The Mercenary’s Story of Redemption

I know that I’m dying.

The nurses try to act like I’ll survive, but they know it’s just a death watch. The same goes for my doctor whose expressionless face can’t hide the fact that my mangled body was on borrowed time.

Their all probably glad that they speak Spanish, and can pretend they don’t know English and have to answer any tough questions I might ask.

There were no family or friends waiting for me outside, or by my bedside. I’ve been a lone operator for too many years without making attempts to reconnect with my family in North Carolina.

My best two friends from high school died by my side during a raid in a filthy little village in Southern Sudan. The locals were ready for us and we walked into an ambush. It was a miracle I escaped from that death trap.

I always wanted to be in the military. The moment I graduated from high school I enlisted in the Marines. After serving three combat tours in Afghanistan I came back to the states feeling restless.

I wanted more action than what I got in Afghanistan which was a lot of sitting around on firebases or going out on patrols. In fairness, I did get into a few furious firefights that saw heavy losses on both sides during a month-long campaign in Kandahar city while forcing the Taliban out of the area.

I don’t feel any physical pain right now because they got me doped up good with some heavy-duty pain-killer. I’m full of lead that the doctors said they didn’t want to extract for fear of killing me. They’d rather I just die without their help.

I hope the two government soldiers at my door didn’t intimidate you.

I’ve been a mercenary for ten years before my luck ran out on this last mission. It’s my last mission that I wanted to talk to you about.

I was working for the government here hunting drug traffickers when the group I was with were ambushed. Someone didn’t do their advance intel very well and the resulting firefight was fierce and short.

I managed to escape and ran into the jungle where I knew my training would help me elude my pursuers. Throughout the afternoon I kept moving deeper into the vast jungle. When night fell and the slight light that penetrated the forest canopy during the day was gone, it was nearly impossible to see.

I found a mound of rocks big enough to sit on. It was in a small clearing and a shaft of moonlight illuminated it. It felt like a special place. I rested and listened for any sounds of pursuit, despite the fact I was sure that I lost my enemies.

I don’t claim to be a good man. I’ve killed too many people in my line of work to pull that argument off. My thirst for action finally proved my undoing, as you can see. But I like to think I’m a good man at heart.

It’s just that the gods of war saw something in me. Enticing me with exotic locals and customs. I worshipped them in every firefight I ever got into. My blood boiling with the excitement of death-dealing.

After sitting on the mound of rocks for a couple of hours I saw a faint flickering light in the jungle ahead of me. I unslung my Heckler & Koch MP5K and cautiously moved towards the flickering light.

I was crawling by the time I got near enough to make out a small fire pit surrounded by what I first thought was indigenous people. But the more I focused and watched the light illuminate the small gathering, the more I realized they didn’t look human.

Shadows danced on faces and bodies straight from a nightmare!

The monstrosities were cooking a small mammal over the fire. They were shorter than a normal human and thickly built. There appeared to be males, females and even children in the group.

I couldn’t help notice that they didn’t seem to have weapons. I could faintly hear them talking in an unknown tongue. They seemed like a peaceful people. I slung my weapon back on my back, and cautiously stood up.

As I approached the group they stopped talking and looked at me with naked fear! I held my hands up to show them I meant no harm. It was the strangest sight I ever saw. This group of really ugly, husky dwarves.

As I stood watching them gunfire broke out! I watched them get slaughtered. As their murderers came out from concealment I turned my weapon on them! Not sure how many I killed.

Obviously, they pumped me full of lead too. But not before government forces killed the remaining attackers and took over the area. They buried the dead dwarfs in a deep hole dug by an old bucket loader that belched smoke and threatened to die itself.

I watched how efficiently they did the job as the medic was treating me. Then they brought me here to this hospital and said they notified the American embassy.

What I want to tell you is there’s something going on here that the government doesn’t want the rest of the world to know about. What I saw was pure evil. Would you, when you leave here, tell someone what I told you?

I’d like to die knowing that I did something good – if even, only once. One more thing, don’t make eye contact with those guards on your way out.

