Welcome to the Cabal

Nearly three feet long, the creatures looked like giant roaches. When they first attacked, David had tried to disappear into the crowds on the street. However, they had ignored everyone else, and no one seemed to see them. On the other hand, people did see David throw a couple of fire spells and started to point and take pictures. So David headed down an alley to give himself more room. The bugs were still following.

At the end of the alley was a woman waving at him. Even if she hadn’t been trying to get his attention, it would have been impossible not to notice her. Her clothing consisted of many different layers of bright color, and in the light, her hair seemed to shift hues.

“David?” she shouted.

Conserving his breath, he just nodded.

“Thomas sent me to collect you.”

David nodded again and stopped. Turning around, he lobbed a large ball of fire back at the bugs that had just rounded the corner.

“What the. . .? Don’t use fire!”

The woman grabbed his wrist and dragged him behind a building.

“Astral beetles,” she said, as though it was an explanation. “They feed on heat. Do you have any ice spells?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Wait until they go past you. Their backs are more vulnerable.”

Before he could ask her any questions, she stepped back into the alley, surrounded herself in flame, and started running away. The beetles followed her with renewed vigor. Horrified by the risk she had taken, it took him a moment to collect himself and begin casting.

Ice spells were not his specialty, but he was competent enough to create several projectiles and send them hurtling towards the creatures. One fell immediately under the barrage, but the other leapt at its prey and avoided most of the attack. It landed on the woman, knocking her to the ground, and began trying to bite her as she attempted to ward it off.

As quickly as he could manage, he summoned another set of ice darts and sent them into the beetle, piercing it numerous times and causing it to stop moving. David rushed over to check on his would-be rescuer, but she was nowhere to be seen.

“Back here.”

He turned around to find her still crouched behind the building. She must have noticed the confusion on his face.

“Illusion. My particular expertise. You did quite well; they didn’t even have a chance to realize they’d been fooled.” She paused long enough to let him process the information. “I’m Sarah, by the way.”

She held out her hand; he took it and gave it a quick shake. “David.”

“Yeah. Got that already.” Her smile was friendly enough.

“Right.” He felt self-conscious. “So what were those things?”

“Astral beetles. You haven’t dealt with them before?”

“No.”

“Huh. Well, they’re not really beetles, and they don’t come from the astral plane. Useless name. But they do like magic. Especially fire magic.”

“Are they common?”

“Not that common, but not unique, either. I’m a little surprised that an elementalist like yourself doesn’t know about them.”

“I suppose my knowledge has some holes in it.”

Sarah gave him a long look. Now that the threat was gone, he realized her hair and clothes really were changing colors. She wore her hair short, and she nearly matched his own six-foot height. Her gaze made him increasingly uncomfortable, and he looked away.

“Well, Thomas invited you,” she said eventually, “so let’s get you back to the house.”

She turned and led him away from the alley. After several minutes they stood in front of a brownstone. It looked pleasant enough, but it was hard to imagine that more than three or four people could live inside comfortably.

“How many members do you have?”

Sarah smiled. “Come on. You’ll see.”

Through the front door was a spacious living room that appeared wider than the whole front of the house.

“Some spatial trickery, thanks to one of our other members, Julia. We don’t have unlimited room, but we have enough. Your room is on the second floor. There is space for a lab, if you require one. I am afraid you’ll be next to Jason.”

“Jason?”

“Yes, one of the oldest members of the house. He’s basically harmless, but he can sometimes . . . roam. Your room is yours. No one but Thomas can enter without your permission. Except for Jason, because no one has determined a way to keep him out. But again, he won’t mess with your things. I’m in the room next to yours on the other side. The rest of the members you’ll meet when they choose. Any questions?”

“This Jason…”

“Jason studies raw power, the patterns under everything. It makes him a bit absent-minded. He does provide energy for the whole house. It’s why he’s here. That and he and Thomas go back… well, further than any of us. Jason’s strange, but he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.”

“Okay.”

“Oh. I almost forgot. Here’s your badge.” She handed him a small cloth patch with a blue infinity symbol on it.

“Badge?”

“Marks you as a member of the house. Keep it with you. Only those who have one, or who are with someone else who has one, can enter the brownstone.”

He took it and studied it. There didn’t appear to be anything remarkable about it.

“Where’s Thomas?”

“He’s busy in his room on the fourth floor. He told me he would talk to you later. For now, settle in. You’ve had quite a day.”

Without waiting for a response she showed him upstairs and down a hall, stopping outside a plain wooden door.

“Your room.”

“Thanks.”

Sarah nodded and walked away. David turned the door knob and entered his new home.

The Curse

The thrum of blood pounded in his forehead. “I can’t take this anymore. Undo whatever you did. Take it back.” His head dropped into his hands, and he began to sob.

“You’re pathetic. Were you always so weak? I can’t remember.” Her tone was ice. “You wanted to know me better. I showed you, gave you everything you wanted. Now you are frightened by the world that has been opened to you.”

He looked up at her, the visage she wore was as cold and impassive as her voice. “I didn’t know it would be like this! Everyone I get close to goes insane or becomes just like . . .”

