Just a childhood memory


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The warm scent of the summer grass caught his attention, bring back some of the memories he carried with him of his childhood. There was something about the sweet smell that reminded him of his grandfather. A faint quirk appeared at the corner of his lips. He hadn’t thought of the old man in years. He didn’t exactly miss him, as he’d been a horrible human being while Quinn was growing up, but there were some bright points during Quinn’s childhood that still cropped up from time to time.

Quinn walked out onto the veranda. He stared out over the garden that his wife had planted the second day after their wedding. It was mostly dead now, just like her, but there were still a few stubborn plants clinging to life. She had done the same when the cancer took hold. He remembered her hanging onto his hand, begging him not to leave her side until the very end. Though he’d never enjoyed watching someone die, he gave her his word. He kept it too.

That was one thing Quinn was good at, keeping his word. He’d promised his parents he would take care of his younger sister Helene. He’d done that until she got married. When she left the house, he washed his hands of her since she married against his wishes. Her husband got her interested in heroin and the two of them OD’d two months after their daughter was born.

Quinn assured the courts he would take Verity and care for her like his own. Which he did, until his wife grew too jealous. Then he was forced to send Verity away to a boarding school outside the state. He struggled to keep track of her, to make sure she was well supplied with everything she needed as well as several things that she wanted. But it wasn’t enough, and Verity soon dropped out of school and disappeared. Quinn didn’t know what happened to her during the ten years she was absent, but when she returned to him and his wife, she was a changed woman. Gone was the laughing, trusting child. In her place was a suspicious, angry, bitter woman who blamed Quinn and Sophia for everything wrong in her life. She was currently serving a life sentence for murdering her husband and twin sons.

Quin mused on his life. Everyone he loved and cared for either died or became as good as dead to him. His parents were killed in a car accident. His grandmother, who adopted him and Helene, died of a heart attack four years after the adoption was finalized. His grandfather, who he really didn’t miss, had a stroke and the resulting seizure led to his death. Then Helene got married and died. Sophia got sick. Verity vanished and then returned, too angry to accept responsibility for her own actions – whatever they were. Sophia died. Then Verity committed the triple homicide and was sent to prison for life – specifically serving three consecutive life terms.

Quinn opened the small gate closing the veranda off from the rest of the yard. He walked down the short staircase and began wandering through the half dead greenery. He drifted to his favorite part of the wildness – the berry bushes. In the back corner was a bush with large blue berries on it. He reached out and picked the ripest ones and threw them in his mouth.

The skins burst pleasingly against his tongue. He swallowed the sweet yet slightly tart juice and worked down the soft insides. As he continued wandering he started to feel very sick. His lips and tongue burned, and his eyes were getting blurry. He was very disoriented and he felt like he might pass out at any moment.

The breeze brushed across his skin, feeling like sandpaper. He staggered over to his favorite tree and sat on the bench beneath it. A few cherry blossoms fell onto his lap. He played with them until his fingers no longer worked. The last of the berries fell from his hands. It suddenly dawned on him that they were the wrong color for blueberries. They were nightrot, a rare berry that was a deadly poison. Quin sighed as the poison relaxed his whole body. He gave into the darkness. Waiting for him were all of his loved ones.


Forbidden verse


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Darkness falls
My eyes grow dim
The keyhole blazes
My hand trembles as I lift
The ancient key to the crumbling gate
I hear her weeping
She begs me to set her free
I turn the key
I am the gate

Reina stared at the strange verse her teacher showed her. She fluttered her wings impatiently. “So when do I start copying this one, setai?

“You don’t,” Talya said, her wings tucked behind her. “You asked me about the Forbidden Verses. This is one of them.”

“So what does it mean?” Reina asked.

“A thousand years ago, the twin sisters Seraiah and Meraiah joined their magic together to create our kingdom. They proved to be wise, compassionate leaders for a time. But soon Seraiah’s heart twisted and she wanted all the power for herself. She murdered Meraiah and her husband and seized the throne as the solitary ruler,” Talya said.

