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Fiction: Eyes of Green, Wings of Black

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

September 13, 2017

As the dusk slowly stole its way across the sky, the woman who called herself Nellie Vincent waved goodbye to the last of the schoolchildren and locked the door of her curio shop. For the ninth year running, she had made arrangements with the deli and bookstore on either side of her to sponsor a Lunch-and-Learn for the children from the horribly underfunded elementary school one district over.

Nellie dragged herself slowly upstairs to her apartment. She was tired, but a good tired. Tomorrow, she would be helping with the blood drive at St. Catharine’s Hospital, and then on Saturday her weekly visit to the children’s ICU with her storybooks –

“Envy,” said a man’s voice from the top of the dark stairs. She froze. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone else here. There certainly hadn’t been last night, and no men had come in today.

“What?” Nellie called, “Who’s there? What are you doing in my home?”

“I was Sent,” said the voice, and suddenly all the upstairs lights flared on at once.

The light, oddly tinged with sickly green instead of the usual cheery yellow, revealed a man. He had corpse-pale skin that hung loosely on his skinny frame, as though he had recently lost a lot of weight. He was mostly bald, though a few remaining tufts of hair were wiry black, and he was dressed in nothing but a pair of stained grey sweatpants.

Nellie was sure she had never seen him before. “Who are you? What do you want?”

The man had started coming downstairs, but at this his grim expression flickered into exasperation and he goggled at her. “This? This is what I’m talking about. You’ve been away so long, you’ve forgotten your brothers and sisters.”

She had reflexively backed down the stairs away from him, but by the time she reached the bottom, he drew level and glared at her. “I am Sloth!”

Nellie blinked in confusion. “That… that poor man from ‘The Goonies’?”

Sloth rolled his eyes and pushed past her, into the shop. “No! I’m not a movie character! I am Fourth of The Seven! Letalis Sopor!” He sat down at an ornate table clearly labelled “$1999” in Nellie’s careful handwriting. “I am the Sin of Sloth. I am one of Hell’s bishops. And so are you!”

“Sir, I do not know who you think you are–” Nellie began, but he cut her off.

“I just TOLD you! Oh, damnation, I’m tired of this. See for yourself.”

Sloth snapped his fingers. The click seemed to echo a long distance, as all the light in the shop flickered a deep, black-tinged red for a moment. When the light returned to normal, Sloth was carrying on his back a pair of huge feathery wings, as black as Sin – and so was Nellie.

“Now will you please, for the love of Beelzebub, sit down? I’ve been sent to give you a warning, and I’ve wasted too much time on it already.” He slouched in his chair and tried to look as unfairly put upon as a Sin could.

Nellie’s eyes, which had always been a striking rich green, flickered with verdant light and she frowned. “As if you would do anything other than waste time. You are the living embodiment of ‘wasting time’.”

He glared at her as she sat across from him. “You remember. That’s something, I suppose. You’re not the only one who thinks that; frankly, it’s why they sent me to talk to you. Pride couldn’t bear stooping to be a messenger; Greed and Gluttony kept demanding payment, and Wrath just yelled constantly at everyone to shut up. I agreed to come mostly because it was the easiest way to get away from them.”

“What precisely do you want?” Envy asked.

Sloth snorted a laugh. “It’s so weird to hear that from you. Wanting is your job.”

She glared and said nothing.

Sloth sighed. “Fine. Look, it’s like this. You’ve been away too long. We have a duty to perform, and a very irate Master to please. You have to come back Down with me, right away, or there will be terrible consequences. Which, I am pleased to say, I will not have to carry out. They sounded like a lot of work, all that drawing and quartering and so on.”

“Sounds rather serious.”

“It is.”

They stared at each other. Seconds passed by, marked by various timepieces on the shop walls that almost, but not quite, ticked in unison.

Finally, Envy broke the silence. “I’m not going.”

Sloth blinked and sat upright. “What? But… but you have to! This is an order straight from the Throne!”

“No. I am staying here.” With a rustle too quiet for human ears, a few black feathers dropped from Envy’s wings.

“You can’t! I’m not even certain you can escape punishment if you come back now! They know what you’ve been doing!”

She met his shocked gaze with stony resolve. “Oh, do they? What precisely do they think they know?”

“You’ve been –” Sloth stopped himself, then looked around furtively and lowered his voice. “You’ve been doing charity work! Helping people, smoothing out conflict, generally being an extremely good citizen. I hear you haven’t even unloaded a single cursed knick-knack on the locals in the last three towns – Lucifer’s toenails, what do you think they even gave you this shop for?”

“I don’t care. I’m done with all of that. You can have the shop back if you want it. I don’t find it very needful any more.” Feathers fell all around her, in a nearly-silent deluge.

“You… what? You can’t just quit! This isn’t some volunteer job at the soup kitchen – which I note you’ve been doing, too – this is forever! Sin is Forever!”

“I can, and I do. I’m done. You can tell them that for me – including the Throne.”

Sloth turned, somehow, even paler at the idea of carrying this news to the Prince of Lies. “I really don’t think I can. Damn everything! Who do you think you are!?”

“You tell me, my ‘brother’. Who am I?”

“Envy! Sixth of The Seven! Invidia Totalis!”

All the black feathers had fallen now. For the first time since her unwelcome visitor had arrived, Nellie Vincent – Envy – smiled at him, as behind her spread wings of purest white.

“Yes. I am Envy, who craves the joys others have.” Her smile widened and her eyes glistened, hinting at a kind of love never found in Hell. “Did you really think I would never meet an angel?”

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West Virginia style hot dog.

436

Fiction: Dogs Are A Clone’s Best Friend

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

August 31, 2017

“Syv, I’m bored.” Mech said.

Bullets ripped the trees in front of us in half with only a fraction of them actually hitting Mech’s shields below me. He was – or at least, had been – the Warhammer from the Glass Cannons and, despite the team name, he was far from glass.

“This Johnny was built wrong and his bullets aren’t doing anything.”

I chewed absently on a SlyEye chili dog while sitting cross legged on Mech’s flat head. I caressed the cold metal beneath me as I searched the dark ruins around us.

The hunting Johnny was camped out in the third floor of a crumbling apartment complex, the gold flashes I’d glimpsed through my scope marking him as the Big Johnny Four of the Sunbros. I hadn’t seen the Sylvia the Devs had sent after us yet though.

“Four’s gotten comfortable. He’s sitting on a chair. The other Deadringer is trying to flank us.” I said.

“We won’t win if we turtle Syv, all I know how to do is attack.”

I took another bite of the hotdog, peeling back the self heating wrapper and tossing it behind me. I chewed and took another look through my sniper scope. I sighed and slid the half eaten SlyEye into the bag on my hip.

“Go ahead Mech. Go get him,” I said and slid off of my boyfriend’s back.

