Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Author: Ben Acosta Page 1 of 7

Short story and novel author based out of Tucson, Arizona. Freelance writer for George Takei "Oh Myyy" properties.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 21

Thousands of questions flashed through my mind, the foremost being a question of where this boy learned such a dark art. But I must delay that, and learn exactly what was his pact.

“Lance, this is important. What was promised to the beast in return for his false loyalty?”

He turned to the other two in the room, looking to them as if he sought a way to escape through them.

“I said, this is important. Please, answer the question.”

The boy sighs, head drops in shame.

“I never wanted these horrible events to happen. I thought I could fix this and get him out before anything happened.”

“Lance, I need to know, what was your pact?”

I give him some time as he builds up the courage to speak.

“I promised him my innocence.”

…This must be a joke.

“Lance, how does it expect you to give such a non-substantial thing?”

“I didn’t think I would. But I’ve noticed over the course of this horrendous event, I’ve experienced such things that I cannot imagine I’d have gone through otherwise.”

He walks a little bit away. I keep watch, ensuring he doesn’t try to edge closer to the door.

“Innocence isn’t something so non-substantial. To demons, it can provide untapped power. I was a fool. By enacting the ritual, I started down the path of guilt. My wonder was replaced with a dark reality. And it culminated in the death of my brother, Mars.”

I am finding myself more and more perplexed. My studies were more on the material reality of demonic beings. To think they could draw power from a concept is baffling to me. Is it a trick? Is it a lie?

Nothing to do but trust it if it’s the truth, and play along until I can figure it out if it isn’t.

“How do we keep him from taking it then? I can’t save us if we have a fully powered demonic entity destroying everything.”

Con offers his two cents. And he had a valid point.

“Then why don’t we get to the part of this where we stop that from happening? Who brought the other big bad beastie here?”

“Yes. Additionally, Lance why would you think to summon a second demon? Where did you learn of such a technique?”

That question perks the boy’s interest.

“An old book. I had found it a long while back buried among the dusty shelves of the library.”

As Lance recounted his story, I looked around. Something is off-putting. Dusty shelves?

He continues.

“I didn’t think much of it, until I tried one of the spells is listed. Turned a yellow flower bright blue. But it wasn’t until much later, I thought of its true use. I learned that someone was summoning a demon. And… it… was…”

What is Lance doing? Something is wrong. Why can I not see it? What is interrupting my thought process?

“Who was it?”

What was Lance doing?
“I-I can’t remember…”
Lance is struggling as much as I am. This should be an important fact. Something he could easily remember. He brought forth a deadly monster because of this fact, and yet he doesn’t remember who did this?
“Con, break the circle.”

“What?”

“Con, Break. The. Circle.”

My cohort looked over at the spirit of Marcellus. The chalk circle encompassing it.

“But Branner, you said the circle holds him together. Won’t he dissipate?”

“He’s being held together by the spell, yes, but there’s something else with him. I do not believe the delay in the initial curse breaking was a coincidence. There’s something worse in play here. Break the circle!”

Con finally responds and runs to the circle. He hesitates for a moment, but succeeds in wiping part of my chalk away, breaking my spells.

The light is blinding. The power that was poured into maintaining the spells now shines to every corner of the room and smothers all sound.

As it dies down and dissipates, I’m greeted by an astounding sight. Marcellus still stands in his translucent humanoid form. Con and Lance are staring at the rest of the room open mouthed. And I can’t really blame them.

Before us lay the library. The whole library.

It was hidden by a spell, tucked in with the spirit of Marcellus. While my brain is still foggy, there is something cleared. The pieces put together in my mind.

The double doors that led into a smaller room than expected. A lack of windows when this room is on the edge of a building. The pause before my spell enacting, bouncing off the powerful illusion. Everything finally made sense.

And good lord, was it terrifying.

Seeking Dusk: Part 12

Looking around, the other craters have their own angelic beings float out. Each one is adorned in more ornate vestments than myself. With their staffs, sashes, and crown-like halos, The Dominion looked resplendent.  And I quickly became all too aware of my less than suitable clothing to be standing in their presence.

“Aluma Firebrand. We were not expecting to see you so soon.” One of them spoke.

She was to my far right. Her garments were accented with violet rubies. The small scepter she held was how she poured out the love of The Presence. Her halos burned with holy fire, casting harsh shadows on her face that did not immediately endear her to me.

“I received the announcement of your arrival, and immediately sought for your landing. I apologize if I was not meant to.” I spoke humbly, but with as much conviction as I could muster.

The same angelic host, who spoke before, looked confused.

“We did not send an announcement. Where did you get such information?”

Lord Zadkiel spoke. “I sent it to her. I felt we needed a soldier, one we could trust. And there is no host I trust more than the angel of courage. It is for the best, Puriel.”

The idea that Zadkiel thought so highly of me made me blush.

“Thank you, my lord.”

The other Dominion, whose name I now know is Puriel, looked upset. “We were to look into this matter ourselves before seeking any help. Those were our orders.”

“I agree with Zadkiel’s actions. We need help. It has been far too long since we’ve been on this lovely blue planet, and much has changed.” Another of The Dominion spoke, just to the right of Zadkiel. She was slender, her mouth curled into a playful smile. Her halo sat behind her head, looking like a rising sun.

“He should have consulted us! Do you understand the severity of the situation?” Puriel was not pleased.

“If I did not, I wouldn’t be here. The Five Dominion have not walked this planet together in eons. Please, do not mistake my agreement with Zadkiel as complacency.” The other angel spoke with soft words, that carried an unseen force. I felt more calm just from listening to her.

“Ariel, Puriel, enough! What’s done is done, and cannot be undone. But Zadkiel does not get off so easily. Decide now if we shall follow his plan and reveal why we are here.” The angel to my far left spoke, one I’m all too familiar with.

Kushiel, the angel who lead me through The Old War. He was large, made for battle. His right eye was slashed by the Morning Star himself and replaced with a new glowing eye of pure Light by The Presence.
“They are trying to decide. Let them work it out.” Muriel, a summer angel spoke next. Her sash appeared to float around her, the flowers in her hair seeming to spin.

To see all five of them here together… It is rarer than seeing two of the Archangels. And while it should be their decision, I must admit, I am curious as to why they’re here.
“Are you old dozy nutters going to get on with it? What are we here for?”

