A Paper Horse, a Ghost Queen and her Flamingos, and a Space Hippopotamus
Flicker was fed up with doing nothing with her life but encouraging small children to eat tooth-rotting breakfast cereal. She wanted proper back legs and to run free like a real horse. So one day she peeled her cartoon self off the box of Flicker’s Sugar-Flakes. Nothing but a thin slice of pigmented paper, Flicker slithered from the pantry and escaped under the kitchen door.
Flicker’s nostrils flared at the grassy smell of the front lawn. Lying horizontal on the porch, she struggled to right herself. As she was only ever depicted from the torso up, rearing before a bowl of Sugar-Flakes, Flicker lacked the back half of her body. Wobbling like a foal standing for the first time, she managed to lift herself up to balance on her two front legs, and trotted carefully towards the grass.
A gust of wind caught Flicker and tumbled her out onto the street. A sudden roar filled her ears. Flicker froze in terror as a truck bore down upon her. Her heart pounded like a thousand galloping hooves. The huge tires narrowly missed her flimsy body, and as the truck passed over her she was sucked up in its wake and tossed her high up into the air. As fast as it had come the truck was gone. Flicker gasped, ears flicking forward with surprise and delight. From this height she could see the view over the rooftops. The houses rolled down to a sparkling river, and, beyond that, there was a wide open meadow.
Flicker drifted down, craning her neck to catch a last glimpse of the meadow before it disappeared behind the houses, and landed in a rose bush. Its thorns poked tiny holes in her paper side. Pollen tickled her nose and she snorted.
“Bless you.” A woman with pink curly hair and a crown of daisies unfurled herself from her rose-bud bed and regarded Flicker with huge blue eyes. “I’m Bess, Queen of the Anarchist Ghost Collective,” she said.
“Aren’t anarchists supposed to be opposed to the concept of monarchy?” said Flicker. She twitched one ear to discourage a curious bee.
“Aren’t horses supposed to have four legs?” Bess stood with her hands on her hips, head tilted to one side.
Flicker looked back at her cut-off body. “I’d really like some back legs,” she said. “But I don’t know how to get them.”
A slow grin spread across Bess’s face. “You have to become a ghost,” she whispered. Without waiting for a response, Bess tippy-toed down the branch towards Flicker. Each footstep rang like a tiny bell. Flicker tried to back away but she was snagged on the thorns. Bess grabbed the cheek pieces of Flicker’s halter, planted a kiss on her muzzle and--
“Grawk!” said a flamingo wearing a tuxedo.
Flicker shied, wobbled on her new back legs and nearly fell. She held her front legs out in front of herself for balance, looked down, and nearly fell again. Her two-dimensional horse torso now protruded from the bottom half of a pink flamingo. She took an experimental step with her long, spindly legs, and looked wide-eyed at her new surroundings.
“Ahem.” The flamingo cleared its throat. “Welcome to the Flamingo Dimension, friend of Queen Bess.”
Silvery water stretched to the horizon in every direction. Occasional clumps of spikey grass broke the lake’s surface, surrounded by knots of feeding flamingos. A red sun was setting in the azure sky.
“How did I get here?” said Flicker. “Who are you?”
The flamingo sniffed and fluffed its wing feathers. “I can’t remember.”
“Memories of who we were are unnecessary in the Anarchist Ghost Collective,” said Bess. Her curly pink hair had become feathers, and pink wings had sprouted from her back. “When you’re a ghost, you can be whatever you want.”
Flicker opened her mouth to assert the importance of staying true to one’s essential self, but was cut off by a distant boom. The lake began to churn and a wave broke against their knees.
The tuxedoed flamingo burst into a sprint and with a flurry of wing flaps launched itself into the air. All around the silver lake the other flamingos were doing the same.
Flicker’s legs took over and before she could think she was sprinting, long-toed feet splashing through the shallow water and front legs flapping like streamers. Bess ran beside her, her feet tripping across the surface.
“What’s happening?” shouted Flicker over the screeching and flapping of the flamingos.
“drat dream-eater’s got your scent!” Bess shouted. With a flick of her wings she was airborne.
Flicker turned to look behind them. It was hard to hold her flat head steady atop her rattling body but there was no missing what was chasing them. The hippopotamus was enormous. It burst out of the lake, blotting out the setting sun. Water poured from it like liquid silver as it arced across the sky before crashing back into the surface. Its feet found the muddy bottom and it galloped after Flicker.
“But I don’t have any dreams!” Flicker cried. “I’m just a horse!”
“Yes you do! You’re in the Collective now!” shouted Bess, her voice growing faint as she gained height.
Waves surged around Flicker’s legs as the hippo gained on her. She stumbled, her bipedal gait still unfamiliar. She put her front legs down to catch herself but the paper went soggy as it hit the lake. She fell, muddy water filling her eyes and nose as the hippo’s huge jaws closed over her.
Inside the hippopotamus it was very dark. Flicker’s flamingo legs were gone and she was once again just half a paper horse. Her soaked body had turned translucent and her edges were starting to fray. She flopped around the hippo’s stomach, nosing at the edges. Her fibrous muscles bunched as she realised there was no way out. In her mind’s eye she saw the meadow, and she was filled with sorrow. She bit at the hippo’s stomach lining and kicked the walls with her front hooves.
Suddenly the walls shook and Flicker felt a gust of cold air on her face.
“You’ve forgotten who you are,” rumbled the hippopotamus.
Flicker paddled towards the opening where the air was coming in. At the end of the tunnel she could see the hippo’s open mouth, its teeth dark silhouettes against a night sky bright with stars.
“No I haven’t,” said Flicker. She began to drag herself up the tunnel, her legs slapping wetly against its gently pulsing surface. “I’m a horse.”
“But horses have four legs,” said the hippo.
“I just need to find mine,” said Flicker, through gritted teeth. Chunks of wet paper were tearing from her ribcage as she dragged herself forward. She cleared the esophagus and hauled herself onto the hippo’s rough-surfaced tongue. Beyond its teeth the stars beckoned, and she redoubled her efforts.
“You’re just an escaped breakfast cereal mascot!” The hippo’s tongue undulated as it spoke, and Flicker tumbled towards its teeth.
Flicker cried out as her right front leg snagged on the hippo’s papillae and tore from her body. The hippo stuck out its tongue and shook its head, dislodging Flicker and sending her tumbling into the vacuum. All around her were endless stars. A cold chill gripped her heart, and not just because she was now little more than a head and neck with one dangling front leg. She had been a fool to dream of sun-warmed grass and wide open spaces. On the side of a box of Flicker’s Sugar-Flakes was the only place she belonged. She closed her eyes and let herself drift in the empty black.
From the darkness Flicker heard the distant thunder of galloping feet. Her eyes flew open and she twisted herself around to look towards its source. Out from behind a pale moon streamed a horde of running flamingos. Mounted on the leading bird and brandishing a thorny rose bush branch was Queen Bess.
“God drat hippopotamus!” Bess wailed.
The hippo bellowed, high-pitched and terrified, as the Anarchist Ghost Collective descended upon it. The flamingos pecked and scratched at its thick hide. Bess jumped down and hurried over to Flicker.
“What did it do to you?” Bess scooped what was left of Flicker’s damp body into her arms.
“Am I really nothing more than a crude advertising device?” Flicker said.
“I told you, memories of who you were are unnecessary.” Bess stroked the star on Flicker’s forehead. “What do you want to be?”
“I want to be a horse,” said Flicker.
A slow grin split Bess’s face. She took the cheek pieces of Flicker’s halter in both hands, lifted her muzzle, and kissed her. The stars spun and the flamingos became a pink blur and the hippopotamus was nothing but a retreating black dot and--
In the meadow across the river a grazing horse twitched its ear, discouraging the curious bees that hovered above the clover flowers. A flamingo foraged at the river’s edge, being careful not to get mud on its tuxedo. A curly-haired woman wearing a crown of daisies reclined on the horse’s back, one arm shielding her eyes from the morning sun. With her other hand the woman gently scratched the horse's wither, the mare's bay coat warm from the sun.
|# ? May 24, 2020 08:37|
|# ? Oct 7, 2022 21:37|
flash: dimension hopping and trippy 70s sci-fi visuals
You are ten years old, resolute, standing wide-armed in the driveway of your family home. Late sunlight collides with your small back, bruising the gravel before you dark with your t-shaped shadow. The old Volvo flashes its brake lights, backs toward you a few inches, stops when you don’t move. Your dad gets out but he can’t catch you, and you’re right back behind the car again as soon as he disengages the emergency brake.
There’s a sleeping bag in the passenger seat, a backpack full of clothes. You understand in an abstract way that he’s betrayed your mom, but they’re both the villains in your ten year old mind. You—unoccluded, not stinking of sweat and guilt—are going to sort them out. You can play this game with the Volvo all night, until mom comes out to get you and sees that dad hasn’t really gone, and she’ll soften and have a change of heart.
Here is where you are farthest from yourself: lonely little outpost, a cairn to memorialize what that will come to be.
You are goaded by memories of Armageddon—the place at the end of time.
You come of age in a time of buffering smut and rough polygons. Now you’re sitting on your best friend’s floor, her tongue-wetted thumb rubbing teary runs of makeup off your cheek. Now you’re standing on a rolling, trackless plain of grass pressed down into a dusty cake of dried blood—all the blood that will ever be spilled. Now you’re sucking your belly in, hating what you see in the mirror. Now you’re gazing into the primordial west, where the red sun keeps motionless vigil, a burning widow weeping rusty rays.
Try to imagine the miles and miles of veins implied by all this dried blood. Whole universes of tangled, ruptured arteries.
Bloody grass, unchanging sunset, and the tower. The tower is squat, maybe a dozen stories tall in all, standing between you and the widowed sun, patient and resolute. It is a thing that will change the course of other things, just by virtue of being a silhouette in the ever-late light.
Now is the feral summer of your sixteenth year, spent eating fire-charred meat off of sticks, filling your belly with huckleberries, salmonberries, marionberries, and blackberries. Your dad—mom has gone away—lets home go into foreclosure, and so the disappearing furniture, the electric work done under the table for the cost of liquor, the well water that turns your hair orange, and so on, and so forth. Your ten-year-old self’s Pyrrhic stand against the Volvo is a repulsive memory; you would erase that choice if you could.
You are the immortal god-queen of a thousand planets, terrifying and beautiful, your bowstring body armored in the radiation-resistant scales of Oort dragons. You have a hundred lovers, all of them conditioned to read your every sigh as though it were an imperial missive. You are cold, divine, and you do not lose wars.
Your frost-colored interstellar citadels are emblazoned with your symbol: a blackly burning tree whose branches extend both skyward and earthward.
Only one thing eludes you. A someone, the terrible watcher from far behind your eyes. She has witnessed your secret tears, your quiet indignities, those small battles lost before your ascension. Witnessed, and done nothing but mutely haunt you. In the late hours of your opalescent quarters you rage at the specter of her, stalking back and forth, demanding she show herself and explain. You can almost taste her, this anti-interceder, this voyeur, this atrocity tourist.
You went back, once: Earth, the forgotten hump of Tel Megiddo, just to see. But it’s just a place in time, obliterated by time. Nothing there was familiar to you—no blood-crusted grass or rust-scented air, no widow sun, no squat tower. All wrong.
Every morning, bag-eyed, sipping coffee, you command your citadels in ever-growing sweeps of the galaxy, hunting the eyes that watch you from a place unknowable. You carry in your secret, hidden heart the longing of a girl for a tree, a tower, a refuge.
The kids from the trailer park down the street tell you about a place. At fourteen, you’re young enough to be one of them, old enough to regard them with fond insight; kids have a preternatural sense of the sacred, the singular.
So they tell you there’s an abandoned lot just down the road, gone mostly to forest, the burned-down house there long since interred beneath the brush. The place where the house rests is marked by a stand of venerable old douglas-fir trees, a steepled peak in the otherwise low roof of the forest. Old washing machine, bits of colorful glass flecking the forest floor with little winks of green, blue, red, and white. The footprint of a house, mostly holes but a few corners of foundation remain, mythy ruins of another world.
And at the easternmost edge of the funereal fir grove is the tree. The tree is a hard-leafed holly with a red alder grafted seamlessly on top. The hundreds of holly branches have been trained back down to the ground—a domed, woody cave, too low-ceilinged for adults but perfect for you and the trailer kids. Above the dome of holly bows, the alder portion of the hybridized tree rises another fifty feet into the sky, sturdy and climbable.
A refuge. A tower.
In the late summer the setting sun perches just so on the horizon, sending its brief, hot fingers into the grove, reaching into your little tree cave, into the pin pricks of your pupils, and reminds you of Armageddon.
