Spades Fiction

Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Author: Ben Acosta Page 2 of 6

Seeking Dusk: Part 7

“Are you two done?” Dumah said as we re-entered the room.

He looked annoyed. Or at least I think he did. It’s difficult to tell emotions under that slime.

“Dumah, we can discuss terms. But how do we know you can make good on your end of the deal?” Rand crosses his arms, trying to look tough, but I bet we’ve lost ground.

“You’ve got no choice. You’re desperate if you came to me for help.”

Rand scoffs at the suggestion.

“You’re stop number 1, mate. Don’t get me wrong, I figured you most likely had the information, but we haven’t knocked on any other doors yet. We’re far from desperate.”

Dumah scans Rand’s face, trying to detect any hint of lies. He shifts to me, almost imploring me to tell him the truth.

“He’s honest. We’ve not questioned anyone else yet. But Rand guessed you’d be our quickest option.”

Dumah sets his drink down and curses under his breath.

“Fine. You want proof?” He reaches into his jacket’s inner pocket, pulling out black smoke. He lays it on the bar.

I step closer, trying to figure out what it is, when Rand puts his hand in front of me.

“Don’t. It’ll make you sick.”

This human is getting on me nerves.

Rand steps forward and holds his other hand out. As he does, a light shines out from his hand, purifying the energy surrounding the item.

The smoke dissipates, revealing a stone totem. Enochian runes are carved into it, denoting a demand for payment.

“Someone is calling in a favor?” Rand asks.

Dumah sighs.

“I don’t know the three demons you’re looking for. But I know who called them. Because he called me too.”

Rand takes another step forward, when Dumah, snatches the stone up and puts it back in his pocket.

“You have my proof. Now I need your word. My person. My establishment. Both under your protection.”

I shake my head.

“I can’t give my word about that. It’s not possible for an Angel to swear to protect a demon, even one as lowly as you.”

“Then you have nothing for me. There’s nothing you have that I want besides to live.”

I’m about to make a threat, when Rand steps in again.

“What if we do?”

Dumah and I are surprised and each of us gives Rand a strange look.

He continues.

“What if we have something you want more than protection for your bar?”

Dumah laughs at the suggestion.

“You’re looking to stop a war, and will probably start one instead. What could I possibly want more than survival?”

His phrasing intrigues me. I’m just here to hunt demons. What makes him think it will start a war?

“A source of true obsidian.”

Dumah stops laughing. I stand up. Rand, you cannot be serious.

“You’re lying.” Dumah is quiet, but curious.

“You could outlast whatever war you’re afraid of. You could outlast even our winged friend here.”

I don’t move. I can’t. How did Rand find it?

“You’re promising me the source of the Devil’s Mirror?”

Rand takes a seat and puts his feet on the table.

“No. I’m offering to get you a piece. A very small one. Enough that you can weather the storm.”

Dumah considers it. Even if he doesn’t use it all, a small piece would be more than enough to buy him a piece of the pie.

I can’t stay here. I start walking to the door, when Rand notices me.

“Alli! Where are you going?”

“I need air. And I have nothing I can offer. Get our information and don’t do anything stupid.”

Rand looks down and back up. Before he can say anything, I speak again.

“You better know what you’re doing. Because if this goes south, it’s on you now.”

I leave the room and cross the club to exit again. The whole building is awash in dark energy and it’s making me sick. I finally make it back out to the alley and take a seat next to the wall. Feels good to breathe again.

The idea of Rand cutting deals feels horrible. How long has he been doing this? Has he given them true obsidian before?

And why do I feel like shit?

I have to wonder if I ever really knew him at all. I’ve lived for millennia and known Rand for only ten years. Why does this feel like a betrayal of a brother?

He isn’t even doing anything officially wrong. If he was, The Presence would have stripped him of his powers. So he has to be doing something right, right?

Damn it, Aluma. Stop being so melancholy.

“Out for a nice stroll, host?” a voice yells in the distance.

That’ll do it. I jump to my feet and look around for the source of the voice.

“Up here!” it calls out.

Up on the building across from me, stand shadowy figures. Looks to be about six of them, though more might be hiding nearby. They’re all low-level creatures and shouldn’t be able to sense me. Dumah barely could and he was suspicious enough to suspect me. Something isn’t right.

“Well boys, you found yourself an angel. Now what are ya going to do?” I shouldn’t be taunting them. It’ll take me a bit to get out of this body. They have the upper hand.

“I think we should play a game. What do you all say?” Vampire was doing the talking. The fact they knew I was here should put me on edge, but all I could do was fight back a smile.

“If you really want to play, I’m game.”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 10

“I’m human?!”

“Shush!” I quickly put my hands on his mouth, slowly removing them as I speak.

“It’s only temporary. My assumption that the ring would incapacitate you was partially correct. I thought the ring was meant to control demons, but it seems the original purpose was to contain demons.”

“So I…”

“It traps your demon half and leaves you normal.”

“I was normal!” He struggles to stand. He’s not used to relying on so much less strength.

“You were half demon. How is that normal?”

“It was normal for me. I felt normal. Fine. Peachy. Now, I’m stuck relearnin’ to walk. Get this ring offa me!”

I am an evil, evil man.

“…No.”

“Excuse me? You can’t leave me like this!”

“Actually, this works perfectly. I don’t have to worry about a child running around with the strength to rip this house to shreds, or disappearing and just leaving his aura to try and guess where he is.”

He glared at me. Thinking. Probably considering how to kill me.

“And if you do still want to help, if we get in a pinch, a quick snap and all your abilities come back.”

“Fine. I’m just as curious to find what’s makin’ this ruckus as you…”

That was close.

“…but you better believe I’ll rip your head off if you don’t get this damn thing offa me as soon as we’re done.”

Well, close enough.

“Fantastic. My name is Archibald Branner. Please, call me Branner.” I extend my hand.

“Call me Con.”

He takes my hand, and I pull him to his feet.

