Veilreach: Chapter Eighteen

[ What has that golden-flecked high elf been up to? Hmm… ]

Vesper waited in his office until the small intricate watch in his slender fingers ticked to a certain point. He then tucked it safely into a deep hidden pocket of his charcoal robe. He stood and walked to the door behind his desk and casually wandered through leaving his office behind. Where he emerged however was far from the College grounds.

The hall that stretched before him was carved of black stone and silver metalwork. It’s walls stretched far above his head and the air smelled of charcoal and resin from the massive burning torches. Once the office door closed behind him, it melded and disappeared into the wall.

He twitched his nose slightly, resisting the urge to sneeze as he walked down the corridor and ignored the massive amount of stuffed trophies, mounted kills, and weaponry that adorned the walls in huge cases all around him.

None of it impressed him much. It was nothing he hadn’t been forced to see before.

He passed up door after door along the hallway seemingly made for giants until he reached the end of the hall and the grandest of doors in the room. This one looked as if it had skulls and faces carved into the deep blackened oak wood. Each one staring out at Vesper.

The door was at least eight feet high and excessively heavy. Even for the elf he had to push rather hard to swing it open. It creaked with the sounds of a dozen whimpers when it moved, he was certain it was charmed to do that.

Inside the room was a highly luxurious parlour that looked like someone had copied a royal hunting lodge, but made it on a far larger scale. Plus soaked blood into the carpets and drapery a little here and there.

Sagorath lay there like a huge bloated warthog, half dressed and half drunk. His large dark mottled body splayed out still guzzling from a huge tankard of thick mead. His skin tone was one hard to describe. It either looked like a dark patina iron, or slightly purple hued mud. There were times he even resembled very loose horse feces – but no one had the guts to tell that to his face. No matter what colour his thick skin appeared, he still had the huge mass and ability to crush most people into fleshy puddles.

One of his slave girls, perhaps once a high elf, absently cleaned the carpet that he obviously had messed on earlier while another scantily clad slave was carefully cleaning one of his large black glowing horns. It wasn’t an easy job to clean anything attached to such a large and reckless creature, as the bruises and bandaged skin of her arms could attest to.

Sagorath Menia’Tath was an Infernal. Albeit, not the best specimen of one. In fact Vesper was quite sure he was more like the dim-witted obnoxious cousin in the family of Infernals. However status and bloodlines weren’t much of his concern.

My lord.” Vesper whispered smooth, glancing towards the woman on the floor cleaning the carpet before sneering and looking back at the hulking male instead.

Heh, I always find it amusing how you seem to despise her most of all. What is it that turns you off my little mage? I mean she is an elf, and is quite bountiful.” His large voice sounded as if it were raked over hot coals. It reverberated with a crackle of power which clearly overshadowed everything.

You are allowed whatever pets you wish, lord. They are simply not my type. I find them… boring I suppose. They displease me because they are so pathetic.”

Hrm, perhaps. They have their uses however. How goes the search for the Oracle?”

Things are underway. I have sent the Dean on a retrieval mission. He knows who had it last and I assume he will be able to–”

You sent HIM?” The Infernal jolted forward, unfortunately flinging the girl cleaning his right horn over his head and onto the floor in front of Vesper who held his hands clasped behind his back and did nothing to slow her fall.

Indeed. Why not have him do something useful? It was his mistake that caused the Oracle to be missing from its resting spot.”

But he is a fool! He’s bound to lose it!” His voice boomed louder, spittle and spilled ale speckling the air.

He already has lost it. He will bring it back to us. You know very well I can not do so myself. His over inflated sense of self-preservation will ensure he will get it done.”

After a few loud breathy hisses and being amused at his whimpering slave girl as she untangled herself and limped back to him, he relaxed. His thick frame settled back against the couch and he shrugged.

I should not doubt you too much. You have been one of my most useful assets so far. You are -certain- this Oracle will be what we need?”

Everything hinges on that vial, I assure you.”

Good boy. Keep this up and I may allow you to take a pet for your very own! Then again, I’ve never seen you ‘indulge’ in such things… why is that?” Sagorath downed the rest of his drink while he kept one red glowing eye watching the elf curiously.

It doesn’t interest me. It never really has.” Vesper shrugged.

Please! It is pleasure and power, how can that not interest you? It is basic instinct!” To accent the point, he threw his tankard at the wall and motioned towards his groin. “You should live a little!”

I assure you, one can live perfectly find without those distractions.”

Lonely little spinsters and the ugliest of men I’m sure! But you? I have always liked you little mage, you’ve been useful over the years…”

I do try, my lord.” His voice remained smooth, calm, and relatively sincere.

…and yet you have asked for almost nothing! I’ve had the ugliest of pets and the most deformed of trolls begging me to offer them sex appeal and a hot woman to call their love trophy! Hell, I could call you up the prettiest of male concubines if you wished to swing that way… I can force anyone to love you, and since you are not hard on the eyes, it would be child’s play… you still want nothing?”

