MISCELLANEOUS Valentyne's Work

Discussion in 'SHOWCASING' started by Valentyne, Nov 23, 2014.

  1. I've dabbled in a lot of art forms over time, and still have some stuff to show for it, so I figured I'd just post an art dump here (I prefer one central topic for everything rather than one for every little thing). Only things I care to post right now are poems, stories, and sprite works.
    Let's start light, shall we? Poems it is!

    Three Dragons:

    One dragon paints the meadow white,
    the next breathes forth his ire.
    The last snuffs out this world's pale light,
    three dragons, born of fire.

    The first hails from the frozen north,
    where winter storms do gale.
    His claws rend all who do come forth,
    his talons pierce the toughest mail.

    The next from craters of the earth,
    where fire rules the day.
    His grinning visage, devoid of mirth,
    breathing flame spilled forth to slay.

    The last flies forth from darkened skies,
    another world, where daylight fades.
    Sleeping silent, the shadow lies.
    The dragon wakes, the dark invades.

    One dragon paints the meadow white,
    the next breathes forth his ire.
    The last snuffs out this world's pale light,
    three dragons, born of fire.

    My first poem, Three Dragons is sort of a fantasy-apocalyptic story about three dragons destined to destroy the world. I imagine it being a tavern ballad or campfire song for adventurers in whatever world I might decide to set it in (for now it's a standalone).

    A Leap of Faith:

    A leap of faith, reborn in fire.
    Invoke their wrath, blazing ire.
    Shining in the sky, their flaming sire.
    A leap of faith, undeath in fire.

    Three rise up, cry tears of fire.
    Yet struck down, in blazing ire.
    Weeping in the sky, their flaming sire.
    Three made low, cry tears of fire.

    A Leap of Faith is my second, shorter poem, and I don't consider it as good as Three Dragons. I wrote it as a supplement for a series I planned to write called World of Fire, of which I only ended up writing one story in (which I won a writing contest with, incidentally).

    Nightfall (incomplete):

    The shadow falls, invades the light,
    herald of the dark, the night.
    Moon rise high, sun fall low,
    call the nocturn, raven, crow.

    Dark sky weep,
    living one sleep,
    haze, hide the sun,
    cloudy sky, light shuns.

    Dark forest lie still,
    wolf awake, to hunt, to kill.
    Leaves above, a viridian veil,
    earth below, life shall fail.

    Stalk the prey, tear the flesh,
    Scatter the blood, renewed afresh.
    Rend the throat, rip the neck,
    call to the sky, begin the trek.

    Nightfall is an incomplete poem I started a very long time ago and work on every few months, writing maybe half a stanza each time. I still think it's inferior to Three Dragons, and I especially don't like the "dark sky weep" verse. I've tried to improve it every once in a while, but never found a way that worked. Obviously the poem itself is about night falling in a deep forest, and predators awakening.


    Well now that we're through the short stuff, we're on to my writing works. I've written hundreds of things over the years, even if they were just RPs I never published, short stories I never wrote more than a few hundred words on, or plans for projects I never went through with. Here are just a few stories I care to share:

    Blinding Light:
    Show Spoiler
    Raya was having a bad day.

    She had awoken without getting much sleep, due to a bout of solar induced nightmares during the night. The day before at work the blinding canopy had caught on fire because the personnel assigned to maintain it had forgotten to coat it with the reflector for the day, and when part of it burned through, most of the workers at the Moonset factory had been subjected to sunlight. Raya had gotten off a lot better than the other workers; she had managed to find shade quickly. Some were babbling nonsensically, and one poor bastard had fainted. Raya had only suffered from minimal exposure and thus had only a few nightmares, but that was bad enough.

    When she had arrived at the factory that morning, several people were missing; those that had suffered the worst of the last day's exposure. Raya was assigned to fix the blinding in the dusk hours before the sun rose again, but she nearly lost her balance on the thin walkways and fell to her death upon finding the charred corpse of Robert, the man who was supposed to apply the reflector. The official story was that he had been caught up there during noon on accident and been immolated, but everyone at the factory knew the man had been exposed to the sun too much in his lifetime. Most probably he intentionally neglected to apply the reflector and stood up there as the sun rose, watching it's harsh light until the object of his insane worship destroyed him.

    The day had not improved from there.

    Raya stepped in the door of her apartment, glancing out at the balcony. Her brother, Charles, was one of the Mad, someone who been exposed to the sun years before it became physically dangerous. He had insisted on renting a place with a balcony, and had only sustained from tearing down the thin blinding over it because she wouldn't let him, and he wasn't so far gone that he would ignore his younger sister.

    He was sitting there now, staring at the setting sun, beautiful and harsh. Raya was captivated by it herself for a moment, then shook her head. She couldn't let herself fall into the same trap.

    A week passed. A month passed. Raya made a habit of watching her brother and trying to keep him from staring at the sun for too long. Each night she would go out there and sit with him, urging him to come inside and stop burning his soul. He wouldn't listen; he never listened. She began to find herself catching glimpses at the sun without herself realizing. At first she forced herself to stop; soon, that became impossible.

    The longer she looked at it, the more she understood her brother. Charles had lived in a world of fire and death for so long. The sun was like a wrathful god who flayed them whenever they dared show their faces. But it was a just god. Despite all it's anger, all the suffering it had caused, the people still depended on it for life. Without it their world would be nothing but a frozen orb, suspended in space, it's infinite momentum carrying it until it collided with some star, ending it's miserable existence in an unspectacular flash of light.

    Soon, Raya stared at the sun as intently as her Mad brother. Soon she found herself wanting to pull the blinds back and dance before her fiery god.

    Something in her told her this was wrong; something in her said this was not what she should do. At first she listened. She contented herself to watching the sun through the safety blinding, letting it's power infuse her slowly. But then that urge to stay her hand disappeared, replaced by an ever growing desire to destroy the pitiful shields that separated her from holy flame. Then one day, a month and a half since the Moonset Incident, as it was now referred to, she gave in.

    Raya stepped forward, looking back at Charles, who still stared at their god with a blank expression. She took that as a sign of encouragement in her eagerness. The girl set her hand on the blinding, a lighter in her other hand. While the permanent reflector node on the outside prevented it from burning from the sun's rays, it had no protection from mundane flame. She flicked the switch and watched delightedly as the tiny flame flared into existence. Raya set the flame against the blinding, and the meager canopy quickly caught fire. She dropped the still flaming lighter, ignoring the fact that it set the rug on fire, and attempted to rip apart the blinding with her bare hands, oblivious to the burns on her hand that came as a direct result of this act. Soon the shield was gone, and she could stare at the noonday sun in all it's fiery, holy glory. Charles stood, his face alight with wonderment. His skin began to char ever so slightly as the full power of the sun's rays hit him. Raya was not as affected, to her dismay. She was from a more recent age, and tampered with biologically so that she was protected to some slight degree. She stepped forward to the edge of the balcony, staring down at the sea below. The whirling flame that made up her world's ocean burned below her, not so different from the sun that burned above her. It's light was alluring; tempting; amazing. The girl looked up at the sun one last time and smiled.

    Raya jumped.

    Blinding Light is one of my earliest short stories, and I still like the concept, even though I find my old writing subpar. It's the only thing I wrote in the World of Fire series I mentioned, and the story I won a writing contest with (in fact, of the four entries, Blinding Light received exactly 75% of all total votes). It's kind of short because the contest had a word limit of one thousand words, and there's some grammatical errors in there. Maybe I'll fix it up some time, eh?


    A Poor Reflection:
    Show Spoiler
    Lev Johnson. Avansere Militia Spec Ops, Division III, classified as an energy manipulator. Known to be one of the best of the best in his field of infiltrating secured compounds and then escaping cleanly. Highly augmented and only called upon for sensitive missions.

    This certainly qualifies as a sensitive mission... Lev thought. He was clad in standard issue for this type of mission, an armored, soundproof full body suit, complete with helmet that covered his gruff face and sandy blond hair and beard. He carried two weapons; an LRAD rifle, currently in his hand as he crept down the corridor, and a silenced ten millimeter at his waist. The LRAD was set to about 180 decibels, and at about 10Hz. Enough to burst a human head over a few seconds. The pistol was loaded with barbed rounds, designed to catch inside the body and disable an opponent. Not exactly humane, but Lev wasn't paid to be humane.

    His latest task was to recover a certain object of interest, the encrypted genetic overwrite codes of the latest line of Infusions, from this facility before the unknown group who had stolen them cracked the encryption and copied them. The thieves had been tracked to this private laboratory, although now that he was inside, Lev knew the "laboratory" guise was a facade. It was closer to a permanent military encampment. He had already seen three guards armed with assault rifles, wearing unmarked body armor. Mercenaries, or a private army. It didn't make any difference.

    Stopping quickly as he reached a corner, he flipped on a function of the Integrated Vision Enhancer. Outlines of objects around the corner faded into view on his interface. Of note, there was a door, a guard, and a camera. First order of business was the camera. His own personal brand of manipulation was electricity and electronic devices, hence his classification as an energy manipulator. He set his hand against the wall, feeling the cords that ran through it, connecting cameras and other devices to other rooms. While his ability wasn't refined enough to trace the signals and see through the camera's eyes, it was well within his capability to alter them to cause a feedback loop in the one nearby. It wouldn't be a problem. Now, for the guard. Setting his LRAD rifle against the wall, pointed at the highlighted guard, he mentally turned up the decibels to compensate for the loss of going through a solid object. Changing the frequency to match the lungs, he held the trigger and felt the silent sonic pressure blast through the air, reaching the guard on the other side and going through his chest. Lev heard a muffled choking sound as the guard struggled for breath. Matching the frequencies of his lungs, the agent had shut them down with a prolonged blast. The enemy couldn't breathe until he let him. He counted seconds in his head, knowing precisely how long was necessary. After several, he released the trigger, the guard collapsing in unconsciousness. Much longer would have killed him, but Lev's job wasn't to leave dead enemies.

    He padded around the corner, stepping over the guard, and to the door. It was unmarked, but a quick scan with iVision told him it was a computer room. A good find. Even if the codes weren't in there, chances are there would be information telling him where they were. There was a single man, sitting at a terminal. Whether he was armed or not, Lev couldn't tell. Placing his hand on the door, he felt the cables connecting it to the alarm system. The door was unlocked, but if it were opened, a silent alarm would be triggered. Flexing his proverbial muscles, Lev amplified the electricity flowing through that cable, causing a spark that severed the connection. It was safe to open it now. Clipping his LRAD to his side, he drew the pistol, braced himself, and then threw open the door. It wasn't a guard at the terminal, rather a man in a white coat. Probably a hacker trying to break the encryption. Quickly pointing his weapon at the back of the man's head, he said. "Don't make a move, or scream, or I'll put one in your brain." Although visibly trembling, the hacker made no move to turn around or set off an alarm. Closing the door and walking up behind him, Lev cracked him smartly over the back of the head with the handle of his pistol, knocking him out of the chair and into unconsciousness.

    Sitting down at the terminal, he looked at the screen. The security protocols were bypassed. Not just unlocked with an access code, but deäctivated completely, or so proclaimed a message in red text in the corner. Glancing at the man, Lev wondered if he wasn't the only person trying to find the genetic codes. But he may as well use the terminal, since the hacker had so kindly disabled the security system. Hands flashing across the keyboard, he brought up a map of the place, checking what was located where. Central computer room... He read. That's probably it. He knew where he was going now. It wasn't that far away.

    Stepping out of the room, he closed the door behind him.

