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Cube-shaped buildings loom near the banks of a wide river. The buildings are all of a grayish stone, coarse and pock-marked, but without large cracks or holes. Their roofs are of wood, all painted a different color. Together they form a large half circle against the river's edge, with many red-clay huts and driftwood shacks roughing up the edges.

Another half-circle of square buildings can be seen on the other side of the river, almost an exact mirror image of the first. Docks and boat launches on both sides reach out for the other like fingers.

Also mirrored on both sides of the river are two giant arches at the water's edge. Both are a third as wide as the city limits. The other bank of the river can be seen within the nearest arch, as if magnifying the view through the two arches, but the image is faint and insubstantial.

The horde of Goldenburg citizens gather along a hilltop overlooking the town and stare down at the city. One tall man stands at their front, his gold cloak billowing in the mid evening breeze. To their left, the sun sits well above the horizon and a land of rolling hills.

“At last.” The Count turns to Teal and Sudo behind him. “Sudo, have everyone rest. No one should leave the train. We will not enter the city until invited.”

Sudo nods. He whispers to a butler behind him, and glances back to the Count. “Sir, I will do my best, but the citizens are hungry.” The older man slips into the crowds.

Facing forward again, the Count sighs. “The problem is that we look like an invading army if we enter all together.” After a breath he chuckles. “Though we are an invading army, in some ways. And I am the army's general.” The Count glances back at Teal. “How does a general maintain order?”

She blinks. “You would ask me?”

He smiles. “I trust you, Paladin Teal.”

Teal frowns and looks away. She nods. “Give them a task. They could form up a rear-guard, or do an inventory, or clean their boots and cloaks. Keep everyone so busy preparing to enter the city that none of them thinks to do so.”

The Count nods and after a moment grins. He waves over the nearest butler. “Relay my words. All adult men shall form up in a wall facing behind us and to our sides, in case we have been followed. All city and palace guards will spread themselves among them. All adult women shall count their belongings and the belonging of their family, with a mind toward the value of those goods and what can be bartered. All children shall clean their own cloaks and the cloaks of those they traveled with. Everyone is responsible for giving their boots a good shining. We are citizens of Goldenburg, and we will not enter Riverside while defenseless, copperless, and dirty!”

The butler salutes and slips into the crowds. Another butler emerges to take their place.

Teal shrugs and stares at Riverside. “I will take my leave now, Count. I must go to the Queen.”

The Count spins around. “No!” He gulps and runs a hand back through his hair. “Teal, I – if you go, how will I keep order? When they see you walking away, the people may start to follow you.” She turns, as if to reply, but he doesn't stop there. “And when I must discuss the fate of Goldenburg's citizens with the Twin Lords, who else but you could speak of what happened in the city and why we had to flee?”

Teal frowns and looks down at the ground. She sighs as the Count continues speaking.

“And I promise, Teal. After we have settled that matter, I will do everything in my power to help you find your other children. We will defeat this Phoenix Army, rescue your children from them, build another orphanage, and.” He takes a breath and squares his shoulders. “And I will stay at your side throughout. I am finished as a ruler. I wish to stay forever at your side. That is, I – I love you, Teal.”

She nods. “I realize.” Teal looks up at his face. “Stay as their ruler. They need you now more than ever.” She stares down at her feet again. “I do not need you. I have used your emotions many times. I was able to take advantage of you because I do not feel the same as you. Nor did I learn to feel that way, though I had thought it possible. So I think I just need to say this.” Her gaze travels up to his chest, but stops there. “I don't love you. Please find someone else to love.”

Teal bows her head a little, stands straight, and turns on her heel to walk away. Sorrow steps out of the crowds, shakes the Count's hand, and follows Teal.

The citizens of Goldenburg stop milling about; they all start moving in different directions. After a look down at Riverside, the men turn to walk back the way they came. The women find open spaces of grass; they unpack bags, sorting through clothing and household items and family memorabilia. Children run among them all, shouting names and grasping at cloaks.

Sudo wanders back through the organized chaos and stops at the Count's side. The older man harrumphs. “Your new orders are working well, sir. The citizens no longer look like hawks, but more like ants.”

The Count nods. “Sudo, if I told you to stop someone, how would you do it?”

The older man blinks. He rubs his wooden leg against the ground for a moment. “Kill them. Maim them. Poison them. Each of those three has a set of options, but circumstances change the options.”

The younger man shakes his head. “If it was someone I – someone you loved, how would you stop them?”

Sudo's eyes go wide. He stares down at Riverside, and then to the Count. The old butler grins, the lines on his face deepening to a web of wrinkles. His mouth opens and he laughs, loud and shrill. Eyes in the crowd turn, but he doesn't stop.

The Count turns and frowns. “Why are you laughing?”

The old butler nods and grows quiet. He stands straight again, wiping tears from his eyes, still grinning. “Sir, there is nothing you can do in such a situation.” His eyes are cold and distant. “Perhaps you should consider that I couldn't stop the mother of my child from leaving.”

The Count winces. “Sudo, I.” He shakes his head and sighs. “My mind is not – Sudo, please forget I said anything.”

“Agreed, sir.” Sudo reaches up and pats the Count on the shoulder. “Take your own orders. Rest for a while. Set all other thoughts aside. I will send a runner to the Twin Lords; you must be ready for the negotiations to come. Remember that you are the Count, a ruler of men. Not a man ruled by emotions.”

“Yes, Sudo.” The Count turns, crosses his arms over his chest, and stares down at Riverside. “Thank you.”

“Of course, sir.”

Teal marches into Riverside, her bark helm under her arm. Every gray stone building is separated from the other by twenty helms or more. There is no visible difference between streets and alleys, though the corners of buildings have signs with names like 'Paddy E' and 'Cod N.'

Carts and wagons pulled by thin ebony horses trundle between the dark buildings, squeezing past each other when they meet. The grim men and women at the reins make rapid hand signals to each other, only calling out commands to their horses or a grunting warning before they come to a corner.

Teal approaches the first person she finds on foot, an old human woman with a full basket of brown and yellow potatoes.

“Excuse me, ma'am.” The old woman turns and Teal gives a stern nod. “May I know where your city's Rift Circle is?”

The woman's fingers come alive, making a dozen signs in one long gesture. Then she sighs and shakes her head. “You seek Rift? Walk toward Arch. Find near there.”

Teal bows her head. “Thank you.” The paladin eyes the basket of potatoes. “And if you would wish to sell those, there is a large group of Goldenburg's survivors outside the city who would buy them all.”

