Mystery Gateway

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The ramshackle gate creeks open, lisping to the side with a rusty groan. You jump back, heart beating rapidly, sweat running down your spine like a ice cold finger. Soft voices glide through the open gateway, promising grand adventures undertoned with dark desires. Your companion turns to you, “Will you come with me?” He asks, grabbing your hand, allowing his plea to soften his sharp handsome face, “Please?”
How can you say no to him? He saved your life, he wants YOU to go with HIM.
Those eyes.
Piercing, pleading blue.
Without making a conscious decision, you squeeze his hand and say,
“Lead the way.”

Tiny Tale by Tiff the Traveler.
Photo Manipulation by Jasmin Junger

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The Alchemist

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“Subject 110, how do you feel today?” Asked the Alchemist.
Tisha slowly got to her feet, flexing and stretching like a cat after a long nap. Looking up at the scholarly looking old man, “Ah, Doc X is once again gracing me with his presence. If you must know, fantastic. But you can’t keep me in here forever and keep shoot me up with all kinds of weird chemicals! You do know Spider-Man is only a comic right? No mutation going on here.” She emphasized by pointing to her wrists.
The old man narrowed his eyes in annoyance, “I’m doing more for you than you could ever possible fathom. One more shot and then on to your first test. Afterward, I’ll let you sleep.” He unlocked her cell and walked in, carrying a large syringe filled with thick silver liquid, moving and swirling on its own. “Give me your right arm.”
Tisha belligerently sat on her cot, arms crossed. The orderly in the corner started cracking his knuckles and walked over to her. The girl grudgingly rolled up her sleeve, glaring at both the orderly and the doctor in equal contempt. The Alchemist plunged it into her arm, causing the girl to wince and then sigh euphorically as the chemical worked its way inside her. Then she fell onto her hands and knees, hacking and coughing, silver tinted saliva dripping and splattering on the cell floor.
“Aaah, my dear, you see? The treatments are working! Please report to the Training Room when you’re done…making a mess.”

Tiny Tale by Tiff the Traveler
Art titled Silver Lining by Emyah

Love Declared

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Let me show my love for You by dancing to Your song for all eternity.
I no longer care who sees, no longer care who knows, my heart is Yours.
Tell the heavens to keep quiet, tell the mountains to cease their rumblings, for I will reveal in my movements, the beauty of Your love to anyone that wants to know.
How can I not shout from the rooftops, the wonderful feelings of Your love?
People ask “Why do you love Him?”
I reply “He loved me first, and loved me unconditionally, so how can I not return His Love?”
People ask “What has He ever done for you?”
I reply “He loved me enough to save me from misery of my own making; he saved me in spite of myself.”

