Thursday, January 21, 2021

Books of 2020: Quarter 4, part 2

 And finally the last books of 2020, making the total count 40 (I really should've found a better use for all my free time).


Continuing this year's theme of digging up old books I haven't read in a while, I pulled out the Ex-Heroes series by Peter Clines (surprisingly I didn't have to dig that far). If there's one book series I want to suggest to everyone to read it's The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks, but if there's one book series that I can recommend that people might actually read it's this one as, like the back of one of them says, "It's The Avengers meets The Walking Dead" and who doesn't love those things.


Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines


After the ex-virus decimates the US population causing a zombie apocalypse, St. George, Stealth, and other emerging superheroes are left to care for the survivors of Los Angeles. Holing themselves up on the Paramount Studios lot, the superheroes try to keep the peace within their walls as well as going out on scavenging runs amongst the horde of zombies. They are just trying to survive as millions of the undead stand at their gates. What they don't know is the world outside has changed and a new supervillain is looking to not only take their territory but also for revenge against one of the superheroes' own.

Ex-Heroes is your standard superhero story with the twist that a zombie apocalypse has struck and wiped out most of humanity already. It raises the stakes in that the people they are protecting are almost all that is left. The story jumps back and forth to give more insight into who these heroes are and what they are capable of. This first book is the standard Heroes vs Villain storyline with the climax being the assault on The Mount by the Big Bad. In regards to book recommendations this is one that I'd recommend to anyone who is a fan of superheros stories and is looking for something relatively easy to read (I think I breezed through it in about a week, week and a half). The heroes are the standard set people are used to seeing in superhero teams though with Clines own twist on their names and powers. The story itself has everything you'd expect from a superhero story (superpowers, funny one-liners, etc) as well as from a horror zombie story (gruesome descriptions, people being bitten, the constant fear).


Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines


St. George, Stealth, and the other superheroes are getting back into their regular routine after an attack on their home by a supervillain. Mysteriously, a drone flies overhead, a drone piloted by the US military. The military base in Yuma promises the survivors a wealth of resources and security as well as several enhanced super-soldiers designed to take on St. George himself. However, the superheroes discover things are not quite what they appear. They'll need to take on a practically invisible enemy as well as an old nemesis from the past to get home.


Ex-Patriots plays on the hidden-villain storyline, usually the Big Bad being smart and savvy and hiding themselves since they aren't able to physically go toe-to-toe with the hero in a standard fight. Like the previous book, this one also jumps to the past, this time to give backstories on a couple of the individual super-soldiers as well as other people still alive on the base.


Ex-Communication by Peter Clines


After the events of the last book, things are starting to settle back down on The Mount. As much as possible, anyways with hordes of ex-humans still at their gates and Legion setting them into coordinated attacks as well. That is, until Zzzap finally explains the voice he's been communicating with is the ghost of Maxwell Hale, also known as the magician superhero, Cairax. With Zzzap's help, Hale manages to reincarnate but brings with him a new threat to The Mount, the demon Cairax Murgen, the same demon that Hale would possess with his own consciousness when he transformed into a superhero. Now the superheros must figure out how to exorcise the demon back to hell before he possess one of the strongest heroes of The Mount and kills everyone.


It's inevitable, but eventually most stories that pit good vs evil will get to the ultimate Good vs Evil showdown and introduce God or Satan or Heaven or Hell. This one goes into Hale's power and the demon he possessed to do good for the city.

Ex- Purgatory by Peter Clines


George Bailey is a normal, everyday college groundskeeper. In his dreams though, he can fly and is extremely strong, and the world is filled with monsters. But those are just dreams. Until he meets a girl that tells him that the real world is the dream and he really is a superhero fighting against monsters to save the people of Los Angeles. As his dreams start to invade his world as visions, he sets out to find the other heroes to awaken them from their perfect nightmare.


I'm not a big fan of the "everything was a dream" type stories. Personally, my least favorite type of stories because they 90% of the time end with the characters just waking up back in the real world with no real consequence as everything that happened so far didn't really happen. I remembered when I finished the previous book, I thought "ugh, maybe I can skip this one." Out of the 5 books, it's my least favorite but I do have to say that I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would having to reread it again.

Ex-Isle by Peter Clines


The superheroes discover a group of survivors floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a floating island made of ships and vessels chained together. At the same time, a fire rips through part of The Mount and destroys a large portion of their crops. The group decides to split up: St. George, Zzzap and Corpse Girl will investigate the new group of survivors, and The Cerberus Team (Danielle/Cerberus, The Driver, and Gibbs) as well as some of the Unbreakable super-soldiers head to secure The Mount's new farmland. St. George's team find another superhero ruling over the survivors, brainwashed into believing the rest of the world is dead. At Eden, Danielle suspects the Unbreakables might be leading a coup to establish their own colony.


So far, the last of Clines' Ex-Heroes series books (I really, really hope he'll write more). Along with the great superhero action and creepy zombie horror found in the rest of the series, this book also explores the nature of leadership. Who should be in charge in a crisis, how should a leader hold power, what makes an effective leader, etc. Not only does St. George discover a hero that rules his people through fear because they've got no where else to go, but the story also jumps back into the early days of the zombie apocalypse to look at other characters and how they've either established or held on to their power and authority.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max The Art of Living Other People's Lives by Greg Dybec


As the year came to an end and after rereading a bunch of old series this year (and after such a strange, and somewhat harried ending, year), I thought I'd end the year with something funny. So, I dug under my bed for I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max. If you don't know, this book as well as his other two (Assholes Finish First and Hilarity Ensues) are Max's hilarious stories of drunken nights, picking up women, and other dumb shit people do in their twenties. I probably hadn't read it or any of his other books in many, many years but it seemed like a no-brainer that if I was looking for something funny, this was that book. Instead, I got through three or four stories into the book and it just wasn't the same. The crazy, insane stories just didn't hit me the way that I remember. I'm not saying I don't find the stories funny anymore, they're just not as hilarious as I remember. I would find myself smirking at stories I remember before needing to stifle a laugh or risk looking like a crazy person. It's the weirdest thing because it's not as if I've grown up a whole lot after all these years (at least I don't think so). I still love drunkenly reliving memories of other drunken nights when I'm hanging out with friends, so why should reading about someone else's drunken nights be any different?

