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Chapter 3 – Body Slammed

“Grandfather,” Aurora shrieked in shock. “What did you do that for?”

Aurora reached down to help Aaron as he rolled to the side and groaned. Grandfather grabbed her arm and pulled her away from him.

“Don’t you find it strange that the constable told you I was dead before anyone actually tried to kill me?” Grandfather growled. “Some coincidence.”

The girl looked up with surprise and confusion in her eyes.

“Good thing I’m sick and weak or I would have broken your jaw, punk,” Grandfather spat over his shoulder.

Aurora followed her grandfather with a backward glance at the constable, who was pulling himself to his feet. Aaron took a step forward and then stopped to put his head between his legs. It didn’t surprise her. Aurora knew her grandfather was a great warrior. He had once trained the younger generations for war and to protect their town.

Grandfather’s specialty was hand-to-hand combat. Though now he was a respected elder and only oversaw the training schools, leaving most of the training to his former students. But he still worked out hard himself and trained those in his home on a daily basis. That included Aurora, who knew how hard he could hit.

The elderly man’s strength seemed to return with each step, and he moved furiously toward his home. Aurora had to hurry to keep up with him.

“Slow down, Grandfather,” Aurora said. “What’s the rush? Shouldn’t we just go back to the hospital and wait for the sheriff or someone who can help? You can explain what happened and figure out who’s trying to kill you.”

Aurora rambled on until they came to the house. Grandfather paused after they walked through the door and locked it.

“Child, I know what’s going on and who is trying to kill me. Right now, we are all in danger. I need to collect a few items and we need to leave. They know you were with me, which means you are now in danger as well. Gather a pack with your things because you’ll have to come with me.”

“But where are we going? How long will we be gone?” she asked. “How should I know what to pack if I don’t know where we are going or for how long?”

Grandfather had entered his bedroom and begun throwing random items on his bed. The room was in shambles. It looked like a tornado had blasted through his room.

“Be prepared for anything, Aurora,” he said, stopping to look up at her sadly. “I don’t know when it will be safe to return to Bunbenong again. Maybe never.”

Aurora wanted to make him sit down and tell her what was going on. She wanted to ask him a million questions. But she had promised to respect him and be obedient. She knew from previous arguments with him he was just as stubborn as her. Aurora could also see that he was worried and in a hurry to leave, so she went to her room to pack a bag.

Her room was in shambles, too. Someone had knocked things off the shelves and torn everything out of her dresser drawers. She grabbed her backpack and began to fill it. It took several tries of packing and unpacking it before she managed to fit in everything she thought was important in her life. In the end, Aurora had to leave behind many of the items she had originally put in the backpack.

The girl laid everything out on the bed around her and repacked it for the final time. Then she put everything else back in its place. She hoped they would soon be able to return home. When she had finished, Aurora walked down the hall, looking for her grandfather.

He smiled sadly when she found him in his bedroom. The old man was putting the last of his things in his backpack. It wasn’t very large and didn’t even seem to be very full, which gave her hope that they wouldn’t be gone long.

Grandfather zipped up the bag and tossed it over his shoulder. He had lost some weight over the last couple of days, but other than that didn’t look like he had been in the hospital at all. The old man locked the door behind them as they stepped outside.

Aurora noticed a pack of boys playing with a ball in the middle of the street. She didn’t recognize any of them as they walked past the players. They seemed to be too old and big to be playing in the street, but they ignored her. As she and grandfather walked down the street, Aurora heard the patter of running feet.

As she turned to see what was going on, someone slammed into her from behind. Aurora stumbled forward and fell to the ground.

Several hands grabbed each of her arms and slipped the backpack off of her shoulders before she could recover.

Continue Reading Chapter 4 – Pocket Trinkets >>>

Chapter 4 – Pocket Trinkets

Several hands grabbed each of her arms and slipped the backpack off of her shoulders before she could recover.

Grandfather was on the ground to her right as well. His backpack having been taken as well. Aurora leaped to her feet to give chase, but three of the large boys blocked her path. The other two, who had their backpacks, were already racing down the street to the corner.

Aurora leaped at the first boy in front of her and kicked him in the side. He blocked and grabbed her leg. While his arms were busy holding her foot, Aurora yanked her leg back down, which knocked him off balance. Meantime, she was already following through with an open plan to the side of his face. Aurora scored a solid blow just behind the jawbone below his ear.

The boy looked at her in stunned shock as he fell backward without a sound. Aurora leaped over him at the next boy in front of her. He glanced up at her in surprise, as if he hadn’t expected her to knock his friend out that easily.

Before Aurora could attack him, his friend standing to the side leaped forward to hit grandfather who had gotten to his feet on her left. Grandfather blocked the boy’s punch, and Aurora lashed out with a wicked sidekick that nailed him right where his midribs met his stomach. The air rushed out his lungs as he gave a loud groan.

