Hellbound Again

Guess where I am right now?

If you guessed Barnes & Noble, then you win the prize.  (Spoiler alert: There is no prize)

I am sitting in the cafe with a sign on my computer inviting people to ask about my book if they have the time.  And when they do ask, I hand them a packet with information about the Support Hellbound Initiative.  Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Shame on you!  You can either click that link or click back to the post before this one.  It will give you all the info you need to know.  The next couple posts are probably going to be more of the same.  I don’t have a lot of blog followers so I need to spread the word as much as possible.  Of course if you have already signed a card for me, I am so grateful.  But I demand more!

Remember, the cards look like this:

card

If you’re interested in signing one, all you have to do is send an email with your name and address to WriteRightWithBex@gmail.com.  That’s it.  There will be absolutely no cost to you, aside from a few minutes of your time and some pen ink.  I will pay for all postage; the SASE in the envelope will already have a stamp on it.

Below I am going to post my excerpt of Hellbound again.  Remember, if you like what you read you can request a card.  Every tenth person to request one is going to get an extra surprise inside their envelope. (Spoiler alert: These prizes are real and will really happen)

Here it is:

Prologue

A quiet night in September finds a pair of bloodied hands drawing occult symbols in a secluded plot of dirt. Not a sound can be heard except for erratic, frenzied breathing.

Nervous thoughts compete for attention.

This is so wrong.

It won’t even work.

It’s a school night.

I should be sleeping.

But it could make everything better. There must have been a reason for finding this book. It was meant to be.

The symbols are complete. What next?

Smudged fingers hover over the yellowed pages.

The pentacle…on the forehead. Sweat mixes with blood and dirt as it is drawn.

The hands drop. Waiting.

The pages are consulted again. It should have worked.

Silence. Pressing silence.

It didn’t work. Of course it didn’t work. It was ridiculous to think it would.

“You have freed me. In exchange I am required to offer you one service.”

The voice sends a jolt down the spine; it came out of nowhere. In the middle of all the symbols on the ground is now a tall, dark figure. A living shadow. Its cavernous eyes are cast down on the quivering human before it, waiting. Expectant.

Quickly, the pages are consulted again. The required response. The contract must be completed!

“I…I understand my part in this. I accept your boon with gratitude.”

The creature gives the slightest of nods.

Dry lips are licked.

“This is what I need you to do…”

 

Chapter One

Aiden woke up to the sound of screams, as usual. They sounded more outraged than normal, which he knew meant bad news for him. He blinked and stretched, stood up and shook himself. It was dark, and he had no idea what time it was. Clocks were hard to come by in Hell. Working clocks even harder. Without the need for a light source, he found his way to his dresser, pulled out clothes, put them on.

It was the same old routine. Strangely enough, he knew something was going to break up the monotony of his life very soon, and it was that fact that made him dread leaving his room. So he did what any normal teenage boy would do – he stalled. Running his fingers through his light brown hair, he looked absently around his room for a mirror before he remembered he didn’t have one.

“Kairn?”

He stooped to look under his bed as he called his friend’s name again.

“I know you’re here, Kairn. Quit dicking around.”

The expressions of the twenty-first century were fairly new to him, but he had to admit he liked them. If there was one good thing about the constant influx of souls in Hell, it was that he was able to keep up with the times by listening to their various speech patterns.

A large, red gecko with black spots skittered down from the ceiling and turned its black eyes on Aiden’s back. Its footprints glowed in the pitch darkness, creating enough light to catch Aiden’s attention.

“There you are,” he said, standing. “I need a mirror.”

The lizard cocked its head at him. Aiden scoffed.

“I don’t owe you a reason. Maybe I just want to remind myself of what I look like today.”

Kairn raised his shoulders in a shrug and turned into a small, round mirror with an ornate gold frame that was encrusted with rubies.

“Dude, come on,” Aiden moaned. “I’m not exactly in the mood.”

A head appeared out of the top of the mirror to look questioningly at Aiden.

“I’m going to get a new assignment today,” he grumbled. “Now could you give me a less girly mirror, please?”

It wasn’t that he didn’t want this assignment – he always craved the brief periods of time when he was allowed to go to Earth – but it was starting to weigh on him. It was so hard to go to Earth, a place that held so much more promise than Hell, only to have it ripped away from him time and time again.

Kairn made a kind of sympathetic clicking noise and then quickly rearranged himself until he was a full-length mirror with a simple, black frame.

“Thanks, buddy.”

Aiden stood in front of the mirror and looked at himself. He did that for about fifteen minutes, standing as still as a statue, so nervous that he found himself holding his breath. His reflection stared back at him with his own golden yellow eyes.

After another five minutes had passed, someone knocked on Aiden’s door so hard that it jostled bits and pieces loose from the stalactites on the ceiling.

“What?” he called.

“You know what,” came a bored, female voice with an unmistakable Irish accent. “Your father’s waiting for you on the other side of the Infinite Cavern. Get your butt up there within the next thirty seconds or I’ll lock you in one of the serial killer cages and watch the carnage unfold while I eat my breakfast.”

Aiden didn’t respond. He wasn’t sure if he didn’t actually prefer that threat to whatever his father had in store for him.

“Move!” the voice on the other side of the door barked.

Aiden sighed at Kairn, who was back to being a giant gecko, and walked out of his room. He didn’t expect anyone to be outside when he got there, and he wasn’t disappointed. The woman on the other side of the door had already flitted away to her next errand.

The dull roar of screams that he had managed to block from his mind until that point rose into a crescendo of rage again. They had sensed his presence and were shouting their disapproval already.

Much as he hated to admit it, Aiden felt for the souls incarcerated in Tor. They wanted to be on Earth as desperately as he did, but whenever one of them was summoned from its cell by a desperate human, it was his job to bring them back. And they loathed him for it. Even though only a select few entered into such pacts, they all knew he was responsible for destroying their chance at freedom.

Aiden took on his true form before he stepped into the Infinite Cavern. The Res-du-Tor were never allowed to show their human faces to the souls, in case one escaped. If the escapee were able to recognize the Re-du-Tor’s human form, it would know exactly who to run from.

Transformation complete, Aiden closed his eyes and took a deep breath before stepping through the archway at the end of the hall. The noise in the Infinite Cavern was deafening, as always. The place was home to hundreds of thousands of souls, or rather, the physical manifestations of people’s worse sides. All the good halves of people’s essence went to Lux, leaving Aiden and Tor to deal with the incarnations of pure evil.

The Infinite Cavern consisted of two walls that were infinitely tall, hence its name. Dug into the walls were large pits that were closed off with metal bars. Inside these cages were the souls. They were forced to stay there until it was time for them to be mixed with one of their good counterparts and reborn.

This process was all Tor’s and Lux’s jurisdiction, though. They were the ones who mixed the good and bad souls together in human babies. The new soul would have no memory of its past lives, and it would be neither good nor bad, since babies had no concept of right or wrong. As the baby grew up, it would develop or diminish the good and bad sides of its soul according to the way it was raised. Aiden’s job had nothing to do with soul production, though; his line of work was in soul retrieval.

Tor had taken to making Aiden cross the Infinite Cavern to receive his assignments. It was supposed to act as a reminder of the consequences that could result from him not doing his job; letting a powerful, evil soul run amok on Earth could, and would, have disastrous results. People could die. The balance of Good and Evil in the world could be tipped. Or worse, humans could find out what really lay beyond Death’s door. The information could drive them crazy, make them commit suicide, make them kill others, stop caring about life.

This didn’t stop Aiden from avoiding his job. It wasn’t like he cared about the humans who were endangered by the soul’s presence.

Aiden tried to look straight ahead and ignore the souls, but they refused to ignore him. Long, boneless arms reached out through the bars of their cages to swipe at his legs, his neck, his wings, anything they thought they could reach. He was safe, though. Part of the magic of the Infinite Cavern made it so they could never reach. No matter how long their limbs got, they would always be just a few inches too short to grab hold of anyone or anything on the outside.

“Going topside again, are you, boy?”

