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…

Posted by: lordkyler | August 30, 2014

Radiance Part VII: Sal’s Shop

In our last installment, Aria and Lilly visited Sweetwater’s Emporium to spend some of their loot. They ended up with some new items and a couple new pets. Meanwhile, Connor, Ian, and the newcomer Drake proceed to a rather different part of town searching for a mechanic’s shop.

The three men stepped off the trolley, and retrieved their recently-obtained motorcycle from a platform on the back. One of the purposes of their trip was to have the machine inspected. Ian had the knowledge to do it himself, but he didn’t have the tools, and so he had recommended a mechanic’s shop known as Sal’s.

Their trip had brought them to the eastern edge of the island. The shop was located in the transition area between the poorer section at the middle of the island and the moderately well-to-do southern end. The area was largely populated by tradesmen and craftsmen that were inexpensive enough to cater to one group but skilled enough to service the other.

The streets here were decently maintained, if a little worn, and the signs out front were large and blunt. Cobblers, printers, tailors, and the like all advertised their wares, using the word quality and value with an almost suspicious frequency. Posters plastered many fences, but they were accompanied by some slightly wilted shrubs. It was a nice enough place, by all accounts. Most buildings were several stories, shops on the ground floor and dwellings above.

Ian led them confidently through the wide streets and among the tightly packed buildings, hailing several passers-by as he went. Before long, they approached a brick building with an extensive series of garages and a large, paved yard. The sign out front proclaimed it to be Sal’s without any attempt at modesty.

They entered the front door of the shop, and a small bell tinkled, barely audible above the muffled mechanical sounds coming from the garage. Still, the sound attracted the attention of a man who was placing bolts in their appropriate bins.

The man was extremely tall and heavily built, even more than Ian. He had a broad face, made broader by an impressive set of muttonchops that stuck out from his face like a lion’s ruff. He had a bowler hat perched atop his head, tilted at a slightly rakish angle, like a bird perched on the unruly nest of his hair. He wore a shirt with the sleeves rolled up, revealing hands and arms blackened with grease and soot. Remarkably, the shirt itself was spotlessly white and freshly pressed. The world’s ugliest suspenders completed the ensemble.

“Hey there, cousin!” the man proclaimed loudly. “What brings you here today?”

“Hello Sal,” Ian replied. Before he could explain the purpose of his visit, Sal stepped up and crushed him in a massive bear hug.

“Been some time since I’ve seen you!” Sal said.

“Does that mean I don’t get the family discount?” Ian said with a slight grin.

“Of course not. But if you want your friends to qualify, you’d better introduce us.”

“Oh, of course. Um, this fellow here in the black is Connor.”

“Connor,” Sal drawled, as though committing the name to memory. “That looks like a pair of Ibring .227’s you have there.”

Connor tugged his jacket closed over the pistols, but gave a lopsided smirk. “Good eye.”

“Good choice,” Sal replied. “Well-constructed. A man can squeeze off a half-dozen rounds in about three seconds with those beauties.”

“Two and a half,” Connor grunted, and Sal laughed.

“Who’s your other friend?”

“Drake Weaver,” Drake said, extending a hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Weaver, eh? I know some Weavers. Where are you from, lad?”

“South end of the island,” Drake said.

“Ah, so do you know Thomas Weaver?”

Drake’s face twitched ever so slightly into a grimace. “My father.”

“Ah, I can see that. You have his jaw. He’s a good man, Thomas. I service the boilers at several of his hotels.”

“We’ve come to get some equipment, Sal,” Ian said. “We’re engaged an a rather… unusual job, and we could use a few surprises, if you know my meaning.”

“Ah, you’re looking for the… special bargains,eh? Just give me a moment to finish with a couple of customers and we’ll go right up.”

“We also brought a bike,” Connor said. “Need you to take a look at.”

“I’d do it myself, but I don’t have the tools,” Ian said.

“Not a problem. We’ll look at your special equipment and then come right back down and look at your ride.”

Sal went up to the remaining customers and sorted out their issues quickly, laughing all the while. When the last of them had left the shop, he put a sign in the window saying that he was out to lunch, and turned back, rubbing his hands. “All right, let’s go take a look.”

Ian smirked. “You taking a lot of lunch breaks these days, Sal?”

