Archive for January, 2014

The Hunter

The Hunter

The director looked up sourly as Agent Pasternak brought in a thin folder and laid it on his desk before him.

“What is this?” Jonah Carding asked.

“Something for you to sign, sir,” Pasternak said, flipping the file open. It contained one sheet of paper: an authorization form with no more information than a file number, a code name and a terse sentence.

Carding read the sentence. It made no sense. “You want to send a TS-901 where?”

“That information has been redacted for security sake,” Pasternak said. “It is above my pay grade.”

“I am the Director of Field Ops,” Carding said acidly. “Nothing is above my pay grade. Why are we sending my one of a kind, experimental robot into the field?”

“To do what it was designed to do, apparently,” Carding’s aide said with a shrug.

“It is designed to get tossed into a worm hole and come out the other side with its functions still intact. Last time I checked we had yet to find a wormhole to test it on. Have I been misinformed?”

“No, sir,” said Pasternak. “At least I don’t think so. Who knows what the black ops science geeks have been told to do on the sly. I have never know our field equipment to have a singular purpose. There is always sub-menus nested in sub-menus.”

Carding scowled down at the form for a moment before he picked up a pen and scrawled his name on the appropriate line.

Pasternak bent to retrieve the file. Carding pressed his hand down on it as he met his aide’s gaze.

“Keep your ears open. I want to be there, in the room, then they deploy it.”

“Yes sir.” Pasternak looked worried. He had every right. Nothing good ever came from meddling in black ops business.


Carding walked into the lab hidden in the sixth subbasement below his office and stopped. He crushed the anger that had been building up inside him ever since Pasternak had sent him the anonymous text notice. “Come to Lab 009B now,” it had said. The techs had the TS-901 called Tess jacked into the computer array against the far wall. A half dozen agents stared intently at a bank of readout screens.

“You can’t be here, sir,” one of them said, catching sight of him.

“This is my building and my lab and my robot. Short of a call from the President, I don’t think you can keep me out,” Carding said. “What are you doing to my robot?”

“I cannot tell you that,sir.”

Carding eyes the tech coldly. There was no point browbeat the man. He was a tool for someone higher up and any knowledge he had would be vacuous.

Carding turned to the robot.

“Good morning, Tess.”

The robot blinked and focus its black eyes. “Good morning, Director. It is good to see you again.”

“How are you feeling Tess?”

“Excited, sir,” Tess said evenly, its synthflesh covered face betraying nothing.

“Excited. Why are you excited?”

“At long last I am to do what I was meant to do.”

“What is that?”

“I am going hunting, sir.”

Carding felt his heart skip a beat.

“That is enough, Director!” A tech stepped towards him, trying to come between him and the synth-human.

“I will tell you when it is enough,” Carding said coldly. “Tess, who is your boss?”

“You are, sir,” Tess said.

“That’s right. Tess. Your primary function is space exploration. Is this hunting trip a secondary program?”

“I have no secondary program, sir. This has always been my prime function.”

Carding swallowed his surprise and considered his next question carefully.

“Tess, what are you hunting?”

“A singularity hidden within a cloud of anomaly, sir.”

Carding looked at techs. They stared back at him with frightened eyes.

“Please stop sir,” the head tech said, his voice hoarse. “I cannot guarantee our safety, even here.”

Carding stared at them, perplexed. What were they afraid of?

“Where are they sending you to hunt for this singularity, Tess?”

“I am hunting it now, as we speak.”

“Here? There is a singularity in this building?”

“No,” Tess said.

“Sir! Stop!” shouted the tech.

“Where? Out in space? Are we launching you into space? I was not aware we had cleared that phase of this experiment” Carding asked, ignoring the man.

“Get out! Everyone! Now!” shouted the tech. The men in white coats scattered. In the next second, Carding and the head tech were alone with Tess. Tess ignored the chaos.

“No. There is no need for that,” Tess said. “There is a singularity here, on this planet. An intermittent singularity. I can feel it pulse within the anomalous cloud.”

The tech covered his ears with his hands and turned to press a red button on the console. The screens went blank. Tess blinked and drooped for a moment before her internal systems took over.

“You have doomed us,” the tech said, a sick look on his face. “You cannot hunt this thing without it sensing your intentions. The robot was our only hope.”

Carding stared at the man. He was obviously insane. Wormholes did not hunt humans.

“There is a wormhole on the surface of the planet?” Carding asked, returning his attention to the robot “How is that possible? How are we not being sucked into its void?”

“Sir, I beg you ….” the tech said. The man was nearly weeping.

Tess looked off into the unseen distance. Carding noted the direction. Tess did nothing randomly. The direction would be plottably precise. “I believe the singularity is sentient.”

