Chapter 4. A Flock of Faithful. (A Rubber Ducky at the End of the World)

Some of you by now might be wondering why certain people were changed more dramatically than others. Why can Peace Lenrow withstand attacks that crippled others and tear through toughened flesh like tissue? Why can Damian Smithson create beams of energy? 

The answer is more simple, (or infinitely more complicated depending on your outlook), than you would ever think. The universe needs to get its shit together. Everything in existence is just so random that it only offers the visage of order. Mutated genes lead to evolution, taking a single cell and turning it into every animal and insect on the planet. Even in humans, random traits manifest themselves without explanation. One person can naturally remember every single thing they have ever read, seen or done while another could develop muscle at an accelerated rate. Someone else could be unable to move at birth or be inclined to gain excess fat.

So people like Peace and Damian are simply genetic abnormalities. This story could have been focussed on someone else but then, it wouldn’t be a very interesting story, would it? We are following these two individuals in particular because they are the centre points of upcoming events. They are the right people in the right place at the right time. 

I suppose there was also the dog that single handedly, er pawedly, saved Africa from aliens during this time, but let’s not confuse things that much just yet.

For you see, things were moving quickly for the people of Earth. Society cannot be destroyed as easily as some people believe. View society as water. It can change and flow, even become ice or steam, but no matter how much you break it down, it will always pool into small groups that seek to become larger until the whole is once again reformed. Humans hate other humans yet cling to them for survival.

Groups had begun to emerge from the chaos that individuals flocked to for protection. Only, these groups then proceeded to fight one another in larger battles for control of lands or resources. This is how countries are forged and are usually viewed by historians as jolly exciting times.

One such group had made its home inside an old church that had been, rather redundantly, barricaded and fortified. This is the building where an empire began. As we look upon it we see Damian Smithson approaching the grand doors alone. At least, alone beside the giggling baby that was fastened into a harness on his chest.

He knocked on the door, careful to limit his strength and not damage the wood. It didn’t open. Instead a voice called out from within. 

“Begone. These are the holy grounds of the Church of Redeemers. None may walk these hallowed halls without the Lord’s blessing.”

“And how would I gain your Lord’s blessing?”

“By worship, good deeds and a charitable donation to our organisation.”

 “How is the amount deemed enough?”

“Sorry?”

“How much should I pray? How many good deeds should I accomplish? What good deeds could I even do as a single man in a world of chaos. How much money should I donate when money has become so devalued that it is all but worthless?” 

Damian received no answer for several long seconds. “Erm…” started a voice before it trailed off. Hushed voices were just audible behind the door. More seconds passed.

Eventually the voice returned. “Look, just go away. We don’t want to let you in. Okay?”

Damian sighed. “That is such a shame. I quite liked this door. So much hard work must have gone into making it while such little effort will go into destroying it. That is the way of the world though I suppose.”

He placed the palm of his hand on the door and pushed. Metal screeched, stone broke away and wood buckled. The door collapsed inwards, revealing the interior of the church and two dozen or so faces torn between shock and anger.

“You will suffer for this sacrilege!” screamed a grey haired man in robes of white and gold. They were not the clothes of any position in the church that Damian knew of but sought to surpass even the Pope in their pompous grandeur.  

“I suspect that we all will suffer before the end,” Damian said softly. He looked the white clad man directly in the eyes as he spoke.

Damian looked unimpressive compared to most of the men within the church. He was still scrawny and dressed like a paperpusher even now. He had thick glasses, thinning blond hair and a baby on his chest. What was not so visible obvious though was that in the two weeks since the Change, Damian had been training. He had pushed his body to heights that would have destroyed his old self. In such a short time there were few physical signs of this but he carried himself with a strength and dignity that he had never known in his life before.

“You heretic! Infidel! How dare you break into my sanctuary! I am the Grand Redeemer and I will not accept such blatant disrespect. You will be scourged from this world in the holy fires of redemption!” screeched the man, self-importance filling his every word.

“You mean like this?” Damian asked. He held out his hand. There was a spark then a blazing fire appeared in his grip.

The Grand Redeemer, (who was actually a stamp critic called Dave Smeg. Tragic, I know. With a name and occupation like that he was never going to be a balanced individual), stammered and gawped. He recovered amazingly fast though.

“You hold no sway here, conjuror. Your black magic of Hell passed to you by Satan does not intimidate me!”

Damian considered this. “Fires of Hell? Are they not pure enough for you?”

The flames grew fiercer until they burned with a blinding white light. Everyone in the room besides Damian covered their eyes from the painful glare. Amelia giggled happily and reached out a tiny hand toward the flames. The light faded, dulling back down to a gentle amber flame.

“This is what is going to happen,” Damian announced as the men began to lower their arms and reopen their eyes. “Your little group here represents the closest thing to order in this area. Society needs order, now more than ever. You are going to help me to spread this order.”

The Grand Redeemer sneered in a way that twisted his already ugly face. “Order is but a byproduct of our true ambition. The End is nigh and we must use what time we have left to spread the word and mercy of God!”

Damian shook his head. “About that. The whole religious angle is not in the world’s best interest. Religion has caused so much conflict throughout human history that it would be a poor decision to build a new society upon its back.”

A woman stepped forward who had kept well back before now. She was a stout woman with rough skin, the kind of woman you see in working class backgrounds who work all hours of the day to keep their family, community and the world in general running.

“But what about all the good that the church has ever done? The charity work and support? The hope that we give people?”

“But what about all the good that war has ever done? The advances in technology and medicine? The removal of corrupt regimes?” Damian replied calmly. “Do they make war a good thing?”

“That is not the same!” 

“I believe to the contrary. 

We have already witnessed what happens when common sense is ignored. Sometimes though, human stupidity extends beyond the simple breach of common sense and into the realms of downright objection to the survival instincts. Those people with fervent beliefs, whatever the beliefs may be, are unable to see past those beliefs at the bigger picture of the tiny picture of their own life.

“You have revealed yourself to be a Godless sinner!” Grand Redeemer Smeg howled. “The Lord will smite you down! It shall be me who rebuilds this world, not you, demon! I-AAAAARRRRRRGGGH!”

His ranting was cut short as his eyes burst into flames, which quickly erupted across his body. His skin melted and his bones cracked until only ash remained inside the robes. The robes themselves were completely undamaged.

“The name is Damian, not demon. Easy mistake to make,” Damian told the smouldering human remains in a level voice. He turned back to the others. “Sorry about that. He wouldn’t listen to reason. So, does anybody else have any issues with me taking command here?”

There was a brief moment of silence as the men and women shared horrified looks with one another.

“No, boss. No issues at all. Lead on.”

“Good,” Damian muttered. “Let us begin then. This world will not rebuild itself.”

Previous – Chapter 3. A Brave New World.

Next – Chapter 5.

Chapter 1. (Thorns of the Shadow: The Taste of Lead and Lightning)

Heat rolled in shimmering waves across every surface. The sun hung proudly in a cloudless sky above. It was the kind of day that seemed to drag on and seep the energy from the world. 

On a suburban street, in a house like every other upon it, a young woman sat slouched across a sofa where she had been for the past few hours without moving. She was called Catherine Redthorn, but prefered to go by KT. Her black hair ended half way down her back and she had an athletic build that was currently clad in black jeans and a simple white vest. A few scars marked her arms but many more lay hidden in a chaotic pattern across her torso.

On the other end of the sofa was the sprawled out shape of her twin brother, Mordekai,  known better as Kai. He was taller and broader than his sister but shared her green eyes and love of dark clothing. He too bore scars, as did their mother and father, but nothing near to the level that punctuated KT’s skin.

To the best of the Redthorn family’s memories, they had been visiting the twin’s Aunt Susan up in Scotland when her guest lodge had suffered a gas leak which resulted in a terrible explosion. It had killed several of the guests, including Susan, and left the survivors with varying degrees of injuries.

Only, that was not what had happened. The truth was darker and near unbelievable. KT remembered it all too well. She remembered being attacked by a succubus, meeting the mysterious hunter Déaþscúa, and returning to find the lodge in flames, her mother crucified, and the other guests gone without a trace. She remembered herself and Kai fighting alongside Déaþscúa and meeting vampires, werewolves and witches. She remembered coming so close to ending the life of the infamous Black Annis when the Grand Moot, the magical equivalent to the government, arrived and stopped them. Déaþscúa had been arrested and KT, Kai, and the surviving lodge guests had had their memories altered.

Unfortunately for the Grand Moot though, nobody had informed them that KT was a Resistant, someone with a strong resistance to the effects of magic. Her real memories had returned after only a few hours. Not that anybody would have believed her if she had spoken out.

The television droned on about politics in the corner of the room. Nobody was really watching it but the remote had been left in the kitchen and nobody could muster the energy to go and get it. The sound passed KT by without notice until a single word snagged at her attention.

“That’s right, Clair. We are currently live here in Scotland where local businessman and entrepreneur, Roger Golman has announced his intention to stand in the Parliamentary elections. Golman had begun to make a name for himself in the international business world until a suspected terrorist attack on one of his compounds left him in hospital for much of this last year. Now he has returned to the public view and is already gaining considerable support.”

The screen was showing footage of a tall man in his late twenties with short black hair and an expensive suit addressing a crowd. His features were slightly on the pudgy side but he wore confidence like a second skin. His voice took over where the reporter’s had left.

“I have seen the best of humanity, and the worst. It is my dream te change the world and te help create a society that is not weighed down by crime, greed and corruption. This is but a first step on my mission to forge a better future for us all.”

KT couldn’t help but to snort at the words. Everything that the man said was bullshit. He was nothing more than an overambitious criminal. After a moment she amended this since all politicians were nothing more than overambitious criminals. Golman had sided with Black Annis for personal gain and had captured and abused the vampire, Ailia. The ‘terrorist attack’ in the report had been none other than KT and Kai breaking in to free Ailia. His hospitalisation had been Ailia’s parting gift to him. KT still shivered to remember that moment.

“I didn’t realise that you were so invested in politics that you could look so disgusted when one speaks,” her father said with a smile. Bob Redthorn was an easy going man who was quick to smile and slow to anger. He had dark hair, wore glasses and had a slender build.

“Bah! They’re all the same,” interjected Kai. “Politics, made up of the word ‘poly’ meaning multiple and the word ‘tics’ meaning blood-sucking parasites. Still, there’s something about that guy’s face that just pisses me off. He’s a businessman so you know he’d slit his own granny’s throat for a quick fiver.”

“Disgusting,” their father agreed. “You can’t buy anything with a fiver anymore. I’d struggle getting a Freddo and a bottle of Coke in this economy. Greedy green bastard. If you raised it up to a tenner we might have a deal though.”

It was nice to see him return to his usual self again. After the events of the new year that lead to his sister’s death, Bob had sunk into a darkness that KT had never seen before. The physical recovery had been hard for all of them, but the mental healing had taken much longer. Luckily the arrival of summer had done wonders for everybody’s mood.

“Stop casualising moral corruption. Kai doesn’t need the encouragement,” added their mother, Tara. Unlike Bob, she was a strong, stern woman with little time for nonsense. She had blonde hair and always wore smart clothes. Unlike the other members of the Redthorn family though, her injuries still affected her day to day life, leaving her weaker than she would have liked. The holes in her palms where she had been nailed to a cross rendered her hands near useless and her new reliance on others hurt her far more than any of the wounds to her flesh had managed. 