My head slow twists to the side, as I try to stare right through the human. Rand! What are you thinking, talking to them like that?!

All five of The Dominion turn to my human companion. Kushiel, Puriel and Muriel had looks of disdain. Ariel was curious. But it was Zadkiel that surprised me. He had an amused smile on his face, like the words Rand spoke came from an infant. Rand himself gave a rather menacing glare back at the group of powerful beings. An ant staring down an elephant.

“Aluma, illuminate us. Who is your friend here?” Zadkiel spoke with a playful melody in his words.

I lay my arm across my chest and bow a little in reverence when I speak.

“My apologies. This is Rand Garrow a particularly impressive human. He has the ability to tap into The Power and fight demons much like an angel. He has proven useful on past missions.”

“Your apologies are unnecessary. I have heard of this human. His reputation is most impressive indeed.” Zadkiel turns his attention back to me. “And more importantly, he is right. Whether or not my cohorts agree, I plan to tell you why we are here. We need your help.”

“Absolutely not! Zadkiel, are you-” Puriel’s words were cut off by the sight of the angel she was yelling at.

He didn’t move much. Just turned his head slightly. His facial expression didn’t even change. But the way his words came out, one had to wonder if he was really capable of it.

“Puriel, my dear. Reality might cease to exist and I will do whatever is necessary to prevent that. Whether that be letting a trusted host in on the conspiracy, or sending you straight to The Pit, it doesn’t matter to me. Just don’t get in my way…”

The Elysian: Fourteenth Dream

“Um, I can explain? I think?”

The leshy settles on a branch close to me. I look at his sideways scowl of disapproval.

“Look, I just wanted to change how I was seeing things. Maybe see if the feather was tied to being over the river relative to my perspective. I never thought the water would follow suit.”

He sighs, and rubs his hand on his face.

“I don’t know how you did this, but this can’t be good. Master Puck likes his world the way it was. I don’t know what he’ll do to you now that you’ve gone and messed up his river.”

“Well, I don’t know if we have to worry about that.”

The wind starts billowing and blowing in a full gale seeming to scream at me. It kicks up more branches, leaves and dirt than you’d expect.

And then we hear the thundering voice.

“PUNY MORTAL, WHO WILL FEEL PAIN,
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY DOMAIN”

I sheepishly look at the angry wood spirit with his ‘I-told-you-so’ face.

“You know, I could be wrong. Small chance we should worry.”

The wind ramps up, throwing debris everywhere. I squint and put my arms up to protect my face. The wind sounds like it’s laughing. Something maniacal.

“Wind, leaf, dirt and rock.
Our dear mortal is in for a shock…
Fire, rain, thunder and grave.
How much longer can he be brave?”

The wind spins faster around, whipping rocks through the air. They keep hitting me, despite my attempts to turn intangible. I’m too afraid. I look to the wood spirit and see him pressing against his tree to keep from flying away himself. But with everything going on, I still don’t see Robin Goodfellow.

“Robin! Stop it! I’m sorry! I can put it back! Just stop!”

The air spins even faster, applying pressure from above and push me into the rock I was standing on as his voice booms out.

“He thinks he can fix a world unturned
How many times must this lesson he learn?
Fear flows freely, giving me reign
And now for dear mortal to have some more pain!”

Fear. Shock. Brave. He told me before, I was afraid. That I had an emptiness. Is he still on that? Is that my way out? But how? I can’t even see him. I don’t even know what to do.

I look to the wood spirit again. His gaze was transfixed on something. Saying something. I couldn’t tell, the wind was too much. I looked at his mouth and focused as hard as I could on what he was saying.

It looks like… beh-ker… no… beh-ther…feh- FEATHER! He sees the feather! I follow his gaze. And there it is. It had a slight blue glow to it. It’s floating around me. It’s… it’s keeping pace with a small rock being whipped around in the wind!

Yes! My perspective did change its location! I push with all my might to stand and reach out trying to time the rotations. The feather moves outward. Crap!

I push forward, trying to get closer. The rocks are hitting me at a greater frequency. I don’t know how much longer I can take this. But I have to get it.

“Fruitlessly fighting for what? I wonder.
How can you force yourself into this blunder?
You have no power. Your hopes are dashed.
And fighting my wind will only leave you thrashed.”

“Give up. Give in. Be still. Be afraid.
Try to not think of your body being flayed…”

I’m at the edge of the large rock. I have to get down. I try to maneuver my legs to slide down backwards, but the stones flying through the air whip at me harder! I can’t do it!

“I… I… I can’t-”

Goodfellow’s voice comes bellowing back.

“Can’t what? Fight? Fly? Be anything, but weak?
Give up now. Your chances look bleak.”

I think of my family. I think of my job. I think of dying, fighting death, and this stupid journey. I think of what Robin told me earlier of my fear. Of how it affected my work and my daughters…

I think of my building. The skyscraper I designed all those years ago. How my firm never wanted to use it. How I could never sell it somewhere else. How all these ugly buildings went up, when my masterpiece sat on a stretch of paper. And I decide that was enough.

“Don’t tell me I’m not good enough…”

“What was that mortal? I’m afraid I-”

“DON’T TELL ME I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”

I scream out louder than Puck. Louder than the wind. Louder than the hastened beating of my scared heart.

I push myself back up on the rock and force myself to stand. I look back out at the flying feather. It’s even further out, much too far to reach. I push back as far as I can, run to the edge of the rock and jump.

It was quick. I could barely remember it. But my arm shot out and my hand closed around the whipping debris.

And I land. And the wind stops. And the leaves and rocks fall.

The small leshy looked around in the air, surprised at what happened. But in all this, all I could think was, I did it.

I open my hand to see a lightly glowing blue feather.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 20

In a flash, the transformation takes shape. The cook’s legs straighten not unlike stiff boards. His hands shoot down at his sides, unmoving from the side of his thighs. His entire body becomes rigid.

“Blah! What is going on?!”

Just as he yells, he loses his balance and falls on his face. At some point I should start trying to catch the people I trap like this.

I take a step forward, placing my foot upon his back.

“I do not have time for games. I have done nothing since my arrival, except put my energies toward stopping this evil. Your own master has tried such tactics as you and conceded to me.

