Fresh Content 6/1/23: I Still Burn — Derek Barton – 2023


“Dang it, Rylund! What the heck was that about?” Stephanie snapped at him as she led him away from the Men’s Room crowd. She yanked his arm and pulled him to the left. He heard a clicking sound, then the telltale sound of a door opening then closing behind them.  The room felt closer and cramped. A musty smell encompassed them.

“Where are we?”

“It’s a storage closet, I think,” she said.

“Why?”

“So you can tell me what happened!”

He bit his bottom lip and thought for a moment. His excitement to reveal what he saw was high but at the same time he was afraid. Not that she would probably ridicule him but she would burst his bubble of happiness at a sign of healing. The first sign he was recovering and could hope to see again someday.

Rylund shook his head. “No. Nothing happened. Let’s get back to our seats.”

“Suurreee,” she over exaggerated the word, clearly not believing him. They didn’t move.

“I’m okay. Honest. Just got sick from too much sun I think,” he lied.

“Suurreee,” she repeated, but this time she took his arm again and opened the door.

The wafting drafts of buttery popcorn mixed with fresh beer came over them. He then heard a wave of cheers as they drew closer to the stands.

He had a thought, a hunch he wanted to test.

“Wait. Let’s go higher. Take me up to the $5 dollar seats.”

“Why?”

“Humor me will ya? The usher won’t bother us. Who goes higher for a worse view on purpose?”

Stephanie didn’t answer but led on, hauling him to the right this time to a set of sticky, concrete steps. “Careful.”

He gripped the metal rail which grew hot as they climbed the stairwell. 

At last they sat down, in the last set of benches of the stadium. The “cheap seats” were high above the playing field and almost too far away to tell who was at bat. Only a few die hard fans sat here. 

“Is there a rail? I want to stand next to it.”

“Are you high?” Stephanie wondered aloud. “You said you got sick from too much sun and now you want to bake in it some more?”

Rylund shrugged. He couldn’t explain anything yet, but he hoped she trusted him enough to know he had some reason to do so.

Sighing, she cupped his elbow and guided him slowly to the rail. From the rail, one could overlook the entire game audience. Which was exactly what he remembered from earlier experiences at the park as a kid. 

As the sun did cook their skin, he gripped the rail with both hands and leaned out over it. He swept the benches below with his blind eyes. 

It worked! Almost hidden under the second level seating near third base, a watery circle appeared. That same elderly black man sat, eating a hot dog and sipping from a beer cup. “Oh my god!” he whispered awestruck.

“What?” Stephanie reacted to his sudden reaction. Her hands clenched his arms and tried to pull him back to his seat.

“No. Stop! Hold up, Steph!” he pointed down. “Can YOU see a black man there?”

Her hands loosened and he sensed her hesitation, but she eventually looked for herself. “Uh…. maybe. Wait! Yeah.”

“He’s drinking a beer, wearing a faded Kepperdine jersey right? Number 9.”

She pulled his hands suddenly hard and twisted him to face her. “How are you seeing him? Are you getting your sight back?” she squealed in curious delight.

Again he shrugged. It wasn’t true sight. Only a tiny window of vision. Only this man…

“I can’t understand it. I don’t know why, but I see him. Just him! He bumped into me in the Men’s Room and that’s how I spotted him the first time.”

“What about the three young girls behind him? Or that fat man two seats down from him in the stands?”

He shook his head. “Just him. And it’s not like I see him clearly. He’s visible but he also has something glowing, but like in yellowish patches. Remember that trip we took two years ago, when mom and dad wanted to go on that cave tour in Kentucky? We saw all those rocks covered in phosphorus lichen? It’s like that! The lichen is covering some of his shoulder and neck.”

They returned to the bench row, keeping their voices low.

“Why? What does it mean? Do you think it’ll get better? You will start to see more people or places. Did this happen before or–” Her questions were peppering him non-stop. Stephanie had a bad habit of rapid questioning when she was nervous and or excited.

He stopped her with a raised hand. “I don’t know any more than you do. From everything I have read online, nothing ever sounded like this. If my eyesight is returning, it is usually marked by dim images. Or I’d see in black and white or maybe shadows at first, I mean.”

“So this hasn’t happened before to you?”

“No.”

“Go back over there and see it is still happening and to only him.”

They worked together to another spot at the rail, about a dozen feet to the left of the first spot. “He’s on his feet, checking his watch right?”

“Yes.”

“Yeah, I can only see him.” Rylund said. “There has to be a reason I cannot see anyone else in the crowd. Let’s follow him!”

Moments later they were standing in a large hallway. It was sparsely populated as the seventh inning had already begun and the Phillies were at bat. They waited for the elderly man. He sat about five rows down in the sun-soaked bleachers. 

“Is he alone?” Rylund asked. 

“I don’t see anyone. There’s a family of five sitting in the same row with him but they haven’t paid him any attention.”

The crowd groaned in unison as the last batter was out after he popped up a foul ball.  

“Here,” she said and guided him back further into the lobby. It was cooler so he assumed they were in a darker section. “We can wait here unseen when he comes out.”

“Good idea.”

“You still can see him, right?” Stephanie asked.

He shook his head. It was truly bizarre and baffled him.

Five minutes later, the other team ended the inning after a flurry of singles and a run scored. The home crowd grumbled at the poor performance. 

“He’s leaving,” Rylund said. 

“Yeah, I see him. Let’s let him go a bit ahead. We don’t want him seeing us!”

The man moved along the corridor, shuffling with a slight limp but still at an even pace. Whenever he passed signs or when someone walked close to him, Rylund caught glimpses. The window that surrounded the man was similar to a see-through curtain, almost aura-like. Or, Rylund mused, it was more like a candle since it lit up anything near him.

The crowd of baseball fans thinned out as the man headed out of the coliseum and toward the parking garages. Stephanie slowed them down even more to remain unnoticeable. However, the man never looked back over his shoulder. 

He came to a set of elevators. He stabbed at the down button. 

“Stay here a moment,” she directed him.

A second later he heard her speak out. 

“Did you like the game?” Her voice energetic and excited. The elevator buzzed, signalling it was at their floor.

“It was s’alright,” he mumbled. His voice was garbled and he sounded distracted.

“Which level?” 

“3 D please.”

“OH! Hold up. I’m sorry, but I forgot my phone in the seats.” She stepped out of the elevator. As the elevator closed, she ran to Rylund. He heard the patter of her sneakers smacking the pavement. 

“Nice job! Are the stairs close?” he asked. He found she was scary clever sometimes.

She took his hand and they jogged to the stairwell door, chasing after the elevator.

At the bottom, the stairwell door was propped partially open with a small red brick. The man’s voice echoed and floated to them.

“Excuse me! Excuse me, Sir,” The man called out. 

Stephanie narrated for him automatically in spite of the new narrow field of vision.

“He’s waving his hand at some police man. He’s trying to get his attention.”

“Are you, uh… Officer Fields? Officer Jason Fields?” he called out again. 