As It Stands, we all have good hearts, but sometimes we ignore them in the quest for thrills.

The Dark Mass and the Coming of Styrian

The Chronicles of Styrian – Book One

No one on Venus felt safe since the dark mass was discovered.

The warrior wizards who ruled the planet didn’t know how to stop the dark mass that was heading for their world. They watched it eat planets in another solar system and shuddered.

No amount of arcane knowledge was going to stop that hurdling mass – estimated to be traveling at 667,0000 miles per minute – from hitting Venus. It was the Venusians misfortune to be in the path of such a destructive elemental force.

Venus did have a chance to survive, albeit a thin one.

Living high in the Shoonic mountains that crisscrossed Venus’s north pole, was a hermit who had a son. His name was Styrian. The boy was touched by the gods and processed skills unknown to Venusians.

He was raised from infancy by the hermit Malgorn, who found him in the middle of a forest by a stream. Apparently abandoned. He took the babe to his home in the mountains and raised him like his own.

Malgorn was a book hoarder and his entire wooden cabin was cluttered with them. Every wall had multiple shelves of books. They were stacked up in the corners of the two- room house that Malgorn built when he was a young man.

Styrian listened to Malgorn read until he was old enough to read himself. Among the many useful things he learned was to recognize eatable tubers, a mainstay of their diet. The two forged a bond from the start.

Watching Styrian read a book one day, Malgorn wondered for the thousandth time where he came from? It sure wasn’t Venus. He was twice the size of the tallest Venusian. His heavily muscled pale white skin contrasted sharply with the dark green scales of Venusians.

Yet Styrian thought nothing of their physical differences because he was raised by Malgorn, who he considered his father. Even after he was told about his vague origin, Styrian claimed him as his father.

Malgorn always believed Styrian had a major purpose in his life. That he was meant for great things. That he could even be a god.

So when a message came from Malgorn’s brother, who lived in a major Venusian city, he felt it was destiny calling. He sent the messenger back with a message; “Take heart, salvation may come soon.” 

Malgorn went to Styrian and told him about the malicious dark mass that ate planets, and how it was coming their way.

Styrian was an adult now, and looked more like a god than ever before. His long blond hair fell down over his brawny shoulders like a cascade of gold. His pale green eyes blazed with hidden knowledge and strength.

“Then it is my time, father,” he said, after hearing about the threat.

“Will I ever see you again?” the aging Malgorn asked, with a slight tremble to his voice.

“You’ll always see me among the stars,” Styrian promised, and disappeared.

As Venusian wizards and scientists watched, the dark mass slowed down and turned away from Venus, speeding off in the opposite direction! They witnessed great solar storms and raw displays of energy crackling a million miles away.

Then it was over.

Malgorn looked to the heavens every night after the dark mass was gone. One night he noticed some stars were brighter than the rest. As he focused his old eyes on them they formed into an outline of Styrian holding a planet in his right hand!

In another universe and galaxy, Styrian found himself missing Malgorn. He stopped the dark mass, but destiny kept calling. His fate was to be a legend roving solar systems and other dimensions in search of adventure.

As It Stands, Book Two of the Chronicles of Styrian takes the reader to a world of ghosts and magic spells that seduce him into madness.

Vision Quest On Mars

Pa’ah stopped walking and took a seat on a piece of the rubble that once was a great Martian city, and now was only a pitiful ruin.

It had been days since he left the caves. Days since he’d eaten a full meal or drank as much water as wanted. He slipped the pack off his back and set it down in the cracked and blistered soil.

He could hear the Great Leader’s voice in his head.

“You must go out onto the barren surface of our planet in search of a vision.”

He remembered balking at the suggestion and even dared to question the Great Leader, who knew all, saw all, and ran the whole show. The candles in the cave flickered under his growing wrath and Pa’ah changed his tune quickly.

He’d be honored to be the first vision quest seeker to go back to Mars ancient past (above ground), he assured the venerable one.

“Yes…what a great opportunity for me to serve our people,” he humbly said, after dropping to his knees. He was just being stubborn, he told himself.

