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Archive for the month “December, 2012”

The Amelia Academy: Standards. Chapter 4

Jim stayed for a few more rounds of Collective vs. Core.  He finished his beer, and one more after that, before citing work the next morning as reason to call it an early night.  Chris assumed that Jim’s leaving had more to do with Chris’s continued sulking then it had to do with work.  He didn’t mind that much.  Without Jim there, Chris had time to think about his mood.

Not that he did.  Chris instead finished the rest of the beer in the apartment, smoked two packs of cigarettes, and watched a Planet of the Apes marathon.  By morning, he had no more idea what was bothering him than he’d had the night before.  Chris had at least come to some conclusions on what wasn’t bothering him.

One of Chris’s main revelations was that he wasn’t upset that he’d quit the superhero lifestyle.  It was true that seeing The Standard Man on television yesterday had seemingly started off his bad mood, and Chris had worried that he was feeling regret for not being out there with his old partner.  He had even considered going out for a brief flight to clear his head.  After some contemplation though, Chris found he had no urge to return to the superhero life.

Chris was mostly certain his sour mood had nothing to do with April, Leslie, or any other girl.  He had dwelled on the thought for a good portion of the evening, but found no real ache of loneliness.  Not that he wouldn’t welcome some female company, but Chris’s bachelorhood wasn’t life threatening yet.

The reason for his disposition was still elusive, and Chris decided to let it go for now.  It was his day off, and it had been a long time since he’d visited Max; the original Noir.  Chris showered away the stink of the night before, tossed on some clothes, and caught the first bus uptown.

Max’s old brownstone sat alone on a small plot of land.  It had a great view of the large park, and had little in the way of neighbors.  It was in a quiet part of the city, put aside for the lucky few that could pay for a quiet city lifestyle.  Chris gave the expensive home a nod of approval before he buzzed the intercom.  Max had retired in style; he deserved it.

“Come in, Kid,” a static coated voice commanded through the speaker.  “I’ll meet you in the study.”  Chris stepped inside the manor, and headed down the hall.

Max’s study reminded Chris of a library.  The walls were lined with shelves, and the room was furnished with leather chairs, and low tables.  Chris had been here many times in the past, and felt guilty that he hadn’t visited in a few months.

Sleuth the Crime Hound was sleeping in front of the fireplace when Chris entered the study.  The old hound half opened an eye to Chris’s entrance, and didn’t bother getting up.  He thumped his tail heavily against the hardwood floor and waited for Chris to come to him.    Chris smiled, and mentally compared the aging hound dog to the monstrous wolf thing that they’d portrayed him to be in Collective vs. Core.  Chris was petting Sleuth when he heard Max’s cane tap into the room behind him.

“Kid.”  The old man acknowledged. “It’s nice to see you.  Can I get you anything to drink?”

“Yes please,” Chris responded.  He stroked Sleuth’s head once more before he stood.  “A beer if you have one.  I can get it though Max, I know where the kitchen is.”

Max waved off the notion.  “It’s my house Kid,” he stated gruffly, “and you’re my guest.  I can get you a damn beer.”

Chris looked about as he waited for Max to return.  Max Noir, or Classic Noir, as many fans knew him, came from a much different time.  Story had Max stopping crime along the docks as far back as the Forties.  He was one of the founders of The Collective in the Fifties: with the original Scarlett Speedster, Nereid, and of course The Standard Man.    Max was a member of the team as late as the Eighties, though mostly in a consulting position by then.  When Chris had become Kid Standard, Max was still there as a mentor for many of the younger heroes.

Chris had admired Max when he was new to being Kid Standard, and still looked up to the old man.  Max Noir: fighting for justice with nothing more than a dark suit, wide brimmed fedora and a wicked right hook.  Even now Max was a fit man.  His trim muscles strained to escape the jogging suit he was wearing.  His white hair had only begun to thin along his forehead, and he looked much younger than he was.

Along the mantle piece, Max had a series of papers and awards: his lifetime membership to The Collective, and the statuette he was awarded when he saved the police commissioner.  There was a series of framed newspaper clippings, and Sleuth’s Dog of the Year award.  On the short table in the center of the room lived an old typewriter, and the manuscript for Max’s book.

When Max returned, he found Chris flipping through the pages.  “You like it?”

Chris read the rest of the page he was on before he answered.  “It’s pretty good,” he said.  “History and Common Sense for Young Heroes?”

“It’s a working title.  More a descriptive right now.”  Max handed a beer over to Chris as he continued.  “There’s more of them showing up every day; young kids with more power than they know what to do with.  They need the advice, and they need the assistance.”  Max waved at the sheets of paper on the table.  “I’m trying to get that  down while I’m still here.”

“Max, you’re not going anywhere,” Chris countered with a half smile.

Max sat down on a tall backed leather chair, and pointed his cane across the table at Chris.  “Don’t get me wrong Kid, I’ll be here long enough to bury most of my generation, but I’m not immortal.”  Max waved away Chris’s look of concern and continued.  “Without any sort of guidance for these kids, things can get out of hand quickly.  We both know what happens then.”

“The Nineties.”  Chris gave a shudder.  The Nineties was considered a dark time for most of the superhero community.  It was a time where the term vigilante was used more then hero.  The public cried for villains to be stopped permanently, and there was a surge of self proclaimed heroes willing to do just that.  These ruthless vigilantes brought out a new level of violence in the villain community, many who rightfully felt that they were fighting for their lives whenever a battle broke out.

Everything changed in the early two thousands, while Chris was still Kid Standard.  He and the members of Teen Justice had been battling Jonathan Godfrey, The Standard Man’s arch nemeses.  As tended to happen, the team became separated.  While the rest of Teen Justice battled against hired goons, Quiver: In The Black’s sidekick, ended up alone against Godfrey.

Chris was the first to reach Godfrey and Quiver.  Godfrey had strangled Quiver to death with her own bowstring, nearly decapitating her. Godfrey had been standing over the body when Chris had flown in.  Chris would find out later that Jonathan Godfrey had pumped himself with a chemical cocktail that would give him The Standard Man’s powers.  The same chemicals had driven Godfrey temporarily insane.

Chris had attacked Godfrey with fists, with heat and with cold.  In an epic battle, Chris had savaged Jonathan Godfrey, and had nearly killed the man.  Chris was still certain he would have killed Godfrey, had The Standard Man not intervened.

Chris’s near murder of Godfrey made headlines.  Godfrey’s lawyers villainised Chris’s actions, and the media turned on him and other heroes.  Public opinion turned against vigilante actions, and all heroes found their actions under scrutiny.

In an attempt to clean house, The Collective began to heavily police its own. They made it clear that heroes who killed would be seen in the same light as villains.  By two thousand and five, super powered life was back to the way it used to be: spandex heroes punched spandex villains and carried them to jail.   Chris didn’t care though, he’d quit long before that.

Max watched Chris from across the table.  He knew where the young man’s thoughts had gone.  “It was a shame, the Nineties,” he commented.  “Worse still that your generation tends to take the blame for the whole thing.  It’s not like you kids were alone.”  He swished the dregs around the bottom of his bottle.  “Remember Standard’s costume back then?”

Chris choked on a mouthful of beer.  “God, it was all belts and pouches.  Remember his attempt to grow his hair long?  The worst mullet this side of Texas.”  Chris smiled, and let the darkness fade.  “Marlene managed to convince us that the costume changes were a good idea.”

“Marlene?”  Max shrugged his lack of knowledge at the name.

“Marlene Wheeler,” Chris said.  “Our agent back then, and costume designer.” He thought on it for a second.  “Could have been worse, I suppose.  Look what she dressed Girl Standard in.”  Chris shrugged.  “Sorry,” he corrected, “Girl Power.”

