Monday, December 22, 2014

Raven of Dusk: Prologue

This is the opening scene of The Raven of Dusk, and the only one that is still subject to change because, well, intros are tricky for me, and this one is a little on the long side.  Please let me know what you think :)

 The Raven of Dusk 

Prologue: Raiden

This was the land that time forgot.
The mist emitted through the limbs of trees thickened the further Raiden tracked his father into the untamed regions of the Malysai rain forest.  There were no more houses or people to be seen and the trees were growing taller and left unkempt.  The branches and leaves smacked Raiden’s air shuttle like fanged demons trying to bite through the glass.   Without the shimmers from the forest lights there was only Hela to guide his way, but Hela was descending and soon the moon would claim the sky and make the mist glow ghostly in its light.  He was thankful that he didn’t have much further to go.  Father and Hastings would soon park and navigate the rest of the way on foot, and then Rexus Poloray would find himself apprehended or dead.
Twin red beams in the distance indicated that Father turned on the brake lights to his shuttle.  The vehicle hovered to a stop nearly twenty feet above the ground, and then lowered until the bottom rails kissed a clearing of dirt.  Raiden should have been relieved that the driving portion was over, but he only grew more nervous.  They must have been getting close.
Raiden dimmed his headlights and floated in a sea of thick gray clouds.  He wasn’t ready to let them know that he’d followed them—especially after he’d been instructed not to.  Raiden found another clearing about a thousand feet from where they parked and quietly landed his air shuttle on a soft pile of leaves.  A pair of bushes beside Raiden’s shuttle emitted a flurry of tiny green orbs, which fluttered up into the air and evaporated like dying fireflies.
He ogled the gunblade holster on his passenger seat.  He didn’t have any training with it beyond what Father had taught him back when he was a boy, but he had not been a boy in quite some time.  The happy memories of fencing with Father with nothing but sticks and laughter would have to do.
Those memories faded once the fear set in.  He knew all too well what sorts of primal creatures resided in the dark, deep echelons of the rain forest.  Once he opened that shuttle door, there would be no turning back.  His only chances of surviving would be to become one with the forest; to be just another creature wandering about with the dark and the quiet as his two closest allies.
I can turn around.  I can leave and forget all about this and no one would know. 
But then Raiden thought of their conversation after breakfast.  It was all it took for Raiden to open the door of his air shuttle.  He couldn’t let Father do this without him—not when it involved Riles’ life.  He needed to keep his distance until they were too far into the woods to turn back.  Only then would Father allow him to continue with him and Hastings.
There were shadows swarming around his feet as the ground moved beneath him.  The fowtow snakes must’ve made this particular clearing one of their nests.  He couldn’t see their protruding spiky skin in the dark but he could make out the directions in which they were slithering.  As long as he avoided stepping on them they would leave him alone.
He paid careful attention to where he placed his feet as he navigated the forest floor.  At one point a fowtow seemed to be slithering toward him, but it wanted just as little trouble from him as he had wanted with it.  It took off in the other direction and allowed Raiden to leave the clearing safely.
Father and Hastings disappeared deeper into the District of Shadows somewhere up ahead.  He speed-walked through the wildberry bushes and the plants that exhaled orbs of yellow and white.  Their flickering lightspaved his way.  The tree leaves above were so thick that only traces of Hela’s rays made it through them.
He reached Father’s shuttle, but there was no telling how far ahead he and Hastings were.  At least the alcove they’d parked in front of made it clear as to where they were heading.  Between a set of trees as wide as palace walls were a pair of leaves that were so large they must have weighed five pounds apiece.  They bent toward one another and formed an archway into another world.
Raiden crossed under them and found that the angled trees no longer allowed the rays from above to seep through.  The only lights were the flurries of orbs dispersed by the plants around him, but they were evaporating quickly.  Father and Hastings could have been within an arm’s length and he might not have known it.  Something else could have been just as close.
Raiden withdrew his gunblade just in case.  The pistol itself was less than half a foot in length, but when he thrust it forward a silver, three-foot-long blade shot out of it.  If anything was looking for prey, he’d be ready for it.
He stepped forward into the darkness, feeling the bristles of leaves tickle his ankles.  The greens around him sighed and pale orbs of chartreuse and white flecked a foot into the air.  Somewhere from above the birds were chirping, oblivious to anything that might have been below.
