Written by Candace Rugg
Cover Art by Rachel Hoard
Cass stared up at a grey sky full of ash and smoke.
She refused to look straight ahead at the city, burning before her.
Based on the smoldering clouds that filled the air, she knew that there was nothing left of her home.
I shouldn’t have left… I should have stayed.
She pushed back the memories of her loved ones that she knew she would never see again.
She could still hear the cries of people far off in the distance.
Reminding her of the danger that she was still in.
It was time to move.
Despite her growing grief, Cass willed her legs to move forward.
She had to get away from all of it.
“So this is your strength? How laughable.”
A spell of dizziness washed over her, and soon she began to sink into the ground with every step that she took.
Strange images rapidly flashed across her vision.
A jungle beneath a yellow sky, a pitch black pyramid that shined like dark metal, a man speaking a language that demanded to be heard.
Cass clutched her head between her hands in a pitiful attempt to stop them from coming.
“Stop it please!”
Her eyes darted wildly around her as she tried to regain control of her own sight.
“It is too late for that.”
Where is that voice coming from!?
She tried to focus on the source of it, but it was like searching through a thick fog; impossible. “Cass, please don’t go..”
Panic swelled within her as she suddenly heard her mother’s voice ring into her ears.
Her nails sank into her flesh drawing fresh blood along the side of her face. Her breathing grew rapid as she fought against the visions inside of herself.
Anything but this!
“I SAID STOP!”
In an instant the world around her shattered like shards of glass and the city that she once knew was nothing more than a broken memory falling into a pit of darkness. For a brief moment, Cass regained control of her sight.
A husky sigh escaped her. Her body felt like it was free falling, but she was too exhausted to even begin to fight it or to even care. Cass thought about closing her eyes and accepting whatever surface that she was bound to die on.
She knew she deserved that fate.
A dark gurgle of laughter surrounded her as she fell further into the darkness.
“Arharkin is right about your species, you are weak.”
The voice coiled around her like a snake.
“I did not sign up for this.” Cass managed to murmur out loud.
The darkness roared with laughter.
“True you did not, this was happenstance, an act of survival.”
Soon images of Cass catching an orb played in her brain as the voice spoke.
“I’ve watched you through your memories and I see you for what you truly are, Cassidy Pierce-”
The darkness surged through Cass and accelerated her fall through the empty void. The bones in her body began to crunch and rearrange themselves inside of her skin.
She tried to scream but there was no sound that escaped from her lips. As if all the air around her had been vacuumed out of existence. Arharkin's torture was child's play compared to it.
Tears began to stream down Cass’s face as she struggled to breathe.
Not like this..
She thrashed around, gripping at her throat, fighting against the pain inside of her.
The voice let out a sound of annoyance.
"What do you want? Please I'll give you anything."
“What I want is not in your power to give, human,” the voice answered her.
Cass pushed against the invisible force that was tearing her apart . As a result, the images started to play for Cass again, only this time, a vision of a lone figure watching a burning city from a palace. It played out clearly before her. The figure smiled as the black flames reached up past a pyramid that was off in the distance. He didn’t think they would ever find him. The city crumbled away into dust along with the vision.
The crushing hold on Cass was suddenly released as she landed into a large body of water that cushioned her fall. Despite her body’s current state Cass somehow managed to swim to the surface, where she wasted no time coughing up water and taking in greedy gulps of air.
No longer in the endless void of darkness.
Instead, she was now in a deep green pool beneath a giant stone altar in what appeared to be a temple. Small green lights dimly flickered against the stone walls, revealing giant statues that were etched within them.
"About time.” The voice that Cass had been hearing rang out from behind her.
She turned towards it.
Sitting in the middle of the temple, on a stone throne was a male grey alien with glowing white eyes, and matching white hair that moved like a flame on a candle. His ears were long and pointy, and his skin was covered in black markings that churned constantly against his skin. In a way the alien looked almost regal. He sent a scowl at Cass as she thrashed her way to the side of the pool and clung on to the edge of it for dear life.
“Where am I?” She asked between her breaths of exhaustion .
The Being stood up from his throne and walked casually over to her. His eyes flickered as he examined her.
“I created this room to break your miserable falling. You've intrigued me, human.”
The Being then turned on his heel towards the room and spread his arms out in a grand gesture to everything in it.
He continued to speak, ignoring her obvious struggle to get out of the water.
“You’re welcome by the way, that’s not easily done.”
Cass couldn’t tell if he was referring to the room creation, or impressing him. Either way she wasn’t really paying attention she was too focused trying to recall how she even got in this mess.
“Where exactly is here?” she pressed.
The Being looked back to Cass with a look of pure annoyance.
“What? Not even a shred of gratitude for my kindness!?” He sighed dramatically and began walking back towards the center of the room. “What a shame- guess I’ll just send you back to your endless falling till you learn some REAL manners.”