Max shook his head.  “She’s the one who dressed the Girl?  Horrible costume, that was.”

“Lack of costume,” Chris replied.

Max waved off the comment like a bad smell.  “Exactly.  Who strips down a sixteen year old girl, then has her fly about town?  Disgraceful.”  Max shook the thought away.  “Saw your cousin recently,” he told Chris.  “She’s doing bodyguard work nowadays, for those who can afford her.”

Chris rolled his eyes.  “She’s not my cousin.”  He fought back a slight surge of jealousy.  Carol had managed to find a way to profit from her powers, while his own uses were limited to bar tricks.  “Speaking of family, have you heard from your sidekick lately?”

“Partner, were you to ask him.”  Max smirked.  “Tom visits here and there, but The Collective keeps him busy.  I see you more than I see him.  I suppose that’s fair, since he sees The Standard Man much more than you do.”

“Yeah, well, good for him,” Chris replied.  He stood, and put his empty bottle down on a coaster.  “Max, I should get going.  I’ve still got work in the morning.”

Max stood as well.  “You want to get it off your mind before you go, Kid?”  Chris made a quizzical face at Max.  “Something’s bugging you,” Max said, “and you’re looking to talk on it.”

“It’s nothing Max,” Chris started, “I’ve just been working out some things.”  He told Max about the TV report he’d watched, and about his day at work.  He told Max about April, and about hanging with Jim.  Chris explained his mood, and his complete lack of idea where it was coming from.

Max listened to Chris.  He waited a few polite moments before he commented.  “Do you want to know what I think Kid?  You’re second guessing your decisions.  You trained with half of The Collective; they were your childhood friends.”  Max paused.  He watched Chris light a cigarette, and pushed a marble ashtray across the table.  “Now, all your friends have made something of themselves.  They’re heroes, like you wanted to be back then.”  Max pointed at Chris.  “You, on the other hand, work at a coffee shop for a little more than minimum wage.”

Chris tried not to look upset.  “Harsh,” he admitted.

“Didn’t say I agree with it, Kid,” Max replied.   “You may not want the things your old friends have, but that doesn’t mean you don’t notice that you don’t have them.  It’s human nature to notice what we don’t have before we notice what we do have.”

Max opened a small wooden box hidden under the table, and pulled out a slim cigar.  It was a pleasure he didn’t allow himself all that often, and was a sign that Chris would be here for a while. Chris butted out his cigarette, and took a cigar from the offered box.

“It’s not like you need for anything Kid,” Max continued.  “You don’t need to eat or sleep.  Hell if I remember right, you don’t even need to breathe if you don’t feel like it.”  Max went on.  “Your job, and the pay, is more than adequate for your almost non existent needs.  But it doesn’t change the want for creature comforts.”  Max pointed his cigar at Chris.  “And it doesn’t change the constant fight to keep with the Jones’.  You want to be as successful as the people you grew up with.  It happens to all of us at one point or another.”

“Wait.”  Chris took a drag from the cigar.  “Are you suggesting that I’m just suffering a mid life crisis?”

Max grinned.  “I wasn’t suggesting anything.”

“But,” Chris objected, “I’m only twenty-eight.”

“So?”  Max took a small puff from his cigar before elaborating.  “Your friends are successful now, and you really noticed it yesterday.  Back in my day, people waited until they were forty to consider mistakes.  These days, you kids don’t have the patience to wait for mid life to have your crisis.”

Max opened his mouth to add to the point, but was interrupted by an indignant bark from Sleuth.  “Oh for the love of…” Max held up the cigar.  “He hates these things.” Max glared at the hound.  “We’ll go out front to smoke, OK?”  Sleuth put his head down, and vibrated his jowls with a loud harrumph.

“He’s like an old woman sometimes,” Max commented.  “An old woman,” he repeated for Sleuth.  Max sliced the heaters off both cigars, and left the burning ends in the ashtray despite the noise of protest from Sleuth.

“If it’s any consolation Kid,” Max commented as they stepped outside, “I’m impressed with your willpower.”  Max struck a wooden match along the bottom of his boot, and relit his cigar before he continued.  “The super hero lifestyle is like a drug,” he said.  “Hell, if I were still capable, I’d still be out there in uniform.  There’s something therapeutic about tossing on a ridiculous costume, and punching bad guys.  Despite what anyone will tell you about the feel good of doing good, it’s about control.  In costume, you can change the world into something that makes sense.”

Max pointed at Chris.  “You walked away from it all, and never looked back.  You may well be one of the most powerful people on the planet Kid, and you’ve managed to stick to your guns, not use that power.”

Chris shrugged.  “It’s not that big a deal.  I use my powers all the time, just not in a big way.”  He thought on all of his little tricks, and shrugged again.  “I’m hardly the most powerful person on the planet.  I doubt I rank top ten.”

“Don’t sell yourself short Kid.  You’re much more powerful than The Standard Man was at your age,” Max added.  “I should know, I was there.”

Chris puffed on his cigar.  “This isn’t about to become a great responsibility speech is it?”

“Oh, heaven forbid.”  Max chuckled tobacco smoke.  “You wanted some insight into what’s been bothering you, and I’ve given you just that.  Take it as you will Kid.”

Chris nodded his thanks.  They both smoked in silence for a few minutes before Max spoke again.  “Before you get a chance to run off Kid I had a favor to ask of you.”  Max flicked the butt of his cigar to the road.  “The Standard Man said he’d do the prologue for my book, when it’s done, and I wanted to know if you’d do the epilogue.”

Chris stood stunned, and Max mistook the silence as cautious consideration.  “It’d only need to be a paragraph or two.”  Max suggested.  “Its just that you are one of the finest examples of who the book is for.  it would look pretty good too.  You know, the old guard starting it off, and the next generation finishing it up.”

“I’d love to Max,” Chris assured him.  “I’d be honored.”

There was an awkward silence, broken conveniently by Chris’s cell phone.  Chris mouthed a quick apology as he answered it.  Chris managed to get a hello in, before being cut off by the caller.  He opened his mouth on the odd occasion, but didn’t get a word in.  Chris’s face crumpled at the news.  He finally nodded, and hung up his phone without so much as a goodbye.

“Max,” Chris began, features twisted between anger and confusion, “I’ve got to go.”

“Kid, are you OK?”

“That was Jim,” Chris answered in a near whisper.  “He was making sure I hadn’t done anything crazy, since Jonathan Godfrey was released from prison today.”  Chris could feel energy building hot behind his retinas, and was certain that his eyes were flared bright red.  “Jonathan Godfrey was released today.”

“I know,” Max admitted. “It’s been on the news all day.”

Chris felt betrayed.  “You knew?”  He calmed himself as much as he could  “I need to go Max.”

Max nodded curtly.  The gesture was missed, as Chris took flew into the sky for the first time in years.  Without a look back, Chris vanished through the clouds.

The Amelia Academy: Standards. Chapter 3

Chris’s mood went downhill as the day went on.  He tried to blame it on his slowly fading hangover.  He tried to blame last night’s lack of decent sleep.  He even tried to blame April’s response to his earlier pass.  In all honesty though, Chris felt it wasn’t any of these things.  He just wasn’t able to put his finger on what it really was.

Chris met with Jim a bit after work.  They grabbed dinner and a couple pints at a bar called Drexies, before returning to Chris’s apartment to play video games and have a few beers.  It was a regular ritual, when the two weren’t drinking till last call.

Normally, Chris looked forward to the occasional quiet evening hanging with Jim.  Tonight though, Chris was already struggling with his mood, and Jim’s visit was not helping.

