Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

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The Elysian: Sixteenth Dream

As we reach the door, I pull out my keys.

The strange gold one that took me to the expanse of space.

The obsidian one specked with stars that brought me here.

The leafy one that seemed to loop me back here.

And finally the key of the forest. I place it in the lock and turn it. As the door opens and the familiar light shines out, I become a little contemplative.

“Let’s get going, bud!” Godemir urged. I comply and we step through.

Where will we go? A far-off field? Deep beneath the ocean? Another time? Another dimension?

The light fades and my vision comes into focus.

Or …a …diner?

I look around, doing my best to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Checkerboard tile, steel rod chairs, leather covered booths, pastel blue, and hot rod red.

Yeah, I’m in a 50’s diner. But then again, I look out the window and see nothing. Similar to when I found myself in Luna’s sky, though I get the feeling I’m not going to see the wonders of space this time. It’s just an empty black as far as my perception will go. I turn back to the inside of the building looking for a sign of life.

The furniture wasn’t covered in dust, and I could smell some kind of food, so I don’t think it’s abandoned.

“Hello!? Is anyone here?!” I yell out. I feel some fidgeting on my shoulder.

“What are you? Crazy? Don’t you know anything about stealth?” My friend was obviously not too thrilled with my brilliant tactic to find out who is in this building.

“I’m already dead, what’s the worst that could happen?”

“How about second death?”

I turn and look at the door to the kitchen. An older gentleman stood just outside of it, who definitely wasn’t there before. His hair was thinned and unkempt, but long, going to almost his shoulders. His clothes were very out of place in this building, dark rags, looked to have not been washed in ages. I would have expected him to walk with a cane to complete the Scrooge look, but it was not to be.

“Hi there! I don’t suppose you have a key to this door, do you?” I have no shame.

“You’re really just going to ask that right of way?” Godemir voiced his concern in a whisper, as he hides on my shoulder. I wave my hand at him and continue speaking with the man in the room.

“I kind of need it as soon as possible.” I reach into my pocket, ready to grab my keys in case I have to run.

The old man studies me, slowly walking closer. He stops a little ahead and pulls out a chair at one of the tables.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” His voice is deep and foreboding. And yet there’s a longing to it. Something mournful.

I shuffle a little realizing how rude I was. Luna and Puck both seemed very aware of me, but I don’t know why all these beings would. The spirit on my shoulder hops up and answers for me.

“Sorry fer my friend here. My name’s Godemir. This rude ass is Rodriguez. He’s just a foolish mortal trying to outrun death.”

“Whoa, hey, too mean,” I whisper to my ‘friend’.

“Your travels have reached my ears, Mr. Rodriguez. A soul trying to escape death. A futile pursuit. But an entertaining one to say the least.”

He takes his seat and gestures for me to do the same. I comply, keeping an eye on the door from which he appeared. Are there more people here?

“What do you guys use to communicate? I had barely left Luna and Robin Goodfellow already knew about me…”

“Do you not even understand the entities who are giving you audience? The power they possess? And they spend their time teaching you lessons and playing games. Why are you so special?”

“I dunno. You tell me. You are going to give me a challenge, aren’t you? For your key?”

He glares at me, his mind trying to find a way to not say what I know to be true.

“…Yes. My earlier question was not to say I’m unaware of you, but to say we do not know each other. We’re not friends. I owe you nothing. What purpose would I have to give you my key?”

That’s a good question. Why would these entities be giving me keys? Is it a trap? A bigger game? I couldn’t say.

“I’m sure you have one. What it is, I don’t care, so long as I can find my way to my family.”

He gives a smile and reaches into his cloak and produces a deck of cards.

“I do not suppose you are familiar with gin rummy?”

Neon Noir: The Eleventh Beat

The City has something for everyone. Beyond material, beyond joy, beyond experience. It can give you purpose, understanding, or even just someone. But it always takes its payment.

Robert and Selene Howell

The city’s heart soothes the rushing mind of Selene Howell. She knew her husband’s job was dangerous, and his obsession with that speakeasy made her all the more worried. But so long as someone can hear the heart, they’re never too far away.

And yet, despite having him back home, Robert felt more distant than ever. He got a new clue, just a picture, but it reinvigorated him and his investigation. Selene wasn’t sure how to stop him. She wasn’t sure how to keep him safe.

For his part, Robert had tried to keep his wife from worrying. He wanted to rush out and start finding more answers the day he came home but he waited after scaring Selene by not coming home.

