Kyle Grace

Garrett

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Bio:
Kyle Grace = Garrett Ryze = Kazz Nakita = Dog

“Relax, young man. It will take only a moment to replace your arm, then you’ll be good as new.”

My hand paused in its reach for the man severed arm as a sense of déjà vu engulfed me. It felt like I have spoken these words before. Countless times… and to this same guy… He was this rather tall, black haired man with blue eyes. His body was well muscled, and literally covered with scars. His hands were the eeriest part of him. His fingernails were unusually sharp, but I briefly remembered him coming to me, and him having Freddy Krueger claws…

I stopped for a moment, to ponder this thought. But the man’s grunt of pain brought a sigh from me. My hand continued forward to grab the man’s severed arm and my stitches kit. “I am sorry sir, but I am not allowed anything to dull the pain. This will hurt, a lot. But you will feel much better after it is complete. Just hang in there.” He grunted again, in what I hoped was understanding, then proceeded to scream as I began my work.

I HATED this! My work should bring peace to those whom are hurt, not this mind numbing pain… A joke from my master, to be sure. I shuddered, cursing myself for thinking about her…

My master… was this unusual creature of immense power. As far from human as I to an ant. She labeled me a neophyte, and proclaimed that it was only natural for a neophyte surgeon to be presented with rookie equipment. Thus she provided me with rusted tools, decaying wraps, and an uncared for workspace. “Keep my pets alive, Neophyte, or you will be granted the honor of having me dissect you day after day, for all eternity. EHEEHEEHEEHEEHEE!” And in a swirl of maniacal laughter, she left.

All that made my life hell at first. But since then I have adapted. The condition and makeshift of the tools mattered not anymore. In my hands, they might as well have been ‘top of the line,’ considering the miracles I could do with them. But the lack of sedatives and pain management was still affecting me to this day. You’d think after all this time I’d grow numb to it, but alas, my need to help others forces me to relive the pain I inflict on people in order to save them.

Thus was my curse. To be presented with dying patients, and to wield the knowledge that they would die unless I help them, yet the only way I could help them was to cause them mind-searing pain. I received little gratitude, only a weary acceptance.

It was hard to remember a time where I was able to pacify someone completely… Had it been a week ago? A month? A year? Perhaps decades… I knew not. Time seemed unimportant in my life now. All I had now was a ravenous need to help people, and a steady supply of patients. Thus, my thoughts drifted to the back of my mind while I focused on my craft.

“There you go, young man, you should be good as new.” He wiped the tears from his eyes, glanced at me, then walked out the door. I sighed, alone again with only my tormented thoughts to accompany me as I waited for my next patient…

The days continued to repeat. I started to doubt whether there was a way to actually help someone. If my craft caused more pain than the ordeal they endured to be brought to me, then perhaps I should just stop. Maybe the only way to truly help the patients is to let them die. Then they won’t keep coming back to me, mangled and hurt, only to have to endure my attempt to help him, continuing this circle of everlasting torment placed upon them.

But could I do it? Am I physically able to let a patient of mine, someone in desperate need of medical help, just sit there and die in my care? I think not, but the alternative was to make them well enough to endure more punishment. Is that really treatment? Oh god, I was going to let a patient die..!

Doing so would also force me to endure my master’s punishment. To her, I would indeed be a “Neophyte” if I allowed a patient to die. Thus the novelty of having an expert surgeon would dull, and she would find another use for me. Like a new toy to be dissected, perhaps? But if my sacrifice would end my patient’s torment, then I would bestow upon myself whatever punishments necessary to do so.

A knock on the door produced the young man. He had slashes all over his body, a few broken ribs, and his right arm was bent at a weird angle. But the worst yet was a huge broken claw piercing his left breast, precariously close to his heart. One good shove on that would cause it to pierce his heart, and end his suffering.

I beckoned him over to the workstation and told him to lie down. Once he did so, I began treating him. I wanted to discuss with him why I was about to murder him, yet he seemed too distracted by the pain to comprehend my words. Thus, I set and braced his arm, mended his wounds, and wrapped his ribs. The patient’s cries of agony ended halfway through my work, having passed out from the pain. Perhaps this was for the best. After all, it is much easier to kill a sleeping target…

Once finished with all the minor injuries, I looked at the Piercing claw. A whimper escaped me as I placed my hand on the Claw. This went against everything I am, but it was the only way I could permanently cure him. I closed my eyes, and inhaled a great deal of air. I let it set in me for ten seconds, then I cleared my mind, letting all thoughts escape me with my exhaled sigh. Numb, I looked at the patient one last time as I prepared to thrust the claw into his heart, but my breath left me as I was immediately taken aback.

He appeared to be resting peacefully, a content look upon his face. Snoring slightly, without a care in the world. That was like a slap across the face. How long had it been since I’d seen this look of contentment on the face of one of my patients? It seemed like an eternity ago, but slowly the memory was coming back to me. Until finally, it was as if the haze at the back of my mind lifted, and suddenly, I wasn’t standing over a patient anymore…

~

I was on my way home from work at the hospital. Exhaustion warring with my will to stay awake. I had called my wife shortly before I left the hospital, apologizing profusely for staying so late, but she told me that I was foolish to worry about such a silly matter. “You are saving lives, honey. How can I be mad at you for that? Don’t worry yourself, the kids are in bed, asleep. Try not to wake them when you get here. Love you.” I truly had the most wonderful wife in the world…

I drove home in my Neon Green Viper, driving on the same rode I always took. Half falling asleep at the wheel, I began to muse over the day I just had. It had been a long day, considering a greyhound bus had crashed on a bridge, producing a multi-car pileup. The clock had reached 6:00 AM by the time my team and I had everyone properly cared for. They all wore the same peaceful expression of serenity. It pleased me to no end that I had the power to produce such a coveted emotion within my patients. All we could do for them now is let them rest, thus I was relieved to go home to sleep.

Whilst reminiscing, I almost missed the sight of the small girl walking alongside the road, favoring her left arm to her chest. That bothered me. We were on a pretty long, desolate rode. The next habited area a few miles ahead of us, with only woods in between us. The girl looked no older than nine. Why was she here all alone?

I stopped the car, and waited for her to walk up to the window, but she just passed on by without so much as glancing at me. I began to drive alongside her. “Hey, little miss! What are you doing out here all alone? Where are your parents? Do you need to call someone or a ride home?”

But she just kept on walking. Within the hood of her jacket, I could see a trail of dried tears coming from her eyes. So I stopped my Viper and got out. I walked over to her and placed my hand softly on her shoulder, causing her to abruptly stop. I adopted a charming façade and smiled at her. “Little Miss, My name is Dr. Grace, but you may call me Kyle. I am here to help you. Is something wrong with your arm?”

The young girl just looked up at my face, and pulled her hoodie back. She possessed bright red hair, a beautiful, but somewhat pointed face, and the brightest, purest purple eyes I have ever seen. I was immediately captivated by the depth of them. Tears stained her flawless face, and her eyes were swimming, threatening to overfill once more. She held her arm gingerly, and I could see a red stain on her upper arm.

“Hello, are you really a Doctor..?” She asked in a tearful, scared voice. I nodded to her and proclaimed that I was a very renowned doctor from the area, and that I was here to help. “Mind if I look at your arm, Little Miss? I can make the pain go away if you but let me.” I smiled at her, as she seemed to be struggling with an inner-conflict. Probably between her talking to a stranger, and the need to receive help from said stranger. But in the end, she smiled at me and held out her arm. I gently rolled up her jacket sleeves and took a closer look at her wound, only to blink in surprise…

She was shot?

I smiled down at her worried look, and began preparations to tend her wounds. I made sure she was to feel no pain as I worked, and once she was relaxed, I proceeded to retrieve the bullet, sanitize and clean the wound, then stitch her up. After all that was done, I pulled out some wraps and bandaged it all up. It was for this reason exactly that I kept my military emergency first aid kit with me at all times. I grabbed a spare arm sling, and helped her into it after I adjusted its size.

During the whole ordeal, I talked with her; comforted her; and kept her distracted from the work I was doing. She took a deep interest in my work, so I indulged the kid, telling her about all the people I get to see. I described to her how they come to me sad and in pain, and it was my job to “turn their frowns upside down.” I told her that was my favorite part of the job, to see their grateful faces aimed at me. I lived to make others happy, and that was what got me through the day.

I smiled at her as I did the finishing touches. Then I grew serious; “Little Miss, do you mind telling me whom it was that put a bullet in your arm?” Her gaze darted to my eyes, then quickly drifted away. “I can’t talk about it, He’ll get mad…”

I got on a knee, bringing me eye-level with her. “Listen, you don’t have to keep this a secret. If someone is hurting you, then all you have to do is tell me. I can make that pain go away like I did to the pain in your arm. Won’t you help me help you?” She looked at me with scared eyes, and slowly shook her head.

I smiled at her, not giving in yet. “Ok, so it’s a secret then. I can respect that. Do you mind me taking you home? I’m sure your parents must be worried sick.” Her closed look turned to outright fear. She began pushing away from me as she screamed hysterically; “NO! I can’t go back there! They tried to hurt me! You want me to return? Then YOU are trying to hurt me too! I KNEW I couldn’t trust you! I cannot trust ANYONE! I just want to be left along to DIE!!!” She ducked out from under my arm and ran into the woods.

