A – Z… April?

Ok, so I found out about the A-Z April thing a couple of weeks too late. How do I remedy this situation?

Easy: I just have to do it in May!

So, starting on May 1st and hopefully running every day through the month except Sundays, I shall be throwing up SOMETHING onto the blog, and aiming to theme it around a letter.

I’m still working out what exactly I’ll be doing. Stick purely with roleplaying, through in some fiction, entirely focus on my homebrew fantasy setting, etc etc. Currently, I’m thinking of throwing something up about the setting, and maybe even trying to throw something up on Sundays that isn’t part of the challenge! (Shush, it could happen!)

I’m still having a few issues with the language use in the setting, but I think that will probably come through in some of the posts.

Wish me luck!


Writing 101, Day Three: Committing to a writing practice

I’m not entirely sure how to go about following the instructions here. According to Writing 101, I need to write about the three most important songs in my life.

But of course, now I’m told to write about them, I can’t even think of three important songs, never mind the most important.

If I write about songs I enjoy right now, I have to include Weird Al’s ‘Word Crimes’, which is his use of ‘Blurred Lines’ to emphasise the importance of spelling and grammar. And which he had to make a public apology about (to be fair, when I heard it played on national Irish radio, I was surprised they hadn’t edited it themselves). Plus, I prefer ‘NOW That’s What I Call Polka’ from this new album, because who doesn’t love polka covers of modern pop songs?

I could talk about Timecop1983 and their album Journeys, which I’m listening to now as I write. It’s some nice electro pop and pretty chilled out, so I can let it run in the background and not have it bother me too much. But I wouldn’t say any of the songs are particularly my favourite.

Or I could write about ‘Kill You’ by Dethklok, which I keep playing because it’s so unlike the rest of their songs, and because I like Metalocalypse.

But none of those are exactly important, in the way I assume the writing exercise wants me to talk about them. The lesson I’m taking from the exercise is to write about something for a given amount of time (about fifteen minutes), and to make a habit out of that. I’ve managed to write on here for about that time or maybe more with having to go fetch links, and on a subject I’m not exactly likely to go back to writing about soon, but I still feel like I’ve cheated the assignment somewhat by not sticking to it.

Writing 101, Day Two: Setting description

The rain tumbled down from the dark grey clouds, lightning flashing and thunder rolling. It poured from the eaves of the buildings in Queenstown, and poured from the thatched rooves as it did the beards and cowls of the people forced to walk the streets.
On days like today, when the sun barely lightened the day at all, the city felt as grey as the skies above, from the waves down in Portside, up to the carved stone of Temples, and up again to the smoke pouring from the great houses in the Estates, perched up on the cliffs.

For two days, the rain had fallen in great sheets, the low clouds mimicking the waves of the seas below. The city was sodden, and Bedry was sodden, his every movement enough to wring a little water out of his ragged grey clothes, slowly trickling down his legs and pooling beneath where he stood, and only to be replaced by more water from far above. His hood was crudely sewn together from a torn sail, soaked in tar, and it was barely any shield to the torrent of water.
Slowly making his way along his normal route through the markets, Bedry had given his all to coax the few coins now in his hand from those of any passers-by, as few and far between as they had been in this storm. He could already taste the mug of watered sweet ale and spiced bread the few slivers of metal would bring him.

Water gushed down the handful of steps to the front door, and pooled heavy in the old, long-blocked drain at their base, sloshing into the bar as he opened the door and stepped through, mixing with the dirt, reeds and straw covering the floor.
The room was hazy, thick with wood smoke from the cooking fire and pipe smoke from the patrons. Regular visitors rarely used the real name for the tavern, calling it the “Smoking House”. Tonight, the air inside was particularly thick; the pouring rain outside had washed loose old birdnests and the mummified bodies of vermin to plug the various small holes in the roof that gave the place its name.

Bedry shifted uneasily. The House was busier than he liked, and he could spot more than a few people who would pick a fight with a beggar to satisfy their own urges. He hugged the edges of the room, where water fell down the inside walls almost as much as it no doubt did outside. In a corner far from the hearth stood Albi and Stethen, beggars like Bedry, as wet and grey as himself. The landlord, Bannis, saw him come in, and sent a girl over with a mug and a small, damp loaf.
Bannis was an abrupt man, with a hard brow and a scalp barely hidden by thinning hair. Bedry had known him a long time, since before his luck had fallen, and the landlord had always done his best to give him a small meal and a roof in a storm.