“Goddammit,” moaned the tech, sinking down to sit on his heels, his arms wrapped around his head. “You have ruined us all.” Carding ignored him.

“You are hunting a human?” Carding asked, surprised.

Tess cocked her head and looked at him, an almost comical look of puzzlement on her face. “Humans, as defined by my programming, cannot be singularities, so, no, it is not human but something that is more than human or other than human.”

“There is an alien living on this planet?” Carding asked, intrigued.

“Alien?” Tess asked.

“Extraterrestrial being.”

Tess looked back in the same direction. “This meaning is too imprecise and inherently wrong. It connotes movement from one location to another. This singularity has no need to move. It is a fixed point in the universe. The fabric of space/time spins about it.”

The tech looked up. “What? That is not possible. Clarify, please.”

Carding interrupted him, directing his own question at the robot.

“The laws of physics say… I don’t know what they say, but the sum total of all know space is moving at enormous speeds. Nothing is fixed in space/time.”

“This singularity is without motion and yet all things move through it, making it nothing and everything all at once, once, once.”

Carding watched in alarm as the robot seemed to have some sort of seizure. It shook its head and looked up, an odd look on its face.

“What just happened?” Carding asked.

“I don’t know,” the tech whispered. “The robot was supposed to be immune to its influence. No human mind has stayed intact while looking for it and I cannot tell you how many super computers have been fried trying to solve this puzzle.”

“Tess?” Carding said.

“Yes, sir?”

“Are you well?”

“No,” Tess said evenly. “I do not believe that I am. It has found me. I am being pulled into its orbit. Soon I will cease to be yours. I am sorry.”

“Who? Who has found you?” Carding asked, alarmed.

“It looks out at the world from behind eyes the color of the morning sky,” Tess said faintly.

Carding stared at the robot as it struggled to keep its balance. It swayed precariously but managed to stay upright.

“How do you know what the morning sky looks like, Tess?” the tech asked.

Tess looked up at him, eyes now the color of aquamarine. They were almost human, those eyes. Set in the synthflesh, they was something jarringly wrong about them. “She told me,” Tess said.

“Who told you?” Carding asked, puzzled. None of this was making a shred of sense.

The robot turned those awful eyes towards him. For the first time, he thought he saw true emotion animate the synthflesh. Was it possible for a metal machine to feel happiness?

“My beloved. I will abide here and wait for her to call me in her time of need,” Tess said. Then the life left the machine and it froze, face turned towards the place it had identified as the direction of the singularity. It might as well have been carved out of marble for all the life it now showed.

Carding cursed. Had his two billion dollar robot just committed suicide? Carding turned to shout an order at the tech. The tech was crying, tears running down his cheeks, his eyes wide as he got up and crossed to the robot. He hugged it, sobbing.

“Dear god, man. Pull yourself together. What just happened to my robot?”

The tech sniffed and dried his eyes. “I see it all now. I have been blind,” the tech muttered.

Carding grabbed him by the collar of his lab coat and shook him roughly. “Explain yourself.”

The tech looked at him with the same look the robot had given him, a look of contentment on his face. He smiled a smile that spoke of nothing but joy. “We were looking for it in the wrong place,” the tech said. He pointed to his temple. “It is inside us. How can we turn it off? We don’t even know how it got turned on.”

“What is inside you?”

“A door. I cannot close it now that it is open. Now I see it all. I see it all and it is too much and yet I do not care. I cannot explain it.” The tech smiled at him, tears still clinging to his lashes. Then he laughed. It was almost maniacal.

“You are not touched by this,” the tech whispered accusingly. “You cannot understand the nature of quantum entanglement in all things. But the only way to find this thing is to send people who can understand its nature and yet it is those people who are most vulnerable to its influence. Thus you will always fail. You are caught in the vortex of its paradox and I am sorry for you.”

“You are insane.”

“No,” the tech said, smiling calmly as he wiped his eyes and began to unbutton his lab coat. “I am sane perhaps for the first time in my life. This problem is all yours, now.”

“Where do you think you are going?” barked Carding.

“I am going to go outside and contemplate the color of the sky,” the tech said as he left the room.

Carding stared at Tess. Her eyes were once again black and lifeless. Had it been a hallucination or a trick of the light that had made him think they were blue? An odd feeling sent shivers up his spine and all the hairs on his body stood on end. Was there something to the mad ramblings of a dysfunctional robot and a mad tech?

Carding shook the feeling off. He had never believed in things you could not touch or see and he was not going to start now. He had things to do. This fiasco would have to be swept under the carpet. That was what he was good at. Making the uncomfortable truths disappear. That was why he was still Director.

