devon had just smiled and we ordered our food.

 

After only a few moments the waitress returned with our appetizers and drinks. I suspect they probably had them under a heater since it was fried. My suspicions were confirmed when I took a small bite out of them. They were soaked with oil and tasted a little stale. Devon frowned after trying one of his too. “I guess they aren’t known for freshness” he said shaking his head, “let’s hope the food wasn’t under a heater either.” I thought he would leave it at that, but when the waitress came back around he asked, politely, if we could please have fresh spring rolls. The woman acted a little embarrassed and assured him that she would return with something better. He had done it in a way that didn’t sound entitled, or angry just a request. There really was something I respected about a person that was nice, but confident. Maybe there was hope for me yet. 

 

After some prodding and awkwardness, Devon had me gushing over the project and how excited I was to be working on a main character. He asked about how I was getting along learning Maya and integrating photoshop. In no time I was relaxed and had almost forgotten the incident at the office. We devoured our meals, which really surprised me since I normally eat like a bird. I’d been teased about it since I was young but I had always had more on my mind than eating. Especially when I was working on a project. We ordered some sticky rice pudding for dessert and a round of hot tea. I sighed in content at the combination of sweet and sticky and the roasted, clean flavor of the tea. I closed my eyes and leaned back savoring the last of the tea. “A fellow tea lover, I see” Devon remarked. I grinned, opening my eyes and nodding my head. He smiled back at me warmly. A movement caught my eye behind him and I looked over. There had been no one seated behind us and the restaurant was winding down. I frowned, staring at the spot that I knew something had just been. 

 

Devon turned behind him and then looked back at me, “everything OK?” I shook my head, “yeah, sorry I thought I saw something.” The waitress walked up with the check and said to stay as long as we would like, they would be open until ten. We both thanked her, Devon ordered another round of tea and then handed her the card. We waited quietly for her to bring them back. My anxiety increased as the silence stretched on between us. I knew what was coming, it was the end of the pleasantries. I surprised myself by speaking first, “listen, I’m not really sure what happened back there but something spooked me. A shadow, movement, I don’t know. The next thing I knew, I was booking it down the hallway and I ran into you. I feel completely embarrassed.” Devon looked at me and nodded, “I could tell, but I can tell you what it was. I don’t mean to make you feel self conscious, but you’ve been losing sleep.” I look up at him shocked. “How could you tell?” He points up to under his eyes. I must have had some dark rings under them for him to notice. “With Zedd gone, and our project still needing to meet this tight deadline, all of our nerves are shot to hell.” I press my lips together but manage a tiny nod. I didn’t like all of this lying, it just wasn’t me. “When we all,” he paused for a moment, “get back to a normal routine I think things will start to fall back in place.” His voice wavered and I reached out to grasp his hand giving it a tiny squeeze. I kept it there but looked away, unable to look him in the eyes. The waitress walked up and smiled then handed the black card holder back to Devon. I pulled my hand away, embarrassed to display affection in front of her. Plus, I wasn’t even sure what we were. It’s not like we were dating. I wasn’t even sure if he was seeing someone, or married. I haven’t seen a ring on his finger but today a lot of people didn’t that were married. Jewelry can be very uncomfortable. I fidgeted with my fingers, then brought up my arms to grasp my tea. I was eager to put something between the two of us. I have been far too open with this man. Well, except for the lying about the end of the world and what I have seen. 

 

“Kate.” I looked up and realized the waitress had left us. “I was hoping we could talk about Zedd, but I realized I’ve been far too pushy today. After all, we did just bury him.” I can feel tears starting to form but I tilt my head to the side and blink rapidly, trying to shoo them away. Another blur of movement streaks in the same spot and then stops directly behind Devon. It doesn’t move. I don’t want to turn my head, I don’t want to breathe. I just want all of this to go away. I squeeze my eyes shut, drowning out Devon’s words. Please not now, I beg silently, he already thinks I’m a nutcase. Nothing could prepare me for what I opened my eyes to. 

 

Dozens of them filled the room. Just staring at me. The room has gone silent and a thin trickle of ash and debris float around us. I keep my face straight, fighting to not react. I know if I show any hint of what is going on, Devon will see nothing but me freaking out. I focus on my breath, drawing air in and out. It’s not until I really look around that the horror unveils itself. All the people are crumbling ash. It’s the first time they haven’t made me experience the horror of the bomb. I can handle this, it will end at some point.    

 

Breathe in. 

 

I force myself to look across the table at Devon and smile. My breath hitches and my chest heaves. He’s not like the others, there are bits of flesh still clinging to his face, chest, and arms. It slumps off of him in a gooey pile, falling on the table and into his lap.

 

Breathe out.

 

I sound like a bad exercise video, but it’s comforting me. The things notice and move closer, puzzled by my reaction. They are literally feet from me. I look up at the closest one, gritting my teeth. I won’t give you the satisfaction, I yell in my head. I’m hoping that they can hear me loud and clear. A horrible vibration comes over me in waves, washing me with unimaginable pain. It’s all I can do to not yelp in anguish. 

 

Breathe in.

I’m coaching myself to fight through the pain. At last it’s too much and I wrap my arms around my belly, rocking back and forth. I remind myself again that Devon is still there in the real world staring at my every move. “Sorry,” I say, “I need to run to the restroom.” I don’t wait a second longer than I have to, before I’m out of my seat. I try and walk normally toward the back, but I know I will have to walk past these awful beings. I expect them to move aside, but they don’t. They just stare at me through the deep, dark hooded cloaks. I groan at the immense pain but put one foot in front of the other. 

 

Breathe out.

 

I manage to release the air again, realizing I had been holding my breath the entire time. Now for the real test. I hesitate a moment, hoping I can get past this thing and not run into anyone else in the process. If I can just make it. I press my jaw together and step forward. Warm, dense air surrounds me, like walking into a sauna. The air is cloying, like dirt and decay. I’ve never smelled anything like it. Don’t stop, I urge, keep it up. I let out a sigh of relief and finally make it to the bathroom. I’ve walked through at least ten of them, all the same peculiar sensation. I burst into the restroom and find the nearest stall. It opens easily and I turn and lock it, then sit down. I made it, I actually made it here. I know I would have acted strange to Devon but I could just blame it on nerves or feeling ill. I rock back and forth, trying my best not to make a sound. I’m still not out of the vision and someone could be in here with me. None of the creatures are here with me as I try and pull myself together. Maybe they will let it go, maybe the vision will end. 

 

Just as I manage to think this, a warm, clammy sensation fills the air. It surrounds me from every angle. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there. Waiting. I could feel the outrage from them, as if they were angry for me even showing an ounce of defiance. The waves of pain suddenly stopped, but in its wake it left fear. If the pain was unbearable a moment ago, what would they have in store now? Please, I reason quietly, none of us have much longer. I’m just one person. I can’t be worth this trouble. I knew trying to reason with them would be a shot in the dark. Whatever I thought would happen, didn’t. 

 

There were a series of flashes and the room was stripped away from me. I was thrown into the open city, floating in front of several buildings near downtown. I watch with growing dread, knowing what was to come. Instead of it happening within seconds, they drag it out. I can tell by the movement in the city below. Everything is moving at a snail’s pace. I orient myself looking at our office building behind me and I know I am facing North. From the right of me, I see the bright light crawling toward us. Why do I keep seeing this? Over and over from every angle. 

 

I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but this round they take that fantasy away.         

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Happy Lunar New Year!

This is a special time of year for me, one that we celebrated along with the Gregorian calendar that most American’s celebrate on the 31st of December and 1st of January. For those of you that are new to my blog, my stepfather practically raised me and he was Chinese. Each and every year I would delight in staying up all night with the family (let’s face it, I was a kid and staying up all night and missing school was sort of the best) the delicious foods, bright red envelopes, decorating the house in red, and the wonderful lantern festival at the end.

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I remember staring at those as a child and praying my hardest for a better year for my family and for myself. It was a time for reflection, closeness, and joy. Though we weren’t entirely traditional (my stepdad did not believe in the superstitious aspect) which would drive his dad crazy as a traditionalist, always scolding us to not be negative during that time, or go out on certain days, or not cleaning until it was OK to do so─ (because before then, you would sweep out the good luck!) we would still have the get-togethers, have wonderful food and the excitement of new experiences.

