The Roserote

This is a new draft of a story that I composed several months ago. The original purpose was to enhance my descriptive abilities, but to some degree this hampered the flow of the story. Thus, you won’t be seeing quite so much description. I hope you enjoy this piece!

Woron hurried down the road, his boots stepping in roadside puddles, his cloak soaking in the rain and billowing behind him in the wind. No one glanced at him as he stopped in front of a large building, unseen candles and fireplaces illuminating the windows, with a large sign over the door, depicting a well-drawn image of the building’s name: The Wheezing Stoat.

He entered, water cascading onto the floor while he closed the door behind him. Despite the damp condition of his cloak, he declined to lower his hood out of his fierce desire to keep his anonymity, especially in this region, with what he was carrying.

He still couldn’t believe he had managed to steal it. He, Celer Woron, had managed to steal the Roserote, the stone of legendary powers, from the vaults of the emperor himself. Once he got out of the country, he would be able to do whatever he wanted. Nations would go to war for the power of the stone. Granted, Woron didn’t know what those powers were, but he knew where to find those who did, and that was all that mattered to him.

The tavern was full of people halted by the rainstorm outside. The bartender was operating from the axis of the bar against the left wall, incessantly walking between it and the myriad of tables populating the room. Woron made his way through the crowds to a vacant table in the corner. He drew up a chair and sat down, facing the wall, which glowed red in the flickering firelight. After several moments, the bartender arrived at his table, asking if he desired something to drink. Woron assented.

A short time later, he continued to brood, solitary amidst the noise of the tavern, every so often raising the silvery mug to his lips and sipping slowly, trying to act calm, despite the raging excitement of his acquisition burning in his chest.

Abruptly, however, he felt a strong hand clenching his shoulder. Woron’s muscles tensed as his mind fought to exert that stoic calmness over him. This not very successful, seeing as this new presence was probably the one looking for him, and the thing that he had recently taken possession of. He silently cursed himself for being caught so soon.

“Celer Woron,” said a deep, imperial voice behind him. “Give it up, or we’ll be required to use force.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Woron replied.

The hand on his shoulder hoisted him to his feet and twisted him around. Facing him were four grim warriors, bounty hunters more than likely, their eyes boring into his own. Woron’s mind raced to recognize any of them.

“Hand it over,” repeated the man holding him, his free hand resting on the hilt of a sword.

“Hand over what?”

The soldier ripped off his hood, revealing his care-worn face to the other mercenaries. Their eyes flashed in recognition, and Woron cursed the day he had ever been imprisoned long enough for the imperials to get a sketch of his face.

“You know what we’re here for: the Roserote. Hand it over.”

Woron’s eyes darted around the room, searching for an escape route. He couldn’t stall much longer. It was only a matter of time before these men decided to kill him and search his bleeding corpse for the stone.

“No,” he said, pushing the man’s hand off his shoulder.

The mercenary took a step back, hand gripping his sword all the more tightly. Woron’s hand flew to his own sword.

“And I wouldn’t suggest trying to take it,” he continued. “If you know who I am, then you should know what I’m capable of.”

“Yes, thievery and parlor tricks,” replied the other, tensing and taking an intimidating posture. “I really doubt you could take on four well-trained soldiers at once.”

“But we don’t need to find out whether I can. You could just clear out.” Woron tensed as he anticipated a fight.

“I don’t think so.” The mercenaries drew their swords, pushing aside tables to clear space for themselves. Around them, the other tavern guests quickly backed away, trying to avoid the sudden brawl that was about to ensue. Woron toppled his chair as he drew his sword.

The first soldier, embracing Woron’s challenge, pointed his sword tip at him and thrust. Woron stepped to the side, parrying the bounty hunter’s blade by forcing it up. He grabbed his opponent’s sword handle with his free hand, and pushed it at the mercenary, sending the soldier stumbling back.

This, however, allowed the other three to attack, especially now that the area was sufficiently emptied of the relaxers and drinkers who had fled for fear of being accidentally hurt in the fight. Woron blocked the blades of the first two, but the third wasn’t quite carrying a blade – rather a large battleax, that nearly split the table Woron stood in front of.

Now the first soldier returned to the fight. Despite his apparent success, he was only able to keep them off him – there was no room to make any aggressive moves. Granted, if he could fight them each one on one, he might stand a better chance, but while this room was too small for all four of them to attack him at once, it was also too big for him to choose his opponents.

It was shortly after he had punched one of the swordsmen, sending him tumbling to the side, that he felt the jab at his back and fell forward onto the floor. He quickly rolled over to get up again, but found that impossible when he saw the first soldier’s blade hovering over his chest. Soon the other three had joined in surrounding him. Woron dropped his sword in surrender.

“It’s over,” said the mercenary calmly. “Give it up.”

“Just who are you planning to take it to?” Woron asked, only his lips moving.

“To Casecatho, Lord of the Dreimer Wastes,” he replied. He gestured to one of the other mercenaries. “Take the stone.”

The man crouched over Woron, searching his pockets. It wasn’t long before he took out a small orb, wrapped in brown paper, from Woron’s breast pocket.

“This is a mistake,” Woron pleaded, knowing exactly what Casecatho terrible things would try to do with the stone. “It doesn’t belong there.”

“I don’t really care,” replied the first mercenary. He took the package from the other soldier, opening it up to reveal the red orb inside. He dropped it in his own pocket and sheathed his sword, gesturing to the others to do the same.

“Let’s go.” The bounty hunters turned, with a swish of their cloaks, walking purposefully to the door. They passed out of the tavern, amidst the silence of the inhabitants, while Woron watched them disappear into the night, unmoved from his place on the floor.

