This is the twelfth round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “L”.
Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “L” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — E. J. D’Alise
(2,786 words – approx. reading time: about 10 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“No, I don’t think so,” I said, turning away from the girl and heading toward my next class.
“Wait,” she said, rushing to catch up to me. “It is foretold. You don’t have a choice.”
I stopped, turned to face the girl, and scrutinized her face. She seemed sane, perfectly serious, and giving no sign she was pulling a fast one. Crazy or deluded, possibly unstable, I concluded.
“Look, I need to get to my Logic 101 class. We’re getting back our midterms today and all I’ve heard is how tough it was. I thought I did well on it, but now I’m worried,” I said. “I must have missed something because everyone says it was a bear.”
“You got 100 on it,” the girl said.
“Yeah, right.” I smiled. “Look, I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know anything about this legend of yours. Sorry, but I don’t think I can help you.”
I resumed walking and, as I looked back, was relieved to see she wasn’t following.
“Crazy,” I thought, “AND deluded.”
Sure, everyone thinks — hopes — they’re special. I mean, you’re locked inside your brain and you’re the only person you truly know. It’s hard not to think of yourself as special.
But to be a Chosen One, or whatever she had said? I mean, I didn’t know who my real parents were, but the adoption papers said I’d been born in Albuquerque and, last I heard, ancient lineages of wizards were a scarce commodity in New Mexico and the country in general. But, even if true, no way I wanted to get involved in saving Humanity from a horde of renegade warlocks from another dimension.
Sheesh! Who even comes up with this stuff?
I made it to class just as the professor was beginning to walk around handing out the graded tests. It always impressed me when a professor memorizes the names of everyone in one of these classes. I’m sure there’s a mnemonic trick to it, but seventy-five names are a lot of names to associate with the corresponding faces.
“Well,” the professor was saying as he walked around and dropped the graded tests face down in front of each student, “I can’t say I’m happy. Halfway through the course and I’d have thought more of this material would have found purchase in your brains.”
The professor looked down at the stack of tests he carried, picking up the name and walking to the corresponding individual as he continued.
“I have no choice but to grade on a curve, because . . .” he stopped in front of me and gave me a long look as he put the test face-down in front of me.
“. . . with the exception of one individual, no one got higher than seventy-two percent correct on the exam.”
He moved to deliver the next test as he continued. “I’ll be dropping the higher grade and grading the rest on a curve but, obviously, we need to cover some of this material again before continuing with the rest of the lesson plan.”
He kept on speaking but I wasn’t listening because I had lifted the corner of the test to see the underlined “100” written in bold red ink. I put the corner down before anyone saw it. As I looked straight ahead, I could suddenly “hear” my heart pounding. Not feeling the pulse, but actually hearing my heartbeat, loud and clear.
I heard it slow down . . . impossibly slow, and the corresponding scene around me slowed as well; people’s movements, the professor’s pace and speech, and even the second hand on the wall clock at the front of the class.
I grabbed the test, my backpack, stood, and went for the exit. Someone might have said something, but all I heard was the slow and steady sound of my heart.
The world caught up with me — or me with it — once outside. Clouds were still in the sky, birds still chirping and flying about their business . . . and the strange girl standing not ten yards in front of me, an old, old lady by her side.
“You felt the change, didn’t you?”
I assumed she meant the heart thing. I grabbed my left wrist with my right hand and found my pulse. About a beat per second, or thereabouts; in other words, normal. As I did that, the girl kept talking, but I missed half of what she said.
“. . . sensed it and so, probably, did they.”
Her last words registered . . . “What?” I asked.
“I said, it was strong enough for both of us to sense it, and that means they sensed it as well,” she repeated.
“Who? Who else sensed it? And what did they sense? What’s happening? And who are you?” I took a few steps toward the girl as I bombarded her with questions . . . but stopped when the old lady moved in front of her. It didn’t look menacing, but she didn’t move like an old, old lady.
“Follow me,” she said, and they both turned and walked away. Neither looked back to see if I followed. I mean, I did follow, of course. What else was I going to do?
That was the last day I attended classes, and that’s why now, a few weeks later, I find myself in a remote part of the high desert, a short staff in one hand, a Ruger 57 in the other, standing back-to-back with a woman who looked to be one-hundred — if you went by her looks — but who was over six-hundred years old and had the strength, agility, and quickness of an Olympic athlete.