Raiden walked further into the District of Shadows, so deep that he doubted that he could find his way back to the shuttle on his own.  Once he ran into Father, he’d have to stay with him.  It was too late to turn back.
His paces were slow and steady.  He tried to count them, but lost track sometime after a hundred when the flutters of wings flew around the thick leaves of trees somewhere to his left.  Raiden jumped into his battle stance with his gunblade in front of him only to feel silly a second later.  Of all the things to fear in the forest, the birds weren’t among them.
Further and further he traveled, wondering how much time had passed by, and hoping that Father and Hastings were going in the same direction.  According to the stories, the treetops blocked out the skies above for days and days.  In reality it was probably no more than ten or fifteen miles in circumference, but he didn’t map it out beforehand.  Scouring the forest blindly, he felt stupid for not planning ahead.
Another bird flew by and shot through the treetops, revealing the fiery sky of an impending Hela set, but did nothing to help him make out his surroundings.
The bushes in front of him stirred.  Whatever it was seemed much larger than a bird.  He strained his ears to hear whatever it might have been.  It was moving left, then closer to him.  He heard the tiny branches snapping beneath feet, or paws, or claws.
“Stop right there.”
Whatever it was had stopped fifteen or twenty feet in front of him.  He silenced his breathing to hear the grumbling of the creature within range.
More orbs flecked into the air in a V formation, but evaporated just as abruptly as they started.  One of the orbs allowed him to catch a glimpse of the deep purple fur of the creature before him.
Shit.  Raiden thought.  Only a few creatures bore such color, and of those few only one of them was native to the Malysai rain forest.  He was standing before a behemoth, the king of the woods.  Behemoths were one of the many reasons why the District of Shadows remained uninhabited by people.  Adults grew to the size of seven or eight feet; their claws were often stained red with dried blood.  Its fur varied in shades of purple and royal blue, and its eyes were as dark as a starless night.  He heard many stories of rain forest hikers making camp too close to the district.  The scent of humans was like a butcher’s cut of steak to behemoths.  Even if their snarls were heard as they slinked toward their prey, no human could outrun them.  Those they tried were devoured, leaving nothing but the remnants of their cracked bones as evidence that an attack had ever happened at all.
If this behemoth wanted to challenge him, he stood little chance of surviving.
He maintained his battle stance, trying best to ignore his sweaty palms on the hilt of the gunblade.  The behemoth hadn’t moved either, but he still heard its grunting as it dug its nails into the dirt beneath its paws.  It was preparing to lunge at him.
“Away!”  Raiden shouted in its direction.  He shot a stun orb into the air a few feet above where the behemoth was roughly standing.  The yellow orb flew north and evaporated into the leaves.  The behemoth yelped, but stood its ground.
The yelp made Raiden’s ears perk.  He shot another stun orb just a little above where he assumed the creature would be.  As it grazed by, Raiden saw the silhouette of a creature three, maybe four feet tall at most.  It was a behemoth for sure, but a young one.  The behemoth retracted its claws from the dirt and started to back up.
“Away!”  Raiden threatened.  This time he fired a stun orb right at it.  The behemoth let out another yelp and took off in the opposite direction.  The stun orb would’ve only temporarily paralyzed it, but the creature didn’t know that.  Raiden would’ve only hurt it if he had to.   After all it was protecting its habitat, just as Raiden had set out to protect his own.
The stun orb crashed into a tree stump a couple hundred feet ahead.  Raiden got a glimpse of another one next to it and cocked his head.  It was unusual in this part of the forest to see two stumps in such close proximity.  He quickened his pace and retracted his gunblade.  The faster he could inspect the stumps, the closer he might have been to catching up with the others.  He also needed to put some distance between him and the young behemoth.  He didn’t want to risk it revealing his location to its mother. 
He approached the wooden stumps and found that there were far more than just two.  Before him was a whole line of platforms, and they increased in height like a stairway in the middle of the forest.  They went on for as far as he could see (granted, that wasn't very far), and miniature plants exhaled more orbs to light the way.
He hoisted himself onto the first one, which was more than three feet off of the ground.  The rest of the stumps weren’t as steep, but he would have to jump onto them and hope that his strides were large enough.  The second stump was just a foot higher and a few feet away.  The one he stood on was large enough for him to get a running start, so he backed up to the edge and darted forward, leaping onto the second stump with ease and sticking the landing.
