The Genemage Archives: Book One, The Eternal King-Chapter Four

 

You can read Chapters one through three at the links below.

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal Sovereign, Chapter One

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal King, Chapter Two

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal King, Chapter Three

     Prince Vikryn stood in the entranceway to Woodhole prison and watched his houndsmen as they performed their duties.  Each houndsmen slowly walked around the dungeon, smelling the air, touching every surface they could, and focusing their minds on their surroundings.  At first, Vikryn had been convinced that the houndsmen were leading him around in circles, but it was soon evident that the circles were not the work of the houndsmen at all.

       Using their heightened senses combined with their mental abilities, the houndsmen had easily picked up the trail of the escaped prisoner.  The trail had first led the prince and his hunters to a small, quiet hillside village of farmers.   After searching the village, the houndsmen sniffed out the prisoner’s trail, which led to a small hut at the edge of the village.  The hut had been abandoned days before the arrival of the hunting party, left empty and barren by its previous occupants.

     To the dismay and disbelief of the prince, the houndsmen then followed the trail back to Woodhole prison.  At first, the prince thought the houndsmen were playing some type of joke on the prince, a jest they would surely pay dearly for.  When they arrived at the prison, it was immediately obvious that there was no jest when the prince learned that another prisoner had been freed.

   “What have you learned from your investigation,” Vikryn asked as the four houndsmen approached him.

     “This break-in was different than the first,” Kretch said, his eyes glazed over as though he were focusing on something beyond his prince.  “There was no stealth or caution this time.  Instead, they barged right in and took the guards by surprise.  The prisoner was joined by a dwarf and an ogre.  It was the ogre that did the most damage, fighting the guards as the prisoner and the dwarf rushed to the cell and freed the prisoner.  The attack was quick and brutal, and they managed to escape before reinforcements could arrive.”

     “I see,” Vikryn said, glancing around the room at the bloodstains and broken bodies littering the floor.  And what can you tell me of this second prisoner?”

     “A woman named Leighta Anhoam,” Kaishu continued.  “A researcher and educator imprisoned for attempting to spread the forbidden knowledge to the lesser classes.”

      “An educator,” the prince repeated, shaking his head as his mind put the puzzle pieces together.  “This is even worse than we had realized.”

     “What does this mean my liege,” Kretch asked.  “Why is this woman so important?”

     “Because she teaches,” Vikryn replied, letting out an exasperated sigh.  “They plan to use her to teach them the magic of science so that they can try to fight my father again.  It is now more important than ever that we find and kill this madman before he can rebuild any kind of army.”

     “Leave that to us,” Kretch said turning to face the other houndsmen.  “We will find them.”

     The four houndsmen gathered in a circle opposite each other, closed their eyes, and grew quiet as they focused their minds on finding the trail of the prisoners.  Vikryn watched impatiently as the houndsmen silently focused their minds, reaching out with their mental abilities for any evidence they could discover.

     “I found something,” Mooris whispered after a time, his voice cutting through the silence.

     “Disseminate,” Kretch ordered, turning his head slightly to face Mooris.  A moment later, each of the houndsmen began to slowly nod their head, seeming to all come to a simultaneous realization.

     “Yes,” Kaishu said.  “I see it too.  I am getting another vision link from that.”

     “Yes, yes,” Kretch said, clenching his hands into fists.  “The picture is forming.”

     “What do you see,” the prince asked, his impatience growing.

     “A town,” Kretch replied, lifting his head while keeping his eyes closed.  “To the north.  Several days journey.  Our prey is headed there.”

     “A town,” the prince repeated with a sigh.

“Yes,” Kretch replied, nodding slowly.  A town that is both bright, yet dirty at the same time.  A town full of noise and debauchery.  A town-”

“Iniquity,” Vikryn exclaimed, interrupting Kretch.  “The town you are describing is called Iniquity.”

“You know this town,” Daan asked.

“Oh yes,” the prince replied with a smirk.  “I know Iniquity very well.  You could say it is practically my second home.  I have had many, many hours in the town of Iniquity.  Hours filled with very interesting experiences.”  Vikryn paused for a moment, staring off into the distance as memories filled his brain.  The prince then put his hands together in a clap of excitement, and let out a laugh dripping with mischief.  “It has been a bit since I have visited Iniquity.  I get to hunt my prey and have a little fun while I am at it.  I like it.”

“Sire,” Kretch asked in confusion.

“Pack up and get ready to move out,” Vikryn ordered.  “We are heading north for a bit of hunting and debauchery.”

“As you command sire,” Kretch said, bowing to his prince and then turning to face the other houndsmen.  “Houndsmen, prepare to move out.”

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Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal King, Chapter Three

Read Chapter One here

Read Chapter Two Here

Aerron opened his eyes slowly, taking a moment to adjust to the dim light surrounding him.  When he could at last focus his vision, Aerron studied the foreign room he found himself in.  The first thing Aern noticed was that he lay in a soft, comfortable bed, covered in a warm blanket.  To his left, a small fireplace built into the wall of the room provided warmth, as well as the soft light cascading over the room.  To his right, Aerron could see a small wooden nightstand with a glass of water sitting on top.  Beyond the nightstand, a large window built into the wall provided a glimpse of a meager town situated at the bottom of a small hill lit by the light of the moon and stars in the night sky.  Aerron looked past the foot of his bed and saw a large door with a bright light pouring through the gap between it and the floor of the room.

Aerron struggled to sit up in the bed he occupied and cleared his sore throat.  Aerron opened his dry mouth to call out to someone, but could not find his voice.   Instead, the attempted call resulted in a fit of coughing that forced Aerron’s body to convulse so violently he almost fell out his bed.  As he attempted to control his fit of coughing, the door opened, and a woman walked through.  The woman, middle-aged and human with soft, brown hair and green eyes, walked over to Aerron and placed her hand on his chest.  Aerron soon felt his coughing fit subside as a comforting warmth spread out from the woman’s to his chest muscles and down to his very lungs.   Aerron lay back down on the bed and breathed a heavy sigh as the woman smiled down at him.

“It’s good to see you alive,” the woman said, choking back tears of relief.

“Where am I,” Aerron asked, his voice a hoarse struggle.

“You are in my home,” the woman replied.  “Do you remember who I am?”

Aerron looked up at the woman and tried to focus his still blurry eyes on her face.  As his vision began to clear, memories of the woman began to fill Aerron’s mind.  Memories of warmth and kindness, of calmness and caring, and memories of a time lost to Aerron long ago.

“Ielsa,” Aerron whispered at last, finally able to focus both his eyes and his mind on the woman’s face.

“Yes,” Ielsa replied, gently caressing Aerron’s face.  “It’s me.  I’m so happy to see you again.”

“It is good to see you too old friend,” Aerron wheezed.  “But, how did I get here?”

“You can thank Grann, Zigg, and Kierick for that,” Ielsa said with a chuckle.  “They worked tirelessly for the past eight years to find you and then break you out of that dungeon.”

“Of course,” Aerron said with a coughing chuckle.  “I should have known they would dedicate their lives to rescuing me.  I owe them a great debt.”

“You certainly do,” Grann said as he entered the room.  “But you can repay that debt by finishing what you started so long ago.  Destroy the Sovereign and his oppressive empire.”

“Grann my old friend,” Aerron said, smiling at the dwarf weakly.  “It is so good to see you again.”

“Aye,” Grann smiled back.  “And it is good to see you regaining your health.  When Zigg and I busted you out of that dungeon, you looked like a strong wind could break you in half.”

“Well, I am feeling stronger now,” Aerron said.  “But I am still not back to full health.  I was in a sad state back in that dungeon.  They left me so weak that I could barely function.  My mind was so damaged, that I was unsure what was real and what was actually just fever dreams.”

“Well, to be honest,” Grann said grimly, “you were in horrible shape.  I was not sure you would survive.  But Ielsa has been using her powers of healing to bring you back from the brink of death and restore your body to full health.  Or, at least as healthy as she could get you.”

“I am grateful for your healing Ielsa,” Aerron said.  “I can only imagine how difficult and draining that must have been for you.”

“True, the last few weeks have been taxing on my own body,” Ielsa admitted gravely.  “But, your body has an amazing self-healing ability of its own, and that did a lot to ease my burden.”

“Well then,” Aerron said, smiling weakly again, “I’m glad I could help you heal me.”

“Yes,” Ielsa said, “and I will need more help from your body to get you back to full strength.  It is good that you are finally awake, but we will let you rest the night and then try to actually get you back on your feet and walking around tomorrow.”

“Good,” Aerron said, nodding his head in approval.  “Because there is much work to be done before any of us are strong enough to take on the Sovereign again.  To begin with, I need to know everything that has gone on while I was incarcerated.  How long did you say I had been the Sovereign’s captive?”

“Fourteen years,” Grann replied.

“Fourteen years,” Aerron whispered dolefully.  “I have lost fourteen years of my life to that monster.  He took my life and destroyed my family.  For that, I will make him pay.”

“Yes,” Grann said, nodding his head slowly.  “And in that time, he has tightened his grip on my people and on the ogres.  Where once we were simply treated as lesser beings, now the Sovereign has turned many of us into slaves.  My fellow dwarves are forced to serve the higher class citizens as house servants, while the ogres are forced into manual labor for the bastards.”

“That is everything we fought to prevent,” Aerron said grimly.  “How could we have failed so horribly?  This is all my fault.  I led you all down this path.  It is because of my failure that you must suffer.”

“That is nonsense,” Grann barked.  “I will not let you take the blame.  The Sovereign had a more powerful army than any of us could have ever anticipated.  He had a power that we could never have dreamed of.  The power of the ancients that we could not possibly hope to defend against.  It is that power that he now uses to enslave us all.”

“Tecknowlegy,” Aerron stated.  “He gains his power from tecknowlegy, which he keeps for himself, forcing the rest of us to live as animals while he and his ‘nobles’ enjoy the benefits of this tecknowlegy.”

“How do you know that,” Grann asked.

“I met someone in that dungeon, a woman who was also a prisoner that explained it all to me.  That woman was a teacher of this tecknowlegy and was imprisoned for trying to spread her teachings to the lower castes.  Something strictly outlawed by the Sovereign himself.”