A Conundrum – Part 2 of 7

Thanks for checking out this blog, especially you new college students. I’m flattered that you think my stories are more important than your studying. Then again, I’ve been known in the past to choose writing over homework, so maybe I shouldn’t say too much. If you haven’t already read it, the previous installment of this story, “The Scar”, can be located here. Friday’s post may or may not happen, seeing as college orientation is starting up this week. I hope you enjoy this!

Kevin was very happy a police car happened to find him near the abandoned factory. He had very little idea where he was, and he wasn’t about to wander around naked. The police were perplexed about his state, and asked him quite a few questions about the situation.

Apparently, Kevin’s parents had heard him break through the window, and, upon discovering Kevin missing, went into hysterics. They had immediately phoned the police, who were a little more active that night, due to numerous calls about wolf attacks.

Hearing this story, Kevin made the excuse that his friends had broken the window trying to get his attention, and they must have left him in the factory as a prank. The rest of the way home, he contemplated his new existence as a werewolf, and all that it would mean. He would have to take special precautions before the full moon now, and it wouldn’t hurt to get a calendar with the lunar cycles on it either.

Back home, he repeated his concocted excuse to his parents, who ate it up, probably just glad to see him alive. Their anxiety had only been amplified by the reports of wolf attacks throughout the night, including at the neighbor’s across the street.

“What kind of wolf attacks?” asked Kevin.

In the living room, his parents had the TV on, currently displaying a reporter discussing the attacks.

“Police believe about four to five wolves were responsible for the attacks,” the reporter was saying. “These are highly unusual, since, rather than the concentrated works of a pack, these attacks are spread out all over the city, and reports only mention single wolves attacking.”

That would make sense, Kevin thought as he ascended the stairs toward his room. He tried to recall who else had been bitten by the first werewolf. It was difficult remembering who had been present at that bonfire, a month ago. He did recall Brandon Duress had been bitten in the leg, and perhaps he would know some of the other victims.

In his room, the blinds had been drawn, and the shower of glass had been cleaned up off the floor. After he changed into real clothing, he picked up his cell phone from his bed. As he had expected, it was filled with voice mail and texts from over the course of the night and the morning, sent by Amanda, his girlfriend, and Stephen, who had probably been contacted by Kevin’s parents shortly after his disappearance.

“It’s alright, I’m fine,” he texted them.

But now he was also in a conundrum. His parents would trust his story about being with his friends last night, but those friends he was supposedly with would not. Especially Stephen. How much would he tell them? How much would they believe? If the police were to believe that the supposed wolves were really people, would they arrest those responsible? Would his friends report him to the police? Should he report himself to the police?

The issue puzzled him all day. It was lucky for him that it was the weekend, but come Monday, he still didn’t have many answers. He knew he wasn’t going to report himself to the police. He really doubted that they would believe that four or five teenagers would turn into wolves every full moon. Anyway, he could handle it. He’d just need to drive out into the country once a month and make sure he was away from other people.

Of course, that raised issues within itself. He considered that perhaps it would be easier to tell someone, let that person act as his handler, in a sense, to make sure he didn’t stray too far, or that he could get back home. If he were to tell anyone, it would be Amanda and Stephen.

While he was walking up to the school building, he came upon Amanda, who threw herself on him.

“I was so worried about you!” she said.

“I could tell,” Kevin replied.

“What happened?”

Kevin was at a loss for words. He knew she wouldn’t buy the excuse he gave his parents for a moment, and he still couldn’t bring himself to reveal the truth. So he just shrugged.

Amanda frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know.”

She gave him a very suspicious look. “As in, you don’t want to tell me because I might kill you, or because you honestly don’t remember?”

“Kind of the first-”

“Who is she?” Amanda had put her hands on her hips, and gave Kevin a stare that would have made Jupiter feel guilty.

“It’s not – there was no one – I can’t talk about it.”

“Well, when you do want to talk about it,” Amanda said, turning away. “Come and find me.”

Kevin stared after her, dumbfounded. Did she really think he was cheating on her? How did she explain him waking up in a factory? Or did she know that?

He walked to his first class, now a little more desperate to decide what to say about his condition that wouldn’t alienate his girlfriend, and wouldn’t make his friends suspicious.

Unfortunately, he still hadn’t come up with a solution by chemistry, outside of telling the truth, which was quickly becoming the only thing he could say.

“Hey man,” said Stephen upon sitting down across from Kevin. “You alright?”

“I guess,” replied Kevin. “Friday night didn’t faze me too much.”

“I wasn’t talking about that. Amanda told me she’s not talking to you.”

“Yeah. She thinks I was up to something Friday.”

“Well, what do you suppose a girlfriend’s gonna think? You disappear for hours – overnight, even; that screams shenanigans.”

“Well, it wasn’t anything like that.” Kevin’s mind was racing with what to tell his friend.

“I know. But I would love to know what really happened.” He leaned in close, waiting for Kevin to deliver the secret. But Kevin wasn’t ready for that.

“Listen, I’ll tell you after school. Bring Amanda, too.”

“Alright, put it off.” Stephen leaned back as the teacher rose to start class. “But you know that I know when you’re lying.”

That was quite true, Kevin thought as the teacher began talking about the tin molecule they would be making in class that day. And it seemed only the truth would get him out of this.

In between, he investigated the other bitten victims. A bit after lunch, he found Brandon, along with Riley Johnson, who he recalled had also been bitten.

“Hey, guys,” he greeted. “So, what did you think of Friday night?”

He noted the quick flash in their eyes as they realized exactly what he was talking about.

“It was amazing,” said Brandon. “I’ve never felt so much power! I kinda can’t wait for next month!”

Kevin frowned. “You found it…enjoyable?”

