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Red did not remember the first time she'd killed. 

She'd woken in a daze, covered head to toe in blood, and she'd known it was her own. There were cuts all over her body, and she was clutching the knife in her hand. She'd dropped it and screamed and screamed and screamed. 

She kept screaming. 

Eventually, they'd come for her. 

Crimson had come for her. She'd taken Red by the hand and promised that the triarchy was strong. That Crimson, Faith, and Gem were invincible and that, by serving them, Red would be invincible too. 

The second time she'd killed, it was at their command. 

It'd felt good, freeing her blood from its confines in her skin and wrapping it around the heads of weaklings. Sometimes she'd poison them, leaving bits of her blood in their food and in the air around them, and then she'd rip them apart from the inside out. Slowly. Quickly. It was good, and she was strong. 

They loved her because she was useful and she loved them because they were strong beautiful. 

She chose to kill the third time. 

Arrival's successful assassination of Wallraiser had left Miami vulnerable, and Red watched as Gem threw a fit. She'd thrown vanillas and furniture alike, trying to express righteous rage, but Red knew the truth. She'd watched her sleep restlessly, watched her scream that she was only angry because she was scared, why couldn't he understand that?

Crimson had confided her weakness so Red would know how to protect her from it, but in doing so, she'd shown her mortality. 

Red did not kill Faith. As far as she knew, years later, Faith was still alive. She'd survived by not being there for Red's slaughter, too busy being beaten into the ground by an Epic's attack. He was overconfident, seeing her as the easiest target out of the three, and maybe he was right-- after all, she didn't have the same sort of physical attack. 

She'd won the fight, at the cost of her beauty.

Red hadn't stuck around to see Faith's reaction to her slaughter of the once powerful Epics she'd ruled the world with. She disappeared. She found someone stronger. Someone prettier. 

Until they weren't anymore. 

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Storm Rising - Prologue

The asphalt crunched under the Epic’s boots. His grin had no mirth—more akin to a primal baring of teeth. Electric sparks flickered across his body, and the air smelled faintly of ozone. Overhead, the storm had split, forming a calm, eerie eye around them. On the outskirts, the clouds remained dark and thunderous.

Eric dropped into a fighting stance.

His staff was tipped with wire, designed to draw away the electricity to temporary storage in the staff’s core and prevent him from being electrocuted. He could also ground the staff if necessary. At his hip was his pistol, but the mag had only a few rounds left. For dire circumstance.

Intel didn’t report that Tempest had a “back-door”—an immunity to ordinary death—but he was still devilishly hard to kill. The Epic’s ego must be messing with his mind to allow Eric to get this close without the safety of his storm. Did he really look that easy to kill?

“Not everyone has the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kill Tempest,” Tempest said. “You have the right to feel proud.” Eric wanted to roll his eyes. Definitely ego-impaired. Tempest beckoned to him and shifted into a fighting position.

Eric rushed at Tempest, sweeping the staff towards the Epic’s knees. Tempest leaped into the air, rising above Eric’s head as he charged past. Eric skidded to a stop and spun around to face Tempest, who had landed behind him. He raised his staff just in time to deflect a punch crackling with electricity. The parried blow caught the Epic off balance, and Eric tried to knock Tempest’s knees out. He connected, and Tempest’s legs crumpled. Without missing a beat, he shoved the staff up to the Epic’s neck and pinned him to the ground.

“Almost too easy,” Eric smirked. He reached for the pistol at his hip while Tempest struggled.

“Don’t be too hasty,” the Epic growled. Suddenly, the pocket of sky above them collapsed and the storm rushed in. Within seconds, rain was pouring down and the wind howled in Eric’s ears. He forgot the gun and pressed both hands on the staff. They locked eyes.

A gust of wind blasted Eric from the side, knocking him off balance. One of his hands slipped. Wasting no time, Tempest threw Eric off and launched into the sky. The rain grew stronger and Eric’s visibility shrunk further. Scrambling to his feet, he sprinted for a building, some sort of cover from the raging Tempest. Lightning flashed menacingly close, the thunder deafening.

The door was mere feet away when Eric was thrown back by a wall of air. He looked up to see Tempest hovering above him, lit by sparks and fists clenched.

