Authors: G. X. Knight
I couldn’t disagree with him. I really didn’t want to get lost in that old bottle of Ale. I just wanted the hurting and the anger to stop. I plopped back down and nibbled at my cold taco. Largo sat down across from me with a bit more dignity than my own sulking “
.” He didn’t say anything else about the Ale. It wasn’t like him to nag. He just looked at me in that way Largo could. It was disarming, non-judging, but it made you feel safe to choose for yourself… right or wrong. My vision narrowed with curiosity when next he pulled a white and black checkered envelope from his inside jacket pocket. He put it on the table and slid it slowly toward me.
I gave him the “You’re crazy” eye roll. He was always giving us gifts. Last week he bought Kata her own private viewing to her favorite Russian Pixie rock-ballet. He sent Sway snowboarding with her many “friends” on the English skyboarding team. Why was he so kind? I loved getting presents, but I always feel like I owe him something in return. What do you get the guy who has, and gives, everything?
“I arranged this while you were gone to Falor. It was supposed to be a congratulatory thing for a successful first outing.”
A smile pricked the corner of my mouth upward, “What if I hadn’t been successful?”
He answered with a grin of his own, “I know a couple of Elves who would have
to have gotten their nimble little fingers on it.”
With wide glowing green eyes that searched every inch of the gift, I pulled two tickets to board the private luxury cruise liner
I exhaled a hushed, “Wow.” On the tickets there was a picture of a huge luxury cruise liner resembling a skyscraper turned on its side. The ship gleamed in brisling white over water so clear it had the illusion of floating above the ocean. The front keel sunk low in the transparent water, and its bow spiked forward into a razor-like point ready to cut through the sea like a flying arrow. The hull swooshed back toward the stern with a series of water-level ridges that flowed seamlessly into strong curved lines that could only have been designed and built by Amalgams. It was impressive, and I wanted to go, but I pushed the tickets back toward Largo. “I can’t.”
“Look at me.” I flexed my dark metal arms that glowed with green veins that surged energy from my Dragonstones. “This, for starters. I would have to hang out in the cabin for the entire trip. I’d have more fun staying here where I can at least take the freak show to our private beach.”
Largo feigned a hurt look that suppressed a grin as he shot his hands upward, “I thought you knew me better than that.” His exaggerating tone repeated the statement he made back on the ledge during the firework show before he gave me the key to Clutch. He pointed to the picture, “The
is an Amalgam cruise ship. Once more, you’ll notice those are tickets to the VIP suite. You have the top deck all to yourself. You have your own pool. You have complete privacy. During the evenings, should you wish to venture out into the rest of the ship, your standard disguise will be sufficient. The captain is a friend of mine, and I’ve been assured you will be afforded complete discretion.”
“How do you know all these people?” I asked somewhat stunned.
“I’m just good like that.” He said mischievously.
I picked up the tickets and examined them. I hadn’t noticed the gold embossed VIP lettering before. “There’s two,” I noted.
Largo’s shoulders slumped, “I know. I thought your choice of company would be a given when I got them.”
Spending more time alone, was probably not what I needed. Then again, what better place was there to meet new people than a cruise ship? I still considered just giving the tickets to Kata and Sway. I probably owed them after my last outburst, but I saw Largo sitting there across from me, and without thinking I blurted out, “Okay, but you’ve got to come with me. It would be some good…” I paused as I realized I almost said “Father and son time.” Largo was not my dad, but he was the closest thing I had now. I often found myself saying things to Largo that I would only tell my dad. It was the way he acted toward me that drew it out. There were times when a facial gesture, or the way he worded some random phrase that would make me stop with quickened breath after he almost duplicated the way my father acted. I didn’t do a good enough job at hiding the sadness in my voice as I thought about how much I wished my own father could have joined me. I saved the almost-goof with a sullen, “…a good time for us to hangout.”