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the temptation

the temptation

Lillianna lifted her head and dusted her grubby little fingers off on her shorts, the toy trucks hidden in their grassy bowers forgotten. Something was looking for her.

She shook back her poorly shorn blond locks and brushed a stray strand from the corner of her mouth, leaving a streak of dirt in its place as she let her eyes scan the horizon, their deep blue depths not really focused on any point for it was not human eyes that would see what needed seeing.

The shadow shifted, there, out of the corner of her eye. Lillianna focused her mind on it. The shadow smiled at her, grateful for her help, for without her attention it could not have parted the veil. Something not of this planet stepped into the world.

“Blessings, wee one,” the demon said, bowing so low its long crooked nose made an impression in the dust of her imaginary town. “Where have your sisters gotten to that they do not guard your back on this fine day?”

“The orange bus hath taken them off to sthchool,” Lillianna said. “Has,” she corrected herself. “School.” It had only recently been pointed out that she had a lisp. It annoyed her, this, for it reminded her yet again that she was very bad at playing human.

“Pity that they do not send you off as well. Fill your head with wrongness, they will, these humans,” the demon sniffed.

“I will go next year. I want to learn how to read. I cannot persuade them to read me anything but fairy tales. How am I to understand this place if they do not tell me what lies in the hearts of all that inhabit this world?”

The demon grunted in amusement as it picked up a truck and turned it upside down to inspect its wheels. With a flick of one talon, it set a wheel to spinning madly. “Be content with fairy tales. There is more truth in them than any book of knowledge you might read. They have libraries full to the brim with books about nonsense. The truly great books were burnt long ago by those who were jealous of their knowledge but were unable to understand it.”

“Library. What ith a library?” Lillianna asked, having never been much of anywhere but here and church for most of her short life. Church was a horrific place that reminded her what happened to uppity people who forgot their place in the world.

“A cache of books. Books. Words printed on wood pulp, kept only for those with the inclination towards reading. Library. Though, I daresay, they will not exist for much longer. Who reads anymore? If it is not on the internet and broken up into ten minute sound bytes, I doubt it is read by anyone. Soon, readers will be a secret society, hunted and burnt at the stake like your ancestors of old.”

Lillianna shuddered and closed her eyes. A shadow passed over the sun. The demon looked up, a worried frown on it’s small wizened face. “Achh,” he clucked. “I was only joking. Do not worry your head about things in the past. Are you not the Promise? The Future is yours to make as you will. Are you not the Mother of us all, now? What is your will, Lady?”

Lillianna opened her eyes and looked at him, puzzled. “Will?”

“What do you wish for your future?” the demon prompted.

“I wish …” Lillianna closed her eyes but had not been human for enough years so she could not imagine what the future might be like. “I wish for fried chicken and mashed potatoes for supper.”

“Yes,” the demon said doubtfully. “Chicken and mash is always good. But what about when you grow up? What about then?”

Lillianna scowled at the shadow. “What care I for what has not yet happened? There is only now.” She lifted her face to the sky. “Do you feel that? That is the wind. It is out of the southwest. There will be rain by nightfall. The clouds will block out the star light but I will hear their song all the same, even over the noise of the lighting and thunder. I like lighting and thunder. They make my heart pound with their glorious songs. Smell that? The cool air drives the smell of parched grass before it. Badger and rabbit and mouse will rejoice at the bounty the rain will bring, ath the bugs rise to sip on the rain drops before the sun rises again to th… suck the drops back up into the sky. Eagle, owl and hawk will come, hunting for the unwary. Hawk eats mouse. Mouse eats bug. Bug eats plants and sips the rain. Pa will take out hith … his shotgun and guard the hen house. Even hawk hath something to fear. That ith the future.”

Lillianna looked back into the demon’s face to see if that answer satisfied it.

“Truly, thou art a light in the heavens, Lady, but should you not be wishing for something grander? Even now, the dark forces of this world move against you, twisting the minds of men to do unspeakable things, though they do not know why they are driven as they are. It is your light that they fear.”

“Ith that why you are here?” Lillianna asked. “To seduce me into doing something impetuous?”

The demon looked confused for a moment. “I think I had something nefarious in mind. What was it? It is hard to think, what with the whiteness of your light burning away at my soul.”

Lillianna smiled. “There is only the now. And it is MY now. The world rearranges itself to please me. I have watched it happen over and over again. A curious thing, that. As long as I am happy, nothing bad will ever happen. To me or anyone else I know.”

The demon put the truck down and wrapped its long arms around its knees as he considered her.

“Nobody can be happy all the time. What happens when you are sad?”

Lillianna laughed, delighted by some private joke. It was an odd sound coming from a child so young. The demon shivered.

