Trials: Part Twenty Two

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Anastasia and Siobhan walked down a cobbled walkway on a sunny day. Anastasia had slept quite well the night before, so, by a mixture of rest and sunshine, she felt excellent. Everyone had been awfully vague about what this was about to entail, but she had a feeling she could do it. They approached a large stone building, with an immense wooden door. Siobhan went up to the door, and placed her hand on it. After a few moments, it slowly went open.

Anastasia followed Siobhan through the door, and into the building. It was one large room, filled with shelves, with a path in the middle. The light that streamed in from outside was slowly cut off, and it went completely dark for a moment, but then the whole room became illuminated. On the shelves, was a wide menagerie of, well… junk.

“Alright, now that the door is sealed, we may speak freely.” Siobhan began to walk down the path.

“So what is this place?” Anastasia looked around, trying to get a better sense of things.

“When the green light hit, I’m sure you already know that many people received wonderful powers.” She turned down one of the rows, and began to look over one of the shelves. “Now what you may not be aware of, is that humans were not the only things affected.”

“So is this stuff super-powered or something?”

Siobhan was silent for a moment, and finally pulled a pen from amongst the junk. “See for yourself.”

Anastasia inspected the pen, and saw it was one of those pens with multiple colors. If you pushed down on the corresponding color, the pen that popped out would write in that color. As best as she could tell though, it appeared completely mundane. That was, until she pushed the green one. As expected, the pen clicked, but she now noticed her skin was now green. She pushed the red one, and her skin became red. Once she unclicked it, her skin turned back to normal.

“Huh.” She nodded. That was definitely not the type of high caliber magic artifact she was expecting to be housed here, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Siobhan held out her hand, and Anastasia returned the pen. “You sound disappointed.” She laughed.

“No! That’s a fascinating… pen.”

She and Siobhan laughed for a moment.

“Well, as I’m sure you suspect, there are items here that are considerably more powerful.” She returned towards the center aisle. “We’ve carefully collected these items from around the world and brought them here. Most people in the monastery are not permitted to access the vault, but that does not mean that it is impossible that something has gone missing.”

Anastasia’s heart sank. She had a suspicion of what the task was. She stared around in awe at the amount of stuff. It would take an entire days work at least to inventory all of this.

Siobhan laughed again. “I think you have an idea of what our task is now. Yes, we have to inventory all of it.

“And let me guess, no touching any of the interesting stuff?”

“Expert intuition, Anastasia.” She pulled two clipboards from her bag, and handed one to Anastasia. “I’ll take this side, you take the other.”

Anastasia groaned, and began to get to work. She noticed that there was actually a sorting system, according to the clipboard. They seemed to be ordered chronologically, but she wasn’t quite sure on what basis. The items had dates attached to them, but they didn’t make much sense, given that some were thousands of years ago, and the green light was only a few years ago. This taken with David from the coffee shop, mentioning that he knew Adara in the 70’s definitely began to make sense, with sense being a relative term. There was some kind of time travel.

“Hey, Siobhan, I have a question.” She poked her head into the center aisle. “What’s up with these dates?”

“Sorry lass, but that is a secret. You don’t need to worry about sorting them, you just need to inventory them.” She called from somewhere on her side.

Anastasia had expected about as much, but she wasn’t quite ready to give up on this. “So when Paul and I were out getting coffee, Adara gave us a letter to deliver to a guy named David. He said Adara helped to cure his wife. Do you know anything about that?”

“Ah, yeah. David and Lena. They were a nice couple.” Siobhan stepped into the aisle where Anastasia was working. “I remember them well. Adara and I had just located an artifact, it had great healing power, but you could only use it so many times, and we had no idea how many were left. We ran into a crying man near the hospital, and he told us his story. Adara asked me what I thought we should do, and I told her we obviously had to give her the cure. She agreed, and so we did.” She ran off somewhere in the back of the room and came back a moment later. She held up a Pez dispenser, with a penguin head on top. “Here it is. Don’t push it back. No way to tell if there’s another use left without using it.”

“Wow, I guess anything could get powers.” She remarked, before recalling her purpose in asking about it. “So how did you get to the 70’s then? You look a little young to have been an adult back then.”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually.” Siobhan winked. “Now get back to work!”

In total, there were a ton of both mundane and weird things on her half of the room. It seemed like it was mostly things that were around at the time of the green light, given that everything that was older than that seemed to be appropriately worn, and newer things still seemed in good condition in general. There were a couple of things that she couldn’t even tell what they were, so she just checked off the box that seemed to describe it. In the end of a long days work, as expected, not a single artifact was missing.

 


 

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Trials: Part Twenty One

You are joining an ongoing story.

Click here for part one.

 

Vanessa stood silently in the cave. Her heart was still racing. The guard briefly leaned forwards and felt the disc against his throat, before leaning back and putting his hands up.

“Vanessa, don’t kill him!” Ashley grabbed her arm.

Vanessa looked closer at the guard. “Take off your helmet.”

The guard complied, and pulled off the helmet. He had dark skin, and appeared surprisingly calm for a man who was just knocked on his ass, and had a weapon against his throat.

Vanessa gasped. “Darryl!”

This was definitely the best possible guard for them to run into, short of one they had no problems with killing. Judging by Ashley’s response, it’s not likely there would be a guard that she’d be okay with killing. While he was always nice to them, that didn’t necessarily constitute him being an ally here. It was best to remain cautious.

Darryl squinted for a moment. “Ashley? Vanessa?”

“Where’s your gun?” Vanessa gently moved the disc towards his throat. She wouldn’t mind working with him, but she had to be sure he was disarmed.

“Left side of my belt.”

“Ashley, grab it.” Vanessa couldn’t afford to take her eyes off of him.

Ashley reluctantly edged forwards and grabbed it. “Got it.” She stepped back, and held the gun at a distance from herself.

“Any other weapons?”

Darryl sighed. “I’m telling you this because I want you to trust me. I have a knife in both of my boots.”

“Ashley, give me the gun, and get the knives.”

Ashley shakily handed the gun to Vanessa, and groped around Darryl’s boots, eventually pulling out two knives. She once again stepped back.

“Now do you trust me?” Darryl looked up at her patiently.

“Why are you here? What supplies do you have on you?” Vanessa pointed the gun at him and left the disc suspended near his throat.

“I dropped you off with another guard. I tried to get the jump on him, but he hit me with a tranquilizer. I wanted to help you get out of here. I don’t have any supplies, he took my map and my water.”

“Alright. Do you know where this tunnel leads?” Vanessa didn’t lower the gun.

Ashley stepped up by Vanessa, and placed her hand on her arm. She didn’t say anything, but from what Vanessa could read in the instant, she was clearly worried, and thought Darryl was trustworthy.