    It took him several minutes of sneaking and dodging through the corridors to reach his destination. Two guards stood in front of it, standing alert. After disabling the surrounding cameras, Lev set his LRAD to a much higher decibel and fine tuned it's frequency. He didn't have an angle to disable both at once, so he would have to take a more direct approach. He steeled himself, then whirled around the corner, flicking the trigger and releasing a massive wave of ultrasound. The guards staggered and clutched their heads. Their armor was sufficient to stop it from permanently deafening them, but it wasn't pleasant. Before they could regain their senses, Lev was on them. He dropped one with a quick punch, fueled by his augmented strength, and as the other reached for an alarm, he tripped him and then, since he had touched one of the electrical components of the man's armor, discharged a shock that knocked him out. The methods weren't as clean as he would have liked, but it got the job done. He checked the door. This time it was locked, and, as expected, connected to a silent alarm. Disabling the alarm as he had before, he released the locking mechanism by overcharging the ocular scanner.

    There was an audible "click" as it unlocked. Before going inside, Lev checked what was beyond the door. It was a large room, larger that perhaps was necessary. There was one man, that he could see, sitting at a table in the center. Drawing his pistol, he burst in the door again, pointing his pistol at the man's back. He was dressed in a brown suit, and was clicking on a laptop on the table in front of him. Surrounded by high tech terminals, and he was decoding one of the government's greatest secrets on a laptop? Or perhaps not. What if he had already decoded it? But regardless...

    "Stand up and turn around." He said flatly. "Don't do anything else. If an alarm goes off, you're dead."
    Slowly, the man did as he was told. He turned around, and Lev gazed on an old, old face, marred by wrinkles. The man wasn't a threat. Even if he had a weapon, he was far too old to have an Infusion. And Lev Johnson knew for a fact that he didn't. He knew the man. It was David Light, an old old friend of his. Light had watched him grow up. Had known his father. Had looked on in disapproval as Johnson joined the army, had Augment after Augment installed. He was a human conservationist. And he also had the wealth to set something like this up.

    "Well, well, well." Light said. "You're perhaps the last person I expected to see come through that door, Johnson."
    Not bothering to ask how David knew who he was, Lev replied. "Small talk will get us nowhere, Light. What do you plan to do with the genetic overwrite codes?"
    "Create a kill switch. I'll make a signal that will overcharge every single Infusion in Avansere that uses those codes. Everyone born in the last twenty years will die. It will be a cleansing. A chance to start anew, as we were meant to be. Unaugmented, pure."
    "And you planned to kill millions of people to satisfy your ideals? What is this, Light? You were never like this." Even Lev was taken aback by the horribly grandiosity of the old man's plans.
    "It's the end of the world, Johnson. This world, anyhow. I'd kill everyone on the planet if it would allow mankind a fresh start."
    "You won't get the chance to. You'll be in a top security prison before the day is out."
    "Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I've already decrypted the codes. I already know the pattern, how these are put together. I see now, that there was never any other way. I can break any other codes this nation's cursed scientists ever make, and I will not remain imprisoned forever. I win, at the end of the day."

    Lev knew how to end it. David was right. He would escape eventually, and everyone who lived in Avansere would be endangered. He suddenly realized he had no problem carrying the deed out.

    "That's where you're wrong." He told the madman. "You won't see another sunrise."
    "Was that a threat? You're a poor reflection of your father, Lev." Light said. "He was a noble man, a righteous man. Or, he was until he gave in, accepted the disease. Allowed you to be corrupted."
    "I never pretended to be my father."
    One bullet was all it took.

    Even as Light fell, his body twitching and blood streaming from his face, Lev strode past him to the laptop. There were the genetic overwrite codes, an innocuous drive plugged into a port in the computer. He snatched them, slipped them into a pocket, and then turned and left.
    He didn't look back.

    A Poor Reflection was also written for a writing contest, but a more recent one than the one I wrote Blinding Light for. It's set in a fictional cyberpunk world of my design; the basic concept being the invention of augmentations called Infusions that allowed cybernetic augmentations and tools with certain kinds of ports to link directly to the brain safely, letting the user control them with thought. In addition, it unlocked the hidden potential of the brain, bringing out a sort of telekinetic ability that only affects certain objects. This story itself was a prequel related to an RP I planned to set in the world (called Through a Glass Darkly), but I never did much with the RP.


    A Dream of Fire:
    Show Spoiler
    The dark was fading when I took your hand. The ice was thawing and the winter dying. I could see, for once. There was nothing like this feeling in the whole world. I felt warmth, I saw a light. I grasped for it, climbing towards the sun. I touched it, and I could feel the heat. I knew the burning was over, and I was cold. I shivered, and realized I felt empty. My soul no longer blazed, but I was not happy. It was with a melancholy regret that I turned my back on the pyre. I thought I was done with the pain. Forever.

    I was wrong.

    And then my vision was fire. I found myself in a familiar region. Sprawling plains and crisscrossing rivers. This was my home. Yet, at the same time, it was not. The caravans I had been raised in burned sullenly, slowly rotting away to ash. The blue rivers I loved so dearly were no longer blue. Now, they ran with flame. The green grass had lost its vibrant color. It was charred and black, as if after a wildfire. I turned around, and there was a tent, burning as was everything else. I saw myself standing in the entryway. My red hair was tangled and singed at the end, and blood spattered my green jacket. Behind me, on the blackened fur rug, lay three bodies, unrecognizable. Their ash still burned, somehow. The self that I saw reached out, and so did I. I took my hand, and I felt the same flame. I felt my flesh withering under its touch, but no pain. Soon, there was no disctinction between skin, or muscle, or bone, and fire.

    Then I was somewhere else. I was in a vast room, with walls of stone and a floor of granite. It was featureless but for three things. The ignited remains of a table lay on the floor near the center, various metal tools and liquid compounds spilled around it. Burning next to it was a plain stone slab and a melted chain, the oozing links leading back to the tiny barred cell in the corner. Once again I saw myself, standing at the foot of the slab. My red hair was tied back in a long ponytail, and my clothes were blackened sackcloth. Laying before me, his mouth still open in a silent scream, was figure somehow still recognizable. I knew him, and I hated him. But his pain gave me no pleasure. It just fed the fire of my soul. The flaming destroyer that called herself me turned, her eyes soulless and her expression neutral. She held out her hand, and fire spilled from it, slithering to the floor like a snake and racing along the ground to touch my foot. It climbed, and soon I was aflame too. This time there was no sense of burning or withering, only a calming yet troubling sense of oneness.

    The setting changed one last time, but only the background. The foreground was the same. It was still fire and destruction. Only this time my phantom was not here. Instead there was only a specter of flame, surveying the death around it. The temple I had once thought beautiful in a twisted way was now as black as my soul. The specter, glowing red-orange, stepped toward me, and I could not move. Three steps more, and it touched me. Then there was no distinction between girl and specter. There was only fire.

    There were faces in the flame. Some I knew keenly, others only passingly. Some I loved dearly, but others I hated with all my heart. There was only one I had never seen, but I knew him still. He was the specter that destroyed. I was the vessel of Fury.

    I watched everything I knew burn and crumble to ash, and then I watched the ash rise up to build anew. I saw it re-created it in the image of fire.

    And there was nothing I could do but watch the world burn.


    I wrote a Dream of Fire as a supplement for one of my most successful RPs, Runefire. At the end of Runefire, one of the main characters, a girl named Rain whose power was fire, was captured by one of the bad guys, the Spirit of Terror. A Dream of Fire fills in what happened to her between Runefire and Runestar, albeit in a very vague way.


    Crimson Mask (Incomplete):
    (Warning; kind of bloody and not for the tripanophobic) (open)

    I hurried along the crowded street, slipping through the throng of people. I pulled my black trenchcoat closer around me, shivering, and clutched the book I was carrying to my breast in an attempt to shield it from the rain. I hated the rain. Everyone in this part of town was pale as it was. We needed the sunlight. I lived in Athens, the three tiered city. The second floor was mostly shielded from the rain by the Sky district above it, but there were places, like this street, that were uncovered and served to appease the citizens that desired to live in the sunlight but were not wealthy enough to buy an estate on the third floor. It was a luxury I was usually thankful for, but today I almost envied the low class workers and squatters who inhabited the first floor. The first tier of Athens, the Ash district, was entirely shadowed by the Peak district, my own place of residence. Nothing but artificial light didn't seem so bad, during the rainy season. But regardless, there I was, pushing past the afternoon crowds on my way to a local library.

    My name is Sameen Harper, a paranormal investigator. Despite my occupation, I wasn't a superstitious person. I didn't believe in the supernatural, and that was precisely why I was so good at my job. Most of my cases ended in my finding the logical cause for a supposed "haunting" and putting my client at ease. Recently, I had been hired by a young man whose father had just died and left him his estate. The man thought that something was "up" with his new house and had hired me to find out what. He explained that when he'd first stepped into his father's study, he had seen a trickle of blood coming from one of the bookshelves, but he couldn't find a source, and there had been no trace of it the next day. He had begun to find blood in all sorts of strange places in the room. Puddles in drawers, stains on the carpets, splashes on the walls, all gone the next day. Deciding that his house was haunted, he had telegraphed me. I arrived expecting, as usual, to find a naturalistic explanation within a day or two, get my pay, and be done. I wasn't sure yet that he wasn't hallucinating (many of my clients did), but when I opened the door to the study, it looked like a crime scene. Blood splattered seemingly every open surface, oozing out the cracks in the walls and puddling on the floor. It was a revolting sight. The first thing I did was take a sample, which I had tested. I had to make sure that it was real blood and not some cleverly designed liquid. I had seen stranger things in practical jokes, which were the cause of many a case. When I came back, the room was clean again.

    After a couple hours of searching, I found a large and very old book that seemed off. The binding was red, but it was a little..more than red. When I took it off the shelf, I found it ever so slightly damp. The binding wasn't dyed red; it was covered in blood. The title was "On the Rituals and Practice of Blood Magic". At the time I assumed it to be a fake occult tome written by some nutcase who thought he could do miracles, but that didn't explain the actual blood, still fresh, that adorned it. I checked the shelf it had been on thoroughly, even moved it and checked the wall, and found nothing. None of the other books had any bloodstains. Then my client walked in and saw the book in my hand. He made a sign with his hand that was common among religious types and superstitious crazies; supposed to ward off evil spirits. I asked him if he recognized the book, but all he told me was to get it out of his sight. I set it down in the other room and questioned him again. His only answer was to offer my full pay then and there, so long as I left with the book and never came back. I accepted, wondering why he was so spooked.
    To my chagrin, it wasn't long before I learned.

    Out of curiosity I had flipped through the tome when I had arrived home; it was a lot of nonsense about some kind of masochist fantasy; bloodletting yourself to cast magic spells. It was, however, very old. I was no expert, so I didn't know how old, but I could tell an ancient book when I saw one. I figured I may as well get it appraised and sell it, which brings us to my trip to the library, where it all began.

    It wasn't long before I noticed the crowds thinning, which was odd. It was a busy time of day and a busy part of town. I looked a little closer and noticed people stopping and veering away, turning around entirely and leaving when they hit some invisible boundary line. Soon, there wasn't anyone within fifty yards of me. I was a little unnerved, but I shrugged it off. I passed through a tunnel that connected to another section of the town, lit only by dim, flickering naked bulbs. As I reached the exit, I vaguely noticed the lights sparking and going out behind me. I paid it no mind, taking a left and arriving at the courtyard in front of my destination. The rain was passing, but it was still cloudy, creating a gloomy atmosphere. I was alone entirely as far as I could tell. I walked up to the front door of the library, making to push it open. Locked. It was midday, I knew they were open. There was no reason for the door to be locked. Puzzled, I turned to leave and happened to glance at my reflection in a puddle. My long black hair hung haphazardly across my face, framing my pale skin and blue eyes. Then the puddle rippled, and there was another figure. A massive man in white robes, standing directly behind me. Four white wings spread out from his back, and something long and very, very bright was in his hands. Instinctively, I turned around. There was nothing there. Part of me wanted to stay and investigate, but my more primal instincts told me to get the hell away, and they won out. I turned first to the tunnel I had arrived through, and my heart skipped a beat as I saw that the two bronzed metal doors stood shut tight. I tried across the street, but as I took the corner, I saw an upturned, derailed steam powered tram, laying squarely in my path blocking the road.

