The Kiddie Pool

Standing there, the too-tight floaties nearly cutting off circulation around my upper arms, I had only one thought running through my head.

Parenthood makes you do crazy, ridiculous things.

I glanced back over my shoulder, turning to look at Brandon. The flippers on my feet meant that I had to do a stupid, ridiculous little penguin-shuffle to rotate, and I knew that, if any of my office buddies could see me right now, they’d be laughing their asses off. I’d be the butt of all the water cooler jokes for weeks.

“Now, you’re still convinced that the pool’s too deep and scary,” I said again to Brandon, hoping that maybe the six-year-old’s mercurial mind had changed since the last time I asked him, five minutes earlier. Continue reading

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Regulate

Author’s note: Dark America will return with the next update!  This is a brief one-shot inspired by a late-night idea.

Walking past the tavern, I caught sight of a familiar shape inside. Frowning, I pushed open the door, blinking as I tried to adjust to the interior’s dimness.

“Wrynn?” I asked, moving over towards the grizzled man sitting heavily at the bar, scarred knuckles wrapped around his flagon. “What are you doing in here?”

He turned a single eye to fix me, and I felt my spine snap towards attention without any conscious input. Wrynn was the oldest man in the village, and the oldest Gifted that I’d ever met. Others were older, of course – ones like Glass Alice had their own legends built up – but Wrynn was the oldest that I’d actually met.

“What d’you think I’m doing in here?” the old man grunted at me, tightening his shoulders slightly. “Drinking. Trying to get some damn peace and quiet.” Continue reading

The Forbidden Pages, Part II

Continued from Part I, here.

I stared at the faint, gauzy, illusory face floating in the air in front of me. I should have been scared, but astonishment pushed all other emotions aside for the moment.

“No way,” I gasped out, my words barely a whisper.

The face grew, sliding right out of the wall, moving through it as if it was no more solid than smoke. It grew into a small figure, with glowing strands of long brown hair cascading down over her shoulders, spilling over the short sleeves of a white dress, with a thick red ribbon tied around her waist. She floated out, a foot or two above the ground, out until her bare feet finally drifted clear of the wall. Continue reading

The Forbidden Pages, Part I

I crept down the stairs of the old house, wincing every time the old boards creaked beneath my tread. My uncle was fast asleep, but I knew that he didn’t sleep heavily. What if he heard the noise and woke up?

Finally, after what felt like ages of moving with excruciating slowness, I reached the bottom of the stairs. I slipped a hand into the pocket of my pajama bottoms, curled my fingers around the brass key that lay inside.

The door to the library, seven feet tall, loomed in front of me. I looked up at it with trepidation, wondering how much trouble I risked getting myself into. After all, my uncle never failed to remind me, on each visit to his house, that the library was off limits. He kept it locked for a reason, he insisted, even if he never divulged that reason to me. Continue reading

The Wizard’s Conundrum

“I’m not sure I see the problem.”

I sighed, wishing that I hadn’t heard the question posed to me through a full mouth. Without turning around, I knew what filled that mouth, what gave the words their slightly sticky quality.

“The problem,” I sighed, hating that I had to explain this yet again, “is that it defies the laws of conservation of matter and energy. They shouldn’t be appearing, and the material can’t just come from nowhere.”

“They’re not bad though. Good flavor. Maybe could be heated up a little, and they’d really hit the spot.” Continue reading

666 summons Satan. 6666 summons Hypersatan.

Author’s note: God, this dialogue was hard to write.

I stared in horror at the massive, writhing mass of tentacles and eyeballs that seemed to twist and writhe through space, somehow passing through itself in ways that didn’t seem possible when considering the laws of physics. Dozens of eyes blinked at me, reddened pupils boring into me with a disconcerting gaze.

“WhO dArEs To SuMmOn Me?!?” roared out the monster, speaking from hidden mouths in a cacophony of voices that grated at my ears like heavily distorted death metal. “WhO dArEs To SuMmOn HyPeRsAtAn!?”

Finally, I found my voice. “Wait, what?” I exclaimed. “Hypersatan? I didn’t summon you!”

“YoU dId!” Several of the tentacles lashed out at me, turned back at the last second by the confines of the summoning circle. “I hAvE bEeN sUmMoNeD bY tHe RuNe, 6666!” Continue reading

The Walking City

Ellie picked her way along the ridge, placing each foot carefully. The rocks were treacherous up here, the mud that normally anchored them in place having been dried by the warm breezes that blew across the tops of the rolling hills. One misstep could send her tumbling down.

Behind her, she heard the gentle clopping sounds of Old Branch, following sedately after her. Branch, named for the big antlers that he shed each season, didn’t seem to show any worry about where he put his big feet. Maybe they were better at gripping, Ellie considered. Or maybe he just didn’t worry because he had more feet than she did.

Dancing back and forth, she kept her eyes mostly on the ground. The shadow of the City stretched long in front of her, but she did her best to avoid stepping in it. The sun felt warm on her cheeks, a pleasant contrast to the chill that still hung in the air despite the sun having been up for hours. Fall was reaching its conclusion, she felt. Soon, winter would come, and heavy flakes of snow would swirl down from the skies. Continue reading

Welcome to Rebirth

Tarot looked around at the high cliffs as he slowly advanced forward, watching his shadow grow deeper.  He tried to hold his head high, tried to keep up his confidence, but he felt it slipping and fraying at the edges.  For once, the area of the Dark Lord’s Lair actually seemed, well, forbidding.

Pausing for a moment, he checked his defensive wards, ensuring that his spells were still in place.  They were, of course; nothing had changed since he last checked, two minutes earlier.  Still plenty of time on the shields, even without the perks that extended their durations before they’d need to be recast.

Tarot snorted to himself, a little of his natural swagger returning.  Amateurs.  No one who actually read up on the forums, researched the most advanced and effective builds, ever bothered with perks like that.  The real players, the ones who thought about true strategy, made sure to put as many points as possible into offensive attacks as they leveled up their skill trees. Continue reading

“It’s dangerous to go alone.” Part II

Continued from Part I, here.

As it turns out, slaying dragons is a bit like riding a bike; once you get the hang of it, you pretty much just need to worry about hanging on and not tumbling off.

Of course, I never really got the hang of riding a bike.

This thought flashed through my head at precisely the wrong moment, as I clung desperately to the handle of the sword. The scales around me felt just as slick as they looked, and offered little in the way of handholds. I just clung to the handle of the sword, feeling it sink a little deeper in the thrashing, bellowing wyrm with each stomach-dropping plunge through the sky.

“Just give up and die already!” I shouted, even though the rushing wind whipped the words out of my mouth before anyone else could hear them. “Go down! Down!” Continue reading

Grading

I groaned, turning the mug over in my hands. Despite its cheery mass-printed slogan – “Number 1 Teacher!” – it felt cheap. Hell, it was. If I closed my eyes and focused, I could trace back its component elements, back through the Asian factory where these cups were churned out by the tens of thousands, back to the mud pit in backwoods China where the clay had been scraped from the ground.

I didn’t bother summoning the focus. Even an insignificant little charm like that taxed my strength almost to its breaking point. I hated knowing that I’d fallen so far, feeling my limits hit me so quickly.

The mug might be cheap, unremarkable, but it still held coffee. I got up, crossed the teachers’ lounge over to the ancient Mr. Coffee that sat on the counter, its flameless heat spells showing the strain of countless years of constant operation. I poured a cupful of hot, steaming coffee into my mug, replaced the pot back on the etheric coil that served as its heating focus. Continue reading