“I’m gonna take you to pound town.” Warhammer yelled, his electronic voice cracking as he charged towards the bullet-spewing clone.

I stood and watched as the sunlight that filtered through the treetops sparkled against his smoky crystal armour. His hulking form smashed through both underbrush and rusted machinery as he pushed against the concrete building.

“It’s time for them Gripplegraps!”

I unwrapped the SlyEye to the sound of my Mech slamming the Sunbro noob into sludge. I smiled around the footlong and swept the area for more gold clad hunters.

We’d met during a match, my Greenskins vs. his Glass Cannons. I’d watched Mech from across the field, watched the way that he took down Crawler and Clone alike with a joy that was barely seen in those of us born for Superchamp. I’d dropped on him and left a note scribbled on a wrapper on his shield before he killed me.

We exchanged letters after that. Every time our teams fought, we’d pin them to the crawlers marching down each other’s lanes all game. Every night that one of us stayed in the other’s city’s away apartments, we’d flash lights at each other across the dark.

Then I was recalled for retirement and Warhammer said we should run.

“Woo! That attack sure fell flat.” Mech said.

He wiped the blood and dust off of his shields. Not far away from him was what was left of the Four. I trotted over to the gooey paste of clone and kicked the pieces around, looking for anything salvageable.

Hammer grabbed me from behind in a hug and I felt the heat from his exhaust fall over me. I leaned into him and kissed his hand.

“Good job, Mech. I’d kiss you if you still had a face.”

“Naw. You can still kiss me, and I’ll take you to pound town later.”

I turned and kissed between the camera’s that had become his eyes. He slid his colossal hands down my hips and rests them there. I giggled and leaned on his arm, letting him support me.

“We should move. The other one is still out there.” I said.

“I’ve got you Greeny, no one is hurting my girl.”

He cupped my crotch, lifting me up off the ground and pressing into the bulge hidden there. I moaned against him. And—

I was staring at the inside of a respawn vat. The green text in front of my eyes scrolled too fast for me to see. I punched the inside of the vat, frustration venting out my fist as pain. The front slid open and I tumbled out.

“Are you okay Sylvia?”

I scrambled to my feet, the feeling of newly cloned flesh making me shiver.

“What?” I said.

“I said, ‘are you okay?’ You usually don’t fall when they open that shit.”

A Four stood in front of me, his armour gold and black. He held out his hand, ready to grab me if I fell again. I shrank away from him back toward the open creche.

“What happened to Mech?”

“Who?”

I ran under his arm and away from the respawn vats. I heard him behind me, throwing the name Sylvia at me like grenades. I stepped down hard, my foot hit air, and I fell head first into a crafty table, food and drink flying everywhere.

I landed on the floor, my nose pressed against the toe of a leather cowboy boot.

“Yeehaw. That was a magnificent dodge by Deadringer Sylvia of the Sunbros. That landing gets a ten out of ten.” Jack Flack, the Superchamp announcer, said.

I picked myself off of Jack’s shoe and stood again. Jack stood in front of me, a coffee cup in one hand and a carafe of cream in the other. He stared at me as the remains of his coffee dripped down his vest.

“Sorry sir. I’m not feeling well.” I said to him and pushed past him.

“Don’t forget to buy a Battle Bright Taco™ and an 80 ounce Pistol Punch™ on your way out.” he yelled after me.

I ran through a hall made of curtains and searched the dark depths of swinging cloth as I passed, the sounds of footsteps behind me.

“Mech? Are you there?” I yelled.

Light fell ahead of me and I raced toward it.

“WELCOME BACK DEADRINGER SYLVIA!” The light said.

I shielded my face with my hand. Hundreds of seats hid behind the stage lights, each one filled with cardboard cutouts of the Superchamp clones clapping. Speakers filled the stage with the sounds of a crowd going bonkers, whistling and hooting.

“Y’all got dealt a bad hand in that round but don’t fret. The crowd’s with y’all still and the runners are still runnin’, so we’ll get’ch’all out there in a jiffy.” Flack’s voice boomed above the noise of the nonexistent crowd.

“WELCOME BACK BIG JOHNNY FOUR!”

I I looked back toward the curtain where Sunbro Four stood waving. He glanced at me through half closed eyes and raised his eyebrow. I flipped off the cardboard cut outs and stormed off the stage.

Two people in gray uniforms were picking up the spilled crafty. I kicked a stray Greenskin Gourmet Doughnut into the mess of curtains to my right. Fuck these people. They wouldn’t let me leave, so they can deal with smell of rotting anchovies and goat cheese.

“Sylvia. What in the hell is going on? Why didn’t you wait for me to get back?” The golden Four said from behind me.

“I don’t call myself that.” I said.

“What? Is this about D? I know you still miss her, I do too, but this shit isn’t going to help.”

“Fuck you.” I slammed my fist into the wall. I snatched a wrapped SlyEye out of the pile of spilled food and pulled the heating tab.

“You’re eating those now? Shit Sylvia, you have to stop this. You told me you got the SlyEye EyeBuy.”

The foil turned a bright blue and I tore the top off of the footlong chili dog. I bit the tip off and chewed it, my breath coming out of my nose in harsh bursts. I swallowed and went in for another bite when I noticed my gloves, the black, gold pattern on them.

“Fuck me. How do I get out of this nightmare.”

One of the attendants stopped picking up food to point toward a door marked ‘Exit’.

“Thanks.” I said through a mouth full of meat, beans, and cheese.

The ready room beyond the door was filled with guns, food, and anything you might need to hunt down someone dangerous. I grabbed a pack from the rack and started stuffing it with as much as I could.

“Are you going to talk to me? Or am I just going to have to keep following you around and shit?”

I looked at Four, pausing my packing for a moment to really look at him. His eyes were deep in his skull, the black rings around them made him look like a racoon. He swept his gloved hands through his grey hair, sticking it up with sweat as the ran through. I sighed and zipped up the bag.

“She’s gone. She’s not coming back. I have to find Mech.” I swung the pack onto my back and grabbed a sniper rifle with an Acog sight.

“Okay.” He said and got ready.


 

The ruins around Stygere were filled with the sounds of mutant animals going about their business. I ran ahead of the Sunbro Four towards the last place that I’d been with Mech. It wasn’t hard to find, the trail of ruined bushes and trampled rubble left by Mech’s huge feet kept me on track.

“Look, I know how you feel. I miss her too, Sylvia. I’ve been hinting that you can talk to me for over a year.”

I could hear the buzzing of the drone following us. They’d be watching our every move, the crowds paying by the minute for the privilege. The Four continued talking the entire trip, no matter how much I ignored him.

“I lay awake at night. Okay? I know you and D had a thing but you weren’t the only one with feelings for her.”