    It was short enough I could probably climb it, so I wasted no time in tossing the book on top and pulling myself up. As I took the tome in my hands again, something flickered across my peripheral vision. I whirled around, but didn't see anything there. Then I noticed a large white feather laying tranquilly on the tram in front of me. Almost bemused, I picked it up. It was stained with some black substance, dyed in erratic spots. Shaking my head, I dropped the feather and quickly slid off the tram to the other side.

    To be greeted by the very sudden appearance of the winged being I had seen. I could see its face clearly now; unusually large eyes that lacked pupils and a thin mouth that was barely more than a slit. It made a sound like a hiss, raising the glaringly bright object it carried. It bared its teeth, and I noticed that its canines were long fangs--something straight out of a vampire flick.
    I proccessed all this in the fraction of a second before I dove to the side instinctively. I slipped and fell on my back, bracing myself by grabbing onto the tram. I looked at the...thing just in time to see something like a black cloud engulf it. It emit a terrifyingly bestial scream and when the inky black shroud vanished, it was gone. I stopped questioning things, then, and rushed back to my house on the other side of town.

    -

    I fumbled with my keys unlocking the door, almost dropping them. I threw it open and slammed it behind me, locking it, for all the good that would do. I dropped the book and slid to the floor, sitting against the wall. I looked at the curious tome, and laughed long and loud. Was it really happening? Even if I passed off the creature stalking me as a hallucination, the other events were still strange. I knew for a fact the library should have been open, and the doors that sealed those tunnels in cases of emergency took several minutes to close, and the steam engines that did the heavy lifting were loud. It wasn't possible they could have closed behind me without my noticing. And the tram. I had never seen one of those things malfunction, much less so catastrophically. And there was noöne in it, noöne around the whole place. People just...swerved, turned away without a thought if they got too close to my destination. None of it was normal. I picked up the book again. Was it really possible? What if I had finally found the truly supernatural? I opened it to its introduction. There was no author listed, just a title. Not even a table of contents. It spoke of magic and demons as if they were everday things. The introduction explained that mortals normally couldn't perform miracles without the aid of an extramortal being; a god or one of their angels--or a demon. But there was a way to tap into the very energy that sustained life itself, harness it and affect reality. It all sounded like nonsense, but my safe, comfortable, skeptical fortress had been shaken today. If I could believe an angel was out to get me, could I believe in blood magic?

    Why not?

    The book detailed the rituals required before you could even cast a spell, binding a knife to yourself that would be used for the bloodletting. It wasn't like the magic word mumbo jumbo every other occult book talked about; it was simple. A combination of your will and a bit of blood. All you needed to do to "consecrate" a knife to yourself was bathe it in your own blood and then scar yourself with it, and then blammo--you could cast masochistic magic whenever you wanted, if you were willing to bloodlet yourself to power it. A part of me was still skeptical, but the majority was curious; what if it did work? If I could really cast the spells set down here, I could defend myself against anything to come at me. I knew I was an idiot for even considering it, but I had just been attacked by an angel in the middle of the street and saved by...something. I laughed again.

    Why the fuck not?

    -

    Before I had become a paranormal investigator, I had been a medical student. That career didn't really work out, but I still had my knowledge, and, more importantly, my equipment. I knew how much blood it was safe to drain and I had just what I needed to do it. But first, I needed the knife. I made my way to the back of my house, to my study, it wasn't very large and the books were mostly medical texts, but those weren't what I was looking for. There was a knife, mounted in a decorative stand, sitting on the desk. It had been a gift from a friend, and despite being ornate, was still perfectly sharp. I had made a point to sharpen it myself, every once in a while. I took it from its stand and looked at it. It was finely crafted, with a slightly curved blade and a bronzed handle. There was the shape of two brass gears over the handle, a traditional symbol of Athens, representing the steam powered machines that ran the city. What mattered wasn't the design; it was simply the finest knife I had. Returning to the dining room where I had set up my equipment, I fetched a bin just barely large enough to completely contain the knife, dropping the blade in. After priming the IV, I poked the syringe into my arm. Ignoring the pain, I counted the seconds as it flowed through the tube and began to fill to container with the knife. When the weapon was no longer visible, I stopped and pulled the syringe out and wrapped the wound. I let the blood sit for a moment, unsure of whether or not it took time for the "magic" to take effect. Then I realized how silly I was thinking like that, let alone for trying this in the first place. I used a hook to fish out the knife and watched the blood dripping off of it. It was totally drenched. Before I could give time myself time to hesitate, I rolled up my sleeve and made a quick, concise, just deep enough cut on my upper arm. Almost instantly, my vision dimmed and I had a feeling like butterflies in my stomach. Before I knew what was happening, I slid out of my chair, falling onto my side and hitting my head. I was blinded entirely for a couple seconds, but soon my vision returned. Still reeling, I shakily stood, noticing I was still clutching the knife in a deathgrip. I wrapped my new scar-to-be, cleaned up the blood, and put away my implements. Now, it was time to try this out.

    Crimson Mask is my most recent story, which I'm still writing currently. I plan for it to be longer than most of my other stories, and it's practically still in the prologue (albeit nearing the prologue's end). If you can't tell after reading it, it's a supernatural story of blood magic, angels, demons, and an anti-hero, set in the steampunk three-tiered city of Athens. Can't say too much about it, because spoilers.


    Those are all the stories I want to share (at least for now), but we're not done yet! I'm an amateur Fire Emblem spriter, making battle sprites and the occasional animation based on the style of the Fire Emblem GBA games. These don't require much explanation, just look:

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    Sorry they're not transparent, but the forum I originally posted them on had a white background, so I didn't care enough to bother with it.

    That's all of my work I care to dump at the moment. More later, probably.
     
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  2. Update!

    This actually isn't a new story, but one from a few months ago, but I only recently found it again. I was challenging some friends to give me ideas of a short story I could write in under two thousand words, and I got the idea "coins that give elemental powers." Coin of Fate is the result:

    Coin of Fate (open)

    Maximillian was in trouble.
    He raced down the alley, hoping that it wasn't a dead end. Finding a side street, he ducked around the corner, a hail of gunfire peppering the wall behind where he had been standing but a second ago. He took a deep breath, reaching into his leather jacket and withdrawing a tiny silver coin, about the size of a quarter. He looked down at the side facing him; heads. The sillhouette of the Roman god of the forge, Vulcan, stared back up at him. He didn't know how old it was or if it was even made during the time of the Roman Empire. The coin had had many owners before Maximillian, and it would have many more after he was dead. It always took a different appearance, reflecting the person who carried it. When he had taken it from its last owner, it had carried the image of Alexander the Great, but soon after Max had taken it had changed. He didn't know much about the Roman pantheon, or what significance Vulcan had to him, but right now, it didn't matter very much. Three mercenaries carrying assault rifles and wearing full body armor were coming for his head, and he had to act fast.
    Clenching his fist around the coin, Maximillian concentrated, his mind suddenly filled with images of a blacksmith crafting a sword, as it always was when he called on the coin. After a few seconds, a bright red flame rose up, engulfing his hand. It didn't burn him or his clothing, but everything else around him had no such protection. He set his feet and stood in wait for his enemies to round the corner.
    One second. He heard more shots ring out.
    Two seconds. He heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming his way.
    Three seconds. The mercenaries turned the corner, raising their weapons to fire. They never got the chance
    As soon as they were in sight, Maximillian opened his hand and commanded the flame with a thought. In in instant, it grew into a great pyre and rushed out from him like the breath of a dragon. The three gun toting mercenaries never stood a chance. The fire consumed them before they could even move, their charred bodies slumping to the ground as their screams rang out. Coughing from the smoke, Max stepped over them and ran back down the alley. He had to talk to a friend of his.

    -

    On the outside, the warehouse looked abandoned. It stood in a bad part of the city and had been scheduled for destruction. That plan had fallen through, though, and few people knew why. Maximillian was one of them. He stepped up to the small office door next to the larger one and tapped out a password in morse code on the door. A moment later, it opened to reveal a short, stocky, unassuming looking man. His eyes widened in surprise. "So you are still alive!" He said. The man was James, an information gatherer and thief with every political figure in the city under his thumb. Most people didn't know that, but Max had pulled his ass out of the fire enough times that he knew a little bit more about the little mastermind.
    "Then I take it you know something? I've had six guys come after me just today."
    "Yeah, about that. You'd better come inside."
    Maximillian followed his contact deeper into the warehouse to a little room in the back with not much more than a rotting table and a seedy couch, lit only by a naked bulb. James didn't care much about his living quarters, so this was probably the most comfortable room in the whole building. It was where he did business.
    "Alright, spill the beans. Who's after me this time?"
    "I'm not entirely sure who exactly; they've gone to great lengths to conceal their identity. But they've promised several million dollars to anyone who can pry that weird coin you carry out of your dead hands."
    "Wait, they specifically mentioned the coin?"
    "Yup. They don't care about you, they just want it."
    Maximillian cursed. He wasn't dealing with some two-bit crime lord this time. Whoever was after him had knowledge not many people were entitled to.
    "I need to skip town, change my name. How fast can you cook up a new identity for me?"
    "Yeah, about that, Max." James stood up. He withdrew a pistol from his coat. "You're a good client, but now that coin is worth more than you are. Hand it over."
    Maximillian stood up, his mind racing. His ability took time to charge. He had to talk down James long enough to get an attack ready, but a wrong word could get him shot. He stepped back, his hand reaching into his jacket to clutch the coin. "That isn't a good idea, James. I can make it worth your while to keep me alive."
    James shrugged. "What can you give me that's worth more than four million dollars?"
    "I have skills. A unique talent. I can work for you."
    "And what's this 'talent?'"
    Feeling his hand, beneath his jacket, come alight, Max didn't have to keep up the facade any longer. He thrust the burning hand toward James, creating a gout of flame that engulfed the little man and sent him reeling back. He screamed, flailing and firing his gun. A bullet hit the ceiling above Max. He dived behind the couch, circling around it and looking at James. He flexed his hand and concentrated, and the fire around the man intensified. He stopped moving and fell over the table, setting it on fire too. Breathing heavily, Maximillian ran out of the room. He had to get to the other side of town. It was time to leave.

    -

    Maximillian kept his hand on his coin the entire run back to the apartment complex. He half expected to find a gun pointed at his head everytime he took a corner, but thankfully he didn't run into any trouble on the way back. He didn't actually live on this end of town, but someone else did. Someone he couldn't just leave behind. When he got to the side of the complex he was looking for, his heart sank--Five more gun toting thugs were prowling the area, just like the ones from before. His enemy must have done some research, known that this was the first place he'd have to go before skipping town. Well, there was only one thing for it. Seeing the only one looking in his direction walk up a flight of stairs, he dashed from his hiding spot behind the corner, heading for that same set of stairs. The merc turned around as Max came up behind him, but it was already too late. He lashed out with his flaming right hand, catching the man in the jaw. Immediately his hand extinguished, but his unfortunate opponent erupted into a column of flame that didn't even give him time to scream. Dodging the body as it rolled down the stairs, he hid behind a pillar, concentrating on re-lighting his hand to fight the other four. It was only a moment before a shout alerted him that they'd seen the corpse. He peeked out to check their positions, and almost died. A bullet bounced off the side of the pillar, and he ducked behind it again.
    "Shit." Now they knew where he was. He heard them running toward the stairwell. Now was his chance. The coin having ignited again, he jumped out to the stairs, throwing the coin itself at the group before they could reäct. It left a trail of flame and skittered across the ground, causing the entire area to become hell, setting everything around it on fire. Unharmed, Max walked past the burning mercs and picked it up again. Then he made his way to apartment #305.

