Reads: 75

 

1

 

A full moon is perched in a cloudless cobalt sky as I vigilantly trek through Overton Park. There are no bustling cars racing up and down nearby streets or anxious joggers at this hour. There are no hotdog vendor carts mucking up the fresh air or creepy mimes and clowns going about their day. Nope, I’m just out here alone, keenly stalking through the woodland area in search of something.

Suddenly, lost and confused, I stop and peer around. A chilly, wheezing breeze snaking through branches caresses my skin. I catch no silhouettes dancing along the dimly illuminated pebbled paths. I hear nothing aside from the ever-present, soothing hum of quiet night. I’m unafraid as darkness blankets me because I know it’s a friend and tool. But why am I out here?

I look down at my hands and see ebony gloves with armored knuckles. My feet are adorned with jet-black steel-toed boots, my torso protected by a smoke gray bulletproof vest. My tweed pants are charcoal in color and my arms are swathed to the wrists by long gray sleeves. I reach up to my face, and sure enough, my black goggles and ski cap are firmly in place. I scoff at myself for forgetting that I’m on the prowl for unsavory types that tend to cause problems during the wee hours that the sun is not out.

I was restless after exams today, and since I couldn’t sleep I decided to make use of my energy. I hopped out my bedroom window and down the fire escape, crept through a few alleys, and then made my way to the park to hunt down criminals and lowlifes. I shake my head in disbelief. I’m not a novice at the vigilante lifestyle. I’ve been doing it for years. So how’d I forget I decided to go out and stop crime?

With a long and exhausted sigh I pull up my sleeve to look at my wrist watch. It’s almost four in the morning. Damnit, I think. How long have I been out here? It makes no sense I’ve lost so much sleep over a lackluster night of hunting criminals. I didn’t even encounter a purse snatcher. It’s as if crime took the night off. So I just turn around and start for home, the soothing sedation of rest summoning me.

 

“Qordel, you look worse for wear,” Kiyana says to me a few hours later as we walk down the street toward Lumnicoin. Her head bobs inquisitively as she waits for me to reply.

“Gee, thanks,” I grumble half heartedly. I pull my baseball cap down further, trying to cover the bags under my eyes and to keep the light of early morning from attacking my irises. The rays of the sun are intense and my head is in a fog. I’ve pulled all nighters before and suffered for it the next day, but this is different. My head thrums like thunder and I can’t keep focus.

“Sorry, but it’s true,” Kiyana says with a snicker. “I haven’t seen you look this bad in a really long time. Not since, I dunno—“

“I just need a coffee.” My tone is harsher than I intend, but I don’t need her to start bringing up the past. She takes my poor mood in stride, shaking her head at me.

“Or like twelve,” she chuckles. “And when did you start drinking so much caffeine? I think we been to Lumnicoin like four times this week.” She stops walking for a moment and looks me in the eyes, a serious expression beaming from her face. “Your dad know?”

I shake my head, and scoff, hiding a grin. “I’m eighteen. I don’t need to run everything by him. I do what I need to do to get through the day. Plus, coffee is legal.”

“Oh dang, look at you,” she laughs. “You gettin’ all responsible and mature. You adultin’ hardcore now.” She slugs me in the shoulder, good-naturedly. “And it’s about time.”

“Whatever,” I shove her back, a playful smirk on my face. “Let’s get this day going and done.”

We walk a few more feet when her eyes get big. She stops and holds out her arm to keep me from going further. I turn and look at her, shrugging my shoulders to ask what’s up. Her expression changes and her lips tighten into a frown. “Tell me you didn’t,” she says through clinched teeth.

I know dang well what she’s referring to, but I hesitate, wondering if I should play coy or divert the conversation. I weigh my options, and accept that if I play the fool, as if I didn’t know what she was alluding to, there would be upset feelings and possibly a verbal quarrel. I also realize diversion attempts would be a waste of our time, since she’d undoubtedly bring it back full circle. I just need to own it and fess up; I’m too tired for an argument anyways. Plus, I don’t want her angry, or disappointed in me.

