The Proud and Grateful Pan Knight (On his Tenth Birthday)

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My tenth birthday was a full sixty years before my final birthday. 

I somersaulted over the gate and landed in an ankle deep excrement pie. There was no time to clean my boots so I quickly abandoned them on the porch before sprinting into my cabin. 

“Morning mother,” I said. 

My mother nodded. 

I was up long before the sun to feed the chickens early so my mother could not scold me for not taking care of the coups and the stocks before breakfast. So I was free to sit by the big unmarked box in the living room, near the fireplace.

Mother cleaned and brewed Ginger Coffee while grandfather sucked on a pipe. 

“Can I open it now?” I asked

“Have a seat?” My mother ordered.

I nodded and took my seat quietly at the kitchen counter. 

“You need your srength,” Mother said. 

“Grandpa says understanding self is as important as building strength,” I said. 

Mother placed a steaming bowl of fish porridge before me and started wiping the counter. “Your grandfather will never be drafted.” 

“I can still scrap,” Grandfather coughed. 

Mother stared at Grandfather. “If he’s not strong enough to wield the armor…” 

“Then he’ll get lighter armor,” Grandfather answered. 

My mother slammed her rag on the counter. “And less protection.” 

“He won’t grow much bigger than he is.” 

“Yes he will, father…” 

“Let the boy discover what is best for him,” Grandpa lowered his pipe. “What’s best may not be a heavy suit of armor. ” 

“What’s best won’t matter if he’s dead, father.” 

Silence. 

“I will check on the chickens,” Mother said before leaving. 

I fed them already

“And some more tobacco, please dear,” Grandpa said. 

“You have legs,” Mother shot back. 

The poultries and meats were reserved for the Shining Knight brigade. Nothing more important than to support God’s mandate to expand the Potentate’s vast kingdom. We had mud-salmon for protein. 

Mother’s seasoning masked the bitter taste. 

I was happy to support the war effort. 

“Did you thank the Gods?” Grandfather asked. 

I nodded. “And the empire.” 

“Then, open your gift,” Grandfather said. 

I looked over my shoulder. 

I was far from finished with my breakfast and I didn’t want to incur mother’s wrath. 

“I’ll deal with your mother,” I said. 

“Thank you!” I leaped off my stool. 

Grandfather grabbed my shoulder. 

“Patience,” Grandfather said. 

I slowly approached the box. 

The box seemed even bigger than when grandpa brought it into the house a week earlier. 

I took a breath. I removed the ribbon. I removed the lid. I reached in. I pulled out what looked like…

“A pan?” I said. 

I reached in again. Pan lids strung together with chains and leather. 

“Your new armor,” Grandfather said. 

I wiped away a tear. “I love it…” 

I loved it because it was mine. I didn’t care how it was made. I didn’t care how inexpensive it was. I planned to train in it to make it an extension of me. 

“Thank you, grandfather,” I said. 

Pots vs. The Glittering Knight

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“Reliance on my advantages was my greatest disadvantage…”

I stifle my laughter just long enough to draw my Great-sword. 

My opponent has a rice pot for a helmet and small frying pan lids for shin, and elbow guards while my armor glitters as it was forged in the sun’s corona using minerals from the far side of the moon– armor I received from my uncle at my recent birthday. My opponent looks more like the town beggar than an actual warrior. 

We were yards from the rogue village. I can see into the empty town from the empty road– our battleground. I can almost see their eyes peeking from the cracks in their window shutters. 

They will watch me break their champion. Slaughtering their village was unnecessary because defeating their champion will break their spirits. They’ll beg to be folded back into the kingdom. They’ll have the privilege to bow to us once again. 

I turn my attention back to the opponent before me. 

He was wheezing heavily. My opponent’s mouth is buried beneath his coal and ash peppered beard. He is diminutive and frail and has yet to show he can lift his spear. 

I am amused, but also disrespected by the champion the village sent forward to face me. Of all This will be easy. 

“Surrender,” I command. 

The broken old man lifts his spear. 

“Is there nobody else?!” I call towards the village. 

The old man grunts. 

I lift my sword. “Alright then.” 