I walk to the door and step out of the room. The two servants Dr. Maladar had stationed to keep watch seemed unnerved by my rather callous attitude towards the former intruder, but I insisted Con accompany me during the investigation.

I didn’t say this aloud, but he makes a perfect bodyguard. He seems resistant to physical and magical attacks. Not to mention that whatever is occurring at this residence wasn’t enough to drive him away either means it isn’t as dangerous as I thought, Con is stronger than I initially assumed, or he’s just foolish. Considering how easily he’ll let emotions control him, I can’t rule out the third option. Still, he will come in handy.

“How are you doing, Con? Finding it easier to walk?”

“A bit. Still feel like a gorram babe.”

“I imagine that will wear off soon.” I hope.

“Where we goin’?”

“You were a small anomaly I was curious about. Now that this little deviation is finished, we should try to find the altar used to summon the demon here. Such a ritual would require a large area, and keeping the demon partially contained means-“

“Means it take a while. They don’t wanna be disturbed.”

“Yes. Precisely. How much would you say you know about your heritage?”

He gives me a look. I realize he didn’t understand me.

“How much would you say you know about demons?”

He looks down, a little sheepish when he replies.

“A bit. Enough to get by, at least.”

“Then this might prove an educational experience. Your kind are a complicated creature.”

“You know I’m half human too, right? ‘Sides, they ain’t ‘my kind.’ Most want me dead just as much as you humans…”

We find our way back to the grand foyer. Almost the entire blood bath from yesterday was gone. Dr. Maladar’s workers were very efficient. Still, the carving in the center of the room was what I was more interested in.

“Give… me… the… girl….,” Con says.

I turn to my new companion. That is odd.

“Con, can you read?”

“No, sir.”

“Interesting. Because what is carved in the floor here says ‘Give the girl to me’ yet you couldn’t read this. How did you know what the sentiment was?”

“Just a feeling. Like when you know someone is about to leave a room.”

“You know when someone is about to leave a room? Have you always had these types of precognitive abilities?”

He was looking uncomfortable. Likely due to the attention of the investigation being turned back to him and the lingering effects of his transformation.

“I guess. Thought it was normal.”

“It’s not, and that is what I find odd. Your demonic abilities should be sealed right now, yet you can still sense certain energies.”

“…..So, why would a demon want a girl for? He feelin’ frisky?”

Humor to disarm the situation. He doesn’t like talking about himself. I suppose I can throw him a bone.

“There’s a variety of reasons a demon would want a human child. Possession, sacrifice, even to signify the acceptance of a deal.”

“So which of these do you think it is?”

“I’m not quite sure. Of course, we have to keep the girl from this beast, but I’m more worried about something else.”

“And that would be?”

“If the demon has been given dominion over this house, he could just take the girl. Why hasn’t he?”

“Maybe he did?”

“Then why…” I trail off.

If the demon was looking for the daughter, he could have just taken her. If she was the signifier of the demonic trade, the summoner had more than enough time to give her to the demon. That is, unless the demon doesn’t have dominion over the home. Unless someone or something is stopping it and its summoner from accomplishing their goals.

Oh no. I think things have gotten worse.

“You ok Branner?”

“This situation has become infinitely more dangerous.”

Con looks troubled. I can see he’s still piecing it together. I was horrified that anyone was killed when I thought it was a ghost, but now I’m amazed this entire house isn’t a graveyard.  

“What’s the matter?”

“I believe we aren’t just dealing with one demon, but two. And worse, they seem to be at war with each other.”

“…I’m gonna assume that’s bad.”

Neon Noir: The Seventh Beat

The Belrose Crime Family rose to prominence with the implementation of prohibition. While their political connections mean they could work to have it lifted, there’s more money to be made with it in place.

Vashti Kianian

The sounds of cracking tables, thuds against walls and gunshot punctuations fade into the distance as Vash leads Bella through the kitchen. She hadn’t even protested when Vash left this way.

Out back, behind the building in the alley, Vash’s mind started working on what she’d do out here. Even assuming Mr. Shane survived, she doubted he’d be able to get her car pulled around quickly. And if the attack ended up being more than the one man, she couldn’t wait around.

Looking around the alleyway, Vash took stock of her options. There was a fire escape, but she’d have trouble getting Bella up it. The exit down the alley itself was the most available option, but if more men were coming, it’s also how they’d be caught.

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

Vash turned her attention to Bella again, wondering what she thought of the dress, but realized she was shaking. This wasn’t the confident woman Vash remembered.

“Bella. Do you know why they were attacking us?”

The woman’s head droops down, the brim of her hat covering her eyes, but Vash knew exactly what they looked like.

They were afraid.

“It’s why I called you. The Belroses are after me.”

Vash froze for a moment.

“What did you do?”

All traces of Vash’s politeness were gone. She did not sign up for a war. In that moment, she mentally cursed putting so much effort in dressing up for Bella.

“I didn’t do anything!” Bella insists. “They think I killed Raphael, but I could never!”

This was getting a lot more complicated.

“Why, in the name of the maker, would they think you killed Raphael?!”

“You have to listen, I would never have hurt him! They just…”

Before she could finish her answer, the sound of screeching tires came from the end of the alleyway.

“Bella, give me your gun.”

She stares at Vash, horror in her eyes, but not moving.

“I said, give me your gun! Do you want to live?”

This time, Bella quickly moves, opening her purse and pulling the revolver from it. It was a little thing with a wood grip. Vash grabs the gun and points it at the car, now driving towards them.

There’s a wall behind us, but maybe if I hit the driver, we can go back through the restaurant. Ryan might be done by now…

The car pulls to a quick stop, and the door opens.

“Whoa there, don’t shoot!” Ryan says as he steps out of the car.

Vash lets out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

“Oh good… Wait, where’s my car?”

“No time. I’ll come back for it, but this guy’s was closer. Get in.”

In any other situation, Vash have protested Mr. Shane giving orders, but now was not the time. The two ladies moved to the back of the car as quickly as they could.