Aiden turned towards what seemed to be the only creature in Hell that wasn’t attempting to strangle him. Interesting that it was talking to him. They didn’t usually bother doing that. Most of them couldn’t, since they hadn’t retained much of their humanity. The shadowy figure sat in the back of his cell, black eyes and unsettlingly toothless grin turned in his direction. Aiden felt like he was staring at a demonic Cheshire cat.

“Don’t get too attached to the fresh air, mind,” the gravelly voice continued as Aiden shook his head and walked on. Its voice followed him as he finished crossing the Infinite Cavern. “No matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, you’re still a prisoner here just like the rest of us. You’re no freer than I am.”

Aiden tried to push the soul’s voice out of his mind. Of course it knew exactly how to push his buttons. It was evil, after all.

He stepped through the doorway at the end of the cavern and followed the curve of the tunnel, past the Door, all the way to where it dead-ended in a large alcove. Then, safely out of sight of the souls, he turned back into a human. His father was waiting for him, his face red with frustration, while some minor servants danced around him trying to get him to sign various forms. Tor’s work was never done. Most of his time was spent approving souls to be reborn on Earth and monitoring the souls’ activity to make sure that no escapes had been made without his noticing.

“You’re trying my patience, Re-du-Tor,” the Devil gritted out. “You have a job to do and I expect you to do it.”

“Yes, Tor,” Aiden sneered. “What will it be this time, Tor?”

“I like that tone. You remind me of your mother. Keep it up.”

He turned to one of his servants and signed yet another form, which disappeared a second later.

“Your new assignment,” he began, “is in the United States. You will find the idiotic human who invoked the Rit-du-Malos, extract the soul, and bring it back. Promptly.”

Aiden couldn’t help but feel intrigued at the prospect of going to the United States. His last assignment had been in…Europe? France maybe. They all tended to blend together. At any rate, he hadn’t seen anything of modern-day America, and it sounded like he could waste some truly glorious time there.

“How long do I have?” he asked.

Tor sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Get rid of that hopeful glint in your eye. I’m giving you a month. One. Month. Just get up there, do your job, and come back. Please. For once.”

“That’s not fair,” Aiden grumbled. “One month isn’t even enough time to stretch my legs.”

“One month is generous,” Tor countered. “I could have given you half that time, but I thought you might want to avoid Luther for once.”

Aiden shuddered. His run-ins with the Re-du-Lux – his counterpart in Heaven, whose job it was to keep Aiden on schedule – were never fun, or painless.

“I just want to get a chance to live a real life,” he pleaded, knowing it would do no good. Tor had heard all his best arguments a million times. “I want to…I don’t know, see movies. Watch TV. Go to school, hang out with kids my age.”

“Your age? Kids your age?” Tor paused to bark out a laugh. “There are no kids your age. You’re three hundred and seventy-five years old!”

“Three seventy-six, dad. You missed my last birthday.”

“The point is, you cannot hope to lead a normal life among mortals, Aiden. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this before it sinks in. You will never be like them. You have powers they can’t even dream of.” Aiden was a little taken aback. Tor’s tone had become almost…fatherly. Before he could think that his father had turned over a new leaf, however, Tor continued what he was saying. “And you have a deadline. One month. No leeway on this one, Aiden. I will have Luther rip your wings off if you’re not back in time.”

“Yes, father,” Aiden said, bowing.

He knew there was no point in arguing further. He also knew he wasn’t going to let Luther, Tor, or any stupid soul land him back in Tor in just one measly month.

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Filed under books, Humor, writing

The Support Hellbound Initiative

We’re going to have a very brief hiatus on the chapter updates for now.  I am clearly unsure where I’m going with the book, and my brother highly recommends outlining, so I’m trying that.  I actually have an outline for chapter eight already, but I don’t want to write it until I know what’s going to happen in subsequent chapters.

But this is good because it gives me a chance to tell you about that project I hinted at a while back.  You know that stupid thing I’m trying?  Basically I am not very happy with the idea of sitting around and doing nothing to help promote or sell my own book.  So I’m starting the Support Hellbound Initiative.  It’s probably too little too late, but I’ve got to try something.

The short summary of the project is this: I’m going to collect signatures, not unlike signatures for a petition.  The signatures will be on cards, and the cards will be arranged in a visual type of way.  Updates will happen on this blog, and you can be a part of it.

Here’s how:

Step 1 – Read all these steps carefully.

Step 2 – After you have read all the steps, read the excerpt of my novel Hellbound at the bottom of this post.

Step 3 – If you like what you read, or you think someone else would like it, or you at least acknowledge that the writing is decent, then please send me an email at WriteRightWithBex@gmail.com.  In that email, please provide your name and mailing address.

Step 4 – I will mail you an envelope.

Large Envelope

Inside that envelope will be a smaller envelope.

Both Envelopes

Inside that smaller envelope will be a card.

Envelopes and cards

The card will look like this.

card

Sign the card.

Signed Card

Personalize it a bit if you want to.  You can draw a butterfly or sign in rainbow.  I only ask that the words and signature are visible, and that you put nothing obscene on the card.  We are all adults here, after all.

Step 5 – You will notice that the smaller envelope is what we in the business call an “SASE.”  Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.  Basically it means that I will do all the work for you.  All you have to do is sign the card, seal it in the smaller envelope, write a return address if you want, and stick that sucker in the mail.

Small envelope + writing

Step 6 (Optional) – Tell your friends!  Tell your family!  Tell your neighbors in between asking them to pick up after their dog and requesting that they stop having loud parties on weekday nights.  If you feel there are other people in your life who would be amenable to signing a card, feel free to ask me in your email for multiple cards.  I’m going to cap it at ten, since you know…you gotta draw the line somewhere.  But you can request up to ten cards.

Step 7 (DEFINITELY NOT OPTIONAL) – READ THIS REASSURING DISCLAIMER:

First of all, I am not a company.  I am not a corporation.  I am not an evil CEO or even a kind CEO.  I’m just one person trying to make a living doing something I love.  I am not going to sell your address or personal information to the highest bidder, or use the information you provide for ANYTHING other than mailing you these cards.  Also, just to point it out, you’re going to have my address, too.  So it’s a fair exchange.  Another also…please don’t do anything weird with my address.  Because I’m not going to do anything weird with yours.

Second, signing this card is in NO WAY legally binding. I CAN NOT use your signature on a business card to force you to purchase a copy of my book should it get published.

That being said, if you do help to get my book published, I thank you with every fiber of my being. I mean that. Furthermore, if you help my book get published and purchase a copy of the novel…well…I have no more fibers of my being to thank you with. Just know that you have earned my eternal gratitude.

Finally, a reminder: I wrote Hellbound. Don’t steal it please. I’m taking a big risk sharing even this much of it with you.

Step 8: This isn’t actually a step.  I just want to let you know that this should be fun for everyone.  So I’m going to offer a little bonus gift (like a drawing or something) to the first person who writes in for a card, and then every tenth person after that.  The exciting thing is you won’t know if you qualify as one of those people until you open the envelope.  So that could be fun right?  Like a game of chance.

Also, anyone who sends me ten signed signature cards will have the option of requesting a signed, laminated print of one of my Writer’s Block comics.  If you want.  You have to send the cards first, but if I receive ten from you I’ll email you and ask you if you want a print.  I know I have no way of knowing if real people signed cards or if you just signed ten yourself, but hopefully I can trust you to be honest.  Sound fair?

Okay that’s it!  Thank you for reading this far.  Here is the excerpt of the most recent version of Hellbound:

Prologue

A quiet night in September finds a pair of bloodied hands drawing occult symbols in a secluded plot of dirt. Not a sound can be heard except for erratic, frenzied breathing.

Nervous thoughts compete for attention.

This is so wrong.

It won’t even work.

It’s a school night.

I should be sleeping.

But it could make everything better. There must have been a reason for finding this book. It was meant to be.

The symbols are complete. What next?

Smudged fingers hover over the yellowed pages.

The pentacle…on the forehead. Sweat mixes with blood and dirt as it is drawn.

The hands drop. Waiting.

The pages are consulted again. It should have worked.

Silence. Pressing silence.

