The Executioner’s Journal

Day Five

The High Lady of the Moon was as true to her word as her Mother is to her phases. What began as tea on a veranda overlooking the city, bathed in the light of her Goddess, transitioned to a tour of the Cathedral, ending with a private look into her rectory. Her chaste glances across the moon-soaked table turned to gentle touches of my hand, and finally, when the door banged shut, sealing us into her bedroom, changed to a stolen, passionate kiss that left me near to tears.

            It took every ounce of will and furtive thoughts of my Camille, seated before our bedroom window, watching the moon. I lied to myself, saying that somehow the Goddess would reflect any indiscretion here on her face, and she would see. The thought of having put pain behind her eyes, of tarnishing the trust she held in me, was more than I could bear.

            I held her by the shoulders, trying my best to keep her at bay. My thoughts turned to the conversation with the Governor. Perhaps that would give me the opportunity to divert her from intended course of action.

            “What is ‘the Kerberos’?” I asked.

            Something crossed the High Lady’s face. As if a shadow had crawled across the moon, and the light dimmed in her eyes. She broke herself from me, and walked, stiffly, to a small table where she poured two glasses of wine. I could tell that she was pondering how best to answer me. She returned, offering a glass, which I accepted. While spurning her advances lay in my wife’s best interests, alienating the woman, did not lay in mine.

            “You do not know the ancient ways and lore of the North. The Kerberos is a harbinger.” She whispered, drawing closer again. “A messenger of death to come. It is said, ‘if the Kerberos sees your face, you will die in a fort-night.’”

            I nodded, sipping at the sweet, chilled wine. I had heard that the northern part of the realm was the closest connected to the old ways. Thankfully, this was an interest of the High Lady of the Moon. I was able to, aside from another surreptitious attack by her lips on mine before I left, to keep her discussing it well into the night.

            When I returned, Favel was asleep. My bed still warmed from the coals he had placed in the pan. I lay on the hard, wooden bunk, shivering beneath the thick skins, the High Lady’s sea-green eyes staring at me in the darkness, the hot touch of her lips still lingering on mine, and her scent surrounding me.

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The Executioner’s Journal

I decided on New Year’s Day to write a book, one page a day, for the entirety of 2016. It was spur of the moment, from a meme I saw shared by friends and family on Facebook:

365

When I saw that, it just clicked. Later in the day I saw a post that gave me the idea for the book, the idea of reading the daily journal of an executioner. Everything flowed from those two ideas.

The Executioner's Journal (1)

For your perusal, the Executioner’s Journal. I will be posting it here as well.

********

Day One

It is very rare for me to say this, but once in a while, it is true. I miss my family. The long road of this assignation has been one of the most grueling. I am used to leaving our warm home in the Eglantine district, but it has always been a place of sanctuary during these cold winter months. Now, with the longest night behind us, and the promise of lengthening days, here on the road north I crave it.

            Not just the warmth, mind you, I have that, sitting here before the fire in the last moments of the sunset. I miss my wife’s arms about me when I return home. The way she lays her head on my chest. The scent of her hair. I miss our children, now old enough to scurry through home like goats bent upon gnawing anything they can find to shreds and pieces, attaching themselves to my legs. I even miss my wife’s father, the old, blind curmudgeon, sitting before the fire, waiting for me to bring him a pull of my flask.

            Here, out on the roads, where the snow has fallen deep enough to reach my waist, I miss them wholly. Some would say that I chose this life when I was but a boy. Apprenticed to my father and eventually married off to his competitor. They would say that in merging the two greatest houses in our work, I became the embodiment of it. They would not understand, nor sympathize with my words here in the snow. Mine has never been a task that others have, or will understand.

            I can come to terms with that. Not many have the understanding of death that I have, nor the men who have gone before me. They see the end as something to fear, something to run and hide from, and those are normally the most difficult to complete. They will do everything they can to cheat my lady from her just desserts. They become angry, they deny their crimes, their sins. When they are shown the overwhelming avalanche that seeks to bury them, they attempt to bargain with me, my lady’s right hand. They become sad, regretful, fraught with remorse for their deeds and finally, when there is nowhere else left to hide. Where there are no lies to shield them, no offers of recompense for their freedom. They accept the fact of their death. As my lady’s faithful servant, with the tools of my trade, the axe, the rope, the sword or others, I deliver unto them the final respite: their death.

            I have never set words to page as I have today. It was my wife, Camille’s, suggestion. In the yuletide gifts before the fire, decorated with boughs of evergreen, she gave me this leather-bound journal. Her words when I questioned it were simple and plain.

            “Use it how you will my heart. Perhaps to keep yourself company on those long nights away from us. Perhaps to write that which you cannot say.”

            At first I thought it foolish, but now, here before the fire as the sunlight fails, and the long shadows stretch out across my small camp. I think it may do some good.

 

Chapter One

            He never cared much for the snow. It got into everything on the road. Down boots, inside pockets of his coat, caked in the wheels of his wagon, and in the hooves of Rebecca, his horse. One time, he had forgotten to lock the door to the wagon, and that evening and found it half-filled with wind-blow, fine, white powder. He lit a fire beneath it that night, and let it melt out. It left everything damp.

During the winter, snow was inevitable across Crathera. It swept in after the harvests and swallowed the land like a great beast seeking to devour them. But in the north, where the foot of the mountains touched the thick, tangled forests, it was different. Deeper. Colder. As if he had entered the belly of the beast, and chanced being digested into no more than icicles.

He stoked the fire again, forcing the flames higher and hotter against the wind that cut across him. Even the wagon was not enough cover against the elements here. Another day and he would arrive in Hearthholme. The flames danced and sparked, as if reflecting his desire to be there and be done. This was to be his last year as the King’s Executioner.

It was not a punishment, being removed of the title, it was an honor. Twenty-five years of honorable service to the crown. He had carried out his duties impartially and professionally. With the pension provided by the King’s steward, he and his family could afford to move south, purchase a farm near the sea and the only body parts he would spend the remainder of his days removing would be heads of lettuce, ears of corn and potato eyes.

Hard footfalls in the dark forest dragged him out of his own thoughts. The fire, while hot and bright, only extended so far. He waited, one hand on the haft of Gloaming, his massive great axe, as his entire body tensed in anticipation. The dark figure, darker than the shadows, coalesced before him, and an armful of fire wood clattered to the ground before the fire. The boy.

He had never taken an apprentice. He had never found one worthy of the training and experience that he would provide. However, as part of the retirement the King so graciously offered, he was required to take on one. Favel was the least stupid, the sharpest of the dull, the brightest of the dim, and the least of the unwantedly cruel lot that he had been given to choose his successor from.

“Think that will do it… Master?” Favel asked finding his own seat before the fire.

He nodded. It would be more than enough to create the coals they would need to survive the night in the wagon. The boy… though he should not call him that, being only two years older than he had been when he started his apprenticeship. Favel was still learning the relationship that they must have in order to learn his skills.

“Do not call me that.” He corrected, for the eleventh time.