“Of course,” Sal said. “It’s great for business, believe it or not. Why sometimes, I spend nearly the whole day at lunch, and yet somehow the bills manage to get paid. Funny thing, in’it?”

They headed up the stairs. The second story was composed of apartments belonging to Sal and a few of his family members and employees. They passed this and headed to a small closet, which turned out to have a false back with a ladder behind it.

The inside looked almost more like a museum than a shop or an armory. Items were stacked and neatly labelled, many in glass cases.

“It’s not all weapons,” Sal said by way of explanation. “Also get some rare art and valuables in what I like to call a transfer of markets. You wouldn’t believe the things people misplace around here, you know.”

“I could use a crossbow,” Ian said. “Something smaller and quieter than a gun.”

“Ive got a neat spring loaded model over here,” Sal said. “Less bulky than the traditional bow types.”

“I’ll take a look,” Ian said, walking over to a rack of weapons. He was clearly familiar with this room. Sal looked at the other two. Connor was trying to appear aloof despite his obvious interest, and Drake looked nearly ready to devour the displays, though he kept tapping an obviously-empty coin pouch.

“Why don’t I show you some of our specialties?” Sal said. “We have all the standard ammunition and the like, but we have some unique items I think you’ll like.”

He led them over to a trunk and gently lifted the lid. Inside were a large assortment of utilitarian swords and knives in matte black. “Machine produced,” Sal said. “We specially designed some of our parts to leave these in the punch outs. They’re cheap, they’re sharp, and we coat ‘em in a special mix to hide fingerprints. Disposable and untraceable, for the discerning gentleman.”

Connor raised an scarred eyebrow. “Intriguing. I’ll keep them in mind.” Drake looked at the swords, then back to his pouch, then at his staff, and sighed.

“No thanks,” he said. “I think I’m well enough off with my staff.”

Sal eyed the sword on Connor’s back. “I know what you’d like,” he said. He shuffled over to one of several safes set in the wall, and set the knobs twirling with deceptively agile fingers. The vault opened smoothly, revealing an Oqidan blade in deep crimson.

Sal removed it reverentially. “This is a genuine Makara blade, boys. Hand-forged, quenched in blood, sharper than my ex-wife’s tongue. Had a warrior around here a few months back got into some trouble. I ended up with this.”

“May I?” Connor asked, his voice hushed and husky. Sal handed him the blade. Connor took it, hefted it, and unsheathed it a few inches. Then he sheathed it again and handed it back.

“I’ll take it,” he said.

Drake looked at his coin purse again and sighed.

“Excellent choice, sir,” Sal said. “Let’s see… Anything else you might like? We have a variety of alchemical vials, including some slippery compounds that are difficult to get this time of year. No? Ah, I know what might interest you. Another speciality of ours.”

He crossed the room to another display case and opened it, revealing what appeared to be a large variety of monocles.

“As you may know, certain elements have a strange effect when in contact with magical forces. Lead absorbs it, gold reflects it, and so on. Well, some of my acquaintances have found that certain structures of glass and other minerals can store magically-induced energy for a short time. Hence our unique and exclusive combat lenses.” He picked one up. It was a disk about the size of a large coin, cut with a peculiar pattern, and looped with thin wires of gold and silver.

“Should you know of any evokers – which I certainly do not, officer – then you could tell them that all they need to do is charge this lens with their abilities, and then throw it at the target. The lens will hold transfer the charge for several minutes, until it touches something or breaks. Much more efficient then using powers from a distance, I’m told.”

“I’ll take some of those, too,” Connor grunted.

“A most discerning gentlemen. Now, is there anything else I can do for you? Anything at all?”

“I found a crossbow,” Ian called out. “I think everyone else is finished as well.” The others nodded.

“Fine and dandy. Thanks for your business.”

“We still have a motorcycle for you to check,” Drake said.

“Ah, but that will be my pleasure, boys.”

“Does that means it’s free?” Connor asked skeptically. Sal looked caught slightly off guard.

“Well, maybe we’re not completely finished with business, though I do love working on machinery.”

“Don’t mind him, Sal,” Ian said. “I think he just likes keeping folks uncomfortable.”

“I like to do the same. Just wait until you get the bill!”

He laughed to himself and descended the stairs. Soon enough they had the motorcycle in the shop. Ian joined Sal in the work with apparent satisfaction.

