Preview: Chronicles of the Otherworld

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Hello Everyone!

Here’s an early preview of my upcoming new project: Otherworld Chronicles: Season 1. A dark fantasy novelette that’ll be made available via Amazon Kindle.

Details regarding this project will be the subject of my next blog post!


Episode 0

ANTON’S SHORT STORY

 

It’s not the calm before the storm but the silence after that gets you.

Facing the aftermath of the carnage, the destruction, and the judgment.

Don’t be fooled by all the wood and stone that makes up the mansion all still in its place. Undamaged and clean. Nor by the oil lanterns still bright, burning, and hot. The walls tell that real tale. Painted with blood and guts.

Anton thinks he can outrun it.

Outsmart it.

Get off the destined path he set upon since who knows when. He doesn’t even know.

He tries to calm himself, but without the screams of his comrades, he can finally hear his own heartbeat.

Take a peek, Anton.

Not much else you can do.

Weapons without their masters scattered across the hall.

All of them dead by the same cause of death.

Blunt trauma to their heads. Crushed like melons during summer.

The butchered brains and pools of blood too hard to tell whose body produced what.

His signature.

The man in the black armor. His face hidden behind the helm with a plume formed with long crimson lights that gently danced behind him like whips with each step. Affectionately named, the “Redtails.”

Anton snaps back behind his wall wishing desperately he had learned a spell or two.

I don’t deserve this. Anton tells himself. Fuck this.

We rarely get what we deserve. But there’s a comfort in the idea that what happens to us has nothing to do with what we deserve.

Because by that same rule, Anton might even survive.

From his pocket, Anton pulls out the magic from his own world. A pocket revolver. He doesn’t remember what the brand is or even what caliber it uses. It wasn’t his. He snatched it from his brother’s drawer before he came back to this world.

He swings around with the gunpowder courage and aims the weapon at the approaching storm.

Redtails doesn’t stop.

“Fuck you,” Anton screams at him. “FUCK YOU!”

A silent soldier on a march. That was his answer to Anton.

Make them count. He says without words.

 

 

 

Bang.


 

 

Bang.

 

Bang.

 

Bang.


 

 

Anton stops for a moment and lets the smoke clear.

 

 

 

Redtails is closer.

 

 

 

Bang.


 

 

Only a little further than an arm’s length away now.


 

 

Bang.

 

 

 

The black knight allows the lips of Anton’s gun to kiss his helm.

 

 

 

Click.

 

 

The knight gently taps his dark, steel club on Anton’s forehead once…

“Look.” Anton takes off his glove and shows the back of his left hand. There was the red, almond shaped insignia that seemed as if it was tattooed onto his flesh.

…twice.

“I’m from our world,” Anton says. “You’re one of us, right? You have to be one of us. Come on, man.”

It wasn’t Anton’s fault that he didn’t know this was another one of the Redtails’ signatures. There wasn’t anyone alive who knew about it. A gentle ritual he performed every once in a blue moon when the circumstances were just right. He had to be in the mood for it.

This is the silence after the storm.

Redtails swings his club.

A clang.

Sounds almost like a home run. As if Barry Bonds himself was on the plate.

It’s in tune with the crack of the shattering skull.

Then an almost immediate follow-up performance of the loud splatter on the wall.

Almost a cartoonish noise.

Anton’s body drops.

No more Anton.

No more questions of whether or not he deserves it.

Just silence.

Silence without judgment or concern.


 

ARAMIRU OUT!

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Frayed: Review of Star Wars Episode 7

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A very quick review of the film after I just finished watching it in the theaters. Straight from the head, the gut, and my bladder that held on for more than an hour. No edits, real talk!

3 / 5

Maybe 3.5/5. I’ll definitely watch it again when I can since you need to watch a film more than once to get a proper assessment of it.

The score I give is a bit misleading since the movie isn’t bad. Actually, if anything, it made me really excited for Episode 8.

I didn’t watch the movie and think, “huh, why did they do that?” or “why didn’t they do this?” Rather, I thought, “they’re trying very hard to make this exposition chapter of the trilogy really exciting and not bloated while keeping it as informative as possible.

Because that’s exactly what it was. The movie was a great introduction to the trilogy while trying to remain as wholesome as it can be on its own. But due to how much it wanted to… HAD to introduce us, the pacing was inconsistent and it did feel a bit too packed.

And by the way, people freaking out about spoilers–don’t worry. There are no real spoilers in this movie. They made it a point to not have a “big reveal” or to dramatically play up a mystery with a simple answer like that of a character’s identity.

This time, it doesn’t matter who’s behind the mask, what matters is WHY he’s behind the mask.

Fine. Simple Spoiler Alert:

Watch how quickly and anticlimactically Kylo Ren reveals his face beneath the mask in the film. It was as if J. J. Abrams wanted to shake the idea off from the audience that there will be a Darth Vader like mystery in this film. It’s not meant to be simple like that. Rather, it’s about learning these characters and how they got there because there won’t be three additional prequel movies to the two more movies coming out to explain all that. The films this time are about plot progression and development rather than big surprises to spike the plots… even more than before, they want us to really connect with these cast of characters.

Spoiler Alert Over.

It’s less about reliving the experience but rather giving the experience to the new generation with the modern updates and education.

The new cast of characters are great and it’s great to see they’re adding minority characters (whether by gender or race) into prominent roles and in roles that are really under portrayed by those genders and race in Hollywood.

BB8, the R2D2 replacement, or the magical fairy creature companion of Star Wars is incredibly endearing and has his own distinctive personality to help him standout to our old faithful droid.

Plot itself is a bit predictable, and at times felt purposefully so, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting or engaging. I mean… were people really surprised what happened at the end? It was to the point where I kind of felt it was overplayed leading up to the predictable conclusion.

Another SPOILER ALERT? Ironic given what I said? But just to help people maintain their integrity of the film? In case I’m wrong and it does detract from the film that you know these things? Since everyone’s view experience is different?

Shorter dialogues would have made a greater impact I think.

Spoiler Alert Over.

But! Even if I could tell where the general direction was going and what surprises lied ahead, I still felt involved just to see HOW we got there and HOW the characters we met would react.

I’m not entirely sure if the former happened just because I’m a fan of Star Wars, but the latter is only really possible I think if the characters themselves proved worthy of an audience’s affection.

Want to keep this short so I’ll end on this final note that J. J. Abrams was amazing on not only giving this film a consistent Star Wars feel, but also very subtly adding his own flair to make it all feel fresh.

And because of all that was done to give this sort of a fresh start feel, this is a decent place to start if you haven’t seen any of the Star Wars films yet.

So oddly enough, even if I give this film 3/5 or 3.5/5, I highly recommend others to go see it not just for the experience but to be ready for the proceeding films ahead.

 

ARAMIRU OUT!

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Leftovers

  • It was great to see how they expanded on using the Force as a tool, as a weapon, and as an entity. This was long needed in the films.
  • Not sure if this is the “best” Star Wars film as some people are praising it to be. I think The New Hope did the “first chapter of trilogy” a bit better. But again, I might need a second watch.
  • The writing for the dialogues and character interactions were far more modernized and intelligent (compared to the prequel trilogy) that not only did they have personality but also felt grounded and human.
  • I always felt like the the saber fights in Star Wars was a bit off. For example, the famous fight in Phantom Menace threw me off a bit when it was clear that the combatants were specifically aiming for each other’s blades instead of body parts. Why? Why would you do that?The saber fights in The Force Awakens were far less flashy but they felt so much more organic that not only did they feel more “right” but also felt much more dire and engaging.
  • …Can’t talk about more without “spoilers” so I guess I’ll stop it here.


 

The Revisions

Back when the book was first released in 2014, the editor and I knew that there was a possibility the editing wasn’t complete.

This was mostly due to my fault given how rough the draft was at the time and also due to an unfortunate technological mishap with the documents where some of the edits we made stayed and some did not. We worked extremely hard for very long hours to catch all the mishaps and at the end of the day I made the call to release it. In some sense, it was an irresponsible thing to do as a writer but at the time it was the choice I had to make.

But I have been yearning to be able to go back over the manuscript ever since release. It irritated me immensely that I knew my work wasn’t even at a point where I could accept it for what it was.

That’s why I felt incredibly fortunate to find an editor who was willing to go through the manuscript with us one more time.

There were three key critical issues with the initial release edition of Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian

  1. Part One – Pacing felt a bit slow and clunky. I couldn’t think of a great way to address this issue for a little while due to the nature of Part One and the role it served for the novel
  2. Grammar errors.
  3. Head hopping issues.

What Kelly, the new editor, did for us wasn’t simply help us address all those issues but also help us improve the overall quality of the manuscript by also recommending certain additions to add proper emotional oomph and recommending certain deductions to maintain the integrity of the pacing and the intended tone of the certain sections.

For example:

In Part One, we deleted the original Chapter 1  and instead added a bit of juxtaposition segments to the Prologue.

The Chapter 1, though I still like it for the tone it set, dragged on the exposition a bit too much and was in many ways unnecessary.

