No Heroes

II – Night Shift

Printable version

As the Lords of Yssildria have shown us, more floats in the sea of the multipleverse than merely the world that we inhabit. Can we perhaps imagine these worlds to be like bubbles on the waves of forever, sticking together to form the froth of existence? How many other worlds would be within our reach? How similar to ours would they be? How fantastic their reality? How great a benefit would there be if worlds touched and let themselves be touched?

      Yet, the Lords of Yssildria sacrificed the magnificent world they had found for mere transient power in this, a crime that stands in no proportion to any other in this world. Should we, therefore, desire to find out?

-- Palic nun Berrunder, Brothers in Existence

 

A column of water erupted from a small, practically ornamental pond in the Southend Park. It rose nearly 20 foot high and settled in a rain of water drops and a ring of violent waves. The waves settled, the drops fell, and the surface of the water quickly settled back into its former idyllically peaceful sheen.

      After a few seconds, a large bird head emerged, rather like the periscope of a submarine. It spit out a stream of water, coughed theatrically, and looked around. As it did so it moved towards the waterside, the rest of its body rising from the water. About halfway down the bird’s body both turned into that of a lion, and out to be sitting on the shoulders of a man made of stone.

      “Well,” Bek said irritably. “Sod this then.”

      Lark, the stone man, said nothing. As they emerged from the pond he turned out to be holding a terrifying looking pike in his right hand, and the unconscious body of a young man in his left.

      Bek leapt off into the dry grass before the troll had even reached the waterside, where he landed with a wet, unpleasant squelch. He turned back to the troll and proceeded to wring out his ears.

      “So,” he said, “Regarding your earlier question: no. I don’t think we’re getting paid extra.” He crouched down, dug his claws into the soil of the grass and beat his wings wildly a few times. They were not so much gentle flaps as they were soggy slaps, and they sent water flying everywhere.

      “Or at all, actually,” he added bitterly, when he was done. “Oh crud, look at you…”

      Lark, now standing in the grass, looked down at his own body, which was caked with mud up to the chest. He let go of the young man, who fell face down on the ground with a wet splat, and traced a line with a finger alongside his abdomen.

      “It’ll wash off,” he rumbled.

      “I’m sure,” said the griffin. He took the pike from the troll’s giant hand and, with the sharp end, lifted something slimy but otherwise indescribable off of the troll’s back.

      “Alright,” said Bek, “so I figure we best make ourselves scarce. The loonies’ll get us if the Army of Light don’t get us first.”

      “Bek?”

      “Figure we’ll start heading west to Llandri,” Bek continued, while scraping the troll’s back clean. “Hear there’s a bit of a war on there. Gather that Prince Frellis whatever-number-they’re-up-to will hire anything with arms legs and a head, so that’s us right there, I think.”

      “Bek…”

      “Besides, he doesn’t live in a bloody giant tower and isn’t dead far as I know. Yes, what?”

      “Where are we?” Lark asked.

      Bek looked around.

      “Er,” he said.

      “There’s no trees or grass around the Black Stone Tower,” Lark observed. “Least not live ones.”

      “Undead grass?” Bek ventured, tramping the grass under his feet experimentally. Unlikely, he would admit, but neither would he have put it past some previous employers.

      “And that,” Lark added. He pointed a thick, rocky finger at a glow that emerged from somewhere behind the trees.

      Bek stared at it for a few moments.

      “Right…” he said. He took a few trepidatious steps towards the tree line. As the water left his ears he became aware of strange noises all around him. He did not like this.

      “What of the human?” Lark asked, following with the occasional wide step.

      “What of him?” said Bek dismissively. “Leave him here. Someone’ll find him, give him… Soup, or something.”

      Lark said nothing. Trolls tend not to expend much effort on unproductive conversation.

      Reaching out with his pike, Bek gently pushed the bushes aside and, when they did not explode or otherwise showed hostility, peered out beyond the trees.

      And stared.

      A few minutes later Weth awoke to the unpleasant sensation of being unable to breath. He instinctively began to struggle in disoriented fashion, felt himself being pulled down, and suddenly emerged from the cold water he had been submerged in. As it ran from his eyes he saw the upside-down troll, which, as it turned out, was dangling him by the ankle with an outstretched arm.

      “He’s awake,” rumbled the troll, in a ‘job’s done’ tone of voice.

      “Alright,” said a voice from behind the troll. “Bring him over here.”

      With a jerk the troll turned around and began to move, every thumping step accompanied by a yank at Weth’s spine. They approached some line of trees, growing from a patch of bushes. The griffin was peering over it.

      “Show him,” it said, and with a single thrusting motion from the troll and a yelp from himself Weth was shoved through bushes and trees, and just as his brain geared up for protest, his eyes and ears overrode him. He gazed in awe at… At what?

      “… I don’t think he recognises it,” said the troll after a brief while.

      “Try him the other way around,” the griffin suggested.

      The whole world became an unpleasant blur for a mere second, but afterwards Weth mercifully found himself the right side up, dangling from his tunic.

      He saw… Light! Light was everywhere; it wasn’t torch light or candle light either. These lights were bright, focussed and plentiful. Some were red, some were green, some were a bright pale yellow. And some moved. Weth could now see that these lights emerged from carriages, without horses or oxen but moving nonetheless with the sound of a growling wind. Now that he could tell the lights apart, he saw the buildings, large and… And square.

      Weth was a country boy. Before he turned 17 the largest city he had ever been in was Lakeshine Burough, which had a harbour and a cattle market. There his family had bought a cow, while he marvelled at the three story merchant houses, and the ships that went to such exotic places as Tallisbury Reed and Klipton Upon th’Arris, hundreds of miles away! And then, when he had joined the army at the kind bequest of the King himself, as delivered by the King’s recruiter, they had marched him to Burnsfort City, provincial capitol. It had made Lakeshine Burough look like a country town. So many carts, so many people, so much… So much stone!

      But none of this worldly experience had prepared him for what lay twinkling before him now. It was either terrifying or magnificent, and his brain switched between the two so fast that it ran over every other thought that tried to cross the road between them.

      “Well?” asked the griffin. It took a while for it to sink in that he was talking to Weth.

      “Er. What?” said Weth, slowly turning his head back to look at the griffin. It occurred to him that he was, probably, in trouble.

      “Yeah, that’s what we want to know,” said Bek. He regarded the wide-eyed human near-child with crossed arms and a single raised eye ridge. “What?” he repeated emphatically. “Where are we?”

      Weth looked back helplessly at the griffin, and for so far as he could in his current, dangling position, managed a shrug. Bek sighed.

      “Worthless,” he muttered. “Come on Lark,” he added as he turned away, “we’re done here.”

      The hard rock pressing into Weth’s back suddenly vanished, and he dropped on his back into the bushes below.

      “What do we do now?” Lark asked, ignoring him completely.

      “Hmmm…” Bek said. A thought had occurred to him, and as far as the competition went at this point, it wasn’t such a bad thought. He turned back towards Weth, who was struggling to climb out of the bushes.

      “Kid,” he said, “This is your lucky day, cause I think we can help each other out here.”

 

Elsewhere in the city, a tree by the side of a quiet road rustled, and said “Beeeeuuuuh?”

      It rustled some more, and then a half-rotten corpse dropped out of it like an over-ripe apple, hitting the asphalt with a meaty thud. There it lay for a while, seemingly contemplating the state of the world around it, before it somewhat unsteadily began to get up on its feet.

      “Beeuu—” it said, at which point it was run over by a car.

 

The Allstar Inn was perhaps not the finest hotel in the city, but it tried. As a minor point of pride it sported a heated rooftop pool, about half Olympic size. It was accompanied by comfortable deck chairs and a little rooftop terrace where, on warm summer days, an honoured guest could enjoy their dinner in the evening sun. Since it was march, however, and the sun had just dipped below the horizon, it was practically deserted. Only a single figure occupied the terrace seats, wearing a hotel uniform but currently enjoying a cigarette and a newspaper. He noticed the looming shadow only moments before the crash.

      It was a loud crash. It was an angry crash. It was a crash that was a statement, and this statement was: rage. Flimsy tables and chairs were flung through the air, breaking apart in transit or upon hitting their resting place. Amidst the rain of fragments, standing atop the bent and broken remains of the terrace, a terrifying black creature the size of a large car folded its wings slowly, and growled at a human body dangling from its claw by the chest.

      “Undo this!” Scyce roared.

      Kara winced. She slowly opened her clenched eyes against the tiny splinters in the air and looked back defiantly.

      “It cannot be undone,” she said. “Here we are.”

      The creature’s features hardened with frustration. It threw its head up at the measly few stars above and roared a terrible scream. Then he flung the woman across the terrace.

      Scyce yelped as a sudden blunt pain bludgeoned his left legs out from under him the moment Kara hit the ground, and clawed helplessly at the air falling to the ground as she skid to a halt.

      They lay there for some twenty seconds, glaring at each other. The great beast’s breathing was audible across the entire rooftop.

      “Healer,” it then said.

      Kara, with some difficulty, climbed back on her knees and, after a moment’s rest, stood up straight. She looked down at the dragon. This stirred something in Scyce. He planted a front leg onto the cracked tiling and pushed himself back onto his four feet, unsteadily but nevertheless standing. The sudden shock of the impact had been greater than the damage, he noted.

      “Healer,” he said once again, and there was a forced, brittle calm to his voice. “We are here…” he said. “Where is here?”

      “The Dead World,” said the healer.

      The dragon shut his mouth, and turned his eyes away from his nemesis. His expression turned to a grim thoughtfulness.

      “Why?” he then asked, through clenched incisors.

      “The holding spell was removed,” the healer stated. “And the healing spell interrupted.”

      “Healing?”

      “To heal the wound in our two worlds,” said the healer. She looked up at the sky, which was tainted with the filthy, yellowish city light.

      The dragon looked at her, and produced something of a sneer.

      “Heal a world?” he asked with the contempt of disbelief.

      “Two worlds,” said the healer.

      The dragon stepped closer, carefully.

      “And where is this wound now, healer?”

      Now the healer took her eyes away from the sky again and looked straight at him.

      “I do not know,” she said, simply. The words were accusatory. She stepped closer to him, much closer, and looked him straight in the eyes, her face hovering over his snout. “So, here... We… Are.

      There was a slight sound. It was not threatening or loud, but merely out of place. It was the sound of a piece of wood being kicked across stone tiling. At the edge of the terrace its formerly single occupant stood frozen in terror mid-step. In an amusing display of human nature he had held on to his newspaper and even saved his page with his index finger. Now he looked straight into the dragon’s murderous eyes.