“WAIT!” Cass cried out after him
She tried to pull herself over the edge of the pool again but failed. Fatigue wrapped around her and she soon felt her grip onto the pool's edge beginning to slip.
“I’m sorry! I'm grateful and all, but I’m in the process of drowning, and trying to figure out the last few hours of my life. So forgive me if I seem rude! Please, help me!”
The Being rolled his glowing eyes as Cass spoke.
“Must I do everything for you?!” He snapped.
He let out another sound of annoyance before snapping his sharp fingers together. The room suddenly merged and morphed together until it turned into a balcony overlooking an ancient city in the dead of night . Cass landed with a thud against a hard stone floor; and she was instantly reminded of the condition that her body was in.
She bit down on her lip to prevent herself from crying.
“Better?” He asked bitterly.
Not really.. But it was probably a good idea not to provoke whatever strange creature this guy was by annoying him further.
“Yeah..” She answered through grit teeth. “Never better..”
The Being grinned.
“Good, now tell me , what is the last thing that your human brain remembers?”
Cass paused to gather her thoughts before answering.
“I was in a room with Arharkin and his Zecurcians... then all hell broke loose.”
She shuddered at the memory of being slammed into walls.
“The drinks...they were poisoned, but I was set up I swear-”
“Yes, yes I heard this speech from your memory." The Being waved a grey hand in dismissal. He walked over to the edge of the balcony and peered out over the city as he spoke. “Let's skip to the last part of it shall we?"
A vision of Cass catching the falling orb that Arharkin was controlling played out in front of them like a holographic movie. She watched in silent awe as the image of herself began to glow blue and then was lifted into the air before everything exploded into a white abyss.
“Did I die?” She asked when the image disappeared.
“No. At least, not yet.”
He turned back towards Cass.
“Your encounter with Arharkin has reminded me how weak he has become. So drunk with my power that he failed to kill one measly human. The fool,.that’s what he gets for playing with his prey."
His face grew into a wicked expression as he spat out Arharkins name. Intrigue grew in Cass. If this thing wasn’t a fan of Arharkin could it maybe be an ally?
“Who are you?” She asked
A wide grin spread across The Being’s grey face.
“Depends on who you ask," he answered with a laugh. “I've been called many names in my lifetime, but you may address me as Pharros. It has been my favorite so far.”
“Alright Pharros.. So this is hell?”
Cass motioned to everything around them.
“It’s a link between my orb and your subconscious . A common ground that has never been created. It’s also the reason why you are still alive."
Pharros waved his dark hand and the balcony twisted and melted away into the familiar backdrop of the VIP room of the Broken Record. Everything was exactly the way that Cass had remembered it. From the gaudy purple interior to the smell of old sticky booze that was soaked into the floor. The only difference was the eerie silence that sliced through the air instead of the rumbling of Bass music.
“I could use you Cass, and liberate us both from our captors.”
Frozen in place in the middle of the room were Zecurcian’s tearing into a large pile of meat that they had half assed butchered and carved up themselves on one of the tables in the room. And sitting not too far off, with his nose in a book was Arhakin who was easily ignoring his generals in the room. Cass was about to open her mouth to ask a question when she spotted a Zecurcian with his mouth midway open to consume an eyeball. An eyeball that she recognized immediately as Sadie’s. Bile filled her mouth at the sight of it.
“I could end your life, but then what's in it for me? An endless cycle of imprisonment? Bound to that fool over there?”
Pharros pointed at Arharkin and laughed bitterly.
“No, I am destined for a greater fate than that.”
With a flick of his wrist a white flame waved to life in the palm of his hand. Pharros gave a sinister smile before hurling the flame towards the Zecurcian’s and Arharkin.
A moment later, the room exploded with a burst of blinding white light and flames. Causing Cass to press her face to the floor to protect her eyes from the sight of it. When the light finally faded she glanced up to find nothing but cinders and ash where the Zercurcian’s and Arharkin had once stood.
“Right now as we speak you are still in that dark, shitty room at the bar, Suspended into mid air, being protected by MY power.”
Pharros stood before her with another dangerous white flame bursting to life in his hands. The look he gave was nothing short of smug.
“Without my aid you will die from our encounter.”
He crouched down till he was eye level with Cass. His glowing eyes studying her face.
“What’s the catch?” She asked with worry
He tapped the side of his head and gave her a toothy grin.
“I will leave my prison and make a nice little home in your hippocampus.”
“And what will you do once you're in there?”
“That is none of your concern human, but know that I will save you from the danger that you are in and that you will live."
“What happens if I say no?”
Pharros brought the white flame up to Cass’s face.
“I didn’t say you get a choice."
Cass fell to the floor with a thud. The objects that were previously airborne stilled and dropped along with her. A metal orb that no longer glowed was clutched tightly between her fingers. Fire filled her lungs as she took in a jagged breath.
She was alive.
A sharp pain seared its way throughout her body as she pushed herself upright.
