Monday, October 19, 2009

Witches in the Piker Press!

My latest story in the Piker Press:

Ready to Die? part one of two.

The "final" version of Assignment: Witches.

Note that the Press now has a place for comments after each article.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Writer's Round Table Assignment

After a brief hiatus, I have once again started participating with some other writers in an informal workshop to improve and inspire our writing. For the last few weeks, the RT leader has been helping us prepare for NaNoWriMo with writing prompts regarding characters, plot summaries and etc... Here is this week's assignment:
Write a passage of 500-1000 words describing the location; the neighborhood, city, state, country, territory, or region in which your work will take place. But write it as though a travel magazine article and try to include some aspect of the plot.

Since I am purposely NOT planning anything for NaNoWriMo this year I simply decided to create an all new setting just for the assignment. I kind of missed the travel magazine mark, but I think it accomplishes the same basic purpose. Enjoy!

Harold was roused from his peaceful slumber by a crackle of static as
the Captain got on the PA system. Harold was surprised to see that the
ship was already sitting on the ground at the destination spaceport
and being taxied towards the terminal by a small insect-looking
contraption. As he sat up and began gathering his things, he listened
to the bored voice of the Captain recite the now familiar speech for
all vessels landing on Philornia-4.

“Attention passengers, this is your Captain speaking. We have arrived
at the Philornia-4 spaceport and will be disembarking shortly, as soon
as we reach the terminal. Passengers making connections to other
planets in this star system please contact the gate attendant
immediately after exiting the spacecraft. We are a bit behind
schedule, and you may need to make some adjustments to your itinerary.
For those whose final destination is this planet, I am required by
the Philornian Tourism and Security Administration to read the
following statement. As you pass through the customs office, you will
receive the same information in pamphlet form, and will be required to
sign a waiver acknowledging receipt of and understanding of this
Welcome to scenic Philornia-4, the crown jewel of the Philornia solar
system! Millions of visitors each year enjoy our pristine beaches, our
permanently sunny weather, and our very robust night-life. The
Philornian Tourism and Security Administration (or PTSA) has the
privelige of ensuring that your stay on our planet is a safe and
enjoyable one.
Therefore, while we are one of the premier tourist destinations in the
universe, there are some things that first-time visitors ought to be
aware of before disembarking.
1. Free medical care is available at the PTSA clinic in each city.
Should you find yourself in need of any medical care, please proceed
immediately to the nearest clinic and identify yourself as a tourist.
If you cannot make it to the clinic yourself, please locate the
nearest sub-space communications console, and dial 911. We will send a
paramedic team to your location as rapidly as possible.
2. The Tourism Zone of Philornia-4 has been certified by the Universal
Tourism Board as safe for a broad range of carbon-based life-forms
without need for any environmental or physical assistance. However,
you should consult the PTSA agent at the spaceport with any species
specific concerns you may have about the oxygen content and pressure
of the atmosphere, or gravitational pull. We are happy to make
whatever accommodations possible, but remember, you are ultimately
responsible to ensure that your species is compatible with our
3. Outside the Tourism Zone, you may encounter unfavorable weather
patterns, wildlife in their natural habitat, or possibly even criminal
elements. For this reason, non-Philornia citizens are strictly
prohibited from straying outside the Tourism Zone. Only those
traveling with a work permit or on official Universal Government
business will be excepted. Penalties for disregarding this restriction
include, but are not limited to: Deportation off-world, detention,
fines, and/or death.
4. The perpetual sunshine experienced throughout the Tourism Zone is
one of the reasons we are the most popular destination in the
Universe. Unfortunately, for some species, extended exposure to the
sun can result in adverse medical conditions. Ensure you are familiar
with your particular species’ reaction to extended sunlight, and take
all necessary protective measures.
Thanks again for visiting us. We hope you have an enjoyable visit. “

The PA system clicked off with an abrupt click and Harold stood with
the rest of the passengers as the cabin door opened and the warm
tropical breeze blew into the cabin, bringing with it the salt-tang of
the oceans and the smoky smell of beach campfires.
Harold furtively checked that his blaster was still in place under his
arm, and putting on his sunglasses he muttered into the audio pickup
that transmitted his voice to Central, “On the ground. Mission is a
Then he shuffled patiently down the aisle and off the spacecraft with
the rest of the passengers.

