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Europa and Chaser



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Wed Oct 11, 2017 2:10 am
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Europa says...



Kirsten
Amère


"No!" The woman screamed. Strong arms held her at bay and she fought against them, desperate to get out the door and to the car outside where a little face was framed in the window, eye round and wet with fear. "Not my daughter. You've already taken my son! Just please, please leave me my daughter!"

"Only one sacrifice remains." The man holding her replied shortly. "She has been chosen."

"Then take me." The woman pleaded.

"The AI demands children."

The car came alive, headlights piercing through the thick fog. Peals of new screaming erupted from the woman and she struggled harder as the car slowly inched out of the driveway. The little face in the window pressed her hands to the glass. Her mouth gaped open briefly. Shouting a word no one outside could hear. A large hand reached over and pulled her out of view. The man holding the woman let go. She sank to the groud as the car was swallowed by the fog. Covering her face with shaking hands. Her screams had turned to raw sobbing. Without a word, the man pulled his crimson hood over his head and swept from the house. The door slammed heavily behind him, echoing through the house, no empty except for the woman kneeling in the middle of the floor.


.........

I'd never seen the AI in person before. I had thought it might have been a giant computer or a robot. Maybe even some kind of person. A giant hooked up with wires all over their body. But the AI wasn't any of those. It looked more like an empty square in the wall. The whole rest of the room was all metallic and full of monitors and buttons and people like the ones who took me away. All of them seemed too tall and too thin to be human. I couldn't see any of what was under their cloaks. They all had their hoods pulled up. The AI was in the only clear space in the room just an empty white space that glowed like the screens of the computers but so much brighter. The two cloaks that had brought me here were still right beside me, each of them grabbing one of my arms so tight it was starting to hurt.
Is this what he saw? Did the AI look the same, like...dead space? like nothing? The cloaks walked me forward. I felt strange. Limp. My legs were too weak to shake anymore. They set me so close that all I could see was the nothing of the AI. My ears filled with a strange humming. I imagined they were voices. I imagined his voice saying Don't worry. It'll be fine. or give it a second. I promise it doesn't hurt. Like I had scraped my knee or he was pulling a splinter from my finger. The cloaks were all saying something together. A prayer or a chant. I couldn't understand it. I don't think I wanted to. I watched the AI. It had started to bulge out. Like there was something inside and it was pushing and pushing until it could break out. A little tendril like an arm grew out and it reached for me. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run and keep running until I could go home and hide under my sheets like this was all a bad dream and my mom would come in and hold me and whisper things in my ear that would make me feel safe enough to fall asleep again. But I couldn't move. It was like something was holding me there. Like the bigger cloak had held my mom to keep her from saving me. The cloaks had finished their chant. The AI's hand touched my forehead. Suddenly my body was filled with its humming. I could feel it in my chest and hear it in my head. The room began to turn as white as the hand and the humming was so loud I thought the sound was going to bleed from my ears. And then it was gone. I was gone. I couldn't see anything but the empty white. Strangely, I wasn't scared anymore. I wasn't anything anymore. Everything inside me had bled out with the color of the room. I wondered if this was what dying was supposed to feel like. And then it changed again. The nothing changed. It just started fading, like the colors and the cloaks and the room. It started to build buildings. Grow trees. I could see people walking around on the ground I couldn't see yet. Watching people walking on air and not falling made me feel dizzy, so I closed my eyes until I felt ground under my feet. Then I opened them again. The sun was shining in my eyes. The people were walking on dirt paths now, and so were horses pulling carts. I could see the buildings up against the sky. Big, but not like the huge tall buildings of the city that touched the sky. I took a step out onto the street. Is this where all people go when they die? Am I even dead? I don't feel dead anymore. I looked up at the roofs of the houses. Down at the people in the street.

"Look out!" Someone roared behind me. I spun around and there was a man with a sitting in a cart. The horse was so close I could see its eyes around the blinders. I shrieked and scrambled to the side. The wheels ran just past my toes.

"Stay off the road!" The driver yelled.

My heart was fluttering inside my chest so I took a few breaths to calm it down.

"Yikes." I jumped as another voice spoke right over my shoulder. I turned around, thinking it was some other person I was in the way of. But the little boy in front of me didn't look like he was going anywhere. He was just standing, rocking back and forth on his heels. He was holding a teddy bear by one arm. "I coulda told you he was gonna do that. I swear I've seen him go down this road like, three times already."
  





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Sat Jan 06, 2018 2:04 am
Chaser says...



Before I saw her, I thought I was dreaming. I’d woken up here, the world around me flickering up like a bonfire. That’s why it didn’t surprise me when the same cart rushed through the street again, ghosting the path it had traveled before. But that feeling changed when a girl fell out from behind it, and the instant I saw her face, I knew that she wasn’t a dream.

“Hiya!” I said, tilting back and forth on my feet. “What’s your name?”

“Kirsten,” she said, probably too scared to think of anything else. “W-Where are we?”

“I woke up here, so I dunno! What do you think?” I waved a hand at the blue skyline. “There are only sixteen shapes of clouds here! I thought it was a dream, but now you’re right in front of me! I have no idea,” I groaned skyward, hanging my arms down. “My name’s Hachiko, by the way.”