“Where did you say you got this bike?” Sal asked.

“We didn’t,” Connor muttered. Ian rolled his eyes.

“Used to belong to the Blades.”

“Strange. They usually only have the best of the best. You know, driving Palanquins and Cirrus cruisers that they wouldn’t let a mechanic like me lay a greasy finger on. But this thing looks as though it were dragged through a brickyard and left to rot in a tar pit.” The others had to agree. The motorcycle appeared to be in decent shape, but it was far from pretty.

Sal and Ian continued to check parts, but grew more and more puzzled the deeper they delved. At last, Sal uncovered something in the engine, then stepped back and let off a series of calm curses.

“What?” Connor asked. “Did you find the problem?”

“Yeah,” Sal said. “There isn’t one.”

“What?”

Ian chimed in. “Not a thing wrong with it. In fact, this is the best-looking machine I’ve ever worked on. Custom built, perfect precision.”

“There’s a Sama motor in there,” Sal said. Ian’s eyes grew wide, and he shoved past Drake to get a look at it.

“By gum, there is,” he said, whistling.

“There’s some strange wiring and pistons in here too,” Sal commented.

“Yep, something’s going on. Connor, Drake, come see if you can find anything out of the ordinary. There’s more to this machine than meets the eye.”

Together, they searched the bike. Connor discovered that one of the handgrips could slide back and forth, and Drake found a pedal disguised as a footrest. After some experimentation, they found that by pressing on the pedal, they could then slide and twist the handgrip. As they did, two panels on either side of the front chassis fell open, and two miniature machine guns followed.

“Definitely more than it looks like,” Sal said. “Best hope the Blades don’t find out you got ahold of this.”

Connor pointed the bike at a blank wall and twisted the handle again, prompting a series of clicks from the guns. “I have some ammunition that’ll fit that,” Sal said. “Throw it in with the cost of the inspection.”

Ian thanked Sal as Connor performed the engaging sequence in reverse, causing the guns to fold back into the body of the bike.

“I’ll wager there’s more secrets here, if I know the Blades, but we don’t have any more time to pry them out,” Ian said. “We’ve got a meeting to attend.”

Connor paid Sal for his work, and shook hands, followed by the rest of the crew. Then they were off back to the safe house, to see what the news the Mongrels might have for them.

•••

A bit more occurred at the end of this session, but it is best left for next time. We got through things a bit better than in past sessions. Our heroes are starting to get tangled up in some pretty sticky webs… We shall have to see how things unravel. At least they’ll have a pretty boss motorcycle at their disposal.

I think I will be discontinuing the Radiance Info section for the time being, as anything else worth knowing will likely be revealed in the story. If not, I’ll be sure to include it when appropriate. Thank you for reading.

Posted by: lordkyler | August 23, 2014

Shapeshifter – A Random Work in Progress

So, I wanted to just write something. This happens from time to time.

I didn’t want to work on one of my official projects, just something unplanned. I decided to write in a style I haven’t really done before, a highly-informal first-person with a lot of personality showing. I had also wanted to try something cool with shapeshifting for a while because shapeshifting is cool.

So I started writing snippets from a vague idea, with no real plan of where it will go, although that begins to take shape in the snippets. It involves a kid getting caught up in an ancient war between shapeshifters, element-controllers, and technologists, due to the fact that his father is kind of the chosen one. In any case, I now present a series of random snippets with no real consequence, from which a plot may be roughly surmised. I am totally open to suggestions, constructive criticism, and cool ideas. I give you: Shapeshifter.

•••

“Come with me or you will die,” said the wolf standing in front of me. This was not a common occurrence. I live in Iowa. I do not live in a fantasy world with unicorns and talking dogs. But a wolf was crouched in front of me, talking. Its lips moved and everything.

“Brandon! We need to leave!” it said. How did it know my name? I had to be dreaming. It didn’t feel like a dream, but I’ve had that thought before, usually just before I woke up. I turned and started to walk away, hoping I wasn’t delusional, hoping I’d be able to drift into another, more normal dream. I made it about three steps before the earth exploded under my feet.

I was thrown backward by the force of the explosion, hit the sidewalk, ears ringing, coughing from the sudden clouds of dust in the air. I felt definite pain. Maybe this wasn’t a dream. I tried to stand up, but the blast had thrown off my sense of balance, and I fell back to the ground.

