Spades Fiction

Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 16

I’m pacing around the trap in the center of the room. Although I had instructed Con not to ask it anymore questions, I couldn’t help but wonder what else it can tell us.

“Con, I need to ask you a favor.”

The boy stopped staring at the light, shining from the string. He turned to me, looking a little more than confused.

“Uh, sure, Branner. What do ya need?”

“You are allowed to talk to the spirit again.”

I need to figure out what it is. And sitting here with it, doing nothing is getting me nowhere.

Quietly, I explain what he is to do.

“Talk with him about anything. His life. Your life. Just don’t mention anything about the demons, or Doctor Maladar.”

“Sure thing I guess, but what is this supposed to do?”

“Buy me some time. Maybe get us a little information on it. Just see let me know everything it says.”

I’m a little strained on what I’m doing, but I think my original plan might still work. I go back to the book from my bag, studying the process to de-spell this room. This spirit, ghost or not, is likely an anchor for whatever is manipulating the spiritual pressure in this room.

Before my plan was to banish the ghost and the spell would have gone with it, revealing what was wrong with this room. But now… If I were to try that, and it really wasn’t a ghost, the repercussions could prove disastrous. But there’s more than one way to break a spell.

While I read, Con moved ahead with his part.

“Mr. Ghost, where were you born?”

The low rumbling immediately after told me the spirit was responding. I do need to make sure it doesn’t interfere with any rituals I perform.

Now, this is likely an illusion spell. Something to keep me from seeing what’s wrong. Ah, this counter should work. It won’t dispel the illusion entirely, but so long as its runes are inscribed in the ground, the spell will be put on hold.

I wait for the low rumbling to stop before I grab my chalk. The runes require a very specific pattern to counter the spell and the slightly shaking room might ruin it. Wonderful, it has stopped. I must work quickly while I have the time.

“Wow… Hey, Branner, he says he was born in this house.”

“Yes, yes, Con. That’s lovely. Just keep it…” He was born in this house? No… Could he really be the brother of Lance? “Spirit, how did you die?”

The low rumble returns. It was fairly short. I look to Con waiting for the answer.

“…betrayal?” Con’s face had a mix of confusion and horror.

“Betrayal… Con, hold off on more questions. I need to finish this.”

What betrayed him? If it was really the demons in this house when he was stabbed by the family heirloom… then was he the one who summoned the beasts?

I finish the chalk drawings going in a circle around the room, runic stones placed in key locations. Now for the hard part. I’m not well versed on my slavic so I might need a bit to make sure I remember how to pronounce all of this. I don’t know what will happen, or what will be revealed in this room. Here I go.

The chant begins, each runic symbol lighting up as I call its name. The spiral of symbols sends out wave after wave of my own energy, holding back another magical force. I finish the spell, as the energy returns and converges on the trap in the center of the room.

The smoke-like spirit within the trap cries out. He falls and settles in the middle, losing his wispy form and gaining a new translucent one. He looks like a young man, with combed dark hair, and the same style of suit the other servants were wearing.

I fear I may have been wrong and this is Marcellus Welling.

Lance, forgive me.

Seeking Dusk: Part 10

I couldn’t stay around Rand any longer. I take off, flying into the night air. I need to clear my head and try to figure all this out. Rand was out of his mind.

He questioned The Presence? Willingly threw himself in league with lesser demons in the name of compromise? The words he speaks remind me of someone else. Someone who long ago thought to question our creator. And the Morning Star paid dearly for his transgressions.

I don’t want to see a good man, my friend, go through all that. But talking with him was impossible! He countered every argument I made, in his on twisted way! Dammit! He’s probably still mad. Still cleaning that mess. If only I could show him. Or talk with someone about it.

Actually, I do think I can do that second one.

The question is whether he will see me. I change direction and fly back to the office of Dr. Alexander Matthews.

I touch down just outside the doctor’s office. It was a strange sensation. Humility. I had angered him and been angry in turn on my last visit. That was a mere day ago. And here I am, already having to come back and ask for help. My foolish pride was going to bruise on this one.

I slide through the door, my spiritual form allowing me to bypass the wall. I’m sure he knows I’m here, it’s not like I’m hiding the energy flowing out of me. He’ll be down shortly.

The office still had all sorts of books and artifacts thrown about the room. The man might have acted all high and mighty, but he’s one hell of a pig. His bookshelves are a different story. Each and every volume was specifically chosen. Each one contains some of the most important information we’ve ever utilized. And a select few shelves contain the only pictures of friends and family he has. It’s actually a little sad. All those memories in his head and-

“Aluma. Back so soon?” The doctor had entered from the hall while my back was turned. Looked like he hadn’t changed out of his clothes from yesterday. Polo shirt tucked into some old jeans all partially hidden under his white lab coat.

The man retired years ago and patching up angels doesn’t exactly get you dirty. I suppose it’s habit. Though that means someone else was just here. Hell, they might still be.

“Of course, doc. You know I can’t stay away.” I walk over and take a seat in a chair he had in the corner of the room. I need to be calm. No insults. I need his help. Be modest, and apologetic.

“How’s the investigation with Rand going?” The doctor moves to his desk, sifting through the drawers. I can’t tell if he’s actually looking for something or just making it seem like he didn’t come in here for me.

“Hard to say. On one hand, we’re talking with someone who might know where to look. On the other, Rand has been making deals with this informant for some time.”

“Is that so? Who’s the informant?” His eyes never leave his desk. Is he really being this petty?

“A shame demon. He runs The Milton.” And here’s the reaction…

“Ah, yes, Dumah. Lucky he’s a coward, or many of your missions would have failed.” …You’ve got to be kidding me.

“You knew about this?” I don’t think it is possible for me to be more incredulous.

He finally looks up, straight at me, like I was the one who just said the completely crazy thing.

“Of course I did. I’m the one who told him where to find Dumah.”

“…I think you broke my brain.”

The old man gives a sigh.

“Aluma, I understand that you were created with the specific purpose of killing demons, but haven’t you ever wondered how we found out where their most secret compounds are? Haven’t you wondered why, despite proving so useful in The Old War, you haven’t moved up in rank?

