Love Amongst Strangers: Margaret Thatcher in Hell

Oh ho, ho, we’ve been waiting for you. Please take a seat over there, just next to Ronald Reagan.”

Ayesha Swanson struggled to keep her lips tight, her hands clasped behind her back.

“That’s not funny, Mister Mo,” she said quietly, trying to keep their conversation from the assorted police officers gathered in florescent jackets, anxiously watching the crowd of revellers as they gathered in the streets.

A sign fluttered in the cooling breeze, a makeshift banner exclaiming the simple phrase, ‘The Bitch is Dead‘. She watched it for a moment, tracking it with her eyes, listening to the sound of shouts and cheers, the first strains of impromptu music filling the air.

Apparently there were a couple of fellows with a double bass and guitar up the road, chanting and singing proclamations of the passing of the former Prime Minister.

Mister Mo laughed merrily to himself.

“Come on, little bud, you know it’s true.”
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Angels Over Albion: Harrowing

The dry dust gathered beyond the solemn gates, the embers of the eternal fires far, far below the city dancing in the air like obscene fireflies before him.

Snorting with flared nostrils, Wall watched the scene with dispassion, his swollen black eyes taking in the scene beyond the city gates.

For the longest time, the gates had stood against the surrounding lands, an ornate symbol of the principality beneath the soil, its regal status as both kingdom and gaol. Housed within Pandæmonium were the foulest of the foul, the ugly and interminable locked away forever from the blistering light high above and hidden deep, deep in the ground.

He snorted again, a shiver running through his ugly frame, the coarse hair that lined his body rippling as the dry wind stirred further about him.

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Tournament Armoured Hero #8

Her tears stained the sand, her daughter standing at her side, trembling, unable to fully comprehend the breakdown of the adult world before her.

Upon the ground, bodies stained by blood and dirt, lay two men, one whom she had known but briefly, another who she felt had known for far longer than she actually had.

Both were motionless, equal in the death.

Convulsing with silent sobs, Taryse shook her head from side to side, struggling to hold herself together, to regain her dignity, to not let her daughter see her so weak; struggling… and failing.

Inwardly, she cursed herself for being so weak.

If only she could lift her head, if only she could find the strength to turn this sorrow into anger, to turn back towards their ruined home and take revenge.

She dug in the dirt with her hands, grains of sand leaving black stains beneath her nails. There was a weight upon her shoulders, a black presence that bore down upon her, that pushed her face closer towards the dirt, towards the dead.

Abruptly, the sensation dissipated, a sudden light spilling out over the fallen forms of the deceased.

Instinctively, she turned her head away, thinking it to be the glare of a motorcycle’s headlight.

Yet the light did not fade or advance, nor was it accompanied by the roar of an engine.

Instead, she felt a presence like no other she had ever felt; a warming of her heart and a soothing of her fears.

“Rise up, lady,” a soft voice from the heart of the emanation called out to her. “Rise up, lady, for whom the veil has been parted to permit such intercession as my presence might represent.”

She shook her head again, refusing to look at the voice’s owner despite the radiance that fell over her.

Gently, she felt her daughter at her side, her tiny hands grasping Taryse’s own.

“Mommy,” the child whispered softly at her side, “Mommy, there’s an angel here for your friends.”

Despite herself, Taryse found a smile touching her lips.

“Mommy!” the girl insisted once more, shaking her hand vigorously.

Slowly, Taryse Leiter lifted her tear-stained face from the sight of the fallen body and the sand before her and found herself confronted by a youth in plate armour, the metal radiant, his helm absent, revealing a long, pale face and a head full of dark brown curls.

She stared up at him, dumbfounded by his appearance.

“See, mommy! He’s an angel!” the young girl protested.

The young man smiled politely, gently shaking his head.

“I fear that I cannot claim such an honour, child. I am no more than a servant; a little trick made from folded paper and fabricated soul. I am but a messenger, come to deliver you tidings of both comfort and joy… as well as… a warning, mayhaps.”

“Comfort and joy?” Taryse questioned, smiling as she struggled to recall an aged tune, one that went around her head, summoning images of warmth and reassurance.

The saint in plate armour nodded, his pale features seeming to colour, as if he had been outside for the longest time and only now had stepped within.

He inclined his head, his smile unfading.

There was silence between them, the desert wind no longer beating against their backs.

“H-Have you come for…?” she asked at last.

The boy shook his head.

“None so great a task, though if it were in my power to grant peace to those who have fallen then with all my might, I would not shirk such a duty.

“Yet I am no psychopomp, madam, no guide for the dead. I am, in my humble way, but a warning.”

Instantly, Taryse seemed to shake free her reverie, at once assuming again the same defensiveness that had kept her alive as a tournament fighter.

The pain in her useless arm intensified; a reminder that she no longer had the abilities of the borrowed armour to force the limb once more into movement.

