Using a scalping strategy in forex trading - Intertrader

The Truth about Spread Betting Scalping - ProfitSquawk

The Truth about Spread Betting Scalping - ProfitSquawk submitted by jbmarwood to jbmarwood [link] [comments]

The Normie Playbook: Lacking a Catalyst

The Normie Playbook: Lacking a Catalyst
I'm going to give an honest look at my DD for this week, show you what I see in the macro landscape, and provide insight into how I'll try and make money. Caution, my last play didn't go well:

A Bullish Case

Stock market rallies don't simply end because people wake up one day in mass and decide things are over priced. There's a catalyst. Lacking a catalyst, assuming current assumptions around the COVID-19 recovery hold true, it's fair to expect the market to work higher. Sprinkle in FED action, which while down 89% from it's 3/25 peak, still dumped another $65 billion into the financial system.
Bulls are expecting a quick recovery, and while battered, they haven't been knocked off that position. There's continued discussion around a vaccine, optimism, stage 2 trials, and numerous companies and universities pursuing it. We're north of 300k daily tests, and the positive test rate is declining, states are reopening, we got through Easter, and we found remdesivir effective. P/E is high, but even if you believe that governments are propping equities up, this ponzi scheme still puts US equities at the top, likely to bleed the least and profit the most. It's not to say a dip wasn't warranted, it was just an over-reaction, hope you enjoyed the ride back to appropriate valuations.
Money right now is easy. Interest rates are low, and will remain there, maybe even negative, with a FED heavily accommodating of markets. Liquidity is flowing like rain, banks across the globe are jumping on the QE train. Shorting the market is shorting the governments ability to continue the rally, and as Buffet says, don't bet against America.
Oh, and guess what, Congress is going to hand everyone more money.

A Bearish Case

Despite the optimism, the Fed can't create demand. Consumer spending is not going to come back to where it was. Millions will remain unemployed, the jobs aren't all coming back. The idea of a V shaped recovery is ridiculous, even a U shaped recover is irrational. Given the market expects such a recovery, the theta from news is going to burn bulls, day over day as the recovery doesn't manifest with the expected velocity, gravity of expectations will pull bulls to the ground.
June will see auto delinquencies appear in servicer reports, by end of July extensions 3 month payment extensions run out, auto repossessions will begin again, and the extra unemployment comes to a close. With September comes standard unemployment insurance running out for initial layoffs, followed by the end of our foreclosure moratorium.
Now imagine we never get a vaccine, it's never proved easy for other SARs diseases, why would this one be any different? The market hasn't priced in a significant bounce. States reopening too soon. The US outside NY/NJ/PA still rising in case counts, and people are sick of being quarantined. Oh, and good luck getting the US culture to adopt masks.
The market expects COVID to be beaten, when the reality is it needs to be endured. We've shot most of our stimulus shots, we shot wildly and while some hit, we wasted too much and we will pay in time. This virus will be with us for years, and so will the impacts. The world is heading for a recession, and they'll drag the US right down with them.

My Take

Both cases above have some FUD, but both also have merits.
First, separate Main Street (consumer and production economy) from Wall Street (financial markets), as they are different. The FED can do wonders for financial markets and in turn Wall Street, but it can't manifest demand. Congress can. Stimulus can.
There likely will be another round of stimulus and it'll boost spending, can kicked down the road. Now it may not come until June, but US equities are strong and as long as the assumption holds, so will the near term impact of it's expected arrival. Sure, the house of cards may fall in time, but what's going to bring it down? We lack a clear short term catalyst.
The bulls ate more straw off our camel's back than bears threw on. States are reopening, there's talk of more stimulus, curves are flattening, positive treatments, vaccine's progressing, and the market is recovering. The bearish news is the unknown, the whispers in the wind, we'll see in two weeks, wait until September, and the reality that so much is wrong with Main Street, that things can't be this positive with Wall Street. Can't say they're wrong, but they don't weigh as much. The market's priced in awful Q2 results, with no guidance, and a market that by it's nature wants to rise, there's little besides whispers to hold it down.

In Search of a Catalyst

So what could bring what we feel, and the equity market into better alignment? We need a catalyst, some options:

  • Consumer Spending - Eventually, Wall Street and the financial market is still tied to Main Street and the need for production via demand from a consumption economy. If unemployment remains low, and wages decrease, you can throw stimulus at it, but spending will drop. As spending drops, the volume of decline, if severe, can open up a world of hurt for equities as guidance and P/E fall as a reaction.
  • Bankruptcies and Defaults - Governments can solve liquidity issues and prop up prices, but good luck fixing the solvency of a business when margins crash due to lack of spending and debts exceed the ability for business (or people) to pay them. Less hoarding cash by businesses (profitable for financial institutions), more drawing down (cash crunch), more borrowing. Add to that regulatory tightening for banks post 2008 and minimum levels required will strain them further. All this can create a rush to hoard cash, which will restart a massive equity outflow. The challenge is, I don't see this coming near term, even if you believe it is coming.
  • The Dollar - The dollar is the standard of the world, but that's not always great, especially when supply causes issues. When you have massive debt that results in bankruptcies, the money supply starts to dwindle as unemployment ramps, confidence fades, money gets hoarded, and deflation sets in. This unavailability of dollars is a huge risk. Currencies are getting crushed by the dollar, negative interest rates could become a trigger of insolvency, an outflow of equities to generate cash, and a massive crash as a result.
  • Significant COVID Resurgence - Obviously, anything approaching a country wide lock down in the US will send markets back to their knees.
  • Guidance - As the recovery comes, guidance will return. More than half of Wall Street has pulled guidance, less than a quarter are expected to offer full year guidance, and analysts are flying blind. As that spigot turns back on, the reality of impacts could be more bearish than expected similar to how we saw with Q1 under-performing. CEO's tapering FY21 expectations, discussing reduced consumer sentiment, shifts in culture, and a recovery that carries deep into 2022 could be enough to tip companies to truer valuations.
  • Reality - As all of the above hit in less severe degrees, there is the sum of parts which becomes significant enough that equities fall, perhaps not at an accelerated pitch, but fall significantly all the same.
None of the above are assured. There is an ever increasing reality that this market has a bottom. I struggle to comprehend that at times, and there are so many threads to pull that can crumble things. But perhaps the FED is able to unwind QE without impact, perhaps the dollar's global position is the strength needed for the US to recover faster despite being hit harder. Perhaps.
Right now, my sentiment is short term bull. Medium term uncertain. Long term bear. Unclear on if we've found bottom. This past week has trended bullish across the board.

The Next Play

The only thing this weekend tells me is: be patient. It's unclear our direction, even in the near term. I could make a case in either direction. This week, is going to be a short term week. I'll avoid holding overnight, avoid going long (barring very clear signals), and will play the swings (up or down) as my TA dictates.
I like to end "plays" when a theme shifts, it helps me avoid chasing losses, so that's what I'm doing and I now consider my prior play done, and failed. I've allocated another $5000 to a new play, I'll call this play "Patiently Waiting". I expect most positions this week to be smaller, in the $500 to $1000 range, in and out, and I'll be surprised if I fully deploy my allocated capital at one time.
I don't have a planned entry. I doubt I do anything before noon on Monday, if Monday at all. I'll create a shorter post once I find my entry, and will track critical TA for the week as well as the profitability of the play in there.

TLDR

There's a bull case, there's a bear case, the bull's had a stronger week. Many links, much news. No clear TA giving confidence in a position, will take short term day trades while waiting for clarity to emerge, will add a post later to track how much I lose.

Updates

5/12 @ 7:00 : I said I'd make a new post when I found a move, but also said I didn't think I'd do much Monday. I ended up not doing anything Monday.
Wedge forming
We saw a major wedge break on the 23rd of April. As it's downside break failed, a new wedge started forming, which lead to my exit from my prior play. The wedge has continued to hold since. I hesitate to trade it yet, but it's a converging indicator along with the .618 FIB retracement, you can see the two together formed a strong resistance to the upward movement on the 8th and 11th, forming a double top. The wedge says it's time to retest the bottom support, and in theory we should see movement downward today into tomorrow.
I'm not planning to play it, but you could enter some 5/15 290p if you see it bounce top of wedge today. You'd need to exit by tomorrow at latest, exit by EOD may be the best play, really depends on where it goes.
5/13 @ 7:00 : Bummer. Life got in the way of about a 200% gain trade, would have opened around 1.3 and closed north of 4 on a 5/15 290p. I didn't get to play it. The wedge was strengthened by yesterday's movement:
SPY this morning, 200d EMA on 1 HR interval acting as support
ES and the same wedge
Above you'll see SPY and a slight dip out of wedge, open will see us right back in. ES never broke wedge due to lower lows on 5/4. It's a better than average bet we stay in wedge today, which gives us a 6 point 287 to 293 range. SPY closes with support at 287 in wedge, yet on the ES, the wedge supports at 282, truth might be somewhere in the middle.
If we open 286.5 to 287 range, I'll enter a 3-4 contract position of 288c. Be mindful, everyone thinks the FED buying ETFs is a tailwind, I see it as a short term headwind given the outflow of equities to the newfound safety in those bonds as a result. But that's a macro view, and this week, I'm intraday.
5/14 @ 7:00 : Let's start with unemployment. The estimate for claims this week is 2.7m, the smallest gain in 8 weeks, but still pushing us to over 35 million unemployed since early March. Some estimates have ~5m people returning to work in the past few weeks, but the flow is still higher towards layoffs. They've been button on of late with estimates, I expect them +/- 250k, anything with a 2 in the front isn't going to move the needle.
As to market direction ...
.5 FIB Supporting
Bears couldn't break the .5 FIB, it held back on 5/4 and it held yesterday, though saw 15% more volume this go and was a deeper cut at breaking. We have had two straight large red days, we bounced off a support line, and are in oversold territory (that indicator flashed literally right as we bounced off the FIB, trended down since).
A really nice bear case would see us retest the FIB, break it, and thus the neckline, forming a really nice head and shoulders from the 4/5 time frame. I don't see it as likely, but breaking the 280-279 churn sees us down towards 272-273.
Don't trade this as a prediction, lazily drawn example.
A more likely scenario is we track the 5/4 bounce, but don't bounce as high, before regrouping to retest the FIB once more.
Our rising channel from the bottom.
We've been in a rising channel for some time, quickly bounced into the churn zone, decided we were bullish, and started tracking the upper segment with support holding all the while. Of late we're fading, and there are signs it's time to give our supports a good test. The natural rise in the channel paired with fading momentum could cause us to naturally coil for a while before enough energy returns for a strong move.
I'll be watching today, might look to enter a 5/15 283c position, not something that would look to track the full height of the rebound, rather the initial velocity and bounce, which should occur today into AH assuming we confirm that as our direction.
5/14 @ 7:30 : On 5/12 we saw the wedge, and thought it's likely it bounces off the top and test support. On 5/13 it did just that. On 5/14 we expected a bounce off the .5 FIB, and that's what we got:
Blue are yesterday's expectations, green what we got. Don't trade that second bounce yet.
5/4's bounce was 115 points, current was 96. The 5/4 pullback was 68 points or 54% of bounce, current is 37 points or 39% of bounce (though still forming, assuming 2824 holds as support). 5/4's continuation bounce was 121 points or 105%, let's assume we get 83% of that bounce (same as initial comparatively), that would see us to about 2924. You'll notice that aligns with my hastily drawn bounce chart yesterday.
If gravity is taking hold, you'd expect our second bounce on the second test of the FIB to be smaller, the second dip could go either way:
  • Smaller: 2824 holds as support. We got a smaller initial bounce, a smaller still dip, and likely a smaller still second bounce, perhaps towards 286-292 range.
  • Bigger: If our second dip breaks 2824, I'd expect us to retest the .5 FIB. If that were to happen, we're really putting a beating on that FIB level, it's not proving as oversold as it was, and each test weakens it further. We could bounce right off it, or the really bear case bursts through it before bouncing.
There are a lot of scenarios here. I can't make a call. I can say that you can see gravity in the charts. We weren't as oversold on this FIB test as we were on the 5/4 test. We didn't rise as high into overbought territory this time before turning back down. I can see downward momentum building.
A head and shoulders that I don't quite believe in.
There's a weak head and shoulders that strengthens with a downturn. I don't put much stock in it, but fun to watch anyways. For whatever reason, I just can't get on board with a really bearish short term outlook.
Our general channel
Instead, my gut tells me we stay in this rising channel, trending towards the middle chop zone. That leaves the market very sideways, with energy continuing to coil, for what could then break either direction, though which my gut says breaks downward. Feels like a roller coaster just being released after riding up, yet we're in the front car, and the back car hasn't been set free.
Possible plays: Day trade scalping ... Wait for us to bottom, into calls for rebound ... AAPL calls during rebound ... or given 2824 doesn't seem to have held (for now) go permabear and jump into puts! I'm probably staying cash today. If I had the time, I'd wait for the dip to bottom, then day trade scalp the upward momentum until it stalls (which is the same thing I did yesterday).
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Dragonstone: Chapter 16