She felt a crack under her feet as she followed through. A rib or two had broken. The boy screamed in pain as he fell to the ground at grandfather’s feet.

The third boy raised his palms toward them as looked from his friends to Aurora and then to grandfather. He turned to run, but Aurora leaped forward and kicked him just behind the knees with a hard push on his back to knock him forward.

He fell onto his knees and then pitched forward. His forehead and nose met the ground with a large crunch. As he slid forward and tried to roll over, Aurora slammed the heel of her foot down on the back of his calf.

“Argh! Please. I’m sorry,” the boy begged, as if pleading for his life.

The boys that had taken their bags were fast runners, and too much time had passed during the fight. Aurora knew that even with her speed, she wouldn’t be able to catch them. They were long gone. Aurora sighed and kneeled down beside the boy as he cowered away from her.

“Why did you take our backpacks? Where did your friends take them?” Aurora asked him with a smack to the face.

“Please, don’t hurt me,” the boy begged. “I don’t know. They just told me and my friends here to keep you from chasing them.”

“I don’t believe you,” Aurora spat. “Who are those boys? Who sent them?”

“I don’t know,” the boy whined. “I really don’t. I know these two here. We’re all neighbors a few streets over. But I’ve never seen those other two. They just asked us to help them take back something that you had stolen from them. But I didn’t know you were going to be just a…” the boy’s voice trailed off.

“What? An old man and a little girl who could kick your butts.” Aurora said.

The girl looked up at her grandfather. The old man shook his head and shrugged. He motioned for her to get up and follow him.

“We can’t just leave without our backpacks, Grandfather,” she said. “I packed all my best and most important life possessions in there.”

Grandfather put his arm around her and patted her arm comfortingly as he picked up his pace. “It’s okay. I will buy you more things to replace them. And I’ll let you choose even better things so you won’t remember them.”

“But it’s not fair. We can’t just let them get away with it. Those things are important to us? We need them.” Aurora complained.

“Hey, my little bird. We escaped with our lives. They already tried to kill me once, remember. They will try again once they realize that what they are looking for isn’t in either of those backpacks.”

Aurora looked at him in surprise. She had noticed back at the door that grandfather had been tapping his pocket from time to time. He smiled at her and winked.

“What is it?” she asked.

Continue Reading Chapter 5 – Killing Intent

Chapter 5 – Killing Intent

“What is it?” she asked.

Grandfather shook his head and pursed his lips. “We shouldn’t talk about it here. Little birds are listening all around us. I’ll tell you later,” he whispered.

Aurora fought the urge to glance down, to try and see what he had in his pocket. Grandfather led her down the way to a small store. Inside, he bought a bag and a few supplies of non-perishable food. It was the same size as his previous backpack. Aurora realized he hadn’t packed many personal items. Where was he planning on taking her?

The door opened, and two men walked into the store. She sensed grandfather stiffen at their presence. He moved farther to the back and around a shelf.

“If anything happens to me, take this to Goulbern Mountain. There is a cave at the eastern base near the red and gold Firebird tree. Go inside and call for Lort. She will know what to have you do with it.” Grandfather said as he pressed a small bag into her hands.

“Wait! Why?” she whispered.

But grandfather was already moving on down the aisle. He peeked around the far end of the shelves and then grabbed another item for his basket.

Aurora placed the bag he had handed her into a pocket as one of the men turned down their aisle. She glanced at grandfather and followed his lead of looking at the shelves as if the items held great interest. The man walked past grandfather and pulled a bag of salt from the shelf. Then walked on past Aurora.

She relaxed, as did grandfather. They hurried to the clerk and paid for the items in their basket. Aurora breathed a sigh of relief as they walked outside. Grandfather smiled at her.

“Let’s go find some horses sturdy enough to take us to the Goulbern Mountain,” he said, handing her the pack of supplies. “I’ll let you carry this for now.”

Aurora noticed sweat dripping off his brow. It was warm outside, and they had been walking a lot. But she didn’t think it had been enough to warrant Grandpa to be sweating this profusely.

“Are you feeling alright?” she asked as she hefted the pack onto her back.

“Of course, kiddo! It feels great to be out and about again. I hated being in that place. Remind me never to drink anything poisoned again.” he grunted.

The girl looked at him curiously as they strode down the street toward the horse stable and asked. “What do you mean by that? Were you really poisoned? The doctors said you had some kind of flu.”

Grandfather nodded seriously. The smile wiped from his face. “That they did. The last thing I remember is eating at Todd’s Tavern. When I woke up in the hospital, I was in a lot of pain. My stomach felt like it was full of hot coals. Someone came and started interrogating me. I passed out again though.”

