Dreamers of Dreams: An Anthology of Webfiction VolI

Various
Contributions by Ted Campbell, Eva Shandor, Cassandra Stryffe, Bex Aaron, J.J.Adams, Alexander Hollins, Rebecca Wilson, Christopher Wright, Kyt Dotson, G.L. Drummond, Miladysa, M.E. Traylor, Kendal Black Published by Dream Fantastic

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2011-04-11

Table of Contents
Forward Story Descriptions Flyover City! Cold Ghost Zombie Diapers Independence Day The Undeadslayer Phoenix 2125 Soul Chaser Pay Me, Bug! Black Hat Magick Enter the Weird Refuge of Delayed Souls Guts and Sass

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The Ghost King

Dedication
We would like to dedicate this anthology to: The people who told us we could, and inspired us with their faith; The people who told us we couldn't, and inspired us to prove them wrong; The friends and family who were our first critics and fans; And the readers who enjoy our dreams, if it weren't for you, we wouldn't be here. I personally would like to thank the authors who have entrusted me with sharing their dreams. Thank you for the chance. Alexander Hollins, Editor, Dream Fantastic.

Copyright Information
DreamFantastic Publishing Limited Copyright 2011 All content Copyright 2011 and earlier by its respective author Published By Dream Fantastic : PDF SCRIBD.COM edition

Forward
We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers, And sitting by desolate streams;— World-losers and world-forsakers, On whom the pale moon gleams: Yet we are the movers and shakers Of the world for ever, it seems. Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Ode; Music and Moonlight Forward Webfiction. It's a newer term in the publishing world, like most terms having to do with the internet. It means different things to different people. It means publishing a novel in progress online, like a blog, for people to review and comment on. For some, it's a never ending story, shared publicly for all to read and enjoy. For some, webfiction is a completed novel, being sold or given away online, rather than publishing with a traditional publisher. For myself, webfiction means freedom.

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Freedom to share my dreams. Freedom to help another author, another artist of words, find their voice. Freedom to let people read my words, and enjoy my stories. Contained in this volume are words of that freedom. Some of our authors are just starting out on this journey called webfiction. Some of them have been doing it for years. Sharing their dreams with the world. In this volume, we've collected several author's works, excerpts from stories they are sharing, for free, online. The opening chapter of this book contains a short description of each story, and a link to where they are sharing their story online. Then, each author has their own chapter that contains excerpts or the first chapter of their story. Please, read, enjoy, and visit their websites, read more of their stories! It's been my pleasure to work with these talented individuals in creating this anthology, and I look forward to working with more. If you have webfiction you currently publish, or hope to soon publish, online, or if you wish to contribute artwork, illustrating stories we share, please send me an email at Editor@dreamfantastic.com, and see about joining the creative individuals contained within. And please, be careful with this book. It holds our dreams. Alexander Hollins, Phoenix, 2011

Story Descriptions
Below find a description of each story represented in Dreamers of Dreams, as well as a link directly to both their story within the Ebook, and a link to each storys' website. Flyover City! by Ted Campbell http://flyovercity.blogspot.com/ Denver, Colorado is known for many things: it’s a growing, thriving mid-sized city with a vital arts community and music scene. There are some pretty good restaurants if you know where to look, and the rents are (relatively) cheap. What Denver doesn’t have is the world (and sometimes galaxy) at-stake, super-hero daring-do that happens in the bigger cities along the East and West Coasts. That is, until Joel Wyatt, a regular guy just trying to get by in a super-powered world, discovers that his friend is an ex-superhero, and his boss,a supervillian. Now the world, and more importantly, his love life, hangs in the balance. Flyover City! is Joel's personal weblog of these events and others that forever change his life, and is a completed novel. Cold Ghost by Eva Shandor. http://evashandor.wordpress.com/category/new-reader-start-here/ ‘Cold Ghost’ is a tale of love and honour in a time of shoot outs and hostile take-overs. It follows the misadventures of Joel, a park ranger from Canada who was minding his own business when Yukihiro, a former assassin for the Tokyo yakuza, bursts through a window and into his life.

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Due to assumptions from rival gangs and Toronto’s Violent Crimes Unit, Joel soon becomes trapped in a web of deceit and danger and is forced to join Yukihiro in completing his mysterious mission. Will Joel survive the adventure? Will Yukihiro ever explain what is really going on to him? Or will everyone just be eaten alive by bears? ‘Eva Shandor’ is the nom de plume and nom de guerre of this author. Writing stories is a habit she picked up in school, and there seem to be no signs of quitting any time soon. Having studied Japanese BA Hons at university, she has a deep and abiding interest in the history and culture of Japan and China, as well as kitsuke, films, comic books and making tasty food. Zombie Diapers by Cassandra Stryffe stories.dreamfantastic.com/zombiediapers/ Liz was the All American Girl. Cheerleader, dating the quarterback, making it through high school day by day. Until her perfect life was ripped from her by the plague of the undead. Now she finds herself fighting daily for her life, and worse, her sanity, as the horrors of what her friends and loved ones have become, and what she must do to their rotting, animated corpses to survive, threatens to collapse in on her. But even as her personal horror weighs upon her soul, she fights for the one person who can't, Annie, the newborn baby of another survivor that died in childbirth. As the baby's surrogate mother, Liz works to keep her tiny band of survivors together, build a safe niche in this new world, and not go batshit insane. Independence Day by Bex Aaron. http://bcd.sitesled.com/haven-park

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On the surface, Haven Park seemed to be the perfect picture of Americana. Nestled in the heart of Wyoming, its 517 residents were close knit, hard working and God fearing people. The city had never known major scandal, and the last violent crime committed was over ten years ago. Normal, right and honorable were upheld and all seemed to be quite harmonious… until the night of July 4, 1966, when the walls came closing in and the secrets could not be kept any longer. It started with a murder. Carol Mathison, a lifelong resident and the only daughter of retired police chief Stanley Rogers, was found strangled in the park on the morning of July 5, leaving the community stunned. By all accounts, Carol was vibrant, well liked, outgoing and cheerful – making her murder all the more senseless. However, as the days drug by, more and more began to be revealed about Carol’s darker side…and the many, many people who might have wanted her dead. The killer is closer than they know… The Undeadslayer by J.J. Adams http://stories.dreamfantastic.com/undeadslayer/ Hiding from her past and her people was all Celine wanted to do. And she found the best place to hide, as an elf, was in the midst of humans, where her very uniqueness was it's own anonymity. Until the day a fellow elf, Rathaniel, destroyed her safety and comfort. Her life now tied to his, she follows this man, given the title of Undeadslayer for his dedication to destroying the unliving, hiding from the pain of her own past in the mysteries of his. Phoenix 2125 by Alexander Hollins http://stories.dreamfantastic.com/2125/ 20 years after California sinks into the ocean, creating a coastal Arizona, orphan Tom returns home to the city-state of Phoenix. He is quickly swept up in a world of intrigue hidden within

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the normal day to day workings of the local government. Recruited by a domestic terrorist organization run by a collection of people with strange, elemental powers, he finds himself at odds with the totalitarian government that has claimed dominance of North America, yet still loyal to the goverment that has been a benevolent influence all his life. Now, Tom has to choose between two wrongs, and discovers that he himself is so much more than he ever seemed to be. Soul Chaser by Rebecca Wilson http://valkyriansanctum.blogspot.com/p/dreamers-of-dreams-ebookanthology-of.html There is more to Life than Fame and Fortune. There is more after Death than Heaven and Hell. There are more than Angels and Devils after your soul. Jennifer Wallace understands this more than most. Since the day her life ended. Since the day her soul was lost in the chaos of Purgatory. Since the day she found salvation. Not in the Kingdom of Heaven But in the Halls of Asgard. The Vikings of the Dark Ages died out long ago. But the Norse Gods of Valhalla still live on. Jennifer is recruited into Freya’s ranks and begins a new Afterlife as a Valkyrie in training. Soul Guide and Guardian of the Dead.

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Odin’s Shield Maidens and Choosers of the Slain. Jennifer believes she has found peace at last. Yet her soul is still troubled with the greatest loss of all. She has no memory of her past mortal life. Until one incident. One meeting. One decision. Truths will be torn apart. Belief will be broken. Faith will be fractured. An ancient power struggle will entangle the lives of the Living, Dead and Divine. Secrets of the medieval past will be revealed anew. Taking Jenny back to the very roots of the darkness that is gathering. It will unlock the hidden trauma of her past. With great shifts of power stretching the very balance of the universe Will her revelation prove to be her blessing or her curse? When all of Hel’s Kingdom may be about to break loose. Pay Me, Bug! by Christopher Wright

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https://www.unexploredhorizons.net/novel/pay-me-bug/pay-me-bug If Oscar Wilde had written a Space Opera in the 1970's it might have looked like this. A "great heist" caper set in the far future, featuring cunning smugglers, star-spanning empires, cheerful amorality, evil cyborg slavers, and a hyperintelligent bug. Pay Me, Bug! keeps the laughs coming as the crew of the Fool's Errand strike against the universe around them, desperate to give as good as they keep getting. Black Hat Magick by Kyt Dotson http://www.blackhatmagick.com/ Black Hat Magick: Not Your Ordinary Detective Agency A strange take on the modern cyber-detective story involving magic and technology all mixed together with geek humor and life at Arizona State University. Dread Vote is the first of the supernatural gumshoe series where Elaine loses her computer lab, gets mixed up in ASU student body politics, and tangles with an unknown menace slowly insinuating itself onto the students and campus. Enter the Weird by G.L. Drummond http://midnightintentions.com/ser/weird/ My first clue life was about to go weird was a goat-headed demon trying to French kiss my soul away. The second, my cat morphing to the size of a tiger and kicking said demon beyond the night. Then kitty announced he’s my familiar and by the way, congratulations, Cara Smith- you're a witch. Okay. But it wasn't until Hawksville, with its grabby road Romeos, cute married deputy, and killer gossip vine, that I truly entered the weird.

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Refuge of Delayed Souls by Miladysa http://roydss.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth Whyte has long known the answer to a mystery that many of us can only wonder about: what happens to us after we die. Is there a heaven or a hell? Or perhaps our souls just choose to linger on, feeling a need to fullfil some unfinished business. In a story spanning many lifetimes, we follow Elizabeth’s journey as she investigates the supernatural and seeks information about her own past, all while trying to keep a balance between the light and the darkness in her work for an agency known as the Refuge of Delayed Souls. Guts and Sass by M.E. Traylor http://metraylor.com/gutsandsass/dreamers Guts and Sass: An Anti-Epic is the story of when semi-suicidal vet Hannah Roverton gets transported to a magical land, thus abandoning her cat, her sister, and her therapist. Except actually, it’s not. This is the story of a motley collection of people who fit all your favorite fantasy tropes trying to escape a land invasion on the open sea. Who happen to get a crazy, uncooperative, freakishly tall woman who may or may not be the enemy dropped in their laps. And how they decide the handle the situation (lock her in the bilge). The Drifalcand are bent on conquering an unsuspecting assortment of cultures as an act of worship to their gods. Meanwhile, Hannah tries to convince the role-players who have obviously taken this too far to drop her off with the coastguard, while the crew is strategizing about targets that can do maximum damage to the Drifalcand invasion with minimal manpower. Within you will find war, political intrigue, magic, pirates, shapeshifters, potions, and chicks with swords. You won't find any

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heroes, bad guys, glory, tidy romance, or saving the day. You'll find human dysfunction, illiteracy, non-civilized cultures, gender fluidity, sex that isn't love and love that isn't sex, homosexuality not defined by modern gay identity, and politically incorrect protagonists. Guts and Sass does not hand you answers on a silver platter. Characters will never conveniently tell you what’s going on. Throw your expectations out the window. The Ghost King by Kendal Black http://kendalblack.blogspot.com/2010/02/welcomedod.html The Ghost King chronicles a part of the history of the Twelve Kingdoms. Where, you may ask, are the Twelve Kingdoms? They are east of the sea, extending over the mountains and as far as the Great River, about two hundred leagues inland. The Twelve Kingdoms are a loose federation of states, united under a High King. At the time of our story the High King is Bonfort. He leaves his palace to attend a secret council, leaving a double in his place. He expects to be back soon, with no one the wiser. But the double is assassinated. The secret meeting comes under attack. Bonfort escapes but is stranded far from home. Control of the Twelve Kingdoms is seized by the evil sorcerer Mograsom. The Ghost King recounts King Bonfort's struggle to free his homeland and regain his throne. Trusting to fortune, and with the help of magic and unlikely allies, he wages a resistance war in the shadows. A curious aspect of this history, and one that makes it significant to the student of Faerie, is that there was at this time an alliance formed between the otherworld and our own: Queen Goronla ha Tentitee, the Faerie Queen, actively supported Bonfort, king of the humans. The threat Mograsom posed was dire to mankind and eldritch creatures alike, leading to the curious era called the Grand Alliance, in

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which humanity and the realm of Faerie learned to cooperate, after a fashion. Of course the alliance did not last beyond its era. Our kind and Faerie-kind afterward came to regard each other with a deep mistrust born of superstition and half-remembered legends, on both sides, a situation which has persisted to our day.

Flyover City!
Flyover City! is a superhero novel by Ted Campbell. It can be found at http://flyovercity.blogspot.com/. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. Existentialist philosopher, chain-smoker, and all-round party animal Jean Paul Sartre ended his 1944 play “No Exit” with the words “Hell is other people”. I don’t know whether or not JP ever worked in a call center for a global telecommunications company (his Wikipedia entry doesn’t say - har har) but sitting here, tethered to my cubicle by a telephone headset, clicking through the details of his life while Mrs. Marci Duncomb of Lakewood, Colorado screams in my ear about not being able to find her “stories” among the 682 channels offered with the Vaig Broadband Deluxe Package, I can definitely say I feel a deep, profound connection to the guy. Is it bad faith to declare kismet with an existentialist? Sort of like the Dalai Lama announcing to the world that he was reincarnated from a Catholic saint? “Hello, are you even listening to me? Honestly, I don’t why did my Goddamn son ever got me hooked up with all this malarkey...” “Yes, Mrs. Duncomb, I’m here. Just looking over some notes on the file. May I put you on hold for a just a moment?” Much better. Man, I need a cigarette. I could head down to the patio for a couple of drags, but I already had to pull the “research on your account” card to get a cup of coffee down on four about a half hour ago. (Their brewer doesn’t have that weird-ass bleach taste that ours does) I could wait until I’m in after-call, but I’m gonna need that time to work on my next feature for the Weekly: a daring expose about

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the crazy, subversive new trend of cupcake shops popping up around the metro area. I’m thinking of starting it off with something like – “Cupcakes: for years they've been hottest thing going in coastal cities like New York and L.A. Now, those of us who live in the flabby, stopped-up mid-section of the U.S. can take a bite of this trend, hopefully before it's all played out.” Of course, the Weekly doesn’t have nearly the circulation gravitas of the Westword, where the restaurant critic can all but vomit in a bakery’s tip jar on Tuesday, and the sales people will still have the stones to walk in on Wednesday to sell the owners a full page ad in the “Café” section. Now that is power of the press. Stupid flashing red button: what will it take to get you to hang up, Mrs. Duncomb? Seriously, all this hold time is really gonna screw with my stats. That’s the last thing I need; as it is, the word among my coworkers - the stretch-pants and stirrups set, as I like to call them - is that Quality Assurance is observing the shit out of our calls this month. Not that I usually have any problems with them, so long as I keep on the phone. I’ve actually devised a diabolical algorithm, using liberal utterances of “may I place you on hold?” and “is there anything else I can help you with?” that allows me to meet all the criteria on their “Best Practices” checklist without actually doing anything at all for the caller. I take a certain amount of professional pride in that – it’s not easy to manifest that sort of a zero-yield vacuum. It's a beautiful thing: a perfect, Zen-like balance. Either the Q&A team appreciates the spoken word performance art that I deliver here every day, or they just don’t receive the bandwidth that I broadcast my sarcasm on. Schtooping the Q&A team leader probably doesn’t hurt either. It's good to have friends in midlevel places.

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Flash – flash – flash. A worthy adversary, this one. Ah, Gwen Carmichael: if I had just the slightest inkling as to which side my bagel was schmeared on, I would be trying my best to keep on your good side for a little while. Last time she had to pull me aside for “coaching” (what? Am I supposed to not berate a guy who doesn’t even check to make sure his cable-box is plugged in?) she fullon kidney punched me when I asked if she wanted to have a quick “human resource issue” in the conference room. And to think, she’s such a gas when she’s not at work. Or talking about work. Jeez, will you look at this. The Yahoo main page is reporting – while I’m writing about cupcakes and providing tech support for television remote controls – that Alton Vaig has succeeded in using the remainder of his once vast fortune to re-purchase the controlling share of Vaig Communications. Guess he didn’t have enough to buy back Vaig Sweet Treats International. So... I’m getting a new boss. Maybe I’ll shoot homeboy an email, ask whether he’ll consider reinstating the education reimbursement benefits. How old is this guy, even? 36? 37? I’m down to the last of my fortune, and I’m not even sure I’ll be able to afford a teriyaki bowl up at Taki’s when I get off tonight. And I didn’t even have to hire a legal team to prove that the two-story mech I was sitting in evolved virtual intelligence, and all that resulting destruction and chaos along 42nd Street in New York occurred despite my most valiant efforts. Evil genius. That’s where the money’s at. Flash – flash – Aaand…GONE! Screw the cupcakes. I need a smoke.

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The First Time I Saw A Superhero
There are volumes of books, piles of newspaper and magazine articles, and endless blog-memes spread across the Internet, all trumpeting the significance of what an individual's favorite superhero says about them. I could go on Google right now and find probably five therapists in my area who've built their entire practice using a model of human behavior based on that preference alone. Twice that, in Boulder. Reductionist bullshit, I say. I mean, the Hispanic community naturally has a lot of enthusiasm for The Lucha Legion, but that doesn't mean the average El Jaguar fan longs to go about his daily routine, hidden behind a decorative gimp mask. Say somebody answers "Alphamale" - does that automatically mean they're some right-wing talk radio listener who's comforted by the hero's striking Aryan features? Couldn't it just be because of that whole "saved the world from a rouge planetoid" thing back in '99? If they say "Ms. Micro": It could be because they think she's a positive role model for young girls, but maybe they're just some creepy fetishist who's into small chicks. On the other hand, the identity and code-name a particular superhero chooses for themselves - that's huge. Especially among that select group of individuals who've chosen a career in heroics without the benefit of any super-powers at all. For example, the mantle of "Darkstreak" no doubt reveals someone who's own sense of justice came about from great loss. Or "Sureshot", with his belief that archery and a fair to middling aim is a viable crime fighting tool? Clearly reveals a sense of arrogance bordering on the pathological. Who will I be, then, as a superhero? I have yet to be visited in my dreams by some mythological creature, inspiring me on my quest.

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And I have to admit, my own personal tragedy doesn't exactly lend itself to the most dynamic theme. At the end of the day, there will no doubt be the naysayers who view me the same way I look at the "Archer of Justice". But am I having second thoughts? Not on your life. I may not have a costume, or a body of taut, perfectly sculpted muscles (yet); but I have something deeper than that. I believe. I'm not waiting for some exploding microwave to shower my body with malphysical radiation. There's no Grayraven Diet book on the shelves to guide me toward my goal (for the record, there should totally be a Greyraven Diet book). But - all my airs of cynicism aside - I truly believe that an ordinary man, with nothing more than a dream, and a plan - can accomplish great things. The first time I ever saw a superhero - in person - was my junior year of high school. My dad has this annual insurance adjuster's convention that he goes to every year, the one big to-do in his whole career. That year, it was in New York City, so dad decided to bring me, my mom, and my little brother along for the trip. (Yes, believe it or not, I have been out of Colorado once or twice in my life) He figured we'd visit the Statue of Liberty, maybe get in a Broadway show while we were there. That book had just come out, detailing The Agency's declassified World War II files, from when they were still called "The Allied Force", with guys like American Eagle and Fighting Yank on thier roster. Ultraphenomenon was making an appearance at the Virgin Records in Time Square to sign advance copies. The whole event was a benefit for kids with cancer. Like everyone else in the lower 48 states at the time, I was a huge fan of Ultraphenomenon, so there was absolutely no way I was going to miss my one chance to meet him in person. Much to my chagrin, my mother refused to let me go down myself, so she and Brent

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came with me at 5 a.m. to claim a respectable place in a line that would ultimately stretch for a full four city blocks from the front entrance. Now, even though I've lived my whole life in the twenty-sixth biggest city in America, I've always thought of myself as a fairly urbane guy. Urbane enough, at least, that I'm not going to reveal myself as a complete yokel, when I'm standing within the caverns between immense skyscrapers. But that cold, damp morning totally blew my mind. The buildup was more akin to religious pilgrimage than a rock concert; New Yorkers and tourists alike were on their best behavior as we waited. Even Brent, who to this day can be something of a petulant little prick, stood patiently in anticipation for Ultraphenomenon to take the stage. Makes sense, I guess: if you want to keep a couple thousand people in line, let them know there's a guy who can generate solar flares from his fingertips in the neighborhood. At 2 pm, the doors remained closed. A whole hour passed from the time that the event was supposed to begin. Gradually, word spread through the line that Ultraphenomenon had been held up on some mission in Eastern Europe. Eventually, there was an announcement that Greyraven would be showing up in his place. Even today, that makes me laugh. I mean, I'm sure Greyraven doesn't have anything against kids with cancer, but the whole publicity event deal isn't really his thing. As the crowd began to grow restless, a general sense of anxiety became palpable. Some people gave up altogether, leaving the line in favor of some other tourist attraction. I probably would have left, too Greyraven? Just a powerless vigilante, little more than a beefed up Guardian Angel, as far as I was concerned - but Brent actually started crying. Despite my own disappointment, I didn't want to reward his being a little shit.

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But there was something more sinister in the air. A clashing chorus of sirens echoed somewhere in the distance, but they never got any louder. The additional mass of bystanders had brought Times Square to a standstill. Now, I understand that New Yorkers live their lives in a city where the very fate of the world is fought for on a regular basis, which I suppose would make you a little jaded after a while. But a couple of the locals started joking about the fact that police presence along Times Square was at a minimum, since there was supposed to be a nearly omnipotent hero on hand. It was funny when we heard it once, but as the observation spread, my mom was getting visibly nervous. The sirens were suddenly drowned out by a horrifying explosion, and the shrill sound of glass shredding across blacktop. I can only imagine what it would've sounded like, if we weren't two blocks away. Jack Shrapnel and his gang decided to take advantage of the chaos by executing an impromptu bank heist. Apparently, an overzealous guard had attempted to stop them, so Shrapnel blew out the front window to hasten his escape. The line in front of the store dissolved as everyone ran for cover. My mom had snatched Brent and ducked beneath a nearby catering van, and started screaming for me to join them - but I froze where I stood, watching as the door of the Virgin Megastore swung open at long last. A lone, 6 foot-plus figure strode out along the sidewalk. Not running; just a purposeful, urgent pace, that I stood stupidly right in the path of. I remember thinking that the thumping noise of helicopter propellers overhead were coming from him, vibrating directly from his skin.

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The sheer ridiculousness of a man wearing body-hugging rubber, and a cloak stylized to appear like feathers - a man I knew had no superpowers - made him just that much more intimidating. As I stood, unable to move, I wondered what he would do when he came up on me. He made no move to get out of my way, nor was there any indication that he would push me aside. Then, just three feet from me - swear to God - he whipped out a collapsible grappling hook with one hand, and launched it up into the air in a single, fluid movement, latching onto a helicopter overhead. He was so close that I could that I could see the muscles beneath his uniform tense as he flew up into the sky. As I raced down the street, chasing after the soaring figure, I heard my mother off on some distant planet, shouting for me to get down. Within a block, the crowd of onlookers became too dense for me to get any closer, so I ran into one of those ubiquitous New York electronics shops - the ones with off-brand knock-offs - so I could try to follow what was happening on TV. On a big-screen Sam-song, I saw Greyraven release his line, landing atop a double-decker bus. Following through on the inertia from the speeding helicopter, he sprinted down the isle, launching himself, finally, into the flying somersault that dropped him onto three of Shrapnel's goons, below. One of the goons hadn't blacked out, but his automatic was knocked from his grasp. He unsheathed a vicious looking katana from behind his back. Greyraven, unarmed, danced through a series of offensive and defensive moves, holding his own against the assassin. On a tiny, black and white Magna-box behind the counter, an on-the-spot camera crew showed Jack Shrapnel standing in front of the bank, steam radiating off his lithe frame.