And let’s not forget the fun red envelopes we received from the grandparents. We weren’t allowed (much to our disappointment) to open them once we got them, and they often never went to us but to our parents ‘for safe keeping’ but just getting those were a ticket to imagination as we heard stories about how they would ward off evil spirits.

To this day, I still love to celebrate as an adult and while my SO might not understand it (especially since I’m white) it will always be a part of my life.

Wishing you all the Happiest of New Years and may you find wealth, peace, and happiness this new year.

❤ Grey

 

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Our Current Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Apocalyptic Campaign Adventure Story Re-cap

So if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I run mini-campaigns and story arcs (along with my novels and short stories I leave on here.) If you managed to come into this campaign a little late, or just want to enjoy the story─ here it is!

The year is 2060, we’ve discovered that J.R.R Tolkien’s tales were true and that they just existed in another dimension that he stumbled upon as a young man. Their world’s magic is wizards, ours, scientists. But there was a problem when we opened the gates

to the other side. We didn’t realize that by opening one portal, we opened several more allowing the other side to stroll into ours. Dragons have decimated our defenses and burned down several cities, a nuclear reactor has gone critical and caused a super race of Orcs, Trump is now king of Middle-earth, and we are in a gridlocked battle to take back our planet. Humans now have the ability to do magic, but not all of us have great powers─ some are just weird or useless. Science is found to be evil and banned, replaced with spell-books.

Underground there has been a faction of dark elves and humans that have slowly built up defenses. Humans, being new to magic, are seen as second class citizens. Enter you, the leader of the underground race. You are strong, a bit stupid, and vaguely remember science. You have a plan, a good one, to conquer the underground and then, yesss the world. You need to build a team of what you can find that will help with this plan. You are so pleased by this plan, you are so great. You’ll have to remember to pat yourself on the back later. You have to make a few trips this next time but you have saved up enough vacation hours that it is possibly to take a whole two weeks to gather the team. Off we go to get our sexy─I mean badass team of─ something to do the plan. Whatever, we’ll figure it out! Off we go.

You decide on a team of a rogue, fighter, magic, science, cleric, defender. Yes, all of them damn it. You had to have calculated someone in there that will help, and surely they’ll do it for the experience, right? Who needs money! After some time of negotiations, and by negotiations you mean beating them with a club and chaining them together, you have a team─ Willing, or eventually willing, fuck it! And maybe one day you’ll give them weapons too. After they see how seriously awesome you are. After weeks of brainwas- persuasion, they have come to see that we all need to come together and rule these pesky elves. They’re a fairly docile race that believes in ‘talking it out’ instead of fighting. What a bunch of dum-dums. Not a weapon to be found. Now it’s time to decide.

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What do we do? Because, well, you’re awesome plan didn’t quite anticipate it being─this easy? Ah, to hell with it! Ah HA yes! Pillage the town. Excellent. The six of us shall set fire to this town and create- terror. So much terror they will be speaking about it for quite. Some. Time. Weeks, maybe even─a month. Ah, I’m going to cry happiness tears. Next, we become castle stormers but now, yes the scientist and the mage make big booms on all the rooftops and the horse’s manes. Their hair is far too lush for my liking. Show offs.

We set their world on fire without too much trouble. It’s easy, and I have become their master. I, am invincible. We have acquired more slav- I mean servants to persuade. Us, and our less-pretty ponies are charging our way to the castle.

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This is insane, there’s hardly anyone guarding the castle. At this rate, I’ll have new digs and probably sleeping in a bed fit for, well, me.

We burst through the gates, our torches held high and pause inside. Scattered around are several images of different kings of all ages. There’s peculiar paper hats shaped like crowns, and a cheap looking throne. In front of it is a large, fake stone with a sword in it.

We shuffle our way through and discover a large hall with lots of seats surrounding a dirt arena. They must have used this for some sort of…spectating.It seems the lords of this very odd castle have fled. For now, we will enjoy our- win? And wake to a new day of battle. Our battles, though victorious, have left us feeling less than satisfied at the fact that we haven’t fought much. Are they really battles, I wonder? The dark elves have retreated further into their tunnels and have been replaced by our pale brethren.

Well, never mind. My team has finally trustworthy enough to allow weapons and we have picked up a few miners, converted to fighters, and a bard. He seems obsessed with me and follows me around all day, but I cannot fault him. I am, after all, glorious.

I’m super conflicted, there’s a side of me that really wants to charge up to the surface, or follow the elves further into the tunnel. I can see a number, it’s clear in my mind. 9, yes 9, perfect. We shall storm the surface. Grab your weapons team, WOO YEAH we’re going all out. Epic battle, here we come!

On our steeds we charge, upward to the surface. Our weapons drawn, our voices roaring we plunge into the light.

The sun blinds us as we charge out screaming into the open. We quiet as we look around. Where…are we? There is nothing but sand, dirt, and hills for miles. In the distance there appears to be a city but there are a few hills along the way. There doesn’t seem to be anything else around accept for that one town. The weather feels dry and the sun is beating overhead. We sheath our weapons. What is this nonsense? Just a few years ago this place was crawling with Orcs. When will our battle happen? I growl and stamp my feet.

A horrible screech fills the air and I spin toward the noise. Oh hell yeah. The color drains from the others’ face but I let out a whoop and start beating my sword against my shield. A large, red dragon is diving toward us, its belly filling with flame. “MAGE” I shout behind me. He looks to me his eyebrows raised, “I can’t just pump out a wall spell right away, I need time” he shouts. Precious seconds are ticking by as the dragon blows a wall of flame. It’s screaming toward our team when I yell, “Tuck and roll, princess’s─ he’s coming in hot!” We dive back into the cave as a wall of fire destroys everything in front of us. The mage screams, rolling on the ground and we all quickly help him stamp out the fire (and maybe his fingers too) “Well then,” the mage growls, “I guess some thanks is in order. I’ll prepare my spell now, thanks.” I’m not a 100% sure, but I think I detect a hint of sarcasm in his words. We send a scout outside and when he doesn’t return, we have our answer. Or he’s a big coward mcpoop.

I have another scout crawl over with a sword to catch a glimpse of the angry beast. He knows where we are, and dragons hate anything near their nesting grounds. This one would not budge until we are taken out. The soldier sacrifices his life as I manage to spot just a flash of red to the south. We now know which way he’s coming from. I’m surprised as the mage’s spell surrounds us.

With our mage close, we stay behind the hill but have our archers use a first wave of arrows and the mage ready another spell. The arrows fall harmlessly to the ground and we dive behind the rock as another burst of flame narrowly misses us. The mage’s spell has kept us in one piece and bought us precious time as the dragon goes to loop around. We shift our position behind the other side of the rock and wonder how long this asshole is going to be able to produce fire. Surely, he must be tiring. “Um…sir?” I turn back and look at the squeaky sounding voice. It belongs to a young man, a farmer boy I suspect. “Maybe we could try freezing the beast or aim for his belly.” After I stare at him for several seconds he adds, “that’s uh…their weak spot?” I clap him hard on the shoulder, “good man─” that is very useful information.” I grin and look at the others, “alright guys, you heard what he said, aim for the belly!” There’s a few hearty laughs and they nod. We aim dead center as the creature fills its belly once more, with a yell, we give her all we’ve got.

In a combined effort, the ice and arrows do the trick and the beast dives for the earth. He hits the ground, stunned but still alive. “Ah, shit.” I mutter as the beast shakes it’s head, trying to get up.

The mage struggles to keep up as I charge toward the fallen beast. He tries to push himself up, but I manage to clamber up his neck and saddle his head. I toss my shield aside and stab downward. He roars and shakes his head violently, flinging me to the ground. In the distance I hear a faint call, a squeaky voice. I can’t make out what he says. I’m shaking my own head, dazed from the fall. He yells again and I catch the tail end of his, “THROAT” No head, right? I stumble a few steps, bend over and pick up my sword. I stare hard at the beast, the cogs starting to spin. Ah, the lad had a point before. It’s the throat with my sharp and pointy. I rush at him and he screeches loudly as the flem completely covers my face and shoulders. My sword finds it’s target and he shudders, then dies.