“Of course,” Grann growled.  “Leave it to the Sovereign to use something like that to keep himself and his family above the common folk.”

“His family,” Aerron repeated quietly.  “That bastard stole my family from me.  Just one more reason for me to destroy him.”

“Yes,” Grann said wistfully.  “We tried to free your family as well, but that proved far more difficult.”

“What do you know about the fate of my wife,” Aerron asked anxiously.

“Your wife was sold into slavery by the Sovereign,” Grann replied.  “She was traded several times to several different masters.  We tried to track her down, but there were just too many leads to follow.  I’m sorry my old friend, but we do not know the current whereabouts of your wife.  We have not been able to find your son either.”

“I know where my son is,” Aerron growled, his eyes turning dark and angry.  “The Sovereign has him.”

“Really,” Grann asked, shocked to hear such news.  “Was your son also a prisoner in that dungeon?  I had no idea.  We would have rescued him as well.”

“No,” Aerron replied.  “My son was never put in that dungeon.  My son suffered a more horrible fate than mere imprisonment.”

“I don’t understand,” Grann said.

Aerron turned his gaze to the night sky outside his window, and let out a deep, sorrowful sigh.  “When they captured me, they tried to torture me to give them answers about our army.  They wanted to know things like the size of our army, where they were located, things like that.  Because of my advanced healing ability, I was able to withstand their torture, and I refused to give them any answers.   For weeks they tried to get the information out of me, but I would not give into the pain they inflicted on me.  Finally, they stopped torturing me and left me to rot in my dungeon.  Sometime later, days, weeks, I could not be sure, they came back to interrogate me again.  This time, however, they did not bother torturing me, knowing it would have no effect.  This time, they brought my son to see me sitting in that dungeon, dirty and beaten.”

Aerron paused at that moment, and Grann could tell that his friend was attempting to hold back tears.  Grann put a comforting hand on Aerron’s shoulder and told his friend to take what time he needed before continuing.  With tears welling in his eyes, Aerron looked to Grann, took a deep, shivering breath, and let it out slowly.

“I hated for my son to see me like that,” Aerron continued.  “But I wouldn’t let even that break me.  That is when they started torturing my son.”

“Oh Aerron,” Grann whispered.  “My friend, I am so sorry.”

“They took a metal knife that had been lying in a nearby fire, and they started burning and cutting my son’s face!  I will never forget the screams of my son being tortured and burnt by the Sovereign and his torturers.  I will never forget the horrors they unleashed on my innocent son.  I will never forget, and I will never forgive them!  I will make them pay for what they have done!”

“You will,” Grann said.  “And we will do all we can to help you.”

“That is when they broke me,” Aerron said, lowering his head into his hands.  “That is when I gave them all the information they asked for.  I’m sorry my old friend.  I am so sorry.  I couldn’t bear to see my son be tortured.  I would have done anything at that moment to save him.  Including putting all of your lives in danger.”

“You don’t need to apologize,” Grann said, patting his friend on the shoulder.  “Any of us would have done the same in your situation.  Any single one of us.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Aerron said, lifting his head and sighing again.

“I hate to ask this,” Grann said cautiously, “but it is important to know.  Did the Sovereign kill you son after that?”

“No,” Aerron said, his voice catching in his throat as he spoke.  “He did something far more horrible.  After torturing my son and getting me to give up my information, the Sovereign then made it his mission to brainwash my son.  Every day he would bring my son to my cell and spend hours tearing down my son’s mind right in front of me until one day my son, my own flesh and blood, no longer recognized me as his father.  The Sovereign broke my son’s mind and rebuilt it so that my son believed himself to be the son of the Sovereign.  Then, the Sovereign convinced my son that I was the one who had tortured him and burnt his face.  The Sovereign brainwashed my own son into thinking that I was an evil man that had hurt him to get to the Sovereign.”

“Your son is the burnt prince,” Grann whispered in shock.  “I don’t believe it.”

“The burnt prince,” Aerron asked, confused.

“The son of the Sovereign,” Grann replied.  “Part of his face is burnt so badly that he hides it behind a mask.  The Sovereign has spread word across the realm that you were the one that damaged his son’s face.  I had no idea the truth behind that story.  Or the horror behind it all.  Aerron my dear friend, I am so very sorry for everything the Sovereign has done to you.”

“And I too am sorry for everything the Sovereign has done to you and your people.  And all the people of the realm.  But, now that I am free, we can rebuild our army and fight back.  This time, we will finally kill the Sovereign and end his cruelty!”

“It will not be easy,” Grann said.  “But you know I will follow you anywhere, as I always have my friend.  But, we have a lot of work ahead of us to rebuild our armies and bring them back to fighting strength.  I don’t even know where we will start.”

“With Leighta,” Aerron stated his voice steady and confident.

“With what,” Grann asked.

“Leighta,” Aerron repeated.  “The woman who was a prisoner along with me.  The woman who taught me about the Sovereign’s tecknowlegy.  We need to break her out of that prison too.  She will teach us everything that we need to know to stop the Sovereign.”

“You want us to return to the place that held you prisoner and try to break in again,” Grann asked, shaking his head in disbelief.

“We have to Grann,” Aerron replied.  “She is the key to defeating the Sovereign.  We need her if we are going to have any hope of success this time.”

“I told you I would follow you anywhere,” Grann said.  “So, if that is your plan, then I will be there for you.  But, it is not going to be easy.  I hope you realize that.”

“I know my old friend,” Aerron said.  “But it is necessary.”

“Then we will need a new plan,” Grann stated.  “Because we can’t use the same one we used to break you out again.”

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal King, Chapter Two

Read Chapter One here:  https://mindofderrick.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/the-eternal-sovereign-working-title-chapter-one/

     “I have been summoned here by my father,” Prince Vikryn stated coldly to the royal guard standing watch outside the throne room of the Sovereign.

     “Yes Sire,” the guard replied, giving a quick bow to the prince before turning to open the large, ornate doors he stood guard in front of. “I will take you to him.”

     The prince followed the guard into to the cavernous throne room of his father, who sat at the opposite end of the lengthy room. The thumps of their boots echoed through the empty throne room as they walked toward the throne. The Sovereign, a short, portly man, who was the stark opposite of his tall, strapping son, bore an expression of exasperation as he watched the two men approach. When the prince finally reached the raised platform that the throne perched on, he lowered himself on one knee and bowed his head.

     “Rise my son,” the Sovereign said anxiously. “There’s no one here but us. No need for the formalities.”

     “Of course father,” the prince said, rising to his feet and approaching the throne. “Then, may I ask why I have been summoned.”

     The Sovereign paused, and then let out a deep sigh of frustration before continuing. “It seems we had a prison break last night. Someone broke into Woodhole and rescued one of our most dangerous criminals.”

     “I see,” Vikryn said solemnly. “Have you sent the royal constable to investigate yet?”

     “No my son,” The Sovereign replied, taking a deep breath. “I do not want this to be handled by the constable. This must remain a quiet, internal matter. That is why I want you to personally investigate this prison break.”

     “Why me father,” the prince asked, perplexed by his father’s request. “I am not a law enforcer. I know nothing about investigating such a crime.”

     “No,” The Sovereign admitted. “But you are a hunter. And this is a job for a hunter. And, you have a personal stake in this prison break as well.”

     “And what might that be,” the prince inquired.

     “The man that was freed,” the Sovereign said. “It was The Immortal.”

     “Aerron,” Vikryn whispered, the name of the prisoner sending a shiver down his spine.  He could only stare at his father with his jaw hanging open in disbelief as the thought spread through his mind like a morning fog.  “I thought,” the prince began, placing his hand on the white, porcelain mask that covered part of his face. The prince could still remember the pain of his flesh burning when he was child, the result of being tortured by the enemy of his family. “I thought he was dead. I thought he died years ago. I thought you had him executed for what he did to me.”

     The Sovereign let out a long, exasperated sigh before answering his son. “We tried to execute him. But he would not die.”

     “What do you mean,” the prince asked in an accusatory tone. “He wouldn’t die? What does that even mean?”

     “We tried to kill him,” The Sovereign exclaimed. We tried many, many times, in many different ways, to kill him. But, he healed from every wound we gave him, no matter how severe. I believe that Immortal might be more than just a nickname.  I now believe that he will actually live on for eternity.”

     “Impossible,” the prince snapped. “No one is immortal. There’s no such thing.”

     “And yet, despite our best efforts, he still lives,” the Sovereign stated. “So I locked him in a dungeon in Woodhole prison and left him there to rot. Now, someone has found him and set him free. He has been weakened by his time in the dungeons, but he is still extremely dangerous. We need to find him and take care of him quietly so that the masses cannot be reunited under him. If he rebuilds his armies and starts another war, I shudder to think what might happen this time.”

     “I understand father,” Prince Vikryn said, nodding his head slowly. “I owe that man a debt of vengeance for what he has done to me. I shall gladly hunt him down and take care of him, either by returning him to his prison, or killing him myself.”

     “Good,” the Sovereign said, nodding his approval. “Gather up your best Houndsmen for your hunt.  You will also have all the equipment you need from the royal armory and any supplies you need as well. Hunt well my son. The survival of our Kingdom lies in your success.”

     “I will father,” the prince responded, gently caressing the grey mask covering the burnt half of his face. “I will not let you or the Kingdom down. I will not let myself down. I will have the vengeance I have sought since I was a child.”

     “My best assassins and executioners could not kill Aerron in all the time he was locked away in our dungeons,” the Sovereign stated, letting out a sigh of frustration.  “I pray that you will have the talent necessary to end his existence.”

 

“Alaaf,” Vikryn called out as he thrust open the door to the antechamber of the Houndsmen kennel.  “Where are you, my old friend?”

“Here Sire,” Alaaf called back as he entered the antechamber from the opposite end of the room.  “I was in the kennel preparing your Houndsmen squad.”

“Excellent,” Vikryn smiled.  “I knew you would be ready for me.  Show me what you have.”

“Of course Sire.  As soon as I received your request, I began to assemble your squad.  Come, let me show you who you will be taking with you.”