I slid into cover at the edge of the clearing where Mech had smashed Four’s previous body to paste. It was quiet, the animals in the area still shying away after all the action from earlier. One of the giant trees ringing the clearing had been felled since I’d been here, the trunk in splinters and another mangled body resting in the branches.

“Will you please talk to me? Please, Sylvia!” Four said, standing next to me.

“She’s dead, Four. Forget about her. Move on.” I said, the words erupting from my mouth before I knew what was going on.

He looked at me and his eyes darkened farther. He bared his teeth, about to say something but before he could the forest behind him blurred red, disgorging a figure in red cloak holding a double-bladed scythe in her left hand.

“Hey Big Guy.” She said.

“What?” Four turned, his eyes wide in their sunken sockets.

“Sorry.”

She cut him in half, the blood splattering across the ferns and trees around us. He held out his hand as both halves fell to the ground in a heap of gore and flesh.

“No.” He whispered and laid still.

The sound of the drone had gone, replaced by the sound of trees swaying in the wind. I dropped my gun and held my hands, palms up.

“Hold it. I’m not here to fight. I just want to get back to my Warhammer .”

With a swipe, she cleaned the blood off of her blades. She leaned against the trunk of a clean tree and popped the tab of a can slung on her belt. She took a deep swig, the carbonated, yellow drink flowing down her jaw to sink into the cloth of her cloak.

“Hey Sylvia. Long time no see.”

“Stop fucking calling me that.” I screamed, “My name is Syv. It’s Syv. Not Sylvia. Not Deadringer. Not even Sylv.”

I started ripping off the gold and black armour, throwing the pieces into the pile of dead clone in front of me. The woman in red took a step back, her hand going to the scythe again.

“I’m not this Sunbro slut. I’m a damn Greenskin. I hate the colour gold. I hate their snobby ass attitude. I hate the way that they make it to the Superchamp stadium every year. I just want to go meet my boyfriend and live in the woods.”

I slung the bag onto the ground next to me and ripped off my chest piece. I stood in front of her, naked and painting, my skin chilling in the shaded forest.

The forest shimmered beside the woman and revealed a Lady Death clone in a patchwork blue, black, and gold suit. The Lady Death’s visor was cracked and partially missing, the woman’s black-almond eye looking through the hole. She held a golf club in one hand and a grenade in the other.

“Is everything okay D?” The new woman asked.

“I have no fucking idea, Blue. You take care of the drone?”

“Yeah, they never saw me coming.” Blue grinned.

“This is a clusterfuck.” D handed her scythe to her partner and unbuttoned her cloak.” We’re going to have to deal with this one, and our other new friends, before we can even think about going back home.”

She let the cloth fall from her shoulders with a shrug and let it pool in the crook of her left arm. The skin of what used to be her right shoulder was red and mottled, a deep scar ran through where her arm used to be. She took the can from her belt and drank.

“Well, get what you’re bringing Not Sylvia. We’re going to go join the others.” She said, exasperated.

For a beat I continued standing there shivering and stared at D, then grabbed the bag off the ground. I slid the sniper into the holster on the pack and then slid it back on my back. I left the armour in the pit of dead Four.

I followed the two through the thick underbrush. They were walking hand in hand, silently looking at the forest around them as animal sounds started coming back. I pulled one of the many foil wrapped packages out of my bag as we walked.

Vines spread open around the entryway to a half collapsed building, trees crowding the door with plastic wrapped cartons sprouting from their trunks. I pulled the cooking tab on my lunch as the two women moved through the crowded doorway, the smell of chilly and melting cheese wafting from the package.

“We’re coming in.” D called to the abandoned factory.

“‘Bout time. Y’all are late and I’m gettin’ grouchy. Ain’t that right y’all, Mama Harry’s gettin’ right ornery.”

Across the floor of rotted machinery sat four people; a woman with steel gray eyes and a pistol the size of my arm in her hand, a haggard older man with a shaved head and an arm missing, and the hunched figure of Mech with me in his arms.

“Fuck.” I and … the other I… said in unison.

There was a bloodstained bandage covering the eye of the me in Mech’s arms. She was stripped of armour and was wrapped in a white sheet.

“I should have seen this coming. The moment I saw those two alive.” I said, motioning to the two Lady Death clones now joining the group sitting on the loading bay. “The Devs are bad at this.”

“What’s going on?” Mech asked.

“I’m Syv.”

I tossed the Slyeye at my counterpart. She caught it and ripped open the package.

“We found her with Johnny following her, though I had to take him out. I feel a bit bad about that, we might have been able to use him.”

I sat and put my hands in my head. This was either a nightmare or bullshit, and neither were what I wanted. I was in a body that wasn’t my own with augments I didn’t deserve and a ghost of myself in Mech’s arms.

“Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck me.” I whispered.

I felt a soft hand on my back and looked up to find my own face staring back at me. She put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed. Mech was behind her, supporting her with one hand.

“So?” I said.

“So.”

“Are you okay, at least?”

She tugged on Mech’s hand and looked at him. He lifted her onto the flat platform on his head and then slid his fingers around my waist to do the same. His cold touch made me shiver but the warmth of being back in my boyfriend’s arms kept the chill away.

“The Sunbro Sylvia shot me. I lost my eye but it went through. Four says I’m lucky.”

“Don’t tire her out, she’s got the last of our bingo in her.” The bald man said.

“Anyway. Mech killed her. D and Blue found us. We came here.”

Other-Syv held out half of her hotdog to me and smiled. I took it and chewed, the sour taste of my self pity replaced by meat and cheese.

“You should have seen me, Syv. My gripplegraps were so good.”

I stroked my boyfriend’s head and smiled with my other. We ate together and Mech held us.


 

“All runners, you have two minutes before I come in there and kill you all.”

The forest outside the factory was dark, the air thick with the chill of night. The group had gone to sleep not long before with D watching over us all.

“Just go away, Johnny. We don’t have to fight.” D yelled back.

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and stepped out from the shelter of Mech’s arms, where Syv and I were sleeping.

“She killed her, D, The Greenskin Lobi completely erased her.” Four’s voice sounded hoarse next to the sharp cold of the night.

Syv poked her head out of Mech’s embrace and the big cyborg’s eyes lit up. I put my finger to my lips and went to my pack. I checked my sniper’s breach and loaded it.

D was wired, I could hear the Energy Aid in the way her response wobbled from her mouth. “I know, Big Guy. I’m sorry, but we have wounded inside. Please.”

I hoisted myself onto the rusted catwalk that D sat on. She was looking out into the darkness outside, her scythe in her hand. I tapped the wall next to her to let her know I was there and then slid beside her.

“Can you see him?” I asked.

“No. It’s too dark and I don’t have a faceplate anymore.”

I flicked the Acog night vision on and steadied my rifle on the window ledge. I looked through the scope and gasped.