Ryan backed up, faster than Vash was comfortable with, since they were between two buildings, but he pulled it off. The car peeled back out in the street, making some cars screech to a stop, as he shifted and pulled into traffic proper.

“So, Mr. Shane, if I may ask, whose car is this?”

“After the first attacker went down his friend pulled up in this. I wasn’t sure if more could be on the way, so I figured I’d borrow his car.”

Looking around the vehicle, it was a far cry from Vash’s luxury machine. But it had a back seat, and enabled their getaway. It was clean though, which was surprising. Vash had expected brutes like that to leave their cigarettes or whatever laying about.

“Mr. Shane, did you kill the men?”

This was important. If he didn’t, he’d have to drive well to ensure he isn’t followed. If he did, they’d have lost those attackers, but the Belrose family would never stop hunting them.

“I didn’t. I knocked out the one in the restaurant. After I took away his gun, the guy in the car was easy.”

“Good. You know how to lose a tail?”

“We don’t have one, but I’m on it.” Ryan turned the car down a random road, away from Vash’s apartment. It might have been unnecessary, but Vash hadn’t lived this long without taking some precautions.

“Now that we have a moment, Bella, I need you to start talking.”

Bella clutched her purse.

“They think I killed Raphael.”

“Yes, you mentioned that. Why do they think you killed him?”

“Because they found his body in my apartment.”

Vash’s eyebrows shot up.

“Sweetie, you’re going to have to explain.”

Bella sighs, a tear trickling from her eye.

“We- we were seeing each other.”

Vash continues staring, Bella trembling a little.

“Mr. Shane, after you’re sure we aren’t being followed, please take us to the Arcadia. I’m going to need a drink.”

The Elysian: Eighth Dream

I pull myself into the crouching stance I assumed before. No time to think about hurting my ethereal body. There’s a sprite on the run, and I need to catch up. This time when I leap, I keep my eye on the trunk I’m aiming for to keep from hitting my stomach again.

It works, and I land exactly as I planned. Yes! I can do this! The imp is still a few trees a way, but I can catch up now!

I work on launching myself immediately after landing, making up the time. It doesn’t take very long for me to be only two trees behind.

“The mortal leaves me impressed. Good work I must say!

But your task is not so easy, more to do for you today.”

“What does that mean?!”

He smiles, putting his fingers to his mouth and lets out a loud whistle.

“Robin Goodfellow is no individual thing.

The entire forest my will. At my call they will sing.”

I hear something. Something behind me. It starts low, like a gentle hum. But it grows as we move, getting louder and more violent. I stop and turn just for a second, just to see what follows us. Immediately, I realize the mistake, and seeing the dark cloud following us, I figure out pretty quickly what he summoned.

I jump faster. Pushing myself from trunk to trunk. I may not be a physical being anymore, but I don’t want to see what a swarm of bees can do to me.

They were catching up quickly, and the focus on jumping from tree to tree is keeping me from thinking clearly. The faerie I was competing against just laughs at my predicament. I can’t help but wonder how it came to this. It couldn’t have been more than a few days ago that I was just an architect, driving home to see my family. Now, I race forest spirits who summon swarms of bees.

Remind me to give Fate the finger and a swift kick in the shin if I ever meet him.

How do I avoid bees? It’s not like I have insect repellent on me. The thought of cartoons hiding in water pops in my head, but even that far flung idea won’t work. I haven’t seen any lakes or ponds around so yeah.

I’m officially out of ideas. Wait… what did Luna have me do?

I yell ahead to my opponent, “Hey, Mr. Goodfellow? Would you please call off the swarm of bees?”

He stops and stares at me, his eyes going wide. It’s like I just asked him some horrifying question. I catch up and land on the same branch as him and wait for his answer. He just keeps that same look on his face. I turn and look at the oncoming horde of pain and back quickly.

“Will you please call them off please?!”

“Hmm.. No.

Let’s go!”

He responds quickly and jumps off towards the trees again. Damn! He was messing with me. The bees are even closer now. I have to keep moving. The hum of the swarm never lets me forget the danger should I stop. As fast as we’re going, they’re going to catch up at some point.

Bees behind me, unhelpful imp ahead, and the stupid wind circling all around us.

Wait. For real this time. Robin entered with wind. Each movement draws more air in gushes and gales. The following swarm moves faster with his movements. So is he controlling wind? Is that the secret?

Luna taught me how gravity was just my perception. That I didn’t have a body to be pulled down. Can I possibly control the wind like Robin?

If so, how? I had to let go of my beliefs to lose the pull of gravity. Do I have to forget I can’t control wind? I take a leap to the next tree and close my eyes. I concentrate on the belief that I can control the wind. I can’t not move the air with my mind.

“Hoo-aah!” I scream out. The tree I was aiming for moved, hitting me in the head. I fall to another tree below.

Ugh! I don’t have time to think. And closing my eyes to concentrate leads to the trees messing with me. Besides I don’t think it was working. I tried changing my thoughts but I didn’t feel anything.

I didn’t think it would be that easy, but I was really hoping. The bees are getting closer and I don’t know what they’ll do to me. I’d hope against hope that I can’t be hurt, but hitting these trees show me how wrong I’d be. The real question is ‘Can I be stung to death if I’m already dead?’

Both yes and no have bad answers. Second death versus eternal pain. Of course, I could maybe have the bees pass through me. I’m not real. Lord knows I’m not that lucky though.

There has to be something I’m missing. The swarm is almost on top of me. The faerie is nearly out of sight. I’m stuck on this branch, without any clue as to how to move forward and escape this whole scenario. My journey looks to be over as soon as it started. There has to be something…

No… There is nothing. I can’t win.

I might continue to jump forward and catch up to Robin, but I can’t win the race until he decides it’s over. Highly doubt he’d be so kind as to do so before the bees catch up to us. I could try going somewhere else to escape the bees, but that gets me nowhere. I lose this race, I lose my chance to move on. And it’s very unlikely the bees will listen to reason. I have nothing. I can’t move on.

