The room became suddenly silent as Jesse swiveled around, his eyes glancing at the table before making contact with Hal, who was casually seated on the other side of the table.

“Don’t you even think of taking it,” Jesse growled.

“You think that you can stop me?” Hal asked, placing a hand on the table.

Lightning flashed as Jesse crossed over to the table, sitting himself down in a chair opposite from Hal. They heard the patter of the rain colliding with the roof above their heads and with the windows to the side. Jesse squinted severely at Hal, letting the silence drag on for a moment.

“I know I can,” he said at last. The thunder finally reached the building, rocking the air but getting no reaction from either person.

Hal laughed. “Come now, you were the one who was talking about sharing earlier. Has that plan suddenly gone out the window?”

“That was assuming both of us took our fair share. You did not.”

Hal shrugged as lightning flashed again, casting dark shadows over their faces.

“I thought we were friends,” Jesse continued, leaning back in his chair. “I thought we could work this out, but no. You had to go ahead and take what wasn’t yours.”

“You would have done the same in my position.”

“I’ve been in your position, and I still stayed to the rules I had laid down.”

Lightning again. “Well, that’s because you’re a greedy two-shoes who doesn’t know when to take a good opportunity.”

“Opportunity? You’re a greedy hog who doesn’t know when to stop taking.”

They stared at each other, silent, livid, while the thunder summed up their conversation in a single, building shaking, boom. Neither said a single word as each one tensed, leaning forward in preparation of action. Hal glanced at Jesse’s eyes, then down at the table, then back to Jesse’s eyes, which he just barely caught also returning to his own.

Jesse scooted his chair closer to the table, his eyes fixed on Hal, who’s frowning face was leaning about as forward as it could from his seat. Jesse’s eyes flashed down and then flashed back at Hal’s face. His hand crawled up the table in preparation of action. Hal brought his own chair closer to the table; his eyes pierced Jesse’s with dark ferocity. His own hand came forward, keeping Jesse’s in check.

Jesse could feel sweat building. He glanced at Hal, glanced at the table, then glanced at Hal again. His hand twitched. Hal twitched in response, but held steady. Jesse’s eyes darted from the table to the hand to Hal’s eyes. Then all over again.

Lightning flashed and thunder rolled as they sat there, waiting for the other to make a move. Jesse flexed his fingers, and Hal lost it. But Jesse was too quick, his hand reached the center of the table first. A smile of triumph spread over his face.

“I think you’ll find the last donut is mine,” he said as he bit into it.

Mind Games

The metal grating that made up the floor clicked quietly under the weight of his boots as he stepped into the room and scanned its dark corners, the catwalks hovering in the space between him and the high roof, and any other place thrown into obscurity by the lighting emanating from the single bulb suspended from the ceiling. He felt his eyes glow as he activated his power: the only reason he had managed to get this far at all. It really helped to be able to control a person’s mind through eye contact. The single pistol in his hand sure wouldn’t have cut it.

“Well, well, well, Sutherfeld,” said a voice out of the darkness. Sutherfeld turned toward the source of the noise, but the location was hard to pinpoint as it echoed around the room. He recognized the voice, though: it was Julian, the head of a notorious mercenary group that had been moving and shaking the world for several years now, thanks to the fact that Julian shared Sutherfeld’s ability.

“I’m surprised you got this far,” Julian continued. “I made sure there were obstacles to getting here that would thwart even someone with our power, but you seem hardly fazed by your infiltration.”

“I get paid for a reason,” Sutherfeld replied confidently as he moved back toward the wall, staying out of the glow of the light bulb. All he needed was eye contact, though at this point, not knowing what would happen should Julian also use his power, what he really wanted was to manage to sneak up on the mercenary’s back.

“Indeed.” Sutherfeld could almost feel Julian smiling. “But why work for them? You’re so much more powerful. You should join me – I could pay you so much more, help you realize your potential more than any governmental organization could do.”

“Now you’re just desperate. Not so cocky when you’re the one about to lose your will.”

“Come now, I’m just trying to have a reasonable discussion while you run around, waving that gun of yours.”

Sutherfeld twisted around at the last comment, his gun at the ready. Seeing nothing, he relaxed a little. “This needs to end quickly. You can’t go on using people like tools.”

“Yes to the first, no to the second. Sutherfeld, we’re the gods of this age. We can tell people to do whatever we want; we define our own morality. Why degrade yourself by working for these pitiful governments when you could have them fulfilling your every desire?”

“That would be a pretty dull life,” Sutherfeld muttered. “Aha!”