“That’s wat an ‘pprentice calls his master. Master.” Favel replied.

He nodded. It was true. Every profession throughout the kingdom worked on the system, and the majority held rigorously to specific customs and etiquettes.

“Aye, they do. We are different.”

Favel sat up straighter at his words.

“How…?”

He stared into the flames. It was if he could see his mistress’ face within them.

There were many things that he must prepare the boy for. The most important being a respect for the process of dying. He reached back, into the fog of his own memories, to when his father had taught him the lesson of the hanged man.  It had been the first lesson that he had been taught. Before he even knew that he would be an apprentice to the Left Hand of the King, the Royal Executioner.

It was a cold day, just before the spring thaw. His father had allowed him to accompany him to the western reaches, to the small city of Avangion, where a man had been sentenced to death for murdering a shoppe keeper during a midnight robbery. They had arrived several days before the execution was scheduled. He could still remember the bite of the wind as his father led him by the hand, across the dirt square where their wagon had been parked, to the backside of the keep where the guilty sat in chains.

As they entered, the guard unlocking the doors for them so that they could enter, he could remember the disdain he felt for the man in the cell. He was dirty, disheveled, his clothes were rags and he smelled of urine and feces. Standing on the other side of the bars, holding his father’s hand in safety, he felt… superior to this wretched thing. He wanted to tell him so. He wanted to spit on him and remind this filthy creature why his father’s axe would sever his head from his shoulders.

The look must have been all too obvious to his father, because the man knelt down, outside the cage, with the man in chains watching, and spoke to him.

“What do you see, boy?” He asked.

“I see a criminal. Someone who deserves what you will give him. I see death.”

His father turned from him, staring at the man. He looked utterly defeated. His hair hung in tangled clumps before his face, and he did not move to defend himself by word or by deed. He simply sat on the wooden bench, chains hanging to the stone floor.

“I see a man who has accepted the fate that is before him.” His father replied, still staring at the man. “Tell me, are you an inquisitor? A judge? …the King?”

He could remember the words his father spoke cutting to the bone.

“No, father! I am not a traitor. I would never…”

His father held up a hand for him to be silent.

“Then remember, when you stand before this man, and you will time and time again, remember that you are but a conduit from this life unto the next. You are carrying out the grave responsibility of the law. Do not judge, do not condemn. Respect this man’s journey, for one day, it will be your own.”

That was the first lesson that he must impart to Favel. When the time was right.

“You will see in Hearthholme.” He replied to Favel’s question. “Now fill the warming pans. I want to sleep this wretched night away. We leave at first light.”

 

Day Four

            We reached Hearthholme after sundown. It was difficult to gain entry to the walls, but the Seal of the King’s Left Hand, its gold filigree glinting in the torch light, the axe balancing the scales, was enough to send a pale streak through the guard. He called for his captain, a man with a pinched face, that I could not tell if he came by naturally, or simply held it so because of the chill wind.

            The inn, the Crossroad’s Hearth, had shuttered its windows and doors for the night. So, with Favel holding the lantern, I guided Rebecca, who pulled the wagon, jerkily, through the snow and mud to a place off the town square, out of sight of the merchants who would open their shoppes and stalls in the morning.

            Favel has not spoken much in the last few days. I fear the cold, which eats its way under our skin and down into our bones, has sapped the small will that he possesses. It is my one fear in teaching him. That he will not have the mental fortitude to handle my lady’s will day in and day out. Some days, I do not know if I possess it.

            With the boy stoking a fire, coals for the warming pans, I walked the square to where this unknown man would come into the Lady’s embrace. It was smaller than I remembered, but the last time I stood there, it had been filled to overflowing with people. A man, lustful and filled with covetousness for a young maid, had taken her, despite her father’s denial of permission to woo. He had left her, bloodied, beaten and defiled in a stream that cut its way down the mountains to Hearthholme.

            When her father and brothers had discovered her, it had taken the local militia, and the governor to keep them from lynching the man. When he was finally tried and sentenced by a magistrate, called in from a neighboring city, I was assigned to perform the execution. I could still remember, standing there in the dark, how he had fought the Lady’s embrace to the bitter end.

            The final look on a man or woman’s face says a lot about their acceptance or lake thereof. This man, who had given in to his base desires and broken the covenant of his society, had left a death mask that held the grimace of anguish to the bitter end. I stood there in the snow and the cold, for hours. Thinking on what my newest assignation might have in store for me. It was always this twilight, before I met the condemned, that I dreaded. The not knowing. The lack of understanding. A void that clawed at my heart and soul.

            When I returned to the wagon, both Favel and Rebecca were fast asleep. I laid down in my bed, the last dregs of heat from the warming pan sinking up into the blankets and my skin. Sleep evaded me.

  

 Chapter One (cont.)

            He sat in center of the Inn’s common room. The hard, wooden chair creaking beneath his weight, as the floorboards did with every footfall upon them. He waited. Staring at the well-worn table. It was bare, save for the nicks, scrapes and gouges of long past brawls. If it were not for the recent stain, he would guess that it would be so much kindling very soon, but someone had put their time and love into the place.

From where he sat, he could see the Innkeeper speaking in hushed tones with the serving girl. He guessed that she was his daughter. Both with dirty blonde hair, green eyes like moss on the north side of a fallen tree, and hooked, hawkish noses with nostrils that flared at each breath. Their conversation was low, too low for him to hear. He did not need to. It was always the same. Every village, every burg, every hamlet and every city. There were those who, if not understood, remembered the old ways, and instructed the young in following them.

She curtsied, as he pointed one meaty hand, finger jutting out towards the table. She bustled about the kitchen. Pots, pans, spoons, knives and plates banged together as she searched for the items that he had requested. A copper plate, perfectly circular. A copper mug, filled with ice water drawn from a well, not a pipe. One thick piece of unleavened bread. A shaker of salt. A decanter of vinegar. One wooden fork. One iron knife.

Every inn, all across the land, still held these implements. Whether the owner, keepers, or servers remembered their significance or not. They were there. He waited for her to bring them to the table as he had instructed.

The door opened, and three people entered. They stomped the snow from their boots in the entryway, as to keep it from tracking inside. Two men, one as tall as Rebecca’s head, and the other small, or rather slouched over from age. A woman, as bent and as ancient as the second man. He could feel their eyes upon him, and he knew that they were the bereaved. It was the part of his job that he liked the least. Yet, each assignation, there he sat. Thick cut, unleavened bread slabbed across the copper plate. The salt dashed across it, signifying their tears. The vinegar, poured out over it, signifying the condemned’s sin.

The serving girl sat the plate before him. Despite having to search, upturning the entire kitchen for each requested item, she had found them. She had put them together as he instructed. Hesitant, unsure of herself, she curtsied to him and backed away, as the two men and the ancient woman approached.

He had performed this ritual more times than he can count. At times he felt it was more significant than the execution itself. While that held a finality, many people did not find the end of their grief at the end of one man or woman’s life. In the ritual sin-eating, he gave them an outlet for their remorse, their rage and their suffering. He did not look up as the three figures approached. He had seen them enter. He had gaged them from a distance, and like so many times before, he knew exactly how this would play out.

