Posted by: lordkyler | November 29, 2014

Radiance Part VIII: Gone Fishin’

Previously, Connor, Ian and Drake visited a mechanics shop to purchase some weapons and have their stolen motorcycle inspected. They discovered that the vehicle’s decrepit appearance was all a show, and that the bike hid an impressive engine and small, secret machine guns. Connor came into possession of a famed Makara blade. They now return to their temporary hideout to reunite and discover what leads the Mongrels have dug up…

“So what is this hunk of junk worth?” Aria asked skeptically, eyeing the motorcycle. They stood in an alleyway behind the chocolatier’s shop that also served as a hideout for the Seven Sisters. The men admired the women’s newest acquisitions of fauna, and Lilly handed Connor his frozen hawk.

Ian grinned and took a seat on the motorcycle. The suspension bounced under his formidable frame, but balanced well. “Oh, it may look like a scrapyarder’s nightmare, but this beauty has some secrets. You just have to treat her right.” He activated the sequence, causing two small machine guns to unfold from the sides. He spun them, dry firing, and then snapped them back to their hidden home in the chassis.

“Impressive,” Aria admitted.

“That was A-MAZING!” Lilly squealed. “I love it. Those could really cause some damage.”

Aria studied the bike for a second. “My father used to have a model like this,” she said after a moment. “I’m pretty sure. But I don’t remember it having a second tailpipe.”

“With the motor on this thing, I’m not surprised,” Ian said, but Aria ignored him, inspecting the superfluous exhaust more closely.

“It’s not a tailpipe,” she announced. She fiddled with it for a moment longer, then found a small catch hidden in a fold of the seat. She pulled, and a panel opened on the side of the bike, behind the seat. “What is this?”

Ian muscled past her. “A pneumatic cannon!” he said. “Brilliant. You can load just about anything in here with a little packing. Alchemical potions, grenades, caltrops. Then shoot it out at whatever poor bugger is following you.”

“Useful,” Connor commented. “But we’re late for our meeting. Time to earn all this shake we spent.”

The rest of the group agreed, and after stashing the motorcycle in a secure place, they made their way to the unfinished subway that the Mongrels called home. Noah Simonson and a few other men waited there, along with two stranger obviously not of the group.

The first man looked nervous. His large, bulbous glasses magnified his eyes as they flitted back and forth, darting from one person to the next like a mouse searching for an escape from a den of terriers. He was a slender fellow, with a faded pea-green waistcoat, a tattered old thing covered with pockets, each one containing a notebook or the stubs of a dozen pencils. His meticulously styled and curled mustache wobbled as he muttered to himself.

The other man looked much more confident, though he seemed pensive and impatient. He was partially Oqidan ,at least, with dark, slicked back hair. His clothing was shabbier than the green-coated man, well-worn and threadbare. A cigarette dangled from his lip, smoke rising into the two massive bushy eyebrows that rested above his piercing eyes like two caterpillars about to mate.

Noah stepped forward, nodding slightly in greeting. “This is what we’ve found,” he said, launching straight in. He gestured to the pea-green man. “This is a reporter, Mr. Josiah. And this guy is an informant. We call him Phillip and nothing else, apparently.”

Phillip waggled a bushy eyebrow. “I hear you’re looking for that little girl they stole,” he said. He spoke fast and smooth. ” I know what you need. I know where she is, right this moment. I’ll tell you, a warehouse on the east end.”

“Who has her?” Ian questioned.

“I don’t know that,” Phillip replied. “Not important. What I do know is that she is waiting right there right now, but if you don’t come with me right now, they’re gonna move her again, and there’s no way of telling where she’ll end up. We gotta hurry.”

A few members of the crew looked at each other with wary expressions. It seemed a very convenient offer. “What about you?” Aria asked, turning to Josiah.

“Listen,” Josiah grumbled. “I’m not going to tell you I know where she is. In all likelihood, she’s been dead for a week. But there’s one thing I do know. I know who’s behind all this.”

“Who?” Lilly asked.

Josiah glanced from left to right again, and leaned in close. “The government,” he said. “It has their fingerprints all over it. And I know that our brave General Fisher, district marshall for the whole eastern coast, was not home that night. His staff claims he was, but his hounds were gone, and he always brings them with him. I have strong reason to believe that the government is involved and that General Fisher is involved. If you can get into his mansion, I am sure you will find proof, and hopefully clues as to where this girl was taken.”

“Listen, that’s all well and good,” Phillip said. “But I know where she is right now, and she won’t be there forever, yeah? This is a limited time offer.”

“A word, gentlemen?” Aria said to the other members of her group. They turned away and formed a huddle. “I don’t think I trust this Phillip guy. He seems entirely too eager.”

“Yeah,” Connor said. “It could be a trap.”

“And Josiah’s story fits with the rumors we’ve heard,” Lilly pointed out. “About the government. And he’s nervous about it. Someone lying would try to look more calm. Like that guy.” She looked over at Phillip and waved. “Yeah, he’s no good.”

“Are we all agreed?” Ian asked, and when the others nodded their assent, he turned to Noah. “We’re going to investigate General Fisher.”

“Your funeral, friend,” Phillip said. “I only hope it doesn’t turn out to be the girl’s as well.”

“Be careful,” Josiah said. “He’s a dangerous man with a vindictive streak. If you are caught, you will be pursued mercilessly. You would be wise to sneak in and out with nobody ever knowing you were there.” He looked around once again. “I should be leaving,” he announced, and scurried off.

“Us too,” Aria said. “It will be sunset by the time we reach General Fisher’s mansion. Can you offer any help, Simonson?”