“That was yesterday,” Aurora said. “The nurse told me you had come to. I waited around to see if you would come to again. I waited till visiting hours were over and the nurse kicked me out.”

“Hm! You did, did you?” Grandfather said with a grateful pat on her shoulder. “Then I regained consciousness again this morning. My stomach felt better, but I was still weak. That man came back again to ask me questions. So, I pretended I had passed out. He stayed in the room and I overheard him and someone else talking. They wanted that thing I gave you. They were waiting for me to regain consciousness. But regardless of whether I gave it to them or not, they were intent on killing me.”

Aurora shuddered. They came to the stable and grandfather lowered his voice.

Continue Reading Chapter 6 – Killing Thing >>>

Chapter 6 – Killing Thing

Aurora shuddered. They came to the stable and grandfather lowered his voice.

“So, I lay there in that bed until I felt better. When he went out to use the bathroom, I hid behind the door with a bench. I hit him over the head when the man came back in. I was weak and didn’t control the blow very well. Hit him harder than I meant to. He fell forward and slammed his head into the corner of the bed like a dumb fool.”

“It’s okay, Grandfather. You were just trying to protect yourself. You shouldn’t be sad about killing him.”

Grandfather chuckled and said, “I’m not sad about killing him. I just wanted to know why they were after this thing.”

“You don’t know what this is?” Aurora asked, tapping her pocket conspicuously.

Grandfather shook his head. “Found it while I was out hunting last weekend. I showed it to a few of my buddies, but no one seemed to know what it was for.”

“You think one of them was after it?” she asked.

The old man shook his head. “Nah. They probably just went blabbing to all their friends. Word must have gotten out to someone who knows what it is. But I don’t know why they just didn’t come ask me for it. I probably would have just sold it to them. Instead, they poisoned me and tried to kill me for it. It doesn’t make much sense. Unless something happened that I don’t remember.”

Grandfather rang the bell impatiently for the third time before a stable boy came racing in through the door.

“A thousand pardons, sir. Someone opened the front gate and let the horses out.” The young man smiled apologetically as he asked what he could get for them.

“Did all of the horses escape?” Grandfather asked, with a worried glance at Aurora.

“Oh, no, sir,” the boy said proudly. “I did manage to close the gate before they all got out. I have three that are immediately available. And Theo is out rounding up the rest. He should have them back shortly if you don’t like the ones that are here now.”

Grandfather nodded and said, “We’ll take ‘em. Whatever you’ve got is fine. As long as they both have four legs and can carry us to the other side of the Penminster Valley and then across the Shimmering Plains.”

“Of course they can, sir. We only have the best horses. I’ll fetch them for you.” the stable boy said with the confident boast of a vendor selling his wares.

He glanced over to Aurora and said, “What can I get for you?”

The girl started to explain that she was with grandfather when she realized that the stable boy and been talking to someone standing behind her. She turned to see the same two men who had followed them into the store earlier. One of them leaned against the door frame. The other took a step inside the stable.

“Nothing,” said the man leaning against the wall. “We just want something from this old man here.”

He spat onto the ground and kicked some hay to cover it before taking another step forward to stand beside his partner. These weren’t the boys who had run off with the backpacks. Aurora realized they must have been the ones who sent them. She took a step closer to grandfather.

“Uh-huh! No, ma’am. Step away from him,” the man said, brushing his long, brown bangs out of his eyes. “We saw what you did to those boys. So, you just stay back.”

The man pulled something black and menacing from his waist. It was about the size of her forearm. He pointed it in her direction. Aurora didn’t know what it was, but she didn’t like the acrid smell that hit her nostrils. She did as the man said and took a small step back.

“Now, I know you all don’t know what one of these here things is in these parts. So, I want to demonstrate this for you because I really don’t want to hurt you. If I do, it’ll be your own fault. Okay?”

Neither Aurora nor her grandfather responded. The men were still too far away to hurt them. The man pushed the hair back from his forehead and grasped the thing he was holding with both hands.

“See that horse out yonder?” he asked.

Continue Reading Chapter 7 – Golden Angels >>>

Chapter 7 – Golden Angels

“See that horse out yonder?” he asked.

Aurora, grandfather, and the stable boy all turned to look through the back door. A black stallion had wandered up and begun drinking from the water trough. A loud explosion spooked the heebie-jeebies out of all three of them, causing them to flinch and cover their ears. Aurora instinctively dropped back, like a rock, to the ground.

The horse shrieked with a sound she had never heard before. As she scrambled to her feet, Aurora could see it kneeling on his forelegs, gasping for air. It keeled over to the side and struggled in the throes of death. Hot tears of anger filled her eyes.

“This here is called a gun. I think you understand what it’s capable of. Now, I take no pleasure in killing a beautiful animal like that, but I just needed to demonstrate its power for you. Got it, old man. Because if you don’t tell me where that little artifact is, well, let’s just say I won’t be wasting this weapon on shooting any more horses.”