“Yeah,” replied Riley. “The best part is that we can totally get away with it! They just think it’s a bunch of wolves!”

He and Brandon laughed. Kevin’s face contorted in disgust as he turned away. Did they feel no guilt? No shame? They weren’t going to tell anyone about their “gift”. They were just going to sit contentedly, laughing in the day, taking advantage of each episode as it came. But that was not the way Kevin felt about it all. He felt awful about it.

So did that mean he had to keep it bottled up to? If he did tell Stephen and Amanda about it, wouldn’t they try everything possible to help him? He smiled. Of course they would. It was what he would do, if one of them had been bitten, rather than him.

After school, Amanda and Stephen were there, waiting for him, Stephen expectant, Amanda as cross as that morning. Kevin walked up to them, head down.

“I don’t know if you two are going to believe me at all,” he said soberly. “But you remember those wolf attacks the other day? Those weren’t normal wolves. They were werewolves. And one of them was me.”

Part 3 here.

Noon at the Clock Tower

This is a story based on my adventures with a couple friends at GVSU, with some fantasy and some alchemical journey symbolism added. I hope they find this an interesting interpretation of our time together, and I hope the rest of you enjoy this as well! Next week, I’ll be posting the second part of my Werewolf Septology and then, due to college orientation, I may or may not have a post on Friday. Anyway, without further ado…

Zach and Phil chatted amiably as they walked toward the great clock tower, built as the focal point to the large park it resided in. The two friends had not seen each other in some time, and were anxious to catch up on things. When they reached the clock tower, they saw another friend, Laura, who stood at the tower’s base, glaring at them.

“About time you showed up.”

“Hey, we were talking,” said Zach.

Laura rolled her eyes. “You’re an hour late!”

Before they could argue further, they were startled when, above them, the clock rang out that it was noon – the familiar Winchester quarters song. As the main tune finished, and the twelve bongs started, Phil noticed a blue light emanating from the side of the tower.

“What’s that?” he asked. The others followed his gaze, and saw a door in the center of the tower..

“I don’t know.” Zach walked forward, toward it.

“Don’t open it!” Laura grabbed his shoulder, pulling him away.

“Was it here when you got here?” Phil asked her.

“No.”

“Then we should check it out.”

“Yeah. For science, or whatever,” added Zach.

Phil made another go for the door, breaking loose from Laura’s grip. His hand closed around the door handle, turned it, and thrust it open, blue light blinding the trio. Laura managed to glimpse through the light, and saw Zach following Phil through the door.

“Shoot. Well, here I go.” She ran in, just as the last note echoed through the park from the clock, and the door vanished.

 * * *

Some time later, after an existential journey floating through psychedelic images and odd colors, they found themselves at the end of a long, stone corridor. Laura looked behind her, and found, to her astonishment, that the door had vanished.

“Uh oh.”

“What?” asked Zach.

“The door’s gone.”

“That might be problematic,” said Phil, before turning toward the passageway. “Let’s see where this leads.”

He began down the corridor, the other two quickly following behind him. The passage led to another door, though this one was much less ominous and magical than the last one. It was just a plain, wooden door. Phil opened it.

“Welcome, heroes!” said a man on the far side of the hall the trio now entered. “You’ve come just in time!”

“Who are you?” asked Zach.

“I am the king of a powerful realm, but we have been struck by a terrible curse. My daughter, the Princess Shu, has been kidnapped, and I need you to rescue her.”

“Um, we’re not heroes.”

“We’re just kids,” added Laura.

“Then why are you here?” asked the king. “You would not have been able to make it here if you were not meant to help. Now go, there it your path.”

He snapped his fingers, and, at the end of the hall, a door sprang open. The three looked out, to see a dark tunnel, lit dimly by torches. Phil took the other two by the shoulder, leading them slowly down the hall and out into the tunnel. As the last of them stepped out, the door behind them closed. Zach looked back, but the hall had vanished, with the tunnel leading behind them into the blackness.

“Guess we keep going,” he said.

They followed the tunnel for some time. After almost half an hour, they entered a small room.

In the center lay a large, black funnel. A door stood across from them. As they came into the room, there was a sudden snap, and they jumped, turning around, only to see a door close behind them. It was a stone door, and, attached to it, was an old man, with a long grey beard.

“What is this place?” asked Laura.

“This is the first test,” said the old man. “Many have tried to pass, but none have yet succeeded.”

“Succeeded at what?” inquired Phil.

“Once a coin touches the funnel, it must travel for ten seconds before it can enter the hole in the center. Only then can I be released and give you the key to the way forward, or the way back.”

Laura glanced at the old man. His body was covered in rock, trapping his legs and his left arm. Now he held out his right hand, which held a gold coin. Phil reached out and took the coin, turning toward the funnel. Zach knelt down and looked at the hole, which was filled with the same stone that covered the old man.

“This is tricky,” muttered Phil.

“And totally impossible,” added Laura. “I mean, sliding down this, the coin’ll only take a couple seconds.”

Phil tapped the ground with the coin, pondering for a solution to the puzzle.

“Wait,” said Zach. “What if this is one of those Gravitron things?”

“Those whats?” replied Laura.

“You know, those things at science museums, where you launch the penny down the vortex and it spins around and around.”

“Huh,” said Phil thoughtfully. “Let’s try that.”

He launched the coin on its edge, and they watched it revolve around the funnel, Zach counting down quietly to himself. Ten seconds passed, and the hole suddenly opened, the disturbance shaking the funnel enough that the coin promptly left its route and fell right in.

The room shook, and they looked behind them to see the old man now free. He stumbled forward, and presented the key to them.

