Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 27

Gwynivara held up her arm and stunned everyone as she willed the orb to push past the pile of clothes and fly into her palm. Rafeneita’s jaw dropped and she gasped, “Where did you get that?”

“It came from Emorick.” Gwynivara gazed into it as clouds swirled around inside and began to form shapes. “Where he got it, I don’t know, but he does have a message for you…”

The clouds inside the orb the orb shaped into an ethereal form of Emorick, who’s voice echoed out, “Give her hell!”

Gwynivara taunted Rafeneita, “I can’t disobey a direct order!”

Rafeneita genuinely seemed frightened. The Rebel officers, especially Gwynivara, were all amped and ready for whatever she had in store for them. Rafeneita backed away slowly, giving them a very cold glare. When she reached the edge of the mountain top, it almost looked as thought she would jump off. Instead, she leered, “Have it your way then!” She sprang up as if she were about to do a back-flip off of the cliff, but what actually happened- she disappeared into a mystical portal! In the same instant, a dozen men in the same white clothes as the Rebels appeared all around them, brandishing swords. And with that, the battle began.

Kierram magicked the daggers out of their belts and enlarged them to become swords. Gwynivara had the utmost confidence that the Rebels would prevail in a sword fight, but she figured that this was just the first wave, that the attacks would prove more and more difficult as time went on. For this reason, she kept a weary eye out for signs of other danger as she fought. All of the training they went through made them motions of the battle simple, but actually striking down someone was a new experience. They didn’t have time to think about it though, right then, their entire focus aimed at survival.

After defeating the last swordsman, Gwynivara noticed how quiet the grounds became. She looked around and saw that the rest of the Rebel officers were also studying the area to check for survivors. None of her people appeared to have died or got seriously injured save for a few cuts and bruises! They could hardly move though because the mountain top floor was now littered with bodies! Gwynivara felt awful for taking a person’s life, so to see how many lives were now over was deeply unsettling. She had no idea that so many people worked for Rafeneita, an she briefly wondered what their perspective had been going into the battle. She reminded herself that none of them had a choice, and the important thing was that the Rebels survived.

No one moved or spoke for quite a while. Everyone had the same instinct, that this first wave got overcome way too easily, and their eyes darted back and forth looking for what was next. Max whispered, “I’m gonna call for back up.”

“Max, don’t!” Bernadette, who was closest to him, hissed.

Max didn’t listen and tiptoed through the bodies. The rest of them, still on high alert, silently prayed that he wouldn’t stumble across an ambush. He crept towards the pile of clothes, and all of their nerves were palpable. He found a radio pretty quickly, held down the call button, and whispered, “We need back up on the-!”

It happened too fast. Without warning, a beast twice as tall as them sprung up from the side of the mountain and clenched its jaws around Max’s torso! They involuntarily screamed as they watched the monster snap him in half! His instant death was shocking enough, but they didn’t have time to react to it. They soon found that creatures of great magnitude approached them from all different directions! As terrifying as their presence was, the Rebel officers had fought monsters before, and they were always ready to fight them. Today had been no exception. The Rebel officers got attacked from all different directions, so it took all of their concentration and skills. Gwynivara didn’t have time to keep an eye out for the other Rebels, but as soon as the mountain grew quiet again, it was the first thing she did. She spotted Bernadette, Kierram, and a few other Rebels, but to her dismay, a few more officers had been killed.

They didn’t have a moment to mourn for their losses. One second, they were completely surrounded by bodies of people and giant creatures, and the next thing they knew it all disappeared. Knowing that this could mean nothing good, the remaining Rebel officers stood in a back to back circle, waiting. Suddenly, Abigor and his cronies appeared from a small rip in the air near the ground. They strutted out in a very cocky manner in an attempt to appear condescending, but the Rebel officers wouldn’t let themselves get intimidated. Abigor leered, “You should’ve joined us when you had the chance! Look how many of your men have died just for you to make a point! What a waste!”

“I guess I should’ve been more like you and let dozens of my people die without blinking an eye!” Gwynivara retorted.

Abigor and his followers circled them like a vulture circling it’s prey. “It’s not too late. We’ll give you one last chance to change your mind.”

“Never!” Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram replied in unison.

“Then so be it!” Faster than they could blink, Abigor conjured a ball of dark energy and hurled it towards them! Kierram reacted quickest and created a sheer barrier that deflected his spell from them all. Abigor and his team made multiple attempts, but Gwynivara and Kierram kept blocking them. Bernadette and a couple of others who were in the Rebellion long enough to know the theory of how to use their Venenatus Sanguis as an enchantment did their best to help Kierram and Gwynivara out, but they were definitely outnumbered in terms of people who possessed the ability. Their minds raced to think of a solution, but their heads were blank. No one was sure what they would do.

All of a sudden, Abigor stopped. His attention got drawn to a noise he heard in the base of the mountain. Abigor’s henchmen took this as a cue to cease as he investigated. A very loud hum reached the Rebels’ ears. It grew louder, indicating its fast approach. As rapidly as the noise came, it let up. Abigor and his men peered over the side of the peak, but they saw nothing. They turned their attention back to the Rebels, ready to strike again when suddenly, one of the henchmen got shot in the head! At that moment, dozens of motorcycle cops flooded the area, shooting at the henchmen! The Rebels all figured that their foes had the skillset to destroy the police in ways that they couldn’t even imagine, but Abigor and the others were still humans who would succumb to bullets just as anyone would. Considering this as well as the vast number of law enforcements present, they were properly distracted, which leveled the playing field for the Rebels, and the battle resumed.

Kierram sought out Abigor and found him firing off enchantments left and right. He threw one at him, which he easily deflected. Kierram made a couple more, and Abigor swatted them away as easily as if they were a bothersome fly. After a few rounds of this, he fired back. Kierram’s counter hit Abigor’s dark force, and for several moments, the two specters collided. Abigor and Kierram used all of their might to keep this force away from themselves, and they did all that they could to push it onto the other person. Kierram secretly didn’t know how much longer he could last, but suddenly, Abigor got a look on his face that conveyed blatant fear and pain. Kierram used this split second distraction to push back the spell onto Abigor. He fell face down onto the ground, revealing a knife in his back and Bernadette standing behind him. The gave each other looks of approval and headed back into the battlefield.

Gwynivara marched purposefully through the midst of it all, searching everywhere. She finally had enough and shouted, “Come out and fight, Rafeneita, you coward! Show yourself, you lousy bitch! You act so high and mighty, but you won’t show off your powers at all! You’re gonna let us kill each other off, just like always, huh? It’s ‘cause you’re weak! Your people don’t deserve-!”

Rafeneita manifested herself at that moment. “Don’t you dare insult my people! Weak, am I? You wanna see my powers? Well, you got it!”

Rafeneita hurled an energetic force towards Gwynivara, who not only evaded it but sent one back. The sheer strength of their craft halted the battle on both sides as they mesmerizedly fixed their gazes on the two of them giving it all they had. Gwynivara came in with great energy, but if began to wane as time went on. She did her best not to show it to her, but eventually, Rafeneita figured it out. Gwynivara started dodging her instead of fighting back, and Rafeneita delighted in the turmoil she was causing. Gwynivara felt her muscles weaking more and more. In a horrifying moment, she almost fainted, and that momentary distraction gave Rafeneita the upper hand. A dark cloud hit her, and pain shout throughout Gwynivara’s entire body! She couldn’t help but scream as she writhed in pain!

“No!” Kierram cried out.

“Shut up!” Rafeneita stopped torturing Gwynivara for a moment, sending her tumbling to the ground, in order to attack Kierram.

That stunt drew out Gwynivara’s primal side! The pure love that she felt for him strengthened her heart and gave her body strength. She saw that the orb had rolled out from the clothes she wore, and instinctively, she grabbed it, rolled over, and held it to the sky. Concentrating all of her energy, she willed it to absorb Rafeneita’s work, and when Rafeneita felt that particular enchantment leave her, she grew utterly terrified. Gwynivara didn’t stop there. The more energy she took from her, the more she felt in the orb. It quickly flowed from the orb into her flesh, and as it flowed into her veins, the great eminence lifted her into the sky. A pink and gold cloud enveloped around her, and even her eyes grew florescent. With a billowing voice, she roared, “You shall not have my planet!”

Gwynivara threw a bolt of lightning towards Rafeneita, who disappeared into thin air right before it hit her. Gwynivara fell to the ground as a small rift in the sky opened up and dropped something. Gwynivara used the last of her strength to grab it. She hit the ground, and everything went black.

The few remaining Rebels rushed to her side. Kierram knelt before her and desperately clutched her body. He gently shook and pleaded, “Gwyn! Please wake up! Please!” When she didn’t respond, tears began to roll down his cheeks.

As he sobbed, Bernadette unlatched Gwynivara’s grasp and discovered the ornate vile along with a papyrus note attached to it. She read out loud, “Keep your planet. There’s plenty more to choose from! Take this token as a peace offering.”

John, who appeared to have a broken ankle, limped over to see the note. “So, she’s going to do the same thing to another planet?”

At that second, Emorick’s face appeared inside the orb in Gwynivara’s hand, and his voice sounded, “Not if we can help it!” He conjured a ball of energy and shot it towards Gwynivara.

To everyone’s astonishment, immediately after Emorick made the gesture, Gwynivara’s eyelids flipped open, and she gasped. Kierram stared in dumbfounded amazement as she regained her breath and control of her body. His tears changed to those of happiness, and Kierram exclaimed, “You’re back!”

“I never left!” Gwynivara had never felt such relief in her life as she did right then! Her body healed, and she felt lucky to be alive. Waking up in his arms made the moment perfect! Her heart sang as she gazed into his eyes. Unable to contain herself, she flung her arms around him and passionately kissed him!

The other Rebel officers smiled warmly as they watched their loving embrace. Bernadette couldn’t help but tell Gwynivara, “I told you!”

Gwynivara turned to see Bernadette standing there with a playful smirk. She said gratefully to her, “I’m gonna let that one slide ‘cause I’m just so happy you’re alive!”

Gwynivara sprang up and gave her a huge hug. Bernadette rejoiced, “We did it! We survived!” Once it finally sunk in for everyone, the remaining Rebel officers celebrated with hugs, relieved sobs, and lots of joyous noise.

The policemen who were still living arrested the henchmen that survived. Kierram put his arm around Gwynivara and asked her, “So, now what?”

Gwynivara mulled it over for a moment. She realized that she had been absentmindedly playing with the orb, which gave her an idea. She said to the other Rebels, “Let’s go find Emorick!” Everyone nodded in approval, and with an air of total optimism, they headed down the mountain.