“Your words cut me deep,” Kai said with mock hurt. “I’ll have you know that I am a pillar of this community and a paragon of virtue.”

Tara raised her eyebrow. “Oh. You mean how you help all those poor young women with their studies? It is all for the good of their education and not for anything more selfish.”

“Those are some bold allegations there. If my irresistible charm clouds their concentration then I cannot be held responsible for that.”

KT couldn’t help but smile at the friendly banter. It felt good to hear everyone happy and carefree. The problem was that she felt like she was in a bubble that separated her from her family and friends now. Her memories prevented her from relaxing. While she sought the peace and happiness of normality, a greater determination pulled at her. How could she go back to regular life after killing men and monsters, meeting immortals and fighting at the centre of bloody battles that nobody else even knew had happened?

‘Such connections are worthless. Do not concern yourself with fitting in but with rising above your surroundings.’

The internal voice cut through her own thoughts roughly. She smothered it out with a practiced ease. The voice belonged to Ghodot, the former king of the fairies. He had tried to possess KT’s body in exchange for passage through a faegate but KT’s resistance to magic had meant that he had been the one to fade instead. Now he was little more than an annoying voice in her head. The intrusion upon her thoughts was frustrating enough but the fact that he could see and feel everything that she could, as well as being privy to her own thoughts, made him insufferable.

The trouble was that everything had begun and ended so suddenly that she could almost mistake it all for a vivid dream. Only her scars and memories told her different. She had not wanted it to end. She had had no choice in the matter though. No matter how hard she tried, she could not shake the feeling that she belonged in that world more than her own. 

Kai and her parents were still bickering good-naturedly so she decided to get up and try to clear her head. She wandered upstairs into her room and just stood staring at the space that had once been the core of her life. It seemed so hollow now.

Her shelves filled with fantasy books no longer held an escape from reality but as a reminder of what she had left behind. The same applied to her DVD and video game collection too. Only music helped her to lose herself now. 

She wandered into the bathroom, connecting her phone to the speakers on the shelf, then scrolled through the vast library of music without anything particular in mind. Tapping the screen at random, a heavy drumbeat echoed through the small room.

Showering had become much more difficult with the fairy making lecherous comments in her head, but she had grown accustomed to washing with her eyes closed. Efficiency was the aim of the game. Almost everything in her life followed that principle now.

‘When will you accept that I am a part of you, girl? We are one. Why hide from me?’

‘I’ll accept it when I can finally block you out of my mind.’

‘Ah, so cold. But we work so well together. The unmolded clay of your body combined with my unparalleled intellect. Just let me take over and all of your problems will fade away like mist.’

‘The last time you spoke of things fading away it didn’t quite go to plan, did it?’

Ghodot became silent. For all his talk of grandeur and power he tended to pout like a child. Enjoying the brief respite from his incessant comments, KT washed then dressed herself in jogging trousers and a t-shirt. She already felt sticky again from the humid air.

“Since when did England get this kind of heat? A bit of rain would be wonderful.”

‘The air feels… constrained. Something is building.’

‘Climate change?’

‘Magic.’

Ghodot would say no more. Months of knowing him had taught KT that he was only reserved when he didn’t have the answers, even if he didn’t like to admit it. Magic was building and the king of fairies didn’t know why. Or wasn’t certain at the least. It scared him.

She headed downstairs and back through the living room. Nobody else had moved since she had gone. 

“I’m heading out for a bit. Need anything picking up while I’m out?”

“A winning lottery ticket would be nice,” her father muttered wistfully.

“Milk and bread would be more practical,” her mother added. “Just don’t push yourself too hard.”

“Stop worrying, Mum. Most of my injuries were superficial. I feel fine.” Superficial might have been an understatement. Really, KT should have been dead after being impaled multiple times. Those were small details though that her mother didn’t need to worry about.

Tara sighed. “Why am I cursed with such a stubborn family?”

KT didn’t bother answering, instead just waving cheerfully and making her way to the door. She stepped out into the street and immediately felt the full force of the sun on her skin. Kai appeared at her side, cursing the heat. The thought of dressing in lighter colours had never crossed his mind.

“You planning to join me for a jog?” she asked him playfully. “That’s not like you.”

“I’ll pass. You can run through this humidity and come back looking and smelling like a drowned rat. I have other places to be. Better places. I just wanted to… well, I wanted to ask you something.”

KT slowed her walking slightly. It was almost as though Kai was being shy. A devilish smile tugged at her lips.

“Now then, little brother, what could you possibly be so sheepish about?”

“Shut up!” he snapped. He wrapped himself in what bravado he could muster. “We are the same age and I don’t care what you say to the contrary. I was just being a gentleman and let you out first. Ladies first and all that bollocks.” He fidgeted with one of his rings for a moment before continuing. “What I wanted to ask was, I, err… I’m kinda seeing someone and I, well, I wanted to introduce you to her sometime.”

KT burst out laughing. “Since when did you introduce anyone to the family.”

“Haha, laugh it up. This is different to usual. I met her at the hospital and we just talked for a few months. Maybe my near-death experience changed the way I see the world but I just kinda wanted to get to know her, you know? Do you think something is wrong with me?”

“It’s called being an empathetic adult.

“Implying that sluts are unempathetic and immature is stereotyping and is harmful for society.”
“I’m making no judgement on the poor souls you’ve led astray.”

“Ha! Assuming any reference to sluts is referring to women is sexist!”

“So you are calling yourself a slut?”

“I’m calling myself a coitus connoisseur.”

“That phrase makes me deeply uncomfortable. Please never repeat it.”

“Yeah, that was pretty bad. So, do you agree to meet her?  I just want your approval to make sure I’ve not gone crazy, okay. This means a lot to me.”

“You know I hate awkward social encounters, but if it’s important to you then of course I will. Is that where you’re going now?”

Kai nodded. “There’s a market on in town. Handcrafted junk and lots of food stalls. We’re going to head there for a while then grab some drinks.  You can join us at the Silver Spoon after you’ve tortured yourself.”

“Fine. I’ll go for my jog then get ready. Hmm. What do you even wear for meeting potential sister-in-laws?”

“Whoa there! Let’s not get carried away with allusions to the ‘M’ word. It’s just casual drinks, okay. Be yourself and the two of you will get along great. I mean, she does like me, and you’re just a watered down, slightly less charming version of that.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, kiddo. Your personality only seems stronger because it’s been left to rot. Think of it like a smell. Stronger isn’t better.”

“You know which cheeses cost the most? The foul smelling ones that are absolutely crusted with mold. That’s me.”

“Whatever you say, cheese boy. Don’t leave this girl waiting now. Go on. I’ll speak to you later.”

Kai grinned and turned, heading back towards the house. Shaking her head as she chuckled, KT picked up her pace and started her jog. 

It was strange just how seamlessly life had picked up after been completely shattered. Nobody remembered those events but they had left such an impact on each of their lives, mostly for the better. Their mother had needed to open herself up to cope with her injuries and now had a better bond with everyone because of it, while Kai had met someone that he finally connected with while at the hospital, a hospital they were only in because of the injuries they had all received in Scotland. 

And then there was KT, as disjointed as ever. Possibly moreso. So she trained and trained, pushing herself to her limits in the hope that her life didn’t return to the mundane grind of reality. She hadn’t liked that back when it was all she had known. Now it profoundly unsettled her.

Her feet pounded down the all too familiar pavement. The air was so heavy that she was already struggling to breathe. She lifted her headphones over her ears and pawed at her phone’s screen until sudden music blasted into her ears. She swore then quickly turned it down before increasing her pace. 

Minutes dragged by until her sanctuary of sound was interrupted by a commotion ahead of her. Her eyes drifted over to a street corner a short distance away. Three men stood facing down a fearful looking girl a few years younger than KT. They laughed and jeered at her obvious discomfort, one of them holding her arms so she couldn’t escape. KT slowed in front of them, stopping at the girl’s side. She bend down, resting her hands on her knees as she took heavy breaths.

“Whats up, luv? We take your breath away?” one asked her with a smirk.

KT held up a finger for him to wait a moment. She’d only been jogging for a short time but was already completely drenched. She straightened herself then steadied her breathing.

“Afraid not. It’s this thing called exercise. You should try it sometime. It might help you bulk up those twiggs you call arms.”

The young man’s friends laughed. The man muttered something under his breath then let go of the girl, turning his full attention to KT.

“What’s it to you anyway?”

“Your friend here doesn’t look like she wants your company. Figured I’d have a look since you already threw off my concentration.”

“We’re just having fun, right. We aren’t goin’ to hurt her or anything. Bloody ‘ell, you can’t even talk to girls anymore without being the bad guy.”

KT sighed. “I don’t think you could comprehend what it means to be the bad guy. Being bad and being a bit of a dick aren’t mutually inclusive you know.”

“You what?”

“I think she called you a dick.”

KT ignored the men and turned to the girl. “You okay?”

The girl nodded. KT placed a hand on her shoulder and prompted her to start walking. She called over her shoulder to the men as she left. “See you around. Maybe work on those people skills in the meantime, okay?”

“Thanks for helping,” the younger girl said when they were out of sight of the men. “They regularly do that. They think they’re just playing around but it’s scary, you know?”

“No worries. Glad to help. They seemed alright, if a bit obnoxious. Most people like that just need a firm word.” She offered the girl a reassuring smile. “And if that fails you just gotta kick their ass.”

“I don’t think that’s very realistic,” the girl pointed out. 

“Yeah, maybe not,” KT reflected. “The world’s a scary place filled with things stronger than us.” Her thoughts found themselves drawn back to the tunnels beneath Glasgow, to the fear she had felt while hunted by the cannibal, Christie. No amount of ‘can do’ attitude would have worked there. It didn’t even take a supernatural being like that to be dominating for the average woman. She suddenly didn’t know what to say to the girl. 

“Err, just remember to punch their nose with the base of your palm in an upwards strike. Sends the cartilage straight into their brain.”

This information only seemed to make the girl unsettled. She quickly gave her thanks once again then took off down a side street.

“Dammit,” KT muttered. Her mood only soured further when she realised that she would have to hold up a polite conversation with a stranger as soon as she got back. What the Hell did normal people even talk about? It had been hard to interact with people before, but now it seemed impossible.

She set off at a full sprint to drown her negativity beneath a wave of exhaustion. It didn’t work. Gasping for air, she slowed to a walk again, her mood sinking further. Back then, after seeing what Christie had done, she had felt a great drive to protect others who were vulnerable. As that adrenaline had faded though, the reality of the world had set in. She wasn’t some kind of superhero. She couldn’t solve the world’s problems with her fists. But then she could inspire people either. Where did that leave her?

Her hands fumbled with the door handle and she nearly collapsed over the threshold. She took a step forward then fell onto the carpet. Her mother poked her head around the corner to investigate the noise. 

“You have a fun run?”

KT raised a feeble thumbs up and made some vague sounds that could be interpreted loosely as words.

“You’re pushing yourself too hard you know? Why the sudden need to get fit?”

Why? KT mulled the word over. She dragged herself into a sitting position with her back leant against the wall. 