Largo was either a mind reader, which was entirely possible, or a chess strategists worst nightmare. He was always a step ahead and in-tune with what we were thinking. He smiled, reached over and patted my hand, “I would like nothing better.” He paused and sat back as Kata stormed into the kitchen.
I tried my best silent apology, but Kata’s small stern face was colder than those ice cubes she called hands. She ignored me and slammed the candy cupboard after she saw that we were out of Gummy Bears, her favorite. Next, her kitchen warring sent her clinking bottles around angrily while rummaging through the fridge. I glanced a “What do I do?” look over to Largo. He shook his head and made a small gestured “wait” sign. She huffed and then yanked the pot of Diablo Pepper cheese dip I had been saving. She snatched the chips from the counter and stormed out the way she came. If the worst that would happen was her taking out her anger on my cheese dip,
instead of me
, she could have it all.
That was the first time I had seen Kata angry. She was the even-tempered Elf. How could she not be to remain Sway’s BFF after all this time? Her anger was more than a little disconcerting. Even Largo looked like he wasn’t sure what to do, and he
knew what to do. We both sat in shocked silence as we listened to her heels click away toward the lift that ran down to the underwater lab. I accepted that possibility that this could be last night on Earth.
“Anyway,” Largo said after it was safe to speak once more, “I can’t go. I’ve got too much going on here. Kata and I are neck deep in some research concerning Corona and the Thantosa cave at Falor.” Largo’s grin widened. He looked playfully evil, “You know what that means?”
There was no way Kata was joining. If she went, she would throw me overboard. I dropped my head to the table. My voice muffled its way out across the silver brushed steel, “When should Sway and I leave?”
X: THE UNKNOWN FACTOR
The Island of Frostwick Ths Siin Mansion:
“…You get nothing, which is more than you deserve…”
Even starting off, the fight seemed like more than just another squabble. Things had been over between his parents since before their marriage even began. He knew it. The stupid neighbors knew it. Even the ever-absent Uncle Giovanni knew it. Zora and Yel seemed to be the only ones in denial about their crumbled state of matrimony.
This fight had gotten worse. No longer were they simply trying to one-up the other in an argument. They each were vying for a better position against the other within the inevitable singledom that loomed. Divorce had been waiting like a tensed jungle cat ready to spring. It pounced tonight as his Mom told his Dad that the marriage was finally, and officially, over. Once that happened, the fight spiraled downward into a state of all-out interpersonal warfare.
Of course they had no idea they were being spied on by their child. If they had, he hoped they would have at least attempted to keep the pretense of civility. The gloves were off. Despite each of their dominate personalities rearing against the other, his mother was winning. It really looked like his dad was going to end up out on the street with nothing. Not that he would ever be destitute. His dad was one of the premier Veil Rippers in the volcano prisons of Frostwick, and they would never let him go without. However, it was their demanding regimental training, and crappy pay, that had put the seething Yel Siin in such a bad predicament in the first place.
The Siin family hailed from the volcanic island of Frostwick. It was here, where the souls of prisoners were sent to spend a finite amount of time working in a transcendent state that straddled the realms between physical and spiritual. The kicker was, souls didn’t die, or at least they were damn hard to kill. In the worst cases a sentence may be passed for one to spend the “remainder of their days,” but what it really meant was “for eternity.” Talk about harsh punishment. It’s been theorized, that because there were still physical aspects to the beings, they still slowly aged in their tortured forms. Unfortunately for them, not one of the smoke-like wisps had ever been lost to old age, disease, or injury in the written, or pictorial, histories of Frostwick. That’s why they made such good workers within the gem mines down inside the Hell Tubes of the volcano.