The Mongrel leader shook his head. “My men are skilled, but not equipped or trained for this level of work. Besides, the General would love an excuse to purge the city of us. This is up to you.”

•••

The General’s mansion was impressive, especially given its location in the middle of the city. The estate grounds were extensive, with one half comprising the mansion and assorted buildings, and the other half a barracks and staging ground for local troops. That area was too heavily patrolled to sneak in through, so they kept their focus on the mansion.

The building was impressive, a massive brick structure many stories tall, covered with windows and stately arches, and lined with gas lights that made the building stand out almost magically against the sunset sky. It was as much a monument to the power and status of the military as it was a home. The main structure appeared to be five stories tall, with a tower-like central section rising a further five stories into the air. Two wings on either side connected the main house with other structures. Their intel said that the eastern wing was dedicated to servant’s quarters and record-keeping, while the west wing served as housing and offices for Fisher’s officers. The tower in the middle was Fisher’s private office and headquarters. If there was anything to find, it would be held there.

Our heroes arrived at the front of the mansion, looking up at the impressive structure. The perimeter fence was made of wrought iron with a  brick base, tall but climbable. There was a paved path leading straight from the gate to the front door, with a garage on their left and stables on their right.

“So, what’s our plan?” Aria said. “I’d like to steal some stuff, quite frankly, but that’s probably not viable. Should we disguise ourselves as servants?”

“I do love disguises,” Lilly said. “But that won’t work here. The Fisher place is hard to scam. General Fisher’s personal security force is small but well-trained, as is his staff. They all know each other very well, practically family. We won’t get far that way.”

“Oh, yes, that’s right,” Aria said. “I’d forgotten.”

“Looks like it’s a straight infiltration,” Connor said. “Sounds like a job for you and me, lady,” he said, nodding toward Aria. “We’re the stealthiest.”

“Let me come,” Drake interjected. “My skills could be very useful.” Connor looked the young man up and down and cocked his head.

“All right, just stay close and be quiet,” he growled.

“What are we going to do?” Lilly asked. “I’m not about to sit around like a slug while you guys have all the fun.”

“What did you have in mind?” Aria asked.

“Distraction. Commotion. Conflagration.”

“What?” Connor asked.

Lilly sighed. “See those stables? I want to set them on fire. Loose horses and drakes running around, hay catching fire, pure pandemonium. You could probably swipe the General’s knickers, he’d be so busy.”

“It will also draw suspicion,” Ian cautioned. “You don’t get to be a General without a healthy dose of skepticism and paranoia.”

“It would be better to avoid leaving any trace,” Connor said. “But it would be a good idea to have a backup. How about you go to the stables, and Ian hits up the garage. Be ready to work some mischief. We can use the morse headsets to signal you if necessary.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Aria said. “Keep an eye out for patrols. There’s a guard by the front door there, so we’ll have to go around to the side, probably the servant’s side. Ian and Lilly can hop the fence with their buildings as cover.”

The others nodded, and after working out a code for the morse sets, they broke apart, the strike team following the fence to the right, and Ian and Lilly moving into their respective transitions. The sky burned with the sunset overhead, giving the red bricks an unnaturally ruddy glow. Fireflies danced in the shadows, accompanied by the chirp of crickets. TIme to move.

Aria hopped the fence first, vaulting over and landing softly on the thick grass. Connor followed, clearing the iron fence in a single bound and flipping over it adroitly. He grinned grotesquely at Aria, then helped Drake over, who was not nearly so adept at acrobatics. Aria rolled her eyes and gave a quick tap on her headset, signaling they were in. Ian tried to clear the fence but failed, falling back about halfway up. Lilly tried, but went too quickly, and slipped, falling back to the sidewalk and rattling the fence as she fell.

The noise was slight, but noticeable. So was the growl that came from the darkness to the north. The growling was followed by snuffling and curious, low, hollow baying, like someone blowing across the mouth of a jug. only a hundred times louder. It was close. The members of the infiltration team could hide, but that would be useless against dogs, and especially hellhounds, which they suspected Fisher used. They had no choice but to retreat back over the fence they had just come over.

Aria and Connor leaped easily, but Drake floundered, and there was no time to get help from Connor. Desperate, he focused his mind and hoisted himself into the air with telekinesis, as if picked up by a giant invisible hand. They ducked behind the brick base of the fence just in time.

A guard wearing heavy armor and leather padding followed two hellhounds. The beasts were dark, with matted fur resembling scales. Their eyes burned like coals, and as they breathed, light flared in the depths of their throats like that of a furnace. The hounds were eager, but fortunately passed by without noticing the intruders, continuing on toward the front of the house by the stables.

The invaders decided to move further north and climb the fence again, now that the hound patrol had passed. They crossed the fence again, though Drake had to use his powers once again to steady his landing.

The dogs continued on their way, following the front of the house, and when the moment was right, the other two members of the team made it over the fence more successfully. The hellhounds caught a hint of sound from Ian’s direction, and began making their way toward the garage.

Ian heard them coming and cursed under his breath. He made his way to the garage, hoping to find an entrance. The garage was quite large, and made of brick and concrete. The building was actually a hanger as well as a garage, as shown by the large bay doors and retractable sky-roof. It wasn’t large enough for true planes or even hot-air balloons, but there would likely be some small skycraft inside. Fortunately there was an access door on Ian’s side, and while he had no particular skills in lock-picking, his mechanical expertise allowed him to hijack the simple lock and slip inside. He locked the doors before the hellhounds reached him, and then looked around to see what goodies lay within.

