Nadia walked hurriedly through the thick crowds of early evening. Some leaving work for the day. Others out for an evening stroll or looking for a warm, inviting place to grab a bite to eat on a Friday evening.
She smelled the scent of fresh food wafting from inside the restaurants as doors opened to let eager, ravishing customers inside. Her stomach growled, and Nadia wished she could stop herself. But at the moment, she was in a hurry. She still had one more meeting before she could call it a day. Supper was going to have to wait.
Nadia glanced down at her watch. She was cutting it close, but she could still make it if she picked up her pace. She had wanted to leave earlier, but her boss demanded she turn in some bit of paperwork that he deemed urgent before letting her go for the weekend.
She didn’t know why. It’s not like anyone was going to look at until Monday anyway. She sighed and glanced down at her watch again to see how many minutes she had left. Nadia hated being late for an appointment. She hated making excuses. If she walked just a little bit faster, she might yet make it on time.
The auburn-haired woman felt a drop of rain hit her shoulder and looked up at the evening sky overhead. She had seen the weather forecast before leaving and come prepared by bringing a small umbrella just in case.
Nadia had thought about using one of her ridesharing apps to catch a ride, but it wasn’t that far away. And besides, at that time of day, it probably would have taken longer for a driver to pick her up than for her to walk to her destination.
She had forgotten about this particular stretch of deserted road though. Nadia had cut through a back alley and come out in a sketchy part of town. Normally, she would have skirted around it. But due to the short amount of time to get where she needed to go, Nadia had decided to risk it.
The rain had picked up. She quickened her pace. Partly due to the rain. Partly due to her soon tardiness. And partly due to being in the wrong part of town after dark. She scanned the area around here. She saw a man up at the corner.
Nadia didn’t know if she should be relieved at the sight of another person, or afraid at the sight of the stranger on the street. But it was too late to turn around now. She couldn’t pick up her pace. Any faster and she would have been running.
The man squinted his eyes when he looked up at her. Nadia glared at him. Daring him to try her. Her hand already on the pepper spray in her pocket. He simply nodded from the dry spot where he sheltered himself from the rain and lifted a cigarette to his lips.
Nadia continued on as fast as she could. Her heart pounding wildly. Kicking herself and vowing that she would never do this to herself again. Never walk around this area after dark. Never let herself get this far behind on her time. Never let her boss push her into working overtime when she had another appointment.
The angry woman started to cross the intersection when she heard the sound of someone sobbing. She turned her head and saw a young boy at the other end of the street.
She didn’t hesitate. Someone else’s safety was more important than hers. Someone else more defenseless than her needed a hand in this sketchy neighborhood. It made her feel like a protector. She no longer felt defenseless or afraid.
Ten years of training and working in social services kicked in. She ran over and squatted down beside him. Holding the umbrella over the young boy’s head, Nadia asked him what his name was and where he was from.
He seemed to be speaking. But Nadia didn’t understand anything he said. It wasn’t English and definitely didn’t sound like her native French language.
“Come on,” Nadia said, as she took his hand and stood up. “Let’s find your mommy and daddy. We’ll get someone to help you.”
They started to walk down the street. Nadia felt warm and fuzzy inside. Helping children like this was why she loved her job even though she hated the paperwork and bureaucracy.
She heard footsteps behind her and turned to see the man whom she had passed earlier walking toward them. He was leering at them. Nadia couldn’t believe that she hadn’t kept an eye out and noticed him coming sooner.
“That’s my son. I’ve been looking for him,” the man growled.
Nadia knew he was lying. She squeezed the boy’s hand more tightly and looked down at him. It was obvious the boy didn’t recognize him.
“What language does he speak?” she asked, pushing the child behind her.
“English, of course,” the man replied.
The woman took a few steps backward, pulling the boy’s arm back behind her. The man lunged forward and pushed her backward with a mean, hard shove. He grabbed at the child’s arm.
As Nadia fell, she twisted her body to catch herself on the ground and lost sight of the man. Most of her weight landed on her left wrist. She screamed in pain. It seemed like she heard a roar and another scream even louder than hers.
When she turned around, the man was gone. The child stood there, licking his lips. The boy smiled at her and picked up the umbrella. It had broken on one side and part of the covering had torn. But she took the tattered umbrella from the child numbly and held it over their heads.
Nadia looked at the ground for some sign of the man. Wondering what had happened to him. It looked like there was blood running off in the puddles and rain. But it was dark. The road was black. And she only hoped that the man had run off of his own accord.
Too scared to defy the child. Too uncertain to leave him there in the rain. They continued walking down the street under the cover of her tattered umbrella.
The humongous, dark figure loomed hideously in the shadows. Mei froze. It was too late. Her hopes of getting in and out of the cave before being spotted were now dashed. She hunkered down in the shadows, hoping she wouldn’t be seen.
But the giant figure took another step in her direction. Mei fought her instinct of turning to run. There was no way she could outrun the small dragons that she was used to seeing fly around the mountains of her home country. Much less a giant one of this size.