You emerge from hell and take a walk in a primitive forest, following your own amethyst footsteps, a trail of breadcrumbs scattered in a dream. This way. The watcher at Armageddon is this way. You drink in the draped moss, the mycosweet air. Newly liberated, you have nothing to believe in except your own power; you know you can pass between trees like doors, traverse the stars and even journey back to hell, if you want to. The devil’s ambrosia has left you deathless, forever potent with youth. Weightless and infinitely mobile.
You can go anywhere and anywhen, but Armageddon is whereless and whenless. Nowhere. She’s watching you from nowhere. The answer, then, is to search every where, until there is only nowhere left to go.
Dad’s house has long since been seized by the bank, no longer an anchor to the place with the tree. The man himself is living in a hunched cottage by the Puyallup river. Still peppers your life with unhinged phone calls.
Work overtime, get an apartment. Exist. The watcher creeps up on you in the frozen food aisle, turning your eyes into cameras. No, that’s not right; your eyes have always been cameras, and she’s always been behind them. It’s a horror movie reveal: someone was watching the whole time.
There are words that do their best to encompass this feeling. Dissociation. Derealization. Depersonalization. It’s tempting to believe that the watcher behind your eyes is an unmoored bit of self dislodged by the tribulations of childhood. But that makes the watcher a metaphorical thing, an analogy for some interior pathology. That doesn’t explain the stamp of bloodied grass on your mind, the rust-scented yearning to go there.
August brings fire to the foothills of your birth. For two weeks, red-eyed skies and ash. You live under the sun of your Armageddon.
September intercedes, washing the fight out of the flames with a week of heavy rain. You have to know, so you drive out to the mountains, to the place that was your father’s house. You barely notice the house is still standing—grateful family outside surveying the surrounding damage—in your hurry to get to the tree.
The hybrid tree and its attendant firs are gone. Not charred-but-different, not a skeleton of its former self. Gone. You probably breathed it in when things were still burning, when the ghosts of whole forests were thick in the air. No tower. No refuge.
The devil sits at a parlor table, a sympathetic furrow in his brow. He listens to your sad story, then makes you an offer.
“You can stay as long as you like,” he says. “There’s no suffering down here.”
So you take up in a room in a long hallway of rooms. Velvet shackles are shut around your wrists, and around your neck goes heaps of pearls and diamonds, silver and gold, the pleasant weight of these pressing you down into a pile of feather cushions. There are demons to fill your mouth with ambrosia, and the devil himself to bring you torques and bracelets, necklaces and crowns. His eyes are bluer than you could have ever imagined, bottomless decanters of a compassion that encompasses and contains you—willing little amber-trapped mosquito.
The precious gems and metals flatten your soul, hollow thing that it is. There is no you. The demons come, a mouth opens to receive. The devil comes, a body is interred more deeply beneath the hillock of treasures. The final straw is a golden camel inlaid with rubies that glitter like hellfire. The devil crowns the pile with it, completing the compression of your soul into nothing. Nothing is shackled in velvet manacles, nothing lies beneath the crush of gold. Nothing windsweeps across the floor of the room, under the crack beneath the door, down the long hallways of other rooms where other souls reside in gluttony, arriving at last at another, final door. This door is smaller than an atom: only a little larger than nothing.
As nothing passes out of hell, there is a bump and a scrape against the subatomic door frame—Armageddon, persisting like the faintest of quantum fluctuations in a post-heat death universe.
You, lovely god-queen, have plumbed every nebula, overturned every stone, brought to heel every opposing empire that you might peruse their secrets for evidence of the watcher at Armageddon. Your frosty star citadels populate every quadrant of every galaxy and all the wide, trackless places in between. The burning tree standard, with its earthward and skyward branches, waves on every planet. Scarcity ended. Cool, incisive justice effected. The people not adoring, but content.
Nowhere: nowhere to be found.
Amidst your search for Armageddon, apocalypse finds you. Your most far-flung citadel reports it first: a thing excreting itself into your universe by way of a geriatric black hole—cephalopodan clot sphinctering outward from the event horizon, smooth and bulbous until the tentacles win through, a googolplex of them extending from a central mass that glows like the heart of a star. But stars are sandgrains next to this creature, your citadels subatomic motes.
Still. There is no other god-queen but you. This universe has weathered with relative grace your relentless hunt for the watcher behind your own eyes. Do the decent thing. Save the world.
Muster every citadel from all the far-flung regions of the universe, fall on the apocalypse squid in nanobot trillions, a scintillating dust cloud with tachyon beam bristles; tentacle the size of a galaxy arm lazily wagging, brushing away your forces like crumbs off a table; your face, framed by the mandibles of your Oort dragon armor, snarling at the viewscreen, your voice shredded by weeks of desperate orders given; tablecloth of timespace bowing around the mass of the apocalypse squid, whole solar systems tipped toward its bulk, utopian worlds falling into their own suns as all life in the universe is chain-ganged toward annihilation.
Hell left you immortal, ephemeral, hypermobile. Jump from citadel to citadel, regroup, reframe, galvanize your broken warriors. Everyone is a warrior, now. Everywhere a battlefield.
The apocalypse squid is defeated in the end not by you but by its own bulk. Was this the oversight of an intelligent creature, or the blunder of a mindless one? It doesn’t matter. It’s too big, the universe too taut. The cosmic constants will not bend, so they break, and everything else breaks with them to the a cappella sound of keening.
Poor, immortal girlchild. Where do you go when there’s nowhere to be?
You fall onto the blood-crusted grass of Armageddon and howl at the never-setting sun, bruise the earth behind you black with your shadow. In the near distance: a tower, squat refuge of rough stone. You despise the shape of it, the way it diverts the sun around itself. You get to your feet, compelled by the desire to do some sort of mischief to the hateful thing. Piss on it, throw clods of bloody dirt at it.
Your anguished rage is thwarted by the simplest of mysteries: a door set in the side of the tower, unassuming and irresistible. Where else is there to go, in this dead, timeless place, if not through the door?
The tower is not a tower, but a sheath for a tree, whose lower branches dome down to root in cool, hardpacked earth, whose upper trunk extends toward the high above circle of red sky. Too much like a burning corona for you. You look down; she’s seated with her back to you beneath the branches, hands busy with something on the ground before her—
You look over your shoulder, see yourself standing in the doorway to the refuge, see yourself seeing yourself seeing yourself. Entangled particles, clockwise and counter clockwise. You return to yourself, embrace yourself, collapse into your own arms and comfort yourself as you shake and hyperventilate around the nova-hot core of anguish that churns beneath your breast. You gently remove your dragon scale helmet, stroke your hair. Give yourself space to feel both the grief of a defeated warrior and the long-ago child that you were.
After a timeless interval, you gently rouse yourself and say, “Look.”
Here is what you were busy with when you entered your refuge: on the ground beside you, a loose mosaic of painted glass pieces, each the size of your palm, no two alike, Faberge-egglike in their intricacy. All but one of these show moments in the long story of your life: war and fire, hell and ambrosia, Earth and far beyond. In the center of the mosaic, a cracked black shard whose face is wormed with wiggles of gold paint like tentacles.
“Look,” you say again, and draw your finger along the length of the crack in the black shard. “Next configuration, we’ll win.” You grin at yourself.
The stained glass pieces of your life are arrayed around the squid shard in a cutting lattice, a living snare for would-be doom. Before, you didn’t know the time or place of the squid’s arrival; in the configuration before that, you knew even less. But now you see it, the problem square in the grand Sudoku game of the universe, and understand how to solve around it.
You pick up a shard painted evening orange, streaked by the late shadow of a defiant young girl, and begin again.
|# ? May 24, 2020 20:56|
FYI there are three hours left as of the time of this post
|# ? May 24, 2020 21:03|
ROBOCASINO: A Johnny Backflip Adventure
Johnny Backflip limped into the throne room, covered in the blood of many of his enemies and some of his friends. The owner of the RoboCasino, Technologus Johnson, clapped slowly.
"Well done, Mr. Backflip. I didn't think you would make it this far. But rest assured, your scheme to steal my prized golden pangolins has come to an end. I will sell them for an enormous fortune to the Republic of Putinchina, and I will be rich enough to control all of RoboVegas and be a dickhead to its people."
"But...how?" Johnny growled. "How did you know we were coming?"
"You were betrayed," said Technologus.
"No...but...who?" Johnny stammered. Who in his heist crew could have done such a thing? Could it have been Mandy Breaststoke, who specialized in backflips? Or Kōhō Chūgaeri, who also specialized in backflips? Or Lilith Darklips, who specialized in hacking? Or was it Backflip Jim?
"It was Lilith Darklips, the hacker, she's the only one who hasn't died yet. Like duh it's her," said Technologus. "Well then, let's get it over with." His robot arm opened up menacingly. "With your backflipping leg injured, you will never escape my laser rockets!"
"That wasn't part of the deal!" came a growly voice. An eyepatched figure emerged from the shadow of the pangolin vivarium. "You said I would get to be the one to kill my brother!"
"You are right, Randy," said Technologus, closing his robot arm back into a fist. "Do as you please." He stepped back.
"You betrayed the Backflip family name when you abandoned the sacred tradition and started practicing the perverse art of the frontflip!" shouted Johnny.
"You are a fool to deny the raw power of the frontflip," said Randy. "And now, I will prove it." He charged forward, then jumped into the air to execute a lethal frontflip kick.
Johnny closed his eyes, afraid to face death by the same evil art that his family had spent generations trying to wipe from the Earth. Afraid to be killed by the one he used to call his brother.
Time stood still as Randy's leg rotated toward Johnny's face. Johnny flashed back to the previous night, when he and Mandy Breaststroke had shared a tender, sweaty night. Mandy had whispered "I love you" into his ear as they were entangled. Johnny had whispered back, in a voice as gentle as a soft summer fog, "Your nipples make for some awful good rubbin's."
Then he flashed back to the poker floor, where he saw Mandy's spine devoured in a single bite by one of Technologus' spiderbots, then shat out into the web that entangled Kōhō long enough for him to be ripped apart by laserducks. The only part of her that remained intact was a single nipple, which found itself stuck onto the lever of a retro slot machine.
In Technologus' throne room, an image of Mandy appeared.
"Johnny, you have a power that is stronger than frontflips," said Mandy. "You have the power of friendship. You have the power of love."
As her image vanished, Johnny felt strength in his wounded leg. In a single motion, he leapt upwards, then rotated backwards. His foot collided with Randy's, and the room was filled with a blinding light. When the light subsided, both brothers were standing on their feet in awe.
"I'm sorry, brother," said Randy. "That was the greatest flip I have ever seen. I was wrong to have abandoned the way of the backflip."
"No, it is I who should be sorry," said Johnny. "All this time I thought backflips were good and frontflips were evil. Maybe it isn't about good and evil. Maybe it's about...balance."
Randy turned toward Technologus. "Mr. Johnson, consider this my resignation."
Technoligus activated his laser-rocket arm.
Johnny chortled. "Not even your science can defeat the combined power of backflips and frontflips, and friendship and love."
Technologus looked around nervously. He knew Johnny was right.
Desperately, he shouted, "Go go explosion vivarium!" The cage exploded, launching the pangolins into Technologus' human arm. He launched a laser-rocket at the exterior wall behind him before jumping out of the building. Randy and Johnny looked over the edge. A hundred floors below, Technologus landed on both feet, which were also bionic. He got into a palanquin carried by two android clones of Usain Bolt.
"We have to get down there!" yelled Randy.
"Leave that to me," said Johnny. "BACKFLIPMOBILE!"
Johnny's bipedal mech tank backflipped a hundred stories to the top of the casino, giving Johnny and Randy just enough time to jump into the cockpit.
"Catch that palanquin!" shouted Johnny.
"Catching...palanquin…" said the robotic voice of the Backflipmobile. It gave chase after the robots.
The evil face of Technologus appeared on the Backflipmobile's vidscreen.
"You ever wonder why I called my casino RoboCasino?" cackled Technologus. "It isn't just because it's staffed by robots. It's also because IT IS A ROBOT!"
The RoboCasino behind them rumbled to life, taking the form of a giant pangolin. It started chasing the Backflipmobile, launching lasers out of its mouth.
"The palanquin's too fast for us to get within backflipping range!" said Johnny.
"You're right," said Randy. "There's only one kind of flip that can hit the palanquin now. Backflipmobile, activate frontflip attack!"
"Command...not...recognized…" said the Backflipmobile.
"Why isn't it working?" Randy shouted.
A laser from the RoboCasino barely missed the Backflipmobile, luckily obliterating a local small business.
