Category Archives: Alanna J. Rubin

Beacon by Alanna J. Rubin

For Kendra: Fall never ceases to be an inspiration.

As I walked down the street, I felt it for the first time this year, the air changing from the warm southern summer nights to a cool breeze… ah the magic of fall is here.

The beautiful night begged me to linger even though I was already late in meeting my friends for our scheduled guy’s night, but I didn’t care. They could wait, but the night, however, was fleeting. Overhead, a cloud moved revealing the large bright full moon whose light shone down upon me. The energy it bestowed was invigorating. It felt as if I were being charged up and I walked with an extra zing in my step. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that my left arm started to tingle. I ignored it at first, thinking nothing of it, but the sensation grew to the point where I stopped dead in my tracks and pulled up the sleeve of my brown leather jacket. My pale skin shimmered under the light of the moon. It was beautiful, mesmerizing, and frightening as I watched the shimmer spread up my arm. I quickly changed direction as home was no longer an option. Instead, I made my way to the mayor’s, who also happened to be the leader of our coven and my sister. She would know what to do.

Breathless from running, I waited impatiently on the white porch for her to open the door. When she did, it was clear that Gillian, with her short red hair and excited green eyes, wasn’t surprised to see me. “Xavier,” she said warmly, “come in.”  She led me through the halls of her spacious home. The walls were a calming shade of blue accented by white wooden trim and oak wood floors. As I followed her deeper into her house, the tingling sensation of my arm began to lessen. Clearly, her home was far from the ordinary appearance it projected. After a few minutes of walking through the various rooms and down the stairs to the basement, I found myself in the middle of our entire coven, which also happened to be about a quarter of the small town of Fairwood. The familiar faces all smiled when they saw me arrive. Gillian must have seen the confused look on my face, because she gestured to them and said, “We’ve been expecting you. It’s time.” If that was my sister’s attempt at an explanation, then I was more confused than ever.

They didn’t waste another moment and began casting, the ceiling soon disappeared revealing the night sky. My skin once more began to tingle. Gillian helped me off with my jacket, leaving me feeling vulnerable in my short sleeved white shirt and led me toward the center of the circle the coven had formed. My brain told me to resist, but my body was drawn forward. I stood alone as my sister joined the others facing outward holding hands. The light of the moon seemed intensified with the chanting and it shined directly down on me. My skin responded and the shimmering grew to encompass my entire body. The energy burst forth from my finger tips and shot up into the sky like a beacon. Then it was over as suddenly as it began. The chanting ceased and the ceiling reappeared, where the night sky was a moment before. Fatigue set into my bones and I fell to my knees. Gillian came to my aid and gently brushed a lock of brown hair that had fallen into my face back behind my ear, like our mother use to. “You did very well, Xavier,” she complemented as she led me to the couch to sit down. The rest of the coven dispersed, excited chatter filling the house. They all nodded at me in appreciation as they walked by, but left me alone to recover.

“I don’t understand,” I replied. “I’ve never heard about this or read about it in our coven’s history. What was that?”

Gillian smiled, “It’s the prophecy.”

“A prophecy about what?” I asked still confused.

“All you need to know is that they’re coming.” Gillian smiled broadly and patted my arm. “I’ll get you some warm apple cider.” She got up as if that answered everything, but when I looked down at my arm, it was still shimmering and I could feel remnants of the energy coursing through my blood. Each pulse felt like a warning, a prompt to move into action. With an inexplicable certainty, I knew that I needed to learn about this prophecy and stop it from coming to pass if it wasn’t already too late.

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The Syndicate by Alanna J. Rubin

For Unknown –

He opened his eyes slowly, the sting from the fall still throbbing at the back of his head. “Hurry,” he thought. “I have to recall the incident.” The portal started closing.

Aaron watched as the edges of the portal drew together toward its center, leaving no trace of its existence, taking with it the last flicker of memory of where he was and why he was here. He found himself hoping that whatever it was would come back to him. In the meantime, Aaron was surrounded by nothing but dirty gray concrete walls.

Damn, he thought to himself. Aaron sluggishly got to his feet and dusted off his black pants trying, without much success, to ignore the pain in his head while looking for a way out. He wandered the maze like halls, which all looked the same. The only sources of light were cast from dim yellow bulbs evenly spaced every few feet along the ceiling.

After what seemed like hours of aimless walking, he was starting to wonder if he’d ever make it out, so he was both elated and on high alert when he heard voices up ahead. He crept along slowly and hid himself behind a pillar just outside the entrance to a room where he saw an exceptionally beautiful woman with long red hair wearing some sort of leather armor. Whoever she was talking to was out of view and they appeared to be arguing. However, their hushed tones made it impossible to make out what they were saying. That became the least of his concerns when he heard the hammer of a gun being pulled back and the weight of its barrel pressed against the back of his head.

