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The Coming of the Nine Part IV
The Emerald of Alterra Prison

Prologue
The Boiling Point

        Much that is old is bound to come again and history forgotten inevitably brings upheaval. In 2041 the last such upheaval fell upon the Earth. Some called it 'apocalypse'. Were such a definition properly applied the death throes of the same hit a better mark.

         The prior decade had seen such an escalation of unexplained events at the dawn of 2040s few felt themselves capable of shock. In the year’s first three months fate’s abhorrence to certainty was put on full display. After those 90 days, the same masses who thought themselves past such reactions were as convinced the world was at it's end.

         Over 250 million citizens had vanished from the Earth, no pattern seemed relevant and no existing solution bore fruit. In America, the typically tenuous relations between authorities and her people had descended near anarchy as the prior proved impotent in the face of the crisis. Social services mobilized at the behest of humanity's “leaders” were more woefully inadequate than ever, mired by delay; the powerful debating minutiae in lieu of taking action.

         Vain pursuits of security were fast disproved. As one vanished, it took an instant and no barriers were effective. Someone blinked, another looked away, a third yawned, and so forth; in an instant, it was as if you had never been.

         As the scope of events dawned upon the dissatisfied masses, protests and riots tore our cities apart. As the answers of faith leaders ceased to resonate, myriad cults arose; many violent, aside several viable faiths focused on the crisis. As we struggled to find sense amid the strife, less stable governments fell and no one had reason to hope for change towards the better; such was the shared reality as spring approached. Feeling altogether powerless to affect our future, we seemed poised to break completely.

         By March, as civil unrest neared a boiling point hot enough a harbinger to spur the birth of anarchy the powerful shut down regular news sources. Soon Government approved “updates” began arriving weekly through couriers refusing to give their names. Soon people took up the epithet “Agent Smith” for the couriers. Read at work, on the TV, and in schools, the gist of the reports was always the same: “Don't panic… all will be solved soon… authorities are working on several promising...”

         ...No one listened.

         In the dimmest of shadows, however, one thing was whispered by the out-caste, dissatisfied and dissenting few capable of listing well enough to hear. No one knew why they said it, no one knew what it referred to. They just knew that when they spoke it, or when they heard it, it brought them rare comfort even in the most perilous of moments, so much so it became a sort of blessing. Unassuming and innocuous, no one with a mind closed, a heart broken or a soul corrupt would give credence when someone whispered...

         “So too will come the nine.”

ACT I

The End of Hope

Chapter One

Setting The Board

The Longest Game

         In a dimension slightly up and to the left of ours at the dawn of the month of April 2041 such calamity had come to the people of Earth chaos seemed inevitable. Across the globe in general and more than anywhere in the sleepy little suburb of Saratoga California USA, where we join the story of sentient life playing out in this corner of said dimension; this particular night was to be special.

         Over the prior decade the planning and mechanisms possessed by goodly Maijyka had swung into motion. The short term impact of the nights events though hardly fit the term good.

         Special can mean sudden and awesome but in most cases, as in this one, the definition of special is far more esoteric; events being guided by ancient beings the most mysterious of which no known human could at the time comprehend. So it was that what was special about that night would be understood by a scant few and most of those would read it as a sign of doom.

         A doom however had been coming longer than most of those aware could fathom. Whether or not that night of dread marked the beginning of the world's liberation from oppression would mean little to the masses. Save for a few whose consciousness met the criteria regular folk would wait salvation for generations still.

         A far off hope for decedents would have been hollow comfort but even that hard solace seemed a vain indulgence. In hidden realms the longest game ever played entered its endgame. The game predated the history of human sentience and held as pawns at least all living things. For the game masters an end seemed near, but that end would come too late for what the same would see as mayflies. Thus, humanity readied for that night like any other. What else could we have done.

On the verge of an outright fit

         It would have been a pleasant early spring day for a suburban teenager in most any time; damp but sunny and warm so the misty air was refreshing and life's motion came easy. These, though, were rare times. The global scope of the crisis meant little to young Martin Drake; his pain sat far deeper. Martin's older brother and mentor, Jake, was among the first to vanish.