“What kind of warning?” she demanded, her tone firm.

Instinctively, Amelia, tears still in her eyes, stepped behind her mother.

“There are those who would wish to see you separated from that which is most precious to you. I bring you a warning of old friends with self-serving agendas.”

Bitterly, Taryse looked down at the fallen body of Chazz once more, tears stirring in her eyes, her teeth grinding together.

“It’s a little late for that,” she snapped.

“Forget not that I come bringing also hope as well as caution,” the youth chastised, his expression suddenly creasing in a frown as his eyes moved from Taryse to the cowering form of Amelia at her back.

Following the movement of his eyes, Taryse instantly felt a sense of fear rising within her. Slowly, she began to shake her head.

“No,” she whispered. “Whatever it is, whatever it means, you leave Amelia out of this!”

The ethereal saint continued to smile, his eyes twinkling.

“Your daughter is the Grail, my lady!”

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Tournament Armoured Hero #7

“Hey, it’s me,” he said calmly, surveying the wreckage of the room about him. “Listen, I’m afraid things didn’t really go according to plan.”

He paused, listening intently to the voice on the other end of the phone and nodding his agreement.

“Yeah,” he murmured after a moment. “The clone didn’t make it, sorry about that. I think that kid our friends sent out bit the dust too, quite literally. It’s a shame but, you know, it’s a battlefield out there.”

There was another momentary pause and then, at last, Randall Kalish smiled warmly.

“Don’t panic so much. Taryse is fine, Amelia’s fine too. They’re just a little shaken up, all they need is for you to ride out there in the desert and…” he paused, the smile fading slightly. “Yeah, I understand that. Well, if you can’t go out there, I guess I’ll…”

He stopped again, suddenly agitated.

“You’re going to send Mitsukai?” he snapped impatiently.

At his side, Joe Hammel anxiously bit his nails, his round face drenched with sweat and his expression one of apprehension.

Kalish opened his mouth to decry the situation and then, apparently listening further to the voice on the other end of the phone, he nodded again, sighing sharply.

“I guess I see your point. Maybe I was a little heavy handed. Still, that kid really ticked me off, you know. Don’t worry, I won’t misbehave in future.”

The scowl turned into a smile.

“Besides, we’re bros, right? Everything’s cool.”

The voice on the other end of the phone seemed to acquiesce and  Kalish’s smile brightened.

“Listen, if you don’t need us out here anymore, then I’m going to lock this place down and head back to base. That cool?”

There came another pause and then Kalish nodded.

“Right. Take it easy, bro. See you when we get back.”

Without further comment, he snapped the phone shut and dropped it back into his pocket, turning once more to look in Hammel’s direction.

“Get your stuff together, Joe. We’re burning this place down.”

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Children

If we had met as children, then perhaps this feeling would not be so big. If we had met as children, then perhaps we would still be together, you and me; and you and me with the stars in our eyes, with the dreams in our hearts.

I want to remember the time we danced stupidly beneath Chinatown lanterns and Soho night lights. I want to remember how you wouldn’t take my money because we weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend, but we still laughed and joked like maybe we were, maybe we would be one day, maybe, maybe, again and again, and again, and again.

I told you I’d be a famous astronaut some day. I looked up at the stars beyond the haze, your hand in mine, and I promised you one day I’d go into space and I’d take your picture with me. Like a framed portrait of a famous actress or a celebrated saint, I’d carry you with me beyond the pale clouds that drifted so high above us. With your picture, I would go into orbit, upside down, inside out, the earth turned upon its side and it wouldn’t matter because we’d kind of be there together.

That day it snowed in the city, heavy dust of white falling down on Piccadilly like the clouds themselves had come down to kiss us goodnight and wish us on our way. I told you that everything was signed and sealed by this change in the weather. You just smiled and nodded your head.

I used to love the way you never told me the truth, never thought it would be the one thing I’d learn to resent you for.

When we first met we talked silly things about how we’d change the world, how we were undefeated, boxers coming home with bruised and broken lips to home made dinners and warm milk from loving mothers. We were the champions of being out of place and out of time, we were world famous, world renowned, with all the time between here and daylight savings.

Yet those silly things never came to pass, the streets in which we danced grew up to bury us. The city shrugged, and we lost our grip.

We let go of each other and, having found ourselves apart, we found it surprisingly easy to go on, one with the other.

If we had known each other as children, if we had been born twins, wrapped up in the womb, arm in arm, face to face, then I wouldn’t be watching aeroplanes leaving without you.

If we had known each other as children, I wouldn’t be here alone. If we had known each other as children, I wouldn’t have let you go.

Tournament Armoured Hero #6

“You’re really going to do this, aren’t you?” the French woman questioned, one eyebrow raised as she leant casually against the iron wall, arms crossed over her chest.