“You are so narrow minded, and want to kill everything labeled ‘demon.’ There’s a big difference between demons and the fallen. Though they take similar paths to get there, demons started off as humans. Which gives them that freewill we were so special for.”

I can feel myself instinctively roll my eyes.

“So you’re trying to say demons aren’t all that bad. Oh gee, why didn’t I ever think of that? Thank you so much for showing the error of my ways. I’ll be sure to give the next demon I see a nice big hug.” I start to get up.

Desine

And I immediately freeze in place. Damn.

“Please sit.” The biggest downside to being an angel, is that you were made to serve.

I resume sitting, and the doctor continues his lecture.

“Aluma, you have to understand, as much as I wish we could just run out and kill every last bit of evil on the planet, that is not our duty. Ours is to hold back that tide of darkness for as long as we can.”

“I fail to see how protecting them helps us accomplish that…”

“We’re not letting them do as they please. Aluma, there will always be evil in this world, from now until judgment day. So in turn for letting small fish roam free, we can put our efforts towards stopping the bigger fish.”

“Well, even if I did believe that, that’s not the biggest issue I have. It’s Rand. He’s talking about wanting an end to the war.”

“Well my goodness, that most certainly does sound horrible.”

Okay, it kind of stings to have your own sarcasm thrown back in your face.

“Well, it’s just… I…”

The doctor finally sits at his desk and addresses me directly

“Tell me, Aluma. Why did you come here?”

I think over the question, genuinely wondering the same thing. What is it about Rand that bothers me? If he still has use of the Light, shouldn’t that mean he’s doing something right?

“… I’m lost.” It was painful to admit, but it needed saying. It was what Dr. Matthews was looking for. His proud little smirk tells me that.

“You’re a host of heaven. Not the Lord himself. It’s natural to lose your bearings and need guidance.”

I didn’t want him to be right. The Great Aluma reduced to this. Asking a human for help.

“What has Rand done to shake you? What of it has made him so compromising?”

“It’s the callous way he so quickly became trusting of those we considered enemies. Maybe they can be of use, but to me, they were just things we killed not too long ago. I haven’t been sneaking around the backs of other angels to get what I need. I’ve entered a new world where allies, enemies and tools can spring from nowhere, and just as easily switch what they mean to me. And somehow, I’m just supposed to accept all this?”

The doctor shifts forward in his chair, his face showing concern. This hasn’t been easy for him either.

“It takes getting used to, but I can speak from experience on this matter. You want so badly for things to be one way. Black and white. But time with the angels of our Lord has taught me of the shades of gray plaguing my previous assumptions. While I might not always claim to understand the actions taken by such heavenly beings, I can tell you I either trust them, or call them out. Which do you think this deserves? What has Rand done?”

I can’t answer. I can’t say he’s compromised his ideals, since his first and foremost goal was protecting mankind as I have. I can’t say hiding these dealings from me, since even I can see, and am currently proving, I would take the news so poorly. I can’t respond.

“Aluma, why don’t you go get some air? I’ll send for you if I hear movement on more of the demons.”

I obey.

Neon Noir: The Ninth Beat

How did Vash and Bella really meet? Can you trust a woman you know is running from something?

Vashti Kianian

Stupid dress. It was so stupid of me to wear it.

Vash cursed her own choices. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to be at this party. But if she was going to start her own club, she’d need the help of the families here.

The dress she was wearing was sleek and tight up top, while the skirt flowed down to her ostentatious heels.

It could be worse, Vash. You could have gone with that beaded monstrosity.

She looked around the party, trying to find Alessandro Gaudio, head of the Gaudio crime family in The City. Her contact said he should be relaxed in this setting and more apt to listen to her proposal.

And yet, she didn’t dare leave her little corner of the room until she knew where he was. The minute she did, these men would be on her like a dog on a steak.

“I’ve never seen you before!”

The bright and colorful voice snapped Vash out of her thoughts. She quickly looked to her side where it came from and saw a cute flapper.

“I’m new in town.”

Vash’s own voice shifted. Rather than her normal calm, directed tone, she spoke with interest and bravado.

“Really?! And you already got invited to one of these parties? They’re very exclusive, ya know!”

The girl was cute. More than cute, she was gorgeous. Her dark hair framed her face perfectly. Vash wasn’t a huge fan of the dress, but her confidence made it work.

“Who’s to say I was invited? Maybe I snuck in?” Vash says.

The girl laughs, a haughty laugh that didn’t quite seem to match the flapper dress.

“Oh, no one sneaks in to these parties.”

She grabs two glasses off a passing server’s tray and very pointedly sets one in front of Vash.

Vash takes the glass and downs the drink.

“Maybe I did.”

Vashti Kianian

In the office of the Arcadian, Vash stared down Bella. After having him pour their drinks, she asked Mr. Shane to change using the spare clothes she kept at the club, and keep lookout, outside the club.

After another cocktail, Bella gathers her nerves.

“Raph and I had been seeing each other for a few months. We knew out parents wouldn’t approve, so we kept it secret. From everyone.”

“No one knew? You’re positive?”

The woman shook her head.

“No one I knew. Raph swore he kept it to himself as well.”

Vash stops to consider the Belrose family. They were almost as close as Bella’s so Raphael would have been smart enough to keep it from them.

But they were kids in love. They had to go out in public. It just took someone who recognized them to ruin it.

“When you were together, where would you go?”

“We didn’t.”

Vash shook her head.

“We have to figure out who knew. I need to know who could have found out.”

Bella shakes her own head back.

“You don’t understand! We’re not fools, Vash! We didn’t go out together after we met.”

What in gods name did she mean?

Vash’s face must have conveyed her confusion because Bella filled in the gap.

“We talked on the vidphone. A lot.”

“So you weren’t together in person?”

She shook her head again.

Vash was perplexed. She couldn’t imagine a relationship being confined purely to a vid window. Bella was always a little different though.

“I know. It’s not conventional. But he loved me. And I loved him.”

Vash put her thoughts about this to the side.

“Okay. Who suggested running? You or him?”

“He did. Said we could disappear to another city; start over away from our families.”

“Your father alone has enough sway to find you most anywhere, you had to know that.”