      The great beast lowered his head and growled audibly under its breath. Its muscles bulged , its claws dug into the tiles as if they were lime as. It spread its wings in a single threatening motion. There were wiser things to do than stand still on the spot, but it was all the man could do. Over three metric tons of unguided frustration charged at him.

      “SCYCE!” Kara screamed. Scyce slammed his claw into the man’s chest, knocking the wind out of his prey, grabbed on to the human’s shirt and raised him up over his head in a single motion that would end in a glorious slam.

      A sharp pain cut across his arm, and his skin opened, leaking out a drop of blood.

      “Scyce…” the healer said again, and this time her voice was as cold as the Peloran Wastes in winter. Scyce looked back.

      Kara stood on the building ledge, her back towards the open space. She lowered her knife from the cut in her arm and looked back warningly.

      “You wouldn’t d--” growled Scyce, at which point, with a tiny little hop backwards, she disappeared from sight.

      The entirety of Scyce’s brain became one big exclamation point. In a single swift flow of motion he pushed his prey away, swung his sleek body around, accelerated across the rooftop and further accelerated down the wall beyond it, clawing at it with wings spread wide. The healer came towards him faster than the ground did. His rear foot crashed through a window, losing him his balance, but continuing in freefall he managed to grab her by the back of her outer dress, spread his wings and spin around to protect her from the impact as they smashed into one of four sheltered parking spots by the side of the hotel. To their good fortune, but not someone else’s, it was occupied. A loud metal and glassy crunch echoed through the narrow side street.

      After about thirty seconds, in which no other sound than that of passing traffic and the dragon’s slowly calming breathing filled the street, the healer slowly rose from the wreckage, atop a claw holding her by the chest.

      “You…” growled Scyce, though rather weakly.

      “We can keep this up until the day we die,” Kara panted. “And that will be soon.”

      A threatening growl emerged from the twisted metal.

      “Is the wisdom of General Scyce’s always clouded by rage?” Kara challenged.

      The growling subsided, and turned into a grumbling sigh. The arm lowered slightly, and after a few seconds it fell back and deposited the healer on the cold stone ground.

      “No,” Scyce said. He jammed his two front claws down into metal and slowly pushed himself out of the wreckage. He sat up and gazed sternly at the dark grey brick wall before him. After a few moments he perked his ears and glanced sideways.

      “Where are we?” he muttered.

      “A street,” Kara said, observing her surroundings calmly but with great purpose. Scyce swung his head around and glared.

      “A street where!?” he demanded irritably. He stood up on his hind legs, sagged a little as a jolt of pain shot through his muscles, and then turned to face to nearest source of noise. Beside him, beyond a dark brown family car, the street was narrowed considerably by another wall, adorned by metal boxes and pipes.

      “What is this?” he spoke quietly to himself. He leapt onto the brown car to the sound of shattering glass and leaned to the side to peer beyond the wall.

      Vehicles, much like the thing he was standing on, were moving past at great speed, their monotonous noise briefly punctuating the general  droning of the city in passing. A human walked by. There were lights…

      “Morromir,” said Kara thoughtfully. “The… Dead World…”

 

Scyce’s talons dug into the brick- and mortarwork  with a gravelly slam. He hoisted himself up, kicked a foothold with his rear claw, and pushed himself up further.

      “Morromir is dead,” he said, eyeing the wall angrily as he scaled it. Kara hung from his neck, her legs clenched around his chest.

      “So we say,” she said absently. Kara was lost in ponderous thought.

      “Its energies were drained,” the dragon argued. He hit the wall extra hard this time, as if to punish it personally for the affront of existence itself. “It is dead.” He hoisted himself up further, one new handhold, one new foothold at a time, climbing his way out of the narrow street.

      The rooftop of the building beside the hotel was lower than that of the hotel itself. It took little time at all to reach it. Scyce clambered over the edge, snatched the healer away from his neck and dumped her firmly onto the solid ground. Before them the city stretched out, and the dragon gazed upon it.

      “This is not the Dead World,” he stated grimly.

      “No,” Kara disagreed, “this is not a dead world,”

      The dragon glared down irritably at her. “You--” he began, but he stopped at a single calmly raised silencing finger. The healer closed her eyes, raised her head and took in a deep, long breath before exhaling slowly. For a dozen seconds or so she stood frozen, with only the wind tugging feebly at her heavy dresses. Finally, she opened her eyes and walked over to another ledge, one overlooking a much wider street than the one they had been in, and took in the sights before her.

      “Well?” Scyce growled, running out of patience.

      “There are no magical energies here,” Kara said. “None that I can detect beyond you and myself.”

      The dragon gazed distrustfully at her back. “There’s a city here,” he argued after a while.

      “It is intriguing,” Kara agreed.

      With three agitated steps Scyce had joined her at the ledge.

      “There are humans there!” he said.

      “Haven’t you noticed then?” Kara asked.

      Scyce looked down sullenly at the population below. He let out an animalish, dismissive snort.

      “You are a mighty wielder of magic,” Kara said plainly. “General Scyce, Destroyer of Avadera. You must have noticed the chill.” She turned her entire body to look at him, making sure to catch the corner of his eye. “There is no magical energy around us,” she said. “None.”

      Scyce said nothing. He continued to stare grimly at the humans below, going about their irrelevant business like all was well in the world.

      “This world is not dead, Scyce,” Kara said, “But it has gone cold.”

 

A police car came to an abrupt stop next to the scene of the accident. The passenger side swung open immediately, and a young, red haired officer rushed out with a medical kit in hand. The driver’s side opened only moments later, and a tall, black haired sergeant with a bristly moustache peppered with grey hairs unfolded from the car. For a few moments he surveyed an all-too-familiar scene illuminated by the  bright flashing emergency lights. He saw a young man, befuddled as he leaned against his car. A dazed , blonde young women, possibly a girlfriend, sitting sideways on the passenger seat. A small crowd  of onlookers from the surrounding houses, waiting passively for instructions. And on the road, the saddest sight, a motionless, lifeless human body.

      The sergeant sighed deeply and reminded himself of his humanity. As his younger colleague kneeled down beside the body, he took a few quick paces towards the presumed operator of vehicle.

      “You alright, sir?” he asked.

      The young man nodded vaguely. “Yeah, er… He, erm…”

      The sergeant bent down deeply to peer into the car at the back of the blonde girl.

      “Are you alright, ma’am?” he asked emphatically. The girl turned around swiftly and nodded some swift little nods, showing her red rimmed eyes.

      The sergeant held her eyes for a few moments in a doubtful gaze, but then straightened himself back to his impressive lanky length.

      “The name is sergeant Leary,” he said. “I’m going to have to asked you two some questions, alright? Just take a few deep breaths before we get started, and--”

      “He’s dead!” his younger partner interjected.

      Sergeant Leary went rigid for a second or two. Then he hissed under his breath: “Jesus!”, and stomped towards his partner with big, fuming steps.

      “What the f-… is wrong with you!?” he hissed in the young man’s ear.

      “Er, sorry sarge,” he said. “But I mean he’s… Probably been dead for months. Look at’im sarge…”

      The rest of the incident was handled handled with a kind of routine professionalism that seemed somewhat uncomfortably out of place, but sergeant Leary would mostly remember  how he folded himself back into the driver’s seat and got on the radio.

      “Errr, car 19, we got a… A dead decomposed body apparently fell from the sky, got hit by a car.” He paused for a moment to consider, and then added: “… Please advice?”

      “Come again?” the radio bleared.

      “… Dead body. Out of nowhere. Hit by car. Apparently fell from the sky.”

      “Again?”

      “No, my first! What the hell are you talking about!?”

      “Well, it’s our third. Please confirm your location.

 

Several blocks away, Weth’s wide open eyes took in the brightly lit shopping streets in the way only a country-bred farm boy from another world could. His eyes rolled back and forth at the lights, the colours and the people, and as he walked among them the only thing more open than his eyes was his mouth.

      Something prodded him between the shoulder blades, rather painfully, and momentarily broke the enchantment.

      “Hey,” said Bek, “stay sharp.”

      Weth dares a glance back at the griffin, who retracted the heft of his pike.

      “Am I a hostage?” he asked.

      “You’re what you turn out to be,” said the griffin. He too took in the sights and sounds as Weth did, bit with eyes narrowed with suspicion. It had to be said that, given the circumstances, and taking into account that Weth had never actually before met a griffin in his life, this one appeared to make an admirable show of looking like he belonged exactly where he was. Lark clumped along behind him, at a seemingly ponderous speed. His legs were too long for his companions, and every step was a small slow-motion balancing act.

      “… What if I turn out to be a hostage?” Weth asked, after some thought.

      “Ergh…” Bek groaned. “Focus on the bigger picture for now, will you?”

      “Where are we going?” Weth asked.

      “Wherever we’re going! I want to know where we are.”

      There was a long silence between them, in which Weth’s mouth opened uncertainly numerous times, only to close before any sound could escape. It was infuriating.

      “What?” Bek finally hissed.

      “Well, why don’t you just… Fly up and… And look down?” Weth suggested meekly.

      Bek sighed,

      “Say Lark,” he said.

      “Mm?” rumbled Lark, after having mustered the internal momentum to produce sound.

      “Did you just hear someone say ‘why don’t you go down like a pin cushion in a hail of arrows’? Or was that just me?”

      “Poss’bly,” said Lark.

      “H-how do you know they’d fire at you?” Weth asked.

      “How do you know they won’t? Look around kid. You see anyone here that’s not human? You think the guards here will think once before turning a passing griffin into a gravity enhanced hedgehog?”

      Weth frowned.

      “Why?”

      “Cause they’re human is why. It’s what humans do!”

      Weth’s mouth dropped open, aghast at the accusation.

      “No!”

      “Excuse me, who’s the griffin around here, hm?” Bek said. “Griffin flies over, arrows fly. And once, boulders. That was just dumb.”

      “Well-well yeah,” Weth said defensively. “Bad griffins.”

      “Am I a bad griffin?” Bek asked.

      An uncomfortable silence followed. They crossed a street, towards a pole with brightly lit, unfamiliar  runes spelling out the symbol ‘WALK’.

      “You’ve got a pike,” Weth finally noted.

      “You’ve got a sword,” Bek pointed out.

      “I think I dropped it, actually,” said Weth.

      “Well, that’s different then,” said Bek.

      “We’re not the bad guys!” Weth said, clinging desperately to the moral high ground.

      “Are we the bad guys, Lark?” Bek asked.

      This earned him a slow shrug.

