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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 10

Previous post here

Beginning here

When the desert falls away before you at the top of the hill, a blue seascape takes your breath away. Below you, a cliff-face drops down to groves and groves of deep jade trees flecked with oranges, and a port town of bronze and umber, leather-colored roofs creeps out right to the edge of the water. The town seems sea-hungry, with boardwalks and piers fingering out into the waves as if the whole brown port might just crawl out into the sea like an octopus going home. You can almost imagine it cluttering across the water towards the turquoise and rose-pink horizon, and then sinking to crawl on the bottom of the sea…

You look behind you, at the arid sand-dunes as their tips swirl into the dry wind. Melly comes up behind you, and then clambers up a rise above you. Her half-ponytail blows in the wind as she crosses her arms over her chest and strikes up a Captain Morgan, looking for all the world as if she just conquered all she surveys. "We'll stop and buy some tincture of time here," she says.

"Tincture of time?" You repeat, imagining potions that freeze the clock, or slow down your enemies…you hope it's not just an expression.

"It's a bit complex, y'see," Melly says, starting to climb down the cliff-face. "Humans ain't s'posed to control time, only control our selves, in time. We're its ally, not its master--think riding the horse bareback, instead'o'tryin' to beat it into submission with saddles and bits and bridles and clocks. The tincture of time's like the horse's carrot."

You don't understand the metaphor at all, but warm breath and soft little humid horse whiskers play in your memory over your palm. The last time you fed a horse was…when was that? Did that really happen? You distinctly remember a wide, green pasture, splinters in an old ocher fence, and the galloping of hooves, the musty scent of manure, and the slime left on the carrot as the huge teeth nibble and nibble away…

It's weird how you have memories that may or may not be yours.

"You comin'?" Melly calls from down below you. 

"Why don't you use your jetpack?" you shout down.

"Shhhh! Swearing's illegal here!" 

"Huh?" You glance down the cliff, and then left along the slope of the hill where the desert meets the edge of the sky-and-water view. Maybe it's time to put those long-distance hiking skills to the test, because you won't be climbing down after Melly any time soon.

"I'll meet you at the bottom," you say, and with that, you break off on your own.


Meet the Tincture of Time, and discover what swearing has to do with Melly's jetpack! Next week.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 9



You and Melly now stand alone in the empty village square, surrounded by half-devoured candy houses. Syrup sparkles in the sunlight. Sprinkles slide to the ground off a nearby roof that's got a big, slimy chunk bitten out of it.

"Were the people made of candy, too?" you wonder.

"They were. Gingerbread people. Folks say that's why they were so dang militant," Melly says. "But you can be militant without wiping each other out, I say. I'm militant as heck."

"What do you mean, militant?"

"Well, if you were made o' edible stuff, you'd be armed all the time, right?"

"Aren't we all edible stuff to someone?" you ask.

"Sure, and do you hang out unarmed with those someones? Bears or whateva."

"Sure, if there's mutual trust there."

Melly rolls her eyes at you. "Wrong answer. Trust but verify, I always say. Ain't nothin' better to verify with than a good ole laser-sword. Anyhoo, so they did well for a while, but they didn't count on the slime in their DNA. 'Member how I told you it's gotten into errything in our world? Well, they didn't defend against that. So their protectiveness turned to jealousy, to paranoia, until they jumped at erry little thing. Fear's mighty dangerous."

"And they wiped each other out." You gasp in realization, almost smirking, because the image of primal, horrified chaos, of men and women running through the streets with axes, families eating each other alive as votes are taken on who's the traitor, children huddling in the dark as insane caretakers hunt and whisper "I know you're a monster, I know, I won't let you eat my children"--the whole thing seems different when imagined through the lens of gingerbread people.

Melly begins to trudge through the village streets again, pressing onward again, and you follow. You contemplate asking her if you can break off a roof to carry in your pocket, but you realize very quickly that would be disrespectful, and you hold your tongue and your half-smirking laughter at bay. This place exists to petrify, to mark the memory of the little candy people who went insane here. You've got to learn to respect that.

"I'm surprised you're not mad at him," Melly says presently.

"Mad? Why would I be mad?"