She slipped her hand into the soft, leather pouch at her side. The dragon stopped moving and snorted loudly. Its head moving steadily in her direction.
Mei stopped tugging at the object in her pouch. She held her breath.
She watched the soft gleam in the dragon’s eye grow brighter. Then flare to life. A bright, orange glow emanating from deep within its fiery body.
The black dragon opened its humongous mouth and hissed loudly.
“I smell you human. Come out and answer my questions before I torch you alive. What brings you to my cave?”
Mei stood back up to her full height which barely came to the height of the dragon’s claws. It opened its mouth and hissed even more loudly, sending a trail of glowing smoke along the damp, cave floor.
The fiery glow from the dragon’s belly lit up even more of the dark cave. Mei could see greater detail of its body in the orange light. Its giant claws were enormous. It’s large, hard scales were impenetrable, making it almost impossible to kill.
Mei had never heard a single story of anyone ever killing a dragon before. The fact that she would even attempt to do such a thing, seemed to be the epitome of foolishness. She had hoped to find what she needed and leave before being discovered.
The old blacksmith had told her that he found most of his iron here over the past fifty years. And he had claimed that he had never seen a dragon around this particular mountain. She had honestly thought that she could come and go without facing one of these monsters.
But now it was too late. She was here, and the dragon had spotted her. But she wouldn’t go down without a fight. If only it weren’t so big though. Why couldn’t she have been found by a smaller one?
Mei wrapped her hand around the large, solid rock inside her pouch and slid it out behind her right thigh. Away from the dragon’s line of sight.
She didn’t know if the dragon knew what this object could do, but she didn’t want to risk taking the chance that it might recognize what she had.
“What are you doing here?” Mei asked the dragon quietly. “I didn’t mean to disturb you, but I was told that no dragons had been seen in the area for over 50 years.”
“Silly human,” the dragon hissed. “Dragons are never seen unless we choose to be seen. And I have never chosen to be seen by a human until you caught me unaware. And only because I’ve been busy making preparations for the arrival of my young.”
“I apologize honorable Dragon. I will leave and never return.” Mei said and took a step back.
“It’s too late, human. I can’t let you leave now. Besides, you came at just the right time. My young are about to hatch. They’ll be ravenous. You saved me from having to go out and find them something to munch on.”
Fear hit Mei like a lightning bolt. Her heart dropped to her stomach. She instinctively activated the weapon in her hand.
Mei let the Rudruntyne rock drop to the end of the Oskil chain it was attached to. She snapped it up into a quick spin behind her. And before she could pull it around in front of her, the dragon blew out a stream of blazing fire from its mouth.
She felt the heat, but it didn’t hurt. Even from behind her body, the Rudruntyne weapon absorbed the flames before they could harm her. The ground still hissed and burned where orange drool had dripped from the dragon’s fiery mouth.
The giant beast hissed in fear and fury. It tried to get off another stream of fire but came up empty. It stood there with its mouth wide open as if it were about to devour her whole. She felt the wind coming from its breath. But there were no more flames.
Mei didn’t hesitate to finish off the job. She flung the Rudruntyne into its mouth and deep down its throat. The dragon choked and tried to spit it out. It took several tries before the Rudruntyne hit the ground, covered in dragon drool.
But it was too late. The weapon had done its job and absorbed the fire from the dragon’s body. The giant beast lunged away from Mei. Trying to head deeper into the cave. Then it writhed and squirmed. And eventually lay twitching before breathing its last.
Mei gulped and rubbed her eyes. She could barely believe what had just happened. The girl had barely believed the blacksmith when he told her it could protect her from a dragon. But she had no idea just how powerful it was.
She snatched the Rudruntyne up and wiped it down before placing it back in the pouch. She started to leave, but curiosity got the best of her. She wanted to see what dragon eggs looked like.
They weren’t that impressive. They looked like skinny, leathery ostrich eggs. She put the four eggs in her pouch as well. She kicked at the dragon’s corpse as she walked back past it. She wondered what others would have to say about her when they found out she had killed a dragon.
Would they call her a heroine or consider her an enemy for breaking a taboo.
Mahesh set the power pack down on the ground and let out a long sigh. Partly from the relief of having arrived, but mostly from the exhaustion of carrying the heavy weight. It felt good to stretch.
“Whew! We made it,” he sighed.
“So, where is it?” Cliff grunted as he set down his powered stake as well.
“Not sure exactly,” Mahesh replied. “But it must be nearby. Both packs are fully lit up. We’ll have to walk around one at a time until we get a lock on it.”
Mahesh picked up his pack with a low grunt. He walked away from Cliff until the orange light down the front of the power pack started to dim. He turned around and walked back a few more steps.
“Okay,” he hollered. “This is about the edge of my limit. Take the power stake back and to the left until it starts to dim.”
He watched as Cliff struggled to carry the power pack in front of his body so he could observe the light source until it began to dim. Cliff paused and turned to walk carefully back a few steps. Then set the stake down into the ground about 20 yards away from Mahesh.
“This is about as far as I can go!” Cliff hollered over at Mahesh.
