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Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)


In. Magical safe-breaking.

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Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)


Together, Their Best Shot
Prompt: Magical safe-breaking
1998 words


The plaza was full of anticipation. Merchant prince Zendar Grimm walked in front of the humongous safe, silencing the crowd.

"Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary people. I am here to announce the Third Annual Open Safe Bounty by Grimm Corp. Every year, I am giving a bounty of ten million crowns to the person who could crack our latest, state-of-the-art safe, as well as a top security position in my company.

"Much of our breakthroughs in magical security have been a product of this competition. Mages from all walks of life have toiled for riches and glory, and we are happy to provide them the opportunity to prove themselves. A win-win situation, if you please. So, are you up to it?"

---

Mika looked at the safe. It was huge enough to store a dragon's hoard--he couldn't even fathom the logistical challenges involved in bringing the all-adamantite safe into the plaza. This would be his first time to participate, so he listened intently.

Grimm went over the rules. Over a seven-day period, each participant had one chance per day to crack the safe. Crack it and you win. That was it.

Mika spotted Ferlis in the crowd. His former thesismate was unabashedly wearing his Academy robes, having secured an Assistant Wizard position straight out of graduation and being the only one in their batch to do so.

Mika went over to him. "Shouldn't you be in the Tower?"

"My next class is still in two hours. Still haven't gotten a job, Mika?" Ferlis grinned. They had been thesis partners. Friends. "The Tower's always in need of more janitors. I'd be more than willing to endorse you."

"Last time I checked, an Assistant Wizard can't endorse anyone," Mika said, noting the change in Ferlis's grin. "Do you even teach, or do you just stand there awkwardly as the real Wizards perform the lecture?"

"At least I have a job."

"Pretty low-hanging fruit there, Ferlis. Sorry." Even with his rejoinder, Mika became acutely conscious of his clothes. Having dropped out of the Academy, he was forbidden to wear robes that marked him as a mage. For all that anyone cared, he could be a baker.

Ferlis was about to open his mouth when Grimm proclaimed the Third Annual Open Safe Bounty to begin. The crowd started lining up, eager to have a taste of the challenge. There were plenty of possible tries, enough that trial-and-error was a viable strategy.

"Let them try. I need to prepare for my lecture," Ferlis said, turning around with a dramatic swish of his cloak and walking away.

Mika felt a pang of envy. He should be wearing those robes with him. If not for what had happened. He swallowed his pride and joined the queue.

---

It was their thesis defense. Wizard Archibald sat as single panelist for Mika and Ferlis. They had been inseparable since their first year in the Academy. No one expected aristocratic Ferlis to bond with middle-class prodigy Mika (the son of a baker and an alewife), but after five long years they had conspired to present a thesis worthy of the prestigious Golden Mage prize.

"It's just you today, Wizard Archibald?" Mika said, as they readied the magi-tech contraption they designed and built.

"Yes, but don't think I'll be letting you off the hook that easily," Archibald said, punctuating his last statement with a wink.

"Setup's done," Ferlis said. There was a certain shortness in his breath. He was uncharacteristically anxious today.

"We're ready, Wizard," Mika said.

"Then begin."

"The contraption before you is a financial intelligence magi-machine," Ferlis said, his warm voice suited for the demonstration. "It allows the user to have a timely and accurate overview of the world's financial markets, from stocks to bonds to commodities like Merlin trading cards."

"It's like financial news reports on magi-vision, but you can access it whenever and however you want," Mika said.

"I'm not much of a finance person myself," Archibald said. "Do you have calculators for, say, compound interest?"

"That was one of the first features we built, Wizard Archibald," Ferlis said. A smile was slowly forming on his bright face. He was in the zone, Mika thought. "Here, let me demonstrate."

He keyed in some values and pushed a button. The magi-visual display showed a neat breakdown of a portfolio's value over time, along with some eye-catching graphs that Mika was proud to have made.

Archibald pored over their paper. "Please continue."

Ferlis went through the features of their creation, with Mika filling in additional details. Right before the last feature, Mika noticed that his aetheric meter was acting strange, and he whispered to Ferlis.