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On yet another Soni: an image of more thugs, pouring out of a getaway Humvee, like clowns from a clown car. The camera went wide on the Magna-box. In the middle of the twenty feet separating Shrapnel from the battle, a young girl, maybe 12 years old, was lying in the street with a broken ankle. Now, those black squares patterned all across Jack Shrapnel's person; contrary to popular belief, that's not part of his costume. It's actually his exposed skin, which transforms into the burning hot metal he blasts out from his body. Behind him, the remaining glass in the window started to melt. I could make out on the screen that he was actually laughing. I got crowded out from the counter; everyone in the store was glued to that one screen. It was clear that if Greyraven even knew the young girl was there at all, there was nothing he could do to help her. Out on a shelf, there was an antiquated TV / VCR unit for sale. One lone helicopter crew caught an image of a man, racing across a low rooftop... Darkstreak (The Teen Terror!) lept into view on the giant Sam-song, engaging three of the otherwise-occupied thugs, freeing 'Raven from their grip! Everyone in the store ran over to view the new action. You could see he was smiling and laughing as he schooled them. On the Magna-box, Jack Shrapnel popped! Screams roared for just an instant before the image turned to static. Greyraven dropped from view on the other screens... it was a full minute before another camera found him on the ground, wrapped up safely with the young girl, beneath his cape. When he finally stood, his uniform was in tatters, and he was limping. Gradually, all of the cameras, all of the screens in the store

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had focused in on him. I don't care if it does take Jack Shrapnel 4 minutes to re-charge. Getting close enough to a guy to deliver a haymaker like that, right after he just exploded? That takes one huge, hairy set of balls. Nobody ever believes me, but I swear, on the TV, I could hear the crack! from his punch over the cheering outside. I was grounded for the rest of that summer. Not so much because I disappeared when the chaos ensued, but because mom and Brent couldn't find me for half an hour after the battle. And when they did, I was with the guys at the store, smoking those little bidis (my first ever cigarette) and watching an interview with Greyraven and Darkstreak about the battle. But I didn't care. Right then, those guys were my best friends in the whole world. All part of the same, human family, never before so proud to be human. I guess maybe your favorite superhero does say something about you, after all. Thank you for reading! More Flyover City! is available at http://flyovercity.blogspot.com/, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. Jump back to the Story Descriptions

Cold Ghost
Cold Ghost is a criminal thriller by Eva Shandor. It can be found at http://evashandor.wordpress.com/category/new-reader-start-here/. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. Something wasn’t quite right. It was the next morning, and Yukihiro was loitering not far from the Golden Lotus restaurant. His nose was stuck deep in a romance novel, something nice and fluffy about an office lady and a trucker from Hokkaido, but his eyes were watching the restaurant entrance very closely. He’d been sitting there for quite a while now, on the lookout for Liu’s arrival. At this time in the morning, there had only been service and delivery men, and a handful of regular dim sum breakfast customers. There’d been absolutely no sign of Liu or even any of his associates or relatives in the restaurant front. Yukihiro twitched uncomfortably, and took a bite out of his chocolate orange parfait. As much as he enjoyed the opportunity to eat cake and read utter trash, the obvious issues worried him. He had seen no sign of Suzuki or any of his lackeys hanging around, not since the airport. Suzuki’s right hand man, Toru, was nearly seven foot tall and had a face like a disgruntled pug, tended to stick out like a sore thumb no matter where he was. This wasn’t Suzuki’s home turf, and he didn’t have any love for the Yoshida family. There was no love between the Hanaokas and the Gao family, but neither was there any contention. So why would he even show up and interfere on this one in the first place? Had he managed to get to Liu and scare him off or deal with him? There were far too many

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unanswered questions for Yukihiro’s liking, but neither did he want to wait around too long to find out. The longer he waited around, the more chance there was of the mission being derailed. “Earl Grey Tea, sir?” Yukihiro peered up at the waitress, who wore a cheeky smile and bunched hair which had orange streaks through it. “Pardon?” He needed to be certain. She did look like a Gao, but she could just be a very attentive waitress. “I said would you like Earl Grey Tea, Sir? We have a limited offer on.” And about damn time too! Liu must be ready now. Maybe he was stuck in one of the offices. “Actually, I’m more of an English Breakfast man.” The waitress smiled brightly and bobbed her head, flicking her eyes to the restaurant across the road. Damn, that was a cheeky smile – she was definitely a Gao, no two ways about it. “Well, the English Breakfast is all laid out. They’re waiting on you.” Yukihiro nodded back to her before gathering up his novel and the same sports bag he had been toting since he hit Narita Airport. As part of a pretence of dusting himself down as he walked away from his table, he patted his shoulder rig lightly to reassure himself that it was still there, that he still had that option left to him. He didn’t want to have to use lethal force on this occasion, but he was nervous that he was about to walk into a double-cross blind and he wanted a way out. Liu wasn’t dumb enough to double-cross him at this point – the Gao weren’t strong enough to take on the Yoshida and their Sun Kee Fong friends in Hong Kong – the package would incriminate both of them

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as well. Suzuki, unfortunately, was dumb enough to set him up by accident if he had been rash and rushed into something, or so he thought. Calmly, he left the tea shop across the street and headed towards the Golden Lotus, pushing his way through the gathering market day crowds. There’d be an awful lot of civilians around today, so he’d been expecting Gao security to be a little tighter. The restaurant was pretty quiet as he slipped through the door, though there were a couple of regulars sitting very close to the front. It wasn’t unlike hundreds of other stereotypical Chinese restaurants the world over, with off white walls and fake willow pattern plates hanging on the wall; it was all very cosy and touristy. He could make out people sitting at much larger tables at the back of the restaurant, on a large raised dais area. It was usually roped off for private parties or customers who were friends and family of the owner. It was a little bit exposed for Yukihiro’s liking – normally you at least got dragged up to the offices or through to the kitchen – but Liu had to protect himself as well, he supposed. Questions were probably already being asked. Then there was a click from behind and something very solid pressing into the small of his back. “Make one untoward move and I perform some spinal tap that you ain’t gonna like much,” a younger, male voice hissed in English, prodding him in the back for emphasis. Oh fuck, this couldn’t be good. If he just stayed calm… Taking care not to swallow or shake, Yukihiro automatically spread his hands to just above shoulder height. He should have played it safer; no point in self-recrimination now. Instead he opted for a slightly cocky grin, and walked forward slowly towards the dais when the currently disembodied male voice poked him in the back and instructed him to do so.

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He got marched up the dais slowly and as he stepped up, it hit him. Eddie the Barracuda was a damn sight smarter than anyone had credited him for, as he sat very relaxed at the head of one of the tables, surrounded by several lackeys who all stood around it. To his left hand side sat a young Asian man who looked like hell. His face was a mass of bruises and he sat hunched, as if it pained him to sit up properly. Long hair was matted with blood, and it was debatable if he could even perceive what was going on around him, he just swayed back and forth. Oh no, that was Liu. That sorry bag of tenderised meat was Liu, one of the smartest fixers from the Taiwanese families. No, he couldn’t let emotion show, he had to stay calm. He kept smiling, couldn’t show the Barracuda any weaknesses. “Well… this is a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to bump into anyone on holiday, Yoshida-san,” he said, surprised that he was actually half pulling off the whole “staying calm” thing. He reverted to Japanese quickly; the Barracuda himself had an excellent enough grip to follow Family discussions without the need of a translator, but he knew that not all of the Barracuda crew spoke the language. The language switch didn’t seem to put Eddie off any though; at least it didn’t seem to put him off yet. “Ah young Ohno-kun. How good of you to finally join us. You kept us waiting quite a while you know. I was having an interesting conversation with your young friend here,” the Barracuda said in reply, grinning quite widely as well. Of course, he did have a gun on the table, his hand drumming the barrel; with nearly ten guns at his side, he didn’t have much to be nervous about. “We were talking about property of my dear elder brother. It seems to have gone missing, and he seems to think that the two of you would know where it is. Would you care to enlighten me?”

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Yukihiro made a mocking, mournful face – he was probably about to go, so he’d go out in style if nothing else;“That is terrible news Yoshida-san! How awful. I am sure that this is the first I’ve heard about Yoshida-shachō and this missing property of his. Are you sure he’s not just misplaced it? After all, they do say that ‘even monkeys fall from trees’.” The Barracuda’s face darkened dramatically and he snatched up his gun, pointing it directly at Liu’s battered face. “DON’T START WITH ME BOY! Is this a game to you, do you find this amusing? Wipe the fucking grin off of your damn face when I’m talking to you! I’m giving you a chance to hand this over, end this farce, before I end your partner’s life! Now hand over the fucking package!” The Barracuda screamed in English. Yukihiro licked his lips, his smile wavering now slightly, and took a sharp, hissing breath in. “I’m afraid I can’t do that Sir. Things are complicated you see-” “FUCK COMPLICATED! Stop dicking me around, and hand it over! You want your punk-ass little partner to get smoked, is that it? What, you think if you play dumb with me, I’m gonna go easy on you? Do you think I have ‘fuckin’ idiot’ tattooed across my forehead, or something?” “Hey Pa, come on, can I deal with him?” The disembodied male voice took on a nasal tone, the kind of nasal tone you heard in younger, more posh men trying to sound tougher and older, and they weren’t quite capable of a deeper voice. What the hell, had some jumped up teenaged ‘gangstah’ wannabe actually gotten the drop on him? And him real-life, bona fide gangster? This day got better and better.

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“No Jonny, today’s going to be watch and learn. Watch and learn how your pa deals with two-bit thugs like these.” Great, a complete moron who wanted to sound like Hollywood tough guys in front of his blood-thirsty daddy, and Big Daddy more than happy to indulge. Yukihiro decided against protesting that he was at least a three-bit thug, possibly even a four-bit thug. But he didn’t want to be tortured as well, and mouthing off would probably only encourage the Barracuda to be creative in his ‘ministrations’. “Look, all right all right, just please leave off of Liu. I’ve got the package here, but it’s in my bag… you want me to hand it over to you, I’m going to have to whip it out for you. Just be cool, I can give you the package.” The Barracuda was grinning again. “So now we get somewhere.” He raised one hand above his shoulder level and let the other slide up to the top of the bag’s shoulder strap; “I’ve got stuff in the bag… I need to get it out first, okay?” Lazily the Barracuda gestured with his gun, flicking his wrist to indicate Mini Barracuda who still had his own barrel pressed up into the small of Yukihiro’s back. “Son, you do the honours, relieve Ohno of his bag.” “Heh, ain’t so much of a tough guy now, are we Ohno? Not now that your precious ‘partner’ is on the line, eh? Eh?” Mini Barracuda drawled; Yukihiro could practically hear the smug grin that was probably plastered across his pimply face. He felt the pressure of the young man’s hand on his shoulder, grasping at the bag’s shoulder strap, as the gun barrel moved away from his back. Mini Barracuda must have shoved it back in the holster.

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“Son, enough of the cheap villainous small talk, we have a plane to catch,” the Barracuda chided. Yukihiro didn’t know what his next move would be, even if he had a next move to fall back on. He might as well fall back on a sword at this point. He was thoroughly screwed and not even in a good way. Crap, it really was all over now. It was only starting to hit him just how deep in they were. He’d known how dangerous this mission was from the beginning, but the Barracuda had what he wanted. He’d probably want a full clean-up operation, and then“OMAE-TACHI, TOMAREZE!” Or had things just gotten more intriguing? He didn’t dare move; he knew what the Barracuda’s reaction would be. A loud barking noise tore through the air, and then several more followed. “ARRAGH!” The scream was Mini Barracuda. The boss’ son must have crumpled and he collided into Yukihiro pushing them both to the floor. What the hell had just happened? Yukihiro scrambled from lying flat on his face and twisted around to see what was going on. He couldn’t get very far with Mini Barracuda still on top of him – the young man was clutching his hand, a deep tear across it, blood splattering everywhere. There was a coppery, metallic smell floating in the air, mixed in with burnt things. He didn’t even have time to think through the details, like who could have shot Mini Barracuda down like that; who would have had the sheer balls to cut in on a meeting like this. The Barracuda was shouting loudly and his men had flipped the table over, taking cover and getting their guns out. Yukihiro stayed down on the ground, wriggling to behind another table. His heart was pumping, and noises and colours, they seemed strangely muted now. The noise, the opening gun fire, it

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seemed to be coming from another part of the restaurant, maybe from the kitchens? He couldn’t see though, too many people screaming, and furniture and décor shattering apart from bullet impacts was obscuring any clear view. Crap, there weren’t even any reflective surfaces, no way to check who it was. The Barracuda and his men had dropped to their knees and elbows, wriggling to find safe firing positions. Yukihiro couldn’t really make out what was being said by whoever was putting down the opposing fire. The opening cry ‘Stop you fucks!’ had been shouted in Japanese, but he was pretty sure that he could hear someone else verbally abusing the Barracuda’s family lineage and sexual prowess rather colourfully in Min Nan. It seemed to involve camels and turtles, and possibly the testes of a baboon – his Min Nan was shamefully rusty. It felt weird thinking about those kinds of things. There was no time for messing about; his mind had eventually realised that. He needed to get out of here and quick. Just because this accidental Samaritan had gotten him out of the Mini Barracuda’s clutches, it didn’t mean they wouldn’t try and take him out as soon as they had dealt with the Barracuda and his men. Leaning down onto his side, he stretched out his arm, reached with his fingertips for the bag’s strap. Mini Barracuda had dropped it when the bullet tore across his hand. He was still curled up on the floor, shrieking and hyper ventilating. This must be his first shoot out then; lucky for him, frigging moron. Odd, the squeals seemed far away, as did the return fire of the Barracuda’s men. Almost there, he nearly had it. Cripes! He flinched and ducked as low as he possibly could when automatic weapons fire hit the dais wall, and one of the wooden fence posts splintered spectacularly over their heads. Just a little further; that was all he had to go. He grabbed the strap with awkward finger tips, and then yanked it towards him.

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Then, just another few feet in front of him, he noticed Mini Barracuda’s gun. It must have skittered out of its owner’s grasp when he had been shot. Could he get to it? Did he have the time? Crap, the little git must have had it on a safety lock then, if hadn’t gone off when he dropped it. He could take out the Barracuda if he did get a hold of it. That was never part of the original plan; it would only piss off Yoshida even more a, nagging little voice told him, the more practical side of his brain said ‘you’ve got a gun in your freaking shoulder holster so what do you need this one for?’ The part of his brain that held his survival instinct just screamed “KILL THEM ALL, KILL THEM ALL, RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN!” Survival Instinct was winning, one nil then. Unfortunately for him, Mini Barracuda hadn’t gone completely into shock, at least not yet. The younger man had gone completely mad though, judging by the look in his eyes. “You… You set us up… I’ll kill you for this… Made me look a fucking moron… It’s all your fault…” Mini Barracuda hissed, rolling onto his back, scrambling for the dropped gun. Uh oh – this couldn’t end well for him. Yukihiro was about to shuffle over on his belly for the gun – he wasn’t going to be killed off by some gangster’s snot nosed brat. Then more automatic weapons fire tore out, hitting the wall and one large window behind them, and both men ducked down again, arms over their heads. That mixture of a coppery smell and burning smell was starting to saturate the air, though the burning dominated; both sides must have taken bad hits now. Paintings and decorations were shredded and clattered to the floor, and the two way mirror shattered and collapsed rather spectacularly in a loud cacophony of tinkling. Yukihiro was never one to miss out on an opportunity.

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He gave Mini Barracuda a vicious elbow to the face; he thought he heard a sick crack and a nauseated cry, but he wasn’t staying around to find out. He got to his feet and began to scuttle over to the window, trying to stay low. Everything felt so slow. Only bursts of noises reached him now and then, the loudest was his own blood surging. He was almost there. He was almost home free. He just had one foot on the window ledge. He was almost… Then there was pain. It was white hot and it seared along the right side of his abdomen. He stumbled and tumbled through the window, colliding to his knees, nearly dropping the bag. Probably cut his legs on impact, but for some reason his body felt numb. It wasn’t important. It didn’t matter who had rescued him or tried to kidnap him. It didn’t matter who had injured him. There was only one thing that was important anymore. Only one thing mattered now. He had to run. He had to get away. He had to escape, away from this madness. He had to survive. Thank you for reading! More Cold Ghost is available at http://evashandor.wordpress.com/category/new-reader-start-here/, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com Jump back to the Story Descriptions

Zombie Diapers
Zombie Diapers is a zombie survival thriller by Cassandra Stryffe. It can be found at http://stories.dreamfantastic.com/zombiediapers/. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. I stared down at the tiny bundle in the old laundry basket and sighed. I needed to go out and get a few things, things I had never thought I would need. I hadn’t stockpiled anything for babies, hadn’t given any thought to what allowing other people in here would mean to my hoarded supplies. Now I needed to. I sat back on my heels and pondered just how the hell I got here. A few months ago everything had been normal. I was shopping for the perfect dress for prom, Brad was taking me in a limo that he had rented for just the two of us. I was getting my nails done and bitching about my measly 100$ a month allowance. Then the unthinkable happened. I wouldn’t have survived if it hadn’t been for the weird old guy across the street. He saved me, and a few others. But now they were all gone and me and this tiny, tiny baby were all that was left. Shaking my head I decided I didn’t have time to sit there and re-hash old memories. Someone was counting on me. She needed me. And I didn’t know the first thing about babies. My family had been fairly well off, not rich, but comfortable. I had never babysat, and I was an only child (and something of a surprise to my folks who were in their 40′s when they had me). Now I had to figure out how to feed and change and whatever else a baby. All by myself. But I couldn’t risk taking her with me, what if I dropped her?

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And I didn’t want to leave her alone. But if I left and didn’t come back she would starve, and if I didn’t go, she would starve. I decided my best course of action was to put the basket on top of one of the old crates, and drag Anna’s body outside. Then I could take the old red truck Sarge had left me and drive to that little daycare about a mile up the road. While I was out, maybe I should try to figure out how to operate the swing bridge to the island. If I could do that, I could leave it open and I wouldn’t have to worry about any of those things walking here from the mainland. Maybe not, I would have to stop at the library too and grab some baby books. Assuming they had any. There might not be time, how long can you leave a newborn alone anyway? Well thinking about it was not going to get it done so I put the basket-turned-cradle up on one of the big shipping crates where the things couldn’t get the baby if they got in while I was gone. After checking to make sure the coast was clear I dragged Anna’s blood soaked corpse outside and dumped it the huge pit that Sarge had dug. I hopped in his old truck, carefully steering around downed trees and corpses. Some of the corpses were up and walking around. My first stop was the library. I had worked there every summer since I was fourteen and I knew that there was a spare key hidden on a nail behind the “returns” box. It was still there and getting in was no problem. While I was there I loaded up about ten old Wal-Mart bags full of books, mostly baby books, but I got some books about guns too. Sarge had left me an old handgun when he went out for supplies and never came back. But I didn’t even know where the safety was, let alone how to turn it on and off. I knew guns needed to be cleaned, I mean bad guys are always cleaning guns in the movies, but I didn’t know how. I also grabbed some of the urban fantasy books I liked to read. There was one series about a mechanic who was a werecoyote that was my favorite. The library trip was mercifully uneventful. No

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corpses here. I knew I’d have to drive through a residential area to get to the daycare though. And that scared me. I drove slow and careful down Lighthouse Road to get to the daycare. In the last 5 weeks Sarge had cleared all of the abandoned cars off the main roads on the island so I didn’t have to worry about that. The last storm had left a lot of tree branches and trash in the road though. There were also at least twenty ambulatory corpses between the library and Rainbows End Daycare. I tried not hit them, I was worried about hurting the truck. The only thing I knew about cars was how to drive and pump gas. If something broke, I was screwed. I ran over one though. I didn’t see him at first, I was to busy trying to watch all directions at once and then Kevin Anderson popped up from in the tiger lillies at the edge of the road and I ran right over him. Before he had died I had HATED that kid. He was the most annoying 4 year old in the world. Always filthy and covered with snot, he was always crying. Like, constantly. Non stop. I hadn’t wanted to hit him though, but his tiny body disappeared beneath the hood before I could hit the brakes. The truck rolled over him lurching a bit, like a speed bump, I thought with a shudder. There was one corpse shambling around the small parking lot in front of the obnoxiously purple building with the cheerful rainbows, now splattered with old blood and darker things. I got out of the truck, raised the crowbar up, and walked straight towards it. It was Mrs. Moody, my 9th grade art teacher. She had two kids that went to Rainbows End while she was at work. I hit her in the head. Really hard, so hard the shock reverberated up my arm. Her head crumpled like an empty soda can. The doors were locked, so I wrapped Mrs. Moody’s gory sweater around the crowbar and broke the glass with as little force as I could. I had to hit the window five or six times, each time I did I cringed inside at the noise. The dead were attracted to sound.

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It took me hours to get everything I thought I needed from the daycare and I had kill almost a dozen of my former neighbors before I was done. By the time the sun was setting and I climbed back into Sarge’s rusty old red truck I was covered in dark brown blood and bits of skull and brain. It was disgusting. And I smelled like a dead cat left out in the sun for three weeks. I was really looking forward to getting back to the old warehouse on the docks. There were no more dead people walking around outside when I got “home”. But the baby was crying, high, thin wails. It sounded almost cute. She sounded kinda like that dolphin from the stupid old tv show my mom had liked when she was a kid. I took a lukewarm shower before I fed the baby though. Sarge had rigged up these weird black bags that we refilled when they were empty. He said most soldiers carried one. I don’t know what they were called or anything, but they worked. It was just hard to get the sun to warm them enough through the windows. But there was electricity from an honest-to-god waterwheel that the old man had rigged in our first week here. I realized how lucky I was when I was scrubbing the caked on ick off my skin. I had had a cast on my right arm when the world “went to hell in a handbasket” as Anna had been fond of saying. Sarge and the group of four other adults had done pretty much everything without a whole lot of help from me. They had made this old shipping warehouse on the docks rather nicely livable. But one by one they all died. From stupid things too. Billy had gotten cut up feet from the rocks while he was out fishing. His feet got infected and he died. Mr. Rice went to the vet’s office to get medical supplies and came back with two dog bites. He also died from infection. Martha had an asthma attack that we weren’t able to help her with and she died. And Ms. Giles hung herself. After three weeks it was just me and Sarge. And then two weeks later he went out and never came back. That was almost a month ago. Anna had shown up in the middle of the night three days ago when her little boat washed up next to the dock. The sound of

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her banging on the doors had almost made me pee my pants. She had never told me how she wound up all alone, pregnant on a boat in the middle of nowhere. But I was really lucky to have a roof over my head, running water, and tons of stockpiled food. Not to mention electricity to cook it with. After my shower I curled up on the couch with the tiny baby and fed her a bottle, carefully following all the direction in the “Your Newborn and You” book. It was a lot harder than it looked. But the baby was quiet and small and so cute. Even if her head was shaped really funny from the birth. I stared down at her and sighed again. How the fuck was I supposed to protect her from crazed flesh eating corpses, winter storms, and everything else? Thank you for reading! More Zombie Diapers is available at http://stories.dreamfantastic.com/zombiediapers/, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com Jump back to the Story Descriptions

Independence Day
Independence Day is a murder mystery by Bex Aaron. It can be found at http://bcd.sitesled.com/haven-park. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. July 5, 1966; Daybreak One shoe off, one shoe on. There were ants crawling up her slightly bent left leg. Her skirt fell in an awkward way that most ladies would find very inappropriate. She was lying on her back, with one arm stretched outward and the other bent, her hand loosely lingering over her throat. Her slightly pursed lips had an unmistakable bluish tint to them; her face contorted to reveal the agony she’d endured. Kneeling down, Shane Marcette shook his head sadly. Carol Mathison was dead. “Hey, isn’t that…” Brinks, a three year vet of Haven Park PD, allowed his voice to trail off. He knew precisely who it was. Every officer on the force knew who it was. A chill encompassed Shane’s entire body as he surveyed her once-beautiful features and he fought back a flood of emotion as he stood. In his entire career with the Haven Park PD, he’d seen countless dead bodies - but never before had he come face to face with a murder victim. Things like that just didn’t happen here…and especially not to people like Carol Mathison. She was beautiful. She was vibrant. She was so young…and this was what she was reduced to. Lying near the duck pond, lifeless,

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her skirt raised to reveal her underwear. It honestly made Shane sick…yet, he could not take his eyes off her. Brinks cleared his throat. “We’re gonna canvas the area and talk to the one who found her, okay, boss?” Shane could only muster a weak nod, eyes still locked on Carol’s broken body. For what felt like an eternity, he just stood there, staring at her. Maybe it was not the most professional behavior, but Carol Mathison was more than just a random victim. Carol Mathison was a friend…a sister…someone Shane watched grow from a musicloving teenager into a young wife, a frightened new mother, a devastated widow, an unhappy fiancee. Shane remembered when Carol accepted Jeff’s proposal quite vividly. Stanley called him in disbelief to share the news. To be honest, no one could really believe it. The two weren’t exactly a match made in heaven - and most believed that Carol could have done a lot better than someone who didn’t bother even trying to take care of her basic needs. For as long as Shane had known Jeff Howard, the guy had never had a decent job, something that made him angry to this day. It was up to Carol to support the household, support the children…children Jeff then had the audacity to say he wanted to adopt. Just last month, Shane ran into Jeff, Carol and the boys at a restaurant. The encounter was friendly enough, but the underlying tension between Jeff and Carol was evident even to the most casual of observers. Shane attempted to talk to Carol about it on the phone a few days later, but she cheerfully wrote it off as “a bump in the road,” thanked him for his concern and hung up. As he stood there, rage encompassed Shane’s entire body. Bump in the road indeed. There was no doubt in his mind who’d done this…he just had to prove it.

