Friday, October 24, 2014

Flash Fiction #117 -- Off the Path



     "They're closer." Echris looked down the long trail and tried not to curse. They dared not stray from this path into the woods. The magical creatures there had never forgiven the battles of the old war. No help, and no escape.
Far down the hillside -- but still closer than he liked -- the soldiers moved steadily upwards.
The two dared not rest, even though Pornan limped, the metal shackles poisoning him with each step.
Pornan couldn't walk much farther and even Echris began to slow. Damn the Digin Empire and their hatred for anything magical. And damn whomever had betrayed them as they passed through the lands. Spies and magic users . . . they couldn't hope for clemency. They'd barely escaped and the magic Echris had used drained him. He feared he'd never use magic again and he tried not to shiver as he probed the empty spot where the magic had been warm.
"I can't," Pornan whispered, his voice so soft Echris barely heard the words above the breeze. Pornan went down to his knees. "Go -- go my friend. Report to the king!"
Duty should have driven him on -- but the information he had now only confirmed what others had already known. For all their hatred of magic, the people of Busna were not above using the power for their own ends.
The worst kind of hypocrites. Echris knew they really hunted the two escaped prisoners out of fear of what their own people would learn.
Something moved in the trees; he saw only a shape, there and gone.
"Go," Pornan whispered.
Echris bowed his head daring to say nothing aloud and moved on, not looking back --
After a dozen steps he muttered a curse he wouldn't have dared say if he still had power, and turned around. Pornan looked up at him as if he'd gone mad.
He had.
"The king has the reports. You're more important than a few more words I could add to what's already been sent home. Come on. We are not going to fall to those damned soldiers."
He caught Parnon under the arm and forced him to his feet, ignoring (as best he could) he shudder of pain that passed through his companion's body with each small step. They weren't going to get far.
"Only one answer." Parnon brushed back his hair with his shackled hands, the fingers swollen. "Go off the trail."
That would be true madness. Echris gave a frantic shake of his head. Humans who had learned the art of magic did not trespass into the areas where magical creatures ruled.
He could hear the sound of the troops coming closer.
"Either -- woods or leave me," Parnon said. "I won't survive if you -- drag me on."
Damn.
Echris spun and moved off the trail and thought he heard a startled cry from the soldiers. In a few steps he felt as though he'd entered an entirely different world of shadows and whispers he couldn't quite understand. He could feel magic here brushing against his skin and if, somehow, they avoided other problems he might have time --
Something moved in the bushes to the right. He slowly turned his head and saw a green face with inhumanly bright eyes staring back at him.
"We mean no harm," he said keeping his voice steady. Pornan made a slight sound of distress.
Echris wanted beyond the sight of the trail and hope the soldiers weren't desperate enough to follow. Maybe if they held at the edge of the magic land, they could survive one enemy and the other. He tried to believe it, but as the bushes and branches spread around them, he became more assured they were not leaving again.
Then why keep running? Time to stop. He helped Pornan sit with his back to a tree and Echris sprawled beside his friend. If the soldiers came this far, so be it. If the magic beings objected, let them. He had never felt so totally worn in his life.

They didn't have to wait long. A woman parted the bushes with a wave of magic and stepped through, her hair pale and her dress an elegant green and gold. Dangerous: he wasn't fooled by her pretty face and faint smile.
Echris didn't wait. "I apologize. We didn't want to be caught by the soldiers. Our only hope was that you would be --"
"Blind to your indiscretion?" she asked, a clear, steady voice that held only the slightest contempt.
"Faster in your response. We knew what we would suffer in their hands before we died."
She looked into his face, startled. "We are not bloodthirsty, but we have to maintain our rules. Our place wouldn't be safe from the likes of you."
"How -- how do you know?" Pornan asked softly. He was having trouble breathing.
"Back in the age of the war --"
"We all did cruel and evil things, your people and mine. But the world changes. . . ." Echris stopped and looked at her. "Only it doesn't for you, does it? You are the same people who fought the war. We're four generations later. We can change. You can't."
"We know generations pass." Anger tinged her voice. "We aren't blind."
Echris said nothing more giving up the discussion, but he saw the glint of the weapon as the soldier charged forward, the sword swinging --
The sword would have caught her first, then Pornan. Echris surged up and took the cut across his shoulder as he shoved the man back. He wasn't sure what the woman did then; magic surged and the soldier disappeared.
"Saved me," she was saying, though he barely heard the words. "Maybe changed after all."
Magic spread up around him, warm and healing. He saw the shackles disappear from Pornan's arms and legs.
Others were coming from the woods, startled words he didn't quite understand, though he tried to listen. They were going to survive. He had the feeling they'd have another report to make by the time they made it home.


