Month: December 2016

A Look Into Another World: (Wo)Man on the Moon


The onna-bugeisha ran her sword through the darkly-clad Kaguya-hime. Her victory assured, she drove the blade deep into Kaguya-hime’s heart.

“I hoped, and I prayed, that you were not the she-devil you appeared to be. But it’s true, isn’t it? I was right all along. You intended to destroy us didn’t you, star princess?!”

The princess of Mikado stared through her with piercing black eyes. “Heh. Was I really so obvious?”

Kaguya-hime coughed up another quart of blood as the onna-bugeisha twisted her magic sword into her chest.

“It’s over, Kaguya. Whatever your demented plan may truly be, I won’t let you see it to fruition. You die here!”

Kaguya-hime laughed; a low, deranged chuckle.

“The plan is already a failure. But thankfully, I’ll have another chance to try again. When the earth matches the heavens..”

The onna-bugeisha delivered another swift thrust into Kaguya-hime’s soft bosom, rupturing her silky skin which was as white as the full moon that hung overhead.

“What chance do you have? I told you. Tonight, these grassy fields are where you die!”

“Khekekek… perhaps. But perhaps not.”

There was a high-pitched noise. As if on cue, the silver vessel with which Kaguya-hime had attempted to return to her lunar kingdom exploded, bursting into flames and blossoming like a volcano. Fire fell from the sky in hot chunks, starting a conflagration in the fields and grasslands, and washing the honorable onna-bugeisha in hot orange fire-light. Shards of white-hot lightning buzzed like angry hornets as they flew past her, and one hit her on the left side of her face, ripping a hole in her cheek with its stinger and burning her mouth.

She screamed in agony. Taking advantage of her distraction, Kaguya-hime rolled over and pinned her to the ground, forcing herself on top of her. The scalding stone settling beneath her tongue, the onna-bugeisha grimaced. Surely now the evil witch would choke the life out of her. But instead, Kaguya-hime kissed the honorable onna-bugeisha, filling her nostrils with the sickeningly sweet scent of peaches and making her body go limp. After a long and passionate embrace, Kaguya-hime released the onna-bugeisha as she wiped saliva from her lips, the look on her face triumphant.

What is this? the onna-bugeisha thought. Why can’t I move?!

“Are you perhaps wondering what’s happened to your body? My lipstick is filled with a special poison that paralyzes you completely, a neurotoxin that traps the victim inside their own body,” she said, spitting crimson saliva. “I have imprisoned you, samurai, the same way I once was. Now you too will feel what it is like to live out the rest of your days as a shadow of your former self, unable to move, unable to speak. Unable to die.”

With a grunt of effort, Kaguya-hime pulled the sacred and magical sword from her chest, and laid it at the side of the onna-bugeisha who was as still as the winter air. Almost immediately the wound closed, leaving nought but a hole in her clothes and a smidgeon of blood as proof that Kaguya-hime had ever once been dead.

“My cellular matrix regenerates at an astonishing speed, doesn’t it?” she said, addressing the look of bewilderment on the onna-bugeisha’s face. “They don’t call it the elixir of life for nothing, I suppose. But don’t worry. I shall be sure to preserve you as well. You’ll get to live out every year of my punishment together with me as we both grow old. The only difference is, well, I’ll have to travel the long way. You on the other hand just get to go to sleep, never to awake again. Dreaming for all eternity. Now doesn’t that sound nice?”

The onna-bugeisha tried to scream, to curse Kaguya-hime with every last scrap of strength in her body, but the burning stone and the poison that was slowly retarding her every muscle reduced her protests to nothing but slurred wails, cries fit only for a child. And as she felt darkness overtake her, that was what the onna-bugeisha became. Nothing but a crying child.

Kaguya-hime looked down on her.

“Sweet dreams, princess…

The onna-bugeisha screamed, jolted awake by the horrible memories of a night long since past. Her breath materialized in front of her, obscuring her view and making the air around her mouth hot and humid like a summer mist. She found herself lying on her back on some sort of mat, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. There was a mask made of some kind of… flexible glass around her mouth. And tubes, in her mouth and all around her body, attached to her with needles. What were these strange instruments? What were they for?!

Where… was she?

A sharp chirping noise startled her, and she felt the needles in her skin twitch as she jumped involuntarily. Her heart raced. The noise was coming from some kind of moving painting attached to the bed where she lay. It was made up of all jagged lines in various colors, annotated with glyphs from a language she didn’t understand. The lines… mimicked her heartbeat. She then noticed that she had been restrained, and dressed in some sort of strange garment.