Mahesh looked around and noticed that they were in the middle of a ring of small stakes that surrounded an indent in the ground that had filled with water from the rain over the past few days.
The city that surrounded them was a wreck. Entire buildings utterly destroyed by the raiding armies who had come seeking the spaceship. The governor and mayor had claimed that they didn’t know where it had gone. But the raiding army didn’t believe them. They had razed the city looking for it.
Mahesh chuckled at the irony. Not at the destruction, but the fact that the ship had been right here the entire time. If his calculations were correct and the power packs really could tell them where it was, then the ship was somewhere nearby.
He didn’t have much hope that they would find it intact though. It had most likely been destroyed by the bombings along with the buildings that surrounded them.
“Okay!” Cliff shouted. “Ready when you are.”
Mahesh reached down and pressed the large, round, orange button on the power pack. It hummed to life and began to crackle. He took a step back and adjusted his suit. Then straightened his gas mask as he waited to see what would happen.
Cliff gave him a thumbs up from across the puddle. A bolt of blue lightning snapped up from the ground to the side. Both men jerked back from their power packs. Cliff took a step back from the puddle of water and moved to the center of the small, dry area that surrounded him.
More bolts of energy began to sizzle and snap around them. A loud humming sound filled the air. Cliff shifted nervously. Mahesh could tell that he wanted to run.
“Stay close to the energy pack. That’s where you’ll be safest.” Mahesh reassured his friend to keep him from bolting away.
A large ball of white light began to form in front of them. Dirt and leaves began to float up into the air. Even Mahesh felt his body grow lighter under the strange power that surrounded them.
He glanced up and noticed the large, black ship floating down from the sky. Mahesh pointed up for Cliff to notice.
“There it comes,” he said softly.
“No wonder they never found the ship before,” Cliff whispered in awe. “It wasn’t in the city. It was floating up above.”
They both stood in silence as the ship continued to descend. Blue energy continued to arc up from the ground to an invisible shield that seemed to vibrate around the dark vessel.
The craft got close enough for him to see the intricate details. The blue lights along the edges flashed and flickered in sync with the bolts of energy shooting up from the ground.
It was close enough that Mahesh could almost reach out and touch it. He hesitated for a moment, but couldn’t resist even though he half-expected a shock.
There was a quiet hissing sound and a door opened from underneath with stairs leading down to the ground. Mahesh ducked to see if anyone was coming down. No one appeared.
“What do we do now, boss?” Cliff asked, his voice quivering.
Mahesh answered excitedly, “I guess we go for a ride.”
Carmen pressed her hands against the glass. She watched the spectacle taking place in the hall. It was complete and utter madness. Yet at the same time, it seemed so familiar. As if she had seen this scene playing out before her a hundred times before.
She knew what was going to happen next. Carmen wanted to close her eyes. She wanted to will away the events that she knew were about to unfold. Carmen had witnessed events like this before.
Premonitions of what was about to happen. A strong gut feeling. A clear vision in her mind’s eye of what was about to happen. And then a complete and utter feeling of helplessness to stop any of it.
That was the worst part. Not being able to prevent it. She had tried before, but it was always useless. No matter what she tried, the events that played out in her mind always came to pass. Always. Without fail. It was the most horrible feeling in the world.
The feeling of abject terror of knowing what was going to happen along with the utter impotence of not being able to stop it. That was why she was here in this insane asylum.
Three years earlier she had foreseen horrible events of brutality and carnage on the streets. Rioters and protesters destroying the city she once loved. Carmen had foreseen the death of most of her loved ones in the fires that took place. In the shootings that took place in the clashes.
She had known that most of those she loved would die. Yet still, she tried to warn them. They laughed it off. Called her crazy. Her own brother had brought her in and admitted her himself.
“Don’t worry, sis. When this is over, I’ll come get you out myself,” he said.
That was the one thing that Carmen hadn’t foreseen. Him placing her in the looney house for confiding in him. She had known that he wouldn’t return. And here she remained even three years later.
She smiled grimly at the irony of the situation. Carmen knew what was going to happen to others, but she could never see what happened to herself.
In a way, not having had any more visions for the past three years had been a relief. They had been three years of peace and respite from the haunting visions that befell her.
Until today anyway. That old fluttery feeling had started up again. She had sensed it. And everything happened just the way she had foreseen. She didn’t even try to warn them. Carmen had seen them all die in the explosion. Seen the fires consume them.
But she didn’t bother to tell any of them that this was their last day. No one would have believed her anyway. She was locked up in an insane asylum. That would have only upped the dosage of her meds and gone on about their tasks.
And even if they had believed her, it wouldn’t have done any good. They would have all been dead before the end anyway. If they had tried to run, the flames would have followed them. Their death was certain. There was no escape.
She heard the explosions before she saw the fire and flames. Carmen didn’t cower or cringe. But even if she wanted to, the woman was locked in. There was nowhere for her to flee to.
Carmen heard the screams. She saw people running up and down the hall. And then there was silence. She knew the man was coming before she saw him. She had already witnessed his arrival.
The man paused outside her window. He turned to look at her. Reached up. Placed his hand on the glass.