Bedry handed all his coin over to the serving girl, thanked her, and slumped down to the floor near Albi and Stethen, and thanked whichever Ascended was listening for the respite from the rain.

Today’s Writing 101 assignment came from here. Any views on how I did, please leave them in the comments!

Writing 101, Day One: 20 minutes of freewriting

His eye jolted open at the sound of a distant screaming. His arms and legs were cold, his clothes and hair stuck to him with water. Saltwater and gritty sand covered his lips.
He didn’t know where he was.

Razir had fallen asleep in his room at the inn, exhausted, fresh into port. He didn’t believe it to be a dream, and couldn’t remember a storm that had washed him overboard.
The air filling his lungs was cold, and he could hear the waves lapping at a beach. The sky directly above was grey, clouds filtering the light of the sun in such a way he couldn’t tell if it was dawn or dusk or anywhere in between.

Lifting his head slowly, he found himself on a beach of grey and black sand, and above sheer cliffs, perhaps once white but clearly scorched and cratered as far as he could see, before a pervasively thick mist covered them from view. From the sands and the shallow waters rose wrecks of many small boats, all made of dark wood, or else burned black themselves.

Another scream, and this time the roar of a great crowd, high above, at the top of the cliffs, and then a sound like none he had ever heard, as if a storm erupted from the throat of some great hulking monster. Strange light flashed high above, and then he found himself running for the cover of the cliffs themselves as great clods of earth and stone began to rain down onto the beach and the waters.

Stumbling over something hidden in the sand, Razir barely stopped himself falling head first into the last of the plummeting materiel, and then, eyes widening, he realised this last was the charred and still smoking form of an armoured man.

Razir fell to the ground, sprawling twice as he tried to hastily crawl backwards away from the thing in front of him. His hand fell on the peg of flotsam he had stumbled over, the handle of some oar or tiller.
A low pained moan arose from the throat of the dying man before him, and all too bright eyes looked towards Razir.
“Run, lost soul,” he barely choked out the words. “His forces have almost made the beach. You don’t have long to escape yourself.”

Eyes filled with terror, Razir once again looked about himself. He understood where he was all too clearly. Razir had awoken in the Deadrealms, at the shores of the Sea of Souls itself. And the wild armies of the Fiend, the Lord of Undeath, had almost broken through the lines of warriors loyal to the Black Lady.
And then the sky lit up again.

I think that went pretty well. It’s something that’s been evolving in my head for a couple of months now, but I needed to throw it down eventually. And I managed to get it all done in twenty minutes. Well, barring that last sentence, when my alarm started to go off.
I’ll try write some more on Razir and the Deadrealms soon.

Check out Writing 101 for more on the daily tasks (not sure if I’ll manage them daily!), specifically this one for day one.

Writing courses, Linux courses

I’ve decided to sign up to the Writing 201 course over at the Daily Post.

It’s focussed mostly on editing from what I can see, but there’s some workshopping in there too.

I’m debating working my way through Writing 101 as well, starting this weekend. I should be packing for the move, but I’m sure procrastination is good for some things. It might encourage me to crack on more with the Old Crown RPG work I’ve been doing too.

I also signed up to an edX course in Linux, hoping to learn the basics. There’s a fee if I want certification, but I’m just going to audit the course for my own benefit. I don’t know if I can sign up for money later, but I don’t think I’ll have that much spare any time soon!