The End

(For now)

Advertisements

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 23

Are you serious?” Kierram asked her.

“Like I would joke about something like this!” Gwynivara pulled out the orb, which showed a crude map with a red dot resting just outside the area that Rick lived in. “It’s been sitting there since last night.”

Bernadette inquired, “You think the origin is somewhere in that neighborhood?”

“No,” Gwynivara replied. “If you were the origin, would you let people visit your house willy-nilly?”

“Of course not,” Kierram agreed. “They must have some kind of security check.”

Bernadette surmised, “They found the tracking device.”

“Exactly!” Gwynivara analyzed the evidence, “They would stop somewhere on the way to their hideout but still far enough away so that if they were followed they wouldn’t give away the origin’s location. What would you do if you found a tracking device on your property? Take it off and immediately chuck it right?” Kierram and Bernadette nodded in agreement. “It’s the natural human reaction if you find something unsettling. Once it was off, they probably thought they were in the clear. They could have gone anywhere from there, in theory, but what lies just beyond that neighborhood?”

“The Great Dismal Mountains!” Bernadette exclaimed. “The mountains would be the perfect place to hide, very secluded!”

“There’s a few trails and camping grounds in that range,” Kierram contemplated. “But it starts to get pretty gnarly along the Athas Ridge. If the origin is in a place to avoid detection, it would be there.”

“Totally,” Bernadette concurred. “But there are three peaks in that area- Cinealtas, Obair Chrua, and Misneach. We couldn’t scale them all ‘cause the origin and their henchmen would figure out what we’re doing and stop us before we found the correct one. So, how do we know which one is the right peak?”

“There would be signs before we got there,” Gwynivara reasoned. “When we get there, we can narrow it down.” Suddenly, it all became real to her. She knew all along that this was the end game, but now that the time had come, it frightened her. She thought out loud, “We’re not prepared! I just got here, I don’t know all the battle plans! I only got a couple lessons on harnessing my Venenatus Sanguis! I barely know what I’m doing! And the others- I didn’t get enough skills to teach anyone to do it too! And a lot of the officers are brand new! They didn’t even get weapons training yet! I can’t… I mean, right now? I-!”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Kierram cut her off. “It’s okay! We can wait and do more training if that’s what you think is best, and if this was a military operation, that’s exactly what I’d do. But really, we don’t know what the enemy is capable of. We could be dealing with weapons that we can’t even fathom, so all of that training could be a waste of time. When we get there, if we get a chance to do some reconnaissance, we will, but I think the only way we’re going to know for sure what to expect from the origin is to confront it head on. We need to act quickly, lives are at stake!”

“Kierram’s right,” Bernadette added. “We can train the officers and make them experts at everything and still have shit go wrong. Either way, this could be a suicide mission. The important thing is that we take a stand, let the origin know that what they’re doing isn’t acceptable! No matter what, if we all live or die, the origin would hear our message. The fact that we stood up to them at all would let them know they’re not infallible and someday, our planet will stop them! We’re all capable of telling them that, so, I would say we’re all ready for this.”

Gwynivara knew they were both right and calmed down as much as a person could in a situation like this. She mulled it over for a bit and concluded, “We’re not all going to die. If all of the officers perish, we still have Rebels staying here who would carry on our message. And we could appoint a designated survivor to recruit more officers. We could tell him where we’re going so if we don’t return, he could find us. Oh, and we can let the origin know this so she knows even if she slaughters us all, she’s not safe! We could use that as leverage for…”

She stopped mid-sentence as she heard footsteps approaching. She quickly stashed the orb away as Agnes poked her head in. “We got lunch for all of you if you’re hungry.”

“Oh yes, thank you!” Gwynivara tried to maintain a normal tone, but she could tell Agnes suspected something was up. Agnes didn’t say anything though, and after she left, Gwynivara whispered, “How are we going to do this?”

In a large dining room, several Rebels ate sandwiches with Agnes in an awkward silence. Gwynivara couldn’t tell if it was due to a similar sense of wariness that they all picked up on or because she was a stranger to them. Riley broke the spell by saying, “Great sandwiches, Mrs. Ashling!”

Gwynivara wondered how she would convey vital information while Agnes was present, but she suddenly got an idea. “Oh yes, they remind me of the ones we ate by the Athas Ridge, remember Riley?”

“Athas Ridge? We never ate any sandwiches by the…” In the middle of his sentence, it clicked for him what Gwynivara meant. “Oh right! I remember now! Yes, these are very similar.”

Catching on to Gwynivara’s tactic, Kierram casually suggested, “We should take the Rebel officers there for a hike.”

“When?” Riley replied.

“How about tonight?” Bernadette proposed.

Trying to hide his growing anxiety, Riley probed, “Tonight? So soon? Shouldn’t we wait to do an outing like that?”

“If we don’t do it soon, it could be too late and we’ll never get another chance.” After Bernadette spoke, she saw her mother glance up, so she quickly added, “The first snow of the season is due anytime.”

Riley remarked, “I understand. I guess it makes sense to do it tonight, but some of your Rebels aren’t very experienced with…hiking. Are you sure you want us all go tonight?”

Gwynivara told him, “Actually, I was thinking that you should stay here and teach them everything you know. Then if we…get lost or something, you can lead them to where we went.”

“You want me to stay behind?” Riley’s eyes widened and his voice crackled a little, but he did his best to maintain a normal tone. “But if something happened to you all, that would make me in charge! Are you sure I’m the most qualified person to-?”

Kierram interrupted, “You’ve been with the Rebellion the longest. You know what needs to be done. If you can’t do a specific task, you know who to appoint for the role. No one could do it better than you. So, we’ll take the Rebel officers tonight, and you can hold down the fort here, okay?”

“But…!” Riley saw the logic, but Gwynivara could see that emotionally, he didn’t want to let them go.

Unexpectedly, Agnes put in, “Oh, come on boy! There’ll be other hikes! You can handle things on your own for one night! Personally, I’d take any excuse to stay home! Hiking is too much work! But whatever floats your boat, I guess. Just make sure you bring something to fend off those mountain lions!” To their relief, Agnes appeared to have totally bought that hiking alibi.

Riley sighed, “As long as it really is just one night!” Gwynivara, Bernadette, Kierram looked to the other Rebel officers in the room, who all nodded at each other. It suddenly got hard to eat the rest of their meal normally, not now that it was official- they were going to confront the origin tonight!

As the Rebel officers walked down the street in that neighborhood leading to the mountains, no one spoke. They were naturally a little nervous, but the tension didn’t really surface very much. The whole situation felt like a dream, and as they traveled, they wondered if they would ever get a chance to see any of it again- the houses, the flowers, the trees…A cold wind blew past them, making them tighten up their black hoods. Gwynivara glanced at the others and saw that her theory on walking in the middle of the road to avoid the streetlights had panned out, but from what she could see, she could tell everyone was lost in thought. Gwynivara remembered the old cliché that a person’s life flashes before their eyes when he or she approaches their time to die, but she didn’t feel that. It felt more like nostalgia, thinking about who played a large role in her past, wondering what could have been. John and Max just got here. They escaped a horrible fate in quarantine only to come to this days later. She wondered if Rebekah and Cody would end up married. Niqun would probably adopt the children that Kennith had saved, she had been thoroughly enjoying watching over them lately. Riley would probably hire new leaders and continue his administrative role. She hoped she would get to find out for herself someday!

She glanced to her left and discretely watched Kierram. Her heart fluttered just to have him there at that moment. She longed to hold his hand and receive the comfort of his touch during this harrowing ordeal. She wondered if they had the opportunity to have more time if they would ever have gotten together. She had no idea if he even felt the same about her. It saddened her to think that she may never know. Gwynivara mused about actually achieving this mission successfully and how nice it would be to run off with him. Or would they separate when it was all over? If they accomplished this, she thought, she had no idea if any of the Rebels would stay friends actually. Kierram looked in her direction, so she quickly switched her gaze to Bernadette. She didn’t want him to know she had been staring at him for a while. If he didn’t have feelings for her, she would hate to have an acute awkwardness to distract them at a crucial time like this. Still, even though she looked away, her heart pined for him.

Bernadette let out a soft sigh. Gwynivara felt a surge of gratitude for her presence. She didn’t need to take part in the Rebellion at all; she could have taken her mother’s money and hid like she did. She chose her morals over material goods and personal safety, which Gwynivara found to be a very selfless and admirable choice. She was incredibly kind and loyal, a great teacher…Gwynivara wouldn’t have made it this far without her! Interrupting her train of thought, Bernadette pondered reflectively, “When we were kids and dreamed about the future, we sure didn’t think we would end up here!”

Gwynivara slowly nodded. “When you and I were kids, we couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain or swim in the same pool! Thank god people fought back against society on that! Those rebels made the world a better place!” She realized how much her words tied into their current situation, and it became an odd moment between them all. Without saying it out loud, everyone wondered if their won Rebellion would have that kind of impact. Gwynivara reminded them all, “That’s why we’re here! Don’t forget, that’s why we’re doing…”

Before she could finish her sentence, a bright light ahead of their path blinded them all. Gwynivara’s mind had already been in a dreamlike trance, and this haze added to her confusion. She didn’t understand what was happening until a figure emerged that made her blood curl…

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 22

His presence alone set off alarm bells in her head, but as he got closer, Gwynivara could tell from his grim expression that Riley had devastating news for her. “What happened?” She almost didn’t want to know the answer. She almost turned away and covered her ears. She didn’t know how much more stress she could take right now!

Riley, clearly still harboring some adrenaline from what just happened, told her, “They were followed!”

Gwynivara understood what he said perfectly, but her mind blocked the information from getting totally comprehended. She didn’t know how to respond, but luckily, she didn’t have to since Bernadette spoke up first, “By the police?”

“Yes!” Riley confirmed. “The officers thought they were alone, but when they got into the catacombs, they heard footsteps behind them. The policeman almost paged for back up, so Max had to shoot him! I was door guard and heard the whole thing, but I didn’t know what to do except to find you immediately! Are we in trouble?”

Gwynivara rubbed her forehead and tried to think. So much information just got relayed to her, and her head was still reeling from everything else that just happened. To clarify the facts of the situation, she asked, “Is the cop dead?”

Riley answered, “He wasn’t moving when I saw him, but I didn’t check his pulse or anything, so I don’t know.”

Gwynivara darted off instantly upon hearing this. The others tried to stop her, but she ignored them as she made a beeline towards the catacombs. They knew this was a battle they were going to lose though, so they trailed behind her and kept watch. She found the policeman slumped on the floor, motionless. A number of Rebels had gathered with expressions that conveyed confusion, fear, and curiosity. Gwynivara put two fingers to his neck as she heard his radio page him, “Officer Macanta, are you still in pursuit in the graveyard?”