      “We’re no heroes, kid, I’ll grant you” said Bek, “but we just go where the money is. The rest is just… Just…” He motioned vaguely with his claw, as if to find the shape of something shapeless. “Politics,” he decided.

      “You were in Getlar’s army!” Weth exclaimed incredulously.

      “Yeah, so? Didn’t your army pay you?”

      “It’s the Army of Light! You don’t join for the pay!”

      “Yeah, maybe you don’t,” said Bek. “Gods know where they grew you. But… Army of Light. Pft. Bunch of humans banding together. Humans always think the world belongs to them, and now they claim light…”

      “But…” Weth sputtered helplessly, “Getlar’s a tyrant! A… A destroyer! He-he killed… He—!”

      Distant thunder rumbled. It was Lark, clearing his throat.

      “People are watching us,” he spoke.

      Several humans were staring at the troll, the griffin and the boy in the funny clothes, though they quickly looked away to something infinitely more interesting as soon as their gaze was returned.

      Bek prodded the heft of his pike between Weth’s shoulder blades again.

      “Quit making a scene,” he said.

      “I wasn’t making a…” Weth started, before trailing off sulkily.

      “I can just see we’re gonna be best friends,” Bek muttered.

 

It’s always quiet at the morgue; a pleasant, gentle kind of monotony occasionally punctuated by the arrival of a dead body who, as a rule, does not have much to say either.

      But not this time.

      Mister Willikins was an elderly pathologist; he had the kind of job a person can grow old in, and that’s what he did. It was rumored he even had a first name, though it seemed long lost in the mists of time and the illegible scribble that was his signature (most EMTs agreed that the first initial was a ‘J’ , though there were some holdouts for  ‘O’) offered little in the way of clarity. And Mister Willikins was having a busy night.

      “That’s like the second one we brung you, mister W,” said a young EMT.

      Mister Willikins did not care much for the name ‘W’, in part because it was disrespectful, but mostly because it was no shorter than his actual name. He was a gentle and deliberate man, though, so he simply put it down to the young man’s skin color and carefully signed another ancient rune on the appropriate line.

      “You want we push it in the cooler?” the young man of impolite color offered.

      Mister Willikins handed back the clipboard.

      “Don’t bother yourself, son,” he said amiably. “I’m that that old yet.” He positioned himself at the end of the stretcher and, with great care and deliberation pushed it through the theater door. “I’ll be right back,” he said as the doors fell shut.

      Inside, a young woman was attending to a badly decomposed corpse. She had just taken photographs, as evidenced by the nearby camera, and was working on extracting a nail clipping from the badly degraded fingers.

      “Jody…” said Mister Willikins. Jody – who was obviously too young to have a last name – dutifully stood up and opened the thick metal door to the cooler.

      “Another one?” she asked.

      “They’re raining from the sky,” said Mister Willikins as he pushed the stretched into the cold. “Literally, apparently.”

      Jody hastily followed Mister Willikins inside, where they hoisted the body bag onto a free stretcher. With respectful care Mister Willikins opened the zipper to look inside. The sight of another badly degraded corpse greeted them; one of the ribs showed clear through the flesh.

      “Well…” Mister Willikins sighed. “Continue on the first one.” He took control of the ambulance stretcher and pushed it back out into the hallway.

      “Off you go…” he muttered, giving the stretcher a gentle shove towards the EMTs He headed back into the theater. “Bodies aren’t going to collect themselves tonight…”

      “So where are we?” he asked.

      “Done, Mister Willikins,” said Jody, who had finally managed to extract a piece of fingernail, storing it in its own plastic bag.

      “Well then…”

      He put his operating clothes back on. It was a slow and ponderous process, carried out with as much precision and care as any cut in the flesh. It involved a washing of hands, a donning of the coat, the application of the breathing mask and, finally, the gloves, one after the other. Having fulfilled the ritual, he then walked over to the body and selected a large scalpel from a small, metal plate.

      “Eight fourty… Three PM, proceeding with incision…” He paused for a moment of consideration, and decided: “Y-cut, starting left shoulder…”

      And with that, and a steady hand, he cut the scalpel into the shoulder.

      “BEEEEEUUUUUH!

      “Jesus Christ!

      Mister Willikins stumbled back, dragging Jody with him and scattering his instruments on the floor. The decayed body sat up sharply and stared in apparent shock at the far wall for a second, before looking down at the scalpel stuck into its left shoulder. With seeming wonder the bony right arm reached for it, clenching all fingers tightly around the grip. He pulled it out and looked at it.

      The body said: “Beuh.”

      Then, under the frozen gaze of Willikins and Jody, it swung its legs off the side of the operating table and slid off with jerky, uneasy motions.

      Mister Willikins slowly reached up to his breathing mask and pulled it down. His lower jaw trembled.

      “H-here, let-let me…” he began.

      The corpse ignored him. This was not unusual, but under the circumstances slightly upsetting. Instead it looked around in jerky wonder.

      “He had no pulse,” Jody whispered, clutching Willikins’ arm tightly. “No pulse.”

      “He has no skin”, Willikins hissed. “Sir! Plea--”

      “BEEEEEEEURGH!” The corpse paused for a moment, and then continued: “EEEEEEEURGH!”

      “S-Sir!” Willikins tried again, his voice high-pitched with dismayed concern. He tried to take a step forward but was held back by Jody’s tight grip.

      “Sh!” she urged him, and gestured with her face to the cooler door.

      “mw,” was the sound that emerged from it. “www…” And “rw…”

      The shambling body turned its yellow eyes to the door, and stared at it.

      “Oh my god,” Mister Willikins muttered. As Jody’s grip relaxed, he pulled himself free and rushed at the door, bodily slamming into it in his haste. He quickly turned to lock, grabbed the handle, and leaned back to open it with all his weight.

      Muffled low-pitched wails emerged. Willikins struggled to pull himself around the open door and peer inside. A body bag lay bathed in the light from the doorway, casting troubled shadows on the far wall as it writhed and wriggled. Further to the side, in mostly darkness, something else stirred. A skinny, rotting hand rose from the torn zipper clutched in bony fingers. It clawed slowly but hungrily at freedom, as the contours of a face repeatedly rammed itself into the white plastic at the end.

      “Mwrrrrrrrgh!” it complained. “Mwrgh.

      Mister Willikins stared at the spectacle for a few seconds before he even became aware of the third body bag wriggling in the corner. Then he regained a merciful fraction of his senses and swung around.

      “Jod--!” he began. He froze in terror, now face to face with the staring horror from his operating table. His eyes involuntarily followed the right arm down from the shoulder. The creature was still holding the scalpel tightly clutched in its withered hand.

      The corpse’s gaze followed his, all the way down to the hand. Then it raised the hand, slowly, and looked at the scalpel as if it had never seen it before. For a little while, both man and corpse stared at the same object.

      “Beuh.” The corpse then said. It threw the scalpel down on the ground, and began the painfully uncoordinated process of putting one foot in front of the other, past Willikins and into the cooler’s freezing air.

      Willikins woke up once more.

      “Jody!” he urged, hobbling after the shambling gentleman.

      The corpse was already heading for the most visible squirming bag. Willikins headed for the darkness, towards the desperately clawing hand, gesturing Jody towards the remaining moving body bag in the corner.

      “Don’t panic, sir!” he cried out. “We’ll get you out!”

      He began tugging on the zipper.

      “Please stop moving, sir! I can’t open the zipper if you’re pushing from the insi--”

      The zipper gave way, and a half-nosed face greeted him with a wide eye and an even wider eye socket.

      “AH!” and “BEUH!” exclaimed Mister Willikins and the face respectively.

      “Please stay calm, sir!” spoke the now calmer voice of Jody, followed by the sound of a zipper under pressure. “There’s been a mistake, but we’re getting you out!”

      The first corpse was meanwhile tugging violently at his body bag, trying to tear the zipper apart. The bag rolled on its side, dropped face down on the floor, and said “Bwmmfr…”

      “Oh for…” Willikins said. He made shooing motions at the corpse and knelt down beside the bag.

      “Are you alright in there, sir!?” he called out at it. “Or madam!?”

      “Bwrrgh…” said its occupant.

      “We’ll get you out.”

      He rolled the bag back on its back – surprisingly spry under panic, he noted – and quickly pulled at the zipper before its occupant could start struggling again. A face like the first two greeted him.

      “Careful, ma’am,” Jody’s voice said behind him. Movement in the corner of his eye attracted his attention; he looked and saw a partially decomposed lady with long, gray strands of hair hobble unevenly towards him.

      Mister Willikins got up, and stepped back – slowly – towards the door.

      Now four corpses were milling around his cooler. Though, maybe ‘milling’ was not quite the right word. They were shambling, jerking, perhaps even wobbling. And they all looked at each other with a sudden quiet that was as disconcerting as the wailing that preceded it.

      This went on for a while, until the silence was broken by Jody, who had almost motionlessly produced her cell phone from her pocket.

      “I need to speak with doctor Clayton,” she spoke in deliberate, quiet tones.

      The corpses looked at each other some more.

      “Clayton…” Jody repeated impatiently.

      “Buh,” said one of the corpses.

      “Beuh,” said another corpse.

      “Okay, any doctor…”

      “Buh,” said the female corpse, and corpse number four added: “Burh.”

      Look, just give me--

      The first corpse raised a leg, and spent a second or three gazing at it like it had never seen it before. It leaned back, pivoted around on its heel and fell forward, landing on the outstretched leg and thus completed a lurching step towards the door. The other corpses followed, working their way towards locomotion with jerky, blunt, uncertain movements.

      “W-wait!” Mister Willikins uttered, backing out of the doorway as the four corpses hobbled and staggered past him. He grabbed one of them by the arm. “You’re not well! Please, you’re not…”

      The arm was cold. He looked at the arm.

      He looked at the bone inside the arm.

      He looked into a hollow eye socket, that then looked down at the arm, and then straight at him, firmly, but not entirely unkindly.

      “You’re not…” he breathed. “You’re… Not…”

      The fingers of his hand seemed to lose the individual will to continue what they were doing, and let go of the arm.

      “You…” Willikins whispered. A pairs of bony arms gently took him by the shoulders and leaned him up against the side of the door frame. He looked on, Jody’s urgent nattering only barely penetrating is world now, as four of his corpses pushed their way through the theater doors, and made their way into the world.

 

The wind was hard and cold, it battered Kara’s face, and her outermost dress flapped so violently that it was difficult to hold on to Scyce’s neck even with all her strength. As she struggled, so did the dragon. It snarled with frustration.