“Now go forth and save the kingdom!” he said as the door behind him collapsed and he walked into the tunnel.

The trio turned toward the forward door. Walking to it, Phil slid in the key and unlocked it, pushing it open. Outside was starkly different from the tunnel they had passed through. Instead, they now entered a bright mountainside, following the course of a road that winded around it, toward the other mountains. The mountains were largely devoid of life, only populated by white rocks. Below them, a river ran between the mountains, and that seemed to have a concentration of trees around it.

Soon, they came to a rope bridge, wide and narrow, spanning over the river from one mountain to the next. However, in the center of the bridge stood a man, robed, leaning on a staff. The trio approached him.

“Welcome!” he said. “If you wish to pass, you must pass my test.”

“Alright,” replied Phil.

“You must take that key you possess, and you must touch it to me.”

Phil pursed his lips. “So that’s why you have the staff.”

He took out the key, but it had changed form. Now it was a dagger, and was growing into a sword. The man stepped back, wielding his staff in two hands. Phil attempted a few slashes and thrusts, but the man easily repulsed them all. It was only when he accidentally nicked the rope handle of the bridge.

“Guys, hold on!” he exclaimed to his friends behind him.

He swung down on the rope, severing it. Instantly, the bridge collapsed, the two halves plummeting toward the cliff faces. The man with the staff flew over the trio’s heads. The trio held on with all their might as the bridge rebounded off the cliff face. But instead of settling, it continued, moving all the way back up. The cut sealed.

“Congratulations,” said a voice behind them. It was the man with the staff. “You have passed.”

They stood up and crossed the bridge, returning to the road, now on the opposite side, following it through the mountains. And then they came to a huge cavern, lit red by some mysterious internal fire.

The trio walked inside, Phil still holding the sword at the ready. After some time, the red light becoming deeper the entire time, they found a glitter. Approaching this shimmer, they found a large pile of gold. And, upon this gold, a girl.

“Oh, thank goodness!” she cried. “At last I can escape this beast!”

Laura looked at her, shocked. “What beast?”

There was a low hiss, and over the gold came a terrible beast. It was red and reptilian, long, walking like a lizard, but built like a snake. Smoke issued from its nostrils, and fire from its breath.

“Leave,” it hissed. “And I won’t kill you too.”

“Ha!” laughed Phil, though he was feeling terrified.

“My armor is totally impervious to magic, and I don’t expect you could even beat a page with that sword. What other weapons has that foolish warlock sent against me?”

It continued talking about how powerful it was, and how weak the king was, while Laura suddenly turned to Phil.

“Give me the sword.”

“Why?”

“I have an idea.”

She took the sword from Phil, and hurled it at the dragon. The sword spun, moving with far more force than what Laura had used to throw it. The dragon glanced at it, mid-sentence, just before it planted itself in the dragon’s mouth. And then the dragon lay down, dead.

“Oh, thank you!” exclaimed the princess.

“You’re welcome,” replied Zach, who hadn’t really taken his eyes off her the entire time.

“Come on,” said Phil. “Let’s go.”

They left the cavern. Upon coming out, they met the king, waiting, smiling, for them.

“Thank you for rescuing my daughter,” he said.

“Sure,” replied Phil.

“Do not feel disappointed. Some quests are meant to let us grow, others are to test what we’ve learned. And perhaps you will return here, and grow. In the mean time, I shall send you back to your own world.”

He clapped his hands, and the trio felt as though they were falling back, back through the existentialism of trans-dimensional travel, until they came to a halt beside the clock tower.

“I do hope we go back,” said Zach. “That princess was cute.”

The Scar – Part 1 of 7

This is the first part of a series of short stories I plan to do. Unlike previous series, only one part of the series will be posted each week (probably Tuesday). I’ll then also have an unrelated story posted every Thursday or Friday. I hope you enjoy this piece!

The event had been all over the news for about a week after it had happened. Around a dozen teenagers were hanging out at a bonfire after the high school football game, when either a large wolf or a raging lunatic had attacked them, killing a couple and wounding many more. Only the father of one of the victims, armed with a shotgun, had managed to bay the menace, before police arrived to finish it off.

One by one, the victims returned to school, and the excitement about the attack died down. Kevin was one of the first students to return, and thus took the burden of explaining to the curious what had happened in the attack. He himself had been bitten on the shoulder, a wound which, despite what the doctor had said, did not seem to be healing as it should.

This worried him, but not quite as much as the conflicting reports on the identity of the attacker. He remembered a wolf, and was at a loss to see how the doctors and police figured a man could have inflicted the wound on his shoulder.

“Hey!” said one girl during chemistry class a week after the attack. “I heard you two were in the attack the other day.”

“Yeah,” replied Stephen, Kevin’s friend and lab partner. “It was intense.”

“Are you guys okay? I mean, that lunatic killed some people.”

“I never saw any lunatics,” said Kevin as he balanced out a chemical against the lead weights.

“But the news said -”

“Man, it was a wolf,” interrupted Stephen. “No man, no matter how crazy, could do that much damage with his bare hands.”

The girl pursed her lips, and did not respond. She turned away, to her own project. Kevin glanced up at his friend, who was looking at him worriedly.

“How’s your shoulder?” Stephen asked more quietly.

“I don’t know. I mean, it’s better, but it’s still all red and stuff.”

“Have you talked to a doctor about it?”

“No, man. It’ll probably heal on its own anyway.”

But it didn’t. Even after three weeks – a full month since the attack – the scar still didn’t look any better. The rest of the school returned to the normal tedium of the school year, but Kevin’s mind remained on the event, curious as to what in the world was with his scar. How the witnesses could profess a wolf attacked, and the police assert it was a man.