I lay there, dazed and confused, staring at the massive crater in the center of the Mikkelson’s driveway, like the world’s worst pothole. It looked like a meteor had struck. Did the Mikkelsons keep land mines in their driveway? As I watched, a mottled black and red substance began to bubble up from a crack in the center, a thick liquid, like honey. I had played enough video games to recognize it as lava: instant death. It began to flow of its own volition, uphill and over the lip of the crater.

I scrambled to try and crawl away from the lava flow, but I was not fast enough. It flowed in a river, like an anaconda slinking up to a mouse with deceptive smoothness. Already I could feel the heat warming my face, singing my shoelaces. I awkwardly crab-walked away, groping blindly for each step, unable to take my eyes off the stream of lava. I felt grass beneath my hands, then gravel, and then I hit my head on the fence that separated our house from the Mikkelsons. Good fences make good neighbors, said my dad.

I tried to push myself upright, using the walls for support, but there was no way I could escape in time. Already the flow had broadened into a syrupy wave of death, glowing red and gold as the scabs cracked on its surface.

I’m going to die by lava, I thought. Pretty cool way to die. In a video game it means you sucked, but that’s because there’s always a way out in video games. I wish there was a way out now.

Something descended on either side of me and picked me up like I was a stuffed animal in one of those arcade claw games you can never win. But unlike the claw game, I was not dropped to my doom. Instead, I found myself bouncing along, slung over the shoulder of somebody apparently wearing a fur coat.

Definitely a dream, I thought. A weird one too. It started out normal enough, wake up to alarm, shower, eat Fruit Loops, wait for the bus with my iPod. Then wolves and land mines and lava. Maybe if I think hard enough, I can still change this dream into something involving significantly more flight powers and cheerleaders.

I focused as hard as I could, squinting at my rapidly receding house. It seemed to work for a second. A man in a red bathrobe was standing in front of my house doing tai chi or something. But nope, there was the crater from earlier, and a ribbon of magma hung suspended in the air around him like a giant tentacle. He appeared to be fighting a biker gang decked out in post-apocalyptic gear and Christmas lights.

I didn’t see any more, as whoever was carrying me reached the end of the block and turned a corner. I gripped the fur coat to keep my balance, and heard a grunt from the person carrying me. I looked over my shoulder to see I was being carried by a gorilla. Of course I was.

“I told you to come with me,” said the gorilla, who I guess used to be a wolf. An unmarked white van pulled up and slid a door open.

“I’m not supposed to take rides from strangers,” I said.

An unseen voice came from the shadows of the van. “He’s in shock, and we’re out of time. Sedate him and move out.”

A bee stung the back of my neck and I decided to take a nap.

•••

I wake up in darkness, drenched with sweat. What kind of dream was that? I lay there for a few moments trying to sort everything out, but it’s hard to think. My mind feels foggy, sluggish. I try to sit up to get my blood moving and clear my head, but I find that I can’t move anything but my eyes and maybe a finger or two.

Suddenly, a light comes on, blindingly bright in the darkness. I squint, trying to protect my eyes while still seeing what’s going on. Above me, I see plain white metal, not my bedroom ceiling plastered with old glow-in-the-dark stars from when I was seven. The thought takes a moment to find its way through my muddled mind, then the conclusion reaches me. I am not in my bedroom. The dream was real.

I force my eyes open, and a face appears in front of me. It’s somebody I’ve never seen before. His hair is long and grey, and he has a scruffy beard that looks like a tangle of steel wool. His face is wrinkled, his eyebrows are bushy, and he’s wearing a patterned headband. He looks like an old hippie. Then he looks me in the eyes, and I change my mind. Those were not the eyes of a stoner or a beatnik. They are a vivid gold, and seem illuminated from within. There is some sort of primal power in those eyes, the gaze of a predator, calculating whether you’re worth the effort of chasing.

He seems to decide I’m worth it. “The sedatives will wear off soon,” he says. His voice is forceful and sharp. “I apologize for the inconvenience, but we were in desperate circumstances and had need to take whatever actions were expedient.”

I try to speak, though my throat is incredibly parched. “What’s going on?” I croak. “Who are you?”

“A friend,” he answered. “As for your purpose here, all will be revealed in time.”

“If you’re a friend, why am I tied up?”

