The Rift

Welcome to the prequel shorts before The Obsession!

Each short story is from a different characters point of view as they find themselves in the mysterious rift and meet the strange agents of O.U.R.S.

Listen to the episodes from AbsconderMedia or read below!

Enjoy!

Part 1: Quinn the Dreamer

Part 2: Ruger the Inquisitive

Part 3: Caliber the Nuisance

Part 4: Lucian the Adventurer


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Part 1 – Quinn the Dreamer

I only had my eyes open for a second before I had to shut them again. The strain from the light I witnessed hurt and forced me to look away. In that small jolt however I felt a weight on my limbs and a strange chill in the air.

“What’s going on…” I murmured out, squinting in the white light. I couldn’t see well enough, my eyes squeezing shut now and then.

There was a small clatter of something close by and a chirp of surprise. Someone was there- wherever I was. I knew I wasn’t at home. I wasn’t in my bed with my tussled sheets and comforter, decorated with images of outer space, rockets and the sweeping nebula’s. No, for one, whatever I was lying on was rigid, metal or something like it.

And my other reason for knowing I wasn’t even at home was the fact that I was tied down.

Naturally I started to scream.

Whoever was in the room with me flew into a frenzy, making strange chirping noises and knocking things over. In the small commotion I was causing, my panic mind tried to recall my day before this. It was a school day. I got up, on routine with my alarm clock radio drowning out my older siblings argument. The favorite bathroom was in the hall, two doors down from my room. Every morning started like this. I dressed in my schools’ uniform and pulled on my headphones to start my day with whatever tune I felt I needed. Rushing to the kitchen, I tried to make myself breakfast before my siblings would take the best quick meals.

This is where it was somewhat different. I couldn’t get a ride to school – my parents were fast asleep from working long hours. My brother was planning to skip school entirely and my sister left on the back of her girlfriends’ shiny new motorcycle. All in all, however, it’s not like I haven’t walked to school before…

There were no other special events I could recall.

I settled with the thought – obviously I had been kidnapped.

Thrashing to no use, shapes slowly began to emerge with blurred edges. My heart thumped wildly, especially when a hand came into focus overhead. It shielded my eyes from the light then landed against my forehead. Warm and oddly comforting, I stopped moving, thinking even, I just breathed. The person with the red hand began to speak, a language like tweeting birds. Another voice talked back, higher pitched. It was the one from earlier, I realized. The two spoke that twittering noise for a moment until the person touching my forehead began to speak to me.

“Do you understand me?” She asked, a distinct female voice and young sounding. This person was a kid like me.

“Y-yes…” I mumbled again, feeling it hard to talk after all that screaming.

There was a small pause before she continued,

“Confirm that these are true. If you will.”

Another pause and then the other voice spoke,

“Your name is Quinn Hunter. Human. Female. Thirteen years old. Earth inhabitant of your year twenty twenty five?”

“Yes… That’s right,” I responded without my own pause and thoughts that should be springing into place after a question like that. My mind feels like it’s silent, empty of anything I was worried over before. I listen to the two women return to that chirping language, rapid and apparently heated. Suddenly the girl over me removed her hand and I felt the rush of emotions hit me. My body convulsed and I was shaking, eyes starting to glisten. I still couldn’t see and my emerging tears made it harder. My mind raced with thoughts about my siblings – how I looked up to my brother for his activism and how I wished my sister would know that she deserved much better than Lucy… I thought of my parents, working long hours to get me into private school, sacrificing their very sanity for their children’s’ sake! The blinding light shut off and my vision returned.

I started to laugh. Probably hysterical but it was unintentional.

I was dreaming. Had to be. Lucidly and possibly aware of my sleep paralysis. Lifting my head slowly, I looked to my new surroundings and captors at last. Whatever this room was, it was simple, sterile and practically empty. Besides the table I was on, there were three waist high counters, each with gadgets I’d expect to see in some cheesy sci-fi show.

And I laughed harder at the two perplexed stares, at the women standing a short distance away. One of the girls was taller than the other, abnormally pale skin with a strange violet glow that matched the lavender puff of hair on her head. I called her an elf, based on the length of her pointed ears. The other girl had red skin – her hand was what I saw earlier – she had large body length webbed wings and horns curling up from a mass of jet-black hair on her head. The two wore nearly matching bright neon coats with glowing green gems at the center of their chests. They looked like cos-players – science fiction LARPers with pretty decent make-up effects. I had always wanted to go to those conventions, although I never had anybody to go with…

My acceptance to this very weird illusion shifted again when an explosion shook the ground from outside. Another moment and suddenly the gadgets slid off the counters and the girls struggled for balance. I felt the force of gravity, of the table I was on tilt and slam me down side-ways on the floor. The girl with the wings took action, rushing forward to remove the clasps binding my wrists. She managed to set me free before everything began to spin. We were tumbling down something, with us flying through the air periodically and slamming into the walls and against each other. We weren’t rolling for long luckily and ended up landing in a pile, table and gadgets under us. My body was scratched and undoubtedly bruised as I struggled to my feet in the now Topsy-turvy room. The counters were on the ceiling and as I realized looking around, there was no door. I slipped slightly, head still spinning and that winged girl caught my arm. Her skin was hot, seeming feverish and as I looked up to her golden eyes, I knew they weren’t cos-players. I knew it because this wasn’t a dream. There was blood on my skin, little cuts seemingly insignificant but really, they were just an ultimate pinch. The lavender haired girl grumbled something to herself, apparent scowl and dainty fingers tapping against the gem on her suit. The building seemed to buzz and suddenly a door appeared as if from nowhere.

I didn’t think twice, taking the opportunity and made for the exit. Shoving the elf girl out of the way, her shrill voice call out irritated,

“Rude!”

The chill just outside was worse than in the room. I gazed in shattering awe at the night sky above me, a deep purple black that was empty except for two different sized moons. One was waning and the other was a sliver, a winking face. I looked toward the hill we had undoubtedly rolled down from, the emerald grass pulled up revealing dirt and rocks in a shaky path.

“Quinn!” A voice called. It was from the girl with the wings. She stood next to the violet-haired girl who was busy gesturing at light in front of her. The elf girl chirped something at her friend and the other glowered and spat something back.

I didn’t wait to see what she wanted, running away from the hill and the fallen building. Entering the forest that surrounded us, I noted the foreign air and scent of the plants growing around me. Running didn’t lessen my anxiety, that growing fear of the unknown. All of this was an enigma and I didn’t understand how I got here. How could all this be real?

There were further explosions to my left. I jumped over fallen logs, moving automatically towards the opposite direction of all that noise. I just kept running until the cold in my lungs started to ache and I had to stop, collapsing against a mossy boulder. I buried my face in my arms as I leaned against the stone, blood thumping in my ears. I tried to find reason, to doubt those two girls, this weird place, and the very sky itself!

Until a low rumble of a growl echoed to me from further ahead. My head whipped toward the sound, looking into a blanket of shadows among the trees. The deepest shade moved, liquid almost with a crunching of dirt underfoot. A single eye opened, shinning a bright yellow and peering at me from a least three times my height above me.

It reminded me of my alarm clocks glow on my nightstand at home. Looming but most definitely there. Everything in me wanted for this to be a dream, to open my eyes and see it’s numerical face. I wanted to wish this all away. Instead, there was fire.

A ball of flames, the size of my head, flew and landed just beyond the threshold of the trees further on. As it landed it scorched the ground and surrounding barks. It was quick but I saw the creature it scared away.

It had teeth probably as long as my arm, and more than I could count…

Whatever it was, it was driven off fortunately enough, leaving behind my pyromancer savior at my back.

“What-what was that?” I asked, my eyes unable to close.

“’And out come the wolves’”, The girl responds as I turn my head to her approach.

“Most things I’ve met,” She resumed with a hand in flames extended and a wide toothy grin, “Don’t like to be set on fire.”

“You’re just showing off,” I breathed out bluntly, and see the fire fizzle out, her expression a little irked.

“A little, yeah… So?” She pouted with a glower.

“I’m impressed,” I complimented and see the girl smirk, pulling out something from her sleeve – a beret-like hat, that same ridiculous color as her coat with a large patch at the front. A quick gesture followed, of her index finger moving up to point at her eye before falling back down to her side.

“You have no memory of getting here, do you?” The girl asked next and eyebrow raised that lowers when I shake my head. No matter what I tried to recall before this, nothing so surreal or bizarre even came to mind.

“Not so strange… Lost things end up here all the time,” She explains frankly, possibly trying to be reassuring. Her head slowly turns to look behind her just as an explosion erupts from back the way we had came.

“Wha- what’s going on?” I stumbled through my question and see the girl’s expression change to something suspicious. As if she didn’t like my asking. Regardless, with slightly narrowed eyes, she answers simply,

“Exploration.”

I don’t know whether she read my anxiety or felt bad for me but she softened her stare, pressing a small smile. She took a few steps forward and put out her hand, offering it to meet mine.

“You can call me Mink,” The girl spoke while we shook hands and she went on to explain,

“You’re very lucky we found you. Terrible things can happen here. You could’ve been lost forever or mutated into something like those ‘things’ out there.”

“Mutated…? Wait… Where is ‘here’?” I asked, thoroughly curious and see the girls mouth widen into a startling grin.

“We call it ‘The Rift’ but you can call it whatever you like. Astral plane. Emptiness. Void.”

Mink let my hand go and gestured to the world around us,

“This place is the place between worlds, time, dimension. Between life and death. Darkness and light. It is everything and nothing. Mysterious and incomprehensible. We haven’t seen sentient creatures like yourself out here – mostly uncategorized beings. Probably a twisted evolution from living here.”

I watched with wide unblinking eyes as the girl spoke and I could tell she was excited to tell me all of this. But then that smile fell, as did her eyes, falling to the side. For just a moment. Something crossed her mind.

“That’s what we’re out here for – to study the Rift, map it or whatever we can do,” Mink resumed at last, grin returning once more,

“We’re O.U.R.S. The Organiza-”

She suddenly stopped, wings lifting and face turning serious. It felt instant, the way she lurched forward, warm hands pulling my body to hers. Her arms encircled my chest, holding to me tightly as the force sank my stomach. We were flying; Mink carrying me into the air, my legs dangling dumbly below as I clung to her arms. I looked down to the place where we once stood and see the large mass of one of those razor teeth-lined creatures landing on that very spot. It snarled to us, making a plea to catch us, no matter where we fled. Before we broke through the canopy, I saw other ominous shades slide into formation. It was a pack, of whatever things they were or had been, and it was clear they wouldn’t be discouraged simply by fire.

The sky seemed brighter out of the cover of the forest. And with everything illuminated I could see the trees seemingly never ending. The land under us was a sea of green sprawling limbs. Some were darker and other light. There were twisted branches and some with large trunks like living mountains. And in between these masses of foliage were the hills, expanses of fields and great jagged rocks. What caught my breath the most were the buildings, old structures, temples, sky scrappers even, and strange looming architecture doting the landscape haphazardly. It’s like they were ruins of old civilizations, brought here and then tossed down wherever.

This was real. Confusing but very real.