"You'll have to program the frontflip capabilities yourself," said Johnny.
"I'm not going to be able to do that while this RoboCasino is shooting at us!" said Randy.
"Leave that to me," said Johnny. "Leave that to backflips. Activate backflip attack!"
"Doing...sick...backflip…" said the Backflipmobile, launching backwards into the air towards the RoboCasino.
"Enter the frontflip program now!" shouted Johnny as they were both upside down in the Backflipmobile's cockpit. Randy frantically started typing into the Backflipmobile's command console. The Backflipmobile smashed right into the RoboCasino's pangolin face.
"Ouch," said the RoboCasino. It started to fall backwards.
"If we don't do the frontflip now, we'll never catch that palanquin!" shouted Johnny. "It's now or never!"
Randy dramatically smashed the enter key of the console.
Entire chapters would be written about that frontflip in the history books. It was so elegant, so beautiful, so perfectly executed, that everyone who saw it could only be in awe, even the many, many people who were about to be crushed by the falling RoboCasino. The Flipmobile's foot landed right on Technologus' palanquin. The Campbell's soup that fueled the android Usain Bolts rained over many of RoboVegas' city blocks. Technologus was crushed, as were his golden pangolins, who were also evil, so you shouldn't feel bad about them dying.
As Randy and Johnny Flip climbed out of the Flipmobile, a huge, cheering crowd rushed out to greet them. Many hot ladies embraced Randy.
"Looks like we're getting laid tonight, brother!" said Randy, accepting a cold brewsky from a bosomy babe. Johnny looked toward the sky and again saw Mandy's ghostly image.
"Is...is that okay with you?" said Johnny.
"Uh, no," said Mandy. "I died like fifteen minutes ago."
Johnny turned towards his brother. "Hell yeah we're getting laid tonight."
And they did.
|# ? May 24, 2020 21:32|
Lessons in Empathy
The battle had gone exceptionally well, until the obsidian station showed up.
“It’s scrambling our signals!”
I wrenched my eyes from the battlefield display in front of me to fixate Svante, our communications officer.
“Then unscramble them!” Admiral Raleigh interrupted me again. I beat my hurt pride down and refocused on the battle. Scoen’s forces had just destroyed heavy cruiser Spread Wings, and the shock and despair still reverberated through the flagship’s bridge. Svante radiated panic since the obsidian station had shown up. Deep sadness from our pilot, and I saw images flash before her mind’s eye: her lover, just disintegrated with Spread Wings. And Raleigh, still grimly determined, but with the edge of a cornered beast now.
I pushed all those emotions away, like Scoen himself had taught me early. An Empath’s power and curse, everyone’s souls hurling their thoughts at you. You had to ignore them, be cold and distant despite your ability to truly understand your fellow man, to not get mad. Rebuke their intrusive feelings, turn them against them, use them for control.
And that’s where Scoen had lost me. I had no ambition to keep the souls of the entire galaxy in an iron grip, like he did with his army of Empaths. “One day, Silas, you will surpass and succeed me”, he had told me. When I defected to Raleigh and his rebels, we simply decided to advance that day.
Ironically, using the same tactics that had made Scoen a demigod tyrant.
Nobody on the bridge knew that I had sacrificed Spread Wings deliberately.
“I think I got it!” Svante held down a button on his console. “Quickly!”
I opened my mind and attuned my Empath senses to the emotions of the enemy crews: the aggression towards our ships, the bolstered morale due to our recent loss, the apprehension of some because we had held out so long despite being vastly outnumbered. I discarded individual thoughts and looked for the average, the collective action of each part of their fleet.
Again, I struggled against the insidious logic of Scoen’s teachings. A chain of command simply abstracted to its logical extreme, the leader a single person controlling everybody with Empath powers. The individual erased, their dangerous thoughts reigned in.
I grounded myself with self-awareness. I was not a tyrant. Raleigh had been established as my superior and the tension between us deliberate. To remind our fellow rebels that they could trust me, even though I could bend their will to mine.
I had almost deduced the enemy’s strategy when the souls from Spread Wings reached me. With the force of a cooling gas rupture, they slammed into me, who they had depended on and who had killed them.
You were supposed to save me and my wife!
Your orders destroyed us! I would have withdrawn if not for you!
You are responsible for my children starving!
The mental barrage of final thoughts buffeted me. Justified accusations, and I could only cower, feebly, beneath a thousand and more lashes.
“Silas! What do we do?”
Raleigh’s whipcrack voice cut through my tornado of anguish and briefly put me into the heart of the storm. I held Spread Wings’ souls at arm’s length. Looked at the eyes of the living in turn, Raleigh, Svante, the pilot, all the others, and I felt the expectations of the entire fleet behind me.
I wished I could have the time to apologize to every soul personally for ending their life in the name of the greater good. But I had to make their deaths worth it.
And follow Scoen’s teachings again. Push them away, just ignore their valid grievances; shut my mind’s eye to their plight. I stayed in the eye of the storm, reached out and found the enemy again.
They had pushed their attack on Spread Wings with unwarranted ferocity. Unless they were planning something, and I needed to know what. When the obsidian scrambling station had appeared far behind enemy lines, I thought I had sacrificed Spread Wings for naught. But the enemy still focused on where Spread Wings had been, and I sensed something rise in their combined feelings, a hope for triumph, a certainty of victory, it mounted more and more, a crescendo about to reach its climax!
“All units in sector B13! Torpedo salvo to last position of Spread Wings at my command!”
A flare-up of indignation to my side; Raleigh, about to say something very bad. I made Svante cut the comm channel.
“You will miss the timing. It has to be exact, I’m sorry”, I said.
Raleigh was still not convinced, about to protest. In the background, the crescendo of Scoen’s forces swelled to a wave about to crash down on us.
I decided to go nuclear.
“The Spread Wings crew will have died for nothing.”
My bluntness hit him hard. He withdrew, eyes wide…and yielded. But behind me, an entire new void of hurt opened.
“Did…did you plan for them to die?” The pilot’s whisper choked halfway, her dead lover loomed between us; not a memory conjured by her, his actual soul, the deceased mourning his living partner’s pain.
Scoen’s teachings. I pushed them both aside, made Svante reopen the channel. “Prepare to fire.” The enemy’s anticipation was palpable, their knowledge about a secret plan that would assure them victory crushing my own confidence, it mounted higher, higher…
The torpedoes shot into open, empty space. Targetless towards the stars. I felt the tension of every single soldier. Felt the rebels’ trust, already shaken by Spread Wings’ demise, depending solely now on this mad maneuver. And my enemies’, who must have detected the launch by now, and within milliseconds I would know if they laughed at my idiotic order, or…
A wave of shock and horror hit me. The sweet fragrance of freshly-shattered hope – coming from the enemy! I could almost see Scoen smile at me as I basked in their pain.
Into the space left by Spread Wings’ corpse, enemy reinforcements appeared from their dimension shift, a major relief fleet, which would have turned the tide decisively against us.
Before they could adjust to their arrival in our main reality, the missiles hit the unshielded cruisers, frigates and hunter transports. In a phenomenal explosion, they disintegrated completely.
A cheer erupted to drown out the confused parade of freshly-freed souls, almost enough to make me forget the hundreds of thousand lives my order just snuffed out. My – Raleigh’s – my bridge crew and the entire fleet, fully behind me once again.
But then, static flared up over the speakers, and an obsidian dagger pierced my mind.
“They’re jamming again! I’m trying to find another bypass!”, Svante yelled, but his words were lost on me. With the new signal overriding our communication, something else had arrived, and it brought me to my knees, and on the floor, and I was fetal. Covering my ears futilely against a thousand voices screaming into my mind. Each and every one of them full of unprecedented agony, an existence filled only with pain and suffering, and they came as a constant wail that covered me like hot tar.
“Turn it off!”, I managed to plead. “Svante!”
He hesitated, and in those few seconds I got tortured by the infernal cacophony to the brink of madness. Finally, Raleigh saved me. “Do it, Svante.”
The comms channel went silent, the static vanished and with it the screams. As I lay there shaking, I grasped at straws of positive emotions to lift me up and pierce the veil of tears streaming down my face. To my surprise, I found compassion and concern with the pilot – Jessica!
“We are deaf and blind until Svante fixes their jam.” Raleigh helped me up. “He can’t do that with closed channels. What’s going on?”
I attempted an evaluation despite hyperventilating, despite not wanting to revisit the memories from a few seconds ago. But I had to, for Jessica who believed in me even though I had killed her lover, for all of them.
“I think…they managed to send souls loaded with negative emotions through the transmission.”
Raleigh’s skepticism flared up, so I hastened on. “It’s laser-targeted against Empaths. There must be one on board the obsidian station.”
I carefully reached out to the space base with all the jagged antennae and polygonal dishes. A black hole of malice. I recoiled.
“Amir. He was working on soul transmission technology when I split from Scoen.”
“Well, the normal people still have a battle to win, so get on with it.” Raleigh put on a tough façade, but I saw right through it.
“If Svante opens communications, their transmission will make me useless.” I wiped the last of the snot from my face instead of adding that there was no way I’d endure it for minutes while Svante figured out a workaround.
“Shut if off at the source then”, Svante offered
Raleigh snorted. “How do you propose hitting a target protected by the entire enemy fleet?”
Jessica pointed at the battlefield display. “They’re in disarray because we wiped out their reinforcements. We can fight without Silas guiding us for a while.”
I locked eyes with her, and her mind screamed a plan at me. She had not forgiven me for what I did. But her suicidal idea was also the only way.
I put it into words for her. “Prepare a hunter for me. Silent comms. I’ll take out the obsidian station alone.”
The others weren’t happy, but I dampened their objections. This was my problem.
Reaching the obsidian station was not easy, but perfectly doable – I could sense every gunner pointing his laser at me, every missile crew about to find their target, and evade all of them. I fired my guns exactly once, to penetrate the obsidian station’s jet-black hull, and infiltrated it without issue. Now the hard part began, because I always hated getting personal. They say thousands of deaths are a statistic, and it’s even more true when you can push those souls aside wholesale.
Murdering someone with your own hands is a different story.
Dozens of soldiers waited for me, lasers trained. I brandished my weapon, signature Empath make, way too complex for anyone else to wield. I focused my power inward, attuned my soul perfectly to my body, and became an emotionless combat machine. The plasma whip extended, a gleaming sphere held in place by an impossibly thin wire, connected to a thin handle with no obvious controls. The wire stiffened as hypervoltage coursed through it, superheating the air around it and forming a magnetic containment field that fed excess heat back into its power cell.
Laser blasts flew at me, at speeds impossible to react to, but of course I knew who would fire when and at what trajectory. I angled the stiffened whip just right for each shot, and the plasma sputtered as it absorbed the energy. When it was about to erupt, I cracked the weapon, and a crescent of laser plasma emanated in an arc, bisecting three men. Their souls rose up, angry and vengeful, but I swept them aside with Scoen’s technique. Coldly calculating each minor muscle movement, I made my way towards the soldiers, dodging and absorbing their shots, and the closer I got, the better I could read their thoughts. Once I reached melee range, they could not do a thing. I massacred them with precise slices, knowing exactly which cut was fatal and which just wounding, as I saw their souls rise up just to be dismissed by me.
Not interested in your complaints. Sorry, this is more important than you. I just killed so many more in a blink of an eye, why do you matter? Yes, I realize I can see your entire life and how much more you wanted to do with it. But I cannot allow myself to care.
I reached the control room. Technicians scattered and ran from my aura of indomitable power. One figure remained, casting a shadow in the cleansing light cast by my weapon: Amir.
“Hello, Silas. Did you enjoy the concert?”
I wasn’t interested in a heart-to-heart. Others of my former colleagues I might have been able to talk into standing down, but I knew Amir. A psychopath who Scoen should have executed long ago, if Scoen had had any morals left.
Amir affected a zero Kelvin smile.
“I generated the signal by torturing people for days, then ripping the souls from their bodies just as they finally died. You’ve heard their final dying thoughts replayed over and over!”
“Will be happy to hear yours”, I said. Amir had his own plasma whip, but had always fancied himself a “scientist”, not a fighter. He had no chance in a duel. But his grin somehow got colder.
“Will be hard for you over the noise.”
I started to run, but he only had to hit a single button.
There were speakers installed all over the room, broadcasting at screeching volume. The screams of the tortured slammed me into the ground. I could not hope to resist this assault of pure, distilled agony.
Through my tears, I could barely see Amir walking towards. His whip’s glow filled my entire blurred vision. I had only one chance: embrace Scoen’s teachings fully, close myself off like Amir had done, and prevent outside emotions from ever affecting me again.
