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Something That Happened Before I Got Here
by Ken W. Castle

          There had been a disruption to his perfect order... yet there had been many disruptions. This one though... it warranted special attention. The attention that would have an impact for the rest of eternity!
          "King me."
          Mr. Grey king'd his opponent's peice before his opponent put together a flurry of criss-crossing lines of movement, only ot have it jumped by one of his own peices.
          "King me."
          Matt was nice enough to flip the peice with his much smaller hand, being only eight years old.
          "I've still won, even if you do have a king."
          "That so?"
          "UH huh. You've got too few peices."
          "And you have to let me considder my move for as long as I want, and if you leave before the game is over, you lose by default... and you have a mother who'll want you back for dinner in... five minutes I believe."
          "Wha... damn you old man!"
          Chuckling lightly, Mr. Grey took on an almost-mocking version of serious considderation as he pondered the board.

          There was dust everywhere on the stone insides of the once-great temple which had been abandoned, seemingly centuries or milenia ago. (Corpus Christi Texas, however hadn't been known for it's abandoned temples.)
          The wide spaces in the temple, once filled with worship to great beings of power, now held fewer things than before... infact one hall had only a young woman, a motorcycle and her other personal effects including a skull in a box, which was casting a steady glow from what looked like a cluster of glittering fireflys.
          "This place feels funny Jana... like there's some kind of catch that's just not making sense to me."
          Suddenly there was a deep rumbling followed shortly by the sound of feet pounding across the stone, and getting louder ahead of the rumbling. In a second or two a man wearing a drover's hat, a leather jacket and with a whip on his hip next to a large cloth pouch could be seen running ahead of what looked to be a gargantuan spherical boulder.
          "Run kid!"
          Jana's new instincts kicked in, and she kicked the bike into gear, pelting forward as the man running cracked his whip into a hanging branch from an ornamental tree, swinging himself up and taking himself out of harms' way. This left Jana with a large stone rolling after her, the bike revving hard underneath her.
          "Jana! When I say so, roll the bike along the ground on it's side, and WATCH YOUR HEAD!"
          That's when Jana saw the entrance ahead of her and reved the engine hard, daylight beckoning her onward.
          She slammed the bike on it's side, suddenly recalling that she needed to put her head down, and thusly only just avoiding having the rapidly-descending stone door hit her on the head. The boulder hit the door three seconds later with a colosal, thunderous sound.
          "At least that man with the whip was all right."
          There was a sound from behind the door of rumbling, slowly getting fainter.
          "Yeah... I don't think he'll have any trouble finding the second exit as long as he can keep dodging that boulder... and not trigger the darts."
          "I didn't see any darts."
          "Hopefully he does before it's too late. I can't believe he wished for a heart stopping adventure and got THIS..."
          "Well I was scared when that boulder came out of nowhere."
          There was a mist that hung low over the ground and there was the sound of horses hooves at a gallop in the distance as the woman and her child hurried along the long white wooden fence. Suddenly there was a shout of "There! Survivors!"
          The woman snapped around and then threw her child over the fence and screemed as a darkly armoured soldier rode toward her, a net outstretched.
          That's when the Sacking of Artson's Farm didn't go to the attacker's plan as there was a swirl of fog as a tall gray-robed man with a sharp set of anglo-saxon features walked out of it, his dark hair set in a pont tail with a simple wooden staff held in his right hand. He spoke in a clear, strong voice that carried without being overly loud.
          "This slaving raid is OVER."
          The man on horseback squinted hard from where he'd stopped atop his horse. That was before his horse reared up and he was thrown from it, and from the carrying sound across the fields the same was happening with all the horses on the property.
          "Leave, and these horses will choose their new masters."
          The horse that had just bucked it's rider trotted over to the man and nuzzled itself into his shoulder, a calm whiney coming from it's throat, and the other horses followed, doing the same. This was disrupted by the felled soldier rallying to rush forward with his sword raised.
          One fifteenth of a second later, he was collapsed on the ground, the helmet dented where the horse had kicked it in, his fellows gingerly circled around to help him up as blood began seeping from under the rim of his helmet.
          As the woman looked on, a small, tenous voice called out to her from around a tree near the fence. She looked over to see her six year old son wide-eyed and clearly pale with fright. She slowly took a step toward him, then quickly closed the rest of the distance, seizing her son in her arms, grasping him to her tightly, yet when she looked back all the horses were tethered to the fence, save one which was gone, along with the man who'd been... all he'd done was talk, really.