Sky Raider finished adjusting the metal gauntlet he wore, flexing the fingers and tightening them once more into a reassuring fist.

“Of course,” he responded with disdain. “The only way to trap this bastard is to act the part.”

Fait Accompli’s eyebrow crept slowly further upwards.

“And you believe you can accomplish this by looking like some kind of tin machine, yes?”

The young man turned to regard himself in the mirror, polished armour and flowing black cloak giving him the appearance of a knight, or a tyrant… or both.

“This is the armour you people supplied,” he offered, reaching out and taking up the horned helm in his hands, regarding for a moment the inhumanity of the visage he was to assume.

“At your request,” Fait Accompli reminded him, pushing away from the wall and eyeing him once more with suspicion. “And I must confess that when the agreement was made to arm you, no one expected that you would wish to go riding into battle dressed like King Arthur.”

“Mordred,” Sky retorted softly, lowering the helm over his head.

“Pardon?” Fait questioned with a smirk.

Sky Raider turned to her, his face now hidden by the cold metal of his mask and she stopped dead in her tracks, her smirk fading.

“Mordred,” he answered, glaring at her from behind the mask. “Arthur wished to unify a nation. My goal is solely to destroy a king.”

He turned away once more and, reaching out, took hold of a massive greatsword filed away amidst the numerous arms of the weaponry.

“I have to beat him,” he whispered, more to himself than the female Department ? operative. Before him, his own reflection stared coldly back from the polished silver of the blade. “I have to beat him, otherwise everything Joji stood for, everything we fought for, means nothing.”

Slowly, he lifted his head once more.

Fait Accompli caught his piercing gaze and simply nodded, stepping back from the door as if to indicate that she would not stop him.

“Godspeed,” she said and then, as an afterthought, added, “MONARCH.”

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Tournament Armoured Hero #5

Then:

The branches of the trees were barren and skeletal, like the digits of fingers reaching up from dead frames and clutching at the grey skies outside of his window.

It had been four weeks since Jaden Stryder’s mother had died, four weeks in which the young boy had grown accustomed to the new status quo in the family home, his back raw with the fresh markings of his father’s belt and his eyes still red with tears.

He knew it wasn’t his father’s fault, he knew that somehow, despite the cruelty and unfairness of it all, his father was just expressing the sorrow they both felt now that they were alone together in the world. He understood that if his grandparents had telegraphed the money his father had requested of them then maybe he wouldn’t have to suffer the older man’s anger. This was the manner in which the world worked and whilst he was only six years old, Jaden Stryder understood this implicitly.

If you were weak, the world took advantage of you. He hadn’t understood that whilst his mother had still been alive but in the four weeks that had followed the car crash that had killed her and left his father with a permanent limp, Jaden had acquired the knowledge that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

“Jaden!” a voice from outside the room bellowed through the house. “Jaden, you little son of a bitch, where are you hiding?”

Upon the stairs, there was the sound of heavy footfalls, one boot falling against the carpet whilst the other was dragged after it, a wooden stick clattering against the handrail.

“For Christ’s sake, you little runt, where in God’s name are you?”

He felt a sickness stir inside him, fear rooting him to the spot as the sound of his father’s ascension grew louder and louder.

“I swear to God, I’m going to beat the living daylights out of you if you don’t give me a good answer soon!”

The boy’s lips parted but his tongue was a lead weight in his mouth, no words able to lift it and spur him into a reply.

Too late, he heard the sound of his father in the hallway outside and then, abruptly the door was thrown wide open to reveal a large, heavyset man in a lumberjack shirt, one hand clutching a bottle of whiskey and walking stick, the thick leather of his belt wound about the knuckles of the other.

The older man’s eyes flashed in his ruddy face, his black teeth visible beneath the coarse hair of his beard.

Jaden Stryder felt the taste of bile rising in his throat, the seat of his trousers dampening with fear as a tremble ran through his body.

Without a word of explanation, his father raised his first, light glistening on the silver of the buckle.

The boy closed his eyes and the older man’s fist descended.

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Tournament Armoured Hero #4

Mikuchi Keitarou stood on his front doorstep, barely suppressing a yawn, his open dressing gown swaying around his bare legs and revealing a faded JAM Project t-shirt and a pair of unassuming boxer shorts. Upon his feet, he wore the most unflattering pair of fuzzy monster feet slippers whilst in his hand he held a cup of steaming black coffee, the side of the mug still emblazoned with the old academy logo.

His hair was dishevelled, his face marked by several days’ worth of stubble and, at the corner of his lips, the stub of a cigarette still smouldered.

The breeze was crisp but not uncomfortable, full of the promises of autumn and the suggestion of spring. The great London plane tree that stood at the far corner of his garden had shed crisp leaves onto the green grass and the blue skies above were cloudless and free of any suggestion of rain.