Lilly was having less luck picking the lock on the stable doors. She had tried to pull the bolt using her magnetic powers, but after failing twice, she gave up and decided to try to get into a skylight instead. This proved easier, and she soon found herself standing in the middle of a confused bunch of horses. Smiling, she began to make preparations for chaos, praying she would get  the chance to use them.

The invasion team had resorted to similar tactics. After finding a door on the servant’s side, Aria tried to pick it, but this lock was more secure than the others had been, and she failed. Neither could Drake manipulate it enough. Connor spotted a slightly open window on the second floor, and run up the wall far enough to grasp the window sill. Pushing the window open carefully, he peeked inside to find an empty washroom. Success.

Drake had a small whip, and tossed one end up to Connor. Aria shimmied up while Connor held one end secure. Drake followed, but made some noise stepping against the side of the house. He fell in through the window just before a guard wandered out onto a balcony attached to the main house. Everyone held their breath. The guard looked around, noticing the open window, but did not seem particularly  alarmed. It was a bathroom window, after all. He wandered back inside, and Drake let out a sigh of relief.

“This is quite thrilling,” he whispered. “But I must confess my stomach is churning.”

“You get used to it, kiddo,” Aria replied.

Connor moved into the hallway carefully, keeping a close eye out for guards. Aria followed, then Drake. Unfortunately, Drake closed the door behind him out of habit. Aria winced.

A noise came from one of the rooms down the hall behind them. There was nowhere they could safely hide, so the invasion teem pressed themselves into doorways, trusting in the shadows to keep them hidden.

An old man clutching a candle shuffled out into the hallway, dressed in a nightgown and sleeping cap. He squinted badly, as though he were missing glasses, but he could apparently see well enough to know something was strange about the hallway. He took a few faltering steps, peering down the hall. If he kept going, he would spot them hiding there, glasses or no glasses.

Drake, thinking quickly, focused his mind and focused his mana again. A picture swung out from the wall behind the old man, and fell back with a small thump. When the servant turned to investigate, Drake stepped out and pressed the back of his staff to the man’s neck. The silver trim extended his touch, and allowed him to reach inside the man’s mind using telepathy.

It was nothing, he sent. Just wind. Go back to sleep. Take a lot of sleeping pills. Nothing to worry about here. Sleep. The man, drowsy as he was, took the suggestion, and toddled off back to his bedroom. A second later, they heard a thud as the man apparently crashed face-first into his mattress. Connor shrugged and moved on, but Aria gave the young magician an encouraging nod before holding her finger to his lips. Drake blushed and followed sheepishly.

They carried on and found themselves in a pantry overlooking a kitchen on the ground floor. Nobody was about about, just fancy new appliances glistening in the moonlight. Gas stoves, pneumatic chopping machines, even a refrigerator. The kitchen was large enough to service the entire mansion, and well-stocked for it. Stacks and stacks of dishes and pots and pans, cupboards everywhere, trays filled with silverware. There was a cabinet full of expensive liquors, and Aria helped herself to a few of the smaller bottles.

Connor stalked through the kitchen like a wolf. There was only one door leading the direction they needed to go, with a small window set in it. Connor used the mirror-polish of his Makara blade to sneak a look through the window. There was a short hall on the other side of the door, with a guard standing watch. It appeared to be the only way into the main house.

Drake beckoned Connor over to the side, pointing at an unusual panel in the wall. Connor came over, not expecting much. Some houses had panels like this as a way to access the different sorts of pipes in a house. It was too crowded to crawl through.

To his surprise, Drake opened the panel to reveal an empty space. “It’s a dumbwaiter,” he whispered. “My father has them in his hotels. You can send food up without having to climb all the stairs.”

“Like a tiny elevator,” Aria said.

“Exactly. I’ll bet it goes straight up to the fifth floor, and I’ll bet it connects with the main house.”

Connor inspected the box within. “It’s too small for any of us to fit in,” he said.

“But the shaft isn’t,” Aria answered. We’ll lower the box, and then one of us can stand on top and get lifted up.”

“You go first,” Connor said. “You’re light and a lot stealthier than the kid.”

“Be careful,” Drake cautioned. “Try to put as little weight on the box as you can. And there’s probably a bell to signal when it reaches the top, so don’t let that ring.”

“What, you don’t think they’ll be happy to see me instead of supper?” Aria grinned, and pulled the box down. She then wriggled her way into the shaft. Connor began hauling on the rope with strong, smooth pulls. He stopped when he felt a distinct wobble, indicating Aria was at the top. They repeated the process with Drake, but Connor was too heavy, and he had to resort to spider-climbing the inside of the shaft. It was a difficult task, but Connor made it look easy enough.

Meanwhile, Ian was having a ball in the garage. Whistling merrily to himself, he strolled among the different cars and aircraft. There were some fancy cars, several jeeps and trucks, two skywings (the aeronautical equivalent of the motorcycle) and an ultralight gyrocopter. Ian approached this last machine and gleefully hotwired it so that it could be started at a moment’s notice. He then did the same for the skyroof. That ready, he turned his thoughts to creating a distraction, and whipped up a little contraption involving a spark plug, a remote detonator, and a natural gas pipeline. If he had to blow it, it would look like an accident. And the explosion would be large enough that nobody would notice a missing machine. He took a seat on the gyrocopter and waited, grinning.

Inside the mansion, the strike force reached the central mansion. Here on the top floor, rooms surrounded the periphery, ringed by a hall. On the inside of the track was the tower section. From where they were, they could see only one door, directly ahead. It looked to be heavily reinforced, and the lock was complicated.