His crudely made armor will shatter easily, but not on first impact. His armor was made of old pots, but they were metal nonetheless. They’ll require one or two strikes before I’m able to cleave through his bones. His neck was unprotected, so I figure two strikes and I will have his head. 

I lower my helmet and and take small steps towards my opponent.

I want to punish the feeble old man for wasting my time and tricking me into donning my new armor. 

My opponent backs way from me. 

I pause.  “You won’t outrun me.” 

My opponent raises their spear and pauses. 

I’ll easily overwhelm him. I’m stronger. Faster. Younger. 

I raise my sword. “Goodbye, sir..” 

I rush my opponent and bring my sword down on his head. 

My sword strikes dirt. 

My opponent’s spear pierces the side of the knee, beneath the hinge. He withdrew just out of my reach before I could counterstrike with a slash of my sword. 

I’m bleeding through my armor. My armor is stained in blood red and dirt brown. 

I’m furious. 

I stalk my opponent and follow him off-road and into the dirt. 

My opponent circles back towards the road but remains within striking range. His spear is raised but he’s leaving his whole right side open. 

I swing at his right side. 

He parries and throws his body into my chest, knocking me off balance. 

I slash again but fail to connect because my opponent has already retreated to outside of my range. 

Clonk!


I am blind for a moment. I’m rattled. 

Frustrated. Perplexed. 

I couldn’t see the hit coming. 

I shake it off and start applying more pressure to my opponent. 

I’m faster but none of my attacks are connecting. The harder I push the more I’m fumbling over myself. 

The old man is moving blindingly swift in his armor made of rusted pots and pans. 

I’m moving like cement in my celestial armor. 

I attack with all my might. All my speed.  

I’m hoping to tire him out but I’m taking brain rattling hits to the head and stabs to the tender spots in my armor. 

I’m striking where he’s standing and either meeting resistance or empty air. 

It’s not as if he’s moving very fast either. The old man just seems to know where to be like a magician. Like he has precognition.  

I’m crumbling. 

“Enough,” I say as I fall to my knees from exhaustion and all the blows I took to my helmet. “You win.” 

The old man staggers towards me and steps on my sword. 

My sword is too heavy to lift, especially from beneath my opponents tattered boots. 

“Nice armor.” The old man removes my helmet with the blunt end of his spear. “Is it yours.” 

I don’t answer.

“How did I beat you?:” He asked. 

“You tired me out,” I say. 


“You tired yourself out,” He replies. 

My head was pounding and I was starting to feel pain in all of my joints from stab wounds, and from small punctures and incisions from the old man’s spear. 

He takes a seat besides me and lights a pipe. 

I could smother him where he sat. My armor would be too heavy for him to push me off. I could finish this-

“Relying too much on your advantages was your greatest disadvantage,” He says.  

I release my blade. “I don’t understand.” 

“If you’re lucky, you’ll live to be a broken old man like me,” He exhaled a smoke ring. “Then what will be without your speed, strength, and youth?” 

I recognize the sweet scent of smoke. It was the sweet scent of Jane flower. It was often used by peasants as an opiate to calm the body or suppress pain. His hand trembled as he extended the pipe to me. 

I take a quick pull of the old man’s pipe.

The pain quickly disappears and all my regret and disappointment is replaced with a blissful emptiness and clarity. 

“Know your weaknesses better than anyone,” The old man stands and returns to the road. “You understand?” 

I stand and nod.  

Schwoop! Schoop!

Two arrows strike the old man in the back. 

I look over my shoulder. 

An Imperial archer aiming another arrow at the old man. 

I stagger towards the bleeding old man and turn him on his side. “I didn’t order this.” 

The old man laughs and gags on his own blood. “I guess my weakness is mercy.” 

The old man’s head rolls back and so does his eyes. 

An imperial army materializes behind the archer. 

Heads Up Display

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“I think we’re making progress… don’t you?”

 

He blinked rapidly trying to rid his irritated left eye of the rapidly expanding red meter. 

His therapist didn’t believe him. Nobody ever does. He regretted even making the appointment.

His therapist sat there, tapping her cleft chin with her designer pen.