“I do! I do now.” She gets up and starts walking around the office. “But Raph… he made it sound so easy. Get some money together, hop a train, and live free.”

Vash’s ears perked up.

“Money? How much money?”

Bella looked a little sheepish.

“Well, I mean, we were planning to start a new life. We needed something to get going, hide our tracks, and build a safe life for us!”

Vash stood up and slammed her fist on the table.

“How much did he tell you to get?”

“…another $10,000.”

Vash’s mouth dropped. There’s no way her pop would have given that to her, or she would have just paid off Lenny and this whole scenario would have never happened.

Which means…

“You borrowed it from Lenny, didn’t you?”

“We were running away! I didn’t think I’d have to pay it back!”

Vash lets out a string of curses she’s sure Mr. Shane could hear outside the club.

“Fine. Where is the money now?”

“I got it! Stop treating me like a foolish child, Vash!”

Okay, that’s one problem solved.

“We’ll take it back to Lenny. Negotiate the interest. That will be one thing off your back.”

“No.”

Vash’s anger was filling her body. She had never dealt with a situation quite like this before.

“No?”

“If you can’t settle this, I’ll still need to run. Besides, Lenny says I got until Friday to pay him back. No rush.”

“Do you really think he’ll just let you keep it when word gets around what happened?! I wouldn’t be surprised if those goons weren’t with the Belroses but instead Lenny’s guys trying to collect before you skipped town!”

“Oh. I didn’t think of that.”

Vash took a deep breath and sat down. She put her head in her hands and thought things over. Lenny was a loose end she couldn’t leave hanging.

“We’re giving him that money back. Then we can figure out what else happened.”

“…Fine.”

Vash breathed a sigh of relief.

“Great. Where is it?”

“Under the floorboards in my apartment.”

Vash cursed again.

The Elysian: Twelfth Dream

I finally stop being so dumbstruck and command my body to move. I force myself to float to my right, just barely avoiding the plant monster. But I’m too slow up here. I need to get out of here! I never expected to find an abomination here! Everything, even Death, has seemed so innocuous, despite their abilities. I’ve never been so scared in my life.

He sends several more vines at me. I focus as hard as I can and dodge this new wave of attacks. Three snap on different sides of me. The last few barely miss my legs. I grab the last one before he pulls it back. This was a bad idea. It starts to shake back and forth, trying to get me loose. I can’t really focus as he sends some new vines at me. Then, I get an idea. I remember the lesson Puck taught me and let go of my emotions. I surrender to the empty feeling and lose my touch on the vine I was holding. The new wave all pass through me. Time to get out of here.

I try to fly away, but I hear him strike again. There’s no way to avoid it this time. I feel the vines snap around my leg. The jerk shakes my whole body. I try to become intangible again, but my heart is racing, and my emotions too ingrained to let go. I can’t slip out of this. His whips retract and pull me toward the frightening visage that was his face. I see the vines move and squirm as it opens the gaping jaw he’s made. He’s gonna eat me!

The forest monster was drawing me closer to his mouth, my mind racing to find a way out of this. My emotions were to worked up to turn intangible again. I had no weapons within reach. The creature’s grasp was too strong for me to break free. And I… I had an oddly long stretch of time in which to think about all of this.

I look down, the creature’s vines were not really pulling on me.

“Um, weren’t you going to eat me about two seconds ago?”

The vines release me and retract back into the forest man.

“No, I was expecting you to break free and fly away. Now I’ll never get rid of you.”

“…But… b-but….” He was just trying to scare me?! “I-I… but that…. BUT YOU TRANSFORMED INTO A GIANT MONSTER WITH AN INSATIABLE APPETITE FOR MY FLESH!!!”

“I changed into my guardian form.” As he talks, the vines shift and shrink, disappearing to God knows where. “I don’t really hurt people unless they hurt my trees. You were bugging me, so I wanted to scare you off, but you proved too weak and stupid for your own good. So look, I let you go. Can ya please leave? Go away?”

Out of all the insanity to have happened to me, I must admit, this hit me the most. I felt every bit of confusion throughout every fiber of my being. And everything said the same thing.

“Wha…?”

The spirit was finished shifting back to his small, wooden man form. He crossed his arms as he spoke.

“Leave me alone. Go run your little errand for Goodfellow. Get your reward and have fun bragging.”

That’s an odd thing to say.

“My reward? Now what are you talking about?”

The little man sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Happens all the time. Some spirit hears about the legendary challenges and pranks of ‘The Master of the Forest’ and thinks they can best them. After being led on a wild goose chase, he congratulates them on doing nothing, using his fancy word play and rhymes, making them think they actually did something of worth and let’s them wander off.”

…What?

He continues. “It’s actually one of his funnier pranks. It’s only once enough spirits are successful that they realize it was all a joke. I’m more curious to what they will try to do to him after-”

“WHAT?!!!?? He’s playing a prank on me!? I swear to whatever god you all worship I will wring his neck until he can’t-”

“Now calm down, ya idiot. He’s the master of pranks. Didn’t you think when you decided to come here and accept these challenges there might be something else going on?”

He thinks I’m just some afterlife thrill seeker.

“I’m not here for some faux-challenge given by an almighty jester! I’m trying to find my way home and your master promised me a key to the magic door if I solved his challenges!”

“Oh. Then you’re stupider than I thought. No way is Goodfellow giving you his key. Might as well go back to where you came from.” And the spirit turns to walk away.

“But that’s what I was trying to do…” I slowly descend to the branch. My prospects bleak. This was just a sick game, played by the master of sick games. What do I do now? How much time have I lost? Is Death getting closer? Did he trick me and this tangled mess my punishment for not choosing to pass on?

What do I do now?

“Ugh, dammit. Look kid, I don’t know what’s going on here, but everyone finds their way home.” The small man walks over to me, trying to be comforting. “Puck is more trustworthy than you might assume. Of course, that’s if you assume everything he’s doing is untrustworthy.”

“Thank you. That’s very helpful… I just- So, I apparently died not too long ago. Death came for me, but I couldn’t accept it. I ran away from him and have been trying to find my way back to my family. I thought if I just kept collecting keys from these spirits, one would maybe get me back home.”