“Carmen,” he mouthed through the thick glass that separated them.
She reached up and placed her hand on the other side of his. This was where the vision stopped. This had been the last thing she had foreseen. After this, everything that would take place was a mystery.
His name was Scottie. He had been admitted to the institution a few months back. But they had never spoken before today. Someone had told her that he had no memories before being brought here.
Scottie stepped over to the door and opened it from the outside. Carmen fell into his arms sobbing.
“There were whispers that you mentioned this to the others. How did you know?” he asked sternly. “Were you a part of this plan?”
Carmen took a sharp breath and a step back. She shook her head. Tried to deny it, but knew it would do no good. It never did. No matter what she said, nobody ever believed her.
“You told someone earlier that there would be fire before the end of the day,” he growled.
Scottie turned to leave the room and slid a gas mask back over his face. Carmen shook her head, silently kicking herself for not having kept her mouth shut as she followed him. Even if those she loved didn’t die, she lost them because of this curse she carried.
He stood close to the fire. Silently watching it. A sheet of paper from the nurse’s station floated down the hall under the effects of the warm draft.
Scottie bent over to pick it up. A patient information sheet. Carmen glanced at it. Her name written at the top.
“It says that you have strange visions and claim to see future events,” he asked.
Carmen nodded silently without looking up at him.
“Do you find that strange?” she asked. Still not looking up.
Scottie didn’t answer right away. After a few moments of silence, Carmen looked over at him. He didn’t look back at her but could tell she was watching. The man shook his head. A few more moments of silence before he spoke up.
“No. Not anymore. I just remembered who I am and why I’m here? I can travel back through time. And I remember having seen you before.”
“Maybe it’s destiny,” she said. “Have I traveled with you before?”
Scottie nodded. “Yes. I remember everything now. I’ve been here before. You’ve been here before. And I’ve taken you back.”
Carmen swayed unsteadily. Trying to breathe.
“Maybe that’s why I have all these visions. These foreshadowings are simply things that have already happened and that I’ve lived through before,” she finally managed to say.
He looked at her and nodded. “That could well be the case. Do you want to go back with me again? Or do you want to stay here? If you don’t go back with me from here, you shouldn’t have any more visions after today.”
Carmen reached out and took his hand.
“I want to go with you,” she said. “I want to see my brother one more time. Maybe this time, I’ll remember enough to make a difference.”
Sayaka grabbed the book from the table and threw herself on the sofa. She sighed at the scene outside the window.
Two months of non-stop smog. Was it never going to end?
She longed for the days when she could open the doors to the patio and take a deep breath of fresh air. She missed being able to go out for a long walk on a sunny day.
Now, everything was dark and dreary. The sun hidden behind the never-ending clouds of billowing smoke and ash. No one knew where it came from or what caused it.
The young lady wondered what had happened to the beautiful touristic attractions around her city.
The Bamboo Forests. The Three Frog Throat Waterfalls. And even the Mountain of Ancient Dragons that she could once see from her home.
Now, most likely, devastated and decimated by the onslaught of dirt, grit, and grime that probably covered them just like it did the entire city.
Sayaka had no idea where her family was either. They had left her at home for the weekend and gone on a short trip to visit relatives in a neighboring city. She stayed home because she had to work that day.
After finishing, Sayaka had planned to catch the five-o’clock train. At noon, however, storm clouds began to gather over the city and a strange, black drizzle began. It came down as thick goo similar to oil and didn’t stop until well after dark.
She was not brave enough to venture outside until it stopped. So, Sayaka missed her train. She didn’t even want to leave the building after the rain stopped. She didn’t like the look of it and knew something was wrong.
Sayaka wanted to stay in the building all night. But her boss refused to let her sleep there. He offered her a ride home. Fortunately, his car had been parked in the garage under the building. And he dropped her off in the garage under her apartment building. So, she hadn’t gotten wet the entire time.
Most everyone else hadn’t been so lucky. Many came down with a strange illness. Most died in less than a week. No one that had gone out in the rain that day had been known to survive.
The smog started before dawn. When she got up, Sayaka couldn’t see more than three feet outside. She tried calling her family, but never got an answer. Over half the people that lived in her building had died in the past few months.
As soon as she saw the smoke, Sayaka had run to her father’s secret panic room and grabbed the gas mask. It was a specially designed room in the center of the apartment.
Her father had prepared it in the event of a catastrophe, stocking it with weapons and enough food for the family for three months.
But since she was here alone, it would last much longer. Sayaka was grateful that she didn’t have to venture out into the world to scavenge for food like she heard most of her neighbor’s doing.
Every once in a while, her neighbor would stop by for a visit. Sayaka would share a little food with her and in exchange get caught up on the latest gossip.
It was the only contact that Sayaka had with the outside world. Phones had stopped working. TV channels no longer broadcast news. Even the internet had gone eerily silent. Strange since she still had electricity.
Sayaka wondered how long that would last though. She figured that it would get shut off eventually. Not that she was too worried because her father had left a generator in the secret room. So, she would be fine for a while.