Seeing nobody around, Aria began trying to pick the lock, but she hadn’t gotten far when they heard footsteps approaching from their right. It had to be a guard on patrol. Aria immediately began putting away her tools, but everyone knew there wasn’t time to retreat, and there was nowhere to hide up here.

Connor leaned close to Drake. “I’ll trip him, you grab him,” he whispered. “Get in his mind and send him elsewhere.” Drake nodded and took up a position at the corner, ready to ambush the guard when he came around.

Three… two… one. Connor stuck out his leg, but this was no half-asleep rookie. The man reacted almost instantly, taking a big step to clear the outstretched leg. The unexpected movement made him clumsy, but he was still standing, stumbling toward the wall in front of him. Drake lunged, but in his haste tripped and only managed to grab onto the guard’s legs. The motion did trip up the man enough to make him crash fully into the wall.

Aria, seeing things go sour, leapt into action. She drew her mechanical bow and opened it with a snap of her wrist. “Try to avoid leaving a mark,” she hissed, then used her bowstring as a garrote around the guard’s neck.

However, the man was fast and strong, and grabbed ahold of the bow. With a spin, he tossed Aria to one side, causing her to trip over Drake. Connor whipped out his wakizashi, and raised it overhead to smash the guard on the head with the pommel. The man caught Connor’s hands with crossed arms before he fell, and kicked a foot free of Drake’s grasp to push Connor backward. Connor stumbled and hit his back against the wall.

Seizing a moment of breathing room, the guard tucked into a roll, somersaulting over Drake’s back and landing in a crouch on the other side. He had barely cleared the maneuver when Aria’s boomerang took him in the back of the head, leaving him dazed. He stumbled to his feet and drew his sword, but looked a little disoriented.

Connor charged in and pressed the assault, all hopes of stealthy takedown abandoned. Now they just needed to bring him down before he raised the alarm. Connor traded blows with the man. Both were skilled fighters, but the guard was dazed and outnumbered. Drake used telekinesis to further hinder the man’s attempts to move, and Connor finally triumphed. When the guard tried a desperate lunge, Connor parried to the side, then wrapped a hand around the guard’s neck and slammed his head into the wall. The guard fell still, and the three invaders stood in silence for a moment, out of breath but not daring to breathe. When they heard no sounds of alarm, they finally let out a sigh.

“We may still be able to disguise this,” Aria said. She pulled out one of the bottles of expensive liquor and poured some over the man, leaving the bottle in his hands. “I don’t know if they’ll buy it, but it will at least cloud things.”

“What if we threw him down the dumbwaiter shaft?” Drake asked. “Nobody would find him until morning at the soonest.”

“We don’t know that,” Aria answered. “Besides, then there would be definite suspicion. There’s a chance they might believe this.” She ran her fingers over the dent in the wall.

“I suppose,” Drake said. “Let’s be out quick, then. Somebody is likely to come by here before long.”

“Agreed,” Connor said. Returning to the door, Aria began to pick the lock.

After a few moments of quiet work, there was a click, and the door seemed to relax as the deadbolt retracted. Aria let out a sigh of relief. “Here goes nothing,” she said.

•••

This is where we ended this session. Bit of a cliffhanger, but that’s where they decided to stop. Drake’s skills are not exactly geared to this, but he managed to hold his own at the cost of his mana. Hopefully he won’t need that anytime soon. Mwahahaha.

This was the first true fight against an opponent that our heroes have been in. They got a couple of scratches, but emerged victorious. It was three on one, after all. However, they are likely going to face some much more dangerous foes soon.

You remember that guard on the balcony when they first snuck into the house? They got quite lucky. During the battle with the guard, I was rolling to see if he would detect the noises. If he had, he would have joined the fight and probably raised the alarm. As it was, I got epic failures and similarly bad rolls the whole time. Now we’ll just have to see if they can get out of the mansion alive…

(Note: I had to take more liberty with the dialogue than I usually do, but i don’t think the players will mind.)

Posted by: lordkyler | November 29, 2014

NaNoWriMo Update: Success?

Well, folks, it is 2 am and I just hit 50,000 words plus change. (I’m not up this late because I’m frantically trying to catch up, it’s just my ludicrous work schedule.) The story is not quite done yet, but that is the official word count goal of the month. This counts as at least a technical victory.

I am in the final stretch of Lithra III, finishing up the last chapter. The story is at least 90 something percent complete, but could be several thousand more words yet. I still have a couple of days left in November, so depending on my schedule I may be able to actually finish the whole thing within the month as well.

Even if not, I will soon have finished a book, so that’s a victory to me! After I’m done writing, I plan to let the book marinate for a little while well I cleanse my palate. It’s good to get a little distance from it before you start editing. And editing/real rewriting is something I’m kind of new to, so that will be an interesting adventure. In the meantime, I have some various projects burning a hole in my hard drive, including video editing for Cinematic Addict, Photoshop and SketchUp work, and more than likely some short stories. You’ll be sure to hear about those when they’re done, so keep an eye open, and before long you’ll likely see Lithra III up and running at the Legend of Lithra.

Posted by: lordkyler | November 15, 2014

Clouded – Short Story

A continuation of these short stories: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

“Dustin, come look at this,” Eliza said, practically dragging him to the television. “This is so weird. It’s on all the local news channels.”

It took Dustin a moment to make out what he was supposed to be seeing. Then the cameraman zoomed out. It was a cloud, but not like any cloud he had ever seen. A massive column of soft gray fog, reaching hundreds of feet into the sky, encircled by white tendrils of vapor, blanketing the area in a thick, humid haze that painted the gray with a rainbow. The whole mass stood spiraling gently, like a languid hurricane that had decided to take a sunday stroll instead of going on the warpath.