    -

    Maximillian withdrew a key from his jacket pocket, not bothering to knock. He just hoped that she was home. He unlocked the door and stepped inside. Not seeing her in the dining-room-foyer, he called her name. "Erin? You here?" He tried to keep the panic out of his voice. After a moment, a young woman stumbled out of the bedroom. She was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt, and her curly black hair was a mess. She looked tired and confused "Max? What are you doing here so early?"
    "Erin, someone found out."
    Erin immediately snapped to alertness. "Both of us?"
    "No, just mine. But they're apparently offering four million dollars for it. If they know about me, they'll find out about you soon enough."
    "We have to leave."
    "My thoughts exactly."

    It only took Erin a few minutes to get dressed and stuff a few essentials and some cash in a backpack. They could just buy new things when they got to...wherever they ended up. For now the priority was to just get out of the city. She put on a black hoodie and pulled a silver coin out of her pocket, staring at it for just a moment before stowing it and looking at him. "Let's go." Max knew there were other coins, but Erin's was the only other one he'd seen. They'd both accidentally found out about eachother's abilities, and that had brought them together. Life was always dangerous when you had something so precious, and they had survived by banding together.
    "We'll take the subway. I'll feel safer underground." He said.
    "Fine with me." She replied.

    -

    Erin kept her hand in her pocket, but every once in a while Max saw a telltale flicker of electricity spark up around her; just like him, she was ready if anyone attacked them. Soon they were on the subway, safe and on their way. Or so Max thought. He stared nervously at the other passengers, glancing furtively around until his gaze rested on a bulky man across the aisle. The man smiled cheerfully and promptly pulled out a pistol. Having nowhere to hide, Max had no choice but to reveal his flaming fist and light the man on fire with a thought, the coin responding to his awareness and spilling flame across the merc's seat. The man screamed and fired randomly, and everyone on the subway panicked simaltaneously. It hadn't been very crowded in the first place, but the few civilians there would make fighting difficult. Max and Erin stood up, looking around for any more mercenaries. Erin spotted one on their left, already raising his weapon to fire. She pulled her hand from her pocket to reveal the aura of lightning surrounding it, blue fingers of electricity sparking and dashing about. She pointed a finger at the merc and a sizzling purple bolt leapt from her hand to his chest, dropping him. As the bystanders got as far as they could from the two coin-holders, one man, carrying a silenced pistol, confidently stepped forward. "Now, now." He said casually. "We both know that your...abilities take time to charge. And I'd rather not have to commit murder in front of so many witnesses. If your hands light up in the slightest I won't hesitate to kill you both, however. So we can resolve this peacefully, eh?"
    "Neither of us are going to give up like that, you know." Maximillian said.
    "I expected as much. A shame..." The man replied.
    "But..." Max interrupted. "We can work something out. We both have things the other wants. You let one of us go, and we can work out a deal in private."
    "Let you go? Pah. You'll never honor our deal. You'll just skip town, like you were trying to."
    "No, we won't. I'll go with you. If Erin doesn't show up to a meet, you kill me. I'll be your hostage."
    "...What is it then, that you have that I'd want, besides the coins?"
    "Money, for one. We can get our hands on quite a lot. Power. I know enough people of influence I could get you dirt on every politician in the city. You could blackmail them, get them to do anything you want. ...And I know where more coins are. If you kill us, you'll get our two coins, no others. But if we make a deal, I can lead you to more. Many more." The last part was a total bluff.
    "Max, no. I'm not letting you put yourself at that risk. I'll be the hostage." Erin cut in.
    "Erin--"
    "Don't squabble. I like your offer, kid. A hostage should be good enough security. This subway's about to reach its destination, so we're running out of time. Who's it gonna be?"
    Max couldn't let him take Erin. At the very least, she had to get away. "...How about we flip a coin." He turned to Erin. "Heads, I go. Tails, you go. Alright?"
    "...Alright." She answered reluctantly.
    Taking a deep breath, he poised his thumb and tossed his precious coin into the air. It spun and flipped, and he caught it. Heads.
    "I'll see you later, then." He tried to keep the emotion out of his voice. He stepped toward the man who he'd probably be working with for a while, dropping the coin behind him.
    Erin bit her lip. The man laughed. "We've reached our stop. I'll contact you in a bit, kay? You better have the info." She didn't bother to respond. As he and Max got off, she stooped and picked up the tiny silver object that had been the source of all this trouble. She turned it over in her hands.
    It was a double sided coin.


    I'll continue Crimson Mask as soon as I'm past writer's block I swear.
     
    #2 Valentyne, Jan 13, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
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  3. Crimson Mask: Now with 100% more update! (open)
    I hurried along the crowded street, slipping through the throng of people. I pulled my black trenchcoat closer around me, shivering, and clutched the book I was carrying to my breast in an attempt to shield it from the rain. I hated the rain. Everyone in this part of town was pale as it was. We needed the sunlight. I lived in Athens, the three tiered city. The second floor was mostly shielded from the rain by the Sky district above it, but there were places, like this street, that were uncovered and served to appease the citizens that desired to live in the sunlight but were not wealthy enough to buy an estate on the third floor. It was a luxury I was usually thankful for, but today I almost envied the low class workers and squatters who inhabited the first floor. The first tier of Athens, the Ash district, was entirely shadowed by the Peak district, my own place of residence. Nothing but artificial light didn't seem so bad, during the rainy season. But regardless, there I was, pushing past the afternoon crowds on my way to a local library.

    My name is Sameen Harper, a paranormal investigator. Despite my occupation, I wasn't a superstitious person. I didn't believe in the supernatural, and that was precisely why I was so good at my job. Most of my cases ended in my finding the logical cause for a supposed "haunting" and putting my client at ease. Recently, I had been hired by a young man whose father had just died and left him his estate. The man thought that something was "up" with his new house and had hired me to find out what. He explained that when he'd first stepped into his father's study, he had seen a trickle of blood coming from one of the bookshelves, but he couldn't find a source, and there had been no trace of it the next day. He had begun to find blood in all sorts of strange places in the room. Puddles in drawers, stains on the carpets, splashes on the walls, all gone the next day. Deciding that his house was haunted, he had telegraphed me. I arrived expecting, as usual, to find a naturalistic explanation within a day or two, get my pay, and be done. I wasn't sure yet that he wasn't hallucinating (many of my clients did), but when I opened the door to the study, it looked like a crime scene. Blood splattered seemingly every open surface, oozing out the cracks in the walls and puddling on the floor. It was a revolting sight. The first thing I did was take a sample, which I had tested. I had to make sure that it was real blood and not some cleverly designed liquid. I had seen stranger things in practical jokes, which were the cause of many a case. When I came back, the room was clean again.

    After a couple hours of searching, I found a large and very old book that seemed off. The binding was red, but it was a little..more than red. When I took it off the shelf, I found it ever so slightly damp. The binding wasn't dyed red; it was covered in blood. The title was "On the Rituals and Practice of Blood Magic". At the time I assumed it to be a fake occult tome written by some nutcase who thought he could do miracles, but that didn't explain the actual blood, still fresh, that adorned it. I checked the shelf it had been on thoroughly, even moved it and checked the wall, and found nothing. None of the other books had any bloodstains. Then my client walked in and saw the book in my hand. He made a sign with his hand that was common among religious types and superstitious crazies; supposed to ward off evil spirits. I asked him if he recognized the book, but all he told me was to get it out of his sight. I set it down in the other room and questioned him again. His only answer was to offer my full pay then and there, so long as I left with the book and never came back. I accepted, wondering why he was so spooked.
    To my chagrin, it wasn't long before I learned.

    Out of curiosity I had flipped through the tome when I had arrived home; it was a lot of nonsense about some kind of masochist fantasy; bloodletting yourself to cast magic spells. It was, however, very old. I was no expert, so I didn't know how old, but I could tell an ancient book when I saw one. I figured I may as well get it appraised and sell it, which brings us to my trip to the library, where it all began.

    It wasn't long before I noticed the crowds thinning, which was odd. It was a busy time of day and a busy part of town. I looked a little closer and noticed people stopping and veering away, turning around entirely and leaving when they hit some invisible boundary line. Soon, there wasn't anyone within fifty yards of me. I was a little unnerved, but I shrugged it off. I passed through a tunnel that connected to another section of the town, lit only by dim, flickering naked bulbs. As I reached the exit, I vaguely noticed the lights sparking and going out behind me. I paid it no mind, taking a left and arriving at the courtyard in front of my destination. The rain was passing, but it was still cloudy, creating a gloomy atmosphere. I was alone entirely as far as I could tell. I walked up to the front door of the library, making to push it open. Locked. It was midday, I knew they were open. There was no reason for the door to be locked. Puzzled, I turned to leave and happened to glance at my reflection in a puddle. My long black hair hung haphazardly across my face, framing my pale skin and blue eyes. Then the puddle rippled, and there was another figure. A massive man in white robes, standing directly behind me. Four white wings spread out from his back, and something long and very, very bright was in his hands. Instinctively, I turned around. There was nothing there. Part of me wanted to stay and investigate, but my more primal instincts told me to get the hell away, and they won out. I turned first to the tunnel I had arrived through, and my heart skipped a beat as I saw that the two bronzed metal doors stood shut tight. I tried across the street, but as I took the corner, I saw an upturned, derailed steam powered tram, laying squarely in my path blocking the road.

    It was short enough I could probably climb it, so I wasted no time in tossing the book on top and pulling myself up. As I took the tome in my hands again, something flickered across my peripheral vision. I whirled around, but didn't see anything there. Then I noticed a large white feather laying tranquilly on the tram in front of me. Almost bemused, I picked it up. It was stained with some black substance, dyed in erratic spots. Shaking my head, I dropped the feather and quickly slid off the tram to the other side.

    To be greeted by the very sudden appearance of the winged being I had seen. I could see its face clearly now; unusually large eyes that lacked pupils and a thin mouth that was barely more than a slit. It made a sound like a hiss, raising the glaringly bright object it carried. It bared its teeth, and I noticed that its canines were long fangs--something straight out of a vampire flick.
    I proccessed all this in the fraction of a second before I dove to the side instinctively. I slipped and fell on my back, bracing myself by grabbing onto the tram. I looked at the...thing just in time to see something like a black cloud engulf it. It emit a terrifyingly bestial scream and when the inky black shroud vanished, it was gone. I stopped questioning things, then, and rushed back to my house on the other side of town.

    -

    I fumbled with my keys unlocking the door, almost dropping them. I threw it open and slammed it behind me, locking it, for all the good that would do. I dropped the book and slid to the floor, sitting against the wall. I looked at the curious tome, and laughed long and loud. Was it really happening? Even if I passed off the creature stalking me as a hallucination, the other events were still strange. I knew for a fact the library should have been open, and the doors that sealed those tunnels in cases of emergency took several minutes to close, and the steam engines that did the heavy lifting were loud. It wasn't possible they could have closed behind me without my noticing. And the tram. I had never seen one of those things malfunction, much less so catastrophically. And there was noöne in it, noöne around the whole place. People just...swerved, turned away without a thought if they got too close to my destination. None of it was normal. I picked up the book again. Was it really possible? What if I had finally found the truly supernatural? I opened it to its introduction. There was no author listed, just a title. Not even a table of contents. It spoke of magic and demons as if they were everday things. The introduction explained that mortals normally couldn't perform miracles without the aid of an extramortal being; a god or one of their angels--or a demon. But there was a way to tap into the very energy that sustained life itself, harness it and affect reality. It all sounded like nonsense, but my safe, comfortable, skeptical fortress had been shaken today. If I could believe an angel was out to get me, could I believe in blood magic?

    Why not?

    The book detailed the rituals required before you could even cast a spell, binding a knife to yourself that would be used for the bloodletting. It wasn't like the magic word mumbo jumbo every other occult book talked about; it was simple. A combination of your will and a bit of blood. All you needed to do to "consecrate" a knife to yourself was bathe it in your own blood and then scar yourself with it, and then blammo--you could cast masochistic magic whenever you wanted, if you were willing to bloodlet yourself to power it. A part of me was still skeptical, but the majority was curious; what if it did work? If I could really cast the spells set down here, I could defend myself against anything to come at me. I knew I was an idiot for even considering it, but I had just been attacked by an angel in the middle of the street and saved by...something. I laughed again.