Story of a Young Bushi: My first impressions of L5R (written circa 2006)

(Originally published December 1st 2006)
Otaku Kiyomaro saw to his family’s horses. They would need to be prepared for the spring and the long ride home.
The Winter Court of this Lion clan stronghold had been largely uneventful. Peace reigned, families met, clans exchanged words which would no doubt lead to fighting come the following autumn, a handful of marriages cleared the air for a time.
And here was Kiyomaro. Months from his gempukku, ready to come of age, trained as a Shinjo bushi with his fallen uncle’s daisho.
His height and build were a problem for his parents. He was much taller than others of his age; he stuck out like a sore thumb. He would have trouble working at trade deals for his family, their livelihood, and they had all but given up on him.
His uncle had had the same problem, and his great uncle before him. The solution was always seen as thus: train as a bushi and earn his family honour and glory by leading a noble life or else dieing a noble death. His older brother also followed this path, though he chose to concentrate on higher social activities rather than intensive combat training. Still, Otaku Ryuken was already an accomplished samurai, known well amongst the Unicorn clan.
But Ryuken had been given the family daisho, a proud gift from his wise grandfather. Kiyomaro carried the daisho of his fallen uncle, the daisho passed back and forth between cousins in the Otaku clan for hundreds of years, the daisho that grants only small honour and a short life.
At least the big Otaku could handle other weapons. His ono was a particular favourite. Its head never failed to bite deep into training dummies.
A crab bushi named Hida Hankyu walked in and nodded slightly. Kiyomaro had seen him on numerous occasions over the Winter, noticeably eying up a kill when Otaku had returned from a hunting trip.
He looked flustered, or as flustered as a samurai can look without losing face. “Your presence is requested in the courtyard training grounds,” he said, turned and walked back out of the stables.
Kiyomaro looked around. Aside from the horses, he was the only person the Crab could have been talking to. He walked out to the courtyard. Why had he not sent a heimin? he thought.
Waiting outside in the courtyard were a group of young samurai, similar to himself; three of them bushi and two shugenja. They nodded as Kiyomaro arrived. Hida Hankyu held a sealed letter, bearing Otaku Kiyomaro’s name, as well as his own, and no doubt the names of all the others gathered. And one other: Soshi Sosumo, of the Scorpion clan. Kiyomaro recognised it as that of a young shugenja often seen lurking and watching a Lion bushi train, said Lion stood two feet from him now. Sosumo was a small boy, easily hidden within the walls of the large stronghold they stood in now.
“Where is the Scorpion boy?” Kiyomaro asked, looking down at the group he easily loomed above.
“A heimin was sent to bring him, Unicorn,” came the reply from a young Phoenix girl with dazzlingly green eyes. She did not carry a katana at her side, but a small scroll case – she was shugenja, or would be after her gempukku.
“We wait for him, Hida-sama?” Kiyomaro ignored the disrespect of her address.
“We do, Otaku-sama.”

Time passed, but there was still no sign of the Scorpion. In this time, Otaku Kiyomaro had made himself recall as many faces and names as he could. The two Crab bushi were Hidas, Hankyu and Ikki. The Lion was a Matsu boy named Kushi. The Phoenix shugenja was Isawa Nami no Yuki, her pale skin reflecting the wave of snow of her name. Last was the Dragon boy, Agasha Yakuza. The letter had been sent by Mirumoto Kido, the Emerald Magistrate resident at this stronghold. Why he had sent for such a group of samurai, none passed gempukku, no one seemed to know. It seemed unfathomable that they could help an Imperial Magistrate in any way.
A heimin ran up to Hida Hankyu, and bowed low. A brief glimpse of emotion crossed Hankyu’s face, followed by a barked order at the heimin who ran off again.
“My apologies,” he said. “In my haste, I did not tell the heimin to request the Scorpion’s presence. This is why he has not yet come.”
And so they waited some more.

Finally, the black robes and red mask of the young Soshi appeared. He bowed and joined the group. Hida Hankyu glared at the Scorpion as he casually strode towards the group, then unsealed the letter and read carefully.
“You are called to the Owana tea house at noon. Do not be late.”
Looking up, it was obviously almost noon. With a glance at the Scorpion, all ran swiftly to the castle gates and out to the tea house.
Although Otaku Kiyomaro was large, he was also very swift, something his sensei would often remark upon. He made his way to the tea house with astonishing speed, arriving barely out of breath and still before noon. Looking over at the tea house, it seemed boarded up. At the door stood two Lion bushi, both women, and both wearing a Matsu mon. They were looking at the Unicorn. He chose to wait for the other samurai and compose himself, as he saw the Isawa appear from around a corner, closely followed by one, then another of the Hidas shortly afterward. All three of them stood catching their breath, whilst the Matsu women watched.
Noon came all too soon. With no sign of the other three samurai, the Crab, Phoenix and Unicorn all strode to the doors of the tea house. The Matsu stopped them to read the letter, then let them pass. Inside, heimin met the samurai to usher them to a room. Leaving their daisho at the door, they followed and were met by a Crane samurai sat on the floor with a woman making tea. As he finished, he looked up at the small group taking their places on the floor. He wore a sash showing his service to the Emerald Magistrate, and the mon of the Crane and Doji.
“Greetings, young samurai. Are there not more of you? My note was quite specific.”
Sometimes, small lies must be told. “We do not know, Doji-sama,” replied Kiyomaro, bowing.