The persistent questions of “what is this for” and “what do they plan on doing to me” were all that remained in her thoughts as the bizarre devices around her continued to chirp and beep. For there was a “they”, or at least a “them”. Kaguya. Someone had captured her while she was immobile, and if she was willing to bet, they were Kaguya’s twisted servants of some sort. Only she in her infinite devilry had access to this kind of technology. These devices which far surpassed the understanding of man, like her flying machine.

That’s when it occurred to the onna-bugeisha. They had seen fit to restrain her. Did that mean… she was able to move? Had Kaguya’s poison worn off?

Experimentally, she twitched one of her fingers in a way invisible to anyone who might be watching. She would assume nothing with Kaguya. Finding that she had at least regained motion in her extremities, she wiggled a few toes, and finally tried tensing the muscles in her arms and legs, tightening them. They felt painfully withered and disused. Slow and unresponsive, but still moving. How long had she been under the spell of Kaguya’s twisted magic?

A door the likes of which she’d never seen swung open on a hinge in a way it would never have been constructed in the palace of the Emperor, and two, no, three figures masked in shadow entered the room, followed by a fourth. The onna-bugeisha was perfectly still.

“As you can see, we have the subject sedated and restrained,” a bug-eyed man in a white haori with many pockets said. In the eyes of the onna-bugeisha, he looked like a demon, or perhaps a shinigami dressed all in white. “Initially we had thought her muscular system to be compromised, but after running the usual array of diagnostic tests and medical exams, we found she was still completely intact. Zero loss in muscle mass, can you believe that? It appears her preservation was even more miraculous than we had first thought.”

No, something feels wrong, she thought. This is nothing like how I can usually move. I feel so slow, so weak… dammit, what did you do to me?

She looked around the room.

“Ah, she’s waking up! Good morning, my lost little princess. How are we today?”

She didn’t answer, playing into the illusion that she couldn’t. She didn’t know what “sedated” meant, but they obviously didn’t expect her to be able to move. Even though they had restrained her, but those straps would come undone if she just forced them, she felt.

“Can she actually hear you?” one of them asked.

“Perhaps, but I doubt she’s in any stable frame of mind to understand it. We have her under pretty deep.”

So I am underground? she thought. Am I in some sort of cave?

By some utter miracle, her sword had been laid out for her on a table in the far corner of the room. That sword was the one thing in this room she was familiar with. Nothing about this place made sense to her, so she had to escape. She could collect her thoughts and figure out where she had been taken once she was free.

“If I remember correctly, you said the woman herself was incidental to this project, correct? Her stasis is the real object of study. You only revived her to study the effects such a long sleep might have on a person.”

“Hmm? Yes, why do you ask?”

“Because the boss wants her disposed of, effective immediately. As soon as you’re sure we can’t learn anything else from her, terminate her. Those were the orders from up above.”

“What!?” the white demon exclaimed. “Why?!”

“I don’t know. Those are just the orders.”

Waiting for the lull in the conversation to end, the onna-bugeisha tested the limits of the straps, and found they strained easily under even a fraction of her strength. Which was great, because a fraction seemed to be all she could muster.

“I dunno, if it were me I’d really like to see what she has to say,” the fourth one mentioned. “Maybe she has something worthwhile to offer to us. To history at least.”

“Don’t be stupid. What could an ass-backwards time traveller have that we would possibly want? She’s-”

“Hey, did she just move?” one of the darkly clad figures asked, pointing at her. She immediately became still again. The demon in white stared at her for a moment.

“Hmmm… don’t be ridiculous, Mr. Isaac. We have her restrained with heavy-duty g-bracers, and sedated with over five milligrams of self-modulating nanoanesthetics. There’s no way she could even move a finger. Now please, I strongly wish that you’d reconsider. Terminating her at this point just seems so unnecessary!”

His name was “Mr. Isaac”? The onna-bugeisha had no idea what those words meant. She’d never heard a language like that before. Was he a foreigner, or was this just the language of demons? Yet he spoke Japanese. They all did. Some strange, almost unintelligible dialect of Japanese, but it was her mother tongue without a doubt.

“I agree,” said the fourth, a much younger voice she noticed. “What’s the harm in keeping her alive?”