He wanted to stand up right there and leave the room. The display in his eyes- something akin to a power meter in a role playing game- in the corner of his eyes was blinking fast. The word warning started to appear in bold white letters whilst the room was starting to light up like a Soviet submarine.

“You see things…” His therapist inquired.

“Yes,” He replied.

“You see a meter that reads your stress levels.”

“Something like that.”

“Right now?”

“Unfortunately.”

She was questioning him like he was crazy. Maybe he was crazy. But he paid her hourly to make him feel better about himself. Like a whole person. Not to judge him with her eyes.

He sat forward from his sofa with the intention to leave.

“You leaving?” She asked.

“No,” He fibbed.

“Please don’t leave.”

“Okay,” He laid back on the sofa.

His stress meter was full to capacity. The blinking lights ceased and steadied. The room was a steady red. His muscles felt like wet sandbags.

“Still see it?” His therapist asked.

He sank in his seat. “That’s correct.”

“And this is a result of a head injury,” His therapist asked.

“A concussion,” He added.

“And how did you get this concussion?”

“I tripped… Trying to fix a light bulb.”

I tried to hang myself and the rope snapped and I hit my head. 

His therapist wrote something in her notebook.

“What are you writing?” He asked.

His therapist lifted her head from her notebook. “How do you feel about these, visions?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

His therapist stared at him in silence.

He asked. “You don’t believe me.”

“I believe you,” His therapist replied. “These visions could be a good thing.”

“Good?”

“The ability to see your negative feelings rise. Like, a pressure gauge on a steam pipe.”

Wow… She wasn’t judging him. He was just being paranoid as usual. Relief.

“Never thought of it that way,” He said.

The room faded to normal colors as his red gauge slowly declined. The bold warning letters disappeared and was replaced by a more subtle critical which rested at the bottom corner of his eye.

“This meter can be helpful to you,” His therapist reached over and touched his hand. “Feelings are harder to ignore when they’re visualized right in front of you.”

He smiled. “You’re right.”

His stress meter dropped to zero and within seconds, his one full blood red bar was now half-filled with a neon green.

“Thank you doc,” He said.

“We’re glad to help,” His therapist replied. “Take care.”

He grabbed his coat and opened the door.

A nagging thought prevented him from leaving. Her parting words…

“Yes?” His therapist asked.

“You said we’re glad…” He said. “Who is we?”

Glorious Transitions

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I hand my mopey traveling partner his detached jaw.

He was a sad sack. And quite the glutton for punishment. But I liked watching him fall to pieces– literal and fugurative pieces. What makes him funnier than most is no matter how many times I explain to him that only he can end his suffering– right this instance if he chooses– he decides every freaking time to keep kicking himself in the balls. What a guy. This realm nearly took his jaw. The last left him without kneecaps. The first left him without an ear. Yet, he keeps on… Thats what I call will power.

What will the next one take?

“How you feeling?” I slide his jaw into his face so he can speak.

Click… Click… He bites down to lock his mandibles in place.

“Thanks,” He slurs.

I wink. “Anytime, Jim.”

Jim is his name. Or at least the one I gave him since I am terrible with names. No point in remembering his real name since most people who take the journey end up as a pile of dust before they reach their destination. Or, eternally disappointed. I’d rather be a pile of dust than to be disappointed. Or a disappointment. Like I say… Have low to no expectations and you avoid all kinds of suffering. What was I talking about? Oh… This Jim is on his fifth realm and he’s still standing. I’ll refer to him as Jim infinity.

I hold in a laugh.

Jim looks like roadkill. He’s too exhausted to dream up some new clothes so he’s walking around in the ones he was buried in.

People come here after reading Dante’s Inferno or sitting through that incredibly confusing Robin Williams movie from the 90s and think traversing the afterlife in search of love is some simple stroll. Well its not. It can be. But its not.

“Hurry up,” Jim barks.

I slow my pace.

No pitiful, sorry excuse for a post-lifer, who is willing to torture himself like that over a speck of stardust, or whatever we’re made of, will tell me what to do.

“Okay… Jim,” I slap my traveling partner on the back.

Crrrk.

He groans.

It was a light hit, but I still knock his shoulder out of place.