The hell..?

“Wait!” I yelled after her, but her pace didn’t falter in the least. I glanced at my Neon Green Viper sitting on the side of the road. “Sorry honey, seems I’ll be home later than I figured… Forgive me…” I then sighed as I chased after her into the woods, calling her name.

I ran after her for a good fifteen minutes. She was extremely fast for her age. She always stayed just within my senses range. I could see her just before she ran past a tree. I could hear twigs and branches snapping when I lost sight of her. I could hear her sobbing the entire time, telling me to just leave her alone. Slowly the scenery shifted. The trees grew closer and closer together. My footing became more and more precarious. Eventually I was surrounded on all sides by what appeared to be hedges. I could hear her crying deeper into the cluster of nature, but I could barely see a few feet in front of me.

As I ran, it felt like I was surrounded by briars on all sides. They tore at my skin, causing me to bleed from what felt like thousands of cuts, but I ignored them all, content only on finding the girl. I could only imagine what these pointed hedges are doing to her. “LITTLE MISS! YOU’RE HURTING YOURSELF! COME TO ME SO THAT WE MAY LEAVE THIS WRETCHED PLACE…” But she merely wailed “NO!” about ten feet in front of me. I put on a burst of speed, but it seemed that I wasn’t making any progress. I continued to run forward, but she always stayed the same ten feet in front of me.

After what felt like an eternity had passed, I began to slow down. The wounds covering my body searing me like flames. It was beginning to overwhelm me. I noticed a shift in the distance, the hedges seemed to be illuminated from the other side. Until finally, I broke through to a clearing, finally out of the hedge…

I fell to the ground, panting desperately. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. After a minute I began to regain my composure. I felt a small hand on my shoulder. Now that I think about it, the hand had been there shortly after I emerged into the clearing. I looked up to see the young girl smiling sadly at me. “You came…Thank you.” She shifted to give me a hug. Then began laughing. I looked sideways at her as she continued to laugh gleefully.

“Are you… ok, Little Miss?” I gasped, still short of breath. Her laughing slowed down to mild chuckling, then even that ended. She tilted her head to bring her mouth to my ear and whispered merrily in her childlike voice. “I can’t believe anyone would endure so much to try to help me. You are the most… Gullible human I have ever met!” She busted into fits of laughter whilst I tried to process that.

“The most gullible… Human… I don’t understand, Little Miss. You must be in pain after running through those briars so recklessly. We need to get out of this forest and get you home so that I can tend to you-” But when I looked closer at her, I noticed that not a scratch marred her flawless skin. There is no way… We ran through a briar filled hedge for what seemed like forever… How can her skin be untouched… While I was nearly bleeding out…

“I don’t… Understand…” She smiled cattily at me, and proclaimed; “Obviously you don’t, little human, for we are already home! I welcome you to Arcadia, land of the Fey! Her smile grew wider, impossibly so. I stared at her as her form slowly shifted. Her face became more angular, contorting. My mind couldn’t comprehend what my eyes were seeing, and coupled with blood loss, you can understand why I passed out. Her laughter filling the air as I slowly lost consciousness.

Most after that was a fuzzy memory. I believe they had me on an operating table for a while, tinkering with me. But eventually I ended up trapped in my own hell, keeping their pets alive for all eternity…

~

I stood there, over my patient. My hand on the claw penetrating his left breast, wide-eyed and reliving the past. Hundreds of thoughts and emotions filled me, intense in the fact that I have been numb for a long time. But one thought prevailed over the rest. ‘Home.’ I wanted to go home! I have been away from the human world so long that I had forgotten about it. But somehow the charm distracting me broke, and I remembered… “I remember…” I REMEMBER HOME! The grateful patients as they left my care, the appreciation for my work, my wife of five years, our four-year-old kids. Our Siberian Husky, Nakita… I remembered them all! How could I have forgotten about them…?

Tears flooded from my eyes as I remembered the day I proposed to my wife, the thrill she gave me when she told me she was pregnant. The shock when we discovered we were having twins. The day of her conception, producing two beautiful children into the world. Their first birthday, when we got them Nakita, the husky puppy. And every day from there leading up to my… My kidnapping… “Oh god… I have to get home!”

The sound of snoring invaded my rapid thoughts, and I looked down, jumping when I noticed that I still had a patient, one with a claw penetrating his chest. There was no way I was going to cure him so that he could return to the pit. But I was not going to kill him either. No, there was now a third option… I was going to escape from Arcadia, and I was going to take this guy with me!

I grasped the claw in his chest and pulled it out. He grunted in pain, feeling it through his sleep. I quickly doctored, stitched, and bandaged the wound. He woke up as I put the final touches on it. He started to sit up, but halted, glancing at me. I nodded, that I was done, and he sat up in the bed. He sighed, then stood, preparing to leave.

“Wait…”

He halted, giving me a questioning look. “There is a matter I wish to discuss with you, young man.” He eyed me warily, understandable considering the fact that besides the basic doctor orders, we never really spoke to one another. “How would you like to return home?” He glanced mistrustingly at me, then spoke. “Home? I do not understand… We are home…”

He has an interesting voice. It bothered me to know that in all this time I have treated him, I have never heard him speak. “Young man, do you remember your name?” He looked askance at me and replied. “My name is Ryze”

“Well hello there, Ryze, My name is Dr. Grace. But you may call me Kyle. Do you remember where you live?” He looked at me, then replied. “I live here, as do you.” I shook my head at him then responded. “No, I live in Houston, Texas, with my wife and kids. I own a Husky named Nakita, and I am a revered Doctor / Surgeon at the Houston Medical Center. What about you? Do you have a wife? Kids? Any pets whatsoever? A brother or sister perhaps? There must be something…”

He just sat there, in deep concentration. “Any hobby that you might enjoy? A job you particularly fancied? Did you go hunting, camping trips, anything?”

He looked at me. “I… I remember firing a gun a lot. But… I cannot really recall much else.”

“That’s ok! At least you are thinking. Come on! I know for a fact that this hell is neither of our homes. Travel with me, and perhaps you shall remember, as I have!” I grabbed his hand and together, we ran out my workspace door. That was a thrill beyond belief, as I have never ventured out since the day I got placed here.

I was physically dragging him with me at first, but slowly he opened up to the idea, and soon enough he began running alongside me. We arrived in a musty hallway that didn’t smell too nicely. Blood, sweat, fear, all permeated the air. The hall branched off in a cross shape, with the far end holding a barred gate. I could see the Pit beyond it. No way was I going there. So we took a sharp left. We snuck by dozens of labs and medical rooms it seemed. Full of doctors and scientists, all possessing blank gazes. We continued on, much more quietly than before. Ryze was right behind me, his face a mix of confusion, fear, and determination. I approved of the last one.

We continued our circle around the pit, until we came to another crossroads. I looked to the right, seeing a barred gate, with the pit beyond it. We had made it to the other side it seemed. A noise behind me caused me to spin around. A huge hulking beast stood there. Possessing claws like talons, and far too many scars for a normal body to withstand. I took a closer look at his claws, noticing that they were the same as the one which pierced Ryze’s heart. I guess I had found his eternal rival.

The beast looked at me, then began charging towards me, swinging his talons back and forth. His face was empty of all human emotions. All that was left was a raving madness… I stood there, frozen, like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. But Ryze pushed past me and began grappling with the beast. They fought back and forth, but really the hallway was too narrow to do too much. Finally, Ryze threw the beast into a cage to our right, yelling “Back in your cell, inmate! You don’t want me to gas you, do you? You’ll have the entire row pissed at you then!”

I just stared at Ryze, as he got wide-eyed. “I… think I was a… a prison guard… I believe… I was! I was a prison guard! Holy shit, this isn’t my home!” I tried to shush him, while at the same time grinning since he remembered his past. “Ok big guy, I am glad you remember home, but please quiet it down some. We are kinda trying to make our escape.” His eyes widened, then he proceeded to follow me as I took the path continuing the circle at a brisk pace.

After a short while, I found a path to our left, presumably leaving the pit area. We skulked down that path, eyes and ears open for any unwelcomed company. As we approached a door, Ryze walked forward and peeked through the glass window at head height. He nodded, then eased the door open.

We emerged at another hallway, littered with numerous doors on either side. We rushed forward. At first, I was peeking into each room, but I quickly learned my lesson. Each door possessed contraptions not meant for man to see. Not only that, but most of them had humans within them being tortured. I felt this urge to run in and save each and every one of them, but in the back of my mind I knew that there was no saving them. I could tell that the best I could do was to get Ryze to safety, back in the human world. Then, perhaps, I might could return and save them one at a time. I could worry about that later, though. For now, I had an escape to make.

We emerged through another door, then quickly hid behind a column to the side of the door. There were creatures walking around everywhere. Most wielding weapons, though some had clipboards and briefcases. Quite a few of the weapon wielding ones were ogres, and they seemed to be at odds with each other. Looking at one another across the room, and brandishing their weapons at one another. I could see sunlight coming from the door behind one of the ogres. Bingo! But how to get him to leave his post.