“Dude, for a guy with super reflexes, you totally suck at this.”  Jim smiled around the cigarette sticking from his mouth as he soundly beat Chris at Collective vs. Core: the Video Game.

Chris smiled back with no feeling short of malice.  He did not crush the controller to dust, and he didn’t slam it through the coffee table, which was really a piece of ply board balanced on a few milk crates.  He considered both, and instead got up to grab another beer from the fridge.

Jim stood as well.  He stretched, and gave a slight groan as he rubbed his back.  “You need a new couch,” Jim stated. “I know you may not feel it, but this one stabs me in the back every time I’m here.”

“You’re welcome to get me a new sofa,” Chris snapped back.  He tossed a beer across the room to his friend.

Jim sat back down and started a new match on Collective vs. Core.  This time he chose to use Nereid, In her classic short-shorts costume.  Nereid’s turquoise swimsuit hadn’t actually changed that much over the decades; its seam lines had simply crept higher up her thighs, and lower down her chest.  The game designers had made special note of her breasts, and made sure to give them gravity defying bounce.

Chris picked up the other controller, and chose Classic Noir.  Before he’d retired, and been replaced, Noir was considered one of the last Action Heroes.  He had no powers, but had made up for it with skill.  The game had done a fine job recreating his black suit and fedora look, though it had given him a gun that Chris was pretty certain Noir had never carried.

The two nodded acceptance of their choice characters as the match began.  They played the first few punches in silence.

“So,” Jim questioned finally, “what’s eating you?”

Chris ran a finger in a practiced half circle across the controller.  On the screen, a pixelated Classic Noir stepped aside.  Sleuth the Crime Hound leapt from off screen and attacked Nereid.  Blood flew from non-existent wounds.  “Nothing’s bugging me.”  Chris stated with no conviction.

Jim raised an eyebrow at Chris.  Nereid pulled a kick punch combo, and threw Noir into a tidal wave that had sprouted from nowhere.  “Really?” Jim questioned without looking from the screen.  “You’ve been in a bitch since we met up.”

“Alright,” Chris admitted.  “I don’t know what’s wrong.  I’m just in a mood.”  He hit buttons frantically, but already knew how the match was going to end.  “I was late for work,” he tried.  “Plus, I’m still hurting from last night.”  Jab, jab, gunshot.  Nereid blocked most of it.  “I asked April out,” Chris added.

“Oh,” Jim muttered around his cigarette.  “How’d that go?”

Chris sighed.  “Well, I’m here with you tonight, aren’t I?”

“That you are,” Jim replied.  He traced in a full 360 on the controller, and jammed down on the X button triumphantly.  On screen, Nereid summoned an impressively animated geyser under Noir.  Game over.

Chris cursed under his breath as Nereid did a small victory dance on screen.  He lit a new smoke, and tried to bring the subject away from his non existent love life..  “The Standard Man was on the news again this morning.”

“Yeah, I know.  I took the photos.”  Jim mimed using a camera, and chuckled.  “That Leslie chick you used to be doing beat everyone to the punch this morning.  Ms. Langley was pissed.  After all, anything The Standard Man is supposed to be hers.”

“Jennifer Langley gets her exclusives with The Standard Man for all the regular reasons.”  Chris accented his point by making a circle with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, and running two fingers from his right through it a few times.  “And for the record, I never did Leslie.”  Chris took a drag of his smoke.  “I just should have.”

“Yeah, you should have,” Jim agreed, “Leslie is a fine piece.”  He shrugged.  “I think she’s bunking with Phil the cameraman these days.”

“Thanks Jim,” Chris stated with a sneer.  “You really know how to cheer a guy up.”

“Is that what’s bugging you?”  Jim asked.  “You struck out with April, and now you wish you’d gotten some Asian Heat?”

“No,” Chris answered with a look of disgust.  “And serious; Asian Heat?”

“Well, whatever man.  If it’s not a girl, what is it?”  Jim stared into his empty bottle, and went to get a new one.  “You see Standard on TV almost every week, and it doesn’t normally bother you at all, so it’s not that.”  Jim came back to the couch, and handed a new beer to Chris.  “It’s not, is it?”

“What?  No.”  Chris thought on it.  He had been pissy since he’d watched the news this morning, but decided that it most certainly wasn’t because of The Standard Man.  “I’m just in a mood.  It’s tons of stuff I guess.”

Chris started a new match of Collective vs. Core.  He chose the current Noir, with his black body suit and teleporting powers.  Jim chose The Scarlett Speedster, with her expected speed, and unexpected jiggle.

“Remember last time we hung with Sarah and Tom?”  Chris asked as he pulled a practiced up-up-down pattern on the controller.

“You mean The Scarlett Speedster and Noir?”  Jim responded coldly, his own pattern thrown off by Chris’s casual use of both heroes secret identities.

Chris took advantage, and threw a pair of ‘shadow blasts’.  The undefended Scarlett Speedster flew across the screen.  “Jim, you went home with Sarah.  Are you seriously going to tell me that even while getting the friction burns you called her The Scarlett Speedster?”

“No,” Jim denied.  After a moment of silence he added, “I called her Scarlett.”

“Jesus, man.”

“And before you think to bring them up again,” Jim added with a smug tone, “those burns were a part of the best Christmas present ever.”

Getting his game back, Jim pulled off a Scarlett Tornado, and knocked back the onscreen Noir.  “Noir was still Nightshift, back when you all were Teen Justice.  He have a present for you that night?”

Chris lifted an index finger to Jim without looking over.  “I spent the evening after you left talking up Girl Power.”

Jim looked at Chris in disgust, and missed a chance to block.  “Ugh, dude. Isn’t she your cousin or something?”

Chris brought the finger up again with vigor.  Girl Power had started her career as Girl Standard, and Jim was not the first to assume relation.  “She’s not my cousin,” Chris declared.  “Everyone just assumes that because we all wore the Sun Symbol that we were some big family.  I’m not related to The Standard Man, and I’m certainly not related to Girl Power.”

Chris waited until Jim had begun a complex series of attacks before he spoke again.  “How is Ken doing these days?”  Chris chuckled as Jim fumbled with the controls.  “Sorry,” he remedied, “how is The Standard Man; who has a secret identity that you know, as a man you work closely with, doing these days?”

“Dude, you know I don’t like to talk about who he is.”  Jim looked around as though expecting The Standard Man to be standing behind him.

“Everyone knows you know who he is,” Chris commented.  “He was being Ken Tabbard when he gave you your emergency bracelet.”

“Yeah, I know.”  Jim fiddled with the silver chain.  It had a small button that would emit a pulse heard by The Standard Man, Chris, and every dog within two miles.  Chris hated the damn thing.  He would hear it at odd hours of the day; a sudden ringing like a phone he couldn’t answer.  The pulse had a strange musical quality to it, and caused Chris to have ‘Tainted Love’ stuck in his head any time he heard it.

“I know,” Jim repeated, “but he hasn’t officially told me who he is.”  Jim put out his smoke, and immediately lit another.  “I’ve got a good thing going here, taking pictures of super heroes.  These days half of the world has digital cameras.  Most of them are blissfully unaware that they are lining up shots better then pros do sometimes.”  Jim pulled smoke deep into his lungs.  “I’m one of a million people taking photos at any throw down, and my connection with the hero community is one of the few advantages I have.  I don’t need to fuck that up.”

Jim blew a smoke ring, and then tried to pass another ring through the first.  It was a trick they’d both seen In The Black: The Dark Archer pull off.  It was also a trick that Jim and Chris had been trying to master since they were teenagers.

“Dude has super hearing, and enhanced vision,” Jim continued.  He scowled at his failed smoke dartboard.  “You never know when he’s listening, and I’d rather not piss him off.”

