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This is the end, my beautiful friend…

So I am sitting here listening to The Doors, reading the hand in’s for the previous month and realise that it’s the final time for me to do this. For those of you ready to do so, or those needing the links to read them and then vote, the voting page is now ready.

This time last year I made a pact with myself to start doing more creative shit. I’m not really one for acting, I do it now and again and I enjoy myself (especially if I get to improvise) but I’ve always held myself as a writer. So I put the idea in motion of getting a group of writers together and doing some sort of monthly challenge and generally just enjoying ourselves along the way. I didn’t know who the writers were gonna be, I didn’t think the idea would even get past me sitting and scribbling in a notepad. 12 months on however, I have had the pleasure of working with, reading and whining (they all bloody do!) with 9 incredible writers. Some haven’t made it to the end of the year, some joined us later, but all of them have been incredible throughout this process. 

Alright, before I start crying onto my keyboard, the final month’s challenge. Each writer has spent the last year responding to my absolute nonsensical demands and honing their craft and some just working what they already honed. So let’s see where they see themselves. Writers, you have 4 weeks to write a piece that you think is a typical YOU piece. A piece that has your style and character, something you believe that screams your name the moment someone reads it.
There is no example piece this time round.
My heartfelt and most sincere of thanks go to (in no particular order) Jonathan Parker, Matt Beames, Hannah Torrance, Kirsty Mealing, Leanne Pearce, Picto, Paul Rogers, Richard Leverton and Kyra Leigh.

Thanks for a hell of a year gang, I look forward to seeing who gets named Dagna’s Writer of the year. 
Peace out,

Archer

Last Flight of the Demonstar

“What have you done Steve? What have you started?”
The squirrel stared at me through the haze of smoke and grinned around the glowing stub of his cigar. He and three other strange figures sat at the coffee table in the middle of the main room of the suite, and Steve was dealing cards to each of them. All four had a pile of chips in front of them; the smell of fried potato was what had brought me out of the room in the first place.
“Relax Max!” he said, and blew out another cloud of smoke. “Me and the boys thought we’d just have a quick game. You want in?”
The squirrel gestured to the space between him and Feathers McGraw, a small hippo wearing a green waistcoat, a green bowler hat and who had a monocle clamped in one eye.
“No I don’t want in, Steve!” I resisted the urge grab him by the fur and shake him. “You can’t play a game now, the guys will be here in a minute!”

Furiously I waved at the cigar smoke that was rapidly filling the room, and moved to the window and thrust it open, gulping in the cold night air.
“What are they coming here for?” Steve demanded, sounding annoyed.
“Band meeting,” I told him. “We’re on in two hours, for Christ sake!”
“That explains your crazy get up then,” muttered Captain Squizzletips, delicately picking his nose with the tips of one of his tails.
“Says the bright blue monkey with three tails and yellow feathers!” I said, and snatched a magazine from the table by the window and threw it at him. “And don’t you dare wipe that on the sofa, use a tissue!” I turned back to look out the window, breathing deeply. I didn’t need this, not now. Not before a show.

I heard the soft scuffing of feet on the carpet and Sally came to stand beside me. She was the tallest of them, but the top of her head only reached my waist. I stared out at the city below, and then I felt a small clawed hand tugging at the hem of my shirt.
“Are you alright Max?”
Sighing, I looked down at her; her curious, crocodile-like body was covered by the brightly coloured summer dress, and I’d helped her cut slits in the back so that her white feathery wings could fit through.
“I’m alright,” I said. “I’m just… This is the last one, you know? Last Flight of the Demonstar…”
“But that’s good, isn’t it?” she asked, her eyes full of confusion. “You get to rest for a month or two, and then it’s back in the studio with the guys!” I shrugged, and the confusion changed to concern. “What is it?”

I shook my head, unwilling to voice the thoughts that were preying on my mind. I flashed her a grin, and turned back to the room, seeing that Steve and the others were still gathered round the table.
“Steve, I mean it!” I groaned, by body sagging with despair. “You can’t play now!”
“Just a quick one,” Steve said, not looking at me, “I’ve got a killer hand here…”
Just then there was a thumping at the door to the suite and Jake’s voice shouting through the door.
“Come on then, dickhead, let us in!”

Feathers let out a very un-hippo-like squeak, and ducked under the table. Steve threw his cards down angrily, glaring at the door.
“Who the hell is that?” he demanded. “What do they want?”
“It’s the rest of the band,” I told him. “Band meeting, like before every other show we’ve ever done!” I snatched the bin from beside the sofa and hastily swept the piles of chips off the table into it, leaving greasy smears across the expensive coffee table. Steve tried to protest but I pushed him away from the table. “Come on, you need to get out of sight!”

Grumbling incoherently Steve stomped across the room and threw himself into an armchair as the Captain and Feathers started to pick up the cards that had been dealt. I hissed at them to leave them and moved over to the door, turning to speak quietly over my shoulder before I opened it.
“Don’t worry, just keep out of the way, alright?”
They nodded, retreating to the same chair Steve was sulking in. Captain Squizzletips climbed up to perch on one arm, while Feathers scrambled gracelessly up to sit on the other. With a fluttering of her white wings Sally flew across the room and sat herself on the back of the chair. The chair was out of the way, and they should be safe enough there. Thankfully Sally’s wingbeats had also managed to banish the last of the cigar smoke from the room as well. I grinned at them and then opened the door.

“Hello lads,” I said, and grinned at my bandmates. Jake (lead guitar) stood with his fist raised ready to hit the door again, the rest behind him; Eric (rhythm guitar), Mikey (bass) and Pegs (drums).
“What took you so long?” Jake demanded as they passed by me into the suite.
“Sorry, was getting dressed.”
They moved to the sofas by the coffee table and arranged themselves in their usual places. The hotel suite, the city, even the country might be different each time, but this was Asteroid’s tenth world tour. We knew each other and we knew our routine. I moved to the wide black armchair between the sofas and sat, ready to start. Before I could speak, however, Pegs piped up, sniffing the air.
“What’s the smell?”
“Bloody cigars again, I’ll bet,” said Mikey. “You’re an odd one, Max. Why do you only smoke them when no one is here?”
“For the millionth time, Mikey, I don’t smoke!” I said, exasperated. I risked a quick, dagger-filled glance across the room to Steve, who stuck his tongue out at me. “Sometimes I light one and let it burn, that’s all. I just… like the smell.”
“Whatever you say…” Muttered Mikey, shaking his head. Then Pegs cut him off.
“And why does it stink of chips in here?”
“And there’s grease marks all over this table you know,” added Eric, and I laughed.
“Blood hell guys! Look, I was hungry, I ordered some chips from room service!”
“Didn’t they come on a plate?” Asked Pegs as he idly drew rude pictures in the grease marks.
“Oh fucking hell, enough!” Shouted Jake, and we all raised a middle finger in his direction. “Come on though, we’re on in two hours! Less, now!”
“Calm down dear,” Pegs mocked him. “You’ll still have time to do your hair before the show!”
We all laughed; Jake had a mane of blond hair he was very proud of, and we’d been late starting a gig more than once because he took so long to get ready. Still grinning, I shifted forward on the chair, perching on the edge and resting my hands on my shoulders.