Kirsten shifted awkwardly, looking at who I carried in my left hand. “What’s that?”

“Oh, the bear? His name’s Bakuma!” I held him up, showing his beady eyes. Bakuma’s left half was pure white, and the right, dead black. There was a stitch across his right eye where it had been sewn back in; the red threading looked like a jagged scar.

“Ah,” Kirsten said, backing up awkwardly. “So he’s a…”

“Panda, yeah.” I hugged him to my chest and spun around. “I guess this is what they looked like, way back before the Ark.”

Kirsten glanced around, then hastily stepped out of the way of the driver coming around for the fifth time. “Why don’t we talk somewhere else?”

“Hm?” I dodged a stray dirt clod thrown by the boys playing at the stoop. “It’s not too bad once you get into the rhythm. See?” I said, grabbing her arm and spinning her away from a messenger’s horse.

Kirsten walked to the storefront steps and sat down, mumbling into her hands. “They - they took me prisoner. The Ghosthands.”

I winced, clasping my hands behind my head. “Yeah, uh, sorry ‘bout that.”

Her eyes shot up to meet mine. “What?”

“My dad’s a super-important guy in that cult. I mean, we both feel a little weird about it, but he’s real happy there, and…” I trailed off, noticing her look. “What? Did they do something to you?”

There was something incomprehensibly sad in Kirsten’s eyes as she said, “They sacrificed me, Hachiko. That’s how I got here.”

“Oh.” I turned back to look at the sky, a repeating patchwork of sixteen clouds. If I waited there long enough, I’m sure that cart would have run me right over again.

“Nah.” I shook my head and pressed my lips together. “Forget it. I’m hungry. You must be too, right? Let’s eat something.”

“Hachiko-”

“That’s too long, I hate it. Call me Hachi.”

“Hachi, what are you doing?” Her pitying tone set my body to needles.

“Ah, geez! What I’m saying is that we weren’t sacrificed! My dad’s…” I broke off, staring at the world around me. I stood in silence, facing away from her.

“Do you know why they put us here?” Kirsten asked.

“No, that’s...um, okay.” I turned around, grinning. “Well, I guess we’re dead! I really do want something to eat, though. Wanna have lunch?”

Kirsten gave a small smile and nodded. “Okay.”

I bent down and scooped up a rock. As the wagon barreled down the street for the last time, I wound my arm back and tossed it perfectly through the open window. I was rewarded with a sharp curse from inside the wagon.

With a laugh, we set off through the streets of the city, swinging Bakuma close behind. Here, people walked long and low, leaning into the dirt in order to put it behind them quickly. Heavy burlap coats were draped over broad shoulders, hatted heads turned downwards. Heading down a road smelling like fish, we reached the sound of ocean waves, and the sight of numerous wooden boats floating in the harbor.

I dashed to the edge of the dock and grabbed the pylon, swooping out over the ocean. What I saw nearly made me lose my grip. “The water here is purple!” The sea stretched out on the horizon in a murky violet color. It slid through itself with a thousand obsidian facets, slicing against the pier in slow rhythm.

I sat down on the pier, staring at the scene in wonder. Kirsten walked up behind me, unsure what to say. “Do you think we’re really dead?” she asked.

I grabbed my ankles, thumping my feet. “If we’re here together, then not yet. But no one’s ever come back from being sacrificed.”

We were silent for a while, watching the impossible purple waves in the harbor. Eventually, I sank into myself, hugging Bakuma. So, this was the world of the AI (Ark Imperium, as the super-cool cult kids called it), given its yearly human tribute. And - despite everything, and more beyond that - I’d been sacrificed to sustain its blessings.

I sighed. “It’s never fair, is it?”

“Hachi!” I turned to find Kirsten back on the pier, pointing at a parlor signboard.

Pausing for a moment, I recollected myself and kicked up from the dock, running towards her. As I neared, I read what was on the sign. “Ooh, fruit from the Wolfaval Coast!”

“That sounds good,” Kirsten agreed. “Do you have any money?”

“Who said we’d pay?” I replied, pushing through the door. “Dead people get good eats.”

We entered the room to a lively scene, tankards of coffee waving around as the patrons talked jovially.

“No, that’s what I’m saying. Sarah!” the woman laughed. “Come off it. Look, I’ll prove it.” Grinning, she stood up and raised a fist. “A toast to Lord Shamble’s powdered nose!”

A cheer arose as the woman continued, “And may it ever stick into his edicts and the King’s arse.”

Amid laughter and cheering, she bowed flippantly and sat back down. I elbowed Kirsten, smiling. “See? This looks like a fun place.”

“Yeah, but how do we get food?” she asked worriedly.

“Well,” I began, ruffling my own hair and slapping color into my cheeks, “watch and learn.”

Kirsten hung back at the door as I tapped the nearest lady’s shoulder, then made myself look as irresistibly cute as possible.

“Excuse me,” I said, tilting my head and grinning, “could I have some fruit?”

The woman looked at me with strange amusement. “Got any money?”

I gestured as adorably as I could that I had no money.

“Ah.” The woman rubbed her chin, then shouted across the room, “Penny, we’ve got some beggars for you to make into kings!”