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Assignment: Witches (Conclusion)

Finally! I finished it! Now - for the re-writing... Sand - watch your inbox tomorrow. It will be there.

I promise!

Part One
Part Two

Part Three

Sammy slid the van to a stop at the end of the street. They could get no closer, due to a stack of rusty car bodies blocking the street. All seemed quiet for now, but the pall of battle still hung thick in the air over the entire neighborhood. They both sat in their seats for a moment, surveying the scene. Then, Nathaniel turned to Sammy and stuck out his hand.
"Sammy, I am sorry I upset you earlier. No matter what, it's been interesting working with you. I'll see you when we get wherever it is we're going buddy." Sammy looked at his hand incredulously before taking it and shaking it enthusiastically. "And I am telling you, the only place we are going after we turn in all these heads will be The Prancing Pony for a couple dozen brewskis." Nathaniel shook his head, but smiled anyway. "Let's go then." He said, then opened his door and stepped out onto the cracked pavement.
Neither said anything as they picked their way through the wreckage littering the street. Nathaniel pointed his caster at the empty windows of the houses they passed, but Sammy just walked with a determined pace and his trademark grin. Finally, they reached the house in question. Nathaniel double-checked the numbers on a flattened mailbox he found in the middle of the street, but it was painfully obvious that this was the place. The house itself was more or less untouched, the faint green glow around the edges revealing the spells of protection that were still intact. But everything within a hundred yards of the place had been blasted beyond all recognition. Smoking craters were everywhere, and the stump of what was once a large oak tree was burning fitfully. It's smoky flames cast weird shadows that danced fitfully across the yard. Nathaniel motioned with his caster at an upper window of the house where he thought he saw a shape moving and Sammy nodded. Pulling an adjustable frequency anti-magic grenade from his belt he gestured at the window and signaled for Nathaniel to be ready. Nathaniel glanced at the sensor mounted on his wrist and made note of the magical frequency used by the spells protecting the house. He fiddled with the control on his caster for a few seconds, while Sammy did the same with the the grenade. When they were ready, Nathaniel aimed his caster at the window, and Sammy pulled the pin. After a silent three-count Nathaniel triggered a three-spell burst at the window at the same instant that Sammy lobbed the grenade.

Yellow light flashed from the muzzle of the caster and impacted the window with its customary hum and crackle. The spells from the caster disrupted the protective spells for only an instant, but that was long enough for the grenade to crash through the glass and enter the house. Sammy and Nathaniel both dived for cover as the grenade detonated. Hoping their plan worked, but not having time to check the sensor to see, they both jumped up on the porch and ran to the door before the spells could be re-cast. For good measure, Sammy aimed a spell at the door hoping to blast it off its hinges. It worked, and they both followed the disintegrating door into the house. They did their customary tuck and roll, coming up with their blasters at the ready.