“The air is remarkably still,” said a reporter’s voice. The camera cut to a view of her standing in front of the gray wall. Her hair and makeup did not seem to be faring well in the humidity. “We have spoken with local meteorologists, who have reached no conclusion about the origins of this unusual weather system. The fog is incredibly thick, and the area has been blocked off for safety reasons ever since the cloud appeared an hour ago. Those within the cloud are advised to stay put until this weather passes.”

“That’s MacAdam Street,” Dustin said suddenly. He walked over to the window and threw open the curtains. Only a few miles away, the pillar of mist swirled serenely, towering over the trees. As soon as Dustin saw it, a thrill ran up his spine. There was something there, he was sure of it.

He closed his eyes, a practice that was quickly becoming habit. He focused his thoughts on the area of the fog, and found… nothing. Scowling, he focused harder, but he could see nothing. He turned to ask Eliza to try it as well, but found her with eyes already closed, brow furrowed.

“Where is everything?” she asked, but her eyebrows shot up a second later. “Wait. There’s a little. Only a sketch. I can’t make out anything useful.”

Dustin didn’t question it. She was better at darksight than he was. “I think the fog is causing it,” she said. “It’s diffusing all the light and dampening the shadows.”

“There should still be something, shouldn’t there?” he asked. “We can even get shadows under clothing.”

“I think… there’s something about the fog itself. Can you feel it?”

Dustin had felt something as soon as he saw the cloud, but he focused again to try and get a better handle on it. There was something strange, something almost familiar, but alien nonetheless.

“We have to find out what’s going on,” he said.

Eliza agreed instantly, which surprised him still. Ever since they had agreed to start training, she had become more confident, and increasingly comfortable with her abilities. She was gaining a sort of shrewdness, too. There was a time where she would be surprised by a twist in a movie or something a coworker had done, but lately she seemed to have things figured out before they even happened. She still wouldn’t call her powers gifts, and she was never as reckless as he was, but the shadows had awoken something within her, a strength that she didn’t know she had.

He could feel it changing him too, though as far as he could tell, the changes were mostly physical. He had always kept himself fit, but lately he had moved from being a fitness enthusiast to an Olympian. His muscles felt as hard as rocks, but moved with a quicksilver grace. He hadn’t gained any bulk, so you couldn’t tell by looking at him, but it was there regardless. Eliza hadn’t progressed that far, but she was already stronger than a lot of athletes, and more agile than any of them.

Had it been night, they would have ran to their destination. They were learning rapidly how to climb, how to move unseen and surefooted. In their dreams, they received whispers from the ancients, and the shadow within them guided their every step, lending them grace and power. But it was daylight now, so they drove. Dustin drove with his eyes closed, and Eliza no longer protested. She had tried it out herself, and found it was actually safer than normal driving. You can only look one direction at a time, but darksense and darksight let you see all around and through at the same time. They had not encountered any more cops.

The cloud column wasn’t far, but they had to get out several blocks away due to all the other people who had come to get close view of the fog. The second Dustin opened the door, he could feel the change in the air. It was heavy and cool, rich with the scent of rain. Dustin inhaled deeply.

“Petrichor,” said Eliza. It was both her favorite word and her favorite smell.

“If it smells like this all the time, I hope it stays,” Dustin said. “It’s worth shutting down a few blocks.”

There was a strange sort of energy to the air, something bracing and alive, a quickening breath carried on the gentle wind. Dustin felt a thrill dance across his skin, raising goosebumps and leaving him with a dizzying, heady anticipation.

“This is not normal,” he said, staring upwards, where the pillar was ringed with rainbows. “Something is going on. Something important.”

Eliza too was staring into the mists, peering into the empty void at the base, where the world vanished. Suddenly, she started to step forward, moving as though in a dream.

“Eliza?” Dustin called.

“It’s in here,” said Eliza vacantly. “We have to go inside.”

Dustin followed, though he moved more cautiously. The atmosphere of this place was almost too strong, bewitching. He had no problem with skydiving or underwater caving, but something about this place gave him pause. He took Eliza’s hand in his own, and was gratified when she grasped it, and squeezed tightly. He wished she had looked at him though.

Nobody stopped them, or even seemed to notice they were entering. There were lots of people stepping into the mists, but none moved out of sight of their cars. Before long they had passed into the heart of the fog, and they were alone. Even though they knew there were buildings on either side of them, they could see nothing. The world was empty and still. So why did he feel so energized?

He was tired of not seeing. He wanted to know who or what was behind this. He closed his eyes, drew a deep breath, and summoned shadow. The world around him grew dark, a thick blackness like smoke. He pushed, expanding the cloud as far as he could. He had been practicing this skill for a while now, and could make the entire inside of his house pitch-black. He suspected he could fill a much larger area, but right now, he was hard-pressed to darken even fifty feet. There was a pressure pushing back, like the mists themselves were getting in the way. Eliza saw what he was doing, and joined her strength to his. The darkness billowed outward, engulfing several blocks. At last, they could see.

“Over there,” Eliza said. Dustin felt her pointing down the street. “The mist is thickest there.”

They walked hand in hand through their own personal midnight. Dustin realized that the strange restless energy he had been feeling was gone now. Instead he felt the familiar comfort of night, the serenity of shared secrets, the intimacy of hidden things. His nervousness vanished. In the dark, he was strong.