“What now?” Ryze whispered into my ears. I glanced around to see what options I had. The two ogres looked like they were about to come to blows, the rest of the guards was staring at them distastefully. There were no cameras or the like from what I could see, and there were big columns circling the room, much like the one we were behind. I looked closer at the column, and saw that it wasn’t made of the hardest material in the world. Hmmm I wonder…

“Hey, I have a plan. Can you chip off a few chunks of this column off? Big enough to cause the ogres to notice?” Ryze glanced at me, then reassessed the situation. A smile crossed his face as he glanced back at me. “Aye, I can do that.”

Thus, he held his hand up, and two of his sharp fingers turned into knives, to put it lightly. I’d seen them numerous times while repairing him, but they still caught me off guard. They were the main reason I had to reuse his current arms whenever they’d get cut off. I couldn’t just replace them with much better arms…

Actually, I could have used better arms, and just reattached his hands! Damn, why didn’t I think of that earlier?!? Oh the possibilities that prospect would have had… Alas, too late to dwell upon it now…

He quietly chipped off two palm size chunks off from the column. We both picked one up. “I’ll throw mine at the one guarding the outside door, you the one across from him.” Ryze nodded, then started a countdown with his left hand. Once it reached zero, we both leaned to either side of the column, and threw the chunks at the guards, whom were both refusing to look at one another. My throw hit the door guard in the leg, but Ryze’s hit the other one square in the face. I guess he had better aim than I.

We both took cover behind the column as both ogres roared in outrage. “Yew throw’d a stone atta me! Yew gonna to pay for dat width yew’r life!”

“No! It’d was a you who’d thrown’d da rock at me firsted! I’m going ta gibbe you a big hurtin for dat!”

“Oh Yeah?”

“Yeah!”

Thus, they charged at one another, clubs swinging. The rest of the guards ran in to either try to stop them from fighting, or attack the ogres themselves. I didn’t really care, to be honest. All I knew was that they were all distracted, and our escape was unguarded.

Ryze seemed captivated by the fight, but I managed to pull him away. Together, we ran from cover to cover, using the columns to our advantage. We opened the outside door and escaped with none the wiser that we were even there. As I shut the door behind us, I felt a hand grab my shoulder and gave it a pull, causing me to fall to the side. Shit…

I fell behind a bush, and a hand cupped my mouth. I looked up to see Ryze hovering over me, his gaze looking down the path. I began to ask what he was doing, but stopped when dozens of guards ran up the stairs we were just on and charged into the door. To break up the fight I’d imagine. We waited til there were no sign of more coming, then he gave a big sigh. “That was close, wasn’t it, Kyle?” His gaze darted down, and at my amused look, he smiled sheepishly at me, then pulled his hand off my mouth. “Uh, sorry about that. I figured it was the best course of action.” I nodded, then thanked him for probably saving my life.

I looked around the courtyard, and noticed that 90% of the guards were inside dealing with the fight. What luck! We skirted around the courtyard, using whatever we could as cover. Bushes, fountains, columns, etc. We got to the very edge of a courtyard, when we heard the first shout. “Hey! YOU! What are you doing out here! Stop immediately!”

“Damn..!” I looked back and saw 6 guards running towards us, two more were running towards the main building, grabbing backup I assumed. This was not looking good at all! “Run!” I yelled, and together, we took off. Ryze bolstered me up the outer wall of the courtyard, and once up, I turned and held out an arm to bolster him up behind me. Once we were both at the top, we looked at the forest on the other side. That was our best bet to lose them. The guards split up and ran towards the south and east exits, sandwiching us.

We looked down, and prepared to jump. I was a little skittish, considering we were much higher than I normally liked. Sensing my hesitance, Ryze put a hand on my shoulder. I expected him to give me this encouraging speech telling me that it wasn’t nearly as far down as it looked. That if I don’t jump now, then we will be captured.

Instead, he whispered “Sorry.” Then push me off the wall. “DAMNIT RYZE!” I yelled as I fell down the wall, rolling once I hit the ground so I didn’t break anything. He was laughing as he tumbled next to me. “You’re welcome, Doctor.” I sneered at him as we ran into the woods.

We had been running for a good fifteen minutes. The sounds of the soldiers’ passage had muted over time. We heard nothing from them now. So we decided to take a small break to catch our breath. After a minute, Ryze suggest he climb a tree so that we could get our bearings. “We need to find the hedge we came through. I believe that is how we are to return home.” I nodded, believing the same. Though I had no way of knowing where in the hedge I emerged from, considering that had been what felt like years ago. This was going to be tricky…

I sat at the base of Ryze’s chosen tree, whose trunk was the biggest out of all the tree’s we’ve passed. “The bigger the trunk, the taller the tree, I’d imagine.” He proclaimed. I wasn’t very familiar with nature science, so I just shrugged and told him to hurry. That was like five minutes ago. I was starting to get worried.

Finally, a few minutes later, I heard the sound of him descending the tree. But wait… something was… off? I looked up into the tree, trying to detect where he was coming down from. I heard the noise of twigs breaking and leaves rustling again, but my face paled when I noticed that it wasn’t coming from the tree, it was coming from behind me. I slowly turned, and stared into the dark forest.

Suddenly, shouts rang out as three guards charged out of their hiding place. They ran towards me brandishing their weapons, and here I stood with nothing to defend myself. I may have been in the military in the past, but my battle training stopped at basic. I merely needed that to be hired on as a field medic. And that was so long ago…

I sighed, then I reached down and grabbed a thick branch, fallen to the ground. Not much, but better than just accepting death. Perhaps I could stall long enough…

The group was within ten feet of me, the head one about three five in front of me. I lifted the branch and prepared to parry his attack, only to shy back as a figure dropped down from the tree above me, covering me in fallen sticks and leaves.

I looked up and saw the figure had landed on the lead guard. After a second, he arose with the guard’s head, having severed it from his body. Ryze stared with cold eyes at the remaining two guards, and chunked the severed head at their feet. “Our destination is only about 100 yards east of us. Go!” Then he charged towards the remaining two guards.

They were more prepared than their compatriot, thus they provided a much harder fight. Every time Ryze would out maneuver one and prepare to strike the finishing blow, he had to evade the others relentless attacks, thus losing his chance. They defended each other pretty well. I could tell that Ryze was starting to get tired, thus I felt I needed to step in and do what I could to help. I bent down, grabbed a rock, and threw it with all my might. It flew gracefully through the air, traveling a good twenty feet, weaving through the hanging branches, and flying into the battlefield, only to smack into the back of Ryze’s head.

Uhh… oops?

Ryze recoiled, and one of the guards got a hit in on his side, causing a line of blood to shower the ground. Ryze leapt backwards, evading his ally’s follow-up attack. “Sorry!” I yelled, only to receive a glare from Ryze. Damn, I really messed up there… The guards attacked relentlessly, pressing their attack since they finally landed a blow, trying to down him before he could recover. Ryze defended admirably, but every block seemed a little slower than the last. Every dodge ended with the weapon just a smidgen closer to making contact. It was only a matter of time…

I bent down to grab the sturdy branch I grabbed earlier, and started stalking towards the battlefield. I paled when I saw Ryze step backwards, into the line of blood that he had spilled earlier. His foot slipped, and he fell to the ground. Shit! One of the guards had jumped back, evading Ryze’s previous counter attack, but the other guard charged ahead to finish Ryze off.

The guard leapt into the air, sword thrusted downwards to finish Ryze off. I darted forward, and arrived just in time to deflect the guard’s sword aside. It landed in the ground an inch to the right of Ryze’s neck. I followed through with my forward momentum to plant a sidekick into the guy’s solar plexus, causing him to fly backwards, leaving his sword behind. He landed and rolled, tripping his ally whom had recovered and was rushing forward. They both fell to the ground as I helped Ryze up. “I have no clue how I just did that, but don’t expect me to get lucky a second time!” he chuckled, then ran forward, I followed suite next to him.

The tripped guard in front of the other prepared to defend against Ryze’s attack, but Ryze merely leapt over him. The guard lifted his weapon, prepared to attack Ryze midflight, but I was right there, knocking his blade to the side with my branch. It gave Ryze enough time to nail the gasping guard in the back with a grievous blow, causing the man to slump over.

The first guard looked back, grimaced, then arced his blade towards me. I lifted my branch to block, but his hit knocked it aside. He used the momentum to launch a second attack. There was no way I could get my stick up in time to defend myself, and the arc of his blade would intercept my forward dodge, the direction he shifted my momentum towards. There was no way I could escape his attack. I stared wide-eyed as his blade started its downward descent. I closed my eyes, waiting for my life to end.

I heard a piercing wail fill the air. It embarrassed me that I would make such a sickening sound as I died. I was hoping for a more graceful death. Where I stood tall, accepting the fact that I was defeated in battle, and took death as the consequence for my folly. But then, I noticed that I felt no pain. Perhaps I had died instantly, saving me from the pain? I hoped so. I didn’t like pain too much… Does that mean when I opened my eyes, I would see Heaven’s Pearly Gates? Hopefully it would be that, and not the Eternal Flames of Hell greeting me. I saved so many lives, surely I’d be redeemed, yes? But then again… the last few years, I did nothing but repair a man so that he was able to fight again and again… Surely there was punishment for that, but there was nothing I could do!

