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"The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." ~Albert Camus
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(Contains: violence/gore)
[Chapter 18]

Hal zipped up his leather jacket, experimentally flexing his bad leg. His knee made a loud popping sound that solicited a grimace.

“Are you going to be ok?” Miri asked the question Hal wondered himself.

“I hope so.”

The two of them were now in the 'evil rec room' yet again, but this time the entire cathedral seemed to be buzzing with activity. The network of agents Marcus claimed to command seemed to be heeding his summons, trickling in by the hour, usually alone or in very small groups. All of them looked fairly hardened, as one might expect from an army of ex-convicts. Many of them seemed eager to act, and were kept busy arming themselves and preparing for the events to come. The air had a tension to it that was impossible to overlook.

Rather than sally forth right away, Marcus preferred to sit tight until later in the day, sending Vanir ahead of the rest of them. Though the university was over in Calypsa district, if they traveled by telepad, the excursion would be shortened considerably. According to the clock on one wall, it was almost time to leave.

“Hal. Miri.” Marcus approached them with a smile, genuinely beaming with delight. He seemed to be put in a chipper mood by the sense of imminent action. “Are you ready for a date with destiny?”

“Oh, I don't know.” Hal pretended to be shy about it. “How does my hair look?”

“It looks like a sarcastic asshole.” Marcus returned fire with a smile, seemingly taking Hal's sarcasm in stride.  Undaunted, he turned his attention to Miri. “Now, don't say I haven't done anything nice for you. You have your old clothes back, and I even had them washed for you. No more 'creepy ceremonial robes' for a day like today.”

Miri ran one hand through her hair. “Thanks.” She sounded at least partly grateful, though not particularly impressed. Hal caught her amused glance. Though it was more of a practical gesture than a generous one (robes weren't great for trekking through the city inconspicuously), it was still an important symbol.  Miri certainly seemed a little brighter, now that she was dressed in the comfortable and warm expedition gear the two of them wore just before all this began.

Marcus too was wearing new clothes. He eschewed his normal upscale clothing for a medium weight trench coat that was subtly styled with epaulets and brass buttons. Paramilitary fashion was something of a recent trend that was making its way through various cuts of society. Marcus seemed to be no exception to that rule.

“I want to introduce the two of you to somebody.” Marcus looked over his shoulder and called out to someone in the background. “Dubs! It's time.”

Hal recognized the man that approached as the same hulking bear that had been beating the living daylights out of the punching bag yesterday. He stood well over 2 meters tall, and his brown fur was interrupted in places with the stark line of a deep, healed scar. This man, whoever he was, had certainly not been a stranger to violence.

“Dubs, I want to formally introduce you to my brother, Hal. You already know Miri, of course.” The hulking beast offered one hand for a handshake that practically engulfed Hal's forearm. “So, you the brothah of the Arch. Respect.” Dubs spoke with a deep booming voice that nonetheless had the unmistakable accent of a man who lived his life in the inner city. Norvondire district if Hal had to guess.

Hal gave Dubs a sharp nod as he finished the handshake. “Dubs, huh? Is that a nickname?”

“Yeah.” Dubs seemed prepared to answer the question as if he had done it thousands of times before. “My real name is William W. Wilson the Third. But that takes way too much work to say, and I ain't no 'Willie'.”

“Dubs it is then.” Hal nodded and cleared his throat. No doubt Dubs would be accompanying them as a little extra muscle to keep Hal and Miri from entertaining thoughts of heroism. In a close in fight Hal normally liked his chances pretty good, but between Dubs' sheer size and his bad leg, it wasn't an experiment he cared to run.

“Let's get going.” Marcus stepped forward and waved for the others to follow. “We'll take the telepad to save some time.”

The four of them walked out into the city streets to find that the sun was settling slowly into the final moments of daylight. The sky was already beginning to fade from sky blue into pastel hues of pink, lavender, and gold.

“Wow, look at the colors!” Miri smiled at the sunset, basking in the evening's fragile glory. After being cooped up inside for so long, it must have been a refreshing sight to take in. “They're beautiful.”

“Yes they are.” Hal grunted his agreement, contemplating the view. As the sun descended to the west, the moon was already up and shining in the east, half obscured behind the immensely tall spire that was Sabbaton Tower. As they walked past one of the main radial avenues that led inward towards the tower and the center of Anduruna, he glimpsed the anchor point for one of the several tension cables that held the massive tower steady. The spiral-wound metal cables were thicker than some tree trunks, and even under tension they seemed to visibly sag under their own mass.

“Impressive isn't it?” Marcus seemed to take note of the direction Hal was looking. “That a structure so grand could be built and held aloft securely.” He chuckled as a gust of bitter wind swept between buildings to chill them. “What a perfect symbol of all we can achieve, if only we sit down, lay back, and submit.”

“You're a very cheery man, Marcus.” Hal scoffed. “Has anyone told you that?”

Marcus laughed out loud at Hal's comment. “Oh, but I am.” His smile had a cutting sharpness to it. “I'm no engineer, but I wonder what would happen if those cables were to disappear all of a sudden and something were to happen to the foundation...”

“A lot of innocent people would die. That's what would happen.” Hal narrowed his eyes. Was Marcus seriously bold enough to suggest toppling the Sabbaton tower itself?

“Oh it would be quite the destructive event. Tragic. It would be an event everyone would remember for generations.”

“You're insane.” Miri muttered, her mood now subdued as the topic of conversation changed quickly from her original comment.

“Am I really?” Marcus countered, seeming to relish in the debate. “When a forest becomes thick and overgrown, it begins to decay. New life cannot take hold because it is choked out, and the entire ecosystem falls into stagnation. Nothing changes, nothing grows, until one fateful day when a storm rolls through and strikes down with a flash of lightning to set the entire area ablaze. The fire is destructive, yes. It lays waste to the old forest, but in that same stroke it fertilizes the land and sets the stage for new life to rise up, grow, and flourish.” Hal's brother held his arms out to his sides. “Is the storm truly evil?”

“Good and Evil are words we use to describe the actions of people, not nature.” Miri was emphatic in her response. “The storm isn't good or evil. It just is. The lightning doesn't choose to strike the forest, and the trees aren't sentient creatures! It's just nature, and nature doesn't make decisions like we're capable of doing.”

“But are we not all creatures of nature? Subject to the same natural laws?” Marcus sighed, shaking his head. “I don't know why I waste my breath trying to illuminate you short sighted people. We need to look past the familiar and accept its removal in order to discover a better world waiting beyond it.”

“That makes for fine poetry, Marco, but that doesn't change the fact that you're suggesting the murder of thousands of innocent lives.”

“Someone has to have the courage to do what is necessary.” Marcus pulled his jacket tighter as they approached the telepad station, his voice matching the temperature of the air. “If no one else will do it...  Let it be me.”

Everyone fell quiet for a while after that sobering comment. Words weren't going to change the opinion of anyone present. Miri clung close to Hal keeping him on the windward side of her to fend off the cold. His tail wrapped around her and rested on her opposite shoulder.  