“Fine huh?” I ask.

“Yeah…” Jim coughs up dust. “Fine.”

He doesn’t have long. Damn. I’m about to lose a bet. I though’t he’d make it.

I lean down to talk to him since he’s hunched over. “Sure you don’t wan-”

“No,” Jim interrupts.

Whatever… I was about to tell Jim about this beach resort realm where the illusionary seafood and wine was forever flowing. I was about to remind him, once again for the infinite time, that happiness was literally a choice in this place. There was no fire, brimstone, or red scaly beasts with tails raping you with pitchforks. Hell was a personal choice. The torture here is literally self-serve.

“Hmmmm…” I take a step towards the grassy landscape. “This is nice.”

It was nicer than the last place where I nearly caught a crossbow bolt to the face. Or the amusement park full of clowns that turn people into cotton candy.

“It’s what she’d like,” Jim replies.

“We should stay here a while,” He suggests. “Allow you to rest up a bit.”

“No time,” Jim says.

“There’s literally no time here,” I reply. “So no sense in rushing. She ain’t going anywhere.”

Crackle… Crackle…

“She’s close,” Jim says. “I feel her.”

“That’s your organs turning to Jam and oozing out your bum.”

“She’s close,” He says again.

“You said that already…” I reply.

“I’m sure this time…” Jim sticks his chest out. “She grew up on grassy acres… On a barn…”

“I don’t care!” I scream, unable to pretend any longer.

“You said you’d guide me,” Jim whines.

“Because I was bored,” I reply. “I’m even more bored now!”

“Fine… I’ll go on my own.”

“Why? And don’t say because you love her.”

“She’s my soulmate…”

“Fairy tales!”

The soulmate thing was made up by the Greeting Card industry.

Jim points his curved finger in my face. “The angel-”

I shove his hand away. “Winged lady was trolling you, pal.”

“Seven realms over.”

“Seven? Exactly Seven?”

“We’ve travelled five.”

“You most definitely look it, Jim.”

They always fall for the divine number nonsense. Why not eleven. Or twenty two?

“She wasn’t lying,” Jim says.

“How can you be sure?” I ask.

“Because… There’s no reason to.”

“Of course there is… You’re gullible.”

And gullible, love-sick, betas like Jim are a joy to screw with. And, since winged lady and I are cut from the same cosmic cloth, or so I surmise, I figure she gets a kick out of playing the after-life’s tour guide like I do. And about her wings… I figure that was her schtick… But I do wonder about those wings….I hear they stretch across a realm. How’d she get those? Probably some trick she learned since she’s quite old and has been here since the beginning or whatever. Or so I hear. Heck, I’ve heard she’s crossed more realms than any unbothered in all of the un-xistance. But I digress. I’ll find her one of these days and pick her brain. Or, maybe pluck a few of her wing feathers.

Jim taps me.

He probably wants to apologize for being a jerk.

“Yes?” I ask.

Jim shrugs. “Hey I-”

Vooosh!

A strong gust of wind topples Jim and nearly does the same to me.

Still on my feet. I recover.

I wave my middle finger into the distance.

“What?” Jim picks himself up from the ground.

I smirk at the landscape. “Is that emotion I sense?”

“Who are you talking to?” Jim asks.

“It… them… all of this.. .” I point in all directions. “I explained this to you two fucking realms ago!”

Jim shakes his head. “I-”

“Oh, never mind…” I throw my hands in the air. “Probably scramble your brain next jump and forget again.”

Jim walks off without me.

He was being sensitive again. And stupid.

“Where are you going?” I walk after him. “You have no idea who exists here…”

“I don’t care,” Jim answers.

He must be trying to get himself blipped. Jim knows Undecideds like him were far more dangerous and unpredictable than any of my kind. Depending on the kind of torture they endured in life, and brought with them to the after-life, they could be harboring demons -etheral carnivores birthed by torture, or weapons that could blip (temporary kill) them from Purgatory. Or, even worse, their volatile emotions or desires could go nuclear, and wipe out everything in the realm. And I mean EVERYTHING, Including us. And I can’t get blipped. Not now. I’d have to learn how not to give a shit all over again. What a pain…

I have to dismiss my worry.