I take a few breaths and then climb the giant lizard again. I rub my foot into his eye and spit on him. My chest puffs and I turn toward my adoring crowd. “Are you slow? Like, legitimately a moron? You could have gotten us all KILLED.” My brows furrow, this wasn’t the greeting I expected for saving their lives. “You ungrateful shit. I spat. I just saved your lives.” “Barely,” he counters. I huff, crossing my arms. “Well, you smell bad.” His eyebrows go up, “and a child at that, lovely.” I turn over to the team and they all look away.

I clear my throat. “Well, you’re welcome,” I say loudly. Groans fill the air as they all move around the beast and start looting. The mage sighs and shakes his head, “we have a choice here.” I look at him blankly. “Dragons protect treasure.” My eyes widen. Forget taking over the town if we can get some amazing loot. Who knows what that creature was sitting on? Yes, the more I think on it the better it sounds. Come, fellow travelers, we shall head toward the treasure!

I turn to the mage and bellow, “can you do a sort of, you know, voo doo or gobledy-whatsit to find out where he came from?” The mage raises a brow, “A location spell?” he says dryly. I nod my head, “yeah, sure.” He sighs and opens his spell book. After several moments (and bizarre instruments the mage brandished) we were on our way to the creature’s den. I wondered if we would stumble upon a bit of entertainment. Like a super orc, or perhaps hoards of goblins. My mouth practically watered thinking about wetting my sword on their bodies. I strode ahead of the group laughing loudly at how they would never suspect such a clever group. We made it over the final hill and I paused, looking up at the glorious mountains sprinkled with forests.

We reach a fork in the road & the farm boy gently taps my shoulder. “uh─sir?” I turn toward him, irritated at my interrupted daydream. “yes?” “We aren’t really dressed for the mountains. Shouldn’t we get different clothes?” I glance down. “Alright, men─” someone clears their throat loudly and I arch a brow at them. I stare for a few seconds and shrug it off. I open my mouth to speak and I hear a small, “and women!” I ground my jaw in annoyance, “yes, yes” I say quickly, waving my hands at them. “We’re going to get clothes, I turn toward the farm hand─ warm ones. We’ll need them for the journey to the beast’s den.” The team grumbles but they all agree and we head toward the town. It’s a bit out of the way, but I estimate we will be closing in On the dragon’s lair by nightfall if we hurry, or at the latest tomorrow morning. The longer we take, the more it will be looted as word spreads throughout the town. In just over an hour we cross the threshold. The town is alive with hundreds of people.

It’s a quaint place, like something from a storybook and I can’t help but chuckle. What strange times we live in with competing technology and dragons. It takes some searching, but we finally locate the merchant. He’s a shifty looking sort and immediately approaches us. “Well then, what can I do you for?” he asks, eyeing one of the women archers. She crosses her arms over her chest and walks away. “We need warm things to cover our bodies.” “Jesus,” the mage growls, “we need clothes.” The merchant nods, “I see.” “We have all sorts here, but we may not have enough in stock for a group your size.” He rubs his chin, “I may be able to put in a rush order, but it’ll cost you.” His eyes are practically gleaming. “What have you got for it?” I’m impatient with this game. “We─ have dragon scales,” I reply eagerly.

The merchant’s eyes widen and then he rubs his hands together. “Dragon scale, you say? Let me take a look at it.” The mage grips my arm tightly. “The fighter is delusional. We have no such thing.” The words fly from my mouth, “Yes we do. We fought it this morning why are you lying to this man? I single-handedly ceased it’s breath with my sword, the wretched thing firing at us every second it got.” The mage relaxed his grasp and placed a hand on his forehead, “gods-damn it man, have you no wit?” I pursed my lips and furrowed my brow. “Right. Well, you have just made our task exponentially more difficult.” He stormed away and I shrug off his moodiness. “A red dragon then,” he purrs, rubbing his hands together. “Tell you what, I’ll let you and your team have these fine furs for a fraction of the cost.”

I grin and nod my head. The group groans. “You idiot, he wants something far more in return,” the archer growls. I raise an eyebrow at her then turn to him, “Is this true?” He does a slow, exaggerated nod. “Take me with your team. You are going to loot, right?” “See?” she spats. “I told you he would want a piece of the action.” I tilt my head, “no, you said─” “Nevermind,” she interrupts. I can’t understand why they are all so hostile toward me, but they do have a point. One more share wouldn’t be so bad, right? I grin at him.

“I’ll even sweeten the deal. If you bring me, I’ll offer two of my best men in return and I’ll sell you the furs at 75% off. A steal, really.” The group shifts and stares at him and then me. “Well, what say you?” he asks. The mage broods in the back.

The mage speaks from behind me at the same time as me, “Sure, come alo─” “Just take the scales,” we size each other up. “What harm can come if he just tags along?” I ask. “What harm can─” he starts incredulously, “he can rob us, murder us, or have friends waiting for starters. And don’t believe for a second he hasn’t thought of it.” The man mutters something behind me. “Or,” I challenge, “he could come in handy and his men could help fight.” “Yeah,” the man says. “Shut up,” we yell together. The man opens his mouth pointing a finger and then changes his mind and shuts it. After a few seconds, he tries a different approach. “Listen, things aren’t going too well with my business. I need this and it’s not like I could carry it all back.”

“You’d have plenty of time if we’re all dead,” the mage snapped. I start laughing and both of them lift a brow at me. “This isn’t funny,” the mage says. I shake my head, “so distrustful,” I say. “And you’re an idiot,” he shoots back. I roll my eyes.

“Well then, take a vote. I say we’ll be fine.” I emphasize the word ‘fine’ waving my hand. “Sure, just sign our lives away. No big deal.” I frown at him, “remember who saved your ass in the tunnels, shithead. Oh, and on land.”

The mage grumbles but nods. “How soon can you and your men be ready? With the furs as well,” I add feeling proud that I remembered. “We have the furs in stock, the men will be back within the hour.” He grins, “you won’t regret this, thank you!” The team is still behaving coldly toward the man, so I clap him on the shoulder. “No need to thank me, just have our backs and we’ll have yours.” The merchant disappears in the back and then returns with enough furs to last a few winters. “Don’t have enough, eh?” the mage drawls. The merchant chuckles, scratching his head. “Have to make a living somehow,” he says. I pat my belly after we’ve fully dressed in our furs. “I don’t know about you, but I could go for a bite.” The group agrees. “What’s good around here, man?” I ask.

“Only the one place,” he says shrugging. “But, they have good beer and decent wings.” My mouth waters. The way I’m feeling I could eat a hundred of those. The group all heads over to the pub chatting excitedly. The door opens and we all inhale at once. Hell yes, food.

“Hey─ David! How’s it going?” The merchant waves and smiles. “Great, me and my friends here want a round of wings and beer.” The tavern owner nods and heads to the kitchen. After a day like today, my bones feel weary. If we’re the only ones to know about the dragon, maybe we could just spend one night here. I look around the table and it seems like everyone else is thinking the same thing. We look tired. The man bursts from the back with another busty waitress and we’re served our beers. If heaven were a place on earth, it would be here.

We decide to stay in the warm inn, especially after our bellies are filled and that we will rise early for our adventure. I barely make it to my room when I collapse in my bed. I vaguely hear some idle threats from the mage before drifting off.

Sometime in the middle of the night, a scratching noise sounds outside my window. I grumble, roll over, and peek out. My eyes widen as the most beautiful woman I have ever seen floats outside. She curls her finger at me, beckoning me to join her. I grin shyly at her. She is captivating and the most unearthly beauty I have ever seen. I glance back at the mage, he’s muttering something in his sleep. The only sound in the inn is the crackling fire behind me. There’s some animalistic part of me that wants to join her.

I’m nervous she may change her mind but when I turn back, she’s gotten closer to the glass. She gently taps, smiling at me. I hold my finger up and run to put on clothes. When I return, she’s nowhere to be found. I search outside and sigh in relief. She’s waving below. I slip open the window and smile, the mage is out cold. Now that the cool air has hit me, I’m wide awake. I look around outside and realize I can climb down and then up the side of the building. Quiet as I can, I slip on my boots and tip-toe over to the window.