“So? Surround yourself with stronger people.”

“I don’t want to hurt anyone!”

“Then stay away from them. Do you really think you only hurt people after we met? Don’t be foolish.”

“Undo it!” The pressure in his veins was growing. He could feel the wildness rise within him.

“No.”

“Why not? What would it cost you?”

“Nothing. But it can’t be done. There is no way to reverse the change. This is what you are now. Learn to live with it. Or don’t. As you will.”

She began to turn away from, clearly done with the conversation. He grabbed her arm to stop her. Emotion showing on her face for the first time, she spun back. “Let. Me. Go.”

Fear momentarily swamped the inner storm, and he released her. Still, he pressed on. “What if I killed you? That would end this curse.”

Her laugh was cruel. “This is not some fairy tale, where if you kill the monster everyone else is released from its grip. If you were to kill me, I would be dead, and you would still be what I made you, what you wanted to be. Quit fighting yourself.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“Don’t. Try to kill me. My only regret if you were to succeed is that I could not relish the full bloom of your disappointment. But,” her withering stare nearly broke him, “do not make idle threats. I feel no loyalty to you, my creation. I will discard you without hesitation. That would end your torment. And your whining.” She held his gaze for one more beat before sweeping back around, his hope dying as she walked away.

The madness finally overwhelmed him.

The Offer

There was a knock on the door just before it opened. A middle-aged man walked into Jacob Lott’s office.

“Hello, Jacob. Good to see you again.” He extended a hand.

Jacob took the man’s hand and shook it before inviting him to sit down. “Have we met? I’m sorry, I don’t remember.”

The man chuckled. “You did have a lot to drink last night, so it isn’t surprising that you might forget.”

“Last night…” Jacob vaguely remembered going to a bar, but much of the rest of the night was a blur. “I don’t really…” His memory finally dredged up something. “You… were sitting next to me…”

“Indeed. I listened to you most of the night.”

“… While I complained about the state of the world, the mess it’s in. The way we’ve screwed up the planet, ourselves, and society.”

The man smiled. “For as drunk as you were, you were also very articulate. Until you passed out.”

“Very sorry about that. It’s been a rough week.”

He waved away Jacob’s apology. “I could tell. Happy to lend an ear.”

“So… how did you happen to come by my work?”

He pulled a small white card from his pocket. “You gave me your business card.”

“Oh. So you have work for me?”

“No… Well, not exactly. I have a proposition for you. I can give you the tools you need to make the world a better place.”

“Well that sounds… implausible. You shouldn’t start your sales pitch with such grandiose hyperbole.”

“It’s not a sales pitch. And it’s not hyperbole. I really listened to you last night. You seem to genuinely care about this world. I want to help you set it right.”

“And how would you do that.”

“I can give you power. Resources. Whatever you need.”

“And the price for all of this?”

“None. You just have to try to fix the world. I think that’s price enough.”

Jacob eyed the man sitting across from him. He didn’t trust him, but he couldn’t figure out his angle. What was he after? He just sat there, a mild smile on his lips as he waited for Jacob to respond.

“What’s your name?”

“I’ve had many names. At the moment, I go by Lucas.”

“Lucas? But your original…”

The phone rang.

“You should get that.” Lucas stood to leave. “Think about my offer, Jacob. And I am very sorry about your sister.”

“What about my …?” But Lucas was gone before Jacob could finish his question.

The phone rang again, and he picked it up. “Hello?”

“Jacob. This is mom.” Her voice sounded weak, as though she had been crying. “There’s been an accident.”

“An accident?”

“Yes. Your sister. She’s been…” His mother started sobbing.

Addiction

Beth looked at the stranger across from her.  Broad shoulders draped in an overcoat.  Hat covering his short hair (or perhaps mostly bald head?).  His age was impossible to determine looking at him.  He might have been in his forties or his sixties.  The way he looked, something about it, reminded her of…  someone?  She couldn’t place him.  What had he said his name was?  Thomas?

The man was talking about someone else, someone she also didn’t know. But someone he was trying to warn her about.  “I don’t know how to explain this to you, but let me try an analogy.  You probably like to drink alcohol.  Or maybe you like sex.  But you don’t understand the alcoholic’s craving or the nymphomaniac’s desire.”

Beth had no idea where he going with this.  Addiction?  To blood?  Was he trying to tell her that vampires were real?  Maybe her first instinct, that he was just a crazy person, was right after all.

Thomas continued before she could leave.  “Well, he’s addicted to life.  Everyday he’s alive is another day off the wagon.  There’s no twelve-step recovery program for life.  And every moment leaves you wanting more.  The only cure for this addiction is death.  The advantage is, you don’t have any relapses.”

“So what?  Nobody wants to die.  I mean, sure, some people commit suicide, and there are people with death wishes.  But everybody else wants to live, too.  What makes him so special?”  Beth was at the end of her patience with this.