“Yes, sir. May I help you?” The officer came into view as the old black man stepped over to him. The cop dressed in full uniform had been standing at attention next to a doorway. 

“I am sorry to bother you. I think I have gotten lost. Is this the backstairs to the management office suites? My name is Sammy Samuels. I was told to find a Jason Fields. That is you, right?”

“Yes. Do you have business here? I will need an ID.”

“That’s alright, son. I don’t have business there. I really just wanted to get close.” With that his hand flashed out and pulled something white out from his jean’s waistband. It was long and clawlike. It was an engraved bone dagger. 

He plunged the sharp, serrated tip quick into the man’s neck once and pulled back fast to thrust it again into the young cop’s throat. He stabbed over and over. Blood exploded and fountained all over the pair as Fields wrestled weakly with the old man. As his blood poured and the dagger kept making new holes in his neck and upper chest, the officer sank to his knees. 

The old man wheezed and gasped from the effort but held the heavier officer upright. Samuels twisted and turned all about looking to see if anyone was around. He then leaned down and peered into Field’s dead eyes. 

“Oh okay. You’s done now. Nothing left for you to worry,” he said as he let loose of the body which smacked the concrete with a sick thud. Rylund wasn’t sure if he was speaking to himself or the man he murdered.

Stephanie trembled and her hand clutched his arm so tight her fingernails bit into the skin. 

“Don’t let him see us,” he whispered to her. She remained silent but backed them up and against the stairwell wall out of sight.. Unfortunately that meant he couldn’t see the murderer any longer as well.

“Why did he do that?” She whimpered. “How could he do that?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Take me home, I don’t want to see anymore.”

Revisited Content — I Still Burn — Derek Barton – 2023

Here is the reprint of this story I started last April. I hope to add to this story in the coming weeks!

CHAPTER ONE:

Sammy Samuels wasn’t bothered by the late-night Philadelphia air. In fact, he rather enjoyed its touch of briskness. Made him feel more alive on his walks home. His breath plumed, funneling out and trailed behind the old man’s head. As he walked along the street, he whistled an old favorite R & B tune to himself. A large smile was stretched across his face. There were touches of gray along the edges of his afro. In his left hand, he held a smoldering, snubbed cigar and in the other, he carried a bottle of Jim Beam Bourbon.

As Sammy crested the hill on Jacobson St., he first spotted it. He skidded to a stop, and he stiffened in spite of himself. “Whoa. What in the hell is that?” he muttered under his breath.

At the bottom, in the hollow, at the corner of Jacobson and Alan Derry St., sat one of the ugliest statues he’d ever seen in his life. It was of a dog, a large one, possibly a German Shepherd. It sat facing back up at the hill. The streetlamp overhead gave it a wide spotlight of yellowish light. The statue’s fur was a natural patchwork of tan, brown and black. However, above its snout was a red plastic mask, white X’s over its eyes.  

Never seen that here before, he mused. Sick joke or something.

He didn’t find it amusing. He’d come down this way a few times before from Delta Blues Liquor Store. He always had to when he’d miss the last running Metro bus like he did tonight. He was sure he’d have noticed that gaudy thing.

Sammy shook his head, chuckled, and returned to whistling his favorite song. One of them millennial artists musta placed it there recently. Prolly got some sort of statement and story behind it. Nowadays, everyone has something to say. An opinion that everyone just has to listen to!

He shook his head once more with disdain. Halfway down the hill, he stopped again. He nearly dropped his half-finished bottle. To the right of the street and sitting dutifully on both sides of a door were two more of the statues. Same red masks with the white Xs, different shades of fur. The pair were placed in front of Rawley’s Deli.

Sammy instinctively glanced to the left to see if there were dog statues posted as the others. Nothing. As habit, he scratched one temple with an index finger as he stood confused.

Instead of more statues, he only found a small alley entrance.  Two tall brick buildings and several brown, city garbage bins crowded the alley. A flickering fluorescent light hung off one building, but it was further back at the end.

He looked back at the three dogs one by one, looking for a poster or sign to further elaborate on the work’s meanings. Again nothing.

Sammy shrugged, took a long swig from the bottle which he followed with a deep drag off his cigar.

He stepped forward, cursing the way the world was so over-populated with opinionated assholes and full of self-righteousness these darkening days, when he spotted the fourth dog statue. It was sitting motionless alongside the first one at Jacobson St. corner.

This time the bottle did drop and shattered at his feet. What da hell? Where did that one come from?

The dogs tilted their heads together, slowly to the right as dogs do, as if listening to his inner questions.

Sammy’s heart raced and his chest tightened with sudden fear. He took an involuntary step backward. Swiveling his head to the left then right, he looked to see if anyone else happened to be out at this late hour. He prayed he would spy someone — anyone – and not another dog statue!

Were they statues? The shocking question bubbled up in his mind.

No one else was out. Most of the store fronts were dark and closed. Due to the recent cold spell, no one was out or near the apartment buildings or out on their stoop either.

Three more dogs appeared. They strolled out from another alleyway ahead of him, walking in a line. They sat upon their haunches, in formation upon the sidewalk. Then they too tilted their heads in question.

Almost like they’re asking me ‘what the fuck you gonna do, old man? It’s your move. What’s your thoughts?’

His tongue snaked out quick and wet his lips. Sammy had grown up on the streets. He had toughened it out, surviving many fights and ambushes. He was cagey, yet it had been some time since he’d had to use those skills.

Whatcha gonna do?

Someone snapped their fingers together.

Like a bullet from a gun, the hounds bound to their feet and bolted at him.

He lurched forward to the left, but after two steps, he stutter-stepped then spun on his sneaker heels. He backtracked up the hill as fast as his arthritic joints would carry him. When he topped it, a fist caught him squarely in the nose and rocked him off his feet. He never saw it coming. He tumbled backwards and rolled along the street’s gutter.

When he came to a stop at the bottom, Sammy sputtered and spit blood as he laid panting on his back.

Sammy heard the patter of paws, sharp claws scraping against the tar road. The old man gulped and held brave to the thought he’d be alright. He’d be home soon, safe and relaxing in his comfy recliner and eating a microwave dinner in a quick hour. You’ll see. They’ll leave ya alone as you ain’t got nothin’.

He tried to ignore the painful sharp stings as their jaws clamped onto his wrists. As well, he didn’t resist as they dragged him toward the empty, shadowy alley. Inside the alley’s dark confines, more jaws snapped close upon his limbs. He kept his eyes squeezed shut.

Lord, I’ve been a good man for some time now. Please see me through this, he prayed inside. While he did have a strong faith, he also believed in the idea that the blessed be those who help themselves too.

He opened one eye then the other. The pack of dogs had surrounded him, their hot breaths baked his skin. Their fur was spikey, greasy and matted with mud and feces. A rotted, fetid stench from their breath and bodies soured his stomach, almost making him vomit. His arms and legs were held aloft by two dogs each. They were keeping him down but hadn’t actually torn at him, only imprisoning him. The person who struck him on the street was nowhere in sight.