But there was nothing but dusty silence inside the house. They crouched for a full minute, scanning the house and waiting for something to appear. Nothing did. The only sound was their labored breathing and the crackling of flames somewhere upstairs.
"Check your sensors Nate." Sammy said. Nathaniel looked at his wrist. The protective spells around the house were gone and no other magical activity was within the range of its ability to detect.
"Clear Sammy... I don't seen anything." Nathaniel said. Sammy grinned and muttered, "Maybe they cleared out before we got here." Nathaniel doubted it. It had taken a lot of magical energy to cast a protective spell over the entire house, and he couldn't come up with a single reason why the witches would do that for an empty house. He shook his head. "Let's clear it room by room. It's too easy to fool the sensor." Sammy shrugged, "You got it boss. Let's start down this hallway." He nodded at the hallway just beyond his position behind a moldy sofa and Nathaniel nodded in agreement. Raising his caster he sprinted across the room and stopped just outside the hall. "Go!" he shouted to Sammy, who sprinted past him and down the hallway and stopped outside the first room. As soon as he was set, Nathaniel sprinted down the hall and took up position on the opposite side of the door. Their eyes met for an instant and they both nodded and Sammy turned and kicked down the door. Nathaniel jumped into the room and rolled right closely followed by Sammy to the left. They rolled to their knees, covering the room but it was empty. They repeated the process until they had cleared all of the rooms on the ground floor. Then, they sprinted up the stairs and began clearing rooms there. As they stood outside the last door catching their breath, Nathaniel nodded at Sammy that he was ready.
"Dude, I'm beat. You kick this one. I ain't sure I got another one in me." Nathaniel rolled his eyes but shrugged his shoulders. It made no difference to him, Sammy was the more muscular of the two so the door-kicking was just generally something he was better at. Turning towards the door he kicked with all his might and was across the threshold before the door hit the wall behind it. But as he tucked into his customary roll he felt a wave of warmth wash over him and felt himself being pushed by an invisible hand across the room. He hit the opposite wall and slumped to the floor, the breath knocked from his lungs. As he lay there on the floor gasping for oxygen, his eyes focused on the ceiling and his blood ran cold. The ceiling was covered with complicated glyphs that he recognized as the runes of power witches believed provided them with additional energy for their embedded magical devices. Then a familiar grinning face came into his vision and the fear changed to a cold anger.
"Sorry Nate-o Potato... but you have no idea how hard it is to get behind you!" Sammy was holding Nathaniel's caster in one hand and his own in the other, and they were both trained on Nathaniel's chest. "I always knew you were paranoid above and beyond the call of duty, but you didn't even trust your partner most of the time!" Nathaniel had finally caught his breath, but his head still felt woozy and numb. "Wha... are you doon?" he managed to gasp, the anger growing stronger as his mind struggled to grasp this turn of events. Sammy's grin widened and he shook his head. "Nope, I don't get to fill you in. I only get to be the one to bring you in." Sweeping one caster towards the open doorway he indicated a dark shape that had appeared there. His voice took on a reverential tone and he bowed his head slightly, "SHE - will have the pleasure of answering your questions..." he turned his head and winked at Nathaniel as if he were telling one of his favorite bawdy jokes, "...before you die."

Nathaniel sat in the chair, his arms restrained at his sides and his feet firmly locked together on the floor. Smoky green tendrils crawling about his arms and legs were the only evidence of the restraining spell the witch had cast on him. She sat cross-legged on the floor in front of him, her face hooded and her hands making intricate patterns with her hands in the air above her head. Her voice wavered hypnotically, and despite his anger and disgust Nathaniel found himself relaxing, his mind filled with pleasant memories and delicious aromas. He pushed against them, trying to recall all of the horrible atrocities committed by witches in the past century since the secrets of their magic had been revealed to the world. The struggle continued in his mind until at last he gasped with the effort and gave in. Beneath the black hood Nathaniel sensed a smile, and having been broken it warmed his heart to see it.
"Now Nathaniel Roman, give me your heart. Tell me your pain, reveal to me your soul." Her voice was soft and tremulous, and Nathaniel felt an overwhelming desire to please her at any cost.
"My mother told me that witches were to blame for all of the trouble in the world... she would stay up late at night braiding ropes from human hair to put around our beds. I never could sleep, I was too worried about being turned into a frog in my sleep." The hooded witch nodded and her sweet voice sounded in his ears, soothing away the tension summoned by the memory. "We have ever been misunderstood, and silly superstitions, instead of providing comfort and safety, only heighten the mystery. Tell me more."
Nathaniel nodded dreamily, and began reciting a disjointed and disorganized history of his life. Memories long banished flickered through his mind; his mothers hands, worked to bloody blisters washing dishes to earn a living; visiting his father's grave every Sunday morning and reciting prayers to ward off evil spirits - and witches. Each and every painful memory was soothed and healed by the witch until his recitation returned to the present. Nathaniel told of the fear and anger he felt when Sammy betrayed him. He showed her the image of Sammy standing over him with his own weapon, and she nodded understandingly.
"Yes, your Sammy had to do a harmful thing love... but he did it for me. And for you." Nathaniel nodded, pleasure washing over him as he allowed her to take the pain of betrayal. "Thank you my love..." he mumbled, a thin string of drool dripping off his chin and onto his shirt.
"You are very welcome Nathaniel. Now, let me tell you what you can do to repay me..."