The telepad itself was an elegantly engraved circle of stone set into the center of a large plaza. It was large enough in diameter to fit several dozen people within its perimeter. The area was cordoned off such that you had to buy a ticket in order to get access to the inside, but for that nominal fee the average citizen now had near-instantaneous access to the center of any other district in the city. Telepad technology was relatively new, but in a short handful of years it had revolutionized intra-city travel, making the manekale-pulled groundcars more a utility item for distributing bulk goods, rather than people. As far as Hal knew, telepad technology was controlled tightly by the government of Anduruna and not available private use.

Marcus purchased tickets for the four of them and led them into the circle where they waited with a handful of other clusters of people. A bored voice emerged from a loudspeaker as a telepad attendant announced their jump. “Please keep all limbs and belongings inside the circle. This next jump is to Calypsa station. Calypsa station is the next jump.”

After one more repeat of the same message, the attendant counted down to zero and initiated the jump.

There wasn't any sensation in the act of jumping itself. Hal merely blinked and found now that he was standing in a new circle in Calypsa district, and the tower was at a different angle to his orientation than it had been before. The aftereffects Hal always felt though. While most people experienced no ill effects, or built up a tolerance, Hal always felt nauseated after using a telepad. As a result, he rarely chose to take advantage of the convenience.

“Ahhh... home sweet home.” Marcus waved them forward, stepping out into the now-darker city streets. “Let's keep going. Vanir should be waiting for us near the university.”

Once they were free from the crowd of people at the telepad, Hal started up the conversation again. “You've been awfully quiet, Dubs. How did you get involved in all of this?”

“Me?” Dubs chuckled a bit, but the low bass of his laugh caused it to carry deep into the alleyways. “It start with beating theshit outta someone who done me wrong and gettin' thrown in the lockhouse for a couple. Then they come to me, say I can get out if I join this new 'second life' program. I took the deal.”

“So you're behind all this 'down with the establishment, new world order' stuff?”

“Hell yeah.” Dubs nodded with certainty. “Like the arch said, if we wanna get ahead, we can't jus' play by the rules. You can't change the rules. That won' work. You gotta change the whole game.”

Hal tried to keep his poker face intact. “But if they catch you, you'll be tried for treason. They'll execute you. All of you.”

“Thats why when you go, you go all in and get it done befo' they have that chance. And 'sides, I ain't afraid of dyin'. The arch put a gun in my hand and say 'Dubs, you roll wit' me, ain't no one gonna step on you again.' I like that.”

“If this is just a political movement, why the veil of religion?”

“Hey, if you got a problem wit' the goddess, you got a problem wit' me, aiight? Not everyone might care so much 'bout that sorta stuff, but I do.” Hal was surprised by Dubs' response. “I don' know if she's like... real, and like, messin' with the world direc'ly and stuff, but she say she gave us our powers for a reason. She say we all got a purpose. An' we got her gift to give us power and to protect this world from evil.”

Dubs certainly appeared to have a passion hiding beneath his bulk. “Ever since I sign on, Vanir been helpin' me learn to read by teachin' me the scrolls. They ain't so easy to read, but they mean somethin', you know? I like to believe that they ain't no lie. That we be actually more than what we look like on the outside.”

Hal furrowed his brows, falling into contemplative silence. After a moment had passed, Miri hesitantly spoke up, her voice no more than a confused whisper. “...you didn't know how to read?”

Dubs was quick to lash out in anger at her disbelief. “Don't you judge me, pretty little fox girl! You ain't got no idea what it's like, growin' up on the streets! When you fightin' every night just to make it to the next day!” Dubs made a disgusted grunting sound. “You ain't never had to fight for nothin'. You ain't never gonna know what it be like livin' my life.”  

“Easy Dubs. She didn't know.” Marcus reigned in his subordinate with a stern stare.

“Sorry, Arch.”

Marcus nodded his acknowledgment, proceeding to lead them through a few more side streets until they reached the circle in front of Calypsa University. Now that the sky was darkening, the tree lined avenue leading up to the main building had taken on a more sinister and foreboding appearance.

“Over here.” A voice spoke up from the alleyway to their left, and Vanir stepped forward from the shadows out onto the sidewalk. “Have our guides been any trouble?”

“No, they're behaving.” Marcus gave his lover a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “What about on your end?”

Vanir's bright blue eyes seemed to almost glow in the dim light. “No trouble so far. Not much foot traffic on account of the wind and cold. Little activity entering or leaving the building. I have a groundcar waiting in the alley for our extraction.”

“We're not taking the telepad back?” Miri sounded concerned.

“I don't know how big the meteor fragment is, but if it's the same size as the last one, it won't be easy to just carry through public transport; Especially if things go wrong and we need to get out quick.” Vanir didn't seem to be in a very hospitable mood today, and her tone of voice was curt and condescending. “Don't you worry about the details. All you need to to do is get us to the meteor without running into security.”

Marcus nodded in agreement, turning to Hal and Miri. “Well, this is your territory. Why don't you lead the way.”

Hal swallowed. “Ok.” A nervousness seemed to now settle over him, drying his mouth. “Our best bet is one of the side stairwells. No one really uses them.”

“Then by all means brother, lead on.”

Hal and Miri started forward, walking up the side of the lawn to the edge of the building. Even without using his power, Hal could sense Miri's uneasiness. “This is so weird, Hal. We shouldn't be breaking into our own school. I've got a really bad feeling about all this.”

“I know, but let's just get it over with.” Both of them were already whispering, a sense of tense caution present throughout the whole party. Hal tried the side door, and it moved only a tiny bit before being held up by the locked handle with a rude, sudden stop.

“It's locked.” Hal stated the obvious with a frown.

“Of course it is. Hang on...” Miri began to search the pockets of her recently-returned jacket. “Where is- Oh! Here it is. I still have my ID. I wonder if they ever deactivated it...” She slid the card through the little reader to the side of the door, and they could all hear a faint but distinct click as the lock temporarily disengaged. “...I guess not.”

Hal opened the door and stepped into the empty stairwell. The cold interior lighting matched the air now leaking inside as they all filed into the narrow ground floor landing. Hal could already begin to feel a weight pulling on his heart. They weren't far from the meteor. His tail looked straight up through the center of the spiraling staircase to the floors above, flicking its tongue rapidly.

Hal took a deep breath and looked at everyone around him. Dubs was following his tail's gaze, staring up the center column of the stairs. Marcus and Vanir were waiting with a look of impatient but fixated expectation. Miri bit her lip, looking as worried as Hal had ever seen her. He allowed himself one last exhale before activating his power and letting the unseen colors of the world wash over him.  

The static was here. The gravity was here. He barely acknowledged the prismatic kaleidoscope of reflecting light that surrounded him and quickly ascended the stairs. Every inhale added to the tingling sense of energy that drew him ever upwards.

“Hal, please slow down.” Miri's voice chased after him.

“Be quiet you fools!” A sharp whisper from Vanir also gave pursuit.