Vanessa sighed. Ashley was making this hard, but she couldn’t keep freaking her out. She had a point, Darryl was cooperating. She lowered the gun, and pulled the disc back from Darryl’s throat. “You can sit up, but don’t stand.” She motioned for Ashley to get behind her.

Darryl groaned as he sat up and leaned against the wall. “It leads to the prison. I couldn’t tell which way I was supposed to go to get back, so I guessed. I assume that since I ran into you, I guessed wrong.”

“Alright. Why did you want to help us get out of here?”

Darryl shook his head. “I’ve been playing along with this for too long. I couldn’t do it anymore. I came here willingly as a guard. He told me they were gonna lock up dangerous supers, and that he needed good guys with powers to act as guards. By the time I knew there were tons of innocents in here, I realized I was basically a prisoner too. There’s no way I could fight Takeo and all the other guards, and I couldn’t just leave. He hadn’t sent anyone to the pit in quite some time, and when he did, it was two people I knew were good people. I knew this was my chance. Since you were both in the hall I was responsible for, Jones and I were the ones to drop you off at the pit. Then, like I said earlier, I tried to get the jump on him, but he got me first.”

“If you had a problem with it, why didn’t you do something sooner?” His story was too good to be true, and she didn’t want to jump to mind reading him. She wasn’t sure how Ashley would react if she found out that she could’ve been reading her mind all along. Even nice people can become hostile when they think you’ve been reading their mind. That was a secret best kept until absolutely necessary. On the other hand, Vanessa wasn’t sure what kind of evidence this guy could even offer her that she would actually trust, short of reading his mind.

Darryl looked off to the side for a moment, not saying anything.

“Well?” Vanessa took a firm grip on the gun.

“I was scared.” He replied, quietly shaking his head. “The boy is strong. I know he’s only a child, but he can shoot jets of flame, and knows how to fight. Even if I were able to take him, and I were to convince or fight all the guards, this prison is backed by powerful forces. I consider my cowardice to be shameful, and I seek to rectify this.”

“I don’t think it’s shameful. You’re a good man Darryl.” She pushed past Vanessa and sat down beside him.

Vanessa saw Darryl begin to move, and pointed the gun at him again. “Don’t touch her!”

Ashley gasped and jumped back. “Vanessa! He wasn’t gonna do anything!”

Darryl leaned back against the wall and slowly put his hands on his head. “If you cannot trust me. I understand.” He closed his eyes.

“Vanessa, please.” Ashley pleaded. “I think he’s telling the truth.”

Vanessa sighed, not lowering the gun. She couldn’t think of any other way, and she figured Ashley probably wouldn’t freak out. At least she hoped so. “Fine. I will trust you, on one condition. You have to let me read your mind.”

“Very well. Do what you must.” Darryl nodded, not moving otherwise.

Vanessa lowered the gun and motioned for Ashley to come over. “I’ll be defenseless while I do this, so keep an eye on him, and the surroundings.” She handed the gun to her.

Ashley nodded and stepped back.

Vanessa sat down in front of Darryl. “Give me your hands.”

Darryl slowly lowered his hands from his head and placed them in hers. They were easily twice as large as hers. Darryl was way too strong for her to have taken down with that kick. He had to have known it was her.

Vanessa took a deep breath and sighed. “Let’s begin.”

 


 

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Web Serial Tips: Don’t Go the Wrong Way!

Hey everyone! Blogging can be harder than it looks, and you can easily set yourself up for too much stress. I hope these tips will help keep you from going the wrong way on your journey! I know doing blog posts is mildly outside my wheelhouse, but I stumbled upon someone asking about it in a tweet, and decided to write up my wisdom from the 2ish years I’ve been doing this.

I would like to add the disclaimer that I am by no means a writing or social media star. I do this as a hobby and I reached my goal viewership (~5 people reading every entry) a while ago. My current wordpress follower count is about 60, not ~600 as indicated by the side bar which includes my twitter (@cjaworks). With that in mind, here are my tips.

Tip 1: Not a novel, a serial.

First let’s talk about what a serial is, and what a serial isn’t. A serial is just a story that has been formatted to be released in several small pieces. This hails originally from serialized detective stories from the 1800s, which were mailed out to readers individually or as parts of larger publications. A serial is not a story that got cut into a bunch of pieces haphazardly and released one by one. While you technically can chop up your full length novel into a bunch of pieces and upload them once a week to your blog, you really shouldn’t. You have to take at least a little effort to edit your story for a serialized format. You need to make sure you’re cutting off in appropriate places for long term pauses. This is a concern unique from novels, due to the time distance between the publishing of installments.

One way you can do this is to try to structure it so that each installment is something like an episode of a procedural TV show or an epic. An event occurs, which is the focus of the installment, and the event is wrapped up by the end of the part. It doesn’t have to be long. The event can be something like a hard conversation, one particular fight, or a question and an answer (for example, a character hears someone coming, and at the end of the installment, they figure out who it is). Additionally, this doesn’t have to be a hard and fast rule. I have, more than once, had an event span multiple installments, but even with that, you can usually work out a resolution to a single facet of the event, or utilize a cliffhanger.

Tip 2: Write before you upload.

You absolutely need to finish and edit your entire story before you start uploading. This is not to say you can’t do further edits, or realize your ending sucks, and change it, but you *need* to have your story finished before you start. When I started uploading Origins (known just as Earth 2 at the time), I had about half of the story written and edited every post as I went. This was mildly stressful, but I managed. That was until I hit a slump and stopped writing for a while. I kept editing and uploading, and eventually I nearly ran out of backlog. While this did inspire me to hurry up and finish the story, it was considerably more stressful than writing the thing first. This is in contrast to how I’m running this season, where I have it fully written, and simply have to copy and paste an installment. I could even go ahead and schedule every post, but I’d have to manually update navigation links anyways and don’t have the most faith in wordpress’s scheduling capabilities. If you just write the whole thing first, both you and your audience will thank you.

Additionally, if you look in my table of contents under season one, you’ll see that the 3rd installment is not just called Part 3, but “Part 3: Rewrite”. This is because I was new in my writing journey, and had part 3 uploaded before anyone besides me had read it. It was not great. I had some things I was very unhappy with, so I released an updated version. Below are the links to both, but I’ll give a disclaimer that I’ve improved as a writer since then, so even the revised version isn’t exactly my best work.

Earth 2: Part 3

Earth 2: Part 3 (Re-Write)

Tip 3: Networking

I’m sure this is the thing that I am least qualified to talk about, but I’m going to do it anyways. There are a few serial unique things with marketing, so I’ll focus on those.

First, there is the original question posed in the tweet: “What platform do I pick?” I’m sure you can work out what my answer to that is. I went with wordpress for mainly the reason of already being vaguely familiar with the platform, from having a blog that I didn’t do anything with a few years ago. Wattpad is another option which I know of, but wordpress seemed less intimidating to me. Another option would be to use Reddit. Many writers have their own personal subreddit, you can upload to your page, and there is even a serials subreddit where people are encouraged to upload their serials. There are other options mentioned in the original tweet that I am unfamiliar with. You could also opt to go with multiple platforms, but I think you’re better off sticking with having a primary platform, and perhaps regularly uploading links to your primary on other platforms.

