Monthly Archives: October 2014

I’ll See You Soon

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Shadow

At first there was only darkness—a cloistering blackness that swirled around her like liquid smoke. It held the consciousness of others—begging, pleading, crying, speaking. All of them massed together in the dark—all except the flickering light ahead of her. It was a flame in the darkness; it was her anchor. She could sense the Merican woman that had gone through with her within that light.

“Alexa, come to join me again so soon? Are you that eager to stay?”

She didn’t hear the voice so much as sense it. After all, she didn’t have ears to hear—didn’t have eyes to see. She had what the Grave gave her, which was nothing. She knew it could probably sound any way it wanted—man, woman, child—but every time she had been through, it sounded like a man. This was no exception.

“No. I didn’t choose to be here.”

She could sense its amusement—a subtle shift in emotions. It was like sensing movement during a pitch black night. You couldn’t hear it. You couldn’t see it—but you knew. The flame flickered in the dark, wary.

“You might as well remain. After all, you’re close—next time, you’ll keep me company forever.”

“You have plenty of company without me.”

“Yes, but none are as…interesting as you are.”

She felt a cold dread, but quickly pushed it away. After all, she was in the Gravemind—a part of it. He—it—could probably sense her emotion.

“Interesting? Not really. I’m sure that there are others that are more fascinating. You have the entire world to pick from.”

“I beg to differ. You intrigue me. Though I do appreciate those you send me from time to time. Thank you for that.”

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Starlight shone downward, silvering the field and creating shadows in darker places. The grass clung to her boots as a cold breeze tangled the pale strands of her hair around her face. Her hands gripped her swords tightly, squeezing the leather-wrapped hilts as she watched the man in front of her. He held a metal pole in two hands, dark eyes assessing her. Her heart pounded in her chest, sounding loudly in her ears as she attempted to keep calm.

I’m going to die.

It was a simple thought—but a realistic one—and it terrified her. She didn’t want to go back there—into the grave—but fighting someone with a larger weapon face-to-face wasn’t her forte. There was a reason she avoided the pit fights. She was better at trickery—misdirection. She was better at being clever.

She grimaced faintly, trying to push the thoughts aside. Guess I’m going back on my word to Mickey. But damn this guy to hell if I don’t make him feel some pain first.

Already, she could hear the two others engaging—the sound of clashing steel and cries of pain echoed across the field. They were fighting for their lives; Alexa could only hope that Dakota made it out in one piece. It would shatter him if she died.

Her opponent’s voice shook her from her thoughts, bringing her back. He smirked faintly at her, white teeth flashing briefly before he spoke solemnly, “You are only wasting time, Alexa. He will die if you do not follow the rules. Are you willing to sacrifice everything for him?”

Alexa gritted her teeth, her muscles tensing as she nodded curtly, “Let’s begin.”

She sprang forward with her blades, using one to knock the man’s pole aside before sweeping at him with the other. It struck, and droplets of blood flew through the air. He looked surprised for a moment as she pushed him backward, continuing to go on the offensive—and then he responded.

The pole slammed into one of her arms, a jolt of pain shooting down to her fingertips. She pushed the feeling aside, blocking his next few swings. Another hit slammed into her chest and she felt something crack, the metal plates of her armor shifting as she stumbled backward, trying to catch her breath. Fuck, he’s strong.

The man paused for a moment, breathing heavily, “You’re only prolonging this. Fight.”

He swung again, hitting her shoulder. She felt her entire arm go numb and cried out, falling to her knees and then to the ground. She felt a hot trickle of blood seep toward her wrist as she lay still, careful to control her breathing. She could sense him standing over her as he made a noise in the back of his throat, one of disgust, “What a waste.”

Just lay still. She remained motionless—dead to the world. Did it matter if she actually died or not? Probably not—and she didn’t want to die. Just stay still. Don’t move. If you stay still, you’ll survive this.

And then she heard Dakota cry out.

“Mercy…”

Alexa rolled. She was instantly on her feet and swinging at her opponent from behind. I can’t let her die. She could sense his hesitation, that moment of surprise. And then he leapt backward, a grin flashing across his face as he blocked her next few strikes. He laughed, speaking, “Tricky, aren’t you?”

Alexa didn’t respond. Instead, she pushed toward him, slashing with her blades again and again. Don’t let him recover. She shifted the grip on her sword and then slammed the metal point into his chest. A look of shock crossed her opponent’s face, and then it hardened into something else—something cruel.