The next several wooden platforms proved to be just as easy to navigate.  Eventually the tiny plants on the ends of the stumps emitted orbs of light that revealed a path to the top.  He jumped again, but too far this time and gasped as his left heel barely grazed the stump's edge.  He kicked off a pile of sludge that had been amassing at the edge and watched as it broke into fragments of mud that disappeared into a nothingness below.  He must have been more than twenty feet in the air and still had a long way to go.
I can do this…  I can do this.
Heights didn’t often usually scare him, but he found not being able to see the ground terrifying.  The darkness would swallow him whole if he fell and his body would be lost to the Districts of Shadows forever.  The thought made the jumps from stump to stump no longer seem easy.  He needed to gather his courage again, so he closed his eyes and thought of the son he left home with his mother; the son that Rexus Poloray had threatened to kill.  The thought of losing him was far scarier than any leap into the unknown could have been. 
He leapt again.  His breathing cut short as soon as he left the safety of the stump.  His legs pushed through the still air and he felt the colors of the lights of the orbs in front of him.  And then felt the solid wood beneath his feet.  He opened his eyes and sighed with relief.  He was going to be just fine. 
The breeze briefly reassembled the leaves and Raiden got a clear view of Hela through an opening in the treetops.  It was descending quickly—much faster than he thought it would.  He could no longer be afraid of the unknown before him.  There wasn’t enough time for that.  He leapt again without worrying whether he’d land on a stump or break his legs on the ground far below.  And then he did it again, and again, and again.
He must have been a hundred feet in the air by the time he saw a stump that was only half-visible, concealed behind a wall of emerald and crimson leaves.  He stopped just before it.  With a deep breath he sprang, plowing through the wall of leaves before him, and landing on the stump on the other side.
Raiden got a glimpse of his startled father somewhere in front of him, then nearly slipped forward and over the edge of the stump.  He put his hands out to balance himself as the arches of his feet teetered on the corner of the wooden platform.
“Ray!”  Father exclaimed and bolted toward him.
Raiden could have sworn he’d heard Hastings scoff, but he was too focused on maintaining his balance so that he didn’t slip off the edge.  He waved his arms backward as a means of pushing more of his weight onto the stump.  His heart raced wildly, but he knew he could do it.  He wasn’t about to fall to his death before even seeing the man who threatened the life of his son.
Father rushed to the edge of the crisscrossing tree limbs on which he and his partner had been supported.  Before he had a chance to grab for his son with his large callused hands, Raiden placed all of his weight on the balls of his feet and scooted backwards, safely on the stump.
“Phew,” Raiden sighed.
“Ray,” Father’s tone switched from shock and worry to parental and foreboding.  It reminded Raiden of the time he was caught stealing chocolate-covered blueberries from a foreign vendor.  He had been too young to recall why he had done it, but he never forgot the look of shame engraved on Father’s face.  It was a shade of disappointment that he never wanted to see again.  Father must have known that, or else he wouldn’t be looking at him the same way this time.  “Ray, what in Noreis—”
“Don’t even, Dad,” Raiden snarled.  “I’m a father to Riles just as you are a father to me.  I wouldn’t expect you to not take action if you got word that someone had threatened my life, so you shouldn’t have done the same.”
Father’s gray eyes grew morose.  “I should never have told you.”
“Arias’,” Hastings said with a scowl on his face and hands on his hips, “We still have a little way to go.”
Hastings had been Father’s partner in the Serenity Seekers for three years.  Raiden wanted to like him, but the man always seemed a little full of himself.  He was also far too close to Raiden's age to keep Raiden from thinking that Hastings might have been the version of him that Father might have liked better.  Father had always wished that Raiden had joined the Seekers.  It nearly broke his heart the day Raiden revealed to him that he wanted to work as a tour guide for the Tri-City Forest.  Hearing about Father’s missions with Hastings had caused Raiden to wonder if it had been the right decision all those years ago.
“Father, this morning you mentioned that Rexus was curious about the Transcendence Theory.  What about it?”
Father exchanged glances with Hastings and then his son.  “Dusk of the Eternal, Dawn of the First, Three and Three, the Second reveals the Third.”
Raiden blinked.  “What the hell does that mean?”