-Words by Tiff the Traveler
-Photographer unknown

Hannah’s War

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

Flutter of wings, a great whoosh and I feel Ariel settling down next to me.
“Nihael, my friend, how is she?” he asks, tilting his head to one side to get a good look at his new charge.
My eyes move off the girl for a moment to look at Ariel, then immediately back on her. “This assignment was supposed to be easy, but I won’t say the same; she has been very difficult to keep alive.”
Ariel shifts to a more ready position atop our perch on a old crumbing building, as we both peer down at a brown-haired girl sitting on a park bench about ten feet below us. She was busily writing down something in a notebook, and would occasionally look up dreamily across the park, then eyes would light up and she would be back to writing.
“She seems to be harmless enough, and somewhat unremarkable,” says the Newcomer, wondering how difficult one young girl could be. Ariel was a huge Being, even for a Protector, standing almost nine feet tall with the bravado and build of an battle hardened gladiator.
“You know she’s been a Participant for almost a year now, even though she still acts like an Observer. What you see before you is calm within a continuous storm. I’ve had so many fights to the death, so many near misses, so many close calls, that I sliced through her curtains last night because they made a noise.”
Now Ariel titled his head to look at me. He was starting to remind me of a curious puppy but with a massive wingspan and equally massive sword. “Please debrief me; I need to know everything before you leave.”
Without taking eyes off my human, I give a brief history about her incessantly grim life.
“Birth to high school was easy enough, Hannah listened to her mother back then, but college…college was a dangerous time. She put herself into so many bad situations, and would never ask for help until the very last second. I spent a lot of time sprinting into the Dark, stabbing through blood and smoke so I could pull her out. Both of us barely survived the last fight, but as you can see we’re still alive. Post-college is when the real war started, literarily and figuratively.”
Ariel sighs and says, “Wish we were allowed to just jump in, that’d probably save us a lot of ripped wings and bloodshed.” He unsheathes his sword and grips it in his fighting hand, feeling less laid back about his new charge.
I nod in agreement, and continue, “If Earth wasn’t a place of blood and hate already, she joined her country’s military, and entered active warzones multiple times. To say that I was fighting for both of our lives constantly was an understatement. The Land of First Beginnings hasn’t been the same since the Roman days. Prince Jazre’el still rules that place, and when he learned about her possible change in status, we were attacked almost everyday. Roaniel was sent to assist me until we left, but she didn’t make it til the end, Jazre’el himself butchered her. So you understand that I was very happy when we finally left and came back, since we still have strongholds here.”
“So that’s what happened to Roaniel, I thought she was just on another assignment. Is Hannah heading back any time soon?”
“No, not that I can see,” I say, “but the fighting heightened even more the day she finally became a Participant. One improvement is that she’s so much better at asking for help before she needs it, freeing me up to do some preemptive damage to the Dark before they damage us again. And I know we’re not supposed to take pleasure in destruction, but I can’t lie: I really enjoy sending them back to Arroyo.”
Ariel nods, and starts surveying the scene, “Is she Weaponized?”
It’s my turn to nod, “Oh yeah, even though she still has no idea what she can really do, but she’s trying to learn.”
“Maybe I’m being a coward, but you should stay. Consider me a reinforcement instead of a replacement,” says Ariel, looking just a tad bit nervous now, bravado slowly leaking out of him like a deflating balloon.
I consider this for a moment: I probably should have asked for permanent reinforcements after that Incident her Freshman year in college and during her last deployment, but pride and her lack of Participation had held me back. Could I really leave Hannah now, after all we’ve been through? I’ve grown to love her very deeply, and things will only get worse. When she had chosen to become Weaponized earlier this year, the Dark must have felt the change, because their efforts had increased. They delight in tormenting Participants, Weaponized or not, knowing that if they’re successful in keeping them from reaching full potential, Participants can dissipate and die a tormented death full of regret and should-have-beens. But if the Participants realize their purpose, they can dispel the Dark at the flick of a wrist; in a single word they can decimate an entire room full of Dark. A whole city full of Dark will flee before a fully Weaponized Participant that has come into their own.
“I have to check with HQ, and if they give the ok, I will stay. Who needs to retire anyways in this day and age? Seven thousand years is the new four thousand years right?”
Ariel smiles, and pounds me on the back, “Get your permission and come back so we can keep our girl safe.”
We went through a few other minor debriefing points, and I take off for HQ. I arrive and check in, and moments later, I express my desire to return to Hannah, my human, and I get pulled into an office by my supervisor.
“Good, because you’re going back regardless. Hannah needs both you and Ariel. NOW,” says Myriel shoving a folder into my hands and pushing me back out the door.
Perplexed, I walk and read at the same time, I start to run and take off, flying as fast as possible as the realization and panic of what I just read is building to a breaking point in my chest.
I hope I’m not too late.
Moments later I’m back in the park and land in the middle of a vicious battle. Ariel is in the middle of a sea of Dark, hacking and slashing away with his sword, and using his wings to clothesline the them with every swing of his torso.
“Welcome back!” Please, jump in whenever you feel so inclined!” he bellows as he slices off a horned head that spurts black smoke and smells like rotten eggs and rage.
I jump in the skirmish and start my own hacking and slashing, working my way towards Ariel who is standing over Hannah. She can’t actually see what’s going on all around her, but she looks distraught nonetheless, still sitting on the park bench with her arms wrapped around herself, rocking back and forth. “Please, please help me, I don’t know what to do,” she’s praying over and over again. Her phone was laying on top of her forgotten notebook, pulled open to an email. Whatever the message was, it had sent her spiraling into an abysmal mental pit of despair and agony, which had attracted the Dark to her in the first place, and they weren’t taking any chances, all the Dark in the city had come to torment and torture her.
Hack hack
Clang crunch
Hack shwack
Grunt squeal
Hack scring…went the sounds of the battle, Ariel maintaining his position in front of Hannah, and I stand behind her. We are surrounded, and the Dark are closing in fast, as more and more of them poured into the park.
“What do we do?” shouts Ariel, as he gets splattered in oily black blood and starts bleeding himself, getting weaker by the minute.
“We fight, we never stop. Hannah depends on us!” I shout back.

