Saturday, June 28, 2014

Heads, no. 1

We didn’t have much time. The sandstorm was getting closer. The wind howled in the distance, grains of sand bounced off my cloak and goggles. But we were already at the hatch. I entered the combination and pulled the lever. The door gave way.

We entered the dank, dark corridor, closing the hatch behind us. I took out a glowstick from my bag, pulling back my hood and goggles. The faint greenish light illuminated the metal walls of the tunnel in front of me. The light only reached about seven feet. Everything beyond that was dark.

I heard Barbas rummaging in his bag. A second later I caught the luminescent greenness of another glowstick with the corner of my eye. “This bunker looks nothing like ours, Aidan, does it,” he said with his singsong voice. That annoying voice. I was dreading the moment we’d be back within walls where the sandstorm would no longer prevent us from speaking.

“Would you kindly shut up, Barbas?”

“Oh come on,” he said as we walked on. I could hear him smile. “Don’t be like that. I’m just trying to start a conversation. I just like talking to you, you know? And since we got sent on this mission together, why not make the most of it?”

He put his hand on my shoulder. I stopped and grabbed it, turned around, twisting the hand in the process, and looked him straight in those large, mismatched eyes. “Touch me again and you’re dead.”

For some reason, Barbas would always follow me back in our bunker. But perhaps I wasn’t the only one. He was new, having transferred only a few weeks back. Most people loved him. What everyone enjoyed about him – his jokes, his face, his voice – only served to annoy me.  I wanted nothing to do with him, even less than with anyone else. I was shocked he got sent on this mission with me. The higher-ups knew I worked best alone. Others only served to slow me down. And yet, here I was, stuck with this imbecile.

For an imbecile, it was pretty surprising how well he found his way around the bunker. It was painful for me to admit, but he turned out pretty useful. I would have met my premature end on more than one occasion if it weren’t for his quick reactions and near telepathic awareness of our surroundings. As we edged closer and closer to our destination, I began to feel I was in good hands. I think I trusted him.

After walking countless crossroads, we were finally there. A large metallic door, a metal plaque right in the middle. “Heads, no. 1,” Barbas read out loud. “This the place?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know. That’s why we were sent here.”

“Yes, that’s true,” I could see him grin slightly. Paying it no mind, I pulled the lever. With a metallic clank, the door opened.

“I can’t see anything,” I said as I went in. I heard the door close behind me, followed by the sound of a glowstick breaking in half. “Barbas?” There was no answer.

My light source was running out. I could barely see a foot around me. Surrounded by darkness, hearing nothing but a drop of water falling on the metallic surface, I started to walk, hoping to find the wall. The pale green light was fading away. I could barely see my hands. That’s when I tripped and fell. I landed on a stack of something hard, smooth, fragile. The glowstick that fell out of my hand showed me exactly what I was lying on. Skulls. The floor was covered in skulls.

“Fuck,” I whispered, my heart beating fast, breath shallow. Then I saw a shoe. It was familiar. Regular issue shoe, the same we all wore in the bunker. Standing in it was someone I couldn’t see. Only their shoe was illuminated in the fading green light. But I wasn’t stupid. I knew who it was. “Help me up, Barbas.”

“I’m really sorry, Aidan, but I can’t do that,” he said in his regular jovial tone. “I’m supposed to make sure you stay here.”

It all made sense now. That’s why they sent him on a mission with me, even though they knew I worked better alone. One thing was still unclear. “But why?”

“You’ve served your purpose well, but they’re done with you. Someone with your skill can only serve as a hindrance in the approaching time of peace. Don’t worry, though. I’ll make it painless.”

I heard a clank as his weapon hit the ground next to me. My quick reflexes saved me once again. I managed to grab it and wrestle it out of his hands. He was so, so much weaker than me. Was he really responsible for all the skulls in this place? I found that hard to believe. He went down so easy. He went down so silently. He lay there motionless, no longer talking, somewhere on the ground. I couldn’t see him. The glowstick had run out of fuel. I lost my bag somewhere. I had no more light.