Vesper tilted his head and watched the man with a very guarded stare. As if quickly calculating what was the best answer but in the end he went with honesty. “Love is a weakness that the strong mind can not afford to dwell in. As for sex? It bores me more then love.”

You may be my favourite, but you certainly are unusual.” Sagorath chuckled deeply. “Lucky you are so useful, you’ve replaced a lot of the weasel-headed little worms I had before! It’s far more.. quiet. No begging for this and that! It gives me proper time to relax!”

The Infernal shrugged and stretched out once more as one of the women filled his large hand with a fresh new tankard of alcohol. Likely hoping the large brute would drink himself to sleep.

Get that Oracle for me, and you will be heavily rewarded. Once I have it I’ll crush those of my kind that have insulted my worth. We will see how they like being outcasts!”

Vesper nodded and left the room without another word.

He had his own plans to attend to.

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Free-form Poem: These Ruins

[ Done in the style of Spoken Word Poetry. Maybe one day if I ever get the guts and a proper microphone I’ll actually do a few soundbites of these poems. When I write them I normally go over the wordplay in lyrical style out loud. There is something of a release in being able to pace out the wording physically rather then just running through the pronunciations in your head! They are an excellent way for me to vent or release tension that other writing projects just can’t accommodate, but I don’t have the self-confidence to actually perform them… ]

THESE RUINS

Inside I’m a ruin. Broken down in crumbled decay.

Overgrown with the torrents of emotional weight –

My foundations have cracked under the strain.

Ravaged by untold years of fighting a losing battle,

With the demons that reside inside of my brain.

The all too familiar cascades of migraines

that hunt me down every god damned day.

It leaves me a shadow of my self-perceived self.

I am a ghost in this shell of something I can not be.

And here I am, haunting these ruins like a King without court –

A Queen of gravel and blood. Dirt and ash.

A soul out of time and sinking fast –

In this crumbling mess I have made.

But I refuse to give up this ragged old ghost,

I’ll shake off the dust and the rust that rattles my chains.

I’ll take these old ruins and make them whole once again-

And I’ll rebuild them over and over if need be.

After all; it’s my throne – be it made of soil or mud –

I’ve earned it in torrents of my own sweat and blood.

Pain can’t take it away from me! It just makes me stronger.

I won’t let these chains of self-doubt hold me down any longer.

My ability to endure past expectations can’t be contained

Like a phoenix I’ll spread my wings out and reignite my flames,

I just need a little fire to lift up the weight of my depression,

To start on the difficult journey of my own type of resurrection,

To light the way in the dark so I can rebuild these crumbled walls.

Stone by stone. Until the ghost in this shell feels whole once again.

Veilreach: Chapter Seventeen

“And you are certain you can trust him? Shut up you damned beast!” Krill was still highly on edge and each time she pulled a bit too tight on the reigns one of the goats would bleat curses and throw her into a fit of trying to shush the beast. She tried to snap the reigns a few times, but that only acted to piss it off further.

“Will you relax? Give me those!” Kelle pulled the leads from her hands and blew a few strands of hair from her eyes in frustration. Since the clouds were relatively darkened she had decided to brave the daylight to keep Krill on task. She seemed a little uncomfortable, but whatever salve she had loaded up onto her skin seemed to be helping, although it gave her a slightly bluish tone.

Maybe it had been normal for her to be bluish in the sunlight, Krill didn’t feel like asking. As long as she didn’t stick out like a sore thumb by doing something ridiculous like sparkling – Krill didn’t much care.

“I just don’t like the idea of some stranger knowing more then they should.”

“Look, I know the kid alright? I’ve worked with his father, and grandfather.. and great grandfather come to think of it. Anyway, it’s fine.”

“What exactly did you tell him to say?”

“He’s going to tell him that a strange woman was spotted at my place trying to pawn off some sort of magickal potion they stole. He won’t have a lot of details of course, but just enough important ones to send them off to my place.”

Krill’s eye twitched. “Aren’t you supposed to.. oh I don’t know.. point him in another direction?! What if one of them recognized your wagon?”

“Relax. And keep it down, I think Tusky is asleep.”

Krill grunted, but indeed could hear the soft wheeze of snoring from inside the carriage. It also gave her the time to once again lean her head around to scan the road behind him. Empty.

“You know, I’m not worried because I’m afraid the fancy-pants sparkle-boy is going to find a way to off me. He had his chance. But… you know. I’m not the only one involved.”

“You worry about him, don’t you?” Kelle softened and lowered her own voice a touch as she glanced around and let the other merchants gain a bit more room ahead of them. The goats seemed to enjoy the lazy pace anyway, and it was far quieter back here. “The plan is that they will have to head to my place first, they’ll find out I’m on a merchant trip – that means they have to come back up the road to find me. Unfortunately for them, we’ll no longer be with the caravan and they’ll be out of luck for finding us.”

“I see a few problems with your plan.”

“Do share.”