“What? Hello?” Sammy’s voice was shaky and shrill, pleading. “I ain’t got much, mister, but it’s yours!”

But, no one came to take his wallet. No reply. He didn’t hear dog or man.

“Look! It’s okay. I get it. But I didn’t see you, only your dogs. I can’t ID you. I wouldn’t. Hell, dude, who’s gonna believe an old drunk anyway. You take what I have, just don’t hurt me anymore, okay?”

As an answer a massive jaw gripped his thin throat, choking him. Trickles of blood droplets dripped to the dirty concrete beneath him.

A gravely yet smug voice called out from somewhere above Sammy’s prone position. “Samuel Jeremiah Samuels. Born in 1948, survived a pair of ex-wives. Father to two sons who you haven’t spoken to in years. Retired as a building engineer when we all know you were only a glorified handyman. Now pitiful, broke, and useless to all around him.” The voice droned with other trivial information. It was masculine and judgmental. As the tirade continued, a pair of slick, lime green boots walked up next to his head. They were wet and caked in odd, slimy mud that smelled faintly of fish and worm. The rest of his view obscured by the bulky dog bodies. 

“What do you want? Lemme go! You have no right to do this to me!” Sammy gasped out from under the mane of the dog.

“Oh Sammy. Going to go down that road? Deep down you know what’s happening. You know what I’m doing and why. It’s your Judgment Day. No right, you say? No, sir, I have every right and from the day you first understood your ol’ Granny’s words. She taught you that sins pile up and you’d one day have to atone.”

“Bullshit,” Sammy’s weak dismissal didn’t have much strength behind it.

A flash of memory popped in Sammy’s head. It was of the Sunday, when he’d been five years old and had been caught stealing with his two friends. They had been snaking dollar bills from the church’s tithe baskets while everyone else was in Sunday School. His Granny Josie had used a thin tree branch to deliver her punishment. She followed up with a fifteen-minute sermon on sinnin’ and doin’ the devil’s work. The Devil to Sammy was the worst of the world’s boogeymen. He learned later that the world harbored a multitude of monsters. Whoever this attacker was, he was right about him. He knew what sinning was from an early age.

Another snap of fingers.

Excruciating pain filled Sammy. Every nerve inside shrieked with agony. Muscles and skin tore, blood poured or fountained all about the alley. His muffled screams garbled by the penetrating fangs in his throat. His limbs flailed and writhed but were not released.

An orange aura of energy floated down over him. White flickering lightning bolts popped and lit up the alley. It blinded him so he couldn’t see much of the shadowy dark profile standing over him.

“I can keep you like this as long as I want, Sammy. I won’t let you die, you see. Can’t have you escape me so easily. You cannot outlast me either. It’s a new trick I picked up with… With my promotion.    This pain, this Rending of your soul, it can last for eternity. So you see,  I have brought your Granny’s Hell to you!” the Dark Form laughed.

Then Granny Josie’s voice howled out of the stranger’s mouth, “Sammy! Sammy, you stop livin’ like this! You be a good man. Those gangs are not for you. They pretendin’ to be your family. They usin’ you up and will throw you away just as easy! Stop your sinnin’, boy!”

Those were the actual words she had used when she bailed him out of jail the third time. The drive home had seemed torturous and infinite to him. But now… after she was long gone and buried, the words seemed like purity and wisdom. If only it hadn’t been another four years before he straightened up and wanted more in his life.

The laughter continued as the pain ratcheted up. The dogs yanked and thrust all about. First, they tore his arms from the elbow joints. Then tugged the stubs away at the shoulders. They worked away his feet and gnawed apart his knees.

The Dark Form’s words oozed into his ears. The menacing tone flooded through him over the sounds of his screams and pleas for mercy. “This will all end. Can all end and the sins washed clean, if you only say the words. You only need to say, I give unto Thee! Your appeals for mercy are sweet and savory to my ears, but I have a more demanding pallet! Give all to me, follow what you are told. If you do this, you will be free. Can you do that, Sammy? Are you going to say those four simple words? I give unto Thee!”

The jaws at his throat tightened further and crushed his windpipe between the molars. His spine snapping like kindling. Blood poured up and out of his mouth, splattering his face and chest. His skull cracked hard on the concrete as it separated and rolled away from his shoulders. Agony and fire filled his mind, consuming him.

“SAY IT, SAMMY! GIVE YOUR SOUL TO ME! SAVE IT OR THE HOUNDS WILL TEAR YOU INTO HUNDREDS OF PIECES WHICH YOU WILL FEEL EACH AND EVERY BIT OF!” The Dark Form screeched in a mad frenzy.

As two hounds chewed at his face and ears, pulling and stretching, Sammy gave in. 

He couldn’t speak, his body was mutilated, unrecognizable. Yet the words I give unto Thee! filled his mind.

The Dark Form somehow knew. Although, he didn’t stop the relentless mauling right away. The dogs’ violence escalated.

A pair of hounds were at his neck, drinking and lapping up his blood. Others were eating his intestines and finding other organ delicacies. His genitals were caught in a vicious three-way tug of war.

All of it, Samuel Jeremiah Samuels felt and heard in a suspended state of life.

The Dark Form finally snapped its fingers once more. The carnage came to a bloody, frothy end. The Rending ceased.

“Your life is over as you know it. Your life and oath are forever bound to me now. You will wait for my needs, you will heed my words.” The Dark Form paused then uttered a single word. 

This time Sammy felt it rather than heard.

“Whole.”

Hours later, Sammy lay unconscious behind the garbage bins, taking shallow breaths. Finally, he sat up and looked around him. He was alone. No dog or man. Or whatever that Dark Form was!

He absently scratched at his temple, stood and hugged his arms to his chest. It was still cold that early Philadelphia morning as he made the rest of his trip home.


CHAPTER TWO:

Rylund Faraday’s life had ended at that very moment, that very spot. At least, life as he knew it.

Once again, he was reliving the worst moment of his life.

He was locked, frozen in fear on the third step from the bedroom landing. Stephanie Faraday, stood motionless, clad only in her Elephant Andie pajama top and matching polka dotted socks. Standing before the massive 100-gallon saltwater aquarium in the living room, she was mesmerized by its dancing water. It churned with large, frothy bubbles.

Flames wavered in long rows along the wooden kitchen island and along the open archway behind the fish tank. The whole house had become an inferno. Heat rolled out over both of them, baking their skin and reddening his sister’s pale cheeks. Heavy clouds of smoke clustered along the ceiling as light ash flurried about them. Rylund’s view of the rest of the house was shielded by towering columns of flame, walls of fire and falling debris.

He knew what was coming next but unlike in reality, he couldn’t move, couldn’t jump and scoop her up into his protection. The heated water reached its boil and the glass shattered out in a brilliant, white flash. A blanket of fire, smothering steam and scalding water washed over her body. She fell instinctively to the floor, curling into a fetal position and hugged her limbs tight to her as death consumed her.