I surrender.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 9

“But you know I’m a demon!”

“Yes, yes, we just went over that.”

“No, but why? Why trust me to help you?”

I give a small smile. He may not be educated, but he’s still intelligent. I’ve been excited over his condition, not angry. Nor fearful. Nor have I blamed him or accused him of the going-ons. He knows I know something else.

“You are powerful beyond that of a grown man and were able to break my sealing spell. You may thieve, but from what you’ve said, it was merely to feed yourself, and I’ve no grudge against one trying to survive. Besides, if you join me, you won’t have to worry about going hungry anymore.”

He looks me over considering my offer.

“And what if I says ‘no’?”

I give a moment to consider how I will phrase my answer.

“Then you be turned over to the head of the household, who will likely see you arrested. While I imagine with your abilities it would be easy to escape, your life on the streets is all you shall find again. I would ask, that in return for keeping your secret, you don’t come back to the manor until I’ve finished up here.”

“When ya put it like that, how can I say no?”

Good. This boy is an entirely different mystery altogether. Demon half-breeds are rare, but to be human as well is truly unheard of. That said, he is part demon, and I should take some sort of precaution.

I turn to my bags in my room and start sifting through them. Trinkets and tools are laid out upon my bed as I try to find the ring. I’ve not had a chance to use it, especially since most demons aren’t human shaped, but I suppose now is as good a time as any.

There it is! I pull a small bronze ring from the bottom of my bag. The metal is tarnished and the largest stone is missing from the inset, but it should still be potent enough for what I need.

I turn back to Con who is staring horrified at the item in my hand.

“I’ll need you to wear this band. It was originally designed to compel complete obedience from dark creatures. The loss of the centerpiece, along with your half-human physiology should weaken it enough that I can keep you in line while you maintain some independence.”

His eyes were glued to the ring through my entire explanation. He can feel the power emanating from the ring, like it’s calling out to him.

And he is afraid.

“That thing… it hates me.”

What? What was he saying? I myself could feel the power in the ring, but I didn’t think it had a mind to feel.

“No. I don’t wanna wear it!”

“Con-“

“NO!” he screams

His arms started pulling at the ropes binding him. The rope was enchanted and should be impossible for him to break. But then, the same could be said of the sealing spell from earlier. Still, he’s not angry, not drawing on that extra power. He’s scared. I never considered this possibility.

“I’m sorry, Con. This will be over in a moment.”

I grab his hand. He struggles more. The chair is moving back, and his fingers tighten in. It takes a bit of fighting but I get the ring on his hand.

“AHHHH!!!”

There’s a flash of light from the ring and then darkness. The boy screams in pain. I can’t see. I smell smoke. Brimstone. I can hear a dark cackling. A third presence in the room. In an instant, everything settles. I look over Con and stagger back.

His eyes are brown.

“I dun feel right…” he says before passing out.

I look at the ring on his finger. There’s a black gem in the centerpiece position where there wasn’t before.

What did I do?!

Remain calm Branner. It’s likely the ring didn’t hurt the boy. Likely. The question still stands: What did it do?

All the lore surrounding it said the small piece of jewelry enabled the owner to control demonic forces. I assumed this put some kind of command spell over the beast, but that is obviously not what happened.

Instead, I received a wonderful light show, complete with odd sensations and mad laughter. Whatever happened here, it was not something positive. I don’t think anyway. It feels… wrong. Evil. And this is coming from a man who has toyed with powerfully nasty forces.

Con starts waking again. Let’s see how he’s doing.

“Con. Are you alright? Con?”

“My head hurts.”

“I apologize for that. How do you feel? You mentioned feeling odd before passing out.”

His eyes look unfocused. I would like to pretend he was uninjured. That he will phase out of this state, but I cannot know for sure.

“It’s like, I dunno. I feel so much less. Like my head shrank. And…”

He vomits. And here I really liked these shoes.

“Wonderful…”

“I’m ok. Just needed to get that out.”

No time to be upset. I must figure out what happened here. I can’t let this become a distraction while I investigate the rest of the house. I untie Con and help him to his feet. He certainly did not seem stable, but he insisted on standing on his own.  I suppose there is one thing I could try though.

“Con, I am sorry for this mess. I’m going to see if I can undo whatever I did by taking off the ring. Are you ready?”

“Ha! I completely forgot I was wearin’ it. Go right ahead. Anything to stop me from feelin’ so damn pathetic.”

I reach down and feel my finger brush the new black gem in the ring. Before I can move further, the gem disperses and quickly flows around its wearer. Con’s head flies back a little bit while the gem particulates settle in on his body, seemingly flowing into him and disappearing. When his head comes back down, that glorious violet color has overtaken his eyes once more. He brushes me off and stands up straight, stretching his back and neck out.

“GAH! That’s right! I feel fantastic!”

The ring was meant to control monsters. Could it be?

“Well Con, I think I know what happened.”

“Don’t matter too much to me, sir. See, I feel better and I’m free as a bird. I’ll be leavin’ now.”

I hold out my hand and concentrate. I’m not sure which is worse, being right or wrong. Focusing on the gem, I push a small amount of power out to the trinket. I can feel it trigger, as dark energy swirls and flows out of the young man and back into the shape of a gem in the ring. Con doubles over from the sudden transformation.

“Wha- What didja do to me?”

“I’m going to be blunt: I believe you were just made human.”

Mild Mannered: Issue #7

Five minutes. Just five more minutes to wait. The preliminary results will be announced, and we’ll know who has moved on to the next part of the competition. My leg can’t seem to stop bouncing up and down.

Kara is right behind me, both figuratively and literally. She’s laying on my bed swiping through her phone as I refresh the page every few seconds. She’s trying to be the calm and collected one, but I know better, she’s just as nervous as me.

“Would you stop jiggling your leg? You’re shaking the whole room,” she says. Her voice is even and controlled. She’s totally freaking out too.

“I can’t help it! It’s nearly here!”

“You keep moving that leg, and I’ll unplug and hide the router.”