"Took your agency and all that. Didn't let you save yourself. You're the protag an' all." Melly shrugged.

You look around at the deserted streets. It's hard to be mad when someone saves you from goo-assimilation! If anything, you're mad he didn't save all the little candy people. 

But then again, isn't she right? Aren't you supposed to be the master of your own story, opening your own doors? "Yeah, well, I am mad," you say, with not even a quarter of your heart in your puffed-up voice. "We had it under control."

Melly smiles and looks up to the sky, and you have a distinct feeling you've fallen into her trap. You hunch your shoulders, and search for something to say back at, not to, her. Something slimy whispers in your ear, and you find the perfect thing: guilt.

"You said you'd warn me before something bad came up. Trigger warning and such--you have a 'sense' for these things, you said." Your voice is cold.

"What, is black goo triggering for you?" She says almost everything in the same even tone, so it's hard to know if she's making fun of you or not. You glare at her, and you catch a sympathetic look back. "Nah, I mean it. I'll warn you if something that's triggerin' comes up. Most folks from your world don't got experience with slime waves. If anything, I had ta warn me." She stares towards the end of the street, hunches her back, and sighs. "I am sorry I snapped atchoo back there, though."

You almost don't remember what she's talking about. "Oh, when I ate the roof."

"Like with many, many snaps through history, the thing I snapped about wa'nt what I was really mad about, Mera. Didn't like how you talked about the Master of the Caves. He's my best friend. I'm not sorry for bein' mad. But I shouldn't of snapped."

You shrug. "It's not healthy to hold in anger."

"'S'not healthy to blast it out, either. There's a way to let it out without lettin' it take charge."

"Well. I'm not mad." You wipe sweat off your forehead--you've gotten to the edge of the village now, and a heat-wave hits you as you're back in the desert. You look back, and realize there's something keeping the candy-town cold--preserved, remembered. "While we're having this heart-to-heart, though, can you answer a question for me?"

"Mebbe." Melly sounds friendly enough, so you go for it.

"Why'd you get upset the first day, when I asked if you were a story character?"

Melly narrows her eyes and shakes her head. Okay, you get it. You drop the subject and pick up another one. This one's stringy, and long, and you pull it and see the past and the future, holding together the story you're in. A good subject. "Where are we off to, now?" you ask.

"We'll cross through the Jungle of Questioning Worms, and then we got one more stretch o' valley between us and the center. There I'll show you the lab, and you'll have had a good view o' what the slime's doing in our world, and then maybe you can use your ecology expertise to come up with a solution."

"Sounds good," you say. But you glance at the burnt, raised welts on her ankle, and suddenly you wonder if you've got what it takes. You glance back at the empty town behind you. Mist rises from it, obscuring the desert sun. The details of the candy houses disappear into the fog, and a shiver runs down your spine.


See you next week.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Black and White Exclusive Just For You!

Hey folks! Got a special treat for you--you can download full size, if you want. It's the continuation of the story over at becominghero.ninja, and I had a trouble deciding between b&w and color, so here's the pure, un-colored one, just for you!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 8: In which your agency is briefly borrowed by someone else

Last week's adventure here

Part 1 here

The wave of slime crashes down towards you and your flamethrower. You're a tiny candle as the darkness plunges down, waving your flickering flame in circles above your head--

Something surfs under the crest of the crashing wave, something glowing and muscular, speeding towards you, racing to beat the fall of the slime. Before you can decide whether it's friend or foe it crashes into you, a solid warmth wraps around you, and you're rocketing through the closing tube of goo together as a pro-surfer one. The light at the end of the tunnel starts to go out--you zip out of the wave, surfing along a rooftop, just in time. 

"You've got a better angle to fire from here!" he shouts as he skies away, down the slope of goo trailing along the building, over into the street where Melly struggles with her ankle. She's surrounded by black slime; her face lights up as she sees him approach, but you can't quite make him out--you see a back, and shoulders, and it's almost like looking into a kaleidoscope. 