To his left, his neighbour’s station wagon was absent from the spot it had been warming all weekend, suggesting that not only was Mister Simon Dice out, but also his wife Marisa. To the right, Sean Stemmie loitered at the end of the road, avoiding school and waiting for the arrival of friends.

All over Pittsburgh, the early afternoon sun shone down on quiet houses and places of work alike, autumn illumination highlighting the everyday routines of the joyful and the sorrowful, the content and the resentful.

The day was warm, his coffee was as bitter as his sense of humour and everything was right with the world.

With another yawn, Mikuchi looked down at his watch, staring blankly at the LCD time set as the seconds clicked over perfectly, revealing the digits ’12:12:12′.

A sudden crack of lightning hit the end of the street, a peel of thunder rattling the windows in his house as a colossal silver and white train burst out of the void and tore down the street. Rails of spirit energy fell into line before it as the colossal machine shuddered to a halt, ploughing through several parked cars in the process, a chorus of mechanical alarms calling out in the wake of its motion.

With a wry smile, Mikuchi plucked the cigarette from his lips and took a sip of coffee.

“Never a dull moment,” he murmured and, with the grin still fixed to his face, began a leisurely stroll across the lawn towards the massive train.

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Tournament Armoured Hero #3

The creature was impossibly massive, its broad shoulders shuddering and its Adam’s apple bobbing as it tilted its head back, swilling the flames of the inferno that rose in its gullet.

At his side, he sensed the arrival of Wong and the unfamiliar tread of Dreamcaster’s bright red and white Soap branded trainers. Kanemura did not turn to greet them, his eyes staring intently up ahead at the tremendous monster above them.

“Impossible,” Dreamcaster murmured softly, reaching for his keyboard.

Gently, Hao Wong reached out and placed a restraining hand upon the other hero’s arm, his lips curled in a lop-sided smile beneath the bug-eyed masque he wore.

“Fall back, Dreamcaster,” he said, his voice firm and determined, “whatever you think you’re capable of, you’re not able to take on a karura-grande.”

Dreamcaster glanced from Hao’s masque to the hulking abomination towering above the buildings.

“B-But what about the people who live here?” he stammered in protest.

“This is USMDF’s fight now, not ours,” Wong continued.

Angrily, Dreamcaster shook his arm free of the older man’s grasp.

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Tournament Armoured Hero #2

Struggling, he lifted himself up from the foulness of the water, his armour rusted with the rot and sin of the world around him. What little of his face that could be seen behind the mass of tangled hair and the wiry curls of his beard was now spattered with filth and blood.

His sword lay he knew not where, lost within the undertow of those murky waters and, likewise, his strength had also deserted him. All that remained was his determination, his will to drag his battered and bruised body onward through the endless toil and achieve that for which they had been tasked with.

A blinding flash of light filled the dour skies above and Sir Bors, who once dwelt in riches in his own native land and now seemed consigned to rot with the foulest of sea creatures, lifted his head at last to catch a glimpse of the heavenly youth standing but a short way from him.

Time seemed fractured, the stream of filth momentarily like liquid metal, dragging him down beneath the surface, filling his eyes with images of a thousand other worlds before he broke free once again, clawing his way up through the roiling liquid and turning bloodshot eyes to where the youth remained.

A second flash of light filled the heavens and, on the horizon, he saw the immaculate young man in his spotless white armour reach up to the skies, drawing down something solid from those higher realms.

“Galahad,” he croaked, his voice little more than a dry whisper as he reached out for the figure in the distance, “Galahad!”

The heavens swelled and another burst of light broke against his tired eyes, momentarily burning the scene from his sight and filling him with an insurmountable dread.

He felt the waves of metal wash over his ruined armour once more and suddenly the world returned, that youthful figure, his head rich with curls of dark brown hair and his armour unhindered by the dirt of the world around, crouched down before him, reaching out and taking hold of his hands.

“Bors,” the youth said, his voice calm and patient, “I ask of you to take this to the King.”

The older man felt something rough and wooden pushed into his hands, a cup of some kind, a goblet, a grail!

“Take this to the King,” the boy commanded, “I go now to meet with my Father.”

“L-Lancelot?” Bors stammered in confusion, “Lancelot is with us?”

The boy shook his head and smiled sadly as if such understanding was beyond the older man.

“No, Bors, I go not to meet with my earthly father but rather my Father who waits in Heaven.”

Bors opened his mouth to protest but the younger man was already rising, his armour unstained despite contact with the filthy waters. Desperately, Bors reached out.

“Galahad,” he murmured again, his voice rising. “Galahad!”

There was another flash of light and once more, the beautiful youth was upon the horizon, an insurmountable distance from his fallen companion. He turned and spared Bors a faint, disinterested smile.

From above his head, the older knight imagined he heard the sound of chariot wheels and horses descending from on high…

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