Aurora lifted her hand to wipe the tears away from her eyes, and her hand brushed against her pocket. It was empty.

She glanced down and noticed that it had fallen out of her pocket when she dropped to the ground. Fortunately, it was brown like the hay that covered the ground and blended in so that it wasn’t very visible.

“You already tried to kill me before,” Grandfather said coldly. “I’m not afraid of you or death.”

The girl took another step back from her grandfather. Not out of fear, but using it as an excuse to push hay with the back of her foot to cover the object. She glanced over at the stable boy. He noticed what she was doing and looked up to meet her gaze. Aurora gave him a warning glare, but she was afraid he might tell the men what he had seen out of fear.

The man with the gun smiled wickedly. “Oh, I didn’t say I was going to kill you. We can use it to blow your leg off. It causes a lot of pain. You’re better off just telling us where it is.”

Then he added as an afterthought, “Or we could just I shoot that little girl there.” He swung the thing he called a gun in her direction.

Instinctively, Aurora threw her hands over her head and dropped to the ground. She heard a crack and saw a flash of light before everything went black in front of her eyes.

“This is it. I’ve gone and died,” Aurora thought to herself.

The girl lay there quietly, wondering what would happen next. Would an angel descend from heaven and pull her spirit from her body? A demon, maybe? She shuddered. A bird chirped in the distance.

This was taking too long. If she were dying, wouldn’t she lose consciousness? Everything should be fading away around her.

Aurora opened her eyes to see a golden bird soaring far above her. Others joined it in its lazy flight around her in the sky above. The sunlight reflected off them in a fiery shimmer. She lifted her head and looked around the small clearing surrounded by large, beautiful green trees. All of them filled with the same fiery golden fowl.

She stood to her feet. Rocks and boulders encircled her about ten paces out. One by one the golden birds from the trees began to flit toward her and land on the stones. Others circled down from above, but instead of landing on the rocks, they circled her.

As she looked closer, Aurora noticed their feathers looked like flames of fire. They circled in, closer and closer. The pack of winged creatures encircling her grew thicker and brighter until Aurora felt as if she were suffocating.

“Was this what death felt like? Were these her angels?” Aurora thought as they pressed in against her, their wingtips brushing against her skin.

Continue Reading Chapter 8 – Horse Attack >>>

Chapter 8 – Horse Attack

“Was this what death felt like? Were these her angels?” Aurora thought as they pressed in against her, their wingtips brushing against her skin.

Aurora screamed and sat up with a start. Back in the stable. The familiar smell of horses. That same smokey stench from the thing that man called a gun. He was still there, standing in front of her with that silly grin on his face.

“What happened there, little lady?” he said with a chuckle. “Thought we lost you for a minute.”

Grandfather was standing there with a worried look on his face. He seemed fine, though. Aurora smiled weakly at him before pushing herself to her feet. She felt something crackle under her and saw the brown bag between bits of hay. Whatever was inside it had shattered when she fell on top of it.

“Now, where were we?” the man with the gun asked. “Oh, yeah. The artifact. Hand it over and everyone can leave. Of course, we’ll tie you up and take the horses so you can’t follow us. But like I said before, I really don’t want to hurt anybody. This thing is really ugly and can do major damage.”

Grandfather looked over at the horse lying on the ground, bleeding out. He looked at the man with the gun. Then glanced over at Aurora. He nodded encouragingly, as if telling her to hand it over. The other men looked at her as well and smiled expectantly.

“What is this thing?” she asked.

“What does it matter to you, girl,” the man drawled and spat on the floor again. “Just hand it over.”

Aurora shrugged flippantly.

“It might be an ancient evil that you want to unleash on the earth,” she replied. “In which case, it’s better I sacrifice myself so that others may live in peace.”

The man who had remained silent this entire time took a step forward and growled at her menacingly.

“You better hand that over if you know what’s good for you, you little brat!”

The man with the gun reached over and stopped him.

“Relax. Calm down, y’all. Everybody’s so tense. Let’s just take it easy,” he said with a laugh. “Just tell her, Matt. You don’t have to get all bent out of shape about it.”

The man called Matt pulled the wide black hat off his head and cocked it to the side.

“Fine,” he said. “The truth is yet that we don’t for sure ourselves. We’ve just been tasked to fetch it for someone.”

“Why?” Aurora asked, just stalling for time. Trying to think of a way to get out of this mess without having to give them what they wanted.

“I said, I don’t know,” the man growled as he squeezed his hat between his hands angrily.

“No, silly! She just wants to know what we want it for,” the man with the gun said. “We’re just doing it for the money, kid. We go out looking for stuff because we like an adventure. And because we get receive a good recompense.”