I was shivering as Mink finally landed. We were back at the encampment I had run from, only now there were three others. The lavender haired elf girl was gathering those gadgets I had seen in the building before while another orange suited girl marched to Mink with a very large device in her hands. This girl had wide ears sticking upwards from the sides of her head, red hair, and dark freckles beneath violet eyes. She spoke in growl sounds, shouting actually and handed the device to Mink, who took off into the air without another word. Although Mink was taller than me by a little, this girl was more my height, but stocky, older than she seemed. She also had a long furred tail swishing behind her, offsetting the furious scowl she wore stomping towards me.

“You, with the others,” She demanded in my own language, herding me backwards and next to two not-dressed-in-uniforms persons. They were older, different shades of sienna and had similar pointed ears as the elf girl. One guy had smooth orange hair hanging over a pouting face. He was tied up and gagged for some reason. And the other had short spikey black hair, a small mass of facial hair on his chin and creases under his eyes. He was busy tinkering with a machine – or rather a strange robot with only three limbs. He looked up from his robot and passed me a warm smile. I took my place on the floor next to him as further explosions rumbled through the treeline, so close I could feel the vibrations beneath me.

The elf girl moved to the red-headed girl, giving a device that resembled something like a stun-gun. With a few quick button-mashing movements across whatever screen was on there, the tailed girl marched toward the tied-up guy and pressed it to his forehead. There was a small whirring noise and suddenly he exclaimed in muffled pain. The girl moved away and to the next guy, pressing another button. This guy was eager and stayed very still, wincing slightly after the whirring noise. It was my turn next and as the girl set up the device, I could see the symbol on her hat more clear. It was something like an hourglass.

“Ow!” I cried, expecting the pain but was still surprised by it. The spot where the device had touched my head felt warm pretty instantly and made my vision shake for a moment. All of that subsided as the tailed-girl handed off the device and stood facing us, hands on her hips.

Another volley of explosions went off in the forest before the girl spoke at last in a very strange yet oddly coherent language,

“Congrats, welcome to O.U.R.S. own language. I know it, now you all know it. So now that we can understand one another, here’s how this is going to go. You work with us, we’ll find your homes and respective places and then we’ll send you back.”

The violet-haired girl walked up to the tailed-girls’ side, a pack being dragged behind her. She grumbles something to the other in that bird-like language, dropping the strap dramatically then crosses her arms.

“All right fine! Ruger, come carry this,” The tailed-girl responds with a roll of her eyes. The man with the robot happily complies, jumping forward and swings the pack to his shoulder.

“We’re heading for a place west of here, a place we can successfully fortify from those things out there. So you better run; don’t dawdle,” The girl resumed talking, already moving ahead when the bound man shouts a muffle, agitated.

“Follow or get eaten, see if I care!” The tailed girl huffs, cat-like eyes narrowing for a second. The guy next to Ruger muffled nothing else, annoyed but defeated. He got to his feet and followed after the others.

And then we were all running through the forest. Those explosions were always behind us, close but still far enough away. I wanted to see where Mink was, a speck no doubt somewhere in the sky above us, holding off those creatures. But it was hard to see through the trees and shadows. We weren’t running for long, a clearing ahead broke through. It was a large expanse of grass, stretching towards something I could only describe as a castle. I had seen it when I had flown with Mink and it was massive. It had towers and rooftop area, over grown with moss-like plants spilling over rusted iron fencing. There were large mosaic window panes, decorated edges, gargoyles and pointed peaks. All things considered, it was pretty intact and could’ve been built here the way the surrounding land seemed to have been tailored to it.

We reached a stone path way, mostly hidden when Mink descended from the sky panting and handing off that strange weapon device to the tailed girl. She looked like she was about to speak when her head jolted and she spun around on her heel. I looked on in horror as those creatures emerged from the forest, all teeth and gleaming eyes. They moved on four limbs but had something like elongated arms stemming from their backs, with reaching claws. It was a stampede of them, rushing and roaring over the distance.

My lungs were hurting from the cold as I ran, annoyed by my short legs. I couldn’t keep up with Ruger or even the bound guy. Fear kept me from giving up, from coughing or losing balance. There was nothing in my mind but the image of the double doors ahead, opened now by another person in that bright orange uniform. The elf girl and the bound man had already disappeared into the darkness within. Ruger and the tailed girl were next. I lifted my foot to leap over the short few steps to the main door and swung around to find Mink. Although I didn’t know her, she had come after me when, apparently, she didn’t have to. I was afraid for her.

But I didn’t have to be.

Mink was already at my side, hand grasping around my wrist to pull me into the building, a strange amused smile on her face. The new uniformed girl shut the door behind us and shouted for assistance. She held a marker in her hand and began drawing over the double doors.

“Shut the hell up with that high and mighty talk!” The tailed girl screeched to the elf who chirped back in anger.

“I told you we shouldn’t set up on a hills-edge but you just wanted a view!” She went into a shout, raising her hands exasperatedly. Even more so when the elf girl retorted back with more shrieking bird-talk. As the two bickered back and forth, I looked back to Mink and saw her helping the new girl with the door. It was a symbol of some-sort, a great ward encompassing both panels of wood. I stumbled back at the sound of the window cracking. The doors rattled and I could hear snarling and scratching just at the other side. But Mink and the new girl were calm, chanting something in unison. Each of them bit their finger then pressed them into the doors. The symbol began to glow then disappeared into the wood. Even though the doors still shook and moved, they wouldn’t budge.

I turned back to the others not in uniform, probably like me. Lost. Ruger was already busying himself with the pack he had carried in, rummaging through the contents inside. The orange haired guy was nowhere to be found, the rope that had bound him were on the ground from where I had seen him last. Looking around the lobby ahead I noted the dust over everything – across eerie statues, on an overturned couch, and over the rugs and marble floors. There was a chandelier above us, covered in cobwebs. That led my eyes to a second story landing. I could only see three routes from here, one straight ahead, beneath the stairwell and above, on the second floor. There were another set of double doors to my left. It was a mansion within, abandoned with peeling wallpaper under the dim light from the windows.

I felt anxious towards these new surroundings – to the castle and the people here. The two girls were still shouting, a half conversation understood and I swooned. Dizzy, their argument was reminiscent to my siblings fighting. It happened every morning, waking up for school. Clockwork.

Was I really awake? This could still be a dream.

“It isn’t,” Responded a smooth voice at my back, the cold grip of a hand on my neck suddenly dawning on me. I hadn’t noticed him, pale skin and black hair morphing as if from the shadows. His orange pupil-less eyes bore into mine, transfixed.

I remember thinking, asking inwardly since I couldn’t talk for some reason, ‘are you sure?’

“Yes, because this is my nightmare…” He responded quickly, apologetic, and latched onto me, embracing. It was unsettling but I couldn’t move. My hair stood on end as a frigid air spread across my neck.

I felt pain, different than that shot of some-sort that the tailed-girl gave me. It was alarming, waking me for just a second. I knew I wasn’t dreaming now, hands up, my will to fight. Somehow I managed to pull myself away, staggering backwards. Landing on the floor, I could see the others in the room, all eyes on me. Mink and Ruger seemed to be the only ones concerned. But, it didn’t matter. Everything swirled, distorted and then there was nothing.

-Quinn

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Part 2: Ruger the Inquisitive

It was amazing. From the cold air I breathed to the dark grey stone flooring I walked across, my boots making a soft tap with each of my steps. The castle was something I never knew could be built, massive and strange – and not just when the hallways would randomly dead-end or when the rooms disappeared and then reappeared elsewhere. This place, in it’s entirety, was phenomenal. I wished I could have documented everything I had witnessed from the moment I woke up in this bizarre place, the Rift.

Not even the sound of Cal dragging his feet could remove the awe I felt. He grumbled and complained but it wouldn’t bring me down.

There was just too much to see!

And yet the corridor we traveled through finally reached an end. It continued to the right, further into the darkness. There were no windows there but there were against the left wall. I fished into the small pouch I was given for the final device and placed it below the unlit sconce at the far wall. It was a disk-shaped device that would beep three times when I turned it’s top half, securing it in place. Next a light would flash before turning bright blue and would remain ON. That meant it was synced to all the others.

I was told they would stabilize the castle; make sure the rift wouldn’t warp our temporary home anymore than it has been. I asked how did it work exactly but my question was laughed off with a quick assurance that they are ‘for the best.’

Circuitry was never my strong suit but I knew enough. However those devices worked, they’re far more advanced than anything I had seen in my travels back home.

“Ugh… Are we done now?” Caliber groaned, finally knocking me from my thoughts. I twisted the devices top and saw the light turn blue before fully turning to the orange-haired man.

“That was the last one I had. What about you?” I asked, trying to remember if I had even seen him place any. He stood, slightly slouched, a hand on his hip and waved exasperatedly at the nearest wall. Stuck in a haphazard pattern were about ten of the devices, all activated and glowing blue.

“You know these things are meant to help us, right?” I struggled out with a pressed grin,

“They’re meant to protect us from the mutations out there and prevent us from getting lost – we didn’t find you for what? Three weeks? When we first got here?”

“I wasn’t lost,” He countered scowling now then darted his narrow eyes to the nearest window,

“I was running away from those psychos holding us hostage.”

“Cal, they’re not holding us hostage,” Trying to reason with the grumbling other wasn’t working no matter how I tried.

“Then how did we get here? And why can’t they send us home?!” Caliber was almost shouting but jumped when suddenly the sconces lit down the corridor, ending the rant he was undoubtedly moving toward. It took him a moment to recompose, eyes moving back towards the window again and a hand twirling a lock of his hair embarrassed,

“Why are you helping them anyways?”

To that I couldn’t help but smile. Walking toward him, I placed my hand on his shoulder and guided him to fully face the window.

“You told me you were a machinist back on our home world, right?” Starting out, I spoke tenderly, the way my daughter loved to hear me recount all the tales I had uncovered for her,

“So, you probably never left your village, it’s understandable – you remember the mountains of red stone and sand. For distances, in all directions. It is horrible to travel, trust me.”

I let out a humored chuckle, still enraptured by the strange world I stumbled into. With a finger I pointed to the sky, the moons, the distant darkness, the trees and down to the fields below us.

“There are stories of places like this. Tomes and pictures I’ve seen – from our home world! Our own history! And to see it real, to know they weren’t just folktales…”

Pausing, I let my hand fall, surprised by the blood racing beneath my skin,

“That’s my reason.”

I jolted my head towards Caliber, wondering about his response and see him flounder for words. Silent for another moment, his lips press thin and his glower returns.

“Fiiiine…. Let’s see what else they want us to do…” He gives in with a great rolling of his eyes and stalks back down the hallway we had come from.

Our trek back to the laboratory was empty of scoffs and moans at last. I did my best to squelch my victory smirk until we crossed the threshold into the cluttered room. Despite the mess it was actually quite clean and gleaming with white lights and different sorts of screens. Only three of the agents were here. Anabelle wasn’t.

Not that I was always aware that she was, popping up a lot of times from various shadows and silence. Even with her own teammates not noticing. I was happy about her absence. Something about her very presence set my nerves on end.

I moved toward the large-eared girl, Fen, and set down the empty sacks on the cluttered table she was working over.

“Finished then Ruger? Perfect, hopefully this will keep the castle at a single point for easy navigation,” Fen explained without looking up from the screen. Her eyes were red rimmed with dark shadows beneath them. I don’t think she had slept much in the short time I knew her. Fen was the most direct one of the group and didn’t like joking around.