"We're on the verge of passing and you want to open up the magi-machine?" Ferlis whispered back.

"Something's not right. We'll fail if it malfunctions."

"No." Ferlis hissed. "Maybe your meter's off. You should've replaced it like I told you."

"Is there a problem, young mages?" Archibald said, head tilted to the side.

"No, Wizard," Mika said. "We'll need to--"

"Proceed," Ferlis said, cutting Mika off. "Our last feature, historical reporting, can be accessed like this."

Mika held his tongue. Most of the time Ferlis was right, anyway. But his meter was acting up even more strongly than before. When he looked up, their magi-machine was lighting up in the wrong places.

The first blast of overcharged aether from the magi-machine split Wizard Archibald's table into two, narrowly missing the man. "Contain it!" he yelled, brandishing his staff and shielding the entire room, preventing any possible damage outside it.

"This can't be happening!" Ferlis said. He reached for his wand, but a crackle of aether sent it flying away.

"Ferlis!" Mika said, throwing himself at his friend as the magi-machine exploded. As the smoke and debris subsided, Mika saw that Wizard Archibald had shielded them as well.

"Failed," the Wizard said.


---

Mika opened his eyes. It was the third day. First two days were clear failures. He had had an idea to use a mage-in-the-middle attack for the second day, but the aetheric transport layer security held. He had not practiced magic since the accident, but he was starting to re-acclimate himself. He had not gone so far with Ferlis without skill or talent.

His phone rang. The tiny display showed a number and name he had not seen in a while. Ferlis.

"Why are you calling me?"

"To gloat at you," Ferlis said. He cleared his throat. "What's your progress?"

"I'm hitting the aetheric transport layer. What about you? Up to your favorite hobby of cracking passwords?" Ferlis used to try and pick every lock in the Tower and got lots of detention for it. It was a wonder how he managed to graduate just a year late.

"I've gotten to crack two. Two-and-a-half hours per password."

"You should try another tack."

A snort. "I don't get you. Cracking passwords is easier than what you're trying to do. Are you a masochist?"

"Maybe."

"Good luck, then."

"Did I hear that right?"

Ferlis sighed. "I'm not going to repeat myself. Goodbye."

The line went dead. "You could've let me return the favor," Mika said to the receiver.

---

Mika woke up to the sounds of Ferlis getting dressed up. He rubbed his chin and was half-surprised to feel the beginnings of a beard. His head throbbed. Oh, he had drunk himself into a stupor last night. Again.

"You should get water," Ferlis told him sideways. He was fussing with his hat. It just had to be crooked at a precise angle.

"Thanks."

Ferlis sighed. "And you should go to class with me. We can finish our thesis within another semester."

"Actually," Mika straightened himself and looked at Ferlis levelly, "I'm dropping out."

"What? After everything we've gone through? After everything you've done?"

"I screwed up, Ferlis. You wouldn't be delayed if not for me. I should've--"

"Stop." Ferlis pulled up a chair and sat down, his hat forgotten. "We've gone this over a thousand times. The blame is shared. Don't monopolize it. I should've listened to the meter, listened to you when you wanted to inspect the magi-machine."

"I don't want to be a mage anymore," Mika said. "I'm leaving the Tower tomorrow, and that's final."

Ferlis opened his mouth and closed it. He stood up, his fists clenched. "You'll regret this," he said. And he was gone.

Energized by their argument, Mika started to pack his things. He kept thinking whether he should show up in the registrar's office with his beard or not.


---

On the fifth day, Mika called Ferlis again.

"Any luck?"

"Hmph. There are seven layers of passwords I've cracked so far, and I don't know how deep that well goes."

"You're not going to make it."

Ferlis sighed. "Much as I hate to admit it, you're right. What about you?"

Mika explained all his efforts to sniff the aetheric packet and steal the key's credentials. They were all in vain.

"A valiant effort," Ferlis said, "though still incomplete. If you had actually graduated..."

"I'm not giving up," Mika said.

"Oh? A change of heart?"