Every footstep echoed loudly in the confines of the tall but narrow chamber, barely registering in Hal's awareness as he passed each threshold. Second floor. Third floor. Fourth floor. The light was here. He stepped through the door into an empty hallway, and quickly paced onwards past doors to unlit labs.

“I don't think he can hear us.” Marcus' voice had an urgency to it, but it lurked close behind Hal, waiting just over his shoulder.

The placard to the next room read '409 – Geology Lab'. Hal didn't read the text so much as sense it, his eyes focused on the searing white orb of light that hid just on the other side. He pushed the door open, and the ceiling lights automatically turned on as a sensor detected motion inside the room.

Hal marched forward and came to rest in front of a long and deep work table. The light was coming from the center of a stone slab that lay in the middle of the workspace. Hal couldn't resist now that he was this close. He reached for the light, extending taloned fingers towards the source of his fixation... and touched only sandy, coarse stone. He blinked. This wasn't right.

“Hal.” Marcus' hand firmly gripped one shoulder, and his forceful voice shook Hal out of his power. He blinked again, drawing a ragged breath as he adjusted back to normal light.

“Wha?” Hal looked bewildered, but it quickly became clear what he was actually looking at. The stone tablet in question was a fossil, roughly one arms length wide and fairly thick. Visible on the surface was the well preserved fossil of two ryuu-nekos, partially entangled with one another in the shape of a rough circle. One appeared to have his jaws around the neck of the other, as if they had died together, still locked in combat. The entire fossil was not yet exposed, and there was clear evidence that the caretakers of this fossil had been slowly chipping and brushing away to reveal the remainder.

Miri saw the fossil and gasped in surprise, taken aback by the sight. Vanir spoke, an uncharacteristically unnerved quality weaved among her words. “What is this?”

“It's here. It has to be here.” Hal's tail flicked its tongue at the center of the circle between the two ancient creatures, kicking up a tiny cloud of dust as it tasted for his target. He looked around and found a miniature hammer and chisel sitting to one side of the table. He snatched up the tools and tapped away at the area where he remembered seeing the meteor-light. Normally fossil cleanup was a very slow and delicate process, but Hal perhaps was using a bit too much force, and after only the 7th or 8th tap, a large flake of rock chipped away, revealing beneath a dark and other-worldly core.

The second meteor.

“There it is!” Marcus eagerly watched as Hal continued to reveal it with the hammer and chisel, eventually freeing it from its prehistoric prison of rock and bone. “They must not have realized it was hiding within. I can't believe they came that close without feeling it.”

“Maybe only certain people can sense the meteor remotely.” Miri offered a hesitant theory, but her fear was tangible now. “Were those ryuu-nekos fighting over it?” She was struggling to hold back tears. “They died... battling over this?”

Everyone was leaning in close now to get a better look. Hal liberated the meteor from one last fragment of rock, and pried it free, holding the cold familiar weight in one hand. It was maybe the size of a grapefruit, and already tiring the one arm that held it tight. It reflected almost no light, appearing in the sterile walls of the geology lab to be almost as black as black could be. It leeched heat from his fingertips and palm with all too eager tenacity.

Marcus reached over and took the meteor from Hal's grasp, beaming with delight as he held it for himself. “Finally....” He wrapped one arm around his brother, giving him a tight hug. “I knew I could count on you, Hal. I always knew we were brought back together for a reason.”

“What in the world is going on in here!!!!”

A sharp alarmed voice startled them all from behind. Hal couldn't stop himself from instinctively jumping in surprise. Vanir and Dubs spun and drew their weapons in a flash, pointing them towards the unwelcome intruder.

“Doctor Kincaid!!!” Miri called out, relief intermingling with surprise. It was none other than their old mentor, who had just unfortunately stumbled into something he was never meant to see.

“Oh dear!” The aging cardinal gasped in surprise as weapons were pointed at him, and he held up his arms in surrender. His crimson feathers were fading in many places from deep red to a pale pink or even white, betraying his advanced age. He noticed his students not long after the weapons. “Miriel!? Halcyon!? You're alive!?”

Miri rushed forward, heedless of the danger, and engulfed the old bird in an emotional, tear-filled hug. “Oh, Miriel my dear, when you didn't return I feared the worst! We thought you had a terrible accident, falling from a cliff or getting swept up in an avalanche! We searched and searched, but never found you! I'm so glad to see that you're alive!!!”

“Step away from him, Miri.” Vanir interrupted the reunion with a sharp command. “Now.”

“No!” She defiantly held her ground, holding her arms out in a shielding gesture. “I won't let you hurt him! I won't let you hurt any more people!!!!”

“Dubs.”

The bear grabbed Miri with one massive hand and yanked her away, tossing her back like a weightless ragdoll.

“Nooo!!!” Miri screamed in desperation, but was powerless to stop from being torn away. She fell to the ground and slid across the waxed floor, coming to rest at Hal's feet.

“Get in the way again and I'll shoot you.”

“Hey!!!” Hal and Kincaid protested in unison, both angry at the manhandling. The old professor huffed himself up in indignation, still looking impossibly small in comparison to Dubs. “Stop this at once! Who are you people!? What in the world are you doing here? I demand to know what's going on!” He turned to Hal, anger and bewilderment clear as day. “Hal, who are these people?!”

“Doctor-”

“Hal, shut up.” Marcus pointed his own pistol in Hal's direction as a warning. “No one can know we were here.”

“What?” Kincaid took a half step back, holding his hands even higher in the air. The atmosphere was beginning to feel like fear and smell like panic itself.

“You can't just kill him Marcus!”

“Don't say my name, you idiot!”

Vanir's voice grew taut, to the very edge of breaking. “Now we have no choice.”

“No! Don't do this!” Miri was hysterical.

Dubs aimed his springer at Kincaid's skull.  

“WAIT.” Marcus cut through the mania with one authoritative word. Everyone held their breath as an odd silence fell upon the room. Marcus turned his yellow and gray eyes from Kincaid to Dubs, who stood like a statue, frozen in time one moment away from pulling the trigger.

“No mess.”

Dubs nodded, and the hysteria was set back in motion. Setting aside his pistol, Dubs marched up to Kincaid and with an engulfing grasp wrestled the old man to the floor, squeezing fingers around the small neck as he strangled him in a display of complete and brutal violence.

Miri screamed at the terrible sight unfolding before them, and Hal stopped her from running out by grabbing her and holding her close, pressing her head tight against his chest so she couldn't see. She wailed and sobbed at the top of her lungs, which was the only sound Hal could hear over the entire horrifying act.

A halo appeared over Dubs' head as the bear activated his own power, and arcs of blue electricity funneled down his arms and into his hands, where it delivered an intense electric shock into his victim. Kincaid spasamed  and convulsed beneath the onslaught, and at that point even Hal had to turn away to stop himself from having the entire murder indelibly burned into his memory.

It wasn't long before the deed was done, and the air started to smell a little bit like burnt hair. Miri couldn't stop crying. Save for her, the room was now dead quiet. Hal continued to hold her close, his back still turned to the aftermath.