Chapter 15
Once, many, many years ago when I was a younger dragon, I traveled.
I traveled across an ocean to a land few dragons had visited. Another continent filled with trees that were so thick around I felt small next to them. A canopy so braided that it nearly blotted out the sun and yet an eerie, beautiful light still came through the leaves and boughs above. For an Emerald it was a paradise.
It was a curious decision for an Emerald like me. I did not yet have the position of Prime, nor responsibilities. I felt the call of the untamed wild in my heart, a deep yearning to see more, experience more.
One night in this forest I found myself faced with a creature I have not seen since. I still cannot be sure it was real, perhaps just a fevered dream of excitement and exhaustion and exhilaration brought on by exploration. This creature was unique, to me, because it filled me with a strange sense of fear that I have not felt since.
I felt as if I was witnessing the guardian of a forest, one that could see into my mind in ways that an Emerald is not comfortable with. This creature competed with a Sapphire in size but moved through the enormous trees with a quiet grace. It carried itself on four legs, thickly muscled and covered in a layer of black hair that gleamed and shimmered. A broad, flat head with eyes set deep inside looked at me and the eyes were a bright mix of orange and yellow. Its body was sleek and slim, powerfully built for leaping and great claws sprouted from each toe. Rows of glistening white teeth were bared at me and a low growl filled the forest.
I stood still, watching, listening, not daring to move. I was fascinated by this creature, maybe even scared, and I was rooted in place.
Many minutes passed. I could not sense the thing that watched me other than the faintest sound of its beating heart. I did not want to harm it, I simply wished to visit its home as a guest, where I would leave nothing for it to remember me by. Nothing but this fleeting moment.
Whatever it was, it seemed to understand this.
It blinked, once, slowly. Then again, but this time it disappeared as a shadow might be chased away by the light, simply, gone. I was staring at shadows, emptiness, a void in the forest. I could not hear anything but the breeze, smell nothing but the trees, sense nothing but a quiet approval from whatever that thing had been.
I never forgot that creature, even hundreds of years later. I have never returned to that land, having found my place and home here. Sometimes in the night I thought about how its heartbeat never once came faster, it never felt fear or even concern at my presence. Just offered a warning.
Sometimes still I wondered at the grace of its movements, the fluidity of each limb moving with absolute purpose.
I had not thought of it for some time, until now. Captain Gregor reminds me of that creature. Fluidity, grace, all in the defense of what he cares for.
It has been said that the elder dragon is to be respected, feared, trusted, listened to, and never underestimated.
It would seem that the elder human should inspire much the same.
Gregor dances forward on his feet, lighter on them than I would have thought. His toes barely seem to touch the stone beneath his feet, his spear flashes in a thrust and sparks fly as Erika parries it with her sword. She is pushed back, her parry buys her no peace as Gregor easily withdraws the spear and thrusts again, then again, still moving forward with each attack.
“Back!” Erika roars from under her helmet, her men make space and pull away from the fight, leaving an arena of sorts. A grand spectacle of warfare.
“To them, dragons.” Gregor does not roar, his voice carries steady above the crash of metal against metal. We obey, taking quick leaping jumps to soar above the fight and find ourselves close to Girl and the others that remain. Mikkelson still stands, held up by another, looking still worse than before. If that were possible. They watch, enraptured by the scene that unfolds. Girl watches the fight as intently as any other, fingers twitching on her own weapon.
I find myself watching, unable to do more than that.
Gregor moves in a wide arc, a constant onslaught against Erika who parries each motion of the spear with the flat of her blade, heart hammering loud in her chest and a growl in her throat. Gregor makes no sound but the steady breathing in and out, out with the attack and in on the recovery.
He begins to sweat but his steps do not slow, his breathing grows heavier but remains steady. The spear tip scrapes across Erika’s armor, glancing off the scales. She steps to the side away from it and ducks only at the last moment as Gregor sweeps the spear at her throat. She stands and parries another thrust at her leg and then leans her upper body back in a sudden motion, the spear grazing her helmet.
They part, the dance paused while they circle each other.
Erika tears her helmet from her head, sweat plastering her bright red hair to her scalp. She tosses the helmet to one of her men and runs a hand through her hair to to clear her face, sucking in breaths. Gregor’s breath comes harder too.
“Old man!” She says, a broad grin on her face. “You can dance!”
“Age so often brings experience.” Gregor says, changing his spear hand and shifting his feet. “You call me old but seems that your memory is going.”
“The famous Captain Gregor and the Knight Gardiner. Gardiner’s Grunts, some would say.” Erika says, swinging her sword through the air lazily. “Bards sing about you in the taverns from Creia to Whitehall, Cracked Rock to Keflan’s Keep. Bet you don’t know that.”
Gregor’s paces take him closer and she backs away slightly each time, they are some distance from us now. They clash, sparks flying and their weapons nothing but blurs. The flat of Erika’s blade bats aside Gregor’s spear a handful of times until on one thrust she moves in the opposite direction, spinning and taking one leaping step closer to Gregor with her sword flashing out in a sweep.
Gregor brings his spear up to deflect but she drops the attack down under his defense, the blade biting and drawing blood from his thigh. He holds tight to the spear with one hand but the other moves so quickly I almost don’t see it. A knife from his belt, at the small of his back, whips across Erika’s face as she only just dodges backwards.
They part from the fight, Gregor limping on the wounded leg and Erika cut across her cheek. She tests the wound with a finger and finds it wet with blood.
I see something in her eyes at this. An anger that boils in her at the reciprocal wounding. She is a proud warrior, pride is as easily wounded as the flesh. Gregor holds no such anger, no such pride, just a calm resolve.
“I know the songs, girl.” He says. “Just like I know the ones they sing about you and your lot. I even know the songs they sing when you aren’t in the room. How does those ones go? ‘Call on the jäger, when you need it done later’? I might not be able to sing but I’ve always found my voice during that one.”
She snarls at this, her demeanor changing.
“Bold Knight Gardiner and his right hand man.” She says. “Disgraced soldiers, disgraced knights clinging to some noble concept of right and wrong. When they told me some foul, unloved mercenaries were helping the heirs and their pet green, I knew it would be you.”
She comes forward with an assault, spitting the next words.
“I said gold for the kids, you two and the dragon I’d gut for free!”
Sparks fly, the attack is vicious, Gregor uses the butt of his spear to strike out in a spin that knocks Erika off balance, then recovers for a thrust to her belly that she dodges, again and again they only just miss one another. All while the Emperor approaches.
They separate once more, Gregor bleeding from a fresh cut to his own face, a thin line that runs over his right eye and down to his chin. He looks to us, to me. Our eyes lock and I listen to him through the distance.
His heartbeat is faster, but only from exertion. He smells…calm. He tilts his head to me, showing me his neck. I return the gesture to him and he smiles, a soft smile. He brings his spear upright, leans on it as casually as every other time.
“Erika.” He says. “Would you like to know a secret?”
She is confused, she stands ready for an ambush, eyes narrowed as she watches him.
“What’s that, old man?”
“I don’t give a shit about the songs.” He says, leaning forward and winking at her. Then he raises his voice and shouts. “Girl, now would be the time!”
I smell the acrid smell of magic in the air and I look to Girl. Her fingers were not twitching on her weapon, she was drawing in magic to herself without drawing attention. Alcina may have known and remained silent but I could not sense it until now. It was subtle, subtle work for a human with a single day of magic to her name.
I see it now, every move made with purposeful intent. I make to lunge forward but it happens too quickly.
Captain Gregor was not attacking without purpose, his aggression forced Erika back, her men stepping back with her to leave space. While we remained close to the end of the pass and watched and while the men eased their way apart from Girl.
This was their plan.
This was his plan.
I have no time to roar, to cry out, to say a word or move more than a lone, useless step. Girl draws in the magical energies into a swirling storm of crackling lightning that gathers around her as a whirling column that reaches into the sky. She draws it to her hands and through it I see that her eyes have become a crackling white storm to match.
Erika’s warning is shouted at her men, she backpedals and then sprints away from Gregor, who stands there, calm as I have ever seen. He closes his eyes and smiles, a sad smile that creases his face. He is too far, he knows this. He had to be.
Girl releases the lightning and it rakes through the stone of the pass, shards exploding where contact is made and cracks spreading as a spiderweb through the stone. We can only watch as the pass walls begin to heave, come apart, and in a breathless moment the enormous fragments hang suspended in time.
Time cannot pause forever.
They crash down in a calamitous landslide of stone, pieces larger than any Onyx falling down around Gregor. It feels as if the mountains shrieks in protest, great stones driving into the pass and shattering, plunging down in catastrophic showers of dust and shattered pieces the size of a Citrine.
I last see him standing there, still leaning on his spear, eyes closed, smiling at the sky through the dust and rubble that begins to blot it out. He seems at peace.
Rocks conceal him from view in their cascade of shifting earth, a dust cloud filling the pass and exploding up into the sky, washing over us and pelting us with pieces of stone. We stand in an awestruck horror and look at the devastation before us.
There are but three passes through the Roost, three paths through the mountains that a human could traverse. Girl has just brought down one with magic. Magic that Alcina declared impossible, days before. Magic that a council of elder Sapphire would struggle to achieve. A single human has done this. That matters little now, to any of us but least of all to Girl.
I see the magic fade from her eyes and she falls to her knees, drained. I watch as in a single, tortuous moment, the Girl I have raised and protected for ten years breaks. And I break with her. She screams into the sky and tears cut paths through the dust that cakes her face, she falls forward and presses her head to the stone and she sobs. Her body heaves and shudders and in that moment, I feel the mountains themselves shudder with her.
I lower my head to her body and press against her. She leans back against me. We stay like that for a long time.
I do not know who watched.
But I do know that that if any of them did, they saw the tears of a dragon.
 
We leave in what can only be described as a shambling walk. We shuffle through the dust, it cakes each of us so thickly that it feels as if we are wearing a suit of armor. The world around us seems so distant and hazy.
Girl is slumped on my back, in a sleep deep enough I worry that it verges on unconsciousness. I can feel her heartbeat and that is the only solace I find, that I can be sure she lives.
Seven of those that returned still remain. Blood dries, mixed with dust into a thick, gruesome paste that makes each of them unrecognizable. They walk as if they are dead and I am not sure that isn’t true of them.
They do not speak. There are no words for these moments.
Their horses stand waiting, reeking of fear and nervousness, their eyes glossy and their mouths foaming in the panic. Each man takes the reins of his horse and calms it, mechanical motions of stroking the animal until fear gives way to some comfort. I wonder if they find some comfort in that methodical act, a soothing familiarity. They mount their horses, one of them takes the reins of Sergeant Dunstan’s horse.
No one can bring themselves to take the reins of Gregor’s horse.
I have never had a gift with horses, they and I do not communicate well. In this instance, I will make an exception. I close my eyes, open myself, and I can no longer smell or hear the horse.
I can feel her.
I feel the confusion that lingers in her, the fear and the tiredness that has seeped into her bones. I even feel the imprint left in her mind from the Emerald that sent her and the others. We do not speak, it is nothing so trite and physical as that. We share a wave of emotions.
She is confused, is she no longer needed? She wonders where the man who has fed her slices of apple for days has gone.
He is not coming back. He has died.
She understands, this makes her sad. She has fond memories, images that flash with a soft green light to them, he reminded her of the Emerald in her home. Firm yet kind. He was always gentle but his purpose was clear.
Would she like to go home?
She would like to stay with her own.
I open my eyes and she whinnies, stamps the ground, and begins to lead down the path. No one questions this. I doubt any of the men even urge their horses onward. They simply begin a descent on the path in a solemn, crushing silence. They follow as if Gregor still leads. Alcina and I follow the horses, side by side.
“I’m sorry.” She says, when none of the others can hear us.
“Me too.” I say. I do not tell her, for it is my memory, but I am thinking of the young girl that I watched grow. That I cared for against all odds, against all the natural order of the world. I could have turned them away, scorned them, yet I did not. I took in Boy and Girl.
I am thinking of her leaping into the air without any fear, without hesitation, and falling into the lake. She would laugh and shriek in delight I would lay on the shore and watch for hours, she would perform acrobatics and demand I watch, again and again. She was the loudest of them, always. She was a bright star.
For all my years, those moments at the lake lasted forever and yet, only the briefest of moments.
I fear she will never leap again, never laugh or shriek, she will simply be older, her edges will become sharper. She will be defined by this. I believe Gregor knew that and yet, it was the only way. None will follow us from the pass.
Only those that we are never to see again, only their fading memories that we carry.
Only ghosts.
Chapter 17
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[The Nothing Mage] - Chapter 100