He snarled and responded. The blows came faster now, each one falling like a sledgehammer. Alexa stumbled as she felt one of her ribs snap. She was having trouble breathing, sweat beading on her forehead as she backed away. Don’t give in. Pain shook her body, making it slower to respond. Fight, Alexa.

The metal pole suddenly slammed into the side of her head, causing her to see red and then black as her legs gave out from under her. She could feel blood coating her back and chest, seeping under the broken and fractured plates of her armor as grass tickled the side of her cheek. She gasped for breath as she looked upward toward the man standing above her. His dark eyes stared down at her—eyes without pity, eyes without any emotion at all. They were eyes that she recognized. You failed, Rook. See what this does to you?

“Like I said—a waste.”

She had time to scream in fury before the piece of metal sliced through her heart.

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The candle flickered in front of her and slowly moved away. In some sense, Alexa knew that Dakota was leaving the Grave—that she was the light in the darkness. The flame brightened for a moment and then disappeared entirely, leaving her in darkness. Alone—except for Him.

“I’ll make a deal with you, Alexa…”

“Never make a deal with the Gravemind.”

It was true—a mantra she had told herself again and again. Those who made deals regretted them later. There was no need to play his game.

“So quick to respond? Wait until you hear me out. I’m fascinated by this Professor Barnes of yours. If you send him to me, I’ll let you leave.”

The Gravemind is always so quick to mention the Professor. Why is that? Is it my own subconscious that brings him to mind?

“No.”

“I won’t let you leave if you don’t agree to it.”

“That’s a lie.”

“Why are you so sure?”

Conversations with Smiles filtered through her mind—words and thoughts and theories that they had with one another. They may not be true, but they were true enough.

“Because I realize that you are just a mirror, a reflection. You are a part of me and I am a part of you. Essentially, I’m talking with myself—which may make me crazy, but I’m not about to kill someone over being crazy.”

“Are you so sure of that? That I am you? Well let me tell you something you don’t know, Alexa Rook. You will come to me again—soon. And you won’t be dead—you’ll be very much alive. You’ll come and dig through the dirt and the filth because you’ll want to try to take something back from me…”

“…I’ll see you soon, Alexa.”

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My Town

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Photo By: Flickr/Pam Morris

Photo By: Flickr/Pam Morris

A chill wind rattled the branches of skeletal trees as ice shattered and dropped to the ground from bare twigs. A few drifts of snow whirled in the wind, flurries swirling in small eddies within the forest. Nothing stirred within the heart of winter–nothing, save one creature.

At first glance, you might think he was a man. He certainly looked like one–he had two legs, a head, two arms. He trudged through the snow like a man, head bowed slightly against the bitter cold, the furs that clothed him covered in ice and frost. 
But you’d be wrong.

His face was pale–paler than death itself. Hunks of frozen hair hung in bloodied clumps around his eyes, the color of blue ice. It wasn’t a man, but Death itself that haunted the woods of winter. And within his stiff arms, he held a bundle that squirmed and moved–that cried. Within his arms, he held Autumn. Within his arms, he held Amaroq–for he was born of Death itself. And that is how his story began.

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“Do you know what this is, Jeanie?”

The Iron turned, her eyes fixed on the man before her. The glowing rock cupped within his hands emitted an eerie light, flickering across his features like rippling water. He smiled, his teeth greenish in the glow, “This is ascension.”

The woman looked back at him, her hardened fists clenching at her sides before she replied, quietly, “You’ve gone too far with it. You’ve taken hearts and minds unwillingly. They didn’t want it, and you didn’t care.”

The man’s smile only grew wider as she spoke. Then he replied in turn, transferring the glowing rock into one hand, “True. But you will come willingly–or not. It doesn’t matter, in the end.”

Jeanie didn’t have time to respond. With a quick movement, the man reached forward. Jeanie tried to jerk back, but she was too slow. Instead, the man’s fingers sunk into her chest, past her rib cage to her heart. She couldn’t breathe–couldn’t move. All she could feel was the pain and the steady thump, thump, thump of her heart–the feeling as it slowed. The feeling as it stopped.

She wasn’t sure if she screamed.

It might have been minutes later. It might have been hours. All she knew was that she woke again. The man was gone–and she could no longer feel her heart.There was only a faint, green glow where it should have been.

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You’re almost never without some form of light. Even at night, there’s the subtle gleam of the moon, the shimmer of distant stars that silver forest leaves and pattern the ground in shifting shadows. There’s the golden shafts that pour from windows, the wavering form of candlelight, the steady shine of an Iron’s glow.

And yet within the tunnels, there was only darkness.