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Shane glanced over his shoulder to ensure he was not being watched, then knelt down again. This was a major break in protocol, but he could not in good conscience leave her lying there like that. Gently, he reached down to lower her skirt to a more conservative position. “Carol,” he whispered, blinking back tears, “I’m so sorry, doll. You deserve so much better. But that bastard is gonna pay for this. Believe me, that bastard is gonna pay for this.” July 5, 1966, 9 a.m. Terri Englund frowned at her reflection in the mirror. She did not look very good today - and after that fight with Lance last night, she didn't feel very good either. She awoke groggy and confused this morning, memories of the bitter war of words still ringing in her ears. He said so many hurtful things last night, things a loving husband should never say to his wife of almost five years. But, Terri considered grimly, as she attempted to style her short blonde hair, it was quite possible she deserved such a vicious verbal assault. Things just weren't the same. They hadn't been for some time. As much as Lucas liked blaming Lance for the unraveling of their marriage, Terri knew that a large portion of it was her own fault. She gave herself a makeover of sorts late last year - and the reinvention of herself she'd created with Lucas's help was a far cry from the innocent virgin Lance married all those years ago. Terri couldn't really explain the metamorphosis that took place, except to say she just snapped. When her parents died, any shred of normalcy she'd hoped to achieve shattered. Brett did the best he could to hold her together - and to a lesser extent, so did Lance but there was little anyone could do to stop the descent. Terri just woke up one morning not caring anymore. In a week's time, she transformed her waist-length raven hair into a bleached blonde pixie cut.

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She began wearing makeup and lots of it - something she'd never done before. She took 20 pounds off her already slight frame. She started spending less and less time at home, often forging off on solitary pilgrimages at dawn and not returning until dusk...leaving Lance angrily waiting for his wife (and his dinner) sometimes up to two hours. And then, when she met Lucas in the park, things really went insane. Terri now considered that chance encounter in February the point of no return...and the point in which she knew she could not delude herself into believing she was happy being nothing but Mrs. Englund anymore. There was more out there. So, so, so much more. Awkwardly, Terri pulled the sleeves of her cardigan down over her wrists. Yes, it was a bit hot for such attire, but there was no way she could meet Brett with those things showing. He would never forgive her - and she would never forgive herself for such blatant disregard for what he stood for...what the whole Woodward family once stood for. For a moment, Terri was overcome with emotion, remembering what was and never likely would be again, before wiping at the smudges in her heavy eye makeup and pulling herself together. She had to focus on the matter at hand. It was going to take a lot of courage - courage Terri wasn't entirely sure she possessed. Still, something had to be done about this situation. She couldn't handle it on her own. She just had no idea what to do. But Brett would. Brett always knew what to do. The usual suspects (Brett and Marnie) were at First Baptist of Haven Park when Terri arrived, but oddly enough, no one was stirring in the church office when she used her key to come inside. It was quiet. Way too quiet. Marnie was not at her desk. There was no radio on, no ringing phone, nothing but chilling silence. Terri felt a bead of sweat begin to dance down her neck, as a flood of worried, paranoid thoughts invaded her mind. "Brett?" she called, upon noticing that the

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door to the pastor's study was slightly ajar. "Brett, it's me. Are you in there?" Before Terri could open the door, Marnie Blake emerged from the pastor's study. The dramatic eye makeup she wore on a daily basis was steadily running beneath her eyes and her nose was blood red, but she still mustered a warm smile. "Terri, darling, good morning. How are you?" she greeted. Terri reached out to her friend. "What's the matter? You look like you've been crying! What's happened?" "Oh, dear, I..." Marnie hesitated. She did not want Terri to hear this news from her. "Marnie!" Terri hugged her. "Oh, come here. Talk to me. What's happened? Is it something with Evan?" "No. No." Marnie's answer was instant. "Evan is fine." "Peaches..." Brett Woodward came out of his study and immediately grabbed his sister in an embrace. His eyes were red-rimmed, and his usual smile was replaced with a look of utter sorrow. She began to feel a cold numbness creep up over her entire body. She'd only seen Brett look this way one time before...when he had to tell her that their parents were dead. She withdrew from the embrace to stare at him, eyes wide. "What? What's going on?" In that moment, he realized she didn't know. "I don't know if you should hear this from me," he begged off, his voice somewhat unsteady. "No," Terri insisted. "I want to know. Something's happened, and I want to know what. I need to know, Brett. I need to know!"

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"Peaches..." Brett paused for a long time, then sighed. "Carol's dead." Terri shook her head emphatically, blinking back tears. "No. No, she can't be. There must be some mistake. I only talked to Carol yesterday afternoon. She can't be dead." Brett reached out to hug her again. "I'm so sorry. There's no mistake. I wish there was." "But - but - but...how?" Terri reached a hand up to her suddenly pounding head. "How? How does a 26-year old woman go from just fine one day to dead the next? How? How does that happen, Brett?" "I think you should sit down," Brett suggested. He attempted to guide his sister to the chair facing his desk, but she violently turned back toward him, tears flowing freely. "How did it happen? I want to know how it happened." "It...it appears to be..." Brett looked to Marnie, hoping she would step in with an easier way to state the facts. She only looked on sadly. He cleared his throat. "Terri, it appears to be...murder. I...I'm so sorry to have to be the one to tell you." Seeing the look of horror on her face, he grabbed her in another tight embrace. "I'm so sorry..." Terri, unable to speak, only clung to him. She just couldn't believe something like this would happen. "I'm so sorry," Brett whispered again. "Who?" Terri finally asked, pulling back to stare at him in the eye. "Who could do that to Carol? Who would do something like that? What kind of monster...?" Brett shook his head sadly. "I don't know. That's what the police are trying to find out."

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"I can't believe this!" Terri cried. "I just can't believe this!" Brett ran his hand down her back slowly. "I can't either. May the Lord have mercy on their soul..." July 5. 1966, 10:30 a.m. “So you saw Carol leaving the house last night?” Officer Brinks stood in the doorway, taking careful notes as Mrs. Maryellen James spoke. She was no stranger to the Haven Park PD. As the across-thestreet neighbor to Jeff and Carol she’d called the cops at least three times in as many months to report their violent arguing, but swore there was no major altercation last night. Picking up her poodle, Mrs. James nodded. “Yes. She left at about 9:30. Maybe ten.” “Was she alone?” “Yes. Jeff wasn’t with her.” “Did she leave on foot? Which direction did she head?” “She didn’t have the car. And, um, she went that way. I don’t know what direction that is.” Mrs. James pointed. Brinks continued to take notes. “Did you see Jeff Howard at any point in time?” “Yes. I was outside walking my dog and I saw Jeff come back from somewhere.” “Was this before or after Carol left?” “Oh, this was way after. This was probably around two or three in the morning. Little Muffin here woke me up and I took her out and there he was, coming back.” Brinks stared back at her. “And how did he look?”

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“He looked in a mad rush, to be honest,” Mrs. James confided. “I waved at him, but I don’t think he saw me. He just went straight to the house, looked behind him a few times, then went in.” Immediately, wheels began turning in Brinks’s head. “He looked behind him a few times? Like he thought he might have been followed?” Again, Mrs. James nodded. “That’s what it looked like to me.” “And you said there was no fighting last night?” “None that I could hear. Oh, this is just a terrible tragedy. Carol was a lovely young woman! I just can’t believe it!” “Yes ma’am,” Brinks agreed. “This is a terrible tragedy. Thank you very much for your time. We may need you to come down to the station to give an official statement.” “That would be no problem!” Mrs. James insisted. “I will do whatever I can to help.” “Yes ma’am. Thank you very much, and have a good day.” July 5, 1966, 11 a.m. The knocking on the door jarred Jeff out of a fitful sleep on the couch, and he stumbled toward it just as Mickey, the older of Carol’s two sons, came out of his bedroom. “Is that Mom?” the four-year old asked. “Yeah, buddy,” Jeff answered with a nod. “This is probably your mom. Why don’t you go back to bed and let me talk to her for a while, okay?” Times like this made Jeff glad that Carol was such a good mother. Without a single word of protest, the child good-naturedly

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obliged. Jeff ran a hand over his face, as the knocking on the door grew louder and more persistent. “Okay, okay, okay!” he called. “I’m coming, Carol.” Though Jeff hoped to see his apologetic fiancee when he opened the door, he was instead greeted by Shane Marcette and Officer Brinks. “Good morning, Jeff,” Shane began. “Hope we didn’t wake you. Mind if we come in?” “Shane? Huh? Uh, yeah. Okay. I guess.” Jeff stepped back to allow them entrance. “What - what’s going on? Is there a problem?” Immediately, he turned toward Shane, fear evident in his eyes. “Is this about Carol?” “Why do you ask?” Shane met his frightened gaze with a challenging one. “This is about Carol, isn’t it? Did she get herself in trouble? Oh God, I told her not to leave last night! Oh God!” Shane could not remain professional any longer, reaching forward and violently pulling Jeff toward him by his t-shirt. “Don’t play games with me, Jeff. We both know what this is about!” “What? What are you talking about?” Jeff wiggled free, staring at him. “What’s going on?” Officer Brinks stepped up at that moment, and moved between Shane and Jeff. Something was about to escalate here, and that was the last thing anyone in this town needed. “We’re gonna need you to come down to the station,” he informed. Jeff blinked repeatedly. “And why’s that? What’s going on?” “You know damn well what’s going on, Jeff!” Shane yelled. Brinks turned around and gave him a sharp look. Emotions were running high right now, no doubt about it, but Shane needed to

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get a grip. He couldn’t accuse this guy of anything yet – not without solid proof, or a confession. And he wasn’t gonna get either of those if he kept acting like this. Clearing his throat, Brinks turned back to Jeff. “We just need to ask you a few questions about last night.” Jeff took a step back. They didn’t even need to tell him. He already knew. “She’s dead, isn’t she?” Shane’s eyes widened at that question, but Brinks only nodded solemnly. “Yes. I’m afraid she is.” Jeff raised both hands to his face. “My God. Oh God. What happened? Oh…oh God!” Brinks turned immediately to Shane, to silently warn him against another accusation, before turning back to Jeff. “We are hoping you can help us answer that question. We need you to come down to the station with us, okay?” "I - the kids. I can't leave the kids...Let me...Oh, God, Carol!" Jeff felt tears well up in his eyes, but rather than break down in front of them, he closed his eyes and nodded. "Okay. Okay. I'll do whatever you need me to do." Thank you for reading! More Independance Day is available at http://bcd.sitesled.com/haven-park, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com Jump back to the Story Descriptions

The Undeadslayer
The Undeadslayer is a high fantasty novel by J.J. Adams. It can be found at http://stories.dreamfantastic.com/undeadslayer/. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. Of the many inns that dot the landscape of Cambre this one was as typical as any other. The same rustic, wooden charm. The stone chimneys releasing lazy wisps of smoke into the sky as promise of warmth within. The stone wall surrounding it, the well in the courtyard, the stables with the soft sounds of horses eating and sleeping. Nothing seemed to make this one stand out from any other at all. The only thing unique about it was Celine, who went wearily about her task of cleaning up the dining room after the dinner crowd had dissipated. It was a small country inn that also served as the area's only restaurant and was a popular place for the local farm folk and workers from the nearby village to meet in the evenings to socialize and discuss the day and hear the news. Still others came to see her. Celine didn’t like to stand out. Rather she wanted to be unnoticed and avoid attention. But it was hard for her not to. Her people almost never came this far north into the lands of Men. She needed shelter and money so here she was, cleaning tables and rooms and bringing people their food. Taller than most girls, hair the color of bright gold, and skin pale and perfect, though it wasn’t her beauty alone that brought them. She gave a side glance at the table of three young men trying not to look as though they were staring at her. Celine had never seen them

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before and with a small inward sigh knew that she was the reason for them being there. After all, she was most likely the only elf they’d ever see in their lives. “Kat,” Celine called to the girl at the bar dusting off some bottles. “Come help with this.” Kat looked at Celine and smiled with the same sweet enthusiasm she always had when smiling at Celine. Kat was a pretty girl in her own right, shorter than Celine with reddish hair and tan skin. Kat’s curves also filled out her dress much more impressively than Celine’s slender figure did. Though Celine still got all the attention Kat never seemed to show any sort of jealousy. Kat always did seem to stare at Celine as QSz m\d]]k alongside each other for several months. The two cleared some empty mugs off a table and carried them off to the kitchen together. “Kat,” Celine said softly to the girl when they’d left the dinning room. “If those boys call for more can you tend them? Their eyes won’t be so disappointed to have only you to feast on.” Kat giggled a little. “I suppose so. The dark-haired one is handsome I think.” “Thinking of entertaining him?” Celine said with a slight grin. “Ah, I’m not sure. Our room is small and I don’t want to bother you.” “I can be elsewhere.” “No!” Kat hissed, “You should not sleep in someone else’s bed! You are too pretty for them!” “I think you misunderstand,” Celine said. “Good,” Kat replied. “Their hands are too rough and dirty for you.”

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“Hmm,” Celine mused “Mine are rough and dirty as well,” she said while holding them up. “They are not!” "I'm done here finally," Celine says stretching her arms over her head. “I need air.” “I think those boys are calling,” Kat said. “I will go! You rest!” Celine smiled as Kat departed, then stepped through the kitchen and out the back door to the yard facing the forest. It was a clear and crisp early autumn night, the quarter moon low in the starlight sky hanging above the tall unspoiled tree-tops. The smell of pine from the forest tickled her nose as a light breeze drifted through the forest to the inn. She sat down on the back steps of the doorway and inhaled the clean night air deeply. She slowly smiled in contentment, like a dozing cat in front of a fireplace, with her eyes closed. Suddenly she opened her eyes upon remembering that this would be the last time she could see the countryside for an hour or two, wanting to drink in the sight before more drudgery. She was overcome by the desire to strip off all her clothes and run into the woods, dancing and bouncing about, like she'd heard that some of her wilder cousins would often do. She began to think seriously about doing exactly that during an hour in which most would be well asleep and unlikely to be startled by a vision of the local elfmaid dancing wildly in the forest immodestly. In the distance came a sharp sound that startled her. It was an extraordinarily loud popping noise that seemed to echo through the vale. Not unlike the sound of a firework when they would explode in the sky. The unaccustomed noise disturbed a few sleeping birds in the distance who took wing with some complaint. Celine's body tensed as she gazed in the direction of the noise, apprehension rising. What ever could it be?

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Another noise came. This time low and pulsing. A deep sound that you felt in your bones before you could hear it with your ears. At the distance she and the town were at it was barely discernible but she wondered how bearable it would be if she were closer. A light blueish glow could now be seen in the direction of the sounds. The glow was pale and seemed to go just beyond the boundaries of the treetops. Some of the light filtered through the surrounding trees, giving the impression that it was coming from something remarkably luminescent on the level of the ground in that area. The forest grew still and the wind itself seemed to die. Suddenly the darkness of the forest around the inn gave an impression of something ominous. From windows on the back of the inn Celine could see faces of patrons in their rooms as others beside herself took notice of the strange occurrences. She became aware that some of the other maids were gathering behind her now, chatting quietly to each other in question of what they'd heard. But almost as soon as it started it was over. The sky grew dark again. The noise of birds and nervous horses from the stable died down. After a moment of silence it became apparent that whatever transpired had passed. Some people gathered to discuss what it was that had occurred. Talk of putting together a group of men to scout around was put around. Celine had decided that whatever this was that it was most likely to be none of her own concern. Nothing else followed it, no more sounds, no rushing hordes of monsters. People who had been closer looked about the area but reported nothing strange. Inside the inn the young men had left, presumably to join the other men who were doing informal patrols of the town. The innkeeper, Tarl, had been pulled away from wherever it was he had been holed up by the ruckus. He was at the bar grumbling about the odd happenings in usual grumpy manner. Celine told Kat to go ahead and go to bed and let her finish the night as thank you for dealing with the

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young men earlier. Shortly after Kat’s departure up the stairs to the room the two shared, a man came in through the front door. “Welcome,” Tarl said in his rough voice with his usual lack of personal warmth. He looked sideways at Celine who gave a soft sigh and put down her broom to move over to the table the stranger was sitting down at. “Welcome,” she began, “we have some leftover stew, bread, and cheese and we only have ale available right now unless...” was as far as she got before catching her breath. The man had pulled his hood down an looked up at her from his seat. She cursed herself silently, she should have known. He was tall, slender, and seemed graceful. Nothing out of the ordinary in that but with the hood down it was plain to see, he was an elf like her. “The bread, cheese, and ale will do,” he said simply. She simply nodded and moved quickly back into the kitchen. As she assembled the meal her mind raced. Was he after her? Did he have any clue who she was or why she was here? His hair was dark and skin more brownish, he was probably one of her wilder cousins, not like her of whose people the men sometimes referred to as “city elves.” He didn’t seem like he thought her anything special, plus he knew she was there. No point in trying to hide or run off. No, it was more important to know if he was in fact here for her. It was unlikely he’d try to kidnap her with Tarl in the room and all those men walking around outside. He knew she was there but she was safe for now. She took the tray with the food and drink and returned. As she passed by Tarl grumbled “Took long enough” under his breath at her. She moved to the table and began to set the items down. “What brings you to these parts?” she asked conversationally.

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“Hunting,” was all he said, gazing at the fire. She didn’t like that response. He shifted his gaze up at her. “You’re awfully far north.” “So I am,” she set his drink down. “I didn’t know city elves ever came this far.” “It seems we do. And you?” “As I said, hunting. Anyway I live around here though I’m just passing through.” With that he took his eyes off of her and began tearing into the bread. Seeing as the conversation was over, Celine went back to her broom. If he lived near, she thought, he probably had no clue that anyone would be looking for her. She let herself relax a little. _____________________ The front door suddenly swung open with unusual force, as an odd gust of wind seemed to be behind it. In the doorway stood a young man, local farmer from the looks of him. Plain clothes and short brown hair, plain of looks but far from unpleasant. The elfman sitting alone seemed to regard the young man from the side of his eyes. “Kennet,” Tarl began at the young man. “I figured you’d be out with the others searchin’ for whatever caused all that racket.” “No,” Kennet said distantly. “I’m not with them, so I came here.” “Well that’s plain,” Tarl grumbled. “Come over here and have a drink, lad.” Kennet seemed to ignore him however and made his way over to where Celine was half-heartedly sweeping the floor. He stood before her with an odd look, bordering on happy and delirious. Celine looked at him uncertainly.

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“Could you get me a drink? And, and one for yourself? Let’s sit together for a while.” “Kennet,” Celine said with some concern. “You okay?” “I’m fine, that’s silly. Don’t be silly. Let’s sit together, Celine. We never have.” “I don’t think I want to,” Celine said. His words did not perturb her but the manner in which he said them. Something was wrong. “Why not? Am I not good enough?” The distant look of vacancy began to melt away from his face, gradually being replaced with a rejected look before becoming a look of anger. “You never sit with anyone, why not me? Is it because I am a man?” “Ken, really, I-” “What must I do for you notice me!?” he shouted and grabbed her arm. The broom she held clattered to the ground and she gave a small shriek. “Now really, Ken!” Tarl thundered from across the bar, beginning to move towards them. “It seems as though you’ve hit the bottle enough now!” “Stay back!” Kennet shouted, punctuated by an odd gust of sudden air that hit Tarl full in the face sending him staggering backwards onto a table. “Tarl!” Celine shouted. The door from the kitchen burst open as Kat ran in. “What’s going-” Kat began before giving a start of terror. Celine’s eyes followed Kat’s from Tarl picking himself off the floor to Kennet’s face beside her. His eyes glowed red and his face was contorted into a hideous mask of rage.

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“The elf is too good for me!” Kennet roared in an unnatural voice. “I’m too plain, too rough, too human for her!” “Ken, something has a hold of you, you need to calm yourself,” Celine said hoping to reach him. “What I need is you!” he shrieked and pulled her closer to him, grabbing at her dress his with his free hand and beginning to tug at it. The hesitant Kat rushed forward. “Stop!” she cried. “Excuse me,” came a voice behind Kennet. As Kennet’s head turned to look the elfman, having come up besides them without being noticed, slapped the open-palm of his hand onto Kennet’s forehead and began to pull at something. A strange shape, almost like a shadow, seemed to be pulled away from Kennet’s head. “Come on now, this boy is no good for you,” the elfman continued. “The crack in his heart isn’t big enough for you to hide in. It’s lust, unrequited love from afar at best. That’s not enough to fully hide yourself, to keep yourself from spilling over into him and causing this. Let him go and I’ll send you back where you belong.” Kennet struggled. “No!” he shouted. “She is mine! I will have her!” “Is that you or the boy talking? Really now, this is just,” the elfman pulled at the shadow harder grunting with the effort, “this is just, really getting, silly. Let him go!” With a roar and a flash the elfman fell one way and Kennet the other, taking Celine down with him. “Where did it go!” the elfman said sitting up suddenly. “W-where did what?” a bewildered Kat begain.

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“The shadow! The spirit! I yanked it out but couldn’t hold on! Don’t tell me you didn’t pay attention to where it went?” “I just saw a flash...” Kat said. “C-Celine?” Kennet said. “Are you okay?” she asked him. “I, I don’t know. I did, oh. I didn’t mean to do anything! I mean, oh no.” he seemed to deflate a bit where he sat. “Yes yes, he was possessed. Now help me find it! It’s a shadow that moves on it’s own. Keep your mind clear! If you let your thoughts dwell on something like a regret or a painful memory it could slip into your heart like it did to this boy.” “A regret? I,” Kat began, still baffled. The elfman stood up sharply and looked at her intensely. “What? You what?” She just looked him, he moved right in front of her and she took an involuntary step back. “Is there something you are hiding? Hiding from yourself? Or from someone? Hmm?” “No!” Kat said weakly. “What is it? Love, perhaps?” Kat blushed. “Love! Someone you care for? Someone you want? You can’t have them?” “Why are you...?” Kat said frustrated as a shape suddenly streaked across the room. The elfman grabbed her by the arm and yanked her to the side stepping between her and the shape. Holding up his open hand, it began to glow and the shadow seemed to try and divert itself but he caught it at the last moment. “There! Thank you, girl. You standing there stammering with uncertainty made me guess that you might be an ideal target for this spirit, so I had to goad you on a bit. Sorry for the yelling at you and all

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that.” he moved over to the bar, pulling out a piece of chalk with his free hand while the small shadow continued to writhe snakelike in his hand. “What in the hells is going on!” thundered Tarl, managing to his feet at last. “Are you writing on my bar?” “Yes, but it’s chalk. You can wash it off later.” People from outside were starting to gather in front and a few braver souls were venturing inside to see about the fuss. When people saw the shadow many gasps could be heard. Tarl clenched his teeth and moved to the elfman’s side. “Get that thing out of here!” he hissed in a whisper. “Isn’t that what I’m doing? Done,” he said putting the chalk back in his pocket and slamming the spirit down onto the bar in the middle of a complex series of circles he’d just drawn. It immediately tried to jump away but something held it in place. “I need both hands free to send it home.” He clapped his hands together and began chanting as energy filled the air. Tarl moved away with disgust. Magic. The people were murmuring about it, and Tarl could feel business leaving his grasp as the seconds flowed by. But the moment didn’t last long, a sudden loud CRACK! and the shadowy spirit disappeared with a wisp of smoke. “Done.” the elfman said simply. “Your troubles are over. That thing gave me quite a fight earlier but as weak as it was it couldn’t manage to hang onto this realm. Now if you don’t mind I’d like to finish my ale.” “YOU’LL DO NOTHING OF THE SORT!” Tarl roared finally finding both his wits and his courage. Money was on the line here. “Come again?”

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“GET OUT!” “But I paid for this!” “GET OUT!” Tarl’s face reddened to sickening color. The elfman regarded the tavern owner for a moment. “Fine.” He picked up his cloak and was out the door without another word. The people who had been milling around the front seemed to follow the odd elf. “I guess we should clean up, eh Kat?” Celine began. “You too,” Karl croaked in a horse voice. “What?” “I said you too! Get out.” “What!” Kat shrieked. “She didn’t do anything! What are you on about?!” “I took pity on Celine so I let her stay. Figure she’d bring in the curious. But she brings in this! And if it’s not spirits and other weirdness, its men who can’t keep their hands or take no for an answer causing problems!” The quiet Kennet seemed to shrink a little more at that. “You’re not worth the trouble, girl,” Tarl said. “Get out. Follow the other weird one back to wherever it is your kind comes from.” Celine seemed to be carved from marble for all the emotion she showed then. She regarded him very calmly, almost puzzled. “Okay,” was all she said before moving to gather her things. “You, boy. You help clean up the mess you made. Kat, get to it,” Tarl barked.