His screams filled the night, and his sightless eyes were wide when Stephanie rushed in and went to Rylund’s side. The sheets were soaked and his face glistened with beads.

“It’s okay now. It’s all over,” she cooed as she swept back his hair from his brow, trying to calm him from his nightmare.

He nodded but could not respond as he choked down large gulps of air, hyperventilating. He trembled as a light breeze blew in from an open window on the left of his bed. With a corner of his sheet he moped his brow and sat up on his elbows.

“Sorry. Did I wake you again?” His voice was gravely and horse.

“Well, yeah. At first, I thought it was the TV, a horror movie or something. Uncle Max is passed out in front of it again.” She shrugged then fell into an awkward silence. They held hands in the dark and his breathing returned to a normal rhythm.

Stephanie was tall for her age at 9, but her curly brown hair hung down passed her shoulders to the middle of her back. She always seemed to have a mischievous smile in her eyes and on her thin red lips. Rylund was lanky at 13, with a shock of black hair and a spatter of freckles on his cheeks. Some burn scars were mixed in with his adolescent acne pockmarks.

Although they lived with their uncle, since the fire, she was his main caregiver. Their love and sibling connection can only be described as a fierce bond.

“Same nightmare?” she finally asked aloud.

“Yes. I always have to relive it. Every night. Like a penance or something.”

“Did you tell Doctor Bradwell?”

He answered in a falsetto voice, “’Your subconscious is holding onto it as you are. It’s only reflecting what your mind is keeping as unfinished business. Until you and your mind move on, your dreams may not as well. Only time will tell.’” Rylund finished the mocking impression by patting the top of his head. “Time’s up! Next patient please, Nurse Cora.”

They giggled together.

“He’s not that bad,” she said.

“No, he’s not. He really did help me with accepting that mom and dad are gone.”

More awkward silence with a couple of sniffles.

“It’s weird you can still see in your dreams. What do you think you are holding on to?”

“The dream is always the same but it’s also different from what happened.” He paused, sat up and crossed his legs Indian style. They continued to hold hands to support each other. “I remember waking up that night to ashes falling on me. When I opened my eyes, at first, I thought at first it was snowing in my room! Only then I could hear the muffled smoke alarm chirps coming from down the hall. I heard shouting above me. I think it was Dad. I jumped up and ran out. Smoke was flowing down the stairs. When I got to the top though, everything was covered in flames.”

His voice hitched and caught in his throat as his emotions got the best of him. “It was Granddad Chester’s grandfather clock that had fallen onto the hall desk and blocked their doorway.”

“Really? You never told me that before.”

“Yes. I could only see a few feet into the room, most of the ceiling had caved in by that time.” Tears welled and leaked down his cheeks. The fire had begun in the house’s attic somehow. It took the upper portion of the house easily and without warning.

In a whisper he said, “I heard their screams, Steph. How does anyone forget that? How can you ‘let go’ of or ‘unhear’ the sound of your parents’ screams?”

She squeezed his hand tighter. Tears welled in her eyes as well.

“When they stopped, I realized I had been standing there far too long. One of my sleeves had even caught fire. My mind was roaring around one thought: I wanted to get to you and had to get you out! But when I found you, you were standing at mom’s tank. The fish had all floated to the top, the boiling water was filled with bubbles.”

“Yes. I’d never seen anything like that. It was almost beautiful.”

“I knew it was going to explode! I leaped right off the third step. That is where my dream is different.”

“What happens?”

“I didn’t do it. I can’t. I was paralyzed in terror. I didn’t reach you. You… die in the fire too.”

“Why? You saved me in real life.”

“I know!” he said breathless. “It makes no sense, and it fills me with such pain, and being so helpless! It’s so horrible.”

“You don’t regret it, do you? Is that why you dream it differently? So, you wouldn’t have had to lose…”

“NO! NEVER! Sure. Of course, I hate losing my sight but losing you would’ve been so much worse. Stephanie, I will never wish anything different. I’d do it the same way every time. I love—”

“But you lost so much,” her voice now low in whisper. “Losing Mommy and Dad was so hard, but if I had to handle the surgeries and blindness on top of it – I know I am not strong enough.” She shook her head and sobbed softly.

“Yes, you are. Look how you’ve done so much for me. Grown up so fast to help me. You are my rock.”

He stopped and poked his chin at where they had the set the clock on his nightstand. “What time is it?”

“2:48.”

“The dream always comes at this time of night. How weird is that?”

“Is that the time the fire had started in the attic? Or when the lightning had hit?” her voice tightened by the scary idea.

“Okay, now you are just being weird, Stephanie! Uncle Max has let you watch too many of those paranormal shows. Time to go back to sleep!” He chided and teased her.

“You’re good then?”

He made a shooing wave. “Go check on Uncle Max. Move any open bottles away. Oh, and clear out any ash trays.”

“Good night, Rylund. Try to sleep, we have a big day, remember?”

“Hmmm, right. Baseball game,” he answered and shrugged non-committed to the idea. “Fun.”

As she closed his bedroom door, he stretched and made a silent prayer for the rest of the night to be dreamless and peaceful for both of their sakes.


CHAPTER THREE:

The crowd was deafening, roaring as the baseball flew high over their heads and into the rows of “cheap seats”.

“It was a homerun. Vasquez did it!” Stephanie squealed in high-pitch delight and clapped her hands.

“STEPH! DIDJA SEE DAT?” Uncle Max shouted, slurring from the effects of the large amount of alcohol already consumed.

Not waiting for her reply, Uncle Max was laughing and hooting cheers again with his two buddies. The baseball game had been as Rylund feared only an easy excuse for the adults to get drunk. Stephanie wisely made a pre-emptive strike and asked for their uncle’s debit card to pay for a Uber ride home after the third inning.

“Vasquez is the best and the cutest player on the Phillies!” She squealed again.

Rylund shook his head. “Velasquez. His name’s Vince Velasquez.”

“Oh,” she giggled. “Whoever! We’re tied at least.”

He sighed in boredom. Even before his accident, baseball was too long for him to watch, let alone now listen to his sister’s poor play-by-play.

A breeze scented with butter floated over them, his stomach growled in response. He reached out and patted her shoulder. “Let’s hit the restroom then make a run for some food. Okay?”

Stephanie’s sudden silence wasn’t surprising, and he didn’t need to see her face to know what she was thinking. Her shoulder had tightened in reflex under his fingers. To be truthful, he didn’t relish the idea of meandering among the Spectators either. Spectators was the name he gave the unseen members of the crowds that watched and sent him looks of pity. Spectators that meant well but mostly watched him struggle and were secretly grateful they weren’t him. Spectators were his version of roadside rubberneckers.

“I brought my cane, I’ll be alright – just going to find the first stall, I’m in an out. Simple.”

“Yeah, cuz I’m not going in! It’s—”

“You don’t need to. That’s what I’m tellin’ you. I’ll go in on my own. Stay by the doorway so we can go together to the food kiosks.”