“Walk and talk, guys,” Hastings grumbled as he turned from them and continued watching his footing as he alternated between the tree limbs.  Hastings seemed numb to the sizable drop beneath them that could spell death, were one to make a misstep and fall.
Raiden eyed the crisscrossing limbs that his father and Hastings were standing on with caution.  They were two curiously large platforms of wood that formed a double helix and traveled through another sheet of leaves.  He leapt onto one of them with ease and found himself having to look up at Father yet again. 
Raiden fell in line with Father, who had begun to follow his partner when he finally answered his son’s question.  “That is what your mother told me.  As for what it means, I’m not sure that even she knows.  Either that or, despite a thirty-year betrothal, she still doesn’t trust me.”
“You were only married for eighteen of those years.”
“She will always be my wife.”
“Technically your divorce made her your ex-wife.”
Father increased his pace to catch up with his partner.  “Say what you will, son, but you were too young to fully understand the circumstances surrounding our separation.”
“I wasn't too young.  She was too absent.”  Raiden said while having a hard time keeping up.
“Absent, yes, but that woman will always be your mother.  She did what she thought was best for everyone.”
“She did what was best for her.”
Father stopped moving.  Somewhere in the distance Hastings had groaned, but it didn’t stop him from rushing ahead.
Raiden bit his tongue and squinted.  He knew what he was about to be in for.
“Your mother is a complicated woman.  Do I believe in everything that she did and the choices that she made?  No, but I understand why she did it.  You would have never met your wife if she hadn’t, and you wouldn’t have that beautiful son to come home to.  It was the right thing to do back then, just as her telling me about Rexus was the right thing to do now.  Let’s do what we came here to do and go back home.”
At last Father had said something he agreed with.  Raiden followed in his footsteps without saying another word as they walked forward and jumped from one intersecting limb to the next, trudging deeper and deeper into the dark side of the rain forest.
“The first clue is ‘Dusk of the Eternal’,” Father said.  “Your mother explained that there’s a clearing somewhere in the depths of this forest where the orbs emitted by the plant life have generated the same sequence for thousands of years.  Twice a year at the time of dusk they reveal the collective image of the location to the ‘Dawn of the First’.”
“Did she—” Raiden stopped talking to hoist himself onto a limb that curved upward at a forty-five degree angle.  “Did she tell you what ‘Dawn of the First’ meant?”
“No, but she did say that if we were unsuccessful here, the ‘Three and Three’ meant that the clues are separated in an eternal sequence of three days, meaning that three days from now at dawn the second clue would reveal itself.”
Raiden bobbed his head.  “And then ‘The Second reveals the Third’ means that the second clue would lead us to a third clue?”
“It won’t come to that.  We’re putting an end to this now.  If we don’t, others may come to learn of Rexus—or worse, about the Transcendence Theory.”  Father had mentioned that not even the Serenity Seekers could know about the theory, which would have baffled Raiden if he didn’t already have so many other things on his mind.
Hastings had disappeared through another wall of crimson leaves in front of them.  Raiden hadn’t noticed until he emerged through them.  Even in the dark, Raiden was able to make out the astonishment on Hastings’ face.
“Is that it in front of us?”  Father asked.
Hastings waited for them to cross over the last set of limbs to reach him before saying anything.  “I think so.  Galen, you should have a look.”
“All right then,” Father said casually as he withdrew his gunblade and thrust forward a three foot shimmering blue blade.  The blade was at beautiful as it was dangerous.  To even slide one’s fingers along the edge would make them bleed.  Riles tried once.  Father never withdrew it in front of him again.
Hastings withdrew his as well.  Hastings' blade was as green as a forest and, though not as bright and Father’s, it was just as deadly.  Not wanting to waste another second, Hastings muttered “It’ll be dusk soon” before trudging back through the wall of leaves.
Raiden grabbed for his gunblade and thrust it forward, being extra-careful not to lose his footing and slip over the edge as he did so.  The dull silver of his blade didn’t capture the light like his father’s, but rather seemed to fit it with the darkness surrounding them.
Father grimaced at the sight of his son’s gunblade.  Raiden saw his desire to protest him following them through the crimson leaves, but he was left with no time to dissuade Raiden from going.  He resigned to saying, “Just stay behind me and you’ll be safe.”