“Fine. Let’s go get you that feather.”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 15

“What now? Do we just talk to it?” Con was pacing around the trap containing a ghost. The curtain of light shined with a flickering luminescence, enrapturing his attention.

“Not quite. See, ghosts such as this aren’t whole, and don’t have all their mind to aid them in communicating. They’re more of a flurry of different emotions, bound to a spirit with unfulfilled purpose. And depending on the how long such a storm is allowed to wander, it can intensify, becoming something else entirely.” I reached for a small book I keep in my bag, hoping it held the spell I needed.

“Oh. So, how do you know how old it is?”

“Well, the methods vary and usually involve something of a-”

“HEY! GHOST! HOW OLD ARE YA?!” Con yelled at the ethereal being in the light. I didn’t quite know how to react.

“Now Con, uh, that’s not…”

A low moan rumbled throughout the room, shaking the bookshelves around me. I could hear a bit of shuffling against the floor behind me. It was Lance, attempting to get as far into that corner of the room as possible. Poor chap. Likely afraid of the vision before him.

“The spirit can’t understand you. All you’re doing is-”I began to speak, but was cut off.

“He says he’s 23, Branner!”

“I- Well- What?” Did he just talk to a ghost?

Con excitedly moved closer to the curtain.

“What should we ask it next?” Can this boy really speak with ghosts? Demons have no particular affinity for our dearly departed. Why would he be able to do that? He could always be fooling around. Of course. He must be. I regain my composure.

“Con, could you please not agitate the-”

“HEY! WHAT’S YOUR NAME, BUD?!” Con yelled again.

This was getting frustrating. I’ll have to find some way to explain to him that there’s no time for games, but it seems his whole demeanor is different now that he’s my assistant as well as a guest. He’ll… Wait. The spirit is moaning again. No. No, this can’t be. Can it? Coincidence, right? Ghosts aren’t conscious of their actions or even the world around them, necessarily. They only respond to other emotions, and even then, it’s a very primitive form of communication.

“Marcellus? Well, nice ta meet ya, Marcellus.” Oh my goodness. Con was talking to a ghost.

“Wait, what did you say?” Lance had finally found his courage again. He approached us from the safety of his corner as he spoke. “Did you just tell me that the spirit is 23, and is named Marcellus?”

Con looked over at the young man helping the two of us. “Naw, Mr. Ghost here told me that. Try to keep up.” He gave a wry smile to reinforce his sarcastic remark.

“Well, it’s just… I think that’s my brother…” Lanced seemed to have lost his breath. He was on the verge of tears.

Oh dear. This was bad.

“Lance, I need you to calm down. Step outside if you need to, but don’t do anything rash. This spirit isn’t your brother anymore, do you understand?” I tried to calmly walk toward the boy. People tend to do outrageous things in a hysterical state. If he did something to disrupt the ring of light around the spirit we could lose it and all that effort would be lost.

“Mist-…er, I mean, Branner, sir, do you think it’s possible this is all true?” His hands were shaking, his eyes never left the spectacle in the center of the room.

No use lying to him. The truth might even reassure him.

“I’m not sure. It’s possible this is your brother, but it is very unlikely. This estate has had many come through and pass on.

“If Con is indeed talking to the ghost in some manner escaping my understanding, it could also be that the spirit is lying.

“Now, I must ask you to leave, Lance. You are excused. Leave us and return to your normal duties. I’m certain this isn’t your brother.” Alright, that last sentence was a lie.

“Of-of course. Should I report to The Doctor your current progress?” Lance was quickly fighting his fear and attachment. Talented young man. Not sure how I would do in such a situation.

“Yes, that would be prudent. I just need you to not be here anymore.” A very blunt way to put it, but I am sure he understands.

Lance bows out and walks to the door. As he leaves, I can see the fear return to his face.

Now that the most pressing issue is resolved, what in the name of the creator is going on with Con?!

The boy seems to be communicating with the ghost. I’m not sure how that’s even possible, if it’s true. All my understandings of ghosts points to a being of nigh-pure emotion, their sense of mind having long abandoned them with their body.

Even if you could speak the same language, their consciousness no longer consists of reason or logic. They shouldn’t be able to answer in kind to your questions. And yet, I don’t think Con is lying to me.

This leaves me with three options. First, my knowledge of ghosts is lacking, and I just haven’t encountered one with the power to think. Nor have I had someone along who can talk back to the spirit. Fairly unlikely. Second, we got extremely lucky, in that the being is still emotional, and the things it has fixated upon sound like answers to the questions Con has asked. This option is the least likely. No, what I believe the answer to be is my third thought.

This isn’t a ghost.

The Elysian: Eleventh Dream

“Fine. I give in. What do you want me to do? I need to get out of here and the sooner I get done, the better. Tell me, Robin Goodfellow, what quest will I go on, and what lesson must I learn?”

Puck leans back, once again sitting on his breeze.

“That’s better. Now listen and hear my words.

The first item you seek is one for the birds.

A feather, specifically, one of color unknown.

But it’s not in sky, or trees. It’s under a stone.

And over a river. And next to the earth.

Bring it to me, and show me your worth.”

“That’s it. I have to bring you a feather? It’s no finding a planet in the universe, but what’s the catch?”

He smiles.

“There is none this time. Except the lesson you must learn.

It will all become clear. I hope the moral you don’t spurn.”

I am really starting to hate rhymes.

“Fine. I believe you said it’s near a river? Mind pointing me in the right direction?”

The master of the forest stands up and whips the wind around him. Leaves and dirt take shape at his sides. They form arrows pointing in either direction.

“…Really?”

“Well, to be fair, you didn’t say

which river was more your way.

I’m afraid I’ve no more time.

I must go, enjoy the last rhyme!”

He opens his hands and slams them together causing a large splash of wind to envelope his body. And like that, he disappears. The little jerk just left me here. His two arrows pointing me towards the rivers are still here though. So helpful…

“Why can I not catch a break?!” I cry out, my voice echoing through the trees.

I can’t say I feel completely better, but there’s something cathartic about yelling and cursing at nothing.