          Mrs. Artson turned and looked at the scene behind her. Most of the people who could fight had fallen trying to stave off the slavers, and the houses HAD been entered, yet she hadn't seen too many people come out... and that wasn't necessassarily a good thing she found as she walked past a bashed-in door and saw corpses in the front hallway of the house. The blood on the walls was in arcs, indicating wounds from sword blows. There were bodies strewn along the halls and rooms, yet there was suddenly a whimpering from behind one of the walls...
          Hours later, the children who had hidden, two of the oldest being no more than fourteen, and one of the elderly women that was sheparding them into the crawl spaces were all that was left. As Mz. Artson took all of this in, she heard a stifled shreik from the front gate as a young woman in a faded singlet looked down in horror at the bodies by the decimated front gate. Yet it turned out that she was just one of a long line of survivors coming in from the surrounding rural properties which got longer as the day passed.
          And all told tales of a man wearing gray robes, the latter ones saying he was riding a horse.
          Jana was walking beside her bike because it was out of magic, and so was Sylvia. (Secretly she loved to travel the open road without the sound of a motor, even on a hot day like today when the humidity was up, yet the ground was so dry it made you glad you had shoes of any description on. This left a great deal of time for her to enjoy stretching her legs, and staying in tune with her surroundings.
          "Are you sure this is the right direction?"
          Sylvia liked that about Jana. Most eight yearolds asked "Are we there yet?" yet the jungle girl just wanted to make sure the direction was correct.
          "Yes. The epicentre of the wishstone's activity is a few miles east of here up the road."
          That was when a man jumped up from the side of the road where he'd apparently been meditating in the tall grass. He was attired in a deep golden cream robe festooned with green sigils that seemed to look diffrent everytime you saw them, even though you were sure they hadn't changed. He also had an expression on his face of rapture and excitement, yet there was something unhealthy about it... some thing that implied that Jana wasn't what he was looking at, as if there was something just behind her shoulder...
          "You are the one foretold, and you speak with unclean spirits, so you must be the one! Oh, there shall be such rejoicing and feasting. You shall come with me now, shant you?"
          "Well, I..."
          "Fantastic!" He said as he clasped her arm while she symultaniously balanced herself by reaching out for her bike's handlebars. This was as he produced a magic wand from his robes and drew a glowing sigil in the air. This was when a great circle appeared above him in the air, it's white light the same as the sigil's. It promptly dropped down about Jana, the bike and her new admirer, a thunderous clap was all that was left when the circle hit the ground.
          The place Jana found herself was... dull. It was a grey void slowly fading to black. Then there was sound... chanting coming from the... well it felt like ground around her, and it was echoing across a massive space.
          "Now where are my manners? Your not used to having to see in the dark with our lord's blessings."
          The man's voice came from Jana's shoulderm followed by a flare of starkly red light that illuminated him and her both for a second before becomeing a shooting spark that sought out a niche running along what now appeared to be dark crimson stone walls. The spark exploded against the wall, which triggered a sudden ring of fire to grow around the room to finally illuminate the entire asembalage.
          The fool was flat earth, and the chanting was the same non-sensical words over and over, coming from a small army of similarly robed people kneeling in grooves that meant that as long as they knelt, their heads were below floor height. Sylvia was suddenly gripped with a feeling from the chanting, like the whole area was dirty... slimy...
          "Thee girlll..."
          The end of the chamber was linked to the circular platform Jana was standing on by a stone caseway, and there was an alter at the end of the great chamber, and behind it a giant section of wall was built with a concave area that peaked at the roof. Infront of that, in the area of the causeway just before the alter was a pit. Jana noticed it quite sharply as tendrils, lined with what liiked like thick spines or thin teeth had whipped up and rested themselves into well-worn grooves.
          "Bring herr forr my feasst!"
          That was when almost twenty cultists bum-rushed Jana and brought her to the alter to have her tied up while she was still in a state of shock. This wasn't that surprising considdering what she saw. A great creature arose from the pit. It was like a squid's tentacles and whips on a snake's body, it's eight or so red glaring eyes were set around what looked like a shark's mouth, each blazing with rage and evil, malevolent power.
          "Youu havve greaat powerr," It said in a voice that was inspired by pure terror, yet left terror wanting for power and sheer concentration of evil, each word seemingly pronounced on either an inward or outward breath. "aand it cann bee minee through yourr bloodd."