"I guess I just didn't want to disappoint you again. And I guess I'm sick of playing Perfect Phantasm XIV at home."

Was that a glimmer in Ferlis's eye? "Let's meet at the coffee shop. It might be possible to synthesize our efforts."

"A collaboration?" It wasn't forbidden in the rules. But they would have to split the winnings between themselves, and most mages were a selfish lot.

"I'm rich," Ferlis said. "I don't need the gold, and I have a job already--someday I will be Head Wizard. I just want the challenge.

"And I thought I could run into you again."

"Okay. I'll go." There were a hundred different things Mika wanted to say. But they had a safe to crack together.

Ferlis smiled. "Be there in thirty. And shave that beard ."

---

True to Grimm Corp's expertise, the safe remained uncracked on the seventh day. The sun was beginning to set, heralding the contest's conclusion. Grimm was in his sharpest merchant prince robes, personally overseeing each entrant who stepped up and tried to crack his impregnable safe.

Mika and Ferlis were next in line, waiting at the bottom of the platform's stairs, ensuring that each mage would conduct their safe-breaking with a modicum of privacy.

The current entrant sighed as the safe displayed the words Access denied. Grimm smiled, shook the dismayed mage's hand, and sent him away.

"It's our turn," Ferlis said. He had that look in his face that Mika hadn't seen since their thesis defense.

"Ah, a partnership!" Grimm exclaimed. "How atypical. Please, show me what you can do."

Mika produced an arcane key out of his pocket. He inserted it into the lock, and together they recited an incantation.

The key glowed green, sending tendrils of aether into the safe's security routines. The on-board display glitched. Debug mode on, it said. The key started to vibrate, fighting the safe's countermeasures.

Open lock? Y/N

Right before Ferlis pushed the key, the screen changed again. Access denied. Mika pulled the key out--its tip was hot to the touch.

"Nice try!" Grimm said. "Almost got it. What are your names?"

"Ferlis Clarenet, Assistant Wizard of the Tower."

"Mika Octavier." He sighed. "Unemployed."

"You're unemployed?" Grim said, his brows furrowing. "Why don't you come to our office tomorrow? We'll draft you a lucrative job offer. What do you say, Mr. Octavier?"

"Can I work part-time?" Mika said. "I'd like to return to the Academy and finish my studies."

"If he had graduated, we would've definitely cracked your safe," Ferlis said, beaming.

"You mages and your love of titles," Grim said. "Come anyway. Let's work something out."

---

They walked back to the old coffee shop.

"Disappointed?" Mika said.

"Quite the opposite," Ferlis said. "I won't go easy on you in class, though."

"I expect nothing less."

"Welcome back."

Mika looked up to his friend. He would catch up to him, and they would walk together again.

Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)


Tanz! posted:

The other two judges state they will be expanding their crits in their own posts. However I am lazy and instead I am offering detailed crits to anyone who asks for one, that submitted this week. Just quote this post.

Me please, thanks.

Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)


In with a flash rule!

Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)


Creatures of the Coin
2217 words
Flash rule:


Butler quickly put on his stealth suit. A contact at the airport passed his gear through security, and it was full of things that would cause an international incident. The Conglomerate's reach was far and wide, and he was being paid handsomely to perform all sorts of jobs that good and decent men would balk at.

He had just finished suiting up when the door opened to reveal a colleague. "Mart? Boss's asking about you--" The man stopped mid-sentence, a dart embedded deep in his throat, fired from Butler's needler gun. Butler covered their distance quickly and grabbed the dying man as he fell forward, taking care not to be seen. He had worked with this man for a month as part of his cover. All that he felt about his kill was a number, a mental one filed at the very back of his brain, increase by one.

Time to speed up the operation. Someone would start getting suspicious after two men not returning from break. Butler checked the built-in altimeter on his watch. They were beginning their descent. He opened the door and fell into a sprint, his boots absorbing the sound. The optical camouflage was already in effect, rendering him invisible to security cameras.

He started making his way into the main cargo bay, where the object of interest was located. He ran past several groups of guards. The suit he was wearing was a prototype, but it made his job easier. Butler was a professional, and he preferred to go in quietly than loud and hot.