The tallest of them, a man with disheveled hair, an unkempt beard and the scar-worn hands of a farmer approached first. His hand hesitated as he reached across the table, passing inches away as he selected the salt shaker. He fumbled with it, turning it over. Seated there, the Executioner remained motionless. For this aspect of the ritual, he was a silent observer.

“He was my brudder. He was my flesh and bone, my kin.” The massive ox-of-a-man gasped in shoveled bouts of air, as if trying to hold back something in his stomach.

He shook the shaker furiously, and the Executioner watched as the salt cascaded down over the hard, thick crust of unleavened bread.

“Ye killed him! Ye murderin’, thievin’, brother-killin’ rutting hell-hated miscreant!”

The salt ended its snowing over the bread, as the man dropped it, staggering to the side, his face burying the grief in his hands.

Another figure stepped forward. The ancient, wizened man. Bent and stooped like the woman behind him. He stood for a long time before the table set in front of the Executioner. He stared at the implements, the plate, the cup, the bread, the salt, the water and the vinegar. The inn was silent as everyone waited, wondering what he would do.

The Executioner had seen in it in his eyes as the grizzled man trundled along beside his wife and son. His hand stretched out, first as if to pluck something from the table, but then his fingers splayed, baring his palm.

“I absolve you. Go, unto the heavens. Let the gods judge you.”

He turned and walked away.

The Executioner, before the haggard, broken and bent crone stepped forward, knew that she would be the hardest to stomach.

She snatched the tiny decanter of vinegar and held it aloft. As high as her tiny frame would allow. Her elbow poised somewhere near the Executioner’s shoulder. The thick, pungent and dark liquid splashed down over the bread, coating it, filling it, until there were only a black husk remaining.

“I pray ye go to hell. I pray that one day, so do I. I pray the devil lets me torture you for eternity.”

He had expected her anger, her ire and rage. He did not expect what came next.

There was a sharp intake of air, as if through an ancient, moss coated gave, and then the sound of a vomitus splattering. A splash, a glop and a green-yellow glob of ancient snot coated the top of the bread. The sobbing, mountain of a man wrapper her in his arm as she moved away. Before she did, he heard her rasping voice, ragged with emotion.

“Eat up, sin-eater.”

 

********

 

“You will forgive me if I do not stand on ceremony, hmmm?” The Governor asked.

It was a formality that he even do so. Most had given up the old ways, in favor of the reformations that the King had instituted over the last thirty-odd years. The eating of the sin, the confession of the condemned, and the walk to the gallows were bygone rituals. Dregs of a society that once was. The realization of this, the feeling, like ice and weight in his bones, made him weary.

“Please, be seated.” The Governor said, gesturing to a chair before the massive cockle wood desk. “I have the list of charges here; you will find them all in order.”

He took the offered sheet, his eyes, straining against the failing light, reading each in turn.

Criminal trespass. Assault. Failure to yield to an official caravan. Three counts of aggravated battery. Maimification of a sentry. Kidnapping. Arson. Criminal Theft. Resisting Arrest. Murder of a Royal Envoy. Anarchism.

He hovered over the final charge. The old guard, the last King, Reginald the Third of the Anarc’s, was considered a blight on the nation’s history. It had only been through an alliance of Scions of the Noble Houses, that he and eventually his wife, Queen Susannah, had been removed from power, and justice restored to the kingdom. His own father had been the Executioner to remove the Queen’s head from her shoulders. Anarcs.

He mulled it over. It was not a crime to believe in ideals. Only a crime to act upon treasonous ones. The preponderance of the crimes before it was enough to outweigh the addition of one… bias.

“As you can see, everything is above board. We here in Hearthholme will not stand for any questioning of unrighteousness or impropriety.” The Governor added at his hesitation.

He set the paper back on the desk. He wanted to assure the man that he was there only at the King’s assignation. To carry out the justice that had been proscribed. He was not allowed to. From behind the two men, the massive doors that cloistered them within the Governor’s office in the massive keep banged open. Guards fumbled to hold them back against the wind, keep them braced, so that a dark, lithe form could slip through, before slamming them shut with a frightful bang.

He stood, immediately, at her presence among them. He reached up, drawing the sign of the crescent, from his head to his heart, and bent knee, placing his elbow on his knee, pressing his fist to his forehead. Behind him, the Governor made an uneasy sound, as if he did not know how to react.

“You may rise, Lord Executioner.” A voice like honey washed over him.

He did as she bade him, standing. She was a small woman, the top of her headdress reaching the beginnings of his chin. However, her presence, as the High Lady of the Moon, was enough to make him feel like a small child.

If anyone understood the eroding of their national customs and traditions, it was this woman. Her robes were of the deepest midnight, edged with black silk that sparkled of stardust, and the vestments hanging across and over her shoulders were shot through with azure and silver runic symbols, true relics of a long, bygone era.

He rose to his feet, towering over her, and yet feeling like a boy caught by his mother. She smiled at him. Her dark eyes, like molten pools of steel, flecked with mercury appraised him.

“I had heard the Royal Executioner had come. I knew your father, child.” She said.

A shiver ran down his back. His father had died only two years after his own apprenticeship had begun, which was just over twenty years gone by. To have known him would make the High Lady of the Moon older than her appearance spoke to. She gave him a wink, which unsettled him, and brought him back to the conversation at hand.

“Yes, My Lady.” The Governor whined through his pinched tone. “He was assessing the charges against the…”

Before he could utter a word, the High Lady of the Moon finished for him, her eyes on the Executioner.

“…condemned.”

“Yes, as you say, My Lady.”

She turned to the Executioner, reaching out to lay a hand on his.

“You will come to the cathedral tonight? It was once the custom of our people for the Left Hand of Darkness to lie throughout the night, prior to an execution, with the High Lady.”

There was a sharp intake of air from the Governor at her words. The Executioner trembled. He had been told of such traditions by his father, and father-in-law. Customs that had long been banished, even by the treacherous King of the Anarcs.

A melodious sound, like tiny bells tinkling broke the tension of the room as she laughed.

“Of course, we could just share a cup of tea beneath the sky.”

He smiled, dipping his head in assent.

“Aye, My Lady. I would cherish that.”

When he looks up, she has already looked away, as fickle as the Goddess she serves. She is staring at the Governor, who stands behind his desk, as if it were a bulwark on a battlefield.

“My Lord. It has come to my attention that you intend to pursue the man’s compatriots out into the wilds. While it is your purview to utilize the men of your watch as you see fit, I would be remiss if I did not point out that enlisting the people of Hearthholme for such an endeavor, especially around the full moon would be… foolhardy, at best.”

He can feel a tide moving within the room. Unseen, yet the ebbs and flows of power, one martial, one spiritual, clashing against each other like waves on the beach during a violent storm. He wanted to excuse himself. To be about his business and speaking with the condemned, but to do so, he would risk violating their contest. He stood, rooted in place as they clashed.