New? Start here!
He comes, he comes, to curse or free, The Next Ones from their cage, How well we’d live in days to come, But for the Nothing Mage.
-The Saga of the Nothing Mage
Declan had seen more than his fair share of chance encounters, but this stretched even his belief in coincidence. Of course it’s him, the man thought as he crested the final hill, it makes too much divines-fucked sense. Just as a part of him grew sick to think about the implications of the man’s presence here, another rejoiced at the idea of seeing his friend once more.
By the time Daniel came into view, the nothing mage had a smile on his face.
His fiery red hair, grown wild from weeks of travel, stood out like a beacon among the vivid greens and pale browns of the tundra. He brushed a strand of it from his face as he continued to vent frustration at his traveling companion.
Declan was somehow less surprised to see Edward there, hunched over and muttering as he always was. He’d always figured the lunatic’s cryptic poems were somehow connected to the syzygy or whichever invaders were intent to use it, so it almost felt right to find him here.
He cringed as he imagined how long it had been since Edward had seen a healer. The man had barely made it to Belstead. His position reclined back in the bed of a handcart told Declan a fair bit about how he’d managed this far. He wondered if the violet mage could even walk.
Declan made it halfway down the gentle slope before Daniel noticed him.
“What in the… Declan?! Is that you? The hells are you doing here?”
“Good question,” he answered. “Truth be told I’m not entirely sure. The syzygy is almost here and apparently I’m supposed to do something about it.”
Daniel rolled his eyes, “Believe me, I know.” He jerked a finger back at where Edward still muttered his nonsense, “He hasn’t shut up about it in weeks.”
Declan’s eyes darkened, “How is he doing? He—ah—doesn’t look well.” It was an understatement if there ever was one.
The last of Edwards hair had fallen out, leaving the burn-like scars across his scalp exposed to the cold air. Several dark tumors checkered the man’s face, no doubt already spreading their poison throughout the rest of him. The man recoiled from Declan’s glance.
“You know as well as I do,” Daniel said. “I’m no healer. It’s at the point I go to bed each night expecting him to be dead by the time I wake up, but he’s always still there muttering away.”
“Why did you even bring him?” Declan asked, stopping short of inquiring why Daniel had come. He wasn’t quite ready for that conversation.
“You’ve got it backwards,” the redhead answered. “He brought me. Went all trance-like and insisted I pack up and head south. I said not at first, but you try ignoring this lunatic prattling away at all hours. Lasted two weeks before I caved, and I regret it every second.”
You and me both, Declan thought. “So you’re here because he told you to be?”
“Basically. He’s said a few things about ‘reaching the focal point,’ so I guess that’s where we’re going. You wouldn’t happen to know what it is, would you?”
“Actually,” Declan grinned, “I do.” He opened into his pack, reaching past Leskelian’s notebook to withdraw Thomas Hastrand’s. “I found this at the Tower Hastrand library. Talks about a spot south of the Gindalts that happens to line up perfectly with the planets during the syzygy.”
Daniel waved away the proffered text, “I’ll take your word for it. Makes as much sense as anything else. Any idea why it’s important? Or the syzygy itself for that matter?”
Edward interrupted, his rambling suddenly spiking in volume.
“The fallen moon, the endless night,
In time they shall be freed
The Next Ones come, we see the end,
Now bleed, now bleed, now bleed.”
Declan cocked an eyebrow, “I’ve heard that one before.”
“Yeah, he gets repetitive sometimes. There are a few new ones, but he tends to just repeat the same thing over and over again.”
“The fallen moon, the endless night…”
Daniel rolled his eyes once more, “Yes, we get it, Edward. Thank you.”
“In time they shall be freed.”
The redhead sighed, “I hate when he does this. Pretty much impossible to get him to shut up once he gets going.”
“The Next Ones come, we see the end…”
Declan smirked, “I have an idea.” The spell left his hand before Daniel could even open his mouth to protest, illuminating the air in a pearly glow. Edward slumped over, falling silent.
“Bloody divines, Declan! What did you do to him?”
“Just a bit of white magic. He’ll sleep for a while, but he’ll be fine in a few hours. It’ll probably be the most rest he’s had in a while, given how much pain I’d wager he’s in.” There was something refreshing about using his magic to help Edward.
Daniel smiled, “That almost sounds nice. Do think I could get one of those later tonight? Been having a terrible time trying to sleep out here, though I suppose it’s my fault for forgetting to pack bedrolls.”
Declan shook his head, “That’s… probably not the best idea. There are almost certainly side effects to it, and even if there aren’t it doesn’t seem worth risking it. Besides, if I knock you out, I won’t be able to wake you back up if we get attacked.”
“Attacked? Who’s going to attack us all the way out here?”
Declan cocked an eyebrow, “Monsters? They’re supposed to be way more dangerous south of the mountains.”
The man’s eyes widened, “Seriously? I’ve never heard that. Hells, the last time I even saw a beast outside a Tower was aboard the Waving Bone with you.”
Declan couldn’t help but feel a spark of envy that Daniel’s journey had been so much easier than his. Then again, he doubted the redhead could survive a tenth of the encounters he’d had. “They target me, remember?”
“Right, right, didn’t the sea faeries say something along those lines?”
“Just about. I can handle anything that comes at us, but I need you to be awake enough to run clear.”
Daniel gulped. “Ok. No sleeping magic then.” With a breath, the mage sat down, leaning back against the side of the handcart. “So—um—what have you been up to? I saw what happened in Reondar. Was that part of this syzygy-fate thing too?”
Declan sighed, sitting down across from the man. “No,” he admitted, “that was my fault. Julien’s court did some terrible things and I lost control.” He allowed the fact to wash over him, facing his failure head on. The nothing mage couldn’t afford to be riled up; he could only accept the truth for what it was and acknowledge the mistakes he’d made. The bell did not ring.
He continued his explanation, “From what I can tell, the Fae are a bit divided. Some want the syzygy to happen and wipe out humanity, some want to stop it, some don’t care, and some just want people to suffer. I’m not the only one they’ve been manipulating.”
“You’ve spoken with them again?”
“Different courts, but yes. They seem to think there’s some otherworldly threat out there that wants to devour humanity. I’m willing to bet Edward’s ‘Next Ones’ are the same thing. All anyone knows is they can influence fate and the minds of beasts, and they’re getting stronger the closer we get to the syzygy.”
“And they want you dead.”
He nodded, “And they want me dead.”
“Do you think they’ll stop once it’s over? The monsters, that is.”
Declan’s eyes widened. “I… hadn’t thought of that. I hope so. If they need the syzygy to get to us, I can’t imagine they would care much about me once it’s over. It’s not like I’ll live long enough to stop the next one.” He shuddered.
What if these ‘Next Ones’ wanted revenge after the fact? Would he have to live out his life in isolation just to keep all the beasts from wandering into a settlement? If nothing else, he supposed the invaders’ influence would fade as the syzygy grew further away.
Daniel flashed a grin, “No use worrying, I suppose. Can’t do anything about it either way. They’ll stop or they won’t. At least you’ll get a bunch of free mana from all the dead monsters.”
Declan wasn’t so certain that was an up side, but he remained from commenting. Instead, he opted to change the subject, “You mentioned Edward had a few new verses; you wouldn’t have happened to have written them down, would you?”
“No such luck, I’m afraid. A notebook is another on the long list of ‘stuff I forgot to pack.’ I honestly tune them out at this point. Don’t worry, he’s sure to repeat them all in the next few days.”
“I’ll have to record them then. Do you remember what they are about?”
Daniel shrugged, “Same cryptic poems. He mentioned the syzygy a few times, the Next Ones a bunch, as well as you, of course. Like I said, you’ll hear them all soon enough.”
“Right, of course,” Declan wasn’t terribly put out by the news. He’d found no success analyzing the verses he’d seen thus far, and didn’t particularly look forward to the idea of investigating yet more. “So how have you been? Eric mentioned you traveled with him to Reondar, and I guess Edward took you south from there.” He pointed to the bulky sacks that lined the handcart, “If you forgot to pack so many things, what did you bring?”
A sheepish grin crossed the mage’s face. “Food, mostly. I’m no life mage, and hunting is pretty beyond me. I’ve got enough dried meat in there to last a season.”
Declan laughed, “You really are Leskelian’s pupil. Let’s hope you don’t need all that. I’d hate to be stuck down here through the winter. With any luck it won’t start snowing until after the syzygy.”
“I hadn’t even thought of that.”
“You can go back now if you want. I can take care of then madman for the rest of the way.”
“No,” Daniel shook his head, “I should stay. In for a copper and all that.”
Declan had to wonder at the mage’s justification. Whatever Edward had said to him must’ve been compelling; he could imagine any number of ways to stop his pestering that didn’t involve traveling halfway across the world with a raving madman.
Daniel’s own unique mana was too much a coincidence for his liking. He considered pressing the matter, but ultimately decided against it. They still had a couple of weeks before the syzygy truly began, and if nothing else he wanted to avoid conflict on the very first night after reuniting with his old friend.
For similar reasons, he left Leskelian’s notebook where it sat hidden within his pack. It could wait until morning.
“Anyway, after Edward insisted, I go with Eric and him to Reondar, we both ended up at Tower Yrond so he could be near the healers. The researchers there were nice enough, I suppose, but Leskelian never published his paper about me, so they were mostly starting over from scratch. Eric helped them as much as he could, but he was mostly busy with… well, you know.”
Declan did know. A familiar pang of guilt ran through him as he remembered how readily Daniel’s mana had fallen by the wayside when Eric and Leskelian had discovered him. “Did you make any progress?”
“Some. I can do a few more complex things now, but it’s not any more predictable than it was before. Nobody knows why it jumps around or just randomly doesn’t work sometimes.”
“They’ll figure it out eventually.”
Daniel shrugged, “Honestly, I’m pretty past it. If the hierarchy wants to keep banging their head against it, they’re welcome to. Archmage Ulskier promised he’d fast-track me to magus if I let them research me, so that’s what I did. Hells, once all this is over I’ll probably go back. I just wanted to study history, not live it.”
A soft chuckle escaped Declan’s throat, “I know how you feel. I wanted to sing the songs, not be in them.”
“Oh yeah, I heard that one. I imagine most of Teralia has by now. That bard really did you dirty. What was her name… Freya something?”
“I think in the end, her version actually ended up pretty accurate. But hey, I still have her lute,” he affectionately patted the instrument, “so I count it as a win. I don’t think I could’ve made it so far without this thing.”
Daniel chortled, “Honestly I’m more impressed it made it this far. Your last one barely survived a month.”
“Yeah, well, once you lose one lute to a dangerous battle, you take better care of it in the next dozen.”
The pair fell into a brief bout of laughter at that, each more thankful for the moment of mirth than the other could ever know. As the chuckling died down, the two mages sat in silence for some seconds before Daniel spoke again. “You really do lead an exciting life.”
Declan snorted, “You’re one to talk, dragging a madman through the wilderness on a bloody hand-cart.”
“Fair point,” the redhead grinned. “I guess we were bound to. Just two magical freaks cursed to be interesting.
“I’ve had enough of interesting. Let’s be boring.”
“Cheers to that.”
Declan’s eyebrows shot up, “You didn’t… there’s no way you brought bloody ale with you.”
Daniel’s eyes glimmered, “How else was I gonna put up with him. He stretched an arm up behind him, feeling around until he managed to withdraw a wineskin from the cart against which he leaned. “It’s wine, actually, and I’ll warn you now it isn’t very good. Mostly I’ve been using it to help clean the water, but a sip here and there won’t hurt.”
Declan took a sip. “It’s not terrible. Believe me, compared to some of the shit I drank in the last few months it’s downright fantastic.” He shivered at the thought of Manny’s scragberry wine.
“Now that sounds like a story worth telling.”
And Declan did. He began with his escape from Reondar, continuing on to while away the evening with tales of monster attacks and eccentric hermits and the Seat of the Tempest. Daniel gaped when Thestria came up, suitably impressed that his friend had learned magic form an actual dragon, but otherwise listened intently.
Declan made a point of glossing over the heavier details, and indeed he called the storytelling to a halt before it reached Miranda’s death. “Let’s stop there for now,” he explained, “there’ll be plenty of time for more tomorrow.”
The other mage reluctantly nodded, his eyelids already drooping from the late hour and his growing sleep debt. “Alright, alright. You sure about that sleeping spell?”
Declan nodded, already pushing to his feet, “I’m sure.”
“Well, thanks anyway. At least Ed’ll be quiet for the night.” Daniel lay back onto the cold ground, resting the back of his head in his hands. “Oh, and Declan? I’m glad we ran into each other. It’s good to see you again.”
The nothing mage turned from where he’d begun carving a shelter into the hillside, his gaze lingering on the sleepy redhead. “Yeah,” he muttered, “it’s good to see you too.”
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submitted by nixiawrites to redditserials [link] [comments]