The forest was filled with crawlers. Hundreds of them stood, silent and waiting, just outside the carton trees. In front of them all, on top of the biggest crawler I’d ever seen, was Sunbro Four.

“We are fucked. Get everyone ready.”

“Thirty seconds and I’m coming in.”

Explosions ripped through the waiting crawlers and lit up The Taint. My night vision peaked and shut off before I was blinded. I blinked the tears out of my eye and switched my rifle to the other side.

D jumped from the window and out to the chaos below and then started chewing through bots with her scythe. Behind me I heard the stomping of Warhammer’s feet as he charged into the fray. I struggled to keep the fighting in focus as the fire burned and the bullets flew.

I began shooting. The bots were so close together, and so many, that each shot ripped through two or three. I saw the shimmer of Blue’s cloak float in front of me and then an explosion.

“I got a hunger and only mooks can suffice.” Mech warbled.

He charged through a group, bullets pouring into him from Four’s chaingun. This time his shield started buckling.

“Away. Hahaha.” he said and started running backward, shields up.

Syv crawled beside me, her own sniper in one hand and the pants from her armour in the other. She had wrapped the sheet around her waist, leaving her chest bare.

“I thought your dangly bits might be cold.”

She handed me the armour and I quickly slid it on.

“Thanks.”

Below us we could hear Mama Harry’s pistol booming, each shot shaking the catwalk. Syv and I smiled at each other as the sounds of the battle continued.

“Chili dogs?”

“Chili dogs.”

 


Holly Sophia McCrea is a poet, artist, and short fiction writer from Vancouver BC. She’s been published in The Drabblecast audio fiction magazine and currently has a chapbook available on amazon.

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408

Fiction: Clone Me Baby, One More Time

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

June 30, 2017

The rocket hit me in the face dead on. My teeth shattered, pieces of bone shearing the soft tissues of my tongue and mouth. My nose hollowed out and everything from its bridge down became pulp. The faceplate I wore saved my eyes, though it cracked and the display disappeared in a flicker of red. I wavered between consciousness and darkness as blood loss took its toll.

I respawned back at home base, my new body buzzing with fresh energy. This was my third death this game; my K/D ratio was going to go to shit if I kept this up. I grabbed an Energy Aid Cola from the drink machine — the price automatically deducted from the game’s winnings — and downed the methamphetamine laced drink.

My name is Lady Death and this is the life I was cloned for.

We were down two lane lengths, the enemy team’s crawlers pounding at our door, and I was playing like a newbie-clone who still needed her training bot to function. If we didn’t get a grip on this game then the Sunbros could say goodbye to our place at Superchamp stadium, and we might as well stop playing if it came to that. I grabbed a Lady Death Soul Reaper Scythe™ from the rack and breached the base’s doors to once again join the fight.

Big Johnny Four was waiting at the entrance, his black and gold exosuit glinting in the noon sun.

“Saw the replay of that hit, you okay Lady D?”

His immense frame towered over me, his right arm encased in a massive gatling gun.

“I’m fine. It’s just the crowd today. They seem more hostile than normal,” I said.

I could see small wars breaking out where the Sunbro fans met the Battering Bruiser fans. There was more gunfire going on in the bleachers than on the actual field. The Game Devs would have to step in if it escalated any more.

“Don’t let it get to you. The Devs just decided to make today free Battle Bright Taco Tuesday. I think they spike that shit with speed.”

Johnny patted my shoulder with his huge hand, his touch soft through my skin-tight armour.

“Come on, we have the the left lane to cover. Silvia’s all by herself and they’re pushing hard.”

I nodded and engaged my cloak, leaving his hand sitting on my ghostly shoulder. He hefted his gun and trundled toward left lane as I took my own, faster route. I ran toward the nearest wall, took a step up it, and flipped on top of it.

The entire field spread out before me, maze like halls with open tops and two uncluttered lanes winding their way through them. Above all was the multifaced big-screens that currently showed Deadringer Silvia holding off two enemy champions. I couldn’t tell which, but I thought I could see the tell-tale shimmer of one of my clone sisters weaving between the crawlers.

I jumped from one wall to the next, making time faster than Johnny who had to traverse the maze on foot. I knew every inch of this course, had been running through it and four others since I was barely out of the clone tubes. I’d run through it blind more than once.

I made my way to Silvia’s perch and tapped on the back of her helmet.

“Dead.”

She nodded and continued firing at the enemy crawlers. Each one she hit exploded in blue flame before disappearing in a mess of metal.

“Big J is on his way, it’s gonna take him a minute or two. I’m going to hit the crawlers on the back line, just keep our own in good shape.”

She nodded again as I jumped down to the lane and headed behind the enemy champs.

I hit a wall and ran on it, the sound of my boosters matching the whine of the crowd. There was the opening: the enemy’s Dirty Harriet was reloading and the blue clad Big Johnny was focused on a crawler that had made it past their defensive line. I slipped between them and toward the stream of crawlers behind.

The edge of my scythe cut through the ribbed bots like they were melting snow. Each one seemed to look around for whatever had hit it before puffing into a fireball. I swept through the advancing crawlers, taking them out two at a time.

Then I heard it: the mechanical trill of my sister Lady Death coming to stop me. I turned toward the sound, trying to spot her before she could close in. She was in-lane, a shimmering blue ghost heading directly toward me. I opened my booster’s throttle to full and jumped over her, her scythe missing me by inches. I rapped her on the back of her helmet with the hilt of my scythe and dropped my cloak before leaping over the wall into the maze.

She followed, still cloaked and probably mad as hell. If she was following me it meant that she wasn’t bugging someone who could do some real damage. I was done sweeping the oncoming crawler wave anyway, enough that Johnny and Silvia could gain ground.

I ran on the maze’s walls and boosted around corners, my mobility easily keeping my doppelganger behind me. She was just boosting along the ground; that meant she was still wet behind the ears with amniotic gel. That meant I could have some fun.

I jumped vertically off the wall I was on, tucked in my legs cannonball style, and boosted high into the air. As the ground fell away behind me I switched on my cloak. Between my golden armour and my cloak, the sunny sky would make me completely invisible. I swung myself around till I pointed at the ground and revved my jets. I came down right on top of her, scythe ready to cut her head open like an avocado.

Then I saw her face. She’d noticed that I was coming down on her and that there was nothing she could do. Her faceplate was just clear enough that I could see her wide, terrified eyes and her mouth hung open, twitching at the corners.

I had a wave of utter horror come over me then, remembering my first few matches when I still felt scared to die. Her face was so much like my own, a few less scars but still as beautiful. I hesitated and she cut me in half.

We won, somehow. Silvia and Big Johnny managed to beat back their lane till it was at the Battering’s base, then Warhammer — a guy on our team with so much armour a tank shell could hit him and he would still be standing — walked our crawlers in. The base exploded, fans cheered, and my ranking dropped six places.