And I was about to ask what she meant by ‘navigation’ when Mink chimed in from the other side of the room,

“It will. Even traveler portals can hone in on this location with no error.”

The winged girl was busy attaching cables and hoisting objects three times her size with ease. She was the most chipper one of the four although frightening when mad. I had seen her plenty of times too, arguing with the others in her team and involuntarily conjured embers around her.

It took me a moment to gather that they were clearing the center of the room, setting up a circular platform with a crystal on a pedestal in the middle of it.

Lily, the violet girl, was the only one wearing her uniforms coat and hat here. She moved from one end of the room to the other, a hand-held screen in her gloved hands. The violet girl was prissy and didn’t like talking to any of us that weren’t on her team.

“Quit moving so much! The signal is fine!” Mink snarled out, tossing a large metal box to the side with a narrowed glance.

“Precision is key for this, reptile,” The violet girl matched the others stare. Having been around these girls for nearly a month now, the hierarchy had become clear. Fen was their head leader with Lily at the second. The winged girl would pout some but ultimately give in.

This time she didn’t.

Everything is perfect now get the hell out of the way!”

At the outburst, flames erupted from Mink’s skin, dissipating quickly. It was enough of an effect for Lily to not sneer back, large eyes unblinking for a moment and mouth shut into an emotionless line. She moved out of the center of the room, joining Fen at her side. She was stunned and probably a little bit annoyed. Still she remained silent.

“All right, we’re just about ready,” Fen spoke, breaking the tension and finally looking up from her screen. Her tired eyes drifted to Cal and I, a disapproving stare before she lifted a hand to wave us away,

“You guys are done for now.”

“Oh, thank the cosmos…” Caliber heaved a sigh of relief and left.

I wasn’t easily warded off.

“What about my robot? You said if I set up the third floor with those stabilizers you’d-”

“Can’t you see we’re a little busy here?” Fen snapped, attention back to the glowing screen. A final metal crate was moved and tossed against the wall with a heavy thud. Mink cheerfully cried out before I could retaliate,

“Cleared! Let’s start!”

Fen’s fingers danced over the screen and instantly the lights dimmed. There was a strange humming, growing into a steady pulse. The lights began to flicker as the platform and pedestal were engulfed in a white light, all power being drawn to that very spot. Mink took a place by Lily, looking over the girls shoulder to the other contraption in her hand. I jumped backwards when the lights around us shut off, a great hiss in the wake of a crack of energy. The pedestal remained illuminated with the gem reflecting a myriad of colors across the room. A pressure in the air began to form as well, reminiscent of a rising powerful wind. It felt like if you could leap into the air, you would remain there, suspended for a moment or two. I wasn’t floating however and neither were the girls, or anything else in the laboratory. The gem was the only thing that seemed to be affected by the pull of power, seemingly to lift from that pedestal. But it wasn’t actually. It was crumbling away. Soon a glittering cloud hovered above the platform.

I stood mouth agape at the sight, wishing I could record the spectacle. Instead I shivered, suddenly aware of the chill building in the room. Puffs of my heated breath hung in the air.

There was another strong pulse of energy, enough to deafen. Sensation alarming, I clamped my hands over my ears and saw Lily and Fen do the same. Mink didn’t, expression determined as she shoved Fen from the control panel.

The red-head shouted something along the lines of ‘energy becoming dangerous’ but Mink ignored her, typing away until the cloud above the pedestal burst. A ball of light now, it flew at us. All three girls hit the floor, evading successfully. It zipped upward, circled around, power emanating from it enough to knock all the clutter off the desks. It tossed pieces of cords, metal and all kinds of high-tech trinkets into the air. Zooming around the room for another moment, it seemed to finally settle on a path and jolted toward me. I dove to the floor, it missing me entirely but collided into the wall, dissipating.

The lights flickered on as we remained crouched on the floor, looking to the space the ball of light ran into.

“You lizard brained tailed refuse!” Lily shrieked, getting to her feet just to stomp. Mink growled and stood as well, hands in fists,

“The crystal was weak! I told you that to ground one of them you need something stronger!”

“That is why I was against this! You’re a reckless monster!” The violet girl fumed.

“Stop calling me a monster! Inbred!” The winged-girl shook violently, heat rising in a radius around her. Lily’s expression twisted from shock to abhorred rage. But instead of yelling at Mink she switched targets.

“Fen! I demand you return this creature to headquarters! Insubordinate!” She cried, attention fully to the red-headed girl, arms crossed and lips pursed small. Fen took a heavy breath, hand to her temple and irritation across her features.

“It’s looking for a stronger container so luckily for us, our volunteer Ruger here set up the Rift stabilizers,” She explained with a partial clenched jaw,

“It won’t be able to leave the castle.”

Without object and rebuttal, Mink ran from the room.

“Damn it Mink!” Fen grumbled and was about to go after her when she stopped, turning an incredulous glower toward Lily. The violet girl was still cross and held her head up in the air.

“I refuse!” She simply put and the red-head had no choice but to look to me. Fen offered a subtle smirk beneath her agitation, knowing she didn’t have to ask.

“What is that thing exactly?”I inquired instead and see her toss her hands up in exasperation,

“This isn’t the time for this!”

Fen took off out of the room, taking the same path after Mink. I wavered a moment and ran after them. Inwardly, I mused knowing I wouldn’t want to miss this anyways but a little bothered at not being able to document every part of this. A journal entry could work fine but a video could show the unbelievable truth more clear.

Sunny’s eyes would shine the brightest I had ever known…

It wasn’t difficult to follow after the orb of energy, lights flickering in it’s wake. We ran to a cross road, looking right and left for the blinking signal. Both directions were still. Mink was running back to us from the left corridor and didn’t stop to talk. Rushing ahead she explained all the way,

“It can pass through walls; it must have gone into one of these rooms!”

With a hand already turning the knob on the nearest door, she flung it open and practically launched herself into the room.

And then she fell.

The light in the hall barely illuminated the rooms threshold. The rest however was pure emptiness. A blank void. There were no sounds.

I peered into that hollowness, eyebrows furrowing.

“She can fly, right?” I asked, looking to Fen for some kind of reasonable answer. Instead she tilted her head, an ear twitching and lips pursed to one side,

“Eh, I’m sure she’s fine…”

The red-haired girl turned away, moving quickly to the other rooms in the corridor. One by one we opened them but found nothing notable. There were no clues that the powerful energy orb had been anywhere here. For something that vaguely seemed dangerous, I wondered what this experiment meant to prove. What I gathered about O.U.R.S. itself was that they were primarily scholars. Information gatherers… Someone like me.

“Is there an O.U.R.S. division on every planet?” I let slip my inquiry, shutting a rooms door that only held discarded garments. To my surprise, Fen responded,

“Some do. Not many.”

She opened the last door in the corridor, peering in then jumped wide-eyed. Something began to crash down behind the door and I ran to help her close it.

“So this castle is the Rift’s headquarters establishment?” I further asked with a soft pant, back to the door and using all my strength to shut it while things crashed through. Pieces of glass shattered across the floor. Another burst of strength we managed to shut the door and took a small moment to breathe. Fen slowly turned her narrowed eyes to me and scoffed lightly,

“What? You planning on joining?”

She kicked off from the door, seeming more perturbed than she was letting on. I followed after her, spouting,

“Well yeah? If I could. I’d like to see other worlds out there! Learn their lore! Like what you guys do!”

“It’s not that fascinating,” Fen explained simply with a shrug, walking still and eyes ahead,

“And you’re not qualified.”

W-what?” I stuttered, taken aback and halting in my tracks, “Why am I not qualified?”

Fen stopped walking, turning slightly, hands in her pockets while she held back a yawn. There was an even greater expression of annoyance on her exhausted face. Still she went further with a deep sigh,

“Did you know of O.U.R.S.’ existence before finding yourself here?”

“No…” I trailed, heart sinking suddenly.

“Then you’re not qualified,” Fen dead-panned, shifting again to lead the way, adding,

“Now, hurry up. If it didn’t go into one of these rooms, it must have traveled to the room above.”

I asked nothing else as we trekked upstairs, still shaken by the news somewhat. Fen had said I could be a volunteer for O.U.R.S. Still the quick and callow delivery the red-head gave was noted. I wondered if all of O.U.R.S. operated this way… Or if it was just Fen.

“This should be the room directly above the hallways,” She grumbled, waving a hand to the double doors in front of us.

“I’ve been in this room,” I said, wondering it’s significance, “I don’t remember seeing something that could attract the orb here…”

As I made to open the rooms door, hand reaching for the metal knob, stumbling footfalls reached our ears. Fen and I turned to find Mink, out of breath, ripping vines from her limbs and pulling leaves from her clothing. She shook and smoothed her black hair down but still looked haggard from wherever she had come from. My best guess was that something probably tried to eat her. And I didn’t have time to ask.

“For something like this, a Tether can be anything – an item resembling something important to the ‘used to be’,” The winged girl explained, preening still but steadfast. Fen glowered but said nothing, moving forward to push me out of the way. She tossed open the doors, a hand from her lab-coat pocket pulling out a green gem. It illuminated the darkroom beyond the doorway in a green hue with a simple press of her finger. As I had said, I had been in that room before – undisturbed and relatively vacant. Shelves great and small lined walls, extended over rugs that lead to a few tables, chairs and a sofa. Scattered around this room were tomes. Old books in foreign languages remained here, forgotten. I had eagerly scanned through them once and hoped to come back here once my robot was fixed. It was something I was in awe over and wanted to understand, completely. But until then, I wanted to understand the man standing in that darkness.

Mink moved slowly, walking beyond the light in Fen’s hand. She disappeared into the shadows, making only a small ruffle of movement as she reached the curtains and threw them open. White light beamed in, landing across the stranger and disturbed the dust. The mans’ figure glinted as his hands cautiously moved to his face. Head tilting back and forth, he was confused by his existence. Fen turned her gems light off, hands sinking into her pockets as she studied the stranger. Mink and her exchanged a few glances, wondering who should talk.

“This isn’t the afterlife I had expected,” The stranger spoke instead. It was an unfamiliar accent; the language too. I wondered how I could understand him when he jolted around to face us. Eyes wide behind thin rimmed glasses, he scowled accusingly,

“No, this isn’t the afterlife… You called me here… You ‘woke’ me up…”

The man flickered and for a moment I could see through him. I opened my mouth in amazement, seeing my breath rise. The cold pin-pricked at my skin.

“What’s your name?” Mink asked, standing by the window still.

With another glower from his violet eyes, the man nearly hissed, “You know this…”

“Where are you from?” The winged-girl continued her instigation and the man flickered again. He watched her from the distance, fury evident in his features. But it quickly turned to a smirk,

“You know that too.”

Fen let out a heavy breath, switching her stance with an agitated click of her tongue,

“All right Isaac… What do you remember of the afterlife?”

The man flickered once more, smirk melting into a dazed expression. He moved his hollow eyes from Mink, to me, and then Fen.

“It was…” He started, fading in and out more rapidly now, “It was my home…”

With a shimmering hand, he gripped at something in front of his chest. Isaac shuddered, mouth opening wide in a ghastly scream but no noise rang out. The look set my hair on end, ominous. It was his death. And then he disappeared.