998 words

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Flash Fiction #116 -- The Report




     The night she saw the star fall, the path streaking across the sky, Eonis knew it was time to be done with her work. The fall was not a meteorite this time; she had heard the whisper of the call that had not come in a long time. Looking around the apartment, Eonis decided there was little she needed to take. She'd started out at dawn, wondering how long would pass before someone realized she was gone.
The path at the edge of the hills changed from pavement to stone to dirt as Eonis headed upwards into the towering mountains. She hadn't been this way for a long time; long since she and her companions had run down the path like wild sheep refusing to be caught and tamed. The village down in the valley had been only a dozen huts then and the people wary of strangers. Now a city sat there, spread half way up the hills, and they did not know their neighbors enough to know if strangers came through or not.
No one walked with her this day, though sometimes there were hikers who came this high, looking for an escape from the city. She moved at a steady pace, savoring the air and feeling the sun on her face -- much like she had felt it that first day. So much time among the humans in their crowded buildings had made her forget that there was more to this world. Though, granted, she did find the humans fascinating, even in their odd, self-destructive ways.
She walked through the day, through the night; moved faster than humans could, and reached, finally, a hidden place where the ship sat. The sight of towering silver needle almost unsettled her, it had been so long, but she kept her step steady.
A brother met her at the entrance, the embrace welcome. They said little, even though it had been, by local terms, centuries since she'd last spoken on one of her kind. This was right, though; she had done such studies on worlds before and knew what to do. Time to go to the computer room and create her report. That, of course, took hours as well. She should have been exhausted at the end, but instead she found herself wandering up to the cafeteria and looking for something to eat that would remind her of home. She might have to introduce human food to her people. The variety and tastes were astounding.
She spoke with the others, calling back the language of home and feeling, slowly, as though she was in the place where she belonged again. They seemed glad to see her.
Eonis slept for a few hours in a room assigned to her. It felt odd at first, but by the time she awoke to call from the Captain, she felt much better. At home.
Captain Enlig gave her a polite nod when she entered the room where the council waited.
"We've gone over the report," he said with a nod to the two to his right and the two to his left. "It is -- chaotic."
She winced at first and then gave a little laugh. "Yes, I would suppose it is, Councilors. My apologies for that. A later report may sort matters out better, but in all honesty, they are a chaotic people."
"So we guessed," Enlig said, a frown. "They have no culture?"
"They have no single culture," Eonis said and laughed. "They have so many that they cannot name them all. The same with languages. They also fight over everything that is culturally related."
"This seems, then, a good world for us to interceded, to save them --"
"No."
Eyes blinked; not quite human eyes, but close enough. She bowed her head, drew her thoughts together, and looked up again.
"They would fight over anything forced upon them, even for their own good. They are independent. And despite all their problems, they have not yet totally destroyed themselves."
"So you think they are safe to leave alone?" Manada asked, leaning forward with a look of astonishment. She'd never seen that reaction before.
"I think they are mostly --" She had almost said mostly harmless, but this group didn't have the cultural reference to know that was a joke. She smiled anyway. "I think they are mostly capable of handling their own fate. There are only two scenarios in which I would suggest we step in. The first is if they are truly on the edge of self-destruction. Some humans are so power hungry that they are apt to take out everything with them if they can't win. The second situation is if they do find a way to leave their world and join us before they settle the majority of their own problems."
"This is unusual."
"They are a unique group. I think my later reports will validate my suggestion. At least we will not race into this without some thought."
The others agreed. She left the chambers and went back to her room and slept again. By the time she awoke, they had left the world. Eonis felt a strange sense of loss, thinking about all the colors, the art . . . the food.
So it wasn't a real surprise when she volunteered to go back a century later.
At least they hadn't destroyed each other yet.
With any luck, they wouldn't while she was back. But right now, it was time to go find a really good taco. Some things are worth saving a world for.