The thought of wandering around the barren dunes and wastelands of Mars wasn’t very pleasant. But, what if he did come up with a vision on how to save the whole race? He’d be a hero.

He would have to survive first. The rough landscape and rolling dunes went on forever, with very little variation. Some dunes had jagged rocks jutting out of them that formed odd shapes that reminded Pa’ah of the toys he played with as a child. Their spidery silhouettes seemed to dance in the heat and growing shadows.

Dotting the forbidding landscape were ruins of cities that once stood proud in an age of enlightenment. In an age when Martians could freely roam the surface of the planet. In an age when Martians weren’t warlike.

The time came when technology that was used for peaceful purposes became perverted by corrupt Martians who wanted to conquer other worlds. To colonize the universe. To be the masters of the universe.

The resulting war between the worlds nearly destroyed the universe however. Planets like Neptune and Jupiter were obliterated, while others suffered damage that would take generations to repair.

There were no winners. Only losers. The survivors on each remaining planet were thrown back to primitive existences.

Pa’ah reflected on all of this as he shaded his eyes and looked off into the distance. His normally pale skin had turned mahogany in a day. There were patches of red sunburn on his high cheek bones. His normally black hair, was bleached white almost overnight.

The bright sun caused him to squint, narrowing his usual bulging eyes into slits.

The vision came to him the next day while he was walking through what was once a massive arena surrounded by rows of shattered seats sinking into the hot sand.

In the vision

Pa’ah is showing his people how to make space ships. He is the Great Leader now and his knowledge of everything that will take them to another universe to start over in a promised land. To a land of milk and honey.

When Pa’ah finally returned to the cave entrance his supplies were all gone. He was barely able to keep walking, but some inner strength kept him going. He had to share his vision. For the good of all Martians.

When he appeared before the Great Leader and his Council of Twenty-four, Pa’ah was tired and weak, but he didn’t hesitate to speak. He told them that he could guide them in building ships that would take them to  new worlds. This newfound knowledge was branded into his brain he explained.

Sadly, everything Pa’ah said was interrupted by the Great Leader as treason and insanity. He led the people! Not this burnt husk of a Martian who obviously had gone mad in the deserts above.

Because the Martians didn’t believe in killing lunatics, Pa’ah was locked up in a cell. To keep him quiet, his jailors provided him with means to write and draw things. This he did for many years before quietly dying in his sleep one night.

The collected works of Pa’ah were stolen shortly after he died. There was a lot of finger-pointing and accusations, but they never surfaced.

The ritual of vision quests continued, but no one else ever went to the surface again. Not surprisingly…no one has ever had a vision since Pa’ah’s.

But, a Martian did come forth the other day bearing promises of salvation and space ships. For a price!

As It Stands, there are no saints, just survivors.

The Messenger

Listen to this story as narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Urtan never asked for the mission.

The enormity of it made his guts rumble in protest.

But the Supreme Council of Creations wanted him to go. He heard of their plans just hours before appearing before the august group, from a friend. They were waiting for him in the throne room right now.

He paused outside the great doors and sighed. He had no choice.

It was his duty. The Elders of Eras Minor had made him a Lord because they trusted him, and believed he could handle any task. Straightening his stance, he stepped forward as the huge doors opened.

“We have a mission for you Lord Urtan …” one of the four elderly men said from atop a high four-way throne of alabaster.

“Mankind is destroying their own planet. We’ve watched for eons as they developed more terrible weapons and polluted the skies, the sea, and even the air. Our scientists say that if we eliminate all life on earth there’s still a good chance we could restore the planet’s environment.”

“What then,” Elder Ohji?” Urtan meekly asked.

The last speaker quickly replied, “We colonize. We know how to treat a planet. Look at all of the planets that belong in our confederation.”

“My mission?”

“You are going to judge if mankind is worth saving. When you report back in seven days we’ll consider what you found before deciding humanities fate, ” Elder Ohji explained.

Urtan bowed and walked out as the lights dimmed behind him.

Earth.

No amount of preparation and study could have prepared Urtan for the experience of living among people who seemed in a constant state of chaos.