Up to the door ran Matsu Kushi, immediately seeing the women of his clan guarding the door. Bowing profusely, he made to enter, but was barred by one of the warrior-woman’s arms. “Where is it you go, little Mats-san?”
Kushi looked bewildered, replying “I have an engagement in this tea house. By order of the Emerald Magistrate.”
“You have proof?”
Matsu Kushi remembered that one of the Hidas carried the letter of invitation, and he was sure they passed him by at a full run not too long ago. “My proof was carried by others also named upon the invitation. I am sure they have already arrived.”
“Indeed they have. In you go, boy.” She scowled down at him as he walked into the tea house. He was met by a young heimin woman, who ushered him to the others.
“You are late, Matsu-san” the Doji noted, as Kushi knelt down.
“My apologies, Doji-sama. I came as quickly as I could.”
Noting Kushi’s still heavy breathing, the Doji nodded politely, and continued drinking tea, waiting for the next arrival.
Outside, the Dragon boy marched up to the tea house doors. Once more he was barred by the Matsu guardswomen, though they were more wary of this spellcaster. “Where is it you go, little Dragon?” asked one of them, boldly.
“I go to meet with my fellow samurai in this tea house.” There was something odd about the way the Dragon spoke. His eyes were slightly glazed, and his posture askew.
“Very well,” spoke the other Matsu, “you may pass, Dragon-san.” She was clearly wise enough to know the boy had no letter of invitation either.
Once inside, the Dragon placed himsel fon the floor in front of the Doji, bowing profusely and apologising for his lateness, blaming an incident at the castle gates for barring his path, and his honourable intervention in it.
But there was still one more samurai to arrive – the little Scorpion, Soshi Sosumo.

Minutes passed, and finally the little Scorpion came into view. He was dressed in an impeccable robe, his face partially hidden by a small red mask. Leading him to the tea house was a heimin, who clearly felt put upon. As they both arrived, the heimin turned to face the Soshi, bowed and ran off. Sosumo then walked towards the guards. They were not impressed by the well-dressed little boy. “I will assume you are with the others. Did you think to bring your invitation, Scorpion?”
“Honourable Matsu-sama,” said the boy, bowing low, “I have been called here by Mirumoto Kido, the Emerald Magistrate. My guide to this establishment has caused me to be later than I should be. I have no invitation, as I am sure the one given to all of us is already inside. I offer you my apologies, as I will now go and offer to the others here.”
He walked between the two Matsu, who were still bemused by his arrival.
“You are late,” said the Doji as Sosumo sat.
“My apologies, honourable Doji-sama. My heimin guide to this tea house caused me to be slower to arrive, and the Matsu outside caused further delay by asking for my invitation, which Hida Hankyu carried with him in his haste to arrive.”
The Doji looked upon them both, realising what had transpired.
“Very well,” he said, looking down to his tea. “As you are now all here, I can begin to tell you why you are here. You have spent the winter here, at Shiro Owana, as a guest of Kitsu Owana. Surely, you will understand that you may pay him in kind for his hospitality. Mirumoto Kido, the Emerald Magistrate resident here, has requested that I give you the chance to honour his hospitality on behalf of your families.”
He paused, taking a sip from his tea. The woman who had prepared it left the room quickly.
“Underneath this tea house have been found tunnels. We do not know who constructed them, or when, or why. All that we do know is that many heimin have begun to disappear from this tea house, and we need those of noble spirit and warrior virtue to investigate.”
He drank the last of his tea, stood, and walked out of the room, gesturing for the group to follow him.