It was to these thoughts his mind wandered one night after finishing his math homework, and mentally reminding himself to get more lead for his pencil, while he watched the red sun sink into the horizon below the white suburban buildings, and black night swallowed the sky. Some time later, he looked up to see the full moon, emerging from thin clouds.

Immediately, pain erupted in his shoulder and spread through his entire body like a shock of electricity. He collapsed to the ground, writhing in agony, the greatest pain in his face and his back. Every single pore seemed on fire. The pain was blinding, and it was with relief he accepted the blackness it offered him.

What followed was perhaps one of the most vivid, yet strangest dreams he had ever experienced. He found himself in his room, but it was small. It wasn’t right. And a great hunger growled in his stomach. He punched through the window, climbing out onto the roof, before leaping down into the yard. The road before him was well-lit, but there was nothing there that might satiate his hunger. He crossed the street and passed through the yards on the other side.

A dog barked. He turned his head, to see its yellow form appear in the moonlight near him. It paused when it saw him, trying to slink away. But Kevin didn’t let it, rather leaping at it, taking it in his hands and ripping at it, biting it, until it fell to the ground, blood seeping onto the dark grass. Stupid dog.

After a few mouthfuls, he departed, making his way through the suburbs, out toward the city. He didn’t meet many people, or animals along the way. A few cars passed, but he didn’t pursue, uninterested by the strange, mechanical things dominating the streets.

He came upon a street corner that was the parking lot to a convenience store. He grinned when he also saw several people walking to and from the store. They might fill him up. A man approached him, curious.

“Goodness. That’s a big dog.”

He didn’t get much farther, as Kevin immediately leapt on him, sinking his teeth and claws into the man. Somewhere nearby, several people screamed. He would have continued to feast on the man beneath him, but a gun was fired.

“Eat lead, monster!” someone shouted.

More gunshots. Kevin turned tail and ran, already feeling pain in his right shoulder, opposite his wolf-scar, which no longer itched for some reason. As he ran, he became aware of strange lights, and that he was being followed. It must be the police. He ran faster. Away from the lights, into a dark part of the city. Walked past a trailer park, attacked a couple more people, before their relatives chased him away with their guns. Hit him in the other shoulder.

He found an old, dilapidated building, and wandered inside. He curled up, licking his wound, whimpering at the pain from the lead bullet, before finally resting his head on the ground.

And then Kevin woke up. Red light filled the room, and he blinked as he looked around him. His heart stopped for a moment, when he realized he was in some old, abandoned factory. A bullet lay on the ground beside him, and blood dripped from his unscarred shoulder. And then, more disturbingly, he discovered the reason the ground was so cold was because his bare skin was contacting it. He was naked. In a single moment, the terrible epiphany that it hadn’t all been a dream was thrust upon him.

Furthermore, the reason for the disparity between the witness and police reports suddenly dawned on him. The entire night, he had had the strangest suspicion that he had become lupine. But now it all made sense. The wolf, the full moon, the scar from the bite, the dream. He was a werewolf.

And then he curled up and wept.

Part 2 here.

The Usurper

The alternative title for this is “Life Debt”. Yes, I used a line from Phantom Menace. No, it doesn’t make that movie any less bad (especially since that particular life debt never went anywhere). But still, what if it had? What does a good ‘life debt’ look like? Enjoy!

Sir Arano Ensremeso gazed around the area at the sudden cry he had heard, just out of sight. Hearing it again, he turned the reins and spurred his horse, ready to step in to help whoever it was that needed aid. His horse leapt to the top of a crop of rocks, and he looked down into a small valley, where seven brigands were accosting some nobleman. He had fallen to the ground, a nasty wound on his head, and his aggressors were discussing what to do with him.

“Let’s just kill him and loot him,” one suggested. “And be done with the whole thing.”

“I don’t think so!” declared Arano. “Release the man, or else I shall visit upon you cold death.”

The scoundrels looked up at him surprise. A couple of them started laughing.

“What are you going to do about us?” another asked defiantly.

Arano drew his sword. “This is Vorise, my magic sword. When it swings, it sends great gusts of air. You will not survive it!”

With that, he spurred his horse, and leapt down the cliff into the brigands, swinging his weapon. True to his word, blasts of wind issued from the blade, knocking Arano’s enemies into the air, or else against the rocks. In just a few moments, the entire band was unconscious, leaving the nobleman on the ground, staring blinking up at him. Arano dismounted, helping the man to his feet.

“Are you alright, sir?”

“I’m…fine,” the nobleman said breathlessly. “Thank you. I think you saved my life.”

“Don’t mention it! And don’t bother with payment. All I need is to see justice done!”

He helped the man onto one of the brigand’s horses, before mounting his own horse and riding down the road, back on his original route, toward the city of Meste, capitol of the Kingdom of Lintelen. There, Arano was a knight of the realm, and was there by request of the king.

* * *

“I have called you all here,” the king began. “To answer a threat that is stirring within this nation, yes, perhaps even within these walls. I fear that this realm is in danger of traitors, who would cut off the head and put their own in its place. This must not be! Therefore, I command you, urge you, to find this insurrection, and bring it to swift justice!”

Arano stood within the ranks of knights assembled in the great hall of the palace, attentive to the words of the monarch speaking from his throne, all the while contemplating who would ever be so dishonorable as to start a coup such as the king described. However, his thoughts were interrupted when a voice shouted from the back of the hall.

“That would all be well, if the insurrection didn’t find you first!”

The knights turned, to see no less than an army assembled outside the gates of the palace. And there, at its head, was the very nobleman Arano had rescued not a day ago, wielding a wicked wooden staff in one hand.

“What is the meaning of this?” demanded the king.