          Jana's paralysis gave way to the scream that she issued as the being drew it's whips above that basicly passed for it's head. That was when the doors collapsed from their hinges at the far end of the chamber, and a man leading a horse was stading on the other side, a simple woden staff in his right hand.
          "That girl is not going to be killed today."
          The creature from the pit wheeled around, it's eyes blazing with hatred (As usual.) and pointed what looked almost like a hand from one of it's tentacles while inhaling in a way that inflated areas of it's body that had no business having anything to do with lungs.
          "KIIILLL HIIIMMM!!!"
          The acolytes swarmed out of their pits and toward the man with the staff, and that's when the accident's began to happen. The closest man to him tripped, and sent the row behind him sprawling, another threw a knife back by mistake, one of his fellows taking it in the arm. As a whip went sideways, it began asphixiating a man who's flailing was like a martial arts display, people being brought down in scores. In little more than a minute, someone cried out in anguish, believing that thay'd done something wrong, and the in-fighting broke out.
          With a sound between a hiss and a howl, the creature resumed the waving of it's tentacles. This brought the man with the staff to unleash a sharp yalp as he slammed his staff end-down onto the floor, and all of a suddenly there was a crack from the ceiling above the creature as an angular slab of stone suddenly slid out and, amidst a hail of previously blocked sunlight, the creature was impaled, it's blood spattering all around.
          As the follows stood in shock, the man ran up to Jana, the knots of her ropes coming undone as she turned to him atop the altar. There was a wailing from the gathered worshippers as they saw the focus of their devotions sliding back into the pit, and that was all the singnal the two needed to make a hasty exit, Jana barely having time to rev her bike to life, thanks to Sylvia being able to muster enough magic to get it going again so she could ride into the mist that the stranger with the staff had just ridden into.
          The survivors called this place a Haven. You could hear the capitalization when they called it "The Haven". It meant a lot of things to an ever-growing number of people. The fact that more came in from time to time meant that The Haven had developed both farming and hospital capacity on the fly. (Some used magic, some used surgery and conventional medicine, yet both were compatible.) Jana found this as she rode out of the mist to hear a loud cry from the house.
          She was met in the large driveway by a small group, no more than three people, who imediately started taking details and looking her over, rotating her head one way and another and her hands and feet, checking for sprains, all the while, one of the older women was asking her quick, cursory questions.
          "Hello, I'm Miriam, what's your name dear?"
          "I'm Jana..."
          "And can you move your legs and arms? Just give them a shake, there's a good girl."
          "Really I'm fine..."
          "That's good dear, and we haven't got any scratches have we? From trees, animals?"
          "No, not really, I said i'm fine."
          "I'm sure you are dear, we just want to be sure, better safe than sorry, isn't that right?"
          "I keep telling you I've been injured worse than this, and right now I just smell bad! ... I really want to wipe this stuff off somehow."
          "Och, no need to look like a lost little lamb, we just need to get you cleaned up. Janice, can you heat some water for our guest?"
          "Of course, and shall I take this..."
          Of all the on-lookers that had gathered, there was not one that had not stopped to stare at the motorcycle. It seemed to stand out on it's own and be the focus of their un-warranted thoughts. There seemed to be an aura around the machine... like it was supposed to be there, yet the rest of it's proper world was missing. Jana tried to get people to stop staring at it. (Frankly the stares were starting to unnerve her.)
          "Uh, why don't I park this around the side and find my own way to a bath?"
          Nobody would touch the bike. She would see people in her greeting party stare at it, and even reach out their hands, then draw them back with funny looks on their faces. Before she left it, taking her pack with Sylvia in it, she asked for a sheet to cover it with. This seemed to calm the people around the farms a little. Aparently out of sight was as good as out of mind.
          That left the bathing and the interogation Sylvia so richly deserved.
          "Here you go sweetie, a whole tub and scrubbing brush to your little self! Now, who do we ask for if we need help?"
          "You Miriam."
          "Och, that's all I need to hear! So let me know when your done, or if you need help, as I'm pretty sure it's nothing I haven't seen before, and we'll even see if there's turnip stew left over from lunch. After all it's been a good day for it."
          As the kindly mother hen of a woman left her alone in the smallish washing shed with her things, and the smell of demonic... fluids? (She didn't know for sure, and didn't WANT to know for sure.)
          "Sylvia!" She hissed as she fished the box. "You didn't tell me there was that THING there when we arrived in that place."