“Open your eyes, Doc…” Here it comes… “Please be Heaven’s Pearly Gates…” I whispered, as I opened my eyes. But it was not Heaven I witnessed, nor was it the flames of Hell. No, what I saw was the 2nd guard’s blade hovering a foot from my head. Where the man’s hand connected with the hilt of the blade… was a flood of blood. I looked closer, and saw that Ryze had grabbed the hilt of the man’s blade, mid-arc. And his knifed fingers went right through the man’s hands, piercing them completely and pinning them to the sword that Ryze had grabbed. The guard was grasping his arm, but was too scared to move it, thus cutting himself further. I looked up at Ryze’s chuckling.

“Heaven’s Pearly Gates? That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever called me!” He laughed manically, as he slashed the guard’s head off with his other hand, severing it from his neck. “We better go, I am sure the noise of this battle has attracted all kinds of unwanted attention!” I nodded, then reached down to grab a sword from the fallen guard. Ryze then grabbed me and maneuvered me towards the hedge. “Did I mention I was glad I brought you along with me, Ryze?” He chuckled and led me towards the hedge.

I could tell we were getting close when the landscape began to change. The trees began to cluster closer and closer together. My footing became more and more precarious. Just like before. I quickened my pace, leaving Ryze behind. “I remember this! We’re almost there!”

“Hey! Don’t run off alone!” But my enthusiasm was too much for me to contain. I was almost home! Home to my lovely wife; Home to my beautiful kids; Home to my loyal dog; Home to my revered job; Home!

I felt a hand grab the back of my shirt and pull, stopping me abruptly. A good thing, too, since the flash of a blade arced down a mere inch from my face. Shit…

Ryze pulled me behind him and stabbed at the attacker. He managed to cut him, but could do little more when five more emerged. We’re dead… That was all there is to it…

“Run, Kyle! I will defend while you escape!” But I shook my head. “Not how I work, Ryze. Either we both escape, or we die together.” He turned to glare at me, only to leap back to avoid a thrust coming from the guard whom he cut.

“We don’t have time for this… just go!” But I held my ground, raising my pilfered sword up and adopting a defensive stance. He looked sideways at me, then sighed. “Fine… Fall back, and defend our backs as we retreat!” I nodded.

Thus we backed up further into the woods, parrying the guards attempted blows. We did fantastic for a long time, up until we emerged into a clearing, with the hedge to our backs. At that point, the guards stopped moving. We hesitated, seeing what they were up to. I kept glancing behind me, expecting some beast of legend to attack, but nothing of the like happened.

The lead guard walked up, and raised his weapon. “I, Sabastian Craig, and my party of five, challenge your party to a hedge-duel. The rules are thus, you are free from the terms of the duel if you admit surrender. Neither party is allowed to leave the hedge unless they have forced the other to surrender, or killed them should they refuse. The duel has been addressed. The hedge behind you will refuse your passage if you refuse the conditions of the duel, and you are surrounded, thus you cannot escape us to enter through another section of the hedge.”

I didn’t see anyone around us, but I didn’t doubt for a second that more backup would be here shortly… but the prospect of a duel in the hedge terrified me. Merely traveling through it had almost killed me, how could we possibly us it as a battlefield?

“I, Ryze, and my party of one, accept the challenge you present to us. If we are to only fight the six of you. But know this, upon victory, we are free. You are not to follow us if we win-” He looked around at the surrounding guards, then drifted his gaze to the woods around us. “-Neither you, nor your backup, are to interfere, nor are you allowed to chase us after this point. Understood?”

Oh I see now… This way, we only had to fight six, and not however many were on their way. Smooth. Sabastian nodded, then motioned for us to move towards the hedge. I balked when I saw the hedge shift backwards, granting us an unhindered entry. Once inside, we witnessed the hedge shift backwards, granting us ample room to fight. There were interesting patterns on the ground, causing me to look up. The top of the hedge seemed to thin out, allowing ambient light to shine through. Convenient. It seemed the hedge was eager for blood to be spilled within its domain…

And with that pleasant thought tainting my thoughts, I turned as the six walked forward, in rows of two. But once the first two emerged, the hedge abruptly sealed itself off, not allowing the rest of the party to join. “What black magics is this!” Sebastian yelled. But Ryze chuckled, and stated “I guess the hedge disapproved of you challenging us 3 to 1. Do you wish to surrender, and let us walk away freely?” But Sebastian only sneered at us. “No, no. We are more than enough for the likes of you. Luke and I are ready. You?” Ryze busted out laughing; “Like your sword can penetrate my guard and pierce my flesh? HA! We are ready!”

But Sebastian’s smug look bothered me… He raised his weapon, and both Ryze and I took up a defensive stance. But neither he nor Luke moved forward. Ryze shrugged, then charged himself. His fingers turned into knives as he darted forward. Luke looked at him like he was a mere brute simpleton, then the next thing I knew, a branch whipped from a tree. It smacked Ryze on his shins, forcing him to fall face first into the ground… What are the odds of that…

Sebastian just smirked, then they focused intently on me. Their lips began moving, and though they was a good twenty feet away from me, I could hear their whispers within my mind. They pulled at my will, taunting me. They insulted me, bringing up my eternal torment within Arcadia. They threatened that my master was on his way, that we were dead, we just didn’t know it yet. The whispers said whatever it took to remove my willpower, stripping me of my first line of mental defense. Attempting to crush my resolve. And it was working…

Doubt began to crept into my mind. I was merely a doctor, I could do nothing against them, the better opponents. Their joint alien thoughts assaulted me mentally, conjuring up my own personal demons within me. They warped my memories to inject fear into me, manipulated my sense of charity to implant a seed of doubt within me. Whom was I to think that I could help Ryze escape? Every time I attempt to help him, I cause him mind-searing pain. Why would this time be any different? All I managed to accomplish was to lead Ryze to his death. And all the blame would be on me.

Their assault was too much… My mind sunk into itself, preserving my sanity. I was trapped here within it, but I was safe. I could hear fighting going on outside, but self-preservation was my primary focus. This method of defense was a double-edged sword, though, for now I was trapped with the very emotions that Sebastian and Luke conjured up within me. Though the thoughts and memories weren’t assaulting me anymore, the resulting emotions were given free reign. Thus I was left to wallow in self-pity as the fighting moved on to Ryze.

I sat there for a few minutes, though it seemed like an eternity. My emotions had finally settled down, and I was again able to freely think. There was more to this hedge duel than I knew. It seemed the participants were granted additional powers to their arsenal. Sebastian and Luke were apparently familiar with the concept, so I needed to pick up on how to do it, and quickly.

I opened my eyes, and saw Ryze participating in an extremely strange duel. Sebastian was summoning bolts of lightning to lash out at Ryze, whom either dodged or deflected them. While at the same time evading a swarm of spiders being controlled by Luke, from the looks of it. More often than not, Ryze manipulated the bolts of lightning to deflect off his claws and strike the spiders. But there were always more bolts, and even more swarms. He wouldn’t be able to last for long…

Thus, I closed my eyes, and expanded my mind. I had to find some trace of primeval power which would allow me to manipulate the hedge like they were able to. But that was easier said than done. I tried to grasp at anything that could help. Something… Anything! But all help seemed to elude me… I felt useless, sitting here meditating while Ryze fought for his life. Maybe Sebastian’s whispers weren’t all fruitless… perhaps they had a ring of truth to them… I had convinced Ryze to escape, and now I was going to get him killed… This entire escape had been him saving me time and time again. Yet here I was, unable to help when the time came for me to be the hero… perhaps I should just surrender, and end this before our lives became forfeit. What was the point?

But wait… There was something more to that. Since the moment they found us, they had tried to kill us, only to be thwarted time and time again… Yet now they merely wished for us to surrender… they claimed that they had backup, and they challenged us to a duel, preventing us from entering the hedge unless we answer. Did they really have backup? If so, then they should have stalled in the negotiations of the duel until backup arrived and just killed us off then. Were they scared of us? Perhaps they thought that they were not able to defeat us through normal means, thus they thrusted us into this hedge duel, where they knew we would be at a disadvantage. But there was even more to it. Obviously physical combat was allowed here, but it seemed that mental prowess was the superior element here. And knowing that, they specifically targeted me, infecting me with a seed of doubt. They knew that I was the best bet to figure out the mystery of the hedge, and thus sought to take me out of the fight first. Then they could tag-team Ryze, whom was much more of an ‘in your face’ kind of fighter. But they underestimated my willpower it seemed… For I was not out of this fight yet!

I rose up slowly, gathering within me the power of the wyrd. I channeled it, using my body as a conduit. I didn’t have time to refine the power to specifically suite my style, but I felt that I was able to do the basic. I saw Ryze trip over a tree root that suddenly emerged from the ground, and I saw Sebastian laugh manically as he raised his hand to summon a final bolt of lightning, but it would never land. Ryze hit the ground, and a burst of light exploded above him. He could do nothing as the lightning arced towards him, but at my assertion, a tree root emerged from the ground, and channeled the bolt of lightning within it, dispelling it entirely. Luke and Sebastian just stared at the root, then slowly looked over to me.