The main cargo bay was protected by a door requiring a keycard and an iris scan, and was protected by two guards. He drew his needler pistol and shot each guard with a nerve agent dart once. As the two men fell, Butler rolled and caught them, letting them down slowly. He pulled a keycard from one of the guards, swiped it, while preparing a contact lens for his right eye. Once the iris scanner booted up, Butler pressed a button on the neck of his suit, revealing his eyes. The contact lens managed to fool the system, and the door opened.

Butler entered the room, his augmented vision making sense of the view before him. A sentry gun mounted on a heavy tripod took notice of him, firing a burst of rubber bullets . Butler rolled behind a wooden crate, and readied his EMP gun. He bolted out of cover, took aim as the sentry gun took a second too late to reacquire him as a target, and fired. The sentry gun powered down, its internal circuits sparking from the localized EMP.

The cargo plane was now on high alert. Butler chucked a couple of concussion grenades through the door he had come from, and proceeded to the center of the room. He didn't even stop to confirm--the screams from the guards told him enough.

On a raised platform, there was a large coin perfectly balanced on its edge inside a glass case. Butler took an energy reading and there were no other further defense mechanisms. He sauntered over to the coin when he felt a dagger slide into his midsection with ease. A nondescript man appeared in front of him, having materialized from smoke. He wore what looked like an ancient version of Butler's stealth suit--all fabric and no technology.

"Go back to your Conglomerate masters. This prized coin is the treasured property of the Suzaku Clan."

Gritting his teeth, Butler pulled the throwing dagger out and flicked it at the man. He moved, and the dagger found its way into the wooden crate him. "I haven't killed a ninja before. You'll be the first."

He ran in with his needler gun, firing a burst of lethal darts. The ninja drew a short sword and deflected them all. He held his ground, denying Butler access to the coin. As Butler reloaded, the ninja retaliated with a burst of shuriken.

Butler rolled to evade. The ninja was suddenly in front of him, his sword swinging down. Butler raised his gun to block the blow, drawing a knife with his free hand and driving it down into the ninja's foot. The man winced in pain, but did not make a sound. He dropped the sword and Butler shot his neck with a dart.

"I expected better," Butler said, walking towards his objective as the ninja spasmed, the toxins quickly taking effect.

"You talk too much," the ninja mumbled, rebelling against the paralysis. Butler heard a loud click, and all hell went loose.

Explosions wracked the cargo plane, ripping it apart. The glass case shattered and the coin went flying through a gap in the fuselage, out of Butler's reach.

Butler uttered a curse. Without sparing his dying enemy another glance, he jumped out of the disintegrating plane. The heads-up display showed him the coin's trajectory, and he angled his body to follow its course.

"What's your status, Butler?" The operator's raspy voice was an unwelcome visitor into his comms.

"Pursuing the objective."

"This isn't like you. We need more details."

Butler winced. His stealth suit was applying medigel on his wound, as the memory fabric closed the tear made by the ninja's blade. "Switching to radio silence."

He would complete the mission.

---

Keiko spared a glance outside the Art Club Room's window. The sun was a bright orange ball, casting a warm glow on Keiko's model. Her eyes darted from her painting to her model, Takeuchi.

"Are you done, Honda?" The youth was gangly, far from the popular guys at school who smelled of grass and sweat. But Takeuchi had ditched his oversized nerd glasses in favor of contacts, and that made him cuter.

"I think I got the general likeness done. Would you like to see?"

"I don't know, I'm kinda shy."

Keiko rolled her eyes. "It's not going to attack you."

Grudgingly, Takeuchi walked over. "That's me? Are you sure you didn't take too much... artistic liberties?"

Keiko muttered the word idiot under her breath. "Let's just say that I have my own aesthetic. It's pretty late, though. I'll just finish this tomorrow."

"I get to sit still for an hour again?"

"Remember your prize," Keiko said, dangling the carrot in front of her friend. She had promised to buy him a copy of Creature Capturer Continental, which made this her only chance to make good memories with Takeuchi, as the boy would probably be stuck playing the game until graduation. That was in three months.