Krill finally yanked down her hood and shook out her silver hair. “First, we are talking Mage’s. They could just transport up the road from us. Sure, it would knock out a lot of their power but they could just drop one of their weak members and the rest would be ready to fight…”

“Nope.” Kelle interrupted.

“Nope what?”

“You saw that god-awful ugly large contraption they were in? The one with the fancy logo and the iron rails? It’s enchanted. It can likely withstand a landslide, but would still be stranded because it can’t be moved by spellwork. Traditional standard travel only.”

Krill arched an eyebrow and folded her arms across her chest. “Seriously?”

“Look, there is only a certain amount of spellwork that can be done on an item. Everything has it’s limits.. those are diplomatic coaches, Tusky said so himself. As in they are made for SAFE travel, not so much quick travel. Everyone knows that teleportation is a finiky science. No one is going to risk only half of a political diplomat arriving if something goes wrong…”

“Well then. Okay that handles that situation – but those horses looked pretty strong. I imagine THEY could still be enchanted to hurry the hell up.”

Kelle chuckled and let more space between them and the other merchants develop. It was clear she was letting them move on without her.

“I like the fact you are so strategic. More strategic then they are I’m certain. However I have an answer for that also.” She licked a fang and waited as a small path started to show in the road ahead. It was a country path likely leading off into the Kingswood. “Have you ever seen Marshland Goats run?”

“These things? I doubt they—”

Krill nearly bit her tongue clean off when Kelle cracked the reigns hard and whistled out a clear sharp tone in the air. Immediately all six of the muscled goats pulled with an unbelievable force and broke into a run as if their lives depended on it.

Krill clung to the seat biting her nails into the wood and whatever curses her lips sputtered or shouted in pure shock seemed to blow right off her lips and out of earshot.

Kelle meanwhile was laughing like a sadistic bluish banshee.

If Tusk had been sleeping a few minutes before, he sure as heck would be wide awake now as they disappeared into the canopy of the thick Kingswood at breakneck speed.

 

 

 

 

 

Veilreach: Chapter Sixteen

While the two old friends tucked back into the walls of the Mage’s College, the rather posh stuffed carriage clanked and clattered down the cobbled path towards the main road. The Dean was sitting alongside Roden while the younger two, Tanis and Maude, settled themselves in the precarious seats on top of the carriage like a couple of perched crows.

How they decided which way up the main road to travel was all down to a rather shoddy divination spell that the Dean himself had performed. It led them in the direction with the best chance for success, and that direction was up towards Skila rather then down towards Kingswood. So Skila they would head.

Feeling far more confidence then sense, everything appeared to be going well. They were making good time and everyone was keeping generally quiet and unobtrusive. He barely heard a peep from the youngest ones and sometimes even forgot they were riding on the carriage roof (leading to an unfortunate incident where a low branch nearly knocked off Maude’s head).

Trouble didn’t start until the roads, which were pretty quiet and almost empty, suddenly seemed to get more exciting. Up ahead it became clear that there was a merchant caravan headed their way and the students were getting quite interested.

What in the stars name are they coming through now?” He pulled the reins and edged the large steeds to pull a bit more towards the right side of the road instead of taking up the entire thing.

Merchants! Oh that is excellent, I could use a few supplies!” Tanis grinned, peering over a rail. “Look at them all, there must be at least fifteen in all! Is there a festival coming up?”

Not yet, it would certainly be early. Perhaps there is some sort of trades conference? It happens occasionally…” Maude quietly added.

Enough! We are on a mission remember? We don’t need to dawdle for candy or nick knacks!” Marthis snapped.

There wouldn’t be any room for them anyway.” Maude sarcastically retorted.

So it was they slowed their pace and waited as a few of them passed. Buskers and tradesmen, some playing random music and some joyfully whistling or rehearsing song and lyrics. A few of the colourful carriages also had beautifully painted signs and flags whistling in the wind. It was as if the entire grouping was more of a parade then a civilized sort.

The Dean would normally simply snub his nose up at the lot and continue on his way, but it seemed the others enjoyed the distraction and were hard to wrangle back on task.

So it happened that nearing the back of the line Krill’s eyes caught sight of the hard to miss sight of the Dean’s motely crew first.

Oh, shit!” She cracked her elbow hard against the carriage wall and slid over to frantically get Kelle’s attention. “We got a problem out there, I think that’s a Mage wagon!”

How can you be sure?” Kelle popped her head out covering her eyes and peering through traffic while a few noisy jugglers were keeping themselves occupied by throwing bottles at each other.

…It’s got the Mage crest plastered on the side of it. I don’t think anyone could miss it. Plus it looks like the same dumb bloke in the drivers seat that tried to off me.”

A few seconds later and the noise of scuffling caused Tusk to pop his head out beside Kelle’s. “Idiots!” he hissed as he squinted hard in the direction of the wagon, after finding it between the other chaos going on. “I mean who takes the bloody show carts out for a joyride? I mean seriously! They were only meant for serious diplomatic travelling!”