Anyways, so I put the book back and went looking for something else. I ended up with The Art of Living Other People's Lives because I remember it not only being funny (what's funnier than finally catching a mouse in your apartment by getting it high?), but also relatable as Dybec recounts trying to fake his way as an underwear critic to secure a job; eavesdropping on strangers for story ideas and finding much more; and watching his grandparents get older. If this book sounds familiar, I know I read it before and I probably wrote a review of it a long time ago. It was a good book to end 2020 with, not just because it provided laughs to a year that really needed them, but also to remind me that there are people out there that understand, and you're not the only one out there going through theses struggles.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Books of 2020: Quarter 4, part 1

Well, like the previous 3 months, reading filled a lot of my free time from October through December.


First off, it took about a month and a half to finish the last 5 books of Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series. Also, just a fun thing to mention that has nothing to do with the stories, when I said before that I've had these books for a long time, I mean a really long time.

Just seeing how yellow the pages have gotten over the years shows how long I've had them. I also enjoyed the series so much that, I went out of my way to replace one of the books (second to the right) after accidentally tearing one of the pages rather than just live with a book that I'll rarely read with a torn page.


With a Tangled Skein by Piers Anthony

When Niobe Kaftan discovers that Satan was behind the murder of her husband, she vows revenge. Her opportunity comes in the form of an invitation from the Incarnation of Fate, an invitation to join their triad for the Office is Fate is held by three different people. Niobe accepts their offer, leaving behind her mortal life as well as her newborn son. Upon joining with the trinity, she assumes the role of Clotho, the youngest of the three women and the one who spins the thread of life. In this form, she learns about the other Incarnations and the roles of the other two aspects of Fate: Lachesis, the one who measures the threads of life, and Atropos, the one that cuts the threads. Though the youngest and most inexperienced, Niobe manages to thwart Satan's corruptions a few times. Eventually, Niobe decides to give up her office and return to her mortal life. After another lifetime raising her daughter and growing into middle age, she is again approached by the Incarnation of Fate and asked this time to take on the role of Lachesis. Not only will Niobe guide two other inexperienced aspects of Fate, but also confront Satan in Hell itself.


Writing this out, I didn't realize just how ... winding (I think that's a good word) this plot was. I'm sure the teaser on the back of the book is much more concise, better written, and gives away much less of the story but I couldn't figure out a place to stop without saying to myself, "No you need to talk about his part and how it leads into this other part to eventually get to the climax of the story." So, obviously one of the interesting things about the Office of Fate is that it's the first one in the series that allows a person to vacate the office of their own free will (Death is killed by their successor, and Time gives up the office when they get to the moment of their birth). I don't think it's explicitly stated, but it is probably to because no one wants to vacate an office only to step into a dead person's shoes as the one vacating the office takes on the remaining lifespan of the one stepping into the office.

This book is also the first with a female protagonist and a female Incarnation, and unfortunately (obviously looking back through the eyes of someone in 2021 to a book written in 1985) also contains a lot of sexism. Since Fate is typically an office held by three women, she is expected to handle all of the household chores of her Purgatory mansion, such as cooking and cleaning, while the other male incarnations have a staff to take care of those things. Further, Fate is expected to "service" the needs of the other male Incarnations. Though Niobe does say that she enjoys her time with Time, it's weird that she says it is expected of her since they work closely together and it would make working together easier.

This is also the first book (obviously we're three books into the series already) that I noticed a real connection between the characters. Niobe's son from her first marriage becomes the Magician Kaftan, Luna's father from On a Pale Horse. I can't think of a particular Marvel movie for comparison, but it's the movie where connections start to be made between the stories, when you think, "Oh, that's connected to what happened in this other movie. Are they all connected somehow?" Will this all be building toward a final conclusion involving all of the different protagonists?


Wielding a Red Sword
by Piers Anthony


Mym is a runaway prince looking to escape his kingdom and his royal duties. He joins with a traveling circus as a mime and juggler to hide his identity. Eventually he is caught and brought back to his kingdom to marry and eventually rule. It is at this point, about to again lose his chance at love and with his kingdom on the verge or war, the Red Sword presents itself to Mym. Mym takes the sword and accepts the office of the Incarnation of War. As Mars, Mym travels throughout the globe to supervise conflicts and even stops them if he feels the battle, and thus the suffering, unnecessary. It is Mym's personal life that eventually leads him into Satan's ploy, trapping the new incarnation in Hell. It is here that Mym must confront Satan to free himself, and then regain control over his office on Earth.


This book bore a similar early plot line to On a Pale Horse, in that a lot of the Mym's first duties are spent dealing with specific, individual situations that don't necessary flow into the next but rather reveal more about Mym's duties, the role of War, and introduce him to the other Incarnations. While on the comparison, Mym, as Mars, proves a contradiction to his Office. Instead of promoting war in all its forms, Mym will stop or abate conflict if he deems it unnecessary. He eventually finds that war is an essential part of human nature as, without it, some suffering will be allowed to continue.

As I said about With a Tangled Skein, connections are starting to be made and now that we're in book 4, we see more of the picture start to form. Mym, while traveling with the circus, falls in love with Orb, the daughter of Niobe Kaftan. Mym also possess the snake ring that Orlene gives to Norton in Bearing an Hourglass.


Being a Green Mother by Piers Anthony


Orb Kaftan knew all her life about the power of her music. From her voice to the instruments she plays, her music can magically reach out and affect those that hear it. Her special ability causes her to seek out the most powerful song, The Llano. The mythical song has been said to calm conflict and to heal the sick, working miracles wherever it is sung. Orb travels the globe, not only searching for the song, but helping those she meets along the way. It is eventually revealed that Orb is being groomed to take over the Office of Nature. Her growing power attracts the attention of Satan who seeks to marry her as the old prophecy decreed. Satan's plans are interrupted by another powerful singer, Natasha, who eventually wins Orb's love. But is Natasha's love real, or just a bigger part of Satan's designs on her?


To be honest, reading this book kinda felt like watching "Avengers: Infinity War" when you really just want to skip ahead to "Avengers: Endgame": I know that I need to read this one since it is the next one in the series but I really want to get to the next book. Being a Green Mother is a little slow in the beginning mostly because a lot of it is a sort-of retelling of previous events in the series just from Orb's point of view. It isn't until halfway through that we leave these events behind and we focus on Orb's search for The Llano. I think it also felt slow because, unlike the other books, Orb doesn't come into the Office of Nature until almost the very end of the book. Though she was technically a "mother" as she traveled the world helping and nurturing those she encountered, I really would've liked to see Orb in the role of Gaea, the Green Mother, one of the most powerful incarnations even according to the other 5 incarnations.