“Get up…slowly,” the menacing masculine voice demanded. Aaron didn’t have any viable options, so he complied. As he stood up and attempted to turn around, his captor ensured that he remained facing forward and forcibly marched him into the small room. At least that’s what it was a moment ago, but Aaron now found himself standing in the middle of an opulent throne room and seated upon the silver throne was a familiar looking woman with short dark hair and eyes the color of the sea during a storm. She looked at him slack mouthed and rose to her feet. She was slender, but wore the same kind of leather armor as her associate.

“Aaron,” she breathed. “Is it really you?”

“Yes,” he responded. “It’s good to see you, Miri.” He could not help the wide smile that broke out across his face.

“Brother,” she exclaimed, running over and embracing him as if they were children again. She pulled far enough back to look him in the eyes, the spitting image of her own. “But how? I thought you were dead.” Her look of confusion was understandable. Aaron also thought he should be dead, but fate had other plans. “That’s a story for another time.”

“Then why are you here?” she asked.

“That’s a good question. I can’t remember and I didn’t even know where I was until I saw you,” Aaron replied.

Miri looked at him quizzically then asked, “Do you trust me?”


Miri gently pulled Aaron’s head down so that their foreheads made contact. “Open your mind to me,” she commanded and Aaron obeyed. It was a strange sensation as Miri’s consciousness surfed his memories. She saw his capture in the hallway, his wandering the maze like halls, his fall from the portal and…Miri let go with a gasp and Aaron’s eyes went wide as his memories came flooding back.

“What?!” she asked.

“You’ve been framed for the chancellor’s murder,” Aaron said worriedly.

“I saw that myself, but why?”

“Callum,” the weight of the name hung in the air. “He still considers you a threat to his power. He wants you out of the way, so…”

Miri interrupted to finish Aaron’s sentence for him, “So he can become the next chancellor, unchallenged.”

“That’s the short of it, but I came here to get you out,” Aaron said with desperation. “The Syndicate is on its way along with Callum. He tried to wipe my memory before I could warn you and he almost succeeded too, if I hadn’t made my way through the portal. I knew you’d be able to pull my memories back, just like mother could. You’re so like her. She’d be proud to see the leader you’ve become.” Aaron squeezed Miri’s shoulder in pride and to share a moment of grief for their departed mother. He then moved to the center of the room and let his eyes focus on everything and yet nothing at the same time. His fingers created elaborate signs in a repeated order in an effort to call a portal into existence.

The ceiling shook as the Syndicate’s ships landed and the footsteps of the troops beat down in eerie uniformity. Miri looked up in worry, then over to her brother who seemed to be in a world unto himself. A wind formed in the room, whipping in circles around them as if they were in the center of a tornado, but the energy was sucked into the heart of the portal as it erupted into the room out of nowhere. Miri looked at Aaron in awe, “I’ve learned a thing or two since the last time we were together,” he said with a smirk.

“Clearly,” she replied impressed. “Erissa,” she called over to the red-headed woman. “Yuri,” to the man still holding the gun that was pointed to Aaron’s head earlier, “go,” she ordered. They both looked at Miri, then ran through.

Aaron, walked back over to Miri and took her hand, “This isn’t how I imagined our reunion,” he said.

“Well, you always did have a flare for the dramatic,” she replied light heartedly. They both ran into the portal just as the Syndicate came crashing in and it vanished before Callum, wearing his white captain’s uniform adorned with the silver emblem of the Syndicate, could follow. He clenched his fists in anger. This was far from over.

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Unlucky Seven by Alanna J. Rubin

For Spencer – thank you for this fun story starter!

I held a hand in front of him asking, “How many fingers am I holding up?” I heard that’s what you were supposed to ask… “Seven” he replied. Psh, lucky guess…

…I had taken great pains to ensure that humans would perceive me as normal on this trip, and there was no way this average human male, in both appearance and intellect, could see through my projected disguise. If so, wouldn’t he be able to see that my skin was a bluish color and my ears pointy? Not to mention, that my silver eyes should be quite alarming for any human to observe. I checked the settings of the imaging device on my wrist, which generated the elaborate camouflage, and all seemed well. No, it’s just not possible, I reassured myself. However, his answer and the odd look on his face would suggest otherwise.

“Hey man,” the human called to me over the ear splitting music of the club, his words a little slurred, “are you alright? You seem a little off, if you know what I mean.” He gestured with his hands up and down my body as if suggesting that something was amiss.

“Foofta,” I mumbled under my breath, a curse word that’s common on my planet.

“Bless you,” said the irksome human and I let out a disheartened sigh. My study of humans will be impossible if I can’t blend in. I took a device out from my back pocket. It was small and rectangular, about the size of a matchbox, black with one red button at its center.

I turned to the human and asked, “Michael, is that what you said your name is?” He nodded and took another drink of the golden liquid he referred to as beer. “I’m sorry Michael, but this device will ensure you remember nothing.” He looked at the device then back to me with a confused look on his face. I felt sorry for him, but there was no getting around it, so I zapped him.