It didn’t work. Of course it didn’t work. It was ridiculous to think it would.

“You have freed me. In exchange I am required to offer you one service.”

The voice sends a jolt down the spine; it came out of nowhere. In the middle of all the symbols on the ground is now a tall, dark figure. A living shadow. Its cavernous eyes are cast down on the quivering human before it, waiting. Expectant.

Quickly, the pages are consulted again. The required response. The contract must be completed!

“I…I understand my part in this. I accept your boon with gratitude.”

The creature gives the slightest of nods.

Dry lips are licked.

“This is what I need you to do…”

 

Chapter One

Aiden woke up to the sound of screams, as usual. They sounded more outraged than normal, which he knew meant bad news for him. He blinked and stretched, stood up and shook himself. It was dark, and he had no idea what time it was. Clocks were hard to come by in Hell. Working clocks even harder. Without the need for a light source, he found his way to his dresser, pulled out clothes, put them on.

It was the same old routine. Strangely enough, he knew something was going to break up the monotony of his life very soon, and it was that fact that made him dread leaving his room. So he did what any normal teenage boy would do – he stalled. Running his fingers through his light brown hair, he looked absently around his room for a mirror before he remembered he didn’t have one.

“Kairn?”

He stooped to look under his bed as he called his friend’s name again.

“I know you’re here, Kairn. Quit dicking around.”

The expressions of the twenty-first century were fairly new to him, but he had to admit he liked them. If there was one good thing about the constant influx of souls in Hell, it was that he was able to keep up with the times by listening to their various speech patterns.

A large, red gecko with black spots skittered down from the ceiling and turned its black eyes on Aiden’s back. Its footprints glowed in the pitch darkness, creating enough light to catch Aiden’s attention.

“There you are,” he said, standing. “I need a mirror.”

The lizard cocked its head at him. Aiden scoffed.

“I don’t owe you a reason. Maybe I just want to remind myself of what I look like today.”

Kairn raised his shoulders in a shrug and turned into a small, round mirror with an ornate gold frame that was encrusted with rubies.

“Dude, come on,” Aiden moaned. “I’m not exactly in the mood.”

A head appeared out of the top of the mirror to look questioningly at Aiden.

“I’m going to get a new assignment today,” he grumbled. “Now could you give me a less girly mirror, please?”

It wasn’t that he didn’t want this assignment – he always craved the brief periods of time when he was allowed to go to Earth – but it was starting to weigh on him. It was so hard to go to Earth, a place that held so much more promise than Hell, only to have it ripped away from him time and time again.

Kairn made a kind of sympathetic clicking noise and then quickly rearranged himself until he was a full-length mirror with a simple, black frame.

“Thanks, buddy.”

Aiden stood in front of the mirror and looked at himself. He did that for about fifteen minutes, standing as still as a statue, so nervous that he found himself holding his breath. His reflection stared back at him with his own golden yellow eyes.

After another five minutes had passed, someone knocked on Aiden’s door so hard that it jostled bits and pieces loose from the stalactites on the ceiling.

“What?” he called.

“You know what,” came a bored, female voice with an unmistakable Irish accent. “Your father’s waiting for you on the other side of the Infinite Cavern. Get your butt up there within the next thirty seconds or I’ll lock you in one of the serial killer cages and watch the carnage unfold while I eat my breakfast.”

Aiden didn’t respond. He wasn’t sure if he didn’t actually prefer that threat to whatever his father had in store for him.

“Move!” the voice on the other side of the door barked.

Aiden sighed at Kairn, who was back to being a giant gecko, and walked out of his room. He didn’t expect anyone to be outside when he got there, and he wasn’t disappointed. The woman on the other side of the door had already flitted away to her next errand.

The dull roar of screams that he had managed to block from his mind until that point rose into a crescendo of rage again. They had sensed his presence and were shouting their disapproval already.

Much as he hated to admit it, Aiden felt for the souls incarcerated in Tor. They wanted to be on Earth as desperately as he did, but whenever one of them was summoned from its cell by a desperate human, it was his job to bring them back. And they loathed him for it. Even though only a select few entered into such pacts, they all knew he was responsible for destroying their chance at freedom.

Aiden took on his true form before he stepped into the Infinite Cavern. The Res-du-Tor were never allowed to show their human faces to the souls, in case one escaped. If the escapee were able to recognize the Re-du-Tor’s human form, it would know exactly who to run from.

Transformation complete, Aiden closed his eyes and took a deep breath before stepping through the archway at the end of the hall. The noise in the Infinite Cavern was deafening, as always. The place was home to hundreds of thousands of souls, or rather, the physical manifestations of people’s worse sides. All the good halves of people’s essence went to Lux, leaving Aiden and Tor to deal with the incarnations of pure evil.

The Infinite Cavern consisted of two walls that were infinitely tall, hence its name. Dug into the walls were large pits that were closed off with metal bars. Inside these cages were the souls. They were forced to stay there until it was time for them to be mixed with one of their good counterparts and reborn.

This process was all Tor’s and Lux’s jurisdiction, though. They were the ones who mixed the good and bad souls together in human babies. The new soul would have no memory of its past lives, and it would be neither good nor bad, since babies had no concept of right or wrong. As the baby grew up, it would develop or diminish the good and bad sides of its soul according to the way it was raised. Aiden’s job had nothing to do with soul production, though; his line of work was in soul retrieval.

Tor had taken to making Aiden cross the Infinite Cavern to receive his assignments. It was supposed to act as a reminder of the consequences that could result from him not doing his job; letting a powerful, evil soul run amok on Earth could, and would, have disastrous results. People could die. The balance of Good and Evil in the world could be tipped. Or worse, humans could find out what really lay beyond Death’s door. The information could drive them crazy, make them commit suicide, make them kill others, stop caring about life.

This didn’t stop Aiden from avoiding his job. It wasn’t like he cared about the humans who were endangered by the soul’s presence.

Aiden tried to look straight ahead and ignore the souls, but they refused to ignore him. Long, boneless arms reached out through the bars of their cages to swipe at his legs, his neck, his wings, anything they thought they could reach. He was safe, though. Part of the magic of the Infinite Cavern made it so they could never reach. No matter how long their limbs got, they would always be just a few inches too short to grab hold of anyone or anything on the outside.

“Going topside again, are you, boy?”

Aiden turned towards what seemed to be the only creature in Hell that wasn’t attempting to strangle him. Interesting that it was talking to him. They didn’t usually bother doing that. Most of them couldn’t, since they hadn’t retained much of their humanity. The shadowy figure sat in the back of his cell, black eyes and unsettlingly toothless grin turned in his direction. Aiden felt like he was staring at a demonic Cheshire cat.

“Don’t get too attached to the fresh air, mind,” the gravelly voice continued as Aiden shook his head and walked on. Its voice followed him as he finished crossing the Infinite Cavern. “No matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, you’re still a prisoner here just like the rest of us. You’re no freer than I am.”

Aiden tried to push the soul’s voice out of his mind. Of course it knew exactly how to push his buttons. It was evil, after all.

He stepped through the doorway at the end of the cavern and followed the curve of the tunnel, past the Door, all the way to where it dead-ended in a large alcove. Then, safely out of sight of the souls, he turned back into a human. His father was waiting for him, his face red with frustration, while some minor servants danced around him trying to get him to sign various forms. Tor’s work was never done. Most of his time was spent approving souls to be reborn on Earth and monitoring the souls’ activity to make sure that no escapes had been made without his noticing.

“You’re trying my patience, Re-du-Tor,” the Devil gritted out. “You have a job to do and I expect you to do it.”

“Yes, Tor,” Aiden sneered. “What will it be this time, Tor?”

“I like that tone. You remind me of your mother. Keep it up.”

He turned to one of his servants and signed yet another form, which disappeared a second later.

“Your new assignment,” he began, “is in the United States. You will find the idiotic human who invoked the Rit-du-Malos, extract the soul, and bring it back. Promptly.”

Aiden couldn’t help but feel intrigued at the prospect of going to the United States. His last assignment had been in…Europe? France maybe. They all tended to blend together. At any rate, he hadn’t seen anything of modern-day America, and it sounded like he could waste some truly glorious time there.