Two weeks later, Nathaniel stood next to Sammy in full dress uniform. They stood at attention before a vast crowd as a distinguished looking man pinned medals to their lapels. He stepped back, and they both snapped a crisp salute, which the man returned.
"Congratulations men. The United Nations, and the citizens of the world thank you for your dedicated service." He dropped his salute and reached a hand out towards Sammy. The solemn face he had been wearing through the entire ceremony was suddenly replaced with his more normal grin. "Secretary General Gunn, we have something for you as well!" Gunn's face froze, and he tried to withdraw his hand but Sammy held it fast as Nathaniel stepped forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Sir, we come bearing a message from our Mistress, Lady Felula the one you know as Yolanda Rorshack. She wishes us to tell you, that your war against witches is over." Nathaniel placed his other hand in the middle of the Secretary General's chest. He looked down and finally understood when he saw the still healing sutures across the back of Nathaniel's hand. The sutures that were instant and incontrovertible proof that a person had allowed a witch to implant a spell caster inside his or her own body. The sutures that preceeded the side effects of a magical implant that made it so easy to spot a user of such prohibited technology: the green skin and enlarged nose covered with pre-cancerous warts. In the instant it took the Secretary General to finally understand what was happening, and just before his security detail could leap to seperate him from the two witch hunters, Nathaniel looked at Sammy, and grinned, "Well, Sammy, ready to die?"

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Assignment: Witches (Continued)

Part two of what has turned into another three-part story. I had really hoped to finish it tonight, but at least I am making progress, right? Sorry Sand... I promise you will have it by Saturday. Until then - enjoy!

"See Sammy? How are they gonna send us in on a two-four-niner without any intel huh? You can't tell me that's just a snafu. Someone's got it in for us!" Nathaniel could feel the apprehension rising in his gut as he pondered the ramifications of the call.

"Shut up Nathaniel! Just shut up and get your head in the game, before you get us both kilt!" Sammy yelled, gripping the wheel even harder and staring straight ahead at the road. "How do you know they don't already have a platoon heading that way right now? They ain't gonna..." his voice faded off as he lost the words to express his thoughts.

A Code 249 meant an organized uprising by one or more covens. Not the normal kick down the door and decapitate the witches kind of mission; in these calls, the witches were already on the offensive and organized. And already fighting.

"Ain't gonna what Sammy? Ain't gonna send us into a situation where odds say we ain't gonna win? How much longer can we keep on defying those odds Sammy?" Nathaniel was livid now, not understanding why Sammy refused to see his point.

Suddenly, Sammy slammed the brakes to the floor, and the old van screeched to a halt, the loose witch heads in the back rolling around like soft bowling balls. Throwing the gearshift into neutral he rounded on Nathaniel, his face white and his finger quivering as he shook it in his face.

"You listen here you paranoid retard. We ain't been having nothing but a bad run of luck. Times are tough all over, and the witches are getting pretty tired of being hunted like animals. All of the Paranormal Assault teams are complaining that the work is getting harder and support is getting lighter. I am sick of listening to their whiny, pansy rants, and I ain't gonna sit here and let my own partner start whining like a pissy girl too. Now shut your piehole, recharge your caster, and loosen the grenades in your belt, cause when the shit gets hot I want to know that you are behind me one hundred percent, not standing around pissing your pants cause someone didn't tell you what to expect."

Nathaniel sat back, amazed at the depth of emotion his longtime partner was revealing. In all their years of chasing the rebellious witches he had never expressed anything but unwavering enthusiasm for the job, and an endless litany of stories that Nathaniel knew were ninety percent lies. No matter how crappy the work got, Sammy faced it with a grin and a smart-ass comment.

"All right Sammy, alright! Calm down, don't blow a gasket or anything. I was just wonderin aloud ya know? It just seemed weird to me is all. Don't know why you have to get so worked up over it!" Nathaniel was stunned, and starting to babble incoherently. Sammy's face was inches from his, and Nathaniel could smell the garlic on his breath as he tried to push himself backwards into the passenger door. He scrabbled behind him for the door handle, suddenly wishing to be anywhere but where he was.

Then, just as suddenly as it had started, it was gone. Sammy's face cracked into the familiar grin, and he sat back into the driver's seat and threw the van back in gear. The tires spun on the gravel road as he floored the accelerator and fishtailed back up to speed. "Had you goin' for a minute there didn't I Nato?" Sammy said, looking sideways at Nathaniel as he power slid around a corner. Nathaniel didn't move, still pressed up against his door with one hand on the door handle his brain was struggling to process what had just happened.