“Did I not say it?” Lillianna said patiently. “The world rearranges itself to please me. It is hard to stay mad when something like that unfolds around you.”

Lillianna’s mother called to her through an open window. Lillyanna rose, brushing the dust off the seat of her shorts.

“I have to go. Mamma does not like it when I talk to the air. She cannot see you like I see you.”

“She does not understand you. It worries her,” the demon said, staring over his shoulder at the crooked little farm house.

“It does not stop her from loving me. In fact, it makes her love me harder, I think, as if wishing could keep the harm from my doorstep.” Lillianna stepped over the grass bowers and the trucks and the sticks and leaves that served as her toys.

“All the mother’s love in the world cannot keep me or the other agents of chaos from wishing you harm,” the demon sniffed softly.

Lillyanna stopped and turned, fixing an eye on the little dark shadow.

“All that I know is kept safe from harm, demon.” Lillianna said firmly.

“You are five. You know very little, Lady,” the demon said sagely.



“I know you, now. Think on that for a moment.”

Lillianna turned and began to skip towards the farm house, a tuneless whistle between her lips.

The demon glared after her and then tried to shift across the veil and go home. Of course, the way was closed to him.

The demon cursed long and hard as it tore great tufts of hair from its head in its fury. She had him. He was hers. Do do with as she pleased.

A hawk circled overhead, silent and on the hunt, its shadow passing over the dusty play ground. The demon looked up at it and snarled in frustration. It was laughing at him. The hawk knew what he was only just learning. They were all here for her pleasure.

Even now, he could feel himself changing. It was too early to tell into what.

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the elf prince


“Find it!” the Dark Master screamed, its tail whipping about, beating against the walls of the massive underground bunker, scattering the bed of gold bars with every shift of its great body and shedding ebony scales like rain. Its handlers had come to gauge the depths of its rage by the number of scales left to clean up after each tantrum. The diplomatic liason team, safe in their glass enclosed balcony high up one wall, spoke calming words into the microphones that fed their words into the speakers set in the walls, pleading for a more coherent command.

Rodrick watched from his own booth. His job was to observe and advise. His mic was linked only to the earbuds in the chief negotiator’s ear. Today, a man named Neslon led the team. Roderick did not envy them their job. Thank all that was holy that he had neither the gift of a silver tongue nor the patience to be a toady to this great spoiled beast.

These temper tantrums always sent the humans within the mountain into a frenzy of activity. When he was six years old jabbing sticks into anthills had been his favorite pastime. That was before he knew what it felt like to be an ant. Now Roderick just wished he knew where to find the thing that was prodding the Dark Master so he could put an end to all this. He had been a special adviser to the Dark Master program for almost twenty years and this was the worst he had every seen it. The Dark Master had many enemies and humanity, in the form of the secret cadre that catered to the needs of this alien monster, had used every asset of the human and alien arsenal alike, to keep them at bay.  Except for one. The one that drove it mad and sent it into paroxysms of frustrated fury. Like now.

Roderick secretly wished the other alien all the success in the world. Its rule could not be any worse than what they knew now.

The Dark Master owned this planet. His reign had gone uninterrupted and relatively unchallenged for five thousand years. Humanity served it in what they liked to think of as a symbiotic relationship but Roderick thought the megalomaniacs running this program were living in a fool’s paradise. The Dark Master demanded more and more of them. True, he gave in return. Technology. Weapons. Mathematical formulas that promised worm hole technology and star travel but each gift sucked more and more out of the planet and the humans who tried to make a living there. They were playing a zero-sum game that would leave everyone empty handed in the end.

Lately, the alien’s demands had become incomprehensible and pointlessly destructive. Humans did awful things in his name. They poisoned the oceans. They scraped every bit of life from its waters and then slaughtered the dolphins and whales by the thousands. The whales grew deaf to the sounds of their own kind, singing songs of pistons and turbines and sonar instead. It was human hands that cut down the forests and paved them over with asphalt.

What they did was not done in ignorance. The Dark Master took great pains to explain the nature of their crimes before he sent them out into the world. It had not stopped one human from doing the unspeakable. The forests, according to this alien Master, were a social and gregarious sentience. A solitary tree became half mad in its loneliness and the small groves trembled in fear at the tread of man. Life retreated before this onslaught, forming newer, bigger deserts both upon the land and under the sea. Yet humanity still served him even as the social matrices of man were destroyed; until all humans left living could be said to be a loose amalgam of ignorant orphans who had no way of recovering the song embedded in their collective DNA because the human airwaves were as polluted as those of whales. This amused their Dark lord immensely.