“That’s not what revolution means, Edith!” The woman who’d been talking before leaned out from her table, grinning.

“Well, we all wish it did,” Edith said before turning back to us. “Anyway, why don’t you head over there? Penny being Penny, she’s bound to give you something.”

“Thank you!” I said, beckoning Kirsten as I skipped over to Penny’s table. Penny was a woman with dark, healthy skin and curly hair cut short. It seemed to bounce as she moved between many different conversations, effortlessly weaving a charismatic aura about her. She looked up as we approached.

“Ah, so you’ve got no money, and came to a bar? You either don’t know how New Belial works,” she said, sipping her coffee, “or know it much too well.” As we all laughed, Penny glanced down at my side, noticing Bakuma.

“A teddy bear…,” she murmured, before looking back up at us. Suddenly, she grinned.

“Hey, it’s nice to see some new faces in this bar. I’ll give you the full welcome.” She sprang up and brought us to the counter, where an elderly lady was brewing a kettle of coffee.

“Some Wolfaval fruit for my new friends.” She winked. “Take it from my pay, would you?”

The bartender reached below the counter and grabbed an icebox of fruit. “Aren’t you a little light on cash to be giving handouts?” she asked wryly?

“Ah.” Penny froze for a moment, wincing. Then she grinned at all of us. “Let’s not worry about that, shall we?”

Everyone laughed again, and the bartender grabbed a banana and orange from the box, handing them to us. I took the banana, eating quickly and tossing the peel over my shoulder.

“We shouldn’t make a mess,” Kirsten began, trailing off as Penny lobbed her orange peel into the rafters.

“There, see?” I said, snatching an apple and holding it out to her. “Let’s have some fun while we’re dead.”

She gave a small smile and bit in, then nearly dropped the apple as the door slammed open. As the door hit the wall and slowly creaked back, a man walked in from the street, flanked by musketed guards.

He stood tall, wrapped in a long cloak. Beneath it, the regal military jacket sagged to his frame. As he cast his hand out in greeting, I saw his long, oaken fingers adorned with shining rings. His wig unfurled down his temples like so many scrolls, and his eyes were a slow, virulent black. And on the tan skin of his forehead, there was a bruise left by a rock tossed through the window of his carriage.

Penny walked up to him, looked him in the eye, and scoffed. “Your majesty, Lord Shamble,” she lambasted, bowing deeply.

As she rose, Lord Shamble looked her in the eyes and replied, “Your peasantry, Penny Alvarez.”

He swept the room with a commanding look, then strode forward. “I’m sure you know why I’m here-” he said, as his foot slid out from under him. Lord Shamble smashed flat onto his back; the room went completely silent. When Lord Shamble sat up, a banana peel sat on top of his white wig.

Penny remained absolutely deadpan. “I believe we’ve just witnessed the crowning of a king.”

Everyone lost it at that point, a few people tipping over in gut-busting laughter. Lord Shamble pulled the banana peel off of his head and turned pink.

He whipped the banana peel out the door in disgust, then smacked the doorpost. He stalked over to the bartender, leaning on the counter to cast a long and hungry shadow.

“You know exactly why I’m here.” He loomed over the bartender, smiling while reaching into his coat. “A tribute, paid to me in blood...orange.”

He held out two coins politely. “One, please.”

The bartender handed it to him, and he inspected it, holding it against the light. “Fruit from the Wolfaval Coast. One of the few pleasures allotted to me in this world.” The peel fell away at his grasp, and he ate the orange, shuddering with delight.

Forgoing all pomp, he sat on the edge of the table, dictating with a full mouth. “The new shipment has arrived in the harbor. Tomorrow, I unveil a fresh load of workers for auction.” He swallowed. “Penny, there’s no need to tell you to come. Even so, you won’t be welcome.”

“Bite me.”

“I don’t eat dog meat.” He flourished his hand smugly. “The reason being that, as I told you, I’m quite well off.”

Penny stood in pensive silence for a second, then spoke. “Not for much longer. Someone as sheltered as you couldn’t feel it, but revolution is happening.”

Lord Shamble scoffed. “You can’t possibly hope to fight the entire Goetian Empire, can you?”

“You’re wrong, Shamble. We can hope. Even if it seems impossible, we can hope, and that means that we’ll strengthen that dream. We’ll take our freedom from the Demon Lord himself, and it won’t need cowards and traitors like you.” Penny stood on the bench and raised her fist, some people around her doing the same.

“And in that world, there’s no room for parasites! Because, when we’re all standing on even ground, Shamble,” she remarked, “you’d just slip and fall on your ass.” But with every word, her voice lost conviction, because Lord Shamble was doing an odd thing. He trembled, taking slight, gasping breaths, crumpling in on himself, and when all was quiet, he laughed.

He drew himself up and grinned monstrously. “Oh, you all never change. I’m sure you want revolution to happen, but really, none of you want to make it happen, do you? You’re just hoping that some great chance will come to you, and then, then you’ll make the effort. You place your hope with this woman,” he said, throwing his hand toward Penny. “This lowly coffee-brewer. You think you can just stroll up and take what you want from the world? What a fitting diatribe for trash.”