Then, no matter what platform you’ve picked, you need to first network within that platform. On wordpress, there are two primary ways to do this. First, you can tag your posts. I came into this with a mildly self righteous bias against hashtags, but I now use them on every post. Hashtags do a LOT of my marketing these days, and all I have to do is copy a template post that has them in it already. It is nearly free publicity. I try to keep it to about 5 hashtags for posts, and only tag the specific ones which are relevant to the post. For example, I sometimes use the #writeLGBTQ tag, but I only do that when my LGBTQ characters are actually in the writing I’m tagging. Then you have something which I don’t do often anymore (which I am aware I should), but I did a lot during my earlier days: WordPress reader. This is one of the reasons I like wordpress. It is where your hashtags go. You can follow specific bloggers or search by tags. This allows you to meet other bloggers, who might decide to check out your blog if they see you’ve liked and or followed. Note that this shouldn’t really be your only reason to read other peoples stuff, since I took a lot of design ideas from a blog I stumbled upon (which was actually great and you should read it).

Bonus tip: Use featured images in all of your posts. It makes them more appealing according to wordpress at least. It also lets you show off your other work if you draw or do photography. Even if you have to really stretch the connection, go for it. Look at that first sentence in my post, added afterwards so I could show off an original photo.

Plug to the great blog I found and read https://retroactivityserial.wordpress.com/

Next, I’d like to shout out the Web Fiction Guide. I put my blog in there towards the start of my career, and I still get clicks from my page on there. The people that run it were really friendly and helped me out when I had an issue submitting.

Last, I’ll briefly cover all other social media. I mostly network on twitter, which is really easy to integrate with your wordpress blog (presumably others as well). I send out a scheduled tweet every time I upload a new post, and add appropriate hashtags. An important thing to remember though: Don’t only tweet (or post on any other platforms) links to your blog. You certainly *can* do that, and you’ll probably get some clicks, but I’m reluctant to follow people who just tweet links to their work. Additionally, interacting with the community helps me find new people, some of whom read my stuff, and some of whom I learn things from. I used to network on reddit as well. You can answer writing prompts, post in critique threads, and find other good work on there, all of which can help point people towards your serial.

Tip 4: Consistency

My last tip is in counter to all of my networking tips. In all likelihood, you’re not going to get a ton of clicks, so don’t feel obligated to do a bunch of networking. I hardly bother with it at all, beyond the easy stuff. The biggest boon to growing your blog is to set a regular upload schedule and keep it. I upload every Friday at noon, barring technical errors. It doesn’t have to be weekly, just set something and stick to it. Consistency helps you stay disciplined in your writing, and helps give your viewership a steady increase. This will also help you in the future if you decide to monetize your content. If you’ve shown that you can be regular with your content, people will have more faith in you, and thusly be more willing to subscribe to your patreon/kofi/whatever.


 

That’s more or less all I’ve got, and it’s pretty late where I am. Just remember you’re doing this for a hobby, so don’t stress about it and be okay with it not going anywhere. I am so unimaginably stoked to have 63 followers, and that’s what I’ve gained over 2ish years of doing this. If you don’t know who I am, I do a serial, check the about page for more details, I think it’s pretty good.

Thanks for reading, I hope you’re all well.

(Photo credit: Me, I took that. Look at it.)

Trials: Part Twenty

You are joining an ongoing story.

Click here for part one.

 

Anastasia led Paul down a street, and into a café. Adara had recommended this as a good local English speaking place. It wasn’t too crowded inside, but about half of the twenty or so seats were taken, and there was a short line. She was relieved that it wasn’t too busy, but she was really just glad to be able to leave the monastery and do something fun. She had expected for Adara to keep Paul training the whole time they were here.

“So is this it?” Paul asked.

“Yup. This is the place that Adara recommended.”

She approached the counter and an older man greeted them.

“Hello! I hope you’re enjoying the city!” He smiled. “Do you need a moment to look over a menu?”

“Let me get a latte, and Paul, do you know what you want?”

“Your strongest black coffee.”

The old man raised his eyebrows and laughed. “Coming right up, anything else?”

“Oh, yeah…” Anastasia pulled the letter Adara had given her out of her bag, and handed it to the man. “Adara told us to tell you she wishes you well.”

“Adara…?” He sounded confused, but took the letter. He quickly read over it, and Anastasia noticed a tear run down his cheek. “Your drinks are on the house. Thank you so much for delivering this. Take a seat anywhere. It’ll be just a minute.”

“It’s no problem.” Anastasia smiled, and led Paul over to a couch in the corner of the shop. She wondered how Adara knew this man. It seemed like she knew everyone, or at least someone everywhere.

“So do you know what that was about?” Paul asked.

“Not a clue. Adara basically asked me to run an errand, and have a day on the town.” Anastasia shook her head and leaned back in her seat. “So how’s your training been going?”

“Pretty well. I’ve been working on some things, and it seems like it’s going well.” He nodded quietly. “How about you?”

“It’s been interesting. Adara has me leading a team cleaning the monastery.” She sighed. “It’s been exhausting, but I have gotten to explore the place a little, so that’s been fun.”

“Find anything cool?”

“Well, nothing out of the ordinary, honestly.” She decided to leave out what she was investigating until she had a better idea of what was going on. There wasn’t any point in worrying Paul with a half finished story. “Well, they do have a nice library. There’s so many books, I’m kind of amazed.”

“Wow, I haven’t been in a library in a little bit.”

“Yeah… It’s pretty nice.” She paused for a moment. She needed something else to talk about, but Paul didn’t seem very talkative today. “So have they worked on your sight yet?”

“Nope.” He shook his head and sighed. “I’m beginning to wonder if they’re ever going to do it. I’ve appreciated the training they’ve given me, but it’s not the reason why I came here.”

“I’m sure they will.”

They both sat in silence for a moment, until they saw the man from the counter approaching with two cups.

“Here you are.” He placed the cups down on the table. “Do you mind if I sit with you for a moment?”

“Sure!” Anastasia was a little happy to have some extra company.

The man pulled up a chair, and sat down. “So how is Adara doing?”

“As best as we can tell, she seems to be good.” Paul nodded.

“So, how exactly do you know Adara?” Anastasia couldn’t help but wonder. Adara seemed to be shrouded in mystery, and anything could help.