          For the first time in a long time Sylvia spoke. "I didn't know till I was there, and if they knew where I was they could have contained my magic, especially if there was a curse on the place. Besides, I figured out that the guy who showed up at the last minute has a wish stone."
          "Great, and next time we want to see him do I have to have another one of those things about to... suck my blood out?" Jana had started to go pale and Sylvia realized that she was finnally sucumbing to shock, which she showed by suddenly taking to scrubbing her clothes and body, to the point where she was madly checking her nails and re-doing her hair for the third time in the now-cool water. This was when Miriam's voice came through.
          "We need that bathroom soon dear, some people are coming back from the fields and the smell of dirt isn't..."
          Miriam had poked her head in and saw the look on Jana's face, the one of distant eyes and a mind emmeshed in a strugle to both recall and forget.
          "Och, I just knew there was more hurt than you showed. come on deary, let's get you dried up and dressed."
          Jana mutely gestured to her pack and soon was toweled down and dressed in her spare set of clothes from when she'd raced a rally car against her motorcycle. Soon, her things were stowed away in a footlocker, and Miriam had one of the other people from The Haven's farms keeping an eye on the young woman... possibly the woman called Janice, or had she said Cassie? She was soon being chatted to as she was sipping soup, and being introduced to other people around The Haven.
          This gave Sylvia time to indulge in her favorite past-time: Listening. The talk was mostly of dad-to-day business, and there were stories being told to excitable young children. They were asking about the man in the robes and some were telling their own stories with varying excitement. A little magical enhancement of the sound in the box turned it into a concert hall. However a discordant note soured the whole experience.
          "Allright, I don't know! I don't know what it is! Miriam, you saw the... thing. People know that it's... it's supposed to be here? I just feel like... when I see it, I know what's supposed to be around it. There's flat earth... and this all feels wrong when I see it! Miriam... why did she bring it here?"
          Brilliant, she thought.
          Jana lived on what she could scavenge, hunt, pick, and borrow-on-the-presumption-ofgood-will. Living at a farming combine was different to her, as she felt like she was in a big family... in fact that was what Miriam had said over dinner the first night she was there.
          "My husband always said every day in The Haven is like a day in the marines. Every chore is a legendary labour, every meal is a feast for the senses, and every time you kiss a boy everybody knows." (There had been blushing at that point.)
          Still, the old farm houses were clean and there was life there, the halls vibrant with running children and hard-working adults. Saying she thought she still had something in her hair, Jana managed to sneak off to the bathroom she was in before.
          "I'm not going to stay here longer than I have to, even if the people are nice and the food is good. We have to find this man and get his his stone. I mean, I don't hate this place, we just..."
          "They are freaked out by your bike Jana, we have to go soon anyway."
          "My bike? What's wrong with it? Don't they like the colour?"
          "Haven't you noticed that people look at you funny when you ride it? Like their trying to remember something. Why do you think Vengance hid all that stuff?"
          "He didn't want people to get hurt?"
          The kids have innocence... you can't say they do not.
          "Do people who enslave people, and regulate everything to the point where you can't do anything without permission sound like he's worried about people just getting hurt if they ride them?"
          There was a long pause.
          "... I suppose he might not want people riding them because he's just mean."
          "No kiddo." There was a very firm tone from the skull. "He knew that if the idea got out that there were supposed to be paved roads, then eventually he wouldn't have people satisfied with him being in charge when they recall the idea of democrasy... at least some."
          As the memories of thousands of political scandals and dissappointments went through Slyvia's head (Not that there was much of her left for memories to go through.) she wondered if people would want to go back to what was happening before. Who wants to have a system like the one that was, when a magical kingdom could turn the whole nation into a paradise or giant theme park. As Jana spoke up she shunted these thoughts to the side.
          "That's still being mean."
          Innocent kids, gotta love 'em."
          "Anyway, let's keep moving once your ready. What we need to do is find this guy is get to where the action is."
          "Like where there are people being hurt? He stops people like that, I don't think that we're supposed to stop people like that."
          "Well he only shows up here for sure... hmm."
          "What?" Jana asked, fixing up her hair. "We aren't going to ambush him, are we? I don't think he's hurting anyone. Maybe we can leave him till last?"
          "... leave him till last?"
          "It's not like we're letting people get hurt and people are safe here. He's not stopping people from leaving, and he's a nice man... maybe we should just leave?"
          TO BE FINISHED.

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