“I do not wish to argue. I do not wish to fight. But if you do not tell me what I need to know to save everyone in this building, you will learn of what I am capable.”

I get in close, almost whispering in his ear for what I am about to say.

“The things I can do would drive even a strong man like you to the worst kind of nightmarish lunacy. So, please, where is Lance Welling?”

The man beneath my foot shook. I didn’t think I was terribly terrifying.

“You surprise me, detective.”

Detective? Interesting word.

“Surprising? I worried you thought me terrifying.”

“You win. I will tell you where the boy is. But I’m not sure you will like what you hear.”

Terrifying to terrified. A rather quick transition on my end.

“The boy went to fix his mistake. He seemed worried about failing the master, but I told him things can always be made right.”

I lift my foot off the cook. The energy binding him releases as the gem in my hand loses its glow.

He went back to room after that foolish undercook told him the best way to stay out of trouble is to hide his tracks. Now, the cook didn’t know what he was referring to, but curse it all if he didn’t give that child the most dangerous plan possible.

I turn and run back through the mansion, not even stopping to have the maid guide me back. Despite the maze of a building trying its best to trap me, this is too important, and I strain my mind to remember the way back.

As I sprint, I’m trying my best to dodge every piece of furniture and hired help in my way. The labyrinth-like upper halls stalled me longer than I’d have hoped.

But I find it.

Those double doors to the study where I left Con with the spirit. The creator only knows what I’ll find behind it. Time for action. I push open the doors with all my might, the force causes them to swing and bang against the walls.

“CON! Are you-” I’m stopped in the middle of my exclamations by the sight in front of me.

Con was standing, holding Lance Welling by the back of his shirt. Lance was slumped, either unconscious or just defeated, being held up solely by the will of my young apprentice. The spirit in the middle of the room looked horrified. I haven’t the slightest idea what transpired here.

“Hey, Branner. He tried to rush me.” Con was very calm. And I suppose he answered my question. Well, let’s see if I can speak.

“…Well done, Con. Yes, it seems Lance is hiding something. I don’t know if the spirit is truthful in his earlier tale, but Lance certainly knows something. What did you do to him?”

Con looked a little proud of his achievement.

“Just socked him in the face. He was a bit loony. Tried saying sorry right before attacking me.”

He finally set the unconscious boy on the floor.

Now, what will I do? He’s merely a boy. One whose brother has been killed. He could be the one to have done it. He could also be falsely accused, and more painful prodding would be unwarranted. I must tread lightly.

I cross the room to my bag I’d left in the room, reach in and pull out some smelling salts, to wake Lance from his trauma induced state.

“Con, bring him over here and prop him against the wall.” I point to the far end of the room, away from the spirit.

Con grabs the boy under his arms and does as I instructed. While he does so, I reach into my pocket and grab the jade gem. I might be relying upon it too much. It is bound to reach its limit soon. And yet I cannot think of a quicker, safer way to incapacitate the boy if necessary.

I crack the vial, releasing the smell into the air. I quickly place it under the nose of our stunned friend. As he regains his sense, I do my best to put him at ease.

“Lance, are you feeling well? I want to make sure you’re all right.” I speak slowly, and with care. I watch as he goes quickly from unconscious, to groggy, to alert in mere moments.

He looks back and forth from Con to myself, and back again. I can only assume he is frightened. Con defended himself, and in doing so, injured the boy. I can’t imagine it is a very pleasant feeling.

“Branner! I-I have to leave. At once. Please let me-”

He tries to stand, but I put a firm hand on his chest.

“I’m afraid I cannot. You’re involved in this mess, aren’t you?”

The boy stares at me with a look of absolute horror. His thoughts must be racing. Deciding how much trouble he is in. Or thinking of a route to escape.

“Lance?” It came from Marcellus. The person Lance might have been considering.

“…Mars?” Lance was emotional, the reunion with his brother bringing tears to his eyes. “I’m so sorry, Mars. It wasn’t my fault. I-I was trying to stop it. I just wanted it to end! I’m so sorry!” I stand back letting the boy stand up. He slowly shuffles over to the ghost.

“What happened? Why did you attack me?” The spirit implored.

Lance could barely hold himself together.

“I didn’t! It wasn’t m-me! I told him to not let you leave the room! I was so close t-to ending this. Please you have to understand, I was only trying to help…”

…No. No that boy didn’t do it. He couldn’t have.

I speak up. “Lance, did you summon the second demon?”

He quickly turns, as if the thought I was in the room had crossed his mind for the first time.

“…I did.”

Seeking Dusk: Part 11

What am I to do? I ask myself as I float over the city.

My powerful wings flap, pushing on nothing as I am intangible to the air around me. Is that what I’ve become? A superfluous remnant of a time when I used to be necessary?

The war had changed. Mere soldiers were no longer enough, we now required diplomats and spies. We required compromise. I had seen such a thing happen in the realm of humans, but I never considered it would touch the holy war.

Eons of unchanging battle waged against the powers of The Adversary, and it is the introduction of humans to the fight that shifts the rules.

Thinking on it now, why am I surprised? We were told they were special. We were told to bow before the new apes. And it was the unyielding resolve of Lucifer that started all this.

I can see now. So many of the host may obey the command, but they don’t understand it. Humans are still young, weak and prone to far too much sin. But they can overcome that. Angelic hosts have no choice. We are what we are.

But we can learn.

I have to find Rand. I must apologize.

I swoop down closer to the ground, feeling for his energy. The bustling people below me make it slightly easier, since none have the kind of power Rand does. And yet I don’t feel him. He couldn’t be too far out of range, I should get a taste of his power somewhere around here, unless he’s intentionally hiding himself.

I return to the park, hoping he went back there to regroup, or just kill time protecting it. Despite flying all over, I feel nothing. Flying to the bridge, I wonder where he could be. There’s no way Dumah could have done something. He’s far too weak, as most creatures in The Milton are.

My search is cut short when I feel something new. It’s flying low. The energy is unnatural, but barely there. And worse I recognize it. It was beautiful, though I wonder how it found me here. The fluttering of its wings caught the light, refracting it in unnatural ways. As it landed upon my outstretched hand, I almost admired the form of such a creature. The butterfly was not real. It was a message.