I manipulated the tree root to grab Ryze and launch him over to me, where I caught him, and helped steady him. I smiled gleefully at their hesitance! That’s right! I was back to helping people! Never again would I be the weak link, the one whom would need to be saved! My strength of will grew with the act of charity. And I refined it to be that of a blade. My will would be used to penetrate their defenses. They knew the threat I possessed here, and now they would feel the full force of my determination!

“Thanks for watching over me, Ryze. I got this now.” He nodded, then sat to catch his breath. He had earned his rest. And thus I stroded forward, and the fight begun. Flashes of lightning arced towards me, but I absorbed them all with upraised branches, and used the charged wood to strike at Luke. The few bolts I didn’t absorb, I deflected to Luke as well, causing him to stay on his toes, affecting his ability to control the hedge. The swarms could do little, when you consider that nature itself flowed with me, repulsing the swarms long before they could reach me. All attempts of them attacking me with tree branches or roots failed too. It seemed the hedge refused to grant them the privilege. Thus the dance continued. Finally, an arc of lightning knocked Luke backwards, and once he hit a tree, I manipulated said tree to wrap its limbs around him completely. With a few of the sharpened branches positioned at the man’s kidneys and jugular. He was effectively out of the fight.

Ryze had rejoined the fight, and together, we assaulted Sebastian. We slowly manipulated him towards the tree which held Luke, lashing out at him, causing him to dodge in the direction we wanted him to. Though by the sneer on his face, I believe he thought he was effective dodging our blows himself. Finally, Ryze jumped forward and slashed at Sebastian’s right, causing the man to jump back to the left, right into the tree’s grasp. He hit the tree, and I manipulated the branches to trap him just like they did Luke. We did it, the fight was over…

“Surrender, and admit defeat.” I demanded in the now quiet grove. Sebastian shook his head, causing a line a blood to appear from his neck. “Never. You will have to kill us if you wish to leave the hedge!” He smiled, infuriatingly so. I guess he had a reason too, considering killing another wasn’t something I was willing to do.

“I suggest you listen to the man, lest you have me to deal with. Surrender!” Ryze demanded. They looked at him with what seemed like weariness. “Know this, Blade-Fingers, if you defeat us in a hedge duel using physical combat, then you will be the laughing stock of Arcadia. A mere brute fumbling around in the world, lacking finesse. We might lose our lives, but you will condemn yours, as well!”

I glanced sideways at Ryze, but he only smiled. “So you refuse to surrender?” Sebastian sneered and spat at him. “Fair enough. But know this, I wasn’t just sitting there resting while you guys fought. I was studying your battle tactics. Analyzing your mastery of nature-”

He raised his hand, and what looked like dozens of bones shot up from the ground, all piercing the two like an iron maiden. They had no time to scream; no time to flinch; no time to blink… That fast, and the duel was over.

“-And I think I was able to grasp it pretty well… Your thoughts? Oh damn, you’re dead… A pity…” I stared at the tree, looking like a pincushion. Blood poured down its trunk, to pool at the base…

“Well… That works.” I stated, causing a laugh to erupt from Ryze, and I followed suite. It was all I could do to remain sane. I had to distract myself, lest I dwell on the fact that we just killed two people. Our laughter stopped abruptly, as the hedge rumbled, and the path ahead of us opened up. Seemed we were permitted access. “Come on, let’s move.” I proclaimed. “Hell yeah! I’m ready to go home!” Ryze replied, and thus we headed deeper into the hedge.

The briars tore at my skin like before, but it wasn’t nearly as bad now as it was. I rushed forward, my eagerness to return home propelling me into the hedge. After a while, it dawned upon me that my footsteps were the only ones I heard. I turned around, and saw that no one was with me. “Ryze!” I rushed backwards, but there was no sign of him. I began to panic, yelling his name and fumbling around in the hedge. Finally, I forced myself to calm down and think. I stood there for a few seconds, doing nothing bus simply breathing, clearing my head. Once that was done, I began to think. I seemed to recall that the hedge could take you anywhere you wanted to go, if you knew how to manipulate it. Both Ryze and I are being led with the prospect of home, using that to hopefully manipulate the hedge to take us where we wanted to go. If this was the case, then it was only natural for us to separate once within the hedge, since we lived in two totally different places… Thus I stood, and saluted the air. “I hope we meet again, Ryze!” With that being said, I turned, and began traversing the hedge once more, with the thought of home as my driving force.

Hours seemed to pass, but eventually, the hedges began to dissipate. The scenery turned into closely clustered trees. Soon after, the trees began to spread out, revealing sunlight above me. Until finally, I emerged onto a road. And sitting there on the side of the road, was my Neon Green Viper… “No way..!” I ran forward and looked into it. The keys were still in the engine, and the window was still rolled down. Everything was as I left it. Nothing was moved, nor had the car been hauled off, or stolen… There was no way that this nice of a car would stay on the side of the road, window down, and keys in the engine, for long… “I don’t understand, I must have been gone for years…”

I jumped in, and started to drive down the road. Once I neared the first neighborhood, I stopped the car and grabbed a paper that had been thrown on the ground. “This isn’t possible!” I protested as I stared at the date. Though it felt like I had been gone for years, the date showed it hadn’t been more than a week… I didn’t know whether to be relieved or not.

I was pretty sure that I’d need weeks of therapy, but at least my family will still be at our house. They would probably be long gone and impossible to track down if it had indeed been years… “I get to see my family again… I get to see my family!” I jumped back into the Viper and took off, speeding down the road. I wove through traffic, until finally I appeared in our neighborhood. I parked in front of our house and gave a relieved sigh. There was Nakita, whining and barking, having recognized the sound of my car. The kid’s toys were still thrown about the front yard, despite me demanding they pick them up… The front door opened, and a chorus of “DADDY!” rung out. Oh god, I was crying…

I got out of the car and ran to my kids. Bawling as they hugged me. “I am so sorry, kids. I will never-ever-ever-ever-EVER leave you again! Are you guys ok? Is mommy Ok? Oh my god, I missed you so much!” A gasp at the door brought my gaze up. My wife stood there, hand over her mouth, tears starting to form in her eyes. I stood from the kids and ran to her. We embraced each other. I held her to me as I cried and cried.

She held me tighter, and tilted her head to kiss my ear. I just stood there crying into her shoulders as she patted my back. The twins ran up and were hugging the back of my legs. After years of torture, our family was finally joined together again. “I am so sorry, honey! So sorry… please forgive my absence… Oh god I can’t believe I am home…” I hugged her tighter, kissing the side of her face. Finally she opened her mouth to speak. “Don’t worry, little neophyte. I love you too, and I forgive your absence. But, you see, I am afraid that you never actually left home…”

My eyes widened. What did she just call me… I pulled back and looked at her. She smiled sadly at me. Then slowly, the smile widened until it reached an inhumane level. She began to laugh manically. My hand shot to my mouth, and I backed up from her, terrified, only to bump into the children. I turned to look at them, and they all possessed the same inhumane smile. They began to laugh hysterically as well. Suddenly, the walls shifted, spinning in on itself. The floor and ceiling joined in, all spiraling around me. I dropped to the floor, having lost my balance. I closed my eyes, shock hitting me hard. Once it stopped feeling like I was on a boat, rocking in the waves, I opened my eyes. I was sitting on the floor of my master’s laboratory!

“No… No! NOOOO!” I began shaking, crying hysterically while wailing ‘No!’ A child-like Laughter rung out from the corner of the room, and my master emerged. I began rocking myself as she strolled over to me. She placed a hand under my chin and smiled down at me.

“Did you really think it would be that easy to escape from me, silly neophyte? No… You will have to be much more clever to outwit I. But the attempt was more than amusing. I rather enjoyed you trumping those ogres, getting them to provide a nifty distraction. Clever… And that battle in the hedge? I must admit I thought the test was over when you lost your will to fight on. But that resurgent was masterful. And the power over the hedge you wielded? Simply marvelous! Unfortunately… I couldn’t exactly let you escape. So naturally, once you two proceeded on, I manipulated the hedge to bring you back to me. A few illusions here and there and poof! Here you are! A+ for effort though! And as for Ryze, I grew bored of him. Thus I was happy to dispose of him.

She patted the side of my face, and nuzzled my ear “Now, if you would be so kind, SLEEP. I have a lot of experiments to test on you! EHEEHEEHEEHEE!” And that was the last thing I remembered before I lost concoiusness…

~

Misery…

Dreadful, agonizing misery…

That is what it felt like to be under your master’s microscope.

That is what it felt like, to be the favored pet…

Thus was my existence:

I was dissected day in and day out, my master trying to figure out what made me so appealing to her. I didn’t understand it, nor did I try. She was not one whom could be understood. Her whims were alien to us. ‘SHE’ was alien to us. A malevolent entity… A True Fey. I didn’t question her logic. I didn’t question her motive. All I questioned… was how I was going to escape her grasp…

And I hadn’t a clue…

Thus all I could do was endure, as I was tormented day after day, by a bored goddess…

The days dragged on to months.