      “Release the spell!” he growled. “You’re too weak!”

      “No,” Kara shivered.

      “I can’t fly like this!”

      The healer produced nothing but a resolute silence.

      “Can you find the opening!?”

      “Not like this.”

      A convulsive shiver ran down the length of Scyce’s body; his wings faltered and for a few moments they were in free fall. Grinding his teeth against the needle point pain he struggled to regain momentum of flight.

      “Find it!” he roared. “Or I will tear this world apart for it!”

 

So, a man fell from the sky. A half-naked man with a sword. It really does take all kinds.

      Detective Horne’s brain mulled the matter over on the automatic pilot of years of police work. This wasn’t his case. Officially he wasn’t even on duty. But it happened right in front of him, and that was enough for him. You don’t do this job unless you give a damn. And this is why his car stopped in front of the Varsity Fairfield Hospital.

      “You stay in the car,” he said for Pete’s benefit as he got out. Not that he had any rank to order Pete around, but someone has to take charge, and charge was what, in a sense, he had plenty of.

      He walked across the parking lot to the hospital entrance. It was brightly lit, giving it a warm and welcoming sense to all the people who didn’t want to come there in the first place.

      Strange things afoot in the city of Varsity tonight, he reflected. The curious radio chatter had left him all the more determined to speak with his mystery man and get some answers.

      A man drops from the sky, wearing little more than leather straps and a sword.

      A dead body, subsequently run over by a car. Other dead bodies popping up everywhere. Fell from the sky? They say? And then there were other things, little things that were not unusual per se, but which in context seemed… Odd. Two more smashed cars at the Fairfield Inn and an employee sees monsters. Is it raining crazies tonight?

      He walked up to the reception desk and held up his Varsity Police badge long enough for the lady at the desk to get a good look at it. It was rude to flash your badge, he always felt; people had a right to see the damn thing before you yank it away from them.

      After she had ample time to take it in, he announced: “Varsity Police. There’s a John Doe got brought here by ambulance from Jackson Avenue.”

      “You’ll need Dr. Dopazo for that,” said the lady, a girl that looked a bit too young for this kind of post in Horne’s eyes. “He’s currently manning ER. Would you like me to page him for you?”

      “No thanks, I think I can find him.”

      You don’t spend twelve years at the force without knowing the way to the emergency room. Horne could probably find it blindfolded by now – but that would be a good way to end up there regardless. A man fell from the sky – from the sky? Probably not… A building. But which one? There are teams combing through the area right now; now’s not a time to start guessing.

      Except… A man falls from a building wearing nothing but some leather straps and a sword, pulverizes a car below, and survives! The mental image looped over and over on his internal projector: the sudden impact, the car’s little jump, the spray of shattered glass – it must have been at least 15 feet! People had to be treated for cuts…

      He paced through the sterile hallways – it was mostly the outside of the building that seemed welcoming.

      A man falls from the sky, and he’s not the only one! But this one survived…

      The Emergency Room stank vaguely of disinfectants, and whatever else it was that you would probably like to stay away from. The room was shaped like a large ‘L’. Six beds lined the walls on one end of the room, the occupied ones sheltered by large curtains of a colour that Horne thought of as ‘hospital green’. On the other end Dr. Dopazo was tending to a man sitting on a stretcher, with several nurses hovering around him like he were a queen bee. The man had somehow managed to get a large gash down the length of his lower arm, but appeared to be too inebriated to be in any kind of serious pain. In fact, one of the nurses was gently holding him upright, just in case.

      Horne sat down on a chair and looked back at the beds. By the position of the curtains he could tell two of them were occupied. His man would probably be in one of these beds, or in the morgue down below. He had been down there numerous times as well. Not the most pleasant place of the hospital, but it was… Gentle. Calm, soothing even, in a sense. Even if Mister Willikins was a bit of a curmudgeon.

      Horne waited for some time, as the man with the extra opening in his arm was being tended to. To the man’s credit, he was as cooperative as a trained puppy, even if he did have all the brains of one. Quiet drunks Horne could handle. At least they mostly hurt themselves.

      After a wait of a few minutes, Dr. Dopazo detached himself from the cluster of aid, leaving the worker bees to finish up. Doctor Dopazo was a small man who, in part due to his slightly portly appearance, somehow managed to seem a lot larger than he really was.  He had a deep voice, that said:

      “Detective…”

      The ellipsis hung meaningfully in the air.

      “Horne,” detective Horne said, standing up and stretching out his hand in greeting. “Franklin Horne. Varsity Police.”

      “Ah yes,” said Dr. Dopazo. He passed without stopping while pulling off his surgical gloves. “Forgive me if I don’t shake hands, detective. You are here for our latest John Doe?”

      Now the doctor stopped and looked at the detective. Dr. Dopazo was one of the most caring doctors around, Franklin had once heard, but had little patience with things that kept him from doing just that. He found it difficult to be offended by that. Instead, he nodded a brief, single nod.

      “Over here, detective,” said the doctor, leading him to one of the emergency beds. He stood still at the curtain and faced the detective directly.

      “I don’t expect you will get much out of him, detective, as he is quite unconscious. We have just finished CT scans and have found surprisingly little trauma, all things considered. If you’re really interested, you may request the information through proper channels. We have removed his personal items, including a rather fearsome sword. I thank you for having the good sense not to touch him before we got to him; I am certain I can trust you to continue not doing just that. You may retrieve the items from security, I’m sure we’ll be happy to be rid of it. I will now leave you with the gentleman. Let us know when you leave. Should he awaken, please, detective, endeavor not to alarm or excite him?”

      Those last words took on the sound of a scolding, or possibly a threat. Franklin nodded again.

      “Very well.” Dr. Dopazo stepped aside. “You may take the time you need. Please remember: look, don’t touch. I will be there when you need me.”

      He paced off, and detective Horne turned his gaze to the man in the bed. He was hooked up to various machines, tight bandages were wrapped around the man’s arms, and a gauze dressing was applied to the back of his head. The rest was invisible under the hospital gown they had dressed him in. It was him though, there was little doubt about that; there were so many unusual little things about this man. Most noticeable was the long, white hair. It seemed, now that Franklin had time to reflect on such things, rather out of place on a face so young and flexible. In fact, he noticed as he found himself a stool to sit down on, the face barely had a scratch on it.

      The ears too looked odd. They came out from under the hair appearing slightly longer than normal, and came to a very slight point. Franklin remembered first seeing ears like that on an old friend of his grandpa’s, back in his childhood days. The memory of the man that smelled of stale cigarette smoke and laughed at things that weren’t funny came back pretty easily. But his ears were also disgustingly wrinkled and had liver spots all over them, a characteristic these ears did not share.

      All in all, while nothing about the man was truly out of the ordinary, the overall effect was… Odd.

      And he fell from the sky. That was odd too.

 

A car screeched to an abrupt halt on Landon Boulevard, and a lady’s head emerged from the open window.

      “Whaddaya doin’!?” she demanded.

      A person of little clothes with, it seemed, a very bad skin condition, stopped in the glare of the headlights to look stupidly at the source of the demand. Behind him more such people passed slowly.

      Aggravated, she squared her jaw and slammed the horn. This did not have the intended affect, because now three-and-a-half pairs of eyes were staring at her.

      “What!?” she demanded. But the rogue pedestrians had already lost interest. One by one they turned their eyes away from her towards more interesting objects, such as lamp posts, garbage bins and sewage drains, and wandered away.

      “Yeah, fuck you too, buddy!” she called after them, to no response. Headlights came up behind her, accompanied by the drawn-out sound of a claxon. She let out an aggravated sigh, gritted her teeth and threw the car into first gear.

      “Fuck it,” she said. The engine roared as she slammed down on the gas pedal. The car jerked into motion.

      “Fuckers…” she added after a while, but by then it had stopped helping.

 

It was the tallest alleyway Weth had ever seen. He had always thought that Lakeshine Burough had had a very impressive one. He had taken shelter from the rain there with his brother Arcid while father sought out the cattle merchant. It was situated between a warehouse and a merchant post, and it had seemed like a brick canyon, three stories high! This one, though, rose up at least five stories high on one end, and even more than that on the other end!

      “You smell that?” Bek said.

The view was cluttered by sturdy metal stairs snaking their way up the wall. They were inaccessible from the ground floor, though. This part puzzled Weth, who had grown up in a village with a grand total of two locks, one of which belonged to old Harger who, everyone agreed, was a bit peculiar.

      “Hey kid, do ya smell that?” Bek insisted.

      “Hm? What? Oh.” Weth looked at the griffin and tried to store his thoughts for later. “I though your were… Talking to…” He glanced at Lark’s chest and then, realizing that this was possibly rude, up at the troll’s impassive face.

      “Trolls don’t smell,” Bek said. “Don’t you know anything?”

      “I didn’t know.”

      “They’re made of rock, kid. Ever see a rock with a nose? No, you haven’t. Now, do ya smell that?” He held up a single talon in dramatic fashion and then pointed it to a small, white cart across the street, from which sprouted a red and white striped umbrella. It sported red markings, the largest of which looked somewhat like this:

 

HOTDOGS

 

      Weth stepped forward and sniffed the air carefully. It was full of foul or unusual odors, but the smell wafting towards him was unmistakable. It was the scent of the carnival, the smell of plenty. It was one of the greatest luxuries that a man in the world of Weth could aspire too.

      He said: “Pork!”

      Bek nodded. “You hungry?”

      Weth wanted to say ‘no’. Weth wanted to say ‘Pork is expensive!’. Weth wanted to say ‘That’s not for people like us.’ But Weth also hadn’t eaten in the last 18 hours, and so his stomach said:

      “Yes.”

      “Alright, go over there and see if you can get us some.”

      Weth froze. “What?”

      Bek looked up at Lark. “Am I speaking with a lisp?” he asked. Lark shook his head.

      “That’s not for us! Pork is expensive! No!” Weth’s brain now emptied onto his tongue.

      “Kid, they got you trained well, I give you that. Now go out there.”

      “Why me?” Weth asked.

      “Case you haven’t noticed, this is a human town, kid. Don’t want to attract more attention than necessary, do we?”

      A thought occurred to Weth.

      “Why not?” he asked.

      “Because,” Bek explained with strained patience, “we don’t know where in the seven hells we are, and we don’t want to needlessly upset the Great Tyrant, the Glorious King, the Holy Mustard or whatever the hell kind of ruler they got here? Got it? Now go, we got your back, which, incidentally, we’ll run through if you try to scarper off, ‘kay?”