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“Do it yourself!” Kat said obstinately and dashed off behind Celine. “Maybe he’ll calm down?” Kat asked Celine when they were in their room. “I don’t think so. I’m ready to leave anyway,” Celine said. “Well, I’m going with you!” Celine looked up from her things at the young girl. “You have no idea where I’m going.” “I don’t care. It will be better than here, I know that. All I can look forward to at this place is maybe finding some farm boy who’ll be so enamoured with me that he’ll make me a farm wife. Or I just end up like some of those other girls and hoping to get enough money opening up my legs to whoever that I can live without starving when I get old and my looks go. I’d rather go with you.” “When you put it like that,” Celine said with a slight smile. “Then I’m going!” Kat said happily and began to put her things into a duffel. When the two came back down they found Tarl grumbling while scrubbing at the chalk lines in the bar and Kennet had turned the tables back right and had taken up Celine’s broom. Tarl looked up, face filled with scorn. “Told you to get to work, Kat!” he barked at her. “And I told you to stick it, you impotent old fool!” she shouted back. Tarl began to growl and move towards her, obviously bent on giving her a backhand across the face. Kennet held up the broom and blocked Tarl’s way. “Go on you two, I’ve got everything here,” Kennet said.

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Kat dashed out the front door, like a kid who had been caught doing something wrong. Celine instead paused for a moment and regarded Kennet. “This is who you are, Kennet. Not the thing that came out of you before.” she said with a soft smile before turning and gliding out the door. Thank you for reading! More of The Undeadslayer is available at http://stories.dreamfantastic.com/undeadslayer/, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com Jump back to the Story Descriptions

Phoenix 2125
Phoenix 2125 is a science fiction thriller by Alexander Hollins. It can be found at http://stories.dreamfantastic.com/phoenix2125/. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. The great copper dome gleamed, the harsh sun reflecting off the gentle curve in such a way as to set the very air afire, a great golden halo around a building of pure white. The green blue waters of the bay rolled and crashed along the gentle beach front east of the grand building. Along the beach tiny specks, seen at this distance moving like ants, were people enjoying the fine spring day, before the sun became too much to bear in the later summer months. “Truly beautiful, isn’t it?” The voice snapped Tom from his reverie, and he broke his gaze with the tableau in front of him to look at the speaker. An elderly man in a well tailored business suit gazed bemusedly at him past small oval glasses perched on his nose, his face showing he expected a response. “Err, yes, yes it is. Very stunning. That’s a sight I never expect to get used to, honestly. ” Caught by surprise, Tom stammered in response, hoping he wasn’t making a fool of himself in front of someone important. The elderly gentleman smiled at Tom, his friendly manner quickly putting Tom at ease. “Ohh, you won’t, trust me on that young man. I take it this is your first time to the capitol building?”

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“Yes, well, no. First time since I was a child. I’m actually just back in Arizona. It’s been just under 20 years for me. ” Both men reached for handles set in the roof, Tom with a start, the old man with a practiced ease, as the cable car jostled and bumped. It swung around a tall building along its gear and pulley driven line. As the car settled itself on its new direction, the elderly gentleman settled his glasses back firmly on his nose, and looked back up at Tom, as if seeing him again for the first time. “20 years? Parents moved your family away after the quake, I take it?” Tom gave a half smile. “Something like that. The government home I was living in was destroyed in it. I was moved out to an orphanage in New York. I’ve been trying to get back here ever since. I love the desert. “ The old man snorted. “Well, there’s precious little desert left now, and its shrinking all the time.” He stuck out his hand. “Ed, Ed Marrow, by the way.” Tom took the offered hand and pumped it briefly. “Tom Harlan. Wait. Edward Marrow… Director of Planning and Revising?” Tom took a second look at the inquisitive old man. The suit was obviously expensive, but not inordinately so. His hair, gray going on white, was a rather non conservative cut, a ponytail coming down past his shoulders, something that had been out of style in men for over a decade. But if the man’s claim was true, then he was looking at the 12th wealthiest man in the state. Considered a Barry Goldwater of the day, Edward Marrow was a man who worked in public service, it was said, for the mere enjoyment of it. Ed’s face brightened further, if such a thing was possible. “Indeed! You’ve caught me out! Tom, eh? You must be Felicity’s new assistant, then, fresh from Abrahim Tech? Well, at the very

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least I’ll be seeing you at the bi-weekly status meetings. You must let me know sometime what you think of our fair state these days. “ He turned back towards the window they were standing in front of and gazed out, almost longingly, Tom thought. “It is a gorgeous place. So much lost, yes, but so much gained.” “Indeed sir, I’ve been thinking the same. But… if you don’t mind my asking, why are you taking the cable car? Surely you can afford a private landing, or at least a parking spot?” “Afford? I can afford many things young man. But if I took a car to the capitol, I’d be stuck in that.” Ed pointed to a bridge coming up quickly underneath them, their cable heading for one its supports. Traffic crawled slowly in both directions, a bumper to bumper sea of red lights over a river of brown mud. “As for a private landing, I don’t trust aircars, and besides, if I didn’t take the cable car every morning, which I do, I’d miss out on this!” With those words, the man grasped Tom by the shoulders; he turned Tom around and pulled him next to himself at the window, looking outwards. As the car bumped and jostled at another turn around the supporting tower of the bridge, now under their feet, Tom gasped in wonder. The sun was just rising over the top of the twisted black Encanto Peaks, a solid beam of sunlight streaming through the shattered mountain top towards the dome of the capitol building. Still two miles away, the air that had already been afire nearly exploded with shining light, a rainbow of color as reflected beams from part of the dome facing away from the car stretched out for a mile further to strike the spray from the North Bay Rim, shimmering and glittering. The lights strengthened, most people on the car instinctively looking away from the window, as Tom and Ed stared at the sight, as did one or two others. Then, suddenly, the car was rounding another turn, and the light

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faded, leaving Tim blinking away the bright purple blotches across his sight. Stumbling again as the car made its final course correction, now heading down a slight slope towards the ground, Tom realized that Ed was staring at his face, the bemused look back on his face. “Yes, you’ll do.” “I’ll do? What do you mean?” “Well,” Ed began, “I just find that one doesn’t last long in Planning and Revising if they aren’t able to see the natural beauty around them. Like those dolts, shielding their eyes from that sight.” Ed motioned to the occupants of the car around them. “Blind fools, all of them.” Ed turned and continued to look out the window, seemingly done with conversation. Tom stood, looking first out the window, then at the people around, until the car shuddered to a halt on the pier, and people began filing out the doors. As he passed Tom, Ed clapped him on the shoulders. “Well, I shall be seeing you around.” With that, he left Tom, disappearing into the crowd, as Tom began following signs that pointed to the entrance to the capitol building. ********** Hurrying across the square towards a copper framed glass building, he took the steps up towards the entrance three at a time. Eschewing the large ornate double doors intended for visitors, he turned to a side door marked “Employee’s Only”, and again his thumb instantly released the internal lock. Opening the door, he walked into a simply appointed hallway right as a woman walked around the corner towards the door. She looked up from her watch, and the look of

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irritation that was plainly plastered across her face melted away. She ran an appraising eye over Tom, and strode purposefully towards him. The long hallway gave him time to do some appraising of his own as he stood just inside the door, waiting. The first thing anyone would notice was red hair of such a color that the phrase “flaming” could do no justice to. It fell down just below her shoulders in gentle waves and curls, framing an oval face dusted across the cheeks in freckles. Emerald green eyes dominated her face, and quickly drew all attention to themselves. Of medium height, she possessed the gentle curves of a woman who exercised regular, but didn’t starve herself, a fashion that had been making a come back lately. “Hi, you must be Tom. I was starting to get worried about you.” “Hi, yes, I’m Tom. Sorry about that, there was a detour. I still would be not here if I hadn’t run into a precocious young lady that knows this place like the back of her hand. Since Ms. Craven’s picture on her profile looks nothing like yourself , I would assume you are Ms. Stryker?” At this, he held out his hand in the traditional greeting. Taking his hand and shaking it, the redheaded woman nodded in the positive. “Indeed. And Deborah, please.” She clasped her other hand over Tom’s, now holding it with both hands. “We tend to be rather, informal, here.” As she took his hand, Tom felt a tingle at the point of contact. Shaking hands with her, the tingle spread up his arm, a warming sensation much like sunlight on his skin. When her other hand clasped over his, the warmth spread, growing stronger, and suffusing his body inside and out. As the heat grew, strongest at the point of contact, his hand felt as if it were about to burst into flames. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, in fact, some part of the heat felt very good, but that part fled as it intensified. Just as the sensation started to become truly painful, Deborah released his hand, and motioned towards the hallway she had

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just come from. The feeling of heat instantly fled, but the tingle remained, pulsing in waves across his body, slowly back and forth. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck lift and bend one way then the other, as if the wave was some form of static electricity. “Well, no sense dawdling. Let me give you the five buck tour, and we’ll get you to work!” As they headed down the hallway, Deborah watched Tom cautiously waving his hand at his side, and now and again run his fingers through his hair and across his neck. “So, by precocious young woman, I assume you met Daneel?” ” I did. She says hello by the way.” Deborah smiled broadly, and Tom felt momentarily weak in the knees. “Well, I expect we’ll be seeing her later, after shes done informing the whole of the island about our new boy. She does gopher work for pretty much everyone, so that also means she’s the main source of gossip for just as many people.” Turning a corner, the hallway opened up into a wide room lined with steel filing cabinets that stretched ten feet up to the ceiling. Wheeled ladders ran along tracks mounted at the top of the cabinets, and several small desks were scattered about the room. “Well, here we are. P and R central. This will be your desk here,” she said, sitting on a mostly empty desk in the middle of the room, thumping the pine top, her legs folded and swinging. “And there across the room are the bathrooms. I would assume that after the cable car ride in and getting lost, you’d like the opportunity to freshen up before I introduce you to every one else? “Thank you, I would indeed.” Tom turned towards the direction Deborah was pointing and started towards the door as she hopped off the desk. While doing so, her fingers brushed his shoulder, and he jumped as a new wave of fire raced across his skin.

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Watching him walk towards the bathroom, rubbing his shoulder, Deborah chuckled softly to herself. Rubbing her own fingers against themselves to get rid of the tingling sensation across her own skin, she pulled out her phone. She typed out on the small keyboard, “We have a winner”, and sent off the text message. Thank you for reading! More of Phoenix 2125 is available at http://stories.dreamfantastic.com/phoenix2125/, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com Jump back to the Story Descriptions

Soul Chaser
Soul Chaser is an urban fantasy by Rebecca Wilson. It can be found at http://valkyriansanctum.blogspot.com/p/dreamers-of-dreams-ebookanthology-of.html. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. My work took me to the old Viking city of the north, York. I sipped my hot cappuccino in Starbucks, and crossed off another name on my quota. I heard the radio in the corner announce that a serious car crash had occurred on the A64, east of York. The road would be closed for at least four hours. I wondered which of my colleagues had performed well that time. I gazed out through the open door and onto the street. I observed in silence as tourists, teenagers and families, who passed by going left, carried no bags but the necessaries. The rest of the crowd, going right, held several bags from a variety of stores. York was always good at selling. My elders told me the city had been a fast and strong trade centre for countless generations. Through the era of Britons, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Tudors and Stewarts, York had survived. Through years of civil war, invasion, rebellion, slaughter, the Blitz and financial ruin, it still survived. This resilient city deserved to be known as the capital of northern England. The Vikings understood that and made it so when the entire county of North Yorkshire was once under their rule. When for a blink in the eye of British history there was an independent Norse kingdom known as the Danelaw. A shadow blocked out the summer sunshine as Kate joined me for our first coffee break of the day. A silver torque bracelet, the

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trademark of our group, dangled and glimmered around her slender right wrist. She took off her large, yet oddly stylish hat as she sat down, revealing her always shimmering corn blonde hair. “Just like the weather back home isn’t it?” She remarked, placing hat and bag under the table. She noticed my quota out before me. Her eyes began switching from me and the list until she sat down and finally met my gaze. “It is indeed. How many have you got left to visit today?” I asked. “Have about, ten, maybe eight left. How about you?” “Same, more or less. Would you like a coffee?” I offered, my hand reached into my handbag for my purse and I put my quota away at the same time. “No thanks, this morning’s lot were too peaceful to deserve me earning a coffee. Rather treat it like a reward than a regular morning drink. Where are the rest of the girls?” I paused to recall our briefing at sunrise. “I think Lizzy is somewhere along the A64 towards Scarborough, Susan is travelling with her, as she has some to collect there anyway. Debbie is at the Monks Cross shopping centre. Can’t quite remember where the rest are.” Kate sighed and fiddled with the drinks menu, looked around the coffee shop and watched the other customers. Who queued up for their hit of hot caffeine, or a sweet overdose of sugar from the pastries. The radio’s voice, just about dominating the mix of conversations, informed any who were listening, about the sixth soldier to die in Iraq in as many days.

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“I still can’t believe the Boss chose Alison and Joanne to go to Iraq, of all places.” She complained suddenly to my surprise. “Are you saying you would have liked to go there?” That was the first sign of any interest in the jobs she had shown, at least before me. Kate looked at me with a small, sheepish smile. “Well, it would be nice to do a job abroad for a change. I’m getting bored of Europe, that’s all. I’ve been working this area for too long.” “You should have nominated yourself if you’re that bored of this place.” “So where is your next visit of the day?” She opted to change the subject avoiding my rather accurate comment. I let her do so with a sly smirk. “The hospital.” “Great, I have a child to visit there as well.” It would mean one more child to add to the vast flock of orphans that she brings to our fold. I glanced through the windows, turning in my chair so I could see the familiar towers of York Minster. My mind changed focus, from the present to the past. I could remember a moment in my life when I beheld a dawn where the Minster’s great towers didn’t dominate the sky. When even Clifford’s Tower was made of strong timbers, not weathered stone. Landmarks, famous faces and world events always reminded me about how much time has truly passed. In each case I remember how I came to be in the position I am now and all I’ve done since. “That night in March, I think it was, when all those Jews were trapped inside and the tower was set alight. That was my first job with

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you and the girls.” My voice became distant as memories of that belief shattering experience drifted around me. I found my gaze had returned to my half empty cappuccino. I didn’t see the warm liquid but all the faces of those I had saved and lost, swirling in the froth and rising in the steam. “We had a challenge that night. What with the children and women crying and the men, well they weren’t being much help to anyone.” “Oh Kate, have you forgotten how you felt when you discovered the truth?” She paused in replying and stared at me. I could see the answer in her eyes. The endless battle to control the memories, the sights, the sounds, the faces, the emotions. All the women on the team, like me, lived a torn existence between what was, what is and what can never be. She couldn’t have forgotten, no one ever did. The truth is the truth, unavoidable and undeniable. It is now a part of us we can never escape nor forget. At least they had a past to mourn the loss of. My old life was as ghostly to me as the sun concealed behind a dawn mist. No one yet knew the cause of this strange amnesia I suffered from or how long it will last. I kept recalling the old adage, time is a great healer. After nearly ten years I was beginning to doubt my mind would ever recover. “OK, I admit it; if you weren’t there we wouldn’t have been able to escort so many to Valhalla safely. It was unfortunate that we had to lose so many of the men, but Hel must always claim some, we can never save everyone. Besides, it’s not our fault that the powers that be took so long arguing over who should be allocated where. Lucky for them we don’t turn away suicides. We weren’t the Angels they were all hoping for.”

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I chose to allow this change of subject. Kate was my elder in more ways than would appear in the light of day. She had seen and witnessed far greater change in the world than I had during my time with the team. I owed her a lot of respect for the way she aided my conversion to this new life. Having now witnessed countless others embrace the truth of reality, I understand now how difficult I must have made it for her. “If we didn’t make exceptions you know our numbers would dwindle into non-existence. There are too many faiths and so few believers.” “Isn’t that the truth.” She sighed. Her hands folded the menu into even tighter squares. “Our methods have changed a lot, even before that big intake. Now we have to copy what the Angels do. It is not the most effective way of selecting worthy warriors. Things worked better the way they used to be. I miss the old days when it was all decided by the way you died, not by the way you lived. If you died bravely or by the sword you go up, if you die of old age or illness you go down. It was so much simpler back then.” The Bitfrost test is a method we now use to determine what afterlife a soul deserves. It is a method my Elders hate using but the traditional methods can only ever be applied in areas of war and civil conflict. I realised then that was the reason why Kate was jealous of Alice and Joanne. She missed the old days and its old ways. To go to Iraq would be to relive their glorious memories of centuries gone by. A way to keep the oldest of their traditions alive. Before their entire way of soul collection is so distorted and bent, to survive in an increasingly secular world, that the very essence of their duty in the Afterlife becomes myth itself. “You really should have put your name in the pot. You are more deserving of Alice or Joanne to do the job abroad.” I added, a small knot of guilt in my stomach.

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“And leave you to cause a mess? I don’t think so. Five years doesn’t make you an expert in this business.” Her smirk lessened the criticism. “Have some faith in me, Kate.” She laughed and released the bent menu to sprawl itself free of creases on the table. “Come on, let’s not keep our clients waiting.” I gulped the last of my cappuccino and slung my white leather bag over my shoulder. “Ok let’s go.” With that we left Starbucks and made our way through the throbbing streets towards the York District Hospital. “You got your leaves?” Kate asked briskly as we lingered beneath the only small piece of vegetation in the entire District Hospital car park. “Yes, somewhere.” I rummaged through the depths of my handbag and eventually pulled out a rather flattened hessian pouch. “Get a handful out, I’ll set the marks.” “Thought I was going to do that this time?” “Tell me how you were going to do it then?” She folded her arms and stared hard down at me making me feel nervous as I explained it to her. “You forgot one thing.” “What?” “Cameras. A modern girl like you should know we’re watched now more than ever and it’s not always mortal eyes behind the lens.”

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She swung her head to the left and right and I saw there were two watching over the car park. “Damn.” “Yes, you could have given our position away all too easily and invited trouble right on our tails.” She tutted and moved further round the tree out of sight from any surveillance. She pulled out a short knife from her pocket and began to whittle several lines into the wrinkled tree bark. I could feel the air tense as each rune was carved deep into the tree. “That is why I’m still the teacher and you are still the student. Now add the leaves.” I scrunched the green Ash leaves together as tight as I could and pushed them into the runic cracks. “Now add the fire.” I took out a lighter and lit the leaves and runes, the fire crept amongst the cracks without engulfing outside the runes, the flames flared white and then all was quiet. We had evoked the spiritual dimension of the earth around us. Only spiritual beings, such as ourselves and those that have passed from the physical dimension into this would exist. Everything else became a background of statues. We both unfolded our bags into our luscious white swan feather cloaks. In either form our belongings were not lost as the special design had enchanted pockets. We strapped around our waists a leather belt with sheathed runed daggers hanging from it. Every job has its dangers after all and ours wasn’t any different. “Mine is on the second floor, where is yours?” Kate asked after checking her own quota. “On the fourth floor.” “Just remember, trust the jar not the soul. Anyone can spin a tale full of reasons for why they shouldn’t be dead and why they should

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have a second go at life instead of anyone else. Such tales are as false as Loki’s claim to Odin’s throne. There are no exceptions in this business. We’re not a charity, we don’t give second chances.” “I know, I know, if the jar turns red they’re better off dead, if it turns white guide them to the light.” With a final nod to each other we strode back round the corner, across the car park and into the building. No one gave us a glance as we walked around the motionless people inside. I found the man I sought in a quiet solitary room at the far end of the ward. He lay in his bed as if sleeping. The monitors were quiet and his drips didn’t stir. All the cables and leads hung loose at the side. A woman with a milk white face sat beside him holding one hand, yet she sat at a small distance, as if afraid to get too close. She did not look up when I arrived. I stopped at the end of his bed. I lifted up one side of my cloak and pulled out my tall ash wood spear, tipped with silver. My name in Futhark runes glowed upon its hand grip in dazzling gold. It was a holy item, specially made by Odin. Just like his favourite son’s great long ship that could fold away into a pocket. This made it easier for us to hide and transport our most prized possession and most lethal weapon. All the women in the team received these spears, Freya, our team leader, gave them to us on our ascension into her squadrons. Once I confirmed his identity, I crossed his name off on my quota. I banged the butt of my spear upon the cold plastic floor three times. “David Garret, you can wake up now.” His face, plain and peaceful, began to twitch and twist. His tongue ravaged his lips as if thirsty. He gave a yawn and stretched his arms as if he had been in a deep sleep. I came closer to his bed ready to shake him awake if necessary. At my movement, he opened his eyes,

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gave a small groan of alarm and scrambled back against the head of the bed as if I was a vision from his nightmares. To many in the past we were such terrible visions. Not everyone saw us as beautiful, athletic, warrior women, who rode the winds on the backs of Odin’s wolves. “Who…who are you? What are you doing? What do you want?” He managed to ask his voice trembled. He was frightened. They always were at this stage. His eyes kept flickering upon his female visitor who remained still and silent. “Welcome to the next life David.” I answered with a soothing tone in my voice. I sat at the end of his bed, trying to show I meant him no harm by keeping a distance between us. But near enough so I could grab him if he tried to flee. It was inevitable that he wouldn’t believe me. After all, a young woman, holding a tall spear, wearing a white feathered cloak and a pink v-necked t-shirt along with a long white skirt promote all the signs of a deluded mind. He looked me up and down. “What do...do...you mean? I’m not dead. Tell her? Laura?” The appealing looks of support on his face did not register with her. “I’m afraid you are David. Laura can’t hear you, only the dead can. There’s no one else here but you and me.” “No, no, I can’t be! I’m alive! I’m alive!” His eyes were transfixed upon Laura in her statue pose. “Laura? Can you hear me? No, no! It can’t be…I can’t be… Laura, look at me! Nurse? Doctor? Anyone!” Before he could move any further in fright, I grasped his arm and pinned it against the bed. I whipped out a dagger from my belt and slashed it across him. The blade passed straight through. David gave a sharp shriek, then seeing no blood drain from what would have been a severed arm, became silent.

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“Do you believe me now?” I asked as I sheathed my dagger once more and gently let go of him. His eyes stared at what he perceived to be flesh for seconds, pupils wide and mouth ajar. He stared up at me with those huge eyes and gave a nervous, little nod. “Good. I do have other dead people needing my attention besides you, you know.” I walked towards the tall window, pushed some wheeled cabinets aside and threw it open. No breeze blew through, just still rays of sunshine bearing no warmth upon my skin. “Now, are you prepared to do as I ask?” I walked back to the end of his bed where he had remained and brought out the large glass jar which lay in the enchanted depths of my cloak. That was when something was clearly wrong. David began to laugh. Not the laugh of fear or even joy, but of cruelty and madness. He leaped off his bed and ran for the open window and jumped out into the sky before I realised the true situation. He did not fall, or even scream, but glided out over the car park. I spat upon the floor in hatred. His laughter was recognisable, evidence of how many times we had crossed paths. “Jake, damn you!” I yelled into the air, knowing Kate would hear me despite being several floors below. “Get back here with my soul! Or so help me I’ll….” As a Dark Elf, or a Darkling as we called them for short, Jake had the unfortunate talent of possessing a body upon their last breath then taking control of their souls directly. The true soul’s mind is awake through the entire experience. Unless the soul is freed to regain their will, they may face the wrenching pain of the Underworld as their essence is drained by Hel. Jake was a renowned trouble maker to all soul guides in any faith and he certainly was familiar with the tips of our spears.

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I heard a gasp of breath as Kate finally joined me, charging through the door with a bang. Her eyes lit with fire when she spotted the Dark Elf flying lazily around in the air, appearing ever so confident. I promised myself to reverse that dramatically and very, very soon. “Did you manage to send the child away safely?” I asked eager for some good news. “Yes, I heard you just as she passed under the rainbow bridge to Asgard.” “Good. I feel the sudden urge to stick my spear through someone’s head and I intend to do it to him.” I said pointing its silver tip in his direction. He was so confident of himself that he was doing somersaults and dives through the air, warming up for the hunt I thought. A cocky fox prancing upon a farmer’s wall in front of two blood thirsty hounds. “Jake, what do you think you’re playing at? You know that soul is ours by divine right so give him up.” “Katherine, Katherine, you know full well I claim his soul in Hel’s name whether you like it or not. To tell Hel not to eat souls is like King Cnut trying to tell the tide to stop. She just can’t help herself.” He let out another bold laugh. “You know we’ll hunt you down. Why not make it easy on yourself?” “I am just doing my job you know.” He shot a sly wink in my direction. I grumbled a hundred different ways I could skewer his being upon my spear. “Then we must do ours. We won’t go easy on you.”