But it had been long enough.

They sit at the kitchen table, making polite conversation. Robert’s mind raced trying to decide how to broach the subject. While he’d taken a few days off, he couldn’t stop forever, and he’d need to go out at night to find the people who could tell him about the woman in the photograph.

“Selene, I-“

“I want you to quit.” Selene wasn’t expecting to say it so bluntly, but based on how fidgety Robert had been, she knew she had to say it now.

Robert is taken aback by his wife’s suggestion. He knew how she felt about the danger of his job, but he thought there was an understanding.

“I can’t do that. You know I can’t do that.”

“Why?” Selene’s eyes focused on Robert. They seemed to bore into him, like he was mad to not even consider the option. Robert adjusted in his seat.

“We’re barely scraping by as is. I don’t have a job, you don’t have a roof over your head.”

“We’ll figure it out.”

“Like hell we will!” Robert slams his hand on the table. “We can’t get by hoping to luck into something. More importantly, I’m getting close! I got a strong lead!”

“And what happens when they come for you again? These people have so much money and they don’t care about killing you if they have to! You want to leave me alone?”

Robert’s voice gets quieter.

“That won’t happen.”

“How? How are you going to promise that?”

“I would never let anything happen to you! That is what I can promise!”

Selene’s eyes go wide. The voice Robert growled in was the same one that he answers the phone with, in the middle of the night.

“I think… I think I’m going to stay with my sister. Just for a bit.”

The muscles up Robert’s arms relax. He hadn’t realized how hard he was grabbing the table until now.

“That might be best. I promise things will be better in a few days.”

“Please. Please stop making promises you can’t keep.”

Vashti Kianian

What in the hell is taking Mr. Shane so long?

Vash quietly cursed the situation she found herself in. She was sitting in the stolen car from earlier today, one whose owner was surely searching for her, thinking of how Ryan could screw up this badly.

She was expecting to waltz right in after Ryan either took out the men, or drew them away so she could get the cash, but it’s looking like he either got caught or killed.

She curses one last time, before stepping out of the car. Her suit was not conducive to this activity, so she hoped nothing was truly wrong.

She counted the floors up as she crossed the street and tried to figure out which apartment was Bella’s. If she counted right, the fire escape just around the side and little bit back should take her there.

This estimation was confirmed when she reached the bottom of the fire escape and found a ladder already down. Someone went up this way before her.

Vash climbs to the top of the ladder and slowly makes her way up the fire escape, doing her best to not rattle the metal against the building. As she gets closer, she moves slower, unsure what she will find at the apartment.

The window is lit with a soft light. They clearly want to see what’s going on, but they also don’t want to alert anyone that they’re there. Vash creeps up and spies through the window.

Inside the apartment a group of men gathered in the middle of Bella’s apartment, thankfully with their backs to the window. Some on the little couch, one on a stool, and two by the door.

Ryan stood in the middle of them, surprisingly cool for his situation.

“You said you’re helping Bella. So tell us where she is.”

Mr. Shane paces in a small circle, clicks his tongue, and responds.

“I can’t. Not just yet. You know as well as I do, she’s in danger. I won’t tell you until I believe I can trust you.”

“Now listen here boy, you aren’t in a position to-”

Ryan holds up his hand.

“I give you my word.”

Vash was impressed. Mr. Shane seemed so unsure of himself around her and in the club, but here he was standing down muscle from one of the families.

Rupert entered from the kitchen.

Hell, that’s what happened.

Vash was expecting the Belroses but instead it’s the Gaudios. At least now she gets what happened. Rupert is likely looking for Bella.

He crosses from the kitchen to the middle of the apartment with the other men, and tries to hand Ryan a drink. He politely takes it, but Vash knows he won’t drink it.

“Mr. Shane, if you truly want to protect Lady Gaudio, I am the person to tell. You supposedly know who I am, told by Bella herself. Meanwhile, I still don’t know who you are, and have no reason to trust you beyond what you’ve told me.”

Ryan’s eyes search the room, gauging the men up and down, when they catch the eyeshine just outside the window. Vash quickly motions for Ryan to look away, and he understands. He looks at the other men in the room, but whether he knows what she has planned, she isn’t sure.

Vash tests the window and finds it unlocked. As Ryan speaks she slowly opens it and crawls inside.

“Maybe, but I’m more than willing to die to protect Bella if I don’t trust you completely. If you want to know where she is, I’m going to need some proof. Some guarantee beyond you reacting to the name I said. For all I know, you aren’t Rupert at all.”

