Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ghostly Times

Sorry for the delay this week. I had a story ready to go, and it decided it wanted to be something else. This story for today is actually alluded to in the first one, and I thought it would be an interesting little story to write. 

I've often wondered what it would be like if ghost hunters didn't hunt ghosts. How would we interact with ghosts if they were friends of ours. As a side note, this story takes place in the same world where 
A Traitor's Love takes place. 

There was a man screaming behind my history teacher and he couldn't hear him. While normally that would have been amusing and vaguely disconcerting, it was the obvious bullet hole in the man's head that indicated all was not as it seemed.
Added to that, I was apparently the only one who could see him which turned out to be unfortunate.
The man stopped screaming and stared at me.
Mr. Norris was talking about some historic even from three centuries ago. It was boring, and I wanted to be out of class. I enjoyed history, but I preferred learning on my own because none of my teachers could teach anything beyond dates and important people.
I wanted to learn about the everyday people. The ones like me, not the kings and movers and shakers.
"You can see me, can't you, little girl?"
I stared in front of me trying to ignore him. His breath smelled sweetly rotten.
He twisted his head to look at me, angling it almost upside down. "Why aren't you answering me?"
"Because your breath stinks," a girl near my age greeted.
I was fourteen, but this girl looked to be a little older. She sat in the desk beside me. I noticed her a few times, but when no one else would talk with her, I figured she didn't want to be talked to. After all, she was always listening to something on her phone.
She always handed in her homework, but now that I thought about it, she was never called upon in class.
The man turned his attention onto the girl. "And you are?"
Whatever the name meant, shook the man. "No," he said. "You can't be. Not here."
Xaria shrugged. "Am, and are." She swung out of the desk and stood on it. "Now, as for you, mister screamer, we are trying to have class, and you are being a distraction."
"He's spreading horrible lies," the man complained, motioning to Mr. Norris. "No one listens to me."
"Go." Xaria shooed him out of the classroom.
After class finished, I tried to catch up with Xaria, but couldn’t find her anywhere. It wasn't until I started walking home that I found her talking with the man. Xaria sat on the edge of the bleachers swinging her feet in and out, while the man pouted beside her.
"Yo," Xaria greeted.
"Hi. Where did you run off too?"
"Another project." Xaria cocked her head. "So you can see us."
"Of course I can. You're right there."
"Am I?" She hopped off the bleacher and went to stand in front of a group of students walking towards us. None of them moved to walk around her.
I blinked, but waited until the students left. I was already weird, I didn't want to be any weirder at my new school. "What are you?"
"Ghost," the man said. "I lived through the war your teacher spoke about, and he lies."
"Yes, yes, we know," Xaria grumbled. "I'm Xaria."
"You a ghost as well?"
"Something like that. You must be Muriel."
"Muriel is such a new-fangled ..." the man began.
"Old-fashioned and elegant," Xaria corrected.
"Dumb," I clarified. "I prefer Riel."
"Fine, Riel," Xaria muttered. "Anyway, you can see us, but not everyone else can. Your uncle can."
"Uncle Uriel?"
"The very same."
"Well, that explains a lot."
We walked home, and as we walked, the man, Horatio Hughs, told me about the war from three centuries ago, and how he wanted to save people, but couldn't. It cost him his life, but from that day to this, he had spent trying to help people. "I had enough today when your teacher, once again, spread those false lies about the war. Every year, I try to tell him, but he doesn't listen."
"You know, it could be because you insist on writing tomes," Xaria concluded. "You are rather long-winded."
"And just how do you propose changing things?"
"Well, for one thing, Riel here is on the school newspaper."
"I can't interview a ghost!"
"No, not interview. You write. Tell his story." Xaria leaned in closer. "You've wanted to learn about the average people - now's the time." She motioned around us as hundreds of people ... no ghosts ... glowed into existence. Many of them I knew, and I waved to them, but I had never known they were ghosts.
"Just what am I supposed to do?"
"Talk with them. We liked being asked questions," Horatio said. "We're just like everyone else."
Back at home, I stared at my computer, the cursor blinking on and off.
My name is Muriel. I'm not a ghost hunter, but a ghost reporter.
Reporter. I always wanted to be a journalist. I could start now, I guess.
Outside my window, at the school, the battle had commenced. It was from last century when the town was the center of a major battle.
How was I supposed to interview anyone?
These are the stories I uncover as I interview ghosts.
Horatio was my first interviewee.
Welcome, to the Ghostly Times.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Woman's Dilemma

This is one of the first stories I wrote for the Year of Short Stories, but I've put off publishing it until now. During the late Fifteenth Century, Japan invaded Korea in hopes of conquering China. Thanks to the Koreans, the Japanese failed. Like all times of war, rape was common. Some of the women were forced to become comfort women for the Japanese, much like in the 20th century. 