Raiden obeyed and kept five paces behind Father.  The two followed Hastings through the wall of leaves ahead.  Right away he had to adjust his eyes.  Before them were more tree limbs that served as walkways that formed a near-perfect circle four hundred feet in diameter.  The limbs seemed to spiral down all the way to the ground and continue up as high as the treetops, which was only letting the slightest hint of Hela in.
The glimmering orbs in front of them demanded his attention.  The ground must have been littered with thousands of bushes because there were literally millions of lights flickering up towards him.  Unlike the lights along the tree stumps, these orbs were all shades of greens and blues and reds and every other hue along the color spectrum that he could imagine.  It was so blindingly bright that he found himself momentarily distracted from the fact that Rexus would soon be there as well, if he wasn’t already.
Raiden tried to make out designs in the lights as the floated up towards the treetops.  Father had mentioned that they’d be sequential, but if there was a pattern that they were meant to reveal, he hadn’t seen it yet.  He wondered what it would portray when Hela finally set.  It had to have been on the verge.
Father pointed upward.  “Let’s head to the treetops.  We’ll get the best view there and a good vantage point on Rexus.”
As soon as his father mentioned Rexus, Raiden returned his focus to the mission at hand.  The orbs were pretty, but they were there to stop someone who had threatened his son’s life.  Father was right.  It’d be easier for them to see Rexus from up above and, if they got a clear shot at him from there, Raiden couldn’t hesitate to take it.
Hastings turned toward where the tree limbs were spiraling upward and led the way again.  Father followed right behind him and Raiden remained in the back.  Raiden tried to focus on his footing, but was more concerned with keeping an eye out on what was going on behind him.  If Rexus were to show up from below, he would be the easiest target. 
He eyed the entrance to the clearing as they traveled up fifty feet, and then a hundred more.  Rexus could slink through the leaves at any moment.  The thought distracted Raiden from being scared of how high up they were.  He was as weary about what was happening above him as he had been about what could’ve been happening below.  At any moment they’d—
“There,” Father pointed toward the center of the room where the bushes emitted a new sequence of orbs that shot up toward the treetops.  The orbs swirled like rotating pixels.  Each floated upward at a different pace and came closer and closer together.  The three stopped climbing to see what was rapidly approaching them from below.  The orbs in this sequence were mostly earth tones.  There were still traces of vibrancy, but colors were predominantly shades of blue, brown, and green.  The closer they fluttered together, the more of an image they began to reveal.  And then, for the slightest of seconds, all of the orbs came together in perfect unison to form a quick, clear image.  It was of the portrayal of a landscape from a time long ago; there were six rivers that criss-crossed one another, at one point almost forming a perfect hexagon.  Along the edges of them were plains and hills, while the center of the image was of a ground covered in shimmering blue and silver crystals.  Amongst all of them, there was one in the very center that seemed to shine the brightest.  Amidst what must have been several million orbs, the cluster of that hundred or so was what caught Raiden’s attention the most.  Before he had time to think about what he just witnessed, the orbs parted and continued swirling upwards at different speeds, and finally faded before hitting the treetops.
“That was Kalia,” Father said.  “Not as we know it today, but what it looked like then.”
“That cluster in the center,” Raiden muttered.
“I saw it too,” Father said.
On the other side of Father, Hastings sighed.  “If that was the clue, then Rexus missed it.”
Raiden felt the blood rush to his face.  “Unless he’s already here.”
The three stalled in an eerie silence.  None of them said anything for a second.  Another cluster of orbs was beginning to form below.  This time they were bright and in shades of orange, yellow, and red.  They flickered upward and engulfed the three men in their blazing bright hues.
Hastings clutched his chest as a flurry of flames shot up from it.  “Ackkk!”  He screamed in agony, but before he could do anything he was engulfed in a fire that could’ve have come from the orbs.
“Hastings!”  Father exclaimed.  He attempted to pat the flames off of his partner, but when Raiden got a glimpse of Hastings’ wide-eyed look of pure horror, they both knew that it was too late.  Hastings fell from the limbs, completely devoured in flames and vanishing through the next cluster of orbs.
A ball of fire cruised through the flame-colored orbs and headed toward Father.  Before Raiden could get a word out, Father flung his blade forward and sliced it in half, disintegrating it.
As the orbs passed, Raiden got a look at a man with dark hair and blaring eyes from across the clearing.  Even from a distance he could tell that this man was about the size of Father—if not larger.  Rexus wore a tattered sepia-colored coat that swayed around his feet.  He held his blood-colored gunblade in their direction and shot another fireball from the pistol’s mouth.