“It was a well-fought loss, I’ll admit,” Tempest boomed. Eric inched his hand towards his holster, praying that the rain would possibly, hopefully obscure the movement. “But like everyone else who’s tried, you will die.” He seemed almost apologetic.

Eric slid the pistol from its holster, gingerly rotating the rain-slicked metal in his fingers, gripping the handle. Tempest descended like a destroying angel. Just a little closer, Eric thought. He couldn’t afford to miss. One bullet through his arrogant head…

“Any last words, my opponent?” Tempest asked. Eric closed his eyes.

“Only one,” he said, and whipped out the pistol, finger tightening on the trigger.

There was a CRACK and a blinding flash.

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Storm Rising - Part 1

Callum Reeves stood in his tower, overlooking the Canadian prairie. A crisp breeze tussled his pale hair, and he tasted rain on it. Which was no surprise, for Callum had been watching the cloudwall on the horizon all afternoon. The towering agglomeration of cumulonimbus, ominously grey, stretched as far as the (ordinary) eye could see to the north and south, only tapering off at the limits of his visibility. It was a stark contrast to the flat and unsuspecting countryside whose only features were rows of windbreak trees and desolate farmhouses among the endless fields. Callum’s tower, a thin spire fashioned out of a radio tower, was the highest point for miles around.

And he knew, because Callum could see. Sometimes he went by the name “Opt,” if that rang a bell with anyone. Which probably didn’t. It was a relic of his earlier days, which are dead and gone to him. Callum was a different man than Opt, but their powers were the same. For, as mentioned before, Callum could see. If he focused, there was no limit to his sight. He could count blades of grass from a mile, two miles, five miles away. The tiniest hints of movement were obvious to him. Darkness was no obstacle for his sight. In fact, the only limit to his range was the curvature of the earth, which is why he built his tower.

Most called people like him Epics. It been at least a year since someone had called him that, but then again, it had been at least a year since Callum had seen another human being. Correction: at least a year since another human being had seen him. At times the loneliness was crippling, but usually Callum was content with his solitude. He kept a tidy garden during the summer to supplement his diet with fresh greens and filled in the rest with rations from his food storage.

The tower had become his “lair” shortly after his Acquisition. Opt had considered the location a suitable place for an Epic such as himself, and the location was remote enough that more irritating Epics would seldom come within range. The abode at the top had two levels and three rooms: a bedroom, a kitchen space, and a lounge. On the roof was his observation platform, which boasted an array of telescopes, satellite dishes, and antennas. A sniper rifle sat on its rig in the corner.

Callum watched the storm intently. It looked like a supercell, but it was moving much faster and was larger than usual. Storms like this formed more commonly further south, in the States, but they popped up in Canada once and a while. He checked the doppler radar. Still high precipitation in the storm’s area, even after three hours. He anxiously gripped the platform railing. If the storm got too close, he would have to hunker down until it passed. Normally it was too late in the year for tornadoes, but Callum had to be ready in the happenstance this storm brought a twister.

Two hours later

Callum stood on the now-empty observation deck, facing the storm. He had moved all of the equipment to a secure shed at the base of the tower and his home was as shuttered and braced as it could be. Now he could only wait. The storm hadn’t weakened, nor had it slowed down. The peripheral clouds were only a mile away and closing, the peak of the anvil towering above him in the sky. Low thunder rumbled across the prairie.

His mobile buzzed in his pocket, and he pulled it out. The first communication he’d had in months. With a few taps, he unlocked it and brought up the message app.

Opt, Nasty Epic headed your way. Get below ground. -T

Trapmaster. Callum shrugged and slipped the mobile back into his pocket. A fellow Epic he knew from Winnipeg. He looked up at the storm, now practically above the tower. The wind was rapidly growing to gale-force and the tower swayed ever-so-slightly. Lightning flickered in the heart of the storm, webbing outwards. ‘Nasty Epic,’ Callum thought as he stared up into the threatening cyclone. Suddenly, the two thoughts clicked. His mouth went dry. Sparks.

