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?”

Seeking Dusk: Part 13

I don’t move. This is not my fight, but I am somehow involved. How could a member of the Dominion threaten another? I’d never heard Lord Zadkiel be so intimidating.

This whole endeavor is quickly escalating into something far beyond my expectations. They should have decided all this before they came. And what is Puriel thinking? If there is such a threat to reality, more help is better than less. It’s why The Presence sent me in the first place, isn’t it?

“Aluma Firebrand, if you would stem this tide of darkness, listen well.” Zadkiel spoke, lifting what felt like a long silence after his threat.

“There is an artifact that has been taken from within the Gates of Paradise. It would for all appearances be nothing of value. A small wooden box. But the power it holds could turn the tide of our war.”

“Do we know who has taken this box?” I ask, my mind cleared of previous doubt. Zadkiel smiles.

“Yes. He is one called Azazel, and he is a former angelic host.”

A fallen angel? How could someone like that have gotten a hold of such an artifact?

“After taking the box, he fled to earth, and has been in hiding beyond even our combined sight.”

“How can something hide from The Presence?”

“Well, The Presence is-“

Zadkiel is cut off by Puriel.

“Absolutely not! You may fight us on telling her why we’re here, but business involving The Creator is far beyond anything I would allow you to share with a mere soldier!”

If what I thought I saw in her before was anger, then there isn’t a word to describe what she’s showing now. The Power in her is leaking out, far more than she means to. And if this is but a fraction of her power, she is not someone I want to have for an enemy.

A smile stretches across Zadkiel’s face as he looks at Puriel.

“My apologies. You are absolutely right.” He turns back to me. “This fallen host is hiding from The Presence. That is all I can tell you.” His eyes glimmered as if to add ‘for now’ to the end of that sentence.

Kushiel breaks their hovering formation and quickly flies to the other side of Rand, intensely studying the man.

“Tell me, Mr. Garrot, are you willing to lay down your life and soul for this mission?”

Rand barely moves, glaring at the large angel out of the corner of his eyes.

“Like I haven’t proved that already?”

Kushiel’s eyes narrow.

“Don’t be flippant. This is far beyond your petty squabbles with these lesser demons. You’ll need to be ready to fight a full-blown angel.”

I interrupt this rousing conversation.

“But he is fallen. He doesn’t have access to The Power. And unless he can venture down to the bottom of The Pit, he won’t be receiving any help from the Morning Star.”

“That is where the artifact comes into play,” Ariel says, in her relaxed voice.

“Indeed.” Muriel spoke next. “Tell me, Aluma, have you ever heard the human legend of Pandora’s Box?”

Human legends? What kind of nonsense is this? Rand must have seen my look of confusion because he took this opportunity to step in.

“Pandora’s box, Greek myth of a girl who opened an ancient box and let loose all the ills of the world. But the box also contained hope, keeping mankind ever determined to push past such problems.”

“Yes, in ways, very similar to the story of Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.” Muriel seemed to know much of human story telling.

I found the courage to speak.

“Okay, so you’re saying this box is real?”

“Degrees of truth, my dear.” Zadkiel took over again. I glance at Puriel, only to see her trying to contain her anger. But Lord Zadkiel just ignores it and keeps talking.

“There was an incident of someone opening a box and releasing something terrible. But the box didn’t contain ‘the world’s ills.’ Instead, it housed power. Tremendous power. Dark power.”

“And our job is to retrieve it from someone who is likely willing to use it against us?” Rand sounded annoyed.

Zadkie’s lips curl into a sly smile. Which is my clue that this is going to be beyond dangerous.

“Of course! Aluma is already tasked with the hunt for demons associated with the theft. What’s one more task for our beloved soldier?”

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?”

Seeking Dusk: Part 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, my lord.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Elysian: Fourteenth Dream

“Um, I can explain? I think?”

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

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

He sighs, and rubs his hand on his face.

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

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

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

And then we hear the thundering voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I… I… I can’t-”

Goodfellow’s voice comes bellowing back.

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

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

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

“Don’t tell me I’m not good enough…”

“What was that mortal? I’m afraid I-”

“DON’T TELL ME I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking Dusk: Part 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we can learn.

I have to find Rand. I must apologize.

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

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

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

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

They were coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“’ello, Alli!”

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

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

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

“So what is with those stars anyway?”

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

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

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

“Bureaucratic nightmares?”

“…Sounds about right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I run toward him and kneel to his grace.

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

“As you wish, Lord Zadkiel”

The 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?!”

Seeking Dusk: Part 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…I think you broke my brain.”

The old man gives a sigh.

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

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

I can feel myself instinctively roll my eyes.

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

Desine

And I immediately freeze in place. Damn.

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

I resume sitting, and the doctor continues his lecture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, it’s just… I…”

The doctor finally sits at his desk and addresses me directly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I obey.

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.

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