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“I sure as Hel won’t, Jake!” I threatened, the battle rage already building up inside me as I imagined the spiritual death and agony I could cause him for such an insult. “I wouldn’t expect anything less. Now if you excuse me, David has an important meeting to attend.” He turned tail and flew away, casting glances back inviting our pursuit. That was what we did, we had no alternative, David’s soul was at stake and it is a responsibility the team does not take lightly. Guiding and safe guarding such souls is our job and our honour is rated by how efficient we are at it. To lose even one soul to a Dark Elf like Jake would be a black mark on our achievements. It would have to be an impressive gang of dark elves to defeat even a pair of us. That is why his remark felt like cigarette burns on my pride. He led us on a goose chase as expected, weaving in and out, up and over as many alleyways and buildings that he came across. We eventually went over the river Ouse where he swerved and headed upstream to the city centre. Kate and I kept up with him all the way, eager for a clear shot at him with our spears but Jake was familiar with such an attack and so used all obstacles in his way to prevent such a chance appearing. “Stop being such a wimp Jake! It won’t hurt so much if you stay still!” Kate cried out, gliding in front of me over the time frozen city. “You have to catch me first.” He taunted flying further away, heading lower over the river’s surface. Our reflections were cast in segments against the small waves and swirling currents of the River Ouse. It still flowed in this spiritual dimension. Water is one of the four prime elements and exists within all dimensions, physical, spiritual and divine.

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“Snap trap.” I suggested into Kate’s ear as I flew past. It was one of the many catching techniques we as a team practise when we come across such situations. As predicted Jake flew straight under the bridge with Kate in close pursuit, shrieking her war cry to intimidate. The Norns of Fate were on our side as he did not look back to see if we were both behind him. When he started to climb back up again I threw my spear from up high, piercing him straight in the stomach. I yelled with triumph for such a direct hit. My attack halted him in his tracks, giving Kate a chance to grasp and banish him with runes imbued with Odin’s power. He let out a long groan of pain before his appearance evaporated in black plumes of smoke. It was another unfortunate truth that given a few hours, Jake’s tainted and corrupt soul would have reformed, and he would be back catching and snatching more souls from more soul guides. All in the name of his dark mistress, Lady Hel, Queen of the Underworld where she feasted upon souls of good virtue and nature. Souls who had broken laws, broken hearts and broken lives became her Dark Elves, her soul snatchers, which made a Valkyries Afterlife one soul chase after another. The forces of light had banished the darkness but still the darkness continued its struggle to consume the light, as Kate once described the eternal struggle to me. My spear remained frozen in the point of impact. Beside them a wispy figure of the true David floated, his eyes wide and shocked at being so high yet not falling. I wasted no more time upon retrieving my spear. I scored an invisible line in the air at our feet and then using the flattened edge of the spear head, drew it in a tall arch over the line. Rainbow colours marked my magic drawing. “Now David, no soul that deserves to go to Hel would be snatched by a dark elf so eagerly. Therefore I grant you access to Asgard. Pass under Bitfrost and be welcomed into the next life.”

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He stepped forward in the air, tapping the spiritual plain we floated on. The mortal fear of falling still firmly in his mind. Then with one last glance around the world he once lived in, smiled at me and walked under the rainbow arch. His last mortal words were “thank you”. “Right, I think we deserve a coffee for that. Could I tempt you to share a brownie with me?” Kate suggested, not the slightest bit out of breath. “Ha!” I laughed. “You know as well as I that a Valkyrie’s work is never done.” Thank you for reading! More Soul Chasers is available at http://valkyriansanctum.blogspot.com/p/dreamers-of-dreams-ebookanthology-of.html, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com Jump back to the Story Descriptions

Pay Me, Bug!
Pay Me, Bug! is a comedic space opera by Christopher Wright. It can be found at https://www.unexploredhorizons.net/novel/pay-me-bug/pay-mebug. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. WHEREIN the Woods, Noting Our Hero's Sudden Departure, Resolve to Give Chase There were two competing theories about the difficulties involved in superluminal navigation. The first, popular in universities and laboratories, stated that all things were measurable, and as far as navigation was concerned, all measurable things could be measured to any required accuracy. It was, according to this theory, simply a matter of finding the numbers and entering them in the correct order. The second, popular on the bridge of most space-faring vehicles across the known galaxy, stated that every tool was finite in scope and fallible in operation, making any of those measurements prone to error. Grif Vindh, captain of the Fool's Errand, was an experienced pilot; as such, he favored the latter theory. It wasn't that he felt superluminal travel was inherently unsafe--it was unsafe in theory, but in practice he felt it was safer than anyone had a right to expect from an engineering end-run around the laws of physics that enveloped a ship in a field of artificial space and time, hurtling it through the galaxy at speeds the universe would just

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as soon pretend didn't exist. Of course, on those statistically rare occasions when something did go wrong, the results were usually catastrophic... and catastrophic results was one of Grif's three least favorite phrases, right up there with honest government official and mandatory tax on imported goods. But the danger of a catastrophic result folding Grif and his crew into five or six more dimensions than they really ought to have was the kind of thing that could be monitored and avoided in most instances. What bothered him a little more was that from the time they jumped to tach to the time they dropped out they were flying blind. He had to trust his on-board instrumentation to keep track of their direction and relative speed. He had to trust that the superluminal beacon sitting at their destination was functioning properly, that it was sending them accurate drop coordinates, and that it wasn't sending another ship the same drop coordinates at the same time. He trusted his ship and his crew enough that he didn't expect a fumble on his end. What really bothered him--and bothered him every trip he took, all the way back to his first jump as a stowaway--was that when a ship was in tach it was completely engulfed in a solid, uniform, mindnumbingly dull gray field. It was an effect that someone had once, in a fit of misguided poetry, called "The Gray Wake." Grif preferred "The Gray Wall of Infinite Boredom," but the other name was the one that took. The gray was ever-present: the "Pilot's Nest," set forward from the rest of the bridge and sunk into the deck, was encased in a bubble of transparent alloy that provided the pilot a magnificent view… when the ship wasn't surrounded by endless gray nothing. That gray nothing gave Grif the impression that he was hanging in the middle of oblivion. He sighed, then pushed his chair back along its guide rail until it locked into the far position, taking him out of the nest and into the

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bridge proper. Immediately he felt the bridge crew tense: the click of his chair entering the bridge meant their captain was going stir crazy. Grif looked at his crew, the older, white-haired man sitting to his left, and the dark-haired beauty to his right -- both trying their best to ignore him -- and sighed again. "Morgan." The white-haired man sitting to his left shifted at the mention of his name, but didn't look up. "Shouldn't we be getting a beacon signal right about now?" "I don't know." Morgan made no effort to disguise his annoyance. "I'm a sensor tech. Ask your navigator." Amys tensed slightly. Grif grinned and allowed himself to be momentarily distracted by the curve of her neck. "Amys?" he asked hopefully. Amys exhaled, letting the breath escape through her teeth in a slow hiss. "Grif," she said, "you are being a pest. More so than usual. It stopped being charming about five are-we-there-yet's ago." "Er. Yes. Sorry," Grif said. "Honestly, I'm on the verge of mutiny. And I think the crew will support me." "Yeah..." Grif sighed again and leaned back in his chair, staring at the bulkhead ceiling as he scratched at the stubble on his face. "Mea culpa. Our daring escape was a little more daring than I would have liked. I'm a little on edge." Amys laughed sharply. Morgan grunted in agreement.

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"... and I'm looking forward to making that daring escape official so I can gloat and caper. With glee." Amys relaxed, smiling slightly. "That will be fun to watch. Once we get there." "Which brings me back to my original question. Morgan, shouldn't we be getting a--" Morgan's station beeped. "Hold on," Morgan said. He tapped a few keys at his station and hunched over his datascreen. "Superluminal beacon confirmed. Amys, I'm sending it to your station." "An end to monotony!" Grif happily slid his chair forward until it had descended into the nest and was locked securely in front of the pilot station. "It'll be good to see stars again!" "Thanks, Morgan..." Amys scanned through the list of available drop locations supplied by the beacon. "Selecting drop coordinates." "Stars," Grif continued, "and planets. And, of course, centers of commerce. Never forget the centers of commerce." "Got it," communications." Amys said. "Sending drop location to

"Sending coordinates," Morgan replied. And a second later: "drop location confirmed and reserved." The SL beacon would no longer give out that location to other ships. In theory, at least: three years ago an SL Beacon in the Timur Barony began sending out the same drop location to every ship trying to enter the system, and the resulting unpleasantness took a year and a half to clean.

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Grif figured it would be another ten to fifteen years before anyone would have to worry about that happening again. "Sending drop location your way, Grif." Just after Amys said it, Grif heard his station beep, and information flashed across his screen. He began to make the adjustments needed to bring the Fool's Errand out of tach and into the spot his navigator had chosen. As he worked he activated the ship's intercom. "Heads up, crew. We're coming out in... uh..." "Twenty minutes," Amys said. "Twenty minutes," Grif repeated. "Everyone get ready. Ktk, how are the engines?" Ktk, a hyper-intelligent member of an unpronounceable race from an unpronounceable home world, was his chief engineer. In its clicking, grinding manner of speech it explained that the tachyon drive was damaged: they'd pushed it to go faster than it was designed to go, and while Ktk could keep it in tach at present they wouldn't be able to use it again unless it was repaired at a decent spaceport. "No problem," Grif said. "We're going to Oasis. We'll have the best the Tylaris Shipyards can offer before we'll have to run her hot again. Smooth sailing, wind at our back, no worries from here on out." His pronouncement was greeted with silence from the other end of the intercom. Eventually Ktk replied that it had heard such assurances in the past, and they'd often proven premature. "Hey." Grif glanced up from his station and glared at the intercom. It was voice-only, but old habits died hard. "Where's the trust?" Ktk described an occasion when a promise of smooth sailing led to a sudden firefight and desperate chase through the upper atmosphere of a gas giant.

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"... yes," Grif admitted, "that was a little more interesting than I'd have liked, but we're dropping into friendly space this time." Ktk described an occasion when entering into friendly space had resulted in their immediate arrest and arraignment for murder. "Also an unfortunate incident," Grif agreed. "And a case of mistaken identity." A booming laugh echoed over the intercom, as Cyrus Mak, Grif's chief gunner, joined the conversation. "That's because we were using a stolen signature key that matched his ruddy ship! That you bought from him." "I still say that was a good deal. Anyway, prepare for drop in seventeen minutes. All hands, strap in: clean getaway is imminent." A second later, almost reluctantly, he added: "Doma, get on the bridge." Minutes later the bridge door opened. A gangly, sullen kid floated on deck, glaring at Amys and Morgan before gliding over to a station on the starboard side of the bridge. Doma Enge was Grif's nephew, a fact Grif tried to not to dwell on overmuch. They bore a certain physical similarity: both were of similar height and build, both had dark hair and eyes, but in countenance they were very different. Grif looked disheveled; he sported a fine layer of stubble that never quite coaxed itself into a beard, and always appeared to need more sleep. Doma, on the other hand, obviously spent a great deal of time grooming himself, not always to his advantage. Doma looked down at his station and frowned. "It's turned off."

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Morgan ignored him. Amys frowned as she focused on her navigation panel. Grif gritted his teeth. “The Comm station isn't on," Doma repeated. "That's right," Grif said. "Sit down." "But I'm supposed to be the Comm officer!" Doma's voice took on a slightly higher pitch. "I can't be the Comm officer if the Comm station is turned off." "Just strap in," Grif said. "I re-routed communications to sensors. Morgan is taking care of it." "You can't do that!" Doma screeched in a mixture of petulance and righteous indignation. "That's my job!" His voice carried a thin, whiny edge that burrowed into a spot right behind Grif's left eye and started kicking. "It was your job," Morgan said, voice calm. "Until you accidentally broadcast our in-ship communications to the ship we were trying to get away from at the time." "That was an accident," Doma protested. "... and now I'm doing your job and my job," Morgan finished. "It was an accident!" Doma repeated, and his voice continued to kick, kick, kick, kick, kick... "Yes," Grif agreed, "it was an accident. You'll notice that Morgan actually used the word accidentally when describing it. I don't really think it was a situation where you said to yourself 'hey, wouldn't it be really neat if I broadcast a conversation between my captain and his gunner discussing the best way to target the engines of a Radiant Throne corsair directly to the ship in question?' No, we're all absolutely convinced your incompetence is undeniably involuntary."

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"I'm just saying," Doma muttered. "If I thought you'd done it on purpose, I'd have spaced you on the spot. Your mother be damned." Doma's face reddened. He opened his mouth, ready to retort, when suddenly Grif launched his chair back along the rails; it emerged abruptly onto the bridge proper with a loud crack. He swiveled the chair around to face Doma and glared at him. "Strap in, Doma. And don't touch anything." Glowering fiercely, Doma pulled himself into the now-defunct Communications station and strapped himself in to counter the sometimes awkward effects of zero gravity. "Ten minutes," Amys said. "Don't see why I can't touch anything," Doma muttered. "It's turned off." "Because," Grif said, "you might turn it back on." With that he swiveled his chair back around to face front, and slid down the guides back into the depths of the pilot's nest. Minutes passed in blissful silence. Doma shifted in his seat, staring at the dark, lifeless controls in the station before him, then turned to look at Amys and Morgan, each intently monitoring their controls. Craning his neck, he could peer down the track into the pilot's nest and just make out the top of Grif's head. “If I'm not supposed to touch anything, I don't know why I should even be here,” Doma complained. Morgan chuckled. “Grif's probably got money in the 'Amys kills Doma before we reach Tylaris' pool.”

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Doma glared at the back of Morgan's head, and glanced nervously at Amys. She smiled like a predator, all teeth and no warmth. Doma cleared his throat, and took a different tack. "We're going to get caught, you know." Morgan snorted derisively. "If we are, then we'll have you to thank for it, won't we?" "OK, sure, blame me," Doma said. "But that doesn't change anything. They almost had us in a gravlock before we hit tach." "Which is what we wanted," Amys said in a businesslike, even-toned voice. Grif knew that voice: that was the voice of a very dangerous woman who wanted to hurt someone very badly, and was exercising all her self-control to prevent it. "That's right," Grif said. "I wanted them powering up the damn thing so they'd have to take the time to power it down before they could follow us. You don't go firing those things in tach. Not unless you want to get crushed like a grape. Or turned into a fine layer of carbon paste spread out on a bulkhead wall. Or wind up a drooling vegetable with one too many corners. It gave us a head start, see? And we're dropping into neutral space, so even if they caught up to us there's not a damn thing they can do about it." "If they do," Doma said gravely, "they'll probably kill us." "Doma." Grif resisted the urge to push his chair back out into the bridge again. "As much as I personally admire your innate optimism, my executive officer is about two seconds away from tearing you to pieces." Grif heard a slow, even release of breath and revised that estimate downward. "Remember what I told you about self-fulfilling prophecies?"

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Doma glanced at Amys nervously, then turned to look at the lifeless Communications screen, pouting. "And for God's sake," Grif repeated, "don't touch anything." After a minute of blissful silence, Amys reported they were eight minutes out. "Right," Grif said. "Time to play captain." He reactivated the intercom. "Eight minutes to drop. All stations report." Cyrus Mak was the first to report in. "Fine down here. Main cannon overheated, but we got it off line and secured. Cutter and Hari are looking into why... if we run into trouble we'll have to rely on the turrets." "No trouble," Grif insisted. "Why does everyone always think there's going to be trouble? Don't you dare answer that question, Doma..." Doma muttered something under his breath. "Ktk? Status?" The voice that replied was human and female: Vod Hallik, one of Ktk's engineers. "Everything's OK, Skip. Ktk's running a few last minute checks. It wasn't kidding about the Tach drive, though... we're kind of hoping you'll let us upgrade instead of patching this one up. Gurgan's even been going through old Tylaris catalogs..." "We'll see. We have to sell our cargo first. All right, all hands stand by." "Seven minutes," Amys reported.

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Doma, Morgan and Grif sat in silence as Amys counted down the time. At 30 seconds, Grif began the sequence to disperse the tachyon field. Space travel is the sublime art of hurtling through a nearly empty void, and narrowly missing everything in it. Grif had no idea who was responsible for coining that phrase-the Earthies he knew insisted it was someone named Voltaire--but it always seemed appropriate at this point. "Five, four, three, two... mark." The gray field disappeared immediately, and stars burst into view as the real universe replaced the artificially generated one. Grif felt a slight sensation of vertigo as the tachyon field disappeared, and they dropped completely into reality. "And we're in," Grif said. "Good work Amys." "Of course it's good work," she said. "You worry too much." "Uh... Skip..." Morgan was typing at his console furiously. "We're being hailed by the... ah... SL Beacon. General audio." "Right." Grif straightened in his seat. "Patch that in, would you?" "Unidentified ship, this is Superluminal Beacon 274, please identify yourself and state your purpose." "Return channel open," Morgan said. "Wait--hold on--there. Return channel open." "What's the matter, Morgan?" Doma sneered. "Having trouble with communications?" Amys spun in her chair and glared at Doma furiously. Doma realized that he'd spoken while the channel was live. He shuddered.

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"... unidentified ship, I didn't quite copy that. Is everything all right?" "Everything's fine," Grif said. "Superluminal Beacon 274, this is Cargo Vessel Fool's Errand. We request entry into your system." "Copy, Fool's Errand. Please transmit your Signature Key for authorization." "Morgan," Grif prompted, and Morgan keyed in the transmit code that would send out the data key that uniquely identified their ship. A few seconds later, the voice said, with a bit more warmth, "Fool's Errand, system entry is granted. Welcome back, Captain Vindh." "Acknowledged, Beacon," Grif replied. "And thank you. Morgan, kill feed." "Feed is dead," Morgan announced. Grif slid his chair back out into the bridge. "Doma, I'm getting tired of--" In a blur of motion Amys propelled herself out of her chair, shot up to the bulkhead ceiling, and shot toward Doma. Doma, still strapped to his chair, squawked in alarm as her left arm lashed out and grabbed his neck, jerking his head back as she swung herself around behind him. A hum filled the air as a knife, blade vibrating thousands of times a second, hovered only inches from his now-exposed neck. "Doma." She spoke softly, but the anger was plain in her voice. "When the captain opens a comm channel, only the captain speaks. Unless he's given you leave to do so. Nod if you understand." Doma nodded.

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"If you ever do that again, I will cut out your tongue with this knife. Nod if you understand." Doma nodded. Amys lowered the knife, patted him once on the cheek, then floated back to her station. Grif slid his chair back down into the pilot's nest without comment. The next few minutes were devoted to restoring ship's gravity. After a general announcement from the captain, the crew set about securing anything that might shift when the gravity plates were activated. This largely consisted of taking sealed containers and placing them in larger containers, then strapping themselves back in to their chairs once more to make sure unexpected gravity spikes didn't cause injuries. The bridge crew was secured relatively quickly, then a report from Cyrus announced the gunnery crew was secure as well. It took a little longer for the engineering crew to report because, as Cyrus liked to say, "there's never a clean way to fix something proper." Eventually Ktk announced the engine room was secure. "Right." Grif settled back into his chair. "Morgan, ready?" "Grav plates online and ready. Nullifier plates online and ready." "All right. Gravity on in five... four... three... two... mark." The floors emitted a soft hum as the gravity plates came to life. The ceilings groaned slightly as the nullifer plates did the same, preventing the ship's gravity from extending beyond the hull. Grif felt a slight jerk as he pulled deeper into his chair, and heard a dull thud as Doma, who was apparently unable to pay attention to a countdown, wound up banging his head against the deactivated communications console.

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Morgan and Amys laughed. Grif grinned, but didn't join in. That had happened to him his first time out. Of course this wasn't Doma's first time out. The grin disappeared. He would never have suffered this level of incompetence from another crew member. The only reason Doma was still alive at this point was because he was family. Grif, as a rule, hated family... but they were still family. "Amys, set a course for Tylaris Prime," Grif said, removing the chair restraints and stretching. They'd been in zero gravity for more than a week, and while the calcilate supplements in their food negated any potential effects on bone density and muscle mass his muscles still ached for a while when gravity was restored. "Nothing unusual on scanners," Morgan reported. "The only other ships in the vicinity are the warships guarding the SL Beacon." Grif turned on the intercom. "This is your Captain speaking. Looks like we're in the clear. I need a drink." Over the intercom Grif heard Cyrus shout "Pay me, Bug!" Grif laughed. "Bet against me again, Ktk? You should know better than to--" The entire ship lurched violently. Grif was thrown from his chair, his shoulder hitting the top of the pilot station as he landed facefirst against the viewplate. "What the hell?" he shouted. "We are in a gravlock!" Morgan's voice was tight and animated, not quite shouting but definitely vigorous. "A ship just dropped from tach... I don't understand, it's right on top of us, and--holy hell, that's a Battlecarrier."

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Grif choked. He pushed himself back over the pilot's station, climbing back into his seat, ignoring the throbbing in his shoulder. He noticed the intercom was still on. "Battle stations!" He snapped the order as he strapped himself back into his chair. "I want gravity off and I want it off now. Ktk, we are in a gravlock. I need you to boost the fusion drive so we can wiggle out. Morgan I need tactical." A flickering holographic display of the immediate region of space appeared in front of each station on the bridge, showing the Fool's Errand in the center. "Above" and "behind" their position was a ship so large that it completely filled the default view of the display. "They found us," Doma whispered. Or he would have whispered, if the intercom hadn't been on. "Shut up, Doma," Grif said. "We're going to die," Doma continued. "I said shut up, Doma. Right now." In his mind Grif repeated it's not him it can't be him this has nothing to do with him there's no reason he'd wind up being involved this has to be some kind of-"Dammit!" The tone of Morgan's voice escalated from 'animated' to 'alarmed.' "Grif, they just broadcast their signature key. It's the Centurion." --son of a bitch. Thank you for reading! More Pay Me, Bug! is available at https://www.unexploredhorizons.net/novel/pay-me-bug/pay-mebug, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com

Black Hat Magick
Black Hat Magick is an urban fantasy mystery by Kyt Dotson. It can be found at http://www.blackhatmagick.com/. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. Book I: The Case of the Dead Vote Chapter I: Chime! You Got Case The cell phone on Elaine’s hip chimed. She had it unholstered and flipped open in one deft motion. The message glimmering on the screen brought a smile to her lips: YOU HAVE A CASE. POSSIBLY A BIG ONE. CLIENT IS OFFERING FULL RETAINER. SEE YOU AT THE OFFICE. At least that meant something to look forward to. Somewhere nearby water leaked from an overtaxed A/C unit. The smell of mildew on concrete fought with the scent of ozone and plastic. The College of Education building wasn’t that tall on the surface, but its basement did descent two stories into the ground, bringing with it a particular chill reminiscent of lack of sunlight and visitors. The perfect place for a data center. Professor Nickolich led the way, a heavyset fifty-something with an Einstein explosion-of-grey haircut and horn rimmed glasses. Elaine had told him that she could find the server closet herself, but he insisted on escorting her. Then he talked the entire way. During all of her encounters with the man, she’d discovered that he either loved the

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sound of his own voice or he just liked to know that other people were listening. He was also a worrier. Helicopter client, she’d pegged him. The last time she fixed one of his computers he stood over her shoulder the entire time, steaming cup of coffee in his hands. It took her half-an-hour to finish something that should have taken five minutes because of his constant pestering and continuous monologue that stuttered into repeated questions, forcing her reply, when she didn’t respond. Like she didn’t respond now. Instead she set one part of her brain to parse his ramble in case he said something useful to the task at hand Elaine hoped she would never need to take one of his classes. Sociology, someone said. Her eyes followed the haphazard bundles of CAT5e cables that ran along the top of the corridor as she walked. Timing her footsteps with the rattle and chink of the keys swinging from her guide’s belt, she also counted her paces. Adjusting for her own stride, she measured almost two-hundred feet from the elevators, vaguely west, putting them, she guessed, somewhere beneath one of the public restrooms in the building. The technician kit felt light in her hands she let it swing side to side. Working on a Saturday. Not exactly how she wanted to spend the weekend, but she needed the hours. Computers were always breaking, especially on campus, and the extra money would come in handy for that new video card. “Here,” Professor Nickolich said; his keys jangled in the lock. The door swung open into a dark room the size of a walk-in closet. A gush of frigid, dry air blew out of the room. “The trouble seems to have started in here. These machines are MSTATS A, B, and C. Originally we thought that C was suffering hard drive failures—but then the issue

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migrated to A and B as well. We replaced all the hard drives, still happening. Don said to give you full access to everything. Here you go.” The telltale sound of computer fans and clicking hard drives greeted Elaine as she peered inside—constellations of lights glittered there in the gloom. A moment later the tzz bzz of fluorescent lamps started as several bars lit up in the ceiling, triggered by the door. “Thank you,” she said. She put on her best I’m-a-cheerful-geek smile as she slid past him hoping that he would take it as a gesture of friendship to offset her speechless accompaniment. The body language cue appeared to mollify him, as he nodded and let her slip past him without further comment. The mess of CAT5 slewed like bundles of spaghetti through a roughly cut hole in the outside wall, and broke into a vein-like spray that connected the numerous machines in the room. Someone had never heard of Ethernet switches. That was when she noticed something odd—stripped wires in a three-bundle of CAT5. Copper glinted from the bare wire here and there in a most unseemly manner. Elaine felt a sudden sense of empathic hurt for the damaged network. The professor shifted behind her, noticing her sudden change in expression. “Do you see a problem already?” ‘Mynocks,” she said, her fingers straying over the frayed CAT5, “chewing on the cables.” “What?” “I can handle this from here.” She grabbed the door and started to swing it closed. “I’ll call you if I need anything.” “But I—” “Thank you, Professor. I can handle this from here.” With that she shut the door and leaned against it as if he might open it.