“I wouldn’t worry Jim,” Chris stated.  “He hasn’t looked in on me in years.”  Chris sunk into the couch, and focused his attention on the TV.  “I doubt he’s going to start tonight.”

The Amelia Academy: Standards. Chapter 2

The Good! Café smelt of coffee grinds and old wood.  The lights were dim and yellowed from age.  The effect was comforting on any regular day, and particularly welcome today.  Chris still felt like he’d been hit by a beer truck when he stumbled in, and he needed any comfort he could find.  Chris was especially thankful for the soft lighting of the café.

Chris was less thankful for the crowd inside.  The morning rush had begun without him, and the small café was packed.  Chris cursed under his breath.  He expected to get it in the neck for being so late.  Still, no one seemed to notice him slip behind the counter.  No one was ordering anything.  The café was packed, but it wasn’t busy from a business point of view.  The entire crowd had an eye on the small television behind the counter.

Odd, Chris thought to himself as he glanced at the ongoing report, The Standard Man should have wrapped this up by now.  Not one to overlook an opportunity, Chris slipped into his apron, and began to wipe the counter as though he’d been in the café the whole time.

On the television, things had escalated.  The primary members of The Collective: Noir, Nereid, and the Scarlett Speedster, had joined the fight.  It was a whole team of heroes against a pair of over powered teenagers.  Power was flung about indiscriminately, and a vast amount of real estate had been destroyed.

Chris watched the newscast for a moment.  The Collective was a bit of overkill for the two boys.  He figured it was a slow week as far as crime fighting was involved.  Nereid and The Standard Man had been members of The Collective forever; both of them were founding members.  Nereid was the ageless Goddess of the Sea, and The Standard man was, well, The Standard Man.  Both of them had hit their prime in the fifties, and had seemingly stopped aging right then and there.

Like Chris, Noir and The Scarlett Speedster had both once been sidekicks.  Unlike Chris, they’d continued with the crime fighting, and had replaced their respective mentors.  Noir and Scarlett were members of The Collective.  Chris worked at The Good! Café.  It had never bothered Chris.  After all, he had given up the super hero lifestyle voluntarily.  Still, he found himself sneering slightly at the TV.

“You sneaky bastard,” a voice accused, snapping Chris from his television stupor. He turned to face April’s frown of disapproval.

Chris quickly muttered an excuse about super hero battles, and delayed busses.  “What’d I miss?” he asked innocently.

“You missed the first hour of morning rush,” April answered briskly.  She waved a hand towards the TV.  “If this hadn’t distracted everyone, I would have killed them all, and then come to your apartment and killed you.”

“Would have been worth it,” Chris joked.  “I’d get to have you at my apartment at least.”

Chris chuckled at April’s look of indignation.  He raised his hands in an apologetic what can I say sort of way.  She let one side of her mouth twitch into a smile, and scrunched her freckled nose at him.

“The Standard Man had a building dropped on him a few minutes ago,” April explained, bringing Chris up to date.  “He hasn’t come back yet, and the reporter chick is making noises to get the crowd worried.”

“Huh,” Chris noted.  He took a moment to take in April while she was distracted.  She had the body type that seemed to be reserved for redheads: angular and curvy at the same time.  Chris tended to let his eyes settle on the curvy when April wasn’t looking.  “I take it you’re not worried then?”

April looked over, and rolled her eyes at Chris.  “It’s a building.  Standard gets tossed through them all the time.”  She lowered her voice to avoid inviting customers to debate the fact.  “We just watched him get punted about by fly-boy there and get over it.  I’m sure he’s fine.”

Chris nodded.  He watched as the trench coat boy swore creatively, and kept Noir back with a crater of broken concrete and flying roadside.  The flying kid stayed airborne, and fired bolts of energy recklessly at The Scarlett Speedster.  It all made for great television, Chris noted to himself.

“How long has Standard been out of the fight?”  Chris figured the old hero was likely working behind the scenes to make sure there were no injured civilians in the buildings that had been damaged.

April shrugged without looking at Chris.  “I don’t know, a few minutes?  I’m sure he’ll be back in a moment.”

Chris nodded again.  He let the silence hang a moment.  “You want to go for drinks?” he blurted.  “I mean, after work, not right now.”

Chris had been playing the flirt game with April at work for years now, and had more than once tried to follow up.  An evening of drinking had finally cumulated to a heavy make-out session over a month ago.  It had turned out to be quite memorable, though not for the reasons Chris would have liked.  Chris, even when controlling his powers, was very strong; and April, it turned out, bruised easily.  Needless to say, things hadn’t gone well.

April smiled at Chris in a way that told him the answer before she spoke.  A cheer went up from the crowd as The Standard Man flew up from the wreckage; breaking the tense moment.  Chris dropped the subject as he and April turned to serve the crowd.  He’d never been happier to have to get to work.

Within minutes, The Collective had subdued both of the teens, and it became business as usual in the Good! Café.  The crowd came and went, all chattering about the battle they’d just watched.  Chris smiled and nodded at the customers’ comments on The Standard Man, and inserted the proper “Uh-huh,” and “I know,” whenever necessary.  It wasn’t until the morning crowd had thinned that Carl; Chris’s boss, spoke to him at all.

“You think I didn’t see you slip in late there, aye?”  Carl’s accent was odd, in that he didn’t have an accent at all from what Chris could tell, yet he’d slip in comments like aye and lad without sounding forced.

“No, no,” Chris lied.  “I uh, there was a big superhero fight.”  Chris pointed to the television, as though it would back him up.  “The buses were being delayed.”

“Stow it lad,” Carl interrupted.  “The fight wasn’t anywhere near your place, and it wasn’t between here and there.”  Carl narrowed his eyes at Chris.  “You don’t get paid for hours you aren’t here.”

“I barely get paid for the ones I am here for,” Chris retorted under his breath.  He was quick to flash his most winning smile at Carl.

Carl was not impressed.  “Looking for a career change lad?” The question held obvious threat, and Chris looked away.  Carl shook his head.  “All I ask of you is that you show up on time, serve the customers, and not steal from the till.  You do a fine job of two of these.”

“So I’m not fired then?”  Chris was pushing his luck, and he knew it.

Carl let the silence hang for a moment.  “No, you’re not fired lad.  What type of man would I be if I fired you on the same day we nearly lost The Standard Man?”

Chris blinked.  The Standard Man had barely broken a sweat in that fight, much less been in any actual danger.  He glanced around the café.  Customers were still chatting about the super battle on TV, and about The Standard Man.

“I’m glad he’s ok,” Chris found himself saying.

“We all are lad,” Carl agreed.  He patted Chris on the back, and went to do his morning paperwork.  Chris swept the floors, and tried to tune out all the chatter around him.  Chris felt like he was missing something, but he wasn’t sure what it was.

The Amelia Academy: Standards. Chapter 1

Chris was still drunk when the alarm woke him.  He couldn’t remember why he’d set his clock for such an ungodly early hour.  He felt like he’d only just laid down, and Chris did not want to get up.  He stared at the ceiling, and listened to the buzzing of his clock.  He wondered idly if he was getting old.  It didn’t used to be this difficult to get up after pulling an all-nighter.

In what felt like an entire lifetime ago, Chris had been Kid Standard; sidekick to The Standard Man, and hero in his own right.  He’d pulled plenty of late nights back then; fighting villains, saving the world, that sort of thing.  He’d always had the energy to face the day the next morning.  Of course, he didn’t drink as much back then, which could have something to do with it.