The insect burst into sparks of light and faded; its job complete.

They were coming.

They don’t normally come down to earth. They normally speak directly with the Seraphim, Archangels and Principalities. Why they would come down to the planet is beyond me. Unless something were to threaten the very fabric from which reality is woven.

They are The Dominion. And they are my bosses. And they have me scared far more than anything else that has happened tonight.

I take off into the air, looking for a sign of their arrival. Scanning the skies, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see. They can be such drama queens, arriving with a bright light, or…

Off in the distance, I see them. Five shooting stars streaming across the sky. I have to find Rand. I have to warn him. I…

Why am I so scared? What have I done wrong? If the Dominion are here, it must be for another purpose. I’ve slain the first of the escaped demons. I fought and felled many a beast at that club last night. And they know nothing of the deals Rand has made with those lower creatures. I need to not worry.

Though I’d feel better if I knew Rand was safe.

I fly in the direction of the streaming lights. As I travel, my mind begins to wander. How could I have not known all the pain and sacrifice that lurked in Rand’s heart? His power is greater than many of the Host, and he fought hard to obtain it, so how is it when he starts dealing behind my back, I’m oblivious to what he had to fight?

Rand Garrow… They say fools rush in where angels fear to tread. I suppose that makes him a fool.

It flickers. Just for a moment, but a moment is all I need. Rand’s power turned on and off quicker than you could flip a light switch. It’s the perfect little message to get my attention. Which I can only hope isn’t because he’s in trouble. Oddly enough, it’s in the same direction as the stars that signaled the arrival of The Dominion. Why would Rand be over there?

There’s an old junk yard just outside of the city.  The meteors and Rand’s power converge there, from the looks of it. Piles of old cars, broken equipment, and some odd pieces of art litter the lot. I touch down quietly, still unsure if this is a trap. I may also be a little afraid my superiors would find me and while I don’t think I’ve done anything against the rules, I’d prefer to not take any chance with them.

I pull my energy back, hiding as much of it as possible. I can tell a little bit is still leaking out, but it’ll have to do. Skulking around the stacks of old cars, I look for a sign of Rand.

Row after row, I find nothing. No meteors, no Dominion, no sexy, British demon-hunters. This junk yard is just filled with junk, which I suppose is appropriate, but I still feel swindled. I look to the sky for the shooting stars The Dominion were riding. They were getting closer. So that’s one mystery, but where is Rand?

“’ello, Alli!”

“BY THE PRESENCE!” I turn quickly, to find Rand laughing his ass off. “RAND! What the hell is wrong with you?”

“It was too easy. You were so focused on the bright lights in the sky, you didn’t even detect me.”

I punch him in the shoulder. “Doesn’t help that you can suppress your power completely.”

“So what is with those stars anyway?”

“Right, you’ve never met them. You’re about to be special.”

“You mean I wasn’t before?” He gives me a wink. I let it slide.

“They are The Dominion. They’re above myself, and even some Archangels Think of them as-”

“Bureaucratic nightmares?”

“…Sounds about right.”

I turn my attention back to the sky. “So how did you know they’d land here?”

Rand takes a few steps forward, standing in line with me. He looks to the stars with me.

“Good, old-fashioned estimation. I could sense those weren’t natural and thought we might be in for a fight. Finding out we’re about to talk with your boss almost makes me wish that were true.”

“They’re about to land. Try to make yourself presentable.”

The meteors come in fast, crashing into the piles of junk around us. They slammed into the earth, making some brand new craters that this lot owner will have a fun time dealing with in the morning. I run forward to the largest, already knowing who’d I’d find.

He slowly floats up, his sash adorned with blue gems. His gray hair is slicked back into a ponytail. The halo above his head splits in the center, turning back and forth, lazily scanning the horizon.

I run toward him and kneel to his grace.

“Rise, Aluma. We have much to discuss.”

“As you wish, Lord Zadkiel”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 19

There is something about Doctor Maladar’s workers that seems to both unnerve and astound me at the same time. They are loyal, well trained, and highly efficient. And yet, I feel like there’s more beneath the surface. These people are so much more than effective servants. Each of them possesses some quality that I find astounding. And the loyalty, beyond compare. How he can get such prowess and effort from his help is outside my comprehension.

“Do try to keep up, Branner. We will be heading outside now. I wouldn’t like if you were to lose your way.” I really must learn how to walk while lost in mine own thoughts. It would truly be of use.

I had been out in the gardens earlier in the day, but part of me was now in a more relaxed state since I no longer had to worry about attacks out here. If the demons’ were bound to the house then they were prevented from leaving the estate, and I’m sure they want to focus on completing their contracts so they might be free.

With such fears at ease, I could enjoy the view of such stunning plants the Doctor had accumulated in this place. He must have some particular love of the botanical sciences, as the various flora were arranged by their genus.

“You wished to see me, Branner?” We had arrived, and it would appear, The Doctor had not completely cooled from his earlier row with me.

“Not quite. I was looking for your man, Lance Welling. He was going to report my findings to you, last I saw him. Has he yet found you?” I keep things as amicable as possible.

The Doctor looks me over, like he’s sizing up how best to answer me. Any other time, I’d argue about time being of most importance, but it will get me nowhere. And I must keep as much goodwill as I have left.

“Mr. Welling did report to me a short time ago. I asked him to rest and return to his quarters. I figured it best considering the circumstances.”

“Wonderful. Could you by chance tell me where the servants’ quarters is located?”

“Branner, what do you intend to do when you reach Mr. Welling?” His gaze is very unnerving. I can not stress that enough. But he speaks as if he already knows what I need him for.

“Doctor, I have seen far too much today.” My words must reach him. I’m not normally a person so accustomed to the feelings of others, but he must know my urgency.

“As many things as I have done in my life, few can match the plethora of low level demons I killed, the young boy I discovered with his unique talents, facing a partially corporeal demon, summoning and trapping a ghost only to discover it is not a ghost, all the while, trying not to die while exorcising two demons possessing such a large estate.” I suppose when I say it all like that, my day certainly seems much more amazing than I ever really considered.

“This case must be closed and soon, if we’re to save not only your people, but potentially the entire county.” My pacing must seem more agitated than calm, for The Doctor is letting a nervous look through.