“What now, Arch?” Dubs asked, his booming voice emerging without a hint of guilt or regret.

Marcus sounded disgusted and disappointed. “Hide the body in one of the closets. Then get ready to move out.” Hal heard the sound of something being dragged along the floor as his brother sighed in frustration. “What a fucking disaster....”

[End Chapter 18]
The Wayward Astronomer: Chapter 18
This chapter ended up almost twice as long as my average length, hence the moderate delay in posting. Actually tagged this one with a mature warning due to some violence so if you aren't able to view it here on dA, you can find it on Fanfiction.net

I really enjoyed this chapter for the variety it gave me to explore some new characters, debate ideals, and have tension and action as well. The snowball is now beginning to roll down that hill, ladies and gentlemen. It cannot be stopped. 

I always welcome anyone's feedback, now more than ever as I bring us into the decisive and defining moments of the story. Sharing this tale is very important to me, and I want you all to know that I appreciate your time and attention more than I can express.

****

Thanks so much for reading! 
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[Chapter 17]

“It's just not fair.” Marcus scowled into the drink that he slowly swirled around in his glass. The potent amber liquid left lingering fingers on the walls, speaking only the whispered promise of temporary and intoxicating release.

“I know.” Hal leaned back in his chair, regarding his despondent brother with a sad smile. He tossed back the rest of his glass, swallowing the last mouthful of brandy and letting the slow burn fill his body with a short-lived glow of warmth and comfort.

The two of them sat alone as the sole remaining patrons of the bar on a cold and lonely All Spirit's Eve. The shutters on the windows clattered and clanked as the gusting northwest winds swept sparkling lunarous powder down from the mountains and into Calypsa. Nearly everyone else in Anduruna would be enjoying a happy and comfortable holiday with friends and family.

Not them.

Hal raised his empty glass into the air and shook it a little bit, getting the attention of the bartender. “Another round, Hector.”

“Comin' right up, amigo.”  

The old, weathered, but friendly jackal stopped wiping down the bar and brought them what remained of the bottle of vintage liquor. “Why don' I just leave this bottle here for you two to enjoy. It's the holidays, after all.”

“Thanks, Hector.”

“De nada.”

Hal pulled the cork and took the liberty of topping off Marcus' glass before refilling his own. Marcus barely even looked up, taking a bitter sip before returning to the pattern of scowling and swirling. “It's goddamned thievery, Hal. They can't just seize everything we had because of 'an ongoing central investigation'.” Marcus mocked the condescendingly dry and official tones that the special investigator had used. “It's fucking bullshit.”

“I know.”

“I mean, I figured they'd do this shit because of who dad was, but not how far they'd actually go.” He looked up from the brandy, his yellow and gray eyes alight with hatred. “All the money. The house. All of our stuff. The shit we grew up with. Just everything.” Marcus let out a sharp sigh of frustration and took another drink. “I mean, how the hell is the furniture part of a criminal investigation? Our photo albums? The pictures on the fucking walls?” He dug his talons into the wooden table which creaked and cracked under the stress. “They're not just taking our inheritance. They're taking the only memories we have left!”

Hal frowned, sighing into his own glass. Ever since the shooting weeks ago, everything had been a total mess. “That can't actually be legal. Did you talk with Sergio earlier today? What did he have to say about it all?”

Marcus laughed. “Sergio? Man, that lawyer isn't good for jack-shit. He just fed me a whole lot of legalese about how he can't do anything because city central authority is involved. Special laws and jurisdiction, blah blah et cetera et cetera.” The yellow eyes grew darker. “Bastard isn't worth the air he breathes.”

“It's not all his fault.” Hal disagreed. “Sergio's done a lot for us both over the years, but he's not a miracle worker. Sometimes a jam is too big to slip out of.”

“Yeah? Well one way or another, it's not fucking good enough, Hal.” Marcus sneered, looking down at the worn and tired floorboards. “It's just not fucking good enough, anymore.”

Hal didn't know how to console his brother when he was being this bitter. Hal was just as upset about the entire ordeal, but the circumstances didn't fill him with hate. His only prize was that deep and vast empty sea of regret. Regret that he couldn't stop his own family's destruction. Regret for not being a better son. Regret for not capitalizing on every single quiet moment when he could have let the people he held dear know exactly how much he treasured them.  For Hal, he knew that he would need to start the slow and difficult swim towards the surface, however slowly it might begin, or he would be trapped here in this prison forever.

“If there's at least one good thing that came of this,” Hal began, “It's that we both discovered our powers now. Somehow, the chaos of that moment unlocked the potential in both of us.”

Marcus' angry stare now locked onto Hal. “Our powers?” The well of outrage in Marcus seemed to go from a simmer to a boil. “You mean this joke of an ability!?” He reached out to hold onto the salt shaker and a shimmering purple halo materialized over his head. Slowly, and perhaps a bit unsteadily, the pepper shaker began to levitate, suspended in air by Marcus' limited telekinetic ability.

“Please, allow me to season your food using only the power of my MIND.” Marcus laughed an empty laugh as the pepper shaker sprinkled some of its contents onto the middle of the table. “Do you want salt too? Well you can't have any because I need to already be touching the same sort of thing that I'm levitating.” The halo disappeared, causing the pepper shaker to clatter gracelessly onto the table and roll towards one edge. “Practically useless....”

Hal caught the shaker before it reached the floor, returning it to its proper place by the napkins. Normally it was a terrible idea for any dreamkeeper to even think about using their power where people could see them and call upon the troopers, but Hector was an old friend of the Family and didn't seem to pay any mind. He simply kept his head down, focusing on cleaning up the bar before they closed for the night, maintaining his legal plausiblity that he saw nothing at all.

“At least you found your power. Not everyone does. Most people don't in fact.” Hal tried to stay focused on the benefits. “Besides, I'm sure it has its uses. You just need to get creative with it.”

“Whatever.” Marcus sounded like he wasn't in the right attitude to listen to anything Hal had to say. “Finding this power isn't worth the cost that came with it...”

“Maybe not.” Hal sighed, reaching again for the bottle and topping off both of their glasses. His head was buzzing with the comfortable hum of intoxication, but he wasn't so far gone that he couldn't share one more drink with his brother.

Inhibitions lowered, Hal leaned back and looked up, watching starlight spill in through the ceiling. It was a sight he kept coming back to again and again ever since he found it, not very many days before. A sip of spicy brandy complemented the view quite well.

“What do you even see when you do that?” Marcus asked, a twinge of envy hiding among the words.

“Spirits, Marcus. I don't even know how to begin to describe it.” Hal tried to think of a good metaphor. “It's like trying to explain the concept of color to a blind man. There are no words for what I see.” He started and stopped himself a few times, failing to find the right explanation. “I don't know how to share this sight with you, Marco, but... it's beautiful.” He locked eyes with his disbelieving brother. “There is so much more out there than anyone even dares to comprehend.”

“Well, isn't that just great for you.” Marcus' sullen voice echoed into his own glass, sounding a little slurred now as he inhaled a strong slug of the remaining brandy.  “I guess little old uncomprehending me will just sit here and contemplate this drink instead.”