Because the Elders had been monitoring earth for eons they knew what Urtan had to have to blend in with the humans. Fortunately, the people of Eras Minor looked a lot like humans.

He was provided with money and earth clothing; a pair of blue jeans and a plain blue t-shirt with a pocket. The sandals on his feet felt awkward, but he liked the feeling of the air tickling his toes. No hat. They also added a mustache that caused him to sneeze at odd times.

Sitting in a small diner in Boise, Idaho, one morning, Urtan witnessed his first fight among humans. Two heavily tattooed bikers got into an argument with two men wearing all black with red armbands sporting swastikas.

Customers panicked and ran out the door as the brawl intensified. Knives were drawn and used with deadly effect. One of the bikers was bleeding badly from a deep gash to his belly, and one of the black-clothed men lay on the floor bleeding out from a dozen wounds that would shortly take his life.

Urtan never left his table. When the police came he told them what he saw. Afterwards he thought about the senseless violence and what had spurred it. He came to the conclusion that cultural differences could cause violence.

After reading newspapers that reporting on world events, it was apparent that not only could individuals be reduced to combatants over trivial matters, but countries could, which often led to all-out warfare.

He found that humans were quick to hate and slow to forgive. Urtan went to airports, concerts, horse races, and colleges. He watched TV news every night at 5:00 o’clock. He mingled with people in community parks, and went to a National League football game where opposing fans broke out in drunken melee.

He talked with homeless people from Idaho to California. He made a point of taking public transportation everywhere he went. He listened to and observed people closely. His disguise allowed him to blend in with the erratic humans wherever he went.

By day four, Urtan was beginning to think there was no hope for the human race. Hate and fear was a toxic mix, and most humans seemed to have plenty of both. He witnessed violence, in one form or another, every day.

There was one interesting thing about the humans that gave Urtan pause.

They often adopted other lesser species, like dogs, cats, and horses. Where Urtan was from it was just the opposite; lesser species were treated harshly, and were never kept as pets.

It fascinated him how some lesser species were considered food, while others were literally adopted into earth families who loved them. It made Urtan wonder if there was flicker of hope for mankind.

Could he justify saving the world because humans had pets they pampered? He thought about what the Elders would say. It was unlikely they would see that as a reason not to wipe out all the living inhabitants of earth.

With one day left before he had to return to his planet, Urtan went for a walk in a small town in the California High Sierras. Snow had fallen the night before and blanketed the little main street with a coat of white.

He noticed that there was a man lying on a bench in front of a gift shop. He had pieces of cardboard on him for a blanket and was shivering. A tiny dog peeked out from his place next to the man’s face.

As he watched two young boys came by. They stopped and looked at the man and dog, then left. But an hour later they returned with blankets and some supplies. The elderly man wept as he gave his dog some of the food they brought.

The boys stayed with the man for an hour. Talking with him and encouraging him. When they left the old man wrapped his blankets around himself and his dog and curled back up on the bench.

Urtan was impressed. Could it be that when the humans are young they did have good hearts? That would make a good argument for their survival. The chance that a new generation could bring positive change to the world was there.

Eras Minor 

The Elders listened attentively to Urtan’s report.

When he finished they conferred among themselves briefly and the eldest one said, “It sound’s like you think there’s hope for humanity. Frankly, we’re skeptical of your optimism, but intrigued by the story of the two young earthlings who showed so much compassion.

“So here’s our decision; we will give the earthlings another 100 years to prove themselves worthy of living in the universe. Then we will send another messenger to make that determination.”

Urtan bowed. He was at loss for words he was so happy. He wasn’t going to be the messenger of death after all.

As he walked down the marble corridors that led to his room in the palace, he wondered, once more, if there was really hope for the human race.

As It Stands, man is his own worst enemy.

The Monkey Murders

Did you know that you can find a shrine to monkeys, rats, and dogs, in India?

Actually, in the Hindu culture there is a close bond between animals and humans. The culture believes in reincarnation. One never knows if they mistreat an animal if it could end up being one of their own ancestors.