These days, the only thing heroic about his evenings was the amount he could put back, and last night had been particularly heroic.  He and his friend Jim had went to find the mystical ‘just one pint’, and had ended up closing the pub.  It wasn’t the first time, and it wasn’t the first time Chris had woken up and sworn it’d be the last.

The alarm clock screeched from a stack of milk crates beside Chris’s bed.  The buzz of the clock matched the pulsing in his head, and was just as welcome.  Chris fumbled for the snooze, but failed to find it three times in a row.  He tried to ignore the noise, but the buzz was clearly not going away on its own.  Chris groggily focused on the offending machine for a moment before he incinerated it with beams of red heat from his eyes.

Victory won, Chris sat on the edge of his worn futon, and fumbled for his smokes. He squinted at a cigarette, and lit it with a glance.  Heat vision and its one hundred uses, he thought as he took in the first drag of the morning.

Uses for Chris’s powers were one of the conversations he and Jim had shared over pints the night before.  It was a regular topic; an attempt mostly on Chris’s part to find profit that his life amongst the flights and tights crowd hadn’t offered.  The conversation usually began with the potentials super strength and invincibility brought to the world of construction.  Before long, it would digress into nonsensical uses: with everything from Chris’s beer chilling artic breath, to his favorite method of cigarette lighting.  By the third or forth pint conversation would turn to the uncomfortably obvious uses of x-ray vision.  After that, it would switch to more ordinary topics like work and mutual lack of love lives.

Chris finished his smoke.  He drove the butt into the melted slag of his former clock before he walked over to his living room.  His apartment was small, with everything conveniently three steps away.  The apartment had been advertised as an open concept loft in an up and coming community.  Translated, it was a small room in a seedy part of the city.

Back when being Kid Standard mattered to Chris, it had made perfect sense to live in the city’s most crime infested neighborhood.  These days, the low rent was Chris’s favorite feature of the crumbling bachelor apartment.  Being impossibly strong and nigh invincible left Chris with little fear about how bad his neighbors were.

Chris stood in the living room, still in a post drinking haze.  He glanced with a sneer at a poster on the wall.  In the picture, Chris wore his famous Kid Standard uniform.  He glared at the puffy headband, the over-sized shoulder pads, and the stupidly long cape.  Chris ran a hand through his shaggy black hair, and thought on the ponytail that used to sprout from the top of his head.  He sighed as he remembered how proud he was of his costume back then.   Chris considered taking the picture down for the millionth time, and once again decided to leave it where it was.

Ah, he thought with distaste, the good old days.  Back then Chris had been proud to be Kid Standard, the teen counterpart to The Standard Man.  These days he looked upon it all with the same embarrassment one would normally save for a career in pornography or telemarketing.

Chris plopped heavily on his worn couch. He flicked on the television, hoping to find something meaningless on it to mute the damage he’d done the night before.  Evidently conspiring against him, the television greeted Chris with the grind of tearing cement and the bright flashes of explosions.  Chris yelled obscenities at the TV as he frantically turned the volume down.  He was about to change the channel, but was distracted by the reporter on the screen.

Though it had been nearly a decade since he’d seen her last, Chris recognized Leslie Cheung.  When he was Kid Standard, Leslie would show up constantly.  He’d found it funny then that he was a teen hero followed about by a teen reporter.  These days he only looked upon Leslie as a bygone opportunity.  In all fairness, Chris hadn’t dated in a while, and he tended to look upon nearly all women he’d known as bygone opportunities.  Another explosion in the background of Leslie’s report brought his attention away from her slight curves and to the event she was covering.

“We don’t yet know what caused these two superhumans to begin their rampage here downtown,” Leslie yelled over the chaos.  The camera attempted to turn towards the suspects, but Leslie waved for attention to stay on her.  “Whatever the reason, we should see an end to this destruction momentarily.”  Leslie pointed to the sky.  “The Standard Man has arrived!”

The camera turned upwards, where The Standard Man hovered over the scene.  His suit was pure white from neck to toe.  His cape fluttered in the wind.  The stylized yellow Sun Symbol on his chest was the only splash of color to his uniform.

The Standard Man glanced at Leslie, his face stern.  “It’s not safe here,”  The Standard Man stated.  “You and your cameraman should get back.”

As though to prove his point, The Standard Man was hit in the side by a bolt of neon blue energy.  He staggered aside, looking more annoyed than hurt.  The perpetrator was a teen boy wearing a pair of camo shorts flying shirtless above the streets.  A nimbus of the same blue energy flickering around his bare arms.  The young man swore, and flung a volley of energy blasts at The Standard Man.

Beneath the flyer was a boy in a black leather trench coat. He swore as he clapped his hands together and slapped them palm down on the ground.  From the contact point the road rose and crashed a wave of asphalt into The Standard Man.

The boys’ lack of costume was hardly a surprise.  The idea of throwing on a suit of tight revealing spandex had already been going out of style when Chris was still in the business.  Nowadays, super suits were really only for the old timers, and a few hopeful up and comers who hadn’t gotten the memo.  Everyone else just wore whatever.

The camera centered on The Standard Man as he flew up from the destroyed road.  His eyes blazed with red energy, but he was slow to retaliate.  Though few would get it watching the television, Chris knew that The Standard Man was measuring his opponents, and checking his temper.  Despite the damage around him, despite his anger, Standard was reluctant to hit either of the teens responsible; at least not until he was sure they could take it.

“Get on with it, Standard.”  Chris hissed at the TV.  More than anything, Chris hated the drama of the hero lifestyle.  It was almost customary to let the villain get a few hits in before you beat them to a pulp.  Chris always felt that it made more sense to hit the other guy as soon as you could, and get the job done.

Job done.  Chris’s brain swung to full speed.  He remembered now why he’d set his alarm.  He remembered why he and Jim were only supposed to have one pint.  “Shit,” Chris yelled to the apartment.  He fumbled to find clean clothes in a panic.  “I’m supposed to be at work!”

The Amelia Academy Cover

ameliacoverfeast

So, going to start posting the edited chapters of The Amelia Academy: Standards soon. First though, should start with the cover.

This is the final cover work for the published copy, once it’s, well, published. This work was done for me by Kimberly Parker (http://skittlefox.wordpress.com/) after much humming and hawing on my part. She also did the cover that I’ve been using for the online copy of The Amelia Academy: Standards, which can be seen here. (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/136125)

I should also mention that this is the first public viewing of this version of the cover. I’ve been saving it for publishing, but this seems a fine time to share.

EDIT: Dec 18th.  Replaced with higher quality version.  The artist informed me that the version I’d put up was ‘fuzzy’.  Still the same pic, just, you know, better.  Less fuzzy.

Little Help Here

So, for those of you that don’t know, I’ve written a novel called The Amelia Academy: Standards.  Standards is the story of Chris; former superhero, now slacker.  Chris became embittered with the entire flights and tights lifestyle in the nineties, and these days would be happier to just sink into obscurity.

Chris is dragged back into the super hero community when a former villain, Mr. Godfrey, contacts him.  Fresh out of jail, Godfrey is also looking to get away from the hero/villain life, and is opening a school for metahuman children.  He wants to teach them that despite their powers, their differences, they can live ordinary lives.  Godfrey wants Chris to teach in this school.

Reluctant at first, Chris is soon convinced, and finds himself again deep in the spandex crowd.  Old friends and foes surface, as does a plot to destroy the fledling school before it can open its doors.  A plot that targets Chris as much as it targets the Amelia Academy.

 

So, sales pitch aside, here’s the thing.  The Amelia Academy is already available as a e-book.  I’ve had several reviews, and all say the same thing.  Great story, great characters, grammar needs work.