After the Japanese left, scholars from Seoul decided to make a list of the Most Worthy Women - those who resisted the sexual desires of the invaders. Most of these women committed suicide in order to escape. Those who, for whatever reason, succumbed, were considered unworthy. 

In a society where honor is more important than life, these "unworthy" women lived with the knowledge of the dishonor they brought to their families. Added to the horror they surely had to live through as victims of rape, they had the added discrimination from arrogant, self-important of men who decided to list others as more worthy. 

The women huddled together weeping. All they had done for the past year was weep, it seemed to Yong Ji, daughter of one of the scholars in the Jeollanam-Do. All the women of the town ever did was cry. They had survived not being attacked by the Japanese; their sons had lived, their daughters saved, yet all they did was weep.

Well, Yong Ji had to admit, some of their daughters had survived. In a town of roughly two thousand, all the families had some daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, aunt or cousin who had been taken by Japanese troops. If they didn’t, their neighbors or friends did. Twenty girls had been taken from the village - only five returned.

One of them, Yong Ji herself, walked the streets, feeling every dagger glanced her way, biting remark whispered in another’s ear, or the gestures given. She was despised by the women, by the men. She survived because she lived.

She twisted the band around her wrist. She couldn’t remove it. She had been slender when the band was shoved onto her wrist - a mark she belonged to someone. Her life counted as nothing. She had survived long walks through dark forests; battles and countless other atrocities because of that band.

“Why don’t you just die?” One of the women screamed, spittle splattering on a random man who happened to be crossing the wrong path. “Why did you live, and my daughter died?”

Yong Ji continued to walk. Of the twenty captured, half killed themselves than become the mistresses of the Japanese. Out of the other ten, another seven died from wounds sustained after their rapes, or because they couldn’t live with the knowledge of their rape anymore. Of the three who lived, one had escaped thanks to Yong Ji and another woman from another village. The girl who escaped was all of ten years. After she escaped, she went into a village where she eventually returned home. Eun An, the other girl who survived, like Yong Ji, took matters into her own hands.

“Let them talk, Yong Ji,” Eun An now said to her, looping a free arm around Yong Ji’s arm. “Let them bluster and cry. It’s all they’re fit for.”

Yong Ji straightened her shoulders and stepped forward. “Have you heard?”

“I have,” Eun An agreed.

They had no need to say what the topic was - everyone in the town spoke of the arrival of the magistrates. Leaders in Seoul had decided to compile a list of the worthy women in Korea. A bunch of busybody males who had nothing better to do than to make lists about women was what it amounted to being. The worthiness of a woman's virginity which to many counted more than her life.

“What are we going to do about it?” Eun An asked.

“Nothing we can do,” Yong Ji answered. “Everyone here knows what we did. It doesn’t matter what happened, we will not be one of the worthy ones. For these self-serving men who care only about how the men look, we are unworthy. Better to have died keeping our precious virginity intake for another man than to offer it to the highest bidder.”

“Even if it was the only way to save our lives?”

“Especially because it was the only way to save our lives.” Yong Ji sighed. It was better to die a virgin than to live defiled according to many. Her own grandmother had accused her of being worse things. It mattered little that the choice came after her virginity had been forcible taken from her. She had had no choice in the matter. Only later did she barter her body for safety.

Still few were those who understood the situation. For those who felt this list important, it only clarified how impotent the men had been. Only those who had done nothing other than whimper and whine would think of something like this.

In the streets, the women walked confidently; in their private chambers they were able to talk freely. “If he were to come back for you, would you go?” Eun An asked once inside Yong Ji’s family home. Eun An touched the band around Yong Ji’s wrist.

“No,” Yong Ji answered. “There would be no point of becoming his bed warmer. I doubt if I would be much of anything to a samurai.”

“At least he might love you.”

Yong Ji shook her head. “No; better to wait.” She sank onto a nearby bench. “Besides, we have more important things to discuss. What will happen when your betrothed discovers what happened?”

Eun An’s betrothed lived in the capital. He was a minor government official, but he had high morals. He had been with the king and court, and had not heard anything from home. In fact, Eun An’s father had made it a point to not send word to him, hoping that the marriage could happen before anything was discovered. With the busy tongues of the women, it would prove nearly improbable.

“Father is taking me north,” Eun An said. “We’re to marry there with his family.”

“What about the blood?”

She shrugged. “I’ll be fine.”

Yong Ji grasped her friend’s hand. They had traveled through horrible times together. Before, they had known each other, but had not been friends. Now, through fire, their friendship had been forged - stronger than iron and more flexible than a bow.

“What of you, though, Yong Ji? You had no betrothal before everything. Who will agree to marry you?”

“Most likely someone outside the town.”

“A very strong man.”

Yong Ji shrugged. “That is not my concern. I’ll be fine. I work alongside Father, and he says I’m worth three sons. Yong Sun is still young, and is just now starting his studies. Father needs me to help manage everything, so I’ll work alongside him as an assistant. A doctor needs someone to keep the records.”

