Thursday, July 19, 2018

Flash Fiction #312: Serena's Baby Buffy/3




The odd women who had been stealing babies were getting away, but they'd only gotten one child this time, and that baby was not what they expected.

Serena, though, had a slight problem.  The women of the village were upset, and they were not listening to her as she tried to get away from them.

"You can't follow them, my dear.  Look, look --"

"So much magic --

"Oh, that poor baby --

"It could have been any of us --"

"Be QUIET!"

They looked at Serena in shock and dismay, but at least she had their attention now.

"I must go after them before they get away," she said and began to strip away all her excess clothing.  "The rest of you will still need to take care, but I don't think they'll be back --"

"But, child -- the magic -- You can't --"

"I can."  She pulled off the shawl from across her shoulders and let her wings flutter out.  The others backed up in shock.  "I have magic, too.  And the baby they took is really my familiar.  I need to get to them before they realize the mistake and I lose my link to Buffy.  Take care."

Serena hurried out of the building and into the darkness of pre-dawn.  She had no trouble following where they women went, at least as long as they didn't go to some other realm.  She hadn't counted on the women slowing her up, and now, in a haze of panic, she took to the sky and flew straight toward the odd stairs. The women were already nearly to the top and one still held Buffy.

The breeze off the ocean was against her, and she feared that if she gave herself away, they would figure out about Buffy and do something to the cat.  The best she could do was to fly higher into the still dark sky, keep a tight hold of the magical link to Buffy, and follow as close as she could.

As she had hoped, the women used so much magic of their own that they didn't yet feel the bit of disguise on Buffy.  Once they started examining her, though --

A surge of magic warned her that something was about to change.  She swept down closer and even dared use her magic to grab a tighter hold of Buffy.

"What was that?" one of the women demanded.  "What --"

But the world changed as the woman spoke and the fog and sea disappeared.  In their place came a swirl of colors and stars.  The beauty of the area took her so much by surprise that she had only started to be scared when they dropped out again.

They were over the ocean, but an island sat below them, a vast castle perched on the rocky rise out of the twisted trees. It had a forlorn look, an empty and lonely place.

Serena thought she might feel sorry for the three women, though she still worried about what they had been doing.  She could see them heading in the doors that swung open and snapped shut behind them.

They had Buffy trapped somewhere inside!  She would be in danger because those women would figure it out soon --

Serena flew frantically back and forth over the building before she realized that many of the gaping windows seemed to be open.  She swept downward and felt no magic, so she landed on the edge of a second story windowsill and then leapt inside.

The room hadn't been used in a while, so she had gotten lucky.  Or maybe it was more than luck because she really couldn't hear anything nearby at all, except for the startled scrabbling of mice running for cover.  That feeling of desolation and loneliness swept through the area. 

She hurried out into the hall, the place full of dust and cobwebs, but she could see a light glowing at the bottom of the stairs, and as she started down the steps, Serena could hear voices, too.

"I tell you, it's a cat!  She wasn't a cat when I picked her up."

"Don't be silly, Jana.  No one would dress a cat in -- oh."

"What a lovely cat she is, too," another said.  Well, Buffy didn't seem to be in too much danger.  "But she does present a problem.  I can feel the magic on her now and --"

"And I am here," Serena said from the steps.  One of the women held Buffy, and the other two petted her.  She could hear Buffy purr.  Some help!  Baby cribs sat everywhere, rocking and with bottles ready for feeding, magically sitting in the air.  "What do you people think you've been doing?"

The three women turned and stared at me.  They looked -- well, embarrassed more than anything --like children caught cheating in a game of hide and seek.  Despite all the magic and power, she'd seen, there was nothing dangerous here.

"We -- we wanted -- the palace needs -- so alone --"

The three talked over each other.  I lifted my hand, and they fell silent.  "You can't steal children.  Someone far more angry than me would have come after you.  We must take the children back."
"We thought they would grow up to like it here," Jana said. "We could give them a good life."
"Maybe we can work something else out."

Within three months everything had changed.  The babies were home.  Six families had moved to the castle, though they came and went to the mainland as often as they liked.  Serena had visited often.  Everyone seemed happy because the Jana, Mara, and Misi were quite nice -- and rich.  The families who went to help at the Island Castle would grow rich and famous.

The ladies were especially happy when Serena and Buffy brought them a basket full of gifts.

Jana opened the top. "Oh!  Fluffies!"

"There are stray kittens everywhere in the villages.  You can have as many as you like," Serena said, though she thought that might not be entirely wise...