With that and all the other revisions made, I’m at least at a point with Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian that I can let it go for a little while now.

To move on to new projects and new directions in life. But I’ll address more of that later.

Thank you to those of you who’ve supported me this far. I hope all of you will enjoy the new edition of Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian.

 

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Black Halo: the Witch and the Guardian PREVIEW Part 5

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REVISED version of

Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian

is coming out on TOMORROW! (Physical Copies of the novels will be available by this weekend!)

Preview Event:

PART 1 (Prologue, Chapter 1)

PART 2 (Interlude 1)

PART 3 (Chapter 2, Chapter 3)

PART 4 (Chapter 4, Chapter 5)


Blurb:

With the Light, came Magic, and the Witch. As mysterious as she was fearsome, and as powerful as she was merciless, the Witch almost succeeded in ending the world until she was vanquished by a hero and his comrades.

This is the legend of the Witch and the Guardian.

Centuries after the nigh calamity, this legend is as much as almost anyone knows of what truly happened back then and as much of an explanation anyone has of what ended an era in human civilization.

Though the people may never learn the whole story, you as the reader will follow the days that led up to how a young girl named Lily became immortalized as the Witch though her name, dreams and life became forgotten.


INTERLUDE II
THE HOMELESS & THE RUNAWAY

A cold, empty night. The better part of the city had already turned in long ago, and the void was filled only by vagabonds and stragglers. The noises of the day were reduced to mere rustles from hungry cats probing the trash, and the swoosh of straggling cars hurriedly making their way home. In an empty playground lit only by the flickering lampposts that should have been fixed long ago, a lone girl sat on the swings. For her, the darkness and the silence of the night were more comforting than the bright and bustling light of day. She felt safer without the people. Without their judging eyes. Without their noisy mouths. Without their mysteries. In the night’s shroud, she didn’t feel naked and vulnerable.

She looked up, her head tilting skyward only by its weight. The skies were painted black and were studded with the shining glitter of luminous stars. The girl tried to count them all with her sunken eyes. As she counted, the tips of her naked feet gently brushed back and forth over the beauty bark that covered the playground. Although she spent most nights under the veil of the night sky, it was still hard to believe how many stars there were twinkling above. Counting them calmed her mind and gave solace through the sleepless nights. For her, slumber was short and sparse. Rest only came when her desperate body forced her into sleep out of survival, and the sleep was dreamless when they were good. But most of the time, her slumbers were nightmares reincarnated from the chaos she struggled with her mind while she was awake.

Beyond the horizon, the night’s endless black sea was split by the pillar of white light piercing the skies. The Light was another tool for her restless mind to find some sort of peace. Some nights she’d stare off into the Light and buried her mind in its womb. It was there when she returned. It was there for her to go to. Though she doesn’t know how to go there, by what means to get there, or by when she needs to get there by. Even the reasons were now unclear. But an imperative calling in her heart urged her to go. A mission in her life; a promise from her past.

She looked down. The black band that appeared with her and the Light dangled on her wrist—always teasingly slipping out of her dainty hand. It was cold as ice. Even on the hottest days, it would be frigid and it was thin like a sheet of glass. But despite how thin it was, it felt tougher than the hardest of rocks.

It was her only possession and her only companion. Somewhere deep within her among the bodies of buried memories was a small kindle of memories that tried to remind her of its significance. An echo of the past that she wanted to—needed to remember. Or perhaps those were all just her imaginations.

Three young boys, drifters and wanderers of the empty city, watched the girl since she began counting the stars. With the shriveled hearts of scavengers and a foolish confidence deriving only from their number, the boys believed they were rulers of night. Behind a corner, shrouded by the night’s shadows, they amused themselves observing their prey. She was dressed in a jacket, which seemed to be a secondhand of a secondhand; a homeless man probably donned it until he saw a girl who seemed in need of charity even more than he did. Beneath the thin, shabby jacket, she donned a ruffled one piece dress that was barely excusable as clothing and seemed more fitting as rags. Its color was tarnished to such oblivion that one could hardly believe that it was once cloud white. Her tiny feet were filthy with dirt, mud, and god-knows-whatever-else she picked up on her barefoot journey, her face as pale as the moon, her hair pitch-black as the unlit night, and both littered with traces of her long and directionless journey. She was small. She was weak. She was alone.

The girl’s skin tightened, and her hair rose when she heard the flurry of footsteps coming her way. Without hesitation, she rose from her seat on the swing and began to flee away from the encroaching steps. Her body and mind were still fatigued. Her legs wobbled and she felt as if she could be carried away by the wind. She forced herself to flee as frantically as she could. She didn’t want to be a bother to anyone or even be a person of the faintest interest.

“Hey, you!” a voice pitched in that awkward range of a young boy transitioning into a young man called out to her. “Hold on a moment!”

Her heart beat violently, and her face was crushed with terror. Her eyes didn’t blink and kept themselves set on the outskirts of the playground. The exit. Just a little more. She heard the boys behind her trying to mute their laughter. As she wobbled faster, the boys gave a short and easy chase. The young drifters surrounded the dainty vagrant. They walked slowly to match the girl’s pace. The girl’s determination remained unshaken by the boys who surrounded her as she headed towards somewhere away from them.

“Going home?” The same voice from before now bluntly mocked her. It was a boy with a fresh buzz cut. The thin patches on his head and the baby sprouts of hair growing above his upper lip suggested he was a dirty blond. He wasn’t big, but plump, and squarely built. His face was scrunched together as if someone had squeezed the face of a ball of dough, and the dough was decorated with red spots of adolescence. Standing next to the homeless girl, he felt as if he was twice as big than he actually was.

The rest of his gang consisted of a short boy with curly ginger hair, freckles and metal braces that laced over his teeth, and a boy with skin the color of sand with thick black hair and even thicker eyebrows. He was the tallest of them all. The two laughed at their leader’s every remark.

“Are you a hooker?” The ginger boy asked. “Ma said any homeless girls running around are just hookers and no good addicts. Can I pay you for some services?”

The girl kept walking, whimpering a bit from fear. The boys laughed.

“Oh my god, she’s like a small dog,” The sandy boy remarked through his giggles. “I feel so bad for her. Hey, are you hungry?” He reached into his pocket and threw a piece of gum at the girl. She paid no attention to it as it bounced off her jacket. The girl ignored the boys and only focused on the edge of the playground that was getting closer and closer.

“Didn’t anyone teach you it’s rude to not to listen when people talk to you?” The buzz cut boy pulled her back and threw her onto the ground. “Maybe if you weren’t so rude, your parents would have kept you around…” The boy finished his sentence with a kick. The girl felt the air in her lungs erupt through her mouth, and the pain echoed fruitlessly as her mind and body were already long numb to the sensation. Her eyes stopped blinking and any twinkle of life was gone.

The boys ooo’ed and cackled.

“Jeez, son, how can you kick a girl?” The sandy boy laughed. “Didn’t yo daddy teach you not to lay your hands on women?”

“Hey, hey, what if she’s that Witch everyone’s talking about on TV?” The ginger boy masked his fear with a jovial tone.

“The Witch?” The buzz cut boy scoffed. “If she is the Witch, then she deserves to be kicked around a lil’, doesn’t she? And my daddy didn’t say nothin’ about laying hands on worthless garbage like her!” The buzz cut boy kicked her again and then stomped on her.

“Dirtyin’ up the streets and takin’ our money!” He stomped on her and then kicked her. “They’re filthy, man. Filthy! Get a job! Do somethin’ with your life! Stop leechin’ off of us people who’re doin’ somethin’!”

The only reaction from the girl was the sound of life escaping through her mouth in small grunts. After his short beating, the buzz boy poked her around a little bit with the toes of his shoe. Even through her thin jacket and one-piece dress, he could feel the bony body. The girl had barely any meat on her. He smiled satisfyingly realizing that his blows were probably very painful.

“Yeah! My daddy didn’t say nothin’ about worthless people like her either!” The ginger boy said as he mimicked the buzz boy by kicking the girl even more. His kicks were awkward and weak—especially compared to the previous attacker. He was the shortest of the bunch and his voice squeaked as if he was the youngest.

“You don’t have a daddy, Frankie,” The sandy boy remarked, looking the ginger boy dead in the eye.

“Shut up! Ass!” The ginger boy took his frustration out by kicking the girl across her face. A tear on her lip warmed her face with blood. He was swiftly smacked across the back of his head with such force by the buzz boy that he fell to the ground beside the girl.

“Don’t touch her face, you idiot!” The buzz boy yelled. “What are you, an animal?” He looked the ginger boy squarely in the eye who looked confused and barely holding back the tears.

The buzz boy knelt down near the girl’s face and inspected the damage.

“Hey…” the buzz boy gently slapped her face. “Hey, are you the Witch? Maybe we’re doing the world more than a favor right now. Maybe we’re about to be heroes.” He brushed her hair aside and was for a moment startled. There was blood on her perky lips. Dirt and small cuts on her white cheeks. But her eyes. Her eyes were wide open, yet dead. She didn’t have a scintilla of anger, fear, or sorrow. The eyes were simply there, witnessing.