“I guess that… the future scares me. I don’t know what the Hell I’m doing with my life, but getting stronger is the one thing I can control. I can’t walk into my dream career and tell them to hire me. I can’t just go out there and know what to say to people. I can run though, and I can lift. I can get stronger, and then maybe that strength will come in handy.”

Her mother didn’t say anything, instead awkwardly sliding down the wall to sit beside her. It was a sentimental gesture she never would have engaged in previously.

“I don’t envy you kids. Ha, kids, just the word is belittling. We were adults at your age. Everything was simpler. Your generation are the driftwood in the tidal twilight of the times.”

“That was very poetic, coming from you.”

“You’d probably not believe that I used to write poetry as a girl. That’s what I wanted to do back in school. But then there was a pressure on girls to step up and cast down the shackles of femininity in order to work respectable jobs for good money. So I turned my imagination towards business and never looked back.”

“Huh, I never knew that.”

“I don’t really speak about it. What I’m trying to say is, the world is changing faster than at any other point in history. It’s okay to be scared. It terrifies me to see you and Kai feeling so lost because I know there’s nothing I can do to help you. I can’t imagine living through it first hand. Just… go easy on yourself and know that me and your dad are here for you. It isn’t your fault that the world hasn’t left you a seat.”

KT felt tears sting her eyes. “Thanks, Mum,” she sniffed, turning to embrace the older woman. Her mum held her back.

“Maybe grab another shower before the hugs, okay.”

KT glanced down at her dripping clothes and dank hair. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” She stood up, noticing a wet blotch on the wall where she had been leant. Then to drive home the fact, she remembered she had to meet up with Kai.

An hour later she stepped back out of the house in a simple pair of jeans and a long-sleeved white t-shirt with a cat on it. Even this heat couldn’t encourage her to wear a skirt or dress. She sent Kai a quick text as she walked and he responded straight away. They were at the pub awaiting her. There was no backing out now.

The Silver Spoon was a chain pub that had a reputation for being cheap and little else. It was hardly the most romantic of places but it did have a strange charm about it. KT entered the pub and spotted Kai at a table in the far corner. She crossed the distance, her attention on the chestnut haired figure that sat opposite him. 

On seeing her approaching, Kai got to his feet quickly. He looked genuinely nervous. Seeing him like this brought a smile to her face, his sudden shyness helping to dispel her bad mood. 

“Hey KT. Thanks for coming. Did that sound too formal? Definitely too formal. Sup, Sis. Nope, that just sounds stupid. Okay, starting over. So, you are here, which is a thing. A good thing. Another good thing, and by thing I mean person, is Cayla. Cayla, this is my sister, KT. KT this is my, wait, what are we? Girlfriend? Partner? Or do the kids call it SO these days? Oh god, I said ‘the kids’ and ‘these days’ This is it! Old age is setting in. I’m not cool anymore. Please tell me ‘cool’ is still a thing!”

The chestnut haired woman, Cayla, stood up and rested her hands on Kai’s shoulders until he stopped floundering. She was tall for a girl, just inching out KT’s height, but had a slighter build. A light smattering of freckles was dashed across the bridge of her nose. She wore a long chequered skirt and a band shirt. She smiled and offered her hand to KT.

“I’m Cayla. Pleased to meet you. Kai has told me so much about you.”

KT took her hand. She couldn’t imagine what Kai would be saying about her but she ignored the lurching feeling of dread. “Yeah, it’s nice to meet you.” That seed of apprehension in her stomach flared again as no other words presented themselves in her head. Thankfully Cayla took the reins. 

They all sat down around the table, Kai and Cayla at one side with KT at the other, while Cayla chatted pleasantly about meeting Kai. A huge blush covered his face for the entire story. Both women found enjoyment in his discomfort. It was weird to hear a nice story about Kai. If KT didn’t know better she would have thought Cayla was speaking of someone completely different.

Drinks were ordered and small talk about music eased the group dynamic. KT found the other woman to be easy to talk with and they shared similar tastes in most things. Kai had been right about that. She was happy to let Cayla carry the conversations too, and the woman seemed happy to do so. 

“So, Kai never told me what it is you do. Are you an athlete?” Cayla asked once music had been thoroughly been discussed.

KT couldn’t suppress a surprised laugh. “An athlete? No. I’m a part time receptionist. Making the world a better place one generic email at a time.”

“Really. You look so strong. Don’t you play any sports?”

“I used to. Now I just like to workout alone.” A wave of self consciousness washed over KT. She hadn’t really considered that she would look any different. Looking across the table she suddenly felt like she was in an interview. 

Kai noticed the brief look on her face and steered the conversation away from KT’s life. As the drinks came and went, the atmosphere was light-hearted, and even KT started to enjoy herself. Kai got over his nerves and became his usual abrasively charming self. Seeing him being himself again, KT watched the interaction between him and Cayla. She always had a witty response to his quips and made him laugh in a way that she hadn’t seen before. It was nice.

Eventually, many drinks later, the evening had gone so well that Kai made a resolution. 

“You know what?”

“What?” KT asked as she went to take a sip of her drink, spilling it over the table.

“Today went really well. Cayla, congratulations, you’ve passed the trial period with flying colours.”

“I’m honoured,” she answered dryly. “I guess you scrape a passing grade yourself.”

“Well, maybe it’s the alcohol talking, but I really like you. KT likes you too.”

KT made a thumbs up gesture without looking. She was currently occupied with being face down on the table in the pool of spilled drink. The excessive exercise, alcohol, and lack of food was starting to hit her hard.

“So I think it’s time,” Kai continued. He took a deep breath. “Time to introduce you to the family!”

This perked up KT. She sat up and stared intensely at her twin’s features. “Are you serious?”

“Super serious,” he slurred. “In fact, let’s go now! I’mma walk right up to Tara and be like ‘Yo Mum, this is my commitment because you always said I could never handle a girlfriend. Yeah!”

He stood up with a fiery determination in his eyes, swayed, then toppled to the floor. 

KT stumbled over to him and prodded him with her foot. “Hey, you can’t back out now. Passing out isn’t gonna get you out of this.”

“I have made a mistake.”

“You’ve made hundreds. This probably isn’t one though. Cayla, grab his other arm for me. Is this something you want?”

A brief look of deer in the headlights flitted across her face. When she looked down at Kai it resolved itself into a soft smile. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

“Good. Now help me carry him. Don’t let go once you have him or he’ll make a run for it.”

Kai blinked drunkenly. “No. This is the right thing to do. Because I… what’s that ‘L’ word? Oh yeah. Like. Because I strongly like you.”

Cayla waved her middle finger across his vision, causing him to cackle maniacally. The two women hoisted him to his feet between them and started the short journey to the Redthorn house.

Next – Chapter 2.

Chapter 3. (A Crown of Blood and Ash)

Despite his early night, Mal woke up late the next morning. He wasn’t used to having uninterrupted sleep. The main house was basically empty. No doubt that most of the children were already out scavenging or in lessons with Doctor Ritner. Mal quickly left and headed down the street toward the bulky structure known as the Works.

The building was ugly even by Sherham standards. It was the largest post war building in the city and it was clear that the slapdash construction of the Knighted Kingdom wasn’t suitable for something of that scale. Doctor Ritner had told them that it was built to imitate prewar office blocks. It served as a single building filled with hundreds of individual businesses. Doctor Ritner’s clinic was one such business.

Mal entered the building, receiving a scowl from the sullen guard that stood by the door. The children were considered as half a step up from vermin. If not for the doctors lessons, none of them would likely have been allowed inside. It wasn’t like they had money to spend and they did have a reputation for thievery. 

The ground floor of the Works was a semi-open space filled with stalls and traders pushing their wares. Dozens of smells intermingled in the air and there was a constant chatter of voices. Mal ignored them and headed straight for the stairs. Doctor Ritner’s clinic was on the second of three floors.

This floor was the opposite of the last. Mal stepped out into a narrow corridor flanked on both sides by dozens of doors. Each had a sign proclaiming some service or another. Over a hundred small offices were crammed together here. The doctor’s room was bundled away in the far corner.

Mal quietly opened the door and slipped in. A small window lit a room that was filled to the brim with objects. Shelves and cupboards lined the walls while the doctor’s cluttered desk took up the space beneath the window. Three pews dominated the rest of the space, each one tightly packed with fidgeting children. He spotted Kass and Lila at the back. They pushed and shuffled until there was just enough space for Mal to wiggle in.

Doctor Ritner stood in front of a chalkboard that was hung on one of the cupboards. He was a lean, middle aged man with milky eyes and a shaved head. His clothes were simple but neat. A pair of silver glasses sat across the bridge of his narrow nose.

“Ah, Mallan, good of you to join us. I’d complain at your tardiness, but I have been trying to get you to have a full night’s sleep. Luckily you haven’t missed much. We’re just going over eves, at Miss Lila’s request.

“To recap, eves are mutations of our DNA after the war. High levels of radiation and a whole cocktail of dangerous chemicals covered the surface of the Earth. These caused our DNA to become unstable. Over a few generations these mutations began to have a profound effect on our species. Can anyone remember why we called these mutations eves?”

Lila raised her hand. “It started as a shorthand for evolution.”

“Correct. Psychology and lexicography go hand in hand. Mutations sound bad, whereas evolution sounds good. They both essentially mean the same thing, although evolution is usually associated with a positive change. Do you know the other reason?”

Lila shook her head. Nobody else made any effort to answer. 

“What few pre-war records we have access to tell us that there was a mighty god that created humanity. Eve was the name of the first woman, the mother of all humanity. She was the dawn of life, but also the originator of sin. Just as our eves can be used to further our survival, so too can they be used for evil. Hmm, sadly, there are few other details of or progenitor. The records suggest that we evolved from apes, so historians are unsure if Eve was an ape that birthed humans, or if she and Adam, the first man, were created as the first Apes. There is so much knowledge that we lost to the war.”

Kass was looking uncharacteristically interested in the lesson. He raised his hand.

“But how do they work? There are so many kinds of eves, most of which don’t make sense biologically. Super strength or night-vision make sense as evolutionary traits in humans but my connection with the earth hasn’t evolved from an existing human trait.”

 “Nobody is sure. Maybe we had the technology before the war to look deep into our own DNA, but again, most of this has been lost. The prevailing theory is of Snap Survival Evolution. Each person’s eve is a genetic ball of evolutionary energy. Where normal evolution increases species survivability over generations, our eves release a stored pool of genetic material into our bodies to help with immediate survival.”

“That makes sense,” Kass muttered to himself. “So because I was trapped under rubble as a child, that energy evolved into the ability to manipulate stone?”

“Basically.”

Mal considered this. “Is that the only way to unlock an eve then?”

“No, my boy,” Doctor Ritner answered quickly. It was clear from his face that he hadn’t thought through telling a group of children that coming close to death could give them power. “Most don’t happen that way. At least not directly. “My eve for example allows me to see the electric currents and pressure points that run through the human body. It makes me an excellent doctor but isn’t much good in a life or death situation.

“These days, most eves are more stable. They will often develop along similar paths to that of the child’s parents. Others unlock gradually over extended repetition of a task.”

The lesson continued with a discussion of famous eves and their applications. Mal always enjoyed Doctor Ritner’s lessons, and this topic was one close to his heart, but today he was filled with nervous energy as he waited to speak with his friends. When the lesson ended he pulled the two aside.