I’m alright editing, but not great (evidently).  So here’s the plan.  I’m going to edit a chapter every day or two, and post them.  Free for you to read.  In return, I’m hoping you’ll all be willing to just jump in if you see a mistake, or a sentence that needs work.  Serious; be mean, I don’t take it personal.  I’m looking in the end to get The Amelia Academy out in traditional print; hopefully with an actual publisher.  Still, step at a time.

Anyways, if you want to play along, that’d be great.

-Paul Mundane

Adventurers! 12

“Of course,” Fell noted.  “The urges?  The temptation?  Of course it’d be a succubus.”

Hill stared at the girl.  He took a long moment to respond.  “What?”

“Girl’s a succubus,” Fell whispered.  “Temptation she-devil?”  She rolled her eyes.  “It’s not like I’m pulling this from some obscure arcana Hill.”

“Are you sure?”  Hill never took his eyes off of the girl.

Fell’s mouth hung open a second.  She looked from Hill to the succubus.  The girl gave Fell a ‘what can you do’ shrug.  A long thin tail had snuck from behind the girl, and wrapped around her leg.  A triangular pad at the end of her tail rubbed itself absently along the succubus’s knee.  Fell motioned frantically at this.

“Sorry.”  Hill shook his head.  “I’m just not seeing it,” he said.

“You’re joking, right?”  Fell looked to Leif for backup, only to find the elf also shaking his head.

“Maybe it’s just you,” Leif suggested.  He smiled sympathetically.  “It could be a jealousy thing.”

“It’s not…”  Fell swore under her breath.  She took a deep calming breath, and looked again at the succubus.  She was possibly the only other sane person in the room right now.

The succubus tugged the hem of her shirt down over her tummy, giving her boobs a good shake in the action.  She smiled at Fell.  “You have to admit,” she commented, “it could be a jealousy thing.”

Fell bit her lip so hard she could taste blood.  She had a spell that would burst a circle of fire and lightning from her; which would hit the succubus and the men.  Fell strongly considered casting it.  Her hands twitched with the incantation.

Hill’s eyes widened as he saw Fell’s hands move.  He drew Party Starter instinctively, and stepped between Fell and the girl.  Leif was already there; knives drawn and ready to protect the girl.  Both men watched Fell, daring her to continue.  Only Hill spoke.

“Fell,” Hill started.  “Stop whatever you’re casting.  You’re wrong.  She’s not a succubus.”  He hoisted Party Starter two handed; something he only did when he really meant business.  “She’s just a girl Fell,” he said.  “I won’t let you hurt her.”

“You really are taking this too far,” Leif added.  “I mean, we get that you’re jealous, but this is too much.”  Leif took a moment.  “I’d expect violence as an answer out of him,” he added, pointing at Hill, “but you?  You’re normally the level headed one.”

“Damn it; she’s a succubus,” Fell snapped.  “Look at her!  She has wings and horns!  She has a tail!”

Hill and Leif paused a moment; and their weapons drooped.  The horns were pretty damning evidence.  Besides, There was the adventurers’ oath buzzing in the back of their brains, reminding them that whatever reasons they had for protecting the girl; they weren’t noble.  Hill and Leif turned in unison to the girl; able to see her for what she was, if only for the moment.

That moment died when the girl put a hand on each of the men’s shoulders.  “Don’t let her hurt me,” the girl whimpered.  “You need to protect me,”

Fell watched as the men’s eyes glazed over, and swore quietly.  “You don’t need to protect her,” she protested.

Fell watched as Leif tossed a knife in the air, and caught it by the blade; ready to be thrown offensively.  Hill shifted Party Starter again to full position.  Fell strongly considered her situation.  Charm magic was particularly effective at convincing people that the stupidest action was the best one.  There were flaws in charms though, and Fell smiled slightly as she reassessed her tactics.

“No, I mean it,” Fell said, as she laid her staff on the ground at her feet.  She put her hands forward: defensively, not casting.  “You don’t need to protect her from me.”

The only thing more satisfying then the confusion in Hill and Leif’s eyes was that in the succubus’s.  “Maybe you were right,” Fell admitted with a painfully apologetic smile.  “Maybe it was just jealousy.  I can see now that she’s not dangerous.  I wouldn’t think of hurting her.”

The succubus narrowed her eyes at Fell.  “What,” she stated simply.

“No, I see it now,” Fell continued.  “True love, right?”  She smile/sneered at the succubus.  “I mean, it’s a three way true love, but I’m sure you can handle that.”

Hill slid Party Starter back into its sheath across his back.  He smiled at Fell.  “I’m glad you’re seeing reason,” he stated.  He looked about, slightly embarresed, before he added, “I’m sorry things never worked between us.”

Fell raised an eyebrow.  “Yeah, uh, me too?”  She wasn’t aware there was a thing to work out to begin with.  Yeah, ok, there was a few times: some kissing, waking up in the same bed more than once, and whatever that was at the entrance of the temple.  Every time though?  Alcohol or magic.  She chalked Hill’s comment up to the charm spell messing with his head.

Leif shrugged at the moment being shared.  “We never had a thing,” he stated about himself and Fell.  “It’s not personal.”

“I’ll still miss you,” Fell replied.  “I’ll miss both of you, but if you’re sure this is what you want?”  She gave a proper pause, knowing damn well neither of the men had the ability to change their minds.

“Fine.  I’m sure you’ll be happy here,” Fell stated.  She looked around quickly at the shallow water around them, then pointed to the dry dais.  “Here,” she corrected, motioning both men up the small steps.  The succubus continued to stare confusion, but didn’t get up from her altar.  “I’m sure you’ll all be happy here.”

“I won’t stand in your way,” Fell conceded with all the sincerity she could muster.  “I’ll go, and never bother you three again.”  Fell wiped away a crocodile tear, and rifled through one of her pockets.  She pressed a small collection of stuff into both men’s hands.  “Here,” Fell said finally.  “These are to remember me.”

Fell could barely hide her smile as Hill and Leif stared confusion at the handful of sand and cricket legs she’d handed both of them.  They looked at Fell for a moment, before both slumping to the floor before the altar.

The succubus watched the two collapse.  She blinked at Fell.  “What did you do?” she asked.

“I put them to sleep,” Fell explained in a casual tone.  “I’ve robbed you of your servants.”  Fell retrieved her staff from the ground, and turned slow attention to the succubus.

“It’s just you and me now,” Fell stated.  She put one hand forward, palm up, and gave the internationally accepted ‘bring it’ gesture.   “Your move.”

Adventurers! 11

The temple turned out to be a bit of a let down, all things considered.  Fell had expected a continual flurry of temptations; beds and drinks and food.  Instead, there was little of anything.  Most of the temple sunk into the ground, and was continually flooded with about of foot of swamp water, but that was the worst the place had to throw at them.

In fact, the whole slimy, wet, and somewhat boring effect of the temple was only helping the adventurer’s oath do its job.  Perhaps this was tempting for lizard men, but for the trio, it really wasn’t that appealing.  Not that the urges were gone; just that sitting down and passing the bottle around in a hall of stale water just wasn’t appealing enough.  Laying down in any position was right out.

“Do Alligorn even breed?” Fell wondered out loud.  “I mean, they breed, but you know, do they..?”

“You know, I’ve never considered it,” Leif responded.  He left it at that, since he wasn’t about to consider it now either.

“Maybe they lay eggs?” Fell continued.  “I mean, we’ve only ever seen lizard men, that we know of.  But maybe that’s not it.  Maybe men and women just look alike.”

“Nope,” Leif admitted with a shake of his head.  “Still not thinking about it.”

“Egg layers,” Hill commented nonchalantly.  “Females lay eggs, and the men fertilise them.”