         As Martin had done each night since that day the 17-year-old sat alone in a lawn chair on his family's back patio pondering life's unfairness grimly; desperately avoidant company. Martin resented the world sharing his pain as if robbed of his own process; his pain lost amid the world's strife, swallowed like a rivers water by an ocean.

         “So... how goes the nightly brooding session?” Martin's sister Sara playfully stuck her head out the door, intent upon lifting her brother from his doldrums. Though she knew it could not last, Sara, like everyone else in Martin's family tried to behave as if all were status quo.

         Living in the shadows of her intellectual, free-thinking, quick-witted siblings, Sara strove toward normality. If she could have seen herself more clearly, Sara might have seen her behavior as the furtherance in a series of hopeless and grasping attempts at reason in a world gone mad. Faced with the state of things, it was near the best one might expect from any 12-year-old just to muddle forth and so she did.

         Yeah, you know, just checking the backyard for some hope.” Martin sighed in an awkward shot at humor. The backyard was one place that felt almost normal as the budding trees and chirping crickets saw day into night. The only difference was the smell. Trash service, like every other part of life, had been interrupted. Some people said they had gotten used to it, Martin viewed this as self-delusion. 'Not one thing hadn't changed.' he thought bleakly.

         “Find any?” Sara's reply, while clumsy, didn't miss. Her brother had revealed too much truth in his attempt at wit.

         “Nope... how was school?” Martin half hoped for an interesting answer. Equally desirable: such a mundane question might annoy his sister into leaving him alone.

         “Bout normal” In Sara's view, going unnoticed was the key to surviving life's monotony but by that point she was kidding herself and they both knew it. Still, she'd done a better job at sidestepping her own confession, at least for the moment. Like most of humanity Sara was bursting with feeling, though she was long past looking for hope.

         Sara's junior high experience had become six hours of counselors begging any thought trending that way not to suicide. Inept; the counselors had certain 'signs' considered indicative a problem had reached a point of no return. Perceived Efforts at dodging those same volunteers, were considered one such sign. Sara's strategy of keeping her head down suddenly backfired.

         “How was school for you?” Sara said in an especially callous drawl. Neither sibling cared to talk about school but turnabout is fair play.

         “Epicly uneventful.” Martin's new normal was 'independent study' meaning everyone sat in the cafeteria doing their fancy provided no one broke any major rules.

         Reducing the environment to tedium, the high school's 'Counselors' were not dissimilar in ineptitude to those at Sara's middle school. Circling like vultures picking those thought more despondent to 'chat'. These captains were completely obtuse to the dread they created; the hair on everyone's neck felt permanently erect.

         Initially, a few kids made trouble. As time wore on though everyone settled on quietly doing what they usually enjoyed in what groups they usually ran in. Friends provided so much more benefit than any official 'counseling', the counselors were unwelcome window dressing. The best under-stander and advocate is nearly always another of the same.

         Martin had earned near-legendary status amid the student body through his uncanny ability to dodge counselors. “The trick is, blow your top for no damn reason every three weeks. I usually yell at Sam because he loves to yell anyway,” Martin joked.

         “Figures… it's basically the end of the world, why would it be any different from the rest of always” Sara surprised him by passing up his trollish effort to lighten the subject, but her banter betrayed her the same way Martin's shot at wit had done him a moment before. Instead, she had fallen into the same pit in which Martin appeared stuck. No one was hard to bring down anymore and Sara had been weeks since her last good cry.

         “I thought I was a pessimist,” Martin replied. Having to switch roles unexpectedly put Martin in an even more precarious position. Though Martin liked to socialize, certain aspects of his current outlook he felt were better left unmentioned.

         “Millions are gone; thousands more every day. I'm twelve, not stupid! We're all running out of time.” Martin wanted to argue but what could he say apart from the one thing he had been avoiding?