Mink and Fen shifted in silence while I couldn’t move at all. Finally the winged girl took initiative, moving forward to pick something up from the floor, where the specter had stood. It was a small metal cylinder with a pointed end – a writing tool. Mink looked the object over, eyebrows furrowed until she noticed Fen glaring across the distance. The red-haired girl put out her hand expectantly,

“We’ll send it to headquarters for further examination.”

She continued in a placid tone, “Congratulations Mink, the experiment was a success.”

“But I still had questions…” The winged girl began but stopped, remembering her place. Mink nodded her head sullenly and handed the object over. Fen then jumped her sharp eyes to me, making me flinch from their ferocity.

“Your continued efforts are noted Ruger. So you’ll get your bot back soon enough but unfortunately any and all files contained are property of O.U.R.S. now,” The girl spoke, nonchalant for the most part but I could tell she was hiding a small sneer.

“What? But you said I’d get it back, repaired even,” I stumbled out and the girl clicked her tongue again.

“Look, that robot normally would’ve been property of O.U.R.S. too but luckily they don’t have use for such out-dated tech so just be grateful you’ll even have that rust-bot,” Fen growled with a shake of her head turning to leave.

“That isn’t right! You can’t just take something that doesn’t belong to you!” I shouted, taking a step forward as a burning rage surfaced in my torso. It was unacceptable, baffling. Yet as my voice rose Fen didn’t even twitch, a vacant stare to me and my outburst.

Is this who O.U.R.S. was? I couldn’t believe it however my reeling mind recalled all I saw of the ghost and of myself even. Hadn’t I traveled the dunes of my home-world and stole just the same? Stories, history – I took them. And even though I’d share them with my daughter, I hoarded them all for myself. It was all for my own enjoyment after all. That’s why I traveled. And this was an organization – a whole group dedicated to a cause. A mass collector.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

“If you wish to continue volunteering you can. Perhaps one day you could become qualified?” Fen spouted with her narrowed violet eyes and taunting smirk. It faded quickly though, morphed into a yawn and another mild irritation. The smug girl left, a wake of bitterness in the air after her. I was stuck in stunned silence, going over the words Cal had said before, about us being hostages or some-sort. It didn’t fit right but I couldn’t help wondering what we were to O.U.R.S. They had promised to send us home hadn’t they?

Mink drew near, knocking my thoughts away. Her yellow eyes darted to the still open doors of the library, an anxiousness in her features. She pulled something out from a pocket in her skirt, hand stretching out carefully concealing whatever item she had. I took it, a small metal cube, a red gem in one side, attached to a cord.

“It’s a copy of your files and although I know your robot can’t read it, I’m sure there’s something in this castle you can use,” Mink explained, a compassionate smile breaking from her pensive stare. She then backed away, a finger held up to her lips, meaning silence as she nodded to the door.

I was stunned once more, smiling too but concerned in a way. Just before she was about to leave, I muttered out, “Why?”

Mink stalled in her steps, the finger on her lips turning into a nail being bitten. She looked away, through the doorway and then back to the opened window in the room.

“I suppose,” The winged girl started, eyebrows knotted when she looked to me fully, “I suppose it’s because they found me here too.”

“Oh… wait, how did you end up in O.U.R.S. then?” I asked with a shake of my head, the understanding coming through with more unrelenting questions. But that wasn’t something she would answer, a grin on her face and eyes dancing across the room.

“You should clean this place up,” Mink ignored me, leaning forward in the doorway, ready to flee,

“I’ll ask Quinn to give you a hand!” She spouted, a hand smacking against the frame and she left without another word.

I stared at the spot she had stood, then down to the metal cube in the palm of my hand. Slowly I drifted my eyes to the opened window, back out to that mysterious forest, the strange moons. The dust swirled in the light as did the questions through my mind. There was still awe of course. I still wanted to understand.

I sighed.

-Ruger

————————————————————————————-

Part 3: Caliber the Nuisance

I needed to see what was going to happen. Watching the spectacle unfold, even though I didn’t know the language only made it more intriguing. From one event to the next, the drama escalated, the characters made more sense, complex and emotive – the green man confessed something out to the blue woman with six breasts and suddenly the signal had cut out.

“Damn it!” I cursed, dropping the handful of salty snacks across my chest. With energy I hadn’t used in the past ten episodes, I dusted off those crumbs and marched to the flickering metal box. Grabbing a cushion from one of the nearest sofas I was about to bash the stupid thing when the door rocketed open. Ruger grunted, holding as best as he could the arm of yet another couch they had discovered somewhere else in the castle.

“Cal, can you give Quinn a hand?” He strained and nodded his head toward the other end of the new sofa.

“I’m pretty busy right now,” I mumbled back, turning to the metal box, black and white specks across it’s screen. A few hits with the pillow and I could nearly make out the blue woman.

“Well can you at least help me push this against that wall over there?” Ruger panted, the sofa now in the room as well as Quinn. The kid glowered to me but said nothing, taking in deep breaths.

With a roll of my eyes, I dropped the cushion and went to help,

“Sure, you guys ruined the momentum anyways…”

After helping Ruger place the new sofa in an empty spot in this room they creatively named, the ‘couch room’, I figured they would leave. But they didn’t. As I settled myself back in my spot in front of the flashing box, Ruger and the kid dropped down at my sides. Quinn took the controller and immediately started flipping through screens. Ruger leaned down to my bag of chips and took a handful for himself.

He ate a chip. Quinn changed the channel.

With a purposeful grunt, I crossed my arms and spit out,

“Don’t you have anywhere else better to be? Doing more chores for our kidnappers?”

Chip. Channel. Chip. Channel.

“This sofa was the last thing we needed to do,” Quinn spoke out at last, head tilting slightly to me but eyes dancing across the screen.

“Cal, they’re not kidnappers…” Ruger combated, attention fully on me, eyebrows furrowed in that irritating condescending expression. He seemed to smile between chip bites.

“You’re only saying that because of whatever that thing was that they injected into our skulls…” I returned with a thought I had mulling about in my mind. It didn’t make much sense to me how calm he was to all this.

“You got it too,” He pointed out with a quirk of his brow.

“Maybe I’m immune, or it’s malfunctioning. You think I want to sit here wasting my time? I should be escaping!” I tossed out my ideas but only earned another skeptical look from Ruger.

“Maybe you’re just lazy,” Quinn remarked with an amused glance to me before darting her eyes back to the television box.

The heat rose beneath my skin. Ruger eyed me over, essentially saying what he always said, ‘don’t curse out the kid.’ I bit my tongue instead on that and snatched back my snacks. Nodding my head toward Quinn in the most subtle way I could manage, I added in a mutter,

“Maybe your kind is used to seeing others like that but where we’re from this is abnormal.”

The understanding was clear in Ruger’s eyes. I had explained it to him before to not trust Quinn, even if she was just a kid. He and I are from the same world. It was easily plausible that those O.U.R.S. Agents could enlist her as a non-threatening informant or something. Ruger shook his head and pursed his lips. With a finger out towards the bag in my hands he said,

“I’m pretty sure you being lazy is from all your snacks.”

With that final snide comment, I jumped to my feet and slammed the snack bag down, scattering food and crumbs around us.

“Then I’ll do this alone! I’ll escape and the both of you can work for O.U.R.S. the rest of your lives!” Shouting, I stomped my foot on the bag just to make my point. More pieces broke and shot across the floor in further directions. There were small crunches as I moved toward the front door of the room, jaw clenched and my hands in fists. I’m barely out the door when I hear the two scuttling, rushing after me. Turning on foot and smirking with a hand on my hip, I sneered,

“Oh so now you do believe that we’re prisoners here? What a coincidental change of heart.”

“No, I still think that’s stupid. I just want to see what you’re going to do,” Quinn spouted, matter-of-fact, a half-hidden smirk beneath a fake expression of concern.

“Damn, I can’t record this – Roku is charging…” Ruger commented before I could retaliate.

“I thought you said Roku is self-charging?” Quinn asked, large eyes in wonder.

“Normally if there was a sun, but you know…. The rift,” He explains with a shrug and the kid knowingly nods. It was always the perfect excuse. Something I was more than suspicious over but one I didn’t know how to make sense of. That one I was also sure that not even those O.U.R.S. Agents could explain. The rift just never made sense.

“Call it stupid all you want, but I’ll find a way back home,” I snarled out at last, marching ahead of the two. The room I figured was the best place to investigate was a floor above. It was an obvious way out and probably guarded somehow. With the two following me, I figured that if I had to I could use Quinn as a diversion.

“Speaking of the Rift, Cal, you never told us what happened to you when you were lost in the castle for that first month we got here?”

“It was about three weeks,” Ruger corrected, interrupting again before I could speak.

Maybe I’d sacrifice him as well…

“Really? I thought it was more? He didn’t show up for meals until we had picked our rooms,” Quinn wondered out-loud, her footsteps along side Ruger at my back. I tried to pick up my pace but they were still right behind me… Talking…

“That’s because he found one of those machines that held food in one of the storage rooms. He held up there until it ran out.”

“Wow. I don’t know if I would’ve eaten Rift food…”

“If you remember, he wasn’t feeling all too good for a week after that-”

Coming to an abrupt stop, ears burning and uncontrollably shaking I spun around to yell at the two. But I cut myself off when their wide-eyes looked past me. Turning quickly I fell backwards as something was swung at my head. Hitting the floor hard, Quinn and Ruger finally shouted out in alarm. We scrambled back from the stranger towering over us, a large metal knife in hand.

“Ah, my apologies simple peasants, I misjudged the shrieks of a beast with your fellow orange-haired boor,” The man chuckled great and deep, swinging that broad blade to his armored shoulder. He was tall and large, fit beneath shinning metal plates attached to leather harnesses across his frame. With long strawberry-blonde hair, he beamed bright white teeth through his grin.

“Would any of you mind to direct me to the ruler of this kingdom? I wish to carry forth a quest and slay all manner of beasts from this land!” The man flicked his cloak back as he spoke, hand coming to his hip as he unnecessarily chortled.

“I… Don’t understand what he means…” Ruger commented softly.

“I think he means O.U.R.S.,” Quinn reasoned, leading me to scoff.

“How are we able to understand him?” Was the question muttered at my back as I took initiative and marched forward to the smiling man.

“Oh, you don’t want to meet them; they’re rulers all right but beasts themselves!” I cried with a shake of my head and a hand out to caution the stranger.

“You’re not just servants but prisoners of these tyrannical creatures?” The man spoke, flabbergasted and smile falling into a determined scowl. With a deep breath, an exaggerated sigh, I fell to my knees in a plea,

“They work us til exhaustion and punish if we falter! Save us, oh, kind hero!”

“You’re not seriously playing along with this….” Quinn mumbled and I quickly darted my head to the kid. Daring him to stop me, she merely laughed and shielded a wide grin.

“This isn’t going to go well,” Ruger countered, expression worried as ever but only made silent with Quinns’ eagerness.

“My good sir, allow me to ease your burdens,” The stranger comforted, reaching down and dragged me back to my feet, large hands squeezing my arms too tightly. He continued in a deafening bellow,

“Nay, I shall free you all! For I am Jack the Demon-slayer! And it is my duty as such to vanquish beasts and guard all that is innocent!”