The months… to a year.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I died during my ordeal, but never was I allowed the peace that death promised. Not for long… She always made sure to breathe new life into me, before she continued her experiments…

Her experiments… to figure out why I was so interesting.

A question… whom’s answer I figured out months ago…

Hope.

Throughout my entire ordeal, barring the moment I got recaptured, I held on to hope.

It was what kept me going.

But it was also what kept her going, too.

My hope allowed me to stay sane, but that sanity kept her interested in me.

I wasn’t sure which would endure for longer… My hope; or her curiosity…

And thus the months dragged on…

Until one day, about 1 ½ years since my recapture…

I had died from blood-loss and heart failure at least three times that day, and she just chuckled as she patched me up. But I noticed that something seemed off about her. The enthusiasm she usually reserved for her experiments had dulled. She still went through the motions, but her heart didn’t seem to be in it anymore. I squashed the hope that threatened to blossom upon my face. One thing I had learned by spending so much time with a True Fey, is that they acted solely on entertainment. Once they got bored of something, they’d usually discard it and shift their attention to something else. And it seemed that she was finally… Finally… growing bored of me.

She left her lab earlier than usual, today, and I was left alone. For the first time since my capture, I was left alone and actually conscious enough to act upon it! Unfortunately, my body didn’t respond to my demands. I had been lying here forever… My legs felt like Jell-O. I wanted to scream in frustration, but I lacked the energy. Here I was, unsupervised, and I was forced to do nothing…

And thus I lied there.

And lied there…

Days merged together, and I was left alone.

Until one night, I got woken up to the light flashing on. Oh god… here we go again. But my master simply strolled over to me and began talking as she unlocked the cuffs trapping me to the table. “Good news, neophyte! I went out and found a new pet to play with! I need you in tip-top shape when we go visit them. Straighten up; fix your hair; change your clothes; come on! We have places to be!”

She patted my back, then helped me up off the lab table. My feet hit the ground and I crumbled, unable to support my own weight. My master continued walking, until she looked back and appeared shocked that I was on the floor. “No. Get up of the floor! Stand up! We need you looking presentable, why are you on the floor? We have places to be!”

She strolled forward and gathered my limp body up. She stared at me despairingly “Oh! This won’t do… this won’t do at all! Come! Let’s get you back into working form! Need to be in tip-top shape to repair my new toys! I have JUST the thing!”

I could do nothing as she carted me into a different lab room, and plopped me unceremoniously onto another lab table. I heard her fumbling around; looking for who knows what, until finally she let out a gleeful cry. “Here we are!” I heard her skip back to my table and proclaim. “Now… This might hurt a little. But you will be alllllll better when it is over. Only the best for my neophyte!”

I wasn’t sure what she did.

I honestly didn’t want to know…

All I know… Was that it felt like my soul was being ripped from my body. Perhaps it was… Who knows? All I know, is that I passed out almost instantly.

~

“Neophyyyyyyte… NEOPHYTE! Arise!” I liked to have tripped over myself trying to stand as fast as humanely possible. “Yes master!” She smiled at me, and it took a moment for me to realize that I was moving. “… I can move!” She smiled wickedly, then patted me on the back, launching me forward.

“Naturally, you can move! I need the best to mend my pets. Up! Up! Comb your hair. Straighten your clothes. Put on some shoes. Quit slouching!” She poked and prodded me while saying all this, attempting to fix my posture. “Good enough, Let’s go!”

She dragged me forward, even though I had only one shoe on. She led me out of the lab, and through a few doors. Finally, we stopped in front of a cage. Behind it, was the most terrifying looking beast I had ever seen. It looked like a brutal cross between a hulking ogre and Ryze… “Take a good look, Neophyte. For this is your lifeline. As long as he lives, you too shall live in moderate comfort. Well… You will live without pain, at least. EHEEHEEHEEHEE!”

She then led me to an open spot on the wall, with a circled pattern tile on the floor. She turned, and stared at me. I glanced at her uneasily, and she began smiling. “I modified your room, Come. COME!” She grabbed my hand, and I felt the world cave in on itself. When it stopped, I dropped to the ground, trying hard not to vomit. My master hauled me up and beamed at me. I glanced at her, then my gaze slowly drifted around the room. It was the same lab that I had beforehand… but the inside was changed drastically. Apparently she allowed me a top quality workspace. How nice…

“You’re welcome. Now, I warn you. I am granting you the use of my top-of-the-line equipment for one reason. Keep. My. Pet. Alive. Neophyte. If something were to happen to this one, then I will simply induct you into the torture chambers. Where you can live your entire life out in constant agony. “I nodded slowly, and continued to look around the room. Something… seemed off…

“…Where’s the door?”

She laughed manically, and shook her head. “No door out of the room, silly neophyte… No, you need special permission to get out. Permission you lack. So don’t worry your pretty little head over trivial matters like freedom. You have one job… Do it!” She smiled at me, then stepped onto a circular pattern on the floor, mirroring the one I saw before. Once atop it, she instantly vanished.

Ok then… I walked around the room, studying everything. She had granted me the use of some marvelous equipment, that much was certain… But how was I going to get out of here. I was admittedly scared to test the portal that was the circular tile, but was that what she wanted me to feel? It would be just like her to leave a ready escape right there in plain sight, but the fear she instilled upon me preventing me from trying it.

I settled to just wait. Soon enough I will have a line of patients again, and I will see how they do it. Until then, I’d just rest easy, thinking of another way to escape.

Or so I thought…

I had been in here for a few days, and no one had joined me. The way she talked, she was starting her pit fights the second she left me. Of course, her pet was a monstrosity. It was highly likely that he had been in fights for the last three days straight and had simply not received an injury…

Maybe I should just test that portal out. What was the worst that could happen? “I could be blown up; or incinerated; or electrocuted; or teleported directly to the torture chambers; or…” Why do I question what kind of trap a True Fey can leave behind..?

But sitting around here is doing nothing for me… “Screw it!” I got up, and walked towards the portal. On impulse, I took off a shoe, and threw it onto the portal. Nothing happened. Shrugging, I walked forward. Once I was within a few feet of it, I sighed and closed my eyes. “Here we go…”

I stepped forward, and walked into a brick wall. I bounced back and opened my eyes. In front of me was the most massive chest I had ever seen in my life. My eyes traveled up it to see the towering ogre that had become my Master’s new pet. It looked down at me, and snared. “Hey, big guy. Need something mended?” It flung its arm out, smacking me in the chest. I flew to the other side of the wall and slid down to the floor. “Ow… what power…” I looked up and saw it had sat down on the huge chair that had been put in here specifically for his big size I’d imagine. I saw he had a minor cut on his arm. Hardly enough to require my assistance, but it seemed he was forced to see me. Hence his ire I assume.

I walked up to the cabinet beside him, and grabbed the stitches kit. I noticed that there were pain killers and sedatives in there also. Ohh that bitch… I brought the pills out and asked if he needed the pain killers, and got a smack in return. His blow knocked my hand away, dislodging the pills from me… Fuck this…

“Listen here, Ogre. I do not like you. You do not like me. I can respect that. But our master requires that I mend those whom appear in my room. And apparently she requires you to be mended even if you get a small cut. Let’s make both our lives easier and just do what she wants, Ok? The quicker you accept my help, the faster we can both be rid of each other. What do you say?”

The behemoth stood, and stroded towards me. I blanched when it grabbed me around the neck and slammed me against the wall. It pressed it face into mine and just stared at me. I’ll admit, I peed myself a little… We stood like this for a few seconds, until it started laughing. It dropped me and walked off, chuckling like a walrus in heat. It stepped on the portal, and disappeared.

I complained as I stood up, using the wall to steady myself. I stood there for a little bit, trying to catch my breath. The displacement of air caused me to raise my head, and I stared at the portal. There stood the behemoth, looking pissed but meek. It marched to the chair and sat down. It refused to look at me as it held it’s arm out. Seemed the Master wasn’t too happy with him leaving untreated.

I had half the mind to refuse him treatment, but the other half, the smarter half, knew that my master would skin me alive. Thus I limped over to him and bent down to retrieve my stitches kit. I said not a word as I doctored and stitched up the wound on his upper arm. When I was done, I turned around and walked away. The behemoth stood and marched towards the portal, and like that, he was gone.

I stood there, staring at nothing. Or so I thought. Upon further inspection, I noticed a small crack in the wall. Where he slammed my back into it. Hmm… If I cannot escape using the portal, then perhaps I could use the behemoth to do it. But how to go about this. I couldn’t very well ask him to do it, and enraging him wasn’t in my best interest. Perhaps I could mess with his neuro-networks to modify his brain waves. Get him to have a strange compulsion to… Idk… run through a wall, perhaps? Worth a try. But I will need him to get a pretty hellatious beating to be able to put him under. Maybe his opponent would get lucky…

Thus I waited. Time and time again The Behemoth entered my room, but never was it for anything worse than a cut. A week had passed and no luck. It seems I would have to improvise my plan a little. The Behemoth wasn’t losing the fights, so perhaps I could… tweak the fight in my favor… I could drug him, but it would have to be in small, accumulative doses, otherwise The Behemoth, and my Master, would know something was up. I smiled, prepared for The Behemoth to show up again.