Makita crept quietly through the deep, making sure to keep her breathing slow and still. She could hear the faint drip of water coming from further down the passage, the shuffling and squeaking of rats in the dark. She felt hard stone against her bare feet as she carefully picked her way through debris.

And then she heard it. It was the sound of another–the whisper of a sigh in the tunnels. Her muscles tensed as her lips drew back from over her pointed teeth. Her fingers tightened on the rusted metal in her hand.

That’s when the other attacked. Makita could sense her–the way she moved in the darkness. Makita jerked her head aside and felt a whisper of wind pass her cheek–the feeling of a blade that had nearly taken her head. She lunged forward with her own dagger, missing her opponent by inches.

The girl was almost as good as Makita was–almost.

The opponent lunged again, but this time she was ready. Makita grabbed the girl’s arm. There was a faint gasp and then a cry as Makita plunged her dagger into warm flesh. Something wet trickled down her fingers as she twisted and then withdrew the blade.

There was a soft sound as the body collapsed.

It was time for dinner.

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“Have you ever wondered why the way you are, Rasputin?”

The woman’s voice sounded through the room–soft, delicate. It was the sound of cobwebs brushing against silk, the sound of rustling paper and falling petals.

Rasputin turned his head to watch the woman, wrapped in brown cloth so that only her yellowish eyes showed, gleaming in the dim candlelight of the small room. He paused for a moment and then spoke, “I do not know what you are referring to.”

The eyes slanted slightly. If Rasputin didn’t know better, he would have said she was smiling beneath the cloth wrapped around her face, “Why you separate yourself so much from your emotions. Why you only function on logic. Have you ever wondered why that is?”

“It is because I am not stupid like most people.”

The woman’s eyes squinted more in response. She slowly reached into the folds of her clothing and drew out a box. Rasputin’s eyes settled on it for a moment, tracing the warped wood that made up its casing. The woman spoke again, “I thought you’d say that. But no, it’s not because you’re less stupid. It’s because long ago, you gave something away so that it wouldn’t cloud your judgement–your logic. You gave something away, and I have kept it all these years.”

Rasputin frowned faintly, “What do you mean? Who are you?”

The woman reached up and slowly lowered the cloth from around her face. White teeth gleamed as she replied, “You gave away your humanity. I am Justice, and I am here to give it back.”

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The world stops when you look down the barrel of a gun. Your heart seems to beat slower and faster all at once as adrenaline rushes through your veins. Your eyes can’t seem to focus on anything else except for that piece of metal pointing at you–threatening you. It’s all you can do to tear your eyes away.


At least, that’s what Dakota felt when the man pointed his pistol toward her head.


“I ain’t foolin’ ’round here, girl. Y’all are gonna give me what I want, or else yer pretty brains are gonna be spattered over that there wall right quick.” The man was tall, his grizzled salt-and-pepper stubble covering a lined face. He kept his greasy hair long, falling to his shoulders as he jerked his head toward the side, “Now hurry up.”


Dakota stared at him, her heart pounding in her throat as she spoke slowly, “I ain’t quite sure what y’all want. My cred? Don’t got much of that. And you don’t look like y’all can use a shield.”


The man shook his head, “I ain’t ‘ere for your stuff. I’m ‘ere for a person.’


Dakota swallowed hard as she told herself to stay calm–that she could get out of this. After all, she’d been in worse situations. If he wanted her, then she’d fight, “What do y’all want me fer?”


The man smirked at her, shaking his head again–almost pityingly, “Don’t be stupid, girl. I ain’t here for Deliverance.” His eyes slid to the side, focusing on something only he could see.


“I’m ‘ere for Mercy.”

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There are no monsters in this world. There are only people.


For those who suffer from the sickness of emotions, this is a terrifying thought. For me, it is merely fact–a statement of truth. But people like Templeton cling onto morals just as they cli
ng onto emotions. It’s an addiction–one that cannot be given up so easily.


My hands feel light as I run them through the lake, the moonlight glinting off the water and reflecting the stars. Is this why she uses water to write in her letters? My fingers tingle as minnows tear off peeling skin.


I am sitting in the waves, knees drawn up to my chest as I tilt my head upward. My clothes float around me. It is peaceful here. But her voice makes me turn. I remember my knife is on the beach and I fall still.


“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be more than you are, Smiles?” She is tall–willowy. White, matted hair falls around a face that is too pale to be alive.


I remain silent. Silence is better when confronted with a threat.


“Have you ever wondered why you are different?”


I keep my silence.


“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to actually live?” The woman smiles, a hollow gesture with yellowed teeth. “I sometimes wonder. Because you are like me, Smiles. We are both dead.”