My ears are ringing as I stood still until he let me go. The man, Jack apparently, gave a hearty laugh and swooshed away further down the hallway without even asking where to go. Ruger and Quinn neared while I did my best to nurse my aching ear drums. Quinn was grinning still until Ruger passed her another concerned expression. The girl visibly reasoned with that stare, nodding before shrugging, unsure of what outcome could happen.

“Both of you shouldn’t care so much,” I grumbled, hearing feeling normal again and waving off the direction Jack had went,

“Now is the perfect time to escape!”

“But they could get hurt,” She spoke, the quick turn from excitement to apprehension evident in her fumbling fingers.

“Good, not like they wouldn’t deserve it,” Letting out my final comment on the matter, I picked up the pace, rushing however I could to the room I knew held an exit out of this place, the actual Rift itself: the ‘portal’ room.

The room was the last one on the third floor of the west corridor. It was the first storage room cleared out in the early months of our stay here. Neither Fen or any of the other agents ever actually said we weren’t allowed there but they never asked us to help out what was eventually put there. I overheard them call it the ‘portal’ room – whatever that means. And now we all knew it as that as well. It was reasonable enough to understand that ‘portal’ meant a way out and in my various eavesdropping sessions, I had definitely seen them bring out supplies and whatever gear they used through that seemingly empty room. They were hiding an escape there and were smart enough not to say it was off-limits, a misdirection.

I made it to the off-shoot hallway before Quinn and Ruger, slowing my pace to scan the alcove. Other than the door, there was a simple window at the far end. The curtains were pulled back, letting in the strange colors of the light outside. When I finally heard the others footsteps, I darted my head to them from the door, feeling my heart kick into heavy beats.

“None of them have left the castle right?” Asking, my voice caught in my throat a little. I was actually going to escape. The notion made me a little uneasy. Luckily neither of them noticed and it was Quinn who shook her head.

“The last time the lights went out was about two nights ago. Ruger and I had been helping out Lily,” She explained, the definition of ‘nights’ was obviously different for all of us but the agents had found a way to solidify a schedule for all of us. I heard the lunch bell some time ago during my shows so I knew for sure that no one was going to come out of that room.

“Keep an eye out,” I ordered to either of them, turning quickly to the distinctly plain door and knob. My thoughts were that it couldn’t be that simple and it was obvious at how hesitant I was to open the door. There had to be a trap or lock or something here.

“I’m worried about the others,” Ruger mumbled softly some distance away. I didn’t bother to look.

In a deep breath, I lunged out to grasp the knob and instantly flinched back as sparks shot into the air. It didn’t hurt, but it also didn’t feel good.

“What the hell?” Breathing out, stunned, I tried again and out of reflex, slammed my fist into the door.

“What happened?” Quinn asked, her footsteps near again as I hid my aching hand, flexing my fingers.

“It’s electrical or something,” Grumbling I didn’t even have to touch the metal as visible beams of light jumped out to me. I ripped my hand back as Quinn shoved me out of the way, quizzical.

Ruger came in close to inspect it too.

“Like a small shock?”

“A deterrent.”

They discussed and the notion set my blood boiling again. It was clear to me and it had to be for them too now,

“What did I say? Why would they do that if they weren’t trying to make sure we wouldn’t leave? They’re never going to let us go.”

The two exchanged glances, not saying anything for a moment. My point was made.

“If it really is electrical, I could find a way around it,” Ruger said at last, earning a grin from me. Home was closer, I knew it. But it didn’t matter when a rumble echoed through the halls. The lights flickered, out of sync of their normal pattern and another rumble soon followed.

“Do you think it’s Jack?” Quinn wondered out, tension rising in her voice. The two looked back out of the small hallway and watched for any further flickering.

“Perfect, he’ll distract them so we can figure this out,” I tried waving back to the door and quickly groaned as the two rushed off after the noise.

“Damn it…” Tumbled out my mouth as I grudgingly chased after them. It wasn’t hard to follow and figure out what room that ‘Demon-slayer’ went to. Especially when the scent of smoke led the way. Another dark cloud wafted from the open door of the lab room and a crack of electricity rand into the air. There was a shriek and Quinn yelling for whatever was happening to stop. I stood at the threshold, waving away the smoke and looked in to the chaos. The standard clutter of the lab was more of debris now, those large machine crackled with dimming lights. Large scratches were etched across them And there was Jack, swinging wildly towards Lily. The violet girl ducked and scrambled, flinging gadgets at her assailant while Fen screamed at her to stop. Fen was fumbling with some sort of weapon, cylindrical, and gripped in both her hands. Ruger was standing awkwardly at her side, looking about to run at her but not actually moving. It was as if he was frozen in place.

“Stop destroying everything!” Fen screamed, looking up from the device in her hands. She smacked it just as Jack swung at Lily again. It missed her but raked across a screen, sending glass through the air.

“Surrender violet witch! Although your dainty frame is pleasing to the eyes, I know what foul deeds thou has committed!” Jack blared and laughed, swinging that metal cleaver down into the counter-top.

“Jack! Stop!” Quinn pleaded when Lily pulled her forward as a shield and tossed her between them.

“Who is this dirt for brains!?” The violet-haired girl shrieked, grabbing another metal gadget and tossing it towards the stranger.

“Lillian! Stop destroying my work!” Fen shouted slinging the device to her side and placing a hand on her hip with a scowl.

“Me?! This madman is the one doing all that! He’s the one that started it!” Lily cried right back in irritation. She fumed and ran around the counters, flinging whatever she could while Jack ran after her and Quinn shouted out apologies in vain.

“This is our fault! We thought he was harmless!” She wailed, climbing onto the counter to move between Lily and Jack once again.

“What?!” The two agents screamed in commonality, listening to her at last.

“Do not hide behind a shield of your cursed servants, beasts! My blade knows your vileness!” Jack cried with a laugh and actually managed an attack. His giant knife swung around, missing Lily really but managed to knock into whatever she threw at him. It connected and shot right back at the girl. Lily fell to the floor, face pink where the device hit her.

“Lily! I’m so sorry!” Quinn winced, rushing to aid the violet girl.

Jack meanwhile stood akimbo for a moment, relishing in the defeat before turning toward Fen. The long eared girl snarled,

“You imbeciles!”

Hoisting that strange weapon upwards, she readied for the attack, hitting some switch on the devices side. It whirred and blinked to life, pulling in smoke from the nearby machines. The grinning maniac ran straight for her, cape trailing behind him. He kept his knife back, powering up just as the weapon in Fen’s hands did as well. In a bright light it shot something out. And then it exploded.

Jack’s blade effortlessly sliced through Fen’s machine. The blast however knocked everyone back. I clenched onto the door frame as the wave subsided. Blinking through the smoke I could see Quinn huddled still by Lily’s side, Ruger on the ground but still frozen strange and Fen crumbled against the far wall, clothing and hair singed. Jack stood in the center of all this mess and just laughed.

“And thus another quest completed! Tremble all before Jack the Demon-slayer!” He yelled, turning on foot with a dramatic wave of his cape. He marched toward me still in the doorway. Stopping for a moment, he smiled, grey eyes definitely bright with some-sort of madness.

“Fret not humble peasant, I’ve slain the witches who’ve held thou captive. Thou art free!”

“Um, thanks? But there are four of them…” I explained, unsure of the intensity in his stare.

“Ah, then we are halfway there! A Demon-slayer’s quest is naught from complete!” Jack spoke, moving quickly and back down the hallway.

“Why didn’t you stop him?!” Quinn cried, running up to me, fury in her expression.

“Look, no one got hurt! C’mon, we can use this,” I tried to reason without saying out-loud what I actually meant. It was important to keep what we were doing secret after all. Even with Quinn and Ruger’s unstable loyalty…

Peering back into the room I could see Fen had gotten up and was moving listlessly to each broken device in the room. There were tears in her eyes as she mumbled sort of hard to hear, patting somberly and picking up what she could,

“All those hours… The projects… My work…”

“What’s wrong with Ruger?” I asked, wondering but stumbled backwards as Lily stormed forward, violet eyes glimmering ire. She practically tossed Quinn out to my side, pointing at us both. Her face was still pink and red in some places, the shape of a screw was in her cheek,

“This is both of your faults! Now solve it!”

“It was Caliber who told Jack to come after you guys! We were just trying to get into the portal room!” Quinn confessed in a panicked rush. My blood boiled and I was ready to yell at the kid when Lily’s voice screeched over mine,

“I don’t care! It is your responsibilities, so fix this!”

She pushed at the two of us again then slammed the door shut in our faces without further argument.

I scoffed, crossing my arms and narrowing my eyes over Quinn,

“You’re not just a pest, you’re a narc…”

Quinn looked about ready to retaliate, hands in fists at her sides but she said nothing. The kid started walking towards the same direction Jack had left without me. I followed after her with a roll of my eyes. In the very least, watching the agents scramble around is sort of fun…

Luckily it didn’t take long to find the ‘Demon-slayer’ and his next victims. His obnoxiously booming voice could be heard through the corridors. We were lead to the lobby, first floor and side door to the kitchen. We entered the room to find a stand-off between Jack at one end and Icabod and Mink at the other. The winged girl was unamused, in front of the cooking stove with a knife in hand. Icabod stared blankly at Jack as he roared out,

“Surrender foul beasts! Or face the deaths of yourselves at the hands of I!”

The strawberry-blonde held out his sword between them, flaring back his cloak purposefully.

“Do you know this person?” Icabod asked Mink, not the least put off or threatened.

“Not a clue, but I don’t appreciate the sword in my face…” The winged girl remarked, unlike Icabod, and ready for the fight. She flung little bits of vegetable from her knife and reached back for a cleaver.

“Cal! Do something! This is your fault anyways!” Quinn chimed out with a harsh elbow in my side.

You say something, they’re your friends aren’t they?” I grumbled out, admittedly at a loss and still somewhat curious on how this will turn out,

“He’s a psycho – he’ll probably believe anything you tell him with that weird way he talks.”

“Jack! Stop! They’re friends!” She cried just as the guy swings his blade. Mink is quick, evading with a small flap of her wings. The winged girl moved about the kitchen, warding the ‘Demon-slayer’ backwards with parries and dodges. It seemed like she was enjoying it too. Icabod however looked flustered, trying to figure out what to do. At one point he lunged himself at Jack to hold him back or something, but the ‘Demon-slayer’ planted a boot in his chest and the vampire was sent tumbling to the floor. Mink jumped onto the stove top as he’s distracted, flinging a knife at the stranger. Jack is nearly hit, moving fast as the knife tore through his cloak and embedded itself into the ground behind him. He grinned,

“You’re a worthy beast! But a monster nonetheless – I shall strike thee down!”