“Ughhh…” the man groaned, turning his back to her. “Matsu, would you just shut the fuck up and stop making my life difficult? If the CEO of the company says terminate her, you terminate her! Don’t ask questions!”


“Do you want me to put in a recommendation for your demotion?” he said. “Because I can certainly-”

The onna-bugeisha lunged, ripping through the restraints as if they were paper. In one smooth motion she snatched a syringe from the table by her bed and vaulted off the cot, hooking one arm around the one called “Mr. Isaac” and jamming the needle into the soft flesh of his neck. She didn’t know what the liquid inside was for necessarily, but a child could tell you that if you pushed down on the metal plate sticking out this thing, it would force the liquid out through the needle and into the man’s neck. That couldn’t be good for anyone.

After the shock of realizing she could move started wearing off, the men started to panic, and one of them tried to make a break for it, an act the onna-bugeisha interpreted as aggressive.

“Stop!” she said, not sure if they understood her or not. “If you try to move, this man is dead. I could kill him in a hundred ways right now if I wanted to.”

“You bitch…” her hostage choked.

“How… how is she doing that?” the demon in white asked. “Nobody should be able to move under that much anesthetic! And those straps were made of latticed graphene! They’re stronger than reinforced kevlar!”

The onna-bugeisha slowly backed away towards her sword. Once it was in arm’s reach she grabbed it and tossed the man aside before making a break for the door.

Kaguya… she’s responsible! If I can find her-!

But her righteous fury ended as soon as she barged through the large metal doors marked “emergency exit”. When she saw what the world she’d been spirited away into really looked like.

“What…” her voice quivered, the cold night air striking the bare flesh beneath the thin hospital gown. It felt like her world. Of that there was no mistake. The sensation of walking barefoot through the courtyard of the imperial palace on a crisp summer’s eve was a memory so deeply ingrained into her mind that it would be impossible to forget. But this was not the imperial palace. This was not Kyoto. This was something else entirely. This was a nightmare.

All around her, men with metal arms and machines sticking out of the back of their heads roamed the streets, flanked on all sides by tsukumogami in the shape of porcelain dolls or mannequins, their insectile articulated joints clicking as they walked. Their faces had an obvious air of unreality about them, like a sculpted thing too perfect to actually exist, which contrasted sharply with the metallic amalgams of men she saw around her, their flesh mutilated by machines whose functions she could only begin to guess at. It looked as though they’d been merged with some of the strange tools she’d seen in that medical oubliette.

She looked around. Everywhere she looked things were different and strange, a grotesque parody of the world she’d left behind. Carriages pulled themselves along without horses, belching smoke like bellows. Giant metal snakes crawled like silkworms along branches that wrapped around and went through entire buildings, each as large as a castle and many times as tall. Some of them were even made from blown glass. There were lights and sounds she did not know originating from sources she didn’t dare guess at, and so many of them that they crowded out the senses, daring one to go mad. But the most shocking revelation occurred when she dared to look up.

The night sky was devoid of stars.

She dropped to her knees. How could this be? Was she so far from home that the light of the stars that shone above the palace simply could not reach her? Or was she in hell, her soul claimed by Kaguya’s foul magics? That seemed infinitely more likely as a white dragon soared above her, bisecting the sky with its ghostly red lights. The entire night sky looked like it was burning.

“I know this must come as quite a shock to you,” a voice she did not recognize tried to console her. She whipped around. Another demon stood before her, this one an empty suit of armor. At least, she thought it was armor. It spoke to her. “I am truly sorry for what you’ve lost, but we’re running out of time. They’ll be coming for you any minute now.”

She sneered. “Leave me be, demon. I have enough problems without having to listen to you.”

“And that’s why I’m here,” it said. “To help you solve those problems. To help you find a way back home, or… something like it, at least.”

“And why on earth would a demon want to do that?” she accused.

“Because I have a vested interest in seeing justice done to our mutual acquaintance.”

She turned around to look at it, suddenly taking what it said very seriously. “How do you know Kaguya?”

More men with machines crammed into their heads spilled out the door, chasing her with weapons that looked like nothing she’d ever seen before. She only knew they were weapons from the way they carried them. The armor stood between her and them, its chest opening invitingly.

“We should go. I think you and I have a lot to discuss.”

She nodded. The men yelled “open fire!” and flashes of bright light burst forth from the black objects they held in their hands. The onna-bugeisha jumped inside the armor, the chestplate sealing her inside.