The conversation stalled out after that, returning to silence. Marcus was clearly drunk and depressed, while Hal was drunk and disappointed that he couldn't do more.

“Last call, boys.” Hector spoke up from the other side of the room, interrupting the shared silence. “I'll be locking this place up at the end of the hour.” Hal nodded his acknowledgment.

Marcus exhaled slowly and sleepily, steeling his gut for the final swig. “Well... I guess if nothing else... we still got each other.” A wobbly glass raised to meet Hal's. “Cheers, brother.”

Hal reluctantly clinked his snifter with Marcus'. “Cheers...” Hal was beginning to feel pretty awkward. He cleared his throat. “Look, Marcus. There's something I've been meaning to talk to you about.”  

Marcus swallowed the last of his drink before letting his sharp yellow and gray eyes lock back onto Hal. “Anyone who starts a conversation with those words is about to say something shitty.” He frowned. “What is it?”

“So... I actually took the entrance exams for Calypsa District University a few months ago. Paid the fee with my own cash. Didn't tell anyone.”

Marcus just stared at him. After a pregnant pause, Hal took it as a sign to keep talking. “Well, the results came back a few weeks ago, and... I made the cut. Classes start in the new year. I made the first tuition payment yesterday.”

Suspicious confusion morphed into surprise on Marcus' face. “What? You've been planning on this the whole time?”

Hal shrugged. “I wasn't actually sure if I was going to go through with it. It was just an entrance exam. But then...” Hal sighed, gesturing to the empty room with his empty glass. “Then all this happened. Everything changed. And now that I've thought about it for a while, I think it's time for me to move on to something new.”

This should have been great positive news to share with anyone, but Marcus didn't seem too happy. In fact, it only seemed to increase his anger. “So you're going to just give up the life?” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that?”

“Pretty much. Yeah.”

Marcus' voice turned accusatory. “You think it's that easy? How the hell do you expect to even pay for that!? Central Authority locked up our family's funds. And even if they do miraculously release them, the estate tax will eat almost everything anyways!”

“I've been saving almost every lucre I ever earned running jobs for the Cordovas. It adds up after a while, and it's my own private account. It hasn't been touched by the authorities.” Hal shook his head. “It's already a done deal.”

Hal could see his brother's eyes begin to take on a watery sheen, despite the rage. “So what the hell am I supposed to do, huh? I don't have the cash for that, and I don't want to go to fucking school again.” Marcus clenched his hands into fists. “Our whole lives we've always done things together, Hal! We've toppled every obstacle side by side!”

“I know, Marcus... but this is something I need to do for myself, for once.” Hal gave his brother a serious stare, all levity, all illusions gone. “If you're smart, you'll quit the life too. I've seen the writing on the wall, and it's been painted with the blood of the family we loved. If we keep doing what we've been doing, someday it's going to be you or me, facedown on the floor, just like dad. Just like them all. And I won't accept that as my future.”

“But what the hell am I supposed to do? I don't have anywhere to go, Hal! You're the only person I have left that I can trust, and now you're running off in a direction that I can't follow!”

“I'm sorry.” Hal pushed his seat back and stood, pulling his arms through the sleeves on his jacket. “I don't have all the answers, Marcus. You and I will need to find them for ourselves now. It's the only way to move on.”

“You COWARD!” Marcus kicked his chair off to the side, violently toppling it to the ground. “You're just scared, running away, hoping that everything will just get better if you do! It's not right Hal and it's not fair!!!”

“It's also not your call to make.” Hal grounded his feet and his heart. Despite the alcohol coursing through his veins (or perhaps because of it), Hal knew that he was doing the right thing. “Look Marcus. You're drunk and angry, and honestly, just impossible to reason with when you get like this. Sleep it off, and we can talk about it tomorrow if you want.”

“Fuck you, Hal!”

Hal grunted, nodding in agreement. “Yeah. Ok. Good talk.” He pulled some crumpled cash from one of the coat pockets and tossed it onto the table. “I'll pay for the drinks this time, since I'm such an asshole and all that.”

He turned towards the door, prompting a more aggressive string of expletives to be hurled in his direction. He barely even listened to them. The cold and sobering gust of wind that welcomed him as he opened the door seemed to help keep the vitriol at bay. He hesitated for only a moment, standing in the middle of the threshold, letting the chill nighttime air leak into the building. He thought about glancing back over his shoulder, locking eyes with his brother one more time... but he didn't. Instead, Hal stepped forward into vast and winding streets, stared up at clear and endless skies, and shut the door behind him.

* * *

Hal awoke, returning once again to the real world with a blurred but rapid transition as his eyes focused on the room in front of him. This time, he had slept on his other side, and instead of a dark stone wall was greeted by the sleeping face of Miri. Once again she had done her best to curl up next to him and sleep close, avoiding falling off the edge of the narrow bed.

He had been having so many vivid dreams recently, they were getting to be tiring. This last one in particular seemed to linger in his waking mind longer than most. Some memories, it seemed, just wouldn't fade away.

Several strands of Miri's long violet hair rested delicately in front of her face, wavering ever so slightly as her breath kissed them with each exhale. In that small, still moment, Hal couldn't help but think of how beautiful she was.

Miri. He had met her not long after that dream, and through the years that followed, she remained his companion and friend. Despite all that had happened, and the differences between them, she was still here, resting peacefully at his side. If there was ever a person who deserved to live a happy life, surely it was her.

Hesitantly, he reached out and brushed the errant strands of hair aside, feeling the silky softness as his fingers slipped by. This caused Miri to stir, and soon she half opened her eyes, giving Hal a sleepy smile. “Hey you.”

“Hey.”

She shifted her weight a little, rolling closer to him and closing her eyes again. If there was one thing that Hal knew, it was that he wanted to have more mornings like this. He would give anything just to hold onto this one.

The door to their room began to creak open, once again letting a sharp wedge of bright light spill into the room. Hal sat up, preempting the words he expected to follow. “Rise and shine lovebirds, so much work to do, big day ahead, creepy laugh, et cetera et cetera. Got it. We'll be ready soon.”

The door seemed to pause, frozen half-open for a moment before it closed again, without a single word being spoken. Miri propped herself up with a surprised laugh. “Ha ha ha, Hal! What has gotten into you this morning?”

His tail drifted over towards her and flicked at her face with its forked tongue. He simply shrugged and smiled.

“I guess I just woke up on the right side of the bed.”

[End Chapter 17]
The Wayward Astronomer: Chapter 17
It sure feels good to get on a roll, and here we are with another chapter, and no 3 month gap! I really enjoy the chance to go back in time and show moments from characters when they're at different parts in their lives. I can't flashback my way to victory as a substitute for real character and plot development, but it's fun to glance in and see an important moment from time to time. 

Buckle your seat belts boys and girls, because I'm ready to jump into the good stuff. These next several chapters are going to be fun to write!

As always, I welcome any and all feedback, and thanks again for reading. It means the world. 