I have to pause. I pause. I have to cover my ears, block out the noise, and remind myself. And chant… yes, chant. Nothing matters. Nothing matters. My after-life literally depends on nothing mattering. Which, is a bit ironic now that I think of it. If nothing matters, then I won’t care if I get blipped.

I tap my chin.

I can’t recall the last time I was blipped. I literally can’t remember… which is kind of the point I guess.

Jim was yards ahead of me.

I was so deep in though I didn’t notice.

“Stop…” I demand.

“What?” Jim pauses.

“You’re torturing yourself.”

Jim shakes his head and keeps walking.

“You wait just a goddam minute,” I demand. “You owe me.”

Travelling partner stopped. “I do?”

He doesn’t owe me squat. That line always get them to stop.

“You know why I cross freely?” I ask. “Because I’ve cut away feelings. And desires.”

Jim looks confused. But he’s listening.

“You travel with all that weight. That, gunk in your soul. That garbage eat you inside out with each crossing.” I added. “You get it?”

“Sure,” Jim dismissively answers.

“So what do you say, associate?” I offer my hand. “Snip away the feelings. Let’s visit some more colorful realms. Forget this love thing.”

Come to think of it… When’s the last time I visited my own realm?

Jim approaches me again.

That’s right… You’re making the…

“Thanks for everything,” Jim says before he ignores my hand, straightens his dislodged shoulders and staggers onwards towards the cabin in the distance.

“Catch up to you later?!” I call after Him.

Jim looks taller in the distance. He walks away without even a wave goodbye.

I shrug.

Jim’s not going far without me, so I decide to allow him some time to wander the realm while I converse with my stalker.

“He looks a mess, doesn’t he?” I lean down and pluck a blade of grass. “That wind thing you did was unbecoming of you, Unhinged.”

Always watching. Listening. Probing my thoughts. They were literally everywhere. And everything. And in or of all things. That gust of wind they hurled at me and my idiotic travel partner could have easily been a category five tornado. That’s if they wanted to really fuck shit up. Ha.

I crush the blade of grass in my palm. “No need to be jealous.”

The Untethered were not allowed to interfere,interact, or partake in any of the fun within purgatory. They are… How can I explain… Semi-sentient laws. Invisible referees. They are the living embodiment of the status quo in purgatory. They are slaves to comic duty. What a boring existence.

I dust the dirt off my favorite Lee Ving T-shirt. “You don’t intimidate us. Not anymore.”

A bed of thorns form around me. Overtaking my knees. Then my hands.

“Oh, don’t be such a bitch…” I say.

The Unhinged and their rules. The Undecided and their fucking baggage. Being an Unbothered was where it was at. I’ll never choose…. Ill stay forever.

Skrrrrr! The grassy landscape blinks into a gray void before returning. It lasts a nanosecond.

I laugh.

I’ve seen that gray void before. The world around me would disappear for a nanoseconds then reappear. And it’s more and more frequent on my visits to other realms…

“What’s the matter, Unhinged?” I ask. “Feeling powerless?”

“Stop… this,” The realm replies in a whisper.

I tear through the bed of thorns.

As I told the Unhinged the last time we had a row…

I do what I please here. Even if it means skull-fucking everything in Purgatory in the process.

The remaining thorns turn to ash and blow away in the breeze. I think I hear the grasslands moaning. Weeping.

Music to my ears.

“Hey, pal…” I call after my pitiful travelling Partner. “Wait up!”

I’ll help this idiot find his wife. But only because I know it will piss of the Untethered. And most important of all, I know for sure this will collapse this whole system. And its well past time the Transition, this glorious shit-hole, geta taken down a peg.

Iku’s Defeat

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Read “Scale-Lord’s Victory” here

My hallowed sword. Clear as ice. Invisible to mortal eyes. Her’s was the red dagger. Black edges. Boisterous. Hellish. Magma. My off-hand weapon.

I stalked her.

Her dagger-like nails. She swiftly peeled through my sanctified steel.

Now!

I flung Ice at her eye. Cleaved down on her wings with Magma.

Unholy rage. Desperation. Love.