On swift and silent feet, they approached the heart of this quiet storm. In Eliza’s touch, he could feel her thoughts, her apprehension, her doubts. She could feel his. This, too, strengthened him. It was a closeness he had never known. And then a brilliant, terrible, fiery light ripped through the darkness and tore them apart.

Dustin gasped and Eliza screamed as the light burned away their cloak of darkness and drove them apart, breaking their handclasp as they stumbled away from each other. He felt suddenly naked, but when he looked down, all his clothes were intact, though singed. The sudden light had stripped away all his privacy, like a parent walking in on a make-out session and flicking on the lights.

This wasn’t an ordinary light, though. Regular light couldn’t pierce his thick shadow, not even fire. But this light had cut through it like a laser. Even the fog around them had vanished in the heat of the attack. He tried to see what had caused the attack, but it was hard. Even with his eyes closed, the brilliance of the light had half-blinded him, and his world flashed red with afterimage every time he blinked.

He stumbled over to Eliza, who had fallen, and was huddled in a miserable ball, weeping. He tried to get her to stand, but she would not budge. He grabbed her hand, hoping to share strength with her, but when he touched her, he nearly fainted from the shock.

Touching skin to skin while gifted with shadow was to touch soul to soul. The ancients had called it a shadowself, all of a person’s secrets, weaknesses, fears, and pain, wrapped up together. The more subtle aspects of a shadowself had to be sought carefully, like a pulse, but big secrets or great pain would leap out at you unbidden, like a punch to the gut.

He had felt a secret hit him before, with the fast-food robber, but he had never been struck like this before. The exposure to the light had shaken him, but it had shattered Eliza. She was broken. And that made Dustin madder than he had been in a long, long time. He rose to his feet. He could do nothing for her but give her time, but he could find the person who had done this to them.

He wasn’t hard to find. He stood about a block away, dressed in some sort of red tunic and covered in gold jewelry. He was Hispanic, clean-shaven, with his hair slicked back in a ponytail. Even from here, Dustin could see his eyes. They shone, as if reflecting the sun itself, even though the sky was still blotted out by the relentless gray. There was a glow around his person, a radiance. Dustin knew in his gut that this was the man responsible.

Growling, he called on his shadow again. This time, rather than spreading it out for coverage, he kept it close and dense, coating him like a second skin. He poured all his anger into it, until the shadow was roiling and smoking like dark flame. It was darker than the night would ever be, darker than ink, darker than pitch, darker than death. He felt strength surge through him, and he could feel every hair and pore on his body.

He charged, swift as oblivion. The man with the gold raised a hand, and a beam of light burst from it, but Dustin was too quick, somersaulting to one side without breaking his stride. The man then turned and unleashed a wave of white flame, but Dustin’s shadow was too thick, and the fire broke on his dark armor. He could feel it eating through, but he would reach his opponent before it dissipated.

He was only a few feet away when a sudden, violent wind erupted from nowhere, veering him off course. He tripped, and rolled, eventually coming to a stop some twenty feet away. Another figure emerged from the encroaching mists. He was tall, with dark skin, dressed in loose green robes and carrying a staff. He walked toward Dustin confidently.

“Please, we mean no harm,” he said. He spoke with a refined British accent, his voice deep and soothing. Morgan Freeman would be jealous of this voice. Out of the corner of his eye, Dustin noticed Eliza stirring in response to his voice. The mists were returning in force now, and Dustin felt more energized, his anger and hurt being soothed away. He was grateful, but his paranoia returned. He didn’t like being manipulated.

“My associate acted hastily,” the man in green continued. “You must forgive him. He has spent most of his life being taught to fear the children of shadow, and he wanted to be sure you would not take him by surprise.”

He knows what we are, Dustin realized. That didn’t make him trust them any further.

“What are you?” he asked. His own voice nearly took his breath away. It was quiet, like a spoken whisper, but carried through the air as clearly as if he had shouted. A susurrant sound, heavy with meaning, soft and silky and inviting as sin, tinged with menace and danger and excitement all. The three words of his question sounded more meaningful and impressive than the rest of his lifetime total put together. The voice of a shade.

“We are what you are,” said the man in green. Dustin realized the man’s voice was also likely being enhanced like his own. “And yet different entirely. We are forces of nature, long lost, and now resurrected. Light and fire,” he said, pointing to the man in red. “Night and shadow,” he said, pointing to Dustin, and then Eliza, who had sat up and was looking with rapt attention toward the man in green.  “Rain and life,” he said, spreading his arms. “And one more, who has not yet returned.”

“What is going on?” Eliza asked. Her voice sounded weak, though that might have only been in comparison with their own. “Why are we returning?”

The man in green smiled gently. “December 21st, 2012.”

“What?” Eliza asked. “The end of the world? It’s already past,”

“No, not the end of the world. The beginning of a new age. We have been out of balance too long. It is time to make a new world. You two are a vital part of it.”

The man in red stepped forward. “We do not have much longer. I am Huracan, formerly of the the People of the Sun.”

Dustin and Eliza gasped. They knew the name from their nightmares, from when the darkness had been imprisoned. “I thought they had perished long ago,” Dustin said.

“No, they are only hidden, often in plain sight. Most men knew me as Joseph Hernandez, but I left that life behind when I turned against the People of the Sun.”

Dustin had a million questions, most of them angry, but the man in green interrupted them. “We do not have long,” he said. “We made this fog to draw you to us, but it has caught the attention of the People of the Sun as well, and we have only a few moments before they arrange some pretext to come searching for us.”

“You can’t leave now,” Eliza said. “You need to tell us more.”