Standing quickly, they followed first down a short staircase and into corridor. Further staircases followed, leading down deeper and deeper into basements and sub-basements, all filled with barrels of sake and chests of tea. Finally, the group reached a room with a carpet sat square in the middle of the floor. It was big, heavy and made of black fur. Something about it glinted green in the torchlight of the room. Something that the two Crab knew all too familiarly. The carpet was covered in jade powder.
“Beneath this carpet is a grate leading into the tunnels. It is covered for one reason, and one reason alone. It is incredibly Tainted.”
Two heimin appeared from behind the group, and lifted the carpet with long poles. As it was raised, the Doji flung a short stick of pure jade towards the openings. As it glanced upon the metal grating, it turned instantly jet black, crumbling away into dust.
One of the Crab gasped, though in the torchlight it was hard to tell which.
“You will all be going into this tunnel and finding the cause of the disappearance of the local heimin. They always disappear one or two at a time, always in the depths of night, and always from this tea house. Sending a group such as yourselves will be sufficient to investigate.”
With that, he turned and left the room, with the startled group, none of them yet past fifteen years old, stood awkwardly. They knew what was to come.


(Originally publish October 15th 2006)
Walker strode along the foggy quayside. In the darkness, the warehouses slowly loomed out of the mist towards him. Occasionally he would stop, look around at the empty dark grey, and then continue on his path.
He reached the end of the quay and stood by the guardrail, looking down below himself. He could just make out the rippling beneath him, the cool water condensing the mist.
A buzzing vibration came from his pocket: his alarm call. It was time.
He climbed over the rail, let go and fell back into the cold water, moments before the nearest warehouse burst apart with bright flame.

The dreams had started the previous week, as they always did. He saw what would happen, and where, and it would take a week to work out what he could do to change things. Normally he only managed to avoid the worst.
They’d been inside the building, and they’d known what they were doing, mostly. They hadn’t known the consequences that their actions would have.

Walker surfaced. Most of the quay had been blown away. He climbed back onto the unsteady structure. The fog had been dispersed instantly by the heat of the fire. Amongst the flames and debris he saw a body writhing, covered in fire. He pitied whoever it was their sad, painful death.
Scanning the scene again, he saw what he was looking for. Glowing in the wreckage of the warehouse was a scuffed chalk circle, and in the circle It stood. It had seen him already. It was preparing.
Muttering a quiet prayer to nobody at all, he moved forwards towards it. The smell of unnatural fire and sulphurous gas filled his nostrils, as he drew his sword and readied himself for the demon that these sad fools had released from chains of Hell.

* * *

God is dead.
No, that’s not right. God is a lie. He’s a myth.
I think.
The Vatican knows. Mecca knows. Jerusalem knows. God never was. He was an idea created back in prehistory to protect us from the truth. The story isn’t such a bad thing. So long as people believe it, my life is a little easier.
My life. What a joke. My life got taken from me a long time ago. It’s not been my own since I was “chosen for duty”.
The Bible never properly explains to you what an Angel is. It talks about them. We know what Cherubim and Seraphim are. We don’t know who they are, or what they really do.
Here’s the truth. Angels are ordinary people like you or me. Mostly like me. Ordinary people conscripted into a war. They aren’t harp-playing idiots sat on clouds in Heaven. There is no Heaven. There never has been.
As for God…
As far as I can tell, he’s not too involved in anything, insofar as there is a God. Metatron, Gabriel, Michael; they’re all probably the same thing. I don’t know what It is. When you’re Chosen, you’re chosen by It. I guess sometimes it’s ‘peace and goodwill’ that needs to be advocated. I like to think I had something in common with prophets, saints, madmen. It would certainly explain a lot.
Sometimes, of course, all you have to work with is a lump of sharpened metal. That’s the end of the scale I work at.