Gwynivara’s spirits sunk hearing that, but it ligthened a little to feel a pulse. “He’s still alive!”

Should I…?” Max timidly asked her. “I mean, should someone finish…?”

“No!” Gwynivara asserted firmly. “Absolutely not!”

But he knows about our headquarters!” John objected.

“We’re not killing him!” Gwynivara exclaimed. “The point of the Rebellion is to find a cure so we can make the world a safer place. The origin is trying to kill everyone on Earth; if we execute him, we’re no better than them! We won’t sink to their level! Get this man out of the catacombs and call for help!”

The Rebels realized she was completely right and hastily picked up the policeman. As they carried him out, the police radio dispatch paged him again, “Officer Macanta, we need you to copy!”

Most of the others seemed to think the issue was resolved until they saw Bernadette, Kierram, and Gwynivara’s faces. Bernadette stood frozen as if she had seen a ghost. Kierram began pacing and periodically cursing. Gwynivara’s head fell into her hands. It took a while to sink in, but once it did, it crushed her. Everything they worked so hard for…This was their home…was…She didn’t want to say it, saying it would make it real. She craned her head up to see the Rebels trying to figure out what was wrong, so she knew she had to steel herself up to help them. Very hollowly, she addressed the others, “We need to evacuate headquarters immediately!”

Everyone got completely shocked to hear this. Cody was the first to speak, “Why? They won’t find him here, so the problem is solved, isn’t it?”

It was hard enough to say it the first time, and Gwynivara had to muster up the strength to say it again. Before she did, Kierram stepped up and answered, “Whether or not the cop lives to tell, the police know something happened in the graveyard. They know fugitives are in the area, and it’s only a matter of time before they search the area. They’ll figure it out eventually. We can’t stay here.”

Everyone began to object, and Gwynivara totally understood why they were upset. She gave them a moment, and then she loudly told everyone, “Listen! Listen! No one wants to go. I certainly don’t. This was our home, and it hurts like hell to leave, to abandon a place that was so good to us, but we got to go. If we stay, they’ll catch us and it’ll be the end of the Rebellion. We’re still in it, the mission will still continue, just not here.”

“But,” Rebekah sobbed, “where will we go?”

“We’ll figure it out,” Gwynivara reassured her. Truthfully, she had no idea where she would hide this many people, but she was sure something would turn up.

At that moment, Bernadette made a noise of utter reluctance. “I’ll have to give her a call!”

Everyone stared at her questioningly. Gwynivara asked, “Her? Who is she?”

Kierram and Gwynivara walked up to the address Bernadette had given them and got a jolt of surprise when they saw it. They knew it would have ample enough space to house the entire Rebellion, but they weren’t prepared to see a small mansion! It was only two stories, but it spread pretty far like a giant brick. Its pastel pink color reminded them of a Barbie’s dream house, but the ivy covering the exterior, fall leaves spread across the lawn, and the short, mossy fence surrounding it gave the place an abandoned feel. A woman with dark skin, an elaborate pink sun hat, and designer clothes walked outside the house and received them, “Welcome to the Ashling Boarding House! Come on in!”

Once they were inside, the lady who greeted them took off her hat, and when Gwynivara got a better glimpse of her face, she could instantly tell that they had just met Bernadette’s mother! They looked exactly alike except for the eyes. Her mother’s eyes were shrewd-looking and gave off none of the warmth that Bernadette’s did. Gwynivara remembered that Bernadette had been so reluctant to contact her, and suddenly she got a very strange vibe from this woman as if she were putting on a show to hide something dark. She gave her a very toothy smile and extended her hand. “Agnes Ashling!”

“I’m Gwyn.” Gwynivara shook her hand and noticed how strong her grip grasped her hand.

“Kierram.” As he shook her hand, Gwynivara could tell he had the same impression of her that she got.

Since they needed her space to house the Rebels, Gwynivara wanted to maintain a friendly relationship with her, so she said graciously, “Thank you so much for letting us use your home!”

“Actually, it’s my second home,” Agnes remarked. “I bought it shortly after my husband’s death. I was so emotional that I just couldn’t be around people, too dangerous!” Kierram and Gwynviara exchanged confused glances, so Agnes clarified, “I have it too. Venenatus Sanguis, I mean.”

Whatever they had expected to hear, it wasn’t that. Kierram inquired, “No one has ever…?”

“Never!” Agnes replied. “The only ones who knew were my family. I’m usually too busy to get too emotional. Feelings have no place in the business world! But if I need a release, I come here.” She glanced at her watch and informed them, “Oh, I have another arrival. Bernadette is waiting for you upstairs. Excuse me!”

They found Bernadette rearranging a closet in a small bedroom that had two twin beds in it. Bernadette kept working, but she told Gwynivara, “I hope you don’t mind, but I started pairing people up as roommates. Figured I’d save you some time.”

“It doesn’t bother me, but I can’t speak for Riley. That’s really more of his thing!” Gwynivara kind of joked but not really.

Bernadette grinned. “There! There’s enough room for your stuff now.” She saw Gwynivara’s surprised reaction and explained, “Everyone has to share a room, and I figured it made sense to pair up the only two female officers. And this room is so small that it’ll just be us in here. Everyone else has at least four to a room thanks to all of the bunk beds already here. Apparently it really was a boarding house at one point, so we got lucky there!”

“Yeah, lucky me, a bunk bed!” Kierram commented sardonically.

“What do you care? You don’t sleep anyways!” Gwynivara teased him.

Kierram tried to hide his smile. “Touché!”

From downstairs, Agnes shouted, “Bernadette! Riley is here! He said he’s gonna take care of the rooms now!”

Bernadette completely cringed when she heard her voice, but she composed herself before she replied, “Okay, great!” She shook off her feelings as she started making her bed.

Gwynivara and Kierram were both thinking it, but Kierram was the first to ask her, “What happened between you two?”

Reluctantly, Bernadette answered, “You know how I said my dad got murdered? They questioned one of his workers that witnesses played on the scene. Daddy was a landlord, and he used to help the community by giving homeless men a place to live in exchange for handyman work. The guy who killed him was a drug addict trying to get clean, so police chalked it up to ‘That’s what crackheads do,” as if he relapsed and just went nuts. The case never went to trial ‘cause the judge claimed that they couldn’t establish a motive. Before Daddy died, he and my mom were arguing. He kept our secret, but it was getting harder to hide, especially since my mom is an emotional basket case and would sprout beasts left and right. He controlled our money to really limit how much my mom left the house. She hated that and threw a fit if he said no to her request. A week before he got shot, she had a huge blow out with him, and he threatened to send her to quarantine. She kept muttering ‘I’ve got to do something! I’ve got to do something!’ I had a real bad feeling before I went on that yacht party, her behavior was just so odd! That murderer roaming the streets right now had a motive alright, she paid him to do it! She had motive to have him killed! The police questioned her but couldn’t prove anything with her either!” She stopped to take a deep breath and collect herself. “She did it! I know she did! I hate the fact I need her help right now!”

Kierram and Gwynivara listened to the story in astonishment. Gwynivara couldn’t imagine what she went through to have her father, whom she seemed to love very much, get murdered, but to think that her mother was responsible for it must have been unbearable! Based on her first impression of Agnes, she believed Bernadette, but she didn’t express this. Unfortunately, they had nowhere else to go right now, so they would have to pretend it wasn’t true for a while. She didn’t express this though, she didn’t have to. She knew that Bernadette knew all of this. Instead, she stated, “Well, we won’t have to be here for too long. I think I know the origin’s location!”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 18

We think he got kidnapped!” Bernadette revealed.

“Kidnapped?” Gwynivara couldn’t wrap her head around the idea. It just didn’t seem possible, and her mind just wouldn’t accept it. “Kennith is a big, strong dude who could easily fight off an attacker! With or without his Venenatus Sanguis abilities! He’s one of the least likely people for this to happen to! Are you sure?”

Riley explained, “When you all left for the mission, I formed a search party like you said. We hadn’t even left the graveyard when we ran into two kids, scared to death, hiding behind a couple of tombstones. They told us after they escaped quarantine, they were trying to run to their grandmother’s house when some really tall man snatched them up and tried to bring them in his house. The kids were kicking and screaming enough to slow the man down, and Kennith heard them. He held a sword up to the guy’s neck and ordered him to let the kids go, which he did, but then he slapped the sword out of his hands! They started fighting physically, but the other guy was so big that it was easy for him to get the upper hand. At one point, he threw Kennith to the ground by where the kids were, and he whispered to them, ordering them to run to the graveyard. The man used this split second distraction to knock Kennith out. The kids did as they were told, but before they got out of eyesight, they looked back one more time and saw that he was gone.”

Gwynivara knew that the kids more than likely didn’t lie about the situation-they’d have no motive to do so, but something still didn’t feel right to her. “You said you think he was kidnapped. Kidnapped, not killed. How do we know he’s still alive?”

Bernadette told her, “The search party staked out the place. They saw what looked like a backhand slap to someone on the couch. No one actually saw him, but they heard some banging around. We were waiting until you started the officers’ meeting to determine what to do about this situation.”

Gwynivara found this so odd. She tried to comprehend what would possess the man to capture Kennith and hold him against his will. She mused whether or not the man got off on pain and torture or if he had a more sinister desire. She briefly considered calling the police and letting them do some good for a change by putting this prick behind bars, but that would risk Kennith getting arrested for quarantine evasion. She concluded that they would have to rescue him themselves, but something still gnawed at her. Before kidnapping Kennith, he tried to take the kids…that’s when it clicked for her. She uncermoniously got out of her seat, brusquely telling the others in the room, “Come on!”

They followed Gwynivara as she marched into the training room. The officers that had already assembled got startled by Gwynivara’s abrupt determination and snapped into attention. As soon as Bernadette, Riley, and Cody fell into place, Gwynivara stood before them and stated boldly, “It’s a trap!”

The officers were surprised by her assertion, and one of them reacted, “How do you know?”

“Because,” Gwynivara justified her belief, “the man tried to kidnap the kids first. He didn’t try to take them to authorities to claim the reward for capturing quarantine escapees. Then, when he’s stopped from doing that, he kidnaps someone totally different than who just tried to nab. Who does that? Criminals who prey on people stick to a type, and yes, I suppose it’s possible to kidnap anyone who just happened to be available for the sole purpose of torture, but how likely is that? The victims do have one thing in common though- they all have Venenatus Sanguis. If the man knew that, why would he risk his own life by putting them under extreme stress and making them conjure up a beast? What are the odds a kidnapper would pick up people at random not knowing that they all have this commonality? The only other explanation is that this guy works for the origin, and they’re trying to lure us in. They know we’re getting close to the truth, and they’re hoping we’ll feel we have no choice but to go in and save him. As soon as we’re inside that place, they’ll give us nowhere to run and do us in. That scenario seems more likely, don’t you think?”