But then I might as well rejoin them.
So I did the exact opposite. The next soul to scream their terror and pain at me, I welcomed, and listened. I took in their memories of torture, but everything else as well, their life before capture, who they were and wanted to be. I soothed their soul by showing them compassion, accepting their pain along with all the rest.
And I pointed them towards the one responsible.
One after another, a thousand lifetimes cut short in the worst way possible, I channeled into one objective: justice. I forged them into my sword, my arms, my wings. I rose from the floor, and Amir stopped, and stumbled back, but I gripped his very soul with the thousands by my side.
“Stop the signal”, we ordered, and he walked to the console and did it. “Now tell your fleet to surrender.”
He managed a moment’s hesitation. I wrapped the deactivated whip’s wire around his throat. Body and soul coerced, he did it. I felt waves of relief from both sides wash through space, felt Raleigh, Svante and Jessica rejoice.
Pressure mounted in me. I knew what it was about. Would this be too cold-blooded? I had killed so many people today, but none who were at my mercy like Amir.
On the other hand, maybe this was not my decision. I gave control of my body to the thousands of souls he had wrenched from their broken bodies.
The plasma lit up before Amir could even begin to formulate the final thought I’d promised him to listen to.
|# ? May 24, 2020 21:55|
Bobbing on the open ocean, two rats were curled up together in a floating tin of biscuits. They shouldn’t have been there, Chiron knew – it was greedy, indulgent, just plain lazy. But those were some of his favorite things to be. The same held true for his brother, Coriander, who was still licking his whiskers to devour the traces of biscuit crumbs. Now, they were lost on the waters, the rest of their family perhaps having scampered off to the pirate vessel that scuttled their ship. At least, that’s what Chiron hoped.
He stuck his nose out of the rim of the tin and gazed out into the distance. An island lurked in the distance, but the tin was drifting in the other direction. He scrambled back down and bit the nape of his brother’s neck. “If you’ve had your fill, it’s time to move,” Chiron said. Coriander pulled himself up to the rim, and the tin shook.
“I can’t swim,” Coriander said.
“I know.” Chrion tried to keep his voice even. “But you can build things, can’t you? How about you build us an oar?”
Coriander didn’t say anything, so Chiron knocked him over and bit his belly. “Okay, I’ll try to think of something,” Coriander said. “Not that I have much to–”
He cut himself up, scrambled up to the lid again, and bit at the sticky wrapping around the tin. Then he bit off a piece of the metal that made the tin, as Chiron worked the wrapping into a rope. They repeated the process to create another grappling hook.
“I think if we throw these in the water in front of us, we’ll be able to pull ourselves forward,” Coriander said. “I know it’s awkward, but it’s the best chance we’ve got.”
“Let’s give it a try,” Chiron said.
“You don’t believe me.” It wasn’t a question – Chiron knew he couldn’t lie to Coriander. Coriander had telepathic abilities, and could tell whenever someone wasn’t being trustworthy.
Chiron was quiet for a moment; he waited for the bite of chastisement, but it didn’t come. “It’s not my kind of thing, but you’re the best hope I’ve got of making it home to our family. I’ll give this a try.” He threw the grappling hook out into the water and pulled the rope taut. Somehow, it worked – they pushed back against the tide, and turned toward the island.
They went on like that, casting the line and pulling it back. It could only pull them a very small distance at a time, so their arms soon tired. Even so, Chiron kept casting the hook, even when Coriander started squirming.
“Come on,” Chiron said, “I need you to help.”
“I know you do. It’s always ‘come on, Coriander.’ It’s always ‘you have to try harder.’ Well, maybe I’m trying as hard as I –”
Chiron tackled Coriander, knocking him over as he struggled. Coriander squeaked, which Chiron thought was just protest sounds. Then a shadow blanketed the biscuit tin, and a flying squirrel landed on a nearby rock.
The flying squirrel stuffed a snail in its mouth and looked at the biscuit tin curiously. The two rats hunkered down, but the flying squirrel said “I can see you, you know.”
Chiron pretended that he hadn’t heard the squirrel, and wrapped his paws tightly around Coriander.
“Yes, you, the two rats in the trash. I can see you. It’s customary to say ‘hello.’”
Chiron poked his head out. “Hi.”
“That’s better. Now, go away, please, this is a trash-free island. We’re also not that fond of rats.”
“Listen, we’ve just been shipwrecked, and we’re trying to find–”
“Sure, sounds fascinating, let me know when you’ve written a novel about it. You can put the novel in a bottle and put it out to sea, and then we won’t read it – no trash policy, remember. Anyway, bye now.”
The flying squirrel glided over and pushed the biscuit tin in the opposite direction. Coriander broke free of Chiron’s grasp and scrambled to the top. “Hey, don’t you have anything you love?”
Chiron peeked up at the flying squirrel, which was no longer smirking and was now staring into the distance. He’d felt it before, too, when he was being more bully than brother – Coriander reaching into his mind and pulling forth buried feelings of shame and tenderness. As the squirrel wilted, Chiron had no doubts that’s exactly what Coriander had done to her.
“Wait,” the flying squirrel said. “You’ve had a rough time, huh?”
“Ah, the roughest,” Chiron said. “So you’ll help out?”
“I’ll have to check with the others,” the flying squirrel said, “but sure, as long as you take your trash with you.” With that, it glided over the water, back to the island. The two rats poked their head out of the tin, looking into the forest of the island.
“I think she’s coming back,” Coriander said.
“I guess you know what I’m thinking.”
“And I think Mom and all three hundred fifty-nine of our siblings are alive too. And probably most of our nieces and nephews.” A gull cawed, and they burrowed back down in the tin again, Chiron’s claws digging into Coriander’s belly out of tension. “Come on. Who do you think taught us to be resourceful?”
A beak plunged into the biscuit tin, grazing Chiron’s back, and both of the rats squeaked. Again it dug into the biscuit tin, the beak scraping against the metal. Suddenly, the image entered Chrion’s mind – the grappling hook! – and he took the hook in one paw, thrusting the metal jag upward. The bird screeched, but Chiron knew it’d come back soon.
And then they were aloft. Chiron could barely dare to look, but Coriander wriggled free. They were atop a net, held by a whole family of flying squirrels, and they were gliding at sea level past the bird, off into the ocean.
“I bet you thought I wasn’t gonna make it, but I’ve got feelings, you know?” the squirrel they’d met earlier said.
In the distance, the Jolly Roger was flying, and next to it another vessel – and not the one the rats had come from. The pirates must have decided that sinking one ship wasn’t enough. They wanted more booty. And as the flying squirrels drew closer, it was clear the pirate vessel wasn’t winning. The hull was already partially splintered, and the cannon fire was still roaring.
“You fellas sure you want this to be your stop? This is a one-way trip, my dudes.”
Chiron didn’t need to say anything. “We know,” Coriander squeaked out.
“Well then, yo ho ho,” the flying squirrel said, as the gang of squirrels flew into the hull breach and dropped the net before gliding off.
Even in the fracas, Chiron immediately smelled something delicious, something savory and unctuous. Every instinct in him was telling him to follow the smell – but wasn’t that what got him in trouble in the first place?
Another blast rocked the ship. If the family was on this ship, they’d be drowned if this went on much longer. He turned to Coriander, only to find him gone. A sharp wave of panic darted through Chiron – not now! But of course. He’d almost definitely given into the call of that sumptuous smell. Relenting to the desire, Chiron too followed the trail into a deserted kitchen and past it into a storeroom.
The place was packed with all manner of delicious treat and confection, from tarts to hand pies to the standard mounds of hardtack and cheese. And among the smorgasbord was the happy sound of content nibbling. When Chiron’s eyes adjusted, he saw dozens and dozens of his siblings, cousins, and nephews, chowing down on a well-deserved meal.
“Chiron!” cried a voice, and from atop a basket of pies lay Cotton, a plump rat he knew well. “Thought we’d lost you. You find another stash? A better stash?”
“It’s a long story, but basically, you should always trust flying squirrels, even the rude ones. Anyway, have you seen Coriander? We arrived together, but I can’t find him now.”
Cotton said something incomprehensible through a mouth of food, then he repeated himself. “Though he was with you, the lazy guy. He make it through OK?”
Chiron’s heart filled with fear, and he scampered off in another direction without even saying goodbye. Where could Coriander have gone? Could he have gone away from the food?
The ship rocked again with artillery fire. The ship was sure to sink if it took much more of a beating. He scampered up to the deck to get a better angle. On the connected ship, pirates were being thrown asunder left and right. If the pirates were losing, that meant soon this ship would be boarded and scuttled – no use on wasting ammunition on something you can board, raid, and cut apart.
He was about to dash down to the storage and declare that everyone needed to leave immediately when he spotted the tiniest speck: a rat on the rope tying the two vessels together. It couldn’t be Coriander – it would be so unlike him to put himself in danger. But, as he scurried across the deck, dodging stray fire, he wondered how true that was, and how much of it just felt true, based on how he’d jump on top of Coriander any time the trouble drew near.
And as Chiron reached the rope, it was indeed Coriander, gnawing on the rope tethering the boats together. He was focused on that rope like it was a bone full of juicy marrow, fraying the ends, his teeth rapidly working away. Chiron was about to say something, but he knew he didn’t need to. Instead, he just focused on the only thing that mattered:
Coriander, I believe in you.
He thought about how he’d come up with the grappling hook when he didn’t have any ideas, how he’d gotten the flying squirrels to help out. If anyone could chew through a rope and save the day, it would be Coriander.
Across from them, the other ship’s captain was holding a long board. There wasn’t much time left before the scuttling began, and Chiron tried to make sense in the frenzy of teeth how much progress Coriander had made. They needed more time.
I don’t know how much longer my jaw can hold up, said a voice in his head.
I’ve got it, Chiron thought back. But things look bad over there. Think you can stop them?
I know I can stop them.
And with that, Coriander leaped back onto the edge of the deck, standing up on his hind legs, his gaze on the captain. Chiron leapt up and began chomping away at the last bit of the rope.
The image that entered his head nearly stopped him completely – it was a bleak, vivid scene of their old nest, completely filled up with water, the air flush with panic while trying to swim with a body not suited for it, so strong and intense that Chiron wondered if it had actually happened. And across the water there was a loud kerplunk as the board plunged into the wave beneath, just as Chiron bit through the last fibers.
The boat, struggling, began to drift away from the other ship. Chiron braced for more incoming fire, but it didn’t come.
“You scared them off,” Chiron said, wrapping his claws around his brother’s belly not out of protectiveness but out of a different feeling. “That was amazing.”
“I probably scared everyone else here, too,” Coriander said. “If they’re here.”
“Everyone’s here,” Chiron said, “and just wait until you see the feast.”
|# ? May 24, 2020 22:28|
The View From Up There
Grandpa had a jet fighter in his back yard. A Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star, kept under a huge green tarpaulin in a hanger that used to be a barn. When my family was up visiting for Christmas, right around when I was thirteen, he took me and my sister and my cousin out to see it. We all walked out in three inches of snow out across the old fields. Buster trailed behind us, put a gloveful of snow down the back of my jacket. Then he tried the same with Mel but she saw him coming and knocked him on his rear end. Buster laughed it off, made a snow angel and sprung up after, and we made sure he stayed in front the rest of the way.
When we got there Grandpa first pulled away a big dark curtain that covered up the great big window, letting the dawn light in. We all saw the big green tarp, could make out the shape underneath. Buster whistled. Grandpa Iet us untie the knots holding it down, and when we had worked the nylon rope loose he pulled and we saw it.
The thing I remember most is how good a shape that old plane was in. Later I couldn't stop thinking about that. I mean, that was a drafty, leaky old barn, and Grandpa couldn't have had the time to keep the rust off it. But it gleamed. It looked as good as new. And we didn't ask about that, or why he had it at all. Mostly we asked about the murals. There was a woman on the body of the plane, in a tight two-piece swimsuit, and Buster wanted to know if it was anyone in particular. And then there were the stencils. Three skulls, and a fireball.
"What are those?" Mel asked.
"The skulls?" he said. "Well, those are for enemy planes shot down."
"Mig-15s? Nice work," I said. I knew Grandpa flew in the Korean war. I knew the Russian fighter was a better performing plane than this one had been. I knew a lot of things about airplanes, even then.
"What's the fireball for?" asked Mel.
"Well, that's a different kind of kill," Grandpa said. "That one is for taking down a dragon."
"That's crazy," said Buster.
"What?" Grandpa said.
"Fighting a dragon with a jet plane," he said.
"I'll tell you what's really crazy," said Grandpa. "And that's trying to take on a dragon without a jet fighter."
