There wasn’t much warning. Not much time to prepare. For what, I can’t remember… Cold. Hard. Sharp. Lots of noise and pain. An urgency.

Then I woke up. On a normal street, no people in sight, with a small corner store before me.

It was quaint. A real mom and pop kind of place with the small wooden sign and a jumble of old looking children’s toys outside. There was… a warmth here. Something that pulled me, that made me want to go inside.

I chance a glance around and find the landscape around me isn’t familiar. Not really. It was an old country road, more dirt path than anything. Warm, happy and with a brilliant sun that bore down even though the air was pleasantly tepid. I couldn’t recall how I’d arrived, but my presence felt right. This is where I belonged, where I was meant to be.

There was a chime as I lingered, and I looked to find a woman standing at the door to the shop. She was older, with a soft smile and kind eyes. Her hair was a bushy blue-tinged mess of white and she had on an apron. Grandmotherly to the point it was overwhelming.

“You’re early,” She said her eyes flickering sadly for a moment before returning to their sky-blue sparkle.

“Do you know me?” It was my voice but… the sound didn’t feel right. A tightness seized my throat and I felt stricken.

“Oh, sweetheart don’t talk,” Seeing my distress the woman lifted my chin in hand and looked over my neck. She hummed to herself and gave me another pitying glance. “You’ll be alright. It happens sometimes.” Opening the door, she ushered me forth. “Come on inside. Let’s see what we can do.”

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Carpool - Thriller/suspense - First from 'A Gathering of Tales' Collection

It was dark by the time I finished up my work for the day. I locked the vault and was making my way to the lobby when Gary, another clerk, waved me down.

“You look like shit,” I joked as he jogged up to me. His face was flushed, and he looked like he’d just run a marathon.

“Sorry.” He heaved, his large frame shaking as he sucked in a ragged breath and held his side. “Wanted to catch you before you headed out.”

“Any particular reason why?” I didn’t dislike Gary, but I wasn’t exactly on friendly terms with him.

“New policy,” he said after another inhale of air. “Have to leave in pairs after dark.”

“Since when?”

“Yesterday.” Standing straight, Gary huffed out, “Someone was mugged down the block the other night. There has also been a string of murders around town. Management wants to make sure we’re safe.”

“Oh.” I didn’t keep up with the news much and hadn’t heard about any of it. “If that's what they want, my car is out front.”

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It was a warm spring day and I was in my room at the guild hall with Kian and Orri working on some spell work. Ferros had wanted me to practice summoning, something I’d never tried, so I’d be ready for when we called upon Ilien to ask for passage north.

I found out quickly that I was not particularly good at it even with the notes Wesley had left for me in my spell book walking me through the steps. I’d been at it for hours and, with the instructions from my mentor I had managed to summon only a small wisp into my room. It promptly darted out the open balcony window. Cheered on by Orri as it fled to freedom.

Thankfully the startled screams had died down a few moments after it vanished, so I was hoping that the wisp had dissipated. With Orri’s encouragement, I had tried a few other summoning spells from the book but only a gust of wind had resulted. A gross smelling gust of wind. Orri swore it was from the nether end of a demon. It was a bit discouraging.

“Kian thinks Tiris needs break,” Kian informed me from her small nest in the corner. Her tiny snout was covered by a cloth. “Kian thinks the room needs fresh air yes?”

“By the holy stones of my mother, yes.” Orri was the first to dart out of the door, a small hand covering her nose while the other flailed uselessly to fan away the smell.

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The Game

This was ridiculous. Of all the people, why in the hell had they had to send her? There were dozens of Silencers. Plenty Arthur knew that were capable of chasing down and dealing with his client. There was no need to send one of their best. Especially not her. This was a test. He knew it. And he knew he was going to fail.

Glancing over at the cowering politician Arthur sighed. The man wasn’t anything special. A fool who’d inadvertently gotten himself embroiled in the wrong and right sides of a power play. The Guardians, like Arthur, needed him to go forward with the take over of the Bastion that had once been Richmond long before the world fell apart. It just so happened he was also needed dead by the Silencers who’s sponsor wanted the city for their own.

“Where are you? All your safe houses are dark. Your mom didn’t know, and your dad thought you were still in Reno.” The soft voice that came from a viper’s mouth drew his attention back to the small monitor on the wall. “You can’t hide forever Arthur.”

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