But you turn to focus, because the goo's coming up the house, and you're swinging your flamethrower as it tries to lick at your feet. The goo squeals and squelches. You hold it back. It tries to loop around behind you. You've got your little circle of clean, but it's creeping…creeping…

The surfer glances at Melly, and although the face isn't clear you can distinctly see, or feel, an "oh well" smirk cross his face. He raises his hand, and throws a golden rock.

The rock lands in the center of the goo, and with roaring, slurping scream, rushing past you from every corner of the little gingerbread town, the goo sucks into the stone.

You climb gingerly down the side of the candy house, and bend over by the stone. It's no longer golden. It's black, and swirling, like a nebula trapped inside a glass.

"Whoa." You look at Melly, and not at the weird kaleidoscope-man. "We could use this."

Melly shakes her head as she rises to her feet, and points--and you see a new blackened scar wrapped around her ankle like angry Henna. "It can't get the slime outta livin' things, not without killin' 'em. We think mebbe the goo's encodin' itself into the introns in our DNA."

She picks up the rock, and when you turn to look, the kaleidoscope man is gone. She grins, sighs, and puts the rock in her pocket. 

"Who was that?" you ask.

"That?" Melly smirks. "That was why I got mad at you back there. That's my best friend, and you were talking' crap about him." 

You didn't recognize him. He's hard to really…see. "That's the Master of the Caves?"



"That's the Master of the Caves."

See you next week.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 7: In Which You Use Your Flame-Thrower

Last week's adventure here
Part 1 here

You've explicitly asked me not to violate the great Bechdel test record you had going by including your conversation with Melly about the sandal'd Master of the Caves. It would slow down the story anyway, so I'll acquiesce, this once.

I can summarize it in one sentence, though: you don't like him.

Melly shrugs as you reach the end of the desert and, consequently, the end of your conversation.

"Oh my gosh," you interrupt yourself. "Is this a town made of candy?"

Melly glares at you.

"What? Have I offended some local custom?" Is this like when you thought Melly was a fairy or a space dwarf just because she was short? "Do they think candy is a diminutive term for their valuable architectural achievements? I don't mean it that way!"

Melly glares more.

"Or are their customs an offense to you? Are bright colors and simple shapes some kind of obscenity where you come from?" You're trying to wrap your head around Melly's glare, and it's only intensifying as she tightens her vest around herself and marches down a street that to you seems to be laid with swirled red and white mints instead of cobblestones.

"Wait, is it me? Are you upset that I'm so naive about your world as to think you people would make stuff with sugar?"

Melly almost groans aloud. You can't help but pick a marshmallow off a lady's windowsill, and you find it's sweet and squishy just as you thought.

"Wait, it's totally sugar! Why are you judging me?" you ask.

Melly moans, finally stopping now to catch you mid-reaching-for-another-bite. "Oh heck no, you did not just eat a windowsill," she says.

"It's your fault!" you cry. "You're glaring at me! I get nervous when people glare at me, and when I get nervous I get sugar cravings!"

"You're jus' the kinda person I don't ever wanna be," Melly mutters.

You don't respond to that. You're taken aback by the sudden disgust from someone who's supposed to be your wise guide. It's like a betrayal. It hurts.

She goes on, as if just in case you thought it was an accident: "In any way." And she turns to keep walking.

When suddenly her step lands in a shadow.

The shadow squelches.

"Oh, snap," Melly says.

The shimmering goo's spread all over the street--you see it now, thin, almost transparent, but it's the same black goo that possessed the tree, the maiasaura-killer, now suckling on the sweet graham cracker rooftops and gum-drop bushes with a rhythmic, undulating pulsation and sttttthhhhh sound--

And it's growing up Melly's ankle!

You scream and the flame-thrower comes to life. You're attacking the goo on the street, rounding Melly, trying to cut the portion on her off from the greater body of slime. It shimmers off the roofs, slurps off the bushes, no longer spreading itself thin as it gathers into one mass--one mass bigger than you, bigger than this whole little town, towering over your tiny spurt of flame.

You're pulling the trigger with one hand and holding the weight of the hot barrel with the other hand as the whole contraption shudders in your arms, shaking your whole small form. You feel yourself jiggling, jiggling like the slime rising above you like jello, like the jello you saw in the cave, wait is the cave-master the creator of the slime, is--oh gosh it's hot around you, the thing is bubbling, the goo is melting, it's--but it's still on her leg!