Veil Rippers were among the chief instruments of justice when it came to the Amalgam punishment system. There is a veil that resides in every person that holds the soul to the body. A Veil Ripper did just what their name infers. They have learned through shadowed-arts how to rip that veil so that the two aspects of a person could be separated. The soul was brought to Frostwick. The body was stored where it continued to age until the two were reconstituted. If the sentence was forever, the body was destroyed. If the body died before a sentence had expired, the soul had to stay in prison until a suitable host could be found, not the easiest of things to find. Even after a soul was mended to its body, there was such deep scaring down in the psyche, a person rarely recovered from their experience fully, even if the sentence had been for only a couple of days. Ripping was brutal, and it was on the verge of being outlawed because of its severity.
His mom had always been an unconventional “Islander” on Frostwick. She ignored the prisons, and she was among those who touted that Rippers were too barbaric of an institution to remain in the modern Amalgam era. She spent the years becoming one of the biggest real estate moguls in the Human and Amalgam world. There was almost nowhere she didn’t have influence: the New York Amalgam tower of Homestead, Arctic locations where even the powerful Fire Elf conglomerate had to pay her rent, government building sites in countless countries, and ironically enough, she even owned most of the island she despised so much, Frostwick.
The division between the two parents had caused a loveless rift that left them swinging for the fences with unfettered and berating insults. Their years of fighting made them so practiced at filleting each other’s perceived failings into little strips of indignity, it made their only son struggle to keep the necessary emotional focus required to use a somewhat-illegal shadow art of spying. He had always had ring-side seats to the muffled blowouts from the safety of his own room, but thanks to Uncle Giovanni, who had recently moved back home full time with a list of all sorts of neat little faux-pas Amalgam magic tricks, he could witness the sad destruction of his home life “in person,” so to speak.
Uncle G had wasted little time teaching him some of the fun things that ought not to be taught to teenagers. Admittedly, Uncle Giovanni, even with his bag-O-tricks of Amalgam taboos, had been a better influence than either of the quarreling duo. His mom spent all of her time traveling with work, and his dad spent nights-and-days at a time wandering the foreboding hollows of Frostwick.
The fight was physically exhausting both parents. They had gone from name calling to the less-heated subject of property negotiation. That went on for a while before, he, as if he were an afterthought, was brought up by his dad.
“What about The X?” Yel asked. “Who will he go with?”
He had always been called “The X” or just “X.” His name had been given in family tradition, but as if it were the only thing his parents ever agreed on, neither cared for it, so they never spoke it. They had only ever used his initial to address him.
“X is not going with
,” Zora said as if Yel had just uttered the craziest comment of the evening. “He will come with me, and stay on the ship during the launch and shakedown.”
“He’s in the middle of his VR training. You can’t take him away from that now. He’s old enough to choose for himself. He obviously hates your little uppity world of bankers, investors, and moguls. The kid doesn’t even own a pair of clothes he didn’t get at the thrift store. Why? – Because he wants to be nothing like you and your circle-jerking, ass-kissing, money-chasing Yankee-clones.”
He had a good point.
Zora’s eyes bugged from her narrow botoxed face, “Oh, because it’s so much better that he go trudging through the lava playing with the demons you torturous bastards invoke to get your jollies at the expense of defenseless souls!”
She was right. Not a fulfilling future there.
“They’re all proven guilty, and are getting exactly what they deserve,” Yel defended himself with a point he had made a thousand times. “No doubt half of your clientele will end up here eventually. The rich are always guilty of something.”
“I don’t care if Hitler and Grawn the Terrible are down there…” X happened to know that they were, “…He doesn’t want to stay with you either. Anything he’s done for the Rippers has been out of sheer boredom. There’s nothing else to do on this damn island but learn how to torment people.”
She wasn’t wrong about that.
Yel’s smile grew triumphantly wide, “Well, as I recall your first investing fortune came from the diamonds we ‘tormented’ those souls into mining for us, you hypocrite.”
That was a fact.
Zora did not directly respond to the claim. She gave Yel a week to gather his approved list of things, made arrangements for X to stay, and then left to take the waiting helicopter to her newly constructed “Pride of the ocean.”