After a long sigh I nod my head a couple times.

“No,” she exasperates, knowing this is the best confession she’s getting. “We made a deal.”

“And I kept it,” I plea.

Her head jerks back and her gaze intensifies. “Really,” she asks.

I nod anxiously. “Yeah, my last exam was yesterday. I have none today. Technically, my semester is over, even if we haven’t walked across stage yet.”

She shakes her head and chortles in disbelief. “Splitting hairs on the deal, I see.”

“Nope, just spitting truth,” I reply with a diminutive smirk. We stand in the middle of the sidewalk gawking at one another for a long time in silence, people passing by without glancing at us.

Kiyana’s gaze burns through my steadfast resolve and I scoff, irritated. “Look, I really did wait until I was done with all my exams before I suited up,” I tell her in a hushed voice. “And I really tried to hold off even longer than that. After my final exam I went home and read a book, cover to cover in like three hours. Then I played Cityscape for an hour. I wanted to call you guys to come hang out, but you and Zakonu went to bed early because ya’ both got exams today. I couldn’t sleep though, even after taking meds. I had so much energy. It was nuts. I needed to burn it off. So, around eleven or so I went out. It was a bum night though, but I guess I burned off that energy.”

“So you went out, alone, and without at least letting me or Zak know where you’d be in case something happened?” Her eyes are so wide and piercing, I actually feel shame trickling in.

“Oh, that deal,” I slip pass my lips, ever-so-quiet.

“Mm-hmm,” she replies, her lips twisted.

“Thought you were talking about the other deal,” I chuckle.

“Nah Qordel,” she says. “I recognize how difficult it must’ve been for you to not go out and do your whole vigilante thing this past month. And I’m proud of ya’ for accomplishing that self control. But going out in the dead of night, last night, to stop punks and idiots from breaking the law, without having someone know where you’d be, is too reckless.”

“Hey, quiet down,” I shush her, looking around for nosey snitches. Vigilantism is illegal, afterall.

She shakes her head fervently, “No, you don’t get to do that now. Zak and I made you make a deal with us that you’d do it as safely as possible. If we ain’t backing you up, ya’ ain’t supposed to be out there doing the vigilante thing. And on them crazy days of yours where ya’ just need to do it, then ya’ supposed to tell us so we can cover for ya’. That’s the deal we made.”

“Look, I know. I just—“

“No, there’s no just anything. This deal has been our bond of friendship for years now.”

“You’re right,” I grunt. I take a breath, then another. I slow my heaving chest. “I’m sorry.”

Perplexed, she scoffs. “That sounds scarily like a real apology.”

“I can blame the exams, my stress over scholarship requests, or me worrying about what my dad is gonna do without me next year. But none of it is the real cause for my weariness, short-temperedness, or grumpiness. Something else has been wrong with me for like four weeks. But I can’t pinpoint it. I don’t remember things. And my head is slosh, and in so much pain.”

Kiyana turns me toward her and she removes my baseball cap. I shrug her off and hide my eyes from the sun. The bright rays make all the pain in my head worse, spreading the violent throbbing.

Kiyana throws my cap back on my head and starts dragging me in the opposite direction. “What are you doing,” I grumble. “Coffee is back that way.”

“Forget coffee,” she snaps back at me. “I need to see something.”

She yanks me down the entire city block and inside a Red Bowl. “You’re hungry?” I muse. “We could do lunch, I can eat.”

“Shut up,” she says, shoving me into a booth. She whips my cap off and tosses it on the table, but I don’t protest this time. The lights in the restaurant are off during the day, and the sun’s beams aren’t getting through the tinted windows.

“Open your eyes wider,” she demands. And I do. “Look right at me.”

“What’s this all about?” I ask her. “You worried about me or something? I’m just worn out. All I need is some coffee, and probably a week-long nap. I’m alright though.”

She stares into my eyes, worry pouring from her face. “You’re not alright Qordel.” She slams her backpack on the table and starts ruffling through it. “Where’d you go last night?”