“Why you starin’ at her, Johnny? You falling in love?” the sandy boy teased.

“Shut up, retard.” The buzz boy studied the girl closer. If they weren’t so dead, her eyes would have been entrancing. Her lips were shaped perfectly as if someone sculpted them on her. Her smooth face with its innocent features made Johnny blush. He flipped the girl over, and as if she suddenly awakened, the girl began to struggle violently. She violently flailed her arms and kicked her legs as much as she could with Johnny’s weight on top of her.

“Whoa, whoa! What are you doing Johnny?” the ginger boy spoke in shock.

“Shut up. You and Manny just watch to see if anyone’s coming,” Johnny spoke with his eyes glowing something grotesque and putrid.

“Hey… are you serious? Johnny? You’re crazy!” Manny sounded more excited than shocked.

As Johnny leaned in closer, the girl slapped him across the face. It was weak. It was pathetic. At the same time it was eye opening and degrading—especially with his boys laughing at him. He returned her slap with a proper rage-filled slap. Her arms and legs stopped flailing and her body stilled as if she was dead. The signs of life from her eyes were extinguished yet again.

Johnny’s lips quivered as he leaned in closer again for his first kiss.  Manny yelping like a kicked dog abruptly interrupted Johnny’s sacred moment. Before Johnny could complain, he felt a violent tug on his shirt. Without a moment to think, he was flung away from the girl. Johnny looked up and saw a boy near his age standing over him. His eyes were that of an angered beast, and his face was inhumanly distorted with anger. Johnny was staring at a real lion—an actual carnivore about to devour his meal.

Johnny tried to stand, but the beast pounced on top of him. Without giving Johnny even a chance to whimper the first syllable of his plea, the beast’s fist buried itself into the bully’s face.

“You…!” the beast spoke as his other fist buried into Johnny’s face.

“…Sick!…” Back to the original fist.

“…Cowardly!..” The other fist again.

“…Piece of…!” The right.

“…Garbage!…” The left.

With a roar, the beast wailed on with just brutality on Johnny’s face until his blood mulched into a nice cushion. Once the beast was done, Johnny stared silently at the beast with tears drizzling from his eyes. Defeated and petrified with the fear that even breathing too loudly would earn him more beatings. The beast, still on top of Johnny, now turned his attention to the rest of Johnny’s posse. Manny and Frankie had been frozen with their eyes bearing the horror. They weren’t sure if they were breathing through the entire frenzy. Without protest, they frantically stumbled to their feet and fled hysterically from the scene.

“Get out of here.” The beast dismounted from the buzz boy and stood over him. “If I see you doing things like this again, I’ll bury you.” The beast inspected his battered hands. The adrenaline-induced numbness was diminishing. His hands were a bloody pulp, bruised, and torn, but not all of the blood was his. He stared down Johnny as the boy struggled to stand. With a battered face that his mother might not even recognize, Johnny glimpsed at the beast before limping away from the playground without a single word or complaint.

With buzz boy leaving, the boy checked up on the girl.

“Are you okay?” The boy crouched beside the girl. Her eyes were glued to the skies and he looked up along with her to see what she was seeing. Stars. Countless stars that filled the skies. He glimpsed back at her and his heart sunk at how void of life her eyes were.

“Hey,” the boy tried again, clearing his throat. “Are you alright? They’re gone now.” He reached his hand out to gently nudge her shoulders. As the boy’s battered hand closed in on the girl life came back into her eyes. It startled the boy. She let out a scream and scurried away from the boy. That startled him even more. She hid under a big metal slide, hugging her legs close, and buried her head into them.

“Geez!” the boy chuckled as he studied his hand. “Ow! I guess I wouldn’t want to be touched by these hands either…” The boy looked at the girl whose head was still buried into her legs.

“Promise you won’t tell,” the boy said with a smile to his audience of one who paid no attention to him. He stared at his hands and concentrated. A stream of energy engulfed his hands as if every particle of his skin was becoming part of the stream itself. He wondered if this was smart. It wouldn’t be too surprising for her to turn against him knowing now that he was a Gifted. She could probably also find herself someone who’d pay her well for the information. His hands slowly began to repair themselves, knitting together the torn flesh and even ‘burning’ away the mess of blood on them into streams.

“Ta-da~!” The boy looked up at the girl and wiggled all of his fresh fingers. To his surprise, she was looking his way. Her eyes were opened as wide as they could be, and her hand stretched as far it could with her trembling palm facing him. Startled, the boy lost his balance and fell backwards only to be saved from his tumble by a wall.

A wall?

There should be nothing but an empty space behind him. The boy quickly looked back to find the buzz boy standing behind him with a brick in his hand frozen in motion from striking down.

The boy looked at the girl. It was her doing. She was a Gifted like him.

“You… frea…ks!” Johnny, with much effort, barely managed to squeeze out those words through his teeth. The girl closed her palm into a fist, and the brick in Johnny’s hand spilled down his arm as dust.

The rescuer now the rescued met eye-to-eye with his could-have-been-assailant in amazement.

“Wow,” he gently admired. “This is pretty cool.” As he poked at Johnny who was clearly annoyed by the gesture, the boy started to recall the things he heard of the most famous Gifted of them all. The pieces and hints of her that he had heard on the news and during his travels. His guts told him he had found her but his head refused to believe those pieces and hints put together painted a young, homeless girl.

“You really shouldn’t have come back, man.” The boy clenched his hand into a fist. “I think you earned yourself another beating.” His fist cut through the air and stopped right before it made contact on Johnny’s face. Fresh tears began to drizzle down Johnny’s eyes and his pants darkened.

“No sense in it, is there?” The boy turned his head to the girl. “Can you let him go?”

She seemed surprised and uncertain. But she nodded and lowered her hand. As the hold on Johnny’s body released, Johnny collapsed onto the ground. He quickly studied the hand that held the brick and then analyzed the damage on his pants.

“You should run,” the boy said.

Johnny fled on all fours until he eventually found himself on his two feet at the edge of the playground. He took a glance at the boy and a glance at the girl then walked away, cursing under his breath as he left.

“You freaks will have what’s coming!” Johnny turned back once he had reached the exit to the playground and spoke just loud enough to be barely considered a shout.

“Maybe I should have smacked him once more,” the boy spoke light-heartedly as he watched the bully walk away with his tail between his legs. He turned to the girl with a smile and said, “But given what people think about us with these ‘gifts,’ I thought we ought to be a little more generous than others. My mom always did say to be the bigger man.” The girl’s head was buried in her legs once again; except, this time he noticed she was furtively peeking out at him. The boy shook out his shaggy dark hair for the little bits of brick dust that got sprinkled in from earlier.

“Thanks by the way,” the boy said. “We should get out of here. It’s especially not safe for people like ‘us.’” He squinted to find her peeking eye in the darkness. As their eyes met, she hid it away behind her legs. The boy walked gingerly towards the girl and sat just barely a hands reach away from her. She flinched a little bit, but there weren’t any screams or fleeing.

Progress?

“Hey,” The boy spoke softly as he would to a young child. “Did you hear me? It’s not safe at night—especially for someone tiny as you. They might come back. Maybe with even more people now that he knows we’re couple of freaks.”

No response. Not even a budge. She reminded the boy of a hedgehog rolled up into a ball, hiding away from the scary world. He poked at the ball with his finger. Her body was cold, stiff, and thin.

The boy searched his bag and pulled out a small, white paper bag.

“You’ve got to be starving,” the boy said as he pulled out a white, powdered, jelly donut from the paper bag. “Here,” he said as he wiggled the donut in front of the girl. She gave it no real attention.

“It’s really good,” the boy said as he tore the donut in two and put the half of it in his mouth. He wasn’t exactly sure why he thought doing this would help to entice her to eat it as well other than that he saw it on TV and movies. But perhaps because of the smell of the donut’s sweet nectar, the sight of its glistening jelly under the moonlight, or simply from having to witness someone devour a meal with an empty stomach, the girl’s eyes twinkled as she quietly and secretly observed the boy. The boy carefully offered her the remaining half of the donut and she cautiously accepted with slightly trembling hands. She first sniffed the soft and powdery bread with certain amount of discretion. Her eyes widened and she sniffed the bread again with a bit more excitement. It wasn’t long before she finally decided to lick the jelly. A lick quickly turned to two and the two turned into a bite after bite until the donut was no more.

“Why didn’t you stop them if you could do what you did back there?” The boy worryingly asked as he watched the girl finish the donut. As he had expected she didn’t give him an answer and he quietly watched her licking the red goo off her fingers. After she was done the girl stared at the boy as if she wanted to say something. Her lips moved ever so slightly as if she had said something to him before she went back into her cocoon again.

“Well, I’m gonna go then. You’re on your own, alright?” The boy stood up and began to walk slowly away from the girl. He peeked back to check if there was any response from the hedgehog.