Michael collapsed, face down on the bar; no one even batted an eye. Strange, not much concern for a fellow human, I noted. That is, until a female with long red hair, wearing a tight fitting black dress sauntered up to the bar to buy a drink. All of the men were looking at her. Clearly, she was a perfect specimen of a desirable human female, so I didn’t waste any time. Clearing my throat, I called over to her, “Excuse me.” She looked over at me with her green eyes. I had to admit that she was quite striking, for a human, that is.

“Yes?” she prompted.

I was excited, she would be an even better human to study than Michael. “How many fingers am I holding up?” I asked.

She was surprised by my question, but studied my hand, then the orange drink she held and shook her head. Carefully, she scrutinized my fingers, then replied, “Seven?”

“Foofta,” I mumbled and took out my stun device once more.

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Until Next Time By Alanna J. Rubin

For Lucy – I hope you like flirtatious adventure.

“She saw the gun, covered every so slightly by his sleeve, and looked at what he had his eyes trained on – The royal carriage coming up the drive.”

How rude, Leanna thought to herself. She could not abide being interfered with, so he had to be dealt with. She quietly mumbled some unladylike words to herself as she realized the only way was to give up the advantage of her current position. Her predicament rankled, but she did the only thing she could and jumped down from her concealed perch in the green-leaf covered tree above. The blonde haired man didn’t know what had happened, just that the bright day suddenly went dark as he was hit from behind.

Leanna took consolation in the fact that he’d wake with a headache. “Sweet dreams,” she whispered as she dusted off her black pants and glove clad hands. Leanna didn’t have time to waste, however, as the opulent carriage covered in colors of gold and burgundy continued its steady march toward her. Quickly, she dragged the rather heavy unconscious man behind the low lying bushes. She did not have time to resume her previous position, so instead, began to run alongside the road obscured by the bushes and trees, hoping that her built up momentum would allow her to catch the carriage.

As it began to pass her, she pushed herself forward with a momentary burst of speed, allowing her to latch onto the window sill and golden foot rail of the carriage door. Leanna’s position was a precarious one, and she could feel her hold slipping, when a strong hand grabbed hers and helped her through the window opening. She tumbled inside, not the graceful entrance she had planned, and she silently cursed the fellow who had forced her descent from her hiding place too soon. Her anger at the indignity of the situation was quickly displaced by the happiness she felt when she saw the face of the man who came to her aid, Richard. He was as handsome as ever. Dark stubble darkened his angular chin and the dark blue collar peaking above his gray jacket set off his stormy hazel eyes. Leanna could not have been more delighted and, even though it was not obvious from the disapproving look on his face, she knew the feeling was mutual.

Leanna righted herself and took a seat on the cushioned bench opposite Richard, who remained silent, leaving the conversation to her. “It’s a shame that we find ourselves on opposite sides of the law,” Leanna declared with a small pout. “Otherwise, I’m quite sure we’d be the happiest couple in all of England!”

“Is that so?” Richard replied, attempting to keep a straight face. He hated to admit it, but he found Leanna to be the most irritating and bewitching woman he’d faced in his years of being a detective.  He very much looked forward to their encounters. No one made his pulse race like she did. Richard often wished that they could have a future together, but such thoughts were useless fancy. The law was nothing compared to the other obstacle in their way.

“Mmhmm,” she uttered. The sound came out sultry and the intensity of her stare made the interior of the carriage feel a little too confined.

“Stay right there,” Richard commanded as she began to move to sit on the bench next to him. She looked disappointed and settled back into her seat opposite him.

“You’re hurting my feelings,” she declared with a pout as she leaned forward.

Richard leaned in to meet her gaze, their faces a mere inch apart. “I’m very sorry,” he said as soothingly as possible. Leanna took that as an invitation to caress his face and Richard reveled in the touch of her gentle hands, then cuffed her. The look of surprise when she heard the silver cuffs click around her wrists was priceless. Their interlude had come to an end and he was both sorry and grateful.

Leanna slumped against the back of the seat in defeat. “At least tell me where you’re taking me?” The annoyance was thick in her voice.

“To the palace. You’ve been very busy the past couple of months.”

“You know me. I abhor being idle,” she said nonchalantly.

Richard couldn’t help but laugh, “So you decided to start robbing the royal carriages? You couldn’t have chosen a past time that was a little less inflammatory?”

“I prefer the challenge,” she shrugged.

“You’re the princess for God’s sake! You could do almost anything you wanted.”

“True, but not nearly as fun.” She cast him a mischievous smile that could melt the heart of any man. Richard’s knees felt weak and he was relieved that he was sitting down. “Are you sure we’re going to the palace?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said, but the look in her eye made him question his certainty. Richard pulled back the red velvet curtain to look out the carriage window. “We’re going the wrong way,” he groaned. “How did you…?” he trailed off.