Okay… not the point. What do we do? Hope the idiot doesn’t see us?”

Honey, I have a far better idea… just keep that hood up and keep on trucking by no matter what. Don’t stop and look casual. I got this covered.” Kelle and Tusk both popped their heads back inside, and a moment later Kelle had slipped out the back of their Carriage and Tusk was keeping hidden still inside.

I didn’t recognize any of the ones with him… they weren’t in fancy robes so obviously they aren’t on council.” She heard him through the thin wall between them.

True. My eyes are better then yours old man – they look fairly young. Least the two riding on top. Not sure about the guy up front with the Mage. He looks more like a soldier. Maybe a trained guard? I don’t know. What’s she got planned anyway?”

Your guess is as good as mine…” he chuckled. “Maybe she’s hungry?”

Hey now!” Quick as lightning she had apparently returned with barely a whisper of a noise. Neither of them had even heard the carriage door shut again. “I have very distinguished tastes, and I assure you that one would certainly not be it. As for what I did? Well, lets just wait and see..”

It didn’t seem they would have to wait long as while their carriages started to pass each other a young man, barley older then a boy and looking dishevelled ran up to the Mage’s carriage and nearly plowed into the large tired horses as he waved his arms frantically to get their attention.

Whoa! Are you trying to get yourself killed?!” Roden yanked the horses to an angry and loud stop, and the Dean nearly fell from his seat at the jarring. The horses pounded the ground in frustration while their flanks twitched.

I’m sorry but is it true?! Are you from the great Mage College?” He ran up to the side of the carriage even as the Dean pulled himself away from him, a hand absently reaching out to grab Roden’s arm, which Roden pulled away from him with a grunt.

Kretin! Get back, we have no money for you! How do you know who we are?”

Oh relax, he’s got blood on him already! I doubt he’s going to maul you…” Tanis rolled his eyes and peered down. “And… seriously? I mean I think -everyone- knows who we are at this point…”

Hush boy!” Marthis snapped back, with his lip still curled in disgust. “I know my reputation proceeds me, but this is not the… oh. You mean the carriage. Well.. yes.” he cleared his throat, turning his attention back to the dirty little merchant that was still looking at him all too patiently. “As for you… what do you want?”

Carefully he had readjusted his composure, and straightening himself up as if his momentary surprise had been nothing of note. His spine straightened and his arms crossed.

He wasn’t scared after all. He was just momentarily distracted… It happened to everyone! He had a lot of important things on his mind after all and these unimportant peasant folk were violent, sneaky and unpredictable. Not to mention this one looked like it may have been covered in all manner of disease or afflictions…

I’m sorry to trouble you sir! I know how powerful and important you Mage’s are! I am ever so fortunate to have found you when I did! You see I’ve heard rumours around here of some dangerous things going on! Yes we merchants hear lots of stuff where we go, people talk you know?”

Hurry it up boy, what is this about – some sort of nasty little troll or witch? That isn’t our problem!”

Kelle’s cart was almost safely away, trudging on and blending in as best they could. Even the six large Marshland Goats that pulled the carriage seemed quieter then normal, although they smelled just as bad as they always had.

A few more feet and the danger would be all but gone. Krill having just as good of hearing as she did eyesight meant she still managed to catch a few words of the conversation the other group was having while they headed off towards freedom.

No sir, nothing of that sort.” the young man removed his cloth hat which made his already dishevelled hair all the worse. He wrung it nervously in his hands. “Just a tiny little bottle with a whole lot of bad stuff inside.”

Krill stiffened. The Dean stiffened.

Both for very different reasons of course.

For the right price… I can tell you exactly where it is.”

Veilreach: Chapter Fifteen

[ Cleo is so bloody fun.. I could write a whole story just based on her. I must force myself to stick to one story at a time! Argh! ]

Cleo wrapped the finely knit shawl around her shoulders as she sat and watched the Dean and his motley crew load up a carriage with all manner of unessential gear in the early morning stretch of daylight. She wasn’t sure what strange shenanigans they were up to, but they interested her to no end.

Sipping from a warm mug she smirked and watched one of the youngsters struggle to lift a rather large and bulky sack into the back of the pompous and cramped looking carriage. With a perk of her rounded ear she could make out barked orders from a rather impatient Marthis while the three students were trying to gather their senses.

And they were a young three at that. Certainly they weren’t babes just out of the womb – but even from this distance she could tell that they were untested whelps – but who was she to judge someone based on age?

That one boy gave her the shivers, though she couldn’t figure out why. Maybe it was just the way he seemed to move. Was she getting so old that teenagers seemed shady in general?

“What in the world are ye all up to?”

“Cleo? Whatever are you looking at?” Jen’Rar may have gone through quite the transformation recently, but both women had always had a bond that lasted far longer then any trickery on each others appearances.

She stopped a moment and sat with her old friend on the dusty bench overlooking the pavilion below. It was something they had done hundreds of times before.