“How long do I have?” he asked.

Tor sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Get rid of that hopeful glint in your eye. I’m giving you a month. One. Month. Just get up there, do your job, and come back. Please. For once.”

“That’s not fair,” Aiden grumbled. “One month isn’t even enough time to stretch my legs.”

“One month is generous,” Tor countered. “I could have given you half that time, but I thought you might want to avoid Luther for once.”

Aiden shuddered. His run-ins with the Re-du-Lux – his counterpart in Heaven, whose job it was to keep Aiden on schedule – were never fun, or painless.

“I just want to get a chance to live a real life,” he pleaded, knowing it would do no good. Tor had heard all his best arguments a million times. “I want to…I don’t know, see movies. Watch TV. Go to school, hang out with kids my age.”

“Your age? Kids your age?” Tor paused to bark out a laugh. “There are no kids your age. You’re three hundred and seventy-five years old!”

“Three seventy-six, dad. You missed my last birthday.”

“The point is, you cannot hope to lead a normal life among mortals, Aiden. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this before it sinks in. You will never be like them. You have powers they can’t even dream of.” Aiden was a little taken aback. Tor’s tone had become almost…fatherly. Before he could think that his father had turned over a new leaf, however, Tor continued what he was saying. “And you have a deadline. One month. No leeway on this one, Aiden. I will have Luther rip your wings off if you’re not back in time.”

“Yes, father,” Aiden said, bowing.

He knew there was no point in arguing further. He also knew he wasn’t going to let Luther, Tor, or any stupid soul land him back in Tor in just one measly month.

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Filed under books, Humor, writing

Chapter Seven

Okay so I’m going to freely admit that I have no idea where I’m going with this book.  My method of writing is to just keep going until stuff comes to me, and as it comes to me, I write it down.  The course of the story is constantly changing.  That being said, I think I have some ideas.  It’s just hard keeping up with my own brain.  So maybe this chapter will be rushed and weird.  I don’t know.  I guess all I’m doing is giving the usual disclaimer: This is very raw and new!  As well as largely unedited.  Please keep this in mind.

Okay here are some links for easy navigation to previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Five

And nowwww:

Chapter-Seven

It took Paxton just over a month before he was able to pin Icthi in combat training. Even then she insisted he had caught her right as she was about to sneeze. Rix later reassured him that she always made up an excuse when they beat her. It was a rite of passage.

“Also, don’t ever think for a second that she couldn’t kill you if she wanted to,” he’d said. “Icthi is vicious. Trust me when I say she holds back during training sessions.”

“Noted,” was Paxton’s reply.

Beating Icthi in a sparring match meant he had finally been cleared for field work. He definitely felt prepared. By that time he was shooting with 92% accuracy, he had an extensive knowledge of emergency procedures and protocol, and Rix had drilled all kinds of first-aid into him.

He was raring to get on the road and put his new skills and knowledge to the test.

“I’ve got a great first assignment for you,” Rix said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I came up with it myself. Korse already cleared it.”

“What is it?”

“I’ll tell you in the morning. Pick you up at your place. Dawn.”

“Dawn’s fine, but I’ll probably be at Kar-Yan’s.”

“Why?” Paxton just looked at him. “Oh…I thought you were hooking up with D’mia.”

“That was last week.”

Rix gave him a look.

“What?” Paxton asked.

“Nothing. Just didn’t take you for the type of guy to work out his problems…you know…vaginally.”

Paxton shrugged. “They come on to me, mostly. A few of them make me describe in detail what it was like to take out that Goliath’s eyes before throwing me into the bed. It’s kinda…unsettling if I think about it too much.”

“It takes a certain type of person to fit into this job,” Rix agreed.

“Yeah…I just don’t know if I should be worried that I seem to fit in so well.”

“Hmm…yeah. I never thought about that either,” he replied, though Rix didn’t seem to be too bothered by it at all.

They fell into silence as they exited HQ and made their way to the apartment block. Rix shrugged as they approached his building.

“Sex now. Worry later,” he said. “How about that?”

“Works for me,” Paxton agreed. “See you tomorrow.”

They parted ways, and Paxton spent the night parting Kar-Yan’s thighs. She was a ferocious lover. He was getting used to losing himself in locking his body with hers…or D’mia’s, or whoever happened to offer.

Still, Rix’s words echoed in his head.

Didn’t take you for the type of guy to work out his problems…you know…vaginally.

Before beating the Goliath in the arena, he hadn’t thought of himself that way either. But here he was.

“Where is your mind?” Kar-Yan demanded from beside him. She was watching him, her gray sheets tangled around her semi-transparent legs.

“Right here,” Paxton murmured, and proceeded to lose himself in her for the second time that night.

 

Someone was knocking on the door.

Paxton groaned and rolled over, his hand coming to rest on Kar-Yan’s soft hip. He tried to go back to sleep, but the person who was knocking was persistent.

“Tell them they have one minute to get out of here before I start breaking bones,” Kar- Yan muttered sleepily.

Paxton groaned and rolled out of bed, pulling on his pants as he headed for the door. Rix was on the other side of it, smiling mischievously.

“Late night?”

“I hate you,” Paxton said.

“Good to hear. Get dressed. It’s time to hit the road.”

Paxton’s response was unintelligible, but he retreated to slip the rest of his clothing and armor on. Kar-Yan was already asleep again. He didn’t even think about waking her to say good-bye.

Rix led him down to a fancy transport, one that had actual seats and looked like it had been built within the past two years.

“It’s going to be a long trip,” Rix explained, seeing Paxton’s raised eyebrows. “I’ll explain on the way.”

They mounted the transport and Paxton took a seat while Rix programmed in coordinates. A moment later, the vehicle jumped to life and began skating down the road, a familiar whirring sound floating from the engine. That sound still made Paxton’s stomach tighten. Force of habit.

“So…” Paxton said as Rix sat down beside him.

“Right, our assignment,” he said, and handed Paxton a file. “Plug that in to your monitor.”

Paxton did as he was told, using the portable computer screen that Rix had given him a few days ago. Every Enforcer had one. It was mainly used to store information and send communications. The images that popped up in front of him now were of a farm and the family that ran it.

“Whicker Farm, up in Sector Seven,” Rix explained. “They’re in charge of all the grain that gets shipped to our HQ, as well as the headquarters in Sectors Five, Seven, and Eight.”

“Okay. What about it?”

“Well…I just happened to be unloading our monthly shipment a couple days ago when I noticed it seemed lighter than usual. So I went back and checked the logs, and sure enough we were being shorted about two kilos. I dug further and found out that this lightening of our shipment has been going on for the better part of a year. They never left out so much that we would miss it, but over time they began to skim off more and more. Just a little bit at a time. When I figured that out, I made some calls. Turns out the HQs in Five, Seven, and Eight have also been receiving a lighter load, though they didn’t notice until I pointed it out. Which is how I got the honor of taking my new partner around to the farm to settle the issue.”

Paxton nodded. This was standard stuff, as far as he could tell, although…

“They had to know they’d get caught,” he said, thinking out loud.

“Bad drought these past couple of years,” Rix told him. “They’re required to send us the agreed upon amount, regardless of if they have enough left over to feed themselves. I imagine they got desperate.”

“Ah.”

“Oh don’t get that look on your face.”

“What look?”

“That weird sympathetic one, like you feel bad for the trinks. It’s not like their lives are that terrible. They get to live on and work their own land, rather than moving their huge family into one tiny, little hovel. It’s a privilege. And they’re abusing it.”

“Right.”

Paxton sat back and scanned the files Rix had given him. Whicker Farm was run by Nano Whicker and his wife Tru. They had seven children. Five daughters, two sons. The eldest daughter was married and had two children of her own. They all lived together in the farmhouse, which was in no way a stately manor, but was certainly better than a house in one of the cell blocks. As Rix had said.

The trip was long. Paxton watched the sunrise over his left shoulder as they headed north toward the farm.