Friday, July 13, 2018

Flash Fiction #311: Serena's Baby Buffy/2


Serena didn't have much time to do anything except a quick illusion spell.  By some miracle, the magic worked without any trouble.  Buffy's face now looked like that of a baby, though Serena could see the fur from the shoulder's down, and a tail that twitched.

"Quick, into the clothing," she whispered and shoved Buffy, complaining slightly with a few muttered curses, into the baby clothes and blankets.

Barely in time.  Someone knocked politely on the door.

"Yes?" she asked, sounding timid.  It was an act she had to keep up so that she could sit by herself and act very shy.

"It's Mistress Lali, my dear," the woman who ran the inn said.  "Can we talk to you?"

"Ummm ... yes?"  She tentatively opened the door, Buffy in her arms.

"My dear," the woman said.  She looked worried, as did the two women, both with babies, who had followed behind her.  "I should have told you straight away, but I supposed it would do no harm to wait.  You could not find a safe way to leave the village anyway before the night came."

"Safe?" she said, her voice a little higher.  Buffy, drama queen that she always had been, gave a little whimper of her own.

"Babies are being stolen in the night from villages nearby," one of the other women said.  She had a harsh, bitter voice, and looked too old to be the baby's mother.  Her next words confirmed it.  "My daughter-in-law has four other children, all of them older.  I brought the baby here for safety."

"Safety?"

"You must bring your baby down into the Common Room with the rest of us.  We will do our best to keep all the baby's safe tonight.  Tomorrow you should move on to somewhere away from the shore.  So far, they haven't struck farther inland."

"Who?  Who would do such a thing?  How?" she asked and gathered a few things for Buffy.  Mistress Lali took the pack from her and helped her down the stairs.

Another seven women sat in the Common Room.  The two who had come to her room, along with Serena, made ten.  That was a bumper crop for babies, she thought.  But she carefully took a place in the corner, thanked everyone for their concern and help, and did her best to blend in and draw no notice.

As the sun went down, the others began to fall asleep -- a natural sleep, she noted.  Babies started to fuss, were fed, and mothers slept again.

The hardest part for Serena was to not go to sleep at all.  Buffy even fell asleep midway through the night, still complaining of the clothing.

Twice she got up and paced as though the baby were cranky.  The second time she settled closer to the door.  No one made much show of it.

The night wore on.  Serena finally dared a sip of the tea her mother had made for her with just a touch of magic to keep her awake.  It had to be closer to the dawn, right?  She'd lost all track of time in this endless night, and even Buffy's funny curses on those who designed baby clothing had stopped amusing her. 

Everything had gotten quiet.  Serena shifted, and Buffy murmured something impolite but didn't wake up.

Everything had gone too quiet.

This was it.

Serena shook Buffy slightly.  The cat yawned -- the baby face still in place -- and didn't wake.  Doing her best not to make too much noise or movement, Serena took out her flask and put it to Buffy's lips, making sure she sipped a little.

The cat's eyes flew open, and she hissed.  Serena put a finger to her mouth and almost got bit, but she blinked and gave a little baby nod.

Serena could hear sounds outside -- the steps of the three women who came to take the babies.  She knew they had to do this carefully.  If the women suspected --

No time to think any more about it.  The women came in through the door.  Serena got a glimpse of them through her mostly closed lashes. They were, of course, the same three that had struck her own hometown.  She could not see much of their faces, but their long hair still flowed around them, and their dark robes made them seem more substantial than they were.

Serena had purposely placed herself near the door in hopes that they would find the baby held loosely in her arms as a quick one to grab.  They were still as nervous as they had been the last time she saw the women, which she hoped would help.  They were not any sort of magical being that she recognized, though, and that worried her.

The last of the three looked over and took Buffy from her arms.  Step one complete.

She let the three move on, but Serena knew she had to act soon.  If the strange woman kept hold of Buffy for too long, she might feel the magic there.  Besides, she didn't want them to take any of the other babies.

So, with a bit of a dramatic cry, she stood and wobbled, as though still mostly asleep.

"My baby!"

The others began to wake. The intruders gave cries of dismay and retreated -- and yes, the one still held to Buffy.  They fled in haste while women shouted, babies cried, and men who had been guarding outside came awake.

Serena was the first to follow them out of the building, though she dared not rush too quickly for fear they'd throw Buffy back to her.  Like before, a strange staircase of fog stood at the edge of the village.  The three were already heading up it, and in a moment they and the mist disappeared.

"Oh dear Goddess," Mistress Lali whispered.  "I am so sorry.  If you hadn't been with us --"

"Then this wouldn't have worked," Serena replied, startling the woman.  "It is time to take care of this trouble."