“You’re one to talk.”

Lord Shamble blinked, looking up. “Oh - who said that?” He stared around the silent room, then shrugged. “Well, there have been rumors about my rise to power, and I understand you’re all uncomfortable with the change in your leadership.”

He gave a saccharine grin and disposed of the rest of his orange, which he had crushed in his hand upon responding. “But please, bear with it.”

He leaned in the doorframe, his weight carrying a darker gravity now. “And, seeing as you all envy me, I’ll take my leave.” He beckoned to his guards, drifting away.

“We won’t stop,” Penny called after him. “Revolution is coming. There’s nothing you can do to stop it!”

He looked back, bemused. “I know there isn’t. But as you’ve so generously pointed out, that’s no reason for me to give up, now is it?” He turned away, stepping out the door and onto the same banana peel. Lord Shamble kept his smug expression as he flipped 180 degrees and crashed on his head in the street.

Penny, Kirsten, and I watched from the door as Lord Shamble crumpled, picked himself up, then walked deflated to the carriage.

“I like him,” I declared.

“He’s fun to watch,” Penny agreed, turning back to the diner. “You two, get yourselves cleaned up, and have some coffee. Then we’ll talk about how to get that snotty Shamble once and for all!”

She took hold of Kirsten’s hand, dragging her away despite protest. As I turned to follow, a voice melted into my ear, whispered from behind a silken hand.

“My dear Taro, we meet again.”

The voice had come from a woman sitting in the table beside the window, who was gazing fondly out the window. Her svelte and shady attire made a dark contrast to the women of the coffee shop, and even more stunning was the long pipe clutched delicately between her index and middle finger. Around the eyes, she had tints of disaster, but no fear. Her lips were twitching as she continued to stare out the window.

I followed her gaze to Lord Shamble, hopping on one foot trying to get his shoe unstuck from the gutter mud. Then, I must have stared for too long, because she glanced at me soon after.

Unsure what to do, I grinned at her. Somewhat bemused, she smiled back, then looked out the window and took a drag from her pipe. As a curtain of smoke rose before her, something powerful shifted in her eyes, bright and malicious. I blinked; the spell was suddenly gone, and the hubbub of the tavern enveloped me once more. Scratching my head, I walked over to Penny, who was just finishing her sentence.

“And that’s why we’re going to dethrone Lord Shamble before he kills us all. Got it?” Kirsten, who she was holding by the shoulders, was reeling from the information.
Penny blinked as I walked over. “What, were you not listening? Alright, I’ll start again. You guys were sacrificed by the Ghosthands, right? Well, so was I.”

The rest of the talk kind of went over my head after that.
The hardest part of writing science fiction is knowing actual science. The same applies for me and realistic fiction.
  





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Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:29 am
Chaser says...



Sage


The chains they put on me weren't heavy, but they were insulting. After all, I didn't plan to run.

The Ghosthands led me through the hallway, their footsteps silent beneath their deep red robes. A wire ran through the lanterns on the ceiling, a somber procession of ghostlights heading deep into the mine. I never would have expected the AI to dwell here.

But soon, black cords began to weave together, sinking into metal, the tunnel opening out into a large steel chamber. At the center, a formless light that seemed to break off blocks of reality, exhuming a soft glow across the chamber.

I didn't want to know how the AI lived underground. I didn't want to know what would happen to me after I was absorbed or whether I might see my parents wherever I went next. All that was on my mind at that moment was Elliott, all alone at the mercy of people he didn't even know.

The Ghosthands filed into the room and formed a cult circle. The lead one turned to me and gestured to the light. I was to be its sacrifice.

"I came like you asked," I declared. "I need a guarantee that my brother will be safe."

The Ghosthand raised his palm in answer, which began to pulse with blurry light. Clearly, he was guaranteeing something else if I didn't comply.

I stayed silent and closed my eyes. If this was the best that I could do for him, then there was no use fighting what would happen next. I could still see the light from the AI behind my eyelids, growing steadily brighter. It started to hum and expand, filling the void until I couldn't tell whether my eyes were open or not. It was all endless, freezing light.

For a brief moment, I felt it all around me, the infinity the AI presented. In that expanse, I felt myself losing my balance, and the fear that if I fell, I'd fall forever. But that didn't happen, as my back connected with a grassy surface, and in the moment it took for me to register what had happened, the sky had turned bright blue.

I sat up, dazed at my surroundings. It was a vibrant, earthy meadow outside of a wooden palisade. In the middle of that palisade were towers, and a fortified gate.

At the edge of the field was a forest darker than death. The verdance of the meadow seemed to drop off at the treeline, greeted by a barricade of brambles and withered thickets. As I stared a man burst from the trees, tearing away from the forest like his life depended on it, a look of sheer panic on his face.

"Hey!" he cried, sprinting towards me. "Help me!"

The oddest thing about this man was his dreadlocks, which seemed to enlarge his head threefold. He wore a black jacket that was torn at one sleeve, and as he got closer, I could see it was dampened with blood. A few seconds afterward, I found out why.

Behind him, the darkness itself had burst from the treeline, a rolling shadow that desolated the ground as it moved across. Tendrils of darkness disintegrated from it as it streamed through the harsh noon light, closing in on the man with alarming speed.