“We are the insurrection, the rebels, the usurpers – whatever demeaning terms you have for us. Do you know what this is?”

The nobleman held forth the staff in his hand. At its head, a large gem glowed red.

“Is that not the Staff of Ruisten?” asked the king.

“This is power,” continued the nobleman, as if the king had not spoken. “And a way to obtain more of it. And that is how I intend to use it. This nation is mine!”

With that, he pointed the staff at the nearest night, sending a great red blast that knocked the knight off his feet, to land several feet away, dead. And then the army charged in. Arano drew his sword with the other knights, rushing to fight off the incoming rebels. The trouble was that they weren’t a mindless rabble of peasants, but rather a trained force of mercenaries – experts in killing. Additionally, the nobleman’s staff was easily picking off the knights one by one.

Fortunately, many of the knights, Arano included, possessed magical weaponry, giving them an equal footing against their opponents. If they had had the gate, not even the leader of the insurrection would have been able to get through; but as they didn’t, the battle spread all over the hall, the usurper walking up the center toward the king, only pausing to blast some unfortunate knight out of his way.

About halfway through his stroll toward the king, Arano leapt in the way, sword at the ready. The nobleman looked at him, and a look of surprise on his face told the knight that the man recognized him. The usurper laughed.

“This must be quite a shock to you,” he said. “Realizing I’m the man you rescued yesterday! I bet you’re reconsidering your decision then!”

“It’s never wrong to save a life,” replied Arano. “Whoever it may belong to.”

“Quite an irony, isn’t it? You saved my life, now I’m going to kill you.” He sent a blast of red lightning at Arano, who deflected it with a swipe of his powerful sword.

“I don’t think it works that way. You see, you’re indebted to me! You owe me your life!” Arano marched forward, thrusting his sword. The nobleman just barely got out of the way before the gust of wind rushed past him.

“Only if we both live by your code of honor, and I do not.” Another blast rocketed out of the staff, and Arano rolled over the floor to avoid it.

“I think you misunderstand,” said Arano as he again slashed with Vorise at the usurper. “A life debt isn’t part of some human code of honor! It’s part of the Law of God, etched into the very core of magic and human mind!”

“Bah!” The two of them were now within arm’s reach, dancing around each other as they swung at each other, avoiding each fatal blow by inches. Around them, the battle still raged, a line drawn somewhere around the center of the hall, where the few remaining knights fought desperately against the ruthless mercenaries atop corpses of soldiers of both sides alike.

At last, though, a blast from the usurper successfully knocked away Vorise from Arano’s grip, leaving the knight defenseless.

“Let’s test this theory of yours,” the nobleman said cruelly as he pointed his staff at the knight.

The red lightning erupted from the staff, blasting into Arano, sending him flying back. However, as he flew back, he was also vaguely aware that the lightning, after hitting him, had ricocheted back, crashing into the usurper himself.

Arano got groggily to his feet, shaken by the blow delivered by the nobleman. There he lay, dead, sprawled out on the floor. Somewhere out of his range of focus, the knight was aware of imperial soldiers rushing into the hall, engaging the mercenaries and rounding them up with the remaining knights. But Arano just walked to the staff, taking it up in his hand.

He turned, to see the king standing beside him, hand on his shoulder. The king had a worried expression, as though unsure what Arano would do. Well, Arano knew what to do. He took the staff in both hands and snapped it over his knee.

“That’s enough of that.”

Next week: werewolves!

Amatorium Awry

I thought this was rather…interesting. I’m considering writing some more stories about this character, so be sure to tell me if you’d be interested. Enjoy!

Ana Valensa paused as she came up to the bridge that was the entrance to the impressive castle before her. She dug her heels into her steed, a large horse carrying her and her things. She made her way across the bridge and through the courtyard, until, arriving at the citadel, she was halted by a pair of guards, standing on either side of the great doorway.

“Miss,” said one. “What is your business here?”

“Your lord sent for me. Inform him that Ana Valensa has arrived.”

The guard hurried into the citadel, coming out several minutes later to inform her that Lord Niruso would see her. She dismounted, handing the reins to a guard, before following the other inside. They passed through the great hall, walked up a flight of stairs and through a few corridors, finally halting in front of a rich, mahogany door, which Ana guessed to be the entrance to the lord’s chambers.

The guard knocked, and a voice from inside beckoned them in. Entering, Ana saw several people facing her – servants and attendants and, in the center, the Lord and Lady Niruso. They frowned as she entered, and she frowned back, confused at their reaction to her.

“Who are you?” the Lady asked.

“Ana Valensa. Were you expecting someone else?”

“Yes,” said the lord warily. “Have you heard of the wizard Laro Valensa?”

“He’s my father. But he doesn’t make house calls. I do. Anyway, how may I be of service?”

Lord Niruso stepped forward.

“In a couple days, we will be visited by an entourage from Lord Edoma. Coming in this entourage will be Edoma’s son, Tarrano, who is betrothed to my daughter Yivella. Unfortunately, she will have none of him. I’ve talked to her on several occasions about it, but she remains stubborn.”

“Have they met before? Is there someone else she loves?”

“I don’t think she loves anyone. They have met much throughout their lives – we are close friends with the Edomas.”

“I see. What would you like me to do about it?”

“We want you to make a love potion for our daughter. And then slip we’ll slip it in her drink during the banquet when the Edomas arrive.”

Ana pursed her lips. This hadn’t been the solution she had anticipated. And it wasn’t a particularly good solution, either.

“Are you sure? Love potions are terribly unreliable. I mean -”

“We’re quite sure,” interjected Lady Niruso.

“Alright.” Ana shrugged. “Then I’ll need a few materials.”