At the word ‘monster’, Mink steamed, little embers appearing at her feet. That was my favorite to call her and I knew she hated it immensely. I smiled, about to laugh, loving the fight. Quinn was staring at me, accusingly. Pressing my lips thin, I tried to look concerned. The kid had had enough however, running forward to intervene. She was about to stand between the two when the ‘Demon-slayer’ had already begun to move. I watched it unfold, Quinn tripping slightly to not run into the guy and ended up latching onto Jack’s cape. The force ripped Jack backwards so suddenly not even Mink could evade completely. The top of one of her horns was caught and sliced clean off. She stumbled, tumbling off of the stove and toppled over a large pot of water all over herself. The spilled water sizzled around Mink, a new wave of fury beneath her matted bangs. She cursed something under her breath and jumped up to lunge at Jack with that large cleaver still held in one hand. Icabod’s long white arms wrapped around Mink’s torso, pulling her back as his shirt was simultaneously soaked and singed by the fire springing up around her.

“Feel the pain of defeat beasts! And tremble back to your lairs for this day belongs to the innocents!” The ‘Demon-slayer’ spoke and let out a mighty guffaw. He turned then to Quinn, half-kneeling on the floor where she fell. Whether or not Jack was aware that he had missed because of the kid was unclear. Either way, Jack grinned and held out a hand to help her up,

“My boy, you were brave! I shall make you my apprentice as thanks for ridding your home of these vile creatures!”

The expression on Quinn’s face varied between each of the strawberry-blonde man’s words. Finally it settled on pure confusion, mouth moving but no words coming out.

“Come boy, the day is done and we have training to do for tomorrows evils!”

Without pausing, the ‘Demon-slayer’ laughed and sheathed his weapon, striding out of the room, guiding an apprehensively lost Quinn.

“Hm, delusional but not entirely violent,” Said a smooth and husky voice nearby, making my heart jump in my chest. I staggered back as Icabod fell to the floor, bowing at his masters feet. My hair stood on end as the girl appeared from the shadows, arms crossed.

“I found him wandering the castle, stuck in a vortex loop and corridor maze… I apologize, Mink, for the mess he’s caused,” Anabelle remarked that wasn’t really much of an apology. But she continued, pulling down her round red-tinted spectacles to peer over at me,

“He slipped by me and must have found a narrative to act out by our meddlesome Caliber here.”

The stare sent shivers up my spine.

“I-it’s not my fault he’s crazy,” I tried to counter that is cut short when Mink stomps toward me, stopping not even a step away to peer up with blazing golden eyes.

The sight is too funny however, I didn’t even try to hide my smirk,

“There is no doubt in my mind that there is nothing any of you can do to me. I’m stuck here. What more could any of you do? Chores? Like Ruger and Quinn? Ha, I’m not doing anything you tell me because there is nothing you can do about it.”

Pausing I motioned to Icabod mopping up the water on the floor, pointing at his subservience. I’m not like them and I’d rather they knew that.

With a sudden motion Mink reached up, grabbed my hair and yanked it down. The pain was quick as was the rage,

“What the hell you bitch?!”

To which she merely rolled her eyes, turning away and muttered,

“Such a pain.”

Mink left the room, boots squeaking and dripping water.

“That was it? Really?” I scoffed out-loud, goading them on, knowing they couldn’t do a thing. As the door swung shut I looked back to find Anabelle and Icabod were already gone. I stood alone in the kitchen for a few moments. It was a small victory… Wasn’t it?

I walked back to the couch room. The hallways were empty, of commotion or noise even. It was like nothing happened. There was no punishment. I was right about that because what else could be done to make me more miserable?

Plopping myself back into my spot on the couch, thankful there wasn’t a single person around, I reached for the remote. Pressing the power button on without thought, there was no noise emanating from the metal box. No buzz of electricity or static. I stared at the newly broken screen, a cooking cleaver in it’s side. Pressing my lips together, I mumbled out with a click of my tongue,

“Damn it.”

– Caliber

————————————————————————————-

Part 4: Lucian the Adventurer

Yawning to the early morning sun, I felt my lips crack and sting. Wincing through the small pains awakening over my body as I hoisted myself up from the bed of my boat, I stretched then let out a heavy sigh. This wasn’t the first time I forgot to tie my boat to the dock. I reasoned myself with a pep talk about starting my day with a swim and leapt into the water, rope in hand. It was mid-afternoon by the time I made it back to town, out of breath and ravenous. After tying my boat down, I decided to fetch myself a meal, look into the shops and pick up on the days gossip. This was my life, aimless and free. Another town meant another day – of treasure troves, of information and riches. I did well because of my skill. And I did even better because of what I was.

The mix of spices and fresh cooked fish pulled me deep into the markets. They were crowded and lively, tended by those who never wanted more than that. I could understand that typical life, yet I’d never be envious.

“My good sir, what would you like?” Asked an old man beyond a vending counter. He stopped short, recognizing me instantly, “Ah, I see. Two raw?”

I nodded, smiling courteously although he wasn’t as keen to his pleasantries as before. It wasn’t something off-putting or insulting, but a mere acknowledgment of who we both were. I paid the man without any other traded words and headed towards the thrift shops. My last haul wasn’t much to work with so I purchased new fishing supplies in case my luck wouldn’t turn around and headed for the tourist trinket shops. Word has always traveled fast but here they moved faster than the mouths that spoke it.

But I couldn’t catch the gossip as a loud explosion diverted my attention and oddly piqued my interest. Smoke rose from a hole in a nearby store. As I finished my meal, I stared at the building in wonder. It had been a novelty shop before, hadn’t it? The place was a mess with shattered pots and the cracks across its’ sooted windows. I could hear high pitched screaming from inside. Behind me a few curious others stood thinking and wondering as I was. But they wouldn’t dare approach.

So I did it instead. As I walked to the door, I noticed a small crude sign labeled “New Technologies” against a crate. It was fair enough to assume it was the new store sign. I figured I should meet the new owners and reached out to grab the handle. Hardly even touching it however the door fell in and let loose a plume of dark smoke. Another second, unable to see inside, I waved away the smoke and coughed.

At last I could see, behind a desk at the other side of the room stood a red-haired marsupal person with large amethyst eyes. She coughed violently, looking none too pleased. Snapping to she raved and shouted back to someone in some foreign tongue then spotted me.

“Hello good sir, welcome to our new shop. It’s a grand opening and a new day for this town to discover the ground breaking technologies we have to sell!” The girl spoke with a devious grin then suddenly disappeared under the counter. I approached curious and nearly jumped as she reappeared, lifting a large box with metal rope hanging from it.

“You seem like a fisherman, no? This is just the thing for you-”

“Why don’t you let the customer speak for themselves instead of assuming his occupation?” Interrupted an imp-girl, emerging from the back room, carrying a crate twice her size. She laughed and plopped down the crate, shaking the floorboards beneath my feet. The marsu-person glared at the imp-girl as she gave her sales pitch,

“Good sir, have you ever went into sunken caverns, looking for treasure and couldn’t find a way through collapsed rock and rubble? Try underwater bombs! They’ll explode in and out of water!”

I made to speak when the marsu-person chimed in agitated,

“He’s a fisherman, you dolt.”

“You could fish with explosives too,” The imp-girl claimed with a small growl.

“Explode them? He would probably blow himself up with how volatile they are! Look what you did to our supply room!”

The two of them glowered at each other and spat out insults in that foreign language I heard earlier.

“Fen!” A fair and plump long-eared girl ran into the room with quill and paper in hand, “With the merchandise Mink just destroyed, the supplies we brought are ruined and we’ll barely break even! And we can’t even rebuild using-” The girls voice rose sharper and incoherent as she blubbered and sobbed.

“See! I told you! Work on your bombs in the ally way!” The marsu-person, Fen, shrieked.

“But it smells back there…” Pouted the imp-girl, defeated. She quickly hoisted her crate and trudged into the other room.

I heard a door open to my right and turned to see a lithe pale figure enter the room. She flicked back her sand-colored hair and licked something red from her fingers,

“I took care of the owners…”

Her startled red eyes locked to me,

“…Tomato plants…”

By simply her voice, strange dialect even, my heart skipped beats. I forgot where I was, what was happening really and even my reason for being here.

“The Gods could’ve never crafted such a creature from the moons light on a tranquil sea… Not for me…”

My mind was racing too quick that I hadn’t realized the words flowing from my mouth. It was the silence that snapped reality back into place. I pulled my eyes away from the quiet pale-woman, drifting them over her friends to look anywhere else! Fen shook her head, tending to her crate of tech and the long-earred girl stifled a laugh with pursed lips. I had nowhere to look, feeling cold and hot all of a sudden so I chanced another look at the woman in front of me. Her expression was flat, serene almost. She walked past me and went to the counter.

“Ah, um!” I panicked and rushed forward, “I mean… Will you become date with me?!”

My heart sank as I astounded myself with the absurd words I spoke. I tried to stop my stupidity by clamping my hand over my mouth. The long-eared girl giggled.

“Smooth the first time, bub,” Fen didn’t even bother looking away from her tech. The red-eyed girl scowled but said nothing. She, perhaps taking pity, moved toward me instead. Her thin fingers grasped my shoulder with such a grip and guided me out of the building. Without expression, voice, and further acknowledgment, she went back into the store, effectively throwing me out.

It took all my effort to not redeem myself, to push my rigid limbs back into function. I marched to the nearest bar to nurse my ego. The day was pretty much a let down but luckily I always knew how to pick myself back up. Sitting at the bar, sipping my overly strong drink and chatting it up with a stout and cute barmaid, I settled with the thought that I definitely, at least could turn this around. A fling maybe or something fun for a moment or two. Whatever came my way, I would welcome it.

“The cargo shipment is arriving tonight,” A gruff, deep voice spoke to his comrade at a table nearby. Although the freckled girl beamed and sang something beautifully, my attention was on the voices at my back.

“What’s the shipment supposed to be anyways?”

I pressed a smile and nodded my head to the girl, not hearing a thing she said.

“Something from across the seas, I hard something we’ve never seen here. Something that could change our lively hoods.”

The grin across my face was genuine now, a new excitement thumping through me. I jumped to my feet, wobbling a little and spouting my apologies to the pouting girl. There would have been other nights for her… But not this.

In a blur of bribery and digging up connections, I made it to the docks knowing I’d be the first to find that treasure. Having no one spot me, I jumped into my boat and undid the knot all in quick motions. Time was ticking as I slipped into the water, pulling my boat out from the docks before I climbed aboard again and opened my sail. The moon cast a silver hue over everything, peering time to time from behind dark clouds. I figured the semi-cover would be an advantage for me, a probable storm or shower on the horizon. The air was cool and moist however, not an actual sign of the weather changing. The only thing that made me wonder if it really was an incoming storm was the growing rumble.

I looked back toward shore to see a huge ship barreling toward my own. With no choice, a chance to move out the way even, I dove into the water as my boat was crushed beneath its’ wake. In the swirling darkness, I reached out for something as it moved past me and clung to it desperately. It was the ships anchor, still being pulled from the water. As it was raised, taken back up to the surface, I made for whatever hand-holds the ship had and climbed aboard. Fumbling over the ships railing at last, soaked and gasping for breath, I made a lunge for cover, hiding behind a cluster of barrels and crates.

“Fen!” Called out a familiar voice. I darted my head to the roost and to my amazement found that same long-eared girl from the store.

“I think we hit something!” The girl shouted, looking back to shore through an eyeglass.

“You’re supposed to tell us before we run into something!” The red-head, Fen, grumbled rolling her eyes just as another popped into view from below deck.

“All right! I pulled up the anchor!” The imp-girl dusted off her hands, grinning from ear to ear.