* * *

Someone ran out in the road in front of Alan. He slammed his foot down on the pedal, stopping inches from the stranger.
Then Alan saw that it was Josh Walker. Walker had been in a lot of the same classes as Alan during school, but had dropped out early.
“Jesus fucking Christ! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Erik, Alan’s younger brother, stared wide eyed. His older brother was normally careful not to curse near him.
Josh had a black eye, bloody nose, and a large wound on his arm was turning his long jacket red. He walked up to the car, opened the door, and calmly climbed into the back seat.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Drive. Turn right at the junction here.”
“Get out of my car, Walker!”
“Drive. Turn right. Please Alan.” Josh grabbed Alan’s shoulder and looked hard at him.
There was something wrong with Josh. Although they’d never really been friends, Alan knew he was different. Just before he’d dropped out of school, he’d begun to act odd. He’d mumble to himself, and whenever anyone asked what was wrong he’d just complain of lack of sleep. He’d been branded the class freak by most of the school. When he’d disappeared from town, the rumour was he’d been carted off to an asylum. Then some idiot had burned the family house down. That would’ve been traumatic.
Best do as he says, Alan thought.
As the car turned the corner, Josh thanked Alan and sat back, sighing in pain as he tied a tourniquet around his arm.
“What the hell, Josh? Where have you been? I haven’t seen you since school.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“With what?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Are you that Walker guy?” asked Erik. “I heard about you in school. You went crazy or something.”
“Not quite, Erik.”
That shut up the two brothers. Josh was worryingly good with remembering names, more worryingly when he’d never been told them before.

After five minutes of directions and unanswered questions, mainly about his injuries, Josh told Alan to stop. They had reached the mall.
“This is where I was heading anyway,” said Alan. “For God’s sake Josh, what’s going on? Why so cryptic?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Stop saying that! You sound like Mr. Miyagi or something!”
Erik looked confused. “Who’s Mr. Miyagi?”
“Well, now I’m here, I can go meet Terry. You remember Terry Miller, right Josh?”
“Shit!” He shouted it. He suddenly gained a startled expression, completely losing his composure.
“What? He’s a nice guy.”
“You’d be surprised Alan.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Walker’s calm came back to him. “Just stay here. I might need to get away quickly.”
“What? First you car-jack me, now you want me to be your getaway driver? Are you here to rob a store or something?”
“No. Just trust me. It’ll get ugly. Stay here. Erik, go see your movie.”
Erik practically ran from the car, almost crying. He definitely did not run towards the cinema. He definitely hadn’t told Josh he was going to the movies.

* * *

Was it a dream, or did it really happen? I don’t know anymore.
A few months before school finished for good, the dreams started. Sometimes I’d wake up happy and content, sometimes I’d have nightmares that woke up the rest of the house.
The nightmares came more and more often. I barely slept eventually.
Imagine your worst nightmares. They were worse than that. Imagine seas of fire, eternal torment. Imagine every painful memory, every sinful act, every unholy action of everyone who has ever or will ever live. Every bad dream, every waking nightmare, every torture known to man.
I’ve seen worse. I dreamt it nightly. And I remember it all.
Then I had a new dream. It showed up. God, Michael, Yahweh, Allah. He might as well have been Lucifer, for what he put me through. I was Conscripted. The most painful experience of my life was the forging of the sword. I don’t feel much pain anymore. Most of the time, it just doesn’t compare. Even the most annoying paper cuts.
It works like this. Conscription means you give up part of your essence. Willingly or unwillingly doesn’t really matter. For my part, I don’t think I was too happy about it. Your essence is like your soul, except most people think souls are eternal. They aren’t. Your essence becomes the iron.
Then Gabriel, or maybe God, or Buddha for all I care, patches some of his essence. You end up with steel. Angel steel. A sword of Angel steel.
Angel steel can hurt the other side. I’ve seen men fire guns at them and do nothing. Then I’ve watched them die.
I know what I can do. Unfortunately, so do they. Yet still I have to do my duty.

* * *

Walker walked through the spinning glass door. He was calm. He had to stay calm. The slash on his arm had moved from intense heat to a dull ache. He’d realised in the early hours of this morning that he wasn’t preparing for just one job. The nightmares he’d had recently had contained more than one – earlier had involved claws, this next one a flying tag-team.
If only the muzak playing over the P.A. system would stop making his teeth grind together, he’d feel a lot better about what he had to do.
He had a few minutes by his reckoning. He needed a coffee and something to eat. That idiot Alan would be along soon.