Leif and Fell stared at Hill in stunned wonder.  He ignored it, pointing towards a set of double doors ahead.  “This is the main room,” he stated certainly.  “If there’s anything worth seeing, it’ll be here.”  He pushed open the doors, and strode in.

Fell stayed close behind Hill, while Leif slunk off to the side, staying to the shadows.  It was a large room, and not that well lit.  Still, they could see enough to recognize it as an old church.  Probably here long before the lizard men.

The room had a series of unused pews, half sunk in ankle deep stagnant water.  A dais rose from the at the far end of the room, and was home to a small altar.  Once rich tapestries hung torn and rotted from the walls, and did little to hide the once secret door in the wall.

Not that anyone was looking at the exit.  Fell, Hill and Leif were too busy staring at the only other occupant of the room.  She was laying across the alter when the three came into the room; idly playing with a lock of her hair, but she sat up when the adventurers walked past the pews.

The girl was slim and slight.  She wore a small light cloth skirt, and a shirt that rode up her torso and exposed her midriff.  Her hair was pulled into a pair of short pigtails, and when she smiled, the freckles on her nose stood out.  The girl was a walking description of harmless; it was easy to look beyond the curved horns that sprouted from her forehead, and the small leathery bat wings that grew from her shoulder blades.

The girl stretched out one of her long legs, and wiggled her bare toes absently.  She smiled mock annoyance as she watched the trio’s eyes wander to her panties, before she crossed one leg over the other.  The girl arched her back, and thrust out her perfect breasts.  The small wings on her back fluttered as she stifled a yawn with the back of her hand.

“You took your time getting here,” she accused with an exaggerated pout.

Adventurers! 10

Leif slammed the great doors shut behind the trio.  He braced against them until Fell gestured off a giant translucent hand to hold the doors closed.  Leif watched as Hill struggled to drag over a large fat man statue one handed.  He considered helping, but recognized quickly how pointless that’d be.

“What’s with you and big hand spells?” Leif asked Fell.

Fell didn’t look up from her casting.  “They were all the rage years ago, but fell out of favour,” she explained briskly.  “These days everyone wants Summon spells.  I got the full set dirt cheap off another mage.  Twelve gold, and a copy of Summon Celestial Badger.”

“Really?” Hill pushed the large statue against the door, and struggled to push it into place.  “There’s enough Hand spells to have a set?”

“Oh yes,” Fell replied.  “Big Grasping Hand, Big Punching Fist, Big Ground Shaker.”  She nodded to the translucent hand against the door.  “Big Open Hand Push.  Full set.”  Fell frowned a bit.  “I have one called Big Slow Clap, but I haven’t found a good time to use it.”  Fell waved away her casting, certain that Hill had the door.  “Most mages specialize in one sort of magic or another.  Similar spells normally have similar gestures.”  She shrugged.  “That’s why you see pyromancers, and necromancers, and whatever other mancers.  It’s just picking a favourite; makes for easier casting.”

Leif raised an eyebrow.  “And you favour giant hands,” he commented.  “That says something about you, I dare say.”

“I have plenty of not-hand spells,” Fell replied indignantly.  “Did you see the pillar of fire?  I just have all the hand spells…” she almost said ‘on hand’, but stopped short.  “I just have all the hand spells.”

Hill stepped away from the statue, and surveyed the door.  “I don’t think they’re trying to get in,” he commented.

Leif put an ear to the door.  He nodded professional.  “You’re right,” he stated.  “No sound outside.  No one’s trying.”  He looked about, and shrugged.  “Maybe this is the only exit.  They could be just waiting us out.”

“You know better then that,” Hill growled.  “All temples have a secret exit.”

All temples did indeed have secret exits; often right behind the altar.  Religion, in general, was a fickle game, and it wasn’t that uncommon that the head priest of any sect needed to make a quick getaway.

“It’s likely the only exit they know,” Leif corrected.  “Be a sad excuse for a secret exit if everyone in town was aware of it.”  He shrugged.  “Either way, they’re not trying the door right now, which gives us a moment to recover, right?”  He dug into his pack, and pulled free one of the bottles of wine they’d taken from the Meat Emporium.

“Yeah,” Fell agreed absently, “recover.”  She wanted some of Leif’s wine, but recognized something she needed to do more as she looked over at Hill.  “You’re pretty hurt,” Fell commented. She didn’t wait for Hill to give permission, as she began to cast up some healing.

Fell ran a hand over Hill’s shoulder, numbing the pain while resetting the dislocated shoulder.  Her magic flowed through the rest of his body, knitting bone and muscle wherever it was damaged.  Fell was surprisingly aware of every part of Hill her magic touched.

Fell ran a hand slowly along Hill’s arm.  She leant against him from behind, and reached around him to trace the muscles of his torso.  “Better?”  She whispered the question with heated breath into his ear.

“Better,” Hill agreed as he turned his face to meet her.  They stared at each other for a moment, slowly moving their lips closer.  Fell half closed her eyes.  She wanted this.  It didn’t matter that Leif was right there.  It didn’t matter that they were in an evil temple, or that they’d all just escaped a horde of Alligorn.  She pressed against Hill, feeling the warmth of his back against her chest.  All that mattered was…

Fell pushed off of Hill, and shook away the feeling.  “That was real weird,” she said.

“I wasn’t going to call you two on it,” Leif commented with a smirk, “but yeah.  That was a bit awkward.”  He offered Fell the bottle with a slight smile.

Fell grabbed the wine, and drank deeply before passing it to Hill.  “Something’s wrong,” she mumbled.  “I can’t be the only one feeling this.”

Leif shrugged.  “I feel fine,” he commented as he opened a new bottle.  “A bit thirsty, but who isn’t after a fight?”  He tilted back the bottle, drinking till wine dribbled down his chin.  He looked up, suddenly aware of his feelings.  “I see,” he commented sagely.

“It’s like an urge,” Fell admitted.  “I want to eat, and drink and…” she blushed deep as she trailed off at the end.

Hill tossed his empty bottle across the hall, and grabbed the new bottle from Leif.  He thought on it a moment, and shrugged.  “I’m not feeling it,” he told Fell’s breasts.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Fell accused with a sultry smile.  She shook her head suddenly, and put both hands forward, palms up.  “Solemn adventurer vow; right now,” she declared.

Both men grumbled, but they put their hands forward as well.  “This feeling is likely going to get stronger the longer we are here,” Fell stated.  “We, a band of adventurers, solemnly swear that we will not give in to these urges.”  Fell shifted her fingers slightly, causing a glow to form between all their hands.  “There will be no debauchery.”

“Until we reach a pub,” Leif added quickly.  He looked at Fell.  “Let’s not doom ourselves to a life of the cloth here.”

“Until we reach a pub,” Fell amended.  “Then debauchery will be fine.”

“It should be expected really,” Hill commented.

“No,” Fell stated.  “It’ll be fine.  Wording is important in this.  You know that Hill.”

Hill stared at Fell, not budging on the subject.

“I can’t amend it to expected,” Fell insisted.  “If I do that, we’ll be under oath to overindulge at the next inn we find.”

Hill continued to stare at her, still not moved.

Fell swore under her breath.  “Fine,” she relented.  “We, a band of adventurers, solemnly swear that we will not give in to these urges.  There will be no debauchery until we reach a pub.”  She glared at Hill.  “There, it will be expected.”

The light between them shone brighter as they all agreed.  The solemn swear couldn’t stop them from breaking their word at all; that wasn’t how the spell worked.  Instead, the spell would make you feel slightly guilty about breaking your word.  It would nag at you about any thought that would break your vow.  As far as spells went, it was quite insistent.  In short, it was like bringing your mother adventuring with you.