         “I still can't get Jake off my mind.” The tables had turned. For the first time the nihilistic front Martin used to avoid talking about his true feelings had become a burden. Revealing the farce though, would draw attention he did not want.

         “Eventually, you have to let go.” Sara began to cry.

         “I can't sis.” Marin could feel the words fighting their way out, like soon denying them would be tantamount to denying the air.

      “Why?” She had to ask why, a question Martin had been lying about every time anyone asked since Jake went missing. It was clear family and friends were not buying it because they kept asking. Finally, Martin had reached a breaking point

      “He's still out there” Martin blurted, sick of lying. It was what Martin dreaded the most; the long silence. He watched his sister go from surprise, to concern, to frustration and back to concern.

        “Marty he's gone...” Sara said softly, worried over her brother's sincerity, then sanity in turn. Though both were in tears, in this world gone mad few still found crying embarrassing. Sara though, was on the verge of an outright fit. “They're gone! 250 million people, where would they go... Disney Land?”

         “I have no idea.” Marin felt dumb.

         “So, you just know?” Sara blurted, her tears lessened as she hid her pain under her anger. “I'm not sure which is sadder, the millions gone, or the billions trying to pass this off like they're coming back. They're not. The sooner everyone realizes it, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

     Sara realized how ridiculous she sounded as she spoke, but felt betrayed. After Jake vanished Martin became her defacto source for reality checks. The juxtaposition to feeling he was more mixed up than she was too much, so Sara stormed inside.

         While he felt bad for upsetting his sister, Martin dreading the inevitable efforts to 'help' him let Jake go but mostly he was glad the truth had come out. Martin was so deeply convinced his brother was alive he could not imagine any argument the might faze him.

        For Martin it felt as though he could feel his brother alive, like if Jake had died he would know just as deeply. Even so, Martin, in no hurry to face what he knew waited inside, decided it warm enough he would catch a nap while his family had the inevitable conversation within.

A fierce defender of the innocent

Chapter Two

Signs and Portents

Pain will have its due

         Within the physical limitations of the same sleepy suburb yet an unfathomable gulf away, on the other side of consciousness other odd events unfolded. In this place of infinite possibility a dreamer lay near Nirvana, sitting under a deep aqua blue sky, drinking the crisp air like elixir. Held so gently aloft by long bright purple grass they felt like they were floating on air.

 

         Every detail was set exactly, blissfully right - not hot nor cold, wet nor dry. The world was so tailored to the dreamer they might have wondered if they had died and gone to heaven. For that however, the dreamer need care, and all care had gone.

 

         “My love.. my love... my love!” A far off voice sang repeatedly; with every repeat the dreamer longed ever more to meet the song's source.

 

         “My love.. my love...” As the longing grew, the voice faded. Going on it mocked the heart of the dreamer who was sure without the singer's presence, it would surely taste that death that had not mattered only a moment before and be glad of it, rather than suffer the absence.

 

         “My love...” finally as the voice faded to nothing, the dreamer fell into a blind panic. Near madness like an addict it would have given anything to hear the song.

 

         The voice a salve to pain, it's lack opened a floodgate. Life's typical anxieties a load of straw added to the boulders of their personal torments. The dreamer had buried their pain so deeply it had reached a point past perception wherein the amount of pain you bury is of no consequence, because its influence has past measurement.

 

         Pain like all debt feeds itself. Some seek to balance pain by hurting others, some try to alleviate the suffering of those around them. Both 'solutions' are fraught with problems, though the surest truth of pain may be that pain will have its due.

 

         “Hello?” the dreamer begged eyes closed afraid to face the light without the song.

 

         Though it was only moments it seemed to take an eternity before the dreamer was so pained by need it longed only for oblivion. As if waiting for the breaking point, just than an unseen hand caressed the dreamer's cheek softly.

 

         A healthier way to reclaim a debt of pain is through escape, but the mind can reach too far, becoming lost in illusions created in false ecstasy, losing sight the line twixt truth and fiction. In worlds gone mad, such blind reaching is commonplace inevitably bringing unforeseen consequences.