Ice shattered like glass on impact. Magma snapped in threes.

She cackled. “Hopeless boy…”

I scrambled for the shattered weapons.

Useless weapons! Lying old shaman! 

Phwoosh!

Wings sliced over my head. Clipped my knotted mane.

“Enough!” I pleaded.

E’lees… save her.  

I retrieved pieces of Magma in stealth.

Enchanted weapons were her last hope to retrieve what’s left . Of her.

She summoned machines. Slicing. Crushing. Machines.

I screamed. “Stop!”

She took flight. Whipped her wings. Summoned gusts of wind which pinned me against a crumbling column.

My despair dissolved to acceptance.

I failed. 

I braced my body for a pain worse than death.

She caressed my cheek. “Oh, Iku…”

Pity in her demonic tone. Pity for me.

I opened my teary eyes.

Wings. Leathery skin.  All vanished in favor of her angelic flesh.

“Stop fighting.” She cuffed my cheek.

I looked away.

Tricks. Glamour.

You wear her flesh. But you are not her.

I unearthed her broken Magma.

“Be with me,” She pleaded.

Fine. 

I drove Magma into my chest.

To be with her. In oblivion.

Her wings sprouted. Form shifted from flesh to scales.

“Iku!” She shrieked and collapsed the temple on top of us.

 

 

 

Rockstar’s Rent I

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Goddam apartment. Can’t stand it. 

Putrescence in the atmosphere. Emanating from the mold crusted vents and the endless cracks in his one bedroom death-trap. Stagnant, like the rotting sphincter of a weeks old rat corpse but worse.

Damn.

He taped his guitar neck.

He may have cracked the guitar across the spine of a moron who interrupted his music set. Idiot. Damaged his instrument more than he damaged the disruptive moron.

Strings popped. Pegs missing. Freaking guitar neck was one hard strum away from swinging like a wooden guillotine.

Mental gaps flooding… Recalling the night.

Head pulsating.

He caught a glimpse of himself in his cracked mirror. His sickly- pale frame and sunken eyes.

Tape. He needed tape.

He searched.

Not a single piece of tape below the sea of empty bottles and ripped pages.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

“Open up!’ Landlord roared through the keyhole.

Rent day? Crap. Losing whole days now. 

“Hold on!” He abandoned his tape search to find booze.

Thoom! Thoom! Landlord pounded with something heavy.

He found a half empty marble flask. This’ll do. 

He opened his door. “What?!”

A gelatinous, cane-carrying gimp with a kickable face, piss-colored eyes and teeth like rotting toenails was at his door.

“We want you out,” Landlord said. “Tonight.”

He smirked.  “I’m all paid up, bitch.”

Landlord narrowed his eyes.

“Gold watch I handed you was collateral,” He said.

“What gold watch?”

He laughed. “Don’t play stupid.”

The watch worth more than your shitty existence. 

“I’ll pawn the watch. Get you cash,” He said.

“Bullshit.” Landlord popped two cupcake sized pills. “Pay what you owe then hit the sidewalk, deadbeat.”

I shrugged. “And my watch?”

“Ain’t no watch, shithead,” Landlord jabbed him with his cane. “Get out or get your kneecaps split.”

He balled his fists. “A threat?”

“A vow. ” Landlord poked.

Each syllable of Landlord’s threats and lies echoed in his mind.

Pak!

He smacked Landlord’s cane from his hand. Backhanded Landlord across the face.

Landlord staggered. Rubbed his jaw. Wiped tears. Rushed him swinging like a blind swordsman on steroids.

He snatched the cane out of the air.

Cane was heavy. Denser than it looked. Nearly broke his hand when he caught it.

“Wait!” Landlord pleaded.

He beat landlord bloody with the cane. Kicked him and his cane down the jagged stairwell.

Landlord screamed. “Has-been prick… You’re finished!”

He slammed the door.

Tried to be peaceful. Fuckin landlord wanted this. 

He walked to the window. Stared longingly at Rose City’s skyline.

Fucking city… Just die already.

He took a swig from his marble flask.

Forget the watch… not worth it.

Boom! A blast through the door caused a hole as big as his torso. Dust cleared and two piss yellow eyes were peering through the hole. Landlord pumped his cane. Aimed.

