No Room For Parlay

Lillith turned her face away from the horizon and the purple sunset. It was beautiful, a part of her still recognised that, but the beauty failed to warm her like it once had.

‘Captain!’

The cry came from beside her and the knot of tension that had been twisting in her gut for the past week began to loosen. It was time. She’d found him.

‘Captain! They’re in sight and we’re gaining fast. What do you want us to do?’

What did she want them to do? The question had been buzzing around her head like a fly that refused to leave no matter how much she swatted at it.

‘Captain, we’ll be on her in an hour, what are your orders?’

‘We kill them,’ she answered drily, the words leaving a bitter taste in her mouth. For a second she thought about him in her bed, legs and arms tangled, his lips tracing a path down her spine. He’d known even then that he would betray her someday. She focused on the boat and not her memories. ‘We kill them all,’ she said.

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Inspired By The Daily Post Prompt: Parlay

The End Of Days: Solitary Creatures Part Four

Edwin had suffered through twelve hours, thirty-two minutes and sixteen seconds of Marie’s personalised brand of bedside manner and he was about ready to throw himself at another pack of Hell Hounds.

‘Just sit still,’ she chided, tightening her grip on his Elbow.  ‘It’s really not that bad, and anyway, we wouldn’t be doing this if you hadn’t decided to get into a wresting match with one of those bloody monstrosities.’ She frowned and sucked in her bottom lip, focusing on the muscle squirming beneath the hand that wasn’t pinning Edwin in place.

‘Easy for you to say,’ Edwin groaned, as the muscle seized and spasmed. ‘How many times have you had to regrow your own body parts?’

‘More often than you’d think, now shut up or I’ll leave you like this and we can see how well walking around without skin goes.’

Edwin scowled but shut up. It wasn’t as painful as having the flesh stripped from his bones but it still hurt like a bitch. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing through his nose but the smell of blood and burning flesh crept in. He swore and opened his eyes.

‘You know,’ said Marie. ‘I wouldn’t have to do this if you hadn’t walked headfirst into a trap. This sort of work is tricky and you haven’t given me much time to fix you up.’

There was a pop as one of his nerves fused into place and Edwin nearly bit his tongue off. The world flashed white and he could hear the ocean roaring in his ears. Swearing he resurfaced, Marie looking up at him apologetically.

‘Sorry, I should have warned you that might hurt.’

Edwin swallowed the rising vomit at the back of his throat and tried not to pass out.

‘Yeah,’ he croaked. ‘A little warning would have been nice.’

Marie shrugged and returned to her work. ‘You’re the one that wanted speed and refused any tonics.’

‘I don’t want to sleep for the next week and a half,’ said Edwin. ‘I’m working to a deadline and I’d like to see Syms stupid face when he realises that we’re in time and alive.’

There was another pop and Edwin thought he might be hearing angels.

‘Just a few more,’ Marie sang, and Edwin wondered if she’d done the last one on purpose when he mentioned Syms. He clenched his jaw and decided to shut up.

.

.

.

An hour later Edwin was sat in Marie’s kitchen, trying to ignore the fresh, unblemished skin on his arm. He’d get a few scars on it eventually he told himself, then it would look just like the old one.

He distracted himself by examining the Hell Hound’s head sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. Sammy had attempted to prop it up, using the salt and pepper pots to keep the head from listing the left, and someone, probably Marie, had stuck a plastic tea tray underneath the severed neck to save the table from demonic blood stains.

‘You’re sure you tried everything you could think of?’ Edwin leaned forward and poked the monster’s head with his index finger before sitting back satisfied when it showed no signs of coming back to life and trying to bite him.

‘I’ve done everything that can be done in our current situation,’ said Sammy. ‘Marie’s pretty well stocked but there’s a few bits that she hasn’t got and I was trying to avoid burning down her house in the process.’

‘You could have taken things outside.’

Sammy shrugged and jerked his head towards the window above the sink.

‘Raining.’

‘Since when does that have an impact on spell work?’ Edwin asked.

‘It doesn’t. I just don’t like the idea of getting wet right now. Anyway, there’s no trace of a summoning spell on this thing.’

Edwin had been in the process of leaning forward again and froze mid poke. ‘No trace of a summoning- what- what do you mean there’s no trace of a summoning spell?’ Edwin could feel his jaw hanging open.