 

         “Hate . . .” the voice said in a whisper so gentle it was as if the air massaged the ear so the word was almost beside the point, barely registering - but that particular word was of such disgust it jarred the dreamer awake.

 

         “NO!” the dreamer spoke as it awoke, only to forget why it had spoken.

The town's most noteworthy event
Some unseen force
The one no one needs doubt

         As the night wore on forces seeking to sway the strongest minds to their favor were hard at work. In yet another corner of the astral plan, another drama was playing out. Awaking within a dream, a dreamer looked round, finding itself in a room with no exit.

          “Well isn't this fun!” said the dreamer realized on some level it was in a dream.

       As the dreamer spoke, one of the walls opened to reveal as posh a setup they could dream up. A big screen TV, every video game system known and many unknown, theater sound and a chair that somehow looked more comfortable than any real chair could feel. The dreamer stepped forward in a daze.

        “Ouch...” The dreamer's head hit the wall, the previous scene gone. Suddenly confused, the dreamer's pain felt too real.

          “Do you really think fun and games will free you?” said a strange disembodied voice.

          “Who?” The dreamer spun round to see who was talking, but there was no one.

 

     Instead, the wall behind them opened to reveal an idyllic beach complete with the most attractive person imaginable, naked, beckoning them forward. Stunned again, the dreamer again moved.

          “Damn it” the dreamer walked into a second wall. “What's the point of this?”

          “Who are you?” The voice said.

        “I am one no one need doubt.” As the dreamer spoke it felt as if the words came from somewhere else.

          “Without doubt, there is no trial, without trial faith is vain and when faith is vain freedom is false. We all make mistakes. Only slaves without will can stand doubtlessness... is that you?”

           “No... Who are you? Where am I?”

          “Perhaps in future you might raise questions before banging your head against walls. It is said that haste makes waste, but far worse still can be sown by hurry.” As the voice spoke, the dreamer woke, blinked against the light, forgetting all they had just seen.

Going on adrenaline

       “Ghet orffa mhe!” Jose mumbled as he rolled over, swatting at whatever was wet against his cheek He assumed it was something Sam had decide to harass him with. What it was, Jose had to give his sibling credit, he could not have guessed. It felt like the most course sandpaper, moistened and given the slightest jolt of static; needless to say it felt enormously disgusting.

         While he heard a sharp snicker and the patter of feet Jose saw nothing. Suddenly he was worried... Sam was never that fast let alone as light on his feet.

         “Sam... Pst... Sam...” Jose poked his head in as he opened the door to his brothers room.

 

     “Wha-da-ya-wan” Sam said, rolling over to look at his brother “It's 5:48 in the freakin morning” Sam picked up his alarm clock and turned it off; the alarm that was set for 6 anyway.

        “Somebody. . . . something is in the house” Jose tried to sound nonplussed as not to put his brother in protector mode but it was no use. Sam bolted to his feet, picking up an aluminum baseball bat, ready for a fight.

     “It's probably nothing...” Jose was having second thoughts about waking Sam, as his brother, going on adrenaline was never one to take a threat, or even the vaguest suggestion of such lightly. “I don't know I felt something wet on my cheek and when I turned to look I heard what sounded like laughter... I was probably dreaming.”

       “Never known you to be that jumpy.” Sam whispered as he slowly opened Jose's door, looking in. Sam was not wrong, Jose was grasping in his attempts to calm his brother and they both knew it. Truth was Jose was freaking out a bit also; with all that had happened in recent months it wasn't hard to scare anyone. It was then Jose noticed it: on the bookshelf behind Sam sat the cat-like creature from Sam's closet.

      “Wait, how did we forget about the creature.” Both Jose and his brother had somehow completely forgotten what they had seen the night before, and Sam many other times seeing it prior.

          Jose stared into the things eyes.

      “Yeah, there's nothing there, I'm sorry now that I'm awake all the way, I think it was a dream.” Jose lied as he guided Sam out of the room. Sam was at once in the very same mind as Jose moments before; not really wanting to listen but too dumbstruck to wage protest.