My leg instantly stops. Damn, she knows me too well.

“Better. Now come sit on the bed and wait a few minutes without burning out your eyeballs.”

I push my chair slightly away from my desk and flop out of it onto my bed next to her. My face is buried in my comforter.

“So how went things with Michael today?”

“Ahh dood now…” my muffled voice started.

“And if you try to tell me you did not go back to the comic shop, I’m hitting you with a pillow.”

I flip over and shoot her a dirty look.

“You’re history’s worst villain, you know that?”

She gives a quick grin.

I pull myself up onto the bed proper, and sit next to Kara.

“Fine, yes, I went back to the comic shop today. Found out pretty boy actually owns the place.”

“Really? That’s impressive.”

“Right? It’s so intimidating.”

“Relax, he might be gorgeous and successful, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of your league.”

“I guess. He’s not that successful anyway. Apparently, I was his first repeat customer.”

She puts her phone down, giving me all her attention.

“Weird. Seems like the kind of place he’d get a lot of foot traffic.”

“I talked with him a bit about my entries to the contest. He seemed really interested, though, I’m not sure if it’s because he’s planning to use me, or if he genuinely likes me.”

“Could be both.”

“Then some fancy guy came in and ordered a bunch of old issues.”

“Fancy you say?”

“Nice clothes, expensive comics. Michael’s eyes seemed to light up at the idea of selling so many comics.”

“I change my mind; he might not be out of your league, but he sounds like a gold digger.”

“I really don’t need you saying that.” I groan, as I hit the back of my head against the headboard.

Kara moves and adjusts to sit right next to me, she lazily rests her head on my shoulder, and I rest my head on hers.

“Don’t assume the worst.”

“You, of all people, are telling me to be optimistic?” I’m incredulous. I don’t think she’s lying, and she’s definitely not being malicious.

“Yes, me of all people. Sure, I can hate people just as much as you do, but I don’t want to hate people. I sometimes worry you like being proven right about how rotten the world is. Aren’t you supposed to wish for something better?”

“Wow, Kara… that… was way too frikkin sappy. What the actual hell?” I tease. She shoves me so hard, I nearly fall off the bed.

“Never mind. You’re still hopeless. Just, do me a favor and at least open yourself up to the idea of something good happening.”

I sigh, almost wanting to argue. But I don’t.

Maybe I am a little more dour than I should be. Maybe I am looking for the worst in people. As much as I think Michael was just using me to improve his store’s image, he wouldn’t have spent so much time with me if he didn’t like me, right? I’m not famous, and I have just as little a chance as anyone of being a comic artist.

Ugh, either I hype myself about how good I am, or I give myself reason to think Michael likes me. I can’t do both.

“Jules!”

Kara brings me back to reality. My computer is beeping with a notification of a new email. I don’t even have a chance to blink before I find myself back in my computer chair, opening my inbox.

It’s a message from Fantastik Comics.

Subject line: Congratulations!

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 8

“…ugh…what did I do last night to get such a headache?”

Ah, it would seem Con is coming around. I had been waiting, unsure what he might know, or how he might be involved. A few tests showed he was most certainly not human. Not entirely, at the very least. But at the same time, I don’t know enough to really threaten him. As far as I can tell, he’s a supernaturally strong young man.

Time for a little performance.

“Hello again, Con.”

“Oh. It’s you again… What the hell is the matter with you? I said I didn’ do nothing!”

“Yes, you did. But how can I take your words at face value? The phenomena perpetrating this house is most dangerous, and all leads must be investigated. Your presence is not only odd, but highly suspicious. Based on your level of education, I do doubt you’re the reason behind all this. Nevertheless, I need to officially rule you out of my list of possible causes.”

He stares at me rather intently. His eyebrows furrow, as his eyes search my face, looking for something. I must admit, I feel a little intimidated. Earlier, he demonstrated strength far beyond what your average human could muster. While I’m confident these ropes can hold him, I felt the same about that binding spell. I must not be taken by surprise again.

Finally he speaks.

“Could ya say that again? I didn’t understand anything you said.”

My mouth drops. I spent a good five minutes crafting my explanation as to why I needed to interrogate this young boy, and he threw it all out the window. I felt useless. Foolish even. Which is a little odd considering it was the boy’s own inability to understand that put me in this predicament.

“I-“

No time to try again. Let us move forward.
“Er, please, tell me what you know about the… haunting… of this residence.”

“Well, sir, from the sounds of it, ya got a few screws loose in your head.”

This boy is trying my patience. I know he’s not entirely human, but what is he? If I knew that, I could apply some sort of pressure to get him to talk.

“So then, you are unaware of the mysterious instances plaguing this household?”

“Look, I only ever come here when my stomach gets rumbly. Anything ‘sides from a few missin’ pieces of silver ain’t my fault.”

Rather quick to admit he’s a thief. It’s a good cover, though. Claim innocence to one crime by declaring guilt to another. Even so, I don’t think he’s the one who summoned our demon. That said, he is hiding something.

“Fair enough. You are merely a street boy who steals. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Though we both know you are not quite ordinary. Isn’t that right?”

“…I dunno what yer talkin’ ’bout.”

He hesitated. He wants to keep whatever aspect of himself that makes him not entirely human a secret. Which means, it’s shameful. That narrows it down. He’s a little on the scrawny side to have ogre blood.

“Really? Pity. And here I was going to ask for your help with a bit of demon trouble I appear to be having.”

His eyes go wide at the sound of the word ‘demon.’ That was a little unexpected. Someone like him would normally keep his emotions in check and attempt to milk whatever he could get from me before eventually giving me useless information. But he most definitely gave something away here.

Wait. No. He gave it all away.

I say it out loud, I cannot help myself.

“You are a demon, aren’t you?! Well, not entirely. You have a human part to yourself. But you wanted to keep the demonic aspect of your persona secret. My word, this explains everything!  Well, nothing to do with the house, but I knew a normal boy could not break the sealing spell I initially placed upon you, no matter how strong. And you most certainly are strong! The blood coursing through your veins must be potent indeed for such a young man, even demonic, to have put myself on the defensive side of that fight. And your aura-“

“SHUT UP!”