And that’s when it happened.

Hannah stops rocking and violently grabs her notebook and reads something she wrote down on the back page. After reading the notebook, she drops it and stands up, with hands clenched to her chest, head bowed eyes closed, determination written across her face. She begins to murmur in a strange language, so quiet that we couldn’t hear her above the screeching and flapping from the Dark.
But the Dark could hear Hannah.

Perfectly.

As soon as her lips start moving, otherworldly screams sound off. But not their battle cries: they were in pain. They started floating around listlessly, trying to go towards Hannah, but Ariel and I were cutting them down easily now.
Hannah takes a step away from the bench, head up eyes open, extending her palms out and downward towards the ground, and fiercely says “Leave. NOW.”
It looked like the Dark were getting sucked up by a giant vacuum and getting deposited on the far side of the horizon. Vicious cries of agony and fury echo in our ears as we stand silently and watch as all the Dark are violently expelled from the park and from the city.
The silence is deafening, so loud that it rings in our ears as we both turn at the same time towards Hannah.
She now has a smile of her face, and sits back down to her writing as if nothing had happened. Ariel and I take turns binding up our wounds, and then I hand him the folder that Myriel had given to me before my departure.
He looked through it, and lets out a low whistle when he gets to the end, looking over the top of the folder to admire Hannah.
“If I had known this, I would’ve brought more warriors with me from the get go!” he chuckled, handing me back the folder, “Our girl has decided to be a heavy hitter now huh?”
Now it’s my turn to chuckle, “Yeah you know humans and that free will nonsense.”
Together, we sit down next to Hannah, one facing the East, one facing the West, and start watching the skies. We know that was not the last battle, but we now know that we were going to win Hannah’s War.

When an Epic Sea Battle Disappears

Art by Florian Prou

Art by Florian Prou

“WHAT HAPPENED?! How did this puddle get here?” Shouted the Museum Director, joining the Deputy in front of the painting.
It had originally depicted an epic battle between the Spanish and the British on the high seas, now it just depicted the high seas. No ships in sight. The Deputy had noticed it, and dragged in the Director from vacation. They still opened the museum, but partitioned off the room with the painting.
While the men stood there staring at the scene, a small boy trotted into the room towards the deputy and pulled on his sleeve. The Deputy forced a smile while bending down to the child’s level. “Hullo, what can I do for you? Are you lost?”
The boy looked sheepish, and he pulled out three ships from behind his back and showed the man. Ships that looked exactly like the ones originally in the painting. Still dripping wet. “I sowwie mithter” the boy said.
Trying to stay calm, the man asked “Young man, where did you get those?”
The boy looked down and stared at the ships. “I learned thith game from my muvver, but pleath don’t tell her. I can put the thips back.”
Shocked, he told the boy to wait. He asked the Director to get started on the report, and he would be there momentarily to finish it. He told the boy he wouldn’t tell a soul if he fixed the painting.
The boy smiled and walked over to the painting. Placing the ships into the puddle and placing a chubby hand onto the frame, he muttered something under his breath. The Deputy will never forget what he saw: like watching a theatre moving picture go backwards. In less than a minute, the floor was dry and the painting was fully restored except for the tiny handprint on the frame. As the boy walked out of the room, the Deputy wondered how he was going to tell the Director.