For Love of Evil by Piers Anthony


Parry is a sorcerer's apprentice during the Middle Ages when he is forced into hiding as a friar during the Inquisition. He spends the next several decades with the Church studying evil and even manages to foil some of the plots of Lucifer. After foiling Lucifer's attempt on his life and soul, Parry assumes the office of the Incarnation of Evil. As Satan, Parry spends the next several centuries tempting mortals to discover their hidden vices, reorganizing Hell so that sinners are appropriately punished, and striking at the other Incarnations for embarrassing him when he first took charge of the Office. It is during this time when he learns the true nature of the struggle between the Office of Evil and the Office of Good, and strikes a wager with the angel Gabriel for power. But, can Parry corrupt the specific soul needed to win the ultimate battle?


This is my favorite book in the entire series! It took a lot not to write just a full summary of the book. I think I might've re-read this book the most, even without going back and re-reading all the previous ones first which is probably how my original copy got torn and needed to be replaced. That Satan is the protagonist not just because the reinterpreted "rebelling against the tyranny of God" that some stories have used, but because Parry is actually just a good person trying to do good is a great interpretation of the role. Also, thankfully, this book doesn't spend too much time recapping the events of the previous books with Satan's attempts to embarrass or corrupt the other Incarnations.

I know it's a spoiler (whatever, does anyone even read my reviews of these books), but my favorite part comes when Parry searches for the Demon Banishing spell. Without the spell, he cannot take over the Office as it allows him to control all the demons of Hell. When he learns that there is no such spell and that he just needs to make the demons believe that he can banish them, that his power (and the power of every office holder before him) is built upon lies as apparently the Office of Evil has no power - even rereading that part for the whatever time this was, it still had me going "what the fuck!" especially after all the trouble Parry causes over the last 5 books.

Also, if you're curious, and I'm probably misremembering this part, but the reason the cover art for the last two books changed is due to a change in publisher. I skipped the Author's Note section on these re-reads but I'm pretty sure the first 5 books were published by one company and the last two were published by another one.


And Eternity by Piers Anthony


After the death of her child, Orlene commits suicide. In the afterlife, however, Orlene learns that the soul of her baby was taken by Nox, the Incarnation of Night, who refuses to relinquish the soul. Instead, she offers Orlene the chance to cure the child of the illness that killed it and give him a new life if she can complete a seemingly impossible task: gather specific items from each of the other seven incarnations. On her journey, Orlene will be guided by Jolie, the ghost of a Middle Ages's peasant and mistress of Satan, and, to exist in the mortal realm, they'll possess the body of Vita, a teenage runaway, drug-addict, and prostitute. The three of them will encounter each Incarnation, attempting to acquire the objects Nox seeks while learning about the hardships each Incarnation faces in their immortal duties. The journey not only has implications for Orlene but the rest of the world and afterlife too.


And Eternity is the seventh book in the series, and the last one amongst the Incarnations of Day (I've never read the last one about Nox, the Incarnation of Night, that was released almost 20 years after this book was published). Obviously, it's really hard to write about this book without giving away spoilers so this is a warning, but I figure you know what's coming anyways. As this is the last book and there's only one office that hasn't been covered yet, yes, this one is about the Incarnation of Good, aka God. As we learned in the last book, as well as in this one, God doesn't interfere with humanity not because he honors the covenant between Satan and him, but because he doesn't care as he is too consumed with his own greatness. Like in Being a Green Mother, we don't get to see the much about the Office of Good since the role isn't taken over until the very end. What we get to see though is the journey to become worthy of the Office of Good, to learn about the struggles not only of the other Incarnations but, by extension, the struggles of humanity.

 

For some reason, I feel like I should write something to wrap this all together as it's not only one of my favorite series but also influenced my writing and even, to some extent, my outlook on life. After the Animorphs series and I guess before Marvel started its cinematic universe, this series falls between as one of my experiences with an extended universe type story. Most book series keep one character as the main protagonist throughout the entire series but this one had a new one every book and sometimes didn't even feature characters from the previous book. The writing was great, though a little dated at times (especially looking back on it with my 2021 values). The way that the series blended both technology and magic to make both equally relevant in society was great, that it is mostly personal preference that determined which one a person might prefer. The idea that not only are there higher powers that influence and, to some extent, impact our lives isn't necessarily a new concept. The idea that these powers are held by ordinary people just trying to do their best makes it really relatable and, personally, I find it kinda comforting when thinking about these kinds of things.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Crimson Death

The five of us entered the arena, an enclosed circle of hard-packed dirt surrounded by marble walls covered in runes and glyphs painted in blood. In the center sat our target upon a plain block of stone: an old man in broken armor and wielding a rusted sword. Though he looked weak and frail, the hundreds of corpses scattered around him told us there was more to the man. Some I recognized as famous or up-and-coming Hunters, all of them still in armor and many still clutching their weapons. Some had already been reduced to unrecognizable bones. Other corpses were bodies of monsters: werewolves still covered with fur; vampires with their flesh decayed to give us a look at their fangs; giant ogres; and even a dragon, its petrified bones partially buried in the dirt.

My four companions approached, brandishing their weapons. I hung back wary of the old man, and curious as to why The Hunter Guild placed such a high bounty on one trapped man. The old man finally looked up from his seat, a haunted look in his eyes. "Please stop," he said in a voice barely more than a whisper.

Gareth, a giant bruiser hefted his two-headed great axe and laughed. "Sorry old man, but a job is a job. The guild is paying a fortune to the one that brings back your head," he said with a laugh. The other three laughed along with him.

The twang of a bowstring punctuated their laughter. At that distance, I expected to see the shaft of the arrow sticking out of the old man's eye. Instead it appeared in the old man's free hand. With a flex of his fingers he snapped it in half and dropped the pieces into the dirt. The old man stood with his head lowered, the point of the sword still scraping at the dirt. "I gave you your warning to turn back. If you're just here for the money, then you might as well slit your own throats and save me the trouble," he growled without raising his head.

The spearman on Gareth's right approached first, his polearm held at the ready. He circled away from the group to attack the old man from the side and leave the team in the old man's blindspot. What people tend to forget about spears is that it's not just the length of the spear but how swiftly the man wielding it can move that determines its range. I'd seen this man cover several feet in a hurry even carrying the eight-foot pole.

Suddenly he launched himself forward, the point making a beeline for the old man. The old man was faster. An experienced fighter he stepped toward the spearman's thrust, knocking the wooden pole away with the rusted sword. He planted a different sword into the spearman's chest, one he must've picked off of the many corpses lying in the dirt. The spearman staggered back, releasing his grip on his weapon. The spear hit the ground and a second later so did its owner, shock on his face and a hole in his chest. I paused trying to bring my focus back to the whole fight, what happened to the sword?