I open my mouth to speak, but no words take off. My eyes blink fast as I try to put together the pieces of my night. Yet, all I get is a blur of hazy shapes. I see nothing concrete. I chuckle, nervously. “Ki, no games, but I can’t remember.”

“I know you can’t,” she answers back, her head and arms hidden in her bag.

“Um, how do you know I can’t remember? What’s going on?”

“Yes,” she shouts, ignoring my question. Kiyana leans back, pulling out an ancient leather-bound book from her bag, and then slaps it on the table. With a wide grin she starts trifling through the pages in a hectic pace. “Give me a moment.”

“That’s your grandfather’s book of arcane creatures,” I whisper. “I remember when you showed that to me back when we were five.”

“Good,” she exclaims. “It looks like its only short term that’s affected.”

“Huh?”

“This!” She stops flipping through the pages and turns the book around for me to look at an ink drawing of a creature that looks kind of like a scaly, monkey with odd noodle-shaped quills sprouted from its back and a floppy, frill atop its head.

“What. Is. That?” I ask. “And, won’t you get into trouble for bringing that book out in public.”

She waves the second question off dismissively. “That is a Nocturne Grempyr Scruff,” she answers my first question. “And I think you been messing around with one.”

“That’s really gross, and mean of you to say.” I stand up but she scoffs and demands I sit back down. I slowly lean into the booth when a server walks up, places two cups of ice water between us, glances at Kiyana with a grin, and then walks away, saying nothing.

I look at Kiyana, who just sits across the booth studying me. “I’m not sure if you’re being funny or something,” I begin. “But I don’t make out with critters. Plus, I’m not in a let’s-make-jokes mood.”

“Take this seriously,” Kiyana growls, her face frowned and teeth grinding. “Your eyes are milky with tiny speckles of red and purple. I think this type of imp has cursed you. And that’s why you can’t remember things. Also, it’s why your head hurts and you don’t like sunlight. But it has nothing to do with you being a grumpy jerk. That’s just all you.”

“Or, I’m just worn out and need to rest,” I say. I pick up my cup and down the water in one large gulp. “I’m sorry I’m testy. I just need to go home. It doesn’t have anything to do with mysticism.”

She sneers at me. “You should know better than to just write me and my conclusions off. There is a high chance that you’re cursed by this creature. I know what I’m talking about.”

Kiyana comes from a long line of mages that study and hunt creatures not of this world. Since she was very young, after her school coursework was complete she’d study the wonders and dangers of mystic worlds. Despite proclaiming that she wants nothing to do with the family business, Kiyana is the most knowledgeable person of arcane creatures in her family.

“Okay, you’re possibly right.” I pull the book closer and try to read the text. But the squiggles and slashes of the symbols are of a language I’ve never seen. “Um, mind telling me what this says.”

She smirks and pulls the book over to her side of the table. “The Nocturne Grempyr Scruff is a mischievous imp from the Umbraverse that feeds off the memories and thoughts of humans. It latches onto a person, pumping them full of a sleep-inducing toxin, while it siphons their memories and thoughts. The victim is left physically lethargic, mentally confused, and in pain, with no memory of what happened. If the imp stays latched on too long, it could result in incurable amnesia or fatality.”

The server returns and asks if we want anything. Kiyana tells her two of her usual, but as carryout and then the server leaves. As soon as the server is gone, Kiyana starts again.

“At the bottom of the page it says symptoms include lapses in memory, sluggish motor skills, extremely dry skin, migraines, sensitivity to sunlight, and milky eyes that sometimes sport flecks of red, purple, silver, or gold.” She pushes the book back over to me, smiling.

“You don’t need to be so happy that I’ve been cursed.”

“Stop being a fool,” she says. “I’m happy cause’ I can help ya’ get back any memories the little cretin stole from ya’. The counter-spell is fairly simple. My grandma taught it to me it when I was ten. We just need to find the imp that cursed ya’ before they return and yank more out yo’ little brain.”