The nav box on the dash directed them to turn left at the next intersection, and Sammy yelled back at it joyfully, "You got it Miss Direction! Left turn on Merryweather Lane in one - point - five - miles. Can I have your number Miss Direction? You got the sexiest voice I ever heard from a lump of electronics..." It was an old joke, one which Nathaniel had heard Sammy yell at the box for years. Today for some reason, it rang ominously artificial in his ears. The corner approached, and Sammy threw the old van into yet another power slide which very nearly turned into a rollover when they skidded from the gravel road back onto pavement. The tires skipped across the cracked hardtop a couple of times, the van leaning sickeningly to the right then finally righting itself and with a last quick fishtail accelerated on up the road. Nathaniel was suddenly very aware that he wasn't wearing a seat belt and the thought finally overcame the paralyzing fear. He sat back in his seat and buckled up quickly as Sammy accelerated the van down the road.

"Hey Nato-Potato... I think I have a can of Red-Bull in the glove box, can you check and see for me?" Sammy asked, his voice so matter-of-fact and normal that Nathaniel began to wonder if the tantrum he had just witnessed was simply a figment of his imagination.

"Sure Sammy... just a sec." Nathaniel said, his voice tight and apprehensive. He opened the glove box and sure enough, an energy drink can rolled out and landed on the floor. He reached down and snagged it just before it rolled under the seat, and he held it out towards Sammy.

"Thanks Dude! I could use a pick-me-up just about now." Sammy reached for the can, but at the last second Nathaniel yanked it back. "Maybe you've had enough already Sammy. What's gotten into you all of a sudden?" Nathaniel asked, sure he would see the angry Sammy again. Instead, Sammy grinned even wider, and he looked over at Nathaniel long enough to wink. "Yeah, maybe you should drink it instead. You look like someone just took a dump on your grave! Go ahead, slam it!" Just then, the nav box signalled an upcoming right turn, and Sammy forgot all about the drink and returned to propositioning the lady in the box. Nathaniel watched and listened for a minute, before returning the can to the glove box. Sammy was still driving like a maniac, and was now giving the lady in the nav box a detailed (and mostly untrue) list of his more desirable traits. Nathaniel shook his head and pulled out his caster and started checking its charge, while continuing to watch Sammy out of the corner of one eye.

They saw the battle long before they even got near. A pall of gray smoke mingled with hints of green and yellow floated away on the still evening air. An occasional bolt of magical lightning would light up the smoke cloud as someone loosed a spell at an enemy.
"WooHoo Tater! Looks like a good 'un for sure!" Sammy said as soon as he saw the cloud. Nathaniel could only nod and check his caster one more time. He was still not sure where he stood with Sammy, and was loathe to set him off again right before what looked to be a serious battle. They were now winding through what was once a rather expensive neighborhood, though it was now utterly abandoned and gone to ruin. Most places of wealth and privilege had gone this way once the UN became the global authority. According to the news it was a sign of the progress made by the global government to eliminate class warfare and world poverty. What it really meant was a lot of really big houses for squatters to occupy.
Suddenly, Nathaniel sat up straight and started paying attention to the landscape around him.
"Hey, this is the old Hawthorne Heights neighborhood isn't it?" He asked Sammy, who was in the middle of a bawdy love song to the nav box. Sammy looked at him for a minute before answering, "Yeah, I guess so. Why? You never lived in a place this tony did you? I thought you grew up in the sticks." Nathaniel nodded, and peered closely at what numbers there still were on the fancy gates at the end of each driveway. "Yeah, I did. But Ma brought me up here one time to show me where Yolanda Rorshack lived. We even saw her bring her trash out to the sidewalk... I'll never forget that day." Sammy's grin widened as he watched Nathaniel's head crane to follow every dilapidated gate post and street sign they whizzed past. "Yo-LANDA RorSHACK?" Sammy asked incredulously. "You saw YoLANDA RorSHACK taking out the GARBAGE! You are my hero! Did you get to touch any of it? Wow! Did it smell like normal people garbage? Or did it smell like she had her own personal angel piss on it and make it smell like lilies?" Nathaniel's head jerked around as he finally heard the cutting sarcasm in Sammy's voice. His eyes narrowed and he pointed a stern finger at Sammy, "NEVER talk about her like that again! She was... IS God's own servant, sent here to comfort us poor souls and..." Sammy laughed derisively. "And to make a bazillion bucks off of mindless rubes like you and then disappear as soon as the world REALLY starts to suck! Yeah... pardon me for blaspheming her holy angel pissed-on garbage dude." Nathaniel was getting ready to get really mad when the radio squawked to life again.
"Para12, this is Command." Sammy grabbed the mike with one hand while power-sliding the van through another intersection. "Command, this is Para12, go ahead." Nathaniel sat there fuming as Sammy winked at him. "Para12, this is Command. What is your ETA to the Code 249?" the raspy voice of the dispatcher asked briskly. Sammy thumbed the mike, "'Bout five minutes or less Command. Got any new intel for us on the situation on site?" Nathaniel forgot all about his anger of a moment ago as he and Sammy both listened to the hiss of static on the channel waiting for an answer. "Para12, negative. The first units on scene are no longer responding. Last report was initial report of Code 249 event."