“Technically, you are tied down,” he replied. “Our ride has been a bit… chaotic, and since you were sedated, we thought you would be safer if you were kept secured.”

“I’m awake now. How about untying me?”

The man narrows his eyes. “You are not very patient, Mr. White.”

I return the glare. “Are you going to let me out or not?”

“In good time,” he said. “You still have not fully recovered. We are nearly at our destination.”

“And where is that?” I ask. He places his fingertips together and stares up at the ceiling as if considering the question or perhaps praying for patience. I keep staring, and eventually he sighs and looks down.

“I could tell you, but I doubt you would listen. No, I will wait until you can see for yourself where and what we are.”

I’ve got a raging headache, and I would gladly trade front-line Superbowl tickets to be able to massage my temples, but no luck there. I’m strapped down in the back of a van with a complete stranger, I still don’t fully remember how I got here, and nobody will give me any answers. Only the feel of the straps on my wrists and my piercing migraine convince me this isn’t a crazy dream. I bite back the urge to let off a long string of muttered curses.

Suddenly, the van pitches forward, as if descending down a very steep slope. The blood rushes to my head, making my headache that much worse. I decide to indulge in the curses after all.

A few minutes later, the van levels out, then comes to a stop. The stranger stands up. “We’re here,” he says.

“I still don’t know where ‘here’ is,” I snap. “I don’t even know who you are!”

“My apologies,” he says. “I was hesitant to divulge too much until we had arrived in safety. My name is Calvin Hunt. Welcome to the Wilds.”

He opens the back of the van, and I am greeted by the most remarkable thing I have ever seen.

It was like the freaking Garden of Eden.

Imagine a cavern the size of the Superdome. Great. This cavern makes that one look like a cubbyhole. The cave was so large that at first I didn’t notice we were underground. The place had its own freaking climate. Clouds hovered near the roof, birds hovered on the breeze, a storm was brewing on the far end. I couldn’t tell where the light came from, but it was as bright as any summer day.

The bottom half of the cavern was simply covered in wilderness. Any kind, you name it, they had it. It was like a display of Earth’s Greatest Ecosystems. A tropical rainforest dominated the center of the cavern, giving way to deciduous forest as it spread. The forest was surrounded by a color wheel of different biomes: grassy plains and savannas, sand dunes, red mesas, an enormous lake, swamps… It was as if all the earth had been scrunched into one space.

“Come,” says Calvin. “We shall take you to the Heart of the Wilds, and then I will explain what is happening and who we are.” I make a move to get into the van, but he places a hand on my shoulder and shakes his head. “No vehicles within the Wilds. We use technology as little as possible.”

That didn’t bode well for me. I tend to have difficulty breathing without wifi. At least, when I’m not busy being abducted. I ignore this for the time being. “You expect me to walk? It’ll take hours to get to the middle.”

“That will change after the induction,” Calvin smirks, “but for now, we can accommodate your… fragility.” I scowled, but Calvin either didn’t notice or else he didn’t care. He continues, “Have you ever been horseback riding?”

Seriously?

•••

“This is your first form,” said Calvin. I’m looking down at a dog, like a husky or a malamute or whatever. A sled dog. Then it curls its lip back and reveals its teeth. Nope, not a dog. A wolf.

“I want you to stare deep into its eyes,” he continues. “You must understand the animal to become it. Much of that understanding will come with practice and experience, but it is important to learn as much as you can before shifting.”

I nod and kneel down. My face is inches away from this animal’s head. I notice I am shaking a little. Why shouldn’t I? All I can think is that I must look like a chew toy to him.

“Hey boy,” I say, but as soon as I look into his eyes, it sounds wrong. LIke snuggling up with a shark.

The wolf’s eyes are yellowish gray, and they are bright. They are intelligent. This is no droopy-eyed basset hound or bug-eyed pug. These are a hunter’s eyes, calculating and piercing. And yet the wolf exudes a sense of serenity, of power under control. I feel like it understands me, in some ways better than most of the people I grew up with.

I know I should study the wolf more broadly, examine the thick, sleek coat, the taut, trim muscles, the sharp gleaming fangs, but I can’t. The eyes draw me in and hold me like they are magnetic, as though we have connected as strongly as two electric wires, filling me with new knowledge. The wolf is dangerous but not arrogant. Strong but not invincible. Tireless, faithful, intelligent. I can feel it all resonate with my mind and soul. Calvin has chosen well for my first form.

