The Devil & Me (Finale)

Previous Episodes:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4



21 Years and 2 months

 

There’s no such thing as a dull love story to those who are in it.

They had met in an ethics class at their university.

The first date was at a Thai restaurant close to campus.

It was a rocky tumble into love. Neither of them was what they imagined their spouses would be.

Their first kiss was in the car after their second date.

They married on a spring about two years after and had a child by the winter.

A girl.

The girl grew up in the reverie of her childhood where she dreamed many dreams.

A dream of an occupation that she saw as her fairy tale.

A dream about a husband that’d be her prince.

And a dream about a family that’d be her happily ever after.

The tomorrows came slow, but the yesterdays piled on quick. Before she knew it, the child had already realized many things she had imagined and dreamed. And she had long forgotten or abandoned many that she didn’t.

But all of these were the threads that made her no longer a child.

Perhaps the child-her wouldn’t approve of the venue for the moment she once dreamed of.

She may also not approve of the soon-to-be husband that was supposed to be her prince.

But what does a child know?

This was better than anything that the little girl could have imagined because all of this was real. And she and her soon-to-be-husband had traveled their own journeys to get to this moment, right here and now.

A small, unspectacular room with a TV and a bed. There surrounding Suzie and Jay were their closest friends, parents, and a minister.

The silky sunlight seeped through the curtained windows.

Flower petals blanketed the room. They’ll have to be cleaned up sooner than later.

There were tears. There were waves of laughter. It was humble but a heartfelt ceremony to celebrate the union of the young lovers. A story no one else would know. No one else would care. But no one else needed to know. And no one else needed to care.

“Beautiful,” Satan muttered to Beelzebub. “Absolutely stunning.”

The two devils stood outside the room and peeked through the small rectangle window on the door.

Beelzebub watched as Suzie’s father helped her stand next to her soon-to-be husband. Her shaven head covered with a snow-white gown.

Surrounding the devils were a few nurses who were oblivious to the otherworldly beings. The nurses sniffled and held back tears as they stood by just-in-case or until they would be needed.

“You should be happy,” Satan remarked. “This is all because of you”

Beelzebub had no response. No emotions. He simply peered with a dead gaze.

“I feel you don’t have the heart for this anymore,” Satan went on. “I don’t think you believe in what we do anymore.”

A bait of sorts, Beelzebub figured. He stared at Satan in his form of an aging man who’ve relaxed a bit too much on his landbound boat. A shrine of beer bottles piling somewhere.

“Remind me. What are we doing again? Specifically, why are you here?” Beelzebub sharply asked. “Are you out of work? Do you need a temp job? Shoo. You’re classing the place up.”

“I’m here to make sure you bring her home. To finish what you started. Keep your special child with us and away from Him,” Satan spoke gently with a soft smile.

Beelzebub chuckled.

“What do you think that I started? What do you think happened here?” Beelzebub looked deeply into the dead eyes of the devil.

Satan searched for his words a bit.

Suzie kissed her now husband. There were cheers. And as if the moment was already due to be faded into the past, the nurses scurried in and with the attendants cleaned the room.

That. You made that happen,” Satan remarked. “Just a merry-go-round from one moment to the other. But you gave her a moment that’ll define her eternity. No matter what your intentions were you decided that moment for her.”

The door opened. With the nurses, the attendants begin to leave one by one.

A man stopped in his tracks and buried his face into his hands.

“Why,” the man broke into tears. “Why our girl?”

“Stop. Hold it together,” A woman tugged on his arm. “Don’t let her see you cry. Let our daughter have this.”

An almost eerie silence engulfed the hallway as the room emptied. Only the newly married couple remained. The husband sat on the bed next to his wife and held her hand. They whispered to one another. Hugged. Kissed. Whispered some more. Their faces lit with a special smile saved only for the moments of true peace. The couple embraced again until the husband stood to leave. She stared at him as he headed for the door. He held the door open and stood there for a moment to stare back at his wife. She nodded to let him know that it’s okay. He closed the door behind him. He waved on the other side of the door window. She waved back and then stared even long after the husband had disappeared from sight.

Her world began to spin. Nausea. Fatigue. She crumbled into her bed.

After retching, Suzie couldn’t help but laugh.

How ludicrous. She thought.

How selfish. She chided herself.

Marrying someone in this condition.

She was happy and yet gutted.

“You’re the one who will take credit for this. But allow me to show you the grace of finishing the work,” Satan gently placed his hand on Beelzebub’s shoulder. “You can be there to greet her when she comes home.”

Suzie ran to the bathroom. The little she had for breakfast gone with a flush. She clung onto the toilet bowl with barely enough strength to keep her head from dunking into the water. A small regret came over her that she asked to be left alone so that her husband could see the family off and grab a small meal for the two of them. But even in these worst moments, there was a comfort that she was alone through it for once. No one else’s sorrow, pity, and well-being weighing over her.

As she managed to take the few steps back to her bed, Suzie saw him. The devils were and are still angels. Divine beings had a comforting presence even as a surprise. Satan had shed himself of the old man from Burbank retiring to Florida look. He was now somewhere between the ideal image Suzie had of her husband and a father figure.

Something she may have imagined from her childhood.

“Hello,” He spoke calmly with a soft smile.

“Hi,” Suzie crawled into bed. “You’re not him are you?”

“Who?” Satan pointed up. “Him?”

“Of course not,” Suzie laughed. She coughed. Then laughed some more. Satan laughed with her. “I’ve given up on Him doing a damn thing about anything a long time ago. Then again, maybe it says a lot more about me that I’m getting visits from the devil.”

“You’re not Beelzebub,” Suzie said as she pulled up her blanket. “He’s too chicken shit to come see me I think.”

“Perhaps,” the man graciously smiled. “Or perhaps he would be in too much pain to see you like this.”

“So, chicken shit. And so who are you, good sir?”

“I won’t insult your intelligence. I am his brother—”

“And you want my soul or something right? Then I can live? Be happy?”

“You’re sharp.”

“Uh huh. Beelzebub! Get in here!”

Startled only for a moment, Satan gave a defeated smile.

“Beelzebub! You chickenshit! Beelzebub! If some asshole’s going to take my soul it should you, you piece of shi—”

“Boo.”

Beelzebub appeared beside Suzie.

“I’m dying! You stupid ass—” Suzie yelled before succumbing to violent coughs.

“Hey. I’ve been well. Y’know,” Beelzebub drabbled on. “Work’s work. Life’s fine. How are you? Yes. How’s cancer? You don’t look so good. Must not be so good, huh? Yeah, that cancer thing. Kind of a doozy.”

Suzie dug deep and found the energy to give Beelzebub the finger.

“I think you can go now,” Beelzebub shooed the other devil with his hand. “I got my girl.”

“And I had a whole speech prepared,” Satan shrugged.

“Fuck you too, mister,” Suzie said after catching her breath.

Satan chuckled and gave a knowing look to Beelzebub.

“Do whatever you want. Find your happiness. Isn’t that the point?” He whispered into Beelzebub’s ear before disappearing.

A silence as the other devil disappeared.

Beelzebub sat beside Suzie.

Another pause. They sat in silence. A tear trailed down Suzie’s eye. She quickly wiped it away.