    Why the fuck not?

    -

    Before I had become a paranormal investigator, I had been a medical student. That career didn't really work out, but I still had my knowledge, and, more importantly, my equipment. I knew how much blood it was safe to drain and I had just what I needed to do it. But first, I needed the knife. I made my way to the back of my house, to my study. It wasn't very large and the books were mostly medical texts, but those weren't what I was looking for. There was a knife, mounted in a decorative stand, sitting on the desk. It had been a gift from a friend, and despite being ornate, was still perfectly sharp. I had made a point to sharpen it myself, every once in a while. I took it from its stand and looked at it. It was finely crafted, with a slightly curved blade and a bronzed handle. The crosspiece that connected the blade and hilt was two gears, set in brass, a traditional symbol of Athens, representing the steam powered machines that ran the city. What mattered wasn't the design; it was simply the finest knife I had. Returning to the dining room where I had set up my equipment, I fetched a bin just barely large enough to completely contain the knife, dropping the blade in. After priming the IV, I poked the syringe into my arm. Ignoring the pain, I counted the seconds as it flowed through the tube and began to fill to container with the knife. When the weapon was no longer visible, I stopped and pulled the syringe out and wrapped the wound. I let the blood sit for a moment, unsure of whether or not it took time for the "magic" to take effect. Then I realized how silly I was thinking like that, let alone for trying this in the first place. I used a hook to fish out the knife and watched the blood dripping off of it. It was totally drenched. Before I could give time myself time to hesitate, I rolled up my sleeve and made a quick, concise, just deep enough cut on my upper arm. Almost instantly, my vision dimmed and I had a feeling like butterflies in my stomach. Before I knew what was happening, I slid out of my chair, falling onto my side and hitting my head. I was blinded entirely for a couple seconds, but soon my vision returned. Still reeling, I shakily stood, noticing I was still clutching the knife in a deathgrip. I wrapped my new scar-to-be, cleaned up the blood, and put away my implements. Now, it was time to try this out.

    One of the most basic tricks the book detailed was telekinesis. Yeah, "basic." Supposedly, light objects could be moved through force of will alone, so long as you had the knife on you. What better way to test the veracity? It wasn't the most unbelievable thing I'd heard all day. I looked idly at a painting hung on my wall. Some abstract bullshit; stuff I used to like and never took down. I focused, not entirely sure what the book meant by "concentrating your will." I pictured the painting knocked off the wall. My bronze knife grew warm in my hand. It was a little uncomfortable. Then...the painting rattled. It shook, and then neatly slipped off the hook that kept it on the wall. The frame cracked as it hit the floor.
    That...wasn't what I was expecting. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe that was just a tremor. Maybe the angel was a trick of the light. I looked at a first thing to catch my eye; a rack of shiny silver measuring spoons over the stove. I concentrated. They were tossed off the rack and scattered about the counter as if struck by a strong gust of wind. I looked at one in particular. It slowly raised into the air and hovered there tranquilly. It was real. It wasn't a hallucination. There was too much. Letting the spoon drop, I looked down to the bloody knife in my hands. Feeling strangely and paradoxically exhilarated, I sat down again at the table and opened the book. I flipped through it for almost an hour, just reading about everything you can do. This was the first occult tome I'd had that actually worked and I was damn well determined to absorb every mite of information in it. It seemed most of the things that blood magic made possible were just force of will--you draw blood, and concentrate on what you want to happen, and they happened. It was stupidly simple. That's where the all other attempts at magic fell flat, I guess. They tried to be complicated and fancy. The answer was blood, all along!
    Disgusting.

    It was then that I was jarred by the sound of something heavy slamming into my front door. Knife still in hand, I jumped to my feet and slinked down the hallway to the foyer. I looked through the window on the door to see the horrifically pale face of the creature that had attacked me earlier. It saw me too, and it hissed with rage. The only reason the door was still shut was the fact that it was reinforced; there were a lot of vandals in the Peak district, and I had decided early on that the extra expense to keep them out was worth it. Thinking quickly, I ran back to the tome and flipped to the page about "the myriad ways that blood magic can be used to enact violence" or "how to kill shit with voodoo," as I like to put it. I skimmed the information until I got to the part about harnessing the "spiritual world" to produce physical effects. Supposed to be some advanced trick, I think. It didn't matter much to me. I ran back to the foyer just as the door splintered and broke into a thousand little pieces as the angel busted through it. I could hear a faint ringing sound that seemed to emanate from the long, glowing object it carried. A sword? Sure looked like one. It glided across the floor toward me, bringing its weapon to bear. I slipped past it and let it scar the wall, carefully bringing my knife up to my hand and making a tiny slit. The feeling was exhilarating--a rush of adrenaline, a surge of some indescribable feeling that only magic invoked. Before it faded, I bent my will toward the "spiritual plane" as the book had laid out. I was instantly surrounded by a glimmering red substance with an almost cloud-like corporeality. That was encouraging. Operating on instinct, I bent it into the shape of a blade; long and jagged. The energy obediently followed my every thought, launching itself through the air with a faint trail of red. It found purchase in the angel's side, digging into its flesh and drawing a beautiful golden blood that spattered its white robe. The creature shrieked, its sword falling from its hands to clatter onto my floor. Its hands wrapped around the projectile, but that only seemed to increase its pain. It loosed a blood-curdling bestial scream that was so loud I was surprised no one came running to my residence. Then it dropped to the floor, hitting the wall and slumping. Its form, robe and red-blade all dissolved into light that dispersed into the room, out the broken door, and toward the sky.

    I blinked, still half expecting it to be a hallucination.
    But no. There was still golden blood staining my floor, and a sword of all things, still glowing faintly. My rush of adrenaline was fading, and with that came a realization of the pain. My hand stung horribly. That tends to happen when you bleed yourself. Wincing but trying to ignore it, I knelt by the otherworldly blade. It was made of some bright silver material; too glittery to be steel, but it couldn't be silver. I reluctantly tried to pick it up. As soon as I touched the hilt, it sparked and something like an electric shock shot through my hand. I recoiled instinctively, and decided that it wasn't worth touching. Concentrating, I lifted it into the air with magic, still a little bemused that such a thing was within my capabilities. I went back to the study, the sword floating obediently behind me. I hung it on the wall above my desk. It'd be a cute memoir of how I killed an angel. I was pretty sure it was dead, anyway. Don't know how you'd survive dissolving into light. Then I strolled back to the kitchen, feeling better than ever for some reason. I went about my day, even went back into town and ordered a new door. I cleaned up the ichor, as I had decided to call the golden blood. As fitting as anything. Then I went to bed after tidying up the house and doing some reading. No point in losing sleep over this whole affair, right?

    ~


    I told you I'd work on it.
     
  4. Heart of Magic (open)

    The stars shone down on the town of Veriel, bathing the city in a gentle light. In contrast, orbs of glimmering energy dotted the ground, shedding harsh, magical light around them, as if attempting to mock the stars so far above them. However, the citizens of the hushed city paid no mind to the contest of lights among them. The few out on the streets hurried along to their business, not speaking to anyone, their coats clutched tightly around them. Veriel was a Kosman town, and before the war that meant only that nearly everyone had some magical capability. But ever since the Grand High Magister had taken over, being a Kosman had ceased being about magic. Now it was about the Magister's ideals--victory, domination, a world devoid of the mundane. As the strongest mage on life, his rule was absolute in the magocracy. Formerly idle, the Kosman town guard now patrolled the streets like hounds, searching dissenters, spies, and anyone who lacked the gift of magic. Two such people resided for now in Veriel, sheltered from the wind and the rain and the enforcers in a warehouse, owned by some merchant or another. It stored bags of rice and other foodstuffs, and its owner had not seen to it in a long time, making it a place of safety, as the guard dared not interfere with a wealthy merchant's property without some suspicion against him. And so, these two huddled among the rice and the wheat and the salt, resting before their escape from Veriel.

    "Val, wake up." The girl felt a gentle hand shake her shoulder, rousing her back to the waking world. She yawned, sitting up from the sacks she had been sleeping on. Her fine black hair was tangled and coarse, messed by a fitful night. There were dark circles under her eyes, the pure red orbs that were considered a curse and caused superstitious folk to murmur and make signs to ward off demons wherever she walked. Her face was delicate and young, her cheekbones high-set and her nose small, but the girl's visage was marred by worry one of her age should not have, her eyes troubled and her mouth perpetually angled downward. She wore a plain gray traveling dress beneath a black cloak that had been thrown over her like a blanket while she slept.

    Val looked at the young man standing over for her, taking his hand as he offered to help her up. He was slightly older than she was, with short, dirty blond hair and kind green eyes. His face was handsome, but the same worry that troubled her was visible on his carved features. He wore an earth-green tunic and trousers beneath a weathered iron brestplate and pauldrons, and a gray cloak to keep the wind off. A sword was strapped to his waist, its naked blade lacking a sheath. Most people who saw them assumed they were a couple, but the two had no interest in each other--the pair was one of friendship and necessity, not romance. He pulled her to her feet, kicking a sack of potatoes out of her way with his foot.

    "Good morning, Eli." Val said tiredly, unwilling to put much effort into conversation. Few words were exchanged as they ate a short breakfast of vegetables; there was little to be said. After breakfast, however, they prepared to leave, gathering their few belongings, contained in ragged packs that looked like they should fallen apart ages ago. They contained little; a couple books, meager traveling rations, a whetstone, torches (hard to find in a nation where most of the population could create light with their mind), and so on. There were a few personal keepsakes among them, the only things Val and Eli had left of their respective homes.

    "The guard hasn't come through this part of town very much lately." Eli said. "I'm not sure, but I think it might be because of your, ah..." The Arandish boy didn't like to talk about his companion's...ability, but Val knew what he was referring to. "Maybe." She admitted. "I don't know quite how far it reaches, though." Eli looked troubled, but he said. "Whether it's that or luck, I'm thankful for it." So was she. The few run-ins they'd had with the Kosman militia hadn't been pretty--her power and Eli's skills had kept them alive, but they always had to skip town afterwards. But this time they were forced to leave anyways. A bluecloak had come to Veriel--a bluecloak, of all people! The only thing that would have been worse would have been the Magister himself. The pair had never met one of the deadly enforcers face to face, but they had heard tales of their cruelty and relentlessness. It was paramount that they get away before he found them.

    They slipped out the back door of the warehouse out into the alleys, their hoods up and their heads down. If they could just slink out of town without being noticed, everything would be fine, hopefully. The roads were much safer, and they could continue their journey south, toward Velaria. Their ultimate goal was Alixies--they had to get away from the Kosmans at any cost, and the Silver state was the only place without them right now. They had made it four blocks before things went wrong. They heard a gruff shout. At first they ignored it, hoping it wasn't directed at them, and kept moving. But the sound of mailed feet marching toward them pulled them up short. They were forced to turn around to answer the guard that had picked them as suspicious characters. There were four of them, enough to overpower Eli even with Val's talent, so the two dreaded the fight that was likely inevitable.

    "Yes, sir?" Eli said in a neutral tone of voice, trying to sound like a citizen going about his business.
    "Hoods down." One of the Kosmans answered flatly. "Let me see your faces."
    Reluctantly, the two pulled their hoods down, flinching against the bright morning light as it shone in their eyes.
    "What are you kids doing?" His voice was suspicious and sour-tempered, and a guard in a bad mood was not good news.
    "We were looking for a general store, sir, to sell what little we can, and hope to be able to afford passage out of the city." Since the Magister's take-over, entering or leaving Kosman cities had become difficult. Knowing that guards would be bribed anyway, a heavy toll was set on anyone who wanted to get in or out. In reality, the pair hadn't planned to pay the toll, but it was as good a tale as any.
    "Show me your Foci." The man said, unconvinced. Val's heart skipped a beat--neither of them were mages. They didn't have Foci, which were practically necessary to do anything in Kosma. With a divination spell, mages could detect if an object was someone else's Focus by the faint magic that always permeated the air around them. Some mages often kept trinkets enchanted with minor, temporary, magicks, which they used to fool people, as the untrained eye could be tricked into thinking almost anything was a Focus, although greater spells were harder to fool. Trying to stay calm, they each produced some small object from their bags--Eli's gold ring and Val's dagger. It would never fool a proper spell, but hopefully the man wouldn't try.