A loud, dull thud answered my question as it struck through the bowman on Gareth's left. The blade ended up halfway through the man's stomach The old man had not forgotten about the other three men and threw the sword like a dart. More impressive was the fifteen feet the piece of steel covered before striking its target with lethality.

The swordsman in our group approached next. His single-edged sword glinted in the sunlight, a contrast to his opponent's rusted one. "I'm not sure what you are, but an honorable swordsman would never allow their sword to fall into such a state as yours," he said as he approached cautiously having already seen the deaths of two of his comrades. He stalked slowly with his sword raised, ready to strike.

The old man confronted the swordsman in a much different style, his sword held almost forgotten at his side while his free hand swung casually. Even in full armor, he walked at an even pace, stepping over bones and bodies with ease.

Our swordsman started to circle the old man, looking for a weakness and a moment to strike. Rather than copy his approach as other swordsmen would, the old man continued to head straight for him. Finally sensing his opportunity, the swordsman struck slicing downward upon the old man.

The old man however wasn't surprised and parried the blade aside. The swordsman struck again with a horizontal slash that the old man nimbly avoided. Then came a thrust. The old man stepped aside and up toward the swordsman, hitting him with an armored shoulder. The swordsman staggered back and the old man swung his sword low, catching him in the leg. A normal sword would've taken the man's leg off. Instead, the rusted blade knocked the other man off-balance and he fell to the ground. The old man was upon him, battering the fallen man with blow after blow filled with an endurance that should not have been possible. Between the swordsman's chainmail armor and the old man's rusted sword though, none of the strikes cut into flesh.

Slicing and stabbing aren't the only ways for a sword to deliver a killing blow, however. Finally, the old man stepped back and the swordsman's ragged, wheezing breath was the only sound we could hear in the arena. The old man must've broken ribs that punctured a lung, as well as shattered countless other bones too. "I never said I was a swordsman, but I am the survivor," the old man said as he delivered a hammer blow that crushed the fallen man's skull.

Both Gareth and I stood in shock as three of our comrades lay dead at the hands of one old man in less than a minute. The only difference between the two of us being our proximity to our potential executioner. "What the hell are you?" said Gareth as a quiver in his body shook the axe in his hands. He started to back slowly away but only made it a few steps before fear froze up his body.

A change had come over the old man. Physically he still looked like nothing more than a frail knight, but now there was something else about him. Something terrifying. I would run for the doors if I hadn't heard them lock behind us. And if I wasn't so excited. As if after all the men and monsters that died by my hand, I'd finally found a creature worth hunting. But more than that, there was something about the old man that called to me.

His hand gripped his sword with a renewed strength. A smile filled his face full of yellow-stained teeth. "The Guild calls it The Crimson Death," the old man said, a levity in his voice. "It's a mantle that seeks out and attaches itself to only the most proficient of killers. One that has slain enemies on the battlefield, hunted down monsters that walk in the shadows, even cut down their own comrades. The mantle feeds itself through blood and death. That is what sustains me. That is what you find yourself standing against, a being made only for battle and murder."

"Why did they offer a bounty if they've already trapped you," asked Gareth as if words might keep him alive longer where action clearly wouldn't.

The Crimson Death laughed. "The mantle must be sustained or it either moves on to a new host or dies. And the guild wants it sustained and trapped as their ultimate weapon against the night. Monster slaying. War fighting. These things don't happen as often enough anymore. The guild uses some of our more over-confident Hunters as small morsels to sustain me, luring you here with dreams of riches and fame."

 Gareth stood frozen while the old man closed the distance and now started to circle around him, his breath right on the other man's neck. "You're a sacrifice to me. Your destiny to merely join the other corpses that surround us."

The brute hunter regained his nerve, jolted to life either by the closeness of his opponent or the realization of his doomed fate. He swung his heavy axe, a blow I'd seen fell trees so thick I couldn't wrap my arms around it. The old man stopped it with the flat of his sword and directed it downward. Meeting with a strength he'd never before encountered, Gareth lost the grip on the axe and one side buried itself in the dirt. The Crimson Death dropped his sword and wrapped his hands around the back of Gareth's head. He jerked the bigger man's head down, seeking to guillotine the brute's throat on his own axe. Gareth let the blade cut into his palms as he braced himself on his own axe to stop it from getting to his throat.

A clang rang out through the arena as my knife bounced off the old man's armor. Stunned, the old man paused his attempt on Gareth's life to stare at me. "Ah, I'd forgotten that there were five of you. I thought perhaps you would slink off someplace to die," the old man said with a smile.

I smiled just as wide to match the monster. "I heard them lock the gates when we came in, and based on what you said earlier, I doubt they'll re-open it. Besides this looks like it'll be a lot of fun." I drew my own single-edged sword and held it out to my side, an invitation of challenge.

The old man released Gareth's head, shoving him aside with contempt. He hefted his rusted sword and rested it on his shoulder. "You seem different than the others. You're not here for the gold, are you?"

Our swords met with a clash that echoed across the arena. "I heard there was a monster that I could really test my skills against," I said as our swords ground against each other. Our eyes locked together. For a brief moment the predatory smugness disappeared and I saw something in them I didn't quite recognize. We parted and immediately I struck again, hoping to catch the old man off-balance and unaware. He wasn't fooled, however, and parried my strike. I rolled away and avoided the counter-strike that was sure to follow.

Once again, I took note of the corpses scattered in the dirt as I regained my feet. I bore the scars of battle from killing similar monsters and my fair share of humans as well. Different creatures required different hunting tactics, even humans. The Crimson Death would have learned all these tactics too in all the years it survived.

"I can see now why The Guild offered such a large bounty for your head," I said.

The old man continued to smile as he stalked toward me. "Were you not paying attention? I'm The Guild's monster. The bounty is just a lure."

"Or perhaps The Guild is looking for a new monster to call their own. A new killing machine," I said. I came back with another strike, a slash coming up and across the old man's body. Predictably he knocked it away with the flat of his sword. Anticipating a quick counter-strike, I spun but stayed within range to deliver a thrust at his chest. The Crimson Death's years of experience saw through my attack and managed to adjust his own slash into a strong parry. My sword flew from my hand and landed twenty feet away.

I had enough time to manage a "Shit" before the old man knocked the wind out of me with a shot to my stomach. A heavy weight slammed onto my back and knocked me face first into the dirt. As quickly as I could, I flipped onto my back and blindly swung my legs hoping to surprise the old man as he came in for the kill. Instead my feet kicked nothing but air.