922 words

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Flash Fiction # 115 -- Different



     Ian used to dream about this day. He would stare beyond the iron fence and imagine what life would be like beyond the barrier. Sometimes he'd tell Ann that they'd have a different future than the rest of the children here. They were different, after all. They would go out and. . . .
He couldn't imagine what they would do.
Sometimes seemed better able to help others with problems since they saw the world differently. That difference had made them think they didn't belong, though.
And now, today. . . .
Master Bern shoved the gate open against the pile of snow. "Off you go then."
Ian and Ann looked up at the man, a little consternation on the boy's face but anger on the girl's. Master Bern stared in impatient and growing anger, pulling his cloak tighter against the brisk breeze.
Time to go, Ian thought. There was no use waiting here. The day wouldn't get warmer.
Ann went out first and her twin followed in her footsteps. Nothing surprising there. Ann had always been the braver and more daring of the two. The more stubborn, too.
So they walked down the snow-covered path past trees coated in frost, bright white against a brilliant blue sky. A magical day he thought with a silent laugh. Such a day suited them.
It wasn't more than a few hours to town, too. What they'd do when they got there was a different question. They'd never actually been to town, having spent the first twelve years of their life in the orphanage. Bern had told them that they'd been born there and their mother had left that night.
How odd to be free of the place that had never felt like home, even though it was the only one they'd ever known.
Ian caught up with Ann who was stomping through the snow as though it had personally offended her. She had a temper, did Ann. Ian suspected this was the reason they were so quickly and unceremoniously sent off into the world as soon as they came of age. He didn't say so to Ann.
She stopped at the end fence. There used to be another village here, but everyone had moved off to the bigger town. The orphanage had held on, run by a family who still owned the land. Estate workers brought them food. There hadn't been new orphans for a few years, though. The place would close down in another ten years.
Snow seemed to spring up from the ground in swirls and cover the view of even the crumbling old buildings. A few gray clouds drifted across the sky and for a moment Ian felt as though they were being closed into a ball of gray, with everything lost to them.
Ann put a hand on his shoulder. She was a little taller than him; an annoyance at his age since they were twins. No one remembered which of them had been born first. He liked to think it was him and that he had that little edge over her.
She looked worried. "What do we do?"
She'd never asked him before and by the Gods, he was not going to let this go by without taking advantage of the moment.
"We go on. We'll find work in the town. You've heard Kendel. He used to live in town until his grandma died; he knew all kinds of ways to work there."
"Yes. True." She didn't sound any more assured. How odd that she seemed so unsettled now. She'd always known her place. Ah, but this was a different world.
"Time to walk away, Ann." He gently nudged her on past the fence. "Time to be more than we could ever be in the orphanage."
"Yes." Her head came up a little and her movements became assured again. "And we no longer have to hide what we are."
She threw back the hood of her cloak and lifted her face to the snow. Her long golden hair fell back and her pointed ears peeked out. They had been the only two halfbloods at the home, and though they hadn't been treated any worse than the others, there had always been a feel of difference.
Ian wondered if it would be different in the village. He felt oddly excited about the idea. This wasn't like the old days, when humans and fae mistrusted each other. Now they could get a job and maybe learn a bit of magic to help, and people would appreciate them. In fact, he thought they probably had a better chance of doing well than human orphans would have had.
Near sunset, having walked all day, they finally reached the edge of the village . . . and something odd happened. People started coming out of cottages to look at them. Ian was starting to feel odd --
"Well where did the two of you come from?" a woman finally asked, walking up to them with a bright smile.
"Ma'am?" Ann said and glanced at Ian as though he might understand.
"We came from the orphanage, ma'am," Ian offered.
"Oh dear Gods! We had no idea there were any of the blood there! Are there others?"
"No ma'am," Ann said and still looked worried.
"Well, good. Come along then. I am sure you have plenty of questions."
"We hope to get jobs," Ian offered. "We don't have any money --"
"Jobs? Money? Those are for humans," she said,though not unkindly. He hadn't even realized she was fae until that moment. "You are children of the blood. You have a different future."
As the years passed, they discovered that having been raised among human children had given them insights other fae never possessed. They became a link that helped the village and even the local Lord asked their advice at times.
In later years, the king heard of their wisdom and they served him well, a link between one people and another, and forever proud to be different.