Suddenly, the soil slipped out from underneath him, and he flopped to the ground. His expression of pain trickled to horror as the pulsing darkness loomed over him, dropping two rancid jaws from the mist.

I half didn't realize what I was doing. My shoulder drove into the darkness, finding a fleshy solid and shoving it backwards. The beast stopped for a moment, flailing in panic. In that moment, I realized that it had grown smaller in the daylight, its smoky mouth evaporating to a threadbare purple flesh.

"It's getting weaker!" I shouted to the man, who was getting to his feet. "We can beat it!"

The man gave me a despairing look, then took off running towards the guardtower. I reached after him for a moment before shaking my head. As I'd told Elliott, I could get angry all I wanted at people like him, but justice was still my task to serve.

Having decided this, I tightened my fists as if it were another street scrap. "Alright!" I shouted to the beast. "Come at me if you want, but I'll hit you back hard!"

The shadow beast stumbled to its feet and galloped forward, nearly taking a chunk out of my side as I dodged away from it. I threw a straight punch into its side, testing its odd body. The best policy, I decided, was to wear it out.

Keeping that in mind, I dashed to the left as it charged again, easily moving past it. But then a tentacle shot out from its side, wrapping around my arm. I ripped it away in alarm, then jumped back as more tentacles weaved towards me.

Breathing heavily, I looked at the beast again. Four long tentacles were waving in the daylight, mixing with its waving shadows. For a second I thought it had baited me, but then I realized that he darkness was peeling away at an even faster rate now. The beast had gotten desperate.

It reinforced this with a roar, launching towards me with tentacles awhirl. Instead of dodging, I braced myself and locked my arms around its torso. The tentacles wrapped around my arms and squeezed, but I had already reached my target.

I worked my way around the beast, reaching beneath its center of gravity to unbalance it. One more shove, and I could have this thing on the ground, trapping it to dissolve in the hot sun.

An extra appendage snaked out from its abdomen, smacking my chest and doubling me over. The next slash from the monster's jaws left me sprawling, and I tumbled to the ground, vaguely aware of my head leaking. Blood dropped into my eye as I glanced up, seeing the dark maw of the beast blotting out the sun.

A sword flashed in the light, sinking into the beast's side as the dreadlocks man put all of his weight behind it. He must have gotten it from the guard tower, and actually ran back with it! I stood up to thank him before realizing he hadn't done it to save me.

"Die!" the man screamed, twisting the sword and wrenching it out to stab again. He slashed the beast to pieces in a complete frenzy. After the body had stopped moving, the man stumbled back and sat down.

"That'll - teach you," he seethed between sobs. After a moment, he wiped his eyes and stood up.

"That turned out quite nicely, didn't it?" Reaching down with the sword, he methodically cut away the jawbones of the beast, staring in wonder as the remaining flesh dissolved in the light.

"Why was that thing chasing you?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Bad luck. Bad karma too, but that isn't important. That forest was just where I entered this world. Maybe the Ghosthands did it on purpose," he suggested, grinning. "Well, what matters now is that we got away."

"Let's go then," I said, turning towards the gate. "Do you know what's inside that?"

"No, but it isn't here, and that's a good start," he replied. He storlled towards the gate, hands stuffed in his pockets. He seemed to have forgotten all about his injury. I
jogged to catch up to him. "What was that thing?"

The man shrugged. "No idea." He looked up at me. "In case you were wondering, my name's Taro."

"Sage." I replied automatically. "any idea where we are?"

"Not a clue." Taro shook the gate. "Hm. Locked." He pursed his lips a little, looking the gate up and down. He started to climb. I watched from the ground as he quickly scaled it and sat on the top bar. He looked down at me, his hands braced on his knees. "Coming?"

I shook my head. "I'm pretty sure this is illegal."

Taro swung his legs over the other side. I was expecting him to land on his feet; instead he fell flat on his face. I winced.

He sat up, spitting blades of grass from his mouth. "I'm not sure I see your point." He jumped to his feet and whirled toward the fortess, marching confidently down the path to the front door.

I stood for a moment watching him. Then I sighed."He'll get himself killed."

I started climbing the fence. It was made of a surprisingly slippery kind of black rock, and I had a hard time getting a foothold but eventually I reached the top and slid over the side. Looking back on it, I feel like I should have just walked the other way. It would have saved me a world of trouble.

Taro walked up to the fortress door, giving a solid grin to the towering complex. He knocked on the door and gestured excitedly for me to come over.

Slowly, the door rumbled open, revealing a red-clothed figure standing there. At least, I thought his clothes were red, before I realized that he was naked to the waist, and it was his skin that was shining red. And he was pointing a musket straight at me.

"Hey! Over here." Taro waved to the red-skinned man. stepping in the path of the musket. "Ah, hi. I'm Taro. I'd like to talk to whoever's in charge."

"On what grounds?" the man asked, surprising us with a prim voice behind the gun.

"I don't know whose grounds these are; that's why I'd like to meet them," Taro stated bluntly, then smiled. "If you don't mind."

The red man mumbled something and lowered his gun, turning away slightly. It was then that I noticed the faint bumps on his skull; not just bumps, but horns. Taro turned to me and mouthed in awe, "A demon."