      Bek shoved Weth out into the street, where he stumbled to a halt and stood rigid as a stick for a few moments. Then he  turned around.

      “But what do I say?” he pleaded.

      Bek gave him a disapproving look.

      “I. Would like. Some pork.”

      “And then he’ll give me some!?”

      “It’s a good start. Now go.”

      Bek leaned his pike up against the nearest wall, crossed his arms and looked on as the kid turned around and uncertainly made his way across the street.

      “Like a cabbage, that kid,” he said. “You grow’em out in the field and they never think of leaving it.”

      “Needs work,” Lark said.

      “Mm,” Bek nodded.

      Weth traversed the traffic passing through the street, alternating between running, walking and standing still in a way that he hoped would not attract the attention of the Holy Mustard. When he reached the stand he found himself under the questioning gaze of a brown-skinned man under a very small and white hat. This took Weth aback. He’d heard stories of brown-skinned men, from his father, who’d spoken to a man in Lakeshine Burough, who knew a sailor who’d been to faraway places where trees grow like grass and brown-skinned men dance all day and stick people in big cooking pots.

      But he’d never actually met one.

      “Um,” Weth said.

      The man under the white head asked him a question. Weth could just about make out the question mark, everything else was completely foreign to him.

      “Um,” Weth repeated. And then, weakly: “I… Would like… Some…”

      He paused when the annoyed incomprehension in the gaze of the man registered with him. “Um,” he said again.

      The brown man under the white hat spoke to him again. This time the man spoke more slowly, and the tones were louder, and more articulated. Under the onslaught of foreign language, Weth carefully raised his finger, and then held up his hand.

      “Wait… Here. Wait…” he said.

      He sped back across the street and raced into the alleyway.

      “What!?” Bek snapped.

      “I-I can’t understand him,” Weth panted. Before Bek could utter a sound with his opened back, Weth continued: “And he’s… Brown, and I think maybe he eats people and oh gods what if that isn’t pork?”

      Bek and Lark stared at him for an uncomfortably long time.

      “What!?” Bek said again.

      “It’s true!” Weth said. “He’s brown, like, all over, except maybe under his clothes because I didn’t look under there, and my dad said that mister Kerstens knew a sailor who said that there were brown people in far away lands and the dance around naked and cook people in a big pot.”

      Bek prolongued his stare a little, but narrowed his eyes. He stepped aside to look past Weth at the hotdog salesman.

      “He’s not dancing,” he noted.

      “No pot,” Lark, who did not need to step aside, added.

      “And he’s not naked,” Bek continued. “Unlike Lark and me,” he added.

      “Well, no, but…” Weth said,

      “Listen, kid,” said Bek, “I wish I could tell ya otherwise, but far as I know, you humans are all alike, ain’t that right, Lark?”

      Lark nodded gravely, with a gravely “Mmm…”

      Weth took this in for a few moments.

      “But I think he speaks foreign language,” he said.

      “Well, yeah, you get that in foreign lands,” said Bek. He uttered a resigned sigh and reached to the back of his neck. “Okay, look…” he said as he undid the clasp of a necklace previously obscured by feathers. As he took it off, a blue crystal emerged from the down on his chest. He held it out at Weth, dangling from the chain.

      “Do you know what this is?”

      Weth crouched a little and bent forward to gape at the crystal. It was a deep, beautiful blue, clear as the finest water, and it almost seemed like it emitted it’s own faint blue light. In fact, perhaps it did.

      “It’s a--” Bek began, but Weth anwered at the same time:

      “It’s a speaking crystal,” he said in awe. Bek raised an appreciative eyebrow.

      “So you do know something.”

      Weth stood up. His face lit up.

      “I got a few books from Lakeshine Burough. Father and my brothers got them for me. One of them’s about magic things like this and, and… But…” He frowned, “These things are expensive.”

      “Oh yeah,” said Bek.

      “Where did you get it?” Weth asked. He crouched again and gently raised his hand up against the beautiful thing, so that the crystal touched it ever so slightly.

      “From someone who don’t need it no more,” Bek said plainly.

      Weth blinked and froze. He stood up and yanked his hand away, horrified.

      “Well?” Bek said. “You’re a soldier, right? Our job isn’t to be nice.”

      “But it’s stealing,” Weth whispered.

      “Oh geez,” Bek said. “You have any idea how much crap keeps lying around after a battle? You know how many people make their living off of that? He was lucky I left him his boots, though someone else probably nicked those. Now don’t give me that look. Here.”

      He grabbed Weth’s wrist, plunked the necklace into his hand and then closed it with the talons of his other claw.

      “Hold on to it and you’ll be able to hold a conversation with anyone, any language.”

      Weth looked down to his clenched wrist, and then up at Bek, and then Lark. Not taking his eyes off of them, he slowly put on the necklace.

      “Very fetching,” Bek said. “But put it under your tunic. And one more thing. Run off with that and we’re dragging you back in pieces, ‘kay? Off you go.”

      Weth again approached the ‘HOTDOG’ stand, hopping and skipping his way through traffic to the tune of the occasional horn. He stumbled forward, grabbed the counter to stop himself and looked up in the puzzled, skeptical gaze of the ‘HOTDOG’ salesman.

      “Can. You. Understand. Me?” Weth asked apprehensively, panting a little.

      “Can I understand you!?” the brown man said. “Man! Now you speak English!?”

      “I. Would like. Some pork.”

      The man looked at him.

      “Pork…”

      “Yes,” Weth said. “Pork.” He emphasized the word in case there was any confusion.

      “Well, we don’t well ‘pork’, we sell ‘hotdogs’. Would you like a hotdog?”

      Weth heart made a tiny startled jump that he tried not to show. Of course, if brown people ate humans, they would eat dog as well. It would stand to reason!

      “No, no dog!” he uttered. “Pork, please.” Maybe dog would be daily scraps for griffins and trolls, but he was raised to be civilized and his civilized stomach revolted at the very thought.

      The brown man looked at him as if he were an idiot.

      “These,” he said, gesturing at the contents of his stand, “are hotdogs. They are made of pork. Would. You like. A hotdog.”

      “Oh,” Weth said. “Um. Yes.”

      “How many?”

      Weth looked back at the alleyway. They hadn’t covered this bit. Why did that griffin act like this would be easy?

      “Three?” he ventured.

      “Three hotdogs for sir,” said the man. His hands, as if having a mind of their own, began a complicated dance of sausages, buns and red sauce. “That’ll be four fifty.”

      Weth froze, and then he patted his pockets.

      Thirty seconds later, Weth ran back into the alleyway, panting even harder than before.

      “Now what?” Bek asked.

      “He wants money,” Weth said.

      “Well, how much do you have?”

      “Well, none,” said Weth, “I had them send my wages to mother and father so they could hire a hand to help on the farm. It’s too hard just the two of’em, specially with them getting older.”

      The intriguing story of Mr. and Mrs. Weth’s parents’ finances garnered little in the way of an audience. Lark gazed ahead to whatever he was looking at, and  Bek was picking around in the satchel around his waist. He pulled out a few common Upper Entonian florins.

      “Here,” he said. “Try these. We’ll kill you if you run off with’em, et cetera…”

      When Weth had thrown himself into traffic again, Lark said:

      “Sends his money to his mum and dad.”

      “Yeah,” Bek said, crossing his arms and leaning up against the wall. “Figures.”

      “Remember we were going to send money back?”

      “We did! Remember, after the Abrasian conflict?”

      “We were going to do it all the time.”

      Bek looked back over his shoulder with annoyance.

      “Times are hard, right? Things change. Besides, your parents eat rocks, what do they care if someone sends them metal disks?”

      Lark said nothing: a very large and all-present nothing. A nothing that could fill the entire alley-way. Bek looked back at Weth.

      “Oh, leave me alone…” he said. “Oh, look, he’s coming back again.”

      When Weth re-entered the alleyway his panting had gone up another notch.

      “He said he wants real money,” he wheezed.

      “What!?” Bek said. “But that’s--” He closed his eyes, suppressed his frustration, and then said: “Never mind. Lark, hold onto this, will you?” He snatched up his pike and handed it over to the troll. Then he glanced sternly at the human boy. “I’ll be right back,” he spoke emphatically.

      Lark and Weth watched Bek cross the street, jumping, flapping his wings and cussing all the way.

      “I really tried,” Weth said, to no answer.

      They looked on as the griffin argued with the brown man for a few moments. Wings flared, then sagged. When Bek returned, he practically stomped into the alleyway. He walked up to Weth and glared up into his eyes and held up his claw.

      After a few seconds, Weth said: “Oh! Right!”

      He removed the speaking crystal and put it into Bek’s claw.

      Bek stomped back out. After a few seconds Weth said:

      “Oh dear.”

      “Mm?” Lark rumbled.

      “I think I should have given him the money back too,” said Weth.

      The troll said nothing, unless you count the crackle of his emerging smile.

 

Horne dangled the blue crystal from its chain and stared intently at it. It was beautiful, if you liked that sort of thing. Clean cuts and pure as distilled water; it was almost as if the thing generated its own light.

      “Ever seen a thing like this before?” he asked?

      The hospital guard before him, a middle-aged man, shrugged.

      “We get all kinds of stuff,” he said, which wasn’t helpful. He also held out a long rolled up piece of cloth. Horne put the crystal in his coat pocket.

      “And this is?” he asked.

      The guard handed it to him.

      “Sword,” he said. “Nice one. Seen better, though.”

      “You get a lot of those then?” Horne asked, looking down at the package. It weighed not a lot more than he’d expect from a roll of cloth.

      “Lots of ways to end up in a hospital,” the guard said, again shrugging.

      “That all you got?”

      “That all we got.”

      Horne nodded to the guard, who nodded back, and they each went their separate professional ways. Horne walked back into the Emergency Room with the roll of cloth and a bizarre set of leather strap clothing under his arms, and sat back down on the stool beside the mystery man’s bed. He leaned the roll of cloth up against his thigh, lay the man’s clothing down on the floor and reached into his inside pocket and pulled out his radio.

      “Pete, I’m gonna need a few more minutes,” he said.

      “Take’em,” Pete’s deformed voice bleared back. “We’re on overtime.”

      “Mm.” He put the radio back in one pocket and took the crystal necklace from another to look at it again. It really was beautiful. A jeweler would know what it was, if it came to it. But you couldn’t start confiscating things like this. The medics only took this off of him to prevent choking; if that were enough you might as well start confiscating people’s pants.

      Besides, what exactly was the crime?

