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==EIGHTFOLD PROUDLY PRESENTS ITS 101ST PUBLICATION==
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============= ISSUE # 2 FEBRUARY 2014 ==============
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==== SAXON BRENTON, ANDREW PERRON & TOM RUSSELL ====
=============== Editor, Tom Russell ================
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CONTENTS OF THIS ISSUE

"Thorns of a Dilemma", by Tom Russell
In which a death trap robs a speedster of her powers, but not her speed. Of various methods, considered then abandoned, for escaping said trap, and an obvious if unsavory solution. The borrowing of a phrase from the esteemed Mr. Leiber. Plus: the worst category of villain revealed.

"Beyond the Fields" Part 2, by Saxon Brenton
In which a story continues. Touching upon a human who is not completely ignorant, and the dangers thus posed. The painting and its wrongness discussed; it proves hard to pin down, but not necessarily subtle.

"Seven 'Gainst Thebes" Part 1, by Tom Russell
In which a story begins. The reader reacquainted with the bounty hunter John Silke and his son. On Silke's priorities and virtues. A reflection on the nature of the world he lives in, and a plan for a better one.

"Picnic", by Andrew Perron
In which two deities compare their recent adventures. Contrasting the old days from the new, and the changing dynamic of the relationship between gods and their followers. The call of a lonely bird, and the glory of cats.

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============== "Thorns of a Dilemma" ==============
=========== copyright 2014 Tom Russell ============
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Melody Mapp's wristwatch gives her super-speed. It's also keeping her alive. She doesn't have much time left, but she's going to spend every second on the run as the third, final— and greatest— DARKHORSE.

Valentine's Day, 2013.
   Welp!, Aunt Dani was right (Darkhorse decides): holiday-themed villains are the worst. Dani's old flame had told her that, and she had told her niece, and today she was starting to see the wisdom of it. She had run into a few of them before, of course. Christmas especially seems to bring out the crazies, and that's not even touching on the group that gallivanted about Atlanta actually really literally calling themselves the Christmas Crazies. But they were mostly fun-psychotic, not psychotic-psychotic.

   This one, calls herself Heartbreaker? She's psychotic-psychotic. Probably Darkhorse shouldn't have actually said that to her, though. "If you hadn't made me angry, maybe you wouldn't be tied to a bed by poisoned rose thorns, suspended over a vat of ever-nearer molten chocolate!"

   "To be honest?" says Darkhorse. "Nearly half of my adventures I end up suspended over a vat of ever-nearer molten something. At least it's chocolate this time. And, hey, you got me flowers. I appreciate that."

   Heartbreaker ignores the quip, as if Darkhorse hadn't spoken at all. (One of those. Ugh.) "Soon, they'll all know that hell has no fury like that of a woman scorned!"

   "Hath," corrects Darkhorse gently.

   She heard her this time; in retaliation she yanks down the lever. The bed is picking up speed. In one minute, Darkhorse will be dead. Also delicious. But mostly dead, and that's the part that worries her.

   Usually she'd just vibrate herself out of the mess— vibrating her atoms out of synch with reality being a marvelous way to get out of all sorts of pickles, and also to speed up whisking. But, as Heartbreaker was kind enough to explain shortly after Darkhorse gained consciousness, the faster she goes, the faster the poison will do its work. As soon as she starts up her superspeed, her heart will stop. Then she'll be dead, though not delicious.

   But neither is she helpless. Even without her overt super-speed powers, each heartbeat has, to borrow a phrase, a little of eternity in it. She has one minute? A minute's an hour to a speedster, and that's plenty time to figure a way out of this, let's see:

   She could start to rock the bed back-and-forth. Swing it just right, the bed will get stopped at the side of the vat. But there's still the matter of getting down; Heartbreaker could easily reverse the pulley and then dip her back down again. Not to mention the thorns would dig in deeper.

   If she yanks really hard with her right, she might snap the thorns. That's one hand free. She could do a lot with one free hand— free her other limbs, shimmy up the chain, jump clear. She wastes two seconds trying.

   If she was better at this, she could vibrate her molecules at a separate frequency from the poison in her bloodstream. She thinks her predecessor did that once. Neat trick if you know what you're doing, but she doesn't, least not this time. She has to find another way out of here, send a distress signal on her wristwatch, and then find somewhere to wait for the CDC.

   She could seduce her...? ...Probably? Then knock her out cold during (or after, depending on how it was going). Heck, she has the bed and the roses, and Heartbreaker's easy on the eyes, for a psychotic-psychotic. "If your poison's gonna kill me anyway... well, it is Valentine's Day..."