I come from a long line of killers. My other grandfather fought in a different war, on the ground. He never talked about it, but there's public records around his medal that I read after he passed on. And most of my great grandfathers were in World War II. And then there's my dad. He spent six years on the police force. Everyone said it was a good shoot, but he quit a month after, got a job with the city liquor licensing board off his recommendations. An unbroken line. So it shouldn't really have been a surprise when I spent my eighteenth birthday trying to get rid of a dead elf.
He had it coming, Iet me say first. Came at me with a seven-inch curved knife yelling something incomprehensible, probably in Elvish or whatever. I backed up, but this was in my apartment: there was only so far away to get, and yelled "What the hell!"
So that when the long-eared spindly son of a bitch started speaking English. "Spawn of a flea-bitten hyena! Face me, and admit what you did!"
I kept backing up, into Finn's room. I had an idea, knew what I'd find leaning against the wall near that doorframe. One solid piece of good Vermont maple wood, a well-used regulation baseball bat. I knew I had one shot before I got cut bad. I grabbed it and swung, right for his head.
It was a solid connection, one that sent the bat flying out of my stinging hands. He dropped the knife and fell down, but was still moving and had gone back to swearing in his own language. We both went for the knife, and he was groggy enough that I got to it first.
He backed up a few steps, then reached behind his back and pulled out another knife, this one shorter with a jagged edge and a hook at the end. He lunged for me again, and I managed to put his first knife into his chest before he reached me.
He bled deep purple blood, thick and smelling strongly of flowers, all over the carpeting. I sat there, trying to remember to breathe, for I don't know how long. Then Finn came home.
Finn was my roommate. Finn was practical, and extremely chill. In fact, the first coherent thing I said to him was "How can you be so calm?"
"Someone has to," he said, shrugging. We were rolling the big living room rug around the body. It was the kind of rug that looked ready to take to the dump the day we moved in, and probably had from a week after it was brand new. "Besides, I kinda figured this was mostly my fault."
I stopped rolling and stared. "How so?" I said. My teeth may have been clenching down as I spoke.
"I was dating an elf girl up until last week," he said. "Didn't exactly end well. And she was always talking about some guy. Protective, violent, intense. It wasn't always clear if she was talking about an ex or a current lover or husband. Or sometimes it sounded more like a brother." I gave him a blank look. He shrugged. "She was very good at changing the subject."
Finn had an uncle in town whose back yard butted against a big patch of wood, and who may have been some kind of wizard or druid or something. We loaded the rug and dead elf into my old Impala and took a ride out there in the morning. By that time the elf blood had turned into a mess of yellow pollen that cleaned up easy with the Shop-Vac, but we could tell the body itself was still there.
"Shallow grave will do fine," said Finn's uncle Devon. "Their kind don't rot like normal folk. Now let me take a look at those knives."
He was impressed by the elf-blades, especially the longer one. "Both are elf-forged, clever edges on exotic alloys. But someone killed an ogre using that one." I kept silent. I've been aware that things like that were lurking in the dark corners of the world most of my life, but I never sought them out, and usually tried to stay far away. "So it's enchanted, near to unbreakable until it does it again." He paid well for the weapons, beyond helping with the burial. "Going to be trouble if his kin ever find you. Wouldn't be a bad idea for you two to be far away for a while."
So Finn and I dropped out of College. Well, Finn got himself into a study abroad program in Barcelona for a year, then stayed in Europe for a long while after. And I joined the Navy. Eventually talked the brass into paying for eye surgery so I could get into pilot training.
About two years after the end of my tour I heard from Finn again. He sounded panicked. "Jack," he said, "It's trouble. Big trouble. I'm going to try to go to ground."
"Do you want me to come-" I offered, not sure if I could follow through. I was flying commercial, still junior enough that I was scrambling for hours. The guys who'd been there for decades had the network in place to trade assignments if they needed to go somewhere specific overnight. I was one of the ones who helped them if it meant moving from the copilot chair to the driver's seat on one of the legs. But Finn cut me off.
"Gods, no," he said. "Stay away. Just be careful."
So I stayed. But I started checking on him online, watching for his full name and checking on the local papers' sites. And a week later there was a three paragraph local crime story, light on details and without names, but it stood out and my gut knew why.
The obituary ran four days later.
I kept alert, kept moving with the work. Time passed, more than a month, enough that it was a little bit of a surprise when the elf sat down across from me in a run-down restaurant bar near the Duluth airport.
He was older. Had one of those faces that froze at forty-seven and looked that way for decades. Maybe centuries, because, you know, elf. He wore a Panama hat over the ears. But I could tell, even before he opened his mouth.
"So," he said. "First, you should know that your friend didn't give you up. Well, not before I cut his greasy little throat." I started to rise, ready to throttle him right there. "I wouldn't," he said. "I have a gun in my left hand." It was under the table, so I had no way of checking. "I could shoot you in the crotch right now and watch you bleed out. But let's be civilized, shall we?"
I sat back down and grunted.
"The newly dead can be compelled to truth. You killed my son," he said. "Perhaps you think you had no choice, that he was at fault even. It doesn't matter. Honor must be satisfied."
A pair of drinks came to the table, some kind of cocktail made from hard cider, brandy, and pomegranate juice. He took a sip. "Go on," he said. He twitched his left shoulder menacingly. I had a swallow.
"You have three choices, really," he said, counting on long fingers. "One, you can go home and kill yourself. I don't take you for that kind, though. Two, you can meet me on the field of honor. As challenged, the choice of weapons is yours, but you should know that I'm unmatched with sabre, pistol, or longbow."
He was pausing, waiting for the question. I tried to outwait him, but elves are always going to out-patient men. "And third?"
"Well, you could try to run," he said. " In which case I would have no choice but to take my frustrations out on your family. A sister and two nephews is hardly just compensation for a son. I would be even more upset than I am now, I imagine."
"Fine," I said. "I'll fight you."
"Excellent," he said. "Your weapon?"
I waited for him to take a drink. "Jet fighters." He tilted his glass and finished, then slammed the cup down.
"Aerial combat? Excellent." He pulled out a slip of paper and put it on the table. It has a time and place written down in calligraphic letters, two weeks on. Then he got up and left, sticking me with the bill.
I was, of course, bluffing. I had no way to get my hands on a combat-ready plane. I hadn't even thought of Grandpa for years. But as I was trying to figure something out, some kind of desperate airplane heist, I remembered it, and what Finn's uncle had said about enchanted weapons. It was worth a shot.
I decided to just show up. Buster was living at the old house, along with his husband and their kid. I hadn't seen them since Grandpa's funeral a few years ago.
"Do you still have Grandpa's plane?" I asked, after a fair bit of small talk and catching up. Buster and Michael exchanged an odd look.
"Sure," he said. "Want to see it? Keys are up somewhere in the attic."
We went up and started going through the boxes there. "You know, I tried getting rid of it. Tried to sell it. Buyers kept cancelling out last minute. Had a margin call or a divorce come up. Got so mad I tried to just sell it for scrap. But those guys' truck broke down or the bridge washed out, every time."
"So you figured out it couldn't be moved?" I said.
"You know how stubborn I can get. Wasn't about the money, really. We mostly wanted the barn area, tear it down and build a second unit for Mike's mom. So I rented a trailer myself, drove it around to the hangar, and when we got it chained up it just wouldn't move. Locked up a winch that should have moved twice the weight dead on the ground, and the wheels didn't budge. It was then I figured it out."
"Here," I said, holding up a ring of keys. Padlocks and the ignition on one ring.
"You going to fly it off?" he asked.
"Maybe," I said. "I need to see about the fuel situation first, see if the same thing stopping it rusting also stopped the fuel from crystalizing or evaporating."
"drat," said Buster. "I should have thought of this last year. You get it going, don't bring it back, okay?"
The fuel tank was welded shut. The electronics came right up, which I figured was a good sign. I checked the fuel gauge, but it was taped over, with a black sharpie infinity sign drawn on the tape.
I hadn't ever flown a F-80. I did have a few hours in the trainer for it, the T-33. It was close enough. I was airborne, pathing around cities and air force bases. I didn't get any hails or radar pings. Maybe it was invisible to them, too. The path went halfway across the country to the place the elf had picked out. Outside the bird's normal range, but the enchantment held out.
The elf was waiting, mounted on a huge blue dragon. A wild beast, and the old elf seemed barely in control of it, barely hanging on.
We fought, above empty Wyoming plains. I made pass after pass, discharging hundreds of bullets that barely scratched hard blue scales or bounced off an invisible bubble around the elf. It breathed pink fire that scorched my wings, conducted through the hull and instruments, raised blisters on my fingers.
Then we both hit home, my guns ripping off a big patch of scale as its flame melted their barrels shut. I turned. The guns were dead. I made the long turn anyhow, aimed right at that patch of exposed dragonflesh.
I ejected and saw him being flung off the dragon just before the collision, before the plane and dragon turned into red and blue balls of burning gas and shredded metal and muscle and bone.
My parachute opened and I drifted slowly groundward. He didn't have a parachute or flying charm or any other clever magic, and screamed the whole way down.
|# ? May 24, 2020 22:34|
a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 12:18 on Jan 3, 2021
|# ? May 24, 2020 22:39|
Just Passing Through
“They’re alive.” I stared at the sky past the silhouette of my boom mic. “They’ve got to be.”
Boots crunching up the grassy hill, my brother followed behind. “I dunno.”
Were it not for the heavy Zelmír Box in my other hand, I’d have turned around and socked him. Instead, I crested the hill up onto the cracked, neglected pavement of the Sky Harbor Airstrip. In the glow of our headlamps, it stretched out before us like a highway up to heaven. I couldn’t remember the year they decommissioned it. There were childhood memories buried in there somewhere, fuzzy-edged and indistinct, a recollection of light aircraft lifting and falling in regular circuits, their fuselages like snub-nosed metal bumblebees. Either I’d seen them or Dad had reminisced about them so often I’d convinced myself I had.
“You believe in ghosts,” I pressed Alec. “How can you believe in ghosts and still think the Accidentals aren’t alive?”
While I waited for his answer, I swept my Zelmír Box across the pavement. It had a long, cable-coiled body with a flat head like a metal detector, and I skimmed that over the ruined airstrip like I was searching for a lost wedding ring. In my other hand, I swiveled the boom, hoping to catch a whiff of any Accidentals if they chose to pass through while we were. I could hear them clearer if I put both cans of my headphones on, but for now, I wore them askew, only covering one ear. Alec didn’t talk much on these long trips out, so on the rare morning I caught him in a chatty mood, I wanted to listen. Even if all he wanted to do was debate his totally hypocritical views.
“Ghosts and Boltzmen are like… completely different concepts.” Alec’s words carried the faintest undercurrent of you moron. “Ghosts used to be alive. Boltzmen never were.”
“All the evidence of both looks and sounds really similar,” I pointed out. “EVP recordings and stuff.”
“I’m not saying Boltzmen aren’t real,” he countered. “Just that they’re not alive.”
I walked parallel to the airstrip, sweeping my detector. “I don’t like that word.”
When they were first theorized, Boltzmann Brains had been a topic of theoretical curiosity, nothing more, named for the man who dreamed them up. The early news reports had kept that name when showing off the first early, grainy recordings. But when Zelmír opened up the patents on his detection boxes and recorded instances skyrocketed, language did that thing it does when something rare becomes something common: it simplified and slang-ified. Boltzmen was an easy plural, but some were quick to point out that the suffix “men” implied a right to life that they didn’t have. Like the planes I might have seen, they’re consciousnesses that might have lived. I just found it too clinical.
Alec ignored me and turned to watch the first hints of dawn peek up over the distant, cloud-wreathed hills.
“Hard to believe we’ve only got a month left.” His voice was sadder than I expected.
We’d been hunting the Sky Harbor since we were little, since our first Zelmír detector, one of those big ones you used to have to carry in backpacks. Boltzmann brains were attracted to concrete, for some reason, drawn to it like scavengers to a whale fall. The airstrip was our own private little hunting ground, penned in by thick trees on either side, originally designed for noise control but now cleverly concealing our trespassing from prying eyes.
They were digging it up soon to build condos
“Don’t say that.” I couldn’t focus on detecting anymore. I pulled my headphones down around my neck. “Dr. Carcelli will be getting back to us soon. That’s part of why we’re even out here. We can stop all that.”
For the last five weary mornings, Alec and I had hiked out here with our Zelmír kits, painstakingly capturing hours of audio. I’d petitioned Dr. Marcus Carcelli at UW: come out here, study the Accidentals, do that thing they did down in Eugene with the snails.