“Jake’s right,” I said. “Time to put our game faces on.” The rest of them nodded, and I smiled. “So this is it guys; last one. Last show. It’s been a good one, and I don’t think we change anything tonight. The album speaks for itself, the songs work, I think we just give it everything for this last one.”
“What about the finale?” Eric asked. “We doing anything special?”
“Actually, yes,” I said, and four sets of eyebrows rose in surprise; I was never the one to suggest a finale, I usually left it to them to choose. They were intrigued, and so I did my very best to keep a straight face as I continued. “We’ll have to wing it, but I’m thinking we offer up an epic, fantasy thrash metal take on The Birdy Song.”
I grinned, waggling my eyebrows and waiting for the tirade of abuse, but the four of them sat there in silence. And then after a moment, all four of them nodded as smile spread over their faces.
“Nice,” Pegs said, “that’ll be fucking mental!”
“Guys… It a joke.”
“Oh,” said Eric, and all four of them looked slightly disappointed.

This is what it’d always been like with us; despite everything I seemed to manage to be the down to earth one, even with Steve and Feathers and the rest of them mucking about. Back when we were starting out, trying to come up with a band name, we were talking about our influences. We all agreed we were trying to create a kind of sound that was somewhere between the bands Thunder and Rush, both of whom we all worshipped like gods. So I jokingly said, if we’re aiming for a merging of the two, why not call ourselves ‘Thrush’.

I was expecting some rolled eyes, maybe a groan or two, but all four of them looked at me like I’d had the best idea in history. Took me half an hour to convince them I wasn’t being serious, and come up with something better… In the end I’d suggested Asteroid, and they’d all liked it; it was a nod to our geeky side, and also symbolic of the impact we wanted to make on the scene. Also, of course, it just sounded cool.

Back in the present moment, Eric leaned forward and grabbed a few of the cards that were scattered across the table and looked at them idly as the others were discussing songs for the finale. No one had an idea that felt right to everyone else, and in the end they looked to me again.
“Well,” I said quietly, “I thought maybe we hit them with a second go at Flight of the Demonstar.”
It was the main track of the album, a solid nine minutes of awesome; Demonstar, the reluctant hero of the story, tries to flee and outrun his destiny, but the Lord of Shadows, the antagonist, catches up with him and in the end he has no choice but to face him. It culminates in an epic crescendo of drums and guitar and towering vocals from me and a choir of vikings we’d brought in for the album recording, and who’d agreed to tour with us too. All of us agreed it was our best song, our best album.
“So that seems the only choice,” I continued. “But we really fucking smash it out, even more than usual. Make it an epic last flight for us and the fans too.”

No one spoke, but they were all nodding, faces split by wide grins. Across the room, Steve and the others gave me eight thumbs up. Well, Captain Squizzletips used his feet too, so technically it was ten.
“Fuckin’ yes,” Jake breathed. “Let’s do this!”
We talked about a few other things, but in a few minutes the guys were rising to go. We each had our own little routines before we did a show, and we knew they were important.

Eric was still holding the cards as he rose.
“What’s with the cards?” he asked, his eyes curious.
“I was playing solitaire earlier, that’s all.” Eric raised his eyebrows and dropped the cards onto the table.
“That’s an odd deck for solitaire,” he murmured. I looked down at the cards and saw they were an odd lot indeed. Some of them were ‘normal’ playing cards, a few were a DC Bombshells set (specifically Poison Ivy and Catwoman), and a few others appeared to be from Uno, and still others from Happy Families… Steve, you bastard, I thought furiously, but I shrugged and grinned.
“And it’s an odd hunger that makes you order a fuck ton of chips only to throw them away,” said Mikey, staring into the bin by the sofa. I shrugged again, wondering frantically what I could say, when Jake chimed in, chuckling.
“Hey, let the man be eccentric,” he said. “Whatever goes on in that crazy head, out of it come the songs that made Asteroid fucking legendary.”
“Speaking of which,” Pegs added, “what’s next? Got anything yet?”

I tried to ignore the cold weight that settled in my stomach and forced myself to relax. I shrugged and smiled.
“Not sure yet. Got some ideas, but nothing sure as yet. I mean, part of me even wonders…” Everyone was silent as I trailed off. I felt eight pairs of eyes intent on me; my band mates and my… Other friends. The words were there, but I couldn’t release them. Not yet. So I just shrugged and grinned, and my band mates relaxed.

We said our goodbyes, agreeing to meet in the lobby in an hour to head to the stage. As the door closed behind them I heard the flapping of wings and scurrying feet. In moments I was assailed by Steve and his companions.
“What the hell was that about?” Steve demanded and I shrugged.
“Nothing much. Just a thought I’ve been having. But we can talk about it after.”
“What is it, Max?” Sally asked, and once again her voice was concerned. I smiled and told her it was nothing, and wandered into the bedroom to finish dressing. Soon enough I was stage-ready; black boots, dark jeans, renaissance-style shirt and long black coat, a strange crossbreed of duster and pirate coat. As I turned away from the mirror I saw all four of them standing in a row, watching me with wide, worried eyes.
“What?” I asked, but neither of them spoke. I sighed. “Come on guys, I don’t have time for this.”
“We ain’t stupid you know,” Steve said, and Captain Squizzletips nodded.
“You might fool Jake and the others, but you can’t fool us.”
“Something’s wrong, Max,” Sally said. “We know it is. Talk to us.”