A hand brushes my back and startles me out of my trance. Instinctively, I snap at the intrusion, but my fangs click closed on empty air. I immediately spring to my feet, feeling the hair on my back bristle in response to danger. My brother responds likewise. In front of me, a strange creature standing on its hind feet holds up its forelegs.

“Calm down, Brandon,” it says soothingly. Brandon? Oh.

I look down and see paws instead of hands. As the realization hits me, I rear backward from surprise, and this time feel the change as my body twists and reshapes itself like clay, ending up in my human form. As myself.

“What the hell was that?” I snap.

“You shifted,” Calvin says, again using the soothing tone. “And quite well for your first time. Don’t be alarmed.”

“Don’t be alarmed?” I repeat. “Don’t be alarmed? I just turned into a freaking wolf!”

Calvin cocks his head to the side in curiosity. “Well, of course. That was the point.”

“I expected I would know when it was happening! One second I was kneeling on the ground and the next I’m ready to roll over and drink out of the toilet!”

“It is largely an instinctive process. In fact, the fact that you did it without conscious thought is an excellent indicator of talent. A talent that will likely save your life sooner than later.”

“Listen, it’s great that I’m a part of your little club now, but that was not what I had in mind. No matter how cool it might be to fly around or whatever else you do here, if I can’t control it, I don’t want it.”

“I assure you that within a short time, you will be in complete control of the process,” Calvin says.

“Will I? For a second there I didn’t even remember I was human! How can I be sure I won’t turn into a caterpillar and spend the rest of my time munching leaves because I forget who I am?”

Up until this point, Calvin has been projecting this whole ‘wise mentor’ image as if he were Yoda or something, but at this last statement, all that drops away. His eyebrows shoot up and he leans toward me. His expression changes from regal and wise to sharp and suspicious in about a millisecond.

“You forgot?” he asks, his voice a strange mixture of incredulity, awe, and accusation. “What do you mean?”

I am a bit pleased to have cracked his facade, but his sudden interest frightens me a little. Angers me. He drags me into this and doesn’t even bother to explain the risks?

“I mean that until you said my name, I WAS a wolf. Inside and outside. I didn’t even recognize you. Like, as a species.”

Calvin puckers his lips and turns away. He strokes his chin and taps his foot. I stare for several seconds, feeling like I’m staring at a computer loading screen, a little beach ball spinning around in his head as he computes. One thing is clear. This is unexpected news to him. Again, I feel that strange mixture of triumph that I do not fit neatly into their plans and fear that everything has gone terribly wrong. Or gotten worse, anyway.

“That is… most unusual,” he says. I hate it when people use weaselly words like that. “This… condition… is not unheard of, but neither is it common. I’m will have to discuss this with the council. Please wait here.”

I stare incredulously at him as he scurries away, stupid robes dragging on the ground behind him until he gets outside, shifts into a bird, and flaps away. Without telling me a thing about what’s going on with me. What a tool.

I hear a strange growl, but the wolf is no longer in the room. He was taken out when I started shouting with Calvin. I hear it again, and this time I feel it too. It’s me. I am growling. I run my tongue along my teeth and find they have all changed into ivory daggers. The rest of me is still human.

More confused and angry than before, I burst out of the room, through the same door Calvin used. I spy a crow perched on the edge of the roof and stare at it until I can shift into a close approximation. Then I take to the sky.

It is clumsy and unpracticed, but it works well enough. I am flying, and is a thousand daydreams come true, but I am too focused on my task to feel excitement, too angry to truly become the crow. I am going to this meeting, and I will be getting some answers, one way or another.

•••

Some time later…

“The elements slumber, content to lay dormant and react only when acted upon. But we can awaken the elements and command them to do our bidding.” David demonstrates his words by waving his hand and causing wind to swirl around us.

“Why are we in a parking lot?” I ask, but he ignores me.

“The shapeshifters rely on their own power,” he says. “They transform themselves into whatever shape they need. However, relying on their own strength limits their power. What is the most powerful beast they can channel? An elephant? A bear? A whale? Ha! What elephant can conquer an earthquake? What bear could defeat fire? What can a whale do against the ocean? By awakening the elements, we control the power of the earth itself, to which all things must submit.”