* * *

Ana sat in a guest chamber, at a table containing the ingredients needed for the potion. She was engaged in delicately measuring out a certain herb into the main concoction, when she heard a knock on her door.

“Come in.”

Heavy footsteps sounded behind her, and she briefly set down her vials to see her visitor.

“I don’t believe I know you,” she told the large, commanding man before her.

“I am Chancellor Oremso. I was curious about your work, and about you.”

“Really?” Ana turned back to her vials and ingredients, measuring things out as the chancellor continued to speak to her.

“I’d heard of your father, and his successes, and I was rather surprised when I learned his daughter was here, rather than himself.”

“You shouldn’t be. He hasn’t left that tower of his in nearly twenty years.”

“Not once? But still, why would you be here? It’s unusual for a woman to be traveling around, solving people’s problems.”

“Well, certainly. But I have skills that people want and need, as your lord as shown, and people are often willing to overlook certain…peculiarities…to have their issues solved, especially when it’s a matter of life or death. Hand me that bit of copper there.”

He gave her the small chunk of shining copper, of which she broke of a miniscule portion, and then crushed that crumb, sweeping the remnants into the primary vial, stirring to dissolve it into the potion.

“Copper?” asked Oremso.

“It’s symbolic. One of the alchemical elements to this.”

“I see. Will the potion make Lady Yivella fall in love with Tarrano Edoma?”

“Sort of. The first attractive face that the drinker sees will be the one that the drinker falls in love with. More importantly, it only creates an infatuation, which is very short and shallow.”

“That could be dangerous. Can’t you make a more lasting love?”

“If I could, I’d be richer than a king. No – that’s impossible. That involves the whole part of a person’s being, while a love potion only needs to tamper with a person’s body. Even so, you’re right, it is dangerous. I’ve heard of it unseating entire kingdoms before. That’s why I hate making these potions.”

“Then why did you acquiesce to Niruso’s request?”

Ana did not answer. Instead, she said, “What’s the Edomas’ stance on the betrothal? What it the marriage supposed to accomplish?”

“It’s just a friendly gesture of alliance.”

“But aren’t they already friends, and allies?”

“Yes, but this makes it a little more…solid. Why? Are you planning something?”

“Don’t worry. You’ll see it in time.”

* * *

The next day, the entourage from the Edomas arrived. At the banquet, Lord Niruso sat in his high seat in the center, with Lord Edoma on his right, Lady Niruso on the left, Ana further down beside the chancellor, with Yivella and Tarrano opposite, side by side. Ana noticed the two interacted little, and when they did, it was Tarrano who initiated.

But while she kept one eye on the two betrothed, she also kept one eye on Niruso. Watched him take the first gulp of his drink, so much so that she missed as she reached for her own goblet. Knocking it off the table, with a clatter. Grabbing his attention. She tried to turn her face away, but she knew it was too late.

Beside her, the chancellor seemed to have noticed all this as well.

“You were right about dangerous,” he whispered. “Now, this is all fine and well, but what about Yivella and Tarrano?”

“Does he seem interested in her?” she asked, not daring to look past Niruso.

“I think so. It’s hard to tell.”

“Good. Then at least that part of the plan will work.”

“What part?”

Ana took a careful look over at the two betrothed. “I need you to gather a hair from each of them, and bring them up to my chamber. There should be a purple vial, and instructions on the table, should I be unable to get to them in time.”

“Very well.”

“Thank you.”

* * *

Ana walked quickly through the corridors to her chambers, trying to avoid the footsteps approaching her, and who they heralded.

“Ana! Ana Valensa!” said his voice. “Stop, please!”

She halted, rolling her eyes.

“Will you walk with me?” his voice continued.

She wanted to say no, but it seemed more of a command when her arm was seized and they began walking toward a lonely corner of the citadel. Only now did she turn to look at the man beside her, Lord Niruso, who gazed back at her as though she were some beautiful diamond, and spoke making comparisons as such to her features.

All the way, Ana’s heart beat like some crazed drummer. And that was nothing compared to when they finally reached a secluded corner, and Niruso thrust her against the wall. He made some speech about Ana’s beauty, which she hardly listened to, more focused on a way out, and if he could run faster than her. In the end, though, his speech ended before she decided anything.

“Oh, glorious goddess!” he proclaimed, pressing forward and kissing her.

“Bared!” a voice suddenly screeched. “Guards!”

Niruso parted from Ana, who collapsed from the shock of the kiss and the scream. Glancing up, she saw it was none other than Lady Niruso. She was only vaguely aware as the two argued, apparently over her, while the guards appeared, confused, behind the Lady.

“And what do you think you were doing?” she demanded of Ana. “Did you give my husband your potion on purpose? Did you mean for him to fall for you?”

“Yes and no,” replied Ana weakly. “I didn’t want him to fall for me.”

“Right! Do you realize what you’ve done to him?”

“Only what you would have had me do to your daughter.”

* * *

Ana spent that night in the dungeons. She probably deserved it. Probably worse, even. The chancellor finally released her the next morning, only for Ana to come face to face with Yivella and Tarrano.

“We heard about what you did,” Yivella said. “Thanks for not using love potion on me.”

“You’re welcome. Are you three breaking me out?”

“Sort of,” said Tarrano. “But I don’t think Lady Niruso planned to keep you in much longer than now.”

“Well, after giving the potion to her husband…”

“Yes,” muttered Yivella. “I’m not too appreciative of that.”

“Speaking of appreciative – I made a potion upstairs, which, if given to a bird, will allow it to always find you two, and thus you can relay messages back and forth. You know, if you want to work at this relationship. Although, you may want to talk to your parents, since they seem to be ready for a wedding a lot sooner than you two.”