    No such luck. Examining the objects, the guard whispered a divination under his breath. However, the chant turned into a swear as the magic was torn from him, the energy he had gathered to cast it burned away and absorbed. Val had taken several paces back, looking slightly pale, and Eli had drawn his sword. The girl pointed her outstretched left hand toward the group of Kosmans, her face growing even whiter as they groaned in pain. One of them tried to cast a spell, but the magic fizzled out, spiraling away with a magical sound like a surge, only much different. The militia drew their swords, advancing warily on Eli and not casting anything else. The Arand stood his ground, but knew he couldn't win against four of them. So when they came at him, he sought only to stall them, playing the defensive and using his superior footwork to outfight them and avoid being struck. Kosmans spent most of their time studying magic, so their weapon training was minimal. But Eli had been raised in Arandland, and had spent more time learning to fight than he had on any academic education. But still their numbers gave them the advantage, and they pushed him back toward the wall of the alley.

    And then a tremendous sound like thunder echoed across the small space, and the four Kosmans were tossed sideways like ragdolls, sailing down the thin street and landing in a heap. Their lack of wards had left them vulnerable to the attack. They likely had been bearing wards when they approached the pair, but the magic drain had snuffed them out, the pain it inflicted on mages causing the disappearance of their protection to go unnoticed. Eli looked at Val, who had recovered her composure. Her face was flushed, and she had put away her dagger. He stepped toward her. "You alright?" Then too late they heard the whispered chant as one of the guards, still conscious, cast a spell. Val turned to him, but it was too late, as the surge rung through her head. But nothing seemed to happen. Her eyes went wide. "A sending! We need to leave!" Eli cursed. The damnable guard had contacted the bluecloak.

    ~

    As they ran, Eli looked at Val. She no longer looked pale, and was in fact refreshed, her stride long and tireless. He knew that absorbing magic was a rush for her, much more so than casting was for a mage. Of course, she was always draining everyone around her so long as they were nearby. But that didn't stop them from casting, it only slowly leeched away their energy, and they recovered when they weren't near her. And as she had displayed in the alley, she could instinctively cast anything she had absorbed back, shaping it into uncontrolled "spells" or just launching raw magical energy. This gave her the advantage of not needing incantations, but without the rigid structure of a normal spell her abilities were dangerous and difficult to control. And the more she drained, the sicker she got. The pair had to leave cities frequently because, while they needed supplies, more than a couple days there, among all the mages, made Val seriously ill. Her talent gave them a chance against Kosman soldiers, but it always drew attention. And this time, it might be more than they could handle.

    They went three more blocks without seeing any more guards or the dreaded Bluecloak, but they were nearing the city gate. They might simply have to fight their way through and escape, a thought Val didn't relish. They turned the corner to see the massive double-doors just ahead, and she was hopeful for just a moment. Then it was dashed as a flash of white light heralded a searing lance sailing through the air toward Val. Instinctively, she bent her will toward absorbing the spell, but as the magic drained away with a descending sound, she was still forced to leap to the side, a mundane javelin clattering against the ground where she had been standing. As she got to her feet, she heard a surge that hurt her ears, and the weapon rocketed back through the air. The pair looked at its owner. He was tall and wore chainmail, but his features couldn't be seen beneath the heavy blue cloak that shrouded his body. Eli glanced behind them to see three more guards running their way. Trusting Val to at least hold off the bluecloak, he rushed them, surprising them before they could cast any spells and whirling around, a cloud of steel, keeping them off balance so they couldn't cast.

    Val, meanwhile, warily edged away from the bluecloak, eyeing the bright white ward that flickered in the air around him. Most wards would have already been drained away by her power, so this was a particularly strong one. He pointed his lance at her, without even speaking. A wave of force erupted from the scorched tip, pushing the clutter on the ground forward as it rushed toward her at terrific speed. The surge made her ears ring, but she was still able to disrupt the spell, drawing it into her. A sudden pain sprungup in her stomach, but it was drowned out by the feeling of euphoria as power flooded her. She smiled unconsciously, lost for just a second in the feel. Then she was aware of the bluecloak rushing toward her. Aware of Eli fighting behind her, she ran to the left so that a missed attack against her wouldn't hit him. She turned to look at him, concentrating some of the magic she had just stolen into the air in front of her, forming a glowing silver-blue orb. Even as it shimmered through the air toward one of the guards, Val stumbled back as a gout of fire nearly roasted her. She felt it singe the ends of her hair. The girl turned her attention back to the bluecloak, knowing she'd have to stay on the defensive to even have a chance at surviving. She focused, releasing more of the energy, this time as a destructive wave of sound that tore across the cobblestones and slammed into his barrier. It shimmered but did not fade, although its strength was still being sapped. He watched her warily, slowly walking closer. He began to chant, and Val tensed and stood ready to defend against whatever he cast. A second later a tiny black bead shot from his outstretched finger toward her. It seemed to contract and vanish as the energy flowed into her. Again the pain, worse this time, and again the rush of pleasure. Absorbing the concentrated, structured energy of a spell was much different from passively absorbing energy from people. It was a sudden rush, a thrill as the power left its caster's command and infused her. It was addicting, but the only time she could enjoy it was during combat, when she was too scared to appreciate it.

    The bluecloak abandoned magical attack, this time sprinting straight toward her, his spear raised. She leapt out of the way, but his cold, gauntleted hand caught her arm. Power flashed between them, and the air actually crackled. Val found herself being drawn away, her will fighting to keep her on the material plane. Then something exploded.

    Eli fought desperately, his sword a blur of silver as he made a flurry of repetitive attacks against each of the guards in turn. Each one was light, quick, easily defended against, but he had to stop them from casting spells. One of them tried to move aside, attempting to flank him, but he kicked the man in the shin, causing him to cry out and trip. However, the attack cost him. During the brief moment with his eyes off the Kosman in front of him, the guard had lashed out with his sword, biting int Eli's side. The Arand bit his cry of pain and continued fighting, but the injury slowed him down. He was gradually forced on the defensive, no longer able to keep up the flurry that kept the unskilled militia off-balance. He heard one of them chanting.
    Then a flare of white light spilled over them like a destructive blast, sending them all sprawling. Eli had been shielded from some of the explosion by their bodies, but he still thought he had at least one broken rib. But he had retained consciousness. The swordsman struggled to stand, pushing aside a limp Kosman. He looked toward Val. She was laying slumped against the wall of the city. A white light flickered around her for just a second before fading. The bluecloak had been blasted thirty feet away from her, laying on the street, but he was starting to stir. How did the bastard survive that? Eli ran toward Val, clutching his injured abdomen.

    Val hurt. The pain in her stomach, the cost of absorbing magic, was nothing compared to the pounding in her head or the ache in her back. She had survived the explosion by stealing the bluecloak's ward--as soon as he got close enough that it contained her as well, she had taken the energy, wrapping it around herself without even thinking. It had shattered like a broken window when she hit the wall, but had still saved her life. Dazed but coming to her senses, she gripped the rough surface of the wall and pulled herself up, reeling. She was aware of Eli beside her, taking her arm, leading her toward the gate. She shook away the daze as she realized she would have to break down the huge door. It had been magically locked, of course, but her presence had already eroded the spell that kept it shut. Now only the physical lock stood between them and the outside. Taking a deep breath, Val poured all the magic energy she had left into a magick that, instead of throwing fire or force at the door, simply tore it apart at the planks. The sheer force bent the metal itself as the wood shattered and fell, cracks appearing in the wall next to it. The pain in her stomach left her, but she barely noticed as she and Eli sprinted for safety.

    ~

    They left Veriel behind with haste, able to evade the Bluecloak in the darkness, who did not pursue them far. Val was thinking on the explosion that had nearly killed all of them, when the man had touched her. She could tell he was attempting to transport her to another plane, but had that caused the reäction she had witnessed? She had never been off the Material Plane before, so she didn't know what would happen if someone attempted to take her somewhere else. She was no scholar, so she had no idea if that had caused it or not. But it seemed likely. Val sighed. Her power was unpredictable. Uncontrollable. She couldn't help but drain mages around her, leeching away their energy, causing them physical pain, totally unintentionally. And she was honest enough with herself to admit that she was addicted to the rush that came with absorbing a spell. She almost relished combat, dangerous as it was, because she could steal that energy, feel that power flow into her body and infuse her essence. It was a wonderful feeling, but it was accompanied by sickness. The more of this energy that Val stockpiled, the weaker she became. At first, it was only a perpetual pain in her stomach and a headache, but the more she had the worse it became. She became tired all the time, she often became actually sick, catching a cold or worse, and it eventually got to the point where she was bedridden. But it was worth it. It was so, so worth it. The feeling grew with every spell absorbed, the euphoria of magic-stealing. But it put Eli in danger. He wasn't a mage, so he wasn't affected by her drain, but she endangered him when her recklessness got them into fights. Casting "spells" from her pool of energy was difficult--not because it was hard to concentrate it into an effect, but because she was unwilling to let go of the warm feeling that accompanied the power. She had to constantly battle between this conflicting things--the sickness and the danger of abusing her power, versus the rush and delight of it. Sometimes she felt like it tore her mind apart.

    They traveled down the main road, now some ways away from the city. Eli kept a worried eye on his friend; although she was physically refreshed from her use of magic, her expression was dark and gloomy. He knew that she secretly longed to go back there, fight the Kosmans, take their power. He knew that she loved to fight, loved to absorb magic. But she held herself back, because of the danger, or for his sake, or something else. She was hard to read, but they'd been through enough that they trusted each other, more or less.
    "Hey. You alright?"
    "...Yeah." She said. "Just thinking about...the fight. That flash."
    "That spell that bowled us over? I figured that the Bluecloak cast that and it backfired or something." Eli's knowledge of magic was sparse. He didn't know what could cause a spell to backfire, but he had assumed that that was what happened.
    Val shook her head, however. "No, he...tried to take me to his Plane. He grabbed my arm, but before we transported... All the energy he was using to teleport went wild. I don't know how he lived, but I survived by stealing his ward."
    Eli nodded. She often used that tactic against anyone who could keep a ward up in the field of drained magical energy that followed her around.
    Then Val remembered something. "...You're hurt. You were clutching your side."
    "...Yeah." Eli admitted. "But don't worry about it. I'll make it. It's just a rib."
    Val stared into the dirt ahead of her. She wasn't very good at healing; the energy was so hard to direct that she may end up damaging a patient more than she helped them. And besides, she didn't have anything left to cast with. The spell that broke the door had totally drained her. She felt frustrated by her powerlessness.

    They managedto evade any Kosman patrols for the rest of the day, finally settling in to camp a ways off the road, down a hill. Their camp would be practically flooded if it rained, but it was more important to not be visible from the road. They would rather be rained on than ambushed by some Kosmans in the middle of the night. Lacking a tent, the two simply laid out their makeshift bedrolls on either side of the fire. Mages would have just slept in their private dimensions, but these two lacked that ability. Val took first watch, given that she was still fairly invigorated from casting back in Veriel; she wouldn't have been able to fall asleep for a while anyway. She sat by the flame, listening to Eli's snoring and poking the fire with a stick. Her watch passed uneventfully, and she woke up Eli to take his. He paced the camp restlessly, always watching the horizon, in the direction of the road. Finally, as the sun began to rise, he prepared breakfast from as many of their rations as could be spared and woke Val up when they were done. Then they were on the road again.