My foot catches on the wood and for a moment I think I might slip but I regain my balance. These boards are slick with ice. I lean out, my leg over, and In my haste to jump over the window, I lose my footing and tip over the side. I crash, hard, into a cart full of linens. The cart bends and then cracks into two. I think the worst has possibly happened when I catch of whiff of something─ foul. My nose wrinkles what on earth have I─ my eyes widen and I retch. This isn’t just any pile of linens. It’s dirty unmentionables. I fling them off of me as fast as I can, screaming at the top of my lungs. I jump up, brushing myself off and shuddering. I have never smelled something this awful in my life. And I’ve cleaned elven chamber-pots. This smell will haunt me for some time. I turn around to the inn and freeze. A dozen eyes are staring at me from the entry way. Then the snickers start until their laughter is a dull roar. I’ll never live this down.

The next day I wake grumbling to myself. The mage has a shit-eating grin on his face. “Morning, sunshine,” he calls. This is the happiest I’ve seen him in a while. Figures it would be due to my suffering. “So,” he says, “mind telling me what last night was about?”

My brows furrow as I purse my lips. I didn’t owe this guy anything and I know he’d really make fun of me if I actually tell him why I leaped out of a second story building. I’m going to lie my ass off. Screw him and his dumb face. “I was sleepwalking, if you must know.” he mage squints an eye and tilts his head. “Did you now,” he says, stroking his chin. “That must have been some dream.” He’s watching me closely. I don’t like it, not one bit. I quickly change the subject, “Anyhow, my misfortunes aside, we should get moving.” He nods at me. “For the first time you’re actually making sense,” he pauses, “that worries me but we’ll address it later. Breakfast is ready downstairs.” I nod and gather the last of my things. He goes to walk out and then turns back, “try not to lose your footing on the way down.”

Breakfast has left a bad taste in my mouth. The shit-giving has not stopped since I’ve woken up. We trudge out at first light and I sulk in the back next to the mage. Curiously, he’s seemed nicer toward me than usual. Who knew that my misery made him happy. Joy. t’s mid morning by the time we reach the bottom of the frosty peaks. The group stretches and yawns, then we start unloading our various dried meats and fruit. The archer grins at me and pulls out three very large rabbits from her bag. We all stare hungrily at them. “I thought we might like something fresh,” she says as she lays them down. “We’ll need to cook them, though. Might add a little to our trip, but we’ll make it before sundown.” I’m barely listening as I pull out my knife, ready to skin them. The mage eyes them warily.

He goes to say something and I hold up my hand, “must you always ruin everything for me? What is it now, a devil creature going to pop out and grab me?” The mage sneers, “Do you think before you speak, or are you really as thick headed as an ogre?” I roll my eyes at him and grip one of the animals. He places a hand on my arm, “cooking an animal means fire,” he says softly. “Usually,” I say, tearing the fur away. He sighs, “fire, causes smoke. Cooked meat draws in creatures.” I pause, staring longingly at the small meal.

“What if we cook it in the coals?” One of the men offer. “Then, no smoke.” The mage nods, “yes, but that doesn’t solve the issue of the smell.” None of us like what he’s saying one bit. There’s shifting in the group as everyone quiets. The archer looks at me, “well?”

“Yeah, he’s right,” I set the meat down and mutter, “damn it.” The whole group groans and goes off to their respective corners to eat their jerky in silence. After a bit, we send out a few scouts. The treasure draws closer to our team and I can’t wait to have my glorious loot and be rid of these assholes. I decide I can buy another team. One that doesn’t know anything about my unfortunate event. My mind wanders back to that beauty and I hope I get to see her again when this is through, in the daylight and not falling out of my room.

 

We’ll stop here for now and I’ll add part two for all of you. I hope that you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far. Take care all.

xoxo – Grey ❤

 

 

 

Gallery

The Watchmen – Part VI – The Funeral

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

The service was every bit as horrible as I imagined it would be. Most of the office was there, including the office downstairs. Apparently Zedd was the sort to really reach out to others. At the luncheon people traded stories about just how much of his time and money he devoted to those in need. It must have killed him, knowing what he did and not being able to save anyone else. Which further solidifies the fact that he must have said something to his family. I just need to find them. They would definitely be able to shed some light on things. I crossed the room, locating Devon near the back by the kitchen. I couldn’t get over how huge this place was. Imagine if you could the biggest house you’ve ever seen and then double it. I wasn’t even aware they made houses in wal-mart size. I approached him slowly, not wanting to scare him. He was deep in thought, bringing a glass of water to his mouth and staring through the large bay windows. He turned when he heard the clicks of my heels against the tiles and his lips curled into a smile. There was more to that smile. It was the sort that you gave your friends or family when they asked what was wrong. 

 

I have the strongest urge to wrap him in a hug. I find myself more and more curious of how he would feel. How he would smell. I’ve never been in a relationship and quite honestly, haven’t thought about it. I had always busied myself with school, or art.  After seeing what it often did to others and how much it detracted from people’s lives, I had zero interest. But this man, he wasn’t like the other guys. There wasn’t even a hint of ulterior motive, he felt genuine and kind. There were a few people in college that had shown interest in me but I had always shut them down. Not in a mean way, just stated that I did not want anything to do with a relationship. With anyone. A few of them had said that I could tell them the truth, one even asked me if I was a lesbian. Apparently, they talked among themselves and came to the conclusion that since I was not interested in any male partners, I must have liked women. The truth was, I had very little sex drive. It wasn’t something I thought about. I would get urges from time to time but never enough to seek out a partner. It would make my skin crawl thinking about someone else placing their hands on me. The touching aspect was awful enough, sex mortified me. I had gotten curious and watched porn a few times. The women never seemed to enjoy what was happening. All I could focus on were their faces, there was something about their eyes─ sadness or a longing for love. I cringed at the way men fondled them or shoved things into places─ there were no limits to where they did. I rubbed my arms and hugged them to my chest. Would he want to do those things to me? I frown.  

 

Even if he was interested, I really got the sense that he would keep it to himself and not allow it to cloud his judgement. For the first time I found myself liking someone. It’s as alien a thought as everything else I’m doing so I’m not sure why it’s making me uncomfortable.

 

“Hey Kate,” Devon says softly. 

“Hey,” I respond. We sit in comfortable silence for a moment. “I was wondering,” I begin, “If I could maybe talk with Zedd’s family. You know, since I was the last to see him.” His face falls a bit, it’s the first time I can see some real emotion reflected there. He shakes his head, “I’m afraid that’s impossible.” I’m taken back but ask, “what do you mean?” He glances over at the people in the living room and then inches closer to me. He smells like soap, clean and nice. “Zedd lived his life in the system until he was eighteen. As far as either of us knew, he didn’t know where he came from.” My heart sped up as he leaned in inches from my ear. “He had a few clues here and there about his mom but nothing solid. Our family sort of took him in on holidays and events.” At this point, my heart was beating so hard against my chest that I was sure he could hear it. Then he does something unexpected and takes a step back. My shoulders relax and my heart rate slowly subsides. After a few moments, I’m back to normal. 

 

We’re again in our comfort zones and both of us realize this. It was incredibly refreshing, not needing to strike up any sort of conversation and when we did, it felt natural. I turn toward him, “I’ve been meaning to ask, did Zedd” I pause a few beats searching for what to say, “say anything odd to you?” His eyes meet mine. It’s the sort of look that strips you bare. “Like what?” he whispers. Those eyes. Those damn eyes. I’m left speechless. My throat dries and my chest is growing tight with anxiety. Devon is honing in on my every reaction, trailing from my eyes to my mouth. “You’ve been hiding something from me,” he says, “I can tell. From your first day in the office until now.” My gut reaction is to run. I want to get away as far as possible from him, from all this. But, I needed answers. Maybe Zedd had mentioned something to Devon that I wasn’t aware of. I stamp down my fears and take a deep breath. “I have been, but please trust me when I say that I have my reasons.” He raises his eyebrows at me, “If it has to do with Zedd I want to know every single detail,” his voice cracks and he emphasizes the last few words. “You may have your reasons, but I can promise you that you’ll get no judgment from me. Just be honest.” He sighs, takes a few breaths and continues, “please.” I look at the floor, unable to look at his eyes. I manage a small nod. 

 

“Hey, Devon?” We both look up at the interruption. One of the guys from our meeting is standing in the entry. He looks awkwardly at me and Devon, aware that he probably walked in at the wrong time. “Sorry to interrupt, I uh, think it’s time for your speech and words from friends and family.” “No, no Jason that’s fine,” Devon says, “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was that time already. I’ll be right there.” Jason nods then walks out leaving us both back to where we were before. 