Everything was dark.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Fabulous Misadventures of Matoya, the Witch IV (2/2)

“Wench!” Sir Alistair yelled out in a guttural tenor as he swung his longsword at the barrier, this time meeting my fiery blade. His weapon quickly heated and the strain this put on him was visible at first glance, yet he did not back away. “Your unholy fires will slay the creature! Have you no brains?”

“Ye best check if your brains are in their place, laddy!” I shouted back at him, swinging my own blade, parrying each of his blows. They were strong, heavy, but still very clumsy. And yet, his persistence was admirable. Still, an easy target. I could knock him down in just a few moves. “The creature’s confined, not dead. And the deal was we get rid of it. Ye never said ye needed him alive. Why would Haegyn’s holy knights need a beastie this foul brought back? And here I was thinking ye only intended to rid the land of its evils.”

“Silence, wench!” as he took another swing, I took my chance. Instead of parrying, I pointed my sword at the unarmoured opening he had carelessly left beneath his left arm. The sword fell to the ground with a muffled clunk, and a squeal uttered by its bearer, as I placed a kick in his groin area, sending him flat on the heather.

“That’s quite enough,” I heard a voice behind me. I turned around – Sir Gilroy was approaching me from beyond the fiery wall.

“Yer protégé needs more tempering, Sir Gilroy,” I told him.

“Indeed. Some lessons ought be learned through pain rather than lecture. You have my thanks for that, m’lady,” he lay his emerald eyes on the flame cage. “The beast lies within, I take it?”

“The abyssal flames will contain any manner of creature within, so long as I wish it. Sir knight, ye do me a great disservice yet again. Ye have me for a fool. If ye truly are who ye say ye are, explain yerself. What could the Knights of Haegyn want with an invisible manticore.”

“M’lady,” he turned his eyes to me, a gentle smile on his gallant face. “Your intellect has been a great bane to our endeavor. Let it be known to you, I have you for no fool. On the contrary. And yet, there are some facts I may not impose on you. For some knowledge can be dangerous, and I daren’t endanger a lady such as you with such reckless behaviour. The Order has no need for the manticore. You have seen nothing. The creature has been vanquished. You have heroically slain it with your companions and with the guidance of the Knights of Haegyn. Many a knight has sacrificed his life in this endeavor and you have avenged all of them. Haegyn will forever sing of your valour, wit, and grace. Of Matoya, the Good Witch. None shall ever accuse you of devilish pacts again.”

“A lovely tale, Sir Gilroy. Ye could not even begin to imagine how many times I had heard it. I spit on yer songs and tales, on reputation. Something is clearly afoot, something ye try to hide from me. And I will not have anything hidden from me. Ye knew this manticore was invisible. Ye were meant to find it and contain it, not because ye needed to protect the people. Because it could not be exposed that someone in Haegyn was performing such unholy actions, true?” Sir Gilroy remained silent. “What is it ye want?”

“I would ask you to grant me this one favour and lower the barrier.”

“And set the creature loose?” Sir Gilroy raised his left hand and opened the palm of his gauntleted hand. A small glass vial lay within. My heart sank. “What have ye done with them?”

“They wait for you beyond the knoll. Leave the beast in my care, and their lives are spared. My sword is steadier than that of Alistair. A fine, mythril blade. The bane of mages.”

I uttered a laugh. A single, nervous chuckle. They had me on my knees. This was hardly the first time. And yet, never before had I felt such helplessness. How love can weigh one down. In any other circumstances, I would be prepared to test what Sir Gilroy had said. I would see for myself if it was a bluff. And yet, too much was at stake this time. I slowly lowered the flames as Sir Gilroy hurled the vial at the angry beast that lunged itself at him then fell to the ground with a deafening thud. The knight did not even flinch. As the beast lay on the ground, it started to become less transparent. Not a minute later, an unconscious manticore could be seen lying on the ground.

“Now, I must ask you to leave, Matoya,” Sir Gilroy said as he knelt down next to his protégé, gently nudging him to wake up. “Go see your companions. This matter concerns you not. Not anymore.”

And walk away I did. I heard horses making their way towards the knights, their hushed voices, heaving, as they struggled to transport the beast. Yet it was none of my concern. I followed the trail on the moor, towards the moonlit knoll, focusing on Isolde and Cillian and Nevermore. I prayed for their safety. This matter concerned me no more. I knew something was afoot. Manticores can be used for many amazing magical concoctions. Many weapons. But that mattered not. Not anymore. I started to run, knowing that the longer I took, the more their lives could be at risk. So I hurried on.