All at once, a wall of water crashed into the tower, knocking Callum to the floor. The wind howled against his ears and stinging rain hit his skin. Struggling to his feet, Callum tried to crawl to the hatch down. Just as he got within reach, a gust knocked him down again. His hands slipped on the rain-slick floor, and he slid to the opposite end of the platform. Callum gritted his teeth and kicked off the railing, attempting to slide to the hatch. Lightning flashed around the tower, dangerously close. The thunder was deafening, making Callum wince. All the while, rain poured down his face.

His fingertips caught the lip of the hatch and Callum grinned triumphantly. As he tried to work his hands under the latch, a terrific flash of light filled his vision, nearly simultaneous with the deafening boom that accompanied it. A second later, he was on his back, three feet from the hatch.

The hatch that a man was standing on.

Eyes glowing, tendrils of lightning arcing over his skin, the man was obviously an Epic and incredibly imposing. His outfit was tailored and navy, accented with electric blue. His hair was spiked with static.

“Well hello there,” the Epic grinned. Callum blinked, the bright afterimage still lingering in his vision. His whole body was sore. The Epic cocked his head. “Still a bit dazed, eh? I’m Tempest.” Tempest extended his hand, which Callum simply stared at. It sparked with electricity.

“I’m Opt,” Callum said disdainfully as he shifted to a sitting position. Rain still poured down on them, but the wind had died down. He realized that they were in the center of the storm, the clouds swirling around them. “Kind of you to drop in,” he added drily.

Tempest laughed, a booming sound not unlike thunder. “An Epic! Should’ve known, all the way out in the middle of nowhere. Nice place,” he gestured vaguely, then paused. “Can you fly?” It was less of a question and more of an ultimatum. Callum slowly shook his head.

“Shame. You could have joined my entourage. Ah well,” Tempest shrugged. “Farewell, Opt.” With a sweep of his hand, the wind roared and blasted into Callum. He was flipped head-over-heels and hurtled off the side of the platform. In a last-ditch effort, he flung his hand out and gripped the railing. The rest of him dangled over the edge, several hundred feet from the ground.

Tempest strode over to him, briefly silhouetted by a lightning flash. “Weak, for an Epic,” he growled, all joviality lost. His hand hovered over Callum’s. “It’s foolish to stay out in a storm,” Tempest hissed as his hand slammed down onto Callum’s, shocking him. He screamed as his hand and arm lost feeling, leaving a terrible sensation of needles. His limp fingers lost their grip. Tempest pulled his hand away and Callum fell, screaming in anguish. Tempest lingered at the edge, watching Callum’s body plummet to the dark ground. And as he fell, Callum returned the stare, focused on Tempest’s face in perfect clarity despite the downpour, the Epic’s features the final thing he saw.

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4 years ago

"Picture a skyscraper. You've seen skyscrapers, right?"

"Uh, yeah. It's not Chicago or New York, but Houston's no slouch in the very tall building department."

"It's Newcago and Babilar now, but I know you don't care so I'll stop pushing it."

Karina quickly disconnected the barrel of her rifle from the stock. She carefully put the parts down on the table, then turned to grab the can of WD-40 sitting on the table beside her, then turned some more to glance at the man lazily sitting at the other end of the room. He wore a Men Down Under t-shirt with thick trousers, and smiled bemusedly as he tossed a leather-bound round ball from hand to hand. "Hey, where'd you get a baseball, Davy? Please don't tell me you expect me to - "

Davy loudly gasped, then chuckled. "No, I would never encourage you to play ball when you've got all your work to do. This is for your sister. "

Karina quietly sighed in relief. "Good, because I hate baseball. Never understood Serena's fascination with the game." She grimaced and turned back to her partially disassembled rifle and sprayed it liberally with the fish oil. "Anyway, I'm picturing a skyscraper. What about it?"

"Ah, right. Imagine it hovering in  midair," The Australian traced an L in the air with his finger as he continued, "and then grab both ends, and rotate them such that they form the - what's the square corner thing again?"

"A right angle?"

Davy nodded. "Yeah, that's it, a right angle. A skyscraper, bent at a right angle. Now there are stairs inside this skyscraper, and when you climb them and reach that bend you made, when you continue you don't just fall off. You can climb those stairs all the way to the 'top', as if the laws of reality had gone on vacation." He frowned and lost his concentration, dropping his baseball, which rolled under Karina's table. She poked her newly reassembled rifle at the ball and sent it rolling back. "Come to think of it, they kind of have, haven't they?", the other man mused.