“I’m in,” he told them. “We’re family. That means that your dreams are mine. So I’m going to do everything I can to get you there.”

Kass didn’t look as happy as Mal had expected. The older boy looked strangely sad. “That isn’t something of your own though. You-”

Lila cut him off. “It’s a good start. Helping others is a noble dream, and maybe he’ll find something more personal along the way.” She turned to Mal. “Glad to have you aboard.”

Mal smiled at her, but he was feeling nervous.

“I do have some conditions though.” Mal was never the one to set rules or tell Lila or Kass what to do. If he wanted to keep them safe though it would have to be something he learned to do. “We’re talking about doing really dangerous things. Every step forward we take could kill us if we go wrong. That means we get one shot at everything. If our dreams are life or death then we need to be prepared.”

Kass nodded. “What have you got in mind?”

“Nothing extreme. Just that we have a carefully thought out plan, a backup plan for if things go bad, and for each of us to be at a set physical standard. That means we need to be able to run fast, run far, climb, and fight.”

“We’re already fit,” Lila said with a slight edge to her voice. “And we might not be as strong as a full grown man but together we can take one down.”

“Mal’s right. Sure, we can take one man down if we’re together but what if we get seperated, or if we have to face more than one man. Things could go bad real fast.”

Lila bit her lip and scrunched her face up. “You boys always underestimate what we are capable of. But waiting an extra week or so won’t hurt us. I accept your proposal. If we’re going to do something then we might as well do it right.”

The three headed back home and set to work planning immediately. The attic had become the children’s planning room. Not just for Mal, Lila and Kass, but for all of the orphans. There was a constant flow of food heists and robberies to plan, schedules to learn and escape routes to arrange. A crudely drawn map of the city covered one of the walls. 

Kass stood beside the wall, grabbing a stick to point at the different building, imitating the way Doctor Ritner taught. 

“The plan’s simple. We need weapons to train so we go steal some. If we can get more than we need then we can sell them on and make a nice little profit on the side. We’ll be taking the weapons from the pogs.”

“That’s kinda risky, don’t you think?” Mal asked. “The pogards are hardly going to turn a blind eye to us taking their stuff.”

“That’s the beauty of it though. They are the easiest group to work around. Every time there’s a big match at the stadium they spread themselves thin everywhere else. If they’re all out guarding the rest of the city then they aren’t exactly going to have a lot of people sat around guarding their station. It’s like you say, nobody would be stupid enough to break into the pogs home base, so they wouldn’t be expecting it.”

Lila gave Mal a cocky grin. “Your concern was already in hand. We need a busy day to make our move, and no day is going to be busier than the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war. That happens to be in two weeks, giving us plenty of time to prepare.”

Mal should have known that they wouldn’t have jumped into something this serious without giving it plenty of thought. “Everyone knows the pogs’ armoury is locked. How are we getting in?”

Lila gave a sour expression. Kass kept his composure better, even going so far as to give Mal an easygoing shrug. 

“That’s the less easy bit. We need to borrow the key from the Keeper. That means we have to break into his house, steal the key, get a copy made, then return it before he knows it’s gone.”

“As simple as that?” Mal asked sarcastically.

“Don’t worry about it. We just have to find out who the Keeper is, follow him home, scope out the place, then sneak in and grab the key.”

Mal could see that this was already getting out of hand. With Lila and Kass looking at him with excited eyes, looking for his approval, he was finding it hard to keep his resolve. 

“Fine. We find out about this keeper then see what happens from there. Any time I feel like it’s a step too far though and I call everything off.”

“Deal,” Kass nodded.

Lila grinned broadly, brimming with energy. “Yes! We’re finally going to do it! We’re going to become Reclaimers! Thank you, Mal!” She calmed herself and quickly donned her royal airs again. “Let’s not celebrate yet. It’s time for us to pay the pog station a little visit.


Previous – Chapter 2.

Next – Chapter 4.

Chapter 2. (A Crown of Blood and Ash)

Mallan sat in his usual corner in the cluttered building known as The Club. It was a rundown building without a use that the city orphans had claimed as their own. There was a large gathering of children there to listen to Lila’s exaggerated tale of their daring break-in to the stadium. Mal was content to let her claim the centre of attention.

“It sounds like you didn’t really do anything, Princess,” shouted one of the older boys. Gant Draylor had been the de facto leader of the orphans but had lost a lot of support to Lila since her arrival two years ago. “Kass did all the work. Even Mal thought to bring a lantern. You just bossed them around.”

Lila stuck her tongue out at him. “It’s called leadership. Maybe if you practiced it you’d still be in charge.”

That struck a chord with him. His face flushed red with anger. “You think you’re so much better than everyone else, don’t you?”

“No. I don’t think anything. I know. It’s called divine providence.”

Gant spat. “There you go again with that royalty rubbish. You’re just another unwanted nobody like the rest of us. I think you’re just all talk. That you don’t even have an eve. All you do is lie.”

Lila stood up a little straighter and surveyed the room as though it was her kingdom. “I am Lilarith Elsan Keydrag Rilarendir, Star of the North, Royal Bearer of the Sacred Blood, and first in line to the Knighted Kingdom’s throne. One day you shall bow to me and weep.”

“Even if that was true, which it isn’t, the Knighted Kingdom doesn’t even exist anymore. The king was overthrown and the family killed. They say it was an absolute bloodbath. Say you were a princess and you somehow survived the slaughter. What exactly are you inheriting, your highness?”

“As long as I’m alive so is the Knighted Kingdom. You’ll see. I’m going to become the greatest Reclaimer the world has ever known. Then I’ll use that money and power to rebuild everything that my family worked hard to create!”

“You’re delusional. Everyone knows you have to see Doc Ritner every week ‘cos you’re a headcase. Nobody’s brave enough to say it to your face but people know you as Loopy Lila.”

Lila snarled at the older boy then marched out of the room without a word. Mal stood up to follow her but Gant stopped him.

“Why do you trail after her like a lost puppy? You don’t honestly believe all of that guff do you?”

“She’s my friend. No, my family. That’s why,” Mal replied curtly before pushing past him.

Mal didn’t know his family. All of his memories before meeting Kass were an indistinct blur. Lila had come into their lives when all three happened to break into the same building on the same night. The girl had a contagious intensity, but more than that she had aspirations for the future, something that Mal had never even considered in this bleak world. She was the youngest of them but had a gravity about her that sucked everyone else in.

He found her in the attic staring out of the cracked window. She didn’t look upset, but then Mal couldn’t recall ever seeing her be sad. She turned to look at him. There was that same intense fire burning in her eyes.

“Actions always speak louder than words,” she said softly. “Rulers are judged on what they do, not what they promise. That’s how you’ve got to live your life.”

“What are you thinking?”

“They don’t believe me so I need to prove them wrong. I can’t do anything about the status of my royalty but we can make a move to become Reclaimers.”

Mal frowned at her. “How? That was always a plan for when we were older.”

“Yeah, well waiting to get older is getting us nowhere. We can’t even use our time preparing because we don’t have the equipment. That’s why we’re going to steal some!”

“You want the three of us to steal weapons?”

“It’ll be easy.”

“Lila, we’re children. I don’t even have an eve yet. We can only rely on Kass so much.” Mal decided not to bring up the questionable existence of Lila’s eve. 

“We’re only as weak as we allow ourselves to be. That’s another thing my father used to tell me. And anyway, I believe in all of us, not just Kass. Once we have real weapons we can start real training. Only then can we start pushing towards our dream!” Lila paused for a moment and looked straight into Mal’s soul. “What is your dream, Mal?”

The question took him aback. He’d never really thought about the future. “I don’t know. I’m happy now, I guess, so I’d just like to keep things the way they are.”

“They won’t,” Lila said bluntly. “The world is going to kick you until you want to give up. You need a dream so you have a reason to keep standing back up.”

“Sure, but I don’t want to see you or Kass get hurt. To risk everything is crazy.”

Mal instantly regretted his choice of words. Lila’s fists clenched and hurt anger clouded her face.

“Never call me crazy,” she spat, each word coming out with the violence of a bullet. She threw open the window and jumped out. 

Mal knew there was a ledge just below the window, but the first time she had done that had terrified him. He sighed and dejectedly began to wander through the building. There was no point chasing her when she was in that kind of mood. Kass might have been able to calm her, but then he had a way with words that Mal didn’t. Up until meeting Kass, he had barely spoken at all. 

His life had been miserable before Kass and Lila came into it, and while they might joke that he had no fear, the thought of going back to a life without them plagued his dreams. He wanted to help Lila achieve her dream but knew that he didn’t have the strength necessary.

“You seem down. Thinking too hard again?”

Mal shook himself from his thoughts to see Kass standing in a doorway. He had two wooden swords in his hands. He passed one to Mal without comment. 

“I heard Lila left again.”

“Yeah. Gant upset her. I went to talk with her and just upset her more. I don’t know that I’ll ever get the hang of being around people.”

Kass clapped him on the back. “Baby steps, Mal. You talk to me okay. If you can do it to one person then you can do it with more. I’d say you’re there with Lila too, however she might act. She respects your opinion because you’re more rational than she is. She might not like it, but she does listen. In a few years she might even be able to hide her emotions a little better and you’ll see just how much she listens.”

They walked down into the basement as they spoke. It was a large space with stone walls and an unyielding chill. Other than for storing any excess food, none of the other orphans came down there often. Lilas had wanted to turn it into a training room, so it had been. 

The two boys stood facing each other, the wooden swords held at the ready. Kass nodded, then the blades clashed. They moved through their self-taught forms, the swords clacking rhythmically as they circled one another. 

“Let me guess,” Kass said between sword strokes. “Lila wants to move forward with the robbery?”

“You know about it?”

“I told her about the place.”

“So you want to go too?”

“It isn’t about wants. It’s about opportunities. I’m not going to say yes or no. We all know what we want to do, and we know how we need to do it. The question then becomes: When? Do we just wake up one day and know its time? Are we working towards a certain skill or ability that we have to have before we try? When would you say to do it?”

“I don’t know. Just not now. We’re kids. We can’t fight against adults. They’re naturally stronger than us. I don’t have an eve either so I’m putting us at an automatic disadvantage. Then Lila…”

“Don’t worry about Lila. What she can and can’t do isn’t our concern. She would try anything out of her depth if it could end up getting us hurt. That means she has to be confident in her skills. As for you, don’t worry about it. Eves aren’t the be all and end all. You’d be the best fighter of the three of us if you didn’t always hold back.”

Kass suddenly twisted a slash into a sharp lunge aimed at Mal’s throat. Mal sidestepped it then parried in a single flowing movement.

“You see? You avoided that easily and left me wide open. You just never followed it up with a finishing hit.”

“Yeah? And how many times could you have smashed the back of my head in with a flying rock?”

“Detail, details,” Kass laughed. Look, at the end of the day, if I had to choose anybody to have my back then I’d choose you, eve or no eve. You do remember when we first met, right?”

“Of course I do.”

“Well there ya go. You saved my life back then against the odds. Just because I’ve grown a lot since then doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly anything less than you were back then. Remember, you don’t have to live day to day anymore. We have a future now. You’re allowed to want more, to have ambition. Lila might be too driven by her dreams, but she’s right about having them.”