Friday, July 06, 2018

Flash Fiction #310 -- Serena's Baby Buffy


Sometimes having wings was a definite distraction and problem, Serena decided.  Now as one of the worst as she tried to push Buffy into the swaddling clothes.  The cat was not cooperating.

"Buffy, do you like your wings?" she finally asked, her voice uncommonly calm.

Buffy blinked bright blue eyes and looked at her with a slight bit of worry.  "Ummm ... yes?" she offered.

"Then if you want to keep them, stop flapping them about and get into the clothing."

Buffy, the cat, sighed and folded her wings down.  "It's a reaction to feeling as though I'm being trapped," the cat admitted.  "I'm trying very hard not to bite or scratch."

"I appreciate it," Serena replied and finally got the long gown over the cat and her front paws out the arms.

"This is uncomfortable.  No wonder babies always cry."

"I kind of agree, but you need to look the part.  I'd rather do this with illusion, but that's not a good idea.  Whatever those three women were, they would know magic.  And besides, I suspect something would go wrong.  After all, it is my magic."

"We'll do okay," Buffy replied.  "I don't like this much, but I think this it will work.  We know the women are apt to hit the next village.  Let's stop them and see what they've done with the other babies."

Serena didn't really think Buffy cared much about the missing children from the other two villages.  She did like adventure, though, and that worked in this case.  They'd managed to save their own village's children, but the news had spread quickly about other babies gone missing elsewhere.

Serena's mother was at the dock to see them off.  She looked worried.  So did some of the others, but they wished her well.  Serena's mother had wanted to go, too -- but being the village wise woman meant she and her magic might be needed at home.  Strange things were happening in the world; Serena and Buffy were the best two to try to help.

Just the same, Serena thought the people had reason to worry.  She and Buffy had managed some rather spectacular near failures ever since the spell that went wrong and gave them both wings.  Serena wanted to prove herself -- but she did worry about what was going to go wrong this time.

The trip from home to the village of Goodport took all the day.  Buffy was cranky by the time they got to the inn, and Serena not much better -- only to be told there was no room -- but the woman took pity on Serena who was in tears, mostly for fear that Buffy would claw her way out of the clothing.  They had a little closet of a room that had belonged to a servant who now lived at home with her husband. The room was dusty and musty, and the only window was too small for Serena to even stick her head out -- but she was glad for the place and thanked the woman.

"Get me out of these clothes!" Buffy hissed as soon as the door closed and the footsteps moved away.

"Quiet!" Serena ordered, but she did quickly undress the cat, though she feared she would never get her in the outfit again.

Buffy slid out of the gown and plopped down on the bed, grooming, and growling.  "Human babies have to be the most useless creatures on earth," she finally said looking up at Serena.

"I think you're right.  But babies do grow up to be helpful, even to cats."

"Huh." She jumped down and explored the little room.  "No mice.  Well kept place, but I hope we don't have to stay here long."

Serena agreed.  "I don't think I can come up with a good excuse beyond that my aunt didn't arrive, so we're heading back home.'

"A couple days," Buffy said.  She sounded resigned.  "I should go scout now."

Serena didn't like the idea, but she nodded agreement.  Buffy could take a look around and report back to her with anything out of the ordinary, and still be ready for their visitors tonight.

They were going to have a very long night, she feared.  And if they had no trouble tonight, then they would have a lot of long days and nights ahead.

"Don't be gone for long," Serena whispered.  "I'll do a little magic so that it sounds as though I have an upset baby here.  You know how that's apt to go badly, though."

"I'll be back as soon as I can," Buffy promised.

Serena propped the little window open, and Buffy squeezed out onto a corner of the roof.  Then she peered over the edge, waited a moment, and finally spread her wings to glide away.  Serena suddenly wanted to do the same.  Wings were helpful things -- and had proven an excellent way to escape from stress.

Not this time.  Instead, Serena set a little spell of a baby crying.  The spell-child howled at first, but Serena quickly dampened the sound and began to pace, as though walking the child.  The pacing helped.

Buffy came back sooner than she expected. The quick tap on the glass startled her, but she was glad to bring the window up and let her in.

"Good news and bad news," Buffy said as she leapt toward the bed, eying the baby clothes with some disgust.  "The bad news is that they already know about the problem and they're taking precautions.  The good news is that all the women and their babies are gathering downstairs where they will spend the night."

"Well -- ummm -- good?"

"You see the problem, right?" Buffy asked and glared at the clothing again.

"Oh.  The locals will expect us to go down there with the others."

"Which means I have to be a useless little human baby for the night," Buffy added with disgust.

Serena could hear a few women coming up the stairs.  They didn't have much time.