Melly's behind you now, and kicking her ankle against the mint-stones. "Whatchoo lookin' at?" she yells. "Don't look at me, look at that!"

You whirl. The wave of slime crashes down towards you.

I'll see you here next week.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 6: Meet Your Trusty Flame Thrower

Previous chapter here
Beginning here

Your sandals crunch over diamond dust. The green liquid flowing throughout the room's intricate designs glows pink, and then gold, and then emerald again, and everything glitters--everything, off into the distance, as far as you can see. You're hunting for glimpses of that Person who just disappeared, peering into the light and shadows for the hint of a tunic, a coattail, a sparkling eye...

As you trot through the Cave of Gifts you hear and don't hear as the sandal'd Person, the master of the talents, explains the rules to you. You hear, because you suddenly know the direction you need to go, but you don't really hear, with your ears, or see the wearer of the sandals again. You've been given five coins, because you chose five, instead of one, or ten. A twinge of annoyance tells you if you'd had a positive outlook, and the faith to think something good would happen, you would've chosen ten, and now had ten items to help you on your quest instead of just five--but you brush that twinge away with a shake of your nappy hair and move on. You had no way of knowing the offer wasn't ten slaps in the face or something. Isn't greed a bad thing, or whatever?

Now you have mountains of treasure to scale, and something tells you there's a time limit. Black sailing trunks, wooden pirate chests, golden Pharoah-style boxes, pile around you towards the ceiling far, far above your head. Some of the piles look almost hilariously precarious, like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Little signs mark the boxes, by group: "artistic abilities," says this sculpted structure made of boxes of all shapes and sizes, dripping with drooping clocks. "Physical strength" says a placard in front of green crates arranged in perfect steel lines. The coins you have in your hand appear to fit the slots in the boxes.

My goodness, you wonder, out of all these choices, how will you make the right choice? Is there a right choice? What if you need something later that you forget to choose now?

"Am I going to make a mistake, here?" you ask the voice in the room.

"Don't worry," he says. "Some of your talents are predetermined. Some of them you can choose to cultivate."

"So, in practical terms…"

"Some of your coins only open one box. Two, in your case. The other coins open any box within a group--so, for example, within the group of musical abilities, you can choose whether to invest your talents in composition, performance art, technical piano skill, or something else, and so on. The boxes, you see, are your gifts."

You're overwhelmed by all this choice. "Wait. Wait," you say. "So I can choose my abilities, but not my gender? How is that fair?"

A double laugh, like a tinkling melody over a solid baseline, echoes through the cavern. "You're really stuck on this, aren't you."

You cross your arms. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You complained to Melly about being a girl, too."

"Yeah, and?" You cross your arms even higher up your chest.

"Tell me, do you know the effects of estrogen and testosterone on the brain?" The voice challenges you. "Specifically, on the developing fetus?"

"I--no."

"Well I do. I invented biochemistry."

"What? You can't 'invent' biochemistry. That's something that evolved naturally, like language, or finch beaks."

He laughs at you again. He's infuriatingly beautiful in his arrogance, and you've never thought that about anyone before. You're strong and independent and you hate cocky bastards.

"Contrary to the rumors, I am not a bastard, my dear." He adopts a Victorian English voice for a moment, and then giggles like a little girl you once knew from Georgia. "I do know what it's like to be one. I know what it's like to be anyone, and anything. And I know everything about chemicals, and especially the bags of chemicals that make up the little people who come into my world, Soul-Linker." You see something like a wind, a sprite, a flurry of snow jump from one precarious gift-tower to another. The tower sways, and you step back from it. He laughs again, this time in a voice you imagine Blackbeard the pirate once owned. "Every chemical in your body works together in a special way to equip you as a protagonist for a story built especially for you. Estrogen and testosterone are no different. They interact with every other system in your body, and just like every other system in your body, from the histamine your immune system produces to the histamine your brain produces, from the way serotonin affects your blood vessels to the way it affects your depression--these chemicals build your soul. The differences in the people produced by different mixes of chemicals matters. You can't ignore that."