Eventually, he looked back at us. "Follow me." He sighed without much enthusiasm. "I'll warn you, humans, his majesty doesn't take kindly to visitors."

The palace was built from the same black soapstone as the fence, now furnished with lavish red cloth. Oily light shone from flames encased in obsidian as the demon led us down the halls.

"Whose palace is this?" I wondered aloud.

"It's not mine," Taro said, "and that's what matters!"

We were led into the throne room, Taro seeming mystified as his feet crushed prints into the velvet carpet. At the end of the room beneath drapes of banners sat an empty throne, with a sour-looking demon standing next to it. He seemed to be reading a paper list, the continuation of which was draped across the table beside him.

"Oh, well that's just-" He looked up as we entered. In the flickering torchlight, he looked almost spectral. The effect was not hindered by the ivory mask hiding the left half of his face. I wasn't sure if it was the light or not, but his hair looked steely grey, like someone had run a steel brush through it. "Ah, sacrifices! Wonderful, I was looking to let off some stress." He began weaving his hands in a sphere, and a flame erupted between them.

Taro whirled to the demon guard in alarm, who merely shrugged. Panicking, he whipped his hands around in front of him. "Wait, wait! Diplomatic immunity! No shoot!"

The masked demon sighed. "Of course. That was a joke." The flames unfurled from his palm, dissipating in the dark throne hall.

Taro got up from his cowering position, beet red, and huffed, "Well, it wasn't very funny."

"To the contrary," the demon replied, smirking. "It was hilarious."

He sighed, tossed the report onto the table, and turned to the guard. "So, what is their business?"

"A proposal!" Taro cut in before the guard could speak. He waltzed forward, making grandiose gestures with his arms. "A plan, even, to help you succeed. But first, we pay tribute to you, Demon Lord. Behold!" He thrust out the severed jaws of the shadow beast, laying them on the floor before the demon. He bowed deeply, much to the demons' amusement.

The masked demon shook his head. "You are mistaken, human; I am Demon Minister Astral. Your tribute for our Demon Lord will have to wait."

Taro looked up, blinking. "Wait? But why?"

Minister Astral waved the question away. "I haven't the time to explain it to you." He turned back to the stack of papers and stretched. "The trash keeps complaining...where's bureaucracy when you need it?" He gestured to the guard absentmindedly. "Go. Dispose of them."

The guard moved towards us, laxly gripping his musket. Taro backed up nervously, hitting me by accident, or so I thought until I caught his whisper.

"...see that?" He glanced at me. "You saw that, right, Sage? He called me a human."

"Yeah," I replied. I'd seen something else too: Mild-mannered as Astral had seemed, when he spoke the word human, there was no hiding the disgust in his eyes.

"He knows what humans are. This is a fortress where the leader is absent. Understaffed, too, and isolated." Taro kept talking, his eyes on Astral. "This must be a military holding in an area not native to these demons. And they weren't surprised to see humans. You know what that means, right?"

"I do," I replied, as the demon slung the musket from his shoulder and aimed it straight at us.

"Humanity has been enslaved," Taro finished, staring down the gunbarrel, "and these are our new demon overlords."

"No," Astral called, looking up from his papers. "No, that's all wrong. If you're going to be leaving with that kind of attitude, then I'll need to change it." He walked towards us, circling his finger to compose his speech. He motioned the demon guard aside, looking slightly down at us.

"This world," he began, "was not made for humanity. The monsters that inhabit it are more powerful than anything they can imagine; I can tell you two have seen that firsthand."

Taro clutched his wound, but said nothing.

Astral smirked, opening his palm to watch the embers curl. "But we, the demon race, have been gifted with the strength of the Lord. We alone can advance this world, can protect humanity from their own powerlessness. It is with great kindness that we set foot here, in the pitiful lands of man, to exalt the human race."

He thrust the flames toward us, and they hovered near my chest. "These flames are dangerous, yet you cannot deny their warmth. That is the will of the Demon."

Unconsciously, Taro and I leaned towards the mesmeric warmth. It seemed too much like the fireplace where I'd sit with soot-stained hands and share a cheeseburger with Elliott. The thought of Elliott made me pull back, and I pushed Taro to snap him out of the trance too.

The Demon Minister closed his fist and gave an eerie smile. "I can tell you require more convincing. Therefore, I am willing to make you an offer: Join us, young one, and we will allow you to protect the humans you too hold dear."

"Forget it."

"You say controlling people saves them from their own weakness. But really, you think we'd rather be safe than anything else." I glared up at Astral. "You're no different from the Ghosthands."

For a second, I thought I saw Astral's face tighten and turn pale. But it flickered away in an instant, vanishing beneath his half-mask.

"I have no idea what you mean by that." The Demon Minister waved his hand in the air, though his irritation made the movements sharp and stiff. "I suppose I can't expect proper reasoning from you."

"Not by your definitions, no."

"Aha haha, just hold up!" Taro interjected. "I-I'm sure my friend didn't mean to insult your demonliness, in fact, about that offer-"

"That offer is for him alone." Astral kept his gaze fixated on me. "I have no interest in the spineless parasites in his company."