“YOU” Arharkin’s voice roared through the air. “What have you done!?"
He staggered his way over to Cass, pushing, and throwing aside everything in his way. He threw back his fist; ready to strike her when he was in arms reach.
“Do you have any idea what you have unleashed!?”
Cass caught Arharkin’s hand midway through the air before it could reach her..
When she looked up at him her eyes glowed white and a wicked smile played on her lips.
The counterstrike that Cass landed on the side of Arharkin’s face sent him flying through the room and crashing into a nearby wall. Her hand had broken as a result but it was quickly repairing itself and gearing up for another hit. Cass watched with satisfaction as Arharkin struggled to regain himself after the impact. Blue blood trickled along a deep gash that formed on his face. He gawked in horror at the sight of Cass.
Black symbols began to swirl and appear on her tan skin, her once short hair had suddenly grown in matters of seconds and moved around her face like a flame. Her expression and eyes belonged to someone that he hadn’t seen in centuries.
“I’ve come to reclaim what was once mine.” She spoke in a distorted voice.
She walked towards Arharkin. With every step she took, Cass could sense fear growing inside of him.
The smile deepened on her face. Pure delight.
“You can’t kill me!” Arharkin sputtered as he managed to stand to his feet.
“You need me to-” in an instant Cass was in front of him and landed a punch straight to his gut.
The wall cracked and crumbled behind Arharkin as he was sent flying through it. He landed with a loud crack against the stair railing that led to the main floor of the bar.
He began to vomit his own blood.
“You don’t command the actions of a god!”
Before she could take another step towards him a shackle of green light formed around her feet preventing her from moving. Cass looked over her shoulders and spotted the Stranger that had saved her from earlier, coaxing a wave of green light from his orb. Spotting it sent a wave of anger through her.
“Don’t interfere.” She demanded.
She thought of the white blinding flames that she saw earlier in her mind, and imagined them being thrown at her feet. She sent the flames through the bond of her shackles, and linked it directly to the orb the Stranger carried. Moments later the green light splintered apart around her ankles and were set ablaze by the flames she longed to wield.
The Stranger jumped away in time to dodge the blast that occurred afterwards. Even though they moved in time, their orb hadn’t been as fortunate. The sound of running footsteps rushed to Cass’s ears the moment she turned her attention back to Arharkin; who was attempting a pitiful retreat down to the main floor.
“Going so soon?” She laughed as she casually followed Arharkin and watched him from the top of the railing.
He shot her a look of disdain as he limped down past the last step.
A moment later a squadron of Zecucians surrounded him and snarled up at Cass.
“Kill her!” Arharkin commanded
The Zecurcians began to fire off their weapons.
Adrenaline and glee flowed through Cass as she nimbly dodged the red rays of bullets, She could sense them, she knew exactly where they would be and how to avoid them as well.
Cass had never fought a day in her life and yet- this was child's play.
She landed with a cat-like grace behind a Zecurcian and threw a fist that went straight through its chest cavity. The look of shock on their red faces excited Cass.
The gore flowed through the air around her as she thought of the flames again. Cass shot it through the arm that was deeply embedded in the Zecurcian in front of her.
The cries of shock and terror filled the air only for a brief moment before the Zecurcians were completely engulfed by the flames. They all disintegrated before her eyes.
Cass looked around the room.
She needed more.
WHO WAS NEXT?
A dark fit of laughter clouded her mind as she pounced on a Zecurcian who was fleeing towards the exit of The Broken Record. She began to hit him over and over again in his face- letting all the years of fear and anger out with every hit that she gave him till there was nothing left but a caved in husk.
She stood up; ready for more.
"Arharkin. Where is ARHARKIN?!"
A knife was suddenly embedded into Cass’s back causing her to cry out in pain. She rolled off her victim and began to flail wildly on the floor, clawing at her back. Soon more knives joined their way into her skin so that she could no longer move. A strange energy surged through the knives and soon her eyelids grew heavy. She watched as her blood slowly flowed onto the floorboards beneath her.
A heavy pair of black boots stood in front of Cass.
“What a mess..” The Stranger kneeled down in front of her and waved a hand to her face to make sure that she was out of it. The Stranger pressed his hand underneath his hood as he spoke.
“There's been a change of plans, Fargo. We need to restrategize over here.”
Cass’s limbs felt heavy and immoblie under the knives. However, despite that she was beginning to feel her skin push against the blades and heal. She managed to move her head enough to glare up at the Stranger who was ruining her fun.
“RELEASE ME!” She snarled up at him.
“Sorry but that’s not part of the plan anymore, girl.” He cocked a loaded gun with a strange green solution in it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Candace Rugg (she/her) lives in the fabulous mitten state in Lansing, MI with her husband and lazy cat (who owe her 10 years of rent.) She's a banker by day and an introvert gamer who also writes at night. Candace loves nature and plans to move closer to the water in the future