We're a Family, Come Hell or High Water

I sat sprawled on the living room floor, my back against the couch, my pregnant belly jutting out in front of me. The baby was content, and introspection replaced my hunger as I wiped the blood off my face with the sleeve of my nightgown. I never imagined the cravings could lead to this, nor did I imagine not caring as I looked at the leftovers of our assailants with disdain.
“How are you feeling?” he asked as he sat on the floor across from me.
I turned to the man I thought was my husband, not sure how to respond. “This would be a good time to explain yourself."
He lowered the thawed ice pack he'd been pressing against his cheek and turned his eyes away, struggling with the words he probably never imagined he’d have to say.
“Are you a demon?” I asked.
“No. At least, not in the biblical sense.”
“What does that mean? Are you possessing Doyle?”
“No.”
“Where is he?”
He hesitated before he said, “He’s dead.”
I sat up, tense. “Did...did you kill him?”
“No, he was already dead when I found him.”
“You better start explaining more than that.”
"I have no idea how without coming right out and saying it...so I will.” He took a deep breath, bracing himself. “I’m a member of a species that has lived in Earth’s water for as long as humans have lived on land.”
I stared at him, incredulous. “You’re seriously telling me you're a fish?”
“No, perhaps…more like a frog? We’re like large, strong, intelligent, mammalian frogs.”
"Then why do you look like Doyle?"
"Because I adopted him. We can transform physically into other creatures by pressing part of them to a nodule on our palate to adopt their DNA. We do it to hunt as well as to blend in.”
“So, you can look like anyone?”
“Yes, but we can’t change our mass. If I transformed into a crab, I'd stay this size. Same if I transformed into a whale.”
“Why are you pretending to be Doyle if you live in water?”
“Because I’m on the run from my territory's government."
I tensed up again. "You're a wanted criminal?"
"No...yes..." He closed his eyes and turned his head down with a forlorn sigh. "I just thought I was doing the right thing."
"What’d you do?"
"I uncovered a lot of ugly truths the government didn't want uncovered, including plans for a 'cleansing genocide'.”
“Genocide against humans?” I asked, my skin prickling with fear.
“We do consider humans an enemy because of what they do to the environment, but no, the plans detailed a genocide against our own kind. We're not free from superiority and prejudice either, the powerful and privileged will do anything to remain powerful and privileged.
“My territory is the strongest and largest, taking up most of what you call the Atlantic Ocean, and its government thinks it's untouchable. I just wanted to prove it wrong, to show it can't get away with its crimes against the weak anymore.
“What I exposed led to an eruption of global unrest and the government listed me as enemy number one. I swam because I knew the penalty was death, and they ended up cornering me near the coast. I had nowhere to swim. If I wanted to hide, my only option was land.”
“Why couldn't you just turn into a shark or something?”
“We have a sense humans don’t have. Perhaps…it’s closest to smell? We each have a unique ‘smell’ that doesn’t disappear when we transform.” He gave me a hesitant smile. “Our baby has it too, a faint one. It'll grow stronger when he or she is born.”
He sighed, sobering up. “This sense helps me know when they’re nearby, but it doesn’t help me hide. So when I found the carcass of a drowned female human, I thought I’d be safer among the enemy than my own kind. I adopted her and tried to put as much distance as I could between myself and the Atlantic Ocean.
“We’re amphibious and have exceptional temperature and pressure tolerance, but it still took me a while to adjust. I stayed in the wilderness at first so I could be myself and hunt and live in peace, but after a few months I began to get lonely. We’re a social and intellectual species, we live in communal houses and value company and conversation. I missed being around friends and family."
"You're married?"
"No, we don't really do that, but groups of us do bond to create trust units. Having children is only done to stabilize the population and it's regulated by the government, but we do love each other as a community and care for the young together." He sighed. "I thought maybe I could go back, find refuge in another territory, but I knew the information I leaked would lead to oceanic instability, if not an outright war, and I was afraid I'd end up captured.
"The other option was to try and live among humans. I knew they were our enemy, and I wasn't looking forward to staying in a stifling transformed state for long periods of time, but I thought it might be worth it as long as I got mental and emotional stimulation.
"I transformed into the female human and tried to live in one of your towns. Back home we're taught human history, biology, and language, but it still took me a while to get the hang of everything. Communication was the hardest, you rely on vocal tone, facial expressions, and body language a lot more than we do.
"I did odd jobs, learned a few skills, hung out in communal areas, researched, absorbed your media...and my experiences made me hate humans even more than ever. They were selfish, unsympathetic, violent, and corrupt, and the last straw came when a group of men tried to corner me. I transformed into myself and they ran away screaming and tripping over their pants.
"It wasn't worth it, all that ugliness for company that wasn't genuine and conversation that wasn't fulfilling. I went back to living in the wilderness, and I dreamed of starting my own community in secluded, landlocked waters where no one could find us and we'd be free to be ourselves. I was the only one of my kind out here and our governments prohibit bringing hybrids into the world, but I was already a fugitive. I had nothing to lose.
"I searched for my paradise, and I found it a year later. A perfect cave with the purest water near abundant woods. It was like I imagined it into reality. Now, all I needed were children. I had to choose a species to mate with where there'd be a high probability of conception and low probability of genetic defects, and humans were the closest in size, structure, and intelligence. I began searching for a handsome male human to adopt and a healthy female human I could manipulate into carrying my child.”
His words stung. “Is that why you picked me?”
He gave me a rueful half-smile as he twisted Doyle’s wedding ring around his finger. “I didn’t pick you. I was in the woods, hunting, when I heard a group of idiots laughing and scaring away the animals with their wild shots. I waited for them to leave, but after they started calling out for Doyle, I gave up and decided to hunt somewhere else…and that’s when I stumbled upon your husband.
“He was dead. He must’ve tripped and cracked his head against a tree. He was around my age and size but he wasn't good-looking, but then I noticed his wedding ring. It got me thinking, I wouldn’t have to convince a wife to carry her husband’s child.
“His brothers were still looking for him, I didn’t really have time to deliberate. He had a shaved head and no obvious scars, and that was good enough for me. I transformed, took his belongings, buried him, and grabbed his rifle before I met up with Wyatt, Owen, and Randy.
"They were too drunk to suspect anything, but they did give me a good idea of who Doyle was. I began thinking I made a terrible mistake, I should've adopted an anonymous human, there was no way I could convincingly take over Doyle's life...but then they drove me here and I met you.
"You seemed healthy, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to try. I didn't know how Doyle would interact with his wife and I couldn't bring myself to mimic his brothers, so I tried a basic approach and hoped he was like that with you. Apparently I was way off, but then you came up with your own explanation for my behavior and I thought, maybe I could actually pull this off.”
“So, you’re using me,” I whispered, my voice shaking in hurt and offense.
“I won't deny it was like that at first,” he quietly confessed, looking down. “Humans meant nothing to me and you were a just means to an end...but I didn’t expect to feel a connection with you.” He turned his candid eyes towards me. “I began caring about you. I liked talking to you, I liked being with you, I liked you. I felt at home with you.
"I started making an effort. I learned how to do Doyle's job even better than he did so I could provide for you. I researched supplements so I could care for you. I got the hang of shopping, cleaning, and ironing so I could help you. With you, I felt stimulated again...physically, emotionally, mentally.
“You also made me realize how unfair I’d been clumping humans together. There are ones like Doyle and his brothers, but there are also ones like you. Like Gary at the shop. Like Timmy and Leanne at the bakery. Humans may be our enemy, but they’re just as diverse as we are and you showed me that.
“I began feeling guilty for what I was doing to you. I toyed with the idea of letting you know the truth for months…but tonight Doyle’s brothers made the choice for me.” His eyes glistened with deep remorse. "You were amazing tonight, but you never should've been in a position like that. I'm so sorry I lied to you. I'm so sorry I put you in danger. I'm so sorry you had to kill your brothers-in-law to save our lives."
I stared at him, no single emotion dominant as they rode the turbulent waves in my mind. “What’s going to happen to me now?”
“Anything you want,” he said, straightening up. “Just tell me and I’ll do it.”
His earnestness reassured me, but it didn’t settle my confused thoughts. “I need time to process everything. I’m tired. I want to go to bed.”
“Should I help you?”
I gave him an emotionless nod. “Help me to the bathroom first.”
He did before he guided me to bed, switched off the lights, and left. I sighed as I clutched the sheets and listened to him clean up the aftermath of our feast. Despite my agitation, fatigue pushed my thoughts aside and I drifted off into a dense sleep.

The next morning, I woke up early and alone. I stayed in bed, analyzing last night's events until the baby’s hungry kicks became impossible to ignore. I groaned as I sat up, and I jumped at a trio of knocks before the door opened.
“Good morning." He stood in the doorway with a hesitant smile and a mouthwatering plate of raw meat. “I got you breakfast.”
“Thank you.”
Hope glinted behind his eyes as he walked over and adjusted the tray over my legs, and he remained standing as he watched me polish off the pile within minutes. I leaned back in satisfaction and ran my hand over my soothed baby bump, and he cleaned up before he got me my supplements. I didn't take them as I studied him, and he stood to the side with anxious eyes, studying me back.
“Did you have time to process everything?” he asked.
“What you did was disgusting,” I said, making him wince. “But I’d be a lot angrier with you if I didn’t sense something was off already. You weren’t acting like Doyle at all, but I wanted to believe he'd turned a new leaf.” I looked down. “I was enjoying the fantasy of having a loving husband who finally saw me as more than just an object.
“You treated me better in the past few months than Doyle had our entire marriage. You showed me what it was like to be loved, respected, and cared for. You boosted me and opened my eyes to what a relationship could be. Should be. It wasn’t you or me, it was you and me. You and me and the baby.”
I looked up at him. “What were you going to do if this never happened?”
He shifted in place. "The original plan was to convince you to do a home birth blindfolded, and then I'd take the baby to my cave and leave you. I was—"
You were going to take my baby and abandon me right after I gave birth?" I asked, glaring at him as I placed a protective arm over my stomach. "All while pretending to be my husband?"
He looked away, regret weighing down his features. "I didn't want to do anything violent to you like kidnapping or murder. I thought it'd be the least horrible option...but that was all before I felt a connection with you. I've been struggling with what to do since."
He turned to me. “Penny, I'm so sorry. I really am. I owe you so much after everything you've done for me. After everything I've put you through. I want to make it up to you. Just tell me how and I'll do it.”
I studied him, running my hand over my baby bump as my riled emotions settled into anxious curiosity. After a tentative moment, I said, "I want to see what you look like. The real you.”
He blinked in surprise. “Are you sure?
“I’m sure.” I pulled myself up on the pillows, preparing myself. “I should know the true father of my baby.”
"I don’t want to scare you.”
"Why would a giant frog scare me?"
"We also have teeth...and claws...and horns," he said, hesitant. "We're sometimes mistaken for demons by humans if they glimpse us."
I hugged myself, fighting my resurfacing anxiety. "I still want to see you."
He nodded. “Okay.”
He stripped and took a deep breath, and my eyes widened as I watched his frame narrow and stretch. His skin darkened to a shade of mottled green so deep it almost looked black, its glossy texture gleaming under the light. His legs bent at three distinct joints, and his flattened feet split into five elongated, tapered toes, an elastic web of skin connecting them and black claws capping them.
His hands grew larger and gained claws and webbing as well, and flexible tissue connected his upper arms to his body, almost like the wings of a bat. His hair disappeared and his jaw became sharper, his nose regressing into two slits and his lips curving into a pout that hid small, piranha-like teeth.
His eyes grew rounder and darker, the space between them increasing and their whites disappearing. From where his ears should be, a pair of thick, black horns grew, their rough surface without shine as they curved up until they surpassed the top of his head before curling back down half-way.
His chest and stomach were completely smooth save for a small belly button, and his genitals had retracted inside his body. With a half-smile that looked out of place on his foreign face, he turned around, giving me a full view. His streamlined shape had no curves, creases, or protrusions other than the thin, translucent fins lining his spine.
He turned back to face me and lifted his arms, presenting himself, a thin film gliding vertically over his glossy eyes as he waited for me to say something. He really played it down when he compared his species to frogs, and it took me a while to find my voice.
“C-can I touch you?”
He blinked vertically again, and a small smile twitched his mouth as he walked over and sat beside me. A balmy scent accompanied him, unusual but not unpleasant. My hand trembled as I reached out and touched him, and I realized he was trembling too.
I felt my way down his sleek, firm arm, his skin warm but surprisingly not slimy. When I got to his palm, I spread open his fingers, tracing the taut webbing and onyx claws. My hand left his and traveled up his chest, over his shoulder, and down his back, and he shuddered as I grazed the fine fins along his spine.
I met his eyes as I reached for his face, and he blinked when I touched his cheek. The injuries from Doyle's brothers were healing at an unnatural rate. My gaze drifted towards his formidable horns, and he lowered his head so I could touch them. It was my turn to shudder as they felt like sandpaper.
“You can wear your clothes,” I said, drawing back.
He looked up. “Do I make you uncomfortable?”
His natural vocal chords weren’t made for English as they rasped, but I understood him. “No, but you’re trembling.”
“I’m nervous. I’ve never done this before.”
“You shouldn’t be nervous to be yourself in front of the mother of your child.”
His eyes glinted in hesitant relief as he tried to read me.
What’s your real name?”
“It isn’t easy for humans to pronounce,” he said before he emitted a strange sound.
I frowned. “That sounds like you’re saying Raphael while gargling whistles.”
He gave me a small smile. “It's different underwater, but you can call me Raphael if you want.”
"I’m going to have to get used to your expressions with this face, but I think I can pick up your emotions from your eyes.” I looked at his horns. “I can see why humans would think you’re demons. Did Wyatt, Owen, and Randy see you like this? Is that why they tried to exorcise you?”
“No, that was just a coincidence. They've been suspicious for months, but when they wanted to—…you don’t need to know the details, but I refused and, apparently, Doyle wouldn’t have. That was all the proof they needed that a demon was controlling their brother."
"So, Doyle started acting decent and they immediately thought 'demon'. Tells you all you need to know. No wonder they couldn't find anyone willing to marry them. Doyle just got lucky I was too stupid to know better."
"You're not stupid, you're just too kind, patient, and selfless. You're wasted on humans like them. They didn't have a brain cell between them. If Doyle really was possessed, their techniques wouldn’t have exorcised a louse off his scalp.”
I surprised myself as I laughed. "They kept splashing water on you. I bet that did the exact opposite of what they wanted."
His chuckle sounded like a bubbling kettle. "If our lives weren't on the line, yea, I would've found it quite refreshing."
I studied his eyes, and my smile faded. “Is it still hard for you, living on land?”
“Yes, but after I met you it became worth it.”
"You said you used to hunt in the woods. You guys eat land animals?"
"We're natural hunters and we eat anything. I also ate in greasy restaurants when I was the female human. I thought I hated human food, but then I met you and had my first ever home-cooked meal. It was a welcome change."
"That was the first time 'Doyle' thanked me." I frowned at a thought. “If you were Doyle when I got pregnant, wouldn’t this baby be his?”
“The DNA we adopt is added to all our cells except the reproductive ones, or else each generation will end up with a mishmash of all the adopted DNA of the previous generations.”
“Oh. How many DNAs can you have?”
“There isn’t really a limit, but the more you adopt, the higher the probability of transformation errors. Twenty’s our average."
"Do you have twenty?"
"No. I have six aquatic species, the female human, a coyote in case anyone saw me in the woods, and Doyle.”
I sat up, curious. “Can I see them? The land ones?”
He smiled. “Sure.”
He stood up, and fur sprouted from his skin as he bent over and transformed into a large coyote. I’d never seen one before, and I couldn’t help but shy away at its size despite its unthreatening posture. He then transformed into the woman, and I felt a twinge of sorrow knowing he found her dead in the ocean.
“Why’s she bald?" I asked.
“Because hairstyles, scars, amputations...those aren't coded in DNA. But her hair did grow when I lived as her for a while. So did Doyle's.”
“I was glad, I didn’t like it when he shaved his head." I paused. "If you had a scar or amputation, does your transformed self have that too?"
"Yes, but we have regenerative abilities, so disfigurements aren’t permanent.”
“Can you turn into a giant baby?”
“No, but I’ll be what the baby will look like when it’s my age.”
"Can you turn into a giant bug?"
"Yes."
"A plant?"
"No."
He gave me an eager smile as he waited for further questions, but although I had many, I remained silent in thought.
“Should I transform into Doyle?” he asked, hesitant.
“No. I don’t want to see him ever again. You can go back to your own self.”
He did and sat beside me. “Do you have anything else you’d like to ask?”
I held his hand and turned it around in mine, running my fingers over his as I tried to come to terms with my new reality.
I could understand why he was afraid to tell me what he was, but he shouldn't have pretended to be my husband to get me to carry his child. He had multiple options to fulfill his goal, and although he chose to remain transformed to live with me, and although he was respectful and appreciated my company, he shouldn't have tricked me.
Then again, I made questionable choices too. I sensed something was off, yet I chose to live the fantasy instead of confronting my suspicions.
My belly shifted beneath our hands, settling my confused emotions. My old life didn't exist anymore, and I didn't miss it. The baby was what mattered now, and that evoked a surge of forgiveness and serenity. I believed Raphael's remorse, I admired his stance against his government, I sympathized with his struggles, I felt his vulnerability, I understood his loneliness, and I appreciated his previous treatment and his current transparency and absolute trust.
I looked at him. “I want to see your cave.”
“Really?”
“Yes. If we’re going to raise a family together, I want you and the kids to be comfortable. I can live anywhere.”
His voice became gravelly and tight. “Can I hug you?”
I nodded, and he held me close as he whispered, “Thank you.”
My head rested under his chin as I hooked my arms around his neck, and I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Why do you have two heartbeats?”
“Because I have two hearts, two circulatory systems.” He softly pressed my head against his chest. “This is the bigger heart, for the blood.” He reached back and guided my hand to the base of his skull. “The smaller heart is here, beneath the brainstem. It's for the transference fluid.”
"Did you have two hearts as Doyle?"
"Yes, I always do. But they're in sync when we're in a transformed state."
"That's two hearts more than he had." I sighed, listening to their polyrhythmic beat. "What are we going to do about his brothers?"
"I piled their remains in Wyatt's truck and drove them to his house before I set it on fire. I don't think anyone will suspect anything other than three drunk idiots got careless smoking. Randy's car is under Doyle's name, so I left it here in case you and I went our separate ways."
He was ready to let me go despite what I knew, and absolute contentment washed over me as I snuggled in his safe embrace. "A second car can come in handy, just wish it wasn't Randy's clunky tin can."
He chuckled.