He motioned with his hand for the girl to hand it over. “Be a good girl, like your grandfather says. Like I said, we don’t want to hurt anybody.”

“Then don’t,” she said. “We can pay you money and you can go back home. Tell whoever sent you that it was gone.”

“Well, we can’t do that because then our reputation would be on the line. If we come back empty-handed, then we lose the respect of those who send us. See, we like to keep things practical. We’re practical men. We prefer not to lose our cool and negotiate rationally. Well, I don’t, anyway. Matt here can get a little more carried away at times. That’s why I get to hold the gun. Don’t want him shooting you before we get what we came for. Right?”

Just as he said that, a boy on a horse came charging furiously through the wide door. He barreled down on Matt and the man with the gun. Both leaped out of the way, barely escaping getting trampled.

The horse backed away from them toward Aurora, and she had to back up as well. The boy pulled a long knife from its sheath and screamed loudly as he leaped from the horse at the man with the gun. “You killed my horse, you mangy mongrels.”

The man rolled to the side. His gun roared loudly. The boy fell to his knees at the man’s side. His knife flew back from his hand and clattered to the ground at Aurora’s feet. She gasped at the small hole that appeared in the boy’s body as he fell forward on top of the man.

Matt scrambled forward on his hands and knees to pull the boy off his partner’s body.

Nix? You okay?” he shouted. “Nixon, answer me, buddy.”

Continue Reading Chapter 9 – Beautiful Feathers >>>

Chapter 9 – Beautiful Feathers

“Nix? You okay?” he shouted. “Nixon, answer me, buddy.”

Nixon spluttered and wiped blood off himself as he scrambled to his feet with the gun still in his hand. He had a hard look in his eye. He kicked at the boy lying dead at his feet.

“I said I don’t want to hurt anybody, but I’m not afraid to use this thing if I have to. Now, give me the Firebird Jar, and don’t even think about touching that knife on the floor. Else you’ll end up with a hole in you like your friend there.”

Aurora glanced at her grandfather. He nodded at her again. The stable boy that had first greeted them now sat against the wall by the double doors in stunned silence. His eyes glued to his coworker’s dead body, still bleeding out onto the barn floor where it got seeped up by the hay and formed a thick, red mat.

She started to bend over to pick up the jar, but Nixon jerked the gun toward her.

“I said, not to go for the knife. No funny stuff, brat. I’ll blow your head off without a second thought.”

Aurora’s hands shook as she stood back up. She glared at him angrily. “It’s right there on the floor under that bit of hay. Do I look like my arms are long enough to reach the knife from here?”

She used her foot to brush the hay off of the small, brown bag. She nodded toward it without taking her eyes off of Nixon. Then bent down to pick it up. Matt circled around to take it from her. Then walked over to Nixon where they huddled together enthusiastically.

Nixon took the bag and handed Matt the gun. He squeezed it gently and frowned. He shook the brown bag and heard the clinking of pottery. A scowl darkened his face as he untied the drawstring and opened it gingerly. He dumped the contents into his open palm.

Aurora saw several white pieces of pottery fall out into the palm of his large hand. He shook it again, and something small and golden rolled out as well. Nixon rolled it around on the palm of his hand. It looked like the mummified remains of the golden birds she had seen in her vision after falling on top of the jar.

The bird shuddered. Then lifted its head. It fluttered its wings and hopped to Nixon’s thumb. He tried to reach out to grab it, but it leaped into the air and spread its wings.

Nixon flailed his arms as he tried to snatch it out of the air, but he was too clumsy. Aurora wanted to laugh, but maintained her composure.

The golden bird lighted on her shoulder and chirped loudly in her ear. It trilled off a beautiful song. And it almost sounded like Aurora could understand what it was saying as it taunted and jeered at the man still holding the jar it had come from.

The man looked at her in astonishment. His face went red with rage. “You broke the Firebird Jar!” Nixon roared at her.

Matt looked from his friend’s furious, red face to the girl. His face went dark with rage as well, but he remained silent. He pulled up the gun with both hands and pointed it in her direction. It recoiled in his hands.

Aurora saw the puff of smoke long before she heard the noise. She saw the slug leave the barrel. The round metal object floating in her direction. Coming at her chest. She knew if it hit her, it would tear through her just like it had the stable boy that had attacked Nixon and Matt.

The slug was about halfway to her before she heard the blast of the gun roar. But it didn’t cause her to jump or flinch. The golden bird on her shoulder continued to sing its trilling song. Telling her not to worry. All she had to do was stand up for herself and fight. Everything would be alright.

Soon the air around her was filled with the sound of dozens of golden birds. Aurora saw them flitting in through the eaves and windows and doorways. Joining in with her golden bird’s song. More continued to pour in and join the chorus. Soon it seemed there were hundreds. Filling every nook and cranny of the stable with their beautiful feathers and songs.