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Muffled by the door he said, “If you need any help just come to my office.” It took a full minute before she heard the chink-chink sound of his office keys fade from earshot. Once she was certain he had evacuated her personal space, which Elaine considered to include the entire region of her workspace and the immediate other side of the door, she prepared for work. Flinging her arms to her sides she worked her fingers in stretches like a maestro preparing to conduct an orchestra. She flipped open the tech kit and fished out a pair of heavy goggles and a microwire USB spool. The goggles fit snugly onto her forehead and she flicked a switch recessed into the left lens. A soft beep emitted as they powered on, using a short series of watch batteries sewn into the band for startup power. The emitters inside couldn’t run on that power, but they did have to warm up before they could be used. She had designed them in “ENG495: Wearable Miniaturization and Design” and at full drive the emitters could transpose high resolution video onto her vision. The USB cable spool whzzed as she pulled it out and plugged one end into her cell phone and attached the other to her goggles. Two bars. 15 Mbit/s wasn’t good but if it was the best that the wireless network could handle down here, she would make do. The cell’s display flipped an hourglass a few times as it got itself connected to the network and finally displayed a grainy image of the server rack. She flipped it closed and clipped it to her belt. The room would have been generously measured at 6x8’ with only a few feet of walking room in the center not crowded by server racks and humming machines. Two vents on either side of the room stood high in the wall and breathed out extremely cold air. A workbench made of aluminum had been set up against the far wall with a

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short stool, where she had placed her tech kit. Keyboard. LCD monitor. Elaine ignored them. The goggles pulled down over her head, she hit the lights. The HUD inside the goggles produced a totally different view of the room. The constellation of orange and green LEDs returned with a vengeance, glimmering in the dark like faraway boats. With the lights out Elaine also noticed something else: brief flickers of bluewhite electrical arcs. Spidery fingers of discharge walked away from one of the servers—MSTATS C, she guessed—along an Ethernet cable, and slid across the ceiling overhead. The discharges by themselves would have been curious and very bad for a computing environment, but with her goggles on she could see the telltale symptoms in their wake that suggested an altogether less mundane problem than simple static electricity. Answer: Chews on wires; causes network disruptions; random static discharges; and sudden hardware failures. Question: What is a gremlin? Prepared for this eventuality, she kept several silver anti-static bags in her tech kit, along with etched Mason jars. While a static bag would certainly hold a gremlin nearly indefinitely, nothing escaped from a properly sealed Mason jar. Plus, fresh gremlins had value to other arcane practitioners—value that included a monetary payout if undamaged. Next to them she had a small canister of canned air. She popped the tab. Chime-chime! Alerted her cell phone. 3 missed messages.

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“Not now,” Elaine muttered under her breath as she cancelled the alarm. The gremlin seemed to be ignoring her, it was a tiny thing. Probably only a few centimeters across at equilibrium; Elaine had met one a year earlier that stretched almost a meter in length and packed one hell of a wallop. Not being her territory of expertise, she didn’t know very much about them, just that they seemed to be nascent intelligent electrons. Most gremlins just damaged electronics and hardware, random, aimless sabotage—like squirrels in the insulation of a house. However, as they grew, so also did their damage, and sometimes it could be far from simple sabotage. Fraying through elevator cables, for example. She slid one hand into the anti-static bag like a glove and wielded the canned air with the other. The telltales of the gremlin danced across the cables on the wall near MSTATS A and she knew that it would be far easier to catch out in the open so she aimed the canned air and let loose. The rush of grey fog blew over the CAT5 in front of the advancing sparks and they suddenly froze in place, sensing the disturbance in the conductivity of the plastic and wire. She hit the cable again. The gremlin changed direction, making zt zt zt sounds as it went. She hit the cable on the other side of the discharges, swinging the fog so that it clipped the edge of the sparks. The two antennae-arcs at its forefront of electricity recoiled and it changed direction again, moving faster this time. Like a little game of electrical tennis. Foosh! She clipped it again from the opposite side, this time putting the canned air dead-on into the gremlin and sweeping it up the wire.

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All routes of escape blocked: the creature panicked. It jumped out of the wire and into the room. Gremlins had numerous forms. Equilibrium often took the shape of a nebulous globe of St. Elmo’s Fire, like ball-lightning. Of course, this gremlin, panicking and on the run was far from equilibrium. Elaine had seen them range from domestic animals, large spiders, small children. They seemed to take shapes based on digitized images or the emotional expectations of workers in their presence. During WWII gremlins that regularly sabotaged planes appeared to manual laborers as dark, humanoid shapes wielding wrenches and hammers. This one looked like a red ball with cyclopean eyeball, numerous horns, and a gigantic mouth filled with serrated teeth. Someone had been playing DOOM on the network. Of course, it was also only about as big as the last knuckle of her thumb. She lunged forward with the anti-static bag and closed her grip on the thing before it could get its bearings and possibly jump into something she couldn’t easily exorcize it from—like her goggles or cell phone. “Gotya!” She sealed the static bag around the struggling creature and carefully deposited it into the Mason jar. The lid screwed tight, she deposited the jar and air canister back into the tech kit. Pat on the back. Job well done. Elaine flicked the light back on, scraped her stopwatch out of her pocket, and hit the button. Twenty-three minutes and fifty-six seconds. Hardly enough time to make good on the four hours she needed to get in. Well, those wires needed fixing. She had epoxy for that. Then she could do diagnostics on each of the servers for about an

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hour...but the remaining two-and-a-half hours that would leave she’d have to find something else— The missed-call light blinked franticly from her hip and she frowned. Sliding the goggles up onto her forehead, she flipped the cell open. Six missed messages. Each text more frantic than the last. She scrolled through them with increasing anxiety. It was the last one—sent five minutes earlier—that galvanized her into motion. CAMPUS SECURITY IS RAIDING YOUR LAB. THEY JUST MANAGED TO OVERRIDE THE ELECTRONIC LOCK ON THE DOOR. GET BACK HERE NOW! Thank you for reading! More Black Hat Magick is available at http://www.blackhatmagick.com/, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com.

Enter the Weird
Enter the Weird is urban fantasy by G. L. Drummond. It can be found at http://midnightintentions.com/ser/weird/. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. Written in red on the laminated top of the diner’s table was ‘Call me’ with a number underneath. “So this is what my life’s come to. Road Romeos trying to pick me up with ketchup.” I sighed and rubbed my left butt cheek, which had received his full attention when I’d left the check for his meal. Cheryl, my fellow waitress, paused on her way to another messy table to have a look. “Mustard would’ve been easier to write with.” “Considering he ignored bared teeth and glares in favor of pinching my ass five times, I’m thinking he’s not high on the smarts scale.” She chuckled, but that was easy for her, since there weren’t fingerprints all over her butt. “Are you gonna call him?” I wondered if she were serious. Cheryl had been waitressing for twenty years and bore permanent marks of weariness on her pretty, slightly plump face. I couldn’t get a clue from it. “Are you nuts? No!” “He was cute and you were just bitchin’ yesterday about the lack of cute, single guys in town,” she said.

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“Okay, A) he’s a Road Romeo, so doesn’t live in town. B) You seriously need to get your eyes examined, girlfriend. He was so not cute.” “But he’s available.” Cheryl cracked a grin and a few strands of dark chocolate hair fell across her eyes. “Go that way before the Rag of Pain strikes your ass,” I ordered, twirling the wet cloth in my hand. She cackled while walking off and I shook my head. It was almost closing time in the Tip Top Diner and I was happy that was the case. Squishing the ketchup into a pile, I use the cloth to slop it off the tabletop and onto the dirty plate. Right before the bell jangled to announce the arrival of a customer, my skin shuddered and tried to crawl away. I looked over as the man walked inside and headed for the counter. He was a tall, nicely buff guy dressed in faded jeans, motorcycle boots and a brown leather jacket over a plain white t-shirt. His hair was as dark as Cheryl’s, but had golden glints. I put him at about six two or six three. A grinning Cheryl refused to wait on him with a shake of her head when I silently pleaded for her to. Shooting her a scowl, I hurried behind the counter. “Hi, what can I get for you tonight?” “I’ll just have coffee, please.” He had a pleasant baritone and incredibly blue eyes. They stayed on me while I reached back to snag the coffeepot and poured a cup. “There you go. Let me know if you need anything else.” Replacing the coffeepot, I remembered the last time my skin had tried to run away from home. No one I knew would believe the story if I told it to them; hell, I still wasn’t sure I believed it and I had lived it. Sheer luck and more stuff that is unbelievable had kept me from becoming dead, so you can bet I headed for greener pastures as

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soon as I’d caught my breath. Not that Hawksville, Oregon and the Tip Top Diner could be considered greener pastures, but it was quiet and had been free of strangeness. Going back to the table to finish cleaning, I silently hoped the man didn’t signal that my life was about to take a deeper dive into weirdness. “Hey.” Cheryl’s surprised voice made me glance at her a few minutes later. “Where’d he go?” Turning around, I saw the empty coffee cup and a fiver stuck under the edge, but no guy. The bells hadn’t jangled when he’d left. A tiny trickle of cold fear slid down my spine. Man, I hate weirdness. *** “Mrow?” Thor took a turn around my ankles the minute I stepped into the small RV. Turning, I waved at Cheryl before closing the door. While locking it, I glanced down. “Can the act.” “You could show a little more appreciation for my efforts,” he complained, looking up. “I’ve had a creepy night, okay?” Dropping my purse on the floor, I headed for the tiny fridge. “I need a drink.” “So do I. Do you have any idea how incredibly boring it is to lie in the sun and watch Mrs. Temple water her begonias all day long?” The cat followed me the two steps to what passed for our kitchen, jumping up on the built in table. The RV was old, but it supplied the basics and had the added advantage of being mobile when needed. Pulling out a beer, I popped

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the top and had a swallow while grabbing a saucer down from the overhead cabinet. “They’re not all begonias. Aren’t you going to ask me why it was creepy?” Setting the saucer on the table, I collapsed on one of the padded mini bench seats and poured a little beer for him. “You’ll tell me anyway, so why waste my breath?” He lapped at the beer after speaking. “Smart ass.” I took another drink. “My skin tried to run away from home right before this dude walked in, but then it stopped. And like five minutes later, poof! He was gone and neither Cheryl nor I heard him leave.” “So she saw him as well?” Thor looked up from his crouch over the saucer. “I didn’t imagine him. He drank a cup of coffee and left a five.” “I was merely ruling out the possibility of a ghost,” the cat haughtily informed me. “Did you bring the bill home?” “Duh.” I fished the fiver out of the pocket of my apron and laid it on the table. Thor, who was a small Siamese, sniffed curiously at it before sneezing so hard that his tail went straight and puffy. “Ooh, bad?” My anxious question had to wait for an answer while he sneezed again. “He’s a shape shifter,” Thor replied, sounding stuffed. “Do you have pepper in your pocket?” I peeked and saw that there were a few tiny paper packets present. I’d probably dropped them in while sacking up takeout orders. “Yeah, sorry. Did you say shape shifter?” He sneezed again, wiped his nose with the back of a paw before nodding. “Yes.”

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Waiting for more only resulted in watching him down the last of his beer, so I prompted “And?” “More beer, please.” “Dude, c’mon.” I tipped the bottle to refill the saucer. “Shape shifter? So he’s dangerous, right?” “Not unless you’re a deer on a full moon night.” The cat smiled. “Shifters are usually peaceful individuals, Cara.” “Usually means not always,” I pointed out before finishing my beer. “And are we talking werewolf here?” “Yes. What’s for dinner?” “Fancy Feast. Chicken or beef?” Rising, I tossed my empty bottle into the trash. “Which is it?” “Chicken,” Thor decided. “You’re not eating?” “I ate during my last break.” Bending to look into the bottom cabinet, I checked labels until I found a can of chicken. Pulling the tabbed top off and dropping it in the trash, I collected another saucer and a fork before returning to my seat. Forking the stuff out, I asked, “Why haven’t you mentioned shape shifters before?” “Mmm.” He was chewing a bite, blue eyes half closed. Swallowing, Thor replied, “There weren’t any around to mention.” “Maybe you’d better start mentioning things before it’s necessary to.” Glaring at him, I recalled how he’d lived with me for two whole weeks before the attack forced him to reveal that he was more than a rather runty kitty cat. It had been a shock to watch my cute little Siamese morph into one the size of a tiger after popping out of thin air. Okay, so that shock hadn’t been as big of one as the goat headed demon drooling over the

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idea of eating my soul, but still. I’d let Thor sleep with me – and I preferred sleeping nude. Try to imagine finding out the stray cat you adopted, that had been sleeping curled up next to your bare boobs every night, is actually a creature as old as the world is. Yeah, we’d had a long talk about personal boundaries after that, believe me. Thor wasn’t allowed to watch me change clothes or take a shower anymore, and now I wore a t-shirt and panties to bed. “If I did that, you’d have no time for anything else.” His tail twitched. “And trying to determine what you might need to know ahead of time? A nightmare. For example, I seriously doubt you’ll ever run into a dragon.” “Dragons are real?” “Everything’s real, Cara.” With that statement, the cat began to get serious about devouring his dinner, leaving me to freak silently out. I managed to get mostly past it by the time he’d finished his meal and started asking questions. “Mermaids?” “Yes.” “Selkies?” “Yes.” “Unicorns?” “Yes,” Thor sighed in his most put upon tone. “Is the virgin thing for real?” was my next question. Seeing a unicorn would be way cool, but the horn through the chest for not being virginal? Not so cool.

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“No. You’re quite safe from impalement – at least of that sort.” Thor snickered and I felt my face heat up. “Hey, no sex talk. Rule number one, remember?” The fur ball used to sleep on my dresser when Alex came over to spend the night; back when we were living in California and the secret of what Thor was had still been a secret. I missed my boyfriend, yet hadn’t called or written to explain why I’d suddenly taken off without a word. I mean, how do you tell people that kind of thing? Sorry, honeybun, turns out I’m a witch and there was a demon that almost munched down on my soul. Getting out of town seemed like a good idea. Yeah, that’d fly. I pushed the matter out of my mind. “Elves?” “Yes and you don’t speak with them unless I’m around,” Thor ordered, giving me narrowed eyes as he looked up from cleaning his right front paw. “Why?” “They can be tricksy buggers.” “Okay.” I was running out of fairytales I could remember to ask about, so had to move to the Dark Side of things. “Vampires?” “Yes.” “Zombies? Ghouls?” “Yes and yes.” The night outside the long window over the back of the bench seat suddenly developed eyes. Burning eyes. Hungry eyes. I reached over to pull the curtains closed. “I wish I hadn’t asked about those. I’ll never sleep again.”

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“They can’t come inside unless you for some reason invited a vampire to do so. You don’t really think all I do is laze around while you’re at work, do you?” Thor sniffed at the expression on my face. Yeah, that was pretty much what I thought he did while I was slaving away and getting my ass bruised by overly friendly trucker types. “Sorry.” “Our little home on wheels is secure from unexpected visitors such as those.” “How?” “I’ve warded it quite well, from top to bottom. Many forget about the bottom, you know. At least until something comes through it.” Thor flicked an ear, looking thoughtful. I decided not to ask and he blinked a few seconds later, returning to the present. “This is your refuge and part of my duties as your familiar is to make certain that’s exactly what it is.” He grinned and I returned it because you have to smile back at a grinning cat. They just look too damn funny when they do it. “You could drive this box through Hell and come out the other side safe, as long as the windows and door were kept closed.” “I’m not going to have to test that theory, am I?” My smile had fallen off my face to land with a thump on the tabletop. “I seriously doubt it. No witch has visited the Netherworld in the past eight centuries.” Thor yawned, revealing every one of his white, needle sharp teeth, pink tongue and dark gullet that an amazing number of cans of cat food had disappeared down into the past two months. My jaws cracked into a reactionary yawn. “Okay, okay. It’s bed time.”

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“Excellent idea,” he agreed, looking smug. Once I’d changed and crawled between the covers, the cat sauntered in. Jumping up on the bunk, he bumped the top of his head under my chin before snuggling up. Scratching under his, I let the feeling of warm contentment his close presence always brought fill me. With his blue eyes closed, chin stuck out and whiskers quivering in pleasure, Thor looked just like any other cat would under the circumstances. Yet he’d been watching over me since the spark of life had settled into the tiny, dividing mass of cells I’d started out as, over twenty-two years before. I kissed the top of his furry head and pulled him closer. “Night, Thor.” “Sleep well, Cara,” he purred and I did. Thank you for reading! More of Enter the Weird is available at http://midnightintentions.com/ser/weird/, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com Jump back to the Story Descriptions

Refuge of Delayed Souls
Refuge of Delayed Souls is an urban fantasy novel by Miladysa. It can be found at http://roydss.blogspot.com/2009/09/refuge-of-delayed-soulspart-1.html. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com.

2007
Elizabeth brushed aside her long fair hair with black leather-clad fingers and fought a constant battle with the ever present wind as it gathered pace and pushed its way through the cemetery. The drone of the approaching lawnmower brought her thoughts back to the present day and the rows of well-manicured graves and regimented gravestones. She strode past the names of the family members resting in the ground beneath her feet and then stopped to study the dates chiselled into one of the cold granite headstones before her. Only five names were engraved and yet there had been six burials. Elizabeth turned and made her way into town. A solitary tear trickled slowly down her cheek as she left the cobblestone rake leading down from the cemetery and entered the main street of Whituth. As a town it was nothing special. None could deny its glorious location though, nestled as it was in a valley between moorland and a breathtaking dell.

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As a child, Elizabeth had delighted in learning the history of the area; bloody battles involving Danes, Vikings and Celts, and legends full of sorcery and mythological creatures. Her mood darkened when she remembered other less documented invaders. Not all struggles that had taken place here had or would appear in the history books. The wind gusted and Elizabeth’s pace quickened to match it. Each hurried step was punctuated by the echo of her soles scraping against the fine layer of grit smothering the damp stone pavement. She scanned the hills and moorland above the industrial landscape searching for some colour. Between clouds of fog, church spires and mills she glimpsed only the occasional bolt of green. Today was a dark day indeed. Elizabeth returned her gaze to the turreted grey building ahead and the chink of light radiating from it. Concentrating hard, she pushed herself onward towards the beckoning light only to be startled by a rasping cough from a cobbled alleyway to her right. A raggedly dressed young woman sat on the ground, her back against the wall of one of the buildings. A rake-thin baby beneath a grey woollen shawl was suckling at her emaciated breast. Elizabeth refused to meet the eyes of the ones searching her out and rushed onwards as a dirt-encrusted hand thrust its way down the alleyway towards her. A child’s buggy nearly collided with Elizabeth’s black leather boot; she just managed to step out of its way. A rain-soaked infant stared at her with blank eyes. Elizabeth gave him a warm smile and his eyes lit up with surprise. The mother remained fixed, huddled over the buggy handles and hurried past without any recognition. Not far now

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A soldier wearing a World War II uniform appeared at one of the windows of the Heyleigh Arms public house. He made no effort to acknowledge her presence and a relieved Elizabeth pushed on towards the welcoming doorway ahead. A single, time-worn stone step led up to an imposing arched doorway. In the granite beside the weathered wooden door was carved “RoYds”. The door was held open halfway by an elderly gentleman wearing a full morning suit. Opening the door fully so that Elizabeth could easily step inside, the man gently closed the door behind her. “Morning, Miss.” “Morning, Wilfred. How are you today?” The little man blinked back at her, same blank expression as always. He answered with the usual monotonous tone in his voice. “Present as usual, Miss,” he replied. “Mr Birch is waiting for you in the red reception room, Miss. Very dark out today isn’t it?” Elizabeth suspected that Wilfred had always been around to supervise the doorway at RoYds, altering only his clothing, hairstyle and manner of speech to suit the conventions dictated by the modern world. “Certainly is,” remarked Elizabeth with an involuntary shudder. *** Elizabeth entered the red reception room through an open doorway. The rather grand room was furnished with deep sofas, armchairs and various pieces of antique mahogany furniture. Facing her

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was a large, highly polished black marble fireplace and a roaring coal fire. Sitting in one of two oxblood leather armchairs by the side of the fireplace was Stanley Thomas Birch, an eccentric gentleman whose demeanour, despite his civilian attire, gave away the fact that he was, or had been, in the military. He was quietly sipping an amber liquid from a cut crystal tumbler and when he caught sight of her, he stood up and smiled. “Ah, Elizabeth! Please do come in and take a seat." He pointed to the armchair facing the one he had just left. Elizabeth shivered slightly; someone else was in the room with them. Turning to her left she caught a glimpse of Wilfred placing a small silver tray with a large mug of tea and some chocolate biscuits upon a nearby table. “Took the liberty, Miss,” remarked Wilfred. “I thought you might be in need. Can I take your coat, Miss?” He held out his hand. “Thank you. That’s very kind of you,” she replied removing her long red winter coat and passing it to him. “Please do take a seat and enjoy your tea,” said Stanley fussing after her lightly. Elizabeth reached for the tea that Wilfred had made for her. She was delighted to discover it was as delicious as ever. “Welcome back,” said Stanley with a broad grin.

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1940
There was a whooshing sound and Peg floated towards the ceiling. She noticed a cobweb in the corner of the fanlight above the front door and a ray from the streetlight outside crept its way in through one of the glass panes. A finger-like beam reached towards her and instinctively she edged away, tilting forward erratically and hovering above the heavily congested hallway below. Her body on the floor was the next thing she noticed and then Anne on her knees beside it, sobbing as Billy rushed down the hallway and out of the house. The finger of light hummed softly, its intensity increasing steadily. Above it, she could only just make out a distant cacophony of shouts and sobs amidst the rage that was Michael. There was blood everywhere; thread-like streams trickled in the grouting between the patterned floor tiles as others navigated the heavily embossed Lincrusta wallpaper. The light was persistent. She refused to turn and face it and instead pushed down towards her body in a failed attempt to rejoin it. She tried again, concentrating all her effort into moving away from the ceiling, but merely ended up shooting off through an open doorway landing forcibly on the bedroom floor beyond. The startled baby witnessed her arrival and ceased wailing. Peg smiled at her reassuringly before picking herself up off from the floor and rejoining the others in the corridor beyond. I must be dead “I’m afraid yer assumption's correct,” remarked a young soldier sitting on the stairs smoking a rolled up cigarette. “Is that you, Hughie Nuttall? I thought your Millie said you'd been taken prisoner following Dunkirk!” replied an incredulous Peg.

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“Aye, most likely she did, but as yer’ll have gathered by now, the bloody pen pushers got that bit wrong an’ all.” Peg blinked, at least she felt like she blinked, “I’m not dreaming then?” “Nope,” said Hughie. “Sorry, Peg. Bloody terrible way to go too! I mean, I expected to get shot but no one would have guessed anything like this would happen in yer own home.” Peg moved aside to let her sister Catherine pass. She noticed a smear of blood on her cheek and splashes of it on her dress. She looked down at her own; there was none to be seen. She half expected to see the wounds evident on her abandoned body and was relieved to discover she was whole, or at least gave the impression of being so. “Can’t work out why that is either,” said Hughie, standing up and walking towards her. “I had one of me legs blown off and half me face missing but yer would never have guessed it looking at me. The police'll be here in a minute, I should imagine. Looks like yer staying, then? The light’s gone.” “The light?” “Yeah, it came for yer. Don’t yer remember?” Peg shook her head, “The street light?” She looked up at the fanlight above; there was only a dim glow now. “It’s something else, that light, Peg. I’ve seen it loads of times now. Comes for yer when yer die, it does, but I never fancied going with it meself. Most people do though.” Hughie bent down to adjust his puttees and then straightened up. Peg couldn’t take her eyes off her family. I can’t leave them like this

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Michael banged his fist on the wall and cried out. The baby started to wail again and in an attempt to pull herself together, Anne made her way over to the cot. Above the baby’s cries, Peg just about managed to make out that her family were communicating verbally with one another and yet the only things she could clearly hear were the baby’s cries and Hughie’s conversation. The world of the living was gradually muting, and something else was happening; everything appeared to be turning grey and had a slightly washed out appearance. “That’s what some people call the veil, Peg. Don’t worry, though. Yer’ll become accustomed to it after a while and hardly notice it’s there at all.” The front door opened and Billy rushed in accompanied by Dr Lord and his black leather medical bag. “Fat lot of use that'll be now,” remarked Hughie grinning. Peg looked at him disapprovingly and he shrugged his shoulders. “Well, if yer don’t laugh there’s nowt left to do but skroike, lass,” he said putting his arm around her comfortingly. Peg hadn’t felt any real emotion up until that moment and the reality of it all hit home at once. Sobbing, she leaned against Hughie resting her cheek on the shoulder of his jacket. Almost immediately she pulled back and looked up at him. "Why are you here, Hughie? What’s all this got to do with you?” “Look, lass, it’s going to be a bit like Piccadilly Station in here for a while, so what say we go take a stroll and find somewhere a bit more peaceful like? I’ll do me best to explain things as we go along. How’s that sound to you?”