Another officer inquired, “So, you’re saying that we shouldn’t rescue Kennith?”

“No!” Kierram refuted that notion. “She has a plan to use this knowledge to our advantage. We’re going to pretend to buy into it and spring a trap of our own!”

“Exactly!” Gwynivara didn’t expect Kierram to rush to her defense like that, but she felt so grateful to have that kind of solidarity. She continued, “We’re going to use this opportunity to plant the tracking device. We’ll deliver them what they want, at first…”

If it wasn’t for the adrenaline from anticipating an ominous mission, Gwynivara would have been exhausted! The walk took longer than she thought it would, and she wished that it wasn’t so far out so that they could get this done and over with! To keep her nerves from paralyzing her, she made small observations about her surroundings. The houses lined some grassy hills, and she guessed that the residents here liked being nestled close to town while simultaneously living almost within walking distance to the mountains. This neighborhood seemed like it was lower middle class, and she briefly wondered if they stood out walking through the area with their crisp, black suits. Kierram noted, “We’re almost there.” Butterflies fluttered through her stomach. She rubbed her head slightly, wondering if the wig would stay on during the battle. She didn’t know for sure what would happen, but she had a feeling it wouldn’t be so easy to rescue Kennith or to outwit the origin!

They didn’t need to see the address to know that they had come to the right spot. The house looked as though it had never been painted, and the wood was so dilapidated that Gwynivara was surprised that it stayed structurally sound. The fence, made of the same shabby material as the house, was lopsided in some areas, and the holes gave them a clear view of the unkempt grass on the side of the yard. When they rounded to the front of the home, they saw a void in the grass by the backyard gate, and the two of them instantly knew that this was where Kennith got knocked and dragged into the house. They both exchanged worried glances and tried not to think about it as they entered the front yard.

The pathway to the front door, made of that same rickety lumber, buckled slightly under their feet. Reaching the front porch didn’t provide much relief for them. Dirt covered everything except for the dead plants, and the state of the windows and door gave the place an almost abandoned feel to it. The only personal touch came from the slender, white figures dangling from the low hanging ceiling that made an unusual clinking sound in the wind. Kierram commented, “Wow, what strange wind chimes!”

Gwynivara studied them, and a sickening feeling rose in the pit of her stomach. “Those aren’t wind chimes!” Kierram took a closer look and realized that they were pieces of bone! He practically jumped away from fright, and Gwynivara inquired, “Do you think they’re human?”

Kierram pulled himself back into focus and replied, “Either way, it’s not a good sign!” Gwynivara grimaced and knocked on the door.

The few seconds it took for someone to answer seemed to last forever. Gwynivara heard footsteps creaking towards them, and she quickly fell into character. That didn’t stop her heart from pounding wildly as the door swung open. She expected to see a stereotypical convict, but what she got was a very tall man with straw-like hair matted down by a cowboy hat with alligator teeth around the base, which clashed terribly with the olive-drab green zebra striped vest he also wore. For a second, his cartoonish appearance threw her off, but the pronounced scowl and intense glare let her know that they had found the right guy. He growled, “Can’t you read?” He pointed to a sign that said ‘No Trespassing.’ He seethed, “Get off my property!”

Gwynivara coolly pulled out a piece of paper and informed him, “FBI. We have a warrant to search the premises.” While he read the sheet in total astonishment, Gwynivara pushed him aside and entered the building with Kierram.

Kierram and Gwynivara pulled out their flashlights and scanned the small living room. Bernadette had told her that the search party had seen the man slap someone in this room, but all they could see was old-fashioned, hardly used furniture. Gwynivara reasoned that he must’ve moved Kennith to somewhere less conspicuous, but that didn’t comfort her much. Although they had planned for this, she had partly hoped to get in and get out quickly. While they roamed the living room, the man staggered over and remarked, “I ain’t hiding no quarantine children!”

Kierram responded, “A witness placed them in your yard the night of the fire. If you’ve got nothing to hide, then you don’t have anything to worry about.” He saw some mail on a coffee table and casually glanced at the name on the address. “So, I assume you’re the homeowner, Rick Actaeon?”

He answered snidely, “I dunno, am I?”

“That’s him,” Gwynviara confirmed. “If he wasn’t, he’d deny it.” Rick pouted, not being able to refute her logic. As she peered at the couch by the window, she noticed blood spatter on its arm. “What happened here?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Rick said spitefully. “It ain’t kids’ blood.”

From behind a pair of wooden swinging doors, Gwynivara and Kierram heard a loud bump. Kierram asked, “What was that?”

“None of your business,” he retorted.

“We’ll see about that!” Gwynivara stated. They each took a door and slowly eased it open. The doors revealed a decrepit, neglected kitchen with flies hovering around a sink full of dirty dishes. The room appeared empty, but they were not so easily fooled. They tiptoed into the room, ready for an ambush. They heard another bump coming from a room in the nearby hallway. While Gwynivara crept towards the hallway, Kierram put his back to hers and eyed the room before him.

Gwynivara peeked down the hallway, which seemed dark and empty. She knew that they had not fully vetted the kitchen, but there was no signs of Kennith there. However, she did not budge. Something didn’t feel right. She thought, perhaps, it stemmed from the lack of escape routes in that part of the house, but her instincts seemed to indicate that they weren’t done in the kitchen. She heard another bump sound from what looked like the bedroom, but this area gave off an aura of being completely vacant. Puzzled and unsure of what to do next, she stayed rooted to the spot. A split second after she made that decision, a familiar male’s voice leered, “Well, well, well! What have we got here?”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 12

Gwynivara quickly stepped aside as a few men ran up with a cloth, hand-held gurney. They hastily holstered up his limp body and carried him down the stairs. Gwynivara glanced at Bernadette, who stood completely still with her eyes wide open. One the opposite side of the landing, Kierram sat on the edge with his head hung low. Gwynivara still felt devastated by this attack, but she realized that it was especially hard on him. He deserved to know the truth. She handed Cody the torch and sat down next to Kierram. He didn’t acknowledge her presence, but she didn’t expect him to. The way he had his head bent made his hair cover his face, but through his bangs, Gwynivara could see tears welling up in his eyes. She put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder and revealed, “Your dad is still alive.”

“For how long?” Kierram wiped his cheeks with his sleeve, and without thinking about it, Gwynivara wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tight. She could tell he wasn’t used to receiving affection and didn’t know how to handle it, but he didn’t fight it. He let the tears just flow at this point. Gwynivara felt her own eyes watering. She hadn’t known Emorick for that long, but they already had been through so much. He made this rebellion possible, he saved so many lives… he saved her too. With her own family far away from her, she had started to feel like she had found family in him. She couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to him, and the thought made her start bawling into Kierram’s shoulders.

This moment of tenderness didn’t last long. Bernadette shouted, “Guys, we got company!” They raised their heads up to find a panther-like monster crawling towards them! Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette were ready to strike, but Cody was first to act. He hurled the torch at it, and it roared out in pain as it caught on fire. Bernadette used its distraction to create a ball of light and threw it at the beast. It disintegrated, but, oddly enough, they still heard creature noises. Bernadette concluded, “There’s more downstairs!”

“Sounds like a lot of people were upset by what happened!” Gwynivara remarked as she heard a lot of them getting fought off by people downstairs.

Kierram grabbed the torch, and with some concentration, he conjured up some fire and re-lit it. “Come on, let’s go help!”

They rushed down the stairs to see dozens of different beasts lurking in the hall! A few people were fighting them off with whatever make shift weapons they could find, but only a small amount of creatures were destroyed. Bernadette, Gwynivara, and Kierram could only fight one at a time, and they were outnumbered. Luckily, Riley showed up with two handfuls of swords. People grabbed them immediately and the fight became more even. No one could tell just how much time had passed, but soon the hall became quiet again. Gwynivara scanned the room and saw a lot of beasts’ bodies as well as people who, like herself, were trying to figure if the coast was clear. “Is anyone hurt?” Everyone looked around thoroughly, but no one came up with anything. The whole group took a collective sigh of relief.

“That’s a miracle!” Riley commented.

Gwynivara spoke up, “Speaking of miracles, how’s Emorick?”

Everyone rushed over to the first aid station, but Niqun somehow blocked the large entrance with her small body. “No! We don’t have room for all of you! We need to keep working on him!”

“That’s my father!” Kierram objected. Niqun let him pass.

Gwynivara and Bernadette quickly followed. Some people in the crowd objected, so Gwynivara addressed them, “We’re officers!” Some of the other officers rushed forward, so Gwynivara requested, “Can you guys help Niqun stand guard?” They felt their role was important, so they complied earnestly.

Gwynivara watched as a couple of first aid medics sew up his wounds and patched him back up. Cody was also in there answering their questions. “No, it was more like a dagger.”

“Did you happen to grab it?” one medic inquired.

Cody replied, “No, he took it with him. They got an urgent page, so they needed it.”

“A page?” Gwynivara turned to Cody with a tone of vitality, “The people who attacked him were police officers?”

“Yeah,” Cody confirmed. “They were a couple of the new Disease Safety units. Apparently, they only carry knives.”

“They were gonna bring you into quarantine ‘til Emorick stepped in?” Bernadette surmised.

“Quarantine?” Cody puzzled. “I don’t have Venenatus Sanguis!”

Everyone in the room turned to stare at him. Gwynivara didn’t know everyone who lived in the Rebellion, but it was her understanding that only people with the disease resided here. She couldn’t think of anyone else who would even want to live in a place where they could get it! But if he didn’t have a Venenatus Sanguis…Gwynivara probed, “Why were those police after you then?”

Cody recalled, “They had this giant dog-looking thing on a leash. They saw me sleeping under the playground, and they didn’t see that my eyes were kinda open. Then, all of a sudden, they took off the chain! Luckily, I carry a baseball bat with me at all times. Well, when you’re homeless, you gotta do it for safety. Anyways, I managed to beat that thing to death! I was too busy dealing with the dog to notice what the other officers were doing though, and one of them tried to stab my back! But Emorick stopped him! They were wrestling to get control of the knife, and I managed to get him off him with my bat. The other officer came out of nowhere and stabbed in the chest! That’s when they got the page and ran.”