      He picked up the roll of cloth and started unwrapping it. What emerged was a belt with the very plain and worn leather sheath that he remembered. The grip sticking out of it was anything but ornamental. This was disconcerting; most swords he came across were… Nice. They were fantasies, fancies. Oh, sure, the owners could be as dangerous as a rattlesnake, with matching charm,  but at the heart it was still posturing. Status.

      But this, this looked like a tool. He wrapped some of the white cloth around the grip and carefully unsheathed the sword, only about an inch. Dull steel greeted him. No nonsense, no frills, just sharp, deadly steel. He sheathed it again, turned his back to the bed for safety’s sake and gently pulled it out again, further this time.

      A bit of humanity in him experienced a familiar shock. It was the shock that he always felt, year after year, when his eyes first saw blood. After a moment’s pause, he turned his back to the Emergency Room and examined the blood. It was fresh. It had a smell, for crying out loud! He sheathed it, stood up sharply and turned grimly to face the bed.

      “O-kay, mister mystery man…” he mumbled. After a quick glance at the doctor – Currently interrogating a man with a very red leg – he set the sword up against the heart monitor, lifted up the blanket and rolled it down to the back of the bed.

      What long fingers the man had…

      With a pen from his pocket detective Horne lifted the hospital gown around the hip area and peered under it.

      “Detective…” said doctor Dopazo.

      Horne looked up. Somehow the doctor had managed to teleport from one side of the room to the other without a sound.

      “Have I not made myself clear?” the doctor snapped.

      Detective Horne stood up.

      “Doctor, I… May have to arrest your man,” he said.

      “I see,” said the doctor. “Did you ask him if he understood his rights?”

      “Very funny. There’s fresh blood on the sword,” Horne said. “I need to check him for anything else.”

      Through the dizzy mist in Ferrick’s mind the arguing voices drifted in, a beacon for his awareness, guiding him into a land of soft bedding and hard light.

      “Mister Horne, the man has multiple traumas, broken ribs, broken legs, broken arms, the only reason we have not moved him yet is we’re waiting on a clear spot in IC. We are monitoring him, he is not going anywhere. And now I have to ask you to leave.”

      A sigh.

      “Alright. Alright… Let us know when he’s awake, will you? We need to have a word.”

      “That is up to--”

      Ferrick made himself known. It went: “Hunh.”

      Doctor Dopazo and Detective Horne stared at each other for a fraction of a moment. Then, in another fraction, Dopazo broke the spell. He paced over to the side of the bed, coat flapping in the wind, and pulled a small flashlight out of his breast pocket and clicked it on in one swift motion.

      “Sir,” he called out. “Sir, are you awake, sir! Sir! Can you say something, sir?” He shone the flashlight into the man’s right eyelid and carefully pulled it open. Bright, stinging light flooded into Ferrick’s eye.

      “Ghk!” he uttered. His arms flailed around until they struck the arm of the doctor. To the dismay of the doctor he pushed himself back and sat upright up against the back of the bed. He blinked a few times, panting lightly, until his gaze rested on Detective Horne.

      Horne slowly raised his arms in a calming fashion.

      “Easy, easy,” he said. “You’re okay. You’re in a hospital.”

      Ferrick stared suspiciously at him, mouth open.

      “Sir,” Doctor Dopazo said carefully. Ferrick looked sharply to the side, where the doctor made a show of taking a small step back. “Sir,” the doctor repeated. “You are in a hospital. You are very hurt. I would like you to hold still. Please.”

      Ferrick gave him a look of puzzled incomprehension. His eyes then drifted to the rest of the room. He looked around with a dissecting look in his eyes, pausing only to gape at the ceiling lights.

      “Can he can understand us, you think?” Horne asked carefully.

      “He shouldn’t be sitting up,” Doctor Dopazo said worriedly. “Try and keep him calm, will you, detective? Don’t let him move any further.” The doctor paced away to the nearest nurse, who he slapped on the upper arm with the back of his hand and engaged in hushed tones.

      Horne looked at the man in the bed. The man looked confused but alert and regarded his surroundings suspiciously.

     “You alright?” Horne asked.

      The man looked at him, and something seemed to dawn in his expression. He pressed his fingers up against his chest bone, and looked down. Then he looked back up at Horne, indicating the area around and under his neck with his fingers.

      “What?” Horne said. He took the crystal necklace from his pocket into his fist and held it out at him. “This? Are you looking for this?”

      “Yes.”

      Horne paused.

      “So you can speak?” he said.

      The man carefully, his eyes going back and forth between the necklace and Horne’s face, reached for the necklace.

      “Hold on, hold on,” Horne said, lowering his fist. “There’s some people wanting to ask you some questions first. I’m one of them.”

      Doctor Dopazo joined him again, with a young man of a nurse this time. He immediately took a small step back and indicated for the nurse to do the same.

      “He can understand you?” he asked in hushed tones.

      “We can do that, yes? Just questions.”

      The man looked at him with suspicion.

      “What… Do you want to know?” he asked.

      Horne took in a deep breath. This required delicacy, a specialty he had never truly mastered.

      “What’s your name, sir?” he asked.

      “Ferrick…”

      “Ferrick. My name is detective Franklin Horne. You… Fell, Ferrick. Do you remember that?”

      The man reached for his head, rubbing through his hair experimentally.

      “Yes,” he said, nodding slightly.

      “Do you… Remember where you fell from?”

      The man’s expression turned more thoughtful as the question sank in.

      “Sir,” the doctor interjected, “The nurse and I will lay you back down. We have to ask you not to move.”

      The man glanced at the doctor and gave Horne a questioning look.

      “What?” he said.

      “The doctor wants to help you lie down,” said Horne with a kind of talking-to-foreigners emphasis that immediately embarrassed him.

      The man seemed to take this in.

      “No. No,” he said, shaking his head. He held up an outstretched hand at them as if to keep them at bay. “No, wait. We have to—I, erm…”

      “Detective?” the doctor whispered. Horne threw a quick glance in his direction, coupled with pressed lips and a shake of the head. The man in the bed had in the mean time closed his eyes in deep concentration.

      “He responds to you, detective,” the doctor continued. “Just keep him calm.”

      “Sir?” Horne asked. “Ferrick?”

      Ferrick looked up, and said, slowly: “This is the Dead World, is it not?”

      Franklin Horne ran this through his mind. Dead World – Afterlife?

      “You are all right. You are in a hospital. You fell, but you are not dead.”

      Ferrick looked at him thoughtfully.

      “Yssil,” he tried. “Is this the Yssil?”

      “You’re in Varsity, sir,” Horne tried. “City. Varsity Fairfield Hospital.”

      A look of irritation crossed Ferrick’s face, and he emitted what seemed like a slight, gurgling growl.

      “I fell in a—In a gap. A gap, between my world and yours. Do you understand? A tear through realities.”

      Franklin returned a blank look. He was not sure how to answer this one. “Listen,” he said, “Why don’t you lie back down and then we’ll talk about this? The doctor will—”

      “No, listen!” Ferrick snapped.

      “Detective!” Doctor Dopazo hissed in Franklin’s ear.

      “Listen!” Ferrick repeated excitedly. “You are in great danger.”

      “We’re going to need to sedate him,” Dopazo muttered. He made a gesture at the nurse, who rushed off.

      “The dragon Scyce is here with me! Through the tear.”

      “Really,” said Horne. “Is he… In this room right now?”

      “NO!

      “Jonas, get a move on, please…” doctor Dopazo said through his teeth.

      “Alright, alright!” Horne said, holding up his hands in warding fashion. “Then tell me about this dragon.”

      “Detective, what are you doing!?” Dopazo hissed.

      Ferrick sighed and closed his eyes. “You don’t know,” he said. “You don’t… Scyce is… We call him the Destroyer of Avadera. Avadera is a—was a city. An, an important city. He… Listen to me, wherever Scyce is, there is death. Death.”

      Jonas the nurse discretely put something in the hand of the doctor and moved to the opposite side of the bed.

      “Calm him down!” the doctor urged.

      “Alright, alright!” Horne said, to both of them. “Listen, Ferrick, we’re going to find your dragon, okay?”

      Ferrick glared at him.

      “We’re going to find it and… And chase it off, okay? It won’t come back.”

      Ferrick roared at the world. He raised a splinted arm, set his teeth into the bandages and tore it open.

      “Quick!” Dopazo yelled. As one man they threw himself onto the patient. Ferrick caught the nurse on his splinted arm, who immediately reeled back in shock. With his now free arm he shoved the doctor into the curtain, where he stumbled and fell. In one quick reflex Horne reached for his holster and grabbed his gun, when the ghastliness the idea of pointing a gun at a hospital bed hit him. Instead he held up both hands, clinging to the crystal necklace with his thumb.

      “Whoah, whoah, whoah!”

      The man in the bed was tearing off the bandages from his other arm like they were paper. The splint inside them snapped.

      “Everybody is going to calm down now,” Horne said. “That means everybody.”

      “Get security,” Doctor Dopazo muttered at Jonas.

      “Ferrick, we’re sorry, okay?”

      Ferrick ignored him. He shook the splints off his arms and began tearing at the bandages under the hospital gown.

      “I didn’t know they were going to do that! Listen, you’re not well. You had a bad fall, you have to calm down.”

      Ferrick sat up on the side of his bed, tearing away at the bandages around his right leg. His left was already free.

      “Where’s my sword?” he said.

      Franklin’s eyes betrayed him with a quick glance. Ferrick snatched it up before Franklin had even a chance to make a grab for it. Before he could do anything to improve matters, hospital security chose this moment to make an appearance in force. Ferrick instantly unsheathed his blade and swung it towards him, pointing the tip at his face. In turn, Horne drew his gun and pointed it at the fallen man.

      “Alright, everyone steps back right now,” he said forcefully, raising his voice over the sudden consternation behind him.

      “Scyce is here, detective Franklin Horne,” Ferrick said. “Either let me pass or let me speak to your leaders.”

      “I’m in charge here,” Franklin said.

      Ferrick’s eyes narrowed slightly.

      Franklin carefully reached into the inside pocket of his trench coat and retrieved his badge.

      “Varsity Police,” he said, flipping open the leather casing. “You can speak to me. I’m in charge. Which means that everyone is going to step back”— he dared turn his head sideways towards the hospital guards for just a second— “right NOW!

      This had the intended effect. He could not see what went on behind him, but Ferrick seemed to relax slightly and the tip of his sword lowered a few inches. He eyed the silvery shield intently, as if to divine its meaning.

      “This is your shield?” he asked.

      Franklin nodded.

      “It… Protects you?”

      “I suppose it does. In a sense.”