Time to pick a path. Left or right? Towards the right is the path he had me traveling down for his first test. But he’s a trickster so it might have been to throw me off. Or maybe he knew I would think that.

Moment of truth. God, I wish I had a coin. Maybe if I start down one of the ways, I can get some kind of clue if it’s right or not.

“Ya mind, moving, buddy?”

What the hell? Where is that voice coming from? I turn around trying to find the source. There’s no one here. Maybe it’s invisible? I ask myself a lot of questions.

“I said move it buddy!!”

It’s coming from the downward direction. It’s a tiny little man, isn’t it?

I look down and try to find the small person. Bingo.

“Sorry. Can I help you?” I ask.

The source of the voice looked to be a miniscule figure made of wood. He had a beard made of grass. And a head that went up into a point with a single leaf.

“Yes you can. You can get off my tree!”

“I’m terribly sorry. My mistake.” I take off from the branch and float next to it. “So this is your tree? The whole thing?”

He looks up at me, his face incredulous.

“Yeah, the whole thing. Don’t ya see my name on it?”

“Well to be perfectly honest, no…”

“Look, mortal-”

“Why does everyone insist on calling me that?”

“-I don’t care what your problem is, and I don’t care why you’re so interested in me. Just leave me alone and float on somewhere else.”

Well, I obviously can’t let that slide.

“Well, you might start caring. My new problem is you. And I have a way to take care of that. Just point me in the direction of the river.”

“Those arrows left by Master Puck should show you the way out. Now get out of here.”

“But I need to find a specific river.

He sighs and looks at me with the angriest look on his face.

“Fine. Which river?”

“Um… the one with the feather?”

“Oh you’re a funny one, jack. Now, like I said. Get out of here.”

“But I need help! Your Master Puck has me trying to find some special feather around here. He said it was by a river. Ringing any bells?”

The strange little man gives me such a dirty look, it felt like he was cursing at me with no words.

“Look, buddy. I ain’t getting involved in none of the games Goodfellow is playing with you. Ya got a 50/50 chance of finding whatever river you’re searching for. I suggest you take it. NOW GET LOST!”

This is not going as I planned. I had hoped if I annoyed him enough, I could get him to tell me just to get rid of me. But I’m not sure where to go from here.

“What part of ‘Get outta here’ are you not getting, bub?” The wooden man has turned his attention back to me. I suppose I should go ahead and leave.

Or, and hear me out here, I can go for stupid.

I barely think it, and my hand shoots out and snatches the small man from the branch. He squirms against my grip, but he’s no match for my giant proportioned strength.

“Let go of me, you filthy mort! Put me down!”

His cries annoy me, but I can’t do much about it. He feels so fragile, and I think if I try to cover his mouth, I’ll accidentally break him.

And yet, he feels a bit denser than I expected. If he is made from wood, I would think it’s something closer to an ebony wood, as opposed to the apple wood kind of look he sports.

“I need a guide through this forest. You’re the only one around. So too bad for you.” It was mean, but I really couldn’t care. I need to get out of here now.

“You want to put me down, right now.” His voice became much more focused.

As threatening as it was, I maintain my grip.

But something is wrong. He doesn’t feel right in my hand. He feels like he’s… gaining weight? He’s heavier. The squirming in my hand has shifted. He was no longer moving like he was trying to escape, but rather something was moving around him.

And he was so heavy now! I reach out with my other hand to help hold him. That’s when I realize what’s happening. I couldn’t hold him anymore. I throw him back onto the branch, hoping to reverse the process, but it’s no use.

He has vines and branches growing out and wrapping around him. He lands and continues growing. All the added layers have made him immense. He’s bigger than me.

His body no longer resembles the small gnome before. He is now a rather rotund, humanoid figure. His face was a grotesque mess of vines and wood that I’m sure was meant to look like a human face with a beard, but instead, reminded me of the horrifying visage of an eldritch creature. His eyes were what scared me the most. The growth around it left sunken holes in his head where his eyes should be, a vain attempt to replicate a human.

“I warned you.” The booming deep voice sounded nothing like the little man. He was now a monster. And I pissed him off.

“I am no normal waldgeist. I’m a leshy.”

And with that, he waved his hands at me, vines shooting out of his arm and flying right toward me.

Seeking Dusk: Part 9

Most of the creatures are smart. They fled off into the night after the death of the lead vampire. The few scragglers who wanted to stand their ground would soon know why I am feared among their kind. Why my sword is the bane of their masters. And why my temper is something not to be trifled with.

I grip the hilt of my sword tighter and prepare the descent to-

“ALUMA!!”

Dammit. It’s Rand. He’s standing just out of the door of the club, arms crossed, wearing the face of a disappointed parent.

The other beasts notice the second holy warrior and run away.

“Don’t you ‘Aluma’ me! These creatures laid a trap for us!”, I cry out.

“That you willingly walked into. Did you even consider asking for help? Did you think when you maimed a dozen human souls without the mercy of a swift death?”

I float down slowly, my anger far too focused on my friend for me to go faster.

“You don’t get to judge me, Garrow! How long have you been coming here?! How long have you been making deals with the darkness? You offered what I could never condone. Was I to ignore that? I leave and they ambushed me. They wished to cause me harm. Yes, the vampire gave them courage to attack, but they’re the ones who wanted to. I refuse to let a mortal judge me for defending myself, especially against such an attack by the lowest of beasts.”

I touch down right in front of him. He’s thinking. Thinking about what happened here. About my words. He’s trying to find a way to turn this around. To find a way I could have avoided violence. But he knows there is none. Humans. Ever hopeful.

“You still could have come and got me.”

“I didn’t think I had the time with a wendigo at my throat.”

“No, you just didn’t think.” He turns to one of the wounded creatures. He points his hand at the beast and lets his energy pour out. The bright white beam shooting out his hand envelopes the monster and when he’s finished, there is no more.

“I’m going to take a while cleaning up here. Go patrol. We’ll rendezvous-”

“No.”

He turns and faces me.

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve been acting so morally superior all day.  What is wrong with you?”

He looks around, slightly annoyed. He doesn’t get to play this game.