She winked at him as the carriage came to an abrupt halt, causing Richard to lose his balance and fall into her lap. Leanna leaned over him excitedly. “Darling,” she talked softly, “it’s been a pleasure as always.” Their lips were a breath apart and Richard moved to close the gap when she backed away and stated, “I really must be going. I can’t have my brother finding me.” She opened the door and shoved him away so that he fell out of the carriage onto the soggy ground, ruining his gray trousers. Leanna was a vision as she descended from the carriage. Her wavy long dark hair was tied politely back with a burgundy ribbon, her black form fitting pants showing the curves of her body, and the femininity of the frilled white blouse balanced the toughness of the black boots she was wearing. Even informally attired, she looked nothing short of the princess she was.

Richard was slowly taking in her beauty when he noticed that her hands were no longer cuffed. He chastised himself, when he realized that she had picked his pocket during their intimate moment. Leanna approached him, dangling the cuffs in front of her. “Now, my dearest Richard, I must take my leave,” she kissed his cheek and then gently, his lips. He was still reeling from the sensation when he felt the snap of handcuffs across his wrists. He looked down at his hands in disbelief, then back at Leanna. She flirtatiously shrugged her shoulders in response then threw the keys into the woods. “Until next time,” she said seductively as she gently tapped the tip of his nose with her finger then walked away. He watched stunned as she alighted into the basket of the tethered hot air balloon. She blew a kiss at him and waved as she rose up into the clear blue sky, quietly drifting out of sight.

“I look forward to it,” Richard whispered into the wind.

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Walkabout by Alanna J. Rubin

For Darla

3 Storied.

That’s what the business card read and on the back an address. Cali couldn’t even remember where the card came from or how it got in the pocket of her dark purple leather jacket with fur trim.  The strange part was that as soon as she held it in her hand, she felt compelled to go the address. Now she stood in front of a dilapidated building, whose two stories were marred by disuse, its windows broken and walls sprayed with colorful graffiti. Her mind screamed at her to turn around, but her heart told her to move forward, and Cali was never one to listen to reason. Cautiously, she moved through the foreboding entrance way, whose powder black steel and glass door hung precariously by one tarnished brass hinge. The inside of the building looked no better than the outside. Trash was piled in the corners and strewn across the floor, the once white walls speckled black and gray with layers of grime.

Why am I here? She thought, but something was pushing her onward until she came face to face with the gold mirrored door of the elevator. Its surface was caked with dirt, but not enough to completely obscure her reflection, which caught her off guard. In it, she saw her dark denim skinny jeans, black calf high boots, and white turtleneck sweater go out of focus. A floor length silver gown that set off her long dark hair, chocolate eyes, and hugged her curves in all of the right places, replaced them. She squinted in an effort to make the hazy image sharper, but the strain seemed to push it further away until it disappeared, revealing her familiar appearance once more.

Without warning, as if they had a mind of their own, the elevator doors slid apart, beckoning her inside. Once again, the thought of turning back occurred to her, but how could she? Cali always loved a good mystery and here one was begging for her exploration, so she stepped inside, the doors closing behind her immediately, which set her heart racing. The interior of the elevator was lit only by one dim light that was recessed in the ceiling of the car. It was enough to show her a panel of buttons, one of which was labeled with the number of a nonexistent floor. Her stomach tied in knots due to a mixture of nerves and excitement, so with a shaking slender finger, she pushed the button with the number “three” written next to it. The motor screeched to life above her, the long disused cables straining from the effort of pulling the car up the shaft.

Cali’s heart pounded furiously until it was the only sound that filled her ears. That’s when the car abruptly came to a stop, causing her to stumble backward, and the dim light turned off, casting the car into darkness. The absence of light was oppressive and made it difficult for her to breathe. Keep calm, she chanted to herself while she felt around the walls for the buttons, hoping that pushing them would set her free. Cali had frantically pushed all of the buttons she could find when the doors opened of their own accord letting in a blinding light, as if they had opened onto the sun. Cali squinted and strained to see what lay beyond, but to no avail. She looked around, realizing that she couldn’t stay in the elevator and so, stepped forward. Crossing the threshold felt as if she were pushing through water, like crossing some kind of barrier.

Once through, Cali realized that she left behind the stale air of the elevator and breathed in deeply. The air here smelled as sweet as honey. She also found herself in a forest whose trees were as tall as skyscrapers and leaves so green they looked to have been painted. When her eyes adjusted to her new surroundings, a tall muscular man with cobalt blue hair and silver grey eyes stood in front of her. His full pink lips housed a smile that warmed Cali from head to toe.