The door to the garden opened and Marie bustled back in, closing Edwin’s mouth as she walked past him.

‘We’re not catching flies,’ she said.

‘Like I said, there’s no summoning spell,’ said Sammy. He was grinning and Edwin was got the impression that he was enjoying this a little bit too much. He sounded almost chatty.

‘How can there be no summoning spell. Hell hounds don’t simply walk out of Hell, they have to be summoned and that leaves a mark, a way to trace the person who did the summoning. If there’s no trace then that means… well it means…’ Edwin flailed for an answer.

‘It means they found a way to eradicate the mark or brought the beasties out of Hell a different way,’ grinned Sammy. ‘It’s incredible.’

‘Yeah, incredibly annoying,’ said Edwin. ‘We needed that information to tell us where to go next.’

Marie made another pass and jabbed Edwin’s shoulder. ‘Drink,’ she said, and placed a cup of steaming, green liquid on the table in front of him.

Forcing a smile, Edwin brought the cup to his lips and pretended to take a sip. He heard her sigh behind him.

‘I don’t know why I bother,’ she muttered and left the room. Edwin put the cup down.

‘Look, what you’re suggesting is that someone used massively difficult magic to summon demon hounds from Hell and then used magic that’s even more massively difficult to eradicate any trace of them being the ones to do so.’ Edwin dug his fingers into the skin between his eyes, rubbing at the headache forming there. ‘You realise how ridiculous that sounds? The research and power that would be required would be phenomenal.’

‘Yes,’ said Sammy.

‘So…’ Edwin continued. ‘There can’t be very many people who can do that. Can there even be anyone who can do that?’

‘Three, perhaps four.’

‘In this area?’

‘No, three or four in the world,’ said Sammy. In this area it’s more likely to be-‘  he broken off and counted out two fingers before shaking his head and putting the second one down. ‘One. There’s one person who might be in this area.’

‘Might be in this area? You’re not sure.’

‘People move,’ Sammy shrugged. ‘I’d suggest we try and do a locator spell before we head out.’

‘Won’t he be cloaked?’

She will be, but her ex-husband won’t.’

‘You think he’ll tell us where she is now?’

‘Most likely,’ said Sammy. ‘But he might want us to kill her in exchange for the information.’

‘Well we’ll see about that.’ Edwin pushed his chair back and stood beside the table staring at the Hell Hound’s head. ‘Hey Marie, would you mind-‘

‘Just leave it there!’ she yelled, her voice bouncing down from one of the upstairs rooms. ‘I’ll feed it to the pigs.’

Edwin and Sammy exchanged a look.

‘Huh,’ said Edwin. ‘I guess they will eat anything.’

.

.

.

Amelia Wranthorps ex-husband had been easily to find and even easier to convince into giving up his ex-wife’s whereabouts. He didn’t even ask them to kill her, just pass on a series of increasingly angry, bitter messages that Edwin had promptly forgotten.

When the truck eventually eased to a stop in front of the grey block of flats Edwin had worked out that there were six hours left before Syms deadline passed. Looking up at the broken windows and litter strewn steps he came to the conclusion that it was unlikely they would manage to sort everything out in that sort of time.

‘Didn’t powerful warlocks have castles once upon a time?’ he asked, squinting over the steering wheel. Sammy stayed quiet and Edwin hummed in agreement. ‘Yeah, I suppose times are tough on everyone with the economy and all, but still, this place?’

He checked his phone again but the app was showing that they had reached their destination.

‘We do get to see some lovely places don’t we,’ he sighed. ‘Right, let’s be getting this show on the road.

.

.

.

The old woman was small and wizened, like an apple left in the sun too long.

Edwin hadn’t spotted her at the first. The bare light-bulb had blow the moment he tried to flick the light switch, and the rest of the room was a jumble of broken furniture and smashed glass.

She sat hunched in an green, wing-backed armchair that had seen better days, her tiny frame swallowed up by the shadows and a pair of curtains that had fallen from the railing on the window behind her.

Her eyes followed him. Quick but unseeing.

‘They said you’d come,’ she rasped. Plumes of dust escaped with her words and Edwin heard Sammy edging around the room to try and find a path to the chair.