“Tell me Rand. Something happened between last night and this morning. Hell, something happened in the last few years. When I was last on assignment, you never would have gone to The Milton alone. You never would have defended these monstrosities.” He turns back around. I won’t let him escape so easily. “You never would have lied to me.”

“I didn’t-”

“Don’t start. Those marks on your arm this morning weren’t from a dog. It’s my turn to tell you to stop being stupid and tell me what’s wrong.”

He sighs. His head moves from left to right, surveying the carnage I wrought.

“I’m tired, Alli. Tired of fighting. Tired of this war.”

Is that all?

“You’re only human. An absolutely amazing one, but still human. Been fighting for, what, 10? 15 years? I’ve been at this for eons. Since the Morning Star first fell. The doctor isn’t as active-”

“No. I’m tired of this war. Tired of seeing pointless blood be spilled.”

Surprise doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.

“Rand… this is far from pointless.”

“Sure it is. One ideology versus another. Good and evil are merely-”

“Don’t you dare blaspheme around me, Garrow!”

“Alli, we want to protect humans, yet here are souls, wounded by your own blade. I can only purify so many before I get exhausted. Our God chooses to leave them to the wolves.”

“He leaves them to us. And we are-”

“Warriors. Spillers of blood. Violence is our nature, and he expects us to be equipped to heal the very warped souls he orders us to destroy?”

“He expects us to do our best.”

“Then I will. And if that involves me making deals and allies you don’t like, don’t complain to me.”

This is insanity. How could he have lost so much faith in The Presence? 

“Garrow…”

“Don’t you ‘Garrow’ me. Humans are born into a trap. Our world pains us. Teases us. Brings us down.”

“You at least have freedom.”

He walks over to the next creature and extends his hand.

“Freedom to choose how we die.”

The white energy fires from his hand.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 14

The study was a bit small. Not truly a proper library, like I assumed from the double doors, but I do suppose it provides a cozy environment in which to perform his research. All the walls were covered in bookshelves, there was a somewhat modest desk for this house over in the corner and no windows… Something is off.

“This is the room you requested, Master Branner. Do you require any further assistance?” Lance was looking rather uncomfortable in this room. It wasn’t the one his brother was killed in, but it did have one of the more memorable events occur. Still, I require his help. He hasn’t been here long enough to have been the one who summoned demon, and has the motivation to see to it I complete my task. I’ll just have to make him tough it out.

“Yes I do. If you would, please tell me what you know about the incident that took place here.” If I keep him talking, it should also keep him distracted. Might not take his mind off the unpleasant feelings, but it will give him something to do.

“Of course… *Ahem* After escalating events relating to the paranormal activity in the estate, Mr. Patrik…”

While he tells his story, it’s time to see what we can see. I look to Con. He had this incredibly odd look on his face. If I had to describe it, I would say ecstatic. I can’t imagine he’s had much time around books. A whole new world for him to explore lies in every wall surrounding him. Of course, he can’t quite access them yet.

He picks up a book, flips it open and frowns. He just figured it out, too. I walk over to him, thinking about why I really need him here. Lance is continuing his explanation behind me. He’s gesturing around the room and not paying attention to me. Thankfully.

I quietly whisper to Con, “I’ll teach you to read some other time. Start seeing what kinds of feelings you can sense.” I cross back around the room to examine the desk. Lance’s story was coming to a quick close.

“…making a full recovery and resuming his normal duties. The room has not been declared off limits, but no one wishes to explore it after the incident.”

“Hmm, yes of course.”

What is wrong with this desk? It’s been calling to me since I first entered. Screaming out that something is wrong, yet I can’t hear it.

“Con! What do you notice about this piece of furniture?”

“Uh, it looks kinda nice, I guess?”

“…That was wonderfully helpful. Thank you.” Shouldn’t act so sarcastic. Bound to hurt his feelings. “Lance, do you see anything wrong with it?”

“No sir. Seems the same as ever.”

“But it’s not. There is something wrong with it. Something wrong with this room.”

I set my bag down and pull out a few things. Some twine, chalk, a ruby colored gem, and most importantly, an apple. I place the twine in a large circle in the center of the room. Using the chalk, I draw perpendicular, intersecting lines. I set the gem down where they cross. I stand to examine my work.

“What are you doing, Master Branner?”

“Just call me Branner. And I’m trying to see if I can detect what’s wrong in this room. Assuming there’s some kind of spirit in here, this gem will light up.”

“I see. And what is the apple for, sir?”

“Oh this?” I hold the apple up. “I’m just hungry.” I take a bite and go back to ensuring the circle isn’t off. Chalk lines are straight. Gem should still have some energy in it. Time to start.

I begin the chant, enticing the energy in the gem to show me what made this room feel so odd. I could sense some presence manipulating the flow of spiritual pressure around me, but what it was, what it was doing, and why this room was so special, I couldn’t tell. The gem hums, not glowing just yet. Wind whips up around me, as I feel my body become weary. The spell was doing its job, draining me of some energy to complete its work. Everything was building to a boiling point. Soon it would-

“What?!” The sensation cut out. No more drain. No more wind. The gem just sat there, like the shiny rock it now was. I believe I used up what was left in it for nothing.

“…what’s supposed to happen, Branner?” I turn and see Con on all fours, staring at the now lifeless jewel in the middle of the room. I didn’t know what to say to him. Well, I suppose I could answer his very simple question.

“Assuming there was a spirit in here, the gem would light up with energy. From there, I could have summoned the being here, and bound it in the circle. But something went wrong…”

“There was no spirit here.” This time Lance pipes up. He said that like he knew.

“So there wasn’t. Care to chime in as to why, Mr. Welling?” He turns a beet-red. What is he hiding?

“I- Well, it’s just- There are patterns to the occurrences. They transfer slowly from room to room. Since the last thing to happen was in the entrance hall, I would say by tomorrow something would happen in the grand hall…” His voice slowly trailed off until his last words were barely a whisper. He’s looking at me, and I can guess why. My eyes are wide with surprise. Lance was declaring a pattern that most anyone else should have seen, and more importantly, told me about.

“How do you know this? You’ve only been working here three days. Not enough time to be so sure of a pattern. Not to mention, we injured the demon occupying the entrance. He’ll likely be out of commission for a while.”