      “Will it protect you from a dragon?”

      Franklin chose to say nothing.

      “I have… Had a friend with a mighty shield,” Ferrick said, and for a moment his concentration seemed to falter. “It was not enough. He was a champion for the Light. Are you?”

      “Sort of. For law and order, if you like.”

      “In the name of which deity?”

      “What?”

      Ferrick looked straight at the detective, and his expression showed a very slow form of understanding creeping up on him. And with it, a slight hint of awe, or perhaps respect.

      He lowered his sword.

      “Then I am sorry, detective Franklin Horne.”

      “It’s okay,” Franklin said. “Just drop the—”

      With a single, swift stroke Ferrick swung his sword upward into Franklin’s gun. The impact spread into his fingers as the gun was ripped away from them, causing him to drop the necklace as well. He dove to the side as Ferrick charged past them. By the time the guards realized what had happened the man was already charging into the emergency waiting room.

      “Stop him!” Franklin managed. He scrambled around for his weapon, found the necklace first, stuffed it in his pocket and snatched up his gun.

      “Dragons, detective!?” Doctor Dopazo yelled accusingly at him. “What the hell was that!?”

      “Broken legs, doctor!?” Horne screamed back as he gave chase. He dug around in his pocket for the radio. “Pete!” he yelled into it. “Pete! Come in!”

 

Ferrick stumbled barefoot out into the night. Sensations assaulted him from all directions: sights, sounds and smells. There was nothing dead about the dead world. Nothing… He had to concentrate not to let the magnitude of the discovery make his head spin. First cover, then escape, then plan. He sheathed his sword and leapt into a tree, swinging himself into the foliage with unusual ease. His body felt weird, like it didn’t know what it was supposed to be: wolf or man. It felt like that brief time right after the transformation back, when the beast would recede and for a few minutes he would be less than the beast, and more than a man. But this felt different. It felt confused.

      He leapt from the branch onto an awning. No telling how long it would last. He had to move quickly. Up into a window, and then diagonally up to the next… The building was huge, like a castle.

      Down below the man with the tiny shield was yelling at another man. He had evidentially done away with the speaking stone, but it sounded like he was cursing. Now there was a yell from below. Perhaps they spotted him. Not important, no time. He continued his zigzag climb, reached the edge of the roof and pulled himself over.

      Ferrick lay down and panted heavily, allowing himself a few precious seconds of rest. Everything, everything had gone wrong. Everything! Galen… Everything…

      Tears welled up in his eyes. With a grunt he fought them back. He forced himself to stand up. He gazed upon his surroundings.

      Down below Pete stared up at the hospital rooftop.

      “Pretty spry for a guy who flattened a car, don’t you think?” he noted.

      “Jesus, Pete!” Franklin cursed. He rammed himself into the passenger seat of his car. “Jesus! I’m calling this in!”

      Ferrick stared at the city with wonder. The buildings were beyond those of Avadera itself, the lights that outlined them a wonder in themselves. And it stretched out all around him. Was this the Yssil, the Dead World?

      The lights of this world stretched out into the distance all around him. And among them lived people, so many people, there must be! Only a world filled with life could build a wonder like so… And it knew nothing of the evil that had entered it.

 

“Beuh.”

      A thin, poorly skinned figure stared at the sliding door that opened up beside it. It led into Startmart, a small, local grocery store. It was at that time of the evening manned by Nahib, a man who thought the world was a rotten place, but who did not see any reason to involve himself with it. So when four zombies stumbled into the store, each of them admiring the door with mouths agape and slight gasps of ‘beuh’, he simply looked up from his newspaper and gave them a nasty glare.

      “Okay you guys, very amusing. It’s a door, yes. So, what, student prank? Flash mob?”

      The four figures ignored him. They fanned out through the store, twirling slowly while looking at absolutely everything.

      “Okeedokey…” Nahib sighed. He turned back to his paper and was rewarded with a small crash. His head snapped back up: one of them had dropped a glass jar of jam at the feet of another; its arm was still outstretched. The other, as if operating on a different time frame, reacted only by raising its arm to accept the now sadly missing object. The first meanwhile looked down at the remains.

      “That’s one dollar and nine cents,” Nahib stated firmly, ignored again to his chagrin.

      The first zombie said “Beeeeeeeuh!” to the jam. The second proceeded to look down at it as if seeing it there for the first time. A third walked past, stepped into the shards of glass and responded by looking at its foot, only without thinking to stop first. It fell down with a disgusting ‘blat’.

      “What the—” Nahib began, but he was sidetracked  by the fourth zombie which, after a lengthy curious investigation, stuck the entire top half of its body into a freezer.

      “Beeuuurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrh!”

      “Alright, you cut that out right now, you hear!?” Nahib stated forcefully, with no intention of getting out from behind his counter. He shook an angry finger at the broken pot. “And you, you pay for that. And you…” He shook his finger even harder at the fallen zombie. “… Have that looked at,” he decided. “Christ, this city…”

      Nahib had a little radio. It was old and temperamental and didn’t always work, so it fit him well. Every evening it would stand there beside him at low volume producing sounds that he would ignore entirely, and this way he kept from feeling lonely. Up until this point it had been spewing entirely ignorable news, weather and traffic information, but now it began playing a rhythmic violin based beat that did nothing for his mood.

      “I used to ruuuuuule the world,” the radio sang, “seas would rise when I gave the word.

      Nahib hated this song. Mostly because it sounded like it made sense, but it didn’t; but the fact that everybody else seemed to like it was an extra strike against it, and them.

      “Now in the morning I sleeeeeep alone, sweep the streets I used to own.

      The zombies slowed down their unsynchronized wandering and began to listen. Their heads began bobbing slightly to the beat.

      “Well?” Nahib said. “Get out of here. And pay for that!”

      To a man, or corpse, every zombie had now stopped what it was doing and was now just standing there, bobbing its head. Slowly they looked at each other, moving to the tune in perfect unison.

      “Beuh,” said one.

      “Beuh,” added another.

      “Beeeeeurh?” said the third, joining the others straight from the freezer.

      “Beeeuh,” said the second again.

      “Beurh,” added the fourth.

      For a few moments they just stood there, bobbing their heads.

      “Well!?” Nahib said. “Are you gonna—”

      The song broke into its refrain. This caused immense excitement!

      “I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing! Roman cavalry choirs are singing!

          “Beuh! Beuh!”        “Beeeeeuuuh!”              “Beuhbeuhbeuh!”

              “Beurh!”    “Beurh!”      “Beuhbeuhbeuhbeuh!”          “Beuh!”

             “Beuh!”                                   “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEUH!”

          “Beuh!”                 “Beuh!”               “Beuh!”           “Beeeeeurh!

      “Be my mirror, my sword and shield! My missionaries in a foreign field!

          “BEUH!”        “BEUHBEUH!”                        “BEEEEEUH!”

              “Beuh. Beurh! BEURH!”             “BEEEUURH!”          “BEUH!”

             “BEEEEEEEURH!”           “BEUH! BEUH! BEUH!”

                    “BeurhbeurhBEURH! BeurhBEURH! BEEEU!”             “Beuh.”

      “SHUT! UP!” Nahib screamed. “AND GET THE HELL OUT OF THE STORE!”

      This had half the effect that he had hoped for. The four zombies stopped their screaming, and now all four of them were staring straight at him, heads bopping incessantly. After a few moments more than was comfortable, they headed towards him, and said:

          “Beuh.”            “BeuhbeurhBEUH!”            “Beeeeeeeerh!”

        “Beuh! Beuh! Beuh! Buh! Beuh!”           “Beuh.”                  “BEUH!”

              “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEURH!”        “Beuh. Berh.”         “Beuhbeuhbeuh!”

          “Beuh!”    “BEUH!”     “Beurh.”      “Beurhbeuh.”          “Beurh?”

Nahib stared at them. His rising fear only server to power his anger, but he was not without sense. He managed to restrain himself.

      “What?” he asked emphatically. The zombies paused, and looked at each other. They conferred…

         “Beuh.”               “Beuh. Beuh.”           “Beeeeeeuhbeuheurh.”

        “Beurh?”    “Beurhbeurhbeuhbeurh.”         “Brrreeeeeeeuuhh…”

           “Burh.”          “Beuhbeuh.”            “Beuhr.”                  “Beuh.”

          “Beeeeeeeeeurh!”   “Beuhbeuhbeuh.”            “Bruh!”

… And fell mercifully silent. Then, one by one, they pointed at the radio.

      “What?” Nahib said in irritated confusion. “What, what do you want from me?” He looked at the radio, gently spewing its aggravating song. “That? That’s ColdStone. Viva la viva, something. That what you want?”

      The zombies stood like so in silence for a few more seconds. Then they lowered their arms and looked at each other. They conferred once more, again blearing mono-syllables at each other, until they had reached a consensus.

      Then: a pantomime. The corpse furthest to the right stretched two arms out at the radio. The one next to it made a pronounced grabbing motion that ended with its flat hands on its chest. The remaining two continuously bobbed their head to the music.

      Nahib stared at the Rocky Horror ballet troupe, baffled beyond his ability to communicate. The zombies exchanged glances, and repeated the performance. One of them said “Beuh,” as if to further clarify the intent of the play.

      Nahib said nothing. The only sound in the store was the humming of the freezers and the rhythmic sound of ColdStone’s Viva la viva. The pantomiming zombies sagged and the group turned to each other and conferred once more, filling the silence with their grating moans until they had reached a new conclusion. They turned to face Nahib once more.

      “You guys are so getting on my nerves…” he whispered miserably.

      One zombie grabbed the notepad he kept on the counter. Another took the pen.

      “Hey! Hey, put that back!” Nahib snapped. The first zombie held the notepad tightly in both hands, while the second was drawing in it with a concentrated expression. The other two zombies peered over its shoulder and made the occasional remark (“Beuh.”). When they were done, they held up the notepad for Nahib to see this:

 

 

He looked at the picture, then at the zombies, then at the picture again and finally back up into seven expectant eyes, bobbing up and down slightly to the beat.

      “…” he said.

      The zombies exchanged some quiet “beuh”s, and the pantomime started anew: one zombie reached for the radio, the other clutched its chest.

      “… No,” Nahib managed. “No… No, no, no. No.” He shook his finger and added: “No.”

      The zombies look of expectancy faded into dejection. Their pantomime, still frozen in place, sagged a little.

      “No,” Nahib said more forcefully. “The radio is not for sale! Now get out!”

      The zombies lowered their arms.