There wasn’t.

He almost made it out of the playground until he realized his actions were futile and made a U-turn back to her. She peeked at the footsteps coming back to her. The girl observed as the boy tossed aside his backpack and took his jacket off. The boy was stripped to his thin, plain white t-shirt. The season was getting warmer, but lacking a jacket made him realize it was still formidably chilly during the night. When he turned her way, the girl hid away once more. She felt his jacket softly caress her. The boy then took off his shoes and his socks. He stuffed his socks into his shoes and placed them by her feet.

“A girl should be wearing shoes,” the boy remarked. “And I swear those socks are clean. They’re a new pair I just got.”

After he gave the girl the gifts, the boy gave her a comfortable distance before finding a place to sit. He hugged his legs much like her but for warmth. Shivering slightly, he buried his head into his legs. The boy constantly reminded himself that he was a sentry for the evening and he was not to fall asleep. The girl, however, unlike the boy watchman, slipped into slumber after the violent incident took the last ounce of energy out of her.

He stayed awake for hours until the black night sky waned to a lighter purple from the rising sun. His young mind relented to fatigue for what he figured to be half-an-hour, or perhaps three-quarters-of-an-hour of slumber. When he opened his eyes, he noticed the jacket he gave the girl was no longer blanketing her. Instead, the jacket blanketed him.

“Thanks,” he quietly muttered uncertain if she was still awake. The girl carefully poked her head above her legs. They stared awkwardly in silence for a short moment.

“My name is Kalin,” the boy introduced himself. “Want to go get some breakfast? I’m starving.” He wasn’t really that hungry, but he felt the need to feed the girl. “I can pay for us.” Kalin stood and gave his body a morning stretch before he offered his hand to the girl. The girl stared at the boy with her eyes filled mostly with curiosity and still slightly with intimidation. Ever so carefully, her gauntly hand reached out for his. When her hand softly landed into his, he gently enclosed his hand around hers.

For her, the small gesture was a paramount reminder.

A reminder of how much warmth there was supposed to be when you touch another person. Even though his hand and her hand were both frigid from the night, warmth ignited within her as his hand wrapped around hers.

“Ruby.”

Her voice was so soft that it sounded like a gentle wind passing by.

“My name is Ruby.”

The revelation made the smile on the boy’s face even wider. With Ruby’s hand in his, Kalin led them out into the daylight.


Revised Edition of Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian will be released TOMORROW  (12/9/2015)!

Keep Up With  the Updates!
Twitter: @ASAramiru
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ASAramiru

Black Halo: the Witch and the Guardian PREVIEW Part 4

Banner

REVISED version of

Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian

is coming out on 12/9/2015!

Preview Event:

PART 1 (Prologue, Chapter 1)

PART 2 (Interlude 1)

PART 3 (Chapter 2, Chapter 3)


Blurb:

With the Light, came Magic, and the Witch. As mysterious as she was fearsome, and as powerful as she was merciless, the Witch almost succeeded in ending the world until she was vanquished by a hero and his comrades.

This is the legend of the Witch and the Guardian.

Centuries after the nigh calamity, this legend is as much as almost anyone knows of what truly happened back then and as much of an explanation anyone has of what ended an era in human civilization.

Though the people may never learn the whole story, you as the reader will follow the days that led up to how a young girl named Lily became immortalized as the Witch though her name, dreams and life became forgotten.


 

Chapter 4
THE CHASE

Landris stalked after the hooded boy with all the care and attention of a proper predator, though part of him wished to simply ambush the man and be done with it. He moved through the crowds while maintaining what he thought to be the perfect distance from the redhead—close enough to keep his heart beating with excitement, but far enough to keep the prey deaf to it.

To Julian and Sarah, Landris’s movements seemed unnaturally skillful. He seemed to know the exact moment to change his pace and know exactly how to incorporate the oncoming traffic of pedestrians as part of his camouflage. Though, his talent in espionage wasn’t too surprising as Landris always seemed to excel during the training and athletics back at the facility. His talent seemed near uncanny and unreachable to most of the other students.

“Do you think that’s really him?” Julian jogged up next to Landris. Sarah quickly followed after her friend.

“Don’t know. Seems like it,” Landris whispered his reply back without turning his attention away. He was completely in tune with his target.

“Maybe instead of stalking the guy, we can try to talk to him,” Sarah suggested. The two boys responded by giving her a dumbfounded look.

“He might not be—” Sarah let out a defeated sigh. “…never mind.”

 

Red light.

 

Landris shortened his stride as he saw the hooded man stop at the red cross-walk sign. Julian and Sarah stopped with Landris, and the three clumped up together as if they were enjoying a chat. Landris peeked at his prey and had a funny feeling that the man was peeking back at them. But it was difficult to tell with that hood shrouding most of his head.

 

 Green light.

 

“Should one of us wait for Mr. Jung?” Sarah asked as the group began picking up the pace after the redhead.

“Is he still at the diner?” Julian looked back at the restaurant which was, by now, the size of a small toy. Mr. Jung was on his phone catching up behind them at a steady pace. He nodded to them to go on.

The redhead knows, Landris instincts warned him. Doesn’t it make sense for someone who’s with the most wanted person in the world to develop some sort of extraordinary perception for this sort of thing?

The redheaded boy led the Silver Aegis students further and further away into the outskirts of the city. More and more abandoned buildings and less and less people filled the streets.

He’s either flushing us out or—Landris’s heart beat slightly faster with the next thought—…he’s leading us to her.

“He’s sure confident, isn’t he,” Julian whispered to Sarah as they trailed a few steps behind Landris.

“Suppose that’s why he’s the leader,” Sarah replied with a hint of respect in her speech.

The graying sky was fitting for the silent and desolate emptiness of the outskirts. The bustling signs of life that the city had died, and only the occasional whispers of the autumn wind accompanied the footsteps of the few who remained. The students and their instructor continued their slow and gradually more obvious pursuit.

The redhead suddenly turned off the main sidewalk and slipped into an alleyway between some buildings.

Landris tossed aside the subtlety and ran after the man. Julian, Sarah and Mr. Jung followed after the two.

By the time Landris turned into the alleyway, all there was were traces of what he guessed to be the redhead’s ‘gift’. Blue streams of energy lingered in the air, dancing lazily before fading like smoke. Landris looked up. The redhead looked down at him from the top of the building. His hood had fallen down from the jump revealing his iconic crimson hair. The redheaded teen looked startled. He had guessed that someone was after him, but he didn’t expect to be right. The drinks the redhead had carried with him had spilled from the leap. He inspected the drinks before deciding to keep them. After returning the hood to its proper place, he walked away.

Landris tightened his legs. Beneath his jeans, the veins of his legs began to glow in luminescent light.

“Lan—Landris!” Julian managed to catch up moments before Landris’s leap. His shaking voice and legs hadn’t caught up to him until that moment. Face to face with the Witch’s friend, Julian’s nerves struck without a warning. Even when he grasped why he was shaking, Julian still couldn’t manage to keep himself steady.

Landris completed the jump, soaring into the air and landing on the top of the building right about where the redhead stood. Sarah and Mr. Jung arrived at the alleyway only to hear Landris land on the rooftop above them.

“Go,” Mr. Jung instructed his other student without missing a beat. “Julian, Go!”

Julian looked at Mr. Jung helplessly and decided to hide his trembling hands by clenching them to a fist.

“Julian…” Sarah called out to him with a worried look. Her look gutted Julian and the shame of his cowardice acted as courage.

He looked above and saw Landris’s broad back standing tall about to confront the redhead. The one chosen by the Witch to serve her.

“Are you alright?” Sarah asked as she gently placed both of her hands around Julian’s shoulders and studied his face. Whatever look was on his face wasn’t the face Julian wanted to show Sarah. “You don’t have to go, Julian. Landris can take care of this.”

Clenched fist. Clenched teeth. Julian disappeared before Sarah’s eyes.

 

 

 

Chapter 5
SEEING RED

…According to the records, the Magic of the past seemed entirely different than the way it is today. It is speculated that it is due to the streams of aether itself were not yet fully developed in the world, and the human species’ bodies were not yet ready to accept them naturally. Instead, each individual’s bodies reacted to the aether differently. Those whose bodies were predisposed to react to certain types of aether reacted to them by acquiring certain specific talents of Magic even without the need to manipulate and conform the streams…

 

The redheaded teen stood at the center of the rooftop when he heard the noise behind him. He cringed at his suspicion of what the noise could be and let out a sigh of frustration when it was proven correct as he turned to find his stalker. It was bad as he could have asked for. He wasn’t just any curious stalker, he was a fellow Gifted.

Countless particles of light gathered in an instant and formed Julian next to Landris. Julian looked below and saw Sarah looking up at him with worried eyes. It was a look that he didn’t want to receive from Sarah. He turned to the redhead and decided to face him as Landris would.

“What are you guys?” the redheaded teen asked with a voice just loud enough to be heard across the distance that separated him and his chasers.