“No.  You’re right that most people like living.  But that’s like you liking alcohol or sex.  Most people don’t think about living all the time.  Sure, they might worry about death from time to time.  Maybe when they’ve had a close call, or someone close to them dies.  But I’m talking obsession here.  He is constantly thinking about life, his life, and how to prolong it.  It consumes him.  And it’s that obsession that sustains him.  It has sustained him for a very long time.”

“How… how long?”

“At least several hundred years.  And he is a dangerous man.”

First Meeting

“You should pick your targets more carefully.”

Krina spun around, her dagger drawn. Sitting in a chair ten feet from her was an old man in a traveling cloak. His shaggy grey hair and beard made him instantly recognizable as the man whose purse she had cut earlier in the tavern.

Her first instinct was to run. But doing so meant leaving her few possessions behind. Besides, he had not brought the town guard with him. She was intrigued.

“How did you get into my room?”

“Wrong question.” The half smile on his lips did not fade.

“What do you mean?”

“You should know as well as anyone that getting into a room is not that difficult. What you should be asking, instead, is how did I know this was your room.”

He was right. Both times. “Okay, how?”

“Another time. Perhaps. I need you to return the pouch you took from me.”

“I did not…”

He held up a hand to stop her. “No denials. I know it was you. For your sake, please return it. Now.”

She considered her options. She was still closer to the door than he was. And he was old, how quick could he be?

“I am faster than I look.”

Krina wondered how obvious she was. This was the first time she had been caught, but he seemed to know everything. Instead of running, she brought out the pouch.

“Good girl. Give it to me.”

What was so important? Was it just the money, or was there something more? Her curiosity needed to be sated, so she emptied the contents onto the table next to her.

“No…” But he was too late.

Out came several coins, probably enough to keep her comfortable for a month or more. Something else caught her eye, however. It was a larger coin, with emerald and onyx set in the middle. It looked familiar. There was also a blue gem. But the black and green kept her attention. Black within green…

“Give it back.”

She gasped. “The Terrgat! This is one of their medallions. That means you must be one of them…” Her voice trailed off as her blood went cold. Stealing from the Terrgat? What would the punishment be?

Without her noticing, he had stood and closed the distance between them. With one hand, he ripped the medallion from her, and with the other grabbed the blue gem.

“I am not a Terrgat.” She had never heard a denial so firm. “Keep the money. Forget you saw me. Or this.”

“But if you are not Terrgat…?”

“Better that you remain ignorant.”

She stopped him as he began to leave. “Wait. I need to know. Who are you?”

He sighed. “It really is better for you not to know.”

As soon as he was gone, Krina replaced the coins in the pouch and stowed it away in her jerkin. She quietly left the room and followed the old man out into the night.

Jacob Lott

Jacob Lott had made a deal with the devil. He knew from the start it was a bad idea, but he didn’t care. The world had gone to hell, and Jacob had decided it was time for it to end. The devil had merely provided the means. The one thing that worried him the most was that the devil had asked for nothing in return. Jacob was given power and resources to use as he saw fit. The devil had put no conditions nor price on it. It was reason to be suspicious, but it was too good an offer for Jacob to pass up.

There were all the usual complaints about the state of the world, humankind’s basic inhumanity in treating other humans. The senseless death of good people, including Jacob’s sister. Humanity needed to be taught a lesson before it was scrubbed off of the Earth. And then all the suffering in this world would end. If human beings were the cause of evil, then eradicating them was the only answer.

Yet he had to go about this the right way. Yes, the deal had given him what he needed. But simply eliminating humans was not enough. They needed to know why. It would be a slow process, accumulating power and influence to make getting his message out possible. To lay bare the various sins of humankind. Only then would he be ready to end it all.

It was time to get started.

Death Wins

“…Police are still looking for the suspect. While officials refuse to comment on the events, in this exclusive video, you can clearly see the suspect – this woman – being shot by police. The bullets seem to have no effect on her as she escapes the scene. Some have suggested that the police were using rubber bullets, but at least one ballistics expert thinks otherwise…” He turned off the television and looked back at her.

“This is the situation you’ve put us in. People are speculating about how you got away. Scrutiny is drifting ever closer. Why did you do this?”

“What is the point of this conversation? You’ve already made up your mind.” Her stare was fierce; he found it difficult to match. Were she not restrained, he was certain she would try to kill him.

“We were friends once. I just want to understand why you threw everything away.”

“Don’t you ever tire of your stupid rules?”

“They are our rules. Yours too. And you know why we have them. To keep them from finding out about us. Trying to capture us. Study us. Or worse.”

She snorted. “This life we created for ourselves. It’s a poor imitation of what we thought we were making. Yes, we live. But what sort of life is it?”

He shook his head. “You knew what the consequences would be. You knew we could not ignore this. Were you trying to force our hand?”

“If I had wanted to die, there are easier ways than to get you to hunt me down.” She struggled a bit, testing the ropes, but they were secure. “This is torture. Cruel. Kill me, if you have the resolve. Otherwise, let me go. In either event, quit talking as though you care.”

That last hurt him. However, he could see no way to get through to her. If she were determined to flaunt the rules, he had no alternative. Blinking back a tear as he raised the pistol to her forehead, he muttered “Death wins” before pulling the trigger.