Karina shrugged. "Finish whatever you were saying, would you?"

"Fine. Anyway, on the outside of this strange otherworldly building floating a mile above the ground, there are corridors poking out of it in all directions. Regular-looking hallways from the inside of them, long steel tubes from the outside. These hallways, they're about, say, the length between me and the kitchen, but they can stretch on for miles and miles until they reach their destination, which is another strange twisted building. There's a massive network of these strange tubes, poking out in every direction on every axis we know of, as well as some we probably don't. That, Indy - 

"Don't call me Indy. My name's Karina."

"Sure. Anyway, that is what the locals call the Twisted City, the largest city in Australia. It's a sight to behold, eldritch and strange, all courtesy of the Epic ruling there."

Karina raised her eyebrows. "You've been there?"

Davy chuckled. "Nah, I haven't been to Oz since Calamity. Most of what I've heard are second, third, fourth, and probably hundredth-hand accounts of what the city's like. What I've told you is just the common threads in all of them. They're probably at least partially true."

Karina grunted. "Yeah, right. If what you've said is true, I personally would doubt it even exists. People are pretty stupid. I'd bet this Twisted City's just some scammer's attempt to get people to buy doctored photographs or some druggie's fever dream."

Davy stood up and wagged his finger. "Now now, I don't want to hear your arbitrary skepticism. First, people are, on average, average, by definition. Second, you've heard of and have proof of stranger things. Babilar has naturally glowing spraypaint ghost-powered radios that work without batteries. California is missing an entire perfectly round portion of its desert, as if it was cut out by some Epic scalpel. Why's a strange space-warping floating city so strange to you?" He folded his arms, awaiting his teammate's response.

Karina shrugged. "I dunno. I guess it's because if I believed every sparking rumour I heard, I'd be thrown out for being a madwoman, as well as probably dead." She reached into a nearby bin and grabbed a couple rifle magazines, loading one into her SKS and putting the rest into her pockets. Davy looked at her red t-shirt, then her jeans, then asked, "Have you considered getting a good sharp knife?"

The other woman sighed loudly, then turned to face the Australian. "Please, do we really need to go over this again? I don't need a sparking knife. I'm a good enough shot with this rifle." Her tone grew sarcastic and snippy, "And your constant insisting that 'you don't need to reload a knife' and 'a rifle's not good in close-quarters' and 'what'll you do if you run out of ammunition' I've thoroughly addressed already. Give it up. I'm not getting a knife."

Davy threw his hands up in mock surrender, then put them back down. "I get that you're busy, but can you please just consider making time to at least learn how to use one? Hell, I'd buy a good one for you, and I'm sure Clement would teach you how."

"I'll think about it," Karina tiredly replied. She slung her rifle over her shoulder and walked out of the room, ignoring Davy's protestations of, "You always say that!" Just remembering something, she stopped just outside in the hallway, she turned around and yelled, "Don't forget, the briefing's in two hours! Make sure to be there, or else you're in the kitchen tomorrow, and I'm really sick of your sparking overcooked ketchup-covered burgers!" 

Ignoring his muffled protests about his hamburger quality (they really weren't that bad, but she wasn't going to let him know that), Karina exited the safe house and went to check up on her sister.

Edited by breakingamber
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4 years ago

Karina walked down the sidewalk and breathed in the arid Texas air. The sidewalk beneath her feet was cracked, but not unreasonably so and thus she continued walking on it. She waved at some of the people walking by, most of which waved back or offered some cheerful greeting in return. She halted when she recognized a minor Epic wearing a leather jacket and a somewhat stereotypical cowboy hat. He had a revolver holstered at his waist, and cowboy boots with spurs. He looked at her, and she quickly got out of his way but also prepared to grab her rifle and fire. His name is Shattershot, I think? He's one of Boombox's thugs, and he has the power to... she frantically racked her brain for information - to shatter bullets in midair as if they were frag grenades. Also enhanced reflexes. A good shot to the back of his head should take him down as long as he doesn't see it coming. He walked on past, and she watched him as he walked past, itching to take a shot at him and figuring another dead Epic could not hurt.