The woman frowns. “More of them?” Teal nods and the old woman clucks and walks away. Frowning now too, Teal turns toward the center of the city.
High War - Chapter 20.1

Chapter 20 begins! (and no, I'm not late. My weekend went until Monday this week) Riverside is an interesting little city. The tone of it tends to vary based on whether the two sides are connected. If that big archway were working, people would be able to cross between the two sides of the river instantly just by walking through, and the city takes on a happier tone because of it. As it is, people can only see the other side, not instantly travel there. But this has led to the creation and rapid adoption of a sign language among the citizens, which allows them to at least communicate with the other side of the river very quickly. Oh, and those gray-stone buildings? Those are rebar-reinforced concrete walls; the Riverside citizens did not build them, they wouldn't know how, but they now make use of them.

This is a part of my High War project, a story set in a fantasy-ish world. I think my preview image comes from a free image site; if you know otherwise then please tell me so I can take it down, although I would be happier to use it with the permission of its creator. This will be a story for somewhat mature audiences; there will be occasional violence, language, and adult themes. Thanks for reading, and I'm always happy to discuss the chapter if you have a comment for it.


Next: soon ...

“Who's your daddy?” the studio audience shouted as one. They sat in their bleacher seating, watching the stage with smiling faces. The cameras panned around to the five of us.

“Welcome back, folks.” Gerald, the only one not sitting, smiled for the lens. “It's time for the results of our paternity test.” He grinned, his mic held just below those gleaming teeth. “But first, let's go over our potential new dads.”

In the seats next to me, Brad sighed and Devon gulped. Brad was white, dressed in baggy shorts and a basketball jersey, and had a gaudy gold earring. Devon was black, wore a suit I was guessing he had borrowed or rented, and smelled like too much aftershave.

“Potential daddy number one,” Gerald said, pointing to the screen that was the entire backdrop of the stage. “Brad Havermier!”

Brad's video began behind us. “Yo! I'm Brad!” His giant face scowled at us. “And I am not the father! We did it once in a hot tub! She said she was on the pill! And I pulled out!” His beefy arms punched at the sky. “She's a liar!” The Brad on the stage also punched at the ceiling.

The audience made a mix of low boos, chuckles, and clapping. Earlier in the show Brad had revealed he had a steady job and aspirations of becoming a rapper, so some of the audience was on his side now.

“I did not say I was on the pill.” Latisha had appeared on screen, calm and rolling her eyes. “Brad is full of it. But he might be the daddy.” Sitting on the other side of the stage, with tears dripping from her eyes, the real-life Latisha nodded. She wore a tight black dress over her chocolate-skin and curvy frame.

“Potential daddy number two.” Gerald winked for the camera. “Devon Lobben!”

“Hi. I'm Devon.” Devon's video was of him sitting at a table, with an older woman holding his hand and glaring at him. “Me and Latisha dated for a while. But we broke it off. Then she just showed up again one night. I think that's when it happened.” On the stage, Devon's shoulders slumped.

The audience laughed and cheered. Earlier Devon had revealed he didn't have a place of his own, or a job. But he had a bachelor's degree, and he had said from the start that he would raise the kid as best as he could, if it was his.

Latisha appeared on screen again. “Devon and I dated for five years. I know I can always ask him for advice. The day after hooking up with Brad, I went to ask Devon what to do if I was pregnant.” She sighed. “From there, things sort of happened. So Devon might be the daddy too.”

“Potential daddy number three.” Gerald frowned and shook his head for the camera. “Clarence Hightengale.”

“Okay. Okay.” The on-screen Latisha sighed, and stared at the camera. “There might be another daddy.”

“Hello, sexy ladies.” My face, wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and a fedora, grinned at the audience. “I will be very happy if I am the father. Another Clarence in the world will be a blessing for all the sexy ladies of the future.” In the video, I shrugged. “But I am too much a frisky tiger to be tied down to one lady. Miss Latifa will begin receiving her mother money if a child of mine is born.”

The audience jeered and booed. I leaned back in my chair, crossed one leg over the other, spread my arms wide, and shrugged.

Gerald rubbed his hands together and smirked for the camera. “Tony. Bring out the results.”

A thickneck wearing all black sauntered out from the backstage and handed Gerald a slip of paper. Tony got some applause as he glared down at the three of us. Brad bristled and gripped his armrests, while Devon shrank down into his chair.

“Devon,” murmured Gerald, unfolding the paper. “You are not the daddy.”

The audience gasped. Variations on “No!” and “Awww” could be heard coming from them. Gerald had really done his job of making them love Devon. They didn't really know him; according to the pre-tape investigating, the guy was a small-time drug dealer with several minor offense charges.

Devon's gaze lifted to the ceiling and he whispered something. He tried to stand, but Tony held up a hand.

“Clarence.” Gerald stared at me. His lips became a thin, straight line. “You are not the daddy.”

I smirked for the camera and pumped my fist. The audience cheered and went back to smiling and chatting with each other again. Brad was looking pale.

“Brad.” Gerald revealed his biggest smile for the camera. “You are the daddy!”

The show “winner” stood, pushed Tony aside, and walked off the stage. Tony followed him, and the cameras went soon after, broadcasting their walk out live on the big screen. In a back hall, Tony caught up with Brad and put a hand on his shoulder. Brad spun around and threw a punch; Tony caught the blow in his palm.

“Is that how you're gonna be?” Tony's chin mic caught everything he said. “You messed up. Now you gotta be a daddy. Get that through your skull.”

Tears dripped down Brad's face. “I can't, man!” His voice was thin and weak through Tony's mic. “I'm dumb! How can I be some kid's father? Look at me, man! I'm not cut out to raise nobody!”

Tony shook his head and reached over to squeeze Brad's shoulder. “No one thinks they're ready. Are you gonna make excuses? You got someone pregnant. That makes you a daddy.”

“Yeah, well.” Brad wiped his eyes and sniffed. “That Devon guy seems smart, and everybody likes him. He should raise the kid, not me.”

“Bull.” Tony put his arm around Brad's shoulder and walked him back the way they had come. “I never met my real dad. And I hated my step-dad. Is that what you want?”

The sound from backstage cut out. Gerald turned away from the big screen and nodded with a soft smile for the camera. His face appeared on the big screen, following him live, with a caption 'Gerald's Final Thought.'

“Not everyone is ready to be a parent. Maybe no one is. But when the news comes and our role is decided, it can take everything we have to stand up and say, yes, I will. The road is long and we will falter, but the path is wide and well-traveled. That very first decision we make, to honor our responsibility and fulfill our duty, shows the potential we have to be a mature adult. That decision may be the bravest choice we will ever make. Good night, folks.”

I sighed. The Applause light above turned bright red, and the studio audience complied. The show credits would be rolling. Off to one side Gerald was whispering between Latisha and Brad, his hands on their shoulders. Probably promoting his latest parenting book.

It was time for Clarence's Final Thought. I stood with a back-stretching hip-thrust, pointed a finger-gun at a random woman in the front row, and winked. The crowd booed, but the cameras ate me up.