“Ah, so she didn’t tell you.” He nodded. “That sounds just like her… Well, it was in 1975. My wife and I had just moved here from Cairo, but when we got here, my wife got sick. I think the move was hard on her. Eventually, she was in a coma. The doctors said they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her, and that she was probably going to die. I went out for a pack of cigarettes, but on the way I just broke down crying. I had been married to this woman for almost twenty years, and I was about to lose her. That’s when a kind young woman came up to me and asked me what was wrong. I gave her the short version, and she said she might be able to help. She came to the hospital room in a few hours and gave her some kind of medicine. Not thirty minutes later, she was up and feeling okay.” The man wiped a tear from his eye. “I lost her last year to leukemia, but Adara gave me forty more years with my wife, and for that I will be forever grateful.”

“I’m so sorry.” Anastasia was definitely surprised. There was something strange with the monastery, there was no way she could’ve been alive in the 70s.

The man laughed a little. “Don’t be. I’m eighty, and my wife was eighty two when she died. We lived a long happy life, and I don’t regret a second of it.”

Everyone was quiet for a moment.

“Adara explained why I can’t come see her, and I understand.” He shook his head and chuckled. “Shame though, I wouldn’t mind seeing what she looks like all grown up. I never thought a kid that wasn’t my own would change my life so much.”

Paul nodded, and took a sip of his coffee. He winced, and his whole body lurched, and put the cup back down.

The old man burst out laughing. “Strong enough for you?”

“Definitely.” Paul laughed in kind. “I don’t think I’ve ever even heard about coffee this strong. You’re truly a master.”

“Well, when you’ve been in the business this long, You learn a few things.” He nodded. He looked behind him and saw a queue forming up at the counter. “Alright, I’ve gotta go take care of that, but you guys take care.” He started to walk away, but turned back. “I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m David, nice to meet you.”

“I’m Anastasia, and this is Paul. Thank you for the coffee.” They waved, and he went back to work.

“That was interesting… Starting to think something’s up with the monastery.” Paul nodded, before taking a swig of coffee.

“Yeah…” Anastasia replied. “Well, I think I’m ready to head back, whenever you finish your drink.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Paul started to pick up his cup again, when his phone began to ring. “Oh, wow. Almost forgot about places that had cell signal. Let me take this.”

 


 

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Trials: Part Nineteen

CW: Police Violence/Home break in

 

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Click here for part one.

 

Jude heard Deven’s voice from the living room. He was shouting something. The men in Arte’s room had her on the ground with guns trained on her, and they seemed to be motioning for him to do the same. He swore, and looked around. Behind him was Agent Daniels.

“Don’t shoot her! I have to go calm Deven down!”

Daniels gave a nod, and Jude took off past him. Deven was in the living room, swinging wildly at the men surrounding him.

“Deven! It’s okay!” He called, but there was too much shouting for him to be heard. Jude’s heart was racing. He couldn’t take it anymore.

“Enough!” He bellowed, a flash of light filled the room. All of the men surrounding Deven stopped, the room went silent, and Deven backed up against the wall and fell into a ball.

Jude pushed past them, and slowly approached Deven. “Deven. It’s just me, Jude. I’m gonna come sit down next to you, okay?”

Deven slowly nodded, and Jude sat down next to him. “It’s alright buddy. Nobodies going to hurt you, or anyone else.”

Deven quietly sobbed for a few minutes. At one point Agent Daniels stepped forwards, but Jude shot him a death glare, and he stepped back. He could deal with him later. Jude waited by Deven for a while, and eventually he sat up.

“Are we in trouble?” Deven asked.

“No, Deven. Leave that all to me. Everything will be fine, but I need to go talk to Agent Daniels, okay?”

Deven nodded and placed his head between his knees.

Jude grabbed a blanket, from the now broken into bits, couch, and draped it over Deven’s shoulders. He then turned his attention to the men with guns. As he looked at them, a few of them raised their guns at him.

“Every single one of you, get out.” Jude spoke quietly, but he was definitely inches away from being public enemy number one.

“Do as he says.” Agent Daniels nodded. “Can I speak with you in here?”

Jude nodded, but waited for all of the men in black to file out of the house. Once that was done, Jude made his way into Arte’s room. Arte was shaking, but sitting on the edge of the bed now. He ignored Daniels and sat next to Arte.

“Are you alright?” He asked.

“Yeah… I’m fine. Guess I need on the spot practice, huh?” She laughed weakly.

Jude patted her shoulder, and stood up to face Daniels. “Now, just what the hell was that?”

“We had to make sure you were here, and actually you.” He stood his ground, despite being smaller than Jude.

“What happened to knocking?”

“Jude, there’s been sightings of you, as Dayspring, committing crimes. We’re talking arson, robberies, assaults.”

Jude stepped back. Surely he was bluffing, because Jude hadn’t left the house, as ordered. “Not sure how that’s possible, since I’ve been here with this ankle monitor on me.” He lifted his pant leg and showed Daniels his perfectly intact monitor.

“I now know it wasn’t you. We waited nearby for the fake Dayspring to go on another crime spree, and we had to go in expecting there to be hostiles.”

“I can’t think of a single damn person who wouldn’t be hostile if you charged into their house with guns! You’re lucky I didn’t kill every single one of them before I saw you!”

Daniels sighed and looked up at Jude. “Come on now, threats? That’s not very productive.”

“You’re saying I’m making threats?”

“Yes. Jude, you’re a threat yourself. This is your life now. I was trying to be gentle with you, but no more mister nice guy.”

“You’ve been gentle?!” Jude scoffed. He had never wanted to punch someone quite so badly.

“Yes, Jude. I have. We can go back to that later, but we need to go ahead and resolve this. Firstly, your name is more or less cleared in this, but we’ll still be keeping a close eye on you. Second, I know you’re going to want to go after this yourself, but leave it to the agency. If you go outside the law as a vigilante, imagine this again, but I won’t be playing nice this time. Are we clear on that?”

Jude glared down at the man, but knew he had no choice. “Fine.”

“Now, onto the next matter of business, since I’m here.” He turned towards Arte. “Ms. Collins, I presume?”

Arte got to her feet, and stared the man down. “Yes.”

“I’m Agent Daniels, and while I know you figured it would be a big hassle, I’m gonna need you to sign some papers. No normal job for you, I’m afraid.” He rifled through his bag and pulled out some papers and a pen.

Jude silently swore, of course they had bugged the house. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t considered this sooner.

“I suppose I should make it clear that this is technically a choice for you. It’s a choice between being hauled out of here and thrown into a hole, or being an agent for the DSR. Jude told you more or less the whole package already, and I’m sure you can immediately recognize the right choice.” He paused for a moment. “Wouldn’t be very helpful to be locked in jail instead of finding your girlfriend. He pointed to a spot on the paper. “You can go ahead and sign if you don’t mind. I’ll leave you with a copy to read over at your own pace.”

Arte looked to Jude for a second, but he just nodded his head in resignation. There wasn’t anything he could do about it, not without risking Deven and Arte’s safety, and probably also Paul and Anastasia’s too.