“I’ve heard this story before, setai,” Reina said impatiently. “Meraiah’s daughter and a group of nobles rebelled and cast Seraiah out. She was imprisoned until she died. Queen Marijeta and King Khariton restored the balance, where the child of each of the twins sat in power on the thrones, and peace returned.”

“You are partially correct. Seraiah was deposed, but she was not cast out. Nor did she die. She was imprisoned for eternity, alive and immortal, but unable to do anything to influence the world around her,” Talya said. “These words are the key to her prison. There have been a few Scribes foolish enough to imbue them with their power. They have either gone mad or died. Seraiah reaches through these words into the Scribe’s mind, forcing them to attempt to set her free.”

“So why do we even keep them around? Why not destroy all copies of them so she can’t be freed?” Reina asked.

Talya sighed and set the ancient document to the side. “Reina, we have destroyed them. Every time they reappear they are burned and their ashes spread with salt. It doesn’t matter. A Scribe corrupted by Seraiah will write the words regardless, if she has reached into their mind. So now each Master Scribe keeps a copy – reproduced by magic so no one is lost to the spell – in their archives to show their apprentices, to teach them what to look for and what not to write.”

“So when do I get to see something I can write?” Reina asked, already showing a lack of interest in the parchment, though her eyes flickered to the cabinet where Talya put it away.

Talya shook her head. “Nothing. Your impatience has earned you a mark. Go about your day and remember that a Scribe must be patient as well as precise.” Talya spread her wings and flew up to her private library. Reina flew outside, glaring at her teacher through the large window that provided most of the light in the room.

The sun set and Reina returned. She ate the simple fare Talya insisted on keeping in the house and went to her room. She didn’t read as was her normal tradition. Still seething about how she’d been dismissed, Reina put out the light and went straight to bed. She closed her eyes and attempted to go to sleep.

A soft strain of music, just barely audible, played in the night. Reina sat up, pushing her blankets aside. It was moondark, so she wasn’t sure of the time. She slid the curtain back on the opening to her room and looked out into the rest of the house. It was dark, so Talya was also in bed.

Reina spread her wings and flitted downstairs. The music grew louder, and now she heard a woman’s voice. She was singing a song in the ancient language. Reina only recognized a few words. It seemed to be coming from the cabinet where Talya kept the original documents she wanted Reina to practice on.

Reina opened it. The sound stopped. The young apprentice frowned. As she went to close it, a single sheet of parchment fluttered down to the ground. She bent and picked it up. Curiosity led her to light one lamp and see which one it was. It was Seraiah’s prison key.

Reina bent down and picked it up, intending to put it back into the cabinet. A voice whispered in her mind, singing of the kind of power that could be hers if she released Seraiah.

A bitterness welled up inside of her. Talya was holding her back. Reina was a skilled and powerful Scribe. Talya was jealous of her gift. That was why she wouldn’t put her name forward to be lifted into the ranks. Her hand clenched around the parchment. She whirled around and headed to her desk.

She laid out a piece of her finest parchment and lit the lamp above the writing surface. She looked at her selection of inks and chose the gold. She dipped her sharpest pen in the ink and began copying the words, imbuing them with all the magic she had. Each letter flared with a golden flame as it seared itself into the parchment. As the last stroke of the pen ended, she felt a searing pain rip through her body, and then knew nothing but darkness.

Talya came downstairs the next morning, startled to see her normally lazy apprentice’s lamp burning. She frowned. There were spots of blood on Reina’s stool. She went over to see what she’d been working on. Sighing, she collected both pieces of parchment and tucked them in the cabinet. She went to her mirror and drew a rune on it with her finger.

The Royal Scribe, leader of all the Scribes, appeared on the reflective surface a moment later. He saw her sad face. “Another one?” he asked sympathetically.

“Reina,” Talya said. “At least she was more creative than the last. She used golden ink.”

“Was there any sign of Seraiah?” he asked.

Talya shook her head. “A few drops of blood on Reina’s stool was all I saw. Everything was still locked tight.”

The Royal Scribe sighed. “The world needs a revolution. When will we be able to summon her again?”

“When the time is right,” Talya said. “The curse can’t hold forever.”