Minutes later, he trailed behind her as she wove them skillfully through the throng of fans that milled about the stadium. Rylund heard lots of noise, most of it he tuned out as “crowd white noise”. While some people liked to “people watch” crowds, Rylund liked to eavesdrop and guess their stories.

A cranky toddler somewhere behind them was fussing and whining about a lost toy. The mother was refusing to go back for the white wabbit. Children’s voices tended to catch his attention first – the higher pitch the voice the more they impacted his senses.

A woman to the left of them was laughing, flirting with someone as her laughter seemed too long and forced. Another younger voice interrupted hers and her words also came out sounding forced, bordering on obnoxious. A male’s lower, gruff voice interrupted now and then.

She’s drunk. Goin’ to be a cat-fight soon, he mused.

Stephanie squeezed his hand. It was their agreed upon signal for stopping. He sensed her leaning in close to him. “I will be on the left. There’s a long line for the Kettle Korn. Once you get past the line, on the right is the Men’s Room. Got it?”

“Yep,” he answered and tapped out a quick series of staccato notes on the stadium floor with his cane.

The faint, tainted air of urine and bleach marked the restroom’s unpleasant location. As he neared the open archway, a silvery flash flickered in the corner of one eye.

What the—

Someone collided with his shoulder. The strike spun him to the side where he bounced off some lady’s large backside. She cursed loudly while he wobbled unsteady trying to regain his footing.

She must’ve turned to face him, noticed the cane, and her mouth snapped close. He shrugged as his poor apology, headed again toward the restroom. His cheeks burned red in embarrassment.

Yet, his mind reeled, his thoughts mixed and tumbled over each other. His sight had been completely cut off ever since the night of the fire. The explosion of aquarium glass and scalding water had been the last thing he saw, and they had done irreparable damage. Thus, it had been nearly a year in “darkness”.

The term darkness doesn’t aptly describe blindness. Being blind isn’t like keeping your eyes closed. It’s more akin to trying to see the room about you with your elbow. It simply doesn’t happen. Nothingness is a closer definition for being blind.

That flash… That flash! Is that a sign of…healing? He wondered, the thought nearly tripping him up again. Could he dare to have hope?

The metallic clink of a bathroom stall door signaled his quest’s end. His hands groped and found the handle. The metal was cold and sticky to his fingers. It was unlocked and he entered.

After months of healing, his body had made astounding changes to accommodate for his blindness. Some of the changes he hadn’t fully expected or anticipated. Of course, his sense of hearing became sharper which is often reported by the blind. However, it was also changes to his fingers. They became extra sensitive to temperatures and textures. Also, his sense of smell deepened. He found he could discern various smells easier than before the fire. It was like going from a broad, wide paint brush to a fine detail brush. It was as if his brain flicked off switches to burned-out light bulbs then flicked other switches on for replacement lights.

At that moment, as he sat down upon the cold seat of the toilet, his heightened sense of smell was not a blessing. He held his breath, blocked out the various noises and echoes, and tried to not gag.

Maybe it was all my imagination. Nothing. Don’t get so excited over this.

He left the stall and worked his way to the sinks universally placed across from the row of stalls. He heard running water and splashing to the left. Then more, two more sinks going on his right. The bathroom had gotten crowded.

The fifth inning must’ve ended, and everyone made a mad dash to relieve themselves. I’m lucky the stampede hadn’t—

Another silvery wave of light floated in front of him, it expanded like a circular tear, like a blooming portal. Its edges were ragged, expanding and contracting. Through this portal, he saw a partial profile of a man as he passed by Rylund and left the restroom. He was much taller than him, a black elderly man with a graying afro. His eyes burned red and there were trailing wisps of smoke in the air. A faint, red aura encompassed him.

When the man slipped out of the Men’s Room entrance, the portal snapped close! The nothingness, the blindness returned like a cold, backhand slap to the face.

Gasping for breath, Rylund gripped the sides of the sink, his cane clattering to the floor at his feet.

“Kid? You okay?” a voice behind him spoke out. It had a deep bass, authoritative timbre.

He couldn’t speak yet, his legs were shaking, but he nodded he was alright, hoping to be left alone.

“You sure? You’re pale and sweatin’. Do you need help to the toilet to throw up?” Another male voice asked.

“No, no. Thanks. My-my sister is outside, she’ll help me,” he mumbled weakly.

Footsteps scampered away from him. Others came closer, crowding him. Spectators! All with good intentions, but it only magnified his state of confusion, his sense of panic building.

Rylund forced his hands free of the wet porcelain and knelt for his cane. Someone put it into his grip. He rushed through the gathered Spectators and fled to the fresh air of the stadium landing. Hugging the wall, he worked his way to the right then pressed up against the grimy wall. He gulped the air and nearly sobbed with emotion. His mind raced from a whirlwind to now a full Level Five Tempest.

He had seen someone! His eyes had worked for a brief second. Nothing or no one would convince him otherwise. The man had been so clear and so close, Rylund could have picked him out of a police line-up.

Giggles burst from his lips, garnering him probably even more stares. Your Honor, the Defense would like to call its next eyewitness, Rylund David Faraday the Blind Boy From Southside!

A hand slipped into his. “Come on. It’s going to be alright. I’m here.”

Stephanie!

He didn’t pull away, let her take him away from the stadium fans all ogling the poor blind kid. Spectators!

He knew there were looks of pity and the mournful faces of sadness. Normally, it would have devastated him. He had had bad times in the rehab center – throwing temper tantrums and ‘why me’ cussing sessions. When he felt the waves of “so-sorry-kid” thoughts overwhelm him. Made him feel helpless, tiny…disabled.

Or like the time at the mall, he tripped on an extension cord and fell headlong into a comic book display, spraining his ankle badly. He was mortified not being able to stand. His embarrassment had rocketed to new levels as several strangers lifted him without asking and carried him to an ambulance. Stephanie was there at his side the whole time, but too small to help. She later told him how embarrassed she had been as well. Her new role in their relationship hadn’t always been easy.

He knew what the Spectators were thinking, saying in their heads, the looks they were giving him and his small sister. This time, however, he was numb to it. None of it mattered. They didn’t know.

Stephanie didn’t even know!

Work In Progress Updates — Derek Barton-2023

Hey there! I know it’s been a while – I sincerely apologize for that. I’ve been hard at work trying to get my latest story completed. Figured you all were due and would like a little update on what’s in store for the future.

Current project – Pawns & Pieces (Book 1# of The Lineage of Prophecy Series): I am literally down to the final chapter to write. Then I’ll work up the last of the editing. Hoping to have this out no later than June. Also, I have more great news. The voice actress, Laura Richcreek will be doing the series on Audible! She will continue her outstanding work that she started in Consequences Within Chaos and The Bleeding Crown. Also I hope to have the same cover artist, Joy Lando, do this series. Her covers were incredible!! Really excited by the progress of the storyline and I hope it will be worth the wait for those who have been long-standing and long-waiting fans of the Wyvernshield story!