 

“We should─”

“Will you talk to me about this later?” he asks, not bothering to let me finish my sentence, “Let me take you out for dinner, somewhere public where you’ll feel safe. Is that OK? I can even meet you there if you would rather travel alone.” I bite my lip, my brow creasing, “alright,” I say after a few moments, “I can do that.” His eyes press together, his face washed in relief, “thank you so much Kate. Just let me know where and what time.” I bob my head and scurry out of the kitchen. I can’t believe my luck, but I can get through this. I shouldn’t care about what Devon thinks of me if it means that I could possibly save him too. I would need a way to explain all of this and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to convey it. 

 

He can’t see the letters, he will dismiss a government conspiracy, but somehow I cling to some ill thought-out hope he will listen. I pray Zedd has shared this with him so that maybe if I mention some of the same things, he’ll trust what we are saying. I mean, Zedd believed it so much he ended his life. Surely it will count for something. God, I hope so. 

 

#

 

  We arrived back at the office around two o’clock, still enough time for me to get a little work done and take my mind off of things. I was worried that Devon would call me into his office again, but he never came back. In a way, it was a huge relief. Not that I didn’t enjoy his company, but given his relentless nature he would give me a nervous breakdown. Jason had walked up to me earlier and explained that he would be taking over Zedd’s duties until a new manager was in place. We went over a few sketches and then what Zedd had asked of me. Jason was quiet, like me, so after we talked business, he was gone. Thank goodness for small miracles. 

 

I looked at the 2-D model and then import it into the 3-D program. I poured myself into the curves, into every single detail. It felt so good to be back into a routine I worked until my fingers ached and my back screamed in protest. At some point I had crossed my legs up on the chair and had lost all feeling in them. I stood and stretched, content with my workload for the day. Most of the office had left a few hours ago. I had spotted a few guys in the back messing around in the motion capture but they were pretty much it. I eyed my phone warily but decided it was for the best to get this meeting over and done. I sniffed my pits and further decided that a shower would be a good idea. Apparently stewing in my own soup had done some not very pleasant things to my clothes. 

 

I grabbed my wallet, phone, and keys then turned toward the elevator. I was mid stride when the lights went out. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I had been so busy with everything else today that my mind hadn’t had a chance to catch up with the other terrible things I’d been through. I held my breath, waiting for the creatures to make themselves known. There was a yell in the back and I exhaled. The guys were still here. OK, maybe it was just the building that had timed lights. I was practically running to the elevator at this point. No way in hell was I going to give those things a chance to make me feel that way again. Those assholes thrived off of it and I’m not about to give them an evening snack. 

 

I yelped as a noise blared from my hand. “Jesus christ,” I swore, flipping my screen around. It was Devon. Shit. He probably thinks I’m going to bail on him. I glanced at the time, it was nearly seven. I answered on the fourth ring. 

 

“Hey, Devon I’m so sorry I was up at the office and I lost track of time working on this character.”

His voice came out awful, it sounded like he had been crying, “Oh, that’s OK. I just wanted to check with you and see if you wanted me to pick you up or if you wanted to meet somewhere.” He sniffed a few times, clearing his throat. The guys emerged from the back, shoving each other as they walked toward the elevator, “hey Kate” one of them said. I nodded and waved as they shuffled on. “You coming down?” I shake my head mouthing, “no you go ahead, thanks.” He mouths “OK” and in seconds they’re gone. Leaving me to the quiet, dark office and Devon. “Uh, yeah you can pick me up from my place if you want. Just, you know, give me a chance to get the day washed off.” 

 

“OK, great. Just decide what you want, anything is fine, my treat.” Please don’t make me decide, I plead silently. “Oh, whatever is fine by me,” I offer quickly. He pauses on the line, “how about sushi or Thai?” I bite my lip, noodles sounded pretty great right now. Something warm, comforting, and starchy. “Thai sounds great,” I say. “Alright, I’ll pick you up about eight?” “That works,” I reply. We say our goodbyes and hang up. I frown at the slow moving elevator and press the down arrow button. Why did we have to be on such a high floor? I see that they finally make it to the bottom, silently willing it to go faster. A computer restarts in the back and I hear the beep as it resets. The room groans and pops as the wind hits the side of the building. Every click, every pop is amplified by the insufferable quiet. 

 

Floor seven, 

Floor eight,

Floor nine. 

Come on, I urge silently, just six more floors. 

Floor eleven, 

Floor twelve,

Floor thirteen.

 

The computer does a start up jingle in the background. I refuse to turn around.Not today, satan” I mutter. 

Floor fourteen.

The ding goes off as it reaches the fifteenth floor and I squeeze my eyes shut and sigh. Finally, it’s here. The door swooshes and I opened my eyes. I stare for several seconds, the color draining from my face. I don’t want to believe what I’m seeing. My hand goes up to my face and I freeze. No, no, no, is all that runs through my mind. I take a few steps back trying to distance myself from the horrific image. Jesus, there’s so much blood. I close my eyes, take a breath, and then open them. He’s still there and so is the pulpy mass. 

 

The glassy stare of his lifeless eyes look at me accusingly. The back of his head is missing, there’s blood and brain matter everywhere and the gun lays on the floor next to his limp hand. This isn’t real, it can’t be because we buried him this afternoon. I frantically searched the room, trying to remember where the emergency stairs are located. I scream as his body jumps and twitches in a seizure-like motion. His head jerks toward my scream I can hear his bones from further back in the room. They snap in protest as he pulls himself from the floor. A few clumps of brain matter splat to the floor. Oh god. I retch several times, trying but failing to reassure myself it isn’t real. He limps toward me as a gurgling sound escapes his lips. I bolt to the left and pump my legs as fast as they will take me toward the back of the office. I don’t know where the staircase is but I don’t care. I wasn’t about to sit there and let him get near me, I knew it had to be back here somewhere. I flee past several dark offices, glancing behind me every so often. There was no sign of him. I’m all the way at the end of the u-shaped hall when I realize my terrible mistake. If I had just ran to the right I would have been right by them. 
I charge around the corner and scream as I run into something solid and fleshy. I lash out, shoving hard and screaming. “Whoa, whoa, Kate,” Devon yells. My head throbs from the adrenaline as my heart comes back down from near cardiac arrest. My legs give out and I fall forward on my hands and knees.

Gallery

Riven – Chapter 1 – A Sci-Fi Novel

        Light filtered through the curtains, bathing Riven’s frame in their glow. Her eyes fluttered, ending the trance. Sighing, she grabbed an arm over her head and arched her back like a cat. She froze, and then clamped her hand over her mouth. A low moan escaped from her as the nausea subsided.  Normally she could handle them but tonight the aftereffects of Swimming were kicking her ass. Tiny, thread-like webs stained her vision as she struggled to key in the proper codex on her Scyvie. The device beeped in alarm, noting too much serotonin and cortisol released into her system. Pulling herself up, she staggered over to the medical unit and reached for the tube. Like an I.V., it was made to enter the bloodstream and could be accessed through a sealed, and sterilized unit behind the West panel in her room. Each unit was stocked as needed with single-use syringes. The touch screen display embedded into her forearm, was no larger than half an inch in diameter and was barely visible to the eye. It had three access points for the medical tube one located in the users elbow joint, their hand, and another near the groin. She sighed at the tiny blue warning symbols that flashed across her arm. Her Scyvie would be under review soon. Probably just a routine checkup to ensure there was no substance abuse. Typical. 

        She frowned, swiping her fingers over her arm. The flashing immediately ceased and was replaced by a ten digit keypad. She typed in her seven digit pass-code and was rewarded by the calming chime. Good as new, she thought. The room tilted. Her hand shot out, gripping the side of the panel. The thought of being hooked to anything made her sick. It might have been certain people’s escape hell ninety percent of the population welcomed the digital era but she wanted no part of it. It was the altered consciousness that made her uneasy. Any time her mind wandered, something bad would happen. Once, she thought it had only been under for twenty minutes turns out it was five hours. It wasn’t the first time it happened, and it wouldn’t be the last. The last thing she needed was someone monitoring her Swimming. She relaxed as the Valaxl coursed into her system. It helped to calm the anxiety and hallucinations that came with spending extended hours online. 