“I hope you’re right, Talya.” The Royal Scribe glanced over his shoulder. “I have to go. Their Majesties have summoned me. Keep faith, Talya. We will find a way.” The image wavered and vanished. Talya’s shoulders and wings drooped for a moment before she straightened up and turned to clean up the blood. She had another apprentice to find.

An Esper’s gift


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Edgar leaned on his stick and watched his grandchildren play. The light breeze made the summer heat bearable. The river was running swiftly, a testament to the large amount of rain they’d gotten that spring. It was an abnormality he’d seen before, though his daughter and her husband claimed it was because of a change in the climate of the planet.

He sighed. They were right, of course. It was. But it wasn’t entirely man made, as they were quick to say. The planet had a lifespan, like so many other living creatures, and it was reaching another milestone in it. Of course, the results of this milestone would bring mass extinctions, natural disasters, and a large decrease in the human population, but that was something you came to expect when you got as old as he was.

He thought for a moment. It would be this planet’s second cycle. The last world he’d lived on had gone through eleven before it became unlivable. He missed that world. He lost his beloved Anyalisi in the destruction. He’d been chosen to leave on the colony ships. She was forced to remain behind.

Senalimaa was a good wife, and she’d provided him with five beautiful children, but Anyalisi had been with him for far longer than any other wife he’d had. It still hurt as he thought of watching her sapphire eyes watching him, full of tears, as he was forced at gunpoint onto the ship.

His musings were interrupted by screams. He looked over where his granddaughters had been playing. Velamara was at the edge of the river, shrieking and pointing. He saw a white haired head bobbing in the middle of the water as it was swept along. Belaminari was being carried away by the torrents.

Edgar grounded his stick and closed his eyes. He located his youngest granddaughter’s life energy and wrapped his mind around it. He stopped her momentum and lifted her from the water with the energy he drew from the world around him. He carried her back to the shore and set her down next to her sister.

He opened his eyes. “You two, get back from the river. Right now,” he snapped.

“Yes Elder,” Velamara said. She took her sister’s hand and dragged the soaking wet girl into the house.

A few minutes later, Edgar’s daughter Gemisidara and her husband Hamunixaru stomped out. “Father, what did you do?” Gemisidara asked, her voice high and frightened. “You know the Visionnari have forbidden the use of such powers.”

“Would you have had me let Belaminari drown?” Edgar asked, not turning around. “If I can save a life, I will.”

“I’m going to have to turn you in,” Hamunixaru said, not sounding sorry at all.

“Do what you must,” Edgar said. “It’ll do you little good. The Visionnari won’t do anything against me.”

“We shall see,” Hamunixaru said. He stalked off, followed a moment later by Gemisidara.

Three hours later, he heard the familiar booted footsteps. “Edgar, we were told you used forbidden powers to save your granddaughter,” one of the Visionnari said in a monotone voice.

“I did,” Edgar said, again without turning around.

“How many lives saved does that make?” another Visionnari asked.

“Since we got here? Five hundred and seventy three, unless you want me to count the infants I’ve helped deliver and kept alive,” Edgar said. “If you do, that puts it at well over a thousand.”

There was silence. In unison, the Visionnari behind him spoke. “Then we find no crime has been committed here.”

There was a muffled gasp. “How can you say that?” Hamunixaru asked. “He used forbidden powers?”

“For Edgar, there are no forbidden powers. He is Father to All Worlds,” the first Visionnari said. “It is to him we owe our existence. It is he who found this planet for us. It is he who granted us life. We honor him by granting him the ability to live his life as he sees fit.” The booted feet marched off, the sound dwindling into nothing.

“Father, what did they mean that you are the Father to All Worlds?” Gemisidara asked.

“Did you pay attention in your history classes? About how humans came from a planet called Earth?” Edgar asked.

“That old story?” Hamunixaru asked. “You don’t believe it, do you?”