He stepped into the glow of the light bulb, gun raised in front of him, only to see Julian on the opposite side, also wielding a pistol. In an instant their eyes met, their powers activated, consuming and swallowing the other’s mind. And then they stood there, each unthinking, unfeeling, waiting for a command to come from one who was waiting for a command to come.

You all meet in a tavern…

Wow. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Fortunately, though, finals are over and summer has begun. So perhaps I’ll have more time for writing. Or maybe not. We’ll see.

A low noise filled the tavern as the swollen number of occupants talked and conversed with one another, the sounds flowing louder and quieter as the evening progressed, crescendoing with various drunk, overeager partiers who insisted on treating everyone to a drink (which resulted in even more noise as those around the tavern cheering them on), and quieting as other drinkers revealed a rather violent tone to their drunkenness, resulting in awkward stares from everyone around them. The perfect place not to be noticed. And hardly anyone noticed the five men sitting in the dark corner, heads close together in conversation.

It would be hard to find a more diverse group of people anywhere in the tavern — no, anywhere in the city. It was quite a patchwork party: first there was the tall, heavily muscled man carrying a huge battleaxe on his back, with fiery red hair and beard twisted into dreadlocks; then there was the man in a purple robe and wide-brimmed hat, staff leaning against the wall beside a bag, out of which peaked a few aged scrolls; next was a man in a simple brown robe, marked only especially by this and his shaved head; in the darkest corner sat a man dressed in black, close-fitting clothes that hid a number of pockets and sheathes hidden about his body; finally, the fifth man was perhaps the least outlandish, simply dressed in blue and silver. He was obviously an important man, and it was he who was doing most of the talking in this small gathering.

“…so then after you get through the goblin tunnels, you’ll get to the dragon’s cave,” said the important man. “He’s the one who’s really in charge. If you can take him down, you should scare the goblins enough to get out of their tunnels with as much treasure as you like.”

“And he should have a lot of gold, since dragons are a rather greedy lot,” said the man in the purple robe.

“Yes, and think of what we could do with all that gold!” mused the one in the shadows.

“Well, what would you do with it, Vince?” the bald man asked him.

“Probably spend it all on nice trophies,” the man in black replied. “What about you, Xinthos?”

“Scrolls and supplies,” replied the one in purple.

“Ah, all you wizards are boring,” replied the man with the battleaxe. “I want saucy wenches.”

“That does sound quite enticing, Gref,” said the bald man. “Though perhaps quite expensive.”

Gref laughed. “But it’s worth it, Rakitin. So what are we waiting for?”

They all rose from their seats and, after collected their gear, began to head out of the tavern. However, as they were about halfway to the exit, the doors suddenly burst open, revealing five men, all dressed in simple brown robes and shaved bald.

“There you are, Rakitin!” said the simplest and the baldest of the five. “I thought that we’d find you here!”

Rakitin looked between the monk and his companions. “Not now, Baelris.”

Baelris sighed. “How many times have we told you not to go wandering off like this, Rakitin?”

“But there’ll be saucy wenches!”

“I know, and that’s why we’re here. Come, allow us to help you overcome this temptation.”

The other four monks advanced, and Rakitin sighed, allowing them to take him away. The other three watched as the monks left the tavern and disappeared in the street.

“Look,” said Xanthos. “This reminds me, I have some alchemy work I could be doing. Ordinarily, I’d love to help, but I have some other responsibilities right now.”

Gref and Vince looked at each other.

“Yeah, I’m pulling out too,” said Vince. “I don’t like our chances against a dragon.”

Gref sighed. “Some party this turned out to be.”

Water Pressure

The first thing Charles was aware of was the sound: a hissing, gushing, sound that pierced the air like a fire alarm as one sits outside, droning on while you wait for it to end so you can return to your work. Then he opened his eyes and, seeing his predicament, leaned back his head in surprise.

He sat in the center of a wire cage that would barely fit him if he stood up. This itself lay in a large, blue tank, which was slowly filling with water from four pipes near the top of the tank. Puddles were already beginning to form on the floor of the tank, and it wouldn’t be much longer before he would be standing in water.

Charles cursed at himself. He knew he shouldn’t have eaten that pastry. The things he did for his clients. Not that it mattered now, what with the rising water and all. He stood.

There had to be a way out of here. After all, he got in, right? First off, there had to be a door large enough to push the cage through; second, there had to be a door in the cage large enough to get a man through. Well, there was the door to the tank, outlined clearly on Charles’s right. That would be easy to get open — probably why Xavier had put him in this cage as well.

Just thinking the name of his nemesis made him shiver in anger, but he had no time for thoughts of vengeance right now: the water already lapped his ankles. He needed to find that latch on the cage.