You're not fooled with the pretty woo-woo words. You see past it to the identity politics underneath. "So you're saying my gender is determined by biology," you say.

He laughs again. "I'm saying there's no such thing as 'your gender'."

"Wait…"

"There's no reason to worry about it! You have some chemicals that make you a certain way, and that way is great! It won't stop you from doing what you need to do--au contraire, my dear," sniffs Pepe Le Peau's Frenchness. "This combination will equip you to excel. You are a girl because that ratio of estrogen, and that biology, works best with the other chemicals in your body to create the perfect formula for what you need to do. It's basic creative biochemistry."

"You can't just cite an imaginary branch of biochemistry without some kind of specific--"

He interrupts you. "Tell me." A deep, Maasai warrior's threatening lion growl shakes the nearest gift tower, and it topples. "Tell me, do you know how to navigate time?"

You're confused by the question. He repeats.

"Do you know your future? Do you even really remember your past? How are you sure of anything, with your flawed memory and limited powers of observation? Do you understand the alternate time streams screaming around you at speeds you cannot fathom, and do you know how they interact with the hundreds of other choices hundreds of other people are making at this very moment?" His voice rises in a primal, guttural crescendo. "Tell me, Soul-Linker! Can you navigate time?!"

"No, I--no one can," you stutter.

"I can. I know every twist and turn of this story, and I know what kind of protagonist we need to navigate it. I know the biochemical recipe for said protagonist. And it involved a certain amount of estrogen."

"I suppose, then…" You mutter. "I suppose I could be a physical girl, but still identify as a boy."

"What does that even mean?" All the gentleness in the world, and yet all the laughter, all the smirking and all the kindness, plays in that question. 

"I don't…want to be limited by…by societal constructs."

"And so you're bending to them, inventing 'boy' and 'girl' based on something other than measurable reality. No, Soul-Linker, a girl is you. You decide how to be it, and then just be. Anything else is spitting into the wind."

 You huff, and your crossed arms cross even tighter and higher, until you almost cannot breathe. 

He sighs, and for once the laughter is gone. "Soul-Linker, you only know what is best for someone's story if you really love that someone. You're here trying to determine the character traits for your own story, but how do you know you aren't being self-destructive? Do you truly, truly love yourself?"

"Don't psychoanalyze me. Of course I love myself. I've got great self-esteem."

But you know, deep down, that you doubt. Everyone does. And he knows, too.

But he doesn't call you out on it. He says: "Even if you do love yourself, you will never love yourself as much as someone outside you can, because you can't see all of yourself without a mirror. You will never be able to objectively look at the real YOU, and want the best for YOU at any cost." A whisper like a fairy's wings hums and tickles your heart. "Because the greatness you call Yourself is too deep, and big, and grand to be truly known by someone with a finite brain."

"Wait, is that a dig? What are you saying?"

But there's a sensation like the wind is sucked out of the room, or like the light's dimmed, even though actually nothing's changed at all, and suddenly you realize he's not there anymore, and you're alone.

Alone to choose your gifts, and hence your path, without any answer to your question of why. Why doesn't his "biochemistry planning" argument apply to choosing your abilities? "If I'm so incompetent, why trust me with anything at all?"

Because the greatness you call Yourself is too deep, and big, and grand to be truly known…

Clearly he doesn't think you're incompetent. Maybe choice isn't all or nothing.

"I want all the choice, or none of it," you grumble anyway. He's made a bad first impression, this master of these caves, and you hope not to see him again. Best get what you need for your mission and go.

Alright, so for your mission you need knowledge about the environment. Best go to a smarts pile first. Yes, you do have a token that matches the symbols on this pile about academic intelligence. You search until you find a box for "ecology," and slip the coin inside. It pops open, and green smoke flickers out and into your lungs, and while you don't feel any smarter you hope that did something other than make you cough. With four more boxes to go you open a treasure chest with a flame thrower--good against scary dark goo, you hope--and a treasure chest marked for long-distance hiking, which bursts like a bubble to spill red liquid and autumn leaves all over your sandals. Two boxes to go.