Eventually, she let out a quiet sigh, turned around, and kept walking. Trying to kill him here in public would draw too much attention and almost certainly blow her cover. She still had a family to look after, and it was no secret as to where her mother and sister lived. Regardless, she couldn't help but feel like a coward as she approached her apartment building.

Karina entered the the complex, waved at the woman at the front desk, and took the elevator to the nineteenth floor. She walked down the hallway and inserted her key into the lock on the door to her room, twisted it, and pushed the door open.

Their apartment was of a decent size. Karina walked through the doorway into the sitting room and looking forward towards the kitchen, looking for her sister. For a split second, she thought she saw her sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands. Karina blinked and then her sister was walking towards her.

Serena wore a loose-fitting sports jersey and stained white shorts. Her black hair was tied up in a ponytail, and she folded her arms and stopped at arms length away from her sister, frowning. Karina hadn't noticed her sister's ill mood, and she casually took her rifle off her back, setting it down on a small table near the wall. Still oblivious, she turned to her sister, rambling, "Hey Serena, how're you doing? You know Davy? The Australian guy? He apparently got a real bona fide baseball for you." She leaned closer conspiratorially. "I think he likes you!"

Serena scowled. "Where have you been?"

The older sister replied offhandedly as she opened up a cabinet to retrieve a bowl, "Oh, at work. Moved some boxes around, worked with some weapons, you know the drill. Need to go back in about an hour, but I figured I might as well spend some time with you and catch up with Mama first. How was your day?" Karina found an oatmeal packet in the small pantry and prepared it to eat. She'd never told her sister nor mother she was a Reckoner, and didn't really plan to. It was just too dangerous both for them and her.

Serena hadn't moved from where she was standing. She flatly replied, "Archangel got pissed off and blasted the marketplace. I'm out of work for at least a month."

Karina finally processed that something was off, and turned back to look at her younger sister, and gasped. "Calamity, you look awful! What the sparks happened?"

Her forehead had a very noticable, very purple bruise just above her right eye, and her entire body was splattered with dried blood. One of her legs looked badly charred, and her hair was slightly singed as well. Karina immediately walked towards her sister, exclaiming, "I can't believe you're still standing! You must've lost so - "

Serena stiffly interrupted, "If you're worried about the blood, don't. It's not mine. Mostly it's Caden's and Julia's, they're the ones that pissed the sparking Epic off." She winced as her older sister poked gently at the bruise above her eye. Serena irritably brushed her sister's hand off of her face, then suddenly started shouting. "Where have you been the past three weeks? Mama's been worried about you and I've had to take care of her by myself! What in the world have you been doing?"

"Three weeks? Surely it couldn't have been that long..." She trailed off.

Karina realized with a start that she hadn't seen her sister this riled up in long time. She'd known her sister to be a rather reserved, cautious person, always trying to avoid offending whoever she was talking to. Now, she was absolutely furious. And not undeservedly so, I guess... Three weeks?

"Yes it clearly could've been that long, because it has! Answer my question! What have you been doing recently that's so important that you let your sister get burned and beaten by some random Epic?"

Karina defensively replied, "Well, it's very important but I can't really tell - "

"Oh it's so important. More important than your mother and sister," Serena interrupted. She snorted derisively. Sarcastically, she continued, "Well don't let me stop you. Go ahead, with your secret meetings and your stupid friends. They're clearly too good for us." Her tone changed again, back to seething rage. "For that matter, even when you were here, you really weren't, were you? Always looking at a stupid book or working on your stupid sparking rifle." She walked over to said rifle and picked it up. "When was the last time you really even talked to us? Not just the basic banal greetings, really talked to us, asked us what we thought and our sparking hopes and dreams and whatever else?" 

Karina started to wonder if something was really wrong. Her sister rambled on for another minute or so, and eventually Karina interrupted, "Do you want me to leave? You're clearly worked up and - "

Evidently, that was the wrong thing to say. Serena snarled, and suddenly Karina hit the ground, dazed from her sister's surprisingly strong left hook. I didn't see that coming... that's strange, some part of her brain felt. Most of it, however, was preoccupied with the dull pain in her cheek. Karina made an effort to sit up and leaned against a nearby chair, then groaned as she felt a vicious headache coming on. She forced a laugh, though it sounded more like coughing. "Sparks, you hit hard. That'll leave a mark."