“I tell you this so that you may understand me when I say, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do when I find Mr. Welling. I would like to think that my initial judgment of the poor boy was correct, and this is all a misunderstanding,” I say, as I cross behind him. I emphasize my last few words to ensure he gets my meaning, “but I cannot rule out the possibility that he is at the center of this whole nasty business.”

“Branner… these things you are insinuating…..” The Doctor spoke slowly, his every word perfectly enunciated. “These are grievous charges to bring on someone who has experienced such recent tragedy. Before I tell you where he went, are you certain of this?”

“Not at all.” I wish I were… “Lance Welling is an incredibly talented young man, and has weathered much in his short life, and I would hate if my actions would unnecessarily hurt him. But evidence has lead me to the conclusion that I must at least question him, if not outright interrogate.”

The Doctor turned and looked me over. With all the brash things I’ve done today, I have to wonder how long his patience will hold.

“Why do you see fit to balance out all the incredible, and reassuring spectacles you perform with such insanity? You slay blood-born demons of which I knew nothing. Then proceed to run about my home, peering through an odd glass. You hire on an urchin, known to thieve from my premises, in the middle of your investigation! Yet, you successfully fought and repelled a much larger, unseen beast, moving about this building.”

He looked at me with an odd, inquisitive face. I wasn’t really sure how to answer. I had done what was needed. What I felt was needed. I suppose I did take some permissions for granted.

“You want this house cleansed, from what is infecting it. I can tell you right now, it’s two demons. And while one alone is complicated, two is a messy war. Everything I’ve done has been working toward this goal. Not a one of your previous hires has done things the way I do, and look where you are. It seems I am to fight you as much as these dark spirits, through this endeavor, and I shouldn’t. After all the things I’ve shown you, I absolutely shouldn’t.”

I only hope this is the last time I must do this.
“I shouldn’t have to keep doing this.”

The Doctor was somber. His authority and pride must be withering with all my intrusions.

“Branner, I must apologize.”

…How many times today will I be so surprised.

“I have been just as inconsistent with you, as you have been with me. You proved fairly quickly upon your arrival that this house and my people can be saved. I agreed you’d have full permissions to the grounds and manor, and every time since then, I’ve done nothing but question you. You who only wish to help. And for that, I am sorry.”

I’m stunned. This may be the third time today I’ve gotten into such a discussion with Doctor Maladar, but it is by far the one I least expected. I should just be gracious, and move on to Lance.

“I thank you, Doctor. Now, if you please, to continue with my investigation, I must know, where is Mr. Welling?”

“He went to the kitchen for some food. I excused him from the rest of his duties for the day.”

The Doctor wouldn’t do that under standard circumstances. Then he must know what Lance learned in the study.

“Doctor, I should tell you-”

“I don’t want to hear it, Branner. I don’t want to know any more than I already do. Please, finish this investigation. And do it quickly.”

His fist was shaking, his head drooped at my words. The memory must be painful. This man cares so much for his staff, and yet he gave me Lance’s location. This entire ordeal is putting him through the some of the worst pain imaginable.

I turn to the young maid I had escort me here, whom I seem to have forgotten. She looked very uncomfortable in all our talk.

I can’t help it. I must give him one last thing.
I don’t turn around.
“He doesn’t blame you.”

The maid quietly leads me back into the house, my conversation with the doctor likely keeping her from articulating any thoughts. This building was gorgeous, and yet actually looking at it, I can see the signs of previous attacks. Panels with scratches, immediately adjacent to new ones. Rooms the staff seems to avoid. And they all look to me, hoping for salvation. It is for this reason, that I force myself to push against my compassion. Lance may know more about this affair than initially believed, and if I am to free us, I will need to know what he knows.

The kitchen is massive. Such a large estate requires much in the way of hired help, and a lot of people require much food. The head chef wouldn’t be bothered to cook for the staff, so an under-cook or apprentice would be serving Lance. I felt like I was in a children’s game, constantly chasing a moving target. Normally when I do so, I’m in a much greater sense of exhilaration. Running after magi through dark ruins, or fighting off a pack of crocotta. Intense situations lead me to use my mind more effectively. I piece together these puzzles amidst the chaos. Here, while I have endured plenty of turmoil, it has been interspersed with long lulls of politeness. Social situations that require a much more refined personality to wade through such murky waters.

“Mr. Branner? Are you feeling all right, sir?”

I am snapped back to my senses.

“Yes! Right. Where’s the cook?”

“Um, he’s standing right in front of you…” The maid sheepishly gestured to the man standing clearly in front of me, his brow furrowed.

I clear my throat.

“Of course. My good man, have you seen young Lance Welling, recently?”

The cook was a larger man, who seemed annoyed at my presence. Why? I could not say.

“You’re taking me away from my duties, to inquire about one lowly servant?”

Well, I suppose that could be why.

“His whereabouts are imperative to my investigation. If you could please tell me where he is, I will be on my way.”

The chef looked me over, placing a hand to his chin. I didn’t like this feeling.

“Or, here is another thing I could do. I could go back to preparing supper, not tell you where that poor boy is, and let you go take care of our problem without the harassment of someone who recently lost his brother.” He turned around and started to walk away.

“Why must everyone throw everything they can in my path?” These people seem determined that I must fight against them in addition to the demons. I must show I am not to be taken lightly.

I reach into my pocket for my jade gem. “Restringo.”

The Elysian: Thirteenth Dream

“What?” Did he really just offer to help me?

“I never really liked Puck anyway. Let’s make him keep up his end of his bargain.”

I was flying through the air, the small leafy man sitting on my shoulder. He has suggested a direction based on a vague guess that I won’t try to understand. His level of excitement has gone up, at least. And I have a companion on this journey. So, I can’t complain.

“So, what’d you do to piss off Goodfellow?” The leshy spoke.

“I didn’t really do anything, I think. I’ve just been traveling through this magical door, trying to get home. For that I needed his key. So, I asked for it. He challenged me to keep up with him, and I failed, maybe?” Still not sure about that. “Anyway, after tricking me with thinking I won, he gave me this new challenge and disappeared.”

The wood spirit let out a laugh. “That’s just like Master Puck. Never assume he’s straight forward.”

“Yeah, I got that. And I’m sorry for the scene I made back there. It’s just been a lot to deal with.”