The old woman was dead. Not dead like Syms, but reanimated and preserved just long enough to parrot back a simple message. Rather like a super creepy answerphone recording. Sorry we’re not in. Leave your message after the corpse’s howl. Edwin kept his distance, letting Sammy get close up and personal with the dead old lady.

‘They said you’d come,’ repeated the woman. ‘Said you would come to stop them. That if you survived the first test you were to be given the choice to leaving well enough alone. If you did that you would be allowed to live until the End of Days.’

‘How generous,’ said Edwin. ‘Did they happen to mention when that might be?’

‘They said you’d come,’ started the woman. ‘They said you’d come. Said you would come to stop them-‘

Edwin watched as Sammy’s silhouette raised his hand and traced a symbol in the air above the woman. She turned to dust.

‘Just brilliant. Someone murdered our warlock.’ Edwin shook his head and toed a broken coffee table with the tip of his boot. ‘Well at least she won’t be raising anymore Hell Hounds.’ A photo fell out of its frame and eight faces stared up at Edwin. The Old Woman and what looked like seven grandchildren. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Let’s go.’ He turned for the door and realised that Sammy was still standing by the old woman’s remains. ‘Hey Sammy, let’s go.’

‘Just a minute.’ Sammy was frowning at the dust. ‘I think she’s been dead a while,’ he said.

‘Well yes,’ said Edwin. ‘Even I can tell that she’s been sat up here a while, I mean…’ he trailed off and thumped himself in the forehead with the heel of his hand. ‘She’s been up here a while, which means the spell in the church was too young to be one of her’s. She’s not the warlock we’re looking for.’ Edwin groaned and sank into the remains of the settee. ‘That means we’re looking for someone else.’

‘Someone else with the same sort of power,’ said Sammy.

Edwin nodded and let his head drop. The faces of the old woman and her grandchildren smiled at him. He reached out to turn them upside down. A moment later her turned them over again.

‘Sammy? What are the chances of another warlock with the same level of power being born in her family?’

Sammy lifted an eyebrow and turned his gaze towards Edwin. ‘The chances? All the warlocks with this level of power are related. Families like to pair off promising individuals to create stronger offspring.’

‘Sounds like a recipe for inbreeding,’ said Edwin. He brushed the thought aside and held up the photo. ‘Let me rephrase the question. What are the chances of one of her grand-kids being able to raise Hell Hounds with no summoning trace?’ He watched Sammy’s face over the top of the photo. ‘Yeah,’ he grinned. ‘That’s what I thought.’

He flipped the photo and studied the seven younger figures.

One of them had managed to raise a pack of Hell Hounds and wipe all traces of the summoning spell from existence. Now the question was if they did it by choice, or if they were working for someone else.

‘Ready to go Sammy?’ Edwin asked. He stood and tucked the photo into his jacket. ‘It looks like we might have to put a pin in Syms deadline for now. We’ve got seven warlocks to find.’

‘Should we call for backup?’ Sammy ploughed his way across the room, wood splintered beneath his boots. He rooted out a biscuit tin from beneath a bookcase and shook the crumbs onto the carpet before returning to the old woman’s ashes and using the lid to scoop the majority of her into the container.

‘Nah,’ said Edwin. ‘We’ll be fine.’

Accepting the tin from Sammy he followed the other man out of the flat.

So far that week he’d almost been killed by Hell Hounds, regrown most of his forearm, and was currently carrying the ashes of a dead warlock of the highest power. What Edwin didn’t want to say was that he had a feeling they were the reinforcements, and he doubted there was anyone else after them.

Yeah, he thought. If they cocked this up, things might just go really, really wrong for the world. 

End of Days wrong.

 


Link To: Solitary Creatures: Part One

One Last Hope

Grendal, Chief Clansman of the Ruling High Council For Witches, Warlocks, and the magical sorts, did not appreciate being woken before dawn. His bones complained about the cold and his knees refused to cooperate as he traversed the endless staircases and corridors that led from his rooms to the Grand Hall, where the rest of the council was supposedly waiting.

‘Where is everyone?’ Looking around the room he could see four others, only one of which had bothered to change from their night clothes. Looking at the swaying man Grendal reconsidered the assumption and decided that he’d not been to bed in the first place.