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2007
“I don’t know where to start...” It was Elizabeth’s second day since her return. She studied the smartly dressed and obviously professional young woman who had just walked into her office and came to the conclusion she was probably at her wits’ end. “Tell you what. Why don’t I make us both a nice cup of tea and then you can tell me all about it?” Elizabeth smiled encouragingly before walking over to a connecting door leading to the kitchen at the rear of the room and putting the kettle on. Sarah Entwistle definitely was at her wits’ end. She looked around the room. To all intents and purposes it looked like any normal tourist information office except that the local tourist office for this town was situated in the library. Elizabeth re-entered the room carrying a tray holding two large mugs of tea and a number of rich tea biscuits. She put the tray down on the table and passed one of the mugs to the young woman. “Here, Sarah. Help yourself to the biscuits. There’s some sugar too, if you take it.” “What exactly is it that you do here?” Sarah asked cautiously. Elizabeth could see that Sarah looked a bit suspicious at her surroundings. Whatever it takes “We investigate paranormal activity,” replied Elizabeth matter-of-factly.

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Sarah blushed with embarrassment as she took a sip of her tea. “I told the man at the library that I thought my flat was haunted and he said the best thing I could do was to visit here and see if anyone could help.” Elizabeth looked slightly amused. “And you thought about that at least twice before doing so, I’ll bet!” she said light-heartedly. Sarah smiled and Elizabeth saw five years drop from her face with that smile, and she came to the conclusion that Sarah was probably in her early rather than late twenties. “Where is it that you live?” Elizabeth enquired. “And what makes you think that it is haunted?” Sarah considered her words carefully before speaking, “It will probably sound daft. Even I think so! When it happens, I'm scared stiff and everything is so real. But now, talking to you, it all seems stupid and I feel like an idiot.” “Well, I promise not to think of you as an idiot. At the very least, talking to someone about it can only help, and together we might be able to find a logical reason for what you are experiencing.” Elizabeth wished she could do more to help Sarah relax. “I’ve got a ground floor flat in Howell Place. You know the old chapel facing the Band Club?” Elizabeth nodded, “Go on.” “Well, I moved in a while ago. It’s really nice; all the neighbours seem friendly and location is ideal. I was lucky to get the flat. Matt, my old lecturer from college, was going abroad for a year and asked me if I wanted to rent it while he was away. Of course I jumped at the chance!” “So, what’s the problem?”

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Sarah sighed and shrugged her shoulders, “Well, for instance, say I know I have turned the light on in a room –- well, it might just turn itself off. Same with the radio, or a tap, or the television. At first I thought it could be faulty wiring or plumbing and then, well, then I heard the voices...” Sarah looked to Elizabeth for reassurance. Elizabeth nodded her head in encouragement, “It’s OK, carry on.” “It’s a man and a woman. I can’t make out all the words but I know he’s ending things with her and she’s crying, begging and pleading with him to change his mind.” “Could the voices be coming from a TV or radio in another room?” Elizabeth asked. “Or maybe from one of your neighbour’s flats?” “I don’t think so,” replied Sarah nervously. “You see, I recognise one of them -– the voices. I know who it is... and... This is going to sound crazy, right? You are going to think I am mad... but, you see, the man... Well, it’s Mathew. It’s his voice I can hear!” “And you are positive that Mathew is still... abroad?” Elizabeth enquired. Sarah nodded firmly. Instinct told Elizabeth that Sarah was not suffering from a psychotic illness, although there was always the possibility of drugs. “I’m going to ask you this because we need to rule it out and I don’t mean any offence. Do you have any history of drug taking? You know these things can have lasting effects?” Elizabeth could clearly see by Sarah’s eyes that she had taken offence at her question.

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“No, of course not! Don’t be so ridiculous. I wish I had, though. At least it would be an explanation.” “OK,” said Elizabeth getting up from her chair. "And again, I apologise. I just needed to be able to rule that out. How about I have a look to see what information I can find out here about the old chapel and if any powerful transmitters or telephone masts have been erected in the area recently? They can sometimes play havoc in ways you would not imagine. Meanwhile, it’s just a suggestion, but I wondered if you might feel easier staying at a friend’s house until you get this sorted out?” “I have nowhere else to go,” replied Sarah sadly. “Besides, I want to remain at the flat. Apart from what's happening, I feel rather attached to it.” “Okey-dokey,” replied Elizabeth, unable to hide her concern. “Why don’t I meet you at your flat later this afternoon then? Say around three o’clock?” The tension appeared to drain from Sarah’s face. “Fantastic! I really appreciate you making the time and effort.” A few minutes later, Elizabeth sat at her desk and wondered what course to take with Sarah’s happenings. “Shall we investigate this together?” asked a voice from behind, and she turned to find Tashriel casually leaning on the doorframe. Sunshine swept into the room from two directions, creating a warm glow and highlighting the figure in the doorway. Long blonde hair shone like starlight against an attire of midnight blue jeans and a deep velvet shirt. As usual, Tashriel presented a very attractive image. Elizabeth struggled to decide if it was all an act of nature or partly his own doing.

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“You think so lowly of me these days?” Tashriel asked, raising one of his perfectly arched brows and casting Elizabeth a disapproving look at the same time. “I wouldn’t put it past you,” Elizabeth retorted sharper than she had intended and then thought better of it. Tashriel shrugged, “Forgiven -- always. It happens to the best of us.” He walked over to the window and looked out onto the busy shopping street below. Elizabeth contented herself by pretending to study the intricate patterns of the William Morris wallpaper and glaring furiously at an empty desk, which was soon to be occupied by Gemma Bolton. Probably be in my grave just as fast “RoYds goes on,” Tashriel remarked gently removing his hands from the pockets of his jeans and walking towards the half-glass panelled door leading directly to the street. “Shall we move on? Sarah Entwistle will be expecting us shortly.” *** Howell Place was in the middle of Market Street; a long winding road of crowded stone buildings from beginning to end. Built in the early 19th Century as a place of worship, it was one of the few grand structures in Whituth. Elizabeth silently scoffed at the shiny brass plaque prominently displayed on the honey-coloured boundary wall. “Something wrong?” Tashriel asked, raising an eyebrow. “I preferred it when it was a chapel.” “As did I,” Tashriel responded, opening the recently erected black cast-iron gate. “A church cannot survive without parishioners though,” he added despondently.

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As they approached the main entrance to the building, Elizabeth concluded that the developer had done an excellent job of keeping the conversion in line with the character of the building. She studied the list of names and doorbells; there was no Sarah Entwistle. Elizabeth tried to remember the name of the friend Sarah had mentioned as the person she was renting the flat from. Matt or something similar. One of the doorbells was for a Mathew Billington. She pressed the shiny brass button. “Hello?” “Sarah? It’s Elizabeth Whyte from RoYds and I have a friend with me.” The buzzer startled her slightly as Sarah released the lock on the main door. Upon entering the building, they were greeted by a smiling Sarah standing in the doorway to their left. Sarah waved to them. “Over here,” she announced cheerily. Elizabeth introduced Tashriel as a colleague. He walked around slowly with a hand-held device, mumbling something about a “proton Magnetometer” to monitor changes in the flat’s magnetic field –- people usually found this comforting and would let down their guard somewhat, allowing Tashriel to take his own kind of “readings” - whilst Elizabeth tried to take in as much of the atmosphere as she could without appearing too obvious. The layout was open plan with three doors at the far end leading to what Elizabeth assumed to be sleeping and bathroom areas. The two side walls were a crisp far-reaching canvas of white with a trio of leaded gothic-arched windows along the outer wall. A streak of abstract paintings had been hung to perfection on the interior wall and a state-of-the-art sound system took pride of place beneath them. It was clearly a show-flat rather than a home.

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“Please take a pew.” Sarah pointed to a pretentious magenta and lemon sofa. “Would you like some tea?” “Not for me, thanks,” replied Elizabeth. “Would you mind if I had a quick walk around the other rooms to get a feel for things? Oh, by the way, we didn’t find any related problems with local transmitters or masts.” “Damn!” exclaimed a disappointed Sarah. “I suppose I didn’t really expect you to, but I hoped that you might be able to help me in some way or another.” As she spoke, the multi-faceted designer light fitting above them flickered and a James Blunt CD began to play, "I took your soul out into the night..." An ashen Sarah threw herself down into a tangerine leather armchair and began to sob hysterically. Elizabeth looked at Tashriel who was walking towards the music system and as he did so, Elizabeth sensed another male presence in the flat. Although his name came quickly to her, Elizabeth hesitated to use it. “Sarah, look at me!” Elizabeth commanded before kneeling down in front of the distraught woman and clasping her hands with her own. “Look me in the eyes. I want you to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly. Concentrate on just doing that.” Sarah looked at Elizabeth through mascara-smudged eyes. “Don’t worry; I am going to sort this problem out for you. OK?” Releasing Sarah's hands she stood up and was joined by Tashriel at her side. Sarah reached for a cushion behind her and held it close.

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Elizabeth glanced at Tashriel and called out the name of the presence in the flat with them, “Mathew.” A door at the far side of the room opened and a wet, towel-clad Mathew Billington appeared. “Who the devil are you people and what the hell are you doing in my flat?” he shouted, thoroughly enraged and rushing towards them. Tashriel calmly reached out and placed his fingertips lightly upon Mathew’s cheek. Elizabeth stared at a frozen Mathew Billington who was now standing only a couple of feet away with a stationary droplet of water on his bare chest. Thank you for reading! More Refuge of Delayed Souls is available at http://roydss.blogspot.com/2009/09/refuge-of-delayed-soulspart-1.html/, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com Jump back to the Story Descriptions

Guts and Sass
Guts and Sass is a high seas fantasy novel by M.E. Traylor. It can be found at http://metraylor.com/gutsandsass/dreamers. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. "Okay, Blondie. I'm ready to give in to Stockholme's. You can untie me now." Sitting squarely on her knees, the woman regarded him with bright expectation. Slowly lowering himself to the damp planks, Alan knew he was not entirely able to hide his curiosity. By the door, what light from the lamp touched Werser cast the shadows of his arms and belly in distorted bulk all the way down the hull. Alan studied her mutely, her sudden abandonment of silence both somewhat expected and a fascinating shock. Her bones had lost some of their flab, the unfamiliar oval of her features growing sharper. "It's okay," she told him. "I love you now." When the silence spun out, she leaned forward slightly. Very slowly she said, "Un. Tie." She stared at him with great intensity. He returned the stare evenly, attempting to mask mild consternation. After a long moment, she added hopefully, "Please?" When he still failed to respond, she gave a thick sigh, back curving.

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"Dude. Shoulder cramps. You have no idea." Coming to a decision, Alan rested an elbow on one knee and propped his jaw in his hand. "Do you have a name?" he asked mildly. The dejection on her face was immediately replaced by blankness. Then she blinked several times, and appeared to briefly struggle. "Hannah. Roverton," she said neutrally. His brows lifted slightly, a piece sliding into place. Her tone changed abruptly. "And I swear to god, if you ask me my social security next I will find a way to smack you." He ignored the distractions and asked, "Where do you come from?" "Nuh-uh." She jerked suddenly straight. "You have abducted me, kept me in solitary for like, weeks, tied up, fed me bizarre seafood, with no. Toilet paper, and left me sitting in a puddle of my own blood. I am not playing along with your bullshit for free. I answer a question, you answer a question." As he considered her hard eyes, her rigid posture suddenly melted and she added, "Or, for every game of tic-tac-toe you play with me I will answer a question. I have no preference." "You have lied before," he pointed out. "Under duress," she agreed with a bob of her head. A stiff hook of hair bounced into her face. "And now out of sheer boredom I give in to stockholme's." "We did leave you clothes," Alan pointed out dryly, though that had been Ridiath's method. "Yeah, only because you didn't want to reamed with sexual harassment any more than you're already going to be. So. Question for question. You like?"

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After a heartbeat the corners of his mouth twitched up. "If you keep to your bargain and I find your questions reasonable, I will answer them." "So you asked, now I ask?" Alan's mouth quirked again. "Agreed." She appeared to ponder, pursing her lips to a point. Finally, she came out with, "So. What's your name?" There could have been a few reasons not to answer, but there was little to be discerned from his name. "Alaundat," he told her, leaving off the rest. She glanced from side to side. "And, uh, is that supposed to mean something?" He smiled, faintly. "Second born son." "Huh." He watched her. "Your turn," she reminded him. "Where are you from?" he asked. "Yu-es-of-ey," she replied promptly. He raised an eyebrow. "U-ni-ted-states-of-a-me-ri-ca," she elaborated. "And what is that?" "Dude, you are white and speak english. You know what fucking america is." "Explain to me as if I do not," he suggested, lifting his brows slightly.

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Sucking in deep breath she seemed about to release it into an explosive sound, then she abruptly said in very precise tones: "It is a country." When she did not continue, he prompted, "And where is this country?" "Myturn. Where the hell are we?" His eyelids closed the barest degree as he considered any agenda behind the obvious question. But a general answer could only confirm what she already knew. "The Widest Water." She blinked and looked at him with a faint frown. "Soooo. Is that the pacific?" A beat. "Oh. Sorry. Your turn." "The location of your country?" She appeared displeased, but resigned. "North america?" she suggested hopefully. When he looked at her expectantly. "Between the atlantic and pacific oceans? Between canada and mexico? The western hemisphere? You are very good at this faking ignorance thing." Alan did not remark on that last. "And where are you from?" "Secled," he offered, straightening and resting both elbows on his knees. When she stared at him blankly the side of his mouth quirked upward, and he said, "By the Widest Water, bordered by Endonsárre, Limdris and Serg." "No. In reality." Alan gazed back steadily, not entirely sure of her meaning.

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Her eyes bulged and she craned her neck to stare at the ceiling. "We are getting nowhere. Can we see that we are getting nowhere? Wait!" Her head abruptly snapped down, her eyes still wide. "I get it! It's a code, or an analogy, or something. The widest water is the pacific, and the other ones are the atlantic, mexico and canada. Blink twice if I'm right." She stared at him with intense expectation. Alan returned her gaze with nothing to offer. "You are not helping." Wood creaked as Werser shifted, and the woman's eyes shot toward him, brows knotted in suspicious alarm. When it appeared the ship would not collapse, she looked back at Alan. After so long under an ocean sun, her unburned paleness was startling, improbable. "Why are you here?" "That's my line, Blondie." Before he could respond she continued, "So did you use beaming technology or drug me and have me shipped to the nearest body of salty water which is probably the pacific?" "It is my question, correct?" he asked with some amusement, to avoid the maze her speech presented. "Technically," she agreed, "but if I have no frigging clue how I got here, that means it's a pretty sure thing you do." He sat back slightly, evaluating her once again. "You claim to not know how you came to be on this ship." "Yeah, I don't habitually wreck renaissance fairs." "And you believe that I have better knowledge of your presence here than you do." "Uh, yah."

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He could not tell if her conviction were genuine or if her confusing speech were an elaborate distraction. "The order is fucked," she commented. "How do we proceed?" Alan tilted his chin toward her. "So, Blondie. Are you the captain?" His lips twitched upward again. "No," he said. "Are you lying to me?" Her eyes narrowed, and she leaned forward. His smile deepened, and he shook his head slightly. "No." Her eyes still slitted, she raised her eyebrows. "Are you in charge." "I forget." He watched her settle back, apparently resigned to the fact that her line of inquiry had been too ambitious. "Go," she sighed. He raised his eyebrows. "You wish me to leave?" Her eyes snapped wide. "Go. Your question. Ask it." Despite her strange impatience, he chose his next question with careful thought for its risks and benefits. "What do you know of the Drifalcand?" "The who?"

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She regarded him blankly. He had seen no telltale of recognition, no carefully smoothed reaction. He remained relaxed, mild. "The Drifalcand." "Not ringing any bells." He understood the words, but the way she used them eluded him. "Do you know anything of breeders?" "Whatever that is, it sounds creepy as fuck. And it's not your turn. Who are the Drif-al-cand?" The abrupt turnaround was surprising, and if it was calculated, clever. He chose the words carefully. "They are a nomadic, war-making people." He paused slightly, honing the next piece. "Currently, they are invading." A beat as he studied her face, searching for movement underneath her skin, anything in her eyes. "With no little success." A silence stretched before she spoke, her features neutral. "I just want to state for the record that I want no part in your epic struggle of good versus evil." "Where did you come by your eyes?" She blinked rapidly, four times. "Beg pardon?" "Their color. How did you come by it?" "…genetics…?" At his continued silent question— "Uh, mom's side of the family." He blinked. She knew her mother. "Do you know where she comes from?"

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"Wyoming…?" "Where is this?" "Um, north of where I'm from. Why do you care?" Alan lifted a brow. "Why I have green eyes." He let out a silent laugh through his nose, and could think of no reason not to answer, and something to be gained if she were provoked. "Because the only people we have ever observed this in are the Drifalcand." She stared at him evenly for a long breath. "You must be fucking joking." And that was where he felt the need to end. Giving no explanation, Alan began to stand, and the woman instantly became alert, following his movements. Before he could reach the door, she called, "So, have I earned enough brownie-points to get untied?" ~~~~~ "Well. It worked." "In a way," Alan agreed. Ashur did not feel better. Alan was in one of his moods. They had decided to take advantage of Ridiath's absence. Ridiath had been taking food in the morning. The day after she left, they told the guards to wait until late in the afternoon. Then they had brought in food and water, provided their prisoner with a bucket, untied her wrists, and said nothing. No explanation, no

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question, no threat. Alan and Ashur had stayed away from her for the past seven days, waiting to see what she would do. Alan sat in the spare hammock, chin propped on folded knuckles, patiently watching Ashur take a pace past the map table. "She's waving smoke in our faces," Ashur said sharply. "She wants us distracted, looking for possibilities that aren't." "There are lands beyond Crec," Alan pointed out, voice subtly tinted with amusement. "And north of the Duchies. Your people live deep in the west, which we say to be landless." Abruptly, Ashur spun on the ball of his foot to face him. "And from out there," he slashed his spread fingers toward the porthole, "she just happens to be more comfortable with Seclednar than you are?" he demanded. Alan's mouth only curved up, which was infuriating, but so familiar as to be taken for granted. Ashur's hand dropped and he jabbed at the floor with two fingers. "We've held her for most of a pass, and two days before the earliest we can expect the raid back, she decides to start talking. A raid on the one target through which we can cause any significant damage. The raid we just sent ten of our people on. I do not. Like it." ~~~ Their landing was no more than a snap of water against a rock. Ice crackled around the hull. Idishe crept gently onto the shore, only another boulder in the cloud-shrouded darkness. The boulder was gone. Efeddre crouched poised on the prow, listening.

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As they sat behind their oars, Ridiath felt the keenness, the anticipation that made the tension of waiting melt away. Barely enough time had passed for them to expect him when Idishe's compact shadow reappeared at the prow. They filed carefully onto the rocks, except two watchers in case the galley were discovered. She followed carefully behind Felghaim, stepping only on the rocks he did, and felt nothing shift beneath the supple leather shoes tied around her feet. Behind a boulder they gathered, squatting, and Idishe spoke loud and crisp with his hands to compensate for the dark. Five sentries with bows. No sign of patrols. Idishe would take the west and the south sentries. Efeddre would take the north-east, east, and the steeple. They disappeared softly. Ridiath heard the rattle of a rock, but it could have been water against the ice-rimed shore. Four breaths and Ibleton led them a winding path around the boulders to within a slingshot of a darker shadow in the overcast night. Ridiath rested her palm lightly on the pommel of her lhir. No sound came from the watchers on the walls. She could feel her clouded breath against her cheeks, hot and wet. A soft scuff against stone, a great door swinging upward. They stayed still, and silent, fading into the piercing breeze. Someone stepped out, and the movement was like Efeddre, but they waited until he approached their hidden position, signaling them on. Creeping inside, they met torchlight and a body in the fork of the wide entrance corridor. Gathering around Efeddre, his brown hands gave concise reports. He paused and glanced behind his shoulder, and a heartbeat later Idishe slipped into the torchlight from the right fork, cleaning gore from his knives with a cloth.

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Prison guards dispatched, Idishe signed one handed, sheathing his blades. Efeddre caught his attention, and something hard and intent passed between their impassive faces. Idishe nodded. Efeddre's gaze switched to Ibleton, who gave the slightest jerk of his head. They were the only ones who knew the full extent of his plan. Ibleton and Idishe conferred with their fingers, a slur of signs too fast to catch all what was being said. Ibleton gave the result. Two groups, one to take each level except the prison level. Idishe jabbed two fingers at Ridiath, then Efeddre, then Solme, and finally tapped his own mouth. Ibleton took stock of the division, and led Toney, Felghaim and Gerril down the right fork, their heels flicking out of the torchlight. Idishe started down the left fork, a hall of chill, damp stone that seemed to swallow the air. Her weight settled into her feet, and she had to remind herself not to think. The corridor opened into a large chamber, and Idishe slowed, taking it in, moving from memory. Ridiath let the room settle into the outline of all the charcoal maps sketched out on deck planks, knew they approached another corridor. Only four soldiers slept in the first barracks. Sliding her knife through the first soldier's throat, she was grateful. By the time he woke it was already too late. She smothered his gurgling with his blanket. Five, she whispered in her mind. In the next barracks the last two managed to reach for their weapons, and one yelled before he died. Solme narrowly missed being gutted, a shallow slice across his belly. Six.

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At the gaping door to the third barracks, Idishe halted just outside the light of the next torch. Across her body Efeddre said something to Idishe with his fingers. Ridiath waited for them, her heart louder than her breath from the yell. Refocusing her attention, she could feel the readiness waiting inside. A soft push on her shoulder told her to stay. The instant Efeddre slipped inside, she drew the length of her leg in iron from its scabbard. A gush of air, as of breath knocked out, and the sickening thud of Efeddre's wooden yleflun connecting with flesh. Idishe ducked in after him, followed by a series of impacts, and an aborted cry. She stood ready with Solme at the corridor, waiting for any approach from either end, or for a soldier to burst out of the room. Idishe emerged first, then Efeddre, a point bleeding through his tunic. Ridiath glanced at the wound, then down the corridor as they stepped back behind Idishe. They passed into the fiery puddle of another torch, and she closed one of her eyes against the light. A soldier melted from around a bend, whirling faster than she could see to add deadly momentum to the swing of his massive blade. Idishe spun around him as Efeddre ducked under the swing and his yleflun landed on the soldier's back, dropping him. Solme cut his throat as another soldier suddenly appeared and Idishe was already there, slashing, feinting. The soldier did not see Ridiath tight against the wall outside the rim of the light, and she knocked his blade-arm askew, swung out the way of his other fist, and slid her lhir up into his chest. Seven, she thought. He tried to use the last of his strength to gash her thigh and she dodged, twisting her blade, shredding his insides, then slashed his throat to be sure.

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Surveyed the bodies, her pulse ran fast. Patrols unaware of them until they came on them, hopefully. The smell of shit and bile and raw meat floated to the back of her nose, lingering as she stared at the rumpled sheen of his intestines spilled on the stone. They crept forward, hugging the curve of the wall. At the next room, Efeddre went in alone. She did not hear the fight, only the impact. Ridiath cast her senses up and down the corridor. When Efeddre emerged, a soldier lay draped over his shoulder, one side of his face deformed. She counted nine piercings carved in bone and shell in the ear facing her, and her pulse jumped faintly. They met no more resistance before the last doorway. Idishe and Solme held the corridor as Efeddre stepped inside. Glancing at them, Ridiath cautiously followed. Inside was a small round chamber capped with a vaulted ceiling, filled with faint drafts. They were within the steeple. A single torch burned. Ridiath turned in a slow circle, the curve of her lhir held across her body. Her gut turned, not in horror, but in recognition. A body hung by the ankles over a broad, shallow basin. Skin stretched over ribs and hips, head tied back by the hair to show windpipe and meat bulging out of the throat. Female, a body covered in too many wounds to have lived long enough for them to grow old, but they were old, had been old before she had finally died. Efeddre dropped the soldier like a sack. Twisting his yleflun into the rope at his waist, he jumped up onto the rim of the basin.