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Pain wracked Stew’s body as he stumbled backward, staring at the monster before him. He could feel the slow, steady trickle of blood down his arm where one of its claws had sliced peeling skin, raking through rot and dirt. He gritted his teeth, hefting his shield and weapon once more.


He couldn’t allow it to win.


The creature grimaced at him, showing pointed, bloody teeth. Dark, matted hair hung in front of a face twisted by death–hollowed by time spent within the ground. It snarled once, clawed hands extending outward.


Stew growled back, hefting his shield, and the monster charged again. It slammed against the sturdy wood, and Stew took a step back from the impact. He heard a screech as the creature scrabbled to get past the defense. Quickly, Stew pushed forward, shifting his grip on his weapon. He’d only have the one opening–he knew how fast it could be.


He shifted his shield and then slammed his weapon into the monster’s temple. There was the feeling of crunching skull, the sickening thud of a body, a spray of blood, and then everything was still. His heart thudded.


Stew slowly approached the creature on the ground–or what was left of it. Pale eyes stared upward at nothing as its mouth worked with no sound. He lifted his weapon, intending to end it, and then the monster’s eyes focused–turning from white to green in an instant. It gave him a fanged smile as it spoke in a hoarse rasp.


“We both know who the real monster is.”


Then there was silence.

Shadowed Lies

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Photo By: Flickr/Askertoner

Photo By: Flickr/Askertoner

Words are malleable, changeable. They are as insubstantial as wind—as powerful as a storm. They warp actions and twist thoughts. They can be everything and nothing. But what is truth and what is a lie? How can you tell when everything you know is just a screen—a mask? Words flow past me and through me—and I can no longer tell what is illusion and what is reality.

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They stood beneath the stars, wind whispering its secrets to no one as the scent of smoke and changing leaves and Autumn filtered through the air. The sounds of voices echoed down the road, the constant hum of life around the local bar and the chatter of townsfolk seeping through the night.

Alexa shifted her feet slightly, one hand resting on the smooth pommel of one of the swords belted at her side. Absentmindedly, she pushed a strand of pale hair away from her eyes as she watched the two others next to her. Professor Barnes stood solemnly, leaning slightly on his umbrella as he watched the world with dark, shadowed eyes. Smiles remained nearby, her stoic face smeared with dark paint and a white smile. Alexa could just see her hands peeking out from her long sleeves, peeling skin flaking along her fingertips.

It was such a different scene from a few moments ago. The Professor had sat on a trunk inside, calm eyes scanning a wrinkled page by candlelight as the hum of conversation surrounded him. Alexa had watched as a smile flickered at the corner of his mouth, his face softening as he read words from miles away. Something had clenched at Alexa’s heart then. They deserve that happiness. They deserve knowing.

Now quiet happiness had given way to solemnity and worry. She shouldn’t be surprised. After all, they were dealing with something that the Professor had nicknamed “The Entity.” But exactly who and what that was, Alexa still didn’t know. Zodiac? A remnant of the Grave Mind? A mere man who plays the game?  She hated not having all the answers—and there was no real way to determine the truth. People cling onto information as if it were gold—pieces of a larger puzzle. And no one can see the entire picture because of it. It grated on her nerves. But the only way to find out was to continue digging.

Alexa turned toward the Professor, green eyes meeting his dark ones briefly as she spoke, “Technically I’m under no obligation not to tell her, if you want me to. You technically wouldn’t be breaking your promise and if questioned, you could truthfully say you didn’t tell her.”

It was a difficult situation. He had been told not to tell Smiles—for whatever reason. Another puzzle—or perhaps another clue? At this point, though, Smiles needed to know; it might make things more dangerous for her, but not knowing everything might also land her in danger.

The Professor didn’t speak. He only nodded.

Alexa told her.

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Everyone has a pet peeve. Some dislike it when others chew too loudly. Others hate it when someone cracks their knuckles or coughs continuously. Still others despise fidgeting or nail tapping.

It’s something that grates on your nerves, something that makes you clench your fists and bite your tongue to keep from lashing out. You can’t always explain why it is that it bothers you so much—but it does.

For Alexa, it was being a pretty face.

She stood in the arena, eyes fixed on the man across the stadium. He was heavily armored, a dagger in one hand as his wide, brown eyes watched her. Alexa could tell that he was trying to show he was brave, trying to show false bravado and confidence. It might have worked for the crowd, but she’d seen fear before—seen it far too often recently. Usually, it disturbed her. She didn’t want to go back to being the person she was before.