Lance resumed his servantly demeanor. He spoke with as much calm as he could gather, which wasn’t much.

“I would wander all around here when my brother still worked for the Maladars. That is why I know the layout of the estate so well. How I came to notice these patterns with the attacks. It’s the reason, I think, that Doctor Maladar agreed to giving me a job. I already knew how much of the house operated.”

“Right, right, but that’s not the point. You noticed a pattern. A very simple one at that, but you noticed it, nonetheless. Why didn’t anyone else? Why didn’t you tell them? Why didn’t you tell me until now?”

The boy was getting nervous. He’s still hiding something. What else could he be-

“Branner, ya may wanna turn around…” Con was entranced with the gem, which now shone with a brilliant light. And it was getting brighter.

No time to think.

“Stand back, boys. You’re about to see something rather… interesting.”

I close my eyes and focus on a realm of pure ethereal. My thoughts leave my body, and I channel some spirit to do the work I need done.

“Anima continet… uinculis alligandum…”

The words poured out of my mouth, but I was not saying them. I barely heard the first two lines before I lost my connection with the physical world.

Instead, I was floating in a place of color with no form. The air around me seemed to twist with a whimsical nature, an attempt to make me lose focus. To lose your mind here is to lose yourself. You can’t go back. And I can’t let that happen.

That should have been enough time. I push my will outward and reach out for my own body again. The world around me reacts, changing from the soothing formless color, to a malevolent emotion, trying to engulf me. I touch the back of my own head and pull myself in. Such harrowing experiences should really be reserved for an occasion where I can plan for death, but I’ve yet to memorize the spell for this situation.

I return to my body to find myself on my knees, my arms, lazily collapsed at my sides. The spirit must have just jumped ship when it felt my return. It won’t cause any trouble and will be pulled back to the other side when necessary. Time to wander the earth is the payment for its services. I start to open my eyes, ready to-

My cheek stings with a rather sharp pain that shudders throughout my whole face.

“BRANNER! ARE YOU IN THERE?!” Con was shouting in my ear. It would appear he’s a bit worried about me.

“Yes, I’m fine Con. The slap was unnecessary. The yell was annoying. Anything else you’d like to do?” I give him a quick glare. He jumps back to his feet with a huge grin on his face. He turns and addresses Lance.

“See! Told ya he was okay!”

I pull myself to my feet and examine my work. The string on the ground was shining a curtain of light upwards, entrapping a spirit within. The smoke-like being inside let out some low moans, likely lamenting its current predicament.

“So, Master Branner, what is this?”

“This, Mr. Welling, is a ghost. And I told you before, just call me Branner.”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 13

“What is that boy?”

Oh no.

I turn to the doorway and see the doctor’s head looking around it, staring at Con. How much did he see?

“Doctor, you have to understand, I have only the safety of-“

“Safety!?” he asks.

He steps through the door and walks toward me, rage barely contained in his being.

“You’d have me believe you’re thinking about our safety? This boy just survived what no man could. He injured what you have been having trouble trying to even locate. He vanished from one side of the room like a magician!”

“But this,” he gestures to Con, “thing is supposed to keep us safe?”

“Yes!” I nearly scream.

“Wouldn’t you say with all these abilities he is better equipped to protect your people? That he is strong enough to help with this situation? And if you saw all that, you must know he has thrown his life on the line to protect you!”

The doctor’s eyes break from mine. An opening.

I continue.

“Wouldn’t you say all of that is worth the benefit of a doubt?”

The doctor’s hand is shaking slightly. He holds onto that anger so tightly. I will admit, if any of his workers were in the room, I wouldn’t dare be so audacious. But if they were here, I doubt an appeasement would have helped my case anyway.

“You said you trust me, Dr. Maladar. You gave me permissions to search everywhere on your property. That means something from a man such as you. I cannot explain what this boy is, or how he came under my employ, other than he is who we need.”

He looks as if he is about to interrupt me, when I quickly finish my speech.

“If you do not allow him to remain, I will cease my investigation. Abandon you and your people to the horrors that ravage your home and not think twice.”

His mouth dropped open in surprise. A man raised in all that wealth and authority, and he’s never had someone speak to him this way.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t truly abandon him. These demons are too dangerous to leave alone. Even so, Maladar has no clue how to react to anything I’ve said.

The look of surprise fades quickly. He resumes a controlled and collected demeanor.

“Go into the main house, Branner. One of my servants will escort you upstairs. The study was your next destination, correct?”

“Indeed it was,” I reply, a sense of dread lifted from my thoughts.

“Go. Before I change my mind, Branner”

I turn to Con and give him a nod. We gather my things and leave the hall for the main house. As we exit, I hear the front door open, as the doctor exits.

He must be truly upset to open that door himself. My words were harsh, but not wrong. I do not think we can solve this without the help of Con.

Though I’m not to be trusted either. Yes, I need Con’s help, but I also believe him to be something more than the half-demon he appears to be. Even when released, he has full control of his demonic blood. I need to study him more after this investigation.

“Branner! We gonna move or what?”

“What? Yes! What?”

“You’ve been standin’ down there for a while now. Ya got something you wanna share with us?”

I clear my throat and start stepping up the stairs.

“No, no. I do believe I’m ready to continue.”

“Great. Then come on! I wanna see the upstairs when I’m not tryin’ to run for my life.”

The boy excitedly runs up the stairs. It’s a mean trick, but I did promise Maladar to keep him contained. I focus on the ring. The energy seeps out and into the band on his finger. He trips.

“Grah! What did ya do that for?! This stupid friggin, frappin…”

“Come now, Con. Such language should not be used in public. How are you feeling?”

“…grrr…hate you…” He stands up and shakes his head.

“It seems you’re getting used to the transformations. Soon you might be able to go back and forth with no problem.”

“Yeah. That’s a real shiny thought.” He cracks his neck. I notice some of the maids passing through become startled. I suppose he’ll take a bit of refining before he can become my official aide, but then, one could say something similar about me.

I flag down one of the passing servants, a young looking man who looked a bit nervous, and ask him to lead us to the study. We continue up the stairs, Con wobbling just a little bit.

“So, what is your name?”