“Our little tum-tucker Marthis is getting himself in quite a bind, is he? Look at em. Stuffing bits and bobbles and kits aplenty into that posh wagon of his.” she laughed and glanced to her friend, giving her a soft pat on the knee. “It’s almost charming how bloody stupid he is. Almost.”

They both shared a brief chuckle, but the distaste for the man lingered in the newer eyes of Jen’Rar. “Stupid yes, but dangerous as well..”

“As the stupid usually are. Where the hell does he think he’s oft ta anyway? Scalping more money from a carnival show?”

“He’s on a retrieval mission it seems. Returning a very important item that he allowed slip from his grasps. It shouldn’t be that hard I suppose… he needs to track down the unusual thief and simply get it back. The object he’s looking for is very powerful, not really that hard to miss you’d think.”

Cleo laughed long and hard, nearly spilling the remains of her heavy mug. Her old lilac eyes teared up for a moment as she brushed them clear, careful not to nick herself on her sharp edged claws. When she composed herself again she twitched her whiskers and shook her head once more. Her round furry ear perked up in amusement.

“Oh is he now!”

To most people who came upon a Koonem they probably wouldn’t even notice at first. A natural air of unassuming hung from them like her old knit shawl. One of the many species with a bit of magic in their very blood. It allowed them to blend and hide better then any race so far discovered in Veilreach, but once they allowed you to peer past their natural camouflage the rodent like creatures were generally strangely pleasant company.

63 even to a Koonem was fairly old but even in her old age she was still as rascally as ever.
For many years Cleo hid here in plain sight only making solid friendships with a few of the older members of the school. She saw many of those friends come and go but thankfully a few still remained. The closest of those friends sat beside her.

Was she a teacher? Student? She didn’t care what the majority classified her as. She had her reasons for staying in this little home of hers, away from prying eyes and old criminal records.

“Silly boy. On a mission to find something, and leave behind the best tracker he had in place for loud and boisterous youngsters? I’ve tracked long hidden royal blood, and I’ve stolen far too many unmentionables in my time! I could steal the unmentionables from hidden royal blood even! I think I have once or twice… Ah well, I’m sure he’ll manage just as well. The foolish tum-tucker has survived this long.”

Jen’Rar shrugged, glanced over to her old friend with a hard grin. “That’s quite alright, I’m rather glad he left you here. I could really use your help shaping this place up in his absence. After all, I’m the acting Prime Dean now… how about we put your talents to even better use?”

Cleo chuckled at the prospect and glanced away from the bunch as the sly lightened. A new dawn while the twilight stars still brightly shone. In the far distance however, her still sharp eyes saw a brief shadow of dark clouds streaked towards the sun. In the culture of the Koonem this symbolized powerful possibilities afoot.

“Aye my friend, perhaps it best we team up. The creepy corners is all well and done, but perhaps it’s time to make a little trouble in our well-worn ages? This place has been dreadfully dull and tiresome for my itchy bones. What mischief do you have in mind?”

Jen’Rar watched as the Dean shoved off with his band of students. How he fit everything inside that overly obvious transport while those draft horses strained – she never knew and certainly didn’t care.

“I recently experienced some… life-changing events. It has taught me a few things.”

“Life-changing for sure, you shed some years off your scraggly bones my friend. Tryin’ to make me the eldest I see?”

“Non-intentional I assure you. But it has given me a chance to see things from a new perspective. I no longer think sitting back and waiting for things to happen is for me anymore. Perhaps it’s a bit of the frost drake in my blood.. but I think our old bones have a few adventures left in us. Perhaps just enough to see this new thing through.”

Cleo stretched her legs and bristled her back as she let out a sharp toothed yawn. She then reached back and scratched behind an ear before nodding as if the act of shaking the sleep from her bones helped her come to a decision.

“Ain’t any cage that could hold me, or grave still me yet. You are my oldest friend and best family I have – I’d rather go down in ground with you at my side, my girl. When do we start?”

Short Story: Confessional

[ I wrote this story freshman year of college I believe. It’s been a while since I’ve come across it, and a longer while since I actually wrote it. Since I’m in a bit of a creative slump with the other longer projects on the go – I thought I’d share this rough little thing with all of you! It was created due to a love for Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (It’s definitely in my top 5 books of all time..) and it was a fun little exploration of what it means to be morally grey. Hopefully once I pull my bootstraps up and can get past my slump I’ll be able to pour more effort into finishing the stories I have on the go! ]

Confessional

She sat across from him, looking as odd as she had in his literature class. Her neon blue and silver dyed hair, bobbed up with gemstones into almost childish pigtails. Her eyes, such a brilliant hazel wide and intelligent. And her hands clasped together, fingers long and agile.

Those fingers wrote hundreds of brilliant lyrics in his assignments, and here they were now clasped and betraying her nervousness. And all because of him.

He cleared his throat, shuffled the papers in front of him and focused on the cold styrofoam cup full of decaffeinated brown sludge.