I was still in the top ten rankings for Lady Deaths but it hurt my sponsorships. I lost my contract with Burger Boys and Ooze Energy drinks which meant I would have to start downgrading my equipment. Goodbye steel bones, I knew the well.

Back at the Sunbros’ group home. I sat on the floor of my shower and bit my nails till they bled. I could hear the rest of my team talking about today’s game in the living room.

“What the fuck was up with Lady D today? She was playin’ like a kid in a barfight!” Harriet grumbled, her southern drawl stinging my ears with every twang.

“It was the crowd. The Devs are going crazy with the sponsors lately and it’s getting to her.” Johnny Four said, “They’re getting to me too. Some of our fans had a higher kill count than us today.”

“Bullshit,” Harriet slammed her fist on to the table, “That stuff ain’t more’n a little more noise than normal, it ain’t worth losin’ a lane over. She’s goin’ soft. I watched the replays of that fight with the Batterin’ bitch, I know she hesitated. She’s gonna run soon and you know it.”

Silence came from the other room and tears mingled with my shower water. She was right, maybe I was getting too old for this shit. Maybe I’d overdosed on Energy Aid one too many times and finally snapped, my brain rewiring itself into an emotional stupor. Maybe running was a good idea. At least I’d get to die on my feet.

Johnny caught me leaving that night, his muscled body blocking the doorway out of the apartment.

“You don’t have to do this.” His hands shook at his sides.

“I can’t stay here. Harriet’s right, I’ve gone soft.”

“What about Sylvia?”

Just minutes before, I’d snuck into her room, leaving a note saying “Goodbye, thanks for all the fun times. I’m sorry it had to end like this.” I should have written more but there wasn’t enough time. I looked at Johnny’s feet.

“What about me?” he said.

I hoisted my scythe to hide myself behind bravado. “It wouldn’t have worked out. I like the ladies too much.”

I pushed him aside with it so I could leave. He let me pass and closed the door behind me.

I switched on my visor and the night vision painted the rooftop in sharp green. The Sunbros’ headquarters were on the edge of the mega city Keres — the Devs wanted to keep us as separate from the general population as possible and not even the most avid fans want to risk getting caught in The Taint beyond.

I walked to the edge of the building and looped a rope. As I descended down the building, I began flipping through TV channels on my HUD. Jack Flack’s face filled my vision and the Superchamp theme music began to play.

“Welcome y’all to this special edition of Superchamp, the game that keeps y’all’s blood running hot. As you know, when a Champ gets all cowardly and such, they have a tendency to run like cattle from a bonfire. When that happens, we gotta hunt ’em down like the dogs they are.

“Tonight, we got a little clone who’s a running, the woman in the black and gold, LADY DEATH OF THE SUNBROS!”

The crowd in the background screamed, their voices too loud in my helmet earbuds.

“For those of you who may have forgotten since our last runner, we got a bit of a reminder. When a Champ is cloned in game, they keep the core memories of the previous version. That’s so we get all the different kinds a personalities that y’all enjoy in the games. So the Warhammer from the Glass Cannons won’t act like the Warhammer from the Silverados.”

“But, we don’t keep those memories around after the games: they go right back into a Champ clone for storage. If a champ gets killed outside of a game, they’re gone for good.

“This Lady D has decided to leave her coop and bring all those cowardly memories with her, which is good for us. We have to get rid of em but why leave out all you people from the fun of it.”

Jack turned to the camera and gave the audience a wink.

“We’ve set up another, randomly picked, champ with their own cameras and we’re sending them after her into the wastes. Tonight’s hunter will be…” He turned to a screen at the center of the stage and swept his hand toward the flickering name, “Lady Death from the Battering Bruisers!”

I shut the feed down. Of course they had to bring that Battering Bitch in. I rappelled down the side of the wall as fast as I could. If I was going to get through this, I would have to put some distance between us before they released the hunter. As soon as I hit the ground I ran off into The Taint.

Two hours later, I was running along the edge of a cliff face with the last dregs of a can of Energy Aid flowing through my system. There hadn’t been much excitement other than the occasional man-eating plant. Games never lasted this long, and without the soothing life of a new clone body, the new sensation of sore muscles was wearing me down.

I slid down the steep cliff face, vines making the boost-assisted climb a nightmare. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep this up before I had to find somewhere to hide and let my poor muscles rest. My foot caught an outcropping of rock and I almost fell, just managing to hold on with my fingertips. Then an explosion thrummed through me.

To my right, a chunk of the wall fell to the ground seventy feet below. The explosion shook me off of the rock face and I plummeted along with the rubble. With help from my booster my fall slowed but I felt a deep crack as I threw my arm between my face and the ground.

Pain crested from my shoulder to my elbow. My ribs burned every time I took in a whistling breath. I reached into the pack I’d taken when I left and grabbed a Bingo Bandage (“With child friendly morphine!”) to slap on my neck. With the drug seething through my body, I grabbed my scythe from my back and stood to face whatever had knocked me from my perch.

“Whoa there D,” someone said from the edge of the rubble-filled clearing. “Don’t move or I’ll actually hit you this time.”

“Johnny?”

From the shadowed treeline stepped Big Johnny Four, his armour overgrown with moss but still showing the lime green underneath. He hoisted a golf club onto his left shoulder and smiled at me.

“You the runner or the hunter?” he asked.

I put my scythe away with my good arm and lifted my faceplate. “I’m running. They have Newbie after me though.”

“Good,” he said, shrugging his shoulder in a beckoning gesture, “We’ve got time to talk before she gets here.”

He walked into the forest and I followed after him.

“Greenskin Johnny, huh? You ran two years ago, right?”

“Yeah. I was slowing down too much in-game. They were about to retire me. So I ran.”

“I thought they’d killed you, though. Sylvia shot you in the heart. They got the vitals and everything.”

He raised his right arm as we walked. Where the chain gun should have been was a healed over stump poking out of the armour.

“She shot me all right. I lost the arm but she just missed my heart. It’s good to see you.”

“Good to see you too.”

We walked and the silence between us filled with the sounds of The Taint. Birds chirped as the crunch of the leaves beneath our feet fell into a rhythm. I took a deep breath and felt the cool air soothe my broken body. The morphine was beginning to wear off, the silver chill of it dissipating.

Johnny stopped, looking back toward the way we’d come.

“She’s coming. The shit around us just got too quiet. There’s a clearing not too far from here and my house is just beyond that. We can make a stand there.”  

We ran together as I fumbled in my pack for another round of Bingo and Energy. We breached the clearing. Vine covered cliffs fed in and out between too tall trees. It was a fun place for a battle and I was pretty sure I could outmaneuver a Lady D who hadn’t figured out wall-crawling yet.

“I’ll go set up behind the bush over there,” Johnny said and pointed his club across the clearing. He ran toward his hiding spot, his breath coming out in jagged gasps, and leaned on his club.