When they arrived, they immediately caught the attention of the group of people who were working the fields. A couple of them – young children – dropped their tools and ran into the house. By the time Paxton and Rix had disembarked from the transport, an older man was walking toward them from the farmhouse. He was followed by a woman, his wife, who was trying and failing to look calm and composed.

“Morning,” Farmer Whicker said as he got closer. “What can I do for you, officers?”

“Hey,” Rix said, all friendliness and smiles. “How are you doing today, sir? Got a minute to talk?”

“Sure do,” Whicker replied easily, though Paxton noticed his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed.

“Great. Do you wanna do this inside?”

“We’re staying right here,” Paxton said quietly, though both Rix and Whicker heard him just fine.

“Whoops, guess my partner says we have to stay outside,” Rix said. “Is that alright with you?”

“Absolutely,” Whicker said. “What can I help you with?”

“Well, Mr. Whicker, it seems a couple of Enforcer Headquarters have noticed a slight…decline in their grain supply over the month.”

“Did they now? That is odd.”

“Isn’t it?” Rix replied cheerily. “Thing is…you’re the only one supplying us with the grain, so I was wondering if maybe you could help us figure out what was happening to it.”

“Sure wish I could, but I’ve gotta say this is coming as a surprise to me.”

Rix sighed, still smiling. “That is a pickle, isn’t it?” His blaster was in his hand now, though Paxton honestly never noticed him taking it out of the holster. Farmer Whicker sure noticed it, though. “You sure you don’t remember what happened to it?”

“No, sir. I’d tell you if I did. We always carefully measure –”

“Oh, for the sake of the Overseer!” Paxton growled impatiently. He pulled out his own blaster and whipped it across the old man’s face, knocking him to the ground. “This is a ridiculous game.” He leveled his blaster at the farmer’s forehead. “You have three to five seconds to tell me what happened to our grain, depending on how generous I’m feeling right now.”

“I s-swear I d-don’t know!” the old man stuttered, clutching his hand to his bleeding forehead.

Paxton shot him through the shin. The farmer howled with pain as his wife let out a shriek. Someone in the distance yelled, “Da!”

“I’m not going to ask again,” Paxton said. “Next time you lie, I’ll take the other leg.”

“Aw, shoot. You better tell him,” Rix said amicably. Paxton glanced at him for just a second. Had Rix expected him to do this? Had he wanted him to do this?

“I…I d-don’t…”

Paxton rolled his eyes and moved to shoot out the farmer’s other leg, but then Tru Whicker shouted out.

“It was me! Overseer have mercy! I’m so sorry! It was me. We were…we were hungry…”

She ran up to her husband and dropped to her knees, shielding him with her body.

“Fine,” Paxton said, blasting a hole in her head. Her body slumped over while the old farmer screamed. “That was easy.” He raised his voice. “Next time you skimp on the shipment, we’ll level the farm. Yeah? Any questions?”

Everybody was too busy crying or shouting or cowering to respond, but he knew he’d gotten the message across. He holstered his blaster and turned back to the transport.

“Oh, uh…actually,” Rix said, causing Paxton to turn back. “Sorry, one more thing. I know you’re mourning, but we’re going to need seven kilos of grain delivered by tomorrow morning. To each of the HQs you’ve shorted, actually. So that’ll be…twenty-eight kilos total. Sound fair?”

Farmer Whicker was too busy sobbing and clutching his dead wife’s body to be of any help. Instead, a young woman approached from the field, getting close enough to them to be heard and not a step closer.

“We don’t have that much right now. It’s been a hard summer. If you gave us a week or two maybe…”

“Oh, gee…I don’t know,” Rix said, scratching his head with the side of his blaster. “I kinda promised the other guys at Five, Seven, and Eight that we’d have you get the grain to them by tomorrow. So, yeah…you know…do that. Or we’ll kill you all, like my partner said. You know where your farm is right now? The house and all the fields? Those will just be a pile of ash. And there won’t be much left of you besides your charred skeletons, you know? So that’s your choice. We’ll see you tomorrow. Or not. Either way, have a good night, folks!”

Rix practically skipped back to the transport.

The moment they were on the road, Rix let out a whoop and slapped his knee.

“Oh, Lord and Maker, that was fun. Did you see the looks on their faces? And then you just took out his leg. Just like that! You’re a natural.”

“I wouldn’t call it fun…”

“Oh, it’s the best job in the universe,” Rix countered. “Nothing like it. Nothing like the fear.”

“You think they’ll get the grain to us in time?”

“Dunno. We’ll probably kill them all regardless. It’ll be better that way. We can start fresh. Move some other impossibly large family onto the land.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“Oh, you wouldn’t think so, but don’t forget we’re going to leave all their bodies right there. Just picture it: The new family moves in, thinking they’ve stepped up in the world. Maybe they’re already formulating their own plans about how to screw us over. Then, one by one, they start to notice all the bodies of the previous tenants. Suddenly rebelling doesn’t seem so appealing, you know? It keeps ‘em in line real good.”

“You’ve done this once or twice before I take it?”

Rix raised an eyebrow. “What? You think this is the first family that thought they could pull one over on us? This time it was wifey, but before it was a cousin. Before that it was the father. Next time it’ll be the one-year-old.”

“Sounds tiring.”

“That’s because you’re a big ol’ cynic. You need to have more fun. Fun that isn’t between the legs of a woman.”

“You want me to try getting between the legs of a man?”

“Hey, if that’s what you’re in to.” He fell silent for a moment, leaning back and crossing his arms behind his head as he thought. “How about this: It’s still early. Let’s go patrol a bit. That’s about the funnest thing I can think of, brother. I tell ya. Just watching ‘em soil themselves. The children all running inside.”

Rix went quiet again, no doubt lost in pleasant memories of striking fear into the hearts of the citizens.

Paxton shrugged. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what it’d be like to go on patrol. He still remembered running inside as a kid every time he heard an Enforcer transport whiz by. It would be strange to be on the other side of it.

Rix called in to HQ to update them on the farm situation and let them know that he and Paxton were going to patrol.

“There’s not much to it,” he said after he’d ended the call. “Just walk around and look menacing.”

“I think I can manage that.”

“I know you can. Seriously. I think I’m in love with you.”

“Rix, you are sick. You know our love can never be.”

“A man can dream.”

Paxton allowed himself to laugh.

“Here,” Rix said, reaching into a compartment in the floor of the transport. “These ones look more menacing. You fired one yet?”

Paxton accepted an MWt 650 Rifle and looked it over. “No, but I’m sure I can figure it out.”

“I, for one, believe in you. Come on, let’s go have some fun.”

Paxton shrugged and slung the rifle over his shoulder, resting it there as he walked beside Rix down the first block.

It was deserted. But that was expected. The sound of their transport would have been enough to send everyone scrambling for their homes.

The next block over had some more movement. There were children playing in their yards, a few hushed conversations going on between neighbors. Everything fell silent as they walked by, of course. Rix was eating it up, but Paxton wasn’t sure he liked seeing the fear in their eyes.

Over the next few minutes, Paxton allowed Rix to lead him around one corner, then another, going down block after block. He saw where his sadistic partner was leading him, but he didn’t say anything until they were almost there.

“I don’t exactly want to scare the shit out of my old neighbors,” he muttered. “They were always good to me.”

“But that’s just it. They need to know that you’re not one of them now. For all you know they think that you joined up with the Enforcers just to infiltrate us from the inside. You know, like my last partner tried to do? They might believe you’re on their side.”

“I doubt it.”

“Well, let’s just see.”

Something felt wrong. Maybe it was the way Rix had led him right back to where he’d grown up for his first patrol, or the edge in his voice when he talked about his old partner’s betrayal. It was like an itching in the back of Paxton’s mind. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but suddenly he didn’t trust that his partner’s motivations were what he said they were.

They turned down Paxton’s old street as he moved the rifle from over his shoulder to rest the end of it in his left palm.

He saw some new faces in the neighborhood, which made him wonder what had happened to the old ones.

Maybe someone dressed like me dragged them away in the middle of the night.

This wasn’t the first time Paxton wondered if he’d ever be able to use his position to find out what had happened to his father. He didn’t believe for a second that he’d simply abandoned Paxton and his mother. His father, in Paxton’s limited memories, had always been kind. Loyal. Protective.