Serena was sitting on the nearby couch, her head in her hands.  The younger girl looked absolutely miserable. The SKS-45 lay on the table in front of her, forgotten. Her older sibling shakily rose to her feet, then sat back down beside her. Silence reigned for a couple minutes, as the two siblings simply sat next to each other. Karina's cheek slowly turned purple. 

Eventually, Serena slowly sat up and broke the silence. "I'm sorry. That... that was... I'm sorry. I don't..." She made an incomprehensible gesture where she  clenched her  and unclenched her hands repeatedly and waved them around in circles. "I mean..."

Karina tried to smile comfortingly. "It's okay. I'm sorry too. I guess that you really do have a point." Serena frantically gestured and started to speak, but her sister held up a hand and continued. "I haven't been spending much time with you, come to think of it. I've just been really busy. It's just that - "

Serena finally interrupted, "No no no, it's fine, I know what you do pays pretty well and we need to to pay for the apartment and for Mama - "

Now it was Karina who interrupted, " - but that's no excuse for me to go and ignore my family." She looked at her younger sister, and felt a pang of sadness seeing her sister so miserable. She looked up at the clock, and realized with alarm that she only had about 20 minutes left until she had to head back to base. She brushed aside her concern temporarily; right now the important thing was patching up her relationship with her sister. 

Said sister frowned, then asked a question she'd asked likely dozens of times before. "What do you do, anyway? You need your rifle for it, so I thought it might be a protection job, but then again..." She shrugged. "...I can't figure it out."

Karina considered the question. In the past, she'd always tried to dodge the question, usually by giving out specific details about what she'd done that day. She tried not to lie to her sister if she could, though it was sometimes inevitable. Today though, she had a strong impulse to tell the truth. I'm a Reckoner. One of those shadowy people in the shadows that kills Epics across the Fractured States. 

"I'm a Reckoner. One of those shadowy people in the shadows that kills Epics across the Fractured States." she quietly answered. Karina mentally slapped herself.

Serena's eyes widened. She opened her mouth, then closed it. Something went through her eyes - Fear? Surprise? Admiration? - and her face grew pale. "You've got to be kidding me."

Karina immediately considered pretending that she was, in fact, joking. She realized she couldn't lie to her sister, and instead turned back to her sister, whispering, "Please don't tell anyone. Not for anything. It's really dangerous both for you and Mama to know this. Please be careful, I shouldn't have told you. The gang believes that my family doesn't know... dammit how am I going to break it to them?" She got up and paced around the small space, her headache forgotten. Strapping on her rifle, she turned back towards her sister, her voice softening. "Look, I've got a job in just a couple days. After that, we'll probably have a break for a while. I'll find a way to tell the team later, but I'll take a break from that stuff for a while." Her voice quickened, and she was on the edge of rambling. "We'll have some time together, I'll tell Mama, maybe I'll really let you meet the rest of the - " Karina paused and took a deep breath. "Just don't tell anyone, okay?"

Serena had composed herself. Her face was unreadable. She nodded.

Karina looked back at her sister, then opened the apartment door and walked through.


Edited by breakingamber
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Storm Rising - Part 2

The light of the fire danced on the walls of the old barn. Around it sat three gruff men adorned with a mismatch assortment of body armor and metal ornaments, specifically chains. Their names were Dredge, Wratch, and Wayne, and they were all hungrily waiting for the grouse Dredge had shot to cook.

“Sparks, I could eat a cow. A whole one!” Wratch exclaimed.

“Shut up, slontze,” Shane snapped back. Wayne quickly elbowed Wratch in the ribs with a clank of metal. Wratch shot him a glare but returned to drooling at the roasting fowl.

Shane stood in the crooked frame of the massive barn doors, watching the dark wilderness. He was the leader of this rugged band of brigands their victims called “Shane’s Chain Gang.” Shane liked the ring of it. It just struck fear into the hearts of anyone who heard it.