Hope and Forgiveness Through Music

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It was open mike night at the local dive, when He walked through the door. He set up his guitar and equipment, looked carefully around the room, took a deep breath and began to play. The music meandered then swelled, and took over the noisy room, causing all to stop and stare.
The bartender saw his Wife, forgiving him and wanting him back.
The college dropout saw her Father, telling her how proud he was regardless of the decisions she had made.
The town drunk saw his Daughter, promising to always be there for him.
The starving artist saw his Muse, urging him to always create.
He continued to play, and play and play. It was like joy was pouring from his hands, sunlight and love weaving together. When he had given everything he could, he stopped and started packing up. The bar slowly went back to their original activities, dazed after this man’s performance. The bartender rushed up to the man and asked, “Friend, what was that? How…?” The man looked around the room with such love in his eyes, and then looked at bartender. “You all saw what you needed to see: Hope and Forgiveness.”–Tiny Tale by Tiff the Traveler. Art is titled Rise by Paul Villinski

Time: Gift and Curse

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

My grandpa always seemed to get more out of his day than anyone else I knew. If a project took 10 hours, it would take him 7 hours, even 5 hours to get it done. He would hole away in his workshop, or wait til no one was in the house, and get numerous tasks done in record time. I used to ask him what the secret was, for I always ran out of time, and he would say “Hay now Grandpup, Gramps has gotta have some myst’ry ‘bout him!” I asked many times over the years and received variations of the same answer.

Then the day came when my Grandpa was dying, and I was devastated that my zippy Grandpa, who always had time for me, was going to be gone for good. He asked to talk to me alone, and of course I obliged him. I walk into the room and sit down by his bed. He smiles, grips my hand and pulls me close, “I want ta tell you ‘bout my secret now, but you gotta promise to breath this to no man.” Stunned, I listen as he whispers in my ear; listening to the one thing I’ve wanted to know my entire life.
“How is this possible?” I ask, sitting back in disbelief, but knowing that this was the only explanation for my Grandpa’s ability to manipulate time.
He shrugs, “Found it one day on a hike wit’ an ole friend.” He pulls a thick manila envelope from underneath his pillow, and hands it to me. It is thick, and light as a feather, with my nickname written on the front, “Grandpup”. “There’s a compass, a map, and a set of instructions, make sure ya follow everythin’ to the letter, you hear me Pup?”
I nod, not really understanding what I was agreeing to, but agreeing nonetheless.
“I’ll tell you one thing straight,” he said with sadness in his voice. “Remember my ole bud Chuck?”
I nod, urging him to go on.
“Well, let’s jus’ say we shared this secret, til he got greedy, and took more than he shoulda. I don’t know what happened ta him, but he just disappeared and didn’t come back. So when I say follow it ta the letter, I meant it.”
I start to ask him a question, when Grandma comes banging through the door, demanding that Grandpa needed some rest. “I need some time with ma man before the Good Lawrd takes him back,” she said, resting her hand on my shoulder and staring lovingly at her husband with tears in her eyes.
I swallow hard and nod. I lean forward to hug my Grandpa, and he whispers in my ear, “Remember to read everythin’ careful like. I love you Pup.” I tell him I love him too, and give my Grandma a quick hug, and walk out the room clutching the envelope with a heavy rock of sadness sitting in my chest.

Two hours later, the Good Lord took my Grandpa back home. The man, who made enough time for everyone, was gone.