But he couldn’t look up the file. The moment Korse saw Paxton sticking his nose into confidential reports, he’d be dead. There would be no trial. Just the business end of Korse’s blaster.

“You look distracted,” Rix commented casually. “Having second thoughts?”

“What? No. Why would you even ask that?”

Rix shrugged. “You used to live here. If this is too much for you, say the word and we’ll head back to HQ.”

“It’s not too much for me. I killed a Goliath to be here.”

“Oo, yeah. Wanna describe that in detail for me so I can get off?”

“Shut up.”

Again Paxton found himself smiling, laughing. Until something squishy and wet struck his left cheek, wiping the smile off his face. He whipped around to stare at his assailant, an older woman who had another rotten fruit of some kind clutched in her hand.

“How dare you show your face here?” she seethed.

Paxton only vaguely recognized this woman. She had lived a few houses down from him, maybe. Her eyes were full of hatred and something deeper. Betrayal perhaps. By now a few fearful gazes were turned their way. Meanwhile Rix’s eyes were boring into the back of Paxton’s head. His partner was waiting for something to happen. Suddenly this felt like a test. Maybe it had been all along.

Paxton reached up slowly to wipe the sloppy goo off his face. The woman responded by lobbing a second projectile. He batted it out of the air with his rifle, then aimed the weapon at her chest.

He wondered if he should fire. Just kill her and be done with it. That seemed like an awfully high death toll for his first day. He glanced at Rix with a question in his eyes. His partner spoke up, helping him out.

“Assaulting an Enforcer. That’s worth some time in the tombs, don’t you think?”

“Absolutely,” Paxton said, grateful for the direction.

He lowered his weapon and reached for the pair of cuffs that were hanging from his hip. The woman spat at his feet as he approached.

“How powerful you must feel,” she seethed. “Arresting a defenseless old woman.”

“I’m arresting a person who broke the law,” he said simply, fitting the cuffs around her wrists.

Paxton had been to the tombs only once before, back when he was touring all of the Enforcer facilities with Rix. He had expected screams, rattling chains, retching, maybe even the crack of a whip. Instead, there was only silence.

The quiet was almost unbearable, welcoming them with an icy grip as they led the old woman down its halls.

The tombs were immaculate. Pure white walls, not a spot on them. They walked past rows of cells, each only wide enough to fit an average-sized person. Paxton knew his head would brush the ceiling if he was standing in one, his shoulders would be pressed up against the walls. It was meant to be a tight fit. And if it wasn’t, well…they could change that.

A guard had welcomed them when they walked in, asking them to log the woman’s crime in his monitor. The woman’s ID card was swiped to get her into the system, and then they were ushered through the door, down some steps, and into a long hallway. It was just one of many. The Tombs went deep underground, featuring a thousand identical cells.

They were directed to an empty cell by one of the guards, who then helped to fit the woman into it. She was forced to sit, then the walls were adjusted via a control panel on the outside of the cell. Once they were pressed tightly against her sides, her arms and thighs were shackled together, using a pair of special cuffs – also adjustable – that were attached to the seat. In this way, she was prevented from standing or adjusting her position in any way.

The last thing the guard did was attach a small device to the woman’s temple. She had shown no fear as they’d led her into the cell. Now, though, her eyes opened wide. Her mouth opened in a silent scream.

“What’s it doing to her?” Paxton whispered, his voice hoarse. The clinically clean, quiet place was starting to get to him.

Rix shrugged. “From what I hear, it does something different to everybody. Something about mental pain over physical. The guy who invented those things was…unhinged, to say the least. Maybe he tested them on himself. Naturally we paid him a bundle. You wanna try one on for size?”

“No, thank you.”

The door was closed and locked, blocking the woman’s silent terror from his view.

How long she stayed in there would be up to Korse. After he reviewed her crime, he would decide on what he deemed an appropriate sentence length. The guards would receive a message from him sometime in the next day or two letting them know when she was to be released.

The two Enforcers left the way they came, and took their transport back to HQ.

Paxton immediately went to track down Kar-Yan, but couldn’t find her. While he was looking, he ran into an Enforcer by the name of Ulia. They hadn’t done much more than exchange names in the time since Paxton had started, but now he looked at her with new perspective. She wasn’t shapely, like he was used to, but she was clearly strong. She was thick. And she was a head taller than him. Pretty face, too. Strong features.

“Looking for someone?” she asked, her voice deep and throaty.

“I think I found her,” he replied.

She looked at him, sizing him up, seeing the frenzied look in his eyes. Then she cracked a half smile.

Paxton didn’t let her sleep that night.

 

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In Lieu of a Chapter

I have to admit that I have not written chapter seven yet, though I fully intend to.  I want to get it down soon, but unfortunately this weekend is not looking like it’s going to be a good one for writing.  See, tonight I work.  Then tomorrow I work a double shift.  And, you guessed it, Sunday I’m working a double shift.

Waitressing is serious business.

That being said, I’m going to hint at something I’ve put into the works.

It’s essentially the second stupidest thing I’ve ever done, since first prize for stupidity still goes to this thing right here.  But it all stemmed from me sitting home alone, wondering, waiting, reading rejection emails, and then waiting again.

I can’t sit by and take a passive position in this publishing process anymore.  It feels so weird.  Like…I wrote the book, and now whatever happens next with it is completely out of my hands?

I don’t think so.

So I developed a stupid plan.  And part of that plan involves sharing the first few pages of the most recent version of Hellbound.  With my agent’s blessing of course.  I will be sharing it here, and I will be sharing it with friends, family, and coworkers.  And finally, hopefully, I will be sharing it with complete strangers in a public setting.  Not sure how yet, but I’m gonna figure it out.

Finally, if people read and like the excerpt, I am going to be offering them the chance to sign off on it, so to speak.  I have ordered some little cards that simply say, “I support Hellbound by Rebecca Leviton.”  I will be collecting signed cards like signatures for a petition, only not that.

The cards will be arriving in about a week, so I’m going to be posting that excerpt of Hellbound soon, as well as more information about the cards.  If this seems intriguing to you, as I hope it does, then keep an eye out.  Like I said, it’s probably a stupid idea, but it’s better than sitting around waiting for other people to decide my fate.

Until such time as the cards arrive (and after they arrive, too), I will still be trying to post chapters of this new book, but first I gotta survive this weekend.

That is all!

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Chapter Six

What’s this?  I’m back??  Yes, dear readers, I am.  I have returned from vacation victorious!  I slayed and conquered and roared my triumph up to the night.

What?  That’s how you do vacations, right?

I’m normal!

All said, it took me a while to get back on track with my life and my writing.  But now I can say that I am…getting there.  I at least managed to get Chapter Six down on paper, though I’m not sure how good it is.  Similarly, I have an idea of where I’m going with Chapter Seven, but I’m not sure how good that will be either.  I believe you are sensing a pattern.  Just have mercy is all I’m saying.  This stuff is all so raw still.

If you missed any previous chapters, here is a link that you can easily navigate from:

Chapter One

And nooowwww…

Chapter-Six

By the time she turned three, Joss’ hands were flying; she had proved to be a very talkative child.

It had started with just a couple signs. Two taps on the top of her head with the flat of her hand meant she was calling for daddy, whom she’d never seen without his brimmed hat.

Touching the lips meant hungry.

Closing her eyes and putting her hand over them meant sleepy, nap, or sleep, depending on the context.

Rath picked up on all of this as quickly as she imagined it. When she created a new word, he always confirmed it with her first before sharing with the group.

Like when she’d discovered she had the ability to fly.

At four years of age, she was in a very inquisitive phase. The concept of hearing fascinated her. Every move she made, every action she took, was followed with the same question.

Two head taps, pointing, hands going from closed to open by the ears, palms placed against each other and rubbed back and forth.

– Daddy, this noise make? –

It didn’t matter what she was doing – eating, lying down in bed, jumping up and down, bothering Molt – she was always asking. And Rath would always patiently reply.

– Yes, sweet. That noise make. –

Then she’d let out her weird little giggle and ran off to do something else.