Julian unconsciously glanced at Landris for his guidance—his lead.

“We’re Gifted like you!” Landris yelled back. “We just want to talk!”

“Are you with Emily?!” the redhead asked. The hint of puzzlement on his pursuer’s face confirmed to the redhead his suspicion that his stalkers were definitely unwelcome solicitors.

Sarah looked up at her two friends, uncertain how she could join them. Mr. Jung, on the phone requesting for assistance, inspected the main streets. A few pedestrians who noticed the boy leaping to the rooftops were already on their phones. She guessed, some were calling the police while others filmed the event.

“So, talk!” the redhead demanded.

“Like this? I’m pretty sure it’d be best for all of us to find somewhere away from the public eyes! That tomato-red hair of yours is pretty eye-catching.” Landris wanted to say ‘an eyesore.’

“Or, it sounds like it’d be best for all of us if we just go our separate ways!” the redheaded teen raised his voice slightly.

“Look!” Landris paused for a moment, looking for the friendly tone to his voice. “We are a group of Gifted who are looking for more of us to band together. To provide a safe place for all of us. Even for you and your friend!” This scenario was annoying; it would be simpler, quicker, and more satisfying for him to simply rush the redheaded ingrate and drag him back with them.

“No, thanks!” the redhead curtly replied and turned around. He had figured they might have had an idea who he was, but the confirmation gave him no reason to stay.

It was time for Julian to step out of Landris’s shadow. The only way for him to grow was for him to take the steps forward. Pushed by the urge to prove himself, Julian appeared next to the redhead and grabbed onto his arm. His eyes met with the redhead’s eyes. Julian quickly realized he wasn’t ready to meet the eyes of someone who was willing to fight for his life.

“W-wait.” Julian felt as if those words were squeezed out of a pinhole.

“Your legs are shaking,” the redhead calmly spoke, realizing the boy to be not much of a threat. “Perhaps whatever you guys are doing, you’re not suited for it.” The teen snatched his arm away from Julian’s grasp and began to walk away. Julian’s face contorted with shame and frustration with himself—especially at the slight relief he felt inside.

Landris moved next to Julian, and they watched the redhead leap across to the adjacent building. His body jetted off streams of blue light and confirmed to Landris what he saw earlier was indeed that boy’s ‘gift’. Though even at this point, he was uncertain what the specifics of it were. The unknown was strangely exhilarating and made his heart pound. Landris felt awakened as if he knew that the redhead wouldn’t disappoint him as his prey. The small smile on Landris face startled Julian and made him further realize that they were of different breed.

“Julian,” Landris called out to his frozen stiff companion. The better option than chasing after the man himself depended on his lackluster comrade.

“Julian!” Landris raised his voice and finally grasped Julian’s attention. “You want to make up for what you did right here?”

Julian felt twisted inside. What was it that made him and Landris so dissimilar? Were they truly just built differently? He always thought, at the very least, he would be able to find courage and talent during the times when they counted. That when the call to action came, he would rise to it.

“You’re the one who’s going to have to fix this, Julian.” Landris placed one hand on Julian’s shoulder. His hands were large compared to Julian’s bony shoulders, and the hand felt like a mantle had been placed protectively upon his shoulders. Julian hated the comfort it gave him.

“You have to go after him because it’s going to be a mess if I do,” Landris spoke softly but sternly. Julian responded simply by nodding.

“I’ll go look for somewhere private where you can bring him. You got your phone on you?” Landris began inspecting the buildings that surrounded them.

It took a bit for Julian to process what Landris was asking. Once he realized it, he looked at Landris with widened eyes.

“Y-yeah, b-but,” Julian tried to explain why what Landris was asking would be unreasonable. Perhaps even impossible.

“Alright, I’ll call you once I find the place.” Landris ignored Julian’s protests to force the boy into action.

“Landris, I don’t think this is a good idea. You know that I can’t…”

“Julian!” Landris raised his voice. “We have no time for this. It’s time to man up. Your time to prove yourself, alright?” Landris stared right into Julian’s eyes. His eyes pierced through Julian’s straw exterior and shaking heart. Julian simply nodded. For the first time, he felt a genuine respect for Landris and even the sense that he was their leader.

“Sarah isn’t going to be with a baby forever,” Landris said as he turned away.

Dick.

Julian looked over yonder at the adjacent building the redhead had gone to, and disappeared from where he stood.

Landris jumped off the rooftop back down to the alleyway below.

“Landris, what’s going on? What about Julian?” Sarah tried to grab Landris who briskly walked past her and Mr. Jung.

 

***

 

Julian stood on the edge of the adjacent building’s rooftop and looked down below at the alleyway. His teleportation was nearly silent, and it didn’t alert the redhead walking through. The Witch’s lackey headed the main street. Sirens were wailing from afar and closing in.

“Seriously?” The redhead muttered as Julian appeared few feet in front of him.

Julian’s stomach twisted as he worked his mouth, but nothing came out. His mind was frozen. Were they about to fight? Was he about to be murdered? What would Landris do?

What would Landris do? Really?

The redhead began to walk towards Julian.

“I thought I was pretty clear. Just let me through,” the teen spoke as he approached the scrawnier and the younger looking one of the two stalkers.

“Look…” Julian’s lips quivered. “Just… just come with us.”

“No,” The Witch’s friend replied. “And you should rethink being a part of any groups with the Gifted. That usually means trouble.”

As the redhead walked past him, Julian grabbed the man’s arm again. A position that was far too familiar to both of them now.

“Let go,” the Witch’s friend spoke. He had also heard the sirens and was running out of patience.

Feeling as if the redhead was looking down on him like Landris would, Julian threw a punch and landed it squarely on the boy’s face. The blow didn’t seem to do much more than make him very irritated. For a moment, they stared at one another in silence as the redhead contemplated his next action.

The sirens.

The redhead, streams jetting from his body, grabbed a hold of Julian and tossed him towards one end of the alleyway. Julian helplessly flailed his arms and legs until he hit the wall and slid to the ground. The Witch’s friend turned the other way and ran with the streams still emanating from his body. He was fast; perhaps even as fast as Landris. Julian quickly came up with an idea that he knew he may regret. The phone vibrated in Julian’s pocket. Ignoring the list of consequences growing in his mind, he teleported once more.

Julian appeared as close as he could to the redhead. Close enough that at his speed, the redheaded teen wouldn’t be able to stop in time. His plan in near completion, Julian braced himself with the little time he had. The collision with the redhead sent Julian flying into countless particles as he immediately teleported again.

The sheepish stalker’s howl of pain came from behind the redhead and before he realized what had happened. The particles gathered behind him in an instant and carried Julian through with all of the momentum from the collision. The two collided again and they tumbled onto the ground. Luckily for Julian, he was on top. Realizing his plan had worked Julian smiled through the pain.

Writhing in pain, Julian quickly took out his vibrating phone from his pocket and turned it on.

“Hey, we’re ready. You got him?” Julian heard Landris’s voice through his phone, and latched onto the redhead’s jacket tightly with one hand and held his phone with the other.

Although teleporting with inanimate objects was tested to be as natural for Julian as traveling by himself, when it came to living things it proved to be far more difficult. The success rate was currently about twenty percent. Out of five attempts, failures resulted in anywhere from Julian and the test subject failing to appear at the designated location, Julian and the test subject appearing in separate locations, and the final failure that resulted in Julian refusing to do anymore testing which resulted in the test subject ending up at the end of the teleportation much differently than how it had started. It was a result traumatizing enough that Director Jones allowed Julian to stop as well.

Julian stared at his phone. Landris had called him in a video call and presented Julian the empty room. With a heavy breath and a grunt, Julian spoke to the Witch’s friend, “Just so you know, I’m really sorry if we…”

And Julian and the redhead dispersed into countless particles.


Revised Edition of Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian will be released on 12/9/2015!

Keep Up With  the Updates!
Twitter: @ASAramiru
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ASAramiru

Black Halo: the Witch and the Guardian PREVIEW Part 3

Banner

REVISED version of

Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian

is coming out on 12/9/2015!

Preview Event:

PART 1 (Prologue, Chapter 1)

PART 2 (Interlude 1)


 

Blurb:

With the Light, came Magic, and the Witch. As mysterious as she was fearsome, and as powerful as she was merciless, the Witch almost succeeded in ending the world until she was vanquished by a hero and his comrades.

This is the legend of the Witch and the Guardian.

Centuries after the nigh calamity, this legend is as much as almost anyone knows of what truly happened back then and as much of an explanation anyone has of what ended an era in human civilization.

Though the people may never learn the whole story, you as the reader will follow the days that led up to how a young girl named Lily became immortalized as the Witch though her name, dreams and life became forgotten.


 

Chapter 2
THE REDHEAD

A quaint little coffee shop.