Arte hastily penned a signature, and handed Daniels the papers.

“Much appreciated.” He reached into his bag, and pulled out an ankle monitor, which He strapped onto Arte. He turned to Jude, with a smug grin. “I’ll see you around, bud. Glad to stop in.”

Jude remained silent, as he watched him walk out the door.

“Oh, yeah. I’ll send someone around to fix this tomorrow.” He gestured broadly at their now wrecked house. “Lucky thing it’s not cold tonight, what with all the broken windows. I’ll tell you what, go ahead and consider yourself approved to go ask the neighbors for a bed for the night.” He waved goodbye, and stepped out the hole where their front door used to be.

Arte flipped him off as he walked out.

 


 

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Trials: Part Eighteen

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Vanessa led onwards into the tunnel, with Ashley following close behind. It was dead quiet except for the sound of their footsteps and breathing. This tunnel seemed to be leading upwards at a mild incline. She was starting to get a little thirsty, but it was possible that was due to her knowing that they didn’t have water. Regardless, she needed to push on.

“So, Vanessa, where are you from?” Ashley asked. They’d been walking for about fifteen minutes, and neither of them had spoken.

“Atlanta. What about you?” It occurred to Vanessa that they hadn’t ever really talked about where they came from. Any talk they’d had was very surface level. She decided it would probably be good for both of their nerves to keep some kind of conversation going.

“Hey! I’m from Atlanta too! Well, at least I lived in Atlanta. I was born in New York, and my parents moved me down to Georgia when I was in high school.”

“Wow. I wonder where this prison actually is… If we’re both from Atlanta, it might be close to home. I guess it could be a coincidence…” Vanessa reasoned that if they were actually somewhere near Georgia that would be ideal. Then again, unless this cave let out near people, it didn’t make too much difference where they were. She just had to hope it would. “Say, Ashley. Do you have any camping or hunting experience or anything like that?”

“No, why do you ask?”

“No reason. I just thought about my dad, and how some of his best stories were hunting stories.” Vanessa realized a little too late that she probably shouldn’t be making Ashley think about what happens if they escape, but recovered well enough. She needed to deal with one issue at a time.

“Oh, my gir-” Ashley cut herself off.

Vanessa stopped and looked back. Ashley looked a little startled. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, sorry, I thought I saw something, but it was just a rock.” She laughed weakly.

“Well, we’d better make sure.” Vanessa carried on slowly, and made sure to thoroughly check everything, but there was nothing there. She wasn’t even really sure what she meant by a rock, as there wasn’t anything that big within view. “I don’t see anything.”

“Probably just my imagination…”

“Yeah, maybe.” Vanessa was worried now, but she didn’t want to tip off Ashley that she was. She turned around, and held out her hand. “Here, take my hand so we don’t get separated.”

Ashley obliged, and Vanessa led on. She didn’t want to probe too deeply, but she did pick up genuine fear of something specific. She tried to see if she could catch a glimpse of whatever Ashley saw, but couldn’t.

“So, um, what do you do? Are you in school? Or, were you, I guess?”

“Well, I actually was a superhero. If you lived in Atlanta you may have heard of me. I went by Psyche, I worked with Dayspring.”

“No way! You worked with Dayspring? I didn’t realize I was friends with a superhero! No wonder you’re so good at this!”

Vanessa laughed a little. “No, trust me, you’d much rather have Jude than me. Not counting that his power is light and that he can fly, he’s way better under pressure than me. Besides, I’m kinda rusty. Something happened, and I kinda stopped doing superhero stuff.” Vanessa sighed. She didn’t need to give up unnecessary info about the Jamal incident.

“Oh that’s right… The thing at the bank. I’m sorry that must’ve been hard.”

Vanessa winced as she recalled being blasted across the bank, and waking up in the hospital. “Yeah, that was rough…”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dig up bad memories.”

“Don’t worry about it, that’s in the past now.” They were both quiet for a moment. “So, what do you do?”

“Oh, I’m an electrical engineer. I work-” She hesitated, “I guess I worked at a firm that did some of the navigation equipment for airplanes.”

“Oh, wow! You’ve got a degree and a real job? I thought you were about my age.”

Ashley laughed. “Well, I’m not that much older than you! I’m only twenty-five!”

“I’m twenty, but I probably wasn’t ever going to actually go to college.” She sighed. “Just didn’t find anything that interested me. Didn’t see much point in working either.”

“Don’t say that! You can always pull yourself up! You just have to set your mind to it.”

“No, it’s just my dad can pay for everything, and I just don’t see any point. He’s an executive for the  CinniStar tech company.”

“Oh, wow! That’s where I worked! Who’s your dad?”

Vanessa laughed a little. She hadn’t intended to drop that she was well off, but it just slipped out. “David Smith.”

“No way! You’re Mr. Smith’s daughter? He was always so nice to us! He’d come by our office and meet us and buy us coffees!”

“Wow, that’s some kind of coincidence, huh?” Vanessa laughed, but something was up. Johan was here too. Her dad had too many connections here.

“Maybe I can actually get my job back when we get out of here then.” Ashley laughed. “I’m just joking, you don’t have to-”

“Hold on, be quiet.” Vanessa whispered. She definitely heard footsteps. She flipped off the flashlight, got against the wall, and carefully pulled Ashley in next to her. The footsteps continued to grow louder, and Vanessa’s heart began to race. She wondered if it was a guard, or if maybe this was one of the tunnels that lead to death. Either way, she had to be ready to strike.

The footsteps were almost to them. She held her breath and waited for whoever it was to be near. When it sounded like they were almost next to them. She covered Ashley’s eye’s, closed her own, and flipped on the flashlight. She opened her eyes and saw someone in a guard’s uniform. She kicked him in the stomach, causing him to fall, then conjured a disc next to his throat.

 


 

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Trials: Part Seventeen

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Anastasia sat on her bed. She was ready, but wasn’t entirely sure what to do. Paul had said he was starting his training today, so he would be busy. She figured she may as well go walk around the monastery, as long as she took care not to get lost. She opened her door, stepped out, and saw Siobhan and Coombre waiting for her, leaning up against the wall.

“Get bored yet?” Siobhan laughed. “We were surprised it took you this long.”

Coombre rolled his eyes, and stifled a grin. “Have you thought of what you seek yet?”

Anastasia was caught off guard by this. She had put in some thought last night, but she honestly wasn’t really sure what she could say. Paul had a clear issue, his blindness. Unless they wanted to help her with her love life, she wasn’t really sure what to ask. “Not really, to be honest.”

“Ah, wrong answer.” Siobhan laughed and turned to Coombre. “I told you she wouldn’t have anything!”

“I know, I know.” He turned to Vanessa. “Alright, Adara thought that would be the case, so she thought of something for you to do. It has been too long since the monastery was given a thorough cleaning.”