     Alaaf led the prince through the back door of the antechamber, and into the main room of the kennel.  The kennel itself was a similar to a dungeon, with a dozen cages lining the walls on each side of the room.  While some of the cages were empty, most of them housed a single occupant each.  The occupants of the cages, both men and women of varying ages, were all dressed in dark grey, tightly fitting, single piece uniforms, designed for utility over style or comfort.  The head of each occupant was completely shaven bald, giving the group a sense of conformity that helped to strip away their individuality.  Though locked in cages, the occupants were allowed unusually comfortable conditions inside their cages, including comfortable bedding, and any other accouterments that would be found in any ordinary bedroom.  As Alaaf led the prince down the hallway of cells, some of the occupants rose to their feet to watch the men walk by, while others remained in their beds, ignoring the procession, and others still buried their noses in books or other forms of entertainment.

     At the end of the hall, Alaaf led Prince Vikryn through a doorway, into another large room.  The walls of the room were lined with racks of various types of weapons, both hand to hand, as well as bows and crossbows.  The center of the room was and empty dirt circle, that encompassed every available space not taken up by the racks of weapons.  Standing in the center of the dirt circle, a group of three people, two men and one woman, all dressed in grey uniforms and shaven heads.  A tall man, dressed in full leather armor, his head missing all sign of hair as well, though a result of natural loss, stood beside the group of three.  As the prince entered the room, all four lowered themselves down to one knee, bowing their heads in reverence.

     “My prince,” Alaaf said loudly, gesturing towards the group before them, “As you have requested, I present you with my very best squad of Houndsmen, led by one of my most experienced hunters, Kretch.”

     “My liege,” the elder man said, crossing his right arm over his chest in salute.  Kretch, a man in his fifties, had been a hunter and trainer of Houndsmen for most of his life.  The man prided himself on his knowledge and experience training the Houndsmen, and was well respected among his fellow hunters.

     “Behind Kretch we have Mooris and Daan, two of our most exceptional Houndsmen.”
As Alaaf announced them, each man in turn saluted. Mooris was a tall, massively brawny man of obvious great strength. In contrast, Daan was a thin man of average height and average build.

     “And finally,” Alaaf announced, gesturing to the young woman kneeling quietly beside her comrades, “we have the youngest member of this squad, Kaishu.”

     “Your Highness,” Kaishu said, looking up at Vikryn with cold, steel blue eyes. Kaishu’s appearance seem of her comrades, tall and thin with a strong musculature, and a face that was calm yet austere. Vikryn could tell instantly that Kaishu’s mind was sharp, and she had quickly analyzed every detail of her current situation.

“It is an honor my prince,” Kaishu said quietly, as she gave Vikryn a rigid salute.

     “An interesting selection,” Prince Vikryn said, walking around the group, studying each member as he passed. “I look forward to hunting with you all.”

     “Now then,” Alaaf said, gesturing for his squad to rise to their feet, “let us discuss your hunt.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal Sovereign, Chapter One

Mathus let out a triumphant shout as he thrust his sword deep into his opponent’s chest. A wicked grin crossed his face as Mathus watched the fire in his opponent’s eyes slip away, leaving behind only the cold stare of death. Mathus pulled his sword back with a grunt, kicked his opponent’s dead body to the ground, and turned to face the crowd of people watching him. Slowly, Mathus moved his gaze to each member of the crowd, judging each person’s reaction, before raising his sword above his head and shouting his victory to the heavens. The crowd around Mathus burst out in cheers, filling his heart with pride. As the crowd continued to cheer, a young woman broke free and ran up to Mathus, circling her arms around him in a tight embrace. Mathus reached down, picked the young woman up into his arms, and gave her a deep, passionate kiss, causing the crowd to cheer even louder. Mathus stood proudly, his arm around the waist of the young woman, soaking in the cheers of his adoring fans when he began to feel a tapping sensation on his arm. Mathus looked down at the young lady standing near him who seemed to be saying something to him, though her voice could not be heard over the din of the crowd. Mathus leaned down closer to the woman, and tried to focus on her voice, but was surprised to find the woman saying his name repeatedly in what sounded like a distinctly masculine voice. The shock of hearing such a beautiful woman speak in a male voice, that also sounded rather familiar, was enough to shake Mathus out of his dream state, and pull him back to the real world. Mathus groaned as the crowd of cheering people melted away into the pale grey stone walls of the dungeon Mathus guarded in his real life.

“Mathus,” Merrick growled, poking Mathus in the arm repeatedly. “Wake up man. It’s time for dinner. Come on! Wake up already.”

“Yeah,” Mathus moaned, sitting up in his hard, wooden chair. “I’m awake. I’m awake.”

“Good,” Merrick growled again. “Tired of listening to you snoring anyway.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mathus growled back. “You aren’t exactly a silent sleeper either you know.”

“Whatever man,” Merrick said gruffly. “Wipe the drool off your face and get ready to eat.”

“Fine,” Mathus grunted. “You know, you woke me up from a really good dream.”

“Oh, boo hoo,” Merrick said with a laugh. “Did you get the girl this time at least?”

“Yeah,” Mathus replied with an air of pride, and then quickly lowered his head in dejection. “Well, almost. I had the girl, but you woke me up before anything good could happen.”

“Aw, I’m sorry pal,” Merrick said, trying as hard as he could to hold back his laughter.

“Are you boys done arguing now,” A woman’s voice said abruptly.

Mathus looked to the direction that the female voice originated to see a short woman pushing a cart towards him. The woman stood approximately three feet, eight inches tall, with broad shoulders, and short arms and legs, the woman was a member of the dwarven race, and was therefore considered a lower class in society.  As a result of her class, one of the few jobs she would be considered qualified for was a food servant.

“Evening Zigg” Mathus said, smiling at the woman. “What’s on the menu for tonight?”

“Only the best for my boys,” Zigg said, placing a plate of food on the wooden table in front of Mathus. “Boiled meat and potatoes. I know it’s your favorite.”

“Yeah,” Mathus said, pawing at the meat in front of him with a look of distaste on his face. “My absolute favorite. I hope you have plenty of salt to go with it.”

“Oh,” Zigg said with a hint of glee as she pulled a flask out from under a napkin. “I’ve got something much better than salt. I brought you boys a little something to get you through the night. I know how boring guard duty in a dungeon must be. So, I brought you a bit of spirits to keep you guys in a good mood.”

“You are the best Zigg,” Mathus said with a wide grin, his mood instantly improving. “I think I might be in love with you.”

“Oh stop,” Zigg said, blushing from the attention. “You know how I feel about you boys. Now, eat, drink, be as merry as you can in a dump like this. I’m going to feed the prisoners, and then I’ll be back to clean up after you boys.”

“Hey Zigg,” Merrick said with a salacious grin. “When are you gonna be on this menu?”

“Man, don’t do that,” Mathus scolded.  “Don’t be such a gross pig.”

“Come on,” Merrick laughed. “Live a little, will ya? I’m just havin’ some fun with our girl Zigg. She knows I’m just kidding around.”

“It’s okay Matty,” Zigg said. “I know he’s just kidding. Besides, the truth is that ol’ Merrick here couldn’t handle all of this on his best day.”

“Well played Zigg,’ Merrick said with a laugh. “You got me good on that one.”

Zigg shook her head and then turned to walk down a long hallway of barred doors to bring food to the prisoners being held in the dungeon. Mathus and Merrick, still laughing, focused on the meals in front of them, and the bourbon Zigg had snuck in for them.

“All kidding aside,” Merrick said through a mouthful of food, “what do you think? Would you?”

“Would I what?” Mathus asked, eying Merrick warily.

“Would you ever…you know…with Zigg?”

“What are you talking about,” Mathus asked, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

“Do it,” Merrick blurted out. “With Zigg? You know, would you fuck her?”

Mathus shook his head and let out a long sigh before attempting to answer Merrick’s question. “First of all, crossbreeding with a member of the dwarven race is against the law, with rather severe punishment attached. Second of all, you should not be talking like that about Zigg. She is always good to us, and you should not be treating her that way. If someone heard you say things like that, if she heard you say things like that, you could be in really big trouble. Then again, you are a pig, so I really can’t say I am surprised to hear garbage like that come out of your mouth.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Merrick said, waving his hand as if to swat away an annoying fly. “Illegal, blah, blah, blah. I’m a pig, blah, blah, blah. Whatever. Come on man, just answer the question.”

Mathus let out another sigh and opened his mouth to answer Merrick when he realized that his mouth had become incredibly dry. Mathus stuck his tongue out to lick his dry lips, but noticed that his tongue had begun to swell in his mouth. Mathus attempted to swallow, but noticed that his throat felt like it had begun to tighten as well. Mathus looked up at Merrick, and noticed immediately that his vision had become blurred to the point that he could not focus on anything. A sudden pain in his chest caused Mathus to lurch forward and fall out of his chair onto the floor. Mathus began writing on the floor, clawing at his throat and chest as his lungs began to burn as if they had been lit on fire inside him. The last thing Mathus saw through his blurred vision, was the image of Merrick lying on the floor across from him, foam pouring out of his mouth as his body convulsed in the throes of death. Mathus’ vision continued to blur until all he could see were blobs of color, which then morphed into blobs of black and grays before turning into complete darkness. Soon after that, Mathus slipped into unconsciousness, as his heart seized completely.

Zigg walked up to the two guards lying dead on the floor, and gave each one a quick kick to check for movement.  Satisfied that both men were dead, Zigg then walked to the dungeon entrance, and pulled open the large, wooden door with a loud grunt.  On the other side of the door, a male dwarf dressed in a black cloak waited, a look of impatience on his gruff face.

“Did the poison work,” the male dwarf asked abruptly.

“Yes Grann,” Zigg replied. “Just like promised. I enjoyed watching those bastards choke on their own tongues.”

“Easy Zigg,” Grann said. “Don’t get overexcited. This is a rescue mission. We are not here for revenge.”

“I know,” Zigg sighed. “But, you don’t know how those guards used to treat me. It was gross. It was……”

Zigg paused, choking back tears as she stared down at the dead guards. Grann walked up to Zigg, and give her a strong embrace.

“I know Zigg,” Grann whispered. “They treat us like animals. Or worse. But that’s why we have been searching for him for so long. He can help us heal. He can help us get a better life.”