The old man appeared at my side. "A good attempt. An inexperienced fighter might've made the mistake of going right for the kill. I however, am not that," he said, his smile never faltering. He lifted a sword he must've picked off a corpse and plunged it into my chest.

Pain erupted in my chest as the steel made its way through my body and out my back. Unfortunately it was a relatively thin blade and must've missed my heart or I would've been dead. Perhaps he got a lung, I thought, as I struggled to cough up the blood slowly choking me. The old man straddled my soon to be dead body and pulled a knife from his belt. "You should've heeded my warning and walked away. Instead you'll die here, helpless along with the rest of your comrades," he said, bringing the knife to my throat.

I coughed again. "Two things," I struggled to say, "Number one. A Hunter is always armed for a hunt." I jerked myself upward along the blade pining me down and stabbed him between the ribs with a bone I'd picked off the ground. The Crimson Death howled with rage. "Number two. Not all my comrades are dead," I said.

A giant, two-handed axe swung through the air and took the old man's head clean off. His body fell forward, limp and lifeless. I heard the head bounce once, twice and then roll to a stop. Above me stood Gareth, his axe still held at the ready, perhaps in case the headless body got back up.

I stared up at the giant, then at the sword in my chest. "Pull it out and help me up," I manage to say without passing out from the pain.

Gareth just shrugged and yanked the sword from my chest. He pushed the old man's corpse off of me and then lifted me to my feet. I placed the rag he tossed me over the hole in my chest.

"Let's get out of here and get our reward," Gareth said, turning to the arena doors. We trudged to the doors, Gareth pulling further and further away with every step. "By the way, didn't that old guy mention some sort of supernatural mantle?" he said with a laugh. "If it were real, wouldn't I get his power now?"

I was weak and barely able to breathe or walk. I knew that with my injuries I shouldn't have been alive much less able to make it this far to the gate. "As the mantle sees it, technically I killed the old man and you were just my tool. So, the mantle is truly mine. All that's left is for me to claim it." I felt a tingle jolt through my body, a surge of power, and I no longer hurt. Forcing myself forward at a suicidal pace I lunged at Gareth and drove him to the ground. My hand found a knife Gareth kept strapped to his belt and I put it into his neck repeatedly.

I rolled myself off of Gareth's corpse, breathing heavily. I removed the rag from the wound in my chest and stared down at it. Blood continued to flow but I needed to see it. With every breath I felt more and more of my life slip away. Suddenly something settled upon me, like a heavy blanket. The wound in my chest closed up and I instantly felt healed. Then I felt my smile widen, almost supernaturally big, and I knew that my gambit paid off. I picked myself off the ground and turned back away from the arena doors. I'd cut down humans and monsters alike. I'd done battle with the supernatural. I'd even cut down my own comrade that saved my life. I was now the King of Killers, The Crimson Death. I settled myself upon the stone in the center of the arena, awaiting the next challenge.

 

Based off the Reddit Writing Prompt: A group approaches a frail old man in broken armor and a rusty sword. All around him are dead bodies. He whispers, "Please stop." or something like that (it was a long prompt). When I first saw this, I knew I wanted to write a story for it, mostly because I was and am still struggling with two superhero stories that are very dialogue heavy and I needed something with more action. As I started writing, I got the inspiration to use an idea from back when I was in high school: The Crimson Death. That's how you can tell I thought of it in high school, what a lame-ass name. So, The Crimson Death is supposed to be a human transformed into a monster thanks to the sheer amount of killing s/he has done. It's supposed to be the ultimate killing machine in other stories I've thought up but never written. Well, anyways, I got to write a bunch of action scenes so that should satisfy that urge for a while. And yes, I know that the whole section involving the old man killing the main character's comrades could've easily been cut out as it really contributes nothing to the story, but like I said I was looking to write action scenes, so those are staying in. While I still have to finish the superhero stories, I also started on another one that that is also very dialogue heavy so hopefully this will sustain me through both of those. On another added note, I started re-reading "Ex-Heroes" and I remember Peter Clines, in one of his author's notes at the end of the story, remarking that he came up with a lot of the superheroes writing comics as a kid. I'm not sure if this had anything to do with inspiring me to reuse a character I came up with so, so long ago, but maybe.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Emberwilde Comes: Boulder Badge Preliminary

Brock's subordinate, a man dressed in hiking gear, blocked my way as I stepped through the Pewter City gym doors. "Back for another beating so soon? I'd thought by now you learned your lesson and went back to wherever you came from," he said with a smirk.

I ignored his comments and issued my challenge. Again. "Emberwilde comes to challenge the Pewter City gym leader for the Boulder Badge," I said loud enough for everyone in the gym to hear.

The Hiker laughed and stepped away from the group stationed near the doorway. Anytime someone entered one of them immediately challenged the newcomer, ensuring that only those worthy trainers get the chance to challenge the master of the gym. As we walked further into the gym, rock-type pokemon and their partners trained and honed their skills. Giant Onyx crushed boulders with their snake-like bodies and several Graveler tossed rocks through the air with ease. The constant crashing and crushing pounded in my ears and caused my teeth to grind.

Finally we got to the back of the gym and the arena floor. I walked over to the challenger's square on one end and the Hiker made his way to the opposite side. Between us lay 150 feet of gravel and sand with enormous boulders littered sparsely along the field. Ideal conditions for any rock-type pokemon.

"So, Bearer," shouted the Hiker, "am I going to get to see the famous Emberwilde you keep bragging about this time? Or just another weakling?" The small crowd around us laughed. Some of the pokemon and their trainers stopped their workouts and joined to watch the upcoming battle.

"Emberwilde refuses to waste his time playing with you and your pokemon, and will only battle the master of the gym. You will have to contend yourself with one of his subordinates who I'm sure will be a match for any pokemon you have" I said as I grabbed a pokeball from my belt.

The Hiker stood ready with his own pokeball in hand. "It wasn't a match for me the last several times. I doubt this time will be any different," he said. Then he threw his pokeball into the arena. As it flew, the Hiker shouted, "Go, Geodude!" In a flash of red light, a geodude appeared in the middle of the field. The pokemon stood almost a foot and a half tall and resembled a gray rock with arms.

I tossed my pokeball and a red flash revealed my Caterpie. Though it stood almost as tall, the green worm weighed a fifth that of its opponent. This would be like a heavyweight boxer fighting a child, and based on some of our previous battles it could turn out that way again.