Her attention returned to the slug flying from the air. Now it was only an arm’s reach from her. She could have stretched out her finger and touched it. It mesmerized her. She turned and watched it continue its flight through the air as it floated past her.

Then she turned her attention back to Matt. He was still holding the gun in her direction.

Continue Reading Chapter 10 – Racing Horses

Chapter 10 – Racing Horses

Then she turned her attention back to Matt. He was still holding the gun in her direction. Leering at her as if waiting for the slug to tear through her. His look slowly turned to one of disappointment as he saw it missed her. She stepped over to the knife and reached down to pick it up.

From Aurora’s point of view, she wasn’t moving very fast, but everyone around her seemed to move exceptionally slow. From the men’s point of view, Aurora’s movements blurred together. They heard the gunshot. They saw her spin away. Then blur down to pick up the knife. And finally, standing right there in front of them. So effortlessly.

Matt tried to swing the gun around. He jabbed the weapon in her direction and pulled the trigger. But the girl was no longer in front of the gun. She had disappeared. The slug shot out of the barrel, causing his arms to jerk up.

The knife sliced cleanly through his wrist. His hand still gripping the gun for a brief second before dropping to the ground. It happened so fast that he didn’t even see it take place. Matt tried to wrap his mind around what he was seeing. One second, he was holding the gun, and the next second he was holding up a handless arm.

The weight of the gun pulled his other arm down. He let go of the gun and it fell to the ground. He didn’t even feel pain at first. As if the fact that his mind couldn’t process what was going on meant that it didn’t even know it was supposed to register pain.

Then, as if on cue, everything clicked. He understood that his hand had been severed from his body. The pain was excruciating. And he finally screamed. More in terror at the sight and rage towards the girl than the actual pain itself. But then the pain took over, and he slid to his knees, sobbing and groveling in the hay.

Nixon hadn’t waited around. As soon as he saw how fast the girl was moving, Nixon leaped on the horse standing to the side. He dug his heels into its ribs. The horse took off in a dead run. It was terrified by the ruckus and commotion. Ready to get away from the gunshots and screams.

Aurora watched Nixon ride toward the gate. The birds all seemed to turn in unison to watch him with her. She wanted to laugh at Nixon. It looked as if he and the horse were running through mud.

She glanced at her grandfather to make sure he was still okay. He was looking at her in awe. His eyes wide. Aurora smiled and patted him on the shoulder as she moved past him. She walked out through the open double doors, observing the dust rise lazily behind the horses’ pounding hooves.

As the girl bent forward into a run, the golden birds began to shoot out of the stable before her. Rocketing past her as she sprinted after the horse. The sunlight reflecting fiery light off their golden feathers. The shimmer made it look as if they were on fire. They were, and then they weren’t. Aurora wasn’t sure if their feathers were really on fire or if it was just the light playing tricks on her eyes.

Aurora didn’t feel like she was running that hard. It felt almost effortless. As if she were flying toward the horse carrying Nixon. Not even flying. It was more like soaring. The horse seemed to move so slowly that she caught up with it before it had gone another block.

She slapped the horse hard across the rump as she pulled up beside it. It was so surprised that the beast came to a hard stop. The horse dug its feet and skidded, throwing Nixon forward on the saddle as he tried to hang on.

But to Aurora, the beast seemed to be moving slowly. She watched Nixon struggle to hang on as his face slammed forward into the back of the horse’s neck. He spluttered and spat the horse’s mane out of his mouth.

The girl slapped the horse again. This time it kicked its legs out, throwing Nixon forward again. While Nixon’s momentum was propelling him forward, the horse was rearing up on its hind legs. Tossing him around like a rag doll.

Aurora slapped the horse again as it reared up. And it bucked and jumped until it had thrown Nixon over its head. Nixon landed on his back, the breath knocked out of him. But before he even hit the ground, he could see the girl already standing there, waiting for him to hit the ground. He watched her as he floated past her.

Then he got the wind knocked out of him, and he couldn’t breathe for several seconds. He tried to get up, but her fist cracked him on the side of his jaw. Three blows before he could even blink. Nixon screamed in pain. Her fists pummeled him up and down his body, his ribs, his sides, and his stomach.

Nixon begged for mercy.

Continue Reading Chapter 11 – Golden Bird

Chapter 11 – Golden Bird

Nixon begged for mercy. To Aurora, she wasn’t even moving that fast. She punched him, but he didn’t even groan. So she punched him several more times. After about the sixth or seven blow, Nixon finally started screaming. She stood up and waited for his brain to process the blows.

When he stopped writhing around on the ground, Aurora gave him one last kick for good measure. Just as he had done to the dead boy. Nixon didn’t even see her foot coming. He only felt the explosion of pain in his side.