“Hmph, and how do we do that? I don’t remember running into any memory-stealing monkeys.”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” she smirks. “But we’ll start with Overton Park.”

“Why there?”

“Ya’ said the memory loss started about four weeks ago. And that was around the time you were looking for clues in the Overton Park case of missing transients, which the police basically closed without solving. Or don’t ya remember doing that, right after promising to leave vigilante work alone until after exams so you could focus properly?”

“Hey, that was me doing public service work,” I say too fast. I could have easily used this memory stealing imp concern as the reason for hunting down clues after promising to focus on exams instead. “It was not vigilante work,” I add, more to validate myself than her. “Those missing folks need justice and peace too, even if they don’t have homes or jobs. Someone needs to care about them.”

“Ya’ suited up and had me and Zak on three-way-radio while you went scourging around the park for clues. Ya’ even sacked some kid when they tried mugging a jogger. That was vigilante work.”

“Fine,” I grunt. “But I kept my promise for four weeks. No criminal-hunting afterschool activities for me. This last month has been studying and boredom.”

Kiyana shrugs her shoulder. “Maybe not,” she says, her lips twisted at an angle. “One of the other aspects of the curse is that victims sometimes returned to the imp’s nesting ground and offered up their memories. But they don’t remember it at all, cause’ they’re hypnotically controlled by the Grempyr.”

“Are you suggesting that over the last month I’ve been sleepwalking to Overton Park, and then offering up my brain like it was a buffet?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“Well, now I’m pissed,” I growl. “I don’t know what memories this little prick stole, but I want them back. And I want to kick this things—“

“Hey, don’t be angry with the Grempyr. It’s an animal of a mystic world that is only doing what instinct demands of it. It’s not evil or anything.”

I scowl at my friend and she purses her lips in embarrassment. “Are you serious?” I ask. “This thing has been ripping memories and thoughts from my brain for weeks. And you’re taking its side?”

“I’m not,” she says sheepishly. “I just don’t think it’s fair you want to harm it because it’s doing what nature demands of it. It doesn’t know any better.”

“Fine,” I grunt. “What do we do then, Kiyana?”

Just then the server returns again and places two paper, carryout bags on the table. She thanks us for visiting and then walks away.

“Um, wait,” I call after them. “Do we pay at the counter then?”

“Don’t worry about that,” Kiyana tells me. She places the leather-bound book in her backpack and slings it over her shoulder as she stands. Then she hands me one of the carryout bags and grins. “Go home, eat all of that, do not fall asleep, and then meet me and Zak at the main gate of Overton Park around nine. I’ll let our folks know we’re celebrating the end of exams.”

I don’t get to say anything before she rushes out the door. I peek inside my paper bag to find an order of vegetable Lo Mein and a side of fried seafood pastries with a bowl of egg drop soup. At least I’m getting some good eats out of this mind stealing drama.

 

I arrive to the gate just before nine, but Zakonu and Kiyana are not there. Did the imp get them? I look around real quick, not wanting to risk getting surprised by the little bastard. But I see nothing suspicious. Is this thing already making me lose memory of right now?

I gaze into night, wishing I could see some indication that my friends are okay, but this neighborhood is neglected by those in charge. The city should have replaced the lampposts lining this street ages ago. But despite numerous complaints there has never been enough money in the local funds. I take a deep breath, calming my nerves. I don’t mind being in the dark. I’m at my best when in darkness. And I need to know if my friends are okay, so I decide to use my abilities.

I close my eyes and allow the darkness to engulf me. I’m at ease as darkness creeps along my skin and inside me. Instead of dread it’s a welcoming sensation. I feel alert, and cautious. I don’t find it weird that I’m aware of a dog sneaking across the street to rummage through a dumpster before being shooed away by the owner. I can feel an owl a block away gawking at me, curious at what I am. And I know a family of raccoons is marching along the storm drain underground, thirteen feet beneath my feet. All of it is the life that happens at night, hidden in darkness. And darkness is mine to wield.