Edgar finally turned to face his daughter and son-in-law. He pushed back his sleeve and showed them the tattoo on his forearm. There, in all its pulsing glory, was the mark of the Esper. It was the mark given to those who’d been genetically engineered to have some kind of extra sensory powers. Those like him had been the reason Earth was abandoned. “I am one of the last Espers in existence. Most have committed suicide or been killed by those who don’t understand us. I continue to live, to spread my DNA in the hopes that someday those like me will be welcomed again once more.” He turned and, pressing his stick into the soft dirt as he walked, headed towards town.

Things aren’t always what they seem


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Dr. Darya Allen stepped away from the microscope and rubbed her temples. No matter how often she looked at the two hair samples, she still couldn’t make sense of them. “Do you concede defeat, Dr. Allen?”

She turned and looked into the smug face of one of the more sexist of her colleagues. “It seems I must, Dr. Aleshire. Why don’t you take a look? I’m curious as to what you think they might be,” Darya said, moving to the side.

He cast a significant glance at the other forensic scientists in the room, who all scowled at him. They knew what Darya was working on. They’d each consulted on the same thing – a murder case spanning the last five decades. Each victim had four things in common: they were female, they were ripped apart as if by wild animals though they’d been shot first, their uteruses were torn out though all of the rest of their internal organs were found, and these hair samples were on every body.

Dr. Edwin Aleshire pushed her even farther out of the way as he approached the microscope. He peered inside, changing the focus several times. His smile faded and was replaced by a frown. “These must be contaminated,” he began.

“They aren’t,” Dr. Amir Casale – Darya’s mentor and the one who’d pulled her into the investigation when she would have been overlooked by those senior to her – said flatly. “These were preserved perfectly by the crime scene investigators. They’re also the freshest, pulled from the latest victim only three days ago.”

“Then Dr. Allen must have done something to them,” Edwin said, turning to glare at the petite dark skinned woman.

“She didn’t do anything.” This was one of the others, a man Darya barely knew. His name eluded her for the moment. “None of us have. Dr. Casale mounted the slides this morning and none of the rest of us have done anything other than to adjust the magnification.”

“Then what are these?” Edwin demanded.

“Darya? You’re the only one who hasn’t voiced an opinion, other than Dr. Aleshire, as to what they are,” Amir said. “What do you think?”

Darya took her time in answering. “They belong to some type of animal,” she said. “From the shape of the hair and the core of the shaft I’d say something in the canine family. However, the follicles also carry human characteristics. If I actually thought it was possible, I’d say someone has used genetic engineering to create a human-canine  hybrid and was using it to destroy the bodies in the hopes of removing evidence.”

“You mean like a werewolf?” Edwin scoffed.

“Perhaps,” Darya said. “Though I do agree that is a silly concept as werewolves in the sense of mythology and folklore are just that – stories. Most likely made up to scare uneducated peasants that eventually became matters of interest to the general public as they gained in popularity due to popular media.”

“Focus, you two,” Amir said sharply. “I agree with Darya’s assessment and with Edwin’s. The hairs are unique, and do bear the characteristics she describes. But there are no such things as werewolves.” He glanced at the clock. “It’s almost midnight and we’ve been at this since eight this morning. Go home. Get some sleep. Come back refreshed and we’ll start again tomorrow.” Everyone filed out.

Darya and Edwin were the last two to leave, as they made sure all the evidence of every crime being worked on was properly secured. The two of them walked out at the same time. The parking lot was deserted, and most of the lights were out. “What the hell is with the lights?” Edwin asked.

“Didn’t you pay attention to your email? There’s been a short somewhere in the security system. The lights are out and the cameras out here don’t work,” Darya said.

“That’s unfortunate,” Edwin said. He turned towards her. “Perhaps you and I should have a private little chat about your attitude in the lab.”

Darya smiled. “I think that’s a brilliant idea.” She pulled a gun out of her pocket. “I’m going to have to change my pattern now, which does pose a problem for me. However, I’ll make do with what I have.”

“What are you talking about?” Edwin asked, backing up a little.

Darya’s body began to shift as she stalked towards him. “Werewolves do exist, Dr. Aleshire. I think it’s time you met one.” No one was there to hear the gunshot…or the screams.

A hero’s flame


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It was eerily quiet. The sirens had stopped some time ago, and the bombs no longer shook the bunker. Brava clung to her daughter as the toddler whimpered in the dark.