“Have people stopped coming?”

“A few, but others continue to come. Hai Su’s family especially. After I helped save her, nothing is
too small for them to do.”

“Their family is enough to make up for any lack from others.”

“They are, but they are unable to influence many others. The important members of the town disregard anything the family does, but I’m thankful they continue to come.” Yong Ji shaded her eyes from the sudden arrival of sunlight in the cloudy day. No matter what happened in the coming days, it would be difficult to continue down the path she led. On one hand, attempting to hide what happened while she was among the Japanese would prove futile. Everyone in the town knew.

On the other hand, admitting it could prove a problem for her father’s business. Who would trust a woman who had been defiled? Her worth was based upon her virginity. Her father’s reputation was blackened because of what happened.

“It’s bad enough to have all this happen to us,” Yong Ji said, finally. “And to have it criticized by women who mourn their daughters is bad enough. To have these scholars come from the capital and rank us upon our worth, when they did absolutely nothing to help us, is horrible.”

“And just what can we do about it?”

“Well, personally, I think we should give them to the Japanese and let them see how they would respond.”

Eun An stared at Yong Ji a moment before coughing then falling forward in laughter.

“Well,” Yong Ji sniffed, “I expected a response, but not helpless laughter.”

Eun An waved her hand. “It’s imagining what they would do, if one of the Japanese told them to drop their pants.”

Yong Ji coughed. “It would prove interesting.” She wiped a tear away. “Are we cruel for wishing these things on people we don’t know?”

“I believe it must be a natural reaction, Yong Ji,” a man said from behind.

“Father!” Yong Ji jumped. “How long have you been here?”

“Long enough,” Choi Sun Yong answered. To Eun An, he said, “Your father has arrived. Say your good-byes.”

The two girls embraced, wished each other luck, and waved as Eun An departed.

“What will happen, Father?”

“This world spins in the ways it always has. Simple people need something to boost their appearances, to make them look important. It isn’t right, but it is the way it is.”

“Why do you accept what happened when others cannot?”

“Because you did what I taught you to do - use whatever means you have to survive because living is always worth the pain.”

“I don’t see how this pain inside will ever be worth it, Father. It’s been a year since everything happened, and anytime any man comes near me, I flinch.”

“Even me?”

“At times. People wonder who will ever take me as a wife since I’ve been defiled. I wonder if I ever want to marry.”

“Time enough for those questions. What do you want to do about the list?”

“I am no longer ashamed of what happened to me, specifically. It hurts and having to repeat the events scares me, but the list means nothing to me.”

“Very well. We do not hide what happened, and we take the problems as they come. I think you have chosen wisely, daughter.”

“Thank you, Father.”

“Now, for the pain and the heartache. Maybe you can reach others who experienced what you did. You and Eun An have helped each other, but I heard of two girls in a nearby village who have not fared as well as you two.”

“I don’t know if there is much I can do, Father.”

“Listening helps.”

Yong Ji clasped her hands together. “Then lead the way.”

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Traitor's Love

This story comes from the world of the Glass Eyes. It doesn't take place on Earth, but in one of the worlds connected to the Eyes. 