         As Sam left, the creature came down from the shelf in a bolt of light and rubbed on Jose's leg. Jose sat in his chair and looked at the thing.

         “This can't be real.” Jose reasoned, though he could hardly really argue with what he and Sam had both seen.

       Jose, still in a state of heightened alert, slunk into his chair and sighed. The creature looked at him and tilted it's head quizzically, rearing up. In a flash of light, it suddenly appeared in Jose's lap looking him in the face and purring gently.

 

           “What are you?” Jose asked rhetorically.

           “I'm a sphinx, I am to be your companion. I'm here to let you know as bad as the day will be, by its end, life will have turned for the better. For now though, you must forget me” The creature spoke in a high pitched voice every word enunciated exactly.

          At once Jose found himself in his chair alone, no notion anything strange had actually happened but feeling a lot more hopeful.

If an end is upon us

we should great it like an old and welcome friend

for if death is but beginning's end no death is pure remorse

 

and if a species erases itself,

if afore its end it can offer nothing

it be a sick and broken thing, better left behind,

we that endure have no cause for mourning

 

So worry not my kin ore the fate of the chaff

for we the wheat will reign ore hell, heaven, et al for what remains of this eternal round what than can come after but the highest glory worth obtaining

 

Koval Metat,

Kin Duman of the Warlock sect

7671 BCE

      Within the same suburb and far closer Martin's mind two siblings perhaps more opposite any other pair in the vicinity tilted at each other in their ways.

       Jose was a transgender boy whose parents were wholly supportive of his identity. Mary and Christian Ramirez had worked as ACLU lawyers but split from their employers sighting leftist principle, though it was an excuse. The true impetus for their departure if more honest with themselves was to start a very successful transgender rights defense firm, wishing to fight for the rights of people like their son.

      Sitting at his computer staring blankly, Jose tried now and then to focus on something in vain attempts to contain his worry. Whether it was the essay he was supposed to write, or if he had heard from someone on social media that night or not his mind wondered. Other obvious concerns distracting, he kept having to stop to remember the assignment; social media was an afterthought.

       “Hey, dummy.” Said Jose's brother Sam, sticking his head in the door.

       “What do you want, you hard-headed brute?” Jose's remark was cutting but Sam knew it fit. He prided himself in nearly equal measure for being stubborn and for his willingness to throw down on behalf of anyone facing injustice.

         

      “Just seeing if I can save you from yourself,” Sam explained. Both brothers were the type upon seeing another in peril, saw it as a personal mission to see them out. Though unlike Sam, Jose sought more subtle solutions. With peril omnipresent and safety more clearly than ever an illusion, both were twelfth-level anxious all the time. Sam knew Jose better than Jose and the opposite was just as true.

       Sam, by contrast, was a white straight kid raised by an abusive father whose idea of culture was to have a buddy over while he drank cheap beer and watched Fox News. When Sam was 7, his father killed a man in a bar fight. The two 'combatants' were drunk and the man Sam's father killed had brain trauma. The man died dodging a drunken punch.

    Still, the court charged Sam's dad with manslaughter and sentenced him to 10 years. Following the drama, Jose's parents, hoping to save Sam from the foster system stepped in eventually adopting him when Sam’s father died 5 years later in a prison break. All this meant Sam was more accustomed to chaos. As all who see the horrors of violence young know, this meant while Sam wore his pain far better, inside he was closer to breaking than most.

      “Keep it up, you'll have to save yourself in a sec'!” Jose was as queer sass as queer sass got and reveled in it - after all, he was very good at it. No one at school messed with Jose as, in return, he would put you down so hard a meme on twitter would be trending in as little as 17 minutes- his record.

       “Mom says it's time for bed.”

       “So have Mom come tell me, or are you her official messenger now?”

      “You know you don't want...” Jose interrupted Sam leaping on him, tackling him across the hall into his room. Sam was highly physical, living more through action than words, sports provided a constructive outlet for the anger he felt towards his father.