“You really still believe in him after everything that happened Grann?”

“I never stopped,” Gran replied. “You never knew him like I did, but I would gladly give my life for him. That’s why I never stopped searching for him. Now, let’s go get him.”

Zigg nodded her head, and led Grann down the long, dark hallway of dungeon cells. As the two dwarves passed by the dead guards, Zigg gave one guard another swift kick, and then quickly grabbed a ring of keys from his belt. As they walked down the hallway, the horrid odor of death and decay assaulted Grann’s nose, causing him to choke back the urge to vomit. Grann shook his head in disgust at the squalid conditions of each cell he passed.

“Even the worst criminal does not deserve to be treated like this,” Grann whispered in disgust.

“I have to walk these halls every day delivering barely edible slop to these prisoners,” Zigg said. “I have seen the worst treatment you can possibly imagine down here. I have seen things that no one should be forced to witness. This place is far worse than you can imagine.”

Grann solemnly shook his head as he followed Zigg to the final cell at the end of the hallway. Once there, Grann turned back to keep watch as Zigg fumbled with the stolen key ring. Once she found the correct key, Zigg unlocked the heavy wooden cell door. Grann walked up to the door, leaned against it, and let out a grunt as he shoved the door open to reveal one lone prisoner in the cell behind it. The prisoner appeared to be an old man, frail and emaciated, with long, scraggly hair that seemed to be swallowing his gaunt face. Grann choked from the odor wafting out from the prisoner’s soiled clothing, and he had to again fight back the urge to vomit.

“Are you sure this is the right guy,” Zigg asked, failing to hide her doubt.

“I don’t know,” Grann replied, his voice muffled beneath his hand as it attempted to block the foul odor in the cell. “It’s hard to tell. He looks so…different.”

“Yes, well, twelve years of prison will do that to a guy I suppose,” Zigg said. “Especially when they are treated so horribly.”

Grann walked up to the prisoner, leaned as close as he could stomach, and stared into the man’s lifeless eyes.

“Nothing,” Grann said, waving his hand in front of the prisoner’s eyes. “His eyes are wide open, but his mind seems to be somewhere else entirely.”

“I’m not surprised,” Zigg said sadly. “His mind has probably shut down to escape the horror of this place. We may not be able to get him back. If that is even him at all. I knew this was a bad plan! I have been saying that from the beginning.”

“Woman, please be quiet,” Grann snapped. “I don’t need your negativity right now. It’s not helping at all.”

“I’m sorry Grann,” Zigg said. “But you have to admit that this is not good. We still don’t even know if this is the right guy or not.”

Grann held up his index finger, signaling Zigg to pause for a minute, then turned back to the prisoner. Taking a deep breath and holding it, Grann reached down, grabbed the prisoner’s shirt, and roughly tore it open to reveal a large, grotesque scar on his chest.

“What is that,” Zigg asked, horrified by the sight.

“That my dear,” Grann replied feeling his confidence grow, “is the evidence I needed to see. That my dear is the proof that this is the man we are looking for. That my dear is my long lost friend and our former leader.  That is the man known as Aerron The Immortal.”

“So,” Zigg said, pausing to study the sickly, repugnant prisoner before her, “this miserable wretch is the great general that led our people into the Doomed Rebellion against the Sovereign? Seriously?”

Grann let out a loud sigh that was a mix of frustration and great amusement at his comrade. “Yes. This is our brilliant leader. We have found him at last. We can rescue him from this vile place and he will bring our armies down upon the head of the Sovereign once again!”

“Which we will probably lose again,” Zigg said quietly.

Grann shot an angry glance at Zigg, then let out another deep sigh. “Yes, well, we have to do something. We can’t continue living as servants to the humans. That’s no kind of life for any of us.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Zigg stated. “I have been serving slop to prisoners in this cursed dungeon for the last year! No one knows more about the pains of servitude than me, I assure you.”

Grann walked over to Zigg, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and then embraced her. “I’m sorry my love. I meant no disrespect. I know you have suffered here. As I know you have also seen suffering here that no loving soul should be forced to witness. That’s why I know you understand how important it is that we take Aerron out of this damned place.”

“I get it,” Zigg said. “I know how important this is to you. I truly do. So, let’s get him out of here then. We can figure out the rest after that.”

Grann removed a leather harness he had been wearing under his cloak, handed it to Zigg, and then reached down to pull Aerron away from the wall. The moment Aerron felt Grann touch him, he seemed to instantly snap to life, letting out a guttural moan. Grann grabbed Aerron’s head in his hands and forced the decrepit prisoner to focus on his face.

“Aerron, my old friend,” Grann said, staring into the wild eyes of the prisoner. “It’s me, Grann.  Focus on me, my friend.  Focus! I’m not here to hurt you. We are here to rescue from this place.”

Grann was relieved to see a hint of recognition fill his friend’s eyes, and he felt tears well up in his own eyes even as his mouth formed a jubilant smile. Grann then slid Aerron away from the cold stone wall he had been propped up against, and signaled for Zigg to bring the harness over. Zigg quickly complied, moving behind Aerron and sliding the harness around him. Grann watched anxiously as Zigg tightened three buckles around Aerron’s chest and arms, then nodded his head at Zigg. Zigg then grabbed onto Aerron with one arm, holding him up in a sitting position, while Grann moved behind him. Zigg helped Grann put the harness back on with her other hand as she leaned Aerron forward.  Once the harness was back on Grann, Zigg helped him tighten four more buckles around his chest and torso. When both Zigg and Grann were satisfied that the harness was secure around both men, Grann began dragging Aerron out of the cell with Zigg walking ahead of them. The pair exited down down the dungeon hallway, past the poisoned guards, and proceeded to drag Aerron’s frail body up a small flight of stairs and out into the cool night air outside. Zigg and Grann paused once they reached the outer courtyard of the dungeon, and began inspecting the area around them through the moonlit darkness. Grann could hear the raspy hiss of Aerron’s breath as he took in the fresh air for the first time in possibly years, and his heart began to fill with hope.

“Kierick,” Grann called out, his voice nothing more than a loud whisper. “Where are you?”

“I’m here,” a deep voice called back. “behind this shed.”

Grann chuckled as he and Zigg moved towards the shed near one of the massive stone walls surrounding the courtyard of the prison. As they approached, a tall man, approximately nine feet in height with a robust build and shoulders almost as wide as he was tall, stood up, towering over both of the dwarves as well as the shed he had been attempting to hide behind.

“What are you doing Kierick,” Grann asked with a laugh.

“Trying to hide,” Kierick replied. “It’s not easy for us big guys to find good hiding spots you know. Luckily it is dark out, so that makes it a little better.  I did run into a couple of guards though.  Don’t worry, I took care of them.”

“Sure, sure,” Grann said, his laughter increasing. “Good job my friend.”

“Is that him,” Kierick asked, pointing his meaty finger in the direction of the passenger on Grann’s back.

“Is that him,” Grann repeated, his tone laced with mockery. “You know, just because you ogres have the reputation of being stupid, doesn’t mean you have to prove it right.”

“Watch it, runt,” Kierick bellowed. “Or I will squash you like a tiny little bug.”

“Will you two keep it down,” Zigg hissed. “We are trying to avoid alerting anyone that we are here.”

“Relax Zigg,” Grann said, waving a hand towards the female dwarf. “We are just fooling around. But, she’s right Kierick, we need to keep quiet and get out of here as quickly as we can.”

“No problem,” Kierick whispered as quietly as his deep voice would allow. “I’m ready. Let’s get loaded up and go.”

Kierick knelt down beside the dwarves, and Gran and Zigg worked together to pull Aerron out of Grann’s harness, and slide him into a large basket attached to Kierick’s back. Once Aerron was secured in the basket, Gran and Zigg then climbed in. When all three passengers were safely tucked away in the basket, Kierick rose to his feet and left the courtyard as quickly and quietly as he could. The dungeon that Aerron had been locked away in had been located in a remote, wooded area, a factor which facilitated the group’s escape. Once Kierick had brought the group deep into the forest surrounding the dungeon, they all breathed a deep sigh of relief.

“By the sake of the ancients, we made it,” Grann said unable to hold back the tears that streamed down his face. “It’s so good to see my old friend again!”

“Old is right,” Zigg said, casting a disapproving glance towards Aerron’s feeble form. “He doesn’t look like he has much life left in him. I hope he was worth all the trouble it took finding him and getting him out of that prison.”

“Have some faith woman,” Grann barked. “If not in Aerron, then at least in me. Is that so much to ask?”

“No my love,” Zigg replied, letting out a long sigh. “I do have faith in you. I always have. That’s why I went along with this plan. If you say that Aerron will help our people fight back against the Sovereign, then I believe you. And I will stay by your side no matter what barriers we face.”

“Thank you, my love,” Grann said, placing his hand on Zigg’s cheek. “That is all I ask for.”

“So then,” Zigg said, her demeanor perking up. “What is our next step?”

“Ah yes,” Grann replied, clasping his hands together excitedly. “Kierick, take us to the Healer!”

The Gods Wager-Part One

The Proposition

Ozmos took a deep breath, steeling his nerves as he soared towards the temple of the First Gods on the back of his colossal falcon.  Though it was Ozmos himself that had demanded an audience with the First Gods, he was mindful of the fact that the pantheon greatly outnumbered him.  Ozmos was also painfully aware that he, having no other gods in his pantheon to rely on, could only ask his faithful to give him the strength needed to confront the First Gods.  As his falcon swooped down towards the ancient temple, Ozmos leapt off the great bird, flipped through the air three times, then landed at the foot of the temple in a crouching position.  Ozmos turned his fierce gaze to the entrance of the temple before slowly rising into a strong, warrior stance.  As he stood there, staring defiantly at the temple, a small figure scuttled out of the shadows of the entrance-way.  As the figure entered the sunlight, Ozmos could see that the figure was nothing more than a short, thin, elderly man that seemed to be in danger of being swallowed up by the thick cloak he wore.

“Ozmos,” the man wheezed loudly, “Son of the Holy Father, Protector of the Unwashed, Defier of the First Gods-“

“I think you’ve covered enough of my titles,” Ozmos barked.  Let’s just get on with it.