“You know why you are here, Melody?”

She nodded her head. Her smile did not seem false, but rather timid and friendly. Patient, as if she were listening to him in class. He only wished it were that simple.

“Mr. Anthony, I imagine this is about our last assignment? I don’t understand why we are here… you gave me full marks.” She dressed like a technicolor punk, but her voice was pure nerd.

“Yes. Well… you did pass with flying colors on the assignment Melody, but it’s… your test results have generated a few results that some of the conclave has found. Well. Worrisome.”

He could recite the tomes of Shakespeare and yet was stumbling on the script. He settled himself once more and forced a few sips of lukewarm coffee down his throat. The pale yellow room had a large mirror – and both of them were smart enough to know what stood behind that. Men in suits. Men with guns.

“Worrisome.” Her voice flattened and instead of losing her patience she merely swallowed and nodded. Her fingers stretched and clasped again. “They think I’m not human you mean.”

It was finally said. Released into the nervous room like a hummingbird. It fluttered around the two trying to escape just as they were. It stilled the air and choked the breath out of the man.

“Look, just explain yourself a bit. Lets go over a few of the assignments and we can sort this all out. Melody, I don’t want to be here anymore then you do. You are my best student.” Now there was that honesty to his voice that gave him confidence again. “Then we can all go home. Okay?”

Her eyes watched him, and for a moment they watered. “If only it were that easy,” she whispered lower this time. “I’m no fool Mr. Anthony, we learned about this at the political meetings. But… yes. Lets just get this done with.” And like that she wiped them and they were friendly and clear again.

She seemed to easily resist the side glance to the large mirrored panel, which he had a hard time trying to avoid. Perhaps she really didn’t know they were being watched? Or perhaps she was just smarter then that.

“Can I read you a few paragraphs from some of your writings? Then you can clarify, or maybe, rewrite them as you see fit?” He shuffled through a few papers. Her handwriting was delicate and precise – one of the few students who handed some of her writings in without retyping the whole thing. The ones that were printed were almost as delicate. And there certainly was enough typing to judge by.

“Here we are.” He stopped on one, the bright yellow highlighting marking the sections. He hesitated, reading it over first quietly in his head before sliding the sheet to her.

“..and so the earth moves on, leaving him lost to his own devices. He seemed to wonder to himself if his creation wasn’t for the betterment, not of mankind, but of what mankind should have become. Was he a relic of a forgotten warning, or a warning yet to come.” It was soft on her tongue, yet powerful. He imagined that is how it sounded in her head when she wrote it almost a month ago. She set it down, smiled more a moment in recall of it. “An essay on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. I remember it. I loved the book – it was the first time I read it in all honesty. I had been meaning to add it to my collection.”

“Yes, and it was well written Melody, but what did you mean?”

She tilted her head slightly, face squinting up a moment as if confused by the question. “You read it Mr. Anthony. You marked me on it – you never asked me that then.”

“Please, I need you to explain it.”

Then she glanced to the side, finally. For one second she let curiosity get the best of her and those hazel eyes glanced to the mirror. For one moment she seemed to stare through it at the ones judging her before her gaze returned to him.

They softened for him, and that made him feel all the more like a day old sucker.

“Frankenstein’s monster is a warning and message to us all. In the sense it reflects how science and indeed our own beliefs can sometimes get the best of us. Dr. Frankenstein created the monster, then chose to abandon it. Fearing what he created and falling instead into the hatred society bred for such a thing, he chose to instead seek to destroy his own creation rather then understand it. In the end; his own hatred, fear, and irrational beliefs were the real monster of the tale. Not the monster itself, who is shown more human then the other characters in the book. She was brilliant, Mary Shelly I mean. Utterly fantastic.”

“But you sided with the monster.” His interruption made her fascinating grin dull a moment. As if he pulled her unwillingly out of her memory of the tale. “Melody, you were supposed to write about how he should have dealt with the monster. I mean, it was so well written and creative indeed… at the time it was refreshing to hear it but I shouldn’t have let you get so far off topic.”

She looked hurt. She opened her mouth a moment, then closed it. She looked down at the paper and ran a finger over the highlighted section.

“I did answer it. I think they should have left him, to find a place.” her painted nails, the color of opal traced the words as if they were alive. She read, then re-read the sentences. “The earth did move on, unfortunately. It always does. He was one man–”

“Monster.”

“..man the world perceived as monster. He was made from human remains, does that not make him human? Re-animated, yes. But cellular and structure remains – he was human. Wouldn’t the DNA of a human corpse; still reanimate as human DNA? I didn’t side with the ‘monster’ Mr. Anthony. I sided with the ‘victim’.”

She slid the sheet back across the table, palm flat and eyes down.

“I stay by my previous statements.”

He sighed and took the sheet back, setting it aside and taking a few moments to look more carefully at the papers before sliding another, this time typed on clean crisp computer paper over to her.