“Fuck you. Where were you?” Suzie broke the silence. “If I were to give you my soul, would you be able to save me?”

“Have you ever seen a firework at Paris? All that preparation. All that anticipation. Boom! All of that magnificent gunpowder glory,” Beelzebub fluttered his fingers in the air. “Then gone in a flash into the void.”

“What? What are you talking about? Is that supposed to be a metaphor or something? I’m trying to sell you my soul, dumbass. Mr. Devil. Asshole.”

“What’s it—”

“Fuck you, man! Seriously!” Suzie succumbed to her coughs again.

“You, seriously, got to stop that. Look, I’m sorry I’ve been gone. I’m here now.”

“Do you even know what I did today?”

“Yes, I saw the whole thing. It was… it was nice,” Beelzebub answered with a smile.

“You did?!” Suzie didn’t seem to know how she felt about that fact. Beelzebub didn’t seem like he knew how Suzie felt about it either.

“So, I was about to ask. What’s it worth? I’d like to know what living is worth to you. What does it mean to you?”

“What? Living… living… means that I’d get to live. I’d get to be there for him. Have a life together…” Suzie took a moment to compose herself. “…start a family together. What are you talking about, Beelzebub? I don’t understand.”

“That sounds like it would have been marvelous. But who knows, maybe you two would have gotten divorced and grew to hate one another. Fight over the kids. Fight with the kids. Wish the kids were never born. All that nonsense.”

“But I’m not even going to have the chance to find that out myself. I don’t even have a choice in the matter. What is wrong with you Beelzebub? Do you not want my soul anymore? Isn’t that what you guys do? Oh shit…” Suzie’s eyes widened with her realization.

“I’ll always welcome your soul,” the devil smiled.

“Did you know?”

“Do you remember that day at the lake when you wanted to kill yourself? Or how many more times after that?”

“So what? Why are you bringing this up now? Are you trying to say I’m a hypocrite? Or that I’m just going to want to die again so it doesn’t matter when and how I die? The point is that I’d like to have a choice! Did you know?!”

“Do you have a choice right now?”

“Shut the fuck up and answer me!”

The two stared at one another. Suzie’s eyes were moist from her tears and yet boiled with anger. Anger from the unwanted inquisition. Her pride had already been swallowed. Anger from the sense of betrayal. From that one friend who knew her at her worst. At her moments that not even her husband knew about.

“Did you know? Did you know this would happen to me when you convinced me to go chase after him?”

Beelzebub didn’t answer. He pondered for a moment. But that was enough of an answer for Suzie.

“You win,” Suzie tried to grab the devil but had to pause to catch her breath. “…You win. Why do that to him though, Beelzebub?”

“I’ll let you figure that one out,” the Devil finally spoke after seconds that felt like an eternity.

“Fuck you, Beelzebub.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Can you save me or not?”

“I can,” the Devil gave a warm smile.

“Then do it! Just take it! I’m giving it to you!” Suzie couldn’t help the tears from flowing down. “Just let me be there for him. Let me live.”

“You sure? This is one and done type of thing, sweetheart. You’re either on one side or the other.”

“Yes,” Suzie tried and tried to wipe away her tears. “Yes, please. Oh, God. Just do it. Don’t let me leave him alone.”

The door opened.

 

***

 

Michael waited for Beelzebub at The Center. Other patrons had long cleared out and Binkle had given up if the archangel wanted anything else than the single juice box he had ordered hours ago.

Beelzebub entered and only gave a slight glance at the angel before heading to the bartender.

“A Salty Dog. Make sure its neat. If it’s not, then I’ll have you serving a sorority house because apparently, those are the only types of drink you know how to make,” Beelzebub ordered.

“…rough day, boss?” Binkle started the cocktail right away.

“Why did you do it if it was going to make you so miserable?” Michael asked. “Why Beelzebub? Even when I warned you not to see her. Even when I’ve asked you to stay away. What had she done to deserve this?”

“The same thing that any of us had done apparently; the sin of being born,” Beelzebub gave Michael a wink.

“It’s a gift.”

“Uh-huh, tell that to the kids getting flayed alive somewhere as we speak. Are you going to go save them, Mr. Archangel? I’m sure they’re screaming for even some ass in a spandex to come to save them right now. Three. Two. One. They’re dead. Tell them it was a gift,” Beelzebub sipped on his drink.

“At least Binkle gets to keep his job,” Beelzebub raised his glass to compliment the bartender.

“You know that’s not how it works,” Michael remained stoic.

“No, that’s exactly how it works. My bar. My rules. Got a problem? Get out of my bar. Oh you mean how it works in the cosmos created by the All-Mighty Dad,” Beelzebub downed his drink and motioned Binkle for another.

“And why shouldn’t that be how it works? Why shouldn’t we just help one another be better?” Beelzebub questioned.

“They can. We shouldn’t,” Michael answered.

Beelzebub chuckled as he sipped on his new drink.

“Dejavu, eh? O’brother mine?” Beelzebub stared at his murky drink. “How many times have we had this conversation? For how many millennia? We can’t even figure that one out. What’s the point of us?”

“That’s for us to figure out. Their lives are for them to figure out.”

“You’ve been fed so much horeshit that it’s starting to come out of your mouth, Michael. In fact, I would say that’s all been coming out of your mouth for a long while now. Let’s wash that out. Have you ever tried a White Russian? They’re fantastic. And I mean that both ways if you know what I’m saying,” Beelzebub winked again at Michael. It was not, surprisingly, the record amount of how many times Beelzebub winked at Michael in one meeting.

“That is the way it is. You ask for more of something that simply isn’t there,” Michael sipped on his juice box.

“And yet, we were designed to ask for more,” The Devil retorted.

“Maybe we were created to see if we can be more,” The Archangel dissented.

“You’re miserable to talk to you know that? Did anyone ever tell you that, Michael? You’re a terrible person to talk to. What kind of ass-backwards, circular logic is that?”

Michael sipped on his juice box.

The final slurps of a dying juice box echoed through the bar.

“She believes she understands why you did what you did. I’m sure he’s thankful as well to have had the chance to be with her. To be by her side until the end,” Michael told Beelzebub.

Beelzebub mumbled under his breath and ignored his brother’s existence.

“I can see that you need some time alone,” Michael walked over and placed his empty juice box on the counter. “But I came because…'”

“Are you still here?” The Devil snapped.

“Asshole,” a familiar voice cut through as a patron walked into the tavern.

Beelzebub spun his head toward the voice and then snapped back to Michael.

“Seriously?! You didn’t let her in? Or was that HIS decision?”

“I just came to say goodbye. Michael was nice enough to let me come here,” Suzie gave the angel a smile. “He just wanted a chance to speak to you privately first.”

“Well, I’ll be damned. That’s very un-Michael of you,” Beelzebub told his brother.

Michael shrugged.

“I’ll be waiting outside. Don’t take too long,” Michael told Suzie as he grabbed another juice box left on the counter for him by Binkle. He headed out and gently closed the door behind him.

“So this is the bar,” Suzie said as she sat next to Beelzebub.

“And you’re the girl,” Binkle said as he carefully studied his boss’s ticks and demeanor.

“This is the bar,” Beelzebub rested his face on his hand as he observed Suzie. “You decided to go to the other place?”