The beast was dead.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Fabulous Misadventures of Matoya, the Witch IV (1/2)

There could be no mistake. The heavy breathing, the low, guttural growl, the sound of tremendous paws pounding on flowers of heather, closer and closer, louder and louder. I could not see it, but I knew it was there. I shot up a burst of bright sparks into the pitch blackness of the night sky. I heard voices in the distance. Sir Gilroy should be right beyond the knoll to the east, Cillian and Isolde somewhere to the north. Gods know where Sir Alistair went. If only Nevermore came quicker, then I’d most likely deal with the beast in seconds. For now, I could only rely on myself.

I had never come face-to-face with a manticore myself. The Tome described it as a beast of imposing stature, baring fangs the size or a large dog’s leg. Its face resembled that of a human male, yet covered in protruding whiskers. Besides the imposing fangs, its mouth was said to be housing rows upon rows of teeth. It was said to possess a gaze most piercing, capable of paralyzing even the boldest of the bold with fear. And yet, by far the most dangerous weapon it wielded was its tail. A long, barbed abomination, swollen with the thick, vilely purple liquid pulsating within. The large, human head-sized, thorn-ridden tip was enough to bludgeon a person to death if a sufficiently strong swing was made. And even if that failed to land a kill, the venom  injected was bound to finish the job. By then the fangs and teeth would proceed to eviscerate the remains, which at this point barely resembled their original shape anyway. A manticore was by all means a perfect predator. Small wonder Sir Gilroy’s party had been reduced to a meager two.

Usually, manticores would inhabit deserts and canyons, making their dwelling in tunnels dug up under the dunes or formed naturally within the rocks. The moors would not offer them such protection, as the ground was too hard for them to dig into with their paws. There were no natural caves to give them shelter. A manticore would stand out like a sore thumb among the sea of violet, making a stray like that an easy target for local hunters, who would seek them out as the amount of gold offered for manticore parts would last them a lifetime (not to mention the magical properties). Pity this one was invisible.

The Tome warns of the beast’s swiftness and advises the use of paralysing potions. As we could not be sure which one of us would be facing the creature and there was time to only brew one vial, I gave it to Nevermore who would proceed to drop it on the creature when he noticed any of us engage in battle. He was running dreadfully late.

The pounding on the ground became heavier, faster. Closer. The beast had already caught my scent and was running in my directions, there was no mistaking it. With no place to hide, I cast a barrier spell, hoping that would at least prevent the beast from bludgeoning me to death. The air surrounding me became warm and appeared to be shimmering. I could hear the manticore break into a gallop and let out a deep, guttural howl. Quite imposing, yet I had heard more threatening sounds before. Cillian had sounded scarier as a strix. I could see the trail the manticore was leaving. A long advancing dent in the flowers, a dark line curving and swinging as it made its way toward me. Almost there. I still had five, four, three…

I sprang sideways, rolling in the heather, barely avoiding the beast’s assault. I could hear it stop and breathe heavily, confused and angry. No time to waste. I muttered words most dark and unknown to all those who live. A wall of fire arose around the creature. Despite its invisibility, a shadowy outline could be seen squirming beyond the flames. None may escape those flames. I only hoped I could maintain them long enough, until Nevermore came back. I could not.

In my carelessness, I let the barrier fall apart, certain none but the beast could threaten me in this endless moor. How foolish of me. I had had my doubts, and yet I set them aside for this goal. The blow to the side sent me flying to the ground, making me nearly lose my grip on the wall of fire, which did get noticeably smaller. Another hastily erected barrier and a makeshift sword made of fire was all I could muster while maintaining the beast’s cage. This was enough to stop the oppressor’s blade from reaching me. I clutched the Eye with my left hand as I gazed into the grey eyes filled with hate, staring back into mine from beneath sandy hair.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fish-eyed angels, mov. 3 -FINALE-: "A Melody Frozen in Time"

Jeremy sat at his desk. It was a desk like any other – made of wood, standing on four legs, and yet so unlike any. Its uniqueness was clear as day to anyone who lay eyes upon it. However, no one knew exactly what quality made it different. Was it the dark maroon color? The multitude of coffee stains, dying the right part of the desk a light beige? The laptop – the one with the huge, dangerous-looking dent on its side? No one could put their finger on it, but they all knew it the second they saw it. This was the desk of a writer.