A pump action cane… interesting.

He grabbed his guitar. Escaped through window and onto the fire escape. Flashed Landlord his middle finger.

Fire escape gave way. He and the rickety structure crashed four stories onto the sidewalk.

The Upside I

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Zay promised to never look back. Or down. Only up. At the perfectly capsized city in the clouds.

Clearest skies on record since the mirror world –The Upside– emerged from the smogosphere, according to Templar meteorologists. Its the divine sign he’d been praying for. Do what’s necessary. Take flight. For Shalewa.

He pumped the burners.

Balloon ascending. Turbulence. Thinning oxygen.

Flying a hastily built helium-craft composed of antiquated parts from abandoned shipyards was high-risk. Highly illegal. Suicidal. Still… far safer than returning to the Seminary.

Shalewa tiptoed to peer over the edge. “Is that heaven?”

He gently pulled Shalewa back. “Just another city.”

“Mommy and daddy there?”

“Possibly.”

Mirror versions, but their parents nonetheless.

Shalewa smiled. “Great.”

His sister was smart for her age. Much brighter than he was.

Chilly. Temperature dipping.

“Will we feel upside down?” Shalewa asked.

“It’ll feel like normal.”

Or so he’d heard from Solomonic diplomats who’ve visited the Upside.

“But then, our city will be the one upside down,” Shalewa said.

“Correct,” He replied.

“Interesting…”

Rising doubts… They’re breaking laws and risking lives to meet strangers. A selfish, dangerous plot. But… Shalewa deserves better. She needed parents, even if they’re doppelgangers of the ones they lost.

“Are versions of us there?” Shalewa asked.

“Maybe,” He answered.

Shalewa bit her fingernails. “What if they hate us?”

“They wont…”

“But what if?”

Zay felt for the pistol with the disintegration rounds hidden in his belt.

Then we’ll have to replace them…

He pinched Shalewa’s nose. “Don’t worry.”

Michaela’s Price

Angel sketch

They summoned me early…

Humans gathered in the city square. Visibly frightened but with an unmistakable resolve in their eyes.

They offered me no praise, nor sacrifices they’ve owed me.

“You no longer want immortality,” I concluded.

I wasn’t the creator, but I protected them as such. And unlike my mother– the creator, I was conflicted. Caught between virtuous duties as a cosmic being, and obligations I bestowed upon myself when I shielded them from extinction.

“We’re grateful,” The Governor declared. “But we can no longer offer you our children.”

I was not mother. My power required Life for life. An expensive, but unavoidable cost. Draining my own cosmic well could be catastrophic for all realities.

“You’ll be erased,” I warned.

Governor wiped tears.  “We understand.”

They chose offspring over immortality. Perplexing.

“Are you certain?” I asked.

Governor nodded.

I summoned swords. “Worship me.”

“Okay…” Governor’s face ashened. “Michaela.”

‘Michaela”…  the embodiment of mother’s wrath. The sword with dreams of being a shield.

My protective seal appeared above the city.

I wished to give, not take life. But they left me no choice.

I raised a sword to the exosphere. Let it simmer in the hellish heat before cleaving the seal with angry force

My seal shattered on impact. Mother can see them now.  The city and everything in it, turned to dust.

Damn you, mother. 

I felt rage. Sadness. Guilt.

Brother was right to rebel.

“Mother!” I slashed gashes in reality. “Show yourself!”

I leveled my swords at Heaven.

 

Joshua’s Moon

crescent-moon-watercolor-painting-silver-blue-gray-abstract-half-moon-art-print-joanna-szmerdt

I approached Joshua with caution.

We were in a twenty floor high rise overlooking the FDR Drive. Joshua was having an intense episode and dangerously near an open window.

“Where’s Joshua?” I discreetly pulled the syringe from its case.  “Can you get Joshua for me?”

“He’s resting,” Joshua calmly answered.

“Wake him.”

Joshua faced me. “No.”

My son’s illness had returned with a vengeance. The prescribed medicines were useless. Ineffective.

“Why not?” I asked.

“It hurts him to say goodbye.”