        He had been there again. If only Riven could get her mind to work. There was something about the urgency in his transmissions. The most frustrating part was that she could see things, but not the right things. He had appeared to her in the trance-like state several times materializing in hundreds of different situations, sometimes as different people, but always the same energy. No matter how good a Breaker is, they cannot get rid of their signature. It leaves behind little traces of the user. There were several types of breakers, but the kind Riven feared the most were Ghosts. Levi had always called them Wraiths. They wreaked havoc wherever they touched. She knew it was probably just an urban legend, but it kept her from the Aether.

         It was the sub-link that only the most experienced Breakers traveled. Riven could sense him as he watched her his Umbra was a vibrant hue of red that seductively swam through her mind. She always stayed to the main link, the Umbra, but no matter how hard Riven fought to find his link, he was always one step ahead. Shivers wracked her body as she sat quietly, letting her levels return back to normal. 

         The Umbra was a link that connected the soul to the physical body─ every living creature had one. She was a bit fuzzy on her history but Riven remembered it being an accidental discovery by Geoffrey Braun. He won two Nobel Prizes, one for discovering the Umbra, and the other for finally discovering a cure for cancer mutations. She cringed as she remembered how everyone thought cancer was beat in 2025, the worst had happened and the damaged cells became more aggressive with the mutations. Most cases, if not caught, killed a person within six months. All our known cures did nothing unless it was caught in very early stages. It was almost as if it were put into place by the fates to keep humans in check. One step closer, five hundred back.

         It was an unfortunate but necessary discovery that severing the soul from the Umbra resulted in zombie-like behavior. Hollywood glamorized it for years, but it was nothing like they portrayed. Few cases of detachment ever resulted in the soul staying. Once the soul was gone, the person became a hollowed out shell. One good thing came out of the testing at least─ we found that humans could connect to one another not only within a person’s immediate presence, but across a vast amount of space. The furthest distance recorded was approximately 238,857 miles the distance to the Moon. Even then, people were unsure as to how far it could go. Research was still being conducted. Curiously, each individual Umbra was unique in color, texture, and feeling. 

         You could have the Umbra infused with nanite receptors that could connect via machine and internet. There was no feeling with machines only humans or animals could imbue such pleasures. A machine’s presence felt like static electricity, a quick jolt allowing you to fortify an encryption shield against it or, if you wish, permitting entry into your database. As of late she only had one hundred terabytes of free hard drive space. It was ancient, she knew, but she would get around to upgrading it soon. Riven worked furiously to control her breathing as she stood over her bed. A soft feminine voice sounded, startling her.

         “Riven, are you alright? Your heart rate is elevated. Shall I call for Doctor Sid?”

         “No, Nadine. It is not necessary, thank you. Just a nightmare.”

         “Very well, please return to trance or sleep as soon as possible, you will need a minimum of four R.E.M. cycles to function properly. Might I assist you in breathing and mantra techniques?”

         “Thank you but no, goodnight.”

         “Goodnight Riven.”

         Why did Jace prefer that thing? She never understood, though they were made to help, it still creeped Riven out thinking about an unfeeling machine monitoring her every waking breath. If it so chose it could even read wave patterns in the mind and detect your mental stability. Not that it could exactly tell, but it was still unnerving. Riven’s thoughts returned on her earlier meditation. From the moment she could remember her “dream” had always occurred at the same point in time the fifteenth of every month at exactly two fifteen in the morning. Slowly creeping out of bed, she strode down the hall to the bathroom. Her joints cracked and popped in protest. Riven froze as visions began to poke through her encryption. Vivid hues of blue stretched across and bonded with her Umbra as the link was formed.

         You must listen to me, you are in danger.

          She placed a hand on the wall to steady her balance. The user had completely blown past her mandatory password and sixty letter encryption codes. She was thrust into a connection without first being in the proper trance state. The hall stretched on into oblivion and the world exploded with color. Snippets of conversations flew past in garbled nonsense. This was definitely not a government sanctioned link─ she was in-between, no worse, in the Aether. Her own web that normally was spun to friends or family members did not surround her and she could for the first time view the vast outer space. The cushion that normally protected her Umbra along with others had been completely removed and she felt as if she could simply float away to anywhere. Eternity was within her grasp, it was wildly intoxicating. She could feel the pull of other’s links. The taste was so powerful she wanted desperately to drift.  

         Don’t look too long, you will go insane. You are not properly trained.

         Riven swam toward the voice but couldn’t find the portal linking them. It was as if the person were integrated within her Umbra. 
         “Who are you?” she giggled, “This is a private link.” She wanted to be angry but she felt so free. It was like she was six again skipping along in the gardens outside of her parent’s home. Try as she might she was not able to deflect the connection and it probed once more.

          Riven, there is no time you must go. He is searching for you again.

         “Who? What is going on, I don’t understand.” The link was pulled and she was thrown back to reality. The urge to vomit almost won but Riven managed to keep it down. The last she remembered was watching the ceiling spin from the floor.





*      *      *




     “Riven, Riven. Please, wake up.”

         “…Hmm?” waking she gazed into deep pools of blue. Jace.

         “Oh, thank God. You’re alright. What are you doing up wandering the halls at this hour?” Jace leaned back and rubbed his hands over his face. His mumbled words were a little hard to make out but she managed, “You scared me to death. Why didn’t Nadine read your vitals?”

         Riven brought herself to a sitting position, smoothing her onyx hair behind her ears. She placed a hand on Jace’s shoulder and feigned a smile, “Jace it’s OK, I must have fallen asleep or something. It is two in the morning.” She waved her hand trying to sound casual, “ I was probably sleepwalking.”

         He studied her face in a way that Riven knew he didn’t buy it, “That still doesn’t answer my last question. Nadine, wake.” Soft white light filled the room as the soothing British voice responded.

         “Yes, Jace?”

         “Have you been checking Riven’s vitals? I found her in the hall unconscious.”

         “The last log was taken at two fifteen a.m., I checked on her because of an elevated heart rate. Do you need assistance? Shall I phone the doctor?”

         “That will be unnecessary, I will phone Scott tomorrow. Prepare for reformat.”

         “Understood.” 

         The glow dispersed and they were left to themselves, or as much as they could be left alone by that thing. Riven seriously wished that he would turn it off every once in a while. Their last quarters didn’t have a Persa-Unit and that was perfectly fine with her.
         Gently tugging at her arm she tried to pry away from his grip. When that didn’t work she cleared her throat, “Um, Jace…could you kindly release my arms? I think I’ve lost all feeling in them.”

         Jace turned a deep scarlet and quickly let go. Although he was nearly a foot taller than her and had a fierce disposition, he was as gentle as they come. He stood for several seconds staring at her shivering form. His response was low and controlled. 

         “Well, I was just worried, that’s all. Is it a crime to worry about you?” his chin rose slightly in that way that annoyed her when he was about to go into one of his lectures.

         “Aside from that, its three thirty in the morning for your information and with everything that’s happened

         “I don’t want to talk about it, please Jace just go back to bed. I don’t need your lectures right now, OK?” She quieted, realizing she had crossed the line.

         Riven knew she shouldn’t have treated him that way. Any time she was upset she lashed out at the wrong person, usually Jace. Biting her lip she searched his eyes pleading silently with her own. She sunk at his guarded expression. Go me. The silence hung between them before he turned. Though his speech was quiet, she cringed at the obvious hurt it portrayed. “You know, one of these days you’re going to turn away the only friend you’ve got.” He walked down the hall and into his room. The click reverberated off the small space ending their conversation. Riven stood in the hall for a moment unsure of what to do. It was probably best to talk tomorrow after duty, let Jace cool off. She retreated back to her room miserable. It was better this way, let him hate her. She closed the door and glanced at the time. Great, four o’clock. She’d have to be to work in a mere three hours. Shaking her head, she crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling. Looks like I won’t be getting those R.E.M’s after all. She sighed and spoke to the ceiling, getting out what she should have earlier, “Jace I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately.” 

