Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

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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.

The Elysian: Tenth Dream

“You are a different soul! Neither proud, nor humble be.

But the middle of the line, a place most un-free.

Your work demands excellence. Your daughters need guidance.

And so you found this middle ground, and built around you a fence.

“You couldn’t fail at work lest you lose your money

To provide for your family, and keep your life sunny.

And your kin must be raised, with a sense of humility

That wild dreams are work in futility.”

Yet you had a dream! Once upon a time.”

Which brings me right back to the start of these rhymes!”

He got really close to me, to make sure I could hear. It was like there was someone around he didn’t want listening in.

“You wanted to draw a building so wild!

But the jobs you took left you feeling so mild…

I had to put that spark back in your soul

There was only one problem. You had a big hole.

The hole was fear. Fear of failing, of loss

It was an experience, a bridge for you to cross.

And now with your terror, embraced and affirmed

It is time for you to find that lost feeling confirmed.”

How does he talk like that, I wonder?

He reaches into his pocket and brings out that which I had been seeking. The key was the same size as the other two, but it had a fragile look to it. Like it was made out of a fallen leaf. I had already caught on to the way this world is working, so I didn’t question it, but I still had so much to ask the strange man before me.

“Puck, I… Well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure I completely understand the lesson you were trying to impart to me, but I’ve been here plenty long and I get the feeling Death is chasing. So, I’ll just ask you one more thing. Why help me? Why teach me whatever lesson you beings feel are so important that you give them to me after I die and not before?”

“That is something I cannot tell you just yet.

But you needn’t worry about it. Don’t you fret.

Now take the key and continue on.

I swear I’ll see thee again before this journey is done.”

I take the key and turned around. Amazingly, a new door stood right next to me. Moving trees. I’ll have to try and remember those. Today’s lesson might not have made such an impact, but I certainly remembered Luna’s. Have to keep moving forward.

As I opened the door, I decide to yell back to the faerie.

“Hey, Robin. That last one was a half-rhyme.”

The light from the door blinds me as I walk through. That’s going to get annoying. Will it do that every time? Can’t this place be a little less dramatic? I suppose being the realm I’m in after I’ve died, that it really can’t.

As my eyes adjust to the light, I notice something familiar. Some familiar shapes around me- Wait…

“Most of my rhymes

aren’t perfect each time.”

Robin sits in front of me. Well, he’s standing. On his head.

“What!? I thought you gave me the key.”

“Yes, indeed you did think that.

But why, I can not tell.

You are far too trusting

Truly, an easy sell.”

He laughs to himself and jumps right side up.

“I should ask, Rodriguez, who am I to you?

What do you see standing here? Do you have a clue?”

“Um, you’re Robin Goodfellow? Sometimes called Puck? Spirit of the forest and all that?” He lifts his hand and summons a breeze that somehow becomes something he can sit on. He’s sitting on the wind. All this power and control and he just-

“You’re a prankster…”

“Correction, I am THE prankster, always seeming so odd.

My forms have been many, fox, fairy and even GOD

Your cultures revere me and used to pay me tribute.

But now my own existence has been rendered moot.

“Yet here I am, a being who can make you bleed,

Taking an interest in this little life you used to lead.

Did you really think I’d let you so easy?

Back on your quest, feeling so breezy?”

He jumps to his feet and stands on one foot while he crosses his arms.

“I have more for you mortal and I find you amusing.

So I have several tasks. Missions of my choosing.

Before you proceed-”

“NO! Stop it! I’ve had enough! I passed your little test already! Just give me the key and let me continue my futile plan to outrun death.”

“Technically you didn’t succeed…”

“Don’t care. You told me I was done. I just want to go. I can’t do this anymore. No. We’re done.”

Robin got silent. Like… really quiet. This guy likes talking too much to just get quiet for-

Oh shit, I just pissed off a god.

“Mr. Rodriguez,

I have shown you patience

Which is more than I do

In all the time I have

Been around mortals like you.

So if you would, appreciate the gifts I bestow.

Because I will turn on you, before you could know.”

I’m tired. I don’t want to keep doing this. I hate this place. But most of all, I hate dealing with personified concepts, with their phenomenal cosmic powers, with their mind games, with all the bullshit that comes along with whatever the hell they do.

I’m just so tired.