Taro trembled in place, but said nothing more. Looking at his posture, all at once collapsed and rooted, I could tell he had nothing more to give. And I had nothing more I would.

I was turning to go when something dropped from the ceiling. Upon landing, it braced into a crooked handspring, vaulting through the air to block my path.

His skin was a pinker shade, but still clearly a demon like the rest of them. He wore a jacket that seemed to have a number of locks across it, fitting it tight to his stick-thin form. It twisted up to his jaw, where a mask with a curved slit served as his grin. But as he looked back at me, his eyes were grinning, too.

"It's wonderful! Absolutely wonderful!" The demon bounced up and down, holding my shoulders. "Astral, did you see? We have guests for dinner!"

"Wendell," Astral's voice took on a warning tone. "You know the rule."

Wendell backed away, the glitter gone from his eyes. "Killjoy."

"Sage,'' Taro grabbed my arm "Maybe we should just go along with this before they decides shooting us isn't a bad idea anymore."

"I don't care what he thinks!" I hissed back. Astral raised an eyebrow.

"Keep your voice down!" Taro squeezed my arm tighter. His voice dropped to an almost inaudible whisper. "Don't you think it would be easier to take them down from the inside?"

I tightened my jaw. He had a point.

"All we need," Taro continued, "is to keep in the demon's favor. Get a job serving their empire. Once we gain the power we need, we'll tear this palace down ourselves."

I shot Taro a sideways glance, then nodded slightly. The two demons were watching us closely. I turned my attention to Astral. "Fine. I'll bite. What is it you want from us?"

Astral smiled widely. "Only the most demonic value imaginable: bureaucracy. Would that suffice, human?"

With his head bent downwards, Taro chuckled. As he drew himself up, I caught a glitter in his eye: something disturbingly hungry.

"That's Lord Shamble to you," he cackled, "and don't you forget it."
The hardest part of writing science fiction is knowing actual science. The same applies for me and realistic fiction.
  





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Sun Mar 25, 2018 3:36 am
Europa says...



Kirsten
Amère


Getting in was easier than I thought it would be. All we had to do was blend into the crowd when no one was looking. Penny had said that once we were in the market no one would pay us any mind, but that didn't stop my nerves from tingling every time someone looked our way. Penny kept hold of my hand and I stayed close, but Hachi strayed ahead of us, staring around in wonder at the gathering crowd.
The air was hot and sticky to begin with, but in a square packed with people it was intolerable. The air felt almost liquid when I breathed in.
Penny lead us through the crowd toward the auction block. It was empty right now, but the sight of it still made me shiver despite the heat.

"This feels wrong." I mutter.

"That's because it is wrong." Penny pushed a well-dressed man out of the way. He glared, but didn't say anything. I scooted a little closer to Penny.

"But...this isn't allowed any more. Why is Lord Shambles able to get away with this?"

Penny let out a long breath. "It might not be allowed in our world Kirsten, but this place is different. It plays by its own rules. That's why we're doing this. Our job is to change those rules and make life better. For everyone." We squeezed out of the mass of people and stood in front of a tiny wooden stage. It looked a little pitiful considering what it was used for. At the moment, the only people near it was a soldier standing guard at the steps.

Penny nodded. "Good. We're right on time."

Hachi looked from her to the auction block. "Um, there's no one here."

"Exactly. That means Taro's newest slaves will still be on his ship."

"But doesn't that mean Taro will still be on Taro's ship?"

Penny smiled at Hachi sardonically. "Oh he'll be there. Napping in his quarters."

Hachi leaned closer to me. "Sounds like he has the right idea to me."

It might have just been the stress, but I giggled.

"Come on, you two. This is serious." Penny scolded gently, but I could see a little smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. "The ships are docked at the harbor just beyond here. There won't be many people to see us there, but keep a lookout for Shamble's thugs anyway." Without wasting another breath, she slipped off, dragging me along with her. I sped up to a jog, trying to keep up with her long strides until the mast of a giant ship loomed in front of us.

"Is that it?" I breathed.

"That's the one." Penny affirmed "The slaves will be kept belowdecks. We just need to get past the guards and make it back out without them seeing us. It'll probably be dangerous,"

"Awesome!" I heard Hachi mutter under his breath

"So if you two want to find someplace to hide while I go in, you can."

"And miss out on all the exciting stuff?" Hachi scoffed "You're joking."

I chewed my lip. "I...I'll go too."

Penny looked back at me with raised eyebrows. "Are you sure?"

I scuffed my boot in the dirt. "I know I'm not the bravest. But I don't want to just hide here while you're both risking your lives."

Hachi threw an arm around my shoulders. "That's the spirit! Let's go raid that ship!"
I offered him a weak smile, and let him drag me towards the docks.
Thinking back on it now, I think that's where all our problems began.
  





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Sun Jul 08, 2018 6:10 am
Chaser says...



It was the perfect crime, and victimless unless you counted Lord Shamble (we didn't). As I dragged Kirsten towards the ship, Penny grabbed one of the posters from the bulletin post.

"Today's grand sale - the Beast of Deva Straits," she read aloud, slapping the page for emphasis. "The strength of ten men, and burning red eyes that see beyond light."