“Ah, yes. What is it this month? The Wolf Moon?” The Governor asks with incredulity.

“You know precisely which, My Lord.” She responds.

The Wolf Moon. The depths of winter. When the snow falls the deepest, especially in the forests, where the Anarchists live. Out there, in the wilds, the wolves would be hunting for meat to sustain them through the long, winter nights. They would not care if it came from hares, deer, or man.

The High Lady of the Moon continues, “While your soldiers have the training, the stamina and the presence of mind to handle such conditions, the people… your people, farmers, merchants, innkeepers and serving girls, do not. Not to mention there is the Kerberos.”

The Executioner’s eyes stole glances between the two as they struggled for the upper hand in this power play. When the High Lady let slip that final name, one vaguely familiar to him, he could see that it paled in the Governor’s face. His jaw went slack, allowing his mouth to drop open. His pupils widened, a reaction he always saw in the condemned before his axe fell. There was the sound of something hard striking the wood floor, and then the shattering of glass. He realized that it was the man’s glass, dropped and shattered on the floor.

“I… as you say, My Lady.” Were the only words the Governor could bring himself to utter.

She smiled, flicking a glance at the Executioner, before curtsying low.

“Lords. My work here is complete.” She said, turning to leave.

At the door she stopped, glancing back, to the Executioner.

“Tonight. Before the Lady reaches her zenith.” She said. “Do not keep me waiting.”

 

Day Five

They say the Anarchists are ghosts. From personal experience I can attest that I have never executed one, until now. That is not to say that they cannot be killed. However, they are either killed in battle or they disappear back into the forests. For my knowledge, this is the first time since I have been the Royal Executioner, that an anarc has given himself up.

            It was the first thing I wanted to ask him. I was intrigued. Why would he allow himself to be taken alive? Was their cause watered down after so many decades? Was he just one to follow, half-heartedly, until something better came along? This dank prison, beneath the Governor’s keep, and the reality of my great axe were definitely not better options than living in the forest, stealing and murdering the King’s guard.

            I did not lead with these questions, though I wanted to. There were ancient traditions to carry forward, even though the nation wished to discard them. I unlocked the chains about his wrists and ankles, giving him a taste of freedom that he probably had not had in sometime. On the wooden table between us, I saw roughhewn cups, and the iron kettle that Favel had heated with tea. I poured us each a cup as he rubbed at the red irritations from his manacles.

            When each was filled, I lowered my head and gave thanks. Surprisingly, the anarc did the same.

            “May the blessing of the Light be upon this meeting. May we seek to find understanding, wisdom and acceptance…” I began, as my father had taught me.

            “…be it the Lady’s will.” The condemned finished.

            Here was a man who understood, and held close to the old ways, or at the very least, paid them lip service.

            We drank our tea in silence. We would have hours to talk, to discuss, for me to ensure that it was justice that was being carried out, and not revenge.

 

 Chapter 2

            Sorcha Anarc stood on the windswept cliff overlooking the valley where Hearthholme lay nestled between the ridges. The sun had set long ago, but still she remained, watching as the windows of the chalets lit up with candle, lantern and fire light. From her perch on the mountain side, she could see all the way to the Temple of the Moon. The Executioner would be meeting with the High Lady of the Moon.

A long, slow whistle, like that of a whip-or-whill, rang out across cliff, echoing and reverberating its way down to her. She pressed her thumb and her forefinger tips together, set them on her teeth, slipping her tongue over them, and returned with her own. Another hour. She wanted to think, without the rest of the Anarchists hounding her for word of when the true rebellion would begin.

Many of them had been waiting decades, since her father had been put to the sword, and her mother had been publically executed. She brushed back the long strands of fiery hair that the wind blew into her face. She pulled the hood closer around her, trying to hold back the icy chill, but this high up, it was of little use. They all looked to her, as if she was some great leader, the Princess, as many whispered, she had been but four years old when her mother had placed her in the hands of nurse and ordered her to head north.

Green eyes, like the southern waters on the coast, deep pools of intelligence and mirth. Fiery hair, blazing like the summer sun. These were the memories she held tight of her mother. The only memories she had. Her father was another matter. She had none of him. Only what others told her, and the lies spread throughout the nation by those who deposed him and usurped the throne.

She dropped to the snow-crusted ledge, drawing a goose feather-fletched arrow from her quiver, and swinging it through the air. She was constantly under the scrutiny of those within the camp. These moments of scouting, or when she hunted each day, those were treasured hours of solitude. She planned to milk this one for as long as she could.

Sorcha turned her gaze past the city of Hearthholme, past the thick, snow-capped forest, all the way to where the edges of Lake Aranel was frozen. She could see the Mother’s silver light reflecting off the water that stretched out to the dark horizon from its icy shores. She wanted to take her pack, her bow, quiver and just leave. Despite being, or having once been, a princess, she was not the brains of the rebellion.

“Who am I kidding, I’m not even the muscle. I’m a pretty face that gets paraded around, so the Anarchists can feel that they are making these sacrifices for… something.” She whispers to the wind.

She wanted to be free. Free to choose her path. Free to make her own decisions. To walk any trail. To hunt. To run. To fight. To love. The last gave her pause. For the last twenty-six years she been the poster girl for the rebellion. That meant keeping a certain look, a certain reputation. None of which left any room for love.

Of course that did not stop many of the younger men, and a few of the older from making the intentions known to her. In nearly all of them she could see herself as they saw her: a political chip, a stepping stone to fame, wealth and glory. Only one had proven to be anything more than a self-interested, narcissist. Harmen Kandor.

When he had first come to the camp, the leadership had him stripped of his weapons and imprisoned him. She was told that he was her father’s Penchydd, or Royal Huntsman. It had taken the council three weeks to deliberate, and finally give Kandor a chance to prove himself. During that time, the first winter that the Anarchists had spent in the wilds. Fruit, grains, game and tubers were almost non-existent. It was finally the threat of starvation that pushed the remaining holdouts on the council to accept Kandor. He had repaid their trust, but ensuring that every person in the camp ate a full meal every day of that long, deep winter.

He had taken Sorcha on as an apprentice hunter when she was twelve. He had taught her to select the best Ash tree. To shape and shorn her own bow from its boughs. To craft long, straight shafts that would fly true. To find and fletch her arrows with hawks’ feathers, and to make her own heads from bits of stone and metal scrap. He had also taught her to kiss when she was seventeen.

They had been away from the camp for over two weeks. High up in the mountains tracking elk. The rangers of Hearthholme had ventured out further than they had in previous years, and the game surrounding the northern-most city of the realm had been depleted. Harmen suggested that they track a gang of elk he had been watching over the harvest. The council agreed and the two of them had set out just after the harvest festival.

It had taken them a week of tracking, deep into the mountains, where they stalked the elk to a pasture, high above the realm, untouched by ice and snow. When the sun was highest in the sky, it was warm enough for them to remove the thick, fur-lined, woolen coats and bask in the sun. She had begged him to remain a few days. The elk were not going to leave, and the beauty of the meadow was far too breathtaking to ignore. It had taken all of an hour, but she had worn him down until he agreed.