Jeremy took a sip of his coffee and put down the indigo mug, too hard, again. Half the coffee made a happy leap over the edge of the cup, mockingly covering Jeremy’s mouse pad and hand in the hot, sticky liquid. Fuck, he thought to himself. He never said such words out loud. He licked the coffee of his hand and threw the mouse pad away – it had seen enough. High time it got its well-deserved rest.

Just another proof-read and that story was done. Jeremy always struggled with eliminating comma splices.

The plate smashed into pieces as it made contact with the ground. The chair was falling down for what seemed like hours. Bits of lasagna splattered around her on the cold wooden floor. The clang of falling silverware low, slow, deafening. Charlie could feel the vibrations on her cheek.

Jeremy let out a sigh. He could never find himself completely satisfied with his writing. Something always  seemed to be missing. Some bits, on the other hand, seemed to be too much. Like in this story – why did he use Charlie as a protagonist? It had been ages since he last saw her, talked to her. He doubted any of her actual personality or their history together bled into the story, but that was still a possibility, and he knew he would die on the spot if anyone noticed it. Jeremy took another sip of the now lukewarm sticky substance. Charlie would always tell him to cut down on the sugar. Maybe I should change the name, he thought to himself, but pretty soon he just let it go and left the story as it was. He wondered if that was because he was hoping she would notice it.

Jeremy opened another file. Another story he needed to proof-read before posting it.

I sat down on the wooden chair. It creaked under the weight of my body. I wondered how long it would hold.

Once again, Jeremy felt a bit silly for writing that. He was feeling much better than at the time. He knew Greg would laugh at him after reading this, especially at the “barrel-shaped part”, but at the same time, changing anything about it seemed wrong. He saved the document, closed it and shut down the computer. He put his arms behind his neck and looked at the ceiling fan. Its slow movements would always calm him down. He needed a break.

He stood up, stretched and walked around the room. He approached the fish bowl. It was a tiny thing, with only one little gold fish and a rock in it. He got it at a fair they all went to together all those years ago. To Jeremy, it seemed much longer ago than it really was. There were times when he was depressed about it. Times when he thought that it was all for nothing,  that now that everyone has drifted apart, there was no point in going forward. And yet, whenever he approached the bowl and looked at the fish’s gigantic glassy eyes, he felt happy. Because no matter what the future would bring him or how the present looked, he knew that whatever happened, happened. For better or worse. At least now he could make a living of it all. Those memories worked as some fantastic inspiration.

I want to thank my wife for helping me with this series. If it weren't for you, there would be no fish-eyed angels, and even no Writing Lion, while we're at it. You are irreplaceable.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Fish-eyed angels, mov. 2: "Breath"

I sat down on the wooden chair. It creaked under the weight of my body. I wondered how long it would hold. I looked at my hands. In the pale light of the full moon, it didn’t even look like blood. I didn’t even care at this point. They’d be here any second.

The attic was always completely empty, but I’d never noticed it was so large. A single rectangle of white light, my barrel-shaped shadow in the middle of it all. I noticed black stains on the floor.

I grabbed my head. The pain got unbearable. I smelled something metallic.

What is wrong with me?

For a second I saw stars in front of my eyes. They gradually huddled closer together, forming colorful nebulas and galaxies, sprawling snails, fishes, eyes, skulls. Some stars came closer. They were human-shaped, blindingly radiant – beautiful.  Comforting in all their distance and complete lack of interest in me. Their watchful eyes turned elsewhere. Their fish eyes. Their deft legs, their ballet moves. It was all a scene. Nothing was real. Nothing of it was real. It was all a nightmare. I knew I’d soon wake up and dad would take me to the fair again. I’d have cotton candy again, just like yesterday when Jeremy and I fought over that robot. What was its name again…?

Red and blue lights flashed on the walls of the attic. I could hear my breath, deep, calm. Nothing could change anything anymore. Why should it matter? It was too late anyway.