Mal raised his sword for another round but Kass shook his head. “I’d better find Lila before it gets dark. Put that brain of yours to use and figure out what you want from your life. Nothing is set in stone, but a direction to guide your actions is nice. I’ll follow you to Hell, just like I would Lila.”

Kass left, leaving Mal alone once more. It wasn’t late yet but Mal made his way upwards to the roof. A lone tent was set up between two bulky ventilation units that Mal called home. The other children slept inside in clustered dormitories. Mal had a tendency to have bad dreams that disturbed anybody near him, and sometimes would instinctively act with violence if he was woken. So he exiled himself at night. He didn’t mind too much though. Staring at the stars always calmed him.

He sat at the entrance of the tent and stared up into the grey void above. There was nothing inside the tent to pass the time with. Other than a thin cover and a lumpy pillow, Mal didn’t own anything. Was he happy with that? Did he want more from life?

Before meeting Kass he had wandered alone without purpose. Each day was a quest for survival and nothing more. It was a blurry time of constant pain to him. Now he had a family, a place to stay, and while food wasn’t plentiful, they always had enough to get by. 

Lila wanted to become a Reclaimer to try and take a throne that no longer existed. Kass wanted to become a Reclaimer to show the world his worth, and to prove that he was the best. Both dreams were crazy, near impossible, but it didn’t matter to them. 

Mal thought about what he wanted from life but his mind kept looping back to Kass and Lila. Then he realised that maybe he did have a dream. The thing he most wanted from life was to see his friends be happy. So that would be his dream. 

“My dream is to make sure that my family’s dreams come true. I’ll be Mal the Dreammaker.”

Speaking the words aloud brought a smile to his lips. It was no great revelation. Nothing about the way he lived had changed. Now he could put words to his feelings though. That was strangely a weight off of his mind. He’d work hard and do whatever was needed to get their little team into the ranks of the Reclaimers. It would be dangerous, but it was now on his shoulders to rise to the challenge and keep them all safe.

Content that the future had been neatly wrapped up, Mal crawled into the tent and nestled into the cover. Tomorrow was a new day, and for the first time ever he felt like giving it his all.

Previous – Chapter 1.

Next – Chapter 3.

Chapter 3. A Brave New World. (A Rubber Ducky at the End of the World)

Peace Lenrow was hungry. The door to his room hadn’t been opened in days. He had heard loud noises but had seen no sign of life. The electricity seemed to be down too. Something wasn’t right but he had not cared until now.

He stood up, flexing muscles that had not seen much use lately. It was beginning to dawn on him that he should be in pain. By now the hunger should have been eating at his stomach and seeping his strength. Instead he only felt a slight pang, almost a craving for flavour more than sustenance. 

“Hey! Anybody out there? Nurse! Anyone!” he shouted to the door. 

There was no answer. It would have been a surprise if there had been one since the building was empty except for Peace and another patient who was enjoying the solitude. The staff had ceased coming to work and most of the other patients had left. Super strength and a sound mind had done wonders for them.

His door was locked every night and had not been unlocked since his last visit from the nurse days before. He knocked then paused. His knuckles had left dents in the wood. He knocked again, harder this time, and the door shook in its frame. He shrugged then stepped back before ramming into it with his shoulder. 

The door burst open and Peace staggered into the corridor beyond. His concerns were confirmed as he took in the state of his surroundings. It looked like a storm had passed through the building. There were broken doors, shattered glass and several large holes in the walls. 

He walked over the debris in his cotton pajamas and fluffy slippers without feeling a thing. Glass crunched but no pain registered. A vague sense that his soul must finally have died washed over him slowly. He was truly numb to the world.

Only, he wasn’t. In reality he was more in tune with the world than ever before in his life and the reason that he could feel no pain was due to the strengthening of his body after the Change. It is strange though that reality has a tendency to bend itself around the beliefs of particularly delusional individuals. Personal reality trumps actual reality so often that you could be forgiven for thinking that we actually live in a truly chaotic world.

As such, it was not important what the universe had done to Peace Lenrow but what Peace thought that the universe had done to him. For all that he knew, the world could have been in perfect order and all of this was a product of his own delusional mind. 

Peace felt surprisingly happy. Whether it was the breakdown of society or the breakdown of his sanity, he was free. His biggest problem with life had always been other people so any reality without them was close enough to Heaven for him.

That sense of liberation didn’t last long though. No sooner had Peace left the hospital to be greeted by the ruins of his town, than his dream of escaping humanity was shattered. Swaggering down the centre of the road was a group of men who laughed loudly among themselves. Peace felt a vein twitch on his forehead.

I, as an omnipotent narrator, can tell you that the men had been washed up wrecks sustained by drugs and alcohol after never achieving anything in life. A successful football career cut short from an injury, a young love brought to an end by uncontrolled anger, and children born too early in life were the kinds of hallmarks worn by these bitter individuals.

“Old Jonesey didn’t know what hit him,” one cackled. “How many times had he and his lads beat us up? Then wham! I hit him with a car. Just picked it up and smacked him like it were a cricket bat. The look on his brother’s face. Ha!”

“They didn’t stand a chance,” sniggered another. “We run this town now.”

Another man suddenly noticed Peace and pointed him out to the others. “Hey look. Someone’s just come from the loony bin.”

Peace suppressed a sigh as every head in the group turned to focus in on him. He wasn’t very good with people. They had a tendency to annoy and confuse him. He tried to ignore them and keep walking but they had other ideas.

“What you doing out of your comfy little pillow cell, eh?” grinned a bald man with the build of a rugby player and the face of a crashed plane. 

Peace didn’t respond, instead changing his direction to try and avoid the group. One of the men grabbed his arm and pulled him back around.

“It’s rude to ignore someone when they’re speaking to you, boy. Maybe you’re a bit behind on the times. See, things have changed. We are the top dogs around here now. You do as we say. Got that?”

Peace frowned. “Sorry. What did you say? I zoned out for a minute there. Something about dogs. I like dogs.”

The man’s grip tightened on Peace’s arm. “Who the hell do you think you are, retard?”

“Who do I think I am?” Peace mused aloud. “A better question would surely be who do you think I am? I know who I am. I think.”

Cogs were turning inside the man’s head. Understanding dawned on him with about the same speed as an English sunrise in December. Anger sparked at the boy’s insolence and he lashed out his fist with a grunt.

The fist connected with Peace’s face with the force of a freight-train. The man, who was called Nicolas Drager but still thought of himself as the lad about town ‘Dray’, expected one of three things to happen. The boy could be sent hurtling backwards through the front wall of the hospital, his head could be torn off and bounce across the roofs like a stray football or his skull could implode under the pressure. Dray had seen all three happen. 

He had never seen somebody stand and take it though. He took a quick step back after letting go of the boy’s arm. Peace stood still, his eyes unfocused. Blood dribbled from his lips and nose. His brain felt like it had been put through a blender. Agony crackled through him. He laughed. To feel anything brought a sense of euphoria to him.

The sunrise effect was again spreading through the group of men. Common Sense screamed that perhaps the best thing to do would be to leave the area as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, common sense is in fact one of the rarest of human traits despite its misleading name. Fight or flight battered at the instincts of the men but it was testosterone that ultimately led to a scrawny man yelling “Get ‘im!” Mob mentality took over from there while Common Sense looked on in disgust and facepalmed.

Five fully grown men with plenty of fighting experience versus a seventeen year old fresh from a mental hospital. It should have been over very quickly. It was.

Peace felt as though he existed beyond the usual confines of time and space. He saw the men move, not exactly in slow motion, but as though he had seen each action a million times before like a favourite movie. He knew where their fists would land and where they would leave themselves open. Images filled his head, processing all of the information around him so quickly that he didn’t understand what was going on. 

He wove around the flurry of attacks without a care in the world but never fought back. Peace disliked fighting. Not because he was afraid of getting hurt but because it was a situation where all of the emotions that he tried to suppress came venting uncontrollably to the surface. Showing emotion made him less human. Pure rage would consume him and strip him of his humanity.

It had been a fight that had sealed his fate to be committed to the mental hospital. Self harm could be hidden, ignored, but biting off someone’s ear was somewhat more visible. It didn’t matter how horrible the person in question was. How many times they had bullied others, disrupted lessons and made life hell. The second someone snaps and puts them in their place they suddenly become the victim and you are a psychopath. 

One of the men caught him a blow across the back of the head with a brick that shattered on impact. Blood bubbled from the wound. Seeing that he could be hurt the men redoubled their efforts. Peace took a deep breath.

“That wasn’t very nice,” he said in a voice that was too calm. 

Peace’s fist drove hard into the gut of the man in front of him. It didn’t stop until it had passed straight through his body. Blood splashed across Peace’s face. The man screamed and flopped to the floor. He was still alive but couldn’t move due to the hand sized gap in his spine. 

This moment marked the second important decision for the men to make. Common Sense stood up to make its case again then decided that it wasn’t even worth the effort and left to find a can of beer and a good seat to watch the show.

The men dove at Peace and he offered them a feral grin. His conscious thoughts stepped away from his brain and took a seat beside Common Sense. 

Every punch that Peace threw connected then continued on its merry way unhindered by such simple obstacles as flesh and bones. Screams and blood filled the air in a symphony of pain and suffering. It was only a matter of seconds until five writhing, bloodsoaked bodies littered the floor and Peace stood in their centre panting as he wrestled to regain his composure. 

It was a scene of utter carnage. Peace surveyed the damage with dead eyes. A butterfly fluttered past the groaning mess, catching Peace’s attention. The sight of it lifted his spirits and cast any memories of his actions from his mind. He wandered after the butterfly with a smile on his face, everything else forgotten.

Previous – Chapter 2. A Father’s Duty.

Next – Chapter 4. A Flock of Faithful.

Chapter 2. A Father’s Duty. (A Rubber Ducky at the End of the World)

Humans are surprisingly dim for such clever creatures. It took them a while to work out that they had changed. People no longer got ill. They didn’t tire as easily, and they were stronger and faster than ever before. Lots of things happened that could only point toward humans having become more powerful, but people don’t like to connect the dots if the bigger picture is one that they don’t want to acknowledge. 

Even so, it was only a matter of days until the governments of the world were forced to announce that the experiment may not have gone entirely to plan. It went something along the lines of: “Somebody forgot to carry the one in the calculations and now the Earth and everything in it is atomically unstable. On a side note, you are all basically superman now. Please don’t use these powers and continue with your life as normal.”

If you think that anybody took that advice then you are more naive than I gave credit for. When confronted with power, human minds reach for extremities. They realise that they have no need to work when they could take anything that they want, or they develop a hero complex. Only, neither works when everybody is the same. 

How do you use your newfound powers to rob an old lady when she turns around and slaps you straight through a building? How do you protect the innocent when they can fully protect themselves?

Just like in nature though, not everyone was affected in equal measures. Some became stronger than others for reasons that nobody could tell. Many great stories of tragedy, triumph and the like rose during this time. There were millions of tales, such as Mrs Baker, and elderly woman who had been on her deathbed. After the Change she stood back up and took her poor dog on a long overdue walk in the park. Then there was Mr Dale who had thrown himself off of a skyscraper moments before the Change only to crash down onto a car and walk away unharmed, much to his own chagrin. 

None of these events factor into this particular narrative though. Instead we must shift our way through the chaos and miracles to a small terrace house in a rundown neighbourhood. It had always been run down but of late had been reduced to crumbling ruins.