The shift in air pressure had me raising my head from my nap. The Behemoth was already sitting in his chair, facing away from me. Seems he got nicked on the back of his arm. I walked over, making sure to stand within his vision while I rummaged through my tools. I grabbed the necessary materials to clean and stitch his wounds, but I also grabbed a little sedative. I walked to The Behemoth’s back and started to work. As I repaired him, I was slipping the sedatives into his blood stream with him none the wiser. I finished stitching him up and motioned that I was done. The Behemoth stood and marched onto the portal.

This will benefit me twofold, if I planned it right. Not only am I slowly sedating The Behemoth, but every fight he gets in will leave him more and more battered, thanks to his slow reflexes and sluggish thoughts. Eventually he will be hit hard enough to require major surgery, and I’ll have an excuse to put him under… I chuckled, content to wait.

So a cycle started, where The Behemoth would appear to me, with a slight cut, and upon mending it, I’d apply a little more sedatives into him. Each time he returned, he appeared a little more worse for wear… Pretty soon I was repairing sliced muscles and torn ligaments. Only a matter of time now. As I sent him off, he stumbled upon standing from his chair. I reached out to steady him, and he shoved me off, content to walk to the portal without help. I hit the ground, smiling. Not only did I give him an extra dose that time, but I modified the muscles in his legs. They are sure to give out next time he braces with that leg and is under strain. I get the feeling that the next time I see him, will be when I can act..!

And I couldn’t have been more correct…

I awoke to the sound of a crash. I jumped out of my makeshift bed, falling to the floor. I looked, and saw The Behemoth on the ground next to the portal. Normally, I would be panicked and do all that I could to help him. But it was apparent that there was no humanity left in this beast. He was as different from Raze as I from my Master…

…Well, maybe not THAT much, but you get the picture…

I walked over to The Behemoth and struggled to help it up. It was cut up pretty badly, it’s right arm hanging on by skin alone. The chair wouldn’t cut it this time, and I maneuvered The Behemoth to the examination table. Master knew I’d be treating her pet, so she must have granted me a reinforced table able to hold his weight, naturally.

Crash

…Guess not. I shrugged, and bent down to the ground to work on The Behemoth. I made sure to repair everything. Every cut, every muscle. I wanted him to be in perfect form. But naturally, that was all after I overdosed him on sedative. Oh, he will live, but he will be out for a good while. And with that, I began working on the necessary procedures required to control this hulking beast…

A few hours had passed, and I’m not going to lie; this was by far the hardest thing I ever had to do. I think I might have messed up a little, but nothing irrevocable happened. I mean, what did he need with math anyways?

…Moving on. But I managed to gain enough influence on him. I couldn’t control him completely or anything like that, But I would be able to control him where it mattered. I could manipulate him to follow me; I could cause him to go into a blood frenzy at will; and I could have said frenzy not directed at me. I think that was about all the components I needed for a miraculous escape.

I worked it so that his brain had a voice recognition system, and I preset some commands into his neuro-network. I didn’t exactly know his name, so I made up a suitable one. It went well with his command to go into a blood-frenzy. But it would have to wait until tomorrow, when all the sedatives were out of his system.

Hmm or maybe not… Would it be better to have him sluggish, and less risk of him breaking through my control, though at the risk of him slugging me by accident. Or should he be mentally sound, able to take on anyone whom tried to stop me, but at the greater risk of him breaking my control and killing me for altering him.

I think I will settle for sluggish… But that didn’t mean I needed to wake him up immediately… Actually, it would be best if he awoke naturally, without my help. It’d give me time to prepare some adrenalin shots. Those could be useful, yes. I chuckled, as I searched the cabinet for some.

Once prepared, I glanced at The Behemoth’s recently mended arm, once hanging on by just the skin. For a normal doctor, on a normal patient, that kind of procedure would be near impossible to achieve. Should they somehow succeed, the patient would have to go through months of physical therapy and rehab to get it to work moderately well. Never as well as it did before… But to a doctor of my training and skill; and with a patient such as The Behemoth, whose recovery rate was ridiculously quick, the few hours he lied there was plenty. I’d assume he’d burn through the sedatives just a quickly. It shouldn’t be too long before-

“Unngh!”

-he awoke… I jumped up and grabbed the adrenalin shots. I stuck them into The Behemoth’s neck, and injected them. He grunted, then moved to stand tall. He glared at me, and when it became apparent that I was done operating on him, he turned to the portal. “One moment, please.” But he just kept on walking. Whelp… Here we go…

“Hulk!” he abruptly turned and stared at me, eyes wide. I turned and pointed at the cracked wall.
“Smash!” He roared, and charged into the wall, going right through it I assume. It was hard to tell with all the dust and debris in the air. Hey… It worked! I ran through the clearing, and saw The Behemoth smashing everything in sight. I ran past him and mentally analyzed the layout of the building. “Hulk, Follow!” The Behemoth turned, and bounded towards me. I ran down the hall and paused at the opposite side of the pit. I turned to the left of the hall heading to the other medical room, and said “Hulk, Smash!” as I pointed at the empty wall. If I was right, then this should take us just outside of the courtyard’s outer gate.

The Behemoth turned to the wall and roared. He braced his shoulder and charged the wall. He didn’t have much room to run, though, so It took him three tries, but on the third, he successfully emerged onto the other side. I followed him, and sighed. I had misjudged the exit point, and we were within the courtyard outer walls. It would be a simple matter to break through them, but I would have rather done this without running into an army of guards…

The Behemoth was quickly noted, and I hung back in the debris while the guards foolhardily tried to take him down. Once I felt I could command The Behemoth without anyone noticing, I pointed to the outside wall and commanded “Hulk, Smash.” He turned, and punched straight through the wall. God almighty if he were to punch someone… I shivered, and ran through. Once safely on the other side, I turned to yell at The Behemoth, but a loud bang, followed by a flash of light stopped me cold. Was that a FlashBang Grenade?? I ran back to the hole and saw The Behemoth Swinging blindly. “Hulk, Follow!” But he continued to swing. “HULK! FOLLOW!”

Nothing… Well, I couldn’t say nothing… I gathered the guards’ attention well enough… They pointed at me and began charging. I sighed. Ok, I was not much of a fighter, and my escort was blind and mute for the time being, And I had no clue how long flash grenades lasted. Should I run to him and try to stand behind him without being hit, or do I risk running to the hedge… Running sounded like an excellent plan, but they’d catch me before I made it to safety…

“Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!” I yelled as I charged towards The Behemoth. I ducked under its blind swipe and hid against the wall behind it. I ducked down low, and waited. My pursuers halted, scared to attempt to pass The Behemoth. It was my turn to smile. They knew they were on a timer. They didn’t know how, but they knew that somehow I was able to command The Behemoth. Which meant that the second the FlashBang’s effect wore off, they were dead. They had to subdue me now, and they had a rather large obstacle to go though. Talk about a flawless plan!

Or was it… The Behemoth began tottering, as he blindly swung. The remnant of the sedatives, to be sure. He overcorrected his punch, causing him to take a step backwards. In doing so, his right arm swept back to steady himself, smashing right through the wall… I covered my head as his hand retracted back to him; bringing some of the wreckage with him. The debris of the wall fell atop me. What little good it’d do protecting myself, considering the wall was two feet thick! I just knew that I had made a fatal mistake…

But it seemed that the gods were on my side today. As the wall collapsed, a piece fell directly in front of me, and it caught the piece heading directly towards me, creating a bridge of sorts. More like a shield, to be honest, considering the rest of the debris bounced off. Long story short… From the outside, I am sure that it looked like I got crushed, But from my perspective, I was very much not crushed. I liked it that way. Being not crushed was good.

All that aside, it got the guards off my case it seemed. “One down, one to go. We will be in trouble for killing one of ‘Her’ medics, but I’d imagine she’d rather that happen than him escape. We are withholding the use of our magic, so we cannot be accused of murdering him outright… An inevitable casualty.”

Well that was just rude… but it did explain why they didn’t just fry me and be done with it. I noticed that The Behemoth had calmed down somewhat. Perhaps the FlashBang’s effects had diminished. One way to find out… I pushed with all my force, and managed to shift a block out of my way, providing me a crawlspace out of the wreckage. I stuck my head out, and pointed at the cluster of fifteen guards.

“Hulk.” All sixteen sets of eyes drifted to me.
“Smash!” The guards blanched as The Behemoth followed my finger to their group. He then pounced forward, claws out, and proceeded to maul them, one by one. It was a terrifying sight, but as the guard said, an inevitable stream of casualties…

“Hulk, Follow!” I yelled out once I got to my feet, and I ran out of the hole in the wall, aiming towards the hedge. The Behemoth ran alongside me, and proceeded to destroy anything that got in my way. Whether it be a guard, an arrow, or a tree. He destroyed it all… We traversed the forest for a while, until we came to a familiar clearing.

