You Again?

 
 

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Loh digs her hands into her pockets.
”You.” Duma’s tongue whips out, tasting the air, he spits. “You taste mad.”
”Fuck you, Duma. Fuck. You.”
Duma laughs. “You think I want to work with you? Uhn? I’ve heard about you. Please. Sooner we get this done the sooner I can go back to eating”—he leers—”babies.”
”That might actually be funny if I thought you were kidding.”
”Enough, you two. You both wanted this job, but I can’t have only one of you take it. It has to be a two person team and you’re the only two that responded to the posting. No one wants this job.”
Duma crosses his arms, grunts.
Loh sighs. “The reward still fifty-kay?”
Captain Ellis nods. “A hundred split, yes. We need this done, the sooner the better. I’ve been authorized to add an additional twenty if it’s finished by the end of the day. But you both have to return, that’s as much a requirement as is bringing in Phano’s head.”
”Any bonus for bringing him in alive?” Duma asks.
”No. We want him dead. Wanted him dead a month ago. The problems he’s causing”—Ellis grits his teeth, shakes his head—”they need to end.”
Loh adjusts her shoulders, the massive blade on her back shifts. “For sixty thousand I’ll whack the head off pretty much anyone.”
Duma grunts in agreement.
”You want transportation to the island? Or you going to figure that out yourselves?” Ellis asks.
Duma turns to Loh, “I know a fishing captain that trawls those waters. You willing to trust me to get us there?”
Loh stares into Duma’s eyes for a beat, searching for hints of deception. Finds none. “Okay,” she says. “Fine.”

Just shy of seven hours later Duma is laughing, carrying a bloody bag, dips his head in mock bow as Loh opens the door for him. Loh kicks Duma in the butt.
”Excuse me what,” asks Ellis’s butler. “You can’t come barging in like…Now hold on just a minute, Captain Ellis is in the middle…Stop right there.”
But the pair is too drunk to listen. Too giddy to pay the wrinkled old fart any attention.
”Ellis, where the hell are you?” Duma booms in the foyer. “We’ve got your head.”
Loh bursts into laughter. “You going to give him head?”
Duma, pauses, then as understanding dawns shares in the hilarity.
Ellis appear at the second floor landing. “That was quick,” he says. The robe’s cloth belt slips from his hand as he tries to tie it around his waist. From another room a woman’s voice calls.
”You busy, Captain?” Duma laughs. “You want this head, or that one?” Looking towards Ellis’s room.
”Both,” Ellis snickers. “That’s Phano?” Nodding at the bag in Duma’s hand.
”What’s left of him, yeah.” Loh grunts. “You said you wanted his head, we left the rest in the ocean for the sharks.”
”Any trouble?” Ellis asks.
”Trouble? Like the few dozen goblins? Or Phano’s pet Cockatrice?” Duma’s eyes widen? “That sort of trouble?”
”Howell, bring me the bag.” Ellis says.
The old butler steps to Duma. “Sir?”
”Oh, hey, look at that, I’m a sir.”
”A big green ugly one,” Loh shoulders the Orc. It’s like bumping into a tree. The fuck did that make her wet for? Good grief, how many did she have? She steps away, swallows, feels sweat form at the small of her back.
Duma sniffs, his tongue whips. His eyes dart towards Loh for a half second. Hands the bag to Howell.
Loh feels Duma’s eyes on her. Aw hell.
Ellis opens the bag, grimaces. “Yeah, that looks like Phano alright. I’ll have Howell give you each ten right now. Come back tomorrow, sometime after midday and I’ll have the rest.”
Duma glares. “What? That wasn’t part of the deal.”
”You think I keep that kind of money here? Give me a break, Duma. And I need to have a forensic mage verify this is Phano anyways. Find something to do for the next sixteen hours. You’ll get your money.”

An hour later, in the alcove of a bar, Duma moves his axe into a more comfortable position. Behind him the door opens, the sound of music, laughter, a glass breaking, someone calling for a drink. The door shuts, muting all sound save for falling rain.
Loh elbows him. “You got plans?”
”Sleep until I can get paid.”
”You tired?”
”Not really. Something about the smell of hot goblin blood gets me”—he spits. “Good night, Loh.” He steps out into the night.
”Whatever, Duma. Go fuck yourself.”
”He turns, water running down his face. How about you help me, you little bitch?”
God. Damn. She smirks. Runs right at him, jumps.
He catches her like she weighs nothing. “That’s what I thought,” he grunts.