Monkeys are highly thought of in Hinduism. It was a monkey, Lord Hanuman, who saved Lord Rama’s wife Sita from Ravana’s wrath in Indian lore.

You can visit the Galtaji Temple, an enormous shrine to monkeys, today. It’s just a short distance from Jaipur. It’s inhabitants are truly unique. They’re Rhesus Macaques Monkeys which are known as the world’s most adaptable primates.

Visitors and pilgrims have come for hundreds of years to pray or just stare at the ancient ruins overran with the large tribe of monkeys.

When Rory and Mack, two dedicated trophy hunters, read about the Galtaji Temple and it’s monkeys, they got drunk and came up with a plan to bag some for their collection. They read enough to know the monkeys were protected, and considered sacred, but it didn’t change their sodded minds.

They were both wealthy and bored. Hunting injected that spice they needed in life. Killing animals and making their bodies trophies was a pastime they shared for over a decade from their ranches in Montana.

They hunted in India before. Legally, and illegally. It was a place where officials turned their heads quickly if enough money was offered. Guides gathered like flies in the airports looking for would-be hunters for a payday.

The heat and the humidity hit Rory and Mack like a living thing as they walked down the runway and towards the main gate. The two men stood out in the sun watching the workers unload the luggage from the plane onto rolling carts that were attached to mini-trucks.

By the time they got to their room in Jaipur both men were exhausted. After eating a light dinner at an outside café, they returned to their room and went to bed…anticipating the next day.

They chose to walk, carrying a few basic supplies in their back packs. The walk turned out to be much longer than they were led to believe. The road was rough and uneven. Both men were panting from the heat when they arrived at the shrine.

A woman ran up to them and put red dots on their foreheads and demanded money. They didn’t even try to argue with her. The priests and staff were mingling with a small gathering of visitors at the base of the temple. Some people were feeding the monkeys chips and bananas.

The courtyard and temple were filthy with monkey feces and decaying food. The temple itself was in poor condition. Parts of the shrine was crumbling under the weight of vines and heavy vegetation that was slowly engulfing the whole structure.

Rory and Mack’s plan was simple. They would each kill a monkey and put it in the water-proof/smell proof canvas bag they both brought along for that purpose. They planned on checking in the sealed bags with the dead monkeys inside as luggage – souvenirs from their trip. Neither had brought a weapon. Too much hassle for such small prey.

They reasoned that they could kill the fragile primates easily with their hands. Snap the their neck, and that’s all she wrote. The challenge was to kill the monkeys without starting a riot.

They stayed until dusk, waiting for the visitors and pilgrims to leave. The priests disappeared into the shrine’s dark interior as nightfall settled into the valley. There was no lack of monkeys to pick from. They were sleeping all over the ruins.

It wasn’t much of a challenge for the two experienced hunters to sneak up on a sleeping monkey and throttle it before it could squeak in protest. The deed was done and they walked back to their room under the light of a full moon.

Two weeks later back in Montana.

Mack held up his brandy snifter and clinked it against Rory’s. They were sitting in front of a glowing fireplace in Mack’s trophy room. That day they had picked up their catches from the taxidermist and were now admiring the work that made them look alive.

The monkeys stood upright on little rock pedestal, staring into space, as the two happy hunters drank late into the night.

From the local newspaper – The Montana Messenger

Headline: Two Men Found Strangled In Lodge

Police reported that a housekeeper found two men dead on the floor as she was cleaning Monday morning. The owner of the lodge, Rory L. Handers was found with a broken neck, as was his visitor, Mack Kolby Cameron II.

There are no suspects at this time. The two men were well known international hunters who had just recently returned from a vacation in India. Rory’s spouse told deputies that their last trip was a pilgrimage to a shrine in India, Galtaji Temple.

Local residents have been advised to lock up securely at night. A full investigation is underway, according to Sheriff Slim Sanders.”

As it Stands,  Lord Hanuman’s revenge was cosmic justice.

A Tale Of Forgotten Heroes

1a-spartan

404 BC. Greece

I’ve seen my death, and it’s coming soon.