“Isn’t that what you wanted me to do?” Suzie shook her head at Binkle who held up a juice box and a wine bottle for her to choose from.

“I didn’t want you to do anything,” Beelzebub answered.

“Something sweet and tangy perhaps? Sangria? Lemon Drop?” Binkle asked Suzie.

“Do you know that they put your taste buds in your anus? Did he tell you? As a person coming from up there I feel like it’s my civic duty to let you know,” Suzie pointed out.

“Look at this girl. She’s been dead for minutes and she’s already playing the heaven card,” Beelzebub spoke with disdain.

“Yes,” Binkle answered. “…And I’ve grown to change my diet to fit my new changes. I didn’t find it funny then and I don’t find it funny now. I don’t think anyone will. Who knows why that was done. Let’s now drop it and never speak of it again and if we can turn back time and change the past maybe we can make sure it’s never been done. Because everytime something touches my tongue I just have intense and intimate fear of what it would taste in the afterlife of its natural journey. In some sense, it’s been a fascinating and life-changing experience that has oddly made me a better human. What about a whiskey-neat then?”

“Seems a bit unoriginal and cliche for this moment,” Suzie thought for a moment. “Moscow mule?”

“Moscow mule,” Beelzebub nodded.

“Moscow mule,” Binkle agreed.

The three shared the cocktail that was made from three different businessmen with three different failing products who by fate combined them all and gave it a random name. It was a hard drink, with a pinch of tartness, a little sweetness, all tied together with a little kick served in a copper mug that could become toxic from the acidity of the drink itself.

They talked of many nothings and nothing of pertinence regarding Suzie’s death.

Like friends that met just for a reunion and knowing they’ll never see one another again when they each leave through the doors and leave their old lives behind in that room, the three just wanted to have a moment of where everything was good and nothing of consequence would occur.

Crafting a moment that’d be a perfect memory.

Like a photograph of smiling faces. Forgetting all that’s before and after.

When Michael came back into the bar, Suzie knew it was time for her to go and left without any complaint. Neither the bartender nor the devil tried to hold her for any longer either.

The girl, the woman, gave the devil, the friend, a hug.

She whispered a word or two into the devil’s ear.

The devil said nothing back.

She looked back one last time with a soft smile on her face before the door closed behind her.

Soon, only the gibberish from the TV and a small clatter from Binkle doing his daily chores for the bar remained.

“You, alright boss?” Binkle finally asked.

“I had a weird dream,” Beelzebub answered solemnly.

“Okay.”

“What’s with that tone?”

“What? I said ‘okay.'”

“Yeah, but your tone. Don’t—don’t try to pretend that you didn’t have an odd tone.”

“I mean… it’s just… you’re the devil and first…”

“Yeah?”

“You guys dream? And second…”

Uh huh.”

“Like what the hell, man? We talk about dreams now? Isn’t that a bit…” Binkle held his tongue.

“A bit what?”

“Nothing boss. Just a little gay. Just go on.”

“I dreamed of a horse…”

Binkle snorted.

“If you laugh dipshit, I swear I’m going to put a pimple right in the lip of your tiny dick. May I continue? Is that alright with you?”

Binkle saluted and begin wiping down the cups.

“Where was I. Yeah. The horse. It was lost in a forest. Scared. Tired. And knew that death was imminent.”

“Uh huh,” Binkle raised a wine glass up to the light for a quick inspection before wiping it a bit more.

“After wandering about for a while, it suddenly stood still. Just still in the fog of dusk. I knew right away it had reached the point of no return. It was exhausted. The horse was deciding whether to keep on or just give up. Rest. Just lay down and die peacefully.”

“And what did it choose?” Binkle placed the rag on the table and looked at Beelzebub.

“I don’t know. I was watching the horse from the sky or something. And I could see what it couldn’t see. I could see that there was such a simple way it could have went to be free.”

“So did you help the horse?” Binkle asked.

“No, I woke up.”

“What do you think happened to it?” Binkle picked up his rag again.

“Who cares,” Beelzebub finished his cocktail.

“I bet the horse does,” Binkle took the empty cup.

“But what does the horse know?”

 

End of The Devil and Me

 



 

Aftermath Ramble

12:49 AM

About 21 Chrome Tabs Open

1 Cup of Diet Mountain Dew and 2 Empty Bottles of Water on the Desk.

Wow.

I feel a bit bleh about the ending. And it’s not something I can change without changing the whole nature of this project I think.

Do you guys remember how and why I began this project?

It was supposed to be an unplanned, just-go-with-it, warm-up, sort of story that just spun out of a dumb chatter I was having with a friend.

But it sort of took over my writing life. And then my life, as it seems to in recent years, kind of fell into chaos with a lot of fire I needed to put out.

What you see is basically what I had written months ago. It was a quick write. I just wasn’t very happy with it. It sat there staring at me asking me why I had created it. A little mutant wondering why it was born.

Then I spent my writing time working on Chronicles of the Otherworld and my next novel.

Distance can be the cure sometimes.

But the short story nagged and nagged to be finished (which obviously should have been finished earlier than this) and I felt way more pressure for the finale than I ever should have. Who really cares but me?

But that’s the thing. I care. I’ve learned that I at least have to be happy with it.

I’ve always had an idea where the story would go, how it’d end, since the first episode. But I just felt so off about the ending when I actually wound up writing it.

Part of it was due to how much the story had changed and evolved and morphed in my mind as I kept working on it.

And part of it was due to how much of this could have benefitted from having a proper preplanning stage and an editing phase.

There were a lot of issues I had with the lore that I developed. Minor stuff none of the audience would care about.

With Satan’s character.

And how, most interesting for me as the writer, what I thought would work in my mind just didn’t work in execution. At the end of the day, that’s going to be my biggest lesson and homework out of this.

Not that I haven’t experienced that before.

But trying to understand exactly why it didn’t work here.

I wanted each episode to have their own individual vibe to reflect that specific point of Suzie’s age and life. That kind of stuff just works a lot better when it’s planned. At least for someone like me.

But I suppose all that was part of this writing experiment and exercise.

It was grueling.

It was annoying.

It was a little disappointing for me personally for a few reasons.

But I enjoyed it.

That’s writing. That’s this craft’s equivalent of taking a couple of hits and learning from them.

If I were to ever go back and really flesh out this thing, I’d probably consider redoing certain arcs of Suzie’s character and adding a few more chapters in.  There were few storylines that I cut that I wonder how it’d have been to add.

And definitely keep the numbers, lore, and whatnot details more consistent.

I really wanted to just let this project fly the way it wanted to fly and had an odd battle in my mind of not wanting to comb through it.

Weird.

Also, to be clear, I’ll probably never flesh this story out. It is what it is and it is what it was intended to be.

Okay. Enough rambling.

ARAMIRU OUT!

Oh yeah.

In the end, the biggest change I’ve made to the ending is that Suzie ends up meeting Beelzebub in hell. Originally, Beelzebub simply hears about what happened to Suzie via Michael. I was essentially against the idea. But experimenting with that little change eventually made the ending feel right for me. It ended up being what I needed to start the domino effect of finally releasing this finale.  Sometimes cheese is the right ingredient.