Alan walked through the doors. Josh had told him to wait in the car, but he wasn’t going to listen. He hadn’t seen Walker for years, and now he’d turned up looking beat-up and acting like a madman. Maybe that asylum rumour hadn’t been so far from the mark.
He’d run after Erik, given him bus fare and told him to go straight home. He hoped he’d be alright, but this whole situation was worrying. He shouldn’t be around Josh. Now he had to meet Terry in a few minutes.

* * *

Did you ever wish revenge on someone? Ever carry it out? There’s a big difference between those two, although they’re both a very dangerous approach to life. You’ll attract Their attention. You really don’t want Them to notice you. You especially don’t want Them to push you into helping Them out.
They need stuff like that. Cold, raw sin is what keeps Them going, helps Them to do what They do to us. “Sin” is what They feed upon. That’s what was taught to me anyway.
It was winter. I was in the Asylum and the dreams started. I had the worst nightmares, worse than I’d had before. They sedated me when I started telling them my parents were in trouble. They locked me in a padded cell when I shouted it to the other loons. Then came the Forging. That’s how it was described to me. I was asleep and I had a happy dream, the first I’d had in years. I felt love and contentment, but it was short-lived. I was told I was Chosen, that I had to fight. I wasn’t happy with that.
The pain didn’t last long. Suddenly I found myself in my cell with a feeling of weight on my back. Reaching behind me, I felt the hilt of a sword in my grip. I ran to the door and screamed for help.
It didn’t come.
But the nightmares came over and over.
Fire and smoke, the stench of burning meat, the screams of my mother, the choking of my father; it was too much. I broke out. I had to do something.
When they found me, it was too late. The house was burning down, I was coughing up smoke, my parents were dead and there was blood on my clothes. They thought I’d killed them. I’d failed to kill It. I’d failed. I wasn’t ready.
They took me away and put me in a maximum security asylum for the criminally insane. I didn’t resist. I thought they were right, that I’d imagined it all somehow, that I was responsible. I thought I’d murdered my parents.
Then the clergy came for me.

* * *

Alan walked through the mall to the central concourse clock. Sure enough, there was Terry Miller, with two twin beauties stood beside him. They had dark brown hair, pale skin, and as he got nearer he saw they wore matching purple contact lenses. They wore black blouses and miniskirts, and black choker bands. Not exactly what he normally went for, but for some reason as he got closer he couldn’t help but think of them as the two most beautiful women he’d ever met. And yet, there was something odd.
“Hey Terry. How’s it going?”
“Not bad Alan. What’s up with you? You look like crap… Is that blood?”
Alan looked down at where Terry pointed. On his shoulder was a small mark of red. He remembered Josh grabbing his shoulder.
“It’s… It’s nothing Terry. I just bumped into Josh Walker on the way here. He ran out in front of my car.”
“Jesus Alan!” The twins glanced over. “You saw Walker? Don’t tell me you ran him over!”
“No, stopped in my tracks. Scared the hell out of Erik, but he scared the hell out of me too! Ended up practically carjacking and making me drive him here.”
“Wow. And that’s his blood?”
“Yeah. He was beat-up. Looked like he was running from something, so why he came here, I have no clue.”
The twins suddenly looked at each other, sniffed in unison and began urgently looking in all directions. Alan noticed and made Terry turn around.
“What’s wrong with them?”
“No clue. They’re not normally like this. They’re very… well, how can I put it? They’re very good company, if you know what I mean. They keep asking to meet my friends, so I thought you’d be the person to call for a fun day out.”
“Thanks Terry. Thanks a lot.”

Striding along the upper walkway, Walker ignored the staring and sideways glances of passers by. He was used to it. The torn clothing and blood was a part of the job, just like the odd looks from these people. He knew where he was going; he knew what he had to do.
He leant over the rail and looked down at the small group under the clock. The two girls started to look around at his arrival, whilst Alan and Terry took notice. That was the tag team alright, and it was time for him to start work.