She wondered how long the world would continue like this though. How long till the rest of the people in her building died from being exposed to the elements like this?
Was this the end of the world like the stories her mother had told her as a child? Had Amaterasu Omikami hidden herself in the cave once again causing this darkness to fall upon the earth?
She closed her book and tossed it off to the side. There was no use in pretending that she wanted to read. She wanted to go outside. She wanted to run in the streets. And she wondered if she would ever get that chance again.
One thing she knew for sure though. Nothing would ever be the same again.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this story. Ask your questions in the comments below. Give me your feedback as well and let me know which stories you enjoy the most.
Fletcher stood at the edge of the lake surrounded by steep mountains. The edges of his thick, dark cape whipped and wafted in the warm wind that surrounded him. He gripped his spear tightly and tried to contain the emotion that surged within him.
Relief that the battle was over. Joy that he was still alive. Sadness over the senseless death of people he knew and loved. Nervous apprehension of what would come next as the world tried to pick up the pieces and carry on. A twinge of fear at the thought of returning to Alamorth once again. Guilt for having started this whole mess when he arrived. Anger at those who pushed him into it.
The thoughts swirled in his head like uncontrolled water flowing over the precipice of Niagra. The emotions raged through his cells like fire around the great phoenix’s feathers.
Fletcher took a deep breath and closed his eyes trying to push the emotions out of his mind. He focused on the fact that he was still alive. Grateful that despite everything he had been through, he was still alive.
The stormy emotions raging inside of him began to subside slowly as he took several more deep breaths. He opened his eyes once more and looked around. Fletcher stood in awe of the destruction that had taken place around him.
The crackling sound of the flames licking and consuming what was left of the once-mighty vessels of a great army filled his ears. The smoky scent of burning oak filled his nostrils from the broken and burnt-out hulls of charred ships surrounding the edge of the lake. Or rather, what had once been the bottom of the lake.
It now lay dry and barren. Eighty percent of the water that had once filled this crater was no longer here. Turned to steam, most of the great lake’s liquid had been vaporized into the atmosphere by flames from the Sword of Alamorth.
Fletcher lifted his eyes to look at the sword in the middle of the lake. It had landed point down and sunk deep into the soggy, lake bottom. He watched in awe as the sword slowly began to disintegrate and self-destruct from the bottom up. And yet, it did not fall over or move. The sword continued to hover over the water and float silently in the air.
The flames and burning ash continued to waft off of it. Then it began to rise into the air. Loose rocks around Fletcher trembled and rose up slightly along with it.
He wished that it didn’t have to end this way. Fletcher had come so far on his journey searching for this mighty weapon. And now that he had found it, the sword was disintegrating and disappearing before his very eyes.
Fletcher had started this journey with the hope that once he found it and possessed it, he would become king of all the land as the legends foretold. But that didn’t seem to be the case now.
The thought crossed his mind that his motives had not been pure. The entire time, he had viewed the sword as a symbol of power and authority. An object to be obtained for his own gain. And yet now, the true meaning of the sword became clear.
It was the symbol of freedom for his people. It had united them. Kept all of the tribes together. He was no better than any of the others. His tribe was no more special than the rest. And yet, if he possessed it, he would consider himself the best. His tribe would consider themselves more special than all of the others.
It was for the best that it be returned to its rightful place. Far from the grasp of corrupt and greedy men who would try to manipulate it and wield it for their own evil purposes. Men who would use it to control their fellow members for their own selfish ends.
Fletcher smiled at the thought that he had come full circle. He had left his tribe out of anger at his chief’s greedy and corrupt actions. And yet, he had no doubt that he would have been tempted to do the same if he had been in his shoes.
He reflected on the fact that over the course of his journey, his hope and belief had become blurred through his own desire for power which would have taken him down a destructive path.
The last bits of the sword’s handle disintegrated into bright bits of ashes and smoke. Fletcher raised his spear in a final salute. Grateful that the sword had saved him and his people. He had given it up to save the lives of those he loved. And it had been worth it.
He wondered what would have happened if he had chosen a different path. If he had run off with it, instead of using the sword to save his people. Would it still have been given him if he had done that? Had this all been a test?
Fletcher shook those questions out of his mind. He would never know. But he did know that he had made the right decision for himself and those he loved. He smiled wanly to himself and turned to leave the destruction behind him. It was time to head back home.
Thank you for reading! If you have questions about any of the vocabulary words, ask them in the comments below. Give me your feedback and tell me which stories you like so I can write more of them.
Katsuro shuffled his way down the beach slowly. Watching a boat floating off to his left. Not really paying attention to where he was going. He watched the sun setting off in the distance. The sky glowed amber shades of red and orange.
The boy tired of walking and sat down in the sand. Waiting for the flaming orange ball to fade away below the horizon. Feeling frustrated and angry.
The woman would not appear this afternoon. It had been days since he had last seen her. He missed her. Katsuro wasn’t sure quite why. It’s not like they ever talked much. She never spoke at all. Just walked beside him carrying her umbrella. Listening to him blabber on about whatever was bothering him that day. But talking with her always made him feel better.