I’ll let the audience chew on that and decide which would have been better.

To those of you who’ve stuck with it till the end, thank you very much.

Sorry for the delay.

See y’all next time.

ARAMIRU OUT!


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Black Halo: the Witch and the Guardian PREVIEW Part 3

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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Black Halo: the Witch and the Guardian PREVIEW Part 2

REVISED version of

Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian

is coming out on 12/9/2015!

Preview Event:

PART 1 (Prologue, Chapter 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.


INTERLUDE I
COMING OF AGE

“Mom?! Mom!” Kalin’s shouts were loud enough to echo.

From the loft, Kalin went down the stairs to his family’s florist shop. The various perfumes of the flowers and plants tickled his nose as they always did. He found his mother near the exit of the store tucked into a thick winter jacket and a wool beanie she had knitted. She had a small mail carrier bag strapped across her chest and was busy gathering the picket signs.

“You’re going out again? For those freaks?” Kalin grumpily asked.

He didn’t have a particular reason to dislike the “freaks” other than that he worried about his mother. Hostility from their community was growing each day ever since Kalin’s mother announced her support of those weirdos.

“First, the politically correct term we are apparently using is to refer to them as the ‘Gifted.’ If you’re up to feeling a bit silly, you may call them wizards. Second, though they may be wizards, the Gifted are still people, Kalin,” his mother spoke sternly but with tenderness. She knew it wasn’t an easy thing for her son to understand, and she understood that he was worried for her. “Maybe someday you’ll understand, hun. I imagine your father would be out there with me too if he was still around.” She finally managed to gather all the picket signs and carried them over her shoulder, holding them steady with one arm. With her free hand, the mother ruffled her son’s hair.

Kalin shooed his mother’s hand away. His father wasn’t a hero or led a particularly interesting life, but everyone who knew him told Kalin that his father was a good man. Illness took him away while Kalin was still a toddler. After he passed away, it was just Kalin and his mother and the flower shop. They were the only family each other had left.

Every time she mentioned his father, Kalin felt frustrated and guilty. Perhaps it was because he felt he couldn’t take some of the burden off of his mother or perhaps it was because it seemed like he was the burden itself. Each time she mentioned him, Kalin could still see the twinkle in her eyes of a woman who still hadn’t been able to let go of her long gone other half.

“The church people don’t seem to like it when you go, Mom. They looked pretty angry at us last time,” Kalin gave his final complaint to fight for his mother’s stay.

“Kalin, sometimes people let their fear and anger get the better of them.” She looked at her son who didn’t seem too happy with the answer. “It’s during these times that we have to remember”—Kalin’s mother poked at her son’s head—“we have this”—she poked at her son’s heart—“…and that!”

“No, mom! There are people out there hunting down other people who support those freaks! And, yeah, those Gifted murdered people. I don’t think it’s naive to overlook something like that! Are you saying that doctor deserved to be killed by that Witch? Don’t you remember all those stories on the news? All the people crying for the doctor?” Kalin retorted.

“We can’t judge an entire group of people on few bad eggs. I know you already know this, my stubborn, stubborn son.”

“But, mom!”

Kalin’s mom set aside the signs and embraced her son into her arms. The nervousness in the son’s heart lingered but his anger subsided in his mother’s hug.

“I know you’re worried, kiddo. Sometimes it’s difficult and dangerous to do the right thing. Sometimes the right thing may seem like the wrong thing to do—even more so as we get older. But if all the good people hid from doing what’s right, what kind world would we leave behind tomorrow?”

Kalin still didn’t look satisfied.

“I have to be both your mom and your dad. I want you to know that your parents were people that didn’t just talk about doing the right things, but actually did them. And I want you to think of me as a”—the mother paused for a moment and grinned—“badass.” She gave him a peck on the forehead. “And you’ll have to live with that.” She squeezed his cheek and gave him a smile.

“At least let me go with you,” Kalin grumbled.

“Nope. School night. Just tell your mum, that you love so much, that you love her and ask her to come home safe.” His mother stood and gathered up her signs again. Kalin wanted tell his mom that he did think of her as a ‘badass’. That he was proud of her. The words tickled at his throat but never made it out.

“If you say you’ll pick me up a burger on the way home.” Kalin crossed his arms.

“You should be sleeping by the time I get back, you pig.” His mother rummaged in her pockets for her keys.

“You have no power here when you’re not home.” Kalin smirked.

“Only if you give me a kiss.” His mother puckered her lips and closed her eyes.

Kalin reluctantly gave her a peck on the cheek, and it was enough for his mother to be satisfied with her small victory.

“I’ll lock up. But don’t forget to turn off the lights before you go to sleep, alright?” His mother asked with half of her already out the door.

“I won’t sleep ‘till I get my burger,” the son replied as he headed for the stairs.

“I really don’t know from which gene pool made you so stubborn.” She locked the door behind her and walked out into the dark empty street of a cold winter night. The street was lightly covered white with snow. The sedan left behind by her late husband was parked right in front of her shop. The warmth from the store made the sudden chill hard to bear. She hurriedly packed the picket signs and her bag into the back of her car. Her face was already numb from the cold wind.

As she closed the door of her car and headed towards the driver’s side, she saw a group of three men coming her way.

A different layer of chill than the cold of winter jolted down her spine.

Instinctive fear telling her to go.

Run.

She jumped into her car and attempted to start it. The engine didn’t turn over. The front window was iced. She couldn’t see them but she could hear their footsteps crunching into the snow as the crunches grew louder and louder. She turned on the headlights and fruitlessly tried to turn the engine again.

Don’t be stupid. She told herself. Calm down. You’re being paranoid. Following the guidance of her inner voice, she turned to her glove box for the ice scraper. When did the crunches stop?

 

Knock. Knock. Knock.

 

A dark metal object tapped on her window. The man pressed his forehead on the icy glass and the blurred image of a face hidden behind a black ski mask was all she could see.

“Hello,” the man called out to her almost playfully as Kalin’s mother immediately went to lock the doors. They made the distinctive click to let her know that they were already locked.

She could tell even with the iced up windows that the men had surrounded her car. She hoped at this point that they were only here for her.

 

Knock. KNOCK. KNOCK.

 

It was obvious at this point the object was a gun.

“What do you want?!” She shouted out the car as she hysterically searched her bag for her phone. The mother wondered whether to call the police first or her son.

“Open the door.”

She tried to start the car only to fail again as she dialed away on her phone.

“Open the door,” The man requested again as calmly as before.

“I’m calling the cops!” She threatened.

Kalin had just cracked open his textbook in his room when he heard the commotion outside. As he approached his bedroom window that overlooked the main road, a loud bang echoed through the neighborhood followed by the sound of car alarms from the street. Kalin rushed over to the window and looked outside. He saw a group of men surrounding his mother’s car and felt a chill wash over his body that made his stomach turn.

“That’s what all of you witch-lovers get.” It was followed by a similar bang as before, and his mother’s car brightly lit up for a short moment before descending back into darkness.

Kalin felt his innards twist and sink as he screamed for his mother. He stumbled down the stairs frantically and dashed out of the front door of his flower shop. One of the men threw a dirty glass bottle into the car that engulfed it in flames.

The three masked men stared at the terrified boy.