‘Well,’ Grendal demanded, ‘where are the rest of the sods?’

‘Succumb?’ said one of the others. Elmer Throttle sat hunched in his seat, the folds of his dressing gown tightly roped around his midriff and a single fluffy slipper poking out beneath the hem. ‘He believed himself to be a Warawhump, whatever that is. He won’t come out of the cook’s wine cellar and appears to have crafted himself some form of warren.’

‘Bugger,’ swore Grendal. ‘I thought Maximus said he had this newfangled spell-work under control?’

‘He did,’ agreed Elmer. ‘Clearly he was wrong and we’re no closer to finding a solution. I think we might have to face facts and-‘

‘No,’ Grendal snapped. ‘Under no cirumstances whatsoever are we doing that.’

‘We might have to.’

‘I’d rather succumb.’

‘Would you really?’ smirked Elmer. ‘Well you might before the day is out, we all might and then where will we be?’

Grendal ground his teeth together. ‘Fine, summon her. Let’s see what she can make of it all, if she answers that is?’

‘Oh she’ll answer alright?’

Grendal turned towards the new voice, Eliise’s figure materialising from the shadows around the edges of the room. ‘You know I can’t resist a party Grendal.’

Eliise’s smile was wide and her eyes danced with a fire that hadn’t burnt in Grendal for almost fifty years.

‘Of course,’ he growled. ‘You called her here already. Typical. Fine, see what use it is, we’ll all be mad by the end of it, mark my words.’

‘Now, now darling.’ Eliise closed the distance between them and laid a hand against Grendal cheek. ‘You really need to have more faith. After all, how many times have I saved your skin?’


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Prompt: ‘New mind-altering spells and intoxicating potions are causing headaches for the Ruling High Council’ – Promptuarium

A really quick piece for tonight’s Friday free-write. If you want to check out some of my other short stories and flash fiction pieces you can see them here. Or go to the home page and check out some of my favourites that are listed there.

This week I also wrote a piece about how main characters can have an impact on the write and how they change as a writer grows which you can read here. This is in response to the Daily Post’s Discovery Challenge: Superhero and a post I’m really proud of so I hope you’ll check it out.

Hope you all have a fantastic Friday.

Saving The City

He couldn’t have left it well alone. Of all the screw ups in his life, Jupp was pretty sure that this one topped them all. Scratch that. He was absolutely positive, that this moment, standing on this hill, staring at what little was left of the city he’d grown up in, was the most screwed up, screw up he’d ever had the misfortune to be part of.

He should have know better than to release something that could survive for centuries in a sealed container. He should have know better than to go rooting through the back room of Old Man Iron’s workshop when he should have been anywhere but there. He should have know better than to steal the jar that quite clearly stated it wasn’t to be opened under any circumstances lest great tragedy and doom befall the land.

Jupp was an idiot and he realised that fully.

‘Well the temple is still standing at least, perhaps the gods are with us.’ Gamin pointed towards the slightly singed marble structure near the outskirts of the city. Ringed by the Omas river, the temple stood apart from the slums surrounding it and had been spared from the worst of the fires. Jupp wasn’t convinced that its survival had anything to do with the gods, more likely it the universe’s black humour, keeping the only place more depressing and miserable that the city itself standing, while the rest was burnt or turned to rubble.

‘We should do something.’ What that something was Jupp wasn’t sure but looking down at the ruins from a hill outside the city wasn’t doing anyone any good.

‘And how exactly do you propose we help?’ asked Gamin. ‘You read that urn, once the creature takes hold of someone he’s in them until that vessel dies. There’s no way to get him back in that jar now the seal has been broken and there’s no way to stop an ancient entity capable of destroying cities within an hour. You and I my friend should be thinking about getting as far away from here as possible, as quickly as possible.’

‘What if it follows us?’

‘That is quite possible I’ll admit, but it doesn’t change the fact that staying here will get us killed. Unlike you I’m keen to try and prolong my life as much as possible so while you guilt-trip over this lost cause, I’m heading for the Amarth border and seeing if I can sneak across it while no one is looking.’

Jupp shook his head. ‘They’ll kill you on sight. Amarth hates druids, even halflings.’

‘Then I better find myself a disguise,’ Gamin snorted. ‘It’s not like you have a better plan.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Jupp quietly. The weight in his jacket pocket seemed to burn.