“Ray—duck!”  Father yelled.
Raiden knelt down as quickly as he could as a ball of fire sailed overhead and slammed into the leaves behind him.  If they were anywhere else in the world the leaves would've gone ablaze, but the trees of the forest had long ago coated themselves with a watery sap that made them fireproof.  The whole world could go up in flames and the Malysai rain forest would remain intact.
Father bolted around the semicircle of limbs in the direction of Rexus.  Rexus rushed toward him with graceful, wide strides.  Both men had their gunblades outstretched and met in the middle of the clearing to engage in a flurry of blows.  Flashes of red swirled all around Rexus, but Father was just as fast.  Father's shimmering blue blade met every one of Rexus’ attacks and countered them.
Father’s eyes were wide and desperate as he gripped his blade and Raiden knew immediately that Father was too weary of his presence. 
I shouldn’t have come.  He’s nervous.  I’m a distraction.
Another series of red, orange and yellow orbs floated towards the treetops.  The colors surrounding the men made them appear as if they were two harrowing flames lashing out at one another.  Rexus hit the blade with a loud clang but nearly lost his footing when he stood astride the limbs of the helix.  Father started swinging at Rexus, coming down on him with heavy, powerful blows. 
Come on, Father.  Come on!
Raiden blinked with surprise at how fast Father was.  Each swing was graceful and lacked hesitation.  He had planned his attacks four or five slashes ahead of time.  He was a giant and his blade was a sharp extension of his arm, pummeling Rexus with blow after mighty blow.
Father swung again, but this time Rexus used his might to slam into it with his red blade and Father had to jump back.  Rexus swung at Father furiously.  His blade resembled a blood-colored viper and struck at Father with a hissing metal tongue.  Father’s blue blade hurdled through the sea of flames to block Rexus, but then he backed up again and kept an eye on the awkward L-shaped walkway behind him.
Raiden clutched his gunblade and ran forward through the clusters of orbs surrounding him.  He broke through the patterns and images they portrayed as if he was bursting through canvasses of artwork.  The orbs flecked away, giving him a clear view of Rexus and his viper-tongued blade.  He pointed his gublade toward Rexus and started shooting balls of fire through the plethora of orbs in his direction. 
Rexus blocked Father’s blows and then spun backward to dodge Raiden’s attacks with ease.  He side-stepped past one fireball, and then sliced two more in half without breaking his stride.
Father flung his blade at Rexus, who blocked it and then both twisted their blades downward.  Rexus pushed down on Father's gunblade and drove it deep into the wood.  As the two leaned toward the ground, Raiden rushed them.  He leapt diagonally across the L-shaped limbs and landed directly behind the man who threatened his son and fought his father.
Rexus flung his blade upwards and swung at Raiden before he could strike.  Raiden gasped as the viper’s tongue went to slice through him and blocked it with his dull silver blade.  Rexus’ blow felt like it’d come from a monster, not a man.
“Ray!”  Father yelled as he shook his gunblade free from the wooden limb below.
Rexus swung hard at Raiden again and again.  Raiden felt as if he was being attacked with a wall of cement and continued to back up.  He struggled to stay on his feet as the limbs twisted and curved behind him.
Father prepared to attack Rexus from behind, but Rexus was ready for it and jumped high into the air and well over Raiden’s head, leaving Father to swipe at nothing.  Rexus landed behind Raiden and kicked him in the small of his back.  Raiden felt the pain course through his vertebrae and fell forward, tripping over a small branch.  He lost his footing and stumbled forward over the edge.  He couldn’t maintain his balance and plummeted toward the ground and the swirls of colors covering it.  As he dropped, he felt a strong hand grasping at his leg.
Raiden gasped as he watched his gunblade fall into the glowing abyss below.  He dangled upside down for second and heard Father’s voice.
Raiden contorted his body to get a glimpse Father who was clutching his son's leg.  In that moment, he saw Galen Arias look helpless for the first time in his life.  He never thought he would see that expression on the man that walked him through every step of his life.  Father’s eyes were bulging and his mouth was wide open, but he was too horrified to utter a sound.
Rexus stood over Father like an executioner over a man with his head in a guillotine.  He plunged his gunblade through Father’s chest with ease and without hesitation.  Before Raiden could scream he felt Father’s grip give way and he went freefalling down through the millions of orbs.  The little lights floated upward, concealing the small openings through which the sky could be seen.