“Your mother got what she deserved, boy,” The one who threw the bottle said. “And you’re going to end up the same if you follow in her footsteps.”

After giving Kalin their warning, the three men fled. One of the men looked back to check the spectacle only to see instead what he thought had to have been his eyes playing tricks. The boy was in the air with bluish streams jetting from his body and coming at him with astonishing speed. Kalin landed on the man and they tumbled on the snowy street.

Kalin yelled and screamed nigh incomprehensible words as he beat on the man. Some blows felt about as strong as what a young teen could muster. Some blows, those that jetted similar streams from earlier, landed harder than anything the man had experienced in his life.

The man’s two accomplices saw their friend in trouble and ran back to help. They could hear the sirens rapidly approaching. Kalin didn’t notice the two men until they kicked him across the face and stomped him to the ground. They helped their friend up and began to flee again but stopped when they realized their friend wasn’t with them. The two looked behind to find their companion stomping the boy. Kicking to satisfy his anger.

“We got to go!” one of them yelled.

Just a little more, the man thought as his foot rose up into the air and landed hard again on Kalin.

The two partners in crime grabbed the man by his arms and dragged him away as he cursed at the boy. They had to drag him until the sirens grew loud enough with their lights beginning to turn the white snow red and blue brought him back to his sense enough to run on his own.

Some neighbors and bystanders slowly came out from their hiding and witnessed the burning vehicle and a boy beaten to a pulp laying in the streets. Kalin turned onto his back and drowned in the night sky. The taste of blood filled his mouth and his body hurt from all over. But the void he was feeling inside—a tear—was the only thing he could feel. In the sky, he could see the stars and the Light. Snow began to fall again as he coughed up blood.

Sirens and lights of red and blue quickly flooded the scene. The three men were eventually captured and were found to be part of their victim’s church. All three admitted to their actions and went on to testify that they were proud of what they had done. They claimed they were simply stopping a disease from spreading across the world.

The victim’s son disappeared a few months after the incident.

 

…There are no clear records of when and where the Witch and her follower met. There are no clear indicators of who he was, what he did, and what he was to her. The only thing clear seems to be that when the Witch first arrived, she was alone. But during some point she met a companion who’d follow her until the end of her life…


 


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Black Halo: the Witch and the Guardian PREVIEW Part 1

Hello Everyone!

If everything goes as planned the revised version of the novel should be released on 12/9/2015!

I decided to post a chapter or two from the revised version of the novel everyday until release so everyone can get a taste of what it’s like.

After the release of the revised version of the novel, I’ll do a discussion piece of what changes were made and why we made them.

Enjoy! Feel free to leave me any comments, questions, and complaints that you may have!

ARAMIRU OUT

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Prologue

a Recorder’s Search


“Kalin?” the Witch called to her redheaded follower. He turned his head towards her as he gently held her hand.

Master Raina,

It’s hard to imagine the world of before. Before magic, the Great Calamity, and the Witch. What remains of the past provides us with only glimpses, but never the whole story.

From the ashes, we were left with only children’s tales passed on from generation to generation regarding the fate of the Old World. We’ve all heard it at least once in our childhood from either our parents or grandparents. With the passing of time and shifting narrators, the tale naturally shed the light of its truth and garnished itself with embroideries. I am, of course, referring to the tale of the Witch and the Guardian.

Even with the variations it has seen through the cycles of storytellers across the world, the core of the tale remains the same. It always begins with the time of the Old World when men built the world with just their hands. And then one day, without warning, the Light appeared. A mysterious light that could be seen no matter where a person may be. And with it came magic and the Witch.

 

“If things were not the way they were, where do you think we would be?” The Witch looked out to the vast ocean with a cold gaze. At the end of the horizon, the Light.

 

The tale is never clear on why the Witch started her war against humanity. Some iterations say that the Light gave birth to the Witch to carry out its will, believing that the Light and the Witch were both a judgment from the gods who ran out of patience for mankind’s arrogance and foolishness. Some variations say that the Witch was just a bitter woman who was granted enough power from the Light to spread her anguish throughout the world. And then there are those that simply claim the Witch to be a creation of pure evil that came as the shadow to the Light.

 

The Witch’s follower couldn’t find an immediate answer to such a question out of the blue.

 

No matter who the storyteller, one fact remains the same: the Witch is always the enemy of mankind. Even during the infancy of magic, it was said that she wielded unimaginable powers which dwarfed even the greatest of man’s inventions.

Beyond the children’s tale, whispers among those wiser of what truly happened say that the Witch planned to do this with a device of catastrophic powers—the device that ushered in the Great Calamity and, with it, the end of the Old World: the artifact only known as the Black Halo.

 

“Probably somewhere with less fire, less blood, and less of all of this,” the follower replied.

 

No one’s certain on the specifics of its powers, but the magnitude of it is clear from the ruins of the past. If the Witch had had her way, there would have been nothing left. Despite that, the tale of the Witch and the Guardian is that of courage and preservation. The tale ends with a brave hero who challenged the Witch in a grand and desperate battle for the fate of the world. Before the Witch could realize her dream, her blood soaked the hero’s blade and she fell unfulfilled. The people may have faced the Great Calamity, but at the end they had rebuilt their civilization with the newfound gift of magic.

It is the duty of the Guild of Recorders to preserve as much as we can of the history and passing times for the future. It is our duty to prevent losing the world once again. Perhaps it is due to my youth, but as a member of the guild I cannot help but continue pursuing my curiosity on this tale that I was told of as a child.

 

“But I’d like to think that at least somewhere, at some time, we would have met.”


 

 

 

 

 

PART ONE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1
A DREAM OF THE WORLD’S END

She never called for the sandman, but he came for her anyway. To most, this might not be a notable event, but for Kiara it always was. When she awoke from the uninvited slumber, her body was drenched in sweat and her eyes were moist with tears. Her dorm room was still brightly lit with the light she hadn’t turn off and she was lying on the floor beside the bed that she couldn’t reach in time. Kiara grabbed onto the bed sheets and pulled herself up. She sat on the bed, burying her head into her hands. Her hands trembled. And her eyes forgot to blink.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

It wasn’t the first time she had had an episode after a dream nor did she expect it to be her last. But these dreams were always more vivid and memorable than the ordinary ones.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

She glanced at her novelty cat clock on the wall, and the cat mocked her with a stupid grin on its face as it playfully swung its tail left and right. He told her it was almost twenty minutes after midnight. She had been dreaming for a few hours. It was already long past lights out, and it was unlikely that anyone was still awake. The polite thing to do would be to wait ‘till tomorrow before she alarmed the Director. The reserved thing to do would be to just shut her eyes once more, but this time go to sleep by her choice.

Breathe in. Breathe out.  BREATHE IN. BREATHE OUT. BREATHEIN. BREATHEOUT.

But the visions were relentless. The room became smaller and smaller as the clicks from the vile cat grew louder and louder.

 

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

 

She had to go.

The light from Kiara’s room lit the dark hallway as her door violently swung open. Kiara walked briskly, restraining herself from sprinting or stomping. As she breezed through the hallway, the lamps between the doors of her dorm-mates dimly lit and acknowledged her presence even though the dorm-mates themselves were deeply asleep. The remnants of her dream refused to leave her mind.