X fell back in the hammock strung in his room and let out the world’s deepest sigh. Above his head the shadows continued to swirl as he watched with granite indifference toward his father and mother. He wasn’t a fan of either parent, but up until that point, life had been predictable, though lonely. The family dynamic was getting ready to change severely, but was it really? He’d always been a solo act, and nothing about his parents’ separation would change that. Yet, he wasn’t quite sure what the split would mean for him. He didn’t want to choose between either one. He wished there was a third choice.
Sure, Uncle Giovanni was around, but he was always busy doing
it was he did. Nobody knew. He’d always been mysterious. Since before X had been born, “Uncle G” started a routine where he skipped into Frostwick for the day, but then headed “home” at night. That went on for a while. The longer he went, the less frequent his visits were. Then one day not long ago, out of the blue, he just moved back. He gave no reason. Even though he was present in body, his mind seemed to be in another place, a sad place, far away. Of course, he never talked about it, and X had learned early from his own parents that answers to secrets where usually tragic, messy, and not worth the ugly truth of knowing.
After his first spying lesson, back when he was learning the forbidden arts, X could sense that his uncle had some major magic working. X wanted to sneak a peek during Uncle G’s learning time, so he tried to use his new spy technique. It backfired from a shield his uncle had magically setup. The result caused his room to be filled with sulfuric dust clouds that made it still reek of rotten egg, even after weeks of incense burning, Febreze spraying, and Book of Shamana cleansings. It was terrible, but at least the smell kept that nosey maid out. He hated being waited on by his parents’ staff, and up until then, nothing else he had tried kept them out of his room.
His fingers slid in and out of the vision cloud as he became lost in thought. Swirls of coral and lavender smoke twined around his hand and down into the tribal-etched arm tattoos that glittered from the power used to create the vision that spied on his parents’ fight. The Veil Ripper markings would not have been his first choice for ink as they tended to almost sparkle. He knew of a guy who sparkled all over whenever he went strayed into direct sunlight. He was made fun of, a lot. X didn’t want to be that guy.
In the VR library of symbols and runes he found a combination to wear that was…
, as well as powerful. If somebody ever made fun of him, he could always rip their soul from their body and damn it to eternity within the volcano. Not that he would, because there was a strict guideline about unsanctioned Ripping. Few things earned you a one way ticket to Frostwick as fast.
Just as X was getting ready to snap the vision closed, Peore, a high ranking Ripper that worked with his dad, entered the scene with a confident stride. Peore was Yel’s best friend. He came and went without knocking all the time. He stood by Yel at his desk, and the two began whispering intently. Even with X’s spy spell working full blast, it was hard to make out what they were saying. The quiet didn’t last long before their voices rose to almost yelling as Peore protested whatever his dad had just suggested.
“You can’t do that. That goes directly against our laws.” The balding Peore wiggled a stout tattooed finger at Yel. “I’m sorry about your marital problems, but that doesn’t give you the right to use skills you’ve acquired within the mines to take retribution.”
Yel got just as loud, “The launch of that damn cruise ship is all she cares about! She thinks she’s so high and mighty. I am going to show the world how incompetent she is.”
Horror melted Peore’s anger into shock, “What are you going to do?”
Yel sneered a growling grin that shook X’s spine like a writhing snake held under a flute man’s spell. “I’m going to kill two birds with one stone. I’m going to take out the ship in a way that will keep the Rippers so busy they won’t have time to worry about me. Join me, Peore. I’m going to do what no Amalgam has ever done before.”
Peore backed away shaking his head, “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I have to report you. It would be better for you now to simply be removed from service. You can take leave and then come back after you’ve had time to heal from the separation. You know the alternative if you try to go through with this. I’m your closest friend, and I can’t live with that.”
The two men turned away from each other. Peore made a move toward the phone, but he was stopped before he could reach it. X couldn’t believe what watched his father do next.