I hadn’t noticed the boy seething with anger as I went about explaining the oddity of a demon-human hybrid sitting in front of me. His violet eyes had shifted further into a red color and his barred teeth showed extending canine fangs.

“You’re not stable…”

“I SAID SHUT UP!”

This won’t do. He broke the magic seal upon him before through anger. Obviously, I must keep him calm.

“I’m sorry.”

“You will not tell nobody ’bout this! Got it?!”

“Of course not. I understand the need for privacy on such a matter.”

He stops and eyes me suspiciously. His irises shift back to their purple hue, and his canines shorten a little bit. If he were to smile, they’d still be noticeable, but not quite as intimidating as they were.

“Wait, what?”

“I’ve no intent on revealing your secret to anyone.”

I didn’t expect this response. His eyes are wide, like he’s horrified; he can’t understand what I’m saying.

“Why?”

“I told you, I do not think you’re the source of our demonic possession.”

“But… but you know I’m a demon?”

“Part demon. And considering how demons feel about half-breeds, I doubt you’d summon one yourself.”

I kneel next to him, examining his skin and hair. It was dirty, absolutely filthy, actually. Miniscule scars litter his arms and neck. I would imagine more extend over the rest of his body. His face is absolutely untouched though. I can’t be certain, but I think it has to do with his shifting features. His eyes and teeth adjust when he’s angry. Perhaps more does as well.

“You’ve had a hard life. I doubt you’d have had time for the kind of training it takes to create a demonic summoning altar when you’re too busy trying to find your next meal.”

He looks down a little ashamed.

“It ain’t my fault.”

“I’m aware. So, how would you like to help me stop the demon here?”

The Elysian: Seventh Dream

The imp in front of me quickly regains his composure, and addresses me again.

“The mortal is direct, bold and fierce!

But should watch his voice or his tongue I will pierce!”

Okay, so it’s not just his entrance. He’s going to speak in rhyme this whole time. That won’t get annoying or anything.

“Robin Goodfellow…” Why does that name sound familiar? “I’m trying to get through this door. Would you happen to have a key?”

He gives a smile and responds.

“No need, Mr. Rodriguez, to be so meek.

I know of your plight, and have what you seek.

I had heard you were different.

That your mind is quick.

So let us compete.

Off I go, to my path must you stick.”

He lets out a chuckle, and bends down on all fours. He wants to race? To where?

“Um, what are the rules?”

“The endeavor is simple. Stay within sight.

None have done so. Not beggar, lord or knight.

The trees are our road. The air, our muse!

And dire consequences if you should lose…”

I’m getting annoyed with all this rhyming. Just got to remember what Luna told me.

“Fine. I keep up with you until the end, and I get the key. Let’s get this over with.”

“The mortal accepts. Very hasty, quick thought

A challenging ordeal for himself he has bought”

“Yeah, yeah I get the picture.” At least, I hope I do.

I don’t know where we’re running to, or what nasty tricks he’ll throw at me along the way. He’s right though, I did just kind of agree to this without thinking. Barely two minutes in, and I already got myself into a bit of a mess. This sideways forest, and the man who challenged me are complete mysteries. How do I know if I can keep up?

I focus. Concentrate on my beliefs, turning an mere thought into absolute certainty. My body separates from the tree trunk, hovering a few feet above it. Robin Goodfellow gives a chuckle before speaking.

“What wise Luna teaches, you masterfully learn

But now is the time, for this key you must earn

Are you prepared to start? Can we begin the test?

Can we see if you’ll truly best the best?”

I couldn’t help myself.

“Take off for wherever, I swear to keep up.

And when we reach the end, you’ll have to pay up.”

The spirit laughed.

“You cannot rhyme a word with itself, silly man.

Though it’s funny you tried.

Enough with these words. Let’s begin

And see the power I eyed.”

With that, he leaps into the air, landing on a tree trunk next to us. He’s so fast. I float after him, trying to concentrate on moving myself faster. Before I’m halfway there, he jumps to the next adjacent trunk.

Have to keep moving, but I feel so slow in comparison to my opponent. Luna showed me there were limits to belief here. Is it a limit on my belief specifically or is there a universal limit? I push onward, trying to keep Robin in sight. He was fast and could easily outrun me, but I think he wants to play games with me. Or maybe teach me something like Luna.

We keep up this game for several more trees. He would land and wait, while I do my best to fly over faster. If he keeps up the show, I’d make it to the end with my eye on him, but I somehow doubt he’d be so simple. He jumps to another tree, and I decide to land on his previous one.

“This can’t be all. There has to be a catch. What’s going on here? Are you really just going to take it so easy on me?”

The faerie gives a smile. I immediately regret my words.

“If the hazard is too low, then I suppose it should increase!

Prepare to lose mortal! With your deity, make your peace!”

“No!” I cry out.

It was too late. The spirit takes off jumping from tree to tree, with no pause between. I must act fast. Have to think! How do I keep up? He runs and leaps on all fours faster than I can on two. He jumps like an insect, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

I try to push my floating ability to keep up, but it feels like flying through jello. I’d almost think I could do better running and jumping myself.

That’s not a bad idea. Maybe.

If he can go that fast moving like he does, then maybe I can too? It’s stupidly simple logic, but I don’t have anything else to go on. I crouch down, readying my legs for what was sure to be a huge mistake.

I look over the edge of the tree. No, that was the huge mistake. C’mon, I can do this. I concentrate. I believe.

My legs push off as hard as possible, my will focused on moving like Robin. I’m sent sailing through the air for my efforts, moving quickly like the faerie.  I’m moving so much faster! The wind seems to carry me, and it feels as if the trees are moving.

The trees are moving?

I look down and notice the trunk I was aiming for shifted to just out of my reach. I try to reach my hand out, still miss and go sailing down.