The Witch stood before a colossal gate at the peak of a grand white staircase. The gate slowly opened, and the blinding light from beyond flooded the room. The Witch stepped into the light, and the gate closed behind her.

Kiara reached the stairs that led to the lounge below. The lounge, lit only by the fireplace left burning through the night, was bright enough to reveal the piano and the pool table with the balls neatly organized inside the wooden triangle. Someone had forgotten to put away the blankets on the sofas in front of the television.

“One of your oracles is up and frantic, Nancy.” A man with a lingering accent reported to his boss through the telephone. There were watchful eyes all around the facility and this man was in the room center of them all. He had his legs up on the tables where the monitors revealed all that the watchful eyes could see. One hand resting behind his head and the other on the phone, he watched as Kiara descended the stairs too hastily and recklessly. Her feet tangled at the last couple of steps and she finished her descent downstairs by falling. Her landing didn’t go unnoticed by those sleeping in the rooms nearby but they dismissed it quickly and returned to slumber.

The aged man tried to hold his laughter, but it managed to squeeze past through his clenched teeth.

“Which one, Yuri?” The female voice on the other end of the call was sharp and agitated.

“It’s the one that sees forwards and not backwards,” Yuri replied no less playfully than before as he scratched on his rough five o’clock shadow. He knew he was probably the only person who can get away with such behavior given that he had known her since she was a child as her father’s friend. He liked to exercise the privilege whenever he could.

“You should get to her soon, Nancy. She’s in such a hurry she decided to fly down the stairs.” The call ended without a reply. Yuri placed the phone down on the table and united the freed hand with his other hand behind his head as he continued to amuse himself watching the frantic girl.

After some moaning and groaning, Kiara dragged her body to the bathroom. As she opened the bathroom door, chilly air scented with lemons and oranges escaped from the darkness. Heaters were off. Power conservation was in place for the night. Her body gave a quick shiver as her bare feet touched the cool tiles. The wall adjacent to the door was dimly lit with the soft light from the touch screen pad. She placed her finger over the ON icon and the subsequent burst of light made her cringe. The whirl of the heaters coming on, and its gentle warm breeze immediately filled the room. The rows of sinks, bathroom stalls, and the shower booths revealed themselves with the light. These were all luxuries to help them forget how far they were from their homes. The bathroom seemed larger without other girls going through their morning and evening routines. The quietness felt strangely lonely this evening.

Her breathing had calmed down but her heartbeat still echoed through the empty bathroom. Kiara placed her hands under the faucet and it let loose a flow of clean cold water. For a little while, she simply let the water slip through her fingers. The visions of the dream were still clear. She cupped her hands to catch the cool water and splashed it across her face.

 

Some time has passed since the Witch entered the gate. Kiara knew as if the dream had whispered it to her. She now stood in various parts of the world and saw firsthand the world being tested for its survival. Mother Nature violently struggled as if she battled for her life. Earth split across the globe, gusts of wind swept across civilization, endless rain drowned all those that couldn’t fly, and rocks and fire rained from the sky to bury all that was remaining.

Mankind retaliated against Mother Nature with wars and drew blood from one another to survive. Dead bodies blanketed the streets. Children that were left without families and left with blood in their eyes chose to continue their parents’ war.

Civilizations decayed into anarchy, and Mother Nature never forgot to remind mankind how small it was. For every scar that mankind gave her, she eviscerated them with all of her wrath. Even beasts, familiar and foreign, rose against mankind to save their place in the crumbling world. A miasma of death blanketed whatever was left. The world as it was once known was no more. No more since the Witch entered the Light.

 

Warm tears mixed with the cool water drizzled down Kiara’s face. She looked toward the blinded windows in dreadful anticipation. Even if she couldn’t see it, she knew it was there. Kiara left the bathroom and headed for the padded doors that led outside. The doors were always a bit heavy, but especially during night when it was windy. She put her shoulder against the door and pushed. Chilly and dried up wind of the desert greeted her outside.

It was there. Over the horizon of the night sky was a thin line of light piercing skywards. She walked further and further away from the building and closer and closer to the Light. It’s been there since all this began. It was a silent but constant reminder to the world that change will come. No that the world already had changed. Kiara’s legs crumpled and she fell to her knees, her eyes still attached to the Light. Somewhere in the world she could also be watching the Light—planning to make what Kiara saw in her dream come true.

“Kiara?” a gentle, familiar voice called out to her from behind. She turned her head to find Ms. Jones behind her. Ms. Jones was still dressed in her lavish office attire and had her arms crossed to fight the chilly desert evening. Her eyes permeated with concern.

“I was told by security you were out here. What’s the matter?” Ms. Jones carefully asked as she approached closer.  Ms. Jones crouched down and placed her hand on Kiara’s shoulder. The Director’s warmth slowly dissipated Kiara’s anxiety but stirred her longing for someone to let her know that everything will be alright. Kiara’s tears ran freely down her eyes as she embraced Ms. Jones. The Director gently patted the crying child’s back

“What’s wrong?” Ms. Jones asked once more.

“It’s the Witch, Ms. Jones,” the Oracle-That-Sees-Forward answered through her tears. “I think she’s going to do something horrible. I think she’ll be the end of us all.”

Ms. Jones looked beyond the crying teen’s shoulders and saw the Light piercing the skies with the unanswered questions it held. She wondered what value the answers may have. Until then, Nancy regarded the Light as a puzzle for a bored mind to ponder about. The Witch, the Light, and the Gifted were all probably part of a grander scheme, but Nancy’s aim was to simply find her place within that vast plan. But her instincts were never silent and whispered to her that her greater ambitions were going receive their calling. Her instincts told her that today was the day her curiosity will grow into something more.

“There, there…” Nancy gently patted Kiara on the back. “We won’t let that happen, Kiara. That’s why we’re here.” The Director gave a small kiss on her student’s forehead.

“Tell me more, Kiara. What did you exactly see?” Nancy asked as she embraced the oracle tightly against her chest. Her eyes were set on the Light as the child spoke softly in her ears of the dream of the world’s end.

 

INTERLUDE: Video Game the Storyteller: How Metal Gear Solid 4 is the Perfect Example of the Best and Worst of Video Game Storytelling  

This is a series I thought of writing a while ago–discussing different storytelling mediums (initially focusing on the very new medium, video games). Nothing really happened with it but I thought it might be nice to share it here (the featured image is the podcast/blog my friends and I were working on that’s currently in development hell).

DISCLAIMER: This was written many months ago and I just had the opportunity to finish playing The Walking Dead by Telltale Games… a game that would have had a significant influence to this article.


Games… have changed.

They’re no longer about cut-scenes, dialogue, or laughable dubbing. They’re an endless series of cut-scenes and dialogue, played by actors in motion capture suits… kind of. Alright maybe they haven’t so much changed in general, but there’s definitely more capacity for ingenuity and innovation when it comes to storytelling in video games now.

Gentlemen (and gentlewomen), we have the technology.

Metal Gear Solid 4, a game considered a modern classic by many, is the perfect example to discuss videogame storytelling.

Grab a few kids in a local high school and ask them what they think of MGS4 and they’ll tell you, “Please let us go. You’re frightening us. I don’t know what MGS4 is. Is it a drug?”