Instead of highlighting, it was circled. She traced her finger around the first section she noticed, then flipped through it to a few of the other ones as well.

Three comments were circled. Three answers now in question.

“I remember this one. It was after watching the documentary about the bible… I didn’t score as high on this one.” She shook her head, almost disappointed.

“Why did Judas betray Jesus? He did so because without the darkness we wouldn’t see the light. If not Judas it would be another. If not another then the story would not continue. He didn’t do it because of some character flaw, but because of universal balance. It is suggested among ancient gnostic gospels that not only did the Christ understand the necessity of being betrayed to the cross – but encouraged it.”

She read it, unapologetic. And at the end she set it down and looked across the table at him with steel eyes. There was no fear there, no mixing of words. And all the more her words sounded strange to him. Unreal, as if perhaps the conclave was right to question her.

“See? Why would you do that?” He grunted slightly, removing his glasses and anxiously cleaning them. “You make it sound like he wasn’t in the wrong. You make it sound like the meaning of the story isn’t important.”

“But don’t you see? That is exactly my point. The meaning of the story was so important that Judas had to make the sacrifice. Just as the Christ made his sacrifice.”

“Why do you say ‘the Christ’? And.. that isn’t the point!” He pulled the sheets back, flipped through to the next page. “You make him into a martyr? He was the great betrayer. You can’t side with the great betrayer… look! Look here.”

He slid the papers to her again, this time forceful and nearly tearing them where the staple held them together. “Lucifer was much like Frankenstein’s monster? You wrote that!”

Her mouth opened slightly, closed again. Her eyes squinted with hurt but she nodded at his accusations. Then slowly, after he took a few breaths she answered.

“He was.” She carefully smoothed the sheet out, unwrinkled the edges his outburst had caused. “It was a few weeks ago I wrote this. I remember reading Dante’s Inferno. I remember later reading a few articles on him while we were in study groups. He also reminded me of Prometheus in the old greek tales…”

“You sided with him.” He said flatly. His head was pounding.

“No. I just wasn’t biased. Look, did he do bad things? Yes. Was he evil though? Was he really just made to be evil? And if so… why would a God make him? Isn’t it more believable that his character is just like we are. Do you believe these invaders, these aliens are as soulless and heartless as they say?”

She rubbed at an eye, if it was to clear a tear he couldn’t tell as he was glaring at the folders contents instead. He hated this. More so he hated that he was the bad guy this time. Why couldn’t it have been the principle? Why did it have to be -her-?

“Melody, what am I suppose to do? You don’t talk like them. You don’t act like them. Hell you are smarter then most of teachers at the school. I know for a fact you’ve dumbed down your intelligence assessment. You told me so.”

Them, the word echoed in his mind. It made him feel ashamed. After all, he was talking about himself as well wasn’t he? He was one of ‘them’ too was he not? Why not Us? Why couldn’t he just say “you aren’t like US Melody. You aren’t one of US”. But that tasted like a lie.

“In confidence.” She whispered quietly, barely above a whisper. “I told you that in confidence, yes.”

If he felt like a jerk before, it now showed again in his face. He turned away from her and closed the file. His eyes glanced to his watch – it was now quarter to eight at night. Neither of them had lunch and her parents likely frantic wondering why she wasn’t home yet.

“I did not think I spoke so differently. I mean, I use words Mr. Anthony. Most girls in my age group can barely spell. It’s because I love to read, I love to write. I want to be an author eventually. And, and I’m just not into dating right now. That doesn’t make me…” she hesitated, her fingers once again clasped together as she sighed. “Does that make me so odd?”

“No. I mean… we just need to be certain. You know blood tests aren’t accurate. You were at the meetings. If you just agree to change your words and maybe attend a few atonement classes then I’m sure we can get this–”

She glared this time. It was the first time her face had gone hard. The meekness gave way to disgust.

“Atonement? Brainwashing you mean.”
“Lower your voice.” Fear perked in his tone. His eyes glanced to the mirror in fear.

“They sit you down, tell you how to act. Tell you how to think? I would rather die!” she wiped her eyes more now, the tears were washed away with her flushed palm. “I’m different yes but we can’t all be the same!”

“No one wants you to be the same as everyone else Melody, they just want you to be Human.”

“Have I hurt anyone? Have I done any harm in all the time I’ve been your student? Have you -ever- had a problem with me Mr. Anthony?”

“No.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose, his glasses sat heavy. “Of course not!”

“And in your opinion do you think I have feelings? Do you think I have a heart, and a mind, and interesting ideas? I know they need you to sign off on their paperwork unless I’m a danger Mr. Anthony. I know that’s what they need.”

His head hurt and the lump in his throat wasn’t being helped by the now cold remnants of coffee left inside the cup. Of course, she was right. She was exceptionally bright after all. What he didn’t say however was how, persuasive, the conclave could be.

His signature would break her. Sending her away without being sure would break him. And a confession was suicide. What was left?

Silence sat between them for a few moments. He swore he heard the impossible ticking of his digital clock as the seconds passed them. Finally he could bear the silence no longer.

“Are you?”

“Am I what?”

More silence. A stale moment of tension between two old friends. She wouldn’t budge. She wanted to hear it. Her pig tails shivered with her breathing. She was obviously upset. So was he.

“Are you human, Melody? Do you think that you are? Just say you are and you want to change your mind about things. Say you are and just try the atonement classes. Then this is all over with.”

“I want to play a game. Just you and me. Not them. Okay? I’ll ask you one question and you tell me the truth. Then, if you tell me the truth I’ll answer one of yours honestly.” She swallowed and eased herself to lean over the table with her hands tucked into the inside of her elbows while her elbows rested on the sturdy resin table.

“This isn’t really the time–”

“Please.” she let one tear fall from her eyes, and then managed a sincere smile across her worried face. “Please Mr. Anthony. You know as well as I do that my future is on the line. Humor me. It is the only real time I have left.”

“Okay. Ask what you want Melody.”

“Do you believe these invaders, these aliens are as soulless and heartless as they say?”

He paused, the color slightly drained from his face as he glanced at the mirror then back to her. Rock, meet hard place. Hard place, meet rock. He could lie of course and tell her whatever well recited paragraph he was supposed to so that the waiting ears behind the wall wouldn’t judge him. He could simply refuse to answer as well, if he wanted to.

But those eyes pleaded with him; and it was true what she said. Her future indeed was on the line. Her very life was. Was it fair to toss her under the bus with no consideration to her one simple question?

“I don’t know.” His words stumbled at first, his brow furrowed in thought. “We don’t know what they are. The government tells us they are dangerous but…” on instinct his voice lowered. “I guess we couldn’t know for sure. We don’t have any real information to go on.”

Her bottom lip trembled as her smile shook a moment. Her eyes, still watery but pleased with his answer. He wasn’t sure why, it was barely an answer at all and yet she seemed to glow with hope in him. But now he knew it was his turn and she waited so patiently for him to ask.

He could as a million things. He didn’t have to go through with this insane game but he was so sure he knew the answer. He was so sure that a week full of atonement classes and she would be back inspiring him with words and passages and poems…

“Are you human?”

Everyone returned from classes. Different sometimes, broken a little… but always they returned. So would she. Everything would be normal again.

“No. Deep down I think I’ve always known I’m not human Mr. Anthony. Now I know for sure. I don’t know what I am, or what I’m here for. I feel the balance in the universe. I feel the potential in us all.”

Time stopped as she was searching for words. “…if there was only more time to explain to you.”

Her painful smile lingered in the air a moment while the door opened. They both knew in a hellish moment that time was up. There were no more moments. No more questions. The game ended far too early.

Was this what Judas felt like? Was he Judas now? If so, why was there no hate in her expression? Where was the hate, the fear, the anger?

His mouth was agape, but no sound dared utter from them. Time passed in choppy seconds of eternity. He barely turned his head before the men were inside. A moment longer as the tazer lines zipped past his shoulder and into her chest. He watched it stunned as the small barbs tore her striped shirt. Her smile lingered only one second longer as she watched as he tried to scream for them to stop.

And as he did her body jolted with the electricity and that smile was a grimace of pain as her eyes rolled and the smell of battery acid hit the air.

Time was so slow, and he himself was slower. He stood, fists on the table, screaming but they ignored him. Two men grabbed him by the elbows, yanked him back away from the table as Melody’s body shuddered under the girth of three men restraining her. It looked as if they were breaking her, piece by piece.

“She’s just a girl! You’ll kill her!” He snarled as the men dumped him and the papers in the hallway, throwing a large orange envelope in his lap with the remaining folder. His gut wrenched with disgust. Every teacher in the district knew what that orange envelope was for. It was insult to injury. Payment for a job well done. It was Confession Pay. A tidy sum of ten thousand dollars of blood money.

“Mr. Anthony. Take your pay and go home to your wife. These… creatures are very cunning. You must not sympathize with them. You must not believe them. You must remember that they are the monsters and we are humanity.” His smile was patronizing. He knelt down a moment, helping him gather the papers from the floor. “You have two weeks off – spend them with your family. The conclave will file all the reports needed. Feel free to burn the rest of this.. gibberish when you have the time.”

And without another word the men filed back into the room. The door shut and lock. Melody was gone from his class, his school, and his life. She would simply be wiped out as if she had never existed. No final farewell. No hatred in her eyes. Nothing but her words written down on school assignments. The same words used to condemn her.

Burn them? No. That was the last thing he intended to do.

He clutched them to his chest and held them close. When he stood shakily out on the night street the images of what had occurred started to settle into numb realization.

He had his payment. He could take a vacation to a pleasure colony, perhaps buy himself a fancy new computer device. Maybe he could buy enough alcohol to cloud over the unsettled thoughts which rattled in his brain: But could he really burn out the questions she left there?

Who were the monsters; and who the men?