****

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TWA Character Sheet: Vanir Ahlstrom by Kafelnikov
TWA Character Sheet: Vanir Ahlstrom
The second completed character sheet done by Elson Wong, aka Darkspeeds here on dA :icondarkspeeds: I've really enjoyed commissioning him to do artwork because he is very talented and easy to work with. I highly recommend him to anyone who is looking to commission some art!

Vanir's Theme Song
Blackmill - Evil Beauty
www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy62JX…

First Appearance: Chapter 3
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[Chapter 16]

By the time Hal and Vanir made it back to the cathedral, the day was beginning to transition from afternoon to evening. They walked together down to the “evil rec room” saying little to one another. Hal didn't have anything more to say to Vanir, and he was already beginning to feel the heavy onset of fatigue even though the day was yet to be finished. As they approached the room, they were met with the sounds of an argument. To Hal's familiar ear, it was definitely Miri's voice.

“How the hell is this funny to you, Marcus!?” They stepped inside the room to find Marcus lounging comfortably on one of the couches, watching the news on a large wall-mounted data scroll. Miri was standing in front of him, just barely to the side of his view of the screen. She gestured pointedly with one hand towards the broadcast.

“Just look at them. They have no clue at all. The blind informing the blinded.” Marcus was unphased by her outrage.

Hal turned his attention to the screen, where a grainy image seemed to show a government building billowing dark smoke from a gaping hole in one side as fire crews continued the long fight to extinguish the lingering smolders. From the architecture, it looked like it was a fire in Kojiki district, the next district over from Theophanies, to the east. The little scrolling info bar overlaid on the bottom of the screen confirmed his suspicions.

One of the usual talking heads continued his explanation next to the looping images that were being broadcast. “The fire crews have nearly finished putting out the blaze that started earlier this afternoon at a safety trooper training facility in Kojiki district. We have no reports of any deaths, but authorities at the scene say several trainees and facility staff are still missing and have not been accounted for. Initial reports lay blame on an accidental munitions release, leading to cascading detonations as it set fire to the rest of the weapon's warehouse.”

Miri wasn't about to relent. Despite her clear hostility, Marcus' small band of henchmen didn't move to restrain her, and merely kept a close eye on her actions. “What, do you know something about this?” She shook her head. “People probably died in that explosion! It's not something to laugh at!”

“Am I supposed to cry over a couple troopers dying? They're hardly my friends.” Marcus smiled, a smug sense of satisfaction apparent in his eyes.

“We take you now to an emergency press conference with Representative Nobuteru Kataoka of Kojiki district.”

The screen switched from looping footage to a live feed of a politician standing in front of a podium dotted with microphones. An aging but very well dressed crane rested his wings on either side of the dias, leaning close the the microphones. “My fellow citizens. Today marks a difficult tragedy in our district, as many of our brave troopers have been consumed by this blaze. Troopers who risk their very lives to keep us all safe.” The flash of cameras and the sounds of shutters clicking punctuated the silence between remarks. “Risk is always part of the job for these courageous men and women, but that does not mean they should bear the burden of unnecessary danger when they are in the safe confines of their barracks.” Kataoka straightened himself, his voice taking on a more aggressive edge. “Unfortunately, this makes the failings of the current administration far too clear. Our civil servants struggle to maintain peace with outdated and unreliable equipment. Dangerous even, if not properly handled.” The politician grimaced. “Three times now the Viscount has received bills on his desk to approve funding for new equipment and renovated facilities here in Kojiki. Three times, he has vetoed the bill, claiming that Norvondire (of all places!) was in more dire need of supplemental funding. I say to you, that this willful neglect is no longer acceptable! I say-”

The data scroll winked off, fading back to an unlit, transparent display. Hal and Vinir's arrival was finally noticed.

“Hal!” Miri and Marcus called out to him in unison, their voices interweaving strangely.  Hers more relieved, his more eager. Marcus rose from the couch, walking quickly behind in the wake that Miri left as she rushed to his side.

“Are you ok?” Miri looked more concerned then he expected. He nodded tiredly. As he opened his mouth to speak, Marcus interrupted with his own more forceful question. “Did you find it!?”

“We did.”

Vanir's silky voice offered an explanation faster than Hal could. “It's somewhere inside Calypsa District University. Hal says it's somewhere on the fourth floor.” She paused only for a split second. “I think he's telling the truth; I could sense its pull when we were close.”

“The fourth floor?” Miri adjusted her glasses. “That's where the earth science labs are.”

“Excellent!” Marcus was thrilled; anticipation and energy colored his voice in bright, expectant hues. “We're already getting our agents to trickle back in from all around the city. We'll be ready to put the new meteor to use immediately once we retrieve it. We go tonight.”

“Wait.” It was Miri who interrupted. “What's the date today?”

Hal shrugged. Vanir tilted her head. “Friday, the 30th.”

“Hal, you can't go tonight! The earth-sci department has that faculty-student stargazing party thing the last Friday of every month. There'll be people there all night long!”

Marcus frowned, not too happy that anyone was offering a reason for not immediately venturing out to seize the meteor.

“It wouldn't do very well if we were detected breaking in, would it?” Vanir asked, the words were more a statement than a question. “Plus, I'm pretty sure the Archbishop has a service to attend to tonight.”

Hal could see the frustration beginning to mount inside his brother. He stared daggers at anyone who met his gaze, including Vanir. His trio of blade tipped tails seemed to writhe and bob with more animation than just moments before. “Let's talk in private.”

Marcus and Vanir walked off to the far side of the expansive room, well out of earshot. Though a couple henchmen seemed to still linger nearby, Hal and Miri were effectively forgotten and left to their own devices. She moved closer to him, one hand reaching for his wrist as her deep violet eyes looked up with concern. Warm fingers gently pressed against a vein, feeling for his pulse. “Hal, are you sure you're ok?”

“What?” Hal turned his attention away from watching his brother's quiet but intense argument. “Yeah. I mean, I think so.” He rested much of his weight on his cane. “Why are you so worried?”

“Don't take this the wrong way, but you look terrible. Like you've been awake for days.” Hal blinked. “Come on, let's sit down.”

She guided him over to the nearby couch and sat him down. Hal couldn't help but sigh a little bit in relief as the supple upholstery molded itself around his weight. Miri sat next to him, reluctantly releasing her touch from his arm. “I do feel pretty tired.” Hal closed his eyes for a moment, allowing his muscles to relax. “It's funny, because I actually ended up sleeping for most of the groundcar ride back from Calypsa.”

Miri didn't seem to find the news heartening at all. “How much did you use your power?”

Hal shrugged, the gesture somehow less pronounced now that he was sitting down. He opened his eyes again and stared out at the inactive wall-scroll. “In total, maybe fifteen minutes? It was a lot of off and on. Very...” Hal wasn't sure how to describe the sensation of snapping back and forth between his enhanced senses. “It was very difficult.” He scratched at his chest. “There's too much pressure out there. Too much noise.”

“Do you feel tired when you use your power?”