    ~

    In a few more days, the hilly plains around Veriel gave way to a craggy, flat, dry, expanse of rock as they got closer to the mountain range that divided Velaria and Kosma. This terrain seemed to go on as far as could be seen, and the road was hard to make out, a path beaten in the gravel by many feet. It was a couple hours past noon when a city appeared on the horizon, the first one they'd seen since leaving Veriel. They were almost out of food, but Eli's cracked rib would make any combat extremely risky. Stopping beside the road, they conferred.
    "I want you to stay outside." Val told him. "Set up camp a safe distance away, and I'll go in, get food, and meet you outside, and we can skirt around the city."
    The stubborn Arand shook his head. "No. If you get into trouble in there, all you can do is hope they cast something you can absorb."
    "I'll be careful." His friend insisted.
    "Careful isn't enough."
    "Look, it doesn't benefit either of us if we get into a fight with the guard and you break a few more ribs. I can handle it."
    "But you--"
    "I said I can handle it." She gave him a harsh stare with her pure red eyes. Finally, he relented. "Alright, but at least take my sword. You can probably scare away any lowlife with it." He undid the leather cord that wrapped around his waist and held the loop that his sword hung in and handed it to her, weapon and all. She nodded and tied it around her own waist, pulling the cloak over to hide it. Then she turned and went towards the city. It took most of their remaining Tears to pay the toll, but it would have obviously drawn attention to fight her way through, and she didn't have the magical ability at the moment to circumvent the walls.

    The city was much like other Kosman cities--large, wide streets, spread out buildings, and some minor magical effects, like little dancing lights or a floating broom sweeping the sidewalk, drifted across the air. As Val walked close to them, they faltered or failed. The light sputtered and slowly winked out like a dying candle, and the broom clattered to the cobblestones. She could feel the energy that had kept them going flow into her, the pain in her gut grow by just a little bit. The wonderful feeling of magic.
    The buildings were short, as was customary in Kosma. Most houses and businesses were only for the benefit of other people here; the mages lived in their dimension, not the material plane. Inns or hotels were practically nonexistent, as lodging was not in demand in the Magocracy. The few people out and about steered far away from here, whether because of mistrust or the increasing drain of magic as they got close, Val could not tell. She wandered the streets, looking for some kind of market stall she could get food at. They only had a few of the tiny blue gems the Mageians used as their currency left, but it would be enough to get them at least a few day's rations. As she walked, it began to rain. The girl pulled up her hood, hugging her cloak tighter about her as water ran down the sky and the road. She finally found a sign that pointed toward the market district. She was glad it wasn't magical. Some Kosman cities used maintained magic lights to spell out signs, as they couldn't be eroded by weather or stolen. If it had been one of those, she'd have absorbed it before she could read it.

    Val cut through an alley to reach the market district faster--she didn't like leaving Eli alone out there. It wasn't likely anyone would attack him, but it made her nervous anyway.
    That turned out to be a mistake. Unknown to her, several people had entered the alley behind her, and she only realized the attack was coming by the surge of magic that pre-empted it. The magic thief spun about, using what magic she'd absorbed since entering the city to toss up a shield of force in front of her. A black and gray bolt slammed into it and dissipated. She had no idea what the spell was, but it couldn't have been good. Unstable, her barrier faded within seconds. The men at the end of the alleyway weren't guards, but they didn't look like thugs--they wore expensive black and red doublets, and carried clubs. There were four of them, more than she could handle if they decided to rush her. She backed away slowly, prepared to catch any spells they might try to cast.
    "What do you want?" Val asked shakily, drawing her sword from beneath her cloak.
    "Just to talk, sorceress." One of the men said.
    Sorceress? She wasn't a mage. Did they think she was?
    She brandished her weapon menacingly, but it was obvious to anyone who'd ever received formal training that her stance was totally wrong.
    "Alright," She said. "Talk."
    The same man who had spoken before stepped forward. Val took a step back.
    "We know who you are."
    "Oh?"
    "You're a sorceress. You absorb magic."

    Her heart skipped a beat. They knew about her abilities. And they might know more. They might know how to control them, use them without harming other people all the time, or without her spells going wild.
    "W-what do you know?"
    "We know that you can steal spells. I can feel you draining me right now, but I know you can't help it. You might be able to take us on--I have no idea how many spells you're fit to cast right now, but if you do, you'll never know how much Haret could teach you."
    "Haret?"
    Then a club slammed into the back of her head, and Val crumpled, unconscious.

    ~

    Eli waited for hours. Val should have been back by now. It had started raining a couple hours ago, and he was drenched through his cloak. Finally, he decided he'd go in to look for her. They'd had the foresight to leave him just enough Tears to pay the toll and get in if he'd had to, but how would he find her once he was inside? Was she even still alive, or did she lose a scuffle with the guard or a cutthroat? He found himself practically sprinting for the gates. He fumbled with his pouch paying the guards, who gave him strange looks. Not only was he obviously frantic, he was Arandish, and anyone who wasn't Kosman was under constant suspicion. But they let him in.

    Eli knew to start at the market district, but it took him several minutes to find it. He came out to a large, round courtyard. Market stalls and shivering merchants stood all about the area. Selling everything from trinkets to ritual components to food. He asked several of them if they'd seen a girl--no more than a teenager--in a black cloak come through there. Some of them wouldn't even answer him, while others told him they hadn't. He was about to set off, frustrated, in a random direction, when he heard the familiar clash of steel on steel from a side street. He knew he should ignore it. He didn't have his sword. How could he help? But what if it was Val? Or some innocent fighting the guard? Or a civilian being mugged? He had to at least see. And so, his compassion and concern for Val winning out over his better judgement, he slunk toward the noise, peeking into the alleyway.

    Four Kosman guards had a woman cornered. She wasn't wearing armor, but she did carry a sword. That wasn't what caught Eli's attention, though; she was Estillian. Maybe, if he helped her...
    Three more guards lay on the ground closer to him. One of them might have been still alive, but his arms were twisted at sickening angles and his eyes were closed. One of them had a clean gash, still spurting blood, in his side, and wouldn't make it very long. The third was ghastly--blood seemed to cover every bit of his exposed skin, leaking from his ears, his eyes, his nose, seemingly from the pores of his skin. But Eli was more concerned with the fact that their weapons were lying on the ground. Dashing in, he scooped up a battle-axe, curling his fingers around the warm haft. He looked back up to the fight in time to see one of the guards strike the Estillian in the side, his sword slicing through her white shirt and spilling blood. The woman bit her lip and tried to take another step back, only for her heel to hit the wall. She gritted her teeth and went on the defensive, chanting a brief spell that caused the guards to stumble back, blasted by a fierce wind. Eli charged toward the one who had struck her, swinging the axe downward and hacking into his unarmored ankle. The Kosman yelled and toppled, and the Arand brought the axe down on his back in a wide overhand swing, biting through his armor, skin, and bone. The remaining three guards turned to face him, caught off-guard by his sudden interference. The Estillian took the opportunity, chanting a spell as she stabbed one in the side. The man stiffened, his weapon clattering out of his hand. Then she kicked him off the blade and brought it up to parry the second one's stroke. Eli flanked him, making his way toward the last Kosman, who was beginning to chant. He struck with the axe in tight, safe, swings that were fast enough to put him on the defensive and force his concentration off his spell. Then he heard the woman finish her own. The guard she was fighting screamed in agony, his weapon falling from limp fingers as blood erupted out of his skin, pouring from his eyes, ears, and mouth. He crumpled, unconscious in seconds. As he fell, Eli kicked his own opponent in the shin and tore open his neck with a horizontal swipe.

    He eyed the Estillian warily, making sure she wouldn't attack him. She backed away from him, the same sentiment clear in her eyes. Blood still dripped from her side, staining her white clothing scarlet. She didn't make a move toward him, so he lowered his newly acquired axe and held out his hand. "Eli. You need some help with that?" He looked at her wound.
    "...Thanks." She said after a moment. "I can wrap this myself though." She continued talking as she looked behind her, where a large satchel and a dusty gray cloak lay on the ground. "My name is Argent. Can I ask why you helped me?" She picked up the pack. It clanked with the sound of metal.
    "Sure. I helped because I haven't seen the Kosmans attack a real criminal in a while. The fact that you're Estillian sealed the deal."
    She opened the satchel, pulling a roll of bandages from it. "For all you know, I am a real criminal."
    He studied her carefully. She wasn't very tall, but she wasn't really short either. Her black hair was long and straight, but it was a total mess of tangles--it probably hadn't been brushed in weeks. She had a pretty small build, but was obviously athletic. She didn't look that old--mid-twenties at the most. She was pretty, but Eli didn't really care about that."No. I don't think you are. I think you're a war refugee. ...I've only ever seen Estillian knights use dark magic before."
    "Think whatever you want." She told him, pulling her torn white shirt up to expose her midriff. Now able to see her wound, Eli could tell it wasn't actually that bad. She wouldn't be in danger of bleeding out, but it had to hurt like hell. She used her sword to cut a section of the bandage off and pressed it against the gash, wrapping the roll itself around her stomach and cutting it off after several layers. Then she let her shirt drop again.
    "I saved your life." Eli said matter-of-factly.
    "I don't know about that, but I'm thankful for the help anyway."
    "But can you help me?"
    "...You're not a Kosman. I think I might, depending. It's not like I have anything better to do."
    "I'm looking for someone. Can you help me find her?"
    "...I think I can do that."

    ~

    Val's first sensation when she woke up was of rough rope against her skin. She was sitting in the center of a large, empty, dimly lit room that looked like the upstairs of a warehouse, although there was none of the crates and other objects that characterized such buildings. A stairwell in one corner led down. The only light filtered in through a window to her left. Her hands were tied to the back of the chair. She didn't know exactly how much time had passed, but she felt sick. The pain in her gut had grown, and she had a sore throat and trouble breathing. It had to have been at least a couple hours, but there was still daylight, so not very much more. In most cities her illness wouldn't progress so quickly, but here in Kosma almost everyone was a mage. She was about to use magic to snap her bonds when she heard a man's voice right next to her ear.
    "Don't even try it." The tone was neutral but the threat was inherent in the words. Val jumped, not having seen anyone else in the room. She ignored him, focusing her power and releasing it with as little energy as she could, directed toward the ropes that bound her. However, she wasn't prepared for what happened. A descending surge rang through her head, and the spell never manifested. The man who had spoken stepped into her field of view, standing only a few feet from the chair.

    He towered over the girl, even if she had been standing up, standing at over six feet. He wore a black and red doublet, black trousers, and a black cloak. A curved sword was sheathed to his side. He had neatly trimmed, close cropped light brown hair, a curly mustache, and a goatee. His expression was extremely neutral, and his hands were clasped behind his back. Maybe it was just the dim light, but his face seemed pale. He leaned down and spoke in a whisper. "I told you not to try." He smiled grimly.
    "...Who are you?" Val summoned her courage to speak.
    He straightened again. "Most call me Haret. The people I work with, the people who work for me. It is a very...formal name. But we must not stand on formality. You may call me Airetais, my dear Valentine."
    She stiffened. "Don't call me that." She didn't bother to ask how he knew her name.
    "You are in no position to make demands, my dear." He held out his hand to her left, cupping his palm. He didn't speak a word, but Val very clearly felt the surge as a shimmering, unnaturally red flame sprang into existence in his hand. It illuminated the room in crimson shade.
    "As you see, you are very much not alone." He smiled knowingly.
    Val stared in shock at the magical flame, not registering his meaning for several seconds.
    "You...you're a magic-thief. Just like me."
    "Bah. Magic-thief is such an ugly way of saying it. It makes us sound like common criminals!" He clenched his fist, snuffing the flame. "I prefer the term 'sorcerer.' Has a nice ring to it, wouldn't you say?"
    She didn't comment.