After a day of indigestion, hormonal mood swings, relentless baby kicks, and funeral preparations for Doyle’s brothers, we woke up the next morning ready to go on our road trip. Raphael transformed into the woman, and we got in Doyle’s truck and made the two-hour journey to the cave.
After parking in the woods, he carried me up jagged rocks and through narrow tunnels until we reached an unexpected space that seemed to stretch on forever. My mouth dropped open as my eyes darted around, trying to take in the incredible view.
The walls of the cave dipped and protruded, their natural pattern continuing towards the high ceiling where haphazard openings allowed sunlight to stream through. The beams illuminated the crystal-clear waters of a vast lake, the gentle ripples sending mesmeric reflections across the slate-grey rock surrounding us.
Raphael lowered me down on a ledge. “Do you like it?”
“It’s breathtaking, Raph. I love it.”
He smiled. “I’ve set it up for myself underwater, but I’ll set it up for you up here. It won’t take long, maybe a few days, and we can move in. And you don’t have to stay here. You can go anywhere you like and even have your own house and job out there. Whatever you want, I’ll support you.”
The lake seemed to be calling me. “I want you to teach me how to swim.”
“Of course.”
We took off our clothes, and he transformed into his original self before he carried me into the cool, silky water. I held on to him tight, my heart thudding in excitement. I wasn’t the only one excited as the baby began stirring, her movements rhythmic and gentle as opposed to her hungry, unruly kicks.
“She’s happy,” I said, smiling. “She’s in her element."
"The baby?"
"Yes. I don’t know how, but I can sense her. Is this what your women feel when they're pregnant?”
His eyes glinted and he leaned his head against mine. “Yes.”
“What should we name her?”
“Whatever you like.”
I thought for a few seconds. “Do you like the name Tiana?”
“It’s beautiful, what does it mean?”
“I don’t know, but it’s the name of the princess in The Princess and the Frog.”
He paused, blinking, then he laughed. “I love it.”
He set me down, and I gripped the coarse rock with my toes as he taught me the basics of floating, treading, and not panicking. He was a lot more graceful than he was on land, and it was enchanting to watch. He then held my hands and pulled me into deeper waters, and I smiled as I kicked my legs to stay afloat.
“You’re a natural!” he said.
“It’s amazing feeling so light! My back really needed this.”
“We can come here as often as you like. And, if you want, I think we should prepare for a water birth since you're due any day now.”
“What's that?” I asked as we swam to a shallow area.
He sat on a ledge in the water and pulled me onto his lap, holding me close. “It’s like a regular birth, but in water. Our young are more developed than yours, but we never give birth on land. Humans have done water births, so it should be alright."
“I’m ready to do anything to make sure Tiana’s safe and healthy. Is there anything else I should know? What’ll she look like?"
"I don't know. Our genes are dominant in adoptions, but I have no idea reproductively. Our young look like me but more compact with no horns, claws, or teeth. They're also covered in fine hair...perhaps like peach fuzz? But they shed that layer within the first week." He put a gentle hand on my stomach. "Your baby bump is bigger than our kind's, though, so I don't know how different she'll be."
I put my hand over his. "How do I care for her? Will she nurse?"
"Yes, but you don't have to do it. I've got a stockpile of substitute milk here and we can take turns feeding her."
"Why can't I nurse her?"
"You can, but if she's anything like our young, she'll be even more demanding than she is now. They're always hungry and will grow to twice their size in the first two weeks before they wean."
"Oh." I licked my lips as Tiana’s kicks began getting impatient. “Speaking of, we’re craving something.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never tasted it. I just know Tiana and I want it.” I turned to him. “If you live in water, why have we been craving raw meat instead of fish?”
“I’m not sure. Cravings are dictated by the baby’s needs for protein, iron, fat, and so on. They can be overwhelming and our pregnant women just go wild hunting seals, sea lions, and walruses. But our baby is half-human. Also, you’ve never tried seal, sea lion, or walrus before so you wouldn’t really know to crave it.”
“Maybe that’s what I’m craving now, that taste I don’t know. Maybe the water made Tiana get in touch with her father’s side and she’s craving seal or walrus.”
“Then I’ll try to find one for you.”
“Don’t break into a zoo, Raph.”
He chuckled. “I’ll find us an alternative.”

Two days after our visit to Raphael’s cave, he called me while on a grocery run. “Penelope, they’re in town,” he said in a rushed whisper.
I sat up at the panic in his voice. “The government guys after you?”
“Yes, five of them. I didn’t think they’d come this far inland.”
“Did they track your unique smell thing?”
“No. It’s not really like a scent that lingers and can be traced. It’s perhaps more like…an aura? I don’t know how to explain it. I don't think they know I'm here yet. They must’ve been infiltrating the continent over the past three years, looking for me and hoping I'd seek out human interaction.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m not coming home, I don’t want them finding you if they end up sensing me and follow. I’m going to dodge them and go to the cave. Do you remember where it is? Can you meet me there?”
“Yes. I’ll drive Randy’s car right over.”
“Please be careful. I’m going to get rid of my phone in case they catch me, so they don’t find out about you. Oh, shit!”
My pulse raced. “What is it? Raph?”
“I’m okay,” he whispered. “I’m looking for a venomous creature with an exoskeleton to adopt for protection.”
“Why can’t you use the coyote? It was scary.”
“It’s also easy to kill. I need armor. Some of the weapons we have can liquefy you.”
"Liquefy! Raph, get a gun!"
"We have repellent suits for exploration and battle, and I'm certain they'd be wearing them under the army uniforms they've got on."
“Be careful, Raph, please. It’s one thing to die fighting, but another to die from a spider bite because you were stupid.”
He managed a tight, sad chuckle. “I love you so much. I'm so sorry."
“I love you too, and I’ll see you in two hours, okay? Stay safe!”
“You too.”
I hung up and hobbled to the closet, where I struggled to put on a pair of shoes suitable for navigating the cave. After a detour to the bathroom, I shuffled to the kitchen to get provisions for the two-hour drive, and a scream ripped from my throat when the front door crashed open and a net was thrown over me, sending me tumbling to the ground.
I looked up in horror to see a group of five men in army fatigues, one of them dragging me to the side while the others began searching the house. These must be the five after Raphael, and my heart sank as I wondered how they found me.
Their raid had to mean they thought Raphael was here and I was glad he managed to dodge them, but my relief was short-lived. Raphael said Tiana had an "aurascent" he could sense, which meant they could too. According to Raphael, her existence was wrong in their eyes and I was an enemy, and my only thought right now was ensuring her and my survival.
After tearing the house apart, they surrounded me, and I curled up to shield my agitated baby bump as I scanned their identical faces with dread. They must have adopted the same man. None of them appeared to have learned facial expressions or body language, though, and I shuddered as I felt like I was surrounded by robots.
One of them crouched next to me and reached for my belly, and my defenses kicked in as I tried to knee him and push his hand away. Two other men squatted down, one grabbing my arms and pinning them against my chest while the other held my legs, and I twisted and strained as the first man reached for my exposed stomach again.
“No, please don’t hurt my baby!”
He lay his hand on top, pressing the netting against my flesh. “Where's the father?”
I wasn't giving Raphael up, but I didn't know how to reply. Afraid of saying the wrong thing and putting Tiana and myself in jeopardy, I remained silent as I continued to struggle.
He pressed down harder, his fingertips digging in. “Where's the father?”
I gasped, crying out, "I don't know! I don't know!"
"When will he come home?"
"I don't know!"
He pulled out my phone, and I now wished I had a passcode. "Tell us an alternate method of contacting him that doesn't lead to voicemail."
"There isn't one!"
"He knew we were close," one of the standing men said to the rest. "He abandoned everything and ran. She's useless."
"Wait," the second standing man said.
He stripped before transforming into his original self, looking almost identical to Raphael except for the larger horns and thinner lips. I kept my eyes glued to him, trembling as I wondered what he was going to do next.
The man gripping my baby bump studied me. "She has no shock. He told her the truth about himself. About us. She's not only a bearer."
"He bonded with a human?" the man pinning my arms asked.
Their monotone voices and blank expressions left me lost. I couldn't tell if they were disgusted or impressed, nor could I figure out what this meant for Tiana and me.
"This is good," the man holding my legs said. "He won't abandon his unit. He'll come."
"He won't come, he knows we're here," the standing man who was still human said. "She's aware of our existence and the unborn is a crime. He knows their fate at our hands. He won't risk his freedom defending a condemned, second-rate unit."
“Why are you certain he knows we're here?”
“Because he's not in town and he's abandoned all methods of communication despite having a female carrying his child.”
"Perhaps he set an evacuation plan." The man released my stomach to check my phone. "His last call was nine minutes before we arrived at this house." He looked at me. "What did he tell you?"
"N-nothing," I replied.
"He's a fugitive, he must be apprehended. What did he tell you?"
"P-please...leave us alone. We aren't hurting anyone."
The standing man who was still human lifted his foot to stomp on my stomach, and I strained against those holding me as I screamed, “No! No, please!”
The man who had transformed into his original self grabbed the aggressor and pushed him back, but I didn’t feel relief as Tiana thrashed beneath my racing heart. I writhed, gasping, as pain seared through my abdomen and warmth trickled between my legs, and my pleading eyes darted between the men's emotionless faces as I felt helpless and alone.
"What did the father tell you?" one asked, taking advantage of my desperate state.
I couldn't speak, my breaths hitching in broken sobs at the amplifying spasms and hopelessness.
The man who had transformed into his original self said something in his language before he clawed through the net and carried me. I gasped, but I was in too much pain to protest as he took me to the bathroom, lay me down in the tub, and plugged it up before turning on the faucet.
The other men filed in after us like uncanny reflections of each other, but he shoved them out before locking the door. I eyed him with apprehension as he kneeled next to me, and I pushed his hand away with a strained cry when he reached for my clothes.
“You're going into labor. I've given birth before, I can help you.”
I frowned at her unexpected revelation, but a vicious pang stole my breath and I groaned and leaned back, nodding. She removed my clothes, folded a towel behind my head, and turned off the faucet once the water level surpassed my stomach. She held my hands and gave me advice as my body seized with every jolt of pain, and tears streamed down my face as I wished Raphael was with me instead.
After an agonizing half-hour of straining, puffing, and screaming, Tiana came into the world.
I stared in awe through my sweat and tears as she wiggled in the turbid water between my legs. I reached my trembling hands towards her, but I jerked back in surprise when she swam up to me and breached the surface. High-pitched cries squeaked out of her searching mouth as she climbed towards my chest with aggressive nuzzles, and my instincts took over as I cradled her and tried to help her nurse.
She didn’t know how to latch, and the woman studied us for a few seconds before she spoke over Tiana's hungry cries. "We have different mammary glands. Lie back and position her like this. It’ll be easier.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, adjusting Tiana while the woman cut the umbilical cord with her claws.
I caressed my beautiful baby's head as she looked at me with her dark, glossy eyes, her tiny fists kneading me as she nursed, her two heartbeats drumming out of step. Raphael was right about his genes being dominant, she looked just like him. Yet, along with the soft peach fuzz covering her body, there were longer strands of actual hair on her head. She also had a little protruding nose and a faint brow ridge.
The woman broke my reverie as she asked, "What did the father tell you when he called?"
I looked up at her. "What are you going to do to Tiana and me?"
"If you cooperate, you and your daughter won't suffer. What did the father tell you?"
Fear merged with my determination as I hugged Tiana tight. “Why can’t you just banish him with us out here?”
“The sentence should match the crime, and what you're suggesting won't be punishment.”
“He didn’t commit a crime, he uncovered one.”
"His actions have led to destabilization and disorder.” She pointed to me. "And he revealed our existence to the enemy and had a child outside of his species."
"None of this would’ve happened if your government wasn’t evil. And what’s done is done, killing him won't change anything.”
“Emulation must be discouraged.”
“We aren't hurting anyone, we just want to live in peace. Please.”
“His own choices destroyed that possibility for himself and for you. What did he—"
She sat up and turned towards the door, and within a second she'd left the bathroom and locked me in. Confused but not letting this chance go to waste, I stumbled out of the tub, wrapped Tiana in a towel, got dressed, and climbed on the toilet to pry open the small window above it. Tiana’s wails echoed against the tiles as I huffed and strained, the stubborn frame grinding with every desperate one of my heaves as I fought through my pain and fatigue.
The bathroom door crashed open, and I abandoned the hopeless mission as I jumped down and scrambled for Tiana. Pressing her to my chest, I flung myself into a corner and brandished a hairbrush like a weapon, ready to fight tooth and nail for my daughter.
Shock replaced my resolve when I saw the enormous scorpion that had collided backwards into the sink, inky liquid spraying from where its left claw would be. The scorpion was terrifying, its remaining claw snapping and its stinger striking as it fought the woman and her long, radiating weapon, but she was determined as she searched for a weakness on its body and deflected its attacks with speed and skill.
Recalling Raphael's phone call, I hurled the hairbrush at her, afraid she'd end up liquefying him. It struck her in the eye, and that distraction was all Raphael needed to trip her and bury his giant stinger in her chest, coating the tiles with a spray of black as its tip protruded from her back. She collapsed lifeless to the floor, and his legs slipped on the blood as he whipped around to face us.
I stared at him in gratitude and concern as his exoskeleton dissolved and the claw, tail, and excess legs withdrew into his body. He stumbled against the wall and slid to the ground, panting as he gripped his wound tight and looked up at us with relief.
“Oh no, Raph!” I ran over in horror and skidded beside him on my knees. “Your hand…your eye…”
“Don't worry, they'll grow back," he said, his voice weak. "Are you and Tiana okay?”
“Yes, but you aren't. We need to do something, you’re bleeding out.”
I placed our daughter in his intact arm and got to work cleaning and wrapping his wrist stump, and he looked at her with warmth and a soft smile as she nuzzled his chest with hungry squeaks.
“She’s beautiful,” he whispered before he turned to me, regret flashing across his eye. "I’m so sorry this happened. I’m so sorry I wasn’t with you for her birth. I'm so sorry you had to see me do...that.” He nodded towards the dead woman.
“Raph, you just saved our lives. You were amazing, how’d you even know?”
“I overheard the boys at the gas station talking about how they ratted Doyle out to a soldier looking for people whose behavior changed. When I rushed over and saw Randy's car still here, I was ready to fight with everything I had. If they killed you, I'd have nothing to live for.”
“What are we going to do now?” I asked, tending to his damaged eye.
“We have to get rid of the bodies and move to the cave before they send others after us. Whatever’s missing we can get later. Are you okay with that?”
“More than okay.” I rolled up my sleeves and nodded. “Let’s go.”
submitted by SkittishReflections to nosleep [link] [comments]