“Tell me again about the legend foretelling me saving Humanity.”
“Quit being a smart-ass and concentrate,” Tiarni replied.
She was referring to the lessons of the past few weeks. I learned I had the ability — among others — to slow my heart and change the flow of time for myself and whoever was near me. Meaning, much as it had happened in the lecture hall, everything around me slowed. Of course, it didn’t really slow because time is a constant; just my perception of it. Think of it as having two minutes to experience what happens in one minute. Movies show you this all the time; they show you an explosion lasting ten seconds when in actuality, it’s a fraction of a second.
Slowed perception is a good thing because the ghouls circling us were really, really fast. I’d already slowed to half speed, and that’s the only reason they were holding off their attack; because a number of them lay dead at our feet, either from Tiarni’s two short swords or from my 5.7×28 ammo. The Ruger’s magazines held twenty rounds, and I had ten mags remaining on my belt. It should be enough ammo.
Unfortunately, the more I slowed time, the smaller the effective distance of the effect. Meaning, if I slowed it too much, the effect would manifest only once they got very close, and having something with six-inch claws very close isn’t a good thing. At the distance they were keeping, they were still difficult to track, and would only become easy targets if they crossed into the effective zone of my slowed perception.
Look, it’s difficult to explain; just go with it, OK? The slower my perception, the shorter the distance where I noticed the effect.
But, how did I get here, you ask? Good question.
It’s a long story. Well, not that long, and I have a few minutes — but only a few — so I’ll tell you.
Remember the girl I mentioned earlier? Her name is Nerea, and she’s a youngster of her order, only one-hundred-forty-seven years of age. Anyway, she went and got herself kidnapped. Not on purpose; she went up against what she thought was an acolyte but turned out to be an ambitious full-blown warlock aiming to nip the legend — me — in the bud. Meaning, before I learn all the wizardly tricks I’m supposedly good at. Or, will be good at if I live to learn them . . . if we escape this trap.
I never understood why bad guys even tried fighting something that was foretold. I mean, if it was foretold, it would happen, right? What do bad guys know that I don’t? Or, was it just raging against the inevitability of the Universe?
Me? I’m in big favor of that inevitability because it meant I’d live through this. In fact, it was one reason I was so cheerful; I figured I was going to fulfill the foretelling. The other reason is that all of this is so weird that if I don’t laugh at it, I go nuts trying to make sense of it.
Anyway, Nerea was now tied to a stake, brush piled at her feet, and the ambitious warlock walking toward her with a lit torch in his hand; all part of a trap to lure us here, in the middle of nowhere.
I had a momentary pang of jealousy watching him move in slow-motion, his long black coat swirling around him as if with a mind of its own. Right then, I resolved — if I survived this — to also get me a long coat. A brown one, perhaps.
I know what you’re thinking; if I could slow time, I could leisurely shoot all the ghouls and the warlock.
You weren’t paying attention, were you? I can slow my perception, but not actually slow time. I could shoot at him, but I hadn’t mastered calculating the differential between my perception and real-time. If anything came at me head-on, they were easy targets; lateral movement, not so much. I had little chance of hitting anything because I didn’t know where to aim. Eventually, after a lot of practice, I would.
I could switch back to real-time and try and shoot the warlock, but the ghouls would be on me and Tiarni before I could get a bead and pull the trigger. Besides, warlocks can also alter their perception, so the chances of hitting him weren’t good if he could see the bullets coming.
Tiarni and I could move toward the Nerea, dispatching ghouls as I went, but here’s the problem; he’s too far to cover the distance and reach Nerea in time. I could damn-near completely stop my perception of time — just short of, you know, stopping my heart completely and dying — but I would still have to get to him and I didn’t have superhuman speed. Confusing? Join the club. I’m still trying to get all this stuff myself.
Besides, it’s a sure bet the ambitious warlock had no intention of dying. As traps went, it was a good one; either Tiarni or Nerea would die depending on the choice I made. It could be bad for me as well if the warlock had some other tricks in store and me without experience or awareness of my full power. Whatever his plan, it probably entailed us all dying. Except, you know, for all that foretelling stuff.