One morning, when Rath came into the room, she ran up and jumped on him. He lifted her into his arms and allowed her to kiss him on the cheek. Then of course she leaned back and asked – Daddy, this noise make? –

In order to reply, he had to set her down. It took him until he’d made it to the sign for “noise” to realize that her feet had never reached the ground. Following his alarmed look, Joss looked down at the ground, which was several inches beneath her bare feet.

She squealed with delight and plopped to the ground, falling unsteadily onto her rump. Then she jumped up and began floating again, rising up several feet into the air this time.

– Sweet, what you do? – he asked slowly.

She had replied with a new sign. Essentially the word “up” repeated twice in quick succession.

– You up up? – he confirmed.

– Yes yes! – she signed back excitedly as she began floating around the room. Then, still hovering, she turned to look at him. – Daddy! Daddy! This noise make? –

Rath recovered from his surprise as quickly as he could and replied. – No, sweet. That no noise make. –

She let out another delighted squeal and began floating all over the room. It turned out that she could only sustain her flight for short periods of time, but that didn’t stop her from landing and taking off over and over again until she was exhaustedly signing that it was time for a nap.

Now, several years later, Joss awoke in her bed. They had recently moved into an old storehouse of sorts, but only after they had spent months staking out the area to make sure that it was, without a doubt, abandoned.

Joss had her own room, which she’d fashioned for herself out of old sheets and some empty boxes they’d found. Thea had followed suit. Then the twins. Molt had made himself a hammock in the rafters, and Het-Lei tended to fall asleep wherever he pleased.

Rath always slept on a cot by the door, so if trouble was coming he’d be the first to hear it.

As Joss rolled out of bed, her fingers automatically found her bandu pole. It was always within arm’s reach, if it wasn’t already in her grasp. She got hold of it and rolled carefully out of bed, keeping the end of the pole pressed to the floor. The vibrations she caused as she touched the floor were barely noticeable. She was getting better at this.

Keeping one hand rested gently on the center of her neck, she began to move out of her room. The pole let her know that no one but her was moving nearby. Maybe the others were already awake. She couldn’t tell how late it was, though she was sure that Thea would still be asleep, since her friend had a penchant for sleeping in.

Joss continued to sneak toward the main room, where she glimpsed Rath and Kanid conversing by their makeshift kitchen. It must have been earlier than she thought, since they appeared to be the only two awake.

Kanid was facing in her direction, but Rath’s back was to her. She smiled mischievously, keeping the fingers of her free hand on her throat. Rath had taught her to do this so she could feel when she accidentally made sounds, or when she successfully produced some after trying. Now she was trying to make sure that not a single thing would give her away as she snuck up on her father.

She moved her feet gently across the floor, sliding them more than lifting them. Kanid glimpsed her as she moved out into the open, but did her the service of pretending not to see her. He continued nodding along to whatever Rath was saying.

She was almost upon him now, so she allowed herself to hover slightly. Just an inch or two. Just enough to ensure she didn’t make a single sound as she closed the gap between her and Rath.

Then, just as she reached him, she lifted her bandu pole, preparing to strike.

Daddy, does this make noise? she thought, grinning, as she brought the pole down toward his head.

His hand shot up quicker than she could anticipate and caught the pole right before it made contact with the top of his hat.

Pouting, Joss landed and waited while he pirouetted, keeping the pole in his grip as he turned to face her.

His smile was smug.

She pulled her stick out of his hand and rested it against her chest while she used both hands to sign.

– How you always know? –

– I your father. –

– I noise make? –

– No, sweet. No noise. –

– Then what? –

– Felt your breath my neck. –

Joss rolled her eyes. Of course. It was always something. In two years of trying, she’d never once been able to catch him by surprise.

Kanid just shook his head.

Sleep well? he asked, and by the way Rath turned to look back at him, she knew that Kanid had made the question audible to both of them.

She nodded.   – Well enough. –

Kanid’s voice was the only one she could hear. And that had taken some doing. When he’d first tried to communicate with her telepathically – the only way Kanid could – she hadn’t been able to process it. Having never heard sound before, she had no idea what to do with the echo of his voice in her head. It took lots of practice and explanation before she was able to distinguish words. But of course, he heard nothing from her. While she obviously had thoughts, they weren’t audible to him.

Which was interesting.

“What’d we miss?” Click asked, exiting his room. His hair was rumpled, and he was rubbing sleepily at his eyes.

Joss felt his entrance thanks to her bandu, and turned to look at him. He waved and repeated his question in a language she could understand. – What I miss? –

– I again fail surprise Rath. –

– I sad. This time I thought you succeed. –

– Next time. –

Switch emerged behind her brother then. Her hair was neatly combed, but she still looked tired.

They exchanged pleasantries, and Kanid began to hand out the breakfast he’d been preparing. Mashed berries on crackers.

They were all sitting around eating when Molt and Het-Lei made an appearance. Not from their beds, but from the door.

It was the only entrance to the building, which made everyone feel quite safe. Rath had had Switch and Click build a device to prevent intruders. It involved a stolen ID card reader and a few other things. Within a few days, they had a way to lock their front door. Everyone in their little family got a key, and anyone who tried to get in without one would set off an alarm. They would also be treated to a nice little shock, courtesy of Click’s wiring prowess.

When Rath turned toward the door, Joss followed his gaze. She had assumed Het-Lei and Molt were still sleeping, since it was still early, judging by the sun peeking in the tiny windows. At first Rath had considered covering up those windows, but in the end he decided it would be more suspicious to any outsiders if they were. Best to leave the building looking as untouched as possible.

“Well?” Rath asked as the two men entered, closing the door behind them.

Het-Lei was rearranging his body from some large, four-legged beast into his usual humanoid form.

“It’s confirmed,” Molt said.

“When?” Rath asked, still not signing.

Joss was used to reading Molt’s lips. He was the only one in their party who had outright refused to study her sign language.

Rath, however, was a different story. Signing when Joss was around had become second nature to him. If he wasn’t doing it now, it was because he was purposefully trying to keep her out of the loop.

“Tonight, it looks like,” Het-Lei said, signing as he spoke.

Rath shot him a warning look. “How many are we looking at?” He was purposefully moving his lips as little as possible, and using vague language so Joss was left as uninformed as possible.

Scowling, she hit his arm with her pole.

He ignored her.

“Ten to fifteen,” Het-Lei replied, still signing. “We think they might be expecting trouble. Might not be worth going.”

– Where go? – Joss asked.

“We’re going,” Rath said, ignoring her.

Joss pushed herself up to her feet and stood between her father and the other two.

– Where where where go go go? –

Whenever she wanted to emphasize something – usually excitement or anger – she repeated the sign. Three repeats on both words would easily convey to Rath exactly how she felt about his subterfuge; she was pissed.

– Please, Joss. This not for you. –

– It for you you you. It for me me me. –

– This time no, sweet. –

– What what what happening? – she demanded.

Rath sighed. – Raid. Free prisoners. –

– I go. –

– No. –

– Yes yes. –

Rath pinned her with a glare and signed “No” five times in a row. He’d never repeated it that many times before. Joss nearly backed down. But that was before Het-Lei oozed up to them and stood where both Joss and Rath could see his hands.

– Why not? – he signed. – She good fighter. We can use her. –

Joss turned to smile at him.

“Het-Lei,” Rath growled. “Go wake up Thea.”

Het-Lei’s eyes widened. “Rath, come on.”

“Do it. We need her here.”

“Punishing me isn’t going to make you feel any less guilty for keeping Joss in the dark,” he grumbled before squelching off toward Thea’s room, his version of stomping.

Rath sighed and looked at Joss. She glared right back at him.

“We’ll uh…we’ve got some new tech to check on back in our room,” Click said, leading his sister away from the scene.

Kanid didn’t leave the room, but he did cross over to the kitchen where he began to idly sort berries. Molt just grunted, spread his wings, and took off for the rafters.

– I want come. – Joss signed.

– I know. –

– Why you no let me? –

– Because I want you safe. Always always always. –

– I want you safe also. –

Rath sighed and reached out for her. She came closer, allowing him to pull her into his lap even though she had long since outgrown it.