It was one of many a person could find in the city. Small enough to still seem snug with its single early-bird customer, the cafe decorated from top to bottom with ‘personality’ to save itself from becoming what they considered to be lifeless coffee shop chains. There were pictures of past visitors, vinyl hanging like paintings—some of which even the young customer recognized—and a bulletin board for the local bands to advertise their garage shows. Instead of the usual easy listening jazz, this little shop decided a little grunge was better fitting with the morning caffeine.

The lone customer waited for his order as he listened to the cafe’s unique choice of music. The flashy intro of the news program on the TV caught his attention. His head snugly tucked into the hood of his leather jacket, he turned his attention from the music to the television on the wall.

“Make no mistake,” A plump man, aged and molded by a long career of being dissatisfied and irate, spoke with authority and confidence. “We are at war. It’s a war not with our people but with this sudden but very drastic change. With change, we have to adapt. That is the law of nature—adapt to survive. The people have the right to be protected and to feel safe in their homes in this great nation of ours. We aren’t talking about imprisoning men and women out of prejudice. We are talking about simply containing these men and women—who, mind you, possess a catastrophic potential to harm us—in the name of security of our nation. Joining our discussion today is the host of a popular news commentary show, The Independent Voice, Erol Acar.”

The image on the screen split in two. One side of screen still showed the original man with his ginger comb over, and the other side showed a new, tan skinned man who was younger in comparison with a square jaw and a comparably fuller set of black hair.

“Thanks for joining us on The Point, Mr. Acar. It’s a pleasure,” said the host.

“Thanks for having me, Mr. O’Connor,” Mr. Acar answered politely.

“Please, call me Brian. So the topic today: is what we are doing with those wizards and the witches—the Gifted—morally wrong?”

“Uh… well, Brian, first of all, I have to say, I think you’re losing touch with humanity.” The host’s eyebrows slightly furrowed at Mr. Acar’s remark. “At war, Brian? We are at war? You say it’s against “change,” but those “changes” are people! Our own people! The Gifted are our citizens! Not to mention most of the Gifted we discovered so far are mostly children and teens!”

“Children who can blow up buildings, Erol! Children who can and have killed people.”

“Not all “gifts” have been inherently hostile! Like that boy a year or so ago who simply… disappeared… teleported away from his bullies! And even if a child or a person had a dangerous “gift” it doesn’t mean they’ll use it to harm others! You and the government are asking people to preemptively judge a person guilty and dangerous before they did anything wrong!”

“Sure, but we don’t let children carry guns…”

“Guns aren’t part of their being! You’re teaching the people to be scared and to fear these people who need our help and understanding!”

“Because the cost of simply waiting and letting something happen is too traumatic, Erol!” Mr. O’Connor slammed his desk in outburst. “It’s not a preemptive strike at the Gifted. It’s simply a precautionary measure. I’m not asking these Gifted to be publicly executed like in some of those other countries. I—we—are simply asking for some sort of containment! And do I need to remind…”

“There are new studies being done that acquiring ‘gift’ may not necessarily be a predisposed condition,” Mr. Acar, heated by the conversation, didn’t let the host finish. “But that anyone can acquire these abilities. Some even suggest that you can learn these abilities on your own. Should all of us then be taken in as a precautionary measure by those private military companies?”

“Alright, we’re getting a bit off the topic here, but you know what? I’m going to address this. Those private military companies work for the government and for us—the people—Erol! For you, for me, and for our friends and families! We can’t expect our military to step in on this matter! They have their own jobs and duties to fulfill. And we certainly can’t expect our police officers to be able handle potentially walking, living, breathing weapons of mass destruction! We’ve already seen the results of that. We need specialists and those with matching fire power. And YES! Anyone who decides to become part of those Gifted should be dealt with the same way!”

“That’s just ridiculous, you’re allowing…”

“We didn’t start the war, Erol! They did! Do I have to remind you what happened?” The host pointed his finger in emphasis to each of his statement, and now it lingered in the air as he waited for his guest to answer so that he may pounce again.

“No. You don’t have to do that. As I was saying…” Mr. Acar fought to finish his point.

“No, I am going to remind you. Two years ago… almost three years now, that Light appeared out of nowhere. We don’t know what it is, where it’s from, and why it’s here. Just look out your window and it’s there like an eyesore. On the day that thing appeared, so did the Gifted. The first one to introduce us to the rest of them was the Witch! The Witch everyone’s looking for one who’s now even considered an international terrorist by many governments. What did she do? Erol? What did she do that day?” Mr. O’Connor waited for Mr. Acar to answer with a smug smirk.

“Brian, let me finish what I was trying…”

“She MURDERED a well-respected doctor in his home. That’s the first act done by the Gifted in this world and a very fitting act to let us know what was to come. She’s now popping up all over the world terrorizing it with her red-haired lemming…”

“Terrorizing? Really? Name one thing that could be considered a terrorist act. I can name a few where you can say ‘reckless’ and ‘questionable’ but ‘terrorizing’?” This time Mr. Acar interrupted.

“She attacked our own military!”

“Sources from people who were actually there reported…”

“And who knows what she’s doing in those other countries. Is she a spy? Is she a gun for hire? Is she a walking bomb trained by our enemies? Ignorantly meddling in foreign affairs has a tremendous impact around the world. It’s simply irresponsible and dangerous!”

“…a few rotten apples shouldn’t…”

“Hey, your orders are ready,” the part-timer at the coffee shop tried to get the attention of her lone customer.

“A few rotten apples?” Mr. O’Connor interrupted yet again. “These few rotten apples are popping up everywhere now. They’re even organizing. They have demonstrated that they are a tremendous threat to us regular people. These so-called few rotten apples went off in schools, offices, courts, and even out in the middle of the street in downtown. And people died, Erol. They didn’t even have a chance. We already even have a suspected Gifted serial killer they call… what do they call him… ‘The Invisible Man’? And like I said before—there are even groups of them now. Banding together to do god knows what. There are rumors about these bands that are evolving even from just being gangs to selling their ‘gifts’ for use to the highest bidder. That rumored group called the Wolves or something like that is one of those. It’s birth of a living, breathing black market for new types of weapons that the world has never seen before. Except this time, the weapons themselves get paid. Who knows what they’ll do next! Who can protect us from them? You, Mr. Acar?”

“Can I talk now?”

“Go ahead,” Mr. O’Connor smugly gave permission.

“I recognize there are few of the Gifted out there, like the Witch, who should be brought to justice. And they are, without a doubt, making the world a harder place for the other Gifted and us. But we have to remember, no matter what, that the Gifted are still people like you and me. In fact, if the new studies prove to be correct, any of us can be the Gifted. The Gifted may not even be that Gifted. What you are arguing for is to allow our government to unofficially establish a police state through the private military, and to treat people like criminals regardless of whether or not they’ve committed a crime. We can’t let fear rule us like they want us to. It is during the times of greatest fear that we must remember to be brave enough to do the right thing.”

“Yes, yes. Very touchy, Mr. Acar. We’ll be back with the sentimental Mr. Acar after these commercials.” The host looked at the camera and smiled. An outro melody begins to play as the camera zoomed out.

“World’s gone mad,” A girl’s voice said, bringing the lone customer back to the real world.

Startled, he quickly turned away from the TV to the register, and found the brunette waitress resting her chin on the palm of her hand. She was looking straight at him with a grin and sparkling eyes. She blinked in quick succession as a response when the customer finally recognizing her existence. In front of her were two paper cups fixed with lids and fitted in a drink carrier to accompany a small box.

“I’ve never actually seen any Gifted yet myself. At least, not with my own eyes.” She lifted her chin off of her hand while maintaining eye contact. “I tried to get your attention before, but you seemed really into it so I thought I’d just let you be.” She had a wide, amused smile on her face. “That’ll be 8.75,” she said, reaching out with an open palm to the customer revealing her heavily tattooed arm. She watched as the boy searched his pockets for his wallet. Even though she, herself, was only a sophomore working through college, he seemed even younger than her. Probably just a high school student or maybe he was a freshman in college. He was about as tall, maybe slightly taller, than average for a guy around his age. His hood scrunched his long, obviously dyed red hair that hid most of his facial features, but she thought his revealed milky skin harmonized well with his hair like strawberries and cream. She figured he was probably another fan of the local music scene or perhaps one of many who wanted to stand out against the norms of the society.

“Here’s a ten.” The customer dropped a couple of bills onto her hand. “Keep the change.” He gave a small smile to return hers, and packed the box carefully into his backpack. Once the package was secured, he grabbed his hot drinks and headed for the door.

“Come back soon!” she shouted after the customer as the bell over the door jingled with his departure.

Although it was still only the eve of winter, even the gentlest of winds were frigid and piercing. The skies were gray and without mercy from the sun. People passed through the busy street huddled into their winter coats and paced briskly to their destinations. The cups weren’t marked. The redhead sniffed at the drinks to find the one that didn’t have the sweet oozing scent of chocolate; if he found the one with the dry but rich and nutty aroma of freshly brewed black coffee, then he would have found his beverage. He was lucky. The first cup passed his sniff test, though it smelled a little burnt.