“Brava, hush that brat before she gets us captured,” someone hissed. Brava couldn’t tell who it was.

“Have you ever tried to quiet a frightened child this young?” Brava snapped back, her voice a mere whisper. “It’s nearly impossible.”

“She’s not loud enough for the sniffers to find us anyway,” someone else whispered. “Leave Kayin alone.”

Someone grumbled but no one spoke again. Kayin soon went limp, a sign she’d cried herself to sleep. Brava pulled her closer, resting her chin on the top of Kayin’s head. A few people shifted in the dark, easing the awkwardness and pain of the positions they’d held for the past 24 hours.

Finally, Brava heard a peculiar sound and then the snap of a match striking something. Two lamps flashed into light. People cried out softly as their eyes, accustomed to the dark, were burned by the dim light.

Durai, the old man who’d hustled the townies into the bunker, looked solemnly at the group. “I think we can all accept the fact that our homes have been destroyed.” He paused. “I also think the bombs have stopped because there is no one left to drop them.”

“What do you mean?” someone asked. It was still dark enough Brava couldn’t see the speaker.

“I recognized the sound of the final bomb. It was the same type that destroyed my homeworld when I was a young man,” Durai said. “It is what drove me to this land. Now I feel it too has been devastated.”

“What do we do now?” someone else asked. Brava recognized this person. It was Rin, a young man who’d made several passes at Brava in the past. She didn’t like him but had to admit he’d been a brave soldier until a mine took out his leg.

“We check the air scan and then, if it is as I fear, we work on turning this network of rooms and tunnels into our new home. We will be here – not for a few years – but for a few generations,” Durai said.

“So long?” This was Leilani, a young woman who was in the early months of an unexpected pregnancy. She’d gotten pregnant just before her husband left to fight the Kilkani. He’d been killed and she’d never gotten a chance to tell him.

“Only if the air is as I suspect,” Durai said.

Borivoj, another soldier who’d returned too injured to continue fighting, went to the device next to the door. He started swearing. “The air is one thousand parts calinaris radiation.”

“That would be lethal within three seconds if we opened the door even half an inch,” Rin said. He looked ill.

Durai sighed. “It is as I thought. Riya, Gili, bring your soft lights. We need to map out these tunnels and bunkers. Brava, lay Kayin on my pallet and start cataloging how much food we have. Laird, check the seed collection. See what’s food and what’s ornamental.”

Brava set her daughter down and got to work. She wiped tears from her cheeks. Dieter, Kayin’s father and the man Brava planned to marry though she wasn’t sure she loved him, was dead. With the kind of radiation in the air outside there was no way he could have survived. Kayin would be devastated to learn her beloved “dada” was gone for good.

She closed her eyes for a moment before diving into the sorting. She wouldn’t betray his memory by being weak. She would be strong for Dieter, be strong for Kayin. She would be a hero for those she loved and those she now stood beside. It was the least she could do for all of them.

A roll of the dice


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Onni laid down his cards. “Tescanto. I think I win again.”

His table mates groaned. “That’s the sixth game, Human,” the dark skinned Kishnari said with a growl. His wire like hair stood on end. “Are you sure you’re not cheating?”

“He’s not,” the psionic Aladon said. “I’ve been watching him for the past hour. He’s really this good.”

“His luck has to change. No Human can play Tescanto so well and keep winning,” the red skinned Valenian said with a grimace.

“My father won his fortune playing Tescanto and winning almost all of his games,” Onni said, grinning. “It seems I’ve inherited his luck and skill.”

The Kishnari said something in his own language that Onni took to be unflattering, though he didn’t yet know enough of the other race’s language to be sure. “I’m not going to sit here and be beaten by a lesser life form.” He uncoiled himself from the pillar he’d wrapped his serpent’s tail around and slithered away.

“It appears that, unless we can coax someone else away from their drinking, our match is over,” the Aladon said. She folded her six arms across her abdomen. “Perhaps you should allow yourself to lose once in a while, Human. It would make you a more popular guest at our tables.”