"Sounds like a scary guy," I said, leaning over to see. "Hope we don't run into him."

"Au contraire," Penny replied while grinning, "he's our priority."

The crowd masked us pretty well as we approached the docks. Many ships lined the harbor, the slave buyers having piled out to join the throng. They gathered around an auctioning block that appeared to be a permanent fixture of the harbor, chatting as if it were a social event.

Kirsten was wondering the same thing I was. "Why are so many people buying slaves?" she asked Penny. "What does this place use them for."

Penny's face darkened. "They're farmers in the worst places, outside the town walls. Growing a bunch of stuff to send back over the sea to the demons."

"Why do you need a wall?" I chipped in.

"To keep the monsters out." Penny explained. "and to keep us humans in"

Kirsten gave a little squeak. "Monsters?"

Penny stopped and spun, facing the city behind us. "That's right. This land was infested with monsters long before humans set foot here. That's why they suck up to the government, hoping for some kind of protection. That's why the helpless are treated as sacrifices!"

A hint of a smile appeared on her face. "But that doesn't mean we have to accept it like that. I'll take on the whole world! The monsters outside the walls, and inside! Every last one of them," she vowed, the sea breeze rising behind her, "until this world is saved.

"And our first enemy," she declared, spinning to face Taro's frigate, "is right on that ship. Now, if you understand, find us a way onto that ship, before the guards spot me and-"

"Hey!" We turned to see the guards at the gangplank looking towards us.

"O-oh," Penny stammered, wilting. "Was I too loud?"

"Yeah, but it was really inspiring," I offered.

Penny drew herself up again. "Of course it was! Now, let's make the best of this situation." Saying that, she leapt off of the dock, grabbing one of the ship's mooring lines and climbing upwards.

The guards shouted and dashed up the gangplank, attempting to cut her off at the ship's bow. Realizing what had happened, I elbowed Kirsten. "Let's go!"

We ran up the gangplank while the guards flocked to the commotion. Penny poked her head up onto the deck to find six rifle barrels pointed at her. "...Good afternoon," she said, offering a winning smile.

Ten seconds later, they had clapped her in chains, leading her belowdecks. And in that time, Kirsten and I had slipped on board, taking cover behind the mast.

"Well, that was fun!" I said, grinning. "What do we do now?"

Kirsten stopped and thought for a moment. "If they're taking Penny belowdecks, they must be putting her in a cell."

"So maybe that's close to where the Beast is?" I finished the thought, nodding sagely. "I see, I see. Yep, that's our plan now!"

As the guards emerged from the stairs and retook their positions, Kirsten gestured to me. "Come on."

Kirsten slipped silently across the main deck, myself skipping lightly behind her. We tiptoed down the stairs and into a dim candle-light, a corridor of the crew's quarters. Faintly, a strong voice could be heard from below.

Kirsten stopped and put her ear to the floor. Understanding, I knelt down with her and listened. "I just made out the word 'justice'. It's definitely Penny," she said, glancing at me.

"Ooh, maybe we can hear the Beast, too!" I said, dragging my ear over to different spots.

Kirsten gulped and said nothing, but listened for it anyway. Suddenly, our eyes met as we heard the same sound: footsteps.

Kirsten dashed to her feet and grabbed me, shoving us both into the broom closet. I felt her trembling against me, and hugged her to supply warmth.

The door near the stairs opened.

"Agh, what a pain. That woman really wants to stir up trouble at a time like this?" A tall man with messy dreadlocks ambled down the hallway in a sleeplike daze. In his hands, he held a wig and powder, which he was dusting his head with.

"I'm a bureaucrat," he muttered, "I don't need actual problems." Sighing, he made his way towards the brig, entering a staircase at the end of the hall.

Kirsten was dead quiet. I opened the closet door a bit further and stared down the hall. "Who was that?"

"I have a guess, but..." Kirsten shook her head. "I don't think we were supposed to see that."

"Then I didn't see anything!" I declared happily.

With that, I grabbed Kirsten's hand and towed her belowdecks.

Penny was sitting in the cell, with her back against the wall, a cocky smile on her face. The overlarge wig standing in front of her could only be Lord Shamble.

"And you know exactly why I'm doing this," I heard Lord Shamble say. "My offer has expired, Penny. Cause any more trouble and you'll face consequences for the first time."

"Is that a threat?" Penny asked.

"Well of course it was." Lord Shamble replied impetuously. "what else could it be?"

Penny grinned. "A mistake, for one."

Lord Shamble sniffed. "I'm leaving you now. Rest assured, you'll be in good company," he said, looking over his shoulder. Kirsten whipped me around the corner, pressing flat to the wall.

"But do forgive his silence," Lord Shamble continued, walking away. "My Beast isn't the most social chap."

I held still for a moment, then peeked around the corner. "Okay, he's gone. What do we do now?"

"You should run."

It was a deeper voice that had spoken in reply. Kirsten and I looked up to see a guard looming over us.

His suggestion must have been sarcastic, because in the next moment his arms were around our necks.
The hardest part of writing science fiction is knowing actual science. The same applies for me and realistic fiction.
  








As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.
— Andrew Carnegie