Nathaniel wanted badly to scream at Sammy that they should turn and run, that they were walking into a trap, that Command was purposely sending them to their deaths. But the memory of Sammy's angry face made him bite his tongue, even though Sammy's face was still covered with the usual goofy grin. Winking again at Nathaniel he thumbed the mike once more, "What about backup Command? How many other units are inbound?" The answer finally wiped the grin off of Sammy's face, "Para12... you are on your own."

(To be continued...)

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Friday, October 2, 2009

Assignment: Witches

The next themed issue of the Piker Press will be a Witch themed issue on the 19th. It has been a while since I finished anything - my muse seems to have gone on another of her extended vacations and refuses to inspire me with anything to write at all. However, I try to never miss an assignment. So, turning once again to my substitute muse over at the Seventh Sanctum for a random story plot, by serendipitous coincidence I got the following as the first of five I generated:

The story is about a pessimistic witch-hunter who is obsessed with a religious musician. It starts in a world-spanning nation on a prairie planet. The critical element of the story is the revealing of an impostor. The fallout from the cold war plays a major role in this story.

Bring on the Witches!

Nathaniel Roman examined the blade of his sabre grimly and shook his head. "Well Sammy, ready to die?" Sammy grinned and with a bloodcurdling screech turned and kicked down the door of the darkened building. Immediately they were bathed in a sickly green glow as the spells of protection cast upon the door were banished by the pair's counter-curse. Ignoring the swirling clouds of dispelled magic they rushed into the room, each immediately hitting the floor and rolling in opposite directions. Bolts of green lightning seared the air where they had been only seconds before, digging jagged smoking holes in the walls behind them.
"Up the stairs! On the landing..." Sammy called out, and Nathaniel stopped moving long enough to point the device in his hand at the flicker of movement on the landing midway to the top of the grand staircase that dominated the entire room. Yellow light erupted from the device and Nathaniel was up and running for cover as the landing disintegrated with a deafening explosion. Sammy followed up with a shot from his own caster that destroyed what was left of the support structure for the staircase. Bolts of green lightning continued to streak across the room at the two hunters as the staircase collapsed entirely. Coughing through the dust and smoke, they grimly pressed their attack.
Pausing for a moment behind a marble column, Nathaniel tried to locate their target by watching for the source of the green lightning attacks. He groaned inwardly when he realized that there were multiple sources, and that he and Sammy were about to be cut off from retreat.
"Sammy! It's not just one... We've got a coven! Let's get out of here!" He pulled a grenade from his belt and threw it in an arch up and over the railing on to the balcony where he thought several of the witches were located.
"Grenade!" He screamed at the top of his lungs and turning ran towards the door, firing his caster wildly behind him. The whump of the explosion pushed him the last few feet through the door and across the broad porch. He attempted to leap to his feet, but still fuzzy from the explosion he fell down the stairs cursing each time he hit the ground. When his face finally plowed into the gravel driveway at the bottom of the stairs, he finally regained his footing and looked around.
"Sammy! Where are you?" he yelled, watching with dismay the smoke pouring out the doorway. Sammy had not made it out before the grenade went off!
Nathaniel ran back up the steps and back into the door, all attempts at caution now abandoned. The grenade had blown a hole through the high arched ceiling, and moonlight was now freely streaming through illuminating the grand foyer of the decrepit old mansion.
"Sammy! If you're dead I'm gonna kill you!" Nathaniel yelled, frantically kicking aside the rubble as he searched for his companion. Then, a voice from overhead startled him, and it was with great effort that he prevented himself from pulling the trigger on his caster in its direction.
"Hey! A little more warning next time Tater-head!" Sammy was trying hard to be angry, but Nathaniel could still hear the omnipresent grin through the sternness. He looked up to the balcony, and saw Sammy standing there with his sword dripping blood. In his other hand, he held three severed heads, the green skin and warty noses evidence enough of their crimes.
"How did you get up there?" Nathaniel yelled, relief washing over him. Sammy gestured with the severed heads, "I took the back stairs. Got to the top just in time for your little fireworks show. Next time, why don't you warn me BEFORE you throw the grenade!" Nathaniel grinned for an instant, then his pessimism returned. "Did we get them all? How do you know we are clear? What if there are more? You only have three! There are ten more..." Sammy interrupted. "We got all thirteen Nate, I just haven't headed 'em all yet. Get up here and help. You know how I hate this part." Nathaniel nodded and ran quickly to help.