“Calista,” he whispered, “thank the four winds that you found the beacon,” he said with relief as he pointed at the business card still clutched in her hand. Cali looked at it with surprise as it morphed into a smooth triangular wooden talisman. “You’ve been gone for so long, I was afraid it wasn’t strong enough to bring you back home.” Her lack of response caused the man’s smile to twist into an expression of worry. “Try to remember,” he urged. “You left one year ago for your walkabout among the humans.” Cali’s brow was still furrowed with confusion, so he continued. “You were gone longer than normal. Our memories begin to fade when we’re away from our world for extended periods of time.” Still, he saw no recognition on her face.  With a hint of desperation, he said, “Maybe a change of clothes will help,” and then snapped his fingers.

Her outfit was once again replaced by the silver dress she saw reflected in the elevator doors. It felt warm and familiar against her skin. She approached him, her heart pushing her forward, the soft grass cushioning her bare feet as she walked. Cali studied his every feature, the angles of his jaw, the endearingly crooked bend to his nose, and the beautiful way his dark eyelashes fanned out around his almond shaped eyes. He breathed in sharply as she ran her dainty hand through his thick hair revealing his pointed ears and then moved to caress his cheek. “Micah,” she said softly, recognition lighting her eyes.

Relief flashed across his features as he gently rested his forehead against hers. “Welcome home, my love.”

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The Last Mission by Alanna J. Rubin

For Trish Collins

Just to be safe, I’ll put on my tether first.

It was the first thought that came to mind as I looked over the edge of the cliff, but a quick assessment of my gear revealed that wasn’t a possibility. The height was almost dizzying, so I closed my eyes, willing myself to ignore the very real eight-hundred-foot drop to certain death.

Why here?  I hated heights. It was as if Vallin knew my every weakness.

I couldn’t allow my fear to overwhelm me – not when Nikolai was depending on me to rescue him. Egypt was going to be our last mission. Then we were going to leave the organization and start our life together, but it went south all so quickly.

How did Vallin’s men know we were coming? They were waiting to ambush us as soon as we entered his private art museum. Its walls were lined with famous paintings that had gone missing and hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. Each one hung in a gilded frame, but it wasn’t a painting we were after. It was a deadly device that our intelligence tracked here. Vallin’s men seemed as numerous as the paintings that lined the walls and they wasted no time in attacking.

In the chaos, I lost track of Nikolai and when I saw him next, his unconscious body was being dragged behind three of Vallin’s very large and muscular cronies. There was no way I could take them down. I was outgunned, outnumbered, and outmatched.

My pulse was beginning to quicken at the memory, so I took a deep breath in the hopes that it would center me, but the stagnant searing heat in the air did nothing more than cause my lungs to constrict on contact. So much for that, I thought to myself. There was no comfort to be found in this Godforsaken place. No comfort ever, if Nikolai was lost. Backup was a day away and he couldn’t afford to wait that long.

I was going to have to free climb, so I made sure my long dark hair was tied back securely, then swung my black canvas backpack on and lowered myself over the edge–my breasts and abdomen scraping the rock as I struggled to find my first foot holds. Each move I made was slow and calculating as I didn’t move on until I was sure of my footing. Every nerve was on fire as I made the grueling journey to Vallin’s complex neatly etched into the side of the mountain. If it wasn’t the home of a madman, I could appreciate its beauty, but…

By the time I managed to lower myself on the top floor balcony, I was dripping with sweat. The combination of nerves, heat. and physical strain taking their toll. I knew I couldn’t possibly smell good at this point. On the bright side, maybe Vallin would just hand over Nikolai so he wouldn’t have to smell me anymore than he had to.

Looking around at the golden hued rock that this place was made out of, I had to admit it was beautiful even if a bit devoid of anything resembling a plant. Its starkness, as intimidating as it was, was also awe inspiring, but this wasn’t the time for appreciating the merits of architecture. Quietly, I withdrew the tranquilizer guns from the pack, tucking two into the waistband of my brown leather pants and the third, I held firmly in my right hand. Why tranquilizer guns, you might ask? They’re all I could get my hands on. At least they’d be quiet and the element of surprise was all I had going for me.

Carefully, I walked across the stone floor making sure that my boots didn’t make a sound. Fortunately, the cylindrical pillars that appeared every several feet provided me with some much needed cover. Unfortunately, I hadn’t given much thought beyond getting here and I didn’t have any idea where Nikolai would be held. One of Vallin’s henchmen appeared just as the thought finished forming. It was if the Gods were giving me a gift. Standing still, hidden by the pillar, I waited until the burly man dressed in black pants and black tee-shirt was near enough, then checked him in his throat. Without wasting a second, I kicked him in his stomach while knocking the gun out of his hand. Now defenseless, he was on his knees gasping for air. “Where’s Nikolai?” I asked in a stern whisper, while I steadily pointed the gun between his eyes.

He tried to laugh when he saw the tranquilizer gun aimed at him, but his newly bruised larynx allowed nothing but a rush of air to escape his lips. The realization of his predicament, quickly turned his look of amusement into a grimace. “Tell me,” I ordered, “or I’ll make sure you never hear the sound of your own voice again.”