“Well…thanks.” Yivella curtsied, and hurried off up to sunnier floors.

“There’s just one problem,” said Tarrano. “I can’t write to save my life.”

Beach Volleyball

In honor of the 2012 Summer Olympics, I’d like to add a little fictional humor to that Trojan struggle between mighty nations and powerful people. I hope you enjoy!

Caleb slumped into the couch, carrying a soda, beside his friend Dave, who was looking at the screen across the room from them.

“Olympics, huh?” he asked.

“Yeah. It’s getting pretty intense.”

Caleb glanced at the screen. A volleyball game – America, and what appeared to be Korea. The game was indoors, with eight or so members per team.

“Weren’t they doing this, like, last week or something?” Caleb asked. “But outside, with only two team members?”

“Yeah. Beach volleyball.”

“It’s called beach volleyball? I didn’t know that it was that competitive. How on earth did that ever become an Olympic event?”

“It’s a very long story, and I’m not sure you’d want to hear it all.”

“Try me.”

Dave picked up the remote and muted the television, turning to face his friend.

“Long ago, in 1990, there was a group of friends living in California. They decided to go to the beach one day, since it was a beautiful summer day and it would be fun. There were, let’s see…Nancy, May, Jake, Matt, Jerry, Ron, and Tim. Arriving on the beach, they proceeded to partake in the usual beach activities: splashing through the tides, sunbathing, swimming, Frisbee, and, of course, volleyball.

“Now, Nancy and May were lying on their towels, sunbathing, while the guys played volleyball – Matt and Jerry on one team, and Jake, Ron, and Tim on the other. Naturally, Matt and Jerry were being trounced. For every point they managed to strangle out, their opponents would get three. It was like the Battle of Cannae – Matt and Jerry were just in the palm of Hannibal’s hand.

“At their victory, the achievement of the whole twenty-one points needed to win, the trio cheered in triumph. May looked up, her attention caught by this noise. She frowned, and spoke to the them.

“’Why are you cheering so much? It’s three against two! Of course you won, even though you boys can’t play worth beans.’

“’Right, like you could play better,’ scoffed Jake.

“’Oh, we could definitely,’ said May, the argument catching her attention. ‘We could beat all three of you.’

“’Try us!’ Tim challenged.

“So Nancy and May stood and came to the net, facing their opponents with cold, piercing eyes of steel and death. Ron served the ball, and it was begun. I honestly wish they had recorded those games on video, since they must have been exhilarating. When Ron hit the ball, it was no less the force of Jove’s thunderbolts. But May bumped it, Nancy set it, and then May, like Artemis drawing back her silver bow, brought back her hand, unleashing the ball like a Cynthian arrow, which strikes dead-on, and slays its victim.

“In this case, though, it merely scored the two girls a point for their game. Nancy stood like proud Hera, triumphant over the damnation of the product of her husband’s waywardness, his expression mirrored in the trio of boys. May now took the volleyball, sending it quick over the net. The boys fled from it like the head of the Gorgon, and the ball landed in the sand, marking another point for the girls.

“However, that is not to say that the girls dominated the game. On the next serve, Tim bumped the ball, before Ron set it slowly, like the long-tempered smithery of Hephaestus in his volcano, producing a javelin of perfect size and power, which, handed to Ares, strikes death to all who come near it. Thus was Jake’s spike, which struck the sand with all the power of the great meteor that extinguished the dinosaurs.

“The game went back and forth for some time, before, at long last, the girls emerged victorious over the trio, who stood in shock, as if gazing on the face of Medusa, completely at a loss to explain their failure. Beside them, Jerry and Matt applauded the game, congratulating the girls on their Herculean attainment.

“’I can’t believe you won!’ said Jake. ‘Best two out of three?’

“’Only if you wish to lose again!’ replied Nancy.

“And they played again. By now, though, others had noticed their amazing play, and gathered around to watch, cheering and applauding with each hard-won point gained by each side. And the girls won again, and thus spoke Jake again.

“’Best three out of five?’

“It goes without saying that the girls won this last game. But it was even more harder than the first game, as the boys played like the incarnations of Hercules, Achilles, and Theseus, all gathered together in one ultimate trio. Nancy fought like Athena and May shot like Artemis, and, alas, there was no Orion to oppose her.

“As they traveled back home that evening, only one thought consumed the minds of Jake and Tim, who had suffered the losses the most: how to beat those girls. So they trained, and they trained. The next time they all went to the beach, these two played volleyball against Nancy and May once more, barely winning three games to two. Now it was the girls’ turn to train to beat the boys.

“In addition, the sparring of these two pairs inspired dozens of their spectators. Within a year, scores of other two-person teams popped up all over California and, soon, the country. It became so popular that it was featured in the 1992 Olympics, with Nancy herself being part of the team that achieved first place. And after that, it was inducted as an official Olympic game, with two person teams to commemorate Nancy and May’s valiant efforts, and scoring best out of five games to remember how many were played that glorious summer afternoon on the beach.”

Dave leaned back, having finished his story, watching for his friend’s reaction. Caleb at first said nothing, just staring at Dave, eyebrows raised.

“That’s BS, and you know it,” he said finally.

“Come on! It was a fun story, at least,” replied Dave.

“Yeah, but totally fake. ‘Cynthian arrow’, honestly!”

“Well, it was the best explanation I could think of in thirty seconds. Why didn’t you just look it up on Wikipedia? You have your phone with you!”

“My phone ‘tempered by the Cyclopes and given the wings of Mercury’? It was a hypothetical question anyway. I didn’t expect you to try to answer it!”

“Well, it was a good challenge.” Dave turned back toward the television, unmuting it. “Oh, look! US won!”