“Maybe,” Onni said. He stood and stretched. “Thank you for the match. I very much appreciate the honor of playing with all three of you, though he did not wait to hear my thanks.” He bowed to the two remaining beings and headed off.

Onni sighed. The Aladon was right. He needed to remember to lose once in a while. That was why his father became so popular. He didn’t always sweep the table. But it was so hard not to get caught up in the game.

As Onni made his way towards the door, a shadowy figure beckoned to him. Onni, ever curious, walked over to see what it was. He didn’t recognize the being in front of him. It was black, with eyes the color of jade and a mouth full of jagged teeth. It had four long arms that ended in three fingered hands and eight long legs. It reminded Onni a little of a spider. He shuddered.

“I hear you like games of chance,” it said, it’s voice neither masculine nor feminine.

“Sometimes,” Onni said warily.

The being pulled out four blood colored dice. “Care to make a wager?”

“What’s the bet?” Onni asked.

The being showed him an absolutely exquisite ring that would be the perfect size for Onni’s fiancee Xiang. “This ring for you, if I lose.”

“And if I lose?” Onni asked.

The being’s mouth stretched in what Onni could only guess was a smile. “Your left hand.”

That gave Onni a moment’s pause. “Let me see the dice.” The being willingly handed them over. Onni shook them, weighing them. He held them up to the light. They weren’t weighted and there was no sign of tampering. It would be a game of pure chance. He smiled. These kinds of games he never lost. “All right. I’ll take your bet. What are the winning conditions?”

The being hissed and expressed some pleasure. “You must get at least two sixes to win.” Onni nodded his acceptance of the rule. They went over to an alcove where private wagers were often made and dealt with. “Do you wish to roll the dice? Or shall I?”

“I’ll roll,” Onni said. He still held the dice. He ran them through his fingers a few times before casting them onto the table. They bounced several times before landing. He stared at the pips. One six. He turned white.

The being hissed again. “I win.” He drew out a long, curved knife. The edge was crusted in blood. Onni tried to run, but a quick motion from the being held him in place. “You lost in a fair toss. It’s time to pay your debt.” Onni whimpered as the knife descended towards his wrist.

Delivering your own death


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Matthaus rummaged through the small basket of metal bars. His fingers ran across the raised letters, seeking the right words. “Matthaus, is that plate ready?” The voice of his master, Hermann Lauritz, sounded irritated.

Matthaus put the final bar in place and locked everything in. “Yes Master Lauritz.”

“Then bring it here,” Hermann said, waving his hand.

“Yes Master,” Matthaus said. He stood and carried the heavy tray over to the printing press.

Hermann snatched it from his hands and set it in the machine. He tightened all the gears and secured it in place before slathering it with ink and slapping a large piece of parchment on top. He turned the great wheel and the heavy weight lowered on top of the parchment. He continued turning the wheel until it couldn’t move anymore. He let it sit for a few seconds before lifting it back up.

He pulled the parchment off of the press and scanned it. “At least you didn’t misspell any words this time,” Hermann said with a grunt. “Take this to Journeyman Benedikt for copying. Tell him we need one hundred copies.” He gestured to the leather pouch on the side table. “That’s his payment.”

“Yes Master Lauritz.” Matthaus set the parchment down well away from everything as he took off his apron and hung it up. He tucked the scroll in an oiled leather case, pulled on his winter gear, and headed out. He was at the citadel housing the Mage Guild within the hour.

He tapped lightly on the gatekeeper’s door. A wizened old fellow with one eye and gnarled hands opened the top half of the green split door. “What do you want?” he rasped.

“I am an apprentice of Master Hermann Lauritz,” Matthaus said. “I’ve come to hire Journeyman Benedikt for a particular job.”

The old man wheezed. “He’s Inquisitor Geiszler now. But he might be willing to do the work, since your master has long been a good client of his. I’ll send him the message.”

It took almost an hour for a blond muscular man in the crimson robes of an Inquisitor appeared. “Matthaus, how are you?” Benedikt asked.

“I’ve been better,” Matthaus said, shivering beneath the cloak.