Aside from a few stolen moments of hurried fumbling in the woods, and once when she was thirteen stealing a wine-fueled kiss from Sir Evandar, the winner of the May-Faire games, she had never been thoroughly kissed. She wished she could say that it happened somewhere romantic like the edge of crystal clear spring, as the sunset and the lightning bugs danced in the sky. Something she had read in Barrist Ammon’s meager library. It had happened in the depths of the night. The full dark, when the moon was still behind the horizon, hidden by the mountains, and they tried to sleep.

With the sun set, the temperature dropped severely. Sorcha and Kandor were forced to press their mats, skins and bodies together to keep from losing to much heat. As they lay, pressed together in the darkness of their shelter, she could feel the hard muscles of his body against her own. It was something that she had never experienced. It was something that awoke a desire deep within her.

Kandor’s hand had slipped through the skins, resting on her hip. She could feel her entire body flush with heat, and her breath was short, staggered and sharp. She all at once wanted him to stop, and not to. It was a terrifyingly confusing place to be. She turned to face him. Wanting to ask a myriad of questions. None of them fell from her lips as his met her own. Hers soft, pliable and full. His surprisingly soft, crisscrossed with scars that she could feel but not see, and a hunger, as if he had not drunk and was dying of thirst.

When he finally pulled away from her, Sorcha’s head was swimming with a myriad of questions, feelings and thoughts. Before she could voice one of them, Harmen stood up, pulling his massive coat over his shoulders and muttering something as he stumbled out into the darkness. She fell back into the skins, her warm breath delivering plumes of steam into the air above her.

The rest of their hunting trip played out as if that kiss had never happened. She wanted, daily, to ask him about it. To question him, his desires, his silence, everything. She even plucked up the courage one afternoon as they lay in the thick grass, waiting for a few of the elk to separate themselves from the gang. She opened her mouth, a short breath escaping as she struggled with the words so that she would not sound like a child to him. In that moment of hesitancy, he must of sensed her intent. He sat up on his knees, the arrow nocked on the bowstring. He drew, let out a breath and released.  She had no choice but to follow suit.

The rest of their evening was spent field dressing and skinning each of their raghorns, then dragging them back to camp so that they could store them before the trek back down the mountain. The rest of the journey she could not find the courage to question him.

Somewhere below the cliff she sat on, something moved in the forest. Her rear had gone numb from the cold, and her body protested as she leaned forward, staring hundreds of feet down into the snow-kissed trees, watching and listening. At first she could only hear her heartbeat, like a drum, pounding in her ears. She closed her eyes. Focused on the nothing behind them, and breathed, as Harmen had taught her when she was learning the bow. Slowly, all of the sounds leveled, and she could separate them again.

The creaking of the trees in the fluttering wind, the cooing of birds, sleeping in their nests, stones jarred loose by the scouts who had accompanied her. Then she heard it. Two sounds. A short, panting breath, like a wolf, stalking through the woods in search of water, and the steady crunch, crunch of its paws in the snow. She smiled, her worry fading. She turned her head to climb up from the cliff when her blood turned to ice, and her stomach turned. There in the moonlight casting rays through the forest she saw it.

            She thought the light and the distance played havoc with her eyes, but when it reached one of the old stone markers, she could see that it stood as tall as a man. It turned its muzzle, spittle dripping from its razor-sharp teeth, and stared up at her. Sorcha flung herself back, scrambling until she slammed herself into the mountain. The Kerberos had seen her.

Lexi Heartsmith, a beginning?

I started off with just a name: Heartsmith. As I do with characters, I began to think about the name, who it might be, what they might be like, and the name Lexi came to me: Lexi Heartsmith. Or Alexis as her mother named her, but she would rather not go by. During this same time I found this picture of Scarlet Johansson, and instantly knew that this was Lexi Heartsmith. Then comes a host of questions? Why is she dressed like this? Why is her hair like that? What is her relationship with drinking, as there is a glass in front of her. Over the last few years I have been slowly developing her as a character. As I have written of her, I have realized that I have shielded her far too much. I have not allowed the bad things that need to happen for her to develop to happen to happen to her. I hope, as I once again turn to her, that a new side can be developed, one that will show her for the amazing character she is.

Lexi

 

They say that when you truly want something, the Universe conspires to help you achieve it. Perhaps that is true. As if it is some truth carried in the bones of our world. I wanted to die, and the events that would give me the opportunities to do so fell into place.

I know what you are thinking. Sitting there, your hands gripping this book. Eyes roving the page like hungry jackals for a reason to my words. That is all that I can give you. These words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters, to help you understand why I did what I must do.

It all began on the day that I turned thirteen. My birthday party was something that I looked forward to each and every year. Mostly because my mother spent extravagant amounts of money to ensure that my friends and I were well entertained. In the rear garden of our palatial home, each year, she would turn the rows of lilies and orchids, the well-worn stone paths and the gurgling fountain in the center into another world.

Or, at least, she would pay someone to do so. Being the foremost surgeon in the United States came with a great deal of responsibility and oceans of money. What I lacked in my mother’s time, touch, attentions and presence, was made up for by anything that I wished for. Bought, delivered and setup at my whim.

I had, at her insistence, invited every child in my grade. They all came. Each one showing up promptly at the front door starting at two o’clock. Smiles on their faces, best set of clothes on their backs, and a large present, topped with a bow for your’s truly. Not attending was the equivalent of social suicide in my class.

I stood at the door, as mother had instructed, shaking each child’s hand, curtsying to their parents, and telling them, “…how delighted I am to have at my party…”. While it was very easy to feign such airs with most of the children and their chaperones, one in particular, Davis Kentworth III, took all of my graces to maintain composure in his presence.

Davis was one of those children who believed that everything should be done his way, for him, about him and include him. Should any of these rules be unmet in a situation he had the height, the weight and the girth to physically voice his displeasure to the offending party.

While I grew up with the possbility of acting the same way, my mother had instructed me on how life worked. That it operated on deeply laid rules, which if not followed would cause the very breakdown of our society and life as we know it. I did not take kindly to those who broke these rules, and as I grew, I came to not just resent when people did, but I voiced my displeasure, and eventually acted upon it.

Those traits would be the reason why my thirteenth birthday party would be the last that anyone attended. Everything that I have ever done, my mother has always had an idiom for just that occasion. It would be after everyone left the party that she would present me with another one.

“You see, Alexis. When a young woman reaches a certain age, her body begins to mature. No doubt you have felt your busom beginning to expand, hair growing in places where it had not before, and now this…” As ever, my mother knew how to make me feel even less.

I can remember that day as vividly as if it were happening right now. I can see the purples and whites of the flowers in the garden. I can smell the water as it bubbles up through copper pipes and fills the pool around the fountain. I can hear the children laughing as they play, their parents voices murmering below them, and I can see the pure white, virginal dress that my mother had purchased especially for this day.