Another tree below it has moved into position to intercept me, and I thank whatever gods may exist for the save.

Then I land on my belly, sending pain through my entire body. It’s not fair. I don’t breathe, and can barely be said to exist, but somehow I can still be hurt? If I had a stomach, its contents would be coming up about now.

But I did it. I can move like him. Now I just need to catch up.

Seeking Dusk: Part 6

This is a horrible idea. My wound has pretty much healed, enough so that Rand removed the spirit thread. Still, I’m not at full power and don’t like the idea of being ambushed.

I also don’t like the idea of Rand dealing with demons. Lesser demons are borne of negative human emotion, while stronger demons used to be human souls themselves. They represent a deep corruption of everything The Presence had made. And Rand cuts deals with them like nothing.

Rand went inside the building, while I sat on top of a neighboring roof looking down. We can’t risk any of them being strong enough to sense me, so I hide inside the false body. He gave me a little radio to listen to him inside, his silly gadgets proving useful for once.

It crackles on, his voice coming through a little grainy.

“If you’ll just step out here, we can talk.”

“This is very annoying Garrow! Why couldn’t we just speak inside?”

And there’s Rand. He was exiting the back of the building with what looked like a normal human. But I knew better. The slimy aura coming off him was unmistakably a Shame Demon. As Garrow leads him outside, I start my descent. I jump from the roof and grab on to a fir escape on the opposite building. I slide down a little before jumping back across touching on a windowsill and pushing off to take a few steps off the wall. I’m behind the demon, hopefully keeping myself hidden, and overhear their conversation.

“Well, you see Dumah, we have a bit of an issue.”

“I have no issue.”

“You weren’t part of the ‘we’ I’m talking about.”

Oh, thank you, Rand for setting up such a perfect introduction. I take another leap off the wall, close enough that I can land. While the false body replicates being human, it’s a little more durable. I land behind Garrow, hoping to spook our friend.

Instead, he is thoroughly unimpressed.

“What do you want, host?”

I was really hoping for a bit more cowering, but I suppose we can’t have everything.

“You don’t seem surprised?”

“Your power flows through the air, even when you think it concealed. Took me a minute to figure out what it was, but I understood once Garrow here started acting suspicious.”

“Aw, and here I was thinking I was so sneaky.” Rand has a weird smirk on his face. He knows something I don’t. Hate when that happens.

“So, what do you two heavenly warriors want with a worm like me?”

I guess Dumah doesn’t have too high an opinion of himself.

“Well, my lovely winged friend here was wondering if you’ve heard of anyone wanting to escape the pit.”

Dumah’s face barely changes, registering our query. He’s thinking, probably wondering if we’re deadlier than a higher demon. Maybe we aren’t but we’re the ones who can kill him right now.

“What, in particular, are you referring? Plenty have schemes for what they’d do if they escaped, not realizing you would send them to the void if they did.” He gestures to me. “So, if you could narrow it down for me, I’ll see if I can be of some service. And make it quick, I have customers waiting in there.”

This time, I take the initiative. “How about something along the lines of three demons with enough power to warrant me willing to talk to you and some unknown way to hide their power while possessing a human?”

Dumah’s eyes go wide. Almost afraid they’ll pop out of his head.

“Ah, shit…”

“I take it you know something, then?” Rand is far too pleased with himself. I can’t blame him, it’s good we have someone who knows something.

“We can’t talk out here. I have a sealed private room. Come with me.”

He leads us inside the club, the security guard inside giving me a dirty look until Dumah waves him off. While I got some better fitting clothes, I still don’t think I’m properly dressed for a night on the town.

Walking through this place makes me sick. It’s not just demons. It’s vampires, werewolves, sirens. A chill in the air tells me a wendigo is somewhere among them. These perversions of humanity were just here, pretending to be human. Hell, some people might actually be human and unaware of what stands around them, but most of the humans have to know.

There’s a private back room, spiritually sealed from attack and eavesdropping. I’m rather impressed. I can’t sense anything through it. I suppose this is why Dumah wanted to bring us in here.

In the private room, is an office, set up with a private bar on an opposite wall.

Dumah walks behind and pulls a bottle out.

“Drinks?”

“I’m fine.” I quickly state. By now, Rand has noticed me fidgeting.

“I’ll take a shot of whiskey.” Really?

I shoot him a dirty look.

“What?” he says. “If I’m going to be stuck with your bad mood, I may as well enjoy myself.”

“Surprised you don’t drink around me more, then.” I turn my attention back to our demon. “Tell me, what do you know about the demons I’m hunting?”

Dumah sits down and slides Rand’s drink over. The demon is drinking what looks to be pure Everclear.

“You two are a little in over your head.”

Rand downs his shot and wipes his mouth. “So we’ve gathered. Skip the warning and get to what we’re here for.”

“I’m going to need more than some idle threats.”

“I can make them less idle if you want.”

“Quiet, Alli.” Rand shoots me a dirty look before turning back to the demon. “What are you looking for exactly?”

He glances at me before addressing Rand. “I need assurance of protection for myself and my establishment.”

“Like hell we will!”

“Aluma…”

“No! I refuse to protect this slimeball-“

“Well thanks. I’m right here…”

“-and this horrid place he operates! All his clientele are the worst kind of scum in that they not only commit unspeakable acts, but lie through their teeth to escape retribution!”

“I’m sorry Dumah, please excuse us.” Rand gets up, grabs my arm and leads me out the door. If I weren’t trapped in this damn doll I’d make him pay.

“Alli, what are you doing?”

“Chewing out a demonic being. See how I didn’t slice his head off? I think I’m showing a lot of restraint.”

“We need his information.”

“And I need to kill some demons.”

“You agreed to go about this the smart way, did you not?”

“…yes”

“Now, can you do me a favor and let me do the talking?”

“You know I’m bound by my word. And I don’t want to protect this piece of-“

“Then don’t! We’re here to bargain. So bargain. Make your own demands. Set your own terms.”