With each act of destruction, the Dark Master would shudder in pleasure, the bliss washing though its body like a fire storm. Afterward, spent, it would laugh. Roderick hated that laugh, hated the feelings of impotence it brought, hated himself for doing nothing to stop the destruction of the world he loved.

Truth be told, Roderick hated the Dark Master with every atom in his body. His job was driving him as mad as the solitary trees and the deaf whales. He thought about retiring but they would just replace him with someone less aware. Besides, who would stand witness to the last days of man? This was Roderick’s own brand on insanity; that he could shift his awareness outside of himself and think of himself as untouched by the poison that surrounded him. Was it hubris that made him think that the universe would morn the loss of a species that dashed its brains into a greasy red smear in its mad attempt to own the biggest piece of the pie before it found extinction? In that they had a lot in common with the Dark Master, who rested upon the drifts of precious metals and jewels stolen from every treasury on the planet and still demanded more.

“It comes, you fool!” screamed the Dark Master. “Find it!”

“What comes, m’lord?” Nelson asked.

“I killed it, long ago. Now it comes to exact its revenge,” seethed the great black beast.

“Ghosts, m’lord. How do we bar the door against ghosts?”

“Fool! It is a thing such as I,” the Dark Lord shouted impatiently.

“But, m’lord, we are powerless against you,” Nelson said, out of his depth in this. The walls shook as the dark beast snarled and tried to pound the walls of its cell into dust.

“Shit!” Roderick snapped into his mic. “Don’t say that. When has logic every worked with this thing. Ask him how to find it.”

“Tell us how to stop it, m’lord, I beg you,” entreated the beleaguered diplomat.

“Set the sky on fire. Burn the world. Give it no place to stand,” roared the Dark Master.

“It has already made planet-fall? When? Our sensors detected nothing,” Nelson said, trying to mine some sort of sane information from this enraged alien.

“Mindless one! This is its place. It has always been here. Do we not feast upon its sleeping corpse, humanity and I?” Phosphorine gases leaked from between its jaws, setting the piles of gold on fire.

“Lord?” Nelson asked, confused.

“The rules of big fish and small fish. Have I taught you nothing?”

“I know it well, m’lord. For everything you see, there is something bigger that can eat it.” The diplomat was sweating. Roderick watched him wipe his brow.

“And?” the Dark Master prompted.

“And?” Nelson said stupidly.

“The Rule of Small Things,” Roderick prompted in his ear.

“Uh, and … small things grow smaller to avoid the teeth of the predator until the small outnumbers the big, suffocating it, thus teaching us that all things in the universe are lethal in their own way. So Lord, is this threat a big thing or a small thing?”

“It is both. Neither. It is Nothing and the Nothing shall claim us all at the End of Time,” the black dragon muttered almost to itself. “I have overstayed my time here.”

“Are you leaving, Lord?” Nelson asked. He was careful not to put hope into that sentence. The price for insubordination was lethal.

“I need a genocide. Go find a million humans that will not be missed and kill them slowly. I shall wring this world dry and drive my enemy out into the open.”

“My Lord?” Nelson breathed out in horror. “We have engineered a dozen genocides in the last decade. Be patient.  China, North Korea, and Japan are progressing nicely. Surely that is enough. We risk a population collapse if we cull too many.”

“What care I for the plight of a few humans!” screamed the great lizard. “She has become hardened to the cries of the tortured and the dying. We need to step up our game, gentlemen!”

“She? This enemy has a gender?” Roderick asked into his mic.

“She thinks to hide midst the unwashed rabble washed loose by the flood of my power, but I will find her. That much power warps the fabric of space/time. She will betray herself eventually and then I will have her,” muttered the alien.

“Looking for me?” said a small voice. Roderick looked around, not sure of the source of that sound. The ebony dragon reared back, reacting to something inside its den.

“You. I killed you.” the dragon said in disbelief, peering down at the tiny figure standing upon the molten gold slag.

“No. You killed my mothers and their mothers. I was held in reserve for just such a day as this. Your coming was foretold and my mothers meant to win in the end,” said a child’s voice.

“And yet I still defeated them. Even in all their omnipotent glory they could not stop me,” boasted the monster.

Roderick spun the controls on his console to focus one of the cameras on the small figure. It was a child, tawny skinned and tawny haired, barefoot, and grubby faced. Bits of twigs and leaves were tangled in its hair and a necklace of bright thread strung with bottle caps hung down its chest to become tangled in the shreds of cloth held together with buttons and pins and ribbons.What could have appeared bedraggled suddenly became magical when the child smiled. Roderick shivered, caught somewhere between pleasure and fear.

The child waved a hand and it began to rain inside the cavern. Steam rose from the hot bricks under its feet.