“Hold on tight. I’ll take you where we need to go.”

The armor leapt into the sky, bouncing from rooftop to rooftop. The onna-bugeisha stared down at the city below, entranced by the garish festival nightmare in which she now found herself. It was then that she realized, bathed in the light of the crescent moon, that she hadn’t gone anywhere. It was the world that had changed. She had been left behind. Just as Kaguya said. For how long… she didn’t know.

Her last thoughts before she drifted off to sleep in the armor’s embrace consisted of one simple word, burning with salt and vinegar.


Street Lawyer 5.11

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What we found in that cell resembled the fiery bearcat of a woman I’d come to know and begrudgingly tolerate about as much as roadkill resembled an opossum. “Worked over” would’ve been a gross understatement. She looked like nothing less than the underworld warmed over, which raised a couple of very disturbing questions. Were the Untouchables really so well-equipped that they could do this to a high-class demigod like Nayeli? And worse, what in the hell would Marq do to them if he ever got the chance?

“Heheh…” Marq giggled softly to my astonishment. His fingers were splayed across the invisible barrier between them like a gecko, trying desperately to find any sort of purchase or point of entry.

“Boss?” she croaked. I wasn’t sure if she was asking if he was okay, or if she was so beat up she only just realized we were there.

“Nayeli,” he said, smiling and swallowing softly. “I want to know who did this to you. Do you have any names? Can you tell me what they looked like?”

Soft tears trickled down his cheeks. Right then, I was considering taking a step back. I’ve seen Marq mad. I’ve seen him furious. I’ve seen him scream and cuss so loud you’d think he was trying to wake up a dead dog. This wasn’t like that. I’d never, ever seen this. This was anger transmuted.

It was then I realized he’d already reached his boiling point the moment we’d stepped foot on this island. Everything since then had just been steam building up inside him, pressure rising with every new injustice he imagined. Seeing it now, that anger had crossed a new threshold, building up so violently inside him that what was hot just became cold. He’d gone so far in one direction he’d ended up right back where he started, or someplace like it. Except now he was like a spring-loaded knife, or a coiled viper. One wrong move and he’d just snap, and when he did, someone was gonna bleed. I was determined to not be that guy.

“Boss…” Nayeli croaked. “I didn’t… it wasn’t-”

“Nayeli, it’s okay,” Marq said, putting away all his questions for now. “I’m just glad you’re back home. You’re safe.

Nayeli collapsed on the other side of the glass-like barrier, sobbing like a child. The prodigal daughter returned to us and Marq hadn’t even bothered to mention how much she’d made him worry or how her actions may have affected the family. She was forgiven in his eyes. The two of them tried to approximate a hug without actually being able to touch each other, a gesture I would’ve laughed at if I hadn’t known who these two were.

After a few moments of quiet sobbing and consolations, Marq approached the subject again.

“Nayeli, who did this to you? Was it the Untouchables?” he said. His voice was gentle but his intentions were deadly sharp, like a knife.

She nodded. “They caught me in California. I… don’t actually remember what happened. I just know it was them. I remember their voices.”

“Voices?” Marq asked. “You remember what they said? Did they read you your rights?”

She shook her head. “It’s not like that. I don’t know…” She sighed, angry with herself. “I don’t know how to fucking explain it, it’s like I remember the sound of their voices, but every time I try to remember what they said it’s all just… garbage. Crap. I can’t understand it, it’s like they’re whispering or muttering.”

I looked at Marq. “You think they used some sorta magic to, y’know… erase her memory?”

I had no clue how you’d go about doing that, but I was pretty sure it was possible. It could be done without magic, if you were willing to risk serious brain damage. Stands to reason you could do it with magic too, and probably a lot more precisely.

Thankfully Marq seemed to agree with me, which spared me the embarrassment of admitting I hadn’t been keeping up with all my studying like he’d wanted.

“Seems likely,” he said. “I know a couple ways you could do it. In theory, anyway. But they’re all pretty complicated. It takes a pretty intricate ritual to dig your fingers into someone’s grey matter, and you’d need an expert to perform it step-by-step if you wanted to remove any specific memories instead of just blasting an entire day or month from your brain. It wouldn’t be an easy process is my point. I mean if it was, we’d be doing it already.”

“Those fuckers…” Nayeli whispered. “They were inside my head… those fuckers…!

She’d curled up into a ball without me noticing. The notion of someone toying with her memories clearly didn’t sit well with her.