I pause. I guess that makes sense.

My look of confusion must have given away my thoughts.

“Have you seriously never considered that?” Rand asks, incredulously.

“I’m a warrior. I’m not often in situations to bargain!”

“I can’t believe you’ve lived for millennia and never considered…” He trails off, but quickly comes back, “Let me do the talking. I won’t make you agree to anything you don’t want to do.”

“Fine. Just don’t expect me to not come back here when this is all over and wipe out every monster here.”

Mild Mannered: Issue #6

I can’t help but feel slightly used.

“Why’d you pick this pose? Seems so… pedestrian.”

Michael had talked me into showing him the submissions I drew for the contest, by bringing them up on his computer. Now he was critiquing them. He wasn’t being mean or anything, but I feel like whatever flirting I may or may not have read into his actions was a lie. I mean, it’s possible he likes me. It’s also possible he saw me buying Fantastigirl, assumed a stereotype about buying a ‘girl’ comic, and figured he could use me. I don’t even know what to think any more.

“Well, I decided to just draw the character walking because I think almost all the entries would be these over the top action poses. Putting in something a little more mundane in this case can actually show variety.” I’m surprising my own self with my ability to talk right now. I guess having gone over all this with Kara when I first drew the submissions made it easier.

“Ah! Makes sense.” His face never leaves the pages. I don’t know what he expects to do about it right now, but he’s very intent on analyzing each and every drawing I downloaded to the computer. It was rather surprising, we’d been at this for half an hour and I still haven’t seen any one else come in. He really does get as few customers as he says.

“So here’s what I was thinking,” Michael finally looks up at me again. I’m slightly less enamored by his smooth skin, and charming eyes now that I know he just wants me for advertising purposes.

“If you make it into the tournament bracket, we should do some kind of event here! Like, have fun cheering on a local, or something. Plus, that’d be great to put in advertisements…”

I really want to say no. I really don’t want to say no. Argh! What do I-

“…And in exchange, I can give you free comics or something.”

“Trade paperback!?”

He gives a giggle.

“Absolutely, so long as I can afford to keep this place open.” He leans back in his chair, turning to face me. “You know, you’re a pretty good artist.”

My face feels significantly warmer. I can’t imagine the shade of red I must be right now.

“Thanks.” I manage to eke out.

There’s a slight jingle as the bell attached to the front door opens. Must be another customer. I slide out from behind the counter where we were looking at the computer to avoid being mistaken for a worker.

The man who enters looks fancy. Too fancy to be coming into a comic shop. His blonde hair is kept short, neatly groomed with some kind of product in it. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the brand of three piece suit he’s wearing, but the material is nice enough that even I can tell it’s expensive. That light hair, decked out in black, with piercing blue eyes feels intimidating. He gives off an air of confidence.

“Hmm, this place is even smaller on the inside,” the newcomer mumbles to himself.

Michael doesn’t seem to notice the vague insult.

“Hi! Welcome to Multiversity! Anything I can help you find?”

The well-dressed man looks him over.

“Yes, I’m looking for the owner of this shop.”

Michael chuckles, not really believing getting that twice in one day.

“That would be me. What can I do for you?

If the customer was surprised at this revelation, he didn’t show it.

“I have some very specific items I’m looking for. Could you tell me if you have these issues?” He produces a small slip of paper, and hands it to Michael.

There’s a gleam in Michael’s eye that, just for a moment, betrays his naturally friendly persona, and reveals the greedy monster lurking beneath.

“Yes! I do believe we have these comics. Let me go grab them for you.”

And with that, he rushes off into some back area of the store.

The stranger turns to me, as I realize I’ve just been awkwardly staring a little at this whole exchange.

“Do you work here as well? Perhaps your boss could use some help.” His voice isn’t really cold, but it sends shivers up my spine all the same.

“Oh, I don’t work here. I’m just a-a…” Oh crap. What am I? Acquaintance? Customer? Lustful stalker? “Friend.”

He gives me the same once over he gave Michael, as if scanning me to reveal the truth. Not that I’m lying. At least, not that I think I’m lying.

“Interesting. Do you enjoy graphic novels as well?” His body barely moves, yet there’s a slight shift toward me that I notice. Why is he so interested?

“Yes… yes I do.” My eyes find they can’t hold contact with his for very long. I turn to some of the comics on the shelf behind me and start looking through them.

“By any chance, do you read Fantastigirl? It’s expertly written.”

My ears perk up and I turn back around in a snap.

“Yes! I love that series! It’s so ground breaking-”

I’m cut off by the man holding up his hand.

“Less is more, my dear.” He finally moves, his steps very deliberate, yet graceful. Like he’s gliding over the carpet. He reaches out for a magazine on a shelf, and starts flipping through it. “Have you heard of the contest for the new artist?”

“Oh, yeah, well, actually, I entered it.” I look away, thinking about all the questions that arose from Michael finding out I entered the contest. Don’t want to have to go through all that again.

There’s a slight twitch in his hand when I responded, though. It was so slight, I’m surprised I noticed it. He turns his attention from the comic in his hand back to me.

“Is that so? Yes, most interesting.” His eyes search mine, as if they held some kind of secret he nonchalantly wanted to know. “I wish you luck in the tournament, mister?”

“Jules. Just call me Jules.

He glides over to me, extending his hand as he crosses.

“Jules. Pleased to meet you.”

Oh god, I want to leave. Why is this happening?

“A-and you too, I guess…” I trail off as I take his hand and give a very weak shake.

Right at that moment, Michael comes back into the room, arms loaded with comic books.

“Yes! We had pretty much everything. I am missing that 1956 issue of Night Fiend, but I can acquire it for you, if you don’t mind waiting.”

“I better go!” I spit out. “Michael! We’ll talk more soon, okay?”

“Oh! Yes! You have a good day, Jules!”

I give a quick nod to Michael, then turn back to the stranger, whose eyes still haven’t left me.

“Have a good day!”

He smirks.

“Oh I shall, Jules. I shall.”

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