“Well?” Tiarni asked.
“Look, I’m new at this. Give me a moment, will you?”
I shot a couple of ghouls that had come too close as they tested our defenses. Even though they were moving sideways, they were close enough for me to figure out how much to lead them because I could see where the first bullet traveled relative to the ghouls and got them with a second bullet. It’s a good thing supernatural creatures react to bullets like regular creatures; namely, they die when their brains are disrupted by a piece of metal traveling through it.
I could try the same tactic to shoot the warlock, but — as I already explained — my perception of bullet speed changes as it travels away from me. Besides, I had a hard time seeing the tiny bullet in the twilight.
“Remind me again what this staff is good for?” I asked.
“Eventually, it will serve as a locus for your powers,” Tiarni replied.
“The powers I don’t know I have and can’t yet use. So . . . not so useful now, right?”
Tiarni looked back at me over her shoulder.
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“I’m thinking of throwing the staff at the warlock.”
Her voice took on an edge; a mix of horror and aggravation. If you’ve not heard an example of it, I can’t describe it, but think of it as someone being scared of you for being incredibly stupid.
“They would love to get their hands on one of those! They can’t use it, but it would take us years to craft a replacement for you. It’s the next best thing to getting rid of you. Besides, even in the unlikely event you managed to hit him, it wouldn’t hurt him.”
“No,” I said as I wound up, “but it sounds as if it’ll occupy his attention for a bit.”
I threw the staff on a high arc and I could see Nerea mouth the word “Nooo!” as I let it go.
The moment I let it go, I tracked it rotating in slow motion through the air. I’d aimed a bit to the right of the warlock and away from Nerea and I could see both of them looking at the staff as it flew in a beautiful arc controlled by speed and gravity. The warlock dropped the torch and moved to intercept the staff.
. . . which told me where he was going to be.
Before, I had no way of knowing where to shoot, but now I did. I slowed my heart to quarter speed and watched the staff begin the downward part of its travel arc.
I don’t control time, just the perception, and bullets travel a lot faster than a staff, even one thrown by the Chosen One. As the warlock reached up to grab the staff, he wasn’t looking at the cloud of forty bullets I had sent his way a fraction of a second (my time) before he touched it. I shot groups of ten; from lower left diagonally up to the upper right, then upper left to lower right, then bottom middle to upper-middle, then horizontally from left to right; a cloud of bullets about twenty feet across in diameter. I dropped the second magazine, inserted a fresh one, and resumed shooting in a widening pattern favoring his direction of travel, and kept shooting even when I saw him realize what was coming his way.
I tried to imagine what it was like seeing a cloud of bullets slowly coming your way and knowing you couldn’t avoid all of them. If it ever happened to me, I hoped I’d have a more stoic look than the warlock’s visage; it resembled someone simultaneously throwing up their lunch and dealing with a bout of explosive diarrhea. I mean, I don’t really know if that’s an accurate description, but work with me here.
The moment the first of the bullets hit him, he lost control of the ghouls and they stopped as if in a daze. That was Tiarni’s chance to go to work with the swords, and it only took the death of four of the ghouls before the rest broke and scattered.
I let my heart rate go back to normal as I walked up to Nerea, all the while keeping an eye on the warlock. Of the sixty or so bullets I sent his way, he managed to avoid all but twelve, but those twelve did their job. Those little hunks of metal tend to tumble and carve tunnels in soft targets, and warlock or not, no one does well with a bunch of tunnels in them; he wasn’t going to bother me again.
I cut Nerea loose and she ran to the warlock without so much as a thank you. Tiarni was already there, picking up the staff. Both of them examined it before turning to me.
“You were lucky, reckless, and stupid!” Nerea said.
“Uh . . . thank you?” is all I managed in response.
“It looks like the staff is fine. One bullet grazed it, but it will only take a week or two to mend its aura,” Tiarni added.
“It has an aura?” I asked.
“Yes, and it’s unhappy. This will likely set your training back.”
I sighed. Not even two weeks into my new job of being the Chosen One and I managed to piss off the staff. There’s nothing worse than fighting renegade warlocks from another dimension with unhappy staff. Get it? I have staffing problems . . . yeah, never mind.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
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