       The playground was the place Sam learned to move past his pain. As he progressed in skill he grew as a person. Being the victim for so long, Sam was a fierce defender of the innocent, so much so bullies refrained from usual routines when he was in earshot, rather than risking his wrath. Jose, realizing all this, often turned to the physical to make his point, knowing his much larger, fitter brother would never actually try to hurt him.

      “What I want is to be left alone!” Jose said as loudly as he thought he could without drawing his parents' attention.

       “Oh come on . . .”

     “Wait, what is that?” As Jose got to his feet he looked around his brother's room and saw what was undoubtedly the oddest thing he had ever seen.

        As an extension of Sam's commitment to all that was innocent Sam was a lover of animals. Defending and caring for wildlife that wandered into town, as humanity retreated to their homes in an instinctual grab for anything resembling safety, was an afterthought. Jose joked it had become “The Sam Ramirez Animal Sanctuary” but his brother had been too fond of the notion for Jose to repeat it again. During Sam's latest excursion looking for lost and vulnerable creatures, he had found something else.

      “You can't tell Mom and Dad.” Sam pleaded. Jose didn't hear him; he was too busy being stunned by disbelief.

       In Sam's closet was a medium sized pet bed but what sat upon it was unlike any pet seen by modern eyes. The creature was vaguely the shape of a large Maine Coon cat, only with legs about half again as long. It also had wings and three tails. As he crept closer, Jose could see that there was a mix of fur and feathers in a rainbow of colors running in long stripes from front to back. It had a cat's nose, eyes and whiskers but they sat over a small stout purple beak.

      “This . . . this is wrong! What if it's related to the vanishings?” Jose's first concern was Sam's last.

     “What if it's not? What if it's a solution? We both know what most humans would do...” Sam reasoned.

     “How long have you had it?” Jose wanted more information, but he was already forming an argument.

      Just as Jose's mind began to work on this, however, the thing got a funny look on its face and there was a loud bang and a bright light. It was as if a bolt of lightning streaked across the room, and the creature sat by Sam's feet, looking up at Jose affectionately.

 

      “We have a lot to talk about!” Jose realized it must have taken a long time for Sam to gain the creature's trust and his brother would be heavily emotionally invested in the thing's safety. To Jose' mind unless the creature had been around far longer than Sam could possibly have kept a lid on the oddity it was unlikely the cause of the current crisis or Sam would have already disappeared.

      Back on physical side of reality, lived the third and most treasured member of Martin's cohort. Jamie Shaw, a trans girl, was Martin's on-again off-again romantic partner with whom he had put things on hold after Jake vanished. Though his excuse was he needed to 'sort out his feelings' Martin's avoidance was far more closely tied to his desire to fit in with the rest of his loved ones in their dismay; fearing he might lose himself in romance and forget his front.

        Jamie was very much in love, but as do so many teenagers whose wisdom dwarfs their age tend to do she played it coy. Though she had never said as much, her lack of expression, was no indication of a detachment from her own feelings, rather a keen understanding of Martin’s.

        As was all too common those days Jamie woke from a deep sleep and sat up in bed. Panicked, she let out a scream. Two blocks away from the Shaw home was the sight of the town's most noteworthy event of the crisis. Members of a group everyone called a cult caused an explosion and 16 cult members and seven neighbors died.

          In what was deemed a freak stroke of luck the Shaw home was spared any real damage though both of their next door neighbors suffered serious damage and injury. A small child living next door was killed when their roof caved in. Still having trouble sleeping at home, Jamie found herself in the Drake's guest room, or on the couch at the Ramirez home increasingly often.

          “I'm here.” Jamie's mother, Luna, called out calmly through the door. Luna, a mystic, had sensed her daughter's stress before it happened. Her abilities however had not seemed to provide any insight into the crisis and Jamie had not appeared to inherit her mother's talents.

           “I heard something.” As Jamie spoke Luna was already looking out the window. The night was still and no danger could be seen. Considering however her failure to see the cult's fate before it happened, she was avoiding assumptions based solely on her gifts when reassuring Jamie.