I tried to laugh it off, but it sounded hollow and false even to me. With a resigned sigh I sat on the edge of the bed and looked at them each in turn. They were an odd lot, to be sure, but they were also my friends. They might even be a part of me, though I still hadn’t come to any definite conclusion about that. It didn’t really make a difference; they’d always been true to me. They deserved my honesty. I look up at the ceiling for a moment, searching for the words to begin.
“I just keep thinking about what comes next, you know? I mean, everyone seems pretty unanimous that Flight of the Demonstar is the best thing we’ve ever done, and is truly one of the great albums in music history. And it’s true; I’m not being egocentric, but the fact is we were all at the top of our game creating it, and we’ve smashed this tour every single show.
“So I keep wondering, how do we follow this? How do I follow it? I don’t know if I can write songs like this again. And what if I try to, and it doesn’t work? What if we try and top this album, and we crash and burn?”

It sounded petty even as I was saying it, but Steve, Sally, Captain Squizzletips and Feathers McGraw all looked at me with sympathy and understanding. They got it. Sally stepped forward and gripped my hands with her scaly claws.
“Self-doubt is natural, Max. It’s a part of the creative process. But you can’t let it wipe away your self-belief. Look at what you’ve got; you’ve got a great band, you’ve got friends back home, you’ve got a home when you get to stay there. You’ve got your health.”
“Physically, at least,” Steve muttered, and Sally whacked him with one of her wings without turning from Max.
“You’ve got us four…” she finished. “You’ve got a lot to believe in.”
“Joking aside matey,” Steve added, “you’re where you are because of who you are. And you’ve got more songs in you. As good, if not better I reckon.”
I smiled, but before I could say thank you Feathers stepped forward. He held up two digits of his grey hippos paw and looked serious. I’d never heard him speak, never heard him make any noises beside the occasional un-hippo-like squeak in fact, and I was pretty sure he couldn’t.
“You have two things to say?” I ventured, and Feathers nodded. He pulled his small notebook and pen from his waistcoat pocket and scribbled for a moment, then he tore out the page and handed it to me. I read it curiously:

Worry

The unwise man
is awake all night
worries over and again.
When morning rises
he is restless still,
his burden as before.

“So you’re saying worrying about it isn’t helping me?” I asked, and the small hippo nodded. “Fair point. And the second thing is…?”
I was expecting a second note, but Feathers pocketed the notebook and pen again and took off his green bowler hat. He reached inside and pulled out a battered, slightly squashed, yellow and brown banana. He held it out to me, and gingerly I took it.
“A banana?”
Feathers nodded, looking very pleased with himself. His three companions looked as puzzled as I felt.
“Um. Thanks.”
After a moment Captain Squizzletips shook his head and spoke up.
“Look, I think what we’re all trying to say, albeit in very different ways, is we understand your worries. But we don’t think you should let them be the reason you stop doing what you love.”
The four of them nodded vigorously and I couldn’t help but smile.
“Thanks guys,” I said quietly, and they each grinned back at me. Then Steve pulled another cigar seemingly out of the air and planted it firmly in his mouth.
“Now get downstairs you great lump,” he said. “Get on that stage and sing your bloody lungs out!”

So that’s what I did.

* * *

Asteroid was famous for epic shows, and this latest tour was the biggest yet. There was video projection, animatronics, dancers, actual real Vikings… All this, and the five of us all loving every second of it. It was a show, a story, a journey we went on every night, telling the epic saga of Demonstar; a man of no consequence who stood alone against the vile Lord of Shadows, and did not quite die. Having fought his way back from the underworld he found that the world had united behind him, begging him to lead them to freedom. Fearing the responsibility he tried to run, until the love of a fearsome warrior princess and the sacrifice of a friend gave him the strength to face his destiny head on. It was epic. It was absurd. It was fucking glorious and the crowd, not to mention we, loved every moment of it. Finally the last chords faded to silence, and then the joyous screaming of the thousands in the audience crashed over us.

I shared a grin with Jake and the rest of the band, and then stepped to the mic. The crowd hushed quickly; usually we just launched into the encore, but this time I wanted to say something.
“Hey,” I said, and a roar went up. I grinned and rolled my eyes, waiting till it died away. “Thanks for coming. This is going to be our last song. Last song on our last show of the tour. So we wanted to finish on something… pretty epic.” Another roar crashed and faded. “It’s been an amazing journey for us so far, and who knows what comes next. But this tour has been something special, so we’re going to finish with…” A count of three… two… one… and I shouted “The Last Flight of the Demonstar!”

The crowd erupted, but their noise was drown as thirty actual Vikings started chanting the opening of our best ever song.
Steve and the others had watched the show from the side of the stage as they always did, but as I launched into the first verse they ran out on stage to join me. As Asteroid gave the best performance gave the best performance of our lives I danced and capered with Steve, Sally, Captain Squizzletips and Feather McGraw. No one else could see them, I probably looked like a madman, but I didn’t give a damn; they were my friends and this was the greatest night in the world.

All too soon the song drew to a crescendo, and Jake, Eric, Mikey, Pegs and I stood together as I belted out the final chorus, thousands of voices raised to join mine:

Demonstar!
The Lord of Shadows is coming for you
Demonstar!
The Night of Endings is starting for you
Dance away your final night
Raise your sword and show your might
Demonstar!
Demonstar!
Demonstar!
Time to save the world again!

The music faded into the euphoric roar of the crowd as the epic show came to a final close. I hugged the band, I hugged my friends, and I walked to the front of the stage and stood, feeling the noise of the crowd buffeting me. I couldn’t stop grinning. This was it. I opened my eyes and saw the Captain, Steve and Feathers running across the crowd, hopping from head to head as Sally glided over them. And in the night sky above them, nestled amongst the clouds, a great serpentine head looked down at me.
“A star dragon,” I murmured. “Star Dragon and the Night of Storms…”
It was no more than a title, not even an idea, not yet. But as the crowd’s roar crested again I looked up at the midnight blue dragon and it winked at me.

You’re probably wondering how does a rock and roll man like myself find time to stay sane in body and mind? The answer is… Well, one out of two’s not that bad, is it?

Incoming Inspirational Magnet

“I didn’t mean to.  It was an accident.”

Steve glanced across at Charley, unsure how she was going to react.  He could see her eyes dart about the kitchen trying to take it all in.  He’d fucked up big time and he knew it.