I stretch out tendrils of darkness to the edges of the park perimeter, seeking my friends. My senses are in tune, aware of any movements, no matter how slight. Sewer rats and field mice scurry about in a panic as cats give chase. Two blocks away a group of drunken people stagger down the street from one bar to the next. Dozens of cars race over cracked pavement and tarmac to their destinations as the moon climbs higher in the cold, cloudy night sky. And I’m feeling all of it, and more.

It used to be quite unnerving when my senses became so acute after allowing the darkness to merge with my mind and body. But now, I can’t imagine what life would be like without being able to tap into this secret and wondrous experience. Over the years I trained and perfected how much darkness to allow in. I practiced how to use it as a tool, to engage it as an extension of my will. I learned to respect its power and influence.

One of my tendrils slithering along the sidewalk to the east catches a glimpse of Zakonu and Kiyana coming towards me. They’re both in their vigilante garb, making me grin. We’re more than just friends; we’re a solid team of crime busting justice. I snicker to myself at how corny my thoughts are.

Zakonu is daunting in his crimson armor, energy crackling and arcing from cathode to anode atop his helm that resembles an ogre kachina. Once, I asked why he chose that entity to build his persona off of, and he responded that he wanted criminals to dread meeting him in the same manner children feared the bogeyman that hides in their closets or underneath their beds. And he does look like an imposing monster I’d hate to run into.

Kiyana is wrapped head to toe in an indestructible, flexible, emerald material she wields control over with her mind. Years ago, Zakonu and I teased her the first time she reluctantly showed us the enchanted garment her parents gifted her with. We were ten and she looked like a mummy when she wore it. However, since that day when she also displayed the strength and power of that enchanted armor, we have not whispered an utterance of a jest against it.

Both of them are hunched over and walking backwards. It takes a moment for me to realize they are holding bags of powder which they are pouring as they get closer. I let the darkness leave me and open my eyes, just as my friends come around the corner. “What are you two doing?” I shout after them. “What is that stuff?”

“Dude, were you peeping on us with the shadows again?” Zakonu grumbles.

“Not intentionally. I was just making sure the little imp didn’t get you.”

“Oh, it won’t,” Kiyana assures me. “Its why we’re pouring this powder. Once Chev charges it, it’ll provide protection for us and a trap for the imp.”

“Come on Tether,” Zakonu groans. “I’m suited up, so call me by my handle,” Zakonu demands.

“Fine, Cheveyo,” Kiyana grumbles. “Will ya’ light the powder?”

And Zakonu does, an arc of crimson lightning exploding from his fingertips to the powder, which bursts into brilliant ginger and cerulean. He designed and built his suit to help control and manipulate the energy his body naturally produces. A bit of a genius, he never lets Kiyana and I forget his intellect, or how destructive he can be with it.

“This powder you’ve laid down,” I begin. “Is it alchemy or arcane?”

“A little bit of both,” Kiyana admits. “The Grempyr has acute allergies to some rare plants and minerals, which are ground up into this powder?”

“And you just had it lying around?” I ask.

“Of course not,” she gasps. “After my last exam I went home and secretly raided my folks’ mystical items and herbs supply. They had everything I needed, so I grounded it all up myself.”

“You’re not afraid they’ll notice any of it missing?”

“Nah, not really,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. “Next time they make me journey through one of their mystical tunnels into another realm I’ll just replace what I took. No biggie, no sweat.”

I’m always so amazed by how nothing seems to bother Kiyana. She’s strong and confident, brave and resourceful. I used to be passive and hesitant. But with a friend like her, daring adventure and fun risk was always right around the corner. Even Zakonu has become more courageous in her presence. I’ve thought of asking if she placed a spell on us, but I know she’d say no and then kick my butt for insulting her in such a way. I know better than to think she meddles with mysticism all willy-nilly.

Grinning, I look back to the ignited powder, now sizzling and flickering with neon intensity. “Alchemy and arcane,” I whisper. “It’s beautiful.” I look at Kiyana, knowing she can’t see my eyes behind the goggles, but she nods her head because she knows what I’m thinking. Thank you, I nod back.