‘What? Ask this creature nicely if it would mind leaving the world alone and going back into the jar that it spent the last millennium trapped in? You are mad.’

Jupp bit his lip and stayed quiet.

‘We should run, the sooner the better,’ said Gamin. ‘The longer we stand around the less chance we have of getting away from this chaos.’

‘Gamin.’ Jupp put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the pocket watch that had been next to the jar in Old Man Iron’s workshop and flinched at Gamin sucked in a sharp breath.

‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no.’ Gamin shook his head violently and retreated from the object. ‘No way am I messing with one of those. They’re temperamental at the best of times and if you got that where I think you got it then I don’t want to imagine what nonsense is protecting it from tampering. My eyebrows Jupp, my beautiful eyebrows! And that was just because I touched the edge of that jar.’

‘You said yourself that those sort of things wear off after time.’

‘Which is why I’m not dead!’

‘Well the same might be true for this,’ said Jupp holding the pocket watch out. ‘It’s probably harmless even if a spell was cast on it, and we don’t have much of a choice.’

‘Yes we do. There are always choices Jupp, we can ignore all of this and run, that is a very real, very viable choice. Using that and trying to go back in time is a very dangerous, not so viable choice.’

‘We could save the city.’

‘It’s not saving if you were the one who caused it in the first place!’

‘Please,’ said Jupp. ‘Please Gamin, I need your help with this.’

Gamin opened his mouth to protest but instead he crumpled. ‘Fine. But if I end up three hundred years in the past then I’m going to feed you to the King’s menagerie.’ He took the pocket watch gingerly, holding the chain between his finger and thumb. ‘Try not to screw up this time.’

He touched the centre of the watch and muttered a sentence that Jupp couldn’t quite hear.

‘Is it working?’ he asked, leaning in closer to see what Gamin was up to.

The centre of the watch began to glow, and the glow grew until the whole watch was alight.

‘Stand back,’ Gamin warned, ‘this could be-‘

The watch exploded and Jupp flew back, his head connecting with the ground with a crack. For a split second pain blossomed, and then everything went black.

~

A boot connected with Jupp’s rib, echoing the sharp pain shooting around his skull from the back of his head.

‘What do you think your doing outside my shop eh?’

Jupp peeled open his eyelids and groaned at the light. Above him a blurry figure glowered at him, the colours wavering as he continued to yell.

‘Get up you lazy sod. Get out of here! You’re messing up the sidewalk.’

Jupp scrambled to his feet, trying to piece together what had happened. Gamin, the city, destruction. The world was still swaying but he could see a little clearer and he realised that the man yelling at him was Old Man Iron.

‘You deaf or something!’ snapped the old man. ‘Off with you!’

Trying to mumble an apology, Jupp stumbled away from him, falling into the wall as he went. He clung to the wall for balance and angled himself for what looked like it might be a road to the city’s main square.

Gamin did it he thought. They saved the city.

His stomach threaten to work it’s way up his throat and Jupp doubled up, retching onto the pavement.

They saved the city, he reminded himself. He helped save the city.


Daily Post: Sidewalk

Dragonition: Writing Prompt 15

‘He should have known better than to release something that could survive for centuries in a sealed container.’

 

Recycled Headspace

Well the truth is, you didn’t survive, but luckily we had a spare available.’

Prompt From Promptuarium

‘Yeah’, thought Cas, turning her hand in the dim light, ‘a spare.’

Dawn split through the forest canopy, turning the world grey and allowing her to pick out the pale scars crisscrossing the skin she was wearing. The story that the doctors had told her on waking sounded like a bad fairy -tale, full of holes and easy to pick apart. They seemed to have forgotten that replicates were supposed to be perfect, unblemished. They weren’t created with scars already littering their bodies.

Her’s though? She remembered looking in the mirror and seeing the scar that ran from hairline to jaw, crossing her face like someone had started to draw an ‘x’ through it. The hair had been cropped too close for her to tell what colour it should be but now the ends were growing through blonde, and her eyes… well at least they were interesting.

Curling her fingers into a fist Cas brought her hand close to her chest. Beneath the thin bed roll stones twisted into her spine but she tuned the discomfort out. They were trained not to notice the small annoyances, just like the twinge in her left knee when she walked too far or too fast.