Before help arrives, she has just enough time, working in the slow-motion the rest of us call the speed of life, to dress herself and Heartbreaker. Probably going to bed with a romantically obsessed villain was not the best idea, long-term. But it worked. And Heartbreaker wasn't half-bad.

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=========== "Beyond the Fields" Part 2 ============
========== copyright 2014 Saxon Brenton ===========
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   Joan stared at the painting for perhaps two seconds before looking back at Deidre. "Is this someone's idea of a joke?"

   "I don't know," Deidre replied seriously. She took a sip from her drink. "It might be, but my gut feeling says it's doubtful. Like I said, it has a strange effect on people. Stirring up trouble. If that can only be done by using Adolf Hitler's signature, well, okay then. But otherwise why go to the effort of drawing attention to yourself? Are they trolling?" She shrugged. Then she added, "Incidentally, you might want to turn it face down. There's no point in leaving it exposed for longer than absolutely necessary."

   Joan turned the painting over, and quickly considered the situation. Deidre didn't have the desperate air of someone who had encountered something strange and dangerous, and was now at wit's end trying to figure out what to do about it. This would normally be a pleasant change, but it did leave Joan at a slight disadvantage. Carefully she asked, "And you called for help in dealing with this?"

   "I did indeed." Deidre cocked her head to one side and gave Joan an inquiring look. "And you... hadn't been expecting that, had you?" Her eyes scanned the room, searching for potential trouble. "Okay, I admit that I've had only a few direct dealings with Heaven, but from past experience I would have expected you to be a bit better briefed. I can't feel any immediate threats to us in here, but that doesn't mean the lines of communication weren't tampered with..." She looked thoughtful for a second. "Anyway, Deidre Landowski, occult detective and professional interfering busybody in the area of mystical quantum thingamies. Pleased to meet you, probably."

   Deidre tapped the frame of the painting. "There's something very strange about this thing... More so than most of the other stuff I deal with, to be honest. So I wanted to ask the Host to have a look at it, perhaps examine it to see if it has a mimetic value unrelated to its material content. That would be a good starting point to see whether it had been made by some human who'd instilled it with a psionic compulsion effect or a sorcerous geas of some sort, or whether it had been made created by more esoteric sources." Then she asked Joan directly. "I take it you've noticed the wrongness about it?"

   "It's kind of hard to miss it," admitted Joan. The angel began to loosen up a bit, since it was becoming clear that whatever else Deidre was, she wasn't in complete ignorance of the esoteric world. But only a bit. Joan still had no idea how deep Deidre's knowledge extended beyond the sight of costumed superheroes making appearances on the evening news. It might be dangerous to the human's safety to assume too much. "I also notice that it has no sense of specifically infernal evil."

   "Yes," agreed Deidre gravely. "But that could be just its creators being subtle."

   "Subtlety from people who sign a painting with 'Adolf Hitler'?" Joan countered drily.

   Deidre spread her hands in an open gesture and gave a self-depreciating smile. "It does seem unlikely, I admit."

   "And it's not made of matter," added Joan.

   Deidre's eyes flickered back to the painting that lay on the table between them. "Well now. That is exotic."

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========== "Seven 'Gainst Thebes" Part 1 ==========
=========== copyright 2014 Tom Russell ============
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Silke was not a man what was especially leaning towards sentimental. Wouldn't say he was a heartless man necessarily, though one can allow how a body unacquainted with the man might reckon him so. It's just that he had certain priorities, and he cottoned to keeping them something fierce.

   Firstly was money, and who could blame him?: man has to eat, needs a place to sleep, needs clothes on his back and a shave every Tuesday, maybe a drink to take that edge off living, and every month or so the company of a woman who's worth the saving up for. Friends, we do live in a world what runs on money, we have for at least three thousand years, so there's no trusting a man who don't know its value. Silke knew it, so it was his first priority.

   Silke made his money by finding people. Had something special in him that let him find people without really asking around after them. He found good people and bad people, mostly bad though, the sort wanted dead or alive, so they tended toward bad, and in fact by the time he was done, they tended towards dead, too. He didn't cry over it— as I said he weren't heartless, just he weren't sentimental either. Usually they'd rather kill him then be taken alive. It didn't rest easy, the killing, but it rested a whole lot easier than resting in peace.

   Second priority was his boy, who introduced himself to Silke at the age of eight shortly after the mother had died. Might sound strange, his only flesh and blood being second to money. But John Silke had known money, or the acute lack of it, his whole life. He'd only known his boy going on three years now. And he didn't really know him, just things about him— knew that he was quiet (which Silke was too), melancholy, dangerous. Best killer Silke ever saw. Just as Silke had a gift for finding people, his boy had a gift for killing.