“Very well,” the old man said, smiling wryly.  “If you would follow me then.”

Ozmos let out a frustrated sigh before following the old man into the darkened entrance of the Temple of the First Gods.  As his eyes adjusted to the interior light provided by several flaming torches along the wall of a barren hallway he was being led down, Ozmos found his nerves settling by his surging fortitude.  Moments later, the old man led Ozmos through a doorway into a large antechamber.  In the center of the chamber, a large pit of fire burned, sending dancing shadows across the walls and ceiling.  On the opposite side of the  chamber, a robust, middle-aged man with long hair and a strong beard sat on a throne atop a large dais glaring down at Ozmos.  Seated next to the man was a woman of great beauty, her face an expression of soothing calmness that eased the remaining nerves of Ozmos.  Before the dais, a young man in full armor stood, his arms crossed in an expression of defiance as he to glared at Ozmos.

“Dekus,” Ozmos said, bowing his head to show respect to the gods before him.  “I am honored that you would agree to meet with me.”

“Honored,” The bearded god Dekus barked angrily.  “The only reason I agreed to this meeting is to see with my own eyes the petulant child that would dare to request an audience with the father of all the gods.”

“You are the father of all the First Gods,” Ozmos stated bluntly.  “But, you are not my father.  I am not one of your god children.  You would be wise to remember that.”

“You would dare,” Dekus roared.  “You are nothing to me, the First of the First Gods!  You are but a juvenile to me!  A false god trying to claim what belongs to me and my First!”

“I may be a new god,” Ozmos declared calmly, “But I am a god, make no mistake.  My followers give me just as much power as your followers give you, and my the size of my flock increases constantly.  Even as I speak to you now, I gain more followers.  Soon, my congregation might even outnumber yours.  A new dawn is rising, Dekus.  The faiths of man are ever-changing, and you of the First Gods cannot hope to remain relevant in the face of such evolution.  I represent the progress of man from the darkness of the First Gods to the light of the one, true god.  You cannot hope to halt such progress forever.”

“We do not have to stand for such disrespectful boasting father,” the young man in armor shouted.  “Let me face this heathen usurper in combat and I will prove who is the better god.”

“Calm yourself son,” the woman in the throne beside Dekus chided.  “There will be no combat in this sacred temple.  And husband, you let your temper get the better of you again.  Please, allow me to handle this situation.”

Dekus glared at his wife briefly before finding his anger melt before her soothing eyes.  “You are right my love, as always.  Please, speak for me.  I trust your judgement in this matter.”

“Thank you my husband,” the woman said, smiling and placing her hand on the cheek of Dekus.  After a moment, the woman turned her attention to Ozmos, who stood tall and defiant before the First Gods.  “Do you know who I am?”

“Of course my lady,” Ozmos replied, bowing his head slightly.  “You are Ielis, wife to Dekus and mother of the First Gods.  I am honored to speak with you.”

“You come before us speaking of honor,” Ielis affirmed, “but then you proceed to inform us that we are antiquated and obsolete.  It seems you are the god of contradictions, if not the god of good judgement.”

Ozmos let out a long sigh, then lowered his head before speaking again.  “I must beg your forgiveness I’m afraid.  It was not my intention to insult you, your husband, or any of the First Gods.  Nor was it my desire to be the cause of confrontation.  I am not a warrior like your son, Atul, the God of War.  I am a god who spreads the tenets of peace, the words of love, the code of brotherhood.  I have not come to your temple, your home, to attack or threaten you.  I have come only to show you the truth of the world outside this temple.”

“And what truth might that be,” Ielis inquired dubiously.

“A simple truth,” Ozmos replied.  “One that should be obvious to those not blinded by pride or arrogance.  As I have stated, I am new to the role of god.  Once, I was but a mere mortal man elevated to the position of god by those who believed in me and placed their faith in me.  Being that I was once mortal, my followers see me as one of their own.  A god who cares more about the people of the world than about his own power.  I am here to warn you that my followers are growing at an exponential level, converting even those who once followed the First Gods.  As I said, this is the path of progress, and I fear that the First Gods are in danger of being wiped from existence by such progress.”

“And so, you have come to our domain out of concern for our existence?  You are telling us that you are acutally concerned about those that you are usurping?”

“I am not trying to usurp the First Gods, my Lady.  If I had my choice, I would gladly share my faithful with the First Gods.  I am afraid,  however, that such a thing is not possible.  It is the will of the people that the order of the First Gods fade from existence, leaving only myself as the one true God of the people.”

“This is preposterous,” Dekus bellowed, springing up from his throne and waving an angry fist at Ozmos.  “You claim that you are no warrior, yet you are clearly here to challenge us!  And yet, you are but a single, solitary god, challenging a pantheon of many.  Why should we care what you have to say to us?  What could you possibly have to challenge us with?”

“Again Old Father,” Ozmos replied calmly, “I am not here to attack you.  I am here to inform you.  Your days of godhood are waning.  Soon, you will fade away as your faithful are all converted to following me.  Your existence will be forgotten, and you will be nothing more than stories parents tell their children to bore them to sleep at night.”

Dekus glared at Ozmos for a long moment before finally letting out a loud, boisterous laugh.  “I have to admire your fearlessness Ozmos.  I question whether it is courage or foolhardiness that motivates you to challenge we the First Gods, who have ruled the heavens for thousands of years.  You say you are here to warn us of our impending demise, so tell me then, what do you propose.  What is the true reason for your visit here?”

“Despite what you might think,” Ozmos replied, “I do not actually wish to see you or your pantheon destroyed or eliminated.  That is not my way.  I am actually here to make you an offer.  Your reign as gods will be over soon, but your legacy can live on if you choose to join me and my gospel.  I will canonized as the first of my saints.  It is an honor I bestow on only the holiest of my flock.  You will be remembered always as my disciples, immortilzed in scripture for all time.”

Dekus stared coldly at Ozmos, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully as he rubbed his bearded chin.  Dekus then took a deep breath, exhaling it slowly.

“I have an alternate offer,” Dekus said at last.  “A true test of the validity of your statements.  If you are so certain that your flock is stronger than mine, then I propose a wager.  A true test of the faith of our followers.  I propose that we each choose a champion among our faithful to represent us.  These champions will face each other with their faith in their hearts and we shall see whose is stronger.  We each give our champion a set of weapons and armor that is strengthened by their faith and see who’s faith prevails.”

“An interesting proposition,” Ozmos responded, nodding his head thoughtfully.  “And what will be the stakes to such a wager?”

“If you win,” Dekus answered, “then I, and all the First Gods, will agree to your offer.  We will relinquish our godhood and agree to become these saints that you speak of without any further resistance or complaint.”

“And if you should somehow happen to defeat me?”

“Then you will give up your godhood, tell your followers that you are a fraud, and return to your existence as a mere mortal.  I will even allow you to become a legend among our followers.  I will create a parable about you, the man who challenged the First Gods and lost.  Your story will forever be a moral for all to learn from.  How do you respond to my proposition Ozmos?”

Ozmos turned his glance towards the fire pit in the center of the room as he pondered the offer presented by the Old Father.  Weighing his confidence in his faithful against the risk of losing such a wager, Ozmos came to the conclusion that there could only be one possible outcome for his beloved flock of followers.

“Yes Old Father,” Ozmos answered slowly.  “I have as much faith in my followers as they have in me.  The terms you have put forth are acceptable.  I agree to your wager.”

“Excellent,” Dekus replied with a laugh.  “Then let it be so.  Let us now go and find our champions and make our preparations.”

“As you wish,” Ozmos said, bowing respectfully towards the First Gods.  “Shall we reconvene once all is ready to witness the challenge?”

“Indeed we shall,” Dekus replied cheerfully.  “I look forward to the contest.  I must thank you Ozmos.”

“Thank me for what?”

“Existence has been a bit mundane for me of late,” Ozmos stated.  “You have brought a touch of excitement into my life.  No matter the inevitable outcome of our game here, I am at least grateful for this experience.”

“I am happy to breathe some new life in your ancient existence,” Ozmos said casually as he walked out of the antechamber.

Boys Will Be, Part Four

Scottie held his breath as the spaceman standing over him slowly slid his helmet off to reveal his face.  Since the moment he entered the neighborhood Mystery House, on a dare from a bully, Scottie had been  chased by the ghost of a woman, ran into a man cut in half who could still speak to him, fallen down a flight of stairs into a strange basement/laboratory, and was approached by an odd, hopefully human, man in a spacesuit that had appeared in a flash of light.  Now, sitting on the stairs he had fallen down, scared and in pain, Scottie could only imagine what the spaceman would do to him.  The slight hiss of air escaping the spaceman’s suit grabbed Scottie’s attention, and the boy looked up to see the worn face of an older man looking down at him.  Scottie felt a small sense of relief when he noticed that the man did not look to be angry or upset, but rather concerned, perhaps about Scottie’s injury.

“You really shouldn’t be here,” the man said, his tone curiously missing the anger Scottie was expecting.  “Especially not by yourself.  You could get hurt.”

“I know, I did get hurt,” Scottie answered back.  “I fell down the stairs and twisted my ankle.  I’m really sorry.  I thought this house was abandoned, and I was dared to come in here by a bully.  I didn’t mean to do anything other than explore and look around a little.  I wanted to prove it wasn’t haunted.  But, I was wrong.  It is haunted.  Are you a ghost too?”

“A ghost,” the man scoffed.  “There is no such thing as ghosts kid.  Kid.  What’s your name kid?”

“Scottie.  My name is Scottie.  How can you say there is no such things as ghosts?  You have one in your front hallway.  The thing attacked me!”

“That’s not,” the man began, pausing to let out a laugh, “that’s not a ghost kid.  There is no such thing as ghosts.”

“Then what the hell was that thing?”

“That’s some language for someone your age,” the man said, shaking his head.  “How old are you anyway?”

“I’m twelve,” Scottie replied.  “That’s how I talk when I’m freaked out.”

“I don’t remember swearing like that when I was your age,” the man stated, pausing to reach back into his memories.  “Anyway, I think I need to take a look at that ankle of yours.