So, I need to tell you a story, not just about me, but also about my brave comrades who gave their lives fighting the monster Chaos.

If I don’t share what happened, the world will never hear of the epic fight waged between the cruel beast Chaos, and the Spartan heroes who defied him. There were no witnesses to our great deed.

Only me. It wasn’t supposed to be so. A city that promised immortality lied to us.

I’d try to write my story down if I could, but as you can see, I’m missing an arm and the other is dangling uselessly beside me. So please, kind sir, listen closely and share our tale with the world.

My name is Ajax. No, not the famous Ajax from the from the Trojan War. Just a common Spartan raised from birth to fight the state’s enemies. My eleven comrades and I were returning from the Decelean War when we camped outside a city one night.

It was dark when we arrived and none of us wanted to be mistaken for an enemy by a jittery night guard at the city’s main gate. We could see bonfires inside the fortified compound as we settled in for the night.

My eleven comrades names were; Aegues, Alecto, Caedmon, Darragh, Fausto, Isai, Maarku, Ondrej, Rehor, Ujarak, and Vadik. We were all from the same city, Lacedaemon. We were all on our way home after years of fighting.

We planned to buy more food for our journey in the morning. Because we were military men we always posted a revolving guard around our perimeter.

In the early dawn hours, when most people slept, there came screams of terror within the fort. They got louder and soon everyone in our camp was standing, armed and ready for whatever may happen.

As we watched we could see bodies flying off the ramparts near the main gate. Horrified screams tore the night apart as some terrible thing attacked the people inside. Suddenly the main gate shook and came crashing down!

The thing that came out was from a nightmare. It was nearly twice as tall as me, and I’m the tallest in our little band. It’s massive arms and chest bulged with corded muscle. It’s long legs were equally muscled.

It was carrying a huge axe and wore a belt of human heads around its massive girth. The creatures long blond hair was soaked in human blood that dripped onto its face and dyed its beard red.

In the light of the full moon we watched it lumber off in an easterly direction. We were all thankful it didn’t see us. We watched the pandemonium – people with torches at the main gate – from the top of a gentle slope near our camp.

We got up early the next morning and walked down to the fort’s entrance. Men were already working on repairing the heavy metal door and putting it back into position as we rode up to a guard.

A row of bodies with shrouds over them lined the street.

He was a talkative fellow and filled us in on what happened. Apparently the monster, he said his name was Chaos, had been extracting a horrible tribute from this city and another east of it for two years.

No one had been able to stand up against Chaos. The city first fought back against Chaos’s demands of human sacrifice every full moon, but when the beast killed fifty of it’s best warriors in a single battle, they knew they were defeated.

The reason Chaos attacked them was because there were no sacrifices waiting for slaughter. Instead they dared to try to ambush him, and paid the price.

The guard led us to the city father’s who were gathered around a bonfire and arguing among themselves. They grew silent as our little company approached. They quickly shared their story when we asked.

In the end, we agreed to kill the monster Chaos in exchange for each man’s weight in gold and statues of us all in the main square. What can I say? We were virile warriors who feared nothing, having defied death daily for most of our lives.

A guide was assigned to us, a freed slave I believe. His name was Xander. He led us to Chaos’s lair in the nearby mountains. We only knew one way to fight…and that was head on! We called out to the vile creature and mocked him as a coward.

When he came out of the cave he was rubbing his eyes in the bright sunlight. In that moment we surrounded him and attacked! It’s strength was unbelievable as it tore off arms and heads with gruesome ease.

Everyone of us wounded Chaos, but he was impervious from pain despite the deep slashes our swords were making.

Finally, it was just brave Aegues and I fighting. Chaos tore my arm off, and I fell. But even as I fell, Aegues did what no other man could…he pierced the creature’s black heart and killed it!

Before it died however, it tore his head off! As I lay wounded, Xander appeared and treated my wounds. My right arm was gone, and the left broken in two places. He took me to an old woman who lived alone in the mountains and was thought to be a witch.

She treated me as best as she could. I’m broken up inside as well as out, and there’s not much to do about it. As I rested at her hut word came of a celebration in the two cities freed from Chaos’s reign of terror.