Article Eighty-Nine of the sixty-third Treaty of Amon. No replicated will be used for the housing of additional souls after the initial has been made redundant.’

Cas knew each clause and subsection by heart, couldn’t have forgotten it if she tried. It seemed a little pointless, there was a new treaty every other month and each one was filled with new guidelines for the use of souls. If she thought hard enough she could remember fragments of the old ones, hidden beneath the reprogramming. The current treaty was better than others but it was still flawed. It still held her as something other than human. A chip to be taken and shoved into a new body when the old one wore out. Except there weren’t any new bodies these days. Replicates hadn’t been in production for the last ten years and the stocks had started running low as more and more were thrown into pointless battles and destroyed beyond repair.

Cas knew she wasn’t supposed to remember her old body, or the way in which it was eliminated, but she did. She could still feel the shrapnel piercing her lungs and the way she drowned in her own blood. Then there was just darkness until she woke up in a sub-section lab being stared at by three sets of eyes.

They’d looked relieved and that scared Cas the most. It was like they’d expected the chip to fail.

In the clearing the light was growing stronger. Bats grunted softly, rolling in his sleep, his elbow colliding with Cas’ ribs. She smiled and elbowed him back, squirming as he burrowed the bristles of his beard into the crook of her neck.

‘Wake up you moron.’ She elbowed him again.

‘What- I- urg, oh, it’s you. Thought we were under attack for a minute there.’ Sitting up, he dragged his hands down his face and slapped himself awake. ‘What’s the time? Did we oversleep?’

Cas checked her watch. ‘Quarter to six,’ she said. ‘We’ve got an hour to make it to the meet up point.’

‘Right. You know where that is exactly?’ He pulled a centipede from his hair and flicked it across the clearing, watching her from the corner of his eye as she stood.

‘Due west, we’ll make it in time.’ Cas packed away her roll and strapped it to the rest of her supplies. Standard issue, to be returned to base upon completion of the mission. Her fingers fumbled with the buckles.

‘You okay?’  Bats was looking at her fully now, his own rucksack hanging loosely from his shoulder. ‘You seem a little off.’

‘I’m fine. New body, it’s all this learning how to do everything from scratch. It takes a while.’

Bats nodded. ‘You’re telling me.’ He stretched and Cas heard a series of clicks as he rolled his neck along his shoulders. ‘Took me months to get use to this bad boy.  Glad he’s lasted me so long, been running eight years now.’ He patted his stomach.

Cas finished tightening the straps and swung the rucksack up onto her shoulders. One of the downsides of a new replicate was loosing any dexterity you’d had in the old one. A replicate could learn how to pick every lock on the planet in five seconds flat, but swap him out and hand him a set of picks afterwards? He wouldn’t know where to start. Walking, talking, eating, sleeping, that seemed to carry across. The rest had to be reprogrammed from scratch.

They set off west and Cas focused on putting distance between them and their camp site. They were heading back and the idea of it made her stomach roil.

‘You think the canteen food got any better?’ asked Bats. He took the lead and set a pace that left Cas’ knee pinging darts of pain up towards her hip with each step. ‘I mean it’s not inedible but it’s not far off, and a guy’s got to eat.’

He didn’t, not really, but replicates could eat and the superiors like them to sit with the rest of the soldiers at meal times to make them appear less like robot, killing machines.

‘Unless James miraculous found a way of growing vegetables in that effed up soil back at base then no,’ said Cas. ‘Even if he does get some better stuff in, we won’t see it. You know the Reals get the best rations.’ She could feel her breath beginning to shorten. Bats glanced back frowning.

‘You don’t sound too good.’

Cas tried to speak but decided on coughing instead. She felt Bat’s hands grip her shoulders and before she could react he had her crouching on the forest floor, her head between her knees.

‘Christ Cas, what’s going on with you?’ He kept one hand of the back of her neck but he made small soothing motions with his thumb. ‘You got a faulty one of something?’

Slowly, Cas managed to catch her breath.

‘It’s not new,’ she said, still wheezing slightly. ‘They said it was a spare but it’s been used before, it’s been damaged.’

‘No,’ said Bats. ‘They wouldn’t send out a damaged replicate with a soul inside it. It must have been a mistake.’