Everyone who heard Cody’s story reacted with shock and appall. Kierram said in disgust, “The new cops are purposely infecting people with the disease? That’s sick!”

Bernadette added, “Whoever the origin is, they successfully infiltrated the police department. I do think Chief Forsythe is acting of his own will, though that’s not really much more reassuring. This new division doesn’t care about people in quarantine, they’re helping to spread it! That’s horrible!”

“Not to the origin!” Gwynivara put in. “For whatever reason, this individual wants to destroy the planet using Venenatus Sanguis. Quarantine would contain most of the beasts that form, and even though some could get out and spread it a little, if the origin wants the disease to spread more rapidly, they would have to purposely infect people. So, they find vulnerable people, people who are outside and not surrounded by witnesses, and they unleash the creatures.” Bernadette and Kierram nodded in agreement. After she got the thought out, something else occurred to her. “But they work for the police now. You can’t exactly stroll down the sidewalk in an area as crowded as downtown with a beast like that! So, where are they bringing them?”

A lightbulb went off in everyone’s heads, but Kierram was the first to say it outloud, “If we track down where they’re hiding them, we’re likely to find the origin!”

Before they could say more on the subject, the medics finished up their work on Emorick. They turned to Gwynivara and the others, and one of the medics informed them, “We’ve done all we can do. He lost a lot of blood, and he’s not responsive. But, with some rest, he should recover. However, the handkerchief that Cody used to clog the burst artery would have to have been completely sterilized to prevent infection. It came from Emorick’s pocket, and it was handled by a homeless person. Plus, we don’t know how clean the knife’s blade was, so we think the potential for infection is high. We can treat minor infections, but if he gets an infection in his blood stream, we can’t help him. However, if we take him to the hospital, there’s a chance that his identity could get discovered, in which case, they would take him to quarantine. So, basically we have to pick the risk we wanna take. Keep him here where we know he’s safe but risk his health, or we take him to the hospital where he would be more likely to stay healthy but only if he doesn’t get sent to quarantine. What do you wanna do?”

Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram all turned to each other for answers, but it was such a difficult choice that no one could give a recommendation one way or the other. Cody helpfully threw in his opinion, “I was gonna take him to the hospital, but he told me to take him here. He said he would only go to the hospital if he wanted to die. I mean, I know I just met him, but I feel like if he were awake, he would tell us to keep him here. He risked so much for me, so I just wanna do right by him. I think he’d be mad if he woke up in a hospital.”

The other three agreed with him. Gwynivara asked the medic, “You said with rest, he should recover?”

The medic nodded. “Yes.”

Gwynivara reasoned, “So, it makes sense to me to keep him here for a while, and if he shows signs of an infection, then we bring him to the hospital under an assumed name and pray that no one figures out who he really is. What do you guys think?”

Bernadette and Kierram agreed with Gwynivara, so the medic told them, “Okay. We’ll have a different medic keep an eye on him all hours of the day.”

The two medics sat by Emorick to immediately begin monitoring him. The rest of the officers walked in, and Kennith asked them, “What’s going on?”

Kierram answered, “My dad should make it, but if he gets an infection, we will have to take him to the hospital.”

The other officers were relieved to hear he was alive, but no one liked the idea of Emorick going to the hospital. One officer commented, “We’ll send prayers and positive vibes that he doesn’t go there!”

Another officer suggested, “So, should we find this young guy a room?”

“Poor kid!” a third officer remarked. “I don’t like to hear children getting the disease!”

“I don’t have it,” Cody stated.

The other officers’ tone changed to distrust and a little fearful. “Then he’s gotta go!” Kennith reacted.

Bernadette pointed out, “Cody saved Emorick’s life, and he doesn’t have anywhere to go!”

The second officer sided with her, “He’s homeless, who’s he gonna rat on us to?”

“The police,” Kennith brought up. The other officers hadn’t thought of that and agreed with Kennith’s point.

Cody denied that, “No, two cops tried to kill me. I’m just as wanted as you guys, so I got nothing to gain from turning you in.”

Kennith’s demeanor softened a little. “Look, I’m not trying to be a dick, but Cody’s also not safe here. He could get killed by a creature. Or bit. We’re trying to prevent it from spreading, right?”

“There’s a chance of that happening anyways,” Bernadette opinionated. “They tried to infect him before. And Emorick risked his life to stop that from happening! He would want him to be safe. I think he should stay.”

Kennith debated, “He’s safer out there! What if the origin comes and wipes us all out? What would he do? He doesn’t have to live a life of seclusion like we do. He should be free! I think he should go.” The other officers agreed with him.

“Well, it’s not up to you guys!” Kierram spat.

“What are you talking about?” Kennith folded his arms defiantly.

Kierram explained, “My dad said that if something happened to him, Gwynivara was supposed to take over his position. That means until my father wakes up, Gwyn is in charge!” Everyone turned to look at her, almost in shock of the truth. Gwynivara was too stunned to speak, but inwardly, she knew Kierram was right- she was now in charge of the Rebellion!

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 11

We believe these individuals to be armed and dangerous!” Chief Forsythe held up a picture of Gwynivara and Bernadette in their maid outfits as well as Kierram in his fedora. “If you see them, do not approach them! Find the nearest phone and call nine-one-one. Be assured the Great Dismal Falls police department has stepped up its patrols for the safety of its citizens! Go about your business as normal, but keep an eye out for these criminals! I’ll take your questions now.”

A flurry of reporters threw questions at him, but Chief Forsythe ignored them until he called on someone. The reporter he pointed to asked, “You mentioned earlier that these three were responsible for the death and serious injuries of five doctors, but reports show that they were attacked by Venenatus Sanguis creatures. Is it your opinion that the three fugitives have the disease?”

Chief Forsythe mulled it over for a second, and then he replied, “At this point, we cannot make that determination. The creatures in question may have come these individuals, however, the amount of chaos that ensued as a result of their escape may have triggered the emotions of other unreported cases. Either way, we have a team of specifically trained to hunt these people that are set to patrol for the first time later today. With the extra manpower, we’ll round up all of these lawbreakers and put them in quarantine where they belong. Next question.”

Another reporter asked, “Chief Forsythe, do you have any clues as to the identities of these individuals?”

“Our team is working hard to identify the individuals in question. We will contact the press with any new developments. That’s all the time I have. Thank you.” He turned away from the reporters and walked into the police station, which still had visible damage from the earthquake. The reporters chased him down and continued to barrage him with questions until Chief Forsythe slammed the door in their faces.

Gwynivara turned off the radio in disgust. She sat on her bed and rubbed her face in frustration. Bernadette walked in without knocking and shut the door behind her. Gwynivara didn’t look up at her. She now felt ashamed that her behavior garnered her some pity and compelled someone to check on her. Bernadette sat on her bed and tried to make eye contact with her, but Gwynivara turned her head towards the bathroom door. She felt like crying but refused to let the tears come out. Bernadette calmly told her, “Stop trying to be strong all the time! If you keep it all pent up, you’ll create another beast! What’s wrong?”

Gwynivara knew that she was right, but that made her feel a little guilty. “What’s wrong? I got someone who had a knife in her back and could’ve died worried about how I’m doing!”

Bernadette softly chuckled, and then she assured her, “Believe it or not, I’ve been through worse!” Puzzled, Gwynivara looked at Bernadette questioningly. Before she could ask about it, Bernadette went on, “We can talk about that later though. Talk to me! Let it all out!”

“Well…” Gwynivara took a deep breath. She didn’t know where to begin. She decided to go with the freshest wound. “Chief Forsythe has our picture out all over the media! I mean, I realize we’re all technically criminals, but now people know what we look like. Someone will recognize us, so I guess we can’t go on patrols anymore.”

“That’s not true,” Bernadette refuted. “You’d be surprised how easy it is to hide in plain site.” Gwynivara looked skeptical, so she added, “No, seriously! My father is…um…was rich and somewhat famous, but no one has made the connection. Change your hairstyle and lay low, and you’re instantly invisible! Besides, I’ve heard that you’re already good at changing your identity. It’s not that different.”

Gwynivara’s curiosity peaked after hearing this. She had so many questions reeling in her head about Bernadette’s past, but she had already indicated her disinterest in explaining her history, so she forced herself to table the notion for the moment. Gwynivara knew she was probably right about patrolling, and she was intrigued about the methods of execution. Again though, she had to table the notion. She knew Bernadette would insist on talking about her feelings and wouldn’t let the subject go until it was all out, so she decided to get it over with. “Did anyone tell you about my dreams?”

“Riley did,” Bernadette replied.

Of course he did, she thought. His story probably was what prompted her to visit. “No one believes me. They don’t think my dreams are anything more than pure fantasy.” She paused and added, “I don’t need anymore reminders of that!”

“I wasn’t gonna say that!” Bernadette refuted. “Dreams can be a powerful window into the subconscious. It’s a part of your brain that tries to sort out problems you conscious brain can’t. I would still share what you learn from them, but if you want them to take your insight seriously, I just wouldn’t present the dreams as real.”

“But the dreams are real!” Gwynivara objected. “If I don’t tell them the whole truth, then it’ll feel like lying! I could be leaving out important information that could lead us to finding the cure! I have to tell them everything!”

“How do you know it’s real?” Bernadette’s tone wasn’t judgmental or argumentative but more of observant wondering.

Gwynivara felt she had a valid point. She hadn’t really questioned how she knew it was real before but accepted it as fact. After evaluating it, she noted that she never got out of her bed, so she obviously hadn’t actually been there in real life. She didn’t personally know the woman she saw, and the only reason she knew any of her men stemmed from the fact that they had tried to kill her. She didn’t know any of them enough to have a psychic connection either. Actually, she remembered that she didn’t even believe in that stuff. She could now understand Riley and Kierram’s reactions. It didn’t have much logic to it, and they may have even pondered about her sanity. She told Bernadette, “All I have for proof is is this strong feeling in my gut. But I understand what you’re saying. I really don’t have any solid proof. I guess I figured that the feeling was strong enough that people would take my word for it. I won’t mention my dreams until I have more proof.”

Gwynivara could tell that Bernadette didn’t believe in the idea of her dreams being real visions, but she knew Gwynivara’s conviction was so strong that there was no point in arguing. Instead, she smiled and then changed the subject, “You must be starving! I know I am! Let’s go grab a bite to eat!” Gwynivara agreed and they left for the kitchen.