We Are Coming For You – Part 5

Start|Previous Part
“This is outrage!” One of the remaining Pirate Lords declared as he slammed his fist on the table in front of him. “You can’t allow this to go unpunished!”
Having reassembled in the meeting hall following the discovery of the death of one of their number each and every one of them seemed determined to have their say on the matter. Dàoguān meanwhile was attempting to regain some measure of control over the proceedings as Artum sat glowering at room with a patched up Asami seated indifferently beside him with Thatcher, Tucker and Vic stationed behind them.
Quieting them down long enough to get a word in edgeways Dàoguān loudly said “As I have repeatedly told you all my men have investigated the incident and we have found no fault lies with Lady Asami.”
“She Killed Manda!” Tellou snapped angrily. “We should toss her out an air lock!”
“I’d like to see you try.” Artum growled darkly. “Manda was lucky my bride dispatched him before I got my hands on him. The same goes for all of you; I’ll gouge out your eyes and make you eat them if even think of touching her.”
“Enough of this arguing.” Dàoguān said with a sigh. “I was hoping you would all simply take me at my word for it but since it seems you all need convincing allow me to present the evidence.” With a gesture to Tradi the attendant bowed his head and moved towards a large screen at the back of the room. “If you’ll all turn your attention to the screen you’ll see what happened.”
Standing at a bar Asami leaned against the counter as she tried to flag down the bartender. Finally getting a drink Asami brought the glass to her lips when someone behind her said “You the Praxian’s pet human?”
Turning to find a group of five wary looking aliens surrounding her Asami replied “Depends who’s asking.”
“You’re to come with us this instant.” one of them replied.
Giving him a smirk Asami said “As fun as that sounds I’m afraid I’m spoken for boys.”
“Pirate Lord Manda wants to see you.”
“Manda… Manda… which one was Manda again? The tall one with the big bug eyes or the short stumpy one?” she asked as she brought her glass to her lips only for one of them to grab her by her elbow spilling her drink.
“How dear you talk about your betters like that!” he snapped “A whore like you should know her place.”
Turning her head to stare at the offending hand Asami narrowed her eyes as they trailed up his arm towards his face “You owe me a drink.” she said coldly as she reached up to pull her hair stick from her hair making the pirate release her arm and take a fearful step backwards. As she made to approach the retreating alien Asami paused when she felt something press into her hip. Looking down she saw the barrel of a small handgun pressed against her “I thought those weren’t allowed on this station.”
“Lord Manda is a very powerful man with vast resources. If he wants something he gets it. Now why don’t you put that down on the bar.” The one holding the gun told her.
With deliberate slowness Asami placed the metal stick down on the counter “You know, I don’t need this to kill the five of you.”
Letting out a grunt the one with the gun ignored her provocation and said “As we were saying Lord Manda wants to meet you.”
“And as I said, I’m already spoken for.” she replied.
“You have no say in the matter you stupid bitch.” the one she had chased off sneered, regaining his bluster now that he had his friends backing.
Smirking derisively at him Asami folded her arms across her chest and said “Well look at Billy Big Bollocks over here. You grew a pair pretty quickly didn’t ya?” only to grunt softly when he backhanded her across the face splitting her lip.
“It seems like someone needs to teach you some respect.” he snarled at her.
Bringing her fingers up to her bleeding lip Asami looked at the blood before saying. “I want you to remember this moment,” she said levelly. “After I’ve cut off you balls and you’re lying on the floor bleeding to death I want you to think back to this precise moment in time and realise this was when it all went wrong for you.”
Jabbing the gun into her side the pirate growled out “Let’s just behave. Now, Lord Manda was kind enough to extend you an invitation and I think you should just accept like a good little girl.”
“That’s right.” the one who slapped her smirked “Otherwise we’ll have to mess up this pretty face of yours.” he snickered as he reached out to roughly grasp Asami by her chin.
Grabbing his wrist Asami twisted it painfully as she slammed her forearm against his throat and pushed him against the bar. Pinning him against the counter Asami grabbed her glass and spun it over before slamming it onto the bar shattering the rim leaving it lined with sharp, jagged shards of glass which she then rammed into his crotch. As he screamed and flailed wildly Asami pressed harder against his throat as she twisted the broken glass back and forth, mincing the meat at his groin until she felt the gun rammed against the back of her head.
Pausing in what she was doing Asmai looked out the corner of her eye to see the wide eyed pirate holding the gun to her head in shaking hands “Let him go!” he demanded angrily.
Moving with deliberate slowness Asami removed her arm from his throat before pulling the glass away from his groin and held up both hands in surrender allowing her accosters to stare at the bloodied glass in her hand covered in gore and strips of flesh. Falling to his knees the pirate she attacked clutched at his groin while moaning pitifully. “You might want to get him an ice pack or something.” Asami said with a smile.
“Drop the glass!” he demanded. Doing as she was told Asami let the glass fall from her hand. “Keep your hands where I can see them and don’t make any sudden movements, understand?!”
“Whatever you say.” she replied easily.
Looking over his shoulder at the other three pirates who were standing their with mouths agape he said “You three come with me, we’re taking her to Lord Manda.”
“What about him?” one of them asked gesturing to their companion who was curled up in a ball with a rapidly expanding pool of blood growing beneath him.
“You can come back for him after we’re done with her.” he snapped at them “There’s no way you’re leaving me alone with her!”
Smirking over her shoulder at him Asami said “Sweetie, if I wanted to kill you your entire crew wouldn’t so such as make me break my gait.”
“Shut up and get moving!” he shrieked at her, panic seeping into his voice.
“Alright, alright let’s just take a deep breath in and out and calm down for a minute.” she said soothingly “Now I can tell this is your first time dealing with a human so I’ll walk you through this and tell you where you went wrong. Your first mistake was spilling my drink.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?!”
“I’m saying you boys owe me a drink and I’m not going anywhere before I get one.” she stated.
“Do you not realise I have a gun pressed against your head?!” he asked incredulously.
“I know.” she nodded. “I also know that we can do this one of two ways. The easy way is you get me a drink and I’ll come along nice and quietly. The really easy way involves me taking that gun from you, putting a bullet in each of the three stooges over there before shooting you in the knee caps. I’ll then start cutting pieces off of you until you tell me where your boss is and then I’ll go put a bullet right between his eyes.” she explained. “I don’t particularly care which one you want to go with but I’d prefer it if you made up your mind before I get bored and make the choice for you.”
Sweating profusely the pirate regarded her for one long moment before asking “You won’t cause any trouble if we give you a drink?”
“You can’t be seriously considering-” one of his friends stated to say.
“Shut up!” he snapped back, his eyes not leaving Asami “Well?”
“I’ll be on my best behaviour.” she promised.
“Get her a drink.” he growled.
Scrambling to do as he was told one other the other pirates slipped behind the bar where the bartender had long since fled and poured her a drink in a new glass before sliding it towards her. “Thank you.” Asami smiled sweetly as she accepted the glass and brought it to her lips to sip from it. Draining the glass Asami placed it back on the bar and said “Shall we go?”
“Just no sudden moves.” he said gesturing with his gun.
Pausing to look down at the still wailing man at her feet Asami said “I hope you’re reflecting on your life choices.” Before stomping down on his throat crushing his windpipe.
Thrusting the gun against the back of her head again he said “What did I just tell you?!”
"Just thought I'd save your friends the hassle of coming back for him." she said sweetly as she looked over her shoulder at him “And let me give you another tip. When you’re threatening someone try and keep your voice level. No one’s going to take you seriously if you sound like you’re about to piss yourself. Also the next time you press that gun against my head like that I’ll take it off of you and beat you to death with it.”
Staring into her eyes he reluctantly pulled the gun from her head but kept it levelled at her “There you go. See, there’s no harm in trying to be civil to one another is there?” she smiled as she picked up her hair stick and put it back in her hair.
“Uh-uh, you’re not taking that with you.” he shook his head back and forth.
“Oh? Are you going to take it off of me?” she challenged him with a smile. “I thought not. Oh, and when you’ve got a gun to someone’s head try not to let them see your hand shaking so much. It kind of undermines what you’re going for.” she advised. “Now shall we get going? Because I’m starting to get a little bored.”
Having been marched at gunpoint towards the section of the station reserved for Manda and his crew Asami was directed to enter a room filled with Manda’s lieutenants. Parting as she moved deeper into the room the lieutenants eyed her warily all the while she smiled pleasantly at them until she came to a stop in front of a table laden with food with a single alien sitting behind it.
Pirate Lord Manda was a tall insectoid with a spindly build, his arms and legs were long and slender while his head was large and round with two bulbous multifaceted eyes sunken into his skull along with intricate ridges along his scalp. He had a pair of mandibles at the corners of his mouth which chittered in agitation at the sight of Asami.
“Why did you bring me the whore? I told you to bring me one of the males.” he said angrily.
“S-She was the first one we found.” the pirate holding the gun answered nervously.
“Useless!” he spat “I have enough whores as it is why would I want the Praxians as well!”
“You really don’t want to keep calling me a whore.” Asami said with a smile.
Turning his attention to Asami Manda said “And why is that?”
“Because the next time you do I’ll cut your tongue out.” she said cheerfully as she took a seat opposite him.
Staring hard at the woman for a long moment Manda turned to the four that had escorted her to him “Did you check her for weapons?”
“N-No sir.” the one with a gun shook his head “Before we could she-”
“Imbecile!” Manda interrupted him “You didn’t even confiscate the spike she used on the Draastrkian! Remove it from her at once!”
Turning to give the pirate an amused smile Asami said “Go ahead, take it.”
Swallowing hard he reached out a trembling hand towards her hair. When his hands got close to her Asami snapped her teeth together making him recoil in fear. Letting out a laugh Asami reached up and pulled the stick from her hair and held it out to him. As he gingerly accepted it Asami turned back to Manda and said “I wouldn’t be too hard on them. If I had seen what I did to their friend I’d think twice about getting handsy too.”
“Shut up.” Manda snapped at her. “I’ll discipline my men as I see fit.”
“Suit yourself.” Asami shrugged. “How about buying a girl a drink?”
“Don’t!” the four aliens who had escorted her suddenly blurted out in a panic.
Looking between his lieutenants and the woman siting there with an infuriating smirk on her face Manda said “Your incompetence is becoming an annoyance. Stand there and be silent or I’ll throw you out an airlock.” he threatened his men before glowering at Asmai.
“So? What do you want to talk to me about?” she asked.
“I didn’t want to speak to you.” he growled out. “I wanted to speak to the human in charge not the one spreading her legs to placate the Praxian.”
“I wouldn’t really say one of us is in charge; it’s more a flat organisational structure than a hierarchical one.” she replied snarkily “But if you don’t want to chat I guess I’ll be on my way.” she said as she started to get to her feet.
“Sit down.” Manda snapped at her. When she returned to her seat Manda said “I want to know what your plan is.”
“What plan is that?” she asked innocently.
“Your plan to kill the rest of us off so you can have the whole system to yourselves.” he spat at her.
“mmm, let me think.” Asami said thoughtfully “I don’t recall any specific plans to take over this place, just a more general ‘if the moment presents itself’ kind of thing.”
“Do you just act stupid or is your mind actually enfeebled?” Manda sneered at her.
Ignoring his insult Asami said “It sounds like you’re getting a wee bit paranoid. We’re more than satisfied with the cut we’re getting at the moment so why would be go to all the trouble of killing you? I mean, don’t get me wrong or anything, if you present us with an opening we’ll go for your throat but can you honestly say you wouldn’t do the same to any of your fellow Pirate Lords?” seeing him glower at her Asami smiled and continued “I mean that’s why you’ve been attacking the trade ships right?”
Frowning at her Manda replied “We aren’t behind the attacks.”
“Right, sure you’re not.” Asami rolled her eyes. “Can I have some of this?” she asked as she reached out for a plate only for Manda to snatch it away from her.
“No you can’t.” he replied. “We have suffered more than any from these attacks. We have lost millions in lost trade.”
“And I’m sure you more than made up for it when you plundered the other trade convoys. Sounds like a small price to pay to put suspicion on someone else. I bet you were surprised when our guys proved more than a match for yours though huh?” she grinned at the now uncertain look on Manda’s face. “So why don’t you just ask me what you’ve wanted to ask me since I arrived?”
“And what is that?” he replied tersely.
“For an alliance of course.” she smiled.
Staring at her for a long moment Manda sneered and said “Why would I wish to ally with you?”
“Because we’re an unknown quantity and there’s a war on the horizon.” she replied. “I don’t know how much sway this Dàoguān has over you lot but I doubt he’ll be able to stop it. Now I don’t know all the intricacies of the relationship between you and the other Pirate Lords but I’d hazard a guess that you guys aren’t on the best of terms. But Artum’s the new guy on the scene, he’s got no prior relationship to any of you; no old grudges to settle, no debts needing to be paid, a complete blank slate. There’s nothing stopping him working together with any of you. And that puts him in the very interesting position to tip the balance of power which ever way he sees fit.”
“You overestimate your worth.” Manda said dismissively “If I so wished I could crush Artum’s entire crew with the wave if my hand.”
“You would try.” Asami smirked “But we’d bleed you for every inch of ground we concede. Even if you did beat us you’d be an easy target for any of the other Lords. Plus you’d have the four of us coming for you.”
Scoffing at her Manda said “You Humans are as arrogant as the stories say you are. Just because you fended off the Draastrkians you believe everyone should cower in fear of you.”
“It wasn’t just the Draastrkians we beat.” Asami reminded him.
“You bested a bloated bureaucracy who couldn’t distinguish it’s ass from it’s elbow. We expelled the Conglomeration from this system and we were mere pirates. So you’ll forgive me for not quaking at the thought of four apes gunning for my life.”
“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong.” she smiled “You shouldn’t be afraid of us coming to kill you. We don’t let those who slight us off that easy. Ask your errand boy what happened to the last guy who made me spill my drink.”
“Bluster and bravado.” he snorted “I’m not frightened by the likes of you.”
“Oh? Is that why you’ve got some twenty some guys backing you up just to meet with little old me?” she wondered idly. “That certainly screams bravery to me.”
His mood darkening Manda glowered at her and said “I’ve had enough of your mouth, human. Shoot her in the head and dump her corpse outside Artums door. That’ll show him how unimpressed we are with his pet humans.”
“I would really advise against doing something as stupid as that.” she said looking at the alien holding the gun who was nervously looking between Asami and his boss.
“What are you waiting for!” Manda snapped at him “Kill this whore!”
Snatching the gun from his hand one of Manda’s other lieutenants strode forward towards Asami.
As the gun was pressed against her head Asami’s hand shot up to grasp the aliens wrist and pushed it to the side just as he pulled the trigger causing him to shoot one of his compatriots. Before anyone could react Asami was on her feet. Spinning on her heel Asami slammed her elbow into his temple making him stagger backwards as she grabbed the gun from his hand and emptied the rest of the bullets into five of the aliens who had started to charge at her. As the gun clicked empty Asami deftly spun the gun around to hold it by the barrel and used it to bludgeon the nose of an approaching pirate, the handle of the weapon shattering along with his nose in a spray of blood and cartilage from the force of the strike. Discarding the ruined weapon Asami turned to meet the next assailant only to thrown to the floor as a large, boulder like fist slammed into her.