“Two floors down,” he said hoarsely, “in a cell.” Somehow this man still looked smug, so I shot him in the neck and took an inordinate amount of pleasure seeing the look of surprise on his face as he passed out. For the remainder of my descent, I met no resistance. In fact, there was no one around at all. A bad feeling crawled up my spine, but when I spotted Nikolai in a cell behind two guards, thoughts of caution were thrown to the wind. Without hesitation, I tranq’d the guards who promptly slumped to the ground and ran over to Nikolai. His large form was crumpled on the floor barely conscious—his face covered in bruises, and his dirty blond hair looked black due to the dried blood caked onto the thick strands. I longed to pull him into my arms, but the cage he was in prevented our contact, which brought my attention back to the guards.

The keys were on the second guard I searched. Alarm bells began to sound once more regarding how easy this had been, but I couldn’t be bothered now, not when I was so close. Without another thought, I opened the cell door and went to Nikolai’s side. His green eyes struggled to open at my touch, “Riza,” he whispered and a small smile pulled at the corners of his full lips when he recognized me. Then his roman nose wrinkled as he said with his charming Russian accent, “you need a shower.”

“You don’t smell so sweet yourself,” I chided as I pulled him up and placed his heavy left arm over my shoulders to help support him. “Can you shoot?” I asked and he looked at me through his swollen eyes as if I had three heads. I gestured toward his battered body in my defense then handed him one of the guns that was tucked into the back of my waistband. He looked at the tranquilizer gun now in his hand, a look of surprise flashing across his features then looked at me questioningly. I shrugged in response, while mouthing the question, “What?” But what the glare in my eyes said was, “Don’t start.” He tried to smile, but the bruises prevented it from fully forming, sobering us from the lighthearted moment.

Silently, we made our way through the complex, looking for a way out. After what seemed like a long time, we still encountered no resistance and just as I was beginning to think that this wasn’t a trick, that we truly had taken Vallin and his men by surprise, we rounded the corner, stumbling right into the trap I had been waiting for.

There in front of us stood Vallin dressed in his usual suit of white. In the bright sun, his blond hair seemed to glow, but the unforgiving rays of the sun caused his boyish looking tanned face to age instantly as his wrinkles became evident.  Standing in a line behind him were more of his men all wearing the same outfit as the others, black pants and black t-shirts fashionably accessorized with firearms.

“Did you really think I was going to let the two of you walk out of here?” he asked with a nondescript European accent. Clearly, the question was intended to be rhetorical, but I thought it deserved an answer so I responded, “I was hoping.” He looked at me with a grimace, annoyed that I’d spoken.

“No matter,” he replied. “Both you and the love of your life, Nikolai, will be allowed to walk out of here, if you give me one thing.” He paused, waiting for me to ask the obvious follow-up question. My pulse pounded in my ears and the weight of Nikola’s stocky six-foot-tall body was getting harder for my petite five foot six frame to bear with every passing minute. I looked over at him. His condition made it impossible for us to fight or way out of this, so I asked the question Vallin was waiting for, “And what is that?”

“The access code to the vault,” he said smugly. I felt the color drain from my face. The vault held all the secrets to our society. He could bring every member down; everyone on the planet would be in danger.

“No,” I said firmly.

Vallin sighed, “I was afraid you would say that. Shoot Nikolai,” he ordered coldly.

Nikolai pulled himself up as straight as he could, determined to face the end with dignity, but when I heard the cacophony of hammers being pulled back, I yelled out “Wait!” Fear dripped off of the word.

Vallin raised his hand, a smug look forming on his face, and his men instantly stood down. “Is there something you’d like to say?” he asked.

I thought maybe if I could keep him talking I could prevent him from killing us. Maybe, we could get out of this. “Why kill Nikolai and not me?”

“Simple, we’ve beaten and tortured him and he hasn’t broken. I think this is a much better incentive for you to tell me what I want to know.”

I looked at Nikolai; the thought of losing him was unbearable. He saw the sadness reflected in my eyes, “No, my Angel, you can’t.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I reach for the last gun behind my back, my right hand obscured from Vallin’s view due to the position of Nikolai’s body.

In one quick movement, I drew the gun and Nikolai dropped to the ground hitting the floor hard. We tranq’d as many of Vallin’s men as we could, but somehow he stood in the middle of the confrontation completely fearless. In fact, he was laughing, showing no concern for his safety even though all of his men now lay on the ground soundly sleeping. I turned around to find Nikolai. He was still on the ground, but his clothes were stained with fresh blood.

I ran over to him and moved his head into my lap. He was gone and all I could hear was Vallin’s shrill laughter that made my blood curdle. While I was leaning over Nikolai, tears were streaming down my face and I suddenly felt a blow to the back of my head. The last thought I had as the world faded from view was: at least we died together.