They just sat like that for a while, neither saying anything. Then Rath reached out his left hand – the one that she could see – and signed again.

– Please, sweet. Please do this for me. Please stay safe. –

Joss didn’t respond right away. She wanted more than anything to go with them on their raid. But Rath was looking at her with his big, fathomless eyes. They pled with her, making her buckle.

– One time. – she said. – Next time I go. –

Rath smiled and hugged her tight. She pulled away almost immediately and stared at his left hand pointedly.

He shook his head, still smiling, and signed – Deal. –

Then and only then did she smile back and hug him for real.

An otherworldly screech rent the air as they sat together, and though Joss didn’t hear it, she felt it vibrating through her and the bandu.

Het-Lei had finally worked up the nerve to wake Theabella.

He emerged a moment later with one of Thea’s throwing knives embedded in his chest. Wincing, he reached up to pull it out, the fluidity of his form allowing him to heal almost instantly.

“She’s up,” he informed them, signing halfheartedly with one hand.

“Thank you. I promise I’ll make Molt do it next time.”

“Make Molt do it every day for a week. Then we’ll be even. You know healing takes a lot out of me.”

“Sorry, but you were undermining my parenting skills.”

“Rath, that was not my intention. I was attempting to balance you, not undermine you. As a parent, you are soft. I wanted to offer the perspective of someone who sees Joss as an ally, not a daughter.”

“As a friend, I thank you for that,” Rath said after a moment. “As a father…if you ever try to put my daughter in danger again…”

He didn’t finish the statement; it was unnecessary.

Molt, having sensed it was safe to return, dropped to the floor. Click and Switch soon found their way out of their room, and Kanid wandered back from the kitchen area.

Joss turned to Rath. – I want be here. – she signed.

– You can stay. – he replied.

She thanked him and went to sit across from him, knowing that would give her the best view of everyone’s hands. Click and Switch settled in next to her, smiling and waving. She smiled back. Kanid sat next to Rath.

Molt, his wings folded tightly behind him, snorted impatiently and went to lean against the wall by the door.

“I don’t see what the fuss was about,” he said. “If the girl wants to get herself killed, it’s not our problem.”

Switch helpfully signed everything he was saying for Joss, since he refused to. Joss just shook her head, turned to Molt, and offered him just one sign. He didn’t need to know her language to understand what it meant.

“Filthy trink,” he muttered.

The room went dead silent. Then, almost as quickly as that happened, it began to rumble and shake. Dishes rattled. Crates splintered. Molt had to fly into the air to keep from falling over.

Rath stood slowly, the ground shaking even more violently around him.

“You are required to like neither me nor my kin,” he said, his voice low yet somehow audible over the din he was causing. “However, I will not tolerate disrespect, Morlinz Nebolzer. Let this be your final warning.”

The ground instantly stilled, the silence returning.

Molt dropped to the ground and glared at Rath.

“I was already up!” Thea shouted, walking into the room. “What made you think you needed to…” Her voice trailed off as she looked from Molt to Rath. “Oh.”

She made her way over to the little kitchen and grabbed a plate of breakfast. Then she settled down to eat.

Rath was still staring at Molt. The silence was palpable. To everyone but Joss, who simply smiled and reached over to steal a berry off of Thea’s plate, completely ignorant of the tension in the room.

“Sorry,” Molt said, finally.

Rath smiled. “No problem. Have a seat. We’ve got to discuss tactics.”

Switch waved to get Joss’ attention, then signed – Bird boy say sorry. –

Joss laughed. – Dad accept apology? –

– Yes. –

– Then I do also. –

It took less than five minutes for them all to get situated. Despite the drama between Molt and Rath, when it really counted, Molt was right there offering his suggestions and clarifying when he was asked to. He and Het-Lei were an excellent reconnaissance team. They’d been working together for years, and their information was always good. Joss felt her uneasiness slipping away the more they talked; it was clear that they had done a very thorough job, as usual.

Everything would be fine.

Still…she hated saying good-bye.

Even with Rath’s nearly insurmountable telekinetic abilities. Even with Click and Switch decked out in so much high-tech armor that they had both doubled in size. Even with Het-Lei’s ability to transform and heal at will. Even with Thea’s teleportation, stealth, claws, knives, and speed. Even with Kanid’s ability to hear what an enemy was planning on doing before they managed to do it.

Even with all that, she hated saying good-bye. She felt strange doing it. She felt like maybe everything seemed too perfect. That something had to go wrong.

Molt was the last to leave. He shot her an unreadable look before he stepped out the door. It sent a shiver down Joss’ spine.

Then he was gone and she was alone.

She waited a full hour before going out to explore.

Rath had told her before he left that she could go out to search for food and supplies. As long as she stayed close to camp, kept her bandu pole on her at all times, and was back before dark. She’d heard these rules plenty of times before, of course. He’d made a point of listing them for her every day from the moment she’d developed enough to understand them.

 

One – Never let your guard down.

Two – Always be one step ahead.

Three – Never leave camp without your bandu pole. The bandu pole is your best friend.

Four – Always ask for help if you need it.

Five – If you can’t win a fight, run!

Six – Never go anywhere alone, unless given permission to do otherwise.

Seven – Don’t let on that you can’t hear, if you can help it.

 

The list went on. Most of it was about her safety. Rath had made her practice screaming for help, much to the others’ displeasure. Young Joss had had way too much fun keeping her fingers on her throat and trying to produce the biggest possible sound vibrations.

“Just be safe,” Rath had said before he left.

She had hugged him tight, knowing how hard it was for him to allow her to go out alone without a partner. If he’d had his way, she would’ve stayed locked up the whole time they were gone. She suspected Het-Lei had had some influence on her situation.

So she struck out. Bandu pole tight in her grip, canvas bag hung over her shoulder. She had her hair tied back, but several wavy tendrils had escaped. Still, it was out of the way for the most part.

Kanid had planted some small, edible plants in a clearing in the nearby woods when they had first moved to their new home. She went to check on those first. They were still small, but the leaves were green and healthy looking. She offered them a sprinkle of water from her pouch, hoping they would thrive. So far Switch’s invention was keeping away the various woodland creatures that might be tempted to snack on Kanid’s garden. It was essentially a small, electrified fence. It delivered a small shock to anyone who tried to pass through it. Hartlings and cornils were deterred without being harmed. Insects were fried on the spot.

Joss, meanwhile, knew how to step over the thing. She did so now as she left the garden to soak up the bright sunlight.

There was a stream not too far from their home. She figured she could catch a few fish for her dinner. But as she turned to push her way out of the trees, she felt it. Just the slightest of vibrations in her bandu pole.

Someone was coming.

It was too big to be a Hartling. An Enforcer, perhaps? Or was she just being paranoid?

She kept her bandu pole pressed into the earth, not showing any sign that she had noticed something approaching.

The vibrations were getting stronger. He was behind her now. She took a deep breath. If it was a Goliath, she would employ Rule Number Five (If you can’t win a fight, run!). If it was a Kreech or a Bortol, she would fight. She’d been able to take those guys on since she was seven.

She waited just a moment longer, still feigning ignorance. The vibrations were stronger now. It was time.

She hefted the pole, spun it over her head, and whirled to face her attacker.

He seemed just as surprised to see her as she was to see him.

Despite the Enforcer armor he wore, Joss paused before attacking. He was limping terribly, his eyes wide and panicked.

Human? she thought.

She’d never seen a human Enforcer before, but there was no doubt that she was looking at one now. His skin and hair were dark, his hands worn and scarred.

Blood was seeping out from between his fingers where he was clutching his side, and he was holding most of his weight on his right leg. She noticed that his left leg was sticking out at a strange angle, as if the bone had been broken once and then set wrong.

As her eyes moved back up to his face, she realized he’d been talking.

When she just cocked her head and looked at him, he repeated himself. This time she was able to read his lips.

“Help me,” he pleaded. “They think I killed the Overseer.”

Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Look out for Chapter Seven over the next couple days!  Hopefully tomorrow, but I can’t promise that.

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