Still, I couldn't help but smile. "Okay, Caterpie," I said directing it at the opponent, "just like we trained for."

The Hiker was just as confident, his laugh now giving his belly a jiggle. "Look Geodude, it's your favorite punching bag. Now, just like the last time. Use Tackle!" The geodude launched itself forward in an attempt to slam its entire mass against Caterpie.

Countering with a String Shot attack, Caterpie blinded Geodude for a split-second giving the bug-pokemon enough time to scuttle out of the way. The geodude missed by inches and instead slammed into one of the rocks on the field. The rock exploded as the pokemon's momentum carried it through the obstacle.

Geodude wiped the webbing from its face and re-oriented itself on Caterpie, though obviously a little dazed. The pokemon charged again, and again the caterpie countered with a String Shot attack. Geodude managed to halt its attack this time instead of slamming into another boulder and injuring itself in the process.

"Change of tactics, Geodude," said the Hiker, "let's try Rock Throw."

There's no way geodude could lift one of those boulders, let alone throw one, I thought. Then the geodude launched itself high into the air above us. Oh, it's throwing itself at us, I realized. "Caterpie," I said attempting to get my pokemon's attention, "keep at it. Use String Shot to keep slowing down Geodude's speed." Caterpie obeyed, coating the geodude in more webbing. It wouldn't slow the rock-pokemon's plummet but hopefully it would start to weigh the pokemon down for its future attacks.

Unfortunately we misjudged the geodude's rate of fall. By the time I noticed and ordered Caterpie to dodge, Geodude was almost upon it. Caterpie managed to dodge the brunt of the attack but the shockwave from the geodude slamming into the ground sent my pokemon flying several feet.

"Damn, I hadn't planned for that," I said as my pokemon righted itself. But, right now, there was nothing else I could to. "Stick with the strategy, Caterpie."

Caterpie launched another String Shot attack before Geodude jumped back into the air. The rock-pokemon didn't go as high as the last time but it still came down hard, leaving a crater upon impact. Again, Caterpie dodged but was still hit by the force of his opponent's impact on the field. 

By the time Caterpie got back up, Geodude was already airborne. From the look on its face and how it wobbled, I could tell my pokemon was still stunned from the last strike. This time, Caterpie couldn't dodge in time. The rock pokemon came down like a meteor upon the green worm. A cloud of sand and gravel filled the air, blocking everyone's view of the battle. Suddenly, Geodude hopped out of the debris cloud but Caterpie's fate still remained uncertain.

"Get back in there Geodude. One more hit. Leave no doubt," the Hiker said. Geodude nodded to its trainer and launched itself back into the fog for another blow.

I flashbacked to one of Emberwilde's more extreme training days. The charizard attacked and all of the subordinates I'd caught in the Viridian Forest would do nothing except dodge and evade. Though Caterpie could launch itself a foot with some quickness, it still wasn't enough to get out of the way and it ended up stomped and smashed and burned all day. Eventually, out of sheer frustration, Caterpie fired a String Shot attack at Emberwilde's face, violating the rules and upsetting his lord. Emberwilde burned the gunk off his snout and then whipped his tail around, sending Caterpie through a tree. The charizard took to the air, landing heavy in front of the downed worm. Then he reached out a clawed hand and congratulated Caterpie. While other pokemon could dodge around their opponent's attacks until they found an opening to exploit, Caterpie realized it couldn't do that and struck back, attempting to blind its attacker instead. Besides, the Celestial Fire clan prided itself on offense and anything you did to set yourself up to be in a position of attack was commended. That's when I knew Caterpie would not only be a perfect addition to our team but would fit in just fine in the Tartarus Isles.

"Caterpie!" I shouted, as much as a warning as for encouragement. Suddenly there was a flash of light within the unsettled dust. Then came an impact though instead of the familiar sound of a boulder pounding upon the ground, it sounded closer to a rock striking an anvil. The Clang! echoed throughout the gym. Geodude flew back out of the haze and landed hard on the ground, obviously dazed. The entire gym went silent: the Hiker, the crowd, the other pokemon training, everyone.

The dust finally settled and sitting in the middle of it was a shiny green cocoon. I looked over at the Hiker. "Now this match is over," I said.

The Hiker just grunted. "So what, your Caterpie evolved to a Metapod. This changes nothing. Geodude, use Rock Throw."

Geodude started to launch itself into the air. "Metapod, use String Shot," I said, utilizing the same strategy. Webbing jetted from the green cocoon and coated the other pokemon. What the Hiker failed to realize was that though it was the same strategy, now that Caterpie evolved to Metapod, its attacks were stronger and more effective. The string shot that just added some extra weight now weighed the opponent down until it could barely move. The rock pokemon managed to show a short hop but wasn't able to launch itself into the air as it had before.

"Metapod use Harden," I said. Metapod shot the webbing upward, letting it fall and coat its cocoon. Unlike the string shot that stayed somewhat loose and sticky, Metapod was able to solidify it quickly making its shell even tougher and more defensible.

The Hiker growled, frustrated. "Ok Geodude, we'll just have to use the basics. Get over there and hit that Metapod with a Tackle attack," he said. The Geodude started toward my pokemon though much, much slower than before, almost a crawling pace. Seconds dragged by as the rock pokemon labored toward my new Metapod, its speed hindered significantly by the string shot holding it back and weighing it down. "You're done for now kid," said the Hiker as Geodude finally dragged itself in range of use its attack. "Your Metapod is just a sitting duck."

I smiled as his geodude put itself exactly where I needed it to be, in range for our own counterattack. Metapods, being typically stationary in the wild, are easy to overlook as a threat. Its predecessor Caterpie is even less threatening as just a tiny green worm scuttling slowly along the forest floor. What those that don't respect bug pokemon often overlook is that Caterpie's first attack is Tackle, a relatively weak attack that launches itself a short distance with very little mass to back it up.

However it doesn't just forget the move when it evolves to a Metapod and now it had a lot more weight to deliver, like a featherweight boxer wearing loaded gloves. Hardening the cocoon only added to the power of the attack. Our only issue now that Metapod was a cocoon was range as it couldn't launch itself as far. Luckily the geodude solved the issue for us by dragging itself closer, and, thanks to the previous continuous string shot, doing so at a relatively slow pace.