The Elysian: Ninth Dream

Standing there, admiring the absolute hopelessness of the situation, I noticed something peculiar. Robin Goodfellow was staring at me. Not in the incredulous way he was doing earlier. As a matter of fact, it was almost a knowing smile. Only without the smile part.

He seemed to understand exactly what I was thinking. The emptiness piercing my being. I felt hollow. And my competitor was not taking another leap towards his ill-defined finish line. A curious sight.

The swarm was getting closer. My feet weren’t moving. It was done. I embraced the pain to come. As the first of the flying pests struck me, something odd happened. I felt nothing. The bees passed right through me.

The look on my face must have been something to see, because the imp broke out laughing. After the horde of insects made it through my now even more ghostly form, they faded out of existence. What in the hell is going on?

“The mortal’s mind twists and turns

He reaches for answers, he grasps and yearns

This strange event bewilders his senses

Let’s end this charade and drop the pretenses.

Ask the question. That you wish to know

I’ll answer in kind and make it so.”

The imp had hopped back over to me, laughing to himself. This whole thing was freaking me out, and that’s saying something considering the kind of time I’ve had recently. I was too tired to deal with this.

“What just happened? Why didn’t the bees sting me to undeath?”

Robin gives me a wry smile, almost as if he expected me to already know. A beat later he responds.

“The spirit of the moon told you the means

Through which your will has provided these scenes.

Your emotions and belief change your person…”

I blink and from seemingly nowhere he pulls out a screen, displaying an uncanny picture of myself.

“…And since your self confidence could only worsen

The wispy form you currently possess

Ditched what little it had; removed the excess…”

He snaps and the screen changes, showing a transparent version of myself. Little animated bees flew at the false visage of my being. I don’t know how it was doing that, but it was odd to say the least. Best not to ask.

“…Your non-physical body let the massive swarm

pass right through you, without coming to harm.”

He snaps and the screen disappears into nothingness. Robin grins, appearing pleased with himself.

I finally get the nerve to speak.

“So, I felt bad. And I became… feel-through? That’s… That’s ridiculous. What in the hell does feeling bad have to do with teaching me something?”

“Well you see, mortal-”

“DON’T ‘MORTAL’ ME! You jerk! What are you trying to do to me!?”

“Now it is with a chortle-”

“Stop with the rhyming! I’m done with it. Why in the hell do you rhyme?!”

He gives me a dirty look. Still not as scared of him as Luna, but I do have to remember he is the spirit of the forest. Best not to trifle with such beings.

“You forget that our existence is based on belief.

And we play such a charade without a relief.

Now if you’re quite finished with all your screaming

I’ll tell you why it is you should be beaming.”

“I am the master of pranks, who is sometimes called Puck

If find those around me who are down on their luck

Then I change their thinking, add a correction

Take a good hard look at your life in reflection

And if the mortal in question has a head far too big

Then his ego must shrink, lest he become like the pig”

“And yet back to you, our dear, good friend Rodriguez

…um…”

“Can’t think of anything that rhymes with my name?”

The imp looked embarrassed. His whole monologue fell apart. He takes several minutes, thinking through his words. If he’s supposed to rhyme, what does that mean for our ‘delightful’ conversation? I sit down on the tree trunk, quickly becoming bored. I should be trying to get the key out of him, but after his last outburst, I don’t think it so wise. Still, this was taking forever and-

“Allow me to start again. That rhyme was too slick

My words fell apart with but a mere simple flick.”

“Hold on, that’s not fair. You can’t just stop rhyming halfway through! You told me so yourself.”

“Devil’s in the details, my dear boy! Pay attention.

I can’t stop solely because it causes you tension.

But if my knowledgeable mind can’t find that right verse

I can slip around it, to stop my speech from becoming worse.

Now hold on a second… What was I saying?”

He takes his time again, perusing the recesses of his brain. I think I would prefer to deal with Luna over this. She at least knew where she was going and had a lesson I learned at the end of her test. This guy is trying to explain what I should know from completing his task. Wait…

“Robin, sir, if you don’t mind me interrupting, why are you acting like I finished the race when I didn’t?” Crap. That was probably going to bite me in the ass.

His eyes lit up at my question.

“Ah yes! I was going to explain the game we’ve been playing!”

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.”

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