    He stepped away from her, wandering away to stand by the window, his arms clasped behind his back, looking out onto the city. "You see, Valentine, you are part of a very powerful, very exclusive group. There are not many of us, but in this age of magic we have the power to change the world."
    "There are others?"
    "To be sure. I have met precious few, however. You are the first I've found in years." He turned back to her, walking back to her chair. "As you might expect, I grow very excited whenever I hear rumors of someone who could absorb magic. I learned of your existence practically as soon as you arrived in Kosma, but it took me this long to track you."
    "...Couldn't a few divination spells have found me easily? I don't have any magical protections."
    "But you see, Valentine, you are invisible to magic. Us sorcerers--we are like holes in the fabric of the arcane. We can hear it, we can feel it, we can take, it, and we can use it. But to spells, we are undetectable. A divination cannot track us. I did not even bother." He smiled sardonically. "A friend of mine used to call us 'wounds in the weave.'"
    "What do you want from me?"
    "The question, my dear Valentine, is what you want from me."

    ~

    Eli and Argent retired to a slightly more sheltered spot, under an awning around the back of a shop, where the Arand sketched out his friend for the Estillian. When he was done, she asked a question that took him aback a little. "Do you have any of her possessions?"
    "Uh, she usually carries a dagger that she left with me today."
    "That'll do."
    He drew the dagger from his waist, handing it to the mage. She cupped her hands around it, sitting down on the wet cobblestones and closing her eyes. Argent began to chant, in a slow, steady, purposeful tone. Eli was far from a mage--he didn't understand the words, so he had no idea what she was casting. But he guessed it was some kind of tracking spell. She continued the incantation for almost a full sixty seconds before speaking the last word with a resolute finality. The warrior figured that if he was a mage, the sound would have made his ears stop, but as it was he heard nothing. After several seconds of silence, he hesitantly said. "Uh, learn anything?"
    Argent opened her eyes. She frowned. "Nothing. The spell didn't return anything at all. It should have at least told me where she'd been in the last few days."
    "Uh, is that normal?"
    "Not if the target doesn't have any kind of wards against divination up. And you said she wasn't a mage, so someone else must have cast them."
    Eli's heart skipped a beat. So Val had been kidnapped, and her captor had warded her so they couldn't find her. Argent handed the dagger back to him. "I guess we'll have to search the old-fashioned way." She commented. "Ask around, see if anyone saw her."

    They described Val to people around the market district, asking if they had seen her or heard anything. Eli had already talked to the merchants in the courtyard, so they didn't bother with them, but the shoppers and pedestrians didn't know anything either. "Maybe she didn't get this far." The Arand said.
    "Possible. You know which entrance she came in? We can backtrack to there."
    "Yeah, I do."
    By the time they had made their way back to the gate, it had been almost an hour and they had questioned almost everyone they'd seen, and Eli was afraid they'd attract attention from the guards. But they finally had one lead, although it was a sparse one. One Kosman had told them that he'd seen Val go into an alley, followed by several men in red and black doublets.
    "It's not very much." Argent remarked.
    "It sounds like a uniform to me." Eli said. "Know any group that wears red and black doublets?"
    Argent shook her head. "But we can ask around."
    "If the guard doesn't try to arrest us for asking too many questions."

    ~


    New novella tying into World Walk and an upcoming roleplay!

    It's not even close to done yet, though.

    I'll continue Crimson Mask sometime, I guess. I'll probably end up rewriting the opening because Sameen isn't a very likeable character and I should change that.
     
  5. Legends From Astera: Introduction (open)

    Let me tell you a tale; a tale of a world ravaged by death and terror, a world that has lost hope. A tale of a small group of heroes that serve as the world's only light. These heroes are Runebearers, rare individuals blessed by the power of God to wield divine power. Once, these Runebearers were commonplace, but a tumult of events led to their near-disappearance, eventually leaving most to discredit them as a myth. But they are mythological no more. They are our saviors, the only warriors that can face Hell itself and live to tell the tale. But before we learn of their tragic fall and triumphant rise, we must know what comes before. And thus, we shall begin at the beginning, as all stories must.

    In the beginning, there was light.
    These are the words that open every holy text on Astera.These are the words ingrained into the people's consciousness, a knowledge of a personal divine being that will never let Himself be forgotten. All know the story, but what does the story mean?
    From that light came the Stars. And through them, was the world created.
    When the Stars, vessels of the Maker's power, first gave birth to the world, it was beautiful and full of radiance. The continents rose from the desolate seas, spires of verdant ground, forests, and mountains, lakes and basins of sparkling water. From this land living creatures were born, and the greatest of these was Man.
    In humanity's earliest days, we were simple creatures, full of awe and curiosity, exploring the world around us. Two things seperated us from the animals that we dwelled with:
    Intelligence, and Runes.
    Intelligence was our first gift, our true life breathed into us by the Maker. The ability to reason, and to think. The ability to decide for ourselves, not based on pure instinct, but based on rationality and logic.
    Where sapience was our being, Runes were our power. A mark, adorning the back of a hand. Runes were what gave us strength beyond our physical forms. Each one was unique, giving every man their own Divine ability, to be used for enlightenment, discovery, and the pursuit of happiness. Each and every one was a shard of a Star, one of the Vessels of Creation. They glowed softly, in radiant hues, the glow a reminder of our authority over the land and our great gifts.

    And then, mankind sinned.
    None know the details, but one man committed a blasphemy so heinous that it scarred the world. The Stars recoiled in horror, drawing their light about them and ascending back into the heavens. Runes began to vanish, slowly at first, and then faster and faster. Soon, only a select few bore them. These few were to be the saviors, our last light, our last chance for Redemption, the Maker's second chance.

    They chose darkness.
    The Runebearers became tyrants, warlords who used their power for personal gain. They gathered armies of those fearful and trembling, soldiers who were still unsteadily loyal to the Divine light. With these armies, they swept across the continents until all free peoples were under their heel, oppressed and governed harshly. The Runeless, as the common people came to be called, were treated with contempt, lesser beings not fit to be called to be human. They were slaughtered and enslaved, the beauty of life slandered.

    And thus, the Runeless war began.
    The Runebearing dictators found their armies deserting, joining with the common people, forming a great host of the Runeless: The Rise of the long-oppressed. Led by heroes that arose from the ashs of a dying civilization, the Runeless armies marched on the capitals, the grand cities of their tyrants. They tore down the walls, brick by brick. They burnt the palaces, they destroyed the grand halls.
    Soon, Runebearer blood stained the ground.
    Each and every one fell, dashed to the earth by the rage of those they refused to even call human. They were torn from their lofty perch, ripped from the heavens to fall among the seas, drowning.
    The war was short, destructive, and bloodless. The Runebearers had almost no armies left, and those who were still loyal fell quickly. The tyrants were destroyed in one swoop.

    And the Maker took notice.
    Looking down on the world He created, he decreed that Astera have another chance. Another chance to return to the perfect world it was in the early days. He drew the Stars from the heavens, shining their light on the world once again. Those great heroes, leaders of the common people, were granted Runes. They protested, saying that the Starlight was the devil's work, evil and unjust. They were answered by the Maker, who spoke to them directly and told them that they were the ones who must use the Runes for good and not evil, and lead the world out of darkness. Reluctantly, they accepted the gift, and Starlight returned to the world, although it still did not spread to everyone like the days of old. These new Runebearers forged new nations on the ashes of the old, setting in place traditions that would govern the people for long ages to come. They were the First Heroes, the original light in the midst of darkness.

    Time passed. Hundeds of years, and then thousands of years. The descendants of the First Heroes, still bearing Runes, continued to lead Astera. It was a golden age of peace.
    And then the unthinkable happened.
    War erupted in Hell, the Five Layered Plane where the demons and spirits, the dissenters that opposed the original creation, were banished. The demonic hosts fought each other in vast, bloody battles that ripped the burned earth open. And the consequences were dire.
    A dimensional rift was opened, and the five greatest beings in Hell, the Cataclysmic Spirits, were shunted forth onto Astera.

    Thus began the First Cataclysmic War. The world ravaged by these spirits, the Runebearers rose up with their peoples to resist them. Slowly but surely, the demons were pushed back. However, at the critical moment, the Runebearers found that they lacked the ability to destroy them or cast them back into Hell. Praying to the Maker, they were granted their wish.

    They gave up their Runes for the good of the world, sacrificing the power to create seals that chained the spirits in half-life, caught between the Planes. With the demonc host banished, the former Runebearers wearily went back to their thrones, hoping that their power would never need to be used again.

    Thus, Runes passed from the world. Ages past, the nations changed. The world entered an era of uneasy and occasionally broken peace. Countries fought countries, their sovereigns forgetting the unity that once bound their ancestors together. Soon, noöne remembered history, stamped out in the ashes of a Runeless world.

    And those that do not recall history are doomed to repeat it.
    While the Seals held firm, resistant to the passage of time, one man set aside his immortal life for the sole purpose of breaking them. That man was Dias, a Demon Lord, a mortal that swore fealty to a Cataclysmic Spirit, being granted immortality and power in exchange. Dias used his influence and skills to gain a position of power in Telaeria, the central Empire founded by Samuel the Earthshaker of the First Heroes. He researched Arcane theory, delving into powers formerly only recognized by the Mageians, the eastern country of mystics. Slowly but surely, he found out how the Seals could be broken.

    Knowing that it was the only way, the Maker sent Runes back into the world. A few descendants of Runebearers from ages past were graced with the power once again. They were given the ability to destroy or re-Seal the Cataclysmic Spirits, in the fullness of time.

    But Dias learned of this, and conspired to use it to his advantage.
    He approached Kratos, the Emperor of Telaeria, and spun a tale of infinite power sealed in a Temple that lay beneath the earth. Kratos was captured by his lies, and Dias told him that the only way to break the Seal was the power of the Runebearers. Kratos gathered his armies and sent them out into the world, searching for the elusive Runebearers to capture them and carry them back to the Temple of Terror.

    This is where their story begins.

    A small group of Runebearers evaded the Empire and reached Mageia, the magically warded nation of Arcane scholars. There they learned the history of the world, the secret few had passed down. They learned the truth of their powers. However, in the west, Telaeria learned of their presence, and declared war on Mageia. Unable to penetrate the magic barrier, they invaded and captured Keleas, using the people of the northern nation as hostages, demanding the surrender of the Runebearers. Mageia sent soldiers out to meet them, their Arcane might clashing with Telaeria's greater numbers. The armies proved equally matched. For several months they fought in the New Rune War, until a terrible thing happened.

    -

    "Shall we go and watch the world burn?"

    A traitor, and a world turned to ash.
    The return of a missing Mageian agent signalled dark times for the world when he revealed his allegiance to the enemy, using his power to carry the Runebearers across the Planes to arrive at the Temple of Terror. Their presence broke the last of the Seals placed there, releasing the Cataclysmic Spirit of Terror and all his host. After a pitched battle, Terror left the temple with Dias, the Demon Lord, and the freed extraplanar horde swept across the continent in a wave of fire and death. Terror's aim was to free the other Spirits, and little stood in his way.
    The Runebearers, now tentatively joined by former General Hugo of Telaeria and Dr. Alek Verias, a mysterious Alchemist and Rune scholar, emerged from the Temple to find a world turned to ash.

    And it was time to set things right. This is the story of the redemption of a world, a classic duel of good and evil. This is the story of the Runebearers, our last light.​


    Because of circumstances preventing us from continuing an RP named Runestar, I've decided to make it into a series of short stories that tell the story of the characters (and others that wouldn't have gotten the spotlight in the actual RP), and using the "Legends from Astera" to lead into another RP set in that universe.

    ...And holy shit it's been a while since I updated this. I still plan to work on Heart of Magic sometime, and I plan to rewrite Crimson Mask to fix some problems it has, but I have a lot of work right now and I'm restricting myself to only a few projects at a time, so it may take a while. If anyone still cares.