As they drove back towards town Sammy kept up a running dialogue that Nathaniel mostly ignored. Instead he fiddled with the dial on the radio, looking for some music to listen to. Unfortunately, as was the case since the United Nations took control of the world's governments, there was nothing more than propaganda thinly veiled as news. Finally he punched the power button a bit harder than was actually necessary to turn it off and turned to Sammy. He tried for a few minutes to capture the thread of his conversation, but quickly gave it up as a bad enterprise. Sammy rambled far and wide, especially when he was talking to himself. Nathaniel decided to try and turn the conversation somewhere he could follow.
"Why do you figure that Intel told us that there was a lone witch, and we found a complete coven?" His question caught Sammy by surprise, and he halted his rambling diatribe for a few seconds to consider the ramifications of the question before answering.
"You know Nate, it ain't healthy to be questioning the folks at HQ. I'm sure they just got their wires crossed somewheres, or the witches found out somehow and called in reinforcements. That's all. You think too much Nater-Potater..." Sammy said, his broad grin covering for his nervousness. Nathaniel pondered this for a few seconds, and Sammy actually remained silent for once.
"But see, I would be able to dismiss it easier if it was an isolated incident. But remember last week? We get sent out to arrest a suspected sympathizer, and find ourselves in between two third-degree priestesses! It was a lucky thing that I was expecting the worst that day! Where would we have been if we had followed protocol for a non-magic arrest and left our casters back?" Sammy's grin was thinning, and Nathaniel could tell he was getting his point across. He pressed on, "And then we get paired up with them chuckle-heads last week that left us in the lurch. I know they said that HQ called them back at the last minute, but why didn't they call of the whole mission, 'stead of just pulling our backup as soon as we go hot?" Sammy's grin was gone now, and in its place a scowl of suspicion. "So what Nate - you going to go revo on me now? Gonna ditch this sweet gig and go underground with the rebs and insist that freedom is better than security? Maybe even join a coven and become a witch yourself?" Nathaniel recoiled from the sudden hatred in his friend's voice, "What's the matter Sammy? I didn't say none of that. I was just wonderin' why Intel is so bad lately, and why HQ seems to be settin' us up every time! Sheesh! There ain't no call to go..."
"Then drop it! Hear?" Sammy snapped, his eyes focused on the road and his fists clenched tightly to the wheel. Nathaniel just stared for a few seconds, his mind working methodically through the possibilities. He had not yet reached a conclusion when the radio on the dash squawked and came to life.
"Para12 this is Command. Respond." Sammy grabbed the mike with one hand and answered sharply, "Command this is Para12, go ahead." He looked sideways at Nathaniel as he spoke, the unexplained anger still plain on his face. "Para12 this is Command. Proceed to the coordinates on your nav immediately for a code 249." The color drained from Sammy's face and he turned to Nathaniel, all traces of anger gone. "Roger command, two-four-niner. Any further sitrep for us?" The silence as they both waited for a response was strained; finally the radio came back to life. "No intel at this time. Just go in hot. Command out."

(To be continued...)

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved