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:Life in the Afterlife: Our Novel in progress
If you haven't read the previous eight chapters start at Chapter One here

The Great Beyond IX
Brodie Parker
'I think it’s wise to keep a low profile for now'.

I changed my appearance before we left his home. I decided to change it everywhere I went. If I wanted to keep a low profile, it made sense to never be seen as the same person at any place I went. No patterns to follow or dots to connect. I couldn’t be found and I wanted to keep it that way.

The council was housed at a structure that was larger than any building I had ever seen. I had a handle on changing perspective, so I made a note to get a better look at it later. We walked up a path toward an entrance in a stone wall which rose up so high that I couldn’t see where it ended. We met a few others, but there were roads that I could see in the distance that were much busier. We were stopped at the entrance by two gargantuan guards. They were both armed to the teeth and as forbidding as angels with flaming swords. After a brief exchange with Urimaru, they let us pass giving me no more than a passing glance. Just inside there was a map etched into the wall. Urimaru pointed to a room on it.
"Go there and wait for me. We won’t be long."
The room was small and cubical. There was a low rectangular table and some mats in a symmetrical placement on the floor around it. I sat on one and relaxed. I focused my mind on stretching out over the compound. I reached a point after some effort that allowed me to see the overall shape and size. The design was like nothing I had ever seen. The scale was awe inspiring. I’ve been in large cities that were a tenth the size. There were wings and sections that branched off in the oddest places and took the strangest shapes. It has been said that man is the measure of all things. It appeared that in some instances, small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri are the measure of all things.

I was still scanning over it when Urimaru came in followed by, so help me, Mark Twain. He was dressed in a white suit with a Mississippi string tie and a bush of wild white hair on his head with a smaller one over each eye and one across his upper lip. He was smoking a cigar and smiling pleasantly at me. He spoke with a heavy Missouri accent.
"Mr. Tucker I presume."
"Mr. Clemens?"
"Just Clemens will do. It’s a pleasure sir." He put out his hand.
I shook it firmly. "The pleasure is mine. I love your stories. The one about editing the agricultural paper makes me laugh like a little girl every time I read it."
"Thank you son, but those aren’t really mine. I’m just borrowing this disguise."
"Because Mark Twain is someone you think I would take advice from." I guessed.
He nodded and Urimaru smiled. I’m not sure if Clemens caught it, but I did. "I admit that was the idea. If it bothers you I can change it."
"No, it’s fine. It’s a nice touch."

We sat around the table in lotus position. None of us wore shoes. Geishas rushed quietly in and out to serve drinks or other desired frivolous oddities. I had a scotch and a steak sandwich.
"Well then," Clemens said after a while "let’s get down to it. I’ve been over your unique situation with Urimaru, and a few others. He has informed me that you’ve finished your training. I think it’s wise to keep a low profile for now. It is also wise to enlist our aid. The resources at our disposal are considerable to say the least. As of now, the three of us are all that know that you are here. There are ways of recognizing someone that go deeper than appearance, but even the most clever of enemies will have difficulty with those. We know, because our abilities are at least the equal of our enemies’, and we simply cannot pinpoint your location or see what needs to be seen to find you. Most certainly not from a lack of trying. In coming here you have shown a tremendous amount of trust in me, so I will try to earn it. None but the three of us will meet here unless we decide otherwise later. When you return, report to no one but me. If you are ever asked to meet anywhere other than a place we agree upon before hand, or if anyone else tries to interview you or intercede on my behalf, run. Get the hell out and don’t look back. Don’t let anything stop you. Urimaru will have told you about a few here who would use you without your consent if they could. I don’t intend to let them. You are strong now. I can see it and Urimaru can attest to it. Even so, the strength of one of the elders could easily trap you under the right circumstances. Some are stronger alone than the three of us together. With time, the danger will decrease as your skills and experience increase. I will give you instructions later on procedures to contact me at the entrance. Is this satisfactory?"
I nodded that it was. I decided that I liked the old guy, even if he wasn’t really Mark Twain.
"Very well then, I understand you want to dispatch your murderers. May I ask why?"
"To ensure the safety of the ones I left behind." I replied too quickly.
"How altruistic of you. You know, Twain said that altruism does not exist. Is he right?"
I hesitated before I answered him. "There is a wide streak of revenge across it, but even so I won’t be able to rest comfortably knowing they might be used as bait for me. Then there is the matter of the timelines that were snuffed out."
That last statement seemed to trigger a thought in Clemens’ head, and he gestured at the white tabletop. A grid similar to the one Urimaru showed me rose out of the surface. There were none of the blue lines left. My life had ended in every line. "How many escaped?" I asked quietly.
"That we know of," Clemens began, "only you." He let the following silence hang in the air for a moment. "We managed to save many of the lines that were threatened, but we lost thousands more. The first fight is over. It seems that you were the only incarnation that made it out with your soul. It was a disaster. There were so many variables, and so much at stake that we were completely unprepared for the assault. Our victories saved many billions of lives, but with only you remaining we have been thoroughly humbled. The only thing we have left to redeem us of our arrogance and our pride is you. I sincerely hoped that you would come to us. I must admit a wide streak of revenge in my own motives. But hatred clouds judgment as surely as arrogance, and we have to be precise and calculating in our actions. Now more than ever. I can help you find the man who killed you. His name is Sharper. He is a servant to a slave of a thing whose name I will not utter here. You need not know it. To know it is dangerous; it gives you the potential to speak it, and to speak it invites doom."