As if thinking the same thing, both the Hiker and I shouted simultaneously, "Now Tackle attack!" and our pokemon launched themselves forward. Force is equal to Mass multiplied by Acceleration. I was sure the geodude still weighed more than Metapod, but I hoped my recent efforts would give my pokemon the advantage in acceleration. The two pokemon collided and the impact was felt around the gym. They broke apart, both landing relatively on their feet and unfazed but everyone knew that last attack decided the battle. The seconds dragged by and neither pokemon moved, hesitantly watching the other for a show of weakness.

Uncertainly I called out, "Metapod, use String Shot," I said, hoping the simple attack was enough to not only tip the health of the opponent but also a show of strength as well. Metapod remained motionless. One second. Two. Three. Four. Finally a thin thread shot forth and it was enough. Once it touched Geodude the pokemon faltered and collapsed. The crowd erupted and I barely heard the referee declare Metapod the victor.

Both the Hiker and I returned our pokemon to their respective pokeballs. They offered me the chance to have Metapod healed prior to the face off with the gym leader but I declined. Much like Metapod who he trained so vigorously, Emberwilde would need no second to assist him in victory.



Slowly continuing along with my Pokemon Fanfic, "Emberwilde Comes." If you've somehow managed to keep track of this series after so much time between chapters (which I hope you have as it's the only thing here I'm proud of) you know that we are now caught up to the first chapter I ever wrote for this series, the Pewter City Gym battle. I do have some sort of plan going forward but this is a pretty major milestone, getting back to where I originally started. Also, if this story somehow feels both planned and rushed at the same time, well I guess it kind of is. I've been sitting on this idea for a while (as well as what I'm planning to be the next two chapters) but just never got around to writing it, instead focusing on other stories off of Reddit Writing Prompts. In my attempts to get one story a week (actually I was really trying for a new story every Tuesday), I realized I'd gotten stuck on the superhero story I'd started last week and just didn't know how to go forward with it. So, I was looking for a sort of palette-cleaner, something I could quickly work on that wouldn't (hopefully) be utter garbage in such a short period of time. And so, here we are.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Mercy part 4/4

 "Doubts," she said and I nodded. She smiled back reassuringly. "We all have them. Even me. Remember what I said about limitations. We aren't just limited to how much we can help someone, but also how often. Every day I find myself wondering if I hadn't used The Gift to save one person perhaps I could've used it to help another."

"Then how do you decide?" I asked, my hand still hovering over Mr. Gilroy.

"Save those you can," she said, "and ease the rest. You can't save everyone but there are still ways to help those you couldn't save."

I looked back down at Mr. Gilroy, laying in agony and still I doubted. "What if this isn't what he wants?"

Mom put a reassuring hand on my head and messed up my hair just like Dad used to when I asked a silly question. "Well that's why we have mouths," she said and motioned with her head to the dying man.

"Um, Mr. Gilroy," I said. When he didn't respond, I repeated, "Mr. Gilroy," though this time a little louder.

"Ugh," he grunted, obvious that the painkillers given to him earlier by the nurse was wearing off.

"My mom said that I could help you, but I'm not sure if it is what you want," I said. Cowardice turned my eyes, fearful of making eye contact with a man on his deathbed. My body burned with shame. Then I spotted a lone vase sitting on a stool, flowers standing in the water. I picked one by the stem and held it so Mr. Gilroy could see. Then I focused and The Mercy took hold. The flower died. I looked back at Mr. Gilroy, the man staring back at me with wide eyes.

"Is. It. Pain. Ful?" he asked, needing to pause between every syllable.

My mother shook her head. "I don't believe so. I watched my brother perform The Mercy for several patients. From the outside, it appears that you will merely slip off to sleep," she said. She gestured to the machines and monitors. "I've never seen a spike in any of the readings either to convince me the body is in any sort of distress."

The man nodded weakly. Then, as if using the last of his strength, his hand reached out to the end of its chain and clamped onto mine. His eyes met mine and I understood.

"Don't worry, honey," mom said as she wrapped her arms around me. "I'm right here with you."

In her embrace I felt my body calm. Under Mr. Gilroy's reassuring gaze, I felt my confidence rise. I gripped the man's hand tight and willed The Mercy into action.

Mr Gilroy's eyes widened for the briefest moment and then slowly began to shut. The seconds between his laborious breaths grew longer, his chest rising less frequently. His grip on my hand slowly loosened. Next to me, the beeps monitoring his heartbeats never spiked as mom predicted. Instead it stayed constant, and slowly the silence between beeps grew longer until eventually letting out a single long, dull tone. Through it all, I did my best to keep my eyes on his, or at least on his face. This was his death wish, after all, and it seemed shameful to not be with him in the end.

Mom gave me a squeeze and I knew it was over, The Mercy having run its full course. Reverently I placed Mr. Gilroy's hand down upon the bed. I turned to her and she pulled me tight against her body. I don't know when I'd started crying but when I realized I wasn't sure the tears would ever stop.

"It won't get any easier, it never will and never should," mom said holding me tight. "But I'll be right here with you until you grow into your power and no longer need my help."

I pulled away, wiping the tears from my eyes. I looked into the mom's eyes and knew she'd be right there with me. I turned back to the man in the bed, Mr. Gilroy finally resting in peace. Though he probably believed me to have helped him, it was I that would never forget his name or his sacrifice to a young boy just trying to find his way in the world.

 


Using a really, really old Reddit Writing Prompt, something like "Your family's gift is to heal with a touch. You've been practicing on plants hoping for your power to manifest one day. Except, one day, the plants die." (Yeah, it was a really long one) Anyways, the actual prompt is several months old, I think, I'm not sure and I'm not going back to look. As it happens, when I'm running out of pages in a notebook, I tend to go back to see if there are any unfinished stories worth finishing. I remember when I first saw this prompt I immediately knew that The Mercy would be a branch from The Gift and of course you used it to kill people as the prompt suggested. But the prompt itself got a bunch of responses so I never got around to responding. A lot of them, if I remember correctly, were the "use your power to punish the wicked" type stories that I didn't care for (like they seemed really revenge driven). It was only upon rewriting that I decided to set the scene in a prison, as a way to address the "kill the bad people" types. And I know, I say this all the time, even though it's a conversation, there's a lot of dialogue throughout. Maybe I'm just not the talkative type but I feel like there should be more going on even when the scene is just people talking to each other.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Mercy part 3/4

 For the first time I could remember, I pushed myself out of her embrace not out of embarrassment but out of anger. "You're asking me to kill a man, some stranger I don't even know," I said glaring at her as if she were a monster. And perhaps she was a monster. What kind of parent asks their 15 year old child to kill someone. "And for what reason? To punish him? You want to turn me into a monster that goes around killing the bad people!"