There was a groaning sound.  It came from him, though he didn’t know how it was possible.  He looked around at the orbs that were still floating towards the treetops.  He didn’t know how long he’d been out, much less how he had managed to survive a three-hundred-foot fall.  He started to move and felt the pillows of leaves give way, dropping him another two or three feet onto the hard surface below.
The plants and bushes below must have been so thick that they broke his fall.  It was a struggle to see with the overwhelming bright lights surrounding him, but he didn’t feel like he was in a lot of pain.  Nothing felt broken, and nothing was numb.
Raiden rolled over and got to his feet.  He dusted off his maroon-colored shirt and checked for scrapes and scratches.  Besides having a few cuts on his forearms, he looked astoundingly fine.
“Father!”  He gasped.
He rushed toward the edges of the clearing and quickly found a series of tree trunks that, collectively, had a series of tree limbs that joined with others and intertwined.  Raiden hugged the tree with the limbs that were closest to the ground and began hoisting himself up, grabbing at whatever small limbs and branches he could find along the way.  His forearm started to bleed, but he ignored the pain.  He had to get back to where Father was as quickly as he could.  He needed to know if he was still alive.
He wrapped his arm around closest tree limb that started up the walkway and balanced his body until he was able to comfortably push himself onto it.  He rested for a second, then got to his feet.  The limbs grew wider and more stable the higher up they went.  He started to run up them.  The pounding of his feet echoed in the clearing as the orbs in the center flickered upwards with more vibrant colors and designs.  He made one full rotation around the spiral, then another, and a third.  He was losing his breath, but he didn’t care.
He caught a glimpse of Father’s shimmering blue gunblade from across the way and the shadows of a body with a hand dangling over the edge.
Everything fell silent.  He didn’t hear his footsteps as he ran toward the motionless figure.  He couldn’t feel himself breathe.  All he could think of was Father’s helpless expression as he held Raiden by his leg.
He reached Father and rolled his lifeless body over.  There was a blood stain on his chest where Rexus had stabbed him through the heart and for a moment all Raiden could think about was one of the last things father said to him.  Stay behind me and you’ll be safe.
This is my fault.  This is my doing.  I should have stayed behind.  It would have been Rexus lying here, dead, not you…
His vision become blurry amidst a sea of tears.  He no longer knew what to do, or even how to get back to his shuttle.  He was completely lost, like a young child who had lost the grip of a mother’s hand amidst a roaring crowd.  He hadn’t known a life without Father.  They had always been together.  He was the constant.  He was supposed to always be the constant.  But now....
The lights were reflected off of Father’s gunblade, drawing Raiden’s attention from Father to it.  He thought about it for second, and then knew what he had to do.  Father had always protected him, but now he needed to care for his own.  He grabbed Father’s gunblade, retracted it, and placed it in his holster. 