“It’s buzzing away already,” Leif announced as he rubbed his temples.  “I hate the solemn swear,” he declared.  “It always feels so preachy.”

“It would,” Fell agreed.  “I learnt it from Kelvin.”

“That would do it,” Hill said.

Kelvin was one of the rare clerics to travel with the group.  He wasn’t memorable for being preachy; all clerics were preachy, and Kelvin was no different there.  No, Kelvin was memorable because he lasted longer with them than any other cleric.  He traveled with the adventurers for almost a week.  For clerics, that was record breaking.

“He wasn’t so bad,” Fell admitted.  “Taught me to heal you guys; showed us the oath.”

“Showed you the oath,” Leif corrected.  He rolled his eyes.  “Kelvin followed Kailee.  He would have shown you a lot more if you’d given him the chance.”

“Then he should have stayed a bit longer,” Fell replied without pause.  Kelvin was very attractive, and very open minded in relativity to other clerics.  Most followers of Kailee were.  After all, they were believers in a particularly active fertility goddess; good looks and an easy attitude were part of the faith.  A slight buzzing in the back of her mind reminded her that thoughts about what she could have done with Kelvin were against the oath.

Fell shook her head, and glowered at Leif’s remarks.  “Besides,” she continued, “the fact that Kelvin followed the Goddess of Practiced Fertility had little to do with him sharing with me.”  She smiled inwardly.  “He recognized my natural affinity for the Arts.”

“Sure,” Hill said with no agreement.  He picked up the wine bottle, and went to put it against his lips.  His eye twitched, and he gave a long sigh before corking the bottle.  He stood, and tossed the bottle to Leif; taking slight enjoyment as the elf’s face twitched between want and annoyance.

“Well, we’ve rested,” Fell stated, changing the subject.  “And we’ve managed to go five minutes in here without doing anything we’d regret.  Shall we see what else this temple has for us?”

Adventurers! 09

Hill waded through the lizard men.  He swung Party Starter in wide arcs, forcing them to give him a wide berth.  Fell and Leif were waiting already at the door to the temple.  The elf was working on the door’s lock, and Fell was working out a series of complex gestures.

“Hill,” Fell yelled across the melee.  “Stay still for a second!”  She barked a few sharp words, and threw her hands forward; thumbs up.  Gouts of flame shot from her fingers, forming a wall of fire on either side of the fighter.  Fell tilted her hands to either side, leaning the walls of flame over the mob of Alligorn.  Fire fell on the crowd.

A few of the lizard men unfortunate enough to be in the path fell back howling; the others backed up considerably.  This cleared the path a fair bit for Hill, which was a good thing.  It also reminded the remaining lizard men about Fell and Leif, which all things considered, was less good.  The Alligorn that weren’t currently on fire hissed at the two near the door, and advanced.

Fell opened her hands, but the flames shooting forward were barely more than a flicker.  “Hill!  Stop being still now!”

Hill wasn’t actually being still at all.  There were less lizard men in his path; what with the fire and all, but that wasn’t the same as clear.  Hill elbowed his way through a small group of distracted lizard men, trying to rush his approach.  He ended up with a spear through the shoulder for his efforts.

Hill grit his teeth against the pain, and smiled at the lizard man who’d stabbed him.  He’d learnt long ago that shrugging off damage was an effective way to throw off your enemy.  Viciously cutting an opponent in half was another fine way; so Hill did that as well.  He stared over the gore at the other two lizard men.  Being thrown off was pretty contagious, and the two were seriously reconsidering their day.  Still, the other half dozen had missed half the action, and were coming for Hill regardless of his intimidation aura.

Fell shot off some quick, violent hand gestures, and slammed the butt of her staff hard on the ground.  Two giant translucent fists appeared above the lizard men closing in on her and Leif, and smashed the ground.  The lizard men unfortunate enough to be directly beneath the fists were reduced to paste.  The others were flung backwards as the ground shook.

One of the lizard men leapt over the giant fists, and rode the rocking ground towards Fell.  It hissed loudly as it stopped face to face with the wizard.  It took a moment to growl and posture, and seemed slightly confused when Fell failed to be impressed.  The lizard man didn’t even see Leif slide behind it, and didn’t know about the elf until it’s throat was already opened by one of Leif’s blades.  Blood geysered from the wound, and hosed Fell down thoroughly.

“Thanks,” Fell stated dryly as she flicked blood from her face.  “Thanks a lot.”

“Saved your life,” Leif replied.

“You didn’t,” Fell began, but the elf was already turning his attention to Hill’s fight.

Leif tossed the bloodied dagger at the lizard men surrounding Hill; and lodged it deep in the back of one’s skull.  It dropped, only to be replaced by another lizard man.

“Hey Hill,” Leif yelled over the fray.  “Remember the part where we escape through the mysterious temple?”

“Kinda busy here,” Hill grunted back.  He yanked Party Starter from where it had become lodged in a dead lizard man; slamming the hilt of the blade into the jaw of an incoming Alligorn.  A new lizard man leapt onto Hill’s back; as though to show just how busy the fighter was.

Fell twisted her hands into a series of intricate shapes, and pointed at the lizard man on Hill.  An arc of neon blue electricity shot from her extended finger.  Sparks flew from the twitching monster as it slid off of Hill.  Lines of electricity shot suddenly from the dead lizard man into the next nearest enemies.  The fingers on Hill’s free hand twitched, and smoke wisped off his back where the lizard man had been in contact with him.  He turned a slow annoyed glance to Fell.

“Saved your life,” Fell called out.

Hill considered a response, but found nothing that would be polite out loud.  He watched as both his comrades looked with sudden horror over his shoulder.  Hill didn’t bother to ask, and spun quickly; and brought Party Starter up in a defence.  Hill parried as a large club swung down at him.  The Lizard King was evidently bored of the side lines, and had come out to play.

Hill pushed the Lizard King’s club upward; and tried to swing Party Starter through the opening.  The Lizard King laughed as he sidestepped the wide blade.  He brought his club back down hard on Hill’s already injured shoulder.  A loud, and unsettling crack echoed over the hamlet

Hill felt his arm go numb.  It was his off hand, but it was still off setting.  He swung upward at the Lizard King, who again shifted out of reach.  Hill extended at the end of the swing, managing to catch the tip of Party Starter under the King’s upper lip.  He pulled away, and left a gaping tear in the Lizard King’s face.

The Lizard King showed no notice of the wound.  He laughed as blood poured from his ruined lip.  “Getting tired little warrior?” he mocked.  “You put the sword down; I’ll make this quick.”

Hill answered with another swing of his sword.  The Lizard King didn’t step aside this time.  He took a slash across the chest, just to show he could take it.  Hill stopped a moment as the Lizard King smiled over the pain.  That’s how that feels, he thought, just before the King clubbed him in the side.  Hill stumbled back; his ribs moving with a life of their own.

The Lizard King shook his head at Hill.  “You can’t beat me,” he declared simply.

Hill looked over at his dead arm, and at his tenderized side.  Part of the thing that got stupid fighters killed was their pride.  “You’re right,” Hill agreed.  “I’m in no shape to win against you fairly.”  With that, Hill dropped into a low crouch

The Lizard King blinked confusion as Hill dropped.  He howled his annoyance suddenly as a dagger flew over the warrior, and buried itself in the King’s shoulder.  The Lizard King stepped back as the ground split before him, and a pillar of molten earth and fire shot between him and Hill.

The Lizard King hissed his anger, but made no move to chase Hill as the warrior and his companions dashed into the temple.  The Lizard King smiled as the doors slammed closed between the adventurers and the lizard men.  It was as it was supposed to be.

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