Vash moves into position behind the men, and speaks as loudly as she can without shouting.

“No worries there Mr. Shane. That is absolutely Rupert, the old bastard.”

The men nearly jump out of their seats as they pull guns from their jackets and point them at the intruder.

Rupert whips around in surprise, a surprise that doesn’t end when he sees who’s speaking.

“Lady Vash?!”

“Oh please, Rupert. You’re far too formal. Just call me Vash. And pour me a drink, would you?”

The Elysian: Fifteenth Dream

“It is not possible. It cannot be.

That feather should be out flying free!”

I can hear Robin’s voice, but I cannot see him.

“Well, too bad. I caught it. You promised me my key.” I turn over, struggling to get to my feet. I have to wonder if I’ll ever get over feeling pain in this spirit body.

“You don’t understand! This is wrong and amiss!

The lesson you learned was nothing like this!

You were meant to give up! To surrender to me!

And in your despair, I’d give you the key!

But I don’t under-”

“I DON’T CARE! Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!!!”

My footing found, I stand straight up, furious at everything around me.

“My god! You are so annoying! I couldn’t give a rats ass what lesson you wanted to teach me! Just give me my goddamn key and let me go!”

A whoosh of wind envelopes me. I blink and Goodfellow is standing in front of me. He has his arms crossed, and a look of disapproval on his face. He takes a few steps towards me. I feel my fear return, remembering that he’s akin to a god. Even so, I stand my ground. He comes in close. It’s a little uncomfortable.

“Fine. Take it.”

He holds out his hand. There’s a new key in his hand, this one looks to be made of wood, an endless expanse of trees in the shape of a key. I feel like looking at this thing while alive might have driven me mad. I reach for it, unsure if this is some kind of trap. Snatching the key from his hand, I’m relieved to see he lets me take it.

“…Thank you?”

“Leave.”

Not the response I was expecting. But when an all-powerful god stops his normal, fun-loving rhyming and tells you to leave, you should probably do what he says.

I take off into the sky, flying back towards the door.

“Wait.”

I look and see him glaring at the leshy.

“Go with him. I want to hear how that mortal’s journey ends.”

And with another whoosh, he disappears with the wind.

“Excuse me! What did he mean by that?!” The leshy was upset. Which, frankly, is perfectly understandable. I did kind of just interrupt his day with… uh… Oh crap.

“WHAT DID HE MEAN BY THAT?!”

The wood spirit transforms into his larger, monstrous form. Vines shoot at me, restraining my movement.

“Shit.”

It reels me in and I come face to face with this beast for the second time.

He lets out a monstrous growl in my face and I wince from the noise. But I know now this is just him lashing out.

“So, I know you won’t eat me. What do you plan to do?”

The monster just seems to look at me, as if he’s only just now trying to figure out what he’s going to do with me.

“You realize I’m being punished for helping you, right?” his deep voice growls from inside the monster.

“Well, yeah. But it’s not like I could see this coming. I’m truly sorry.”

He continues holding me captive. This isn’t terribly productive.

“Do you have a choice?” I ask.

He sets me down and slowly transforms back into his normal form as he speaks.

“No. Goodfellow would find a nice way to make me suffer if I didn’t. You got a partner for now.”

I kneel down and stretch out my hand. He takes the hint and hops on it, running up to sit on my shoulder.

“What’s your name?” I finally remembered to ask my new companion.

I take off into the sky flying, with the spirit on my shoulder. It was slightly more difficult to navigate for me now that the trees were facing the proper direction, but the spirit seemed to correct any mistakes I made on my flight back to the door.

“You can call me Godemir. And you?” He still sounded perturbed, but I couldn’t really blame him.

“Rodriguez.”

“Nice to sacrifice for you. And then meet you. In that order.”

I wonder how long he can hold a grudge. “So, what’s your plan here? Just keep running from death for the rest of eternity?”

I have to admit, that was a good question.

“No. I want to find my family. A way to return to them as well, if possible. But above all that, I want to make sure they’re going to be okay without me.”

And to be honest, I wasn’t sure how I was going to accomplish that. I’m just a man, trying to escape death at the moment. And if history is anything to go by, things aren’t really in my favor.

“Then your goal is to find Fate himself? Geez, you really know how to pick your battles, don’t ya?” He turned over on my back and laid down, arms behind his head.

I’d berate him for relaxing at a time like this, but I don’t really have a moral high ground.