“I don’t see how this could be an accident Steve”
“I was just making toast”
“Well I gathered that much seeing as it’s right where the toaster used to be I just don’t understand how!”
“I don’t either!  Honestly!  I just put in a few slices”
“A few?”
“Well four”
“It’s a two-slice toaster Steve, how many times do I have to tell you?!”
“But it’s never done this before!”
“I can’t imagine any toaster has done this before!”
“How was I supposed to know…”
“What else did you do?  You must have done something!”
“No, honest!  I put the bread in and put the lever down, turned the grill on ready, then went to the fridge to get the cheese…  I can’t have been more than a minute!”
“Then what?”
“Then I turned around and it was…gone…”
“There must be something else, Steve.  A black hole doesn’t just materialise in the middle of a fourth-floor flat!”

Despite knowing exactly what he would see, Steve glanced over towards the counter where the toaster once stood.  In its place there sat a circle of black.  Well not sat exactly, hovered.  Hovered and swirled.  But it also didn’t swirl.  It was clearly constantly moving but it was so dark it was hard to tell quite what it was doing.  But swirling, it was definitely swirling.

“How the fuck, Steve?!  Like seriously!?  A fucking black hole!  I mean, you can’t even put flatpack together so how the hell you managed to create a black hole in the middle of the kitchen I have no idea!”

As Charley screeched on at him, Steve could see the magnets on the fridge rattling.  This was definitely not a good sign.

“Get down”
“What?  Are you even listening to me you idiot?!”
“I said get down!”

Steve launched himself across the kitchen island, grabbing Charley as he slid to the floor, just as one of her inspirational fridge magnets flew across the room, right through the space where Charley’s head had just been.

“What the fuck you idiot?  Get off me!”
“I just saved you from a fridge magnet through the brain!”
“If it weren’t for you this wouldn’t be happening in the first place!  This is ridiculous!”
“Did you get a receipt for the toaster?”
“I hardly think ‘transported to another universal plain’ comes under the twelve-month warranty, Steve!”
“But it must be defective or something”

All of a sudden, a violent rattle began to emanate from the cutlery draw.  They both turned, eyes wide as knives and forks hurtled across the kitchen, disappearing into the black hole which seemed to be growing with every item it engulfed.  The magnets were all gone, the larger utensils flew after the cutlery and the blender was edging its way down the counter.

“What have you done Steve?  What have you started?”

Returned

“You’re probably wondering how does a rock ‘n’ roll man like myself find time to stay sane in body and mind. The answer is vicious masturbatory habits.”

Six months ago, such a card combination would have been followed by raucous laughter, but now it barely elicited a murmur. They were slumped around a game of Cards Against Humanity, unsure what would happen next. Would one of them eventually summon the energy to laugh? Maybe the dusty radio sat on a high shelf would finally say something. Perhaps there would be a miracle, and there would be life after death again. But such hope had been disintegrated by a thousand explosions of searing light, wiping out millions of souls and the virus that bought them back. Each one of them had witnessed the devastation administered so quickly by god-like hands, and they were envious.

Karen was the first to throw in her cards, she’d pulled out another tooth out after lunch, and her softening bones burned from the inside out. Not a word was spoken as she limped to her cot and tugged a small box from underneath. It was her time to pass out of the world, to save the little dignity that had not been stolen from her wretched body. Taking the needle hidden safe inside, she sunk it deep into her arm, releasing the barbiturates with a push of her thumb. As the bitter drug slipped through her veins, she took comfort in the warmth of the companions that surrounded her, that laid their hands on her dying body as they had all done for those who went before her. Although the silence of death ushered her into cold and empty isolation, she would not take the final step alone.

It only took a few minutes for the rush of death to take over, suffocating her lungs and crushing her heart until her soul flew free. No longer held in agonising rictus, the body slumped, jaw hanging open to reveal the maw of necrotic flesh in her mouth that she had kept hidden for weeks now. Not one of them even grimaced as they picked up her remains, each aware of their own living rot.

The door might have only been a handful of feet from the table, but their wasted muscles cramped and cried under her meagre weight. They didn’t bother to don scarfs over their faces as they once used to when going outside. There wasn’t any point when the radiation carried in the eddies of dust also laced their water. It was not far from the door that they dropped the body, unable to care for it any longer, and with it they abandoned the meagre hope that they had carried with them since the world ended. Before the dead returned to walk with the living, before the governments, drowning in moral and bureaucratic fear, had taken to exterminating the virus without thought of consequence, Karen had been a person who blazed with furious life. But when the bombs exploded and the black rains ran, the brilliance had leached from her, the following dust storms scouring away what little remained. The death of someone so saturated in energy, so suited to the second life briefly offered, had eradicated the group’s will to survive. Collapsing into their cots, they each began to embrace the decay crawling through their limbs as if the maggots already feasted.

A hacking cough clawed through the quiet, accompanied by retching as someone cleared their lungs of phlegm. It spattered across the outside of the door. Three tentative knocks followed. One of them, having no fear left, eased themselves up to swing open the door. Karen stood at the threshold wiping the last of the sputum from her chin. A cheeky grin spread across her face as she watched the hope rekindle in the wasted faces before her as she strode in, no pain or exhaustion dragging at her steps.

“I’m gonna let you into a secret. I really shouldn’t be here.”

Star Nicholas II

“The star died; despite everything I did, everything I tried to do…” “That’s how the story is going to end, unless you listen to me this time” were the irritable words that hissed from Culper’s cracked and bleeding lips as her veiny hand shot up to blast a bubbling blue portal into the frosted brick wall. The cluster of soldiers in cobbled-together reds had barely turned the corner as Culper swung her companion through the rift, with only the slowly dissipating plume of her icy white rebuke left behind as the blue circle closed.

***

Poe’s body slammed, almost perfectly horizontally, onto the middle of the table of a regency dinner much to the horror of the party guests. He groaned into the venison as wobbly-haired ponces shrieked accusations of witchery, whilst one solitary and particularly dense guest applauded the host’s ingenious surprise entertainment. Two heavy, mismatched boots landed either side of Poe’s neck and he knew best to keep his head meat-facing for the time being. He felt the accusatory gaze shift from him to the wispy haired, electric eyed woman with both feet planted firmly in ridiculous platefuls of now crushed meals. Silence hit the room as hard as Poe had entered it, until a giggle emerged from aforementioned moron squeezed into her pastel pink corset. Culper sufficiently shot her in the face which, it is safe to assume, was a fairly simple indication for a mass Georgian exodus of the dining hall. Culper gently writhed her fingers into her palm, extinguishing the sapphire glow that crackled in the centre. She hopped off the table, wiping her boots on the chair cushions on her way down, and strode towards the gigantic doors. Poe listened as Culper rammed her hip into the lock, somehow bolting it, and as the somewhat cakey clipping of her feet on the marble casually made their way to close the rest of the doors. “What did we learn?”