        “Nothin' there child, jus more shadows of the past.” Jamie's mother was as supportive a parent as one could be of Jamie's gender identity. Hence she had taken to gender-neutral pronouns to a ridiculous extent. Luna surpassed obnoxious when around Sam and Jose, determined to make sure her friends the civil rights lawyers never forgot how cool she was.

         “Sorry Mom, I'm still jumpy.” it was no small relief to Luna, Jamie had no experience facing violence; thus she did not understand the inevitability of trauma response. Luna however was far more versed in such matters than she would admit to one so young.

      “Your nerves will settle, and you'll be stronger for it,” Luna explained. Jamie was a born leader - quiet, and unlike her friends and peers very confident, a gift she did inherit from her mother, but she was still naive.

         Wisdom that defied Jamie's age was her preference to allow events to unfold, and as long as the world cooperated cede decisions to others. Jamie held asserting opinions for when they were needed most. The strategy paid off well, as on rare occasions Jamie got loud, people listened quickly. If they didn't, someone often told them to.

       As her mother exited Jamie stood at her window peering out, not in fear, but wonder. Through it all Jamie was the only person she knew well who had yet to waver from a position of hope. To Jamie, the lack of an explanation for events was a good thing. Her theory was that in so great a mystery anything could be true. If that were so; Jamie chose to believe in hope.

    Martin's eyelids grew heavy, sleep approaching rapidly, he mused to himself. His mind, unburdened via his confession; Martin pondered what his brother might have said. Jake was forgiving of most everyone while Martin, as Jamie often said, would 'marry a grudge if not her.' Conversely, both brothers were overly tough on themselves. Jake liked to joke that if Martin kept getting down on others, he would run out of energy to get down on himself.

       As the first real smile in months cracked his gloomful face, Martin's moment was cut short. Across the lawn two dim lights barely piercing the darkness beneath a shrub stole his attention. Though they should never have warranted the notice of even a fully alert Martin, he was somehow drawn to them. For some eerie reason, the lights were such a shock it was as if a tiny bolt of lightning pierced each eye.

 

       Just as Martin noticed them the lights suddenly grew brighter at ever hastening speed until near blinding. As Martin tried to recoil he realized he could not move nor draw breath and his heart seemed to have stopped mid beat. For a moment Martin wondered if he had died, but was distracted by something else entirely: utter and total beauty.

 

     The strange lights, no longer painful, rose to face level and moved in Martin’s direction, becoming a pair of eyes so perfectly beautiful he lost all sense; nothing else mattered. Not only was the feeling of dread that gripped him seconds before gone, Martin could recall nothing at all. There was, no brother, no sisters, no mother, or father, nothing... There were only the eyes.

 

        Losing himself in bliss one moment, Martin was yanked from nirvana the next, as the eyes became red rimmed and sickly green. The colors intermixed like some vile swirling pool of blood and sludge inside a flexible transparency, spinning hypnotically as if stirred by some evil force. The creature's face came into focus; gnarled and grotesque, colored the same sickly red and green. Sections op the things skin seemed to slither over and through others as if an orgy of snakes were wrapped round bare bone.

 

      Staring at him, it let out a hideous laugh and a noxious gas billowed from the its' maw singeing Martin's nostrils and throat. His senses were so overwhelmed, could he have moved, the contents of Martin’s entire digestive system, would have exited the nearest available holes in impossibly short order.

 

         An instant before the notion of utter dread returned and Martin surrendered a second time to death, this time gladly, peace and tranquility quelled the horror.

 

      The smell and sound ceased as a look of confusion came across the creature's face, followed by one of fear, it turned and moved away in a flash. An instant later, completely exhausted and himself again Martin found himself falling back into his chair.

 

        A fall that should have been hard enough to break the chair was somehow cushioned by some unseen force. Instead Martin felt as though he had been caught in a blanket of air, and set down so gently he had to move around check if he had landed.

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