Takeuchi closed his hand into a fist. "Soon, I shall finally have you!"

Keiko felt a pang in her stomach. She smoothed her blouse over and swallowed a lump in her throat. "Wait for me outside the building? I just have to clean up. President's duty."

---

They began the long walk downhill. The pavement beckoned them to run free, to spend the fleeting moments of their youth away as college and other challenges lay ahead.

"I don't think I'm good enough," Keiko said, out of the blue.

"For art college? You got into the 90th percentile in the entrance exam," Takeuchi said. "Me, I dunno. I think I'll work at a video game store or something. That's about the only thing I'm good at."

Keiko wanted to yell at him. Instead she said the word idiot again, in that silent, long-suffering way. "You just have to find something you can do. That could keep you from starving."

"Like video games."

"I also meant in the physical sense," Keiko said, her exasperation mounting. "I mean, I don't know if I'll ever be successful as an artist. But I'll really give it everything I've got." There was a tremor in her voice. Her mother had little kind things to say about art, so much that she had to move to her uncle's apartment so that she could paint without someone demeaning her work every single day.

"You'll do fine," Takeuchi said, shifting the topic of conversation away from him. He was quite good at that.

Keiko opened her mouth to speak again when something fell in front of them. It was a large coin, and it bounced a few times before landing face-up at their feet. Keiko bent over to examine it. There was a majestic-looking bird on it, eerily lifelike.

"Looks like a game token or something," Takeuchi said.

Keiko heard a sound she had never heard before. It sounded like rain, but with steel instead of water. She had barely looked up when Takeuchi shoved her away. A scream accompanied the cacophony of steel hitting the ground.

She sat up, surveying the burning wreckage scattered around her. A car was impaled by a nasty metal spear, the inside of its windows covered in blood. Keiko frantically looked for her friend. Takeuchi lay face-down, half-buried underneath a torn metal structure. It seemed to be part of an airplane's fuselage--a memory from one of her old picture books that showed how machines looked like from the inside.

The coin was lying on the ground just out of Takeuchi's reach.

Keiko screamed her friend's name as she crawled to him. He must be still alive. He must be.

Manic laughter pierced the silent air around her. "What do we have here? Two lovebirds caught in the crossfire?" A tall, emaciated man walked towards them. He was clad in all black, with a wide-brimmed hat that hid the upper half of his face. A gloved hand brandished a token not unlike the one that fell onto the earth, and Keiko's sharp eyes made out a black tortoise in it.

"Who are you?" she said.

The man's mouth parted into a smile, revealing unnaturally sharp teeth. "Who I am is none of your concern. I am not supposed to reveal myself like this, but the opportunity! Hand me Suzaku's coin and I shall grant you and your boyfriend a painless death."

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Keiko said. "Leave us alone! Please!" And he's not even my boyfriend. Yet.

"Child. Listen to me. That man will be your end unless you free me," a voice spoke directly into Keiko's troubled mind.

"Who are you?" she replied. The man in black took a step forward, and the coin in his hand started to shine.

"I am the beast bound within the coin before you. Make a pact with me and I will guarantee you and your lover's safety."

"He's not my lover!"

An outline of a large black tortoise started to appear beside the dangerous man.

"I apologize. But quickly! Accept my pact!" the voice said. A slew of words assaulted Keiko's senses, their meaning archaic and lost in time. Her own life flashed before her eyes, memories that she would rather keep locked away.

The black tortoise roared, shorting out Keiko's communication with the beast in the coin. A bubble of water encased her, its pressure unbearable. She would sooner be crushed to death than drown.

With all your heart, body, and soul, do you accept the Destiny of the Flame?

"I don't care! I just want to save him! Do whatever you want with me!"

The coin on the ground glowed, bathing everything in red. A vermillion bird emerged and immediately delivered a gust of flame at the man in black.

"Genbu! Protect me!" the man howled as flames licked his clothes. The tortoise stomped the ground, causing a spout of water to extinguish the bird's attack. An ambulance siren screamed from afar.