A camera drone roared into the clearing and began circling around me, its engine spitting up dirt and leaves around the clearing. Then came the hum of my pursuer’s cloak, so familiar even through the buzzing of the camera drone.

She came and I ran. I activated my own cloak and burst away from her. We moved through the clearing together, dancing around each other in playful arcs. Even through the adrenalin and knowledge of perma-death, it was still nice to be back doing what I was made for.

She finally attacked me and her blade slid across mine as I blocked. I felt the sting of my injured arm worsen and heard another crack, the limb falling from my scythe to hang by my side. I boosted away from her and toward the wall. She followed behind, the shimmer of her cloak drawing lines of sunlight behind her.

Johnny started hitting grenades then and the forest floor was torn apart. His signature move and the reason for his nickname lit the clearing up, the whack of “golf balls” preceding it. The Blue Bitch sped up.

I hit the cliff face and stepped up it with ease. Behind me followed the newbie and explosions. She’d apparently practiced after the last match; her wall-crawl was sloppy but existent. Behind us the cliff shed rock as Johnny put the heat to her heels.

I twirled and shifted back toward her. The dust from the grenades had overwhelmed her cloak and I could see her face again, just as scared as before. I hung in the air for a moment as my momentum fought my boosters.

“Fuck it.” I said to myself and tackled her, carrying us both into a grenade blast.

The pain in my shoulder flared brighter than the sun as the concussion hit me. I lost my breath and what was left of the two of us fell. I looked down at the ground coming to meet me through a broken visor and closed my eyes.

Johnny rested on his golf club and stared down at me.

“That was stupid, D,” he said.

I tried to push myself up but my arms refused to move.

“Just stay there, If you wiggle it’ll make you bleed worse. I wrapped it up as best I could, but…”

“Where’s the other one?” I felt blood flow from the split in my lip.

“Still in the pile of rocks. The cam’s gone so she’s probably dead,” Johnny pointed his club in line with my legs.

I flexed my arms again and felt my palms clench. I took two deep breaths, put my arm out to catch myself, rolled onto my right side, and kept rolling as my elbow never met ground. Blood smeared across the grass and pain punched through my morphine haze as the thing that used to be my shoulder hit the ground.

“That’s what I was talking about, D. Stay down.”

“She’s just a kid.”

I lifted myself to my knees and static filled the edges of my vision.

“I’ll get her D. Just lay down,” Johnny said.

The dirt tasted just about as good as I imagined it would. As I heard Johnny stomp off to the pile of rubble under the cliff, I enjoyed the feeling of grass on my cheeks. I turned my head and looked at the clearing around me.

Without the visor the world was closer, the light more severe. Glowing flowers lit the clearing and through the break in the trees, I could see tiny lights dancing in the sky. Something big moved far into the foliage around me.

“She’s still breathing,” Johnny said, dragging my clone’s Blue clad body behind him.

Her faceplate was cracked, the flashing light from the broken screen inside illuminating her eyes. I reached over and slid the useless tech off her. Her face was unbroken, except for a small cut under her left eye. Something was wrong, so similar but dissonant to the face I saw in the mirror. I reached out and stroked her short, black hair.

“She’s got a few ribs broken at least and there’s a rock sticking out of her leg that’s like two feet long. I don’t want to take it out ’til I have a proper setup though. There’s no telling how much blood she’s lost.”

Johnny started tearing apart cloth from a bag on his hip and wrapping them around Battering’s chest. She coughed and her eyes fluttered.

“It’s okay. Shhh, just rest,” I said. I grabbed her hand with mine and squeezed it.

She squeezed back. “They’re going to send another one.”

The lights in the sky shrank away as the twilight of dawn rolled across them. I squeezed Big J’s knee as he worked and then slid my hand back to Lady D’s.

“We’ll be ready.”

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Holly Sophia McCrea is a poet, artist, and short fiction writer from Vancouver BC. She’s been published in The Drabblecast audio fiction magazine and currently has a chapbook available on Amazon.

If you liked this, then you can read more from Holly here.

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421

Fiction: Eyes Like Boxes, Mind Like Fire

Books & Writing, Culture

June 15, 2017

The boat was old, something they’d dug up from the mid-forties that looked more like a battleship than a commercial vessel, all sharp lines and doorways with wheels instead of handles. I squinted across the gangplank towards the party boat we’d rented for the weekend, my dreams of a picture-perfect first kegger party dashed.

“Where did Jason find this thing?” I asked my boyfriend, Justin. “It looks like a submarine fucked a sailboat.”

“I like it,” he said, wrapping his arm around my waist. “It’s bad ass. We don’t have to worry about breaking shit.” He grinned at Jason, who was in the process of exploring, opening doors and climbing up railings to look at the above deck. “Besides, we didn’t have to pay much for it, which means we have more money for beer.”

On cue, the rest of our party showed up: two teenage girls with a keg of beer between them, gasping from the weight.

“Hey Twins,” Jason called from his perch on one of the railings, his feet dangling over the water.

“Hey yah,” they said in unison, their voices strained under the weight of the keg. They set it down and studied the boat in front of them. They weren’t really twins; Puck was a year older than Pan, and they looked different enough that the non-familial connection was obvious. Ever since grade school, they’d been inseparable, though, and thus the nickname.

Jason ran off the boat and helped Justin take the keg from the women; “All aboard who’s going aboard. Welcome to your home for the weekend.” They walked up the plank, the dock bobbing under the weight of them and the keg.

“This looks safe,” Puck said as she joined me next to the boat.

“Safe like broken bottle,” said Pan. She hugged me before carefully walking across the black water below and onto the deck.

Puck followed her other half and left me alone on the dock. I looked over the side of the bobbing wood below me and into the inky black. I really didn’t like the look of any of this; it was all so different in my head. Nothing like how I’d been fantasizing all through school last week. I stepped onto the gangplank and started up to get ready for our gathering.

The walls were coated in faint scratches near the bottom and icy cold, the metal of the place quickly shedding what heat it had gained before the sun set an hour earlier. The upper deck had the wheelhouse, two bathrooms, a few sleeping quarters, and an extra room that was empty, probably for meetings. The bottom deck was a twisting maze of halls with a few more bathrooms and a galley that had a table perfect for our partying needs.

Justin already had the keg set up with a row of red plastic cups waiting to be filled ringed around it. I went to the cooler we’d brought along and began to help dishing out the food. Cupcakes, sandwiches, a few cliche party hats, and one big bowl of candy were soon spread out on the metal table.

As I unwrapped a Lemon Head and popped it in my mouth, I noticed Puck staring at something on the ceiling. There was a hole, the inside made of a of stained and slick looking synthetic cloth. I went to stand by Puck and examine it further.

“And more weird shit,” I said. “What do you think it is?”