It was said among my people, that a red thread of fate connected two people, but I doubted if it was true as I tossed the last of the white blossomed flowers onto the grave of my oldest friend. We were born, we lived and died, and our souls would transfer from our world to another in an endless circle of rebirth and renewal.
We weren't the same, but we were connected, and people believed we would one day meet again.
At least, that's what we told each other when our loved ones died. When parents lost their children, when friends lost their playmates. When grandchildren lost their grandparents - time had a way of healing, and time we had plenty.
My people were among those who managed the two worlds. We protected the short lives in the one world while we guarded those from our world. We were called everything from ghosts to fairies over the course of our existence, but we called ourselves simply the Ancaelius.
"He is to be given full military honors," my captain explained, joining me beside the graveside. He had been my captain ever since I first entered the royal guards fifty years back. I had moved through the ranks to be his second in command, a first lieutenant by rank.
"I heard," I said, my voice cracking despite the time I paused to control myself. "He sought vengeance for wrongs done in the past, but ..." I took another deep breath because that was the only way I could control my tears. "He died trying to save us all, but ... Did he have to betray us to save us?"
"I can't answer that Itzaro," my captain said. "It's not easy to consider all the possibilities, but ... He did try to save everyone in the end. I wish I could tell you it will be easier over time, but eventually you'll be able to smile when you look back. Until then, why don't you take a few days off to settle his things?"
"There's nothing to settle now; I took care of it last year when he left."
When he betrayed us with that murderous traitor - the very senator who had sworn to protect everyone. How wrong we all were. How wrongly we had believed and placed our trust. We had failed to protect so many people, and in the betrayal and loss Kaito had died attempting to save us all and place retribution on the man who had wronged us as children.
The hand on my shoulder was heavy, but comfortable. "Take your time, Itzaro," the captain said again. "Go visit the mountains you love so much."
"I will."
My captain left with his daughters. His wife had died ten years past, and he had enlisted the aide of his parents to help raise his daughters. He had two sons as well who were both in the royal academy to train the guards, but they stood at the edges of the graveyard, waiting. Both young men, tall and dark like their father, bowed their heads ever so slightly to acknowledge the loss, but neither was sorry for the death of Kaito.
Few were among their people.
"What are you going to do, Itzaro?" The voice was tremulous and feminine. Kerensa, the wife of the senator who had betrayed everyone had remained loyal to their king, despite her husband's betrayal. Which was worse - to have loved one who betrayed and was found loyal, or to love the traitor and monster? There would be no funerals or military honors for her husband.
"My captain's given me a few days leave, Ma'am."
Kerensa twisted a strand of her loose flaxen hair around a finger. She continued to wear the bun of the married women with the loose lower strands signifying widowhood. "I am to return to my parents' lands until I can decide which action to take. My daughters will accompany me."
She only had the two daughters, around the same age as my captain's youngest daughter.
"Safe journey, then," I offered, bowing slightly to her as befitting her rank.
"No need of that," Kerensa whispered. "I am no longer in a position of authority or nobility. I am a simple daughter of a famer."
"You will always be our former leader, my lady."
"Kerensa," I repeated.
"Rise, Itxaro," Kerensa sighed. She stood not quite a head shorter than I did, but had always been small for her age. There were five years difference between us, she being the elder, though almost no one realized it. "I wish for us to be friends as we once were when we were younger."
I smiled at her, my first genuine one in almost a month. "I would like that as well, Kerensa."
"Then come visit when you can." She pulled her shawl close to her body and moved away, the only sounds the rustle of her heavy silk robes.
We had been friends once when we were younger, when I first arrived at the royal city as a young woman, throwing my entire life into an unknown future with only my best and dearest friend beside me. We had fought, studied and worked our way through the schooling. Any who were able to enter the school had their tuition and boarding paid along with a very small weekly stipend. We had used our money to do what we could, found out it was better to share a flat and had turned it into a home.
When Kerensa had caught the eye of a rising politician, Kaito and I had rejoiced over the good news, but we never knew how terribly wrong we were.
I turned and left the graveyard to collect the few small belongings I would want to take with me including my sword and knife. I had trained to use a two-handed sword like all members of the Royal Guards, but one of my teachers realized while watching me practice realized I was better suited to dual wield. Both of my swords were a part of my life and wandering around without them made me feel naked.
In my quarters, I strapped them to my back and took my small case before leaving.
At the door to my unit's barracks, I nodded to the guards on duty and left.
The Royal Guards all had special powers. One needed them to survive in our world. We weren't reborn here from the other world, the world below, but we were alive and grew older, the only difference being that our ageing process slowed to decades, not to years. Neither were those from below guaranteed similar status to what they knew formerly.
I had been born here in this world, but others hadn't been. One of the guards standing at the barracks entrance had arrived from below while the other one was born here.
"Lieutenant," the two snapped to attention.
"At ease, both of you."
"Thank you, ma'am." They relaxed instantly. "Are you going someplace?"
"To the mountains." I thought of the place I wanted to be in the mountains, and disappeared from the barracks to the mountain place I wanted it to be. We called the move heaven's gaite, a play on the words for walking as well as entrance. It was a teletransportation ability all the Royal Guards had to manage, though some were better at it than others.
I tossed my bag on the ground under a tree, and stretched my hand to catch the rope above my head. I had to take a running jump to reach it, since Kaito made it high enough for himself to jump. How many times had I told him to lower the dumb rope?
I dusted myself off and tried a second time, this time catching the rope and pulling down the ladder. We had built a treehouse three-quarters of a century past as a place to hide during the harsh days of our youths when bandits and other unfavorable people roamed the lands. We had hidden ourselves away.
"What am I going to do now, Kaito?" I whispered once I had pulled the rope back up. I sat on the edge of the bed, my head in my hands. "Just what am I supposed to do now?"
The word came from a memory, though I could have sworn I heard Kaito's voice on the wind.
Live. It might be hard, but I would live.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Falling into Somewhere

This week's story came later than expected partly because my weekend turned out busier than expected. The story is a random one, not connected to any of the other worlds such as the Glass Eyes or the Forty Isles. It is, however, an interesting snippet which works well enough on its own, but could be made into a larger novel. I hope you enjoy. 