Before she could recover from the attack the same fist that knocked her down seized her around her throat and lifted her up as if she weighed nothing before slamming her down onto the table where Manda was still sitting in the same place since the start of their meeting. “Most people like to have Draastrkians as bodyguards.” he smirked down at her. “They think having one of them at their back makes them more intimidating. Personally I find Carggas more reliable. Tear her head off.” he ordered casually
As the rock monster tightened his grip around her neck Asami began to choke. Bringing her hands upwards she tried to pry his thick fingers from his throat as she started to kick him in the chest causing him to let out a rumbling laugh as he grabbed her ankle and pulled hard on her leg making her cry out through gritted teeth. “I wonder what will come off first, your head or your leg.” he snickered as he pulled harder on her leg. With both his hands occupied he was unable to protect himself when Asami brought the knee of her unrestrained leg up to her chest and like a coiled spring the heel of her foot shot out and slammed into his chin, snapping his head back.
Releasing his hold on Asami to clutch his broken jaw the Cargga fell to his knees as he spat out shattered fragments of teeth. Leaping to her feet Asami grabbed a spoon from the table and threw herself at the Cargga and stabbed the handle of the spoon into it’s eye. As it roared in pain Asami grabbed his head and slammed it against the table driving the spoon deeper into it’s skull piercing it’s brain and silencing it’s cries of pain. Throwing his body to the floor Asami breathed hard to catch her breath and pressed her foot against the Cargga’s face “Correct me if I’m wrong,” Asami said as she reached down to yank the spoon from his eye socket with a grunt. As the remaining aliens stared in horror as she raised the spoon dripping with eye jelly and brain matter to point it at the stupefied Pirate Lord she continued “But I’m pretty sure you just called me a whore again, didn’t you?”
The assembled Pirate Lords watched in horrified fascination as Asami tore through the rest of Manda’s men. Using chairs, tables, bottles, cutlery, plates and absolutely anything else she could get her hands on Asami threw herself at the pirates with the fury of an unrelenting storm; slashing, stabbing, gouging and bludgeoning with such ferocity that they could only watch her decimate their comrades in a horrified stupor; spurring into action only when she turned her wrath upon them though by the time it occurred to them to act she had already sliced through a jugular or caved their head in.
By the time there was less than half alive one of them had enough sense to try and flee but Asami threw a chair at him which tangled his legs and knocked him to the floor allowing her to stalk over to him and snap his neck. Faced with the very real possibility that they weren’t going to get out of this alive one of the remaining pirates ran to the bar and reached down behind it to grab a long, machete like blade and charged at Asami. Narrowly dodging his first slash that would have disembowelled her Asami was forced backwards by his wild swings. As she took a cut to her upper arm Asami bared her teeth in a snarl only to cry out and fall to the floor as a bottle smashed against her face leaving a deep cut above her eyebrow. Looking to take advantage of her fall the machete wielding pirate charged towards her. With blood blinding one eye Asami lashed out with her foot and slammed it into his knee making it buckle and bend backwards with a sickening snap. As he fell forward on top of Asami she grabbed hold of the hand holding the knife and redirected the blade so that as he landed on top of her the tip of the blade was driven through his forehead and skewered his brain.
Rolling him off of her Asami climbed to her feet as she grasped the handle of the machete to pull it free from the aliens skull. In the same movement Asami slashed upwards at the pirate who had struck her with the bottle, the blade catching him between his legs making him scream in pain. Dragging the blade upwards Asami carved him from groin to gullet before kicking him in the chest so that he was thrown backwards instead of stumbling on top of her.
Now armed with an actual weapon Asami made short work of the remaining pirates, even as they started to throw down whatever makeshift weapons they had acquired and surrendered Asami gave them no quarter and cut them down until only Manda remained. Seeing him cowering against a wall Asami smiled as she limped towards him. Grabbing a chair on her way Asami dragged it along before setting it in front of the terrified Pirate Lord and sat down on it while holding her oversized knife with the point stabbed into the floor. Letting out a deep breath Asami smiled down at him “Well, that was a lot fun wasn’t it?”
Gulping loudly as he stared at the human stained with blood of various hues Manda started to stutter out “I-I’ll give you anything you want-”
“Shh Shh Shh.” she silenced him and brought a single finger to her lips. “I’m just going to ask you a few questions and then it’ll all be over.”
Not liking the ambiguity of that statement Manda said “And you’ll let me go-Ahh!” he screamed as Asami stabbed him in the shoulder with her machete.
“I said I was going to ask the questions.” she said calmly, driving the tip of the knife deeper until it hit bone. “Not you.”
“Ahh! You Crazy Fucking Wh-”
“I would be very careful about the language you choose to use around me.” Asami said as she twisted the blade making him cry out. “Now are you ready to answer my questions?”
Breathing hard as he clutched at his shoulder to staunch the blood Manda chittered his mandibles and said “What do you want to know?” only to cry out when Asami slapped the flat of her blade hard against his face.
“I thought we just established that I would be asking the questions.” she said sternly. “Now let’s try this again; are you ready to answer my questions?” getting a fearful nod from him Asami smiled brightly at him “Good. Let’s get started then.” Looking around her Asami found an unopened bottle of alcohol and picked it up. “First, what species are you?” she asked as she opened the bottle and brought it to her lips.
“My...Species?” he frowned in confusion. Seeing Asami narrow her eyes as she continued to drink Manda quickly followed up by saying. “I’m a Volth!”
“A Volth huh?” Asami said as she poured some of the alcohol onto her still bleeding arm with only the smallest of grimaces. “mmm, I’m pretty sure I’ve never interrogated one of them before so you’re going to have to be patient with me as I’m sure this will be a learning experience for the both of us.” she said with a smile sending a shudder down his spine. “Yours will be the ninth species I’ve tortured. Well, tenth if you include humans as well but that doesn’t really count in my book. That said you are only the second insectoid species I’ve worked on so that’s something right?” she grinned down at him “The other one was… N'Zeri I think they were called? Something like that anyway. Their bodies had these thick layers of chitin, an exoskeleton which was like plate armour. They were hell to cut though so we used to just slowly peel it off plate by plate in order to get to the soft flesh beneath it. You don’t have anything like that do ya?”
“N-No.” he shook his head.
“That’s good. Makes things easier.” she said cheerfully. “Now then, are there any organs in particular which when punctured, beaten or in some other way damaged will lead to a quick death?” As Manda pointed out several such organs Asami gave a thoughtful hum “mmm, I wish Vic was here. Usually he’d be sitting in the background taking notes for me but I guess I’ll just have to do my best to remember them. Are your gentiles external or internal?” seeing his mouth drop open at the question Asami quickly followed up saying “Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m asking purely out of professional curiosity. You see I’ve found creatures with external genitalia are very protective of them, the mere threat of lopping them off is usually enough to get them talking.” she explained as she pushed the tip of her machete along the floor towards Manda’s groin making him scramble to push himself upwards and away from the blade. “Ah, I’ll just put you down as external shall I?” she smiled pleasantly.
Swallowing hard Manda said “Y-You don’t need to do any of this, I’ll tell you whatever you want to know!”
Tilting her head in thought for a moment Asami said “oh, I see where the confusion is; you’ve missed the point of this whole exercise. You don’t have any information I want to know. What I’m interested in is how your species holds up under advanced interrogation.” she explained with a smile “You see I take great pride in my skills as an interrogator and ever since we came to the Galactic Stage I’ve had to develop all new techniques for dealing with xenobiology. I mean what’s effective on a human isn’t necessarily going to be effective on a Draastrekian you know? Honestly I’m kind of glad those Lizards picked a fight with us; interrogating humans was losing it’s lustre. I mean we’ve be torturing each other for thousands of years now to the point where we’ve got it down to a science. There’s only so many times you can break a man’s fingers before it starts to get little stale. But ever since you fuckers started a war with us I’ve had the opportunity to get real creative in order to deal with alien physiology.” she said as she held her machete with the tip stabbed into the floor and folded her hands over the end of the hilt so that she could rest her chin on them. “In your case your body seems pretty frail so I doubt you’d be able to withstand even the basic shit I’d do to a human. So we’re gonna have to take things nice and slow and discover the limits of Volth physiology.” she explained as a cruel smile tugged at the corners of her lips. “I’ve got to admit I always look forward to working on a new species. It’s just a shame I don’t have my tools with me but I guess we’ll just have to muddle along with what we have at hand.” she said as she tapped her blade against the ground a couple of times.
As he stared in horror at the woman happily describing what she planned to do to him Manda spat out “You’re insane.”
“Well that’s not a very nice thing to say to a girl talking about her hobbies.” she huffed.
“You insane, sadistic bitch; you think I’m just going to let you toy with me like some experiment!?” he snapped at her.
“I’d watch my language if I were you.” Asami replied as she narrowed her eyes at him.
“Shut up!” he snarled maniacally as his breathing came fast and heavy “You think I’m intimidated by you? I Am Pirate Lord Manda! And I’m not going to let some Praxian’s whore do as she pleases!” he roared vehemently only to scream when Asami thrust her hand into his mouth to yank out his tongue and cut it off.
As Manda fell to his knees with blood pouring from between his mandibles Asami dropped the severed tongue onto the floor in front of him. “I told you what would happen if you called me a whore again.” she said coldly. Staring up at her in terror Manda tried to scramble away as he gibbered incoherently only for Asami to stab him through the leg pinning him in place before he could get very far. “I guess it doesn’t take much to drive a Volth to insanity. You guys haven’t got much in the way of mental fortitude do you?” she said disappointedly. “oh well I guess I’ll just have to see how sturdy your body is.”
With what only could be described as grotesque artistry Asami set to work. As much as it sickened them to watch none of the Pirate Lords cold tear their eyes from the scene being played out before them. They watched in abject fascination as Asami brutally mutilated the still screaming Manda, her every cut delivered with well practised precision designed to inflict the most pain imaginable while keeping him alive until finally his body could sustain no more abuse and died. Asami gave an annoyed tsk as she prodded him a few times to ensure he had really expired before summarily decapitating him and stuffing his head in a bag.
As the video ended with Asami limping away with the bag in tow all eyes turned to the woman in question who was idly cleaning her nails with her machete. Feeling their stares upon her Asami flicked her eyes upwards to meet their gazes causing several of them to flinch as their eyes met and turn away. Satisfied that they were suitably terrified of her Asami looked back down and continued to give herself a manicure. Apart from the three Humans and Pirate Lord Yanko who was staring hungrily at Asami the only other person who seemed unperturbed by what they had just seen was Dàoguān. Even Artum stared wearily at her from the corner of his eye.
“As you can see.” Dàoguān started, drawing attention away from Asami “Lady Asami was merely defending herself.”
“You call that self defence?! She cut his fucking head off!” Tellou yelled angrily.
“This matter was instigated by Manda and Lady Asami has dealt with it herself. As far as I’m concerned the matter is settled.” Dàoguān decided.
“We are far from finished, Dàoguān.” Yanko said “For starters who gets Manda’s colony?”
“That can be decided at a later date.” Dàoguān said dismissively. “For now-”
“No, we shall settle this now!” Artum snapped angrily. “We were promised safe passage while on board this station and yet my bride was attacked! I want his colony and his crew in recompense!”
“Your pet human also killed one of my lieutenants. Will you be compensating me for his loss?” Tellou retorted.
“Another example of us being attacked unprovoked!” Artum snarled “We came here in good faith but all we have been met with is scorn and violence. If these offences aren’t made right we will leave right now and you can consider us at war!”
“You think you can survive a war against all of us?” Yanko asked amused.
With a vicious grin on his face Artum gestured to the humans arrayed behind him “I would put more faith in these four humans than all your crews combined.”
“You’re assuming we’d let you leave here alive.” Tellou stated dangerously.
For the first time since the meeting started the humans reacted, all four of them moving to stand guard in front of Artum daring any of them to make a move. While none of them carried weapons save for Asami’s machete their very presence gave the Pirate Lords pause and more than one lieutenant took a nervous step back.
After a tense moment of silence Dàoguān raised his hand for attention and said “Enough of this. Lord Artum is correct in saying he has been wronged and in the spirit of harmony amongst friends he shall have the colony but Manda’s crew may disperse as themselves as they see fit.”
“If you truly wanted to promote harmony between us then we should all share the profits from Manda’s planet.” Another Pirate Lord opinioned.
Fixing him with a steely glare Dàoguān replied “In that case perhaps I should take the planet for my own. If you all wish to act like squabbling children then I shall treat you as such.”
“You overreach Dàoguān.” Yanko rumbled “You may have brought us together but you arbitrate at our discretion.”
Turning his gaze upon him Dàoguān said “And I think you forget your place. The only reason you are in the position you are in is because I selected you to join this consortium but if you no longer wish to contribute your departure can easily be arranged.” He declared with a subtle gesture causing the guards who lined the walls of the room to point their guns at the assembled pirates.
Holding Dàoguān’s gaze for a moment longer Yanko waved a hand and said “Give him the planet if you so wish.”
Giving him a withering look Dàoguān looked back towards Artum who was still being shielded by his human agents. “I trust this is acceptable to you?”
“It will do for now. But I won’t tolerate any more slights.” Artum grunted.
“Wonderful.” Dàoguān said dryly. “Now I think we should adjourn for the day and let tempers cool before we continue our discussions. I trust you can all keep from killing each other?” getting a grumbling agreement from the various pirate crews Dàoguān gave a grunt and left the room with Tradi following close behind.
Moving around from behind the table Artum wrapped his arm around Asami’s waist and said “We should get you into bed.”
“mmm, I like the sound of that.” she purred as she pressed herself against is body.
“You need to rest.” he insisted “You’re still injured.”
“I’m fine.” she assured him “I’ve been in tougher scrapes than that.”
“Still, you need time to recover. You shouldn’t do anything strenuous.” he said as he stroked her bruised neck.
“What gives you the impression that I need to be coddled?” she asked amused “Come on, are you telling me that watching me in action didn’t turn you on just a little?” she said huskily.
“You were terrifying.” he chortled.
“And that’s what you love most about me isn’t it?” she leered as she leaned up to whisper into his ear “In about ten minutes I’m going to be getting laid. If you don’t want to be a part of that then that’s completely up to you.” she said teasingly drawing a lustful grown from her lover.
“You are incorrigible.” he grinned as he squeezed her hips and started to pull her from the room.
As they watched Asami being lead away by Artum Vic looked over to Thatcher and said “So what’s our next move boss?”
“I think the plan has just about run it’s course.” he said as he looked over towards Pirate Lord Yanko. “It’s about time we made our move.”
submitted by Saiga123 to HFY [link] [comments]