“Good, now go set up the rest of the sails. We need to pick up more speed,” Commanded Fen, making the girl sigh and shrug, going to work without complaint.

It suddenly dawned on me as I wondered just what these girls were up to – where’s the other? I scanned the area until my eyes rested on the pale-lithe frame at the wheel. Her eyes were a bright orange, even from my distance. Fen and the imp-girl were scrambling to and fro, a strange sight to see a ship this large handled by only four persons. It was ridiculous but they were managing and as I stared up at the placid expression the pale-girls face, I wondered just who they were.

“Ha! There’s a thing! I mean, there’s a ship!” Suddenly called out the girl from the roost.

Fen quickly took the pale-girls’ spot at the wheel, nodding to the imp-girl as she passed. The imp-girl then did a peculiar thing, pulling out a strange green gem from her pocket then pressed something at her temple. In a shudder her skin changed, becoming more red and suddenly she had wings!

I had heard of this before…

The winged-girl took a spot by the pale-girl at the ships railing. I watched in awe as the pale-girl all but disappeared and the winged girl took to the sky. In the darkness out at sea I could find the shape of a ship but nothing else.

A few short moments passed and then, from the sky, fell two large crates. Far away shouts and screams drifted to my ears and raced my pulse. At last my mouth went dry as fire erupted from the ship on the horizon. They sound of flapping wings neared and the pale-girl emerged from the darkness. Both were covered in soot.

“You know, I didn’t mean to set the whole ship on fire…” The imp-girl swore, dusting off her clothing.

“Mm-hmm… At least it will be more convincing that brigands sunk their ship -” All at once, the pale-girl stopped speaking and jolted her head to my direction. Her eyes flashed red and she snarled out, “Stow away!”

Immediately I jumped up, fumbling for footing as I knocked into everything around me. I knew who they were and what could happen to me if they captured me. It had been so long since they had come here; nothing entirely bad but neither good too. The rumors remained however.

“It’s that guy from the store,” The long-eared girl announced, jutting out an accusing digit. Fen, Mink, and the pale-girl furrowed their brows towards the wide-eyed girl.

“What? I felt left out up there,” She nervously twitched, twirling a lock of her hair, “And I kind of broke the spyglass…”

“What?!” Fen fumed, hands in fists at her side, “The two of you are going to run our funds dry at this rate!”

“Hey, those explosives were made using my own funds. I don’t use company money as this money-bags does!” The imp-girl defended herself, earning a shocked gasp from the other.

“Ludicrous! I may spend a little more on my own good, but the amount of damage you’ve done over your childish anger issues triples in expenses!” The long-eared girl cried, voice rising sharply.

As the girls continued to argue, I slowly stepped back. I knew my way back to shore, felt at home in the seas even. It was possible to escape. Yet as I turned around, running and ready to leap over the railing, there was a snag on my foot. I tumbled over the side, hitting the outside of the ship then just hung there. The four peered over the railing, each with a look of mild confusion.

“Where ya goin’?” Mink teased innocently, reaching forward to grasp the rope. She grinned the whole while she pulled me back on board. My hands were quickly bound behind my back. The pale-girl stared at me with an empty expression. It set my nerves on end for a moment until I saw her brow twitch. There was pity in her stare.

“Other than Mink here, what else did you see?” Fen asked, glowering toward the imp-girl until she scrambled to find that green gem thing again. She pressed a switch and a beam of light shot out at her throat. In a matter of seconds the beam spread, changing the imp-girl’s skin and hair color. Her wings disappeared beneath the light. She was different than before, skin darker and hair a dark red. If I saw her in town, I would think she was an entirely different person. Only her eyes remained gold.

“You’re them, aren’t you? You’re Hours” I muttered, heavy breathing and eyes scanning across each of their faces.

“Great, he knows his damn history,” Fen grumbled, eyes rolling then looking away with her hands on her hips.

“If he blabs, they’ll know we violated the treaty-” The long-eared girl began to speak, matter-of-fact when the obvious leader shook her head agitatedly,

“Yeah, we all know the treaty Lily! We’re not supposed to be here, least of all taking their resources…”

Fen began to pace a little, thinking of what to do with me. I shuffled forward slightly, mind reeling with uncertainty. All I had learned of Hours was their ‘gifts’; technology far beyond what anyone knew or understood. On my planet, anyways. They were said to have refused to help us, through famine and disasters. We fought to receive aid until finally they gave in, but only enough. They left, vowing to stay away but it was thought that they were always watching.

There was a rumor too that they kidnap us. To study us.

“I know an island, of a treasure! I can lead you to it,” I pleaded, eyes drifting to the pale-girl who simple shook her head.

“Until we think of what to remedy this unfortunate predicament, we should put him below deck. Unless you want him to learn more about us…” She spoke pointedly, earning an audible sigh from Fen. The red-head steamed then hung her head. She waved at Mink to take me away. They wouldn’t listen to me. I worried for this outcome. They didn’t seem entirely dangerous. But the noises of those people on the exploded ship echoed in my mind. And the pale-girls’ red eyes…

I was brought down below the ship, to a far corner among crates and a few goods. There wasn’t much here but there was a partition screen with a light flickering behind it.

“Hey, don’t talk to him okay? Orders,” Mink spoke towards the light, guiding me to a wooden beam. Whoever was behind the partition shuffled some yet obeyed.

“I’m serious, there’s a great treasure out there. The islanders worship it, claim its’ alive. I can take you to them,” I pleaded as the girl tied me to the beam, wrapping it tight and secure. She wouldn’t speak however, lips pressed thin. The girl wouldn’t even look at me. She left in the dim light with the creaking of wood and the swaying of rope.

I didn’t try to call out to the person on the other side of the partition. It was useless. Still, I needed to find a way out. Struggling with the ropes around me for a moment, I grumbled, mocking my own situation,

“I should’ve stayed at the bar… There would be another night? Hmf!”

I then tried to find a comfortable position to stand in, to wait for what would happen to me. My head hit the beam just as the person on the other side of the partition shifted and began to move. There were no footsteps at first, just a ruffling of fabric and then a soft deliberate tap of shoes. It sounded practiced. Like it was unnatural for the being to walk with a sound.

Looking to the edge of the partition, a man emerged with long shadow hair and a tome being played with by his pale hands. His eyes were a bright orange and seemed to glow. Much like that pale-girls’ had.

The man didn’t move closer but I could see the concern on his features. His movements were strange, purposeful, as he scanned me over. It was unnerving in the silence so I licked my lips, willing to plead again and hoping he would listen.

“They won’t harm you, if you’re wondering,” He began instead with a deeply furrowed brow. His accent was beyond strange as were his clothing. Clean and decorated. They were perfect to his frame that moved ever so carefully,

“Although, I’m not sure if you’d prefer that to any other alternatives they could concoct. At least from what I’ve been told…”

I wondered about this man, how he reminded me of the pale-girl. And how he said they. It was obvious he hadn’t meant the small crew upstairs. He meant Hours. That also meant he wasn’t part of that group either, not with how quickly he disobeyed his orders.

“What are you?” I asked out loud, utterly curious but scared at the same time, “You’re like that girl, aren’t you?”

The man drifted his eyes down to the book in his hands, thumbing through pages absentmindedly. It was somber, the way he looked.

“My apologies, I just wanted you to know that you won’t be hurt by them. They’re boisterous, if anything, but they’re decent…”

Much like how Mink refused to look to me, so did this man. He was about to turn away, back to his partition screen when he suddenly dropped to the floor. Bowing before the pale-girl, coming down from above, he didn’t move until she acknowledged him,

“Return to the castle. We won’t be needing you after all.”

“Yes, my Mistress,” The man spoke with a slight glower in his expression. Regardless he moved, disappearing behind the partition screen. A few seconds later a white light shot out, the room suddenly felt a little warmer and then it dissipated. I looked to the pale-woman, her expression empty as she continued to stare at the other side of the partition wall. Her gaze then moved to me, head turning slowly as she began to speak, direct and cool,

“You will show us to this treasure, you will help us retrieve it and there we will let you go.”

“You-you won’t kidnap me?” I stumbled out, a little awestruck at her voice still.

“Do you want to be kidnapped?” She asked in return, a twinge of a grin on her lips. It made me smirk for a moment as well until she began to approach, a small blade in her hand. I tensed as she stopped so close to me, I could see the absence of pupils in her blood-red eyes and felt the ominous air coming from her moon-like white skin.

“What is your name?” She said, silver knife being twirled between her fingers. Her expression was empty yet intense, like a dark rain cloud but with no rain. Just the sound of thunder.

“Lucian…” I whispered out unintentionally; my voice caught in my throat.

Slowly she moved her hands down, knife pointed toward me all the while. Finally the woman put the blade to the ropes and set me free.

“Anabelle,” She said, stowing her knife and turned to the stairwell. I followed her back to the deck above with heavy feet and hair standing on end. Fen and the long-eared girl were already waiting for me, maps, compasses, a sextant and anything else they obviously scrambled up. It was strange, knowing how advanced they were and being utterly lost with what we had. Regardless, I waved it off. I knew the sea and where to go.

And home was always close to me, no matter how far I traveled.

The darkness was well into fading by the time I spotted the silhouette of land, the village I knew. Smoke rose from towers high above the trees. I stood against the railing, by Fen at the wheel, feeling a coolness over my skin. There wasn’t anything in me that wanted to be back here and I was exhausted by my lack of sleep. And there was worry for the truth, echoing in my mind, for Hours even. I rubbed at my eyes for a moment, crossed my arms and looked to Anabelle, calmly gazing past a bickering Mink and Lily, the long-eared girl. The pale-woman pulled up her cloak hood, turning her head to me still empty of expression. Or rather worry. I could read that now. The slight twinge. A pair of black eyeglasses soon covered her stare and we both watched as land slowly came for us.

Our feet had hardly hit the white sand of shore when the village came to meet us. I looked over the faces, unfamiliar yet indistinguishable from what I knew. Sun-bleached hair and marked skin, covered with patterned linens and gems. They recognized me instantly and the matriarch approached.

“’Not many of us left to remember you, perhaps another ten years?’” She chortled with an ending sigh. Her half braided hair hung over her shoulders as did the crinkles in her eyes hung down from her freckled cheeks. I looked back to Fen, Lily, Mink, and Ana, cautiously gauging the situation. My mind hoped they knew the language, knew the story. That strange man below deck told me they wouldn’t harm me, but what about me to them?

“’I came to do what I couldn’t do: make it right,’” I insisted, waving a convincing hand towards the quartet. Lily whispered something to Fen while Mink stood skeptical, watching as the warriors moved around them, spears and hooks in their hands. Only Ana was unfazed, silent as ever beneath her glasses.

“’Then, my son, do what you should have done,’” The elderly woman laughed and cried out to the others. They made a path, began to chant and rose the flames from the towers once more. Home never looked so joyous. Ominous.

“The welcome parties on my home world were similar to this, except more elegant,” Lily remarked with a short tentative smile. Fen rolled her eyes.

“Elegance doesn’t matter if the foods no good,” Mink chimed back, moving toward out-stretched hands, offering meals and drinks. The imp-girl took what she could with a fanged smile on her face that disappeared beneath pieces of fish and bread.