         Tears threatened to spill but she fought and kept them down. Don’t break your promise. It was a vow she intended to keep. Nothing or no one would ever see her cry again. That was a different time, a different person. Tears were reserved for something Riven refused to give into. Giving in meant being hurt, she couldn’t have that, not again. She needed her head in the game, not just for herself but the people she would have to face in the morning. Turning on her side she forced her eyes shut and tried to think of happier times. She could have asked Nadine to put her to sleep but the thought of that made her skin crawl. Instead Riven chanted the mantra in her mind they taught in the Core. She preferred it to normal sleep anyhow, it kept her mind alert.  


*             *              *



       

 

Grumbling, Riven rolled out of bed as the alarm went off. It felt like she had just closed her eyes. Nadine is way better than this hunk of junk. She was about to call out to Nadine then quickly remembered Jace was having her reformatted this morning. There was nothing she could do about it and work was work. Not an easy thing to come by these days, especially since the second battle with the IIA . The ‘International Intelligence Agency’ were simply filed under one thing in her mind inhuman. They had revealed themselves many years ago when she was a child. Even then Riven had known she was not like other children. She had predicted her parents death, tried to warn them, but they just patted her head and told her not to worry. If only they had listened to her. They would still be alive today. Snapping back to reality, she stepped into the bathroom and closed her eyes. The auxiliary system felt more abrasive as it sought to connect with her Umbra. Riven steeled herself against its gentle probing making it realize she preferred verbal communication. A charming male voice surrounded her as she walked into the shower.

         “A thousand pardons, Riven. I did not realize you prefer verbal. I will log it in the system for next time”

         “Please do.”

         “Command?”

         “Stimulating shower massage with muscle relaxant.”

         “Understood. Would the lady prefer traditional or interactive?”

         “Traditional” she spat, “Never interactive.” 

         “Apologies, of course ma’am. One moment, checking temperature preferences.”

         The sweet fragrance of gardenias and fresh cut grass filled the air instantly relaxing her. The scent stirred memories from her childhood. Riven and her best friend Levi would play for hours in the Japanese inspired gardens her father created. He was brilliant with landscapes creating many retreats for the rich and the famous. Though he liked many different designs, he had a particular fondness for modern Japanese and incorporated much of it into his own home. There was something about the crisp clean lines and usability that he adored. She carried that fondness into her own home and, like her father, preferred no-nonsense design. The latest trend with over the top patterns and gaudy gold everywhere drove her crazy. Sometimes it was painful thinking about them. Levi and her father, like many others, were lost to her forever. The fourth wall rose sealing Riven in as water spouted from each corner. 

         The warmth melted away the last of her dark mood and her shoulders sagged. It was the only time she felt human. No matter which way she moved each shower head would switch and massage her sore muscles. Sighing heavily, she finished up and called to the computer, “I am done, open please.” The water cut off and the wall receded back into the floor. A robe was hanging ready for her and the tiles felt warm beneath her feet. Ignoring the robe, Riven padded over to the mirror. These were times she loved being in the Core, not many people had clean water, let alone such luxuries as heated tiles. The Core treated them well.

         Warm air rushed from below and above the vanity, slowly drying her body. She sighed and looked at her reflection in the full-length mirror. Fierce turquoise eyes and sharp features stared back at her. She ran fingers through her hair in a feeble attempt to style it. Not that it really bothered her. She kept it just below the chin for a reason. Less to grab, less to style, she always said. Simple, like it should be. Frowning, she caught the scar on her bare honey skin a stark reminder of the evil in humanity. The jagged cut ran from belly to groin─ an invasion she would never forget. If only she could remember his face. Retching, Riven closed her eyes and tried not to think about it. Never again would a man touch her that way. At least now she had her hand-to-hand combat and psych training. She wasn’t completely useless like before. Riven finished dressing in her casual blacks and walked from the bathroom. The color signified that she was on clean up and civil duty today. It was hard work but helped keep hope alive, and that was the most important thing.

         The last several attacks had kept Riven busy cleaning the wreckage that “they” had left behind. She refused to ever relate them to human beings, for admitting so would make them closer to her somehow. At least with the second war came more work and the economy really needed the boost. They hadn’t been completely defeated at least and the attacks appeared to be slowing. She stared across the room, so many senseless deaths over the years. The bastards had risen out of the shadows more than twenty years ago from our own base. They were meant to be our saviors. It was a small group of several thousand members that were stationed on the moon. Among them were the most intelligent, strong, and psychically advanced. A slightly more evolved human individually chosen from every corner of the world. Originally, they were scientists placed there to draw plans for colonization. We were looking at several options at the time, even as far as Europa.  However, they first settled on a moon base. The Moon’s gravity was far less dense than our own, making the launch sequence faster and fuel efficient. They first gathered as much information as possible on the long journey to make Mars’s surface more inhabitable. They kept in contact every three months. The stretches in time became further and further apart.  Finally, the worst was made apparent: All of it, the research, the connection to our society, was completely lost. They were their own nation and felt that they no longer needed our rules. With their own biosphere, resources from Earth were no longer necessary.

         So it began, they honed their powers, biding their time until that fateful day of rising. All of the world powers came together in one great alliance against them, but to no avail. As time went by the government tried more and more rash measures to bring them down. Not a single weapon worked. It was our minds they invaded. They never used a weapon against Earth. Instead, they infiltrated the great minds of the world and watched as we bombed one another. Their Breakers were powerful pulling down every shield put into place. She didn’t know everything involved with a breaker or exactly how they did it, but she knew it was no walk in the park to earn that accomplishment. One of her co-workers at the Core was involved in high level security training, learning just simple exercises when something went wrong and her Umbra severed ever since Riven had no interest in becoming a Breaker.  In any case the IIA took them all down one nation at a time as hope eventually died.

        Years ago, during a particularly nasty attack of the IIA, the government sent salvage teams to scout out the areas where any useful items or materials would be found. Searching through the rubble of what used to be Midrand they stumbled across a very peculiar sight. A young girl, no more than nine or ten years old huddled in the shadows of a small building, her hands pressed over her ears. A little tattered bunny laid at her bruised and bloodied feet. Her gown was drenched in blood from the waist down. The leader of the salvage team padded over to her, his gangly body awkward and unsure. He brushed back his long, black hair and offering his water with kind eyes and a smile. She reached out her arms to the soldier with tears streaming down her face, “mama” she muttered just before her eyes rolled to the back of her head and she collapsed at his feet. 

         It was Jace who had come to her aid that day. Only fifteen at the time, Jace was a child himself trying to find work to support both him and his sister. Though he worked hard Jace’s sister died two years later of some strange and unknown disease. He always believed it was heartbreak that killed Karina. She had mourned her parent’s death until the day she drew her last breath. Jace took Riven in out of the kindness of his heart when nobody else felt they had a use for her. A ‘nuisance’ they said and was content to leave her be. He sensed she was something special and fate had ordained their meeting. It was then Riven decided she owed her life to him and would work hard and strive to do her best. She joined the Core with Jace and dedicated her life to helping others like her. 

         Exiting their loft, Riven turned down the long narrow corridor before it opened up into the main floor. Familiar dark red carpeting with the entwined golden border greeted her as she walked toward the glass lift. Soft white light held up by delicate floating sconces lined the floor.

         “Good morning, Riven” Dressed in his usual red and black uniform, Arthur stood behind the front desk. His graying hair was slicked back and made him look more dignified than ever. His dark skin radiated this morning and he appeared more cheerful than normal.

         “Morning, Arthur. How are the kids?”

         “Oh just fine, daughter starts the Core next week. You all go easy on her now.” He winked at Riven, his usual jovial self. It always amazed her how strong he was. His wife, Belinda, had died just eight months ago from cancer they didn’t know she had. It tore her apart knowing how much Arthur loved his wife. The worst part was that the disease had been curable. If only they’d known sooner.

         She broke into a wide grin, “You know we’re hardest on the newbies. You take care, Arthur OK?” Smiling, she continued across the room.

         That gave him a chuckle. “Hell, she probably needs it. Will do, you too dear.” 

         Getting on the lift, she descended down to the shuttle heading for Tokyo. What was left of it anyway. This is going to be a long day, she thought as she strode toward the vehicles. 