“Soon enough,” said the man in green. “But not now. I can cloud the sun, but the day is theirs, and they will be upon us soon enough. A moonless night is best. Meet us at midnight by the statue in Frontier Park. Until then, stay out of sight. They are watching.” He suddenly tilted his head, as though hearing a faint sound, and then stepped back into the fog. “Run, and we shall speak later.”

“You can’t expect us to trust you like this!” Dustin called, but Huracan and the man in green had faded into the mists. Soon enough the mist itself began to fade away. Dustin ran to Eliza’s side. She still looked shaken, but she was no longer the wreck she had been. “We need to get out of here.”

“Quickly,” she agreed, and stumbled to her feet. Dustin took her hand again, sharing his shadow with her. She took it and spread it out, giving them a cloud rather than armor. “We don’t want anyone to see us.” Together they ran back toward their car. By the time the mist had vanished completely, they had abandoned their cloak and were mingling with the onlookers at the fringe of the crowd.

Dustin saw fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars rushing into the area, though they didn’t have their sirens on. “What’s going on?” he asked a bystander.

“Apparently someone reported an electrical fire,” the man shrugged. “I don’t know why that warranted all this commotion, but that’s the government for you.” We have only a few moments, echoed the voice of the man in green. They are watching.

Eliza felt his concern through his touch, and they hurried back to their car.

“Somehow, this is even bigger than we thought,” Eliza said as they pulled out. “I can’t believe this. A new age? We’re supposed to help save the world or something?”

Dustin shook his head darkly. “I don’t like this,” he said. “And I don’t trust them.”

“Well, I know we just met them, but I think we should give them a chance to explain things.”

“Eliza, I don’t know if we can trust anything they said in there. Did you notice that feeling in the air? I think they were manipulating you.”

“What, and you’re immune?” Eliza challenged. Dustin nodded. “I had the shadow on, or did you not notice my voice? I think the rain guy’s mist is like our shadow. He can affect people with it. And don’t tell me you liked Little Miss Sunshine.”

Eliza’s hands moved automatically as if to cover herself, and she squirmed. “No,” she admitted. “that was horrible.”

“Exactly. They attack us, refuse to answer our questions, and then vanish. For all we know, these guys they warned us about are the good guys!” That felt wrong the moment it left his mouth. “Or maybe they’re both against us,” he amended. “We can’t just let them tell us what to do or who is what.”

Eliza stared at the road for a few blocks, arms still crossed over her chest. “But what if they’re telling the truth?” she asked. “What if we’re meant to do something important with this gift? What if we are supposed to save the world?”

Dustin scowled. “I don’t know.”

“I agree we should be cautious, and I did feel that influence you mentioned, but I still think there’s something important here. I could feel it.”

Dustin pulled into their driveway and shut off the car. “All right,” he said at last. “We’ll give them a chance. But we’ll do it on our terms, not theirs.”

“How so?”

Dustin kissed her. “We’ve got a lot of practicing to do.”

•••

Sanya Fang Song stepped off the helicopter, her long braid swaying in the downdraft despite the heavy gold ring at the end of it. Two rows of attendants lined the runway, standing at attention. They formed a corridor that led to the man she had come to see. He was handsome enough, she supposed, though much of that was glamor, and might as well have been clown makeup for all it fooled her. She smiled. Her host smiled in return, but she could tell she unnerved him by the twitch in his eye and the sweat on his brow.

She walked toward him, swaggering seductively, bare feet soundless on the red carpet they had laid out. As she walked, she drew on the guards she passed, calling on their blood. Two by two, they grew pale and fainted, collapsing like a row of dominoes. By the time she reached the end of the line, two dozen men lay passed out and moaning on the blacktop, and she could practically feel the power exuding from her skin. Her irises would be blood red, she knew, and she had gained nearly a foot in height. Her host looked about to wet himself, but despite his nervousness, he was no coward, and collected himself, drawing upon the sun for power. This was a private airfield, so nobody would see his display.

“Xipil,” Sanya said, showing pointed teeth. “The refreshments were lovely.” Her voice was the sound of slaughter, raw and reckless.

“Lady Huntress,” Xipil answered, speaking clearly. His voice was resonant and piercing. “I am pleased you have joined us. Our people have warred in the past, but I am pleased to form this alliance. Together, we shall crush these worms and seize another age for ourselves.”

“Blood and fire,” purred the Huntress. “My two favorite things.”

Xipil smiled in relief. He had probably assumed that she would try to kill him. Fool. She had plenty of time for that afterwards.

“Take today to get yourself and your crew comfortable,” Xipil said. “Tomorrow, the sun rises bloody.”

Posted by: lordkyler | November 14, 2014

NaNoWriMo – Midway Update

As I explained in my last post, I am participating in NaNoWriMo this month, working on the third installment of my serial fantasy series “The Legend of Lithra.” We are now about halfway through the month, and I am pleased to report that I am ahead of schedule!

The standard goal is 50,000 words by the end of the month. My current total is just shy of 30,000 words. Thus far, I’m pretty sure the book will end up longer than 50k, but I’m certain to hit that goal so long as I stay on track. I may even still finish in November!

My schedule with work has been crazy, but I manage to make time to get most of the daily average every day, and on days off I’ve hit two or three times that quota. So, I’m pretty pleased. I’ve written both previous books in fairly short times, but after Lithra three I will have the new experience of doing extensive re-writing and editing, which hasn’t been my experience with the past two. They still stand largely as first typed. I am completely certain the rewriting will improve things drastically.

Anyway, this has been going so well, I might have to do another personal novel writing month sooner than next November. Maybe April. I guess we’ll see.