You soon realize these are the abilities you don't get to choose--you can't find any slot for them to fit into! One of them glows as you pass the humor pile, and while you try it in all the different boxes--stand-up comedy, musical humor, hilarious writing--you can't make it fit any of the abilities. When you finally get to a lonely box covered in brown muck marked "the ability to burp any word", you almost scream in rage. "Are you kidding me? We're wasting a whole talent on this?!"

You expect to hear the cave-master giggling, but there's only silence.

With a grumble you crawl over a huge pile of gold coins--some of which you shove into your pockets, just in case, because even though they don't fit into any of the chests money's always good to have. The metal's cool and slippery under your fingers, and you slide down the dune with a clinking, rushing whoosh, rolling to a stop at the foot of one giant, lonely chest. It's as tall as a maiasaura and as wide as an elephant is long, and as you reach up up up on your tippy toes for the slot you almost can't get your last coin in---

It falls in with a lovely hum, and the box gently fades away to reveal the word compassion floating inside it like a pink cloud. It dissipates on your breath, and you're left standing in its wake with a warm feeling in your tummy.

Is that a thing? Do some people have a natural disposition towards compassion that others have to work for? Is that "natural talent" because of their upbringing, or are people born that way?

"My, you ask a lot of questions," Melly says as you blink.

"What the..."

You're out in the blazing desert again. The tough little person squints at you from under her umbrella; a small hole in the ground, just the size of your shoe now, slurps shut behind you.

You're left standing in the sun with two pockets full of sand.



Begin your journey with your flamethrower next week. Suggestions on what to name it?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 5: Your First Talents Quest

You came from here
Beginning here


Image courtesy of emaze.com

You're not sure where the hole in the earth came from, but suddenly the air's cool, then cold, then damp and freezing as you plummet. You look up--Melly's face disappears, the hole closes, and darkness closes over you.

You land in warm, bouncy jello before you have a chance to scream. Good thing, too--it splashes all over your face as you sink a good meter or two into it, and who wants mystery jello in their mouth? You flail, and find it's not sticky, and with some climbing and some splashing you wade or waddle your way to the top and flounder out onto a cool dirt floor.

It's cool because of its low temperature, but also, you notice, cool in that social sense because of elaborate arabesques tracing it in thin ditches. A squelch sounds behind you, and you see the jello melt in its crater, and trickle into the arabesques, lighting up the floor with neon-green designs. 

The designs glow as the jello flows towards a center, a bubbling pool in the distance. A smell like lime wafts into the air from the pool's steam. You step forward, following the designs--

When you look back, the swirls behind you have dried, empty of their shimmering liquid. Thick darkness hugs your back. Oof, that's ominous. You scurry forward to stay in the light, following the designs as their pouring glow leads you toward the pool.

"Am I alone?" you ask the cave.

No one answers. You take that as a yes. You take a moment to remind yourself why you're standing here in sticky lime-scented steam: you'll discover your talents, use them to unravel the mystery of the black goo disease, and in the process discover who your mystery lover is. You're a little iffy on that last part, but hey, you clicked this link because deep down, you know you need to be loved.

You don't want to admit that to yourself, because that sounds wimpy. 

Does it? Has Melly rubbed off on you?

Anyway, you're now standing in front of the bubbling green pool. You walk around it--

And the floor tilts with your weight. "Whoa!" You stumble backwards as a whole plate of ground shifts. You fall--you tumble as liquid splashes out of the green pool towards you, into another series of designs under your feet, all arrows, pointing to three dirt mounds in the distance. 

You stop rolling at the three dirt mounds. The light flows around them, as if someone literally drew a circle in the floor for you to say, "Here." 

Oh, look, it even says "here" on the ground. Kind of a tacky touch.

So...you're supposed to do something with these dirt mounds.

You step on one. Nothing happens. You sit on another. Well, these aren't buttons.

Gosh, are you supposed to dig into them? What could be in there? Bones? Rotten stuff? Mmm, you'd rather not. You stand, looking around, but now everything's dark except the ring around the mounds. This is where you're supposed to be, alright.