Gallery

The Watchmen – Part V – A Horror Novella

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

 

I stood in the frigid air for several moments, stretching my arms and legs. Dallas had gotten colder since I left. My hand found the door and I was able to walk into my home again. I’d barely been here a week and it was already feeling like a place I could relax in. I threw my clothes in the wash and then walked into the bathroom. Thankful for a tankless water heater, I turned the handle all the way to the hot side. I stepped into the steaming waterfall, sighing as the stinging waves washed over my skin. The gooseflesh on my arms and legs quickly subsided. My skin was an angry pink from the heat, but I paid it no mind. It was a good sting that warmed down to your bones. 

 

I wasn’t ready for what the day held. It was the first time in my life that I had to face something this real. A lot had happened this past week, way more than I ever wanted to deal with. Suddenly I was very envious of people that lived in blissful ignorance. Why was I chosen to be a part of all this? In ways I felt thankful, I at least am able to spare myself the horrific death I was shown, but in other ways it was a burden that no person should have to bear. 

 

I didn’t even believe in whatever all of this was. I was so sure of all the articles and scientific journals I poured over. In all the witty talks I listened to detailing evolution, it left me hanging with the burning question of why─ why in the hell is it possible for any of this to happen? Sure, we could chalk it up to some sort of freak phenomenon that I experienced by myself and question my mental state. Yet that leaves out the fact that Zedd saw it too. He believed it so much that he had ended his life over it. I looked over at the cool tile on the floor, the pattern somehow soothing against the morning light. We couldn’t have both fabricated the same, exact thing. 

 

If this were true, there had to be others.It’s a shame I couldn’t find them.

 

I finished hooking the last button on my slacks and stared at my reflection. I frowned at the obvious dark circles beneath my eyes. I looked like hell. I dabbed on some under-eye concealer and brushed a little blush across my cheeks to liven up my face. Not that I was really trying to gain anyone’s attention, I just wanted to appear functional. Not like some sleep-deprived lunatic. I hated being in this position, it was my worst nightmare─ just the thought of having to approach all these people with an air of confidence I’ve never possessed in my life. I often wondered what it would be like to be someone else, comfortable in their own skin. I sigh, frowning at my thin frame. I never seemed to grow into my body. I’d hoped as a teen that I would fill out a little more, but in the end I was stuck in this childish body. Barely any hips, and small, humble breasts. My face didn’t do me any favors, I had wide eyes but a narrow jawline. I was as baby-faced as they came. I got carded everywhere I went and they would eye my birthdate and then study my face dubiously. I suppose I would have learned to enjoy that, if I was going to live past another week.   

 

Just the thought of how I would be ending my own life was making my chest tight. Sure, I can fantasize about it, but the truth was I didn’t want it to hurt more than it had to. A gun sounded so harsh and so awful for anyone that found me. A knife sounded─ painful and what if I missed my heart? No sense in any of that. I had done several hours of research and decided that I was going to go with pure nitrogen. All I needed was an oxygen mask, some good, strong tape to seal it around my face and I would drift away into nothingness. Death in my sleep. That sounded much better. Way better than being tortured alive.

 

I hopped on the next train and sat quietly through the next few stops. It may have been cold, but the sky was bright and blue. Even through the tint of the train I could see just how blue it was. Blue like a dream. I blinked as the wetness gathered in my eyes, and then tilted my head to dab at them with my finger. I was going to have to be strong today, and even stronger later when I live streamed all of this. People needed to believe that I had my shit together. I couldn’t become overly emotional. This wasn’t a foreign concept to me, but it was especially important given the gravity of the situation. Time to put on my big-girl breeches. 

 

I crossed over to the building and gulped down as much air as I could, suddenly feeling very nauseous. By the time I was on the elevator, full-blown panic mode was edging its way closer to exploding from me. I bit down on my lip as the doors opened to at least a hundred people, if not more. I swam through them and made my way over to my desk, careful to not make eye contact. I needed to steady myself before the service. The email had mentioned that we were going to meet here first and then travel over to the service at ten. I imagine it was probably a way for people to remember him, but not have to attend the service. It was uncomfortably quiet as I logged in and checked my email. I frowned at the screen as an instant message popped up. It was from Devon.

 

Devon: Hey, can you please meet me in my office asap?

I hesitated, then responded: Sure, be there in just a minute. 

 

I quickly made my way over to his office, then stopped at the door. I knocked quietly and waited. 

“Yes, Jeff I’m sure. Look, we’ll talk about it later─ hold on a second. Come in” he called loudly. I waited half a beat and then opened the door. He muttered something else inaudibly and then hung up the phone. I promptly blushed, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude” I offered quietly. “No, no” he said waving his hand, “please, have a seat.” I eased into the chair and smiled nervously, “you, uh, needed to talk with me?” He nodded, absently running his hand through his hair. His gaze was fixed on the shelf behind me. I glanced over and smiled at the picture. It was Devon and Zedd holding up an award. They both looked to be at least a decade younger. Devon hadn’t changed much, maybe his hair was a tad longer but he still had that youthful smile and sparkle in his eyes. But Zedd, though I recognized him, looked completely different. His beard was missing and his hair was nearly to his shoulders in the photo. He wore a black hoodie and there were several piercings on his face. He was thin before, but he was impossibly thin in this photo. Like, unhealthy thin.

 

“We hadn’t slept in three days,” Devon said quietly, “it was our first real competition and we were graduating during the recession. No one was hiring and we were fighting to find a place in the field.” I turned back to him and smiled. I remember my dad mentioning it happening a little over a decade ago. “Instead, my dad co-signed on a loan for me and Zedd and we opened our own company.” Devon stood and then walked over to the photo. He picked it up, rubbing across the frame absentmindedly. 

 

“The thing is, I know Zedd. He wouldn’t have done this unless he had a reason. A big reason.” He set the picture down and turned toward me. His face was calm, but I could see a strange fire building in them. “I hope you’ll forgive me, but I got curious the day before he called in and checked the cameras.” My mouth went dry. It would have shown me and Zedd talking and then leaving the building together. Devon was quiet for several moments. “I don’t think you did anything to him, Kate.” I relaxed a degree, but my shoulders were still tense. “But, I would like to know what the two of you talked about. You left in his car, so I assume you at least rode home with him.” I sat up and shifted my legs to cross in the other direction. I fidgeted with my fingers, unsure of what to do with them. 

 

His voice came out calm, soothing, “you don’t have to answer me if you don’t want to. I just can’t imagine what he could have been going through to make him do this and you were the last person he talked to. I’m asking as a friend, Kate. Not as a boss.” 

 

I look up at him and nod. I’m not sure what my plan is here, but I can’t just keep things from him. It was very apparent that Zedd meant a great deal to Devon. They graduated college at the same time, they started a company, they had to have gone through a tremendous amount of life together in that time.

 

I chose my words carefully, “We went out to eat that night and he seemed pretty upset,” I paused, searching for the right words, “he kept pointing out that our drawings were very similar even though I hadn’t seen his before later that day. When we had met earlier in the day, he wanted me to use my character as a main, which I said someone else should do it,” I add hastily, “but he said that it wouldn’t be an issue and that he had decided to keep me as a lead designer.” Devon smiled and nodded, “Zedd has a good eye for talent, he was right in deciding that.” I flush and look at the ground, “but─ I dunno, he just was fascinated by the fact that ours looked nearly identical and asked if we could talk more about it over dinner.” Devon raised a brow, “were you two─” I blinked a few times and then my eyes widen as I realized what he meant, “oh goodness no,” I say quickly. “I see,” he says, “did he say anything else at dinner?” I’m really torn, I’ve never been good at hiding the truth. I’d be a horrible poker player. I bite my lip and shake my head, “not really. I mean, he did seem like something was bothering him.” I trail off and look at the ground. 

 

Devon is quiet for a while. He’s so quiet that I sneak a peek at him. He’s turned to the side and looking out the window. His eyes look misty, I’m starting to lose my nerve. I want to be strong but I hate lying to him. I know he won’t believe me though. Just like the waitress he would rationalize what I tell him and he would definitely look at me different. Somehow the second part stings worse than the first. “I’m sorry, I wish I could be of more help,” I offer quietly. He turns back toward me and smiles that gut-wrenching smile. I can feel my stomach turn in knots. He deserves the truth, that’s why before I blurt it out I stand and excuse myself from the room. 

 

I can’t bear any of it anymore. The look on his face, the betrayal and hurt so wildly apparent. I want to throw up at my lie but I manage to push it down and walk over to my desk. The service will be in less than an hour and I needed to pull myself together.