The heat of distant fires burned the fair skin of the Tahenkot female. She stood taller than average, her faded blonde hair tied up into intricate knots to keep it controlled while in the midst of battle. The sword in her hand dripped with blood. She could cast a spell to cool off her body, but her strength was needed for the battle.
Ten thousand armed Biton, a fierce tribe with heads of bulls and bodies of men, raced across the Plains of Anaq towards the Algaia Misse, the largest mountain chain on the continent. They intended to destroy all in their way, even the Wang'ombe, another tribe of the same race who loved farming and peace.
The leader of the Biton wanted to conquer the tribes of his race and to make one unified empire under his control. The Wang'ombe were the farthest away, and now the most protected by the other races of the continent.
"I'm nearly out of strength, Captain," a male youth said beside her. He, too, was one of the Tahenkot.
The captain turned her hand upwards. "My magic is nearly empty, but they still come."
"We need the dragons to help."
"They help none but their own."
"Than the eagles."
"It is only us to defend them." She glanced over her shoulder. Five hundred members of the various races stood between the Biton and the Wang'ombe. The commander of the ragtag defenders was one of the Biton. He had defected some twenty years before to live among the Wang'ombe after experiencing enough war.
He stood near the two Tahenkot and turned to them. "Captain, take the mages and run towards the mountains. We are going to use magic to give the appearance that the dragons have joined us."
The captain nodded her head once and turned to jog towards the mountain, in this case a smaller outcropping. She called to the mages and the ten others came running. "We are to give the illusion of the dragons coming," she explained.
Two of the mages looked at each other. "Our magic's spent."
"Mine's nearly gone. We cannot create an image like that."
The captain looked over the defenders; at the beginning of their battle that morning, they had had twice the number, but now ... "It's the only chance we have to turn the tide of this war," she said. "Otherwise, those we have fought aside will die, and we who remain here will also perish."
The mages swallowed and nodded their heads.
The dragon was indeed something small, more of a figment of a dragon, but it was enough. It appeared to turn the tide of the battle that was, until the dragons did appear ... on the side of the Biton. In one fiery strong, they destroyed the line of defenders. In another blast, the village and fields of the Wang'ombe had gone. The screams of the dying and the running echoed across the plains, mixing with the roar of the victors.
In the center of the battle, the commander fought until he, and the remaining of his men fell, one by one.
"That leaves only the twelve of us," the captain said, more to herself than to the other mages. She stood on a rock to watch the battle. Her troops no longer able to fight or even use magic. Hope was lost for the Wang'ombe. They would be absorbed into the Biton Empire, the fight was not the stuff of legend.
"We must depart," the captain said to her subordinates. "They will quickly over take this place. There is a tunnel in a cave to lead up into the mountain."
"How do you know that?" One of the other mages gasped. He had taken many attacks, and now had lost the lower portion of his left arm.
"It was the way they had sent those who could not fight." The captain squared her shoulders. "We must follow them and protect them."
"A wandering tribe of Wang'ombe? Nothing like that has ever existed."
"Then we will make a new tribe of wandering Wang'ombe," the captain answered. She pointed her sword at the entrance. "Go, before you become one of the dead on this battlefield."
The mages scrambled into the cave until only the two Tahenkot remained. They cast a spell around the area, cloaking it in confusion and mist before also descending into the cave system.
Their pathway was dark and dangerous. Random stone outcroppings to protect defenders caused confusion to those retreating. At times, the path snaked one way then the other, leaving the Tahenkot only guessing where they should go next. It was at this moment when they stumbled into a hole which led outside onto a cliff overlooking the battlefield below.
"It's been decimated," the male said.
"This is bloody war," his captain agreed. She looked around. "But where are we in relationship to everything else?"
They were in the mountains, but they were supposed to be in a valley - a rich favorable valley where the Wang’ombe could rest and recuperate. "Did they destroy the entrance and open a new one?"
"Possibly ..." The captain paused. Warriors could be heard bellowing under them, and they had no place to go. "Have you recovered well enough yet?"
"Then we will make our last stand here."
They readied for battle, but as the first Biton charged through, he could not stop and barreled into the two Tahenkot forcing all three off the cliff and into mid-air. Clinging to one another, the Tahenkot shoved the Biton away towards the cliffs as they pushed farther away. Precious seconds ticked past as the captain and her subordinate fell. Only a little bit of magic was needed. Only a little would protect them.
Then, before them, a cloud appeared, and another on the desert landscape. Blackness descended and stars grew bright in the mid-day.
"Have we died?" the male inquired.
"I don't believe so," his captain answered. "We've fallen through space to another location." Magic surged into her finger tips, just enough to save them. She pushed her hand through the air and pointed it below. "Hypokine."
They slowed until they were able to land on the street below.
"Where are we?"
"In America," another male greeted. He eyed their clothes. "The comic convention is two streets over, by the way. I'm on my way there myself."
He wore a green tunic and brown pants. His hair was white and his ears pointed. He looked not unlike some of the races near where the Tahenkot lived. "I'm Tudor, by the way. Harry Tudor - family joke."
"Chrysalis," the captain answered.
"Birch," her subordinate said.
"You two related? You look like each other, and you have weird, but entirely cool, names."
"Siblings," Chrysalis confirmed. "This convention, you speak of, what is it?"
"Wow, you really get into character. I'd like to know where you got your sword from. It looks like it could kill. And the blood!" Harry Tudor started to walk past them. "The convention is a time when nerds and geeks can get together to party."
"Nerds and geeks must be a small tribe," Birch observed.
"We are, but were united," Harry Tudor assured them.
"Just where are we?" Birch asked, falling into step with Harry.
"Now, I realize it's not much; it's not New York or London, but Buffalo has its own charms."
Buffalo, New York, London - these words meant nothing to the Tahenkot. Chrysalis looked down at her hand. The tips of her fingers ebbed as the magic returned. At least the place had magic from which she could gather strength.
Harry Tudor seemed to know his way around, and her brother enjoyed talking. For once, Chrysalis saw not a warrior, but a seventeen-year-old boy. How many years had she lived? It felt like an eon, but it was ... what? Ah, yes, twenty-five. It was her birthday.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