Urimaru pulled a slip of folded paper from the air. It was the piece he was writing on before I started training. Still folded to conceal what was written on it, he held it in front of him. "Read it, but don’t say it.."
I studied the inside of the folded page between his finger and thumb, and read the word written across it. It was a single syllable: SHUGG. I nodded and the paper disappeared. "That’s the one who directed the whole operation. His servants sacrificed an uncountable number of lives to destroy you. Under his orders, which come piecemeal from his master he has orchestrated a wave of malevolence unlike anything accomplished by anyone with his limited power. He is constantly growing stronger. He undoubtedly wants revenge on his master for enslaving him, and he is dangerously close to reaching his goal. We fear that speaking his name will draw his attention. The powerful often have that particular quirk, and we are being overly cautious in light of the recent laxity on our part. He is one to be feared. If you face him, don’t believe anything he tells you, and suspicious of anything he shows you. He lies by telling just enough of the truth to hook you, then he uses you, then he ends you. If you can manage it, kill him quickly. If you can’t, run immediately. We don’t expect you to encounter him anytime soon. Perhaps sometime after the smoke clears and we have some time to adapt. First we will concentrate on Sharper. He placed the cage enchantment on the museum display that would have bound your soul with your body. He would make an excellent target for your first mission.
"I feel comfortable with giving you missions, but I won’t issue any orders. You don’t owe me any kind of allegiance or duty. I am not your superior or your commander. I will assist you because you are willing and imminently able, and because we owe a debt of blood to everyone we couldn’t save. If assisting you can help repay that debt I will provide you with anything I can."
"I understand. No traceable ties. No red tape. Free agent without the burden of a contract. That suits me just fine. The more I hear the more I want to stay anonymous. But what makes you different from the other council members? Why don’t you want to use me too?"
"There is no way to observe what effect you can have to any degree on the flow of things. No recordable data. Nothing to reason with. If you can’t measure it, it ain’t science. I’m no better suited to guide you properly than they are, though I’m damned eager to see just what you can do. I think that your own judgment will suffice. Then we’ll sit back and see what happens."
"So how do I find Sharper?"
"You have to go back to the museum and find the trail." An image of a small ugly man appeared on the table. I memorized the features. "He will have left some trace of his power behind either at the site of the spell or on your remains. From there the hunt is yours. Taking someone with you will slow you down and draw unwanted attention. Therefore, all of your missions will be solo unless circumstances require different tactics." He stood up and stretched. "This is your baptism by fire. I’ve nothing left to leave you with except a warning. Don’t fool around with him. Sharper is crafty and strong. You can kill him, but you must face him with exactly that intention. You have the upper hand; he doesn’t know you’re coming. I suggest you use it to your advantage." He turned to leave. "Urimaru will tell you how to get through to me when you return. Oh, I almost forgot," he said looking back from the hallway. "Wade in deep water. Fierce wind’s fury unfurling. The moon says the way."
Then he was gone.
"That was a haiku." I said.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

© Brodie Parker - December 2004

To be continued...

Only in Hackwriters…
Missed Chapters One & Two of our serialised novel - it begins here
Chapter Three here

Chapter Four here
Chapter five here

Chapter Six here
Chapter Seven here
Chapter Eight here
Chapter Nine here
Chapter Ten here
Chapter Eleven here
Chapter Twelve here

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