   This troubled him some, but not as you'd suspect. Most men when they worry about their son, what will become of him and, more important, what he will become, they turn it over in their heads this way and that, agonizing-like. Keeps them up at night staring in the dark. They talk it over with their friends or maybe their reflection. But that wasn't John Silke. He had a way of worrying about it without thinking about it. Worrying without worrying. A neat trick if you can learn it, and I for one would like to.

   So he never thought to himself: it's not fit for my boy to kill so natural; a father should make sure his son learns a trade, but that's not the trade I want him to learn; he's going to keep on learning that trade if I keep going on mine, as that comes with the job; if I could get some real money, enough money, I could retire-like, and then see that he learns himself proper, becomes a banker maybe, or a lawyer, or something like that that a man needs learning for; hard life out here in the West, hard and lawless, and that ain't no way to raise a boy. None of that ever went through his head.

   But when Silke met Paul Strife in Bleeding Branch, he immediately thought to himself, "I can make enough money so that I can retire and the boy can be raised in gentler climes", though not those words precisely, as if he had been working on the problem every sleepless night. As if he had just been waiting, eyes keen, for an opportunity to present itself, and now it had.

   Strife's initial offer was not large enough, just a little bit of money to find a man by name of Peake who'd gone missing. "And from what I've heard, Mr. Silke, you're the man to find him." Silke nodded, then managed to tease out the why and wherefores, mostly doing so without saying anything at all.

   After Strife told his story, Silke spoke. "To take back your land, you'll need more than one man, even one as... particular as Peake."

   "I'll need an army," said Strife glumly.

   "Six ought to do it, I reckon," said Silke.

   "Six?" scoffed Strife.

   "Six particular as Peake, yes," said Silke. "If you can find them."

   "And you can find anyone, Mr. Silke. If properly compensated."

   Silke agreed without twitching a muscle.

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==================== "PICNIC" =====================
========== copyright 2014 Andrew Perron ===========
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   High on a snowy mountain, Bastet who wore a trenchcoat met with Balder who wore spandex.

   The sun was brilliant that day, and the air was still. They cleared off a rocky outcropping and set a picnic lunch, dining on sandwiches in the brilliant glare of the snow.

   "It's a nice day," said Balder.

   "A wonderful day," Bastet agreed. "Brisk!"

   They finished their sandwiches. Bastet tossed her crusts on the mountainside. They leaned back, enjoying the day.

   "So," said Balder, "how's it been?"

   "Oh, pretty well," said Bastet. "I broke up a meth ring that was trying to pass their infernal contracts on to their customers. You?"

   "Good! I fought two giant robots, one irradiated monster, and a guy who had an ancient amulet and an attitude."

   "Excellent." She stretched and yawned.

   He cracked his knuckles and rested his hands on the bare stone.

   Somewhere far away, a lonely bird called to its mates.

   "The thing is..." said Bastet. "I never actually wanted to be worshipped. Did you?"

   "Not originally," said Balder. "But I always knew what was going to happen to me, so I guess I just started... accepting it as my due, you know?" He chuckled. "It's funny. So much effort to protect me, to keep me from dying... and I've died, what, four times now? Five? And each time, it was absolutely worth it."

   "Mmmmmm," Bastet nodded. "Same here. And I killed so many in the early days... the glory of war gave way to the glory of cats. Is that ironic?"

   "No, but it is funny." Balder grinned.

   Bastet chuckled. "Yeah... you know, the newspapers say they're worshipping us now."

   Balder rolled his eyes. "They should know what worship is – they've got plenty of churches. But when they look at us now – they don't sit in our judgment, we sit in theirs. We're not faraway deities anymore, we're..." He spread his hands. "Role models."

   "You are," said Bastet. "I'm an urban legend."

   Balder pffted. "Right, this spooky unknown woman that thirty-three percent of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 want to be like."

   "Yeah..." Bastet scratched her head. "Not like the old days."

   "No. Not like the old days at all."

   They each let out a long, slow breath. They sat, looking out at the curling, wispy clouds and the condors circling among them. The sun passed its apex, sliding across the sky.

   "Well then," said Balder. "Same time next week?"

   "I guess so." Bastet stood, cracking her back. "Mmmm. Stiff today. Maybe I'm getting old."

   "Happens to everybody, I guess."

   "Yeah. See ya."

   "Bye!"

   And the rock sat quiet once more.

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=============== See you next month! ===============
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