“Please, don’t kill me,” he begged. “Please, just let me go home.”

Aurora picked him up by the nape of his neck and dragged him back to the stable. To her, it seemed as if she were walking normally. To Nixon though, it seemed as if someone had tied him to the horse and were dragging him through the street at a full gallop.

Grandpa and the stable boy’s mouths dropped when she dropped Nixon in front of them. They had seen Nixon yelling for mercy way down the street, and then suddenly he appeared at their feet.

Aurora dusted her hands off as the golden birds slowly began to fly away. She smiled at them as they went. The red light of sunset gleaming on their fiery golden feathers. Finally, only the original golden bird was still there. It chirped quietly as the sunset.

Grandpa and the stable boy helped her tie up Nixon and Matt. Matt was still blubbering about his hand as he clenched it, trying to press it back onto his wrist. They waited for the constable to show up. He seemed nervous when he saw the two men, and they glowered at him. Aurora wondered what he was going to do, but the sheriff was there.

The constable did his duty of placing them under arrest with the help of another colleague as the sheriff questioned grandpa about what had happened. They told Grandpa pretty much everything except the part about Aurora’s transformation into whatever that had been.

Grandpa had a reputation around town as a man not to be trifled with, and the sheriff had seen Aurora compete in races and fights. So, it didn’t seem to bother him that an old man and his granddaughter had beaten up two other men.

To Aurora’s surprise, the stable boy didn’t say anything, either. He just nodded and backed up grandpa’s story. Aurora thanked him after the sheriff and the constable had left.

Aurora and grandfather walked down the street toward their home. Grandfather finally asked her what had actually happened during those brief moments of the scuffle. She tried to tell him, but it was hard to explain. In his mind, everything had happened so fast that he had barely seen Aurora moving around.

“Look, that looks like the bird that came out of the clay jar. Only it’s a lot bigger than the jar. I guess it couldn’t have been that one.” Grandpa said, pointing to the golden bird that followed them down the street, still chirping and singing.

It surprised Aurora that he could see it, too. She had thought it was still just a part of her imagination since grandfather told her he had seen none of the other hundreds of birds that had flown into the stable.

“Yeah, it sure does,” she said with a smile. “Do you think if we take the pieces of the Firebird Jar to the Goulbern Mountain that your friend Lort can tell us what it is?”

Grandfather shrugged. “Maybe, but sometimes it’s more fun to figure things out for yourself instead of looking to others for answers. Give it a few days. You’re a smart girl. You might learn more just by observing and questioning things. If others provide all the answers, it can take the mystery out of life.”

Aurora paused at the steps to their home.

“Yes, sometimes a little mystery and adventure can be fun. But not too much. No more getting poisoned and beat up by bad guys. What are you going to do with the gun?” she asked.

“Play around with it. Observe it. Ask questions about it. Maybe I’ll hand it over to the sheriff. Maybe I’ll keep it in case Matt or Nixon come back and you’re not around to protect me with your golden firebirds.

“Oh, I’ll be around. Don’t worry. I’m not leaving your side, Grandfather. At least until I get married.”

Aurora gave her grandfather a hug and squeezed him tightly.

“But even then I’ll still protect you when you need it.”


Chapter 1 – Breaking & Entering

April opened the drawer quietly. She pawed through the papers looking for anything suspicious that she could use as evidence. The flashlight slipped from her hand, and she reacted quickly. She managed to grab it again before it hit the floor, but the flashlight smacked into the edge of the drawer making a loud hollow sound.

She paused what she was doing and ducked down for a minute, waiting to see if anyone would come to see what was going on. April held her breath in the dark office. It was a large room with a few steps that led down into another larger open area overlooking the city. Two large couches filled a part of the space closest to the window with a coffee table between them.

April had never been in this room during the day. She wondered if Tony ever had. Did he sit in the couch overlooking the city with that beautiful view casually discussing the terrible things they were doing with his partners? She could imagine him there casually sipping his coffee as if this were just another one of his multi-million dollar business deals.
How could he be so heartless? This was the man she had fallen in love with. The man she had married and promised to spend her life with. The man whose children she bore. This was a betrayal of trust far beyond anything she had ever imagined possible. How could he do this to her?

She was furious. If she found what she was looking for and could prove what she suspected to be true, nothing would keep her from exacting her revenge on the man she had once loved.

Sure, she would confront him and give him a chance to prove himself innocent. There was always the possibility that she could be wrong. But only a very tiny chance. All the mounting evidence seemed to be pointing in one direction.
Her husband was guilty.

A gleam of light flashed through the window as the guard came walking on his round. The light glowed softly off the wall. She wondered if he would enter the room as she squeezed in under the desk and pulled the chair back in after her.