2000 Years

Another story set in the world of the Glass Eyes. This story focuses on how those who can go through paintings handle others coming to their time period. Sometimes, it isn't pretty. 

The tall, blue-tinted male stood half-head taller than the woman sitting in a metal chair typing at a light-made keyboard before her tablet. Her glass desk was both easier to clean and more modern than the man preferred, but it suited the woman, Yannic Placida.
"What is it, Electoro?"
"A case, Ma'am."
The woman pressed a button on her tablet and the lights disappeared. Her eyes were strange mixture of blue and brown. Shepherd's eyes, she said, but unlike others who strolled the halls of Astrophil, this woman's eye colors were natural. She was what they called a Walker - one who could travel through time, space and imagination.
"What is the case?"
Electoro, a man from another world assigned to work in the past, handed the folder to his superior. There were only a handful of Walkers who worked for Astrophil and only their superior was native to both the time and location. The others were from other worlds or times. Many of them had wound up in the area with no knowledge of where they were. Their task was to find others who were like them and help them to adjust to their new lives.
Sometimes, though, things did not go according to plan.
Yannic swore softly as she finished the file. "What punk decided to run prints off a two thousand year old canister of Roman facial cream?!"
"He was one of the new members who thought it would be funny," Electoro answered. "They will be investigating his waste of materials."
"We can only hope." Yannic pushed back her hair and reached for her endless supply of coffee. "Where are we going?"
"North of Paris. Place called Noyon."
"Birthplace of Jean Calvin. That boy cried a riot when he was little."
"Should I ask how you know?"
"Used to date his cousin."
Whether or not she joked about it remained to be seen.
The town of Noyon was quite old and new at the same time. Though its history stretched back into Gallic times, the downtown remained oddly modern since its destruction during the First World War. At the edge of town was a privately run museum dedicated to Gaul and Roman artifacts. Inside was the laboratory which had run the fingerprints.
"Bonjour, Madame," a man greeted, stretching out his arm. "I'm Jean-Philippe."
"Yannic, and my friend Electoro."
Jean-Philippe didn't blink an eye at Electoro's appearance. Perhaps he had heard about the Walkers. After shaking hands with both, Jean-Philippe motioned to an elevator. "My office is upstairs."
It was comfortably furnished suiting the taste of a man who enjoyed Roman history with a reproduced mural and low Roman style sofas hugging a corner with a table in front of them. Here, tea waited for them along with folders.
"We were quite surprised when we saw the results," Jean-Philippe said. "My predecessor said to contact you in any case, but she never mentioned the reason."
"We deal in unique cases such as these," Yannic answered.
"Any reason why she sent him to Astrophil?" Electoro inquired.
"Georgette has a long history with Astrophil and doesn't like the European Eyes," Yannic explained opening the first of the folders.
Everything seemed to be in correct order, but the items didn't seem to fit either. "Did you disprove it being a plant?"
"We had considered the possibility after the prints came back positive, but upon investigating the photographs and ground, we can be reasonably certain the area wasn't disturbed recently."
"And how wide is this assurance?"
"Twenty years, after awhile everything looks the same."
"So it could be something more recent?"
Jean-Philippe shook his head. "The container itself dates it to the time period."
"Could someone have found a container from that time period? A history aficionado? An obsessive serial killer?"
"Possibly, but I wouldn't know how you prove that's the case." He leaned forward to tap on the folders. "I can see something like that happening with a case from thirty, forty years ago, but this one popped up recently. These, however, are much older than that."
"You've looked into all of them?"
Jean-Philippe grimaced slightly. "They just started arriving. Some of the detectives felt that we would be able to solve the case, but when it started becoming obvious the scale of the situation ...."
"You called for us."
"Mais oui."
Yannic sighed and leaned back in her seat.
Jean-Philippe poured tea for the three of them. "Georgette explained some of it to me, insisting it wasn't madness or insanity, but I didn't believe her until now. How do you capture a serial murderer who jumps through time?"
"Very carefully," Yannic answered. "When you have all of time and space at your disposal, killing becomes much easier to hide. Kill a person in 1920 New York on Monday only to go to the Paleolithic on Wednesday to do in someone else. Brilliant, if you ask me."
The males shifted uncomfortably.
"Do you think you can track him down?"
Looking up, Yannic blinked once. "Of course. It'll just take time."
"Which is something we don't have. If we cannot come up with a reasonable explanation, the police will let the public know the situation."
Yannic shrugged as she rose. "That is not a problem with which I concern myself. That would be your problem."
Outside in the hallway, she looked through her purse. "Strange."
"Forget something?"
"Not really, just ..." She shrugged. "Let's proceed."
The remainder of the museum was the odd mixture of modern style highlighting ancient artifacts. Standing in front of a series of Gallic-Romano pottery, Yannic leaned forward to look at the bowl in the front. "You every wonder why we find things in certain places?"
"Not really."
"Such as, what was the story that brought these bowls to be found in Noyon? Who were the people who lived here? Why were they here in the first place?"
"Is this going somewhere?"
Yannic smirked and straightened. "Are all your people like you?"
"I was an exception. My people are more like Bacchus."
"I've seen you drunk, and it makes sense now."
Electoro snorted. "What's the point of this conversation? I thought we were going to find the assistant who ran the prints."
"We are." Yannic turned. "He's been watching us for the past seven minutes while we wandered through here."
Electoro shook his head. "I don't sense him."
"You sense the living."
There was a man in the room sitting there, but he sat on a bench, apparently dozing.
Yannic pulled out one of the hairsticks keeping her brown hair off her neck. "I'd say ..."
"Less than twenty-four hours," Electoro answered as he left to inform the docent.
"What were you thinking, boy-of-mine?" Yannic whispered. "You could have kept them hidden away, but no, you chose to run the prints. Why?"
The dead did not speak.
"The police are on their way," Electoro informed her.
"What's so important about this place?" Yannic said. "What draws people to this place, again and again?"
"Did you visit here?"
"Several times. I've always loved France. Noyon has a special place in my heart. I've been a Roman woman wandering the countryside, a fashionable woman-about-town from Paris, one of the Impressionists and lived here during the War of the Three Henris."
"And ...?"
"When they run his prints, they'll probably find a match."
"How do you know?"
"I've lived countless lives, Electoro. In times past, women had children quite young, and my specialty, up until a few years ago, was to infiltrate time periods. I have descendants all around me, but no one would know this."
"But you know."
"I know. He's one of mine. A wanderer." The sirens wailed outside. "It doesn't answer the more important question."
"Why he did it?"
"Who put him up to it?"