      “Beuh.” Said one. The other ones weighed in with their own input, resulting in a constant stream of beuh until Nahib reached under the counter and produced one of his best friends: the aluminium baseball bat. He slammed it on the counter.

      “I SAID GET OUT!” he screamed with a shrill voice.

      The zombies paused their deliberations and watched him with wide open eyes. Then one, which had stopped mid-sentence, finished: “… Beuh.” Nobody moved for another two seconds, and then the zombie nearest to the radio reached out and grabbed it from its little corner of the counter. Before Nahib could do anything it had already tossed it towards its brethren, which were already running into the door. They rushed into the automatic doors with a rattling thump and pushed themselves through the moment they had opened wide enough, joined by the fourth.

           “Beuh!”       “Beuhbeuh!”               “Beeeeeeeeeeuh!”        “Beuh!”

        “Beurh!”            “BeurhBeuh!”       “Beuh! Beuh! Beuh!”               “Beurh!”

        And for some reason I can’t explain, I know saint Peter won’t call my name…”

             “BEEEeeeeeeuhr!”        “Beuh!”                 “Beeeeeeeeeeeeeuh!”

          “Beurh!”            “Beh! Beuhr!”             “Beuh! Beuhr! Beuhr! Beuh!”

      When the doors closed, Nahib was left in stunned silence.

      “HEY!” He shrieked after a few seconds. “COME BACK HERE!

      It was enough to lose faith in the world, it really was. But the worst part, the very worst part that depressed him the most, was that they also took his pencil and notepad with them.

 

“Holy shit Frank, he just jumped!”

      Franklin’s heart missed a beat. He pulled himself halfway out of the car by the door.

      “Where!?”

      Pete was wide-eyed. He pointed to a building across a street.

      “There!”

      Franklin stared at it. He’d believe it too at this point and… There he was. Ferrick was standing up on the rooftop of an apartment building, having just broken the world record in long jumps.

      “… Alright, get in!” Franklin said.

      “What?”

      Franklin scooted over to the driver seat, turning the key with one hand while trying to fasten his seatbelt with the other.

      “Radio central. Tell them we’re in pursuit.”

      Pete struggled with his seatbelt as he installed himself in the passenger seat.

      “But he’s—”

      With skidding tires, Horne u-turned into traffic.

 

Something odd was going on inside Ferrick’s body. It was not abnormal for him to retain his human body at night; that simply required a solid supply of willpower. It was abnormal that his body was human when he did not want to be. And his body agreed: human his body looked, but it wasn’t. It never was, to be honest, but now he felt like a large wolf crammed into a small little body. It was the wolf that healed his body, the wolf that did the sniffing, the wolf that let him leap from one rooftop to the other. But it struggled. Every moment the wolf wasn’t a wolf, it receded. Something cannot be two things at once. Not for very long anyway.

      And so Ferrick’s nostrils flared as he sniffed the air hurriedly, and set off to find and fight the dragon while he was still capable…

 

A river ran through the city of Varsity. One time it had provided a vital trade route, and the harbor was the lifeline of the community. But then trains had come, and wide roads with many lanes, mass communication. In such a world Varsity’s harbor had but a marginal place. Over many decades it had split. One side had become a dock for small pleasure crafts, the other the occasional stopping point for small cargo ships, with more warehouses than it knew what to do with.

      At a parking lot by the water that belonged to the pleasure end of the harbor, a mass lay huddled between two parked cars. One was silver grey, the other red, and the mass was black. It heaved up and down in a steady breathing rhythm, growling softly with each breath.

      “I will go alone,” it said. Scyce put a claw down on the concrete, pushed himself up, held the pose for a few moments and lowered himself again with a frustrated sigh.

      “I must meditate,” said Kara, who lay beside the dragon, up against the red car.

      “Meditate?” Scyce growled. He placed his claw on the hood of the silver-grey car and pushed himself up and the vehicle down; the hood dented slightly under the weight. He looked down at the healer, who remained stoic.

      “Fine,” he said. “Fine.” He lowered himself back down into the parking space and lay down on his side. “Fine,” he breathed resentfully.

      “For this I need shelter,” she said.

      Scyce groaned.

      “Fine.”

 

“… In pursuit,” Pete spoke into the radio. “Going down Marigold Avenue headed for Baisley Parkway. Suspect is on foot and on the roofs. Request assistance.”

      “Come again,” said the radio.

      “Oh come on, not tonight! You heard me, on the roofs, request assistance.”

      “Damn!” Horne exclaimed. He yanked the steering wheel and held his hand down on the horn as he screeched around a corner. Pete held his breath for a moment, and then continued.

      “Make that Warwick Drive,” he then said. “Headed down to Tinsley—Frank! Jesus!”

      “He’s up there,” Franklin said. “Keep an eye on him.”

      “Christ,” Pete breathed, witnessing another jump of inhuman proportions.

      “Car seventeen, going down Baisley, headed for your position,” the radio reported. “Fifteen,” it continued soullessly, “Coming up Tinsley now.”

      “Er, got it, car seventeen, fifteen. Thanks for joining us and just a little note: this guy can jump!”

      And jump Ferrick did. With a running start, he leapt straight over the wide gap that was Long Street. His feet only barely made the next rooftop; they slipped off almost instantly, but Ferrick managed to grab hold of the ledge and scrambled up and onto his feet. He had to keep going. The strength was seeping out of his body with every step and every leap. He would not last much longer. He sniffed the air again and changed directions.

      “They should see him now!” Horne yelled.

      “Tinsley, coming up!” Pete reported in

      “Negative, nothing here,” the radio said.

      Franklin grit his teeth. “Shit!” he said, and yanked the steering wheel hard. Drifting momentarily into the wrong lane they skidded around the corner into Penn Avenue.

      “Jesus Frank!” Pete yelled. “ I like to live, you hear!?”

      “The docks,” Franklin said. “He’s headed for the docks. Gotta!” The engine roared as the car sped up.

      “Think suspect’s headed for the docks,” Pete reported obediently. “Going to check it out. Frank, what’s he suspected of anyway?”

      “Aside from having a bloodied sword?” Franklin said. “Smashing a tax payer’s car.”

      “Right.”

      “Pete, he falls from the sky, jumps back up and is jumping rooftops now. You want to worry about the finer legalities?”

      “I want to know what to write in our report.”

      “I’ll write it! Eyes open, we’re here.”

      At a brisk but sensible speed this time they turned onto the parking lot. It had only a few lamp posts; most of the terrain was semi-darkness.

      “On the parking lot now,” Pete called in.

      Franklin slowly turned the car in a circle, piercing every shred of darkness before them. He turned on the high beams.

      The light illuminated a silvery grey car and a red car. A black mass between them… Stirred.

      “What is…” Franklin whispered.

      A head emerged from it. A pair of glaring eyes shone back in the light of the beams.

      Wings appeared. Large bat-like wings.

      It turned.

      “Frank…”

      Teeth…

      The black mass charged towards them. Two grown men screamed as it rammed two large claws into the hood of the car. The windshield splintered, and a large mouth full of razor-sharp teeth roared straight into Franklin’s face. Then it was distracted; it yelped, and a voice in the distance yelled out:

      “Scyce!”

      The beast looked back for a moment. Franklin felt his pistol burn in its holster but not a muscle in his body would let him reach for it. When the head turned to face him again it looked spiteful. Through its teeth it let out a low, terrifying growl. A green liquid seeped through onto the dashboard.

      Then it pulled back. It leapt up and moments later, with a loud slam, the roof of the car came down several inches in the two spots over their heads. They saw the beast as it flew away across the parking lot, snatched something up from between the two cars and disappeared into the darkness over the water.

      Many tense seconds of silence followed, which lasted until Franklin Horne could no longer sustain himself without breathing. He coughed, breathed in deeply and wheezed. He grabbed the steering wheel tight and rested his forehead on his knuckles, glancing sideways at Pete. Pete gaped with a strangely faraway look, alternating between glancing at him, and at the pool of darkness that was the river.

      Then lights appeared behind them as car fifteen pulled up beside them. This had a peculiar effect on Franklin. He sat up straight, shook his head and ran a hand through his hair before anyone could catch sight of him. Then he looked at Pete.

      “… You were going to write the report,” Pete said quietly, but also resolutely.

      On the rooftop of a large boathouse Ferrick looked down at the scene, panting heavily, resting with his hands on his knees. The strength had left him, and all he had managed was be on time to see the dragon Scyce fly off into the darkness. He sagged and turned around.

      For now, it was time to go.

 

Dewey Park was the name of the park where Bek, Lark and Weth had first entered this world, and it was where they returned. They sat under a stone bridge, which bridged a small ornamental stream that flowed from the pond to the other side of the park. Before them lay a disorderly assortment of hot sausages and buns. Bek was eating one of them. Lark was looking around the corner of their hideaway.

      “Go on, kid, have a sausage,” he said.

      Weth looked resolute.

      “They are stolen,” he said.

      “No one’s coming,” Lark said.

      “Good. See? No problem. No one’ll see, go on and have one.”

      Weth’s expression did not change.

      “Straight laced, aren’t we?” Bek said.

      “The Army of Light does not resort to… Thievery,” said Weth. It sounded like it was supposed to sound brave. Bek’s response was simple:

      “Ha.”

      Weth said nothing again. His resolute expression seemed to slowly morph into misery. Bek rolled his eyes and cast a glance at Lark, who remained impassive.

      “Look,” Bek sighed, “How about if I put it like this? If you don’t eat you’ll die, and you’ll die from me killing you. You are our prisoner, kid.”

      Weth sighed. Painful awareness of his crime radiated from his body as he picked up one of the buns and, after a moment of contemplation, took a bite. Bek watched him chew for a long time before he swallowed.

      “You’re going to need a lot of work if you’re going to hang out with us, kid,” he said, and he finished his sausage.

 

Elsewhere, in the now empty streets of the sleeping city, the upbeat sound of a canned piano tune broke what in the city passed for silence. Four heads bopped in unison, four pairs of legs stepped to the beat: three steps forward, one step back; and a voice backed by a chorus sang:

      “Think – Think!”

      “Think – Think!

      “Think – Think!

      “Think – Think!

      Step, step, step, back, step, step, step, back…

      “You think – Think!

      “Think – Think!

      “Think – Think!

      “Think about,

      “You better think – Think! – think about what you’re trying to do to me,

      Organized, in unison, as one whole, the zombies danced…

      “Yeaaaaah, think – Think, think! – let your mind go, let yourself be free!

      … away into the night.

Next: Full Stop!

Chapter List---No Heroes Fan Art---B!'s Library---Main
Background texture courtesy of GRSites