She sounded like she already knew the answer. Hal provided it anyway. “No, I feel great. My leg doesn't hurt. It's almost like I have more energy. Sort of like an endorphin rush combined with an electric buzz.”

Miri frowned, silently collating the data. One hand rested on his shoulder. “Its sounds, and it looks, like your power doesn't give you more energy at all. Well, no, that's wrong.” She rephrased her hypothesis. “Rather, energy isn't created for free. You're just borrowing it; like a short term energy loan, you end up paying back more afterwards than you originally gained.”

The analogy seemed to make a lot of sense. In fact, Miri may have been right on. Her face appeared close in front of his, her hands on both shoulders now. “Hal. You can't keep using your power like this. It looks...” She didn't seem to want to say the words that followed. “It looks like it's actually killing you.”

Hal felt that he had always known this, from the moment that Mordecai showed him that x-ray. He hated it, yet also a part of him felt like he had already resigned himself to the inevitability of it. To see Miri discover the same truth, however, left him feeling emptier than he ever felt before. “It's not that easy, Miriel.”

“Please, Hal. You need to promise me.” Her voice wavered a little. “I can't watch you be destroyed, slowly, in front of my eyes like this...”

Hal wanted to find some comforting words, some easy line to dispel the fear that gripped them both. But he didn't know if any such words existed. If they did, they were eluding him. He wasn't sure how quickly the meteor was destroying him, or if things would change if he never used his power again, but one thing he did know: There was not enough time in his world anymore. It couldn't be spent carelessly.

“Miri, I...” He hesitated. A thousand different lines could complete that sentence:

I want to live.
I love you.
I'm sorry.


His heart wanted to blurt them all out at once, but his courage faltered. He blinked and swallowed, finding it once again and holding onto it. She had been waiting for his answer for far too long.

“Are we interrupting something?” Vanir's voice ambushed him from behind, startling him with its rude and altogether impossibly inconvenient timing.

Miri stood, her expression and tone colder than a Starfall gust of stinging snow. “Did you finish your discussion?

“We did.” Marcus appeared to be back to his usual self. Whatever words were said or promises made between the two, they were no longer in conflict of opinion. “We're going to take the meteor back tomorrow night. We can't afford to reveal ourselves prematurely, and it will be less risky tomorrow.” Vanir smiled, sliding in close to Marcus as he did all the talking. “You should get plenty of rest. It looks like you could use it. Tomorrow will be a big day for us all.”

Hal stood, steadying his weight with Miri's help. He was angry at their sudden reappearance, and turned that into the fuel for his demand. “One thing first.” His tail curled in close around Miri in an unconscious protective gesture. “If you want me to go back, Miri is coming with us.”

“What?” Marcus didn't take kindly to the sudden demand. “That wasn't the agreement.”

“It is now.” Hal forged ahead. “She knows the university better than any of us here, and I won't let you keep her locked away in your secret little base like some bargaining chip. We both go, or neither one of us goes.”

Marcus started to get enraged again, but Vanir quelled it partially with a squeeze of his shoulder. She gave Hal a serious, no-nonsense stare. “You wouldn't happen to be planning to do anything... reckless... would you?”

“If you hold to your side of the agreement, so will I. Everyone still wins. You get your meteor, and we get to walk away.” Hal's smirked. “Or, you can just shoot us both now, and look through every single office, lab, closet, and desk drawer on the fourth floor of CDU. Assuming the meteor isn't moved somewhere else by then.”

A tense silence marked time for a couple of heartbeats before Marcus responded. “Fine.” He pointed one sharp talon at Hal's chest. “But don't make me regret this, Hal. You're far too bold for your own good.”

“I wonder where we get it from...”

Marcus harrumphed and stormed off quickly, leaving Vanir to linger. Her guard seemed to be on high alert. “Don't make me regret this either, hero. One mistake can change everything in an instant. You would do well to remember that.” She nodded to a pair of celestial henchmen, who dutifully responded to her summons. “I think you two should call it in early night, rather than stay up and cause more trouble. These fine gentlemen will bring you back to your room.”

* * *

When the door shut behind them, back in the same small room they shared before, Miri finally spoke up. “Spirits, Hal! What was that all about!?” It was as if she had been holding her breath through every second until they were alone.

Hal wiped his face blearily. “With you trapped in here, there's no way you can escape unless Marcus allows it. If you come with us, you might be able to slip away and break free in the middle of things.”

“But what about you?”

“I'll cover you as best I can. Marcus won't kill me. He might be a egotistical prick, but we're still brothers. Besides, once he has the meteor, I don't think he'll care anymore.”

Miri sighed. “That sounds like a pretty weak plan.”

Hal started to unzip the jacket he had been wearing all this time. “Look. Worst case we just behave ourselves, get that damned rock, and then finish the deal like before. I don't know if he'll abide by his word, but that's exactly why escaping is plan A.”

He threw his jacket over towards the desk, sighing in relief of some weight being shed off of his shoulders. Miri gasped in surprise all of a sudden.

“Hal!” She caught herself, lowering her voice as not to attract the attention of the guards that surely stood guard outside their door. It was a loud, alarmed whisper. “Since when did you get a pistol!”

His jacket removed, the shoulder holster he wore was now visible, along with the two-shot pistol Jonny had lent him. Hal was so accustomed to wearing it now, he didn't think about it. “Does Marcus know you have it!?”

“Yes, though, it's never come up again. I think either he forgot that I'm armed, or none of them consider it a big enough threat to address.” He pulled the weapon from the holster to show it to Miri. “It only holds two shots, and it's slower to reload than the fancier magazine-fed versions. There are a lot more people to fight through than I have shots.”

“Where did you get that?” Miri seemed almost afraid of the weapon. Unlike Hal, she hadn't lived a life around less-than-legal citizens where black market weaponry was a real thing. Hal popped the breech open and unloaded the bullets, rendering the weapon safe.

“An old friend lent it to me.” He held it out sideways, non-threateningly. “Here. You should learn how to use it.”

“What? No, I've never held a gun before in my life! Besides, I could never shoot someone Hal. That's terrible.”

“Miri.” Hal didn't have the energy to be impatient. Instead, he calmly talked her through it all.“I know you don't want to shoot anyone. I hope you never have to.” He stole a quick glance at the door to their cell. “But you've seen what these people are capable of. They'll kill without hesitation. If things go wrong, you might need to use a springer to protect yourself.” Hal frowned. “A firefight is the last place you or I want to be, but it's one of those things that you never get a second chance at.” He let his gaze look deep into her own frightened eyes.  “You either make it... or you don't.”

Miri reluctantly approached Hal and the outstretched weapon, hesitant fingers closing around the grip. As Hal pulled his hands away, the pistol dropped several inches. She was unprepared for the heft of it, but adjusted quickly. “Ok... just give me the basics.”

Hal did his best to find his weight beneath him as he used both hands to help her through the tutorial. Without his cane, his knee protested loudly, sending sharp rivulets of pain through his nerves. He tiredly but patiently explained the different features: how the bullets were loaded, how the safety worked, how she had to cock the hammer between each shot. She listened quietly, letting Hal demonstrate. She didn't appear to enjoy the process the same way an eager boy might, but she seemed to understand the importance of it, and took it seriously with her usual concentrated focus.