“Con. Ya already knew that.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, though I do know that can’t be your real name. I was referring to the young man helping us.”

“Oh! Uh, my name is Lance Welling, sir.”

“Don’t look so timid. We’re not going to hurt you. Is this your first day?”

“Third, sir. I hope my inexperience isn’t-“

“Don’t worry about it, son. It’s why I picked you.” Someone summoned these creatures long before Lance started here. Actually…

“Why did you take up the position here? Surely you know of the dangers in the house.”

“I do sir. All too well, actually. See, my older brother worked for the Maladars before me. He provided for us. When we lost him…”

I understand.

“Your brother worked as a cleaner.”

“Yes, sir. I suppose Doctor Maladar told you about the incident.”

“He offered you money. He felt responsible. But you refused the flat out charity.”

“Indeed. Instead I agreed to work for him. To earn my money.”

I can’t keep being this cruel.

“Mr. Welling, if you would prefer to return to your normal duties, to keep away from these instances, I would understand. It would earn you no disrespect in my eyes.”

“I am fine, Master Branner. If I’m to be working here, I must be able to do all that is asked of me. Ahem, this way.”

He turns and directs us down another hall. These upper levels are like a labyrinth. And Lance has already worked through and memorized the layout.

I do seem to have a knack for selecting proper help, now don’t I?

Neon Noir: The Eighth Beat

Robert Howell

Selene is going to kill me.

Robert is still walking back to his apartment come noon. He found his personal effects along with his gun in a little box outside the room he was kidnapped to. He was rather grateful for that, though can’t help but wonder what they want from him.

Hen clutched the folder he was given very closely. He went through hell to get it, he couldn’t give up now.

The Gaudios were a family of criminals, in constant war for control of illegal imports. Despite their power and influence, prohibition has reduced drinking in the city. Now it’s just reserved for those with enough cush to payoff the mayor.

I’d love nothing more than to go after them. But I don’t have the support.

This ‘Arcadia’ though is different. It’s supposed to be the place anyone in the neighborhood can get a drink. It’s not just bringing the booze back to the little people, but it might be the place Robert can bring down to get more resources from the city.

He stomped up the stairs of his complex, wondering what he’s going to tell Selene.

She’ll be happy I’m still alive, but I don’t know if I can tell her everything.

So what would he tell her?

He got to his door and held his hand up in a fist, ready to knock. Then it softens and he pulls out his key to unlock the door.

He enters and calls out,

“Selene! I’m home.”

No one answered.

“Selene?”

Robert looked through the apartment, checking their bedroom and bathroom, looking behind the doors, in the tub, anywhere he could.

She wasn’t home.

The blood in him began to burn, as his face flushed with emotion.

I swear to god, if they’ve touched her I’ll-

“Robert?”

Selene entered the door, eyes locked on her husband. Robert turned and immediately rushed over to her. She dropped the grocery bags she was carrying as they caught each other in a deep embrace.

“Where were you all night?!” Selene sobs.

Robert is silent and holds his wife closer.

Ryan Shane

They were back at the Arcadia, in Vash’s side office. Ryan was standing watch next to the door, listening to the two women. Vash practically pulled them into the office and made two drinks, one for herself and one for Bella. Ryan noticed she added a little more shine to Bella’s dink.

“Here, it’ll settle your nerves,” Vash says.

Bella sheepishly takes the drink. She was a far cry from the confident aristocrat that entered the restaurant.

“Thank you.”

Vash sits at her desk, sipping her cocktail. Though she was friendly and polite, her eyes were sharp on our guest.

“Now Bella, I need you to tell me everything. Start from the beginning.”

The girl took her own unsure sip from her drink and sighed.

“Raphael and I had been seeing each other. We met at one of the Belrose family’s parties.”

“How? How could you just show up there?”

“I didn’t! I was snuck in.”

Vash takes another swig and eyes Bella up and down. If she was still trying to pretend to be polite, she wasn’t showing it.

Bella downs the rest of her drink. The poor girl looks like she just drank gasoline, which considering the shine she got in there, might not be too far off.

“I owed money to Lenny. I couldn’t pay him back at the time, and he offered a way to work it off.”

Vash scoffs.

“You could have easily paid him back. What could you owe that creep?”

“Ten grand.”

Vash nearly spit out her drink.

“What in the hell were you doing owin’ that dough?”

Bella looks sheepish again, eyes unwilling to meet Vash.

“Cards. Dice. …Dames.”

“You’re supposed to do that for a weekend, hon. Not a year.” Vash follows suit and downs her drink, though she handles it much better than Bella.

She continues.

“So Lenny says you can work it off by being a twirl? For the Belroses?”

“It was more like a deposit until I could get some cash from my father. I had no idea it would be for them.”

“This is why you shouldn’t have lied to Lenny. Hell, he probably knew exactly who you were and that’s why he did it.”

“I met Raph there. We got to talking and then one thing led to another…”

Vash waves away her words.

“Yeah yeah. Fine. So what happened?”

Bella looks around the room, her eyes catching Ryan. They looked like they were pleading. Ryan was about to speak when Vash spoke.

“Bella, I need to know what happened if I’m going to help you.”

“We were going to run away.”

As surprised as Vash has been in all this, nothing has worried her more than this statement.

“The two heirs? Disappearing in the night? That’s not very smart, Bella.”

“I know. But we knew our families wouldn’t understand. The morning we were going to leave, Raph caught a bullet through the window.”

The window? Who’s a good enough shot to hit him there?

Vash looked down, as if she was searching her desk for answers. Thousands of scenarios ran through her head as she thought about what she’d need in each one.

“Who else knows about this?”

Bella gives a very weak smile.

“Rupert.”

“Why in gods name did you tell him?!” Vash nearly screamed.

“I needed someone to clean out my apartment! I don’t know how to dispose of bodies!”

“The body is disposed of?”

“…No. The Belroses found it before Rupert could get to it.”

Vash is silent for whole minutes.

“Mr. Shane, do you know how to pour a drink?”

Ryan takes his queue and walks over to the bar. He pulls out a glass and some rocks from the ice box. He pours a good three fingers into the glass and walks it to Vash.

“Leave the bottle.” She says.

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