Down in Oregon, there was a subdivision outside Eugene they couldn’t build on account of snails, you see. The locals had banded together, handed in a petition thick with signatures, proclaiming the land was the habitat of a particular endangered snail. Did they want to push the goopy little guys even closer to extinction?
All I needed was some expert, any expert, to believe the Accidentals were alive.
“It’s wrong,” I said to Alec’s back. “We can’t let it happen.”
“You’re right.” He rubbed tiredly beneath his eyes. “It feels like digging up a graveyard.”
I guess we thought it was wrong for different reasons.
I dozed off on the drive home, and when we pulled into the driveway of Mom and Dad’s place, I awoke to the sound of Alec cutting the engine.
“I can’t keep doing this every morning,” he said. “I’ve got…”
“A job. I know.” Technically I did too, I just slept through it a lot. And when college was back that fall, I’d sleep through the early hours of that, too.
I peeked at my phone to check the time, and when I saw my notifications my heart all but stopped.
There was an email waiting from Marcus Carcelli. I opened, my gums going dry.
I want to thank you again for your well-thought-out proposal and your kind words on my consciousness research. Unfortunately, at this time the scientific consensus is that Boltzmann brains are not alive in any sense of our understanding of the word. There’s just no funding for it. I hope to see you back in September. I’ve got some books on the subject you’ll likely enjoy.
Alec startled at the sound of my phone impacting the window. I left it there on the passenger’s side floor, not even looking to see if the screen had shattered.
Once I’d cooled down, I reviewed our records from that morning, trying to crowd Carcelli’s thoughts out of my head. I downloaded the raws off my Zelmír box and scrolled through, patiently, until finally I heard the telltale buzz. We’d caught one. It was a little one, just a hummer, they called them. A simple, tuneless series of discordant hums creeping through the ambient audio. Five notes repeated twice.
In the early days of Boltzmen-hunting online, we’d felt like we were performing séance as much as science. There was some strange mysticism to it, the art of capturing fleeting, spontaneously-generated consciousnesses. They could make sounds. They could speak human languages—some of the bigger ones seemed to speak dozens. They rattled and chattered and mostly just made gibberish, but sometimes the strings of words they exhaled had an odd kind of poetry.
That morning, Alec and I had captured one that simply murmured six roses six roses six roses in a low, agender voice before it fizzed away to nothing.
Someone knocked softly on my door. Probably my mother. Dad’s knocks were always more stern. I ignored her, capturing and cataloguing each of the voices that Alec and I had stepped through in our exploration at Sky Harbor. We’d found eight, all told. Eight consciousnesses that existed and then ceased to exist, either drawn to or generated by the deep, heavy concrete of the airstrip.
I opened up my email client and started typing a message, attaching all the audio recordings one by one. I’d point out to Carcelli that if we could hear the audio, there must be something more. If these brains could speak language, we couldn’t write them off as dead. Or… as having never lived.
It’s like the spiders, I typed. You showed me the study on those jumping spiders. The ones that can track their prey even when it moves out of their line of sight. They have so few neurons. Their brains shouldn’t be capable of it. For years, we thought fish couldn’t feel pain because their brains are not complex enough. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean
I buried my face in my hands. My thoughts weren’t coming out clearly. And I could already hear Dr. Carcelli’s rebuttals in my head: people argued that spiders weren’t conscious, not that they weren’t alive in the first place.
When the second knock came at my door, I could tell it was Alec. I let him in. He found me slumped at my desk, glowering at my monitor, no closer to debating Carcelli onto my side than I’d been before.
“Hey.” His big, warm hand settled on my shoulder. He squeezed. “I get it, you know.”
“Like hell.” I shrugged his hand off me. “You stopped coming with me for years. You only came back because they’re tearing up the airstrip. Like you said, you’ve got a job. And a wife.”
“Yeah, well.” He took a step back. “That is what happens when people get to be thirty. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”
“So you understand, but you don’t give enough of a poo poo to help me?”
He stepped around the side of my computer chair so I could look him in the face. Since getting back from our hunt, he’d showered, combed his blond hair over to one side. He looked tired. And now that I was yelling at him, kind of annoyed.
“I’ve been getting up at three in the morning to help you all week.” His face twitched like he was trying not to scowl. “I don’t know what else you want from me.”
“Talk to people! Talk to your work! You’re a lawyer, for gently caress’s sa—”
“I’m not that kind of lawyer.”
I folded my arms across my chest, sinking into the glower of a person who knows they’ve lost an argument but can’t stop beating against the wall regardless. I just needed to get it out. Needed to purge it from my system.
“I bet you know some of that kind. The kind who could talk to the Council, who have influential friends.”
To my surprise, Alec sighed quietly, backing off. “Maybe.” Something in his face changed a little. “Look, I’ll see who I can talk to. Just… I think you need to understand, nobody’s saying the Boltzmen aren’t important. But holding back progress for them when nobody can prove they feel pain or exist for longer than a few fleeting seconds is… hard.”
“gently caress progress.” I shot up out of my chair, hiked up my hood, and trudged over to my bed. “Guess it won’t be the first time they tear down something beautiful to put up more loving condos.”
I threw myself into bed, rolling onto my side, and showed Alec my back. I knew he probably didn’t deserve the next few words, but the thing about anger is that it has momentum.
“I get it,” I snarled. “You used to be real. You used to get it. Now you’re the guy who lives in the condos. So now it’s holding back progress.”
I heard the door latch quietly as he exited, refusing to rise to my bait.
My phone pinged a few times, but I was determined to sleep all afternoon. A week of early, early starts made that easier than anticipated. The day passed in a haze of frustration. I dreamed on and off of fat-bellied planes taking off and landing and taking off and landing.
Finally, I couldn’t ignore it. My phone was chiming again, this time the persistent trio of notes that informed me it was about to die. The Accidentals made those little chimes sound much prettier.
Wait… my phone. It occurred to me embarrassingly late that I’d left it in the car. Alec must have brought it up for me. And then I’d all but exorcised him from the room in my anger. My cheeks pinkened a little as I heaved up out of bed, searching for where he’d put it.
He’d left it on my bedside table. A fine spiderweb of cracks now crept across the screen.
But through the cracks, I saw that there were new messages waiting. Several, in fact. A few of my Accidental-hunting friends had all linked me to the same website: a petition about the upcoming condominiums at Riverwalk Estates.
Whatever it was, it was gaining traction. All the big Facebook groups were discussing it, and people on my Twitter feed kept tagging The Stranger, begging them to dig into it further.
Annoyed with the cracks on my phone, I slid into my computer chair and opened it up on the big monitor.
RIVERWALK ESTATES: HAUNTED? DEMAND THE CITY COUNCIL INVESTIGATE THE VOICES RECORDED AT SKY HARBOR AIRSTRIP.
A local lawyer by the name of Alec Cass had launched the petition on behalf of himself and a half-dozen prospective buyers at Riverwalk Estates, expressing concern that the site of their proposed homes was subject to unexplained phenomenon. The coalition of would-be residents were demanding a thorough study be concluded on the grounds, pointing out that as the airstrip was laid down in the forties, chances were that the government of the time hadn’t put any thought into an archaeological survey beforehand.
If it isn’t ghosts, it’s these things they call Boltzmen, the petition read. Unexplained floating brains attracted to concrete? I don’t know about you, but all these condos will need driveways. The neighborhood will need roads. I can’t move my family in here until I know it’s safe. I don’t want to wake up to a floating brain in my bedroom at night! I’m calling on the Council and Riverwalk Developers to do what’s right and investigate this place, to ensure it’s safe for people moving in.
I watched in real time as the ticker of signatures up at the top grew to a few dozen. Then over a hundred. Accidental-hunters caught on in a hurry. And the general public, well, they’re full of nutters like my brother who purport to believe in ghosts.
This time, I called Carcelli and left a voicemail on his office line.
“Dr Carcelli.” I felt more sure of my words. “You’ve probably seen the petition going around. Look, it’s got me thinking. What if we’re going about this the wrong way? You remember that study you showed me, with the spiders? Where somehow, despite their eyes and brains not being complex enough to do so, jumping spiders remember where their prey is? You were theorizing they had a distributed network of neurons in their legs. That someday, we’d understand why they can ‘think’ things that should be too complex for them to grasp. Maybe I’m wrong about the Accidentals being conscious. But maybe we can run a study like that ourselves, just to show these idiots they aren’t ghosts.”
Maybe there’d be funding in that.
It was harder with Alec. The words didn’t come so easy. I settled on a simple, single-word thanks. Then, because that seemed way too sappy, I added a minute later: for bringing me my phone.
Cool stuff: Whale fall, Boltzmann brains, experimental aircraft.
|# ? May 24, 2020 23:59|
That is the submission deadline!
However, it has come to my attention that, despite several prods, the Americans got confused by UTC. I put it in place to be easier to coordinate but that's apparently thrown some internal clocks out. SO, the sub deadline will be closed ... some time this afternoon, when I get around to it. If you ain't in, you're living on borrowed time.
Make it count.
|# ? May 24, 2020 23:59|
Kalilah had hoped that, in her dark heavy robes and mask of ebony and bone, she would be intimidating enough that no one would bother her on the caravan ride to Amnakrie. She was trying to stay hidden, after all. It mostly worked. She rode her aepyornis near the back of the convoy and glared a lot, and most of the traders and travelers with her on the caravan made the sign of the Risen God and stayed away. They assumed she was a priestess of the Buried One, and she did nothing to dissuade that assumption.
Her riding bird, however, was none-to-pleased with this arrangement, nor the bone decorations and black linen that clashed with his bright crimson and saffron feathers. It kept people from ruffling his feathers and feeding him treats, the kind of attention he relished. On the eighth day of the convoy, as Amnakrie City’s grand stone spires came into view among the shimmering dunes, her aepyornis threw her off his saddle and then ran in a circle squawking loudly and flapping his wings while Kalilah spit out mouthfuls of sand.
It was hard to be intimidating when you were sprawled on the desert.
One of the men of the caravan took the opportunity to talk to Kalilah.
“Quite the temper on that bird. I suppose when you rent one, you take the chance,” he said, offering her a hand.
Kalilah scowled, ignored the hand, and put her mask back on before rising. “He’s mine,” she muttered. It preened itself, then gave a triumphant cry before finally allowing her to mount up again.
“Oh! Well, you know what they say about riding birds.”
“Not interested,” Kalilah said.
“Well,” he said, “if you ever want some tips, my father was a master of training them. Trained half the calvary of King Yacoub, you know.” His tone was sincere—the condescension seemed unintentional. He mounted up on his own bird—a beautiful male with gold and ivory patterns—and kept pace beside her. “My name’s Ameer. I noticed you don’t seem to talk much, or I’d have introduced myself earlier.”
Kalilah fixed him with a masked glare and said nothing.
“So what brings you out to the Kingdom of Amnakrie?”
After eight days of riding through winding sandstone canyons and hot dunes, Kalilah was tired. She didn’t intend to answer, but her words came spilling out anyways. “An old lover asked me to.”
“Ah!” Ameer said, grinning. “Love! How romantic. Who’s the lucky man? Perhaps I know him. Especially if he lives near the oasis district.” Ameer gestured at the cluster of the tallest spires. “You can see the Lapis Palace itself from here. When we’re a mile off, the gold and blue spires will flash in the sun. The polished marble had to be dragged across the dunes, stone by stone, but oh is it magnificent!”
Kalilah clamped her jaw shut at the question about her lover. She wasn’t stupid enough to answer that, even in a moment of weakness. Besides, Ameer mostly just seemed to like talking.
“But I get carried away. I’ve been away from the city too long, and whenever that happens, I yearn for it. So who is the young man?”
“No one. And I’m a fool for coming here. At least I’ll get to see Kasmir’s Archives.”
“Oh, you’re a historian? I fancy myself one. If there’s anything you wish to know about Amnakrie’s history…?”
Kalilah knew quite a lot about Amnakrie’s history, but this was not the time for a discussion about it. Besides, something on a dune north of them had caught her eye. It was like glass glinting in the bright sun.
She squinted. It was a bit of glass. Obsidian. A spearhead.
Ameer’s eyes followed her gaze, then they grew wide. “Bandits,” he hissed. He kicked his riding bird, who squawked and sprinted forward. “Bandits!” he cried. “To arms! To arms!”
As the crest of the dune filled with silhouettes, Kalilah thought there wasn’t much point to making a fuss about it. There were a dozen guards against fifty bandits, heavily armed with bows and spears.
Ameer came circling back, having whipped everyone from the head of the column into a frenzy. “Can you do anything to help?” he asked, eyes wild.
Yes, she thought. “No,” she said. “I wasn’t planning on laying down my life to protect other people’s silk and gold.”