In it stood twenty guards. I stood behind a tree and proclaimed “Hulk, smash!” The Behemoth lunged forward, only to be halted by a bolt of lightning. He hit the ground shuddering. I stayed hidden behind my tree, while sneaking glances at The Behemoth. Finally, he stopped seizing, and proceeded to stand tall. Thank god! “Hulk, Smash!” But he just turned and stared at me. “Unngh!”

What the hell… “Hulk! SMASH!” The Behemoth eyebrows bunched together, and he began walking towards me. Oh shit, I think the bolt of electricity short circuited his neuro-networks! I had lost control. And by the looks of it, He knew what I had been doing to him. I prepared to run away, but in the corner of my eye, I saw one of the guards fire an arrow at The Behemoth… Is he mad?

The Behemoth dodged to the side, turned, and roared at the attacker. The group of guards was NOT happy. He lunged into them and they desperately tried to separate, and surround him, but it proved fruitless. Not only was he crazy strong, but he was ridiculously fast for his size… He managed to crush them, one by one. I used the distraction to sneak forward towards the hedge. I got to the entrance of it as he crushed the neck of the last guard. Ironically, the one whom fried him.

He turned, and stared at me. I smiled and waved back at him. “Let bygones be bygones?” I took his furious snare as a maybe, then rushed into the hedge before he could lunge into me. He thrashed almost unhindered into the hedge. I went to use my powers to trap him with a root, but the hedge ignored my call. It refused to do as I wished, nor did it grant me easy passage. Thus I had to bob and weave, zig and zag, anything to stay out of the reach of The Behemoth. As I rushed forward, I had one thought in my mind. Home. I desperately wanted to reach home, to both see my family again, and to evade this mutated lunatic. But the further I traveled into the hedge, the closer The Behemoth got to me.

Course, in all reality, direction mattered little in the hedge. Backwards could become forwards if you turned around and thought hard about your destination… I could use this to my advantage! I hid behind a tree, and waited. A few seconds later The Behemoth ran past. I waited for his steps to falter, then turned and ran back the way I came. He heard me and began to follow. I began thinking of Arcadia, as I ran backwards, using that as my focal point. The Behemoth lagged behind, confused that the hedge was shifting on him. Shifting to my new destination. I took a quick left away from him and thought of Home. As I ran forward, the hedge shifted again I assumed, for I heard the cries of The Behemoth diluting. I continued my forward path and kept the thoughts of home in my mind.

It seemed that I had lost The Behemoth. For all his strength and speed, he lacked wits. That error in his genetics saved my life more than once today. It was this very prospect that allowed me to control him. But it’s time to put that, and all of Arcadia, behind me. I ran forward with only one thought in mind. ‘Home’

My amazing family; my happy neighbors; my inspirational co-workers; my home! All of these pleasant thoughts of home rotated through my mind, like a slideshow. I spent the next hour running blindly forward, being guided by a primeval power far older than I. Until finally, I felt the hedge fall away and be replaced by trees.

I put forth a burst of speed and sped through the forest, or at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, I quickly ended up face-first into the grass, having tripped over one of the numerous roots protruding out of the earth. I got up, and shook myself off. “Get a grip, Kyle…” I continued forward at a brisk, but careful pace. I eventually left behind the trees and emerged on an old dirt road. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, so I simply walked down the road.

About thirty minutes later, the dirt road I was on merged with a tar road. I began to smile as cars began to pass back and forth. I eventually came up on a main highway. I wasn’t too far from my neighborhood! I continued walking, waving at the random people whom passed by. After a while, I realized that I had passed where I had parked my Neon Green Viper before. I didn’t see it on my way here, so I assumed it had been hauled off or stolen. I’d have lost my mind before my time in Arcadia, but I cared little now. I noticed that the forest on either side of the road began to thin, and eventually they gave out to a more urban feel. Until eventually, I arrived at the first sign of houses.

I went to find a newspaper, but none were in sight. Not an issue. I rushed onwards, cutting through traffic to turn onto my street. I noticed some papers on the ground on this street, but I strolled forward, eagerness getting the better of me. I turned a corner, and received a shock. “Hey, My car!” In the distance, I saw my Neon Green Viper pulling into my driveway. My wife must have retrieved it.

I rushed forward, with the intention of catching them before they entered the house. I saw the doors open, and a smile crossed my face as my wife hopped out of the driver’s seat. I noticed her hair had started to gray out, but that stress and worrying would do that to her. My pace faltered when the kids got out of the back seats. Holy hell they must have been a foot taller than the last time I’d seen them… I glanced at my wife’s graying hair again, realizing that they weren’t from stress… but from naturally getting old? And I stopped at a dead halt when I noticed a man getting out from the front passenger’s seat. The hell..?

I was about ten feet from the car at this point, and my jaw all but dropped when the man turned around. He… was me? Well, not exactly… he was me if I’d have aged a few years… The man whom wasn’t but was me walked over to my wife and gave her a kiss on the lips. I just stared as she returned it… He then grabbed a bag of something and headed towards the house. My twins turned, and glanced at me, only to shy back. My wife glanced at them, then followed their gaze to me, as well. I froze as she took me in, then my heart broke as she grew weary. “Sir, can I help you? If not, then I’ll have to ask you to keep on walking…”

…She didn’t recognize me? What in the hell is going on here… I must have looked pretty messed up, considering my time as a hostage. But still… “Sir, I am going to call the cops if you don’t leave us…” Oh god… my heart was breaking with every second that passed… She didn’t recognize me. My wife, not only did she not recognize me, but it was obvious that what she saw of me scared her… Never have I induced this level of weariness in someone… People have always respected me or accepted me in some way or another. The benefits of being a doctor. This was completely new grounds to me…

“Kyle, there’s some creep out here staring at me and our kids! Come here please!”

Crack!

That was the sound of my heart breaking into thousands of little pieces. It was like that of a glass wall slowly crumbling. The sound of a lake of ice cracking erratically, and into the frozen depths I fell. A cold numbness overtook me as I turned and ran. I knew not where I headed; I just knew I had to get away. I was sinking, struggling to breathe. This cold numbness would be the death of me if I remained. I struggled to surface, but I sunk into myself. There would be no reprieve for me here… I would die if I dwelled in this frozen tomb that my heart had become… I could only distance myself as far as I could. And thus I ran… But it felt like I was still floundering below water. Though I flailed around trying to find an escape, my motions became sluggish. All I could see was a depthless darkness. No sunlight could penetrate my icy tomb. No warmth could pierce my cold depression. Thus I succumbed to misery…

~

Six months had passed since then. I had moved to the other side of Houston, not able to altogether leave my past life. I kept close enough to use it as a reminder. That day, six months ago… That was the day that Hope left me. I had held onto it for so long, throughout my Durance, only to lose it when I managed to escape…

Since then, I had wandered around, Lost. After a while, I was confronted by a group like me. Was a rather scary moment for me at first, to be confronted by what appeared to be a group of monsters, but I quickly opened up to them. They were scarred as I was, yet they dealt with it in their own ways. They were monsters in appearance only, on the inside they were some of the best people I had ever met. Hanging out with them helped improve my outlook on life. No matter how bad things got, you still had to live with it and surpass it. Hope was bright in all of them, a refreshing sight.

They were all members of the Dawn Court, and I decided to join them. Though hope had left me for good, forever entombed in ice, I decided that I wanted to save others from my fate. All of my thoughts were tinged with doubt, but I sought to instil hope in others. I strived to bring happiness to others, even though I myself wallowed in misery. Every smile that I aroused on another’s face slowly thawed out my own heart. It would take a lifetime for me to feel warmth again, but I was willing to wait.

It didn’t help that I had this suspicion, this lingering doubt, that I didn’t exactly escape Arcadia. I didn’t see my Master during my entire escape. Did I really outwit her, or is this part of her game? Was I still in Arcadia, bespelled for her amusement? I didn’t know… Guess I had to wait to find out…

Since then, I took up a new identity. My fetch was benefiting from my previous status at the hospital, so I had to start anew. I quickly climbed up the ladder, using my new alias, Don Grace. I couldn’t give up my last name. It was one of the few ties I kept to my past life. It mattered not, since my fetch went under the name Dr. Kyle. Even though my medical prowess improved exponentially during my durance; I had to stop midway up the ‘medical ladder’. To progress any more will place me on the same floor as it, and it was best to avoid that.

My appearance had altered, making me look both shorter and more… thin… My face had sunken into itself, my skin turned gaunt. Where before I was able to charm someone with a smile and my pleasant demeanor, now I simply made them nervous. I could still bring a smile to their face, but my depressed state and ‘creepy’ look was a hindrance… Yet I made the most of it, content.

My allies at the Dawn Court had inducted me into a Freehold in the area. It wasn’t very big, but it gave me the chance to be surrounded by other Changelings. I noticed that they were all buzzing about something. And upon further investigations, I learned that the Summer Festivals were just around the corner. That meant medieval competitions, staged fights, music, food, booze, and other festivities. Sounded interesting, though the thought of mixing booze and fights bothered me a little.

Perhaps I shall volunteer to be an on-hand medic…

Kyle Grace

The Long Road Home Gfletch09