Poe sighed heavily, inhaling an upsetting meaty warmth. “What did we learn, Poe?” Culper pressed again in a patronisingly melodic tone reserved solely for lecturing. “Don’t befriend the target” Poe muffled meatily. “And?” she probed. “Make sure you know the difference between the attackers and the defence”. “Becaaause?” “Because…” Poe resigned, “you may mistakenly let a friendly looking Bolshevik into the plan to save the star, forcing them to kill him and his family quicker whilst risking personal safety.” Culper’s hand, still warm from transit, patted Poe’s head. “There we go”, she exhaled, wandering off to scavenge for alcohols still intact on the table, “And by Kuiper’s belt, for the last time it’s TSAR, Poe.” The student lifted himself off the feat, picking out flakes of various hams and potato fragments that were now embedded in his eyelashes, and plonked himself on the edge of the table. “Okay, sorry, TSAR then”, he sulked, “but I’m sure he wasn’t so bad, I mean the Russian’s started making pilgrimages to Ekaterinburg in the Twentieth Ten’s and-“ An empty bottle flew in his direction, with Poe barely moving out the way of its projectile. “Stop with the fluffy-headed, andy pandy nonsense” belched his partner. There were a lot of things Culper would say that Poe did not quite understand, many of which were obscure references she had worked hard to pick up and throw out at will. Poe assumed that “andy pandy” was one of those, but regardless he understood that her threat was still very much looming. It was best to keep moving whilst various cutlery and dinner wares flew at great speed in his direction. “We are not contracted to buddy up with the targets. We get in at the fixed point in time, we get them out before they get their brains blown out and we take them to the Museum for processing by the Curator. This is not, and will not, be another Hitler incident!” Another plate crashed into the wall. Hitler-gate was legendary in the ranks as the greatest cock-up in the HPI (Historical Persons of Interest). Supposedly another of Culper’s squirts struck up some sort of vegetarian friendship with the dictator and, in some untraceable and likely indescribable occurrence led to Hitler, alongside his neue salad munching freund, was nowhere to be seen in any of the alternate realities. Some of the older recruits used to suggest that Culper was actually privy to what happened down in the bunker, but the resounding factor that remained was that the Curator was displeased.

 A small white napkin stained with various wine splatters waved furiously from under the table. “It won’t happen again, I promise!”, begged Poe as slowly rose with the cloth, “Can we try again? I won’t cock it up again I swear. By the book.”

***

The angry Russian man with disconcerting facial hair slugged Culper one square on her battered jaw, and she slumped forward on the chair to which she was bound. Red spittle and a bit of tooth fell from her gaping mouth and bounced off the cold, dirty floor of the very same improvised-prison they had just escaped. The idiot boy cocked up again. Contrary to opinion, there were a limited number of realities that could be accessed by the travellers, and Poe had knocked off one of the few remaining avenues. Another punch suckered into her cheek bone, and something cracked out of place. “I ask you again. Where is your co-conspirator?” growled the Russian to Culper as three of his red comrads glared at her like the homemade album cover of a moody teenage rap crew. Culper raised her head to shoot back a harsh stare, but hesistated a moment. Through the wintery locks that fell over her face, she could just see The Tsar and his family tip toeing up the cellar stairs behind the backs of the guards with Poe swiftly following, giving a fairly inappropriate thumbs up as he went up and out the back door. Culper snorted with a wry smile. “Well, what do you have to say?” probed the Russian. Culper grinned. Memories of Hitlergate had been punched forward into her head. Waiting until her cohort and the cargo were out of sight, she leaned forward coyly and whispered to the Russian: “Now I know what you’re thinking, performing a vasectomy on a Badger using your wife’s shoes with a gun to your head sounds like a serious situation…”

 

Not Mostly Harmless

I’m gonna let you into a secret. I shouldn’t really be here.

“Will you please shut up?” cursed Lara under her breath.

No! I’ve been telling you for weeks that I’m not supposed to be here, it’s a bloody travesty. I’m supposed to be going to the Bolerian Pleasure Planet not bloody Connaught.

“Well you’re here now can’t you just make the best of it?”

No! No I can’t… You know what they have on the Bolerian Pleasure Planet? The finest food, the trippiest drugs and the dirtiest hookers in all the universe. You know what they don’t have? Psychotic aliens with a penchant for cutting off people’s heads and putting them on their mantelpiece.

“Yes, yes and I’m sure there is a nice passage in the guide already telling people that, what there isn’t is a passage telling people about Connaught. That’s why we’re here to do some research and let people know what it’s really like.”

What it’s really like? What it’s really like?!?! Look around you moron it’s fucking horrible.

As if to emphasise the point an piercing scream echoed down the street where Lara and G37894 – her own personal researchers copy of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – were hiding behind some bins.

“That could have been a scream of delight,” said Lara edging unconsciously further behind the bins.

“Argh! No stop trying to rip off my head!!!” came a panicked cry.

“They could be roleplaying?”

“Please no! Help, someone anyone I’m deadly serious that I need help.”

“Oh come on!” shouted Lara “You’re ruining my point here!” The only answer was the sound of a head being ripped from a living body.

Told you, terrible; look I’ll put that in the book. Lara saw the words Connaught: Terrible. Appear on G37894’s screen. See I’ve written it down can we go now?

“Look we’ve only been here five minutes… let’s just have a look around get a feel for the place, maybe check out a couple of restaurants and then when we have more to go on we can leave, deal?”

More to go on? You need more after hearing that?

“Shh! I think someone is coming,” hissed Lara.

No! I will not be silenced! 

Lara tilted G37894 to one side and flipped the mute button. The guide vibrated and as Lara flipped it open to disable the vibrate function the screen lit up with the word dick repeated over and over. Lara rolled her eyes and jammed G37894 into her pack just as a pair of fearsome looking Predators rounded the corner shoulder guns whipping from side to side searching for a target.