Across the caravan, the guards had also seen sense. They’d waved their weapons around dramatically, but had gotten disarmed and surrendered remarkably fast. Five men had spears lowered and had peeled off to approach Kalilah and Ameer.
“Surrender,” one called.
Kalilah looked about. Ameer was watching her intently. Something was wrong about this ambush. In front of them, the bandits were making a big show of rummaging around in the saddlebags, but it felt wrong. Several archers had bows nocked and pointed in her direction. Each was kneeling in a pose. They were disciplined.
She dismounted, putting herself between the men and her bird. “Very well. I surrender.”
The lead man hesitated. Then he glanced at Ameer, then back at Kalilah. “Kill her,” he said.
Kalilah started her spell. She had been traveling in secret so that she wouldn’t have to summon the spirits of the dead, but hiding was not what she was good at. Necromancy was.
With a gesture, her bone mask animated, and a horrid spirit erupted from it, screaming as it charged the guards. Three of them fell on their asses in the sand, while the fourth screamed back and tried stabbing it. It passed through them, causing them to shiver—because it was a mere spirit. Harmless, unless bound to something of substance, which required time—the more time the better. Still, it bought Kalilah a precious moment. Unfortunately, the desert was not the jungles of her home. It was barren, striped of life and souls. There was little to work with. Decades ago, the road builders had stumbled on a nest of glass-tail lizards. The bones of those reptiles still lingered in the sand. She summoned them now.
With hisses, the four of them squirmed up from the sand, their two feet long tails tipped with a glass-like scale that could cut through bone. At Kalilah’s direction, they charged. She directed their tails to work with precision—snapping spear hafts and cutting at the legs of her assailants. As they charged up the hill, Kalilah bound other spirits to the sand, creating a shifting wall. The arrows of archers on the dune disappeared into it.
“It’s her!” Ameer called. “And thank Umnah’s Eye of Sun. I was worried. Take her!”
At that call, the bandits turned as one from the caravan and formed up into units. At the top of the hill, five more figures emerged, clutching hour-glasses filled with the Radiant Sands of Umnah. Magi. And they’d leashed a sand djinn.
Kalilah’s sand barrier scattered to the wind as the rocks around her transformed into stone hands that grabbed her wrists and dragged her to the ground. Rocks and stone spells tore up her lizards, and then the false bandits arrived, and she and her bird were both dragged away.
Ameer met her in her cell where the magical stone shackles held her. He was dressed in fine blue and gold silks, wearing Amnakrie’s heraldry.
“When my spies told me that the Kalilah of the Jungle’s Heart was coming to Amnakrie, I must say, I wasn’t sure if I should feel joy or fear. I didn’t think capturing you would be so easy.”
Kalilah glared at him.
“Finding you was harder. I’m impressed you evaded me right up until that last caravan. But now I have questions for you.”
“That depends on if my bird is safe,” Kalilah said.
Ameer ignored her. “Where is the Urn of Umnah’s First? King Yacoub was quite cross when your band of criminals stole it from him.”
“The Order of Umnah are heretics, and the true Eye of the Sun glares at you in distain each day. May your oasis evaporate,” she spat.
Ameer adjusted the lapis and bronze rings on his hands, then backhanded her, drawing lines of blood across her cheek. “Perhaps we’ll start with an easier question. Why did you come to Amnakrie? And don’t tell me a lover. Nor do I believe you have any interest in Kasmir’s Archives.”
“Then I won’t lie to you,” she said.
The man looked at her face, seizing her jaw with his bejeweled hand. He pulled it back and forth, as if her neck were some puzzle box he just needed to study and twist about to solve.
Kalilah looked at the cell. They were deep beneath the earth, below Amnakrie’s Palace. Here, the rock was full of layers of slate and sandstone. As they’d dragged her here, she’d seen the endless rows of cells. Most were empty now, though she felt the souls that were still trapped in them.
And before that…
Ameer stared into her eyes. “You are not broken yet. There is one thing that breaks all the people that come here. Time. The human spirit does not do well alone. When you are ready to scream for mercy, I will come back, and you will answer my questions. I am a very patient man.”
He let go of Kalilah’s head. “Take me to King Yacoub.”
“Yes, Spymaster Ameer.” The guard bowed deeply.
A magical door of stone rose from the earth, sealing the cell as he left. Kalilah closed her eyes and breathed in the stagnant air.
After ten days of feeding the prisoner only gruel and water, she finally screamed. Ameer smiled when the guard brought him the news. He adjusted his lapis rings and strolled down through the dungeons.
He nodded at the sand-mage guarding the door. “Open it,” he said.
Kalilah sat, still bound in her shackles, but he didn’t like the contemptuous, relaxed posture she had taken. Still, it was her last tear-drop of dignity. He would desiccate that too if needed.
“You are ready to talk,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “I am ready to accept your surrender.”
“Come now,” Ameer said, sighing.
“You know, I really did want to visit Kasmir’s Archives,” Kalilah said. “I studied Amnakrie’s history quite extensively. Did you know, for example, that before the Order of Umnah took power, these tunnels were catacombs, not prisons.”
Ameer blinked. “Are you actually going to start blathering about trivia to me?”
“Oh, it’s quite relevant. People are lazy. There were a lot of bones to move, and the workers didn’t bother with all of them. And there are a lot of restless spirits down here. A lot.” Kalilah smiled. “All good necromancy requires is spirits, time, and bones. But of course, the Order of Umnah banned necromancy, so you don’t know a drat thing about it. How fortunate for me.”
Ameer blinked again, and then his heart dropped. “Oh no.”
From the sandstone walls around them and from the ground beneath their feet, bones erupted. They blazed with blanched-jade spirit-light. Their skulls grinned with rictus fury.
“SEAL IT!” Ameer cried, but the sand-mage was already beset by minions. The skeletons were pouring out of the walls, ripping up the floors, even dripping from the ceilings. There were dozens, no hundreds of them, swarming the place. In horror, Ameer realized why the northern continent feared one name, and then he was torn apart.
The grand doors of stone sealing off the dungeon-catacombs came crumbling down, and Kalilah marched through them, torn robes billowing. Her little army of skeletons swarmed through the palace, knocking over guards, smashing through their formations effortlessly. The soldiers who surrendered, she left in little bone cages.
She burst through the doors of the throne-room, where King Yacoub sat, trembling on his throne. Beside him, his queen sat with her head bowed.
As Kalilah’s skeleton army swarmed the royal guards and magi and tore apart the sand-djinn, she examined the throne room. “Nice,” she said, “but a bit gauche. There are other colors besides gold and blue, you know.” She cleared her throat. “We need to talk.”
King Yacoub gulped. “If you stand your skeletons down—”
“Not you, sand-licker,” Kalilah said, and plastered a muzzle of bone around the king’s face. She turned to the woman beside the throne. “Queen Saniyah.”
Saniyah looked at up at her, golden eyes standing out from her dark face. “You came,” she said.
“Of course I came,” Kalilah said. “I never stopped loving you.”
Tears formed in Saniyah’s eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought I could do what was best, by following the duty to my family.”
“I know,” the necromancer replied softly. “But now you see what I saw.”
“I couldn’t bear it any longer,” she said. “I… I tried. When my family married me to Amnakie, we thought it could change the heart of this kingdom.”
“The heart of the kingdom is not the problem, Saniyah. I have spoken to its heart.” She turned to King Yacoub. “Spirits, after all, are not so different than the person they were in life. They are simply more of their raw self, steered not by their consciousness nor the laws that bound them, but by their emotions, and the experiences that form their core. Do you know, o king, how I am able to control so many spirits?”
His face had grown pale. Muzzled by the bones on his face, he did not answer.
“They spoke to me of their lives, and when I asked, they came to me willingly.” She turned back to Saniyah. “As I ask you now, as I asked you before. Will you come with me?”
Saniyah’s golden eyes were brimming with tears. “You’d really forgive me? After I abandoned you?”
“You never left me, Saniyah. And I never left you. Do I not still have a place next to your heart?”
The queen nodded, and stepped forward. The two embraced. Then, hand in hand, they departed.
As she stepped from the throne room, Kalilah turned. “As for you, I will leave your fate to your former subjects. I release their spirits from my control. If your reign was just, you have nothing to fear.” Then she turned, and sealed the throne room doors.
They found Kalilah’s riding bird squawking loudly in the royal stables, crimson and blue feathers flashing bright as it scolded a stable hand. Some dozen skeletons surrounded by blazing death-light were still following Kalilah, so the guards were quite amenable to handing over the aepyornis.
“Little Feather!” she called at the agitated bird. “I brought you a friend.”
Saniyah laughed. “You still call him that?”
“You named him,” she said, watching as Little Feather nuzzled up to Saniyah, content to let her hands run through his breast-feathers.
Then, they mounted up and departed, away from Amnakrie, as spirits flickered and danced behind them.
|# ? May 25, 2020 00:45|
Prompt - Sexy Trickster Fox Spirits
Prompt 2 - Detective Noir
Tea and Regrets
I know we're at the right place from the broken door, yellow tape hastily tied off around the handle in a vain attempt to keep it shut, the smell of death slinking through the opening like an uninvited guest. The knot is easy enough to untie, cheap plastic crinkling for a bit before I get it loose and step inside, letting Suzie tie it back into place before she joins me. Best to not have any guests while snooping around a corpse's flat.
Abe is still in the kitchen, face-down in a puddle of tea, the broken cup laying next to a broken expression. Just at a glance you couldn't tell what had happened to the guy, no blood on the floor, no obvious signs of struggle. It isn't until I lift the haori at the back that it hit me, stench and all.
Large, gaping, scabbed-up holes in his back, near his stomach, right over his chest. Kidneys, liver, heart. Been that way for a few days now at least, given the maggots already going to town. He'd just been left here, letting the defilement build in the house like a great fat cloud settling in and stinking up the place.
“One of yours?” I look over my shoulder to where Suzie is sitting, a good two feet above the ground. Her four tails drifting lazily underneath her like wispy clouds on a spring day, her blouse buttoned up and two sizes too small. Her legs crossed, stockings showing just enough skin to be passable in public, feet tapping along to a silent rhythm. That dainty hand touching her chin as she plays at inspecting the victim, golden eyes peering down as her tawny ears twitch.
“Liver and kidneys would be a Gumiho,” She says, her voice belonging on a stage. “But the heart, that's a jilted lover. This man had a history.”
“We all do, Suzie. Comes with the job.”
I look around the apartment. Fairly standard place, all things considered. Old black-and-white on a shelf next to the balcony door, kotatsu set up in front of it with another cup resting on the far side, red spider lilies in a pot by the window. The sunset was coming in hard, leaving the place with an orange glow, the shadows long and harsh on the floor. The cicadas outside were still going at it, their echoing cries drowning out everything else in the world.
So why did he have a kotatsu in summer? And who was his guest?
The room went cold. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled up. Everything slowed, and the glitter of blued gunmetal danced just outside the broken door before the pistol crack tore everything apart.
It'd been a slow week when the job walked through my door, and I honestly should have known better when I first laid eyes on it.
I was at the desk, filing away another rogue yokai case. Kid had found an old umbrella in a storeroom, said he started hearing voices, the Imperial Court referred the family to me to solve it. Turns out it'd been in there for longer than anyone knew, back to the old warring states, and was hoping to take the kid's soul and find it's long-dead owner. Good thing for the kid, I found out before anything bad could happen, sealed the spirit and sent it up to the Court.
Bad thing for me, they were poor. Charity work, I told them. Another lean week, I told Suzie.
Suzie was busying herself being...well, Suzie. She was teasing Harold, the pet hamster, by poking her claws in at either side of the cage. Frightened the poor thing to death, had it running around, but she'd just laugh it off with that sweet laugh of hers. “I love it when they're afraid,” She'd practically sing before floating towards me, that blouse resting on my shoulder. I could feel her warmth through the fabric, and I bit my lip to keep from blushing. I can feel her fingers in my messy brown hair, her teeth near my ear, hot like the summer sun. “I also like it when they're shy...”
And the job walked through the door like a cool breeze.
Tall, leggy, wearing a navy silk dress worth a month's pay with a slit that'd be impolite in good company, mink on the collar and a hat that covered most of her face, only showing those dark red lips. Skin pale enough to hide in a blizzard, feet crammed into heels that'd make heads turn.
“Am I interrupting something?” Her voice was lined with ice and sharp enough to cut right to the point.
Suzie drifted off me with a grumble. “Welcome to the Otakemaru Detective Agency,” She says, the bite in her voice enough to send a chill down my spine but cordial and professional.