Ah, there it was. He had been against his back. He pushed against it, only for it to rattle back in place. Locked. He reached through the cage wires, around to where the lock would be. It was pretty standard, just an ordinary, everyday lock. The tricky part would be to get that lock open.

He checked his pockets: nothing. Xavier had been very thorough about this. Charles thought hard, rubbing his temples as his brain worked overtime. Well, at this point there was only one thing he could do.

He pushed the cage toward the door, tipping it over and sending himself plummeting forward. He twisted himself for the impact, though the rising water slightly softened his fall. He quickly managed to turn himself around, and carefully pushed the cage back to its upright position. Now he could reach the tank door.

This door also opened outward, and it too was locked on the outside. However, Charles suspected that it was far flimsier of a lock, and that it should break under enough pressure. Probably his body weight. He sighed, his legs sloshing through water reaching up to his shins.

Slowly, he managed to scoot the cage forward until it made contact with the door. Then, taking a step back, he thrust himself at it, making it shudder with the impact. Boom! Boom!

He pushed the door with his hand — it was beginning to swing open. Not enough to let the water out, but enough to give him hope. He continued applying pressure.

It finally broke as the water reached his waist. Water cascaded out around him as he fell headlong out of the tank, finding himself on the floor of a large, abandoned factory. Probably an old water mill to boot. But there was no time for admiring the scenery, though it did reveal to him where some of Xavier’s henchmen had lazily kept some of their tools that were just the sort of thing Charles needed now to escape.

Now hopefully none of the henchmen would show up with guns.

Green Chicken Apocalypse

Whew, it’s been busy. Sorry that I haven’t been posting much in the last couple weeks, but as finals are coming up, I’ve had several important priorities to divert my attention. That said, I’m back, and I hope you enjoy this story!

No one saw it coming. In fact, it’s rather unlikely that anyone could have seen it coming. No one expects the world to end the way it did. Well, except for Ulhart the Utterly and Certifiably Crazy-Insane. We only found out too late how true his predictions about the Apocalypse were. But perhaps you could forgive them: after all, contradictory prophesies about a green chicken epidemic and and invasion of mauve elk are pretty unbelievable.

The transformations began about three months ago, as the winter snow melted to reveal growing grass. A farmer would be in his barn, feeding the chickens, turn his back, and Wham! – one had turned green. The next day, it would be two more. Soon, there were enough of them that they began to get vicious. They’d attack the farmers, villagers, anyone who got in their way, and then drink their blood. We’re still not entirely sure why they did this, but we suspect it had something to do with red being the opposite of green.

Anyway, after about a month of this, the king of the land summoned me and a few other random adventuring mercenaries to his throne room.

“As you are well aware,” he said gravely. “ Ulhart the Utterly and Certifiably Crazy-Insane was perhaps not so utterly and certifiably crazy-insane. In fact, he was right.”

“About the chickens, or the elks?” asked one of the less current of my new party members.

“The chickens,” answered the king. “Anyway, they’re terrorizing the countryside. If you don’t do something, we may indeed have an Apocalypse on our hands. The chickens have taken down all the farmers and everything having to do with the color red, and the army was no use against their green fury. You are our last hope.”

So we sat together and pondered: just how does one defeat an army of chickens, where even a conventional human army had failed? After a day of thinking, one thing was for certain: conventional tactics would be of no use in this situation. So what could we do that would be outside of the metaphoric box? After another day, I had it.

“I have it!” I exclaimed. “Chickens can’t fly – we just need them to jump off a cliff!”

“Great,” replied one of my companions. “But which one? And how would we entice them into such a foolish action?”

“The Great Gorge. We’ll put a tower in the middle, and paint it red.”

So we went to the Great Gorge and constructed this red tower. Over the month that it took to build, we built with all the haste we could muster – every time we looked on the horizon, we could see pillars of smoke as the chickens conquered city after city.

But then our work was done. Now, the chickens didn’t come after it immediately – how could they know about it? So we spent the third month traveling all over the country, looking for the chicken armies and baiting them toward the tower. And it worked. They followed us, all the way to the tower…and into the gorge, where they died.

Thus the kingdom was saved, but only just. After all, all the farmers were dead, and everything with the color red (well, almost everything) had been destroyed. Cities were burned to the ground, and it was with gravity that we celebrated our Pyrrhic triumph on ruins of what had once been lively cities. But at least we knew that, if we could conquer the chickens, we could very well beat anything else that came our way, and we could survive the next few hard years.

And then the mauve elk arrived.