 

Congregation

 
Art by:  Rehail Essad

Art by: Rehail Essad

 

The arm’s pistons hiss, gears turn, the platform rises.
My people.
We listen, they say as one.
I sit before you—humble.
We hear, they whisper.
These words, not my own, come from higher.
We listen, their words clear yet subtle.
There is a pattern, a way, a path, an adventure, a series of events.
We hear.
I am the map, only the paper, not the information it contains. Head these words.
We listen.
Find your own way, let no one tell you they know the path.
We hear.
No man, no woman, no child, no saint, no elder, no one knows your journey.
We listen, they say. A few nod.
Ah, but the light. The light will guide you, find it. Seek within, feed it, grow it, nurture it. Foster the light.
We hear.
Find the light and bring it forth. Never hide what only you have to offer.
We listen.
A story. He says. There was a city, a good city, the brick roads were clean, the homes tidy, the people happy. The brick layer was proud of his work, although it wasn’t his alone. It was his father that had started construction on the road. Before the bricks the road was packed dirt. Back then the roads turned to rivers of mud when the heavy rains came. People found themselves stuck, angry, and dirty after even a short trip to the market. One day the brick layer noticed a missing brick. Now ask yourself, did the brick layer ignore the missing brick? With so many others, thousands, even tens of thousands, what mattered one? Did he go home, shrug, and say “All will be fine”? Of course not. Go home he did, yes, but no to shrug and say “Oh, it’ll be fine”. He went home to craft a new brick. Even with the rest of the road intact that one missing brick needed to be replaced. Left incomplete the road’s stability would begin to fall to ruin. Do you hear?
We hear.
Go your way.
We listen and hear.
Amen.
Amen.

 

The Sound of Joy

 
Art by:  Entei Ryu

Art by: Entei Ryu

 

Look in her eyes, if you get a chance. What do you see? Anger? Joy? Sadness? All of the above and more? You, street food vendor, what do you see? Hunger, want, desire. And you, would-be mugger? Purpose, meaning, pity. What about you, little street urchin, what do you see? Compassion, loss, wonder.

All true in each moment. The vendor sells her a trio of kabobs, sizzling meat and vegetables. The mugger losses his hand and earns a word of warning, “Try it again, me or anyone, and I’ll kill you.” She gives the boy a pair of coins, he’ll eat for a week.

Back home she pauses outside her father’s study. Why isn’t she knocking? Because Elliot Gavin knows she’s there. With his enhanced hearing he can trace her every footstep. Not only hers, but the whole estate’s staff. Everyone has a unique pattern to their gait. Like a fingerprint, laughter, or eye color.

“What’re you waiting for? Tell me what you learned.”

She closes the door behind her, sits on a cushion. “More tea?”

“I’m fine, thank you. Tell me what happened.”

“They were welcoming, told me they respect you and hold you in high regard—”

“But?”

“But they said they’re not going to lower the tax.”

“I figured as much. It was worth a try. And you did as we discussed?”

“Kill them, you mean? I hate word games.”

He laughs. “Yes, true. I’m so used to it though, you must forgive me.”

She smiles, looking into his milky eyes. The best medicine and science was able to give him hearing better than a dog, but his sight is forever lost. She recalls the way he used to look at her, before the attack. She’s playing with him, wresting on the grass in the courtyard. Her mother watching, smiling. Tammy carries a tray of lemonade out, mother thanks her. Tammy bows and as she leaves smiles at ten-year-old Alex.

Alex waves to Tammy. When she looks back her dad is watching her, beaming, almost on the verge of tears. Above, a billboard dragged by a drone hovers by. A man chewing gum, gives a thumbs up, returns to chewing, another thumbs up. Ten minutes later Alex goes to bed. That’ll be the last evening her father is able to see her. During the night a team of would-be assassins strikes, but is repelled by Gavin security. The poison grenade the assassins throw into Elliot’s room destroys his hearing and sight.

Alex pours herself half a cup of tea. “They’re dead, yes.”

“How do you feel?”

Alex shrugs. A wasted gesture, one of the things her father will never see again. A tear runs down her cheek. “Fine.”

“Then why’re you crying?”

He can hear that? “You…How—”

Elliot smiles. “It’s in your voice.”

She looks away and wipes her cheek. “It isn’t because of what I did, it’s because of what you can’t do.”

“See?”

Alex nods. Fuck. “Yes,” she says.

“I don’t need to see, I love you just the same.”

“I’ve never questioned your love, dad. That isn’t what makes me cry.”

“Then what?”

“Do you remember the last time you saw me?”

“In the courtyard, lemonade, a billboard for JawSum Gum. One of my clearest memories.”

“That’s why I'm crying. You’ll never be able to look at me again. It’s selfish, I know it is. But I wish you could see me, smile like you did that night. I see how people look at me, mother, Tammy, people in the city. It’s always different, but none of them can see me the way you did. You were the only one that saw the potential in me.”

“Ah, I see.”

Alex laughs, “No, you don’t. That’s the problem.” Her father bursts into laughter as well.

At least they have that, the sound of joy.