This time, though, she welcomed it. If you know anything, Rook, you know how to intimidate a person. Sometimes humanity deserves to feel a bit of fear. Sometimes they need to be reminded that you’re not just a pretty face. She gritted her teeth, her hands tightening on her blades. She wanted him to feel that fear. But more than that—she wanted him to feel pain. In the back of her mind, she knew this was a change since she’d been through the Gravemind—but she didn’t care.

Logically, though, she needed to put on a show.

Others called from the side of the ring, cheering her name. Their faces pressed against the rusted metal mesh of the chain link fence around the arena as they discussed odds and bets—as money changed hands. Alexa hadn’t planned on fighting on the cracked concrete of the arena, stained with patches of blood. All she’d wanted to do was to watch; you can learn a lot about a person by watching how they fight, and she’d wanted to keep tabs on a few of the people there. But that all changed when she heard them.

“Fuck. She’s pretty hot for a Baywalker.”

 “Hey, sexy! Nice legs!”

“Five credits to the man that makes it painful for him.”

“Do you really need me to fight your battle for you, Alexa?”

Now she was in the ring, facing down the man who thought she was just another mask with nothing beneath. She usually used it to her advantage but this time, she needed to make a point. She smirked faintly to herself. One of these days, I need to start wearing an actual mask.

A man from the side of the arena called out, his voice echoing across the space, “Are you both ready?”

Alexa merely nodded as her opponent waved one hand, showing that he was set. She waited, leaning forward slightly as her muscles tensed. Time to put on a show, Rook. You know how to do that pretty well by now.

“Begin!”

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Morning sunlight streamed across the dirt road, filtering through the leaves and branches of nearby trees as early risers stirred from their beds. A few birds chirped, their songs mingling with the wind that ran through the pale strands of Alexa’s hair. Another night survived.

She quickly scanned her surroundings, eyes flickering over the landscape. A few people walked down the road, heading toward the Double Tap where drunks were no doubt grumbling about the dawn. Others filtered in and out of the two small buildings nearby. Her eyes continued and finally rested on a tall man lounging in one of the chairs outside.

Stew was tall, even when sitting. He kept his weapon nearby as his brown eyes flickered back and forth, assessing any potential threats. Ever the watchful guardian. Blood flecked his arms, probably left over from the night before; after all, there had been a lot of fighting—and not all of it had been easy.

Alexa inwardly cringed as she watched him, remembering the conversation they’d had the other day—and then reminded herself that there was no reason to be embarrassed. After all, they spoke in truths; they owed that to one another, at the very least. Even if you never tell the whole truth.

Alexa exhaled slightly and then slowly approached. As she did, he glanced toward her, his face cracking slightly in a close-lipped smile, “Hey there.”

She smiled faintly in return, taking a seat in one of the chairs next to him, “Hey, Stew.” The muscles in her legs protested, each one slowly relaxing after being tense for so long. She grimaced faintly and then leaned forward. Ironic that sitting can be more tiring than standing. “How are you this morning?”

“Doing all right.” He paused for a moment, glancing down at the ground. They were silent. The hum of chatter down the road sounded through the crisp air. A shout of laughter mingled with the crunch of footsteps on gravel. He wants to say something more. Alexa waited, feeling her muscles tense again as she did.

He glanced up again, brown eyes meeting her green ones. He shifted forward slightly and then spoke, his voice low, “I’m…sorry about the way I’ve acted. It’s just what you said threw me off a bit.” He shifted his weight, glancing down once more. Alexa found herself thinking of another conversation, her mind turning over words briefly. “Yeah, I met Disco when I was down there just a couple months ago. Heard she was from up here.” She closed her eyes for a moment. You knew he was manipulative, but you didn’t realize how far he’d gone—talking with Corbin, throwing out hints whenever Stew is around, trying to get you to join. Doesn’t he realize he doesn’t need to do that?

Stew continued, his voice still low as he looked up at her again, “But what I said before is true. She’s gone, Alexa. And I still feel the same.”

It was Alexa’s turn to look downward. He still loves her, though—even if she’s gone. You’re no good for him, anyway. You know you would destroy him in the end—it’s only a matter of time.

She nodded and looked back at him, “I understand.”

__

He gave me a choice—walk a darker path or turn back toward the light. I said I needed time, but that’s not entirely true. I already know what the outcome will be—and I think he knows as well.

My answer is “yes.”

__

Unspoken words, unspoken lies, unspoken truths: Without all of the information, how can we ever succeed? The answer is simple: we can’t. And that’s what he wants in the end.