Damian Smithson stood in the center of his living room with a crying baby cradled in one arm. He stared at his free arm, held out before him with fingers splayed, and watched tendrils of smoke curl around it. Before him on the ground lay a mound of charred bones.

Things had happened quickly. The bones belonged to a man who had broken into the house. This was a very literal statement too since there was a wide hole in the wall that marked the man’s entrance. He had come to steal from the single father, and Damian had done what he had to in order to protect his daughter. Only, neither man had expected Damian to fire a laser beam from his hand. People were stronger, faster, and could take more damage, but lasers? That was something new.

Slowly, Damian lowered his arm and tried to sooth the baby absentmindedly. He had always been weak. He was scrawny and had never advanced his career past being a supervisor at a fastfood restaurant. He had been bullied throughout his youth and had been unable to save his wife when she had been hit by a drunk driver two months ago. 

So why was he suddenly so powerful? Since the Change he had outclassed those around him. The man at his feet had not been the first to cross him. People could survive gunshots now but Damian had broken bones with a childlike ease. Only one explanation came to his mind.

He had been chosen.

“Hush Amelia,” he whispered to the child. “Don’t cry. Daddy is going to make the world a better place for you. Don’t fear the chaos, for I’ll bring order. Just you wait and see.”

Previous – Chapter 1. A Good Day for An Apocalypse.

Next – Chapter 3. A Brave New World.

2. (Something Like Life)

The walk home passes by in a blur. I rest my chin on Tink’s shoulder as I cling to his back. Every now and then I mutter some half remembered Star Wars quote in a very poor Yoda accent and giggle to myself. Tink suffers me in silence. It’s close to the dinnertime rush, so the streets are packed with people who cast glances at us ranging from amusement to disgust. It’s only when he drops me on my doorstep that I become remotely aware of where I am. 

Tink moves to knock on the door and I quickly manage to grab his arm. He looks at me, sighs, then steps back.

“Steph’ll kill me if she sees me like this again,” I say as I fumble for my keys. “I’ve got to stealth this. Be real sneaky. Quiet like a ninja.”

“She’s watching you from the window, you know?”

I squint at Tink, then at the window where my sister’s face is glaring at me like the visage of God’s wrath through the clouds. My mind immediately thinks of Monty Python’s Holy Grail and I laugh before remembering that I was a ninja. I put a finger to my mouth and shush Tink loudly. The keys are finally in my hand. Fuck knows how. I put them in the lock on my eighth or so attempt, still shushing dramatically the entire time. The door swings open and I pat Tink’s face clumsily as a way of goodbye. Closing it slowly behind me, I tiptoe down the corridor and crash straight into the coat rack, knocking it over.

Steph storms into the corridor, her face red. Part of it is anger, the other a blotchy redness from a heavy cold that’s keeping her out of work. She is wearing a bathrobe and clings to her hot water bottle, swaying as she confronts me.

“You’re drunk again.”

“Excellent deduction, Sherlock. Ten points to Gryffindor!”

“You can’t keep doing this. I said you could stay here if you tried to get your shit together. Being drunk before twelve isn’t getting your shit together.”

I know she’s right, but that just makes me angry. 

“What’s the point? I’ve spent years trying and look where that’s got me. Unemployed and living with my sister. Maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be like this if things went my way for once.”

“You can’t just keep blaming everything on the world. Everyone else seems to get by as a functioning member of society.”

Her words sting. I grit my teeth. Steph is an accountant, a studious sort of person with a friendly charm and a slightly plump figure that gets called ‘full-bodied’ rather than fat. She has always done well at anything she tried. Then there’s me, the black sheep of the family. Scrawny, cynical, and easily bored. At best I can be called plain looking, and no matter how hard I’d tried as a kid, I found that other people were just more effort than they were worth. If something or someone bored me, I found something else to do. How else do you stay sane? Still, it was a recipe for failure, and everyone knew it.

I don’t answer her. Even in my drunken state I know that I have nothing good to say. All the fight leaves me in a wave and I can feel myself sagging, being pulled down into the blackness of my inner thoughts. I stagger past her and she doesn’t stop me. I can’t bear to see the look on her face, so I keep my head down and stare at my shoes as I open the door to my room.

It’s little more than a cupboard with a bed, but it’s mine. Well, technically it’s Steph’s, so I don’t even have that. The walls are a sickly lime colour, a holdover from the granny who lived here before, and the bedsheets haven’t been changed in months. The back wall is barely visible through a swarm of sticky notes that have been built up over time, each one covered in my messy scrawl. I call them my lost futures. Each one recalls a moment in my life that could have been pivotal, then explores what could have been if I had done things differently. There are hundreds now. Every time I look at them I feel sick. So many points of failure…

I fall onto the bed without bothering to change. This is my life. I exist. Sometimes though, I get the distinct feeling that things would be much better if I didn’t.

Steph’s words haunt me. Does everyone else get by as a functioning member of society? Does Corgi get by on his failed apprenticeship and current unemployment? The old ex-miners and steelworkers that became the detritus of drinking holes? The ever increasing number of homeless on the streets? The food banks buckling under demand? Are we all victims of our own arrogance, or is the world just increasingly filled with fuckups? More likely, the world always had fuckups, but with an exploding population and diminishing job market, the fuckups just can’t coast by anymore. 

These thoughts echo around my head, driving any thoughts of sleep away. I can’t even close my eyes without feeling like the room is spinning. So instead, I stare at the sheets of paper on the wall and try my best not to think about them. I, of course, proceed to do nothing but think about them.

I trace a finger across the paper threads of my life, wondering what decisions could have been made differently to not be laid drunk in my sister’s house on a Tuesday morning, alone, jobless, and miserable. Could I have tried harder? Set more realistic goals for myself?

Having optimism, that was where it all went wrong. Everybody you’re told to trust as a child sells you on grand dreams. They all say ‘Work hard and you can achieve anything’, and ‘Follow your dreams’. Only, the truth is, that’s not how the world works. Everyone dreams of being an astronaut, a famous band member, or a footballer. You can’t have a society of rich and famous celebrities, even if every last one of us had the pure talent and dedication. For ninety nine percent of us, those words of encouragement are the world’s biggest lie. We believe, but can never live up to those beliefs, so are instantly shackled with self-doubt and feelings of failure right from the starting line.

When do you give up? How are you supposed to know when you should pick yourself up and try again or give up and move on to something new? I asked that question a lot, but nobody ever had an answer, so I stopped asking.

I’m so tired. My body runs through cycles where it’s either too tired to sleep, or sleeps too much and never feels awake. Opposing sides of the same coin. I reach for the box of sleeping tablets on the bedside table and fumble with it until two pills rest in the centre of my palm. Vaguely, I wonder how many of those tiny capsules it would take to kill a man, then pop them into my mouth. My hand paws at the table until I feel a can still half-filled with liquid. Several empty cans and bottles clatter to the floor. I wash the pills down with Monster that has become flat. 

My head hits the pillow and I stare at the poorly plastered ceiling above without any real semblance of thought drifting through my mind. My curtains haven’t been opened for a long time, but light still filters into the room, stealing even the darkness from me. The light seems to highlight the sheets of paper on the tiny corner desk. I roll over, then roll over again. I’m pretty sure I could generate enough power to run a small commune with the amount of restless spinning I go through. 

My pocket starts vibrating. I immediately assume it’s a spam call, so am surprised to see that it’s actually an alarm. It was, ironically, alarming. Somehow, it’s already six in the evening. I double check the time then glance at the grey glow that spilled out from the curtains just to be sure that it wasn’t an elaborate prank. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t get any sleep. I certainly don’t feel rested. 

Sitting up feels like a Herculean task, so instead I just roll off the bed and slam into the floor with a dull thud. I’m out of bed now, but the downside is that standing up from the floor is even more effort than from the bed. It’s the thought that counts.

Like the evolution of man, I slowly rise from the primal dirt of the carpet and stand upright on my own two feet. I don’t feel up to leaving the house, but when do I ever? As I shuffle past the desk I pause and study the small chess board that occupied the back corner. Nobody ever plays it with me. Most either don’t know how, or simply don’t care. Still, I enjoy playing, so have set up a long running game against myself. It was the match of the century: drunk me versus hungover me. Occasionally, the impartial sober me would observe the progress of the board and wonder what the Hell the other mes were thinking. Somehow it was the drunk who was currently winning after some creative maneuvers that my cripplingly hanging self had been too groggy to comprehend.

I examine the board for longer than is needed. I’m well aware that I’m stalling for time. Having another confrontation with Steph is the last thing that I want right now. I’m smart enough to know not to get caught in a battle I can’t win, and any battle that revolved around my personal failings was certainly something I would lose. I just need to get ready and leave without crossing her path. What happens when I get back afterwards is drunk me’s problem, and that guy was a dick who frankly deserves it.

Wasting time is getting me nowhere, so after a quick check at the door to listen for any sign of Steph, I slip out of my room and make a better attempt at sneaking through the corridor towards the bathroom. From here I can hear the supposedly gentle noise of a chainsaw mowing through a family of piglets that was my sister’s snoring, somehow made more demonic by her blocked nose. I could drive a lorry straight through the house and still be the quieter of the two of us.

The bathroom is clean and clinical, all in spotless white, but it’s still little more than a cupboard. Not even room for a bathtub. That said a lot really. Work yourself to the bone and just maybe you’ll be able to afford paying rent to some rich prick for the use of a property that I can stand pissing at the front door and hit the back door.

I quickly shower then lather myself in enough deodorant to suffocate a small gas chamber’s worth of your chosen minority. Using toothpaste isn’t an option, so I brush my teeth with only water. Alcohol tastes awful after toothpaste, and the way I see it, the alcohol itself is a disinfectant, so will probably kill any bacteria that’s in my mouth. I certainly hope it does, because I’m fairly sure that nothing short of medical grade disinfectant is suitable for washing away the sins of late night kebabs made from questionable meats in even more questionable conditions.

Steph’s snores still reverberate through the house, so I cross back into my room without bothering with a towel. Dressing probably takes me less time than brushing my teeth took. The heap of clothes that are clean has no sense of order, but then neither does my style. I put on the first things that look remotely suitable. That’s the beauty of men’s clothes: almost everything is universal. Jeans and a shirt. Lounging around the house? Cool. Going to a party? Still perfect. I throw on a coat and I’m ready. 

I don’t bother taking my wallet. There’s no money in there, or in my bank account. The food and drinks this morning used the last of my limited funds. Luckily, it’s a house party tonight, so I plan to be a liquor leech and rely on other drunken fucks providing the drinks. It takes me a moment to even remember whose party it was. Tink’s brother’s girlfriend’s cousin. That’s the one. 

There’s a bottle of Jack in the kitchen that I take a swig from on my way out. I need it to prepare myself for the pre-drinks. Any conversation with Corgi requires a healthy level of alcohol in your system to tolerate. Happy that I had nothing worth remembering, I take a sweeping look over the house that will never be a home, then step out the door.

Previous – 1.

Next – 3.

Chapter 1. The Hard Life of A Hero.

Daisy Nightingale watched the criminal through the window as she leant against a lampost opposite the small, semi-detached house he called home. He only occasionally came into her view, and at no point had done anything incriminating, but that wasn’t enough to put off a young woman like Daisy. She knew he was guilty, and was determined to prove it.