I loved that dress. When I wore it, it made my own eyes sparkle and shine like sapphires in a dragon’s hoard. It caused my flaxen hair to gleam, as if spun directly from Rumpelstilskin’s own wheel. It gave my skin an ethereal quality, as if I truly were a faerie princess, to match the diamond-caked tiara on my brow.

As I made my rounds through the party, ensuring that my guests were enjoying themselves, as mother had instructed, I found that I was tired, weary and that something I had eaten did not agree with me. The sensation swept up on me like high tide at sunset. It washed over me, dragging me down before I even knew that it was there.

It began with the feeling that everything I wore was a size too small. As if suddenly my beautiful white dress had shrunk, and my body was aching to burst forth from it. While simply a mild inconvience, it did nothing for my mood. I can remember, while trying to adjust one strap, in hopes that it might alleviate some of the strain, a young girl made a terse comment and I snapped at her.

“You know, if you are not feeling well, we would understand if you…”

Feeling well? Did I look as if I were about to die? Had the ethereal quality of my skin gone from pale faerie to day’s-dead corspe? It was not my normal aplumb when I replied.

“I’m fine. Eat your cake and shut up.” I said stalking off to the garden fountain.

I could hear them, the girls, nattering behind my back like a swarm of angry bees that had just been jostled. Despite the straying from the nicities, I did not care. The uncomfortable feeling of my dress was soon joined with the sensation of having to tinkle. Which was swiftly joined by a pounding in my head, as if the elephant that my mother had hired, was standing next to me beating on a bass drum. Finally, my skin turned flush. It was as if I was expanding like a balloon filled with hot air, and I was nearing the point of bursting.

It was then that I reached the fountain in the center of the garden. I had hoped for a few moments alone, where I might dab some of the cool water on my cheeks and compose myself, but I found that Davis Kentworth III was standing by the pool, one hand on Jenny Montgomery, a soft-spoken, but pretty girl in my class. Their interaction did not look pleasant to me.

“What are you doing to her?” I asked.

The large boy let go of her dress and stepped away, glaring at me.

“None of your business, princess. Why don’t you toddle off to your party and let your friends fawn over you some more.”

“This is my party and my house. What you do to my friends is my business, Davis.” I said through clenched teeth.

My stomach felt as it were Moby Dick, and I had just been harpooned. I doubled over at the waist, and drew in a sharp breath through my nose. It took every modicum of composure to not spill my breakfast on the ground infront of these two. When I could finally stand, I crossed the worn stones to where the boy stood. On the tips of my toes I pointed a finger (despite what mother says about pointing) and shook it at him furiously.

“I did not want you at this party. I do not like you.” I cried.

As he stared down at me, his deep, dark eyes were wide with shock. He took a step backwards from me, trying to distance himself from my fury. At first I thought it would be enough, but a look crossed his face, and a manical grin broke over his expression.

“You’re disgusting.” He said.

The words were a slap in the face. I had done nothing to deserve that. I was not disgusting. I was beautiful.

He stepped closer, looking down at me.

“You’re dirty, and everyone is going to see who you are.”

I looked down at myself. I was pretty, pristine, white, virginal. I was a beautiful faerie princess… and the lower half of my dress was stained through with bright red blood.

“Pig.”

It wasn’t the words that made me snap. It wasn’t Davis’ face, and how he grinned like a rabid dog looking at a piece of rotted meat. It wasn’t that my body felt like a too full balloon, that my head swam in a sea of pain, or that I wanted to vomit all over the ground and never stop.

It was the sound of Jenny’s laughter.

When one person makes fun of you, it is easy to dismiss. When a second joins in, that is when things become complicated. At that moment, my mind could not handle the complications. I reached up and grabbed Davis Kentworth III by the shoulders and shook him for all I was worth. Which at four feet, eleven inches, and about eighty-six pounds was not a lot.

What happened at that fountain, to this day, still haunts me. With my dress coated in slick blood. The red staining the white. With Jenny Montgomery giggling into her hand behind me. My hands on Davis Kentworth III, I yanked. I did not toppel the much taller boy, instead I pulled something free from deep within him.

I grew up Catholic. We attended church every Sunday. I sang the hymns, took communion and went to confession. I learned about the Ten Commandments, Jesus birth, life and crucifixtion. I had the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, beat into my brain on a weekly basis. What I pulled from Davis Kentworth III, to this day, I believe was his soul.

Jenny Montgomery could not see what happened, because she kept giggling like a hyena behind me, but Davis Kentworth III could tell. I held him, the spirit stuff that his soul was made of in my hands, and it was as if there were two of him by that fountain. The physical one, standing there, stunned that this little girl had grabbed him and torn his soul from his body, and the spirit one, in my hands and being shaken like an earthquake seeking to rip him in two.

While his body stood motionless, his soul screamed, cried out and tried to escape. I did not let him. Furious over the embarrassment and wroth with anger, I shook him back and forth, screaming incoherently the things that I would do to his mortal soul. When, finally, the rage subsided, I let go. What I held hung there, briefly in the air for a second, before it snapped back to his body.

Davis Kentworth III stood on the worn path stones surrounding the fountain, and before our entire class, peed himself. It was his turn to be embarrassed. His turn to flee. And he did so. I was told later that he did not even find his parents. He simply ran all the way home.

I would not feel vindicated, standing there, covered in blood, before my peers. In fact, I felt less. The feelings in my body had not subsided, but under their gaze, I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. As their attentions turned back to me from the fleeing boy, I ran to the house. Ran up the stairs. Ran to my room. I barricaded the door and did not come out until every single one of them had left.

I stood in the bathroom, staring at myself. My make-up was streaked from tears. My dress was wrenched, dirty and bloody, but the most shocking evidence of that day, was the lock of hair hanging down over my brow that had gone completely white. I collapsed against the door, to the sound of my mother beating on it, and cried.

That was the day I was set upon this path. The first step in a journey of one thousand steps. A young girl, angry at the world for what it had done to her, and fighting to keep that from changing her spirit.

Just a snippet of ‘The Frozen Lotus’

Evadar sat in the largest chair his raiders could find, staring down at the villagers who had submitted to him. He was disappointed. His scouts had told him of skilled warriors who had dispatched three of his best. All he had found amongst the valley dwellers were soft, fearful beings who would give up any liberty just to stay alive. At first he meant to raid them, take what he wished and returned to the high places of the Clã, but now, after having bested their leader, he itched to use the combined might of his twin gloves. He gestured with one finger to his man at the end of the line of villagers.

The raider reached out, yanking a man up by his hair so that he was forced to look the Thane in the eyes.

“Where are your warriors?” Evadar asked.

“Please, I beg of you,” he began.

Evadar made a cutting motion with his finger, and the raider drew a blade across his dirty neck, letting the blood splatter out onto the dirt before him. When it slowed, he dropped the body and moved to the next person, yanking their head back.

“I do not know!” the man screamed. “I do not know anything!”