Well, at least until he had begun noticing that the recent deaths taking place in the village all coincided with her arrival. Katsuro exhaled nervously and looked around to see if anyone had followed him.
He had noticed Misaki following him earlier. The young chief’s main counselor. Misaki was an old crone who was feared by the entire village. She held great power over the villagers. They had put the new chief into power at her command.
Nobody really liked the new chief. Nor did they respect him. It’s not even that they actually respected the old crone either. It was more like abject terror that she would curse them or cause some evil to befall them.
Katsuro scoffed whenever people mentioned it. He didn’t consider himself a superstitious person at all. Which was why he hadn’t really made the connection to his new friend’s arrival and the death of the villagers. A total of nine people had already died.
It was all people could talk about. Everyone had an opinion about what was causing so many people to begin dying out of the blue. Katsuro hadn’t given it much thought. He thought it was just a cycle of life. But now he wasn’t so sure.
Maybe Misaki and the chief suspected him. Was it possible that they knew he was talking with this strange woman on the beach? The first person had died the day after the woman with the umbrella had appeared.
It’s not like she lived around here somewhere. The island was small, and Katsuro knew almost everyone who lived here since he was a young child. There were a few other villages scattered across the island. But Katsuro visited them frequently and had never seen her before.
When he looked up, she was there. Just like always. Standing in the waves between him and the sun. Her face hidden in the shadow of her umbrella. Her hair blowing out around her in the wind.
Katsuro stood to his feet. He glanced around to see if Misaki was watching. He didn’t see anyone else besides the woman in front of him. He took a few steps forward. Hesitantly. Unsure what to say.
The woman with the umbrella stood there. Unmoving. Wating for him.
“Who are you?” he finally asked.
She stood there silent and unmoving. This was different. Normally, she came forward out of the water as soon as he spoke to her. Then she would fall into step beside him as they walked along the beach.
But tonight, she stood silently in her place. Katsuro knew that she wouldn’t answer him.
“I thought that maybe you were the mother I never had,” the orphan said trying to hold back a sob. “But ever since you came, there has been only death and destruction. I never should have trusted you.”
Katsuro walked closer. Trying to see her face. Trying to look into her eyes. Moving around so the sun wasn’t shining in his eyes. It was something he had never tried to do before. He had always kept his head down when talking to her. But he had to know who this woman was.
When he saw her face, Katsuro stopped dead in his tracks. He caught his breath.
She had transformed herself well, but he still recognized her. She smiled coyly. “I was beginning to think you would never catch on.”
“What’s going on?” he growled angrily. “Is this a trick?”
“I want you to be the village chief, but I needed to make sure you were worthy.”
“What about Takara? He is our chief.”
The woman cackled, “Takara is a foolish, yes man. He has no spine. But I know you are different. He will die like the rest.”
“No!” Katsuro shouted. “I will tell everyone what you are doing.”
“That’s too bad. You’ll be the next to die then, and I’ll have to find someone else to take your place.”
With a puff of smoke, Misaki was gone. Katsuro looked around dumbly. He didn’t believe anything like that was possible. He had to find a way to warn Takara, and then get off this island before Misaki could put her plan into effect.
Now, he just needed to find a boat to escape in. The boat he had seen earlier was perfect and would fit the bill exactly. Katsuro took off running down the beach to see where it had landed before it got any darker.
Khalil smiled at the girl walking beside him in the park. It was such a romantic evening. Just the way he had hoped. Melissa was a gorgeous girl, and the way the moonlight illuminated her face was absolutely stunning. He let his eyes linger on her face as they walked down the sidewalk. Melissa noticed and turned to smile at him.
“What is it?” she asked. “Why are you looking at me like that? Is there food in my teeth?”
The boy felt his cheeks blush. He was glad they were walking in the dark. Khalil was a shy person. He had never dated before. Melissa was the first girl who seemed to show an interest in him. And he was afraid to ruin their friendship. She was the first friend he had made after arriving in the USA.
Khalil hadn’t yet told her how he felt. But he had been hoping to get the opportunity to tell her how he felt. The young Filipino was waiting for the right moment to open up his heart. But he wasn’t quite sure how his lovely American friend would respond though. He didn’t want to jump the gun and ruin the moment.
Normally, Khalil was the kind of person who wore his heart on his sleeve. He was a very open person and never had any trouble sharing is thoughts. He was able to easily express what was going on in his heart of hearts with complete strangers.
But when it came to the women he liked, Khalil found that opening up to them too soon often spooked them off. They seemed to find his expressions of love too overwhelming so fast. So, he was trying to hold himself back.
Khalil just wanted to take it slow and build a strong friendship first. But it wasn’t easy. She was so pretty. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Well, he could, but Khalil didn’t want to. He sighed and turned his face away.
“I think you are so beautiful. I can’t take my eyes off of you,” he said quietly, afraid his words would scare her off, but still unable to hold his feelings in any longer. “I love you. I have since I first laid eyes on you.”
He winced after saying it and breathed out a long, shaky sigh. Well, it was out. Now, he would just have to wait to see how she responded.