Next project – The Deity Staff (Book 2# of The Lineage of Prophecy Series): This is the next novel in the 3 part story arch. I am predicting this one will take me to the end of the year to complete, edit and publish. No guarantees but that’s the goal.

Next web project – I Still Burn (Horror Novel): I put the first three installments of this story on the website already. I will go back to working on this storyline probably once or twice a month until my Wyvernshield fantasy novels are completed. I have not put any new Fresh Content blogs for some time as I have put in extra effort on the fantasy novels and my Horror magazine, With Malice.

Cancelled project – With Malice Magazine (Horror & Crime Fiction): Unfortunately this has been set aside as there was not enough sales and reader interest to justify putting more time into it. With Malice Magazine Issue #1 is out on Amazon for $11.99 for anyone interested who has yet picked up a copy. This magazine idea is not completely dead but it may be some time before it is resurrected in the future.

Future project – Elude #2 (no working title yet): I had a flash idea on this one and would like to someday in the near future flesh it out and see what I can do with it. YES! Vic Vicente would be coming back into the limelight! But you’ll have to be patient to see what trouble he gets into next!

Future project – An Anthology based in the Wyvernshield world: I thought this would be a lot of fun and possible in a year or so after I finish The Lineage of Prophecy series. Like my With Malice Magazine idea, I would gather up a group of fantasy authors if they’re interested and have them all write short stories based in Wyvernshield or Aberrisc! It’s a thought and will take some time to organize but that’s an idea brewing in the back of my head.

Future project – Echoes (Horror novel): I might once I catch up with these projects write a novel giving this short story a more in depth treatment. How do you stop someone trying to kill you in infinite multiverse worlds?! Could be a lot of fun seeing how!

Geesh! That’s a lot of work ahead huh? Sure wish writing was my only job! haha Anyway, this is what I hope to get out to you, my lovable readers! Novel #15 (can you believe there are 14 indie books of mine?!) Pawns & Pieces is just around the corner. Thank you all for your interest and support.

New Release — With Malice Magazine Volume #1 – Derek Barton -2023

WITH MALICE MAGAZINE IS NOW OUT ON THE STREETS!!…

Are you prepared?

E-magazine editions are now available!! Order your copy for $4.99 TODAY! Go to WithMaliceMagazine.com. Click on the To Purchase page and simply select submit a request for your copy.

Softcover editions available on Amazon for only $11.99 CLICK HERE

Don’t miss out on Five unique, original horror stories by our Board of Terror indie writers. Plus we have original artwork, poetry and chilling, horror genre digital image prints!

Video Interviews on Book Asylum — Derek Barton – 2023

I had the honor and pleasure to go on two Vodcast channels! The first with The Written Undead Podcast in October. Then after Written Undead became the new Book Asylum Podcast, they had me on again this month!

Jack Childress and Angel Ramon, the hosts of the podcast channels have also graciously accepted my invitation to write for my With Malice Magazine! They are working currently on stories for our 2nd issue due out in June!!

I may have another podcast coming up with another channel this April.

Here are the links to the channels for your viewing pleasure!

The WRITTEN UNDEAD PODCAST


The BOOK ASYLUM PODCAST

ENJOY!

WITH MALICE MAGAZINE Comes out kickin’ and screamin’! — Derek Barton – 2023

That’s right! My little idea of getting a group of horror story writers together for a fun, unique magazine has come to fruition! Now it’s ready to strike terror wherever it goes…

On March 31st, the ebook version of our first edition will be available from Flipsnack.com for $4.99! A softcover format will be available on Amazon for only $11.99!

For pre-orders or to see more information and bonus material, please see our new website WithMaliceMagazine.com.

This issue has five short stories as well as original art, horror poetry, an author interview and full-page digital prints of horror images. Next quarter, our second issue will offer another set of indie author short stories, another author interview to offer insight to the writer market/world, and more horror-themed images. Also in that issue will be the rules of submission to With Malice Magazine’s Story Challenge!! Winners will get various prizes and of course be published in our fourth issue!!

To get an advance sneak peek at what the magazine looks like, go to my YouTube video here!

Awesome and thrilling, original stories from indie writers around the country. Don’t let this slip by — these tales of horror will grab you by the throat!!

New Horror Movies Review – Derek Barton – 2023

Back in 2019, before Covid derailed everything, I did a review of some of my favorite horror films to that point. Here’s that posting if you are interested. It was a lot of fun and a popular blog. So, I decided to do it again as some real gems have come out. (I do know that I am missing some of YOUR favorites on this list. I haven’t seen everything and some I am still planning on watching.)

This list is just that a list, no ranking and it’s completely subjective. Also some of your favorites, I might have already discussed in the last post (like Saw or Evil Dead). I will say that almost everyone of these today were awesome, unexpected surprises—either because I hadn’t heard much about them, the trailer didn’t grab me, or I didn’t predict the direction the movie took.

A Quiet Place II — Following the events at home, the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world. Forced to venture into the unknown, they realize the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats lurking beyond the sand path.

While I loved the first one, I didn’t know where they were going to go with the story. Sequels usually don’t live up to the hype, but this one was fantastic! Just as the first one, be ready for some intense scenes of suspense and thrilling fight scenes. I’m really hoping they can do at least one more!

Trailer

The Collector — Desperate to repay his debt to his ex-wife, an ex-con plots a heist at his new employer’s country home, unaware that a second criminal has also targeted the property, and rigged it with a series of deadly traps.

This movie came out of nowhere and was brilliantly done! Think Saw but more on an intimate personal level. The lead actor, Josh Stewart at the time am unknown truly shined with his breakout performance and made this a great horror movie. It’s sequel, The Collection, is also very good! I have heard rumors of a third, but nothing yet has been released.

Trailer

Smile — After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, a psychiatrist becomes increasingly convinced she is being threatened by an uncanny entity.

Many people loved the horror film, It Follows. I wasn’t one of them as I felt the movie was over hyped and other than the beginning and end, it was boring. Smile takes the idea of a relentless chasing horror and keeps the action and intensity throughout! I’m not a jump-scare fan as I feel they’re used too often, but this has appropriately placed, amazing jump scares and fantastic gore effects! The “neck breaking” scene alone is mind-blowing!

Trailer

Prey — Naru, a skilled warrior of the Comanche Nation, fights to protect her tribe against one of the first highly-evolved Predators to land on Earth.

One of the best films out this last year in my opinion. Certainly a nod to the great Predator franchise and a stand out horror-action film. Great effects, a well developed story and in depth characters. How many horror films can you say that about?

Trailer

The Wretched — A defiant teenage boy, struggling with his parents’ imminent divorce, faces off with a thousand year-old witch, who is living beneath the skin of and posing as the woman next door.

A well done, but obscure film that’s been underrated and over looked. A sleeper that warrants watching. Really creepy and chilling scenes.