Like it’d sit well for anyone… I thought.

She looked up, suddenly seeming like she’d thought of something very important. “Boss, we were really… we’re still… right? They didn’t make that up, right?

Her tone of voice was urgent, and she looked about ready to cry again. The thought of being apart from Marq, or worse, the thought of all the time they’d spent together being nothing but fake memories, had clearly settled in. Paranoia was probably the rational response here, after all. We had no idea what they’d done to her. She already seemed like a reflection of her former self.

Marq smiled gently. “No Nayeli, those aren’t fake. They’re real. They happened. Don’t let this make you think otherwise. I still love you. I’ve always loved you. And we’re gonna find out the truth. If we can prove they tampered with your memories, it might give us an edge in the upcoming case.”

“How?” I asked.

“Memory alteration is a class B magic, Al. Even using it for therapeutic purposes is illegal. Sanctity of memory and the protection of your mental faculties is considered a basic right of life for everyone, even criminals.”

“No, I mean,” I said, being patient with him. “How are we gonna prove it? You said it yourself, memory magic is complicated. Besides, she’s inside an atelier. What are we gonna do from out here?”

He smiled reassuringly, although there was something bitter in his usual triumphant grin. “We don’t need magic, Al. Just a good ol’ fashioned party trick.”

He pulled his pocketwatch out of his jacket and swung it around like a pendulum.

“Hypnosis?” I asked.

“Post-hypnotic memory recall, actually,” Marq said. “I read about it once. Apparently the shrinks think you can use hypnosis to trigger repressed memories. I thought we’d give it a try.”

“Might work,” I said, shrugging. Marq blew me off with a chuff.

Will work,” he said. It’s got to, is what I imagined he was thinking. He turned to Nayeli. “Alright Nayeli, I need you to lie down on your back.”

Nayeli didn’t really agree to it at first, I could tell. The idea of someone, anyone digging around in her skull so soon after the last time, even if it was Marq, upset her. To her, her mind probably already felt fragile enough. It’s not that she didn’t trust his intentions, she just didn’t trust him to not cock it up.

But eventually she did exactly as she was told, following his lead more out of faith than anything else, and I began to wonder. Maybe she wasn’t afraid of Marq making a mistake. Maybe she was afraid of what she might remember. After all, it could just be simple paranoia on the part of the Untouchables, a desire to leave out any potential loose ends, or perhaps even a mercy to make her forget the pain of the beating, but you generally didn’t bother to erase someone’s memories without having a good reason. And usually, that reason was you did something that you didn’t want anyone else to remember. Something that had to be pretty fucking awful.

A number of delightful scenarios entered my head, and I knew they’d seem just as unpleasant to Nayeli if she was imagining them just then. The best we could hope for was just a history of her bruises. The worst could help us build a case, but… well, I hope Marq understood that it wouldn’t be worth it. Still, he seemed determined to find out the truth.

I put a hand on his shoulder.

“I think I’m having second thoughts about this, Marq.”

“Oh yeah?” he asked. “Why’s that?”

“I mean…” I struggled to find the words. “You know this is just gonna hurt her, right? What if she doesn’t want to relive those memories? What if they’re bad?

I stressed that last part, thinking it was important he understood “bad” meant more than just physical pain or injury.

He looked at me sternly. “Al, we have to know the truth. We have to know who did this to her.”

“Why?” I asked. “So you can get revenge? Doesn’t that seem… selfish?”

“And what’s that supposed to mean, Al?”

Marq’s gaze was so cold it made me flinch. He made it clear I was pushing my luck. But for now, I still had the right to speak.

I chose my words carefully. “I mean… are you really sure you wanna put her through this, whatever happened to her, again? I’m not saying anything did happen to her, whatever that may be, but do you really wanna hurt her just for your own self-satisfaction?”

Marq grit his teeth, raising his voice. “She has to know, Al! Do you think there’s any other choice?! If anything happened,” he said, the potential implications of that word hurting him so much it showed in his voice, “then they happened. We can’t undo it just by ignoring it. If anything that means they’ll just get away with it and we’ll have nothing to use against them in court! She deserves to know.”

“You mean you do,” I said, then immediately regretted saying anything. Marq looked at me, utterly desperate and more unstable than I’ve ever seen him, and I quickly began to backtrack. “Look, all I’m saying is that this should be her decision. If you-”

“If I really love her, yeah… I know,” Marq said, taking a deep breath. This was difficult for him. Difficult for me too, but I suspect for vastly different reasons. He looked at Nayeli.