She held her breath again and closed her eyes as the guard stopped at the door. He shined the light in and flashed it around a few times before continuing on to check on the rest of the rooms on the forty-seventh floor.

This was the only floor that had its own guard on duty twenty-four-seven. The rest of the building had its own security team with cameras and the whole nine yards. But they did things differently up here on this floor. They had their own security team. It was a completely different company that ran things up here. They had all the same toys as the boys below. The same top-of-the-line security equipment. But they also liked to do things the old-fashioned way.

Tony always said that there some things you just couldn’t depend on technology to do for you. That some things just needed to be done by hand.

April shuddered and tried not to imagine what all that involved. She still didn’t know much. She never had probed into what it was that Tony actually did here at LocTech. Sure, she knew they were a technology company that derived most of their profits from medical research and development that they licensed out to other companies for a share of participation and profits. They also had some top-secret government contracts.

But she never would have guessed that Tony could actually be involved in something so gruesome. Nor that he would have involved his own family members in this mess.

In hindsight, it was pretty obvious. She should have seen the handwriting on the wall. She didn’t know how she had managed to ignore it all this time. I mean, it had been staring her right in the face.

Maybe she just didn’t want to admit it. She felt guilty almost for not having noticing and taking action before. Not that it was her fault, but that she was guilty by association. Guilty for her negligence in asking questions sooner. Now, it was too late, and she had no one else to blame. But that was no longer the case. She was going to get to the bottom of this if that was the last thing she did.

Even if it killed her.

The guard had left already, and the flashlight’s glow continued receding down the hall. She pawed through the remaining drawers but still didn’t find anything useful. Hamilton was organized and obviously believed in minimalism. There wasn’t much in his drawers for her to even go through.

It was completely unlike Tony’s office down the hall. She had been in there lots of times, and it was always a mess. She looked out the window through the door to head back. The guard had stopped to check his phone. He was just standing there in the middle of the hall as he leaned up against the wall. If she ratted on him, she could have him fired because she knew it was against company policy. The guards were supposed to remain alert and avoid distractions. They weren’t even allowed to have a television on at night up here on floor forty-seven.

April knew because she had looked into it when she was researching how to break into these offices. She had known it would make her task more difficult. There wouldn’t just be some fat, lazy dude chugging down coffee and doughnuts engrossed in some old horror flick to block out the noise of her intrusion.

So, here she was now with this guard standing outside her door on his cell phone. Not that she could rat him out even she was concerned about the security of her husband’s company because that would raise questions about what she was doing in Hamilton’s office at three a.m.

He didn’t budge for several minutes, so she sighed and went back into the other room to sit down on the couch. She was tired. It had been a long night. She had been sneaking in and out of offices for the past several hours. She had already visited seven of the twelve director’s offices. And so far, hadn’t turned up anything interesting.

She laid down on the couch to stay out of sight if the guard should happen to come back by and look through the window. It was so comfortable here. She snuggled her head in deeper into the pillows. They smelled nice. Like flowers and lilies. Must have been a woman that sat here last.

April looked out over the city. This was her city. She had been born and raised here among Brimhill’s elite. Her father had been a powerful businessman and even been mayor for a term. He was a well-respected man in town even though he had long retired and didn’t leave his estate much. She loved him and tried to imagine leaving him and this city behind.

If things were as bad as she thought they were, there was no way she could stay here. Even if she was innocent, people would still consider her guilty by association.

If she exposed them.

Maybe she didn’t have to. Maybe she could just let things go. Keep on living the good life. Bad things happened. It wasn’t her fault. She wasn’t responsible for what they were doing.

She could just put her head down and act like she didn’t know anything at all. It was better than having her head shot off which was very likely to happen. She had heard the horror stories about Hamilton back in his younger days.

That was how he had built up his wealth and founded the company as senior partner. He was like a godfather from the old mafia organizations, only he wasn’t Italian. Actually, she didn’t know where he was from. He was pretty secretive about it, and no one ever would tell her anything. Even Tony brushed her off by saying he was from down south somewhere.

Really. Like no one would ever want to know where you were from and brush it off like that. At the very least, he could have made something up. Or even just stuck his finger on the map and mentioned a name. Or maybe that was just part persona he wanted to portray. The mysterious mobster.

April snickered at the thought and sat up carefully. She checked to make sure the guard wasn’t at the door before standing up. It was too dangerous staying on the couch. The last thing she wanted to do was fall asleep there and wake up with Hamilton standing over her wanting to know why she was asleep on the couch in his office.

She walked back to the door and peeked through the window. The guard was gone. She sighed in relief. April opened the door slowly to avoid making any noise and tiptoed down to the next office. Just as she got there though and started to open the door, someone yelled out at her.

“Hey! What are you doing? Stop right there.”

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