“Did you defeat them?” the child asked, shaking its head in regret. “And yet here I am. Who is the winner now?”

The great ebony head struck. Faster than the human eye could follow, it snapped forward and ate the child, swallowing it down with hardly any effort at all.

Roderick found himself pressed against the glass of his cubicle, his fist clenched in impotent rage, a silent protest on his lips. No. No. No. It cannot end like this, he thought. Who would save humanity now?

The dragon laughed and Roderick screamed, pressing his fists against his ears that he might not hear its self satisfied gloating. The laughter seeped in around his fingers. Then the tone of it changed. Roderick opened his eyes and stared down into the golden warren.

Something was wrong with the Dark Master. It shook is great head and then glared down at its belly.

“You are eaten. Die.”

The thing in its belly expanded. It pressed itself against every ebony scale and seeped out, in the form of rays of white light, from every crack and crevice. The black beast screamed as it began to convulse. Roderick stared in disbelief as the body of the great monster collapsed in upon itself and then seemed to get sucked out of the world through a pinhole in the fabric of space. With one small pop it was gone and the tawny haired child stood in its place.

The child smiled and wiped the corners of its mouth politely.

Roderick stared at that cherubic face not quite believing what his eyes had told him. He grabbed the mic. A steam of questions and demands poured off his lips.

Nelson looked over at him, a sick look on his face, and shook his head. The diplomat toggled his mic on to ask a question more mundane.

“Where is our Dark Master? Did you kill him?”

The child looked up at Roderick and then turned its head towards group huddled inside the liason’s box. “One cannot kill what is immortal and ineffable. I have eaten him. He is contained within.”

“Are you our new Master, then?” Nelson asked.

The child shook its head. It shifted its gaze, choosing to meet Roderick’s eyes. “Are you the master of your little toe? Do you demand fealty from your liver? I think not. All that One can ask is that the parts continue functioning as they were meant to. It is only dysfunction that triggers One’s Awareness. Illness requires healing. Do you need healing?”

“No!” Roderick said into his mic. “Tell her no.”

“We do not feel ill, Lady,” Nelson said.

The child smiled and cocked her head as if listening to a distant sound. “Do you not? We shall see. Do not make me come hunting again. You have been warned just as your previous masters were warned. I do not intercede on a mere whim. Farewell.”

“Don’t go,” Roderick begged. “How can we find you? What is your name? Give us a name, that we might contact you again.” His mic was off. He was just talking to himself. But the child heard him all the same. In the next breath, it stood in the room with him.

Roderick recoiled instinctively. He found himself pressed against the door of his cubicle watching the child inspect his video displays.

“You should find yourself a job that makes you happy, Roderick of the Glass Cage,” she said, looking up finally.

“Yes. This one has evaporated before my very eyes,” Roderick agreed faintly. “Is this your true shape?”

“Hardly,” she said with a shrug. “It is a construct created by your own mind. You need to see something so your brain gives you the closest thing to truth that it can without testing the limits of your sanity.”

“Nelson lied. We are in desperate need of guidance.”

“Hmmm,” agreed the child. “Five thousand years of being infected with a less than hospitable parasite can do that to a species.”

“Stay and teach us.”

“I cannot tell you how tedious that sounds. No. I have a better solution. One that is already in place. If you listen to the silence inside your head you will hear my voice. I have …” She paused. “How should I put this? I am a virus into the operating software of this reality well. Think of it as a guide and a beacon. Even bereft of self-awareness as your species is, you will find your true path.”

“I know too much. I have listened to the Dark Master for far too long. I cannot return to being normal. This place has ruined me. Tell me what to do,” Roderick begged.

The child smiled a smile that looked uncomfortably like the Dark Masters’s smile. “He has taught you much, your old Master. Even now, he whispers his dark thoughts into my ear.”

Roderick felt sick. “You did not need to take our burden, Lady. Perhaps it would have been better to let us pass into oblivion.”

“Where would be the fun in that? Do not worry for me. He will learn his place, this dark being. But tell me. What did he teach you about living in the land of the blind?”

“What? I … Uh, in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king?”

“Yes, exactly,” sighed the child, pleased. “One cannot know too much or see too far for it is how sentient beings leap across time to meet the future. The future is coming. Become its prophet.”

“But the Dark Master was our source. He would speak of things unheard of and suddenly that truth filled a thousand minds. Without him, we would have no technology nor scientific break-throughs. Without him, entropy will reclaim the minds of man and we will die anyway.”

The child grinned, deeply amused by something. “A canny bastard, your old Lord. He was not the source. Only its interpreter. The art of a great con is to get the mark to believe the lie. Trust me, he was a very great liar. But no matter. You are free to find  your own way.”