Evadar gestured again. Again a bloodless body dropped into the dirt and the grass.

The raider moved to the next, but the woman, before he could grab her hair, moved from his reach. She pushed herself to her feet, arms tied behind her back.

“We have no warriors.” She spat. “This is a broken, disused farming village. So deep in the Verde that the Mescate’s barely know it exists. Whatever you are looking for you will not find, no matter how many men you kill.”

She stood defiant before him, staring down at the first man who had been blooded.

Evadar appraised her. She was older, but still useful. Her body would bring enjoyment to the raiders, if he gave her over to them. She had a fire in her, and a need too, that he could see. She hated this place, and longed to be elsewhere. Her chin jutted out in anger and he knew that she would provide ample entertainment.

“A warrior bested three of my scouts in the woods south of here. They say he wielded two axes and caused them much shame.”

The woman laughed. It was a surprising reaction to his statement. Evadar thought that eventually he would find someone who knew this warrior, who could give him the leverage that he needed to draw him out and best himself, but laughter was never mixed with what he thought would be the reaction to such details.

“He?” She asked.

“Aye, He. Two axes, like the crescent moon, a just as deadly.” One of the raider called.

The woman turned her deep, forest-hued eyes to Evadar.

“Your man lies.” she stated.

The other raider was on her in an instant. Blade to her throat, point piercing the skin so that a teardrop of crimson rolled down to he hallows of her throat.

“No one speaks to the Thane as such.” He whispered against her ear.

“Then he should question his men, because they lie to him.”

The blade began to sink deeper in. Evadar watched as the woman bore the pain with the grace of someone who was not afraid to die. He lifted a hand for the man to hold back. He removed the blade and did as his Thane bade.

“Why would you accuse such?” He asked. “Among the Wind Clã, such would be grounds for combat. Should I offer you a blade so that he might seek reprisal against you?”

She shook her head, wiping her neck against her shoulder.

“No, but I know this warrior you ask of.” she replied.

Evadar stood up, nearly leaping from the chair to stand before her. He had been waiting for this moment. When he would find the clue he needed to tracking him down.

“Tell me everything you know.” He said towering over her.

She stared up at him, and now that he was closer, her body beckoned to him. He bit his lip, seeking to hold his own desires at bay until he knew more about the warrior.

“This… warrior, as you say, has trained outside of this village from a very early age. Each day, before the sun rose, conditioning body and mind to work in concert. Wicked, round blades on hafted handles, like the crescent moon slicing down to the earth to kill. Day-in and day-out, practicing to be the best here and everywhere within this world. Tell me… Thane,” She said, as she moved close, her body touching his as she looked up into his eyes. “What would you give for everything I know of this warrior?”

He smiled. Women had their wiles, when they could not stand beside a man. Many times those who could not match him in strength, ferocity and desire had sought to use his physical desires to gain an upper hand. Her ploy would work as well as there own had. He leaned down, his lips against her ear.

“Tell me what you know, and I shall free you to be more than you have ever wanted.” He whispered a skein of lies across her mind.

Her eyes blinked, and he could see the desire and greed cross them.

“The warrior you seek is no man.” She said. “She is my daughter, Olathe. When you find her, she will put her axes into your skull and stand over your dying corpse.”

Her head came up swifter than Evadar could imagine, connecting with his chin, and sending him reeling. His vision went black, and there was thunder in his skull. He howled, but could only hear the commotion of his men scrambling to act and the remaining villagers attempting to use the opportunity to escape.

“Bring me her head!” The Thane screamed at the sky.

Why I don’t participate in Veteran’s Day

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April 10, 1995. I boarded a plane from Lansing, MI to San Diego, CA, and sat in the USO of the airport dreading the next three months. It was a decision that I had made, but the prospects of what awaited me didn’t mean I had to like it. A bus pulled up and Marine Corps Drill Instructor, complete with Smokey Bear and black leather belt strode into the USO and began demanding that we board the bus immediately. As if in comic relief Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey was screaming at the boots in Full Metal Jacket. Three months later I graduated as a US Marine.

I state this, on the 240th Birthday of the Marine Corps, to give you a sense of who I am, where I’ve come from. I spent the next 19 years, 2 months and 26 days in the military. On the eve of Veteran’s Day I can say without a doubt, and from what my DD214 says, that I am a veteran.

What I want to say has to do with something very small, very trivial to many folks. Veteran’s Day comes and goes each year. It’s filled with discounts and freebies for veterans and active duty servicemembers. And a lot of the time… that’s it. Sure people share some patriotic posts on Facebook and Twitter. They share old stories with comrades, and family & friends thank their veteran loved ones. There’s no problem with this. It simply is.

The reason I write this, is to point out something to those who have never served. I can’t claim anything heroic in my years of service. I, thankfully, had a very quiet enlistment, save for an F-18 crashing 20 feet from me on the JFK, and one crazy 36 hour period on the George Washington in 2008 when our ship caught fire. I was never in a fire-fight, I didn’t see combat, but I knew people who had. I lost friends, good friends to training accidents, suicide and combat.

Every Veteran’s Day I look at the lists of discounts and freebies that get emailed out by well-meaning people. I have people who know that I am a veteran stop me and thank me for my service.  Every year my mind goes to those we lost. The ones who won’t come back. In psychology it’s something called Survivor’s Guilt. Those of us who survived, who made it back, who ended our service and stepped back into the civilian world, look at the sacrifices that our friends, our comrades, our brothers and sisters made, and do not feel as if we deserve anything, when they sacrificed it all.

This is why I don’t participate in Veteran’s Day. I don’t say this to say that there is anything wrong with how our society goes about thanking veterans. I simply to say it to point out that some of walked out with a great deal of loss, and we feel guilty that we survived it. So when you see a veteran, thank them, but remember too their standing before you is because other’s gave or lost their lives, and those losses leave scars.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Issue 3, Vol. I “Radioactive pt. 2”

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At the end of the previous issue, the League had traveled to a new recursion with the help of the head of the Estate, Katherine Manners. Stepping through the gate they found themselves in a place called New Centropolis, a recursion based upon the combined mythos of comic book superheroes. The four men, as the gate closed behind them, discovered that they had adopted personas that fit within it.

John Clayton, Tarzan, had turned into Silverback, the powerful hero who could climb any wall. Jay Gatsby had become the Green Gatsby, able to fly and create objects from solid green light. Victor Frankenstein transformed into Dr. DeLightning, a superhero with the ability to teleport within sight and control lightning. Finally, Hiro Protagonist had become Hiro, a true hero with the power to fly and control electricity.

As the group took in their new surroundings and abilities, their reprieve was interrupted by the sound of an explosion, cries from frightened citizens and a stampeding crowd running from certain danger. Leaping to action, the League raced into the street and found a skyscraper with it’s tenth floor damaged and on fire. Using the reflection off the opposite building Dr. DeLightning teleported into the floor and moved to foil the two women who were attempting to break into a vault in the science laboratory.