He took a moment to let the warm drink heat him up. A small award for the long journey he had made. It’s was a long walk to the city and it wouldn’t be any shorter going back. The winter season easily excavated memories buried deep beneath as if the soil never hardened. Maybe the memories just weren’t buried deep enough.

It’d been almost two years since he went off on his journey. Two years since his new life began, and his old life started to fade away. As time passed, the distance between the two moments of his lives grew further and further apart. The old times seemed more imagined now than a one he lived through. Only the artifacts of past memories reminded him that they were all very real.

A police car.

The sirens and lights of the law enforcement drove away the nostalgia and brought the boy back to the present. How ironic that something so key to his old life now snapped him back to reality. It reminded him that his old life was over, and he was in the present. He turned away as much as he could from the flashing vehicle. Once the car turned a corner, the redhead put his coffee back into its holder and hastily went on his way. It didn’t feel right that he enjoyed the drink by himself as someone was waiting for him. Kalin felt a slight guilt brewing inside.

 

 

Chapter 3
SERENDIPITY

Landris stared blankly out the window. It’d been a long time since he had been downtown full of people. A while since he sat in a restaurant about to eat a mediocre breakfast that’d taste surprisingly as bad in any of its sister restaurants across the country. The theme of the chain was ‘retro,’ and its idea of ‘retro’ was a jukebox, neon lights, and checkered floors. He looked at his two companions who had been giddy since their plane ride. They chatted about doing things they probably knew they didn’t have time to do on this trip, and of the things they missed that they would long for again when the trip ended. He didn’t feel as excited as these two. Frankly, he was bored. When was the highlight of this trip going to happen?

“So what will it be guys?”

He ignored the middle-aged waitress who he guessed probably had had too much fun in high school and now couldn’t afford to do better than work in a second-rate chain restaurant. Her dark brown hair that was obsessively curled and her bright red lipstick made her look like she was either dressed to the restaurants theme, or she woke up that morning and decided that she’d dress like a relic.

“I’ll have the pancakes with scrambled eggs and hash browns!” The female companion cheerfully answered. Landris always thought Sarah was too much of a looker to be hanging around with her friend Julian. She had brunette hair curled in lusciously soft waves, an egg-shaped face, and a smile that’d even turn drunkards to gentlemen. Julian, on the other hand, was scrawny with dirty blond hair, and no signs of a single muscle in his body. To make matters worse, he followed her around like a puppy and like so, he was probably going to order—

“I’ll have the same please,” said Julian with a smile.

Yep. Just as he had guessed.

Sarah, Julian’s ‘best friend’, was a sweetheart. She was hot, if Landris may be frank, and she probably could have gone through her entire life with just her looks. To her credit, she managed to also develop a personality and respectable intelligence. Meanwhile, Julian was just that kid always in the background who was too timid for his own good. They claimed they were childhood friends, and Landris figured Julian probably knew he was lucky to even have that. Julian got plenty of attention from other boys and men when he walked around with his brunette princess. Though, Landris also figured Julian will probably never have the guts to actually spark something between them.

“Can’t decide on your own food, Julian?” Landris asked with a smirk.  It was a need for Landris to push Julian around. He wanted to get the toxin of weakness out of Julian.

“Don’t be a jerk, Landris. Julian can order whatever he wants!” The princess came to rescue her wimpy prince. Her voice was stern, but never had a hint of venom—always like a mother scolding a child.

Landris simply smiled in response to Sarah and glanced at Julian drowning in its implications. Sarah was a nice girl, no complaints there; she was both a pleasure to be with and to look at. She just needed better taste in men. Whether he seemed interested or not, Sarah also seemingly went out of her way to include him in various activities. Small things like that both Landris and Julian noticed.

“Oh, and where’s the older gentleman who came with you guys?” the waitress asked, seeing that the only trace left of the man was a bag beside Landris.

“He’s in the restroom. What did Mr. Jung want again?” Sarah looked to Julian and Landris for answers.

“Breakfast,” Landris replied.

Ignoring the smart-ass, Sarah furtively placed the tip of her ring and pinky finger on Julian’s hand.

“Right,” Sarah recalled. “He’ll have the steak omelet with hash browns on the side please. He also said he’d like to get his coffee topped off”—The waitress jotted down the order on her notepad with a pen—“…and an orange juice for the table please,” Sarah finished her order.

“Hun? How about you?” the waitress asked Landris with a friendly smile. She caught herself staring at the boy. Ash blond hair with emerald green eyes. His body permeated athleticism even beneath the layers of cloth, and his face had sharp and chiseled facial features as if the boy was a movie star of the golden age. These qualities of Landris were one of the few reasons why he was favored to be the poster boy for Director Jones’ new project. The only detractions were his mouth and attitude that went against his Prince Charming looks.

“I’m good,” Landris answered curtly. “I’m probably better off not eating here anyways.”

“Landris…” Sarah paused for a moment before deciding it wasn’t worth pursuing the rudeness of the latter part of Landris’s statement. “You have to eat something. You haven’t eaten anything since we left.” The mother Sarah scolded and gave Landris exactly what he wanted from her. Right on cue, Julian flashed him a look filled with jealousy. It didn’t go missed by Landris.

“Well,” Landris began, leaning closer towards Sarah. “What would you suggest then?”

“Well,” Sarah replied, leaning closer towards Landris. “I suggest breakfast.”

Landris and Sarah exchanged sarcastic smiles.

“I’ll have whatever they’re having,” Landris told the waitress. The waitress scribbled down the last order and told the group it’d be fifteen to twenty minutes before going about her way. As she walked towards the kitchen to submit the order, she passed by the older gentleman that came with the group. He was a bulky middle-aged man whose prominent cheekbones made him seem younger than he probably was. Short hair combed with enough gel to shine, thick eyebrows that were always furrowed, and he walked with the pride of a soldier’s march.

“Did you guys order me the omelet?” The man asked as he sat beside Landris and rejoined the group.

“Yes, sir!” Sarah cheerfully answered. Mr. Jung appreciated Sarah over the other two kids he had to babysit just for her brightness. The waitress returned with a glass pitcher full of OJ and poured four glasses for each person in the party.

“Can I see it again?” Landris reached out his hand to Mr. Jung as he sipped on his juice.

“How about a ‘please’?” Mr. Jung suggested. The two stared at each other for a short while, both refusing to stand down.

“Please,” Landris gave in. It was Mr. Jung’s tablet after all. Mr. Jung dug into his bag and handed the boy what he wanted. Without showing much gratitude, Landris turned on the device and found the image right away.

It was a rare image, albeit a very blurry one, of the Witch and her red-headed friend. They were spotted in the war-torn desert country seemingly helping a few civilians from certain death. The picture showed a group of men, women, and children facing a ragtag group of gunmen masked with clothes and scarves with the barrels of their weapons aimed at the people. Standing between them was the Witch and her crimson-haired friend. The quality of the image was blurry at best, but it was the image that became the controversial evidence for those who advocated the falsehood of the Witch’s notoriety and advanced the movement to stop scrutinizing those who are “Gifted’. Meanwhile, it also became one of many evidence against the Witch for her apparent lawlessness and disregard for sovereignty. There were rumors that all of the gunmen were killed.

Unsurprisingly, the image of a dainty girl standing up to men armed with some of man’s most trusted lethal weapons added fuel to the fire for those who already feared the incalculable potential of the Gifted.

“Is it true that she stopped a tank before, Mr. Jung?” Julian asked as he organized the sugar packets at the end of their table by their colors.

“The official word from the military and the intelligence agencies are, ‘no comment.’” Mr. Jung peeked over at his tablet Landris was holding. “…but our inside sources say—yes, a few of them apparently.”

“I don’t get it. What’s her ‘gift’?” Julian looked at Sarah who simply shook her head and then turned to Landris. “I don’t think even you could stop a tank, Landris.” His words went completely ignored by Landris who was still glued to the tablet.

“Let me see that again too, Landris.” Sarah reached out for the tablet, and Landris handed it over to her without a fuss.

“She looks even younger than us. How can a tiny girl like that be so frightening?” Sarah marveled as she zoomed in on the blurry picture in a futile attempt to get a closer look at the Witch’s facial features. She dragged around the zoomed picture until she stumbled onto the Witch’s right hand that was raised straight from her chest. A solid black band dangled from the Witch’s wrist that seemed like a common and cheap accessory anyone could find at department stores. Sarah owned a pink one herself. The insignificant item made the Witch seem even more like a regular girl to Sarah.

“Well…” Landris cringed as Julian took on his ‘professor’ tone that he unknowingly adapted whenever he shared his vast knowledge. “There are a lot of countries out there that still use child soldiers, and children are so malleable that they sometimes make even better killers than adults do. They can do things adults wouldn’t and couldn’t imagine, doing them without giving it a single thought. So, seeing that, it’s all possible that the Witch could be a terrorist.”

“I guess,” said Sarah as she now zoomed in on the witch’s friend. “Her redheaded friend looks more like our age. He looks cute. Wonder why he follows her around so much.” Sarah smiled and gave a playful look to Julian. “Do you think they’re a couple?”