“All food is good if you haven’t eaten in awhile,” Ana spoke pointedly at my side to which Fen scoffed,

“What do you remember about eating food anymore? How long has it been for you? A century nearly?”

“Of my memories, the sweets stand out the most,” Anabelle explained, earning a look of disgust from Mink. The pale-woman smiled, lowering her glasses to peer over at me with those vibrant red eyes, “And I recall enough to know that if you can’t eat, neither can I.”

My hair stood on end once more and my skin remained pin-pricked as I led the quartet to the outskirts of the village. The festivities remained behind us and soon so did the vegetation. We were walled in by beige rock and hit with the heat from the sun, now in the center of the sky. The ground was cracked in places and whatever small creatures that could live out here became more sparse. It was a desolate land I was leading them into. It was danger I was taking Ana to…

“Ugh, I hate this heat…” Complained Lily for the twentieth time so far. She trudged, sliding her heeled boots and kicked at loose flakes.

“What heat?” Mink wondered out loud, hopping from one boulder to the next in some sort of personal challenge, “Like how does it feel?”

“It feels like wetness in places you don’t enjoy being wet,” Fen grumbled, wiping at her brow with the ends of the scarf around her neck. She snapped back too, “And will you stop that, it’s driving me nuts!”

Mink said nothing but did not stop either, leaping further out ahead.

The heat was sweltering, emanating from the ground and passing over my sandled feet. I remembered this walk before and at last it seemed that my limbs remembered it too. Stopping in my tracks, the quartet moved ahead without question. Lily moaned once more about the heat and finally Ana slowed her pace and looked back to me. I watched her as she approached, hidden in the shade of her cloak. She stood out in the near white of the scene around us. The blurs of the other three stopped moving, standing still and looking to us without a word.

“I couldn’t,” I started, pleading almost but more afraid than when I had begged before. It wasn’t my life in danger anymore. It was hers. Ana was a step in front of me, that strange coolness seeming untouchable. She didn’t look real, imaginary and strange.

“I was chosen. Fluke or fate, I had to bring people here once before… And I, just, couldn’t,” My explanation was broken, recalling that past, my youth and the poor fool I had lured. It had me there again, at my choice. To fail my family. To go against what that wanted me to be, what it all meant for me. Nevertheless, Ana stood silent, watching without expression. Until finally she pulled back her cloak, revealing that dagger in her gloved hand once more.

“Don’t worry, we know,” She said, velvet voice singing confidence. My focus was flung forward from my history, becoming aware of the eerie air around us. The pale-woman looked at me from over her dark glasses, a smirk across her blood-red lips,

“I thought you knew more about O.U.R.S.”

I stared, perplexed when a low rumble echoed through the gorge. Suddenly explosions of rock and boiling water gushed forth all around us. The ground began to move apart, under pressure. The quartet backed up towards me, patiently waiting for the quaking to subside some. They were calm yet cautious. From newly formed geysers out sprung long green tentacles with jagged and protruding teeth. They slammed into the ground, tearing away rock and dirt. Ana put a gloved hand out to my chest, warding me back as another tentacle rose from the ground. There were many limbs, grasping and tearing at boulders, searching probably for it’s prey but none could be caught. I watched Fen dig into a pocket of her satchel, pulling out a small metal rectangle.

“Lily, ready your enchantments,” The red-haired girl commanded. Ana dashed to Mink’s side without word, ducking, dodging and distracting those tentacles from the rest of us. I felt the ground shift below my feet, a strange weaving underneath the dirt of something else moving and heading for the long-eared girl. The seriousness in Lily’s face astounded me, large eyes narrowed. From the top of her lungs she began to shout something in a different language. The things beneath the ground emerged, vines creaking. They went for the tentacles, wrapping them together and pinning them to the ground. It struggled against its’ bonds, secure for now and Lily’s expression softened. Mink had returned to her winged form, landing at Fen’s side with a pant. She watched Fen mutter, picking at the metal device until finally she growled,

“Damn it! The battery died!”

“Don’t you have another?” The imp-girl wondered but the red-head snarled at her,

“Yeah, but you blew it up in the store!”

“You just need a shock don’t you? Maybe we have something…” Lily chimed in, reaching into her own pack worriedly.

“A shock?” I echoed at last, lurching forward and snatched the metal box from the girls hand without thinking. Focusing my thoughts, the blips of blue static grew, racing down my arms and gathered at my hands. I felt the pull under my skin, of this force that my tribe commended me for. It had been a long time since I had used it…

The device suddenly sprung to life, beeping something shrill and escalating.

“What do I do with it now?” I asked, feeling the tension as the thing began to vibrate in my hands.

Fen jutted a finger, pointing to the nearest tentacle, “Throw it!”

I threw it with all my strength, making the distance, and watched it stick to the wiggling green flesh. An enormous explosion blew us back, tearing through the tentacle, sending bits and pieces of goo and skin through the air. A roar thundered below us and the rest of the tentacles broke free of Lily’s vines and retreated into the ground.

I panted, struggling to stand as the shock waves dissipated. Ana finally came into view, not out of breath but frazzled some. She looked to Fen who was staring at me, brow furrowed. Lily was just as curious also.

“W-what?” I wondered aloud, eyes dancing to Mink whose reaction was alarming. Ana soon shared that same look when Fen stated,

“Control of electricity?”

“That hasn’t been seen on this world for a millennium,” Lily continued, pulling out a similar green gem from her satchel. A floating blue cloud appeared in front of it, translucent yet had flickering symbols running across it.

“This… This isn’t recorded,” She concluded strange, the light from the gem receding back into its’ source.

“An anomaly,” Mink mumbled quietly, looking back to the rubble, distressed it seemed.

“No, we didn’t know this…” Fen agreed exchanging a hardened glance to Ana. Her countenance had returned to that tranquil emptiness but I could see her anxiousness. Before I could ask what they meant, a deep rumbling rose underneath us once more. Those tentacle limbs emerged but now in unison, with a purpose. They moved, crawling it seemed, pulling the creature they belonged to out from below. The ground broke in front of us, sliding forward making us scurry back as a new gorge formed, falling into a huge steaming pit of water. The monster was the size of the canyon itself, its’ limbs now reaching to the high stone walls around us. Its’ large murky blue eye and big vicious mouth encompassed what could have been designated as its’ head and body. It roared, echoing and numbing. I covered my ears but heard its’ rage-filled cry through everything in me.

Ana was already moving ahead, a swift shadow in the fray. Mink soon followed, kicking up from the dirt, flames rocketing from her heels. They fought a path to the monster, evading tentacles and teeth while the rest of us stood back in apprehension.

“Lily, you sure it’s within it?” Fen, at last, shouted to the other, rummaging again through her sack. The long-eared girl was frantic for a moment, pulling forth her gem again and that translucent cloud.

“Yes, according to the documents. It creates them within its’ core from the remains of its’ meals,” Lily confirmed, matter-of-fact once more, “It will be a useful resource.”

Damn it, I’m a technologist not a monster hunter,” The red-headed girl fumed, bringing out another rectangular metal box from her pack. She held it out to me,

“Lucian, you just proved your usefulness…”

“You want me to… fight…. That?” I struggled with the concept but didn’t have much time to think as Mink swooshed in from above. Her small hands grabbed me by the shoulders and we took to the sky. I gripped onto that metal device as if it would save me.

“Don’t worry, Anabelle has it’s weak point marked,” The imp-girl laughed, strangely enjoying this endeavor.

“W-what do you want me to do really?! Another shock? An explosion? It won’t hurt something like this!” I cried, looking down as my sandals slipped from my feet. The monster was right below us, flailing at the dark spot I figured was Ana. It roared all of a sudden, something like pain.

“Maybe yeah, maybe not. But it doesn’t hurt to try,” Mink howled with a large grin, zipping us by a swinging tooth-filled limb. My stomach was in my throat.

“Maybe?!” Was all I managed to say as the flying imp-girl let me go and I was falling. Not for long, fortunately, sky and land a blur. But what I fell on was warm, gooey and gross. It was the eye of the monster. The creatures roaring was deafening, all around me. It moved and I started to slide down its’ jiggling membrane.

“Hey! Set the detonation and drop it into its’ mouth,” Ana ordered, poised against the goop, a hand on her dagger, embedded in the monsters’ pupil. I did what she said, heart pounding as I threw the device and leapt for her other hand, out-stretched to me. We waited a moment, clinging to each other, wondering if the explosion would come. But it didn’t.

“Idiot… Devices never working…” I heard Ana scoff and she looked to me apologetically, “You’ll have to do this.”

I didn’t ask what she meant, complying instantly. She took my hand and me grip onto the buried dagger while she climbed over me. Soon I was holding us up, clinging for stability. Her cool skin against mine nearly drove the anxiety from me and her voice next to my ear made me believe it would end up all right. But the words were a warning,

“Be careful.”

And suddenly she was gone. I was alone with the dagger stabbed into the eye of a ginormous flailing beast. It didn’t take me long to figure out what to do. With a force I felt would rip me apart, I sent out the strongest electrical blast that I could. Blue light danced around me, put my hair on end and heated my hands. I watched in awe at my own power, recalling it and felt an invincibility I hadn’t felt in years. The monster was roaring, quaking oddly while electricity enveloped it. And suddenly it exploded.

Flying through the air, I didn’t feel the ache of my body as I hit the ground until after I let out a moan. Bits of flesh and goo were raining down. I saw Lily do her best to avoid it all but it was no use. Mink flew down, covered completely in slime and innards. She set a great glimmering slab of stone down just as Fen stomped over to me. Hands on her hips, she grinned and spoke,

“Great work Lucian. A bit much but whatever.”

“What should we do now? The treaty?” The long-eared girl proclaimed with a shake of her body. The movement flung goo across the red-haired girls’ face.

“We can write out the need for supplies,” Fen explained with mild annoyance, wiping off the slime.

“Do we need the memory void machine?” Mink sullenly spoke, pointing down toward me but Fen shook her head,

“No, there isn’t protocol for this really. Other than-”

“Don’t,” Suddenly chimed in Anabelle. I struggled to sit up to see her fully but my limbs were tingling from the amount of power coursing through me. My body was sluggish and paralyzed. The pale-woman looked to Fen imploringly, then to Lily too. The two others wore similar apprehensive expressions.

“The Rift Expedition,” Ana gave, a small pensive stare to me momentarily.

“Fine,” Fen agreed sending Lily into a small fit about rules and the sanctity of O.U.R.S. but the red-haired girl reminded her of the treaty. Of no witnesses and the long-eared girl shut her mouth at last. I watched the trio move away, leaving Ana and me behind. The pale-woman removed her glasses, wiping a spot of goo from them with her oddly immaculate cloak. She cast those red irises down to me, that twinge of worry in her features. Still she played,

“Would you like to join us on a different adventure?”

It didn’t actually sound before like I had a choice but I knew my answer already. And so did she. Ana pressed a grin with those vibrant crimson lips. She ducked down by my side and placed her glasses over my eyes so carefully, her skin felt like a breeze against mine. I had no clue what was going to happen but Ana had fought for me. They listened at last. Elated, I smiled looking through her lenses, hardly able to move. The world was tinted – her pale skin, her hair, to the sky above.

Everything was red.

-Lucian

The End for Now