To be continued...

Friday, June 29, 2018

Flash Fiction # 309 -- Buffy Did It



From the day that Buffy the cat accidentally got her wings to the adventures with the flying mice, things had been rather hectic for Serena. So when Serena awoke late in the morning and found the cat wasn't sleeping on the pillow beside her, she began to worry.  Usually, the village's temple bell would have woken her by now.  In Serena's haste to get cleaned up and dressed, a simple spell went awry -- they often did -- but at least this time the entire bedroom looked quite clean.  She'd had worse disasters.

Her mother was making breakfast and yawned a couple times.  The older woman smiled, looked around, and frowned.

"Where is she?"

"I don't know."

"Eat quickly and go find the little troublemaker."

"Yes, mom," she agreed fervently.  Serena ate the delicious food and tried not to worry.  Buffy couldn't have gotten into much trouble, she decided.  After all, no one was pounding at the door.

Stepping outside brought a sigh of dismay.  Selena had been so unsettled by the cat's disappearance that she hadn't so much as glanced out a window.  She walked out into a cold wind and the sight of towering clouds where they grew at the edge of land and sea.

"Buffy!" she shouted hoping the cat would pop up from the brushes or sweep down from the trees.  Selena even waited a moment before she took a deep breath, pulled her cloak around her, and headed down the hill toward the village.

The clouds bothered her.

So did the quiet of the village nestled down the hillside and close to the shore.  With a new wave of worry -- What had Buffy done now! -- she hurried along the path and into the town.

No one around. Nothing moved, not even a stray dog to bark at her or beg for treats.  For a moment, she thought they were all gone, but she soon found dogs, birds, horses, and even people.  They were all asleep.

Sleeping villages were never the sign of anything good.

Serena spun and rushed back toward home, but at the edge of the village she stopped and threw herself to the side of the building. Something was moving -- something substantial that cast wavering shadows and yet did not make the ground shake. And the thing whispered and whispered --

No. They whispered  The odd shadow had sorted itself out into three shadows of women, their long hair floating in the breeze off the shore.  The clouds had stopped growing so high, but they moved even more oddly now, forming a stairstep effect that brought them all the way down to the ground.

Serena dared a look around the side of the building.

"Someone saw us!" one of the women all but shouted.

"Quiet you fool!  Any loud noise could wake them!  Where was the person?"

"This way, I think," one of them whispered.

Serena had to act quickly.  The silence made much movement difficult, but she slid back along the edge of the building, hoping that she sounded no different than the breeze.  Serena found the doorway to the warehouse and there found a few men gathered and asleep.  She settled beside them.  She bowed her head and pretended to sleep.

The three women rushed past.  She dared a slight slitting of her eyes for a brief heartbeat.  Even at that moment, one of the women looked back, but Serena had not moved, she closed her eyes, and took soft even breaths, pretending to sleep.  She'd done so for her mother often enough.

"Nothing here," one of them whispered.  "Let's get the babies and go.  We have many more stops before we have enough to train up for our legions.  Lucky their magic woman lives outside the village."

Then they disappeared around the corner.

Stealing children!  Serena sat up and prepared to run to her mother for help -- but then she realized she might never get that far, or might not get there fast enough.  It was up to her, the person who could never get a spell right!

No, not just her.  A small shaped appeared at the end of the alley, saw her, and leapt into Serena's lap.

"Couldn't wake you," Buffy whispered in her ear. She purred too.  "I don't like these women.  I don't understand what they want."

"To steal the babies!  We have to find a way to stop them.  I can't do it alone, and I can't get to mom fast enough. Can you?"

Buffy looked around.  "No.  I don't think so.  We need the others in town."

"I fear if I went around yelling, they'd just put me back to sleep," Serena said.  "We need a loud noise to wake them."

"Loud noise?" Buffy said.  Her blue eyes widened for a moment.  "I know the answer.  Follow them.  Make sure they don't get away with any babies."

Before Serena could ask, Buffy went bounding off.  Cats were naturally quiet.  Serena was not, but she did her best, following the faint sounds the three strange women made.  What could Buffy possibly have in mind?

She almost came within sight of the women and stopped in haste when she realized she could hear them whispering only a few yards away.  Her heart beat so hard she feared they would even hear it.

"Get the baby. The spell won't last forever!"

"I thought I heard --"

"Just get the child --"

And then they all heard something.

The dozen different bells of the temple, never rung all at once, began to ring, first one, then two, then more --

"No!"

People, dogs, cats, birds -- all began to wake. The women screamed as Serena rushed at them and one carrying a baby threw it to her -- she barely caught the child, but by then the three women had disappeared.