Anastasia’s heart sank. She had seen how big this place was. Were they about to ask her to clean an entire town? “So you want me to-”

“Yes.” Siobhan jumped in, looking serious. “Jokes aside, you need to clean the entire monastery.” She maintained a straight face for a few seconds, but broke when she saw Anastasia’s mortified expression. “I’m kidding. Kinda. You do actually need to clean the whole thing, but just not by yourself.”

“Adara said she would be dedicating her entire attention to Paul, and other personal matters. She has left you in charge of a cleaning initiative while she’s busy. You will have most of the monastery at your disposal.” He pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket. “Here is a map. What are your orders?”

Anastasia stared blankly down at the map. It was going to be insane. Cleaning every building would take weeks. She also couldn’t believe that Adara had left the entire monastery in the care of a complete stranger. She imagined that if something were to go badly Coombre or Siobhan would step in.

“How many monks are there?”

Coombre thought for a moment. “About fifty.”

“And how long do I have?”

“As long as it takes.” Siobhan nodded.

“Alright.” Anastasia looked down at the map again. She had never dealt with leading this many people before, so she had no idea how long this would take. If she was going to do it, though, she thought it would be easiest to do it one week at a time. “And is this going to be done with magic, or just normal cleaning supplies?”

“We have not developed any magic for cleaning. We simply try to maintain our surroundings as best as we can.” Coombre replied.

“And, sorry, but why am I in charge of this?”

Siobhan shrugged and looked to Coombre.

“Mysterious ways?” Coombre shrugged as well.

“Alright. Well, I guess we’d better get started. Let’s start with the quarters, since that’s where we already are.”

“I will summon the monks.” Coombre nodded, and went off down the hall.

After a few minutes, people began to congregate around Anastasia. While she was waiting, she worked with Siobhan to compile a list of cleaning tasks that needed to be done. This continued for a few minutes, until Coombre eventually returned with the last one.

“Alright, if this is everyone, I’ll go ahead and group you. Each group will be assigned a task, and if you need anything, return to this room.” She tapped on the door to her quarters. “I will be out helping as well, but someone should be here, or you can leave a note.”

She organized them into groups, and eventually had a group with enough people for each task. Once they were assigned, everyone went off to get to work. She assigned Siobhan and Coombre to help supervise, and asked that one of them be around headquarters if she couldn’t. Once everyone had gone off, she figured she should get a sense of the monastery, and work out where everything was. She did have a map now, which made that easier.

She made her way down the main path, and went to down all of the major paths, taking note of any shortcuts she found as she went. All in all, a thorough tour of the monastery took a couple of hours. She decided next to check out buildings that they hadn’t yet gone in, and thought she’d start with the building where Paul was training. She hoped she’d be able to say hi to him, and see how his training was going.

She made her way there, and entered into a completely silent hallway. Open doorways lined the walls. It was definitely a little bigger than she had expected. She looked into each room to see what was inside. Most of them consisted of shelves of books and oddities. Some looked neatly arranged, others had stacks of junk scattered around. This would definitely be a nightmare to get cleaned. She wondered if she should send over a group to start to inventory what was and wasn’t junk, since it would take a while.

She eventually came across a large mostly empty room, and saw Paul sitting in silence. He looked like he was concentrating on something, so she figured she’d leave him alone.

After doing a little more inventory of other rooms, she heard voices from down the hallway. She drew closer and recognized Adara’s voice. She was talking to some man, whose voice sounded familiar. She took a few more steps, then realized that it sounded just like Jean. She edged towards the door, and peaked in. It was definitely Jean. He and Adara were sitting at a table with books and papers scattered across it. She got as close to the doorway as she could without being visible and tried to listen in.

“Yes, I believe it should be here.” Adara said.

“If that’s the case, then I should make haste to retrieve it.” Jean replied.

“No, you should see your job through, and get Paul and Anastasia home.”

“Are you sure? Time is of the essence.”

“Yes, go have some fun in the city.”

“I know you still look the same, and for you it’s not been that long. However, I’m an old man now, so I think I might like to rest.”

“It’s been longer than you know…” She paused for a moment.” I suppose that’s right, though. I do appreciate your help.”

“I do regret that this will likely be the last time we meet.” Jean sounded sincerely sad.

“Perk up François, one never knows for certain what the future may hold. I have a feeling we’ll meet again.”

“I go by Jean now, don’t you know?” He laughed a little.

“Goodbye, Jean. I’ll let you know when to meet them.”

“Goodbye, Adara.” He paused for a moment. “I do wish I could’ve stayed with you.”

“It was how it had to be.”

She heard footsteps coming towards her, so she ducked into the next room. She wondered what that was all about.

She looked down at the map, and noticed a building labeled ‘Archives/Library’. She figured if she was going to figure out what the deal with this place was, and how Jean knew Adara, she had better start there.

 


 

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Trials: Part Sixteen

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Jude sighed. It’d definitely been nice having someone around the house that could actually leave at will, but that didn’t really make it any less boring for him. He had even decided to look through everything Arte had about her friend, Ash, since she’d come all this way, but she seemed to have been very thorough. Even devoting hours to it, Jude hadn’t been able to uncover anything. Jude remembered when he’d lost Paul because of Jamal, and that was one of the most painful moments of his life. He couldn’t imagine not being able to do anything about it.

He remembered what he was supposed to be doing. He’d come outside to meditate, not to dig up bad memories. This was new to him, and the website said it would probably take a while to get decent at it. He definitely felt like floating twenty feet in the air helped. He figured that since it was night none of the neighbors would see and do something like call the police. That was definitely the last thing he needed right now.

He heard a door open, and opened his eyes. He saw that it was just Zoey, and decided to continue. He wasn’t really feeling like talking to anyone right now, so he figured he’d just stay where he was and act like he hadn’t noticed.

He closed his eyes again and brought his mind back to meditation. He wondered what Arte would do if they actually found Ashley. He assumed she would leave, given that was the only reason she sought him out. He hoped they’d stay friends at least. He wondered if she was single. He definitely didn’t want to go putting moves on someone he lived with, that couldn’t possibly end well, but it didn’t stop him from wondering.

At this point Jude swore it sounded like Zoey was throwing something. He looked over, and sure enough she was throwing some kind of ball that disintegrated into powder. That was most certainly strange. He considered popping over and getting a closer look. He didn’t even need to reveal himself, if he didn’t want to. That idea was quickly thrown out once he remembered what it would definitely look like if he got caught.

He closed his eyes again, and began to reflect on his day. He got up at around noon, ate some lunch, did some poking around on the internet for anything about missing people to see if it could be related. Interestingly there was actually another employee from Ash’s company that had also gone missing, but they’ve been missing for longer than her. When he raised it to Arte, she said that she already followed that lead and it wasn’t any more hopeful than the last. After that he ate again and watched some tv. He figured he really needed to start exercising again. It would look pretty bad if he got called out to a mission, and was so out of shape that he couldn’t keep up. He probably wouldn’t get called out again if that happened. Then again, he was doubtful he was even going to get called out in the first place. Maybe they’d call him out if some kind of world ending threat presented itself. He really wouldn’t want that though, because he hadn’t actually fought much of anyone who didn’t just immediately give up.