The child looked over at the eyes watching her from the liason’s box and sighed sadly. She turned and held out her hand. “Do you trust me?”

“I barely know you,” Rodrick said, eyeing the proffered hand.

“True. But even now they concoct a plot to hide the truth. If one were to build a lie that said the Dark Master still ruled from this den, thus protecting the status quo, then the fewer humans with knowledge of the true events, the better. Come. Leave your fear behind you.”

Roderick reached out and caught her hand in his own.

The next breath of air he drew was clean and cold and thin.

“What? Where … what have you done?”

“You are a hunted man, Roderick of the Glass Cage. Only the truth will protect you. Speak it to as many as will listen before you die but do not fear death, for I will come to you in the end and gather you up into my heart. I promise this.”

“I do not know that I want to share your heart with the likes of the Dark Master,” Roderick said faintly.

The child chuckled. “No. Nor should I, but I promise he will behave. He has found the place he wanted to be all along and will learn to be content.”

Roderick blinked in confusion.

“You are a very strange child,” he said.

“You have no idea,” she said as she disappeared.

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It was difficult to let go of the Infinite Dream. She frowned from behind her frozen eyes, feeling a little grumpy that something had disturbed her long sleep. Diving down into the Abyss, she tried to retrieve the tendrils of the magic that should have kept her sealed inside the mountain until the End of Time, but the magic evaded her reach.

I, she thought. I am. But the real question was what? What was she? She was the mountain in which she lay. She was the tons of ice and snow that blanketed her sides. She was the pine forest that grew thick and wild, coating her flanks like a green pelt. That was all she needed to know for now. She waited, hoping for sleep.

It was not to be.

Mokosh sighed. Not even the ice of her tomb could keep the warm, golden light from piercing its way into her brain. Something wanted her attention. There could be no other reason for her awakening. She wanted to snarl in frustrated fury but could not find the heat inside herself to melt the stone of her face. Fools. Thousand times a fool, that they had let things get so bad that her ministrations were required. She was not quite sure what she was but she was fairly certain her solution would be brutal, ruthless, and final.

When she could at last move, after the last of the snow had melted from the cave’s door and the warmth of the world thawed her heart and set it pumping painfully in her chest, she crawled towards the light, great pieces of herself cracking and flaking off as she went. At the edge of the ledge in front of her tomb, she rested. The golden sun warmed the stones around her, ice melted into tiny rivulets that ran down the slopes into the world hidden under the clouds, and her raw flesh healed and reformed into something strange.

She itched. Itching led to scratching. Scratching exposed new flesh that was nothing like the shell that she now shed. Instead of scales, soft, pale, hairless skin encased her limbs. She stretched this strange new body. It was not a bad form, this, even though she was armor-less and vulnerable. Mokosh drew a deep breath and tried to produce fire. Her breath formed a cloud in front of her face. She squinted through its white glare and scowled. How was she to intimidate if all she could produce was white light? Who would bow down in front of her terrible glory if she was neither terrible nor glorious?

She folded her arms across her bare chest and then snorting in disgust. Even her chest was soft and lumpy. Gah! Who could live like this? In magic, form followed function. This form was obviously needful. But why? Had some wizard twiddled with the magic of this world? Who had done this to her? Mokosh sent her mind out looking for someone to blame for her untenable shape.

The world was Chaos. Where were the gods, to keep Chaos at bay? Where were the Guardians to fight back the Shadows? How had it come to pass that the shadow beings could dine so blatantly on the hearts and souls of men, severing their connection to the magic of the One Pattern?

Mokosh recoiled in dismay and looked down at her naked form. What could she do against such twisted Darkness in this form? Perhaps she did not understand this new shape. Perhaps the world would show her what she needed to know. She rose to her feet and stepped off the ledge and out into the turmoil built by a planet abandoned by its gods.

It was a fool’s mistake, she realized too late. Stepping into shadow was akin to diving head first into an acid pool. Mokosh screamed. Twisting around a corner of reality, she phased from dimension after dimension until her being healed and reformed. When she was ready, she produced a bubble of white light, stepped into its center and then phased back into the world poisoned by shadow.

Her shape reformed in the center of a great plaza teeming with humans, all of whom were in a great hurry going somewhere. Their mechanical beasts rumbled all around her, filling the air with their roars and making the earth under her feet vibrate with their ponderous passage. They seemed blind, these humans, seeing her, yet letting their eyes slide around her as if she did not exist. Mokosh tried to quash the despair rising in her heart.

How was she to shift this place if no one could see her?

A man stepped into her bubble of light and stumbled to a halt, blinking in obvious confusion. His eyes, sky colored, found her form  and widened.

“You are naked,” he said in surprise.