There was no talk of my comrades and I saving them all. No talk of statues to be built-in our honor. We were forgotten, like we never existed.

I talked the old lady into hiring you Zack, to take me home in your cart. You see, my legs are useless too. The old lady said it was because of my broken back.

But, I fear I’m not going to see the green fields surrounding my childhood home. So, I humbly ask you to tell our story to everyone you meet.

“Of course,” Zack said.

Two days later, Ajax quietly died in his sleep. Zack buried him in a nearby field with no marker.

On his way home Zack tried to remember everything Ajax told him. Unfortunately, Zack was a simple man with a poor memory and by the time he returned home he’d forgotten the whole story.

As It Stands, this tale is for all forgotten hereos.

Days of Discovery, Nights of Terror

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Alternate Earth, Andromeda

Plex was an adventurer, amateur archeologist, assassin, and lone wolf.

Since being abandoned at six-years old, Plex had always been on his own. His remarkable survival skills were legendary.

His adventures over the course of two decades, were chronicled in every planet in the solar system. His very name became synonymous with fantastic discoveries and daring deeds.

The mountains of Moibus, Ceres IV

Plex could barely see through his goggles. The snow storm was turning into a full-on blizzard when he spotted the building. A round granite tower with one door and no windows.

When he drew near, he saw an old man open the door and gesture for him to enter. Once inside, they descended down a flight of stone stairs and emerged into a great cavern. Candles were burning in little alcoves cut into the native stone.

Shadows danced along the rugged rock walls and the lava stalagmites that rose as high as a hundred feet in the air. The light from the candles reflected off the eyes of little creatures peering out from jagged rock formations.

They walked for a while in silence as the guide led Plex into a network of twisting tunnels. Finally they came to a large room where a throne sat. It’s inhabitant was a tall gangly man with white hair and beard. He wore an ornate helmet.

His guide backed out of the room, bowing with respect.

Are you the one they call Plex?” the man on the throne asked in a shrill voice.

“I am, lord,” he replied.

“It’s said that you accept any challenge, as long as it makes for a good adventure and pays well.” 

“That’s true.”

“Well then, I have a challenge for you that should be irresistible.”

 “I’m listening, lord of Moibus.”

“I want you to go to Hell and get my wife who should not be there. It’s me, Satan has a problem with. He cannot hurt me in my kingdom, but he had his minions capture her when she was taking a nap in the courtyard one day.

How can I enter hell? I’m still alive, and the devil hasn’t come for me yet?”

“My necromancer has a spell that will allow you to enter hell, and return with my wife.”

“I’m intrigued, but I’m still curious what kind of bounty  you’re offering? The rumors I heard suggested a person’s weight in the rarest gems in the galaxy.”

“It’s true. Look behind me at the open chests with gems spilling out onto the ground,” the Lord of Moibus assured him.

Plex walked over to them and studied the glittering mass, buying time before giving an answer.

“Where’s your necromancer?”

Hell.

To Plex’s surprise, Hell was darker than a coal mine during a full eclipse of the two suns that surrounded Ceres IV. The spell transported him instantly.

If not for the occasional fire accompanied with screams, he was blind. The thought of finding anyone seemed like a dark joke. He didn’t know which way to go. He steadied himself from panicking and tried to remember everything the necromancer told him.

He counted one hundred steps and stopped. Turning to his right he knocked on the obsidian wall and it swung inward, exposing a dimly lit, sparely decorated room. A woman sat on a small bed and watched him with curiosity as he entered.

“Have you come to free me from eternal nightmares?” she asked with tears in her eyes.

Yes. Come here, and let me hold your hands.”

As she approached the necromancer’s words came to him;

“Hand-in-hand. Hand-in-hand. Let go, to save a soul.”

As they grasped hands he realized the mistake he made, after repeating the chant. Save a soul. One soul. Not two souls!

He didn’t have time to blink his eye before she disappeared, and the lights went out!

As It Stands, a price is often paid for those bold adventurers who go where no one else has gone before.