Trailer

The Black Phone — After being abducted by a child killer and locked in a soundproof basement, a 13-year-old boy starts receiving calls on a disconnected phone from the killer’s previous victims.

You know by now how big a Stephen King fan I am. This story’s writer, Joe Hill, is one of his sons. I have been disappointed by Hill’s books so I wasn’t too hopeful for this movie. I’m very happy to say he surprised me here. Ethan Hawke stars (gives a brilliant performance) and directs this terrifying, supernatural thriller!

Trailer

The Visit — Two siblings become increasingly frightened by their grandparents’ disturbing behavior while visiting them on vacation.

Another shocking, twist-filled film by M. Night Shyamalan. And like a lot of his other films like Devil, it’s underrated. Great scares and a fun horror film mixed with some truly horrific horror—the ending especially lived up to expectations!

Trailer

Ready Or Not — A bride’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.

The trailer seems a little predictable but overall the film has a lot of fun horror scenarios as well as a real, strong female protagonist who you easily root for. A sure entertaining movie!!

Trailer

Happy Death Day — A college student must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer’s identity.

This is another film using the Groundhog’s Day Trope, but they do a great job and really hook you in. Another dynamic lead female actress, Samara Weaving and is a well written mystery “slash” (pun intended) horror film. Side note, Happy Death Day 2U, the sequel is not as good, use your own judgment there.

Trailer

Hush — A deaf and mute writer who retreated into the woods to live a solitary life must fight for her life in silence when a masked killer appears at her window.

Obscure movie and certainly not given enough praise film! A powerful, survival movie with a main character doing everything and anything to live. Well done and very polished horror-thriller.

Trailer

Plenty of time to stream these awesome gems! Go get your scare on! Enjoy!!

THE FLIGHT OF THE DIRITHI – NOW ON SALE!! — Derek Barton – 2023

…A world where the vilest creatures came to roost. In the past, even her mother, always so brave, wouldn’t dare to utter its name. This was a world where even the snow fell black…

For Jueneva Enmaya, her father’s tales of an ancient land filled with creatures both terrifying and magical were ones of fear, not wonder.  After learning she is one of the fabled Dirithi, half-dragon kin, she is forced to uncover her own heritage and links to the harsh land of Akkei Maliss. She will find an inner strength she never knew she had. 

What would seem to others, a terrible and tragic end, Jueneva Enmaya rejects defeat, facing her challenges!

Among the ashes of a world forgotten after the Night of Sorrow & Slaughter, Jueneva begins her epic quest to reclaim what was lost and restore the truth of the Five Blackened Realms. Armed with newfound powers and new allies, she will forge a new life. Brave a never-ending onslaught of ferocious beasts to become the heroine and the hope of this shattered land. 

STAND WITH JUENEVA, share in her adventures—BUY your copy today!!

I am super excited to bring you this dark fantasy tale! I love writing, but this story not only was thrilling to write but fun and moving to me as a writer/reader as well.

ENJOY!!

Did You Know…? — Derek Barton – 2023

Hey Everyone! I thought that since there are quite a few of you that have subscribed to my blog only recently, you may not be aware that I have even more to offer you than just blogs!

Like… did you know that I have a full Pinterest Site with posts of horror pins that have inspired me, or pins that showcased fantasy landscapes or characters that have sparked ideas for my own stories. Check it out HERE!

Did you know I have a full Amazon Author Page listing all my E-books, Paperbacks and Audible selections? You can find everything and more HERE.

Would like to find out about my Audible options. Go HERE!

I also have a small Youtube Channel featuring Book Trailers for almost all of my novels. Watch them HERE!

And even on my blog, there is a lot more to see. I have My Bio, Chapter Excerpts, Reviews, Contact & Appearances Information as well as my Home page showcasing all my writing collections! Not to mention you can access my 200+ Blogs and the Monthly Archives! Explore HERE!

And if you were still looking to get updated more often, I also have a Monthly Email Newsletter! It keeps you in the loop on my newest releases, my works-in-progress, and even sometimes my contests and Amazon Giftcard Giveaways!!! If you are interested in joining my Email list, simply write to my email address: RIVYENPHX@GMAIL.COM. I’ll add you straight away!

Lastly, you can find some posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Patreon.

One other small note, for those who read my A January Production Challenge Blog, I have a very rewarding update for you! I not only surpassed the total word count goal of 9,300 (300 x 31 days) for the month, but I DID WRITE 31 DAYS STRAIGHT & mustered up 11,993 words! I added 4 new chapters for my The Flight of The Dirithi novel (coming out in the next couple weeks) and added several new sections and made major revisions for my Wyvernshield series book coming out this year!! Just wanted to share that.

FRESH STORY CONTENT 1/21/2023 — Derek Barton — Wyvernshield!!

Tal hesitated, his knuckles inches above the wooden door.  He did not want to give the pair false hope but at the same time, Taliah did have a prophetic vision of a possible connection to their homeland.  

I can only offer them the facts that were presented.  It will be up to them how they face it, whether to believe or doubt is really their individual right.

He straightened his shoulders, confident in his decision and how he would proceed. First, he rapped on Scars’ door. There was no reply or sound. It was approaching late evening, perhaps the Flohki retired for the night.

The door abruptly opened as if the halfman had been there all along. “Master Tal?” His voice was a smooth tenor. 

The half-seagull and half-man creature eyed him standing in the faint candlelight.  His white feathered head was marred by a scar lacing down the right-side and his beak broken off at the tip.  In striking contrast, his chest, arms and shoulders were a complex pattern of scars, thus how his name was inspired.  He had never talked about his past or how his injuries came about, only that he was a tested, military veteran for his kind. 

“Scars, I am sorry for the late hour, but would you mind joining me for an important discussion?”

He nodded and joined Tal immediately in the hallway. They walked silently together down the corridor.  The Flohki was not a talkative type, down-to-business and never hesitant to assist.  Master Tal liked him very much and appreciated the character he had. It was likely a part of the militant-upbringing of their kind, but there was added a quiet nobility about the creature.  He was proud, yet humbled and earnest. Sometimes, Tal even sensed a shadow of shame. 

Something behind his eyes shows me quiet courage and accepted guilt.  An odd pairing that bears learning more of one day.  Yet, he is not ready to reveal that. 

Bare light illuminates around Ama’yen’s door.  She was another half-man creature but also had a subtlety and grace about her.  Half-feline and half-woman. She was said to be a powerful sorceress in her home world of Aberrisc.  

Ama’yen came to the door, wrapped in a light yellow cloth, semi-transparent in the light from her room.  Her long black hair was swept over her slightly pointed ears and braided on one side.  A circlet of silver and emerald gems on her forehead brought out the majestic green of her feline eyes.  Tal was a bit thrown off by the sudden attractive creature standing before him and her attire did not necessarily mean she was retiring for the night.

“Uh…sorry, I do not mean to disturb you, but I have important information. I have learned of some points of interest for the two of you. Were you in the middle of something?”  He asked, averting his eyes carefully from the form beneath the yellow wrappings.