Lara inched back further behind the bins. The lead Predator tapped the second on his shoulder and pointed to the bins where Lara was hiding and in unison they slapped their wrists and vanished. Lara froze not daring even to breathe. She stayed that way for what felt like an eternity, her lungs burning screaming for air then there was a flash and the bin to her right exploded. Trash rained down from the sky and a family of green, scaly cats scattered with a loud hiss. The Predators flashed back into existence the one at the back doubling over with laughter while the one in the front cursed him out. Lara covered in trash and smelly bin water edged backwards then legged it down the nearest alleyway.

——————————————-

The day didn’t really get much better from there. In the next two hours Lara saw fifteen killings, four street fights and one of the worst slam poetry recitals she’d ever witnessed; it was almost a relief when a passing mob of Predators drunk on killing tore the beret wearing muppet to pieces. Connaught it turned out really was terrible, which G37894 made a point of saying any time Lara took him out of her pack to make notes.

Can we go now?

“Fine,” sighed Lara. “I’d usually try to get a couple of days worth of data but I think we have managed to capture the spirit of the place.”

I’ll be washing the spirit of the place out of my charger socket for a month

“I could use a shower,” agreed Lara. “We were a bit close to that poet when that big fella torn his arm off and started slapping him with it. Anyway I think the ship is just down there on the left let’s go.”

Lara ducked out from behind a gore stained building and trotted cautiously off down the street, when she reached the corner she stopped dead.

What is it?

“Tourist information,” replied Lara pointing to the little office opposite.

Don’t even think about it.

“I’ll just stick my head in maybe they have some brochures or something we can take with us for the ride home.”

Or maybe they’ll have a big knife for us they will use to pry our lid off and mess with our insides.

“Oh don’t be so melodramatic,” said Lara crossing the street to the Tourist Information office. “If one place is going to be safe it’s tourist information.”

Lara turned the handle and stepped inside the dusty little office to be confronted by a small elderly Predator buffing the flesh off a skull.

“Umm… maybe I’ll come back another time,” said Lara edging back out of the door.

“Oh no you don’t!” cried the Predator her shoulder gun swinging to point at Lara. “Get in here!”

Lara threw her hands in the air and stopped dead.

“That’s a nice skull you have there,” said the Predator looking her over critically. “It would look real nice on my shelf.” She waved her hand to a horrifying shelf crammed with the polished skulls of hundreds of creatures. “I’ve always wanted a human but never did get round to going to Earth.”

Told you so

“Hush you,” hissed Lara.

“Oh what have you got there missy?” asked the Predator. “Some kind of talking computer? Why don’t you show old Gertie?”

Don’t even think about it

Lara slid her hand into her pack and brought out G37894. “It’s my copy of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. He’s called G37894.”

I’d say nice top meet you but it’s really not

“Be nice you,” said Lara. “We don’t want to make her mad.”

I think mad is their default setting

“What’s a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” asked Gertie dropping the skull she was working on to the desk and trundling over for a closer look.

“It’s a book with entries for everywhere in the Galaxy so people know what to expect when they visit, kind of like a travel guide.”

“Do you have an entry for Connaught?”

“That’s why we’re here to do some research and provide an entry for the book.”

“So what are you going to say?”

Shithole

“You’re not helping G.”

“Oh no, no that won’t do at all we need a nice entry so then we will get some tourists coming here. Tourists with shiny skulls we can put on our shelves. I tell you what do us a good review and I’ll let you go, skull and all how’s that?”

Lara looked at G37894, I think we can do that give us a minute. The Predator nodded and went back to cleaning the skull on her desk. Lara went to the corner of the office and crouched down whispering to G37894. “What does the entry we have so far say?”

Connaught, come for the creepy skull souvenirs, stay because you’ve been beheaded and turned into a creepy skull souvenir.

“I’ll be honest I’m not sure the tourist board is going to go for that,” replied Lara. “How about we try to tart it up a little?”

Fine but I take no responsibility for any stupid tourists who end up a head shorter and significantly less talkative… 

“Just do it,” hissed Lara. “Trust me I look much better in my original packaging. Besides don’t think they’d stop at me, I saw an iPad back there with her fascia hanging off and it wasn’t pretty.

“Kill me,” moaned Siri from the mangled tablet on the horror shelf.

Green letters ran down the screen so fast Lara couldn’t read them as G37894 drafted and discarded pitch after pitch faster than the human brain could process them. The writing got faster and faster and smoke started to creep out of the corner of the small screen. Lara waved G37894 up and down to waft away the smoke but it just got thicker and blacker until a gout of flame burst from the side of the screen. Cursing Lara dropped G37894 and as he clattered to the hard stone floor the screen lit up flashing green words showing the new entry in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for Connaught, home of the most bloodthirsty race of hunters in the universe:

Connaught the Predator Home World was known throughout the galaxy as a perfect Utopia. Here the endless war between the Aliens with their duck comrades and the Predators with their pigeon brothers was a distant thing.

 

DEADPOOLED ;) PART 8 OF 8

“Now I know what you’re thinking, performing a vasectomy on a badger using your wife’s shoes with a gun to your head suggests a serious situation.”

I guess you kinda had to be there; anywho!

I swung the sword but she evaded and returned with a blow to my abdomen. Retreating to catch my breath, I caught sight of Frankenstein on the floor by the door. The blow from my kicking the door had been a well placed one, hitting him right on the base of the nose and forcing the cartilage up into his frontal lobe; silver linings and all that.

Rallying once more we charged each other once more and started the greatest battle of all time. Ever. Like, you have no idea because your reading silly words and everyone knows that words are shit at fighting. This would be so much better as a film – looking at you 20th Century Fox – but alas, we haven’t the budget or the time. Needless to say it was epic, with witty back and forth’s like:

“You’re not bad for a 400 year old woman,” “Yes, if only your tongue was as dull as you sword!”

Great banter.

Ah well, we’ve strung this whole thing out a little too long now. I land the killing blow in the crux of her neck and shoulder, though the blade is indeed dull and only cuts in a third of the way. I tug the sword out and hack away inappropriately and without ceremony for a good five minutes and the demon is no more. I sit the head of the latest victim next to that of the Princess of Lichtenstein; well I think the vampire was the actual ruler, this blonde bimbo had clearly just been a clever mirage to cover the grand schemes in the monarchy.

I grab the bottle of tequila from the mini bar and sit on a plush chair that I have moved to the hole in the wall. A birds eye view on the Armageddon below. I drink myself into oblivion. Unfortunately, a man’s work is never truly done, so I awake the next morning feeling like I’ve accepted a drink from Bill Cosby. I look over to the desk and see the two heads that seem to be quite alive and thoroughly pissed at me.