To my surprise, my eyes slowly opened and I had to blink several times to bring the room into focus. When the fog cleared, tears began to well up. Nikolai, the man I had lost moments ago, was bent over me. His green eyes, sparkling with the tears he held back, were even more beautiful than I had remembered. “My Angel,” he said while he caressed my cheek. My first instinct was to throw myself at him, so that he could fold me into his embrace, but the pain I felt all over as I attempted to do just that, kept me right where I was. Which, when looking around, was completely unfamiliar. “Where am I?” I asked, but I was surprised at the sound of my own voice which sounded hoarse from lack of use.

“You’re in Vallin’s laboratory,” Nikolai replied.

“His laboratory,” I repeated confused.

“What’s the last thing you remember from the museum?” he asked.

“That we were ambushed and that you were taken.” With each word spoken, my voice was becoming stronger.

“We were ambushed,” he corroborated, “but,” he continued, “it was you who was taken six months ago.” The news made me feel as if I had been struck over the head. Somehow, I felt more disoriented now than when I had first woken up. “You’ve been hooked up to this machine,” he pointed to a grey monstrosity that pulsed with blue lights next to the gurney I was laying on. “As far as we can tell, it’s some type of advanced form of virtual reality. Vallin was using it to extract information from you.”

“How do you know that?” I asked.

Nikolai helped me sit up so I could see a worse for wear Vallin passed out in the corner of the room. The walls of the room were the color of steel with no decoration. It looked like a cross between a cell, a laboratory, and a computer geek’s dream come true. The fact that I’d mostly likely been kept here for the past six months made me feel uneasy, but a twinge of pleasure came out in the form of a small laugh when my eyes alighted once again on an unconscious Vallin. Even in the real world he wore his ridiculous white suit and I wondered if the color made him feel as if he were in the right.

I tried to stand up, but my legs were weak from having laid here for six months. Nikolai’s strong arms were there to steady me and I took a moment to revel in his touch. With his help, I was able to walk over to Vallin, “He was trying to get information out of me,” I confirmed.

“What information?” Nikolai asked.

“The access code to the vault,” I replied and I could see the alarm on Nikolai’s face. “Don’t worry, I didn’t tell him,” I said quickly to assuage his fears.

“Good. I didn’t think you even knew the access code,” he said. I was confused by his statement. I could have sworn we were told together, but my memory seemed so fuzzy. I leaned in to whisper it in Nikolai’s ear just to be certain, when the steel grey wall behind him seemed to flicker like a monitor does when a cable is loose. I blinked my eyes a few times and the wall, once again, looked normal. A bad feeling started to take root in the pit of my stomach, and I realized that the nightmare wasn’t over yet.

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Death is Only the Begining by Alanna J. Rubin

To Jason: I’m sorry it took so long. I hope you like it!

All right, I remember dying. Again. Well, not like it was the first time, or the tenth, for that matter. But I remember a car accident…and this place looks like it’s never even heard of cars.

There was nothing from here to the horizon that even indicated there was another living soul nearby. After coming back to life so many times over the last few centuries, I had grown used to waking up in strange places. Never had I found myself in the same place that I had died. As if dying and coming back to life wasn’t disorienting enough, but practice has made acclimating easier even if it still took time to recover my memories.

Pulling myself up to a standing position, I cracked my neck. It felt unusually stiff and then I remembered the sharp pain I felt when my neck snapped as my car careened off of the cliff and impacted into the ground. It was a quick way to go, I’d give it that. Far less painful than some, but not one I’d care to repeat. As I remembered the specific how of this death, something else came to mind…the anger I had felt, the desperation, and the surprise when I pressed the brakes on my brand new car and nothing happened. I had been murdered, but I couldn’t remember why.

Hours had passed since I began wandering across the field I had woken up in, and still nothing. Not only could I not remember who it was that would want me dead, but I also began to wonder if I’d ever see civilization. It was beautiful though. The grass seemed greener than normal, the sky so clear and blue, and the air sweet. It reminded me of when I grew up, when the earth and the sky were still pristine, relatively untouched by the march of progress of man. It was eerily familiar.

Everything about this resurrection felt different, felt wrong, and there was a niggling feeling that I couldn’t quite settle upon. Every time it felt close enough to identify, it would recede into an untouchable part of my memory. So I did my best not to focus on it in the hopes that it would come into view on its own. But being all alone, surrounded by nothing but land and air made it difficult to stay distracted and keep my mind blank. I found my thoughts involuntarily drifting back to when I was a young man, to the day I first died. It started out as any other. I donned my cap and made my way to the stables to begin my day’s work. It was a job that I enjoyed immensely. The horses and I had a bond, and I do believe they were as happy to see me as I them and every time I would see the stable come into view I would break out into a smile and run the remaining distance to the entrance. Immediately I would get to work, picking up the pitch fork, so I could muck out the stalls. Granted this was my least favorite part, but if I did it first, I could spend the rest of the day grooming the horses and shining the saddles.