We watch in awe as the blazing powder races down the sidewalk and around the park’s perimeter, like lit dominoes falling. I’m not sure if they can smell it, because of how their suits cover their faces, but the ignited powder smells of lilac, rosemary, and patchouli. I’m nearly in a daze from the aromatic bliss. I wonder if that same smell is something the imp hates.

“Not worried someone will see this ring of fire,” Zakonu asks.

“Nope,” Kiyana says plainly. Suddenly, the wondrous cerulean and ginger flames begin to fizzle and dissipate. “The powder burns right up,” Kiyana goes on, smiling. “The ash left behind still holds the enchantment. It’ll keep the little imp trapped inside the park. We should hurry though, because we don’t want to be up all night.”

We make our way pass the entrance gate and traverse the winding path for ten or twenty feet, scanning the empty park. Manicured bushes, full trees, and elaborate gardens are scattered about, but there are no people or vendor carts. And definitely no imps.

“Where do we start?” Zakonu asks. “This place is not that big, but at night it’s a bit off-putting.”

Kiyana sighs. “I don’t know. Grempyr Scruffs tend to live underground in burrows, like ground squirrels and rabbits. And it’s strange for them to be so close to places populated by humans.” She looks over at me, her eyes piercing. “Do you remember where you searched for clues?”

I shrug, my eyes darting around the park. “I don’t remember that night.”

“Wait!” Kiyana gasps. “What is that?” She walks over to me, staring at my torso, pointing. “What happened there?”

I look down, following her gaze, and I see a slash in my vest. “Dunno,” I mumble. I place my finger in the torn material, and as soon as I do my mind thrums with pulsating pain. Beneath the agony I see intense flashes of something. At first, I don’t understand what I’m seeing. There are so many shapes and colors moving so fast, they’re too blurry for my brain to focus on any defining detail. But then my brain starts slowing all the movement down so I can focus, and then I realize I’m seeing a memory. It’s me, that night four weeks ago when I was looking for clues. And something attacked me.

It was incredibly swift and agile, so evasive that none of my instinctual attacks landed. The thing charged at me from a thicket, evaded my fists and shadow-whips, and then bound away only to circle back around to lunge at me. It had slashed at me, with claws? It was a little taller than me, and definitely weighed more than me. I can almost see its face when my body gets nauseous and pulls me from that memory, to go back further.

My knees get weak as my mind tries to make sense of these memories. It all pours back in so fast, so intense. I had been looking around the park for something the police missed or ignored when I saw an odd ball of light hovering a foot above the pathway. I started toward it and its glow pulsed, like a beating heart. And when I got close enough to touch the fizzling energy of wonder, it darted up the path. I remember chasing it. More than a rookie mistake, it was just dumb to go after an aimless sphere of light. But I remember I couldn’t fight the urge to hunt it down and have it for myself. It was illogical, but I needed to possess that light or I would die.

And I chased it into a thicket at the far end of the park, before the sphere of light faded away into shadow. That’s when I had noticed a pair of shimmering eyes watching me. I remember hearing strange chirping noises and overlapping whispers, before the thing had attacked.

The memories resurfacing is too much for me to handle, and my friends catch my body as I fall to the ground breathless. My body quivers and my head pounds.

“What’s wrong man?” Zakonu asks.

“I was attacked,” I choke out. “Something here in the park cut me.”

“What?” he gasps. “You were attacked? How? When?” He jumps into a defensive position while Kiyana shoulders my weight. “I don’t see anything,” he growls.

“Not now,” I mutter. “Four weeks ago, when I was here, something attacked me.”

Zakonu turns back to me, kneeling down. “So, did you just faint, or something?”

I hunch my shoulders. “Not sure,” I say. “I touched the slash in my vest, and then all these flashes of memory bombarded my mind.”

“That’s ya’ brain recovering what the Grempyr took,” Kiyana says. “But I’m not sure why its making you all weak like this.”