“Maybe they’re related?” Julian offered his own theory while suddenly feeling a bit sheepish at Sarah’s smile.

“Maybe he’s just stupid or nuts,” Landris answered. “How can you tell if he’s ‘cute’ anyways from that picture?”

Sarah shrugged.

“You have weird taste in men, Sarah,” Julian joined in.

As the kids chattered, Mr. Jung thought over how he ended up here with these kids. To him, all this was still just madness—the Witch, these kids, and Nancy Jones with her programs. How could these kids and others like them hold the world hostage to their whim.

 

“So, basically… you want me to babysit.” He recalled his meeting from day before.

Mr. Jung had a slight accent whenever he spoke, but it was so minute that only the most petty would point it out. A middle-aged man, his body had seen better years. The only things remaining of his bravado days in the military were his poor excuse for a civilian haircut that was always gelled to a shine and combed to make it seem even shorter, and the trainings ingrained in his mind and body that even showed with how he walked.

He sat across from the mahogany desk of the director, Nancy Jones. Her desk, with a cup of fresh tea on it like any other time he saw Director Jones in her office, was placed in front of a wide panel window that oversaw this entire facility of the Silver Aegis Private Security Firm. The grand office room was elegantly decorated and furnished from top to bottom with exuding tastefulness. Mr. Jung never was very artistic, but even he felt a bit of awe for the extravagance of the room—it was rich yet lacked overtness, and all while still being grand.

“Ma’am?” Mr. Jung tried to get Nancy’s attention away from her tablet and focused back on him.

“You were former special forces in your country with high commendations,” Nancy recited off of her tablet. It was exactly what Mr. Jung wrote in his application to the company. “That’s quite impressive. Not to mention you also spent a little time as an intelligence agent after your military career.” This time, Nancy didn’t recite from her tablet. She looked right at Mr. Jung and studied him. Unlike before, the details of his time in the intelligence community weren’t reported in his application. To be precise, no one should know. Mr. Jung kept his poker face.

“Father of two children with a son of age fifteen and a daughter of age twelve. Tough time for parents, I imagine. Going through the trouble of moving to a new country for this job, I’m assuming was for their benefit?” said Nancy with a gentle smile.

“Yes, but what does any of this have to do with anything?” He and his family had been researched. It wasn’t the cleanest feeling in the world, but she was his boss and his meal ticket. Before the timing was too late, he added, “Ma’am?”

“I’d guess you are a better father than a patriot,” Nancy continued. “…the money and the opportunities here were too good to shy away from. But there are some blanks here that I’m curious about.

 

Caving in to his hunger, Landris walked to the front counter of the restaurant where he saw they had a basket of complimentary hard candies for their customers. He popped one into his mouth and pocketed another for dessert.

 

Mr. Jung maintained his deadpan expression as he listened to the director. On the surface, Director Jones was a woman that he’d wish his daughter to be like when she grew up. Nancy took the time to present herself properly. She was dressed well in clothing that was obviously luxurious but subtle with opulence much like her furniture, and she carried herself even better than she was dressed. Her golden hair was always perfectly kempt and glowed with radiance, her clothing were always perfectly washed, ironed, and fitted, and she walked in confident strides with perfect posture. Neither newly rich nor petulantly rich, she was groomed into her class and naturally exuded her status. Young and powerful, and as elegant as she was intelligent, Nancy’s presence demanded respect. For the lesser few, simply being around her made them feel inadequate and uncomfortable.

“What did you do initially before you came here? There’s a couple of years here you had off after you quit the intelligence work.”

“Money wasn’t good in the government job. I wanted a better life for my two kids, so I took on a business opportunity my friend offered. It failed. So, I came here. Are we going somewhere with this?” The usual calm manner of speech by Mr. Jung was slightly littered with snappiness. Nancy left the tablet on her desk and walked towards the giant panel window that made her office into a watchtower. The sun was shining down on Facility Zero, a small part of the Silver Aegis that also happened to be one of its most important division. From her watchtower, she oversaw the training courses, the armory filled with vehicles and weapons, the rows of trucks bringing in new supplies, and the school and dormitories that were the very purpose of the entire facility. Even as they spoke, there were students being groomed by the Silver Aegis to become leaders of the coming new age. She responded to Mr. Jung as she observed her empire ticking like gears in a clock.

Nancy spoke gently, “When my father started this company, it was just him and a few friends he met from the service. He knew that the world would always need guns, and guns free from a leash would be more beneficial and appreciated in this world than the ones that were simply used as the government’s exclamation mark,” Nancy spoke with her eyes on her father’s legacy. “His work, Silver Aegis, is now the world leader in private security and became one of the most profitable businesses in the world. We have more than twenty facilities placed around the world equipped with gear and technology that can match the military and even some that the military is too cheap to use for their own personnel. On our best days we are the only ones able to provide protection to those the military can’t seem to find the motivation to help.”

Mr. Jung raised an eyebrow.

“We have more than a hundred thousand successful operations and currently employed in twenty-four different nations for fifty-three different operations. A few of those operations technically don’t exist. Right here, Facility Zero, is one such place. Do you have any idea how much it costs to keep an operation of this size off the record?” Nancy seemed proud and amused as her eyes smoldered with ambition.

Ms. Jones finally turned away from the windows and made eye contact with Mr. Jung. The light shining from the windows outlined her body with light. If one didn’t know better, some might say she seemed angelic.

 

Landris sat back down in the booth. He handed a candy to each person, and all but Mr. Jung who was deep in thought thanked him. Julian and Sarah continued their conversation as Landris looked out the window.

 

But the costs are worth it because all else that we have doesn’t compare to what we have here—the students in that academy. Those kids in there will not only be the world’s future, but our future. The Gifted marks the end of an old era and the beginning of a new one. The world will never be the same.”

Mr. Jung knew about the vague purposes of the facility. Other than the top people and instructors, most of the staff rarely got to see the kids studying, training and exercising their ‘gifts.’ Even so close, the Gifted were a bit of tall tale.

“So yes, it’s a babysitting job. But you’re babysitting the company’s most valuable assets; especially, the boy who will be the company’s face for our new project. If things work out, we will also be getting our hands on the world’s most notorious Gifted.”

“The Witch.” Mr. Jung crossed his arms. It was his way of relaxing a little. “How credible is the info that she’ll be in that city on that day?”

“Certain enough to dispatch the students with a chaperone. Though sadly even with such a tip, going myself is a risk we cannot take yet.”

“Is the ‘face of the project’ you’re speaking about that delinquent, Landris?”

Nancy was well aware of Mr. Jung’s distaste for Landris.

“He has rough edges but he’s been making progress. Landris is still a teen and still has much to grow. But he has more than proven himself with his capabilities and his abilities are the type to draw admiration from people. His stubbornness combined with his ambitions will get him to places. He will do what other will not—he’ll be a leader.”

“He’s a delinquent. A punk. There are also pretty troubling rumors of his past.” Jung expected a response from Nancy with that last statement, but his boss remained collected—always wearing a mask with a gentle smile. “I think you see too much in him and I can’t say I understand why.”

“Think of him what you will, Mr. Jung. But there are many other agencies and governments looking to acquire these Gifted children, and your job is to watch over three that we have.”

“Why not just send some of us out instead of using the Gifted?”

“If she were any other Gifted, yes, we’d handle it between us. However, this is the Witch we are dealing with…”

“…and you don’t really think we can handle her,” Mr. Jung finished Nancy’s sentence for her. He figured she probably wasn’t wrong.

“In so many words, yes.” Nancy took a sip of her tea. “Besides, I think it’d be great for the students to get some experience outside the facility, and they’ll help even out the odds. I’m also going on a hunch that she’ll be more cooperative with other Gifted than with just us.”

“If you say so, ma’am. Alright, so what can these kids do exactly?”

“The exact details are confidential for now. But the students we’ve selected to accompany Landris are the ones we thought would be the perfect complement to him and to this assignment. They know their roles, your job is to simply make sure they stay out of trouble and have supervision.”

“When are we leaving?” Mr. Jung asked. He decided not to press further for an answer.

“Tonight. The students are already getting packed and expecting you.”

 

“Here’s your order!”

The smell of eggs and buttermilk pancakes stole Mr. Jung from his flashback. He saw Sarah and Julian’s eyes glimmered with glee when the plates landed in front of them. Curiously, Landris eyes were glued to the window.

“Landris? Your food is here,” Sarah said with matching excitement in her eyes as Julian.

“Look,” Landris said, pointing out the window. “The redhead.”

Landris’s words drew everyone around the table to look out the window at the city street. Across the street on the sidewalk was a young man carrying a bag and a drink carrier with what seemed to be two coffees. His long crimson hair peeked out from the black hood of his leather jacket.

Landris leapt out from his seat before Mr. Jung could give any instructions. Guided only by his gut feelings, Landris rushed out the door to chase after the red-haired boy.


Revised Edition of Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian will be released on 12/9/2015!

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