Scottie gasped as the man bent down, reached out his hands, and picked the boy up.  The man then carried Scottie over to the metal table in the center of the basement, and sat Scottie down on an empty area.  The man then pulled out something that looked like a smartphone, and began slowly moving it over Scottie’s ankle.

“W-what is that,” Scottie asked, almost afraid of the answer.

“This is something that will magically heal you,” the man answered, flashing Scottie a wide smile.

“Magic,” Scottie repeated in a confused whisper.

The man let out a single, boisterous laugh, silenced it abruptly, then cleared his throat.  “Oh, to be so young again.  In most cases, I have found that what people think is magic is either nothing more than mere illusion, or advanced science that people do not understand yet.  This is a scanner.  I usually use it to scan things I bring back from my trips, but it will work just as well to scan your ankle and make sure that nothing is broken.  As long as it isn’t broken, I will wrap that up for you with some cooling gel, and you should heal nicely.  Then, we can get you home.”

“Yeah, but, what about the ghost?  Or the dead guy up there who is somehow not dead?”

“Dead guy,” the man asked with a quizzical expression.  “What dead guy?”

“Upstairs,” Scottie replied.  “There is a guy lying on the table in the room next to the kitchen that is cut in half.  I thought he was dead, but then he talked to me.”

“And what did he say,” the man asked with deep interest.

Scottie paused briefly, forcing himself to relive the memory in his mind though he was afraid to.  “He pretty much said the same thing the ghost did.  He told me that I shouldn’t be here.”

“Well, he’s right.  You shouldn’t be here.”

“I know,” Scottie shouted in frustrated.  “I found that out the hard way when I saw the ghost and the dead guy.”

The man laughed again, a loud uproarious laugh that shocked Scottie.  “That’s not a man you poor, confused boy.  That is my sidekick Johhny.  He’s an automaton.”

“An atomaton?  What’s that?”

“An automaton,” the man replied, chuckling.  “He’s an android.  an artificial being.”

“Like a robot,” Scottie asked, his interest piqued.

“Well,” the man replied, pondering the question.  “I guess, in layman terms, you could say he is like a robot.  Just don’t say that to his face.  He was damaged recently on one of our journeys, and I am in the process of repairing him.”

“Where did he come from?”

“I built him,” the man replied, beaming with pride.  “Put him together myself.  Well, I did have some help to be honest.  I’m good, but I’m not a robotics expert.”

“You built him,” Scottie repeated, his voice full of awe.  “Are you a scientist or something?”

“Yes Scottie, that is exactly what I am.  I am a scientist who specializes in inter-dimensional exploration.”

Scottie’s mouth dropped at this last statement.  “You do what?”

“I travel to other dimensions, explore them, and study them.  I even take back samples like the rocks on my table here.”

“Other dimension,” Scottie stated.  “Like in my comic books?  Like alternate universes and stuff.”

“Yes,” the man replied.  “Just like that.  I discovered a way to travel to other dimensions, and I built a device to open doorways to those dimensions.”

“No way,” Scottie whispered.

“Yes way,” the man answered back with a laugh.  “It is what I have dedicated my life’s work to.”

“That is so cool,” Scottie shouted.

“Yeah, I think it is pretty cool.” the man said, smiling widely.  “Good news Scottie, your ankle is not broken.  So, I’m going to put some medical gel on it, which will act like ice on your ankle to ease the swelling.  It’s going to be cold, but it won’t hurt.  Then, we can wrap your ankle and take you home.”

“Medical gel?  I’ve never heard of that.”

“That’s because it’s still a prototype.” the man stated as he rubbed the cool gel on Scottie’s ankle.  “It’s not quite ready for the mass market yet.  But, hopefully someday soon.  Anyway, you will be fine, rest your ankle for a few days, and you should be back to running around in no time.”

“That’s good news,” Scottie said, breathing a sigh of relief.  “I still have one question though.  What about the ghost upstairs that chased me around.  You say there are no ghosts, but, I know what I saw.”

Scottie noticed at that moment that the man’s face took on a look of sadness.  “What you saw, was the psychic impression of a woman who used to be,” the man paused, took a deep breath, “a friend of mine.  She passed away a few years ago, and I was able to use a device I had invented to capture a bit of her psychic residue.  It is not really her in any substantial way, more of an echo of who she used to be, but it is all I have left of her.”

“I’m not really sure what that means,” Scottie admitted.  “But it sounds sad, and I am sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you Scottie.”

“Maybe you could teach me more about it,” Scottie said, smiling hopefully.

“Oh, I’m afraid that would take more time than we have at this moment.  You no doubt need to get home now.  I’m sure you have parents that are worried about you.”

“Well, then,” Scottie pushed on.  “Maybe I could come back later.  Like, on another day, and you could teach me about the stuff you have going on here.  It’s all really cool and interesting, and I would love to know more about what you do.”

“You would,” the man inquired, his demeanor lighting up.  “Really?”

“Yeah,” Scottie replied.  “I love  science, it’s my favorite subject in school.  I bet you could teach me a lot more than I could learn in class.  Maybe I could be like your assistant or something.  I could help you out.”

“That’s an interesting idea,” the man said, rubbing his chin in thought.  “But, you are just a kid, so it would be too dangerous to take you out on my dimensional expeditions.  But, you could work with me here in the lab studying the things I bring back from other dimensions.  Would you be up for that?”

“Definitely,” Scottie replied, smiling with excitement.  “I want to learn as much as I can.”

The man studied Scottie for a few moments, rubbing his chin as he pondered the boys offer, then nodded his head slowly.  “Okay, your on.  You can be my assistant.  I’ll even give you a bit of pay for your work, like an after school job.  But, there are a few conditions.  First, we must get an OK from your parents.  Second, you need to keep up your grades in school.  If your grades start slipping at all, then the deal is off.  Of course, you will have me to help you with your schoolwork, so that shouldn’t be a problem.  What do you think?”

“I think we have ourselves a deal,” Scottie beamed.  “When do we start?”

“Well, that will be the third condition.  Before we can start, you need to get that ankle healed.  So, I suggest you rest it as much as you can so it will heal quicker.”

“All right,”Scottie sighed.  “I will let my ankle heal.  But, try not to discover anything too cool while I am waiting, okay?”

“We have a deal,” the man agreed with a smile.  When he had finished wrapping Scottie’s ankle, the man asked him for his address.  Though initially reluctant, Scottie felt he and the spaceman had begun to build a trust with each other, which made Scottie feel better about revealing where he lived.  Armed with this information, the man walked over to the platform in the basement, and began entering keystrokes into the computer attached to it.  A moment later, a bright, oval shaped light appeared in the center of the platform.

“All right then,” the man turned to address Scottie.  “Let’s get you home, shall we?”

“W-What’s that,” Scottie asked nervously.

“This my boy,” the man replied proudly, “is my portal generator.  My own invention, of course.  It is the device I use to travel back and forth to other dimensions.  I have entered your address into the navigation computer, and you can use it to go home.”

“Really,” Scottie asked excitedly.  “You’re going to teleport me home?”

“Really,” the man replied  “It’s perfectly safe.  Just walk through the portal, and it will drop you off right in front of your house.  Now, come along.  You’ve got some healing to do so that we can get you started working with me.”

“This is so cool,” Scottie shouted, hobbling over to the teleporter.  When he reached the edge of the platform, Scottie looked into the light, and was surprised to discover that he could indeed see his home in the center as though he were looking through a window.  Scottie looked back at the man, who was smiling at him and gesturing for him to enter the portal.  “Wait a minute.  Before I go, you never told me your name.”

“Oh,” the man responded, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.  “You are absolutely right.  I am Professor Kevin Newton at your service.  It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Scottie.”

“It’s nice to meet you too Professor.  I will see you again soon.”

“Yes, you will.  I will come by your house tomorrow to talk to your parents about your new job in my employ.  Now, run along Scottie.  It’s time for you to head home.”

Scottie turned to face the portal to his house, took a deep breath, and held it as he stepped into the light.  Though he had taken only a single step, Scottie instantly found himself on his street, facing his house as the light he had walked through shrunk until it could be seen no more.  For a brief moment, Scottie wondered if what he had just experienced had been a strange dream, but a shock of pain in his wrapped ankle quickly reminded him that everything had been real.  Scottie smiled to himself as he began limping to his house, excited for what his future with Professor Newton would bring.

Boys Will Be, Part Three

Scottie moaned in pain as he tried to slowly pick himself up off the floor.  A bolt of sudden agony in his right leg made him cry out and reach down to check his wound.  Scottie let out a sigh of relief when he realized that there were no broken bones, but he could tell that he had twisted his ankle.  As he sat on the cold, rubber mat covered cement floor rubbing his sore ankle, Scottie scanned his immediate surroundings to regain his bearings.  At first, Scottie could not see anything in the completely darkened area, and he had to push back the panic that filled his mind.  As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Scottie could tell that he had fallen into what appeared to be a common basement, though he could not distinguish the details of the room.  Scottie reached for the phone in his pocket, turned it on to bring some light to his situation.

“Oh great,” Scottie sighed angrily, looking down at the cracked screen of his phone.  Scottie could only guess that the phone must have gotten damaged during his tumble down the stair.  Though the  screen was cracked, the phone still seemed to be functional, and Scottie was able to activate the flashlight app on the phone to provide a small, focused beam of light.

Scottie moved the light to his ankle, and was relieved to see that there was no blood or bone protruding from the skin, though the ankle did appear to be swelling.  Scottie then moved the light around the room, taking in the details of his surroundings.  Scottie was surprised to discover that, though he was indeed lying on the floor of a basement, it was more than just a common storage area or work room.

The basement walls were covered with strange looking machines and devices, each one wired to a bank of computers located in one corner of the basement.  In the center of the room was a large, metal table littered with what appeared to be equipment that might be found in some type of science lab, several rocks of different shapes and sizes, and an assortment of plants and leaves.  At the far side of the basement, Scottie could see a strange looking, square, metal platform with an unfamiliar piece of triangle shaped metal object at each corner.

“What is all this,” Scottie whispered, shaking his head in disbelief.