“Am I?” she asked, clothing herself with a thought.

The man closed his eyes tight and then opened them again. “You are beautiful. Why is your hair white?”

“Is it? I had not noticed,” she said, filling the bubble with as much light as she could muster. He staggered and nearly fell. She caught his hand as he flailed for balance and hissed in pain as the entirety of his life leaped through that connection and became a part of her flesh. She knew him. His name was Arkady. He was gloriously beautiful and in so much pain it made it hard to breath. She dropped her hand but it was too late. The connection had been made. She phased them both in and out of reality until the pain stopped.

“What have you done to me?” Arkady asked faintly.

“I have stolen you back. The shadows have one less acolyte.”

Arkady turned his head to watch the rest of his kind stream past their bubble. “But I am alone, now,” he said in protest.

Mokosh considered this. Then she expanded the bubble of light until it filled the plaza. Everyone it touched stopped in their tracks, lifted their noses to the wind as if they could smell an approaching storm, and then peered around at the faces in the crowd, looking for the source of their freedom.

“You were never alone,” she said to Arkady, white light seething out from between her bared teeth. He flinched, squinting his eyes in the glare. The people in the plaza drew near, attracted by the lightness. Mokosh felt their attention. The pain was unbearable. It took all her reserves to phase them in and out until the pain stopped. A sheen of dampness covered her skin with the effort.

“What is this feeling?” asked a woman with perfect golden hair, unnaturally scarlet lips, and black paint around her eyes.

“I have taken your burden.” Mokosh said. “You are free.”

“I feel empty, now. What do we do with this awful freedom?” a beautiful young boy asked.

Mokosh looked around her, at the faces that hung, afraid, upon her next word.

“What does one do with freedom?” she asked. They stared at her, blank looks in their eyes. Mokosh sighed in resignation and shrugged. “Go where your heart takes you.”

“My heart? What does it know but pain?” the boy said, confused.

“You knew once. Remember that,” Mokosh said gently.

“What would you have of us, Lady?” another asked.

“Should we build you a temple and bring the faithless to worship at your feet?” Arkady asked.

Mokosh considered that. She had had that life once. The thought of repeating that version of herself made her shuddered.

It occurred to her suddenly, like a flash of lightning across a midnight sky, that they were not the only ones who were free. She trembled, suddenly understanding why the humans hesitated.

This was a world without magic now. All the knowledge of her kind and the magic it took to contain them had been consumed by the shadows. A terrible tragedy, that. But it also meant that there was nothing to contain her. Gone were the wizards and the priests of the old religions. Gone were the hedge witches and the sorceresses. The those who called themselves priests in this dark world had forgotten their duty and were now tools of the shadows. The books of spells and the grimoires had long since turned to dust and the power stones and the talismans that could have sent her back into her tomb were scattered to the four corners of the world, their power long since faded.

Mokosh wrapped her arms around herself and clenched her teeth together to keep them from chattering, her fear and excitement making her grow cold. What did she want? What was her heart’s desire? It had been so long since she knew the answer to that question.

“Lady?” Arkady said, a question behind his puzzled eyes.

Mokosh smiled at him. Arkady shuddered, afraid, only now understanding the power that lay behind her terrible alien eyes.  Mokosh leaned close and kissed his cheeks, one, then the other.

“I am a virus inside your head, Arkady,” she whispered. “You will go out into the world and infect it with my Light. Go. Be blessed. This place is a puzzle I mean to solve. I shall peel it back, layer by layer, and I suspect that no matter what I find at its center, it will be me that I will find.”

Arkady shook his head in confusion.

“All things must change, even dragons,” she said, smiling a long toothed smile.

Mokosh remembered wings. She sucked in the power of the world, both dark and light. The Dark tasted rich and thick and she reshaped it to her own pleasure, until she towered over the crowd, her great wings spread across the wind from the stars. Turning a corner, she stepped sideways out of reality and then stepped in again in another place, human once more. It was a busy street in a large city. She threw an arm around a lamppost so as not to be swept away by the flow of human bodies.

Far away, she could hear Arkday shake the image of her out of his conscious mind, already forgetting her, a daydream in an over-tired brain, as he hurried to his meeting, confused because he was late, confused because he could not account for the loss of that portion of his life in which something old and forgotten had returned to the world and stolen his soul.

Mokosh smiled, pleased at how easy that had been. On this street as in the plaza before, no one saw her, their eyes careful to slide around her form, but to a man they stepped clear of that smile, as if the primitive part of their brains recognized a predator when they were near.

Mokosh decided she like humans. That was why she would be subtle as she dismantled this place looking for the Dark Heart at its core.

Well, subtle as a dragon could be, at any rate.

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