995 words

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Flash Fiction # 114 -- Snow Day



    Darkness was coming again, the sort of blackness that had nothing to do with night. It lingered out there at the edge of the day, waiting. . . .
Andre had put off leaving for the meeting as long as he dared. He stood by the window to his apartment, his jacket on, and looked out at the cold snowy street below. Nothing much moved there, except for a group of kids who still found winter fun. Their snowball battle moved off down the street and around the corner.
Most humans sensed the trouble in the air. They stayed inside.
Night was coming. He didn't want to be out there alone when the trolls came out of their dens and started hunting his kind. He scanned the park across the street, but if anything hid there, he couldn't see it through the fall of new snow and the shadowed branches of trees.
He made himself walk to the door and out into the hall, locking the apartment with both mundane keys and magical charms. The steps squeaked as he walked down them, an unmusical sound that always made his teeth grit. Human places rarely had any true beauty to them, especially in areas like this where the poor and unwanted huddled in their little holes, trying to survive the cold.
Reaching the street didn't put him in any better mood. He dared not use even a little magic to stay warm for fear of what he might draw. He measured the sunlight against the horizon and hurried towards the end of the street where the kids had disappeared a few minutes before.
They were waiting for him.
And they weren't kids.
Hidden beneath the bulky coats and woolen hats were pointed ears and green faces. The group cackled in joy as they spotted him and before he could even get his hands up to cast a wall of protection, they were in the air leaping at him.
So he ducked instead.
The frustrated squeals of pixies filled the air as they sailed over the top of him and splatted down into a snow pile. By the time they'd dug their way back up, snarling green faces appearing out of the snow, he was on his feet and had a ball of magic in his hand.
"You really don't want to do this today," he told them. "None of us like this weather. So go back to your warm little fires and I won't use magic to make you uncomfortably warm. I'm not in the mood to play. I suggest you disappear."
The pixies dove back into the snow.
"Good work. I despise the little pests."
Andre turned, the snarl on his face not lessening at the sight of Martinus standing with his back to the wall a few feet away. As always the younger elf looked immaculate and disdainful of everything around him. Martinus had never been one of his favorite people, even if they were on the same side.
"They're gone. Time to get to the meeting," Andre said with a slight bow of his head, the bare minimum of politeness. He was cold and snow snow caked the front of his jacket and pants. He brushed at it and then gave up when he caught the smirk on Martinus's face. It was all he could do to keep from shoving the pretentious bastard face first into the snow.
We're on the same side, we're on the same side.
Half a block later, they saw Cathia standing outside the door to the meeting room. Her eyebrows rose at the sight of the two of them coming together but she said nothing. They were the last two to arrive and Cathia followed them in, sealing the door behind.
They sat through the meeting; new reports on troll activity, an uptake in Pixie movements, and more of the same. Andre learned nothing helpful, but he hadn't expected to. There had been no real change in the status of things for the last five years. Andre couldn't see any hope for change in the next five, ten, fifteen years . . . He saw an eternity of such meetings stretching out forever before him. He could almost sympathize with Martinus who was again complaining about the uselessness of this work as he stalked off to the door, the first to head out as usual. He threw open the door --
And was pelted with a hundred snowballs so quickly that in a half dozen heartbeats he looked as though he was half snowman on the front and half elf on the back.
Outside the pixies shouted and laughed with glee and disappeared quickly into the night.
Martinus slowly turned --
Andreas laughed. He couldn't help himself and a moment later the others were joining him. Martinus blinked and he expected a tirade -- but in a moment even pretentious Martinus laughed.
They picked up the snowball fight as they left, finding occasional pixies, but mostly throwing at each other while pixies, and maybe even trolls, stared on in shocked disbelief to see the ever-so-proper elves leaping around in the snow like human children on a school holiday.
Something changed that night. Later Andreas wondered if their darker moods hadn't helped create the problems they fought against in this reality. They were, after all, beings of magic. With the laughter came a brighter future. All but a few trolls left the reality. Pixies came and went, but seemed mostly to be drawn by the idea of playing jokes on the elves.
And with their laughter they gifted the humans with a better, brighter future. It had been a long lesson to learn, but they held to it and made a better future for themselves as well.

  958 words


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Friday, September 26, 2014

Flash Fiction #113: The Collector (Drabble)



    ""He collects butterflies," a woman whispered with utter disgust.

Michis ignored her and the unexpected squeak of dismay that followed.

"Butterflies! There are live insects here? We must leave!"

The middle-aged women rushed out of the botanical garden. They wouldn't be back.

Michis gathered a butterfly carefully into a case. Three hours later he opened the door to his private botanical garden and let him loose. Butterflies swarmed, birds sang -- and sometimes ate butterflies, but that was natural. In a world full of lifeless insect droids, he gathered the colors of the forgotten nature and remembered a prettier time.

  100 words


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