Jude could stand it no more. He floated over towards the Rodriguez’s house to see if he could figure out what Zoey was throwing. Whatever it was, she certainly had a lot of it, and she wasn’t slowing down.

She had a tee-ball setup towards the back of the yard. She was standing about as far as she could and trying to hit it, but whatever she was throwing seemed to fall apart before it reached it. He looked around for some kind of bucket or something for her to be pulling from, but didn’t see any. She seemed to produce it herself, whatever it was. He reasoned that she must have powers.

He wondered what kind of odds that was, for the government to move a bunch of supers into a house next to a teenager with superpowers. It had to be at least improbable. He figured he should go talk to Arte about this. He knew he should at least talk to Zoey about this, but he also wasn’t sure how he felt about bringing a kid into the fold. Especially when they already had someone with the freedom to leave, who also had superpowers. He definitely didn’t want to report Zoey to the government. He didn’t want to see her life get upended, after all.

He carefully hovered back down to his patio, and decided to see if he could talk to Zoey, without looking like he was staring down from above this whole time. He opened and closed the door to the house fairly loudly and made his way into the yard. He meandered around the yard, like he was looking for the source of the noise. As he made his way into the yard, Zoey went for the door to her house. He didn’t say anything, but they definitely made eye contact.

He made his way back inside, and found Arte sitting at her desk. Jude told her she could use Paul’s computer, and figured he wouldn’t mind.

“Hey, Arte. You busy?” He leaned in the open doorway.

“Oh, no. Not really. I was just looking to see if I could find anything on that other guy that worked at the same place as Ash, but I couldn’t really.”

“Oh well. Sorry about that.” Jude and Arte both nodded silently for a moment. “Uh, anyways, found out something interesting. I think-” Jude was cut off by a crash and the sound of breaking glass.

A man clad in all black burst through the window, carrying a large gun. Jude blasted him out of the way but he was replaced by three more. The men were all barking orders which Jude couldn’t understand, Arte was screaming, and Jude felt like he was having a heart attack. He wasn’t sure what to do. Was this the police? Were these thugs? What were they saying? His ears began to ring.

 


 

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Wrote this a while ago, but I’ll take this opportunity to remind you that Black Lives still matter even if it’s not plastered on your twitter feed.

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Trials: Part Fifteen

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Vanessa woke up feeling cold. Wherever she was, it was dark, and the floor was hard and uneven. She pulled herself to her feet, and conjured a disc. The light wasn’t much, about as bright as a glowstick, but she could see within about a foot of the disc, which was a notable improvement.

“Who’s there?” Someone asked. Vanessa nearly dropped the disc. It was definitely a woman, and it sounded like Ashley. Her voice was shaky.

“Ashley?”

“Vanessa is that you?” She heard some scraping, followed by footsteps from the same direction as the voice.

“Hey, I have light, let me come to you.” Vanessa conjured another disc and slowly floated it towards the voice. “Grab it when it gets to you.”

The disc floated for a few seconds, before someone grabbed it. They pulled the disc close to them, revealing their face. It was Ashley.

Vanessa sighed with relief, and made her way over. She conjured two discs to float by her feet and illuminate the ground. Once she was near enough, Ashley wrapped her arms around her. Vanessa could sense fear radiating from her, and hugged her a little tighter.

“Ashley, do you know where we are?”

She took a shaky breath and sighed. “We’re in the pit. It’s a network of tunnels, all stemming from this room. One tunnel leads to freedom, some lead to dead ends, some lead to the prison, and some lead to… Death. Nobody has ever made it out before…”

“Alright… It’s gonna be alright, we’ll find our way out.” Vanessa thought for a moment. Based on what she knew about Takeo, he’d want people to have some small chance, or else it wouldn’t be a fun game for him. If they were supposed to have any chance, they’d need a flashlight. “Do you have any kind of light?”

“No…”

“Alright, that’s fine.” Vanessa pulled away, but Ashley still clung tight.

“Wait, don’t leave me!”

Vanessa thought for a moment. “Alright, I’ll stay by you, but I need you to let me go, so I can see if we have any supplies in this room.”

Ashley slowly released her, and Vanessa sat down next to her. She conjured as large of a disc as she could, ending up with one a couple of feet wide, and slowly floated it across the cave floor. It was very uneven with lots of rocks sticking up. They didn’t stand a chance without a light.

“So nobody has ever made it out?” Vanessa asked, keeping her eye on the disc.

“No.”

“How do they get us here?”

“I don’t know… I just woke up a few minutes ago and I thought I was alone.”

“We were both asleep, so we had to be brought here… You said some of the tunnels lead back to the prison, and it wouldn’t be much of a game if there was just a quick way into this area… Whoever brought us here had to have a map, or at least know the way. Then again we’ve been asleep, so that wouldn’t work… They’d be long gone.”

By this time the disc had gone all the way around the edge of the cave. It was a pretty large cave, large enough to accommodate about twenty tunnels coming off from the sides. Vanessa moved the disc towards the center of the room, and sure enough, there was some kind of black tube. It had to be a flashlight. Vanessa moved to get up, but felt Ashley grab her arm.

“Wait!”

“Ashley, do you see that in the center of the room? I think it’s a flashlight. I’m gonna go grab it. Then we’ll work out a plan. I’ll come right back here.” Vanessa smiled, and Ashley released her arm.

Vanessa conjured two more discs to light the floor as she walked, and made her way to the center, being careful to avoid anything that might trip her. A fall on this floor would be bad. She picked up the object, and held a disc to it. Sure enough, it was a flashlight. She found the switch and turned it on. The room was filled with white light, and the sudden change blinded Vanessa for a second. Once she regained her vision, she did a quick scan to make sure they were alone, and that they hadn’t missed any other supplies they’d been given. There was nothing else. Vanessa sighed and made her way back over to Ashley, sitting back down by her side.

“So, this is all we’ve got. I’m guessing the challenge is supposed to be avoiding dehydration. I think that takes about three days to set in, but we don’t want to cut it that close if we can.” She flipped off the flashlight, and felt Ashley jump next to her.

“What’d you turn off the light for?” She sounded panicked.

Vanessa pulled her in next to her, and conjured a disc to illuminate them. “Hey it’s alright. We need to save the battery, we don’t know how long it has left. I guess that could be another part of the challenge…”

Ashley let out a quiet sob. “How are we gonna make it out of here?”

“Hey, I’ve made it out of worse situations that this. Besides, we have superpowers! We can do this! What happened to the Ashley who told me everything is gonna be okay when I got tossed into your cell?”