“No one threatens my son and lives,” Raiden told himself through his lips dampened with the streams of tears.  “No one…”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Amazing People and Insufferable Bastards: The Server's Edition

I believe that the world would be a much better place if it was a requirement for all people to work in some facet of the service industry for a few months.  You will likely learn when interacting with people that some of them are amazing, and others are total bastards!  Here’s a list of people pretty spectacular bastards and their amazing counterparts:

Bastard:  The Apologizer
This bastard might be friendly, might not, but unless they’re a regular you’ll have flames—flames coming out the side of your head when you notice that your tip has been rounded to the nearest dollar and they leave a message saying “Sorry, I’m broke.”  The solution here is simple:  If you’re broke, don’t go out to eat.  You can make a burger at home for much cheaper than $10-$15 before tax and tip, and you won’t be hated afterward.

Amazing Counterpart: The Returner
If this particular bastard genuinely feels bad about leaving laundry change (in 1955… laundry is expensive these days), they will return another day to 1. Give you cash for the tip or 2. Tip extra the next time they’re there.  These people are rare, but I’ve had them both—and they’re awesome!!!

Bastard: The Number Giver
Why, why, why, why, why, why, WHY does anyone think that a server will call them if they leave their number and then a shitty tip?  You’re already telling us that you’re cheap and inconsiderate, but if you’re leaving your phone number as well you’re either arrogant or completely clueless.  Also, never use the line “how about I buy you dinner instead?” or anything of the sort.  Sure you can buy dinner, but fucking tip first!

Awesome Counterpart:  The Considerate Number Giver
If you like the server or bartending it’s okay to leave a number, but recognize that you’re tipping skills is a huge tell.  There have been dates that I refused to follow through on solely because of bad tipping, and I would never hold out until dinner is bought for me instead… who you think will be tipping then? Probably not Slimeball McSleezypants.

Bastard: The Needer
They will usually start a sentence with “I need” and then give you a list of very important instructions… then on top of that they’ll flag anyone that looks like a staff member down any time they walk by so that they can receive every last one of their “needs.”  But let’s face it, if you don’t put the dressing on the side or allow for the mashed potatoes to touch the steak, THEY WILL DIE!!!!!
Also, the following are needs: air, water, food.  Almost everything else is a want.  Having the crusts taken off of your bread or your burger cut into fourths is a want, not a need… you prick.

Awesome Counterpart: The Wanter, or the “I would like”-r
Simple.  These people “want” or “would like” items on the menu or behind the bar.  They will not spontaneously combust if you don’t carry mint out of season, or if you accidently put mayo on the bun.  They’re also, just in general, not as “needy.”
OK fun story: I once had a grown man who was afraid of mayo, and a “Needer”, and a total douche.  He didn’t have allergies to mayo or anything, but God forbid his water ever get below 3/4ths of a way full.  He also made a few racial slurs towards the busser, which is really, really uncool.  So for fun, I opted out of subbing “no mayo.”  When his burger came he saw it, turned whiter than a Seattlite’s ass cheeks, screamed, ran into the bathroom and burst into tears.  If he wasn’t a total dick and a racist, I might have felt bad… if it wasn’t so damn funny.

Bastard:  The “I’ll get the bill” Guy (or Girl)
This bastard is an “amazing” person in bastard’s clothing.  She is probably the best friend of the birthday girl, or the patriarch of the family.  They’re usually super nice and courteous to the server and their friends, and to them impressions are everything.  When the food reduces to crumbs and the drinks are nothing but tiny ice glaciers in a watered-down concoction, they’ll offer to pay for the whole check and receive praise from those around them.  Unfortunately, just because they’re generous with their friends doesn’t mean that they’ll be generous with you.  Once that meal is done, you’re out of the equation.  You’re not going to the next bar with them.  You’re not gonna be joining them on the dance floor or “friending” them on Facebook.  You’re never gonna see them again, and they might treat you like it.  Yes, they’ll pay for the whole bill, but they ain’t be gonna tippin’ the full percentage.  Not-uh, no ma’am!  It’s $3 for you… which of course all goes to the bussers, expo and host.

Amazing Counterpart:  The “I’ll get the bill” Guy (or Girl)
They are their own counterparts because, while there are a few genuine bastards out there, a lot of these people will tip you justifiably whether they’ll see you again or not because they’re awesome.

2nd Amazing Counterpart: The Check-Splitters
I might be in the minority here, but as long as people mention in advance that they’re splitting checks, or if they’re orders aren’t complicated or so convoluted that it’s impossible for you to figure out who got what, I’d split checks over getting a large single bill any day of the week.  Sure there might be a bastard in the bunch, but you’ll counteract it with the amazing people that are also there.  You can also think of it in terms of stocks.  Would you rather:  invest in one stock and have it either succeed or fail, or invest in a mutual fund, which usually succeeds, even if their success rate is sometimes not as profitable as the success rate of a single stock? I heart my mutual funds J

I will add a few more of these later.  Also, fellow peeps, if you have a few that you’d like to share, please let me know and I’ll be sure to add them in the next post!!!