“You just died. Even if you’re just a human, that’s still a lot to deal with.”

“Um, thanks? I guess.”

I soared on, the trees whizzing past us. This sideways forest was growing on me, no pun intended. After getting used to the insane spectacle of it all, it was an interesting thought. Do the birds fly like me? Or do they fly perpendicular to the ground? Which way will the water in the river flow?

We approached the river, and my last question was answered. Water flowed downward, with gravity.

“Alright, kid, time to go searching.” He hops off my shoulder and lands on the closest tree.

“So, what’s the plan? How do you find this weird feather?”

“That’s on you, kid. I told you which river it might be, but it’s up to you to figure out where this feather is.”

Crap. “Um, well, he said it was… under the river?”

“Under the river? Kid I don’t know about you, but I don’t swim.”

“It was also under a rock. And next to earth.”

“…”

“…I bring it to him to show my worth.”

The leshy sighs. “You have to be kidding me. I think he sent you on a wild goose chase.”

“No, he has to play by some sort of rules. I mean he may be a trickster, but…” It hit me. “…He’s messing with me. He never planned to give me the key.”

“That’s what I told you. But let’s not jump the gun. He likes nothing more than to make an ass out of people, sometimes literally, but there’s always a point to it. Even if we can’t find this feather, we’ll find something.”

“All right…”

“And if not, we beat the leaves out of him.”

“Attack a god? A prankster god at that. I’m sure he can come up with some witty and ironic punishments.”

“Yeah, but the alternative is letting him win, and I ain’t a fan of that.”

“Point. Okay, so let’s follow the river down and if we can’t find anything suspicious, we suicide by God. Epic way to go.”

“Well, let’s get started.” And he jumps down to the next set of trees.

The spirit and I examined the river. It was interesting. While not everything obeys the law of gravity, this most certainly did. The way the water rushed through the river, it looked more like a waterfall than a river. And Puck had said the feather was beneath… above? It was near the river, right?

Oh no. I had forgotten most of his obnoxious rhyme. While I remember it being near river, earth and stone, I can’t remember the directions! It was… next to the earth! Yes! That was one. Now where was it in relation to the river and rock?

“Hey! Ya mind helping to look for this stupid thing?” The spirit was a bit upset with me. I realized I had become lost in thought and stopped looking around.

“Right! So why don’t you head upstream, and I’ll head down. We’ll meet back in a bit?”

“Sure thing, buddy. Just remember, not everything is what it looks like.” And with that, he hopped up to the next tree.

I floated further down, looking for anything resembling a feather or bird. What kind of lesson could I gain from searching for such an item? Seemed like a simple gofer job. As I floated down, the river bent to the right, the rushing stream seeming to change direction by magic. It still had the waterfall effect to it, but now it was going in a different path, away from the ground. It still flowed with the riverbed along the earth.

I have to remind myself that this realm isn’t like the normal world. Even if I think I understand the way something works here, it can shift itself just to spite me.

There. I see a rock. It’s particularly large compared to any I’ve seen, and I’m drawn to it. This had to be the stone he was talking about. Now where was the feather in relation? Over? Under? I continued flying around it examining every nook and cranny. The thing was big, larger than two of me, and so much to explore. I should call the spirit over and see if he has any ideas.

I don’t know his name. How can I not know his name? This was all a bit of insanity.

“Mr. Leshy! I think I’ve found something!” I really hope he heard that.

I don’t know how far away he is, so I continue about my search. The rock isn’t too far from the river. I think the feather was over the river? But is that in relation to our current perspective? Does it change based on how I’m seeing the water moving? Luna taught me how to adjust my gravity, so to speak, could I do that here and change where the feather is?

I move up to the earth by the river. I put my foot out, flat against it. I focus on the dirt and rocks being the floor. Finally, I put my other foot against it and stand up. It feels different and right. Kinda wish I knew how to tap dance, then I could pull off some Fred Astaire routines right now. But I was oriented the way I felt I should perceive the forest now. And it was beautiful. The trees were incredibly tall, though I’m not sure why I noticed before. I guess it made it easier to maneuver when they’re on their sides.

I hear a sound. It’s water crashing. I turn and look behind me, in time to see the water adjust its orientation to my new perspective. The water stops flowing like it was before, and slams into the riverbed. I get splashed with some water, though I wonder how I get wet if I’m not really here. It was beyond weird though. While I had considered the water doing that, part of me didn’t think it would. I mean, it’s not like I can manipulate the stuff around me…

I start remembering what Luna had said. She told me my thoughts can only influence so much. I might not have been able to teleport, but could it be that I can adjust the… perspective? Does the way I see the world change the way the world is shaped?

“What did you do?!” It was the spirit. He was hopping down the trees toward me, as if they were in the previous perspective.

“What happened to the water?!”

Neon Noir: The Tenth Beat

Before the military, Ryan spent plenty of time trying to get out of scrapes. Even with his background, he still hasn’t gotten used to starting them.

Ryan Shane

I never should have come here.

Mr. Shane quietly cursed the situation he found himself in. He was sitting in another car, one whose owner he didn’t know, thinking of how he’s going to accomplish the task given to him by Lady Vash.

The apartment building loomed over him. He needed to go in, draw the attention of any hired goons watching and notify Vash so she can get the hidden cash. And no killing. Not that he had an issue with that last edict.

“Dammit!”

A car passes by and no more look to be coming up the road. It’s time.

He opens the car door, steps out and slams it shut. He quickly crosses the street, though taking care to not run and draw too much attention to himself. The glow of the city seemed to hum to the City’s Heart.

At least I’ll be able to hear it, even in there.

The neon lights fade as Mr. Shane slinks into the shadow. He moves slowly now, listening for people inside the building. There should be a door around the side here somewhere…

A-ha!

Bella’s information was accurate. The door was open and led to a long, dark hallway. The shadows were only broken by small, dim lights lining the hall.

To his relief, he could see just enough that he knew there was no one on this floor. Though that would only delay the inevitable.

Mr. Shane moved down the hall, toward the elevator. He’ll need to go up to the tenth floor to find Ms. Gaudio’s apartment. He pulls the door to the lift open and silently closes it, selecting the appropriate floor.