You’ll realize how quickly you’ve aged and how the heroes of your childhood are nothing but buried pages of the past.

Go home, drink some bourbon (because now you’re old enough to), and replay more of the outdated has-beens of your time. Console yourself in the fact that you can rent cars now and that you got to experience, in your youth, one of the greatest recessions of your country’s history.

What was I talking about?

Yes. Storytelling. Video games. Metal Gear! Otacon?
Grab a few better bred kids and they’ll tell you it’s either the greatest game of all time or a movie disguised as a game.

It’s not too farfetched to say that I bought my PlayStation 3 specifically for Metal Gear Solid 4. I’ve been a lifelong gamer, and I’ve been obsessed with storytelling (be it games, books, or films) for just as long.

After being blown away by Metal Gear Solid 3 (MGS3) and after having the hope rekindled within me that games can actually tell stories (someone should really fuel my narcissism and tell me to write about MGS3 so that I can tell the world why MGS3 is one of the best examples of game storytelling of all time. ALL TIME!) I had high expectations for MGS4 that were only made higher by the trailers and the demo.

(What? Our hero Snake finally seems to have deep physical and psychological issues that are also relatable? Seemingly evolved gameplay that also incorporates Snake’s aged state and other Kojima craziness? Oh my!)

But after playing through the entire game, I ended up agreeing with both parties. This was “Option C”: they’re both right. No game has done more amazing things as a medium for storytelling, and no game has committed more crimes against its genre.
There was once a time when people really didn’t expect much of a story at all—much less a decent one—from any video game. It was a pleasant surprise if a game had even a palatable plot. This isn’t even that far back: not only was this true of classics like Pong and Tetris, but also as recent as the PS2/Xbox era. It was around the PS3/Xbox360 era that as budgets for game development grew higher, gamers got older, and video games became more mainstream, and people gradually began to expect a decent plot from most of the games they played.

But to this day, I’d argue, that most people still don’t expect a quality story from a video game in the same way they would from a film or a book. This is due to the fact that most games still have an awkward relationship with storytelling and are very unaware of their capabilities as a storytelling medium.

Videogames are still teenagers trying to find their inner-selves, and they’re going through a goth/emo/punk rock/military phase. They’re still trying to prove that they can deliver a decent story—that’s a hard sell to people who aren’t already gamers.

However, not all games face this same stigma—some are even expected to deliver an adequate, if not compelling, plot.

Most of those titles belonged to RPGs (Final Fantasy traditionally being the series most expected to provide a quality story…until recently anyways) which made Metal Gear really stand out as one of the few non-RPG franchises with a reputation for quality stories.

But why? What made Metal Gear stand out in the first place?

Let’s cover one of the foundational points here before we get into the meaty parts of the discussion, because I may have started house fires by calling the whacky, 80s-action-movie-over-the-top-tin-foil-hat-jump-the-shark-with-a-jet-pack-on-story of the Metal Gear franchise “decent.”

 

POINT 1: A Plot’s Quality Doesn’t Depend on its Innate Characteristics.

So, this may be so basic that it’s annoying, but bear with me here… because it’s very important.

The way I worded this point might make it more confusing than it should be… it’s basically saying “you do you.”

Is that worse?

If you’re a film, be a film. If you’re a simple plot, be a simple plot. If you’re a (insert genre here) game with a simple plot, be that game with a simple plot.

You didn’t need to know the story to enjoy Super Mario. If you started asking questions like “Why is there an overweight, midget, Italian plumber running through pipes, eating shrooms, and punching turtles for a living?” then you would be giving the game more complexity than it deserves and more depth than it was asking for.

It doesn’t pretend to be a storyteller—it knows what it is.

Let’s level up here.

Take a recent game like Braid. It proposes a relatively complex story and does so nearly seamlessly with its thematic gameplay mechanic of rewinding time.

The story is ingrained within the gameplay.

Level up again?

ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are fantastic examples of simple stories done well with complex simplicity. (Is that worse?) They’re like Miyazaki films in that they take simple ideas and characters but employ them so effectively that they become instant classics.

What makes ICO’s storytelling exceptional is that it realizes what it is: a game. Instead of spoon feeding the plot to its audience, ICO’s gameplay immerses the player inside the story. Without any words, the game mechanics, the objectives, the camera, the lighting, the stages, the enemies, and all the obstacles work together to fully realize the relationship (character development) between Ico and Yorda. ICO is amazing because it is a game telling a story, not simply a game with a story.

So where does Metal Gear come in? We’ll use Metal Gear Solid as example.

From the opening conversations, cut-scenes, to a few minutes of gameplay, the game immediately familiarizes you with its world. It knows—and admits—that it’s going to be a slightly over-the-top spy game chalk full with conspiracies, sci-fi elements, and some whacky humor.

If you start listing the elements of the game, it sounds ridiculous. But when it’s presented in a single package, it works.

Its sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (MGS2), is a great example of a game that pushes its own boundaries so far that it ends up becoming a parody of itself. It became almost so self-aware that it went too far. Or maybe it wasn’t self-aware enough.

MGS2 started well by presenting its familiar formula in an updated engine. Things changed, however, when the character Raiden was introduced in the second half of the game.

Despite what most U.S. and European fans may say, Raiden was an excellent character as a plot device. He essentially allowed the audience to experience the MGS world from an outside perspective and experience their hero (Snake) not as the hero himself, but as a person interacting with him.

But where the game failed was in its inability to understand its own limits, even with its ridiculous universe and plot delivery mechanics. The plot simply couldn’t justify (SPOILER ALERT) that Raiden was basically Snake in making. The whole PATRIOT system went beyond the reach of its own universe, and the famous codec dialogues of the series seemed out of place and poorly thought out in the Raiden segment of the game (I mean, why is Rose talking about their relationship problems during a highly classified and volatile espionage mission with the fate of the world on the line?).

Here’s where MGS4 succeeded extremely well for the most part.

It was well-aware of the mistakes it made in MGS2 and—whether the audience liked it (or even noticed it) or not—it took the liberty of basically retconning all of its mistakes.

The game did it smoothly enough that players could swallow it easily.

Its nod to its previous games by making each chapter represent the thematic environment of its predecessors was an excellent and subtle plot device.

POINT 2: Video Games Have to Establish Their Own Identity as a Medium.

…BEFORE WE START DISCUSSING THE OBVIOUS SINS OF MGS4! Let’s talk more about how plots in Video Games are supposed to work.

Games are incredible because they are the only medium with the potential to make the audience active participants in the plot. Despite this, games have more often than not failed to take advantage of this gift.

Where the plot was involved, the first games had little by way of audience involvement—plots were literally delivered by strings of text. Since then we’ve moved on to delivering the story though cut-scenes that let us see and hear the story, but the audience remains a passive observer of the story unfolding in front of them.

Moreover, not all games are created equal—the ability of a game to tell its story is bound to the particular genre of that game.

RPGs probably have the easiest time since they can generally get away with the same old delivery. Players expect them to move more slowly and spend more time developing a heavy exposition, so reading dialogue and watching cut-scenes does less damage to the immersive experience. For instance, Final Fantasy Tactics offered an incredible narrative experience that was achieved merely through text dialogue boxes.