“I just can’t do it anymore! I’ve had to reassure everyone for so long… I had to keep telling them it was gonna be okay, even though nothing was okay! We were stuck in a prison with no way out, and now we’re gonna die in a cave!” She sobbed a little louder now, and leaned into Vanessa’s side.

“Hey, don’t worry. I have a plan. We’re going to make it out of here okay.” She hugged her, and waited for the crying to subside.

After a few minutes, Ashley sat back up and wiped her eyes. “Okay then, what’s your plan?” She asked shakily.

“Alright, so just now, I counted about twenty tunnels. This is meant to make it look like we have less than a couple of days to find one tunnel. Our first limiting resource is probably the flashlight. I imagine that we’re not the first ones to be sent here though, so there must be other flashlights hidden around. Additionally, the tunnels to the prison wouldn’t be that bad, when the alternative is dying, and there’s always the chance that we run into the guards who dropped us off an we could jump them for a map or supplies. Now, do you have anything else on you?” Vanessa felt all of her own pockets, but came up with nothing.

“No…”

“That’s fine. I learned something about my power while I was here.” She conjured a disc in her hand. “Normally my discs disappear after a few hours, which isn’t great for a trail of breadcrumbs, but if I break it,” she broke the disc in two, “It stays for a lot longer. The one I had in my room hadn’t disappeared yet, so that should leave plenty of time to follow a trail.” She turned to Ashley. “So, I figure we have about a 25% chance on any given tunnel we take being a decent option, and if we have time to hit at least four tunnels, then we should find some kind of way out. Alright?”

Ashley took a deep breath, and smiled. “Alright!”

Vanessa helped Ashley to her feet, and flipped on the flashlight, making sure to look away this time. “Alright. Let’s get going.” Vanessa picked a tunnel, and ventured into it.

 


 

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Trials: Part Fourteen

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Adara led Paul by the hand through the monastery. It had been a long time since Paul was this excited about something. Today was the day his life was about to change. He wondered what the process would be like. Maybe they had some kind of special ritual, or a cure-all medicine.

After they walked for quite some time, Adara helped Paul sit down, and sat down across from him. “Now, what troubles you? I know that you did not tell me everything the last time I asked you, so now that we’re alone, please leave nothing out.”

Paul nodded. He was surprised that Adara knew how much information he was holding back, but then again, these were magic monks in a hidden monastery. He supposed they would be able to tell things like that. “Alright. My vision has been getting worse. I know I was already blind, but there’s degrees, ya know? I used to be able to tell the blobs apart, as different objects, but now they’re all blending together.”

“Yes, I understand. What else troubles you?”

“Well, to be honest, I’ve been having some pretty horrific visions.” Paul really didn’t want to relive them, but he figured if you go to the doctor, you should let them know about the issue so they can help fix it.

“Yes. What things are you seeing?”

“Well, I keep seeing my own death. Every time, it’s at the same place, and by the same hand, even though the people around change. I’m not really sure where it is, but it always ends with a shot to the chest.” Paul shuddered.

“What you see, are different things that may come to pass. If you are having visions of them, I have no doubt of that. Is that all that troubles you?”

“Well, yeah. Pretty much everything else stems from my visions of the future. It’s hard to look at someone the same when you’ve seen them kill you and your friends over and over again.”

“As far as what to do about the visions, that is a puzzle you will need to solve for yourself.” Adara stood up. “I hope, however, to give you greater control over these visions, so that you may better discern the correct response.”

“Alright, what do I need to do?”

“I want you to sit and meditate. Start with trying to induce a vision of a friend, then move to whatever the cosmos draws you to.” Adara began to walk away. “I will return in two hours, and you may update me on your progress.”

“Okay…?” Paul wasn’t expecting this to be what the monks told him to do. He did make a point of putting the most important problem out there first. He didn’t figure it would help any to complain, since they’d probably just tell him to trust them. He may as well give this a try, and they’ll probably get to that later. This was only the first day after all.

He took a deep breath and tried to focus. She told him to focus on a friend first, and there wasn’t much point in doing Anastasia since he could just see her whenever. He turned his mind to Vanessa. He’d been weird around her before he left, and she seemed to be taking it pretty hard. It was just difficult to be around her, after Jamal, and with his vision. He concentrated as hard as he could on Vanessa’s face. Adara wasn’t especially helpful in her instructions, but he figured he’d probably have to work this out himself.

Suddenly he was in a small room. It looked like a prison cell, and Vanessa was there with another girl. There was a commotion and someone was tugging the other girl. Paul couldn’t hear clearly what they were saying, but it looked like the girl was begging for help, and Vanessa was frozen. The man tugged the other girl out of the room.

Paul was now in a different place. It was some kind of prison yard, with rows of people sitting on the ground, watching some kind of spectacle. He looked towards whatever held their attention, and saw Vanessa fighting a teenager. The teenagers hands and feet shot out fire as he fought, but Vanessa kept blocking his blows. He saw the girl from a moment ago standing off to the side, watching in horror.

Paul found himself back in the cell. It seemed to be the same vision from earlier. He wondered why he was back here. It wasn’t really typical for him to have the same vision twice so close, but he supposed he had never tried to induce it before. The scene was almost painful to watch, though. After the girl got hauled off, Paul was expecting to find himself somewhere else, but instead his hearing clicked in. It was like he was there. Vanessa ran over to throw up, and Paul bowed his head. It was natural that she’d feel bad after freezing up like that. He wished he could say something to her. Something about how she could make this right.

Vanessa looked around the cell, as though she had heard something, then fell back crying. Paul’s heart raced. He wondered if she’d heard him. He had to try again.

You’ll know what to do.

Vanessa looked around again, and called out, “How?!”

Paul was about to reply, when he found himself in a different place. He was in a bedroom, and there was a girl on the bed. She had short hair, and didn’t seem to be doing much of anything. He looked around the room and realized he saw some of his own things. His keyboard was here, as was his computer. He decided to try to say something again.

Can you hear me?

The girl sat up. “Yeah? Jude is that you?”

Paul thought that was strange. This had to be his room, since he saw his stuff, but this girl didn’t recognize his voice. Perhaps she just knew he was out of the house.

Paul saw Jude standing in the doorway. “Did you say something, Arte?”

Paul was about to say something again, but he found himself in a different place. This was a darker room. A man sat crosslegged on a white rug, with light shining down on him, also illuminating a bunch of notebooks. He had his eyes closed, and seemed to be meditating. Paul started to look at one of the notebooks when he heard a voice.

“Ah, you’re finally here.”

He looked around and saw nobody else in the room, and he didn’t see the man’s lips move.

Can you see me?

“Yes, Paul. I can see you, and I know who you are. I’m unsure when or where you are, so you may not know me. You will certainly make a worthy adversary.”

Paul gasped, and found himself back in the monastery.

 


 

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