Daisy’s network of eyes and ears was vast, possibly the biggest in the world. She knew a lot, and was always eager to know more, but knowing alone wasn’t enough. She needed to be able to act. And so here she was.

She tapped the screen of her phone a few times then spoke.

“It’s time. Let’s find that evidence.”

A crackle of static answered her, accompanied by what sounded like a faint squeak.

“I’m going to have to ask Yamina to work on your gear. But that’s a job for later. Are you ready?”

Another garbled squeaking noise came from the phone. 

“Yeah, I don’t like it either. I’d much rather swap and be out there doing this myself, but I can hardly just waltz over there, can I? We have to be sneaky. Now, let’s have a better look at this house.”

Daisy tapped her screen again and a grainy picture of a fridge appeared. The image swayed slightly, then wobbled forward until the camera was at the foot of the grey plastic door.

“Focus! No, I don’t care that you can smell cheese. Look, I’ll buy you some afterwards, okay? Fine. You can have an apple too. Deal.”

The camera reluctantly turned away from the fridge, clinging to the edge of the room as it moved towards an open door that led into the living room.

“Attaboy, Brucie,” Daisy said encouragingly.

To most people, Daisy was known as a smart, resourceful, and very passionate girl, who had always dreamed of being a detective. She had been solving little mysteries since she could totter around on her own two feet. Although she could still hardly believe it, she was very close to finally achieving that dream too, but none of that was what made Daisy truly special. No, the thing that really set her apart from the rest of the world was a closely kept secret that only her best friend Yamina knew.

Daisy Nightingale could speak to animals.

At first she had thought that this was perfectly normal, and that everybody could do it. As she had grown older though, she had realised that nobody could understand animals. The creatures around her quickly noticed she was different, and very soon Daisy was always surrounded by birds and little critters of all types. Animals loved her, and she loved them all dearly.

In her childhood, she had been enthralled by movies of beautiful princesses who were friends with animals just like her, and she had tried to emulate them by getting the local animals to do her chores. Only, as it happens, squirrels can’t pick up plates, hedgehogs can’t reach the buttons on the washing machine, and birds poop all over everything. 

What the animals were good for though was gossip. They could go where they like and humans mostly ignored them. They could also reach places humans couldn’t. At first, Daisy had used them to get dropped items from behind furniture, or to find out what her classmates and teachers did outside of school, but from the moment she discovered crime scene investigation shows, her friends’ true potential finally dawned on her.

So here she was: hot on the trail of a notorious bike thief. The investigation had been simple. A social media post had reported a brand new red bike stolen from Maypole Avenue, so Daisy had taken the short trip over there and had spoken to a magpie in a nearby tree. Magpies love shiny things, so the black and white bird had taken an interest in the bike. He had described the thief and pointed her in the right direction. It had taken a lot of questioning to pin down the final location, but a tabby cat was eventually able to confirm that a man matching her description had returned to his house with a new red bike. Everything had been coming together.

She watched as Brucie slipped into the living room and hid behind the sofa as the bike thief crossed the space back and forth while talking on his phone. Compared with little Brucie, the man looked gigantic.

“Yeah, chief, I got it. Real beauty. Easily £300 from shops. I’ll sell it you for £200 if you come up here to collect it. Do we have a deal? Cool. See you in twenty minutes then.”

That confirmed that the man had the bike, but it didn’t tell her where it was. She needed to act fast. 

“Brucie, do a quick check of the ground floor. I’m going to make a move.”

She glanced around and quickly spotted a fat pigeon plodding across the grass of someone’s front garden. She made a cooing sound and the bird raised its head towards her before waddling closer.

“‘Ello, pretty lady,” the pigeon said with the characteristic bobbing accent of all his kind. Of course, he didn’t actually say those words, instead making the usual sounds you would expect from a pigeon, but somehow the coos made perfect sense in Daisy’s head.

Daisy reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of seeds. She held it out to the bird.

“If I give you these seeds, could you make a quick flight over that house there and tell me if there is a red bike in the garden?”

Unlike the bird, Daisy did speak in English. Most animals had an innate ability to understand humans to some level. They all seemed to understand Daisy perfectly.

“Seeds from pretty lady? Sure. Sure. I fly there. I excellent flier. The best. Yup yup. Just watch.”

The pigeon flapped his wings clumsily, seeming to struggle to lift his bulk off the ground, but he managed it and flew low over the garden fence before circling back around and landing heavily at Daisy’s feet.

“No red bike. Job done. You proud? You proud? Seeds, seeds, seeds!”

Daisy scattered the seeds on the ground for the pigeon, then checked back in with Brucie. There was nothing in the house either. That left only one place: The garage.

“Brucie, the bike has to be in the garage. There isn’t much time until the buyer gets here. Cause a distraction while I try to get in. Maybe it’s unlocked.”

The pigeon tilted his head and stopped eating. “You want distraction? Gilbert help! I be hero for pretty lady, yes!”

“I don’t have any more seeds on me.”

No seeds, no. I brave pigeon. Bravest. Hero pigeon known across lawn. I distract real good!”

“Okay, Gilbert, you’re in. I’m relying on you. Go do your thing.”

Daisy walked towards the house while watching the pigeon out of the corner of her eye. He flapped up into the air then glided past her while loudly cooing what she could only assume was a battlecry, before crashing straight into the living room window with a loud bang.

Daisy dove behind a hedge as she heard a shout of surprise through her phone, then a moment later saw the man standing at the window, staring at a pigeon shaped smudge on the glass.

“That dumb pigeon!” Daisy hissed to herself. “I need the man away from the window, not drawn to it. Brucie, you have to salvage this for me. Yes, I’ll throw in some grain too!”

A clattering of pans came through her phone and the man whipped around, disappearing back into his house. This was her chance. Daisy double checked her surroundings then jogged up to the flaking green door of the garage. She gave it a pull and felt it lurch upwards with a shrill squeal of metal scraping against metal that hurt her teeth. 

She paused and listened. From inside the house she could hear the sounds of shouts and bangs, most likely from the man’s attempts to catch poor Brucie. He hadn’t seemed to have noticed the garage. Daisy lifted it a little more, then slipped inside. 

The garage was dark and dusty. Piles of boxes and bulging bin bags filled the room, and there, in the middle of it all, was the bike.

“Bingo.”

Without hesitating, she grabbed the bike and wheeled it out of the garage, only stopping to drop a business card on the floor where the bike had been. It showed a photoshopped picture of a nightingale sticking its tongue out with the words “No crime escapes the Knightingale” printed below. 

As soon as she was on the street, she swung herself up onto the bike and began to pedal back towards Maypole Avenue. She fumbled with her phone as she tried to steer.

“Mission accomplished. Get yourself out of there, Brucie. Meet back at mine for your payment.” She thought for a moment. “Actually, see if you can watch the sale. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he realises the bike’s gone. Yes, of course I’ll pay you extra. Right, see you soon.”

It felt good bringing justice to the world. A thief wasted his time and the bike’s owner would be happy to have it back. All in all, it wasn’t a bad morning’s work. Daisy left the bike on the owner’s doorstep then ran as soon as she rang the doorbell. She didn’t stop until she got home. It was important to get her cardio in, after all. 

She unlocked her door then went straight to her room. Her parents were already at work so the place was quiet. Her room was small, and every surface was covered in books and DVDs. Well, all of them that weren’t taken up by the large glass tank that housed her snake, Beethoven. 

“Welcome back,” Beethoven hissed softly. “I take it you were sssuccessful?”

“Of course,” Daisy said, grinning happily as she collapsed onto her bed. “One crime solved before breakfast. Not bad, if I do say so myself.”

“Yesss. About that. Don’t you have a ceremony you’re sssupose to be at?”

Daisy froze. She felt panic flare across her body, pumping her full of adrenaline. 

“Oh my gosh, you’re right! Aaaah! It’s not even my first day yet and I’m going to be late! How can I be late to my own introductory event? Where’s my uniform? No! No! No!”

“The life of a sssuper hero isss never sssimple, eh?” 

“This is not the time, Beethoven. Look, no one’s home, please nip downstairs and fetch up some food while I get ready. I can’t be late! I’ll just prepare at double speed! Determination always succeeds!”

“Double ssspeed ssstill can’t turn back the five minutesss you’re already late by.”

“Eeeeeeek!”

Chapter 32. New Waves. (Buccaneer Jones and the Fires of Peace)

Sunlight glimmered across crystal waves, giving the impression that the sea was filled with colourful gems. Shapes darted around just below the surface, while the usually static sky was filled with squawking birds of one kind or another. The world felt alive in a way that most had never known before.

Bucc watched the animals lazily from the bow of The Lady Hope. It had been a month since the Battle of Frindor, although little more than a week had passed since they had left the Nexus. A lot had happened since then, but then, not a lot had happened at the same time.

With Neri’s guidance, the young pirates had made it safely back, but they hadn’t been the first ones to arrive there. When Captain Pyrefist had opened the seal inside the Nexus, thousands of animals had begun to pour out from the riftways. Some had been beautiful, others filled even the sturdiest of pirates with terror. Rumours of the legendary leviathans had already spread across the seas.

Milla had been returned to the care of Lord Captain Steeledge’s surgeon. The man had his hands full since the battle, but Captain Steeledge himself had told him to focus on the girl’s care, despite his own terrible wounds. Against all odds, she was showing signs of recovery already. As Bucc had hoped, it turned out that she was simply too stubborn to die.

“Would you believe that the number of riftways we can access has more than doubled since the seal was opened?”

Bucc made a sound that was neither interested nor bored. Adward joined him, a notebook and quill in his hand and a look of excitement plastered across his face. Bucc had been on the receiving end of several of Adward’s new discoveries already. They were all interesting, but there was only so much wonder that Bucc could process at any one time. Adward continued unperturbed.

“I expect that they are all of the invisible passages that the blanks used. The navigational possibilities that this opens up are near endless.” 

“Is that a good thing?”

“It’s a very good thing. Before, rift travel was the danger while sailing was perfectly safe. Now we’ve already had reports of shark attacks, and even a sighting of a leviathan. The open seas have suddenly become a very dangerous place.”

“Have you heard anything new about Pyrefist or the Ashenna?”

“Nothing. Still no sightings in southern waters since they pulled back their fleet. That can only be a good thing, right?”

“Who knows? We haven’t won the war, and I don’t even know if we won the battle. This is all too confusing for me. Pyrefist did what he wanted to do, and what he did will potentially save everyone. Were we wrong to fight against him? Ah, it hurts my head just thinking about it. I’ll let the captains decide that kind of thing. On that note, where’s Jesse?”

“Where do you think? She’s overseeing the rebuilding of The Phoenix. I’m still amazed that they think they can piece those splinters back together into a sailable ship. There are plenty of other ships left to take parts from though. It’s the only peace she gets. Any time she steps out in public she gets swarmed with fans. Beating Captain Pyrefist has done wonders for her reputation.”

Bucc laughed. “She’s welcome to it. As long as she keeps all of that attention away from me.” He turned back to the sea and stared off into the sky. “I still can’t believe that we did it.”

“Let’s just hope that we don’t have to do it again,” Adward said with a tired smile. He placed a hand on Bucc’s shoulder. “You did pretty well for a pacifist. Just like you said, you protected everyone without hurting anybody. If only Kaz could have seen us fighting together like that.”