He kneels down and places his fingertips on the asphalt. “All we need is to ask.” He closes his eyes, then stands up, pulling off a chunk of the asphalt with him, a perfectly spherical piece of blacktop the size of a basketball, ripped out of the parking lot with his bare hands. He blinks, and the sphere begins to glow from within. It is heating up.

“So, if you want to be one of us, cast away your foolish shapeshifter ideas, and embrace the power of the earth.” The asphalt sphere is glowing like a coal now, smoke pouring off it like a comet’s tail. He looks me in the eye. “All you have to do is ask.”

In a flash, he lifts the sphere and sends it flying toward me. There is no time to shift. Not even enough time to think. Only time enough to act without thinking. Acting on an impulse I cannot understand, I clap my hands together.

A wall of air rushes forward, catching the fiery sphere in midair and sending it back towards John. In a smooth motion, he leaps into the air, cutting through the sudden gale like a diver through water. As the sphere passes, he snatches it out of the air, does a perfect flip, and lands like Iron Man, smacking the glob of asphalt into the hole it came from. I stand there, bewildered, and he smiles at me, like he was expecting it.

“Very good,” he said. “I thought your pride might overcome you, but you submitted and asked Gaia for help. Very good indeed.”

I didn’t ask anybody for anything. I just acted, and it happened without conscious thought. I had a sudden flashback to Calvin’s reaction during my first shift, when I hadn’t fit into his expectations. I know in an instant that David will react the same way, or worse.

I don’t trust myself to come up with a lie right now, so I stifle my questions and switch to another emotion I’m experiencing again. Anger.

“You think you could have managed this without chucking meteors at me?” I snarl. David merely shakes his head as if this has all been a harmless practical joke.

“Desperation leads to desperate measures. This was the fastest way to determine whether or not you could become one of us.”

“And if I couldn’t have stopped it?”

He pats down the edges of the still-steaming asphalt. “Then we would have no need of you,” he says matter-of-factly. My stomach lurches. How many have failed this test? He continues, heedless of my disgust. “But that’s irrelevant, because you passed. Welcome to the family.”

He holds out his hand, grinning, and I shake it and smile back. But inside I’m wondering if this is really the kind of family I want to be in.

•••

Later Still…

Lightning flashes. There’s a single moment where Calvin is perfectly silhouetted against the stormy sky, already shifting into the form of a bear. The crash of thunder is louder than I expected. I’ve become the wolf again. More sensitive hearing. Not the best  choice to fight a bear. But I didn’t choose this form.

It chose me.

Calvin roars, a deep, throaty sound. Then he charges. Maybe you haven’t seen a bear charge. Maybe you think they’re all roly-poly like Winnie the Pooh. They are not. They can run faster than you. Much faster. Having a bear charge at you is like having a truck coming at you. Or a tank on nitro.

But wolves are faster still. More agile. And so I charge at him, too, and when he swipes a paw the size of a frying pan at me, I duck underneath it and shoot past. He wheels around, but I’m shifting again. Gray hair retracts, leaving only skin that is quickly turning grey. I am growing larger, and fast.

By the time Calvin has spun around, I am the size of a car. He can tell by my skin that I’m going for something large, like an elephant or a rhino. So he changes his game. The grizzly seems to shrivel up, like a grape left in the sun, collapsing in on itself, fur seeming to melt like wax and harden into scales.His legs shrivel up as his body transforms into a living whip. By the time I am fully elephant, he has become a cobra. I try to step on him, to crush him like a strand of spaghetti, but he has slithered off, and I cannot see him through the pounding rain.

I have to transform, and quickly. Not even an elephant can ignore a cobra bite. My first instinct is to transform into a bird, but with the weather, there’s no way I could fly. I decide to take the fight to him. What is the perfect counter to a snake? A mongoose.

My elephant form deflates like a circus tent with the poles removed. Within seconds, the transformation is complete. The mongoose is full of energy, like a squirrel, but all focused, like a laser. A flicker of movement catches my eye amidst all the raindrops, and I make for it. My sensitive nose suddenly picks up a strange scent that is definitely not a snake.

Another flash of lightning illuminates a large form in front of me, and I realize I have made a terrible mistake. A lynx bursts out of the downpour and snatches me. Instinctively, I begin another shift, growing larger.

To be continued if and when I feel like it.

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