“A garbage chute maybe? I don’t remember seeing anything upstairs though.”

Someone slipped their hands around me from behind and I smelled Justin’s cologne. He tightened his hug and nibbled on my ear. “What’s up, pup?”

My breath quickened. “Nothing. Just something weird Puck found.”

“Then come and have a drink with me.” He took my hands in his and led me to the drinks, giving me one of the red cups. I drank from it, the bubbly liquid making me blanch with its bitter taste. I kept drinking as Justin and I sat together on the floor, my head resting on his shoulder.

Across the room Puck and Pan were doing the same, the weird hole forgotten with drink and cuddling. Jason was eating a sandwich and watching an episode of some show on his tablet. I pressed myself into Justin and kissed his jaw before taking another sip of beer.

Sudden music came from Jason’s tablet, something by The Killers that was calm and frantic at the same time. He grinned as the Twins got up and began swaying to the music. I set my beer aside and stood, grabbing Justin’s hand and dragging him to his feet.

We danced, all of us together. Jason danced by himself, using the cheesiest moves he could think of. Puck and Pan, with fits of giggles, swayed next to each other in a way I was sure I’d seen in a cartoon when I was a kid. Justin and I took each other by the hand and started a fast paced waltz, his hand drifting slowly down as mine stayed on his shoulder.

The Killers gave way to the Gorillaz and the Gorillaz gave way to a techno song I’d never heard. Between the dancing, the eating, and the making out, we spent a few hours in bliss. My head felt heavy as I watched Puck kissing Pan, my face half pressed into Justin’s leather coat. Jason was on the table, lost in his own world as he continuously danced the grocery basket.

I smiled into my boyfriend’s chest and breathed deeply of his sweat-tinged cologne. I felt my way under his jacket to slide my hand along his stomach. Perfect night, perfect smell, perfect friends. I was glad Jason had found this place, glad for the music and the frothy liquid in my stomach. I leaned up to kiss Justin’s lips and let this perfect moment be even better.

A squealing came from the door at the far side of the room and over the music, I could hear the clunk of the lock falling into place. Jason stopped the song with a tap on his tablet and jumped off the table to inspect the only door out of this room.

“What the fuck?” Justin said.

“The door done locked us in, pard,” Jason said as he twisted the wheel inlayed in the door as hard as he could.

“Well shit,” I said.

“Is there another way out?” Pan asked.

Justin stood up and went to help Jason open the door as I went to look for another way out.

“Well, there’s the hole,” Puck wandered over to her discovery and stared up at it. “It’s got to lead to somewhere.”.

Justin and Jason walked over to the Twins and me, sweaty from the exertion of trying to pry open the door. We all stared at the hole above us, the opening looking yonic and wet.

“Who’s going first?”Jason asked

“Fuck that noise.” Justin hit Jason in the arm.

“I’ll go,” I said.

Justin boosted me up; his strong hands felt good and warm. I touched the cloth with my fingers and was surprised to find it was silky and dry. I grabbed a fistful of the lining and heaved myself into the blackness above.

The darkness pressed against me as I climbed, the cloak of cloth sliding against me and reminding me of the soft skin of my grandmother. The fistfuls of cloth made it easier than I expected and within a few seconds, I’d made it to another opening. Blue light met me as I climbed out onto the deck above.

Something was wrong with the light, the way it shone off the walls and the shadows it made. I stepped from the hole, my arms tired from the strength I had to use to ascend. I looked around for what was making that strange blue light and came up empty.

“You okay?” Justin called from below, his voice muffled and far away.

“I’m fine. You keep trying the door, I’ll look for a way out.”

I looked around the room I was in, really taking it in for the first time. It was like the rest of the ship, all steel and devoid of anything comfortable. Beside the entrance, I’d come from was an old-looking sledgehammer and a panel that would just fit over the hole, with a box of bolts beside it. Across the room was a door, the same as the others but slightly ajar.

“I found something,” I called down to my friends. “I’ll be right back.”

I stepped toward the open door, the blue glow strengthening as I fully opened the door. Outside was a hallway that stretched out in both directions, the glow coming from the walls. The steel of the ship had turned wrong, the rivets holding it together placed at random. I felt cold; the warmth from Justin’s hands still lingered on my hips and made the chill of the hallway more noticeable.

“Hello?” I called. Something answered, its whimpering carrying softly down the hallway from my left. I shivered at the inhuman sound, and anxiety spread through my stomach. “Is someone there?” I asked as I crept towards the noise.

The hallway curved in front of me and within a minute the door I’d come from was lost behind blue steel. I dragged my fingers across the wall as I walked, the steady bump of rivets keeping my tipsy mind focused on the task at hand. In front of me the whimpers continued, and seemed to be getting closer.

I stopped my march. I’d lost track of how much time had passed since I started but it didn’t seem possible for this hallway to fit in the boat I’d seen at the beginning of the night. Drunk or not, this didn’t feel like a good place to be. I had to find a way out fast.

The wolf stepped from behind the curve in front of me. Fire dripped from its lips as drool, spilling onto the floor to settle between its huge paws. It growled and moved closer as I froze in fear; a small gasp escaped my throat. I stared into its eyes, pupils square and black, as it tilted its head to let out a howl.

The howl was returned. From all around me the sounds of a wolfpack rebounded and turned my knees into jelly. From behind the wolf came a pack, each one as otherworldly as the one in front of me. They growled and I turned to run.

My heart thudded in my ears as I ran the way I came, the wolves close behind. I could hear their great paws thudding on the steel, echoing my footsteps. My leg muscles began to seize up as the dancing and drink of the night caught up to me. My vision started to blur, just as I saw the doorway peek out from behind the curve ahead.

Teeth clamped into my thigh and I fell. Pain spread from the bite, cold fire and needles. I kicked out with my good foot and felt the soft impact as the wolf let go. I was only a few feet from the doorway and — if I could get it closed — safety.

I pushed myself up, my leg screaming, and bolted through the doorway. I tried slamming the heavy metal shut behind me but it refused to close, the metal warped. I dragged over the box of rivets and braced the door as the wolves slammed into it. It wouldn’t hold for long.

“Tessa! Are you okay?” Puck called from below. They were still trapped down there, waiting for me to come back with news of a way out. Justin was still down there and if I ran the wolves would follow. I couldn’t let that happen.

I lifted the plate that I’d found earlier, the holes drilled in it matching up perfectly with holes ringing the yonic entrance I’d entered from. It slid into place and I put rivets into the holes; each one fit snug. I grabbed the sledgehammer and lifted it above my head, the wolves behind me growling.