FissionNightmare Chill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The battle that ensued would culminate with Dr. DeLightning stabbing the villain Nightmare Chill in the side with a knife and shooting her with his revolver. Realizing that their plans had been foiled, the ice-coated woman unleashed a terrifying snow storm within the science lab, leaving visibility at near zero and allowing them to escape. It would be the Green Gatsby who would foil them. Racing to the broken window, utilizing his ability to create an object from solid green light, he created an arm to grab Fission, as Dr. DeLightning shattered the ice path Nightmare Chill was sliding upon to flee.

On the ground, Dr. DeLightning’s nature would come to the fore. With Nightmare Chill laying on the ground, unable to escape, he would draw his revolver and end her. The mad scientist in him would reach out, scooping the villain up and teleporting away, just as the Department of Superhuman Affairs would arrive on the scene.

The League fled, searching for places to hide, and changing into street clothes, thinking that the would be imprisoned for their actions. It would finally be in a warehouse outside of the city that the DSA would catch up with them, and offer them aid if they registered. Each agreed, except Silverback, who expertly hid from the agents, clinging to the underside of a SWAT vehicle, while the others entered the DSA headquarters and registered.

Here the Director of the Department, Alicia Reardon, would give them a tour, introducing them to Warden Hughes and their containment unit called a Quantum Collapse Arch. They would also be directed to the Spectacular’s Sanctuary, the primary superhero team in New Centropolis, as a place to seek aid.

Finally leaving, the group headed to New Centropolis Square in search of their contact, a man called Corvid. It is there that they would learn the story of the city’s heroine, a woman called Radioactive Girl, who sacrificed herself to save the city and it’s citizens from a terrible, alien virus. Her explosion was what created the massive crater to the east of the city. In the square, Hiro would speak with a young girl at an outdoor cafe. From her he would learn that Corvid, a birdman, was the caretaker of Radioactive Girl’s memorial, but had been missing for the last three days. Gaining the young girl’s confidence, she whispered to him that he had gone into the crater and had not come out.

With no other roads to follow, the League gained the wall and entered the crater in search of Corvid.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Issue 2, Vol. I “Radioactive pt. 1”

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Having been fished from the pool in his luxurious mansion in East Egg, NJ, Jay Gatsby finds himself rescued from certain death by the mysterious Jacob Marlowe. He explains that his organization has put together a team, a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, that Marlowe believes Gatsby will perfectly round out. With the notion of helping defend not just his world, but multiple worlds against terrifying creatures and threats, Gatsby signs on to the League.

The morning after the League has faced the strange, eerily powerful “Everyman”, and prevented him from murdering MI6 Agent Ralph Ansley, with Gatsby in tow, they head for the Lowther Lodge, home to the Implausible Geographic Society in Kensington Gore, London. Here Jacob Marlowe gives them a tour of the organization they will be working closely with, the Lodge and finally the head of the order, Dame Amanda Wallace.

It is in Dame Wallace’s office that they are brought face-to-face with the incredibly nauseating portrait of Dorian Gray, MI6’s head, “M”. She explains to the League that because of unknown information leak, that they believe resides within MI6, the IGS has taken the responsibility of safeguarding the portrait. It was moved from a secure location to the Lowther Lodge the previous evening, and she has devised a plan to hide it from the Everyman.

While the members of the League who faced the Everyman, Tarzan, and Victor Frankenstein, are skeptical, they agree to hear out her plan. She explains that they have made an arrangement with an organization from Earth called The Estate. Dame Wallace and the head of the Estate, Katherine Manners, have created a plan, that would keep any one side of the equation from knowing the full plan to hide the Portrait of Dorian Gray. When the League is ready, they will travel via Inapposite Gate to Earth where they will be met by operatives of the Estate. Once in Manners’ custody, they will be given the final information on their journey to protect the head of MI6.

The League agrees to follow the plan, and using the gate, find themselves on Earth, in London. They travel via private jet (a unique experience for all involved) to Seattle, Washington, where they are met by Agents Wells and Langford who will escort them from the private airfield, across the sound to the Estate’s campus in Seattle. The initial part of the journey is uneventful until they begin to draw close to a bridge over the narrows.

One of the League, from his position in the SUV, notices a strange event happening to the north out over the dark water. A black spiral begins to spin in the sky and soon it opens up, allowing several dark shapes to fly out of it that begin racing towards the bridge at break-neck speeds. Realizing that they will be attacked, the League prepares to defend the portrait and themselves. The creatures draw closer to the bridge, and they can be seen to be small children, dressed for Halloween astride witch’s brooms, brandishing lit jack-o-lanterns. Three break formation, hurtling towards the SUV while two others begin bombing cars on the bridge, causing a devastating accident and preventing the League from escaping across the bridge.

Three fly over the SUV as Tarzan climbs out of the vehicle’s moon roof brandishing his sword. As he does, the gleeful creatures pelt him with candy that begins to explode. Making hairpin turns they fly back for another bombing run, two passing over Tarzan while one drops behind the SUV and works at trying to pick the lock to the back door. The accident has forced the Estate Agents to bring the vehicle to a halt, and Tarzan takes this opportunity to jump down on the creature, stopping his lockpicking and pinning him to the concrete roadway.

The League and the Agents begin to climb out of the SUV, and Gatsby offers several encouraging words, lifting their spirits as they work to fight against their attackers. Victor, reaching out with his will, shatters one of the brooms sending a creature spiraling to the ground. The Estate Agents draw their weapons and begin firing and Tarzan works to move forward hacking at the remaining flying trick-or-treaters. It is at the far end of the bridge that the true threat emerges. The two creatures who caused the accident begin piling pumpkins together, and from it grows a massive, ten-foot tall Pumpkin Golem. On spindly vine legs, it trundles forward to engage the League.

As the two flying creatures follow their creation, they pull out small, black crossbows and begin firing upon the League. It is Gatsby who steps forward, halting one in mid-air with his voice. Unfortunately, one of the other hobgoblins launches a poisoned, rotting apple at his feet. The gas and the stench reaches up, clawing at his throat and he begins to vomit over the concrete. It is at this time, using a one-use cypher, given by the IGS, that Hiro Protagonist joins the group. In a flash of golden light he appears, katana brandished, looking for enemies.

Tarzan rushes forth to the Pumpkin Golem, slicing at it with his sword, before launching himself onto this back and attempting to behead the creature. With Hiro and Tarzan working in unison, they defeat the remaining creatures, keeping the portrait safe… for the time being.

The Estate agents continue escorting the League to the Seattle Campus. In the Security headquarters, they are introduced to Katherine Manners. They discuss the final plans to safeguard the portrait, and she explains that she has selected a recursion for them to take the item. To ensure that they cannot be followed, she will not tell them or describe the recursion, and has taken it upon herself to operate the gate that will allow them to travel there.

Satisfied with her precautions, the League takes a short time to recuperate and rest before finishing their journey. As they step through the Estate’s Inapposite Gate, they find themselves standing in a short alleyway in the recursion of New Centropolis, one based off of the myriad tellings of Superheroes.