Shortly after Calamity and the terror that come in its wake, Shane realized his villainous potential. A recreational drunkard with three misdemeanors on his record and a reputation for being curmudgeonly, Shane gathered up what weapons he owned, jumped in his pickup, and decided to terrorize the nearby farms. The poor family simply surrendered, and Shane walked away a fair bit richer.

Shane sought out more unsavory fellows to join his band, and soon they were a force to be reckoned with in rural Saskatchewan. Dredge, formerly Phillip Durstrom, had a passion for arson, and brought along his friend Wayne, who also liked arson. Wayne neglected to change his name because it rhymed with Shane.

Wratch was the last to join the crew. By the time the Chain Gang crossed paths with him, their reputations preceded them. Most towns and farms they came across surrendered in the face of their overwhelming firepower and nastiness, and they even had killed an Epic (admittedly, it was a minor one who could only give everyone within a hundred feet of him a cold, but it was still an Epic). Thus, it was to their surprise when upon arriving in the quiet hamlet of Cupar that no one came out with their hands over their heads. Instead, a single man stood in the street.

Shane had called out to him, “You there! Don’tcha know who we are?” In response, the man manifested a chainsaw and revved it. Dredge had pulled out his rifle, but Shane stopped him. “Nice saw you’ve got there. Say, want to join us?” Shane had offered. Surprisingly, the Epic accepted, and that’s how Wratch joined the team.

Shane had boasted of his negotiation skills for weeks afterwards.

After a moment of tense silence, Dredge reached over and took the grouse off the flame. Holding it over an upside-down garbage can lid, he sliced the bird into equal portions and set them aside. With a glance at Wratch’s expectant face, Dredge stepped back, his own portion in hand. “Have at it,” he said. With glee, Wratch grabbed the meat and devoured it. Meanwhile, Wayne reached over and grabbed his.

“Hey, boss. Come get your duck,” Dredge said. Shane didn’t reply. “Hey, boss.” Still silence. “Look, you slontze, it’s gonna get cold, and then it’s no good.”

Thunder boomed in the distance.

“I’ve been watching the storm, slontze.” Shane hissed. “And I think it’s going to be a nasty one.” As he spoke, he stomped over to Dredge and scooped up his plate, ornamental china abandoned by the previous owners of the farm. “There’s got to be a—chew, gulp—storm cellar around this sparking place.”

“Well, have you tried checking outside?” Wayne offered. Shane shot him a nasty look as he shoved another piece of Dredge’s delicious grouse in his mouth but walked outside anyways. After a moment, Shane returned. “Did you find it?” Wayne asked. Shane’s silence was enough of a confirmation.

“Tie down the trucks and move all the valuahbles into the cellar with us. Don’t want them blowing away,” Shane ordered. Wayne returned with a sloppy salute and walked out to secure the vehicles. Dredge raised an eyebrow instead. “Are you really that worried about a storm? It’s a bit late for tornadoes,” Dredge said.

Shane looked out at the sky again. “There’s something ‘bout it—gives me a bad gut feeling,” he growled. Dredge rolled his eyes behind his back. Shane continued, “Better safe than sorry, eh?”

“When have we ever been safe?” Wratch piped in. Dredge chuckled while Shane fumed, but said nothing.

Despite the mutterings and jabs, soon the Chain Gang was settled in the storm cellar. The cellar was meagerly furnished, featuring two benches on opposite walls. Some shelves bearing sagging cardboard boxes lined the back. Wratch and Wayne played cards while Dredge cleaned his rifle. Thunder rumbled dully every few seconds or so. After a moment, Shane climbed down.

“What took you so long?” Dredge asked. Shane ignored him. “Storm’s almost here. Thought I felt a drop before I came down,” Shane said. As if in agreement, thunder rumbled outside.

“Well, guess we’ll just sit tight ‘till it passes,” Wayne muttered. He slapped down his hand. “Ha! Beat that.” Wratch stared at his cards defeatedly. “Now you owe me two chainsaws.”

The storm cellar fell quiet aside from the slapping of cards while Wayne shuffled and the howling of the wind outside, frequented with bursts of thunder. Dredge started up a tune on his harmonica, pointedly ignoring Shane’s glares.