“Death mentioned Fate. Said he’s a bit secretive.”

“Understatement of the millennium. No one has seen him since the dawn of time, and to be honest, from what I’ve heard, I’m not sure you want to.”

“Why? He smell funny?” I shouldn’t be joking, but I have to do something to stop myself from feeling so heavy. All the shouting I’ve done and talk of Gods and concepts has my head spinning.

I feel a sharp crack on the back of my head as my passenger hits me.

“Don’t be stupid. I swear, you’re dealing with deities and somehow don’t get the kind of shit you’re in! You’ve been lucky so far. But it can’t last. Start thinking. What’s your plan?”

The door is finally in sight, but the leshy’s words make it seem so far away. What is my plan? I know nothing of this world or how it works. Am I just going to walk up to a powerful being and kindly ask that he does what he’s never done in billions of billions of years? Can I gain some kind of leverage? Am I just going to run headlong into oblivion?

“Let’s just push forward. Can’t go backwards, right?”

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 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.

Neon Noir: The Ninth Beat

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

Vashti Kianian

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve never seen you before!”

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

“I’m new in town.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vash takes the glass and downs the drink.

“Maybe I did.”

Vashti Kianian

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

After another cocktail, Bella gathers her nerves.

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

“No one knew? You’re positive?”

The woman shook her head.

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

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

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

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

“We didn’t.”

Vash shook her head.

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

Bella shakes her own head back.

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

What in gods name did she mean?

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

“We talked on the vidphone. A lot.”

“So you weren’t together in person?”

She shook her head again.

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

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

Vash put her thoughts about this to the side.

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

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

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

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

Vash’s ears perked up.

“Money? How much money?”

Bella looked a little sheepish.

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

Vash stood up and slammed her fist on the table.

“How much did he tell you to get?”

“…another $10,000.”

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

Which means…

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

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

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

“Fine. Where is the money now?”

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

Okay, that’s one problem solved.

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

“No.”

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

“No?”

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

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

“Oh. I didn’t think of that.”

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

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

“…Fine.”

Vash breathed a sigh of relief.

“Great. Where is it?”

“Under the floorboards in my apartment.”

Vash cursed again.

The Elysian: Twelfth Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…But… b-but….” He was just trying to scare me?! “I-I… but that…. but you transformed into a giant monster with an insatiable appetite for my flesh!!!”

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

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

“Wha…?”

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

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

That’s an odd thing to say.

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

The little man sighed and rolled his eyes.

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

…What?

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

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

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

He thinks I’m just some afterlife thrill seeker.

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

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

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

What do I do now?

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

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

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

The Elysian: Eleventh Dream

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

Puck leans back, once again sitting on his breeze.

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

The first item you seek is one for the birds.

A feather, specifically, one of color unknown.

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

And over a river. And next to the earth.

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

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

He smiles.

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

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

I am really starting to hate rhymes.

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

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

“…Really?”

“Well, to be fair, you didn’t say

which river was more your way.

I’m afraid I’ve no more time.

I must go, enjoy the last rhyme!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ya mind, moving, buddy?”

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

“I said move it buddy!!”

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

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

“Sorry. Can I help you?” I ask.

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

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

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

He looks up at me, his face incredulous.

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

“Well to be perfectly honest, no…”

“Look, mortal-”

“Why does everyone insist on calling me that?”

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

Well, I obviously can’t let that slide.

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

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

“But I need to find a specific river.

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

“Fine. Which river?”

“Um… the one with the feather?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As threatening as it was, I maintain my grip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neon Noir: The Eighth Beat

Robert Howell

Selene is going to kill me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what would he tell her?

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

He enters and calls out,

“Selene! I’m home.”

No one answered.

“Selene?”

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

She wasn’t home.

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

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

“Robert?”

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

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

Robert is silent and holds his wife closer.

Ryan Shane

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

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

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

“Thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t! I was snuck in.”

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

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

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

Vash scoffs.

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

“Ten grand.”

Vash nearly spit out her drink.

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

Bella looks sheepish again, eyes unwilling to meet Vash.

“Cards. Dice. …Dames.”

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

She continues.

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

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

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

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

Vash waves away her words.

“Yeah yeah. Fine. So what happened?”

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

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

“We were going to run away.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Who else knows about this?”

Bella gives a very weak smile.

“Rupert.”

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

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

“The body is disposed of?”

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

Vash is silent for whole minutes.

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

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

“Leave the bottle.” She says.

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