The elevator sounds like a freight train to Ryan after his expert sneaking. He prays that the sound of the machine blends into the City’s Heart. The cart slows to crawl as it approaches the floor.

The doors slide open and creak to a stop.

Several men in very nice suits are pointing handguns at an empty elevator.

“What the hell?” The one closest to the car questions. “It’s empty?”

“Check it out.” A deep voice calls from the back.

The man in the front moves in the car, leading with his handgun. He points it around the elevator, looking for whatever phantom force caused it to move to their floor.

“There’s nothing here.”

“Damn thing is probably broken.”

“I’m going back in.”

The men holster their weapons somewhere in their jackets, sure the elevator is nothing of their concern. They take a step back to one of the apartments when Mr. Shane decides to act.

Five… Six… and Seven… Damn. I was hoping for something less flashy, but this will have to do.

He kicks out the vent on top of the elevator, dropping down to the floor below him. In the instant the man in front of him starts to scream out, he knocks him to the floor, snatching the man’s gun from his jacket in the process.

Another instant passes, and Mr. Shane dives out of the elevator between another two brawlers. As he moves, he disassembles the weapon, chucking pieces of it at the other two men down the hall.

The distractions prevent them from drawing their weapons, just long enough for Mr. Shane to get to work. He kicks out the legs of the two men next to him, slamming his elbow into one of them as he stands up.

The other man reaches into his jacket to pull his gun back out. Ryan grabs the man he just hit, and throws him down onto the other, ensuring their heads slam into each other.

The next instant sees the two men Mr. Shane threw the gun pieces at whipping out their handguns. There isn’t enough time. He sprints down the hall at them, hoping the act is enough to surprise the men, and keep them from firing.

It doesn’t work.

The guns each light up as they fire shots at Mr. Shane. One whizzes inches past his head, much to his relief. The other hits his shoulder, leaving a trail of blood in the air.

Despite the heat of battle dulling his pain, he still feels the sting.

This is gonna hurt…

He puts his hands out, grabbing the heads of his opponents, and slams them into each other. Their weapons discharge shots wildly, as the men lose control and collapse.

A gunshot rings out behind him, as the bullet misses him. One of the two men just outside the elevator must have gotten together enough to fire. Mr. Shane picks up the unconscious body of one of the other men, and hides behind him as he thinks of his next move. It must have worked, because the bullets stop.

Won’t last for long.

He notices the door to the apartment is open, so he dives through, just in time for two more bullets to barely miss.

He turns around and slams the door shut, locking it to buy himself some more time.

The sound of the hammer of a gun cocking back lets him know he failed.

“Who the hell do you think you are, kid?”

The voice was deep and grizzled. The sound of a man who has done a lot and seen too much more.

Mr. Shane curses under his breath. He doesn’t dare turn around.

“I asked you a question, boy.”

“If you’re going to kill me, then kill me.”

“Not just yet.”

The sound of another set of footsteps crosses the room, coming up behind him.

“Hands where we can see them.” His voice is younger, less experienced.

“You’re gonna tell us where Lady Gaudio is, otherwise, my friend here is going to make things messy.”

He wasn’t sure why, but the way he said ‘Lady’ stuck out to him. It wasn’t derision or sarcasm. There was almost… reverence.

“Rupert? You work for the Gaudio’s right?”

The footsteps stop.

“How do you know that name?”

“Bella told me. I’m here on her behalf.”

A rough hand grabs the back of his neck and slams his face into the door.

“Don’t you dare lie to me, boy!”

“It’s the truth!” Ryan can barely speak with his mouth crushed against the wood. “I swear, I’m helping her.”

The man pulls Mr. Shane back and forcibly spins him around. His hair was pushed back, peppered with gray. It looks like he hadn’t shaved this morning. But it was his eyes that fascinated Ryan. They were manic and angry and powerful, but they betrayed a sense of desperation.

He needs to find Bella.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 18

“Now, listen closely, Con. I need you to hold your hands outstretched towards the circle. You must focus on multiple thoughts. This may prove difficult, but I need help with the ritual.”

Con begrudgingly moves into his directed position.

“Alright, Branner. What the hell am I doing here?”

I am about to do something rather unscrupulous. My true purpose in recruiting Con was to have a partner to assist my cases. He’ll need to learn how to do some of my spells on his own. So let’s see if he can do this one without any real assistance from me.

“First, I will need you to concentrate on a specific feeling. An absolute truth. The thought in your mind must be something that cannot change, cannot be changed and is correct in all respects. Focus on this idea and let it become a part of you.”

Con closes his eyes and starts to think. I can only hope he’s thinking of the proper concept for this procedure. Maintaining the spell requires something of a hard emotion. A feeling so strong, it overpowers every other thought you have at that moment. Without it, the ritual will be all for naught. I want to make sure he has that idea first, before we move on to the incantation.

“Can you tell me what you’re focusing on?”

“No. Just tell me what to do next.”

“Now, I need to ensure that-”

Con turns his sharp eyes right toward me.

“Trust me. I got it.”

I was rather taken back by his sudden defensive reaction. I know he doesn’t approve of what we’re about to do to this spirit being, but then I suppose I’ve become too relaxed around him. I only just acquired his cooperation not too long ago and I’m already presuming his assistance is granted. This is a two way exchange. I don’t have to give him everything, but I can’t expect something from nothing.

“Well, then I’ll need you to repeat after me.” As I go through the intricate chant with Con, I begin to feel uneasy. As soon as we are done here, I will need to go look for Lance. Regardless of what is the truth, that boy is involved. A spirit wouldn’t point blame at a human without purpose. He either is behind it all, or is the key to figuring out whom is responsible.

I stretch out my arms in front of me to mime the spell.

“Are you ready, Con?”

“Yeah. Let’s get this over with.”

I observe as Con’s brow furrows into the scowl he had when I first met him. One can only assume he’s concentrating as deeply as possible. Of course, he could always be upset with me. He begins the chant and I do the same, but without the release of energy. The curtain of light surrounding the spirit turns a deep purple as Con’s energy pours into it. The binding spell shifts into the detection spell I taught him. Everything seems to be going just fine.

“All right, hold onto the spell, Con.”

I lower my hands and step around the circle. Con is containing the energy magnificently. I expected it to take several tries to get this right. Time to test exactly how well this is going.

“Mr. Welling, it is time for the test. Are you ready?”