The longer you stare at these lumps of earth, the more certain you become that you'll have to dig them up with your bare hands. You check in your pockets--nope, you've got folded dinosaurs in there. Nothing else. No shovel or anything. Oh man! You don't want to do this! Who would bring you here? What a gross and silly story! This is boring and dumb anyway!

Well, the longer you stand here, the more boring it's going to get.

Ugh, alright, you think. You begin to paw through the center mound--and suddenly your chest hurts.

You stop pawing. Your chest stops hurting.

Oookay...

Now you definitely don't want to do this. That's uncomfortable! It's like you're digging into yourself! Who wants to--

Oh, you get it. It's a metaphor. You have to sit, alone, and really dig into yourself sometimes, to find out what your talents are.

"Hey, that's total cheeseballs," you say into the darkness. "Cheesy!"

No one answers you, because you're alone. With a grumbling murmuring like a wimpy little baby, you--

"Hey!"

Okay, fine, I'll stop calling you a baby if you stop calling me cheesy.

"Thank-you."

Before you can reprimand yourself for talking to the narrator, which is a crazy-person thing to do, you dive back into the task ahead and dig through the center mound. The tenseness in your chest aches, but the dirt's cool, and soft, moist, and soothing in your fingers, and for a moment you remember why grubby two-year-old you liked to make a mess. Fingertips in your cheerios and milk, the cold and the mush and the hard textures all swishing together over your tiny palms...smearing pudding on your high chair, the smoothness, the frictionless rub...why don't you touch more things anymore? You rub your forefingers together, and dirt granulates between them, falling softly. Gritty, not sticky but mushy. Dirt is pretty great. And you know, ever since you were little, people said you were good at...remember? Remember what you were good at?

Aha! The dirt comes away to reveal five gold coins. They're old, and heavy, with faces on them that make you think of museums, archeologists, and Zeus. You brush away the dirt on the other two mounds, and find one coin, and ten coins. 

As the last bit of dirt is displaced the room jerks--the liquid light splashes out of the circle around you into a trough on the wall, and when everything stops shaking you see three switches. The first switch, in front of the mound with one coin, has one slot in it. The second, in front of you and the center mound, has five slots, and the third switch, to your right, in front of the ten-coin mound, has ten slots in it.

It's like a little kid's math book or something when the words "how much" light up on the trough.

It's clear the talents from each mound go into the slots from each switch. Well, which one will you flip? Will you get a chance to flip a second one after a first one? Should you go with one, or ten? Are these ten horrors you're picking, or ten rewards?

You play it safe, right in between, and pick the five-token game. Clink--clunk--drrrrr--cleenk--dunk--each coin falls into its slot with a different noise, and then you pull the switch.

All three switches recede into the wall with a great rumbling noise, and then a stone door pops open before you. You step into the next room with the flow of green light; the door screeches and then thuds shut behind you. Your five coins tinkle and clink through the door to spin on the floor.

As you bend to pick them up, you find yourself kneeling before a pair of sandals.

Sandals with a guy in them. You look up, and he disappears.

He was beautiful.

(Wait, what?)

You stand as the room lights up. It's enormous--so cavernous you can't see where it ends, and filled with golden boxes! Two huge craters of shining jello dissolve next to you as you rise; shining liquid rushes along the room, filling jade curlicues and flowers and stars stretching off into infinity, and in the reflection of the shimmering, racing rivulets of light the golden boxes sparkle as if the room's on fire.

"Welcome," says a booming male voice. "To the Cave of Gifts."

Choose your gifts HERE next week! In the spirit of group participation, please @ me on twitter about your favorite abilities! Jumping high? Drawing beautiful art? A smooth tongue? Powerful axe-wielding? Gifted sword-swinging? Amazing dance moves? What are you good at, and what do you wish you were good at? What might come in handy questing? Feel free to post in the comments, too! Your answers will slightly affect the action in the next section.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 4

Previous part here

Beginning here

Melly's world could fit in your pocket.

It's true: you're carrying twenty dinosaurs, a tree, and a hair dryer in your pocket, all folded up tiny using Melly's pocket-liner and a pair of those weird fingerless gloves motorcyclists wear. You're walking, sore and sweaty, through a dry, rocky, cracked plain under a vicious sun, but at least you don't feel the weight.