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The God Door

Another story from the Forty Isles. This one is not set in any particular location or time period, but acts as an interesting slice of what life is like there.

The door was aged, elegantly carved and as I pushed, it swung silently open. A whisper would have been a scream.
My village had left me as the sacrifice for the God of the Woods. We practiced the paths of the Brotherhood, but with the advent of several natural disasters, some of the people remembered the God of the Woods. Maybe he was angry with them, the townsfolk had said.
Wamocha was his name, though no one remembered it.
I did, but that was because I enjoyed learning about the gods and goddesses around the town. The Brotherhood called me evil and threatened to send me away.
The townsfolk, it would seem, had the best idea - sacrifice me to the god they had forgotten in hopes that he would stop the disasters. If anything, it could prove his reality or something like that. Either way, I would be gone from their lives and no one would fear my intelligence or arguments.
All that had happened two days ago, and here I stood with my provisions nearly emptied, my body aching and my feet sore.
Should I enter or should I find a more hospitable place in deep dark woods, with night falling quickly. While I wasn't certain, I was fairly confident that a wolf or two was on my tail, too.
I entered the portal and the door closed. I knew because the room became suddenly dark then brightened as myriads of tiny dots on the walls began to glow and form into an intricate diamond shape, much like vines growing upon one another.
Turned out, the door led into a long hallway. No matter how far I walked, the path seemed endless. I began to suspect it was a circle when I left my bag on a chair, only to find it sometime later. "Bothersome," I retorted into the darkness. If this is some magical home of a wizard or fae, you would think they could provide directions."
"For what?"
I spun around. Behind me, a man stood. He was both young and old, a head taller than myself and darker than anything I could imagine. His skin was ebony, his eyes galaxies with tiny pinpricks of stars. Around his head he wore a garland of leaves and over his body he wore a robe belted at his waist. The garment was beautiful even as it was mysterious. It was a shade of black or blue, and appeared to be made with living stars.
"Ah, you like the robe," he rumbled. "It was a gift from a friend of mine. Gwion magic is always the best there is, I always say."
The Gwion were known for their beautiful tapestries and exotic clothing choices. The daughters and nieces of the current head of the Gwion were always on the fashion magazines most stylish list.
"Don't you have godly weavers?"
"We do," he agreed, never bothering to ask why I would assume he was a god. Maybe he knew already. "They charge enormous prices and the Gwion have better taste. Between you and me, I wish Alfny or Aoife would teach them a thing or two, but they can't seeing how the godly weavers are quite stubborn and set in their ways. Problem with being immortal - after two or three thousand years, you don't want to change."
He started walking down the hallway and turned left at a door. "Now, as for you. I would suppose you're hungry. Usually, the ones who make it this far are quite famished. There's food, but it's not the greatest, and I am uncertain what you like."
We entered a room where a table was set out in front of us. Fruits from all over the Forty Isles lay in golden and silver bowls, while the spicy scent of stewed beef simmering over a low flame wafted over from one of the four - four?! - fireplaces. The other three had roasted chicken with a mellow herbal scent, a melodic array of lavender and thyme on a fish, and a sultry pork and rice dish.
My stomach demanded attention and I hadn't even taken three steps into the room.
"Eat, of course, you must be hungry by now."
I dealt with a god, and all gods were never known to provide food. They ate godly food - whatever that was. "Can I?"
"Of course you can. It's all food. The house always provides food for the staff. I, of course, don't eat what the house provides. You'll have to prepare that yourself."