(With that said, Dark Souls is probably one of the best and bravest storytellers of the PS3 generation, and it’s an unsung hero insofar as it goes unrecognized for showing new ways for RPGs to tell their stories. But that’s a tale for time.)

FPS has the luxury of being first person. The format itself just makes easier to engage the audience and make them feel like they’re part of the story. I mean, you literally put them in the shoes of the character (though sometimes when you look down in those games you wonder if you have feet at all) I’d argue it’s one of the easiest genre to innovate and be creative with storytelling.

Say what you want about Call of Duty titles but it was one of the first franchises (Medal of Honor: Allied Assault deserves mention as well) to really take storytelling to another level in terms engagement and continued lead the pack with their Modern Warfare titles in the recent generation of gaming. It took idea that “you’re this character” to another level by using cut-scenes that didn’t cut away from the first-person perspective and making the actions occur in a way that it affects the character directly (blindfolds and such).

(Half-Life deserves a mention here for their very unique take on storytelling by making it almost passive. You’re in the thick of it but you always feel like you are a victim of greater events and the ever growing world around you. They achieved something with their games that’s hard to replicate. It’s like writing a successful 2nd person narrative story)

Good story telling in the Open World genre is best demonstrated with titles like Red Dead Redemption where it showed that less is more. Not that many sound a bit weird with a game with such a giant world to explore such a diverse cast of characters but really think about it for a moment. The whole point of this genre is being organic (whatever that may mean to the style of game it is i.e. Saints Row series) as possible. Let the people discover the plot and have breadcrumbs if they want to follow but what’s really important in this genre is allowing the players to make their own stories. Give the players a world where the world itself is a story and a playground. Where they can be part of a grand story (the main plot line), the sub stories (stories of the world’s inhabitants), or make their own legends and tales.

With all that said, games always will have the fallback classic style storytelling of simply unfolding the plot through dialogues and cut-scenes.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing although in many ways it is uncreative, lacks courage, and doesn’t really help the storytelling aspect of the game industry to grow and evolve.

I’ve recently played the Borderlands series and it’s a perfect example of this. It doesn’t really try anything innovative in terms of storytelling. The characters are generally cookie cutter, story presentation (using games as a medium) is pretty cookie cutter, and story content and pacing is… damn, we are out of cookie dough.  But what makes it work is that it baked some awesome cookies.  Lesson here is if you can’t innovate – just do what works well. This is self-awareness all around (awareness of their own story, audience, and how their game should interact with their story) + hard work + excellence.

(Anthony Burch! This isn’t a jab at you!  Look at that awesome beard and handsome smile)

So where does MGS4 fall into all this?

The best thing a video game can do with its plot is taking advantage, as much as it can, of its capabilities of having the audience as an active member of the story.

As mentioned previously one of the best thing MGS4 has done with this is making the protagonist old and letting the players experience the character’s age. It made you, the player, feel what the character is feeling.

Snake coughs, he can’t smoke as long without trouble as he used to, he groans about his back and you have to apply some treatment on it to make him feel better (awesome).

You can look around during cut-scenes to take in the plot in your own way or at times to discover what Snake’s really up to (stop looking at the cleavage or trying to do a panty peek you pervert).

MGS4 used its stamina system many times to make players experience literally in their gameplay what the character was experiencing. If Snake was hurt in a cut-scene you’d see the stamina dwindle or if Snake was in a situation where he was injured you may play the game with a reduced stamina for the stage.

Those were all great and expected plot delivery from a Metal Gear game. And those were also excellent way of using video games as a proper medium for storytelling.

Ironically, as honed and sharpened as its good qualities seemed to be, Metal Gear franchise’s borderline flawed plot delivery system, i.e. long cut-scenes, were worsened in MGS4.

No cut-scenes should be 10 minute + in a video game outside of its ending—and even that’s a maybe. This should be a written rule somewhere. At which point do you differentiate between a game and a movie?

It’s not a problem if the game is based around player taking the backseat to the plot or based around watching cut-scenes.

Games like Heavy Rain and even L. A. Noire demonstrated that the taboo of games taking lot of control away from players can still work if the game itself is based around that idea.

MGS4 did not make much effort to work around its long cut-scenes. It made you sit through 10+ minutes of cut-scenes after giving you so much control and linked experience with the character that it felt like suddenly you were crippled as a player.

The most tragic thing about this is that there were ingenious moments in MGS4 where it combined its strength and weakness and gave its audience something magical. Where it delivered the story so powerfully that I’ve still have yet to find many games that replicated that energy.

A good example:

Near the climax of the game, our protagonist Old Snake has to drag his beaten body across a hellish path to prevent calamity. Tension is high as a war rages on outside counting on Snake to beat the clock before his own time runs out.

MGS4-Microwave-Corridor-2

The game engaged the players by dwindling Snake’s health as he walked though the oven like tunnel, by taking away the smooth controls as players forced Snake through the physical turmoil to move forward, and if Snake ever happened to lose his strength players had to mash a button on the controller to get him back up.

As this is happening the screen is split in two with cut-scenes showing all that’s going on outside as Snake is making his way to put in scope of importance of Snake’s success and continuing to build tension with the plot.

This demonstrated that cut-scenes and gameplay can coexist in modern gaming and be used in a powerful and unique ways to deliver a story that’s only possible in video games.

This wasn’t the first time MGS4 did something like this and each time it did it added so much to the plot experience that it’s a shame the game didn’t incorporate it somehow into its longer cut-scenes.

But one thing that’s still undeniable about Metal Gear franchise is that they are unafraid to approach storytelling in their own voice and in their own innovative ways to incorporate their medium as a videogame.

It’s a shame that so many games that are released these days follow the archetype set by popular titles of their genre.

So many games copy FPS storytelling style of Call of Duty. Not many dare even try to gamble to copy the more complicated style of Half-Life.

So many RPGs fallback to read dialogues and make choices made popular recently by Bioware and their games. Even Elder Scroll series simplified their story mechanic for Skyrim.

Most innovations in storytelling these days in videogames are found in the indie games. Braid, Gone Home, or even Bastion.

Seeing how large of a team a game requires these days I can see why it’d tough for the creators to really focus on the plot delivery. It’d take a huge coordination between the programmers and the writers.

But this is why I look forward to Metal Gear Solid 5 (MGS5). Because even with its failures in MGS4 the things it did right was a refreshing breeze in the stale video game storytelling.

It seemed at least Kojima and his teams are not satisfied putting out a game that’s like everything else. MGS5 being an open world game where the storytelling of that genre is still only really cultivated by Rockstar…. really is exciting news.

Because if MGS5 decides to be even a little bit as innovative (even if not brave) as they were with MGS4 and learn from their mistakes, it’ll pave roads for other companies to explore what’s possible with video games as a medium for storytelling. And hopefully, that’ll continue to develop the medium and push the industry to see what’s possible with the modern storyteller.

Alright, that’s it.

I’ll end this with another cheesy parody of MGS4.

Games…have changed

The age of technical limitations has become the age of self-imposed limitations, all in the name of keeping status quo from not averting from the tried and tested formulas.

Games…have changed.

When innovations are under total control, the medium becomes routine.