As they walked down the hall, they saw a small group of people gathered with plates in the activity room, so Bernadette exclaimed, “Ooh, someone’s cooking something!” They went inside, and the people who had gathered scooted over to make room for them. It was a tight squeeze, but no one seemed to mind. Gwynivara didn’t recognize the people there, but they all seemed very cordial. Even though the group ranged in ages and cultures, she felt like she was attending a family gathering. After everything she had went through lately, she definitely needed this! Despite all evidence otherwise, Gwynivara had a gnawing feeling that this was too good to be true. She shook the feeling off and forced herself to enjoy the moment.

From the kitchen, a male shouted, “Food’s ready!” The people gathered were excited, and Gwynivara couldn’t wait to meet the cook. To her astonishment, Kierram walked in carrying a wok of steaming food! He met her eyes and also seemed stunned. For a moment, they just stared at each other. But before they could process the moment, they heard the hallway behind them fall deadly silent!

The dinner guests turned towards the hallway, and they saw everyone taking cover. They felt confused until they heard Niqun shout, “Tha coigreach an seo!” The dinner party gasped, snuffed out the lights, and hid under the table. Gwynivara whispered, “What’s happening?”

Kierram answered, “Do you remember when I trained you on door guard duty? If you shout ‘An bhfuil tú ina chara?’ and they don’t say ‘Is cara liom!’ back, you shout-”

“Tha coigreach an seo!” Gwynivara remembered. With horror, she realized, “An intruder!”

They strained their ears to hear what was happening, but they couldn’t hear a thing. Bernadette observed, “It’s too quiet! Something’s wrong!”

Gwynivara responded swiftly, “Well, whether Emorick likes it or not, we got work to do!”

They quietly crouched down and tiptoed out of the door. The hall was dark and eerily quiet, and they couldn’t hear anything happening near the stairs. They crept close to the curtains, and Bernadette spoke in a barely audible whisper, “Niqun, are you hurt?”

She whispered back, “I’m fine. He’s still up there.”

Gwynivara couldn’t tell if the man had heard them or not, but right after Niqun spoke, he shouted, “Hello? Is anyone still there? Please, we need your help! It’s dark, and I can’t do it alone!”

Without speaking, Gwynivara could tell that Kierram was ready to fight off the intruder, and Bernadette seemed seriously skeptical. Gwynivara detected as sense of urgency in his voice that sounded genuine, but she didn’t totally let her guard down, just in case. She grabbed a lighter and relit the torch. Bernadette and Kierram gave her a panicked look, so she told them, “If there’s an enemy, I wanna see who I’m facing!”

As they accepted her explanation, the man hollered, “Are you someone who can help us?”

Gwynivara put a foot on the staircase. She felt like her nerves were on fire, but she had to investigate. If danger laid on the other side of the staircase, she wanted to face it right then and there so she could corner him and give the others a chance to escape. If the intruder wasn’t an adversary, she felt mystified as to who else it could be. “Who’s us?”

He replied, “My name is Cody. I don’t know who this is, but he told me to come here.”

Gwynivara took the torch and slowly climbed up the stairs. Kierram and Bernadette immediately followed her, ready to fight as backup if Cody attacked her. Gwynivara probed, “If he told you to come here, why didn’t he give you the password?”

Cody answered her, “There wasn’t time!” They got closer to the top, and they saw Cody for the first time. He was a skinny, pale boy in his late teens. He wore overly baggy clothes that had numerous dirt stains, and coupling that with the troubled expression on his face, the three of them let their guard down a little as they didn’t totally think he was a threat anymore. They still held a little caution as they listened to his claim, “He’s badly hurt and told me to take him here! Please help him! He saved my life! I don’t want him to die!”

Gwynivara saw a hand on the ground, and she now absolutely had to see who it was. When they got to the top of the stairs, their hearts stopped. His body was limp, and blood poured out from his chest! Gwynivara’s mind wouldn’t accept what she saw. Without thinking, she instinctively shouted, “We need medics now!” She heard people downstairs scrambling, but she couldn’t think about them. She raced to his side to feel his pulse. She couldn’t accept that his life could be in danger, she absolutely wouldn’t! She closed her eyes, and with trembling hands, she put two fingers to his neck. With her her heart pounding, she got the result…

Heaven’s Headquarters

“How did I get here?” Ethan, a man with silky brown hair, green eyes, and a slim physique, realized he fell asleep on an elevator. He doesn’t recognize this elevator, which has ornate, gilded walls, and he’s mystified as to how he ended up inside. Last thing he remembered, he was walking down the street. He suddenly realized that the elevator had no buttons! The elevator kept going up, and Ethan had no idea where he was going, so he started to worry. Suddenly, the elevator stopped and the elevator doors opened. Ethan stepped out cautiously.

Ethan walked into a reception area and looked around to figure out where he was. The walls and floors were cloudy white. There wasn’t much else there except a lot of doors and a pearly, circular desk at the center. A perky, blonde secretary popped up behind the desk and watched Ethan. Ethan, not knowing what else to do, went up to the secretary, who had a name plate that read: Hailey. Before Ethan could ask her anything, Hailey chirped, “Welcome to Heaven’s Headquarters! Please fill out these forms.” She slid a white clipboard with a couple of crisp papers on it to to him.

Ethan felt totally confused. He had no clue where he was, and yet this woman seemed to have been expecting him. “Forms?

Hailey simply explained, “Yes, to show us what would make your eternity the ideal level of blissfulness.”

Ethan started to think that he either got too drunk at dinner or else someone had slipped something into his drink. Either way, he thought that maybe he had blacked out and had booked some spa getaway in his haze. That didn’t seem like a smart idea, so he tried to clear this up with Hailey, “Look, I’m not sure how I got here, but I gotta leave. I got work in the morning, so-.”

Hailey interrupted him, “Work? No, you don’t work in Heaven. It’s your time to relax.”

Ethan got a little annoyed by this. He knew that companies often had their secretaries try to save their sales, but she didn’t seem to get it, he really didn’t have time for this. “Relax? I got a big presentation in the morning. So, can you-?”

“Listen,” Hailey looked him square in the eyes and talked in a very serious tone at this point. “you’re not going back to work. Or your home or anywhere else. You’re dead.”

Whatever response he had expected to hear from her, it wasn’t that! The ease he felt from what he thought was a logical conclusion to this situation had vanished, and if he hadn’t booked a luxurious hotel in a drunken haze, then he didn’t know what else would bring him here. The fact that she mentioned that he was dead now sent him to a panic. “Is that a threat? Are you holding me hostage?”

“Oh boy!” Hailey sighed. She coolly hit a pager button on her office phone and spoke into it, “Peter, can you come to the Pearly Gates please?”

A handsome man with a nice suit and a clipboard in his arm appeared next to Hailey instantly. Ethan had to blink. He couldn’t explain how the man, who he could only assume was Peter, could appear from nowhere unless it was some kind of theatrical ruse to scare and confuse him. Peter glanced at Ethan and then regarded Hailey, “Who’s this? Let’s see…ah, Ethan Miller. I told you already that he is most definitely welcome here!”

Hailey calmly revealed, “I know, but he hasn’t accepted.”

Ethan, in addition to feeling a little scared, grew frustrated by the lack of answers. He had a right to know what was happening! He spouted, “Who are you?”

Peter smiled gently and introduced himself, “On Earth, I’m known as Saint Peter.”

Ethan rolled his eyes. He didn’t believe that was his real identity, and he resented the task he now had of figuring out who these people were. He remarked to Peter, “Saint Peter, huh? What are you guys, the mob or something?”

“Wow!: Peter seemed bewildered by Ethan’s response, but he kept his composure. “You weren’t kidding about this man! Better send him to the Big Guy.”

“Who? Where are you taking me?” Ethan decided he wasn’t going to let them take him anywhere and prepared to put up a fight.

Peter snapped his fingers, and Ethan instantly disappeared! Ethan reappeared in a huge office. It seemed to be empty except for the same cloudy walls and floors and a big, wooden desk with a computer on it. Whoever “the Big Guy” was, he wasn’t in the office right now. Ethan looked all around him in utter confusion “Okay, what the hell just happened?”

At that moment, a very tall, clean shaven man with gray hair and a light gray suit walked into the room. The man reproached him gently, “Sir, we don’t swear here.” Ethan jumped at his sudden approach. The man kindly instructed, “Go ahead and have a seat.”

A cushy chair appeared before the desk right behind where Ethan stood. He reluctantly took a seat. He needed answers, and he figured that they must lie with this man. “You’re the “Big Guy?”

The man replied, “I’m known by many names. A higher power, Nirvana, Inner Peace, Mother Earth (somehow)…but you probably refer to me as God.”

“Oh, you’re God? Yeah right!” Ethan wondered what was wrong with these people. They were either giving him their nicknames or else he had come across a very delusional cult.

The man seemed unruffled by Ethan’s disposition. He probed, “What makes you doubt me?”

Ethan couldn’t believe that this guy had really believed that he was God! He had to put him in his place, “God isn’t some businessman! He has a really long beard and a robe…”

The Big Guy chuckled, “You mean like this?” He snapped his fingers and, to Ethan’s astonishment, hechanged into Ethan’s description of God. “Yes, this look was all the rage when the Bible was written, but we’ve made some updates since then.” The Big Guy snapped his fingers again and changed back into the outfit he previously wore.

Ethan still didn’t totally accept their claims that he had died or that he was speaking to God, and he didn’t want to feed into that delusion. He had to try to get home. “Look, I don’t wanna be here, in ‘Heaven,’ I want to-!”

“No?” the Big Guy remarked. “Would you rather be in Hell? It’s not as fun as rock stars make it seem. Here, have a look.”

The Big Guy turned his computer monitor around to face Ethan. An automated voice greeted him, “Welcome to Hell Dot Com! I’m Jaime, your virtual host. Let me give you a tour!” The screen changed into a red office with a blonde man in a pepper-gray business suit sitting at a dark, wooden desk. “This is Lucifer’s Chamber! He decides how cruel of an eternal punishment a sinner gets.” The screen changed into a room with some fiendish monsters standing in front of some sharp rocks. The monsters smile and wave to the camera. “This is the physical pain and torture chamber where sinners go to receive a Hell of a lot of, well, pain and torture.” The screen changed to a completely empty room with a small green couch and a wide screen television “This is the viewing room where sinners are forced to watch their worst nightmares over and over again.” The screen changed to small, run down town. “This is Sinners’ Living, the living quarters of sinners. Their homes turn into whatever they would consider the most unbearable living conditions.” The screen changed to a door with the number 666 on it. “This is Area Six Six Six, where the most evil sinners go. It is so gruesome that we cannot display it on the web.” The screen changed to a room full of what looks like operators and telemarketers. “This is the communications room where our “devils” tempt ordinary people to commit a sin.” The screen changed to a picture of an empty reception desk. “That ends our tour of Hell Dot Com. We are currently seeking a Hell Secretary if you’re interested. See you in Hell!”