"This used to be a riverbed," you say, to make conversation.

"You some kinda geologist?" Melly's walking, too, to save jetpack energy, and she doesn't seem happy that her stride's a bit slower than yours because of her height. She's marching like she's got something to prove. Sweat glimmers under the short hair on the shorn side of her head, like dew on a lawn. The long half of her hair's tangled in a ponytail reminiscent of an actual horse's tail at this point.

"I don't know if I'm a geologist," you say. "I don't know the background of this body I'm apparently forced to be in. I don't know who I used to be or who I am."

"Well, we gotta figure out your talents," Melly says. She wipes her forehead in her forearm, and looks at the sweat for a second before looking accusingly up at the sun. "We'll make a detour through Quest Valley to test you."

"Aren't we getting a little off track? We need to stop the disease destroying your world."

"No, you're here to find out if you're loved or not, and by what or who. Stoppin' the disease is a means ta that." Melly tosses a stone in the air, and it unfolds into an umbrella, floating over her, blocking out the sun.

"Wouldn't that be selfish of me?"

"Depends. Say your good takes you through a journey that helps tha world. That selfish?"

"So the ends from someone else's point of view, which are the means of my point of the view, determines whether my end's selfish or not?"

"Yer getting me lost in word salad. Get over here and shaddup." Melly sits under the stone umbrella and begins to cook a maiasaura steak over a fire you didn't see her start.

You hang back. "I don't want to sit next to the fire," you say.

"But I got shade."

"Shade over fire."

"Mebbe sometimes you gotta pay for shade."

"That's nice and all, but can't you just put the fire outside of the shade?"

Melly tilts her head. Without taking her glance off of you, she scoots back and pulls the umbrella back with her, leaving the fire exposed to the sun like you suggested.

You sit beside her in the shade, and take the dripping strip of meat she offers you. It's hot, soft, stringy in your hands. You've become used to eating like this, without utensils, even though you'd never do that at home. You're much more civilized than that.

You turn to her and smile. She took your advice for once, moving the fire. "So you're not always right," you tease.

"Never said I was. I'm just s'posed to find the meanings in stuff for you." Melly stuffs her face, and talks while she chews. You take tiny bites that sit in your mouth for what seems like ages--the meat's stringy and tough, with a powerful flavor like chicken graduated to red meat and overcompensated.

"What did you do before escorting travelers on adventures?" You ask Melly. "Just chase dinosaurs all day?"

"Travelers? You mean traveler. I never met a soul-linker before."

"How do you know what to do with me, then?"

"He told me."

"Who?"

She tilts her head, as if listening to a voice in the windless heat, or as if adding up chess moves. "Someone who loves you."

"Oh great, this again. I'm still waiting for this to end on some kind of sermon," you smirk.

"Hon, everything in life's a sermon. Anyone who tells you somethin' else is just hiding the fact they're selling something because they know what they're sellin' ain't all that great."

"Sometimes the things you say don't make sense."

"Sometimes the things you say don't make sense," she mocks your tone.

"Excuse me?" You laugh.

"Mee Mur me?" She mocks you again.

"Are you, like, five?"

"Look, I'm hungry and tired, I can't be shoving wisdom down your throat 24-7. Imma open a door to Quest Valley for ya, and you'll Quest for your abilities, and then we'll head to the disease epicenter. That's what you want, right? Epicenters and stuff, to see where the goop's comin' from?"

"Is it that easy? We can just go there?"

"It's simple, not easy. We all know how the disease started. Problem's stoppin' its spread. But we gotta show you the beginning. Maybe see if you got any new ideas about taking it out." She shrugs. "Sound good?"

"We do a lot of planning and not a lot of doing," you observe.

"That's life sometimes. You'll be doing for the next five links. Questin' and such."

"Okay."

"Okay."

She opens a hole in the ground, and shoves you in.

Next link here. Sorry it's short this week. It'll be more worth it next time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Til Death Do Us Part--An Experimental Tryptich (Lit Flash Fic, G)

Inspired by a woman I met in medical school, and by the deaths on the wards. 
For more free fiction, click here.