You know it’s not going to be a great day when you wake up dead, and you can be fairly sure it’ll be a bad day when you wake up dead with a hangover, an empty bottle of tequila, and the head of the princess of Lichtenstein.




N.B. See Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds in another great film, Voices. You’ll definitely regret it but the reference will be there.

A Serious Situation

Now I know what you’re thinking, performing a vasectomy on a Badger using your wife’s shoes with a gun to your head sounds like a serious situation. And you’d be absolutely right. In fact, as serious situations go, it’s right up there. And in such situations, there’s really only one thing to do; defuse the tension with comedy.

“At least we’re not trying to do this with a pair of flip-flops” I quipped, glancing at the man holding the gun and wondering how exactly he’d got hold of a  Colt “357” Magnum in the middle of the Isle of Mann.

When I say “man holding the gun” I might be over-stating his age a touch. He looked like he could easily be best mates with Justin Bieber, and had a hairstyle that only a teenager would seriously appear in public with. In fact, come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure that he wasn’t Justin Bieber, except that I imagine the pop star to come with an entourage that threatens timid veterinarians on his behalf.

I tried to focus on the vasectomy, when it suddenly occurred to me that if I’d learnt anything from Clint Eastwood, it’s that you have to be a grade-A level stone-cold badass to fire a 357 Magnum one-handed and not have it do more damage to you than your intended victim. Particularly from across the room, the chances are that you’d probably miss and the recoil would knock the gun from your hand. Do I feel lucky?

This is what counted as a comfort in this time of insanity.

My wife meanwhile, was taking this all in her stride, surprisingly. Perhaps it was shock that was keeping her quiet, but she was sat very still in the far corner of the operating room, clutching her handbag.

Fuck it. This badger’s just going to have to make do without the vasectomy.

I turned and in one motion threw both shoes at Justin Bieber’s mate. He looked as surprised as a meerkat that just discovered LSD, and instinctively fired the gun before the shoes hit him, throwing him backwards into a cabinet of books and knocking a stone carving of a trout onto his head, rendering him unconscious, possibly dead. I wasn’t sure. I’m only a vet after all.

Unfortunately for me, I was in fact, not lucky. The bullet hit me right in the heart and I was dead in under a minute.

Two hours later, I woke up, propped up against a bar, with a bottle of tequila next to me, bearing a post-it note with the writing “George says hi”. I inferred a reference to the great George Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead, and general horror legend. I also deduced that I was therefore what you would call “a zombie” but given that I was able to make such a deduction, I realised that Romero hadn’t got everything right when it came to my new brethren.

The writing on my post-it note was my wife’s. I didn’t blame her for leaving – it can’t be easy to watch your husband get shot at the very best of times. I wondered how long it had been before she realised I had reanimated (or whatever you call it) and why I didn’t remember that part, yet at the same time remembering the lyrics to her favourite song, “Call Me Maybe”. Quite why anyone would want them to call them “Maybe” had always escaped me, it’s a terrible name. I’d quite like people to call me “Maverick” but the suggestion was laughed down at my bachelor party.

It hadn’t been a particularly good day (what with dying and all), so I was about to take myself home, when the stripper made her nightly appearance. She was announced as “the Princess of Lichtenstein”, with an image of her riding a tongue (an idea lovingly ripped off from a Rolling Stones album cover) behind her, with “Lichtenstein” scribbled out and replaced in a scrawl with “lick-ten-times”. Her connection to the royal family of Lichtenstein was never proven, partly because by the middle of the routine anybody who doubted the veracity of her claim to royalty had been distracted somehow.

She performed her usual routine, which I’d never really paid any attention to before, but she certainly knew what she was doing on the pole and showed a great deal of flexibility, along with a surprising amount of grace. She got dressed and came to the bar, sitting next to me. She looked across at me and grinned a mischievous grin of which the Cheshire cat would have been proud.

I know what you’re thinking, and I was thinking it too. This was not lost on her. She took a shot of my tequila (without asking, I might add, not that I was complaining) then poured two for me, telling me to “keep up” without any apparent recognition of the double entendre. Within minutes, we were in the (disgustingly dirty) toilet cubicle and she had my trousers around my ankles, attempting to prove whether or not I was still “fully functional”.

I was. It was glorious. Really brightened up my day.

We returned to the bar and had some more tequila to wash our mouths out, before checking into the motel next door. She paid in cash. Show-off.

The next thing I knew, the sun was shining on my face and some flies were hovering above my head, which ached as if someone had done exploratory surgery on it in the middle of the night. I looked over to the other side of the bed, expecting a naked woman and finding only her head and the empty bottle of tequila.

At the foot of the bed was an extremely muscular man, with plenty of tattoos, who did not look best pleased with the situation he found himself presented with. I sympathised. You know it’s not going to be a great day when you wake up dead, and you can be fairly sure it’ll be a bad day when you wake up dead with a hangover, an empty bottle of tequila, and the head of the princess of Lichtenstein…

DEADPOOLED ;) PART 7 OF 8

The star died; despite everything I did, everything I tried to do, that’s how this story is going to end, unless you listen to me this time.

I’M NOT CHOKING UP, YOU ARE!

Right, sit rep for those not keeping up and for my own meta-purposes. I’ve woken up dead, I’ve accidentally caused the outbreak of a zombie virus, I’ve fought a massive zombie bodyguard who turned into a weird love child of Dwayne Johnson, The Joker and Sid Vicious. I’ve defied death (TWICE) and got hit on by some hotty vampire with Frankenstein as an assistant. I’ve fallen to my death, defied it again, and got deep with a lycan. I’m starting to think that that last part might have been concussion.  Either way, I feel in control of all my faculties and I am at my endgame, or there abouts. Two parts stand between me and victory. I am completely shitting myself at the thought of getting hit by that monster again.

Ah well, I click my neck and head towards the nearest door; this was lucky as I narrowly avoided begin crushed by a 300-pound mammoth body that turned into Angel Delight as it reached the garden.

“That lycan is gonna be pissed!” I exclaimed, to nobody in general. I stepped closer to the large pizza wondering what the hell was going on. I recognised the green clumps of hair in the gloopy mess and realised I’d just been replaced in the job of eliminator. Denzel Washington was here! I looked up to the tower and spotted a small red blip in the hole in the wall and realised that either Denzel was looking into playing Ru Paul or it wasn’t that famed actor of such great films such as…

Shit, it was The Equaliser.