“Nayeli… doll… do you want me to do this?” he asked. “If you really don’t want me to…”

She shook her head. “No, you were right. I wanna know what those bastards did to me. Just promise me that… if it’s that… it won’t change how we-”

Her voice croaked as she tried to swallow that bitter pill.

“No. God no,” Marq said, forehead pressed up against the glass. “But it won’t be that. I know it won’t. And no matter what it is, whether they beat you with sticks or just tickled you until you passed out, I’m going to make sure they regret it. You hear me Nayeli? They’re gonna fucking pay, no matter who they are or what they did.”

Nayeli nodded without saying anything, and laid back down.

I didn’t know exactly what they meant when they so artfully dodged around the subject by using the word “it”, but I could guess. But why would they think the Untouchables would do that to anyone? Mickey Donahue was one thing, but not them. Corrupt cops they may be, but I don’t think they’d ever go that far. Unless Marq had a reason to suspect they would, but that equally didn’t make any sense. Still, like I said, there weren’t many reasons to use memory alteration magic that weren’t… unpleasant.

The pocketwatch pivoted back and forth, its clock-like motion captivating as it wove arcs through the air. Marq gave her the usual set of instructions used in stage hypnosis, then waited until she’d fallen asleep, deep into a trance.

“Now Nayeli, I want you to describe for me what happened when you were… attacked,” Marq said, hesitating. “Tell me everything you remember. Did you see your attacker’s faces? What did they look like? Did you hear any names? Tell me what they did to you.”

I could hear him grinding his teeth as he said that. Then, as soon as he stopped, Nayeli began to speak.

Her story was a lot like what we’d been expecting, with a few extra twists. The invisible city-sized blimp kinda threw me for a loop. But so far there was nothing that suggested they’d done anything worthy of memory alteration. Had they only been trying to protect state secrets like that ziggurat?

“Alright,” Marq said. “Can you remember anything else after you blacked out?”

“Yeah…” she said drowsily. The words tumbled out of her mouth the same way a sleepwalker talks. “They’re taking me up… into the floating city. They’re taking me… to meet someone.”

“Who?” Marq asked patiently.

“I can’t tell,” Nayeli mumbled. “It… looks like a man. I can only see his back but he’s turning around. He-”

And then she just stopped, mouth still open, lips quivering. Concerned, Marq leaned in closer.


“I can see.. His eyes…” Nayeli said, a steady drip of panic flooding her calm voice. “His eyes… Marq, I can’t… I can’t see his eyes! They’re black! His eyes are black!”

Marq jumped on that. “Black eyes? Is he a demon?”

“No,” she said. “Not black like that. Black like… like space. Like an endless pit but with no stars. There’s nothing. There’s just nothing! No light, no pupils, no eyelids! All I see is black! He doesn’t have a soul!”

Nayeli started writhing on the dirt floor of her cell, her own eyes closed, twitching. Marq rushed over and pressed his hands against the barrier.

“Nayeli? Nayeli listen to me! You’re okay! What’s he doing? What’s going on?”

“He’s coming towards me!” she said. “He’s just… walking through the gravity, like it means nothing! Make him go away, Marq! Make him go away!”

Her convulsions started pressing against the barrier, shaking the space in her cell with the unrestrained strength of a fearful demigoddess.

“It’s okay Nayeli, he’s not really there!” Marq shouted. “Tell me what you see!

“He’s reaching out!” she yelled back from across the veil. “He’s trying to touch me! His fingers… they’re so cold! I can feel them on my face like a blizzard! No… no! Stay back! Get away from me! Get away!

Then, like a snapping piece of wood, Nayeli’s back arched sharply, her mouth stretched wide open into a scream like nothing I’ve ever heard. The noise must have been tuned for us by the barrier, because inside the volume of her agony was reducing what little adorned her cell into powderized atoms, smoothing the walls into an inoffensive dark slab of polished rock. But I could hear her. I could hear her all the same, and the sounds she made weren’t human. They sounded like an animal being tortured, like a monkey in the cold hands of a probing scientist being pricked and stabbed with needles. Whatever it was, it wasn’t touching her body. Something was touching her mind.

And then she stopped, collapsing to the floor. We both stared, shocked into silence. Marq was the first to react.

“Nayeli…” he said, clamoring against the barrier. “Nayeli wake up! It’s over! None of it was real! Someone get this cell open!

I stared at her. “What the fuck was that?

Marq, however, didn’t share my confusion. He was too busy seeing to Nayeli. Her eyes flickered open.

“Oh thank god,” he said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Nayeli are you okay? What happened back there? Do you need to talk about it? What am I saying, of course you do…”

He fumbled for something to comfort her with before remembering nothing but light and sound could pass through the barrier. Nayeli just looked at him, confused.

“What are you talking about, boss?” she asked. “Talk about what?”

He stopped. I chimed in.

“Uhhh… your memories? The little episode you just had where you tried to burst God’s eardrum?”

She scowled. “Stop giving me shit, you little shit. What are you talking about?”

I tried to ignore how irritating it was that she was calling me that too now. “You mean you literally don’t remember? Not a thing you said, not even destroying your cell?

“What do you mean-” She stopped and looked behind her, shocked once she saw her new interior decorations. “I did that?

I huddled over to Marq, and whispered in his ear.

“Marq, what the fuck is going on? She doesn’t remember anything!”

But he didn’t say anything. Didn’t even look my way. Just kept staring straight ahead, like he’d remembered something himself. Something important.

“Marq?” I asked. “Pal? You look like you got something to say.”

I waited for him to start talking. When he didn’t, that’s when I knew shit was going to get really fucked up really fast.

“… Please say yes. Please? Just for me?” I tried to negotiate. “Because that freaked me the fuck out just now, and if you don’t start explaining shit I think I’m just gonna start sweating.”

Marq not taking the role of the little exposition gnome to dump the magic knowledge on me at times like this was something that was really, really unsettling. It meant he either didn’t know, or didn’t want to. Either option scared me.

“Al,” he said softly, wetting his dry lips. “I don’t know about you, but… I’ve seen a face like that before.”

“What, like old Black Eyes?”

“No, Al. Not a demon,” he said. “A fae.”

“Oh,” I said softly. “Shit.”

It was quickly becoming clear Nayeli’s captors hadn’t erased her memories to cover up them doing unspeakable things to her or anything else like that. The violence clearly wasn’t the part they’d cared about. I imagined they’d admit to torturing her without shame if they’d actually done it. No, Nayeli had been silenced because she’d seen too fucking much.

“Marq,” I said, trying to take a deep breath. “Please tell me you know what the fuck’s going on, because I don’t.

“Me?” he replied back. “Not a clue.”

Nayeli looked at us funny. “Boss? What’s going on?”

Marq tried explaining it to her. Me, I just left. Couldn’t stand the darkness. Not after what I’d just seen.

I leaned back against one of the tunnel walls, breathing hard like I’d just run a marathon.

“Holy shit…

What the fuck had we just gotten ourselves into?

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Update: Alkahest begins now!

Hey guys! NaNoWriMo is over, and while I’m sad to say a particularly nasty cold I caught during the second half of the month kept me from reaching my ultimate goal, I still got pretty damn far. Within spitting distance of 40,000 words, actually.

I decided early in the month that it would be better to just start publishing what I’d written at the end of the month to avoid distraction, but now that’s over and I can show you all the fruits of my labors. Hopefully you like it, but no biggie if you don’t. There are some parts I’m not particularly fond of myself that I’m hoping can be edited into oblivion during some hypothetical future rewrite (but for now let’s just focus on finishing, shall we?) As expected, the story I had in mind was never going to fit in a snug 50,000 words, and while I don’t see it ever being as long as Goodfae’s gotten, I’d say the story’s still not even half over, if that. As such, I’ll be publishing chapters as I continue to write them at a rate of once every other week to once a month depending on my rate of progress. Goodfae is still my priority after all, and I know a month is a long time to wait for a new chapter.

On that note, I’m beginning work on the new chapter of Goodfae effective immediately. However because I’m starting halfway through the week and my weekend already looks busy, I’m not sure if it’ll be ready before the first week of December is over. Hopefully not; if NaNoWriMo taught me anything it’s that I’m capable of writing a lot more a lot faster than I’d previously thought, but you know how real life can be.

Anyway, that’s just about all I wanted to say, and now here’s the first chapter of Alkahest, ready for your waiting eye-holes:

Be sure to leave a comment if you like it or even if you don’t. I always appreciate feedback. With that said, happy holidays from Goodfae everybody!