From above came a shout.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention please,” the twins’ heads snapped around and looked up at the long-coated figure above them. Alan and Terry looked about them before finding their addressor.
“I’m afraid that I can’t let Alan join your little group. Terry, I’m disappointed in you.” With that, Walker leapt the rail and fell to the floor below. He landed, rolled and stood up a few metres from the group.
“Josh?” Alan looked puzzled.
“Walker?” Terry looked worried.
“I told you Terry was bad news Alan. And I told you to wait in the car.” He turned to look at the ladies, both of whom seemed to be blurring at the edges. “Hello ladies. I think you know why I’m here.”
The girls seemed to rip apart, and in their place stood two emaciated, black bat-winged figures, clawed feet scratching the floor, clawed fingers poised and ready. They both jumped up into the air, as Walker reached behind his head and pulled out his sword.

* * *

I was in my room, and then they came in and restrained me. I let them. I didn’t struggle anymore. I only screamed in my sleep. I couldn’t look at other people for knowing what they saw when they looked at me.
In had walked the Cardinal. The colour of his robes had been the only thing I noticed about him. I didn’t know why he was there. I thought perhaps that he had come to exorcise me.
“Hello Joshua. My name is Cardinal Morre. I’m the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Angels. I’m here to help you.
“I know you’ve been having dreams, Joshua. Bad dreams, yes? I also know that it wasn’t you who caused the deaths of your family. If you come with me, I can help you.”
That’s what he’d said to me. With that I was carted off to the Vatican, for “training”. Moving away like that helped. My dreams stopped. I could sleep, when there was time.
As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. I met a handful of people like me. We would sit in a room in the Vatican’s Secret Archives and be taught about our abilities, what had happened to us, the truth about God. Everything. For one of us it was too much. He’d been religious before he was Chosen. They found him in a mausoleum for people like us who’d died. People who’d either died fighting the War or had somehow ended their time as an Angel and had come back to teach the Truth.
He was the lucky one, if you ask me. He’d gotten out before it really began. When they were done with us, we were blessed and made priests. Then they sent me back.
The dreams came back, but I knew what I could do. What I had to do.
Every time I sleep, I dread what may come. I just look forward to the dream when my sword is taken from me and I can finish my work.

* * *

They ducked and they dived and they jinked and they lunged. They fought with claws and sword. They bled and screamed and roared. The span and jumped and rolled and snarled.
The stench was terrible. Where the sword cut, the flesh boiled. Where the claws slashed, the flesh rotted. The smell of blood was pervasive.
And the twitching remains of the two succubae lay under the clock. Walker leant against a wall, his sword again at his back. He was bleeding from black gashes on his face, and he fiddled with his mobile phone.
“Hello, Ciccone? It’s Walker. Cleanup at the mall under the clock in the central concourse. Quickly.”
He hung up and limped towards the barricade in the nearby fast food emporium.
“Terry, come here.”
Terry peeped over the tables and chairs at Josh. Alan looked up at them both.
“What did you think you were doing, Terry? They were very dangerous. And you were going to give them Alan. I’m appalled.”
“Walker, you’re crazy man. I don’t know what just happened.”
“Yes, you do Terry.” Walker moved closer, pulling plastic zip ties from his pocket. “And you’re coming with me.”
“No way. You’re mad. Insane. I’m not going anywhere. Alan, help me out here.”
“He’s pretty crazy Terry,” said Alan slowly. “I’d do as he says. You saw him with that sword.”
Terry climbed over the bunker, and then made towards Josh.
“Thank you Ter-”
Terry ran for the doors, but before he could reach them they burst open to reveal a group of armed men in black security uniforms. Walker ran up behind and tackled the startled Terry, holding him on the ground.
“Terry, by Papal Sanction I hereby arrest you on the charge of misuse of the black arts and attempted blood sacrifice of a human being. You will be taken to a holding cell where you will be interrogated by members of His Holiness’ Inquisition. Should you repent your discretions you may one day see the outside world again. Do you understand?”
Terry said nothing, as he was carried away by two of the armed men. Walker slowly stood up from the floor as Alan ran up.
“Jesus H, Josh. What the hell is going on?”
“This is my job, Alan. Welcome to my world.” Josh walked back to the clock, where already the floor was being wiped clean. He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted to the gangway above. “Erik, you should come down here now!”
Erik’s head peered over the edge of the rail. “What are you?”
“I’m a priest,” he shouted, as he walked away