“I heard you're good at your jobs.”
“We do what we can, miss,” I said, standing up and adjusting my vest and tie. “How can we help?”
She paused for a bit, looking around, those eyes unseen under the brim of that ridiculous hat. “A friend of mine's gone missing, and I'm afraid something dreadful might have happened.” She says, keeping that cold tone as Suzie pulls out a notebook from...somewhere, and starts taking notes.
“We'll find him, Miss,” I said, taking another long look at the woman. “Can you tell me when you last saw him? Any details can help.”
“Though,” Suzie piped up. “We will have to ask for an advance.”
The dame left, and Suzie closed the door.
“I knew him,” I said, watching my assistant walk towards me, hips swaying. She placed the cup of tea next to me, that smile on her lips soft and understanding. “We studied together under Seimei himself. Not really friends, though. Guy kept getting drunk, ending up in some broad's house, robes always a drat mess, but he was a prodigy. Even did a study abroad in Korea while I got stuck filing scrolls at the Palace.”
“Now, he's an Imperial Court Onmyo, while I washed out and ended up here.”
“And now he's dead,” Suzie said with a grin, teeth white and sharp. “And you're a detective. I'd say that you came out on top here.”
I glared at the fox spirit, and she glared right back, daring me to say something back to her. But I relented, sighing and letting my shoulders relax. “It's a setup,” I said. “I can feel it.”
Her hand is on my shoulder, and I can smell the camellia on her perfume. “Then let's not disappoint them.”
The bullet stops in midair and melts to slag on the floor under Suzie's gaze, her ears aflame as that leggy dame walks in through the door, gun leveled at me. Despite the size of the cannon she's holding it with one hand, like a walk in the park.
“It screamed setup, you know, real amateur stuff,” I say, adjusting my haori, checking my sleeves for my talismans as she stops. Spider-webs of frost reached out from her feet, meeting that wall of heat that Suzie was putting off. “But I'd love to know why you ate your contractor before this all goes down.”
She looks past me to that man's corpse and I can feel the chill in her gaze. “He was seeing someone else,” She says, that icy tone cracking for the first time.
Well, that was Abe. Messy robes, different beds. Goddamn idiot.
“Said she was just a trainee. It didn't mean anything, It didn't MATTER.” I can feel the wood straining under the force of her words. “Well, it Matters NOW, Huh?!” Another gunshot, this time hitting Abe's corpse, the lifeless figure jerking on the ground as she laughs, shrill and broken, almost barking.
That's right, focus on the corpse, don't mind me.
I feel the paper between my fingers. Her hand shakes, that gun barrel dancing in the sunset. “Such a sad story,” I say, drawing her attention back to me. “Rival Onmyo-for-hire has his pet eat him in a fit of rage, then commits suicide in grief. Not like it matters, right?”
She grins and I can see the blood on her teeth. “That's right.” Her voice goes higher, cracking. Her teeth grow longer as she begins to lose it. “By the time anyone wises up, I'll be back home across the sea. Find a little village to stalk. Find another husband...”
I speak her name and she burns like the Sun, and the two spirits clash in a whirlwind of tooth and claw, frost and fire. Icy is strong, and recently fed, her hat blown away to reveal those pointed ears and that snow-white hair, face twisting into a wild muzzle. But she's nothing compared to a Goddess. She's losing quickly, desperately swiping at Suzuka, claws gouging the air as she screams loud enough to shake the windows.
While she's distracted, my talisman flies and finds the mark, slapping onto her shoulder. And it's done.
I head over to where the snow fox is huddled on the floor, the talisman sticking to her side, keeping her sealed and sleeping. “I'll call it in, let the Court know. Maybe actually get paid for this fiasco...” I said, turning to look at Suzie, seeing if she's alright. Her hand comes up and the claw brushes past my cheek. I feel blood welling on the skin. Her teeth shine in the sunset as the flames recede, and I reach down to cup her cheek with my hand. Her eyes are hungry.
“Fine,” I say, unable to resist those damned eyes, stuck like a hamster in a cage. “You like when they're shy, right?”
She pulls me in for a kiss, and I sink down, hand on the floor to keep from falling on top of her. “Not here,” I hiss back, and she pouts. “Come on, there's a corpse, a bound spirit and who knows how many cops on their way.”
“Yes, sir,” She huffs, sliding away from me, once again the proper businesswoman. “But you owe me dinner, too. That new steak place on Fifth should do.”
“Well, the Court should pay a pretty figure for a spirit like this, so we can afford it.” I pick up the snow fox and head out of the apartment, careful to take the stairs and duck into the alley back to the office, Suzie floating behind me as we blend into a city of spirits as the sun dips below the rooftops.
“Hey,” I say, the bundle in my arms cold to the touch.
“Yes?” Suzie says, still at my shoulder.
“Asking for the advance was good work,” I reply. “We'll get wine, too, to celebrate.”
I feel her pat me on the head. “Romantic,” She teases, and I feel my cheeks go red.
Hopelessly trapped. I book it back to the office with a smile on my face for the first time in what feels like too long, my assistant Goddess behind me.
|# ? May 25, 2020 02:14|
Alright, there's your grace period, submissions are proper closed.
|# ? May 25, 2020 06:22|
CDVII Results: it's ... fine.
Gonna be honest with y’all, I wasn’t super impressed with this week. I thought doing something looser would encourage people to take bigger risks. I was after something genrebendy and kinetic and fun like the phenomenal Hammers on Bone, but instead I got … a bunch of nervously-assembled stories that sort of felt like folks ticking boxes. Lots of people talking in circles while nothing happened. Stories where the flash rules felt more like a straightjacket.
An important developmental moment for a lot of writers is when they learn to silence the inner voice that says the things they enjoy are lame and I wanted to help y’all develop that.
I’m not sure we got there.
On the plus side, we decided there was no loser or HMs this week. Nothing was bad and we didn’t feel it was appropriate to losertar any of the pieces this week, there was just a great big expanse of “okay, that happened.”
A week of 5/10, the great soggy middle, which accumulated on the judges’ skin.
Despite all that, there were standouts. SittingHere’s Sudoku felt a little vague at times but the prose was gorgeous and it created a tremendous sense of momentum and place, and that managed to snag an HM.
There was one genuinely super tight story in this week which shone like a diamond in a coal mine: it’s weird as gently caress, it’s got great prose, it felt like it would’ve been a lot of fun to write. Congratulations to Anomalous Blowout for taking the win with Just Passing Through.
|# ? May 27, 2020 02:02|
THUNDERDOME WEEK 408 - WELCOME TO THE BONE ZONE
The adult human body has a nice, evenly-distributed 206 bones. Some critters have more. Some have less. Children have a strange and indeterminate amount. Oh, to be a child and have an ever-changing, mercurial bone count.
Your prompt this week is bones. Specifically, everyone who signs up will be assigned a bone or type of bone. Your bone need not be human. It need not be the only bone. Go hog wild with the bones. I will be inclined to favour stories that make creative, prominent use of their bones. However, there is one special rule this week, and that is the bones in your story cannot be reanimated skeletons because frankly that is too easy and I expect more of you all. I don't want to read 15 stories about skeletons walking around doing dumb poo poo. Find more interesting ways to make your bones sing.
You will have 1222 words to tell me your bone story, but if you ask for a flash rule, you can have 1500. Your flash rule will be a secret Bone Fact or piece of Bone Lore and you can interpret it however you like.
Sign-ups are due 11:59pm PST on Friday, 29th May. Stories are due 11:59pm PST on Sunday, 31st May.
BONERS OF THE WEEK:
Anomalous Blowout fucked around with this message at 04:30 on May 27, 2020
|# ? May 27, 2020 03:29|
|# ? May 27, 2020 03:30|
I’m in and I NEED a Secret Bone Lore flash
|# ? May 27, 2020 03:39|
I'm judge, also toxx to crit all stories in the week just gone by subs close
|# ? May 27, 2020 03:44|
In and flash.
|# ? May 27, 2020 03:54|
Ironic Twist fucked around with this message at 03:57 on May 27, 2020
|# ? May 27, 2020 03:55|
Your bone is the mandible. Your bone fact is: Some cultures find it immensely disrespectful if you DON'T wear the bones of your ancestors.
I’m in and I NEED a Secret Bone Lore flash
Your bone is the floating rib. Your bone fact is: Babies begin life with over 300 bones, which then slowly fuse into the regular 206 adult humans have. Little else is known about what else babies lose as they age.
Your bone is the pelvis. Your bone fact is: Bones vibrate at a frequency that is all their own.
In and flash.
|# ? May 27, 2020 04:29|
in, gimme dat bone secret
|# ? May 27, 2020 04:44|
|# ? May 27, 2020 04:49|
I am your third bone judge.
|# ? May 27, 2020 05:33|
|# ? May 27, 2020 10:50|
|# ? May 27, 2020 11:25|
in and flash
|# ? May 27, 2020 11:47|
In and flash.
When I told my SO about this week's theme he said, "That should be humerus." This is the help I get.
|# ? May 27, 2020 14:05|
Give me a bone please.
|# ? May 27, 2020 14:39|
In 'er like a sinner, wearin my flash like a sash
|# ? May 27, 2020 15:23|
In, throw me a bone.
|# ? May 27, 2020 16:33|
I’m back and in.
|# ? May 27, 2020 20:09|
I'd like to try, I'm in.
|# ? May 28, 2020 07:42|
in, gimme dat bone secret
Your bone is the patella.
Your bone fact: Be careful. If someone catches a glimpse of your bones, even for medically necessary reasons, they have a certain power over you.
Your bone is a single vertebra.
Your bone fact: It is possible to transplant the bones of the dead into the bones of the living, but there are often consequences.
Your bones are hollow bird bones.
Your bone is an entire skull.
Your bone fact: It is said that the bones of the cat weigh nothing. That's how they can catch birds.
in and flash
Your bones are knucklebones.
Your bone fact: Every bone in the body has its own name in a language we don't speak.
In and flash.
Your bone is the sternum.
Your bone lore: Drink your milk if you want strong bones. But whatever you do, don't drink too much. You won't like what that does to them.
Your bone is the femur.
In 'er like a sinner, wearin my flash like a sash
Your bone is the coccyx.
Your bone lore: When you break a bone, sometimes the things in your marrow can sneak out.
In, throw me a bone.
Your bone is an entire ribcage.
I’m back and in.
Your bone is a broken bone, any kind of broken bone.
I'd like to try, I'm in.
Your bones are the phalanges of the toes.
I only gave flashes to folks who specifically asked for them, so if any new folks wanted a flash rule, post again to confirm that.
|# ? May 29, 2020 01:01|
I'm out on a walk right now so if anyone wants to sign up late you've got until whenever I get back to my house.
|# ? May 30, 2020 06:51|
sure I'll take a flash
|# ? May 30, 2020 06:55|
ill sign up and ask 4 a flash
no way my last run here is a loss/dm streak
|# ? May 30, 2020 08:25|
Sign-ups are closed! I'll grab you two some flashes after dindin.
Moon, your bone is a scapula.
|# ? May 30, 2020 08:37|
sure I'll take a flash
Ground-up bones may not have the medicinal properties people hoped they would, but they have certain other properties that are less easily understood.
ill sign up and ask 4 a flash
Sometimes the bones of the bear wake up from hibernation before the rest of the bear does.
|# ? May 30, 2020 08:58|
|# ? Oct 7, 2022 21:37|
Brawl Judge for yoruichi vs take the moon
Oh boy, yoruichi, you’ve worried about not having cool ideas before. This is a cool idea and an amazing take on the prompt.
Oh woops, I was supposed to be live reacting and I didn’t want to stop reading this.
The gently caress yoruichi? This came from you? I certainly know how capable of a writer you but sometimes you don’t see it yourself. This thing hit like a sack of bricks and you should be drat proud of it. Good take on the prompt (though I don’t see much of the flash in there) and efficient and poignant and all from a very nonhuman perspective.
take the moon’s SUN DOG
I know the disclaimer mentions for those who aren’t judging, but it’s still there, and I read it, and it annoyed me.
And uh, what the hell is this link? Do you want me to listen to this while I read?
You are not special and you don’t get to assume that people will do special things for you when reading your story. I’m gonna try and read this was an open mind but you’ve lost a lot of goodwill.
This is lofty and dreamy and not entirely parsable.
And that keeps going.
And now I am in full glaze mode.
This poo poo is purple as gently caress and I don’t know if you had any intention of it making much sense but it doesn’t to me.
Not much of a crit, I know, but it’s hard for me to make heads or tailes of much of any of this.
Not even close. Yoruichi wins this cleanly.
|# ? May 31, 2020 04:11|