*

1954 steps later, I was standing in front of the vampiric angel who looked pretty pleased with herself. I saw no sign of the little man with the god complex but I’m sure that if I kick this door to swing back on itself…

“Owwie!” A faint voice cried behind the solid oak; found him.

“Very good, Mr Spy,” said the vampire as she glided towards the hearth. “I was not expecting you to make it back up here so thought I’d come do it myself. Never send a man to do a woman’s job, no?” She picked up a goblet of what I can only assume was merlot, as no self-respecting would be seen dead drinking blood before 12. “What in hell’s name are you wearing?!”

Ah, she had noticed my pit stop on the way up here. I had picked up a sword and shield with light armour and was pulling my best Zelda impression. His name is Zelda, right? Here was my Ganon; my endgame. Oh, and that last fucking closing line. Right, let’s bullshit our way out of this one like we always do!

I readied my sword, preparing to tackle the dragon of a woman. She was a very attractive dragon. Not like Smaug or Wales, but like the dragon in the Beowulf film in 2009. As I prepared to face what could possibly be my actual ACTUAL death, I remembered a night back at the academy; the place I had learned the tricks of the trade.

We sat around a hearth, not too dissimilar to the one in this very room, and we were talking to our commanding officer over a dram of liquid fire. He had been sharing old war stories and reminding us that once we leave, we were on our own. We were about to leave when Jenkins asked the commanding officer the question we had all been creating rumours about since we started the academy.

“Sir, how did you get that scar on your side of your head?”

He chuckled at this; something that we had not expected. He drained his tumbler and then cracked his knuckles. He stretched in his chair.

“Let’s just say this, my boys. One day you’ll find yourself fighting for your life and it’ll seem completely normal to you but to the outside eye it’s completely bonkers!” he chuckled again.

“What does that mean?” Asked Jenkins.

“I got this scar in a previous life. It was the reason I came to the academy, but not a student. I came as a consultant. I was held at gunpoint by a woman who was at large to the MI6 for stealing information. She wanted me to save the life of her pet badger in the middle of my living room.”

We looked at him in absolute shock and confusion.

“Now I know what you’re thinking, performing a vasectomy on a badger using your wife’s shoes with a gun to your head suggests a serious situation.”

 

DEADPOOLED ;) PART 6 OF 8

“Connaught – the predator home world – was known throughout the galaxy as a perfect utopia. Here the endless war between the Aliens with their duck comrades and the Predators with their pigeon brothers was a distant thing.”

The gardener looked at me with complete contempt.

“Weak sauce, lad. Weak sauce.”

I couldn’t handle this kind of criticism after the day I had had, especially after the drop I just had. My head had finally (after the three or four days between these fucking posts) returned to it’s standard haze of crazy.

“Now listen to me you wheezingbagofdicktits-”

“Breathe lad,” he cut in. “I’m not insulting you, more your chronicler. You’ve been making quite a lot of sense through the last few posts but that was just grabbing.”

I chuckled, glad to be in the presence of friends for once, “you wait for the end of the next one. I got a real fucking curveball for that prick!”

He sighed and sat down on the bench near the bushes he had been clipping; gesturing for me to join. For what was meant to be ground zero in the middle of a Zombie Apocalypse, it weren’t half bad. I sat on the the edge of the bench, ready for any attacks that may come my way whilst the guy took a pipe from one of his pockets followed by a matchbook.

“What’s your name, friend?” He enquirer with a puff of smoke.

“Unimportant, yours?” He looked at me sideways and grinned.

“Well it’s nice to meet you, Unimportant. My name’s Gable.”

I winced, knowing exactly where this was going. I wasn’t feeling a lecture at this point but the character in front of me was indeed there for that exact purpose. The name was the giveaway.

“Well, Gable, this is a lovely garden you got here but I need to be hitting the road. You may not have noticed but beyond your shrubberies there’s an army of undead. I too am undead. The man that punched me, causing me to fly out that gaping hole up there in the tower, is undead. The woman who made the formula is…”

“A vampire,” he scoffed through his thick moustache. “Filthy bastard vampire. Can’t stand them, myself but that’s another story. You lad, are in a world of trouble.”

I looked at him curiously, not knowing whether I had missed something or he had. The glint in his eye betrayed him, I knew he wanted me to ask.

“You’re a lycan!” I bellowed and hopped around with glee. Lycans are fucking sweet! Not like those shitty werewolves that can only turn when there’s a full moon.

“Sit down will ye,” he obviously wasn’t sharing my zeal for the realisation, “I have stuff I need to say before you go marching back up those flights to fight. Look up at those stars kid.” He gestured up at the sky, I had completely lost track of time. It felt like mere minutes ago that I had woken up in that room up in the tower and this crazy nightmare had begun. “There was once a time,” he continued, “when I’d look up there before I was bitten to find Canis Major guiding me home. It feels ironic that I then became a lycan on a voyage home, under the Dogstar’s gaze.”

“Well that’s technically not irony, Gable. Ironic would be using the Dogstar to guide you home and then the lycanthropy leading you away from…” I trailed off, looking at the grey old man sat next to me. So many scars, so much tension in every muscle that he looked ready to pounce even though he was supposedly relaxing.

“Another annoying part of this whole affair, I can’t seem to find the star for the life of me. I look and look but I can never find it; maybe I’ll never go home? But that’s not what I wanted to tell you, boy. This world isn’t ready for vampires and lycans and zombies. The lady upstairs, and I don’t mean God but the vampire you jest met, she’d like nothing more for you to get out there and praise the work she’s done.”

“She’s asked me to go up there and kill him! The abomination, that is. She’s offering me a cure in return.”

He chuckled softly to himself. “Listen lad, this may come across as an old wolf being prejudice against the opposition but never trust a vampire’s pact. The reason they’ve been around so long – like me and her and even those stars – is that we only look out for number one. You’re just a means to an end. She’ll likely give you this so-called cure and you’ll end up being the poster child for the living dead franchise for years to come. You’re just like me, star-crossed. Only you have a chance to fix things. Me? My star is fading away.”

He stood and walked away then, not looking back. Complete fucking badass. I had a tear in my eye, but I saw him fade into nothing before he even got to the gate. His essence blown away on the winds. A voice whispered in the back of my head, close to the old man’s:

The star died; despite everything I did, everything I tried to do, that’s how this story is going to end, unless you listen to me this time.