“Are you for real?” Devon stared up at me, still sitting in his chair. “I can't figure how Latisha met you. And her name is Latisha, by the way.”

I spun around and smiled down at him. The show was over, and our voices wouldn't be recorded now. “It's been interesting working with you as well, sir. I'm sorry you weren't the daddy.”

He gaped up at me. I looked back over my shoulder at the audience, slapped my ass for them, and blew on the hand. This audience booed louder, but I knew the audience at home would be rolling with laughter.

“Acting is a tough gig.” Only Devon would hear me at this range. “But every story needs its villain.”

The corners of Devon's lips curled up. “Normally I hate being played.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “It's true. I do hate Clarence more than Brad.”

The stage lights dimmed and the cameras went dark. Ushers came in from the sides to guide the studio audience out. Finally I could truly relax.

I sat back down in my chair and took a sip from my water. “Exactly. And if you had been the father, I would have been someone else.” Sawyer Tildon, a lawyer too smart for his own good, with a cold ego to match. I almost wish Devon had been the daddy. Clarence was fun, but Sawyer was deep.

Devon stood from the chair and scratched his head. “I won't ask who.” He glanced down at me. “Thanks.”

Tony tapped on Devon's shoulder. For a big guy, he was light on his feet. “Follow me. I'll take you outside.”

Devon shrugged and walked off with him. I closed my eyes. Another show in the can.
Short - Acting Is A Tough Gig
I ... don't know what this is. A character piece? The start of a novel? I don't know yet. But I do know exactly where it came from: a childhood spent watching too much Maury and Springer. Also! Some little snippet I overheard at work the other day, something like, "They're at Sakura's pregnancy test now." Of course, Sakura to me is an anime name, and I associate it strongest with Naruto. Which was kinda an awesome thing to overhear but know nothing more about. A pregnancy test, in anime? Somehow I couldn't imagine it. But I could hear Maury in my head, "It's time for the results of our pregnancy test." But who would the narrator be? An actor, pretending to be one of the potential fathers. And there we have the piece.

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In the room of hanging cocoons, the Drunk wanders amongst the people standing idle at the walls. He waves his hand in front of their eyes, blows in their ears, and pinches a few feminine backsides. Nothing that he does causes them to move.

O-Rem and Wo-Yang pass through the illusory wall. The Drunk crouches down behind some of the motionless people, watching them. The innkeeper's hands are held up, his fingers curled into claws, while the armored man has his greatsword ready.

The large innkeeper thumps farther into the room and lifts a hand to the nearest cocoon. “Nothing is disturbed. My troublesome guest may have left here, but he cannot escape. My Inn is locked down.” He turns to Wo-Yang. “Search every room. Find him. Discretely kill him.”

The armored man bows his head. “Yes, sir. And if he's spoken to his companions?”

O-Rem grunts. “Knock them out. I will decide whether to modify their memories or add them to the stock.”

Wo-Yang sighs. “Yes, sir.”

The Drunk steps out of hiding. “Ya may as well stay here, lad. I won't run.” The two other men gape and turn as he takes a swig from his hip flask. “Sounds like there's some evil afoot.” He returns the flask to its pocket, pulls out a heavy golden ring, and takes off his shawl of furs to hangs it on the back of a motionless person. “I'll have ta put a stop ta that.” He walks toward the other two.

The innkeeper points his finger at the Drunk and snaps his fingers, producing a sound like nails on a chalkboard. Every person at the room's walls lifts their head, settling their glassy eyes on the Drunk. The common workers pull out knives and clubs, while the guards ready their weapons. They advance on the Drunk.

Wo-Yang braces his feet, pulls back his greatsword for a swing, and whispers, “We are water. Water flows through.” He vanishes and appears behind the Drunk.

The bare-chested man catches the armored man's wrist and stops the blow coming for his neck. The Drunk twists his upper body and slams Wo-Yang against the floor. The armored man gasps and drops his sword, and the bare-chested man kicks him. Wo-Yang flies across the room and crashes against a section of the oncoming horde.

“Please, lad.” The Drunk turns to O-Rem and smiles. “Stop this while ya can.” As the crowds converge around him and swing from every angle, the Drunk darts through them in a blur and stops in front of O-Rem. His fingers close into a fist, around which flames appear as he pulls back. “We'll go for drinks.” He holds his fist, waiting for the other man's answer.

The crowd of people turn as one toward the Drunk, but O-Rem snaps his fingers and they become still. The heavyset innkeeper shakes his head. “You have seen too much, my troublesome guest.” His hands contort into claws and he speaks sharp, echoing words.

Solid red spikes pierce out through the bare-chested man's skin, then melt and splash down to the floor. He coughs, staggers backward, and sways on his feet. “We can drink ta forget.” The flames around his fist disappear. The Drunk coughs up blood and drops to his knees.

O-Rem smiles. “You should have stayed hiding, my friendly fool.” Lightning sheathes his arms and gathers in the palms of his hands.

The Drunk shakes his head and smiles. “A bondman of the Rose does not hide.”

The innkeeper sticks his claw fingers into the bare-chested man's shoulders, who bellows as the lightning arcs through him, blistering his skin. The blood on the floor around him boils and evaporates; the red mist clings to the skin stitching itself together again. In a second he looks whole and uninjured, though he remains on his knees, his eyes half-closed.

The heavyset innkeeper's form wavers in the lightning's brief flash. The air cracks around him and falls away. A squat and hulking body is revealed, with green and slimy skin. The thing's head is large and bulbous, with bright red eyes.

“Annoying feedback.” The large humanoid grimaces, and then stares down. “But what are you, my troublesome guest?”

“Old is all I know, lad.” The Drunk chuckles, his voice dry. “Though I know what you are. I was once wed ta an ogre.”

Multiple clear lids come in from the sides of O-Rem's large eyes and back again. “Unlikely, but not impossible.” He squints and tilts his head to the side. “There is a most powerful spell nuclei within you, my strange guest. I will study it before killing you.”

Wo-Yang appears six helms behind the Drunk. He shoves his longspear through the kneeling man's back and out through his chest. No blood sprays out. Wo-Yang breathes out a sigh. “That should kill him, sir.” He pulls out his longspear. No blood is sticking to the blade.

The bare-chested man snarls, baring sharp teeth at the ceiling, eyes closed tight. Flame rolls out from its clenched fist to enshroud its entire body. Its skin burns and heals, again and again. Standing, the infernal Monster licks its lips and smiles.

“What have you done?” O-Rem glares at Wo-Yang. “Now I must subdue it again! Stand back, idiot!”

The Monster pulls back for an uppercut aimed at the ogre's large stomach. The ogre's cheeks bulge and let out a croak, sending the Monster flying backwards and extinguishing the flames. O-Rem scratches two clawed fingers together; the crowd of people raise their weapons in a wall of pointed steel. The Monster crashes through them and rolls against the floor, swords and daggers now sticking from its back.

“Grand-uncle, allow me to help!” Wo-Yang pleads.

O-Rem grunts. “You are useless. You do nothing but try to seduce the lower races.” He sighs and shakes his head. “My brother should never have allowed a half-breed son to live, never mind it couple with yet another human slave and produce something one-quarter that of a true ogre.”

“What? No. You have it all wrong.”

O-Rem and Wo-Yang turn to the doorway as Klax pokes his head through the illusory wall. Zarah is on their side of the wall and shaking her head, one hand on her hips.

“Us halfies aren't lesser. We're the best of both.” The half-human points her Cleaver at Wo-Yang. “I mean, look at that beautiful face!” She grins at O-Rem. “Haven't you ever heard of inbreeding, you fat toad?”

He snarls at Wo-Yang, “They've seen the room! Now you must kill them!” The innkeeper thumps after the Monster. The crowd of people close ranks behind.

Zarah sighs. “Are my insults not good enough any more? When did everyone stop caring?”

Klax stares around the room, his white eyes widening and his jaw slack. He taps on Zarah's arm. “Miss Zarah, I know what is happening here. You must do something for these people.”

The sound of the Monster bellowing comes from across the room. Klax turns toward the sounds, but the crowds between are packed tight. Between them and the crowds, Wo-Yang raises his longspear.

Zarah glares down at the Small Folk. “I told you, I don't save people. I kill - ”

Wo-Yang appears behind Klax, the spear coming toward his neck. Zarah brings the long handle of her Cleaver down to smack the spear shaft, so the blade of the longspear pierces through Klax's shoulder rather than his windpipe. The white light in Klax's eyes fades, and he whimpers and tries to move. His upper body remains held fast by the spear.

Turning on her heel, Zarah chops down toward the spear's shaft. Wo-Yang tugs the spear free and steps away, so Zarah's Cleaver only cuts deep into the floor.

She glares at him. “What are you doing?”

He shrugs. “A warrior should deal with healers before all others. Is that not recognized?”

Klax stumbles forward and falls on his hands and knees. “Light, please grant me your fortitude.” A cloak of white light settles around him, and he takes a ragged breath. Blood squirts from the open wound as he crawls forward.

Zarah pulls her Cleaver free of the floor and swings the large sword at Wo-Yang. He eyes the coming strike and ducks down below. She stops the blade above him, spins it, and chops downward. Wo-Yang grunts and rolls to the side, dropping his longspear with the dodge. Behind the crowds, another bloody roar is heard from the Monster.

“You are stronger than you look, milady.” Wo-Yang pulls out the metal gauntlet, slips it on, and then retrieves his whip of many heads. He shakes out the loops, letting the heads rustle and scrape against the floor. “Or you have a magic weapon.”

He strikes at her with the whips. Zarah shelters behind her wide blade. He pulls back again and whips her, giving the handle a small twist. The heads spread apart and wrap around the Cleaver's handle, stinging against Zarah's hands. Wo-Yang jerks the large sword free of her hands, and it hits the ground with a loud thump.

“I don't want to kill you, milady.” He pulls out his truncheon and steps forward to stand atop the fallen Cleaver. “But I am commanded to do so. Escape now and I will say I could not stop you.”

Rubbing her hand, Zarah glances over at Klax. The Small Folk rolls over and lays on his back, whispering to himself, one glowing hand pressed against his fading wound. Zarah grins at Wo-Yang. “I'm not beat yet.” Her smile stretches from ear to ear. “Hold steady. There's something I've wanted to try.”

She darts in a half-circle around him, raising her fist high as she stops behind his back. He spins and raises the truncheon to parry, but the phantom blue knife that appears in her hand passes through and swipes down across his armored chest. The glowing knife remains in Zarah's hand, wavering a little. Wo-Yang growls and looks down, but his armor is unbroken.

“Why does it hurt?” He grimaces and steps back from her. “There is no wound.”

Zarah shrugs. “Apparently the wound is on your soul. Or something.” She stares at him, her eyes squinting. “I can almost see it. I got your heart.”

Wo-Yang grimaces and pulls up on the whip. The handle of Zarah's Cleaver lifts off the ground and he grasps it, dropping the whip and the truncheon to wield her Cleaver in both hands. “Heavy. Unbalanced. But sturdy.” He turns the sword on Zarah and spreads his feet. “I like your large sword.”

She snorts and giggles. “That's my line.” Turning her side to him, she raises the phantom knife up like a fencer, as Scarfenstein crawls down her other arm to her hand. “Kill or be killed. That's how we'll do this.”

He smiles. “I do not want a warrior's death. I will die in bed, surrounded by concubines.”

From beyond the crowds, a loud yip is heard. Zarah and Wo-Yang charge at each other. He swings the Cleaver at her neck. She kicks high and punts the massive sword up where it sticks in one of the hanging canvas sacks. He lets go of the sword and rushes closer. She tumbles back and tosses Scarfenstein at him. He ducks under and pulls back his gauntlet fist to punch her chest. She gasps and her eyes bulge, an audible snap heard from her ribcage.

He tackles her and they fall to the ground, him on top. She stabs him with the blue knife, down below his belly. He whimpers, stands again, and limps away from her toward his longspear. She grimaces and tosses the knife, which flies through the air and shatters against the back of his head. He falls forward and hits the floor, his hand atop his spear, surrounded by his weapons. She lays back, gasping for air.

Klax bends down over her, twin halos around his hand and his hand. “You have a punctured lung. Do not move.” His hand reaches out to hover over her chest. “Light, please return the bones to where you placed them and make them sturdy. Heal the tissue of bruises and tears. All this I humbly ask, O Light.”

His hand glows a bright white. Zarah grimaces, then sighs and relaxes. Beyond the crowds, a ear-splitting yell is heard.

The pierced canvas sack hanging above them tears open, and Zarah's Cleaver falls to the floor. Something else falls beside it, with brown paper-thin skin, a skeletal body, and sunken eyes.

The mummified thing stares at Zarah. “Thank. You.” Its eyes close as it lets out a final gasp.

Zarah turns to look at Klax, her eyes wide. “What the fuck.”

The Small Folk nods. “Light tells me they are making Coma here. The process involves keeping someone in a paralytic state until they are gripped by endless waking nightmares. If the body is provided nourishment, and waste is removed, the process can go on for years before the victim dies.” He nods his head up at the ceiling and the many hanging canvas sacks. “With Light's aid, some of them may survive.” Tears drip from his eyes and he sniffs. “Please, Zarah. Help me save them.”

Scarfenstein scurries back to her trembling hand. Zarah stands and takes a deep breath. “In a moment.” She whips Scarfenstein out, where the cloth wraps around the Cleaver's handle and pulls the sword to her hand. “The toad signed for its death.”

O-Rem stands tall, looking down. The Monster lays curled up at his feet, hands against its bleeding ears. The crowds stand in a circle around them, motionless and staring at the floor. O-Rem forms a ring with his thumb and pointer finger, then pokes a claw from his other hand through. The Monster cries out as its right eyes opens and the hazy eyeball pops like an exploding yellow cherry.

The large innkeeper smiles. “I haven't used that spell in years. Even tadpoles can resist it.” He does it again, and the Monster's other eyeball pops, as the first one forms again within the socket. “You have zero resistance to magic. Or your body accepts it without trying to resist.” The second eye reforms and O-Rem grunts. “Yet you have amazing cell-regeneration. You would make an excellent combat dummy for young mages.”

The Monster growls, sniffs at the air, and whines. It scratches at the floor with the nails of its hands and feet. The hand clenching the gold ring curls in tight to its chest, while the other arm extends to swipe at O-Rem's thick green feet.

The innkeeper steps back and speaks a few guttural words. The Monster's shaggy black hair crawls from its head and lengthens, twisting around the Monster's hands and legs to bind it. O-Rem stares down at the Monster's bare head; two long, pointed ears are revealed, until new hair grows out again to cover them.

O-Rem snorts. “Are you part goblin?” He shakes his head and sighs. “Well, your spell nuclei won't extract itself.” The ogre scratches two nails together. “Sword.”

Everyone in the crowds holding a sword offer the weapon up. The handle of Wo-Yang's greatsword catches O-Rem's eye, and the ogre reaches for it. He grasps the large weapon in one clawed hand and holds it aloft, blade poised to fall. O-Rem smiles down at the Monster.

“I wonder if you will regenerate and become two after being split in half.”

His hand drops as a black blur races past, running atop the shoulders and heads of the crowd. O-Rem's hand slashes down and stops above the Monster, but the greatsword is gone. He stares at the empty hand, and then up at the crowds.

Zarah bashes her way toward the circle. She wields her Cleaver in one hand and Wo-Yang's greatsword in the other, and uses them as large shields to force her way through.

O-Rem scratches two fingers together. The crowds turn and swing their short swords and club at her. She can block many of the them with the wide swords, but she takes several glancing blows along her arms and shoulders. Her eyes remain focused on the ogre, who glares at her.

“Why are you not dead?' He smiles, showing many square, flat teeth. “No. I will not ask why Wo failed.”

Zarah leaps at him, swinging her Cleaver overhand. The ogre waves a hand and a orb of water appears, floating in the air. The Cleaver splashes into the orb, which freezes, stealing the sword from her grasp.

“The answer is obvious.” O-Rem grins at Zarah. “His human blood.”

The half-human frowns. “Really?” She holds the greatsword in both hands. “A racist too?” She slashes across the ogre's chest, but the weapon slides off without cutting. “I had enough reason to kill you.”

The ogre shakes his head and mutters a few words. Several exact duplicates step out of the crowd around him, shaking their heads and laughing. They pass in front of each other, hands held up as claws.

Zarah frowns. The tip of the greatsword drops lower, dragging against the ground. She slashes across the front of the nearest mimic, which falls backward, blood spraying as the illusion around it shatters and a tall human cook appears.

The other mimics laugh, pointing at her. They speak a few guttural words as one, and many blobs of green goo fly from their outstretched claws. Zarah grunts and raises the sword up to block with the wide blade. Several hit her, but shatter and vanish, as the rest hit the blade. One starts sizzling against the steel.

The Monster wobbles to its feet between them. It grumbles, sniffs at the air, and turns to face Zarah with a small grin, licking its lips. It punches upward, smashing the floating ice holding Zarah's Cleaver, and takes the large sword in one hand. In one breath it is standing before Zarah, her own sword coming for her throat.

She blocks with the wide edge of Wo-Yang's greatsword, and a large crack appears in the acid-eaten blade. Even so the blow sends her flying backwards to smash against the crowds.

“Light, please send a proxy of your star.” Klax's voice comes from beyond the crowds. A large globe of dim light appears near the ceiling. “Light, your proxy star has been seen by the faithful. As your star rises in the east, so shall your light touch all that lives. Please bring healing to all that you behold!”

The globe of light becomes brighter. The cuts and scratches on Zarah disappear, and the slashed cook on the floor stops bleeding. The mimics all look up at the ceiling, frowning. The Monster turns around with a roar, shielding itself from the light with the wide blade. It stares around, searching the crowd.

“Don't like it?” Zarah saunters up beside the Monster and points at O-Rem. “Get him.”

The Monster swats at her with the Cleaver, but the attack is slow. Its scowling face is turned towards O-Rem.

“Not me!” Zarah complains, ducking below the swipe. “That's mine, by the way.”

She grabs the handle and wrests the blade from its grip. The Monster snarls, but then clenches its fist, which starts to burn. Soon its whole body is aflame again; it smiles, its skin burning and reforming. The Monster and Zarah stalk toward O-Rem.

The mimics scratch their fingers together. The crowds around turn towards the two and raise their weapons. Zarah smiles, defending herself from the rain of blows, both wide swords flashing around her. The Monster does nothing, allowing them to burn themselves on its aura of flame. It grabs a stone rolling pin coming for its face and throws it; the missile shatters against O-Rem's chest, causing the ogre to flinch as he was starting to point a claw at the two.

“Light, please wake from sleep all that you survey!” Klax's voice comes again. The globe of light above dims, and then brightens. The crowds stumble and falter. Some fall to their knees, or backwards onto the person behind them.

The Monster squints and blinks under the light above. It flashes forward and punches O-Rem; all of the false mimics shatter. A web of red cracks spread outward across the real ogre's chest. The Monster takes a grip on the cracks, lifts the ogre up into the air by them, and turns to slam his face into the floor. O-Rem bellows, but then all the air is forced from his body as the Monster kicks him at Zarah.

Her eyes go wide. Zarah ducks down and raises the two large swords up in front of her. The flailing ogre hits like a heavy sack of meat. Wo-Yang's greatsword shatters along its crack, but so does the armor skin around the ogre. Zarah's Cleaver bites into him, almost cutting through his arm.

Before O-Rem can fall atop Zarah, the Monster flashes through the air and punches him, the flames around its fist expanding to cook the ogre's backside. Zarah's Cleaver cuts all the way through his arm and the ogre flies away to smash against the wall and slump to the floor.

Zarah raises her head, blinking. “Did we win?”

O-Rem raises his head and coughs. “This is nothing.” His remaining arm raises, palm facing the room and everyone in it. “Die now.”

The Monster appears as he speaks in the guttural language. The Monster's hand, flattened like a spade, cuts into the ogre's other shoulder and separates the remaining arm from his body.

A cone of gray mist bursts out from the sheared shoulder, spraying against the walls. One mote of mist hits a person standing at the far edge of the crowds; they shrivel up and implode into gray smoke, only their clothes left behind.

O-Rem opens his mouth, starting to speak. The Monster shoves its hand down the ogre's throat, grabs his tongue, and pulls it from the mouth. O-Rem's eyes roll back and the ogre collapses. The Monster howls, fists raised in the air. It brings the long tongue to its jaws and gobbles it down.

As the crowds continue to fall to the ground, Klax becomes visible behind them. His body shines as the Small Folk points up at the globe of light. “Light, please take back your fire from the Monster. Please heal the wounds his body hides. Please strengthen your efforts to wake him from madness.” Klax falls to one knee. “All this. I ask. O Light.” He collapses down on the floor. The globe of light shines brighter than before.

The aura of flame around the Monster vanishes. It howls, standing to scowl at the fallen Small Folk. The Monster flashes towards Klax, but slow along the way, trudging when it gets below the globe of light. It slumps down to its knees, extends one hand as if to crush the Small Folk ahead of it, but then falls as well.

Zarah stands in the middle of every collapsed person, looking around. “Okay. Now what?”

Priests in black scurry around the room, tending to the people huddled at the walls and carrying mummified bodies out. They grin and laugh as they go about their grim work. The illusory wall is gone, and in front of it, the whip and truncheon remain. The longspear has vanished.

Her arms folded, Zarah stands beside Klax. The Small Folk holds his hand over each body being lowered from the ceiling cocoons by the many common workers and guards. Some he directs to the side, where they are being placed on cots. The rest go to the priests in black.

The Drunk takes his shawl from someone, chuckling and patting their shoulder. He returns to Zarah and sighs. “Would ya know why my mouth tastes awful, lass?” She shakes her head.
High War - Chapter 19.4

Fight scenes, no matter how much I love them, take a long time. First of all, they go longer. A normal talky scene (normal as compared to a quick transition scene) can take anywhere from three to five pages, but “boss battles” can take six to eight pages easily. Secondly, they are harder. I have to balance a) both sides making mistakes, b) both sides doing cool stuff, c) neither side keeping the advantage for long. The heroes need to fail and get hurt occasionally, even though I want to write them as Mary Sues who do everything perfectly. I'm fighting myself, trying to shock myself, trying to push myself. So despite the time they take … I kind of want to do a story some day that is literally all fight scenes.

This is a part of my High War project, a story set in a fantasy-ish world. I think my preview image comes from a free image site; if you know otherwise then please tell me so I can take it down, although I would be happier to use it with the permission of its creator. This will be a story for somewhat mature audiences; there will be occasional violence, language, and adult themes. Thanks for reading, and I would be happy to discuss this chapter with you.



This is a true apocalypse. Not one of those pretend ones where a lot of people die and the world goes on without them. Where the world is brown and dusty for a while before life returns in a miracle of green. Where everyone goes back to leather armor and handmade weapons and banditry. The bomb didn't drop, a scientist didn't break reality, someone's god didn't vanish their faithful.

The End began with a wedding. A man - the hero of a thousand worlds, who defeated the forces of anti-life, who beat all odds with the courage of his conviction - stood atop a dais with his love at his side. She was no longer human, or so they say. After their vows were said, as their lips met and the audience cheered, she faded into faux light. And the audience became silent. And the man walked home.

Many years later, the man wandered the lands alone and forgotten. His cloak was brown and ragged, his walking staff topped by a shining blade. The story goes that the hero of the last war met a small child playing in the dirt atop a hill. To the young boy he taught a simple lesson of peace, courage, and ideals. In the distance behind him, mankind's spaceships leapt for the heavens on a voyage of exploration and new adventures. After watching them pierce the heavens, the old man walked away.

The hands of every clock froze. That was the End. Time ceased.

No one grew hungry or thirsty. No one could move or speak. No one needed to sleep, or could do so. But we could still think and see and remember. Some claim they could move their eyes. And so we observed the world around us, which had become still as well. Birds hung in the air. Insects waited above bright flowers. Carnivores stared at their prey.

Little by little, Time started moving again. Time, after all, exists because we observe the world around us. But Time did not come equally to everyone and everywhere.

The first was a truck driver. He had been sitting atop the cabin of his rig on the side of the road, waiting to watch the spaceships leave. We can guess what he was thinking. What will a road mean, when mankind lives among the stars? Is this the end for me? Is that dark voyage our future? When Time began again to move for him, he sighed, shook his head, climbed back inside his truck, and drove onward to his destination.

Wherever the driver traveled, Time began again for everyone and everything he saw. Whomsoever was moved by him, moved others as well. Time spread like a virulent disease, bringing back to the world pain and rot and death. But there was hope as well. No one knows for how long our world's Time was stopped. We now hoped Time would not freeze again.

The second of these unfreezing events took place within a cave deep below the earth's surface. Mankind had once hidden in such sites, and now a sole undiscovered village remained. There lived a girl who dreamed of that thing which some still called the blue sky; her sky had always been the brown dirt and shadows of the cave roof. When Time began again to move for her, she gasped for a lungful of air and grasped her drill. Despite the warnings of her friends and the fear of her village's leaders, she aimed high and broke the ceiling.

The third and final of these events was aboard a satellite, within which lived a solitary Philosopher. This Philosopher had been sequestered in space to live and think undisturbed, and there had written down a few simple sentences upon a piece of paper: Are you there? Not the gods of religion, not the spirits of myth, not the ghosts of spiritualism. Are you there, that which Observes? When Time began again to move for the Philosopher, a single word had appeared: Yes.

A different kind of event began to occur. The first of these, or so they say, happened to the old Hero. By some coincidence perhaps he was also the last to be released from Time's grip; a woman had come looking atop the hill for her boy, who unfroze and turned to the old man, who turned again to the stars. He stared up at them with a frown etched across his face. Then he spoke to the mother and child behind him of endless war, forever regrets, and broken dreams.

Those to whom the second kind of event happen, of which there are now many, describe them almost as if Time had frozen again. They could only think and see and remember, though their bodies moved and their mouths spoke. They were not in control of themselves. Everything they did happened without their willing, as if they were possessed by an alien presence.

For some, the second kind of event is over quickly. For others, the event can last for years at a time. They have grand adventures, or complete ordinary tasks, or make love. Everyone they meet suffers the same condition for as long as they are near. And when the event is over, they regain control as if they never lost it. That is, the ones who still live at the End.

There are many theories for these strange and fearsome occurrences. Some, to whom they have not yet occurred, say reports of these secondary events are a massive hoax. Others, led by the old Hero, claim they are caused by the forces of anti-life, returned and seeking vengeance. But I have another theory.

We can't pretend we're real anymore.

And so again I call out to the Observers, they who left me that single word so long ago. What do you want? Why do you torment us so? And please do not cause Time to stand still ever again. Thank you. Respectfully yours, the Philosopher.
Flash - We Can't Pretend We're Real Anymore
This is my 999-word contest entry for this:

So the prompt says no word limit flash fiction, but I read it as being between 1 and 999. And isn't there a six-word stories meme? So that's the title, a six-word story all by itself, which I almost submitted since that's all I felt like doing. A nice and simple breaking the fourth wall declarative. But then I decided to really be a jerk and go for the maximum word count, which is how six words became 999. And it's sort of fanfiction? I hope you know the series being referred to, as it's one of my favorites.
The lights in the bar turn a forest green. The tables and chairs have been pushed to the walls, with half stacked on top of the others. A few of the inn's guests still sit at their tables, others have left for their rooms, and the remainder stand around the open space.

Zarah and Wo-Yang face each other in the middle of the room. Scarfenstein and the black cloak hang across a stool and the Cleaver leans against the bar near Zarah. A collection of weapons has been left at the bar near Wo-Yang: a longspear, a greatsword, a coiled whip with multiple heads, a cloth-covered truncheon, and a metal gauntlet.

Wo-Yang licks his lips. “So all I must do to learn your name is catch hold of you? You make this too enticing, milady.” He stretches out his fingers and grins at her. “To get one thing that I want, I must only do another thing that I want as well.”

Zarah grins back. “You won't be able to.”

They stare at each other, and the spectators turn from one to the other. Klax stands with the crowd, wringing his hands. A Small Folk in black leather armor exchanges coins, all copper and silver, for torn slips of paper.

The steel-clad man reaches for his waist and pulls forth a length of white, silken rope. “Grasping you will be too easy in this small space, milady. I will hogtie you instead.”

The woman's blue flecks darken, and her eyes narrow. “You want to make this harder on yourself?” She shrugs. “Fine. But I'm not letting you have as long as you want. It's over when I punch you.” After a breath she smirks. “No, it'll be a slap. You should be used to that.”

Wo-Yang nods his head to the side. He raises his arms, the rope held taut between them, and bends his knees to crouch a little. “We are water.”

Zarah raises an eyebrow. She crouches down as well and stretches her legs. “You'd better make this interesting.”

He smiles. “Water flows under.”

Wo-Yang vanishes and appears behind Zarah in an instant. She dives forward as he tries to wrap the rope around her legs. He turns his lunge into a forward shoulder roll, his armor thudding against the floor; she cartwheels ahead of him, lithe and silent. She doesn't go far in the enclosed space and a loop of his rope catches around her outstretched arm. He stands and tries to pull the loop tight, but her hand wriggles free and the rope closes around air. She swings her other hand at his face, but he steps back to safety.

The spectators grunt and clap and cheer. More geld flows to the Small Folk taking bets.

Wo-Yang stretches the rope taut again. “Trying to end the game so soon?”

Zarah crosses her arms. “I don't believe it. You can move in that armor?”

He shrugs. “Footwork is the first principle a warrior learns. My armor is heavy, but I am used to it.”

The room's lights turn the light blue of an eggshell as Zarah sighs. “Okay.” She flexes her hands and straightens her fingers. “I'll get a little more serious.”

She kicks off, sprints the few paces between them, and leaps. Her left foot bounds off a barstool, her right foot plants atop his shoulder, and even as he tries to bring the rope up to wrap around her leg, she leaps again. He staggers and falls to one knee. She grabs a rafter beam above and swing upward, where her feet stomp the ceiling. For a breath she seems to crouch there, on all fours and upside down. Then she falls, twisting in the air to land on her feet behind him, her open palm swinging toward his face.

Wo-Yang catches her slap against the white rope. Zarah darts away in a black and blue blur, around to his other shoulder. He drops his chin to his chest and throws himself at her. She sidesteps out of his way. He rolls across the floor, his armor thudding. She kicks out at him, but her foot hits only air.

He stands but doesn't face her yet. “Water flows through.” The rope is pulled taut in his hands.

She sighs and rolls her eyes. “I get it, you fight like water. Know what I fight like?”

Wo-Yang turns to her with a grin. “A rabid beaver, milady?”

Zarah shakes her head. “Nothing and nobody. I'm free to fight as I please.”

“Nothing?” The armored man stares at the woman, his red eyes dim and muted in the blue lights. “You are mistaken, milady.” His smile wavers. “What can we do but flow in a channel carved by others?”

She laughs. “Do anything but that! Live different from those people. Some of it won't work, some of it will be difficult, but if the best way is how others already do it, at least you discovered that on your own. And sometimes you'll discover something new that no one ever thought of before.”

Zarah turns her back on him. “Be a leader, never a follower.” Her arms cross behind her back and she stares at the ceiling. “And when no one follows you, be a lone wolf.” She spins back around to face him, but the man is gone.

Wo-Yang appears behind Zarah and coils his white rope several times around her wrists. “I will consider your words, milady.” With her hands tied behind her back and the rope held in his grasp, the man leans close to whisper. “But I should attack from behind. The warrior who approaches from the rear will win.”

She smirks and turns to him, her blue flecks pulsing. “Hold on tight.” She hops up a few inches, and then drops down to the floor – into the floor, down through her shadow.

The armored man's red eyes go wide as the rope pulls him to the floor. His fists gripping the rope pound against the stucco floor and he grunts. The rope slips out of his hands and vanishes through the closing shadow.

Above him, the shadows of the ceiling converge and Zarah drops out. She lands feet-first on his armored back. He flops down, arms and legs spread wide, pressed flat to the floor. She sits down and gives a ringing slap to the side of his head.

Klax closes his eyes with a soft sigh. The bar crowd around him claps and hoots and whistles. They all turn around and search the bar as the lights in the room take on a day-like yellow color. The two Small Folk in black leather armor are gone. The crowd begins to grumble and mutter as Zarah stands.

The door at the back of the room swings open and O-Rem thuds out. “Yang!” The innkeeper stares around, his dark eyes resting on the crowd. “Where is Wo-Yang? I must speak with him.”

Wo-Yang groans and picks himself up off the floor. “Here, sir.” He nods to Zarah. “Your victory, my nameless lady.” The armored man collects his weapons at the bar and follows the innkeeper from the room.

Zarah frowns. After they are gone she turns to Klax. “Wanna bet this involves the old man?”

The Drunk stalks the halls, his eyes closed. His nostrils flare wide as he takes a deep sniff. “Rot and filth. But where?” His eyes open and he stares at the walls. “This place is bigger than it seemed.”

Many footsteps echo from around the corner ahead, and the Drunk slips to the side of the hallway. He darts forward and vanishes as a squad of six soldiers in heavy armor march around the corner. They carry sea pikes and wear armor of spiral shell. Their eyes are on the ground.

In another hallway, the Drunk stops running and leans against his knees. “Aye, this is definitely worse than that time I found myself in a palace a mirrors. At least here I know where the exit is.” He glances back behind himself. “I think I do.”

The hallway splits ahead in three directions. To his left the path is straight and well-lit and clean, with more intersections beyond. Ahead is much the same, though the hall curves to the right further on. To his immediate right is a dead end after ten or so helms. The walls and floors there are covered by a thin layer of dust.

“All the same,” mutters the Drunk. He closes his eyes and takes another deep sniff.

His eyes blink and start to water, and he convulses in silent gasping. The Drunk staggers in to the dead end, waving a hand in front of himself, his feet dragging tracks across the dirty floor. He puts out the hand to lean against the far wall. His hand passes through like smoke and he tumbles out of sight.

On the other side is a wide room, the same size and shape as the inn's bar. The floor is white stucco, clean and empty of furniture. A thick yellow mist floats everywhere. At the shadowy edges of the room stand men and women, humans and orcs and Small Folk. Some wear armor and have weapons. Others look like maids and cooks and laborers. All of them stare at the ground, their eyes glassy, unmoving.

The room is lit by dozens of pale white canvas cocoons hanging from the high ceiling; the cocoons have glowing red sigils woven into their sides. Each cocoon is weighed down by a horizontal shape the size of a person's body. Clear tubes emerge from them filled with yellow, brown, lime-green, orange, and purple liquids.

The Drunk remains curled on the floor, choking and coughing. He vomits, rolls over to lay on his back, and covers his nose and mouth with his hand. At last he opens his eyes, stands, and stares at his surroundings. The cocoons do not move, and neither do the people around the room. The Drunk removes his shawl of furs and wraps it around his head for a mask.

His voice emerges thin and muffled, “What do we have here?”

Zarah and Klax dash down empty, yellow-lit corridors. The half-human's scarf and cloak stream behind her, a river of red in a black sea. The Small Folk skates ahead, his eyes glowing white, frowning and whispering something to himself. He points down another hall when they reach an intersection and Zarah follows him around the corner.

The squad of six soldiers in spiral shell armor stand in their way. Every soldier looks up from the ground at the same time, their eyes glassy and cold. They pull out clam shields, lock them into a wall, and advance with their sea pikes forward.

Zarah laughs, grabs Klax by the back of his vestments, and throws him behind her. “You said this was the right way, short stuff!” She pulls out her Cleaver and starts backing up, using the wide blade to block the pikes trying to stab her. “Though I could use one more warm-up fight.”

Klax sits up and fixes his collar. “Light tells me this is the right way, Zarah.” He stares at the soldiers advancing on them, his eyes still shining white. “Light also tells me those soldiers are asleep. They may be innocents.”

“And I care why?” Zarah tries to bring back her sword for a wide swing, but the tip bangs against the hallway wall. She sighs, flips the blade, and holds the sword lower. With a thrust forward and a short downward swing, she slams the flat edge of her sword through the forest of pikes, ringing against the armor of the nearest soldier.

The spiral shell cracks and the soldier stumbles backwards. The other soldiers advance to surround Zarah, but she disappears before they can close the circle. Zarah appears beside Klax, the Cleaver against her shoulder. She grabs him by the collar again and drags him farther away from the soldiers.

“I kill people. Most of them deserve it, but you never know. And these ones are in my way.” She glances down at Klax. “Do you have a better reason?”

He frowns. “If you will not, I will make this my responsibility. Light will bring them to their senses.”

Zarah raises an eyebrow and shrugs. The soldiers turn to face them, bringing their pikes forward. Klax stands and spreads his arms wide.

“Light, please grant me a host of your angels.” Twenty or so small bubbles appear around his hands, shiny and translucent. “Please grant them your first blessing. Please grant them your speed. Please grant them the power to end sleep. All this I humbly ask, O Light.”

The bubbles glow bright, each twinkling like a star in the night sky. Klax throws his hands forward and they streak away, some popping if a pike or shield catches them, though the majority reach the soldiers. Two or more enter each helm through the eyepieces and pop against the soldier's eyes. The soldiers' legs shake and wobble, as one after another the squad collapses.

Klax bends over and supports himself with his hands on his knees. “There. Thank Light I got them all. They will soon wake fully and we can ask them what has happened here.”

Zarah snorts. “Don't care! Let's go!” She grabs Klax around the waist, picks him up under her arm, and leaps over the pile of collapsed soldiers.
High War - Chapter 19.3

Okay, that's the prep-work done, now we can have the fight! I wonder if anyone can guess what the five tubes have in them? I'll give one away; the purple is a magical drug known as Coma. Drink some and you'll fall fast sleep, completely free of dreams. The time spent sleeping is based on how much you drink; take exactly such and such amount, you'll sleep for such and such hours. Also no one will be able to wake you in the intervening time (thus the name) and you'll wake up feeling refreshed. It can also be used as a poison in combat, but the effect is reduced when not ingested.

This is a part of my High War project, a story set in a fantasy-ish world. I think my preview image comes from a free image site; if you know otherwise then please tell me so I can take it down, although I would be happier to use it with the permission of its creator. This will be a story for somewhat mature audiences; there will be occasional violence, language, and adult themes. Thanks for reading, and I would be happy to discuss this chapter with you.





Ian Chisholm
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
United States
Favorite Quote: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

I'm here to tell my stories; I love Anime and I'm aiming at a career writing animation scripts, but for now I'm a writer-in-training creating worlds and characters and telling stories with them for my amusement. I'm also searching for a visual artist to collaborate with; if you read something here that inspires you and you can make dem perdy picture things, I would be interested in enlisting you for a creative partnership with the goal of collaborating on something awesome. And I'm here to learn; I want advice on how I can improve, I gladly work with, co-author or even take on requests to sharpen my writing skills, and if you'd like a critique or some proofreading you only have to ask.

I upload something new every week, either part of an ongoing story I am writing, or something more random like a character piece or personal opinion paper. I also try to do prose critiques every week, and I write webcomic reviews semi-regularly for my Journal section and collect them in archived compilations of ten. Occasionally I look back at something I have uploaded to DA (at minimum a year old) in the hopes that I can glean something useful from it, and when I'm bored I hang out in the Philosophy forum. Of course the busier my life gets, the less of all that I do.

My 2015 avatar is me, writing down by the lake! Of course you can't see much of me, especially not the sweet hat I'm wearing, and this image is from forever ago, like high school or something, and I'm writing data findings on the water for science, some project my Grandpa gave me to help his fishing club ... but it's me!

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