“Something else is going on, I think.” I push my way to my feet, forcing the queasiness away. “There is something weird going on.”

“Weirder than an imp from this park that has cursed you?” Zakonu chuckles.

I tell them about the little ball of light from my memory of four weeks ago, and then about being attacked. “I can see the eyes, and their skin. Something’s really off about them, but I can’t see the memory clearly. I’m trying, but it makes me literally sick to remember.”

“Is that how Grempyr’s operate?” Zakonu asks our resident imp specialist.

She shakes her head. “No, that doesn’t sound like a Grempyr encounter at all. They don’t attack humans. But, I don’t actually know how they lure people, so maybe the ball of light aspect is part of their spell casting. The vicious attack though? It’s too out of character. Maybe it is an ill Grempyr that attacked him weeks ago? I really don’t know. But we need to find it, and now.”

Before any of us can say another word, something goes whistling by my head. Its dazzling and wondrous. I forget all else and turn towards it, an urge bubbling within my heart. I reach for this sphere of playful light but it swiftly evades my grasp. I don’t know why I’m suddenly feeling curious and anxious, or why I’m giggling like a child, but I have this need to capture this fuzzy, glowing sphere.

A shrill blare yanks me away from the wondrous sphere of light. Pressing the palms of my hands against my ears, my vision blurs then tries refocusing. I’m no longer consumed by a need to seize a fuzzy ball of light. I pan around before I glimpse two large shapes a few feet away from me. My friends? Closer to the ground there’s a much smaller, frenzied form. What is that, I wonder. Then like a whisper from far away I vaguely remember a plan to regain my stolen memories. Is that the little monster?

I blink my eyes rapidly, until they water and my vision clears. I see Kiyana suited up in her powerful vigilante armor, her hand on Zakonu’s shoulder. He’s also suited up, but his helmet is off and he is tinkering around inside it with some tools. What are we doing?

And that’s when I again notice the jittering movements down at Kiyana’s feet. I look down and there is a strange creature trying to escape the entanglement of her stretched out ribbon. I shake my head and my vision gets even better, almost back to perfect. I look again and see the gleaming, plated scales of ivory and faded cool gray covering the body of this unhappy critter. Tiny spurs of fur peek out from between the scales, making the whole creature look like a giant burr. It has three fingers and two long, opposable thumbs on each hand, and its feet are prehensile. My eyes go wide when I get closer, gawking at its face. I hadn’t noticed in the drawing, but it has four eyes, dark like the ocean floor.

The thing thrashes about, making a chirpy, yipping sound as it fights the indestructible material of Kiyana’s flexible armor. It wriggles and claws at it, trying to escape. It even bites the indestructible material, but Kiyana isn’t letting it free.

“Is that it?” I ask in a much harsher tone than I planned. “Is that a memory stealing imp?”

“Yes,” Kiyana replies plainly. “This is a Nocturne Grempyr Scruff. And it’s a feisty one.”

I shake my head, hoping this oncoming headache will disappear sooner rather than later. “So, what happened?” I gesture toward Zakonu.

“That little creep fried the sensor array in my helm,” he snaps.

“But how,” I ask.

“It’s a simple act of nature’s science,” Kiyana answers. “That little thing glows and mesmerizes its victims, luring them into their trap. It’s kind of like that crazy looking fish found in the trenches of the deepest parts of the oceans. I’m making a note of it in my grandpa’s book.” Using the ribbon, she lifts the ensnared cretin up to eye height. “That’s right ya’ little vermin, we caughtcha!”

The thing peered back at her, its gaze fierce and calculating.

“I remember another ball of light,” I begin. “From just now, not weeks ago. Did it try to get us?”

My friends nod. “But how did we overcome the lightshow?” I ask them.

“Kiyana was prepared, like always,” Zakonu answers, pointing at her for a moment, before returning to the task of repairing his helmet.”