The Big Guy turned the computer off and swiveled it back so it faced him. Ethan now felt very much perplexed. Ethan supposed that the Big Guy thought that this presentation would convince him that he had died, but he wasn’t buying it! “I can’t be dead! The world couldn’t go on without me!”

“You don’t think so?” The Big Guy reacted. “Well, I can show you that’s not true either. Oh Joseph!” He pushed a button on his phone to summon him. A young man with a gray suit and a white tie, black hair, muscular build entered and looked to the Big Guy to await his instructions. The Big Guy directed Joseph, “Show Ethan his world without him. I gotta go. I’m helping my son throw a party tonight! Hope to see you there!” The Big Guy winked and disappeared.

Joseph grumbled, “Thanks a lot, now I’m going to miss that party!”

Ethan could care less about this man’s desire to go to some party. He didn’t know what they wanted with him, but it seemed like he had no choice but to play their game. He scoffed, “So, who are you? Saint Joseph?”

Joseph forgot about the party and pleasantly answered Ethan, “No! My name is Joseph Love. I was a soldier in the Revolutionary War.”

Whether it was real or not, Ethan grew curious about Joseph’s back story. “Oh, you got killed in battle?”

Joseph told him, “No, after we won, my friends and I had a party and I died there.”

“How’d you die?” Ethan asked him.

“I don’t know.” Joseph shrugged.

This notion triggered a thought, and again, whether it was true or not, Ethan was owed an explanation. “Wait a minute, how’d I die?”

“No one in Heaven is supposed to know,” Joseph educated him. “If they think about their death, they’ll never stop dwelling on it. Though the last thing I remember is swimming, so I think I drowned. But who knows! Anyways, you think the world can’t survive without you, huh? Who depended on you?”

Right away, Ethan came up with, “My fiancee, Diana Shaw. She’s in love with me, so there’s no way she’ll survive without me!

Joseph’s mouth twitched, but he hid his grin. “Is that right?” He snapped his fingers, and they both disappeared.

Ethan and Joseph reappear in a gourmet restaurant that is mostly full of delighted patrons. With all of these magical entrances and exits, Ethan now thought he was in a dream or having some kind of coma vision, so he decided to stop fighting the acceptance of whether or not this was real and just rolled with it. The only way he was going to get through this was to show these people that he told the truth about the world needing him to stay around. He inquired, “Can anyone see me?”

“Nope,” Joseph answered. “Where’s Diana?”

Ethan scanned the restaurant and sees her at a table. His heart fluttered when he gazed at her beauty. She was unlike anyone he had ever met before. Her strawberry blonde hair was done up in a bun and she wore a chic red dress, which made her look even more devestatingly beautiful. For a moment, Ethan wondered what she had been doing there. It took him a while to see that Diana was sitting with a very handsome man that he could only hope was a new boss. If he wasn’t invisible to them, Ethan would have confronted the man. All he could do was stand next to her, listening to her dialogue. Diana confessed, “This the first date I’ve been on since my fiancee died three months ago.”

Ethan stared at Joseph questioningly. “Three months?”

Joseph apologized, “Sorry, Heaven doesn’t have a real concept of time.”

The man admitted to Diana, “I have to confess when I befriended you at work, I always hoped that you would break up with your fiancee. I mean, he’s the greatest guy I know, but I had such a crush on you for a long time! I only hope that I can give you as much happiness as Ethan did.”

“I think you will.” Diana told him. “I have to make another confession. I loved Ethan with all my heart, but ever since I met you, my heart was torn between two men. I know that he would’ve wanted me to move on and be happy.” Ethan wished she could have seen the cross look on his face! She went on, “I could really see myself have a future with you. I think I could be falling for you!”

The man beamed upon hearing this, but he still felt like he needed to ask, “Are you afraid of moving too fast?”

“Ethan will always be a part of my past, but you are my future!” She reached across the table and stroked his hand, smiling lovingly at this man. He held her hand and returned her sentiment.

Ethan blew up, “That bastard! This whole time he was trying to steal my woman! I’ll kill him!” Ethan tried to strangle Frank, but his hands went right through him.

Joseph stood next to him and reported, “A few things. First of all, remember you’re not supposed to swear. Second, you’re invisible, so he can’t see or feel you. And lastly, I doubt the Big Guy will let you into Heaven if you actually did kill someone. I know you’re hurting, so I’m gonna pretend I didn’t see that.”

Ethan still looked frustrated, but he knew that Joseph was right. He sighed, and then he remembered why he was there. “Okay, so maybe she’s move on, but my parents will be devastated!”

Joseph didn’t seemed convinced. “If you say so.” He snapped his fingers, and they disappeared from the restaurant.

Joseph and Ethan reappeared in his parents’ living room, a very neat and clean space with a lot of comfortable furniture. Mrs. Miller was knitting on her flowery couch with her orange cat curled up beside her and a faint smile on her face. Mr. Miller entered the front door with a broad grin. He announced, “Good news, honey! I got a huge promotion!”

“Oh really?” Mrs. Miller reacted merrily. “That’s wonderful! What’s your new position?”

Mr. Miller proudly told her, “You’re looking at the new manager of the Animal Buffet Pet Food factory!”

“Manager? Oh honey!” Mrs. Miller got up and gave her husband a huge hug. “Ethan would be so proud of you!”

Mr. Miller agreed, “Before he died, he kept trying to get me quit drinking and work harder. If only he could see his old man now! Now we can stop using his inheritance he left us to pay bills and really treat ourselves! Maybe we can visit Cally in France!”

“That would be wonderful!: Mrs. Miller rejoiced. “And instead of selling these blankets to supplement, our income, I’ll give it charity! Oh, I’m so glad we’re going to be alright! I dreaded what life would be like without him, and I’ll always miss my baby boy, but I’m so glad we will be okay without him! He is probably looking at us now, smiling.”

Ethan was frowning. “Now they don’t need me? They even said it! Ugh! My fiancee has moved on, and my parents are happier than ever with me being gone!”

Mr. Miller suggested, “Let’s go out to a nice restaurant to celebrate!”

Mrs. Miller reacted, “Wow, this will be the first time we’ve really dined out since Ethan died six months ago!”

Ethan turned to Joseph, “So, every time you snap your fingers, it’s been three months on Earth?”

“I guess,” he replied. Then he addressed Ethan seriously, “So, your fiancee and your parents can live without you. Are you ready to admit that the world doesn’t need you to go back?”

“No!” Ethan denied it. “My sister must need me! We were best friends-how could she live without me?”

Joseph laughed, “Let’s find out together, shall we?” He snapped his fingers, and they disappeared.

Joseph and Ethan appear at the end of a lecture in a large university classroom, and the professor spoke entirely in French. Joseph told Ethan, “Hold on, I can get subtitles.”

Ethan seemed a little relieved, but his mind was elsewhere. “Cally went to another country to study? She probably had trouble making friends so wanted to get a fresh start in France. She was really shy, I was trying to help her with that. She must be so lonely and miserable here!”

Joseph smirked. “Sorry to disappoint you, but she doesn’t look so sad.”

They found Cally pretty easily. She looked a lot like Ethan except she had golden brown eyes and curvy, womanly figure. She listened to the lecture with a lot of interest. After the lecture concluded, Cally gathered her things and walked out of the classroom alone. Ethan pointed out, “See, alone and miserable!”

Cally soon got joined by a handsome young, handsome blonde French man. “Bonjour Cally!” His subtitles read, “Hello Cally!”

Cally smiled big and greeted him, “Salut Jean! Ça va?” Her subtitles read, “Hey Jean! What’s up?”

The young man replied, “Oui, ça va. Et toi?” His subtitles read, “I’m good. How are you?”

Cally replied, “Oui, ça va. Où est-ce que tu vas?” Her subtitles read, “Yes, I’m good. Where are you off to?”

He shrugged, “Chez moi.” His subtitles read, “My house.”

Cally invited, “Je vais aller au café. Tu veux venir avec moi?” Her subtitles read, “I’m going to a cafe. Do you want to go with me?”

He emphatically replied, “Mais oui!” His subtitles read, “Yes, of course!”

As the young man and Cally leave the class together, Joseph pointed out to Ethan, “She asked a guy out. Sounds like she got out of her shyness!”

Ethan was flabbergasted by this development, but he wouldn’t admit defeat. “Hold on. Let’s see how well she does on this supposed date.”

They followed Cally and her date to a small bistro down the street from the college. The young man and Cally sat outside and studied a menu. Joseph sat down and lounged casually but Ethan watched them anxiously. Her date asked, “Qu’est-ce que tu veux manger?” His subtitles read, “What do you want to eat?”

Cally decided, “Un croissant et des thé.” Her subtitles read, “A croissant and some tea.”

The man laughed, “C’est toût?” His subtitles read, “That’s all?”

Cally replied, “Oui. Qu’est-ce que tu vas manger?” Her subtitles read, “Yes. What are you

going to eat?”

He told her, “Je pense que je vais manger un sandwich et un chocolât.” His subtitles read, “I think I’m going to eat a sandwich and some hot chocolate.” He motioned to the waiter. “S’il vous plaît, Monsieur!” His subtitles read: “Please, sir!”

The waiter promptly came to their table and asked, “Vous desirèz?” His subtitles read, “What would you like?”

As Jean repeated their food choices they just made, Joseph nudged Ethan. Ethan responded, “What? I’m trying to read!”

With a hint of mischievousness, he replied, “Just checking on you.” Ethan groaned and returned to reading their subtitles.

The waiter brought Cally and Jean their food, and as they happily munched, Cally inquired, “Qu’est-ce que tu faire avec ton vie?” Her subtitles read, “What do you want to do with your life?”

Her date answered, “Je suis acteur.” His subtitles read, “I’m an actor.”

Cally replied honestly, “Ah bon? C’est cool.” Her subtitles read, “Oh really? That’s cool.”

The young man asked, “Et toi?” His subtitles read, “And you?”

Cally told him, “Je veux être employée de bureau. C’est quoi mon frère a fait.” Her subtitles read, “I want to be an office worker. It’s what my brother did.”

He responded, “Qu’est-ce qu’il fait maintenant?” His subtitles read, “What does he do now?”

Cally revealed, “Il est mort.” Her subtitles read, “He is dead.”

Her date said sadly, “Je suis très desolé!” His subtitles read, “I’m so sorry!”

Cally didn’t seem upset by this. “Ne suis pas. C’est parce que de lui je suis ici.” Her subtitles read, “Not me. It’s because of him I’m here.” She paused for a moment, and then she confessed, “J’aime toi beaucoup!” Her subtitles read, “I like you a lot!”