After the funeral, I carried that sad rock in my chest for days, weeks, months and completely forgot about my Gramps’ secret and the envelope. One afternoon, I was sifting through some paperwork, attempting to finally shake the cobwebs out of my brain and move my life along until it felt normal again, when I come across that envelope. I sit down at my desk, rip it open and dump out the contents onto my desk. A wad of crisp, folded papers slide out, along with a battered compass and an old worn map. The front of the papers read Instructions and the map was of the huge wooded area that exists behind my Grandparents’ house, complete with coordinates marking a spot pretty far into the woods.
I read through the Instructions first. Ten pages of instructions that read like a list of rules and lessons learned, each marked by a number and the the date created. Grandpa had gone through many years to make such an in depth list.
The very next day, I put all the secret items in an old leather knapsack and start my trek for the spot on the map. After walking for a couple hours in the hot sun, I finally find the spot, with the coordinates dropping me right off at a natural made entrance into a huge copse of trees. It was so densely grown together that you couldn’t see through the trees at all. I pull out the Instructions, and reread some of it just so I wouldn’t forget what to do. Then, I take a deep breath, push aside the hanging vines and branches, and step into the darkness.
It is dark, the type of dark that comes out after the sun just disappears over the horizon, and I can barely see anything after being out in the bright sunlight. Waiting a moment to let my eyes adjust, I say “Tempus Continuum” as according to the Instructions, close my eyes, and wait a few minutes. When I open them, the grove had changed. Instead of being dark, the trees started to glow in different spots, and the spots almost look like eyes, glaring down at me in disapproval. All around the forest floor are pulsing spherical Orbs, with the faces of clocks counting off a myriad of hours, minutes and seconds. All of the Orbs were on their own timetables and had their own unique ticks and tocks.
A loud ringing goes off right at my feet, startling me out of my reverie. I look down at the noise and see an orb ringing and shaking like an alarm clock. After a moment, it makes a fizzling noise and seemed to die and dissolve into the ground. Not quite understanding, I hastily read the first 2 rules: #1, Handle with care; #2, Take only what you absolutely need, and no more. I open up my sack, and look around for the right Time-Orbs to take. There is an important work project that I had brought home yesterday morning and the due date is tonight, and I determined that 4 extra hours are required to finish it, meaning (according to the very helpful Instructions) that I would need to find 4 time orbs with 1 hour set on each of them. I find 4 one hour orbs, carefully load them into my sack, say “Tempus Continuum” backwards and watch the glowing and the ticking cease to a eerie silence. I start my journey home, eagerly wanting to test out my extra Time.
I get home and lock myself into the study, with apologies to my wife about having to work all night (just in case this didn’t work), and follow the Instructions: #3: Set all 4 Time-Orbs to the exact same time you want them to start, then place one in each of the four corners of the room you’re working in. Example, you work from 1-3pm, but need another 4 hours, you would set all the Orbs to start at exactly 3pm, and when 3pm starts, the Orbs will counting down one at a time, temporarily releasing you out of the Space-Time Grid (STG). #4, Be warned: DO NOT leave until your time is up. You could cause a rift, and let Unknown Entities (UEs) onto the STG.
I do everything as instructed, and then get to work.

Couple hours later, I join my wife on the couch for our favorite show.
She looks up at me with a smile, “You finished already? I thought you would be working all night?”
I lean forward and kiss her tenderly, pushing back the hair from her face. Looking into her eyes, I say “Babe, from this point on, I won’t let work get into the way of what’s really important, no matter what the reason.”
She smiles and snuggles up under my arm and we both settle in to watch the show. I send up a silent thanks to my dearly departed Grandpa, he could not have given me a better gift, than the Gift of more Time.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the happy Pup, he had ripped a small slit in the Grid. What Grandpa and the Instructions didn’t take into account, was that all the clocks in the Pup’s house ran 5 minutes fast, whereas no matter what, the Time-Orbs had to run on Atomic Time. So when he set the Orbs, he set them wrong. The bigger the time difference, the bigger the size of the rift: who ever causes the rift is responsible. Also, no matter what the size, releasing an Entity into the wrong Grid could be catastrophic.
A dog-sized creature, covered in fur and scales, silently pads out of the study, and creeps into the living room. It sees the back of the big soft mound, with two tall things sitting on it, staring at a glowing box on the wall and making funny noises towards each other. It doesn’t like the noises, and really doesn’t like the taller thing for some reason, so it quietly glides over to the couch and slides underneath it, abiding its time.

Click here for part 2