The metal clanged as I brought the hammer down, slamming a rivet into place. Slam, clang. Another one home as the door creaked and began to move. Slam, clang. The door burst open, the box of rivets spilled out and across the metal floor. Slam, clang. The final rivet hit home as the wolves hit me in the back and knocked the hammer out of my grasp. I screamed as the wolves fell on me, their hot breath stinking of rotten eggs and grass. I began to cry as I waited for them to tear into my throat but instead I felt the soft touch of a tongue against my cheek. A wolf licked away my tears.

“Tess, come down! The door’s open and you’re scaring me,” Justin called from below. The wolves raised their heads and let out a singular howl.

==========


I stumbled on the graveled shoulder of the road. My injured leg burned and throbbed. The last thing I remembered was the wolves howling as tears streamed down my face and then I was walking down the road to my house. I could almost believe it was all a dream except the blood still caked on my pants.

The first rays of dawn stretched across the sky as the cul-de-sac where my house was, came into view, the street empty save for two figures walking along the shoulder. I recognized them and started running. It was Jason and Justin. I didn’t know how, but I was glad.

I screamed his name as I ran, ready to hug him, kiss him, press my face into that ridiculous leather jacket he always wore. As I put my arms around him from behind, they passed through him and I felt them touch. He stopped and turned, his eyes wide.

“Jason. Did you feel that?”

“What?” Jason turned and looked around for what was bothering his friend.

“I felt really cold all of a sudden, like, really cold,” Justin said.

“Must have been the wind. Either that or you’re still in shock.”

I deflated, all of the joy I had a moment ago drifting off and replaced by dread.

“Justin?” I tried to say, but all that came out were whimpers. I collapsed to my knees and stared into my boyfriend’s eyes as tears started flowing. Then there was pain, all through my body. I reached out to him, my fingers shimmering and morphing as they brushed his shirt. I screamed but all that came from my throat was a dog’s whine.

“Come to me,” said a voice, and the sky glowed with the blue light from the corridor. The wind picked up, swirling my hair around my face and biting into my bare shoulders. I screamed and my voice became a howl, others joining in all around me.

“The fuck man,” Jason said,” We should get inside fast. The cops will be here soon and we don’t want to get eaten by the some wolf before that.”

Justin stood, staring at me, looking through me. I tried to reach out for him again but my hands were useless now, my fingers turned to pads. I felt heat in my mouth and the aroma of rotten egg mixed with grass engulfed me. I looked into Justin’s eyes and my tears dried up.

I turned and ran, the voice still calling and my boyfriend still waiting for something to happen.

 

__________________________________________________________

Holly Sophia McCrea is a poet, artist, and short fiction writer from Vancouver BC. She’s been published in The Drabblecast audio fiction magazine and currently has a chapbook available on amazon.

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456

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:06

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

September 18, 2015

Every week, we’re going to post some new fiction for you to devour and read, with original art as a header, and then a collected version for purchase from our store when the book is complete. Questions? Comments? The writers are right here, and they’ll respond as they’re able. 

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Click here to read previous entry.

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– 03:00:01:06 –

Veskur Wyrd sometimes looked at other couples in love and saw that they often lived together. Her mother and father, for instance, had lived with one another for all of Veskur’s life. Figo’s parents had split up years ago, whatever romance that had once bound them long since turned to ashes. Wyrd suspected heavily that the mother had abused her child physically and knew for a fact that the father had abused him emotionally. She did what she could to help make up for both, though she knew her efforts were awkward at best.

Figo seemed to appreciate it, though, and that was more than enough to make everything Veskur felt and everything Veskur did somehow better. She felt her life complimented and perfect thanks to the presence of the young noble.

She was not arrogant enough to believe that she made Figo’s life better, but she hoped that she did, anyway. She knew she was strange to be around and most of the time she did not care, but she found herself making concessions for the sake of this other, behaving in ways that no one had ever been able to compel her to behave before. It was strange, how one person could make everything she felt seem so much more, how one person could fill her with feelings of joy that she would never have expected could be culled from a tie to another Vanir.

Her heart did not live with her. His parents approved of Veskur as a war hero but were leery of her House, and his allies and even his friends wanted nothing to do with her strangeness. This suited Veskur fine, as she found Figo’s entire inner circle vapid, empty, and spiteful. They took her heart for granted in so many small ways, undermining Figo without ever seeming to care or even acknowledge the hurt, and Figo accepted their abuse with a disregard for his own well-being that Veskur herself mirrored when it came to her own dealings.

For reasons she could not name, however, she refused to tolerate anyone treating Lord Figo with such disdain.

River commented on Figo’s absence sometimes, but Veskur understood that her heart had other things to do than be with her in the remoteness of her frozen home. It made her cherish those times that they could be together all the more, and there were some nights where she found herself restless and warm and would wander outside, singing her passion to the valley she had made and the snow that filled it. She would smile when she did this, overcome with a sense of giddiness that she never tried to tame.

Love is War 005

River, when he heard her sing, told her that she was deaf to any kind of tone.

Her old friend had given her the means to contact Thea and the two of them had exchanged tentative greetings before getting into the meat of things. As promised, the young Lord proved to be a quick study and a good scholar. Veskur was inundated with the events that plagued Thea’s life, his triumphs and tragedies, and found both impressive enough. The boy also expressed an interest in her that Veskur was uncomfortable with, her manner and oddities apparently taken as some form of flirtation. By the time Veskur realized what had happened it was too late to say anything about it while being polite, though she did try to decline without hurting the youth.

Thea pressed ahead anyway.

All the stories that the noble of House Raido told of himself ended with him victorious over whatever trouble presented itself. Veskur thrilled to the tales of the boy’s many victories, his accomplishments enough to sate the necessity of glory in any man thrice his age. Still he pressed on, never satisfied with what he had done and always looking for another horizon to overcome. It was admirable, though quiet Veskur was uncertain how to deal with such an outgoing and hungry personality.

River told her to accept the boy’s eager lust and be done with it, but Veskur had never been comfortable with the sort of passions that River explored and so declined time and time again. She did her best to keep Figo from learning of Thea’s desires, but that proved fruitless. Figo said he wasn’t threatened or bothered by his would-be rival’s affections and Veskur, taking hope from this, resolved to never hide anything from her heart ever again. She put it out of her mind.

She put it out of her mind.

Her work was still progressing, though perhaps not as quickly now that her attentions were divided. There were two things that mattered now instead of one and she was not nearly as upset about this as she would have expected herself to be. Figo’s warmth and presence, his laughter and light, his lips on her neck and earlobe, his hands running through her… all these things came to hold more value for her than she would have ever believed possible. She told him she loved him and meant it, was left breathless when he pressed his lips against hers and held her down and loved her, loved her, made everything in her feel like light and fire.

He was all that mattered. He was everything, everything, perfection made flesh in ways that she knew even he would never understand. She listed for him fifty things that she loved about him, covered her home in flowers and light to celebrate him, everything he was and everything he meant.

She was happier with him than she ever would be again.

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More is coming next week. If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people.

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