Later, the townspeople gathered to thank Serena, but she couldn't take the credit this time.


"It wasn't me with the bells," Serena admitted.  "Buffy did it."

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Flash Fiction # 308 -- The Forest


Guardian stood before Mother Tree, his hand on her warm bark, the feel of life coursing through his body as she fed him strength.  These were trying times for humans and for others like him.  Evil had touched the world again and drove humans to hide in the sacred forest, which was more dangerous for the forest than for the humans.

He hadn't expected the ancient dryad to leave her tree.  She had only done so once in his long life, and to see her slip out into the world now took him by surprise and sent a chill through him.

Guardian bowed to her, aware of the honor she gave him and afraid of why she did so now.

"Strangers in the woods," she said with a whisper of sound like leaves in the wind.

"Yes, my lady," he said and dared to meet her leaf-green eyes.  "I go to see what is happening if I can.  Things have been unsettled in the distant city, I fear.  Something is wrong with the humans."

"Not unusual," she said with a slight sigh.  That was true, and it did not account for why she came out into the world.  Guardian knew it and waited.  "Their gods are uneasy, Guardian.  Darkness is coming to the world, and we must do what we can to move against it.  One group with power goes to the north and east."

"Yes, I have sensed them --"

"Do not bother that group.  They go with a purpose.  They go to try to make things right.  But others wander and are lost -- and afraid.  Remove them where you can.  Back to the trails, back to the south and the villages -- but out of my forest.  Their gods do not watch them so closely, do not show them the right.  Such humans are dangerous to anything wild and free.  They don't understand the harm they can do."

Guardian would much rather have raced after those with the bit of power; they might be interesting.  However, Mother Tree had a good point.  Humans were often destructive even when they knew what they were doing.

Mother Tree gave him one last nod and went back into the wood. The tree seemed to shiver slightly.  She feared far more than she had said.

For the next three days, he carefully (and invisibly) herded small groups of humans off toward safer lands.  He began to understand that they liked being here under cover of the trees where they were less likely to be noticed.  He did not step out and show them that they were not hidden at all from anyone with power.

They turned out to be fascinating people, even these plain humans carrying all they had in the world on their backs or in carts drawn by recalcitrant donkeys who did not like the woods nearly as much as the humans.  Guardian found that he could best help thereby calming those beasts and even making the paths easier for them.

So, day by day, he helped the groups find safety, and he even enjoyed the work.

But he had lost track of one larger group -- and in a moment of dismay, he realized they were true trouble.

He was so far away that even running with speed humans could not attain, it took him all of one night and into the next morning to reach them.  By then, they'd cut down a dozen trees and cleared a wide area.

As he broke into the opening, people gave startled shouts.  He counted seven men, five women, an undetermined number of children -- all of them rushing toward the line of defense they'd made with downed branches and savaged bushes.

"What are you people doing?" he shouted, more frustrated than angry.  "Are you crazy?  Do you have any idea where you are?"

Guardian glanced to his right.  Only a couple trees still stood between him and Mother Tree, her vast bulk all the more obvious.

"Who are you?  What are you?" one of the men demanded.  He had a bow in hand and ready to fire.

"I am Guardian -- that's who I am and what I am," he said.  He waved his hand.  The wooden bow snapped in two.  "And you are on sacred ground, human."

"We claim this place," the man said.  "We'll build our village here, safe from the rest of the world --

Anger had started to take him.  Then he heard a sound from Mother Tree, the trembling of leaves, the movement of limbs.  The others heard as well, and he saw them all cower in fear, knowing this didn't come from any breeze.  Guardian turned, bowing his head as the dryad appeared.

"My profound apologies, Mother Tree," he said and even went to his knees.  "I lost track -- so many humans in the sacred forest, and I did not sense --"

"There was a reason for that, Guardian," she said, he voice sounding like life itself this time.  "They are here for a reason."

"Here?" Guardian said, startled.  "But they endanger you --"

"Not as long as they realize who and what I am," she replied.  "Stand up.  All of you stand up.  Listen to me.  Humans shall build their small settlement here.  It will be a place where all can learn about the sacred duty to protect the forest.  I shall help to keep you safe.  You will help Guardian in his work.  The world changes, my friends.  That does not mean we must give up all the old ways."

So the world changed.  The humans built a dozen huts, a longhouse for meetings and meals.  Others wandered in, and left again, wiser for having learned respect for the forest.  Beyond the safety of the trees, wars came and went, but rarely touched them.

Mother Tree and Guardian watched over them.  The gods even smiled their way sometimes, and in a world gone mad with change, the little village remained and guarded the ancient ways.