"Come again?"
"As the servant, you have to prepare the food for me. I can eat mortal foods, but somehow the way the house prepares it always gives me indigestion." He leaned closer. "Don't tell the house I said that - rather finicky, it is."
I knew how to cook, but I wasn't good at it. Nowhere near god level.
Wamocha didn't seem bothered by it though. Something else did bother him, though. He picked up a clump of my hair and let it drop down. "Are you quite old?"
I slapped his hand away. "I'm thirty-five, if you must know."
"Then why is your hair white?"
"I was born this way. I come from a family of very light-haired people."
He ignored the slap and the anger as he walked around me. "You're white." He looked past me towards the door. "Have I moved? It's been several years since I was beyond the forest."
"No," I sighed. "My father decided to move us into the nearby town because we were closer to other people who followed the Brotherhood."
Wamocha held up his hand. "Who?"
"The Brotherhood," I repeated. "The ones who follow the Most High God. The uncreated one?"
"I follow him as well seeing that he's my king and commander, but I don't understand why anyone would move a family from one place to another because of whom a group chooses to exclude from their pantheon of gods they acknowledge."
Was he jealous?
Could gods become jealous?
"Also, why it does not bother me at all, seeing that you appear to be quite capable and decently human. Why did they send a woman?"
I blinked twice. "You are bothered by the fact I am a woman?"
"Not at all, confused." He started walking to the table. "Are you going to eat, because if you don't the house will be hurt and will not allow you to find anything at all. I cannot allow my servants to become ill."
"About that, what if I don't want to be your servant?"
"Then you can go back out into the forest with those four wolves trailing you."
Four of them!
"What does the job entail?"
Wamocha blinked this time. "Everything - well, the house keeps itself clean so you don't have to worry about housecleaning. You'll have to cook my meals, but the house cleans the dishes. Primarily you'll have to help with the normal mundane things - organizing my writing, keeping up with correspondences, informing the various priests of my decisions, deciding where I need to visit and other items." He picked up a pineapple and sniffed it before putting it back on the table. "My last servant enjoyed himself."
"And when did he leave?"
"He died some years ago. Two hundred years? I was surprised a servant hadn't been sent in until you. Why did you come?"
"There are natural disasters in the town ..."
"Not me. That's the result of the twins have tantrums."
"I have no children. No the twins are actually my younger siblings. Rambunctious little know-it-alls. You'll have to deal with the family as well." He cocked his head. "Not certain what they'll think about you, though." He sighed. "I'll deal with that later. Mother will be pleased."
I rubbed my forehead, not wanting to deal with godly family issues just yet.
"Are you going to remain?"
If my stomach had any choice, gladly.
My brain, however was also working with my stomach - curse it. There were four wolves out there. I had no food. No idea which way to go or anything else. Logically, this was my best option, but I felt like I was being tricked into the position.
Unfortunately, I had nothing to return home too, either. I would have been sent away by the Brotherhood. At worst, they might even attempt to kill me.
I closed my eyes and sighed. "I'll remain as your servant." I opened my eyes. "I don't have to seal it with blood do I?"
Wamocha chuckled. "Just food. Honestly, it's the house's way of ensuring its knowledge of who is in here at any given time. What am I to call you, anyway?"
That night, I learned that the gods did exist, were rather friendly and inclined to forget punch lines in jokes, but could tell a good story regardless. As I gorged on stew, chicken, pineapples, chocolate cake and things I never knew what they were, I listened to Wamocha.
Maybe curiosity didn't kill the cat as the members of the Brotherhood had informed me countless times. Maybe curiosity provided the opportunity to find something better.