Scottie moved the light back to his ankle, let out a moan that was a mixture of pain, frustration, and utter confusion.  Scottie pushed his fear to the back of his mind, and slowly tried to pull his body toward the staircase he had fallen down.  Though he had no idea how he would get past the frightening things he had seen in the rooms above him, Scottie knew he had to somehow get out of the Mystery House and get his swelling ankle taken care of.

As he continued dragging himself towards the stairs, the lights, computers, and machinery in the basement roused to life suddenly, startling Scottie, who froze in place.  Scottie heard the sound of an electric hum, and he rolled around to see the origin of the sound, despite the fact that his mind screamed at him not to.  A chill ran down Scottie’s spine as he witnessed the platform on the far end of the basement suddenly spark to life.

The odd triangles at each of the corner of the platform began to glow with a blue light, then began spewing forth bolts of electricity.  After a few seconds, the bolts began to converge in the center of the platform, forming into an oval shaped pattern as they swirled through the air.  Scottie felt his heart beating in his throat as the the oval pattern began to glow with a bright, white light.  The light continued to intensify to the point that Scottie had to shield his eyes with his hand, then stopped abruptly.

The machinery in the basement went quiet as Scott continued covering his eyes.  Frightened at the thought of what might happen next, Scottie listened intently for any sound.  Scottie could feel himself shaking as the sound of strange, mechanical breathing filled the air.  Against his better judgement, Scottie uncovered his eyes to determine what horror might be waiting for him next.

A strange man, Scottie hoped it was just a man, stood on the platform, dressed in what appeared to be a type of space suit that an astronaut might wear.  The man’s face was covered by a helmet that had a darkened visor hiding his face.  Scottie realized immediately that the mechanical breathing he was hearing came from the helmet the man wore, that was connected to a pack on his back by a hose.

Scottie tried to remain as quiet as he could, watching as the spaceman moved towards the table in the center of the basement.  The man opened a messenger bag worn on his left side, pulled out a large rock, placed on the table beside the other rocks located there.  The spaceman picked up a piece of equipment from the table,  activated it, and slowly waved it over the rock.  The equipment whirred and beeped as the spaceman moved it over the surface of the rock, and Scottie could only guess what the purpose might be.

Scottie began to relax as he realized the spaceman had not noticed him, allowing himself to release the breath he had been holding.  A moment of panic set into Scottie’s mind as he tried to come up with an escape plane that would allow him to get out of the house unnoticed.  Scottie decided that his only course of action would be to continue his slow crawl up the stairs and hope that the spaceman would be too distracted with his rock to notice.  Scottie reached up to the wooden handrail on the left side of the staircase, and tried to pull himself up the stairs.

The one flaw that Scottie had not factored into his plan was the fact that the handrail on the staircase was quite old, and the wood of the railing was weak and could not support the full weight of a twelve year old boy.  The railing creaked as Scottie put his weight on it, until the old wood could take no more, and it cracked in Scottie’s grip with a loud snap.  Scottie lost his balance as the railing broke, and fell back down to the basement floor with a thud.  As soon as he landed, Scottie whipped his head up to see if the spaceman had noticed his fall, and was disappointed, though not surprised to see that he had indeed been discovered.

Scottie watched in terror as the spaceman looked towards him, turned off the gadget in his hand and placed it back on the table, and began to move towards Scottie.  Scottie scrambled to get up off the floor, and a spike of pain quickly reminded him of his twisted ankle.  Scottie looked towards the approaching spaceman, terrified at what the man might do to him.

“You shouldn’t be here,” the spaceman’s mechanical voice stated through his helmet.

“I know,” Scottie whispered, wishing he had listened the first time he had heard the words.

Scottie felt his heart pounding as the spaceman approached him, wanting desperately to scream yet too scared to utter a sound.  After what seemed an eternity to Scottie, the spaceman stood over him, looking down at the lad.  Scottie felt his teeth chattering in his head as the spaceman reached up and began taking his helmet off.  An infinite array of horrific images ran through Scotties mind as the helmet slid off of the spaceman’s head, but what he was not prepared for was the face that was hidden underneath.

Boys Will Be, Part Two

The plan was simple enough, what could possibly go wrong?  Bert, the bully who spent his days picking on and tormenting Scottie, had put forth a dare for Scottie to sneak into the Mystery House in their neighborhood to get proof that the house was haunted.  Scottie, skeptical that the house was actually as haunted as people said, was trying to find a way into the house when the front door mysteriously opened for him.  With Bert goading him on from the safety of the sidewalk, Scottie cautiously entered the front door.  Initially, Scottie was unimpressed by the stark hallway before him, which contained no decorations at all.  Scottie saw two doors in the hallway, one at the end of the hall, and one to his left side with a staircase leading to the second floor of the house on his right side.  As he moved down the hallway, Scottie was shocked to see what appeared to be the ghost of a woman appear at the top of the stairs.  When the ghostly woman charge towards him, screaming that he did not belong in the house, Scottie found himself frozen with fear.

With his eyes shut as tight as humanly possible, Scottie felt a sudden urge to flee overtake his mind.  Scottie took two step backwards, then tripped on a rug in the hallway, falling backwards onto the floor.  As he hit the floor, Scotties eyes opened, and he watched the ghostly woman float over him, passing the spot he had been standing.  Scottie scrambled to his feet, and looked back towards the front door he had entered to see the ghostly woman floating there, directly blocking his path out of the Mystery House.

“You should not be here,” the woman hissed, pointing her bony finger at Scottie once again.

“Please,” Scottie whispered, his dry mouth preventing him from speaking fully.

“You should not be here,” the woman screeched again before charging towards Scottie once again.  Scottie let out another hoarse scream before turning around and running towards the closed door at the end of the hallway.  Once he reached the door, Scottie frantically reached for the doorknob, turned it, and felt a microscopic moment of relief as the door opened.  Scottie rushed into the room on the other side of the hallway, slamming the door behind him and falling to the floor with his arms covering his head.

When his pounding heartbeat at last settled to a dull throb in his ears, Scottie realized that several minutes had passed in silence with no sign of the ghostly woman.  Scottie slowly moved his arms away from his head, slowly scanning the area around him for immediate danger.  Scottie was surprised, yet relieved to discover that he had landed on the floor of a rather conventional kitchen.  As Scottie looked around the kitchen, he saw an old, if otherwise unremarkable, refrigerator on the wall opposite the door he had entered. To the left of the refrigerator, a sink with a small countertop attached to it had a small pile of dirty dishes peeking over the rim.  Scottie noticed immediately that the dishes appeared to be recently used, which he found extremely odd.  Scottie found himself wondering if the ghost woman that had attacked him was responsible for the dirty dishes, but he quickly dismissed the absurd notion with a chuckle.  A small window above the sink gave Scottie a view of a sparse and empty back yard.

On the other side of the refrigerator, Scottie saw another closed door that appeared unexceptional.  On the wall directly to the right of the closed door, Scottie saw an old style gas stove  with a couple of dirty pans resting on top.  Behind the stove, another window look out onto the driveway on the side of the house To Scottie’s left, another closed door rested on hinges that would allow the it to swing open and spring back to close once again.

Scottie slowly ran his eyes back and forth between the three doors leading out of the kitchen, including the door he had been chased through, trying to decide what his best course of action would be.  Scottie quickly decided that he did not want to face the ghost woman again, which made the decision to eliminate that particular egress an easy one.  Scottie took a deep breath, looked towards the ceiling of the kitchen, then decided to enter the swinging door to his left.

Scottie stepped towards the door, trying his best to be as quiet as humanly possible, placed his hand on the door, took another deep breath, then carefully pushed the door open.  Another small room occupied the space on the other side of the door as Scottie entered, though he could not focus on the details of the room as he could only focus on what lay in the center.  Scottie let out a gasp of horror as his attention was pulled to a large, wooden table directly in the middle of the room.  The table itself was completely unremarkable, but the man laying on the table shocked Scottie to the very core of his being.

Scottie’s first instinct was to flee in terror when he saw the man lying in two pieces on the table, but he forced himself instead to investigate closer.  The unfortunate man, who was clearly dead, was separated at the waist, cut in half by some unknown blade perhaps, with his legs resting at least a foot away from his upper torso.  What struck Scottie as odd, other than the fact that there was a dead man cut in half lying before him, was the fact that there did not appear to be a single drop of blood anywhere on the table, or on the man himself.  Letting his curiosity guide him, Scottie reached out his hand to touch the man, if only to see if what he saw was real.  As he cautiously moved his hand towards the halved man, the man’s eyes sprung open abruptly, causing Scottie to stumble backwards with a scream.

“You,” the halved man hissed, his voice barely above a whisper.

“No,” Scottie cried, continuing to step backwards.  “Oh no!”

“You s-should,” the man stuttered, struggling to get the words out.

“Don’t,” Scottie whispered.  “Please don’t.”

“You should not be here,” the man stated at last.

“I know,” Scottie whispered.

“You should not be here,” the man said again, louder this time.

“I know,”Scottie whispered, his voice shaking.  “I know.”

“You should not be here,” the man bellowed, loud enough to startle Scottie.

“I know,” Scottie shouted, turning and bursting through the swinging door back into the kitchen.  “I know!  I know!  I know!”

Scottie continued shouting as he ran through the kitchen to the one door he had not yet been through.  Scottie opened the door and was greeted by a darkness that he could not see through.  With fear pushing him, Scottie stepped through the doorway into the darkness, and immediately felt himself fall and tumble down a flight of stairs he could not see.

Boys Will Be, Part One

Scottie stood frozen on the sidewalk, staring nervously at the disturbingly quiet house that everyone in the neighborhood commonly referred to as the Mystery House.  For all of his life, that life being only twelve short years, Scottie had heard various unsettling stories about how the house was haunted, how it was surely made of pure evil, and how people would enter the house and never leave.  Scottie new that there were houses with similar stories in neighborhoods around the world, so he initially did not take any stock in the stories told about the Mystery House.  It was this disbelief in such rumors that led to Scottie being taunted by his nemesis, a bully by the name of Bert.  Bert had scoffed at Scottie’s lack of belief in the stories of the Mystery House, convinced that Scottie was lying and just pretending to be brave in front of his friends.  When Scottie attempted to protest, Bert challenged him to enter the Mystery House and find out for himself what was inside.