"Ugh!" the man cursed. "I won't forget this!" He disappeared as quickly as he had come.

Keiko stared at the bird in disbelief. "Are you a phoenix?"

The bird turned to face her. It was beautiful beyond belief. Keiko could spend years painting its likeness without ever coming close to its true splendor. "A common misconception. I am the Vermillion Bird, Suzaku. And as promised, I will save your friend."

Suzaku breathed flame on Takeuchi's body. But where the flames had harmed the man in black, here it healed grievous wounds instead. The boy stirred.

Keiko exclaimed Takeuchi's name in joy, running to his side, when a dart pierced her neck.

---

Back in the safehouse, Butler looked down at the unconscious girl on the couch. He would not kill the girl. After all, if Suzaku had been bound to such a young, weak host, then it would be much easier to control.

The decent human being in him, the one buried away beneath decades of arduous conditioning, urged him to put the girl out of her misery. The Conglomerate was not kind to its pawns. He looked at Suzaku's coin in his palm, dormant and sleeping.

He closed his eyes. He had not been in Japan for a long time. He had burned the photographs, but he remembered the daughter he could never see again, her tiny fingers always stained with oil pastels. She would have been roughly this girl's age.

He hailed mission control. "Butler reporting. The package has been secured. Suzaku is ours."

"Acknowledged, Butler. We will send an extraction team to your location at 2000 hours. Just sit tight."

"Copy." Butler closed the commlink. The girl was sleeping like a rock. Sighing, he took a blanket from the bed, covered her with it, and waited.

Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)


Thanks for the crit guys.

Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)


I'm in, and taking what's behind door #3.

Because this would be my first Voidmart prompt, are there any choice Voidmart stories that could further flesh out what Voidmart is?

Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)



Many thanks!

Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)


Saleslady of War
1196 words
Flash rule: Franka, "Crazy," Croatia 2018 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19Yo86KCd0w

Erika patrolled the aisles, all fifty-two of them, looking for a customer. The Magical Weapons department was surprisingly a rarely-visited area. She checked her watch, a standard issue Voidex. This was about the time he would come in. Her favorite customer.

Right on cue, King Richard's crown peeked out of the escalator. The man was unlike any of the King Richards Erika had read from history, but he was definitely one. He wore modest, subdued robes, practical for moving around the multiverse's most comprehensive store. He was alone, as Voidmart's security was better than most fortresses.

"Good afternoon, sir," Erika said. "How may I help you today?"

"Good afternoon, Erika," Richard said, perfect white teeth accentuating a rich beard. "Please, treat me like any other customer. Are there any new items I might peruse?"

"Oh, there's been a new longsword from Masamune. Please follow me."

"I'm interested in its powers."

"It can grant anyone the skills and abilities of a master swordsman," Erika said, beckoning Richard to look. She was expected to know everything in her department. "We offer bulk orders in multiples of 200."

"I am unfamiliar with this style of sword," Richard said, turning the blade over and over.

"There is a flat, double-edged variant that you might find more to your liking," Erika said. She had not said "Western," for such distinctions did not hold true for most realms. That was her realm-sensitivity training kicking in.

Richard smiled again, and Erika hid hers, trying to calculate her commission.

---

Later that night, Erika was putting her daughter to sleep.

"So when is he moving in?" Lillia asked, snuggling underneath her teddy bear blanket.

Erika winced. "You shouldn't ask your mother such questions."

"But you like him, right? Our guidance counselor said we shouldn't keep such things to ourselves."

"He's a king and I'm just a saleslady."

As Lillia protested, Erika's thoughts turned to Richard. What did she know about him? She'd only read a few articles about Rune-Britannia over the Voidnet. It was in a world similar to theirs, except that Britain occupied the rest of the European continent. They were embroiled in a twenty-year war with the Greater Ayyubid Sultanate.

If she actually did date him...

"Mom?"

"Go to sleep, sweetie," Erika said. "You have school tomorrow."

---

The next day, Richard showed up, but he wasn't his usual regal self.

"You need to help me, Erika," Richard said, his crown askew. He was visibly sweating and fidgeting. "I need you to hide me!"