“Ok.” Hal stepped back and fell heavily onto the end of the bed, letting his leg rest. “Go ahead and practice shooting at the wall.”  Her concerned glance looked unwilling. “Don't worry. It's not loaded. Nothing is going to happen.”

She nodded, turning slightly and taking aim at an invisible point on the wall. She held the pistol with both hands like he showed her, pulled the hammer back with her thumb, then flinched forward as she attempted to pull the trigger. “It's not working.”

“The safety.”

“Oh.” She belatedly clicked the button over to the not-safe position and tried again. She still flinched quite a bit, but the hammer dutifully cycled forward, slamming into the firing pin with an audible click.

“See? It's easy. The trigger is light once the hammer is cocked. Try not to flinch. Nice and smooth is all you need.”

She handed the pistol back to Hal, eager to be rid of it. “Alright, but I think you should hold onto it still. I don't want a gun.”

“Fair enough.” He took it back and carefully loaded it with bullets, setting the safety before returning it to the holster.  Once it was done, he leaned back heavily, an obvious sigh of relief escaping his lungs as he tried to relax again. Fatigue was the closer companion again tonight, and in the war of that day he was losing the battle to keep his eyes open.

“You look tired Hal.”

“I know.” His tail nodded. “I am.” Hal let out a long, drawn out breath.

“I know it's early, but I think you should just sleep. You need your energy for tomorrow.”

“I think you're right about that.” Hal didn't argue. He worked his way down to a horizontal position, heavy head sinking deep into the pillow. It felt so good to lie down, Hal wasn't sure if he would ever have the will to stand up again. He could already feel his consciousness begin to slip slowly away into merciful sleep.

“Hey Hal?”

“Mmmm?” He couldn't muster the willpower to open his eyes.

“Thank you.”

He felt the tender, gentle touch of her lips on his cheek, as she kissed him goodnight. He didn't have the time to ask why she was thanking him, or to even appreciate the kiss, before his mind slipped the last bond of awakening and fell down into a deep, dark, and welcome rest...

[End Chapter 16]
The Wayward Astronomer: Chapter 16
It's great to get another chapter done quickly, as I'm feeling really motivated right now. I love this story so much, I really want to continue forward and reach the climax that I've had trapped in my head for years. Ever since :icondarkspeeds: completed character art for Miri, I've had it open while I write, and it's given me a ton of inspiration and a better feel for who she is. The path ahead will not be easy for our protagonists. 

Thanks for reading, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the chapter, and I look forward to sharing the next chapter with you soon!

-Geo

****

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TWA Character Sheet: Miri Rodgers by Kafelnikov
TWA Character Sheet: Miri Rodgers
The first of (hopefully) several fully rendered character sheets by the ever-talented Elson Wong, aka Darkspeeds :icondarkspeeds: 

Miri's Theme Song:
Elliot Berger feat. Laura Brehm - Diamond Sky
www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_JoPw…

First Appearance: Chapter 1 
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Hi everyone,

Sorry for dropping off the face of the internet for a while, but it's been a very hectic summer for me, filled with good and not quite so good things. 

The not quite so good things: I broke my finger by forgetting how to shut my car door without my hand still inside, and work has been really really busy and draining for me. The finger is healing nicely, work is still pretty damn busy, but I'm doing ok. 

The good news is I've made new friends over the summer, and all in all been surviving the journey. 

I know I talked a big talk about working quickly on my story, but yeah, it's been harder than not to move forward. Not because I don't know where to go, but just that my prime writing time is late at night, and I've been too exhausted to really ever settle into a late night of writing. Fear not, though. I haven't forgotten it, and Chapter 15 should be on the way soon. Elson Wong, aka Darkspeeds here on dA has very very graciously volunteered to make a graphic novel rendition of Chapter 9 of TWA (he also did the "cover art" for the same chapter). Nothing posted yet at the time of this writing, but you should all check out his work because he's an immensely talented artist, and just a great chap all around. 

You can check out his stuff here: :icondarkspeeds:

On the DreamKeepers group front, you should expect an announcement soon on a new Caption Contest! It will be a fun and accessible contest to tide everyone over until the traditional Halloween fan-art contest. Stay tuned!

I apologize to everyone who I've sort of left hanging with my radio silence. I'm not dead, just busy. I will try to do better about staying on top of all my messages moving forward. 
  • Mood: Llama
  • Listening to: Redlight King - Something for the pain
  • Reading: Joseph Campbell - The Hero with a Thousand Faces
  • Watching: Baseball, with less enthusiasm
  • Playing: Shogun Total War 2
  • Eating: Food?
  • Drinking: Ballast Point Pale Ale

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Comments


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:iconezioauditore97:
ezioauditore97 Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Student General Artist
Hey know you've been busy and understandably so ,but you'll make some time for the Halloween contest,right?
Reply
:iconkafelnikov:
Kafelnikov Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014
Absolutely. There will be a Halloween contest. That's a guarantee. There should be announcement soon once David gives me all the prize and category details. 
Reply
:iconezioauditore97:
ezioauditore97 Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Student General Artist
Excellent!I also cannot wait for that aforementioned Caption contest;maybe it got pushed back to Christmas like the one before?Regardless I've got a nice little something for the contest and I daresay it's one of my better doodles.
Reply
:iconusblynx:
USBLynx Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Okay I just went to your website thats linked to your Deviant ID and I found a few interesting things... One: the plane is called a Lynx... you can guess why I noticed it. I just thought that was funny. Two: the Lynx is in your Deviant ID picture. I think that is really cool. Three: I see that the company that owns the website are hiring... is it entry level or experienced level hiring? Im looking for a new job, so I have been poking around.

By the way, I have a few sketches for chapter 8 of Wayward Astronomer. I have not posted them yet, Because I do not know where to go from this point on...
Reply
:iconkafelnikov:
Kafelnikov Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2014
Sorry, I was slow to respond to your note. Feel free to post the sketches to your stash on dA (or some other site) and then you can link me to the sketches in a note. I'll take a look and give you my thoughts!

We are hiring at XCOR for several different positions, so read the job descriptions to get an idea for what each one requires. Most of them are technical jobs (engineering, machining, or technician)
Reply
:iconr-star97:
R-Star97 Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you very much for the fave Kafel ^^ (If I'm allowed to call you like that)
Reply
:iconkafelnikov:
Kafelnikov Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2014
No problem. A lot people call me Kafel. It's all good
Reply
:iconr-star97:
R-Star97 Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Alright ^^
Reply
:iconsuperflatpsychosis:
SuperflatPsychosis Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Oh hey, it's your birthday! Happy birthday, Kafel; I guess today was a really good day to have finished your commission, then! : )
Reply
:iconkafelnikov:
Kafelnikov Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2014
Perfect timing! Thanks so much for everything! This really helped make this a great birthday :)
Reply
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