“Well,” Bert said, his voice laced with impatience, “you goin’ in, or what?”

“This is really lame,” Scottie replied angrily.  “What, you get this idea out of cartoon, or movie, or something?  What are you going to do, sneak in after me and try to scare me while I’m in there?”

“Are you nuts,” Bert exclaimed, shaking his head.  “I ain’t goin’ in there! You might not believe it’s haunted, but I sure do.”

“Fine,” Scottie said, letting out a derisive sigh.  “I’ll go in there and prove that there is nothing weird going on in that house.  But, when I come out, you have to stop picking on me.  If you don’t, then I’m going to spread the word at school that you were too scared to go in there with me.”

“Yeah, fine, whatever.” Bert said, raising his hands in a gesture of capitulation.  “You survive the ghosts in there, and you gain my full respect.  No more picking on you, ever again.  But, you gotta survive first.”

Scottie shook his head in annoyance, and headed up the walkway towards the  Mystery House.  As he neared the front door, Scottie studied the exterior of the house cautiously.  Though the house was obviously old, it was by no means decrepit or dilapidated.  The house was dark brown, with a dark roof.  Scottie tried to peer into each window of the house, the two windows on the first floor, and the three windows on the second floor, but all of the windows of the house were covered in what Scottie could only guess were thick curtains that blocked, or perhaps swallowed up, every possible speck of light that might enter or leave the house.Scottie slowly walked up the three wooden steps leading to the front door, wincing as the planks of each step creaked, protesting each step he took.  Once he reached the top step, Scottie paused, stared at the solid wooden front door, took a deep breath, and raised his hand to knock.

“Yo, Scottie,” Bert called out from the sidewalk in front of the Mystery House.  “What are you doing?  You think you can just knock on the front door, and the ghosts are just going to open up and let you in?  Com on dumb-ass!”

“What am I supposed to do,” Scottie called back turning to face his bully.  “You got any brilliant ideas?”

“Use a window or something, genius,” Bert yelled.  “Duh!”

“Ok, I got it,” Scottie shouted, turning to face Bert.  Scottie opened his mouth to speak again, but was cut short by the sound of a doorknob clicking followed by the creaking of a door.  Scottie slowly turned back towards the front door of the Mystery House to discover that the door had somehow opened slightly.

“Oh shit,” Bert exclaimed in a loud whisper.  “Looks like someone’s expecting you.”

Scottie leaned to his left slightly to peer into the breach of the house left by the slightly open front door.  All Scottie could see on the other side of the door was a dark hallway that gave no indication as to what lie beyond the doorway to the Mystery House.  Scottie took several deep breaths before placing his and on the door, and slowly pushing it open further.

“Hey dingus,” Bert called out, startling Scottie as he took a step towards the door.

“What,” Scottie hissed, turning just enough to see Bert out of the corner of his eye.

“Don’t forget to take out your phone.  Get as many pictures as you can.  Maybe some video too.”

“Fine,” Scottie called back, sighing in frustration and rolling his eyes.  Scottie pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and checked the battery strength to see that the phone was at a ninety percent charge.  Scottie activated the camera function on his phone, raised the phone up to his eye level, and began recording a video of what he saw.  Scottie then pushed the front door of the Mystery House fully open, and cautiously entered the dark hallway before him.

As he walked down the hallway, Scotties eyes began to adjust to the darkness, and he began to see details of the area surrounding him.  The hallway Scottie found himself in stretched out about ten feet before him, with a stair case on his right side, halfway down the hall leading to the second floor of the building.  The hallway itself was rather plain, lacking any sort of decoration or picture on the walls.  At the end of the hallway, a closed door faced Scottie, with another closed door located directly to his left.  Scottie studied both doors, trying to decide which door to investigate first, when he was startled by a flash of light from the top of the staircase.  Scottie looked up towards the flash to see the disembodied figure of pale woman staring back at him.  The woman appeared to be floating in the air, with a faint white glow surrounding her.

“You should not be here,” the woman shrieked, raising a skeletal looking hand towards Scottie and pointing directly at him.

Scottie opened his mouth to speak to the ghostly woman, but found that the words stalled in the back of his throat, choking him.

“You should not be here,” the woman shrieked again, here voice bone-chillingly cold with a pitch that would have dogs cringing.

“I, I’m sorry,” Scottie whispered through dried out lips.

“You should not be here,” another deathly screech.

“I know,” Scottie cried out.  “I’m sorry.  I’ll leave.  I’m sorry.”

“You should not be here,” the ghostly woman screeched again as she began floating down the stairs towards Scottie.  Scottie watched in terror as the woman approached him, her feet never touching the stairs below her.  Frozen with fear, Scottie could only manage to let out a scream, unable to convince his feet to function even though he desperately wanted to run as far away as possible.  A short moment later, the ghost woman was floating right in front of Scottie, reaching out her gaunt hands towards him as she screamed out angrily.  Scottie could only match the woman’s screams as he closed his eyes and prepared for what would come next.

Ever Vigilant, Part Four

RECAP:  After returning from a mission in the wilds of space, the superhero Extraordinary Man learns that something strange had happened to his friend and colleague The Vigilante.  After disappearing for three weeks, The Vigilante returned suddenly without an explanation.  On his return, The Vigilante had become a far more violent and vicious crime-fighter.  The Extraordinary Man, also known by his real name Nathan to those closest to him, rushed to find his friend to learn what had caused his transformation into a savage executioner.  Nathan quickly discovered that the man behind the mask of The Vigilante was not his friend Kurt, but was actually The Cad, murderous arch-nemesis of The Vigilante.  Nathan forced The Cad to explain what he had done to Kurt, and The Cad was elated to tell the tale of how he had defeated and killed his greatest nemesis.  Nathan, filled with rage at the news of his friend’s death, attacked The Cad and began tearing the armor of the Vigilante off of the villain.  The Cad released a cloud of toxic green gas that instantly weakened The Extraordinary Man, leaving him weakened on his knees with The Cad standing over him, his wicked laugh ringing in Nathan’s ears.

“What have you done to me,” Nathan asked, wheezing as he spoke.

“Oh, Nathan,” The Cad replied with mock sympathy.  “You will love this one.  Absolutely love it.  You see, when I took over the mantle of The Vigilante, I discovered all of his secrets.  And boy, did he have secrets.  For example, did you know that your good friend Kurt had studied each and every one of you heroes, and had created plans for defeating you all?  You know, just in case he needed to.  Isn’t that funny?  I thought it was pretty funny.  And his plan for defeating you revolved around a certain element that is your greatest weakness.  I had no idea that such a thing existed.  An element that strips you of your powers and turns you into a weak little shell of a man.  And so, your friend, your closest comrade, took that element and turned it into a gas which he then used to fill several vials with back at his HQ.  Those vials are locked away in his vault, ready to be used at a moments notice.  A moment like, let’s say, you decide to attack The Vigilante and begin ripping off his armor.  At that moment, said gas will deploy and incapacitate you.  I hate to admit it, but that is a pure stroke of genius on our old friend Kurt’s part.  Real genius.  And paranoia too I think.  It really shows that deep down, ol’ Kurt didn’t even trust you, his best friend.”

“I gave that element to Kurt,” Nathan said, coughing as he spoke.  “I told him to keep it in case something happened to me and I needed to be stopped.”

“Oh my,” The Cad responded, laughing again.  “That’s even better!  I bet that when you gave it to him, you had no idea that it would end up in my hands, did you?”

“Is that your game-plan then,” Nathan asked, wiping blood from his mouth.  “You lure me in by taking on the guise of The Vigilante, and then you kill me with a weapon that I gave him?”

The Cad let out long sigh, shaking his head in disappointment.  “Oh Nathan.  It looks like you have an extra ordinary ego if nothing else.  You know, the universe does not revolve around you, despite what you might think.  This isn’t about me killing you.  I don’t want to kill you.  Not any more at least.  Believe it or not, this does not actually have anything to do with you at all.  You just happened to interrupt me while I was out on patrol.  The gas was just me being prepared for any contingency, that’s all.  Just like Kurt would be prepared.”

“Then why,” Nathan asked desperately.  “What is this?  What are you planning?  What is your scheme?”

The Cad tilted his head in a gesture of pity towards Nathan, and let out another long sigh.  “No plan Nathan.  No scheme, no game, no evil plot.  That’s not me any more.  I’ve turned over a new leaf.  I’m a good guy now Nathan.  Just like you.  This city needs The Vigilante, and since Kurt has passed on to fight crime in the afterlife, the torch must be passed on to someone who can keep the legacy going.  This city needs me, and I am going to be there for her.  I am The Vigilante now, and I will keep this city safe from the dregs and psychos that plague her streets!”

“This is a sick joke,” Nathan hissed.  “And I will stop you!  I will not let you do this!”

The Cad leaned  closer to Nathan, and sprayed another cloud of toxic gas directly in Nathan’s face, causing The Extraordinary Man to slump over in pain, coughing violently.

“This is happening Nathan,” The Cad said coldly.  “I am The Vigilante now, and I will bring order and justice to this city.  I do not want to fight you, I want to work with you just as Kurt did.  We can be allies if you just accept me.  But, make no mistake, if you try to stand in my way, I will kill you.  I will kill any of you that try to stand in my way.  Just as I will kill any criminal that dares to sully my city with their presence.”

The Cad backed away from Nathan, leaving him writhing in agony, picked up the pieces of his Vigilante armor, and moved to the edge of the rooftop he and Nathan had been conversing on.

“Spread the word Nathan,” The Cad called out, turning to face The Extraordinary Man.  “Tell your friends, tell your colleagues, The Vigilante is back in town, refocused on his mission for justice.  Tell them all to stay out of my way Nathan.  Tell them all that I know all of their weaknesses.  When next we meet, let us hope it will be under more pleasant circumstances, shall we?  Say, do you guys some kind of monthly club meeting, or something like that?  I’m looking forward to that.  I will be waiting patiently for my invitation.”

Nathan could only let out a pathetic whimper as he watched The Cad fall backwards off of the rooftop, and then swing away on a grappling hook, laughing hysterically as he disappeared into the night.

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