Cas’ nails bit into her palms.

‘It wasn’t a mistake Bats. We’re loosing the war and they can’t afford to put aside any replicates that might be able to fight. They’re scrounging from scraps and it doesn’t matter so long as they can send us to get the job done.’

The grip on her neck tightened and Cas saw his face darkening.

‘We’ll take you home and make them fix you up. You’ll be fine.’ He stood, taking Cas with him. ‘I’ll make them fix you. Just watch.’

Cas took his hands and squeezed them with her own.

‘They’ll just stick me in another one, one less broken.’

‘You don’t know that, they might-‘

‘Yes! I do!’ Cas snapped. ‘I remember Bats, I remember who I was before this version and I remember what they said  when I woke up.’

‘What?’ Bats was frowning now. ‘How?’

‘I don’t know but it’s true. All the blank replicates are gone, used.’ She didn’t mention the conversation she’d overheard about how many replicates in total were  left. She didn’t think Bats needed to hear how few remained.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Bats. ‘We have our orders and we follow them.’ He pulled his hands from her and turned west. ‘We need to get back.’

Cas remained where she was.

‘No.’ She managed to keep her voice solid. ‘I’m not going back this time.’

Bats shoulders twitched but he kept walking.

‘Bats?’

‘We’re going back,’ he said.

‘I told you no. I don’t want to.’ Cas could hear her voice rising. ‘That place is evil!’

Bats hands were back on her in seconds, this time instead of holding he pressed his knuckles into her carotid artery. Cas’ breath hitched.

‘Bats-‘ There was no oxygen for any more than that.

‘We’re going back,’ he growled. ‘Those are the orders.’

She was starting to go lightheaded, her hands beating a desperate tattoo against his arm in an attempt to get him to yield.

‘I will carry you home if I have to.’

The handle of his knife stuck out of a holster on the strap of his rucksack. Cas didn’t mean to find it but her fingers tightened instinctively. She drove in inwards and upwards. The grip on her neck slackened and fell away.

‘Bats?’

She stared at the blood of the knife, on her hands, on Bats. His heart, she’d managed to hit his heart she realised.

Swallowing the bile at the back of her throat, Cas tucked away the knife.

‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered, hoping someone would find him in time to save the chip. She knelt down, wiped her hands on his shirt and pulled the rucksack from beneath him. ‘It’s for the best.’

Cas steadied herself and turned east. She had to find out what was out there. What exactly she was supposed to be fighting for or against.

‘Forward,’ she told herself. The thought of Bats lying behind her itched between her shoulder blades. ‘We have to move forward.’ She just wished she knew what she was moving forward into. Her feet were moving and she let them take the lead.

The entire world was screwed up with people fighting over tiny patches of land, trying to stake their claim on whatever they could. There were rumours though. Whispers that there was an organisation working to piece everything back together again. Cas pushed the idea away. Even if it was true she didn’t want to throw her lot in with anyone until she’d figured some stuff out for herself first.

She checked her watch. Still half an hour until she was supposed to meet up with the rest. That gave her a little head-start but not enough to make a difference.

She would have to take her chances with Cerberus. He was just as much as a myth as the other stories but if she could find him then he might be able to keep anyone from tracking her.

Cas picked up the pace, aware of how tight her chest still was. She needed someone to fix her up as well. Someone who wouldn’t ask questions.

With the sun still climbing she began to sweat. One problem at a time she decided. Cerberus first and a medic second.

Her heart stuttered slightly. She was actually running away. She was free. Well almost.

There was still a way to go yet.

Headquarters Characters


Thank you to Promptuarium for the inspiration for this post. It took a bit of writing and I’m not sure if I’m completely happy with how it ended but it certainly got the creative juices going. It’s been a while since I wrote something new my Headquarters universe but I kept find myself thinking about how this piece would fit in there and by the end I’d decided to try and tie it in. I still need to write some more for Safe Haven when I get chance but I’m not sure when that will be.

If you liked this you can check out some more Headquarters stories here, or read some of my other flash fiction pieces on the home page under Short Stories and Flash Fiction.

Please let me know what you think or if you’re a writer yourself, feel free to leave a link to a piece of your own in the comments. I do love getting to read new work.

Thank you for reading.