Benedikt frowned. “Didn’t Gottfried invite you into the gatehouse?”

“No he didn’t,” Matthaus said.

“I’ll have a word with him about that. If someone is waiting for one of us they’re supposed to be treated as a guest,” Benedikt said. “I suppose he still considers me a journeyman at times.” He smiled and motioned with his hand. “Please, come inside out of the cold and we’ll talk about what that bastard master of yours wants from me this time.”

Matthaus followed the mage into the citadel and made his way to what appeared to be a newly furnished study. Benedikt pointed and Matthaus sat down. “Master Lauritz needs a hundred copies made of this broadsheet,” Matthaus said.

“I’m sure he does. What is it, another one of his political diatribes?” Benedikt asked, taking the scroll case from Matthaus. As he skimmed it, he frowned. “Matthaus, do you know what this says?”

Matthaus shook his head. “I can’t read.”

“How can you work in a print shop without knowing how to read?” Benedikt asked sharply.

“By touch and general appearance. Master Lauritz showed me the shapes and taught me what certain things feel like so I could help him but I never learned what any of it all meant,” Matthaus said.

“Did he send my payment?” Benedikt asked. Matthaus nodded and handed the mage the pouch Hermann had given him. Benedikt opened it. He stared at its contents for several moments before setting it to the side. “Matthaus, I’m going to be honest with you here. This document is a request for me to kill you, and what’s in the pouch is enough money to cover your execution.”

“Why would he do that? What have I done?” Matthaus’ voice cracked and he noticed it had gone up a few octaves.

“I don’t know. He doesn’t say,” Benedikt said. “I’m conflicted. As an Inquisitor, I should be looking into this. It’s illegal, after all. But as your master is a long time client, I am obligated to honor his wishes.”

Matthaus got up and bolted for the door. It slammed in his face. He started pounding on it. “Let me go,” he screamed.

“Be quiet. There are mages studying and I don’t want to listen to their complaints about noise from my rooms,” Benedikt said. A slow smile spread across his face. “I know how to resolve this. I’ll ask him for more information as to why he wants you dead, and still kill you anyway.”

“How are you going to do that without getting caught?” Matthaus asked, still looking for an escape.

Benedikt’s smile broadened. “I’ll make you into an experiment. You’ll die eventually, and I’ll get valuable information on how certain magics affect human flesh.” The mage made several gestures with his hands. Matthaus whimpered as he slowly fell to the ground, his world going dark.

Cookies and vengeance


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Artur could smell them as soon as he walked into the house. They almost masked the scent of decay he was growing used to. “Mom, did you bake cookies?” Tamara Harper shambled out of the kitchen, her gray skin showing her bones in even more places. She smiled, unable to speak since her jaw had long ago locked into place. “They smell wonderful.”

She pointed one rotting hand to the plate. Artur went over, dreading what he’d see. The chocolate chip delicacies were surprisingly free of flesh, muscle, hair, and bone. He turned to look at her. She pointed again, this time to a pair of long gloves, an apron, and a shower cap.

“Good thinking,” Artur said. He picked up one of the cookies and took a bite. “You definitely haven’t lost your touch.” He paused. “Where’s dad?”

Tamara looked sad as she pointed out the back door. Artur shook his head. Would the man never learn? Artur finished his cookie before heading out to the backyard.

Gil Harper was digging a grave under the apple tree. He looked up from his work and scowled at his son. “You ever going to let us go?” His words were slurred. His tongue was half rotted and his lower jaw was beginning to fall off.

“Why should I?” Artur asked. “After what you all did to me?”

The bitterness was still there. Tamara, Gil, and Artur’s younger sister Cassie had turned on him when he came out as both gay and desirous of a college education. Gil had already picked out the trade school he was supposed to go to so Artur could become an electrician like his father, just as Gil had become one like his father.

His family were also devout Christians who believed Artur was an abomination before the sight of God. They took them to their pastor, who tried to “pray the gay away.” When that didn’t work, they locked him in the basement and tortured him for months until Artur’s then-boyfriend Dario and a few others had broken into the house and rescued him.