Such a request was not covered by the Voidmart Employee Manual, but Erika made her call. "Are you in danger? I can call security."

"No! He must not know I am here, but I must know what he's up to! If he plans to make a purchase, then I must know!"

The gears turned in Erika's head. Crushing over a handsome customer who happened to be a king was one thing, but this? She sighed. "I still need to do my job, but I'll let you know exactly where we are so you can stay close."

Richard scrambled behind an aisle as someone emerged from the escalator. He wore clothing suited to a harsh desert environment, and his hawk-like countenance marked him as a warrior.

"Good afternoon, sir," Erika said, her voice louder than usual to alert Richard to her location. "How may I help you?"

"So this is the Magical Weapons department," the man said, his great black beard even more majestic than Richard's. "I would like to look around."

"Of course, sir. Do you have a preference for weapons?"

"Do you have a saber with magical properties, made of Damascus steel?" he asked, his eyes ever shifting.

"We certainly do. Please follow me."

They proceeded to the aisle. "Some of these have been imbued with the power of djinns," Erika said.

"Ah, I like this one," the man said, picking up a red saber. "How much?"

"19999 Void Coins, sir."

"Let me calculate the exchange rate for that," the man said, taking out a Void calculator. Erika breathed a sigh of relief. The man would buy the sword, she'd get her cut, and Richard would have his intelligence--

There was an unmistakable clattering on the floor. Richard's crown rolled into view.

"Richard?" Erika's customer said.

"This isn't what it looks like, Saladin!" Richard said. "I'm not here to fight you."

Saladin snarled. "Your very existence is an affront to my sultanate. Thousands of my men slain by your weapons, purchased from this place? I ought to end you here!"

Backing away, Erika pressed a button on her watch that called security. But there wouldn't be enough time, as Saladin produced a nasty-looking dagger from his boot.

Richard backed away, only to slip on his cloak and fall. Saladin walked without hurry, savoring his moment. He stabbed down, aiming for his sworn enemy's heart.

Erika batted the dagger away with Masamune's longsword. "You're not hurting my customer on my watch!" she said.

Saladin was livid. "Don't you interfere! You defend a butcher of my people!" He stabbed and slashed with incredible speed, but Erika's sword granted her the skill to defend herself, precisely deflecting every one of Saladin's attacks.

Erika held out until she heard a dozen footfalls approach. Armored security filed in and surrounded Saladin. "Drop your weapon!" the leader warned, aiming a stun gun.

Saladin obeyed. "I'll see you on the battlefield," he said to Richard as he was taken away.

"Miss Erika Hontiveros," the leader of the guards said, "the CEO will see you on the top floor."

Erika handed her sword to the man. She had taken an item for sale and used it against a customer. "Okay."

"Erika? I'm very sorry," Richard said. His crown looked funny on him.

"You cost me a sale and my job," Erika said. "And bearded men aren't even my type." She let the guard escort her away.

---

Miraculously, Erika wasn't fired. The CEO praised her initiative and willingness to serve her customers beyond the call of duty. She even offered Erika a promotion to supervisor, but she declined.

The next day, a man in plain clothes dropped by. He had shaved his beard, but Erika would recognize Richard anywhere.

"I'm making peace with Saladin and putting an end to our war. This would be my last visit. Again, I apologize for the trouble."

"That's good, sir," Erika said, containing her voice. Was this goodbye?

"Do you like it?" Richard stroked his bare chin.

She conceded a smile. "It's an improvement."

"I thought I could treat you to coffee after your shift. It's the least I could do."

"My shift ends in four hours," Erika said.

"I'll be waiting at the Golden Bean, then."

"I'll think about it."

Erika watched the escalator take Richard away. Moments later, another customer arrived. He was a young man, his unarmored body ripped with muscle.

"I need a weapon," he said. "Do you have something that could kill a god?"

"We have plenty," Erika said, smiling. "Swords, axes, or spears?"

The young man smiled back. "I think this'll be my new favorite place."

Maybe today wouldn't be so bad after all, Erika thought.

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Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)


I'm in!

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