S&P 1700 within 6 Months


This is a new post after some interest in a comment why I believed the S&P is going to 1700.
Update 3: I am going to limit my answers in the comments guys; as the post becomes more popular it is becoming more diluted with snark etc. I don't expect anyone to follow my opinions; I just want to share one aspect of why I am making the trades I am. I maybe wrong. Random walk and all that..
Original Disclaimer: This is based on historical precedence and we are in unprecedented times but, with history as our guide a strong argument can be made for the S&P to decline to a level that is currently inconceivable. I have disclosed all my positions near the bottom.
Update 1: Slightly long; happy to be challenged in the comments, it is late in the UK (2am) so may tidy it up and add more references and charts tomorrow. Update 2: Have expanded the post to answer as many comments and requests for references wherever possible and tagged in the requestors.

Intro: Are we in a recession?

If you believe so, or that we are heading into a recession then there are four things needed to support a genuine rally out of a recession

We are missing 2 out of those 4 criteria; the overwhelming monetary and fiscal policy (world-records) are compensating for lack of positive indicators and volatile and bullish pricing.

What do you mean by pricing?

It can be argued that the current price of stocks is not discounting for the acute and likely chronic harm to consumer sentiment and spending power. For example; the UK clothing retailer Next Group closed their bricks and mortar stores (share price increased 4%) then they cancelled all online shopping (share price increased 3%) and finally they cancelled all orders with their supply chain (shares leapt 12.8% during the rally.) There is the massive amount of second, third and fourth order effects that this one company does to the UK economy (and Turkish factories). Suppliers, shipping, design, marketing etc all cancelled and the staff furloughed.
This is one example but the indexes are currently full of similar examples and some analysts are ringing the alarm bells.

Lazard Asset Management are concerned that the pandemic “will persist longer than many investors suspect and that the economic damage will be deeper and potentially longer-lasting”.
Reddit is quick to mention that stonks only go up but there is some truth to that sentiment at present since any negative factors are dismissed as being priced in and all positive factors are heralded as a cause for stocks to rally. If priced in was accurate then we would not see record-beating market rallies back to back. 10% volatility swings over 48 hours is the very definition of not priced in.
There is evidence to suggest that, well, the bullish sentiment is wrong and mainly because it is retail investors being taken for a ride whilst funds re-balance and offload.
Retail traders "buying the dips" is normally a contrarian signal, meaning that it's time to sell. This section is for u/lntoIerant in response to a comment.

Edit to answer some comments about this portion thus far.

Do retail investors move the market?
Are retail investors buying in greater volumes?
Are retail investors dumb money?

What does this have to do with the S&P dividend and the EPS?


Major indexes are comprised of stocks that pay handsome dividends; normally 2% yield a year. The companies have reached their limit of growth (HSBC haven't discovered 5 million new customers and Shell are not finding new fossil fuels) so investors hold the stock for income-seeking reasons.
The FTSE 100 was priced in to generate £89 billion in dividends for 2019 and £90 billion+ in 2020. That has largely collapsed.
The only companies that pay dividends are those taking on debt to do so like Shell. And they have; a 10Bn credit line to maintain dividends. The Bank of Englandhad to slap 5 UK banks from issuing dividends at this time. That means that their primary valuations as income-generating stocks are questionable...
...especially since the dividends are not expected to return to the 2020 levels for another 10 years now. Edit to add: This portion is taken from the market report by BNY Mellon. You can see the chart here. The analyst is John Velis of BNY. Thanks to u/flash_aaaah_ahhhhh for prompting me.

“By 2021, the market expects dividends per share for the S&P 500 to be down to under $38 per share (a staggering 41 per cent drop from recent highs of approximately $63 per share) and then to start slowly rising again. Going out 10 years to 2030, the expectation is that dividends will just about recover to pre-Covid-19 levels.”

Main body: Onto the S&P

In 2021 the market expects the dividends per share for the S&P to be reduced to $38 per share. That is priced in and common knowledge.
That is a 41% drop from the recent highs of $63 a share and seems alarming for income seeking investors since we are not expected to recover to those prices for 8-10 years. Source.
But DataTrek have noted that we are still currently trading at 21X the trailing 10 year earnings of $122 a share.
Dividends per share normally don't fall as far as earnings per share. But they are inverted at present.
For the S&P to be trading at 2,650 level (or even higher) it means the market does not believe the pandemic or recession will have any long-term damage. That puts us squarely at odds with items 3 and 4 in our list of factors needed to exit a bear market.

Talk to me about 2008!

Thanks to u/mister_woody for asking for more data.

In other recessions, including 2008, the dividend price per share drops approximately 12-15% but the earnings per share drop by considerably more; as much as 85%.
That means that in 2008 financial crisis and subsequent bear market; the dividends per share dropped by a lower percentage amount than the total index value drop.
You can see that in this chart here.

Right now, we have the reverse. Dividend share drop in this market is 41% (which is chilling) and market drop was approximately only 30% and rallying heavily back to the mid-20's only. That makes no financial sense unless the assets were being propped up by buyers...

If the S&P follows the same playbook at 2008-9, then we would expect to see levels of around 1400 at the bottom but that seems extremely bearish expecting that this crisis is worse than 2008.
If previous indications hold true, then we would expect the S&P to drop by approximately 50-60%ish at the true bottom to reflect the 41% decrease in expected shares plus additional discounts and negative market sentiment.
In reality, we are probably likely to pull back to between 13X and 15X trailing average which puts the S&P between 1600 (low side) and 1800 (high side).

You are putting a lot of faith in a re-run of the 2008 crisis

I am. No doubt about it. After October 2008, stocks fell for another four months, piling up 40% of losses before the recently ended bull market began in March 2009.

New market indicators

Since I wrote this post, the DJIA was up over 4% and closed down on the day.
Thank you to theTwitter feed of Jim Bianco for this: Since 1925 (95 yrs!), up more than 4% and closing down on the day has happened only one other time ... Oct 14, 2008 (Tsy Sec Hank Paulson forced the banks to take TARP money). The S&P 500 was up 3.5% at the high and closed down on the day. Since April 1982 (daily H,L,C began) has happened three other times...Oct 3, 08, Oct 14, 08, and Oct 17, 08.
This mkt continues to trade like Oct 08. It was six months and another 25% down before the low.
Bezinga are also playing up the 2008 similarities.

Why is bullish sentiment so wrong?

The negative reports are so wildly negative that the almost defy belief. We are dealing with insane numbers way beyond our traditional frame of reasoning. This is topped only by the insanity of the scale of quantitative easing. Less than a year ago, a small movement in the non-farm payrolls would lead to a 2-3% move in the markets; now we are hitting 700K jobs lost, a truly ugly number and the market rallies hugely. Future economic students will study this to try and understand what was happening.
In the space of weeks the majority of the Western economies have swung to being effectively state-sponsored, centralised economies and no one really knows how to unwind these positions.
It is impossible to reconcile being a bull with a centralised state economy and blue-chip stocks that refuse to pay dividends but the share price remains at the same levels as when they paid a 2% yield.
The UK forecast is for the deepest contraction since 1900. Business surveys have shown activity crashing faster in March than during the financial crisis. The Office for National Statistics has published experimental research on the impact of Covid-19 on the economy.

With entire swaths of the economy having shut down “traditional forecasting methods become irrelevant”, warned Chiara Zangarelli, economist at investment bank Nomura.
Michelle Girard, economist at NatWest, said that while there was huge uncertainty about the precise magnitude of the contraction in gross domestic product in the second quarter, “there is little doubt that it will be off the scale”
That is not a bullish sentiment. It means markets are acting irrationally since fundamentals are being dismissed as priced-in. In reality; nothing is priced in.

Disclosure


Spreads
Equities
Currency

Edit to add: So, your entire thesis is totally destroyed if companies keep paying dividends?

Yes.
In a nutshell.
But something else will be destroyed; the western taxpayer and future growth.

CEO said 'every pound we receive [in rates relief] will be invested in ensuring Tesco is able to support British shoppers...' That is tax payers paying a subsidy to a free-market company for the ability to shop...and also...
Mr Lewis said that the needs of savers and pension funds also needed to be considered in the debate around dividends. “We’ve thought long and hard about our responsibilities here . . . we are in a strong position to pay out for the benefit of those people

Edit to add: What about the FED and stimulus


u/tauriel81 and u/aliveintucson325 and u/100PERCENTYOLO_VEQT
OK - to truly test my own assumptions; here is my argument AGAINST my position.
The Fed have not quite printed money as Reddit loves to meme. They have issued liquidity and central banks worldwide have allowed banks to relax their requirement to hold reserves of cash. That injects money into the business world by allowing lending and borrowing to continue. It also reduces theoretical risk since the models are back within tolerance.
When the time comes they will remove the credits gradually without causing hyperinflation. They do this by paying banks not to lend back into the system by holding a % of their assets at the Federal Reserve. So they pay the banks but the banks keep the deposit at the Fed and don't pass on the liquidity to potential borrowers..gradually and sustainably.
https://www.aier.org/article/powells-new-monetary-regime/
That means the borrower of the future (home purchasers, entreprenuers etc) will have very few credit facilities available so RIP to the long-term economic growth.
We also have unprecedented government support for citizens. The largest social security welfare plan since WW2, especially in Europe.
If you believe that the Western economies can weather this storm using the bridging devices by central banks then it pays to dollar cost average into the market and keep buying the dips as a retail investor.
Lots of buoyant news from European nations and China about the slowing pandemic is overwhelming the negative leading and lagging economic indicators about economic data.
If you believe the economy can return to normal within 36 months, then it pay to be bullish and invest.
If you are day-trading, swing-trading or short-term options trading then the overwhelming market moves are likely to crush people as the system flexes under lots of volatility. You are also likely prioritising the negative news and technical analysis in your filter bubble and de-prioritising the positive news particularly when that news is fiscal or monetary policy since those things are dry, boring and incomprehensible half the time.
So you miss Fed backstops critical bankingi and instead hear UK Prime Minister in intensive care.
If you want to know what is going on...

Decide where you making a prediction. Plan your trade, trade your plan.
How do the FED take money back out of the economy?
They FED purchase the security initially to then sell it back to the asset-holder later. So the balance of credit-deficit merely swaps but by paying a small premium on the excesses that they hold, they can cushion the inflation or deflation of the currency.
So, they effectively give the bank liquidity and then remove that liquidity later by passing the asset back...but also provide a small premium to cushion the blow; 50% of the premium is then held on Federal Reserve books so that the market is not flooded with new money.
The FED previously reduced their balance sheet from $4.4 trillion to $3.7 trillion but it remains to be seen if they can unwind a position of this size.

TL:DR



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