Posted by: lordkyler | November 2, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

Yesterday was the first day of NaNoWriMo, which is the fun way to say National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands of hopeful writers attempt to churn out the first draft of a 50,000 word novel, which works out to a little under 2,000 words a day. Some of these endeavors have even gone on to be published.

I intended to participate last year, but I had just finished writing Lithra II: The Knives of Aesur, and I didn’t have anything planned. So this year, I will be writing the sequel. Yesterday, I started work on The Legend of Lithra III, currently titled Sands of the South. It is more accurately a prequel, following the adventures of a younger Lithra, as the recently-betrayed enchanter follows his treacherous pupil through the wild southern deserts.

I have the whole story outlined before starting, which is a bit new for me, but it really helped with the last book. It is interesting how things can emerge and grow while writing the actual story, though. In any case, I’ll be a bit busy with that and some other real-world obligations over the month of November, but I have some posts scheduled, so you won’t be missing anything. I will post again at the end of the month, hopefully with a full book written. See you then.

Posted by: lordkyler | November 1, 2014

The Essence of Time – Short Story

The sequel to Chosen

“Sir, I’m sorry, but you need to either make a choice or step out of line. We have other customers waiting.” The waitress looked at me expectantly, head cocked to the side. I blinked and shook my head, trying to ground myself in the moment. It was difficult.

Three days ago, an alien spaceship crashed in front of me, and the dying alien within had entrusted me with what he claimed to be a time travel device. You don’t believe me, of course, but it’s a fact. At least, I’m pretty sure it actually happened. It’s hard when your brain is constantly calling itself a liar. I’m the kind of guy that will pick a movie to pieces even if I love it, and now that same ruthless process of logic and elimination has turned on itself, and it is tearing me apart.

So that’s why I’m in the coffee shop right now, staring blankly at this girl with the apron and lip piercings. I’ve been in my house for the last three days, and if I wasn’t already crazy, I was going to be soon. I had to leave the house, whether I was ready to face civilization or not. The waitress’s stare told me I was not. Read More…

Posted by: lordkyler | October 18, 2014

Iron – Minecraft Short Story

This is a Minecraft based story, and I suppose that it is technically fanfiction, although the game it comes from has no real narrative. If you are familiar with the game, you will probably get what is going on, and if not, I think you may still find it of interest. Enjoy.

His was the way of iron, a path followed since the creation of his kind. Many believe iron to be cold and unfeeling, devoid of love. But that was wrong. It was love that made him.

He watched as he was called forth from nothingness, forming in an instant. Bones of iron and sinews of steel coalesced from sheer possibility. He was built after the pattern of Them, though he was different. He was taller, that he might see danger from afar. His arms were long and strong, that he might crush the monsters in the night. This was good. This was right. That was his purpose, after all, to protect Them.

Protect. The thought echoed endlessly though his head like the peal of a bell. Where were They? He looked to discover his surroundings. At first he thought his eyes were not working, for he could see nothing. But no, it was only dark. He felt a leaden thrill. Darkness! Danger!

Read More…

Posted by: lordkyler | October 4, 2014

Building the Armada – Sketchup Models

I have recently mad a couple of additions to my virtual fleet. Although the ships are very different, I like both of them, and may incorporate them into a suitable story. Even if I don’t, it was a pleasure to build them, and I am very pleased with how they turned out. You can click for larger views.

Punch It.

This is the ThunderFlash, an atmospheric craft. It looks like something that could fit in Firefly. The name comes from the massive, thundering engines and the flash drives that inspired the design.

Read More…

Posted by: lordkyler | September 20, 2014

A New Age – Short Story

The third addition to the tale begun here and continued here.

•••

Eliza couldn’t take it any more. With a cry of frustration, she threw the covers off herself.

“We’re going,” she said. “C’mon, let’s do this.”

Dustin propped himself up on his elbows. “Seriously?”

Eliza was getting dressed hastily, in dark clothing. “You said tonight, right? We don’t have much time.”

Still Dustin did not get up, even though she could see his desire in every line of his body. “You don’t have to do this for me, babe,” he said. “Your happiness is more important to me than anything else, okay?”

“I’m not doing this because you want to, I’m doing this because you’re right.”

Dustin was agape. “Has the impossible occurred? Has the moon fallen from the sky and set the ocean on fire? Did you just admit I’m right about something?”

“Do you want to go or not, dummy?”

Dustin grinned an enormous grin. “You don’t have to ask me twice,” he said, and threw back the covers to reveal he was already dressed in dark clothing and wearing combat boots.

Read More…

Posted by: lordkyler | September 6, 2014

Rusty – Short Story

This is a short story taking place not long before the events in the snippets I posted last time. It is set in the same universe of shapeshifters, elementals, and techno-wizardry, although it features a few different characters. I’m rather pleased with how it turned out, and I think it helps build the world well. It could perhaps form a secondary plot or flashback sequence of some sort if this ever turns out to be a book. Enjoy.

•••

The warehouse seemed quiet, but appearances could be deceiving, a fact I knew all too well.

I had scouted the location for several hours beforehand, but there was still no guarantee that it was deserted. When your enemies can glide on the wind or burrow underground, it’s practically impossible to cover all the entrances.

Ambush or not, though, I couldn’t afford to wait much longer. One last check, just in case, and then I would go for it. I pulled out my scopes.

A quick optical scan revealed nothing. I tried thermal and piezoelectric, but the warehouse walls were too thick to penetrate from this distance. I could send in drones, but that would reveal my presence as well. It annoyed me that with all this technology, sometimes we were still blinder than bats. Read More…

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 80 other followers