Tamara, Gil, and Cassie had died in a car accident a year before, and Artur took his revenge. He and his now-husband Dario were skilled necromancers and had raised them from the dead as sentient zombies. Tamara accepted her fate first. Gil still struggled. Cassie went mad and was currently locked in her room, fed raw ground beef and chicken by Dario every few days so she wouldn’t starve. They could release her, of course, but Artur wanted her to suffer a little longer.

“You can’t escape me that way, Dad,” Artur said, putting the scorn he felt into the last word. “You bury yourself, Dario and I will just force you back to the surface. You almost killed me. In fact, I think that was your intention. So now you can rot in this house. When I’m done with you, I’ll release you and burn your rotting corpses with the house. I think that’s a fitting punishment for these scars.” He gestured to the remnants of the third degree burns on his arms and face.

“You are a demon,” Gil said.

“I am what you made me,” Artur said. “You are responsible for all of this.” He turned and walked away, leaving his father spluttering behind him. Dario was standing in the doorway, smiling, a cookie in his hand.

Music lingers in the memory


Photo via Visual Hunt

Johanne sat at her desk, the sheet music spread out in front of her. She stared at the black dots and bars on the pure white paper for several minutes before burying her face in her hands.

The composition wasn’t good enough. She was supposed to be presenting it to the Emperor in three days, but she knew it wouldn’t be ready. She slid her chair back and wept, not wanting to get her tears on the ink even though she was considering burning the entire thing.

Someone knocked on her door. She looked up, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. She frowned. Very few people knew where she lived, and she’d told all of them to leave her in peace so she could work.

She stood and walked over to the door. She unlatched the top half and swung it open. The sun was setting and the ancient forest she lived at the edge of cast long shadows onto her garden. She only had a moment to admire the beauty before her eyes were drawn to her visitor.

He was tall and thin in an unnatural way, with wide midnight blue eyes and delicately pointed ears. His hair was the color of ice and fell in two braids. She could only see to his waist, and the braids went down below that. He was dressed all in black and silver, and there was a quirk to his lips, as if he were amused by her disheveled appearance.

“Can I help you?” Johanne asked, eyeing him warily.

“It is I who can aid you, Johanne of Tal Istar,” the creature said. The odd inflection in his voice gave the name of her old home a strange lilt.

“I am not of Tal Istar. Not anymore. And what can you do for me that I can’t do for myself?” Johanne asked in spite of her misgivings.

“You are still of Tal Istar, even though they no longer claim you,” the creature said. “As for what I can do to assist you, I can grant you the ability to compose that which you struggle with now.” He smiled broadly. Johanne shivered. “You will bring tears to the eyes of the Imperial family, draw the nobility to their feet, and command the attention of all those who hear the melody.”

“Yes, and what do you want for your aid?” Johanne asked.

The creature shrugged. “Nothing that much. A lock of your hair and a few drops of your blood. That’s a small price to pay for the fame that would come from this, don’t you think?”

Johanne snorted. “And give you complete control over me whenever you wish? Your ‘help’ comes at too high a price. Leave my home now. You are not welcome here.” She closed the top half of the door and made sure both were bolted. She returned to her desk and ignored the sounds outside.

She picked up her pen again, but something the creature had said stayed with her. He’d called her Johanne of Tal Istar. She hadn’t thought of her home in years. Being driven out at the point of sword and spear for choosing to marry a man not of her people made it so she never wanted to remember where she came from.

Johanne frowned as a trickle of melody filtered into her mind. She took the sheets of already written on composition paper and set them to the side. She took fresh paper and set her pen on the first bar. She closed her eyes and thought of her olive skinned husband – dead these last five years- with his strong fingers intertwined with her pale ones as she defied the Council of Sisters. She heard the lullabies she’d sung to her children, the same ones her mother had sung to her and her siblings.

She opened her eyes. Memories flowed onto the page in the form of musical notes. She would give the Emperor a glimpse of her people, her home. This was something no one in this isolated kingdom would ever see, other than the merchants. This was her life, her passion, and now she could share a part of it that had long lain forgotten. She smiled and continued working. This would be her finest work yet.

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