This made the young man smile broadly. “J’aime toi aussi. Est-ce que tu es ma copine?” His subtitles read, “I like you too. Will you be my girlfriend?”

Cally gushed, “Oui, bien sûr!” Her subtitles read, “Yes, of course! Cally stood up and leaned close to her date, giving him a kiss. He gladly kissed her back.

Ethan was furious, and Joseph rubbed it in, “Wow, not only is she not shy, but she’s gutsy! She made the first move!”

“She’s using my death as a way to pick up men!” Ethan scathed. “Well, I guess she’s okay with my death too!”

“Ready to give up yet?” Joseph grinned and stared expectantly.

Ethan retorted, “No! Let’s go to my old work. They’ll miss me for sure! I just hope they didn’t move the company to somewhere that requires more subtitles!” Slightly disappointed, Joseph dully snaps his fingers, and they disappeared again.

Joseph and Ethan reappeared in a row of cubicles, and it was apparent that the office was in the middle of a huge party. People were dancing, drinking cocktails, laughing, and conversing animatedly. They wore much more formal attire than usual with the exception of nametag stickers. Joseph remarked, “Sure doesn’t look like they’re depressed!”

Ethan’s face fell. “We’ve never had an office party before! What’s going on?”

At that moment, the best dressed man there, Gregory, turned off the music. Everyone paid attention as he prepared to speak. “I just wanted to take a moment to remind you all why we’re here and we’re celebrating today. Exactly one year ago we lost a brave hero. Ethan Miller died tragically. He was certainly an asset in his life, but he proves to be an even greater influence through his death. His actions have inspired us to be the company we are today. Profits have soared higher than ever, thanksto his philosophy! So, let’s all have a toast!” He raised a champagne glass over his head. “To Ethan!”

The rest of the office raised their drinks and toasted, “To Ethan!” Gregory turned on the music back on, and everyone resumed the party. Ethan told Joseph, “Don’t even ask. I’m not ready yet. Just because the company doesn’t miss me and is more profitable than ever since I died doesn’t mean my coworkers don’t miss me.” Joseph looked skeptical but said nothing. He let Ethan listen to his coworkers chat.

A man named John commented, “I hope this party makes Ethan proud!”

“You know it does!” Gabriel replied.

A younger man named Paul inquired, “Didn’t I replace him?”

“You didn’t replace him. No one could replace what he did,” a woman named Esther put in. For a moment, Ethan got his hopes up, but then she went on, “ But essentially you took over his duties when he was gone.”

Gabriel told Paul, “You were the only one that was not intimidated by taking his old cubicle. No one thought they could fill his shoes. Lucky you did! The company is doing so well now!”

“Thanks guys!” Paul swelled with pride upon hearing this. “Hey, John! Isn’t that the girl you like over there?”

John noticeably blushed, “No!”

“Yes it is!” Esther almost shrieked with delight. “Look at Sarah standing by herself. Go ask her to dance!”

“Oh, I couldn’t!” John dismissed the idea passively. Everyone could tell he really wanted to go for it.

Gabriel urged John, “Do it dude! Or someone else will!” Although he didn’t want Gabriel to flirt with Sarah, he was still really nervous. The others kept encouraging John to go ask Sarah to dance. He hesitated, but eventually they convinced him to go for it. They watched him from a distance. When she said yes, and they all cheered. As John danced with Sarah, the group changed subjects and talked about their favorite cocktails.

Ethan looked absolutely crestfallen. Joseph put his arm around either and leveled with him, “Your fiancee moved on. Your parents are doing well. Your sister turned out fine. Your coworkers are flourishing. Is there anyone else you want to see, or can we finally go back to Heaven’s Headquarters?”

Ethan inwardly knew that he was losing this argument, but he refused to believe the whole world had moved on without him. He didn’t want to die, so he decided to fight for his life. “I’m not a quitter! Someone in this town must miss me!” Joseph groaned but snapped his fingers to take them away anyways.

Joseph and Ethan popped inside a pub where they see a group of Ethan’s friends toasting to a victory with cocktails. Ethan folded his arms in annoyance. Joseph snapped his fingers and they disappeared.

Ethan stood outside in his old neighborhood. He noted, “I see someone bought my house!” He watched a mother load her infant into a car in the driveway where he used to live. The mother waved hello to the across the street neighbor, who was dressed in a suit and obviously leaving for work. One of his next door neighbors was working on a garden while the other watered his lawn. Ethan walked down the street and saw everyone getting ready for their day. They all seemed so untroubled, which made Ethan pout. Joseph snapped his fingers and they disappeared again.

Next, Ethan and Joseph watched his dentist smiling while working on a patient. Joseph shook his head and snapped his fingers to make them disappear.

After that, Ethan walked down a street that was full of shops and restaurants, listening to several conversations. When he realized no one was talking about him and everyone seemed to be in a pleasant mood, Ethan shook his head despondently. Joseph snapped his fingers to make them disappear.

Ethan then watched as travelers at the airport. People went to baggage claim, headed towards their gates, got food and drinks at a nearby coffee stand, and waited for their friends and loved ones on vacant seats. He desperately listened, truly hoping to hear one person mention him. Finally, one traveler asked another, “Did you hear about Ethan?” Ethan looks hopeful. When the traveler said he hadn’t, the first traveler revealed, “He’s directing a new movie in L.A.” Ethan was heartbroken to hear this. Joseph snapped his fingers to make them disappear.

This time, Ethan watched as the mayor gave a speech about public safety. The crowd appeared enthused. Joseph looked at Ethan, who is walked away from the scene with his head down. Joseph quickly followed him.

Joseph caught up with Ethan at a graveyard and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Sniffling a little, Ethan admitted, “I get it. I guess no one misses me.”

“That’s not true!” Joseph disputed.

Before Joseph could say more, Ethan ranted, “Clearly the world is better off with me not in it!”

“Don’t say that!” Joseph reacted with complete sympathy but genuinely disagreed with him.

Ethan argued, “It’s true! If it’s not true, then you wouldn’t have shown me all this!”

Joseph assured him, “You were missed! But you needed to die! I can’t tell you why!”

Ethan didn’t believe him. “Whatever. Maybe Heaven can cheer me up.”

Joseph gently asked, “You ready to go?”

“Can I have a minute?” Ethan requested.

“Of course,” Joseph relented. A cell phone in Joseph’s pocket rang, and Joseph exclaimed, “Hey, it’s J.C.!”

“Who?” Ethan’s curiosity perked up even though he was severely depressed.

“The Big Guy’s son.” Joseph answered the call. “Hey!” He paused while J.C. spoke, and then he reported, “Yes, we’re almost done. How’s the party? George Washington did what?” As Joseph talked on the phone, Ethan gazed forlornly at the graveyard. Suddenly, something caught his eye. He can’t explain why, but he was compelled to look at a statue with a huge angel on it. He ran over to it. Joseph kept chatting, not noticing that Ethan was reading the epitaph on the grave he was drawn to. “Sounds like a great party!” He paused again when J.C. asked him something. “Yeah. I’m watching Ethan! What do you mean, where is he? He’s in the graveyard and…oh shi-! Shoot!”

It was too late. Ethan read, “Here lies Ethan Jacob Miller, who sacrificed his body to save his sister’s life. Even in death, he encourages his loved ones to live life to the fullest. God rest this brave soul!” Ethan closes his eyes, remembering.

His memory flash-backed to Cally and Ethan coming out of a restaurant, laughing and conversing pleasantly. As they strolled down the street, a man came up from behind them with a gun and pushed them into a nearby alley. Ethan and Cally are pushed to the ground by the gunman. They stand up and face him. The gunman growled, “Hand over all your money!” Ethan handed over his wallet, but Cally did not move The gun man ordered, “Gimme your money too, you dumb girl!

Frantic, Cally sputtered, “I don’t have any money, so I didn’t bring my purse! I don’t have anything!”

The robber directed, “Give me your jewelry then!”

Tears forming, Cally cried, “I don’t have any jewelry!”

“Ugh! Quit playing me, bitch!” the mugger was losing his patience.

“I don’t have anything, honest!” Cally was now in tears. The gunman let out a roar of frustration. He aimed his gun at Cally and fired. Cally winced, expecting to get hit. Ethan threw his body in front of her and took the bullet! The weight of Ethan’s body knocked Cally to the ground. Cally howled, “Ethan!”

Someone on the street yelled, “Was that a gun? Call nine one one!”

The robber ran off as witnesses poured in to see what happened. Cally turned Ethan’s body around to face her. She looked at his wound in horror and is horrified to see Ethan’s labored breathing. Cally pleaded, “No! Ethan! Don’t die! You’re gonna make it! Hang on!”

In betwenn breaths, Ethan told her, “There are some things worth dying for! I don’t want anyone to be sad for me. They’ll show me they care by having fun and achieving their potential. Tell Diana not to become an old maid! Tell Dad to quit drinking and get ahead at work! Tell everyone we know to live life to the fullest! Cally, you’ll be getting a lot of money. Use it to go to school in France like you’ve always dreamed of! Don’t cry! It’s my time! I love you, sister! Tell everyone!”

Ethan stopped breathing just as the paramedics came. As they put his body on the gurney, through thick tears, Cally swore, “I’ll tell everyone! I promise!” She cried hysterically as the paramedics took her older brother away.

Back in the graveyard, Joseph came running up to Ethan, who was in tears. Joseph asked, “Are you okay?”

Ethan nodded and wiped away some of his tears so he could speak. “You were right, I needed to die! Everyone moving on was honoring my last wishes! I inspired them! I wouldn’t change a thing!”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Joseph inquired, “Ready to go now?”

Ethan stated firmly, “Yes.” Joseph was about to snap his fingers, but Ethan stopped him. “Wait! I got an idea.”

Ethan took over the empty reception desk at the entrance to Hell. He used his office phone to call the Big Guy. Ethan conversed,“Whew! What a busy morning! A group of Somali pirates’ boat went down, that’s a lot of paperwork! No really, I’m loving this! I get a lot of satisfaction sending evil people where they deserve to go! Oh, someone is coming, gotta go! Thanks again for everything, Big Guy!” Ethan hung up the phone and waited expectantly. A portal appeared and spat out the gunman who murdered him! Ethan smiled triumphantly at him. “Ah, Mister Gun Man! Thought you could out gun the SWAT team, huh? Wow, you’re a lot more evil than just murdering me! Please go straight to Area 666!” Ethan pulled a lever and flung him away. He then put up his feet and sighed happily.