That day in particular, I had hopes of the master giving me permission to ride. He did so once every month as a reward for my hard work. He was a generous man and all of his servants respected him and that day I was going to choose Shade. He was a black horse with white spots, fifteen hands tall, beautiful lines and my favorite. I gave him a sugar cube when I came towards him, which he happily took out of my hand, then I gently patted him on his side as I moved into the stall to clean. It was then that I heard muffled sounds coming from a stall farther down. No one should have been there. It was just after sunrise. Taking a pitchfork firmly in hand, I went to investigate and the sounds grew louder as I approached the stall on the far end. My pulse was racing. Taking a slow breath to gather my courage, I peered into the stall and my eyes grew wide.

The mistress of the house in her fine green velvet dress was carrying on with the master’s friend, Duke Elton. A sound of surprise escaped my lips and they turned towards me. Fear creased the mistress’s brow upon being discovered, but there was something about the Duke’s eyes that was eerie and unsettling. The blacks of his eyes seemed to expand until no white was visible. My breath hitched as I stumbled backwards trying to maintain the distance that the Duke was steadily closing. I moved to position the pitchfork between myself and him then realized I had dropped it in my surprise. The Duke had it now and he pointed the sharp tines in my direction. They began to glow as he chanted something I didn’t understand. Then I felt an excruciating pain pierce my chest. I remember looking down at the pitchfork protruding from my body, still curious as to why it was glowing, but the last thing I remembered as my life faded away was the satisfied smile that sprawled across the Duke’s face.

I hadn’t thought about that day in a long time. It was clear that that moment is what cursed me with my current inability to stay dead. Or was it a gift? I could never decide. But why remember it now? The pain I felt in my feet from the hours of walking broke through my thoughts and I paused to look around and my jaw dropped. In front of me, as if no time had passed, was the stable. It was something I would never forget. Its white walls still a welcoming sight. I ran over to it, ignoring the painful protest coming from my feet, and peered through one of its several windows and there, in the first stall, was Shade. How is this possible? But that question would need to be answered later because the Duke walked in, and I would recognize him anywhere. He carried in his right hand a glass of wine which he sat down on the top of a barrel. He took out a silver blade that glinted in the sun and started chanting. He dragged the blade across his palm causing blood to flow, then let it drip into the cup mixing perfectly with the contents. The mistress of the house, wearing the same green velvet gown I had remembered, entered the stable. “My dear Duke,” she said, “my husband has been looking everywhere for you.”

“Well, you’ve found me,” he replied. “As you can see I was about to enjoy a glass of wine. Would you care to join me?” She looked at him a bit hesitant, but then seemed to think it the polite thing to do, because she said, “Very well.” He handed her the glass he had just spelled and she drank from it. Duke Elton looked quite pleased as he escorted her back to the main house. That niggling feeling in my mind began to eat away at me again, but this time I chased it until it was tangible. Excitement and confusion rushed me when I seized upon the truth. It was the Duke. He murdered me…again. Pieces came flooding back. My running into the Duke at the coffee shop, his unnerving interest in Emily, the love of my long life. I had to get back to her…somehow. I knew with every fiber of my being that she was in grave danger and I was the only one who could save her. In fact, I was on my way to do just that when…I moved to rub my neck once more.

I don’t know how the Duke managed it or if it was his intention, but he had sent me back in time. The question was, how do I get back? I shoved my hands into my pockets frustrated when I felt a piece of paper. Taking it out, I unfolded it. The text was familiar and the paper watermarked with the Duke’s family crest. I wished that I could remember how I got it. I looked at the Latin text more closely and, to my surprise, translated it easily. My memory was still spotty, but clearly I had taken the trouble to learn it. It was the spell that had sent me back in time, I was sure of it. According to the spell, the final thought at the time of death would seal the outcome. As I plunged to my death, I remembered that I was thinking of the first time the Duke killed me and I ended up here.

Every nerve ending seemed to be set on fire as I decided on a plan. I cautiously made my way into the barn remembering that the master of the house always kept a pistol hidden under the floor boards of the farthest stall in case of an emergency. It didn’t do me any good all those years ago, but… I pried up the floor board and removed the weapon, the irony of the situation not lost on me. This is where I died the first time. The gun felt heavier in my hand than I expected, cold and devoid of feeling. It was difficult to get a comfortable grip. Standing on the very spot I had died centuries before, gun in one hand and the spell in the other, I thought to myself, this has to work. I raised the gun to my temple and spoke the spell aloud, letting thoughts of Emily fill my mind. Our first meeting, her brown wavy hair cascading down around her shoulders, the blue of her dress setting her eyes a glow and a smile that could melt the coldest of hearts. As the picture of her enveloped my senses, I felt a sense of calm and certainty take root. I felt a smile spread from ear to ear and I pulled the trigger.

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