“Nothing of importance. May I fetch a robe first?  Are we going somewhere or do you wish to enter here?”  The Yuul woman asked.  There was no embarrassment in her voice.  

He tried to match that. “Once you are ready, could the three of us talk in your room?” 

She agreed and shut the door.  The pair of men waited again in silence in the hallway. The compound was quiet in the evenings and for the most part there were very few sounds echoing in the halls.

“Please come in.” The voice muffled by the door.

Ama’yen was now clothed in a gray and white robe with thick fur lining the edges. She swung the door open, welcoming them to enter her small but charming room. A lit fireplace warmed the chamber. She ushered them over to a wooden, round table that sat four in one corner.  On it, a historical tome was laid open before one chair.

“I was reading and studying a book from your downstairs library. It has maps of the continents surrounding Tayneva.  Fascin-cintaring.”  She stuttered on the last word.

Tal helped her with it. “Fascinating.”  He smiled, hoping she would understand he meant to help and not mock her.

“Ah. Thank you.”

“You are a quick learner and you have already developed a large vocabulary.”

She pulled out the two chairs for them before returning to her chair. 

Tal started. “Last night Taliah, our Blood Seeress, entered a Seyde. A Blood Seyde. It can be tricky and taxing on her physically, but we both felt it was a necessary gamble. We wanted to see if she could learn more information on what we can do to stop The Bleeding Crown. That artifact’s power has grown immensely and I feared we were running out of time.”

“Letandra may also be facing a dire outcome the longer it has control of her.  When The Bleeding Crown abandoned Chroyanne she disintegrated,” Scars interrupted.

Tal nodded in agreement. “Indeed. The Seyde proved me correct, we are in a race against time. However, it also revealed some incredible predictions to her. Per her vision, The Bleeding Crown is somehow preparing to call forth from the expanse of the In-Between, the Etohlosii. These are artifacts similar to The Bleeding Crown. They are imbued with the latent remains of an ancient eldritch god known as ARa Etohl. If the hosts owning the three other Etohlosii reach our plane and reunite with The Bleeding Crown, then ARa Etohl will be resurrected. This cannot happen or all life on every plane of existence will be extinguished.”

While Master Tal could not read the Flohki’s reactions well, he could see that his information had Ama’yen’s rapt attention.

“Several names were given to us through her vision in the Seyde.  These are individuals that will help us in one way or another rescue Letendre from The Bleeding Crown and stop her from reuniting the Etohlosii. We do not have all the details of who they are or where to find them yet, but she is confident of at least one name. Someone known as Khedarr of Aberrisc.”

Ama’yen gasped, her eyes bulged.

“How is that possible?” Scars blurted.

“We are not sure, but Taliah said that some of our answers lie in Aberrisc and with this person known as Khedarr.”

The Yuul stood, backed away from the table, shaking her head. “No! We are locked out. Cut off from our homelands!”

“Taliah was told that a key connection was to locate something known as Mescarne. Somehow and in some fashion, this Mescarne exists on all planes of the In-Between. If you find it, then you can cross over to any world at will.”

“That is why you come to us?” She stiffly faced the fireplace, her arms folded tight over her chest, trembling as if the fire was no longer capable of warming her.

“Yes. First I need you to think of how we — or perhaps the two of you — might locate this Mescarne. Second, if you can go back, you would have the best chance of finding–“

“–Khedarr is a necromancer!” Her words were low but hit Tal like a hammer.

“A MAGE OF DEATH?”

She nodded glumly. “He was ousted from our lands by my father for his tainted practices. However, we did contact him when LLasher was near death. His ungodly skills have greatly improved. I still do not condone his research into the forbidden sorceries of the dead.” Ama’yen looked back over her shoulder, locking eyes with Tal to judge his reaction to her words. 

Scars added, “He might even be dead by now. When we had to ask for his help with Mending LLasher.  He only agreed if we took him back to her homeland, the Fhey Ras Isles. The Quietus had his wife and children enslaved. Khedarr swore he was somehow going to rescue them.”

“When Chroyanne left, who assumed power until she returned?” Tal asked.

Scars shrugged. “However, in my opinion, in contrast to his questionable research, this Khedarr did seem of honorable intent. If Taliah has received credible knowledge from this prophecy, then I would not suspect it would send us to look for someone who was already dead, would it?” Scars asked Tal.

“It does not seem likely that it would. The whole thing is moot if we do not have a way to find Mescarne. Have either of you been to the Mescarne in your world?”

Both shook their heads.  Ama’yen said, “I have heard of the continent, but few have found their way there and even fewer return.”

They sat together, wrestling with the possibilities in their heads. 

“If I remember right,” Ama’yen started, then paused in thought. Finally she said, “I believe Letandra confided in me that Taihven believed he had been brought to Mescarne. One time in one of his episodes. Yes, in fact, I remember now that he had gone back and was able to speak somehow with his dead father!”

“Did he give you any details about the land?”

“I am trying to remember now. It has been some time. Sorry.”

She crossed back to the table but continued to stand, a finger tapping at her chin. 

“While I am not recalling any solid details, my knowledge of your language may be hampering me. He might have mentioned a temple.  A temple of stone at the heart of a desert. I think…” She tapped again at her chin with her finger. Tal noted that each painted and jeweled fingernail was filed to a sharp point.

“Yes, yes. I think I can.” Mostly she spoke to herself, but then she faced Master Tal. “If this temple and Mescarne are in each of the planes, my guess is that the Lei Lines all intersect there.”

“Lei Lines?” Scars asked before Tal could.

“Powerful waves of magical energies that crisscross every plane. In my world, I had an acute sense of them and their location. Perhaps it is due to my heritage, but in Aberrisc we studied and used the Lei Lines to increase our powers and spells. Here I definitely sense the Lei Lines but not as clear as when I was home. If we could track one of the major branches of Lei Lines, I trust it will take us to Mescarne.”

Scars studied the Yuul. “Do you have any sense of how far away they might be?”

She closed her eyes and placed her hands on the table. Her breathing went deep and slowed down into a rhythmic even pace.  A soft purring sound came from deep within her chest.

Moments later. “Several lines are near to us, but a major vein as I am wanting to follow is quite the distance away and…deep into Tayneva.”

Tal nodded. To be discovered or captured on the continent would mean arrest and possible execution since they were labeled traitors. As he considered the weight of the mission, Scars interrupted his inner debate. 

“When can we go, Master Tal?” Scars asked. 

“Would you and Ama’yen then agree to find the temple? I know I am asking much of you. It may mean possibly your lives or possibly the only way back to your families and kind.”

“This fight is ours as well. Not just for the fallen king, our friend and his sister, but for the expanse of the In-Between!”

“Alright. Gather your items and what you want with you for the trip…home. In the morning, I will have Master Rivyen and Lyndasia go with you. If we can validate that part of her prophecy then I have faith you will find Khedarr alive and with our answers on how we can save Letandra and stop The Bleeding Crown.”