“I brought along a counter-spell,” Kiyana says. “I figured the imp may have been using a simple hypnosis spell, after analyzing what happened to ya’ four weeks ago. But it’s not arcane, it’s nature.”

“A little vicious and nasty animal of nature,” Zakonu chimes in. He fiddles a little more inside his helmet before smiling. “Ha! That should do it.” He plops the helmet back on, sparks bouncing around atop his head. His gleeful chortle is unmistakably him, even with the voice changer of his armor being on.

“That little monster swung by our faces all aglow,” Zakonu grunts. “Man, we were immediately entranced, you and I. If Tether hadn’t thought ahead, who knows what would’ve happened.”

“Yeah, ya’ guys were in trouble.” Kiyana looks at the Grempyr, studying its now docile demeanor. “After it swung by you both,” she goes on. “It jumped to the dirt and started strolling away, the both of you in tow. It had no idea I was unaffected, so I attacked. It was caught off guard, and its glow blinked off. And then I had to remove Cheveyo’s helmet to snap him out of it.”

“Yeah,” he groans. “For some reason, the intensity of the imp’s light is too much for my vision sensor to handle. My onboard computer couldn’t repair it. The damn monster short circuited my helm.”

“I thought that couldn’t happen,” I muse. “You built in automatic defenses for such attacks.”

“I know it. Tell the imp that.”

“Maybe there is some arcane in the glow?” Kiyana suggests. “Either way, Cheveyo and I tussled with the thing for a bit before I could wrap it up tight in my extension.”

“Wait! You two fought this thing? How long was I out?”

Kiyana and Zakonu take a quick glance at one another. “You were out for a few minutes,” Zakonu says to me. “Even after Tether freed you from the monster’s hold, you weren’t with it.”

“Yeah,” she agrees. “Ya’ stood there in a trance or something. In fact, ya’ didn’t start to return to us until I got the imp ensnared.”

I was out for a few minutes? It doesn’t seem right. It’s not how I remember it. “I felt like I was adrift for only seconds. Not enough time for you two to fight this thing.”

They look to each other again, but before either could say a word to me the imp reminds us of its presence with a howling wail that startles us. Its so nerve retching it breaks Kiyana’s concentration. In an instant the imp frees itself and plops to the ground. It rolls over and then jumps into the air, its blazing glow wanting to pull us all in into its trap.

“Not this time you little prick,” I growl. I throw a tendril of darkness at the Grempyr, and the impact sends it soaring through the air to crash in a thicket of creeping charlie.

Popping out from underneath the brush the feisty imp darts a wary and confused expression to each of us. Kiyana chuckles at the creature’s dread. “Yeah, that’s right. We’re immune to that trick now.”

The memory-stealing imp looks at me and grimaces, then lets out a high pitched sound before turning and darting toward a hedge plant nearby. We watch as its glow fades within the shrubbery. Then there is nothing. It doesn’t jump out of the other side or poke its head out from the branches.

A mechanical gasp escapes from Zakonu. “Uh, did that thing really just vanish?”

“Yeah,” Kiyana says, sounding shocked and impressed. “But that’s not one of its abilities.”

“So, where did it go?” Zakonu asks.

We cautiously walk over to the bush together, and after a few silent moments I hesitantly lean down and pull apart the branches. To our amazement there is a halo of shimmering energy pulsing within the bush, and it feels familiar to me.

“This is a portal arch,” Kiyana gasps, her face bright with awe. “It’s similar to what my parents cast when we travel between realms. Nocturne Grempyr Scruffs can’t open portals like this.”

“What does that mean?” Zakonu muses.

“Something else is going on here,” I answer. I reach out toward the portal and nipping, tingles race up my arm. There’s dark matter in this archway to another world. I focus on the energy and I can feel it wanting to respond to my thoughts.

“Either of you want to know where it leads?” Kiyana asks excitedly. “I mean, we’re gonna follow the Grempyr, right? We still need to extract what it stole from you Qordel.”

I step forward, my fist clinching. “You bet we’re following that damn thing into its burrow.”


Submitted: September 23, 2022

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