“What do you think the future is going to be now?”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s up to us to decide. We’re going to have a lot of struggles, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah, but we’ll overcome them. I still want to be a farmer, but while my family and friends are being threatened, I’ll try my hardest to get stronger. Who says I can’t do both?”

“Exactly.”

The two pirates stood in silence for a few minutes, lost in thought as they admired the new beauty of the world. Neri wiggled up onto Bucc’s head and bathed in the sun. The future was scary, but here and now, Bucc felt content. 

There was a bustle from the stairway. Bucc’s mum half jogged over to them. “Milla has just woken up. I thought you’d like to know straight away.”

A relieved grin spread across Bucc’s face. “Adward, go and get Jesse. It’s time to welcome Milla back.”

“Aye aye.”

Tomorrow was filled with uncertainty, conflict, and fears, but today, Bucc knew exactly who he was and what he needed to do. He was Buccaneer Jones, the pacifist pirate, and all he needed to be was a good friend. 

He cast a last look up into the sky as a flock of seagulls passed overhead. The squarks added a sharpness to the constant rolling slosh of the waves that Bucc had known his entire life. The world was full of movement and noise, and hundreds of colours punctuated the monotonous blue that he had grown to resent. It was the same world, but somehow it had changed beyond recognition.

“Let’s go, Neri. It’s time we show Milla that she does have a home. It’s all new waves out here, but me, you, Jesse, Adward, and Milla, will find a new way forward and face whatever tomorrow brings together. That’s a promise.”


The end.

Thanks for seeing this through to the end! I hope you enjoyed being a part of Bucc’s world. Feel free to leave your thoughts or feedback in a comment. 

If you enjoyed the story and have some spare money, please consider supporting my work through one of the links below, or by buying a version of this book. If not, thank you for giving me your time. Spread the word if you can, as that always helps massively!

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Previous – Chapter 31. Here at the End of it All.

Chapter 31. Here at the End of it All. (Buccaneer Jones and the Fires of Peace)

Bucc shouted wordlessly. Without conscious thought his body became covered in his own fire. He ran through the wall of flame, dimly aware that the pain inside his chest had eased slightly. On the other side he came face to face with stark reality. Milla lay slumped on the golden block that was now slick with her blood. Pyrefist stood over her, his face as blank and unreadable as ever. His daughter stood a few steps away. Her eyes were fixed on Bucc and her body was ready to spring into action. 

Bucc couldn’t pull his eyes away from Milla’s pale face. Even as the dome beneath their feet started to shift and move, he stared helplessly at her closed eyes. He took an uncertain step forward. It was hard to walk. Whether from shock or the lurching of the dome, he couldn’t tell.

The dial lowered into the ground, leaving Milla in a pool of her own blood over the glass window into the shadowy well below. Pyrefist handed the sword back to his daughter without a word and they both turned to climb down the dome. Bucc’s eyes flitted between them and Milla. Then the dome began to open, its centre curling upwards and over like a blooming flower. The flat ground was quickly becoming a steep slope.

“Bucc! Stop them!” shouted Jesse. The wall of fire had disappeared now and Jesse and Adward were sprinting towards him. “I’ll get Milla. You two go after them!”

The order took any indecision from Bucc’s mind. He charged down the slope, gravity lending him a breakneck speed. Adward ran at his side. The gap between them was closing quickly. 

“I hope you have a plan,” Adward yelled between heavy breaths. 

“Stir the wind to move the sand. That’s going to be our advantage here.”

They jumped the last few steps into the soft sand a few steps behind Pyrefist. He turned to face them.

“Do you still wish to fight me? How awfully aggressive of a pacifist. Has anger and revenge clouded your morality?” He looked away from Bucc to the now vertical surface of the former dome. Shimmering light was shooting up from within it to connect to the riftway. “Even so, now isn’t the time. We are about to witness a once in a lifetime event. Though I wonder if your body can last even that long.”

The captain was right. Bucc’s heart felt close to bursting and his head was light. The moment of relief that using his power had brought him had given him an idea. He faced down the larger man. 

“Now!”

Adward moved his arms and a wind blew across the static landscape. The sand, which had never known a breeze, was swept up and swirled around the two Ashenna pirates. Bucc let his anger build, tentatively tapping into the excess heat that was on the verge of destroying him. He hoped that things were as simple as he thought they were. He had taken in too much heat, so he just needed to vent it back out again.

Bucc braced himself then let loose. Fire ripped through him in a torrent of raw power that blasted the landscape in scouring light. He screamed as lances of pain stabbed through his muscles and nerves. All of his own power and that of Pyrefist’s daughter poured from him in a wave of pure carnage that burned his hands.

Adward sent as much sand into the inferno as he could manage, angling eddies of sand from every direction until his powers failed him and he sagged onto his knees, breathing heavily.

Bucc felt the last of his power splutter and vanish without warning. Smoke billowed off him as he stood numbly swaying in place. Before him was a scene of devastation. The ground was a lumpy patch of misshapen glass that must have covered almost a mile of the Nexus. Everything steamed gently, filling the air with swirling mist. 

The air suddenly felt unbearably cold. A fierce chill cut deeply into Bucc. Finding that he had no strength left, he collapsed backwards into the sand. He turned his head slightly to stare into the glass wasteland. 

Both Pyrefist and his daughter were still standing. They were encased in the glass up to their knees, with lumps of glass dotting the rest of their bodies where it had rained from above. Just as Bucc had hoped, it seemed that both had used their affinity to avoid taking any direct damage from his blast. The woman was struggling wearily to free herself but didn’t have the strength left. Pyrefist himself simply stared at Bucc, showing no discomfort at all.

The lord captain rolled his shoulders and glass cracked and fell from his torso. Calmly, he placed his hand on the glass around his legs and released a quick but intense burst of heat. The glass shattered. He began a slow walk towards Bucc, completely ignoring the struggles of his daughter.

“Good effort. Your reluctance to hurt me is a deadly weakness though. You were resourceful enough to save your own life and power up your attack in a single move, yet you threw it away for your morals.”

Bucc couldn’t move. He had nothing left to give. Pyrefist’s words washed over him, barely registering in his exhausted mind. He had hoped that the effort needed to defend against the blast would have drained the man, but now he could only watch helplessly as the man’s hands began to glow with power.

Jesse came charging from the side and tackled Pyrefist. She hit him and bounced back, not moving the man an inch. She recovered fast and stood between the captain and Bucc. Her pistols were empty and she had no weapons but she stood there with fierce determination.

“I won’t let you hurt anyone else!”

Pyrefist looked down on her scornfully. “You’re no captain, girl. You are a weakling hiding behind a mask, a child playing dress up.”

He reached out a single finger and pressed it against the wooden mask. A surge of flame passed through it, shattering the mask. Jesse stared in horror at the captain, her determination draining from her face to be replaced by fear. 

“Your words lack bite now that you can’t hide away from the world. Those scars, and that face of a shy little girl, they are who you are. You can’t run away from that. You pushed all of your passion into a mask, and now without it you are worthless.”

He backhanded her across the face with enough force to send her skidding across the sand. She lay there, unmoving, surrounded by the fragments of her broken mask. Pyrefist turned his attention away from her and back to Bucc.

“Turn your head towards the salvation of our world, Buccaneer Jones,” Pyrefist intoned, motioning towards the pillar of light that flared up out of the hole beneath the dome like a blazing beacon. Shadows dotted the light by the thousands, some small, others large beyond imagining. They were all floating upwards towards the tangle of riftways where they disappeared from sight.

“I’m not a sentimental man, but even I can see the beauty in this. Believe me, Buccaneer, I would love to say that my work is done, that humanity has been saved, but our people are simply too narrow minded to protect themselves from their own greed. You’ve seen it too. Everything revolves around instant gratification. They want to feast, fight, and consume in an endless cycle of waste. It seems to be a part of being human. They need someone to tell them no. Please tell me you can understand that?”

Bucc couldn’t answer. His mouth was too dry to form words. 

Pyrefist sighed, almost sadly. “I will be remembered as a villain and a tyrant, but at least there will be people left to remember me. That is enough.”

Flames once again appeared in his hand. He held it out, the light filling Bucc’s vision. There was nothing he could do. The flame grew then vanished suddenly as Pyrefist lurched forward with a grunt. Jesse clung to his back with one arm around his throat, a feral snarl on her lips. In her other hand was a shard of her mask that she drove into his back repeatedly with savage cries. 

Pyrefist tried to pull the girl free but she wouldn’t let go. Again and again she stabbed him, plunging the mask into him until the rough wood shredded her hand and her own blood mixed with the stream flowing down the captain’s back. 

“These scars are my mask! It’s a part of me! I’m not worthless, and never was!”

He finally grabbed onto her and threw her hard into the ground before staggering away. The captain moved with a drunken clumsiness as he lurched away from Bucc. A trail of blood followed him as he took laboured steps towards the pillar of light. Nobody moved to stop him. Nobody could. He clambered up onto the golden ramp then fell, the metal slick with his blood. On hands and knees he crawled up the ramp, only standing when he reached the edge of the light. He looked down at them, then tipped back into the riftway. The light pulled him away and his shadowy shape vanished from sight. 

Adward appeared at Bucc’s side. “Are you okay?”

“Breathing hurts,” Bucc rasped. 

“That’s probably not good.” Adward observed dryly. “Come on, we have to get back. We need water and medical attention.”

As Adward helped him up, he stared in wide-eyed amazement at Jesse. She stood nearby, drenched in blood and panting heavily. Bucc took a few faltering steps towards her but she shook her head and pointed towards the base of the dome.

“I’m fine. Go to Milla.”

“Milla!” Bucc said, his thoughts snapping back into place. 

They stumbled over to where the girl was laid. Bucc dropped to his knees at her side. Her dress was soaked in blood and her skin was sickly and pale. Somehow she was still breathing though.

“The plants tried to seal the wound,” Jesse told them as she slowly limped to join them. “I don’t think it’s enough.”

Bucc pushed away the adrenaline, and all of the doubts and fears that fought for control in his head. He felt a strange sense of clarity through the exhaustion. His fire wasn’t a weapon. It was a tool for creation and for survival. 

“Sit her up,” he told his friends. They lifted her slightly. Bucc placed one hand on Milla’s chest over the wound, his other on her back. He had seen surgeons seal bad wounds that would kill the unlucky pirate by using heated iron to cauterise the injury and stop the bleeding. Looking deep within himself, Bucc grasped at the last reserves of his strength and summoned his fire one more time. 

Milla hissed and writhed even as Jesse and Adward tried to keep her in place. Seconds passed, then Bucc laid down beside Milla with a quiet groan. Jesse and Adward slumped into the sand too, and for a moment, there was nothing but a peaceful silence.

A sharp cracking noise sounded nearby, followed by unsteady footsteps. Adward was the only one with the energy to lift his head.

“That woman is getting away.”

“Let her,” Bucc said tiredly. “The fight’s over for today. I don’t know how different the world will be, or even if we won or lost. Either way, it’s over.”

Jesse was the first to stand. “We have to go back. Milla needs proper care. We can’t stay here.”

Bucc nodded slowly. “You’re right. Let’s go.”

Previous – Chapter 30. Shores of the Nexus.

Next – Chapter 32. New Waves.