Suddenly, there was a thump on the hatch. Dredge’s harmonica cut off with a squawk. Everyone stared at the hatch in silence. There was another thump, followed by two more. Dredge slowly reached for his rifle, and Shane felt for his own. Wratch and Wayne had put down their cards.

Slowly, anxiously, Shane edged towards the ladder. The hatch shook, but luckily the bolt held. There was a tense silence. After a few moments, Wayne spoke. “Good thing we locked it.”

Suddenly, there was a deafening crash and a flash, and Shane was thrown back. The hatch had been obliterated and rain poured through the gap. Dredge gripped his rifle, and an oversized chainsaw appeared in Wratch’s hand. With frightening deliberation, a man jumped through the hole and stared into Shane’s eyes. The Epic’s eyes glowed.

Dredge fired with a crack and the Epic lurched, blood blossoming from the hole in his shoulder. With a roar, the Epic swung at Dredge, who attempted to fend him off with the barrel. Unfortunately, the Epic’s fist connected. There was a snap and a flash of electricity, and Dredge collapsed. With a shriek, Wratch slashed with the chainsaw, narrowly missing the Epic. Wratch summoned another chainsaw and kicked it at the Epic, who dodged.

Shane, meanwhile, slowly regained his senses and struggled to his feet. Hoping the Epic was distracted, he dashed for the ladder and scrambled up. The surface was dreadful. The wind and rain blasted Shane’s face. Through the storm, he realized the barn had collapsed in the wind. Lightning flashed overhead. Shane heard a scream from the cellar and ran for the trucks but stumbled in the mud and fell. Raw terror filled his veins.

He glanced back at the cellar and to his horror saw the Epic rise from the hole, bloodied and frenzied. Shane scrambled to his feet and started to run, but the wind blasted him from the side and he crashed to the ground. The wind roared in his ears and the rain mixed with his tears.


It was the Epic. “Leaving your teammates to die. I expected nothing less from scum.”

Shane’s blood boiled. How dare that slontze speak about him like that! He rose and spun around but was met with a boot to his gut. He collapsed.

“A feeble attempt,” the Epic spat. Shane glared at him as well as he could while doubled over in pain.

“Just kill me already,” Shane hissed through clenched teeth.

“What was that?” The Epic said. “Kill me!” Shane growled. The Epic stepped over and leaned down until their noses were nearly touching. The Epic smelled like ozone.

“Fine,” he said, and the world went white.

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Redshift - Prologue

Redshift kept a very good diary. He glanced up from the sixteenth diary, matching the waitress’ face to the picture. Her hair was different.

“Alayna Reeves?” He asked. It was a slow day, and he was the only customer.

“That’s me,” the waitress confirmed. “I’m sorry sir, but… Do I know you from somewhere?”

“On October the 1st, 2003, you served a man named Kian Hardy who stopped for dinner on a road trip. Steak and potatoes.” Redshift met her eyes with unhinged intensity.

“Uh. Maybe?” Alayna laughed nervously. “That was years ago. I don’t remember.”

“You’re lying,” he said confidently. “You remember. Have you told anyone else?”

“What? I’m not lying.” She was beginning to look genuinely alarmed.

”I said. Have. You. Told. Anyone. Else.”

“Please— I don’t want any trouble. Who are you?”

My name is Redshift,” he growled. “And Kian Hardy is dead!!”

For a moment, Redshift tapped into his power. For a moment, he was no longer a person, a collection of atoms and molecules, he was a wave of devastating force. When he reformed at the other end of the room, his destructive wake unfurled. A whirling storm of unseen blades cut into every surface along his path, shredding the flooring, the table, the chairs, and of course, the waitress. In a matter of seconds, the aftershock died down, and all was still.

“I’ll have to tear the whole place down,” he spoke to himself. “Just to be safe.”

. . .

Redshift inspected the next page of the sixteenth diary: The Road Trip, chapter fourteen. He remembered. Kian Hardy’s next stop had been Edmonton.

Some epics stopped their rendings. They extinguished a few of their closest connections, and then settled down into quieter living. Redshift had never stopped.

After all, he kept a very good diary.

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