She shook her head and smiled. "You kids still think the world is split between good and evil like those comic books you love to read. The Mercy isn't meant to punish the wicked. Mr. Gilroy is serving his punishment for the crime he committed. Then he developed his illness. The corrections board didn't follow my treatment instructions and it progressed too far for him to ever recover." She turned to face the man. "He's in constant pain. There's nothing more we can do for him."

My hands trembled, angry. Angry that such a burden was placed on me for a curse I never asked for. Angry that I'd never be normal like the rest of my family. Angry that I knew she was holding something from me. Just so angry. And in that anger I lashed out. "Why can't you use The Gift to heal him? Why can't you call someone else to do it? What did I do wrong? Is it because you won't get paid if you save a criminal? That he just doesn't have the right insurance plan?"

My head recoiled as an explosion struck my face. I don't think mom realized she slapped me until she saw me clutching my cheek. In her eyes burned a rage I'd never seen in her before. "Don't you ever speak to me that way," she said, her hand raised and shaking. She lowered her hand and closed her eyes, taking deep breaths. The silence stretched and the world stood frozen until she opened her eyes. The rage in them still lingered like a threatening storm but her voice was calm. "'Save those you can. Ease the rest.' That is the Healer's Creed. We are Healers but all of us have our limitations. Your father knew his limitations -" she stopped, forcing back a tear.

Mom walked over to me and bent to a knee. She'd never talked about how Dad died, just that he was a brave man when he passed. She looked up at me and for the first time told me the truth. It poured from her like a waterfall. "Your father knew his limitations. The Gift tells us when we've hit our limit and can do no more for our patients. One night he tried to push himself passed it to save a woman under his care. He knew the injuries she sustained were life-threatening and he'd never attempted anything like it before. But he couldn't step back and watch her die. So he placed his hands upon her with The Gift. After a few hours, he died. His heart just gave out and he collapsed on the floor. The woman managed to hold on for another day and then she died too."

The burden finally eased, she stood and looked back to Mr. Gilroy lying in the hospital bed. Handcuffs manacled him to the bed, useless though they were. "'Save those you can. Ease the rest.' It is our creed for a reason. We can't fight against our limitations, bravely though your father did try. We can only save those our individual Gifts will allow."

I moved to stand next to my mom, taking her hand. "Is that what I'm supposed to be? The second part of the creed? 'Ease the rest'," I said, still watching Mr. Gilroy.

She gripped my hand tighter. "Your uncle is the same, possessed with The Mercy. Though the rest of the family shuns him, I understand the burden placed on my brother. The same that's now placed upon you."

With a gentle tug, mom pulled me forward and we walked to Mr. Gilroy's bedside. The man still lay flat, a bead of sweat running down his head. He turned to face us, his breath unsteady with every movement.

I looked away from the man and back to my mom. "So how does it work?" I asked.

She looked down at me. "Same as with The Gift. You just put your hand upon your patient and focus. The Mercy does the rest easing him into death."

I let go of her hand and reached out to take Mr. Gilroy's shackled hand. Then I stopped, hesitated, my hand hovering above his. I looked back and found my mom already staring back at me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Mercy part 2/4

 Instead of placing me immediately in handcuffs or turning me over to the nearest prison guard, we walked straight through the facility. We headed down a long hallway with flickering florescent lighting. Ahead of us stood two double doors with the words "Medical Ward" printed across them. Was she going to have me executed? As we approached the door, she gave me a look I'd seen all my life, the one that said to be quiet because what was happening next was important.

"Hi, Dr. Mallory," said one of the nurses with a smile as we walked through the doors. "I thought you weren't working today."

"I'm not. I brought my son Dennis to see Mr. Gilroy," she said with a hand on my back as she tried to maneuver the two of us passed the nurse.

Curiosity on her face, the nurse stayed in our path. "I administered Mr. Gilroy's pain medication earlier today. His vitals haven't changed since the last time you saw him." Then she looked from my mother to me. "Oh, is your son a Healer like you? Do you think his Gift is strong enough to help Mr. Gilroy?"

Mom shook her head and lowered her voice. "No not like me. He's like my brother, Frank."

The nurse's smile vanished, replaced at first with revulsion then a general frown. "Dr. Mallory, I'm not sure if it would be okay for you to see Mr. Gilroy, especially with your son with you. I don't think the wardens or the commission is going to be happy with that."

My mother stepped in closer, her voice vehement but low enough so that only the three of us could hear. "I don't give a damn what makes those bastards happy. If they'd gotten Mr. Gilroy the treatment like I'd recommended months ago, he wouldn't be in this situation. So get out of the way." Mom then stepped passed the stunned nurse and we entered into the room beyond.

Men in orange jumpsuits lay shackled to hospital beds lining the left and right walls of the room. Beeps and clicks mixed with hacking coughs and desperate moans. We walked down the center aisle to the back of the room. Mom stopped us at the last bed on the left and drew the curtains around the bed closed, cutting us off from the rest of the room.

"Hello Mr. Gilroy, how are you feeling today?" my mother asked in the tone she uses when she already knows the answer you're about to give her.

Mr. Gilroy lay in the bed, his chest rising and falling at irregular intervals. Every so often his body convulsed for a minute before settling back down. His eyes switched constantly from just barely open to darting around the room. "You know how it is, doc. Just another day waiting to die," said Mr. Gilroy between labored breaths.

"I'm really sorry to hear that, Mr. Gilroy. Truly I am," mom said as she returned the man's chart back to the table. She walked over to the man and put a hand on his shoulder. "Mr. Gilroy, I'm not going to sugarcoat this. We both understand that you are going to die here. Probably soon, and probably in a lot of pain." Mr. Gilroy just nodded. He knew he wasn't going anywhere. Even without any medical training I could see it. Mom continued, pulling me closer to the chained, bed-ridden man. "This is my son, Dennis. He's not a Healer like me. He doesn't possess The Gift. But I believe he can help you." Repulsed by her suggestion, I tried to pull away but her hand held me still. "If you agree to the procedure, he could ease your pain."

The prisoner looked from my mother to me, then back to her. "Ease my pain?" he said, putting a specific emphasis on the first word.

"Ease," mom repeated in the same tone.

I finally managed to break my mother's grip and stepped away from the bed. "No way. Do you know what you're asking me to do?" I said as I almost tangled myself in the curtains.

Mom walked over to me, putting herself between me and the dying inmate. "I do know what I'm asking of you, and don't worry, I'll be here with you the entire time," she said as she wrapped her arms around me.