Melissa started laughing. “It took you long enough to say it.”
Khalil’s heart seemed to have stopped beating as he waited to find out what she meant. He was afraid to ask her.
“But first there’s something you should know about me,” she said.
His heart sank. Half-expecting her to tell him that she had a boyfriend. How could he have been so stupid to not have asked her about it before? Melissa had never given him a reason to think that.
Khalil’s mind started to whirl as he mentally kicked himself for all the things he should have said or asked her before spilling the beans like that. He always seemed to open his mouth and insert his foot during moments like these.
Melissa stopped walking and turned to face him. She reached out her left hand and brushed the side of his face. The girl smiled and time seemed to stand still for Khalil. He waited for the bombshell. For her to tell him that she wasn’t interested in him that way.
Just then, there was a loud boom off to their left. The blast knocked Khalil off his feet. He lay on the ground stunned for a moment. He looked up to see Melissa still standing in the same spot. She hadn’t moved at all or seemed phased by the explosion.
He glanced over to see what had caused the blast. He couldn’t see much at first through the smoke and settling debris. As the scene cleared, he could make out the form of a woman. Although, she wasn’t a normal woman. There was something strange about her.
The woman’s hands glowed and there was a halo around her head. She stepped forward through the smoke and stretched out her arm toward Melissa. Lightning crackled and sizzled around her body.
“Nice to see you again, Sunbud,” she cackled with a strange robotic laugh.
That’s when Khalil realized why the woman looked so strange. She was a robot. Well, most of her anyway. Her head still looked mostly human.
Khalil jumped to his feet and tried to grab Melissa’s arm to pull her away. “C’mon, Melissa! Let’s get out of here.”
“Go, Khalil. This is what I needed to tell you. I’m not quite like you.”
“What? Are you an alien?” he asked, glancing from Melissa to the strange woman in front of them.
“No, but I can’t explain it now. Just get out of here. I’ll tell you about it later. But it’s not safe for you here. Go and call the police.”
“But I can’t leave you,” he said. “I told you I love you.”
Melissa grabbed Khalil’s face with both hands and kissed him.
“Go. She’s only here for me. I can handle her.”
Kahlil turned and ran to find someone who could help save the woman or whatever she was that he loved.
Roscoe looked around in shock. He blinked his eyes to make sure this was real. It seemed to be. Nothing changed in the scenery, even after pinching himself several times.
He knew there were places like this. He had heard of them. He had even wanted to visit them. But now that Roscoe was actually here, he wasn’t so sure this was a good idea.
As far as he knew, things didn’t happen quite like this. Normally, travelers were given a choice. They opted to visit of their own free choosing. Not just thrown here without advance warning.
It looked like a mashup between Chinatown and New Dehli. Roscoe knew what they were like because he had actually been to both of those places more than once.
He had lived in a slew of countries and learned over a dozen different languages before his eighteenth birthday.
His father had been an American ex-pat who moved from country to almost every six months on business. He had met Roscoe’s mother while in Iceland. Two countries later, they were in Australia when their first child was born.
With three citizenships, the polyglot was a prime candidate for anyone needing a spy.
Roscoe felt no loyalty to any single country or organization. He would spy on anyone or anything for the highest bidder. Sometimes spying for both sides at the same time. It didn’t matter to him as long as he got paid, and didn’t get caught in the crossfire.
The longest he had ever stayed in one place was eight months. That was only because of a woman. It was the first time he had fallen in love. He tried to convince her to go with him. But her loyalty to her family was stronger than love at first sight.
He had almost been willing to settle down for her. But she took a bullet for him. The woman jumped in front of a motorcyclist with a gun. Roscoe left the country and took on a new mission.
He beat himself up every day for a few weeks, thinking he had been the target. Thinking it was his fault that she had died. Wishing he had done something differently that day.
Then, on the last day of his mission, someone spilled the beans. They let it slip, that his woman had been the target the whole time. His current employer didn’t want him settling down.
After that, Roscoe went on a killing spree. Doing all of their enemies a favor. For free. No charge. He had never killed before. Had never had to because he was so good at getting the information he needed covertly.
But after that, he took on any job. Even those that didn’t require spying or collecting information. Roscoe actually preferred being a hitman to a spy. It was easier and mentally less taxing.
Roscoe had no idea how he had ended up here in this surreal place though. He had never seen anything like it before. It looked like a normal city with normal people. But there were strange, round ships in the sky that looked like UFOs.
Nor did he understand any of the letters and symbols written on the signs. Even though some of them looked familiar, it was like no language he had ever seen before.
“Papa. What’s wrong?” he heard a child ask.
He was lost in thought and didn’t look down until he felt someone tugging on his coat. Roscoe jerked back a step. He hadn’t heard anyone come up.
A young girl stood there looking up at him with a bright smile as if everything here were completely normal. She wore a matching coat that was the same color as his.
“Who are you? Where am I?” Roscoe asked.
The child cocked her head to the side and looked at him quizzically.
“Is everything ok, Papa?” she asked still looking at him.