My stomach turned. “Goodbye?”

“He perceives what’s at stake.” Joshua sat on the window sill.

“Slow down, honey.”

“He understands sacrifice.” Joshua pointed to the moon, revealing cuts on his forearms. “I must take his body.”

Not this again, I thought.

“What happens if you take it?”

“Joshua goes wherever things go when they cease to exist.”

“He’ll die?”

“I’m unsure if nothingness is akin to dying.”

Now’s my chance.

I snatched Joshua from the window and pinned him to the ground.

“The earth is in peril.” Joshua didn’t struggle. “I’m the planets only hope.”

Nothing behind his eyes. The boy talking was not my Joshua.

I injected the needle into his arm.

Warmth immediately returned to Joshua’s eyes.

“Mom?” Josh whimpered.

I squeezed him tight.

“No!” He ripped away from me and rushed the window.

“Joshua!” I chased Joshua to the window.

The view of the sky weakened my knees. Impossible.

The moon. Crumbling to pieces.

“Why didn’t you let me go?” Josh asked with tears in his eyes.

Scale Lord’s Victory

Scale lord

She stomped on the demon’s chest. Used the leverage to dislodge the divine spear of E’lees from its belly.

The Demon’s breaths were shallow. Its crushed rib cage slowly rising and sinking beneath her heels. Its long, shattered wings flapping wildly as if trying to escape its broken body.

The Demon spat in her face. “Finish me, insect!”

She plunged the consecrated spear through the Demon’s left eye. Twisted. Drilled it into the back of its skull. No regeneration this time. 

Swooooosh! Escaped souls fired from the Demon’s socket. Ricocheted through the room like vexed lightning.

One more. 

She raised the glowing spear to deliver the finishing thrust.

“Prophecy always prevails,” The Demon whispered.

Not this time. 

She spent her childhood training to combat her so-called prophecy. Awaiting battle against the fate, clerics and superstitious townspeople claimed was inescapable. One strike to its remaining eye and none of it comes to pass. One more strike and she’s free.

The Demon cackled. “See ya.”

She plunged the spear into the Demon’s remaining eye.

Shrieking souls exploded from its skull. Destroyed her remaining dark magic artifacts and sigils in the room. Shattered the towering stain-glass windows.

She withdrew the spear. Wiped demon’s bile from her eyes. Lowered from its corpse before collapsing to a knee upon landing.

Victory. 

“E’lees,” She praised.

She couldn’t free every abducted soul.  The souls used for sustenance and to power the Demon’s machines… Gone forever.

“E’lees, forgive me.”

Movement!

She trained the spear on the quivering Demon.

Hiss… The Demon’s form disintegrated to ash. The ash quickly dissolved in the breeze.

She exhaled.

Relief. Exhaustion.

Its done. The goddess E’lees granted her strength. The will. The arsenal. All she needed to defeat the Demon. To defeat prophecy. To prove mortals weren’t slaves to destiny.

Iku… I’m coming home. 

She shuffled to a shattered window to bathe in the the sunlight. To inhale the sweet scent of grass on the breeze. To take in the sound of caroling birds.

Hell’s ice was thawing. Life was returning to the region. She was going home where there were endless hills, waterfalls and flowers.

To see Iku… To disembowl every thing you love. 

She gasped.

I didn-

Murderous thoughts increasing. Defeaning. Consciousness being crushed. Replaced by another.

Kill them all. Destroy everything… you… I care about.

“I defeated you!” She took an attack position. “You’re-”

Forearm burning…

“Ach!” She rolled up her sleeve.

Black scales formed on her arms and across her collar bone. Organs rapidly shifting. Expanding. Growing.

“Iku, I-”

She’s dying. But she’d never felt stronger. More alive.

“I’m sorry.” She released the spear.

She jerked forward. Landed on all fours.

They tore through her flesh. Her shoulder blades. Her prickly black wings whooshed angrily.

She cried. Tears of pain. Tears of sadness. Tears of laughter.

Prophecy prevailed as it should. She gleefully embraced what she’s meant to become… The Scale Lord. World devourer. Her true self. Fate.

She smirked. “I’m coming for you, Iku.”

She took flight.