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With quick efficiency he uncuffed the gaping wrists, then reached up to unbind the ankles, and gently gathered the body in his arms. Efeddre laid her on the cold floor, then tossed the soldier's body into the broad bowl as if he weighed nothing. Climbing up, Efeddre grabbed an ankle and hauled the body above his head, and shackled the soldier dangling above the basin. Squatting, Efeddre took out his knife and methodically slit the soldier's arms open from elbow to wrist. Blood flowed down his pale arms, down his palms, dripped off his fingers into the polished stone bowl, bleeding down a hole in its center. She wondered, too removed to be sickened, if this was his vengeance. She could read nothing on his face. From around the soldier's neck he drew out something that dangled, and slipped it over his head. In the corridor, the wasted body over one shoulder, he signed something short to Idishe with his free hand. Have it. Sharp, alert curiosity built under her sternum. Idishe's eyes flicked with acknowledgement, and he led them back down the corridor. They checked each of the rooms on the way back down the hall. Nothing appeared to have been moved, and no one lay in wait. Back at the fork they found Felghaim standing guard just outside the ring of brightness surrounding the torch. A dozen and a half down, he reported. No casualties. The rest were combing the upper level, checking for hiding places. Efeddre knelt and laid the mutilated body on the floor facing the wall. His intense gaze locked on Idishe.

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The faintest nod of assent, and Idishe pointed Solme to stand guard with Felghaim. Standing, Efeddre pulled a thong weighted with a long, slim rod from around his neck. Taking it, Idishe examined it from end to end. Efeddre made for the right fork, and catching her eyes, Idishe tilted his head after. Tracing the charcoal maps in her mind, Ridiath followed him into the dark. Idishe came two paces behind, so softly she could barely discern his presence even though she knew he was there. A pool of torchlight appeared in front of them, and the fire turned Efeddre's lean shape into warm lines. He paused, turning back to her and tilting his head toward the torch. She obeyed with the slightest hesitation, lifting it out of the bracket and holding it at an angle where dripping pitch couldn't scald her, and wondered; they didn't need the torch. The darkness solidified beyond the firelight as they moved on, blinded to anything beyond its reach. Efeddre halted just at the light's edge, and as she moved forward, she saw an opening in the corridor to the left, and the jagged shadows of steps. He started to climb and she followed, conscious of where she held the torch and her lhir, catching Idishe in the corner of her eye. At the top of the brief, curving stair there stood a door, heavy wood banded with metal. Efeddre stood two steps down, and Ridiath lifted the torch as Idishe moved past her. She caught him kneeling in front of it, drawing the long rod out of his thick tunic, before she turned her awareness back down the portion of stair revealed by the curve of the steps. There was the rasp and rattle of metal in metal, a long slide. Careful, measured sounds in sequence. Repeated. She found herself disturbed; she hadn't known the Drifalcand had learned to use locks. Wood squeaked, thunked, a scrape, and air suddenly whispered past

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her face, pulling them forward. A ticklish, medicinal smell wafted into her nose and mouth, and Efeddre gestured her in. Ridiath stepped in after him, found the door as thick as her torso. The room was stacked with herbs and shells, hooves and powders, organs, the torchlight painting shapes and shadows in orange. Bales, crates, baskets, jars, all brimming, each clearly and simply marked. Efeddre crossed room and squatted beside three wooden jars against one wall. He carefully twisted the tightly fitted lid off the nearest; it had no seal. In the torchlight the contents seemed clear, shining with a ripple, almost like water. A sharp, pungent smell reached her, filling her lungs, and Ridiath felt a jolt behind her eyes. Rethor. Efeddre pulled a small clay flask from a pouch on his rope belt, and submerged it in the dense liquid. When it was filled, he let viscous streams and beads drip back into the jar. She had never seen so much, and never so thick. One could have bought a ship with that flask. With those three jars one could have bought half of Endonsárre. Corking the flask, Efeddre stowed it back in the pouch. Efeddre worked the lids off the two other jars. The pungent smell intensified. From inside his pouch Efeddre took a small bundle, and Ridiath watched as he carefully shook a portion of the grainy contents into each jar, until the cloth was empty. He refitted each lid, and studied the area all around. Licking his finger, he picked up something from the floor Ridiath couldn't see. Suddenly, she understood Efeddre's plan.

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He stood, raked the room with another glance, and turned. Ridiath followed, and he pulled the massive door shut behind her. Stepping back, he let Idishe move in with the key. The pattern of rasps and thunks, and the door was locked fast again. Glancing around at the walls, Efeddre handed Idishe his yleflun, then the rope belt, and began stripping off his clothes. Idishe accepted them, and when Efeddre waved them back, they retreated down several steps. It was hard to see the shift in the dimness beyond the torch, but she could feel it; the air around them filled with a burst of warmth that was almost immediately sucked away, drawing cold air up the stairwell. The stair was barely wide enough to hold him now. Ridiath could only see his hind legs, padded toes splayed, gripping the steps, black-tipped tail batting against the wall. Efeddre lunged, putting as much weight behind it as he could in the small space, and she heard wood and metal groan. A snarl vibrated in her chest, then she heard claws splintering wood. Wood cracked under another lunge. A growl and furious clawing. After a silence, his tail and hind legs abruptly went out of focus with another flush of warmth, then receded out of the light. Efeddre met them at the base of the stair, wiry and naked, and retrieved his clothes. Idishe handed him the key. She did not understand why he led them back down the left fork, but Idishe did nothing. Efeddre had motioned her to replace the torch on their way back, and while her eyes readjusted she moved by the feel of his heat ahead of her. In the cold, airy chamber, he walked to a point slightly off its center, and set his yleflun aside as he sank into a crouch.

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Ridiath took the position facing the corridor leading to the fork, and Idishe faced the corridor leading to the barracks. As she spread her attention through the chamber, she felt a sharp motion from Efeddre, and something shifted with a soft thunt. He lifted a door out of the stone, setting the heavy board aside. Something crept up her spine, turned in her stomach. She recognized that hole. She knew it from Ibleton's stories. No sound came out. She couldn't see inside. Efeddre reached in, and something started screaming. Ridiath forced her eyes to the mouth of the corridor, alert for shadows that had not been there, movement. The thrashing, banging metal, wood, enraged screaming filled the chamber until it seemed as if all the air were taken up, and she heard Efeddre haul out a writhing, snarling body. Efeddre absorbed the blows silently, then she heard him fall, as if he had allowed himself to be knocked onto his back. There was abrupt quiet, except for harsh breathing. "Sabbad'yon derga. Mem ilo'krrek etros."# We are leaving here. I am not hurting you. Panting. "Ilo tericht thret."# I want my momma. "Hannol."# Hyperventilating. "Sabbada'yon?"# Yes. We will leave here? The other voice did not respond.

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She heard Efeddre stand, heard shifting. Idishe preceded Efeddre, and Ridiath fell behind them, pacing almost backwards to keep the other end of the corridor in view. Glancing behind her, she found a child twisting its head back to stare at her, eyes bizarrely calm. At the fork, Ibleton had changed places with Solme. The men all stared at the child, who had buried its hands in the black hair at the nape of Efeddre's neck, stick legs clamped to his waist, peering around his shoulder without expression. Doctor stashed in a hide-hole, Ibleton said with slurred hands. Dead. No breeders. Two men moving through the prisoners. He glanced at Ridiath. Need you to see something. At the end of the right fork climbed another stair. The ancient steps wound up to a long chamber supported by arches, lit with mirrored lamps. It was crammed with tables, shelves, jars, flasks, and the smell of bile and rot. Two giant vats took up the center of the space, one simmering over a bed of raked coals. She counted a soldier and four doctors dead. As they passed the vats, Ridiath gazed into dark, rippling blood, a thick, floating coat of dense translucency draining in the barest trickle into the second vat. Ibleton led her through the stained and splattered tables to two that were occupied. One was by a cadaver, a man, Secled or Endon, waxy-skinned and stinking of brine and postponed decay. The other was a Sergilé warrior the doctors had not bothered to kill before they began dissecting him.

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He stared at the ceiling, eyes twitching, too fevered to realize they were there or understand why his guts were lying on the table beside him. Ibleton made the sign for mercy kill, made it a question. But she waved him away, moving beside the table, laying down her lhir. She could smell the gently rippling rethor, already fading into the background of her senses. Hands braced on the table, she stared at him, a face like any other Sergilé man, sharp square angles, dark hair and beard and eyes. She wondered, if with enough time, the rethor could save him. Pressing her hand over his mouth and pinching his nose shut, Ridiath pried his head up and held her face over his. Even in his delirium he could not help but stare in her eyes as he died. Eight. She did not know if she felt his essence leave his eyes to find a home in hers. Ridiath let his head drop, and unsheathed her knife. Rolling his face to the side she found the thick beaded plait at the base of his skull, matted with blood and grime, and sawed it off, tucking it into a pocket inside her padded jerkin. Done, she signed to Ibleton, reclaiming her lhir. When they returned to the entrance, Efeddre sat on the stone, child in arms, its face buried in the pit of his shoulder. The mangled body seemed so cold, and quiet lying on the stone, yet loud, like a shout. Solme and Toney had returned from the prison level, all the prisoners killed. Efeddre looked up at Ibleton, then Idishe. Ibleton gave the signal.

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Standing, Efeddre moved toward Toney. "Yenne methala mem,"# he said quietly, and Toney held out his arms. He is my methala. The child clung, twisting, emitting a rising screech. Some of the men immediately eyed the corridors. Toney smiled. "Kish obshileg, aeblo waett giretae,"# he said gently. "Eddweloshkus Toney. A'badd tichroll brithk memd ikkedey."# From my heart, little mountain child.Those intimate to me call me Toney. I could teach you a story. The child was abruptly silent, staring at Toney, eerily impassive. When Toney reached out again, the child allowed itself to be passed over, transferring its grip to Toney's meaty shoulders. Efeddre stripped again, handing Toney his things, except for the key around his neck. Ibleton led the way out into the slick, icy night, and Idishe brought up the rear as Efeddre disappeared down the left corridor. She thought she knew what the patrols would find when they came back to Laschdarvi. They waited, hidden among the rocks, while Idishe scouted out the galley. Fis and Oraun were ready for them. This was the tensest part of the waiting, the waiting before the end. Ridiath's ears strained into the night, tried to spread themselves between the rocks, over the icy water where the river met the ocean. She was hypersensitive to any noise on the galley, feared the child crying out. But the child made no sound.

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She did not hear Efeddre return, did not sense him creep on board with his lifeless burden. Only felt Gerril's reaction when he realized Efeddre was there. The signal passed up the length of the boat, and Ridiath laid her hands on the oars in front of her, felt the others settle into position. When they reached deep water at the first blue light before sunrise, Efeddre gently lowered the body into the ocean, and let it drift away. Before she slept she sent a message to Demhlei. Don't use any new rethor. ~~~ Sucking in a gasp at the sharp twist to sensitive flesh, she bolted almost upright, one hand already on her knife and the other starting to shove the grasping thing away. They had found her sleeping— fury and disgust roiled in confusion when her hand connected with a small forehead, and soft tufts of hair. Her thrust lost its momentum before she could knock the body away. Not a man, fondling her as she lay sleeping. A child. The Lridrisy child, latched on her breast, slowly suckling, already asleep. The details of the dark, still beach penetrated the not-quite-memory, notquite-dream, confirming that she was not in the walls of Lum, that one of her hiding places had not been discovered. She had woken Solme. He had already grasped his lhir before he even came fully awake. "No danger," she said. "The child startled me." He took a bleary second to process that, then dropped back to his roll, pulling his blade to him like a partner.

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Awkwardly, Ridiath pulled the rest of the boy into her lap, feeling him drag her nipple into his mouth, his small hand digging into her other breast through her tunic. Her eyes strained through the darkness, looking for Efeddre's profile in the dark, but could not make him out. She sighed, wondering if she should take the child back to him. Holding him with one arm, she tried to gently pry her breast out of his mouth, but his thin, sharp fingers only dug into her more, and he made a muffled noise of discontent. She persisted, and the mewling grew louder. Letting out another breath, Ridiath stopped. She had already woken Solme. She sat there, eyes gritty, wondering what to do. Cheek in one hand, she looked around, seeking out forms in the darkness. The collar of her tunic rubbed where the boy had rucked it down to her ribs. She tried to adjust it, running a finger underneath the tight hem. It didn't help. Her eyes picked out the watchman, probably Fis, sitting on a rock. She had begun to absently rub between the child's shoulders. As her gaze travelled toward the impenetrable darkness of the island's tree line, one shadow abruptly peeled away from the others, revealing itself to be separate, closer. Disconcerted, her eyes took a breath too long to adjust and perceive a figure crouching just a step behind where her head had lain, watching her. Her mind jumped too late to her knife, and then she knew it was Efeddre, and did not reach for it. "He was sleeping fitfully." His voice came low out of the darkness. "He found his own way over to you. I wanted to see what would happen." It flashed through her with great irony that Efeddre could certainly never be faulted on his honesty. His closeness, and her unawareness of it, was unsettling. But then she realized he had positioned himself close enough to reach out and scoop the boy away, or stay her hand if she had been more than startled. "I can't feed him."

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"He wants the comfort. If you were to keep suckling him, in a few twelvedays your milk might start flowing. Even then I don't think it would give him everything he needs." "Do you want him back?" From the slightest movement of his shadowed body and what might have been a change in his breath, she thought he might be amused. "I won't try to convince you to mock-nurse him, but he's already sleeping more restfully." She let out another short sigh. "Let him sleep, then." Efeddre gave no sign if he was pleased, or cared what she chose. Careful to support the boy's thin body against her side, Ridiath lay back down, pulling her arm under her ear as a pillow. She shifted to take pressure off her hip, and the boy squirmed against her, never unlatching. It was strange. She realized that point of sensation was building between her legs, giving a faint pulse, did not know where to place that within herself, so didn't. Ridiath heard sand shifting behind her, not from someone rising to leave, but from someone lying down. She craned her neck back, and saw Efeddre's shadow curled in the sand, and she thought she caught the gleam of an eye. She was surprised when he said, "I'll stay to watch him." Tucking her chin, she stared down the length of the boy's shadow, still trying to process the sensation of his nursing. Even more strangely, she could hear Efeddre breathing, soft and even. "Why did you want me with you?" It was the one part of his plan that she did not yet fully understand.

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It was a few heartbeats before he spoke. "So you would see everything. So you could judge for yourself." The cloud cover was clearing, and the sky was patched with stars. She wondered if she would ever sleep like this. "When I was a little girl, and my mother brought me to Limdris, was it you who stayed with me, with your sister?" There was a pause. She thought he would use sleep as an excuse not to answer. "No. He was my older brother, Tebbat. We looked alike." Thank you for reading! More Guts and Sass is available at http://metraylor.com/gutsandsass/dreamers, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com Jump back to the Story Descriptions

The Ghost King
The Ghost King is a high fantasy by Kendal Black. It can be found at http://kendalblack.blogspot.com/2010/02/welcomedod.html. In addition all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com. 1. The Tale Begins Here begins the tale of the Ghost King. Spies watching the castle at Murran reported this: At the second hour of the morning, the High King's cousin, Lord Arrend, rode to the rear stairs at the head of forty horsemen. He dismounted, and took down from his horse an ornately carved wooden chest. The door at the head of the stairs opened at once, as if he had been expected. He remained in the castle for the space of half an hour. Then he and his guards rode away, without the chest. But what really happened was this: Not a word was spoken. A smile and a wink were all the greeting the king gave his cousin. The men took off their tunics and shirts and trousers. Bottles and combs were already set out on a table, and the king began combing dark dye through his blond hair and beard. Arrend used a solution that bleached his beard and hair, then another that turned them gold. They exchanged clothes, the king went down the stairs, mounted the other's horse, and rode away at the head of the guard. As for the chest, it was empty, a ruse. As instructed, the guards called the king "m'lord Arrend". High King Bonfort, Lord of the Twelve Kingdoms, found he was enjoying himself. His mission was urgent and perhaps dangerous, but the

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day was fair and it was pleasant to have a good horse under him. He stepped up the pace to a trot. To ride again at the head of cavalry, it had been too long since he had done that, and he began to hum a riding tune. He wanted to sing out loud, but that would never do. Cousin Chet's singing voice was much better than his. He turned south down the harbor road, remembering to swing wide so the column could follow gracefully. The clatter of the horses echoed thunderously among the buildings. Sailors and merchants turned to stare. Then he turned the column eastward and inland, on the King's Road. Spies watching the harbor reported, "Arrend heading for home." # The sun was setting as King Bonfort and his escorts arrived at the Arrend country estate. It felt strange, even to a king, to stride into another man's house as if he owned it, but the charade called for it. He regretted not taking the time to admire the riverside setting, with its well kept grounds, orderly hedges and trees in straight rows. As a child he had thought the place magically lovely, and had been sure there were fairies about. He was now not so sure about the fairies, but the place was beautiful still. But a man returning home after a brief absence would hardly pause to admire the scenery. So, keeping in character, Bonfort simply walked in the door. Behind him the guards dismounted and saw to putting away the horses. Indoors the light was dim. The windows were shuttered, but candles were lit. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. A woman was curtsying: Ali, Chet's wife. Her long auburn hair was done up elaborately with combs, and she was wearing a shimmering dress of white and gold--always the one for fine manners, and fine clothes. She had

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fascinated him, years ago, but his cousin had been the better catch. No one ever expected Bonfort to become High King. He smiled at her. "You husband understands, of course, that he is not to issue any edicts?" She laughed. "Yes, Bonbon, and he's not to sell your horses. How long are we to keep up this game of yours?" "I should be back in ten days, I hope not so long that. It really is a bother! For all of us." "'Born to rule, born to trouble.' Go on now, Ingdor is in the carriage porch and he acts like he's in a hurry." But she grasped his arm as he left, and held it a moment. "Be careful!" One ought not, in proper etiquette, touch a king unasked, but he said only, "Right, see you soon. Good luck!" He gave her arm a squeeze in return. Ingdor was tall for an elf, as tall as most men, but with the thin frame and face of his kind. "Watch," he said, and he disappeared. Then he reappeared. "This porch uses an Old Road as its foundation. That was a poor idea. But now it serves us well. I have brought these." He held out two pendants, each set with a small yellow gem. "Wear one and you are invisible while you stand upon the Old Roads." Bonfort looked puzzled. "Take one and put it on," Ingdor said. Bonfort did. "Everything looks the same," Bonfort said. "And why not?" The elf looked vaguely impatient. "It is you that are changed, not anything else." He put on his own pendant. Bonfort expected him to vanish again, but he did not. "But I can see you," Bonfort said.

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The elf shrugged at that. "Yes, that's the way it works. It's...a bit involved, there. I'll explain later, if you like." There were two knapsacks laid ready. He took up one and gestured at the other, then opened the door. Staying on the white stone path that led into the woods, he set off at a brisk walk. Bonfort put on the other pack and hurried to catch up. … Many miles and several adventures later, Bonfort arrives at a secret meeting. The Faerie Queen is speaking: 2. Queen of the Night Queen Goronla rose to speak. "Bonfort King," she said, "I said I would lay aside past differences. So said I, and so I do. I hold you blameless in all I shall recount, hoping you, also, will not blame me. "Earlier this year you and your friend Dickson killed three werewolves and a spoorn. I myself was hunting them, for they were renegades. You did not see me, but I saw you. You reached them before I did. All four were dead when I arrived. As well for them! "Or, it was as well for two of them--for only two had eaten children. The others were sheep stealers, and I trust you see the distinction. The one is theft and the other, murder. But you could not know, Bonfort, and did as you saw fit to protect your own people. "That was not the only hunt I made, of late. What is bad for the reputation of faeriefeys is bad for one and all, of course. That is why we work to police our own. Lately, though..." She waved and a servant came over, a Boneless, flapping as he walked.

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"Gort is my court historian," she said. "He has the facts of all judicial matters at his fingertips. Gort, tell us how many have been executed for crimes this year." "Fourteen, milady. So far. Not counting Bonfort's hunt, which is, from the legal standpoint, the action of a separate jurisdiction. All told, eighteen." "And in the last four centuries?" "Three, milady." "And how many have I turned into toads as punishment, whether for a time, or permanently?" "Forty-three this year. Again, an unprecedented number. There were nine in the preceding four centuries." "Thank you, Gort," she said. "You may resume your place." He flapped and shuffled away. "Gentlemen," said Goronla, "I am faced with a most unheard of rise in evildoing. I preserve my own kingdom by protecting my neighbors. So it must be. We eldritch folk keep to ourselves, and when some don't, we clean up our own messes. But lately the matter has gone beyond all bounds. Many humans have been killed, or cursed in various ways, or haunted. Just what I don't need! Believe me, Bonfort, I am doing all I can to stop it, but it continues. And as harm begets harm, some of my people have been killed by farmers and villagers, some for cause, some not. "After your business with the werewolves I and my hunters pursued a shagfoal who had taken to trampling people to death, simply because he did not like humans and was tired of my orders to keep out of their way.

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"The pursuit was long, but at last we brought him to bay, my hunters and I, and put him in chains. I looked into his red eyes and called upon him tell me what he had done, adding a magical compulsion to do so. He laughed in my face! I was not expecting that. He resisted my magic. I did not know he could. Then he heaped abusive words upon me and told me the old order, as he called it, with its faerie queen and all other sorts of sovereigns, belonged to the past. Soon the old order would pass away. No one would owe allegiance to lord or lady, or kneel, or grovel. He raved for some time on this wise, then he said, "Why, Mograsom even says..." Then he stopped short. "What did Mograsom tell you?" I said, and attempted to hold his gaze with mine. But he clamped his jaws shut and would not say another word, or even raise his eyes to mine. Never another word did he speak." At the name of Mograsom, Lu sat bolt upright in his chair. His hand grasped his staff with white knuckles. Lu said "Are you sure that was the name? Mograsom? This is as ill news, or nearly, as ever there could be." The queen sighed, then said "Ill news indeed. And that name is, I think, the solution to the puzzle you brought before this council. It is he, at any rate, that I hold responsible for the corruption of the eldritch creatures. I hold him accountable for the violence and evil my people have done of late to humans, things which of course I forbid in nearly all cases. If we want to be left alone by other species, we must live and let live. Well he knows it!" Bonfort sounded puzzled, indeed doubtful. "Mograsom? The sorcerer in the old chronicles? Surely that was long ago, many centuries." "The rest of us remember him, Bonfort, though you do not," said Lu. "It would seem he is back, in another body stolen from its owner, and with another plan of woe and ruin."

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"I did not think I would do this," said Goronla. "But I want no doubts left as to what we are facing." She began to unwind the veils from about her hat and head. "Who has not heard of the legendary beauty of the Faerie Queen? Beauty to make men's knees knock, and all women jealous. When I heard the words of my subverted subject, the shagfoal, I went looking for Mograsom, or for some sign of him, to see what I could learn about the new evils he is hatching. Would that I had not!" And as she took away her veil, Bonfort saw her face was a bat's face. He shuddered. She took off her gloves and her hands were like the feet of a chicken. "A reversing spell made me as hideous as once I was beautiful. Have a care, Bonfort! The rest of us know this foe, but you do not." There was a great commotion outside their chamber. Horns blew and gongs rang. Many voices shouted, or whinnied, or grunted, or roared, or squealed, according to their kinds. A page-bat flew in, crying out in a high pitched tongue Bonfort did not understand. It knelt to the queen, after landing on the table before her, and they conversed rapidly in the same language. "Gentlemen, we are under attack. I suggest you go at once. Take them out of here, Lu!" She was throwing off the rest of her clothes. Leathery black bat wings unfurled from her body, and her skin was like a snake's. "Come with us, Gorrie!" said Lu. "Nay! This is my land, these are my people. I will stay and fight." She flew from the cave, crying, "To me, my people, rally to me, all that are not gone over to the side of evil and hell!" Bonfort stared after her. Ingdor took his arm and led him to where Lu stood, wizard's staff held out horizontally. "Grasp my staff, both hands, hold on tight! Bonfort, it would probably be best if you closed your eyes. You haven't done this before. Holding on, Ingdor?

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Good." Lu took a deep breath and shouted more words Bonfort did not understand. With a flash and a bang, the three were gone. Bonfort's ears were ringing and he felt dizzy. His eyes were still squeezed shut. "You can let go now, Bonfort, we've arrived," said Lu. Bonfort opened his eyes and looked about. They were in a place altogether different from the one they had left. "Where am I? Where are we, I mean?" "Many, many leagues from where we started", said Lu. "Far inland, in a tower I use sometimes -- Oh, blasts and maledictions!" He was looking at the gemstone that topped his staff. It was now dark and crazed, cracked through. "And here we stay! That last trip used up the last bit of virtue in this stone." He detached the stone and threw it into the rubbish bin. "It's a long walk back to the Twelve Kingdoms," Ingdor said. "I daresay," said Lu. "Well, here we are, and here we stay, until we think of a better plan." "Did you see her wings?" said Ingdor. "They used to be soft and white, like dove wings." His voice held a note of bitter outrage. The war had begun. Thank you for reading! More The Ghost King is available at http://kendalblack.blogspot.com/2010/02/welcomedod.html, and all of the stories and novels in this volume are linked to from www.DreamFantastic.com Jump back to the Story Descriptions

Legal Notice
This copy of Dreamers of Dreams: An Anthology of Webfiction, is distributed free of charge in several formats, including PDF and EPUB. These files may be freely copied and shared at NO charge, including copying fees, however nominal, as long as the work is distributed whole and entire, including all forwards and afterwords. The material herein is copyright the author of the story. Use of individual stories or excerpts is epxressly prohibited.

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