There was no one else nearby. Roscoe shook his head and took another step back. Putting distance between them.
“No, everything is not okay. And I’m not your Papa. I’m not anybody’s, Papa. How did I get here?” he shouted angrily.
A small group of people walking by scowled at him menacingly. They placed their fingers over their lips as if shushing him and raised their eyebrows up and to the side toward the floating ships overhead.
Roscoe didn’t look up at them directly, but from his peripheral vision noticed one of the larger ships moving in his direction.
He smiled and tipped his head in acknowledgment to the person going by. Then Roscoe looked back at the child and smiled.
“Sorry, honey. Papa got distracted for a minute. I was thinking about something else.”
The child slipped her hand into his but, didn’t wipe the suspicious look off her face. She kept her eye on him as they walked down the street.
Roscoe had no idea where they were going, but assumed she was taking him to wherever his new home was.
He scanned everything around him, looking for clues to figure out what going on in this place till he could get out of here. He smiled and nodded to everyone who went by. Most smiled and nodded back.
But it was obvious to his trained, watchful eye who belonged here and who, like him, did not.
Roscoe didn’t really care though. This was just one more place to live. New experiences to enjoy. And like everything else in life, just a game to win. He walked along, confident that eventually, he’d figure out what was going on.
Lucine Voski sat in the cockpit of her YJ-0 Blizzard that she had affectionately named SkyEater. This was her baby. She had been offered a newer model of the same aircraft upon her promotion, but she had turned it down. One of the first to come out. But that was years ago. Now, everyone flew the newer models except her. She still had her first plane. And she would fly it as long as she could.
She glanced out to her right to make sure the trainees were still with her. They were flying newer models. Their Blizzards were sleeker and much more modern. But Lucine knew she could outfly and outmaneuver them any day of the week.
“Stay alert, boys. We’re only five clicks out. Prepare for a flyover in 60 seconds.”
“Roger that,” the familiar voice of Grigor Khazhak, one of the trainees cackled over her headset.
Lucine grinned. Everyone else used Romeo now instead of Roger. She liked the kid’s spunkiness and sense of humor. She knew that using older terminology was his way of poking fun of her taste for older aircraft and vintage headsets.
No one else used the large, bulky headset she had salvaged for her own use. They all used the sleek, modern earpieces just released in the latest model. But it didn’t bother her. She liked her antiques.
“You ready, Vahan?” she asked the trainee sitting behind her.
He didn’t say anything. The tall, dark-haired trainee behind her just raised one hand and gave her a thumbs up. Lucine turned her head so he wouldn’t see her smile.
It was always like this with them on their first trip out in her old clunker. She could outfly any of the other boys. By time the flight was over and they got back, Lucine knew that Vahan would be singing a different tune.
She saw the outline of the city approaching quickly. It was a familiar sight. She came almost once a month on these training missions. Bringing the new trainees out for a spin and showing them the ropes.
It worked out well because the entire city was completely off-limits to civilians. One because it was a military zone and forbidden for the general population. But really, because no one wanted to come out here.
The area had been quarantined off over twenty years ago. There had been a breakout of some sort. It never really had been explained to anyone. At least not that Lucine was aware of even at her level of classification. And she was pretty high up there.
But regardless of the reason, she and the trainees could fly around between the buildings to hone their chops and run their drills. Any stray bullets were absorbed by the city skyscrapers without the risk of hurting someone.
“Ok, kids! Everyone get into formation at 150 meters. Look alive, and I’ll see you on the other side.” Lucine ordered.
“Last one there is the rotten egg,” Grigor shouted over the headset, making Lucine wince. Hers didn’t adjust volume automatically like theirs did.
“No, this isn’t a race,” she barked. “It’s just a drill. Practice the sharp turns needed between buildings. Remain in control at all times. No speeding for now. We’ll get there eventually, but not today. I have to get you babies all back home to your mommas alive.”
Lucine could hear their collective sighs over the headsets. They were all anxious to show off and do something fun on their first day out.
“You ready to take over the controls, Vahan?”
She glanced back in time to see his nod and passed the controls over to him.
“It’s all yours,” she said and looked out over the city just in time to see a streak of white light coming out of one of the skyscrapers in their direction.
There was nothing she could do to get out of the way in time. There was a loud blast and the shock from a direct hit. She felt the plane going down, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
She let it down as best she could among the skyscrapers. They went down hard. Skyeater would never fly again. Lucine climbed out and looked up. She couldn’t see a thing through the thick smog. There was no way any of the other ships would be able to see them down here under the smog.
Not that they would even come looking. The whole place was still under quarantine. Even if she and Vahan could find their way out of the city eventually, they wouldn’t be let out alive. She knew that much for the level of clearance that she did have.
The woman screamed in frustration. Vahan just watched her with that same scared look on his face. She smiled. “Don’t worry, we just gotta find a way back home.” But she knew he didn’t believe her.
Lucine wondered if they would be able to live in the city somehow. Who had shot at them? Were people still living here?
“Well, c’mon, son. What are you waiting for? We got a long way to walk before supper.”