The spirit had remained silent through all this. Likely, either preparing himself for the oncoming pain, or attempting to figure out how to fool the spell. I can only hope he isn’t trying for the latter.

“Yes, Mr. Branner. Proceed.”

“Thank you. And please, call me Branner.”

I turn to check on Con. He looks like he’s starting to have a bit of difficulty keeping the spell flowing, but he won’t have to for that much longer.

“Tell me your name, spirit.”

The wispy, young man straightens himself out. He prepares his words carefully. I am not sure if that is just his own mannerism, or an attempt at hiding the truth.

“My name is Marcellus Welling. I worked for Doctor Robert Maladar for five years.”

“That will do. Please try to only answer my questions. Nothing more.”

Con glares at me. He knows what’s coming next.

“Now, Marcellus, I will need you to lie on this next one. I should warn you to prepare yourself for the pain you are sure to experience immediately after.”

Mr. Welling closes his eyes.

“Please proceed.”

“Marcellus Welling, are you alive?”

“Yes.”

…Nothing? Nothing is happening? What in the devil is going on here?!

“You can’t be alive!” This should have been a detected lie. He should have been hit with a shot of crippling pain. He stood there, a rather confused look on his face. My shouting wasn’t helping.

“Con! Are you-?”

I turn to the boy and my heart sinks. His strength was low. He was barely keeping the spell going at this point. But from what I can tell, the spell is going. I stretch out my hand to feel the energy over, but nothing is wrong.

“Con… you can stop.”

He drops his hands and the connection closes immediately. All the color from the curtain of light fades and Con falls to his knees. Drops of sweat fall from his face down to the floor. I pushed him too hard. I should not have had him perform this spell alone. This whole endeavor is turning sour very quickly.

“Branner, what do you mean by all this? What is happening? Did your spell simply not work, or is there something more?” Marcellus was worried. And why shouldn’t he be. Here I am, the self-proclaimed professional, and I am losing my senses. Marcellus is not dead. Con is drained. And I have not come any closer to ending this mayhem. Wait… that last one might not be true…

“LANCE!” The name screams out of my lips before I can stop myself. He must know more about what is going on. “Con, stay here and gather your strength. Marcellus, my deepest apologies, but until I can verify just what you are, you will have to remain there. I must away.” I turn and bolt out of the room before either has a chance to express dissent. I can not deal with an argument from either of them. These demons couldn’t have bound whatever it is Marcellus had become to this place. It took too much time to summon low level demons and whatever energy they had saved was used to temporarily manifest on the physical plane. Which only means I still do not know who is behind this. But I would be willing to wager that Lance can point me to the right path.

The halls of the manor had become a labyrinth for me. I had forgotten that I was guided to the room by someone who knew the way much better than I. This will not do. Lance is my only lead. Every turn leaves me more and more perturbed. I cannot deal with this. I must find the boy. Ah! Finally, another soul. A young maid is just exiting that room up ahead. Let’s hope she can help.

“Excuse me! Miss! Might I ask your assistance?” I call up ahead to her, hoping she proves useful.

The girl sees me and her face lights up. “Oh, you’re Mister Branner. Of course. How might I help you?”

As I approach, I finally recognize her. This was one of the maids who had my bags brought to my room the night before. The night I made a rather large fool of myself. I think I will go ahead and forget about that.

“Yes, I was wondering if you knew where one Lance Welling is at the moment. I need to ask him a few questions.” Finally, things seem to be-

“I’m afraid I don’t know where he would be. His duties take him all over the estate.”

Damn. Wait. Where did he say he was going….?

“AH! Yes. I believe he said he was going to report my findings thus far to Doctor Maladar. Now his schedule should be something you know a bit better.”

“Oh of course! Right this way.” The young lady began to lead me back through the halls of the upper floor. It never ceased to amaze me how efficient the Doctor’s people were. As we walked back, my mind began to wander. I couldn’t help but notice the the intricate embroidered wallpaper flowing from hall to hall. Really, who could commission such a thing but the man who owns half the county?

“Ahem, Mr. Branner? May I ask you a question?”

The small voice nearly slips me, but does its job to bring my mind back to the task at hand.

“Yes, you may. And please, just call me Branner.”

“Thank you, Branner. I was just wondering, have you found a way to save Lady Maladar?”

The question strikes me as odd. I had forgotten that to most of the house, the goings on were a manifestation of the deceased lady. I had assumed the battle in the entry hall would have spread to the rest of the staff by now, and the idea that the fallen madam lurking about would be gone from their minds.

“Don’t you worry, child. Lady Maladar does not need any saving. I take it you’ve been preoccupied in the upstairs floors with your duties?”

“Oh, well, um, yes. I do suppose I hadn’t been around the manor much. Why do you ask?”

“It’s nothing. I would suggest asking someone downstairs about what’s happened this afternoon. After you take me to the Doctor, of course.” I realize all too late that my last statement sounded a bit too stern, so I try smiling at her.

She just giggles and continues down the hall. Why does this girl always see through me?

Madison

It’s been four years since we lost you. It’s been four years and three days since I last saw you. It’s been four years minus two days since I found out I wouldn’t be seeing you again.

It hurts. In times of loneliness, it hurts more. Despite the happy things I’ve been able to do and achieve, there’s still something that hurts all the same.

I’m torn between notions. At one extreme, people would agree it wasn’t my fault. I was no where near you when it happened. You didn’t do it because of anything I did. Hell, I probably wasn’t even on your mind the day the disease took you.

At another, could you argue that there wasn’t anyone that could have done anything? If someone had been there. If they had called right then. Some kind of chaos butterfly effect that would have changed the outcome.

And if something could have been done, why couldn’t I have been the one? I knew. I suffered the same.

What could I have done for you? What can I do for you?

I know why. I logically know why. But in my own sickness, I can’t help but ask. I can’t help but wonder. I can’t help but want you here today.

I know why you’re gone. It’s because a disease took you.

I know why you’re gone. Mental healthcare is difficult.

I know why you’re gone.

And the best thing I can do for you is to stay here.

– Ben

(If you or someone you know suffers from depression, please reach out for help. There are online therapists and mental health professionals. The National Suicide Hotline has their phone number [1-800-273-8255] and even online chat.)

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